Unable are the Loved to die
For Love is Immortality,
Nay, it is Deity—

Unable they that love—to die
For Love reforms Vitality
Into Divinity.

--Emily Dickinson

The Burial        The Cure        The Dream        Halloween        Christmas        Something Wild        Epilogue

The Burial

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

Josef stood in his bedroom, staring at himself in the mirror and mentally preparing for the day ahead.  He glanced down at the folded program on his dresser and reread the words he'd reviewed so many times. 

"In loving memory of Benson Riddell (June 8th, 1988-February 3, 2015)"

Kemara and Owen had created a beautiful tribute to the descendant he'd never known.  The former had managed to dig up a photograph of Benson from his high school yearbook which Owen had then replicated as a portrait.  It was the smiling face on the cover, uncannily like his own, that Josef kept staring at.  Benson's was a face filled with hope and goodwill.  It wasn't the face of someone who would be dead in less than a decade, killed by an aggressive cancer and worries for his little girl. 

Josef felt icy tears sting his eyes.

If only he had known...  Benson could have died in peace and comfort.  Daisy could have been spared the terrors she'd experienced.

Josef sucked in a deep breath.

He only had now.  And, right now, Daisy was safe.  And, very soon, Benson would have the respect he deserved.

A light knock sounded on Josef's door. 

"Josef, are you ready to go?"

The vampire checked his tie one more time, grabbed the program, folded it into his pocket, and opened his door to find Amber-Marie. 

"Yeah.  Is Daisy?"

"All dressed and waiting in the living room with Aiyla."

"Okay.  Let's go."  Josef forced a smile and followed the doctor into the living room.  His smile grew more sincere when he found the two little girls sitting in the window seat, Aiyla clipping a bow into Daisy's hair.

"Daddy!" Daisy cried.  "Aiyla brought me a new bow!  It matches my dress!"

Josef scooped the girl up and kissed her cheek.

"So it does.  And you look very pretty.  Both of you girls do.  Thank you, Aiyla.  That was very nice of you."

Aiyla shrugged it off.

"Aunt JenniAnn showed me how to make em and I like making em."  She turned to Daisy.  "I can show you!"

"I think that's a wonderful idea!" Amber-Marie approved.  "Sounds like a good activity for tomorrow after church, huh?"

Daisy nodded eagerly then gave her attention back to Josef.

"Are you ready for Daddy's fune-ral?" she checked.

Josef knelt down and nodded.

"I am.  Do you still want..."

Before he could finish, the little girl interrupted.

"Yes.  So he knows we remember him.  And that I love him."

Fighting tears again, Josef kissed the top of her head.

"That's exactly right, honey."

Taking hold of Daisy's hand, Josef turned to Amber-Marie.

"Once we're in the car, could you please call Sylvester and let him know we're on the way?"

"Of course."

Amber-Marie stepped closer and whispered so only Josef could hear.

"Are you sure you're okay to drive?  I can if..."

Using his free hand to squeeze hers, the vampire nodded.

"I'll be fine.  Let's head on out."

"Do you have Sarah?" Aiyla asked her friend upon noticing the doll was no where to be seen.


Daisy released Josef's hand so she could fetch her doll from her room.

Amber-Marie patted Aiyla's shoulder.

"Good catch.  Thank you, Aiyla."

"Welcome.  I thought she'd want her.  Funerals are sad."

"Yes, they are.  But they help us say good bye."

"Yup.  And sometimes we need to say good bye even when we didn't know someone."

Whether Aiyla's words were her own or echoes of something she'd heard from adults, the wisdom of them hit Josef hard.

"I'm going to go get the car started," he blurted before making a run for the door.

"Josef..." Amber-Marie murmured, not sure what else to say.

"I'm okay," he insisted before disappearing into the front yard.


Josef had allowed himself a brief cry in the driveway but he was calm and focused during the drive to Sylvester's mortuary.  When he felt his thoughts drifting to Benson, he redirected them to his gratitude for his friends.  Shortly after Joshua's revelation regarding Daisy's parentage, Josef had sought out Benson's grave.  While he knew it shouldn't have been a surprise, he'd nonetheless been dismayed when he'd discovered Benson had been laid to rest in a mass grave on Hart Island.  Not wanting Daisy to ever have to visit such a place, he'd immediately begun to look for a way to have the body exhumed.  He was grateful to Joe Maxwell for helping cut through the red tape and to Sylvester for overseeing the task of retrieving the casket from the island.  It was Amber-Marie who had suggested they have a proper burial ceremony.  She thought it would be meaningful to Daisy and offer her further proof that her new family cared about her and about her Daddy.  Josef wondered now if Amber-Marie had also had him in mind when she'd suggested the funeral.  As difficult as it had been, the planning had helped Josef.  He'd missed out on centuries of caring for his daughters and granddaughters, sons and grandsons.  He could at least bring dignity and respect to Benson, the last of his sons, and peace and comfort to Daisy, the little girl who he loved and adored for them both.

Upon reaching the mortuary, Josef pulled into the small employee lot and stepped out to greet Sylvester and Fr. Mike who stood near a large white van.

"Good morning, Josef," the priest greeted with a tender smile.

Josef nodded and managed to return the smile.

"Morning, Fr. Mike."

"Josef," the undertaker greeted, taking the man's hands in his own.  "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine, thanks.  Daisy, too.  Isra and Behnam sent Aiyla over to keep her company so that's helped.  Is, um, is he ready?"

Sylvester opened the back of the van so Josef could see Benson's coffin, secured and garlanded with baby's breath and roses. 

"He is.  And I've spoken to Peter.  He, Emma, and the others are ready and waiting."

"Okay, thanks," Josef replied with his gaze still fixed on the coffin.  "So...  I'll follow you?"

"Fr. Mike was going to ride over with me.  But perhaps you'd like to remain with Benson?" Sylvester suggested.  "I can vouch for Fr. Mike's skill and safety behind the wheel."

"I've never gotten so much as a parking ticket," the priest boasted helpfully.

Josef glanced back over at his car... a sensible, family-friendly four-door that had replaced his Maserati upon Daisy's arrival.  Amber-Marie was looking on with concern while the girls chatted in the backseat.

"No, I think..."  He looked into the back of the van.  It was bad enough that they had to sneak the coffin to St. Genesius' via a van.  Maybe he should accompany Benson on this final ride...

A car door opening and then lightly closing drew Josef out of his thoughts.

"Hey.  Everything okay?" Amber-Marie checked upon approach.

"We were just suggesting that maybe I could drive you and the girls to St. G's and Josef could ride in the van," Fr. Mike recapped.

The psychiatrist studied Josef.

"I think that's a really good idea.  Don't you, Josef?"

Josef stared blankly at her for a moment then nodded. 

"Yeah.  Let's do that.  Thanks." 

"Then it's settled.  We'll see you over at St. G's."  Fr. Mike embraced Josef, took his keys, and whispered into his ear.  "Remember, He's with you in this, even though you can't see Him."

"Right.  Yeah.  Thanks."  Josef forced another smile then turned to Amber-Marie.  "See you soon."

"Of course."  She leaned in to kiss his cheek.  "I'll be praying for you."

"I appreciate that," Josef choked out before climbing into the back of the van. 

When he waved, Fr. Mike and Sylvester closed the back doors of the van, leaving Josef alone with Benson's body.  It was something he'd avoided during the entire process of transferring the body and preparing for the service.


Josef felt the van begin to move.

"And we're off!"  He cringed at the unhinged note in his own voice.  For a few moments, he sat in silence before attempting to speak again.

"So I'm glad we can do this for Daisy.  I mean for you, too, of course.  But I suspect your thoughts are more on Daisy, too.  Funny how such a little slip of a girl has the power to uproot your entire life, huh?  I mean... I had a Maserati!  Now I drive a...  Well, never mind.  Please don't think I'm complaining.  I'm not.  I... I'd trade everything I have for..."

Josef sighed and rubbed at his eyes.

"Listen, I'm sorry I didn't know... didn't know that you two were out there... didn't know that I even had descendants.  A... a lot could have been different if...  I mean, for one, I definitely wouldn't have named you Benson.  God.  Sorry.  That was bad.  I mean, hey, it's better than some of the names I grew up with.  I lucked out with Josef.  I could have been Bertram or Filbert."

Josef gave an awkward chuckle before quieting for a few moments.

"I wonder what you would have thought of me?  Does anyone really want to meet their great-great-great grandfather and find out he's a vampire?  Hell...  Heck, I'm not even one of the good ones.  Not like Isolde or Marco or Logan... or even like Mick.  Sometimes I look at Daisy and wonder...   How did even a little of me go into making her?  I think it's a lot to do with you, Benson.  When I got turned... the family split.  Your side kept getting better and better.  And me?  I got worse.  But don't..."

A sudden stop caused Josef to jolt forward and he braced himself on the coffin.  Startled, he drew his hands back but then thought better of it and laid his hands gently on the wood grain.

"Don't worry, Benson.  I may still be a vampire but... I'm coming back.  Back... to... to your side.  I promise that I will do everything... everything..."  Josef felt tears sting his eyes and, this time, let them fall.  "I'll do everything for that little girl... our... little Daisy.  I love her, Benson.  I do.  More... more than I ever thought possible.  And Amber-Marie... she's a wonderful mother.  Daisy loves her.  So don't... don't you worry.  And just know... know that I'm sorry that I couldn't do anything for you, Benson.  So... sorry."

With those words, Josef fully surrendered to his grief.  His head sunk against the coffin as he wept.


By the time Sylvester had pulled into St. Genesius' lot, Josef had regained his composure.  Once out of the van, Daisy ran to him and hugged his knees.

"Are you okay?" she queried, peering up at Josef with her huge, pleading eyes.

Josef lifted her up and kissed her forehead. 

"Yes, I'm okay.  How about you, honey?"

"Okay."  Daisy planted her own kiss on her adoptive father's cheek then rested her head on his shoulder.  "We going to Dyeland now?"

"Yeah.  And remember, you don't have to walk the whole time if..."

"I know.  Fr. Mike and Mommy 'minded us in the car."

"Good."  Josef smiled at her then turned to where Sylvester stood, now joined by Peter, Zeke, Eric, and Shane.

"Are you ready, Josef?" the undertaker checked.

Josef nodded.

At that, the men began to unload the back of the van and hauled in reams of fabric, a few small pieces of furniture, candelabras, and assorted bric-a-brac; all of which had been added to camouflage the fact that they were going to be carrying a coffin into the theatre.  If anyone had observed, they would likely have assumed it was all mere props.  Perhaps even for Dracula Josef considered with a smirk.  The expression fell away when the last of the "props" were taken in and Peter set a hand on Josef's shoulder.

"We'll bring him inside now."

"Thank you.  For... all of this.  All of you."

Peter replied with a gentle smile.

"This is what we do.  You'd do the same."

Josef blinked and gave a nod.  He would... now.  He well knew that wouldn't have always been the case.

After Peter and his helpers had lifted Benson's body onto their shoulders; Josef, Daisy, Amber-Marie, and Aiyla fell in behind them.  The group was silent as they made their way to the blue room and then to Dyeland beyond.

Once on the other side, Josef was moved to find nearly all of the Friends congregated on the lawn surrounding the portal.  The few who were missing had either volunteered for childcare duty or had gone ahead to Avalon to prepare for the burial. 

JenniAnn and Andrew approached first, the former immediately hugging Josef while the latter offered a warm hand shake.

"Good morning, Josef and Daisy," Andrew knelt down and smiled as he patted the girl's hair.  "We're very humbled and honored that you chose to bring Benson... your Daddy... here to be remembered and celebrated."

"Thank you," Daisy replied shyly before hugging Amber-Marie's leg.

The angel of death rose and rested a hand on Josef's shoulder.

"How are you holding up?"

Josef shrugged.

"Pretty good.  We had a good talk on the way here."

"Good."  Andrew waved to where Randall, the Romano twins, and Clay were helping a handful of people into horse-drawn wagons.  "There will be room if you want to ride instead of..."

Josef shook his head.

"No.  Daisy wants to walk and I'll walk with her.  I'll let someone know if she gets tired.  I really appreciate this.  It reminds me of how we did funerals back in my day.  More... honest."

"You're welcome and I agree."

Josef noticed a familiar face in one of the wagons and excused himself to go greet her.

"Paula... Thank you for coming."

Reaching over the side of the wagon, the elderly woman set a hand on either side of Josef's face.

"Of course, Josef.  This old body wasn't going to keep me from being here to support you and Daisy.  And..."  Paula cut herself off.

"And you thought you'd pay your respects to Sarah while we were over there?" Josef guessed.

"Well... yes.  I don't get over there as often as I mean to."

"Me neither.  I'm sure Sarah understands.  And... I planned to do the same myself.  We can go together."

"I'd like that.  Now you better get back over there to your little girl.  I'll see you on the other side."

Josef nodded, squeezed Sarah's old nurse's hands tightly, then returned to Andrew.

"Is everyone here?"

"Yes.  And I just heard from Adam that they're ready over on Avalon.  Are you ready?"

Josef looked to where Daisy was waiting patiently with Amber-Marie.

"Yeah.  Let's go."

With another pat of the shoulder, Andrew moved to the front of the crowd.

"Everyone, Josef and Daisy are ready for us to begin.  If I could have our soloists up front and Isolde and Marco, that would be great.  Thank you.  Benson and his family will follow and then the rest of us will fall in behind them.  Remember, when we reach the coast, we'll move onto the barges and then to Avalon for the burial." 

Andrew turned to Isolde and Marco who would be carrying a cross and an icon of Joshua during the procession.  When they raised the emblems high, the angel turned to Zeke who would be the first soloist.

"Are you ready?"

Zeke nodded and smiled up at the sun.

"I am.  I can feel the Lord with us."

Andrew squeezed his shoulder.

"Me too."  He lowered his voice.  "I hope Josef feels him, too."

Zeke tried to catch a glimpse of the vampire but saw he was half-hidden by Mick and Beth who had him in a group hug. 

"You and me both," he replied.

Once Logan, his mother, and Zelda had claimed their own hugs, Josef took Daisy's hand and stared straight ahead.  It was Zeke's signal to begin.

"Friends, as we begin our celebration of Benson's life, please join me in the first hymn especially selected by his little Daisy: 'Morning Has Broken.'"

As they began to move, the Friends voices joined together.

"Morning has broken,
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird;
Praise for the singing,
Praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing
Fresh from the Word."

As they walked, Josef was careful to not let more than a few seconds go by without looking down at Daisy.  Each time, even as the songs changed, he saw that she was singing.  He wondered if Benson had been a singer, too.  Yes.  He was.  He knew that.  "Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do..."  He shook his head, trying to clear it.  He knew so little about his grandson and was forgetting what little he did know...

Josef began to mentally compile all the things he'd learned from Daisy and what little the Friends had been able to dig up on Benson.  He'd liked the color green.  He was a fan of the Mets.  He loved Christmas trees.  Daisy could remember him taking her to see the huge one in Rockefeller Center.  He'd had a dog as a little boy who he'd adored and who had been named...

Josef froze.

Daisy had told him the name.  He knew she had. 

Josef was considering whether or not to ask her when she pulled on his hand.


"Yeah.  You okay?"

Daisy nodded.

"Can I go hold hands with Aiyla now?"  Daisy peered back and forth between Josef and Amber-Marie.

Josef stared down at her, the words not quite computing.

"Yes, sweetie.  Of course you can," Amber-Marie answered.

Daisy took a few steps back and joined hands with Aiyla.

Amber-Marie took the girl's spot beside Josef.

"Are you okay?  You look a little piqued suddenly.  Is it the sun?  Maybe you should ride in one of the wagons for..."

Josef shook his head.

"No, I'm fine.  I have a couple of hours before the sun really starts to impact me." 

"Okay...  Well, just be sure to say something if you start to feel sick."

"Will do."

In part to prevent any further questioning, Josef began to sing along to the hymn, another Daisy selection, that Emma was now leading.

"All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful,
the Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings."

"Josef... here."

The vampire roused when Amber-Marie spoke and pushed something into his hands.  It was then he realized that tears were streaming down his face.

"Thank you," Josef muttered as he used the handkerchief Amber-Marie had given him to blot his face.

"Maybe the sun is getting to me more than..."

"Josef... don't."

Surprised at the interruption, Josef looked over to the woman.  He noticed there were tears in her own eyes.  Of course.  She knew her daughter was in pain.

"There's no shame in crying," Amber-Marie continued.  "You don't need to pretend those tears are anything other than what they are."

Josef stared down at the grass they were treading on.

"I know...  This...  It's a new thing for me.  All this... emotional openness.  And people not expecting me to be the strong one... the leader...."

Amber-Marie took his hand in hers.

"I know.  Just... know that you don't need to be that with us all the time... Daisy and me."  She smiled gently.  "We can take turns being the strong one.  And we already have a leader."

Josef followed her gaze to the icon of Joshua.

"Yeah.  We do."  He shook his head, still amazed.  It had been nearly half a year since he'd learned about Joshua's true identity but sometimes Josef still felt as if it were all part of some mass delusion.  But then those fears would disappear whenever Joshua reappeared in the flesh or even when Josef recalled all the things he knew and shouldn't have.  Josef's own behavior sometimes betrayed the truth.  After all, it was Joshua who he'd sought out, in tears and desperate, the night after they'd found Daisy.  It was Joshua whose presence he'd needed, in the same way as he'd once needed his mother, in the days that followed the little girl's rescue.  Barring a few drunken mumblings to Mick, Logan, and Marco; Joshua was the only man to whom Josef had ever said "I love you."  And he'd meant it.

Shielding his eyes, Josef peered up at the sun.

"Walk this road with me, Joshua.  I need your help," he prayed.

While Joshua did not appear, Josef felt a nearly as palpable energy surround him.  The tightness fell away from his chest and he drank in a deep, calming breath.

"Thank You," the vampire murmured.

Amber-Marie glanced over at him and saw the change.  Silently, she said her own thank you as the procession continued.


When the mourners reached the shore of Avalon, they were greeted by Adam, Kylie, and a handful of others who had been readying the burial site. 

"Oh!  Look at the pretty lights and flowers... daisies!" Daisy exclaimed as Josef helped her to step off the barge.

Amber-Marie disembarked and planted a kiss on Adam's cheek.

"It's beautiful.  Thank you.  You've all done an amazing job."

Adam embraced the woman.

"Anything to make it easier for Daisy.  And for...  Josef."  The angel of death turned when Josef put a hand on his shoulder.

"Thanks, Adam.  It's appreciated... all of it... more than any of you could know."

"You're very welcome.  It's an honor to be part of this.  The lights are for Daisy to keep once we're done here," Adam explained.

"That's so kind of all of you.  She obviously loves them."  Amber-Marie smiled at where Daisy and Aiyla were getting a close-up look at the daisy-shaped twinkle lights which bordered the pathway to the grave site.

Sylvester approached and set a hand on Josef's arm.

"We're ready to proceed to the grave site whenever you're ready, Josef."

The vampire looked a few feet away to where Mick, Logan, Marco, Andrew, and Vincent were waiting near Benson's casket.

"Just let me check with Daisy."

Josef approached the still-enchanted little girl and knelt beside her.

"Look, Daddy!  Light-up daisies!  Do you think Daddy can see them from Heaven?"

"I do," Josef replied.  "I think he can see everything here today.  But, mostly, I think he can see you and I know he's feeling very, very proud."  He smoothed back some of her wind-whipped curls.  "He loves you very, very much, honey.  And so do your Mommy and I."

Daisy tilted her head up to the sky.

