"My ears aren't so bad that I can't hear the wind through the trees. She asked for you--said they were all good memories."
Nick Knight, soon of the CPD, grasped hands with his great-nephew.
"Good people are the source of good memories, Sherman. In my time, I've found both to be all too rare."
Potter found himself unable to look away from the tombstone.
"Nick--do you believe in Heaven?"
The vampire shook his head.
"I don't know, Sherman. I suppose it might exist, though, because Hell surely does."
Nick then helped Sherman to the small gathering in Mildred's honor.
SEPTEMBER 12, 1983
The venerable giant of Science Fiction, Benny Russell, among the first great writers of his genre who was also an African-American, was supposed to be having a good day. A major family reunion between The Rusells and The Potters two years ago had lead to a very happy event. Sherman's youngest granddaughter was on this day married to Benny's namesake grandson, thus truly reuniting the family.
But more than that, Sherman had become a valued friend. They had reached that stage when having someone to talk to who remembered the same music and movies and people was a lifeline.
Benny and all the family were losing that lifeline, the only one left who actually had met the legendary Auntie Russell. After the ceremony, all saw longtime friend Walter O'Reilly shaking Potter, and pleading with him to hold on. The hospital was called, and all followed the patriarch there.
Sherman's friends were odd to Benny. O'Reilly seemed to have actually dyed his hair grey, in places, as did the thin-air surgeon, Hawkeye Pierce, whom no one remembered being at the wedding. A blonde woman whom Russell later found out was Pierce's stepsister had to tell him there was nothing she could do--and then she was not seen again. At the last, a former Priest, now a Bishop Sherman had served with was called in--although this elderly man also defied logical laws of time and space. When a specialist named Bashir came and went, Pierce broke the news that Potter had hours, at best, to live. Benny then heard O'Reilly say the damnedest thing.
"Don't you ever die on me, Hawkeye."
Pierce's response was just as seemingly absurd.
"You know that's never gonna happen. But us, and the others--we're like that. The Colonel isn't. We are what we are."
The man once known as Radar looked up, as if in revelation.
"I--gotta call someone, Hawk."
"Give Sidney my best. My God, we all loved Sherm, didn't we?"
The Immortal O'Reilly did indeed love Sherman Potter. But he wasn't calling Sidney Freedman. And he wasn't using the phone.
Hours later, everyone had said their goodbyes, and honored Sherman's odd request that he be alone. But the request was quite practical--and he wasn't alone.
"Greetings, Sherman. The lad called me, but he needn't have. I could sense your life ebbing away. I will respect your wishes, no matter what they be."
Sherman could barely see the shadowy figure, but he didn't need to. He knew what he had to say, if he ever wanted to see Mildred in Heaven. It would take a long time to redeem his past sins--but he would have that time, now.
"I don't want to die, right now."
Very matter-of-factly, the voice responded.
"Then--you shall not."
Later, when Benny came to check on Sherm--his body was gone. The window was open, many stories up. But no one had jumped. He found a note. A note written clearly and coherently by a dying man who had painful arthritis.
"Benny--whoever it was said that truth was stranger than fiction--didn't know the tenth of it, let alone the half. Goodbye, my friend. Give Mildred my best, when your time comes. Mine's just been put off a spell. Yours Truly, Sherman T. Potter."
The hospital was never sued, and an empty casket put into Sherman's grave. For some reason, Potter's other friends started arguing with O'Reilly about some action he had taken.
Benny Russell's last 'Deep Space Nine' novel was called 'Visions Of The AfterMASH', a time travel story set in a veterans' hospital in River Bend, Missouri. The dedication was a no-brainer.
APRIL, 2000 - LOS ANGELES
Nick landed, with Natalie beside him. The vampire in front of them was known to Nick, in peace and in war.
"Hello, Angel. This is Nathalie Lambert, my dear friend."
"Hello, Natalie. You seem nervous."
"I kind of am. I never knew there were types of vampires different from ours. I was only brought over four years ago, and kind of by accident, at that."
"I prefer to think of us as one big, happy, plasma-dependent family. But not really. Nick, I'm glad you came. My ex-girlfriend, the Slayer you met once, told me about him, and then he showed up here. Definitely a good guy. Really nice. He works for battered women's clinics as security--nearly gratis. Keeps the boyfriends and husbands at bay--only gets rough when he has to. Only drained one-- a pedophile with multiple wives who had a cult-like hold over his families."
Natalie remembered the death of her own niece, lost to a pedophile.
"No major loss there."
"Angel, perhaps I'm dense--but how does this man concern us?"
"Nick--you have got to hear his name. Even Cordelia made the connection."
"Runt--I'm gonna ask you to step aside so I can visit my wife. We had a misunderstanding, her and me."
The smaller man shook his head.
"What she had was a split eye. Her son had a broken arm. A woman enters this place--then odds are she has a need to be alone. So skee-daddle, double-pronto."
The guard's teeth and eyes drew back, and the abuser gulped.
"I'm thinking it would be an awfully good idea if you would be a nice lad and turn yourself in. The police may want to have a talk with you. Which is good. Cause I sure don't."
The biker-looking man ran off, but only went to his car, and pulled out a shotgun.