Will was in the hospital for a few days. Sarah recovered quickly much to the surprise of the staff considering how bad her wounds were when she came in. Will was another matter. Evey rarely left his side during those days. She even slept as close as she could to the ICU and was at his bedside whenever they would allow it.
Brendan was very busy during those first few days. He had lots of explaining to do to to the police and to the Feds. It was complicated work trying to tie everything together, make everything look legal, and try to explain the entire situation including his own "death."
The moment Ju told Jezz the good news, she was ecstatic and was desperate to come home to see Evey and Will. She was overjoyed to hear Brendan was alive and gave him a hug and then a punch when she saw him (this was of course after she berated Ju for keeping it from her). She didn't stay mad at Ju for longer than a minute. She was too happy.
Within a week from the face off at Carmilla's, Will was looking much better. The transfusion worked well, though there were a few anomalies in his blood that confused the hell out of the doctors.
It was early Saturday morning. Evey slept in one of the chairs beside Will's bed (they had moved him from the ICU once he was doing better).
Will was slowly stirring from his sleep. He'd been out cold for almost the entire time, slipping in and out of consciousness as the doctors tried to heal him. This time he opened his eyes to look around him. It took him a moment to get his bearings; he didn't remember being brought to the hospital. When his mind finally adjusted to where her was, Will began looking to see if anyone else was there.
He spotted Evey in the chair beside his bed. Still a little groggy, he lifted his hand to touch her shoulder.
Evey stirred a little. Her eyes fluttered open and she started, not expecting to be touched. She looked around, disoriented, before her gaze settled on Will.
She was instantly awake.
She got up from the chair too quickly and tripped, one of her legs asleep from the long time sleeping in the chair.
Will chuckled, slowly sitting up in bed.
"Are you alright?" he asked. "I didn't mean to startle you."
He paused to look around again.
"How long have I been here?"
Evey rubbed her legs and looked up at him. Her eyes filled with tears. She gripped onto the bed and pulled herself up, still rubbing her legs until the prickling feeling appeared so she knew they would hold her up.
Tears spilled down her cheeks as she hugged him carefully. She buried her face against his chest.
"You've been here a week," she said, her voice cracking. "We thought you were going to die... You had to get a blood transfusion."
Will sighed, running his hand through Evey's hair.
He hadn't realized just how badly injured he had really been.
"And... they didn't find anything... you know, strange? My blood isn't exactly... well... normal..."
Evey nodded, her face still buried against his chest.
"They found anomalies, but they haven't figured it out. They don't know why or how, so I know it's bothering the doctors, but Brendan is trying to convince them that it has to do with the drug."
She looked up at him all of sudden. Her eyes were red, her face tear-streaked, her hair messy. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and big frumpy jacket that was actually Will's. She looked like she'd been through hell and back. She glared at him.
"You didn't tell me about Brendan! You let me and Cei believe he was dead! He explained it, but god, I cried in your arms every night and you just didn't tell me! You were affected by Carmilla because of Jesse's blood, and you still drank the vial even though I told you not to! And you almost got yourself killed because you wouldn't realize that maybe Carmilla had already affected you!"
He took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry. I knew the instant I went to refill the prop that I didn't have a choice anymore. I tried to fight it... I promise you, I tried. I've never been under the influence of blood so strong."
Will closed his eyes, leaning back in bed.
"Evey, please forgive me... As for Brendan, I'm sorry we had to lie to you. Jared and I helped orchestrate it, and (believe me) I couldn't wait to tell you it was all a farce. It just wasn't safe..."
Evey sniffled. She nodded and continued to hug him. She pressed her face against his chest.
"I was so scared I was going to lose you..."
For a long time, Will just cradled Evey in his arms, enjoying being able to touch her, smell her hair, and just feel her presence. Minutes ticked by in comforting silence.
"Is she dead?"
When Will spoke again, is was very quiet, almost inaudible.
"I don't remember much from that night after she... Is Carmilla dead?"
Evey lifted her head, though she didn't want to pull away from his touch. Instead of answering him, she carefully got onto the bed and settle on her side. She put her arm around him, her body curled against his. She lay her head by his shoulder and face.
"Yes," she said softly. "I killed her."
Her words were barely audible.
Another long silence.
"So it really is over, isn't it?"
Will couldn't believe it, even as the question left his lips. Evey nodded, her eyes closed.
"Ashton's dead. Brendan killed him. And... I had to use Jared's scythe to kill Carmilla."
Her voice was still soft and low.
"But it's really over."
There was a light tapping on the door frame. Jared stepped into the room, a polite smile stretched across his face.
"I thought you might be awake now," the demon said. "You had use worried for a long time, you know."
"I know; Evey told me."
Jared walked the rest of the way in and sat down in the chair Evey used to occupy.
