"What is Christmas? It is the tenderness of the past, courage for the present, and hope for the future.”
~~Agnes M. Pahro

Hi all,

Welcome to the annual Christmas story!  As with so much with 2020, the story is going to look a little different this year.  For one, I'm not necessarily going to update every day.  I'll try but it may not always happen.  Unlike in previous years, the bookmarks will not be titled with the posting date but, instead, Day 1, Day 2, etc. 

I'm not even quite sure yet which characters will appear in this story but I think there's a fairly good chance that Joccy and Takoda will make an appearance and, unfortunately, I never did find the time to do a final proofread of their big story.  So here's the link if you want to check it out in its current form.  Any tweaking I would do should be minor.  I think I mostly just wanted to add chapter titles.  Please mind the content warning at the beginning. 

"You'll Never Walk Alone"

Finally, a couple "new" characters get introduced in this opening segment.  I won't spoil it by saying who they are but they're from a pre-existing work which I'll credit at the end.

Even though things are weird this year, I hope you have a merry Christmas and blessed holiday season! 

God bless,

Day 1        Day 2        Day 3        Day 4

Day 5        Day 6        Day 7        Day 8

Day 9        Day 10        Day 11        Day 12

Day 13
        Day 14

Note 1-5-21: So this story clearly isn't going to get finished by tomorrow as I hoped...  Unfortunately, I've just had a lot us stuff going on and haven't been able to give it the time I wanted to.  So... I'm going to keep at it but not really sure when I'll finish.  In addition, the Day 10 segment ends abruptly because I didn't sleep well at all last night and am having trouble with words.  But I wanted to get that much out so, hopefully, I can pick it back up tomorrow and remember where I was going with it!  Thanks for your understanding.

"God With Us"

Circa 32/33 AD

Yeshua wandered a grove of trees near where his followers were camped out for the night.  He smiled as he glanced towards their sleeping forms.  The following day would be his thirty third birthday and they'd been quite secretive lately.  He suspected they'd planned a surprise for him... maybe a visit from his Ama?  He'd find out in a few hours' time.

Yeshua knelt beneath a tree to talk to his Abba.  He thanked Him for the receptiveness of the previous day's crowds, for the miracle of a 48 hour stretch during which Yaqob and Yohannan had refrained from bickering, and for all the healings he'd been able to work.

And then Yeshua heard a voice...

"Remember...  He's not going to remember you.  I mean...  I think he does on a certain level.  But don't quiz him about the past.  About Heaven."

"Well, I hardly expect that he'd remember me, anyway."

"Why would you say that?  Of course he'd remember you under normal circumstances.  But not during this little... misadventure of his."

"Oh, now, I wouldn't call it that, Crawly!  It's part of the divine plan!"


Yeshua smiled.  He recognized the voice and knew what it meant.

"Oh and don't... fall on your knees and go all... 'Hosanna, Hosanna!'  I don't think he'll be in the mood for that."

"Not in the mood for worship?  He's the Almighty!"

"Yeah... right... but... it's just different now, okay?  Just... be... normal."

"As you wish!  No kneeling, no singing... perfectly normal.  He's just a man... who is also the Almighty!"

Yeshua laughed when he heard the other entity groan.  He looked in the direction of the voices and, by the moonlight, saw the two figures.  One was clad all in white, matching wings on his back.  His hair had hardly any more color to it.  Beside him strode a man... seemingly... robed all in black with ebony wings.  Shockingly red hair fell past his shoulders.

They were, of course, an angel and a demon... so called.

Beaming, Yeshua raised a hand.

"Shalom, Crawly."

"Shalom, Yeshua," the demon replied.

"You have brought a friend."  Yeshua smiled kindly at the nervous, twitching angel who was gazing at him with starry eyes.

"Right.  Yep.  Aziraphale.  Angel of the Eastern Gate," Crawly introduced.

Aziraphale giggled as he shook Yeshua's hand.

"So pleased to meet you!  You look... ah, very well," he complimented though his tone implied some doubt.

With a laugh, Yeshua shrugged.

"I try.  It's a pleasure to meet you, as well, Aziraphale.  And Crawly... always a delight to see you."

"Is not.  Here to tempt you," Crawly countered, golden eyes flaring, making their serpentine nature even more obvious. 

"Right..." Yeshua smirked.

"Yeah, well, off we go to see the wonders of the world.  All this could be yours if blah, blah, blah."  Crawly sighed and held out his hand to the carpenter.

"Crawly!  Such a tone!  With... him!" Aziraphale exclaimed, his cheeks burning.

Laughing again, Yeshua patted the angel on the shoulder.

"Have no fear.  Crawly and I are old friends.  I take no offense.  Thank you for thinking of a birthday trip, Crawly." 

The demon bowed his head as Yeshua beamed at him.

"Err... whatever.  Off we go."

Yeshua took the demon's hand and, suddenly, the trio appeared at the edge of a forest.  A wineskin and three cups had appeared beside them.

The angel frowned.

"No food?  Honestly, Crawly..."

A tray materialized filled with cheese, bread, and fruit.

Aziraphale clapped his hands.

"Well done!"

Yeshua and Crawly exchanged amused looks as the angel went for the food.   The former was touched when Aziraphale handed him the first slice of bread and cheese and a handful of grapes and berries.

"Thank you, Aziraphale."

"My pleasure!"

Yeshua took a bite then directed his attention to the demon.

"So what are you tempting me with?" he teased.  "The beauty alone?  Because it is extraordinary."

Crawly only shrugged.

Suddenly, a cry erupted from a nearby dwelling.

Aziraphale jumped. 

"That poor woman!  Should we see if she needs help?"

"We wouldn't be wanted," Crawly replied.  "She'll be fine.  Miracle of birth and all that."

Yeshua's features softened as other figures appeared, gathering around the home where the cries were originating.  Their skin tone was much like his own.  Their hair, though, was worn much longer than his people tended to wear theirs.  They were beautiful and his heart swelled with love for them.

"Where are we?" he asked.

"Lenapehoking," Crawly replied. 

"Lenapehoking," Yeshua echoed with fondness.

Crawly pointed to a tall figure.

"That's the father-to-be.  See that miniature bow and arrow pinned to his chest?"

Aziraphale and Yeshua nodded.

"It means he's dreamed the child will be a boy.  Since the dream, he's worn that to keep the child's spirit near to him."

"Beautiful," Yeshua murmured.

"And if the child were to be a girl?" Aziraphale asked with interest.

"He'd have worn a small pestle and mortar for the same reason."

The three were silent for a few moments: Yeshua praying for the mother and child, Aziraphale gazing at Yeshua with ill-concealed awe and love, and Crawly... peering up at the stars and blinking rapidly.  Aziraphale had lied earlier.  Yeshua did not look well.  He looked haggard.

"So... how's it been going?" Crawly asked.

Yeshua tore his gaze away from the villagers and smiled.

"Well.  Yesterday I preached for six hours... they seemed receptive... and then I healed fourteen epileptics, three people born blind, a deaf man, and two paralytics."

Crawly smiled.  Maybe that was the only reason the carpenter-turned-holy-man looked so wearied.

"Not bad for a single holy man," he jested.

Yeshua chuckled.

"Holy man...  You know, that title causes me some problems."

Crawly was intrigued.  Yeshua was a man and he was holy.  If ever the title was fitting...

"When I come into a new place, some of the people I would most like to see are hesitant to come to me.  They hear that a holy man has arrived and they seem to think I am too holy to want to be in their presence.  They're afraid I'll judge them.  Sometimes, labels and titles do not serve us well.  I am not a holy man in the sense they mean... pompous, judgmental, valuing ritual above people.  And..."

Crawly stared down at his arm where Yeshua's hand was resting.

"I am not at all convinced that you are a demon in the usual sense, Crawly.  Your... boss... took me on a trip once.  He asked for worship.  You ask for nothing.  Interesting, yes?"

Crawly flinched and pulled his arm away.  Before he could make a reply, a shrill cry resounded.

"The baby!" Aziraphale called out.

Yeshua smiled at Crawly then turned his gaze back to the villagers.  After a few moments, the father of the child appeared with the baby in his arms.  The friends and neighbors cheered and an old woman began to sing a cradlesong. 

Yeshua's eyes filled.  He was reminded of his Ama... and his Abi.  His heart swelled with love for the people before him... and the angel and demon on either side of him.

The three visitors watched silently for several minutes as the baby was welcomed.  Then, with another cry, the child was brought inside to nurse.  After that, the group began to disperse.

"Why did you bring me here?" Yeshua asked Crawly.

The demon shrugged.

"'S nice, isn't it?  Maybe you could, I dunno, just... stay here.  I think they'd like you."

Yeshua let out a shaky breath.  He knew the demon wasn't trying to tempt him...  He was trying to get him to walk away from his ministry, from his mission... but for his own reasons.  He smiled gently at Crawly.

"And I know I would like them.  But this isn't where I am meant to be.  You know that, my own."

Crawly stumbled backwards at the sound of the last two words.  He shook his head.

"No...  I'm not..."

Yeshua only stared at him, his gaze tender.

Aziraphale looked back and forth between the two.  He didn't know what to say...  He felt so much love...  But it seemed that same love was wounding his friend.  And he needed that to stop.

"Well, then!" he exclaimed.  "This was a lovely time!  Thank you, Crawly, for inviting me.  Yeshua, it was a delight to see you.  The happiest of birthdays to you!"

Yeshua turned to the angel and smiled before taking one of his hands in his.

"Thank you, Aziraphale.  The delight was mine."

"Crawly, would you be so kind as to bring us back?" Aziraphale requested.  "There's a scribe I'm meant to see just after daybreak."

Relieved, the demon nodded.

"Yeah.  Right.  I've got business, too."

He held his hand out towards Yeshua.

Yeshua chose not to draw attention to the fact that the demon's hand was shaking.  He took it in both of his.