"I love you, Daddy," she whispered.  She smiled at Josef and kissed his cheek.  "And I love you, too, Daddy.  And Mommy.  Where is Mommy?"

"Just over there, behind Uncle Adam.  You're going to walk the rest of the way with her so I can help carry your Daddy.  Is that okay?"

Daisy nodded. 

"Are you ready for us to start?"

"Yeah, I'm ready." 

Aiyla approached and took Daisy's hand.

"I'll walk with Daisy, too."

Josef smiled at the girl.

"Thank you, Aiyla.  I'll walk you both over there now."

Once the little girls were reunited with Amber-Marie, Josef joined the men surrounding the casket.  After another round of hugs, the six men moved into position around the casket.

Together, Rabbi Yakov and Fr. Mike moved to the front of the group.  The former spoke first.

"Friends, as we gather here to pay our respects to Benson, I'm reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah.  'On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples.  On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.  The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken.  On that day it will be said; "Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!  This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!'"

"We are blessed," Fr. Mike continued, "because we have looked into the eyes of the Lord.  We have held His hands and been embraced by Him.  Still, Joshua knows that until that Day on which death will be destroyed, we will know sorrow, grief, and longing... for him and for our loved ones, like Benson, who have passed into their Eternal Home.  Daisy and Josef... know that we are with you in your journey of grief towards healing.  More importantly, we pray that you know Joshua, the Father, and the Spirit are with you at every step... On the night before he died, Joshua beseeched his Father with these words: 'Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.  Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.  I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.'  As we make this final journey with Benson, I urge you to reflect on how the Father's love for Joshua and Joshua's love for us lives on in Daisy's love for her father and his for his little girl, a love that... like Joshua... conquers death."

As Fr. Mike was speaking, Rabbi Yakov retrieved two white and gold daisies from Eli who had appeared on the island only moments before the mourners' arrival.  The rabbi placed one pristine bloom on Benson's casket and presented the other to Daisy.

"This is from Joshua, sweetheart.  He sends it as a reminder that he's always with you and your Daddy, too.  It's a very special daisy and will never wilt nor bruise nor fall apart.  It'll remain perfect, just as God's love for you and for your Daddy is perfect."

"Thank you," Daisy murmured as she hugged the daisy to her chest, her eyes filling.  "And thank You, Joshua."

Rabbi Yakov hugged the child before rejoining Fr. Mike.

"As we proceed to the burial site, please join Tiva, Kylie, and Salma in singing 'Amazing Grace.'"

The first chords were the pallbearers' signal to lift the casket.

As he walked in time with his five friends, Josef reflected on the symbolism of the moment.  Here he was carrying the greatest burden and regret of his life... greater even than Sarah's loss... and he wasn't alone.  Mick and Marco who had been witness to his 'wilderness years' were behind and beside him.  Then there was Logan, whose friendship had coincided with the waning of those years and who had first seen Joshua for who he truly was.  Andrew and Vincent, who had become Josef's friends during Sarah's last days, held up the rear of Benson's coffin.  Each of the men represented a phase of Josef's life, experiences that had brought him to this moment: to fatherhood, to joy, to grief, to belief. 

"'Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T'was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home,
And grace will lead us home.'"

"'Lead us home...'" Josef sang as they came to the foot of Benson's grave. 

Carefully, the six pallbearers rested the casket on a series of ropes that Adam had carefully laid out earlier.

At a nod from Josef, Isolde moved to the head of the grave.  She began to recite a poem that Josef had selected, the same one that Vincent had read years before at Sarah's service.

"'Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.'"

Momentarily, Daisy stepped away from Amber-Marie and Aiyla and approached the casket.  She tucked an envelope into the floral cross that adorned it.

"I love you, Daddy," she tearfully murmured.  "And I... I miss you."

When she began to sob, Josef hurried to Daisy's side and held her.  Amber-Marie and Aiyla approached and huddled around the two.

Knowing that Josef would have to remain with his daughter, Behnam claimed his spot beside the casket.  At a nod from the grieving man, the six began to lower Benson's body into the ground.

"'Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.'"

Once the casket was lowered, a solemn procession began as all the Friends tossed multicolored daisies into the grave.

"'All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!'"

When she had finished reciting the poem, Isolde joined her husband at Benson's gravestone.  They removed the cross and icon from the staffs they had sunk into the earth upon their arrival.  Together, they approached Daisy and Josef.

Marco knelt in front of the huddle of Josef, Amber-Marie, Aiyla, and Daisy.

"These are for you, sweet Daisy."

Daisy raised her head from Josef's shoulder and took the items from Isolde and Marco.

"Thank you."

"Just as Joshua always watches over ya, he watches over your Daddy," Isolde explained.  "Which means you're never far apart, not really."

"Uh huh," Daisy agreed as she ran her fingers over Joshua's likeness. 

After the procession had ended, Beth spoke to the group.

"On behalf of Josef and Daisy, I'd like to thank everyone for coming and invite you all back to Willowveil for some brunch following our closing prayer.  Now...  Jacob."

While Daisy had originally wanted to speak at her father's funeral, as the day had approached, she'd grown more and more nervous over the prospect of it.  Noticing this, Amber-Marie and Josef had suggested to her that letting someone else take her place would be perfectly fine.  It had come as no surprise when the girl had requested that young Jacob take her place.  Without hesitation, the boy had agreed. 

With the perfect elocution he had learned from his father, Jacob prayed.

"'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. '"

"Amen," the gathered Friends finished in unison.

Josef let out a sigh of relief.  It was over and he and Daisy had made it through.  Now there remained only one heart-wrenching task but that was for him alone.  First, he would get his little girl on her way back to Willowveil where she could be surrounded by her little friends and enjoy the enduring comfort afforded by cake and ice cream.


Once he'd seen Daisy and Amber-Marie safely onto the barge, Josef reunited with Paula. 

"Are you ready to head over?" he checked.

"If you are?"

Josef nodded and offered his arm.  Before setting off, he turned towards Henry who had volunteered to row him and Paula back to Asteri. 

"We won't be long."

"Take your time," Henry urged.  "I'm in no hurry."

Josef returned his warm smile.

"Thank you."

The vampire and elderly woman were silent for a few paces.

"Your Daisy's a very strong little girl," Paula complimented.  "It's a joy to see her when she comes Below."

"Thank you.  I know she's looking forward to starting school.  Amber-Marie and I are talking about moving up her start day, maybe.  She adores Vincent.  All the teachers, of course, but..."

"The children always love Vincent."

"So I've heard."

"They're not as apt to fixate on differences as adults are."

Josef nodded.  He was beginning to feel like this conversation was leading somewhere he didn't want it to.

"Josef, does Daisy know about..."

"No," he spat out.

Paula frowned.

"She's too little to understand.  And she doesn't need to know."

"Doesn't need to know now... or doesn't need to know ever?" Paula challenged.  She sighed and patted Josef's back.  "I'm sorry.  This isn't the time or place for this discussion.  But I'm an old woman and I never know how much time I have so... forgive me for using what time I know I have."

Josef chuckled.

"I'm not sure that request was really very sincere."

Paula laughed, too.

"Fair enough.  I asked because I want to know... not because I'm afraid I won't have another chance to ask."

Josef gave another nod, appreciating the honesty.

"The answer is... I don't know.  Amber-Marie and I have talked and we both agree that, unless our hands are forced, Daisy is too young, too vulnerable right now.  But Amber-Marie feels strongly that she should know about the vampirism in time... because that's the only way to really know that she's my descendant.  And I get that.  But wouldn't it be just as good to tell her that it turns out we're distantly related and not be so specific?"

"I don't think it's the same, personally.  But even if I did...  I think you'd be tempting fate to not tell her yourself, in time.  I trust in Joshua.  I know the cure is coming.  But I also know that people talk.  Kids talk.  You may decide not to tell Daisy but do you think Mick and Beth and Isolde and Marco will choose the same for their children?  Isolde and Marco have quite the epic love story.  If I were them, I wouldn't want to keep it from my children."

"Isolde and Marco have nothing to be ashamed of," Josef grumbled.  "They're the paragons of vampiric virtue."


"Ah what?"

"So you don't want to tell Daisy because you feel guilty?"

"Of course I feel guilty!" Josef spat out.  "I didn't make it 400 years without leaving quite the trail of death and debauchery behind me.  I mean..."  He waved his hand to Sarah's gravestone which they were now mere feet away from.

"She made a choice, Josef," Paula gently reminded.

"And I was the older and wiser one.  I should have..."

"Yes, you should have.  But you didn't.  And you had your reasons... and your love for her.  So I have compassion for you.  And God has even more... endless amounts.  You know he does.  He... he's told you, Josef."  Tears began to cascade down Paula's wrinkled cheeks.  She set a hand on each of Josef's shoulders.  "I've seen the change in you, Josef.  I know you love Joshua... trust him, even.  I just... I wish you really believed him."

"I do believe him!  He's Jesus.  Second Member of the Trinity.  King of Kings.  Lord of Lords.  I believe that."

"That's not what I mean," Paula lamented.  "It... it's more than that, Josef."

The vampire heaved a sigh and wiped some sweat from his brow.  He was starting to feel queasy and blamed the sun.

"Can we talk about this later?"

Defeated, Paula nodded.

"Of course."

In silence, they both approached the grave. 

Paula placed a brightly painted rock that she had decorated at the base of Sarah's grave.  It bore the young woman's name and a multitude of colorful blossoms. 

"I miss you, sweet girl," she murmured.  "But I know you're not missing me.  Too busy living it up... probably dancing to Frank Sinatra... live and in-person."

Overhearing, Josef smiled at the image.  For his part, he withdrew a series of small trinkets from his pockets.  They were souvenirs from many of the places his work with FS brought him.

"You're with me at each stop, in each moment.  It's all... it's all for you, Sarah, my love," Josef silently prayed.

Unseen, Henry observed the man kneeling at his beloved's grave.  He saw the pain and regret etched into Josef's usually youthful face.  He prayed that Joshua's counsel and compassion would continue to work on Josef and allow him to truly embrace the happy life that was within his grasp.


The Cure

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Josef and Amber-Marie sat across from each other at the kitchen table, blurry-eyed and yawning at intervals.  The previous day had been enjoyable between attending church, brunch with several of the Friends at Adrian's, and helping Daisy to put the finishing touches on a card and bracelet she'd made for Beth's birthday.  The prior night, however, had been a nightmare. 

Shortly before 2:00 AM, Josef and Amber-Marie had been awoken by shrieking from Daisy's room.  Horrified, they'd run to her.  Fearing an intruder, Josef had gone into "vamp mode."  If not for Amber-Marie's quick thinking in throwing herself in front of him and blocking Daisy's view of her father, the trauma could have been much worse.  As it was, they'd found no intruder, no threat... except for the little girl's horrific memories and the nightmare they'd produced.  It had taken hours to get Daisy settled back down... hours of snuggling on either side of her and taking turns rocking her. 

"I can't believe I did that," Josef mumbled, breaking the tense silence.  "The vamp thing, I mean."

Amber-Marie patted his hand and gave him a sleepy, sympathetic smile.

"You couldn't help it.  It's automatic, isn't it?  Like the way some people's faces flush when they're embarrassed."

"Yeah but..."

"Daisy didn't see."

"But what if next time..."

The psychiatrist rubbed at her eyes.

"I wish I could say there won't be a next time but..."  She sniffled.  "This... this could be lifelong and... and..."

Josef abandoned the chair across from Amber-Marie and moved to the one beside her.  He hugged her shoulders.

"I just wish...  I wish I could...  I always want to make things better for... for my patients but... Daisy.  I can't even cure my... my own daughter!" Amber-Marie cried.  "It's not... not right that she... she experienced those things and... and still feels them... remembers so... so much... evil... being done to her.  Oh God...  Joshua, help me.  Help us."

Josef tensed at her words, feeling a mixture of shame and anger.  He hadn't prayed at any point during the tumultuous night.  He should have but, from the moment he'd understood the reality of Daisy's nocturnal panic, he'd been harboring feelings of anger towards Joshua and his Father.  Why hadn't they told him about Daisy earlier?  That question still haunted him.

The previous year had been one of beauty and joy.  Daisy's first trip to the zoo.  Daisy's first birthday and first Christmas with her new family and friends.  Her first vacation.  Her first pet... a therapy dog named Daffy, short for Daffodil. 

Josef smiled sadly as he thought of Daisy as he'd last glimpsed her, snuggled back into her bed with Daffy protectively spooning her.

Daisy had gone from abject isolation to a social calendar that Amber-Marie and Josef sometimes struggled to juggle.  And that was without considering the time she spent with Aiyla every day and her classes Below.  She was a happy, social, smart little girl who knew she was loved.

But still the night terrors came.  Sometimes sporadically with a month or two between incidents and sometimes several a week. 

And she could have... should have... been spared all of it.

A quiet shuddering noise roused Josef from his thoughts.  Amber-Marie's sobs were lessening and, with a start, Josef realized that her head was resting on his shoulder.  He remained still, reasoning that it was sheer exhaustion.

"I think we should keep her home today," he suggested.

Amber-Marie gave a nod.  She sat up then rose from her chair.

"I think so, too.  I'll call Isra and Behnam to let them know that Daisy won't be going Below with Aiyla and Omar.  Then I'll call Gayle... I'll let her know I'll be late to the CC.  Or maybe taking the day off depending..."

"Good idea.  I have a teleconference with some of the FS managers this afternoon but I can cancel it if..."

"Let's see how the morning goes."


While Amber-Marie went to make her calls, Josef started another pot of coffee for her.  He'd just poured the water into the coffeemaker when Amber-Marie rushed back in.

"My phone... it's filled with text messages.  Yours probably is, too.  Josef, Andrew and Marty found..."

Before she could finish, Amber-Marie was interrupted by the doorbell.

"Damn it," Josef hissed, worried that the sound would rouse Daisy.

"You check on her.  I'll get the door," Amber-Marie offered.

Josef nodded in agreement before making his way to Daisy's room.  He peeked in and saw she was still sleeping,  Daffy had awoken and gave him a curious look but remained still.

After gently closing the door, Josef made his way towards the living room.  He paused when he heard a man's voice.

"I've been making the rounds.  Just came from Isolde's and Marco's.  Is Josef..."

"Here.  He just went to check on Daisy.  She... had a rough night."

Josef heard whispered voices and then soft humming.  He hurried the rest of the way only to pause again in the entryway to the living room.  Joshua was there, holding Amber-Marie and softly swaying as he hummed.

"I'm so glad you're here... for multiple reasons," Amber-Marie murmured.

"I am, too."  Joshua kissed her forehead and took her hands, maintaining contact as he stepped back. 

Josef felt a lump form in his throat when Joshua's warm, golden brown eyes sought him out.

"Josef.  Good morning.  How are you doing?"

"Fine, Joshua.  Good morning.  Are you here because of..."  He waved down the hallway towards Daisy's room.

"In part.  I'll visit with Daisy when she's woken up.  I also came because..."

Amber-Marie loosened her hold of Joshua and approached Josef, embracing him.

"It's such wonderful news, Josef!" she exclaimed.

"Wonderful news?" the vampire questioned. 

Joshua withdrew a small vial from his pocket and beamed.

"The cure, Josef.  It's here.  Now.  It's quite the story but I suspect Mick and Beth will want to tell you themselves.  They've probably tried to call but..."

In shock, Josef answered in a monotone.

"My phone.  I left it in my room.  I haven't gotten back to it since Daisy..."  He frowned.

Joshua approached and set a gentle hand on Josef's shoulder.

"It's okay, Josef.  The short version is that Mick inadvertently discovered the cure and last night... this morning in France, where the cure was... Andrew and Marty went to collect more of it.  There's enough for all of you, Josef.  Logan's already taken it.  Isolde and Marco, too.  There's enough waiting at Willowveil for all the vampires in FS and..."  Joshua again held out the vial.  "This dose is for you, Josef."

Josef looked from Amber-Marie's teary but glowing face to Joshua's proud and pleased one to the miniscule vial he was holding.  Then back and forth, again and again.

Finally, he spoke, staring into Joshua's eyes as he did.

"I don't want it."

The effect on Joshua was immediate.  The smile faded from his face and the joy in his eyes morphed into concern.

"Josef!  Why wouldn't you want..."

"I don't want it!" Josef hissed, cutting Amber-Marie off.

"Josef," Joshua called gently as he held his hand out.  "Why don't we go to your office to talk?"

"Put that away first," Josef demanded, indicating Joshua's other hand which still clutched the vial.

A wave of pain washed over Joshua's face.

"Josef, I would never force you to do anything," he reminded.  "It's your choice.  Here.  I'll leave this with Amber-Marie."

Not believing the turn this reunion had taken, Amber-Marie remained still.

Joshua took her right hand in his and pressed the vial into it.

"Thank you, dear heart."

"Uh huh.  Welcome..."

"Josef, can we talk?" Joshua tried again.

"Yeah.  Let's talk," Josef agreed.

"Can I... get you anything, Joshua?" Amber-Marie offered.

"No, thank you.  Maybe later."  Joshua hugged her again.  "All will be well," he whispered.

Amber-Marie forced a smile and nodded before releasing him.

Without a word for her, Josef headed to his office with Joshua trailing him.

Once they were inside, Josef closed the door tight behind him.  He stared awkwardly at Joshua for a few moments before waving for him to sit down.

As soon as they both had, Joshua spoke.

"Josef, I'm sorry that Daisy had a bad night.  And I'm sorry that it's not been the first... and it won't be the last.  But I know that you and Amber-Marie are the very best people to help her through..."

"I could have been better," Josef cut in.  "If you'd let me."

"Josef, what do you..."

"Why didn't you tell me earlier?" the vampire questioned.  "All this time... ever since you told me the truth... since Benson's funeral...  I... I've blamed myself for not being present, not being there for my children and grandchildren.  And, you know, that's on me.  But you could have told me about Daisy!  You were already involved with Dyeland... with St. Genesius'... before Benson died.  Even though I didn't know... didn't believe... you could have told me!"

"Josef, I..."

"What?  Forgot?  Just never found the time?  Too busy singing God damn showtunes?" Josef shouted, unable to control the tears that were streaming down his face.  "Do you have any idea what it's like to have to sit there and cradle your child as she tells you what some God damn sons of bitches did to her?"

Joshua remained silent, head bowed.

"No, I probably wouldn't have believed you outright.  You know that.  But I knew Andrew liked you... trusted you.  That alone...  It would have made me curious enough to have at least checked into it if you'd said 'Oh, by the way, Josef... you have family in the city.'  Or, hell, you were giving out gifts left and right.  Maybe drop one of those genetic testing kits on me.  They work for vampires, you..."

Josef went silent as the truth hit him with clarity and force.  He began to feel nauseated. 

"Oh God...  Oh God, oh God..." he moaned.


The vampire made a dash for the bathroom adjoining his office and threw open the lid of the toilet.

Joshua knelt beside Josef as he vomited up the little bit of blood he'd managed to imbibe earlier that morning.

"Josef..." Joshua repeated, his voice soft and husky with emotion.  "Josef, I love you.  So much..."

When he was done retching, Josef remained seated on the bathroom floor, his back against the sink cabinet.  He stared ahead blindly as he spoke.

"You did tell me," he rasped.  "The still small voice...  You... you told me when Jolie decided to take the test and got results back.  You told me when it started a trend throughout FS.  You told me when the ads kept appearing in... in my mailbox... my inbox.  But I... I was so sure I didn't have any direct descendants.  And... and I felt overwhelmed with FS.  I didn't want the additional burden of... of tracking down and worrying over great-great-great nieces and nephews.  I... I was selfish.  I decided it was better not to know than... than to have all that responsibility.  Oh Daisy....  My... my baby.  I... I could have stopped it... it all before..."

