Author's Note: Welcome to this "cursed" story!  I'm kidding... partly.  It's true that things went kinda haywire for me during the writing of this story which significantly impacted my ability to concentrate and be creative.  Mice overran my kitchen.  I had plumbing issues ranging from a clogged shower to a leaky kitchen sink.  I have an elderly dog who requires extra care along with a young but excessively needy one.  And then, of course, COVID was always present.  Because I wasn't sure what the situation would be by October when this story was set, I kept putting off starting which then left me with too little time to get it written, even under the best of circumstances, before Christmas when I'd have to move on.  And then my seizures returned!  I'm not saying all this to get sympathy... just to explain that this story lacks polishing because I was simply overwhelmed and this was a complicated story with a lot of moving pieces and this just was NOT the time for it.  And then when I finally decided it was at a point where I could share... the formatting went all weird!  So... I hope to one day revisit this story and do an expanded version.  (I really wanted to go more into Andrew's feelings but then when I had seizures, I kinda just didn't wanna deal with brain stuff.)  But in the meantime, if you do read this, please let me know if something doesn't make sense.  I won't be offended.  I know I wasn't at my best writing this mentally or physically. 

ETA: On 2-12-22, I finally got around to proofing this and adding it onto the Encyclopedia and Timeline.  I finished on 2-20-22.  I ended up not really finding anything I wanted to add.  Rather, I think some places coulda used trimming down but I left it as is, only cleaning up typos and formatting issues.  It actually wasn't as much of a slog as I thought it was and held up better than I'd hoped despite some slow spots.  Still... my previous note still applies.  If you read this and something doesn't make sense, please let me know.  Because it was a difficult story and even this final read-through was hard because the pet mouse I was most attached to passed away.  On the plus side, since writing this I found out I was part Welsh.  Only 5% but that's 5% more than I knew about which made this kinda cool to re-read.  Anyway... tan y tro nesa!  :-)

A Thousand Years

Thursday, May 13th, 2021

In a small village in Wales, a house stood in the center of a field.  

The house had been there for centuries.

Or not.

It really depended on how one “solved” the old Ship of Theseus paradox.

Likely not a single stone of the original house remained.  And there was running water now.  Electricity.  Even wifi.  

Through all the changes, there had been one constant and she was sitting at her desk with her usual cup of tea, poring over the file before her.  She couldn’t get past the feeling that something was missing…

If only she could hire an admin to help her keep her files in order.  But even the most trustworthy, respectful employee wouldn’t be able to help seeing some of the contents.  And how to explain that her clients sometimes had birth years that were simply noted as “pre-calendar”?  

Deciding she needed a mental break, the house’s owner rose and peered out her window, admiring the grounds.

There were so many secrets wrapped up in this house… starting with the fact that she had owned it since the 1500s.

Even if it had taken an annoyingly large number of years for the deed to be in her name.

The inhabitant smiled as she thought back on the day the house had been purchased.

“I can manage!  I… I could find another tutoring job.  I was good at that.  Before.”

“And the little one?”

“She could be with me.  She doesn’t fuss.  Not much.”

“Jamesina…  They’ll assume she’s yours by blood.  And you’re not married.  As unfair and unjust as it is, no one would hire you.”

“But…”

“Let me do this.  Please.”

And she had let him, of course.  As angry as she had been, she couldn’t deny him.  But that didn’t mean she had been gentle about it.

“Fine.  But you look ridiculous with that ruffle around your neck.”

“Well, it’s not as if I could show up in one of my robes, could I?  Or jeans!  The horror!  And the ruffles will get worse, my dear.  So, so much worse.”

“Jeans?”

“You’ll find out.  You’ll like them.”

Jamesina… Jamie…  looked down at her jeans and smiled.  He was right.

He always was, of course.

The sound of papers flipping caused Jamie to spin away from the window.

And there he was, sitting in one of her chairs as if he’d come to her for counsel.  But he, perhaps only him on all the Earth, didn’t need counseling.

“Joshua!” Jamie exclaimed.

Joshua looked up from the file in his lap and smiled.  Then he moved to his feet and held his arms aloft.

Grinning, Jamie rushed into his embrace.

“Good morning, my dear.  How are you this fine morning?”

Jamie laughed.

“Bit of a braggart, aren’t ya?”

“Well…”  Joshua gestured towards the window.  “The way the sun is hitting the flowers… the cool breeze.  Just a hint of the scent of last night’s rain.  I think I was being quite modest with ‘fine.’”

Still laughing, Jamie nodded.

“It’s delightful.  In fact, I was hoping I could go out and enjoy it but I was reviewing Brigette’s file and…”  The angel frowned.

“You misfiled her collage.”

“Yes!”  Jamie clapped her hands.  “That’s what’s missing!  I wonder where I…”

“Think of who else you saw yesterday,” Joshua advised.

Jamie went to her files and, sure enough, found the collage in Dylan’s folder… she had seen Dylan right after Brigette.

“I suppose I could go electronic but…”  Jamie’s lower lip stuck out as she contemplated it.  

“Just not the same.  I know.”

“Yes.  Here, let me get you some tea.  Earl Grey?”

“Please.”

Jamie soon had Joshua’s cup prepared just to his liking.  She looked on proudly as he sipped and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you, Jamie.  You know, I have someone in mind to help you.  At least for the summer and autumn.”

Jamie reclaimed her chair and looked at her boss with great interest.

“Another angel?”

Joshua shook his head.

“A college student.”

“And you don’t think a college student would question what goes on here?”

“Not this one.”

Joshua reached into the bag that had just appeared beside him and pulled out a folder.  He handed it to Jamie.

With interest, the counselor perused the contents.

“Who is this girl that she has God Himself trying to get her a summer internship?”

“Her name is Siobhan Doyle.  She goes by Vonnie.  She’s studying Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Jesus College.”

Jamie grinned.

“And there it is.  She’s under your patronage.”

Joshua returned the grin.

“Everyone is under my patronage.  Yourself included.”

Jamie reached over and squeezed his hand.

“True.  And she may be very qualified but the whole millennia old beings showing up here thing…”

“Vonnie has some experience with angels.  She won’t be surprised… well, surprised that a few dozen of them show up in a small Welsh town for counseling.  But not surprised by their existence.  She’s sort of related to one.”

Jamie looked away from Vonnie’s CV and to Joshua with keen interest.

“She had a child just before she started college.  And that child, Avi, was later adopted by Andrew, one of my angels of death, and his anam cara, JenniAnn.”

“Another pair of anam caras?”

Beaming, Joshua nodded.

“And Vonnie knows that Andrew is…”

“She didn’t.  Not at first.  But then when her grandma died from COVID…  Well, it was so difficult for the entire family.  And because Vonnie was studying psychology… the family kind of turned her into their de facto counselor.”

“Cripes...”

Joshua shook his head, remembering the poor girl’s anguish.

“So I sent Andrew to talk to her, tell her about his work,” he continued.  “They’ve been in pretty regular contact since.”

“I’m glad for them both.  Tell me more about this Andrew fellow,” Jamie prompted.  “And his lady.  Human, I assume?”

Joshua smiled and nodded.  Jamie had a weakness for stories about angel/human pairings.

“Well…  I suppose the beginning is as good a place as any to start.  Andrew and JenniAnn met in 2000 in Asteriana, one of my other worlds,” he explained.  “For JenniAnn, the attraction was instant.  And there was good reason for that…”

About halfway through Joshua’s winding tale of the romance of Andrew, angel of death, and JenniAnn, former princess of Dyeland, the two moved outside.  As the sun began to set, Joshua moved to the main reason for his appearance.

“And now we come to another reason why I’d like Vonnie to intern with you…  You’ll both be needed.”  Joshua frowned.  “Our enemy hasn’t forgotten what Andrew did in Sheol.  And there’s also the matter of Crowley…”

Jamie nearly dropped the pizza that Joshua had conjured.

“Crowley?!  The Serpent?!  What happened with him?”

Joshua smiled.

“He’s come back.  And he and Aziraphale are living together happily, knowing they have our blessing.  They’ve befriended Andrew and JenniAnn and their friends.  In fact, Andrew and JenniAnn helped open the door for me to reach Crowley so…  Another reason Lucifer isn’t very fond of Andrew.”

“I’m so happy for Crowley!  And you.  And Aziraphale.  But I don’t like the sound of that…”  Jamie bit her lip.  “So how do Vonnie and I fit in?”

“For now, just focus on your practice.  Train Vonnie as best you can.  I’ll be in touch when it’s time to head to Dyeland.  Early October.”

“All right…”  

Joshua squeezed Jamie’s hand.

“You’ll do well, Jamesina.  You always have,” he encouraged.

“Not sure about that…” Jamie murmured.

“I am.”

Joshua leaned forward and kissed Jamie’s hair as a single tear trailed down her cheek.

*~*~*

Sunday, September 5th, 2021

Andrew smiled at the binder spread out before him… and then at the woman beside him who had compiled it.

“I love it, Laja.  I really do.”

“Do you think the hearts will be okay as favors?  Like do you think you could carve enough?”

Andrew nodded.  

“I do.  And I think a painting station for them will be fun.  Especially for the little ones.”  He paused to stroke Avi’s hair as he slept in JenniAnn’s arms.  

“And you still think it’ll be okay?  I mean with the variants and the kids not yet vaccinated and…”

Andrew squeezed JenniAnn’s hand.

“All the adults and older kids are vaccinated.  Everyone who can will be quarantining for two weeks before.  Everyone has promised to take their temperatures in the lead up.  Reuel says he has enough rapid tests for everyone coming in.  And… we’ve spoken to everyone, Laja.  I think everyone needs this.  We need to be together.  To celebrate.  To focus on life… not sickness and death.  And if we have to move anything indoors, everyone is willing to wear masks.”

“True…”  JenniAnn sighed.  “And...  It has felt like people are starting to… well, lose their minds a bit.  It helped when we went back to in-person Bible study… albeit without the kids.  But since that also meant a lot of people had to stay virtual to watch their kids… not the same.”

“No.  It’s not been.”

JenniAnn stroked Avi’s hair.

“I’m just…  I’m worried for him, especially.  All of the kids, of course.  But if Avi gets sick… we can’t just take him to the hospital.”  

“We can,” Andrew corrected.  “El-Chanan has perfectly suitable hospitals, Laja.  You know that Reuel would let us take him there in a heartbeat.”

JenniAnn nodded.

“I sometimes forget about that.  Still so crazy to think about sometimes.  I mean Dyeland’s still so dependent on Earth but El-Chanan… they’re so advanced.”

“Exactly.  And…  I’m also worried about Avi.  But more for the sake of his socialization.  And Belle’s, too.  They miss their friends.”

“Yeah…  Small playdates in the Fields of Gold just aren’t the same as having a slew of kids running around the castle together.”

“No, they’re not.  So they can at least have this one day together, with all the safety precautions, and, hopefully, it’ll tide them over until the vaccines are approved for them.”

“I just hope the night doesn’t end with a slew of meltdowns.”  JenniAnn shuddered.  “Last week when Kylie and Clay brought their kids to the Fields…  Yikes.  Six-way meltdown.”

“Well…  Maybe by some chance we’ll have an ETA on the kids’ vaccines by late October.  They’ll handle it better if we can say ‘Don’t worry!  You can all see each other again in only two weeks!’  Plus, if we do some trick-or-treating for them at the reception, maybe they’ll be too excited to get home and dig into their candy to get upset.”

JenniAnn beamed.

“I love that idea!  Except let’s go with trick-or-treating for everyone.  We can have big bowls of different kinds of candy at every table.  The kids can go around… the adults can enjoy as they chat and catch up.”

Andrew nodded.

“Sounds like a plan to me!  Although…”

“Although?” JenniAnn prompted.

“I do have to wonder if you were so married to October 30th as the big day because you knew that I wasn’t going to be able to be gloomy about Halloween that way.”

JenniAnn blushed.

“Maybe…”

Andrew chuckled.

“Well, I’m sure it’ll work.  I can’t imagine waking up beside you the morning after having our relationship blessed in front of all our loved ones and not thinking ‘This is one of the best days of my life.’”

“Aww…  Love…”  JenniAnn kissed Andrew’s cheek.  “It will be.  One of the best days…” she echoed.

Andrew smiled at her then resumed flipping through her planning binder.

“I think we should send the invitations tomorrow, Laja.  Make it official.”

JenniAnn drew in and let out a deep breath.

“You’re sure?”

Andrew squeezed her hand.

“I am.”

JenniAnn squeezed his hand back.

“Then I am, too.”

Mindful of Avi, the two kissed then headed to his nursery together.

*~*~*

Monday, September 6th, 2021

Andrew awoke to JenniAnn’s blood curdling scream… and JenniAnn silently sleeping beside him.

In spite of the immediate proof that what he had heard must have been carried over from a nightmare, Andrew still shook.  

There had been such terror in her cry…  It broke his heart.  

Careful not to wake her, Andrew snuggled closer to JenniAnn.  He tried to let the sound of her soft, relaxed breathing drive away the scream that was still echoing through his mind.  

But maybe it was a warning…

Andrew scrambled out of bed and hurried to Avi’s nursery.  

To his relief, the little boy was sleeping peacefully.  On a nearby couch, Ichabod lazily opened one eye then closed it.  Andrew patted the dog’s head before making his way to Belle’s room.  Fawn, now deaf, didn’t stir but remained curled at Belle’s feet, snoring quietly.  Belle was sprawled across her bed, clutching a doll.  Like her brother, she seemed to be enjoying a deep, restful sleep.

Andrew wanted to check on Shelby and Violeta but they were staying at Serendipity.  It didn’t seem appropriate to go over there and wake the whole household just to calm himself after a nightmare.  And it seemed even less appropriate to sneak over there via the basement.  

Max was no doubt enjoying some well-deserved rest on Selini with Rose and the kids.  Contacting them was out of the question.

It was just a nightmare.

Or was it a ploy to get him away from his Laja?

His heart racing again, Andrew bolted back to their bedroom.

JenniAnn was just as he’d left her.  

Relieved, Andrew climbed back into bed.

JenniAnn stirred.

“Mmm…  Love?”

“Sorry.  Just…”

JenniAnn’s eyes shot open and she sat up.

“What’s wrong?” she questioned.  “You sound… shaky.”

Andrew shook his head.

“Sorry.  It’s nothing, Laja.  Really.  Just… a nightmare or something.  I’m fine.  The kids are fine.”

JenniAnn began to softly stroke Andrew’s chest, frowning when she felt his heart racing.  

“I’m sorry, my love.”

Andrew let out a shaky breath and smiled.

“I’m fine.  Feeling better now.”

“Good.  What time is it?”

Andrew squinted to make out the numbers on his pocket watch.

“4:54.”

“You gonna go back to sleep?”

“I don’t really want to.”

“Me neither.  But I don’t want to get up yet, either.”

The lingering chill Andrew felt began to dissipate as JenniAnn toyed with the top button on his pajama top.  He smiled.

“I don’t want to get up either,” he agreed.

“Good.”

JenniAnn kissed Andrew’s lips.

Andrew eagerly returned the kiss and let the sound of JenniAnn’s murmurings drive away the memory of his nightmare.

*~*~*

Later that morning, Andrew and JenniAnn prepared cinnamon rolls and fresh fruit skewers for their family.  

Though their earlier tryst had improved Andrew’s mood, the sense of foreboding lingered.

JenniAnn noticed and, as Andrew frosted the cinnamon rolls, she moved behind him and looped her arms around his waist.

“You still don’t seem like yourself.  Do you think you need to talk about it?  The nightmare, I mean?”

Andrew turned around and wrapped his own arms around JenniAnn.

“There’s not really anything to talk about.  I don’t remember anything.  I just… I heard you scream.  This terrible, horrified scream.  I actually thought it was real.  But then you were fine.  The kids were fine.”

JenniAnn frowned.

“You had a nightmare a few months before I was shot, too.  There was crying then.  Whose crying?”

“Mine,” Andrew murmured, recalling the nightmare and the rough days that had followed the actual attack.

“But this time you knew it was my scream?”

“Yes.”

It was JenniAnn’s turn to shudder.

“I… I would scream if something happened to you.”

“Laja…”   Andrew pulled her closer and kissed her hair.  “I’m fine.  Don’t worry.  It was just a dream, I’m sure.  I just… ya know… sometimes I get a little anxious about you and my dreams probably reflect that.”

“Yeah…”

Andrew gently lifted JenniAnn’s chin and peered into her eyes.

“And even if something did happen… I would come back to you.  Always.”

JenniAnn managed a smile and nodded.

“You’re stuck with me.  Literally forever.  And for some insane reason, you want to make a public declaration to that effect next month,” Andrew teased, trying to lighten the mood.  He hadn’t meant to worry JenniAnn.  It had never occurred to him that his dream might have been about harm coming to him.

JenniAnn laughed.

“Ah, yes, the insanity of wanting to make a public commitment to one of the most decent, honorable, and loving men I’ve ever met.  Who’da thunk it?”

“Not me…  Not for a long time,” Andrew admitted.  “Doesn’t mean I’m not very, very glad of it.”

JenniAnn stretched up and pulled Andrew towards her, kissing him… and then again.

“Blech!  Can’t a former demon get some coffee without having to witness such unseemly behavior?”

Andrew and JenniAnn stepped apart and laughed when they spotted Crowley staring at them with mock indignation.

“And to think I only came here because this one wanted a hand.”  Crowley waved towards Andrew.

“I did!” Andrew exclaimed.  “I almost forgot.”  He turned to JenniAnn.  “My first assignment involves building a memorial garden and I asked Crowley to help.”

“Aww.  That sounds lovely!”

Crowley sighed.

“Gave me an eyeful and forgot about me!”

“Oh hush,” JenniAnn chastised.  “I think a little breakfast will more than make up for your woes.”

“Already had breakfast.”  Crowley peeked around JenniAnn and spotted the rolls, his eyes lighting up.  “But I think I would enjoy second breakfast…”

JenniAnn motioned for Crowley to sit down then fixed up a plate for him.

Crowley flashed her a smile.

“What can I get you to drink?  Milk?  Orange juice?  Oh right, you said coffee.”

“Actually… juice, please.  Didn’t know that was an option.  Thanks, Mum,” he jested.

Andrew rolled his eyes but laughed as JenniAnn tousled the seraph’s hair.  Then a thought came to him…  Joking aside, Crowley was clearly very fond of JenniAnn.  

And that could be very useful...

*~*~*

After three hours spent hauling stone and dirt, the memorial garden was beginning to take shape.

Andrew placed a final piece of stone border around a statue of an angel holding a baby.  He wiped some sweat from his forehead and turned to Crowley who was planting a rose bush.

“Lunch time?” he suggested.

Crowley nodded.

“Sounds good.”

After using a nearby hose to wash their hands, Andrew and Crowley settled into the back of the van with their packed lunches.

The angel of death smiled when he saw Crowley’s elaborate lunch, no doubt chosen by Aziraphale.  As tasty as the items looked, he was quite fond of the PB&J sandwiches that Belle had messily prepared for him.

Andrew allowed the former-demon a few moments of peace before he broached the topic that had been nagging at him since his conversation with JenniAnn.

“Can I ask you something?”

Crowley nodded as he nibbled on his croissant.

“Are demons still scared of me?”

“Very.”

“I just don’t understand it…”

Crowley gazed off into the distance.

“I mean you did set off a chain of events that ended with the most famous sinner in Hell moving onto Heaven.  Then you got Eben and the Nephilim.  Then, well, I think I’m a bit of a catch, right?”

Andrew chuckled.

“Got me talking to Joshua again.”

“Sure.  But I was told that long before any of that.”

Crowley nodded.

“I think you remind him of everything he did wrong.  All the poor choices he made.  He rebelled because he felt replaced by the humans.  You, well, you share a life with one.”

“I’m not the first angel to have a human anam cara, Crowley.  Not even close.”

“No.  And I have wondered why he seemed more bothered by you than ol’ Reuel.  Though he gets anxious about Reuel…  Like Reuel, you’ve gone and built a whole community around you and JenniAnn… a community that Joshua then transplanted himself into.  But you’re like… a whirlpool.  You just… you suck all these people… angels, humans, even some vampires… formerly… into your community.  And it gets bigger and stronger.  Yehuda is freed, Eben is freed, vampirism is cured.  And the serpent knelt before the Son of God.”  Crowley smiled at the memory.  “All of it traces back to you.  And he sees that.  And if your boss is scared of someone… you’ll be scared of them, too.  So, yeah, demons are scared of you.”

“You were scared of me,” Andrew recalled.

“Yeah.  And then I realized JenniAnn was the real brains of the operation.  Then I was just scared of her,” Crowley teased.

Andrew laughed, nearly choking on his sandwich before Crowley clapped him on the back.

“Thanks.”

“‘s nothing.”

“You and Aziraphale scare them, too, right?”

“Uh huh.  More cause they’re not sure what to make of us.  Not as deep as with you.  Still… probably wouldn’t ever come near us when we’re together.  Though I’m sure you wouldn’t like to be joined at the hip.  I doubt our significant others would like that much, either.”

“No…  Space is good, even among friends.”  Andrew patted Crowley on the back then bowed his head.  “It does make me think, though…”

“Yeah?”

“Well, if they’re scared of both of us… you’re right.  They wouldn’t come at us together.  So if… I mean if they ever caused trouble with me again…  It’s unlikely that would happen when you were near.  You’d be in the clear… safe.   So you could maybe… help JenniAnn if… if I couldn’t.”

Crowley glared at Andrew.

“Don’t talk like that.”

“Crowley, it’s not impossible.”

“Don’t like it.”

Crowley stuffed a cookie in his mouth.

“I don’t either.  But it would help me to know that someone could step in and help.  I handle the finances.  I know JenniAnn could.  But she’d already have a lot on her plate.  I don’t want to put more on her.  And, of course, I’d be happy to reciprocate if, God forbid, Aziraphale ever needed help and you… were unavailable,” Andrew murmured.

Crowley rubbed at his temples.  It wasn’t as if he’d never considered the possibility of something happening to Andrew… or himself.  And it would be nice to know Aziraphale would still have help with the little things he never did very well with.

“Please?” Andrew begged.

Crowley looked into the angel’s eyes and immediately looked away.  There was such intensity there.

“Why are you bringing this up now?”

“It’s probably silly but I had a nightmare last night.  I don’t actually remember much.  Just… JenniAnn’s scream.  This gut-wrenching, heart-breaking scream…  Before she was shot, I had a dream in which I heard myself weeping uncontrollably.  So… well, when I told JenniAnn, she worried that maybe since it was her in anguish this time… something happened to me.  Like, I said… probably silly.  But it turned out to be something last time and so… it would make me feel better to know, if there’s anything to it, there’s a plan.”

“Don’t like it,” Crowley repeated.

Andrew said nothing.

Crowley sighed.

“Yeah.  I mean… of course.  I hope it never comes to it but… of course I would do what I could to help JenniAnn and the kids,” he promised.  “We’ll set up a time to go through everything.”

Andrew smiled, his relief evident.

“Thank you.  And we can go through whatever you think Aziraphale would need, too.”

“‘Ppreciate it.”

Crowley stuck his hand out and Andrew readily shook it.

“Deal,” Crowley declared.

“Deal,” Andrew echoed.

*~*~*

Friday, October 1st, 2021

“And here’s that journal Jamie recommended for you.  Do you need a pen?  We have some fancy ones!”  Vonnie flourished a decorative box filled with handcrafted pens.  

The angel.. Gertrude, a caseworker… smiled in amusement.

“I mean I won’t turn a good pen down…”

Vonnie smiled as the angel dug through the box and selected a wooden pen painted midnight blue with faint stars.

“Now, as she told you, Jamie’s headed to America for a month so we can schedule an appointment while she’s there or…”

Gertrude shook her head.

“I think I’ll be good for a month.  Thank you, though.  Are you going with her?”

Vonnie grinned and nodded.

“I’m still not really sure what we’re doing there but my advisor at school met with Jamie and signed off on me doing an independent study with her.  And I’ve always wanted to visit America!”

Gertrude patted Vonnie’s hand.

“I hope you have a wonderful time, dear.  I’ll see you both when you’re back in town.”

“Take care until then!”

“And you, as well, Vonnie.”

The angel gave Vonnie a hug and one more smile then disappeared.

Vonnie sat back down at her computer and made a note on her calendar to contact Gertrude a week before she and Jamie returned to Wales to see if she’d need an appointment.  Then she dutifully placed Gertrude’s file in its rightful spot and made her way to Jamie’s office.  She knocked on the door before entering.  In the months she’d been working with Jamie, she’d learned that the angel sometimes needed her alone time.

Jamie opened the door and smiled at her assistant.

“Got everything squared away with Gertie?”

Vonnie nodded.

“Journal and pen.  Made a note to contact her before we return in case she wants an appointment ASAP.  Everything’s filed.”

Jamie sighed with relief.

“Not sure how I kept everything in order before you came along!”

Vonnie laughed.

“Well… you didn’t.”

Jamie chuckled and nodded.

“True.  So are you ready for our next adventure?”

“As ready as I can be when everything’s mysterious.  But when an angel’s leading the way, I know everything will be fine.”

“Glad you feel that way.  Because I was hoping you might run an errand of sorts with me.”

“Of course.  Gotta grab some necessities before we head stateside?”

Jamie shook her head.

“No.  Actually managed that last weekend.  All on my own!  This…  It’s unofficially my second job.”

“God makes you work two jobs?”  Vonnie frowned.

“Unofficial, like I said.  It’s at Cynefin.”

Vonnie blinked.

“You have a job… at a gay bar?  Are you a bartender?”

Jamie nodded.

“I help out.  Haven’t been as much lately but one of their regular employees is on maternity leave so…  And, really, it’s more of the counseling thing.”

“I see…”  Vonnie’s face flushed.

Jamie rested a hand on her arm.

“You all right there?”

Vonnie nodded.

“Yeah… yeah…  It’s just…  The bus passes there and so many times I’ve wanted to get off and check it out because… cause…”  Vonnie’s cheeks burned again.  “I’ve only ever been with a boy.  The one boy.  The baby’s father.”

Jamie nodded.  

“But for a while I’ve been kind of feeling… well, thinking maybe… maybe I’m bi,” Vonnie related.  She took in and let out a deep breath.  “I’ve actually not said that out loud before.”

Jamie hugged the young woman.  In the months since Vonnie had started helping her out, Jamie had harbored suspicions but, out of respect for the girl’s privacy, said nothing.

“Well, I’m glad and grateful that ya felt you could tell me.  And it’s okay to be unsure.  I think Cynefin will be good for you.  No one’s pushy.  They’re all very welcoming.  Good with people who are questioning.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jamie promised.  “I wouldn’t lie to you.  I can’t actually.”

Vonnie laughed.

“True…  It does… well, it feels good to know an angel is okay with it.  If I am bi, I mean.”

“God is okay with it.  How could I not be?” Jamie questioned.

“Not everyone believes that,” Vonnie murmured.

Jamie nodded.  Vonnie didn’t often speak of her parents.  When she did, it was with affection.  But even someone who hadn’t spent centuries as a counselor could have guessed that a woman with abundantly accepting parents wouldn’t have hid an entire pregnancy.  

But at least they weren’t in the position to force her into marriage with a man…

Vonnie squeezed Jamie’s hand.

“You okay?”

“Hmm?  Yeah.  Why?”

Vonnie shrugged.

“Just… your face.  You looked… angry and sad and… far away.”

Jamie shook her head.

“Sorry.  It just… it makes me upset when people claim to speak for God as so many do.  But let’s not focus on that.  We should make our way to Cynefin.  They have the best Oggies but they only make so many a night and once they’re gone… they’re gone!”