Instantly, they were back beneath the tree where Yeshua had been praying.

"Thank you, Crawly, for the trip.  It was just what I need... beautiful."  Yeshua beamed.

Crawly gave him a shy smile.

"You're welcome, Yeshua.  Happy birthday."

"Thank you.  As always, it was good to see you, Crawly.  Truly," Yeshua averred.

Crawly only nodded.

"C'mon, Aziraphale, I'll walk you to wherever you're going," he called.

"Wonderful!"  Giddy, Aziraphale hugged Yeshua who smiled at him.  "Perhaps we can do this again for your next birthday!"

Crawly and Yeshua exchanged a look.  For the demon, it was the final clue he needed to confirm that Aziraphale had lost track of time.  He didn't realize this was Yeshua's last birthday...

Yeshua recovered quickly and patted the angel on the back.

"I am sure we'll have another happy occasion... soon," he replied. 

Aziraphale could only giggle and nod in response.

Yeshua smiled once more at Crawly.

"Perhaps I'll see you around soon... in one form or another?" he asked with a playful gleam in his eyes.

Crawly was heartened by the man's demeanor and returned his smile.


With a final wave, the two disappeared.

Yeshua stared at the spot where they had been, feeling both love and grief.

He had come to save the lost sheep... and he was beginning to suspect that didn't just mean humans.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Joshua's eyes misted as he thought back to Lenapehoking... to Aziraphale and Crawly... Crowley, really.  They hadn't been too far from where he now stood, stocking freshly sanitized PPE.


Joshua turned towards the stern voice.  Inwardly, he smiled.  Ever since he'd showed up at the hospital to join the ranks of PPE extenders, Janice had made it very clear to him that he would answer to her if he made any mistakes.  He, of course, never made any mistakes... which seemed to flummox the woman.

"Yes, Janice?" he asked.

"I learned something very interesting about you," Janice reported in a no-nonsense tone.

"Oh really?"

"Yes.  Becca tells me that you're a Jesus impersonator."

Joshua burst out laughing.

"Well, I mean... I wouldn't put it that way.  I don't impersonate Jesus.  But I've played Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar at a local theatre."

Janice eyed Joshua up and down then gave a nod of approval.

"Huh.  I bet you do the part justice.  I've had enough of those pretty white boys playing Him.  Anyway, that's beside the point.  Becca also tells me that Christmas is your birthday."

Joshua nodded.


Joshua replied with a simple shrug.

"Well, I think you could stand to take a couple days off.  We'll need you back here, rested and ready, when we get the post-Christmas rush.  You're the best PPE extender we've got, Davidson.  You never miss a thing."  Janice's voice softened.  "And... and the way you seem to calm everyone around you...  Never seen anything like it."

"I give my all to everything I do," Joshua explained.  "So many here do.  It's been an honor and..."

"Well, let's not get all mushy," Janice cut him off.  "Take some time off.  Come back on the 26th.  I have enough problems without people going around saying I made Jesus work on his birthday."

With a chuckle, Joshua shook his head.

"I promise I wouldn't let anyone think less of you for that."

"Good.  Well then... go on," Janice directed.  "Get.  Have yourself a merry Christmas/birthday."

"You too, Janice.  I'll be praying for you," Joshua promised, gently resting a hand on the woman's shoulder.

"All... all right then," a flustered Janice replied.  "Appreciate it."

"See you soon.  Merry Christmas, Janice!"

"You too, Davidson."

Joshua nodded then walked away, turning back once to smile and wave before disappearing into a changing room.

As he washed up and changed, Joshua thought of the reunions to come and his face glowed with happiness.


"And this... this is Behnam's ornament.  He's Belle's uncle.  So... I guess that makes him your... huh.  I dunno."  JenniAnn bowed her head to kiss the tuft of hair atop her granddaughter's head.

Andrew stepped away from the table he'd been leveling and approached the two as they stood near the Willowveil Christmas tree.

"Things get a little confused when Max is both Belle's brother and uncle," he pointed out.  "Let's just go with kinsman."

JenniAnn laughed and nodded.

"There we go!  He's your kinsman, Amelia.  And... and I hope some day soon you can meet him in person.  And Isra and Salma and Aiyla and Omar and Aurora..."  JenniAnn's right hand hovered over their ornaments as she spoke their names.

Andrew stroked JenniAnn's back when her voice began to waver.

"You're our silver lining," JenniAnn whispered to the infant.

Andrew smiled, remembering two weeks before when little Amelia had made her triumphant entry into the world.  With support from Portia and Max, Rose had given birth right there in Willowveil where baby Amelia had been safely snuggled and kissed by her grandparents within hours of her arrival.

"That you are, sweet girl," Andrew agreed.  He left off including that he was grateful to her for bringing some of the spark back to her Gamma.  The last couple of months had been difficult for JenniAnn.  While she'd done everything she could to make the holiday season a special one for their kids and for him, the strain was obvious to the angel.  He guessed she'd lost at least ten pounds.  And she certainly wasn't sleeping well.

Andrew kissed JenniAnn's temple then gave her hip an affectionate squeeze.

"How about we settle down somewhere comfortable and I read to you girls for a bit?" he suggested.

With a smile and nod, JenniAnn agreed and soon the trio were settled onto a couch near the fireplace. 

Andrew pulled out his phone, did a quick search, and found what he wanted. 

JenniAnn sighed with contentment as he began to recite.

"'I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!'"

Andrew paused and smiled when he heard a gleeful shriek from outside where their kids, JenniAnn's parents, Raquel, Nico, Ivy, and Sy were playing in the freshly fallen snow.

"'Till ringing, singing on its way, the world..."

A second shriek sounded.  And then a shouted name.


JenniAnn, who had been slouching against Andrew, jerked upright.  Holding Amelia securely against her chest, she rushed to the window with Andrew at her heels.

And there he was...  They saw him lift Avi into the air then snuggle him close before embracing and greeting the others.

"Joshua..." JenniAnn murmured.

Andrew let out a shaky sigh of relief.  He had prayed that, somehow, Joshua would be with them, physically, that Christmas.  He didn't think JenniAnn could take another blow.  And now... his prayer had been answered.

Outside, Joshua led the group towards the castle's front door... their sleds and snowballs forgotten.

Tears of joy slid down JenniAnn's cheeks as she waited, clinging to Amelia.

"Andrew...  JenniAnn..."

Joshua stepped into the ballroom and approached, joy radiating from him.

"And Amelia..."

Joshua hugged Andrew tightly and JenniAnn more gently before she handed the baby to him.

"Hello there, little one.  It's so good to see you again.  You look so contented and loved."  He kissed Amelia's brow then beamed up at Andrew and JenniAnn.  "Can I stay the night?" he requested.

JenniAnn burst out laughing as she returned Joshua's hug.

"Of course you can!"

She kissed his cheek.

"I'm so happy..."

Joshua squeezed her hand.

"Me, too, little bird.  Me too.  Now...  Dad mentioned something to me about Christmas cookies decorated with Froot Loops..."

Andrew chuckled.

"We made those last night.  I think we could all do with a cookies and milk/cocoa break.  Max, Violeta, wanna help me get stuff together?" he requested.

"Yes!" the two shouted in unison.

As the three left, Joshua was escorted to his favorite chair, Amelia still in his arms, and everyone else crowded around.

"Rose, how have you been feeling?" he asked.

Smiling dreamily, Rose snuggled Landon close.

"Really good.  Even better now."

"I'm so glad to hear it!  Belle, what have you been up to?"

"We talked to Santa on the computer!" Belle reported.  "And Mrs. Claus, too."

Joshua smiled as he thought of the inventive ways Adam and Kylie had ensured their tradition continued.

"That's great!  Did you tell them what you want for Christmas?"

Belle nodded and beamed.

"Uh huh.  And I already got it."


Belle sat down near Joshua's chair and hugged his leg.

Joshua's eyes misted as he understood what her Christmas wish had been.

"Baby..." JenniAnn murmured as the others brushed at their eyes... knowing they had all shared in Belle's Christmas wish.

Joshua patted Belle's hair.

"I'm so glad I'm here.  And I love you, little elf."  He smiled at everyone.  "I love you all.  So much."

As the group echoed back their "I love yous," Andrew, Max, and Violeta returned with the cookies and beverages and the party truly began.


While everyone else in Willowveil and the surrounding areas almost immediately descended upon the ballroom to greet their heavenly guest, two people in the attic were blissfully unaware of his arrival.  Their cell phones were muted and they were too far away from the action to overhear their excited, joyful friends.

And Joshua was content to let them be for a while yet.

Takoda lounged in his bed, watching a tablet that was playing Love Actually

Joccy rested beside him, occasionally smiling dreamily as Takoda's hands brushed through her hair.

"I dunno...  Not sure I'm comfortable with this prime minister plot line," Takoda mused.  "Seems like a boundary violation or something."

"Not when it's reciprocated," Joccy countered.  "I mean, like, compare him to the U.S. president.  That was gross.  Because that attention and touching was unwanted.  But Natalie likes David a lot.  I mean I definitely think it's something to be careful about... but I also think it's possible for one person to maybe have a powerful position but the other person have an equally or even more powerful personality.  So it seems weird to be like 'No!  You can't have him because he's more powerful than you.'  Pretty elitist, actually.  Taken to the extreme, that just means power would be held more tightly by a smaller and smaller circle of people.  I mean if David could only date world leaders, how much chance is there of him ever really having to brush up against the working class?  How much chance of them ever being able to speak their minds to him?  Natalie seems to be strong enough of a person to cut ties if she liked."

Takoda paused the video, now much more interested in Joccy's thoughts than the plot.

"I think it's really, really important to stand up for and protect women who are harassed in the workplace.  But... I also think we need to be careful to not over-correct and infantilize individual women who are doing just fine.  I mean... there are probably some who would say that we're dysfunctional just based on the very nature of who we are.  Andrew and JenniAnn, too.  And possibly even Arthur and Monica although I think they'd be perceived differently by some just based on their genders.  Which is a weird side issue.  But that's only because a lot of people are all 'Angels are so powerful and holy and you could never say no to them!'  Which is bull."