With a burst of energy, Josef was on his feet.  He pounded his hands into the mirror, sending shards flying.

"Josef!  No!" Joshua shouted. 

His eyes blazing a fiery blue, Josef continued to beat on the mirror, not caring as more glass flew at him.

Joshua wrapped his arms around the vampire, holding him tightly and preventing him from doing further harm to himself.

Not thinking, Josef gnashed his fangs but Joshua was unflinching.

"Breathe, Josef.  Take a deep breath with me.  Here we go."  Joshua inhaled deeply then exhaled slowly.

Josef continued to struggle against Joshua but felt his strength diminishing along with his wish to do himself harm.  Eventually, he found himself breathing along with the carpenter.

"There we go.  Good.  You're doing good," Joshua encouraged.

After a few minutes, Josef had calmed enough that he meekly allowed Joshua to lead him back into the office.  His wounds had healed nearly as soon as they'd been made but Joshua busied himself wiping the leftover blood from Josef's face and arms.

"I'll get you a change of clothes before we go back out there," he offered.  "So Daisy doesn't see."

"Daisy..." Josef echoed.  He began to wrack with sobs.  "Daisy...  I... I did this to... to my..."

"Josef, no.  You didn't do anything to Daisy," Joshua insisted.  "That sin belongs to the men and women who hurt and betrayed Daisy."

Josef finally looked into Joshua's eyes.

"But I could have stopped it from happening."

Joshua sighed.

"Every day people are given chances to connect... to help out, Josef.  Sometimes they take them... and many times they don't.  Not because they're cruel or unfeeling but because they feel overwhelmed or scared or helpless.  It hurts me and it hurts the Father but that doesn't mean we don't feel compassion for them, Josef.  For you.  And it doesn't mean we don't forgive.  Because those same people... sometimes they take other chances.  And they run with them.  Just like you have all these years with For Sarah.  And you did find your way to Daisy, Josef.  You didn't have to bring her back here to New York.  You could have left her in Atlanta, in the care of your team.  But in that moment... you took the chance.  You welcomed Daisy into your life and you've been a wonderful father to her ever since and an amazing partner to Amber-Marie in caring for her.  That means something, Josef.  That means... everything."

Joshua clasped the vampire's shaking right hand in both of his.

"I've forgiven you, Josef.  For everything.  Can you forgive yourself?"

"Will Daisy ever be able to forgive me?"

"You know your daughter.  What does your heart tell you?"

Josef closed his eyes.  He imagined Daisy as a girl of around twelve or thirteen... taller, less slight, more confident but still with those same big, blue eyes that exuded gentleness and compassion.  Josef saw those eyes fill with tears.  He saw a troubled shadow cross her still-impish face.  Her head bowed, her precious curls shielding her from his gaze for a moment. 

"Daisy," he murmured.

"Oh, Daddy...  I love you, Daddy."

Josef slowly exhaled, nodded, and opened his eyes.


Joshua cradled Josef's face in his hands and nodded, his eyes glistening.

"But I... I have to keep going... to convince myself that I've earned her forgiveness.  And yours.  I can't step back from FS, Joshua.  I... I can't.  One day but... not now.  Please know that I... I want to.  And I don't... doubt you.  But something in me..."  Josef brushed tears from his eyes.  "I can't, Joshua.  I... I can promise you that I'll keep working on whatever it is in me that can't fully accept your forgiveness.  Please... please don't give up on me."

Joshua set a hand on the vampire's bowed head and gently patted his hair.

"I could never give up on one of my children.  And I understand.  I do.  Sometimes... sometimes, in the darkness, it can be difficult to feel God's love.  That doesn't mean it's not there... even when you... or a part of you... feels abandoned."

Josef raised his head so he could peer into Joshua's eyes.  He saw true understanding there.  Of course Joshua understood.

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Fresh tears filled Josef's eyes as he imagined the man in front of him going through excruciating, endless pain.  It hurt all the more knowing he'd added to it in the last hour.

"I'm sorry, Joshua.  Sorry for thinking you couldn't understand my pain... listening to Daisy.  You... you do understand, you have experienced that.  Even... even more."

Joshua replied with a grave nod.

"And I'm sorry for the crack about... showtunes.  I'm glad you sang showtunes.  Worked out well for everyone."  For the first time since the carpenter's arrival, Josef smiled.

Through his tears, Joshua chuckled.

"Yeah, it did, didn't it?" 

"Oh yeah."

Joshua sunk back against the couch cushions and patted Josef's arm, encouraging him to relax, too.

"You were exhausted, heartbroken, and in pain.  I understand, Josef.  And I forgive you... with all I am."

"All you are..." Josef repeated, a tender note in his voice which had grown raspy from his tears and the retching.

"You need a drink, Josef."

Josef looked to the locked refrigerator that Joshua had waved to and frowned.

"I... I just wish there was some way to keep working like I do with FS and not... not need... that.  To keep the powers I use to keep people safe and yet not..."

"There is a way," Joshua replied, his tone solemn.

"How?" Josef asked with excitement.

"You may... find it difficult to accept.  But know that I wouldn't offer if..."

Josef's face went ashen as he began to understand what Joshua was offering him.

A bottle appeared on the coffee table in front of the couch.  Josef recognized the bottle as the same design that held Joshua's True Vine Winery offerings.  However, there was no label on this bottle.

Cautiously, Josef reached out for it.  Upon picking it up, the liquid sloshed a little against the stopper.  He immediately recognized the viscosity as that of blood... not wine.

The vampire shook his head and set the bottle back down.

"I... I couldn't..."

"Drink it and you will be deathless.  You'll have the strength and endurance you need to continue your work.  You won't hunger or thirst for anything else.  The bottle will never be empty... not until the day you choose to take the cure," Joshua explained.

"But...  Joshua...  I'm not... worthy," Josef protested.

Joshua smiled gently.

"You don't get to make that call, Josef.  None of you do.  I made it... over 2,000 years ago."

Josef let out a shuddering sigh and clasped the cross around his neck.

Joshua lifted the bottle from the table and held it out to Josef.

"Take it.  Please."

With shaking hands, Josef took the bottle and carefully, wary of spilling so much as a drop, uncorked it.  Before taking a sip, he peered into Joshua's eyes.

"Thank you.  I... I love you, Joshua."

"I love you, too, Josef."

After letting out a deep breath, Josef raised the bottle to his lips and drank.

Warmth like he hadn't known for centuries poured through Josef's body.  And then he felt it...




Josef returned the bottle to the table hastily but carefully then brought his hands to his chest.

His heart...  His heart was beating...  No more would he have to be careful about how he held Daisy.  He wouldn't have to worry that she'd detect his missing heartbeat.

He had a heartbeat!

Josef laughed.  Yet more tears trailed down his cheeks but now they felt warm.

Joshua chuckled and patted the man on the back.

"Josef Kostan... welcome back to humanity."


Amber-Marie could immediately sense that something was different when Josef and Joshua, at last, emerged from the former's office.  While Josef and his friends had never had the deathly pallor that was ubiquitous in vampire films, there had been a subtle lack of warmth in the hue of their skin.  No more with Josef.

Surprised, the psychiatrist approached Josef and rested a hand on his cheek.

"You look..."

Josef smiled, removed her hand, and brought it to his chest.

"Oh!" Amber-Marie exclaimed.  She whirled around to face Joshua who merely smiled. 

"I'm cured," Josef assured.  "Not in the same way as the others but... cured.  I'll explain more later.  For right now, let's make some breakfast for our guest."

"Of course!"  Amber-Marie again turned towards Joshua.  "What would you like?  I can make waffles or pancakes or..."

"I wouldn't turn down pancakes," Joshua accepted.  "And I think Miss Daisy would like some, too."  He waved to the hallway.

Amber-Marie and Josef both heard the familiar squeak of Daisy's door followed by soft padding and a canine whine.

"Mommy?  Daddy?"

"In the living room, sweetie," Amber-Marie called.

Sleepily, Daisy entered with Daffy at her heels.  She began to shuffle towards Amber-Marie before noticing the third adult in the room.

"Joshua!" she cried. 

Joshua met the little girl halfway across the room and scooped her up into his embrace.

"I... I..." Daisy started before beginning to sob.

"It's okay, little one.  Take your time.  We'll sit down and talk all about it," Joshua cooed.

In the arms of the carpenter, the little girl let the night's lingering terrors bleed out of her. 

Josef fetched Daisy's blanket from her room and gave it to Joshua who settled onto the couch with her.  He bundled the child up and swayed, listening to and consoling her while Daffy curled up beside them.

After looking upon the scene for a few moments, hands clasped; Amber-Marie and Josef went to the kitchen.

"I'm glad he's here... for you, of course.  But I think Daisy needed him, too, today.  Like this.  In the flesh," Amber-Marie opined as she wiped tears from her face.

"Me too.  I know she trusts us... but she knows Joshua can't lie.  She won't question his assurances.  At least... I hope not.  With her meeting him so young..."

"As difficult as her life has been, she hasn't had years of growing more jaded... more mired in self-loathing."

Josef nodded.


They were silent for a while as they gathered all the ingredients they needed for pancakes.

As she began to stir the batter, Amber-Marie spoke.

"I'm glad you let Joshua cure you."

"Me too.  I..."  Josef sighed.  "I was foolish to deny him at first.  But...  Well, speaking of jadedness and self-loathing..."

"I'm sure he understands."

"He does."

"And so the cure you were given..." Amber-Marie prompted.

"I'll still keep the powers I have as a vampire... the speed, the invulnerability, etc.  And I won't need to eat or drink except..."  Josef focused on the orange juice he was mixing.  "Joshua gave me a bottle of blood that will never run dry.  So... now I don't have to take from others."

Surprised, Amber-Marie looked up from the bowl of batter. 

"That's...  Actually, no.  That makes sense.  Kinda like the fishes and loaves," she reasoned.  "They just... multiplied somehow."

Not ready to disclose that Joshua's offering had a lot more to do with the Last Supper than the feeding of the five thousand, Josef nodded.

"Yeah.  A lot like that."

"Amazing!  So... do you think you'll ever take the cure that the others took?"  After sneaking a quick glance at Josef, Amber-Marie once again focused on her mixing bowl.

"Yes.  I don't know when but... yes.  I just...  I need to feel like I've earned it, Amber-Marie.  And I... don't yet.  Once I've worked through those feelings... then I'll take it.  In the meantime, I'm no longer a parasite and I don't have to worry about Daisy realizing that I don't have a heartbeat.  So I feel very, very blessed."

Amber-Marie lightly rested a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm glad.  You deserve that, Josef.  You really do."

The man beamed at her.


The two resumed breakfast preparations, each working quietly until Josef found himself humming.  He chuckled when he realized it was "Jesus Christ Superstar."  He was about to make a joking comment to Amber-Marie when he noticed her surreptitiously brushing at her eyes as she sliced some pears.

"Amber-Marie, are you okay?" he asked, lightly touching her shoulder.

Startled, the woman spun around.  After a moment, she flashed a smile.

"Oh, yes.  Everything's just so... wonderfully beautiful.  Happy tears."

Josef found he didn't quite believe her.  However, he also knew that Amber-Marie could be intensely private.  He filed away his concerns for potential discussion later.

"Yeah," he agreed.  "Wonderfully beautiful."

"I think I'm going to make some of my special syrup.  It has honey in it so I'm sure Joshua will like it."

"I'm sure he will."

Amber-Marie squeezed Josef's hand.

"We're so blessed," she murmured.

"That we are."  Josef hugged his co-parent.  "And I'm really glad I have you to share those blessings with.  Not only are you a wonderful mother, Amber-Marie but... I've come to realize that, next to Joshua, you're the best friend I've got.  Just don't tell Mick."

Amber-Marie laughed.

Only later, in a brief moment before sleep overtook him, would Josef realize that her laughter had been a little too loud, too forced.  However, by the time the sun rose and the first full day of his new life had begun, he would forget.


The Dream

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

"So we're telling Daisy today.  About me being a vampire, I mean," Josef explained as he carefully arranged the latest round of trinkets on Sarah's grave.  "I couldn't decide how to do it and then I stopped by to visit Andrew this past Thursday and found Belle and Liam watching a movie called Hotel Transylvania.  It's about a single dad vampire who is raising a little girl.  Heck if I didn't get sucked in.  Sorry, no pun intended."

Josef chuckled.

"It made me more than a little teary-eyed, to be honest.  Andrew lent me the DVD and so Amber-Marie and I decided we'd watch it with Daisy and then tell her.  It makes vampires seem... normal, you know?  Not scary.  And I think we have to tell her.  Soon.  In a few months, FS is going to be in the throes of a pretty epic baby boom.  I really think they all shacked up the same day Joshua had the cure delivered to all our offices.  Can't say I blame them."

With a sigh, Josef traced the letters of his beloved's name.

"Every so often, I can't help by wonder if...  Well, if that would have been us if you... if you'd lived.  But then I remind myself that you're happier where you are than I could have ever, ever made you.  And then Daisy..."  The man shuddered.  "Where would Daisy be?  So I try not to think that way.  I know you wouldn't want me to.  Anyway, Amber-Marie decided we better tell Daisy before Jolie has her little bundle of joy.  You know how she can talk.  And with her and her husband moving to New York soon...  It's only a matter of time before someone says something.  And with FS... don't think that we're backing down, Sarah.  We never will.  I promise you that.  One of the many good things about being able to get rid of the hidden blood refrigerators and freezer beds is I've been able to be less restrictive in my hiring practices.  So long, vampires.  Hello, retired Navy SEALS.  Not that all the former vampires have left.  Some of them even refused to give up their old jobs.  Now they just do them with a whole lot more body armor.  But enough stepped back to warrant a hiring spree.  I wish you could see some of these guys, Sarah!  They're tanks!  Last week, we did a raid in Eritrea and this one guy, DeShawn, took a bullet and kept going!  I didn't even realize he'd been shot until we were on our way back to the base.  We got him patched up but he was trying to get off medical leave the next day!  Not even 24 hours later!  Unbelievable.  Amazing guy.  They all are.  But enough about work."

Josef withdrew his phone from his pocket and beamed.

"Like I was telling Benson earlier, Daisy's been doing really, really well.  It's been a few months since her last sleep terror.  Amber-Marie and I know that doesn't mean they're over.  But we're making the most of the reprieve."

Josef pulled up a photo and laughed. 

"She and Aiyla have decided to go as butterflies for Halloween.  That took some creativity on Amber-Marie's and Isra's parts!  And I even made their antennae all by myself.  Okay, so JenniAnn had to give me some pipe cleaners and and a couple tips but I did put them together on my own.  It'll be a miracle if their costumes are still intact come Halloween.  They ask to wear them nearly every day.  Meanwhile, I fear my little girl is becoming ever more enamored with Jacob.  Thankfully, he takes after his dad and is ever the gentleman even though I'm sure he'd rather not have a younger girl tagging along when he's with his friends.  It's good that she's still so close to Aiyla, though.  I don't think a weekend has gone by when they don't have a sleepover.  Actually, Aiyla was with Daisy when she had her last night terror.  For such a young girl, it's amazing how well she can handle..."

Josef's text alert sounded.

"It's Amber-Marie.  She and the girls are on their way back from a craft class at the CC so that's my cue to head home."

Josef rose from where he'd crouched and set a hand on the top of Sarah's headstone.

"Thank you for these talks, Sarah.  You have no idea how much good they do me.  They make it seem... well, like the old days."  He patted the stone.  "I love you, my darling."

Josef closed his eyes briefly, allowing himself a fleeting trip back to when he had been her beloved Charles... back to their kisses and caresses, back to the home and life they'd so briefly shared.  Then, with a sigh, he made his way towards the boat that would bring him back to Asteri and then to his home in New York.

Unbeknownst to Josef, two figures watched him stroll away.  The shorter one rested her head on the taller one's shoulder.

"Why is he still clinging to me like this, Joshua?  Can't he see that, while I'll always be with him, he has to move on?"

Joshua's gaze traveled back and forth between the retreating figure and the young woman kneeling in front of her gravestone, examining the treasures there.

"Does he bring Amber-Marie souvenirs?"

Joshua smiled gently at the girl.

"He does.  They're usually very... practical."

Sarah grimaced.

"Why can't he see how she feels about him?"

"Because he doesn't want to."


"He can't reciprocate, Sarah.  Not now.  And, because of that, he doesn't want to see because, to Josef, that would threaten his life with Daisy.  He wants to believe that they're like brother and sister.  Still."  Joshua smirked.  "To be fair, they both want me to believe that, too."

"Surely Amber-Marie knows better.  I mean... you know everything.  She can't hide her feelings from you."

"She does know... deep down.  She just doesn't want to admit it to herself because then she has to let go of the illusion that what she feels is just an evolutionary impulse to bond with her co-parent."

"But she's so perfect for him!  And he could do her so much good if only..."  Sarah sighed and returned to Joshua's side.  "I'm stressed now."  She grinned.  "Dance with me?"

Joshua chuckled. 

"Sure.  Do you have a song in mind?"

"You know the one.  I love it when you sing it... it's even better than when the other king does," she teased.

Joshua smiled and gave a knowing nod before starting to sing.

"'Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go.  You have made my life complete, and I love you so.'"

Sarah once again rested her head on Joshua's shoulder as they waltzed around Avalon.  She felt her worries for Josef and his family begin to lift as Joshua sang and led her.

"'Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled...'"

"Dreams..." Sarah echoed.

"'For my darlin' I love you, and I always will.'"

"Dreams!" Sarah repeated with excitement.  "Joshua!  I have an idea!"

Joshua stopped dancing and smiled, knowing exactly what Sarah was thinking of and glad that she had come to the idea herself.

"Tell me all about it.  Please."

Energized, Sarah clasped the carpenter's hand and pulled him towards a bench where they sat as she told him all about her plan.


After watching the whole of Hotel Transylvania in a giggly thrall, Aiyla and Daisy danced around the living room to the end credits.  As they did so, Amber-Marie and Josef shared an amused glance.

"I have a bad feeling she's going to ask me if I can fly... or even if she can fly!" Josef whispered.

Amber-Marie snorted with laughter.

"That would be the last thing we need!  They did love the movie, though.  That's a good sign, right?"

"I hope so."

After the music died down, Daisy spun around and smiled at her parents.

"I loved that movie!  Can we get it so I can watch it again and again and again?"

"Yeah!" Aiyla seconded.

Amber-Marie responded with a smile and nod.

"Sure.  We can do that."

"Can we watch it again right now?" Daisy pressed.

"In a little bit."  Josef waved the girl closer.  "Mommy and I want to talk with you first."

"Should I go home?" Aiyla checked.

"If you want.  But you're welcome to stay," Amber-Marie offered.

Noticing the slight look of concern on her friend's face... and not wanting to miss the encore of her new favorite movie... Aiyla planted herself on the floor.

"I'll stay."

"Good!" Daisy cried, sitting beside Aiyla and hugging her.  She looked up at her parents' imploringly.  "What we got to talk about?"

"Well, actually, we'd like to talk about the movie," Amber-Marie began.  "And how Daddy is kind of like the Daddy in the movie."

Josef drew in a deep breath when the psychiatrist squeezed his hand and turned the conversation over to him.

"How are you like the Daddy in the movie?" Daisy asked.

"Can you fly?!" Aiyla pressed, eyes already sparkling at the idea.

"Ooh!" Daisy squealed.

Josef chuckled.

