First off, I know this has been a long time coming, but this is finally the end. I wanted to drag it out, but that would have taken a year, and its already been so long. lol! :-) Secondly, I really want to thank everyone for reading thus far and i want to thank all the kind reviewers. All the stories I read here are what inspired me to even start writing in the genre. So thank you for that as well. That said, I really hope this ending will appease the fans of this story. Perhaps, when there is time, I will write another. Lord knows, I want to! Again, thanks for reading - and enjoy!

12

Andrew drove deep into the night. Nobody had said much, and Christian had long ago fallen asleep. In the quiet of the car, Monica wanted to put words to her racing thoughts.

"It's not like you to keep things from me, Andrew."

He kept his eyes trained ahead. He was wondering if there was some way to outrun this even while the rational part of his brain told him he was being foolish.

Monica nudged him. "It's alright. I can handle it. Whatever it is."

"Even if it means losing Christian?" he glanced at her in the dark cocoon of the car. "Can you handle that?"

Her body ached at the thought and she turned away from him. "That's it, isn't it? They've come to take him. Finally."

"Yes." Andrew's jaw clenched. It made him angry to feel so powerless. Even driving away was futile. It would have been easier if they had just stayed. They had passed over the state line, but distance meant nothing as compared to the awesome power of the Father.

"I don't know what I am anymore." Monica's voice was weary and sounded so far away. "I don't know if I am an angel or a human or…" she hesitated, sorrow creeping into her voice. "… I don't even know if God loves me anymore, but I can still feel it there, so close, Andrew."

"Monica…" he reached for her hand and held it in his larger one, giving it a comforting squeeze.

"Maybe I'm selfish because I want everything. I want God's love and God's mercy – but I also want my little boy. I want Christian, and I want you, and I want Tess…" her eyes began to swell and overflow now. "… does that make me a bad person?"

"Of course not, angel!" he released her hand and reached up to cup her cheek, so cool and soft. He could feel the wetness.

"I want more time with him." she leaned into Andrew's caress. "I want to be his mother forever."

"And you will be." he slowed the car to a stop at a rest stop. "Lets wait here."

Past the parking lot, beyond the forest, there was nothing but darkness. Monica got out of the car and hugged herself. It was chilly, yes, but she was reacting more to the feeling of being afraid. She started to meander farther away, into the cleansing quiet of the forest.

Inside the car, Andrew continued to sit. Then he turned around to look at the sleeping form of his child, so beautiful and perfect.

When he turned back, he realized he was sitting next to an old friend.

"Hello, Andrew." it was Raphael, his warm brown face a soft glow in the shadowed car.

"Are you in on this?" Andrew could scarcely keep the animosity out of his voice. "Christian said he spoke to an angel named Raphael."

"Yes, friend, it was me."

"Friend? Is that what friends do? Sneak around and lie to one another? Steal their children? Friend?"

Raphael shook his head. "This isn't you talking, Andrew. You're an angel. Have you forgotten?"

"Why weren't you up front with me? Why didn't you tell me?"

"It wouldn't have made a difference. There was no way to stop it. Christian came from you and Monica, but he was never yours."

Andrew shook his head, his hands tight on the steering wheel. He wanted to do something, but there was nothing to do. He was so angry he could barely see straight, but he was also defeated. He wanted to push Raphael out of the car, but he also wanted to wrap his arms around him. He needed the comfort, and he hated to admit he had missed being in his company.

"Soon, Adam will come." Raphael's voice was so quiet, Andrew had to strain to hear, but then he realized he didn't want to hear it…

"Shut up!" He felt a hot trail of wetness slide down his cheek, a tear. "Get out. Leave us alone!"

Raphael nodded. He placed a comforting hand on Andrew's arm before he got out and vanished.

In another instant, Andrew went to find Monica. She was looking up at the night sky several feet from the car. She was unaware they had been visited by Raphael.

"Look at the stars, Andrew. There are so many."

He held onto her shoulders, resting his face against her. "Yes. There are."

"God is looking down at us. I can feel Him." a shiver ran through her and through him as well. "For the first time, Andrew, I'm afraid."

He looked up at her, his eyes wet. She dragged her hands through his hair, marveling in the silky feel of the golden locks against her palms. He was so beautiful to her, so perfect. Christian was just like him only in miniature. She kissed her love's forehead.

"Andrew, lets go home."

He nodded. "Okay, angel."

As they drove, the silence was comfortable. It was only a matter of time before they reached the little home they shared together in the quaint little suburb. It had taken three hours to get away, but it seemed to take only fifteen minutes to get back.

Andrew unfastened the sleeping form of his baby from the rear seat and carried him up the threshold as Monica unlocked the door for them. He only woke up to smile at his parents as they tucked him into his bed. It was starting to be light outside, but time seemed to stand still as they walked into the sitting room and sat before the fireplace.