Takoda laughed. 

Joccy smiled at him then cupped his chin.

"Although you are hard to say no to... but that's not because you're an angel.  It's just because you're so darn cute."

"Mmm...  I can relate."  The angel beamed as Joccy kissed his forehead.  "You still manage, though... hence us watching this instead of Die Hard."

"Die Hard is not a Christmas movie and will never be a Christmas movie.  This is definitely the better Alan Rickman Christmas movie... even if he is a jerk in it."

"Okay, but you just said 'the better Alan Rickman Christmas movie' thus implying Die Hard is, in fact, a Christmas movie."

Joccy gave an exasperated sigh but continued to smile. 

"Fine...  You win.  But we're still not watching it... at least not til after Christmas."

"All right...  So back to the PM and..."

A polite knock sounded on the door.

Joccy slid off the bed and settled into a chair.  Andrew and JenniAnn had been exceedingly open-minded about letting her spend time with Takoda and had only asked that they be reasonably discrete.  Joccy suspected they were already envisioning the day when Belle would have suitors who they wouldn't necessarily want bunking at Willowveil.

But it was definitely not Belle at the door...

"Whatever you're doing, I would suggest that your time is better spent in the ballroom," a stern but not unkind voice called.

Takoda threw open the door and studied Marty.

"We were just watching a movie.  What's going on?"

"Ballroom," Marty repeated without further explanation.  His eyes were alight with amusement.

"All right..."

Takoda turned back to Joccy who was slipping on her shoes.  When she was finished, he held a hand out to her and the two followed the scribe.

Joccy halted once they crossed the threshold into the ballroom.

Takoda squeezed her hand then brought it to his lips.

"Joshua..." the young woman murmured.

Joshua looked up and smiled at the newcomers.  He whispered to Avi and Evie who were seated in his lap, gently placed the duo on the floor, and then rose and approached Takoda and Joccy.  He drew them into his embrace.

"It's so good to see you both."  Joshua pulled away enough for them to see his beaming face.  "You look wonderful.  Your new... understanding... suits you."

Joccy and Takoda exchanged blushing smiles.

"I'm so glad you came!" Joccy gushed.  "I wasn't sure you would this year given... well, we can't all be together."

Joshua's gaze softened.

"I know that's been so hard for everyone.  And... I won't be staying for as long as I do usually... physically... But I wanted to be here today.  And as for the others...  They won't be left out." 

With twinkling eyes, Joshua gazed over at the Christmas tree... and to one ornament in particular: an artist's brush.


He had forgotten the cinnamon.

And because he'd forgotten the cinnamon, Owen was having a meltdown.

He had stayed strong when it had become obvious that he'd be spending Thanksgiving alone in Catherine's apartment, fretting about his husband spending so much time on the COVID ward of his hospital. 

Owen had even stayed strong when he realized Christmas would be another lonely affair.  No visit with his grandma.  No cookie baking with his extended family.  No visit to Willowveil.  No caroling in the Tunnels.

And he was still worried about Graham.

And all the stress had killed his creativity.  He hadn't painted in weeks.

All he'd wanted to do was bake cookies... including Graham's favorite: snickerdoodles.

And now he couldn't and, because of that, Owen wept and screamed.  He further vented his frustrations by pounding a rolling pin against the Oreos he was crushing.

Then Owen felt someone squeeze his shoulder.

Alarmed, the man spun around.  His eyes went wide and then, rolling pin thudding to the floor, he collapsed against the "intruder."

"It's okay...  I've got you.  It's okay, Owen," Joshua soothed as he held Owen tightly.

Gently, Joshua escorted Owen to a nearby couch where he continued to embrace him as he wept.

After a few minutes, Owen calmed and even began to feel peaceful.  He pulled away from Joshua just enough to meet his gaze.

"Sorry...  I just..."

Joshua shook his head.

"You have no reason to apologize.  It's been... a lot.  To be honest, I'm glad you're finally letting some of that pain and frustration out.  It's not good for you to hold it all in."

"I... I know...  It's just...  Graham already has so much to deal with that I didn't want to put any more on him.  And then, God bless em, someone's always calling or asking me to hop on Zoom...  They want to check up on me.  And I don't want to worry them any more than..."

"They want to share in your burdens and support you, Owen.  Graham especially.  Let them."

"Yeah...  I guess."

"You guess?" Joshua teased.  "I'm all-knowing.  I'm obviously right."

Owen chuckled.

"Yeah... true."

"But I know how hard it is.  I remember...  But I also know no one would be shocked if they caught you at a bad time.  With the exception of Graham, who's gone so often, you've been isolated for three fourths of a year.  It would be worrisome if you didn't sometimes struggle."

"Right..."  Owen sighed and took one of Joshua's hands in his.  "You're really here, right?  This isn't some sort of stress-induced hallucination?"

Joshua's smile grew even more tender.

"I'm here.  In fact, I can prove it."  He reached into a pocket of his hoodie. 

Owen laughed when Joshua withdrew a jar of cinnamon.

"So here's what's going to happen...  We're going to bake cookies until Graham comes home.  Then we'll enjoy said cookies.  Maybe watch a Christmas movie or two.  Stand on the balcony and carol.  Get some sleep.  And tomorrow morning, before I head out, I'm making you both breakfast," Joshua relayed.  "That's plenty of evidence, right?"

"Right... yeah.  But... You... you're staying the night?"

"I mean not to be presumptuous...  But I thought I would.  If you'd rather I not..."  Joshua feigned disappointment.

Laughing, Owen hugged him.

"Of course!  I just... If you showed up at all this year, I figured you'd go to Willowveil or maybe the Tunnels where the most people could see you."

Joshua shrugged.

"Don't worry about the others.  They won't be left out."

Owen thought about asking for explanation but decided it wasn't necessary.

"Now...  Snickerdoodles," Joshua reminded.

"Snickerdoodles!" Owen repeated with excitement.

The two returned to the kitchen where they spent the next several hours catching up, joking, and creating an array of cookies... more than enough for Graham to take to work the following day.


"He just walked into the building!" Owen exclaimed after checking his phone. 

"Okay!  I'll go hide!"  Joshua moved to the guest bedroom, pulling the doors closed behind him.

A couple minutes later, a weary Graham entered the apartment.

"Hey, hon!" Owen greeted.  "How was your shift?"

Graham sighed.

"Exhausting as always.  But one of my patients got off their vent so... that was good news.  Talk more after I shower?"

"You bet.  I'm just going to be in the kitchen with a surprise."

Graham sniffed the air appreciatively.

"You baked cookies?"

Owen only nodded and smiled, afraid to say any more.

"I can't wait to have some.  Skipped lunch today.  Be right back!"

"Enjoy your shower!"

As soon as Graham was in the bathroom, Joshua hurried to the kitchen where he picked up a newspaper and positioned himself so his face wouldn't be visible when the doctor returned.

"He's going to freak out!" Owen whispered, nearly shaking with anticipation.

Joshua chuckled, also excited for his big reveal.

When Graham did return, Owen greeted him with a platter of cookies.

"We made snickerdoodles just for you!" he chirped.

"We..."  Graham's gaze drifted to the mystery figure.  "But who..." 

Before Graham could worry that Owen had broken their bubble, Joshua dropped the newspaper.

"Hi, Graham."

Joshua moved to his feet and hugged the stunned doctor.

"I just wanted to stop by and spend a little time with you and Owen... to tell you both how proud I am of you.  You've been so selfless with your patients, Graham.  And that's not gone unnoticed.  It's never unnoticed."  Joshua held an arm out so Owen could move into their embrace.  "And, Owen, it means a lot to me... and I know it means a lot to Graham... that you've put your own life on hold so you could be with him, support him, love him during this harrowing time.  Thank you both."

Graham wept into Joshua's shoulder.

"I... I'm so glad you're here. It... it's been so hard, Josh."

Joshua patted his back.

"I know...  And I'm so sorry you're having to experience that... day after day.  But know that I'm with you... always."

"Knowing that and knowing Owen is waiting for me here... it's keeping me sane."  Graham gave a tearful smile to his husband and Joshua.

"I'm so glad.  And now... now we have to get some food into you." 

Joshua waved the couple to the table then plated some cookies and poured glasses of milk before taking a seat himself.

Graham took a bite of snickerdoodle and sighed with happiness.  He beamed at Owen and Joshua.

"This... is perfect."

"I'm glad you think so.  And we have a whole evening planned!" Joshua gushed before filling Graham in on the fun and relaxation that was yet to come.


Once everyone at Willowveil had settled back down, content in the knowledge that they'd all have time with Joshua, the ballroom began to empty out.  Eventually, Joshua caught back up with Andrew in his workshop.

"I wanted to see the big Christmas surprise," Joshua explained as the angel of death ushered him in.

"For JenniAnn?" Andrew checked.

Joshua nodded.

Andrew smiled then pulled a tarp off of a large item.

"Oh, Andrew...  It's beautiful.  She's going to absolutely love it."  Joshua ran his hands over the elaborate carvings decorating a wooden archway.

"I thought we could use it at our ceremony in El-Chanan.  And... giving it to her on this difficult, emotional Christmas Day would be a reminder that we have that waiting for us... that we'll be with all our friends again some day," Andrew explained.

Joshua squeezed his shoulder.

"You will.  And it really is a wonderful idea, Andrew." 

"Thank you.  I just..."  The angel dragged a hand through his hair.  "Have I... overreacted?  I thought about taking her to Omaha to drive around and look at Christmas lights with the kids but... I didn't end up asking.  Even that made me nervous."

"If JenniAnn had really wanted to, she would have asked, Andrew.  And... it's not as if there aren't Christmas lights for her to see here.  I can't decide who better mimicked Clark Griswold this year... your household or Fr. Mike, Sibyll, and Lewellyn," Joshua joked.