Vonnie chuckled.

“Then I agree we should hurry!”

Jamie smiled and then the two donned their jackets and headed to the nearby pub.

*~*~*

Vonnie sat at a table near a window at the pub, enjoying the last of her Oggie and a hard cider.  She studied Jamie who was behind the bar, handing out drinks and chatting.  It was obvious that everyone knew and loved Jamie.  And yet… Vonnie wondered if they knew who and what Jamie was.  Would she have been sent along if Jamie already had numerous friends who might have been able to help her out?

Suddenly, a young woman plopped down across from Vonnie.

“You’re new here,” she declared.

Vonnie blushed and nodded.

“Jamie invited me.”

“Yup.  You’re her assistant, right?”

“I am, yes.  I was sent from Jesus College.  Psychology and Behavioral Sciences,” Vonnie explained.

The other woman flashed a grin.

“So are you studying our behavior?  Maybe for a paper entitled ‘The Mating Rituals of Welsh Queer Youths’?”  

Recognizing that the woman’s teasing was good-natured, Vonnie laughed and shook her head.

“No.  Although… tempting.  I was actually, well…  I was studying Jamie more than anyone, I suppose.  As much time as I’ve spent with her, I feel like I know so little about her.”

“But you know…”  The woman shook her head.  “Sorry.  I should introduce myself first.”  She stuck out her hand.  “Rhiannon Davies.  Feel free to sing a few bars of the Fleetwood Mac song.  Everyone does.”

After a chuckle, Vonnie obliged.  

“‘Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night and wouldn't you love to love her?  Takes to the sky like a bird in flight and who will be her lover?’”  She wrinkled her nose.  “Did people sing that to you even as a kid?”

Rhiannon nodded.

“Yep.  My parents had to explain to a two-year-old what a lover was which I’m sure was fun for them.”

“Oh dear…”

Rhiannon shrugged.

“Their fault for picking that name though I love it.”  Rhiannon lowered her voice.  “Anyway, you know what Jamie… is?  Right?”

“An angel?”

Rhiannon nodded.

“But don’t go around saying it.  Myself and my parents are the only ones who know.  Other than you now.  Though I think some suspect.  Every twenty or so years, she’ll disappear.  And then she’ll come back, passing herself off as her own child.  I mean she never outright says that.  But people say it and she doesn’t correct them.”

“How did you find out… if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I’ve always known.  My parents found out in the 80s.  My uncle… mom’s brother, dad’s best friend… was gay and died of AIDS.”  Rhiannon gestured to a photo on the wall, two sconces on either side.

“I’m so sorry!”

“Thanks.  I wish I’d known him.  Jamie was his friend and when she’d visit him in the hospital… when he’d started to get delirious… he kept saying ‘Angel… angel…’  Last thing he ever said, actually.  Jamie was there when he died… my parents, too.  And that’s when they swore they also saw her glowing.”

Vonnie wiped at a tear.

“That had to be so comforting to them.”

“It was.  Shortly thereafter, they got engaged… grief unites people, ya know?  Then married and then they opened this place.”

Vonnie looked at Rhiannon with shock.

“Your family owns Cynefin?”

Rhiannon nodded.

“I learned to walk behind the bar.  And it turned out the apple didn’t fall from the tree… even if not quite directly.  I’m a lesbian.  A queer kid can’t do much better than growing up in a gay bar!”

Vonnie shook her head in amazement.

“That’s…  It’s remarkable.  To turn their grief into this.”  She waved around them then returned her attention to Rhiannon.  “Do you have siblings?”

“Nope.  Took ten years just to get me.  And I’m enough of a handful,” she joked.  “You?”

“A brother.  Younger.  Luke.”

“Are you close to your family?”

Vonnie nodded.

“Yeah.  I mean I talk to them a lot.  And I lived with them until I went to college.  Now I live in the dorms… when I’m not helping Jamie and staying with her.”

“Ireland, right?  I can tell by your voice.”

“Yeah.  So I go home on breaks but… I’m also not really that open with them about… things.  They’re very loving and it’s not like they’re uber-conservative or anything but…  Kind of one of those situations where they taught us to be kind and welcoming of everyone but I always felt like they’d be pretty disappointed if it turned out we weren’t quite what they expected.  I actually…”  Vonnie’s face flushed.  “I got pregnant when I was nineteen.  Hid the entire pregnancy from them.”

The shock was evident on Rhiannon’s face.

“But… what did you do when the baby was born?”

Vonnie heaved a sigh.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to tell a virtual stranger about that.  But…  She had so few people she could talk to about Avi.  And Jamie had said the folks at Cynefin were welcoming and understanding.  And Rhiannon… somehow it felt like she knew her.  She gave a resolute nod then proceeded,

“I… I’m not really proud of it but… I left the baby on the doorstep of a cabin of someone I knew would take care of him.  And… and he did.  And then he got him to his adoptive parents who… actually…”  Vonnie looked over at Jamie.  “His dad is an angel, too.”

“Whoa…”

“Yeah.  And he’s great, of course.  And the little man’s mam is a really lovely woman.”

“Wait… what?  So this couple is… an angel and a woman?  That seems very… scary.  I mean I’m not the most devout person but I’ve read Genesis.”

Vonnie laughed.

“I know, right?  I was weirded out when I first heard about it.  But I guess it’s a thing.  They’re called anam caras.”

“I know that term!  Soul friend.”

“Yeah.  Anyway, they don’t have sex, I guess, so the whole Genesis thing is apparently unrelated.   I still don’t really know what that sons of God and daughters of Eve thing is all about but it’s not this.  And he’s so happy… Avi.  I’m so glad he’s with them.”

Rhiannon reached across the table and squeezed Vonnie’s hand.

“That’s wonderful!  I’m happy for you and Avi and his family.  But… anam caras…” Rhiannon repeated.  She swiveled around to look at Jamie who was oblivious as she doled out pints.  

“What ya thinking?”

“It’s just… have you ever had moments when it seems like Jamie is, well, not entirely there?  Like she goes somewhere else in her mind?”

Vonnie gave a vigorous nod.

“Just before we came here, actually!  I, well, I told her that I thought I was bi… and she was very accepting, of course.  But it seemed to trigger… something.”

Rhiannon lowered her voice even more.

“I’ve always suspected there was something tragic in Jamie’s past.  Maybe she had an anam cara, too.  And any time you get an immortal with a mortal… tragic.”

“That would be heartbreaking…  But assumedly they can visit Heaven, right?”

“I would sure hope so!  But I bet it’s not the same when they come back here.”

“No…”

“You’re going to America with her, right?”

“I am, yeah.  Still not entirely sure why… or how with the travel ban.  But Jamie said not to worry about it.  All I know is that she has to help someone there and, well, I’ve never been so… I wasn’t missing a chance when she asked!  And I do like working with Jamie.”

“Don’t blame you.  Can I give you my number?  Maybe…  It’s just…  I care about Jamie.  She’s like an aunt to me.  So if you figure anything out… maybe you could keep me posted?” Rhiannon asked hopefully.

“Sure!”  Vonnie withdrew her cell phone.  The mystery of Jamie aside, she welcomed the chance to get to know Rhiannon better.  

The two young women exchanged phone numbers.

“And, ya know, if you just need someone to talk to, that’s cool, too,” Rhiannon offered.  “I know it can be hard to carry these big secrets and not have many people to talk it over with.”

“Thanks, I really appreciate that.  It is sometimes a lot.”

“Sure thing.”  Rhiannon noted Vonnie’s empty glass.  “Need another cider?  Was thinking of getting myself one.”

“Sure!  Thanks!”  

“Be right back.”  

“‘Kay.”

Vonnie stared at her phone and the new entry in her contacts  as she waited for Rhiannon to return.  While she couldn’t deny she felt something of a flutter in her chest, especially when Rhiannon had squeezed her hand, simply having a friend who she could be honest with would  be enough.

“And here we are.  Mom sent out some apple cider cookies, too.  I’ll introduce you later if you’d like.”

“I’d love that!” Vonnie agreed.  

“Awesome.  So tell me about your classes?  Maybe you’ll make me rethink not going to uni.”

Vonnie laughed.

“Not sure about that!  But sure.”

The two chatted away, merrily enjoying their cider and cookies.

Unbeknownst to them, Jamie occasionally glanced over and grinned.

Since Cynefin’s founding, she had been responsible for 27 happy couples.  If it became 28… well, she certainly wouldn’t complain.

*~*~*

Saturday, October 2nd, 2021

Andrew watched with appreciation as JenniAnn finished applying her eye make-up.  

“Okay, done,” she announced.  “I’m surprised I didn’t forget how to put it on.”

Andrew smiled and shook his head.

“You look beautiful… as always.  But it has been a long time since we had a night out in NYC.”

“February 2020.”

“Yup.”

Andrew embraced JenniAnn and kissed her hair.

“You ready to head out?”

JenniAnn nodded.

“A little nervous… but yeah.”

Andrew gave her another squeeze.

“We’re eating outside.  It’ll be safe.”

“I know.  I think I’m actually more nervous about just getting… I dunno… over-stimulated on the crowded sidewalks or something.  It’s been so long since I’ve been around a lot of strangers!” JenniAnn explained.

Andrew nodded.

“I can understand that, Laja.  I really can.  But…”  He kissed her forehead.  “I’ll be there to protect you.”

JenniAnn beamed.

“I know you will.  And… it will be nice to have a proper double-date with Aziraphale and Crowley.  Haven’t really had a chance to see them out and about in public.”

Andrew chuckled.

“That will be interesting.  Now…  Let’s go say good night to the kids and head out, hmm?  Maybe if we get back early enough, we could squeeze in a little dancing before bed?”

JenniAnn beamed and nodded.

“I’d like that.”

Hand-in-hand, the two left their room.  To their surprise; Belle, Shelby, and Violeta were waiting in the hallway.

“Ooh!  You’re so pretty, Mama!” Belle chirped as Violeta took a photo.

“Thank you, baby!”  JenniAnn stooped to kiss Belle’s hair.  

“What’s all this about?” Andrew asked, waving to Violeta.

“It’s your first date… well, first date outside Dyeland… since COVID began,” Violeta explained.

“We thought it was worth documenting,” Shelby added.

“See!”  Violeta showed off her photo.  “You look so cute and happy!”

“Well, thank you.”  Andrew kissed her temple.  “Anything you need before we head out?”

“Nope!  Max has the pizza and fixings in the kitchen.  We’ll get everyone fed.  Then some Hide-and-Seek.”

“Yay!” Belle cheered.

“And then to bed,” Violeta continued.

“Boo!” Belle pouted.

Andrew ruffled her hair.

“Sleep’s important, little elf.  It gives you energy.  If you’re good for Violeta and Max tonight, we’ll have donuts for breakfast.  How about that?”

“Yum!”

Andrew lifted her up and kissed her brow.

“Then it’s a plan!  Go tell Avi, okay?”

“Okay!”

Once Belle had run off, Violeta continued.

“And… once we’re sure they’re asleep, Shel and Max and Rose and I are gonna watch Midnight Mass.”

Andrew frowned.

“Is that the one by the Hill House people?”

“And Bly Manor!” Shelby replied.

“Well, okay…  Just… don’t get too scared,” Andrew warned.

“Or too philosophical,” JenniAnn teased.

Violeta laughed.

“We won’t.  Well…  We’ll try not to.”

Andrew and JenniAnn hugged both girls.  

“Call if anything comes up,” JenniAnn reminded.  “We’ll both have our cell phones.”

“We know!” Shelby assured.  “But I’m sure everything will be fine.  This is your night.  Don’t worry about us.”

“I’ll try not to,” JenniAnn promised before smiling back at Andrew.

The angel took her hand again then the four headed to the kitchen where Andrew and JenniAnn checked on Avi, Max, Rose, and their grandkids before heading to the portal to begin their big night in the city.

*~*~*

“That crème brûlée…  Perfection!   One of the best I’ve ever tasted!” Aziraphale gushed as he, Crowley, Andrew, and JenniAnn walked away from the restaurant where they’d just enjoyed dinner and dessert.

“The black forest torte was amazing, too.”  JenniAnn licked her lips at the memory.  

“I think we could have saved ourselves some cash, Andrew.  Seems like they only wanted dessert,” Crowley jested.

JenniAnn laughed.

“I mean it was the highlight… but the squash ravioli was delicious, too.  And you tease us but you finished your apple crumb cake before any of the rest of us finished our desserts.”

Crowley only smiled.

Andrew, too, remained silent.  He was simply enjoying the banter and seeing JenniAnn so happy.  Despite her concerns, she’d weathered the crowds well and seemed newly enchanted by Manhattan.

Aziraphale took a few steps back and halted.

“Ooh…  I’ve never noticed that book shop.  And it’s still open.  Could we?”

Andrew looked to JenniAnn.

“I’d just as soon get back home… get to our dancing,” she offered.

Andrew smiled and nodded.

“Me too.”  He turned back to their friends.  “You two go ahead but we’re gonna head home.  It’s been a wonderful evening.  Thank you for joining us!”

“An absolute delight!” Aziraphale agreed as the four exchanged hugs.

“Let me know if you have any more assignments that could use a green thumb, Andrew,” Crowley reminded.

“Absolutely.”

“And JenniAnn… are we still on for Tuesday?” Aziraphale checked.  

JenniAnn gave an eager nod.

“Yup!  Azrael wanted to check in.  Not sure yet if anyone else is coming.”

“I shall look forward to it!”  Aziraphale grinned then offered his arm to Crowley who happily took it.

Andrew and JenniAnn smiled after the two as they entered the book shop then continued on, their own arms linked.

“They really are lovely,” JenniAnn mused.  “I’m so glad we were able to help bring them properly together.  Imagine… 6,000 years of will-they-or-won’t-they.  I wasn’t sure I could handle much more than a decade!”

“We did have our moments…” Andrew recalled.  “But all the angst was worth it in the end.  I’m sure they feel the same way.”

“I know I do.”  JenniAnn beamed at Andrew.

The two continued in companionable silence, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city, until they’d reached the alley where the portal waited.

Andrew turned to JenniAnn and took both of her hands in his.

“I’m really glad we did this, Laja.”

“Me too, my love.  I had a great time.  It was so wonderful to be back here.  So… freeing.  But… spending time with you was the best part.”

“Laja…” Andrew moved closer and brushed his lips against JenniAnn’s forehead.  When she stretched upwards, Andrew kissed her waiting lips.

“Disgusting…” a cold, cruel voice sneered.

Andrew felt a chill run through him.  He sensed JenniAnn’s body going rigid.

And then he saw them… demons forming a tightening circle around them.

JenniAnn whimpered and clasped the cross around her neck.

“Laja, listen to me,” Andrew whispered.  “I’m gonna cover you and we’re gonna run towards the portal.  Do you have your key out?”

“Y-yeah.”

“Good.  One… two… three…”

Andrew hovered around JenniAnn as they dashed in the direction of the portal, swerving between two demons.

The angel of death yelped when one grabbed his hair but he ignored it and pressed on.  

But he didn’t see the demon hurtling towards them from the left… not until he’d made contact and caused Andrew to fall, JenniAnn coming with him.

Briefly, Andrew saw that the circle had closed… there was nowhere to run.

“God help us!” he cried before climbing on top of JenniAnn, shielding her.  “Laja… if you get a chance… run.  Don’t look back.  Just…”

JenniAnn shook her head.

“Seems dear old Daddy is too busy to help,” a demon taunted.  

Andrew ignored them.

“Laja, I mean it.  I… I love you and I need you to run.”

“No…  I… I…”  Tears poured down JenniAnn’s cheeks.  “Joshua!” she shouted.

“He’s not coming, either.  You should know by now that he’s a bit careless with his friends.  Crucified… beheaded… stabbed… stoned..” a second demon counted off.

“Get them away from each other!” the first demon screeched.  “Revolting things…  An angel of the Most High… defiling himself with a clay-bitch.”

Andrew squeezed one of JenniAnn’s hands.

“I love you so much…”

Suddenly, from both sides, the demons kicked Andrew.

JenniAnn let out a blood-curdling scream… one that was all too familiar to Andrew.

Andrew fought to keep JenniAnn shielded beneath him.  He saw her eyes go wide.

“Andrew!” she screamed, trying to get her hands out from beneath his body.

But she was too late.  A demon swung a rotted pipe, hitting Andrew in the head.  

Immediately, JenniAnn felt his body go slack.

“A-andrew!  Andrew!” she bellowed.

But there was no answer.

“Get him off her!” the first demon, the seeming leader, shouted.

JenniAnn tried to cling to Andrew but they were too strong.  They pulled him away like a rag doll.  Before she could get up and go after them, the leader gripped her shoulders and shoved her back to the ground.

JenniAnn screamed when he straddled her waist and grabbed her chin, his jagged nails digging in.  He smiled wickedly at her.

“Don’t worry, JenniAnn.  You won’t mind much in a few minutes.  Not when you see who your beloved Andrew truly is…”

JenniAnn’s mind filled with darkness… and then scenes of vivid, horrific violence.  Andrew’s assignments.  And not just any assignments.  The worst of them.  The times he’d had to merely stand by… watching and waiting.  Rape and torture and child abuse…  

“And he did nothing…  Didn’t raise a single finger…  Didn’t make a sound.  Your Andrew let those things happen…”

It was his name… Andrew’s… that pulled JenniAnn back from the sea of pain and despair.  She opened her eyes and, past the demon’s head, saw the stars… and something else.

Two somethings.

Brilliant white and obsidian black against the night sky.

Closer and closer and then… the demon was yanked off of JenniAnn.

“Ah, Xerxian…  Good to see you again.”

The demon screamed when Crowley turned him around to face him.  

Seizing her opportunity, JenniAnn scrambled towards where Andrew lay, only vaguely aware of the demons evaporating around her.

“My… my love…” she murmured when she reached Andrew’s side.  Fresh tears fell from her eyes when she saw his mangled face.  “My love…” she repeated before she began to feel queasy and disoriented as her neurons misfired and a seizure overtook her.  With her last bit of strength, JenniAnn grabbed Andrew’s right hand and rested her head in the crook of his arm.

With a final utterance, JenniAnn gave into her exhaustion.

“Joshua…”

*~*~*

Sunday, October 3rd, 2021

JenniAnn awoke to a sluggish body and foggy mind… and a sterile, largely white and tan room.  

A hospital room.

The only sign of comfort was the lanky, black-clad fellow sprawled on the window seat.

Seeing Crowley, the memories of what had happened in the alley came back.

“Andrew!” JenniAnn shouted as she leapt from the bed, disturbing a heart monitor.

Crowley jumped up from his seat.  He glanced at the video monitor, causing it to go back a few seconds and lock on an image of JenniAnn peacefully sleeping.  Next, he sound-proofed the room with a quick hand wave.  The nurses, God love them, couldn’t help right now.

“JenniAnn…” Crowley gently grabbed her right shoulder.

Whipping around, the woman locked eyes with the former-demon… now, once again, a Watcher.

"Where is he?" she demanded.

"Safe.  Sleeping.  In another hospital room.  Just next door.  Aziraphale is with him, watching over him.  They can't..."

JenniAnn ran to the door.

“I need to see him!”

“Not right now.  A doctor is with him.”

“Then… then… I… I’m going to destroy them!” JenniAnn growled through gritted teeth.

“You are not,” Crowley countered, trying to pull her away.

“Watch me!”

Crowley looped his arms around JenniAnn’s waist and pulled her away from the entry.

“I can’t be letting you chase after demons!” he insisted.  

JenniAnn began to twist in Crowley’s arms.

As Crowley struggled to keep her contained, his wings emerged and wrapped around the woman, effectively putting her in a straitjacket.

“Stop it!” JenniAnn shrieked.

“Ow!” Crowley howled as she yanked one of his feathers.

JenniAnn went limp.

“Sorry…” she murmured.

Crowley relaxed… but just barely.

“S’okay.  Didn’t hurt that much.  Was being over-dramatic.  But I’ll have you know that you can pluck the old wings bald and I’m still not letting you leave this room.  I… promised.”

“Promised who?  What?”

“Promised Andrew.”  Crowley sucked in a breath.  “If anything happened… I’d keep you safe.  Kids, too.  That nightmare… ‘bout a month ago, was it?  Afterwards, we made a pact… at his insistence.”

JenniAnn began to cry.

Crowley loosened his hold just enough so she could turn around and rest her head on his shoulder.

“Thank… you,” she choked out.  “Is… is he gonna be okay?”

“Praying so.  He hasn’t discorporated.  That’s a good sign, right?”

“Yeah…”

Crowley’s own eyes filled with tears.  He couldn’t imagine what those moments during the attack had been like for Andrew…  To realize he might not be able to protect his anam cara…  Rather, he could imagine…  He just didn’t want to.

Recognizing that her chances of wrestling away from Crowley weren’t good… not to mention successfully taking on a team of demons… JenniAnn let the fight go out of her.

“Could… could we have tea?” she asked.  “Please.  Might help calm my nerves so I can… can talk.  I… need to talk.”

Crowley studied her.

“You won’t bolt?”

“I won’t bolt,” she promised.

“Swear by the mane?”

JenniAnn smiled.

“You’re really bringing Joshua’s hair into this?”

“Yup.  Really think you ought to talk to someone about your attachment to it.”  Crowley grinned.

“Oh, shut up…  He has nice hair.  And yes…  I swear by the mane that I won’t bolt,” JenniAnn reiterated.

“All right.”

Crowley released her then waved to the window seat where a tray appeared holding a kettle, two cups, and a platter of treats.

JenniAnn sniffed the air.

“Apple cinnamon?”

Crowley smiled.

“Couldn’t resist.  The biscuits, too.”

JenniAnn gave his hand an affectionate squeeze.

“Thank you.”

The two sat down on opposite sides of the tray.  Crowley handed JenniAnn the first cup.

“Thanks.”

“My pleasure.”  

JenniAnn took a sip.  And then another.

“Is he… awake?”

Crowley shook his head.

“Not yet.”

JenniAnn shuddered.

“They… they hit his head.  I… I’m afraid the TBI… it’ll come back.”

“We’ll pray it doesn’t.  And, even if it does, you made it through once before, right?”

“Right…  They’ll come get me, won’t they?  If something changes?”

“If they don’t, Aziraphale will.  Promise.”

“Good…”

“Thank you for finding us… for fighting them.”

Crowley’s eyes clouded at the memory.  He nodded.

“I’m glad we could… but also not.  Difficult to see.”

“I… I’m sure.”

There was silence for a few moments.

“Do you want to talk… about what you personally experienced?  Seeing Andrew… it was fairly obvious.  But you…  Didn’t look to be a mark on you.”

“A-andrew blocked me.  Except… except right at the end.  They got a hold of me and… and somehow… somehow they made me see… his assignments, I guess.  Very, very bad ones.  When… when he couldn’t intervene.  I… I think they meant for them to turn me against Andrew.  To make me angry at him for not intervening.  But… but he can’t!  Free will…”

Crowley rested a hand on her arm.

“I know.”

“It was a stupid idea.”

“Demons aren’t known for their brains.  I should know.”

JenniAnn smiled wearily.

“You’re smart.  And you also have good hair.”

Crowley laughed.

“You were smart.  Even in the beginning.  When you first came to Willowveil,” JenniAnn continued.

The Watcher shrugged.

“I was always exceptional.”

JenniAnn laughed loudly, surprising herself.

Crowley smiled, proud of himself.

“What did you do?  To get them to leave, I mean?”

“Mostly we were just there.  They still don’t know what to make of us… still don’t know how to get the best of us.  They’re cowards, JenniAnn.  Once they realized there was a chance they might get harmed…  Away they went.”

“But… but then why didn’t Andrew scare them?  They’re supposed to be scared of him, too!”

“They are.  But… they also knew he was outnumbered.  And they knew that he’d focus more on you than on fighting.  There were at least a dozen demons there, JenniAnn.  And that’s not counting any who may have disappeared the second they saw Aziraphale and me… before we even saw them.  If they weren’t scared of Andrew, they wouldn’t have bothered to outnumber him to such an extent.”

JenniAnn hung her head.

“I… I should have run.  Andrew told me to run.  But I didn’t want to leave him!  But if I had… he could have focused on protecting himself.”

Crowley reached across the tray and squeezed the woman’s hand.

“You don’t know that.  And even if you somehow could… who would blame you for not wanting to leave your beloved behind?  I also… I don’t think you could have outrun them.  There were so many of them.  They didn’t give you that chance, JenniAnn.”

JenniAnn stared out the window for a moment then startled and turned back to Crowley.

“The kids!”

“They’ve been told… Shelby, Violeta, Max, and Rose know the full truth.  Belle and Avi just know that Mama and Daddy got hurt and are in the hospital but will be back soon.  Max even made sure they got their donuts.  Your parents are at Willowveil.  All the grandparents, actually.  And Azrael and Michael.  Just in case.  We’ve no reason to believe they can access Dyeland.”

JenniAnn let out a sigh of relief.

“Now please… eat a little,” Crowley urged.  “Get some color in your cheeks.  It’ll make Andrew feel better when you see him.”

JenniAnn nodded and heeded his words, anxiously awaiting word that she could go see Andrew.

*~*~*

Half an hour later, Crowley and JenniAnn were mindlessly watching a cooking show when the former’s cell phone let out a harp crescendo.  JenniAnn looked on, anxious, as he answered.

“Yeah?  Good!  Be right in then.”

Crowley hung up and smiled.

“He’s up.  Askin’ to see you.”  

JenniAnn leaped out of her bed.

“Don’t rush yourself,” Crowley warned, knowing it was useless.

“Which room?”

“Just next door.  Right.”

Crowley squeezed JenniAnn’s hand before they entered Andrew’s room.

Aziraphale was waiting just inside, smiling widely though Crowley could see the pain in his eyes.

“All ready and waiting!” the angel chirped before stepping aside so JenniAnn could better see Andrew.

“Laja…” Andrew croaked.

JenniAnn’s heart pounded as she stepped closer.  She noticed every scrape and cut on the angel of death’s arms, neck, and face.  His face had suffered the worst of it.  One eye was blackened, his nose… likely broken… was bandaged up, and there were stitches across his forehead.

“I… I look terrible, I know,” Andrew choked out.

JenniAnn shook her head as tears began to trickle down her cheeks.

“You… you don’t,” she insisted.  “But…  I… I’m afraid to t-touch you.  I don’t want to… to hurt…”

Crowley began to move towards JenniAnn but Aziraphale grabbed his arm.

“You won’t,” Andrew assured.  “Pain meds.  No pain.  Later probably.  Not now.”

And that was all the encouragement JenniAnn needed.  Heedless of the two other angelic beings in the room, JenniAnn rushed towards Andrew’s bed and climbed on, straddling his lap and kissing every patch of his face not covered by a bandage.

Aziraphale squeezed Crowley’s hand.

“Well then… best leave them alone.”

But Crowley didn’t budge.

Aziraphale waited a few seconds.  Maybe Crowley needed this… seeing their friends together, in each other’s arms.

Andrew wrapped his arms around JenniAnn’s waist and rested his head on her shoulder.

“My Laja…”

Crowley let out a sigh and then left the room of his own accord with Aziraphale following.

“Love…” JenniAnn echoed.

“How do you feel?” Andrew asked as he stroked her face.

“Better now.  A-and you?”

“Physically fine.  Really,” Andrew assured.  “But…”  His face crumpled.  “What… what did they do to… to you?”

JenniAnn bit her lip.  

“Laja…”  Andrew brushed a tear from her cheek.

