A Guardian Angel

Disclaimer: Dann, Rae and the NightWanderers belong to Toni. The other characters belong to me. This was written in response to "My Father's Legacy".

Nurse Ali Williams: the nurse who works with Michael on a regular basis. She's one of the nurses on rotation in the clinic and the only one who can put up with Michael in good humor.

Donovan Kline: the lab technician on duty during the evening shift, from 6PM to midnight. He is an intern with hopes of going onto medical school beginning the next term.

Dr. Karin Murphy (first name is pronounced kuh-reen, accent on the second syllable): She's a fellow doctor at the hospital and the head of the clinic.

Gyrum: an abbreviated form of the root for mercury (the element).

(Sidh means "peace" in Elvish.)

Prologue:

"Don't leave me, Daddy!" A tiny girl cried as her father picked her up. "Mommy and me can't be here alone!"

The man sighed and picked his daughter up, letting his vest absorb her silver tears. "I'm sorry, Lina," he replied, speaking in their native tongue. "I must, but I will return. I must go fight in the war, but I will come home. I promise. Do you understand?"

The girl sniffled and hugged the man tightly. "Daddy," she said, her whispers tickling the inside of his ear. "Did Mommy ever tell you that you're our guardian angel?"

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It was a cold day in the middle of February when Michael was walking home from the clinic. Nurse Williams had promised she would finish up the paperwork and for this, Michael was grateful. The nurse's kindly presence was sometimes all that prevented him from quitting his job. He sighed, his visible breath in the freezing weather coming from his mouth like flames from a dragon, and he mentally reviewed the case he was working on in his spare time. He was thankful that it wasn't snowing.

Apart from being on a clinic duty rotation, Michael was primarily an epidemiologist, someone who was sent around the western United States tracking diseases and working to put proper quarantine measures in place. A year ago, he and his wife moved up to Spokane so he could work on a study that was attempting to correlate a possible influence of socioeconomic status on HIV/AIDS. Government agents and disease specialists had been sent out all over the US and he considered himself rather fortunate to be working in Washington State. Despite the studies, he knew he was primarily a doctor and being a doctor meant seeing patients.

In the past week, he had seen too many patients to keep track of. Most of his patients had colds or other mild respiratory infections. There had only been a small handful of the more interesting cases, most of which he promptly referred to the hospital. There was one such case, however, that he was still pondering over, and he was wondering if he should have referred the patient to the psychiatric ward.

On February 10, a young man in his early twenties came into the clinic with bad cuts on his arms and legs. Further investigation uncovered that he also had several small bumps on his skin and this is what caught Michael's prompt attention. He began to question the patient, only to discover that it would do no good. Every question he asked received a frenzied response of "they're after me! Attack! Save yourself!" He knew something about this man clearly wasn't right, but what?

Was the man lying? Michael shook his head. He would have been able to tell had that been the case; he could always tell when people were lying. Did those strange bumps on his skin have anything to do with the man's apparent madness? Michael considered this for a moment and sighed. Whatever those inflammations were surely provided the key to understanding what was happening. But figuring out his case would have to wait; he had to finish making dinner before Sam arrived home from her job.

He stepped into the door of the apartment he and his wife were living in and glanced around. He could hear sounds coming from the bedroom and he frowned; Sam wasn't supposed to be due home until six o'clock that evening; she worked long hours on Tuesdays. Michael dropped his bag on the couch and turned on his computer, waiting for it to warm itself up, which normally took about ten minutes. Such was life. He had been doing this work for twenty years come the following July and due to work, he rarely lived in the same city for more than a few years at the most, something that helped finalize their decision not to have any children.

A quick glance around the house told him that he wasn't alone. Samantha's winter coat lay on the couch, carelessly thrown down, as if in frustration or hurt and Michael's sharp ears pricked back. He heard small sniffles coming from the back room, so he decided to walk down the darkened hall and investigate. When he arrived in the bedroom, he stopped in the middle of a step and turned on the light. Samantha was lying face down on the bed, sobbing into the pillows.

"Samantha," Michael began, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Calloused fingers ran through his dark hair, which was still the same dark brown it had been when he was a teenager, despite being nearly fifty years of age. "What is it?"

Sam took a shaky breath and let it out. She sat up, wiped her face with her sleeve, letting what little makeup she wore smear, and sighed. Even now, only two people in the world ever called her by her full name and Michael was one of them. "I got a message from Computer," she replied, trying to calm herself down by whatever method possible.

Michael turned towards his wife and arched an eyebrow. Computer was the AI program that Dann had written and he hadn't heard since Rae had been living with them. Rae, Dann's youngest daughter, had been an exchange student who stayed with them when she was about twelve. "How's Rae doing?" he asked, studying Sam carefully. Although he had seen her cry often, the last time he could remember her crying this much when their niece had tried to commit suicide about five years ago.