Andrew chuckled and nodded.

"That's true..."

"You've been cautious and protective, Andrew... not commanding, not overprotective.  JenniAnn has health issues that make extra precautions necessary.  She knows that.  That doesn't mean she's not upset or sad or angry sometimes.  But those feelings are never directed at you... only at the situation.  Well... and also some individuals in positions of authority who gave some very, very bad guidance and made very poor decisions."  Joshua sighed and shook his head.  "It makes me very unhappy that some people have decided to attach theological significance to masks, for example.  Yes, I offer love and protection... but I never promised that being Christian would protect anyone from illness.  Sometimes what people call faith... it's really just stubbornness.  At least in part.  Some things never change.  But... you know that."

"That I do... but it helps to hear you say that.  Validating.  Some of the things that run through my head...  I don't think I've felt so much anger for such a prolonged period of time... at least not in a long time."  Andrew settled onto a bench and shook his head.

Joshua took a seat across from his angel.

"It's righteous anger, Andrew.  And you've not let it make you lose control.  That's what matters," he assured before reaching over and squeezing Andrew's hand.  "I'm proud of you.  Dad's proud of you.  The way you've cared for your assignments and for your family...  We know how hard it's been, Andrew.  And you've never once disappointed us during this difficult season."

Andrew smirked.

"Not even when I went off on Allison and Robert?"

Joshua laughed and shook his head.

"Of course not!  They obviously needed that.  Things have been much better since, right?"


"And it's not as if I don't understand difficult family members," Joshua reminded.  "My cousins and I had our moments..."

Andrew chuckled as he remembered.


"But things got better between us, too."

"Yeah...  Speaking of your family... are your parents and John staying Home this year?" the angel questioned.

"Mostly.  I have an apartment in the city.  They'll come tomorrow evening to spend some time with me.  And... don't tell anyone but we're going to Zoom bomb the St. G's virtual caroling party," Joshua shared with a grin.

Andrew's face lit up.

"That's great!  Everyone will love that!"

"They couldn't resist... and neither could I.  Now..."  Joshua gestured to other items that were covered with sheets, tarps, and boxes.  "Can I see what else you've been up to?"

Still smiling, Andrew nodded.  He knew that Joshua knew exactly what gifts he'd hidden way.  But he was touched that he wanted to study and admire each one in his presence.

"Of course!"

And so Andrew showed off a doll cradle for Belle, a set of blocks for Avi, a new mouse house, puzzle toys for the dogs, and many other heartfelt gifts for his beloved family and friends.


After leaving Andrew to put the finishing touches on his gifts, Joshua made his way to the stable.  Inside, he found Violeta and Shelby chatting as they fed the animals.

"I dunno...  I still think I like Hill House better.  I can relate to the family stuff more than the romantic stuff," Shelby shared.

"Me too.  But just the dreaminess of Bly Manor...  I think I might prefer it," Violeta countered.  "And there was that whole plot with the sisters."

Shelby scrunched her nose.

"Who were evil towards each other!"

Joshua chuckled as he stood in the doorway.

Surprised, Shelby and Violeta both turned towards him and stared awkwardly.

"Sorry," Violeta apologized.  "We should probably be watching and discussing Christmas-y things but..."

"You're okay!" Joshua assured.  "I mean... it's right in the song.  'There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago!  It's the most wonderful of the year!'"

The two girls smiled in delight as he sang.

Joshua began to help them with their task, continuing to speak as he did.

"I am glad that Andrew and JenniAnn decided to let you two watch on your own this time around.  That plague sub-plot was definitely not something Andrew, especially, needed to see."

Violeta shuddered.

"Not at all!  But even without that..."

Joshua nodded.

"Woulda been too much," he agreed.  "And I think it's nice for you both to have something just the two of you share, anyway."

Shelby hugged Violeta's arm.

"It has been fun.  And I love watching stuff with Belle, too.  But... it is nice to be able to talk about grown-up things."

Violeta warmly returned the hug.

"It really is!  It's made being stuck with remote classes not quite so bad.  Because I miss discussing big things with people... face-to-face."  She frowned.

"Some day you will again," Joshua assured.  "But I know it means a lot to Andrew and JenniAnn that you stuck with it.  And Ivy and Sy, too.  Even when others went back to campus."

"I... I just could never forgive myself if I made JenniAnn sick.  I know it would have been so unlikely but... still."  Violeta shuddered.  "I don't ever, ever want to wind up in a hospital room with her again."

"Violeta..."  Shelby rubbed the angel's back when a tear slid down her cheek.

Joshua squeezed her hand.

"Duckling, I can't promise you that'll never happen.  But what I can tell you is that, if it does, I'll be right there, too.  Holding JenniAnn close.  And all of you."

Violeta sniffled but smiled gratefully at Joshua.

"But how about we try for a lighter topic, hmm?" the carpenter suggested.  "I think Belle is going to be thrilled with her present from the two of you."

"She's going to look so adorable in it!  I just hope it all stays together..."  Shelby gave a pensive frown as she thought of the Elsa-style crown, wand, and tulle skirt that she and Violeta had spent several hours working on.

"I'm sure it'll be just fine.  And it'll mean so much to her that it was homemade instead of store-bought.  You both did a beautiful job," Joshua praised.  "And it's meant a lot to me and to Dad to watch all three of you grow closer as sisters during this difficult time."

Once again, Shelby and Violeta embraced each other.

"As much as I wish the pandemic hadn't happened... and wasn't still happening... I'm glad it made me move back here for a while," the latter shared.  "It's been so nice... staying up til all hours chatting with you, Shel, and being around to sometimes care for Belle when she has a nightmare or whatever... and seeing the various 'firsts' for Avi and Landon and now lil Amelia." 

"Definitely," Shelby agreed.  "And just... watching Andrew and JenniAnn.  I mean... not in a creepy way.  But just how they care for each other and watch out for each other.  It makes me feel... cozy and safe."

"I'm so glad.  That's exactly how people should feel on Christmas."  Joshua smiled but struggled to keep from sighing.  He knew so very, very many people did not feel that...

Shelby and Violeta saw the wave of compassion wash over their beloved Joshua's face.  They exchanged looks then shifted closer to him, stood on either side of him, and wrapped their arms around him.

"Girls..." Joshua murmured, the depth of his love evident in his voice.

As Joshua wept for those who were grieving, those who were sick, and those who were worried about keeping their homes and putting food on the table; the two sisters, angel and human, kept him in their embrace.


After they'd finished feeding the pets, Shelby and Violeta returned with Joshua to the castle.

"I'm just gonna step into the kitchen," he explained.  "Can I get you anything?"

Both girls shook their heads.

"You're okay, though, right?" Violeta checked.

Joshua smiled and hugged her.

"Yes.  Better now.  Sometimes a good cry is healing.  I appreciate you both being with me... loving me."

Shelby took her turn to hug him.

"You make it awfully easy..."

"As do both of you."  Joshua kissed Shelby's hair then released her.  "I'll head back to the ballroom after I'm done.  Maybe we could get everyone together for some Spin-the-Bottle: Dyeland Style.  Christmas Carol Edition, maybe?"

"Yes!" Violeta cheered before running off with Shelby to spread the word.

Joshua chuckled, looked after them with fondness, and then made his way to the kitchen. 

Rose was at the sink, cleaning Amelia's bottles.  When she heard movement behind her, she turned and smiled. 

"Hey, Joshua!  Can I get you anything?"

Joshua shook his head and grabbed his mug.

"Cider's sounding good.  But I'll get it myself.  You're busy!  Can I get you anything?"

"No thanks."

"In a little bit, we're going to play Spin-the-Bottle with Christmas carols," Joshua relayed.

Rose lit up.

"That'll be so much fun!  I've missed playing that.  Maybe I can duet with Max...  It's been a long time."

Joshua winked.

"I mean I do have some control over gravity so I could make the bottle spin a certain way..."

"Some..." Rose repeated with a laugh.

Joshua smiled, sipped his drink, and then approached the woman.

"While we have a few moments alone, I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you.  Going through this pandemic is hard for everyone.  But to be pregnant on top of it..." 

Joshua stepped to the other side of the sink, washed his hands, and began to help.

"Thank you.  For the help and... that.  It was... wow, so much stress... Especially when we had to quarantine.  I mean really quarantine when there was that exposure at my OB-GYN...  We'd showered and washed our hands after getting back, of course.  But then we'd hugged JenniAnn and snuggled with Landon..."  Rose shuddered.  "I was so worried that we could have given it to one of them.  Or both of them.  And then if Max or I got sick..."  She sighed.  "Well...we didn't, of course.  But yeah..."

"And then giving birth here..."

"I know it's how things were for the vast majority of human existence...  But I'd just assumed I'd give birth in a hospital again.  So being here...  Even though I trust Portia immensely..."  With a laugh, Rose shrugged.  "It was fine, of course.  Really nice, actually.  Now I just worry that it'll squick Avi out some day because 'our' room is going to be his room when he outgrows the nursery."

Joshua laughed, too.

"Avi's a chill little guy.  I think he'll be a chill older guy, too.  I wouldn't worry about that."

"Okay then.  You know him best."  Rose squeezed Joshua's arm with affection.  "It was pretty great seeing Andrew and JenniAnn meet their first granddaughter so soon.  If we'd gone to the hospital, Amelia woulda been two weeks old by the time she could see her Gamma.  I'm actually not sure if Andrew woulda seen her sooner knowing JenniAnn would have to wait."

"He would have," Joshua averred.  "He would have wanted to... but also JenniAnn would have made him so he could report every tiny, adorable detail to her."

"True!"  Rose grew quiet for a few moments and focused on the bottles.  Then, after some thought, she spoke again.  "Max is kind of worried about Andrew.  He's just been trying to do everything for everyone.  I can't remember the last time I saw him just sitting with a book or anything like that."