“Nothing… physically.  But they, umm, they made me see some of your assignments that… that didn’t go well.  When you had to respect free will and… and let things… happen.”

JenniAnn bowed her head.

Andrew’s whole body tensed.  He had taken such care to protect her… to not let her know the worst of his assignments.  And they’d taken that away.  They’d hurt her.

“I… I’m so sorry, Laja.  So… so sorry.”

“It… it didn’t work.  It really didn’t work,” JenniAnn insisted.  “I… I think they meant for me to become angry at you but… but you couldn’t…  You had to… to let it happen.”

Andrew pulled JenniAnn closer and held her as she sobbed.  He knew very well the images and sounds that were filling her mind just then.  

“I’m so sorry,” he repeated.  “I love you so much, Laja.  So much.”  Andrew nuzzled her hair.  Then, gently, he pulled her back from him and saw that the light had gone out of her eyes.  She was seizing.  “Oh, Laja…”

After a few moments, JenniAnn blinked.

Andrew kissed her forehead.

“I’m sorry, Laja.”

“Sleepy…”

“I know.  Get under the covers with me.  I think we could both do with a nap.”

JenniAnn nodded.

Once she was comfortable, Andrew tucked the blanket around her.  He settled onto his side, his back to the door, effectively blocking JenniAnn from view.

“I love you.”  JenniAnn squeezed Andrew’s hand.

“I love you, too.  So much.  Rest now, darlin’.”  

“Kay.”

Andrew watched until JenniAnn’s face relaxed and her breathing steadied.  Then, after a final kiss of her brow, he joined her in sleep.

*~*~*

Outside the room, Crowley and Aziraphale kept their post, invisible to the nurses, doctors, and visitors going to and fro.  If a nurse or doctor felt compelled to enter Andrew’s room, they found themselves overcome with the feeling that they should move on.

“I think we should stop seeing them in public,” Crowley blurted out.  “Dyeland… sure.  More protected.  But not here.  Not any more.”

“Crowley…”

“Look, she’s already got a target on her back because she’s with him…  If he’s not public enemy number one down there, he’s close.  Definitely can’t put the brakes on the two of them.  But no reason to make it obvious that she’s also friends with me.”

“With us.”

Crowley nodded.

“God knows they don’t care for you.  But I’m the traitor.”

“My dear…”  Aziraphale’s voice softened and he hugged Crowley.  “You didn’t do this.”

“No.  But it’s not happened before like this.  Before us… me.”

“Crowley…”  

“Shoulda known…  Nothing good ever comes of me befriending women.”

“Crowley!  That’s nonsense.”

“Tell that to Eve…”

Aziraphale sighed.

“Crowley, you made a mistake.  You were forgiven.  So was Eve.  And good did come of it.  Evil, too…  But good.”

The watcher said nothing in reply.

Aziraphale pulled Crowley’s glasses away and saw that his golden eyes were rimmed with tears.

“Dear Crowley…” Aziraphale cooed before wrapping his arms around his anam cara.

Crowley’s body relaxed and the tears splashed down his cheeks.

“Let it out, my love,” Aziraphale coached, his voice soft and soothing.

“Don’t… don’t ever want to see them like that again,” Crowley exclaimed.

“I know…  Me neither.”

“Not fair…”

“No… demons tend not to be.  Except this one I once knew…”

Crowley smiled but it flickered and soon disappeared.

“Angel…”

“I’m here.  I’m right here.  We’re safe.  They’re safe.  If we were a danger to them, God would have told us to leave.  She hasn’t.”

Crowley slid down the wall.  

Aziraphale sat on the floor beside him, holding him closely.

“They’ll pay…  Gonna make them pay…” Crowley muttered.

Aziraphale very much hoped Crowley would not attempt to go after his old colleagues but said nothing, hoping he just needed to get it out of his system.

“Angel…” Crowley said again.

“Hmm?”

“Love you.”

“I love you, too.  Very much.”

Then Aziraphale began to hum.

Despite his turmoil, Crowley smiled.

“Find me somebody to love….  Find me somebody to love…”

*~*~*

Andrew awoke first, momentarily startled to find himself in a hospital room.  Then he remembered, however vaguely, why he and JenniAnn were there… demons had attacked them.  Gently, he tightened his hold on JenniAnn.

She looked so small.

She was, of course, a good foot shorter than him and much slighter.  That was nothing new.  But it felt different just then.  

Andrew began to feel queasy and his head pounded.

Why couldn’t he have held on just a little longer?  Aziraphale and Crowley had come.  They’d helped… they would have helped him.  He’d tried to outrun the demons and, failing that, he’d shielded her beneath his own body.  But maybe he should have fought?  He remembered the relentless blows.  One of them must have knocked him out.  And that must have been when they’d grabbed her.

And then Andrew had no idea what had happened.

What JenniAnn had told him was terrible.  But what if that wasn’t all?  She had kept the details of Rex’s assault to herself for so long.  What if she was doing the same thing again?

Andrew brushed his lips against JenniAnn’s hair.  His head began to throb so he closed his eyes and allowed his other senses to take over.

He could smell her lavender shampoo.

He could feel the warmth of her body, the curve of her shoulder beneath his right hand.

He could hear her soft breathing and birds chirping outside.

Andrew let his mind wander back… back to their first kiss, to the first time they’d shared a bed, to their first moments with their children.

Then an intrusive thought came.  A restaurant.  A man harassing JenniAnn.  Him losing control.  And his Laja looking at him with fear.

Andrew’s eyes flashed open and filled with tears.  

That couldn’t happen again.  He couldn’t bear it.  But he could remember the blow to his head and then the black-out.

The signs were already there.  The headache that was brewing despite the pain meds, the blurry vision, the nausea.  

Tears slid down Andrew’s cheeks.

So much had changed since 2012!  JenniAnn had struggled enough with his TBI then.  But now… now they were so much closer.  The burden and the heartache would be greater… for both of them.  

As Andrew began to sob, JenniAnn stirred.  After a few moments of confusion, she sat up quickly and studied Andrew.

“Love… my love…  It… it’s okay,” she tried to assure him.  “Oh Andrew…”  She dotted his face with kisses.

“The… the TBI… I… I think it’s back, Laja.  I feel… the same,” Andrew choked out.  “And I… I’m afraid.”

“Oh love…”  JenniAnn cupped his face in her hands.  “I… I was afraid of that.  Not because we can’t face it again.  We can!  I know we can, Andrew.  But… I… I hate to see you suffer.”

“The kids…  Laja, I don’t want the kids to see…”

“Andrew, there’s no shame in being sick.  They’ve seen me laid up after a seizure plenty of times and I… I know it’s not the same.  This is… is worse.  Harder on you than the epilepsy is on me.  But there’s no shame in either.  It… it can’t be helped.”

“That guy…  The guy that was harassing you.  And I… I almost lost control of myself.  You had to call Mick.  I don’t want them to see that.”

“They won’t, my love.  Once we’re released, we’ll go home.  And… and we’ll stay there.  Until things are better.”

Andrew forced a smile and nodded.  Then it crumbled.

“Did… did they do anything else to you?  Please… tell me if…”

“No…  Nothing,” JenniAnn assured.  “They… they barely touched me except…”  She choked back a sob.  “After they pulled you away....  One… he… he did get on top of me.”

Andrew groaned.

“Only… only to grab my chin a-and force me to look at him and that’s when I saw… all those assignments.  It… it was horrible.  For… for those people.  But… but also knowing how… how you must have felt.  How God must have felt.  It… it didn’t do what they wanted.  Not at all.  It really did make me respect and love you more, Andrew.  Truly.  Truly, truly, truly…”

Andrew closed his eyes as JenniAnn peppered his face with kisses.

“Thank you,” he murmured.

“Thank you… for everything you do.  For our family, for me, but… for humanity, too.  I love you so much, Andrew.”

“And I love you so much, Laja.”  Andrew kissed her.  “I… I’m just so sorry I couldn’t do more.  You must have been so… so scared when he… he…”

“I was.  But it’s over now.  And… I think I had a seizure right after.  So the memories are already getting cloudy.  I just… I want to focus on getting you better.”

“Okay.”  Andrew sighed and began to relax.

“I do hope we can go home soonish,” JenniAnn commented.  “Our bed is much comfier.  And prettier.”

Andrew chuckled.

“It is.”  

There was a knock on the door.

“Uh oh…”  JenniAnn looked around for somewhere to hide.  

“It’s Edmund,” a familiar voice called.

“No respect for angelic boundaries,” Crowley sneered.

Andrew and JenniAnn laughed.

“Come in,” the former shouted.

Dr. Edmund Talson entered the room with Aziraphale and Crowley behind him.

“Put up a shield to give you privacy,” Crowley explained.  “This one is apparently immune.”

JenniAnn beamed at the doctor then smiled gently at Crowley.

“It’s okay.  I don’t think he’ll boot me.  He’s a friend.”

“I’ve no intention of it,” Dr. Talson assured.  “Max told me you were here.  I’m so, so sorry.  I hope it’s okay that I took the liberty of taking over your care.  Both of you.”

JenniAnn rose and hugged the man.

“Thank you.  That’s actually a huge relief.  It… it’s just gonna be easier with someone who will believe us.”

“Absolutely.  Tell me what happened.  Please.”

Haltingly, Andrew began to relay what had occurred.  After the point where he’d lost consciousness, JenniAnn resumed the tale.  And then it fell to Aziraphale and Crowley.

“We called 911 as soon as the last of the demons were gone,” Aziraphale explained.  “We made a point not to move Andrew but…”

“The damage had been done,” Crowley finished.  “We didn’t see any other weapons besides the pipe.  They… they were wearing heavy boots.”

JenniAnn flinched and tightened her hold of Andrew.

“Thank you.  And one of you was with Andrew when he woke up?”

Aziraphale nodded and raised his hand.

“And how did he seem?  How was his speech?”

“He… he was understandably shaken.  Immediately asked for JenniAnn.  Maybe…”  Aziraphale glanced at Andrew.  “Maybe a slight slur but, perhaps, no more than someone who was exhausted.”

Dr. Talson jotted a note then turned his attention to Andrew.

“And how did you feel when you woke up?”

“I… just wanted to see Laja.”

Dr. Talson waited for Andrew to say more but nothing came.

“All right.  Thank you.  I’m so sorry you two experienced that.  I can’t imagine how terrifying it was.”  He sucked in a deep breath before continuing.  “They did a CT scan when Andrew first came in.  The good news is there wasn’t any sign of hemorrhage.  The concerning news is it did reveal bruising and some swelling in the frontal lobe.”

Andrew screwed his eyes shut.

“Like last time…”

The doctor nodded.

“Unlike last time, there was also some damage to the occipital lobe.”

“What’s that do?” JenniAnn questioned.

“Visual processing.”

JenniAnn squeezed Andrew’s hand.

“Can you see okay?”

“Mostly.  It’s… a little blurry.”

“And that could clear up soon.  Or… or not.  Right now we’re only a few hours out from the injuries,” Dr. Talson reminded.  “I’d like to have an MRI done as soon as you’re up to it, Andrew.”

The angel nodded.

“As for you…”  Dr. Talson turned his attention to JenniAnn.  “Were you struck or did you fall at any point?”

JenniAnn shook her head.

“I mean… I did fall.  But my head never hit the pavement or anything.  Andrew… he blocked them from hitting me.”  She gave Andrew a tender, loving smile then kissed his brow.

“Good.  Good job, Andrew.”  Dr. Talson smiled at Andrew before resuming his discussion with JenniAnn.  “Any other disturbances?  Did you have any seizures?”

“Yeah…  Right after it all happened.  And again when… when I came into Andrew’s room.  But I’m sure that was just the stress of everything.”

“Probably so,” the doctor agreed.  “Even so, I’d like to keep you overnight.  So long as there are no further issues, I’ll release you tomorrow, JenniAnn.  Andrew… I’m afraid I want to keep you for at least a few days.  Maybe only three or so… assuming the MRI doesn’t give us any further cause for alarm.  I understand that given your unique circumstances, it would be best for you to get back to Willowveil as soon as possible.”

All three angels and JenniAnn nodded.

“Good.  I’ll leave you alone for a bit.  Andrew, I’d like to see you up and around in an hour or so,” Dr. Talson ordered.  “Then we’ll see about that MRI.”

“Sounds like a plan.  Thank you, Edmund.  We really appreciate this.”

“Of course.”  The doctor shook Andrew’s and JenniAnn’s hands warmly then turned to Aziraphale and Crowley.  “Gentlemen, good to meet you.  Thank you for your help.  Perhaps we could give these two some privacy?”

“Absolutely,” Aziraphale agreed as Crowley nodded.

“Good!”

“See you later!” JenniAnn called after the three as they departed.  Once they were gone, she focused on Andrew.  “How are you feeling about all of that?”

Andrew shrugged.

“Grateful there’s not more to it.  Very grateful he doesn’t see much to concern him about you.”  Andrew hugged JenniAnn.  “But… it makes me nervous.  It’s the same area as last time, Laja.  The area that causes mood disturbances and… and aggression.”

“I know.  And I can understand being concerned about it.  I’m concerned.  But Andrew…  The only times you exhibited aggression were when you perceived a threat.”

“And one time… it was you,” he reminded.  “When I had the nightmare.”

“Yes.  But as soon as you realized it was me, you calmed down.  You never fully lost control, Andrew.  I don’t think you could.”

“I hope not…”

JenniAnn kissed his shoulder then rested her head there.

“I love you so much, Andrew.  Always… always thinking of everyone else.  But now… now I need you to cut yourself some slack.  Let me help you when you need help.  Let me be with you… wherever this takes us.  Please?”

Andrew gently cupped her chin.

JenniAnn’s eyes fluttered closed briefly when he touched the nail marks there.  She sighed and buried her hands in his hair when he kissed the marks.

“Okay, Laja,” Andrew whispered in her ear.

“Good.”

“Laja?”

“Hmm?”

“I don’t want to sleep.  But… could we just stay like this for a while?  Cuddle?”

JenniAnn smiled and nodded.

“Happily.”

The two snuggled even closer and Andrew let out a contented sigh.  

His Laja was all right.  He was more or less all right.  And they were safe.  

“Thank You,” he silently prayed.

*~*~*

Later that afternoon, while Andrew was having an MRI done with Crowley invisibly and protectively nearby, Aziraphale tried his best to keep JenniAnn distracted.

“I will absolutely be handling Tuesday on my own, my dear.  Hopefully Andrew will be home by then and you’ll both need peace and quiet.  And food.  What do you think you might like to have?”

JenniAnn gave him a weary smile.  

“It’s okay, Aziraphale.  Just whatever you want to make will be…”

“But I need to do this for you!  And for Andrew!” the angel interrupted, his face flushed.

JenniAnn stared at him, surprised by the outburst.

“I… I’m sorry,” Aziraphale apologized.  “I… I truly didn’t mean to snap.  It’s only…  That book shop…  If I hadn’t insisted on going into that book shop…”  A tear trailed down his left cheek.

“Oh, Aziraphale!”  JenniAnn rose from her bed and settled beside the angel on the window seat.  She hugged his right arm.  “No…  Don’t think like that.  We could just as easily say that it wouldn’t have happened had Andrew and I not been so set on getting home early enough to sneak in some dancing.  If we’d gone into the book shop with you and Crowley… none of this would have happened.  But it did.  None… none of us wanted it to.  But… but it did.  And I… I don’t understand it.  I’m so… so grateful that you and Crowley came.  More than I can say.”

“Oh…” the angel murmured when JenniAnn kissed his cheek.  “Oh, dear, of course we’d do whatever we could!  We came as soon as we received word…”

“But why didn’t He send word earlier?” JenniAnn beseeched.  “Before Andrew was hit?”

Aziraphale sighed and wrapped an arm around her.

“I’ve asked myself much the same many times in my years.  And I still don’t know.  But… I have found some peace in acknowledging that good can come from evil… but it doesn’t make the evil less evil.  You can look for the silver linings… and you can find hope in them.  I hope you do.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t be angry or sad or disappointed.  It doesn’t mean you can’t rage against God for allowing this to happen to you and Andrew… while also thanking Her… Him… that neither of you was lost.   He can handle it.  I know that now.  You helped me to see that.  Andrew, too.”

JenniAnn let out a shaky breath.

“Thank you.  I… I needed to hear that.  They… they brought up Joshua.  They said that he was careless with his friends… and cited the ways the martyrs died.”

Aziraphale shook his head.

“They would.  They probably didn’t bother to bring up that they were the ones whispering to a neighbor to expose this or that Christian…  That they were the ones who saw a tree and thought ‘torture device’ and whispered that, too.  Joshua was never and is never careless… you know that.  But… he’s also not a dictator.  He gave us the freedom to love… and to hate.  To caress… and to kill.  And he died to preserve that freedom.”  Aziraphale shuddered at the memory.  “And he can handle anger, too.  Let him.”

“I… I will.  Just… too tired now.”

“Fair enough.”  Aziraphale stood and offered his hand to JenniAnn.  “Let’s get you back to bed, my dear.”

“Okay.  And… Andrew really liked that vegetable quiche you made a few weeks back.  I did, too.”

Aziraphale smiled.

“Then you shall have it.  Maybe with some turkey bangers on the side for protein.  The turkey supplied by Adam, of course.”

JenniAnn returned the angel’s smile.

“Sounds good.”

“And you should have a sweet.  Any ideas?”

“You really liked those cherry dumplings,” another voice replied.

JenniAnn beamed when she saw Azrael in the doorway, a suitcase in each hand.

“I did!  Azrael…  I’m so glad to see you.”

Azrael lowered his mask, set down the bags, and took JenniAnn’s right hand in both of his.

“I’m glad to see you, too.  I asked to come.  Gabe is with Michael now back at Willowveil.  How is Andrew?”

“Having an MRI right now.  He… he’s fine.  Just worried.  He doesn’t want it to be like last time.”

“Understandable.  I’ll pray he gets promising results.  Max says Edmund Talson has taken his case?”

JenniAnn nodded.

“Thankfully.”

“Yes.”  Azrael turned his attention to Aziraphale.  “Thank you to you and Crowley for your work last night.  Perhaps later you could debrief me?”

“Of course!  And absolutely.”

“Thank you.”  Azrael smiled then focused on JenniAnn again.  “And how are you feeling?”

“Just tired.  I had a couple seizures.  Just the normal kind.  I think Edmund’s only having me stay the night because of Andrew.”

“Maybe so.  But it’s wise, nonetheless.”  Azrael waved to the bags.  “We packed some things.  Well…  I packed for Andrew.  Your mother packed for you.  I… I didn’t go through your things.”

JenniAnn felt a rush of warmth when the chief angel of death blushed.  As  imposing as he was, a more bashful side had been revealed when he’d come to her and Aziraphale’s therapy sessions.

“Of course.  And thank you.  Really.  It will be nice to get into my own pajamas and out of this very unflattering gown.  How were the kids when you left?”

“Avi and Belle are well.  Landon and Amelia, too.  Michael, it turns out, is quite the ventriloquist.”  Azrael chuckled.  “He was performing a puppet show for them.”

“Aww!”

“It was quite adorable.”  Azrael’s smile faltered.  “The older kids… they know more and, thus, they are more troubled.  I think, so long as you can manage it, a video call later might put them at ease.  Your parents and other relatives, too.”

“Poor loves…  And, yes, Andrew and I were hoping we could do that.  It’d do us good to see them, too.  I’m just…  I’m not sure what to say to the little ones.  I don’t want to lie.  Andrew can’t lie.  But I also…  I can’t think of any way to tell them that Mama and Daddy were attacked by demons that wouldn’t terrify them.”  JenniAnn wiped at her eyes.  “And when they see Andrew…”

Azrael patted her back.

“Leave the demons out.  Angels don’t lie.  But we also work on a need-to-know basis.  And the little kids don’t need to know.  Tell them…”  Azrael looked at Aziraphale.  “Did you call 911 when you found them?”

“Crowley did.  After the last of the demons were gone.”

“And what did he tell them?”

“That we’d been out with some friends, separated for a little while, and when we came back, we saw they’d been attacked.  I believe the police assumed it was a mugging.  Crowley rightly guessed that we might become the prime suspects.”

JenniAnn gasped.

“So we also called Matthew,” Aziraphale continued, patting JenniAnn’s hand.  “He vouched for us being your friends.  We didn’t have any trouble.”

“Good.”  JenniAnn smiled appreciatively at Aziraphale.

“I would go off of that,” Azrael counseled.  “Just tell them you were attacked by people you didn’t know while in the city.  They’ll still be scared.  But you can tell them that precautions are in place to prevent it from happening again.  And there are.  For the time being, you and Andrew will have visible protection whenever you travel outside of Dyeland… from the Watchers.  They know us.  They know our power.”

“The Watchers…” JenniAnn repeated, rubbing at her head.  “So that’s… you two, Crowley, Marty, Sandy, Michael, Gabe, Uriel, Freya, Wahkan, and Reuel.”

“Among others,” Azrael confirmed.

“Is Raphael one?  I’ve always wondered why he never comes up.”

Azrael sighed.

JenniAnn’s eyes went wide.

“He… he didn’t fall did he?”

“No!  No, no,” Azrael assured.  “He’s just…  He’s… a lot.”

JenniAnn laughed at the expression on the angel of death’s face.  

“Well, now I really hope to meet him some day!”  She sobered.  “But anyway… thank you.  That makes me feel better.”

“Good.”  

Azrael glanced at the clock on the wall.

“When did they take Andrew?” he inquired.

“A little over an hour ago.  Edmund said it could take up to two hours,” JenniAnn answered.  She glanced at her suitcase.  “I could really go for a shower and a change…”

Azrael nodded.

“I’ll stay outside your door.  Aziraphale, there’s a cafe down the hallway.  Perhaps you could get us some drinks?  Black coffee for me.”

“Happily!  JenniAnn?”  

“Chai latte if they have it, please.  Otherwise… I trust your judgment.”

Aziraphale beamed and nodded then donned his mask and left.

Azrael helped JenniAnn to her feet then kept hold of her hand for a moment.

“I’ve never told you…”  His voice cracked.  “I’ve been watching over him for 156 years.  I’ve never seen him happier outside of Heaven.  Thank you.”

JenniAnn let out a sob and sunk against the Watcher.

“I… I’ve never been happier, either.  And… and even when things are sad a-and scary… there’s no one else I’d rather be with.”

Azrael nodded and held the woman as she wept.

*~*~*

Jamie sat on her lawn, beneath the stars, and peered at a stone cross.  After a few moments of reflection, she glanced back at her dimly lit house.  Vonnie was in the guest room, hopefully asleep.  She’d been told they would be leaving for America the next day.  

What Vonnie didn’t yet know was that there would be no plane ride.  No hotel stay.  And they wouldn’t even be in America much.

What Jamie didn’t yet know was why exactly they needed to go to Andrew and JenniAnn.

But that answer was forthcoming…

Jamie turned around when she heard leaves crunching behind her.  Joshua appeared in the moonlight.  In spite of her concern, Jamie smiled.  He looked rather fetching in his jeans and flannel over a Henley.

“Joshua…”  Jamie rose to greet him with a hug.

“Jamesina…”  Joshua patted her back and kissed her cheek.  

“So… have you come to tell me what’s goin’ on?”

Joshua nodded and waved to the grass.

The two sat down and Joshua began to speak, tears in his eyes.

“Last night… early this morning for you… Andrew and JenniAnn were attacked by demons.  They’re both recovering.”

“But… how?!  They’re usually not so bold!  Andrew… he’s far from a novice!  They’re cowardly, pathetic things…” Jamie scoffed.

“There were thirteen of them.”

“Cliched but okay…”

“Thirteen against two.  Andrew tried his best to shield JenniAnn.  And he did a wonderful job.  I was so proud!”  Joshua stared at the moon and smiled sadly.  “But they hit him in the head.  Elsewhere, too.  But the head is the most concerning part.”

Jamie frowned.

“Back in May you mentioned he’d had TBI before.  From an assignment in Afghanistan, was it?”

“Yes.  It’s back now.  And… once he was unconscious, one of them made JenniAnn see scenes from some of the very worst of Andrew’s assignments.  Terrible things…  Times when we sent him only to escort people Home… not to intervene.  As much as… as we would have liked to…”  Joshua closed his eyes for a moment and sighed.  

“Horrid…”

“Yes.  But it didn’t work.  At all.”  Joshua smiled proudly.  “Big mistake, actually.  They meant for JenniAnn to feel revulsion towards Andrew but… she understands.  She’d told him before that he’s not meant to be a superhero.  Now she knows the very worst of what he goes through.  And it’s made her love him even more.  Don’t get me wrong…  It’ll be hard.  Right now, she doesn’t remember much.  She had two seizures afterwards and they impact her memory.  They’ll come back to her in bits and pieces… and that’s part of why you’ll be there.”

“I’m not as used to dealing with humans, Joshua…  Not as a counselor.”

“The locals at Cynefin would beg to differ, Jamie.”

The angel smiled and nodded.

“And you will be working mostly with angels.  There’s that program that JenniAnn and Aziraphale run that I’ve mentioned before.”

Jamie nodded in recognition.  

“Well, Aziraphale can get easily overwhelmed and JenniAnn knows that.  So… it will also give her peace… and time to see to her own needs… if she knows someone else is there to help Aziraphale.  And you’ll be perfect, Jamie,” Joshua affirmed.

“I’m happy to help.  I truly am.  But…  How do I tell Vonnie?  Her son’s parents were attacked by demons…  That’s… it’s horrifyin’, Joshua.”

“It is.”  Joshua handed Jamie a scrap of paper.  “This is the phone number for Vincent Wells, Avi’s grandfather and JenniAnn’s godfather.  You and Vonnie will stay with him and his people.”

“His people?” Jamie questioned.  “Is he some sort of tribal leader?”

“In a manner.  He’s the leader of a community of people who live in the Tunnels beneath New York City.  Some were born there.  Others found their way there when society rejected them or failed to care for them.  He and Avi share the same condition.  Vonnie often talks with Vincent and the rest of the family.  She’s comfortable with him.  So… you’ll wait til you’re in the Tunnels and then Vincent will help you explain.  And then he can help you comfort Vonnie.  I’ll send you there via a portal and then you’ll take the portal in the Tunnels to and from Dyeland as needed.”

“I like that plan.  And I’m curious to see this place… the Tunnels.”

“You’ll love it there.  Although…”  Joshua took one of Jamie’s hands in both of his.  “There’s a lot of stonework in the Tunnels and at Willowveil.  I just want you to know that because…”

“Because it will remind me of her.  Of Gwen.”

“Yeah…”  Joshua raised an arm.

Jamie rested her head on his shoulder and sighed with contentment when his arm wrapped around her.

“I can’t imagine what I would have felt if demons had threatened her…  It was bad enough when mere men did.”

“It was.  And that’s why I think you’re best suited to help Andrew right now.  You know his deepest fear.”

“I do…  And I’ll be okay.  With the stonework, I mean.  Might even be nice.”  Jamie stared at the cross.

“She’s so proud of you, Jamesina.  As am I.  As is Dad.”

Jamie gave Joshua a warm smile.

“Means a lot.”  

The two sat together for several minutes, with Joshua providing more information, before Jamie spoke.

“What time is it in New York?”

“3:43 in the afternoon.”

“Maybe I’ll call this Vincent fellow now?”

Joshua nodded.

“Good idea.”

“And I take it he won’t be thrown by me being an angel?  Or sent by you?”

“Not in the least.  He knows me as Joshua Davidson… and he knows who I really am.”

Jamie withdrew her cell phone.

“Then here I go…”

*~*~*

Vincent finished filling Yonah’s trough then stroked the donkey’s mane.  He smiled when Yonah set his head on his shoulder.