"Cei's planning a dinner for everyone once you've been released. I spoke with the doctors, and they said that if all goes well, you can leave tomorrow morning."
Evey sighed with relief.
"That's good to hear. Thank you, Jared."
"You're quite welcome."
At that moment, a nurse came in to check up on Will. Seeing him sitting up (and with Evey curled up beside him) she felt a little bad that she had to coax the other woman away so that she could give Will his medicine.
Evey ended up leaning against the wall by the door. She wrapped her arms around herself, half of them hidden in the folds of the large jacket. She didn't bother to wipe her face. It hadn't been over for her, no matter how often they had said it was. Not until Will was out of the hospital. She felt out of sorts. She had barely slept in the last week, she knew she looked terrible, and she felt wretched. It had been a trial to get her to go home and shower and leave Will for any length of time.
She was at least clean today but she still looked like she'd crawled through Hell. Her nose was bright red now from her tears, and so were her eyes. She bit her bottom lip as she watched the nurse.
It was hard to believe Will was awake at last.
When the nurse left, Jared stood.
"Well, I'm afraid I can't stay. I promised to give the others a status report, and..."
He lowered his voice a bit.
"Zuriel has been summoned by the Higher Power."
"What does that mean?" Will asked. The demon shrugged.
"It could mean anything. I won't know until I get there."
Evey looked worriedly at Jared.
"Will you be okay?" she asked softly. She wasn't quite fond of the higher power. She was a little afraid it was going to do something unfair or unjust to Jared. Her hands clenched into fists.
The blind man smiled softly and walked over to her, placing a comforting hand on her arm.
"I'll be fine. I promise. Take care of yourself for me, okay?"
Evey's eyes watered again. She suddenly hugged him.
"Love you, Jared," she whispered softly. The demon had become a father to her practically. She just prayed he wouldn't disappear.
Jared kissed her forehead, patting her shoulder before he left the room. Will sighed, sliding back down in bed.
"I'm sure he'll be fine, Evey, just like he said."
He looked at her, tilting his head to the side.
"So, what have I missed in the time I was out? Besides beating the big bad evil guys, that is. Have you rebuilt the office yet?"
"No." Evey leaned against the wall again. "Brendan's been smoothing things out, like I said, with the cops. I've just... I've been in here the whole time. Sarah was injured too, but she got better faster. Cei is happy. She hasn't left Brendan alone at all."
Will smiled at first, but then frowned, sitting up again.
"How have you been?" he asked. Truly, by the tone in her voice and the way she was looking, he knew she had to have been going through one hell of an emotional roller coaster these past few days, and he was worried.
Evey closed her eyes and tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Terrified. Frantic. Miserable. Alone. I had to kill my mother. My sister was badly injured. My best friend comes back from the dead. You almost die and I didn't even know if you'd ever wake up again."
She straightened, opened her blurry eyes and walked toward him. She stopped a foot away from his bed.
"I've been falling apart," she whispered.
This made Will's brows furrow even more. He reached for her and pulled her to him until she was sitting on the bed beside him. He wrapped his arms around her.
"God, Evey.... God, I'm so sorry..."
He gave her a gentle squeeze.
"I don't want to ever leave you alone again."
God, it felt good to be held again. He probably needed it more than her, he had been the injured one after all, but she'd been so terrified he was never going to wake up. That she'd been too late and Carmilla had hurt him beyond repair. Evey placed her face in the crux of his neck and shoulder and wept. Her arms slowly went around him. She clutched him to her.
"I thought I'd lost you..." she said between her sobs.
Will gently hushed her, running his fingers through her hair and simply holding her. He would comfort Evey as long as he needed to in order to make her feel calm again. He had meant what he had said: he never wanted to leave her on her own again.
Evey cried until her sobs were dry and she was hiccuping. She grew quiet and just lay against him. Eyes closed, she let herself enjoy the feeling of being held. She had thought he never would hold her again. His strong arms around her, his whispers in her ear, his hand in her hair. Her breaths slowly became more even, despite the occasional hiccup.
"I love you," she whispered, her voice raspy from crying. "You have to get better."
"I will," he assured her, then smiled, laughing a little. "But only if you stop crying."
Evey pulled back and shot him a glare with her red eyes. She pinched him.
"Stop making me cry."
Then she hugged him again. She pressed her face against his neck.
Will gently coaxed her to look up at him so that he was able to bring his lips to hers, giving Evey the kiss they had both waited for for so long. It was wonderful to kiss her again. It was soft and gentle, Will still a little weak from his time in the hospital, but it was good enough.
Evey melted against him. She kissed him back, her lips opening against his. God. She had thought she would never kiss him again. When they both parted for breath, Evey gave him another soft, short kiss on the lips. Then on his jaw. She sighed.