"No.  I can't fly.  Not without an airplane, anyway.  But you know how that Daddy lived a long, long, long time before he had his little girl?"

Daisy and Aiyla both nodded.

"Well, Daddy's been alive for a long, long, long time, too."

"Oh," Daisy replied simply.

Amber-Marie leaned closer to Josef.

"All kids think their parents are ancient," she whispered.

"Right..."  Josef nodded, trying to think of how to proceed.  "Oh, hey, you know how Uncle Andrew told you that he's very, very, very old.  Older than anybody's grandpa or great-great-great grandpa and how he lived before there was TV or phones or stuff like that?"

"Yup.  Cause he's an angel!" Daisy informed.  "Are you an angel?"

"Um... no.  And I'm not as old as Uncle Andrew.  But I have been alive since long before TV and phones.  Like the Daddy in the movie... the vampire Daddy."

Daisy looked over to the DVD box, quietly thinking.  After a few moments, her pigtails whipped around, hitting Aiyla in the face and making her giggle.

"Are you a vampire, Daddy?"

As he stared into the child's enormous, searching eyes; Josef swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded.

"I mean... I was.  Yes.  Daddy was a vampire.  And I still am in some ways.  But Joshua made the bad parts go away.  But what I want you to know... both of you... is that like the vampire in the movie, I would never, ever hurt you.  I don't want to hurt anyone.  Ever.  And this... it doesn't change anything about our family, our home, our life.  I just... I wanted you to know the truth, honey.  And I also want you to know that, just like Dracula with his little Mavis... I will protect you, sweet Daisy.  Forever."

Unblinking, Daisy continued to stare at her father for a moment that caused Josef and Amber-Marie some amount of angst.  Then, quick as could be, she climbed into Josef's lap.

"I don't care that you're kinda a vampire, Daddy.  But..."

"But what, sweetheart?"

"Can I be a bat instead of a butterfly for Halloween?"

"Me too!" Aiyla echoed.

Laughing, Josef gathered Daisy closer and covered her face in kisses as she giggled.

"Yes, my little monsters, I think we can manage that," Amber-Marie agreed, teary-eyed and smiling at the two happy little girls and very relieved, very content man.


Sunday, October 15th, 2017

Josef glanced at his cell phone.


That meant he had a little over two hours until Amber-Marie and Daisy were due back from a visit to the former's parents.  Josef briefly reflected on the morning's farewells.  As usual, Daisy had been overjoyed at the prospect of visiting her grandparents in Poughkeepsie.  Gerald and Myra Sayer had resigned themselves to a grandchild-less future when, ten years into her marriage, their only child still hadn't produced a grandson or daughter.  Whatever waning hopes they'd held onto had completely died when Amber-Marie's husband had walked out on her.  And then along came Daisy. 

Josef smiled as he recalled the couple's first meeting with their granddaughter.  A proud man, Gerald had struggled to contain his emotions.  With no such hang-ups, Myra had sobbed openly and clung to the little girl who had been only too eager to soak up such unconditional love.  Now they tried to get together every two weeks, rotating between Amber-Marie driving them out to Poughkeepsie and Gerald and Myra spending a night or two with them in the Bronx.

Josef's smile morphed into a frown as he recalled Amber-Marie's seeming disappointment when he'd declined to tag along.  He hadn't completely understood it.  While he tried to go when he could, it wasn't uncommon for him to miss the trek to Poughkeepsie.  He didn't think Gerald or Myra minded.  The visits at his own house were easier.  He had his office or the Al-Mitra's to slip away to.  In Poughkeepsie, he felt like a merely tolerated distraction.  He didn't want to take away from the couple's time with their daughter and granddaughter and yet he always felt like he did.  A doting hostess, Myra repeatedly asked if he needed anything to eat or drink.  Gerald seemed to feel the need to amuse him and defaulted to talk about sports or current events.  It was better to let them be.  Besides, he had a plan.

Staring up at his house, Josef began to plot out his course of action.  He smirked and wished that the house wasn't so visible.  With some isolation, he would have been able to finish his task in mere minutes by utilizing the leaps and speeds granted to him but his residual vampirism.  But, as it was, the house was in the middle of a bustling neighborhood so he'd have to work with a ladder and patience.  Still, he was determined... determined to give his little girl the best Halloween ever.

Inspired by her newfound obsession with all things Hotel Transylvania, Josef had decided to surprise Daisy with a Halloween make-over for the house.  He'd bought boxes and bags of green, purple, and orange twinkle lights and faux spider webbing.  In addition, he'd picked up a few light-up spiders and bats.  They were going to have their very own Hotel Transylvania!

About an hour into the job, Josef began to wish that he'd asked some of the others for their help.  He'd considered asking Behnam but hadn't wanted to disrupt one of the few days when the Al-Mitras could be together as a family, minus Daisy and with Aiyla.  Isolde and Marco were in Italy, no doubt stuffed with ravioli and spumoni and wine.  Logan was probably looking at wedding venues with Zelda and his mother.  And Mick...  He'd been scarce lately.  Josef suspected he and Beth were trying to get pregnant.  And Vincent certainly couldn't have helped.  Andrew might have been a good choice but Josef thought he might have had all the Halloween he could handle given JenniAnn's proclivity for the holiday.  And so, alone, Josef soldiered on.

By the time he was onto his last box of lights, it was after 6:00 and beginning to grow dark.  Further, Amber-Marie had texted to say she and Daisy were making good time.  This news spurred Josef on and he hurried to finish.

"Damn it," he muttered when a third attempt to hook the end of a string onto a gutter ended with the hook falling onto the ground.  Josef reached into his pocket, already knowing that it had been his last hook.  He'd have to climb back down the ladder and go back up...

Frustrated, Josef started down the ladder.  In his haste, he missed a step and began to teeter.  Trying to right himself, Josef reached for anything he could.  His hand landed on the gutter and he used it to pull himself back towards the ladder.  Instead, Josef heard a creak followed by the gutter detaching.  The ladder, which had been resting against it, slid to the side.  Already struggling to remain balanced, Josef lost his equilibrium entirely.  He fell back from the ladder and landed in a heap on the lawn. 

The fall knocked the breath out of him and Josef's view grew hazy.

And then black.

"Joshua!  No!  Please don't let..."

"Oh Joshua...  No."

Crouching near Josef, Joshua looked up at his two companions and smiled.

"Relax.  He's fine.  Well, he'd be better if he'd gone to Poughkeepsie like I wanted... and like Amber-Marie certainly wanted... but since he didn't, we can use this."  Joshua rose to his feet and wrapped an arm around Sarah's shoulders.  "He's asleep Sarah which means..."

Sarah clapped her hands.

"He can dream!"

Andrew, relieved to know he wasn't summoned to Josef's yard to engage in his AOD duties, raised an eye brow.

"Am I missing something?"

Giggling, Sarah reached for the angel's hand and gave it a squeeze.

"You'll know.  Hopefully soon.  See you later!"

With that, the young woman disappeared.

Andrew looked from where Sarah had stood to Josef and then to Joshua.

"Care to fill me in, Boss?"

Joshua chuckled, sat back down by Josef, and tenderly gazed at him.

"Sarah's gone to be with Josef... in their own sort of In-Between.  Like my island... but more like a train station."

"A train station?" Andrew repeated, incredulous.  Then it hit him.  "Oh...  Their train station.  Where they met."

"Well, a version of it," Joshua clarified.  "But yes."

"So... you sent Josef to go be with Sarah instead of..."  Andrew dragged his hand through his hair.  "Sorry, I'm just confused.  I was getting the impression that maybe Josef and Amber-Marie were endgame."

Joshua burst out laughing.

"You sounded so much like JenniAnn just now with her fandom shipping terms."

Andrew grinned.

"No fair laughing at me for it.  You're the one who decided she was the other half of my OTP."

"So I did.  And as for our friend here..."  Joshua rested a gentle hand on Josef's shoulder.  "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

Andrew's eye brow again shot up.

"Isn't that a lyric from a song?  I think I remember JenniAnn listening to it.  College era maybe?"

"High school.  'Closing Time' by Semisonic.  Still true."

"It is," Andrew agreed, peering down at his fallen friend.

Moved by the angel's compassion, Joshua patted his arm.

"Would you like to check in on them, Andrew?"

With a grateful smile, the angel of death nodded and, in another moment, disappeared.

Joshua alone remained with Josef.  After brushing a stray leaf from the man's face, he bent down and kissed his forehead.

"Listen well, Josef, my son.  Listen and be free."


Just as he had every April 5th for many, many years, Josef wandered Central Station in New York.  It was here he had met the love of his life.  He stood and watched the trains, recalling that blessed day in 1954 when he had been waiting for a train.  He had missed the train but found his reason for living.  Sarah.

So much had changed since then.  In the years since Sarah's death, life had gone on for Josef and his friends.  Weddings, births, deaths, graduations, and other miracles beyond anyone's imaginings.  The house where he and Sarah had lived had long been sold.  A family with four children lived there now.  Yet, through each triumph and tragedy that same love still burned in Josef's heart.  He had faith that one day he would see Sarah again.  Andrew had promised and Josef believed.  But sometimes the years seemed so long.  Only here did time seem to stand still.  The people buzzing around were dressed very differently but the hustle and bustle of 1954 was not so different from the busyness of the present.  It was easy for Josef to imagine that any minute Sarah would appear.

"I love you, Sarah," Josef whispered.  He surveyed his surroundings once more and then prepared to leave for the year.  A loud bang shook Josef out of his remembrances.  He looked behind him to see a young woman frantically trying to rescue items that had fallen from her faulty suitcase and were about to be trampled by other travelers.

Josef stooped beside her and began to help gather her belongings.

"Oh thank you.  Stupid buckle on my suitcase just snapped apart.  It was an antique, too," the girl mourned.  She looked up at Josef and smiled gratefully at him.

Josef stared at her, feeling his heart pound wildly in his chest.  Her eyes.  So familiar.  The green scarf tied in her hair.  He snapped his eyes away, not wanting to make the woman uncomfortable.  In so doing, Josef realized what he had been gathering from the floor for her.  Albums.  There in his right hand was Doris Day.

"D-doris Day," he mumbled.

The woman laughed as she took the record.  "Crazy, isn't it?  My mom thinks I was born in the wrong era.  Or maybe that I'm an obsessed Elvis fan, reborn to prove the King is still here.  But I doubt it.  Besides, I've always had a thing for blondes.  Especially dishwater blondes."  She winked playfully at her album's rescuer.  "I'm Sadie, by the way."

"Josef," he responded, somehow calming in the face of Sadie's teasing.

"Well, I don't have any where to be just yet, Josef.  How about I treat you to lunch?  In gratitude for so chivalrously saving Miss Day."  Sadie grinned at him, setting the last of her treasures into the bottom of her suitcase and standing up.

Josef, too, stood and grinned back.  "I'd like that.  Thank you.  Here, let me."  He took the broken suitcase from her.

Sadie beamed at him and then blushed.  "You're going to think I'm even crazier than you must already but..."

"Try me," Josef encouraged.

"You look so familiar.  Like someone out of my dreams."  Sadie's blush grew deeper and Josef thought she looked even more beautiful.

"It doesn't seem so crazy to me."  Josef smiled softly at her.

"Good."  Sadie reached for Josef's hand and squeezed it.  Theirs eyes locked once more.  They both knew they would never again be alone in the world.

Harried travelers paid no attention to the couple making eyes at each other.  They darted around the dishwater blonde man holding the broken suitcase and the brunette woman staring intently back at him.  Only one other person in the station saw any import in the scene.

Andrew stared out from the nearby ticket window, beaming.  He thought back on the words he had spoken to Sarah before she had gone Home.  "With God nothing's impossible."  And nothing was.  As he watched the two figures leave the station together, Andrew thanked the Father for giving Josef and Sarah a second chance. 

Another beginning, another end.


Josef smiled as Sadie chattered on about her favorite musicians and songs, silenced only when she took a sip of her chai or a bite of her scone.  He had gotten away with ordering only a white Zinfandel by claiming he had just eaten.

"Lately, I've become very keen on Billie Holiday.  Her music is just so... expansive!  From dreamy love songs to soul-shattering songs like 'Strange Fruit'...  She was such a brave lady.  I mean... obviously she struggled and made some unfortunate choices but to get up there and sing like that...  Anyway, enough about me!  Who do you like to listen to?"

Josef found himself at a loss for words.  He knew he'd been listening to something recently...  He had the vague sensation that someone else had recommended it or requested it...  Snippets of the song came to him.

"'I'm a monster...  I'm a m-monster....'"

What was that?!  Since when did he listen to pop? 

Josef shook his head.

"I'm afraid I don't listen to music as much as I'd like to.  Classical when I do.  But, yeah, Billie Holiday is great.  Do you have a favorite song of hers?"

"Hmm...  Probably her version of 'I'll Be Seeing You.'" 

Sadie set down her mug and began to sing. 

"'I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places
that this heart of mine embraces...
All day and through.
In that small cafe,
the park across the way,
the children's carousel,
the chestnut trees,
the wishing well...'"

Josef's eyes welled.  She sounded so much like Sarah...

"Oh...  I'm sorry."  Sadie reached across the table and used her napkin to gently brush some tears from Josef's face.

"No... no, you're fine.  That song... it just reminds me of someone.  Someone who... I loved and lost."

"I know it can be hard to be separated from those we love.  But no one is ever lost, Josef.  Not really."

Before he could respond, a waiter buzzed by and set their check on the table.  When Josef reached for it, he noticed something tucked into the clipboard: a small, fresh daisy.

Surprised at the burst of emotion, the man grabbed the flower.  He studied each perfect petal as he cradled it.

"Daisy?" he murmured.

An approaching train whistled and the air became thick with smoke.  Josef felt disoriented and terribly sleepy.  He struggled to maintain eye contact with Sadie but, after another moment, his head careened towards the table and he knew no more.


Josef awoke to find himself on a red velvet upholstered couch with a fuzzy, purple blanket tucked around him.  His head hurt and he felt too drowsy to move.  Nonetheless, his vantage point gave him some idea of the sort of place he was in.  He could see a window with pink and green lace curtains fluttering.  There was a bench in front of it with deep blue cushions, also velvet.  The bench doubled as a shelf which was brimming with books and records.  A nearby coffee table was littered with assorted bric-a-brac.  The items seemed strangely familiar.  A colorful fan from Japan.  A carved elephant from India.  An olive wood Nativity scene.  A thunderbird medallion studded with turquoise and so much more.

There was a richly colored ottoman, too.  A daisy rested atop it.

Josef instantly remembered the train station and the cafe and, most of all, Sadie.  He willed himself to sit up, hoping to catch a glimpse of the young woman.  Instead, he found himself staring around a room that was empty save for himself and more of the vibrant, colorful collection he'd already glimpsed.

But then he heard a noise...  A tea kettle whistling, he thought.

Stumbling at first, Josef rose and followed the sound to a nearby room.  He smiled when he saw Sadie pouring a cup of tea for herself.

"Hi," he greeted.

The woman startled but smiled at him.

"Oh good!  Now you can join me!  I hope you got some rest.  You obviously needed it!"

"Umm, yeah.  Thanks.  I'm sorry about... earlier.  It's been... a day?"  Josef realized he couldn't even be entirely sure that the cafe had only been earlier that day.  He felt very discombobulated... timeless, even.

"I imagine!  Here, have some chamomile."

Josef accepted the cup even though he wasn't sure he'd much enjoy it.  To his delight, though, he could sense the sweet, flowery notes.

"Thank you.  So, umm, I really hope you didn't have to drag me here to your, umm, home?"

"Nope!  I had help.  And it's no problem at all.  You needed a place to rest and I had a place to rest.  Just made sense."

"Well, thanks.  I don't think many people would take a stranger in like this."

Sadie patted his hand.

"You're not a stranger.  You're Josef."

As he peered into her eyes, Josef felt as if he was meant to understand something deeper in Sadie's words.  Could she possibly know him?  What if...  Josef began to feel disoriented and confused again but he fought to regain control.

What if she was Sarah?

What if God had granted his prayer to return her to him in another form, another body?

What if Sadie was Sarah reincarnated?

"Do... do you believe in reincarnation, Sadie?" he asked.

Sadie abruptly shook her head.

"Nope!  Well, I mean...  I'm not God, of course.  So I can't really say it's never happened or is never going to happen.  But, no, I don't believe in it.  I believe that, when we die, we go to Heaven.  Well, most people, anyway.  I didn't used to believe in Hell but if Hell didn't exist then I suppose that would mean everyone *had* to go to Heaven and then what does that say about free will?  It would mean it didn't exist, right?"

"I suppose," a deflated Josef replied.

Sadie reached across the table to clasp Josef's hands.

"But I meant what I said at the cafe, Josef.  No one is ever lost.  I may not believe in reincarnation but that doesn't mean I don't believe that folks might come back in some form to help those they left behind.  I believe that very, very much.  Do you?"

Josef found himself nodding.  His mental fog had begun to clear and his life apart from Sarah came into focus.  It sounded like something Andrew would say... Andrew who was his friend and an angel of death.  And Joshua.  Joshua himself had come back to help them, to help him... to introduce him to Amber-Marie and Daisy.  Daisy!

Josef bolted up from his chair.

"Daisy!  Where is Daisy?  My daughter...  I have a daughter and..."  He rubbed his temples as he struggled to remember when he'd last seen Daisy.  It had been October... and now it was April!  Where had the time gone?  Where was his daughter?!

"Josef!  Josef, look at me!"

Still panicked, Josef looked to Sadie... and it was as if he'd been wearing glasses that had distorted his vision.  All of her features which had been so like Sarah but not Sarah had shifted.

It was Sarah sitting across from him at the table.


Josef sunk back down into his seat.

Sarah nodded and again took her hands in his.

"It's me, Josef... my Charles.  I just... I needed you to focus on what I was saying... about the dead not being truly lost... before you focused on me.  Josef, I need you to know that... that I'm not coming back to you.  Not like this.  But that doesn't mean that I'm not truly with you.  Come here, follow me."

Timid, Josef stood and followed the woman back out to the room he'd been sleeping in.

"First, I need you to know that Daisy is perfectly safe.  It's not April.  In your dream, you chose to travel to our station on our anniversary and I went along with that.  But, on Earth, it's still October and your Daisy is merrily singing along to the radio as Amber-Marie heads back home," Sarah recounted with a grin.  "She has such a sweet, little voice."

"She... she really does."  Josef swiped at a tear as he stared at the blossom on the ottoman.  "So where... where are we?"

"You're asleep on your own lawn.  You fell while decorating for Halloween.  You'll be fine but... well, Joshua allowed me to use this time to reach out to you.  Josef, you're being given a little glimpse into a piece of Heaven.  My Heaven."  Sarah reached down and plucked up the carved elephant, smiling at it.  "Each time you see something and think 'I want Sarah to have that,' it appears here.  And, thus, I always know that I'm in your heart.  And I love knowing that.  But... I don't want to be your everything, Josef.  Not any more."

Sarah sat down on the couch and patted the spot beside her. 

Josef obediently sat.

"I was so in love with you, Josef.  And I know... I know you were in love with me... and still are in a manner."

"In... in a manner?  But..."

Sarah lightly sat a finger against his lips.

"Yes, in a manner.  Josef, you're in love with the memory of me.  Sometimes you imagine how I would go through modern life with you.  But neither of us really know what it would have been like had I lived.  I can guess, though.  Josef, I would have missed my father and my mother... my grandparents.  You tried to warn me about that and I'd calm your worries.  You were right, though.  I would have grown angry.  Not all at once.  And, even in my anger, I would still have adored you.  But that anger... it would have been like a cancer.  Growing slowly... but deadly in time.  Because, Josef, the truth is... I'm not the one God wants you to spend your whole life with.  And I have that on very, very good authority."

