Shadowlands

"And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."
~~1 Corinthians 13:13

El-Chanan        Before the Rains        The Gathering Storm        Sins of the Father        Family

What the Vampire Heard       
In the Beginning        Deception        Going Home

Heart to Heart        Haunted        By Our Love        Sheol        Illusions

The Strength in Our Story        Epilogue        Notes

El-Chanan

Present Day


Upon entering a humble yet beautiful church, a man began to study his surroundings with great interest.  He smiled up at the angels and saints depicted in the stained glass windows.

"They don't quite have your eyes right, Rafiq, but it's a good likeness, eh?"

The man smiled at the sound of laughter only he could hear. 

"Odelya looks lovely as always."  He glanced across the aisle.  "Ah and Elazer...  Fitting that your images should gaze upon each other for as long as this church stands."

He sighed and paused in front of another pair of windows. 

"Zaila... Naveed.  Sometimes it's hard to believe eons have passed since we first came here together."

The man moved to a sixth window, unsure of how he should feel about it.  Honored?  Humbled?  Shy?  Yes, he felt somehow shy.  Him!  A stained glass window in a church!  Maybe that was fine for Michael and Gabriel but him?  Yet it had been what the people wanted... a church that spoke not only of their faith but also their history.  And he was their history... always had been.  Suddenly overcome, the angel settled into a pew and gazed at the large cross.  He was so deep in contemplation that he didn't notice when two others entered the church.

"That... that's him?" a young man whispered to a beaming girl.

"Uh huh.  That's my great-great-great-great-great and so on grandpa Reuel!"

"Who is an angel..."

"Who is an angel!"

"And... and you're definitely not?"

The girl laughed.  "I wouldn't have accepted your marriage proposal if I was, silly!"

"Right... but I mean like... part.  What you said about, umm, Nephilim and... weird stuff like that."

"Weird stuff?!  Cody!"

Cody reached out when his intended spun away from him.  "Eleora, I didn't mean it like that.  Really.  I..."

Eleora turned back around and grinned.  "I know.  I don't explain our history well.  Reuel does.  He was there, after all!"  She held out her hand.  "C'mon!"

Cody took his fiancee's hand and nervously followed her up the aisle. 

Reuel heard the couple approaching and turned.  He smiled at the two, observing the bond between them.  Though he had yet to properly meet Cody, Reuel was impressed by the young man.  He genuinely loved Eleora and was charmed by her eccentricities.  It spoke well of him that he hadn't run the moment she'd told him of her unique history and homeland. 

"Cody, welcome to El-Chanan!  And Eleora... welcome back!" 

Eleora dashed into Reuel's open arms.

Cody hung back, watching as the angel kissed his fiancee's hair.  Reuel looked to be no more than thirty years old and yet his eyes betrayed his ancientness.

"Congratulations on your graduation... and your engagement," Reuel murmured to the girl.  "I'm looking forward to being here for your nuptials."

"Thank you!  I'm so glad you've returned for our wedding!  And that the church is finished in time!"  Eleora stepped back and studied the beautiful windows.  She smiled when her eyes fell on Reuel's likeness. 

Reuel blushed and directed his attention to Cody.  He held out his hand. 

"I'm pleased to meet you, Cody."

"And... and I you... sir." 

"A good, strong handshake," Reuel commented.  "I like that."

Eleora clapped with approval.

His face flushing, Cody smiled.  "Thank you, sir."

"Reuel, please," the angel invited.

"Reuel," Cody repeated.  "Thank you, s... Reuel."

Reuel suppressed a laugh.  "Our land is much different from Wisconsin, yes?"

Cody nodded.  "Very!  It's... beautiful!  I mean not that Wisconsin isn't.  I love it there but this...  It's like something out of a fairy tale or myth!"

"We're in the oldest city," Eleora explained.  "If we go farther out in any direction, you'll see some more modern places.  We've always had people who go back to Earth and when they return, if they return, they bring modern tastes and styles with them.  It's fun to travel around El-Chanan.  Almost like a field trip of architecture through the ages.  I can't wait to show you!"

Cody smiled when Eleora hugged his arm tightly and briefly rested her head on his shoulder.

"Shall we sit down and begin our discussion?" Reuel offered.

Cody glanced at Eleora who enthusiastically nodded. 

"Yes, please," he responded.

Reuel waved them into the front pew then grabbed a chair and placed it in front of them.  Once he was seated, he smiled at the couple.

"So what has Eleora told you of El-Chanan's history, Cody?" he questioned.

"Well...  She told me that the first people, you among them, came here after the Great Flood.  Or before it, I mean.  When it started.  There was a portal... I guess like the one we came through to get here?"

Reuel nodded.

"And that you were escaping the, umm, fallen angels," Cody continued.

"Yes," Reuel answered gravely.

"And the Nephilim," Cody added.  "I have to admit that that's where I... well, I started to wonder if..."

"If I was insane!" Eleora finished for him with a grin.

Reuel chuckled.  "You wouldn't be the first to wonder that about some of our travelers, Cody."

"The travelers... those who leave here... do many of them come back?" the young man queried.

Eleora shrugged.  "About fifty/fifty don't you think, Reuel?"

"Yes.  And, Cody, please don't think that we exile the other half," Reuel stressed.  "Oftentimes they come home for holidays and such.  There is, obviously, a reliance upon discretion when they go to and fro and, naturally, when introducing others."

"That's why I couldn't tell you any earlier," Eleora explained, clasping Cody's hand.  "I wanted to be absolutely sure that... that you are the one and... you are."

Cody brought the woman's hand to his lips.  "Thank you for trusting me."  He smiled shyly at Reuel.  "Both of you."

"I can tell that Eleora has chosen well," Reuel assured.  "And now... what do you know of the Nephilim, Cody?"

"Nothing.  Only the theories people have," he answered.  "I've heard everything from aliens, gods, angel-human hybrids, some sort of priestly clan of humans...  Some people think Goliath was one."

Reuel nodded with approval.  He liked people who admitted it when they didn't have the answers.

"And succubi and incubi... what do you know of them?"

Eleora shivered, calming when Cody rested an arm around her shoulders.

"Also nothing... although those theories seem more united.  Succubi are female demons, incubi are males.  They are, umm, thought to be... well... promiscuous."  Cody forced a smile.  "Marquette doesn't cover this in their Theology classes."

Reuel laughed.  "And it's likely for the best that they don't because the reality is much different from what most suppose.  But you have studied the Bible?"

Cody readily nodded.  "I've attended Catholic schools all my life.  Four years of Jesuit high school and, of course, the four at Marquette.  We always seemed to gloss over that part of Genesis that mentions the Nephilim."

"And yet it's there that El-Chanan's story begins.  As the Bible says, in those days, the people had become wicked... many of them that is."

"Not Noah and his family," Cody interjected.

"Correct.  Not Noah and his family.  And they survived by building and boarding an ark."

"And the animals.  The animals boarded, too," Eleora added.

Reuel smiled.  Eleora had always loved the animals. 

"Yes, the animals, too.  Humans often mistake the word 'people' to mean strictly humans but this was not so.  But before I get to that, we must go back even further.  You've read of how Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden?"

"Yes," Cody asserted. 

"As soon as they left, God gave His angels the task of watching over them and their descendants.  And we did for many, many years.  Many of us loved our work and our charges.  But there were some...  They grew to resent being made to care for these 'lesser creatures.'  I am afraid that they listened too much to the Fallen One.  Their pride overcame their love... for the humans and, even, for God Himself.  They began to plot together to commandeer God's treasured creation... and the humans He had entrusted it to.  From that point on, there was a divide among the angels.  There were those of us who remained loyal to God and to those we watched over.  We retained the name of 'angels.'  Now your people, Cody, think of the word as meaning 'messengers' but back then it was more commonly understood as 'watchers.'  We watched over the humans, guiding them when we could.  And our fallen brethren?  They became demons.  The succubi and the incubi.  They preyed upon the humans although not in the way you may have heard."

"Angels can't have sex," Eleora whispered to Cody.  "Ever."

Cody's face brightened a few shades.

In spite of the serious topic of conversation, Reuel laughed. 

"It's true," he averred.  "Neither good angels nor fallen ones.  That aspect of the succubi and incubi is a myth."

"So... so then the Nephilim were not half angels?"

"No.  They weren't.  But, unfortunately, the succubi and incubi did have a terrible part in their creation and education."

Eleora sniffled.  "I... I've never liked this part."

Reuel patted her hand.  "Perhaps you could step out into the garden, dear?  You've heard this all before."

Eleora shook her head and forced a smile.  "No...  I want to be here with Cody as he learns our history."

Cody tightened his hold of his bride-to-be and sighed when she rested her head on his shoulder.

"Go on, please," Eleora encouraged.

Reuel heaved a sigh and resumed his explanation.  His face hardened.

"All these years later and I remain shocked and horrified by what my brothers and sisters did..." he lamented.

"But you had other brothers and sisters, ones like you?" Cody comforted.

Reuel nodded and offered a small smile.  "Oh yes.  A great many more than there are of the others.  We grieved together, combated the fallen ones together.  With our God.  We still do.  And, thankfully, the succubi and incubi have never again known the power they had in those days.  You've studied human trafficking in your morality and social justice classes?" he checked.

Surprised by the apparent change in subject, Cody nodded.

"Unfortunately, that is exactly what the succubi and incubi excelled at.  Like many modern traffickers, they charmed their targets.  They built up their trust... and then they exploited it.  Once they had ensnared their victims, they forced them to mate with each other and then, when children resulted, the succubi and incubi took them and raised them, if male, to be warriors and, if female, to breed more warriors... the Nephilim.  I told you the wicked people were not only humans..."

"But... but then that means the humans were all victims with little to no choice!  And God wiped them out?" Cody protested.

"No.  The Flood didn't come until after many generations of this.  Over time, the succubi and incubi found that they no longer needed to resort to seduction to continue their heinous scheme.  Villages would hand over some of their own people in exchange for a promise to not have the Nephilim attack them... a promise that was not often kept."

"So... so people were basically selling their own?"

Reuel nodded.  "And that is wickedness."

"It is, yeah.  But then those people who were sold... they still had no choice."

"Not in how they were treated, no.  But they did have a choice.  There was still my village, Nogah, and its people.  There were a great many of us.  The demons had taken to casting out all the babies they deemed unlikely to grow into their prized soldiers.  We had a regular patrol along their borders and we took and raised those babies.  Our numbers increased more than theirs.  The succubi, incubi, and Nephilim knew better than to attack us.  In truth, I think they feared us.  Beyond our numbers, we were more powerful.  In choosing to turn their backs on God, the fallen angels had limited their own powers.  Whereas I can sometimes stop swords and bullets, work miracles as God directs, and travel at the speed of light and greater... they could no longer do any of that.  Myself and my fellow angels along with our human helpers were a wily bunch.  We angels regularly infiltrated the demons' empire.  There was not a human we didn't speak to... unseen.  If there were any who expressed a desire to leave... we saw to it that they left.  We offered them safe passage to their native villages, if they had one, but most often they remained with us."

Cody shook his head.  It was so much to take and yet it explained a great deal... almost. 

"Why would anyone not leave?"

Reuel closed his eyes for a moment.  "That was our greatest sorrow... that so many stayed.  As I said, the fallen ones were master manipulators.  When they plundered villages, they shared what wealth and possessions they took with the humans under their control.  They bet on this keeping the humans in line.  It worked with too many.  It was a gilded prison... one some preferred to our humble freedom."

Cody and Eleora looked to each other.  Both had seen what harm greed could work in people's lives.  As unfortunate as it was, Reuel's explanation was all too believable.

"But your village was nice?" Eleora prodded, eager for some happiness.

"Very nice," Reuel assented.  "We had no gold nor jewels and, though our work was hard, we were happy."

"So you lived there?  Among the humans?"

"Yes.  We angels could return to Heaven as we wished but we knew our human friends could not so we often stayed for as long as we could bear it."

Cody tilted his head.  "As long as you could bear it?  So this place...Nogah... it wasn't always nice?"

"It was very nice but it was not Heaven and some of us...  Cody, have you heard of the phrase 'soul friend' or 'anam cara'?"

Cody gazed at Eleora whose head was bowed as she smiled.

Reuel laughed.  "Ah... that much our Eleora has explained.  No doubt in reference to your own bond?"

Beaming, Cody nodded.

"Very good!  Now, Cody, let us suppose that I told you that if you remained with Eleora, you would never be allowed to consummate your relationship with her.  Would you still marry her?"

Cody gulped.

Eleora giggled and playfully glared at Reuel.

Reuel looked to the girl with amusement and then back to her fiance.  "Cody?"

"I, well...  I can't say I wouldn't be disappointed... a lot... but... but I wouldn't be able to leave her."  Cody turned to Eleora.  "Yes, I would marry you still." 

Eleora caressed his face.  "Cody..."

Reuel reached over to squeeze the young man's shoulder.  "And that is because you are her anam cara.  Your love for each other goes beyond the physical although that may certainly be part of it.  But even if it were taken away, your emotional and spiritual bond would remain.  Oh and, just to be clear, no one will ask you to make that sacrifice."

The color returned to Cody's face and he gave a sheepish smile.  "Good.  I meant what I said but..."

Eleora hugged him.  "I know!"

Reuel smiled at the two then resumed his talk.  "So since we've now proven that it's very difficult to be parted from one's anam cara and that such a bond can exist independently of a sexual union, what I say next will hopefully not come as a shock to you, Cody.  Angels, too, can have anam caras."

"That's who are on the windows!" Eleora cried with glee.  She began to point.  "Odelya is a woman and anam cara to Elazer who is an angel.  Zaila is also an angel and anam cara to Naveed who is a man.  And... Rafiq there is a man and anam cara to Reuel."

Cody studied the windows with a fresh outlook.  "Wow.  That's really cool!"  He turned back to Reuel.  "But then... humans die.  I mean even supposing humans really did live longer back then, they still died eventually."

"They did, yes.  And, when Rafiq died, El-Chanan became a different place to me.  I still loved all of its people and so, through the ages, I have regularly visited them.  But to make a home here without Rafiq and our daughter..."

Cody blinked.

Reuel laughed.  "I have shocked you.  Let me explain."  He rose and moved to stand in front of the window bearing Rafiq's image.  "In the decades shortly before the Flood, the Nephilim and their makers began to lose some of their fear of us.  While they never attacked our village, sometimes a few of them would trespass and harm or even kill our own.  Rafiq was the leader among the humans.  I was the leader among the angels.  Each of us took these losses to heart... never more so than when one of the Nephilim killed Rafiq's wife.  Their daughter, Riva, was only two when she lost her mother.  Rafiq was consumed with grief and, though not negligent of his child, he was so beside himself that I stepped in to attend to the girl.  I spent many weeks feeding, bathing, clothing, and soothing Riva and consoling her father, too.  In time, Rafiq's sadness turned into resolve.  He would do everything he could to protect his people.  This was my own goal and we bonded over that.  We shared in our feeling of betrayal... that our brothers and sisters could be so cruel!  But we shared our faith, too.  We each believed that God would bring goodness out of our troubles.  Together, we planned ways to protect our village while continuing our mission to help those trapped by the Nephilim, succubi, and incubi.  And we succeeded in doing that for twelve years.  And then... then they came after our Riva."

Cody and Eleora sunk back into a pew as Reuel continued the story of their past... the story of his friends.

*~*~*

Before the Rains

Many, many years ago...

"We should have gone with him!"

"I should have.  But he said no.  You needed to stay here, Elazer.  Odelya's time is nearing.  The little one could come at any moment and you must be here.  She will need you at her side."

Elazer nodded then eyed the infant his fellow angel was feeding. 

"Do you think I will be good at that, Zaila?" he asked, not taking his eyes from the baby.

Zaila reached over to pat Elazer's cheek.  "Very good.  Would you like to try?"

Elazer nodded and accepted the baby. 

"Greetings, Shiloh."

In spite of his worries, Elazer smiled when the child resumed drinking.  He glanced across the tent at Odelya who slept with a hand perched on her distended belly.

"Zaila... the things she tells me of... of what she suffered with them.  Poor Riva..."

Zaila cast a furtive glance at the entrance to the tent.  Naveed was patting Rafiq's back and speaking to him and another villager in low tones.

"They did not have much time before Reuel was told of her abduction.  Surely he will have reached her before..."  She stopped speaking when Naveed moved away from Rafiq and joined them.

"Asho has spoken to the look-outs.  They think it was Haben and Meron who took Riva.  Nen and Tzila... they were with them.  They... they are merciless."

Zaila bowed her head, remembering her former friend who had taken on the name Tzila... shadow. 

Naveed wrapped his arms around the angel's shaking shoulders. 

"Lord... deliver us from... from this evil.  Please," Elazer pleaded.  "Keep our Riva safe.  Guide Reuel to her."

Overhearing, Rafiq parted from Asho and knelt among the three.

"I... I cannot lose my child to them.  For so... so long we have been safe from them and now...  This can be no accident!  They... they know she is mine... and Reuel's.  Surely they came after Riva because of that.  Why... why did I let her go out this morning?"

Zaila held her arms out, reaching for her son who Elazer returned to her.  Naveed continued to hold her as she cradled their foundling.

As Rafiq sobbed, Odelya stirred and sat up.  Tears immediately filled her eyes.  Though she had regretted needing rest at such a time, she had hoped to awaken to find Riva had been rescued.  Clearly that was not so.

Seeing the pregnant woman rise, Elazer hurried to her and helped her settle onto the cushion he had been occupying.

"There is nothing you could have done," Odelya offered to Rafiq.  "Once they are... are determined... there is no stopping them."

Elazer's eyes filled when the woman buried her face in his shoulder.  He knew she was remembering her own abduction from a far off village and the weeks of assaults that had followed, one of which had left her with child.  Every day he thanked God for guiding him to her and letting him help her escape.  It had been one of his first assignments and, second only to his allegiance to God, Odelya's love was what kept him there, continuing the fight against the demons and the Nephilim.

"There must be another way to protect our people.  Surely God will provide for us," Naveed hoped aloud.

Zaila bent to kiss Shiloh's forehead then closed her eyes, hoping to hear from their Creator.

Instead, they heard shouts from outside the tent.  A moment later, Asho rushed inside.

"Reuel!  The look-outs have spotted him running across our border... and he's carrying someone!  And... and there are others with him!"

Rafiq jumped to his feet.  "I must meet him.  I must know if... if..."

Naveed released Zaila and stood.  "I will go with you, Rafiq."

Elazer looked back and forth between Odelya and Rafiq.

"Elazer, you should stay," Rafiq answered his unasked question.

Zaila handed Shiloh to Odelya.  "I will go in case another angel is needed."

Two other figures, male and female, hurried into the tent.

"Amiela and I will go, too.  Three angels, four counting Reuel.  How many people were with him, Asho?"

"Four beyond the one he is carrying, Yeriel."

"Then we will be safe even if they mean us harm," Amiela reasoned.  "Let us go.  Now."

The four angels and two men hurried from the tent and hastened to their border.  Rafiq gave a shout when Reuel came into view. 

"I have four seeking refuge!  And I have Riva!" Reuel bellowed.

"Praise God!" Rafiq cried before bounding towards the angel and his precious burden.  Soon the distance was closed and Rafiq fell to his knees before Reuel.

Reuel squatted down and rested Riva in her father's arms. 

Rafiq looked into his beloved friend's eyes.  "Is... is she..."

"Alive.  Asleep, though.  They drugged her when they took her."  Reuel brushed some hair from the girl's face.  He turned to wave to the four others, two young girls and two boys who looked scarcely older.  All four were quaking.  "Cyrah, Basim, Nakia, and Teshi.  We owe them a great deal." 

Hearing this, the three angels and Naveed stepped nearer to the four and offered them their hands.

Reuel lowered his voice so only Rafiq could hear.  "Nen and Tzila meant for Riva to be Basim's.  He did not touch her and, sure that one of us would be coming, he sent Teshi to keep an eye out for me.  He led me right to Riva who was being watched over by Nakia and Cyrah while Basim kept guard.  Nakia is Basim's sister, Cyrah is Teshi's lover.  I have promised them that we will keep them safe."

Not taking his eyes from his daughter, Rafiq nodded.  "As safe as we can keep any of our people..."

Reuel took his hand.  "There is more.  Something of great importance that I have heard from God.  We must get back to the tent and then I will tell you and the others."

Curious, Rafiq met Reuel's gaze.

Reuel smiled.  "We will be safe," he murmured before getting to his feet.  His gaze traveled over the others.  "We will return home now."

Cyrah clasped Teshi's hand and began to weep while Nakia clung to her brother's arm.

Zaila set a gentle hand on Basim's back.  "We will not let them hurt you ever again," she vowed.

"Th-thank you," the young man answered with a wan smile.

While Yeriel and Amiela hurried ahead with the newcomers, the others walked more slowly to keep pace with Rafiq as he carried Riva.

Reuel kept his eyes trained on the four young people.  "Naveed, Zaila, you two are always so good at putting those we rescue at ease.  You will help these four to get settled, please?"

"We will, Reuel.  Happily," Naveed accepted.

"Thank you.  Then I will need you to return to our tent at sundown.  I must speak to you, Rafiq, Odelya, and Elazer.  Alone.  The Lord has spoken to me of His plans for us."

Zaila thought of Elazer's prayer.  "He... He will deliver us?"

Reuel took her hand and nodded.  He said no more but paused to look around them, stunned to think of how different the land would look in only a week's time.

*~*~*

That evening, Reuel spooned soup into Riva's mouth as Rafiq held her hand.

Riva smiled gratefully at the angel.  "It is like when I was little."

Reuel returned her smile.  "How does it taste?  I am afraid I had trouble concentrating while I was cooking."

"Very good.  I wish...  I am too old to be fed like this but..."  Riva tried to lift her free hand but the effort exhausted her.

Rafiq looked to the angel with alarm.

"The drug was very strong but its effects should be gone by morning.  I promise," Reuel soothed.

Riva and Rafiq both sighed with relief.

"Do you want to talk about it, my dear?" Rafiq quietly asked.

Riva's eyes welled.  "I... I do not remember much.  Only... only standing up after picking a flower a-and... they were so frightening!  I tried to run b-but one grabbed me a-and then... then the evil woman told me that... that they had use for me and then... then nothing until... til I was here again.  Thank God!  Father..."  She tried to turn towards Rafiq but struggled.

Rafiq pulled his daughter to him and gently swayed, singing her old lullaby to her.

Reuel sat down the bowl of soup and hummed along.

Riva let out a deep breath.  "I am better.  Please, tell me of the four you brought back with me, Reuel.  The ones who came to see me." 

The angel looked to Rafiq, unsure of how much he should say.  They had debated whether to allow Cyrah, Basim, Teshi, and Nakia to see Riva but when Zaila made it obvious that they would not otherwise rest, the debate had ended.  The four had stopped into their tent for only a moment, saying nothing but peering with relief at Riva.

"Tell her.  All of it," the man counseled.

Reuel nodded.  "Riva, those who took you... they meant to... to give you to Basim.  However, God be praised, he did not wish to harm you.  While Cyrah and Nakia watched over you, the two boys helped get me to you."

Riva shuddered.  "B-but then that means... I... I was... defenseless.  Basim could have..."

"But he did not.  God has assured me of this," Reuel insisted.

"But... why?"

"No child is born evil, Riva, no matter the circumstances of their birth.  Some allow their circumstances to turn them to evil.  Basim and his friends did not.  They and their like are why we angels must always go to their city... to bring back those who desire goodness and righteousness."

"I... I am glad they are here.  But what their lives have been..."

Rafiq kissed the girl's cheek.  "With God's blessings, we will give them lives of joy and love."

Riva responded with a wavering smile.  "Yes..."  She yawned.  "I am so tired."

Reuel bent to kiss her forehead.  "We will leave you to rest now but we will be just beyond the curtain.  Call out to us if you need anything."

"I will."

Rafiq helped his daughter to lie down then tucked a blanket around her.  "I love you, my dear."

"I love you, too, Father.  And you, Reuel.  Thank you for... for..."

The angel stroked some hair behind the girl's ears.  "I would do anything for you, sweet Riva.  Rest now."

With a final smile, Riva closed her eyes.

Reuel and Rafiq watched over her for a moment then stepped beyond the curtain and embraced.

"We... we could have lost her today, Reuel."

"But we did not.  And we will not.  Come, sit and eat."

Rafiq obeyed and the two ate in silence, both exhausted but knowing their day was not yet over.  Finally, Rafiq spoke.

"Do you think they came after Riva because she is ours?"

Reuel drew in a deep breath and nodded.  "We represent everything they now despise: love for God, love for each other."

Rafiq buried his head in his hands.

"Fear not, my friend.  Riva will be safe.  We will all be safe," Reuel vowed.

Before Rafiq could ask any questions, they both heard approaching footsteps. 

"We are here," Zaila called.

Reuel got to his feet and pulled back the curtain covering the entrance to their tent. 

"How are our new arrivals?" he asked.

Zaila bit her lip as she sunk onto a cushion with Naveed beside her.

"As well as one can hope for now," she answered as she caressed the sleeping infant who was bound to her chest.  "They are all traumatized.  Cyrah will not be parted from Teshi.  I had thought it might help her to stay with some of the girls but then Nakia told me Cyrah had recently been 'given' to one of the other Nephilim.  No wonder she clings to Teshi so.  Naveed and I left the two in our tent... curled up like twins in the womb.  Nakia, though, has taken to some of our girls.  Thankfully, she seems to have been spared beyond living in fear of what she thought was soon to be her fate."

"And Basim?" Rafiq prompted.

Naveed frowned.  "He has been unable to keep any food down.  Teshi says he has never lain with a woman and has, for days, been terrorized by the idea of what his masters would make him do.  Yeriel is watching over him."

Reuel shook his head.  "He is his own master now.  I am sure he will recover after a few days with us.  Still... they are barely more than children..."

The curtain was pushed aside to reveal Elazer, arm in arm with Odelya. 

Reuel hurried to draw a bench nearer to their group.

Odelya smiled.  "Thank you, Reuel."

Elazer squeezed his hand.  "Thank you, my friend."

"How is Riva?" Odelya asked after sitting down and beckoning for Elazer.

"Asleep.  Still very weak and lethargic but Reuel believes the effects of their drug will wear off by tomorrow," Rafiq answered.  "She is very glad and grateful to be home."

Elazer laced his fingers through Odelya's, sensing the response had brought some memory back for her.

"Good," Odelya murmured. 

"But... but how safe a home is Nogah?  They will not stop," Naveed lamented.

"They will," Reuel countered.  "They will have little choice."

The others looked at the eldest angel with interest.

"You will tell us now of what God said to you?" Rafiq checked.

Reuel nodded.  "As much as what the demons and the Nephilim have done appalls and horrifies us, the Lord is even more aggrieved.  He has declared that they shall be wiped from the Earth... in seven days' time."

"How?" Rafiq, the first to regain his powers of speech, questioned.

"The heavens will open and there will be a great flood.  It will wipe all life from the world as we know it."

"But then we will perish!" Odelya cried.

Reuel reached out to set a hand on her arm.  "No.  We will not.  We will not be here when the flood waters rise."

The others noticeably relaxed. 

Elazer looked above and then to Reuel.  "Where will we be?"

Reuel beamed.  "The Lord is giving us a land... a world... of our own!  In six days, we will leave Nogah and travel to the base of the mountains.  God has revealed to me the place where He will open a door for us... allowing us passage to this new world."

Zaila kissed her son's downy hair then turned into Naveed's embrace and began to weep.

"Glory be to the Creator," she murmured.

Naveed smiled and stroked her hair.  "Thanks be to Him."

"A-and they will not be able to follow us?" Odelya asked.

"They will not be able to follow us," Reuel reassured.

Odelya, too, began to weep joyful tears. 

Elazer circled his arms around her, silently thanking God as tears poured down his own cheeks.  Finally this woman he loved and admired would feel truly safe.  They would raise their child without fear.

Rafiq rose and began to pace.  "There is much to be done.  How will we tell everyone?  What will we do?"

"We will tell them before morning prayer.  We will then divide into groups: some to watch the children, most will begin to pack, and some of us will keep to our patrols.  We will visit the borders of the enemies' city every day.  God does not want one righteous person left here."

"And so the Earth... it will be emptied?  Destroyed even?" Zaila queried.  Her eyes filled again, this time with tears of sadness as she remembered the joy and love of Creation.

Again Reuel smiled and shook his head.  "No.  There is a man and his family who will also be spared and yet will remain here.  God commanded them, many years ago, to begin building an ark to carry them and two of every beast over the waters.  When the rain has ended, they and their descendants will repopulate the Earth and, if any among us so wish, they can return when it is safe."

The six all looked at each other for a few moments, scarcely believing the difference a few hours made in their outlook. 

Naveed began to sing a hymn of praise.  Their eyes glistening, the other five joined in.

*~*~*

Six Days Later

Reuel stared up at the ominous sky then surveyed the myriad faces looking expectantly at him. 

"Stand here so they can all see you," Rafiq directed, waving to a boulder.

"Good idea."  Reuel stepped up and smiled at the crowd.  "Friends!  We begin our journey now.  Please, before we leave, take another count and ensure every member of your family is with you as well as all of your animals."

Murmurs went through the crowd as everyone obeyed. 

"If you notice someone is missing, please raise your hand."

One hand shot up.

"Yes, Abra?"

"Bahadur is not here!" the woman cried, frantically looking around for her husband.

"I am here!  I am here!" a man's voice called.

The group all turned to see the fellow rushing towards them, holding a bucket.  He gave a bashful smile as he approached Reuel.

"Our flowers...  I can still remember what joy I felt when I left... there... and came to here and saw their beauty.  I hoped, perhaps, we could get them to grow in our new land?  At least try?"

Reuel smiled.  "Of course.  Now, do we have everyone?  Again, raise your hand if anyone is missing."

Everyone remained still.

"Then let us be on our way!" Reuel exulted.  He waved a few musicians to the front and then the entire group followed, singing along.

After several yards, Zaila approached and elbowed Reuel and Rafiq.

"Turn around, to your right, but do not be too obvious about it."

The two snuck looks and saw Basim and Riva walking side by side, laughing.  At one point, their hands brushed and while Basim abruptly pulled his hand away, Riva reached for it and clasped it in hers.  The boy offered no protest.

"This is the first I have heard the boy laugh," Zaila whispered, a sly smile on her face as she went to rejoin Naveed and Shiloh.

"She is only fourteen..." Rafiq protested.

Reuel smiled.  "And what age were you when you married?"

"Fourteen," the man muttered.

Reuel laughed and hugged his friend.  "Riva is a wise girl.  She will not rush into anything."

"What will we do when she leaves us, though?"

"Oh, I imagine we will be kept busy... we have a new village to build, after all."

"So then... you have no plans to leave once we are safely in this other world?" Rafiq asked, staring straight ahead.

Reuel paused.  The idea had not occurred to him but it made sense.  The humans would be safe.  They would not need to be constantly guarded.  He turned around, walking backwards and studying the crowd.  Angels interspersed among humans, singing and talking together.  Friends all though some friendships ran deeper than others.  He looked to Naveed and Zaila who were making faces at their little one.  Surely Zaila could not leave Shiloh.  He had been just one of the many babies she had rescued but all the others she had let human couples adopt.  Shiloh, however...  He had been hers from the start.  No, she would not be able to leave either the baby nor his adoptive father.  And Elazer...  Reuel watched him walking slowly beside Odelya, his arm linked through hers.  He seemed to be bearing some of her weight.  It was impossible to think of him parting from her.  In those early, dark days after the woman had first been rescued and had lamented her pregnancy, Elazer had vowed to raise the child as his own.  He could not... would not break such a promise.

Reuel's own position was markedly different.  Despite their reluctance to acknowledge it, Riva was grown.  She did not need him in the way Shiloh and the baby to be born needed Zaila and Elazer.  And it would be bliss to be Home...

Reuel shook his head.  He had two homes.  And, for as long as they lived in the mortal realms, one home would be with Rafiq and Riva.

"No, I have no plans to leave," Reuel responded.

Rafiq let out the breath he'd been holding and clapped his friend on the back.

"I am glad."

"Good.  I would be greatly disappointed if you had asked that in hopes you would soon be rid of me," Reuel jested. 

"Never," Rafiq assured.  "You... you have been my truest friend, Reuel.  You know me better than I know myself.  And Riva adores you."

Reuel felt a lump begin to form in his throat. 

"I thank God that you will still be with us in our new life. And I thank you for the sacrifice you have made in remaining with us."  Rafiq peered up at the sky.  "To be able to look upon Him always and yet to choose to remain with us for so long..."

Reuel cleared his throat and grabbed Rafiq's arm.  He gave a trembling smile.  "I do not want to cry and alarm the others."

Rafiq smiled.  "I understand.  I will stop."

"I do hope you know... I have not been unhappy.  There has been much happiness and many triumphs in our time together and I will still, always, have eternity in my heavenly Home."  Reuel beamed.  "And some day you will see it!  And meet Him... face to face.  To see His love..."

Rafiq turned around and smiled at their tribe.  "I think I see something of it right now, my friend."

Taking in the view, Reuel nodded.  "Yes.  So do I."

After smiling at each other, they turned around and rejoined the triumphant song which was silenced only when they reached the mountain. 

Shaking with anticipation, Reuel stepped forward and placed his hand upon the crag the Lord had shown him.

A cry went through the crowd as the stone began to shine.

"Who would like to go first?" Reuel asked.

The people all looked at each other.

"I will go," Rafiq volunteered, hoping it would put the others at ease to see him pass through.

Reuel smiled at him.  "You will be the first human to set foot in our world.  I am glad the honor falls to you, friend of my soul."

"Th-thank you."  Rafiq hugged him and Riva then stepped through the glistening light.

One by one and then in groups, the others followed.

After all the other angels, humans, and animals had stepped through the portal; Reuel took one last look at the Earth then turned his gaze to the sky.

"Thank You," he whispered. 

Just after Reuel disappeared, a soft rain began to fall.

*~*~*

When Reuel came through the portal, he was met by the sight of dancing and singing and children playing.  All around them was beauty: verdant trees, a rainbow of flowers, pristine streams, and an abundance of animal life.  Overcome, he threw his arms out to his sides.

"Welcome home!" he cried as tears of joy slid down his cheeks.

"And what shall we call home?" Riva asked.

Zaila set her hand on Reuel's arm.  "You should name it.  You brought us here.  You and the Lord."

"Yes.  Zaila's right.  You should name this land of ours," Rafiq agreed.

Reuel looked about him and knew where he stood.  "We will call our home El-Chanan for it means 'God is gracious'... and He is."

The announcement was met by cheers and clapping... and then a scream.

"Odelya!" Elazer bellowed, catching her as she swooned to the ground.

"The baby!" Zaila cried, passing Shiloh off to Naveed.

Reuel, Riva, and Rafiq hurried after her as she ran towards the laboring woman.

A number of the people began to pitch a tent for Odelya while some of the women started a fire to heat water.  Still others gathered the children together and kept them busy unpacking and tending to the animals so as to distract them from Odelya's distress.

As soon as the tent was erected, Elazer carried Odelya inside.  He took the damp cloth Riva offered him and, kneeling behind Odelya, gently wiped her brow.

"What can we do?" Rafiq asked as Zaila knelt in front of Odelya.

"Bring us clean cloth and help mind the water," the angel commanded.  "It cannot be too hot.  Reuel, assure the others that all is well."  Zaila turned to Odelya and Elazer.  "Yours will be the first baby born in El-Chanan."

In spite of her discomfort, Odelya angled her head enough to smile at Elazer who smiled back.

Reuel squeezed Elazer's shoulder then left to do as Zaila had ordered.

"Riva, dear, can you please find us some more blankets?" Zaila requested.

"Y-yes."

When the three were left alone, Zaila guided Elazer on how best to support Odelya during her contractions which soon started in earnest.

Outside the tent, everyone had gone quiet except for some subdued singing and whispered prayers.

Then, after two hours of Odelya's cries and gasps, a different wail sounded.

Inside the tent, Zaila cleaned the squalling infant as Elazer stared, mouth agape, and Odelya beckoned for the child.

"A girl!" Zaila cheered as she swaddled the baby and placed her in Odelya's arms.

After a few more muffled cries, the little one quieted and stared at her mother.

"Oh...  Oh, look at her," Odelya whispered.  "Elazer, look at her."

"I am looking," the angel replied in wonder.  "She... she looks so much like you."  He kissed the woman's temple. 

As she began to feel the afterbirth pressing, Odelya kissed her daughter's forehead. 

"Take her, Elazer.  Introduce her to our people then come back to me," she directed.

With some trepidation, Elazer took the baby into his arms.  He smiled when she didn't cry, only stared up at him in apparent wonder.

"They will want a name," Zaila reminded.

Odelya smiled and whispered in Elazer's ear.

Beaming, the angel nodded.  "I... I will tell them." 

Before he stepped past the curtain, Elazer turned back to Odelya and grinned.

"I love her," he gushed.

Odelya laughed.  "I love her, too."

When Elazer moved outside, he was met with hushed cheers and a chorus of coos.

"Odelya and I would like for you to meet the newest member of our tribe... Eleora," he introduced.

Reuel patted him on the back.  "Congratulations, my friend.  Your daughter is beautiful.  And how does her mother fare?"

"Well.  Odelya was so brave!" Elazer praised.  "Is so... so brave..."  He cuddled the little one closer.  "Please tell everyone that Odelya is well.  I... I want to go back to her."

"I will do that," Reuel assured, smiling after his fellow angel as he slipped back into the tent.

As the cheers continued, Reuel stood with Rafiq at his side and looked around at the beautiful world filled with people he loved.

Elazer and Odelya had named their child well.  The Lord was, indeed, their light.

*~*~*

The Gathering Storm

Present Day


"And my parents named me after her!" Eleora chirped.  "The first baby of El-Chanan."

Thought somewhat dazed, Cody smiled.  "That is quite a history.  Amazing what people can overcome.  So did the demons ever find out where you'd all gone?" he asked Reuel.

A sly smile lit up the angel's face.  "No.  I found out later, from the Father, that as the waters rose, a few of the demons traveled to Nogah.  They intended to gloat over our grief at God's apparent betrayal.  They found our abandoned village and, by that, knew only that we had escaped their fate."

"But angels... they're immortal, right?" Cody checked.

Reuel nodded.

"Then demons would be, too, wouldn't they?"

"Smart, logical fellow," Reuel complimented.

Eleora beamed and gave an enthusiastic nod.

Reuel smiled kindly at the young man.  "Yes, demons are immortal.  They did not die but the flood waters washed them into Hades... Hell, as you would call it.  And though, unfortunately, they remain a menace, they have never regained the power they once held.  And we should all thank God for that."

Cody and Eleora both nodded and peered at the cross for a moment.  The former tilted his head.

"Wait, so...  Jesus... he lived and died and rose on Earth so... did he come here, too?  I mean how did Christianity get here if you left so long before the Incarnation?"

A furtive glance passed between Reuel and Eleora.

"My dear, I think you best show him," the angel directed.

"Okay!"  Eleora jumped to her feet, pulled Cody up from the pew, and bolted towards the door.

Reuel laughed as he followed the enthusiastic girl and her mystified fiance.  They traipsed into some woods and then abruptly stopped at the edge of a small clearing.  At its center stood a small cabin.

Eleora opened the door and beckoned for Cody to join her.  "Come on!"

As if entranced, Cody stepped into the room.  He studied its humble contents: a cot, a small table with four rustic chairs, and a work bench.  Eleora pulled him towards the latter.

Standing in the doorway, Reuel watched as Cody stared at the items laying on the work bench: a hand saw, hammers, awls, carving knives of assorted sizes.

"A... a carpenter lives here," the man sputtered.

"Yes," Eleora encouraged, stroking his back.  "This is where he stays when he visits us."

Reuel pulled Cody to one of the chairs and crouched in front of him.

"After the Flood, we angels carried news of Noah and his descendants back to our people.  After all, they were still people of Earth, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve just like Noah.  While we certainly had our own traditions... and exceptions to their traditions... the people of El-Chanan lived and believed largely as the patriarchs of the Bible did.  We grieved over the captivity of the Israelites and exulted when they entered the Promised Land.  We read Isaiah and the humans waited for their Messiah.  They were, after all, still of a fallen people.  Our life in El-Chanan was one of beauty but not without sin.  At the same time that shepherds in Bethlehem were hearing from angels, my brethren and I were telling people here of the child born in in the city of David... Yeshua.  Thirty three years later, we wept for three days and then...  He came to us, in the spot where the church we just left now stands.  And with His death and resurrection, Yeshua guaranteed that our old enemies were utterly defeated.  They may still live in denial... but they have lost.  God has triumphed!" Reuel concluded.

"Jesus was... was here?" Cody questioned.

"I am always with my people."

The three turned to the doorway where Joshua stood, his grin nearly stretching from ear to ear.

"Joshua!" Eleora shrieked.

"Hello, Eleora and Reuel!  Welcome, Cody!" he greeted. 

Cody fell to the floor and began reciting the Act of Contrition.

"Oh..." Eleora murmured, kneeling beside him.

Reuel rose, hugged Joshua, and then let him take his place in front of Cody.

Sitting before the prostrate young man, Joshua reached out to affectionately stroke Eleora's cheek.  She beamed at him and kissed his hand.  Joshua let Cody finish his prayer but when he started another recitation, he set a hand on his shoulder and cleared his throat.

"Thank you, Cody.  Your sins are forgiven," he assured.  "Please, sit."

Eleora helped her groom-to-be to rise. 

"You..." Cody whispered.  "Jesus... I mean Yesh...  Or... Joshua or..."  He cringed.

Joshua laughed.  "Any of the above.  Although maybe stick with Joshua for consistency's sake since that's what your Eleora calls me."

"Yes... yes, Joshua," Cody agreed, still stunned.

Joshua hugged him.

Cody closed his eyes as a great peace settled over him.

"I love you, Cody," Joshua intoned.

When he pulled away, Cody had a grin to match the carpenter's.  "I love you, too.  And you... you are the most amazing part of this really, really amazing day."

Reuel laughed.  "It has been a lot to take in."

"I know," Joshua sympathized.  "And I considered waiting until the wedding to make my appearance but... I couldn't resist and I need to talk to Reuel."

The angel looked at him with some alarm but calmed when Joshua smiled tenderly.

"Eleora, please take Cody back to your house," Joshua requested.  "I think he deserves some cookies and milk after all this.  Reuel and I will join you shortly."

"Yay!" Eleora cheered.  She gave Joshua a quick peck on the cheek then helped Cody to his feet.  "C'mon!"  She guided her fiance through the door and into the clearing.

As the couple walked away, Joshua and Reuel heard them talking.

"He... he's coming to our wedding?"

"Of course!  Joshua loves weddings!"

"Oh my God..."

"Yep!"

Joshua and Reuel laughed as the voices grew less distinct.

"They will make a fine pair!" the former declared. 

"I am very glad you think... know so," Reuel replied.  "Now, what is it you wanted to speak to me about, Yeshua?"

The smile faded from Joshua's face and he took the angel's hands in his.  "Nen and Tzila.  They have, at last, come out of their stupor and are plotting.  Not to come here," he hastened to add when Reuel tensed.  "They still don't know about any of you being here but...  They think Satan will give them great power if they bring him a prize."

"A prize?" Reuel questioned.

Joshua nodded.  "He has been... more than usually unhappy since Yehuda's return to me.  And vocal about it."

Reuel smiled as he remembered the apostle's triumphant entry into Heaven.

"His anger and bruised pride has blinded him to his own fear.  For so long he's feared Andrew but when that happened with Yehuda... during one of Andrew's assignments... with me..."  Joshua grimaced.

Reuel startled.  "Andrew...  Andrew is the prize."  He wasn't personally close to the angel of death but had been drawn to his story in recent years since it mirrored his own in many ways.  He hated to think of the fellow being attacked by their enemies.

With tears in his eyes, Joshua nodded.

"But you know he would never..."

"I do.  But Nen and Tzila don't."

"Well, they will fail," Reuel insisted.

"Of course they will but that doesn't mean they can't make things incredibly difficult for Andrew... and they won't go after him directly."

Reuel's heart sank.  He was immediately taken back to that horrible morning when Riva had been abducted.  Of course Nen and Tzila would target those Andrew loved.  They would know it would hit harder than any direct attack.

"What can I do?" the angel asked.

"Be with him and his tribe.  I will send for you tomorrow."

"I will do whatever you ask, my Lord," Reuel vowed. 

Joshua smiled at him.  "I know.  Now, let's share in Eleora's and Cody's joy.  And, remember Reuel: a light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.  The darkness did not overcome the people of El-Chanan and it will not overcome the people of Dyeland and their friends."

Reuel returned his smile and sighed with relief when Joshua's arm came around his shoulders. 

"All will be well," the angel insisted.

"All will be well," Joshua echoed, the lines in his face set in determination as they set forth towards Eleora's house.

*~*~*

The following day... Saturday, June 6th, 2015

Andrew awoke to the sound of muffled giggling and the sensation that his hair was standing on end.

"Daddy pitty."

"Yes, Daddy is very pretty."

"Mama pitty."

"Well, thank you."

"Bobo pitty."

Andrew opened his eyes and saw JenniAnn.  One side of her hair was weighed down by several of Belle's barrettes.  Beside her, Belle's light-up frog had barrettes clasped to its furry eye brows.

"Good morning," the angel greeted.

JenniAnn smiled at him.  "Good morning.  Someone got up freakishly early and decided to give us makeovers."

Belle grinned and collapsed onto her side, facing her father.  "Daddy!"

Andrew smiled as she planted a wet kiss on his cheek.

"Good morning, Belle."  Andrew returned her kiss.  "Thank you for the pretty barrettes.  Maybe I should wear them to work."

Belle laughed and snuggled nearer.

Andrew wrapped his arms around the girl and sighed with contentment.  Then he settled Belle onto his chest and beckoned for JenniAnn who rested her head in the crook of his arm and closed her eyes.

"When did this little munchkin wake you up?" the angel asked.

"About half an hour ago."

"Ide ee!" Belle cried.

"Oh no..." JenniAnn muttered, smiling and shaking her head.

"What's that?"

"Hide-and-Seek."

"Ide ee!"

"Whoa!"  Andrew scrambled to catch Belle as she slid off him, nearly tumbling from the bed.  No sooner had he set her on the floor than she ran off.

"Ide ee!"

"What genius taught her that?  Oh right... it was me!" JenniAnn kidded as she got up from the bed.  "I'll go find her."

Andrew sat up, groaning slightly as he stretched, and stood.  "I'll look, too."

"You have an assignment later this morning... and you had one pretty late last night.  I can go," JenniAnn insisted.

Andrew stepped behind her as she tied on her robe and hugged her.  "I'm fine.  Really.  I wanna go with you to find our little Vidal Sassoon," he commented as he patted his barrettes.

Laughing, JenniAnn returned his hug and led him into Belle's nursery. 

"Hmm... could she be in the closet?" Andrew pondered aloud, expecting to hear the toddler's laughter.

The room was silent except for the closet door creaking open.

"I bet she's in your room," JenniAnn guessed. 

The two headed across the hall but didn't find Belle in Andrew's room, closet, or office. 

JenniAnn frowned.

"You check the library, I'll take the chapel," Andrew suggested.

With a nod, JenniAnn made her way to the library.  She tore around the tables and shelves, calling for Belle but the only response was Andrew's voice coming from the nearby chapel.

Breathless, the two met in the hall.

"Where could she have gone?" JenniAnn fretted.  "She knows better than to take the stairs alone a-and I don't think she would have gone into Violeta's or Max's rooms."

Andrew looked to their doors which were tightly shut.  He doubted Belle could have opened and closed the heavy wooden doors... especially without their occupants noticing.

Tears welled in JenniAnn's eyes.  "What if... if something's happened.  Or..."  She hurried to the staircase and let out the breath she'd been holding when she saw the child gate was still in place.  There was no Belle laying in a heap at the bottom.  But there was no Belle at all!

And then Andrew noticed a barrette on the floor near the elevator. 

"She... she couldn't have!" JenniAnn cried.  "She can't even reach the buttons."

"Maybe she jumped and hit one?" Andrew guessed.  "When was the last time you took her on the elevator?"

"Ye-yesterday.  I took her with me to water the plants in the conservatory."

"Then we check there."  Andrew clasped JenniAnn's hand and headed for the stairs.  They raced up three flights then sped into the greenhouse.

"Belle!" JenniAnn shouted as she spotted her daughter sprawled beneath the umbrella tree.

Belle startled and sat up, rubbing at her eyes, then smiled.

"Eepy."

Chuckling as tears ran down his face, Andrew knelt beside JenniAnn as she gathered Belle to her.

"Belle, baby, how did you get here?" Andrew questioned.

"Up, up."  She looked around.  "Pitty tees."

Andrew and JenniAnn watched as she ambled towards the umbrella tree's trunk and hugged it.

"Pitty tee."

When she was done hugging the tree, Andrew grabbed Belle and settled her onto his lap.

"Belle, when you want to see the pretty trees, you need to tell Daddy or Mama.  Do you understand?  No going up, up by yourself."

Belle stuck out her bottom lip.

JenniAnn abruptly turned away to hide a giddy laugh.

"No up, up..."  Belle sorrowfully whispered.

Andrew struggled to maintain his composure.  "No up, up alone," he stressed.  "Mama or Uncle Max or Aunt Violeta or I will bring you here.  Got it?"

Belle grinned, pushed away, and began running around the plants, merrily laughing.

"We are raising a hippie child," JenniAnn jested as she watched.

"Or maybe a woodland elf," Andrew offered.  He sighed and embraced JenniAnn.  "Whichever, we're going to figure out a way to lock the 'up, up.'"

JenniAnn nodded and nestled against his shoulder, letting their shared relief at finding Belle not only safe but exuberant wash over her. 

"So what time do you have to leave?" she asked.

"I have a 9:22 so..."

"9:17."

Andrew smiled and buried his face in her hair.  "Exactly."

"I think we deserve an especially yummy breakfast this morning after the excitement of Hide-and-Seek."

"Oh?  Did you have something in mind?"

"Homemade waffles.  And butterbeer.  I can make the former."

"I can make the latter," Andrew agreed.  "Laja?"

"Hmm?"

"I love you."

Beaming, JenniAnn peered into the angel's eyes.  "I love you, too, Andrew."

Just as she was about to reach up to caress him, Belle bounded forward and flung herself at them.

"Mama!  Daddy!"

Andrew and JenniAnn smiled as they wrapped their little girl into a shared hug.

"Ah, sweet Belle," Andrew murmured.  "We will always find you," he vowed as JenniAnn nodded and dotted a gleeful Belle's face with kisses.

*~*~*

After seeing Andrew off, JenniAnn had traveled Below to drop Belle off with her Grandpa Vincent.  Once she'd joined up with Catherine, the two had made their way to the intake office of the Phoenix Inn where they planned to tackle a pile of paperwork that needed filing.

"All right, I think it's time for a lunch break," Catherine declared after shoving a cabinet closed. 

JenniAnn scanned one last document and nodded.  "I'm all for it.  Where to?"

"You up for Adrian's?"

"Always!" 

After the two grabbed their purses, they made the short walk towards Adrian's Cafe.

For an hour, the cousins ate their sandwiches and sipped their tea while exchanging stories about Belle and Jacob and catching up on news of their friends.  They ordered scones for a snack later on and headed back towards the office. 

The two were a block away when Catherine spotted a man leaning on the front door of the office.  She raised her arm and stopped JenniAnn then briefly pointed forward.

"Look.  Do you know who that is?" Catherine asked, continuing to suspiciously eye the man.

JenniAnn shook her head.  "No idea.  Who is he?"

"I don't know.  Let's go around the block and get in from the side door.  Something just doesn't seem right."

"Okay." 

JenniAnn followed Catherine down an alley, around the building that neighbored the Phoenix, and then into the alley that bordered the office's side door.  JenniAnn's heart began to race when she saw Catherine remove her gun from her purse.

"Just in case," Catherine whispered with a reassuring smile.

As quietly as possible, the two made their way to the side door. 

Catherine handed JenniAnn the keys so she could keep her gun at the ready.

Neither saw the second man crouched behind a dumpster.

Her hands shaking, JenniAnn struggled with the lock.

"Psyche, it's okay," Catherine soothed.

JenniAnn looked to her with a sheepish smile.  "Darn hands are just..."

Moving from behind the dumpster, the man lunged for JenniAnn who shrieked when he grabbed her.

Catherine raised her gun and pointed it at the attacker.  She drew in a sharp breath when she saw the man had his own gun pointed at the younger woman's chest.

"Tell me where my wife is or I shoot," the man sneered.

JenniAnn began to hyperventilate.

"I... I don't know what you're talking about!" Catherine shot back.

"My wife!  You hid my wife!"

JenniAnn whimpered when she felt the muzzle of the gun dig into her rib.  She closed her eyes, praying Andrew wasn't there.  Not that she didn't want him there... more than anything she did... but she knew it would devastate him to not be able to intervene.

Catherine fought back tears, knowing she needed to remain calm.

"Who is your wife?" she questioned.

"Brooke.  Brooke Thomas."

JenniAnn flinched.  There was a woman by that name who had recently come to the Phoenix.  Bruises had riddled the poor woman's body.

"O-okay.  Please, let my friend go and we'll talk.  We'll both put down our guns and talk about Brooke and I'll help you," Catherine attempted.

The man replied with a dark laugh and shook his head.

"Tell me where she is!" he demanded.  "Give me the address."

"321 E Fifth Street," Catherine replied.

"Liar!"

JenniAnn yelped as the gun dug deeper.

A tear slid down Catherine's cheek and she prayed someone had heard them screaming and called the police.  Maybe she should tell him the real address and then call the police when he left.  There would be enough time to have the Phoenix Inn surrounded by officers.

JenniAnn interrupted.  "Catherine... d-don't..." 

"Psy..."

"Tell me, bitch!"

JenniAnn's eyes grew wide when she saw the man who had been at the front door peek around the corner of the building.  He appeared confused.  She opened her mouth to alert Catherine.

"Hey, man, what are you..."

The gun sounded, causing the two men to jump.  Catherine screamed and reached for JenniAnn as she teetered forward.

The man with the gun stared then turned and ran.  A moment later, the other fled. 

"No, no... no!" Catherine shrieked as she tried to hold JenniAnn and reach for her phone.

"Catherine..."

Vincent raced towards his wife.  He caught JenniAnn in his arms and sunk to the ground, cradling her.

Catherine dialed with one hand and used her sweater to try to staunch the blood spilling from JenniAnn's chest.

"My... my cousin... shot... help... help...  Twenty... twenty fifth a-and east Sorensen...  Pl-please..."

"Psyche..." Vincent murmured.  "Psyche... no.  Don't... don't..."

JenniAnn's eyelids fluttered.  Her right hand searched for Vincent's and, finding it, she wrapped her fingers around one of his.

"Oh, Psyche... my child...  I... I love you.  I love..."  Vincent began to sob when she stared at him, smiled, and then closed her eyes.

"Blood... blood every... everywhere..." Catherine relayed to the 911 operator.  "Y-yes..."  She set the phone down and rested two fingers against JenniAnn's neck.  "No...  No!" 

The wail of sirens sounded. 

Forgetting the woman on the phone, Catherine grabbed Vincent.

"You... you have to go, Vincent."

He shook his head, refusing to let go of JenniAnn.

Though it pained her, Catherine raised her voice.  "You have to go!  You... you won't do Psyche any good if... if they..."  She stared down at her cousin, noting the color draining from her face.  "Vincent... please.  I... I can't..."

Feeling her grief as well as his own, Vincent couldn't bear to bring his wife any more pain.  He nodded and gently relinquished his goddaughter.

Catherine cradled her and disjointedly sang her lullaby as Vincent shuffled away.  He hid behind a heating unit and watched as paramedics swarmed the alley and took JenniAnn from Catherine.  He saw them load her into an ambulance with Catherine hitching a ride with a police officer.

Vincent knelt and prayed that Joshua would heal and restore his Psyche.  Then, feeling as if he had aged fifty years, the man stumbled into the nearest Tunnel entrance.  Dazed, he began to walk down the familiar corridors.  He heard a scream but kept walking.

"Vincent...  Oh God, Vincent!"

He stopped when he heard his father's voice and turned towards the old man.  Mary moved behind Jacob, Belle in her arms, but, seeing Vincent's state, she quickly turned away and shielded the toddler.  When Belle began to cry, Mary hastened into the patriarch's chamber to calm her.

Owen came running, tears streaming down his face.  Eliot and Brittony were only a few paces behind him.

"Psyche..." Owen moaned, holding his phone out to no one in particular. 

Brittony took it and went to Father, letting him read the string of frantic text messages Catherine had sent from the police car.

Eliot approached Vincent.

"Vincent, let's... let's get you changed and then... then Owen will go Above... to... to the hospital and see... see what he can find out."

Vincent cocked his head as he seemed to look through the young man.  Finally, he nodded and allowed himself to be led into his chamber. 

Eliot watched in horror as, once he had changed, Vincent tore through the chamber, overturning chests and emptying drawers.  Finally, he seemed to find what he sought. 

Vincent hugged a bundle of cloth, a child's dress, to his chest, fell onto his bed, and sobbed.

*~*~*

Kelly glanced over at her passenger as she stopped at a red light.  Eli was staring out the window, his hand reaching up to brush away some tears.  He had been helping her rearrange some furniture at her apartment when word came from Above.  They'd stared at each other, both hoping they had heard wrong.  But they knew it was impossible they could have both mangled such an important message. 

"I... I can go in and get him if you want to stay in the car," Kelly offered as she resumed driving.

Eli turned away from the window, smiled sadly, and shook his head.

"No.  We'll both go b-but... how... how are we going to tell him?"

"We won't in the store," Kelly insisted.  "Andrew will know, as soon as he sees us that... that something's happened.  But we can't tell him there.  We'll get him into the car and... and... I think you should sit in the back with him."

Eli nodded.  "And you... you just focus on driving as best as you can.  I'll tell him."

"Are you sure?  Eli, I know this isn't easy for..."

"It's not easy for any of us."

"I know but... but you've known JenniAnn since she was a baby."

"And I'm convinced that, somehow, Andrew's known her since he... he was a baby, so to speak.  So that trumps all.  I can deal."

Kelly reached over to squeeze the angel of death's shoulder.

They both shuddered as the Lowe's sign came into view.  Andrew had gone there to pick up some lumber after finishing his assignment.

Once Kelly had parked, the two entered the store and made a beeline for the back left corner where they knew they'd find their friend. 

Eli drew in a deep breath as he watched Andrew study the grain of some wood.  He reached for Kelly's hand.

"Come on."

The two angels were only a few inches away when Andrew noticed them.

"Hey!  What brings you..."  Andrew noted their reddened, puffy eyes.  "What... what's going on?"

Kelly forced a smile.  "Andrew, let's... let's go outside."

"But what... why..."

Eli took his arm.  "Buddy, we need to talk."

Andrew nodded and meekly allowed himself to be led out of the store. 

"Let's get in the car," Kelly suggested.

"Oh... okay," Andrew agreed.  He took a seat in the back when Eli held the door open for him.  He was surprised when his fellow angel slid into the seat beside his. 

"Kelly doesn't need to chauffeur us," he joked, attempting a smile.

Neither laughed. 

Kelly sat behind the wheel and immediately began driving.

Andrew had a sudden flash of Belle's earlier disappearing act.  Maybe she had wandered off again and hurt herself and...  "Is... is Belle..." 

"Belle is fine.  Brittony and Mary are watching her in the Tunnels," Eli assured.

"But I thought Vincent..."

Eli blinked a few times then angled himself so he could better see his friend. 

"Andrew, something happened at the Phoenix's office."

The remaining color drained from Andrew's face.  "No... no."  He shook his head.  He knew JenniAnn had planned to spend the day there helping Catherine.

"There... there was a man... looking for his wife who... who had turned to the Phoenix Inn for help.  He... he was waiting outside the office when JenniAnn a-and Catherine returned from lunch.  Andrew, he had a gun and..."

"No!" Andrew shouted.  "No.  This isn't happening.  Nothing happened!"

Kelly prayed for strength and the ability to keep driving when all she wanted to do was pull over and hold her friend and comfort him.

Tears splashed down Eli's face, collecting in his beard. 

"Andrew, he... he shot JenniAnn in the chest and... she... she's at the hospital b-but she went into hypovolemic shock a-and they don't know... they're not sure she's going to make it so... so we're going to go there so you... you can be there with her."

Andrew slumped against the car door.  He closed his eyes and remembered his nightmare of all those months ago.  So much blood...  His Laja's blood...

Eli flinched as his friend's wretched cries filled the car.

"Joshua... Father... please..." he moaned.  "It... it can't... can't be her time.  Belle... Belle needs her Mama.  I... I need... Laja...  Laja, don't... don't leave...  Joshua..."

Eli began to sob.  His friend... older than the hills... sounded like a child.  Unsure of what else to do, he enclosed Andrew in his arms and held him as he wept.

*~*~*

By the time they reached the hospital, Andrew had settled into an eery calm.  Kelly held his arm as Eli led them to the emergency room and to the nurses' desk.

"Please, can you tell us anything about JenniAnn Chandler?" Eli requested.  "She was brought in here about half an hour ago.  A... a gun shot wound."

"Are you family?" a nurse asked.

Eli waved to Andrew.  "He's the father of her child.  Her..."

"I'm sorry but unless..."

"Andrew."

The three turned to find Catherine and Portia, both clad in scrubs.

Portia held a hand out to Andrew. 

"Come with me, please."

Andrew took her hand then looked to Catherine.

Seeing him, the woman erupted in a fresh wave of tears.  Eli wrapped his arm around her waist to steady her while Kelly walked at her other side. 

"Have... have you seen her?" Andrew questioned as Portia led them into an empty family room.

"Only briefly.  I... I'm not a surgeon so..."

"She's in surgery?"

Portia nodded.  "They're trying to control the bleeding.  The doctor who is working on her... Dr. Larry Wittson... is very, very good.  I know he'll... he'll give everything he's got to Psyche."

Andrew nodded.  "Is she... in pain?"

"No, no I'm sure not.  Andrew, she was unconscious when she arrived and I know they'll have given her plenty of sedatives so... so she's not... not in pain."  Portia accepted a tissue from Kelly.

Andrew heaved a sigh.  "Good.  I... I..."  He shook his head.  "Her parents?"

"Owen's been trying to reach them.  He'll go get them as soon as... as he gets a hold of them," Catherine answered.

"Max!  A-and Violeta... she went to work with... with him today.  To the comic book store.  And Shel..."  Andrew buried his face in his hands.

"Shelby's been told, Andrew," Portia replied.  "She saw Owen and Eliot crying and... and she had to be told.  She's with Belle... with Mary and Brittony."

"Adam's headed to the comic book store," Eli relayed.  "He'll bring Max and Violeta here."

Andrew nodded.  "Thank you.  All of you..."  He looked over at Catherine.

"I shouldn't have kept going!" she cried.  "We... we should have just went back to... to Adrian's or... or gone Below or..."

"Catherine..." Andrew whimpered, reaching for her.

The two embraced and wept together until there was a knock on the door.  All five occupants jumped.

"I'm so sorry..."

"Tyron!" Eli greeted.

The police officer gave him a wan smile and stepped into the room.  He set a hand on Andrew's back.

"I was actually sent here to interview you, Catherine."  Tyron reached for her hand.  "But I just wanted to tell you all that I'm praying.  Matthew, too.  We're so sorry... but... but JenniAnn's a fighter.  She'll make it.  I... I have to believe she will.  After all, she... she's stood up to an angel of death before.  Andrew doesn't wear his loafers any more."

In spite of their sorrow, the others couldn't help but laugh.

Andrew shook his head, remembering JenniAnn's speech on the hideousness of his shoes.  He'd give anything to have her there, teasing him about those darn tassels.

"I... I don't," he agreed.  "You make a good point, Tyron."

"Thank you.  And you all know... Joshua is holding her so close," he averred.  "Have you told the rest of the Friends yet?  You've got so many prayer warriors."

Portia shook her head.  "Not yet.  We will as soon as we get Max and Violeta and her parents here."

"Good."  Tyron looked to Catherine.  "We can wait and do..."

Catherine met his gaze and shook her head.  "No.  I... I want him found.  And I want him in prison."

Tyron clasped her hand and nodded.

Catherine rose from her chair and hugged each of the other four then followed Tyron into the hallway.

"This doesn't feel real."

Kelly stroked Andrew's back.  "I... I know it doesn't."

Andrew peered into her eyes, knowing full well that she did.

"Let's pray," Eli suggested.

"I... I can't find the words, Eli.  I... my mind, my heart just keep calling out His name and..."  Andrew rested his head on Kelly's shoulder.

"Then... then you keep doing that," Eli encouraged.  "And I'll do the rest."

"Thank you."

Andrew closed his eyes as Eli spoke.

"Joshua, Father, we come to you with tears in our eyes and grief and dread in... in our hearts.  Please, extend Your healing hand upon our beloved friend, JenniAnn... upon Andrew's soul mate... Belle's mother... Allison's and Robert's daughter... Your daughter.  You know she loves You.  And we... we know she would happy to begin her... her eternal life with You now b-but... oh God, we're not ready for that."

Eli broke down and Portia began to recite the 23rd Psalm.

"'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want..."

Kelly joined in.

"'He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul...'"

Andrew let the ancient words soothe him but not even they were as reassuring as the one word that echoed through his psyche.

Joshua...

*~*~*

"Ah now, we can't all be standing around like this.  We'll startle the poor girl!"

"He's right.  She's never even seen some of us." 

"And she's not seen some of us looking like this..."

"But we have Joshua.  Joshua makes everything better!"

A familiar laugh drew JenniAnn out of her deep sleep.

"Joshua..." she murmured as she began to rouse.

"See, I told you!  She'll be fine, Grandda."

"You're right, Jamey Boy."

"Still, maybe it's best we all move back just a little bit so she can see Joshua first."

"Now there's an idea."

Throwing off the rest of her sleepiness, JenniAnn bolted into a sitting position and gaped.  There, at the foot of the bed she was laying on, was Joshua.

"Hi there, dear one," he greeted.

With tears in her eyes, JenniAnn beckoned for him.

Joshua knelt beside her and circled his arms around her. 

"Joshua..."

"I'm here.  I have you.  There's nothing to fear.  You're safe, JenniAnn."  Joshua kissed her hair.  "So safe... so loved."

"A-andrew...  Catherine, Vin-vincent..."

"I'm with them, too.  With all your family and friends."  Joshua pulled away enough to peer into her eyes and thumb away some tears.  "It's going to be a rough few days and then... there'll be some hard times after that, too.  But you're all going to make it through this and you'll be stronger and closer than ever.  I promise." 

"O-okay.  Am I... dead?  Is this Heaven?"

"No, dear one.  You're not dead.  You remember that place where you and Andrew would meet when he was in Afghanistan?"

JenniAnn nodded.

"Look out the window." 

Turning, JenniAnn saw a glorious mess of sunlit kudzu.  Unlike during her previous visits, it was interspersed with bright flowers, butterflies, and birds.

"Beautiful..." she murmured.

"Thank you!"

JenniAnn hugged Joshua tightly and then, with a start, remembered the other voices.  She lifted her head from Joshua's shoulder and peered to her right.  Six smiling faces met her awed gaze.

Though they looked much younger than when she'd known them, JenniAnn instantly recognized Chava, Cora, and Sophia from their old photographs... David, too.  And Lor... he was unmistakable.  But the sixth face...

Jamey Boy.

Lor had called him Jamey Boy.

"It's okay," Joshua encouraged.

JenniAnn rose from the bed and headed towards her visitors. 

When she was near enough, Jamey took her hands.

"Cousin..."

Her eyes flooding again, JenniAnn squeezed his hands then released them and cradled his face.  "You... you have your... your Papa's eyes."

Jamey beamed.  "And you have Mama's eyes."

The two embraced and then, keeping an arm around JenniAnn so he could hold her steady, Jamey turned towards his grandparents.

"You know, Gramma, of course."

Cora hugged JenniAnn tightly.  "JenniAnn!  Even more lovely than when last we met!" she gushed.

"Th-thank you.  You... you're... gorgeous!"

Cora laughed.  "Eternity does wonders for one's complexion, my dear."

JenniAnn grinned. 

"And... I'd like you to meet my Grandda," Jamey continued.

"Lor..."  JenniAnn murmured as she looked up into the man's familiar face.  After a moment, her lip began to tremble.  She stared down at the ground.  He was so much like Vincent... Vincent who had held her as... as...

Joshua approached and stroked her hair.

"I... I know," Lor assured.  "Try not to fret, wee one.  I was holding him as... as he was holding ye.  He's a good, strong boy, our Vincent.  Always has been."

JenniAnn nodded and looked up.  "Always."

"He'll be praying for ye, my girl.  Using his mam's rosary."  Lor beamed at Cora and then at Joshua.

"G-good," JenniAnn choked out.  She drew in a deep breath then smiled at Lor.  Once he'd smiled back, she moved on.

Chava pulled her into a hearty hug.  "Sweet girl...  brave girl," she cooed as she lightly swayed.

"I... I've missed you so much."

"I know.  I've felt all that love.  And I've been watching, you know.  We all have and it's been a delight seeing you and Andrew with your baby girl.  Sweet Belle!  Sweet, firecracker Belle!"

JenniAnn laughed.  "Oh yeah..."

"I'm personally very fond of her sense of style."

"David..."  JenniAnn held her hand out to the fellow who clasped it in both of his.

"I'm so pleased to meet you.  Thank you for helping my Essie."

"Thank you for... for being such an inspiration and... I... I feel like hearing your... your story..." JenniAnn kept hold of David's hand and reached for Chava's.  "It woke something up in me a-and Andrew and everything since... you... you brought us closer and...  thank you."

The three embraced and, when JenniAnn came out of it, she noticed that Lor, Cora, and Jamey were gone.

Chava patted her cheek.  "They'll be back.  So will David and I.  We promise."

"Good."

JenniAnn sighed as the couple joined hands before disappearing.

"Baby girl..."

The tears of joy already welling, JenniAnn spun around to face her final guest.

"Aunt Sophia..."

"I'm here, honey."  Sophia enclosed her niece in her arms.  "Oh... it's so good to hold you again!  I am so, so proud of you!  You and Andrew both!  I... I wish I could have told you before..."

Joshua approached and patted her back. 

"You can tell her now, Sophia.  There's time now," he promised.

Sophia nodded.  "So much time... and we'll make the most of every moment!  Now, let's sit down!"  She led JenniAnn to a beautifully carved table around which sat three chairs.

JenniAnn laughed when a kettle and three cups and saucers appeared along with a carafe of cream and bowl of sugar.

"Chai," a grinning Joshua whispered in JenniAnn's ear before pulling out a chair for her.

"Thank you."

"And..."

"Perfect!" Sophia declared as a tray of scones materialized.

JenniAnn squeezed Joshua's hand.  "It... it is perfect.  Thank you."

"You're welcome.  I want you to be content and comfortable because, dear one, we have a lot to talk about," Joshua informed.

Even though she suspected it would not be an easy talk, she felt no fear. 

"Whatever it is... I know I can face it with you," JenniAnn averred.

Joshua smiled proudly at her then, once they had their tea, he turned to Sophia.

"JenniAnn, sweetheart, you know that Eli and I... we have a bond much like yours and Andrew's."

"Yes.  Could you tell me... where is Eli?  Does he know about... what happened?"

Joshua nodded.  "I told him and Kelly.  They were the ones who went to Andrew, told him, and brought him to the hospital.  They're still with him, comforting him."

"G-good.  And the kids?"

"Adam's almost there with Max and Violeta.  Belle and Shelby are being cared for Below."

"A-and my parents?"

"They were at a movie and had their phones silenced but Owen reached them just a moment ago.  They're on their way home and then they'll take the portal to Manhattan and join Andrew at the hospital."

JenniAnn drew in and let out a deep breath.  "Thank you."

