Chapter 21

Kathleena lay beside him soft and warm, sleeping peacefully as a gentle hand absently stroked her back. It was their cherished evening routine. He would love her; hold her as she slumbered, until the time he must seek out his coffin, the moment Barnabas loathed with every fiber of his being. Strong arms drew her against his lean chest and she moaned, nuzzling deeper into his throat. Tonight found him with a deep frown on his features while staring up at the ceiling. The woman he loved was by his side, his month old son lay in the room just beyond, and yet he felt such an inexplicable melancholy wash over him. For some reason, he was troubled, apprehensive; a fear consuming him just as it had so long ago that night he first stood outside her room at the inn. Something was about to happen… but what? At this moment in time, when he should be elated at his good fortune, he found himself waiting for the proverbial 'other shoe to drop'.

Fingering the amulet securely fastened about Kathleena's slim throat, Barnabas scoffed sharking his dark head. As long as she wore this, she was protected from the witch's malevolence. Turning brooding eyes into the nursery, he stared at the matching pendant suspended above his son's tiny bassinet. No, he decided. It was simply his imagining. To have lived so long and suffered so much at that blonde bitch's whim, it was the vampire's understandable proclivity to fear the future. All was well. That vile bastard was well and truly dead. He could no longer harm her and Angelique herself was powerless. Now he must learn to accept the miraculous blessings granted to him without the usual inkling of foreboding. Yes… That would certainly take some time.

Kathleena frowned as her cheek brushed the coarse hairs smattering his chest. Would he never share his concerns, his worries with her? His dark thoughts, his feelings of insecurity was what awakened her. The underlying fear was palpable. The fear for her and their son. She thought to raise her head, to assure him that all was fine when, without warning, a cruel image flashed into her mind causing her to bolt upright in terror, a fist stuffed into her mouth to stop the scream that threatened to erupt. Alarmed, Barnabas grasped her shoulders feeling the violent shiver course through her as she touched long fingers against her puckered brow. "Kathleena, what is it?"

Pale eyes stared unfocused in momentary confusion, a clouded look on her beautiful face and then her expression became one of complete dread. Blanching, she dug her nails into his arm in a deathlike grip, wailing hysterically, "Mon Dieu, the bébé!"

The outright panic in her voice sent him racing headlong into the next room only to stop short at the threshold. "YOU!" he roared. Recoiling from the nursery with a hand shielding his eyes, a blend of blatant disbelief and extreme hatred twisted his handsome face.

"Barnabas! What is it? Where's Jonathan? Wh-?" Gaping wide-eyed, Kathleena could only stare on in horror as a frightening phantom strode arrogantly through the doorway, a silver crucifix in one hand and her innocent child in the other. "Noooo!" she screamed, nearly collapsing in shock. "You're dead! You're dead!"

Disturbed, maniacal laughter filled the room. Certain to uphold the cross in his rival's direction, the Frenchman glared viciously at the true object of his hatred. "Did you truly believe I was incapable of returning? Evidently you have underestimated Angelique's powers of restoration." Eyes narrowed in contempt, he snarled, "Est-ce que vous m'avez-vous cru réellement marcheriez simplement loin et te permettriez de vivre 'heureusement pour toujours'?" (Did you actually believe I would simply walk away and allow you to live 'happily ever after'?) "There is still an unfinished issue between us, is there not?"

Suddenly the infant began to fuss and Duncan stared down, sneering darkly at the wriggling child. The pair watched on in incredible agony as a sharp stiletto was produced from the Frenchman's sleeve. Kathleena's blood turned cold in fear as Duncan placed the deadly point against Jonathan's plump little neck. Barnabas snarled deeply in his throat. "Release my son, you vindictive bastard!" He roared in impotent rage for as long as that damned whoreson held the holy trinket, he could do naught to defend his family.

Unable to stomach the savagery directed toward her innocent boy, the terrified mother cried out, ""No Duncan, wait! Mon Dieu! What must I do to free my bébé?!"

Leering in triumph, Duncan tossed his blonde head. "Take his place."