"What do you want to do? Now that you're awake it shouldn't be long before they give you a clean bill of health and let you out. Do you want me to let you rest? Or do you want me to call the others?"
"Actually," he said. "I'm content just as is. We can always call the others later."
Will paused to brush a few strands of hair away from Evey's face.
"Evey, how long have we known each other?"
Evey smiled, enjoying his touch. Then she furrowed her brow as she thought.
"I don't know. A couple of months now? It seems like a lot longer than it's been."
She tilted her head curiously at him.
"I does seem like it's been years, doesn't it? I guess our lives are pretty fast-paced, huh?"
Will looked away from her for a moment before looking back, a slightly cock-eyed smile on his face.
"So how long have been officially together then? A month and half or so?"
"Do you want to count the two week stint when we weren't speaking to each other?" she asked, and found she smiled again. She must be feeling better. She knew she looked like hell, but at least she felt better.
"We can if we want to, or just count half of it. I just want to make sure I'm timing this properly."
Evey shook her head.
"I guess about two months and a half. Three months if we count the two week stint we weren't speaking together."
She arched an eyebrow.
"Timing what properly? Waking up? No, you could've done that sooner."
She glared at him. Then she lifted a hand to her hair, trying to fix the mess it had become.
Will laughed, shaking his head.
"No, that's not it. I just wanted to be sure I wasn't jumping the gun or anything."
He took a deep breath. His cheeks flushed a little.
"I... wanted to know if you'd like to spend the rest of your life with me."
Evey blinked. Then her eyes widened as what he said and the implication began to register. Her mouth fell open a little. She searched his face, trying to figure out if he was being serious or not.
"Wh-What? Wait. What? What's happening here? I just... I want to be clear. I don't want to ju-jump to any conclusions. So what?"
Her brow furrowed again with her last word, her expression perplexed. Her reaction worried him a little, but it was too late to back out now.
"Evey," Will said as calmly as he could, his heart already racing. "Will you marry me?"
Evey didn't think she had any tears left. Apparently, she did as they welled out of her tear ducts and spilled out of her eyes and onto her cheeks. A smile split across her face. God, this was not how she ever imagined it well, hell, to be honest she had never imagined Will would ask she looked awful, it really wasn't a very romantic setting... But who cared?
She suddenly pressed against him and kissed him hard on the lips. When she pulled back, her face was flushed.
"Oh god, Will... Yes!"
She sniffled as she clung to him.
"Yes, yes, oh yes. I can't... I can't believe you asked..."
"I was going to after curtain call," he said, kissing her gently again. "The entire cast knew, but... well, you know what happened. After I realized I had no control over my actions, I decided I would wait until this was all over. I didn't want to make it any harder than I knew it was going to be."
Will couldn't stifle a laugh.
"I hope they didn't smuggle the ring from my costume. It was in my pocket the entire show."
Evey's eyes widened.
She covered her agape mouth. Then dropped her hand again.
"Oh, I hope it's still there. I don't want you to have wasted money for nothing."
"Uh... money isn't really the issue..."
Will chewed on his lip, a bit nervous the more he thought about the ring.
"It was Mom's..."
Evey's eyes widened. Tears came to her eyes again.
"Oh... oh, Will."
She hugged him.
"Thank you! Oh, I hope it's still there."
She bit her lip.
"I really hope it's still there."
"I can't imagine the hospital staff would separate from the rest of my clothes. It wasn't like I changed after the show. I was... actually really worried Carmilla would find it. I'm glad things never got that far."
Will took a deep breath. His head dropped a little, but he caught himself and sat up again. Another small laugh, and he leaned his head against Evey's.
"Maybe you should ask the staff before I'm released. I'm thinking I should probably rest a bit now. I'm feeling really..."
"... Tired, now that the excitement's over. Maybe it's the medications the nurse gave me..."
Evey nodded and carefully got off the bed. She gave him a soft kiss on the lips.
"I'll ask about the clothes now, and see if I can find it."
She touched his face gently.
"Rest up, babe. I love you," she said softly. Will settled back into the bed, turning his head to the side so he could still look at her.
"Babe, huh? Last time it was..."
He yawned again.
"... Honey. God, I love you so much Evey. I guess it doesn't really matter."
Evey's brow furrowed.
"What doesn't really matter? The babe and the honey thing?"
"Does it have to be just one?"
Will shook his head, closing his eyes once more.
"As long as it's you who's saying it, it can be anything..."
With a small sigh, he began to drift back asleep.
"... Just as long as it's you, Evey..."
Evey smiled, her cheeks flushed with pleasure. She gave him another soft kiss on the lips as his breathing became even.
Once he was asleep, Evey quietly left the room. She hoped his mother's ring was still with his clothes. Her mind was still reeling from the fact that Will had asked her to marry him. His mother's ring. She was honored, and she hoped she she would be worthy to wear it.