Joshua patted her arm.  "You're welcome."

After smiling at him, JenniAnn turned back to Sophia.  "So you and Eli..."

"JenniAnn, that sort of bond that we have, that you have... it's existed for a long, long time.  And you need to know more about it now.  So there's someone Joshua would like you to meet."

When JenniAnn glanced at Joshua, she noticed that another chair and tea cup had appeared. 

"Greetings!" a voice boomed.

JenniAnn turned to see a tall, sturdy, incredibly handsome man with tan skin, a beard, and dark brown hair that fell in waves to his shoulders.  She looked to Joshua who, of course, could read her mind.

He laughed.  "He looks like I do in the movies, huh?"

"Uh huh..."

Smiling, Joshua stood and waved to their visitor.  "JenniAnn, please meet Reuel.  He's one of our principalities!" 

JenniAnn noted the pride that lit up Joshua's face as he looked to the angel.  She was touched to see the new arrival react with a shy sort of delight as he approached their table.

"Thank you, Joshua.  Hello, Sophia!"  Reuel took a seat and held his hand out to JenniAnn.  "It is an honor to meet you."

JenniAnn blanched.  "The honor... mine... surely..."

"Both of ours," Reuel compromised.  "It truly is an honor to me.  I've read so much about you."  He saw her face flush.  "I mean..." 

"JenniAnn, Reuel has read many of Andrew's records.  Trust me, your private moments are still exactly that.  But there's a reason Reuel's read the files.  Once you listen to his story, you'll understand," Joshua explained.

"You'll be glad to know it, honey," Sophia reassured.  "I was so glad when I learned of it." 

"Then I look forward to it," JenniAnn replied, smiling for the angel.

After returning her smile, Reuel began his story for the second time in as many days.

*~*~*

Kelly pulled her phone out of her pocket.

"It's Adam.  They're here.  I'll go meet them and bring them back here."

Andrew squeezed her hand.  "Thank you.  Do you think I could talk to Max and Violeta... alone?"

Eli nodded.  "Absolutely.  Actually, if it's all right with you, I'll head Below.  Someone should update Vincent since Catherine can't right now."

"Yes.  Please.  Thank you.  Then... do you think... once Owen gets here with Allison and Robert... could... could someone please let the others..."

Portia patted Andrew's back.

"We can do that.  How much do you want them to know?"

Andrew let out a shuddering breath.  "Everything we know.  Could you maybe call Sean first?  I... I think Kemara should be told... especially after yesterday.  I don't want her reading it on her phone... alone... or..."

"I'll do that," Portia promised.  "Is there anything else Eli or I can do for you?"

Andrew shook his head.  He wanted things back to the way they'd been that morning when he and JenniAnn and Belle had hugged beneath the umbrella tree.  He wanted to not keep seeing that awful nightmare.  He wanted JenniAnn with him, right then.  He wanted to be planning her birthday celebration with Max and Violeta, not planning how to talk to them about... this. 

Eli hugged him.  "Call if you need anything.  I'll stay Below, otherwise.  Although if you think I could be of any help to Allison and Robert..."

"I... I don't know."  Andrew realized he had no idea what Allison and Robert would need or want.  He'd been in this place with so many parents over hundreds of years but, in that moment, he didn't know what he could do or what he should say to his Laja's parents.

"Okay.  Just know I'm close by," Eli reassured.  "And... know that I love you both so... so much."

"Give Shelby and Belle big hugs for me?" Andrew requested.  "A-and tell them I'll... I'll come see them as soon as I can?"

"You got it," his fellow angel of death promised. 

After hugging Portia, Eli stepped into the corridor.

Portia knelt in front of Andrew, taking his hands in hers.

"I'm going to see if there's any news and, if there is, I'll come right back to tell you.  If there's not, I'll call Sean and then we'll get the email out... then I'll go wait near the OR.  But I can be back here in seconds if..."

"I know.  Thank you.  I'm sure we'll be fine.  I... I like thinking you'll be near JenniAnn."  Andrew bestowed a wan smile on the doctor.

"You're with her, too.  In... in her heart.  Always."

The two embraced and then, for a brief moment, Andrew was alone.  He stared up at the ceiling.

"More than... than anything... I... I want her back.  Here.  With... with our family.  B-but if it's not Your will to bring Laja back to... to this life then, oh God, let her feel every... everything I could never find words enough to tell her.  I... I wish I'd said them all... however clumsily.  Laja... I love you so much.  These past months...  They... they've been a dream.  And I... I'm not sure I remember how... how to wake up with... without you."

Trying to calm himself, Andrew sucked in a deep breath.  He grabbed his necklace and wrapped his fingers around the cross.  Where was her cross?  Was she still wearing it?  Had the EMTs had to take it off?  Was it in that alley?  What had the EMTs had to do?

The angel of death dragged his hand through his hair then grabbed a fistful.  He was just about to yank it when he stopped.

Nope.

She loved his hair.  His hair needed to stay on his head.  Balding was fine.  She knew it might come and she was ready for that.  But tearing out his own hair...  Laja would have something to say about that. 

Andrew let go of his hair.  He drew in and let out a deep breath. 

"Andrew, look at me.  It's Laja.  We're in your room.  We're safe.  No one can hurt you with me here.  And no one can hurt me with you here.  And the Father is with us both, keeping us safe.  Take a deep breath.  Like this.  Then let it out." 

He obeyed.

The Father was keeping her safe.  He was keeping them both safe.

Andrew jumped slightly when there was a knock at the door.

Max, his face already swollen with tears, poked his head in.  Andrew could see Violeta clinging to him.

"Dad..."

Andrew held open his arms.  Max and Violeta swarmed him then, when he sat down, they took seats on either side of the angel.  Andrew sighed as he circled an arm around each of them.

While Violeta buried her face in her supervisor's shoulder, Max stared at a trash bin. 

"I... I keep thinking that... that I'm going to wake up a-and then Maja will make me chamomile a-and tell me everything's okay and...  Why... why, D-dad?" he demanded, surprised at how childish he sounded.  "Sorry..."

Andrew kissed the young man's hair.  "I... I don't know.  Free will... sometimes..."  He sighed.  He just couldn't do it.  Not then. 

Violeta's muffled voice kept Andrew from having to reply.  "I... I didn't even hug JenniAnn g-goodbye this morning.  I was in the... the stable a-and when she said she was leaving I... I was messy from... from mucking the stalls so... so I just waved.  A-and now..."

"Sweetheart, JenniAnn knows you love her.  A-and think of all the times you have hugged her.  I... I'm sure that's what she's thinking of.  Not the... the few times you didn't."

"A-andrew?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you... think... think she'll..."

"I'm not sure.  I've not been told anything.  But I... I'm praying that our JenniAnn leaves here a-and that we can have a great time spoiling her and heaping lots of love on her a-and..."  Andrew sighed.  He just wanted to hold her and never let go.  He wanted to gather the kids into the castle and keep them safe forever.  But that wasn't how life was meant to be.

"D-a-ad?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you... did it... it hurt?"

Andrew tightened his hold of Max.  "I... I'm sure it did for a little bit but... but JenniAnn wasn't conscious for long a-and once she was in the ambulance, they would have started her on anesthesia a-and... it doesn't hurt now."

"Dad?"

In spite of his heartache, Andrew was buoyed.  He didn't think Max had ever called him that so frequently in so short a span of time. 

"Yes, son?"

Max pulled away from the angel and studied him.

"Are you okay?"

Violeta sat up so she could see Andrew's face.

"I... I'm..."  Andrew closed his eyes for a moment.  "I feel... halved."

Perfectly understanding, Max squeezed his hand.  "I'm so sorry, Dad."

Violeta sniffled and hugged Andrew's arm.  She realized she'd never known him without JenniAnn.  The thought brought on another wave of tears.

Andrew wrapped both arms around her and gently rocked.

"Do you think maybe... maybe we could see Maja later?"

Andrew unloosed his hold of Violeta just long enough to pat Max's back. 

"I hope so."

"I... I don't know if... if I want to see her like... like that," Violeta sobbed.

"That's okay, sweetheart.  No one is going to make you..."

"B-but I'm training to be an AOD and I... I can't even..."

Andrew felt himself calming.  Violeta needed him. 

"Shhh.  This is different," he consoled.  "This is your life.  You know, there's a really good surgeon with JenniAnn right now but I bet if he had a family member in her place, he probably wouldn't even be able to watch the surgery.  And everyone would understand that."

"Of course they would," Max agreed.  "Dad, you... you weren't with Maja when it happened?"

"No.  I... I was at Lowe's."  Andrew shook his head.  His soul mate was being terrorized in an alley while he was sizing up oak...

"And Adam wasn't.  And Eli wasn't.  Do you think Henry was?"

"No.  He was spending the day at the Phoenix, doing balloon animals for the kids.  I'm sure Joshua and the Father had him stay there.  They need all the angels they can get until... til they find the shooter."

Violeta perked up a bit.  "So who do you think was there?"

Andrew gave a weary smile.  "Joshua."

Max returned his smile.  "Maja must have liked that.  A-and maybe she's still with him.  I mean in a way where she could talk to him and hug him."

"Yeah..."  Violeta thought of how JenniAnn lit up when Joshua was around.  "Maybe she's in the in-between place where you had your dreams together, Andrew."

The angel of death seized on the idea.  "Maybe."

"Could you tell us about it?" Max requested.

"Sure."

As they both leaned on his shoulders, Andrew told them about the kudzu and the beautiful stream and he told them, too, about their dreams and how much they'd meant to him.  He'd succeeded in lulling both Max and Violeta into some semblance of calm when the door again rattled.

Andrew braced himself and took Max's and Violeta's hands as the door opened.

Owen poked his head in.

"Hi, umm, Allison and Robert are here.  In the waiting room.  Do you want me to bring them back here or..."

"Please, bring them back here," Andrew answered.

"Okay.  But maybe... could I talk to you for just a moment?  In the hall?" Owen requested.

"Oh.  Sure."  The angel of death nodded and shakily rose to his feet.  He turned back to Max and Violeta.  "I'll just be a moment."

The two nodded silently then embraced each other.

Once Andrew was beside him, Owen closed the door and promptly hugged him.

"How are you holding up?"

"I... I'm here," Andrew replied.  He wasn't sure what more he could truthfully say.  "It helps... having loved ones near.  You?"

"Still in shock, I think.  I just saw her this..."  Owen cut himself off.  This was not the time to run through his most recent memories of his friend.  Especially not when he had something he needed to say.  "Andrew, listen, I... I know being with family is a big deal right now but... I think you should let me take Violeta for a walk or something."

"Why?"

"JenniAnn's parents are in a state.  Understandably.  But... they think you should be able to give them answers... or get them for them.  I don't think they'll handle it very well when they learn you don't know anymore than any of us do."

"And Violeta doesn't need to see that..." Andrew finished.

Owen nodded.  "Exactly.  I think Max will want to be there with you... help you deal with it.  But Violeta..."

"Too young.  Too... Violeta."  Andrew attempted a smile which Owen failed to return.

"And you and JenniAnn have done a good job of keeping Violeta from having to face trouble needlessly.  I just don't think there's anything to be gained in letting her see this."

Andrew dragged his hand through his hair. 

"I agree.  This is... it's too personal.  Much too pers..." 

His voice cracked and he leaned against the wall.

Owen held back his own sob.  "Just let... let me stall.  You need more time for..."

Andrew shook his head.  "No.  No, I'm fine.  Maybe... maybe ask Violeta to get flowers with you.  For... for JenniAnn's room.  I... I have to believe she'll make it out of the surgery."

Squeezing the angel's shoulder, Owen nodded.  "Me too.  And it's a great idea.  I'll do that."

They returned to the family room where Max and Violeta were kneeling, their hands clasped in each other's.  Andrew looked tenderly upon the two and, when they were finished, he set a hand on each of their shoulders.

"JenniAnn's parents are here and I need to talk to them.  Violeta, Owen's going to go get flowers for JenniAnn's room.  Why don't you go with him?"

The younger angel stood and hugged Andrew.

"You're sure that's okay?  Because I can stay with you."

Andrew brushed some hair away from her face and nodded.

"I think it'd be good for you to get some fresh air and... and I don't want JenniAnn to get stuck with a boring room when she comes out of surgery and... I... I really believe she will.  You know her feelings on too much beige and gray," Andrew teased, hoping to lighten the mood.

A grin started on his protege's face.  "True!"

Andrew withdrew his wallet and handing her some bills. 

"Thank you, Andrew."  Violeta turned to Owen.  "We'll be back soon?"

Owen nodded.  "A Helper runs a flower shop not far from here.  It won't take us more than maybe half an hour."

"Okay.  And you'll call if... if..."

Andrew pulled Violeta to him.  "I will, I promise."

"Thank you.  I... I love you, Andrew a-and Max."

Max hugged Violeta tightly then set his hands on her shoulders when he released her.

"We'll get through this.  No... no matter what."

The young angel nodded then took Owen's hand and followed him towards the hall.

"I'll send Allison and Robert in.  I'll be praying," he assured Andrew and Max.

"Thank you."

"Thanks."

When the door was closed, Andrew squeezed Max's hand. 

"You can go, too, if..."

"Nope."

"Thank you."

"Yep."

They braced themselves for JenniAnn's parents arrival which came only a few seconds later.

"Andrew... Max..." Allison murmured as she stepped into the room.  Robert followed her, still appearing to be in shock.

The four embraced then Andrew and Max surrendered the couch to the couple and pulled two chairs near.

"You... haven't heard anything since..."  Allison's voice broke off.

Andrew shook his head.  "Portia went to check for an update but hasn't been back.  She said she'd come back here as soon as she had news."

Allison nodded.  "But I mean..."  She clasped her cross.

Andrew's breath caught in his throat as he observed the familiar gesture.  He shook his head.

"B-but... why?  Why not?  You... you're an... an angel of death!  Were... were you at least with her?"

Andrew again shook his head.  "No, I... I wasn't but Vincent and Catherine were and..."

"Was Adam?  Eli?  Henry?"

"No.  We... we think Joshua..."

"Joshua!"  Allison seized on the name and Robert's head jerked up.  "Then Joshua can tell you if... if our little girl is... is going to..."

Andrew's eyes filled.  "He... he can b-but he hasn't.  Told me, I mean."

"But why wouldn't he?" Robert questioned.  "Don't you usually know when someone's going to die... or not?"

"Sometimes," Andrew assented.  "But JenniAnn... she isn't my assignment.  She's my... my..." 

Max reached over to clasp his hand.

"Well, can't you at least sense her?  Where is she?  How is she?" Allison begged.

"I... nothing...  It's not like..." 

"It's not like with Catherine and Vincent," Max interrupted, hoping to help his dad out.  "Andrew can't feel what Maja feels.  But we think, maybe, she's in that sort of in-between place... another of Joshua's realms... where she and Dad met when we were in Afghanistan."

"Well, then... then... if you go to sleep, you can see her!" Allison excitedly declared, peering at Andrew.

The angel shook his head.  "It's not like that, Allison.  I wish it was but it's not.  Joshua would have to want me there.  And... and I think..."  He drew in and let out a deep breath.  "I can hear him... telling me he a-and the Father love me a-and that they're with us.  But he won't tell me anything about JenniAnn.  Whatever happens... I... I think we're meant to go through it to-together.  With... with me knowing no more nor less than... than you."

"Then what good is any of this!" Allison spat out.  Seeing the devastated look on Andrew's face, she instantly regretted the words but it was too late to take them back.

Robert embraced his wife as she began to sob.

"Honey, let's go sit in the chapel.  Or... or step outside to get some fresh air."

Allison nodded against his chest.

Robert gave a wavering smile to Andrew and Max then led his wife into the corridor.

Once they were gone, Andrew bolted from his chair and began to pace.

"I... I feel so... so useless."

"No...  No, you're not useless, Dad.  You... you're still loving Maja a-and that matters.  Wherever she is... she has to feel that."

"I... I always thought that... that I would be the one to... to take her..."

"She wouldn't have wanted that.  Not like this.  She knows what... what seeing that would have... have done to you.  A-and if... if Maja really is on that island then... then she didn't need an angel of death to take her Home.  She... she just needed the same Person who has guided her always.  And... and then maybe He'll guide her back to us a-and some day, decades from now... maybe... maybe you'll go to... to sleep in Maja's bed... in each other's arms a-and wake up in... in Heaven... together.  That... that's what I'm praying f-for."

Andrew half-smiled, recognizing JenniAnn's ideal death.  Clearly she and Max had talked about that.

"I... I really hope so a-and I pray for that, too.  B-but Allison and Robert...  I... I think about what I'd feel if... if this was you or Shel or... or Belle and..."

Max threw his arms around his father as his sobs were renewed.  He knew there was nothing to say to that, only comfort to give.

*~*~*

JenniAnn stared into the stream as she laid beside it, in the same spot Andrew had been during their final dream together.

"Laja, not yet... don't leave...  Laja..."

JenniAnn closed her eyes against the memory of her beloved's distress the last time they'd been on the island.  She wished she could talk to Andrew.  Reuel's story had all at once been terribly upsetting and incredibly heartening.  Nephilim... succubi... incubi...  They were the stuff of nightmares.  And they were real!

But so was El-Chanan.  Eons before, angels and humans had lived in peace and love in the mortal realms and their descendants had flourished since, still striving to honor and love God.  Perhaps Dyeland would have as lengthy, lustrous, and faithful a future!

The story... history... had made JenniAnn ache for Andrew, though.  It was a pain not even Joshua could rid her of.  No.  She was sure he could.  But she couldn't bring herself to ask him.  Back in Manhattan, Andrew was surely in pain and the idea of being blissful while he was in such a state...

JenniAnn drew in and let out a deep breath.  She knew that was why Andrew didn't always go Home when it would have been better for him to.  But now she knew something of what he was denying himself. 

Sitting up, JenniAnn looked over to the cottage she had left after Reuel had finished his story.  Joshua had walked her to the creek but had, of course, known she needed some time "alone" so back he'd went.  Still, she knew he lingered.

"I didn't think it would be like this," she murmured.

"What's 'it'?"

Smiling, JenniAnn turned to her side to discover that Joshua had materialized.

"You know.  You know all."

Joshua grinned.  "True... but I'd still like to hear it from you."

"It... all of it, I guess.  I didn't expect to feel so... torn.  I... I thought I would see you and want to stay with you forever and ever and... and I do!  But..."  JenniAnn hugged Joshua's arm.  "There's the other 'it' that I didn't expect."  Her face colored slightly.  "You know how they say you shouldn't sleep around cause... cause when you sleep with someone hormones or pheromones or some type of mones are released or exchanged or... you know Science was never my best subject."

Joshua laughed.  "I do."

"Anyhow, so they say that it could then mess you up if you can no longer be with that person and that's why monogamy is so important.  Thing is... I thought they were using 'sleep with' colloquially.  Now... now I'm not so sure.  I feel like part of me... it's still on Earth.  And I know my body is.  I don't mean that.  Something more... vital, real.  And I don't want to leave him... it."

Joshua rested his cheek against her hair and smiled.  It was a telling slip.

"And yet... I feel like... like I would be at peace with that if... if I moved on.  I would... I'd be sorry to leave my darling Belle a-and Shelby and Max and my parents and Vincent and Catherine and... and everyone.  A-and to not be with Violeta and... and Andrew on Earth and in Dyeland.  But I know they'd be all right cause you'd be with them.  And I would be with you forever and I love you so much, Joshua, that... that the idea of not continuing on...  And maybe I don't even have a choice b-but... I feel like, if I didn't, then... then I'd already be in Purgatory or Heaven by now.  Or just asleep on Earth.  I mean that's what this place was before...  Andrew needed to choose to... to hang in there and have hope.  And he did.  So... do I have a choice?"

Joshua nodded and stroked some hair behind her ear.

"Yes, you do, dear one.  But it's not one you have to make now.  In fact, I don't want you to make it now.  Reuel's story was just the beginning.  There's more I want you to see and hear here.  There are more people who want to visit with you."

JenniAnn heaved a sigh of relief.  "Good... about visiting with people and not having to make a decision right now."

"But there's one thing I want to be very clear on.  The choice... when you do make it... it's not a choice of me or not me.  If you choose to move further up and further in, I'll be there.  If you choose to go back to your earthly life, I'll be there, too.  No, not in the same way but in a way that's no less real.  Got it?"

With a smile, JenniAnn nodded.  "Got it."

"Good.  Now..."  Joshua stood and reached down for JenniAnn, pulling her to her feet.  "I'd like you to come say good bye... for now... to Reuel."

"Where's he going?"

"To the hospital.  I'm sending him to help Andrew and the others."

Comforted by the idea, JenniAnn squeezed Joshua's hand as they walked.

"That's wonderful!  Thank you.  I... I'm sure things are pretty difficult for... for Andrew right now and to have someone like Reuel... who knows..."

Joshua only nodded in response.  That wasn't his only reason for sending the principality.

"Can he tell Andrew and everyone anything... about me?" JenniAnn questioned.

"I've asked Reuel to tell Andrew that he's seen you and talked to you and that you're here... with me... which, actually, Andrew already suspects.  And if you'd like to send a message, I wouldn't be opposed."  Joshua smiled when he saw the joy his words brought to the girl.

"Thank you for that."

"You're welcome."

When they re-entered the cottage, JenniAnn was amused to see that Reuel had changed from his khakis and tunic.  He was wearing jeans and a blue T-shirt with his hair poking out from beneath a Mets ball cap.

The angel held his arms out to his sides and smiled at JenniAnn.

"Do I look like a New Yorker?"

Laughing, the woman nodded.  "Sure.  Although I do think your previous look suits you more."

Reuel grinned and readjusted the hat.  "I agree.  But I need to look as inconspicuous as possible."

"You'll blend right in.  But then you'd also blend right in with a lime green mohawk.  This is Manhattan we're talking about, after all," JenniAnn kidded.

Reuel tilted his head.  "I think I would never hear the end of it from Rafiq and Riva if I had a mohawk."

JenniAnn grinned.  "Yeah...  I'd definitely leave your hair as is."

"Then I shall."  Reuel turned to Sophia who had been watching the two with amusement.  He hugged her.  "Enjoy this time with your niece."

"I will.  Very much!"  Sophia patted his back and lowered her voice.  "Thank you for this.  I know it's well outside your comfort zone."

"Anything for Him."  Reuel smiled at Joshua then glanced at JenniAnn who was staring down at her hand and twisting her claddagh ring.  "And for JenniAnn and Andrew.  I feel as if I know them well.  Just as I feel about you and Eli."

"And we're very blessed for that," Sophia murmured.  She squeezed his hands then directed her attention to JenniAnn.  "Honey, I'm going to go for just a little bit.  There's someone who wants to see you and I promised her that I'd come get her once you were available."

"All right.  I'll look forward to it.  See you in a bit, Aunt Sophia!"  JenniAnn smiled as her kinswoman disappeared then sighed when Reuel stepped towards her and took her hands.

"Is there anything you would like me to tell Andrew?  I think it's best I give any messages to him and he can then spread the word.  The others might need some time to warm to me."

Blinking back tears, JenniAnn nodded.  "I... I just want them to all know... my parents, the kids, our friends and family... that I love them so much.  A-and I know Catherine will be second-guessing and even blaming herself b-but I don't want that.  And Vincent... I want him to know that... that I'm glad he was with me a-and despite it all... I felt safe.  And I'm praying for them all.  And, please, tell Andrew that I... I love him so much.  And I... I trust him... immensely... with whatever decisions he has to make... for our family or... for me."

Reuel embraced her.  "I'll tell Andrew all of this and I know he'll spread the word."

"Thank you, Reuel.  I am so glad that I've met you and... and I hope, some day, I see you again."  JenniAnn batted away a tear and beamed at him. 

"I hope so, too.  Something... Someone... tells me that our paths will cross again.  Likely even soon."

The angel and woman looked to Joshua who coyly pretended to examine the back of one of the chairs.  When they laughed, he looked up and smiled.

"I think it's safe to count on that," Joshua replied with a wink.

"Good.  Until then... farewell, JenniAnn." 

"Farewell, Reuel."

JenniAnn stepped away from the angel and clasped Joshua's hand.  They watched as Reuel disappeared in an orb of light.

After letting out a deep breath, JenniAnn looked up at Joshua.

"I'd like to confess something."

"Oh?  Would you like me to get a priest?" Joshua offered.  "There are several to be found."

JenniAnn laughed and shook her head.  "You'll do."

Joshua returned her smile.  "Then what is it you'd like to confess, my daughter?"

"There are probably loads of things but right now... I'd like to confess that I have sometimes wished... for selfish reasons... to wipe the beginning of Genesis 6 clean outta the Bible.  It just... made things complicated.  Even Basil confessed that it at first gave him pause as concerns Andrew and me.  And I think it's also, at least partly, what made Bennie so confused although that... well, never mind that right now.  I get it now, though.  As frightening as that time was, you brought something beautiful from it and while I understand the need to keep Reuel and his people secret... they deserve to have at least something of their story... of what they endured... remembered.  And they do.  I'm glad for that."

Joshua hugged her.  "Me too.  And, of course, your sins are forgiven."

JenniAnn gently caressed his right wrist.  "I know."

*~*~*

Sins of the Father

Andrew stared down at the cross in his palm then brought it to his lips. 

"I know she loves it so much and while security is pretty good here..."  Portia sighed and shook her head.  "Sometimes things turn up missing.  So I'd feel better if you kept that and..."  She handed an item to Catherine who had rejoined the others after Tyron and Matthew had finished interviewing her.

Catherine smiled with tears in her eyes as she held JenniAnn's claddagh ring.

"Thank you, Portia.  I agree that we need to keep these safe.  Psyche would be heartbroken if either went missing but..."

Catherine passed the ring to Andrew.

"You should keep both.  Together.  Vincent and I got her the ring but it's always been more about the two of you."

Andrew hugged her.  "Thank you."  He tried to slip the ring onto his pinkie but it was too small.  "Her hands... so much smaller than... than mine."

"Put it on the chain with the cross, Dad," Max suggested after raising his head from Rose's shoulder. 

Andrew followed his suggestion then gazed gently at the young couple.

"I'm glad you came, Rose.  It does me good to see the two of you together."

Rose attempted a smile but it quickly faltered.  In the hour since her arrival, there had been so many ups and downs.  JenniAnn was out of surgery and that was definitely good.  There was significant damage to her right lung, though, and that was bad.  Still, she was breathing on her own and she was in a room and they could visit her... all wonderful news.  Fr. Mike, Rabbi Yakov, and Tiva were with them... surely having a rabbi and a priest praying was a good thing.  Emma and Peter had called an impromptu prayer service at St. Genesius'.  Rose knew her friends were dedicated pray-ers.  There was definitely hope!

Now they just had to wait...

And then there was the weirdness between Andrew and the Chandlers.

When the nurse had said they could visit JenniAnn, two at a time, Allison and Robert had started after the nurse without saying a word to any of them.

Rose knew Andrew would have let Allison and Robert see JenniAnn first.  They were her parents, after all.  But that they hadn't even consulted him...  It didn't sit well with Rose.  Nor did the fact that they barely acknowledged Max's or Violeta's presences.  They hadn't mentioned Shelby but had repeatedly asked about Belle.  Granted, Belle was just a little thing and the only one of the four who was legally JenniAnn's child but Andrew and JenniAnn had always taken pains to make the other three feel like they were equally "the kids."  Further, Belle had likely picked up on something being wrong but hadn't had to face the hard truths that Max, Violeta, and Shelby had.  How could the Chandlers not realize that?

Then again, no one was in their right state of mind.  And Rose wasn't a parent... yet.  She couldn't truly understand what Allison and Robert were feeling. 

Violeta interrupted Rose's musings and the silence the group had fallen into.

"Does... are... are there a lot of... of tubes and wires and things?"

Portia squeezed the young angel's hand.

"Some.  But there's nothing by her face.  It... it kind of looks like Psyche's just sleeping."

"Oh.  Okay."

Owen patted her back.  "Would you want to help me arrange the flowers?"

Violeta nodded.  "Yeah.  I... guess I would like to see JenniAnn.  After Andrew does.  A-and Fr. Mike."

"She'll be happy to hear from you, sweetheart," Andrew comforted.

"She will hear, you think?" Violeta checked.

The others all looked to Andrew who nodded.

"If not now then later.  It just depends on what God's plans are but He'll make sure she hears."

"Then... then should I not cry?"

Owen rested his arm around Violeta's shoulders and pulled her to him as her eyes filled.

The others all looked at Andrew, curious and expectant.

Andrew reached over to pat his protege's hand.

"I... I don't think there's going to be any way not to, Violeta.  But that's what I mean.  If Joshua thinks it'll hurt JenniAnn to hear that, he'll wait until she's strong enough to handle it before he lets her listen.  Okay?"

The entire group nodded in reply. 

Andrew tried to smile reassuringly.

"I... I don't want to go back to Willowveil tonight," Max choked out.  "Not... not without... Ma-maja.  But I also don't want to go to my house a-and..."

Violeta sniffled.  "I don't want to... to go home, either."

"Stay with Aunt Josephine and me, Max.  It'll be okay.  We can set up a cot in my room.  That'd be okay, wouldn't it?"  Though she was neither Catholic nor Jewish, Rose found herself looking to the priest and rabbi.

"Definitely okay," Rabbi Yakov assented.

Fr. Mike nodded.  "I see absolutely nothing wrong with that."

Max wrapped his arms around Rose.  "Thank you.  Yeah.  I... I'd like that."

"Violeta, sweetie, why don't you come home with Yakov and me?  If you feel up to it, we could do some baking," Tiva offered.  "Everyone's going to need a good breakfast tomorrow."

Violeta rose and hugged the woman.  "Yes, please.  Thank you."

Rabbi Yakov lightly tousled her hair.  "It'll be our pleasure.  And I would get you back here just as soon possible if needed... but I don't think it will be necessary.  Our Psyche's gotten through the most difficult part.  And..."

A rap on the door silenced the man.

"Larry!" Portia cried as she opened the door.  "Is everything..."

"Fine, fine," the doctor assured as he stepped inside the room.  "No change.  I just came from Ms. Chandler's room.  I have an X-ray I wanted to show her health care agent. Which one of you is Mr. Darcy?" the surgeon inquired.

Andrew rose and held out his hand.  "Andrew Darcy, sir.  Andrew, please."

"Larry Wittson.  If you'd please follow me.  Portia, could you come along?  I'm afraid I'm due in another surgery soon so may need to rely on you to make explanations."

"Of course."

Max gripped Andrew's hand.  "Can I come?"

Andrew nodded then followed the doctor towards a small consultation room with Max at his heels and Portia at his side.

Before they entered, Dr. Wittson sized Max up.  "I'm sorry but... who are you and what is your relationship to Ms. Chandler?" he questioned.

Max stared at the doctor, the question not registering.

Andrew hugged him and peered intently at the physician.  "This is Max, Dr. Wittson.  He's our son."  Seeing the incredulity on the man's face, he continued.  "Adopted.  But La...  JenniAnn and I love him as our own.  Please, I... I want him here with me.  And he... he needs to know what we're looking at as much as I do."

"Larry, it's okay," Portia assured.  "JenniAnn wouldn't mind.  I know she wouldn't."

"All right then."  The doctor waved the three into the room.  He flicked on an X-ray box and set a film against it.  "So what you see here is where the bullet punctured her right lung.  The resulting blood loss led to hypovolemic shock.  We performed emergency surgery upon Ms. Chandler's arrival in the E.R.  Thankfully, we were able to stop the bleeding.  What concerns us most now is the amount of time she went without oxygen."

Max broke down and began to sob.

As Portia stroked his back, Andrew wrapped his arms around him and kissed his hair.

At the sight of the grown man weeping in his stricken father's arms, Dr. Wittson's demeanor softened.  He crouched down in front of the three.  "I've ordered tests to try to determine what damage, if any, her brain has sustained.  I'll let you know as soon as I can what those tell us.  But listen to me...  I believe that sometimes there are forces at work who are much stronger than any of us.  I've seen things happen that have no medical... no scientific explanation."  He turned back to the X-ray.  "Already, your girl's that.  That type of bullet... it usually does significantly more damage.  Catastrophic damage.  But that one... it just... it stopped, for no reason I can tell, before hitting her heart."

Andrew jolted, a memory suddenly coming to the forefront of his mind.

It was the night he'd moved into Willowveil, the day after Joshua's departure.  Though he'd gotten his new room arranged and decorated to his tastes, he'd still chosen to sleep in Belle's nursery.  In the middle of the night, JenniAnn had entered the room and knelt by the bed.

"Are you awake?" she'd whispered.

Andrew had opened his eyes and smiled, reaching out to caress her hair.  "No."

JenniAnn had giggled and, when he'd lifted the blankets, slid into bed beside him.  "I was thinking about something from Saturday and just have to tell you about it.  I meant to say something earlier but I kept getting distracted.  So... did you, umm, feel anything when we were in the chapel with Joshua?  When he was blessing us?"

"Of course I felt something, Laja.  Lots of somethings."

"Oh, I know.  But I meant... something physical."

"Umm..."

"I just mean... it felt like... like there was a fire in my heart.  But in a good way!  It was so warm and... and then I felt so much peace... so strong.  I was hoping you felt it, too, because it... it was amazing!"

"I'm not sure what that was, Laja.  I didn't feel it.  But I'm glad you did," he'd responded before she'd snuggled closer and gone back to sleep.

Tears spilled down Andrew's cheeks.  "Joshua...  Joshua did it," he murmured.  "When he blessed us..."

Dr. Wittson frowned, thinking the grieving man had become delusional.

Portia stood and moved to the door.  "Larry, could we please have a couple minutes to ourselves?" she requested.

"Sure."  The doctor stepped into the hall.

Max sat up and clasped Andrew's hand.  "Dad, what are... are you talking about?"

Andrew dragged his other hand through his hair.  "The day Belle was baptized, when your Maja and I were in the little chapel with Joshua and he blessed us...  Something happened to Laja.  She told me about it later.  As Joshua spoke, she felt this warmth in... in her heart.  A good feeling.  Comforting.  I... I think he did something.  Physically did something to... to her heart.  To... to protect it.  And her."

Portia gasped.  "So then... then she'll recover?"

Andrew heaved a sigh.  "I... I don't know.  But Joshua... he gave her a chance.  Laja..."  He truly smiled for the first time since he'd learned about the shooting then fell to his knees.

Portia and Max soon joined him and they began to pray, thanking Joshua and seeking his aid in JenniAnn's healing.  As they prayed, all three began to feel more hopeful that JenniAnn would be restored to them.

Andrew brought his ring to his lips and, briefly, imagined himself back in the chapel with JenniAnn smiling lovingly at him and Joshua, as always, watching over them.

*~*~*

When Allison and Robert left JenniAnn's room, they found a beaming angel of death standing in the hallway.  Andrew had shared the news with the others only a few minutes earlier, nearly as soon as Dr. Wittson had left.  He was anxious to offer such amazing hope to her parents.

"Andrew... what's going on?" Robert questioned.

In spite of their earlier unease, Andrew hugged them both.

"Dr. Wittson, the surgeon, came out and showed me an X-ray and talked about..."

Allison stepped back.  "The surgeon talked to you?  Why didn't he talk to us?  We saw him briefly in JenniAnn's room but he wouldn't say anything more than that he was encouraged by the fact that she survived the surgery."

Standing nearby, Catherine overheard and moved closer.  She glanced at Fr. Mike and waved him towards her.

"Oh, well, umm... with HIPAA, doctors have to be really careful about medical privacy and..."

"We know what HIPAA is," Allison interrupted.

"Right, of course."  Andrew nodded.  "I know JenniAnn would want you to hear this.  Dr. Wittson was very shocked... but glad... because... cause the bullet should have done a lot more damage.  B-but it stopped before it so much as touched JenniAnn's heart and... and I think it's because Joshua... when... when he blessed us..."  His eyes filled and he clasped JenniAnn's cross and ring.  "JenniAnn... she felt something.  She said it was like a good fire in... in her heart.  So I think Joshua put up some sort of protective barrier.  Which means, even in his somewhat limited state at the time, he knew this was coming and he... he knew there was a way he could help Laja so he took it and... and then he had to have known that it would stun the doctors and then they'd tell me and I... I don't think he'd do anything... I know he wouldn't do anything... to give us false hope.  So I... I really think Laja will survive this and... and I'm just... I'm so... so glad a-and relieved and...  How... how does she look?" he asked.

Robert let out the breath he'd been holding.  "Beautiful... she looks beautiful."

Andrew smiled and drew in a deep breath.

"She... she always does," he replied, looking to JenniAnn's door.

Allison had been staring at her hands but looked up.

"Why weren't we there?  When the doctor spoke to you?  We're her parents."

Surprised by the abrupt change in mood, Andrew tilted his head and searched for a response.

"I, well, I... I didn't want to interrupt your visit and Dr. Wittson was on a tight schedule.  He had another surgery so there wasn't much time but Portia was there and could answer any..."

"But why did he speak to you?" Allison pressed.

Catherine reached for Fr. Mike's hand.

"You may need to help me with this," she whispered.

"JenniAnn didn't tell them?" he questioned.

Catherine sighed.  "I guess not."

"Allison, Robert... JenniAnn and I... we... we have Belle a-and the other kids to think about," Andrew began.  "So... so we decided..."  He lowered his voice.  "Since Joshua made me a legal entity, we figured he intended for us to use that.  So we filled out some paperwork making each other our health care agents so we could make decisions for each other if... if it came to it."

Allison blinked.  "Wh-what?"

Catherine stepped forward with the priest right behind her.

"Allison, it's actually a very wise decision.  I mean Andrew's not invincible, either.  And they do have dependents.  Imagine if something happened to Andrew and no one would talk to JenniAnn?  What would that do to them... and Belle, Max, Shelby, and Violeta?  Aren't you two each other's agents?" she checked.

Robert nodded.  "Yes.  But we're also married."

Fr. Mike bit his lip, trying to decide whether to speak up or not.  Andrew's clouded face made the decision for him.

"And you have a beautiful marriage... and JenniAnn is a wonderful testament to the love you two have for each other."  He gave his best pastoral smile.  "Andrew and JenniAnn aren't married, no.  But we all know what happened on Belle's baptism day.  That was no less a sacrament and God was definitely involved."

Tears welled in Allison's eyes.  She wanted to believe the priest and trust in his words.  She knew Joshua had blessed the two and she could remember how happy her daughter had been that day.  But...

Allison glared at Catherine.

"You knew about this."

Catherine nodded.  "I helped gather the paperwork."

"But I don't want him making life-altering decisions for her!  Don't you get it?  He gets her either way!" the woman spat out.

"Allison, oh... no..."  Andrew reached out for her.  "I... I want JenniAnn here with us very, very much.  I would never..."

Allison jerked away and hurried back into JenniAnn's room.

Robert rested a hand on Andrew's arm.

"I'm sorry.  I... I meant for you to go in next but..."

Andrew blinked back the tears forming in his eyes.

Robert stared down at his feet.

"It's just hard, you know?  We trust Joshua.  We... we do.  But we just..."

He left the remark unsaid, shook his head, and joined his wife.

"Just don't trust me," Andrew finished when the door was shut.

Catherine rubbed his back.

"They just aren't thinking straight, Andrew.  They do trust you.  And they love you."

Fr. Mike squeezed Andrew's shoulder.

"Do you think it would help if I went in there?  I know the nurse said two people but I doubt they'd object to a priest blessing their patient in the presence of her parents."

Andrew placed his hand over the priest's and nodded.

"Thank you.  I do think that would help, Fr. Mike." 

"Then I'll head in there... and I'll try to convince Allison and Robert to go for a walk or maybe go visit Belle.  So you can get in there."

Andrew smiled with gratitude at the man as he quietly entered JenniAnn's room.

"Maybe I should invite them to stay Below," Catherine suggested. 

"Thank you," Andrew murmured.  "I really do believe that... that Laja's going to come out of this.  But how long un-until..."

Catherine stood on tiptoe so she could kiss his bowed head.

"No matter what my cousins say, I think you're one of the very best things to happen to Psyche.  She loves you and she knows you love her.  And I've never seen her happier than she has been during this past year and a half.  And, yes, a lot of that is Joshua and Belle but it's also a lot you, Andrew."

"I... I hope so."

"Oh, come on.  I don't think Psyche would have left you with any doubt."

A smile began to return to Andrew's face.

"No.  You're right.  She hasn't."  With a sigh, Andrew turned back to JenniAnn's door.  "Do you think they'll let me stay with her tonight?"

"The hospital?  Yes, I think so."

"I meant Allison and Robert."

"I don't think it's their choice to make.  Psyche's used to being with you most nights."

"Yeah..."  Andrew nodded then peered into Catherine's eyes.  "Let's try to get you in there next and then, if you want, you can go home.  I'm sure Vincent is longing to see you... and you him."

Blinking back tears, Catherine nodded.  Even though Eli was keeping Vincent informed, she wanted to speak with her husband, to comfort him and be comforted by him.

"Good plan," she agreed.

"Hopefully soon and then..."

Andrew noticed two figures coming down the hall towards them.

Turning, Catherine followed his gaze.

"Who is that with Matthew?" she asked.

"He... he's not with Matthew.  At least... I don't think so."  Andrew stepped towards the two.  "Reuel..." he whispered.

The angel offered a kind smile to Andrew as he drew near.  He said nothing and tilted his head towards Matthew.

"Andrew, Catherine..." the officer began.

Catherine took his hands.  "Is everything all right at the Phoenix?"

"Yes, everyone's safe.  We've finished interviewing Brooke."

"A-and?" Catherine prodded.

"We've discovered some things about her husband.  Andrew, I need to talk to you.  Alone."  Matthew looked apologetically at Catherine then turned to the man who had arrived with him.  "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm going to have to ask you to..."

"He's an angel," Andrew interrupted.  "He's, umm, Reuel."  He rubbed at his temple, trying to remember what exactly Reuel did these days.  They occasionally saw each other in Heaven but had never talked much.  There'd been no hurry.  They had an eternity, after all.

Matthew blushed.  "Oh, I'm sorry.  I don't think we've ever met."

Reuel offered a kind smile.  "We've not.  And I don't mean to intrude.  I, too, need to speak to Andrew but I can wait.  There's an empty room just down there."  He pointed down another hall.  "Third to the right."

Matthew forced a smile.  "Thank you, Reuel."

Andrew turned to Catherine.  "If you get a chance to visit JenniAnn, please take it.  Don't wait on me."

"Okay.  I'll tell her you'll see her soon."  Catherine squeezed his hand then faced Matthew.  "Thank you... and everyone... who has been watching over the Phoenix.  I... I appreciate it more than I can say."

Matthew hugged her.  "It's why we're here.  I'll need to talk to you, too, before either of us leave."

"I'll either be with Psyche or in the family room with the others."

"Got it, thanks."

"Reuel, Adam is here," Andrew informed.  "I'm not even sure... do you know him?  He could introduce you to the others, maybe?"

Reuel nodded.  "Adam and I have met.  He's in the family room?"

"Yeah."

"Then I'll wait for you there," Reuel assured.

"I can walk you there," Catherine offered. 

Reuel gave her a grateful smile.  "Thank you.  I would like that."

As the angel and woman headed to the family room, Andrew and Matthew walked to the room Reuel had indicated.  The latter motioned for the angel of death to take a seat then leaned against a counter.

"Andrew, Brooke... the woman the man who shot JenniAnn was after... she identified her husband as Neil Jerram.  Does that name mean anything to you?"

Andrew wracked his brain and was just about to shake his head when his eyes lit up. 

"Yes, actually.  But that doesn't make sense... although I guess it's just a different Neil Jerram.  Anyway, I took a fellow by that name Home about two years ago.  Nice guy.  He had a stroke."

Matthew half-smiled.  "I wasn't expecting you to recognize the name.  But... Andrew, it does make sense.  Because we entered Neil Jerram into the system and found out that he had passed away.  Two years ago in August.  A stroke, just like you said.  Which means Brooke's husband stole his identity.  So our guys... and girls... did more digging.  'Neil Jerram' began his second life about a year ago in Reno.  Before that, he had at least two other identities beyond his real one."

"So you know who he really is?" Andrew questioned.

Matthew nodded.

"And... and for some reason you don't want to tell me," the angel of death realized.

"Andrew... this... it's going to be hard to hear.  And not just for you."

Andrew reached up for JenniAnn's cross.  "Tell me."

"His real name is Rex Remus.  Andrew, Max's father did this.  We know it's him because even before we tied 'Neil' to Rex, I sent Tyron a photo that Brooke gave me and Catherine IDed him as the shooter."

Andrew released the cross and rubbed at his eyes.  "Max...  Does Max know?"

"Not yet.  Andrew, we're going to have to tell him.  For one, we don't know where Mr. Remus..."  Matthew grimaced.  The man didn't deserve such respect.  "The perp... is now.  Max needs to be aware... and careful.  For another, we hope to find and arrest him.  It's best Max be prepared."

Stunned, Andrew nodded.  "Do you have any leads on where he is?"

Matthew sighed.  "Just one.  There was a homeless man who the perp paid to stand at the front door of the Phoenix... we think to scare Catherine and JenniAnn into using the side door so... so the shooter could confront them without witnesses.  There was a receipt for a hotel stuck in with the wad of cash... my guess is the idiot didn't realize it was there.  We've contacted the hotel and 'Mr. Jerram' has already checked out but he paid with a credit card which we're tracing so... so we hope to get him."

"I... I hope you do.  So do you have any reason to think... did Rex know..."

Matthew shook his head.  "It's possible, I guess.  But unlikely.  He never saw JenniAnn, right?"

"Right.  No... wrong.  But she was just a teenager and it was very briefly.  I'm sure he doesn't remember."

"Probably not.  And from what little Max has told me about him, I doubt he was showing off photos to the man."

"I'm sure he wasn't," Andrew agreed.  When they had considered including Rex in their Thanksgiving plans that first year, Max had been concerned about his father's behavior towards the women.  Max certainly wouldn't have shown their photos to him.

Andrew rose to his feet.  "Can you wait here?  I'm going to go get Max."

"Sure."

The walk to the family room seemed like an eternity to Andrew.  He knew the moment Max heard Matthew's news, he would be devastated.  And terribly angry.

After he quietly stepped into the room, Andrew paused for a moment and took in the scene.  Tiva was gently rocking as she sat beside Violeta, her arms wrapped around her.  Rabbi Yakov was praying with Owen.  Catherine, Adam, and Reuel were deep in discussion.  The woman smiled through her tears and hugged the principality.  Portia was speaking softly to Max and Rose.

Andrew zeroed in on Max's and Rose's joined hands.  He prayed that the horrific revelation awaiting Max wouldn't harm the couple's bond.

"M-max?"  Andrew tried to control the tremble in his voice.

"Dad!  Has there been..."

"No change.  Allison, Robert, and Fr. Mike are with JenniAnn.  I just... I need to talk with you."

Rose kissed Max's cheek then released him.

"I'll be waiting here," she vowed.

When Andrew and Max were in the hall, Reuel popped out.

"If I could have just a moment," he requested.

Andrew turned back to him.

"I have a message.  From JenniAnn."

Max's face brightened.  "You saw her?"

Reuel nodded.  "I have, yes.  She's with Joshua... on the kudzu island just as you suspected.  I don't think I need to say that she's happy."  He smiled at them both, glad when they returned it.  "Andrew and Max, I don't know how this will all work out but Catherine told me about the X-ray and that seems very promising.  But, no matter what, JenniAnn wanted you both to know that she loves you very, very much and that, just as you're praying for her, so, too, is she praying for you.  And Andrew..." 

Andrew took his fellow angel's proffered hand.

"She trusts you, immensely so, with any decisions you have to make for her or for your family.  Know this," Reuel impressed upon the beleaguered angel of death.

"I... I do," Andrew promised.  In spite of the dreaded task facing him, he felt calmer than before.  His Laja trusted him... she trusted him to handle this well... to comfort their boy.

"Good.  I'll return to the others now.  Please, let me know if I can be of any help.  That's why I'm here."

"Thank you.  We... we need all the angels and friends we can get," Max responded.

"I hope you will count me as both," Reuel replied, straightening his hat after a small bow had caused it to slide.

Andrew smiled.  "Definitely."  He hugged the angel.  "I... I hope soon we can show you around Dyeland."

Reuel grinned.  "I would love that!"

As he watched the two go, Reuel prayed that they would both feel Joshua's and JenniAnn's love surrounding them.

*~*~*

Andrew didn't think he had ever seen Max so still and silent as he was while the police officer's words sunk in.  Then, suddenly, the young man bolted from his chair and rushed the door.

"I'm going to find him!  And then I'm going to kill him!" he screamed.

Andrew and Matthew both hurried after him.  Reaching him first, Andrew circled his arms around Max and pulled him back into the exam room.

"He shot my Maja!" Max bellowed before sliding  out of Andrew's grip and to the floor.  "Hate him... hate... him...  Kill..."  He broke down into sobs.

With tears pouring down his own cheeks, Andrew crouched beside the boy and patted his heaving back.

"Max, no... No, don't... don't say that."

Max rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, trying to catch his breath.

"He... he...  My... my father... wife beater a-and shot... Maja...  My father..."

Matthew knelt to his other side and shook his head.

"No.  Max, your father is right here.  Holding your hand.  That man... he... he doesn't deserve the title.  Not really.  Andrew does."

Andrew mouthed a thank you to the officer then smiled down at Max.  "And... and you've got another Father watching out for you, too.  Max, you know how... how much Joshua loves you."

"Joshua..." Max repeated.  He closed his eyes and thought of the man who had encouraged him to recognize Andrew as his father... who had helped him propose to Rose. 

Andrew gently pulled him up from the floor.

"Your Maja loves you, too.  She... she even sent a message to you through Reuel.  Max, she wouldn't want you to risk yourself by... by going after your father.  Let the police do their job."

"I... I just can't believe he... he..." 

"I know, Max."  Andrew hugged him.

"I... I want to see Rose."

"Okay.  How about we let you and Rose see your Maja just as soon as her parents are out?  Then I think it might be best if you go back to Dyeland and take it easy," Andrew suggested.

"But you still haven't had a chance to... to see your Laja."

Andrew smiled shakily.  "I will.  I promise."

"A-and you'll call if... if..."

"Of course," the angel of death agreed.

"And either Tyron or I will contact you just as soon as we've got him, Max," Matthew vowed.

"Okay.  Thanks.  Sorry that I... I acted like such a... I dunno."  Ashamed, Max stared down at his hands.

Andrew embraced him again.  "It's a terrible shock... after another terrible shock.  We understand.  God understands."

"Yeah..."  Max replied. 

Keeping a hand on his shoulder, Andrew steered him out of the room and back to the family room with Matthew trailing them.  He saw that Catherine was gone and Allison and Robert had joined the others.  The latter got to his feet and approached them.

"Detective Bratton, do you have news?" he asked.

Max's eyes welled again and he turned away.

"Can you tell them?" Andrew whispered.  "I'm taking Max and Rose."

Matthew nodded.  "Sure."

Seeing how concerned Rose looked, Andrew held his hand out to her.

"Rose, do you want to come with Max while he visits JenniAnn?"

Nodding, the young woman rose and joined her fiance and friend in the hallway.

"Max..." she murmured, taking his hand.

Matthew closed the door behind them, giving them some privacy while he spoke to the others.

"My... my father, Rose.  He... he did it.  He shot... shot Maja," Max choked out.

"What!?"

"I... I guess he got married a-and his wife... she ran away cause he... he abused her a-and he was looking for her a-and... he... he nearly killed..."

Rose pulled Max to her.  "Oh... oh, my sweet Max."

Andrew rested a hand on each of their backs.

"You... you know that has nothing to do with you... don't you?" Rose questioned as she caressed her fiance's face and hair.

Max wouldn't meet her gaze.

Rose continued to cling to him.  "It... it doesn't.  He doesn't."

"I... I just want to see Maja and go home."

Rose frowned at the lack of acknowledgement but nodded.

"I'm sure Adam will be willing to drive you both to the Glen's shoreline and then row you to Nadezhda," Andrew told them.  "I don't think you should travel alone."

"Okay," Max agreed.

Rose nodded.  "That sounds like a really good idea.  Aunt Josephine said she'd have dinner waiting for us."

"I... I don't think I can eat," Max confessed.

"That's okay.  It'll be there, anyway."

After giving them a few more moments to linger in the comfort of each other's embrace, Andrew led the two to JenniAnn's room.  His breath caught in his throat when he saw the door was open.

Catherine spotted him peeking in and waved for him.

"I just wanted to be able to see when the next visitors came," she explained, taking his hands when she reached the door.  "Come on in."

"Actually..."  Andrew lowered his voice.  "I'm letting Max and Rose see Laja first.  There... there's been some news.  About the shooter and..."

Catherine nodded.  "I'll go talk with Matthew right now."

"Could you wait just a moment, please?"

"Sure."

"Thanks, Catherine."  Andrew turned to Max and Rose.  "You can go in.  She'll... she'll be glad to hear from you."  He waved them into the room.

Once the two were inside, Andrew closed the door except for a crack and turned to Catherine.

"What is it?" she asked, seeing the trouble in his eyes. 

"Brooke's abusive husband... the shooter... the man you IDed... that's Max's father."

Catherine shook her head.  "No...  But I could have sworn Brooke said her husband's name was... was Neil."

"Apparently Rex Remus took to using stolen identities."

"Poor Max...  No wonder he looked so devastated.  Oh, Andrew..."  Catherine embraced him.  "So much for you to carry..."

"I... I'll be fine."

"You need to be the one to see JenniAnn next," Catherine insisted.

Andrew shook his head.  "No, Violeta and Owen can go next.  And then the Levines if they want."

"Andrew..."

He gripped her hands.  "Thing is... I... I don't know that I'll... I'll be able to leave her once... once I'm in there."  Andrew forced a smile.

Catherine sighed.  "That... I understand.  And I'm going to tell Allison and Robert that you need to stay with JenniAnn tonight."

"Cath..."

"No.  They're my family.  I need to say my piece.  Reuel told me what Psyche said.  She told him to... to tell me to not blame myself.  And I... I won't.  But you have to let me do this to... to make me feel better."

Andrew nodded.  "Okay.  Thank you."

Catherine rested a hand against his cheek.  "Even before Vincent and I... well..."  A glint appeared in her eyes.

Andrew smiled.

"The old prude did, on rare occasion, let me stay with him.  And I... I felt so much comfort just knowing he was there beside me.  You deserve that.  So does Psyche."

"I... I'm just glad that... that someone in her family trusts and believes that..."  Andrew swallowed the lump in his throat.

"I do, Andrew.  And so does, Vincent.  I know he was concerned at first but... but I want to tell you something."  Catherine pulled Andrew to a bench.  "Vincent was so relieved when Eliot and Psyche broke up.  He loves them both tremendously but he knew his Psyche wasn't the woman she was meant to be when she was with Eliot.  But with you..."  Her smile grew even more tender.  "Cupid and Psyche were always meant to be together.  Vincent knows that."

Andrew hugged Catherine tightly.  "Thank you... and Vincent.  Hearing that... it... it means more than... than I can say."

"We love you both so much... and the kids.  I promise I'll give Belle and Shelby big hugs from you.  Do you think, so long as everything goes well tonight, you might be able to join us for breakfast or lunch?  I think it would do you good... and I know it would do them good to see you."

Andrew nodded.  "Definitely.  I'll get down there as soon as I can tomorrow."

"Good.  Now, I'm going to go check in with Matthew and speak to Allison and Robert.  Would you like to come with me to the family room or wait here?"

"I'll wait here."  Andrew embraced her again.  "Thank you for being here, Catherine."

The woman glanced at JenniAnn's door then back to Andrew.  "I had to be."  She stretched up to kiss his cheek.  "I'll see you tomorrow unless you need anything tonight then don't hesitate to call me.  I love you, Andrew."

"I... I love you, too, Catherine."

Andrew watched her walk away then turned back to the door.  He closed his eyes and began to pray.

"Please, Father, Joshua... whatever I can do to bring good out of this... help me to do it.  And thank You for protecting our Laja's heart...  Please, surround Max with Your love.  Help him to realize that Rex's actions and choices... they change nothing about him or our love for him.  Thank You for sending Reuel and his messages from Laja.  I know there have to be other reasons for his being here and I trust You to reveal those reasons to me in Your time.  Until then, please give me the strength to keep on hoping and loving.  Amen."

*~*~*

Sunday, June 7th

Vincent peered at the toddler sleeping beside him.  To Belle's other side was Shelby who was hugging Catherine's arm.  Both were asleep and, he hoped, dreaming of happy times.  The two girls had started the night curled together on a cot Eliot had brought into the room when it had become obvious that Shelby would not be parted from her sister.  And Belle was much too young to bunk with the other children.  Then one or the other or maybe both had awoken in tears with Belle clamoring for her grandparents.  Shelby had climbed into the bed, too, and though it left them all quite cramped, Vincent couldn't regret it.

Only hours before he had felt the life bleed out of his Psyche and been helpless to save her.  The words Catherine had brought back from the new angel had brought him comfort and relief but still the memories tortured him.   At least he could help his granddaughter and little Shelby feel safe.

Suddenly, Belle's eyelids fluttered open and she appeared on the verge of tears again.  Vincent quickly sunk down on his pillows so she could see his face.

"I'm here, sweet Annabelle," Vincent assured.

"Appa..."

Vincent smiled when her chubby hand patted his nose.

"Appa's here, my Belle." 

"Mama?"

Vincent's eyes welled.  "Mama and Daddy are... are resting right now."

Belle yawned.  "Eepy, Appa." 

Vincent thought she seemed confused by this phenomenon of feeling tired and yet not being able to sleep.  He knew it all too well.

Belle snuggled against him and, for a few moments, Vincent thought she had drifted back to sleep.  He was just about to close his eyes himself when she sat up.

"Belle..." he murmured when he saw the tears in her eyes.

"Mama...  Daddy..."

"Belle, let's go for a walk," he suggested.

Not wanting either Shelby or Catherine to awaken, Vincent carefully slid off the bed.  He grabbed an extra blanket and swaddled Belle.

"Just one moment."

"O-ay."

Vincent quickly jotted a note and laid it on his pillow just in case Shelby or Catherine got up before they returned.  After pulling on his cloak and stepping into his slippers, Vincent picked up the little one.

"Appa..." 

Vincent kissed Belle's curls as she gently patted his neck. 

It wasn't long before they reached his intended destination.  Vincent sat on the floor and settled Belle onto his lap.

"Pitty...   Ahs!"

Vincent smiled as the girl stared up at the stars and then at their reflection in the Mirror Pool.  He kept a careful hold of her as she reached forward to splash some of the stars.

"Do you know who made those stars, Belle?"

"Ah-ah."

Vincent snuggled her nearer and beamed.  "You are so very smart!  Yes, Joshua made those stars."  His eyes welled as a remembrance came to him.  Even though he knew Belle was too young to understand, he spoke to her.

"Belle, Joshua told me once that the same care that went into making the moon and the same love that crafted each star... the same spark of life that brought forth trees... all of it went into creating me.  And you.  And everyone, including your Mama and your Daddy.  And I have to believe that... that He didn't make them... with such great care... so perfectly suited to each other only to... to have their life together end so soon.  A year and a half ago... in the same hospital where they are now... God worked a miracle.  He gave them a beautiful baby girl... you.  And I believe... I pray... that He will work another miracle and... and give them back to each other."

"Mama Daddy pitty."

Vincent chuckled and swiped at a tear.  "Yes, your Mama and Daddy are very pretty."

Belle smiled then nestled against his chest.  "Eepy... eepy."

Vincent gently rocked and hummed as Belle drifted back to sleep.  After a while, he rose and carried her back to his chamber.  As he settled back into bed with her, Catherine opened her eyes.

"Everything all right?"

Vincent nodded.  "We couldn't sleep so we walked to the Mirror Pool."

Catherine carefully reached across Shelby and squeezed her husband's hand.

"Things will seem better by the morning, I'm sure of it," she whispered.

Vincent gently brought her hand to his lips.  "I pray so."

"Me too."

For a few moments, they gazed into each other's beloved faces before rejoining the girls in sleep.

*~*~*

"I think Owen and Violeta bought out the flower shop, Laja."

Andrew smiled sleepily as he looked around the hospital room.  Brightly dyed daisies and carnations covered nearly every available surface.  He sighed as he remembered Violeta tiptoeing around as she and Owen had arranged the blooms.  She'd been so eerily quiet while Owen had cheerily maintained a one-sided conversation with JenniAnn.  Just before they'd left, Violeta had leaned down and planted a kiss on JenniAnn's forehead.

"I love you...  I hope you wake up soon, JenniAnn.  I... I miss you."

Andrew recalled the teenager clutching the pink and purple butterfly necklace that JenniAnn had given to her. 

"I... I think Violeta will do well with the Rabbi and Tiva, don't you?  They know how to deal with teen girls.  Raised two after all...  You know, we should ask them about how they handled some of the Big Talks.  I have a feeling we're only at the beginning of those with Violeta now that she's headed off to college."

Andrew scooted his chair closer and laced his finger's through JenniAnn's.  He was glad one hand was free of tubes and wires.

"I'm concerned about Max, Laja.  He's devastated.  We all are, of course.  But... but to have it be his father...  He's never outright said it but I think he blames Rex for driving his mother away and now to find out...  I can't imagine what it would feel like to know my father beat his wife a-and then... to do this to... to you...  Rose is with him and I know she'll do her best but it's just so... much.  I keep praying they think about those little owls Joshua gave them... they go together.  He knew all this... or at least remembered something of all this... and still knew they belong together."

Andrew rested his cheek against JenniAnn's hand.

"I'm so glad you're praying.  We need the prayers.  A-and I'm praying... for you.  I gotta believe Joshua is going to bring you back to us b-but I don't want you to be in pain or... or scared... not that you wouldn't have a right to be scared.  I keep imagining...  I know.  You wouldn't want me to.  I'll try to stop, Laja.  I promise."

Andrew sucked in and let out a deep breath.

"Clay and Kylie are staying at Willowveil to tend to the pets.  Peter's already been by at least once to keep Yonah company.  So I don't want you to worry about them at all.  They're in good hands.  And I'm thinking Violeta... she may not go into the castle... but she'll at least need to stop by the stable tomorrow.  She needs to see her babies, after all.  As for our baby...  She and Shelby are staying in Catherine's and Vincent's chamber.  I thought that was a really good thing.  I think Vincent especially needs that after..."

Andrew kissed JenniAnn's hand.

"Laja, I'm a little worried about your parents.  I... I think whatever Catherine said must have worked some because... cause they didn't fight me at all on... on staying with you tonight.  But I can't shake the feeling that... they don't entirely trust me.  I wish they knew that we... we'd planned a life together.  A-and I know we'll be together regardless b-but... I want you here to... to celebrate Max's and Rose's wedding... to cry with me when Belle starts school a-and we realize anew how big she's getting...  Shelby's getting to the age when... when she's going to really need you a-and Violeta's already there and... and we were going to... to grow old together... become grandparents together...  Laja...  I... I still believe all of that will happen b-but I wish they knew how much I want that."

"Have you tried telling them?"

Andrew sat up and turned to the door to find Reuel standing there.

"May I come in?" he requested.

"Sure."  Andrew nodded and waved to another chair.  "Where's your hat?"

Reuel blushed.  "I wasn't aware that it's impolite to wear hats indoors here.  An elderly gentleman kindly informed me of this particular rule."

Andrew chuckled.  "Most people probably wouldn't care.  I'm sure no one in our group did.  Maybe he was a Yankees fan.  So you, umm, don't spend much time in the States?"

Reuel shook his head.  "I don't spend much time on Earth."

"Huh.  I guess I always got the feeling that you come and go a lot from Home.  I mean... I know you're a principality so..."

"I am.  And I do spend part of my time elsewhere.  I have a Dyeland of my own, so to speak," Reuel explained with pride.

Andrew's eyes lit up.  "Really?  I've heard a few times that you led several people to safety before the Flood but I guess I assumed that meant you led them to a safe place on Earth."

Reuel smiled.  "I did lead my people to safety... but we went through a portal God revealed to me and we entered a world He gave to us: El-Chanan.  It was myself and two other angels who led the way... with our anam caras."

"Anam cara..." Andrew echoed, gazing at JenniAnn.  "So is... is that why you're here?  You understand..."

"I do.  That's not the only reason I'm here but it's one of them."

"And the other reason... or reasons?" Andrew pressed.

With a reluctant sigh, Reuel began to tell the angel of death the sordid tale of Nen and Tzila.

*~*~*

Max heard someone weeping.  He made his way through the familiar halls of his house, trying to find the source of the sorrowful noise.  He followed the sobs towards the kitchen where he found Rose sitting at the table, hunched over with her head resting on her folded arms.

"Rose..." he murmured, reaching out to caress her hair.  He jumped back when he saw the blood on his hands.

Rose, too, clamored away.

"Please... please, don't... don't hurt me," she pleaded.

"Rose..."

And then Max saw the bloodied rag in her hand and her busted nose and blackened eye.

"No!" he screamed.

*~*~*

Max awoke with his heart pounding in his chest.  He looked over at Rose, asleep in her bed with her cat, Theo, curled up beside her.  She was so beautiful and funny and kind and just plain wonderful...  He began to cry as he remembered the horrible nightmare and thought about his father's wife and JenniAnn.

"Max..."

He raised his head to see that Rose had awakened and was beckoning for him.

"Max, come here.  I... I need a hug.  And, clearly, so do you."

Max shook his head.

Rose sat up and eyed him.  "A-and why not?"

"I... I need to go, Rose."

"Go where?"

"Go..."  Max wasn't sure where.  All he knew was that she deserved better than him.  They all did.  He was a ticking time bomb of aggression and cruelty.

Rose climbed out of bed and perched on the edge of his cot.  She circled her arms around her fiance.

"JenniAnn's fine.  Andrew would call if there'd been any change and we both have our cell phones set at full volume.  He hasn't called."

"It... it's not that, Rose.  Or... that's... it's not all..."

"Tell me."

Max shook his head again.

Rose gripped his chin and made him look into her eyes.

"I am your fiancee and I command you to tell me," she teased.

In spite of the nausea he felt, Max laughed.

"Rose..."

Rose eagerly accepted his kiss and was going in for another when he pulled away.

"No!" he protested, scooting to the foot of the cot so he was no longer touching her.

"Max, what's wrong?  I'm serious now," Rose pressed.  "I... I'm worried."

Max stared at the quilt beneath him.

"Oh, what I wouldn't give for a pensieve!" Rose exclaimed.

Max couldn't keep a chuckle from escaping him.

Rose took the moment of distraction to grab him.

"Tell me... or I'm going to start tickling you and I am merciless."

"Rose..."

Rose's fingers moved to his side.  "Ten... nine..."

Max sighed and kissed her hair.

"Eight... seven..."

"Okay.  I don't want to wake your aunt up."

Rose pulled away enough to peer into his eyes.  Needing a better look, she flipped on a lamp.

"Okay, I'm ready," she encouraged.

"I... I had a dream.  You were at my house... at night."

Rose gave an impish smile.  "Sounds promising."

Max groaned.

"Well... I mean... we are going to be married," Rose defended.  "It's okay to think about it.  Dream about it even."

"Rose, it... it wasn't that sort of dream.  It was a nightmare."

"Oh."

"You were crying a-and I found you in the kitchen b-but you were scared of... of me and it... it turns out you had good reason.  Your... your nose was bleeding a-and your eye... black a-and there..."  Max stared down at his hands.  "Blood on... on my hands and I... I had done..."  He began to sob.

Rose gasped and threw her arms around her fiance.

"You... you would never.  Oh, Max...  Don't... don't even think a-about that any... any more."

"My father..."

Rose shook her head then grabbed his hands and brought them to her lips.  She covered his palms and fingers in kisses.

"You are not your father."

"But his blood... his genes..."

Rose prayed for guidance, for words to comfort her beloved.

"King David...  Remind him about David and me, Rose."

Rose beamed.  She seldom heard Joshua so clearly.  Sitting up straight, she unblinkingly stared into Max's eyes.

"I think we better keep a close eye on Joshua when he visits," she declared.

Surprised by this announcement, Max only blinked in response.

"If it's like you say... if people are their blood and their genes and only that... then Joshua might very well call for one of you fellows to be killed so he can marry one of us girls.  After all, King David did it.  So somewhere in Joshua that desire... that impulse has got to be lurking, right?  We simply can't afford to trust him, Max."

Max gaped.

Rose heard laughter.

"Well?" she prodded.

"That's insane, Rose."

"It is, isn't it?  It would also be insane to be afraid of you when all I've ever known from you is tenderness... well, except when we play quidditch but the occasional bit of competitiveness is good, isn't it?"

Max's lips curved into a smile.  "I walked right into that one."

Rose nodded as she caressed his hair.  "I'd love to take all the credit but Joshua gave me the idea.  It's true, Max.  He's not his ancestors and you're not yours.  Even before today I knew that.  You're loyal and dedicated and... and remember the time you completely accidentally yanked my hair cause it got caught on your jacket?  I thought you were going to puke because you felt so awful.  There's not a mean bone or cell in your body."

"Rose..."

She leaned back into his arms and nuzzled his chest.

"We both come from dysfunctional families," Rose started.  "But that doesn't mean we're dysfunctional.  And... and we're Dyelanders!"

Max beamed.  "That we are."

"And we're the Harry Potter generation!  Which means we don't give up even if... if it gets scary and dark.  Cause... cause we have the best Patronus of all.  He's a lion and a lamb and a hen and a butterfly and a... well, he's lots of things.  And he'll guide us, Max," Rose counseled.  "We just need to stick with him a-and not pay any attention when the stupid Death Eaters try to get us to think of bad things."

Max tightened his hold of Rose and bent to kiss her.

"You're right... you're totally right."

Rose grinned.  "So long as you realize that before we're married."

Max laughed.  "I love you so much."

"I love you more."

"I don't know about that..."

"Equally then."

"Equally."

Rose was guiding Max's head down for another kiss when his phone rang.

"No..."

Rose watched anxiously as Max scrambled to answer.  She knelt behind him and circled her arms around his middle as he talked.

"Yeah... yeah, I'm with Rose, Dad.  Is Maja..."  Max let out a deep breath.  "No change.  Good.  So why..."

Max's hand raked through his hair.

"Dad, no...  Well, it's... it's never going to work.  They can try all they want b-but...  Actually... I... I think they may have already tried something but... but my Rose defeated them.  Soundly.  And that... that's how it's going to be every time.  We'll best them.  Every time."

When Max laid down, Rose snuggled beside him and gently placed her hand over his heart.

"I'm so sorry.  You... you don't need this.  But just... just keep focused on Maja.  We'll be fine.  Have you talked to Rabbi Yakov or Tiva?  And Vincent and Catherine?  Okay.  Good.  We'll come see you tomorrow.  I love you, too.  And just... be careful, Dad.  I know.  We will.  G'night."

Max sighed when he ended the call.

"What's going on?"

"That Reuel talked to Dad and... and turns out that... well, there are a couple demons who... they're after Dad.  Except... cept they're not targeting him directly."

Rose sat up.  "JenniAnn..."

Max gripped her hand.  "Reuel says that they can't have exactly orchestrated that.  Too weak.  But he thinks they're using that to their own advantage.  They know that with Maja being hurt... we're all vulnerable a-and with me..."

"Your nightmare!  Andrew's mentioned demons infiltrating dreams before!  Oh Max..."  Rose shivered and hugged his arm.

He kissed her hair.  "But now we're onto them a-and now... now I'll be vigilant.  Reuel suggested that none of us be wandering off on our own, though.  Dad agrees.  And so do I.  If you hadn't been here with me..."

"But I was.  I am.  And..."

Max looked on curiously as Rose slid off the cot and slipped into her own bed.

"Well, come on," she invited.

Despite the harrowing conversation he'd just ended, Max chuckled. 

"Rose, I don't think me staying in my cot constitutes 'wandering off.'"

"Maybe not.  But why chance it?"  Rose winked.

"You're serious?"