Shuddering at the threatening consequence of his words, Kathleena knew she had no choice. She must obey his commands if Jonathan was to have any chance at all. Gazing into Barnabas's beloved eyes, eyes so filled with sorrow and helplessness she flashed him a sad smile of acceptance. Slowly striding to her nemesis, a surge of courage flowed through her. Staring Duncan in the eye she hissed, "I am not an imbécile, release him!"

Shrugging dispassionately, the Frenchman carelessly dropped the infant to the coverlet. He had no use for the child anyway. It was she he wanted, only she… ALWAYS SHE!

A low growl erupted from Barnabas's throat. He knew… simply knew once that bastard had her... No! Calm yourself! You will do neither of them any good if you rush headlong. Your chance will come! Wait for it!

Still fuming with rage at his callous treatment of her son, Kathleena came to rest beside the one who was destined to be her husband and her executioner. Only when a vicious hand struck out to tear the powerful amulet from her throat did she protest, thrashing wildly against him; her body briefly shielding the cross from Barnabas's view.

"FASETTE!"

Capturing Duncan's attention, the vampire vanished in the next instant. Ripping the talisman from Kathleena's throat and tossing it to the bed the vile man clutched her bucking body tightly against him, the knife pressed to her throat. "I knew it!" he crowed snickering in her ear. "Do you still believe Collins loves you, you bitch? Le lâche (The coward) has left you to fend for yourself!"

"Not likely, damn you!" A deep, incorporeal voice vibrated the room. As the gaunt figure suddenly rematerialized before the pair, Kathleena took advantage of the madman's surprise, slamming the knife away. Impulsively, Duncan backhanded her with such brutal force she cried out tumbling across the bed, her head striking the stone hearth with a sickening crack.

"Kathleena! No!" Seething in uncontrollable fury, the vampire hissed though clenched fangs as he clutched his foe by the collar, smashing his head against the ceiling. Tossing Duncan to the carpet, he scowled as the bastard struggled to slither away like the evil viper he was. Grabbing the dagger from the floor, Barnabas jerked the man by the hair and bared his throat. Laughing maliciously, he gloated, "Où est votre mère maintenant?" (Where's your mother now?!) With one powerful cleave, blonde head was swiftly severed from its shoulders; the body lurching violently as the nervous system slowly ceased firing. Shaking the bloody skull, Barnabas bellowed to the rafters, "Come to me, Angelique! I command you to come to me! Once and for all. Let us finish this, witch!"

A sinister laugh encompassed him as she stepped from her spectral mist casting a narrowed, dispassionate glance at the lopped off head of her son dangling from a large onyx ringed hand. "So, you have butchered him again, have you? And yet, he has not died in vain." At the baffled expression on his handsome face the sorceress laughed, pleasure consuming her. "I told you long ago, Barnabas Collins…we were destined to be together! Had you not spurned my love, you would not be as you are now. Josette would not have perished on Widow's Hill, running from you in terror. Nor…" with a callous wave of her hand, she gestured toward the young woman lying motionless against the marble tile. "…would she be dead now. I would never have had to engage Duncan to kill her."

No! She's unconscious. Simply unconscious! Falling to his knees, he felt for a rhythm in her throat, her wrist. There was nothing! Turning Kathleena gently onto her back, Barnabas noted the massive swell to her temple. The sharp blow struck her dead on impact. Although he knew it was true, his soul refused to accept what his mind was telling him. "No, sweetheart," he implored tapping her face. "No, darling, don't leave me! It's Barnabas, Barnabas!" Beneath his long fingers, he could feel her flesh cooling despite the warmth of the room. Shaking his dark head in disbelief, he moaned clutching her lifeless body against him. No she's not dead! She can't be! Not after he'd allowed himself to love again.

Fuming in irrepressible rage, Barnabas reluctantly lowered Kathleena to the floor and rose to stand before the beautiful blonde. The enchantress was astute enough to become instantly apprehensive. Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he scowled into icy blue eyes. "You had the power to restore your blackguard of a son," he hissed. "Restore her! Allow her to live again!"

Thinking to automatically refuse, a venomous smile slowly spread across her full lips, brightening the witch's entire outlook. "And if I do - what shall I receive in return?" she purred, a sickeningly sweet sound that turned his stomach.