Together, they felt old, like a lifetime had gone past – and maybe it had. They were tired, spent, and aching. Andrew folded his hands in his lap as Monica chewed her lip and fiddled with the hem of her blouse. It was as if they were waiting. Waiting for death.

At one point, Monica began to cry, her tears overflowing, her hands trembling, until Andrew reached over and held them in his strong steady grip.

"Shhh…" he whispered and leaned over, nuzzled her cheek, let her silken red tresses conceal his own tears, and then the light appeared in the room.

Andrew released her hands, and she wiped her face. He stood to greet Adam as if he were a houseguest. "Adam."

"Hey, guys." Adam spoke in a solemn voice. He was wearing his customary white suit, and he was so bright, a beautiful light. "I wish I were here under different circumstances, but… well… you know why I'm here…"

"Please, don't…" Andrew pleaded, though his voice sounded far away. Truthfully, all the fight had gone out of him. He didn't know what he would become after this day. The bitterness was leaving him just as quickly as it had filled him up, and he couldn't imagine being an angel again with so many conflicting emotions. How could he ever help anyone when he couldn't even help himself?

Adam came forward, placed a hand on Andrew's shoulder. "This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. You two are my best friends…"

Monica covered her face in her hands, sobbing in earnest. "Don't do this, Adam…"

Adam shook his head, the sorrow plain on his boyish features. "Monica, I would give anything if I didn't have to. But I have to."

"It's not bad, angel babies…" Tess' voice was hoarse with emotion as she materialized, a bright, glowing beacon of light and love. "…this lil angel is going to live with the Father."

And Monica turned to where Tess stood, but she couldn't bring herself to go to her. Not yet. Instead, she dashed down the hall to Christian's room, the other angels following closely behind.

Raphael was already there, and Christian was awake, his dark eyes wide with wonder.

"Mommy?"

"Yes, my beautiful boy, I am here." She knelt beside him and reached up to caress his golden ringlets. "Mommy loves you dearly."

"Don't be afraid, mommy. Raphael said God loves me, and He loves you and daddy and everyone and He will take care of us. Forever."

Monica nodded, her tears endless. "Yes, darling, I know…"

"So, don't be sad because I'll still be with you."

"Yes…" was all she could bring herself to say.

Adam came close and whispered. "It's time." But Monica wasn't ready.

"No. Please don't. A little more time… more time, please, Adam… don't take my child…" she was muttering, pleading, reaching for him, tugging desperately at the white sleeve of his coat. "Adam, please… give me more time…please… please…"

"Monica, there is no more time. I'm… so sorry…"

His face was torn as he knelt beside the bed and whispered to Christian, lightly touching his cheek until the boy's lids fluttered shut and he lay limp. Monica watched as the light left him, and she let out a little cry of despair.

Andrew sank to his knees, but Monica stormed from the room, Tess calling after her.

"Monica, baby, come back…"

Raphael came to kneel beside Andrew and held him tightly. "And now it's time for you to come home as well. You've been away too long."

Andrew shook his head, unable to leave his child's. "I can't… I can't, Raphael… I have to… Monica…"

"You can. Shhh…" He held him close in a strong embrace. "Lets get you out of this place. Tess will take care of Monica. The other angels will handle this business down here."

Andrew let Raphael lead him. He was too dazed to do anything else.

Outside, Monica was pacing, agitated. It was Tess who held out a steady hand to her.

"Come on, baby." she extended her hand. "When we get home, there will be a beautiful surprise waiting for you. You'll regret wasting so much time down here."

"I don't want to go back, Tess." Monica wiped her puffy red face. "I feel empty and alone."

"Well, that's one thing you never are is alone, baby." Tess regarded her closest friend, her apprentice. "I can tell you one thing, I sure did miss you while you and Andrew were down here. Living life, raising a child. I thought maybe… you forgot all about me."

Monica turned to look at Tess, the closest thing she would ever have to a mother. "I could never forget you, Tess. I wouldn't be who I am without you."

"Then, come home with me now, angel baby. You weren't meant for this kind of life, long-term. Humanity has bled all the angel out of you. You need to get back to where you can be whole again, and remember your calling – and remember who gave you that calling."

"The Father." Monica wiped her wet eyes again, and the thought of being in heaven again, surrounded by peace and harmony, surrounded with God's grace and love, constantly, like a warm blanket, left her feeling so good it sent a jolt of electricity through her. She went to Tess and let herself be embraced like the old days, like before all this began.

"That's it, baby. Tess is here. It's gonna be alright now." Monica wept, and in doing so, she shed her humanity, the last remaining traces. She wept for the life she was leaving, a domestic partnership with Andrew, motherhood, seasons of changes, aging, blood, sweat, and pain. All the human things. It was of no consequence now. The truth was, she and Andrew had been mere vessels to create a new life, a new kind of angel. She had lost sight of that during her time on Earth, but she felt herself reinstating, like a flower blooming, or a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

At the gates of eternity, Andrew's face was blotchy pink from so much crying. His eyes were swollen. He didn't even realize when he and Raphael materialized in heaven, the air around them was so pure, the harmony of the choir permeating the air. It was like magic, but Andrew felt his sorrow and pain wash away like it never existed. He was shedding years of humanity as well, like a second skin.