"J-Joshua?" Josef questioned.

Sarah nodded.

"So... so then... obviously I'm meant to be alone.  After all I've done and..."

"No!  Josef, that's not what I'm saying at all.  And... and I can't spell it all out for you, my love.  Because you need to find the answers on your own.  But just know that you will love again... utterly and completely and you'll be loved utterly and completely.  And when you find that person... even then I will still be with you."

"Because you... you taught me how to love, Sarah, and... and I can't imagine..."  Josef shook his head and wept.

"You don't have to imagine it, Josef.  Not yet.  Just... open your eyes and your heart to the possibility.  And... and try to love me as I love you.  It's so different here, Josef.  I can love you with all my heart and yet it doesn't prevent me from seeing all the other love around me.  It doesn't make what we felt or what we lived any less real.  It will always, always be real, Josef.  Just don't let it blind you to the love that's right in front of you and the love that is yet to come.  Can you promise me that?"

Josef studied Sarah's beloved features.  He remembered the first time he had caressed her pale cheek, the first time he had ran his fingers through her dark, silky tresses, their first kiss, the first time they'd made love...

"Don't let our love be your tomb, Josef," Sarah pressed.  "Let it be... a guiding star, leading you towards your next great adventure.  I'd rather be a star than a tomb, Josef."

The absurdity of the phrase made Josef's lips tremble. 

Sarah grinned. 

"Sorry.  I don't quite have the way with words that Andrew and his ilk do."

Josef laughed.

"Alas, neither do I.  And... I don't want you to be a tomb, either.  But..."  The man heaved a deep sigh then took Sarah's hand in his.  "I would love for you to be my guiding star.  I promise that I'll do everything you've asked of me, Sarah.  I will."

"Good.  And, one day, we'll see each other again and you can tell me all about the wonderful, terrible, beautiful life that you've lived, Josef."

Sarah leaned forward and placed a single, chaste kiss on Josef's forehead.

"But for now...  Wake up, Josef, and embrace your life."

All around Sarah, swirls of color burst like fireworks.  The dizzying array of lights surrounding that beloved form made Josef feel giddy and exhausted and tremendously alive all at once.  Her smile never fading, Sarah grew further and further away, taking the colors with her until, once again, Josef was surrounded by blackness.


"Josef!  Oh, God...  Josef, wake up!"

"No!  Don't touch him!  If he has a head or neck injury then..."


"He's waking up!  Look!  His leg just twitched!"

"Where am..."  Josef rubbed at his eyes and, opening them, found himself staring up at Isra and Behnam.

"Oh, Josef!  Thank you, Joshua!" Isra cried as she stared up at the night sky.

"Are you hurt?  Do you feel any pain?" Behnam drilled.

"Pain?  Oh.  No.  I'm fine."  Josef sat up and stretched.  "I guess I, umm..."

"What were you thinking being up on a ladder without anyone observing?" Isra demanded. 

"Well, it's not like I could have died," Josef remarked with a grin.  He stuck his hand up.  "Residual vampire here.  Pleased to meet you."

Behnam stifled a chuckle while Isra only glared.  She spun away and headed back to the family's van which was parked on the curb.

Behnam took Josef's hand and pulled him up.

"Don't worry about Isra.  She'll recover.  It was a terrible shock driving by and seeing you like this, though."

Josef brushed some dead grass and leaves from off his shirt and pants.

"I'm sure it was.  And she's right.  I was being stupid.  Did the kids..."

"Omar saw but we only pulled up a minute or two ago.  Salma's in the van, too.  She likely kept the kids calm."


"Yes.  So... this is quite the sight.  Daisy will love it."  Behnam smiled up at the decorations.  "All the little ones will.  You'll be a very popular house come Halloween."

"Looks like I'll need to do some repairs but, for now, the broken gutter kind of adds to the spookiness, huh?"

"Very much so."

"I think I'll go plug everything in so it's on when Daisy and Amber-Marie arrive."

"I'll walk with you," Behnam offered, studying Josef for any lingering signs of trouble.


Josef walked to the side of the house where an outlet was.

"Three... two... one," he counted.

The house burst into color prompting the remaining Al-Mitras to abandon their van.

"It's so pretty!  And spooky!" Aiyla shrieked with glee.

"Spiders!  Pretty spiders!" Omar complimented.

"It is... astounding," Salma agreed in awe.

Isra, with Aurora balanced on her hip, continued to scowl at Josef but, after a moment, her faced relaxed into a smile and she approached.

"You did well.  Very stupidly well.  But very well."

"Thank you.  And I won't get back on the ladder by myself, Isra.  I promise."  Josef showily crossed his heart.

"Very good.  Are Amber-Marie and Daisy arriving soon?  I don't want you to be alone.  Just in case..." Isra cautioned.

"They'll be here any minute now.  You don't have to worry about me.  I prom..."

Josef's voice broke off when he noticed something on the front porch's stoop.  He walked away from his guests and went to investigate.  His heart stopped when he realized what had been left there: a stone elephant and a single, perfect daisy.

It all came flooding back to him: the train station, the cafe, Sarah's Heaven...  The truths she had imparted to him, the promise he had made.

A honk roused the man.  Looking up from the objects in his hands, he saw Amber-Marie's car turning into the driveway.  She'd barely turned the ignition off before Daisy came tearing out of the car and towards him.

"Daddy!  It's bootiful!  I love it!  Did you do all this, Daddy?"

Josef smiled when Daisy threw her arms around his thighs, hugging tightly.

"Yes, I did.  All for you, my girl."

"Oh, Daddy..."  Daisy stepped back, stretched her arms out, and twirled.  She giggled as the colorful lights blurred and spun.  Soon, Omar and Aiyla had joined her.

Beaming, Amber-Marie approached and set a hand on Josef's arm.

"So this is why you stayed home."

"Uh huh."

"It's wonderful, Josef!  Look at them!"  Amber-Marie withdrew her phone from her pocket and took a quick video of the spinning children.

"He did do a wonderful job," Isra agreed.  "But... ahem."  She pointed to the gutter.

Amber-Marie looked up at it and then at the ladder sprawled across the lawn.

"Josef!  Did you fall?" she demanded.

"Maybe a little..." he demurred.

Amber-Marie crossed her arms over her chest.

"Well, you're grounded for the rest of the night!"  She lowered her voice.  "Pseudo-vampire or not, I'm going to be keeping my eye on you... make sure you don't have a concussion or something."

"I'm sure I'm fine... but okay.  Staying home sounds good to me."  Josef felt his eyes begin to fill.  He truly couldn't imagine anywhere else he'd want to be just then.

"Good."  Amber-Marie turned back to the Al-Mitras.  "My mom sent me back with a huge pot of chili and some corn bread.  It'll only take a few minutes to heat back up.  Would you all like to stay for dinner?"

Isra and Behnam silently conferred before the former nodded.

"We would love to, Amber-Marie.  Thank you.  Perhaps we can help babysit your charge," she teased.

Amber-Marie laughed.

"I could use it!"

With some coaxing and promises to come back out later, the children were led inside and the car was unpacked.

Soon, Josef's house was brimming with enticing scents which he enjoyed nearly as much as the others who could eat the chili and bread.  After grace, the group spread about the living room to enjoy their meal.  Sipping Joshua's wine, Josef took in the scene around him.  Here were his family and dear friends, here was his new life, here was his precious daughter...  As he peered at the elephant now gracing the mantle, Josef renewed his vow to Sarah.  He would never, ever forget her... but he would open his heart to the new love and life that awaited him.



Thursday, October 19th, 2017

After spending three days in Venezuela doing the final vetting of recent FS hires, Josef made his way to a market in Caracas so he could pick up souvenirs.  After several previous visits, he had been able to identify which shops operated ethically.  He made a beeline to a personal favorite, the owner of which had proven to be a useful ally to FS.  The last time he'd been there, his only reason to purchase a gift had been Mick's and Beth's upcoming anniversary and, of course, a trinket for Sarah.  Now he had something else entirely in mind.

After entering the storefront, Josef approached a display of brightly colored instruments.  A pair of pink and yellow maracas immediately caught his eye.  He gave them a shake and was pleased by the sound.  Granted, anything could become annoying after constantly hearing it but he thought he and Amber-Marie could survive Daisy's initial enthrallment with the maracas.

"Josef!  Long time no see!" a man greeted after finishing at the register with a previous customer.

Josef turned around and smiled at the shopkeeper.

"Good morning, Mateo.  Yeah.  It's been a little over two years, I guess.  I was back in Caracas a few months ago but just a quick trip.  No time for shopping, unfortunately.  How've you been?"

"Good, good.  Always better when I see you.  I take it..."  Mateo lowered his voice.  "Your ranks have increased?  I've heard word of progress."

Josef nodded.

"Not by as much as I'd like.  I lost some good employees to, umm, other opportunities."  Josef smiled fondly as he thought of his old Venezuelan crew.  They, too, had been caught up in the post-cure marriage and baby fever.  But Mateo didn't need to know that.  "I have some new hires who I feel really good about, though.  We're up five people from this time last year, in any case.  I'm still hoping to get five or so more so..."

"I'll let you know if I think of anyone.  In the meantime... maracas?" Mateo tilted his head towards the instruments.

"Oh, uh, yeah."

"Not your usual fare."

"No.  They're... well, they're for my daughter."  Josef beamed.

Mateo's face lit up.

"A daughter!  This is news!  And so..."  The shopkeeper smiled shyly.  "Have you married then?"

Josef's face flushed... a trait that had returned since he'd begun drinking Joshua's wine.

"No.  Daisy... my daughter... we adopted her together.  A friend and me.  Daisy... she, umm, she's actually a survivor.  I met her through my FS work."

"Oh..."  Mateo's eyes filled.  "What a brave little girl she must be."
Josef again smiled proudly. 

"She is."

"It's a wonderful thing you and her mother have done, Josef.  Little Daisy is very blessed to have you both."

"Thank you, Mateo.  They're both blessings to me, too.  And so... I'll definitely be taking the maracas for Miss Daisy and..."  Josef ambled over to a shelf that was brimming with brightly colored ceramics.  He was drawn to a colorful butterfly and was just reaching out to take it when he remembered Sarah's admonishment.  It was enough that he had thought of her.  Somewhere in that beautiful, vibrant house of hers, the butterfly was already there.  He didn't need to buy it. 

Not wanting to disappoint Mateo, Josef searched for something else to purchase.  He found himself studying a pair of brightly colored parakeets sitting together on a log.  Picking it up, he admired the detailed paintwork.

"A local artisan crafts those.  His family's been doing it for several years.  I think he's the most talented," Mateo opined.

Josef found himself remembering a discussion with Amber-Marie before they'd adopted Daffy.  They'd been talking about their first pets.  Josef's earliest memories contained hens, sheep, and a cow but they'd been for sustenance.  He couldn't recall ever having a true pet.  But Amber-Marie's eyes had lit up as she'd told him about her grandparents gifting her with two parakeets when she'd entered Kindergarten.  She'd even mentioned their names.  Mickey and Minnie, he thought.  While he couldn't vouch for their coloring, Josef knew these colorful creations would remind Amber-Marie of her beloved first pets.  The figurine was far more frivolous than what he usually picked up for her but Josef couldn't resist.

"He is very talented.  I'll take these, too, please."

"Very good!  I'll get them both wrapped up securely for your flight."

"Thanks, Mateo.  Appreciate it."

Josef observed as the man very carefully packed up the gifts.  It struck him that, for the first time, he was more eager to see Amber-Marie's reaction to her gift than Daisy's. 


By the time Josef arrived back at the house, Daisy had long been tucked into bed with Aiyla and Daffy.  Amber-Marie, however, was at the door to greet him when his Uber dropped him off.

"Welcome back!" she whispered.  "How was your trip?"

"Worthwhile," Josef replied in an equally hushed tone.  "The new hires are great and they get along really well with the remainder of the old guard.  How are things here?"

"Rambunctious," Amber-Marie replied with a weary grin.  "Halloween can't come soon enough for those two.  I never thought I'd be the sort of parent who would use the TV as a babysitter but I had to let them watch movies a couple of times just to hear myself think for a little bit.  But it was a lot of fun."

"Hotel Transylvania?" Josef guessed.

"Uh huh.  And I broke down and bought them the sequel."

Josef hugged the sleepy mother.

"No harm in a little screentime... especially when it inspires creativity."  He waved to a garland of bats that had been cut-out of construction paper and were draped across the mantle.

"Thanks.  And, yeah, it really did.  They made enough of those for every mantle over at the Al-Mitras' and at the CC, too!"

"Everything's going well there?"

"Yup.  Well, yesterday we had a couple more guests show up."  Amber-Marie's face clouded.  "There's a lot of trauma to be dealt with.  One isn't leaving her room.  But... we'll get there."

"I know you will."  Josef squeezed Amber-Marie's hands.  "I've seen you and your team work miracles, Amber-Marie.  You will again."

Amber-Marie held fast to one of his hands. 

"Thank you.  Josef, I... I really missed you this time," she confessed with glittering eyes.

Josef paused in alarm.  It wasn't unlike Amber-Marie to be moved to tears by a client's plight.  But this felt different.

"Why don't we talk for a bit in my office?  Or tomorrow morning if you want to get some..."

Amber-Marie shook her head.

"No.  Tonight's good.  I mean unless... you must be jet-lagged and..."

"I'm fine.  Really.  Let's talk."

Pulling his suitcase behind him, Josef led the woman to his office.

At first, Amber-Marie awkwardly surveyed the room. 

Josef realized how rarely she set foot in his office.  Of course, it didn't help that he seldom invited her...

"Sit anywhere you'd like," he invited. 

With a wan smile, Amber-Marie settled onto a side of his couch.

Josef sat down on the couch, too, leaving the space of a cushion between them.

"You know, you don't have to be a stranger in here."

"I have my own office," Amber-Marie countered.  "You deserve to have a private space."

Josef shrugged.

"I'd still have my bedroom.  And you have an office portion of your bedroom... which is right by Daisy's bedroom... so not quite the same.  But you can come here if you ever need a quiet spot to work."

"Thanks.  I'll keep that in mind.  I guess since I haven't lived alone since college, I didn't think I'd need much privacy here."

"As wonderful as it is, I imagine being a parent can be even more draining than having a husband.  How can it not be?  A kid is a lot more helpless than a grown man.  Or should be, anyway.  I guess sometimes we can be pretty helpless," Josef teased.

Amber-Marie laughed. 

"And you have a lot more external demands now," Josef continued.  "Not that your work hasn't always been difficult.  But now you're juggling the patients from your practice, the CC, and being a mother.  So of course you need more time to recharge.  I take it the girls didn't spend much time across the way?"

"Oh no.  They did," Amber-Marie countered.  "Isra and Behnam had the girls for a couple of nights and, of course, Isra's with them almost all day Below.  So they're doing more than their share.  I guess I just need to get better about taking the time for myself when I can and not... well, bringing work home so much."

"I know it's hard.  God knows I was all about FS for a few years there without much of a break unless Mick or Beth mandated it.  But I was also a vampire with no health concerns beyond getting incinerated or losing my head.   You're... not.  And I know you know this but I'm going to say it anyway: you're no good to anyone else if you make yourself sick."

Amber-Marie sighed and rubbed at her temples.

"I do know that but, yes, I probably needed to hear it.  I'll try to do better."

"Good.  Now did anything in particular bring on this... missing of me?"  Josef grinned playfully, causing the woman to smile.  "Or just getting rundown in general?"

"Getting rundown didn't help, I'm sure.  But last night... I... I had a nightmare," Amber-Marie confessed.

"About Daisy?"

The psychiatrist shook her head.

"About... about my freshman year of college.  About... my rape."  Amber-Marie heaved a sigh.  "I can't say too much but one of the girls who came in... her story reminded me a lot of mine.  I mean... I was never trafficked.  But... it started the same as... as my story.  So... I had a flashback."

Josef eased closer and took Amber-Marie's nearest hand.

"I'm so sorry, Amber-Marie.  I... I wish I had been here.  To talk with you or... or even to just sit with you."

Though her eyes were brimming with tears, Amber-Marie smiled.

"You're here now."  She squeezed Josef's hand.  "Sometimes I feel like you're the only one I can really talk to.  I mean there's always Joshua and everyone Up There.  But to talk to like this...  I love the Friends but I don't want to be too open with them since, well, some of them are clients.  And I know I can talk to Gayle but she frets over me at work too much as is.  So... there's you."

"There's me," Josef agreed.  "You know you can always call me, right?  No matter what the time is wherever I am.  It doesn't have to be about Daisy, either.  We're in this together, Amber-Marie.  I care about you, too."

Amber-Marie bowed her head for a moment before nodding.

"I do know.  Thanks.  And I... I care a lot about you, too, Josef."

Meeting her gaze, Josef held it for a long moment before beginning to feel awkward.  He smiled before looking away.

"So... did you want to talk about your nightmare or anything any more?  Or is there anything else I can do to help?" he offered.

"Actually..."  Amber-Marie blushed.  "There is something."

"What is it?"

"Well... back when I was married to Rick, he'd sit up with me and watch a funny movie until I fell asleep."

Josef smiled, pleased that her request would be so easy to comply with.

"I can do that!  How about you go pick out a movie and that'll give me a chance to change?"

Returning his smile, Amber-Marie again took his hand.

"Thanks.  I appreciate this."

"It's my pleasure.  It might help me settle down, too.  I still feel like I'm in the plane... moving a little."

Amber-Marie cringed. 

"I hate that feeling.  I hope it passes soon.  Be right back!"

Josef showered and changed as quickly as he could then dug into his suitcase.  Slightly nervous, he unpacked the ceramic statue.  Mateo had done well.  The birds still looked as perfect, whole, and vibrant as they had in his shop.  Hastily, Josef rewrapped them then sat them on the table in front of the spot Amber-Marie had recently abandoned.  He was pleased when, only a few moments later, she returned with a DVD in hand.

"What did you pick?" Josef queried.

Amber-Marie triumphantly held up the DVD.

"Galaxy Quest.  It always does the trick."

"Good choice."

After entering the DVD and handing Josef the remote, Amber-Marie reclaimed her spot and noticed the wad of tissue paper in front of her.

"What's this?"

"A souvenir from Caracas.  Sorry I didn't have time to properly wrap it."

Amber-Marie stared.  Whatever it was, it didn't appear to be the usual bookmark or fancy pen.

Josef chuckled.

"I promise it won't bite."

With a playful roll of her eyes, Amber-Marie picked up her gift and carefully pulled away the tissue paper.


Josef looked on proudly as she lifted up the parakeets.

"Oh, Josef...  You... you remembered," Amber-Marie cooed.  "Mickey and Minnie..."

"Yeah.  I saw them and I knew they had to be yours."

"I... I love them.  I just... I love them."  Amber-Marie hugged Josef's arm.  "Thank you."

Now even more glad that he'd purchased the birds, Josef lightly kissed the woman's hair.

"You're very welcome.  I'm so glad you like them.  And now... movie time?"

"Movie time," Amber-Marie agreed.  She set the birds back on the table so she could look at them as they watched the movie.

They only made it through the first few scenes of the movie before Josef realized that Amber-Marie had fallen asleep.  Gently, he pushed her into a more relaxed position.  He thought about leaving her but then second-guessed himself.  If she had another nightmare, it would be better if he was there.  Scooting towards the other end of the couch so as to give her room to stretch out, Josef rested his feet on a nearby ottoman.  It didn't take long before jet lag and the steady hum of Amber-Marie's breathing lulled Josef to sleep, as well.