"Me," Barnabas whispered; anguish robbing his voice, "you will have me. I will come with you willingly."

For a fraction of an instant, the witch felt a wave of great resentment crash over her. Resentment directed toward the young woman and her child. To sacrifice himself to save them, he truly loved Kathleena completely. Love. Angelique held no false hopes. Love was an emotion she herself would never know from the man who had claimed her heart almost a century ago. "And exactly why am I to believe you are sincere?" she hissed, distrust clear in her voice.

Barnabas' eyes narrowed. Was there no limit to this woman's monstrous cruelty? Now he must explain? Turning away he hissed, "Once I am gone, my son will need his mother for he will no longer have a father to love and protect him." As soon as those words were uttered, dark eyes flew to the forgotten object resting besides Jonathan's chubby little body, obscured from view. Protect... Perhaps! Yes…perhaps! Turning again to face his foe, he lifted a thick brow. "Well, what is to be your answer?" he growled tersely.

Blue eyes glittered with barely suppressed victory. Finally, after all of these long lonely years, she had him. No matter that he loathed the sight of her. Barnabas Collins was hers. "I happily accede to your demands."

"Of that, Angelique I had no doubt." Although he knew her coming response, still he had to try. "Now, bring her back!"

Angelique chuckled insanely. "Do you think me a complete fool, Barnabas?" Once we are husband and wife, I will raise Kathleena from the dead. Not one moment before," she added, when he made to rebuke her decision.

With a slight nod he reluctantly acquiesced. "I only ask that you allow me a moment to bid my son a proper farewell." Tapping her foot irascibly, she waved the vampire off. Finally claiming the prize she'd sought for so long, the witch decided she could afford to be a little compliant. Besides, her one consolation was the knowledge that he would see neither Kathleena nor their child ever again.

As he carefully gathered the wriggling infant into his arms, Barnabas secreted the amulet Duncan had mistakenly tossed onto the bed, concealing it in his sleeve. Placing a gentle kiss on the tiny dark head, he whispered, "Have no fear, my son, I shall never leave you."

Watching father lovingly interact with his son, Angelique growled, wondering if she would ever get the opportunity to bear him a child of their own. "Aren't you finished yet?" she snapped, fuming with bitter jealousy.

Scowling, Barnabas laid his son on the bed and turning to her, forced his features to calm.

"It's about time." As she headed for the door she paused at the gentle touch of a hand upon her shoulder

"Wait, my dear," he nearly choked on the words. "You have finally won the prize you had sought for for so long, isn't that correct?" Stunned that her thoughts were voiced, Angelique's savage blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Well, then please allow me to bestow upon you your richly deserved reward!" As the witch gaped in horror at the sight of the hated medallion held before her, the vampire crammed the trinket into her open mouth, marveling as her mortal coil was stripped, instantly replaced by her true form: a serpent of epic size. The room began to quake as the monster twisted and shuddered; the talisman trapped between its poisonous fangs. The enchantress was caught in the painful throes of its long deserved destruction. Fearing the coming magnitude of Angelique's violent demise, Barnabas spirited Jonathan from the bed and covered both he and Kathleena with his own body in an effort to shield them. The end however was a rather short-lived and somewhat insipid affair; not at all what he was expecting. With a last piercing screech and painful twist of its body, the abominable creature simply vaporized, leaving nothing behind but the peculiar green haze with which Angelique was closely associated.

Gathering Kathleena into his arms, Barnabas laid her on the bed. Bellowing for Gregory, he scooped up the baby and placed him in the nursery. His man came to the threshold. "M-Master C-Collins?" the servant stammered, eyes agog as disbelief shone on his weathered face.