"That's my Andrew... If it makes you feel better, he does read in bed."

"It does, actually.  Thanks.  But still..."

"This isn't his first pandemic, Rose.  Not even close to the first.  If he gets too still, too quiet... he remembers.  Or the things he's seeing now... they replay in his mind.  So it helps him to focus on all of you, on what you need.  He can't give his assignments everything they want.  But he can get you chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and dream up romantic schemes for JenniAnn and buy Shelby her very favorite pens, etc."

Rose sniffled.

"I wish we could do more for him... but I don't even know what to say when he comes home after an assignment."

"JenniAnn keeps an eye on him.  She gets him to talk when he needs to.  And he talks to me and to Dad.  And... you gave him a granddaughter.  Amelia and Landon... all you kids... you help him simply by being here, Rose."

"I'm glad.  It helps to be here."  Rose handed the last bottle off to Joshua who rinsed it.  "Thank you.  And now... I wanna go get my 'Jingle Bells' and 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' and all that on."

"Same here!"  Joshua laughed and offered Rose his arm before the two made their way to the enthusiastic crowd gathering in the ballroom.


Kylie anxiously chewed on her bottom lip as she stared out of her front window.  Behind her, with a sleeping Maisy in his arms, Adam also looked on with concern as Clay spoke to a police officer and a child welfare advocate.

"Those poor kids...  To have this happen right before Christmas..." Kylie lamented.

Adam patted her back.

"It's tough... But it wouldn't have been much of a Christmas at their own home."

"True...  Who abandons their kids two days before Christmas?!"

Adam sighed.  He'd seen it before.

"I'm just glad they knew Clay would help them out."  Kylie glanced over at the Christmas tree.  "One of us will need to run to the store.  I was hoping to avoid any shopping trips when the stores are bound to be more crowded but... they can't NOT have Christmas presents on top of everything else!"

"We'll figure it out, Ky," Adam assured.  He closed his eyes briefly and kissed Maisy's curls. 

The two looked on as two boys stepped out of the back seat of the advocate's car.

Clay shook their hands then helped unload their possessions.

A jostling sound from behind her caused Kylie to turn away from the window.  Adam turned, too, when he heard her gasp.

Joshua was stooped in front of the tree, setting some wrapped gifts around the trunk.

"Joshua!" Kylie cried out, remembering Maisy only after she'd been awoken.

Joshua smiled and stood up, holding his arms open.  Kylie swiftly moved into them.

"Hey there, Kylie.  Adam... lil Maisy..."  He looked tenderly at the two.  "I was just over at Randall's and Dot's and they agreed to let me stay with them for the night but... I wanted to get these presents over here before the boys come in.  The tags say they're from you and Clay, Kylie.  It would weird them out if a complete stranger... or so they think... got them Christmas presents.  Besides, you had the intention... so they are from you."

"Joshua..." Kylie repeated his name again then stroked his face.  "Thank you."

"Thank you for what you and Clay are doing.  This means so much to Ethan and Ryan.  And to me."

"It means so much to us to have you here."  Adam squeezed Joshua's shoulder.  "I wasn't sure we'd see you in the flesh this year but... as always... you have great timing."

"I couldn't miss out on seeing everyone.  And it's Miss Maisy's first Christmas!"

Once Kylie released Joshua, Adam handed the baby to him.

"Oh...  Ada-Marie and Felix are going to be so happy when they get up from their naps!" Kylie gushed.  "And Clay...  I'm sure he's going to want to talk to you about... well..."  She waved towards the window which displayed her husband approaching with the two boys in tow.  "You'll meet them, won't you?" she checked.

Joshua nodded.

"Just say I'm a family friend."

"Gotcha.  True enough... if an understatement."  Kylie nodded, drew in and let out a deep breath to calm herself, and then went to the door to greet her guests. 

"Hi there, Ethan!  Hi, Ryan!"

"Mrs. Coach..." Ethan, the oldest boy, forced a smile and nodded politely.  "Thank you for having us."

Ryan, his younger brother, looked up at Kylie only long enough to give her a shy smile.

"It's our pleasure!  Come on in!"  Kylie waved them inside then grabbed Clay's arm.  "Joshua showed up," she whispered.

Clay's eyes went wide but he played it cool so as not to alarm the boys.

Once the group was in the living room, Kylie made introductions.

"Ethan, Ryan... you know Adam... I mean Mr. Alexander."

Adam, who sometimes helped Clay with his coaching duties, waved to the two.

"Hey, guys!"

"Hey," the two echoed back.

"And this is Maisy..."  Kylie waved to the little girl who remained in Joshua's arms.

"She's so cute!"  Ethan beamed.  "Coach showed us photos on Zoom but..."  He sighed.  "Maybe she'll be able to come to a game next year?"

Clay squeezed his shoulder.

"I really hope so, Ethan.  And, finally, this is Joshua, a family friend."

"Hi there!" Joshua smiled at the two.  "I like your Star Wars bag, Ryan.  Who's your favorite character?"

The eight-year-old's eyes lit up.

"Luke Skywalker!  I like Baby Yoda a lot, too.  I think... I like how he looks.  And how he acts in clips I've seen.  But I've never actually seen The Mandalorian.  We don't have Disney+."  He frowned.

"Well, it just so happens that Mrs. Coach signed me up for it for my birthday," Clay shared.  "How about you guys get settled in your room while we get that set up and you can play catch up?"

"Really?!"  Ryan's eyes went wide and shimmered.

Beside him, his brother visibly relaxed.

"Sure!  It's Christmas break, after all.  C'mon, I'll show you to your room."  Clay waved for the two boys to follow him. 

Once they were gone, the three remaining adults and Maisy moved into the living room where Kylie swiftly got Disney+ up and running.  After a couple of minutes, Clay returned shaking his head.

"What a mess..." he mumbled. 

Joshua handed Maisy to Kylie then embraced Clay.

"I'm so glad they knew they could trust you and Kylie.  This is the right place for them to be," he assured.

"I just wish they'd spoken up sooner...  The cop told me that they've been fending for themselves for a week!  Their mom just up and left!"

Joshua frowned.

"She's been struggling... and the pandemic's made it worse but it's no excuse.  And... Ethan was embarrassed.  And he felt like it was his responsibility to care for Ryan.  But a neighbor realized what was going on and, rightly, knew that a fourteen-year-old isn't supposed to be head of the household.  She called CPS and... they have no other family so... Ethan asked them to call his beloved coach.  And here they are." 

Clay's eyes welled. 

"I'm glad Ethan knew we'd be there for them but... I wish I'd known how bad things were before it came to this.  I mean I've met their mom two or three times and she always struck me as a little, well, flaky... but I never expected this.  And with them doing remote learning... I just didn't have the clues that I might have had otherwise."

"You can't read minds, Clay," Joshua consoled.  "Remote learning has made it much more difficult for teachers and coaches to spot abuse and neglect.  None of their other teachers saw this coming, either."

"Do we have any idea how long they'll be here?" Kylie asked.  "I mean... they can stay forever as far as I'm concerned.  Just trying to plan."

"Their mom is still AWOL," Clay replied.  "So... at least until she shows up.  And then, you know, she could go to jail..."  He peered at Joshua.  "I know you can't tell us the future exactly but... any guidance?"

Joshua nodded.

"Think long-term," was all he said.

"I mean we did discuss becoming foster parents once Maisy was a bit older," Kylie reminded.

"We did..." Clay agreed.

"So... we're just moving the schedule up a bit."  Kylie smiled and hugged her husband.  "We can do it."

Clay returned her smile and hug.

"Yeah... we can."

Before anything more could be said, the two brothers poked their heads into the room.

"Hey guys!  Come on in and make yourselves comfortable," Kylie invited.  "We can start up the first episode if you're ready?"

Ryan nodded eagerly.

"Great!  I've already seen them so I'll go get some snacks made up."  Kylie deposited Maisy with Adam.  "Snuggle with your uncle.  I happen to know this episode makes him all misty eyed."

"Hey now!" Adam protested. 

Kylie laughed and ruffled his hair. 

"It's okay.  It makes me teary, too.  But..."  She raised a finger to her lips.  "No spoilers.  I'll be back in a bit."

"I'll help," Joshua offered.


The two stepped into the hallway but looked back once more.  They could see Ryan in profile, his eyes alight as the LucasFilm logo was displayed.  Ethan was more sober but his shoulders, slumped when he'd been outside, had relaxed.

When they entered the kitchen, Kylie hugged Joshua again.

"I really am so glad you're here.  When we got the call this morning..."  She shook her head.  "We were pretty frantic.  I wish we had a room for each of them..."

"They'll be fine sharing, Ky.  Even if they had separate rooms, they'd probably share for a while.  Ethan's very protective of his brother and Ryan..."  Joshua dragged a hand through his hair.  "Ethan saw his mother's faults.  Ryan didn't.  This has all come as a shock to him."

"Poor kid.  Those gifts you brought... you didn't happen to get a Baby Yoda doll, did you?" Kylie questioned hopefully.

Joshua grinned.

"You did!  Ryan will be so happy.  And it'll be nice for him to have someone to cuddle."

"That's what I thought.  And it'll be nice for Ethan to be able to relax.  He really does trust the two of you.  And Adam."

"I always suspected he kind of idolized Clay.  I mean... that's kinda typical with 'the Coach.'  But... more than that," Kylie mused as she slathered frosting on graham crackers.

"He looks up to Clay because he never really had a father figure.  And a boy needs someone to step into that role, especially at his age."  Joshua smiled fondly.  "I was always close to my parents.  But I really relied on my Abi then when I was trying to figure so much out about myself."

"The messiah stuff, you mean?"

"That.  But also, you know... hormones."  Joshua chuckled as he sliced apples. 

Kylie smiled at him and shook her head in wonder.