“Good boy,” he cooed as he buried his face in Yonah’s neck.  “She’ll be home soon.  I miss her, too.”

Yonah let out a forlorn bray.

“Poor thing.”  Vincent ran his hand up and down Yonah’s neck as he’d seen JenniAnn do many times.  “Perhaps a walk would give us both some peace?”

When Yonah didn’t protest, Vincent led him out of the barn.  He let Yonah go where he pleased, walking alongside him.

Then the notes of Mozart’s Symphony #40 sounded from his pocket.  Vincent withdrew the cell phone that Catherine had recently insisted he keep and stared at it in bewilderment.

Jamie?

He knew a Jamie, of course.  She lived in the Tunnels.  But she didn’t have a cell phone.

Probably a wrong number… and he wasn’t in the mood for dealing with strangers.  But there was no sense in being rude.

“Hello?” he answered.

“Vincent?” an unfamiliar, accented voice asked.

Surprised, Vincent nodded.  Then he felt foolish.  She couldn’t see him nod.

“This is Vincent.”

“Hello, Vincent.  I know this is unexpected but… please hear me out.  My name is Jamie.  I’m an angel.  I’m usually stationed in Wales.  However, Joshua…”

“Joshua…” Vincent repeated with reverence.

“Yes.  You know him by Joshua Davidson?”

“Yes,” Vincent confirmed.

“Joshua has asked my assistant and me to come to Asteriana… Dyeland… to help out.  I counsel angels, ya see.  And Joshua knew that JenniAnn would feel more at peace during her and Andrew’s recovery if someone else was covering her program with Aziraphale.  And also… Andrew may need someone to talk to.”

Tears welled in Vincent’s eyes.  This was welcome news… so long as it was true.

“This sounds wonderful,” he replied.  “But you have to understand… given what’s occurred… how do I know that you are who you say you are?  How do I know you’re not... one of them?”

Vincent listened to whispered conversation on the other end of the line.  Then another voice spoke to him.

“Vincent…  It’s me.”

The tears that had threatened to fall before rolled down the man’s cheeks.

“Joshua…  Joshua, are you coming, too?”

“Not yet, Vincent.  I’ll be there in time.  And I am there.  And I am sending Jamie.  And her assistant… who you know.”

“I… I do?”

“It’s Vonnie, Vincent.  Avi’s birth mother.”

“Vonnie!” Vincent repeated, shocked but also heartened.  They’d all invited the young woman to visit.  Plans had even been made… and then COVID hit.

“That’s right.  And she and Jamie are going to be very helpful.  You’ll see that it’s even better than me coming.”

“With all due respect to Jamie and Vonnie… and you… I have a hard time believing that,” Vincent admitted.  “I haven’t gotten to speak to Psyche yet but I know… she must be devastated seeing Andrew like that.  And how he must feel…”

“And he needs to talk to someone who understands that… someone who has walked that road,” Joshua explained.  

“And… and Jamie does… has?”

“Yes.”

Vincent was silent for a few moments.  That was intriguing…  But surely there would be time to delve into that later.

“You’ll come to their ceremony, I hope?”  Vincent frowned.  “Assuming it can still happen.”

“You know I’ll be there.  I’m not missing my dance with JenniAnn.”

Vincent smiled when he heard the warmth and love in Joshua’s voice.

“Good.  What do you need from me?”

As he continued to follow Yonah around, Vincent worked with Joshua and Jamie to ensure the latter’s arrival with Vonnie was safe and soon.

*~*~*

When Andrew returned from the MRI, he was noticeably groggy… and leaning on Edmund for support.

“Let’s get you into bed,” the doctor ordered.

“Laja…”

“I’ve already asked one of the nurses to alert her to your return.”

“Thanks.  I don’t understand how lying in a tube could make me so tired.”

“Well, it’s not very restful with all those noises.  And you’ve been through a lot, Andrew.  Even without the head trauma, I would expect some lethargy for several days.  You took a real beating.”

Andrew shrugged.

Edmund clucked his tongue.

“I have a feeling your lady isn’t going to take to the tough guy routine.  Speak up if you’re in pain.  It has been over four hours since you were given anything for it.”

“Maybe something would help.”

“Agreed.  I’ll let your nurse know right now.  Oh…  Looks like someone brought your things.”  Edmund gestured to the suitcase that Azrael had delivered.  “Would you like some pajamas, maybe?”

“Yes, please.”

Edmund opened the suitcase and perused the selection.

“Short or long sleeved?”

“Long, please.”

Edmund grabbed a pair of green flannel pajamas then helped Andrew into them after drawing a curtain.  

“Still feel off-kilter?”

Andrew nodded.

“And my vision is blurry.  Not terrible.  But not normal.”

Edmund frowned.

“I wish I had those results right now…  My God…  Andrew...”

Andrew dragged a hand through his hair as Edmund gaped at his exposed torso and back.

“Can we just hurry?  I don’t want her to see.”

“Of course but…”

“I know I can’t hide them until they fade.  But I at least want to be in the comfort of our home first.  Please.”

Edmund nodded.

“Of course.”

When Andrew fumbled with the buttons, the doctor hastened to help him.

“Andrew?” JenniAnn called.

“Just changing!  Almost done,” Andrew replied, his expression immediately lightening.

Edmund smiled as he did the last button and slid open the curtain.

“All settled and decent!” he declared.  “And how are you, JenniAnn?”

“Good… just anxious.  Do you know anything more?” she asked as she sat beside Andrew and hugged him.

“Not yet, I’m afraid.  It seems there’s been a run on MRIs and the radiologists are backed up.  But I’ve been told late tomorrow morning at the latest.”

“Good.”  JenniAnn tenderly ran her hand up and down Andrew’s arm.  “And how are you feeling, my love?”

“Better now.”  Andrew kissed her hair.  “Just a little dizzy.  Vision’s a little blurry.  Pretty tired.”

“Poor love…”  

Andrew tensed up.

“Were you alone while I was there?”

JenniAnn adamantly shook her head.

“No, Andrew.  Of course not.  Aziraphale was with me and then Azrael stopped in.  Azrael brought us our bags.  They’re probably still just outside.”

Andrew relaxed.

Edmund began backing towards the door.

“I’m going to step outside myself and put in that order for the meds, Andrew.  Give you two some privacy.”

“Thank you, Edmund.  For everything.”  Andrew smiled at the man.

“Yes, thank you!” JenniAnn echoed.

“Of course.  It’s my honor.  Truly.”  Edmund waved and smiled once more before leaving.

“Meds?” JenniAnn questioned.

“Just for the pain.  It’s not awful.  Just…”

“Anything I can do?  Would you like a massage?  Or… or would that maybe make it worse?”

Andrew shook his head.

“I’d just like to lay down.  Maybe get a little rest.  Then I was thinking we could call home?”

“That sounds good.  I was hoping to do that myself.”

“Are you tired?”

“Not really.  But I’m totally okay being a creeper and watching you sleep.”

Andrew chuckled and cupped JenniAnn’s chin.

“You’re not a creeper, Laja.”

“Mr. Darcy, Dr. Talson mentioned you wanted some pain meds?” a nurse called from the doorway.

“Yes, please.”  Andrew smiled as he took the pills and glass of water.  “Thank you… Francie, right?”

“Yup!”  Francie giggled as she took the glass back.  “Let us know if you need anything else!”

“Will do.  Thank you again.”

With another giggle, Francie left the room.

“She has a crush on you,” JenniAnn whispered.

Andrew smiled.

“She’s just a jolly sort of person.”

“Nope.  Aziraphale heard her gushing on her cell over her patient who saved his wife… slight error there… from muggers.  But she quite obviously meant you because she said that she couldn’t say names, of course, but he had a very literary last name… Mr. Darcy.”

“Well… I’m sure she’ll maintain her professionalism.  Besides, I’m very obviously attached.”

“Yes…”  JenniAnn kissed his forehead then gently pushed Andrew down towards the pillows.  “Now rest, my love.”

“Kay.  Love you, Laja.”

“I love you, too.”

Soon, Andrew was asleep and, true to her word, JenniAnn watched over him, marveling at his beauty, inside and out.

*~*~*

“Mama!”

JenniAnn smiled with tears in her eyes as she waved to Belle, Avi, and Landon through the screen of her tablet.

“Gamma!

“Hi, sweet babies!  Oh…  I’ve missed you so much!  And so has Daddy and Grampy.”

“When are you coming home, Mama?” Belle questioned.

“Soon, baby girl.  We just need to spend a little more time with the doctors first.”

“Why, Mama?” Avi murmured.

JenniAnn smiled when Evie moved into the frame and plopped down beside Avi, taking his hand.

“Well…”

Sitting beside JenniAnn but offscreen, Andrew squeezed her free hand.

“See, Mama and Daddy were walking home last night and some mean people tried to hurt us.  And Daddy was so, so brave.  He protected me and kept me safe.”

“Mama was brave, too!” Andrew insisted.

“Why can’t we see Daddy?” Belle asked.  “I want to see Daddy!”

JenniAnn nodded.

“I know, baby.  And you will.  Just first… Daddy’s nose got hurt.  So he’s got some bandages there so it’ll heal right.  And he has a few other owies on his face but they’ll get better, too.  We just wanted to let you know that so you’re not surprised when you see him, okay?”

“Okay…”  Belle nodded.

Avi and Evie did the same.

“See Grampy…” Landon prodded.

Andrew took the tablet from JenniAnn, wincing as he waited for the kids’ reaction.

Evie immediately burst into tears.

Belle cocked her head.

“You look like you’re getting a nose job, Daddy.”

After a moment’s shock, Andrew and JenniAnn burst out laughing.  The kids followed with even Evie cheering up.

“Belle!” JenniAnn exclaimed.  “How do you even know about nose jobs?”

“Saw it on TV.  A lady was getting one.  And a boob job.”

“Belle!”  Andrew fought to speak through his laughter.  “I don’t even know what…”

JenniAnn rested her forehead on Andrew’s shoulder as she continued to laugh hysterically.

“I left for two minutes to refill their juice and she changed the channel to some reality TV nonsense!” Violeta cried from offscreen.  

Andrew chuckled and shook his head.

“Wonderful…  Well, Belle, we’ll be talking about that later.  But, no, I’m not getting a nose job.  Same nose.  It just needs a little help right now.  Just like how we put a bandage on when you scrape your knees, got it?”

Belle grinned and nodded.

“Good.  Cause I like your nose, Daddy.”

“Thank you, little elf.  I like your nose, too.  You all have perfect noses.  Mama, too.”  Andrew kissed her hair as she recovered.

“You feeling okay, Daddy?” Avi asked.

“I’m just a little tired.  My head got a little hurt.  But the doctors are working on that.  And I know I’ll feel lots better when I’m back home.”

“We’ll take good care of you, Daddy!” Belle vowed.  “Tell the doctors that so they let you come home now!”

“Oh, Belle…  I know you’d all take excellent care of me.  It’s just that the doctors did some tests and we need to wait for those results and then see if any more tests are needed.  And we can’t do those tests from home.”  Andrew brought JenniAnn’s hand to his lips.  “Mama will keep me company.  I won’t be lonely… even though I do miss you all very much.”

“But you’ll be home soon?” Avi implored.

“Yes, baby boy,” Andrew promised.  “I can’t say when exactly but soon.  Until then, I know you’ll all be good, right?”

The four little ones nodded in ready agreement.

Andrew smiled then stifled a yawn.

Even though she didn’t want to cut their time with their kids short, JenniAnn knew that Andrew needed rest to heal.

“We love you so, so much!” she gushed.  “And we’re gonna say good night now, okay?”

“Good night.  I love my Belle and my Avi and my Evie and my Landon,” Andrew intoned.  “So much.”

The four little ones echoed back their love and good nights before Belle handed the tablet off to Violeta.  She settled onto a couch with Shelby and Max on either side of her.

“I really am sorry about the plastic surgery show…” she apologized.

Andrew and JenniAnn both laughed.

“Violeta… don’t worry about it.  We all needed that laugh,” Andrew assured.  “More importantly… how are you three doing?”

“Okay, I guess.  Just…” Shelby teared up.  “Last night was so… so happy a-and then…  How… how do we know it won’t happen again?”

“Azrael told me that, for now, Andrew and I won’t go anywhere outside of Dyeland without a Watcher being with us.  Right now Crowley and Aziraphale are just outside the door.  And earlier Azrael was here.  Might still be.  They’ll keep us safe,” JenniAnn relayed.

“And it’s unlikely they’ll be back any time soon, anyway,” Andrew added.  “Think about last time.  That was over six years ago.  And that time they didn’t even get thrown around by Aziraphale and Crowley.  It’ll take a while for them to get up the nerve again.”

“How bad is the TBI?” Max blurted out.

JenniAnn hugged Andrew tightly.

“We don’t know yet.  The initial scan suggested that there might be damage similar to last time.  And we won’t have the MRI results until tomorrow,” Andrew answered.  “But the good news is, we’ve been through this before.  We managed then.  And we’re all even closer now.”

“Do… do you feel much pain?” Violeta asked.

“A little.  A little dizziness and blurred vision.  But I’m fine.  Really,” Andrew reassured.

“Maja?  How about you?”

JenniAnn gave Max a tender smile then turned to Andrew.

“I’m doing really well.  Andrew protected me the whole time.”

“Not the whole time,” Andrew muttered, staring down at his bedsheets.

“Love…”  JenniAnn squeezed him affectionately then looked back at the kids.  “I’m fine.  If I didn’t have epilepsy, I probably wouldn’t even still be here.  But I’m glad I get to stay with Andrew at least for tonight.”

“I’m glad you’re together, too,” Violeta choked out.  “But I also wish you were here.”

“We know, sweetheart.  Soon,” JenniAnn cooed.  “Really soon.”

Andrew yawned again.

“We should probably let you go,” Max suggested.  “We’ll give everyone else your best and you’ll let us know as soon as you have the MRI results?”

“Absolutely,” Andrew vowed.  “We love you all.”

“Very much,” JenniAnn added.

“Love you, too,” Shelby replied.

“And can’t wait to have you home!” Violeta exclaimed.

Max nodded and wrapped his arms around his sisters.

“I’m sticking around at least until then.  I won’t leave.  G’night, Maja and Dad.”

“G’night,” Andrew and JenniAnn echoed back together.  

“Our babies…” JenniAnn whispered.

“I miss them…  It seems like it’s been more than a day,” Andrew mused.  “Such a long day.  And… as soon as you’re released… I want you to go be with them.  It’s safer, Laja.”

JenniAnn began to shake her head then stopped.  Now was not the time for debate.  Andrew looked haggard.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  For now… rest my love.”

“That I won’t argue with.”  Andrew laid down and smiled up at JenniAnn, running his hands through her hair as it cascaded around him.  “So beautiful…”

“So sleepy…”

“Mmm… hmm…”

JenniAnn begun to hum “Tender Shepherd” as Andrew closed his eyes.

After a few moments, his right eye opened.

“Laja?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m glad you’re not getting a boob job.  I like your breasts just the way they are.”

JenniAnn laughed as quietly as she could.

“Well, thank you.  And I think those meds are making you a little loopy.”

“Nope.  True thing.”

“All right then…”

*~*~*

Monday, October 4th, 2021

Andrew awoke feeling like his heart was going to leap out of his chest.  

“Laja…”

He looked around the room with increasing panic.

His Laja wasn't there... which meant they must have taken her.

Andrew tore out of his room and into the hallway.

"Laja!" he shouted.  

A nurse came running towards him.

"Mr. Darcy!  You can't be out here!  It's the middle of the night!  And without a mask!" she chastised.

"Laja!"

Francie approached her fellow nurse and Andrew.

"He's not being disrespectful, Jeanine.  He's just confused."  Francie patted Andrew's arm.  "It's okay now.  Your wife is just next door.  She's safe.  We'll go see her, okay?"

Andrew nodded.

Francie led him into JenniAnn’s room where she was peacefully sleeping.

Andrew approached and rested a hand on her back.

“I need to stay with her.”

“I can understand… but we really need for you to get some sleep, Mr. Darcy.  Sleep helps your brain to heal,” Francie explained.

“Andrew…”

The angel of death looked over to the window seat where Crowley sat, unseen by Francie.

“I’ll be here the whole time.  I won’t let anyone other than nurses and doctors near her,” Crowley promised.  “Listen to this young lady.  And how did you even get out?  Aziraphale was…”

“I was there!” Aziraphale cried from the doorway.  “I thought I’d give him privacy so I stayed just outside the door but then he blew right past me and, well…  Here we are.”

“I’m sorry,” Andrew apologized to the three.  He grabbed a mask from JenniAnn’s stash and put it on.  “I’ll go back.”

“Thank you.”  Francie smiled at him.  “We’ll keep a very close eye on JenniAnn.  I absolutely promise you that.”

Andrew returned her smile and nodded then let her lead him back towards his room.

Aziraphale and Crowley exchanged concerned glances before the latter followed Andrew.

*~*~*

Come morning, JenniAnn sat in Andrew’s room with him, both anxiously awaiting Edmund’s arrival with the MRI results.

From Crowley, JenniAnn had learned about the previous night’s disturbance.

“Maybe we could ask him if we could share a room?” she suggested.  “I mean… with everything going on, they could probably use the extra room.”

Andrew shook his head.

“If he says you can go home, I want you to go home, Laja.  The kids need you… and it’s safer there.”

“It’s not safer for you if I’m there!” JenniAnn protested.  “And I… I don’t think I could sleep there anyway.  Not without you.”

Andrew dragged a hand through his hair, wincing as it pulled on a tender spot.

“Love…”  JenniAnn took both of Andrew’s hands in hers.  She brought them to her lips.  “Look at us…  You remember when weeks would go by without us seeing each other?”

Andrew gave her a weary smile.

“I do.”

“And you thought I’d go off and marry someone and have babies…  And, heck, sometimes I thought that, too.”

“The stupidest part is… I thought I’d be okay with that.”  

“I did, too…”  JenniAnn rested her forehead against Andrew’s.  “But I know that I’m not okay with leaving you now.  Not unless Edmund tells me I absolutely have to… and I don’t think he will.”

Andrew stroked JenniAnn’s face and nodded.

“Okay.”

“Good.  Awkward kiss?”

Andrew chuckled.

“Awkward kiss,” he agreed.

With Andrew struggling to keep the bandages on his nose from poking JenniAnn, the two kissed.

They’d barely moved apart when Edmund entered the room.

“The results?” JenniAnn asked.

Edmund nodded.

Andrew took one of JenniAnn’s hands in both of his and nodded.

“We’re ready.”

“The good news is we didn’t identify any additional areas of concern,” Edmund began.  “But what does concern us is the damage to the frontal lobe is more extensive than we originally thought based on the CT scan.”

“So… so what does that mean?  What do we do?” JenniAnn fretted.

“We wait,” Andrew answered.

The doctor nodded.

“He’s right.  We wait and we observe.  And we manage symptoms.  Just allowing the swelling to decrease can do wonders.”

Andrew wrapped an arm around JenniAnn who had begun to cry.

“I could wait just easily at home.”  He looked up at Edmund, imploring him.

Edmund sighed.

“It’s just so soon.  But… I heard about last night.”

“We’re safer at home,” Andrew stressed.  

“I know.  But you also don’t have a fully functional hospital there.”

“El-Chanan does,” JenniAnn piped up.  “And the portal goes right there.”

“El…  Is that where your one friend lives?  Rule?  Roland?”

“Reuel,” Andrew clarified.  “And yes.  They have several hospitals.”

Edmund pondered this.  

“Could I speak to Reuel?” the doctor requested.

JenniAnn pulled out her cell phone, pulled up Reuel’s number, and handed it to Edmund.

“Thank you.  And a little background information on Reuel so I don’t make a fool of myself?”

Andrew chuckled.

“You won’t.  Reuel is difficult to offend, slow to anger.  He’s one of the most ancient angels.  He led a group of the righteous away from Earth before the Great Flood.  That’s how they ended up in El-Chanan.”

“So… not a big deal,” Edmund teased.  

“Not really.”  Andrew grinned.

“Here goes…  Doing a video call.  That’s how I usually do my consultations.  So…”  Edmund dialed.

“Jenni....  Not JenniAnn,” Reuel greeted.  “Can I help you, sir?”

Edmund gaped at the screen.

“I… I’m sorry… but is that a fox on your shoulder?”

Reuel laughed.

“Val Jean.  Val Jean, meet…”

“Dr. Edmund Talson.  I’m Andrew’s physician.  And friend.”

“Right!  I think we’ve always just managed to miss each other with our visits to Dyeland.  How is Andrew?  And JenniAnn?”

“Good.  Well…”  Edmund turned to Andrew.  “What can I say?”

Andrew shrugged.

“Whatever you want.  No need to hide anything from Reuel.  Hi Reuel.”

“Hi Andrew!  JenniAnn!  Praying for you!” Reuel shouted.

“Thank you, Reuel,” JenniAnn yelled back.

“Are they getting released?” Reuel asked.

“JenniAnn is.  And Andrew would like to be… which makes me very nervous but I also understand that, given the circumstances, it would be safer for them to be in Dyeland.  And having visited Dyeland… I will freely admit that the atmosphere is much more relaxing.  However, the lack of an advanced hospital concerns me.”  Edmund frowned.  “If Andrew should take a turn…”

“We have several fully accredited hospitals.  Granted… by our own standards.  But I think you would find those standards to be wholly compatible with your country’s.  We’ve been here for thousands of years, Edmund.  We’re fully independent and self-sustaining,” Reuel stressed.  

“That’s heartening!  Supposing Andrew did need medical intervention and came through the portal, how long would it take an ambulance to reach him and then how long to reach the nearest hospital capable of treating someone with TBI?”

“Five minutes each way.  In all likelihood, the ambulance would reach the portal before Andrew did.  And our neurologist was actually educated and accredited in New York.  Perhaps you even know him.  Dr. Xavier Francisco?”

Edmund gaped at the screen.

“Frank…  We called him Frank.  He… just disappeared after we finished our training.  Like he dropped off the face of the earth…”

Reuel chuckled.

“I suppose he did, in a manner.  I’d be happy to connect you to him so you can catch up.  But, in the meantime, know that we would be there for Andrew as needed,” the angel vowed.

“Thank you.  I appreciate that.  If it’s all right, I’ll note your number and give you a call later from my own phone.  Because I would like to connect with Frank.”

“Absolutely.  I’ll look forward to your call.  Thank you for taking care of my friends.”

“Thank you for helping me to do that,” Edmund replied.  “Talk soon.”

“Yes.  Good bye for now.”

“Good bye.”

Edmund ended the call then looked to Andrew and JenniAnn with wonder.

“Xavier Francisco…  We’d given him up for dead.”

Andrew and JenniAnn smiled.

“Not dead.  Just an alien in a manner,” JenniAnn joked.  “We have another friend who came to the States for her education.  I think it’s fairly common… like American kids studying abroad.”

“Fascinating.”  Edmund shook his head.  “So… I will speak to Frank.  And as long as everything checks out… and I’ve no doubt the situation is anything other than your angel friend just told me… I will release Andrew this afternoon, with you, JenniAnn, on the following conditions.  One: you call me immediately if anything changes.  Two: if something severe occurs, you get Andrew through that portal and to the hospital immediately.  And three: I will make daily house calls… at least for the first week.  Understood?”

Andrew and JenniAnn beamed at each other then nodded.

“Understood,” Andrew replied.  “On all counts.  Thank you, Edmund.  I know you’re not very comfortable with this but… I can’t tell you how much I appreciate having a doctor who understands our unique situation.  The additional stress of going through this without being able to say what really happened and why it’s safer to go home… it would be a lot.”

“I’m glad I could be here for you both.  I really am.”  Edmund squeezed their hands.  “But I mean it…  Any changes, call immediately.”

“We promise,” JenniAnn vowed.  

“We do,” Andrew echoed.

Edmund nodded.

“Good.  Well…  Then I have an old friend to connect with.  And you both probably have some arrangements to make.  How far is the nearest portal?”

“A few blocks.  I’ll make sure we have all the help we need.”  Andrew smiled and let out a relieved sigh.  “I know the chances were slim that they’d try anything here.  But they’re even slimmer back home.  I’ll rest easier knowing that.”

“Me too.”  JenniAnn hugged Andrew then froze when he winced.  “I… I’m sorry.”

Andrew shook his head.

“I’m not, Laja.  I… I needed that hug.  But maybe also some more Ibuprofen?”

“I’ll have that sent in.  Any more questions for me?”

Andrew and JenniAnn looked at each other then Edmund and shook their heads.

“Just thank you, again, for everything,” Andrew replied.

“It really means a lot,” JenniAnn stressed.

“Of course.  I’ll be back as soon as I’ve spoken with Frank.”  Edmund smiled then left the two alone.

“I wish I could take away the pain…” JenniAnn murmured.

Andrew kissed her forehead.

“I know.  You help with it just by being here, Laja.”

“I’m glad we’ll be together tonight.”

Andrew bit his lip and said nothing.

*~*~*

The rest of the morning was a flurry as Edmund connected with his old schoolmate, Andrew arranged for a quartet of Watchers to escort JenniAnn and him home, and JenniAnn received instruction on how to change the bandages on Andrew’s nose.

Meanwhile, things were also busy in the Tunnels where Vincent was leading efforts to prepare two chambers for visitors.  When the final touches were in place, Vincent made his way to the portal and waited.

He smiled as the wall shimmered and out stepped Vonnie and Jamie.

“My God… my God, my God…” Vonnie muttered, staring down at her feet.

Jamie laughed and patted her on the back then directed her attention to Vincent.

“And our host…”  She held out her hand.  “Vincent, so pleased to meet you.  And thank you for accommodating us on short notice.”

Vincent warmly returned the angel’s handshake.

“Of course.  Thank you for helping us out.  God knows we need it.  Vonnie…”  He rested a hand on the young woman’s arm.  “Are you all right?  I know this must be a shock.”

Vonnie nodded then looked up and into Vincent’s face.

“It is but... I’m so glad to see you in person!  When Jamie said we were comin’ to New York, I hoped I might get a chance to meet you and your family but to actually be stayin’ with you!” she gushed.  “Are Andrew and JenniAnn here?  Will they be okay if I ask to see Avi?”

Vincent and Jamie exchanged looks before the former answered.

“They’re not here.  But you will absolutely be able to see them and Avi.  Maybe even yet today.  But, first, let’s drop your bags off in your chambers and then Catherine and I would love for you to visit our chamber for some tea and to catch you up on… everything.”

Something about the way Vincent spoke made Vonnie uneasy… not because of him.  She’d instantly felt safe when she’d seen him.  But she could tell he was hiding something.  Jamie, too.

“All right…” Vonnie agreed.

Vincent helped them with their bags and led them to their neighboring chambers.

“Oh my!  It’s so charming!”  Vonnie stood in the center of the chamber and spun.

Vincent waved to a basket waiting on a desk.

“There’s one for each of you.  While I hope you have some time to explore Topside, we figured that with the pandemic, that might be limited so our Helpers gathered a little taste of the city for you.”

Vonnie examined the basket then hugged Vincent.

“That’s so kind!  I love it.  And everything looks delicious!  I just still can’t believe…”  She grinned.  “It’s like being in a fairy tale.  Like I have a room in a castle.”

A shadow briefly flashed across Jamie’s face before she, too, smiled.

“It’s a lovely gesture, Vincent.  Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.  It’s the least we could do.  Now… tea?”

“Yes, please!” Vonnie agreed as Jamie nodded.

The two looked on in amazement as Vincent led them through the Tunnels.  