"Yes.  I think we can be trusted to not get ourselves into trouble."

"Rose..."

"Max..."

Blushing but pleased, Max grabbed his pillow and joined his fiancee. 

"It's not like we don't have a chaperone."

Rose pointed to Theo who was eying Max suspiciously.

"True...  I always thought Theo liked me."

"He does... but you moved into his turf."  Rose kissed Max's brow.  "He'll have to get used to it."

"Nothing about any of this gives you pause about marrying me?"

"Nothing," Rose stressed.  "I want my babies to look like you."

Max's face flushed as he grinned.  "You've watched It's a Wonderful Life with Maja too many times."

"No such thing as watching that too many times."

Rose smiled drowsily as Max kissed her.

"Wake me up if... if you have another nightmare."

"I will," Max promised.  "And you, too.  They... they might target you."

Rose shrugged before cuddling against Max.  "Expelliarmus, demons," she murmured.

Max tenderly caressed her cheek.  "You are wonderful."

"So are you."

After another sweet kiss, Rose drifted back to sleep.

Max watched over her and prayed for several minutes until his exhaustion caught up with him and he fell into another sleep, one filled with wedding bells and his parents... his real parents... dancing only inches away from him and his bride.

*~*~*

Family

Around 7:00 that morning, Andrew returned to JenniAnn's room carrying a coffee cup.  Twenty minutes before, Allison and Robert had come by and asked if they could spend time with their daughter.  Though he hadn't wanted to part from JenniAnn, the angel had agreed.

He gave the couple a sheepish smile as he entered the room.

"I won't stay but I thought...  JenniAnn loves her morning chai so much and I thought, even though she can't drink it, maybe the smell..."

Andrew carefully moved a vase of flowers and set the cup down.

"Will you be going to see Belle today, Andrew?" Allison asked.

The angel nodded.  "Violeta and the Levines will be up in a little bit.  They're bringing homemade pastries for breakfast.  You'll love them.  Tiva's a wonderful baker and I imagine Violeta was an enthusiastic helper."  He smiled.  "After I see them, I thought I'd go check on Belle and Shelby.  Actually, I was thinking maybe I'd bring them here for a little bit."

Allison balked.  "You'd let Belle see her mother like... like this?"

Andrew peered down at JenniAnn and stroked her hair.  He turned back to her parents.

"Don't you think it might be a little... intense for Belle?" Robert questioned.

"I'm actually more concerned about Shel.  Belle won't understand the significance of the IV line or heart monitor.  She's sensitive about blood but... but she won't see any.  She'll just think her Mama is sleeping.  And she is.  Catherine said she's been asking for her.  Seeing JenniAnn will help, I think.  And I think it'll do JenniAnn good, too.  There's not been a day since we found her that JenniAnn hasn't seen Belle."

"Whatever you think," Allison muttered.

Andrew flinched.  "Listen, can we talk?  I... I feel like things haven't been right between us since you found out about the health care agent paperwork and..."

"She's our daughter!" Allison cried.  "We've known her for almost thirty three years!  You've known her for less than half of that!"

The angel's eyes filled.

"Andrew, listen, we know...  We think it's great that Joshua blessed your... union," Robert explained.  "A child deserves to grow up in a sturdy, love-filled, two parent home.  I'm grateful Belle has that.  But the amount of control you exert over JenniAnn is..."

Andrew jolted.  "Wh-what?"

Allison swiped at a tear.  "Robert and I had a long talk about it last night and... and, Andrew, she was seventeen when you met!  A child!  And whether you meant to or not...  The... the moment you showed even a little interest in her...  We... we raised her to believe in angels, to pray the 'Angel of God' prayer... to... to believe that they were watching out for her a-and knew what was best b-but... you... you have your self-interest, too.  And maybe sometimes... maybe even without meaning to... you... push her towards what you think is best."

Andrew had been rubbing his temples but at her remark, his head shot up.

"I would never... never... try to control JenniAnn."

Reuel appeared in the doorway just as Andrew uttered his comeback.

"I... I love her a-and I value her opinions and feelings and..."

Reuel stepped into the room and rested a hand on his fellow angel's shoulder.

"Andrew, Max and Rose have arrived.  Why don't you come to the family room to update them?" he suggested.

Andrew looked from a downcast Allison and Robert to JenniAnn and then to Reuel.

"But..."

"They're anxious, Andrew.  It would help them," Reuel encouraged.

"Right.  Okay."  Andrew nodded.  He bent to kiss JenniAnn's forehead then left without saying another word to her parents.

"Did you... hear all that?" he asked Reuel once they were down the hall.

"Much of it.  And you could have gone on for several more minutes about it but it would have been purposeless.  Andrew, Allison and Robert are devastated, sleep-deprived, and terrified they'll lose their child.  Nothing you say right now is going to sink in.  I know it's hard to hear those things and you know and JenniAnn knows and, most importantly, God knows they're not true.  And, when they're in a better frame of mind, Allison and Robert will know they're in the wrong about you two.  If they honestly believed you were trouble, do you really think they would have waited a year and a half after Belle came along to say something?  She's their grandchild."

Andrew drew in a shaky breath.

"True.  But I... I keep thinking of your story.  It's not that I didn't know about the..."  He lowered his voice.  "Succubi and incubi before.  We all do.  But in a vague sort of way if we didn't directly deal with them.  What if that Nen and Tzila get to Allison and Robert?  What if they make them think that... that I want to control JenniAnn like they did all their prisoners?"

Reuel stopped walking and pulled Andrew to the side of the hall.

"If it was your JenniAnn here instead of me, what would she say to that?"

Andrew briefly closed his eyes, mentally conjuring her.

"That makes no sense!  First of all, you gave up your house... so it's not like you forced me to move.  And you took on a second job... the money from which goes into a bank account that I have access to.  If you're trying to control someone, giving them access to your own finances is generally a bad idea.  And, true, I put my money in the same account which means you have access to 'my' money but... your carpentry gig makes more than my two jobs combined so... if you are a control freak, you're an utterly untalented one, my love."

The angel of death smiled.

Reuel followed suit and clapped Andrew on the back.

"I would listen to her if I were you," he advised.

"Yeah..."  Andrew agreed. 

They continued onto the family room where they discovered that Yakov, Tiva, and Violeta had arrived.  The latter set down the box she was holding and threw her arms around Andrew.

"I missed you... although it was very nice at Tiva's and Rabbi Yakov's."

Andrew smiled gratefully at the Levines as he embraced his protege.  His smile grew when he released Violeta and, for the first time, noticed her outfit.  Most of the ensemble was her own, leggings and a long, belted tunic, but she was also wearing a blue crocheted sweater that he recognized as JenniAnn's.  Violeta had admired the sweater and, from then on, JenniAnn had let her borrow it whenever she wanted.

Violeta noticed Andrew's gaze.

"It's okay to wear this, isn't it?  It... it just makes JenniAnn feel closer."

Andrew nodded and smoothed some hair behind her ears.

"I think JenniAnn would be very glad that you're wearing her sweater."

"Good..."

After ensuring the door was tightly closed, Andrew took a seat and the others followed suit.

"How's Maja, Dad?" 

Andrew reached for Max's hand and squeezed it.

"Still no change.  How are you doing?  Tell me more about what happened last night."

Rose hugged Max's arm tightly as he prepared to respond.

"Yakov and I can step out into the hall if you'd like?" Tiva offered.

Max shook his head.  "No, it's okay.  Actually, I'd like you to stay.  We're all in this together, right?"

"Most assuredly," the rabbi replied.

"I don't know if it was... demonic... or not.  Honestly, it could have just been me but last night I dreamed that I, umm...  Well, Rose and I were married, I guess.  And... and I... I beat her up really badly.  I didn't actually do it in the nightmare... just saw the aftermath but that... that was enough."  Max swiped at a tear.  "To be honest, it was weighing on me that... well, the genes... the blood... of a man who... who shot Maja a-and beat his wife... they're in me."

"Which I told him was nonsense... and Joshua agreed," Rose added.

"Joshua came?" Tiva asked.

Rose shook her head.  "No, but I heard him more clearly than I ever have when he's not been standing right there.  If it was demons making Max dream that... well, they're no match for the One on our side."

Reuel frowned.  "I should have told Andrew before... about Nen and Tzila... the demons.  Max might have been spared.  I'm sorry."

Max shrugged and offered a forgiving smile to the angel. 

"Don't be.  Like I said, the thoughts were already there and I think I needed to hear Rose beat them down.  So... if that nightmare was from them... they may have inadvertently done me a favor." 

Rose beamed as Max smiled proudly at her before sobering.

"Still...  I'm worried for the girls."

Andrew nodded gravely.  "Me too.  Catherine called about an hour ago.  Something set Belle and Shelby off last night but... but they're little girls.  Nightmares... especially at times like this... they happen."

"Did Vincent sense anything amiss?" Tiva checked.  "He is so sensitive..."

"No, he didn't.  So that's good."

"Love is a very powerful force... the most powerful," Reuel explained.  "If I may speak frankly... a great many of you have struggled with loving yourselves but, without fail, love one another very much.  Hence, Max could far more easily turn against himself but Rose could not and would not turn against him."  He smiled at the couple.  "That's why I advised that no one be on their own for more than a few minutes.  I assume the little ones would not be often left on their own?"

"They wouldn't," Andrew assented.  "Catherine would like to come back here today but Vincent said he'll stay near Belle and Shelby.... except when they come visit JenniAnn and then I'll be with them."

"And little Jacob?" Rabbi Yakov checked.  "He is, after all, JenniAnn's godson."

"Yes.  He stayed with Liam at Veritas last night.  It had been planned earlier in the week and Jacob still wanted to go.  But the two boys are going to stay Below now until this is... resolved.  Arthur and Monica will be there, too."

"Wh-what about our pets?" Violeta quietly asked.

Andrew hugged her.  "Adam's staying at Willowveil now, too.  Clay will need to go back to work tomorrow but Randall's sending the boys in shifts so someone will always be there with Adam and Kylie to help if needed.  Eli said he's been stopping in, too, when he's not helping Henry amuse the kids at the Phoenix.  Clay set the baby monitor up in the stable and he and Adam will listen for any disturbances.  But now we need to talk about you, sweetheart."

Tiva nodded.  "Ivy offered to come stay with Violeta.  We would be happy to have her join us."

Violeta rested her head on Andrew's shoulder.  "I... I just don't want her being at risk, too."

Andrew's eyes filled.  "Violeta, I... I know what it feels like to... to think people are in danger just because... cause they love you a-and you love them.  This is all... it's happening because... cause of... of me a-and..."

"Andrew..."  Violeta adamantly shook her head. 

"Dad, that's not... not true.  Not really," Max protested.

"Your boy's right," Reuel agreed.  "Perhaps I'm too blame.  After all, it was my people they intended to see destroyed initially but we denied them that victory and left them hungry for another.  And we did that with the help of our God.  Shall we blame Him?"

Andrew sat up straight.  "Of course not."

"Then neither should you blame yourself, Andrew."

Rabbi Yakov grinned.  "I like you very much, sir.  No nonsense.  You'd make a good rabbi."

Reuel chuckled.  "Thank you."

"You went through a lot for me, Dad.  Do you blame me for that?" Max questioned, already knowing the answer.

"Of course not.  You didn't choose to be captured anymore than I chose to be targeted by... by those two.  You're all right," Andrew admitted, smiling at all of them.

"I'm glad you realize it, my friend!" the rabbi replied before turning to the younger angel.  "Violeta, Ivy is your friend and wants to help you.  Don't you think it's also possible that it's very difficult for her to be so far away when she knows what's happening here?  How frustrating it must feel..."

"True...  And maybe Sy could spend time with her, too.  I... I think I would want to be near my boyfriend at a time like this.  If I had a boyfriend, I mean.  I don't want a boyfriend!" Violeta insisted.

Tiva gave a soft laugh.  "Then it sounds like a plan to me.  How about we spend some time here, maybe visit JenniAnn if that's okay, and then we'll go visit your babies and pick Ivy up there?"

"I would like that," Violeta agreed.  "So... everything went okay with JenniAnn last night?"

"It did.  We had a very peaceful night.  Hopefully today we can see what yesterday's EEG revealed."

The others all looked at each other when Andrew bowed his head.  They knew the results of that test could change everything.

"How's everything with Allison and Robert?" Max ventured.

Andrew heaved a sigh.  "Well...  This morning was rough going.  I think they're just..."  He glanced at Reuel.  "The grief is making it hard for them to... to..."

"Perhaps Fr. Mike could talk to them after Masses are over?" Tiva offered.  "Surely they would trust him to speak the truth."

Andrew nodded.  "I'll ask him.  Thanks."

Rabbi Yakov held out his hands.  "I think, before we do or say anything else, we should pray together... in the name of our Joshua."

The others all nodded agreement and joined hands.

"God, King of the Universe, we ask you to bring healing to JenniAnn," he began.  "May the embrace of Your love be felt by all of us.  May Allison and Robert know that You, too, love JenniAnn as Your daughter and You are with them in their grief and worry.  Please, Lord, lend Your truth to them.  We thank You for the bonds You have built up between all of us.  Please grant that Your love and our love for each other will protect us from those who seek to do harm.  In Joshua's name we pray."

"Amen," the others echoed.

After a series of embraces, Reuel clasped Yakov's hand.

"Well done, Rabbi.  You'd make a good priest," he praised.

As Yakov laughed, Tiva spun around to face the angel.

"As his wife, I think I would have to object to that."  She wagged her finger at her husband.  "No celibacy for you!"

The others joined in on the rabbi's laughter as he pulled Tiva to him.

Reuel shrugged as he continued to smile.  "In my land, priests marry... and are sometimes female."

Max's jaw dropped for a moment.

Andrew's chuckling ended with a sigh.  "JenniAnn would love it there, I think."

Reuel squeezed his shoulder.  "I hope, one day, you all will be able to visit us... JenniAnn included."

"I... I really hope so," Andrew replied. 

After more hugs, the angel of death settled down to returning texts and calls to all their friends who were awaiting an update and, in some cases, permission to visit.

*~*~*

JenniAnn studied the young woman who was spinning around in a flurry of magnolia petals that were falling.  It was Josef's Sarah who had been eager to see her.  Years before, when it had been Sarah laying in a coma, the two had still managed to bond over being in love with men who would outlive them.  Talking freely about "their fellas," as Sarah called Andrew and Josef, had been an unexpected blessing.   JenniAnn rejoiced over seeing the girl-spirit with so much vitality and joy.  She wished for a way to capture the image to take back to Josef... assuming she went back.

Sarah let out a lusty sigh then sat back down across from JenniAnn and Sophia.

"I love it when that happens.  And look!  The blossoms are still as rich and full as before."

JenniAnn smiled up at the magnificent magnolia tree they were sitting beneath.

"I wish Josef could see you like this, Sarah.  It would do him so much good."

Sarah bit her lip for a moment.  "He does see... but he thinks they're only dreams."

"Beth's told me that Joshua promised her the cure was coming.  So Josef..."

"I don't think he'll take it when it does come.  At least not for a long while.  He feels like he needs to make amends for... for my death.  And others, too.  But mostly mine."

JenniAnn reached for Sarah's hand.  "He's not miserable... not usually.  And the work he does... so many women and children have infinitely better lives because of what your Josef does."

Sarah smiled.  "I know.  I watch the rescues often.  And Heaven rejoices over each one."  She laughed.  "Oh if Josef only knew how many saints and angels are watching over him and cheering him on!  Of course, he'd probably be horrified at first... but then happy.  Do you know that some of those trafficking victims he helps actually think he's an angel?"

"It doesn't surprise me.  And he is an angel to them... bringing them peace and hope and freedom and..."

Sophia stroked JenniAnn's hair when her voice drifted off.

Sarah looked tenderly at the other woman.  "I think you're missing your own angel."

With a nod, JenniAnn swiped at a tear.  "I am.  And I can't help but wonder how things are going for all of them."

"You could always ask," Sophia encouraged.

JenniAnn nodded.  "I will.  In a little bit.  It's just...  I can hear them talking to me.  A-and I know some of them are crying.  But a lot of them, Andrew included, have a chirpy sort of tone so... so I know he's hiding something.  Maybe many somethings.  And something my parents said..."  She sighed and looked up at the gorgeous sky.  "I think I really screwed up.  I never told them... see, with Belle, Andrew and I just wanted to make sure we were as responsible as possible.  So she'd be taken care of if... if something happened to either of us.  So we got a joint bank account and gave each other medical power of attorney.  I always meant to tell my parents... I mean it was my idea to do that.  But every time I'd plan to tell them... I dunno.  It just never seemed right.  And now I'm afraid they aren't thinking too well of Andrew and maybe even think he talked me into all that b-but he didn't."

"I think I know something of what you feel, JenniAnn.  My father absolutely vilified Josef... and I was the one who begged him to turn me."  Sarah shook her head then reached for JenniAnn's hand.  "I think you should do what I failed to do then: talk to Joshua."

"Yeah...  He does know best after all."  A breezy smile lit up JenniAnn's face.

"And, wouldn't you know, here he comes now."  Sophia waved to Joshua as he walked towards them.

"Hello, ladies!" he called.

They all shouted greetings back then Sarah and Sophia hugged JenniAnn.

"We're going to head Home for a little while but I'll see you soon," Sophia assured.

"Have a good talk!  I know you will!" Sarah gushed.

"Thank you.  Both of you."  JenniAnn kissed her godmother's cheek then took the other woman's hand.  "And, Sarah, it's been so lovely really talking to you."

Sarah beamed.  "I enjoyed it, too!  See you soon!"

Joshua smiled after the two as they disappeared then held his hand out to JenniAnn.  "Walk with me?"

Nodding, JenniAnn let him help her up.  Arm in arm, they walked into a nearby forest.

"Everything here is so beautiful..." JenniAnn opined.  "Did it look like this last time?  I remember there being beauty but nothing like this!"

"For the most part.  You only had eyes for Andrew last time," Joshua reminded.

With a blush and a smile, JenniAnn nodded.  "It felt so good to see him... touch him."

Joshua tightened his hold of her arm when she sniffled.  "I know."

JenniAnn shivered.

Joshua summoned a shawl and draped it around her.

"Thanks, Joshua."

"You're welcome.  And, yes, it was a lot about the people... not the physical pain."

JenniAnn's eyes filled as he answered her unspoken question: Was that why you sweat blood?  The idea that you'd kissed, hugged, touched your mother, your friends for the last time?

"I... I don't know how you did that."

"I trusted that it wasn't the last time but... it was still painful to consider."

JenniAnn sniffled again.  Tears began to trail down her cheeks.

"Hey, now.  Come here."  Joshua pulled her against him.

JenniAnn rested her ear against his chest and listened to his heartbeat.

Joshua softly rocked and hummed his lullaby.

When JenniAnn calmed some, he began to speak in hushed tones.

"I know you're worried about your parents and, yes, there have been some difficult moments between them and Andrew.  And, yes, it would have been good if you'd told them before about the decisions you and Andrew made.  But I understand why you had difficulty opening up with them.  I do, JenniAnn. 
Please believe that I can use this all for good.  Let me reveal what they need to know in my time, okay?"

JenniAnn didn't budge.  "Okay."

"And now there's something that you need to hear."

Keeping an arm around JenniAnn's waist, Joshua lead her to a tree branch that was low enough to the ground to serve as a bench.  When they were both seated, Joshua took the woman's hands in his.

"Dear one, Andrew and your parents are meeting with a doctor right now to go over the results of the MRI and EEG they did yesterday."

"EEG...  Is that the test they did when I got diagnosed with epilepsy?  The one with the goopy stuff in my hair?"

Joshua laughed.  "Yes but don't worry, they got the 'goopy stuff' out."

"Good...  So... what is the doctor saying?"

"First, I want you to know that it's Edmund... Dr. Talson.  Clay called the veterans' hospital after he got word of what happened so that they could pray for you.  Edmund happened to be there and he wasn't scheduled at James J. Peters today so he went to New York Presbyterian so he could help Andrew and your family."

"I'm so glad... and humbled... that he did that."

"He is and will always be very grateful to Andrew.  There was no keeping him away today."

"So... what is he telling them?"

"Listen with me," Joshua invited.

JenniAnn nodded and gripped his hands more tightly as she began to hear voices.

*~*~*

Andrew, Allison, and Robert sat nearby as Dr. Talson administered a series of tests designed to demonstrate JenniAnn's level of brain activity.  The three watched intently as the doctor lifted JenniAnn's right hand and pressed down on her nail bed.  They gasped when she pulled her hand away.

Andrew leapt up from the chair he was seated on but the doctor motioned for him to stay put. 

"Just a couple more things I need to check," he explained.

Dr. Talson lifted JenniAnn's eyelids and studied her pupils before turning to the others.

"I'm going to squirt a small amount of cold water into her right ear now so I can study her eye move..."

Andrew gasped then rose and grabbed JenniAnn's hand.

"Wh-what's going on?" Robert choked out.

Dr. Talson stared at JenniAnn for a few moments then turned to her parents.

"Her hand jerked.  I think she just had one of her seizures," he explained.  "I'm sorry.  I probably stressed her."  He patted his patient's arm.  "Forget what I said about the cold water, JenniAnn.  I'm all done."

Andrew smiled at the doctor.  "I'm sure she's glad to hear that.  She's kinda sensitive about her ears.  Still gets infections sometimes."

"Well, then I don't blame you at all, sweetheart," the physician assured.  "But... I do want to talk to you three about those seizures."  Dr. Talson settled onto a stool.  "First, I want all three of you to know that the results of the MRI and EEG were promising as were the tests I just did now.  We didn't see any evidence of severe damage to the brain.  However, during both the MRI and the EEG, seizure activity was observed.  No convulsions.  I think we can safely assume they were the complex partial seizures that JenniAnn's been living with for years.  But the frequency...  That would be at least three in less than 24 hours.  Is that normal for her?"

"She hasn't mentioned having any to me in a while," Allison replied.

"She had one back in March.  We figured it was the weather change," Andrew related.  "Then about the middle of last month... yeah, because it was the night after Beth's birthday dinner.  So the 14th.  We couldn't be sure but her hand jerked like that.  She stayed asleep but was exhausted the next morning so we figured it was probably a seizure."

Allison and Robert glanced at each other then looked curiously at Andrew.

"But three so close together...  I don't think that's happened since she was in college.  Maybe never.  I can remember two in one day but not three."  Andrew peered at JenniAnn and stroked her face.  "Laja..."

"So does that explain the coma?" Robert questioned.

Dr. Talson shook his head.  "No.  It doesn't.  And, to be honest with you, we can't really explain it.  But possibly there was some damage to JenniAnn's brain and it's trying to right itself.  The seizures could be evidence of that, too.  If that's the case, this coma is a blessing in disguise.  And she certainly needs the rest physically with all that loss of blood and a punctured lung."

"But then, if we don't know what's causing it, how... how do we know when or... or if she'll come out of it?" Allison pressed.

The physician's eyes were full of compassion as he took in JenniAnn's mother.

"We can't know... not for sure.  But we can hope and we can pray.  And, from what I hear, JenniAnn knows she's not alone."

"The head nurse said we could forgo the 'only two people at a time' rule so long as we keep the room kind of quiet," Andrew told him.

Dr. Talson nodded.  "Sounds like a good deal to me.  I have a meeting here tomorrow.  Would you mind if I checked back in then?"

Andrew glanced at Allison and Robert who smiled appreciatively at the doctor and nodded.

"We'd really appreciate that, Edmund.  Thank you."

The doctor clasped the angel's hand in both of his.  "Anything I can do for you and your family... you know I will, Andrew.  You did so much for mine."

Allison and Robert looked on, curious, as the two embraced.  When they broke apart, Dr. Talson shook their hands.

"If you have any questions, don't hesitate to call me.  Day or night.  Andrew has my cell number."

"Thank you, Dr. Talson," Robert replied.

"Thank you," Allison echoed.

Before exiting the room, Dr. Talson lightly set a hand on JenniAnn's shoulder and closed his eyes in prayer.

Andrew smiled after the man as he left.

"He knows?  Who and what you are?" Robert queried.

Andrew nodded.  "I had to tell him.  JenniAnn and I brought Belle to meet him when she was a few weeks old and by then I had a different name so...  Joshua said to go ahead and tell him rather than have him wonder if I was on the up-and-up or not."

"What did he mean about you did so much for his family?"

"His son was killed in the IED explosion that Max survived.  I told him that God was with him and the other soldiers.  And, later, I told him that I took his boy Home.  It gave him and his wife a lot of peace."

Before the Chandlers could respond, there was a light knock on the door.  Andrew swiveled around and smiled at Kemara and Sean.

"Hi.  We saw Dr. Talson in the hall and he said now would maybe be a good time to just pop in and, umm, say hello," Sean related.  "We won't stay long."

"Absolutely.  We just got a pretty good report from him."  Andrew waved the couple in then moved away from JenniAnn's bed.

The two quietly approached and Kemara softly patted her friend's hand.

"Good morning, JenniAnn.  Sean and I were headed to Mass but wanted to come say hello."

Still seated in her chair, Allison was fixated on Kemara's expanded waistline.

"We stopped by Willowveil first," Sean added.  "Emma and Peter were there.  I think Yonah was thrilled to see them."

Allison suddenly stood up and fled the room with Robert trailing her.

Alarmed, Kemara turned to Andrew.

"I'm sorry.  Are they upset that we're here?"

The angel of death frowned.  "They're just plain upset.  I'll talk to them later.  Don't worry about it."

Kemara refocused on JenniAnn.

"There are so many people praying for you, JenniAnn.  Clay and Kylie said some of your old friends have been calling Willowveil, hoping for positive updates.  So many people..."  Kemara swiped at a tear but smiled.  "Sean and I are going to step out now.  Max really wants to see his 'Maja' so we don't want to hold him and Rose up any more.  I... I hope we see each other again... soon."

Sean circled an arm around his wife's waist.

"Hang in there, JenniAnn," he encouraged.  "Someone needs to keep Andrew in line."

Chuckling, Andrew nodded in agreement.

Kemara rolled her eyes.  "So typical..."

Sean grinned. 

Andrew set a hand on the man's back.  "Let me just get Rose and Max updated on what Dr. Talson said and then do you have a couple minutes?  If you do, I'll be talking to the others in the family room."

"Sure," Kemara agreed.  "We'll send Max and Rose in."

Andrew hugged the two and, when they were gone, clasped JenniAnn's hand.

"I love you," he murmured.  "Always."

*~*~*

JenniAnn swiped at tears.

"I love you, too.  Always."

She rested her head against Joshua's shoulder.

"I... I feel like Adam in Children of Eden when... when he has to choose between his God and his lover... but it's worse because... cause you're not kinda weird like God is in that."

Joshua smiled as he rested his cheek against her hair.

"I dunno.  I've always thought I was kind of weird," he countered.

JenniAnn laughed.  "Okay, well, you're weird in a better way.  A-and I remember what you said... it's not choosing for or against you.  B-but it does feel that way.  Although worse on the 'lover' side, too.  Andrew's not kinda dippy like Eve is in that." 

Chuckling, Joshua nodded.  "Okay, that I'll agree with.  Andrew isn't dippy."

"He's so lovely...  You're so lovely..."

"Thank you.  And, please, don't worry yourself over making a choice.  It's not time for that yet."

"Okay.  So... why am I in a coma?"

Joshua brushed some stray hair behind her ear when she sat up.

"Did you put me in it, so to speak?  So I could heal?" JenniAnn continued to question.

Joshua shook his head.  "No.  Although the coma is allowing your body to heal."

"Then what is it?"

"Not what, JenniAnn.  Who." 

JenniAnn peered into his eyes, feeling once again as if they were a vast ocean that held her and all she held dear.  She admired the glints of gold and then, suddenly, the forest disappeared.

*~*~*

"Dear one, come here.  Come to me."

JenniAnn tore her horrified gaze away from Catherine, Vincent, and her bloodied body.  She saw Joshua standing only a few feet away, his arms held aloft.

"Joshua..." 

She threw herself at the carpenter and clung to him, burying her face in his chest.

Joshua held her as she sobbed.

"Josh- Joshua...  Don't... don't let me go..."

"I won't let you go.  I'll never let you go, JenniAnn."

JenniAnn peeled herself away just enough to steal a glimpse of her cousins.  Vincent ran off... but not too far off.  Catherine wept and frantically screamed.  Then there were sirens and EMTs running towards them.  She flinched and again hid her face after more blood poured from her chest.

"I... I want to leave.  I want to stay with you.  I want to... to always be with you."

"She's asystolic!"

Turning back around, JenniAnn saw Catherine slump against a police officer.

JenniAnn fainted but Joshua kept hold of her.  He lifted her into his arms and disappeared from the alley, reappearing near the island's stream.

"There he is!"

"He's carrying her.  Why is he carrying her?"

Joshua stepped through the cottage's open door and headed to the bed.

"Joshua, I heard them say asystolic before I left my boy.  Is she..."

"She's alive, Lor," Joshua replied as he gently laid JenniAnn down.  "They got her heart beating again just now."

"So why is she here?" Chava asked.

"She wants to be.  Actually, she wants to be Home.  But I know she was reacting out of panic and shock.  When she makes her choice, I want her to be making it with a sound mind and spirit.  Her body will be in a coma until she's made her decision.  I can use that time to begin to heal the damage wrought by the gun shot wound."

"Poor Andrew and all the others..." Sophia murmured.

"Papa...  Mama...  They must be so upset."

Cora embraced her grandson as Joshua squeezed his hand.

"We'll pray for them and for JenniAnn."

Jamey nodded.

While Joshua remained seated beside JenniAnn, the other spirits surrounded the bed, joined hands, and prayed.

*~*~*

"Me," JenniAnn murmured. 

Joshua patted her back.

"So... so I... I'm doing this to my friends and family?"

"No!  JenniAnn, it's simply not the case that you were ever going to get to the hospital, have surgery, and come right out of it as if nothing happened," Joshua counseled.  "If you hadn't come here of your own accord, they would have put you in a medically induced coma, anyway.  And even if not...  Dear one, the shock of the event itself and the blood and oxygen loss... it has exacerbated your epilepsy.  You've had several seizures, most of which have gone unnoticed.  But they wouldn't have been were you lucid.  It wouldn't have been easy for any of them to have seen you cycling through the confusion, nausea, and lethargy.  And think of it this way... do you blame Andrew and consider him selfish when he decides to come Home after an assignment?"

"Never."

"You need this time here... just as he sometimes needs time in Heaven."

"I just... I needed you."

"And I'm here... and I'll always be with you."

JenniAnn nodded and snuggled closer to Joshua, again allowing herself to be lulled by the beat of his heart.

*~*~*

Andrew had attempted to talk to Allison and Robert but had been unable to find them after a search of the waiting area, gift shop, and chapel.  Unsure of what else to do, he had texted them to tell them he was going Below to get the girls.  "OK" was the only response he had received.  He hoped they would surface soon and allow themselves to be cheered by their granddaughter.

Andrew kissed Belle's curls as she cuddled against him while he carried her through the hospital hallways.  Shelby tightly gripped his free hand.  Eliot, Owen, and Catherine followed them.  When they neared JenniAnn's door, Andrew crouched in front of Shelby.

"You know you don't have to do this if you don't want to, right?  You could wait outside with Eliot and Owen."

Shelby nodded.  "I... I know.  But I want to see Psyche."

Andrew kissed her forehead.  "Then we will."

Shelby sucked in a deep breath as Andrew led her into the hospital room.

"Mama!" Belle shrieked, grinning.

Andrew smiled.  "Mama's sleeping but she can hear us."

"Mama!"

Shelby began to cry and, for a moment, clung to Catherine who stroked her hair.

"Pitty fo Mama."

Andrew chuckled as Belle dangled a macaroni bracelet that she and Shelby had made.

"Should we put the pretty on Mama?" he checked.

Belle nodded as Andrew sat in a chair beside the bed and settled the toddler onto his lap.

"We have to be very, very gentle, okay?"

"O-ay."

"Here, how about we do this?"  Andrew looped the bracelet around Belle's wrist.  "Now can you hold Mama's hand?"

Belle wrapped her fingers around JenniAnn's thumb.

"Good girl.  Here we go."  Andrew pushed the bracelet off of Belle and onto JenniAnn.

"Pitty!"

While keeping hold of Catherine's hand, Shelby smiled.

Belle's lips pursed.

"You wanna give Mama a kiss?"

Belle clamored for JenniAnn.

Andrew held Belle aloft so she could plant a kiss on JenniAnn's brow.

"Mama eepy."

Andrew brushed at a tear.

"Yes, Belle."

Belle puckered her lips again.  "Dada."

Andrew smiled as she kissed him.

"Amma!"

Catherine gave a teary eyed smile to her granddaughter.

"I would definitely take a kiss."

She took Belle from Andrew who then turned his gaze on Shelby.

"Do you want to come closer, Shel, or not?  It's okay if..."

Shelby stepped nearer to the bed and then, to Andrew's surprise, settled onto his lap.  She hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek then swiveled to face JenniAnn.

"Hi Psyche.  I... I miss you.  I love you.  I want... want you to... to get better."

Shelby began to cry again.

"I'm so... so sorry that... the... the man..." 

Andrew circled his arms around the girl as she sobbed.

Catherine motioned to the door, afraid that Belle would start crying, too, if they lingered.

Andrew nodded then began to softly rock Shelby.

"'Tender shepherd, tender shepherd, let me help you count your sheep...'"

After a few rounds, Shelby's sobs eased.

"Why..."

"Why what, honey?  You can say or ask anything."

"Why did Joshua let this happen?"

Andrew sighed and kissed Shelby's hand.  "Because he gave us free will and it wouldn't really be free will if he took it back whenever someone misused it.  But you know what?"

"What?"

"I think he'll use this for good.  I think Psyche's with him right now and... and she needs that.  What happened was scary but, right now, she feels no fear or pain... just love.  And I think if she rests for a while and just concentrates on soaking in that love from Joshua and the Father and all of us... she'll come back to us."

"I... I keep praying that'll happen."

"Good.  So am I."

"Andrew?"

"Hmm?"

"I... I don't want the demons to hurt you."

Andrew frowned as he cuddled her nearer.  There had been some debate over whether to tell Shelby about the demons but between Max's nightmare and Shelby's own unrest; he, Vincent, and Catherine had decided that telling her would be best.

"You know what?  They may try but God's so much stronger than them.  And God's protecting me and you and Psyche and everyone.  But if you start to feel really scared or nervous or if you have a nightmare... you need to tell Catherine and Vincent right away.  And you can call me, too.  Cause we're all going to help protect each other.  Okay?"

"Okay."  Shelby breathed in shakily then looked to JenniAnn again.  "She looks really good.  Like... like she is just sleeping.  Like... like Sleeping Beauty."

"Do you know that when I first met Psyche, I called her Princess?"

Shelby smiled and shook her head.  "Why?"

"Because she was one!"

"Oh, right.  But she wasn't really, right?"

Andrew laughed.  "Like I was going to tell her that!  But, you know, she was... is a princess in a way.  And so are you.  You're children of God, children of the King."

Shelby's head lolled back onto Andrew's shoulder.  "Then you're a prince."

"Guess so!"

"Can I sing a song for Psyche?"

"I think she would like that very much."

Shelby slipped off Andrew's lap and took JenniAnn's hand in both of hers.

Andrew listened with tears in his eyes as Shelby sang an old Irish lullaby.  He could remember JenniAnn rocking the toddler she had been and singing the same haunting song.

"Sleep, oh babe, for the red bee hums
the silent twilight's fall.
Aoibheall from the gray rock comes
to wrap the world in thrall.
A leanbhín ó, my child, my joy,
my love and heart's desire.
The crickets sing you a lullaby
beside the dying fire."

*~*~*

When Andrew returned from the Tunnels where he'd dropped off Belle and Shelby, he found Fr. Mike standing outside the family room.  The priest waved him over.

"What's going on?  JenniAnn..."

"Is fine.  I just came from her room not fifteen minutes ago.  Allison and Robert are with her now."

"Oh good.  They're back.  I was getting worried.  So who's in there?"

"As I approached, I saw Matthew and Tyron wave Max and Rose in."

Andrew dragged his hand through his hair.  "How did Max look?"

"Uncertain.  I don't think they'd had a chance to say much to him yet.  Maybe you should go in," Fr. Mike suggested.

"Yeah, I think so."

Andrew knocked and the door immediately opened.

"Andrew, good.  Come on in.  Oh hi, Fr. Mike," Tyron greeted.

"Can he come in, too?" an unseen Max called.

Tyron looked to the priest.  "Would you?"

"Of course," Fr. Mike consented.

Once the two entered, the police officer closed the door behind them.

Max immediately hugged first Andrew and then Fr. Mike.

"They found him... got him.  A-and he still had the gun with him so... so..."  Max heaved a sigh then sunk back down onto the couch with Rose.

Andrew settled to his other side.  "And how are you handling that news?"

"I... I'm glad.  Demons be damned, him running around scared me more than them.  A-and I'm glad he had the gun and so the... the case should be open and shut, right?"  Max peered up at Matthew and Tyron.

"Given he can't afford a pricey lawyer who would employ every trick in the book... yeah," Matthew assured.  "It should be.  Especially with two... three eye witnesses.  Catherine and the homeless man and I really believe JenniAnn will be able to speak up, too."

"Good...  I'm so... relieved."

Rose rubbed Max's back, noting how tense he remained.

"A-and his wife?  She knows?" Max questioned.

Tyron nodded.  "She does.  Another couple officers went to the Phoenix to tell her."

"Thank you."

Andrew noticed that Max was shaking.

"Max, is there anything I can do for you?  Get for you?  Have you eaten?" he asked.

The young man nodded.  "I had a couple pastries.  I just..."

"Just what, Max?" Rose encouraged.

"So... angry.  I still... if he were here a-and no one was here to... to stop me...  I think I would try... try to kill him."

"Max..."  Andrew gripped Max's hand as Rose embraced him.

"It's not... not Joshuan at all," Max admitted.  He looked up at Fr. Mike.  "Even though I'm not Catholic, I think of you as our sort of family chaplain.  Could you pray that... that I can let go of my anger?" he requested.

"I will certainly do that, Max," Fr. Mike agreed.  "How about we all pray together right now?"

The other five all readily agreed.

While Andrew and Rose remained as they were, Fr. Mike rested a hand on Max's head while Matthew and Tyron folded their hands.

"Dear God, you know the hurt that our beloved friend, Max, is feeling.  You know how that hurt and grief has turned him towards anger and is depriving him of peace.  We ask you to please soothe his spirit and let Your love fill his being... driving out the anger and negativity.  Let those harmful feelings be chased out by the love of his fiancee, Rose, and of Andrew, a true father to him, and of his Maja and of all of us, his friends.  Joshua, you called us all together and we know it is in Your power to keep us all together, bound up by Your love for us and through us.  Help Max to focus on that closeness and that support.  Thank You.  Amen."

"Amen," the other five echoed.

Max drew in and let out a deep breath.  He smiled at the others.

"Thank you.  I know I'll still struggle against it for a while but... I already feel better."

Fr. Mike beamed.  "God doesn't waste time."

Max chuckled.  "No, he doesn't."

Rose kissed his cheek.  "I love you."

"I love you, too.  And you, Dad, and... and all of you.  Thank you."

Another round of hugs began anew and, when they ceased, Max felt even more like his usual self.

*~*~*

At long last, Andrew found himself alone with the Chandlers.  After the Levines had returned with Ivy and Violeta, Robert and Allison had gone to the family room while the two teens visited JenniAnn.

"I wanted to apologize for earlier," Andrew began.  "I probably should have asked Kemara and Sean to wait just a little bit on coming in so we could have talked, just the three of us, about what Dr. Talson said.  I just knew that JenniAnn would want to hear from them but waiting a few minutes would have been fine."

"There wasn't much to talk about
," Allison replied.  "It's a waiting game.  We all knew that before.  It's fine."

Based on her tone, Andrew wasn't convinced her words were true. 

"Is there something else I did or said or... or anything I can do to help both of you?" he offered.

Robert opened his mouth but Allison spoke first.

"Why is Violeta wearing my daughter's sweater?  She... she's already going through her things?"

"Oh, no, no, no," Andrew assured.  "Not at all.  It's just that Violeta loves that sweater and so JenniAnn lets her borrow it sometimes.  Violeta wore it today because it made her feel like JenniAnn was close.  Sort of a security blanket thing."

"JenniAnn is not her mother," Allison muttered.

"I... I know that, Allison.  I do.  And Violeta knows that.  But she does look to JenniAnn for guidance and comfort and so..."

"Andrew, I think we're both just a little overwhelmed," Robert explained.  "It's just so many people..."

Andrew closed his eyes for a moment.  "Would you like me to ask people to stop coming around?"

Allison and Robert looked at each other.

"Or, you know, you don't have to leave the room when the others do come in.  Everyone would understand your staying," the angel continued.  "I know Kemara and Sean wouldn't have minded."

Allison's eyes welled.

"Darling..." Robert murmured as his own eyes filled and he wrapped his arms around his wife.

Andrew reached for her hand.  "Allison, I am so sorry this is all happening a-and with your birthday tomorrow... it... it just makes it harder and I wish... I wish I could make it all better but..."

Allison's head jolted up.

"But you can't!" she cried.  "And... and if JenniAnn dies then... then so does every... every bit of her.  Her... her hair and her eyes a-and her... her smile..."

The woman stood and began to pace, swiping at her eyes as she did.

"I wouldn't t-trade Belle for... for the world.  I wouldn't!  B-but why... why couldn't you just be friends?  Why couldn't you stay far enough away that... that she could have found someone a-and had babies of her own and... and adopted Belle, too!  B-but then... her smile... a baby..."

Tears rolled down Andrew's cheeks but he said nothing.  He knew Allison needed to get it out of her system... all of it.

"How did you know she had a seizure at night, Andrew?" Robert questioned.

"I... I was there when it happened," he replied.

"You were... in her room?"

Andrew nodded.

"In... in her bed?"

"It... it's not what you think, Robert.  We just..."

"It is exactly what we think!" Allison spat out.  "You can't have sex with her!  That much is obvious which... which means you can't get her pregnant but you drew her so... so close that... that she couldn't be happy with anyone else!"

Andrew jumped out of his chair.

"I love her!" he shouted.  "And, yes, I... I wanted to... to be close to her.  But... but JenniAnn, she... she wanted that, too.  I would never, ever have... have forced her into... into anything!  Do you really think Joshua would allow me anywhere near her if... if I had?  Let alone... en-encouraged us as he has?" Andrew demanded.

Allison stared mutely at him then turned away.  Robert grabbed her when she began to teeter.

Devastated, Andrew hurried out of the room and nearly collided with Reuel and Max as they approached, each holding a pizza box.

"Dad!"

Max handed his box to Reuel then took Andrew's arm.

"Dad..." he repeated.

Reuel studied the angel of death.

"Andrew, I think you should go home for a while.  Take a nap.  You look very pale."

"That's a good idea," Max agreed.  "C'mon, Dad.  Someone will call if anything changes."

"I... I'm sorry," Andrew murmured.

Max and Reuel exchanged a confused look.  The angel waved the young man on.  He prayed as he watched the two disappear down the hall.

*~*~*

What the Vampire Heard


Andrew stared at his own bed.  It seemed foreign and cold.

"Oh, there you are."

Max entered the room and frowned when he saw the angel mutely glaring at his bed.

"Dad, maybe... I... I know it might be hard but... but maybe you should stay in Maja's room... where you're comfortable."

"Andrew, can I get you anything to eat?" Kylie offered from the hallway.

Andrew turned to her and attempted a smile.  "No.  Thank you."

"How about an orange juice and ginger ale?" Clay tried.

"No.  Thanks."

"Maybe after you've napped a little," Max suggested.

Andrew nodded and slid into his bed.

Kylie hurried to draw the blinds.

"We'll be down in the kitchen if you need anything," she whispered.

"Thank you."

Andrew heard the three talking quietly in the hall then the creak of the stairs.

He stared up at the ceiling for what seemed like several minutes, silently praying the Lord's Prayer.

Sleep remained elusive. 

Finally, Andrew got out of the bed and ambled across the hall.  His eyes misted when he saw Lulu and Fawn curled up on JenniAnn's bed.

"Hi girls," he greeted in a hoarse voice.

Quaking slightly, Andrew sat on JenniAnn's side of the bed and pet the dogs, burying his face in the scruff of each of their necks.  With a sigh, he laid down.

The pillow still smelled of her lavender shampoo.

It was hard to believe that it had only been the day before that he'd woken to Belle placing barrettes in his hair while JenniAnn looked on and laughed.

"Laja..."

Andrew rolled onto his stomach and buried his face in the pillow.  As he folded his arms beneath it, he felt something unexpected.  Sitting up, Andrew pulled the item out from beneath the pillow. 

Joshua's sweater... the mottled Henley he'd been wearing the day JenniAnn had recognized him.  Clearly he'd made her a gift of it.

Andrew smiled through his tears and hugged the sweater to his chest.  He felt calmed as he thought of them... his Laja and his beloved Creator.  He wondered what they were doing, what little jokes they'd exchanged, what beautiful creations Joshua had shown off to JenniAnn.

With his head resting on JenniAnn's pillow and clasping Joshua's sweater, Andrew at last drifted to sleep and was rewarded with a dream of more pleasant times.

*~*~*

May 2015

"See, see...  Look.  Daddy's bringing Yonah and Mary and Silly."  JenniAnn kissed her crying toddler's temple.

"Oh, they look so scared!" Violeta exclaimed before rushing towards her sheep. 

Andrew led the two sheep and Yonah into the laundry room in Serendipity's basement.

"Da-addy!" Belle wailed.

"Violeta, can you please spread some of that hay?"

"Yes!  Thank you!" 

Violeta moved to squeeze Andrew but, noticing he was sopping wet, settled on kissing his cheek.

With a shake of his water-logged head, Andrew crossed the room and joined JenniAnn and Belle.

"I'm here, baby," he assured.  "Just let me get changed and then we'll snuggle up, okay?"

"D-daddy..."

Andrew kissed the little one's curls.

JenniAnn squeezed his hand. 

"Thank you.  It would have been a very... angsty night if they'd been left out there.  How does it look?"

"Definitely going to need to do some repairs to the gazebo... the one in the back, I mean.  Joshua's is, not surprisingly, pristine.  There are some downed branches.  I think we may have lost a few windows.  And the storm's still raging so... we'll have to see."

"Thank you... again.  I put some dry clothes in the bathroom."

"And, for that, I thank you!"  Andrew grinned and stepped into the bathroom.  When he came out, feeling much better, he found Violeta still in the laundry room with Yonah and her "babies."  JenniAnn and Belle were cuddled on the couch with Fawn and Lulu on either side of them.  They were watching Belle's bunny, Harvey, who was going berserk in his cage.

"Poor love.  I think he's scared of storms, too," JenniAnn guessed. 

Andrew offered a carrot to Belle's pet then picked up Mr. Bobo and turned on his music and lights.  While it had negligible effect on the rabbit, Belle stared up at the ceiling.

"Pitty Bobo..."

Belle held her arms out to her father.

Andrew wearily sunk onto the couch and took Belle.

"See, we're safe, sweetheart.  The storm can't get to us down here," he cheered.

Belle buried her tear-stained face in his T-shirt.

Andrew gave JenniAnn a pitiful look as their daughter shuddered.

JenniAnn softly stroked her hair.

"Maybe next time it looks like it might storm, we should just start down here," she suggested.

"I'm thinking so," Andrew agreed.  "Although I'd hate to get those three riled without cause."  He waved to the laundry room.

JenniAnn kissed his shoulder.  "Really thank you for doing that.  I would have been a nervous wreck myself if..."

Andrew rested his cheek against her hair then pulled back.

"Sorry.  My hair's still kinda wet."

"It's okay.  Definitely okay."

JenniAnn knelt so she was level with his ear.

"Once Belle's asleep, there's something I want you and me to do," she whispered.

Andrew's right eye brow raised.

JenniAnn only smiled. 

The two took turns singing lullabies until Belle had drifted to sleep.  Then JenniAnn rose and made up a little bed on the floor which Andrew gently placed the sleeping toddler on.  Both parents smiled as Fawn and Lulu moved and curled up near Belle.  Even the bunny was subdued.

JenniAnn tiptoed to the laundry room.  She smiled at the sight of Violeta snuggled up with her lambs then stepped inside to hug and pet Yonah.

"Violeta, Belle's asleep.  Andrew and I are going to be in the hall for a bit.  Can you please listen for Belle?  We'll come right back in if the storm gets really loud again."

"Sure.  Have a nice time!"

JenniAnn smiled at Violeta who knew something of what she was up to having held Belle while she made preparations. 

"Thank you."

Stepping back into the main room, JenniAnn took Andrew's hand and led him to the hall, quietly closing the door behind them.

Andrew gaped at the LED votives and mass of pillows and the ice bucket with a bottle of ginger ale.

"Laja... when... how..."

"I brought all this down here when storm season started... well, except the ice bucket.  I took it all out of the cabinet when you were gathering the animals.  I know that couldn't have been easy... they had to have already been spazzing out.  So... this is to make up for it."

"Laja, you don't have to make up for..."

"Sit."

Andrew obeyed, sinking into one of the large floor pillows.

JenniAnn poured two glasses of ginger ale and handed one to the angel before slipping behind him.

"Mmmm... delicious and..."  Andrew flinched when he felt her hands dig into his back.  "Laja, what are you do..."   He let out a contented sigh as she found a knot and began to ease it away.

"You've gone from one stressful assignment to another, all while trying to make a kitchen set for a client who requested 'rustic chic... but more chic than rustic'... whatever that means... to shepherding barn animals into your former basement.  Your shoulders feel like titanium they're so tense...  And I've been noticing you holding your head funny at odd times... like your neck's gone stiff.  Poor love."

"Laja, you don't have to..."  Andrew let out a deep breath as she hit a particularly sore spot beneath his right shoulder blade. 

"Of course I don't.  I want to.  Here, have a red velvet cupcake."

Andrew burst out laughing as she pushed a box of four towards him.

"And don't worry about sharing.  I planned ahead... well, actually I planned for Violeta to entertain Belle while we turned in early for the night but the weather had other ideas.  In any case, Violeta's got her own box and I told her she could share... with Belle, not the animals.  Not sure they'd agree with them and we don't need upset animal tummies while we're all stuck down here together."

Andrew wrinkled his nose.  "Definitely not.  But Laja... this..."

JenniAnn knelt in front of him when his voice cracked.

"I love you.  And I want us to grow old together... with as few aches and pains as possible.  Just let me try to take a few of yours away now, okay?"

Andrew caressed her cheek then nodded.

"But then you'll have a cupcake with me?" he requested.

Laughing, JenniAnn nodded.  "Of course.  I may not be a total red velvet freak like you but... they are tasty.  Ooh... I forgot the music."

Andrew smiled as a soft ballad began to play while JenniAnn resumed massaging his back and shoulders.

"I feel like I could fall asleep..." he murmured after several minutes.

"Then do."

"I want to be awake with you."

JenniAnn rested her chin on his shoulder.

"We have plenty of time to be awake together," she whispered into his ear.  "'Close your eyes, close your eyes and relax.  Think of nothing tonight.'"

Andrew smiled.  "I'll take you up on the first part but the second part... impossible.  I'm thinking about..."  He yawned.  "How blessed I am and how much I... I love our life and you.  And what it'll be like to grow old... with you."  He turned around and cradled JenniAnn's face in his hands then embraced her tightly, praying that he could always keep her as safe as they were in that moment.

*~*~*

Andrew's eyes fluttered open.

A dream... a beautiful memory.  He let his mind wander back to that night.  They'd each had a cupcake before checking on Belle and Violeta.  Then they had returned to the hall and shared a dance.

The angel of death's eyes welled as he thought of the prescient song.

"Look for you a way out, love.
When the shadows come,
when the push comes to shove, I won't leave.
When you want to fall apart,
when it tears your heart,
when you feel like giving in, I'll believe.
In the darkest night,
I'll be waiting for you."

"I'll wait,Laja," Andrew murmured.  "I'll wait for you for as long as I need to."

With a shuddering sigh, the angel turned to his side.  It hadn't even been a full hour since he'd fallen asleep.  Still, he knew sleep would not come again. 

After hugging and kissing the two dogs, Andrew got up and prepared to return to the hospital to resume his wait.

*~*~*

Logan paced around outside the gazebo, wondering if he should really even be in Dyeland.  Maybe it wasn't his business to be there.  It certainly wasn't his business to hear what he'd heard...

Stumped, the vampire re-entered the gazebo and took a seat.  He began to run through the facts.

Fact 1: He had been elected the bringer of the sympathy goodies sent by the L.A. contingent.  Though Josef hadn't said it, the rest of them had known he wouldn't be able to go.  His memories of Sarah's long coma would have overwhelmed him.  And no one wanted an emotionally overwrought vampire running around the hospital.  Mick could have managed it but JenniAnn's condition caused him no small amount of angst.  Whereas Josef couldn't bear to see JenniAnn, Mick couldn't bear to see Andrew.  In the angel of death, he would have seen only a mirror of his future Beth-less self.  Since he'd never come to recognize Joshua, Beth couldn't tell him what she knew: a cure was coming, they could still grow old together.  And because Mick had become so clingy since Eli's phone call, Beth couldn't leave him.  That left only one.

Logan cocked his head, wondering if his being at the hospital was more a matter of the process of elimination or Joshua's will. 

Fact 2: He had supersonic hearing.  He hadn't actively chosen it.  It was a "perk" of being a vampire.  And it wasn't as if he'd set out to eavesdrop on Andrew...  He'd only meant to knock on the door of a room a kindly nurse had pointed him to, hand off the basket of assorted treats, dole out a few hugs, and then he would have been on his way.  But hearing JenniAnn's mother reaming poor Andrew...

Fact 3: The last time he had inadvertently overheard a conversation involving Andrew, the outcome had been glorious.  He had talked to Jesus!  Hugged Jesus!  And his mother's health had improved!

If God had used that overheard conversation at St. Genesius' for good then didn't that mean he might be using the ol' supersonic hearing for good again?

Logan gave a resolute nod.  Joshua himself had never held back on revealing the truth just because it made people uncomfortable.  Neither should he!  After racing towards the castle, Logan gave the door a hearty knock.  He only had to wait a few moments before the door opened.

"Logan!  Hey, man!" 

Logan warmly returned Max's hug once he stepped inside.

"How... how are you doing?" he asked.

"Crummy," Max replied.  "How's everyone in L.A.?"

"Angsty... praying."

"Sorry for the former, grateful for the latter.  We're all getting each other through this.  So what brings you here?"

Logan stared down at his fumbling hands for a moment.  When he looked up, he saw Clay and Kylie peering out from the kitchen.

"Do you, umm, think we could talk somewhere private?"

Max nodded.  "Sure.  No one's in the ballroom."

Logan smiled.  "That'd be good."  The ballroom was where he'd first really talked with Joshua.  He felt comfortable there.

Max waved him into the large room.

Logan made a beeline for the handprint in the window and set his own hand over it.

"Good idea."

Once Logan was finished, Max did the same.

"Has anyone heard from Joshua since... yesterday?" Logan asked as he took a seat.

"Sort of.  Rose did... briefly.  Advice on dealing with... well, my issues."

"Yeah.  I... I'm sorry your dad, well... ummm..."

"Me too.  Thanks.  Anyway, as for Joshua... nothing specific.  He seems very near at times.  Like... like earlier when Fr. Mike led a prayer for me.  But we haven't seen him.  In each other, I guess."  Max smiled tenderly.

"And how's Andrew?" Logan gently queried.

Max sighed and shook his head. 

"Something happened.  I think between him and Allison and Robert.  He wouldn't say much but..."

"Max... I, umm, I was there.  I showed up to drop off some treats for all of you but when I got to the room, the door was closed.  I was going to knock but then I heard voices... angry voices."

Max sat up and peered at Logan.  "What did they say?"

Logan repeated the heated exchange nearly verbatim.

"I was just so... shocked... that I hurried down the hall... away," the vampire explained.  "I ran into Ivy and Violeta with the Rabbi and Tiva a-and I left the treats with them.  Then I waited outside the hospital, just running it all over in my head and trying to decide what to do.  Then I saw you and Andrew come out of the hospital so... I followed you here and I spent some time in the gazebo, still trying to decide whether to say anything or not and I decided I should.  I hope I was right."

"I think you are," Max assured.  "I can't imagine what Allison and Robert are going through right now but Dad... he... he's facing a life without the person he meant to go through life with.  And, yeah, I know he'd still see Maja in Heaven if... if she died.  But that's still a lot of weddings and baptisms and so on to go to without her.  I... I just don't think he ever meant to be a single dad.  I know he could do it.  I'm sure he knows he could do it but... he loves Maja and they wanted that life... together.  He doesn't need to deal with being yelled at when... when he's already so upset about all of that.  So... I need to do something."

Logan perked up.  "What are you going to do?"

Max stood and moved to exit the room.  "I'm getting my laptop and I'm taking it to the hospital when we go back.  The thing about Maja and Dad is they're always a little... sometimes a lot... restrained when Allison and Robert are around.  I think Allison and Robert need to see the Andrew and JenniAnn that I know."

"The video you made for their anniversary!" Logan exclaimed.

With a grin, Max nodded.  "Yep.  Thanks again for all your help with the editing on that.  Maybe it'll turn out to be more important than we knew at the time."

After climbing the stairs, the two saw Andrew stepping out of JenniAnn's room.  He smiled at them both.

"Hi Logan.  Max, are you ready to go back to the hospital or are you gonna stick around here?"

"I just need to get something from my room then I'll be ready.  Clay and Kylie are still in the kitchen.  Why don't you try to eat something?  Maja would want you to," Max reminded.

With a wistful smile, Andrew nodded.  "Sure."

"I'll go with you!" Logan chirped.

"Thanks, Logan.  What brings you here?"

Max grinned as he walked away, hearing Logan spin a story for Andrew's benefit.

Now he just had to show Allison and Robert the story he knew... a love story.

*~*~*

After making their first visit to JenniAnn, Diana and Zeke listened attentively as Allison and Robert haltingly relayed their "discussion" with Andrew while the four sat in the family room.  Though they knew the Chandlers from numerous get-togethers at Willowveil, the Wilsons were surprised by the extent to which the older couple was confiding in them.  But then, they supposed, they were the only other parents present excepting the Levines who were busy tending to Ivy and Violeta.  And, of course, Catherine but both Diana and Zeke sensed all was not right between the cousins.

"It's just... we didn't know they were sleeping together!" Allison cried.  "Innocently, of course.  We know Andrew can't... well, you know.  It... it's just so heartbreaking to... to think of JenniAnn being kept from that... from... from having a child."

"We can't help but wonder if she might have found someone had Andrew kept his distance," Robert explained.

Diana tried to keep her voice as level as possible. 

"So you think... what exactly?  That Andrew seduced your daughter into some sort of... asexual lifestyle?" she questioned.

Allison and Robert looked at each other then nodded to their listeners.

"But JenniAnn's asexual.  She didn't need to be seduced into it.  She just... is," Diana stressed.

"Well, yes, she had said that," Allison agreed.  "But if she was then why would she be sleeping with Andrew?"

Zeke cocked his head.  "Pardon my boldness but... do you two only share a bed when you intend to make love?"

"Of course not."

"No, not at all."

"Right.  And Diana and I are the same.  There's a comfort in having someone you love so near.  Don't you think Andrew and JenniAnn can still feel that even without feeling sexual desires?" Zeke pressed.

"But maybe she could have... with more time," Allison murmured.  "She was only seventeen when..."  She sniffled.

"And it's my understanding that your girl went to college.  No doubt she met numerous boys there.  She dated Eliot.  Andrew by no means trapped JenniAnn," Zeke defended.  He drew in and let out a deep breath.  "Listen, I'll level with you.  I know your grief and your worry are very intense right now.  But the way you spoke to Andrew..."  He shook his head.  "You know, I asked Joshua about those two.  I was just curious.  Never knew an angel could get that close to a human.  And the pride in his eyes when he spoke of your JenniAnn and Andrew..."

Diana brushed at a tear.  "So beautiful..."

"You know he blessed them," Zeke reminded.

Allison nodded.  "But... but was that before they... they started staying together?"

"As a regular thing, yeah," Zeke answered.  "I think so.  But I doubt they never had and Joshua knew that.  Why would he fault them for drawing comfort from each other?  Don't you think that's at least part of why he drew them together?"

Tears again began to trail down Allison's face.  Robert rested his arm around her shoulders and nuzzled her hair as his own eyes filled.

Diana reached over and took the other woman's hands in both of hers.

"I am so, so sorry for what the two of you are going through and please know our family is praying for yours.  And I wish we could have had this conversation at some other time, under other circumstances.  But surely the Lord brought us here, in this moment, for a reason.  And I feel like He's pressing on me to ask you this: are you upset because you think Andrew stole away the life your JenniAnn truly wanted... or because you think he stole away the life you wanted for her?"

Allison buried her face in Robert's shoulder as her sobs increased.

Robert looked over her head at the couple.  His eyes betrayed that he knew the answer.

"Could I have a few minutes alone with my wife?" he requested.

"Of course," Zeke assented.

"We'll be just outside.  You let us know if you need anything," Diana encouraged.

Robert managed a smile.  "Thank you."

Hand-in-hand, Diana and Zeke moved to the hallway where they joined Rose, Owen, Eliot, and Reuel.

"Where are Ivy and Violeta and the Levines?" Zeke questioned.

"In the chapel," Reuel allayed.  "How are Allison and Robert?"

"Sad," Diana answered simply.

"But hopefully contemplative," Zeke added.

Reuel placed a hand on each of the Wilsons' shoulders.

"I'm sure you helped a great deal," he reassured.

"I hope so."  Diana looked around.  "Any sign of Andrew and Max being back yet?"

"Here," Max called as he approached.  "Dad's going to check in on Maja.  Where's..."

"Ivy, Violeta, Tiva, and Rabbi Yakov are in the chapel.  Fr. Mike and Catherine are in JenniAnn's room... although I imagine they might come join us now that Andrew's returned," Eliot surmised.

"What did you bring?" Rose asked, eying Max's bag.

The young man beamed.

"The truth."

*~*~*

Allison and Robert watched nervously as Max started up his laptop. 

After a few minutes of shared reflection and prayer, they'd opened the family room door and seen the group gathered there.  While the others had all quieted and smiled at them, Max had stepped forward and requested a few minutes of their time.

Now they were giving it to him.

"So, well, Dad and Maja always spend so much time putting those Valentine's videos together for our whole group.  For their fifteenth anniversary, I thought it was about time someone made them a video.  So I did with help from Logan and Rose and a few others.  And I thought maybe we could watch that?" he encouraged.

"I'd like that," Robert responded as his wife nodded.

"Great!"

Max settled the laptop onto the table in front of them and started the video.

JenniAnn's parents watched intently, smiling slightly, as a photo of her at seventeen appeared at the right side of the screen.  Then, to the left, an image of Andrew appeared.  Thirteen more times, the two's individual pictures appeared, once for every year.  Then, finally, at the center of the screen there came the 2015 photograph.

"Oh..." Allison cooed as she saw her daughter gazing at Belle as Andrew embraced them both and peered down at JenniAnn.

"Andrew & JenniAnn: 15 Years and Counting" popped onto the top of the screen.

The Chandlers watched scenes of JenniAnn's every day life unfold.  There she was bathing Belle and then sneakily splashing Andrew before it devolved into an all out water fight as Belle shrieked with glee.  Andrew and JenniAnn danced in the kitchen... in the ballroom... in the yard beneath the stars... in the conservatory... with Belle... without Belle... surrounded by other couples... alone. 

Andrew gave a toast to JenniAnn on Mother's Day.  JenniAnn gave one to him the previous Father's Day.

There they were curled up on the couch, reading to Belle and the dogs.  They beamed and hugged Max as he held up his first semester grades.  They clapped and cheered as Shelby and her classmates danced.  JenniAnn brushed Violeta's hair as Andrew looked on, forgetting his carving long enough to gaze lovingly at them.

Max looked on with some trepidation as the minutes rolled by.  There was a particular scene he wondered about.  It was a scene he'd witnessed many times over at Willowveil but only once had he been filming when it happened.

"Belle, where's Bobo?" Andrew asked.

Belle ran around the living room, searching for her frog.  When she found it, she squealed and brought it back to her father then buried her face in a couch cushion.

Chuckling, Andrew again hid the plush animal.

"Okay, where'd Daddy hide Bobo now, Belle?" Max questioned from behind the camera.

"Bobo!  Bobo!"  Belle chortled as she resumed her hunt.

Andrew returned to his overstuffed recliner and watched the little one's game.

"Betcha didn't realize the endless hours of entertainment you'd be providing when you picked Mr. Bobo up at the hospital gift shop, did ya?" JenniAnn teased as she entered the room.

Laughing, Andrew shook his head.  "Best impulse purchase I've ever made."

Max captured the moment JenniAnn approached, settled onto Andrew's right knee, and twined her arms around his neck.

"Definitely," JenniAnn agreed, caressing the angel's cheek and then resting her head against his.

They watched Belle frolic and search until she found her toy, grabbed him, and made a beeline for her parents. 
JenniAnn pulled the toddler onto her lap and the three... four counting the frog... embraced.

After several more scenes of parties and quiet family moments, the video ended with a shot of Andrew and JenniAnn passed out on the couch with Belle stretched across their laps as she slept.  "To be continued..." was superimposed over it.

When the Chandlers laughed, so did Max.

"That was the night of Emma's birthday party.  I think Dad and Maja did a little too much dancing.  Belle, too," Max explained.  "Anyway, I hope it was all right to show you this."

Robert clasped his hand.  "I'm glad you did, Max.  It was... startling at times.  But I'm glad we saw it."

"Can... can you back to the part where... where Belle was looking for Bobo?" Allison requested.

Surprised but not opposed, Max skipped back on the video.

Allison watched, as if entranced, as JenniAnn again slid onto Andrew's lap and embraced him.  There was the smile she so loved...

Seeing his opportunity, Max seized it. 

"I know it has to be pretty daunting... your daughter... an angel of death.  But that..." he waved to the computer.  "That's the Andrew and JenniAnn, I know.  And... and I can see where you might think they're... unequally yolked, so to speak.  But please believe me when I tell you that Dad... Andrew... he would do anything for her.  And she would do anything for him.  They don't force or manipulate each other.  I... I came from a home where I felt nervous and disrespected and neglected to... to their homes... now home.  Everything I've learned about love... about sharing your life with someone... I've learned it from them.  No, they may not have the love story that you or I want.  But it's their love story.  Theirs and Joshua's.  They're happy together.  So happy..."

Max sucked in a shuddering breath and looked at the screen.  What he wouldn't do to restore them to each other...  His shoulders began to shake.

Allison suddenly saw not "Max the veteran" or "Belle's Uncle Max" but "Max who JenniAnn loved as a son."  As much as her heart ached with longing for her daughter, this young man was facing the loss of the only mother he'd ever known, however belatedly. 

"Max..."

Seeing Allison's open arms, Max leaned into them and sobbed.

As she held Max, the woman peered over his head and to her husband.  Without speaking, they knew that the other had come to an understanding.

*~*~*

After exiting the family room and leaving Max to further comforting from Rose and their friends, Allison and Robert made their way to JenniAnn's room.  As they neared, they heard soft singing.

"'How to handle a woman? There's a way,' said the wise old man.  'A way known by ev'ry woman since the whole rigmarole began.'"

Allison and Robert hung back, continuing to listen.

"'Do I flatter her?' I begged him answer.  'Do I threaten or cajole or plead?  Do I brood or play the gay romancer?'  Said he, smiling: 'No indeed.  How to handle a woman?  Mark me well, I will tell you, sir...'"

Robert wrapped his arms around his wife as he heard Andrew, his voice hoarse, attempt to finish.

"'The way to handle a woman is to lo-love her... simply love her... merely... merely love her... love her... love... her.'  Laja... I... I do love you a-and I wish I... could look into your eyes right now and... and tell..."

Moving to the door, Allison and Robert saw Andrew lurch forward in his chair and rest his head on JenniAnn's bed, near her hand.

"A-Andrew?" Allison called.

The angel of death sat up and turned around, brushing at his eyes with his sleeve.

"Hi.  I...  Sorry."

"No, we're sorry," Allison corrected.  "Mostly me..."

"I didn't help," Robert countered.

"Regardless... we were wrong," Allison stressed.  "The... the things I said to you...  There... there's a lot I... Robert and I... don't know about you and JenniAnn but... but it must be good because Joshua... He thinks it's good.  And I... I just need to remember that His ways..."

"They're better than... than ours," Robert picked up. 

Allison nodded.  "Yes, I... I wish JenniAnn could have had children b-but if she had... Belle...  Our darling Belle... she wouldn't be... be growing up with two parents who adore her a-and each other and maybe... maybe she wouldn't even... even be... be growing up... at... at all.  And I couldn't..."  She shook her head.  "Bear that.  I'm so sorry, Andrew.  So..."

Andrew stood and pulled the two into his embrace.

"Don't... please... please don't think about it anymore.  I... I know right now... it's so hard a-and...  We... we should have been more open with you... JenniAnn and I."

"We can't blame you for that," Robert insisted.  "I... I think we've demonstrated why you were right to be concerned."

"We... we were just shocked about you two, umm, sharing a bed a-and I guess that brought all the old concerns that... that I thought I'd set down forever... back," Allison explained.

While managing a smile, Andrew blushed.  "I... I was pretty shocked about the bed sharing, too.  But it just... happened."

Allison hugged him again.  "And now... now I'm glad it did.  If... if our JenniAnn does... g-go... then... then I will know she... she lived a happy life... with you, your... your family."

"Our family," Andrew gently corrected.

"You forgive us?" Robert checked.

Andrew pulled away from Allison enough to smile at them both. 

"I do.  Of course, I do.  You... you raised a woman who... who I love very much.  The... the mother of our children..."

The angel turned back to JenniAnn and took her hand.

"Andrew, let's sit.  And... and if you would... tell us... whatever you'd like... about you and JenniAnn.  Please?" Allison requested.

"I... I would love to," Andrew agreed.

After he reclaimed his seat at JenniAnn's bedside, Allison and Robert pulled chairs of their own nearer as Andrew spoke of his life with their daughter.

*~*~*

In the Beginning

In order to give Andrew and the Chandlers ample time to mend their relationship, Kemara and Sean had arranged, with the angel of death's blessing, to gather the Friends at Willowveil for dinner.  While everyone wanted to support Andrew's and JenniAnn's family, there simply wasn't room nor time for every member of their burgeoning group to visit the hospital.  Nonetheless, they craved the comfort of having each other near and the potluck would give them that as well as provide Andrew with the peace of mind that his loved ones were safe and together.

At a quarter until 6:00, the group in the family room began to clear out.

"Reuel, are you coming?" Rabbi Yakov asked.

The angel looked away from the window he'd been staring out of and gave a shy smile.

"Oh, no.  I wouldn't want anyone to feel awkward.  They don't know me and..."

"Do you need to stay near Andrew?" Tiva followed up with.

"Well, no.  And I don't want to intrude on his time with Allison and Robert but..."

The rabbi yanked him to his feet.  "You may be an angel but you have a stomach.  It's been a while since lunch.  Come along and we'll introduce you around.  You're Joshua's boy and that's all any of us need to know to feel comfortable with you."

Overhearing, Owen approached.  "Reuel, you aren't coming?" he questioned.

The angel grinned and squeezed Yakov's shoulder.  "Apparently I am."

"Good.  I'd love to hear more about you and your people.  Inquiring minds want to know," Owen teased.

Reuel laughed.  "Then I will join you, thank you."

After Max and Rose stopped by JenniAnn's room to tell Andrew the group was leaving, they made their way to the parking lot and set out for Dyeland.

*~*~*

"It's Joshua's handprint."

Reuel turned away from the ballroom window and smiled at Owen who had approached.

"Thank you.  I thought it looked very familiar."