"Fetch Doctor Vincent! Kathleena, she's... hurt." His throat nearly closed on the lie, but he could not admit that his beloved was dead. To admit it would make it true... make it final. Staring at the clearly flabbergasted man frozen in the doorway Barnabas rounded on his servant, "Gregory, did you heard me? The doctor… hurry!" With a growl he came at the Irishman, stiffening as he stepped into a pool of the brightest light he'd ever witnessed. Instantly he understood the man's shock. Dear God! While battling Angelique, the sun had risen. "Noooo!" he screamed, covering his eyes and cowering into the darkest corner of the room. Slowly he lowered his hands staring, waiting. How long would it be until the flesh sloughed from his bones? Then the mantle clock clearly chimed the hour. Morning had broken and he was alive. Alive! Angelique was dead and with her destruction, the curse had lifted!

Forgetting himself, a wide smile spread across the former vampire's face. "Kathleena! I am free! We…" Dashing to the bed, jubilant thoughts of his long wished for freedom quickly vanished. "Dear God! No," he choked clutching her small icy hands in his warming fingers. "Please, Kathleena," he begged, his heart breaking. "Please, come back to me. I need you. Jonathan needs you. We can have a long happy 'normal' future." Closing his eyes, Barnabas foolishly attempted to will her to return. He no longer had the extraordinary powers he once laid claim to. Even if he had, she was immune. Always immune.

Brushing the hair from her face, he gazed at her still body. Lowering his dark head, warm mouth now grazed cold lips, lips that had turned a soft grayish color. Finally, hot tears of heartache slid down his cheeks and splashed onto the pale skin of her neck and chest. Long moments passed and despite his enormous grief, Barnabas sniffed the air, his brow furrowed. He sniffed again at the now overpowering scent of... Jasmine?! In the next instant, he bolted upright as a timeless melody gently tinkled in the air. Turning his attention toward the window he was amazed to see a familiar figure materializing in the shaft of light.

No, it can't be! "Josette," he whispered, lest he frighten away the apparition. "Josette."

The specter smiled knowingly into his remembered, beloved eyes. "Oui mon cher, I have returned, but just for a moment. Angelique has been destroyed." It was not a question but a statement. Speechless he could only nod watching as Josette softly wafted to where he lay cradling Kathleena's lifeless body. "You've found someone to accept you as you were, mon amour. Despite my great love for you, that was something even I could not give you."

"And like you, she is dead..." Barnabas closed his eyes, a sob caught in his throat."...Anyone I dared to love... I am responsible." Shaking her head, the ghost reached out to place a spectral hand on Kathleena's body when a shrill cry startled her. Pulling away, an elegant eyebrow arched in confusion causing Barnabas to rise and enter the nursery only to return with the wriggling infant in his arms. "This is my son, Jonathan."

Wordless for nearly a full minute, Josette finally gasped. "Your… your son?" Staring down at the miniature replica of Barnabas Collins, she shook her head. "I truly never guessed that..."

With a nod, he whispered, "Nor did I." Gazing down lovingly at his child, his attention was reclaimed by his former betrothed whose unearthly body began to flicker and twinkle before him. "Barnabas, my time here grows short and I must leave very soon. I've come to offer you a choice;. A second chance, as they say. When Angelique set the curse upon you, she took away all of the happiness, the love we'd once shared..." Turning to gaze at the slight woman lying dead on the counterpane, she continued, "I can possess Kathleena Tell. I can live again and through her, you and I can finally be together. We can live the life and have the family denied to us by a jealous, evil witch."

Staring at the spirit for more minutes than he could count, Barnabas weighed the generous offer in his mind. He walked to the bed gazing down at the mother of his child. To have both Kathleena and Josette at last. It would be a dream co... No, although her beauty would be before him, gone would be Kathleena's essence, the very reason he was able to love again. Biting his lip, he slowly shook his dark head, a loose curl falling into his eyes. "Josette, I'm—"

"No, mon cher... please... You needn't say a word. I understand. You love her too much." Although she was disappointed with his decision, Josette realized that he and the woman shared a boundlless love. Even more so then what she herself felt for her former intended. Suddenly the infant gurgled happily. Entranced, the apparition smiled knowing that what she was about to do was for the best.