“I feel like I’ll be needing bread crumbs,” Jamie joked.

Vincent chuckled.

“If you get lost, just give a shout.  Someone will be happy to help.  But we’ll walk back and forth as many times as needed for you to feel comfortable.”

“I just never imagined all this could be under a city…” Vonnie mused.  “I mean I’ve heard of the Paris catacombs but nothing like this…”

“Most of the people directly above us have no idea.  And that keeps us safe.  Now, here we are.”  Vincent waved the two women into his chamber where Catherine was waiting with tea and an assortment of food.

“Jamie!  Vonnie!  Welcome!”  Catherine greeted the latter with a hug.  “Oh…  It’s so good to meet in person.  I wish this could have happened earlier.”

“Me too…”  Vonnie warmly returned Catherine’s embrace.

“Jamie…”  Catherine squeezed her hand.  “An honor to have you with us.  Always great to meet another angel.”

Jamie smiled.

“Hardly as impressive as some you’ve met.  Nor as strange.  I heard you’ve had the pleasure of making Aziraphale’s and Crowley’s acquaintances,” she teased.  

Catherine laughed and nodded.

“They are… originals.  Anyway, please sit down.  Help yourselves!”

Catherine and Vincent let their guests enjoy their refreshments for several minutes, answering random questions, until Jamie cleared her throat.

“I think now we should fill Vonnie in on why we’re here,” she suggested.

Catherine and Vincent clasped hands and nodded.

“Of course.”

“Has something bad happened?” Vonnie fretted.  “This has all been very lovely but you’re making me a bit nervous is all…”

Vincent spoke first.

“We don’t mean to make you nervous, Vonnie, and I’m sorry.  But Jamie thought it would be best for us to be together when we told you.  Yes, something bad did happen but the most important part is everyone is all right.  Avi was not involved.”

“All right…”  Vonnie relaxed.  “So what happened?”

“On Saturday night, Andrew and JenniAnn went on a double-date with some friends, the aforementioned Aziraphale and Crowley,” Vincent began.

Vonnie shook her head.  Angels were dating angels now?  But that could wait.

“After dinner, the two couples separated and, regrettably, Andrew and JenniAnn were attacked by demons.”

“What?!?” Vonnie yelped.  “But… but Andrew’s an angel!  Couldn’t he… do something?”

“He did,” Catherine interjected.  “He protected JenniAnn.  But… he sustained some injuries in the process, most notably head injuries.  He’s in the hospital now.  But we’re hoping he’s getting released today.”

“So… so he’s okay?” Vonnie questioned.

Jamie took one of her shaking hands in both of hers.

“He has traumatic brain injury, Vonnie.  He’s not gonna go into a coma.  And he’s certainly not going to die.  That would be impossible.  But he does have a potentially long road of recovery ahead of him.”

“Is… is he paralyzed or… or blind or…”

“No, no, no,” Catherine assured.  “But he is experiencing some blurred vision, headaches, dizziness, a little nausea.”

“So JenniAnn will need to focus on helping Andrew recover and making sure their kids are coping all right.  Where we come in is JenniAnn and Aziraphale had been running a program where angels who were having a rough time could stop in and just spend the day relaxing, enjoying good food, working on arts and crafts… that sort of thing.  God doesn’t want JenniAnn to have to worry about that right now.  So we’ll help Aziraphale… who I think you’ll love.”  Jamie couldn’t help but smile as she thought of him and Crowley.  “And I’ll also make sure I’m available to Andrew and any other angel who is struggling with what happened.  And I’ll try to help the humans, too.”

Vonnie stared into her tea cup.

“I’m glad we’re here then.  But it’s so sad…  They’re such nice people.  Why would God have let that happen?”

Vincent smiled sadly and shook his head.

“We don’t know.  A question of the ages…”

“All we do know is that we can help to make what comes next easier and better for them,” Jamie encouraged.  “Okay?”

Vonnie nodded and forced a smile.

“Okay.”

*~*~*

Not wanting to over-tax Andrew, JenniAnn had requested that only their children, grandchildren, and the usual house guests be at Willowveil when she and Andrew returned.  She wanted everything to be as normal as possible… minus the heavenly escort in the forms of Aziraphale, Crowley, Azrael, and Michael.

JenniAnn’s decision seemed even more sound as she and Andrew made the short trip from the portal to Willowveil.  She could feel him leaning on her slightly.

“Careful on the steps, Andrew,” Azrael cautioned.

“Yup.”  

Slowly, one by one, Andrew and JenniAnn climbed the steps.  At the top, Andrew clamped his eyes shut.

“Dizzy, love?”

“A little bit.”

“Let’s sit for a few seconds before we go in, hmm?”

“Yeah.”

Crowley whispered to Aziraphale.

“Why don’t you go ahead and tell them that he’s struggling.  Don’t let anyone run at them, dogs and kids included.”

“Of course.  Good idea.”

“No yelling, either.  Soft voices.”

Aziraphale nodded, squeezed Crowley’s hand, and entered the castle.

“Beautiful day.”  Andrew tilted his head into the soft breeze.

“Very,” JenniAnn agreed.  “I’ll be glad to have some fresh air in our room.”

“The elevator is functional, correct?” Azrael checked.

JenniAnn nodded.

“Just got it inspected a couple weeks ago, actually.”

“Good.”

“Andrew, anything we can do?” Michael asked.

“No.”  Andrew got to his feet.  “I’m good to go.  Laja?”

JenniAnn took his offered hand and walked with him into the castle.

“Daddy… Mama...” Belle whispered, proving that Aziraphale had done his job.  

“Baby girl…”  Andrew crouched down with JenniAnn kneeling beside him.  

Slowly, the other little ones came over and greeted them with hugs.

“Don’t cry, Daddy…” Avi consoled, stroking his father’s face.

Andrew smiled.

“It’s okay, little man.  These are happy tears.  I’m so happy to see all of you!  So happy to be back home with Mama.”

JenniAnn rose and began to hug the older children.  Then she moved onto Takoda, Joccy, and Marty who was dutifully holding Fawn’s and Ichabod’s leashes.

“You were heartily missed,” Marty greeted.

JenniAnn choked up, suddenly realizing that second only to God, Marty knew best what had happened in that alley… and it was written on his face.

Ever watchful, Crowley noticed the exchange and took the dogs from Marty.

“Let me know if you need to talk,” Marty whispered as he embraced JenniAnn.

“I… I will.  Thank you.  I missed you, too.”

After Andrew had been welcomed back by everyone, dogs included, JenniAnn walked with him to the elevator.  Once they were inside, the angel sunk against the wall.

“I know I didn’t sleep well last night but with that nap this morning, I thought I’d hold up better today,” he confessed.

“Your body is doing a lot of healing, Andrew.  That’s exhausting.  Let’s get settled and then maybe another nap…”

“I really want to shower first.  Just… Wash these past couple of days away.  I’ll be careful with my head.”

“Maybe a bath would be better…  So you could sit down,” JenniAnn suggested.

“Not the same.  Doesn’t feel as clean.”

JenniAnn frowned.  She also desperately wanted a shower and, truthfully, a bath wasn’t the same.  But she was also terrified of Andrew losing his balance and hitting his head again.  Still…  She couldn’t baby him.

“Maybe… maybe someone could just be in the room.  There’s still the curtain.  You’d have privacy.  But if you did happen to slip…”

Andrew squeezed JenniAnn’s hand.

“If it would make you feel better.”

“It would.”

“Okay.  I’ll ask one of the guys,” Andrew promised.

“Thank you.”

The elevator beeped and the two stepped into the hallway.  For a moment, they froze.

Right there, Shelby and Violeta had gushed over them as they’d left for their date night…

JenniAnn looped her arm through Andrew’s.

“C’mon.”

Andrew nodded and walked with her to their room.  They were touched to discover that someone had gone in and lit a couple of scented candles.  The balcony door was half-open, letting the soft, autumnal breeze in.  A potted peace lily sat on JenniAnn’s vanity and an ivy on Andrew’s bedstand.

“Aww…”  JenniAnn plucked a card from the lily.  “From the Friends.”

“This one, too,” Andrew replied as he investigated the ivy.  

“Sympathy, peace, innocence, and fidelity and affection.  Perfect.”  

Andrew kissed JenniAnn’s temple then went to his dresser and selected some sweat pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt.

“I’ll shower in my old room.  You take this one.”

“All right…  But you will ask someone?”

Andrew poked his head into the hallway where he spied Aziraphale and Crowley.

“I will.  I see Aziraphale and Crowley right now.”

“Okay, good.  Thank you.  See you in a bit, love.”

“Take your time.  You have a lot more hair to wash,” Andrew teased.

Pleased by the spark of humor, JenniAnn relaxed.

“Okay!”  

With his clothes in hand, Andrew approached the two Watchers.

“Hey…  Weird request but… could one of you just hang around in the bathroom while I shower?  JenniAnn is afraid I’ll fall and hit my head.”

“Oh dear!  We absolutely can’t have that!” Aziraphale cried, already beginning to panic.  “Perhaps a nice, hot bubble bath would be more…”

“Right,” Crowley interrupted.  “ So… not you.  I’ll do it, Andrew.  Come along.”

Andrew smiled appreciatively and led Crowley to his room.

“Thank you.  JenniAnn tried to sell me on a bath, too.  Just doesn’t feel as good to me.”

“I get you.  More of a showerer myself.  That one will soak for a good two hours, reading the whole time.  Although… I am surprised JenniAnn didn’t offer herself for the job.  I mean…”

“I didn’t give her a chance,” Andrew cut in.  

“Why ever not?  She’s your anam cara.”

“We’ve never actually seen each other naked and supposing I do fall… not the first impression I want to make.”

Crowley blinked in alarm.

“You’ve never…  I didn’t think it needed to be said but… nudity isn’t automatically sexual.  We’re all born that way… well, except the ones God plops down in front of people like your friend… what’s her name?”

“Gloria.”

“Gloria!  Yes!”

“I’m aware of all that.  It’s just… the opportunity never arose.”

“All this water around and you never went skinny dipping?”

“I did…  Long time ago.  Not with Laja.  Just me.”

“Shame.  Feels good.”

“Don’t say anything to her about it,” Andrew warned.

“Course not.  But, like, she knows that lightning’s not gonna come down and strike her, right?  I hope it’s not the whole… Adam and Eve thing.”  Crowley began to play with his glasses.  “Because, well, if it is…  I didn’t mean for that to lead to repression and body shaming and all that.  Had no idea they’d act like that…”

Andrew rested a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“I know you didn’t.  Don’t worry about it.  Maybe it’ll happen… but it has to be on her time, Crowley.  Always.  And besides… I just… I don’t want her seeing me like this.  Not now.  It’d only upset her.”

Crowley frowned when Andrew pulled up a side of his shirt and revealed bruises.

“I… I understand.”

“Thank you.”  Andrew clapped Crowley on the shoulder.  “ I’m going to go start my shower now.”

“Okay.  I’ll be listening.”

“Thanks.”

Once Crowley heard the water start, he moved to lean against the jamb of the bathroom door.  

To his surprise, tears began to well in his eyes.

Why did he feel so guilty?  Guilty about the bruises, guilty about the fact that Andrew and JenniAnn had never gone skinny dipping…  

Why the hell did he care about whether two people went skinny dipping, anyway?

After a few minutes, the water stopped.

Crowley hastily wiped at his eyes and replaced his glasses.

“Need help stepping out?”

“No.  I’m good.  Coming out now.”

Crowley turned away.

Soon, he felt a light squeeze on his shoulder and saw Andrew had changed.

“Thanks.  On JenniAnn’s behalf, too.  She was right.  I did feel better having someone there.  Just in case.”

“Course.  Happy to help.  Now what?”

“I told her I’d take a nap… definitely feel like I could use one.”

Crowley nodded.

“Good idea.  I think I’ll just pop down to the kitchen.  Probably where Aziraphale went.”

Andrew smiled.

“Probably so.  See you later.”

“Yeah.  Later.”

Crowley returned Andrew’s smile, watched to make sure he got to his room, and then made his way to the kitchen to drown his sorrows in whatever ridiculously sweet creation his anam cara was no doubt working on.

*~*~*

While Andrew napped, JenniAnn’s parents stopped over with Raquel and Nico who were hosting them.

“JenniAnn!”  Allison hurried into the ballroom and embraced her daughter as she sat on a sofa, watching as Michael entertained the little kids with another puppet show… one he’d roped Azrael into.

“Hi Mom.”  JenniAnn hugged her mother back and smiled when Allison set a hand on her forehead.  “I’m fine.”

“I’m surprised there aren’t grooves in the floor from all the anxious pacing we did,” Robert quipped.  He sat down at his daughter’s other side and squeezed her hand.  “How’s Andrew?”

“Sleeping.  He… he’s… he’s pretty messed up.”  JenniAnn began to weep.  “Blurry vision and headaches a-and I can tell he’s in pain… even with the pain meds…  But he didn’t want anything stronger because he… he said it made him feel spacy.  They just… they hit him so hard and… and so, so many times and…”

“Here you go, sweetheart.”  Raquel handed her a handkerchief.

“Thanks…  Sorry.  I just…”  JenniAnn shook her head then peered over at the kids, relieved that they were still enthralled.

“You’ve been through a serious trauma, girl.  It would be concerning if you weren’t emotional,” Nico assured.

“Exactly,” Allison agreed.  “And you had two seizures in a relatively short period of time.  That alone would impact your mood and all this on top of it.”

“Yeah but… he… he was so brave, Mom.  It… it was awful but… but if you’d seen him…”

“Shhh…”  Allison kissed her daughter’s hair.  “Neither your Dad nor I need any more convincing, sweetheart.  Whatever distrust or… or concern we had about Andrew went away long before this.  Now we just want both of you to know that we’re here for you.  Anything you need.”

“Absolutely,” Robert affirmed.  “But we’re also not going to hover.  So Raquel and Nico have graciously agreed to tolerate us for at least a few weeks.”

“Nonsense!  We love the company,” Raquel protested.  “And the same goes for Nico and me, dear.  We want you and Andrew to know we’re nearby and ready and waiting to help whether that means doing chores around the castle or babysitting or whatever.”

“We understand that you and Andrew are dealing with a lot but we also… we understand craving normalcy right now,” Allison stressed.  “That’s why we decided to stay with Raquel and Nico for the time being.  But we didn’t want you to think we were bailing on you.”

“Of course not!  And I appreciate that.  I really do.  Because…”  JenniAnn stared down at her ring and began to twist it.  “I do feel like Andrew would hide how he’s feeling more if you’re around.  Not because he doesn’t trust you!  He just…  He still has that prideful streak.”  She smiled fondly.  “Nobody’s perfect… well, except for Joshua.”

“And nobody expects him to be, sweetheart.”  Allison smoothed some hair behind JenniAnn’s ear.  

“Grammas!  Grampas!” Belle shouted, spying the visitors.

With that, she hurried over with Avi, Evie, and Landon while Michael carried Amelia to JenniAnn.

As JenniAnn snuggled her youngest grandchild, she watched the others be fussed over by their grandparents.  She felt a sense of peace.  Whatever else happened, her parents understood now.  They would be there… but they would also trust her and Andrew to each other.

*~*~*

Shortly before dinner, JenniAnn received a message from Vincent making it quite clear that nothing was wrong… but he urgently needed to speak to her.  So while Andrew was being showered in affection by the children, JenniAnn made her way to the Tunnels with Crowley.

“I think the Tunnels are probably safe if you don’t want to…”

Crowley shook his head.

“Not worth chancing.  Not so soon.”

“True enough.”

They stepped through the portal and, as soon as they were on the other side, Vincent caught JenniAnn up in his arms.

“Psyche…  I’m so glad you are well.”

JenniAnn nuzzled his shoulder.

“I am…  Really.  Worried… but well.”

“How is Andrew?”

“Fine right now.  But the dizziness and blurred vision comes and goes.  And I’ve noticed his appetite isn’t normal.”

“That may change now that he’s away from the hospital food,” Vincent offered.

“I sure hope so.”

“Crowley…  Thank you for coming.”   Vincent loosened his hold on his godchild enough to shake the Watcher’s hand.

“Course.  She’s not the worst company I could keep,” he joked.

Vincent chuckled.

“No.  Not at all.”

“So what’s going on?” JenniAnn questioned.  “I know you said not to worry but… I am a little worried.”

“Please don’t be.  It’s only…  We have visitors, Psyche.  In the Tunnels.  Visitors Joshua asked me to host.”

“You’ve heard from Joshua?” JenniAnn blurted out.

“Briefly.”

“Is… is he coming?”

Vincent stroked JenniAnn’s back.

“He said he’ll be there for the blessing.”

“Oh…  Did he say anything about Andrew?  Will he heal him?”

“He didn’t say, Psyche.”

Crowley frowned when he saw the woman’s disappointment.  

“Well… did he tell you anything that we could do for Andrew?”

“In a manner…  Psyche, one of the visitors is an angel.  She’s… a counselor of sorts.  For Andrew.  And she’s going to help Aziraphale with your program.  So you don’t have to worry about it.”

“Oh… okay.”

“She also brought her assistant who is human.  And… we know her.”

“We do?”

“It’s Vonnie, Psyche.”

JenniAnn blinked.

“Vonnie…”

“She’s a lovely girl, Psyche.  Just as we expected her to be.  And she was so upset when I told her about what had happened.”

“We had wanted to have her visit…”  A smile flickered on JenniAnn’s face as she remembered excited, hopeful video chats… before the pandemic changed everything.  

“Yes.  So she and Jamie, the angel, have been told to report to Willowveil tomorrow morning to help Aziraphale.  I’ll be sure they get there and back.  But I did want to see if you wanted them to visit, perhaps, tonight.  So you and Andrew could meet them without distractions.”

“Jamie…”  Crowley murmured.

“Did you say something?” JenniAnn asked.

“Just talking to myself.”  Crowley gave her a breezy smile.  “Carry on.”

“Maybe they could come for dinner,” JenniAnn suggested.  “I mean… it’s likely not gonna be any sorta formal affair.  I doubt Andrew will feel up to that.  But at least we could meet and talk a little.”

Vincent smiled.

“I think they would like that very much.”

“And you and Catherine will come?  Jacob, too, if he likes?”

“We’d love to.  And if you need anything else…”

JenniAnn hugged her cousin.

“We’ll let you know.  Promise.”

Vincent returned JenniAnn’s hug and kissed her hair.

“I thank God that you’re safe and well, Psyche.”

“Thank you.”  JenniAnn forced a smile.  “We’ll see you in… an hour or so?”

“It’s a plan.”

“Good.”  JenniAnn squeezed Vincent’s hand then turned back to Crowley.  “Back we go.”

Crowley bowed dramatically.

“As you wish, milady.”

Eliciting the laugh he desired, Crowley led JenniAnn back through the portal and to Willowveil where, after checking on Andrew, she prepared for their guests.

*~*~*

“Are you nervous?” Violeta asked JenniAnn as she unfurled a blanket on the floor of the living room.  Since Andrew would be more comfortable on a couch as opposed to a wooden chair, the family would be eating in there with the kids gathered around the blanket picnic-style.

“About?”

“About Vonnie coming.”

“Maybe just a little.  It’s not like I think she’ll do something outrageous like try to take Avi.  More that it could be emotional for her and I’m not sure how to handle that.”  JenniAnn frowned.  “It… it’s kinda difficult thinking about how one of the most joyous parts of my life came from her heartbreak.”

Violeta hugged the older woman.

“Yeah…  I can see that.  Do you think Avi will be okay?”

“Oh, yeah.  He’s talked to her on the computer.  He knows he came from her tummy.  And you know Avi… everyone is a friend.”

Violeta beamed.

“He was so good when you were away!  Trying to cheer everyone up.”

JenniAnn squeezed Violeta’s hand.

“You were pretty great, too, honey.  Andrew and I appreciate so much how you older kids stepped up to take care of the younger ones.”

“Max even remembered to get donuts because Andrew promised.”

“I heard.”  JenniAnn kissed the angel’s hair.  “So proud of my babies.”

The doorbell sounded.

“And here we go…”  JenniAnn quickly glanced in a mirror.

“You look lovely!” Violeta encouraged.  “How about you go tell Andrew and I’ll let them in if someone else hasn’t already?”

“Okay.”  JenniAnn hugged Violeta before heading up the stairs.

When she reached her room, JenniAnn smiled at the scene before her.

Avi and Belle were on the bed, seated on either side of their father, and reading a book to him.

“Dinner’s ready,” JenniAnn announced.  “Aziraphale and Marty have made quite a feast!  And our guests are here.”

“Avi’s birth mommy?” Belle checked.

“Yup.  And an angel named Jamie who is gonna help out around here.”

Belle hugged her brother then looked back to JenniAnn.

“Girl Jamie or boy Jamey?”

“Girl,” JenniAnn replied.  

“We need more girl angels around here.”

Andrew chuckled as he got to his feet.

“Tired of us boys, Belle?”

“Just a lot of you lately.  Azrael and Michael and Crowley and Aziraphale and Takoda and Marty and you.”

“I mean you have a point…” Andrew admitted.

“We can discuss gender equality later.  Right now our guests are waiting,” JenniAnn reminded.  

Smiling, Andrew wrapped an arm around JenniAnn’s waist and kissed her cheek.

“She reminds me of you,” he whispered.

JenniAnn only smiled.

“Elevator, kids,” she called when Belle and Avi headed towards the stairs.

“Forgot!”  Avi grinned and reversed course.  “I push the button?”

Belle opened her mouth to protest but Andrew beat her to it.

“You push this time, Belle pushes when we go back up, okay?”

“Okay!”

JenniAnn heaved a sigh as the elevator descended.

“It’ll be okay,” Andrew whispered.

“Yeah…”

Once the elevator doors opened, Avi and Belle streaked out and ran towards the entryway.

“Be careful!” JenniAnn called after them.

The two slowed their pace… barely.

“They’re all right, Laja.  Just…”  Andrew paused.

JenniAnn clasped his hand.

“Are you all right, love?”

Andrew nodded but didn’t take another step.  He closed his eyes for a few moments.

“Just a dizzy spell.  I’m fine,” he answered.

“Maybe… maybe dinner in bed would be a better…”

“No.  I want to be with everyone else.”

“Okay, love.”

After a few more moments, Andrew began walking again.  

When the two reached the entryway, they found Belle interrogating the newcomers while Avi clung to his Appa’s leg and shyly eyed them.

“Where are you from?” Belle questioned.  “You sound different.  Except you sound like my Aunt Monica.”

JenniAnn grimaced but Jamie and Vonnie were merely amused.

“I’m from Ireland,” Vonnie answered.

“And I’m from Heaven… by way of Wales,” Jamie added.

“Are you vaccinated?”

Vonnie gave a ready nod.

“Absolutely!”

“Since I’m an angel like your Dad, I didn’t need to be,” Jamie explained.  “But… I did it, anyway.  Someone I knew didn’t want to be but I said I would if he would so…”

Andrew laughed.

“We’ve not even met but I like you already.  In case you can’t tell based on the inquisition, we’ve been being very careful around here.”  He approached and shook Jamie’s hand.  “Pleased to meet you, Jamie.”

“Likewise!”  Jamie smiled then turned to the woman on Andrew’s arm.  “And you must be, JenniAnn?”

“I am, yes.  Thank you so much for coming and…”  JenniAnn’s eyes traveled to Vonnie.

“And this, of course, is Vonnie.”  Jamie rested a hand on her back.  “My extremely necessary assistant.”

“I… I’m just so glad to be here.  So glad.  But I am… so sorry for the circumstances.”  

Andrew squeezed her hand.

“Our silver lining.”

Vonnie smiled at him.

“I hope so.”

“We’re so glad to have you here,” JenniAnn affirmed.  “Have you gotten to properly meet Avi?”

“We exchanged shy waves,” Vonnie reported.

“He can be a little shy.  But only at first,” Andrew explained.  “He’ll warm up to you over dinner, I’m sure.  Speaking of…”

Aziraphale stepped into the entryway with Crowley and Marty.

“Dinner is served!  You’ll find it setup buffet style in the dining room but we’ll be eating in the living room,” he announced.

With Andrew and JenniAnn leading the way, the group walked to the dining room where an abundance of food awaited them.

“Dig in!” Andrew instructed before lowering his voice and turning to JenniAnn.  “Can you walk with me to the living room?  Now, please.  The dizziness is starting up again.”

“Of course!”

The two slowly made their way to the living room where JenniAnn ensured Andrew was comfortably situated on the couch.  

“Thank you.  I just didn’t think I could go around that table.  Someone would notice something was off.”

“Good decision but… everyone expects something to be off, Andrew.  Don’t worry about…”

Andrew shook his head then winced.

“The adults, yes.  But I don’t want the kids to see…”

JenniAnn kissed his forehead.  

“Of course.  I’ll go get you some food.  I know what you like.”

Andrew smiled and brought her hand to his lips.

“You do.”

JenniAnn hesitated just long enough for Max, Rose, and their kids to enter the room before she left to dish up food for herself and Andrew.

Soon, the living room was filled with easygoing chatter and the clinking of dishes.  The entire household crammed into the extra chairs, making introductions as needed.

Vonnie began to flashback to high school as she debated where to sit when someone patted her arm.

“Come sit with Shelby and me!” Violeta chirped.

Vonnie smiled and nodded.

“Okay, thanks.”  She looked over to Jamie who gave her an encouraging wave.

Vonnie followed Violeta to a cluster of cushions in a corner of the room where Shelby was waiting.  

“Your hair!” Vonnie cried.  “I love it!”

Shelby smiled and tugged a purple strand of hair to the left of her face.

“Ace.”

She tugged the green strand on her right.

“Aro.”

“That’s so cool!” Vonnie gushed.  “You didn’t have those the last time we saw each other on a call, did you?  I think I woulda remembered.”

“Nah.  Just did it a couple weeks ago.”

“What did your parents think?”

Violeta giggled.

“Well, Psyche… JenniAnn… helped me do it.  Violeta, too.  Andrew was… surprised.  But he handled it well.”  Shelby’s eyes misted.  “He called me his little rainbow when he hugged me after coming home.”

There was silence for a few moments before Vonnie spoke.

“I just… I don’t understand.  I never thought of angels as getting sick or hurt.  I guess…  Rhiannon, she’s a new friend from Wales, did ask me to keep an eye on Jamie.  But I just thought so she wouldn’t get too upset or… or something.  But maybe she meant… more.”

“Jamie’s probably gonna be just fine,” Violeta assured.  “And that probably is all your friend meant.  And you’re right, in a way.  We can’t get COVID.  Or cancer.  Or have heart attacks.  Every so often, an angel might get sick if it’ll help them relate to their assignment more.  Like one time this angel who used to work with Andrew… Tess… she got Alzheimer’s because there was a lady with Alzheimer’s and having the same condition helped Tess to reach her.  And it also helped Monica, her trainee, learn some things and grow.  But… demons can hurt angels.  And angels can hurt demons.  And demons especially don’t like Andrew.”

“Why?”

“Because of us,” Shelby replied.  “He has human family.  He, well, he passes as human because he’s so ingrained in our lives.  And demons really don’t like humans.  And they really, really don’t like when angels and humans get together.  So Andrew and Psyche… that’s like their worst nightmare.”

“Plus…”  Violeta surreptitiously pointed to Crowley.  “You know who that is?”

“Vincent told me his name is Crowley but… that’s all I know.”

“Well…  He used to be the serpent… like the one in Eden.  I mean, originally, he was an angel… like all demons.  But then he fell and became the serpent.  But he always regretted it.  And God sent him here… and Andrew and JenniAnn helped him come back.  And now he and Aziraphale can be together.”