"We didn't find out for a couple of years that it came from him.  Quite the mystery for a while.  But then a lot's mysterious around here."

Reuel glanced over at Vincent who was seated in a quiet corner with Liam and Jacob on either side of him and Belle on his lap as he read them a story.

"I imagine your own home has a great many mysteries, too," Reuel mused.

Owen laughed and nodded.  "Yeah.  Although turns out Vincent's less a mystery than we thought.  Your Boss can get pretty creative."

"Yes, his wonders are limitless.  I am glad to see Vincent here.  Catherine told me that he was there when..."

Owen blinked back tears.  "Yeah.  It took some persuading but I'm glad he's here, too.  I think he would have stayed home but... his son and grandkids have him wrapped around their little fingers.  So does Psyche for that matter...  In another life, she would have been his."

"She is his.  In this life," Reuel corrected.  "My anam cara had a daughter.  I considered her mine even though I had nothing to do with her conception."

"Good point."  Owen looked down at his hands for a moment.

"Is the interrogation to begin now?" Reuel kidded.

Owen chuckled.  "I am curious but I'm sure you must have a lot on your mind so..."

Reuel nodded.  "I do.  But talking would be pleasant.  Perhaps you could show me Joshua's room?"

"Of course!" Owen exclaimed.  "We meant to show you right away but I guess we forgot.  Minds are a little fuzzy."

The angel settled an arm around the man's shoulders.  "I understand completely.  It was a joy to see you all greet each other so warmly.  I feel very much at home here."

"Good!  Well, it's great to have you here.  So... let's go see Joshua's room!"

As they passed Violeta, Ivy, and Sy; Owen explained their leaving.

Violeta cringed.  "I'm sorry, Reuel!  We meant to show you right away."

Reuel shook his head and squeezed her hand.  "There's nothing to be sorry for, dear.  Maybe when we return you could introduce me to your sheep?"

Beaming, the young angel nodded.

After speaking to a few others, Owen and Reuel climbed the steps to Joshua's room.  The angel halted at the threshold and sighed.

"His houses and rooms are always so... serene," he observed.  Upon entering, Reuel reverently ran his hands over the tools that rested on a side table.

Owen stepped into the bathroom to add water to a vase of wildflowers.

"That's one reason everyone loves it here... that and it looks so... lived in.  Like he could come back at any moment.  I mean we know Joshua's here in every moment but... it's nice when he's in a huggable form."

Reuel smiled tenderly.  "Yes, it is."

The artist stepped onto the balcony and sighed. 

"I wish Psyche was here.  These are just the sorts of summer evenings she loves.  Light wind... doves cooing.  There will be lots of moonlight... great for... for dancing."  Owen sunk into one of the chairs.

Reuel settled into the chair beside him.  "There is hope, Owen.  You know that."

"Yeah... I do.  Just never expected..."  Owen swatted at a tear.

"I know.  So does God."

"Every... every time I look at Andrew I just... I want to scream or... or burst into tears."  Owen let out a wounded laugh.  "When I first met them, I was convinced something untoward was going on.  Psyche was so young... and I was so jaded.  But, over time, I got it.  And then during these last couple of years... I don't know.  I guess at some point I started to see Andrew and Psyche as sort of... not exactly role models.  Inspirations, I guess.  If God could bring an angel and a girl together... maybe there was someone for me.  And I know there is.  Joshua told me.  But when I see Andrew like he is now...  And when I think of how Psyche was when he was in Afghanistan...  I'm not sure I have the strength to love anyone like that... love them when things seem so bleak."

"You alone don't have the strength, my friend," Reuel counseled.  "Therefore, we should be glad that you're never alone."

Owen smiled.  "Good one."  He let out a sigh and stared into the sky.

"Andrew would manage, you know.  As I said before, there is much hope for JenniAnn.  But I think... if either of them were to be called Home and remain there... the other would continue on.  With tears and heartache, yes, but they would live and love.  They aren't simply a couple, Owen.  They're a family."

"Yeah... true.  And... And I guess you would know.  You said before that you have a soul mate... an anam cara.  Rafiq, right?"

Reuel beamed and nodded.

"Rafiq... that's a man's name, isn't it?"

"Yes, it means 'dear friend.'  Fitting, I always thought."

"So are you... gay?" Owen asked, a flush to his cheeks.

Reuel smiled good-naturedly and shook his head.  "I am no more gay than Andrew and Monica are heterosexual.  For us, it is a purely individual attachment.  We are not attracted to males or females or both.  But we bond intensely with our anam cara.  Andrew does not love JenniAnn because she's a woman.  He loves her because she's JenniAnn.  And each pair is different.  JenniAnn is romantically drawn to Andrew, isn't she?"

"Oh yeah!"

Reuel chuckled.  "And Andrew responds to that.  Likewise for Monica and Arthur.  Rafiq and I were... and are... more like the closest of brothers.  We shared so much: a daughter, Riva, a home, our hopes and plans for our people, our faith.  But I have never met another, man or woman, with whom I felt as I do with Rafiq."  Seeing some disappointment on the man's face, Reuel patted his back.  "You know you're valued and loved, Owen.  At the hospital, you told me what Joshua said to you when he was here.  You will find no better assurance because his word is final."

Owen smiled.  "True.  Can't argue with that.  I guess at times like this... it can be easy to lose sight of... of his promises.  But it shouldn't be.  So... if you don't mind my asking... and this is probably too personal... what was it like?  I mean... Rafiq wasn't immortal."

"I don't mind," the angel assured.  "No, he wasn't.  Rafiq died of a wasting disease... cancer we would call it now... about twenty years after we arrived in El-Chanan.  It was... wrenching to watch him fade but he lived a very full life.  He got to hold his first great-grandchild before he went Home."  Reuel's eyes glistened as he smiled.  "I stayed with Riva and her brood.  They were still my family, always would be.  But, over time, my visits Home grew more and more frequent.  They understood."

"That... that's good.  And if... if JenniAnn doesn't get better, we would understand if Andrew..."  Owen looked away, back to the sky.

Reuel shook his head.  "It wouldn't be the same.  Andrew and JenniAnn have two small children.  Our Riva was a grandmother.  Andrew would remain as involved in Belle's and Shelby's lives as he is now."

Owen let out the breath he was holding and nodded. 

"Yes... of... of course he would.  I just... I'm trying to hold onto hope and I'm praying and I know Joshua... he can heal JenniAnn.  But I also know... he... he doesn't sometimes a-and losing her would... would be hard enough... terribly hard... but losing Andrew... I... I would still feel connected to her through him and if he went away, too..."

Owen broke down into sobs.

Reuel hugged the man's shoulders.

"I... I'm s-sorry," Owen stuttered.  "B-but I guess I just needed to... to get that all out."

Reuel responded with a nod and sympathetic smile.  "I know.  God knows.  Sometimes it helps to give voice to your worst fears.  Now you can set them down and truly focus on hope, Owen."

"Ye-yeah...."

"Let's sit for a while longer and then how about we go back downstairs?  I need to meet those sheep, after all, and I think some time with your precious goddaughter would do you much good."

Through his tears, Owen smiled.

"Belle..." he murmured.

After drawing in a deep, calming breath; Owen rose and made his way to the balcony railing.  Reuel soon joined him.

Staring up at the dimming sky, the two prayed for the realization of their hopes.

*~*~*

Sitting on a picnic blanket, Joshua and JenniAnn looked on as Jamey fiddled while his grandparents and David and Chava danced and Sophia sang.  JenniAnn smiled and raised her head from where it rested on Joshua's shoulder.

"Where did Jamey learn to fiddle?  Does he just know?"

Joshua shook his head.  "His great-grandpa Declan taught him.  Come on, dance with me?  And then you should visit with your cousin."

"As if I could turn down the Lord of the Dance," JenniAnn teased.

Joshua grinned and helped her to her feet.

After a couple of jigs, Jamey set down his fiddle to wild applause.

Joshua clapped him on the back.  "Well done, Jamey!  Now, I seem to have developed a craving for berries and cream.  Perhaps you could show your cousin to the berry bushes along the west coast?"

"Sure!" Jamey agreed, laughing as he took a basket that had materialized in Joshua's hands. 

Jamey and JenniAnn parted from the others with hugs and then set off.  For a while, they walked in companionable silence which Jamey finally broke.

"So my brother's pretty awesome, huh?  I loved those drawings he did of Joshua.  Owen's taught him well!"

JenniAnn beamed and nodded.  "Jacob amazed us all with those.  But you know about all of that?"

Jamey gave a rigorous nod.  "Sure!  I mean we weren't listening in on completely private moments, of course.  But we were watching.  I mean... Jesus playing himself in a play!  That's pretty compelling even without 'and your family members are involved!'  We all laughed about the tie incident, by the way."

JenniAnn giggled.  "Yeah... that's actually funnier in hindsight.  He knitted together chains of DNA and strung the stars in the sky but a neck tie...  Well, I'm sure Joshua could manage it now!  He was just... limited then."

"He was.  For many reasons, some only known to him.  But I think he also just plain enjoyed it... having you all help him.  A lot like before, actually.  He could have just dropped out of the sky and done his thing.  But Joshua wanted a mother and father... an Ama and an Abi.  Still does, of course.  You've seen how they are."

"Yeah...  It's pretty incredible.  I feel so blessed to have met all three of them and John, too."  JenniAnn let out a contented sigh as Jamey steered her onto another path through the woods.

"And here we are!" he announced.  "Let's get picking!"  After hanging the basket on a sturdy branch, Jamey began to pick from the multitude of berries, chatting as he did.  "You know, I'm really glad my parents came to recognize Joshua.  I was hoping they would."

"They were both so comforted.  That portrait that Cora did of you...  It's their prized possession, Jamey.  They love you so much," JenniAnn relayed.  She squeezed her cousin's hand after they'd both dropped their first batches into the basket.

"And I love them and Jacob and Grandpa and Uncle Devin and you and Shelby and Belle and Owen and Eliot and..." Jamey chuckled.  "Well, I could go on for a very long time."

"Aww, thanks.  We all love you, too.  But... what is it like?  For you?  I mean... do you... can you... miss your parents?"

Jamey grabbed another bunch of berries and considered the question. 

"Maybe not miss them exactly.  I long for them.  But maybe in a way like... well, like Maryam longed to hold Joshua when she was pregnant with him.  It wasn't a painful longing because she knew, she believed absolutely, that her longing would be realized.  I looked forward to embracing my Mama and Papa and never letting them go.  But I hope they know I always, always feel their love."

Struck by the tender look on the boy's face, JenniAnn hugged him.

"I... I will tell them when... if... I... I go back."

Jamey warmly returned her embrace.  "Thank you.  But please don't think I'm trying to sway you.  Still... if there's anything you think they may want to know.  Just in case..."

JenniAnn laughed.  Though Jamey greatly favored Catherine, in that moment the impish gleam and small smile he wore were utterly Vincent.

"Okay... let's see.  Oh..."  She sobered.  "Do you remember anything?  Maybe that sounds silly but..."

The boy shook his head.  "It doesn't.  I remember Mama's heartbeat.  And I remember chocolate.  I still have both.  I can hear Mama's heartbeat whenever I want.  And chocolate's even better here.  Well, in Heaven, I mean," he teased.  "Papa would read to me.  Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island and, of course, Great Expectations.  I remember that.  Tell them... if you can... tell them that I don't remember going away.  I... I wasn't in pain."

JenniAnn clasped Jamey's hands and nodded as tears welled in her eyes.

Jamey only smiled, squeezed his cousin's hands and then resumed berry-picking.  "And tell them that the dreams they have of me... they started having them after Joshua came... when it was no longer too painful to bear... they're not dreams for me.  They're real.  And I love them.  But you tell them that they're not to give a single thought to doping themselves with cough medicine or anything like that to sleep more.  I'll haunt them if they do.  And I'm not talking Maryam's pleasant leaving roses around type of haunting.  I mean books flying, door-slamming, turning that old record player on at odd and most inconvenient moments...  And I really think Joshua would let me!"

JenniAnn laughed.  Suddenly, the boy was 100% his feisty mother.

With a grin, Jamey shrugged.  "Not that I really think they would.  Okay, maybe for a night and then they'd realize they'd be cheating Jacob out of time with them and they'd stop.  And, of course, they have their grandbabies.  Thank you for that... for asking them to consider Belle their granddaughter.  And now they have Liam, too!"

JenniAnn dropped a handful of mulberries into the basket.

"We'll tell them... Liam and Belle... about you, Jamey.  When they're older.  I want them to know about you."

Jamey smiled and kept to himself that JenniAnn had clearly made a decision.

"Thank you.  That means a lot to me.  But now...  I think this is a basket fit for a King, don't you?"

"Yep!  I don't think we could fit a single berry more in!" JenniAnn agreed.

"Then off we go!"

Each taking a side, the two carried the basket back towards the cottage.

JenniAnn listened as Jamey began to hum.  She recognized it at once as Catherine's lullaby.

Glancing to her, Jamey caught her wistful expression.

"I remember that, too," he verified.  "Always will."

As she listened to him resume humming, JenniAnn was consumed with longing for her own little one.

*~*~*

Vincent stared down at the toddler sleeping in his arms.  Belle had roused only briefly when a few of them had gone to the stable.  She'd managed a sleepy "O-ah..." that Yonah seemed to consider a greeting.  Vincent reached up to pet the donkey's snout which was resting on his shoulder.  Clearly he wasn't alone in wanting to keep a close eye on the little girl.

"So... so they haven't seemed upset?" Violeta asked Adam.

The angel of death frowned.  "Sweetheart, of course they're upset.  Animals know when something's up.  But I don't sense nor have I seen evidence of... them.  Mary, Silly, and Yonah just know that their routine isn't what it usually is and they're not seeing 'their people' like they usually do."

Violeta nuzzled each of the sheep.

"Maybe I could stay with them..." she ventured.

Adam shook his head.  "No.  You need to stay with Ivy and the Levines.  That's safer.  I promise you that I'm listening to the baby monitor constantly and I'll be right out here if I hear even the slightest reason for alarm."

"I'll stay out here with them," Owen offered.

Vincent looked up in alarm.  "Owen..."

"I'll stay with him," Reuel volunteered.

Owen smiled.  "Can't get much safer than hanging around a principality!  So is the nine choirs thing really legit?"

The angel gave a sly smile.  "Maybe, maybe not."

Adam chuckled. 

"I've been itching to get some sketches down... things that came to me as Reuel told his story," Owen explained.  "It'll be perfect.  He can advise me.  Joshua will always be my favorite subject but it'd be nice to paint some angels, too."  He looked to Vincent.  He was far too old to need permission but he also didn't want to rattle the man any further.

"Yes, I can see where that would be inspiring," Vincent agreed.  "But you will come for breakfast Below?  Check in?"

"Sure," the artist assented.

Violeta released the sheep and threw her arms around Owen.  "Thank you!"

Owen kissed her hair.  "My pleasure.  I may smell like hay and... other... tomorrow but it's a small price to pay."

There was a knock on the stable door and Sean poked his head in.

"Hey there.  I just wanted to let you all know that people aren't too keen to split up so Kemara texted Andrew and everyone who wants to stay the night can stay.  Violeta, Tiva would like to know if you want to go back to their house or stay here or at Serendipity.  She, Rabbi Yakov, and Ivy will go wherever you want."

Violeta seized on the last option.  "Serendipity.  I'll go talk to Tiva.  Thanks, Sean."

"Vincent, Catherine said it's up to you.  Owen, Reuel, we can make room if..."

Owen smiled.  "Reuel and I are set.  We're staying out here."

Sean laughed.  "In the stable?"

"It was good enough for Yeshua and his parents," Reuel commented with a grin.

"True!" Sean agreed.  "Vincent?"

Keeping hold of Belle, Vincent got to his feet. 

"I believe we'll do whatever feels best to Shelby.  Let me visit with her.  Thank you, Sean... you and Kemara... for filling in as hosts while..."  Vincent drew in a ragged breath.

Sean softly clapped him on the back.  "It's no problem at all.  I'll walk back inside with you and Violeta."

"I'll be in shortly to say good night to everyone and help make up beds if needed," Owen promised and Reuel nodded.

"Thank you... all of you..." Vincent murmured.

After a series of hugs, the group split, leaving Reuel and Owen with the animals.

"You have a wonderful group of friends... of family," Reuel complimented.

His eyes misting, Owen nodded.  "And it's a group Andrew and JenniAnn made, largely.  With Joshua driving it all, of course."

"As he always does."

With another nod, the painter went to Yonah and hugged him.  He buried his face in the nape of the donkey's neck and remembered Joshua's triumphant entry into St. Genesius' Jerusalem. 

"'Tell the city of Zion, "Look, your king is coming to you!'" he murmured before letting out a sigh.  "I wish he was here now... huggably."

With tears in his own eyes, the angel hugged the man.

*~*~*

A subdued crowd remained in the Willowveil ballroom, milling around and visiting.

Seated near a window with Peter, Emma suddenly clasped his hand tightly.

Peter rested his other hand over hers.  "Emma, what is it?"

"It's nothing.  I'm fine.  I mean... I'm where we all are.  I guess I hoped we'd go to bed tonight after hearing good news from the hospital.  I suppose no news is good news but..."

Peter hugged her.  "I think so.  But yeah... I had hoped maybe JenniAnn would wake up sometime today."

Emma stroked his hair.  She loved running her fingers through it and was glad that he'd kept it shaggy even though Superstar's run had long since ended. 

"Uh oh..."

Emma pulled her hand back.  "What is it?"

"Crystal.  I'm going to go check on her."

Emma rose with Peter and they went over to where Crystal was sobbing with Cira trying to comfort her.  Peter knelt in front of the young woman.

"Crystal, what's wrong?" he gently asked.

"I... I just had the sudden thought that... that what if this with... with poor JenniAnn is just the... the be-beginning?  Like... like with St-stephen?  He was the first martyr a-and then almost all of... of the apostles and so many others a-and..."

Unsure of what to say, Peter merely took Crystal's hand.  Then he heard movement and, briefly turning away from the woman, saw that several others had overheard.  He was surprised that they were looking to him for an answer... even some of the angels.  Alarmed, he turned to Emma.

She smiled at him and leaned close.  "I have been with you for over a year, Peter.  A-and I have seen you... who were already so gentle... become even more gentle.  And more wise, too.  You didn't simply play Joshua.  Some of his essence... I see it in you all the time.  Let them see that now, beloved."

Peter returned her smile then turned back to Crystal.

"I don't believe it's that at all, Crystal.  Joshua told the apostles of the threats they would face.  I have to believe that if he thought we were going to be especially targeted because of him, he would have given us the same warning.  But his very life... it's proof that being a good person doesn't guarantee that only good things will happen to you." 

Crystal nodded and managed a small smile.

Peter patted her hand then stood, facing the others.  "But Joshua's life... it's also proof that God can bring amazing miracles out of tragedy.  I don't know if JenniAnn will... will live again in this world.  But I know she'll live again.  We all will.  Everyone, look at Vincent.  Look at how he's holding Belle."

Vincent smiled as the others turned to him.  He held Belle securely to his chest and gently patted her back as she dozed.

"Joshua and the Father... they hold us all with just as much tenderness and attentiveness," Peter continued.  "Yes, we'll all face troubles and tragedies... not because of our closeness to Joshua but because there are so many in the world who aren't close to Him and act from a place of darkness... of hatred.  But nothing they do can change that God is holding us so closely.  Don't fear tomorrow or the day after, my friends.  He's already there.  And you won't be alone.  Whatever we face... we face it together.  He brought us together for a reason... maybe even for such a time as this."  Tears filled Peter's eyes even as he continued to smile while surveying the faces of his friends.  "I love all of you so much and I am so grateful that we're together in this moment."  He hugged Max and Violeta then was joined by Emma, Crystal, and Cira.

The entire group clustered together, hugging and putting their arms around each other's shoulders.

Peter kissed Emma's hair and squeezed Crystal's hand then smiled at Zeke with glistening eyes.

"Zeke, I think we could do with a song.  You pick, please," he requested.

Zeke embraced Peter and nodded.  "I know just the one."

"'We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,'" he began.

Diana and the kids quickly joined in.  "'We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord and we pray that our unity will one day be restored.'"

The ballroom was filled with voices as they came to the chorus.

"'And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.  Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.'"

Heartened as they continued sing, the Friends felt as if Joshua truly was right there in the midst of them, holding them all so close.


*~*~*

JenniAnn's hospital room was quiet for a few moments after the night nurse left following a standard check.

A breathless query finally interrupted the silence.

"When did it happen... with you?"

Confused, Allison and Andrew both looked at Robert who was staring back at the angel.

The man laughed hoarsely and rubbed at his eyes.

"Sorry.  The lack of sleep is catching up on me.  I had a conversation going in my head and just realized the both of you didn't hear it."

Andrew smiled.  "JenniAnn does that, too, sometimes.  She says her internal monologue hardly ever quiets down and suddenly I'll hear it with little to no explanation.  So... if you explain, I'll be happy to answer."

JenniAnn's father nodded.  "I suppose I only mean... when did things change for you?  You said earlier that, when JenniAnn was younger, her crush... it was kind of weird for you.  And you felt more like an older brother.  But... I assume you don't feel that way now.  I just wonder when and how that changed."

The angel of death glanced at JenniAnn then kept his gaze focused on her.

"It's so hard to pinpoint a moment.  You know, it feels like by the time we both paused to realize things were different... we were so in the thick of that new reality that... that we couldn't remember when it started.  But there were steps.  As she progressed through college, I noticed I depended on JenniAnn a little more... sometimes without wanting to.  I still wanted only to... to protect her and do whatever I could to encourage her in... in whatever life she chose for herself and with... whomever.  I suppose maybe then I started to consider her less of a little sister and more of a peer."  Andrew turned to her parents.  "I know that sounds funny.  But it makes sense to us.  Our lives... even with the vast head start I had... they started to align.  Tess got diagnosed with Alzheimer's right around the time Sophia did.  And in 2000, JenniAnn graduated and said good bye to friends she'd had for years, knowing... knowing the drifting that would inevitably happen.  In 2003, she helped me through a variation of that.  She, umm, she had all that trouble with Bennie and... and we bonded over that... betrayal... when Eben resurfaced.  Things like that.  And then she started dating Eliot and... and I realized that for all my talk about wanting her to have a life with romance and love and children..."

Allison blinked back a tear as Andrew began to finger JenniAnn's birthstone necklace which remained around his own neck.

"I never... never said anything to... to deter her away from Eliot and... and I did encourage them when... when I could but I..."

"In your heart of hearts, you didn't want them together?" Robert suggested.

Looking into the man's eyes, Andrew shook his head.

"Eliot is a sweet, sweet boy and a good friend to JenniAnn," Allison offered.  "He and Brittony both.  But even I... she wasn't JenniAnn with him.  And I don't blame him for that.  Not at all.  She just... wasn't."

Andrew took JenniAnn's hand.

"And she'll say the same thing," Andrew agreed.  "So after that... I guess that's when 'the thick of things' started.  There were events that brought us closer: my time in Afghanistan, meeting Chava, adopting Belle, Joshua...  But I feel like... now... that there really was no turning back after JenniAnn and Eliot broke up.  I think even though we didn't say it to each other... to ourselves even... things were settled then.  And I guess we both just needed some time to grow into the full realization of that.  That doesn't mean that we were as affectionate back in 2008 as we are now.  I guess we both needed time to feel... safe.  I mean... I don't... I never worried that JenniAnn would physically hurt me and... I... I would never hurt her like that.  But we'd both had times when we... left.  I think we needed to know that we'd gotten to a point where leaving... it wasn't going to be an option."

Robert and Allison exchanged a quick look. 

Andrew caught them and knew what they were thinking.  JenniAnn might have no choice in leaving...  He wouldn't say it.

"So, umm, any other questions?" he checked.

Allison considered how to best word what was on her mind.

Andrew gave her a gentle smile.  "Just say it.  Please."

"It's just... when you have disagreements... are you automatically right?" she questioned.

Andrew laughed.  "If JenniAnn could, she would tell you just how often I'm wrong.  Actually, no, she wouldn't.  She'd come up with a couple examples to reassure you a-and then keep the rest to herself cause she..."  He heaved a sigh.  "Wouldn't want me to feel bad," he finished.  "Listen, Joshua told us that he's always with us and to always take our questions... our confusion... to him.  And we do.  But it's not like he feeds me the answers in the same way he might give me words to reach an assignment.  JenniAnn, Belle... all the kids... they're family.  Not assignments.  We need to figure things out together and seek God's guidance together.  But if, say, JenniAnn thinks we should pierce Belle's ears and I adamantly oppose... we're just going to have to debate it.  Maybe JenniAnn 'wins,' maybe I 'win.'  But God's not going to tell me to tell JenniAnn what we need to do.  And, don't worry, no one is piercing Belle's ears any time soon.  We saw a little one younger than Belle with pierced ears a few weeks ago and we got to talking about it and we both agreed that 1. Belle needs to be old enough to request pierced ears herself and 2. She needs to be old enough to keep the earrings disinfected and treat her ear if she gets it infected.  And those are both a long way off."

"So is that what you two do?  See things and then discuss what you'll do when that's an issue for Belle?" Robert asked.

Andrew nodded.  "We've spent many a night that way."

"So then... then you know at least some of JenniAnn's wishes if..."

Peering at Allison, Andrew rose and embraced her.  "I do.  But I'm going to keep praying that she's there with me every step of the way."

JenniAnn's parents managed a smile for the angel and watched as he sat back down and again laced his fingers through their daughter's.

"So maybe... maybe you could tell me a story about when JenniAnn was little?  Please?" Andrew prompted.

Delighted by the change of subject, Allison started in on tales of holidays and childish victories and more.

*~*~*

Monday, June 8th

Stepping into the Willowveil kitchen, Kemara soon realized that she wasn't the only one who had come searching for a just-after-midnight snack.  Kylie and Emma were already at the table, a bowl of Froot Loops in front of the former and a stack of chocolate chip cookies in the latter's hand.  Eric was standing in front of the refrigerator. 

"Hi," Kemara greeted.

"Hi," Eric echoed, stepping away. 

"Hey," Emma and Kylie responded in unison.

"It's okay, Eric.  I can wait until you've chosen something," the pregnant woman assured.

Eric shrugged and took a seat.  "I don't think I'm really hungry.  Just couldn't sleep."

Emma reached over to set a hand on his arm.  "Have you heard from Neela and Zane?"

"Yeah.  Neela called around 10.  Her sister is driving them back home tomorrow.  A day early and I feel bad that the first vacation they've had in years got disrupted but... we just want to be together.  Kemara, can I get you anything?" Eric offered.

With an embarrassed smile, Kemara shook her head.  "I think I better prepare this myself but thank you."

The other three looked on curiously as she made a sandwich of cottage cheese and pickles.

Kylie struggled to gulp down some cereal and then giggled.  "That's... unique."

"It's not even one of my strangest cravings," Kemara explained as she settled into the chair Eric pushed out for her.  "Thank you."

"Thank you for inviting me to stay here," he countered.  "I didn't really expect to be included in the same way as..."

"You're one of us now," Emma interrupted. 

Kemara nodded.  "Emma's right.  And especially since no one else is at your apartment.  I think it feels good to be together like this."

"Is anyone else coming?" Kylie questioned.

"Yeah.  Andrew texted a couple hours ago to say that Raquel is due in on Tuesday.  Their ship doesn't dock at St. Thomas until tomorrow... well, later today now.  Nico has to stay, of course, but Raquel's already gotten a ticket to fly to the States and then she'll figure out whether it's quicker to fly to Nebraska or New York."  Kemara sighed.  "Raquel's a really nice lady but something about her coming makes me nervous.  Like... like this must be bad if she's coming all the way from the Caribbean without her husband."

Emma gently patted her friend's back.  "Raquel is Belle's Grandma.  Of course she wants to be here.  It doesn't mean..."

"But what if it does?" Eric pressed.  He rested his head in his hands.  "Remember how I, umm, hit on JenniAnn that one time?"

"Do I need to get out the egg timer in Neela's stead?" Emma threatened.

Eric laughed and shook his head.  "No.  I won't need three minutes.  Part of why I did that... I mean, don't get me wrong, part of it was just me being an ass.  But another part of it...  There was just something almost... electric... between the two of them, Andrew and JenniAnn.  I wanted that.  A-and... I have it now.  We all do.  And I can't imagine...  If anything ever happened to Neela..."

Kemara began to cry.

"I'm sorry!" Eric apologized, jumping up to grab tissues.

Kylie sniffled.  "If I didn't have Clay..."

Emma took a tissue and dabbed at her own eyes then took Kemara's and Kylie's hands and looked to Eric.

"I don't know what I'd do without Peter.  But we'd manage because we'd still have Joshua and the Father a-and each other.  And Andrew will manage even if... if JenniAnn goes to be with Joshua... forever.  It's like Peter said.  We'll be with him... together... supporting him, loving him and the kids."

The other three responded with silent nods.

"How long do you think it'll be before Belle realizes something isn't right?" Kemara asked.

Emma frowned.  "That I don't know.  I'm hoping right now she just thinks it's some sort of vacation with Grandpa Vincent and Grandma Catherine."

"I think I heard someone say Andrew brought her to see JenniAnn today.  Is that right?" Eric checked.

"Yes.  Shelby, too," Kemara verified.  "Poor Shel took it hard but Belle just thought 'Mama' was sleeping."

"Why do you think he did that?" Eric pressed.  "She's so young."

"Young enough to not know how wrong things are," Kylie replied. 

"Yeah, that's what Andrew figured.  And there's not been a day since Belle was born that she hasn't seen JenniAnn.  I don't think Andrew wanted to break that now.  He'll probably bring her again sometime today," Kemara ventured.  "I think it's fine.  JenniAnn really does look peaceful.  Actually... she's probably the most peaceful of any of us."

"What do you think they're doing?  JenniAnn and Joshua, I mean?  Do you think she's seen Maryam and Yosef and John?"  Emma smiled as she thought, with love, of the family.

"If not by now, probably soon... if soon even exists there.  Maybe she doesn't even know she's been... gone... for a day and a half," Kylie hypothesized.  "As for what they're doing... hugging a lot, for sure."

"Maybe dancing," Emma mused.

"I hope JenniAnn is taking notes.  Do you think she'll tell us about it?  I mean if..." Eric trailed off.

"I think she will.  At least some of it," Kemara responded. 

"Since we're thinking Joshua took JenniAnn... do you think if... if she wakes up... do you think he'll bring her back and maybe... stay a bit?" Kylie hoped aloud.

Kemara hugged her shoulders.  "He'll be here soon, regardless, I think.  I don't think he'd miss you and Clay's wedding."

The bride-to-be managed a trembling smile.  "True.  It just doesn't even seem right to think about that, though."

"Ky, even if... the worst happens... you know neither JenniAnn nor Andrew would want your wedding to suffer for it," Emma insisted.  "And we're all going to need a celebration after this."

"Definitely," Eric agreed.

"Thank you.  I just wish there was more we could do."  Kylie looked around the room, hoping for ideas.  "I know we're praying and, more than that, praying together.  But something... I don't know..."

"Those hospital bills are going to be pretty steep," Emma pointed out.  "Andrew makes good money but... a show!  We could do a musical revue... not any sort of plot... maybe not even costumes.  Or at least just costumes we have on hand and our own clothes.  So we wouldn't need to spend any money there.  And Peter would know more about what we have licenses for already and there's always public domain songs and hymns...  Even if we only did it for a few nights..."

Kemara squeezed Emma's hand.  "I love it.  We'd all be able to focus on that and even if it doesn't make tons of money, whatever we could give Andrew and JenniAnn would help."

"We could sell homemade refreshments, too," Eric added. 

Excited, Emma grabbed a notepad from the counter and began to jot notes.

Soon the initially somber group was laughing and smiling as they made plans.

*~*~*

After enjoying their berries and cream shortcake, the group at the cottage began to disperse with promises to return.  Eventually, only David, Lor, Joshua, and JenniAnn were left.  Seated beside Joshua on a wicker loveseat, JenniAnn looked on with amusement as David and Lor remained immersed in a game of chess.

"Lor had never played before but wanted to share in the fun when he saw Jacob and Vincent playing," Joshua explained.  "David agreed to teach him... not realizing how good a student Lor would be."

"Check mate," Lor announced.

David studied the board, frowned, and then nodded.  "You got me, my friend.  Well done!"

JenniAnn smiled as the two began to put pieces away in a wooden box.

"How long have they been friends?"

"Since shortly after Lor came Home.  I introduced them.  I knew their families would collide."

"Of course you would know.  I can't imagine what it's like in your head... all those overlapping circles of families..."

Joshua chuckled as JenniAnn reached up to touch his temple and then brushed a curl behind his ear.

Blushing, JenniAnn pulled her hand away.  "Sorry."

"Why?"

"Sometimes I forget you're... you.  Or... I mean..."

"I am me... Just Joshua."

"'Just' has a very big meaning in your case," JenniAnn replied, hugging his arm.

"Yes but I get the hair thing.  There's just something comforting about it, huh?  When I was little... and at times not so little...  I used to clasp a lock of Ama's hair and rub it against my cheek.  Poor Ama...  I was a typical kid who didn't realize grabbing my mother's hair and twisting it around my wrist maybe didn't feel as nice for her as it did for me.  Once I was old enough to realize, I stopped, of course.  But I still liked feeling it against my cheek.  It reminded me of all the nights I spent cuddled against her."

"It reminds me of all the time spent on your make-up and hair a-and even though it was harrowing... I felt so close to you every time..."  JenniAnn froze and looked from Joshua to Lor to David.  It struck her that all three shared something in common: they had all died protecting people they loved.  She shivered.  Her earlier resolve to return to her mortal life began to dissipate.

Joshua grabbed a nearby blanket and wrapped it around her then motioned for Lor and David.  The two grabbed chairs and seated themselves in front of Joshua and JenniAnn.

"Sometimes... it's hard to... to live in a world where..."  JenniAnn waved towards David and Lor.  "Evil people live... thrive even... and... and people like you... don't.  A-and I know... and believe... the world is mostly good people.  The people around me, day after day, they're good people.  B-but there are good people here a-and Beyond and... and obviously you can care for us while being in Heaven...  So... so I could still care for my family and not..."  She looked to Joshua.  "Leave you..."

Joshua wrapped his arms around her when she nestled against his shoulder.

David and Lor exchanged a look then the latter gestured for the former to speak.

David reached out and set a hand on JenniAnn's shoulder.

"JenniAnn, what you say is true.  I cared for Essie all through the decades between my death and hers.  It brought me joy... much joy.  But it didn't feel the same for her.  I always felt her but... she felt a half-empty bed and the ghosts of children and grandchildren we were denied.  And, yes, at times she would feel me near and it did give her comfort.  But still..."

"It wasn't the same," Lor finished.  "I was there, holding my darling girl, when she thought our wee boy was lost.  And I knew... I knew Vincent was alive and well... fussin' but well... and I told her that but she couldn't hear me."

"So... so you were sad even in... in Heaven?" JenniAnn questioned.

"It's not sadness as ye think of it," Lor clarified.  "I felt much love and compassion for Cora.  I was moved by her tears and her pain.  However, I also knew, from Joshua, that she would get to meet and hold and love our son.  What ye see on Earth, even in Dyeland, it's only a glimpse.  It's like..."

"Like if you could only glimpse a tiny portion of a Monet.  A bit of bark, perhaps," David offered.  "As you look at that painting of the bark, it may seem meaningless... unpleasant even.  But if you could step back...  You would see the Iris Garden at Giverny.  Even those... pieces of bark... that God does not will, He can weave them into a masterpiece.  And, JenniAnn, you only have a brief time to contribute to the masterpiece that is Earth and Dyeland.  You have an eternity to remain a part of the glory that is Heaven."

JenniAnn weighed the two's words.  They made sense but it felt so wonderful to be at Joshua's side...  It was like being in Andrew's and Vincent's and her parents' arms all at once.  Suddenly, she felt her stomach lurch.

She had a baby who wasn't yet past the stage of wanting to cuddle, thank God.  When Belle would awaken from occasional nightmares, all it took was snuggling her close and after a few contented coos, her little girl would be smiling in her sleep.

JenniAnn had grown up with a mother to cuddle, snuggle, and soothe her.  How could she deny her own baby girl that?  Certainly Andrew would be as attentive and doting and loving as ever but... he was Daddy, not Mama.  She was Mama.

"I'll go back," JenniAnn murmured.

Lor and David beamed.

"When?"

Joshua squeezed JenniAnn tightly.  "It's up to you."

"You said I was having seizures.  When might those clear up some?"

"If you could rest until Friday, that would be the best for your body," Joshua replied.

"Then Friday..." JenniAnn decided.  "What day is it now?"

"Monday."

"Monday..." the woman whispered.  "It feels like I just got here!"

Joshua smiled and brushed some hair back from her face.  "Well, I'm glad you're not bored of us."

Grinning, JenniAnn adamantly shook her head, sending her hair flying. 

"Long hair does sometimes seem like it'd be fun," Joshua mused.  "Maybe..."  His hand drifted up to his hair.

"No," Lor and David interjected.

Laughing, Joshua held his hands up in surrender.  "Okay, okay..."

JenniAnn giggled and got to her feet.  "I think I'd like to go for a walk."

"Alone?" Joshua checked.

"You know."

Smiling, Joshua stood and walked with her to the door. 

Before they stepped outside, JenniAnn turned around. 

"David, Lor, would you like to join us?" she checked.

"Thank you but no," David replied.  "I thought we might go get the ladies.  Meet back here a little later?"

With a smile, JenniAnn nodded then took Joshua's hand as they set out on a walk around the island.

*~*~*

Deception

After a breakfast with Fr. Mike, Catherine, Robert, and Allison; Andrew was convinced to leave the hospital long enough to shower and change and pick up Belle for her visit with her Mama.  Stepping into Willowveil, he was immediately met with the sound of chanting backed by chimes.

"'Come spirit, come charm.  Come days that are warm.  Come magical spell.  Come help him get well!'"

Smiling, Andrew followed the song into the ballroom.  His eyes misted when he found the entire JCS orchestra joined by several of the performers.  He hung back until the song was finished.

Tess was the first to spot him and, once she'd sat down her conductor baton, she hurried to him.

Andrew sighed as he sunk into her massive hug.

"Baby..." Tess cooed as she stroked his hair.

"Tess...  What's going on?"

"Emma, Kylie, Eric, and Kemara came up with the idea," Tess half-answered as she beckoned for Kemara who was looking through a musical catalog with Sean and Peter.

Andrew hugged her when she approached.

"Was everything okay last night?" he asked.

"Everyone's checked in... most sticking around... and no reports of anything strange," Kemara reported.

"Thank you... and Sean, too," Andrew added as he approached.  "For organizing this.  It... it's just great to see so many of us together." 

Sean clapped Andrew on the back.  "We all needed this and I'm just glad we could help get everyone situated."

Max hugged the angel of death as he joined them.  "They did a great job, Dad.  I think we have even more people around than we did at Christmas... or close, at least.  How's Maja?"

"Still resting.  All her vitals are good."

"And the seizures?" Kemara prompted.

"Only one that we could tell so... better.  I, umm, know I could really use a shower so why don't I go do that and... and actually I should wash the sheets.  I got into bed yesterday without even..."

Noticing the group, Monica had drawn near with Arthur. 

"Andrew, no.  Just go shower.  We've already changed and washed your bedding since we needed the room for Diana and Zeke.  We'll do JenniAnn's room later this morning.  Just focus on you," the caseworker encouraged.

"We'll even hang the sheets out so they'll smell like fresh air," Arthur added.

Andrew smiled.  "Thanks.  Laja loves that.  Yeah...  I'll go shower."

The group all watched him leave.

"He's probably had what?  Maybe an hour or two of sleep since this started?" Sean questioned.

"He looks a little shaky when he walks..." Kemara sadly mused.

Max nodded.  "Actually, I'm going to follow him.  I'll just wait outside the bathroom while he showers.  I'd hear him if he falls."

Monica brushed at a tear.

"I can't imagine..."

Arthur gathered her into his arms.

"Did you tell him about the show?" he asked.

Tess shook her head.  "We will when he comes back.  Sweet Angel Boy..."

"You're sure he won't feel... offended or anything?" Sean checked.  "I mean the way I hear it... he was pretty adamant about wanting to help provide for his family and..."

"He'll be fine.  It's important to me to provide for my family, too.  But I know we'd struggle if any of us had a major health emergency.  Very few people, hard working as they are, can comfortably handle something like this," Arthur reasoned.  "Besides, it's not like Andrew and JenniAnn haven't helped us all out in various ways."

"True," Sean agreed.  "They put me up for a few months."

"Gave me... us... the beach house..." Kemara added.

Monica sniffled.  "JenniAnn pushed me to... to... A stor..." 

Arthur kissed her hair as Tess stroked her back.

"Andrew has his pride," Tess admitted.  "But this..."  She waved to the others.  "This won't hurt his pride one bit."

Violeta came rushing over.

"Is Andrew already gone?  I just stepped out with Ivy and Sy to check on Mary and Silly and Yonah and then Zeke told me that he saw Andrew but..."

Kemara hugged her.  "Andrew's still here.  He just went upstairs to take a shower.  He'll be back down here when he's ready."

"Good.  I... I think I'd like to go to the hospital.  I want to talk to JenniAnn this time."

"I think that sounds like a very good idea," Tess agreed.

Violeta smiled then wandered back over to where Diana and Zeke were consulting with Gabe and Alfie about a song.

"Has anyone gotten to talk to Tiva or the Rabbi alone?" Monica questioned.  "Whenever I've thought I'd have a chance, Violeta would turn up."

Kemara shook her head.  "No.  And you're right... Violeta is being pretty clingy.  But I did get to visit with Ivy briefly at breakfast.  She said Violeta woke up crying last night but insists she didn't have a nightmare.  I don't know..."

"We'll all have to keep an eye on her," Arthur insisted. 

"What has anyone heard about Shelby and Belle?"  Sean surveyed the others' faces.

Arthur sighed.  "Catherine called me earlier.  We were supposed to meet with some people about taking part in a wellness fair.  We both agreed rescheduling would be best.  Anyway, I asked about the girls and she said poor Shel's regressing.  For the second night, she slept in Catherine's and Vincent's bed with them.  Same thing as with Violeta, though.  She insists she isn't having nightmares.  And maybe she isn't.  The poor kid's already lost her parents.  She doesn't need nightmares for the prospect of losing JenniAnn to be horrifying,  Thankfully, Asher cut short a service trip with his college and should be Below by lunchtime.  Having a big brother around will be good for Shel... and Vincent.  Devin's plane lands at 2:30.  Monica and I said we'd pick him up.  We're supposed to drop Tim, Tyson, and Jeff off at the airport right before.  They don't want to leave but..."

"They're beginning a speaking tour to various groups and churches to raise funding for their cradle project.  I told them JenniAnn wouldn't want them backing out," Monica explained.

"No, she wouldn't," Kemara agreed.

"And how is Belle?" Tess queried.

"Catherine thinks she senses that something's amiss.  She's gotten quieter.  But Vincent's not let her out of his sight except when Andrew has her and she's loving the attention."

"I'm worried about Catherine and Vincent," Kemara confessed.  "To... to think about what they saw..."  She fished her rosary out of her pocket as tears welled.  "Excuse me."

Sean hurried after his fleeing wife.

"I'm sure Portia's keeping a close eye on those two... when she can," Monica offered, trying to calm herself as much as Arthur and Tess.

Suddenly, a sharp whistle sounded.

Everyone turned to see Peter standing on one the tables.

"Don't jump!  We can't lose another Jesus like that!" Eric shouted, getting the group laughing.  Even Kemara and Sean smiled as they peeked out of the hallway.

Smiling, Peter sat down and then stepped off the table.  He playfully shoved Eric before speaking.

"Since Andrew's here, I thought it might be nice if we paused in our show prep to do another prayer service.  How about we all head out back, to the chapel, and start?  Could someone wait for Andrew and bring him back when he's ready?" Peter requested.

"I will," Eli volunteered.

"And I'll wait with him," Kelly added.

With that decided, the entire group trooped back to the chapel to start their prayers.

*~*~*

Andrew eyes welled as he walked with Kelly, Max, and Eli to the chapel.  Already he could hear the soft strains of "Amazing Grace" flowing from the chapel's opened windows.

They stepped inside just as Adam took his place behind the lectern.

"A reading from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 5, verses 21 to 43," he began.  "'When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.  Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet.  He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying.  Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  So Jesus went with him.'"

Eli directed Andrew and Max to the front row where Violeta was waiting.  She hugged their arms once they sat on either side of her.

"'A large crowd followed and pressed around him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.'"

Andrew brushed at his cheek and gratefully took a handkerchief from Tiva.  Whomever had chosen the reading had to have known it was among JenniAnn's favorites.

"'At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”  “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”  But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.  He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”  While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”  Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.'"

Adam looked up from the Bible and briefly smiled at his friend and the "kids" before he resumed reading.

"'When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly.  He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.  After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).  Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old).  At this they were completely astonished.  He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.'"

The angel of death smiled and closed the Bible.

"That's Joshua for you... always practical.  Well, almost always.  Not sure how practical the blob fish is but what do I know?" Adam jested.

After the laughter quieted, he resumed speaking.

"Andrew, buddy, I've been here for almost the whole fifteen years, watching you and JenniAnn draw closer and closer.  I always wondered what that was like and now I know something of it."  Adam brushed at a tear and smiled at Kylie and Clay before turning back to his fellow angel.  "I can't begin to know everything you're feeling right now but I hope you know... and you, Max and Violeta... that we all want to do everything we can to help you.  But I know that... that right now, the person you want to hear from the most is JenniAnn and while I can't make that happen for you... I can at least give voice to a prayer that I know is important to her.  A long time ago, JenniAnn showed me her prayer book and I noticed that one page in particular looked more worn.  This is what was on it."

Adam opened a small, flowered album and began to read.

"'Jesus, in time of weakness, be my strength; in time of desolation, be my consolation; in times of loneliness, be my companion; in times of doubt, be my security; in times of weariness, be my rest; in times of sickness of mind, body, and soul, be my healer.'"

As he felt peace wash over him, Andrew reached for Max's and Violeta's hands.

"Amen," he whispered.

"Amen," the two echoed as the three embraced.

*~*~*

Joshua stood a few feet away as JenniAnn paced along the stream. 

"Oh..."  The woman closed her eyes and listened.

Joshua saw her lips moving and, even though she was silent, he heard her words so clearly.

"'In times of weariness, be my rest; in times of sickness of mind, body, and soul, be my healer.'"

JenniAnn turned to Joshua and closed the distance between them.  He remained silent as he wrapped his arms around her while she wept into his shirt.

"That... that was years ago that I... I showed Adam my prayer book.  A-and he remembered.  And some of my favorite parts of the Gospels a-and..."

Joshua smiled as JenniAnn reached up to cradle his face.

"I never actually thanked you for... for what you did for the hemorrhaging woman.  You have no idea... oh, of course you do...  B-but when sometimes people would... would get on some diatribe about how... how women are lesser... I would think of you a-and that woman a-and... you didn't think she was... was disgusting or... or lesser.  You..."

"She was always and is always beautiful to me.  So are you," Joshua murmured.

Before JenniAnn could reply, more voices met her ears... Diana's and Zeke's.

"'Jesus, they say You walked upon the water once when you lived as all men do.  Please teach me how to walk the way You did because I want to walk with You...'"

JenniAnn laced her fingers through Joshua's as they listened.

"'Jesus...  Write me into Your story.  Whisper it to me and let me know I'm Yours.'"

"You are mine," Joshua whispered.  "But you're theirs, too.  Adam remembered the prayer and the verses because he loves you.  Diana and Zeke heard you humming that song once, last Good Friday actually, and remembered.  Because they love you, too.  The chapel is filled with people who love you and are praying for you, JenniAnn.  Vincent... he's there, holding little Belle, and continuing a prayer he began over fourteen years ago.  He prays that you and Andrew will have your happy life."

More tears, ones of gratitude and love, streaked down JenniAnn's face.  She saw Joshua's own memory of Andrew's and Vincent's shoreline discussion on the day they'd first met.  She heard her beloved's answer after her godfather has asked what he would do if she never outgrew her feelings for him.

"I would love her as much and as best as I could.  No matter what."

"Andrew..." she lovingly cooed.

"He's right there, in the front pew, with Max and Violeta.  They're feeling a whole lot of peace and support but... they still miss you so much."

JenniAnn closed her eyes and thought of her much-loved, ragtag family. 

Joshua spoke again when her thoughts shifted.  "They stayed at the hospital with you.  But they've made peace with Andrew.  I'm not going to say they'll never have another disagreement with him but... things are much, much better.  Better than they've ever been between Andrew and your parents."

Letting out a sigh of relief, JenniAnn smiled.  "Good.  I'm glad.  But I do... I still feel bad that I couldn't work up the nerve to tell them about all the legal stuff.  It's terrible that... that it fell to Andrew when he was so... so upset.  Why, fully knowing that you support us, couldn't I bring myself to talk to my parents?"

Joshua patted her back.  "Because most children don't want to disappoint their parents.  And even though you know you're living the life I meant for you... you also know how much your parents treasured a vision of the future with you married and with children of your own... in every sense of the word.  And you know what?  I really do understand that.  Ama tells me I never disappointed her and, of course, I believe her because she's Ama... and, you know, omnipotence."  He grinned as JenniAnn laughed.  "But there were times when I was in my twenties and I could see her contemplating wistful thoughts... wondering what children of mine might have acted like and looked like... what bits of me they would have inherited.  We both knew I would never father children... but I never wanted to outright remind her of it.  But now Ama gets to see all those little traits.  She sees Andrew, picking up my and Abi's trade.  And she sees you..."

JenniAnn had been staring at Joshua's hands but her eyes shot up.  "What... what trait did I inherit?"

"For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."  Joshua hugged her tightly.  "That's you, dear one.  You know, just as I did, that family is more than blood.  It's something deeper and just as I always loved and will always love my Ama and Yaqob, Yosef, Shimeon, Yehuda, Yael, and Leah; so will you always love your parents.  But your family... our family... it will always stretch beyond what most would put on a family tree.  Every person in that chapel is your parent or your child, your niece, your nephew, your brother, or your sister... and one soul mate."

"My beautiful anam cara... my Andrew..."

Joshua released JenniAnn, allowing her to again approach the stream.

JenniAnn gazed into the water and saw Andrew's face.  His head was inclined towards Violeta's as she rested her own head on his shoulder. 

Fresh tears filling her eyes, JenniAnn knelt at the edge of the stream.  "I... I really love him."

Kneeling beside her, Joshua rested an arm around her shoulders.  "I know."

JenniAnn drew in and let out a deep breath.  "I... I am so glad and feel so blessed that I saw a-and heard this but now... I need to walk some more."

"Of course."  Joshua pulled her to her feet and they walked for some time in comfortable silence.
  Eventually they came to the edge of the clearing that contained the cottage.  Joshua turned to face JenniAnn.

"Are you ready to go back with the others?"

"You're very polite to ask questions you already know the answers to," she teased.

Joshua chuckled.  "Then we'll go back."

David, Chava, Lor, Cora, Jamey, and Sophia were gathered around a fire, laughing as they told stories.

Sophia noticed her niece and Lord approaching first.  She smiled and waved.

"Did you two have a nice walk?"

Beaming at Joshua, JenniAnn nodded.

"Yes.  It was very... reassuring," she averred.

Chava hugged JenniAnn.  "I'm so glad.  Joshua's a very reassuring sort, huh?"

With a grin, JenniAnn again nodded.  "There's no one better... literally."

Joshua chuckled and hugged her.  "I had a nice time, too.  But now... I think we're due for some fun.  All of us.  Let's play a game of, in the words of little Belle, 'Ide Ee,'" he suggested, winking at JenniAnn before running into the kudzu.

"Idea?" Jamey queried.  "What's he doing?"

With a laugh, JenniAnn shook her head.  "'Ide ee'... Bellespeake for 'Hide-and-Seek.'  So... I'll be the seeker if..."

The others promptly disappeared.

"Hey!  Well, you have to be visible when I come seeking or else this game will never end!" JenniAnn cried.  Then, with another laugh, she began to count down from thirty.


*~*~*

The day had gone pleasantly, all things considered, Andrew decided.  As the evening neared, he was grateful for a few moments by himself with JenniAnn.

"I wish you could have been there, Laja... to see our friends' and family members' generosity and devotion.  They're going to do a bunch of your favorite songs.  They just... they want to help us and I think it's helping them, too.  To have something constructive to do...  You and I know how that is.  And your mom and dad seemed really impressed.  I think hearing about that helped them even more to understand us, our group."

Andrew paused to kiss her hand.

"Belle seemed more... somber today.  I think... Laja, I think she's starting to put together that something's wrong.  Your parents are staying at Catherine's apartment tonight and taking Belle with them.  I hope the novelty of it all will distract Belle.  Asher got into town and Shel's doing much better.  Devin's around, too.  And Raquel is due in tomorrow.  Henry's already set to go pick her up whenever she gets in town.  I think Reuel and Owen have become fast friends.  You should see some of the drawings Owen's working on.  They'll make beautiful paintings.  Reuel already wants to buy one.  Owen insisted he won't charge him but Reuel can be sneaky... and stubborn.  It's of his anam cara and their daughter.  Owen drew it from Reuel's description only but I guess the resemblances are pretty stunning.  Oh and they were in the stable the whole time.  They'll be there tonight, too.  Reuel says it reminds him of the old days.  So don't you worry about Yonah or the sheep.  They've got their own bodyguards.  "

Andrew smiled. 

"Max is doing better.  Much better," he assured.  "Actually, he spoke to Rex's wife.  Her name's Brooke.  Catherine checked with Max before she gave Brooke his number but I was kinda nervous about it.  I thought it might just upset Max even more but that doesn't seem to be the case at all.  In fact, I think talking did them both good.  Apparently Brooke blamed herself for what... what happened to you.  And Max felt so awful about what Rex did to you and Brooke.  So he and Rose took Brooke out for ice cream and I think seeing each other, being together... Max saw that Brooke was recovering and Max assured her that absolutely no one blamed her.  So that was healing for both of them."

Turning to ensure the door was mostly closed, Andrew very carefully got into the bed and settled onto his side.  He tenderly caressed JenniAnn's cheek.

"Laja...  I miss you.  So much.  I..."

The door creaked open and Andrew froze.

"It's just me.  Don't move."

Violeta stepped into the room, holding two cups of coffee.

"I thought JenniAnn might like the smell... and I figured we both could use some," she explained.

Andrew smiled.  "I know I could.  And I will.  I just need a few..."

Violeta patted his shoulder.  "I know."  She moved to JenniAnn's side of the bed and held her own cup near the woman's face.  "It's French vanilla with a shot of amaretto.  You'd like the new machine here.  You can add a buncha different flavors.  I almost got toasted marshmallow but... but then I remembered when you introduced me to amaretto.  It... it was one of the first times we had coffee together after I stopped being snippy."   She pulled up a chair and rested a hand on JenniAnn's arm.  "You... JenniAnn... you taught me so much about how... how to be, well, a... a girl.  I... I thought I had to be so mature a-and perfect.  Turns out I just need to be... be Joshua's Duckling... who isn't mature or perfect.  But the thing is... I... still... I don't know a lot.  A-and I'm going to college and I need... you."  Through her tears, she peered at Andrew.  "I don't mean... you... you're a wonderful supervisor.  The... the best!  And I love you so, so, so much b-but..."

His own eyes misting, Andrew reached over to stroke his protege's hair.  "I know, sweetheart.  And I understand.  I can't teach you how to live in that body in the way Laja can."  He smiled sadly as he softly tugged one of Violeta's locks.  "She..."

For a moment, Andrew felt a surge of hope when he sensed movement beside him. 

Then Violeta screamed.

Aghast, Andrew realized that JenniAnn was convulsing.

"No... no, no..." he cried. 

As JenniAnn's body continued to contort, Andrew turned her onto her side, as mindful of the tubes and wires as he could be.

Violeta ran into the hallway.

"Help!" she shouted.

"Laja... Laja, I'm here..." Andrew whispered.  "Laja... don't... don't go."

Two nurses dashed into the room.

"Sir, we need you to move.  Now."

Mute, Andrew obeyed and found himself standing at the foot of the bed.  He shivered, moved towards the window, and peered at the darkening heavens.

"Joshua, Joshua, Joshua..."

*~*~*

JenniAnn ran through the forest with the already discovered Sophia, Chava, Cora, Lor, and David following her.  Hushed laughter caused her to make a sharp right turn and, looking up, she saw her cousin amid the branches of a tree.

"Gotcha, Jamey!"

"Well, at least I wasn't the first one found."  Jamey jumped off the branch, nearly causing JenniAnn to scream before she remembered he couldn't be hurt.  The boy surveyed her companions.  "So only Joshua is left.  Hmm..."

The group set off again and that time the snapping of twigs alerted JenniAnn to a presence. 

"All right, Joshua...  I'm onto you!"

A phony sounding bird's whistle replied.

JenniAnn traipsed off in the direction of the chirping.  She did a double take when she saw a flash of movement.  It was definitely a man... but not Joshua.  Speeding up, she ran in the direction of the apparition and grabbed the retreating figure by the sleeve.

"Who are... John!"

The baptist turned around and grinned.  "I heard my cousin had started a game.  I couldn't resist joining in." 

JenniAnn threw her arms around him.  "John..." she repeated, her voice softer.

Sophia laughed as the group she led joined them.  "We should have known you'd be out here.  You are fond of wandering the wilderness."

Chuckling, John nodded.  "I am.  And fond of this one."  He hugged JenniAnn's shoulders.  "She allowed me to use the shower after I, uh, had an incident with a fountain.  And she put my cousin up for a number of weeks."

"Well, technically, my cousin put us all up," JenniAnn corrected.

"Still...  You played hostess.  Host...  Is hostess wrong these days?" John queried.

Laughing, JenniAnn shrugged.  "I have no idea but I was happy to play hostess to Joshua... who is still missing.  Hmm..."

"Knowing Joshua's wily ways... he has likely turned himself into a butterfly or bird," John hypothesized.

"It hadn't even occurred to me that he might do that!"  Grinning and shaking her head, JenniAnn set off again with the others following her.

And then she noticed two kudzu covered rocks that seemed a little bit off... more than a little bit off when they shifted slightly.  Hoping they were who she thought they were, JenniAnn sped to the other side of the "rocks" and crouched down. 

Discovering that she was unable to speak through the lump in her throat, JenniAnn reached out for two familiar hands.

Maryam and Yosef threw off the gray cloaks they'd used to conceal themselves and embraced the woman.

"I... I hoped I'd see you both... and John.  And now..."

Maryam smiled.

"We could not stay away," she replied as she smoothed some hair back from JenniAnn's face.

Yosef set a gentle hand at her back.  "We are both very sorry for what you have endured, JenniAnn.  It is pleasant to be together again, though, yes?"

"Very much yes," JenniAnn murmured, squeezing his hand.  "But I still haven't found Joshu...  Oh..."  She brushed tears away from her eyes as a white butterfly floated towards them.  It hovered in the air near her and, suddenly, Joshua was seated beside her.

"The first time I ever saw you... that's how you looked," she remembered.

Joshua nodded.

Something in his eyes made JenniAnn look away.  Too much emotion...

"Sorry for not waiting for you to find me but the sun's beginning to set and I'd like to get a fire started.  Might be nice to sit around it, huh?"

"Yes," JenniAnn agreed, taking his offered hand so he could help her to her feet.  It occurred to her that the entire time she'd been on the island... well over a day by Earth's time... it had been daylight.  She wondered if the encroaching darkness meant anything. 

Their little group was subdued as they made their way back to the cottage.  JenniAnn noted that she and Joshua were always at the center with the others clustered around them.  

It didn't take long to reach the clearing and the cottage. 

"Perhaps the rest of you could start a fire?" Joshua requested.  "JenniAnn and I will get some tea and snacks going."

"Of course, Yeshu," Yosef replied. 

Joshua linked his arm through JenniAnn's and steered her towards the cottage.  No sooner had they crossed the threshold and the door closed than JenniAnn felt her knees buckle.

Joshua sunk to the floor, cushioning her fall.  He enfolded JenniAnn in his arms.

"Wh-what's happening?  I feel... so... weak."

"Your body is having a grand mal seizure."

"But I've never..."

Tears trickled down Joshua's cheeks.  "I know."

"Am... am I dying?"

"No, dear one.  I'm just sorry you have to feel this."

"It's nothing compared to what you..."  JenniAnn was silenced when Joshua's hand rested over her forehead.  The fatigue she usually felt after a seizure... a fatigue of mind, body, and spirit... diminished.  Energy seeped back into her and she let out a dreamy sigh.

Joshua smiled.  "Feel better?"

"Uh huh..."  With Joshua still supporting her back, JenniAnn sat up.

"Do you want to try to stand?"

"Yes."

Keeping hold of Joshua, JenniAnn rose and took a few tentative steps.

"Better," she declared.  "But why..."

"Remember when Andrew was here?  His spirit was still attached to his body... just as yours is now.  When he experienced trauma in Afghanistan, he felt some of the effects even here.  It's the same for you."

"That makes sense.  But why..."

"The damage from the oxygen deprivation.  It's made your epilepsy more severe.  But if your brain is allowed to remain resting for a few days more then it will heal back to the point it was before."

"And you won't heal that because, if you did, I would just make myself truly sick by not chilling when I need to," JenniAnn recalled.

Joshua smiled.  "Exactly.  Am I wrong?"

"Even if I didn't know you were omnipotent, I would have to admit the rightness of your argument," JenniAnn confessed with a sheepish smile. 

Still smiling, Joshua embraced her. 

They lingered for a few moments, her listening to his heartbeat and him listening to the prayers of those she'd left behind.

*~*~*

"No...  No, I don't think you need to come up unless you want to, Allison.  She's stable.  Yeah, it was a... a grand mal seizure.  The thing is... it might not be the last one a-and we're all going to... to have to take care of ourselves because she'll need us even more if... if they do keep up.  Yeah, I was worried about that, too.  They checked after they asked me to leave the room.  The doctor said the incision still looks good, no tearing.  No... no, Robert.  It... it doesn't necessarily mean that at all."

Andrew dragged his left hand through his hair and sunk onto a bench in the hall.  Thankfully, Rabbi Yakov had stopped by just after the nurses had allowed visitors back into JenniAnn's room.  He was sitting with her.  Andrew was glad she wouldn't hear this conversation.

"She's been living with epilepsy for possibly her whole life.  Even if it's gotten more severe, that doesn't say anything about her long-term chances.  Several people live long, otherwise healthy lives even with repeated grand mal seizures.  Okay.  I promise I will call if anything changes.  Absolutely."  Andrew let out a shuddering breath.  "I... I love you... you, too.  Yes... yes, please."

Andrew smiled through his tears when another voice came on the line.

"Daddy!"

"Belle..."

Andrew listened to a string of babbling, only about half of which he understood.  He smiled.  Belle sounded fairly cheery.

He smiled when she began to make a kissy noise which he echoed back.

"Night, night to you, too, baby girl.  I love you...  Mama loves you.  I'll see you tomorrow."

A moment later, Allison was back on the line.

"Thank you for that.  It... it did my heart good to... to hear her.  Okay.  Yeah, tomorrow morning.  9:00 is good.  Try to...  I know...  I'll make sure she... she's not alone, not even for a moment.  Love you.  Bye."

Andrew ended the call and slid the phone back into his pocket.  He rubbed at his eyes then clutched the two crosses around his neck.

"Please... please let her come out of this.  A-and don't... please don't let her feel any... any pain.  Joshua, I... I'm not ready to... to let her go b-but if..."  Andrew closed his eyes.  "Thy will be done."

"Andrew?"

The angel looked up to see Tiva, Ivy, and Sy approaching.  He stood to hug them.

"Rabbi Yakov's in with JenniAnn now.  She's stable," he relayed.

The three sighed with relief.

"I'm so glad," Tiva replied.  "How about we take the kids to Willowveil and then Yakov and I will come back to sit with you?"

"Tiva, you don't have to do..."

The woman clasped the angel's hands.  "We want to.  Just let me go get Violeta and my husband and then..."

The color drained from Andrew's face.

Sy grabbed him when he staggered.  "Andrew, what's wrong?  Maybe I should stay with..."

"Vi-Violeta...  She... she's not with the rabbi.  Oh... oh no...  I... I...  How could I..."

"Yeshua... please..." Ivy murmured before bolting away.  "I'm going to find her!" she called as she ran.

"Ivy!" Sy shouted then followed her.

Tiva pulled Andrew towards JenniAnn's door.

The rabbi looked up in alarm.  "Tiva..."

"Violeta's missing.  Watch Andrew!" she cried before hurrying in the direction the two teenagers had gone.

Andrew crumpled to the floor and held his head in his hands.

"How... how could I do this?" he choked out.  "I... I let her... her go a-and..."

Yakov hurried around JenniAnn's bed and knelt in front of the angel.

"Andrew... Andrew, breathe.  There you go.  Now tell me.  When did you last see Violeta?"

"She... she was here when the... the seizure.  A-and then... then in the commotion...  I... I guess she ran off and I... I figured she must have gone to... to the chapel with... with Tiva and Sy and Ivy b-but..."  He shook his head.  "Rabbi, what if... if they get to her?  She's so... so young a-and upset and... such a sensitive, sweet...  Violeta... sweetheart..."

The man watched, tears falling, as the angel struggled to his feet and then stumbled towards JenniAnn.

"Laja...  I'm sorry.  So... so sorry.  So... stupid... thoughtless..."

"Andrew, no..." Rabbi Yakov countered.  "You had so much on your mind."

"Violeta is my responsibility!  She... she's ours...  Mine and JenniAnn's a-and, most of all, God's a-and I just left her a-alone after seeing something so... so...  I need to go.  I need to go find her."

"Andrew, no.  Tiva, Ivy, and Sy are looking and...  Andrew!"

The angel of death burst from the room and disappeared.

Yakov lifted his eyes to the ceiling.  "Lord... Joshua... help us.  Help them to find your Duckling before... before those others do."

Taking the chair Andrew had been using, the rabbi took JenniAnn's hand in both of his.

"Psyche, I need you to pray with me.  'Where two or three are gathered...'"

Resting his forehead against the girl's hand, Yakov prayed for the protection of Violeta, his wife, Sy, Ivy, and Andrew.

*~*~*

John had everyone around the fire doubled over with laughter as he told of the mischief he, Joshua, and others of their cousins had gotten into.

"Ah, but that's not even my favorite story.  JenniAnn, you will appreciate this.  You and Joshua with your donkeys...  It was during one of my visits to Joshua, Maryam, and Yosef and Maryam had sent Joshua and me to the market.  We were about fourteen at the time.  There was a merchant there who was not a kind soul.  Every day, he'd show up with his poor, mistreated donkey."

JenniAnn winced and Maryam hugged her arm.

"Trust me, it has a happy ending," she whispered.

After smiling first at Maryam and then Joshua, JenniAnn redirected her attention to John.

"Near this man's stall was one of a much poorer family who sold baskets.  Their little boy adored the merchant's donkey.  Now, our Joshua was an observant fellow.  Many times over he'd watched that boy pine over his donkey friend... the two played together when the merchant was too busy to notice.  But he'd also seen some other things... like the merchant sneaking off to meet with a young lady who was not his wife... and, at other times, still another young lady.  On this particular day, the donkey was showing signs of a recent beating.  The little tyke over among the baskets was beside himself.  Joshua had decided he'd had enough.  Much to my horror, he plopped himself down on the ground in front of the merchant's stall and began to write in the dirt.  Like a little boy!  And us fourteen!  Men!"

Joshua only smiled as he listened to his cousin reliving his consternation.

"The merchant ordered Joshua to stop, fearing he would drive away customers.  After all, it looked a little off...  And people already thought Joshua was a strange one."

"My boy!" Yosef proudly interjected.

"Thank you, Abi."

Maryam beamed.

"But then the merchant saw what Joshua was writing, something of a log of his 'visits,'" John explained.  "The color instantly drained from the merchant's face.  He thought he had been so careful..."

"And he was," Joshua agreed.  "I'd just like to go on record as saying the merchant's route to his liaisons just happened to coincide with one of my preferred paths for an evening stroll... This was, after all, only two years after Ama and Abi took me to the Temple for Passover and I had a lot on my mind.  One day, I saw him sneak into one of the maiden's houses.  I was alarmed and thought he may have meant harm to the young lady who lived there so I dashed towards the house and, ah, heard laughter and... such.  So... I knew it was a joint... umm, effort.  Trust me, I would rather not have known.  Just please don't anyone think I was creeping around Nazareth spying on people."

JenniAnn patted his back.  "No one would ever think that... but knowing obviously came in handy!"

John grinned.  "The merchant was so convinced of his own stealthiness that he believed Joshua was a prophet and had obtained such knowledge directly from God... which turned out to be true in more ways than he knew, of course!  In spite of his lust, the merchant was faithful in a manner and begged Joshua to tell him how to atone for his sins.  So, of course, Joshua told him to pray and give to the poor... and he suggested that, perhaps, giving his donkey to the basket maker's family might be a good start."

Joshua smiled at the memory of the man handing over his donkey.

"I'll never forget the way that little fellow's eyes lit up when the merchant led the donkey to them and said God had commanded him to give the old jack to them.  Again... the words were truer than he realized!" John gloated, his eyes lit with pride in his cousin. 

"Joshua..."  JenniAnn hugged him.

As Joshua's arms came around her, JenniAnn gasped.  Her mind flooded with confusing but harrowing images: a tiny duck struggling to swim up a sea of rapids... falling rain pelting its downy feathers and nearly pushing it under...

"Violeta is my responsibility!  She... she's ours...  Mine and JenniAnn's a-and, most of all, God's a-and I just left her a-alone after seeing something so... so...  I need to go.  I need to go find her."

"Lord... Joshua... help us.  Help them to find your Duckling before... before those others do... 
Psyche, I need you to pray with me.  'Where two or three are gathered...'"

"No..." JenniAnn moaned.  "Violeta...  What... what's happening?"

Above, clouds began to gather in the sky.

"JenniAnn, let's go in the cottage for a little bit," Joshua suggested.

As he guided her towards the door, Maryam and Sophia followed.  The others remained near the fire, joining hands as they prayed.

"Violeta... our Violeta..." JenniAnn murmured, rubbing at her chest.

Joshua led her to a chair then crouched in front of her. 
Maryam and Sophia each rested a hand on her shoulders.

"JenniAnn, this... it's going to be hard to hear and see but I need you to be very, very brave," Joshua gently informed.  "And I know you are.  We need to go back for a little while now.  Okay?"

"To help Violeta?" JenniAnn questioned.

"Yes.  To help our Duckling."

JenniAnn nodded and took Joshua's hands.

*~*~*

Violeta peeled herself off the grass.  In her panic, she had fled to a garden near the hospital and tripped on a rock.  She let out a cry of pain as her ankle buckled beneath her when she attempted to stand.  Wincing, she rotated her ankle.  At least she could move it fully.  After getting to her feet, she took a few tentative steps.  It hurt but she could manage.

Limping, Violeta made her way to a bench and sat down.  She again examined her ankle and, when she looked up, was startled to see someone seated on the bench across from her.

"Poor little lamb!" a female voice cried.  "Do you think you've sprained it?"

Violeta shrugged.  "Maybe.  I'm fine.  I should go back inside."

"It's so beautiful out here, though, isn't it?  I love twilight.  So calming."

The teenager managed a smile and nodded.

"You've been crying!" the stranger observed.

Violeta swiped at her face. 

The woman rose and settled beside her on the bench.

New tears welled in Violeta's eyes as her visitor's fingers drifted through her hair.  It reminded her of all the evenings spent in the living room at Willowveil with Andrew amusing Belle and JenniAnn brushing and plaiting her hair.

"Can I tell you a secret?" the stranger asked.

Violeta nodded.

"I'm an angel.  God sent me just like he sent Reuel.  Except I'm here only for you... to help you, Violeta."

"Re-really?"