"Sometimes I get so caught up in the real big things... all you had to put up with while preaching and... and then your death... and I forget about stuff like... 'Wow!  God went through puberty!'"

Joshua squeezed her shoulders.

"That I did."

"I think Clay will handle all of that really well.  But... I hope we do okay with the trauma.  Those boys have been through a lot."

"They have.  And so have both of you.  It's not the same.  But you can relate."

Kylie thought of her own estranged mother and nodded.

"Ethan and Ryan are in the perfect place, Ky.  Trust me."

"Always," Kylie murmured before resting her head on Joshua's shoulder.


Emma found Peter staring into their closet, his right hand clasping something.

"Peter...  You okay?" she checked.

Startled, Peter jumped.

"Sorry!  Didn't mean to scare you," his wife apologized as she approached and circled her arms around his waist.

"No, no.  It's fine.  I was just...  Deep in thought."

"About our clothes?"

"No.  Just..."  Peter grabbed a garment bag.

"Oh...  Aww."

Emma recognized the bag as the one Peter used to store Joshua's robe.  Except for during Superstar's annual run, he always kept the robe at their home.

"I miss it...  I miss him.  Even when he's not physically around... he felt close when I'd put that on and get on stage."  Peter gave Emma a sad smile.  "And I miss our whole Christmas thing.  I mean I'm excited about the virtual caroling.  I really am.  But I miss going to Willowveil.  Decorating St. G's and having cookies with the audience.  Hanging out with Joshua and his family."

"I miss it all, too.  And I keep praying that this is the only year we'll ever have like this."  Emma kissed Peter's cheek then gave him a sheepish smile.  "I mean it would be a little weird but... if you want to wear the robe and do some sort of one man show version in the living room, I'll watch."

Peter chuckled and shook his head.

"I appreciate that.  I really do.  But... I think I need to stay myself in our home.  I don't want to confuse Sawyer."

"Speaking of...  This has been a long nap for him.  I better go check on him again.  I hope he's not up to anything..."  Emma frowned.

"I'll go with you."

Peter took his wife's hand and the two left their room and made their way to their son's.

Before they reached his door, they heard him laughing.

"Oh boy..."  Peter grimaced.  "I think he's gotten into something."

"Well, it can't have gotten too bad.  I just checked on..."

Emma's voice transformed into a gasp when the two looked into Sawyer's room.

The little boy was sitting in the rocking chair Emma and Peter used when they read him bedtime stories... and he was in Joshua's lap.

"Joshua!"  Peter rushed forward and rested a hand on Joshua's arm as if to confirm he wasn't seeing things.

Emma began to cry even as a smile lit up her whole face.

"Hey there.  Happy Christmas Eve Eve!"  Joshua hugged Sawyer, whispered in his ear, and then set the boy down so he could embrace his parents.

"We were just talking about how much we missed 'normal' Christmas.  Especially seeing you," Peter reported.  "And now... here you are."

"Here I am."  Joshua beamed.  "I wish we could all be together... and I wish I could stay as long as I usually do but... I can stay through breakfast tomorrow if you're willing to put me up..."

"Of course we are!" Emma gushed.  "We didn't think we'd see you at all... well... we did hope you'd pop up in our Zoom caroling tomorrow... but this... to have you stay here..."

"Thank you, my own."  Joshua kissed her hair. 

"Mommy...  Tummy hungry..." Sawyer whimpered as he tugged on Emma's sweater.

Emma pulled the boy into her arms and kissed his cheek.

"Okay.  Let's go make a snack."

"You come?" Sawyer asked, looking to Joshua with imploring eyes.


All feeling very happy to be reunited, the quartet headed to the kitchen to enjoy each other's company and some freshly baked gingerbread.


That evening, several of the inhabitants of Dyeland and the Tunnels gathered in the Willowveil ballroom.  There was singing, storytelling, dancing, and an abundance of food.  Joshua spent time with every person gathered, giving them his full attention and all of his love.  And yet he still noticed when JenniAnn abruptly left the ballroom.

Vincent, who was speaking with Joshua at the time, noted his godchild's departure, too.

"She looked unwell," he observed.  "Or, perhaps, only unhappy.  Should I..."

Joshua shook his head and rested a hand on Vincent's arm.

"I'll go.  We haven't had much of a chance to talk, just the two of us."

"Thank you.  I know my Psyche is in good hands... the best."  Vincent smiled warmly at Joshua.

Joshua squeezed the man's hand then headed towards the hallway where JenniAnn had gone.  Finding it empty, he next checked the kitchen where he found her rummaging through the refrigerator.

"JenniAnn?  Can I help you?"

JenniAnn whirled around, hastily wiping at her eyes.

"I... I just...  One of... of the kids mentioned the graham cracker sandwiches that Kylie always brings so... so I thought I would check to see if we had any more frosting because Kylie isn't here and..." 

Fresh tears began to trickle down JenniAnn's face.

Joshua stepped forward and hugged her.

"I... I miss everyone so much," she whimpered.

"I know, little bird.  I know..."

"And... and I know I have it better than most.  COVID never got into Dyeland so... so we can still gather with those sequestered here... safely... not many have that but... but..."  JenniAnn buried her face in Joshua's shoulder and sighed.

"But you still miss your friends who aren't here.  There's nothing wrong with that, JenniAnn.  In fact, it would be troubling if you didn't miss the others.  I know they miss you, too.  Just because you have loved ones around you doesn't mean you can't miss those who aren't here.  I mean think about it this way: after I went Home, my Ama still missed me even though she still had my cousins... siblings..."  Joshua cocked his head.  "Couslings?"

JenniAnn laughed.

"Couslings...  I like that.  And you're right.  Of course.  At... at least technology keeps us connected.  But... it's not the same."

"No... it's not."


Joshua led JenniAnn to the table and sat down beside her, keeping her right hand in both of his.

"Tell me," he gently prodded. 

"It's just..."  JenniAnn glanced down at her claddagh ring.  "Andrew...  This...  It's taking its toll, Joshua.  I mean... his hair!"

Joshua nodded.  Andrew did have considerably more gray hair around his temples than he'd had just a year ago. 

"It's not like other times...  It's not like with... with Chava.  As horrible as that was, it was in the past.  This... it's on-going... relentless... everywhere.  And... and it could harm me.  Harm our children.  And he knows that.  He carries that," JenniAnn lamented.  "And I... I don't know what to do with that, Joshua."

"Keep doing what you've been doing, JenniAnn.  Listen to him, hold him, comfort him...  You're helping to build a home and a family with him that can restore and re-energize him... that can give him peace and surround him with love.  That's enough... that's everything, JenniAnn," Joshua impressed upon her.

"Would... wouldn't he feel even greater peace at Home?  With you?  With your Abba?" the woman implored.  "I love him so much... but not like you can.  And he... he has my worries and fears to contend with.  He wouldn't have that with..."

Joshua cupped her chin.

"And he wouldn't have some of what he has with you with me.  I mean I love Andrew with all I am...  But I don't think he'd enjoy dancing to Sting with me very much.  Certainly never made me a headboard," he joked with mock annoyance.

JenniAnn burst out laughing.

Joshua smiled, delighted by the sound.

"True..." JenniAnn agreed once her giggle fit had ended.  "But I always thought... what happens between a couple... whatever that is... at its best, it's supposed to mirror your love for us.  So how is the mirror ever better than the reality?"

"Because, my little bird, that's not an entirely accurate metaphor.  When you look into a mirror, you are never truly in the mirror.  If the mirror shattered, you would still be exactly as you are.  You and the mirror are entirely separate.  The love that you and Andrew share... that's part of me.  It's part of my love.  Even if you wanted to, you could never remove me from that love.  You could ignore my part of it.  You could deny that I'm part of it.  But I would still be there."

"Yes..."  JenniAnn nodded.  "Always."

"Yes.  So, when Andrew is with you, you should never think of it as him being further from me.  Are there times when he needs to see me?  Sure.  Just as there are times when you need to be with your parents or Vincent and Catherine," Joshua pointed out.  "But my love for Andrew lives in you, alongside your own love for him... just as my love for you lives in him.  He can feel that love with you.  And it's enough, JenniAnn.  Andrew knows he can come Home whenever he pleases.  But that's very often not what he chooses.  Trust his judgment."

Too moved to speak, JenniAnn only nodded.

Joshua leaned in and kissed her forehead.

"Everything all right in here?"

The two turned to see Andrew standing in the doorway, looking concerned.

JenniAnn leaped up from her chair and ran to him, hugging his middle tightly.

"Just... just needed a... a talk with Joshua.  I'm better now," she assured.

Joshua rose from his chair.

"JenniAnn, you stashed an extra pint of frosting behind the pancake mix.  I'll grab that and the graham crackers for the kiddos.  Why don't the two of you take a few moments for yourselves?" he suggested.

JenniAnn beamed at Joshua.

"Sounds good.  Thank you."

As he passed, Andrew squeezed Joshua's free hand.

"Not sure what happened but... thank you."

"My pleasure, beloved Andrew."

Joshua left the room but, in his mind's eye, saw the two disappear into the pantry.  He smiled and proceeded to the ballroom where the little ones made graham cracker sandwiches and watched, in thrall, as he made a gingerbread house from the same materials and some candy.

When Andrew and JenniAnn returned, the latter was noticeably calmer.  And if anyone but Joshua noticed the pink lip gloss stain on the angel's neck, they politely kept it to themselves.


As the last few moments of It's a Wonderful Life played out, Joshua smiled at the happy couple nestled on the couch across from him.  He was feeling quite cozy himself, snuggled into the loveseat with Cara, short for Caravaggio, a cat Graham had purchased to keep Owen company.  Cookies and half-drunk glasses of milk littered the coffee table.

"How you feeling?" Graham checked before kissing Owen's hair.

"Better.  That movie always makes me feel better.  You?"

"Much more relaxed."  Graham looked over at Joshua.  "So... caroling now?"