Vonnie perked up.

“Yes!  Vincent mentioned that Andrew and JenniAnn had been on a double-date… with them which, gonna hafta admit, intrigued me.  I mean… they’re both men… male… masculine?  Not that I object, of course!  It’s just…”

Shelby smirked.

“Sometimes we joke that people are right… it was Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve… but it was also Aziraphale and Crowley.  Not that they’re actually gay… not any more than Andrew is straight.  They just… are.  I suppose if we absolutely had to attach any human term to them it would be demiromantic.  Andrew will only ever feel romantic attachment towards JenniAnn.  Crowley will only ever feel it towards Aziraphale and vice versa.  And none of them feel sexual attraction to anyone.  They’re asexual by nature.”

“Yup,” Violeta confirmed.  

Vonnie thought back to her conversation with Rhiannon… about anam caras… and Jamie.  And she wondered again…

Maybe her boss had her own unconventional love story.

*~*~*

Near the fireplace, Jamie was busy catching up with Crowley, Aziraphale, and Marty as they ate around a card table.

“Coulda knocked me over with a pin when Joshua told me you were back, Crowley,” Jamie shared in between bites of chicken pot pie.  “So glad to hear it, though.  And you two…”

Aziraphale’s face flushed with obvious glee and pride.

“It’s been quite the blessing.”

Crowley only fidgeted with his glasses and squeezed the angel’s hand.

“I’m excited to learn more about how all that came about.  Joshua only gave me the very bare bones.”  Jamie turned to Marty.  “And you!  Never fancied finding you living among the mortals.”

“None of them ever thought to give me a writing garret before.”  Marty glanced over at Andrew and JenniAnn, checking on them.

“He’s very fond of the lord and lady of the manor,” Crowley reported.  “The whole thing fits in well with his English gentleman schtick.”

“Crowley…” Aziraphale whispered in a warning tone when Marty’s expression revealed he was not in a joking mood.

“Anyway…” Jamie redirected.  “Tell me about the young fellow with the girl?  Methinks he’s one of us but I’ve ever seen him before.”

“Takoda,” Aziraphale explained.  “Quite young.  Like Miss Violeta.  Anam caras with Miss Joccy… we think.”

Jamie looked in time to see Joccy spoon some custard into Takoda’s mouth then kiss a bit off the corner of his mouth when she missed.

“I may have just met them… but I’m going to do more than think,” she decided, chuckling.  “Now, Aziraphale, tell me a bit more about this program you’ve started with JenniAnn?”

As Aziraphale excitedly spoke, Jamie’s gaze occasionally drifted to Marty.  His usual stoicism… at least as she’d known it… seemed to be on the verge of collapse.

Maybe he, too, would need someone to talk to.

*~*~*

That evening, Andrew sat on his and JenniAnn’s bed and watched as she paced the room, brushing out her hair.

“Laja?”

“What is it, my love?”

Andrew stared at his folded hands.

“I’m just thinking…  Maybe I should sleep in my room.  Just in case.  Remember that one night after Afghanistan?  I… I got confused.  And… and you were there but it wasn’t you I saw and…”  Andrew raised his fist in the air.

JenniAnn abandoned her task, clasped Andrew’s clenched fist in both of her hands, and lowered it.

“And you came back to yourself quickly.  You recognized me and… and you calmed down.  You relaxed.  You didn’t hurt me.”

“I could have,” Andrew murmured.

“Physically?  Sure.  You could have hit me.  Emotionally?  No.  I don’t think you could. You would have stopped yourself.   My love, we were only friends then…  Okay, maybe friends with very tame, very G-rated benefits…”

In spite of his turmoil, Andrew smirked.

“But we’re so much more to each other now!” JenniAnn exclaimed.  “And you know me… inside and out.  You would recognize me.  No matter how… how addled your poor brain was at the time.  I know you would, Andrew!”  JenniAnn grabbed a pair of his pajamas and set them on their bed.  Then she settled beside Andrew, looped her arms around him, and peered into his teary eyes.  “I… I’m tired Andrew.  I just… I don’t sleep well alone.  I need to sleep… with you.”

Tears trickled down Andrew’s cheeks.  He kissed JenniAnn’s hair then nuzzled his cheek against it.

“I want to, Laja…  I… I don’t sleep well alone, either.  But I… I’m scared.  If I hurt you…”  

JenniAnn was silent for a few moments.  Then she gave a resolute nod.

“Here’s what we’re gonna do.  You’re gonna stay here.  With me.  And I’ll ask Vincent to bunk in Avi’s room for the night.  He wants to do something.  That’ll give him something to do.  He’s still so strong, Andrew.  He could help me if… if needed.  And I truly don’t think I will need help.  But he could.  We can even keep the door between the rooms open if… if it’d make you feel better.  Please, Andrew?” JenniAnn begged.

Andrew considered the suggestion.  She was right.  Even at his advanced age, Vincent was in incredibly good shape… maybe not strong enough to fight him.  But definitely strong enough to wrest JenniAnn away.  And he’d have that paternal adrenaline going for him if anything happened.

And it wasn’t good for JenniAnn to not get her sleep.  The seizures tended to happen after nights of insomnia.  And the things she’d seen…  If they caused nightmares, he wanted to be there to comfort her.  

And Andrew badly wanted to sleep beside JenniAnn… in their own room, in their own bed.  

He nodded.

“Okay.  If Vincent agrees.”

JenniAnn smiled with relief.

“Thank God!  I’ll go ask him now!  You get into those pajamas and get cozy!”

Andrew smiled and nodded.

“Okay.  I will.”  He brought JenniAnn’s right hand to his lips then peered into her eyes.  “I love you, Laja.  So much.”

JenniAnn’s eyes filled again.

“I love you, too, Andrew.  And… and we’ll be okay.  You’ll see, my love.”

Andrew nodded and released her.  

JenniAnn gave him one more encouraging smile then left the room in search of Vincent.

Andrew closed the door for privacy then began to change.  When he finished, he made his way to JenniAnn’s vanity.  He picked up a framed photo of the two of them and Joshua.

“Please… please don’t let me hurt her or scare her,” he prayed.  “Keep her safe, please.”

Hands shaking, Andrew set the photo back down.

Then he made his way back to the bed and slid beneath the familiar sheets and blanket.

He was home.

*~*~*

A few minutes later, JenniAnn returned with Vincent to find Andrew already asleep.

“Poor love,” she murmured.

Vincent patted her back as they moved to the hallway, JenniAnn gently shutting the door behind them.

“I’ll leave now to get my things.  I won’t be any longer than fifteen minutes, Psyche.”

“Okay.  Thank you for doing this.  I really, really don’t think it’s necessary… but it makes him feel better.”

“I’m very happy to help.  Truly.”  Vincent kissed JenniAnn’s hair.  “Back soon.”

“Okay.”  

Once he was gone, JenniAnn began to make the rounds.  First, she checked in on Max and his family in one of the guest rooms.

Max welcomed her with a hug.

“How ya holding up, Maja?”

“Good.  So glad to be home.  Just tired… but gonna remedy that soon.  Everyone cozy in here?”

Rose looked up from Amelia’s crib and nodded.

“Already asleep.  Landon, too.”  Rose approached and looped an arm around her husband’s waist.  “I… I could almost believe it was Christmas with everyone here if not for…”  Her voice drifted off.  

“It must make you both think of before… after we came back from Afghanistan.  I was still on the outskirts and shielded from so much of what happened but you… you were right there.  Both of you.”  Max bit his lip, tears welling in his eyes.  “Do… do you think part of why it’s so bad this time is because of last time?”

“No, baby!”  JenniAnn gave an adamant shake of her head.  “Absolutely not.  That was cured.  Completely.  If anything, it helps that there was a last time.  I know what to look out for… when to admit further medical intervention is needed.”

“I keep telling myself that such immense blessings came out of last time.”  Rose flicked at a tear.  “My whole life changed.  I got a husband and two beautiful babies.  So… so maybe something wonderful will come from this, too.”

“Hopefully not another husband for you,” Max jested.

Rose and JenniAnn both laughed.

“Definitely not that.  But I am hoping…  Vonnie being here is a start.  It was so good to see her fitting in.  And I’m so glad that Avi gave her a hug before she left.  But also… it didn’t feel strained or sad.  Just… natural,” JenniAnn mused.

“Sure seems like Shel and Violeta have a new friend.  I looked over at them a few times during dinner and they looked like longtime buddies chatting and laughing.”  Max smiled at the memory.  

“Good.  I have to admit that I was so focused on your dad that I missed a lot.  But… speaking of Shel and Violeta… I better go check on them.  Belle, too.”  JenniAnn hugged Max and Rose.  “See you in the morning.”

“Sleep in as much as you can, Maja,” Max urged.  “Love you.”

“Yes, let everyone else handle all the morning stuff!” Rose stressed.  

“Love you, too.  And yes, I will,” JenniAnn promised.  “G’night.”

“G’night, Maja!”

JenniAnn moved onto Belle’s room where all three girls were camped out beneath a makeshift tent.

“Ah… the tent’s made a comeback.”  JenniAnn smiled and sat down to be level with the trio.

Belle crawled over and snuggled into her mother’s lap.

“It’s to keep us safe,” she shared.

“I see.”  JenniAnn nuzzled Belle’s curls.  “You are safe here, baby girl.  God’s watching over us and He sent us even more angels than usual to protect us.”

Belle only nodded and began to play with JenniAnn’s cross.

JenniAnn gently swayed and looked to the older girls.

“How are you two doing?  Did you have a nice time with Vonnie?”

Shelby nodded.

“She’s really cool.  She liked my hair a lot.”

JenniAnn reached over and caressed a tendril of purple.

“As she should.  It’s beautiful.  I’m so glad you girls made her feel welcome.  I wanted to talk to her more but…”

“She works with a counselor, JenniAnn.  She understands that you’re going through stuff… and helping Andrew go through stuff,” Violeta assured.

“Yeah, I’m sure.  But I want the three of you to know… I’m still here for you.  I know this is really hard for all of you.  I… I’m still the mom, though,” JenniAnn choked out.

Violeta and Shelby moved to either side of JenniAnn and wrapped her in a group hug.

“We know.”  Shelby sniffled.  “I… I think right now we’re just still… kinda in shock.  And just glad that you and Andrew are here.  And the full reality… it hasn’t really hit us.”

“Yeah, agreed.  But… but I know that last time… last time made us all even stronger and closer.  So I wanna believe this time will be the same way,” Violeta added.

“How long was last time?” Belle asked.

JenniAnn thought.

“At least five weeks.  But we don’t know that it’ll be the same this time, baby.  Could be shorter.  Could be longer.”

“I’ll pray it’s shorter.  I’ll pray and ask Joshua to make Daddy better,” Belle promised.

JenniAnn smiled down at her daughter.

“I think praying is a very good idea, Belle.  Just… just remember that God doesn’t always answer us right when we want Him to… and sometimes not exactly how we’d like Him to but… but He has His reasons.”

“Okay, Mama.”  Belle closed her eyes.  “Dear Joshua and Joshua’s Dad…”

Touched, the three women joined hands.

“Please make my Daddy better.  If you want to.  I hope you want to.  If you don’t want to now then maybe you could soon.  Make his nose better.  And his brain better.  And anything else that’s wrong better.  Please.  Thank you.  Love you.  Oh and thank you for my family and my animals and for the pretty weather and for Halloween which is coming and for books and for my toys.  Okay.  Amen.”

JenniAnn beamed and gave Belle a squeeze.  

“That was a very nice prayer, Belle.  Thank you.  And now… I think I better go back with Daddy.  We’re in our room if you need anything.  Just… knock first.  Please.”

“Okay, Mama.  Love you.”  Belle kissed JenniAnn’s cheek.

“Love you, too.  All three of my beautiful girls.”

JenniAnn hugged the three and kissed their hair.

“G’night, Psyche.  Love you, too.”

“Night, night, JenniAnn.  Love you lots.”

JenniAnn saw that the girls settled comfortably back into their sleeping bags then smiled once more from the doorway.

“Sleep well, my babies,” she murmured.

JenniAnn moved to Avi’s room where she kissed him as he slept before sitting beside Vincent on the pull-out couch he’d be using for a bed.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Okay.  Tired.”

“Nervous?”

“No.  I know he won’t hurt me.  I just… I know it.  But… okay, I guess I am a little nervous.  Not about Andrew hurting me.  Just… nightmares.  What that demon showed me…  I… I get flashes.  So much of it faded when I had those seizures but… I’m worried it’ll come back in my dreams.”

“Well, if they do, come get me.  I have some experience with comforting you after nightmares.”

JenniAnn wrapped her fingers around one of Vincent’s and nodded.

“You do…”

“And just remember,” Vincent counseled, “those people are at peace now.  No matter how terrible the things they endured were… now they’re at peace.  And they know only God’s love.  Forever and always.  And Andrew was the one who led them there.”

A few tears slid down JenniAnn’s cheeks.

“I will remember,” she promised.

Vincent hugged her.

“Now try to get some sleep, Psyche.  I’ll be right here.”

“Okay.  G’night, love you.”

“I love you, too.  Rest well, sweet girl.”

“You too.”

And then JenniAnn had only her own room to visit.  She left the door to Avi’s nursery ajar and made her way to the bed.

Thankfully, Andrew looked peaceful.  Only the bandages around his nose, the discoloration around his right eye, and some small scrapes on his face and neck indicated the trauma they’d endured.

JenniAnn carefully climbed into bed and snuggled as close to Andrew as she dared, not wanting to risk hurting him.

“I love you, Andrew.  So much,” she whispered.  

Then, after softly kissing him, JenniAnn gave into the weariness that had followed her throughout the day.

*~*~*

Tuesday, October 5th, 2021

“Seems dear old Daddy is too busy to help…”

Andrew jolted awake, the sound of the demon’s taunt echoing through his mind.  Anxiously, he looked to his side.

JenniAnn was there.  She was sleeping and she was safe.

Andrew stared at her… her hair half-obscuring her face, her knees pulled up to her chest.

She was cold… cold because he wasn’t holding her… because she had been afraid of hurting him.

Andrew inched closer then rolled onto his left side.  He winced as pain shot through his body but otherwise ignored it.

Andrew gently brushed the hair back from JenniAnn’s face.  She looked peaceful, at least.  He rested a hand on her exposed arm and gently caressed it.

She’d been so terrified.  They’d both been, if he were honest.

And even as he laid there with JenniAnn so close, Andrew was still terrified.

What had they intended to do?  Was it simply to make JenniAnn see those things?  Or had their larger plan been interrupted by Aziraphale and Crowley?  And if the visions had been their plan, what happened when they learned that their mission had been an abysmal failure?

Things had finally started opening up post-COVID and now JenniAnn was a prisoner in her own home because of them.  And, sure, she loved Marty and Aziraphale and Crowley and all the rest.  She’d even come to refer to them as her “brothers-in-love.”  But that didn’t mean she wanted one or two of them trailing her everywhere like heavenly Secret Service agents.

It was painfully obvious he wasn’t able to protect her.

If it were possible, he would die for her.  And yet… when it had really mattered… he hadn’t even been able to stay conscious for her.

And Andrew knew that was foolish.  Human form, human skull, human brain structure.  It wasn’t as if anyone could just will themselves out of a blow to the head.  

“Andrew…”

Through his blurry gaze, Andrew saw JenniAnn staring at him.

“Oh love…”

“Come closer, Laja…  Please.”

“Love, I don’t want to hurt…”

“I don’t care.  I just need…”

JenniAnn snuggled against Andrew’s chest and began to stroke his back.

“Relax, my love.  We’re together.  We’re safe.”  She kissed his neck.  “And I love you so much.”

Andrew buried his face in her hair.

“Love you so much, too,” he answered.  “Just so sorry…”

“Shh…  No.  You have nothing to be sorry about.”

“I… I’m a mess.”

“No…  You’re just sick, love.  But you’re gonna get better.  You will.  I… I know it.  Just like before.”  JenniAnn shifted so she could peer into Andrew’s eyes.  “And I’ll be here… just like before except… more.”

In spite of his sorrow, Andrew chuckled when JenniAnn brought one of his hands to her breasts.

“2012 Andrew woulda freaked out if I’d done that,” JenniAnn teased.

“Just a little,” Andrew admitted.

“We’re together now.  Nothing and no one can change that, Andrew.”

“Yeah…”  Andrew smiled as he smoothed some hair behind JenniAnn’s ear.

“So let’s just try to get some more rest, okay?”  

“Okay.”

“G’night, my love.”

“G’night, my Laja.”

In spite of the aches in his body, Andrew smiled as JenniAnn snuggled against him.

Soon, they were both asleep again.

*~*~*

True to his word, Aziraphale prepared vegetable quiche, turkey-like sausages, and cherry dumplings for breakfast the following morning.  At his insistence, Andrew and JenniAnn were served breakfast in bed.

Beyond the household and assigned Watchers, the delectable dishes were also enjoyed by Adam and Monica who had stopped in.  In between bites of their meal, the angels worked on coloring sheets that Vonnie had doled out at Jamie’s behest.

After a few minutes, Marty set down a maroon crayon and looked to Jamie.

“When are we meant to talk?” he inquired.

Crowley looked to the scribe with surprise.  

“Whenever you’d like to,” Jamie encouraged.  “You can talk with the group or you and I could go to another room.”

“It’s only…”  Marty resumed coloring.  “I know what JenniAnn saw… what the demons showed her.  Perhaps not exactly.  But… I would have written it all down when it happened.  Nothing would surprise me.  And… perhaps I should tell her that?”

Adam, who had stopped in mostly to check on his friends, reached across the table and squeezed Marty’s hand.

“I think you should.  It would give her permission to talk to you if and when she needs to.”

“I agree.  I may have only just met Andrew and JenniAnn but I get the sense both would be reluctant to plant disturbing ideas and images in another’s mind.  JenniAnn should be reminded that if she talks to you, she’s not doing that.  Those images were already there,” Jamie counseled.

“They are…”  Marty confirmed.  “And I will.  Thank you.”  He smiled at Jamie.

“How are you doing, Adam?” Jamie asked.  “You’ve known them longer than any of us here.”

Adam frowned.

“Okay.  I’m concerned for them, of course.  Concerned for the kids.  And it does make me a little nervous about Kylie and Clay and the kids.”

Monica gripped her old friend’s hand.

“I know the feeling,” she murmured.

“It’s understandable to be concerned right now,” Jamie affirmed.  “Near as we can tell, at least part of their reason for the ire towards Andrew is because he has a human anam cara… as you both do, I understand?”

Adam and Monica nodded.

“Not the same,” Crowley insisted.  “I mean… not saying your attachment and love isn’t the same as what Andrew feels for JenniAnn.  But…”  Knowing his next words might hurt, the Watcher looked to Jamie.

“Go on, Crowley,” she encouraged.  “It’s better to have the truth.”

“Right.  I only mean… I think Andrew would have to be out of the picture for them to go after either of your families.  They learned from what happened with Nen and Tzila.  When they struck out at all of you, Andrew went to bloody Sheol and the biggest harrowing since You Know Who was down there happened.”

“‘Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered…’” Aziraphale intoned.

“Something like that,” Crowley agreed.  “Way I see it, they have two chief issues with Andrew.  One, his relationship with JenniAnn.  And two, he’s the reason your group of friends is what it is.  And the ripple effects of your group…  Well, it started with Yehuda and just kept going.  The very last thing they want is an irate Andrew rambling around Sheol again, telling the shades the truth about Yehuda and Eben and, well, me.”

“So what do you think they were trying to accomplish?” Marty pressed.

“Two things.  Turn JenniAnn against Andrew… discorporate him,” Crowley replied.

“Discorporate?” Monica questioned.

“He means destroy his human form,” Adam explained.  “Big thing with the demons.”

“But that’s not possible,” Monica protested.  “I mean I’ve heard of angels being in human form when something terrible happens.  Like Eli in World War II.  But he just escorted his men Home and the Father fixed his poor, bullet-ridden human form and back he went!”

Aziraphale and Crowley exchanged glances.

Jamie smirked.

“What did you two do?” she questioned.

Crowley cleared his throat.

“May have lied a little…  Look… was a demon.  Lying was our thing.”

“See, we didn’t actually know what would happen if our mortal forms sustained, well, mortal damage,” Aziraphale continued.  

“Then some idiot starts a fire in the first-ever library.  This one,” Crowley motioned towards Aziraphale, “was beside himself.  So we tried to get out what we could.  Beam fell.  Next thing we know, we’re on Joshua’s Island getting fixed up.  Had a nice chat with Joshua.  Came back to Earth… then back to Hell.  Told everyone it was horrible.  Pointing and laughing and having my feathers plucked.  Threatened with oblivion.  Just barely got away.”

Horrified, Monica shook her head.

“Why ever would you do that?”

Aziraphale patted Crowley’s back.

“Joshua asked Crowley to come back.  He wouldn’t.  He wasn’t ready… yet.”

“But I figured if they all thought oblivion awaited after discorporation… well, they wouldn’t go hunting for the ‘traitors’ who took Joshua up on his offer.  They’d assume they were just, poof!, gone… not that they were working on themselves and returning to God,” Crowley finished.

“The downside is we may have made them more cautious… less likely to get discorporated to begin with and, thus, less likely to come face to face with God.”  Aziraphale frowned.  “And they seem also to have been left with the impression that discorporation is a terrible disgrace for angels… instead of the minor inconvenience it actually is.”

Crowley went ashen.

“Maybe they wouldn’t have attacked Andrew like they did if they didn’t believe that.  Maybe we…”

Jamie cut him off.

“I don’t think demons need a reason to be cruel.  I would never advocate lying but… your lie appears to have had downsides and upsides and there’s no way you could have predicted it would lead to this.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.”

“Agreed,” Adam affirmed.  “Andrew and JenniAnn wouldn’t like that.  But I think it’s good that we talk to each other about these kinds of things.  Not them.  We don’t want to put the burden on them to comfort us.”

Aziraphale nodded and smiled at Jamie.  

“I’m glad you’re here.”

Jamie smiled at the group.

“And I’m glad to be here.  I usually do one-on-one counseling.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been around so many fellow angels at once.”

“What’s life like for you in Wales?” Monica asked.

“Peaceful, mostly.  Comfortable.”  

The others listened with interest as Jamie told them about the life she’d temporarily left behind.

*~*~*

After finishing their breakfast, Andrew and JenniAnn remained in bed.

“Head still hurt?” JenniAnn asked as she hovered above Andrew as he laid down.

“Yeah.  I’m hoping the coffee will help.  Just needs time to kick in.”

JenniAnn gently stroked his face.

“Do you want me to massage your temples or something?”

Andrew smiled.

“No but thank you.”

He grabbed her hand and brought it to his lips.

“You still feeling okay?  Any more seizures?” he checked.

JenniAnn shook her head.

“I’m absolutely fine except… well, except for you.  I hate seeing you in pain.  I wish I could take it away.”

“You do a lot more than you think you do.”  Andrew peered up at JenniAnn and cupped her face in his right hand.  “It was worse in Afghanistan.  Without you.”

JenniAnn turned to kiss his palm.

“I’m glad I’m here.  But… I also know that it helps to open up to someone who isn’t quite so close.  Have you thought about seeing Jamie?”

Andrew nodded.  

“I should.  God sent her for that reason so…  I will.  Later today even.”

“Good.”

“Hmm…  There are two of you.  Two anam caras for me,” Andrew jested.

“I hope the second me looks a bit more put together.”

“Both lovely.”

JenniAnn smiled and snuggled back down beside Andrew.

“I wish that would go away.  It has to be annoying.”

Andrew kissed her hair.

“It is.  But it could be worse.  I could not be able to see you or the kids or anyone or anything.”

“True…”

“Laja, if I do have to stay in bed a lot today again… don’t feel like you need to stay with me the whole time.  I don’t want you to…”

“We’ll see.”

Andrew smiled as JenniAnn clung to him.

“Okay.”

*~*~*

That afternoon, Vonnie focused on turning the small study room that JenniAnn had offered up into a comfortable office for Jamie.

“She likes to have tea available.  Ah!  Perfect!  An electric kettle.”

Violeta, who was helping out, opened a nearby drawer.

“And all the tea and fixings are in here… minus fresh cream and milk.  Gotta get those from the kitchen.”

“Sounds good.  Ooh.  There are even honey sticks.”

“Is there anything else Jamie will need?” Shelby asked.

“Maybe…  She feels pretty strongly about journaling.  She always has her clients pick a special journal and pen for themselves.  Maybe I should have brought some with me…”

“There are so many stationery shops in the city!  You could get some there,” Violeta suggested.  “Plus, that way you’d get to see a little of New York.  Other than the Tunnels, I mean.”

“Would Andrew and JenniAnn be okay with that?  I mean I’d wear my mask inside, of course.”

“That would be enough,” Shelby encouraged.  “I mean Violeta’s been going to classes.  And before everything, Andrew was back to seeing carpentry clients.  We stopped with the total lockdown after everyone who could got vaccinated.”

“I’m sure Marty would take you if you asked.  He loves poking around those places.  I’d go too except…”  Violeta frowned.  “I just… I don’t want to leave in case, well… if Andrew took a turn.”

Vonnie patted her shoulder.

“Of course not.  I understand completely.  I’ll talk to Marty.  He seems a little… stern.”

“He’s not.  Not once you get to know him, anyway,” Shelby defended.  “He’s kinda like a burnt marshmallow.  Crusty on the outside, gooey on the inside.  And I think he’s just kinda having a tough time right now.  He’s sorta the reason Andrew and JenniAnn are as close as they are.  And I think, in a way, he takes a lot of pride in that.  And to have them threatened…”  Tears welled in Shelby’s eyes.

“Poor Marty…”  Violeta hugged her sister tightly.  

“I’m so sorry all of you are going through this.  It’s scary and sad enough just being on the outskirts.  But to have it be your family…”  Vonnie shook her head.  “Awful.”

“But we’re together.  And you and Jamie are here.  And that’s really nice.”  Violeta smiled at Vonnie.  “And you have your own feelings, too, I’m sure.  If you wanna talk about it… is it hard being here with Avi?”

Vonnie sighed.

“A little…  I mean he’s such a sweet kid.  And I can’t say I haven’t had a few day dreams of flitting around Ireland with my little boy.  But… he’s not my little boy.  I mean, sure, sometimes I see myself in his little expressions.  But… I also noticed that when he’s interested in something, his eye brow quirks up and it’s so cute.  But it’s not me.”

Shelby smiled.

“Andrew does that, too.”

“And the way he was snuggling up to his Mama and Daddy last night…  And just seeing him with Vincent.  He has someone who will understand completely what he’ll go through.”  Vonnie beamed.  “And I’m so glad for that.  And I haven’t even seen the half of what you all have here but…”  She waved in the direction of the library.  “I couldn’t give him a library like that.  And this El-Chanan that I’ve heard about…  Is it a big city?”

“It’s a whole other world.  Museums and hospitals and schools and there’s even an amusement park and an arcade,” Violeta counted off.  

“And Avi can have all that.  And…”  Vonnie bowed her head.  “I have freedom.  I’m just…  I’m too young to have a little one.  Sometimes I can barely take care of myself.”  She gave a weak laugh.  “And yet I think one day I’ll be able to counsel people and help them manage their own lives!”

“I’m sure even the best counselors had rocky points,” Shelby countered.  “You’re right!  You are too young… too young to expect yourself to have everything together.  You’re not that much older than me, Vonnie.  And I have no idea what I’m doing!”

Violeta laughed.