"Oh, yes."

"What's your name?"

"Ayanna.  It means 'beautiful flower.'  We're both named for flowers, huh?"

With a slight smile, the teen nodded.

"Violeta, God wants you to be prepared for what's coming," Ayanna began.

"Is... is JenniAnn going to... to die?"

Ayanna shook her head.  "No.  But things will... change.  These near death experiences... they can be very... eye-opening for humans.  Sometimes they make them realize what they've been missing in life... what they truly want."

"I... I can see that."

"The thing is... and I know this will be terribly hard to hear... JenniAnn... she's going to decide she wants... more."

"More?"

"Only what most humans want.  I mean your little family... it's adorable and I quite envy it but JenniAnn will want... more than Andrew can give her.  A child of her own."

Violeta stiffened.  "She has a child of her own!  Belle!"

Ayanna nodded.  "I know.  For us, a child by adoption is as much a child as one borne to a man and woman.  But for them..."

"N-no...  JenniAnn believes..."  Violeta's eyes welled.  JenniAnn did believe Belle was hers, didn't she?  But then her parents... deep down they had seemed to believe otherwise.  Maybe deep down JenniAnn agreed.  And if JenniAnn didn't think Belle was hers then what did she think about her?  She wasn't even adopted.  She wasn't even human.  She was just... there.  No.

"She loves me," Violeta whispered.  "I... I love her."

Ayanna sighed.  "Poor dear...  Sweet Violeta, JenniAnn fancies herself in love with Andrew.  And what better way to endear herself to him than to coddle and care for his much-loved trainee?  But once she decides she wants... needs... more than Andrew..."

"She loves Andrew!" the young angel shouted.  "Always... always..."

"Violeta, listen to me now.  JenniAnn is a human.  She's resisted for many years but... we all knows humans are obsessed with sex.  That's what makes them so different from us."

"No!" Violeta bellowed.  "No... she... she..."  Tears poured down her cheeks and she adamantly shook her head.  Her hands reached up to clasp the pink and purple butterfly necklace JenniAnn had given to her.  "Love... loves me..."

"No, sweetheart.  Not really.  Violeta, why don't you come with me for a while?  Andrew... he's going to be pretty messed up once JenniAnn comes back... different.  It would be better if you weren't there to see..."

Violeta burst up from the bench.  "No!  Liar!  You lie!  You... you aren't an angel at all!  You're..."

"Be gone, servant of Satan!" a booming voice ordered.

Violeta looked on in horror as Ayanna began to contort. 

"Tzila, daughter of sin, I command you to leave this garden!" the phantom continued.

Hugging herself, Violeta watched as an eery blue light surrounded her unwanted visitor.  After a few moments, she was gone.

Letting out the breath she was holding, Violeta turned to see a man... an angel surely... standing behind her.

"You... you called her Tzila," she choked out.  "Reuel..."

"Yes.  That was the very same demon who tormented his people.  She's a sly one.  But you don't need to fear her anymore, Violeta."

"Who are you?" she asked, suspicious.

"My name is Elazer."

Violeta seized on the name and smiled.  "Elazer!  You're a friend of Reuel's!  You... you have an anam cara just like Andrew!"

Elazer smiled and nodded.  "Odelya, yes."

Sighing, Violeta stepped nearer.  "Thank you for what you did.  She... she was so scary."

"She is.  How about we take a walk so you can calm your nerves some?  Then I'll walk you back to JenniAnn's room," Elazer offered.

"Okay, thank you.  I don't want to stress Andrew out anymore."

"So how is JenniAnn?" Elazer asked as they began their stroll.  "Reuel mentioned her case to me before he left Heaven but, up until I was called to come to you, I hadn't received any updates."

"Not... not good.  She... she had a really bad, scary seizure a-and..."

Elazer rested an arm around her shoulders.  "I'm sorry.  Those can be terrible to see."

Violeta nodded. 

"I hope that doesn't mean parts of her brain are shutting down."

Shivering, the young angel nodded.  "I... I hope not.  Do you think it could be that?"

Elazer shrugged.  "I'm afraid I don't know much about the human brain."

They walked in silence for a few moments.

"The demon lady... she... she tried to get me to believe that JenniAnn doesn't really love me.  That she won't even love Andrew any more..."

"Does that sound like your friend?"

"No!" 

"Tzila lies.  It's what demons do."

"Yeah."

More silence ensued as Violeta walked and peered down at her necklace.  When she looked up, she realized she had no idea where she was.   

"Where are we?" she questioned as she surveyed the dimly lit alley.

"Where we need to be," Elazer answered.

"What do you mean?  I... I want to go back to the..."

Violeta's blood ran cold as she heard raucous laughter.  Looking over Elazer's shoulder, she saw a group of four men approaching.

Elazer grinned in a way that made the teenager's stomach churn. 

Violeta gasped when he grabbed her wrist.  She tried to pull away but he was too strong.

"You and Andrew and Reuel and all your pathetic friends...  You think humans are so wonderful... so... lovable."  He wrinkled his nose.  "If you love them so much, maybe you'd like to spend some time with this lot coming along?"

"Let me go!" Violeta screeched.

"Hey there, pretty girl, who you talking to?"

Violeta continued to struggle with Elazer... who she knew now could not really be Elazer.

"I think someone's had a little too much to drink..."  One of the men taunted in a sing-song voice.

"Don't worry, babe.  We've got somewhere you can lay down."

As her heart pounded in her chest, Violeta screamed.

Just as the men were about to reach her, the angel was overcome by the scent of lavender.

"Jesus!" one of the men shouted.

Violeta felt the demon's grip of her loosen and then fall away entirely.  The light was too bright for her to see anything but she felt two arms come around her.

"It's okay, honey.  I have you.  Breathe, Violeta.  Big, deep breath."

Violeta obeyed.  "JenniAnn...  I... I'm scared.  Where is... is Joshua?"

"Right here.  He's right here with us."

"JenniAnn..." 

"I love you, Violeta.  So much."

Violeta felt a soft kiss at her temple and then nothing.

"What the hell are you doing?" a familiar voice shouted.  "Get away from her!"

Sy.

Violeta looked up and saw the four men a yard away from her, frozen and with looks of abject terror on their faces.

"You!  I know your mother!  You get away from that girl this instant or I will call your mother and..."

Tiva.

The four fled, never looking back.

"Violeta...  Oh, Violeta...  Can you look at me?"

Violeta sunk into Ivy's embrace.

"Sweetheart!" 

Andrew thundered towards the group and fell to his knees in front of his trainee.  He cradled her face in his hands.

"Violeta..."

"Andrew..." she murmured in reply.  "I... I want to get away from here."  Violeta tried to stand up but faltered.

"I got you."

Andrew scooped her into his arms and began walking with the others following them.

JenniAnn sighed as she watched her beloved plant a tender kiss on Violeta's forehead. 

"I... I don't think I can wait until Friday," she declared, turning to look at Joshua, Maryam, and Sophia.  "I need... need to be with them.  Physically.  That..."  JenniAnn waved to the retreating figures.  "Cannot happen again.  Not... not to... to our Duckling."

Maryam reached out and took her hands.

Joshua smiled sadly.  "I know."

"You always knew," JenniAnn asserted.

He nodded.  "But the choice always had to be yours.  Tzila planted doubts in Violeta's mind.  But now... now she'll know that you gave up a piece of Eternity... for her.  She can't doubt that sort of love.  But you're sure?"

JenniAnn sniffled and nodded then returned Joshua's bittersweet smile.  "She's one of my kids.  Giving up a piece of Eternity for one's kids is family tradition."

As Maryam and Sophia smiled, Joshua pulled JenniAnn into his arms.

"Thank you.  We have to go back to the cottage... not for long... but we have preparations to make," Joshua explained.

"And those demons?  Will... will they try anything more?"

"Right now Nen and Tzila are licking their wounds.  We have time."  Joshua waved his mother and Sophia into their embrace and then the alley was empty save a dove perched on a fire escape.

*~*~*

Back in JenniAnn's hospital room, the group was joined by Portia who was examining Violeta's ankle as she sat on the couch, snuggled between Andrew and Ivy.

"I think you just twisted it, Violeta.  I'll go get ice for it.  Do you need anything else?  Cocoa maybe?" Portia offered.  She was concerned that Violeta hadn't yet stopped shivering despite being wrapped in two blankets.

"Please."

"I'll be right back then."

"Thank you."

Once Portia was gone, Violeta's head lolled onto Andrew's shoulder.

"Sweetie, do you want to tell us about what happened?" Tiva invited.

Before Violeta could respond, someone knocked on the door causing her to tense up.

"I'll see who it is," Sy offered.

Rabbi Yakov followed him to the door.

"Hey Reuel," Sy greeted.  "Come on..."

"No!" Violeta protested.  "What if... if that's not really him at all!"

Reuel stepped back into the hallway.  "You're good to be cautious.  Is there something I could answer that might convince you of my identity?"

Violeta considered.  "You've been spending time with Owen, right?"

Reuel nodded.  "Yes.  In the stable.  But don't worry, Henry, Peter, and Emma joined him before I left."

"Then you've talked with him a lot?"

"I have, yes."

"What's his middle name?"

With a smile, Reuel took one step closer.  "Owen's middle name is Owen.  I noticed he signed his drawings and paintings OOO and I asked him what his middle name was.  Lo and behold, Owen is his middle name.  Orville is his first name."

Violeta let out the breath she'd been holding and smiled.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome.  Owen's praying for you... and Henry, Emma, and Peter.  We had to tell them something so they'd understand why I had to leave once Owen received the rabbi's text.  I'm so sorry, my dear.  I know they're frightening.  At least... I think I know who you saw and that, yes, they are frightening."

"They... they really were."  Violeta hugged Andrew's arm and again rested her head on his shoulder.  She briefly closed her eyes when he kissed her hair.  When she opened them, she began to relay what had happened to her.  "I ran to that garden out behind that hospital and... and I tripped.  That's when I twisted my ankle.  And then a lady was there and she told me she was an angel named Ayanna and that God had sent her to help me."

"Ayanna..." Reuel muttered.  "Once she was called that..."

Violeta sighed.  "She started telling me that... that humans are different after near death experiences a-and that JenniAnn wouldn't love Andrew anymore cause she... she'd want more.  You know... sex."

The rabbi rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to speak but Tiva grabbed his hand, knowing that Violeta had to get it all out of her system as speedily as possible.

"And she also said JenniAnn never loved me... only pretended to so Andrew would like her."

"Sweetheart..."  Andrew patted her hand.

"I... I didn't believe her!  I knew then that she was a liar and a demon," Violeta insisted.  "And then a man's voice said she was Tzila and he banished her.  She got all creepy looking and disappeared.  When I turned to the guy, he looked like... like an angel.  And he said his name was Elazer."  She glanced at Reuel who flinched.  "He seemed so nice a-and I thought he was a friend of Reuel's so we went walking cause I... I felt so jittery a-and I wanted to stretch my... my ankle.  But then suddenly we... we were in an alley and he grabbed my wrist and wouldn't let... me... me go a-and these guys were coming nearer a-and saying..." 

Andrew softly rocked as his protege began to weep.

"Saying... things... to me.  Not... not right things b-but he wouldn't let me... me go and they were getting closer... so close... almost... almost enough to... to touch me b-but then..."  Violeta sucked in a deep breath and clutched her necklace.  "I... I smelled lavender.  Everywhere."  She smiled at JenniAnn.  "And so much light a-and then no... no more demon holding my wrist.  JenniAnn... she was... was holding me a-and she told me Joshua was... was there and she loved me a-and then I heard Sy and then Tiva and Ivy..."  Violeta released the necklace and took Ivy's hand.

"We didn't know where to go at all," Ivy murmured.  "But then we saw a dove... and we followed him... right to you."

"Did you really know one of their mothers?" Violeta asked Tiva.

The woman's face flushed.  "Well... no.  I hope Joshua will forgive me for the lie.  I just knew it would send them running."

Reuel smiled.  "I'm confident Yeshua understands."

Andrew nodded.  "Thank you... Ivy, Sy, Tiva.  Thank you, Rabbi, for staying with JenniAnn.  Sweetheart, I'm so... so sorry.  I... I should have noticed."

Violeta kissed Andrew's cheek then shook her head.  "I shouldn't have run off.  I... I knew we weren't sposed to be alone b-but..."  She again looked to JenniAnn.  "It was so upsetting to... to see her like... that."

When Violeta wriggled, Andrew loosened his embrace.  He watched with tears in his eyes as, with her blankets still wrapped around her, Violeta shuffled to JenniAnn's bed and took her hand.

Portia returned with an ice pack and cocoa. 

After a few more moments, Violeta returned to the couch and let Portia wrap the ice around her ankle.

"Thank you, Portia."

"You're welcome.  So... were those the demons that you saw?"

"Definitely demons," Violeta replied.

"Unfortunately, they can change their appearance," Reuel shared.  "But, Violeta, can you tell me what they looked like?"

"The female one had hair as dark as mine.  But she wasn't as pale.  And her features... she was very hard looking.  Very sharp.  Her eyes were almost purple."

"That sounds like Tzila," Reuel confirmed.

"And the guy one..."  Violeta shook.  "He... he was so blonde that his hair was nearly white.  And his eyes were blue.  Almost as pretty a blue as Vincent's."

"That sounds like Nen, definitely not Elazer.  Elazer has dark red hair.  Some might even say it's more a shade of brown depending on the lighting.  And his eyes are deep brown.  But then I knew it couldn't be my friend.  In fact, Nen should hope he never sees Elazer... he will not take kindly to his name being used to antagonize a young lady."

"I'm sure... knowing what little you told us of his story."  Violeta frowned as she thought of Elazer and Odelya.  She felt she could imagine, just a bit better, what terror Odelya must have felt before her rescue. 

"So now what?" Ivy questioned.  "How do we keep something like that from happening again?"

"Can I stay here tonight?  Please?" Violeta begged.

"Of course," Andrew promised. 

"I'll check in as often as I can," Portia added.

"I will also stay nearby," Reuel insisted.

Tiva looked on tenderly as Sy perched on the arm of the couch and softly stroked his girlfriend's back.  "Ivy, Sy, I think you two should get some rest."

"Would you two like to go back to our house or to Willowveil?" Rabbi Yakov asked.

Sy looked to Ivy who shrugged.  "Willowveil, please," he requested.  "I'd like to be near my family."

"Of course.  Maybe we'll stay at Serendipity, Tiva?" the rabbi suggested.

"Yes, I'd like that."

Ivy hugged Violeta tightly.  "I'll pack some clothes for you and bring them in the morning."

"Thank you.  Love you."

"Love you, too, roomie."  Ivy smiled, glad when her friend also did.

With more hugs and well wishes, the group dispersed.  Reuel and Portia excused themselves to the family room to give Andrew, Violeta, and JenniAnn some privacy.

For a few moments they were silent with Andrew and Violeta peering at JenniAnn from the couch.

"She... she was there, Andrew.  I know she was," Violeta quietly insisted.

"I don't have a single doubt about it, sweetheart.  You know what Tzila said isn't true, right?  JenniAnn loves you for your own sake... not mine.  Every time we get back from an assignment, she has me give a little report on how you handled it."

"And then she talks with me about it if she thinks I got upset."

"Mmm hmm.  And lots of times I'm not there, right?"

"Right."

"So she can't be doing it to impress me."

"No...  She... she just really cares about me."

"So much."

"I... I wish I could talk to her a-about how... how scary it was when... when they were coming towards me a-and..."  A shuddering breath escaped the teenager.

"I know, Violeta.  I know it's not the same but you can talk to me about it.  And, you know, I think JenniAnn can hear you," Andrew encouraged.  "Obviously she knows what happened so we can't protect her from it."

Haltingly, Violeta began to give voice to her feelings, often directing her statements to JenniAnn.

With tears in his eyes but feeling so much pride for his two brave girls, Andrew listened.

*~*~*

Going Home

Tuesday, June 9th


Catherine stared at Vincent as he... finally... slept.  Tears began to spill down her cheeks.  It seemed as if, since Saturday, what few golden strands of hair he had retained had faded to silver.  Even in sleep, his face was tense. 

As much as it hurt her to see JenniAnn in the hospital, at least it was better than those terrible, blood-drenched moments in the alley.  She had taken photos and shown her husband how peaceful their cousin, his godchild, was.  But it wasn't the same.  And he knew it. 

With Shelby staying with her brother and Belle being cared for by Allison and Robert, the previous evening had been their first chance to talk alone.  Vincent had confided about how much he wished his aging body could still manage to scour buildings.  Thirty years before, it would have been nothing to climb into his Psyche's window and read to her about Aslan and Lucy and Mr. Tumnus and Puddleglum and Reepicheep.

If only there was some way to get Vincent into the hospital... 

Struck by an idea, Catherine slipped out of bed, tied on her robe, and grabbed her phone.  After jotting a note for Vincent, she crept to an area of the Tunnels that had decent reception. 

Catherine smiled apologetically when a familiar voice picked up her call.

"Hi Joe.  I'm sorry to call so late but..."

"Cathy...  Is JenniAnn..."

"The same, I think.  No word from Andrew but that... that seizure has us all, umm..."

"I'm sure.  I still can't believe...  Angie and I are praying."

"Thank you.  We really appreciate that but, umm, I have a really big favor to ask."

"Chandler, you know I'd do anything for you."

"I... I do.  Joe, we need to get Vincent into that hospital.  If... if she does... die... then I... I don't want his last memories of her to... to be..."

"Of course not.  What can I do?"

"Well, I... I thought maybe we... we would put Vincent in a body bag.  Portia could wheel the gurney since she's a doctor there b-but I thought... I mean it's going to look at least somewhat strange but surely no one would..."

"Question the district attorney?"

"Well, maybe no one but Angie."

Joe chuckled.  "Ba-bum-bum.  I'll be there, Cathy.  Just let me know when and where."

"Thank you... so much."

"Any time.  Now try to get some sleep, okay?"

"Okay.  I think I will now.  Thank you again."

"Don't mention it.  I'll see you in the morning.  Good night."

"Good night, Joe."

Catherine felt much lighter as she ended the call and headed back to her chamber.  When she stepped inside, she saw that Vincent was awake and reading her note.

"Are you unwell?" he asked as she slipped back into their bed.

"No, I had to go make a call... to Joe.  Vincent... I think I know a way to get you into the hospital to see Psyche."

Vincent listened intently, his eyes welling, as his wife explained.  When she was finished, he pulled her into his arms.

"Thank you... dearest Catherine," he whispered.

Feeling some semblance of peace for the first time since Saturday, the couple nestled back amongst their pillows and drifted to sleep.

*~*~*

Back at the cottage, Joshua had filled JenniAnn in on all she would need to know before awakening, even allowing her to see some of the happenings that had surrounded her comatose body.  Gathered among her heavenly family and friends, she quietly processed what he told her.

"So Max...  He's all right?"

Joshua nodded.  "It was very hard for him to know that it was his father who hurt you but everyone rallied around him.  And Rose... she wasn't going to let him wallow.  As sad as it's been for them, this definitely brought them closer.  Actually... they set a wedding date but I'm going to leave that to them to tell you."

JenniAnn beamed.  "That's so wonderful...  But... but these demons... they want... Andrew?"

"Yes."

"He'll never go with them!"

"It's a fool's errand," Chava agreed.  "But they are fools..."

"Their cause is hopeless, yes," Joshua agreed.  "But not without damages.  Andrew will do everything he can to protect those he loves."

JenniAnn gripped Chava's hand tightly.  "He'll confront them." 

Joshua nodded.

"Can they hurt him?" JenniAnn pressed.

Joshua pulled an ottoman in front of her and took her free hand in both of his.

"They're master manipulators, JenniAnn.  They've learned from the worst how to get inside people's heads and show them unbearable things."

"Like they tried to do with Max."

"Yes."

"B-but Rose was there a-and she showed him how untrue it... it all was.  But I won't be there with Andrew!  Will I?  Please, let me go," JenniAnn begged.  She slid off the couch and knelt in front of Joshua.

The carpenter's eyes welled.  "Dear one...  No.  I... I can't."

"Please..." JenniAnn begged, resting her head against his knees.

Joshua patted her hair.  "I know your heart... I know your spirit... your soul... your mind... everything about you, my child.  A-and I know... what they would do to you.  And I won't allow it.  And I could never do that to Andrew.  He has spent fifteen years protecting you from the horrors he sees during some assignments.  And, yes, sometimes he's gone too far with that and not confided in you when he should have... when it would have helped him.  But what they would show you... everything... everything Andrew has tried to shield you from."

David nodded.  "JenniAnn, please listen to him.  A man... a good man... will do anything he can to protect the one he loves... to protect his family.  And to be denied that... it makes one feel shameful.  Please, don't take that away from Andrew.  I know... I'm sure it seems unfair because I know you want to protect him as much as he wants to protect you."  He briefly glanced at his wife who smiled sadly and nodded.  "But this... it's not your battle."

Chava circled her arm around JenniAnn's waist.  "Dear, I saw how heartbreaking it was for Andrew just to see you struggle with my and David's story... and his.  But at least then he knew it served a purpose... it helped me.  Oh, how it helped me to find peace."

Though not budging, JenniAnn gripped Joshua's hand.

"Honey," Sophia started.  "I know the love you feel for Andrew.  And I can't imagine what I would have done... felt... if my Eli had been in such a position.  But think of what's happened already.  Those two have attacked your Max and Violeta because they knew what it would do to Andrew.  And they're taking advantage of what's befallen you.  If you were in their clutches... they would only use you to hurt him."

Still silent, JenniAnn considered her aunt's words.

"JenniAnn, I have something to confess."

Surprised by such words from Maryam, JenniAnn sat up and looked, through her tears, to the woman she admired most.

"I peeked in on you and Andrew the night he told you about Yeshu's death."

Yosef cleared his throat.

"I, uh, must have missed you, my love."

For a moment, Joshua shook his head and smiled.

Maryam's eyes twinkled briefly.  "Apparently so, Yosef mine."  She returned her full attention to JenniAnn.  "Like Chava... and my husband, it seems, I saw the toll it took on Andrew to see you suffer so.  But, as with Chava's and David's story, Yeshu's and Andrew's story was necessary for you to hear.  It helped you to draw closer to Andrew and Yeshu both."

"But this... this would be purposeless, JenniAnn," Yosef counseled.  He gazed at his son.  "No one... no one wants to see someone they love engulfed by centuries of cruelty and sin.  But such memories... that is what those creatures would unleash on you."

"And your family will need you," Cora reminded.  "Perhaps it's selfish of me but... but I keep thinking of my boy.  Oh, JenniAnn, Vincent loves you so."

Lor nodded.  "To have thought ye nearly lost to... to violence a-and then so soon after... subjected to the whims of demons..."

"And your children will need you, cousin," Jamey added.  "Just as Andrew has helped them through this time without you, you need to help them through the time without him."

"Listen to your cousin," John whispered.  "Cousins are usually right... at least in my experience."

JenniAnn rubbed at her eyes then smiled and looked to Joshua.

"Yes, John, in your case, cousins are... are always right."  She inhaled and exhaled deeply.  "I'm sorry, Joshua.  I should not have... never have... questioned you.  You always know best."

Joshua picked the tear-soaked hair away from her face and smiled.

JenniAnn sighed.  The tears in his eyes made the gold shine even more.  She would miss gazing into those eyes, into that beloved face, whenever she wanted...

"I understand," Joshua assured.  "But, JenniAnn, just because you can't go with Andrew when he confronts Tzila and Nen doesn't mean you can't help him.  Love... love is the greatest weapon against them and you have given him so much love.  And you will have time to heap even more love on him... not just your own, either.  I happen to know that each and every person in this room has spent time over these past few days telling you of their love and praise for your anam cara, myself included.  You can bring those messages to Andrew.  And there's one more person who requested the chance to visit with you, to talk to you about Andrew and so much more.  I couldn't deny her."  Joshua beamed and tilted his head to the cottage door which flew open.

JenniAnn took a few steps towards the door then turned back.

"It's okay.  We'll still be here when you come back," Joshua vowed. 

With a thankful smile, JenniAnn continued into the yard.

Standing beneath a tree was a beautiful woman with jet black hair that hung in waves nearly to her waist.  She was dressed in a broomstick skirt with alternating panels of magenta and royal blue and a belted, angel-sleeved tunic in periwinkle. 

"Hello," JenniAnn greeted.

"Hello!"

As the smiling stranger came towards her, JenniAnn truly noticed her eyes.  They were so like her baby girl's...

"Oh..."  JenniAnn murmured. 

Without another word spoken, the two embraced.

"I have so wished that I could speak to you, JenniAnn."

"A-and I've longed to speak to you, too, Badriya."

"I am sorry for the, ah, circumspects.  No...  Circumstances!"  Badriya grinned.  "I am still learning English."  She linked her arm through JenniAnn's and led her towards a gazebo.

"Learning?  I guess I figured everyone just knew whatever languages were spoken," JenniAnn mused.

"Yes, I think so, usually.  But I always wished to go to school so Joshua lets me go to school!  He even teaches often!"

Happy for the young woman, JenniAnn also ached at the idea that she'd had to die to obtain so basic a dream as attending classes.

"Tell me... please.  Tell me about my niece, your daughter.  Belle!  I love her!"

JenniAnn sat beside Badriya and beamed.  "She is so beautiful and so sweet.  You've seen her surely?  I hoped Andrew could maybe bring you pictures."

"Oh yes.  He does and Joshua lets me visit.  Sometimes he even comes with me.  It is so beautiful that you have a room for him."  Badriya clasped JenniAnn's hand.  "I am so very glad that you and Andrew are together now.  He must be watched after.  He does too much!"

JenniAnn giggled.  "You're telling me!  But, yes, I... I am very glad we are together now, too.  And I always wanted to tell you how grateful I am that you checked in on him when he was in Afghanistan.  I know neither of you had as much time together as you would have liked but those moments... I truly believe they helped keep him sane, Badriya.  You were a light of hope, of love to him."

"And him to me..."  Badriya smiled tenderly as she thought of the angel.  "I was so happy when Joshua told me that he would be raising my niece... and with you.  His lady."

JenniAnn's eyes misted.

"Your Belle... she will go to school with your family?" Badriya asked.

JenniAnn hugged her arm.  "Our Belle will go to school in the Tunnels, yes.  Andrew and I have discussed maybe sending her to my high school when she's a teenager.  Then college... hopefully nearby but if not... we won't hold her back."

Badriya swelled with pride.  "Our Belle in college!"  She sighed happily then swiveled and took JenniAnn's hands in both of hers.  "Joshua has told me of what is coming... of Andrew needing to face two of the fallen.  Please... before he goes... tell him that I love him.  Tell him that he must not burden himself with the lives he could not save.  That guilt, that regret must lay with those who sought to kill us.  Not him... never Andrew."

"I will tell him," JenniAnn promised.

"He... he was and is my friend.  He told me he loved me... God loved me.  That is what I most needed then... always."

"Thank you, Badriya.  I will tell him that, too, and I know... absolutely know... that it will help.  You mean so much to Andrew.  To me, too.  We... we wouldn't have our baby if not for... for you a-and your sacrifice."  JenniAnn couldn't keep away the tears as she looked at the woman.  She was taken aback when Badriya kissed her cheek.

"You are my niece's mother so you are my sister," she declared. 

JenniAnn beamed.  "I always wanted a sister."

The two embraced.

"We will tell Belle your story when she is older," JenniAnn averred.

"Thank you."

JenniAnn patted Badriya's hair then pulled back a bit.  "Maybe it's goofy but one thing I always wanted to ask you...  Do you have a song or a lullaby that we could sing to Belle?  Or even a story?  Something you grew up with maybe?"

Smiling brightly, Badriya nodded.  "Yes!  A song!  And I can even sing it in English!"

JenniAnn listened to the other woman's sweet, lilting voice as she began to sing.  She focused on every word, intent on bringing it back to her daughter in honor of an aunt who loved her so very much.

*~*~*

Andrew stared out at the gloomy sky, praying that his loved ones had made it safely to the theatre.  Much to everyone's surprise, Dusty and Moishe had insisted on catering a breakfast at St. Genesius' for the whole group.  Ivy and the Levines had come by shortly after 6:00 to check on Violeta who, after some debate with herself, had decided to go to the breakfast.  They'd tried to get him to go after both Portia and Edmund had vowed to repeatedly be by JenniAnn's room.  Allison, Robert, and Belle were just downstairs, having a quiet breakfast at the hospital cafe, and would be back as soon as the morning service finished in the chapel.  But he couldn't go.  Not only did the idea of leaving JenniAnn alone, even for a moment, terrify Andrew but he was tired in the depths of his soul.  Too tired to eat, to chat. 

The angel of death rested his forehead against the window and closed his eyes.  He prayed that he would turn around and find JenniAnn smiling at him, her arms outstretched.  But she remained still...

Andrew staggered to the bed and carefully lay beside JenniAnn.  He kissed her temple and caressed her cheek.

"Laja, please... please come back to us.  Your... your parents are here.  I finally talked them into going back to Catherine's apartment to rest.  She... she needed it, too.  They haven't left your side since... since you got here.  They have Belle with them.  Sweet Belle...  She made you this."  Andrew brushed his hand over the macaroni bracelet.  "Laja, Belle... she doesn't understand.  No one does.  Everyone back home is just... devastated.  You have so... so many people praying for you."  As gently as possible, he wrapped his arm around her.  "I'm not... not leaving until you're out of here.  One... one way or... or the other."

Andrew thought back on their last happy morning and smiled.  "Laja, you were in such a tizzy!  Bet you wish you'd never told Belle about Hide-and-Seek.  She does have quite a talent.  But we found her... fallen asleep where she hid in the greenhouse.  And we told her... told her we'd always find her.  Laja, you have to be with me next... next time Belle hides.  We have to find her... together."

Beginning to weep, Andrew rested his chin against JenniAnn's hair.  He knew that, either way, she would be happy and she would live.  Either way, God's love would surround her.  But it tore at him that, in the blink of an eye, all her plans, all their dreams had been threatened.  He wasn't ready for her life on Earth and in Dyeland to end.  Despite his reassurances to Violeta throughout the night, the increased seizure activity concerned him deeply.

A quick and quiet knock on the door sounded.  Andrew hurriedly got to his feet as the door opened to reveal Joe Maxwell and two others pushing a gurney on which rested a black body bag.  He smiled sadly, touched by the lengths JenniAnn's beloved godfather would go to.

"M-matthew...  Joe...  Portia..." 

Joe and Portia rolled the gurney into the room and shut the door while Matthew hugged the angel.  "We brought someone," he whispered when he stepped back.

Andrew nodded and pulled the detective into another embrace.  He was surprised that he still had tears to weep.  As he watched Portia and Joe unzip the bag, the angel had a feeling more were soon to come.  "Vincent..." he greeted.

JenniAnn's godfather sat up and slid off the gurney.  "Thank you."  He hugged Portia and gave a trembling smile to Joe and Matthew.

"You're very welcome."  Joe looked over at the angel.  "Andrew, we'll be in the chapel.  Come get us when he's ready to go, okay?"

"I will.  Thank you."  Andrew forced a smile.

When the door closed, Andrew and Vincent looked at each other then down to JenniAnn.  Vincent's body began to quake with sobs and Andrew lowered him into the chair beside the bed.

Vincent rested his head on the mattress.  "Psyche..."  He held her hand, remembering the horror of Saturday.

Andrew perched on the edge of the bed, carefully taking JenniAnn's other hand with the IV line poking out.  He still couldn't understand why God hadn't allowed him to be with her when it had happened.

"There... there was a brief moment... before she... she went away from us."

The angel looked into Vincent's eyes which were rendered even more blue by his tears.

"She... wrapped her fingers around mine and then she... she looked up and she... smiled."

Andrew let out a ragged sigh.  "I'm glad she... she was happy when she saw..."  He stroked some hair behind JenniAnn's ear.  "She could come back.  Sometimes... sometimes people do.  I've seen it happen so... so many times."

With his free hand, Vincent reached for the angel's.  The three formed a small circle.  "Thank you."

"I... I wasn't there.  I didn't do any... anything."

"I'm thanking you for loving Psyche... your Laja for all these years.  You gave her the life she dreamed of.  Once I wouldn't have believed it possible.  But you made it possible, Andrew.  Both of you together... with God.  You promised me once that you would love Psyche 'no matter what.'  You have... you do.  I... I only wish..."

Tears rolling down his own cheeks, Andrew squeezed Vincent's hand.  "What do you wish?"

"Did you ever conclude which of you was Beauty and which the Beast?"

The angel was so surprised by the fanciful question that he chuckled.  "No.  We even asked Joshua to settle it but he just grinned and said he thought *he* was both so why did it have to be either/or?  I don't think he wanted to ruin the game for us."

Vincent smiled.  "A very Joshuan response."  He closed his eyes for a moment.  "I wish he was here."

"He... he is," Andrew assured.  "We just... just can't see him.  And maybe..."  He felt peace wash over him.  "I think Joshua was with JenniAnn in the alley.  I think he's been with her ever... ever since."

"She would like that."  Vincent peered back down at his godchild.  "Even so.... selfishly, perhaps... I wish she was the Beast.  The Beast died and came back because he... he was loved.  She is loved..."

"So... so much," Andrew choked out.  He watched as Vincent stood and bent over JenniAnn then kissed her forehead.

Their hearts sunk when JenniAnn's body seized.

Tears filled Andrew's eyes.  Maybe she'd only hung on so her godfather could make his goodbye.

"No..." Vincent lamented when she let out a raspy breath.

*~*~*

After returning to the cottage with Badriya, JenniAnn discovered that Sarah had returned.  Seeing her, she knew she'd come upon her "farewell party."

Badriya hugged her.

"Be blessed, be loved, be free!" she wished for JenniAnn.

"Thank you.  I... I am so glad you have all three now, too, Badriya.  Maybe some day we can attend a class with your Rabbi together."  JenniAnn smiled and brushed at her leaking eyes.

Badriya grinned at Joshua and nodded as she released JenniAnn.

Swallowing the growing lump in her throat, JenniAnn made her way to Sarah.

"It... it was really so good to see you again... to see you so happy," JenniAnn choked out.  "I will tell Josef.  I don't know if he'll believe me but... I will tell him."

Sarah blinked back tears and pulled JenniAnn into a hug.  "Tell Josef that I know why the bluebirds flew... and that what they saw was wonderfully amazing.  He'll understand."

JenniAnn squeezed her hand.  "I will tell him," she vowed before moving on to Maryam, Yosef, and John who immediately embraced her.

"I will see you very soon!" he assured.  "We all will."

Yosef nodded.  "Tell Clay and Kylie not to spend any money on wine."  He grinned at Joshua.

Laughing, JenniAnn hugged him.  "I'll pass that along... and look forward to seeing you dance with your lovely wife."

Maryam beamed.  "And we will look forward to seeing you and Andrew dance.  And Belle, as well."  She leaned in and kissed JenniAnn's cheeks.  "We will be praying so very much."

"Th-thank you.  I... I love you all so... so much a-and I'm glad I... I got to see you here."  JenniAnn smiled through her tears at the whole group.  "You helped me so much... all of you."

Lor steadied her when she began to teeter then kissed her hand.

"I am so pleased we were able to meet, lass.  Hug my boy for me, will ye?" he requested.

"I... I will, Lor.  Your boy will have no shortage of... of hugs from me."  JenniAnn stood on tiptoe to kiss Lor's cheek.  Stepping back, she was overcome with longing for her godfather.

Cora enfolded her in her arms.  "I am so looking forward to seeing the rest of your life unfold, my dear.  I know it will be a beautiful one!"

JenniAnn nodded.  "It... it will...  Filled with people I love so much a-and I will never forget that other people I love so much are... are watching over us." 

"Always... well, not always," Cora corrected with an impish grin.  "That would be indecent."

JenniAnn laughed and patted her back.  "Just a bit, yeah.  But I'll be glad to know you're watching at the decent times."  With a sigh, she released Cora. 

Jamey immediately threw his arms around her and planted a kiss on her cheek.

"I'm so happy that we had this time together, Psyche!  Never forget, you have cousins Below who adore you... and one Above who adores you, too."

"Jamey..."  JenniAnn held fast to him for a long moment, wishing she could bring the feeling of having him near right back to his parents.  "I adore you, too, sweet cousin."  Drawing in a steadying breath, JenniAnn began to step away but Jamey kept hold of her hand.

"Wait...  I, umm, there was something I wanted to ask you before you go."

Sensing he wanted some privacy, JenniAnn followed him to a corner.

"For your sake and Jacob's and so many others', I'm hoping it's a long while before my Mama and Papa come Home b-but since I might not see you before...  I can change ages as I wish.  I happen to like being about seventeen as I appear now.  But I thought maybe... when they come... they might like to see a baby.  Do you think so?"

JenniAnn cupped his face in her hands.  "Jamey, I think they will be so happy to see you in any form."

"I think I might like to know what that feels like... to have my Mama and Papa hold me," Jamey decided.

"I... I think you will like it very much."

"I think so, too.  Thanks!"  Jamey smiled and then reached into his pocket for a monogrammed handkerchief which he used to brush at her tears then pressed into her hand.  "You're a J, too.  Keep it."

"Th-thank you."

Jamey escorted JenniAnn back to the line where Chava wasted no time before hugging her.

"You listened, so devotedly, to my love story," she whispered.  "I will pray... David will pray... without ceasing... for the happy continuation of your own, dear JenniAnn."

David moved into their embrace.  "Andrew helped give me my life back once when I was young and foolish.  You know what it says in Talmud.  'And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.'  Your soul mate has saved a world so many times over, JenniAnn.  And those he saved remain forever grateful.  We here are only a small... a very small portion... of those who will be praying."

"Thank you... thank you so much.  He... he is a miracle... my Andrew," JenniAnn murmured.

Chava kissed her forehead.  "You are a miracle, too.  Never forget that."

JenniAnn nodded and clung to Chava.  "I... I've missed you so much a-and now to go back to... to missing you."  She peered over Chava's shoulder and at her aunt.  "Both of you...  Aunt Sophia..."

The three women stood in a small, tight circle then Chava backed away to leave JenniAnn with her godmother.

Sophia brushed some hair behind JenniAnn's ears.  "Trust yourself, sweetie.  And Joshua, of course.  But I think, on the whole, you do better with that than trusting yourself.  You and Andrew have built a wonderful life together.  You know what you're doing.  So enjoy it, JenniAnn.  Be proud of it.  And if any of the family gives you problems... tell them to stuff it."

JenniAnn burst out laughing and nearly collapsed against her aunt.  "I... I will do that, Aunt Sophia," she promised.

Sophia patted her cheek and kissed her hair.  "Good girl.  I love you, honey."

"I... I love you, too."

JenniAnn wiped at her eyes with Jamey's handkerchief and, when she looked up, she was alone... save one.  He stood behind her but she could feel him there.

"You... you're the one I might very well see again soonest a-and yet... you're the one I... I can least bear to part with right now."  After inhaling deeply, JenniAnn spun around slowly. 

Joshua smiled through his own tears and held his arms aloft.

JenniAnn nestled against his shirt and rested her ear over his heart.  She smiled when she felt Joshua's chin rest on her head.

"I love you, dear one."

"I love you, too, Joshua."

JenniAnn's eyelids began to droop as she was lulled by the familiar thump-thump-thump and then the near silence was interrupted by two words.

"Talitha koum!"

*~*~*

Andrew and Vincent watched JenniAnn's chest began to gently rise and fall as if she were only sleeping.

"Laja?" Andrew softly called.

JenniAnn's eyes shot open and her hands tightened around those of her beloved's and godfather's.

"Psyche!"

"Laja!"

"A-andrew... Vincent..."  JenniAnn sat up and clamored for them.

"Be still, Psyche," Vincent urged, stroking her face.  "You're attached to an IV and..."

Bewildered, the woman looked around the room.  Soon everything clicked into place.  She remembered feeling as if she was soaring and then seeing all the activity around the hospital... babies arriving, spirits going Home, Vincent getting wheeled in... then her parents, Belle, Portia, Matthew, and Joe in the chapel... and the nurses divvying up their charges.  One was headed to her room... soon! 

"We do not need any nurses rushing in here," she concluded with a smile.

Andrew laughed, relieved that not only was JenniAnn alive but also lucid and very much herself. 

"How do... do you feel, Laja?"

"Kinda hurts to breath..."

The angel frowned.  "The bullet... it... it hit your right lung.  Just... just missed your... your heart."  He buried his face in her hair.  "Laja... we were so..."

"I know...  I saw.  I'll explain everything b-but I just want...  Could you go get Joe?  Please?  The nurse will be by soon and..."  JenniAnn looked lovingly at her cousin.

The angel nodded and quickly, though reluctantly, left the room.

JenniAnn carefully hugged Vincent.  "I'm gonna get out of here as soon as possible cause I... I don't wanna see you in a body bag ever again."

Vincent laughed and cried at once then pulled away to cup his godchild's face in his hands.  "Take care of yourself.  Listen to the doctors.  Don't push yourself for my sake.  But I... I will look forward to your homecoming.  I love you, Psyche."

"I love you, too, Vincent.  There... there's something I want to tell you.  So much I want to tell you, actually.  But for now... this.  While I was... away... I saw things.  Things from my past.  Not even just my life but things related to my life.  I saw the discussion you and Andrew had by the Indigo Ocean the day you met.  The one about... about me.  Thank you for praying for us... for our happy life."

"You're very welcome, my child."  Vincent kissed his goddaughter's hair as Andrew, Joe, Matthew, and Portia returned.  "I always have and always will."

"Thank God you're back, kiddo," Joe enthused, squeezing JenniAnn's hand.  "We'll get Vincent back safely and then I'm sure Cathy, Belle, and your parents will rush on over here and then..."

"Then we'll talk," JenniAnn promised.  She knew, eventually, she would have to give a deposition.

Portia set her hand on her friend's shoulder.  "Psyche, I'm just going to get Vincent back home then I'll be back to help you.  I know all this medical stuff is overwhelming."

The patient laughed.  "You know I'm hopeless.  Don't know my femur from my tendon."

Portia playfully shook her head then moved to help conceal their teacher.

JenniAnn looked away when Vincent laid down on the gurney.

Andrew sat beside his soul mate, stroking her hair as she buried her face in his shirt to avoid seeing Vincent be hidden away.

When the door closed, JenniAnn pulled away.  "Do the nurses and doctors... can they see you?"  While she knew he had interacted with them before, she wondered if he had gone invisible to allow them such a moment.  Then again, Andrew likely didn't care about being caught in bed with her given the last few days...

Andrew nodded, blushing.  "I think they think I'm your boyfriend.  I just... I wasn't in the mood to correct them.  And I didn't want them to kick me out."

JenniAnn smiled.  "Well, you're a boy and a friend so let's just leave it at that.  Can you call them in here?  Please.  I really want this out."  She indicated the IV.

The angel smiled.  "Sure."  He pressed the call button and soon the peace and quiet of the room gave way to the cacophony of nurses and doctors coming in and out.  For a time, Andrew got booted to the waiting room where he shared the happy news with her family and sent out a series of texts.  He was immensely grateful when Allison and Robert suggested he check back in with JenniAnn first once Dr. Talson gave them all permission to return to her room.

Stepping into her room, Andrew found JenniAnn unhooked from the machines, dressed in her favorite butterfly print pajamas which an optimistic Tiva had brought.  She was sitting on the ledge by the window.

"Aren't you supposed to be in bed, miss?" Andrew teased.

JenniAnn grinned.  "Gonna tell on me?"

The angel shook his head.

"This room feels so claustrophobic after..."  She looked to the sky.  "I at least needed a window.  And I needed that IV and everything out because..."  Tears welled in JenniAnn's eyes as she reached for Andrew.

Without pause, Andrew settled beside her and gently pulled her to him.  He sighed with contentment when her arms wrapped all the way around him and she buried her right hand in his hair.  He had wondered if he would ever feel his Laja's embrace outside of Heaven again.  "Laja... I love you.  I missed you so... so much."

"I... miss... missed you, too, my love.  I... I was back... back on our island... Joshua's island with all the kudzu.  I was happy there.  So happy with... with him.  And I got to meet David and Lor a-and see Chava and Cora and Sophia and Sarah a-and so many..."  JenniAnn began to cry.  Later she would tell him about Badriya.  And Jamey...  Right then she couldn't speak of either without sobbing.  "Joshua... he..."  Already she ached with longing for him but she reminded herself that still he was there, even if she couldn't see him.  "He would have let me stay and go further on but... but I wanted to be here as our Belle grows up a-and... I know I would have seen you either way but I..."  She rested her forehead against Andrew's.  "I wanted our life here.  There'll be time for the other Life later."

"There will," Andrew asserted, softly stroking her back.  "I'm so... so glad you're back.  I would... would have done my best with Belle but I... I didn't want to do it without... you."

"Andrew..." JenniAnn cooed.  "I promise I'll be there with you for everything with Belle from the first day of school to... to the first date and beyond.  Although you may need to sedate me for some of that."  She smiled when the angel laughed.  "Now promise me something?"

"Anything, Laja."

"As soon as I'm outta here... dance with me?"

A huge smile lit up Andrew's face.  Even if she couldn't yet dance, he'd carry her through it if he had to.

"Already planning on it," Andrew assured.  "Oh..."  He unfastened her necklace and, leaving the cross on it, set the claddagh ring on his knee.

"Love..." JenniAnn murmured as he placed the cross around her neck and secured the clasp.

Andrew took her hand and slid the ring back in place then kissed her cheek.

Fresh tears rimmed JenniAnn's eyes.

"Thank you..."

"I... I've been hoping to do that for days."

"Andrew..."  JenniAnn reached up to stroke his hair.  "I... I want to hug you so... so tightly but... but..."  She tentatively placed her hand just below her right breast.

"Does it hurt very badly?"

JenniAnn shook her head.  "Just a lil sore and tender.  It's actually not as big as I thought it might be.  In any case, it's nothing compared to... to..."  She bowed her head as she began to cry.  "Poor Violeta..."

Andrew took JenniAnn's hands in his and brought them to his lips.  "Thank you... for... for what you did in... in the alley."

JenniAnn pulled her hands away and cradled Andrew's face then rested her forehead against his.  "He was so frightening, Andrew!  We have to do whatever we can to... to get me outta here as soon as possible.  We just all need to... to get home and all be together.  Us and the kids and whomever else wants to... to be at Willowveil."

Andrew replied with an enthusiastic nod.  Though he would have preferred JenniAnn have more time to rest and be observed by the doctors, he knew she wouldn't relax until they were all safely together. 

"Joshua told me almost everyone is at the theatre.  Do they know..."

"Yes.  I texted them when you were with the nurses and, actually, I'm surprised no one..."  Andrew patted his pocket.  "My phone!  I must have left it in the family room!"

"Well, go get it!" JenniAnn directed with a laugh. 

Andrew stood up and hurried to the door but halted mid-stride. 

"I don't want to leave you... not even for a moment," he explained.  "Those two... they obviously know we're here... at this hospital." 

"Andrew, I was alone for a few moments after the nurses stepped out.  Nothing happened."

"Still..."

"Then I'll go with you," JenniAnn insisted.  She took a few steps but began to teeter.  "Maybe you could ask for a wheel..."

Andrew carefully lifted her into his arms.

JenniAnn grinned.  "Ah, okay.  No, I definitely like this better."

Beaming, Andrew carried her out of the room.

"Umm, sir, where are you..."

Andrew spun around to face the nurse.

With a smile, JenniAnn replied.  "He forgot his cell phone in the family room.  We're going to get it."

The nurse blinked.  "Okay..."

"Ooh and thank you so much for all your care!  You're really lovely, Georgine," JenniAnn gushed.  "All of you are!"

Though surprised, the nurses all smiled from their station.

"Thank you.  Umm, you're sure you don't want a wheelchair?" Georgine checked.

Andrew shook his head.  "We're good.  Really.  Promise."

Georgine returned his smile and watched the two head down the hall.

"Strange family..." another nurse, coming up behind her, remarked.  "But I like them!"

Georgine continued to smile.  "Me too, Martha.  Still trying to figure the family tree out, though..."

"Hmm..."

Standing in the doorway to JenniAnn's room where he had been observing her reunion with Andrew, Joshua could only laugh.

*~*~*

Robert jumped when the family room door rattled as if someone had kicked it. 

Catherine and Joe, who had gone there after seeing Vincent safely home, rose at the same time.

"I'll get it," the D.A. offered.  His features melted into a huge grin when he opened the door.  "JenniAnn!"  He stepped back to allow the two in.

Allison, Robert, and Catherine crowded around the two.

"My baby!" Allison nearly shrieked.

"Mama...  Dad...  Catherine... a-and..."  JenniAnn peered at her toddler who was blankly staring at her.


Andrew gently placed JenniAnn in an empty chair then kissed her temple.  He turned to where Belle was standing near a table that was covered with some of her toys.

"Here... here, sweetie.  Use this,"  Allison hurriedly folded one of Belle's blankets and used it to cushion her daughter's incision.

"Thank you, Mom."  As she spoke, JenniAnn kept her gaze locked on her baby.

"
Belle, come see Mama," Andrew encouraged, kneeling down and beckoning for the little one.

Belle hesitantly stepped forward and held out her hand, brushing it against JenniAnn's knee.  Her eyes grew wide.

"Mamamamamama!  Up!  Up!" Belle demanded.

"I... I'll help."

The others in the room watched as Robert lifted his granddaughter onto his own little girl's knee.

Belle immediately snuggled against JenniAnn.

"Mama...  Pitty Mama..." Belle cooed.  "No bye-bye, Mama."

JenniAnn wept into Belle's curls and rocked back and forth.

"No bye-bye," she promised.  "My Belle...  My sweet, Belle."

JenniAnn rested her cheek against her baby's hair and smiled at the others.

"I... I'm so glad...  I love you all so... so much."

Allison and Catherine each perched on an arm of the chair while Robert squeezed behind it and bent to kiss JenniAnn's hair.

Beholding the sweet scene, Andrew and Joe sighed in unison.

*~*~*

After Martha had hunted them down and suggested that JenniAnn really should get back in bed; the group, minus Joe who had left for work, resettled in her room.  Seated on the ledge in front of the window, Andrew and Robert smiled giddily at Allison, JenniAnn, and Belle.  JenniAnn lay beside Belle while Allison perched on the edge of the bed and read April's Kittens, an old favorite children's book of JenniAnn's.  Catherine stood to the other side of the bed, brushing her fingers through JenniAnn's hair and basking in the serenity of the moment, willing the peacefulness to Vincent.

"Now Belle will want a cat to go with her donkey and rabbit and dogs and her aunt's lambs," Robert teased.

Andrew chuckled.  "I think maybe I should petition Joshua to change my last name to Dolittle instead of Darcy.   I can't wait until we're back home with our menagerie."

"I'll feel better once you're all in Dyeland, too."

JenniAnn glanced up from Belle and the book and smiled at her father, glad that he realized how badly she needed to be at home with her chosen family.

"You two will stay at Willowveil?" Catherine checked.

Robert nodded.

Andrew felt a vibration from his pocket and pulled out his phone.

"Laja, it's Max.  He's here with Violeta and Shelby.  He and Shel think you should talk with Violeta... alone... first," he relayed.

Her eyes welling, JenniAnn nodded.  "I think so, too."

Allison scooped up Belle.

"Sweetheart, how about we go get a snack for Mama?" Allison suggested.

"Mmm..."  Belle licked her lips.

JenniAnn laughed.  "I'm sure Grandma Allison will get you a snack, too."

"Andrew, Robert, do you want to tag along?  Catherine?"

"I'll go," Catherine agreed. 

"Sure," Robert assented.

"I think... if it's okay... maybe I'll just wait outside the door?" Andrew checked with JenniAnn.

"Sure.  That'd be good, love."  JenniAnn hugged and kissed her parents, Catherine, and Belle.  "I just need to talk to you really quick first."

When the door had closed behind the others, Andrew settled into the chair beside JenniAnn's bed.

"What is it, Laja?"

"Just something...  I need to know if... if I should tell Violeta now or..."

Seeing the tears begin to cascade down her face, Andrew moved to the bed. 

"Tell me," he requested.

"Things... they're not completely right in... in my brain yet.  I mean they never were."  JenniAnn laughed.  "But I mean... it's quite likely I'll have more grand mal seizures.  Joshua said, for that reason, it... it woulda been better to sleep until Friday but... but when that happened with Violeta..."

Andrew's eyes went wide.  "You came back early... for her."

JenniAnn brushed some hair behind his ears.  "I wanted to be b-back w-with all... all of you but she... that was so... so horrible a-and..."

Andrew nuzzled her hair.  "Laja..."

"She... she's one of our... our babies."

Andrew held her as tightly as he dared.

"Tell her," he whispered.  "It will help.  My Laja..."

JenniAnn let out a dreamy sigh as he stroked her cheek and kissed her forehead. 

"Are you ready to see her?"

JenniAnn brought Andrew's hands to her lips and nodded.

Pulling himself away, Andrew stepped out into the hall, leaving the door open.  He saw Max, Shelby, and Violeta clustered together a couple yards away.

"Kids."

The three loosened their hold of each other and gaped at Andrew who wrapped his arms around them all. 

"Violeta, JenniAnn's ready to see you," he relayed.

"O-okay..."  Violeta slipped out of their group embrace and started towards the door.

JenniAnn wasn't quite sure what to expect from Violeta.  Would she be clingy?  Awkward?  Weepy?

"Violeta..." she greeted when the angel entered the room.

Violeta walked up to the side of the bed and moved as if she was going to sit beside JenniAnn.

Then she stepped back, bowed her head, and began to sob.

Clingy, awkward, and weepy, JenniAnn realized.

"Honey... come here.  Come sit with me," she invited.

Violeta scrambled onto the bed and thrust her arms towards JenniAnn then pulled them back.

"I... I don't want to hurt you!" she cried.

"Only my right side hurts and you're on my left so... so how about..."  JenniAnn inched closer and wrapped her left arm around the angel. 
"Okay?"

Violeta rested her head on the woman's shoulder and nodded.

"I... I'm sorry you got shot."

JenniAnn found she had to stifle a giggle.  It sounded so bizarre.

"Thank you.  And, honey, I'm so sorry about what happened to you last night.  Do you want to talk about it?"

"It's nothing... like... like wh-what hap-happened to... to you."

"Oh, baby...  No, it's not.  In some ways, what happened to you is a lot worse.  Those demons... they tried to get into your mind and those men..."  JenniAnn's voice cracked.

Violeta sat up and shifted so she was looking directly at JenniAnn.  "She... she tried to... to make me believe you didn't l-love me a-and I didn't believe her.  I... I promise I didn't... don't!"

"I know.  But those were still terrible things to hear when you were already so upset and scared."

The teenager nodded.  "Then... then he seemed so nice a-and understanding b-but he was happy... actually happy when... when those men... the way they... they looked..."

JenniAnn gasped when Violeta crumpled into a tight ball.  She moved and gently stroked her hair and back.

"Like... like I wasn't even a... a person.  Just a... a thing," Violeta croaked.

Hot tears stung JenniAnn's eyes. 

"B-but then... then you were there."

"I am so, so glad that Joshua let me be with you then, honey."

"Me... me, too.  Thank you.  I... I love you, JenniAnn, a-and I... I... need you and...  I... I've been saying that... that I don't want to be a full-fledged AOD for a long... long time cause... cause I love Andrew so... so much but it's also... I don't want... want to... to not be with... with you a-and Belle and..."

JenniAnn smiled softly.  "Violeta?"

"Wh-what?"

"I don't care if you're an angel of death or a principality like Reuel or even an archangel like Michael.  You are always... always going to be one of my kids... mine and Andrew's.  And that's just how it is.  Like it or lump it."

Violeta wiped her face on her sleeve and sat up.  She turned to face JenniAnn and mirrored her smile.

"Really?"

"Really," JenniAnn asserted.  "Look at Joshua.  He's still Maryam's and Yosef's little boy even though he's God.  And..."

Violeta noticed the somber look on JenniAnn's face and gripped her hands.  "What?  What is it?"

"Honey...  There... well, there's something I have to tell you but I want you to be very clear on something first: I am so, so glad that I'm back.  Now.  Seeing all of you... hugging all of you... it's been wonderful and I... I've barely even started with the reunions!"  JenniAnn beamed.

Violeta smiled and brushed at a stray tear on her face.

"But, strictly from a physical standpoint, it would have been better, per Joshua, if I'd slept until Friday... let my brain heal more."

"B-but it's Tuesday."

JenniAnn nodded.  "Physically waiting til Friday woulda been better but spiritually, emotionally...  A-and after what I saw last night...  Violeta, I told Joshua that I couldn't wait til Friday and he agreed.  I wanted to be here... able to talk to you and hold you as... as you dealt with what happened." 

"You came back early cause... cause of me?" Violeta questioned, staring down at their joined hands.

"Not cause of you.  For you, honey."

Violeta wept quietly for several moments before speaking.

"Your ring... it's on different."

The words were so unexpectedly random that JenniAnn laughed.

"What?"

"The heart used to face out.  Now it faces in," Violeta pointed out.

JenniAnn glanced at her left hand.  Sure enough, her claddagh was pointing in the opposite direction of how she usually wore it.  Apparently Andrew didn't realize that implied she was married.  Or maybe he did...  She squeezed Violeta's hand.

"So it does.  Ya know, I think I'll just keep it that way," JenniAnn decided.

"Okay."

Gingerly, Violeta hugged JenniAnn.

"Thank you," she murmured.

"You're welcome, Violeta, honey."

After lingering in their embrace for a few moments, Violeta sighed and stood up.

"Can I tell Max and Shelby to come in?"

"Definitely!" JenniAnn assented.

Smiling from ear to ear, Violeta poked her head into the hall.

"Come on!" she called, beckoning for Max and Shelby.

The two tore into the room with Andrew just behind them, a wide smile on his own face as Shelby bounded onto the hospital bed and Max perched on the edge and wrapped his arms around his Maja's neck.

"Psyche...  I... I..."  Shelby gulped down the lump in her throat as tears spilled down her cheeks.

"Oh Shel, sweetie..."  JenniAnn rearranged her blanket so she could pad her side then pulled the girl nearer.  She listened as Shelby began to choke out words.

"Didn't want you to... to die.  Missed you... so much."

"I missed you, too, Shel.  A-and I'm glad I didn't die because I missed you all."  JenniAnn smiled at the four.  With an arm still around Shelby who seemed to most need simply to cuddle, JenniAnn turned her attention to Max and cupped his chin.  "Oh Max...  How's our firstborn?"

In spite of his tears, Max chuckled.  He secretly loved it when Andrew or JenniAnn referred to him that way... now even more.

"I'm better now, Maja.  But it's been... been... real... really hard and... does... does it hurt much?"

"No," JenniAnn reassured.  "Just a little uncomfy.  Did you sleep okay last night?"

"Yeah.  Do you know about, umm..."

"Your nightmare and who was behind it?  Yeah."

Max grinned.  "If it was them, I think Rose scared them."

JenniAnn laughed.  "Probably so!  She's a tough cookie when she wants to be.  And so are you."

"These days... yeah.  Because... cause now I have people who love me a-and give me strength," Max replied. 

JenniAnn kissed his cheek.  "Always."  She lowered her voice.  "Let's talk more when it's just us and your Dad, huh?"

Max nodded then glanced at Shelby and smiled.

JenniAnn followed his gaze and noticed that the little girl had dozed off.

"Aww!" Violeta cried.

Andrew grabbed a blanket from the couch and gently tucked it around Shelby.

JenniAnn softly kissed her hair then sighed happily.  "I need to get home... to a bigger bed.  I wonder what the odds are of leaving today?"

"Not good."

Everyone, sans Shelby, turned to the hallway where Portia stood.

"Psyche, trust me, I know how badly you want to get home.  I want you home, too.  And I know we can get Edmund to support releasing you tomorrow... and he'll probably have to agree to check in on you just to make that happen... but today?"  The doctor shook her head as she approached.  "You just came out of a three day coma."  Portia quieted.  "And we can't exactly tell them that you've spoken to Jesus and he sent you back... nor that demons are causing problems.  They'd see that as even more reason to keep you here."

"That's true..." JenniAnn admitted.

"We really have been fine, Maja.  So long as we stuck together," Max reassured.

Violeta sniffled.  "And I promise I won't go off alone again.  I'll stay with Ivy the whole night."

JenniAnn patted her hand.  "I know you will."  She snuck a quick peek at Andrew who briefly smiled.

"All right.  Today and tonight I'll be an absolutely model patient," JenniAnn vowed.  "So tomorrow... tomorrow we can all go home and... and stay home."  She again glanced at Andrew.  Her eyes welled as she wondered how long he'd be able to stay home.

Violeta bent down to kiss JenniAnn's hair.  "Why don't you rest now?  Max and I will tell the others that we've seen you a-and you look really, really good and feel pretty good and tomorrow..."

"Hopefully tomorrow I will be home," JenniAnn finished.  "And maybe later I can even record a short video to send to everyone.  Or Skype.  After..."  She tilted her head towards Shelby.

Max smiled.  "I think that's a great idea."  He kissed JenniAnn's cheek then hugged Andrew.  "We'll head back to the theatre to spread the great news.  Call if you want us to pick anything up or grab anything from home."

"We will.  Thanks.  Give everyone our love," Andrew replied.

"And our thanks," JenniAnn added.

"Definitely.  Rest well, Maja."

"And Shelby," Violeta added in a whisper.

JenniAnn again smiled at the sleeping child.

After another hug for JenniAnn and Andrew, the young angel linked her arm through Max's and headed to the hall with Portia.  Before stepping away, the three turned back and smiled as they took in JenniAnn and Shelby with Andrew lovingly peering down at them as he hovered nearby.

"Andrew, there's at least room for you to sit," JenniAnn invited.

Andrew tentatively settled onto the edge of the bed.

"You're so quiet," JenniAnn murmured as she gazed up at him.

"Just... in awe."

JenniAnn closed her eyes as he ran his fingers through her hair.

"How do you feel?" he checked.

"Pretty blissful just now."  JenniAnn peered at Shelby.  "She looks so much younger curled up asleep like this.  Have you heard from Asher?  How did she sleep last night?"

Andrew reached over to softly pat Shelby's shoulder.  "Lots of tossing and turning, he said."

"And how have you been sleeping?"

Andrew remained silent.

"Not sleeping?" JenniAnn guessed.  When Andrew's eyes met hers, she realized his were filled with tears. 

"I'm not sure I remember how... how to wake up with... without you."

Tears welled in JenniAnn's own eyes as she remembered what he'd cried out to her on that first, awful day.

"Tonight we'll go to sleep together.  And... and we'll wake up together in the morning," she promised. 

Andrew nodded and inched closer, resting his chin on her hair.  He let out a contented sigh as JenniAnn began to sing.

"'Sleep, my child, and peace attend thee, all through the night.  Guardian angels God will send thee, all through the night.'"

Andrew closed his eyes and silently shouted his thanks to Joshua and the Father for bringing his Laja back to them.

*~*~*

Shelby awoke just as Allison and Belle returned. 

"Well... we decided we had to go home to get your snack, JenniAnn," Allison announced.  "Your dad headed Below with some but we have..."  She slightly tilted a bag she was holding.

"Blizzards!" Shelby exulted.

"We got several varieties to celebrate.  I figured extras could go to the nurses.  Andrew, Shelby, I wasn't sure what you'd like but JenniAnn..."  Allison held out a cup and spoon to her.  "Oreo."

"Yum..."  JenniAnn happily accepted the treat.  "Thank you, Mom!"

"Andrew, Shelby, you pick."

Grinning, Shelby selected a banana split blizzard while Andrew reached for a Reese's one.  They took turns hugging Allison.

"Thanks!  Best way to wake up," Shelby declared before sinking into a chair to savor the ice cream.

"This is perfect.  Thank you, Allison."

Allison's face flushed slightly when the angel kissed her cheek.  "You're very, very welcome.  And for our sweet Belle, her very own blizzard!"  She turned to her daughter and Andrew.  "I asked them to make the cookie bits especially small for her."

Allison settled the toddler into her bouncy seat and placed the mini-cup of ice cream in front of her.

Belle's eyes grew huge.

"Oooh..."

Andrew smiled and crouched beside her. 

"Can you say thank you to Grandma Allison?"

"Amma, ay ooh."

"You're welcome, lil Belle."

JenniAnn gulped down some Oreo blizzard then, with a sigh of contentment, slumped against her pillows.  She beamed at her mother.

"Best snack ever..."

Allison laughed and tilted her head towards the window seat.  "I think your daughter agrees."

Andrew looked away from where he was already picking sticky bits of cookie from Belle's curls as she continued to dig into her own dessert.

Belle grinned before spooning more ice cream into and around her mouth.  When she was finished, she loaded up the spoon again and held it out.

"Daddy eee!"

Andrew obediently ate the ice cream.

"He's come a long way from the fellow who didn't want his face cleaned with spit," JenniAnn observed.

Chuckling, Andrew nodded.  "Parenthood has a way of making you reconsider your standards of cleanliness.  Especially when a certain someone isn't near as tidy as Shel was."  He smiled and patted the older girl's back as she giggled.

JenniAnn took another bite of ice scream and sighed.  "So true... and this really is so yummy and feels good on my throat."

"I'm just glad they only had to intubate you during the surgery otherwise you'd really be feeling it, sweetie."  Allison brushed some hair from her daughter's forehead.

"And maybe not able to talk."  JenniAnn shook her head.  "Couldn't have handled that." 

"I wouldn't have liked that.  I... I missed your voice enough already," Shelby confessed.

"Sweetie..."  JenniAnn patted the girl's hand then sniffled and looked to Andrew.  "I... I think that's the longest we've gone without talking since before Belle."

With tears in his eyes, Andrew nodded.  He hoped they'd have a chance to really talk... alone... soon.

"JenniAnn..."

The room's five occupants all looked to the doorway to find Raquel.  Henry peeked over her shoulder and smiled before stepping away.

"Raquel..." JenniAnn replied, holding out her arms.

Allison stepped away to allow the newcomer to get near JenniAnn.

Dropping her purse, Raquel hastened to JenniAnn's bedside and enclosed her in her gentle embrace.

"Oh... oh my dear...  I... I was so... so worried."  Raquel rested her cheek against JenniAnn's hair and let out a ragged breath.  "I... I couldn't do that a-again."  She gave a shaky smile to Andrew and Allison.  "I didn't want any... any of us to.  Oh JenniAnn...  I... I love you.  How are you feeling?"

JenniAnn gripped Raquel's hand tightly, hoping she could feel her strength.  "I love you, too.  And I'm feeling pretty good.  Sugared up, that's for sure!"

Raquel laughed.  "Deservedly!"

"How was your fli..."

"Amma!" Belle shrieked.

The adults all laughed.

JenniAnn swiped at a tear as she smiled at the toddler.  "I'm sorry, baby girl.  Is Mama hogging the attention?"

Belle replied with a beatific smile.

Andrew lifted her onto the bed where she snuggled in between Raquel and JenniAnn.

"Oh, baby, be careful," Andrew cautioned, wincing as Belle twisted and turned.

JenniAnn hugged a pillow to her side and kept smiling.  "I'm fine."  Her smile grew as Belle kissed first Raquel's cheek and then hers.  After another smile, the little one closed her eyes and began to snooze.

Allison laughed quietly.  "It amazes me how they can drift off so quickly at that age!"

Andrew checked his pocket watch.  "It is around nap time.  Poor little elf's been off schedule."  He tilted his head and smiled at the trio before stopping to hug Raquel.  "I'm so glad you're here."

"Me, too, sweet boy.  I... I just wish I could have been with you since... since..."

Squeezing Raquel's shoulder, Andrew shook his head.  "You're here at the perfect time."

"And so grateful for it," Raquel assented.  "Joshua and his Dad have been hearing an awful lot from me and Nico, too.  He so wishes he could be here but..."

"But I would hate to upset a cruise ship full of people.  I completely understand," JenniAnn assured.

Raquel kept hold of her hand as she studied Shelby.  "Shel, honey, how are you?"

"Better.  I got to stay with Belle the first two nights and Asher came home and now... now Psyche."  Shelby leaned over the side of her chair and brushed her forehead against JenniAnn's shoulder.

"I'm sure Belle felt so much better having her big sister nearby," Raquel encouraged. 

Shelby smiled proudly before redirecting her attention to her ice cream.

"And Allison... how are you?" Raquel asked, compassion evident in her voice.

"So very, very relieved... and enlightened."  Allison smiled at Andrew before reaching for the bag she'd brought in.  "Blizzard?" she offered to Raquel.

Laughing, Raquel made her selection.  "Thank you."

"I think I'll go distribute the rest of these.  Was Henry going to stick around?" Allison checked.

"He said he'd be in the family room," Raquel replied. 

"Then I'll check with him first.  Be back in a bit, sweetie."  Allison kissed JenniAnn's temple and smiled at the others before departing. 

"Psyche will hopefully get to go home tomorrow.  Will you stay with us, Raquel?" Shelby asked.

Raquel took in the three hopeful but haunted gazes.  She nodded.  "Of course.  I'll stay for as long as you'll have me."

Andrew rose from where he'd seated himself near the window and rested his hand on her shoulder.  "Thank you.  You... you've always been there when we needed you."

"You were there when I needed you most," Raquel murmured.  "How could I be anywhere else?"

Tears spilled down JenniAnn's cheeks as she marveled anew at how God had used Andrew's assignments to build an indestructible family for them.  Though thoughts of the days ahead plagued her, she was comforted by the knowledge that none of them would face their trials alone.

*~*~*

Following a battery of tests, JenniAnn was wheeled back to her room around 5:00 that evening.  As she and Andrew entered, they found she had more visitors.

"Owen!  Eli!" JenniAnn cried.

Andrew helped her to her feet and smiled as she hugged Owen.

The man blinked back tears even as he grinned.  "So good to see you, Psyche.  Although I half-expected Andrew to carry you in here.  I've heard things."  He winked at Andrew.

JenniAnn laughed.  "Well, we didn't have a wheelchair handy at the time...  But I'm trying to be the perfect patient now so they'll spring me tomorrow thus we're being very proper."  She and Andrew smiled at each other before she directed her attention to Eli who was simply staring at her.

"Kiddo..."

The angel's husky voice brought fresh tears to JenniAnn's eyes. 

"I... I saw Aunt Sophia," JenniAnn choked out. 

Eli sighed.  "And for that I'm grateful.  I know she's been longing to talk to you.  But..."

"I know," JenniAnn soothed.  "I... I think I had it the easiest of any of us.  No, I know I did."  She pulled away enough to give a trembling smile to all three of the men.  "But I... I felt so proud and blessed when I heard your prayer services and knew you were all holding each other so close.  Joshua was so proud, too." 

Owen squeezed her hands.  "That... it's really good to know.  A-and even though I believe he'll work this for good and would have no matter what... I'm glad that, if this had to... to happen, then it happened after we knew... about Joshua."

"And when we have so many friends," Andrew added.

JenniAnn nodded.  "Definitely.  I... I can't imagine not having the St. Genesius' crowd around now."

"Speaking of them..."  Eli turned and picked up a laptop bag he'd sat on a chair.  "We brought them with us, so to speak."

"Oh good!"  JenniAnn settled into the bed and then happily turned on her computer once Eli had placed it in her lap.

"Andrew, you get in there," Owen directed.  "People are concerned about you, too."

"Okay."  Smiling, Andrew sat beside JenniAnn.

Eli brushed at a stray tear when he caught his friend briefly nuzzling the woman's hair. 

Owen helped JenniAnn connect her computer and then the screen was filled with Adam's face.

"JenniAnn!" the angel of death greeted.  "And Andrew!  Unsurprisingly."

Andrew chuckled.  "Hey, Adam."

"Adam..."  JenniAnn reached out to the screen.

Adam placed his hand on his own screen.  "You've got one big hug coming, JenniAnn.  But for right now..."  He lifted and turned the computer, revealing many of their friends and family clustered together in the ballroom.

"Welcome back, JenniAnn!" they shouted.