"If you're ready... and if Cara is ready."  Joshua nuzzled the cat who chose to ignore him.

"Cara!" Owen chastised.

Joshua laughed.

"No big deal.  I made em independent after all.  But maybe..."

Joshua gently lifted the cat from his lap and set her on the floor.

Owen and Graham laughed when she began to meow and rub up against Joshua's leg.

"See...  It just needs to be on her own time."  Joshua scooped the cat up and headed towards the balcony.

Owen and Graham followed, the latter turning on some Christmas lights that were twined around the railing.

"Beautiful..."  Joshua smiled down upon the city.  "So what should we sing first?"

"Do you think anyone will sing with us?" Owen asked.

"Maybe," Joshua replied with a shrug.

"'Silent Night,'" Graham suggested.  "It's my favorite."

Joshua adjusted Cara so he could have a spare hand to reach over and squeeze the doctor's hand.

"Then 'Silent Night' it is.  One... two... three..."

"'Silent night, holy night.  All is calm, all is bright,'" the trio sang together. 

To their right, another balcony door opened.  A woman stared at the three for a few moments then returned to her apartment.

"'Round yon virgin, mother and child...'" Joshua, Graham, and Owen continued.

"'Holy infant, so tender and mild...'"

The three smiled at each other when they heard a fourth voice, seemingly from below them.

"'Sleep in heavenly peace...'"

The woman next door returned, a mug in her hands.  She took a seat on a bench and smiled with tears in her eyes.

A violinist joined in.  And more voices.

Joshua's own eyes misted.

"'Sleep in heavenly peace...'"

Owen reached across Graham and squeezed one of Joshua's hands.

"Thank you," he whispered.  "This... is beautiful."

Joshua squeezed Owen's hand back and nodded.

"'Silent night, holy night...  Shepherds quake at the sight...'" the chorus of voices and the violin sang together, a lullaby to their city.


While his brother was enraptured by the first season finale of The Mandalorian, Ethan was growing restless... and Adam noticed.  He abandoned his chair, taking a clingy Felix with him, and sat beside the teenager.

"You can go outside if you want," he whispered.  "Just be sure to grab your coat and gloves.  It'll be chilly even with the bonfire going."

Ethan's face betrayed that he was sorely tempted.

"But I don't really know the other people..."

Adam shrugged.

"Can't change that if you don't meet them.  They're great, Ethan.  Coach invited you.  You'd be welcome."

Ethan glanced over at Kylie who was holding Maisy while Ada-Marie was snuggled against her side.

Kylie met his gaze and cocked her head.

"Can I get you anything, Ethan?" she checked.

Ethan shook his head.

"No.  Umm...  Just thinking I might like to go outside.  To the bonfire."

Kylie's face lit up.

"I think you'd have fun!  Ryan, did you want to?  We could always pause this and..."

The younger boy frowned, not looking away from the TV.


Kylie laughed.

"Maybe we'll stay in here, hmm?"

Ryan briefly grinned at her and nodded.

Ethan smiled and ruffled his brother's hair.

"Okay, have fun.  I'm going out."


"Have fun!" Adam encouraged.


Ethan made his way to the hallway where he collected his coat and gloves.  Once he'd put them on, he stepped outside and headed towards the bonfire a few yards away.

"Hey, Ethan!" Clay greeted.  "Glad you decided to join us!" 

Ethan smiled as his coach clapped him on the back.

"Everyone, this is Ethan.  Ethan, this is Dot and Randall.  They own the farm," Clay introduced.

"Welcome, Ethan!"  Randall smiled at the boy.

"Glad to have you!  You're gonna need this, sweetie."  Dot handed him a stick for toasting marshmallows.

Ethan beamed.

"Cool, thanks."

"And this doofus..."

"Hey!" Caleb protested.

"Is Caleb," Clay continued.  "Dot's and Randall's nephew and one of my best buddies."

"Not sure what that says about you if I'm a doofus, Clay," Caleb teased.

Clay chuckled.

"And then we have Lacey, Caleb's better half."

"Won't argue with that!"  Caleb looped an arm around his wife's shoulders.

"Hi, Ethan!  Welcome to our crazy, little group."  Lacey smiled warmly and handed Ethan a bag of marshmallows.


"You've met Joshua, of course.  So that just leaves Edward, Caleb's twin."

"Hey there!  We're missing my wife, Zadie.  We have a two-year-old... almost... so we're taking turns inside with her."  He tilted his head towards their house.

"Cool.  You all live here?" Ethan inquired.

Clay nodded.

"We all help out on the farm so it just made sense.  And... it made for a ready-made bubble when the pandemic started."

"They tested Ryan and me before we came," Ethan hurriedly assured the others. 

Joshua smiled reassuringly at the teen.

"We're not worried, Ethan.  Get yourself some s'mores and take a seat.  The logs are more comfy than they look."

Ethan responded with a shy smile and happily complied.

"So... how did you all meet?" he asked once he was seated beside Clay.  "I mean obviously a lot of you are related but..."

"Jesus Christ Superstar," Edward answered.

Ethan laughed.

"What?  The musical?"

Caleb nodded.

"Yeah.  So this was what?  Almost seven years ago now?"

"Yup," Joshua assented.

"Edward and I were lounging around too much so our mom made us sign up for a show at a local theatre... and that show was Superstar.  So we ended up playing Romans.  Adam was Pontius Pilate.  Kylie played his wife.  And Joshua, of course, was Jesus."

Ethan glanced over at the carpenter and nodded.

"I can see it."

Joshua beamed.


"They decided they wanted some video for the prologue so... the whole cast and crew came here to our farm to film it," Randall relayed.

Ethan looked around.  Even in the moonlight, he could tell the land was beautiful.

"I bet that was cool.  And you were also in the show?" he asked his coach.

Clay shook his head.

"No...  Actually, I was in a veterans' hospital at the time.  And not very happily...  When they told me some theatre group was coming in as some sort of morale booster... I wasn't even interested.  But this guy coaxed me out of my room."  Clay smiled at Joshua.  "And, thank God he did, because that's how I met Kylie and everyone else."

"That's really cool."  Ethan smiled at his coach then at Joshua.  "I'm glad you got him out of his room."

Joshua beamed.

"Me too."

"And me three, obviously," Clay concurred.  "And this is why I always tell you boys to not let yourselves get so wrapped up in sports that you shun other pursuits.  Building friendships outside the team, exploring the arts, getting out of your comfort zone... those are all important.  Without those, I might still be in that hospital room.  And three precious little souls wouldn't be here."

Ethan felt a surge of warmth directed towards the near-strangers who surrounded him.  He realized that, without them, he wouldn't have Coach.  And then where would he and Ryan be?

"On that note, I'm going to step inside and check on Kylie and the kids."  Joshua rose from his bench.  "And it looks like we're about out of hot water and I'm in the mood for cocoa so I'll grab that, too."

Ethan also stood.

"Can I go with you?" he asked.

The teenager didn't see the anxious, hopeful glances that passed between the others.

"Sure!" Joshua agreed.

Ethan wasn't sure why he wanted to go with Joshua.  He wasn't even sure what to make of Joshua.  But, since his and Ryan's arrival, he'd had the uncanny sense that Joshua was at the heart of this group he'd found himself in.  So maybe Joshua would know the answer to the question he desperately wanted to ask.

The two headed back inside the Stanfords' house.  They peeked into the living room and finding everyone content, moved to the kitchen where Joshua started boiling some water.

"So... you've known Coach and Mrs. Coach for seven years?"

Joshua nodded.

"Yes.  I know them very well, Ethan."

Ethan felt something catch in the back of his throat as he peered into Joshua's eyes.

"So... so you can maybe guess at... at how they'd react to something?" he pressed on.

"I think I could, yes."

Ethan drew in a deep breath.  He began to tremble as he let it out.

Seeing this, Joshua rested a hand on the boy's arm.

Ethan's eyes went wide as he felt his body relax.  He felt a boldness in his spirit, too.

"Ask me anything," Joshua encouraged.

Ethan nodded.

"I don't think my mother is coming back.  At least... not for us.  And I'll be fine.  I'm almost fifteen.  But Ryan...  He deserves a stable home life.  He needs that.  So...  Coach and Mrs. Coach...  Are they just doing this to get us out of a bind or... or could this be... permanent?"

Joshua squeezed Ethan's arm.

"Coach and Mrs. Coach will be there for you and for Ryan for as long as you need them, Ethan.  Just as they will be there for Ada-Marie and Felix and Maisy."

Tears welled in the teenager's eyes.  He nodded and Joshua nodded back before letting Ethan collapse against him, crying and letting out all the worry and grief that he'd held in for the sake of his brother. 

When he was finished, Joshua patted Ethan's shoulder before releasing him.

The boy smiled at Joshua.

"You know, I bet you make for a really good Jesus."

Joshua chuckled.

"I'd sure like to think so."

Then, together, the two returned to the bonfire and the companionship and cocoa it offered.


Thursday, December 24th, 2020

Peter tried, unsuccessfully, to fall back asleep.  Emma was not sharing in his trouble and so, as gently as possible, he extricated himself from her arms and headed to the kitchen for some spiced milk.

He was not surprised to find the kitchen unoccupied.

"Hey, there.  Spiced milk?"  Joshua held a mug out to him.

Peter grinned.

"How did you know that I was coming for just that thing?  Oh wait..." 

Joshua chuckled as Peter took a sip.

"Delicious.  Thank you."

"You're welcome."  Joshua gestured to the table where his own mug waited.

The two sat down and were quiet for a few moments before Peter spoke.

"So... back in April... you said that when theatres could open again, you'd be willing to come back... play Jesus again."

Joshua nodded.

Peter smiled with relief.

"Thing is... as I'm sure you know... Eric and I have been talking."

Joshua smiled over the rim of his mug.