"As I've said, Barnabas I offered you a choice." Confused, he watched as she gently floated to the bed, touching Kathleena's heart with one wispy hand and placing the other on her head. "You have suffered so much, Barnabas Collins. A lesser man would have broken under the trauma of such an existence or embraced the creature they had been forced to become. But not you. You fought so valiantly to retain some humanity despite the many years heaped upon you. You are truly worthy of the love you have found and therefore, I restore her. It is my final gift to you and your son for I am unable to return again. Love her... Protect her... Never take her for granted.." He stood mesmerized as Josette drifted toward a bright beam of sunlight and gently faded away. "…Never… Never…"

It was like a dream. Was she, in fact, here at all? Suddenly Barnabas felt a hand brush against his bastille shirt. Astonishment and incredible relief flooded him as he knelt beside the bed. "Kathleena?! My Darling!" He clutched her hand, still cold, but quickly warming. "My God!" He kissed her face, her eyes, her warm pink lips. At her sharp gasp he followed her pale gaze to the sunlight streaming throughout the room. "I am free, Kathleena, free! Angelique is finally destroyed as is Duncan. We are together. Together at last."

Reaching up, she clutched him tightly, kissing his mouth, his jaw, his chin. Laughing like a child she whispered, "Free! Oh Barnabas, I cant belie-" Suddenly she stilled in his arms, confusion obvious on her beautiful face.

Pulling away, Barnabas frowned, "What is it?"

Shaking her head Kathleena closed her eyes, placing gentle hands on her son's body and then on Barnabas' cherished face, trying to concentrate. "My curse has also ended with Angelique's death for I can no longer sense your thoughts, your emotions."

Gathering her into his strong embrace, Barnabas kissed her soundly until Jonathan squirmed between them. Laughing aloud he said, "You needn't possess a rare ability to know me, my love. You and Jonathan are my life. I shall adore you until I cast off this mortal body and even then I shall love you from beyond the grave." Suddenly there was a knock on the door and reluctantly he handed her their son. "That must be Doctor Vincent."

As Kathleena smiled down at her baby, she absently asked, "Barnabas, what happened while I was unconscious?"

His hand on the knob, he turned back to her. "It matters not. We had the courage to stand for our love and we've won. Come in, doctor…"


5 years later...

Kathleena writhed on the bed as Barnabas again mopped the sweat from her brow. "It isn't any easier this time, darling?"

"No," she growled, gritting her teeth as she panted through another intense contraction.

Clutching her hand, Barnabas winced at the strength in her grip as she crushed his fingers. Hoping to distract her, he said, "Jonathan came into the drawing room last night while I was reading. He swears we will have a girl. He wishes to play pirates and needs a prisoner to 'walk the plank'."

Tears came to her eyes as Kathleena thought of she and Pierre so long ago. (Thank you, brother! Protect him!)

Barnabas stared at her with an arched brow. "Did you say something, sweetheart?"

Despite the incredible pain, she laughed. "No, Barnabas. I said nothing at all."

She screamed as another strong contraction took hold.

"Alright, this is it!" The doctor encouraged. "Push, Mrs. Collins! Push!"

There was no need to gainsay the doctor this time around for now she truly was Barnabas's wife. With one last effort, the infant slid from her loins and a quiet cry filled the room.

"A healthy girl! And a beautiful lass at that. Congratulations!"

The pair laughed as an exuberant lad dashed in, matching Barnabas in dark looks except for crystal blue eyes that shone like sapphires. Quickly, his father swung him high into the air. "Was I right, Papa, was I right?" Jonathan asked anxiously, "Have I a sister?"

"Right as rain, my boy. Although I'm afraid to say that it may be several years before she can 'walk the plank' for you."

Kathleena smiled, charmed as she watched her precious boy smack a dark lock of hair from his face. Father and son… alike in so many ways. After cleaning the babe the doctor handed her their new daughter.

"What's her name, Mama?" Looking up into Barnabas's handsome face, he merely shrugged with a passive gesture. So it was up to her was it? Gazing down into the tiny pick face and rose colored lips, the moniker suddenly came to her. Somehow it fit. Kathleena's blue eyes returned to her husband, her lover, her mate for life. "Her name is Josette. Josette Collins."

Barnabas stared down at her and then to their little girl. "Josette Collins," he repeated with a smile. "A perfect name." Closing his eyes, he turned his face heavenward.

Thank you!