Saturday, October 28th, 2017

The Halloween party in Dyeland's Fields of Gold was in full, exuberant swing.  Near the pond, surrounded by jack o'lanterns and fairy lights, Vincent and Lewellyn took turns regaling their listeners with spooky, magical tales and songs.  One of the cabins had been temporarily rendered as a crafting station where JenniAnn, Owen, and Violeta were instructing the children on decorating trick-or-treat bags, painting pumpkins, and more.  Josef had stationed himself near Monica's food truck which she'd brought along, stocked with seasonal goodies like pumpkin pie, cocoa, butterbeer, potato soup, and more.  Even though he couldn't taste the goodies, the aroma was enticing.  He also very much enjoyed watching Isolde, Marco, Mick, and Logan load up their plates and indulge.  He did believe Marco was sporting a bit of a gut these days...  He felt a pang, however, when he saw Zelda coquettishly teasing Logan who, at intervals, stole kisses.

Josef's melancholia didn't last long.  Daisy came running towards him with Amber-Marie following at a more leisurely pace.

"Daddy!  Daddy!  My song!  Dance with me!" she cried.

Josef recognized that the stereo system had begun to play the Hotel Transylvania song.  He didn't relish the idea of making a fool of himself on the dance floor but, for Daisy's sake, he would.

"Sure thing," he agreed, taking her hand and escorting the girl to a portion of the field that was cleared for dancing and surrounded by hay bales.

Laughing, Amber-Marie followed, snapping photos and taking video.

Daisy and Josef danced for the whole of the song and halfway through "The Monster Mash" before the former stopped.

"Now dance with Mommy!  I'll take pictures!"

Overhearing, Amber-Marie lowered her cell phone and looked at Josef.

"Mommy, care to dance?" he requested.

Smiling, Amber-Marie nodded.

"Sure."  She crouched down and held the phone out to Daisy.  "You just push this circle right here to take a picture, okay?"

"I know!"  Daisy grinned and took the phone then shooed her parents away.

Josef and Amber-Marie improvised a sort of swing dance that made their daughter shriek with glee.

"She's much more social this year," Amber-Marie remarked, quiet enough to be heard only by Josef.  "Remember last year?  She hardly left our sides.  But back in the craft room, she seemed to run off to someone else every couple minutes."

"She is doing really great.  And she's definitely the cutest little vampire bat I've ever seen."  Beaming, Josef waved to Daisy.

The song faded into a loud, throbbing drum beat.  Enjoying themselves and ready for another upbeat number, Josef and Amber-Marie remained on the dance floor.  Only in hindsight would Josef realize that seeing Andrew make a beeline to JenniAnn and guide her out onto the dance floor should have been a clue of what was to come.

A male singer began to croon in harmony with a quieter, female voice.

"'Well I danced with the devil and he whispered to me
If I run fast enough, I'll finally be free.
I lost my breath in front of these gates,
All the pride, all the fear that stole my heart away.'"

Josef blinked.

"This is a little dark for Dyeland, isn't it?" 


"I mean the devil whispering to you..."

Amber-Marie, who had also glimpsed Andrew and JenniAnn, listened more closely.  She was silent until after the chorus.

"'So I ran... out of the dark woods into your light again.'"

"I bet it reminds them of before... after JenniAnn was shot, I mean.  The demons, Andrew going to Sheol, and then..."

"Back into the light," Josef finished.

Amber-Marie nodded.

"Her light.  God's light.  Both probably," she decided, again glancing over at the two.

Josef suddenly realized how mismatched his and Amber-Marie's dance now was compared to Andrew and JenniAnn who were pressed together, moving gracefully.  He halted and moved into a more appropriate, slow-dancing stance.  Amber-Marie followed suit and they began to sway together.

"'Oh the woods, how they chased me to the edge of the trees.
With no road left to walk, I wandered aimlessly,
And I lost myself but I found you all the same,
Where I hung in the oaks, the rags I wore like shame.'"

Josef's eyes misted as he found himself remembering his encounter with Joshua the morning he'd offered the cure.  He had truly felt Joshua's light then.  In spite of all the fine suits he'd clothed his body in, his spirit had been wearing rags for a very long time... until that morning when he had begun to accept the mantle of forgiveness and grace that Joshua constantly held out.

"'So I ran... out of the dark woods into your light again.'"

Noticing that Josef had begun to cry, Amber-Marie held him a little tighter.

"You okay, Josef?  We can go sit down if..."

Josef raised his head and smiled. 
"No.  I'm fine.  Just... it reminds me of Joshua now.  The song I mean.  And... you and Daisy, actually.  The lights at the end of a very long, often dark tunnel."

Amber-Marie returned his smile. 

"I'm glad you think of us that way."

"I really do," Josef reiterated. 

Josef removed his right hand from Amber-Marie's hip and raised it.  He was just about to caress her face when he realized what he was doing and halted.

"I... umm... bug.  Thought I saw a bug," he covered, shocked at his own-near action and the heady discombobulation he was feeling.

Amber-Marie lowered her head for a moment.

"Thanks for watching out," she murmured.

"Uh huh."  Josef peered nervously at her bowed head but was relieved when she smiled at him.

"How about we go listen to some stories with our little batgirl?" she suggested.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Josef agreed without hesitation.

The two exited the dance floor and Josef swooped Daisy up onto his shoulders.  He and Amber-Marie exchanged smiles when she shrieked with delight but said no more before sitting down on a hay bale to enjoy Vincent's recounting of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.



Saturday, December 16th, 2017

The weeks between Halloween and mid-December flew by for Josef and his fellow inhabitants at Ghostly Gables... the name Daisy had recently christened their house after realizing all of the Dyeland homes had names.  There had been Thanksgiving at Amber-Marie's parents, numerous Friends' birthday parties, and, of course, the start of the Christmas season.  Thrown into the mix had been a couple of business trips for Josef and an out-of-state conference for Amber-Marie.  But even in the rare quiet moments, Josef had felt a tension and unease growing in the house.  Daisy seemed immune, thankfully.  She had gone months without a nightmare, was excelling at classes Below, and, as always, enjoyed her play dates with Aiyla.  For that, Josef was immensely grateful.

While his little girl's sleep had been peaceful, Josef's often was not.  His face flushed as he thought of the previous night's phantasms. The dream was part of why he was making his way towards Andrew's workshop that afternoon.

Josef smiled as he approached the shop.  The angel of death's zeal for Christmas decorating clearly wasn't limited to Willowveil.  Lights covered the roof of his workshop and battery-operated candles sat in every window.

Andrew spotted the man approaching and greeted him at the door.

"Come on in, Josef!  Get out of that cold."

"Thanks.  I'm finding I don't love the cold as much as I used to.  There was a time I would have been tempted to go take a nap in that snow pile over there."

Andrew laughed as he ushered Josef towards the fireplace.

"You would have terrified poor Laja when she came with my afternoon snack."

Josef raised an eye brow.

"She brings you snacks?"

Andrew blushed.

"I've told her she doesn't have to... especially not when the weather's like this but..."  The angel shrugged.

"She loves doing it."

"Apparently."  Andrew smiled fondly.  "Anyway, what brings me the honor of this visit?  I don't think you've ever come to see me like this, Josef."

"No...  And I'm sorry that it's such a busy time for..."

Andrew shook his head.

"It's fine.  Really.  Just because I have Christmas orders doesn't mean I don't still need breaks.  And visiting with a friend is a great way to spend a break, I think."

"Yeah.  It is.  Still... thanks for agreeing to this."

"No problem.  So... what's up?"

Josef sighed and sunk deeper into his chair.

"It's just... things have felt... tense lately.  At home, I mean.  And not even bad tense just... tense."

Andrew frowned.

"Have you and Amber-Marie had a fight?"

"No.  No, nothing like that.  Something just feels... off."

"Huh.  Do you remember when it started feeling that way?  Like could you maybe determine what set it off?"

"I don't know.  Maybe.  Actually... I was hoping to ask you some questions."

Andrew was surprised but game.

"Okay.  Shoot."

"So... you and JenniAnn.  You were friends.  And then you were more and then... a lot more?"

Andrew chuckled.

"Yeah.  Something like that."

"So how did you know it was safe... to be more, I mean?" Josef asked, suddenly intensely interested in the pattern of a throw pillow.

"Well...  I guess we didn't know.  Not really.  To be honest, it concerned me a lot at points.  Especially since I couldn't give her... well, you know."

"And you were also a lot older," Josef added.

"Right.  Although that seemed less and less significant as time went on.  She had a lot figured out that I didn't.  There were things she knew a lot more about, too.  And maybe it would have mattered more if she were the type of person who needed to be right.  Or if I was.  I mean if she'd gone around saying, for example, that Jesus was white with blonde hair...  Not sure I coulda kept my mouth shut."

Josef laughed.

"I wouldn't have wanted a relationship where I was always correcting her.  Or where she assumed I was right about things just because I was so much older... and an angel.  Trust me.  JenniAnn does not assume I'm always right.  Thankfully."

"I'm glad of that.  I guess that's not as much of a problem for me.  I'd like to say I spent a couple hundred years improving my mind but... not so much.  I know a lot about finances and business.  But Amber-Marie doesn't even care about those beyond keeping us and the CC afloat.  If anything, I generally assume she's in the right when we disagree."

Andrew chuckled.

"Well, as long as she doesn't lord it over you, I guess."

"She doesn't," Josef confirmed.


"So beyond the power dynamic...  How did you know it was worth it... to try with JenniAnn, I mean?  Worth the risk of your friendship, I mean."

Andrew tried to mask his surprise and relief.  Over the last couple of months, he and JenniAnn had confided in each other their suspicions that Amber-Marie was developing feelings for her co-parent.  Josef, a much tougher read, hadn't given any such indications... until this moment.

"It's hard to say," he started.  "I've tried to pinpoint when she shifted from JenniAnn the friend to JenniAnn the anam cara.  I think part of it is once we started feeling that way about each other... it kinda altered how we saw our past.  Like we were never just friends... only frustrated anam caras.  But, when I really think about it, I know that's not exactly true.  I mean she was seventeen when we met.  I definitely wasn't planning a future with a teenager."

"I would hope not."

"I think I can say when I knew there was no turning back, though.  Do you remember Chava?"

"Yes.  We only met once, I think.  Briefly.  Sweet lady."

"She is.  It was the night we finished talking about her time in Auschwitz... about her husband's... David's... death.  I was devastated.  We were in the Tunnels and, afterwards, JenniAnn and I met in her chamber there... Shelby's chamber now... and talked.  I was so worn down.  She put me to bed and... stayed with me."  Andrew's eyes glistened and he smiled softly at the bittersweet memory.  "I know it doesn't sound like much... but in some way that may sound crazy to you but makes total sense to me... it was like losing my virginity would have been were I human.  I mean it wasn't physically, of course.  But like something in me had changed and become... intertwined with her in some way that was... irrevocable?"

Josef nodded.  For him, romantic intimacy had always been tied to sex but he could understand how that wouldn't always be so.

"Do you think it was the same for her?"

Andrew considered.

"You know, I've never actually made that comparison when talking with JenniAnn.  And she hasn't with me.  But maybe.  Probably?  I feel like, after that, we were both a little more... clingy?  And I think we both assumed we were a pair from then on out.  Still fuzzy on the details of how, of course.  But, after that, I don't think I seriously entertained the possibility that she'd find someone else.  I might have brought it up only because I never wanted Laja to feel trapped.  But, eventually, I realized that was hurtful so I stopped.  And on we went."

"But what if you had started down that path and then realized it wasn't going to work?  Your friendship... the community you'd built together...  It all could have come crashing down," Josef fretted.

"I suppose."  Andrew shrugged.  "But it didn't.  And maybe it would have come crashing down if we'd not proceeded.  Mutual frustration and loneliness could have torn us apart.  I'd like to think Dyeland would have still continued regardless, though."

"Maybe.  But maybe not."

"No use worrying about it," Andrew reminded.

"Yes but... but it could still happen to my... my family!" Josef pressed.  His cheeks burned when he realized what he'd said.

"Ah...  So now we come to the point."  Andrew smiled at Josef, a mischievous but kind glint in his eyes.  "Josef, there's nothing in JenniAnn's and my past... or in anything I've known or experienced... that enables me to tell you that pursuing or not pursuing a romance with Amber-Marie is going to harm or help your family.  Love is always going to entail some risk.  Your friendship with her was a risk, too, you know.  Friends don't always remain friends, after all.  I've seen a lot of friendships flail after the friends live together.  But you took that risk without hesitation.  Why?"

"It just... it seemed right.  And Joshua encouraged me.  But now... he's silent." 

"Is he?" Andrew countered.  "Or is he just speaking to you in a different way?  Maybe through your feelings, thoughts, dreams?"

Josef's face again flared at the mention of dreams.  They were most assuredly not of the G-rated variety.  Not X-rated.  Not even close.  But... adult definitely.

"There's no way Joshua is responsible for my dreams of late!"

Andrew cleared his throat.

"I dunno.  Seems to me there were a lot of other ways he could have configured procreation if he didn't like sensuality and sex."

"But he's a... I mean... I assumed he was a..."

"Virgin?  Sure.  So am I.  That doesn't mean I'm not very glad that sex is a thing.  I mean... I'm kinda hoping for grandkids someday, you know.  But even beyond that... it's a good thing," Andrew reiterated.  "But it can't be the only thing and I know you know that.  I think we've pretty well established that you're attracted to Amber-Marie.  But you know that a strong relationship... it needs to be built on something more."

Josef began to relax.

"I do know.  And I do feel... more.  I've loved her personality for a lot longer than I've felt attracted to her.  I mean... we told Joshua that we felt like brother and sister.  And I meant that.  From the very beginning, something just clicked between us.  Even our parenting styles... we seldom disagree on anything.  Which is weird because she knows so much about children and I didn't.  But it wasn't just blind agreement on my part.  And in recent months, she's been coming to my office when she really needs to concentrate or after Daisy's gone to bed and it feels so... comfortable.  Even when I'm reading up on the toughest, darkest cases... when I look across my desk and see her chewing on her pen and jotting down notes...  She doesn't even need to look up at me and I smile.  And on Halloween... when we danced... I felt... exhilarated.  I wanted to caress her... to kiss her then but... but Daisy was right there and I was afraid... afraid she didn't feel the same way.  And I still am, Andrew.  I mean why would she want me?  I'm... ancient."

"I'm... ancienter.  And still wanted," Andrew teased.

Josef returned the smile for a moment but then his face darkened.

"And how many people have you killed?"


"It's a fair question."

"I suppose."

"I'd also ask how many girls you'd hooked up with but we've already established that as zero.  Meanwhile, there I was... sex, drugs, and some very questionable rock n' roll for a couple centuries."

"And Amber-Marie doesn't know these things about you?" Andrew continued, unfazed.

"She does," Josef admitted.  "We talk a lot about our pasts.  Actually, she's... she's the first person I've really laid it all out for since Sarah.  But I did mostly because I confided in her that... well, I hate the idea of Daisy ever falling in with some guy who was like the old me.  And I hate the idea of ever having to tell Daisy about who I was."

Andrew thought quietly for a few moments before speaking.

"Do you really think you'll need to?  I mean, yes, one day she'll likely need to know more about your life but sex partners and all that?  I don't know of many parents who give their kids a total rundown on that.  You'll just tell her that you made choices you later regretted.  Here's the thing, though.  While I can't make any guarantees, something tells me that what Amber-Marie excuses in the father of her child, she would even more easily excuse in a potential partner.  Good parents are always more discerning when it comes to their kids, don't you think?"

Josef felt cheered at the idea.

"Yeah.  That makes sense.  But still... what if... what if she doesn't feel the same, Andrew?  I wouldn't blame her but... for the first time in a very long time... for the first time since... since Sarah... a part of me that... that not even Joshua could bring back is alive again.  But if I tell her how I feel and she rejects me..."  Josef shook his head. 

"But what if she feels the same but neither of you ever take the chance?  You'd be consigning Amber-Marie to a lifetime feeling exactly as you do right now.  Do you want that life for either of you?"

As Andrew's question lingered in Josef's ear, the workshop went silent except for the crackling of the fire. 

Finally, the man spoke.

"No.  I don't.  I... I'll tell her.  But... after Christmas.  I just... I want a happy Christmas for Daisy, for all three of us."

"Understandable."  Andrew rose and, after waving Josef to his feet, he gave him a bear hug.  "I'll pray it goes well when the time comes."

Eyes brimming, Josef returned the hug and smiled at his confidante.

"Thank you.  I'll let you know... when the time comes."

"I'll be here.  No matter what.  Any time you need to visit just..."

Andrew was interrupted by a knock at the carpentry shop door.  A moment later, JenniAnn stepped inside.

"Oh!  Josef, I didn't realize you were still here.  I'll just drop this off and..."

Josef approached and set a hand on her arm. 

"No, no.  You stay.  I have what I need.  Andrew there deserves a snack so I'll be on my way.  Besides, Amber-Marie and Daisy will be back from the CC soon.  I'll see you both soon, though."

"If you're sure..." JenniAnn checked.

"I am.  Really.  Thanks, Andrew!  JenniAnn, take care."

"You too!"

"Any time, Josef!"

"Thank you. Really."  Josef smiled at the angel then stepped back into the cold, closing the door tightly behind him.  As he made his way to the portal, Josef looked back once.  He smiled when he saw Andrew and JenniAnn perfectly framed in one of the windows.  Her arms were around his neck and their foreheads were rested against each other.

Josef laughed.

If there was room in God's plan for an angel of death and a Nebraskan hippie, maybe there was room for a reformed vampire and a psychiatrist.


Sunday, December 31st, 2017

Amber-Marie poured herself a glass of chardonnay and sunk down into her favorite couch at Ghostly Gables.  An hour before, she and Josef had dropped Daisy off at the Al-Mitras' for a child-friendly New Year's celebration.  She smiled as she recalled Vincent sitting in the living room, blowing up balloon after balloon much to his grandchildren's delight.  The house had smelled delightful and she'd been grateful when Isra and Behnam had insisted she take a plate of snacks home.  She'd eaten with relish, disappointed only in the fact that she had to eat alone.  She'd offered some to Josef, of course, but he'd declined since it would be wasted on him.  Instead, he'd sipped on his wine from Joshua.  Now he'd gone in search of a bottle of champagne for midnight.

"Found it!" Josef announced as he re-entered the room.  "I have it chilling.  I wish I'd remembered earlier."

"I'm sure it'll be fine by midnight."

"Yeah.  In the meantime... cheers?"  Josef held his glass aloft.

"Cheers."  Amber-Marie clinked her glass against his.

There was a long, uneasy pause.

After quietly drawing in and letting out a deep breath, and buoyed by her recent discussion with Gayle and Nick, Amber-Marie spoke.

"Josef, can I ask you something?"

Caught off-guard by the serious note in her voice, the man shakily lowered his glass from his lips.


"What happened between you and Joshua this past May?  Why... why weren't you fully cured?  I mean... if you want to tell?"  Amber-Marie bit her lip, disappointed that she'd lost her nerve.

Josef eyed his glass which was now resting on the coffee table.  He thought about the reality of its contents.  Yes, he could tell Amber-Marie... he needed to tell her.