Samantha swallowed hard, fighting back tears. "She's alright," she sighed. "It's… it's her father."

Michael's eyes grew wide and flashed a dark blue for a moment before returning to their typical brown color. "Samantha, what happened to Dann?" he asked, his voice perfectly level and betraying few of his emotions. Dann had been a foster kid who stayed with the Liu family during Michael's (and Dann's) junior year of high school and the two had become close friends. He had even been accepted into their small circle of friends, which included Samantha and her twin brother, Scott.

Samantha met Michael's eyes for a long moment. "Michael, Dann's… dead." Although those words were softly spoken, they hit Michael with the same force as discovering he had failed his first biochemistry exam during his undergrad years. Before that, he had never failed a test that badly. And before this, he had never really dealt with death before. "He was killed in the war on a mission."

Before Sam could say anything else, Michael stood up abruptly. "I… I need to go back to the clinic," he replied, half mumbling under his breath. He hated being in the clinic more than he hated being anywhere else, but in the evening, in the clinic lab, he could run tests on various samples, which helped clear his mind and he knew the lab technician on duty would appreciate the help. Sam turned around to try and stop him from leaving, but it was too late.

Michael was gone and she knew it. After studying enough psychology to attain a minor in the field, she knew at least enough to know that people grieved in different ways. She knew Michael well enough to know that he tended to grieve by closing himself off to other people and busying himself with work, whereas she needed to talk to someone else. She reached for the telephone, dialed a number and waited for her brother to pick up the phone.

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Fifteen minutes later, Michael arrived at the clinic. His dark hair was windblown and in his face and his coat was unbuttoned. Kelsey, the receptionist on duty waved towards him. "Don's in the back if you want to help him," she smiled before getting back to helping a patient with paperwork. Michael nodded in response and headed towards his small office and put his overcoat on his chair, turned his computer on and read the e-mails he received. All except for one were work related.

FW: news

To: below.

--

ORIGINAL MESSAGE:

Michael, Sam-

I regret that I must inform you that Dann died while we were on a mission. I'm sorry.

-Computer

Michael let out a sigh and blinked back a couple of tears before he heard a knock on his office door. A young man with brown hair, dressed in a lab coat with a smirk on his face was standing just outside.

"Come in, Donovan," Michael said, minimizing the window and taking in a few deep breaths. The lab technician opened the door and sauntered in, holding a manila folder. He dropped it on Michael's desk, pulled up a chair from the corner and sat down.

"What'd you make of that?" he asked, hardly waiting for Michael to have a chance to read the documents inside. After Michael sent a quick glare in Don's direction, he resumed reading, dark eyes scanning the print and the doctor's notes scribbled in the margins very quickly. "Karin ordered him down to the psych ward." Dr. Karin Murphy, better known to anyone around the hospital as Karin, was the head of the clinic at the hospital. She usually insisted that all her co-workers (including the interns) called her by her first name because her husband, Dr. Thomas Murphy, was a PhD physicist.

Michael nodded, studying the young intern carefully. "Is there any particular reason why you have expressed a keen interest in this case?" he asked, narrowing his eyes slightly. This was the same case that had puzzled him earlier that afternoon, before he received news of Dann's death. He had already seen most of the information in the case folder, but his eyes brightened slightly when he saw a preliminary psychiatric report from Dr. Summers. After a moment of reading it, he frowned and his face turned dark. "Not good… this is so not good…" he mumbled as he finished reading it.

"I… uh… yeah," Donovan replied. "Those bites he has look like spider bites and you know I have a tarantula at home." He smiled crookedly, thinking of Malvolio, his pet tarantula, which had been a Christmas present from Karin, originally given as a joke. Joke gifts had been an old tradition here at the hospital and from what Michael had heard, Karin had started the tradition herself.

"I highly doubt that spider bites, a fever of 39.5 and cuts on a patient's limbs would be enough to send someone to the psychiatric ward, so there must either be missing evidence or an alternate explanation," Michael replied sharply after a moment.

"Fever could be from the bites, if he has as many as Ali says he does, and fever could make him delirious," Donovan replied. "But last I checked, well, read what Dr. Summers wrote."

Michael arched an eyebrow. "I already have," he replied, letting his eyes wander over James Summers' atrocious handwriting once again, looking for the exact words the patient had been mumbling. "That's it!" he exclaimed after he found it.

Donovan glanced at the clock. "And you're still here late," he muttered. "Dr. Karin's going to wonder what's going on, you know."