A short distance away, Monica stood next to Tess. Both angels were smiling. Monica looked as she had before her love affair with Andrew even began. Her skin was downy and bright. Her hair was full, dark eyes free and cloudless. There was no worry on her face, no pain.

"Hello, Andrew." her voice lifted his spirit even higher.

"Monica." their time together on earth was fuzzy, like a distant memory and fading fast.

"See, I told you, you would feel a hundred percent better." Raphael grinned. "And there's someone you might want to see."

Walking towards them was a tiny little angel dressed in a white robe, his golden ringlets wild about his head. He wore a bright grin. Adam was holding his hand, a smirk on his face.

"I'm giving this little guy the grand tour." he winked at Tess.

"And what's your name, angel baby?" Tess bent to address him.

"My name is Christian." he smiled at her. "And your name is Tess."

"That is very correct." she beamed, then stood to whisper to Adam. "He sure resembles a certain angel boy. I hope that doesn't cause any issues down the road."

Adam scrunched his eyebrows. "Nah. Shouldn't. If so, we'll say he's… a long lost nephew…"

Now Tess elbowed Adam in the ribs, causing Adam to yelp. "Hey! What'd I say?"

She rolled her eyes and turned to watch as Monica knelt to greet the new angel. "Hello, wee angel."

He rested his little hand on her cheek, touching her hair. "Your name is Monica, right?"

Monica nodded, falling in love with him. She had no prior knowledge of him, but there was a familiarity about him she couldn't deny. It tugged at her. "Yes, my name is Monica."

He looked deeply into her cafe eyes, which, incidentally, were exactly the same as his own. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "I saw God today, and I touched His robes, and He knew me, and He told me He loved me, and I cried."

Monica felt herself fill up with love, all over again. She pulled Christian into her lap and hugged him to her. The sweetness and purity of him was overwhelming. She never wanted to let him go.

Nearby, Andrew approached and took in the scene. When Monica finally released the boy, he was smiling and holding onto her, so close. He looked up at Andrew and became bashful.

"I know you." he said in his soft little voice. "Your name is Andrew."

Andrew nodded, a grin on his lips. "I know you too, Christian."

The tiny angel nodded, then said. "I always wanted to meet you."

"Oh?" Andrew was surprised at that declaration. Especially considering Christian couldn't have known him before now. After all, he had only just come into existence. Then again, anything was possible…

Christian nodded. "I want to be an angel of death like you, so I can bring people home again. Where they can be happy forever."

Andrew was rendered momentarily speechless. He had only just met the boy, but something about him was infectious. "That's… um… a noble ambition."

Then Andrew knelt and lifted the boy into his arms. He had always loved children. The innocence and the simplicity made it easy to deal with them, but there was something specific about Christian he couldn't quite put his finger on. He wanted to hold him in his arms, to talk to him and listen to him and never let him go… but there were other pressing matters…

"I'm so glad to know you." he said, lightly touching the little angel's nose with his index finger, making him giggle. "And I know you'll be a terrific angel."

When he set Christian down again, he noticed Monica had wandered away. He looked to Tess, an inquiry forming in his mind, but then he remembered he didn't necessarily have to give voice to every thought. He was an angel in heaven, and Tess was intuitive.

"She's down by the choir hall, baby."

Andrew nodded and followed the sound of the music as it gradually got louder and clearer. He knew he was close when he was enveloped in the harmonies of flawless voices raised in praise.

He found her seated near the entrance of the hall, her long flowing hair cascading down her back like a silky red waterfall.

"Hello."

She turned and smiled when she saw him. "Hello."

He approached her and sat down near her. "I don't really know what to say, but I'm certain something went on… between us."

Monica nodded. "Yes. But I don't know what it was. I only know that what we did together was a mission of love, and we carried it out."

"Apparently, we're better off not knowing the details."

"I missed heaven. I know that much, Andrew." she paused, looking around. "And I missed the choir, and I missed Tess. And I missed you."

He flushed, an irrational reaction. "I'm certain I was with you the whole time."

"Yes, but not as we are now. I think it was… some other version of me and you. If that makes any sense. Nothing really makes sense… except for this."

"I never want our friendship to be jeopardized. No matter what."

Monica nodded. "I agree."

"Whatever happened, I'm glad to be back on track."

"Yes. I don't know where we were, but I know we weren't in heaven. And this is the place where I am most comfortable, with the people I know and love. Home."

"Same here." he concurred. "But whatever we went through, I'm glad it was with you."

She reached for his hand, turned it over in her own before bringing it to her lips and kissing the smooth back of it. "Yes. Likewise."

END