She made no attempt to brush away the tears that fell as she beamed at them.  "Thank you... so much!  I... I can't wait to be there with you all."

"We kinda turned your castle into a hostel," Caleb teased.

JenniAnn laughed.  "That's okay!  I like Willowveil in hostel mode."

"How are you feeling, JenniAnn?" Ivy questioned.

"Only a lil sore.  And I probably won't be running any marathons soon... but then I've never run a marathon." 

The others laughed.

JenniAnn sighed, glad to hear the sound.  "There's so much I want to tell you all... but in person.  I saw Joshua a-and he... he's wonderful as always.  And looking forward to the wedding, Clay and Kylie.  Yosef said not to spend any money on wine.  It's taken care of."

The happy couple embraced.

"We... we're looking forward to it, JenniAnn.  A-and I... we... so glad... you'll be there," Kylie choked out.

JenniAnn took a handkerchief that Andrew offered her.  "Me... me too.  Couldn't have missed it or... or any of the weddings."  She searched for Max and Rose and spotted them, arms around each other's waists. 

"Do they still think you'll be able to come home tomorrow?" Violeta questioned.

JenniAnn nodded.  "So long as tonight goes well, Edmund thinks he can make a good case for releasing me.  I might even be home for lunch."

"We'll make lunch!" Emma offered.  "What sounds good?"

"Oh... you've already done so much!"

Emma shook her head.  "No.  Not enough."

Through the screens, the two women's eyes locked and JenniAnn felt as if she could read Emma's mind.  She saw herself kicking in the bathroom door of that seedy club...

"Not nearly enough," Emma reiterated before smiling.  "So spill it."

JenniAnn laughed.  "You wanna know the absolute truth?"

"Yes!" the crowd shouted.

"I really just feel like a big bowl of..."

"Froot Loops!"

JenniAnn grinned at her friends.  "Exactly."

"Then we'll do breakfast for lunch," Emma decided.  "With pastries and fruit, too."

"I can't wait," JenniAnn murmured.  "And I know about the show.  Thank you, all of you.  I... I'm so grateful and..."  She hugged Andrew's arm and rested her head on his shoulder as she began to weep.

Andrew smiled when a series of coos and awws sounded from the laptop.

"We can't wait for you to be with us when we practice," Peter answered, hugging Emma's shoulders.

"We still have a few numbers open," Zeke explained.

Diana nodded.  "We were hoping you had suggestions.  We can talk about it tomorrow, maybe?"

Brushing at tears, JenniAnn smiled and nodded.  "I really can't wait."

"We won't keep you long," Kemara began.  "I'm sure you're feeling pretty worn down but... there are some friends who want to say hi first."

JenniAnn saw Shane and Eliot crouch down.

"Oh!" she exclaimed when they stood back up, each with a dog in their arms.  "Fawn... Lulu...  Hello babies!"

Both dogs' ears perked up. 

"Oh, I love you both and can't wait to hug and pet you!"

Fawn licked the screen.

"Oops."  Monica knelt in front of the screen and wiped it off then smiled.  "Hullo, JenniAnn!  You look wonderful."

"Aww, thanks.  I..."

"Hi, Aunt JenniAnn."

"Oh... Liam.  And Jacob!"

"Hi!" JenniAnn's godson replied.  "We made you drawings!  We left them in your and Andrew's room since you're coming home soon."

"Thank you so much!  I can't wait to see them!  And to hug both of you!" 

Liam and Jacob grinned at the monitor and blew kisses.

"Ask her if she wants to see Yonah!"

JenniAnn giggled when she heard Violeta.  "I can hear you, honey.  And, yes, I'd love to see Yonah and your babies."

"Then, if I may, I'll escort you outside," Sean replied with an aristocratic air before grabbing the computer.

Laughing, JenniAnn nodded.  "Thank you, Sean."

The four in the hospital room all giggled as they heard Violeta continuing to chatter as she followed Sean.

"Ah!  Look who it is!  Hello again, JenniAnn!" Reuel greeted as Sean stepped into the stable.

"Reuel!  It's so good to see you again.  And hi, Arthur!"

"JenniAnn... you look great!"  Arthur sucked in a deep breath.  "I'm just so glad to see you!"

"Glad to see you, too!  How is everything out there?"

"Smelly," Owen muttered.

JenniAnn shot him a look which he returned with a grin.

Reuel laughed.  "I hardly notice.  Come.  Yonah missed you."

Sean carried the laptop directly in front of Yonah.

"Sweet boy..." JenniAnn cooed.  "Oh... look at you protecting Mary and Silly!"

"He's been so good about that!" Violeta chirped.  "They're always laying together.  Well, except, umm when..."

Andrew snorted and shook his head.  "Pretty sure we'll have lambs next spring at the rate they're going," he whispered to JenniAnn.

JenniAnn giggled.  "Well, then maybe Adam can start his business up soon."  She turned back to the screen.  "Oh... look at the three of you cuties.  Have you been getting lotsa treats?"

Yonah brayed.

"Good!"  JenniAnn watched her beloved pet for several moments.  She longed to bury her face in the nape of Yonah's neck and pretend it was just a normal day.

Sean heard her sniffle.  "Maybe we should head back in and say good night to everyone?" he suggested.

"Yes, please.  G'bye, babies.  I'll see you tomorrow!  G'night, Reuel and Arthur!"

"Good evening, JenniAnn!  And Andrew, too.  Owen and Eli, we will see you soon?" Reuel checked.

Eli peeked around Andrew and nodded.  "We'll travel back together."

"Won't be long," Owen added.

"See you guys soon," Arthur responded.  "Andrew and JenniAnn, you two have a good, relaxing night."

JenniAnn squeezed Andrew's hand and nodded.  "Will do."

"Definitely," he agreed.

With that, Sean headed back inside with Violeta.

"All right, everyone.  JenniAnn's probably got a dinner of Jello and mystery meat to get to so let's say good night," he prompted.

"Good night, JenniAnn!" the crowed chorused. 

"Wait!" Rabbi Yakov shouted.  "I think a prayer first?"

"Yes, please.  I've missed praying with you all."  JenniAnn smiled tenderly at them.

"Then how about the one Joshua taught us?" Fr. Mike suggested.

After murmurs of assent, the priest and rabbi began the prayer with the others' voices swelling around them, both those in the hospital room and the ballroom.

"Our Father, who art in Heaven..."

As he prayed along, Andrew thought of only two days before when he had silently prayed the same words while laying in his own bed, feeling bereft and confused.  He knew that, no matter what challenges he had yet to face, he would face them bravely, knowing that his God, his soul mate, and their family would be there to lift him up.

*~*~*

Heart to Heart

After a visit from Dr. Wittson and having her vitals taken by Martha for what felt like the dozenth time, JenniAnn was at last settled back into her room with only Andrew... almost.

"All right...  I've suggested to the nurses that as few disruptions as possible and ideally none would be best for you, JenniAnn," Dr. Talson informed her.  "But if you notice or feel anything out of the ordinary... Andrew, you get a nurse in here right away.  No hesitation."

Andrew and JenniAnn both nodded.

"Of course," the angel of death agreed.

"No hesitation," JenniAnn echoed.

"Good.  I know how badly you both want to get home and with good reason but it's not worth having a setback, JenniAnn," Edmund counseled.

JenniAnn nodded.  "Yes.  Definitely.  Totally right."

The physician smiled.  "Okay then.  You two have a very good night."

"Uh huh.  Good night," JenniAnn replied.

Edmund chuckled.  The unexpressed emotion between the two was almost palpable.  He hurried to hug the girl and then Andrew.  "Call me if you need anything or have any questions."

Andrew clapped him on the back.  "We will.  Thank you, Edmund.  Truly."

"You're truly welcome.  I'll see you both tomorrow morning."

The moment the door closed behind the doctor, JenniAnn reached out to Andrew who bolted from his chair.

"Hold me," the woman murmured.

Andrew slid beside JenniAnn and wrapped an arm around her waist.

She sighed and rested her hand over his.  "I... I wish..."

"What do you wish, Laja?"  Andrew rolled his head to his side, closing his eyes as he felt the silkiness of her hair beneath his cheek. 

"I wish we... I mean...  I miss the way we usually sleep."

Andrew's eyes shot open.  JenniAnn had taken to sleeping on her right side with her head resting on his chest or in the crook of his arm, her hand over his heart.  He turned to his side, propped his head up with one hand, and placed her hand at the center of his chest.

"Will this work for now?"

JenniAnn smiled and nodded as she listened to the familiar thump-thump-thump.  When she looked up, she noted that Andrew's eyes were rimmed with tears.

"Love..."

"I... I was so... so afraid that... that your heart would... would stop during your seizure.  Even though I knew that was unlikely, I... Laja, I..."

"My love..."

Andrew let out a shuddering breath and nuzzled JenniAnn's hair as she first kissed his hand and then rested it over her heart.  He gazed into her eyes as he silently counted the beats.

Suddenly, JenniAnn laughed.

Andrew smiled.  "What is it?"

"It's... goofy.  And kinda... naughty."

The angel grinned and stroked her cheek.  "Then I'm even more eager to hear it."

"It just occurs to me that this... this is the first time I think I maybe have some understanding of what it's like for people who are in relationship and choose to be abstinent.  Cause I... I just want to hug you so tightly and roll onto my side and cover your face in kisses and cling to you but I know that the consequences could be bad if I do and so... we have to wait."

Chuckling, Andrew placed a tender kiss on her forehead.  "Well, I had hoped I could bring you some new experiences during our years together... that wasn't one I'd planned for but here we are.  And I have to admit... I'm feeling the same."

"UAT."

"Huh?"

"Do you know what UST is?"

"Umm...  United States Treasury?"

JenniAnn burst out laughing.  "No!  Unromantic thought...  Or, I mean, yeah but... I meant Unresolved Sexual Tension.  Which, thankfully, we are spared.  But that doesn't mean we can't suffer from UAT: Unresolved Affectionate Tension.  I mean I know we both had it some in the early days but... this is different."

"It is...  We're different."

"Uh huh."

"Andrew?"

"Yes, Laja?"

"Violeta pointed something out earlier."

"What's that?"

"My ring.  You know how the claddagh means different things depending on how it's worn?"

Andrew's cheeks flushed.  "You've mentioned but, umm, I don't exactly remember..."

JenniAnn patted his hand which remained over her heart.  "It's okay, Andrew.  I didn't expect you to memorize it."

"Good."

"I usually wore it on this finger but with the heart facing out which means, well, kinda engaged but more generally just being in a committed relationship.  This exact way... it's generally how married people wear them."

"Oh...  Well, umm, I wouldn't be opposed to your leaving it that way if you aren't."

JenniAnn's eyes twinkled as she returned Andrew's smile.  "I am not opposed, either." 

"Good."  Andrew relaxed and rested his head beside hers on the pillow. 

"Reuel's story was something else to hear.  Not exactly validating... Joshua already gave us what validation we needed but it was nice to hear about others like us besides some of our friends.  Just nice to know there's a history, ya know?"

Andrew nodded.

"So, umm, what did you know about it before Reuel came here?"

The angel of death shifted uncomfortably.  "I didn't know all the details but I knew about what some angels... fallen angels had done and how Reuel and his people... they escaped them.  Laja, there were times through the years when I wondered if I should tell you.  Please don't think I meant to hide the true story of the Nephilim from you but... but I didn't want to scare you and it was so... so awful.  To think of angels... angels once like me... treating humans like... like that!  Laja, it's unimaginable to me a-and so... I simply didn't want to imagine it.  And especially not with you.  A-and when?  I... I was worried the stories might... they might make you afraid of me and then once we were to the point when I knew you trusted me, I wondered if you'd be mad that I kept silent about it for years so... so I just kept silent.  Laja... I'm sor..."

JenniAnn reached up to caress his face.  "No.  Andrew, what the incubi and succubi did... that's no more a reflection on you than some of the heinous things you see humans do is a reflection on me.  And it would have scared me.  Not because I would have thought differently about you but just because... well, it's a scary story and one that requires some maturity to think about without focusing only on the horrific aspects.  I think it's best I didn't know until I met Reuel.  Now I have a face and a voice to represent the good forces in their story.  And... if I had known..."  She blushed.  "Andrew, way back when, my mom actually asked me if... you know... you could..."

Andrew mentally filled in the blanks.  "Right."

"And I know she had to have been thinking of the old stories... hybrid humans and angels.  If I knew the real version then I woulda felt compelled to tell her and then she'd have told my dad a-and... it wouldn't have been helpful to us for them to have known about those demons."

"True."

JenniAnn started to sit up.  "A-andrew..."

The angel hastened to help her then circled his arms around her when she began to sob. 

"Laja..." 

Andrew gave into his own tears as he realized she knew what he suspected.

"My love...  I... I don't want... want you to go.  I... I got to... to a better place a-about it with... with Joshua a-and the others on the... the island b-but now...  Andrew..."  JenniAnn made a sudden turn and seized the angel of death.

Andrew felt her jolt and heard her gasp.  "Laja... be careful.  Please...  Here... just..."  He gently guided her into his arms so her bad side was facing away from him but her cheek was nestled against his shoulder.  "Okay?"

"Okay."

The angel rested his cheek against her hair and softly swayed for a few moments before speaking.

"Laja, I have to go.  It... it's me they want and I won't let them torture our family as a means to an end."

JenniAnn remained silent as she kissed his shoulder.

"I won't be alone.  You know that.  Surely Joshua reminded you."

She nodded.

"And you'll be with me.  I carry you and the kids and our friends everywhere... everywhere, Laja.  And you know I would never turn my back on you and not on God.  I swear I will come back to you."

"I... I know that.  I could never, ever doubt that but... but I... I don't want you to... to be hurt.  Andrew, I..."  A smile began to appear on JenniAnn's face.  "I met Badriya.  We talked a-and she is so lovely and it was so... so wonderful."

A huge smile lit up Andrew's face.  "Laja!  I'm so glad!  She's wanted to meet you and I know you felt the same and..."  He kissed her cheek.  "That's so good to know!"

"She... she taught me a lullaby for Belle.  A-and I can teach it to you.  And she's in school and just so... vibrant a-and free and when I was with her, that's all I thought about.  All the good things surrounding her.  But now... here...  I think about how you suffered a-and how hard it was for you in Afghanistan a-and now to... to think of you going near those... those monsters who..."

"Laja, it's true that Nen and Tzila are more powerful than those who held Max and me captive in Afghanistan.  But JenniAnn... don't you feel how much stronger I am?"

JenniAnn squeezed his upper arm.  "Yes..."

Andrew laughed.  "That's not what I meant and you know it.  The Andrew who headed to Afghanistan actually told you that it would be fine if you dated.  And now?  Now we're... Laja, you're sitting in my lap."

In spite of her tears, JenniAnn giggled.  "I am, yes."

"And we have two beautiful little girls to raise and a son who's soon to be married and Violeta headed off to college and so many friends and pets... way more pets than I ever imagined having."  Andrew beamed down at JenniAnn.  "All of that love and loyalty and friendship, it's made us all stronger.  And we have something else, too.  We both know the truth about Joshua and being able to talk with each other about him... Laja, that's bound us so tightly together that I feel like a part of me... it's going to remain with you in Dyeland even when I leave.  And that anchor... it'll keep me sane and strong no matter what they try to do."

JenniAnn drew in a deep, calming breath.  "I... I will pray for you just as... as I know you prayed for me."

Andrew smiled as JenniAnn clasped his cross.  "Thank you.  If you want... could you tell me about how things were for... for you?"

With a nod, JenniAnn told him about her reunions.  She said little about Jamey.  His story needed to go to his Papa and Mama first.  Andrew laughed over their game of Hide-and-Seek and tightened his embrace when JenniAnn's voice began to quake as she spoke about Joshua, her longing for him evident on her face.

The longer JenniAnn spoke, the more frequent were the yawns that interrupted her.

"Oh and David loves Belle's style and..."  JenniAnn shook her head as another yawn came.

Andrew bent to kiss her forehead.  "Rest now, Laja.  We can talk more tomorrow... at home."

"Home..." JenniAnn echoed.  She closed her eyes for a moment then opened them again.  "Sing to me?"

"Which song?"

"Any."

JenniAnn gave Andrew a drowsy smile and burrowed her face into his chest as he began.

"'How to handle a woman...'"

The angel's eyes never left the sleeping woman as he continued.  It was a most welcome change from his earlier "performance."  Now Andrew knew that soon his Laja's eyes would open again and, most likely, he would be able to take her home... their home, their room, amidst their family... in a matter of hours.

*~*~*

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Shortly after 8:00, Portia knocked lightly on the door to JenniAnn's room.  She waited a few seconds before peeking inside.  What she found made her cock her head in confusion.  JenniAnn was sitting up in bed with Andrew primly seated near the window as they watched a televised Mass.  It was not the affectionate scene Portia had anticipated.

"Good morning.  Huh...  I know we all love Joshua but you could have asked me to run to Willowveil and grab Jesus Christ Superstar or Godspell or something if you needed a fix," Portia offered.  "I've never known either of you to watch TV Mass.  Kinda seems to be missing something, doesn't it?"

JenniAnn's face flushed and she stole a look at Andrew.

"All right.  What's going on?" Portia pressed, crossing her arms over her chest.

"We, umm, scandalized a nun," Andrew confessed.  "This is penance, apparently...   Never done penance, not being Catholic or, well, human but, well, since I was a party to it..."

Portia burst out laughing.  "Spill it.  What did you two manage to do so early in the day?"

"I guess there was some confusion..." JenniAnn began.  "This adorable lil, old nun had come to the floor to pray with certain patients a-and I guess she got directed to the wrong room and walked in on Andrew and I, umm...  I mean we were just hugging but I was in his lap and, well..."

A devilish gleam lit up Andrew's eyes.  "Sister apologized profusely for walking in on JenniAnn and her husband."

"And I just mentally jumped to 'neither married nor given in marriage' and blurted out 'He's not my husband!'  Sister left very quickly...  Oh boy... I hope she didn't noticed my ring."  JenniAnn studied her claddagh.

Portia doubled over laughing.  "That's terrible... and hilarious.  And all the more reason that we need to get you two out of here before you scandalize anyone else."

JenniAnn smiled and turned off the TV.  "Definitely!  I had a really good night.  No excitement until... well, you know now.  Have you seen Edmund yet?"

Portia shook her head.  "No but I just got here myself.  Let me go check with your nurses."

Once Portia was out of the room, Andrew looked to JenniAnn and smiled.

"I'm sure they'll want to do a few tests before they release you.  When they do, do you want me to try to find our visitor and smooth things over?" he offered.

"Not exactly sure what you could say!"

"I could just explain that you had a very serious health scare and we love each other very much and were celebrating your healing with a nice good morning hug before grabbing coffee."

"Maybe..."

Andrew kissed JenniAnn's temple.  "I will."

"Sorry.  I mean I'm not sorry..."  JenniAnn blushed and brought his hand to her lips.  "Not sorry we did that.  Just sorry that I'm still sometimes hung up on what people think.  But it would be nice to be more... inspirational than demoralizing."

"I understand completely and agree.  Would you maybe want to try to walk and see that coffee machine Violeta was telling you about?"

JenniAnn nodded eagerly.  "Amaretto..." she murmured.

Andrew chuckled.  "You know, I think that's the same tone you use for my name," he teased.

Giggling, JenniAnn linked her arm through his.  In the hallway, they told one of the nurses their plans then set off.  JenniAnn lightly leaned on Andrew for support but found that it felt good to stretch her legs during the trek to the floor below and its cafe.

Andrew happily watched as JenniAnn added shots of three different flavors to her coffee.  In a celebratory mood, he added some mocha to his usual black coffee.  After paying, he led JenniAnn to a small table near some windows.

"I can't wait to get home and just lay in the grass or on the balcony with the fresh air and the sky..." she mused.

Andrew clasped her hand.  "You miss it... the island."

"More the people who were there but yeah... the island, too.  And to think it woulda been only the beginning.  That's one of the many things this experience has made me realize: how much your presence here... just how incredible it is, Andrew.  To give up... that."

"It's still there.  And I know that.  And I can go back to it but for now... now I belong here."

"And so do I."  JenniAnn set down her coffee and took Andrew's other hand.  "I really hope nothing they see today sets off their alarm bells.  I just... I want us to... to have some time at home before..."

"I know.  Me too."

"Do you know when..."

Andrew shook his head.  "I don't even know where they are.  But I'm sure I'll know when I need to.  In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy every moment we have because... cause it's a moment that I... I wasn't sure we'd have.  I am so grateful... so blessed."

As the angel peered up at the sky, JenniAnn gazed at him, feeling grateful and blessed that God had joined them together.

*~*~*

Andrew sat in the hallway, praying that JenniAnn would soon be returned to her room with permission to pack up and leave.  He knew Edmund had made a good case for her release citing that her seizures were stress-related and being at home was much less stressful than being in a strange, busy hospital.  However, Dr. Wittson was leery and had requested an x-ray of JenniAnn's right lung.  Though Andrew knew the hospital couldn't very well force JenniAnn to stay, leaving AMA wasn't an entirely attractive option given it could make things awkward for Portia and Edmund. 

"Joshua, please, just let me have time enough to get Laja home and settled.  I don't want to have to leave with her still here.  She'll be nervous enough without the comforts of home," Andrew confided. 

The angel was so deep in prayer that he didn't notice someone had taken a seat beside him until they set a hand on his shoulder, causing him to jolt.

"I'm sorry.  That's twice in one morning that I've startled you!"

Andrew turned to see the same nun who had entered JenniAnn's room.  She held out her hand.

"Sister Genevieve.  I'm pleased to meet you properly, young man."

Andrew returned her warm smile.  "Andrew.  It's good to meet you, too, and no worries about startling me.  It doesn't take much these days...  I'm glad you're here.  I promised my... JenniAnn, the girl I was uh..."

"Not your wife?" the nun asked with a barely suppressed smile.

"Not my wife," Andrew repeated with a chuckle.  "But JenniAnn wanted you to know that she's no one's wife.  JenniAnn's Catholic.  She went to a high school started by Servite Sisters, actually.  And she was mortified that a nun might think she was having an affair.  She, well, she has a claddagh ring that she wears but... not married.  Neither of us."

"Well, I'm glad there's no jilted husband!"

Andrew grinned.  "Me too.  And please know we generally don't act like that in public but..."

"Hospitals have a way of bringing out emotions and wearing down reserves.  I understand.  You tell your JenniAnn that this particular nun knows she's not having an affair.  I'll be praying for her continued healing... and for her not-husband."  The nun squeezed Andrew's hand.

"Thank you, Sister Genevieve.  We appreciate that."

"You're welcome.  God bless you, Andrew."

"You too, Sister."

After a final smile, the nun stood and went in search of someone else to minister to. 

Andrew smiled after her, excited to tell JenniAnn about their encounter.  Blessedly, he didn't have to wait long.  She approached with Edmund and Portia on either side of her.  All three were beaming.  The angel hastened towards them.

JenniAnn hugged him.  "Home...  We can go home now." 

Andrew clung to her and wept, grateful that his fervent prayers had been answered.

*~*~*

"Are you ready?" Andrew asked as he stood with JenniAnn on Willowveil's front porch. 

JenniAnn gave an eager nod.

Allison and Robert took the bags Andrew was holding so his arms would be free if needed.

The angel of death opened the door and loved ones immediately gathered around, shouting their love and well wishes to JenniAnn.

Tears rolled down JenniAnn's cheeks as Max stepped forward and led her to a velvet settee.

"Sit here, Maja.  Dad, you too."

Andrew obeyed and secured an arm around JenniAnn's shoulders.

"So glad... so happy..." JenniAnn repeated over and over as she hugged their friends and family members.

When Sean and Kemara approached, JenniAnn squeezed their hands.

"This is so lovely...  Thank you for getting everyone together like this!" she cheered.

Sean laughed.  "And now it's your job to get us all to vacate the premises when you're ready to have this go back to a family home instead of a family and fifty closest friends home."

Smiling, JenniAnn shook her head.  "I like us all being together like this.  It feels like Christmas."

"It's definitely a celebration," Kemara chimed in.  "I... I'm so glad to see you looking so..."

"Awake?" JenniAnn finished.  "Me too."  She glanced at her friend's belly.  "And how are you four?"

"We're..." Kemara hesitated glancing at Sean. "I guess managing is the best word. I don't think it's quite sunk in yet. Just kinda overwhelmed: sad and worried and excited all at the same time. But Portia says things look good so we're focusing on that."

"And doing a lot of talking with Joshua," Sean added, putting an arm around his wife. "Well, ranting and pleading in my case." He shrugged. "But, I think he can handle it."

JenniAnn smiled.  "I know he can."  Her smile turned wistful as she thought of those last few moments with Joshua.  She brightened when she caught sight of Kylie, Clay, and Adam.  "And we'll see him soon," she reminded, tilting her head to the soon-to-be-wed couple.

Kemara's eyes filled as she imagined seeing Joshua again.  "We will."  Stepping back with Sean, she waved the other three nearer.  "We'll talk more later, JenniAnn," she promised.

"Definitely!"

When she was near enough, Kylie bent to hug JenniAnn.

"I'm so glad you're back!  It's been so nice being here together but... but it just wasn't the same at all without you and Andrew."

"Oh..."  JenniAnn clasped Kylie's hand.

"I got a lump in my throat every time I passed your bedroom door," Adam confessed. 

"Adam..." JenniAnn murmured.

Andrew rose and hugged his longtime friend.

"Buddy...  It... it's good to see you looking so much more... yourself," the elder angel of death commented.

Andrew heaved a sigh.  "I feel much more myself.  Not halved anymore."

Clay hugged Kylie to him.  "I hope neither of you ever feel that again," he wished.

"Me too," JenniAnn agreed as she hugged Andrew's arm once he was at her side again.

"Me three!" Kylie asserted.  "Are you feeling at all hungry?"

JenniAnn nodded.  "Yes, actually."

"Good!  Well, we're going to start setting out the brunch buffet so..."

"I can help," JenniAnn started.

"No," a chorus of voices countered.

JenniAnn blushed and laughed.  "Okay then..."

Emma stepped forward and patted her shoulder.  "You've spent so many holidays leading up the efforts, let us handle this for you, please?"

"Okay.  Thank you.  Oh and..."  JenniAnn reached for Peter's hand and squeezed it then motioned for him to come closer.

Peter knelt in front of her.

"I... I heard how you counseled Crystal a-and everyone.  I wish you could have seen how proudly Joshua was smiling.  Thank you for that."

Peter blushed as a smile lit up his face.  "It was an honor and... and I'm glad Joshua was pleased."

"Very pleased," JenniAnn stressed.  "He said you were a chip off the beyond ancient block."

Peter and those near enough to hear laughed.

"Thank you, JenniAnn," the man replied. 

Touched by how much JenniAnn's account clearly meant to her fiance, Emma nodded.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome.  I'm so thankful for the prayer services... for the singing...  I... I heard it all.  Actually, before people start going to get lunch ready, can I say something to everyone?"

The crowd around JenniAnn parted enough that she could see all of her friends' faces.  With Andrew's help, she got to her feet.

"I, umm, I knew we had something really, really special here.  I feel it all the time when I'm in the midst of you all here or at the theatre or... or wherever we may be.  But I have a whole new appreciation for it now.  I wasn't in Heaven but I was close.  And the view from there...  We are so... so strong.  I'm so glad to... to be back with you all but I felt... so... so much a part of you even there.  A-and it was so obvious to me that Maryam, Yosef, John, and other loved ones I saw there... they still felt part of us.  And Joshua... of... of course Joshua does.  So while I hope we have many more years together, like this, I... I know now that even when the time comes for us to... to go Home... we'll still be so close to the others.  Always."

The group cheered and exchanged hugs with each other.

"A-and many, many thanks for... for the show you're organizing.  I... I can't even begin to tell you how much that means to me but I... I was wondering if maybe we could sing something now?" JenniAnn requested.  "I... I long to hear our voices together."

"I think that's a wonderful idea!" Diana agreed.

"I know just the song," Owen announced.  He set off a chain of whispers and the others all nodded.  When the message was passed on, Owen redirected his attention to JenniAnn.  "Psyche, I first heard this song shortly after you and Andrew befriended me.  You took me to a show... one of your first efforts to teach me that... that God loves me.  You never gave up on that a-and beyond a shadow of a doubt I know that now.  God Himself told me."  He brushed at a tear.  "So in His honor and yours..."

When Owen waved to her, Emma began the song.

"'
Our Father, bless our hearts.  Our Father, grant us grace.  Our Father, cleanse our sins.  Our Father, show Thy face.  Our Father...  Our Father...'"

Happy tears streamed down JenniAnn's face as she sang along to the rousing prayer/song.  She closed her eyes and clung to Andrew as they came to the final words.  

"'For You are the power and the glory.  You are the Light and the Word.  You are the strength in our story.  You are the sword.  Amen!'"

*~*~*

Having been told of JenniAnn's desire for fresh air and sunlight, a few of the Friends had situated cushions and blankets on her balcony so she could visit with her well-wishers there after lunch.

When Max and Rose stepped out, they found JenniAnn leaning against Andrew as she cradled Belle who was napping.

"Now that's a perfect photo opp!" Rose declared, whipping out her cell phone.

Andrew and JenniAnn smiled as she took the picture.

Max knelt near them and softly stroked Belle's hair.  "How is our Bellaluna?"

"Very glad to have her Mama back home," Andrew replied.

"Although I think she'd be going into Appa Vincent withdrawal if he wasn't sticking around," JenniAnn added.  She softly brushed a stray curl from Belle's forehead then smiled at the couple.  "I hear a date's been set?"

Max and Rose clasped hands and nodded.

"While getting married right away had some appeal, we decided we didn't want to forgo our plans and all the fun of anticipation so..."  Rose held out a piece of paper.  "It's just a mock-up, not the final draft, but we wanted you to see it first."

JenniAnn's eyes welled as she admired the gold and crimson save the date card.  "June 25th, 2016..." 

Max beamed.  "It's the day after John's birthday.  If he comes... and I hope he comes... we'll have a cake for him, too."

"He'll love that!  Oh... Max and Rose!" JenniAnn encouraged.  "I wish I could hug you both right now but..."  She smiled down at Belle.

"I'll hug them for all three of us."  Andrew smiled and embraced the couple.  "This is wonderful news!"

"We're hoping Bellaluna could be our flower girl?" Max checked.

JenniAnn laughed.  "Well, she'll hopefully be potty trained by then so at least it wouldn't be a rerun of Kemara's and Sean's wedding.  I love that idea!  Thank you."

"Gotta have a special role for my baby sister/niece."

Andrew noticed Max's eyes well as he gazed at JenniAnn and Belle.

"Max, let's sit down," Rose suggested, plopping onto a large bean bag and patting the spot beside her.

Max took his place and laced his fingers through Rose's.

"Max, I hope you know that what happened... it changed nothing between you and me," JenniAnn counseled.

Staring down at Rose's ring, Max nodded.

"Hon, I've known from that first day I met you that... that your father..."

Max winced as he thought of that man ogling a teenaged JenniAnn.

"And when I made that connection, it didn't change how much I'd come to care for you and love you as... as my son," JenniAnn continued.  "This connection is no different.  As far as I'm concerned, the shooter has no connection to any of us.  But, Max, I know it's not so easy for you.  And so I need you to know that no matter what you decide to do, you'll still be my boy."

"And mine, too," Andrew averred.

"So if you feel the need to talk to him then..."

Max looked up and adamantly shook his head.  "I... I don't want to see or speak to him.  But... but I know you'll probably have to go to court at some point, Maja, and I'd like to go with you when you do... to support you and Dad and represent our family.  But I don't want to talk to him then, either.  Maybe... maybe some day when I hopefully know that... that he's locked up and will never hurt anyone again... maybe then.  But not until then.  I... Maja, Dad, my Rose..."  Max offered a tearful smile to each of them.  "I'm going to keep working on trying to forgive him but... but that doesn't mean I have to be close to him, does it?"

Andrew moved to wrap an arm around the young man's shoulders.  "No, Max.  It doesn't mean that.  You can pray for Rex without being close to him."

"I... I'll do that."

Rose met JenniAnn's gaze as Max moved fully into Andrew's embrace.  The older woman guessed that the younger had something she wanted to say. 

When Andrew and Max parted, JenniAnn motioned for the latter.  She hugged him and kissed his hair when he was at her side.

"Thank you for being willing to go with me.  It'll help so much and it means so much to me that you'd face him just to help me."

"You... you're my Maja."

"And very proud to be so.  Now... tell me about your wedding plans."

For several minutes, Rose and Max gushed to Andrew and JenniAnn about their hopes and dreams for their wedding: a beautiful but simple service in the chapel... preferably with Andrew officiating, a Harry Potter themed reception in the ballroom complete with butterbeer and cauldrons full of wedding mints and candles hanging from the ceiling.  JenniAnn laughed when she learned that Logan had already practiced pinning faux candles up.  Belle awoke and laughed along with their plans as if she understood them all.  Eventually, she grew restless.

"Well, all that talk about butterbeer has made me crave some.  I think I'll go make a couple pitchers.  Would anyone else like some?" Max asked.

"Definitely," JenniAnn agreed.

Rose nodded.  "I'll never turn butterbeer down!"

"I think Belle and I will tag along and supervise," Andrew teased.  He'd noticed some silent exchanges between JenniAnn and Rose and guessed they wanted some time to themselves.

Max chuckled.  "Maybe not a bad idea.  I always seem to put too much of something in it.  It just never tastes as good as yours, Dad."

Andrew clapped him on the back.  "Then I'll be happy to help."

When the two men were gone, Rose moved closer to JenniAnn who took her hands.

"How are you doing... independent of Max, I mean?"

Rose sighed and managed a smile.  "Relieved.  If... if you hadn't have come back... JenniAnn, other than the angels and my aunt, you're the only one left who... who was here when I first came.  I mean... I know C.J. and Lady Beth and Yva and her set would have come back for... for a while if..."  She shook her head.  "They said as much when I talked to them.  But... but I don't think they would have stayed a-and then... then what?  I'm not matriarch material.  And to see Andrew like that..."  Tears pooled in Rose's eyes and began to fall.

"You don't have to think about that any more, Rose.  I'm here.  And while I think you're excellent matriarch material and maybe, in time, will have to fill that role... right now you deserve to be able to focus on other roles: fiancee, student, niece, friend and eventually bride and then wife and, hopefully, new mother." 

Rose smiled.  "Hopefully...  I caught Max looking at pictures of a Harry Potter-themed nursery online."  She laughed.  "I'm a very blessed woman... when my man sneaks looks at photos online, they're of dragons and owls and house elves."

JenniAnn joined in her laughter.  "That's our Max, for sure.  And... he's been sleeping all right?"

Rose blushed.  "How do you know I've been with him at night?"

"Joshua."

"Oh, right.  No more nightmares.  But sometimes I'd wake up and just find him staring up at the ceiling.  It... it breaks my heart, JenniAnn.  He... he told me that... that he feels like what few good memories he had from being a boy are... are tainted now, including many with his Grandma cause his... cause Rex was there.  A-and what his wife, Brooke, told us...  I know it did Max good to see that she's already beginning to heal and is determined to... to move on a-and make a life for herself with Catherine's help b-but...  The things he did to her...  Demeaning things..."

JenniAnn stroked Rose's hair.  "We'll all keep supporting Max.  And, in time, I think he'll be able to focus on the nice parts of those memories.  It's just all such a shock... one right after the other.  Right now, maybe all Max can do is fixate on his father being in those memories but, eventually, that element will fade."

"Yeah..."

"And he'll have all new memories of the family he'll start with you."

Rose felt herself relax.  "True..."  She grinned at JenniAnn.  "Weird to think that in as little as a couple years, you might be a Grandma.  And Andrew a Grandpa!"

Laughing, JenniAnn shook her head.  "It is daunting to think about!  But wonderful."

"It is!  Sometimes I think back on those days when there were so few of us and we'd stress over Andrew not opening up and then there'd be disagreements and now...  Now we just have a couple pesky demons to deal with but with such a close-knit group... we can take em," Rose averred.

With more laughter, JenniAnn nodded and hugged her friend.  "Without a doubt."

"And we have Joshua on our side."

"Forever and ever."

"Amen."

JenniAnn and Rose smiled at each other then out at the beautifully blue heavens beyond.

*~*~*

It was shortly before dinnertime and JenniAnn had, at last, found herself alone with her godfather and cousin.  She'd calmly told them about Lor and Cora but tears pricked her eyes as she shared about her cousin, their baby boy.

"He... he really enjoyed his life, as short as it was.  I wish you could have seen his face as he talked about eating chocolate a-and listening to your heartbeat, Catherine."

Catherine rested her head on Vincent's shoulder as she wept.

JenniAnn held out a handkerchief.  "It... it's his.  Jamey's.  He gave it to me in Heaven a-and then I... I found it under my pillow when I packed up at the hospital.  I want you both to have it."

Vincent reverently took the cloth then handed it to his wife.

"Vincent, he remembers you reading to him.  He even named the books: Great Expectations, Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island.  And he... he knows your lullaby, Catherine.  He loves you both so much and Jacob.  He wanted you to know that... that when you dream of him now, those dreams are real for him."

Vincent looked up with a start.  "He... our Jamey... he's truly there?"

"Truly.  But!  He told me that if either of you start doping yourself to sleep more... he'll go full-blown poltergeist."  JenniAnn smiled.  "He's as adorably devilish as I'm told you were when you were little, Vincent."

As he wept into Catherine's hair, Vincent chuckled. 

JenniAnn clasped their hands.  "He wanted you both to know that it didn't hurt when he died.  He always feels your love and, though he longs for your embrace, it's a pleasant sort of longing because... cause he knows it'll be fulfilled."

"Mama... Papa... Psyche?  Are you all right?"

The three turned to see a stricken looking Jacob standing in the doorway.

Catherine waved him over.

"Yes, sweet Jacob, we're just fine.  Are you okay?"

Jacob nodded.  "I was just worried when I saw you crying."

Vincent stroked his son's back.  "These are happy tears, Jacob.  Your godmother met your big brother Jamey while she was with Joshua."

Jacob's eyes lit up.  "Jamey..." he repeated.

JenniAnn smiled at him and nodded.  "He thinks you're 'pretty awesome' and loves the drawings you did of Joshua, Jacob."

A proud smile filled Jacob's face.  "He saw my drawings?"

"Yep."

Jacob beamed at his parents who hugged him tightly.

"He plays the fiddle really, really well and is very close to your Grandpa Lor and Grandma Cora.  They call him 'Jamey Boy.'"

As JenniAnn gave a detailed account of Jamey, Cora, and Lor and answered her little cousin's many questions, she caught occasional looks of absolute peace on her beloved godfather's and cousin's faces.  For Jacob's sake alone, she fought the tears she felt coming.  Truly God had used evil for good.  Evil had found her cousins sobbing over her in an alley, goodness had allowed her to share a beautiful account of their son with Catherine and Vincent.  The memories of the former would fade in time, JenniAnn knew, but she felt as if she would never forget the beauty of that moment on the balcony.

*~*~*

After another shared meal in the ballroom and evening prayers, everyone at Willowveil shuffled off to their rooms.  A few people returned to their own homes but most remained. 

"All right, is everyone comfy?" JenniAnn asked as she surveyed Belle's nursery after its occupants had settled in.

Shelby was tucked into a sleeping bag while Belle laid in a little bed that Andrew had arranged beside the older girl.  Ivy was tucked into the bed while Violeta was curled up on a nearby cot.

"Yes," the three older girls answered in a chorus.

"Eepy..."

Andrew chuckled and bent to kiss Belle's forehead.  "G'night, little elf.  G'night, Shel."  He placed another kiss on her forehead.

"Night, night," Shelby replied wearily.

"Aye-aye, Daddy."  Belle smiled before scooting closer to her sister.

Andrew hugged Ivy and Violeta.  "Now you know that you can come wake JenniAnn and me up if..."

Violeta squeezed his hand.  "We know."

"And we will," Ivy stressed.

Andrew noticed JenniAnn rubbing at her side as she made the rounds with good night hugs and kisses.  He saw that Violeta noticed, too.  After giving his protege an encouraging smile, the angel of death went to JenniAnn.

"Ready for bed, Laja?" he whispered.

"Yes...  Very much.  But I also don't want to leave them..." she murmured.  "They look so sweet."

"Girls, we're going to leave the door open a crack, okay?" Andrew informed.

"Kay," Ivy and Violeta responded.

"Mmm hmm," Shelby answered, her eyes already closed.  She smiled as she stroked Belle's back.

JenniAnn sighed as she gazed tenderly at the two little ones.  Finally, she nodded and took Andrew's hand.

Andrew left the door cracked several inches open then he turned and watched as JenniAnn settled into bed.  He smiled when she let out a luxuriant sigh.

"So much better...  Ooh..."  JenniAnn burrowed her face into some sheets.  "And it smells like fresh air."

"You can thank Arthur and Monica for that.  They washed and line-dried the bedding."

"I will definitely thank them in the morning."  She hugged her pillow and again breathed in the scent.  "This is almost perfect."

"Almost?"

JenniAnn cast him a pointed look.

Smirking, Andrew settled in beside her.

"Now it's perfect."

The angel kissed her hair.  "Good."

JenniAnn gripped his hand and kissed it.  "Thank you for wrapping Mom's presents.  Bending over just... I dunno.  It doesn't hurt exactly.  Just feels like something's pulling.  And I meant to do that Sunday but..."

Andrew slid to his side and kissed her cheek.  "It was no problem at all.  I'm glad we could have a little celebration for her.  Monday was... hard.  But what a birthday present for her the next day..."  He smiled as he peered down at JenniAnn and stroked her hair.

Suddenly, JenniAnn sat up and placed a pillow in her lap.  "Your head hurts," she declared.

"How did..."

"I dunno really.  Something in your eyes, I think."

"Laja...  Maybe that's not a good i..."

"If I can hold Belle in my lap then your head shouldn't be a problem," JenniAnn countered.  "Your hair follicles don't kick when you get excited."

Andrew chuckled.  "True..."  After another look from JenniAnn, he laid down.

For a few moments, there was only silence as JenniAnn tried to banish the angel's headache.  He reached for her hand when he noticed her brow furrow.

"Laja... what is it?"

"I... I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for not telling my parents about the legal paperwork.  It was stupid to... to keep dragging my feet on that a-and it coulda been really, really bad.  As it was... what you had to listen to...  My love..."

Andrew tried to sit up but JenniAnn shook her head and kept kneading his temples.

"Laja, it all worked out for good.  You know that."

"Yeah..."

Andrew briefly debated with himself whether to say what was on his mind.  Finally, he decided he had to.

"If it should take a while before I come back, don't get pushed around over the hospital bills.  They'll set up a payment plan if you just ask.  And if you're not sure what to do, Sean and/or Josef would help you."

"Andrew..."

"Laja, please, just... just let me finish."

"O-okay."

"Eliot said he would take whatever carpentry orders come in so... so the business doesn't suffer.  If it comes to that, he's going to insist on giving you half the earnings.  Don't fight him over it.  I already tried.  He's immoveable.  Brittony overheard and took his side completely."  The angel smiled as he remembered.

"Do you... really think it... it would take so long?"

Andrew sat up and enfolded his arms around JenniAnn.  "I have no idea.  I hope not but I just don't know, Laja."  He rested his chin on her hair. 

"'Wherever you go, I will go...'" JenniAnn whispered.

Andrew brought her hand to rest over his heart and nodded.

They clung to each other in the remaining moments before sleep claimed them.

*~*~*

Haunted

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Andrew awoke to total darkness.  A moment later, the stale air around him erupted with screams and shouting.  Somewhere, Belle wailed. 

"Belle!  Sweet baby, Daddy's coming," he assured as he stumbled forward into the darkness.

"Dad!  Dad!  Maja... she... she won't wake up.  Dad!"

"Max!  Max where are you?  Where's JenniAnn?"

"Psyche!" Shelby bellowed.  "Don't die!  Please... don't... don't..."

"Shel!"  Tears streamed down Andrew's face as he tried to follow the sound of her sobbing but it seemed to be coming from all around him.  "Laja..."

"Don't... please... please don't..."

"Violeta...  Violeta!" Andrew called, still stumbling.

"D-don't hurt me.  Don't touch me!"

The terrified note in his trainee's voice made Andrew's blood run cold.

Suddenly, a harsh red light flashed on and Andrew found himself face to face with Nen and a being he was sure was Tzila.  He felt paralyzed and when he opened his mouth, no sound came.

Nen stared down at the angel of death.  "Look at him, Tzila.  Pathetic.  Practically crawling trying to reach his filthy little faux-family."

Tzila grinned and ran her fingernail down the side of Andrew's face.  "Just too bad we got to them first.  Oh, the things they're seeing now..."

Andrew tried to muster all his strength but still he couldn't move.

Nen clucked his tongue.  "And now more of the waterworks...  Yes, truly pathetic.  You... a prince of Heaven... ruled by a bit of cursed clay.  Laja..."  He scoffed.  "Say, Tzila, maybe when this one cracks we could find our own use for his little bitch.  How old is she?  Not much past thirty.  Still a few good childbearing years, don't you think?"

The heinous comment roused the angel from his stupor.  "God...  Father... Joshua..." he silently prayed.

Nen and Tzila began to fade. 

"We'll see you soon, Andrew.  You'll know the place and the time," Tzila hissed. 

Andrew slumped forward when the two disappeared.

"Andrew, my own, wake up!  Wake up now!"

*~*~*

"Joshua!"

Andrew bolted up from bed and searched JenniAnn's room for the source of the voice but he saw only her and heard only silence.  Then came the cacophony of crying, wailing, and barking followed by a scream from the girls' room.

"It's okay!  It's me!" Sy shouted.

Through the ajar door, Andrew saw Violeta scoop up Belle and bolt to Ivy's bed with her.  Sy grabbed Shelby and settled her in Ivy's lap then began to run around the nursery, turning on lights.  Andrew was getting up to join them when he felt JenniAnn's hand on his arm.

"An-andrew...  Terrible nightmare.  I... I feel..."

"Laja, I... I think...  Laja?  La..."  Andrew stared helplessly as her eyes flickered.  A second later, she began to convulse violently.  "No..."

"Psyche!"

"Shelby, no!"  Seeing what was happening through the half-open door, Ivy kept tight hold of the flailing little girl.

Andrew turned JenniAnn to her side.  His face was covered in a sheen of tears as he held her while the seizure ripped through her body. 

Panicked, Fawn and Lulu jumped off the bed and ran into the nursery.

"Sy!  Sy!  Where... where's my boy?"

"Dad!  Dad!  I'm in here.  The nursery.  B-but go... go get Portia.  Now."

"Laja...  Oh, Laja, I'm so... so sorry," Andrew murmured.

"Daddy!  Mama!"  Belle wailed.

Andrew glanced over and saw Violeta clinging to the toddler, her own shoulders shaking as she wept.  He longed to go to them but knew he couldn't leave JenniAnn.

Then, just as suddenly as it had started, JenniAnn's seizure ended.

"Laja..."

JenniAnn blinked up at the angel.  "Where... where are we?"

"Home.  Willowveil.  In... in our room."

JenniAnn turned her head to the side and spied familiar belongings: framed photos, her vanity, the swing Andrew had installed, her clothes, his clothes.  She breathed a sigh of relief then heard the muffled sobs coming from Belle's nursery.

Too exhausted to move, she beckoned for them.  "Girls...  Girls, come here."

Ivy released Shelby who raced towards Andrew and JenniAnn and climbed onto the bed, wedging herself between them. 

"Violeta, honey, it's okay.  C'mon," JenniAnn invited.

Sniffling, the teenager ambled forward.  She set Belle down on the bed and watched as the toddler scrambled into her mother's lap.

"Mama...  No aye-ee, Mama..." 

JenniAnn wept into Belle's curls as she softly rocked with her.

"Wh-what did she say?" Violeta questioned as she settled near JenniAnn.

"'No scary', I think," JenniAnn guessed.

"Sweet baby..." Andrew cooed, reaching around Shelby to stroke Belle's back before he resumed hugging the older girl.

Fawn jumped onto the bed and was soon joined by Lulu once Sy lifted her up.  He and Ivy took places on the foot of the bed.

"That was awful..." Sy muttered as he hugged Ivy to him.

Andrew closed his eyes.  "So... so it must have been the whole castle.  The worst nightmare I ever..."

Sy nodded.

"How did you get to us so soon?" Ivy questioned.

Sy responded with a shy smile.  "I snuck out of my parents' room earlier and was sleeping outside your door."

"Aww..." 

Ivy smiled at Violeta and took her hand.

"I... I dreamed that... that I was in the Jolly Green with... with you a-and Belle."  Shelby glanced at first Andrew and then JenniAnn.  "A-and there was a crash a-and I... I was the only one to... to..."  She let out a shuddering sob and buried her face in Andrew's shirt.  After a few deep breaths, she sat up.  "It feels less scary now that... that I've said it a-and you're here.  Did you have a nightmare, Psyche?"

JenniAnn leaned over to kiss the child's golden tresses and nodded.  "In mine, I... I could hear all you kids a-and Andrew calling to me b-but I couldn't see or reach any of you.  I just knew that... that you were all terrified a-and nothing... nothing I could do..."

Andrew squeezed her hand tightly.  "Mine was very similar."  He'd tell JenniAnn the details later but not then with the kids there.

Violeta hiccuped.  "I... I..."  She shook her head.

"Violeta, you don't have to tell if you don't..."

"Psyche..."

The huddle on the bed looked up to see Portia in the doorway with Persephone clinging to her.  They both looked terrified and Zeke, looming behind them, didn't look much better.

"I'm fine...  Better.  Less concerned about the seizure than... than..."  More tears welled in JenniAnn's eyes.

Portia stepped nearer and studied her friend's eyes.  She did look truly exhausted, as if she'd run a marathon, but nothing else sent up red flags.  Portia set Persephone on the bed and gave a weary smile as Shelby hugged her girl tightly.

Zeke moved behind Ivy and Sy and stooped to hug them.

"How's Mom?  And the girls?  Manny?" Sy questioned.

"Mom's comforting your sisters and Manny just across the hall.  I told her that I'd found you and you're fine."

"Sy, I'm... better now.  Go be with your family," Ivy prodded.

Sy shook his head, still not released her.

"What does everyone think of going to the ballroom?  We can all be together then," Andrew suggested.

His suggestion was met by unanimous support.

"I'll call Shane," Zeke offered.  "He can pass the word to the people on the attic floor."

Violeta went for her phone.  "I'll call Kylie.  She's just above us."

Sy reached into his pocket.  "I'll call the Levines over at Serendipity... maybe they got to them, too." 

"Emma and Peter stayed in the stable with Reuel, didn't they?" JenniAnn asked.

Andrew nodded.  "I'll get them."

Violeta looked up from her phone.  "What if... if the animals..." 

"Kemara and Sean!" JenniAnn cried.  "Like Sy said, maybe it wasn't just the castle."

Zeke hung up.  "Shane's group is on their way.  I'll go tell Diana and the kids and rustle up everyone else on this floor."

"I'll call Kemara and Sean," Portia volunteered.

"Kylie's getting everyone up there together."  Violeta pointed to the ceiling then looked to the window.  "I... I'm scared to leave Yonah and Mary and Silly..."

Andrew ended his call.  "Reuel says they're pretty panicked but unharmed.  Emma and Peter are headed in.  He's going to bring the animals around to the front and tie them to the porch where we can see them.  We'll open a window so we can hear them, too, okay?"

"Okay," Violeta agreed.

Portia frowned as she hung up the phone.  "It wasn't just Willowveil.  Kemara and Sean are pretty broken up right now.  Nightmares there, too."

"Sy and I will get a group together to walk over there," Ivy decided. 

Sy nodded.  "They shouldn't have to come over by themselves."

JenniAnn managed a smile for them.  "Thank you."

"Let's go do that now," Sy suggested.  "Before they get too far."

Agreeing, Ivy left with him.  They hurried to the ballroom.

"Are you okay to walk?" Andrew whispered to JenniAnn.

"Yes.  I think." 

Violeta held her arms out.  "Belle, my girl, can you come to Aunt Violeta for just a little bit."

Belle shook her head and gripped JenniAnn's sleeve.

"Don't feel bad, honey," JenniAnn reassured the angel.  "She's just... just feeling like we all are."

Violeta swiped at a tear and nodded.  "I... I don't blame her."

"Will you hold my hand while we go downstairs, Violeta?" Shelby asked.

"Of course!" the teenager replied, taking the girl's hand and heading to the hallway.

Portia warily eyed JenniAnn.  "Psyche, I'm just not sure about you carrying Belle after..."

"Annabelle..." a voice called from the hall.

Belle at last released JenniAnn and turned around.  "Appa..."  She held her arms out.

Vincent entered the room and picked the little girl up.

JenniAnn noticed that his face was streaked with tears.

"Zeke said we are all going to the ballroom?" Vincent checked.

"Yes," Andrew verified.

"My... my parents?" JenniAnn questioned.

"They went to the ballroom with the Wilsons.  Catherine and Jacob, too.  I said I would check in with all of you in case you needed help," Vincent explained.

JenniAnn wrapped her fingers around her godfather's.  "We... we do.  Thank you.  You can carry Belle since... since Andrew may end up needing to carry me." 

Andrew returned her wavering smile and kissed her hand.  "It will be my honor if I do."

"Ha-ee!" Belle called.

"Her bunny..."  Andrew frowned.

"I'll get him!"

"We'll get him," Portia corrected as she raced into the nursery after her daughter.

JenniAnn smiled at Lulu and Fawn.  "Hopefully you ladies can manage on your own, huh?"  Fresh tears welled as she pet them and wondered what else awaited them.

Once Portia had Harvey settled into his traveling cage, the group headed to the ballroom.

Vincent noticed that Andrew and JenniAnn, who looked terribly pale, lagged behind.  The angel met his troubled gaze.

"Psyche, perhaps the elevator..."

JenniAnn shook her head.

Vincent remembered that, as a child, she'd had a phobia of elevators.  Perhaps now was not the time to tempt a return.  He again looked to Andrew

"Laja, let me carry you.  Please," the angel of death requested.

"I just don't want to needlessly alarm..."  JenniAnn realized the foolishness of her words.  Everyone was already horror-stricken.  Seeing Andrew carrying her would make no difference.

"Okay," she consented.

Andrew lifted her into his arms and resumed their walk.  When they crossed the threshold into the ballroom, they saw that many of their friends were already there.

"Sweetheart!" Allison cried.  "Here, here... sit here."  She rearranged some pillows on a settee.

Andrew gently set JenniAnn down.

"Thank you, Mom.  Love..."  JenniAnn kept hold of Andrew's hand.

Andrew sat beside her and surveyed the faces surrounding them.  Every last one appeared stricken. 

Owen approached and crouched near the settee.  "Psyche, I just called Eliot.  Actually... my call woke him up.  He had no idea what I was talking about when I told him about the nightmare epidemic.  He checked on Father and Devin, too, and they're fine.  So was Asher but he's understandably upset now and should be here soon to be near Shel."

Overhearing, Clay joined them.  "I called Edward to see how they were doing in Albany and it was the same thing.  He shook Caleb awake to see if he was having a nightmare and, well, Caleb was just irritated... but no nightmare.  But they're on their way here with Dot and Randall."

"So... so it wasn't just Willowveil... but it was just Dyeland," Andrew surmised, dragging his hand through his hair.  "Maybe if... if I leave then..."

"No..." JenniAnn moaned.

"Absolutely not!"

The crowd in the room hushed and all eyes were on Kylie.

The young woman blushed.  She hadn't meant to speak so loudly.

"It just... it seems to me that... well, I'm not saying we're better than the Apostles.  Of course we're not.  But I think, knowing what we absolutely know, it's on us to make better decisions than they sometimes made.  And so we can't just abandon a friend because... cause we're scared," Kylie stressed.

Clay nodded and rested an arm around her shoulders.  "I agree.  The nightmare I had... it was the worst of my life and I've had a lot of terrible nightmares.  But that's all it was: a nightmare.  I'm not going to let it... or anyone who is behind it... turn me away from a friend.  I'm staying."

"We're staying," Kylie assented.

"Dad, if you leave, I'm packing up and following you," Max insisted.

"And I'm following Max," Rose added. 

"And I don't believe in tearing families in two.  I'd have to go," JenniAnn pointed out with a smile.  "With Belle, of course."

"And me!" Violeta insisted.

A smile played at Vincent's lips.  "I could not go on without my Belle and my Psyche."

"And you would have to take me, Papa!  And Mama!" Jacob chirped.

"He better..." Catherine muttered, wiping at the last of her tears as she grinned.

"You can't leave me!" Shelby cried.

Robert peered into Andrew's eyes and smiled.  "Allison and I would have to go, too."

"And me," Raquel agreed.

Soon everyone was offering their reasons for why they absolutely could not be parted from Andrew.

"Well, we can't very well do JCS without a director!" Diana insisted.

"I'm not being the only AOD in this crowd to be left behind!" Eli protested.

"Butterbeer... really need my butterbeer fix," Eric opined.  "Zane, you're with me on that, right?"

"Yeah, Dad!  Mommy, too."

"Mommy, too," Neela verified.

As the reasons continued to fly, Kemara and Sean entered with Ivy, Sy, Zeke, and Adam.  The contingent from Albany was just behind them along with Fr. Mike.

"What's going on?" Kemara asked Monica who was holding Liam.

"Andrew thinks, perhaps, we would be better off if he went away until this ends.  We don't agree and are speaking our minds," the caseworker explained.

"We definitely don't agree," Sean pressed.  "It's like Joshua said at Easter.  We're stronger when we're together... and we're strongest here.  In Dyeland."


"Exactly!  And Violeta would go wherever Andrew goes and I've been so looking forward to being her roommate.  I have to go with her."  Ivy approached her friend and hugged her.

Sy chuckled.  "Well, then..."  He joined in on the embrace.

"Then we all go, too!" Kendra cheered.

"And I think Liam deserves to grow up near his cousins," Arthur voiced. 

JenniAnn beamed and hugged Andrew. 

"And what if the demons deliberately left our friends in other places alone just so we'd think being near Andrew was harmful?  Splitting up would be exactly what they wanted," Shane hypothesized.  "I don't want to be party to helping them!"

"Neither do I," Peter insisted.  "But wait... what Sean said... what if Joshua didn't just mean Dyeland in general?  We were in the Fields of Gold when he said that."

Emma nodded.  "What if he meant the Fields specifically?  Andrew and JenniAnn, you first met there, right?"

"We did, yes," Andrew replied, hugging JenniAnn to him.

"And we've celebrated there so many times.  Joshua, Maryam, Yosef, and John... they left from there and the butterflies...  It's a special place," Emma continued.

"Holy land..." Yakov mused.

Fr. Mike nodded.  "Consecrated land.  Legend has it that when my ancestors first came to Asteriana... that's Dyeland's original name... the Fields are where they entered."

Reuel set a hand on the priest's shoulder.  "Then it truly is consecrated land.  In my home, that first valley where we came through remains the heart and soul of our world."

"There are several cabins in the Fields," Rose informed.  "And the weather's been pleasant enough that our tents... we have several... would be comfortable.  Why don't we go there?"

"It's nearly 4:00," Kelly shared.  "And the way to the Fields is poorly lit.  What if some of us... and I volunteer myself... stayed up to keep watch?  Everyone could camp out here.  We'd be together.  And then we can spend the night in the Fields tonight."

"You're right about the poor lighting," Adam agreed.  "I'll stay up."

"Me too," Henry volunteered.

"I... I have little interest in sleeping," Monica confessed.

"Nor do I," Reuel conceded.

Andrew rose.  "Thank you... all of you... for... for your loyalty and your friendship.  I... I can't even begin to express what it means to me.  And I think Kelly's onto something.  Everyone, in groups, go grab whatever bedding you want.  Those who came from elsewhere, don't worry.  We have extra blankets and pillows.  Maybe let's put those who want to try to get some sleep more towards the fireplace end of the room.  Those who want to talk can stay around this area."

"Can I sit by the windows so I can talk to Mary and Silly?" Violeta quietly requested.

Andrew kissed her forehead and nodded.  "Of course."

Vincent approached.  "Our Belle has already fallen asleep.  Catherine and I will remain by the children."

"Thank you," the angel replied, kissing his daughter's forehead.

Vincent briefly sat beside JenniAnn and kissed her hair.  "Psyche, are you going to stay up?"

JenniAnn nodded.  "I... I think so.  At least for a bit."  She placed a kiss on Belle's curls then another on the man's cheek.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome.  Try to get some sleep, Psyche," Vincent counseled.

"I... I will."

With a final embrace, Vincent stepped away, gathering the children as he went.

Those who remained quietly moved furniture and formed a tight circle.

"I really... I meant what I said," Andrew started.  "I... I don't even know how to say what it means to..."

"Andrew, you know that if those two had said they were coming after any of the rest of us, you'd be right there," Adam insisted.

"Immoveable," Henry stressed.

Andrew forced a smile.  "You're my friends."

"And you're our friend.  Andrew, think about it, if you hadn't kept us together last year... anyone who left would have missed the chance to know Joshua," Edward pointed out.

"And being the one who left...  I still think that's true for me, Andrew.  The things you said to me before I bailed, after the, uh, American Idol incident, I started thinking about them.  And who can say that if you hadn't cracked that Idiot Eric exterior that the real me would have opened enough to allow Joshua... and Neela and Zane... in?" Eric questioned, gazing over at where his wife and child were snuggled together on the other side of the room.

"Besides Joshua, you and JenniAnn were the first people of our group who I met.  And the way you two reacted to me... so calm and welcoming... that encouraged me.  And thank God for that."  Clay beamed at Kylie who was seated beside him.

"In short, Andrew, none of us would be in as good a place now without you," Zeke summed up, reaching over to squeeze Andrew's shoulder.  His eyes misted.  "And as much as I hated that nightmare... if that's the price for seeing you and JenniAnn together after these past few days... I'll pay it."

JenniAnn rested her head on the angel of death's shoulder and gave tear-filled smiles to their friends.

Andrew held her close.  "Thank you, Zeke.  Thank you all of you.  But I am sorry about the nightmares.  If yours were anything like mine..."  He shook his head and briefly buried his face in JenniAnn's hair. 

"Shelby said she felt less scared after she talked about her nightmare.  Does anyone else feel like that might help them?" JenniAnn asked.

For a few moments, the group looked at each other.  Finally, Sean nodded.

"I... I dreamed that I got the call that Kemara was in labor but I was away and it took forever to get to the hospital.  I finally got there but... but they wouldn't let me see her.  I forced myself into the room and she..."  He embraced his wife.  "You were in labor but it... it was awful and then... then I lost all three of you."

Kemara kissed his tear soaked face.  "It won't be that way," she assured.  "B-but my nightmare... it was kind of like that.  The labor was hard but I managed.  And the babies... they... they were so beautiful.  But then... then this man came a-and he grabbed Joy a-and told me... told me he had to take her away and I could visit her once a month a-and suddenly I was visiting her b-but it was this awful asylum and people were screaming a-and hurting each other and Joy kept crying and crying b-but they wouldn't let me hold her... my... my baby."  She hugged her stomach.

"Kemara, none of us would ever, ever let that happen," JenniAnn vowed.

Adam nodded.  "Even if that sort of thing could happen... Andrew and I would post ourselves right outside your door and keep that man away.  And don't underestimate Andrew.  He looks like a gentle soul but he's got a mean left hook, that one."  The angel's immaculate blue eyes glinted.

Emma laughed.  "Andrew?  Really?"

"Yes, really?" JenniAnn pressed, truly smiling.

"I may have... at one point and very, very briefly... been a boxer," Andrew coyly offered.

Kemara smiled and wiped at her tears.  "Good to know."

"It is," Sean agreed.  "Although... it's also scary to know that they know how to get to us.  Can they read our minds?"

Everyone looked to Reuel.

"I don't believe so," he responded.  "It would help me if I knew a few more dreams but, Sean, you have a pregnant wife.  Anyone might guess that you're biggest fear right now is a bad childbirth outcome.  And, Kemara, we know they were near the hospital... perhaps in the hospital.  They may have seen you go to an appointment."

"True.  And Sean and I grabbed lunch in the hospital cafeteria.  We talked about the tests and diagnosis..." 

Reuel smiled gently.  "There you go."

"Shelby dreamed that Andrew, Belle, and I were... were killed in a car accident.  Did they go digging in old newspapers?" JenniAnn questioned. 

"Your parents mentioned the accident at one point, JenniAnn.  Maybe more times.  But I was there for the one.  Just about how it... it would be so hard for her if you didn't..."  Fr. Mike shook his head.

"Where were they when they said that?" Andrew asked.

"Just outside the chapel.  Others were around."

"Well, then that explains that," JenniAnn decided.

Zeke drew in and let out a deep breath.  "In... in my dream... Sy and Ivy were on a date and some skinheads or something... they got on their case and... well, it... it escalated and they... they killed... killed my boy and Ivy..."  He shook his head.

Andrew gulped down the lump in his throat and brushed at some tears.  "Things... they've gotten so much better but it wouldn't take much to guess..."

Zeke nodded.  "It was an easy shot.  I know."

"This time... I dreamed that... Rex... he..."  Max shook his head and grabbed Rose.

Softly dragging her fingers through Max's hair, Rose took over.  "He dreamed Rex murdered me.  And that may have been the easiest of all for them to come up with.  What he did to you, JenniAnn... it's in the newspapers and, well..."

"I wasn't exactly quiet when I found out that he... he  was the one who... who..."

"Max..."  JenniAnn shakily stood.

Max hastened towards her and hugged her.

Once JenniAnn was back in Andrew's arms, Reuel spoke.  "In my own nightmare, they had taken Riva... my little girl.  I... I did not reach her in time."  The angel's eyes welled.  "It was horrible to see but I know that could never happen.  Riva is in Heaven now.  But it tells me that they know very little.  When I have spoken of my life now, I have done so vaguely... not because I distrust any of you but because it would only be so many names.  Therefore, they had to rely upon what they knew of me thousands of years ago."

"That's a relief, at least," Andrew responded.  "I just keep seeing those two in my mind..."

The friends all looked at each other while the angel of death stared down at his hands.

Peter finally broke the silence.  "Do you mean the demons, Andrew?"

He nodded.

"I didn't actually see them," JenniAnn shared.  "Did anyone else?"

Emma shook her head.  "Not me."

The others all voiced their agreement.

"So was I the only one who saw them?" Andrew questioned.

No one contradicted him.

"Violeta saw them before.  Maybe she did?" Kylie suggested.

"Maybe.  I'll be right back."

Andrew approached Violeta who was curled up on a loveseat with Shelby.  Ivy and Sy occupied the one next to them while Hailey and Kendra were stretched out on a couch they'd angled to form a small, closed triangle.

"How are you six doing?  And the animals?" Andrew checked.

"Okay," Violeta replied.  "We've been telling Mary and Silly and Yonah stories.  And singing to them."

Ivy looked to Andrew with a tired smile.  "It's helping us, too."

"Banishing the nightmares," Hailey agreed.

"I'm so glad.  And if there's anything we can do to make any of you more comfortable, let us know," Andrew stressed.

Kendra shrugged.  "I'm feeling pretty comfy right now.  Like this.  Kind of reminds me of Christmas.  But with Sy... and without Joccy and Zoe."

"I hope their visit next week still works out," Ivy mused.  "Joccy's been counting down the days...  She even has a rock jar."

Andrew squeezed her shoulder.  "I'm sure it'll be fine, Ivy."  His eyes welled.  He knew the sisters' visit to Serendipity would work out.  No matter what, the others would make sure the girls got there safely... whether he was there to greet them or not.  He drew in a deep, steadying breath.  "Violeta, could I talk to you for just a moment?"

"Sure." 

Violeta followed Andrew to a bench a few yards away and sat beside him.

"Sweetheart, we're trying to get to the bottom of those nightmares and the good thing is none seem to imply the demons can read our minds.  But there was something kind of odd...  I seem to be the only one who actually saw Nen and Tzila in my nightmare.  Did you?"

Violeta shook her head.  "No.  I... I just saw..."

Andrew hugged her tightly.  "You don't have to tell me if..."

"It... it was Joshua.  Someone was... was...  hurting him really badly b-but it was... now.  Not 2,000 years a-ago."

"Oh, sweetheart..."  Andrew softly swayed as Violeta wept into his shirt.  His heart broke for her but he was also relieved.  Playing on Violeta's love for Joshua was too easy.  It implied no special knowledge on the part of Nen or Tzila. 

Violeta sighed and patted Andrew on the back.  "I... I'm fine now.  You should go sit back down with JenniAnn.  I'm sorry you had to see them.  They're not nice."

Andrew couldn't help but smile at the understatement.  "Thanks.  I'm sorry you had to see them, too."

"Yeah... but now I only see people I love."

Violeta pecked Andrew on the cheek then hurried back to her little group.

The angel of death embraced JenniAnn the moment he was again at her side.

"So?" Owen prompted.

"She didn't see them.  It was just me."

"And they spoke to you?" JenniAnn gently asked.

"Yes."

"Love... maybe it would help you to tell..."

Andrew shook his head.  "Too... too terrible."  Then it occurred to him that maybe he had to tell...  If something went wrong...  His Laja had to be protected.

JenniAnn circled her arms around his neck.  "Andrew, if it would make you feel better to tell..."

"Yeah.  It... it would."

"Then let's hear it, buddy," Adam encouraged.

"After all the screaming and cries from... from the kids stopped, Nen and Tzila were there.  And they talked about... as if I'd... degraded myself by... by having my family.  And then... they made an obscene reference to... to you."  Andrew clasped JenniAnn's hand. 

"And what was that?" JenniAnn gently pressed as she stroked his back.

"Saying that... that they could find a use for you... that you still have a few... child-bearing years."

JenniAnn went ashen then embraced Andrew tightly.  She gasped as she remembered her incision. Still she remained close.   "Love..."

"If anything ever..." Andrew choked out.

"We wouldn't let it happen, Andrew," Zeke assured.  "Even when... when you have to leave, JenniAnn won't be alone.  We'll be there for her, for the kids."

"They won't so much as lay a hand on her," Eli vowed.  "JenniAnn, we got your back."

Andrew smiled gratefully at them then rested his forehead against JenniAnn's.  "I... I just want to... to protect you."

She caressed his face.  "I know the feeling, my love.  Now... now we just have to trust Joshua a-and the Father to protect the other while we're... separated."

The rest of the Friends exchanged concerned glances.  While they had every hope that Andrew would triumph, for many of them it would be the first time they'd see the two truly separated.  Even when Andrew was on assignments, there was always his cell phone.  As awful as JenniAnn's coma had been, at least Andrew had been able to see her.

Andrew and JenniAnn at last moved apart and bestowed grateful smiles on their friends.

"We'll be okay," Andrew vowed.

"Of course you will," Zeke affirmed.  "'
Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.'  The Lord brought you both together.  A couple of malcontents can't tear you apart."

JenniAnn smiled at Zeke.  "True."  She turned away as she yawned.

"Maybe let's try to get a little more sleep?" Emma suggested.  "It looks like some of the kids are already asleep and seemingly peaceful."

"I think that's a very good idea," Reuel agreed.  "There's no sense in anyone getting rundown.  Several of us will keep watch."

Andrew reached over to squeeze his hand.  "Thank you.  I could help keep..."

Reuel shook his head.  "We can manage."

Emma grinned.  "'Close your eyes, close your eyes and relax...'"

"Hey, that's my song," Peter jokingly testified.

JenniAnn laughed.  "Actually... I used to sing that to Andrew long before we ever came to St. G's."

"Fate..." Edward surmised.  He smiled.  "Otherwise known as Joshua."

Andrew chuckled.  "Yep.  And it is sound advice."

"Does everyone have what bedding they need?" JenniAnn checked.

"More than enough," Kylie assured.

The group rose and exchanged hugs then the angels watched as they returned to their families and couples drifted off to various spots in the room.

Adam kept his gaze locked on Clay and Kylie.