Michael shook his head. For a lab technician and a new employee, Donovan was surprisingly observant of other people. Or maybe Karin was predictable. He closed his eyes for a few minutes, letting the thoughts migrate through his head, trying to make sense out of everything. Maybe people were too predictable and he was making everything more complicated than it needed to be. He had the gnawing suspicion that somehow, strange as it may seem, this case was somehow connected with Dann's death.

There was a knock at the door and a lady in her early sixties entered. "What are you doing here?" she asked, narrowing her eyes slightly at Michael. "I thought I told you to go home, take your mind off your case and get some rest. Your patient is stable."

Michael opened his mouth and started to stand up, but chose not to. "Frodo isn't going to be stable for long," he snapped back, allowing a potent amount of sarcasm infiltrate his voice. He rarely used this tone with anyone, especially with his boss, but he knew he needed to keep his mind off of grief.

Karin shook her head. "And why do you think that?" she asked.

At this moment, Michael was hardly even listening to Karin. His mind was spinning in circles, trying to remember what he remembered about Dann. He could remember that his once foster brother was deathly afraid of spiders and he had been able to figure out that there were people who called themselves NW – night watchers, perhaps? – who were named after a deadly type of spider. Michael could have kicked himself in the shins; he knew he should have paid more attention in entomology.

Michael sighed. "Because I think I know what's wrong with him," he admitted, his voice hardly a whisper.

Karin's mouth dropped open. "What?" she asked slowly, as if skeptical of Michael's ideas. On rare occasion, he had been known to make premature diagnoses, often resulting in trouble. "And on what grounds?"

Michael swallowed hard and stood up. "I'd make my diagnosis on the grounds that the medical team overlooks the psychological aspects and the psych ward overlooks medical history and symptoms. My brother is a psychologist and he taught me that examining both reports is often necessary." He pulled out up a picture of a spider bite and ran a program to find possible matches. "Donovan," he said, turning to the intern, who was standing in shocked silence, "tell me what kind of spider this bite belongs to."

Donovan grimaced. "That's…" he shook his head. "That guy shouldn't even be alive right now."

"Continue," Karin's steady voice ordered. She was speaking to Donovan, but kept her steady gaze on Michael, as if trying to read his facial expressions, which were completely stoic, to guess what he would do next.

"It's commonly known as a night wanderer spider," Donovan squinted at the computer screen. "But..." he frowned.

"But what?" Karin asked, turning her glance on Donovan instead. She knew the "kid", as most of the doctors referred to him as, knew more about spiders than probably anyone else at the hospital did.

"If I may answer," Michael said, relieving Donovan of an intensive question and answer session, "those bites are too many and too systematic to be caused naturally."

Donovan shot a glare at Michael. "Night wanderers are very poisonous and very deadly," he replied, turning his attention from Michael to Karin. "A bite's supposed to kill a man in about five minutes. He's been alive for about a week and he has several bites."

"Run more tests on the poison, then," Karin replied, shaking her head. She stepped fully into the room and closed the door behind her, letting the noise echo through the empty hallways. It was rare for any of the researchers to stay in the building after about six in the evening and any of the researchers who were still around were busy in the labs.

"We ran all tests at least five times. They were all the same," the intern replied. "It's the night wanderer's poison." At this comment, Michael paled considerably and shivered.

"What now?" Karin asked, turning towards Michael. "It's really not cold in here and you of all people..." She didn't feel that she had to state that Michael was infamous around the hospital for having the warmest office temperature. Nor did she decide to comment about the various parts of the country he had lived in: California, Georgia, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and Idaho.

"This man must be released," Michael said, heading for the door of his office. "It is dangerous to hold him here and he must be allowed to return to his family."

Karin put a hand on Michael's shoulder, stopping him from exiting the room. "What do you think you're doing?!" she hissed through clenched teeth. "The man is psychotic and he must be kept here for observations. He's ill, both physically and mentally. You can't do this."

Michael tensed up under Karin's light touch. He knew that she was well aware that physical touch still irked him, even after all these years being a doctor. It was something that he never fully tolerated, but he had become very adept at pretending not to mind.

"I can and I must," Michael replied. "But first I must talk to him." With that, he twisted his body around, using a technique he had perfected as a teenager, freed himself from Karin's hand and was down the hall and to the elevator before either Karin or Donovan spoke another word.

---------------

With a syringe full of poison in one hand and a frenzied look in his eyes, Michael Liu burst into the psychiatric ward of the hospital. This particular patient was in solitary confinement, but very few doctors were on-duty at this time of the night, anyways, so there was little to worry about. As he entered, he noticed that the patient was a man who appeared to be in his twenties. He was about as pale as the manila folder that held his known medical history, which was next to nothing.