“I’m an angel… and I don’t even know what I’m doing.  And God apparently understands that because He put me here… with people who can guide and teach me and take care of me.  I think He did the same for you with Jamie.”

Vonnie smiled with relief.

“You think so?”

Violeta nodded vigorously.

“I really do.”

“Well… good.  Then I believe that, too.  Cause angels can’t lie.”  Vonnie grinned.

“We can’t!” Violeta agreed with a laugh.  

“Thank you for the encouragement!  Truly.  But now…”  Vonnie laid a planner down on a nearby desk.  “Back to my official business.  Would either/both of you like to visit with Jamie?”

Shelby and Violeta exchanged glances.

“Could we together?  At least at first?” the former inquired.

“Of course!”

“Good.  Maybe tomorrow afternoon?  I have a class in the morning.  But I’d be free after lunchtime.”

“Is 2:00 okay?” Vonnie checked.

The two other girls nodded.

“Then 2:00 it is.”

Violeta smiled.

“Thanks.  I did want to talk to Jamie… just needed a little push.”

“Then I’m glad I could give it!”

“Once we’re done here, I think we should do something to remedy the fact that you’ve only seen a little bit of Dyeland,” Shelby suggested.

“We should!” Violeta agreed.  “It’s nice outside.  We should go for a walk.  Show you around.”

“I’d love that!  Thank you!”  Vonnie smiled.  “I feel like I’ve made more friends here in a couple of days than I have in entire semesters at college.”

Violeta hugged her.

“Yeah…  College can be kinda weird like that.  But we’re glad you’re here.”

“Totally,” Shelby agreed.  

Beaming, Vonnie made final preparations in the study then hurried off to explore with her new friends.

*~*~*

That afternoon, once Jamie had settled into her new office, she had her first client.

“Are you comfortable?  Can I get you anything?  Either of you?” JenniAnn asked after finally prying her eyes away from Andrew.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Jamie answered in a chipper tone.

Andrew squeezed JenniAnn’s hand.

“I’m fine, too, Laja.  Go take some time for yourself.”  He kissed her right temple.  “You deserve it.”

“Okay…  Just call if you need anything.  I think I’ll get some tea.  But I’ll be here.”  JenniAnn frowned as Andrew sunk into the couch.  “Are you sure maybe some more meds wouldn’t be…”

Andrew reached for JenniAnn’s left hand and kissed it.

“I’m fine.  Really.  If I’m suddenly in a great deal of pain, I’m sure Jamie will let you know.”

“Absolutely!” the angel affirmed.

“But, for now, I’m doing good.  Just a little stiff.  But good.”

JenniAnn smiled and nodded.

“Okay.  I’ll let you two get to it then.”  

“Thank you.”  Andrew smiled as she bent down to kiss his cheek.

“Thank you,” Jamie echoed.  “I’ll take good care of him.”

Fighting tears, JenniAnn smiled at Jamie then left the two alone, closing the door behind her.

Andrew stared at the door for a moment then turned to Jamie.

“Thank you for seeing me.”

“Of course!  That’s why I’m here.”

“Has everything been okay?  Do you and Vonnie have everything you need to be comfortable?  I know this is quite an upheaval.”

“We’re doin’ great,” Jamie assured.  “And… while I didn’t know the particulars, I’ve known for months that I was leaving Wales to come help you and JenniAnn and your family.  So… no upheaval.  Vonnie may not have gotten exactly what she planned but… I’m quite confident that she prefers our current arrangements to the long stay hotel she was no doubt imaginin’.”

Andrew chuckled.

“You can’t get the ambiance of the Tunnels… or Willowveil, for that matter, at a Residence Inn.  I am sorry she’s not getting the NYC tourist experience, though.”

“Marty’s taking her into town to do a little shopping.  So she’ll get that.  And I’ll plan to get her to a few museums.  Maybe even a show or two.  But she’s content as is.  I’m sure this won’t be the only time she gets to visit.”

“No.  Absolutely not.  We’ve enjoyed having her.  I’m just sorry that we haven’t been the hosts that we’d like to be.”  Andrew picked at a thread on his sweater.

Jamie shook her head.

“She understands that you’re unwell, Andrew.  That’s why we’re here.  And, to be blunt, I think she’d really rather be palling around with Shelby and Violeta than you, anyway.  Even under the best of circumstances.”

Laughing, Andrew nodded.

“I guess you’re right.  Wouldn’t want to crimp their style.”

“No.”  Jamie smiled at him.  “Wouldn’t want that.  We’re too old.”

“Only one of us looks it.  And it’s not you.”

“Flatterer!”  Jamie laughed then moved away from her desk and sat down in a chair facing Andrew’s, notebook in hand.

“So I guess we’re starting…”  

Jamie noticed Andrew’s fidgeting increasing.

“I think we should.  But we’re still just two angels talking.”

“Yeah…”

“So how are you doin’ with everything?”

Andrew shrugged.

“Okay, I guess.  Glad it wasn’t worse.  Really glad to be home.  Thankful that JenniAnn wasn’t hurt any more than she was.  Worried about what she saw.”

“But how are you feeling?”

The angel of death blinked.

“Like I said…”

“You didn’t.  Not really.... Not beyond ‘okay.’   You expressed gratitude and then spoke of your concerns about JenniAnn.”

“But…”  Andrew cut off his own protest.  “All right…  I feel achy.  Blurry vision comes and goes.  Sometimes I feel dizzy and/or nauseated.  I’m frustrated that I can’t do what I usually do to comfort JenniAnn.  I don’t like that the kids are worried about me.  I wish I’d done a better job of protecting JenniAnn.  I’m mad at myself for letting them touch her.”

“I’m sorry that you’re in pain.  I hope you’re taking your medication like you should?”

Andrew nodded.

“They offered me something stronger… but I didn’t like how detached and groggy it made me feel.”

“Understandable.  But I hope you would reconsider that if the pain got worse.”

“Sure.”

“Are there ever any times when JenniAnn isn’t there for you in the ways you’d like her to be?” Jamie questioned.

“No!” Andrew snapped.  His face flushed.  “Sorry.  I didn’t mean it to come out like…”

“And I didn’t mean it as anything against her.  She’s human.  Sometimes humans get sick or lack energy.  It happens.  So has there ever been a time when she’s been unwell or otherwise not felt up to doing somethin’ that you wanted to do?”

“Well, yeah…  I mean she has seizures sometimes.  Or I might want to go for a walk but I know sometimes her allergies are really bad so… I’d never hold that against her.”

“So why are you holdin’ it against yourself for not being 100% available to her now?”

Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

“It’s different,” he responded after a few moments of reflection.

“How?”

“She didn’t do anything to become epileptic or have allergies.  She had no choice.  I… I should have been able to do more on Saturday.  Had a better plan.”

“You had mere seconds to develop a plan, Andrew.  And… while I’m very sorry that you were hurt, the fact remains that JenniAnn… physically… came out of it nearly unscathed.  So I think your plan was pretty good.”

“If Crowley and Aziraphale hadn’t come…”

“But they did, Andrew.”

The angel of death sighed and nodded.

“Yeah.  They did.”

“You protected JenniAnn with your own body, Andrew.  That’s no small thing.  But it was still a body in human form.  With limits.  And that wasn’t of your choosing any more than JenniAnn’s epilepsy or allergies were hers.”

Andrew sat quietly, mulling that over.

Jamie let him ponder.

“I just… like protecting her,” Andrew finally responded.  “And I don’t like it when I fail… or partially fail.  I don’t like that they touched her.  I hate that he… he was on top of her.  She must have been so scared and… and there was nothing I could do.”  He swiped at a few tears.  

“No.  There wasn’t.”

Jamie again let Andrew sit with her words for a few moments before she followed up.

“Has JenniAnn said anything to suggest she’s disappointed in you?”

Andrew shook his head.

“Did she say you failed?”

“No…”

“Then it seems all this responsibility, this regret… it’s comin’ from you.  Right?”

“Yes.  But that doesn’t mean I feel it any less.”

Jamie nodded sympathetically.

“I know, Andrew.  I do.  But I think it’s helpful to take a step back.  Does it feel any different when you take the time to recognize that those harsh feelings are only comin’ from you?”

“I guess so.  Yeah.”

“Just in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve been able to see how much JenniAnn loves you.  And it’s pretty obvious to me that she’s not at all disappointed in you.  If anything, I think maybe she feels some guilt.  You’re in the state you are because you were protecting her,” Jamie pointed out.

“She shouldn’t,” Andrew protested.  “She didn’t do this.  They did.”

“You’re right.  Those demons are responsible for what happened.  Not her.  And not you, either.  But… something tells me this weight you carry isn’t new.  It didn’t just show up on Saturday night.  Did it?” Jamie asked.

Andrew wasn’t sure how to respond.

Jamie waited patiently.

They had time.  Lots and lots of time.

*~*~*

Wednesday, October 6th, 2021

With Andrew having spoken to Jamie and a session with Shelby and Violeta planned for the afternoon, several of the other angels felt free to book their own appointments.

Thus, Vonnie found herself holed up in a cozy spot in Willowveil’s library, scheduling appointments and sipping tea.

Suddenly, her cell phone chimed.  She smiled when she saw who had texted her: Rhiannon.

How goes it?  You and Jamie settled in all right?

Yes!  Sorry I haven’t texted or called.  I planned to last night but we went on a tour and, when I got back, I just crashed.

No prob.  Was it fun?

Amazing!  I wish you could see where I am.  In a literal castle!

No way!

Yes!  Can I call?  Easier than texting it all.

Sure thing.  I’m not due at the bar for three hours yet.

Okay!

Excited, Vonnie dialed her new friend’s number.

“Hi!” she chirped, blushing when she realized how loud and bubbly she sounded.

“Hi back!” Rhiannon replied.  “You sound good!  So everything’s good there?”

For the next several minutes, Vonnie explained about Willowveil and being there to help Avi’s parents and all the angels she’d met along with Avi’s family members.

“So you had no idea this involved your kid’s family?”

“Not until right before we left.  I did know that they didn’t live on Earth and that there was some sort of Narnian thing at play.  So that, at least, wasn’t a surprise.”

“It’s just so crazy!  Portals and other worlds and angels just hanging around.  Who is the biggest one you’ve met?”

“Michael.  I mean… he’s probably the most famous.  There’s another angel named Marty but his actual name is Metatron.”

“That sounds familiar…”

“Yeah, he pops up in some movies and TV.  I think he’s the oldest.  Pretty cool.  He’s got a very Alan Rickman vibe.”

“Aww.  Now I want to meet him!”

“Maybe someday!  He’s supposed to take me into the city to do some shopping.  This afternoon, I think.”

“That’s so cool!  And Jamie’s doing okay?”

Vonnie noted the concern in Rhiannon’s voice.

“Yeah.  I mean she seems like her usual self.  Every so often she gets a little… that far out look, you know?”

“Yeah.  I do.  But otherwise fine?”

“Yup.  Also…  There’s these two angels… male in appearance, at least… and they seem to be a couple.  Not, like, sexually.  But romantically.  They definitely act like a couple.”

“So… you’re telling me there are gay angels?” Rhiannon asked with evident amusement.

“Not exactly.  The way it was explained to me was that they’re more… demiromantic.  Like they’ll never feel that way about anyone else: male, female, non-binary.  It’s just between the two of them and independent of their gender, I guess.  But…  They would definitely appear to be a gay couple if you just saw them out and about.  I really want to talk to them more.”

“I hope you can!  I wonder if…”

Rhiannon’s voice drifted off.

“What is it?” Vonnie encouraged.

“It’s just… I wonder if Jamie is like that?”

“You think?”

“I mean she has an affinity for the queer community.”

“Sure.  But she could just be an ally,” Vonnie suggested.  “I mean if she did have someone… don’t you think you would have met her?  I mean Crowley and Aziraphale… those are the angels… appear to be inseparable.”

“Maybe she wasn’t an angel.  Maybe she was human.  I mean… think of your Andrew and JenniAnn.”

“Oh…”  Tears welled in Vonnie’s eyes.  Somehow, she hadn’t really allowed herself to think that Andrew would carry on much longer than JenniAnn would.

“I’m sorry!  I didn’t mean to make you sad,” Rhiannon apologized.  “I really didn’t.  It’s just… something I’ve thought about.”

“It is sad…  But it’s fine,” Vonnie hurried to assure.  “I mean…  It would explain a lot.  The far off looks.  The way… I mean not to be that person but when I met Jamie, I totally assumed that she woulda been a lesbian if she was human.  I’m not even really sure why.”

Rhiannon laughed.

“She does just kinda have that vibe, huh?  But I guess I always just thought, ya know, maybe God sends angels that blend in.  Like if He sent one to… I dunno… an Aztec, let’s say, I’m guessing they didn’t have ivory skin and blond hair.  I mean maybe if it was just a pull someone outta a raging river thing.  But lingering around… He’d want them to seem part of the community, right?  And Jamie does.  I can’t imagine Cynefin without her.”

“Maybe so.  I mean… she… she was the first person I told about being bi.  Maybe I wouldn’t have done that if Jamie wasn’t… I dunno… queer-coded?”

“Maybe not.  But, in any case, I’m glad you did.  And I’m glad she brought you to Cynefin!”

“Me too!  Mostly for the company.”  Vonnie blushed.  “But also… I’ve been dreaming about that Oggie.”

Rhiannon laughed.

“I’ll make sure one’s waiting for you when you get back.”

“Thank you.  But enough about me.  What’s been going on with you?”

“Not a whole lot.  Just hanging around the pub.  Mum and Dad want to start decorating for Christmas.  I think they’re crazy.”

Vonnie laughed.

“In October?!”

“Yeah…  You think you’ll be back by then?”

Vonnie’s heart fluttered when she thought she heard eagerness in the other woman’s voice.

“I would sure hope so.  Horrible to think Andrew would still be bad off nearly three months from now…  And… I would just like to be back.  Jamie had told me to not book any appointments at her office for a month.  So… I would hope that would mean we’d be back around the start of November.”

“Probably so.  Maybe I can use that to get my parents to put off decorating.  Jamie likes being around for that.”

Vonnie felt a rush of disappointment.  Maybe that was the only reason Rhiannon had asked about a return date.

“And I think it’d be fun if you joined us,” Rhiannon continued.  

Instantly, Vonnie’s mood shot back up and she beamed.

“I’d love that!  Maybe I can even bring along some New York treats.”

“You don’t have to… but I also wouldn’t say no.”

Laughing, Vonnie began to quiz Rhiannon on her and her parents’ tastes in sweets.  Without either realizing it, a chatty, amusing hour slipped by.

*~*~*

Shelby and Violeta sat together on the couch in Jamie’s de facto office.

“Either of ya done any sort of counseling before?” Jamie asked.

Both girls shook their heads.

“No… maybe I did,” Shelby amended.  “But when I was really little.  When I first came to the Tunnels.  But I don’t even remember for sure.”

“Well, don’t be nervous.  What’s said here stays here.”

“Good,” Shelby replied as Violeta nodded.

“So why don’t you two tell me a bit about how you came to be part of Andrew’s and JenniAnn’s family?” Jamie prompted.

For several minutes, the angel listened intently as Shelby explained about being orphaned and growing up dividing her time between the Tunnels and Dyeland.  Violeta shared about the fateful Halloween when God had first sent her to Dyeland.

“I have a hard time imagining you as so prim and proper,” Jamie teased Violeta.  “Even in the little time I’ve known you…”

Shelby giggled.

“She was kinda scary…”

“Hey!” Violeta protested.  “Not scary just… intense.”

“Sure.”  Shelby bumped her shoulder into Violeta’s then hugged her.

Jamie smiled seeing the sisterly connection between the two.

“So, Shelby, Andrew’s been the main father-figure in your life it seems,” Jamie posited.  “All due respect to your Dad, of course.”

Shelby nodded.

“Yeah.  I mean I have a few vague memories of my parents that I cherish.  And stories that Asher tells me.  But…  It’s mostly Andrew and JenniAnn that I remember.  And… they are my parents now.  Over the summer, Asher got really nervous about what would happen if, I dunno, I was in an accident or something.  He stays Below and is basically off the grid.  So…  He asked Andrew and JenniAnn to adopt me.  And they did!  They told me that they’d always wanted to but also didn’t wanna upset Asher.  So when he brought it up…  We did it.”  Shelby beamed.  “And it feels really good.  But…”

“But what, Shel?” Violeta encouraged, squeezing her hand.

A tear trickled down Shelby’s cheek, quickly followed by another.

“I mean I lost my Daddy…  And that hurts even… even though I barely remember him.  So… so it’s hard to see something happen to Andrew.  I… I mean I know he can’t die.  But we hear stories of angels ending up in really bad ways… sometimes for a very long time.  I… I mean what if he has a stroke?  Could...could he end up in a coma?”

“Oh, Shel…”  Violeta wrapped her arms around her younger sister and kissed her hair.

Jamie reached over to pat Shelby’s arm.

“I don’t know for sure, sweetheart.  But I’ve been around for a very, very long time and I know very serious, long-term things like that are exceedingly rare for angels.”

“Angel/human anam caras are rare, too,” Shelby murmured.  “And yet…”

Jamie let out a sigh.

“They are.  But I’d say an angel having a stroke that leads to a coma is rarer still.”

“I don’t remember ever running across it when I was in Records,” Violeta encouraged.  “I mean not that I saw them all.  Marty would have.  Maybe we could ask him?”

“You could.  But keep in mind that Marty is quite literally the oldest created being.  If he could list off, say, a hundred instances… that’s over millions and millions of years,” Jamie pointed out.

“True.”  Shelby nodded.  “And… I don’t like pressing Marty for information.  I dunno…  Just seems wrong.  And… I think, maybe, I just needed to voice that.  The knot in my stomach is less just by talking about it.”

“And that’s why we’re here!”  Jamie beamed.  “Good job!”

“I worry more about smaller but still really important things,” Violeta confessed.  “Like…  What if he has to go into the hospital?  I want Andrew to be here.  With us.  With JenniAnn.  I just…  It’s always been ‘Andrew and JenniAnn.’  I know they’re individuals, of course!  But…  I don’t like thinking of em being separated.  Even for a little bit.”

“They were so happy when they left on Saturday…”  Shelby pulled out her phone and looked wistfully at the photo Violeta had taken before showing it off to Jamie.

“They’re a lovely couple to be sure.  And I think everyone will do what they can to allow them to stay together.  If Andrew were to go into the hospital again, it would likely be in El-Chanan and I’m sure they’d let JenniAnn stay with him.”

“Yeah…  I would hope so,” Violeta agreed.  “Everything just feels so…”

“Off,” Shelby finished when she saw her sister struggling for the word.

“Yes, off.  Just… not hearing Andrew around the house.  Even… I dunno… not walking into the kitchen and finding them mid-embrace.”

Jamie tilted her head sympathetically.

“It’s a big change.  And a painful one.”

“And if it feels that way for us…”  Shelby’s voice drifted off.

Jamie squeezed her hand.

“And it’s so good of you to be concerned for Andrew and JenniAnn and to have so much empathy for them.  But I also know…”  Jamie’s voice broke for a moment before she speedily recovered.  “I know that no good parent wants to burden their child… even unintentionally.  So I’ll visit with Andrew and JenniAnn.  I’ll take care of them.  Let’s focus on the two of you.  I imagine part of why this is so hard is because Andrew and JenniAnn are the bedrock, the origin of your family.  So havin’ something happen to them… maybe it makes everything feel a little unstable?”

Shelby and Violeta exchanged glances then nodded.

“It’s scary.  I… I wish I could change into a little girl,” Violeta confessed.  “I just want to snuggle up to Andrew and pretend like everything is normal.  Like… like he can still keep us all… all safe.”

Shelby began to cry.

“It’s not that I think he can’t!” Violeta hurried.  Then her face fell.  “But… but I guess maybe he can’t.”

“He… he would try.  So hard!” Shelby insisted.  “And… and maybe that’s the scariest part.  He did try so hard with JenniAnn.  But it wasn’t quite enough.  And it left him… like this.  And this… this is… is the price.  The price of… of loving us.”

There was near-silence for a few moments, interrupted only by sniffling until Jamie spoke.

“And it’s a price he’s willin’ to pay.  You know that.  You know that if Joshua came to Andrew right now and said ‘Listen, I’ll heal you but you have to come back Home and leave all of this behind,’ Andrew wouldn’t do it.  Right?”

Violeta nodded.

Shelby rested her head on the angel’s shoulder.

“Yeah…  Right,” she concurred.

“And… I don’t think either of you need to be little girls in order to cuddle up with Andrew,” Jamie insisted.  “ He’s your dad, basically.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Maybe you could ask him to watch a movie with you?  Something feel-good?  And if he falls asleep… that’s okay.  It’s the being together that counts.”

“That does sound nice,” Shelby agreed, wiping at her eyes.

The Greatest Showman?” Violeta suggested hopefully.

Shelby laughed.

“I suppose… again.”

Jamie grinned.

“You watch it a lot, I take it?”

“This one has a lil squish on Hugh Jackman,” Shelby teased.

“I mean… he’s so talented!” Violeta gushed.

“He is that,” Jamie granted.  “Once we finish up here, I think you should go do that.”

The two girls nodded happily before continuing their conversation with their counselor.

*~*~*

True to his word, Marty took Vonnie to a stationary store.  He smiled as they made their way there and she gaped at the lights and sounds and people.

“A little different from Ireland and Wales, isn’t it?”

Vonnie only nodded as she gazed into the windows.

“We’ll be sure someone brings you back,” the angel promised.  “Perhaps with more fitting company like Shelby and Violeta.  I’m afraid I’m not much good shopping for clothes and such with young ladies.”

Vonnie laughed.

“Understandable.  I wouldn’t know the first thing about buying clothes for men of… a certain age.”

Marty chuckled.

“Of a certain age…” he repeated with amusement.

“I couldn’t even begin to guess.  I’m not sure I’d want to know, to be honest.  It’d be… daunting.”

“It has been… at times.”

The look that crossed Marty’s face broke Vonnie’s heart.  Without thinking, she looped an arm through one of his.

Though touched, the angel looked around with concern.

“I don’t want people to think…”

“You’re my uncle,” Vonnie calmly interrupted.  “It’s okay.”

Marty opened his mouth to protest the lie but then thought better of it.  In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t actually a lie.  Joshua was his brother.  Joshua was Vonnie’s Everlasting Father.  That Joshua was also his father and her brother didn’t need to be considered just then.  He nodded and patted her arm.

“Just one more block.”

“Cool.”

When they arrived at the quaint shop, Marty held the door open for his charge.

“Aww!  I love it!” Vonnie gushed.

A woman behind the counter smiled.

“Welcome!  Oh, Marty!  Good to see you!”  She raised an eyebrow curiously as it became evident Marty and Vonnie had come together.

“Good to see you, too, Cassie.”

Sensing Marty’s discomfort, Vonnie cheerily spoke.

“I’m visiting my uncle and family.  I’m so glad he brought me here!”

Cassie’s cheerful smile returned.

“Wonderful!  Well, Marty knows the way around here like the back of his hand but just give a shout if you need any help.”

“Will do,” Marty promised.

Once Cassie’s attention had been returned to her computer, Vonnie quietly spoke to Marty.

“You know, people would likely just assume I was your daughter,” she assured.

Marty shook his head.

“They seem not to.  I don’t exactly possess a paternal nature.”

“Oh…  So you’ve been misjudged before?  I’m sorry.  I thought it was just…”

“Only once.  Before the pandemic.  With JenniAnn.  It was… awkward.  I don’t like being noticed.”

“I can understand that.  But JenniAnn probably thought it was at least a little bit funny.  And, I’m sorry to say, you’ll never not be noticed with that voice.”

Marty smiled and bowed his head.

“Perhaps not.”  He pointed to a wall.  “Journals.”  He turned to indicate a nearby cupboard.  “Pens.  Pick what you’d like.  Take whatever time you need.  No rush.  I’ll have the money when you’re ready.”

Vonnie smirked.

“Like it’ll just appear in your pocket?”

Marty nodded.

“Perfect change and all.”

“Wow…  Sounds good!”  Vonnie smiled at the angel then began to peruse the offerings.  After a few minutes, Marty was at her side.

“I forgot to mention…  I’m choosing Andrew’s and JenniAnn’s.”

“Oh, okay.  I was just grabbing a dozen to let people choose.  And I think I’ll still get a dozen.  Just in case more people stop by.  But I think that’s really nice.”  

Marty smiled then let Vonnie resume her shopping.

Once she’d made her selections, Vonnie approached Marty who was holding two journals and two pens.  There was Celtic knotwork on all four items with one pen and journal set in green and the other in blue.

“Those are lovely picks!  I’m sure Andrew and JenniAnn will appreciate them.”

“Thank you.  Are you ready?” Marty checked.

“Yup.  You?”

Marty nodded and handed Vonnie an envelope containing cash.  She smiled and accepted it.

“All ready then?” Cassie asked as they approached her register.

“We are.  So many beautiful things here!  It was hard to choose but here we are.”  Vonnie lifted her basket onto the counter then looked to Marty.  “Ya gonna add those?”

Marty shook his head as he clutched the journals.

“I’m covering these.”

“Oh.  Okay.”  Vonnie smiled at Cassie.  “Just these then.”

“Wonderful!”  

After a few minutes, Cassie had everything totalled.  

“That’ll be $317.82,” she announced.

Vonnie counted out the money in the envelope, charmed when it was, indeed, exactly $317.82.

“There ya go.”  

“Thank you!” Cassie chimed.  “I hope to see you again!”

“Same!”  Vonnie smiled then mulled around a bit as Marty checked out.  

Once he was finished, they left the store.

“Can I ask you something?” Vonnie requested.  “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“Go on.”

“Why did you insist on buying Andrew’s and JenniAnn’s journals yourself?”

Marty scanned the street.  It was far too busy.

“Would you like to see Central Park?” he asked.

Both eager for an answer and a visit to such a landmark, Vonnie nodded.

“We’ll talk there,” Marty promised.

“Sounds good.  Thanks.”

Once they’d reached the park, Marty spotted a cart.

“Cocoa?” he offered.

“Ooh, yes.  That would be lovely, thank you.”

Marty nodded then ordered two.  Once they’d been served, he guided Vonnie to a bench some distance from the nearest people.

“What do you know about the history of Andrew’s and JenniAnn’s relationship?” he checked.

“Well, I know they met when she was in high school.  But they were just friends then.  Things maybe got a little more serious when she was in college?  But really more later on.”

“Yes.”

“And I don’t think they lived together until Belle was born, did they?”

“Correct.  In separate bedrooms.”

“Eesh.  Why?  They don’t seem like the separate bedrooms type.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Marty sighed.

“They didn’t think it was appropriate.  It was aggravating to have to watch and document.  Imagine watching them dance around each other for over a decade and then finally… finally!... they make some sort of commitment.  But they still pine away because the bed thing was just a step too far.  When I expressed my frustrations to the Almighty… well, He let me show myself and… make a strongly worded suggestion.”

Vonnie giggled.  Somehow, she guessed that Marty’s “suggestion” had been much more like an order… albeit one made with the utmost love.

“And… it worked.  And I suppose I felt…”  Marty, the Scribe of Heaven, searched for a word.  “Not ownership… nothing like that.  More than pride…  When I saw them walk off to their room together that first night… it was good.”

“They’re your Adam and Eve,” Vonnie posited.  “I mean… not that you created them, obviously.  But you nudged them together… truly together.  So I’m sure you feel some responsibility for them and everything that’s flowed out of their relationship.”

“Yes…”  Marty looked away.

Vonnie thought she saw tears glistening in his eyes.  She reached over and rested a hand on his arm.