"I... I just couldn't accept the full cure, Amber-Marie.  I... I realized something.  There were ways I could have learned about Benson and Daisy... before he died.  If I'd listened to God's prompting to take a DNA test like so many at FS were, I could have found them.  But I... I was so convinced that I didn't have direct descendants.  So I kept ignoring that little voice and... and because of that... I wasn't there for Benson before he died a-and, worst yet, I wasn't there for Daisy.  I couldn't prevent all... all she suffered."

Amber-Marie stared at the man, stunned into silence.  It had never occurred to her that there was a way Josef might have found Daisy before. 

"I felt like... like I needed to atone.  Mostly for that but also... all the other sins.  All the wasted years when I could have been doing good.  I felt I needed to earn Joshua's forgiveness... a-and Daisy's," a tearful Josef continued.  "But I also... I didn't want to continue to be a drain on humanity and so... so Joshua offered me a half-cure, of sorts.  It keeps me going, keeps me immortal... I want for nothing else."  He indicated the glass on the table.

"But... isn't that just blood?  Limitless blood but... just blood?" Amber-Marie questioned.

Josef took time to carefully consider his words, not wanting to upset Amber-Marie.

"It is blood...  And... it... it's wine.  Amber-Marie..."

The woman's eyes went wide.

"Joshua.  It's Joshua's blood."

Josef nodded.

Amber-Marie continued to stare at the glass. 

"Can you forgive me... for not telling you sooner... and... and for my not finding out about Daisy sooner?" Josef asked, his voice shaking.

Amber-Marie peered at him, shocked anew.

"B-but..."  She reached out for Josef's hands.  "You didn't have to tell me at all and... Josef, I don't for a moment believe that if you'd had any inkling that one of your descendants was in danger of being trafficked, you wouldn't have done something.  But you... you were working to end trafficking, to rescue people you knew were being victimized.  As heart-wrenching as it must be to know that chance to save... save Daisy had existed... I can't... I just can't... fault you for not doing what you believed would merely be a distraction.  You didn't set out to hurt our girl... others did that.  Josef... come here.  Please."

Weeping, the man abandoned his chair and moved to sit beside Amber-Marie on the couch.  She embraced him and they wept together... for Daisy, for Benson, for Josef himself.

A few minutes passed before Amber-Marie felt able to speak.

"I... I know it's your decision but... but if it means anything... I think you've earned the cure, Josef.  The full cure.  From the moment you first glimpsed her, you've done everything... everything... you could for Daisy and... and..."

"I love you."

Pulling apart, the two stared at each other.  Both pondered what strange phenomenon had made them hear their own words in the other's voice.

"I... I said I love you," Josef reiterated.  "And... and I meant that... Amber-Marie, I... I... will do everything in my power to continue to love you as... as a brother loves his sister.  If... if that's what you want.  But I just... I need you to know that... that I've... I've fallen in love with you and... and while I have no expectation that..."

"But no!"  Amber-Marie protested, instantly regretting her words when she saw Josef blanch.  "I just mean... I talked with Gayle and Nick about this on... on Christmas Eve.  Tonight I was supposed to tell you that I'm in love with you!"

Josef gaped then his face lit up with the widest smile Amber-Marie had ever seen on him.

"Well, then... I'm sorry I stole your thunder.  But... I'm not sorry I said it.  Because... Amber-Marie... I mean it." 

Fresh tears welled in the woman's eyes as her beloved caressed her face.  After relishing in the sensation for a few moments, she brought his hand to her lips, touched that it was trembling.

"I mean it, too.  It... it's been coming on pretty strongly since the night you brought me my parakeets.  Just realizing someone was truly listening to me... remembering me..."  Amber-Marie blushed.

"You are worth being listened to... worth being remembered.  I'm not entirely sure when it happened for me," Josef confessed.  "I think it happened over time as I realized I... I was disappointed on the nights when you didn't come to my office.  I missed you then.  And the night of the Halloween party..."

Amber-Marie gasped and nodded frantically.

"That was torture!"

"Pretty much.  And when I'd leave for a mission, I'd feel... actual pain when we parted."

"I almost left the conference last month early because I just... I missed Daisy, of course.  But I... I ached for you," Amber-Marie confided.  "And the dreams..." 

Josef burst out laughing when her face took on a ruby hue.

"You too?" he asked, his face also flushed. 


"I'm kind of sorry... but kind of not," Josef kidded with a grin.

Amber-Marie giggled.

"Then I guess I'll be equally conflicted."  She sighed happily and buried a hand in Josef's hair, gently toying with it.  "As much as I love this... this... well, flirting... I don't want to get off-track.  I meant everything I said before, Josef.  And I truly don't believe it's some 'love is blind' thing.  I don't think you should continue to carry your regrets around like you do and... and I do think you deserve the cure."

Josef studied Amber-Marie's free hand which he'd taken in both of his.  So graceful, so beautiful, so gentle...  A hand to be trusted.  A woman to be trusted.

He nodded.

"Could you get it for me... the cure?"

Struggling to tamp down her excitement, Amber-Marie nodded.

"I'll be right back.  I know exactly where it is."

Before parting, she planted a kiss on Josef's cheek, leaving him smiling giddily.

True to her word, Amber-Marie was quick in returning.  She carefully handed the vial to Josef.

Holding it up in the air, Josef stared at the tiny blossoms contained inside.  He thought about FS.  His teams were strong and thriving.  In the year to come, he would have two new bases opening up.  If ever there was a time to step back from the most dangerous rescue missions, it was now.  He thought of Daisy.  How much longer before his excuses and deflections would keep her from questioning more intensely why he never ate?  And how long would he be able to stay preternaturally young before it caused confusion for her?  Or discomfort for Amber-Marie?  His gaze returned to her.  She was looking at him with such hope, such love.  He could have a life with her... a normal life with its fair share of happiness and sadness, with life, with sickness, with death... two human lives, interwoven. 

Lastly, Josef thought of Joshua.

"But...  Joshua...  I'm not... worthy," he'd protested.

"You don't get to make that call, Josef.  None of you do.  I made it... over 2,000 years ago."

A few tears slipped down Josef's cheeks.  There was nothing... absolutely nothing... Daisy could do to make him stop loving her.  There was nothing that would make him wish for her a life apart from humanity, a drain on humanity, an outsider.  Of course, Joshua and his Father didn't want that for him!  He was their child as much as Daisy's was his.  And forgiveness and love were what parents did.

"It... it's time," Josef murmured.  He looked up at Amber-Marie.  "Would you help me?"

Feeling very solemn, she nodded.

"I... I'm going to cut my arm.  Right here.  And then if you'd crush the cure into the wound... gloves.  I'll find you some..."

"I already brought some," Amber-Marie assured, squeezing his hand before settling beside him.  "And here.  I brought this... hoping..."  She held a pocket knife out to him.

With a smile, Josef accepted the knife.

"Thank you."

Amber-Marie watched as he rested the blade against his skin.  With one swift movement, a line of red appeared.  Hurrying before the wound could close, she poured the contents of the vial onto it and worked the crushed flowers into Josef's skin.

The couple continued to stare at the wound for two minutes.  It remained open.


"I... I'm cured."

Amber-Marie beamed.

"First thing... I'm going to get the First Aid Kit and butterfly that closed.  Second thing... I'm making you something to eat.  So decide on something!"

Overjoyed, Josef could only grin at her retreating figure.  The expression didn't falter when Amber-Marie returned and began to nurse his wound with what seemed like unnecessary but highly desirable closeness.  And then it was time to make his request.

"I think the thing that most made me wish I could truly enjoy food was smelling your blueberry waffles," he admitted.

"Then blueberry waffles it is!"

In record time, Amber-Marie had whipped up a batch of the waffles.  As she'd worked, Josef had set the table and lit candles. 

Her eyes glowing with tears of joy as she entered the dining room, Amber-Marie set down two plates of waffles and two large glasses of milk. 

Josef bowed and pulled her chair out for her.

"Thank you."

Josef sat beside her and inhaled the enticing aroma then took Amber-Marie's hands in his.

"Father, Joshua, thank You for this delicious food which Amber-Marie has prepared for us.  Thank You for bringing her and Daisy into my life... for bringing true joy and love back into my life.  Please, continue to walk with us as we enter this new stage in our lives together.  Make... make me worthy of the gifts You've given me."

"Please make us strong enough to face the challenges that lay ahead... together... and make us still and reflective enough to find the beauty in every moment, in all of Your creation.  Teach us to love one another as you love us."



After squeezing each other's hands, the pair drew apart.  Amber-Marie looked expectantly at Josef.


The former vampire loaded up his fork and brought a large bite of waffle and syrup to his mouth.

"Oh..."  Josef sunk back against his chair, his eyes glazing over.  "Oh... boy..."

Amber-Marie giggled.

"It's good?"

"It's... heavenly."

"Thank goodness.  I was so worried I'd forget something since I was hurrying.  How awful if your first meal had been gross!"

"There is absolutely no danger of that, my dear."

"I like that... my dear..." Amber-Marie murmured.

Josef rested a hand on hers.

"I'll keep that in mind."

"I... I keep thinking this might be another dream... that I might wake up," Amber-Marie fretted.

Josef gently pinched her.

"See.  Not a dream," he reassured.

"Good.  Very good." 

"Uh huh..."

Josef leaned closer and Amber-Marie followed his lead.  Their lips met in one perfect, awkward, syrupy kiss that was quickly followed by another.

When their kisses ended, the two remained with their foreheads touching.

"Remember when we told Joshua there were no sparks between us?" Josef queried.

"Mmm huh.  There are definitely sparks now."

"Uh huh."

"I think he's okay with that."

"Very okay," Josef affirmed as he caressed Amber-Marie's cheek before she playfully pushed him away.

"Eat.  Your first real meal in hundreds of years shouldn't be cold."

"I suppose not... and it is delicious.  But not as delicious as..."

"Eat, Josef."


Grinning stupidly at each other, the pair redirected their attention to their waffles but not without frequent, giddy glances.


Something Wild

Autumn 2018

It was a beautiful, crisp fall morning in Dyeland.  A gentle breeze imbued all of Avalon with the salty, clean scent of the ocean.  The quiet, calm atmosphere made for a pleasant walk down the well-worn path to Sarah's grave.  Her visitor knelt to brush stray leaves from near her headstone.

"Good morning, Sarah," Amber-Marie greeted.  "What a beautiful day, isn't it?  I'm sure it's even more beautiful There.  Maybe you're watching the sunrise with Joshua... or dancing with your grandfather... or getting to know Billie Holiday."  She smiled at the possibilities.  "As for me...  I'm getting married this evening.  To Josef.  And I... I just wanted to come thank you for... for your part in making him the man he is.  So... thank you."

Amber-Marie swiped at a tear.

"This... it feels awkward but... but I felt I had to come see you.  Because I am so grateful.  And because I want you to know that you will never, ever be forgotten.  Josef has told me so much about you and, even though we never met, I feel like you're a friend... like you were watching out for me and Josef before we even knew we needed the help.  He's told me about his dream... his vision... and how... how you urged him onto a new life.  I don't think we could have this without that, Sarah.  Without you.  So... thank you.  Again."

Amber-Marie set an envelope down at the base of Sarah's marker.

"I want you to know that... if you want... Josef and I would be honored if... if you'd be with us in spirit tonight.  I'd truly love for you to be, Sarah.  And... and I hope, some day, we'll meet.  I feel like we'll have a lot to talk about."

Amber-Marie smiled at the other woman's name and tenderly traced it on the headstone.

"Thank you, sweet Sarah," she murmured before getting back to her feet and beginning the peaceful walk back to the shore and her boat.

Nearly as soon as Amber-Marie had turned her back, a lace-gloved hand plucked up the wedding invitation and eagerly tore it open.

Smiling, Sarah traced Josef's and Amber-Marie's names.  She whirled around to find Joshua standing behind her.

"It's really happening!  Will you go with me?" she requested.

Joshua linked his arm through hers.

"Sarah, I would be honored."  He kissed her temple.  "I'm very proud of you."

Sarah turned back towards Amber-Marie.

"Thank you.  I'm proud of them."

"Me too."

Sarah giggled.

"Little Daisy is going to look so sweet in her maid of honor dress!  What do you think will be their first dance song?  Do you think Josef and Daisy will have a dance?"

Joshua chuckled as the questions went on and on, patiently awaiting his turn to answer the exuberant spirit.


That night, the Friends and Amber-Marie's parents gathered in the Fields of Gold. 

As 6:00 neared and in the waning light of the sun, Andrew and Josef made their way down a pathway lined with gold and garnet-colored chrysanthemums.  Once they'd reached the wooden archway that the angel of death had crafted for the occasion, they turned and faced the beaming crowd.

"How you doing?" Andrew checked.

"Excited.  Nervous.  Mostly excited," Josef replied.

Andrew squeezed his shoulder.

"It'll be great.  And then... then you'll be a married man."

Josef sighed with contentment.

After Andrew gave Tess a sign, she began to play a selection from Vivaldi's Autumn.

Arm in arm, Isolde and Marco started the procession.  Once he reached the end of the aisle, Marco gave his old friend a bear hug.  Before moving to stand beside Tess, Isolde kissed his cheek.

"You did good, my old friend," she cooed.

Eyes welling, Josef could only nod before he directed his attention to Zelda and Logan, still tanned and beaming from their recent honeymoon.  They were followed by Isra and Behnam who were trailed by Mick and Beth.

Behind the St. Johns, Aiyla hovered near Aurora who toddled down the aisle, throwing flowers each time her big sister reminded her.  To their left, Omar proudly carried the rings as the guests cooed and laughed quietly.

Finally, Daisy proceeded down the aisle, looking like a little princess in her white dress with a yellow sash.  With every step, her smile widened until she reached her father and threw her arms around him.  Josef lifted the little girl up and kissed her forehead.

"You look beautiful, sweetheart," he gushed.

"And you look very handsome, Daddy.  Like a prince!"

"Thank you.  I love you so much, sweet Daisy."

"I love you, Daddy!  Now... Mommy's turn!  She looks so pretty!!!"

"She always looks pretty," Josef murmured as the music shifted and Isolde began to sing.  He set Daisy down and, together, with his hands on her shoulders, they gazed down the aisle.

"'For you, there'll be no more crying.
For you, the sun will be shining.
And I feel that when I'm with you,
It's alright, I know it's right."

Amber-Marie stepped beyond the gossamer curtains that had hidden her, causing the crowd to ooh and ahh. 

Josef's heart leaped as he beheld her, clad in a beige 1920s-era gown and a shawl embroidered with autumn leaves around her shoulders. 

"'And the songbirds are singing, like they know the score.
And I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before.
And I wish you all the love in the world.
But most of all, I wish it from myself.'"

Amber-Marie had eyes only for her daughter and husband-to-be as she proceeded down the aisle.  When she reached the end, Daisy embraced her.

The bride stooped to kiss her daughter's cheeks.

"Daddy's crying, Mommy."

Amber-Marie's own eyes glistened.

"I know, baby.  We're just so happy."

"Me too!"

Amber-Marie rubbed her nose against the little girl's.

"I'm so glad, Daisy."

Beaming, Daisy took her mother's hand and guided her the last few paces to Josef's side.

The crowd again cooed in delight and admiration as Daisy joined her parents' hands together.

Andrew smiled at the family, their wedding parties, and the gathered Friends.

"Dearly beloved, friends and family, we're gathered here today to join Josef Kostan and Amber-Marie Sayer as they embark on their life together, with their beloved daughter, Daisy.  Please join me in asking God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to be with us today as we celebrate the union of Josef and Amber-Marie."

On a nearby hill, Joshua and Sarah stood, looking on with pride.  They watched as Amber-Marie and Josef exchanged vows and rings then as they knelt before Andrew.

The angel of death spoke to the crowd.

"In honor of the Eastern Orthodox faith that Josef grew up with, he and Amber-Marie have elected to participate in a Crowning Ceremony of their own design.  Please join me as indicated in your program."

Andrew reached into a box that had been hidden behind the arbor and withdrew a crown of brightly colored leaves and mums.  He placed it atop Josef's head.

"Josef, son of God, you are crowned unto the daughter of God, Amber-Marie, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," he recited three times before removing a second, nearly identical crown and placing it on Amber-Marie's head.

"Amber-Marie, daughter of God, you are crowned unto the son of God, Josef, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," Andrew declared, again three times. 

Andrew lifted the crowns, holding them over the couple's heads.

"O Lord, our God," he began as he switched the crowns.

"Crown them with glory and honor," the congregation replied.

Andrew again shifted the crowns.

"O Lord, our God..."

"Crown them with glory and honor."

Josef clasped Amber-Marie's hand more tightly, smiling when she squeezed his hand in turn.

"O Lord, our God..."

"Crown them with glory and honor!"

Andrew returned the crowns to Amber-Marie and Josef then helped them to their feet.

"So beautiful...  Look how happy he is... how happy they both are!" Sarah gushed, throwing her arms around Joshua who smiled brightly as he gazed with love upon her, the couple, and all their attendants.

"Very, very happy," Joshua agreed.  "And now for the big moment..."

Andrew held his arms aloft, indicating the couple.

"My dear friends, may I present to you, Mr. Josef and Dr. Amber-Marie Kostan!"

The crowd cheered loudly, nearly drowning Andrew out as he said "You may now kiss."

But Amber-Marie and Josef heard.  They threw their arms around each other and kissed with a sublime mixture of passion and gentleness.

"You look beautiful, my wife," Josef praised in a husky voice.

"And you look incredibly handsome, my husband.  I... I can't wait to start... well, continue... my life with you," Amber-Marie exulted.

"Neither can I, my dear."  Josef loosened his hold on his bride just enough to pull Daisy in.  "I am so blessed to have you two.  My darling girls..."

Amber-Marie and Josef both hugged Daisy tightly then, as a family, proceeded back down the aisle.

"And they all lived happily ever after," Sarah murmured as she and Joshua watched from their hill.

Joshua said nothing.  He knew the Kostans would experience great joy but immense sadness, too.  However, he also knew they would never lose their love for and devotion to each other or him.  And one day, in his Kingdom, they would truly live happily ever after.


Joshua intended to make an appearance at the reception but, first, he wanted to ensure all the focus was on Amber-Marie and Josef for their first dance as man and wife.  It was also the moment that Sarah had most been looking forward to.

"Ooh... this looks interesting," she observed as the crowd gathered around the dance floor that was set up exactly as it had been the prior Halloween.  Unexpectedly, Josef and Amber-Marie stood at opposite sides.

"Oh!  Did they actually rehearse a choreographed dance?!"

Joshua chuckled and nodded.

"They thought Daisy would get a kick out of it.  But they ended up enjoying it more than they ever thought they would.  Here, it's gonna start."

"'You had your maps drawn.
You had other plans,
To hang your hopes on.
Every road they led you down felt so wrong.
So you found another way."

As the song started, Amber-Marie and Josef gracefully walked around the circle, always maintaining distance.  During the second verse, their circles were growing noticeably smaller, bringing them closer to the center of the dance floor and each other.

"'You've got a big heart.
The way you see the world,
It got you this far.
You might have some bruises
And a few of scars
But you know you're gonna be okay.
And even though you're scared,
You're stronger than you know.'"

Sarah squeezed Joshua's hand as the couple came within reaching distance of each other. 

The music surged and Josef grabbed Amber-Marie's hand, twirling her towards him.  Daisy shrieked with delight as her parents began an exuberant half-jig, half-swing dance, trekking all over the dance floor.

"'If you're lost out where the lights are blinding,
Caught and all the stars are hiding,
That's when something wild calls you home, home.
If you face the fear that keeps you frozen,
Chase the sky into the ocean,
That's when something wild calls you home, home.'"