Eli clapped him on the shoulder.  "Your nightmare... it was about them, wasn't it?"

His fellow angel of death nodded as tears welled in his eyes.

"We won't let anything happen to them.  And you know they're going to get married.  Yosef wouldn't have said what he did to JenniAnn if that was in doubt."

Relieved, Adam smiled.  "True.  Very true.  And after this week... a glass of the best wine... or two... would suit me very well."

Eli laughed and hugged him.  "And cake.  Lots of cake."

"Oh, trust me, there will be lots of cake."

After more soft laughter, the two parted and stationed themselves on different sides of the ballroom.

From his vantage point, Eli could see JenniAnn settle in Andrew's embrace as they spread out on a couch.  He was seized by a sudden memory of himself gazing down into her infant eyes.  It has been the first time he'd held her.

"Welcome to the world, little JenniAnn.  May you know as many of its wonders as possible and as few of its terror as possible.  But, above all, know that you are so loved by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

Then he'd turned to smile at Sophia before redirecting his attention to the baby girl.

"And may you find someone to love with all your heart, mind, body, and soul... someone who will love you as deeply, in turn."

Never would Eli have guessed that his old friend Andrew would be that "someone." 

The angel of death peered out the nearest window and, starting up at the stars and the moon, prayed that his beloved friends would not suffer too greatly in the days ahead.

*~*~*

By Our Love

It took a few moments after waking for JenniAnn to make sense of why she and Andrew were sleeping on a couch in the ballroom.  Then it all came thundering back in horrific detail: the kids screaming and Andrew crying out as if in the worst agony imaginable.  A whimper sneaked out.

"Shh...  It's okay.  I'm here."

JenniAnn nuzzled the angel's shoulder and held fast to him.  What if this was the last morning in a long while that she'd wake up with him?  What if he had to leave before they even got to the Fields?

"Laja, say something.  Please.  Did you have another seizure?"

Hearing the concern in Andrew's voice, JenniAnn at last peeled herself away from him. 

"No," she replied as she reached up to stroke his face.

Andrew breathed a sigh of relief.  "Good.  I'm glad.  But I think we should ask Edmund to stop by if he can.  Maybe some meds..."

"Maybe."

JenniAnn looked around the room.  Some of their friends were still lounging but most were gone.

"Where..."

"Some went home... in groups... to pack.  Others went to the grocery store to get some fresh fruit."

"What time is it?"

"9:30."

JenniAnn blinked.  "I slept in really late... for me."

Andrew placed a kiss on her forehead.  "It was an exhausting night, especially for you."

"Did anyone have any more nightmares?"

"No, Laja."

"Good...  Do you know when... when you'll have to go?"

Andrew nodded.  "I did have another dream... not a nightmare.  Or maybe more like a vision."  He gave JenniAnn a reassuring smile as he cradled her face in his hands.  "Suddenly, Michael was standing right there."  He pointed to a spot just in front of them.  "He told me that... that Nen and Tzila will challenge me to come to Sheol at 10 AM, our time, tomorrow."

JenniAnn shook her head.  "No... but... no!  That's not fair!  That... that's their turf!  A-and Yehuda said it was so... so drab and sad and...  No," she moaned.

Andrew gently pulled the woman closer to him and rested his cheek against her hair. 

"I'll be okay, Laja," he promised.  "It may look different now but Yosef was there.  John was there.  Joshua was there.  I'll think of them.  I'll remember watching their reunions.  And then I'll think of watching all of you meet them.  It won't be the same place for me that it is for Nen and Tzila."

"Could... could they pull you in... in further?"

"No, Laja.  Not against my will.  And you know I wouldn't choose to go."

JenniAnn nodded against his chest.  "I do know."

Andrew softly swayed as he continued to hold her.

"Where are the kids?"

"Violeta and Shelby are in the kitchen, baking with Tiva and several of the others including your mom.  Max and Rose went with the group who headed to the grocery store and your dad is with them.  And Belle..."  Andrew chuckled.  "Catherine tells me she's giving Appa Vincent a makeover.  She can get nearly as many barrettes in his hair as she can in yours."

JenniAnn smiled at last.  "I want a photo."

"Okay."

Andrew helped her up from the couch and walked with her to the living room where several of the children were watching Toy Story.  In a corner, Belle was toddling around Vincent.

JenniAnn laughed when she saw her daughter's face.  She looked very intent as she searched for any bare spots in Vincent's mane.

Content with her work, Belle clapped.  "Pitty Appa!"

Vincent laughed and pulled her onto his lap.  "Thank you, Belle.  I don't believe anyone has every called me 'pretty' before."

Belle kissed him then saw her parents and ran for them.

"Daddy!  Mama!"

Andrew scooped her up into his arms and cuddled her and JenniAnn together.

"Good morning, baby girl," he greeted.

Belle excitedly let loose with a string of gibberish.

JenniAnn laughed.  "Is that so, sweet Belle?"

Vincent smiled as he approached.  "She has been very cheerful this morning.  It's been a delight to see."

"Good."  JenniAnn kissed the girl's curls then squeezed her godfather's hand.  "You think we could get a picture?"

Laughing, Vincent nodded.

"Belle, go to Appa," Andrew encouraged.

"Appa!"

Andrew reached into the pocket of his robe and withdrew his phone, snapping a quick photo just as Belle planted a kiss on her grandfather's cheek.  Once he was finished, the little one began to squirm.  Vincent set her down and the three watched as she made a beeline for Liam, settling herself into his lap.  The little boy smiled and circled his arms around her as they watched the movie.

Vincent embraced Andrew and JenniAnn.

"How did you both sleep after..."

"Very well.  Soundly," JenniAnn replied.  "But..."  She looked to Andrew.

"Michael appeared to me.  I know now how and when I'm going to face Nen and Tzila.  Tomorrow morning.  In Sheol."

"Andrew..."  Vincent again hugged the two.  "All of our prayers will be with you."

Andrew gave him a weary smile.  "I know.  And I'm glad I'll be here to see everyone safely settled into the Fields and to see what tonight brings.  I hope we're right about the Fields being protected."

"I hope so, too," Vincent assented.

"I wish everyone could stay there all day...  But some have work."  JenniAnn frowned.

"Yes.  But we have made plans," Vincent consoled.  "Monica and Liam will go to their food truck at the usual time but Tess and Henry will accompany them.  Arthur and Zeke will go to True Light with Reuel and Eli.  Kelly is spending the day at the Phoenix with Catherine.  Blessedly, Portia is off today so does not need to leave.  Adam will remain here to help as needed.  Randall, Caleb, Clay, and Edward have already headed to the farm to handle matters there but intend to return by lunchtime.  It's a blessing to have so many teachers among us.  No schools to report to."

"Our classes?" JenniAnn queried.

"I have canceled them.  Father says that despite being unaffected by the nightmares, everyone is on edge.  I doubt any of the children would be able to concentrate.  Emma and Kemara suggested that, perhaps, any of them who wish to could join us in the Fields.  Sunshine would do them good."

Andrew gave a nod.  "Sounds like a plan."

Max entered the room and hurried over to Andrew and JenniAnn when he saw them.

"Dad, Maja..." he murmured as he hugged them.  "How are you this morning?"

JenniAnn brushed some hair from his forehead.  "Tired but good... and glad to have everyone near.  How was your shopping trip?"

"Uneventful, thankfully.  Breakfast should be ready soon.  I'm going to go help with getting the ballroom back into order but wanted to come see you two first."

"Thanks, Max."  Andrew clapped him on the shoulder.  "Did you and Rose do okay after..."

"Slept like babies.  Weird phrase, actually," Max noted.  "Babies don't sleep very peacefully for long.  But we did!"

JenniAnn's gaze traveled from her youngest, remembering the oft-interrupted nights, to her eldest. 

"I'm so glad!" 

"Me too."  Max studied JenniAnn.  "You look a little pale, Maja."

"Let's sit down," Andrew suggested.

JenniAnn settled onto one of the couches with Andrew to her right and Vincent to her left.

"Better," Max declared with a smile.  "See everyone in a bit!"  He hastened off to the ballroom.

JenniAnn rested her head on Vincent's shoulder as she twined her fingers with Andrew's.  In spite of everything swirling around them, in that moment she felt safe.

*~*~*

After receiving a call from Andrew, Dr. Talson stopped in following breakfast.  The angel of death and JenniAnn filled him in on the previous night as he performed some basic tests on his patient.  Andrew remained nearby as the neurologist consulted with JenniAnn following the final test.

"How did you feel after the seizure?"

"Exhausted.  Andrew had to carry me part of the way to the ballroom."  JenniAnn gave the angel a wan smile. 

"Headache?  Confusion?"

JenniAnn nodded.  "But both could have come from what happened, too."

"Very true."  Edmund frowned.  "If you were any other patient, I'd want to start you on anti-convulsants as soon as possible.  But I know you didn't care for your previous medication."

JenniAnn shook her head.  "It made me feel... numbed.  Which, honestly, might be good right now.  But not when everyone else..."  She sniffled.

"I understand.  You may tolerate another med much better but..."

"If not..."  JenniAnn's eyes welled.  "I'm not spending these next days nauseated or... or knocked out asleep or irritable.  I need to be here... and be myself."

Edmund clasped her hands in both of his.  "I understand completely.  But I'm also afraid, JenniAnn.  If the convulsions get too violent...  It's not just about opening up your incision.  You have some internal ones, too."

"I... I know."

"Here's my recommendation: let's shelve the medication discussion until things are more settled.  In the meantime, you've said before that lack of sleep and being stressed trigger your complex partial seizures.  It's probably the same here.  And I know avoiding stress is all but impossible right now.  I also know that after the nightmares, sleep may be the last thing you want to do.  But you have to.  And you let the others take care of you.  Trust me, no one will mind.  You've spent years playing the doting hostess.  For at least a week, as your doctor, I'm ordering you to let it go.  And I'll get Shelby in here to sing that song if you won't just listen to me," Edmund threatened with a smile.

Andrew and JenniAnn both laughed. 

"Okay, I will," JenniAnn vowed.

"And I'll make sure of..."  The rest of the sentence died away and Andrew looked down to the floor.  He wouldn't be there for long.  Less than 24 hours...  He couldn't watch over JenniAnn.

"Love..."

Andrew hastened to JenniAnn who readily embraced him.

Edmund turned away from the two to allow them a moment's privacy.  His eyes welled.  It wasn't fair at all.  But then he knew, better than most, that bad things happened to good people... even terrible things happened to them.  It was unfathomable to him that this angel who had compassionately escorted his son Home should be terrorized by demons.  And that JenniAnn would be shot...  The physician reached up to clasp his boy's dog tag which he always wore around his neck.  Calmed, he turned back around.

"Andrew, when I met you, you were in bad shape.  And JenniAnn... I was struck by your love for him.  But I was also worried.  You seemed so... consumed by Andrew.  And, Andrew, you seemed... evasive with her at times.  Yet, even with those problems, you two made it through that.  You've both grown so much now... individually and together.  So I know you'll make it through this.  You will," Edmund encouraged.

After letting his words sink in, Andrew and JenniAnn smiled at each other then rose and hugged the doctor.

"Wow..." Andrew murmured after a moment.

Edmund laughed.  "Wow what?"

"It just occurred to me that if I hadn't had the PTSD and TBI, we would never have met you... so you wouldn't have been there when this happened with... with Laja," Andrew shared.

The physician nodded.  "Very, very true."

JenniAnn reached for her cross.  "'A Light is shining in the darkness.'"

"'And the darkness will not overtake it,'" Andrew finished.

Edmund patted them both on the backs and beamed.  "Amen."

*~*~*

JenniAnn giggled as she slowly turned around.

"This is like that Shakespeare in Love scene in reverse," she remarked.  "And with clothing." 

Andrew chuckled as he pinned in place the fabric he'd wound around her midsection.

"Good movie.  Probably would have been less awkward if I hadn't met Shakespeare, however," he teased.

JenniAnn smiled and kissed his cheek.  "Poor love."

"Thank you.  Now, milady, your donkey and our issue await."

"Issue..."  JenniAnn wrinkled her nose.  "Not my ideal nickname for Belle."

Andrew grinned.  "The only other Shakespearean word for child that I could think of was 'chicken' and I thought I better save that because at the rate we're going... we'll end up with literal chickens... and goats... probably a cow."

Laughing, JenniAnn nodded.  "Probably.  So... are we ready?"

The two surveyed the bedroom.  Andrew took JenniAnn's hand when she sighed.

"Ready," he averred, slinging their bag over his shoulder.  "Do you need..."

"Let me try to walk.  Please."

Andrew nodded.  He was relieved when JenniAnn made it to the main floor hallway with minimal huffing and puffing.

"Mama!  Daddy!" Belle wriggled away from her Grandma Allison and screeched when her parents stepped onto the front porch.  She gestured to the nearby donkey.  "O-ah!" 

JenniAnn tousled the girl's hair.  "Yep!  Yonah's going to give you and me a ride to the Fields."

Seeing how excited this news made Belle, Andrew was glad that JenniAnn had some extra padding.  There would definitely be further wriggling.

"I'm going to help Mama and then you can get on Yonah with her.  Okay, Belle?" he checked.

The toddler nodded eagerly. 

Peter helped position Yonah so that JenniAnn could easily step off the porch and mount him.  The donkey brayed when she was astride him. 

"Sweet boy," JenniAnn cooed as she ran her fingers up and down his mane. 

"Ready for Belle?" Andrew asked.

"Definitely."

"Belle, sweetie, try not to move too much on Yonah, okay?" Allison requested.

Belle was already reaching for the donkey.  "O-ay."

JenniAnn took hold of Belle when Andrew lifted her up.  Though her mood was greatly improved by Edmund's encouraging words and her amusing interlude with Andrew, neither compared to the joy she felt when the little girl let out a squeal of utter delight.  For just a moment, it seemed as if they were only going to the Fields for a celebration.

"Do we have everyone?" Peter asked.

Emma approached holding a check list.  Every name on it was marked through. 

"Everyone," she verified.

"And the people who are in Manhattan and Albany?" Kemara questioned.

"Randall and the boys will all come here and walk to the Fields together," Dot replied, her right arm around Kylie's shoulders.

"And those in Manhattan are meeting at Monica's food truck at 5:00.  They'll all travel together, too," Adam relayed.

Andrew looked at the people amassed on the lawn.  "Then we're ready?"

The others nodded.

"Ready," Sean concluded.

"We should have music.  Defiant marches... which is basically and very coolly what this is... always have music," Owen pointed out.

Overhearing, Diana stepped nearer with Manny peeking out from his sling.

"I know just the one," she offered.

Recognizing the echo of Zeke's words days earlier, Peter smiled.

"I think you do," he replied.  "Start us off?"

After embracing the others and gathering her children around her, Diana began to sing.

As they marched away from Willowveil, the Friends' voices rang out together.

"'We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand.
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand.
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.'"

As Andrew walked beside Yonah, he studied JenniAnn and Belle.  They looked so adorable, so loveable.  He stored the image away in his mind along with several others of his friends, triumphant even in the face of uncertainty and fear.  He knew he would need those memories the following day.

"Whoa.  Hold up."

Andrew halted, along with the rest of the group, and looked to Peter who had spoken. 

"Who is that in the Fields?" the man questioned.

"Oh no..." JenniAnn whispered.

Andrew squeezed her hand then stepped forward.

"He just appeared.  I swear he wasn't there a moment a..."  Peter was cut off when Andrew ran forward, towards the mysterious visitor.

Moving to the front of the group, Adam smiled as his friend made contact with the "stranger."

"That's Sam," the angel of death explained.  "He used to supervise Andrew, back when he was a caseworker like Monica."

A murmur went through the crowd.  JenniAnn beamed.

"Oh, Sam...  I'm so glad he came!  C'mon, everyone.  Let's go," she prodded.  "Andrew will want to do introductions with many of you."

The rest of the group thundered forward and were soon within feet of Andrew and Sam.  The angel of death released his old friend and smiled proudly at his nearing family. 

"Belle has gotten so big!" Sam mused, his smile stretching from ear to ear.  "And JenniAnn...  I am so very glad to see you here and looking very well."

Once Vincent had taken Belle and Andrew had helped her dismount, JenniAnn embraced Sam.

"Thank you.  I'm so glad you're here, Sam.  It... it does me good to see you and Andrew together."

Andrew hugged her and kissed her hair. 

Sam's eyes misted as he looked at the two.  He tore his gaze away and surveyed the other faces.

"I see many tents in need of setting up.  Maybe after everyone has a chance to settle in, you could introduce me to the friends I haven't yet had the pleasure to meet, Andrew?" Sam suggested.

Andrew nodded.  "Sounds good.  Everyone, how about we set up the food tables here.  Let's keep the tents as close to the cabins as possible."

After shouts of assent, the group split up and soon myriad colorful tents dotted the Fields.

After helping Violeta unroll sleeping bags, JenniAnn stepped out onto the porch of the cabin she, Andrew, Belle, Violeta, Max, Rose, and Shelby would be sharing.  Spotting her as he helped some of the Tunnel children erect their tents, Andrew finished what he was doing then joined JenniAnn.  She circled her arms around his middle and sighed.

"It reminds me of your birthday.  2013.  That was such a special night."

Andrew nuzzled her hair.  "It was."

"The last before you started aging.  The last before Belle."

Andrew's lips grazed her forehead.

"My love..."  JenniAnn fought tears as she buried her face in the angel's chest.

Andrew ran his hand through her hair, wondering how he would manage to leave her and the kids and all his friends in the morning.  His eyes filled as he thought of Joshua who had so bravely faced his own good byes.  Even without hearing the carpenter's voice, Andrew knew what he would say.

"It's 'see you later'... not 'good bye', Andrew."

The angel of death roused from his reverie as JenniAnn tugged on his hand.

"Come around to the back part of the porch.  Please."

Keeping hold of JenniAnn's hand, Andrew followed her.  He smiled when she pushed him onto a wrought iron bench before settling onto his knee.

"It's not that I'm embarrassed or didn't want my parents to see but... well, the kids were right there and I didn't want them to gawk so..."

Andrew closed his eyes when she began to dot his face with her kisses.  He sighed when he felt the soft pull of her fingers buried in his hair.

Suddenly, he remembered a different moment with JenniAnn... the previous Christmas.  They'd been washing and putting away dishes after one of the big meals and Maryam and Yosef had insisted on helping.  At one point, the older couple had gone into the ballroom to stow away some crockery.  Finding one piece left behind, Andrew and JenniAnn had gone to join the two saints with her in the lead.  Just before entering, JenniAnn had gasped slightly and stepped back, yanking Andrew away from the entry.

"What is it, Laja?"

"Umm..."

Andrew chuckled when her face began to redden.  "Oh, come on, Laja.  It's Maryam and Yosef.  They can't be getting up to much!"

"They're, umm, kissing.  Under the mistletoe.  On the lips." 

"Well, that is the traditional response to mistletoe," Andrew reasoned.  "And they love each other.  Kissing on the lips doesn't necessarily equate to wanting to have relations, you know."

"Yeah... yep, of course.  It's actually very sweet.  Just a lil surprising, I guess.  But good.  Lovely, lovely Maryam and Yosef..."

Sitting on the porch, Andrew recalled her sigh.  He'd thought it was wistfulness over discovering an additional bit of proof that the stately paragon of her childhood was a living, loving woman who still cared deeply for her husband.

But maybe it was more...

Maybe it was her trying to puzzle out why kissing on the lips was okay... even lovely... for Maryam and Yosef but not for them?  And that wasn't true.  He'd never kissed her like that because he hadn't thought she wanted to be kissed like that.  But she had kissed Eliot on the lips when they'd dated.  JenniAnn had always been honest about that... and always seemed regretful. 

Andrew frowned.  He was sorry for that.  There was no reason for JenniAnn to feel badly about it. 

Unless maybe she didn't really feel badly about the kisses for their own sake...  Maybe she only regretted that the only man who had ever kissed her like that wasn't her true love. 

JenniAnn planted a kiss on Andrew's brow then pulled away and stroked his cheek.

"Hey, where have you gone?" she murmured.

"Laja, I..."

JenniAnn cocked her head, trying to make sense of the strange expression on Andrew's face.

"Maryam and Yosef... in the ballroom... with the mistletoe."

JenniAnn smiled.  "I remember."

"You sighed.  Why?" the angel questioned, his voice barely above a whisper.

JenniAnn's cheeks flushed.  She bowed her head for a moment then, looking back to Andrew, saw understanding on his face.

"You know why..."

Andrew nodded.

"I'm sorry if...if it's not right to... to want..."

"No...  Laja, no."  Andrew shook his head then gently cupped the right side of her face.  He blinked back tears when a few trailed down her cheeks.  Then he pulled his Laja closer.

No music played.  The world didn't seem to spin or freeze in time.  JenniAnn didn't even feel her stomach somersault nor did Andrew feel his heart leap.  Instead, they simply felt an incredible calm.

After they drifted apart, JenniAnn rested her head on Andrew's shoulder.

Both were silent for several moments, basking in the warmth of their love and God's.

"Thank you," JenniAnn finally whispered. 

"Welcome."

Owen came around the corner to tell them that everyone was gathered to meet Sam but the words died on his lips.  He allowed himself only a brief moment to stare at the two before he quietly backed away.

Later on, he would paint a picture of that moment and give it to Andrew and JenniAnn.  His friend and fellow teacher would ask him why it was he'd made her glow as brightly as her beloved angel.  Owen would respond truthfully.

"I painted what I saw, Psyche."

*~*~*

After introductions were made, Sam stepped back so he could see the entire assembly.

"Now that I've met you all, I want you to know that I come here with a message from Joshua," the angel began.

The Friends smiled at each other, held hands, and embraced.

"He and the Father are very proud of all of you for staying close to Andrew even when Nen and Tzila tried to scare you away.  It means much to them and I can tell to Andrew, too, that you made that decision without being sure of the meaning of Joshua's words.  But Joshua wants you to know this: you don't need to fear further nightmares or any intrusion by Nen and Tzila nor any other demon while you remain in the Fields of Gold."

Cheers erupted.

Sam smiled.  "But Joshua also wants you to know the reason for that.  Nen and Tzila can't enter Dyeland.  No one can unless you let them through with your keys or God sends them here as He did me.  Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they can't have influence as you all learned last night.  But here..."  The angel waved at the trees, grass, and nearby lake.  "Here they don't even have that."

Andrew smiled as Sam approached him and rested a hand on his shoulder.

"Andrew, I was there as Joshua called you into being.  He took the best and brightest elements of this very place and, from them, formed you.  The colors of the Fields settled into your eyes, your skin, your hair.  The strength of the rocks that form the hills, the warmth of the sun, the softness of the grass, the calmness of the lake... all of that was imparted to you."

JenniAnn clung to Andrew as he softly wept.  Their friends listened in awe.

"The spark of divine and parental creativity and love remains here," Sam continued.  "No destructive force can ever cross its borders.  You could... all of you... choose to make this place a refuge, a fortress and never again face the terrors unleashed by Nen and Tzila."

"But then what good would we be?" Peter questioned.

"Joshua gave us a task, a message... his love... to share with the world," Emma added.

Andrew brushed at a tear and smiled.  "Because he knew that, even in this moment, when we know we have another option... we'd still hold to that mission.  I'll go tomorrow morning to face Nen and Tzila.  They need to know that we won't bow down to them... that we won't be scared away.  But it will do me good to know that you all have a reprieve here.  When I return, we'll leave here together and continue to share Joshua's message."

Kylie readily nodded.  "We will!  After all, we have a show to do.  Songs to sing!"

JenniAnn embraced her.  "And thank you for that."

"Are you staying, Sam?" Andrew asked.

"I'll stay here until you've returned, Andrew," his former supervisor vowed.

"Thank you," Andrew whispered as he embraced the older angel.

"I knew you had a promising future, Andrew.  This..."  Sam surveyed the group and chuckled as his gaze landed on Belle who was peeking out from between Catherine's and Raquel's legs.  "This is not what I imagined for you... but it's far more wonderful."

Beaming, Andrew nodded.  When he pulled away from Sam, he found that his friends were all staring expectantly at him.

"Well, since we know we're safe here, I say we play a game.  Anyone up for Hide-and-Seek?" he suggested.

"Ide Ee!!!" Belle trilled. 

Violeta grabbed her before she ran off.  "How about we be partners, Belle?"

"O-ay!"

JenniAnn smiled after them then took Andrew's hand.  "Can I be a seeker with you?"

Andrew grinned.  "Definitely."

As the rest of their friends darted away, Sam included, JenniAnn thought of the last game of Hide-and-Seek that she'd played.  As much as she missed her saintly friends, she was glad to be in the Fields with her Andrew.

*~*~*

Monica was just packing up leftovers when the service bell sounded.

"Oops.  I must have forgotten to grab the bell.  I'll go see who..."

Henry grabbed her arm.  "No.  Look."

Monica frowned when she saw where he was pointing.  The little bell she set out on the food truck's ordering counter was sitting there on Liam's work table where she always stowed it once they'd boarded up for the day.  Liam was curled up on Tess' lap, listening to her read a storybook.  Neither were close enough to have sounded the bell.

"Monny, is something wrong?" Liam asked when he noticed the panicked look on her face.

Behind him, Tess studied her two fellow angels.  Both looked pale.

"I'll open the shudders and look," Henry whispered to Monica.

The angel nodded then forced a smile as she settled beside Tess and Liam.  "No.  Nothing's wrong, sweetheart."

Liam gave her a doubtful frown.  "Okay..."

When Henry moved away from the counter, he was holding an item in his hands.

Monica rose and went to him.

"What is it?" she whispered.

"It looks like a scroll."

"Is there a name on it?"

Henry shook his head.  "Should I open it?"

Monica looked back to Liam and Tess before nodding.  "But let's step outside... just in case."

"Monny, I don't want you to go outside," Liam protested, tears welling.  He slid off Tess' lap and ran to Monica.

"Oh, baby..." 

"Angel Girl.  You stay right here," Tess ordered.  "I'll go outside with Henry to deal with whatever that is."

Monica reached for her adviser and friend.  "Tess..."

The older angel kissed her cheek and whispered in her ear.  "You're a mother now, baby.  You need to stay with your little one."

Knowing she was right, Monica nodded.  She knelt beside Liam and pulled him to her.

"Monny?"

"Hmm?"

"I don't want Uncle Andrew to get hurt.  But I think those demons want to hurt him a-and I don't like that."

"Liam... sweet boy...  I don't like it, either.  But you know Uncle Andrew can't die, don't you?"

Liam nodded.  "Sometimes you can still hurt real bad without dying, though."

Monica's eyes filled.  Her darling boy would know...

"Let's pray for Uncle Andrew, okay?" she suggested.

"Okay," Liam agreed.

Monica forewent bowing her head so she could watch her son as he prayed.

"Dear God, please protect my Uncle Andrew and don't let the demons hurt him.  He really loves you, Joshua, and I know you love him, too, and not just because you love everybody but also because Uncle Andrew is really nice and does what you tell him to do and helps people."

In spite of her tears, Monica smiled.  It grew less strained when Henry and Tess stepped back inside.

"Having a daddy is really important and my cousin Belle needs her Daddy so please don't let the bad guys keep him away from her for very long.  Thanks, Joshua and Joshua's Dad.  Amen."

"Amen," Henry, Monica, and Tess echoed.

Monica kissed Liam's cheek.  "Well done, my boy.  Now why don't you put your crayons away so we can take them to the Fields once Daddy and Zeke and Grandma Catherine and the others get here?"

Liam returned her kiss then stepped away to pick up his things.

"What is it?" Monica questioned Henry and Tess, her voice hushed.

"A summons.  I guess since they couldn't get into Dyeland, Nen and Tzila figured they'd stop by your truck, suspecting you'd get in touch with Andrew," Henry explained.  "I'm glad Michael got to Andrew first.  Same information.  10:00, Sheol... but with some nasty commentary.  This isn't how I'd want Andrew initially finding out about everything."

Tess blinked back tears.  "I don't want to show it to Angel Boy."

"Tess, we have to.  The more Andrew knows about those two and how they might choose to fight, the better for him," Henry countered.

"Could I please see it?" Monica requested.

Henry handed it over.

"Andrew...  My friend..." Monica murmured as she read the hateful words.

"I... I just can't believe this is happening," Tess lamented.

Henry wrapped an arm around each of them.  "It's a shame that it is happening but I know Andrew can face it.  I absolutely know it," he affirmed.

Encouraged by his determination, Monica and Tess smiled.

"All done!" Liam declared. 

"Hey there, Monica.  It's Arthur and Zeke," the former's voiced sounded through the shutters. 

Monica unlocked and threw open the door, wasting no time in embracing Arthur.

Zeke chuckled at the man's pleasant surprise.

"Hi there," Arthur kissed the angel's forehead.  "Catherine's just up the block in her van.  Eli and Reuel are riding with them.  They'll follow us to St. Genesius'.'"

"Daddy!"

"Liam!"

Arthur caught the boy up in his arms and cuddled him close, bringing Monica into their embrace.

Henry smiled at the little family then at Zeke.

"How was your day?"

"Great except being a little nervous to be away from Diana and the kids and everyone else but I read their text message about that Sam fellow.  Wonderful news!  Amazing, too...  Andrew and the Fields being so linked...  The Lord's wonders never cease!  Thank You, Joshua!" Zeke praised.

"Thanks to Joshua, indeed," Tess agreed.

"Amen to that.  Now... let's get ourselves there.  Monica, do you want to take a break from driving?" Arthur asked.

Monica nodded.  "Yes, please."

"All right then."  Arthur took the driver's seat.  "Everyone settle in, Liam buckle in, and off we go!"

Henry tucked the scroll into the pocket of his jeans and took a seat beside Zeke as Arthur started up the truck.  As much as he wanted to be back in the Fields, he dreaded handing the hateful missive off to his friend.

*~*~*

After ensuring that everyone had safely arrived back in Dyeland, the four angels of death and Reuel sequestered themselves in one of the cabins.

"This was delivered to Monica's food truck.  She'd already boarded up so we didn't see who left it on the counter," Henry explained as he handed the scroll to Andrew.

"Who else has read it?" Andrew questioned.

"Tess and Monica and me."

With a nod, Andrew unraveled the scroll and began to read.  His hands shook as he took in the increasingly vile threats. 

"I have to admit... what they said about the portals does concern me," Henry admitted.

Adam startled.  "What did they say about the portals?  Sam said..."

"Sam said no one could get in without a key or God sending them.  But if someone forced a person to use their key..."  Eli shook his head.

"No one would do that," Adam protested.

Reuel looked grave.  "People will do many things if they feel their loved ones are at risk."

"None of it matters," Andrew stressed.  "Obviously everything on here..."  He waved to the scroll.  "They thought they needed to threaten me into confronting them.  Telling me they'd overrun Dyeland a-and turn my son into a monster a-and my girls into... into..."  He shook his head.  "They've wasted their ink and their time.  I would have gone even without this." 

Eli hugged him.  "But what do we do when you're gone?  Let no one leave?"

"I don't think that's necessary," Reuel answered.  "Once their focus is on Andrew, they won't have the energy or ability to focus on any of us."

"But what if they have accomplices?" Adam pressed.

"To share in their supposed glory?  No.  Nen and Tzila were power and attention hungry when I knew them.  I can't imagine they've improved," Reuel counseled.  "That being said, it can't hurt to continue to travel in groups as we did today... if for no other reason than it gives our human friends comfort to have angels near and visible.  But I would like to remain in Dyeland myself tomorrow.  I feel like JenniAnn may have questions that only I can answer."

"I'd appreciate that, Reuel.  I'm sure she will."  Andrew managed a smile as he clapped the principality on the shoulder.

"I was hoping to stick around, too.  I just...  I-I told Sophia I'd watch out for... for..."  Eli's eyes welled.

"Fear not!"

The five turned to see that Gabe had materialized in a corner of the room.  He smiled tenderly at them.

"I bring you good tidings for on this day, you have been joined by the entire Jesus Christ Superstar angelic orchestra."

Andrew chuckled.  He hurried to the archangel and hugged him.  "Thank you."

Gabe tightened his embrace and patted the angel of death's back.  "No one could keep us away and, blessedly, the Father and Joshua agreed that our place is here.  Eli and Reuel... Henry and Adam, too... you're to stay here tomorrow.  The orchestra will split up and accompany our friends to True Light, the Phoenix Inn, the Romano Family Farm, and Monica's food truck.  There will be at least three angels at or near every site."

"Such wonderful news.  I'll feel better leaving here tomorrow knowing that."  Andrew batted at a tear as he stepped away from Gabe.

"How are you feeling about that?" Henry quietly asked.

Andrew sighed and dragged his hand through his hair.  "Honestly?  I'm more worried about Laja than Nen and Tzila.  Maybe that's stupid but it's true.  I mean we're not even 24 hours out from her last seizure...  And Joshua said it would have been better for her body if she'd remained in the coma at least until tomorrow.  The stress of my leaving...  And the kids...  I'm grateful that Belle is too young to understand b-but I think about how hard it was for Shelby and Violeta when I left for Afghanistan.  And, you know, I was thinking that I've never been away from Max for more than a few days."

Adam squeezed Andrew's shoulder.  "I can't pretend that it'll be easy, buddy.  But just remember that they won't be alone.  We'll be together.  And as hard as this is... at least it didn't happen before they met Joshua.  Now they know exactly who it is we serve... and how much he loves all of us.  And I just want to say on... on behalf of all of us who..."  Adam gave a little laugh then shrugged as the tears came.  "On behalf of all of us who love this place... and all these people... thank you.  Andrew, I... I love you and thank you."

"Aww man...  Got me going now," Eli joked as tears poured down his cheeks.

"Group hug.  Now," Henry declared.

The six angels embraced each other, the five whispering reassurances to Andrew.

Finally, he sighed and stepped back.  "Thank you.  This... these few minutes have meant a lot to me.  But now... we have hungry kids waiting.  Hungry grown-ups, too.  Let's go help get dinner started.  But first..."

Andrew picked up the scroll from the table where he'd set it.

The other five angels watched as he crumpled it up until it had disappeared.

Andrew smiled.  "Now I'm ready."

With that, they left the cabin and joined the others for a casual, comforting meal in their haven.

*~*~*

Because he knew they still had the following day's breakfast to get through, Andrew had requested that dinner be treated as a picnic they might have had on any day.  After it was over, stories were read and told and songs were sung around the campfire.  When heads began to nod and eyes droop, children were led off to tents and cabins and tucked into sleeping bags with watchful adults nearby.

Andrew and JenniAnn entered their cabin to get their own kids settled.

"Andrew?" Shelby bleated.

The angel of death knelt beside her sleeping bag.  "Yes, Shel?"

"What if... if I sleep really late and miss you tomorrow?"

"Sweetheart, we won't let that happen.  Psyche or I will wake you up."

"B-but what if they decide you need to come meet them earlier?"

Andrew enfolded the girl in his arms.  "Shelby, that won't happen.  Michael told me it'll be 10:00 and he would know.  You remember Michael, right?"

"Yeah."

"10:00 it is.  And we'll have breakfast before I leave.  Promise!"

"Okay...  I... I love you, Andrew.  Lots."

Andrew fought tears as he peered into her eyes.  "I love you lots, too, Shelby.  Thank you for watching over your sister."

"I won't let her go.  I promise."

Andrew kissed her forehead.  "I know."

"Now... all clean and ready for bed!" JenniAnn announced as she led Belle into the room.  "Why don't you snuggle with Daddy for... for a lil bit?"

"Daddy!" 

All smiles, Belle plopped herself into her father's lap.

Andrew smiled as he hugged his sweet-smelling, jammies-clad baby.

Belle puckered her lips.

With a chuckle, Andrew kissed both her cheeks then held her close as she returned his kisses.

"Daddy...  Pitty Daddy..." Belle cooed.

JenniAnn blinked back tears as Belle caressed her father's face.  Then, suddenly, the spell was broken and the little girl was scooting into Shelby's sleeping bag.

"Nigh-nigh Eby!" she cried. 

Shelby smiled as she tucked her arm around Belle.  "Night-night, Belle."

Carefully, JenniAnn knelt and kissed both girls' foreheads.  "G'night, sweet girls."

"Nigh-nigh... eepy..."

In spite of the heaviness in his heart, Andrew smiled as they watched Belle snuggle against her sister.  When both girls' eyes were closed and their breathing had settled into steady rhythms, Andrew
thoroughly pet Lulu and Fawn who had protectively stationed themselves at Shelby's feet.  He helped JenniAnn to stand and walked with her to where Max, Rose, and Violeta were stationed on the cabin's lone couch.

Andrew motioned for JenniAnn to take the chair then he knelt in front of the three.

"I'm going to go out and pray for a while but then I'll come back.  JenniAnn and I will be in the bedroom but don't hesitate to come get us if anyone gets upset.  Just because they can't get to us here doesn't mean there might not be residual nightmares from last night and we understand that, okay?"

"Yes, Dad."

"Sure."

"O-okay..."

Andrew gripped Violeta's hand.

"Sweetheart, you doing okay?" he checked.

Violeta nodded then a moment later shook her head.  She knelt beside Andrew and clung to him.

Max began to sniffle and Rose flung her arms around him.

Feeling helpless, JenniAnn abandoned her chair and sat on on the couch, stroking Max's back and Violeta's hair.

"We'll... get through this.  We've gotten through so... so much else before," she reminded. 

Andrew nodded.  "That's exactly right.  And we've grown stronger and closer with every... every trial.  And you kids... you're stronger than you realize.  Every day I think of how... proud I... I am of you and I know JenniAnn agrees because we talk about you all.  A lot.  Sorry."

Max smiled.  "It's okay.  We talk about you a lot, too."

With a grin, Rose nodded.  "And we've been watching... very closely.  We need good examples, after all!"  She playfully bumped her shoulder against her fiance's.

Andrew and JenniAnn exchanged a smile.

"Can we start planning your wedding soon?" Violeta requested.  "It... it'd help."

Rose released Max long enough to squeeze Violeta's hand.  "Sure.  We can even start tomorrow if..."  She glanced at Andrew.

"I think that's a great idea," he agreed.  "And you can tell me all about it when I get back."

Max sighed.  "I... I hope it's not a long wait."

"I hope so, too," JenniAnn whispered.

"And so do I," Andrew assured.  He drew in and slowly let out a deep breath.  "I... I need to go talk to Joshua and the Father now.  But I'll be back later.  Now, c'mon, hugs all around."

One by one, they each hugged Andrew.  When JenniAnn's turn came, he whispered in her ear.

"Are you tired yet?"

"No, love."

"Come find me in about fifteen minutes?"

JenniAnn kissed his cheek and nodded.

"Try to get some sleep," Andrew counseled the three young people.

Max, Rose, and Violeta all mumbled replies. 

Andrew winced when he saw the tears in their eyes. 

JenniAnn motioned for him to go then sat back down on the couch to the other side of Max.  Violeta rested her head in the woman's lap and closed her leaking eyes as JenniAnn stroked her hair and began to sing.

Andrew felt the sob rising up in his chest as he walked away from the cabin, JenniAnn's voice echoing behind him.

“'My soul and my spirit rejoice for now, my own, you are here.
The Mighty One has done great things, best of all brought you near.
My little one, my precious one, to you these promises I make:
I will love you in the daytime, in the nighttime, in the morn as you wake.'"

The angel of death fell to his knees several yards from the cabins and tents.  He stared up at the stars and the full moon.

"Father, Joshua...  I... I know you're with me a-and I know you... you're going to work this all for... for good.  B-but right now...  Forgive me for wondering why... why now, why me?  Thousands of years they've been... been powerless a-and now they target my f-family?"

Andrew swiped at the tears streaming down his cheeks.

"I believe what you sent Sam to tell us... that they're safe here.  But... but Laja's still not well.  This place..."  He took in his peaceful surroundings.  "It can't keep her seizures at... at bay.  Can't help her breathe...  A-and I'm sorry.  Because I know that without your intervention, Joshua, she... she wouldn't be here at all."  Andrew took in a deep breath.  "None of us would be.  If not for you... I wouldn't even have a Laja to fret over... to love.. to raise our children with...  No children...  No Dyeland.  No Friends."

Andrew took off his cross and cupped it in the palm of his hand, brushing his fingers over each stone. 

"I'm sorry for them.  In spite of it all, I really am sorry for Nen and Tzila.  They could have been happy.  They could have had families like Reuel.  And love... so much love.  Yours, children's, and soul mates'...  They could have had what Reuel and I have... watching our families learn about you and your sacrifice, Joshua.  Watching them fall in love with you."  Andrew chuckled.  "And, sometimes, watching them fall in love with each other...  Max and Rose, Kemara and Sean, Peter and Emma, Clay and Kylie, Ivy and Sy...  Please, God, help me to do everything I can to protect this life we've built together.  It's hard for me to imagine what I might be able to say to Nen and Tzila to get through to them because I... I've just never felt so... so apart from you."

"Halved...  You have felt halved."

Andrew blinked.

"I... I have.  Yes.  With Laja.  Such emptiness... confusion.  But how much more must they feel it because it... it's you they're separated from a-and of their own choice."

The angel of death tried to summon what exactly he'd felt when things were so precarious with JenniAnn.

Sad.  Worried.  Scared.  Exhausted.  Angry.  Lonely.  Unmoored... that more than anything else.  Everything he had planned and hoped for seemed so uncertain.  JenniAnn had become so much a part of his life that he hadn't been sure what life on Earth without her would be like. 

Maybe it was the opposite of that which had set Nen and Tzila and others like them down a bad path.  They couldn't imagine their lives spent on equal footing as the humans... and he couldn't imagine anything else. 

Andrew smiled as he thought of nights spent listening to JenniAnn rail about a newspaper article or TV report that had set her off.  He loved that she would talk to him about anything and everything.  He adored Belle's casual recognition that he would drop everything for her.  No, he wasn't ruled by them.  He was ruled by Love and by love... he was loved.

He had to find a way to get Nen and Tzila to feel that again...

"Dance me into the night
Underneath the moon shining so bright
Turning me into the light
Time dances whirling past
I gaze through the looking glass
And feel just beyond my grasp is heaven."

Andrew turned to see JenniAnn a couple yards away with tears trickling down her cheeks as she slipped her phone into her pocket.  She looked so frightened and yet determined.  With a smile, he held his hand out to her.

The dance started slowly and tentatively.  At times, JenniAnn leaned against Andrew, drawing strength from him.  He breathed in the scent of her hair and allowed it to transport him back to happier, less strained times.  JenniAnn smiled as she thought of their first awkward meeting only a few feet away...  How far they'd come!  And they would go farther...  They had to.  God would lead them.

When the song ended, they both sighed and gazed into each other's eyes.

"I don't even know what to say," JenniAnn confessed, her voice barely audible.

Andrew pulled her closer.   "That's okay, Laja.  I know what to say.  Because it's a lot like something you told me years ago, after Monica got promoted.  So here it is: I won't leave you.  I know tomorrow will bring trouble and things... they might look bleak for a while.  And I know you're worried that something might happen that would make me leave here.  But... I really don't think I will.  You know, I *know* I won't.  I'll be here.  I'll be here for you.  Always."

"Always..." JenniAnn echoed.  She rested her cheek against his chest.  Truly she could hide nothing from him.  She hadn't spoken of it but she had feared that, if Nen and Tzila persisted, Andrew might banish himself... use himself as bait to keep Nen and Tzila in pursuit and far away from them.  But she needed him...  They needed him...

The angel stroked her hair as Joshua's voice again came to him.  "I know what you can say to me."

JenniAnn stepped away just enough to look into his eyes.  "What is that?"

"Say you'll meet me Saturday for breakfast. Under the willow tree.  Red velvet cupcakes?"

Laughing even as she wept, JenniAnn nodded.  "The willow tree, Saturday, I'll bring the cupcakes."  With a sigh, she nuzzled his shoulder.  "I love you, Andrew."

"I love you, too, Laja."

"We'll pray for you.  All of us."

"Thank you," the angel of death said quietly before kissing her hair and preparing to let her go.  "I need just a few moments more.  Then I'll come inside, okay?"

"Okay."

Andrew bowed his head to accept her kiss then watched her walk all the way back to the cabin and shut the door.  When he saw the bedroom light turn on, Andrew resumed peering into the heavens.

"Thank You for that... the promise of Saturday.  I'm not sure if You mean that things will be settled then or... or if it's just a reprieve.  Either way, it'll do me good.  And them."

Andrew knelt back down and stared at the moon.

"Thy will be done," he prayed.  "I love You."

Andrew swerved in between the tents and cabins, praying for his friends who were inside.  When he stepped inside his own cabin, he was relieved to see that all five of the kids were asleep: Shelby and Belle still cuddled together with the dogs and the older three angled around them in their own sleeping bags.  Rose and Max were clasping hands.  After praying for them, Andrew stepped into the bedroom.  He smiled tenderly at the sight of JenniAnn reading from her Bible.

After a moment, JenniAnn sensed the angel's presence and looked up.

"Hi."

"Hi.  I'll just go change and then..."

"I set your pajamas on the shelf in the bathroom."

"Thanks."

Andrew changed and washed up as quickly as possible, not wanting to waste a moment.

When he returned to the bedroom, JenniAnn was standing in front of the window.

"So many stars tonight..." she observed.

Andrew looped his arms around her waist and nodded against her hair.

JenniAnn swiveled, wincing slightly.

"Laja..."

"I'm fine.  I just keep forgetting.  Dratted scar."

"It's not even a scar yet."

JenniAnn grinned.  "Okay, Dr. Andrew."

A sudden breeze caused her to shiver.

"Let's go to bed," the angel suggested.

"And to sleep?"

"Do you want to?"

JenniAnn shook her head.  "Do you?"

"No."

"Good.  I... I just want to talk and be together."

"Me too, Laja."

The two settled into the bed and stared at each other for a few moments.

"I... I don't know why I'm just staring.  I'm already afraid there's not enough time for me to say everything I want to say," JenniAnn confessed.  "All... all the reasons I love you.  For... for giving up so much for us.  For not giving up on... on this place when... when people drifted.  For sticking by me even during the self-righteous college years..."

"Laja..."

"For giving me a wonderful a-and beautiful family and being an awesome Dad a-and Daddy and... and supervisor to... to the kids.  For being so strong b-but learning it's okay to... to cry a-and vent and...  And Badriya told me to tell you that... that she loves you.  And... a-and you can't let them use the lives you... you couldn't save to get to you.  She said the guilt and regret has to... to remain with those who... who took her life... their lives.  Promise us..."

"I... I promise... to you and to Badriya," Andrew vowed.

"Thank you.  And... thank you for doing everything you could to... to make me truly see Jo-Joshua.  Oh...   Love..."

Andrew held JenniAnn as close as he dared while she sobbed. 

"Laja..."  Andrew caressed her cheek.  "I have absolutely no doubt of your love for me... and no doubt of my love for you.  Please, don't worry about any sort of list of reasons.  I know."  He nuzzled her hair.  "You know what I would like to hear?"

JenniAnn peered up at him.

"A rant.  About anything.  I don't care."

JenniAnn laughed through her tears.  "A rant?  Why?"

Andrew bowed his head.  "Nen and Tzila and those like them... they silenced so many women.  And they never stopped wanting... that."  He looked up and offered JenniAnn a slight smile.  "But, Laja, I love to hear your thoughts on everything.  From silly issues to very serious ones.  I want to be able to remember your 'rants' and the discussions they prompted when I face those two tomorrow.  And I'd love for one to be fresh in my mind.  Please?"

"Yes, my love.  Let me think...  Oh!  I meant to tell you about a blog entry I read.  Actually, I read it Friday and then, well, everything happened...  Anyway, it was a 'mommy blog' and the mother was writing about how she gets embarrassed when her little girl wants to dress all sparkly and pink cause the mom had tried to be very progressive and gender-neutral but the grandmas went all-out princessy with gifts.  It just made me really mad.  Cause I was that princessy little girl!  Okay, so I was also a princessy teenager but, in all fairness, I had a castle so... it made sense."

Andrew chuckled.  "It did."

"I mean obviously this little girl has her choice of clothes given the mom specifically mentioned buying her 'empowering clothing.'  But she kept picking the 'stereotypically girly' stuff.  And that's actually how she referred to it.  So what message does that send?  'Girly' is bad?  Any little kid hearing that could easily confuse it with 'girl is bad.'  So what kind of empowerment is that?  Why do so many people equate being an empowered girl with adopting stereotypically male traits?  And what right does that mother even have to be embarrassed by her little girl's clothing choices?  What if we had a young son and I wrote a blog about how I was embarrassed when he played with dolls?  I'd get torn to bits!  And rightly so.  They're children... not billboards designed for advertising one's philosophical and moral views!  Obviously one wants to instill values but geez...  And I hope that little girl never reads that she embarrassed her mother.  And I hope she conquers the world... in a good way... while wearing a pink, sparkly princess dress."

"I hope so, too."

"And I hope our little girl knows that we'll be proud of her whether she wears a dress or a suit, a tutu or basketball shorts."

Andrew embraced her.  "Of that I have no doubt.  And, for what it's worth, I think you've done a great job of giving Belle options."

JenniAnn beamed.  "It's been a lot more fun since she's started voicing her preferences.  Personally, I love the clashing tights and tutu paired with superhero shirt look."

With a chuckle, Andrew nodded.  "So does Uncle Max and I have to admit I'm pretty partial to it, too.  Although the elven princess look gets me every time."

"'Pitty...'  I hope it's not bad that 'pretty' seems to be Belle's favorite word."

"I don't think so.  She seems to use it more like you use 'beautiful' and 'lovely.'  It's about more than looks."

"True."

"And I agree, by the way.  Raising healthy kids who will be comfortable in their own skin means being open-minded all around, not being married to either traditional ways or progressive ones.  No child is born to prove a theory.  They're born to be loved and treasured."

"Yes.  Exactly."  JenniAnn shifted to kiss Andrew's temple.  "So I never asked you... You had around six weeks of knowing Belle was coming to us.  Did you read up or..."

The color drained from JenniAnn's face.

Andrew clasped her hand.  "Laja...  Do you feel a seizure coming on?"

JenniAnn snapped to attention.  "No... no.  I just...  It suddenly hit me.  You had six weeks of knowing I was going to have a daughter but... but you didn't know how.  Did you ever think... wonder... worry that... that maybe I would have given birth to her?"

Andrew brought her hand to his lips and nodded.  "A couple times.  After upsetting assignments.  I thought about what happened with Bennie that last time we saw her a-and if something like that happened and you weren't in your right mind and did something you never would have otherwise or... or if someone... hurt you.  But it didn't matter.  I mean... of course it did.  I didn't want you to suffer, Laja.  Never.  B-but if Belle had come to you in that way..."

"You still would have loved us just as much.  You'd still be her Daddy."

Andrew nodded.  "Always.  I would still want things to be exactly as they are.  I'd want us... the two of us... to be exactly as we are."

"Andrew..."  JenniAnn shifted to her good side and nestled into the crook of the angel's arm.  "You're beautiful... in every way."  She closed her eyes when his lips grazed her forehead.

"So are you, Laja.  I still... thinking about what you did for Violeta.  You could have stayed longer with... with Joshua and Chava and the others but..."

"I love her.  But what happened... it does make me more nervous about autumn.  Violeta does still get so rattled when boys think of her that way."

Andrew let out a sigh.  "I know.  But, at least for that first semester, she and Ivy have almost all the same classes.  Ivy's tough.  She'll stand up for Violeta as she needs to."

"True."

"And she'll have you to advise her.  Still... it is bittersweet, isn't it?"

"Our literal little angel is growing up..."  JenniAnn sniffled.  "What if... if Saturday is just a reprieve a-and you do need to face Nen and Tzila again?  What if it takes a while?  Do I just keep Violeta with me or... or..."

"Neither Joshua nor the Father have said anything to me.  If it goes on for months like Afghanistan did, I imagine Adam or Monica or one of the angels will take her along on assignments.  Or maybe not.  They might want her to focus on adjusting to the life of a college student.  Either way, she'll be around Dyeland a lot, I'm sure.  Joshua may have compiled her entry essay but he's not going to be putting together her homework assignments for her!"

JenniAnn smiled.  "It's fun imagining him filling out a college application."

Chuckling, Andrew nodded. 

"Badriya was so sweet when I told her about how we'd make sure Belle is educated.  Although now I wonder if I should have mentioned college...  What if Belle doesn't want to go to college?"

"Something tells me she will.  She's so inquisitive.  And even if formal college isn't for her, maybe Grandpa Vincent can do an independent study course with her.  That would still count in my book."

"Mine too.  I think I've learned more from him than any teacher I've ever had.  Well, not counting our Rabboni."

"I'm glad we have Vincent in our lives... and I'm glad you asked him and Catherine to be Belle's grandparents, before you even knew about Belle.  She adores them."

"And they adore her.  Andrew?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you think Max is going to be okay?  I think he will be so long as his father's off the streets for a good, long time but sometimes sentencing isn't..."

Andrew carefully tightened his embrace.  "I suspect Rex will be in jail for decades.  We know he stole at least one identity and there may be others.  So you have that and fraud.  Then there's the spousal abuse.  Then..."

"Yeah.  True.  So... so it was really bad when Max found out?  I mean I know what Joshua told me but I didn't... feel it or anything."

The angel nodded.  "I'm glad for that.  It was pretty terrible to see.  He just... cracked.  But you've seen him, been around him.  It was a dark moment and now he's through it.  And Rose... she's known just how to handle him, support him.  I have no worries about them getting through 'for better or for worse.'  Those two have a solid foundation and I think this week proved that, most importantly to Max."

"I'm so glad they have each other.  And having the wedding to look forward to... that'll help with the trial and everything."

"I think so."

"I'm also glad Asher came back.  Shel's doing pretty well but... but I am a little nervous for tomorrow.  It... it was so wretched watching her when... when you were with Max.  Maybe I'm most worried for her.  She's already lost her parents and then things being so precarious with me and now you leaving to... to face them..."  JenniAnn nuzzled Andrew's shoulder.

"I'm glad she's met Joshua.  Laja, that'll help her.  And knowing about Saturday morning.  Let's not get too concerned.  Maybe... hopefully... Saturday won't simply be a reprieve.  Maybe it'll be a homecoming.  So... so you'll all just need to get her through one day and one night and you know I'll be praying.  So hard, Laja.  Constantly."

"I... I know."

The two clung silently to each other for several moments.

JenniAnn broke the silence.  "Are you... afraid or nervous?"

"More nervous than afraid," Andrew admitted.

"I... I don't even know what it will be like.  I mean... is it like... like combat?  All psychological?  Partly physical?  A lot physical?  A-and two against one..."

Andrew lightly brushed tears from JenniAnn's face.  "I won't be alone, Laja."

"I... I know that b-but...  Still two of them a-and..."

The angel nodded.  "It's for the best.  I'd be distracted if one of our friends went with me, Laja.  I don't know what it'll be like exactly.  They tried to play mind games on all of us already so I'm sure there will be some of that.  But I won't fall for it.  I promise.  And any sort of physical attack..."

"Immortal... not invincible," JenniAnn murmured.

"Yes.  Even if I was hurt, we could convalesce together.  I can think of worse ways to spend a few days," Andrew teased, hoping to bring a smile.

JenniAnn complied.  "True enough."  She peered into the olive eyes she so loved.  "How is it that... that we spent years in separate houses a-and now the idea of not having you beside me tomorrow night is... is so hard to bear?"

"Because we... we've changed, my Laja."

She nodded against her beloved's shoulder.  "I... I know.  And I know tomorrow... it will be a very long day for me... for everyone here... but something that haunts me...  It seems as if time runs different there.  I wonder if... for you... maybe it... it would truly be a long day.  If... if it would seem an eternity to you.  An awful eternity."

Andrew gulped down the lump in his throat.  The same thought had crossed his mind. 

"I'll know it's only a day," he reassured.  "Even if... if it feels otherwise."

"O-okay..." 

Andrew noticed JenniAnn's eyelids were drooping.

"Laja, maybe we should try to sleep," he suggested.  "It probably wouldn't be good for me to show up exhausted tomorrow."

"Yeah...  You're sure you're not just saying that, though, because you think I need sleep?"

The angel smiled.  "A little.  But it is true.  And besides... I think... more than any words... I just need to... to be close to you right now.  We can be close sleeping."

JenniAnn swiped at a tear and nodded.

It took a few minutes but JenniAnn fell asleep.  Andrew remained awake, his gaze shifting between her face and the ceiling.  Verses from a psalm began to run through the angel's mind


"'Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.  He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.'"  Andrew gently rested his hand over JenniAnn's wound. 

It was difficult for him to fathom that Nen and Tzila had ever been like him.  He would have loved to have taken away his soul mate's pain and discomfort.  He couldn't imagine being the one to inflict it.  He didn't understand what possible attraction power held when it meant separation from God.  What good were fortresses and palaces without a family and true friends to share it with? 

"Joshua... train my mind, my heart, my soul to fight them," Andrew prayed.  "I know I need to remind Nen and Tzila of the love they've turned their backs on.  But how do I do that when I can't relate to them at all?"

"I will be with you, Andrew.  Listen for my voice when you're with them.  You'll hear me when you most need to.  For now, be still and know that I am God.  Be comforted by these hours with JenniAnn and with your children nearby.  Good night, my angel."

Andrew let out a deep, contented sigh.  "G'night, Joshua," he whispered.  "G'night, Father."

As he heard Joshua softly humming his Ama's lullaby, the angel of death rested his chin against his Laja's hair and entered into a dreamless sleep.

*~*~*

Sheol

Friday, June 12th, 2015

JenniAnn groaned when sunlight awakened her. 

"No..." she protested.

Andrew
gently tugged her closer.

"My love..." the woman choked out as she rested her hand over his heart. 

The angel remained as he was, not speaking, while JenniAnn shifted and laid her ear against his chest.  When she was settled, he ran his fingers through her hair. 

"What time is it?" JenniAnn whispered after several moments.

"6:17.  Laja, I..."

Andrew was interrupted by the bedroom door being pushed open.  Belle peeked inside.

"Well, g'morning," her father greeted with a chuckle.  "Come here, baby."

Grinning, the little girl toddled to Andrew's side of the bed and held her arms up.

"Sweet girl..." JenniAnn cooed as Belle snuggled between them.  "Is Shelby up?"

"Eepy."

"And Uncle Max?"

"Eepy, eepy, eepy."

Andrew smiled.  "So you're the only one awake?"

Belle shook her head.  "Awn!  Oo-oo!"

JenniAnn laughed as the two dogs joined them.  Fawn jumped onto the bed while Andrew lifted Lulu up. 

"I'm sure Harvey would be joining us, too, if he weren't caged," Andrew whispered to JenniAnn.

JenniAnn nodded before kissing Belle.  "How did you sleep, lil one?"

Belle stretched dramatically and grinned.  Then she cocked her head.  "Mama owie?"

"Mama's owie is a little bit better, thank you," JenniAnn assured.  She set a pillow in her lap then pulled her daughter to her.

Andrew watched as the two kissed and cuddled.  No matter how many times he saw it happen, he was sure it was one of the most beautiful sights.

"Daddy!" Belle cried.

JenniAnn beamed as the girl slid off her lap and parked herself in her father's, repeating the same ritual.  She blinked back tears as Belle set a hand on each of her Daddy's cheeks and gently pat them.

"Pin, Daddy?" the toddler requested, giving her sweetest smile.

Andrew laughed and kissed her forehead.  "As if I could say no to that face."

JenniAnn giggled and pet the dogs as Andrew moved to the center of the room with Belle and spun and spun.  The little girl's laughter charmed them both as it always did.

Shelby stepped into the room and smiled.  She climbed beside JenniAnn, hugged her arm, and watched with amusement as Andrew set Belle down.  He followed her, his arms hovering around the child, as she dizzily stumbled, still laughing.  When she'd had enough, Andrew swooped Belle up and returned her to the bed where she sprawled across Shelby's and JenniAnn's laps.

Shelby smiled as she tickled her sister.

Andrew's and JenniAnn's eyes locked.  They both knew that in a few short hours, everything would change.  But in that moment, they felt only incredible happiness.

A buzzing sound from the bedside table alerted Andrew to an incoming phone call.  He smiled when he saw the number.

"Good morning.  Is this Allison or Robert?  Hi Robert!  Sure.  I'll tell her.  Thank you... all of you.  We appreciate it.  See you soon."

JenniAnn looked expectantly at Andrew when he ended the call.

"Your parents, Raquel, Vincent, and Catherine are leading up the breakfast prep efforts.  They said for us to take as long as we want before joining everyone," the angel relayed.

JenniAnn replied with a silent, grateful smile.  While she wanted to see the rest of their family, stepping outside the cabin meant moving towards Andrew's inevitable departure. 

"Did someone just call?" Violeta asked as she entered the room, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

Andrew hugged her and nodded.  "It was Robert.  They're getting breakfast ready but told us not to rush.  Are Max and Rose up?"

Violeta nodded.  "I thought I should give them a few moments alone."  She smiled up at Andrew then looked to the girls.  "That looks comfy."

"You can come join us," JenniAnn invited.

With a sleepy smile, Violeta perched on the edge of the bed beside JenniAnn.  She giggled when Belle's little feet wriggled in her lap.

"How'd you sleep, honey?" JenniAnn questioned.

"Okay."

A snapping noise revealed that Andrew had taken a photo.

"Sorry.  Couldn't resist," he explained.  "You all look... you look beautiful."

JenniAnn beckoned for him.

Andrew sat on the foot of the bed near the two dogs.  After carefully shifting Belle, Shelby scooted to the angel's side.

"How you feeling this morning, sweetheart?" he asked.

"Okay...  A little scared."

"You'll be safe here," Andrew promised.

Shelby buried her face in Andrew's sleeve.  "Not scared for me."

"Oh, Shel..."  Andrew wrapped his arms around her and softly swayed. 

After a few moments, Shelby reached around her neck and pulled out a locket that Andrew and JenniAnn had gotten her for her last birthday.  She held it out to the angel of death.

"I... I want you to take it.  So you'll be able to see us a-and know we're praying for you and that... that we love you so, so much."   Shelby clicked open the locket to reveal a small photograph of Andrew, JenniAnn, and the four kids.

Andrew's eyes welled as he accepted it.  "Thank you, Shel.  I'll wear it right here by my cross and I'll return it to you as soon as I can."

"I... I hope it's soon," Shelby cried as she again moved into his embrace.

Max and Rose wiped at tears and clutched hands as, standing in the doorway, they witnessed the scene.

"I-I'm feeling like I need a big group hug," Andrew shared, smiling as more tears came.

With that, Max and Rose hastened nearer and the family surrounded Andrew with their arms and their love.

*~*~*

Despite everyone's best efforts to keep the mood upbeat, their shared breakfast was a somber affair.  Andrew made the rounds, speaking to everyone and petting and playing with the animals.  When he came to JenniAnn's parents, he hugged them tightly.

"I promise I... I'll try to get back to stay as soon as I can.  I won't leave JenniAnn a-and Belle or... or any of the kids for any longer than I need to," he vowed.

"We know, Andrew.  We know," Allison assured.

"Take care of yourself," Robert added.  "We'll all take care of each other.  So... so don't you worry any about us."

Andrew only managed a trembling smile.

Robert squeezed his shoulder.  "I know.  You're a father now.  Can't do without a little worry."

Chuckling, the angel nodded.  He'd no sooner stepped away than Raquel had her arms around him.

"Be brave, sweet boy.  I... I know you will be," she whispered.

"Thank you.  A-and thank you, again, for coming.  I know having you near will help Laja."

"We've already been thinking up ways to occupy her mind and help her focus on the good things to come," Raquel informed him. 

Andrew thought he spotted a bit of a twinkle in the woman's misty eyes.  "Is that so?"

Raquel smiled before again pulling him tightly to her.  "I love you."

"I love you, too."

Next up was a fresh round of hugs from the St. Genesius group and the choir. 

"We'll be praying... even as we work on those cupcakes," Emma promised. 

Kylie nodded.  "JenniAnn told us about your request a-and we're going to make sure everyone has cupcakes to... to welcome you back with."

"Thanks... so much.  For... for hanging in here with us, too," Andrew choked out.

"Anything for our director," Peter asserted.

"You relived what had to be one of the worst days of your life... over and over... so we could find our ways to Joshua," Zeke reminded.

"Yes and so spending these days with you... it's been the least we can do," Diana finished.

Ivy circled her arms around the angel.  "You were there during some of my bleakest days and you helped pull me through.  I wouldn't feel right not being here, Andrew.  I... I owe a lot to you."

Sy smiled shyly when she snuck a meaningful glance at him.  He took one of Andrew's hands in both of his.  "I don't know what my life would be like without you.  I just... I know I'd be a lot less happy."

"I think Sy's speaking for us all, Andrew," Edward added.

"Heck yeah," his twin agreed.

"You brought together a wonderful show from... from ruins, basically," Makena reminded.  "Besting a couple demons will be nothing."

With a laugh, Andrew hugged his fellow angel.  "That's true..."

Shane pulled Andrew into a tight hug.  "You come from the best stock, Andrew.  And you do remind me a lot of our Joshua.  I know you can do this."

Dot nodded.  "A chip off the... the ol' block for sure."

"Andrew..."

The angel of death hugged both Cira and Crystal as they lunged at him.

Crystal stretched up to kiss his cheek.  "We... we lived on the streets together a-and I know how hard that was for... for you b-but you were so... so brave a-and I know you will be today a-and tonight, too."

Cira swiped at a tear and nodded. 

After several more hugs and kisses and well-wishes, Andrew continued on.

He came to Arthur, Monica, and Liam.  Andrew was sorry to see that the little boy was crying.  He crouched down and pulled his nephew to him.

"Hey there, Liam..."  Andrew ruffled the boy's hair.

"Un-uncle Andrew...  I... I don't want... you... to go..."

"I know.  I don't want to go, either.  But this is very important.  It's a mission from God.  And you know how important those are, right?  You work for God and you know how much that means to people, huh?"

Liam nodded.

"Well, this is part of my work.  You know what would really help me while I'm gone?  Something you could do?"

The boy perked up a little.  "Wh-what?"

"When you're around her, could you keep an eye on Belle for me?"

With a slight smile, Liam nodded.  "O-okay.  Yeah.  I will.  Promise."

Andrew kissed his cheek.  "Thank you very much.  I'll see you tomorrow morning and then you can tell me about all the trouble Belle caused, okay?"  His eye brow crooked upward as he smiled.

Liam giggled.  "Okay."

Andrew patted the little guy on the back then stood to embrace his parents. 

"We'll keep an eye on your girls and Max," Arthur assured as Monica simply clung to her old friend and softly wept.

"Thank you."  Andrew squeezed their hands before stepping away.

Tess and Sam moved in for a hug at the same time, sandwiching a smiling Andrew between them.

The angel of death chuckled. 

"You tell em how it is, baby," Tess directed.  "And you tell them that if they harm a hair on your head, they'll have ol' Tess to deal with."

"And ol' Sam," her fellow angel added. 

"I... I will."

Sam rested his right hand against Andrew's cheek.  "I always knew you were strong, Andrew.  From the moment God first created you... I knew that.  But you've gone beyond even my imaginings.  I know you can do this, too."

Andrew sucked in a deep breath.  "God is with me... who can be against me?"

"No one... not with any success, Angel Boy," Tess said as she brushed some hair behind his ear.

After she'd kissed his cheek, Andrew moved on.

Tiva, Rabbi Yakov, and Fr. Mike surrounded him.

Andrew closed his eyes as the priest said a blessing with the rabbi echoing him in Hebrew.

"Lord God, please surround our beloved friend, Andrew.  Lighten this burden he must carry.  Let our love and Yours carry him home to us.  Amen."

"Amen," the Levines and Andrew echoed.

"Thank you.  So much," the angel clasped their hands and hugged them before they ushered him further down the line that was forming.

Kelly and the three other angels of death came next.

Adam grinned even as tears slid down his cheeks.  "Give 'em heaven, buddy."

Andrew laughed.  "Will do."

"And no matter what sort of drabble they spew, hold onto the truth," Eli cautioned.

"Because the Truth is holding onto you.  His boy..."  Kelly broke down as she embraced Andrew. 

Henry patted her on the back and rested his hand over Andrew's.  "We'll be fine here.  We... we've got all sorts of things lined up for the kids and some of the ladies have dreamed up quite a day for JenniAnn if she's up to it."

Andrew smiled.  "So I've heard.  Thank you.  I imagine balloon animals are on the schedule?"

"You bet.  Belle... she... she'll get whatever she wants."

Andrew felt more tears coming when he saw his usually stolid friend begin to cry. 

After a group hug, the angel of death was surprised to find himself in front of the L.A. contingent.  He pulled the four into another mass embrace.

"I didn't even know you were here!" Andrew cried.

"I'm the reason for the hold-up.  Sorry," Josef apologized.  "My plane got in late.  But we had to be here."

"We may not be much compared to angels but we want you to know that we have everyone's back here," Mick shared.

Beth forced a smile.  "I may not be much help for protection but I can help with the cupcake baking I'm told will be happening."

Andrew returned her smile.  "Both the protection and the baking help will be much appreciated.  It... it's the being here that matters most.  Thank you."  He turned to Logan who looked discouraged.  "Logan?"

The youngest vampire hugged Andrew so tightly that the angel feared the breath would go out of him.

"Thank you for being my friend," Logan whispered.  "I'll be praying really hard for you.  You... you know what Joshua says about when a few people pray together."

Andrew nodded as he peered into the man's teary eyes.  "I... I do.  Thank you, Logan.  Thank you, all four of you."  After another trembling smile, he stepped away and into the embrace of a small contingent of the Tunnel dwellers led by Eliot and his family.

As the angel hugged Owen, he whispered into his ear. 

"When Vincent goes into the woods, will you go with him?" Andrew requested.

Though confused, Owen nodded.  "Sure."

Andrew tightened his embrace.  "Thank you.  You... you're a wonderful friend to JenniAnn and me."

Owen patted Andrew's back.  "It's mutual.  Trust me.  Take care, my friend."

With a nod, Andrew moved towards Sean and Kemara who readily hugged him.

"While you're certainly going to be missed, we'll hold down the fort, Andrew," Sean promised.

"And keep JenniAnn as... as happy as possible," Kemara avowed.  Her eyes filled as she imagined what she would feel if it was her Sean leaving.

"I... I know you will.  Thank you.  And for your friendship.  I think back on those times when there were so few of... of us and sometimes just JenniAnn and me and now... our extended family dinners with you..."  Andrew's face began to crumple.  He inhaled and exhaled deeply.  "Just one day..." he reminded himself aloud.

Sean blinked back tears.  "And then we'll have extended family cupcakes."

With a laugh, Andrew nodded.  "Exactly.  I... I'll see you then."  He waited until Sean had pulled his wife into his arms before stepping away.

Reuel gave Andrew a bear hug.

"No matter what they say or do, remember that you are God's beloved," he counseled.  "Remember that you are His loyal servant and son and that He is proud... very proud... of the work you do and the life you lead, Andrew.  Don't let them make you doubt any of that.  And if you start to..."  Reuel took Andrew's shoulder and turned him towards where JenniAnn stood.  "Try to see yourself as she does."

Andrew gazed tenderly at JenniAnn then nodded.  "I... I will, Reuel.  Thank you."

"Godspeed, my friend."

With another nod, Andrew stepped to Catherine, Vincent, and Jacob.  The little boy immediately hugged his waist.

Andrew patted the child's head.  "Thank you, Jacob."

Catherine embraced the angel.  "We love you so much, Andrew."

"I... I love you all, too."

Vincent's gaze locked with the angel's. 

Noticing, Catherine gently led Jacob away to join Liam.

The two men embraced.

"I... I don't want everyone to see me go so... so I'm going a few feet into the woods and I want... I want Laja to go with me.  Will you come get her if... if she doesn't come out on her own?  Owen will join you.  Please?" Andrew requested.

"Of course, Andrew.  It... it will be hard but it will mean a great deal to Psyche."  Vincent heaved a sigh and let the tears roll as he thought of how his relationship with the angel had evolved over the years.  It had shifted from one of distrust to absolute trust.  Vincent knew Andrew would never willfully hurt his Psyche but this separation... it would pain them both.