"Good morning!" Michael said, flipping on the fluorescent lights. Mentally, he cringed in response to the harsh lighting of the room. He flipped a couple of switches on the biomonitor and injected the syringe into the IV.

The man let out a scream and stopped breathing. Michael counted the seconds in his head, then flipped another switch on the biomonitor. After about two minutes of being unresponsive, the patient opened his eyes and sat up.

"Wh-wh-wh-where am I?" he stuttered. His voice sounded robotic to Michael's ears and the seasoned epidemiologist and doctor took a careful glance at the man's eyes, making note of their odd color. His eyes were the same shade as the metal in the old mercury thermometers.

Michael pulled a chair up closer to the bed and sat down. "You are in Spokane, Washington in the country of America on the planet Earth," he replied, keeping his tone of voice perfectly serious. "You must tell me what you remember or I shall be forced to use unpleasant means."

The man shivered and Michael turned up the room temperature. "I-I remember leaving Lina at home," he admitted after a few minutes spent regaining his composure. "We were ordered to go fight a war to defend our base from the Night Wanderers. I... I was on a mission... and... and got captured. A-a-are y-y-y-you one of-of them?"

Michael arched an eyebrow. "I'm a doctor and my job is to help people," he replied quietly. His voice seemed to echo in the other man's ears. "In order to help you, I need to know what you remember about the Night Wanderers and what happened on your mission."

The man jerked and his eyes lit up. "I am not programmed to respond in that area," he replied, looking strangely at Michael. Michael returned to stare, but his mind was thinking. He needed to know where he had heard that phrase before. In his mind, he mentally opened the filing cabinet that held his memories of past sounds and carefully sorted through them, one by one until he found a possible match.

"You're..." he narrowed his eyes at the man. "You're an android, aren't you? And those bites... the fever, it's all programmed." He met the man's glance and lifted his eyes up towards the ceiling in frustration with himself for not realizing that sooner.

The man frowned. "No," he corrected. "Those bites are real. I was captured and they bit me. I-I am like your friend Dann's computer. I am an artificial intelligence program designed to look and act human."

Michael paled and exhaled rapidly. He felt as though he had been playing soccer at gym and the ball hit him in the stomach. "How do you know Dann?" he narrowed his eyes even further. He heard footsteps in the halls and stood up. Pacing over to the man, he grabbed him by the collar of his hospital gown.

"Sidh," the man said with a smile. "He is my superior and all the cadets – human and AI – look to him as an example. He's the best there ever was."

Michael managed a small smile. 'Yeah,' he thought to himself, 'Dann was one of the best.' His mind wandered off to the time they first met to having homeroom together and from playing Star Trek to the first real conversation they'd had as friends. He remembered when Dann left as quickly as he had shown up and Michael could remember how badly his heart ached for his foster brother. The joy he felt inside of him when he found out that Dann was going to let Rae stay with him and Samantha as an exchange student surged through his body. He was feeling a million different emotions all at once and he was powerless to stop them from happening. All he could do was watch... and feel.

After a moment, heartache took over and a tear escaped from the corner of one of his eyes. He didn't even try to stop it. His foster brother was dead and it was his first real experience with death. Sure, various relatives and people who he had become acquainted with had died, but no one really close to him had died yet.

The man looked uncomfortably at Michael. "Please," he said, breaking the silence that had built up in the room. "I must leave. I need to go protect my daughter."

Michael nodded. "You have my leave to go," he replied. "And, please, tell Computer and the rest of Dann's family that I will be praying." With that, he bowed his head. The man disappeared into the air and was gone.

It was several minutes later while Michael was walking home when he saw Samantha in the distance. She had come to look for him and ran into his arms. His muscles tensed slightly, but he relaxed, letting the familiar feeling of Samantha's body and the smell of her freshly washed hair comfort him. Tears streamed down his face and nearly froze to his cheeks, but he didn't care. He finally knew what was important in life and there was no way that he would ever forget the sacrifice that his brother made that made him realize that. Michael wrapped his arm around Samantha's shoulders and they walked back home together.

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Epilogue:

A small girl bounced into her father's arms. "Daddy!" she squealed. "You're home!" The man nodded, gently touching his daughter's curly hair.

"Yes," he replied. "I am home." Most AI programs were not designed to have feelings of affection for others, but his time amongst humans and in the hospital on Earth had taught him that the invisible forces that bound people together were stronger than war or even the Night Wanderers could break. And that was a lesson he needed to learn.

Once he had put Lina to bed, he decided to walk alone under the stars. "Thank you, Dann," he whispered, staring up at the night sky. "You'll never be forgotten. You taught us how to live by showing us and you taught us that family is more important than this war. We will never forget. As long as we remember, your legacy will live on."