disclaimer in part 1
Kate sat in her hospital bed, flipping through her Tom Clancy novel again. She realized that she’d just read the same sentence for the fifth time and tossed it down.
She turned on the TV. Daytime soaps and game shows. Nothing but daytime soaps and game shows.
She turned off the TV and glanced listlessly around the room. The flowers she’d been given in her first couple of days here were pretty much completely wilted. And they weren’t very good company anyway.
Might as well take another nap.
But she wasn’t sleepy.
And when she did sleep, the nightmares came…
She jumped—twitched, really—and bit back the burst of pain that the sudden movement brought on.
She whirled on her visitor as best she could. "Jesus, don’t do that to me!" She snapped.
Angel looked sheepish. "Sorry," he said. "I don’t even mean to do it anymore. It’s become so automatic that I have to think about not being sneaky."
"How did you get in here, anyway?" She demanded. "It’s the middle of the afternoon."
"Wesley drove me to the parking garage, and I was okay from there."
"You seem surprised."
"I thought you were going to say that there was an entrance from the sewers in the basement, or something like that."
"Why go through the sewers if you don’t have to?"
They sat in uncomfortable silence.
"So…uh…how’s it going?" Angel ventured. He could’ve smacked himself on the head the second the words left his mouth.
Kate stared at him incredulously for a moment, then relaxed back into her bed with a sigh, staring at the blank TV screen. "Not so good," she said. Two weeks ago, there would have been hard sarcasm in her voice. Now there was defeat. Angel didn’t think it was a change for the better. "My shoulder and my knee are too bad for me to return to work. Even desk-drivers need to pass the physical. So I’m on my way to maybe some disability, maybe a crappy pension and a gold watch—maybe none of that, because I wasn’t actually injured on the job. Everything I ever owned got blown up, but that still makes me one of the lucky ones. Every time I close my eyes, I see your face, only you’ve got this sadistic grin instead of that gentle, concerned look you’ve got right now." She turned her head toward him, and where he expected to see sharp accusation, he only saw tears. And that was perhaps the worst thing of all. "And I don’t even know why."
"Do you have a place to stay? When you get out of here?" Angel asked.
Kate sighed again and settled back into her bed. "Not really," she said dully. "I don’t really have any family around here. I’ll probably crash with one of the guys for a couple days, long enough to get an apartment. It can be cheap—it’s not like I have a lot of stuff to move in."
"I own a hotel, you know," Angel said. "You’re perfectly free to crash there. I have close to a hundred empty rooms, just—"
"Fine," she cut him off. Angel was actually glad to hear the curtness in her voice. At least she had some spirit left.
"There’s a couple people I know who I think might be able to help."
"You know, I’m actually getting pretty tired all of a sudden," she said, turning away from him.
"Okay, uh—" she heard Angel rise to his feet behind her. "I thought that this was a little silly, but I was told that I couldn’t go wrong with it. Maybe it’ll help you sleep." He set something in the bed with her. "Well, uh, I’ll see you later. Give me a call if you decide to take up my offer."
She waited until she was sure he was gone before rolling back over to see what he had left.
It was a teddy bear. In a tiny police uniform and hat, holding a plush stake.
Strangely enough, it did help her sleep.
After their less-than-successful conversation, Angel hadn’t really expected Kate to accept his offer. Nonetheless, there she was, one week later, shrugging off Wesley’s help as she thumped up the steps of the Hyperion with her cane.
"Don’t make more of this than it is," she said to Angel, cutting off any greetings when he met her at the door. "The only reason I’m here is…" She paused, looking for the right way to finish the sentence, when she ran out of bluster. She sighed, and her shoulders and head drooped. "I have nowhere else to go. If my plan to stay with one of the guys had panned out…"
"I know," Angel said, keeping his voice carefully neutral. She didn’t want his pity. "Come on, my two friends are here."
"Who are these people, anyway?" Kate asked as he led her down the steps into the lobby. "You were always so vague about who they were and how they could help me."
"Well, see, that’s because they’re not exactly people." He raised his head and called out several syllable’s worth of hissing sounds.
Two Asclepian demons slithered out of the back room, one black with a colorful diamondback pattern, the other ringbanded like a coral snake.
Kate stopped short, staring.
"These are Sithiss and Zzerai," Angel explained. "Asclepian demons. Have you ever wondered why serpents are bringers of wisdom in so many cultures? Why the symbol of medicine is twined in snakes? These guys are why."
Kate just kept staring, saying nothing.
"Their brother, Xinniss, was the one that Angelus murdered for living up to his ethics as a healer and trying to finish his work on you. He was kind of the black sheep of their family, but he was still their brother, so they feel honor-bound to complete the job."
Kate still said nothing. The Asclepians, whose faces were usually so impassive to human eyes, were beginning to look at each other in what looked much like discomfort.
Starting to get a little irritated with her rudeness, Angel tried again. "They’re—" He thought of saying ‘not-evil evil things’, but he wasn’t about to indulge her that far. Not with them standing right there. "Good demons."
"They’re beautiful," Kate said, speaking at last.
"Yes, I know they’re—what did you say?" Angel said. Even the Asclepians looked surprised.
"I’ve always loved snakes, ever since I was a little girl," she said, hobbling across the floor toward the two demons. "And these two…they’re so colorful." She stretched out her hand toward Sithiss, the diamondback. "May I?" she asked. Sithiss nodded, and she began curiously stroking her hand along his scales.
"They’re here to fix your knee and your shoulder," Angel said. "After that, I have a job offer to discuss with you."
"I’ll think about it," Kate said. "You were there when the LAPD wasn’t. I guess I’ve gotten too weird over this past year." Then she looked up at him with the old steel in her eyes, and said "But first, you’re going to tell me just what the hell happened back in April, or I am going to shoot you until you do."
Angel grinned. "Done. Now let’s get you on the couch so they can work."
"She’s going to say yes," Wesley said to Giles from where they were watching among the bookshelves behind the counter.
"Of course she is," Giles said, turning his wedding ring on his finger—a new habit he had picked up. "Destiny has a way of just…happening."
"So now we have our Lawkeeper," Wesley said. "God help us."
"He will," Giles assured him. "As much as He can. But until then," he patted the younger man’s shoulder. "There’s no use in wasting what life we do have in worry."
Wesley smiled gamely. "What is that saying that Buffy and Faith and Xander started? The one for moments like this?"
"Don’t sweat it ‘til the next time the world ends," Giles quoted.
Wesley raised his teacup. With a grin, Giles raised his to meet it, and they clinked them together in a toast:
"Until the next time the world ends."