The couple settled into a more traditional slow dance as the music's tempo slowed.  Amber-Marie rested her head on Josef's shoulder and let him guide her. 

"'Sometimes the past can
Make the ground beneath you feel like a quicksand.
You don't have to worry.
You reach for my hand.
Yeah, I know you're gonna be okay,
You're gonna be okay.
And even if you're scared,
You're stronger than you know.'"

After a kiss, the two returned to their exhilarating dance, celebrating the wildness of a God and a love that had brought them together.

"'If you face the fear that keeps you frozen,
Chase the sky into the ocean,
That's when something wild calls you home, home.'"

As the music drew to a close, Josef moved to one knee and Amber-Marie spun towards him for a final time, settling onto his raised knee.

Breathless, they kissed again.

"I love you... so much... Amber-Marie Kostan," Josef huffed.

"And I love you... wildly... Josef Kostan," Amber-Marie echoed before they were joined by their giddy, exceedingly impressed daughter.

With a final, blissful sigh, Sarah reached for Joshua and kissed his cheek.

"All is well..."

"All is well," he agreed after returning her kiss. 

Sarah smiled down at the happy couple and their little girl before fading away, leaving a now-visible Joshua alone on the hill and ready to join the Friends in celebrating Josef and Amber-Marie.



Fifty Years Later

For Josef and Amber-Marie, the years flew by, filled with moments of intense joy.  The dearest of these memories were captured in the scrapbooks Amber-Marie was flipping through.

There was Josef teaching Daisy to ride a bike.  There she was doing the girl's hair for her first real Tunnels dance.  Daisy and her first car.  Daisy graduating.  Daisy and Jacob on their wedding day.  Daisy dancing with her Daddy on that wonderful, wished-for day.  Daisy and Jacob holding their firstborn... their second... their third...  There were also myriad photos of Amber-Marie and Josef with their grandchildren... and then their great-grandchildren. 

As the pages and years flipped by, Amber-Marie studied her husband's face.  When they'd married, she'd known she'd looked at least a dozen years older than him.  But the apparent gap hadn't taken much time to close.  Though he'd stepped away from the more dangerous aspects of For Sarah's work, Josef had continued to bear the brunt of the emotional and logistical labor that fueled it.  By their tenth anniversary, his hair had gone salt and pepper.  By their twentieth, that same hair had been thinning.  Still, he'd maintained his boyish grin and athletic figure.  In fact, he'd remained very fit and healthy for decades.

With a few motions of her hands, Amber-Marie summoned video from their 50th anniversary celebration.  Before her eyes, a hologram of herself and Josef gliding around Willowveil ballroom, to the accompaniment of Van Morrison, appeared.

"'We were born before the wind,
Also younger than the sun.
Ere the bonnie boat was won,
As we sailed into the mystic.
Hark, now hear the sailors cry.
Smell the sea and feel the sky.
Let your soul and spirit fly,
Into the mystic...'"

Tears streamed down Amber-Marie' face as she watched Josef reach up and gently tuck a stray, silver strand behind her ear.  His own hair had thinned to little more than a fringe but her heart still sped at the sight of him.

She was so lost in her reverie that Amber-Marie didn't hear the familiar clicking sound approaching.  She wasn't aware that she was no longer alone until Josef rested his cane against the couch's arm and sunk down beside her.

"My dear, what are you doing?  It's 2:00 in the morning," he gently pointed out.

Amber-Marie waved the phantoms away. 

"I... I just couldn't sleep.  I'm fine."

Josef brushed tears from her cheeks.

"You're not.  You're thinking about earlier.  About the tests results."

Amber-Marie clasped his hand and peered with great intensity into her husband's eyes.

"I... I just don't understand why... why you won't at least try... try to fight it."

Josef sighed and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her closer.

"Amber-Marie, I'm almost 500 years old..."

"B-but... your body isn't even 90.  Not really!"

"I know.  But I just... I don't feel like it's up for the fight, my dear.  If I did... I'd do everything possible to... to stay with you, Daisy, the kids...  But I... I don't want to spend months feeling miserable and drugged up and then... then die, anyway."  Josef buried his face in his wife's neck and planted a kiss below her ear before again meeting her gaze and cupping her chin.  "I want to truly enjoy what time I have, Amber-Marie.  I want to have long talks with you."  He looked back to where the video had been playing.  "I want to be able to dance with you.  I... I want to sleep in our bed, with you... not some hospital bed.  And, who knows, maybe do something more in the bed."

In spite of her heartache, Amber-Marie laughed.


"What?  We still got it."  He winked at her.

Amber-Marie pressed her lips to his.

"We do," she agreed.

Josef buried his hand in her hair and rested his forehead against hers.

"I don't want to leave you...  I... I don't want to cause you pain, Amber-Marie.  I've never wanted that but..."

Somewhere, in the recesses of her memory, Amber-Marie recalled a song that Josef had been taken with shortly after they'd become engaged.  She found herself quietly reciting it, surprised that the lyrics had stuck with her.

"'If we were vampires and death was a joke,
we'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke, and laugh at all the lovers and their plans.  I... I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand.'"

With a teary smile, Josef began to sing.

"'Maybe time running out is a gift.
I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift,
And give you every second I can find,
And hope it isn't me who's left behind.

It's knowing that this can't go on forever,
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone.
Maybe we'll get forty years together...'"

"'But one day I'll be gone or one day... one day you'll... you'll be gone...'" Amber-Marie finished, her voice faltering just before she began to sob.

"Shh...  Not yet, my dear.  Not yet," Josef consoled as he gently rocked her.  "I'm still here.  And I... I'll never leave you.  Not really.  I promise you that.  Oh, Amber-Marie...  I love you so."

Unable to stop crying, Amber-Marie could only echo her husband's words by clinging more tightly to him and trying to commit every sensation of him to memory.


In the months that followed, Amber-Marie made her peace with Josef's decision.  They were happy months which, miraculously, turned into a happy period of two years.  Daisy and Jacob visited the Ghostly Gables often, usually bringing their children and grandchildren with them.  On occasion, Daisy and Aiyla came together and spent the night for old time's sake.  The house would fill with laughter as the four recalled the girls' shared childhood.  More often, Daisy stayed over alone, drinking in the familiar comfort of being near her parents in the home they had shared.

The day came when Daisy returned for a final night with her parents.  Jacob accompanied her but hung back, affording his wife privacy and alone time with her mom and dad just as she had when his own had passed on.

"It... it just happened so quickly," Daisy cried as she gently wiped her father's face with a damp cloth.  "He... he was talking and sitting up yesterday and now..."

Amber-Marie, sitting on her husband's other side, nodded.

"But that's how he wanted it, sweetheart.  To... to feel as good as he could for as long as he could.  The treatments may have given us more time... and he knew that... but not... not the good times we've had.  I... I struggled with that, at first.  And maybe... maybe a part of me still is right... right now.  But I know he was right.  My Josef."

Daisy looked on, silently crying, as her mother rested her head on her father's chest.  After a few moments, she spoke.

"Do... do you want some time alone, Mom?"

Amber-Marie sat up and stroked her daughter's face.

"No, sweetie.  But I'm fine if you need a break."

Daisy gave an adamant shake of her head.

"Okay."  Wearied by the day-long vigil, Amber-Marie again laid her head down, this time on her pillow.  She reached over and patted the one to Josef's left side, indicating for Daisy to do the same.

Obeying, Daisy snuggled closer to her father while keeping a close eye on her mother.

"I'll never forget that I found Josef because of you, my girl.  You gave us so much, Daisy."

Fresh tears pooled in the younger woman's eyes and leaked onto the pillow.  Through the haze of decades' worth of memories, she could still remember being the terrified, tortured little girl who was suddenly swept into gentle, strong arms.

"Daddy!" she'd cried.

Now grown, Daisy knew she'd merely been confused... a confusion helped along by very strong genetic traits.  But she liked to think, on a deeper level, her five year old self had known exactly who had been holding her.

"'Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do...  I'm half crazy all for the love of you...'"

Daisy clasped her father's left hand and held tight as she recalled him singing to her, just as her other father had.  Her childishness had partly shielded her from the finality of Benson's death.  Now she had no such naivete...  Her father was dying and she wouldn't see him again in her lifetime.  But now she had faith... belief in a Kingdom ruled by her beloved Joshua... a Home without pain or grief.


Amber-Marie smiled at the long-abandoned title.

"Yes, sweetie?"

"Do you think Joshua is here?"

"I do."

"Me too." 

"What do you think is the first thing Daddy is going to do in Heaven?"

Amber-Marie thought.  Years ago, she would have said he'd ask to see Sarah.  Now she wasn't so sure.  In his later years, he'd talked more and more about his mother.  And then there was Pavel, the son he'd never known.  And all the generations since.  Several of the original Friends had passed away, including some Josef had been especially close to.  Maybe he would want to see them?  Of course, there was Joshua.  Maybe Josef would want nothing more than to bask in the love of his Creator.

Before she could answer her daughter's question, Amber-Marie realized that Josef's breathing had changed.  It only took another moment for Daisy to notice, too.

"Oh...  Oh, Daddy...  No..." Daisy cried.

Amber-Marie clasped her daughter's free hand, still clutching Josef's right.

"Josef...  Josef..." She kissed him.  "Josef, I... I love you.  So much, my darling."

"Daddy...  I... I love you, Daddy.  Thank you... for... for everything, Daddy."  Daisy placed her own kiss on her father's cheek.

"Thank you for a beautiful life, my love.  My Josef..."

Once more, Amber-Marie pressed her lips to her husband's.  She watched, in agony, as he took a final breath then stilled.

His wife's wailing brought Jacob running into the room.  He'd no sooner crossed the threshold into his parents-in-law's bedroom than Daisy was in his arms, weeping into his shoulder.

"Beloved...  I'm so sorry, Daisy.  So sorry," he cooed as he swayed with her.

In spite of her grief, Amber-Marie sat up and smiled wanly at her son-in-law.  He had proven anew what a wonderful partner he was to her Daisy.  Once Jacob responded with his own tearful smile, Amber-Marie sunk back down onto the bed and pulled Josef's body closer.

"We... we did good, my darling.  And we... we'll be fine.  You'll see."  She kissed his brow.  "I love you, my Josef.  Now... go... go Home."

At the foot of his bed, with Andrew at his side, Josef beheld the scene before him.  Like his wife and daughter, he had tears streaming down his face.

"You have been so loved, my friend," the elderly angel of death assured.  "And Amber-Marie and Daisy, your grandchildren, they will carry that love with them, wherever they go in life."

Stricken, Josef nodded.  He walked to Amber-Marie's side of the bed and knelt down, resting a hand on her shaking back.

"I have loved you in every moment since... since that fateful Halloween party, my dear.  And I... I have no intention of stopping now.  I'll love you... forever.  You and Daisy and our... our beautiful family.  Be at peace, Amber-Marie."

Amber-Marie sighed as Josef placed a kiss at the nape of her neck.

He rose, looked with adoration at his daughter, still nestled in the arms of her husband, and then reached for Andrew's hand and disappeared into the light of Eternity.


Three Days Later

When they reached the plot beside Benson's, Josef's grandsons and nephews carefully lowered his casket to the ground.

Just as she had many, many years before, Isolde Crocetti moved to the head of the grave and began to recite.

"'Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.'"

Hand-in-hand, Amber-Marie and Daisy approached the casket and tucked notes into a cross formed of daisies and ivy.

"G-good bye, Daddy.  I... I love you so much," Daisy choked out.

Wrapping an arm around her daughter, Amber-Marie spoke.

"Until we meet again, my darling, know that I love you.  Al-always will, Josef."

Mother and daughter stepped back to allow the pallbearers to lower the casket.  Daisy rested her head on Amber-Marie's shoulder as Josef's body was laid to rest. 

Omar and Aiyla retrieved the icon and cross that they had carried during the procession from Willowveil.

"Daisy..." Aiyla murmured before handing the icon to her friend and pulling her into a hug.

"Can.. can I escort you back to the barge, Aunt Amber-Marie?" Omar asked after placing the cross in her arms.

"I would appreciate that very, very much, Omar.  Thank you." 

Omar remained at the old woman's side, holding her arm as attention shifted to Jacob.

With glistening eyes, Jacob peered out at the gathering.

"Please join me in reciting the prayer that Joshua taught us," he invited.

"'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...'"

Behind Benson's and Josef's tombstones, Joshua stood with Josef at his side.  When Andrew had brought Josef Home, he'd made a heartfelt request to remain with his wife and daughter until his burial.  It was a request that Joshua had eagerly granted.  He had remained at Josef's side the entire time, watching over him as he'd watched over Daisy and Amber-Marie.

When the prayer ended, Joshua rested an arm on Josef's shoulders.

"Look at what a difference you made in so many lives, Josef.  And this..."  Joshua waved to the mourners.  "This is only a tiny portion of the lives you helped restore with your FS work.  You've done well, my good and faithful servant."

Josef's face flushed with pride but only for a moment before his gaze returned to Amber-Marie and Daisy. 

"I... I wish I could help them, Joshua."

The carpenter patted Josef's back.

"You can pray for them.  And you can rest in the knowledge that they're comforted by their memories of you and the knowledge that this parting... it will come to an end."

"And then they'll get to meet the whole family.  I think it's more than time you got to do that, Gramps."

Josef spun around in search of the unfamiliar voice.  It didn't take long for him to find its owner, leaning against a tree and smiling at him with a grin so much like his own.

Josef ambled towards the stranger.


Benson approached, his arms aloft.

"That's me.  It's a pleasure to meet you, Josef... Grandpa..."

Josef chuckled as he pulled the man into a bear hug.

"You can call me whatever you want.  I just..."  He stepped back and cradled the younger man's face in his hands.  "Benson..."

Benson placed his own hands over his predecessor's and nodded.

"It's me.  And I've been waiting to thank you for raising my little girl... our little girl."  Benson's gaze traveled to Daisy.  "You and Amber-Marie... you did so... so well, Josef."

"Th-thank you.  I'm just sorry..."

Benson waved his hands, cutting Josef off.

"No.  We have all the time in Eternity... but no time for self-recrimination.  It's time to put that away.  Forever.  Isn't the right, Joshua?"

"Definitely right," Joshua confirmed with a grin.  "And don't try to argue with him, Josef.  He's a stubborn one.  A family trait, I think."

Both men laughed when Joshua winked at them.

"Josef, it's time to go Home," Benson informed.  "So many people are waiting for you.  Will you come?  Please?"

Josef peered once more at his wife and daughter who were huddled together, speaking with a parade of comforters.  He hated to leave them... but he wanted to get to know this grandson of his and all the others who had come before.  And he wanted to see Sarah... to thank her for helping him to believe he'd have a future of happiness.  How right she had been...

Josef turned back to Benson and Joshua and nodded.

Arms around each other, Josef and Benson walked into the light with Joshua right behind them, all three laughing as Benson regaled Josef with the tales of his descendants.

Back near the plot, Daisy suddenly looked around in confusion.

"Sweetie, what is it?" Amber-Marie asked with concern.

"It's just... I... I thought I heard Daddy laughing.  Actually... both my dads laughing."

Amber-Marie smiled at the idea.

"Maybe you did, Daisy.  Actually... I never got to answer your question on... on the night Daddy died.  But I think I know it now.  I think, of everyone, Benson would be the person Josef would most want to see after Joshua."


"Really.  So they could talk all about their precious little girl."

Daisy beamed as her mother kissed her temple.

"My precious girl..." Amber-Marie cooed.

The two women embraced and, though their hearts remained heavy, they knew they would help each other through their grief for their beloved Josef.

The End

Works Cited:
by Bram Stoker
"Morning Has Broken" by Eleanor Farjeon
"A Bicycle Built for Two" by Harry Dacre
"All Things Bright and Beautiful" by Cecil Frances Alexander
Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9- "On this mountain the Lord of hosts..."
John 17:24-26- "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am"
"Amazing Grace" composed by John Newton
Death Is Nothing At All by Henry Scott-Holland   
The Lord's Prayer
1 Timothy 6:15- King of Kings
Revelation 17:14- Lord of Lords, King of Kings
Revelation 19:16- Lord of Lords, King of Kings
Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34- My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?
Matthew 14:13-21- the feeding of the five thousand
Hotel Transylvania
"Love Me Tender" by Elvis
"Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday
"Problem (Monster Remix") by Becky G
"I'll Be Seeing You" by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain
Galaxy Quest
"The Monster Mash" composed by Leonard Capizzi and Bobby "Boris" Pickett
"Dark Waltz" by Tow'rs
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Antonio Vivaldi's Autumn
"Songbird" by Christine McVie/Fleetwood Mac
"Something Wild" by Peter Hanna, Lindsey Stirling, and Andrew McMahon

"Into the Mystic" by Van Morrison
 "A Bicycle Built for Two" by Harry Dacre
Matthew 25:23 - well done, good and faithful servant
"If We Were Vampires" by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

The crowning ceremony was based off the description here:

I made adjustments based on what I thought Josef and Amber-Marie would want.  For example, I couldn't imagine Amber-Marie being overly fond of "handmaid" as a descriptor for herself. 

I also made a playlist for inspiration while writing this.  Some of the songs made it into the story itself but others were just to get myself into particular moods.
  1. "Carry On" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young- I listened to this song on repeat after John Dye passed away.  Listening to it recently kinda brought me back to that weird space of intensely mourning someone I didn't actually know and very much wanting to feel better.  It helped me get into Josef's headspace at the beginning of the story.
  2. "Morning Has Broken" by Third Day- Representing the funeral hymns from the story.
  3. "Heroes" by Peter Gabriel- I think this cover is so hauntingly beautiful.  It set the tone for the funeral which I wanted to be beautiful and meaningful... but it's still a very sad funeral.
  4. "Demons" by Imagine Dragons- This and the next song helped me capture the mood of Josef's and Joshua's confrontation. 
  5. "Bring Me To Life" by Chris Daughtry
  6. "Everything" by Lifehouse- And this one captures Josef's eventual surrender to Joshua's love.
  7. "Dark Waltz" by Tow'rs- It really does remind me of "Shadowlands" and it made sense as a song that Andrew and JenniAnn would love but that would also trick Josef and Amber-Marie into remaining on the dance floor and then also being moved by it.
  8. "Songbird" by Fleetwood Mac- I'm ashamed to admit I didn't even realize this was a Fleetwood Mac song.  I found it on a list of wedding songs and it just fit so well.
  9. "Something Wild" by Peter Hanna, Lindsey Stirling, and Andrew McMahon- I love this song.  I originally thought of it as commentary on Joshua's wildness.  And it's still that to an extent but I also think Amber-Marie's and Josef's story is wild in its own way.  I mean who saw that coming?  Not me!  I had no intention of them getting together until two different readers told me they assumed they would and I thought maybe I should consider that.
  10. "Into the Mystic" by Van Morrison- I don't know.  I could just imagine an elderly Josef and Amber-Marie dancing to this and remembering all their adventures.  I think, when Daisy is older, Amber-Marie will probably travel with Josef so they'll visit all sorts of exotic locations and have assorted romantic interludes.
  11. "Colours" by Donovan- It's a love song but it's always struck me as being very child-like and something you'd use to score scenes of a kid growing up.  So I played it as I imagined Daisy growing up and, later, Amber-Marie going through the family photos.
  12. "If We Were Vampires" by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit- One of my new favorite songs.  I could see Josef loving this song because he was a vampire and he knows what it's like to take life for granted.  But, ultimately, he chooses a human life that's as rich and full as it is limited.
  13. "Shores of Avalon" by Tina Malia- The story begins with Avalon and ends with it...  And this is such a beautiful song.

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