"And as you also know... Emma and I... and Eric and Neela... have decided to try for another baby.  The pandemic threw us off some but... if theatres are back then... well, then I think we'd all feel better about getting back to trying.  So...  We thought maybe we could split the role of Peter.  And... then you could play yourself.  Full-time.  If you wanted."

"I thought you missed playing the part?" Joshua questioned.

Peter nodded.

"I do...  But...  I've more missed seeing you.  And I think... people need you.  They need to see you.  Even if they don't know it's you.  So... what do you think?"

Joshua met the man's intense gaze and nodded.

"I think...  Yes.  I'd be happy to do that."

Peter beamed.

"That's great!  Everyone will be so excited.  And just knowing that's in the future...  It'll help get us through the next few months.  Or... or however long it takes."

"I'm glad.  And...  People will be itching to get back to the theatre.  The St. G's regulars, especially.  So... I was thinking maybe we should do a few more shows than normal.  And I realize that's additional strain on everyone.  So... I was thinking maybe there are some other parts that we could split," Joshua suggested. 

Peter peered at him with great interest.

"I'd love to hear your ideas!"

Joshua smiled and began to unravel his plan.


Joshua stood beneath a tree in the land that had once been called
Lenapehoking.  On a nearby tree trunk sat a platter bearing cheese, bread, and fruit.

He waited.

And then he heard the familiar voice.

Joshua chuckled as he listened.

"Coulda done with an extra hour of sleep.  You realize it's not yet 8 A.M."

"Shush, Crowley!  It's what?  3 A.M. here.  He's had less sleep, I'm sure."

"But he doesn't need sleep."

"And neither do you, my dear.  Not really."

Crowley harrumphed. 

"I find it very touching that he wanted to spend time with us like this.  Like the Christmas before..."

"Ngh."  Crowley cut Aziraphale off. 

Joshua bowed his head.  Crowley still liked to avoid thinking about that year.

"But, yes, you're right.  Means a lot."

The two figures broke through the tree line and Joshua smiled and waved.

"Crowley, Aziraphale.  Welcome!"

"Thank you for inviting us!"  Aziraphale spotted the tray.  "Ooh...  Is that brie?"

Chuckling, Joshua nodded.

"Dig in.  Please."

Aziraphale didn't need a second invitation.

Crowley smirked and shook his head.

"Joshua..."  He held a hand out.

Joshua warmly shook it and then, when Crowley didn't protest, pulled him into a hug.

"Happy birthday.  Day early."

"Thank you.  And, yes, it is."


The two looked at Aziraphale who appeared to be in ecstasy as he ate.

"You spoil him," Crowley accused.

"Pot, meet kettle," Joshua retorted with a grin.

Crowley held up his hands in surrender.

"Anyway...  I wanted to talk to you tonight because this evening I'm doing a Zoom call with the St. G's folks.  After the caroling part, we're going to stick around in a private room and plan for when the theatre re-opens.  Superstar will be the first show... no matter the timing... and... I'll be playing myself again," he explained.

"How delightful!" Aziraphale chirped.  "Crowley, we'll be able to see the show live!"

"Ah... yeah..."  Crowley gave a doubtful nod then looked back to Joshua.  "You really have to do that?  Again?" he whispered.  "I don't understand why you keep torturing yourself with..."

Joshua took one of his hands in both of his.

"You didn't understand the first time, either.  Not really.  But I was right then.  And I'm right now.  And this time... I need your help again, Crowley."

"Again..." Crowley repeated, his ancient mind traveling back... back to Gethsemane.  He cringed and shook his head.

"Please, Crowley."

Crowley took off his glasses, his golden serpent's eyes peering into the matching golden flecks in Joshua's eyes.

"I... don't want to," he protested.

Tears formed in Joshua's eyes and he nodded.

"I know, my own."

Crowley bowed his head and kicked at the snow beneath his feet.

"You... you really want this?"

"I do."  Joshua squeezed Crowley's hand.

"Lemme think?"

"Of course."

With a sigh, Crowley nodded then crumpled against Joshua who embraced him.

Startled, Aziraphale abandoned his meal and leaped up to wrap his arms around his beloved friend and his Master.

Joshua stroked the angel's back as they remained huddled together for several moments.


That evening, an hour before the public caroling was to start, the Friends began to sign onto a private Zoom call where they intended to go through a final rundown of the schedule for the show.

They all noticed that their friends seemed to be inexplicably happy given they were spending Christmas in virtual lockdown.  Each of them had a secret...

Once everyone was assembled, Peter spoke.

"So... for the first half hour, we have some planned pieces.  Emma's going to do 'Breath of Heaven' with Kylie.  Zeke's going to lead 'Go Tell It on the Mountain.'  Ibrahim and Liyana will perform 'Immano'el (God With Us)' which is an Arab Christian song.  Right?" he checked with Ibrahim who had felt a little nervous when they'd last spoken.

Beaming, Ibrahim nodded.

"Right!  I'm feeling much more confident as is Liyana.  Actually...  I wasn't sure whether to tell you all but..."  He laughed.  "We saw Joshua!  He... he stayed with us last night!"

Zeke burst out laughing.

"I believe you, Ibrahim.  I do.  But... Joshua stayed at my house last night.  Also... apparently."

The call erupted.

"Joshua was at Sol Mate last night and stayed through breakfast!" Kemara gushed.  "I felt bad at first about not telling others... especially those of you elsewhere in Dyeland.  But he said not to worry about it... so I didn't."

"He was also in El-Chanan," Kyle reported.  "I guess if there was any time to make the whole omni-present thing really obvious... this was the time!"

Excited by this revelation, further discussion of the playlist was forgotten as the Friends excitedly chatted and celebrated the time they had each spent with Joshua.


After an hour and a half of caroling, planned and spontaneous, St. Genesius' virtual Christmas show neared its end as the Gospels' account of the Christmas story was told.

"'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel,'" John recited.

"'Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him,'" Yosef read.

"'After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.'"  Maryam beamed at Joshua who was seated beside her, his arm around her shoulders as she read.  He kissed her cheek then spoke.

"'Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route,'" he finished before beaming at the camera.  "Merry Christmas, everyone!"

"Merry Christmas!" Emma echoed.  "And now, as a special request, we have a final song.  It's not a Christmas song.  But it's a song about going home... about going back to a place you love after a time of separation.  It also has special meaning to all of us as we sang it at the vigil for Joshua.  And we're so glad to sing it now... with him."

While half the screen depicted photos of shows and receptions at St. G's, the other half showed the Friends as they sung.

"'I saw the sun begin to dim and felt that winter wind blow cold...  A man learns who is there for him when the glitter fades and the walls won't hold.  'Cause from that rubble what remains can only be what's true.  If all was lost, there's more I gained... 'cause it led me back... to you,'" Peter sang before Eric picked it up.

"'I drank champagne with kings and queens.  The politicians praised my name but those were someone else's dreams, the pitfalls of the man I became.  For years and years, I chased their cheers.  A crazy speed of always needing more...  But when I stop and see you here, I remember who all this was for!'"

The entire cast and crew joined in on the chorus.

"'And from now on, these eyes will not be blinded by the lights.  From now on, what's waited 'til tomorrow starts tonight...  It starts tonight!  Let this promise in me start, like an anthem in my heart.  From now on!  From now on!  From now on!  And we will come back home!  And we will come back home!  Home again!'"

As the song progressed, Joshua happily sang along... only halting when he noticed his chat button blink.  Curious, he clicked on it.

There was only one word from user Anthony J. Crowley...


Joshua eyes filled and he sighed happily as he typed back.

"Thank you, my own.  This is a wonderful Christmas present!"



Some time later...

JenniAnn fussed over Joshua, mussing his hair first one way and then the other.

Joshua chuckled.

"It's fine, little bird!  I'm sure I looked distressed enough.  Opening night and all!"

JenniAnn grinned.

"As if you have any reason to be nervous.  You've mastered the role.  Only one who ever did..."

Joshua kissed her forehead then moved to the edge of the stage, preparing to perform "Gethsemane."

And then he saw him standing nervously across the stage... flaming hair, gorgeous wings. 

The serpent of Eden...

The angel of Gethsemane...

One and the same.

And, always, the one and only Crowley.

Joshua beamed.

Crowley smiled back, jittery with nerves.

And somewhere in the crowd, someone watched.  Little knowing that in hearing the story of that extraordinary being, they would find their own way back home.  They would learn that God was always with them... even when they felt alone and cast out.

God was with them.


The End

Information about Lenapehoking can be found here:  https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/some-customs-of-the-delaware-indians/

Credits: Crowley and Aziraphale were created by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman for their book, Good Omens.  The characterizations depicted here are based on the characters as brought to life by Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Amazon's Good Omens series.  For anyone who hasn't either read the book or seen the show, Crowley (formerly Crawly) is the serpent of Eden and a demon (so-called) and Aziraphale is a principality and the angel of the Eastern Gate.  The two formed an unlikely but long-lasting bond after Adam's and Eve's expulsion.  Thanks to Sierra for suggesting bringing them into the Dyeland-verse.  If you have seen/read GO and are thinking "But wait...  How can that work?  Gabriel was a total jerk in GO and he's lovely in TBAA and Dyeland!" please rest assured that Sierra and I have a plan and Gabe, Michael, and Marty/Metatron from the Dyeland stories are still the wonderful angels they've always been and always will be.  And, yes, we will be seeing more of Aziraphale and Crowley.

"Christmas Bells" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Love Actually
Die Hard
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
The Haunting of Hill House
The Haunting of Bly Manor
"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Edward Pola and George Wyle
"Jingle Bells"
"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
Star Wars
The Mandalorian
It's a Wonderful Life
"Silent Night" by Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr
"Breath of Heaven" by Amy Grant
"Go Tell It on the Mountain" by John Wesley Work Jr.
"Immano'el (God With Us)"
Matthew 2:6-12
"From Now On" from The Greatest Showman by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

This newsletter is dedicated to John Dye for being the impetus of my Christmas season lasting until January 14th... when I finally finished this!

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