"I love her...  I... I don't want to leave her," Andrew's ragged voice confided.  "You... you might have to..."

"I know.  And I will."

"Thank you."

Andrew sucked in a deep breath and released Vincent.  The man clasped his hand for a moment before joining his wife and son.

"A-andrew..."

The angel of death turned to find Shelby and Violeta standing in front of him.  He pulled the two girls to him.

"My girls...  Sweet Shel and Violeta...  My brave girls, I love you so much," Andrew whispered.  He kissed Violeta's temple then crouched down to kiss Shelby's hair.

"I... I love you, too," Violeta replied.

"Love you..." the younger girl echoed.

After the three exchanged a final embrace, Owen stepped up and held the two girls as Andrew made his way to Max and Rose.

"Dad..." 

Andrew hugged Max to him then waved Rose closer.

"Watch out for each other," he directed.  "A-and remember... it's only a day."  He rested a hand on Max's cheek.  "Less time than we had to... to wait for your Maja and we made it through that."

Max managed a smile and nodded.  "We... we did."

"I'll steal some frosting off the cupcakes in... in your honor," Rose promised.

Andrew laughed.  "Thank you for that."  He squeezed their hands then joined them together.  "I love you both."

"We... we..." Max's voice cracked.

"We love you, too," Rose finished.

Andrew patted Max's back for a few moments as he wept in Rose's arms.  When the young man began to settle down, Andrew moved away.

"Daddy..." 

Andrew felt as if his heart would break in two when Belle, eyes rimmed with tears, held her arms out to him.  He lifted the girl from her mother's arms and snuggled her close.

"Belle, my girl, Daddy needs to go away but I'll be back in the morning.  Okay?  Just one day?"

Belle shook her head, sending her curls bouncing.  "No!"

"Baby girl...  My little elf...  Joshua wants me to go.  He... he needs me to go."

Belle ceased shaking her head.  "Ah-ah..." she cooed.

Andrew smiled.  "That's right.  But Joshua will make sure I come back tomorrow morning and then we'll have cupcakes."

Belle licked her lips.

With a chuckle, her father kissed her forehead.  "I'll see you then, my Belle.  I love you."

Belle kissed his cheek then, spotting her approaching Grandma Raquel, squirmed.

Andrew set her down and watched as she ran into Raquel's waiting arms.

There was only one more good bye...

Andrew stood before JenniAnn and took her hands.

"Laja, I don't want everyone to see me go.  Would... would you walk with me into the woods?"

Touched that he was going to allow her to accompany him for as long as she could, JenniAnn nodded.

They walked, arms around each other, into the nearby mass of trees.  Once they were a few yards in, Andrew stopped and pulled JenniAnn to him.

"You... you're trembling," he murmured.

"So are... are you," she replied as she cradled his face in her hands.  "What time..."

Andrew checked his pocket watch.  "9:58."

JenniAnn moaned.

"Laja..."

"I love you... I love you... I love you..." JenniAnn repeated in between kisses to his cheeks and forehead.

Andrew buried his face in her hair.  "I... I love you, too.  'Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.'  Laja..."  He straightened up and cupped her chin.  Their lips met briefly, sweetly and then Andrew saw movement among the trees.  Not releasing JenniAnn, he stole another look at his pocket watch.  Thirty seconds...  Vincent's tear-streaked face appeared and he headed towards them with Owen a few paces behind him.

"Have hope, my Laja," the angel whispered into her ear before letting her go.  He didn't want Vincent to have to pull her away from him.

Andrew took another step back then lifted his eyes to the heavens and was gone.

"No..."

Hearing JenniAnn's quavering voice, Vincent hastened forward and caught her up in his arms just before she swooned.  He sunk beneath her, holding her as she wept.

Owen knelt beside the Pieta his friend and his mentor had made.  He rested a hand on each of their shoulders and began to pray.

"'Jesus, in time of weakness, be my strength; in time of desolation, be my consolation; in times of loneliness, be my companion; in times of doubt, be my security; in times of weariness, be my rest; in times of sickness of mind, body, and soul, be my healer.'"

The artist repeated the short prayer over and over until JenniAnn's sobs decreased and finally ceased.

"Amen," she answered.

"Amen," Vincent repeated.

Owen helped them both to their feet then, together, the three exited the woods and rejoined their friends... save one.

*~*~*

Just as he'd suspected, the land Andrew came to was not without beauty.  Rolling meadows were occasionally interrupted by babbling brooks and blossoms littered the ground.  The angel's eyes lit up when he caught sight of a humble but welcoming wooden structure.  Hastening towards it, he saw the telltale line of darker wood on the door post.  A mezuzah had once hung there, taken away when its owner had gone to his eternal Home. 

"Yosef..." the angel murmured as he set his hand on the door.

"Look at him... fawning over a pile of rubble!  All that time with the humans has sent our brother over the edge, Tzila."

After steadying himself, Andrew turned around.  He blinked when he saw the two.  A perimeter of several feet around the demons showed craggy ground where soft, green grass had been.  When they neared trees, the branches appeared to shrivel and decay.  The water slowed to a trickle and darkened to the color of rust.  Once they moved on, the land returned to a state of beauty.  Andrew understood then how Nen and Tzila saw and experienced their surroundings.  He kept his hand on the outer wall of the carpentry shop.

"This isn't rubble.  It's a carpentry shop.  Yosef of Nazareth's," he proudly shared.

Tzila smirked at Nen and suddenly a torch appeared in her hand.

"No!" Andrew shouted as she launched it at the structure.

The torch landed on the roof but simply smoldered before extinguishing.

The two demons briefly frowned at each other.

Andrew fought a smile.

Nen lurched forward and grabbed Andrew by the shoulder.

"I'm surprised you can smile right now, Andrew.  I would think you'd feel more grief over the pain visited upon your 'family.'  Such terrible nightmares..." he taunted.

Andrew's eyes flared.  "Nightmares you gave them."

Nen shrugged.  "Nothing worse than what their kind has visited upon the Earth: murder, rape, neglect, war, destruction."

"You're far from innocent of those crimes," Andrew countered, looking to both of them.  "God gave you a job... a good job at that... protecting and nurturing the humans and you..."

"He created us first," Tzila hissed.  "Beautiful, indestructible... and then He created... them...  Weak, dirty things.  And He expected us to care for them?"

"He loves them and He loves us.  He wants us to work together to..."

"To what, Andrew?" Nen interrupted. 

"To share His love, to glorify Him."

Tzila cackled.  "Is that what you're doing?  You think you're glorifying God by fawning over that wisp of a thing you call Laja?  She is nothing.  In a few decades... if not sooner... she will be gone."

The invocation of JenniAnn's name renewed the longing and lonesomeness in Andrew's heart but he kept focused.  "And during her lifetime we will have built a loving family and circle of friends that I believe, with all my heart, mind, and soul; will continue on for generations.  The faith and love that is shared now and that will be passed down, yes, it does glorify God.  And I... I believe that you could still... both of you... share in His love again if..."

"If what?  If we grovel before Him?"  Nen scoffed.  "He's worse than any of you... forgetting Himself.  Becoming one of them...  Letting them strip Him and torture Him... kill Him...  How can we respect that?"

"'Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,'" Andrew quoted.  "Completely selfless love is worthy... more than anything else... of our respect and our love.  Didn't you have friends?  Can't you remember what it was to care so much for someone that you, too, would have laid down your lives?" he pressed.

"Never," Tzila spat out.

Andrew stared into her eyes.  "Liar."

He gasped and doubled over when Nen punched him in the gut.

The demon laughed.  "Such a shame... your 'wife' isn't here to nurse you."

"She's not my wife," Andrew croaked.  "She is more than..."

Tzila grabbed his chin, her nails digging into his left cheek.

"It was so enjoyable watching her struggle for breath... the color draining from her face...  That wretched beast holding her...  You have to know this is the beginning of the end, Andrew.  I was there... in the surgical suite.  I heard about the scarring from those bouts of pneumonia she had in high school...  Now this...  Your precious Joshua protected her heart but he did nothing for her lungs.  What will it be like, I wonder, when she dies?  Maybe she'll start hyperventilating after one of those seizures and her poor lungs just won't be able to keep up...  Your little Belle sobbing...  You... helpless... just watching her gasp for breath and fade away..."

Andrew's eyes filled.  He saw it all unfold in his mind.  His Laja reaching for him... tears in her eyes... Belle's face red with grief and terror...  No.  Impossible.  Another lie.  He'd been in the consultations.  Portia, Edmund, Dr. Wittson, the nurses... not a one of them had said anything about old scarring or a problematic long term prognosis.  He pulled away from the succubus.

"You weren't in the OR, Tzila.  You have no idea what you're talking about," the angel asserted.

Nen laughed darkly.  "You'll have to excuse Tzila, Andrew.  She gets a little... over-creative.  It served us well on Thursday, though.  You know what, Tzila?  I think our friend here should see just what his friends saw."

The scowl Tzila had been wearing turned into a cruel smile.  "I think you're right, Nen.  It's only fair.  He's the reason their sleep was so cruelly interrupted, after all."

Andrew bellowed and hunched over as she grabbed his arm and the terror began.

*~*~*

"Psyche...  Psyche...  Psyche, if you stir any more then I think you're going to put a hole in the bottom of the bowl."

JenniAnn roused only when Owen pried the mixing bowl and whisk from her hands.

Her friend frowned.  "Did you just have a seizure?"

JenniAnn shook her head.  "No.  Just... thinking."  She noticed that Emma, Raquel, Kylie, Monica, and Beth, scattered around Willowveil's kitchen, were staring at her.  After forcing a smile, she spoke to them all.  "I'm fine.  Just can't help imagining what... what Andrew..."  Tears welled in her eyes. 

As a group, they'd reasoned that it was safe to travel back to Dyeland City.  Several people needed access to the portal and it would have been very trying to bake dozens of cupcakes in the small ovens the Fields' cabins boasted.  Further, Andrew wanted to meet JenniAnn beneath the willow tree and waking up before dawn the next day to make the trek from the Fields to just outside Willowveil appealed to no one.  However, as she sat in the middle of her kitchen, JenniAnn wondered if her emotions might have been easier to bear in the Fields.  No...  She was sure they would have been just as strong.  It wasn't demons torturing her... only her own imagination.  She swiped at her tears before they had a chance to fall.

Owen knelt beside her chair.  "Psyche, it's okay to cry.  Crying doesn't mean you don't trust God.  Joshua cries, after all.  No one is expecting you to Jackie O this."

The reference made JenniAnn smile.  She nodded.

"But some of us have been talking and..."  Owen motioned for Raquel who slid into a chair beside JenniAnn.

"Sweetie, some of us ladies have been talking and we want to do something for you.  And we want to be optimistic.  We're all hoping and praying that Andrew comes home for good tomorrow so let's do something to make that hope more... tangible, huh?"

"Like... like what?"

Raquel stroked some hair behind JenniAnn's ear.  "Well..."  She looked to Owen for help.

The artist again knelt down.  "Psyche, we all know that Andrew is asexual... but he's not blind.  While I'm sure he's delighted by your habit of sleeping in his old shirts and your very own Rainbow Brite pajama bottoms, that look isn't exactly... visually stimulating."

JenniAnn giggled as her face flushed.  "You all want to take me to go buy... buy lingerie?" she questioned.

Owen raised his hands.  "Nope, nope, nope.  Not going myself...  But I do think that would be a... very special trip for you ladies.  And maybe call it sleepwear... not lingerie."  He wrinkled his nose.

Raquel hugged JenniAnn.  "I know for a fact that Andrew is going to adore being with you even if you wear a potato sack to bed tomorrow."

"Itchy..." Kylie opined.

Raquel conceded the point with a nod.  "Definitely.  What I mean, sweetie, is that tomorrow night, we hope, is special.  And you deserve to feel special.  We are all so very glad that Joshua blessed you and Andrew but it was a very private thing, as it should have been, and we never had the chance to really celebrate your relationship.  You were in my wedding, you helped celebrate Kemara's and Sean's wedding, you've been helping with pieces of Kylie's soon-to-be wedding, soon you'll be marrying off your Max."

Emma stepped forward and squeezed JenniAnn's hand.  "And I know you and Andrew will be there to celebrate Peter's and mine when the time comes.  I'm going to stay behind to help entertain the kids but I want to chip in.  Please let us do this."

Monica smiled gently at JenniAnn.  "We won't if you think you might be embarrassed.  But..."

JenniAnn again blushed.  She and Monica sometimes hit department stores together when they shopped for the kids' clothes.  More than once the angel had caught her gazing at some frothy, silky number that always seemed frivolous and impractical considering.

"It's okay to want to feel pretty even if you're not interested in feeling sexy," Kylie counseled.

"Definitely," Monica agreed.

Beth pat JenniAnn's back.  "You should go.  I'll stay here to mind the cupcakes... and keep the men away from them.  I think they may be more of a threat than the little ones."

"But... but Belle would probably get bored and fussy going with us and... Shelby..."

"JenniAnn, when I stepped into the ballroom to check with Peter about something, both of the girls were contently listening to Grandpa Vincent read a story.  Belle looked very content on his lap and Shelby was snuggled up by your mom.  They'll be fine staying here.  And Max and Rose are working on wedding plans and Ivy's distracting Violeta with plans for their house.  All the kids will be fine," Emma consoled.  "It's okay to focus on you and Andrew for a little while."

Owen stroked his chin.  "Hmm...  Seems to me like someone told me that Joshua even told him that it's important to take time for the two of you..."

JenniAnn gave her friend a sly smile then hugged them all.  "Okay.  I... I'd like to go.  But what if we don't find anything that's... decently between frumpy and sexy?"

"We'll find something.  I know it!" Monica asserted.

"Can't fight the Angel of Truth, Psyche," Owen teased.

"I know, I know.  Maybe we should check with Kemara before we go... if she's up from her nap, I mean." 

"I'll go check," Owen offered.

When he was gone, JenniAnn clasped Monica's hand.  "You'll go and make sure I don't get anything... too much?"

"Of course I'll go.  Sam, Makena, and Ronald have offered to cover the food truck for me and Liam's happy to stay here with your Belle and the other wee ones.  But I don't think you'll be needing any steering away, JenniAnn.  You'll know."

JenniAnn sighed and then studied the clothes she was wearing.  "Should I go change or... or do you think this is okay to go out in public in?"

Raquel's eyes filled as she took in the men's button down shirt that JenniAnn had paired with her leggings.  Allison had informed her that it was the shirt Andrew had been wearing when he'd given Yonah to JenniAnn.  Raquel set her hand on the sleeve. 

"You look adorable.  I don't see any reason to change."

With a teary nod, JenniAnn embraced the woman before returning to the task of filling baking tins with batter.  They made short work of it and then set out to prepare for their excursion.

*~*~*

Owen knocked lightly on the door of the room Sean and Kemara had absconded to shortly after the group's return from the Fields.

"Hey Owen," Sean greeted as he stepped into the hall.

"Hi Sean.  By any chance is Kemara up yet?"

Sean nodded.  "Yeah, actually.  We were just talking about coming downstairs to join everyone."

"Oh good.  So... could I talk to her?"

"Nothing's happened has..."

"No!  No," Owen assured.  "It's just, umm, girl stuff."

Sean chuckled.  "Girl stuff?  And you're involved... how?"

"I've been elected emissary from our doubled X'ed friends," Owen kidded.

Still laughing, Sean waved Owen in.

"Owen..."  Kemara rose from the chair she was sitting in and hugged her fellow Tunnel-teacher.  "We were just going to come down to see everyone."

"Well... I have a different proposition.  But first..."  Owen looked to Sean.  "You can hear but we gotta keep it quiet.  We're the only two guys who know...will know... about this."

Sean showily crossed his heart.

Owen patted Kemara's hand.  "JenniAnn's struggling so some of the ladies thought it might strike a hopeful note if they took her shopping for a nice nightgown and robe set with the thinking being that Andrew might be back tomorrow night and, well, I mean he's still got eyes.  And silk and satin and those types of things feel nice.  Not that I think...  I mean, of course he's not going to be all handsy.  Although, actually, they both kinda are with each other...  Anyway...  JenniAnn wondered if you might want to go.  No pressure."

Kemara smiled.  "Actually, I would really like to go.  I'm feel pretty well rested and it would be nice to get my mind off poor... poor Andrew and..."  Her hand lightly rested on her belly.

Sean placed his hand over hers and patted.  "I think that sounds like a great idea.  And, as far as I know, you ladies are going shopping for tableware.  I just... I really hope Andrew is here tomorrow night because if not..."

"Let's not think about that yet.  Please," Kemara requested.

Owen and Sean nodded. 

After a moment of thoughtful silence, Sean spoke.

"Well, if all you ladies are leaving then that means unattended cupcakes," he realized.

"Beth is staying to keep watch."

"Damn it..."

Laughing, Kemara grabbed her purse and walked with Owen and her disappointed husband to the ballroom.

*~*~*

Andrew pushed himself up from the ground where he'd fallen when the first of the dreams hit him.  He scooted backwards and leaned against the door of Yosef's shop.

Nen's and Tzila's crazed eyes glowered at him.

"So which was your favorite, Andrew?" the former asked.

"Personally, I quite liked thinking up little Belle's," Tzila mused.  "The little ones are hard.  They've seen so much less so they know so much less to be scared about!  But Mommy ignoring you as you cry and cry and reach out for her...  Perfection.  And... it wasn't just the one time that I visited your little daughter.  Grandpa Vincent couldn't keep her safe all the time."

Andrew bolted to his feet.  "You'll never go near a member of my family ever again!" he shouted.  His resolve to defeat them... and quickly... had strengthened.  He wouldn't give them another chance to hurt his family or his friends... friends he now loved more than ever.  Not a one of them had dreamed of harm coming to themselves.  Always their nightmares had been borne out of love and concern for another.

Andrew stood directly in front of the two demons and spoke in an eerily calm tone.

"I don't care what you do to me, say to me, or show me.  You aren't going to win this fight.  What do you think you could offer me that could possibly compare to the life I have?"

Nen and Tzila stole glances at each other.

"What?  Have I hit a sore spot?" Andrew persisted.  "Is that what this is all about?  Jealousy?  Because I think it is.  I think somewhere, deep inside of you, you know that you chose the wrong path.  You know that you're the ones who chose dust and decay while so many others chose life.  You wanted power?  What power do you have now?  None.  You have nothing on your own.  But God is holding out..."

Nen shoved Andrew against the shop.

"We are not a couple of your confused, little assignments.  What power do you have, Andrew?  You speak awfully high and mighty for someone who would stand by as his precious soul mate was raped, as his little girl was murdered if your beloved Father would ask you to.  Is that power, Andrew?  It hasn't happened with your family yet but it could.  And you have stood by... helplessly... stupidly... coldly... as other innocents have been raped and murdered, haven't you?"

Andrew's mind filled with the memories of countless assignments, their cries, their screams...  His body began to quake as he tried to fight the visions off but there were too many of them.  Then another, newer memory interrupted.

"Try to see yourself as she does."

Andrew screwed his eyes shut and concentrated on Reuel's counsel.  He saw JenniAnn's face hovering above him and he felt her hands alternately brushing at his hair and rubbing his temples.

"You prayed for them, my love.  You gave them one last glimpse of love, of beauty, of tenderness in... in the world into which they were born.  You aren't a superhero, Andrew.  And what if you were?  Who would you leave with free will and who would you take it from?  Where would you stop?  God trusts you to do His work, to share His love even when... when it is incredibly difficult.  And He knows you will and I know you will.  And, besides, I'm not raising Belle as a single mom and explaining it's because Daddy is in the Netherworld because he decided he wanted to be Batman."

Andrew laughed.  His Laja always did have a way of putting things plainly when he needed her to.  And so did Badriya, for that matter.  He mentally replayed her words as JenniAnn had relayed them to him the night before.

Nen and Tzila gaped.

Andrew lingered for a few more moments, listening to JenniAnn as she began to hum.  Standing there in Sheol, he started to sing the words. 

"'Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself...'"

The two demons became agitated as light surrounded the angel.  Their concern grew as other forms began to approach, curious looks on their grief and sorrow ravaged faces.

Andrew repeated the words in a loop and the crowd continued to grow.

"Stop him!" Tzila hissed.

Nen grappled for Andrew but every time his hand penetrated the light, he groaned with pain.

As he sang, Andrew scanned the faces of the on-lookers.  His voice stumbled when he caught sight of one.

Eben.

*~*~*

JenniAnn studied her friends' faces as she stepped out of the dressing room.

"You look beautiful, JenniAnn," Raquel encouraged.

The woman smiled.  "Thank you.  But I still...  I mean it's long and I like that and I don't mind that it's form fitting.  I actually like that, too.  But... well, I never really intended for Andrew to know that I have a birthmark on, umm, one of my girls."

Monica considered.  "You know it's really no more low cut than some dresses I've worn."

"But if you're not going to feel comfortable in it, Andrew's going to pick up on that and then feel badly," Kemara pointed out.

"Maybe if you put a cami under it?" Kylie ventured.

JenniAnn glanced in the mirror.  "But would you see the line of that at my waist?"

Raquel nodded.  "Probably.  Not the actual fabric.  That silk is plenty opaque.  But you'd see the little bulge of the hemline."

JenniAnn sighed.  "I don't think this will work.  Andrew... well, after what happened he... he likes feeling my heartbeat sometimes and he's not going to feel okay about that when it's just... well, skin.  I'm sorry.  I know this was sposed to be fun b-but..."

Monica rose from her chair and hugged JenniAnn.  "Well... it was fun at points, wasn't it?  I personally have enjoyed seeing Raquel think up creative ways to dismiss attendants and salespeople."

Kylie laughed.  "That was pretty hysterical when that lady approached with that leopard skin number."

"'She's not trying out for an X-rated version of The Lion King!'" Kemara quoted, grinning.

Raquel rolled her eyes.  "Well, honestly!  And it was $75!  For two little bands of cheap fabric!"

JenniAnn smiled as she sniffled.  "It is hard to tell people that I'm just trying to look pretty for my angelic anam cara who is... is off fighting demons."

Monica tightened her embrace.  "It is.  Well, I think visiting these stores has been helpful.  I've taken note of the bits and pieces of various gowns you do like and I think we should go to a fabric store and I can make you something.  And you did find a robe, after all!"

JenniAnn eyed a silky, silver, floor-length cover that she'd immediately been drawn to.  "True...  But, Monica, I don't want to put you to all that work!" she protested.

"It wouldn't take long," Raquel assured.  "I could certainly help.  With one of us working on the top and the other the bottom, it'd take an hour.  Maybe two.  And I've missed sewing."

"And we could make a little matching one... well, colors, not necessarily style... for wee Belle!" Monica gushed.  "Please...  I love making Liam's clothes but something feminine would be so fun for a change!"

JenniAnn considered.  "Kemara, how are you holding up?"

"Good!  And I wouldn't mind a trip to the fabric store.  I'd love to look at material for the babies' nursery.  Curtains, maybe?"

"Great idea!" Raquel cheered.

"Kylie?  Are you in any hurry to get back?" JenniAnn asked.

The young woman shook her head.  "No and, actually, I'd love to see what Monica and Raquel come up with."  Her cheeks flushed.  "I have something for my wedding night but beyond that...  I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable in a lot of this."

Monica smiled mischievously.  "I may just end up with my own little side business."

Laughing along with the others, JenniAnn stepped into the dressing room and changed back into her own clothes.  As she pulled it from beneath her shirt, JenniAnn kissed her cross and said a prayer for her beloved.

*~*~*

"Stop it!  Don't do that!  Stop!" Andrew screamed as he ran towards Nen and wrested the whip out of his hand.

Nen smirked.

"What do you care?"

Andrew didn't waste time with a response.  He made a beeline for Tzila who had cornered a number of the shades.  The crack of her whip followed by silence was more troubling than cries of pain would have been.  Her victims were too beaten down to protest or even make much of an attempt to get away.

"Give me... that..." Andrew demanded through gritted teeth as he struggled with the demon.

When his hand tightened around her wrist, Tzila released the whip.

"Sorry, was I distracting your audience from your little performance?" she taunted.

Andrew knelt in front of the cowering shade of a woman.

"Hi, my name's Andrew.  What's your name?" he gently asked.

The woman screeched and stumbled away.

Nen laughed.  "Sorry, Andrew.  Your charm doesn't count for much here."

The angel of death rose and spun around to face the two.

"Why did you do that?  They weren't doing anything to you."

Tzila shrugged.  "They belong to us.  We can do whatever we like with them."

Andrew's eyes alighted on the cowering mass of people... the Nephilim, he realized.

"They belong to no one but God!" he countered.

Once again, his eyes locked with Eben's before his former friend's gaze darted away.  Why was he there?  He was neither among the Nephilim nor the incubi.

"Doesn't it bother you?  We got quite the crap deal, don't you think?  God sends us to take care of the humans' wretched cast offs but keeps from us the ability to create life?  To have our own families?" Tzila pressed.

Andrew reached out to another of the shades but when they shirked away, he gave up and headed back towards Yosef's shop.  Once again, he rested his hand on the doorpost. 

"One doesn't need to create life to have a family."  Andrew smiled as he thought of Yosef cradling his baby boy.  He thought of his own children, not a one of his blood but each a part of his very soul.

Nen stood directly behind him and whispered into his ear.

"And your 'Laja'... you don't think a part of her wishes you two could have your own baby?"

"We have our own baby."

Nen scoffed.  "Don't play stupid.  It doesn't become you.  You know what I mean."

Andrew turned to face him and nodded.  "Yes, I do.  But none of us gets everything we want in life.  JenniAnn understands that.  No, we can't conceive a baby.  That's our cross to bear.  And we do.  Willingly.  Some don't even get the opportunities that we've been given."  He bowed his head as he thought of Yeshua, of the girl he had loved and the life he had wanted.  There'd been no Laja, no Belle for him. 

Tzila opened her mouth to speak but the angel continued.

"Not even Yeshua had those opportunities when He walked the Earth.  So don't pretend that you alone were given some immense burden to bear.  You weren't.  You were given so many chances at happiness!"  Andrew turned to look at the shades who cowered several yards away.  "You could have simply loved them... but you used them and pitted them against each other.  Why?" he demanded.  "No, you couldn't create life but you could have nurtured it!  And you could have created communities, works of art, stories of wonder!  You could have been so loved by so many!"

Tzila laughed.  "How like Reuel he sounds..."

Nen rolled his eyes.  "How is old Reuel, Andrew?  Tzila and I saw him with your lot but never got around to stopping to chat.  I wonder how he manages...  Leaving his beloved Rafiq and Riva to deal with the pesky mortals as the Lord commands.  Seeing him must be bittersweet for you.  With Eli, too.  Them on Earth... their soul mates dead as dead can be.  What do you figure, Andrew?  You have at best what?  Sixty years of this good life you're preaching to us about?  Maybe Tzila got ahead of herself with the pneumonia thing.  But JenniAnn will die."

Andrew nodded.  "Yes, she will."

"And what will you do then?" Tzila pressed.  "You've changed, old boy.  You know, we have our own files.  Fancied yourself a bit of a loner, didn't you?  Held your own with Monica and Tess... sometimes.  A bit of a sad sack other times, weren't you?  And now... if something goes wrong, well, just curl up with Laja and let it all out.  What happens when Laja isn't there, Andrew?"

The angel of death stood straight and tall.  "She'll always be with me."

"Will she now?" Nen taunted.  "So you'd deny your beloved her eternal rest so she can keep coming down to play nursemaid to you during your maudlin moods?  And we're the ones misusing humans?  At least we don't interrupt their afterlives.  Well, except for that bunch."  He waved to the shades. 

Andrew startled.  He hadn't much thought about that.  Joshua had promised JenniAnn would come to him when he needed her but was that truly fair to her?  But Joshua wouldn't allow it at all if such visits were to hurt JenniAnn...

"I wonder where they'd go, Nen?  If his... anam cara..."  Tzila gave an exagerrated shutter.  "Did return?  You think their precious Dyeland will last much longer than she does?"

Andrew's eyes darted over to meet hers.  "Our children and our children's children and those of our friends will always have a home in Dyeland.  They'll keep our community together.  I know they will!  The little ones adore Joshua and know that he has plans for them, for Dyeland."

"Your Joshua had great plans for His followers, too.  And what does He have now?  A bunch of squabbling, judgmental 'Christians', power-mad preachers, and, oh yes, even a fair share of hatemongers," Nen hissed.

Andrew stepped nearer to the incubus.  "Christianity isn't perfect.  No religion is.  And, yes, there are some who twist God's messages of love for their own benefit.  But that's not the majority.  I don't believe that.  I will never believe that.  Dyeland's future won't be perfect, either.  But it will have a future!"

"Well, no one's denying that..."  Tzila slid between Andrew and Nen.  She gazed up into the angel's eyes then cocked her head and smiled.  "Let's go see it... Dyeland's future... shall we?"

Andrew tried to look away but he felt entranced.  He shuddered as the meadow faded away and a blast of cold air hit him.

*~*~*

JenniAnn's bedroom and Belle's nursery had become a haven for the female Friends.  While Monica and Raquel worked with their sewing machines, the rest of the women were scattered around the rooms chatting in small groups and trying to make the time pass more quickly.

Sitting on her bed with Violeta in front of her, JenniAnn dipped a comb in a glass of water and ran it through the teenager's hair.

"You really don't have to do this.  I... I just wasn't thinking when I asked."

JenniAnn briefly set down the comb and hugged the angel. 

"It's okay.  It's relaxing.  And it's Friday.  This is what we do on Fridays."

Violeta sniffled.  As much as she was looking forward to starting school, she knew the obligations attached to it might impinge on her life in Dyeland.  For months, JenniAnn had spent some time every Friday braiding her long locks so she could have "fun" hair for the weekend.  At least that was the official reason.  Violeta had come to look forward to that hour or so as the one guaranteed time she could be alone with the woman and talk about or ask about whatever she wanted.  Would they still be able to keep that up?

JenniAnn leaned forward.  "Are you okay to keep doing this here or do you want to go somewhere more quiet?"

Violeta shook her head.  "This is fine.  I don't really have anything to... to say or... or..."  Her body began to quake. 

"Oh, honey..."  JenniAnn again set down Violeta's comb and circled her arms around her shoulders.

"Wh-why?  Why did he... he have to... to go?  I... I wish... I wish Michael could have... have just gone a-and... and beat them up or... or something!"

The outburst was impossible to ignore and the other ladies looked to the bed with surprise.

Embarrassed, Violeta turned around and buried her face in Andrew's pillow.

The sewing machines went silent and Monica stood but, catching her eye, JenniAnn shook her head.  The hum of the machines resumed.

JenniAnn knelt beside the angel and gently stroked her back.

"Violeta, I... I hate this, too.  We all do.  But, honey, you know how Andrew is.  Did you ever think about how when God first created life on Earth, He already knew that humans would fall?  He already knew that they would need a redeemer, a messiah.  God wrote the Bible.  He could have anointed anyone as the messiah and written the Bible to point to them.  He could have had Michael be born as a human, ya know.  Maybe Michael coulda been the messiah."

Violeta rolled onto her back and stared up at JenniAnn.  "But... but Joshua would never do that!  You... you're *His* children.  Not Michael's.  He... he wanted to save you himself so...  Oh."

Overhearing, Dot swiped at a tear.  "A chip off the ol' block for sure," she murmured.

Kylie hugged her and nodded.

"I'm sure if Andrew had asked, God would have sent Michael or another warrior angel.  But just as Joshua hurt to see how sin was tormenting his beloved ones, Andrew hurt knowing that Nen and Tzila were... were tormenting us, his beloved ones.  And I think... I know that Andrew is so grateful to God for... for bringing us all together.  And I'm sure going is his way of showing that thanks."

Perched on the swing with Belle in her lap, Allison rested her cheek on the toddler's hair and quietly wept as she saw Violeta clasp JenniAnn's hand.  A moment later, Shelby climbed up beside them and received a kiss on the cheek from JenniAnn.  Allison wondered anew at how she had missed all these glimpses of how truly comforted and contented her daughter was by her unconventional home life.

"Better?" JenniAnn whispered.

"Better," Violeta assented, sitting up.  She drew in a deep breath then smiled at JenniAnn first and Shelby second.  "Shel, would it be okay if I braided your hair?  Might be a good idea to keep myself busy."

"Sure!"  Shelby jumped off the bed and went in search of her brush.

When the girl had returned, Kemara laughed at the sight of JenniAnn sitting behind Violeta braiding her hair as the angel sat behind Shelby and plaited hers.

"We definitely need a picture of that!" she opined, grabbing her camera from where she'd sat it on a dresser.

"Wait!  Can Belle sit in front of me?" Shelby asked.  "I can put barrettes in her hair!"

Hearing her name, Belle clamored for her sister.  "Eby..."

Allison kissed her forehead then set her down on the bed.  After she'd retrieved the little girl's comb and barrettes from the nursery, Shelby set to work.

Kemara ambled in front of them.  "Okay... count of three.  One... two... three... smile!  Aww!  Now one from the side."

After taking a second photo, Kemara showed off the images.

"Oh!  Adorable!  That's going straight into Andrew's wallet, I know it!" Kelly gushed.

Tess smiled at the image.  "Yes, it is!"

With the tension broken, the women settled into more easy, open chatter.  Craft supplies were taken out, snacks gathered, and soon the atmosphere was more like that of a soiree than an uneasy vigil.

Suddenly, both sewing machines whirred to a stop.

JenniAnn finished tying a ribbon at the end of Violeta's rope of hair and looked over at Monica and Raquel.

"We're done!" the woman declared. 

"And we were even more productive than we thought we'd be," Monica added, beaming. 

JenniAnn looked on curiously when the caseworker approached with what appeared to be multiple garments.

"Shel, we wanted you to be able to match your sister."

Wide-eyed, Shelby accepted the gown Monica held out to her.  When she'd unfurled it, her eyes welled.

"It... it looks like Wendy's except for... for being green.  I love that it's green.  Andrew's favorite color..."

Raquel joined them and picked up Belle.  "And you have one exactly like it!  Should we go try it on?"

Belle was already grappling for her nightgown.  "Pitty...  My pitty?"

Monica laughed.  "Yes, your pretty.  Grandma Raquel can help you put it on."

The women laughed as Belle began to enthusiastically strip down while Shelby much more discreetly slipped into the bathroom.

Monica diverted her attention to Violeta.  "We thought you might rather have something you could wear to school so..."  She wrapped a silken scarf in shades of emerald and sea green around the teenager's neck.

Violeta immediately hugged Monica and kissed Raquel's cheek.  "Thank you!  I love it!"

Shelby stepped out from the bathroom, looking utterly like Wendy.

"Oh sweetie..."  JenniAnn held her arms open and the little girl ran into them. 

"I... I just wish Andrew were here to... to sing my song," Shelby cried.

"Baby, would it be okay if we all sang it for you?  In Andrew's honor?" Tess asked.

Shelby nodded.  "Please."

JenniAnn patted the spot beside her on the bed and, once the child was settled, the women began to sing.

"'Tender shepherd, tender shepherd, let me help you count your sheep.  One in the meadow, two in the garden, three in the nursery fast asleep... fast asleep.'"

Belle, who had been spinning around in her new "pitty," halted and yawned.

"Nigh-nigh," she declared.

JenniAnn swiped at a tear and laughed as her daughter made a beeline for her nursery.

Also laughing, Catherine rose and followed Belle.  "I'll get her settled in for a nap.  You have your own 'pitty' to try on," she reminded JenniAnn before disappearing into Belle's room.

Raquel returned to the sewing machine she had borrowed from JenniAnn and picked up the last gown.

"Oh... it's beautiful," JenniAnn cooed. 

Monica grabbed the robe from where they'd hung it on the closet door to dry after washing it.

"Go try them on," she encouraged, holding the robe out to her friend.

With a slight blush, JenniAnn took both garments and stepped into the bathroom.  When she emerged, tears were streaking down her face.

Allison bolted up from the edge of the bed where she'd been sitting.  "Oh, sweetie!"

JenniAnn crumpled in her mother's arms.

Worried, Raquel and Monica bit their lips.

Spying them over Allison's shoulder, JenniAnn moved to embrace them.

"It... it's beautiful a-and comfortable a-and perfect.  I just... I want..."

"Him," Raquel finished.  "I know, sweetheart."

"Th-thank you, Monica and Raquel, for... for making this a-and the girls' a-and to everyone for pitching in and..."

Monica hugged JenniAnn tightly.  "You're so welcome."

Raquel gently tugged the younger woman towards the full-length mirror and kissed her temple.

"You look beautiful," she assured.

Emma squeezed JenniAnn's hand.  "I just know Andrew will find you utterly 'visually stimulating' to borrow Owen's phrase."

"No doubt about that," Diana added.

"Th-thank you."  JenniAnn studied her reflection.  Monica and Raquel truly had done a remarkable job.  Fluttery cap sleeves held up a snug but modest emerald green bodice that met with a matching, flowy skirt with a sea green underlay, all of it set off by the silver robe.  If nothing else, JenniAnn knew Andrew would love the colors.  She closed her eyes and briefly imagined being in his arms, dancing.

The shared, quiet moment was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Who is it?" Kemara asked.

"Your husband."

Kemara smiled as she swiped at a tear.  "Well, you can't come in."

"Fine then...  But I actually just came to tell JenniAnn that, when she's able, Josef has something he'd like to show her.  No rush.  We'll be in the rec room.  Sean out."

Kemara laughed then smiled at her friend.  "Did you hear all that?"

JenniAnn nodded and returned her smile.  "I did.  And, actually, I need to talk to Josef so...  I'll get dressed a-and hang this... this loveliness up until... til tomorrow night, hopefully.  But first..."  She began a round of hugs.

As each of her friends embraced JenniAnn, they prayed that the following night would be what she hoped and what they suspected Andrew would desperately need.

*~*~*

Illusions

Andrew found himself wandering the halls of Willowveil castle but it hardly resembled the warm, happy home that he'd grown accustomed to.  Paint peeled.  The woodwork was scuffed and rotting.  Rugs were tattered.  The place looked plundered.

He closed his eyes.

"This isn't real.  It's not real."

After opening his eyes, Andrew silently repeated the words as he stumbled along.  Tears welled when he entered the chapel and found the pews knocked over and the stained glass windows partially broken.  He hurried to the front and propped up Owen's painting of Joshua.  To his dismay, there were dirty footprints on the canvas.

The angel looked around him, barely able to connect where he stood with the place he'd knelt with JenniAnn as they'd welcomed Joshua's blessing.

But it wasn't that place.  It was some vision conjured by Nen and Tzila.  It wasn't real.  It couldn't be.  But how to escape it?

Andrew left the chapel and inspected the other rooms.  His own was stripped bare and graffiti covered the walls.  His heart broke over torn and dirtied books strewn all over the library.  It looked like someone had used a pile of them for a fire. 

Bracing himself, Andrew walked across the hall and opened the door to Belle's nursery.

Cobwebs covered all of the furniture.  Andrew groaned when he saw his daughter's mossy cradle with a moth-eaten blanket laying inside of it.  Mr. Bobo's decrepit head peeked out from beneath it.

An eerie blue light appeared beneath the door that led into JenniAnn's room.  Andrew whispered a prayer for strength before he entered.  Anger flared when he stepped inside the room and found Nen sprawled across the tattered remains of JenniAnn bed. 

The demon cackled.  "I'm sorry.  This is your place, isn't it?"

"No, it's not," Andrew shot back.  "This is an illusion.  And I know it."

Nen rose from the bed and circled around the angel of death.

"Maybe so.  But don't you think there's a seed of truth in it?  Yes, your people may thrive for a generation or two... or three.  But what then?  Do you honestly think your great-great-great grandchildren will believe their ancestor was an angel?"

Andrew opened his mouth to bring up Reuel's people but caught himself.  Nen and Tzila couldn't know about El-Chanan even if it did put the lie to their current efforts.  Instead, Andrew simply shrugged.

"Maybe they won't believe.  But there's a vast difference between not believing there's an angel in their family tree and simply not caring about their family, their inheritance.  I know that Belle will tell her children and her children's children about us.  Even if they only believe they're stories, they'll be powerful stories.  Stories about true love, dedication to family, and a God who loves His children so much that..."

"Ah...  You actually think they'll believe Yeshua was here."

Andrew nodded.

"Why would they, Andrew?  So many people don't believe Yeshua ever walked the Earth and still others believe He was only a man... a sad, pathetic man."

The angel of death had to stifle a chuckle as he envisioned Zeke singing.

"'You sad, pathetic man, see where you've brought us to.  Our ideals die around us and it's all because of you!'"

Andrew slowly dragged his hand through his hair.  What had made Nen's and Tzila's ideals die?

"Nen!  Nen!  Nen!  Don't I look ravishing?"

Andrew spun around to find Tzila stepping out of the bathroom in one of JenniAnn's dresses.  He fought to suppress the anger and disgust rising up in him.  They wouldn't help.  Not now.

Nen pulled Tzila to him.  "Absolutely ravishing, my dear!  In fact, I daresay you wear it better than its previous owner."  He glared at Andrew.

Andrew rolled his eyes.  Did they actually think he was going to get distracted by a "who wore it better?" debate.  Instead of replying, he turned away from them and stepped towards the window.

Outside, trees had fallen and others were covered in thorny weeds.  The sky was gray and the grass dried.  Andrew stared down at his hands.

What would have made his own ideals die?

Nothing.  Surely nothing could have.  But some things might have hurt... badly.

Andrew's eyes drifted to the weathered gazebo.  A flash of memory came to him.  Years before, he'd found a dining room table for cheap at a garage sale and thought it would be perfect for Willowveil.  Excited, he'd come looking for JenniAnn. 

He'd found her... giggling and flirting with Eliot in the gazebo.

The memory no longer hurt... but it had stung at the time.  Tremendously.  That was the day he'd decided that, after the two had married, he would quietly leave Dyeland.  He'd make sure his friends there had some means of contacting him.  But he wouldn't have been able to stay. 

Andrew stared at the two, wondering if such feelings had led to their downfall.

"What happened to you?" he demanded.  "How did you go from loving and caring for humans to... to using and abusing them?  I can't imagine..."

Nen laughed darkly.  "Can't you?  Just try, Andrew.  Try to imagine what it would be like if you gave up so much for your darling JenniAnn and then the moment you ask for something in return... off she goes!"

"Or he does..." Tzila added through gritted teeth.

"What did you ask for?" Andrew pressed.

"Love.  A soul mate.  Surely you can't begrudge us that, oh great messenger of God who is Love," the incubus taunted.

Andrew shook his head.  "I can't.  But you're telling me the humans God sent you to watch over... they didn't love you at all?"

"Not like we deserved to be loved," Nen replied.

"And what do you think you deserved?"

"What you have... or think you have with the woman."  Tzila shrugged.  "It can't last much longer, you know.  Unless you force her to stay."  She glanced over at Nen.  "Even then... the clods of dust are sometimes too bright for their own good.  They find a way to escape."

Andrew's gaze narrowed on the demons.  "I would never force JenniAnn to do anything.  Is that what you did?  You wanted human companionship and thought you'd take it by force?"

"She was always coming to me for help!  Always!  'Asante, please, do this'... that was my name... 'Asante, please do that.'  On and on," Nen snapped.  "Annoying, really.  But she interested me.  Amused me even.  Then one day she tells me she's marrying some boy... a boy he was!  Maybe a whisker or two on the chin.  No more than that."

Andrew began to feel queasy.  "What did you do to her?"

Tzila smiled proudly.  "He told me about the trollop.  I was no stranger to the ingratitude of the humans myself... the ingratitude of our esteemed Creator." 

The angel opened his mouth to object but Nen interrupted him.

"Our plan had to start somewhere... with someone.  Well, two someones to be exact.  Tzila had met a not-so-charming young man who was only too happy to help us.  I invited the young lady out for a picnic to celebrate her betrothal but, well, Tzila's friend was never very good at controlling himself...  They and their children became the first inhabitants of what would be our thriving city," the demon boasted.

Andrew felt nauseated.  It was obvious to him that somewhere along the way, Nen and Tzila had allowed bitterness and jealousy into their hearts.  They'd lost their focus on serving God and bringing love to their fellow children and instead began to keep score.  From there, Nen had decided he'd deserved a woman.  Maybe he had been hurt when she'd found someone else.  Or maybe he'd simply felt cheated.  Either way, his reaction... their reaction... was abominable.  To have helped orchestrate the rape of someone he'd once cared for, however flawed that affection may have been...  Horrific.  Unimaginable.

"No right...  You had no right," Andrew choked out.  "She... she must have trusted you... you were an angel a-and she trusted you."  Tears began to pour down his cheeks.  Someone's daughter, someone's sister, God's child... herself, unique and beloved.  Dizzy... he was so dizzy but he couldn't stop fighting them.

"How could you?" Andrew bellowed.  "How...  If... if it hurt too... too much to see her with some-someone else then you could have asked to come Home.  He would have let you come Home!  Found another place for you to... to help."  And He knew God would have.  He'd asked after spying JenniAnn and Eliot together.  Something had kept him in Dyeland... hope, maybe.  But he'd not been compelled by the Father nor by Joshua to stay.  But even if he had... even if he'd had to witness Eliot and JenniAnn grow closer and closer...  Never.  Never, never, never would he have dreamed of hurting her or allowing her to be hurt.

"Never..."

Andrew startled when he realized he was talking out loud.  He raised his bowed head and peered into Nen's cold eyes.

"What you have done... you've betrayed everything and everyone you were supposed to stand for!  Both of you!"  He shook his head.  "A-and you have no... no remorse?  No sorrow?  How... how can you claim you wanted love?  Love... it can't be taken by force.  You... you aren't owed love.  She trusted you..."

Andrew's rebuke was interrupted when his mind was overpowered by images.  He saw the girl running, the man toppling her, Nen and Tzila standing by, doing nothing as the girl screamed.

She'd called out Nen's true name, begging him for help.  Nothing.  Only stony silence.

Overcome, the angel leaned against the wall and slid down it.

Tzila knelt in front of Andrew and smiled.  "Never say never," she whispered before leaning in and placing an icy kiss on the angel's cheek.

Andrew shuddered and slumped to the ground.

*~*~*

JenniAnn ran her fingers over the beautiful walnut pool table that several of the men, led by Josef, had brought her to.  She sighed and brushed at a tear.

"It... it's beautiful, Josef.  A-and the felt is even green.  Andrew... he's going to love it.  Thank you."

The vampire blushed slightly as the woman hugged him.

"My pleasure.  I've always liked Andrew... well, except for that rocky patch at the very beginning.  He makes me feel young," Josef teased.  He looked with pride at the table.  "He deserves to play on something like this.  We had some good times with that pool table he found at a yard sale but..."

"He... he does deserve to have something so nice."

Josef clasped JenniAnn's hand when her face clouded.

"I heard Max say once that Andrew was the bravest man he'd ever met.  It's true for me, too, JenniAnn.  He'll be okay."

"Yes...  Still..."

Josef's own eyes filled.  "It's hard to see those we love suffer... even if we know better days will come."

JenniAnn nodded.  Then she drew in a deep breath and smiled at the man. 

"Could we maybe step out onto the balcony?  It's pretty shaded over here.  There's something I need to tell you.  Alone."

"Sure."

Josef hurried to the door and held it open for JenniAnn.  When she took a seat on a bench and motioned for him to sit beside her, he obeyed.

"Josef, I... I went somewhere when I was in a coma," JenniAnn confided.

"Heaven," the vampire surmised.

JenniAnn shook her head.  "No.  It was wonderful but it wasn't Heaven.  But there were spirits there who... who came from Heaven to visit me."  She noticed Josef tense and hold his breath.  "Josef, I saw Sarah."

"Sarah..."  He repeated her name like a prayer.

"Oh, Josef, she was so happy!  There was a point when we were beneath a magnolia tree and a bunch of petals fell and Sarah spun and laughed and it... it was so beautiful!  Josef, she told me that sometimes you dream about her... you dream about her being so happy.  But those aren't simply dreams.  They're really real.  God wants you to know that."

Tears trailed down Josef's face.  "I... I want to believe that, JenniAnn.  More than anything I do.  But... but you know me.  You know how badly I'd want to believe that.  Are... are you sure that you didn't dream it?"

JenniAnn desperately wished that she could tell him about Joshua but she knew he'd be unlikely to believe that, either.  But she did have one thing...

"Sarah told me to tell you that she knows why the bluebirds flew.  And she knows that what they saw when they did... it was wonderfully amazing."

Josef clasped JenniAnn's hand tightly.  "Sarah... she..."

"She was really there.  I... I promise, Josef."

He stood and began to pace.  "The Wizard of Oz...  She loved that movie.  Loved that song...  We listened to it all the time.  Sarah... she thought the bluebirds flew over the rainbow because Heaven was... was there.  But I... I didn't believe.  Oh, Sarah..."  Josef moved to the railing and stared up at the sky.  "You were right, my girl."

JenniAnn rose and moved to stand beside her friend.

"She's happy, Josef.  She wants you to be happy, too.  She also said that the people you help... they think you're an... an angel."

Glancing over, Josef noted the woman's pained expression.  He hugged her.

"Thank you, very much, for telling me all of this, JenniAnn.  But now...now let's get everyone together for some dinner... and some of that great wine you always have... and share stories about that angel of yours.  Send good thoughts his way, you think?" 

Smiling as she brushed at a tear, JenniAnn nodded.  "I'd like that."

Josef gently steered her back towards the door.  Just before he stepped inside, the vampire turned back to gaze at the sky and send a silent thank you to the girl he still loved and the God he was trying to find his way back to.

*~*~*

Andrew's eyes fluttered open and he found himself staring at... his ceiling?  Could it be?  Was he back in his own room at Willowveil?  The real Willowveil?

Sitting up, the angel of death looked around his room.  Everything was as it should be.  Photos of family and friends lined his desk.  Some toys Belle had been playing with were spread in front of the window. 

Was he truly home?  Was it over?

Andrew laid back down, his mind reeling with all he'd heard, seen, and experienced.  Tears filled his eyes again when he thought of the poor girl Nen and Tzila had victimized.  And to think she was only one of many...

The tears became sobs and soon Andrew was doubled over, holding his aching gut.

"Love..."

The angel froze.

"Oh, Love...  You're back."

Andrew gaped at JenniAnn as she came near him.

"Sweet Andrew... you shouldn't be alone.  Let me..."

"No."  Shaking his head adamantly, Andrew shrank back against the headboard.  "Laja, no.  Just... go back to... to your room.  Maybe tomorrow..."

JenniAnn's eyes filled.  "But I want to be with you!  What you've seen... heard... felt...  Let me take it all away, my love."

The angel of death sat rigidly as she climbed onto his bed. 

"Tell me," JenniAnn murmured into his ear.

"No!" he refused. 

Her arms locked around him.  "But... but it'll help."

Andrew violently shook his head.  "It won't, Laja!  Not this time!" 

"Andrew..."

He clamped his eyes shut as she began to cover his face in soft kisses.  She'd wear him down...  He knew she would.  He had to get away.  Had to get her away.

"Laja!  No!"

Andrew thrust his arms out, pushing JenniAnn away.  He watched in horror as the chain reaction unfolded.

JenniAnn fell backwards, her head hitting the corner of the bedstand.  Next came a horrid thud.

"No... no... no...  Laja, no..."

Andrew scrambled off the bed and knelt by the woman who was staring up at the ceiling.  His shaking hand reached for her neck.

Nothing.  No pulse.  Dead.  Killed.  By him.

"La-laja...  No...  Oh God... Father... Joshua... I'm sorry.  I'm so... so sorry.  Laja...  You can't... no..."

Andrew pulled JenniAnn into his arms, howling as he clung to her body and felt the once-familiar warmth leave her.

*~*~*

Vincent sat at the center of the bed in Belle's nursery with his granddaughter in his lap, reading from his goddaughter's Beauty and the Beast storybook.  JenniAnn herself sat to his right with Shelby hugging her arm.  Liam and Jacob were settled to Vincent's left, leaning against each other.  The Tunnel children were clustered together on a large, plush rug and listening intently to their teacher.  In the midst of them, Lily beamed.  She had arrived, with Azalea and Basil, shortly before dinner; fresh from her first trip to Disney World.  The family had left the day before JenniAnn had been shot.  Upon learning of the tragedy, Azalea and Basil had planned to cut the trip short and head home but Andrew had convinced them not to.  Looking at the little girl, JenniAnn was glad for her beloved's insistence.  Lily was like a breath of fresh air, no hint of trouble in her smiles.  Her happiness and ease was infectious... as was the children's delight with the candy the Thorntons had brought back with them.

"'Oh! Beast, how you frightened me!' she cried.  'I never knew how much I loved you until just now, when I feared I was too late to save your life,'" Vincent recited.  "'Can you really love such an ugly creature as I am?' said the Beast faintly.  'Ah! Beauty, you only came just in time.  I was dying because I thought you had forgotten your promise.  But go back now and rest, I shall see you again by and by.'"

Lily scowled.  "He's not ugly!  Jus' different."

"Pitty!" Belle agreed as she patted the drawing of the Beast.

Vincent chuckled.  "You are both very right, of course.  But I think, sometimes, people see themselves much more harshly than they should.  Has that ever happened to any of you?"

JenniAnn snuggled Shelby closer as she thought of Andrew.  For too long, he had judged himself with a lack of compassion he would never have shown to anyone else.  She prayed the day's events wouldn't bring those old issues back.

"When I first came to live with Monny and Daddy, I spilled milk and thought that meant I was bad," Liam recalled.  "They said I wasn't."

Vincent squeezed his grandson's hand.  "That is a perfect example.  And your Monny and Daddy were very, very right and still are."

Liam's face lit up.  He stretched up to kiss his Grandpa's cheek.

"Did it happen to you, Papa?" Jacob questioned.

Vincent nodded.  "Very frequently, I'm afraid.  But your Mama helped me get past that, Jacob, and then Joshua... he reminded me that God had made me as I am and loves me.  And He made and loves all of you, too."

From there, the story was derailed as the children began to tell their own tales about Joshua. 

Just as Lily was beginning to recount her Easter adventure, JenniAnn noticed Reuel standing in the hallway.  She hugged Shelby and whispered in her ear.

"I need to go talk to Reuel.  Are you okay to stay here with Vincent and Belle and the others?"

Shelby nodded, returned JenniAnn's embrace, and then cuddled up against Vincent.

JenniAnn smiled at the sight of her godfather surrounded by the children.  Unable to resist, she took a photo before stepping into the hall.

Reuel took her arm.  "I am sorry to disturb you but I'm afraid Violeta is growing quite anxious."

"Poor Violeta..."  JenniAnn patted the angel's hand.  "Thank you for coming to get me.  I did want to talk to you."

"And I'll be happy to answer any questions you have, my dear."

Reuel led JenniAnn to the library where Ivy and Sy were attempting to calm a pacing Violeta.

"I wish I could have gone...  I mean I know I couldn't have.  I... I could barely handle what happened in the alley.  Actually, I couldn't...  If you and JenniAnn and...  JenniAnn!"

Violeta raced into the woman's waiting arms.

"Honey...  Let's sit down, okay?"

"Yeah..."

JenniAnn steered Violeta to a couch, deliberately avoiding looking at the chair where she and Andrew had sat all those months ago after he'd had his prescient nightmare. 

"How about Sy and I go make some tea?" Ivy offered.

"And cocoa," Sy added.

"Cocoa, please," Violeta requested.

JenniAnn smiled at the young couple.  "I'd love some tea, thank you."

"Reuel?" Ivy checked.

"Tea would be wonderful.  Many thanks!"

After a quick exchange of hugs, Ivy and Sy left the three.

JenniAnn lightly stroked Violeta's hair, knowing the repetitive action soothed the teenager.

"What do you think they're doing to him?" the girl questioned.

Reuel pulled a chair in front of the two and sighed.  "I truly don't know.  I can only guess based on their techniques before."

"Which were?" Violeta pressed.

JenniAnn sniffled.  "Joshua said they're 'master manipulators.'  His term exactly.  They get in people's heads and show them the very worst... like they did with all of us.  That... it was only one nightmare.  But this... sustained and unrelenting..."

Reuel squeezed her hand.  "I think, perhaps, we would do better to speak of how you both might help Andrew cope when he does return home... and you know he will.  Joshua will, of course, grant him as much time in Heaven as he pleases but..."

"But he won't leave Belle and JenniAnn and Max and Shel and..."  Violeta gave a sad smile.  "I could go with him b-but they can't.  So he won't go."

"I think you are very much correct."

"Do you think they will have... have tried to get him to turn on himself?" JenniAnn asked.  She knew it was a foolish question.  Of course they would have.

With a sympathetic look, Reuel nodded.  "Nen and Tzila are by no means geniuses.  But they are smart enough to know that Andrew is not going to turn on God.  But himself?"

JenniAnn shuddered.

Reuel's eyes clouded.  "There was a time... Riva was six... I went to the demons' lands as part of a rescue mission.  Someone saw us leaving with a few of the people we'd rescued.  Nen and Tzila came after me and...  It was a long night before several of our people could come back to help me escape.  They tried to make me believe there was little separating me from them and that, under other circumstances, I might have made the same choices.  Looking back, it seems impossible that I could have given even a moment's credence to what they said.  But... I did."  He brushed at his eyes then smiled at JenniAnn. "I had the honor of speaking to your Andrew often during your hospital stay.  Between that and what Joshua has told me, I know you have a beautiful relationship built on love, trust, and respect.  Andrew is so proud of your strength, of your courage... that of both of you.  So he won't want to crowd either of you when he returns but..."

"But he needs to," Violeta finished for him.

"Yes.  He'll be reluctant to let you out of his sight for very long.  It won't last.  Day by day, the anxiety will lessen, the memories will fade but until then..."

"We should ask him to come along with us?" JenniAnn suggested.  "Like if he doesn't have assignments that day, I could ask him to join me Below when I teach?"

Reuel smiled.  "Exactly.  I have a feeling Joshua will either give him leave for some weeks or significantly lighten his caseload.  So, no doubt, Andrew will have ample time to spend with your family."

Violeta brightened at this possibility.  "Sy offered to help Ivy and me rearrange some things at Serendipity so I wasn't going to bother Andrew for help but maybe..."

"Let him help," Reuel encouraged.  "By no means cause yourselves to feel uncomfortable.  Andrew would sense that and feel bad.  But anything you can do to show him how much you value his nurturing side..."

"All of him is a nurturing side," JenniAnn murmured.

Reuel gave her a tender smile.  "Yes, that's so."  His smile faded.  "But don't press him to tell you about what happened in Sheol.  In time, JenniAnn, he may wish to tell you.  Or he may not."

Violeta opened her mouth to protest Reuel's exclusion of her then thought better of it.

"Violeta, you are very young and Andrew is very glad that you've held onto your innocence.  He knows, in time, you will see much ugliness and cruelty but you can't force him to be the one to dash at your youthful happiness," the principality counseled.

"I won't," Andrew's protege vowed.

JenniAnn hugged her.  Looking over Violeta's shoulder, she caught Reuel's expression.  There was still more he needed to say... to her alone.

Violeta smiled at JenniAnn when they pulled apart.  "Thank you.  Now I feel like doing a little nurturing myself.  I'm going to go check on Ivy and Sy with that tea and cocoa then go sit with Mary, Silly, and Yonah, okay?"

JenniAnn kissed her hair.  "Okay, sounds good." 

"Thanks, Reuel!"  Violeta hugged her fellow angel.

"You're very welcome."

JenniAnn was happy and relieved to see a spring in Violeta's step as she left.  When the library door closed, she turned back to Reuel.

"What is it?  Please, tell me.  I can take it."

"I know," Reuel assured.  "JenniAnn, you know about how the Enemy showed Monica images of a life with Arthur, correct?"

"Yes."

"His goal was to draw Monica to him and away from God.  As I said before, they know such an effort with Andrew would be doomed to failure.  At least not without breaking down his own sense of himself first.  So instead of showing him tempting images... I believe they would have shown him ones meant to shatter him.  I know because..."

"Because that's what they did to you?"

"Yes.  I saw terrible things happening to my Riva, to my Rafiq.  I suspect Nen and Tzila may have zeroed in on you as Andrew's supposed weakness.  After all, it was you who he nearly lost.  It's you who are most vulnerable with him even though you, rightly, don't see yourself as such."

JenniAnn nodded.  "I understand.  It... it makes sense.  A cruel sort of sense..."

"When I returned, I often couldn't take my eyes off poor Riva and Rafiq."  Reuel blushed.  "I even sometimes watched them as they slept.  Riva handled it well.  If she awoke, she begged for a story and all was well.  Rafiq..."  The angel chuckled.  "He found it a little unsettling, I'm afraid."

JenniAnn smiled gently.  "I can handle that.  I've sometimes watched Andrew sleep.  And he's done the same.  We agreed that it was okay to be creepy like that since we both are."

The angel laughed.  "Well, I'm glad that's settled."

"Anything else?"

"Yes.  Know that, even though Andrew will not have believed anything he saw... the images will still hurt, still haunt.  Think of your production with Yeshua.  You knew that the scourging, the Crucifixion... they were illusions, yes?"

JenniAnn nodded.  "Then yes.  But of course I knew that before... in... in Jerusalem..."

"Right.  Before they were real.  Very real.  But you were always aware that your friends Edward and Caleb weren't actually whipping Yeshua and driving nails into him, correct?"

"Uh huh."

"But it still hurt to see that, didn't it?"

"Y-yes..."

"It will be similar for Andrew.  Even though he knows Nen and Tzila showed him only illusions, having those images in his mind..."

"I... I understand.  My poor love..."  JenniAnn twisted her claddagh.

"Your love will be with you, comforted by you and happy to be comforting you.  But, please, don't take offense if Andrew seems to revert to his reticent self.  It doesn't mean he doesn't trust you.  It certainly doesn't mean he thinks what he has to say would drive you from him.  It will only mean that, for now, it hurts too much for him to speak.  And he doesn't want to put those images in your mind, too.  The best you can do is hold him close and let him hold you close."

JenniAnn wiped at her eyes.  "Neither will... will be a problem, trust me."  A yawn escaped.

"I think, perhaps, an early to bed night would be a good idea?" Reuel surmised.

JenniAnn nodded.  "Yes...  I'm sure I'll get up early.  I... I want to get out to the willow tree as soon as possible."

"I understand."

JenniAnn headed back to the nursery.  "I... I think I'll stay in Belle's room tonight."

Reuel took her right hand in both of his.  "I understand that, too.  I'll be spending the night out in the stable again."

"You really don't have to!"

"I know.  But I want to.  Besides, Owen is painting my portrait." 

JenniAnn laughed as the angel made a regal pose.

"Call him if you should need to speak to either of us."

"I'll do that.  Thank you... for all the counsel and support."

Reuel embraced the woman.  "It's been an honor."

They parted with silent prayers for Andrew.

*~*~*

The Strength in Our Story

"Leave him alone!"

The enraged voice shattered the eerie silence of the meadow.

Nen, who had been glowering at the crumpled, groaning angel, turned to find the source of the voice.  He spotted someone running away from the shades.

"Eben," the incubus muttered.

Tzila maintained her concentration and continued to whisper in Andrew's ear.  "What will you do now?  You've always said angels of death don't bring death... but you did.  She's dead, Andrew.  You killed her."

"Get away!" Eben shrieked.

Nen braced himself and caught the other demon.

"What's the matter, Eben?  Think you deserve another shot at him?  You know you're only here because the boss wanted you to see us succeed where you failed."

Eben twisted out of Nen's hold and stared into his icy eyes.

"You have no idea why I'm here," Eben muttered.

Nen watched, confused, as Eben closed his eyes.  His lips moved but Nen couldn't make out what he was saying.  Then Eben knelt and stared up at the sky.

"'I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin!  Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God,'" Eben prayed.  "'Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior!'"

"Tzila!  Look!" Nen shouted with alarm.

A beam of blinding light pierced the gray sky and illuminated Eben.  The light settled over him and his tattered clothes morphed into khakis and an ivory tunic.

As Nen shrank away, Eben strode towards Tzila.

"Get away from him!"

Tzila hissed when the light surrounding Eben hit her.  She reached up to scratch at him but the glow burned her.  Instead, she crawled away from Andrew.

Immediately, the angel's body untensed.

Eben set a hand on his shoulder.

"Andrew...  Andrew, open your eyes.  Wherever you think you are, you're not there."

"Laja...  No, Laja...  I'm sorry."

Eben spotted the cross and locket around Andrew's neck.  He grabbed his former friend's hand and molded his fingers around the two.

"Andrew, you didn't do anything to your JenniAnn.  She's not here.  But you've got to get back to her, okay?  So wake up!"  Eben began to lightly slap the angel of death's cheeks.

Finally, Andrew opened his eyes.

"Eben!" he cried, jumping to his feet and backing away from his long ago partner.

Eben held up his hands.  "I'm not going to hurt you, Andrew.  I... I've changed.  But we don't have time to talk about that now.  Look."  He tilted his head to where Nen and Tzila seemed to be plotting.  Catching his gaze, the two started towards them.

"Andrew, get in the shop!" Eben ordered.

"Why should I trust you?" Andrew countered.

"Because you have to!  Look... look at you.  You can't face them like that.  Just... please.  Go inside.  It's Yosef's.  It... it has power.  Rest there.  Just for a moment."

Andrew stared down at his hands which were shaking.  His entire body ached.  That vision...  Yes, he knew now it was only a vision but one so terrible...

"Andrew!  Go!"

Seeing the two demons rushing towards them, Andrew knew Eben was right.  He threw open the door to Yosef's shop and stumbled inside.  Andrew listened through a window as the three former angels fought.

"You'll pay... dearly... for this, Eben!" Tzila shrieked. 

"Step aside!" Nen demanded.  "Or else..."

"Or else what?" Eben countered.  "What could you possibly do that could be worse than what I've done to myself?  Spending centuries feeling miserable...  Doing his dirty work...  And now realizing, once and for all, that I... I made a terrible, horrible decision in a moment of pain and pride.  And that Andrew didn't... for three and a half centuries, I've tried to punish him for that.  But I'm done!  Because he was right all along.  There is no love without freedom of choice.  And this is what I choose now.  I choose to help him."

Tzila cackled.  "Such a noble little speech, Eben.  A little rich, don't you think?  How many times did you try to get between Andrew and that clay-bitch of his?"

Andrew stood and peeked out the window.  He saw the light around Eben begin to fade.

Nen stepped closer.  "You laughed when those clods in Afghanistan beat him so badly.  You were ecstatic when you heard about how aggrieved the woman was.  Now this..."

Eben hung his head.

Andrew knew he had to do something... and quickly... but he still felt so sluggish.

"Father, Joshua... help me, help us..." he pleaded.

As soon as the prayer left his lips, Andrew felt a soothing, warm breeze behind him.  Turning, he saw an illuminated image on the floor.  It looked like an elongated cross, buried shallowly in the center of the floor.  The angel knelt and began to dig with his hands.  He gaped when he realized what it was.  The closing lines of the song the Friends had sang as they'd planned their benefit show echoed in his mind.

"'For You are the power and the glory.  You are the Light and the Word.  You are the strength in our story.  You are the sword!'"

A wooden sword lay before Andrew.  It looked like it might have been a child's toy but Andrew could sense the power it held and he knew exactly what he needed to do with it.

"Thank You," he whispered, before grasping the sword and feeling his strength return to him.  After bounding to his feet, Andrew hurried outside.

"Get away from my friend," Andrew ordered as he stared down the two demons.

Eben, who had begun to cower, stood up straighter.  The golden light again began to kindle around him.

Nen and Tzila scoffed.

"How adorable!  Look, Nen, he has a little toy sword!" the succubi gleefully taunted.

Her cohort crossed his arms over his chest.  "Pathetic...  You might at least have tried to be more challenging, Andrew.  But coming at us with a toy...  Maybe you've addled his mind... again... Tzila."

Andrew only smiled.  "No.  I'm thinking very clearly.  And I'm armed with the greatest force that exists."

"Foolishness?" Tzila spat out.

The angel of death shook his head as he raised the sword.  "Love.  His Love."

Nen rolled his eyes and stomped towards Andrew.  "I've had enough with this charade."  He reached for Andrew.

The moment Nen's arms were away from his body, Andrew plunged the sword into the demon's chest.

"Nen!" Tzila screamed.

Andrew stepped away from Nen as he fell to his knees.  The angel approached Tzila who began to back away.

"You... you wouldn't...  He... he made me do it!  All of it!"  She pointed at Nen who was bent over on all fours.  "Andrew, I swear.  He... he made me!"

Andrew shook his head.  "He didn't.  And you know it and God knows it."

Tzila began to protest but Andrew swiftly drove the blade into her chest.  Drawing it back out, he turned to rejoin Eben whose mouth was hanging open.

"You... you just...  But... they can't be... be k-killed," Eben stuttered as both demons crumpled into fetal position.

"You're right.  They can't be."

"But... but you killed them!"

Andrew shook his head.  "Nope.  C'mon."

Eben followed Andrew back to where the demons lay.  Slowly, they began to move... and weep.  It became apparent to Eben that there wasn't a mark on them.

Andrew noticed that the shades of the Nephilim had begun to draw closer.

"What's going on with Nen and Tzila?" Eben whispered.  "What is that sword?"

Andrew held it up.  "Wood.  Nothing more.  What matters is that the Hands that crafted it also formed them... and us.  Now they're remembering what it was like when they were created, when they were new, when they loved and adored God...  Stripped of the millennia of bitterness, hatred, and anger; they truly feel the weight of what they've done."

Eben blinked back tears.  "But then... then I should have to feel it, too.  I may not have done what they did... but I hurt people, I hurt you and those you hold dear.  Do it to... to me, too."  He held his hands up in surrender

Andrew clapped his old friend's shoulder and shook his head.  "No, Eben.  You already voiced your remorse.  And, what's more, you acted selflessly when you helped me."

"So... where do I go now?" Eben questioned.

"To a place God has prepared for you," a voice answered.

Andrew and Eben turned to find Michael smiling at them.  He approached and hugged Andrew.

"Well done!  The Lord is very pleased with you, Andrew."

Andrew's face flushed with pride.  "Thank you, Michael.  And Eben?"

Michael turned to the reforming angel.  "You have some work to do, Eben."

Eben nodded and bowed his head.  "Yes, Michael.  I... I know."

"Stand up straight, boy.  You're an angel of the Lord.  Show some pride."

Shocked, Eben blinked and obeyed.  "I... I... really?"

"What did you think that light was?" Michael questioned. 

"I, umm...  Right.  God's love, of... of course," Eben responded.

Andrew chuckled and hugged him.  "Welcome back."

"But I... thank you."  Eben knelt down and peered up.  "Thank You.  I... I'm ready for whatever Your will is for me now."

Again, a beam of light shone from the sky.  It radiated around Eben, growing brighter and brighter.  When it finally dimmed, Eben was gone.

"You'll see him again, Andrew," Michael assured.  "But right now... there's Someone Else he needs to be talking to."

Andrew sighed happily.  "Of course.  So he's in Heaven?"

Michael shook his head.  "Not yet.  Actually, he's in the same place your JenniAnn was.  He'll get the help he needs there and, in time, he'll go Home and then who knows?  You may just find yourself working a case with ol' Eben sometime in the future.  But let's not rush it."

Andrew closed his eyes and offered a prayer of thanksgiving.  Though Eben's behavior had angered him, he'd never stopped missing his old friend.  Now he knew he would see him again.  After finishing his prayer, the angel of death directed his attention to Nen and Tzila.

"And them?"

Michael frowned.  "Their way will be harder.  Eben largely kept to his own misery during his time away from us... lashing out at you at times, of course.  But those two... the pain they caused humanity and their fellow angels... it can be forgiven but it can't be easily forgotten.  And they haven't even asked for forgiveness.  Right now they're too wrapped up in how terrible they feel."

Nen and Tzila crawled towards Michael and Andrew.