“I think they’re very blessed to have you watching over them, Marty.”

Marty gave her a tearful smile.

“I’ve been blessed, too.”

The two sat quietly for a few moments before, at Marty’s suggestion, they rose and toured the park.

*~*~*

It was barely past 8:00 but Andrew was exhausted.  And so, as JenniAnn got the little ones settled in for the night, he made his way to their bedroom and began to ready for the night.

Not wanting to trouble Crowley, Andrew skipped his shower.  It wasn’t as if he’d worked up a sweat sitting on the couch watching movies with Shelby and Violeta.

The angel smiled as he recalled them snuggling up on either side of him.  He’d felt, for a few moments, as if they’d traveled back in time several years to when Shelby had still been little.  

After brushing his teeth and washing his face, Andrew grabbed his pajamas and began to change.

Unfortunately, he had overestimated how much time JenniAnn would take in getting Belle and Avi settled down.  He was just reaching for his long-sleeved T-shirt when she entered the room.

JenniAnn gasped when she saw the welts running up and down Andrew’s torso and arms.  

Trying to stave off her panic, Andrew hurriedly spoke.

“Laja, I’m okay.  They hardly even…”

“A-andrew…”  JenniAnn hurried towards him and gently rested a hand on a bruise on his chest.

Andrew let out a shuddering breath.

“It… it doesn’t hurt when I…”

“No…”

“My poor love…”  JenniAnn brushed her lips against his right shoulder.

“Laja…”  Andrew buried his face in her hair and sucked in a deep breath, trying to steady himself.  

“I love you… I’m so sorry…”  

Andrew groaned when he felt wetness against his shoulder.

“Laja, Laja… please don’t cry.”

“They… they hit you so many times…”

“Yes.  But… I have a feeling you intend to kiss me several more times,” he gently teased.

In spite of her tears, JenniAnn laughed.

“I was hoping…”

“So was I…  But I’m also…  I… I need to lay down.  So why don’t I go do that and you can change and get more comfortable.  Okay?”

JenniAnn stepped back and studied the angel’s face then nodded.  

“Okay.”

“Good.”  Andrew kissed her forehead then released her.

To his relief and amusement, JenniAnn returned in record time.  She climbed into bed and immediately picked up where she’d left off.

As her kisses went up and down his right arm, Andrew stroked her hair with his left hand.  He switched sides when she did.

“I… I want to see your back.  Please,” JenniAnn requested.

Too wearied to argue, Andrew rolled onto his stomach.

In spite of Andrew’s admonishment, JenniAnn began to cry again.

“Darlin’...” Andrew moved to roll again but JenniAnn stopped him.

“Just… just let me.”

“All right…”

As his anam cara kissed and caressed his back, the angel’s eye lids grew heavier and heavier.  He fought against the tiredness, wanting to stay awake, wanting to extend the same tenderness and affection to JenniAnn, to feel her soft skin beneath his lips, to bring her the contentment he felt.

The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak…

JenniAnn rested her cheek against Andrew’s back and listened to his soft, regular breathing.  She knew he was asleep.  She longed for his touch… but she longed more for him to be restored to health and, for that, he needed sleep.

Reluctantly, JenniAnn moved onto her side.  She peered at Andrew and prayed until, several minutes later, she also fell asleep.

*~*~*

Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

JenniAnn awoke with a start.  For a few moments, she felt only confusion… and then she remembered.

Heinous, horrible things.

The woman, the man, the whimpering, the screams of agony, the blood, and then silence.

And the knowledge that he was there.

Her Andrew was there.  Helpless and heartbroken.

JenniAnn began to sob which immediately roused Andrew.

“Laja…  Laja, what’s…”

As Andrew held her, JenniAnn let all the details pour out of her.

“I’m so sorry, Laja.  So sorry you had to see that,” the angel apologized as he kissed her hair.

“I… I don’t want to go back to sleep.  But I don’t want to keep you up.  I… I’m gonna go to the library.”

“Laja, I don’t want you to be alone.  It’s all right.  I’m up now.”  

“But…”

Andrew sat up and pulled her into his arms.

“It’s okay.  Really.  I’ve been doing better.”

JenniAnn nodded.  Edmund’s visit the day before had been promising.  And while Andrew’s fatigue continued to be an issue, the double-vision and dizziness were decreasing in frequency.  A couple nights before, he’d even decided Vincent no longer needed to babysit them.

“Okay…” she agreed.

Andrew grabbed JenniAnn’s robe and wrapped it around her.

“Do you still want to go to the library?” he checked.  

JenniAnn nodded.

“Sounds good.”

Hand-in-hand, the couple made their way to the library where Andrew started a fire.  

“Thank you,” JenniAnn murmured when he sat back down beside her and snuggled her close.

“Of course.  You’ve spent nearly two weeks taking care of me, Laja.  It’s about time that I…”

“Just having you near has been… everything.  I know that if you asked… God would let you come Home.  And you’d be free from pain, from exhaustion there.  But you don’t ask.”

“Because I don’t want to leave you.  Or the kids.  Laja, I think in all the focus on getting me better, we’ve lost sight of the fact that you suffered a trauma.  And a pretty significant one.  Multiple traumas, really.  There’s what happened to us.  And then there’s what you saw,” Andrew reminded.

“But…  What I saw…  It’s only this morning that… that it seemed… real.  Before it was just vague, shadowy memories… as if I was remembering a true crime documentary I watched five years ago.  It didn’t seem real.  But this…”  JenniAnn’s eyes filled.  “She… she was wearing a tie-dyed shirt with… with a peace sign on it.”

Andrew choked back a sob and nodded.

“She didn’t look much older than Shel…”

“Twenty two.”

“What was her name?”

“Natalie Smythe.”

“Natalie…” JenniAnn echoed.  “A Christmas baby?”

“Yes.”

JenniAnn wept softly.

Andrew pulled her closer and nuzzled her hair.

After a few silent moments, he spoke.

“I think it’s time you talk to someone, Laja.  Jamie’s great.  But Marty’s a good idea, too.  As much as I’ve appreciated all the care and attention you’ve given me… you need to help yourself, too.  Okay?”

“Okay,” JenniAnn agreed.  “I’ll talk to Marty.  Nothing against Jamie.  It’s just… Marty knows.”

“He does.”

For a few moments, they were silent, simply enjoying each other’s embrace.  Then JenniAnn looked up at Andrew’s face.  She saw his brow was creased and he was fighting tears.

“I love you, Andrew.  Nothing could ever change that.  I… I could see every assignment you’ve ever had and I would still love you.”

Andrew sighed and rested his forehead against hers.  

“I love you, too.  And I know that.  I do.  But… it doesn’t mean I… I want you to see.”

“I know.”

The two kissed.

JenniAnn smiled encouragingly at Andrew and stroked his face before resting her head on his shoulder.

“It’s supposed to be nice today.  Maybe we could spend a bit of time outside?” she suggested.  “Sunlight might do us both good.”

Andrew returned her smile and nodded.

“I agree.  Let’s do that.”

Andrew brought JenniAnn’s right hand to his lips then stared into the fire and focused on simply being near the woman he loved.

*~*~*

That afternoon, as planned, Andrew and JenniAnn headed outside with their kids and a handful of their friends in tow.  As Andrew had been battling a headache since lunchtime, the two settled beneath a tree with his head resting in JenniAnn’s lap.  They smiled as they listened to the children play.

“It’s good to hear them laugh,” Andrew commented.

“Very.  Are you okay like that?  Is the sun bothering you?” JenniAnn checked.

Andrew shook his head.

“No.  It feels good.  But I do think I’m going to rest my eyes.”

“Okay.”

Andrew sighed with contentment as JenniAnn gently massaged his temples and brow.

“That feels good…”

“I’m glad.”

Softly, Andrew began to hum.  

“‘And flowers never bend with the rainfall…’” JenniAnn sang.

Smiling, Andrew squeezed her hand.  While JenniAnn was self-conscious about her singing voice, he loved it.

“‘No matter if you're born to play the king or pawn, for the line is thinly drawn 'tween joy and sorrow.  So my fantasy becomes reality and I must be what I must be and face tomorrow…’”

Suddenly, the pain in Andrew’s head intensified and he felt an odd sensation.  Then his right arm locked up.

And JenniAnn… the tree… the children… everything… seemed very far away.

*~*~*

Crowley jolted when he heard JenniAnn scream.  Carefully, he set Avi down on the ground and bolted towards the tree where Andrew and JenniAnn rested.  Marty and Jamie trailed him.

Once they reached the tree, they found JenniAnn sobbing.  Andrew’s eyes were jerking wildly to the right side and his right arm was flapping about.  

“Call Talson!” Crowley shouted.  “And Reuel.  Get an ambulance.”

“I’ve got Talson,” Marty affirmed as he dialed.

“I’ll call Reuel,” Jamie volunteered.

After a few seconds, Andrew ceased moving.  

“Andrew!” JenniAnn bellowed.

Andrew sat up and blinked.

“What happened?” he asked.

JenniAnn wrapped her arms around him and continued to sob.

“Laja…”

Crowley crouched down.

“You had a seizure, Andrew.  We need to go to El-Chanan.”  

“Really?  Like Laja’s?”

Crowley shook his head.

“Your eyes and arm were jerking.”

“Oh.”

“Do you have a stretcher?” Crowley asked.

Andrew shook his head, cognizant of the fact that his kids and friends were clustering nearer.

“No stretcher.  I can walk to the portal,” he whispered.  “The kids are freaked out enough without…”

“I don’t think that’s a good…”

“I had a seizure while laying down, Crowley,” Andrew pressed.  “Being on a stretcher isn’t going to prevent another one.  It’ll happen if it’s going to happen.”

JenniAnn whimpered.

“It’s all right, Laja.  I’m fine.  But Crowley’s right… I need to get checked out.  Come with me?” Andrew requested before kissing JenniAnn’s hair.

“Of… of course.”

“Let’s just see how you’re walking…” Crowley cautiously suggested.

Andrew rose a little shakily but walked a few steps without consequence.

“Daddy!”

Belle ran towards him then halted, scared of hurting him.

Andrew closed the distance and hugged her.

“I’m fine, baby girl.  I just need to go to the doctor.  Hopefully not for long.  Be a good girl while I’m gone?”

Belle nodded as she clung to him.

Avi approached and wrapped himself around Andrew’s left leg.

Andrew tousled the boy’s hair.

“Little man…”  

“Reuel’s sent an ambulance,” Jamie reported.

“And Edmund is on his way.  He says we’ll probably beat him to the hospital if we go now… but not by much,” Marty shared.

“Okay.  Thank you.”  Andrew nodded gratefully at the two then returned his attention to Avi and Belle.  He hugged each of them tightly before embracing the Remus family, Violeta, and Shelby.  

Dazed, JenniAnn followed suit.  Then, escorted by Crowley, Aziraphale, and Marty, they made their way to the portal.

Once through to El-Chanan, they immediately saw the blinking lights of the waiting ambulance.  Reuel waited nearby.  

“One of you should ride with them.  I’ll take the other two in my car.”

Crowley squeezed Marty’s shoulder.

“You should go.”

The scribe nodded and followed Andrew and JenniAnn into the ambulance.

Once they saw them safely off, Crowley and Aziraphale climbed into Reuel’s car and followed.

*~*~*

While Andrew was undergoing tests under the watchful eyes of Aziraphale and Crowley, Marty and JenniAnn sat in a private waiting area.

With the exception of Marty asking JenniAnn if she wanted anything... coffee, tea, snacks, etc…. the two had been quiet until JenniAnn spoke.

“Maybe… maybe I should tell him to go Home… get better,” she murmured as a tear slid down her cheek.

Marty clasped her right hand in both of his.

“He knows you wouldn’t stop him if he wanted to, JenniAnn.  He doesn’t want to.”

“Then… why can’t he come here?”

“Joshua?”

JenniAnn nodded.

Marty sighed.

“I don’t know.  He must have his reasons.  He always does.  Sometimes they’re just impossible to know.”

“Yeah…”

Marty waited a few moments before speaking again.

“You had a nightmare… a memory.”

“I… I did.”

“Would you like to talk about it?”

“Not now.  But yes.  When we’re home.  Over a pot of rooibos.”

“Then we’ll make sure that happens,” Marty vowed.

JenniAnn peered at the angel.

“Are you okay?”

“Me?” Marty asked in surprise.  “Of course.”

“I just mean…  It can’t have been easy for you.  Writing down what happened to us.  And all those assignments.  This must bring them back up for you, too.”

Marty nodded.

“It was very hard… writing about you and Andrew.”  His eyes welled.  “But I am glad that I write at a little bit of a delay generally.  By the time God asked me to record it, I knew you’d survived and that Andrew was being looked after.  As for the assignments… Andrew had the much more difficult part.  He was there.  And now you were, too, in a manner.  I’m not shown visions.  I’m simply told what to write.”

“Still…”

“Still… yes, it is difficult,” Marty affirmed.  “But I also get to record many joyous things.”  He smiled and squeezed JenniAnn’s hand.  “I’ll get to record your blessing.”

“If Andrew is up to it…”

“He will be.  Even if it won’t be exactly as you planned… he’ll want to proceed.  I know it.”

“I want to, too.  Doesn’t mean we should.  I don’t wanna overtax him.”

“It’s over two weeks away, JenniAnn.  Don’t fret too much about it.  It would be unfortunate to cancel only to have Andrew vastly improved by then.  And if he’s truly not up to it… everyone would understand a last minute cancellation.”

JenniAnn considered Marty’s words then nodded.

“True…  I… I just wish none of this was happening.”

“I know…  Me too.”

Marty wrapped his arms around JenniAnn as she wept.

*~*~*

Back at Willowveil, Jamie and Vonnie were trying their best to keep everyone’s spirits up.  To that end, they’d decided to lead a cookie baking effort.  While Vonnie, Shelby, and Violeta worked in the kitchen, everyone else had gathered in the ballroom to decorate.

“Can we make purple pumpkins?” Belle requested as Jamie mixed orange frosting.

“Absolutely!  No reason pumpkins can only be orange,” the angel assented.  She paused in her own work to put a few drops of red and blue food coloring in some frosting then handed the bowl to Belle.  “Ya wanna mix that up?”

“Yes!  Pretty!”

Jamie smiled as the little girl stirred and watched the colors swirl.

Sitting at another table; Avi, Evie, and Landon were having a blast inundating dipped pretzel rods with an array of sprinkles.

“I don’t even want to think about how much sugar that involves,” Max commented as he bounced Amelia on his knee.

“But it’s not going to stop you from eating several,” Rose teased.

“True,” Max admitted with a chuckle.

In the kitchen, Shelby pulled a tray of cookies out from the oven.  She surveyed the too brown pumpkins before slamming the tray onto the stovetop and kicking the oven door closed.

Alarmed, Vonnie and Violeta looked up from their cookie cutters in time to see Shelby burst into tears and sink onto the floor.

“Shel…”  Violeta hurried over and wrapped her weeping sister in her arms.

“Nothing is going right!” Shelby cried out.  

“Oh, Shel…”  Violeta rested her cheek on the young woman’s technicolor hair.

Vonnie approached and sat across from the two.

“That was stupid,” Shelby muttered, gesturing towards the stove.

“Sometimes it’s the little things that set us off when bigger concerns have been building and building,” Vonnie counseled.  “And it has to be hard keeping a brave face on because of your younger siblings.”

Shelby and Violeta both nodded.

“And I imagine, especially in light of earlier, there’s a feeling of ‘What’s next?’ that makes it really hard for you to feel peace.”

“Yeah… exactly.”  Shelby nodded at Vonnie.  “Things were just starting to feel normal and now…  Now it feels chaotic again.  A-and Andrew doesn’t deserve any of this.”

“Not at all…” Violeta murmured.

“None of you deserve any of this.  But evil is, well… evil.  Evil doesn’t care about fairness.”  

“I know.  But I wish God would do something.”  Shelby clutched her cross.  

Violeta sighed.

“I know He is helping us…  I just wish it was easier to see.  And I wish the bright side of this all was easier to see.”  

Vonnie reached over and rested a hand on Shelby’s and Violeta’s joined ones.

“Please know that I’m praying for you both.  And for your family.  And while I’m so sorry about the circumstances… I’m really glad that I could be here.  That I could meet you all properly.  That I could see how truly and utterly loved sweet Avi is.”

Violeta smiled at Vonnie.

“You’re definitely a bright side.  Jamie, too.”

Shelby nodded.

“And it has been fun having so many different angels around.  And… I suppose those cookies aren’t so burnt that the animals won’t enjoy them.”

Violeta laughed.

“Definitely not!”

“And even though it’s been hard and painful at points… we’ve been able to spend a lot more time with Andrew than usual,” Shelby added.

“Totally,” Violeta agreed.  “And with each other.”

“And maybe good things are happening that we don’t even know about,” Shelby hypothesized.

“Maybe so,” Vonnie agreed.

Shelby let out a deep breath.

“Okay, I feel better.  Thank you.  Now… let’s get back to those cookies.”

“Sounds like a plan.  Just… speak up if you need a break, okay?” Violeta urged.

“Okay,” Shelby promised.

The three girls hugged then returned to their work.

*~*~*

After a couple of hours, Dr. Talson came to fetch JenniAnn and Marty.

“Andrew’s in a room.  We won’t have results for a couple of hours but you’re welcome to come see him.  And we do have some preliminary thoughts.”

JenniAnn abruptly stood up and nodded.

“Yes, please.  I… I want to see him.”  She turned to Marty and took his hand.  “You’ll come, too?”

The ancient angel squeezed her hand and nodded.

“Great.  Right this way!” Edmund patted JenniAnn’s shoulder then led the two to Andrew’s room.

Aziraphale and Crowley were already there along with someone JenniAnn took to be the mysterious Dr. Xavier Francisco.

To JenniAnn’s relief, Andrew and the neurologist were chuckling when she walked in.

“And here she is!”  Dr. Francisco stuck his hand out when he saw JenniAnn.  “JenniAnn of Dyeland.  I’ve heard so much about you.  From Andrew here just now.  But also from Reuel.”

JenniAnn blushed and shook his hand.

“Pleased to meet you… Dr. Francisco?”

The smiling man nodded.

“That’s me.  But I generally go by Dr. Frank.”

“Dr. Frank then,” JenniAnn repeated with a smile before turning to Andrew.  “How… how are you feeling, love?”

Andrew held his hand out towards her.

JenniAnn rushed over, sitting beside him on the bed.

The angel of death nuzzled her shoulder before speaking.

“Tired.  A little queasy.  But otherwise good.  Worried about you.  I know how scary that must have…”

JenniAnn nodded.

“But… but all that matters is… is how you’re doing,” she interrupted.  After kissing his temple, she looked to Edmund.  “You said you had preliminary thoughts?”

“We do,” Edmund affirmed.  “While we need to wait on the radiologist, both Frank and I looked at the MRI results and feel they’re virtually identical to the one taken at my hospital.”

“So why did he have a seizure today and not two weeks ago?” Crowley questioned.

“For all we do know about the human body… and, assumedly, human forms of angels… seizures remain mysterious in many ways,” Frank responded.  “An epileptic may have a seizure after, say, riding a rollercoaster with bright flashing lights.  But a few months later, though it would be unadvised, they might ride that same rollercoaster and nothing will happen even though their brain is, basically, unchanged.  Instead, a seizure might hit them while they’re calmly sitting and reading.  In Andrew’s case, the seizure was likely caused by the damage he sustained during the attack.  That it took nearly two weeks to happen doesn’t mean the damage increased in those two weeks.”

“So… am I epileptic now?” Andrew asked.

Edmund shook his head.

“No.  Generally, someone needs to have two seizures before they’re considered epileptic.  Though I must warn you that now that you’ve had one… a second one is by no means guaranteed.  But the odds have increased.”

“I’m assuming you haven’t been driving?” Frank checked.

“No.  Not since before the attack.  No reason to.  And I won’t be for a while now,” Andrew promised.

“We’ll make sure he gets anywhere he needs to be,” Crowley interjected as Aziraphale nodded.

“Thank you,” Andrew and JenniAnn murmured.

“Should I have done anything different?” JenniAnn asked.  “I… I mean obviously screaming wasn’t helpful.”

“Laja…”  Andrew brushed a tear from her cheek.  “I wasn’t even really aware.  You did nothing wrong.”

“Andrew’s right,” Aziraphale affirmed.  “It came as a shock.  You were terrified.”

“Exactly right,” Edmund insisted.  “Even knowing it was a possibility, you couldn’t have been prepared for that.  You kept close by him afterwards.  That’s the most important part.  And… lest it need to be said, you couldn’t have prevented it, JenniAnn.  From Andrew’s and Crowley’s accounts, you were keeping Andrew calm and restful in the lead up to the seizure.”

“She was,” Andrew assented, beaming at JenniAnn.  “I felt comfortable… safe.”

“I… I’m glad.”  JenniAnn managed a smile for him.

“Ideally, you won’t have another one, Andrew.  But… even if the results come back with no additional cause for concern, I’d like to keep you here for observation for at least a day or two.  I know there are good reasons for you to be home.  But if you were to have another seizure, it would be helpful for us to observe it.”

“Can I stay with him?” JenniAnn requested.

“I would feel better if she was with me,” Andrew added.

Drs. Talson and Frank conferred with each other.

“Sure,” Frank agreed.  “Another set of eyes wouldn’t hurt.”

“Thank you,” Andrew and JenniAnn said in unison.

“You’re welcome.  And now I think the rest of us should let Andrew and JenniAnn get some rest, hmm?” Frank suggested.

Edmund and the three angels nodded.

“Ring if you need anything at all,” Frank ordered.

Andrew nodded.

“We will.”

“I’ll send word for someone to bring overnight bags,” Marty offered.  “I’ll be just outside the door.”

“We’ll keep you company,” Crowley offered with a grin.

Marty sighed as Aziraphale giggled.

“Wonderful…”

Andrew and JenniAnn smiled after their departing friends.  Then, once they were gone, JenniAnn’s facade slipped.

“I… I was so scared,” she confessed.

“I know…  I remember how it felt when you had that grand mal seizure in the hospital.  I felt… helpless.”  Andrew’s eyes welled at the memory.

“Yes…  I… I was afraid you would discorporate.  But… but I also felt selfish for… for wanting you to stay.”

Andrew looked at JenniAnn in surprise.

“Discorporate?” he repeated.

“Yeah.  Crowley and Aziraphale told me that was the word for it.  When… when an angel’s body is so damaged that… that they have to go Home to get it fixed.  Or maybe get a new human form entirely.  It was a little unclear.  They made it seem like a big deal.”

Andrew sighed and dragged a hand through his hair.

“Laja…  It’s really not.  I didn’t even realize there was a word for it.  I love Crowley and Aziraphale but surely you’ve realized… they’re kind of over-dramatic sometimes… a little prone to catastrophizing on occasion.  I mean I don’t blame them.  They’ve been through a lot.  But… I do wish they’d watch it with you.  Sometimes I think they get so comfortable that they forget you’re not an angel.  You don’t have the context they do.  If that were to happen… I really believe that God would at least give me time to explain to you what was happening.  And to let you know when I’d be back.  But I don’t think it’s gonna.  It didn’t happen after Afghanistan.  I doubt it’ll happen now.”

“But… now seems worse.”

“In some ways.  Not in others.  The pain is generally less than last time.”

“That’s good at least.”

“Whether it’s objectively true or I just have more pleasant distraction… I don’t know.”  Andrew winked at JenniAnn.

This caused JenniAnn to genuinely laugh.

“Love…”  

Andrew kissed her hair.

“We’ll be okay, Laja.  I know it.”

JenniAnn nuzzled his neck.

“Okay.”

Andrew wasn’t convinced she believed it.  But they were both tired and so he let it go and responded only by wrapping his arms tightly around his anam cara.

*~*~*

Friday, October 15th, 2021

After tests revealed no new information and a second seizure failed to materialize, Andrew was released from the hospital.  As before, his family happily but sedately welcomed him and JenniAnn back to Willowveil.

“Daddy!  Are you feeling better, Daddy?” Belle questioned as she snuggled into her father’s waiting embrace.

“I am, little elf.  Much better.  And I’m so glad to be back home with all of you!  I missed you!”

“We missed you, too,” Shelby murmured from her spot, glued to JenniAnn’s side.

Andrew embraced the two together and gently cupped Shelby’s chin.

“How you holding up, kiddo?” he checked.

“Okay…  Better now.”  Shelby managed a smile.

Andrew ran his hands over her hair.

“Did you dye your hair again?”

Shelby blushed and nodded.

“It had faded some and Violeta and Vonnie thought it might cheer me up.”

Andrew kissed her hair.

“I love it.  It looks great.  And I hope it did help.”

With a more relaxed smile, Shelby nodded before returning Andrew’s embrace.

Max approached JenniAnn and hugged her.

“How you doing, Maja?”

“Glad to be home.  Glad to have your Dad home.  Relieved they… they didn’t find anything else.”

“Me too.  And I hope you can relax more now that you’re home.  Dad mentioned on the phone this morning that you haven’t been sleeping well.”

“Strange place and all,” JenniAnn dismissed.

“Right…”  Max wasn’t convinced.  “Well, Rose and I are sticking around for a few days yet.  So let us know how we can help.  Isolde and Marco are bringing dinner and dessert over for tonight.  And I think Diana and Zeke have tomorrow planned out.  The Friends don’t want you to worry about meals and clean-up.”

“Aww.  That’s so nice.  Everyone’s been so, so great.”  JenniAnn’s eyes filled.

“You and Dad have helped so many people.”

JenniAnn glanced at Andrew who was hugging Violeta tightly.

“Him especially,” she murmured.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Max cautioned.  “Who knows how much you might have done if you’d had millennia like Dad!”

JenniAnn smiled.

“Thanks, Max.”

After another hug from Max, JenniAnn again turned her watchful gaze to Andrew.  He looked good.  Happy.  Relaxed even.

And yet, barring the headache, he had seemed relaxed and happy on Wednesday, too…  

JenniAnn swallowed down the sob in her throat, smiled, and returned to Andrew’s side.

*~*~*

That night, Andrew and JenniAnn had barely settled into bed before the feelings of comfort and normalcy lulled them both to sleep.

For Andrew, the rest only lasted until shortly before midnight when he awoke from a nightmare.  

It was the alley again.  But this time Aziraphale and Crowley had not come.  And though he’d been just as helpless as he’d been that night, in the dream Andrew hadn’t been unconscious.  He’d heard them torturing his Laja.

In reality, JenniAnn seemed to be sleeping peacefully.  Though she wasn’t snuggled up to Andrew as usual, she was facing him.

The angel of death studied her as she slept.  There was no longer any trace of scratches on her face.  In sleep, there also wasn’t evidence of stress or weariness.  And yet Andrew knew she felt both.  

Though she was always beautiful to him, even he had noticed how haggard she’d looked during the past two days.  And she was hyper-alert.  At the hospital, every unknown noise had made her jump.  

Andrew knew exactly how to calm JenniAnn… calm them both, really.  But tears welled in his eyes as he thought of it.  

The first time they’d “canoodled,” Andrew had thought maybe it was a one time thing.  Something they’d done to comfort themselves after JenniAnn had finally revealed the extent of Rex’s assault.  But then there’d been that night in his workshop… the both of them worried over Fr. Mike, him grieving a brutal assignment.  Once again, they’d found comfort in closeness, in tenderness.

And then it hadn’t seemed necessary to have a reason for it… at least not one beyond that they loved each other.  What had once been so rare had become something they did two or three times a week.  Yet it still felt special.  Sacred even.

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