She went up to the nearest nurse and asked her about Will's clothes.
"Hm? Oh yes. Mr. Keatting's personal affects," the nurse said as she thought about Evey's question. "You're the second person to ask. We keep them in a locker designated to him during his stay, so that nothing gets lost or stolen. As soon as he's released, they'll be returned. Why do you ask?"
"Second person to ask?"
"Oh yes!" the nurse explained with a giggle. "The first was his director from over at the Black Box. He wanted the costume back, but hospital policy is hospital policy. I told him I would let Mr. Keatting know that he dropped by and asked about the costume once he was released."
"Oh." Evey relaxed. She didn't know what she expected to hear, but that wasn't it. She knew everything was over, but she was still paranoid. She felt like at any minute the peace they'd worked so hard for would be gone again.
"I was, uh, just asking because Mr. Keatting left a ring in the pocket of the costume. He was asking about it because it was his mother's and he wanted to make sure it hadn't been lost or stolen."
"I'd be glad to check for you, but I'm afraid it will have to stay with the rest of his belongings until his release. I hope you understand."
She had no idea what it looked like. She rubbed the finger on which it would sit soon. Her heart pounded a little. She didn't mind waiting. She wanted Will out of the hospital more than she wanted anything else.
"Thank you," she said softly, and returned to Will's room.
She turned on the TV, watched some reruns of "I Love Lucy" and fell asleep in the seat by Will's bed as she had throughout the week.
They didn't release Will until the next day. Even still it took most of the day to fill out the paperwork that would allow him to be discharged, along with all the insurance paperwork.
Evey had called Brendan the moment she heard, and he brought Will over some clothes. He lectured her on not having eaten enough. She'd lost ten pounds in the week she'd been at the hospital, barely eating out of worry and stress. She also had a perpetual migraine. Brendan told her she should go home and shower. She looked a wreck. She just smiled at him. He rolled his eyes. He gave her forehead a kiss before he left and said that they would meet at Cei's once Will was out.
He had brought Will a button-down shirt, his duster and jeans. Evey stood beside Will as he signed out and the nurse handed him his personal affects. It was almost seven as it was. Her head pounded in beat with her heart.
Will sorted through all of his items, double-checking to make sure everything was there. He'd already called the director and told him he'd run the costume back as soon as he could, but right now he was only looking for one thing. He held his breath as he reached inside the pocket of Jekyll's coat, praying the box was still there.
His fingers touched the soft velvet of the ring box, and he pulled it out. The box was there, but was the ring inside?
Carefully flipping open the lid, Will let out a sigh. His mother's wedding ring a simple gold band with a silver inlay and three small diamonds embedded in the center was still there.
Evey wasn't really watching Will. She was shifting in place, looking around with glances bordering on paranoia. They were almost out. What was going to happen now? Ashton and Lios were ash, Carmilla was dust, but she was just expecting something else to happen. Her hands clenched together.
Will turned to show Evey that the ring was still there and noticed how tense she was. He sighed, walking over to her and placing his hand on her shoulder.
"Evey? Are you going to be alright?"
Evey blinked at him in surprise.
She shook her head.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Is your mother's ring safe?"
She shifted in place. Will nodded, opening the box again and holding it out to her.
"It may have to be re-sized. Mom had really small hands..."
Evey's hands shook a little as she lifted them toward the small box. The ring was beautiful. Simple and lovely. A small smile came to her lips. Will had proposed, she'd said yes. She wanted to show Cei and Jezz and Brendan and Sarah and Jared and Amelie. But... Re-sized. Evey closed her eyes and closed the box, leaving it in Will's hands. She smiled up at him.
"Well, I can't wear it now then, can I? I may have lost a little weight, but I don't think my hands would still be small enough for it."
She lifted her hands, which did indeed look a little thinner.
"They're decently big, you know."
She gave him a sheepish, uncertain grin and then stuffed her hands in her pockets. She felt for the hair tie, found it, and pulled her messy, unbrushed hair into a ponytail. Then her hands went back into her pockets.
"Are we ready to go?" she asked.
He nodded, putting the ring back into his pocket, but frowned as he followed her outside.
"I'm surprised a nurse didn't tackle you all this time," Will said. "You don't look well. Did you ever leave to take care of yourself?"
"No," Evey said and hurried her pace. She'd already gotten a lecture from Brendan. She just wanted to be happy again. But she was paranoid, and she couldn't wear the ring. She just wanted to cry. God, but she'd done so much of that already. Her migraine got worse and she winced. She still didn't want to eat anything. She was still afraid Will would collapse on her at any moment. He promised he'd never leave her again, but she was afraid that he still might. Maybe not because he wanted to, but because he had no choice.
God! She was overthinking everything again! Her entire skull pounded. She stopped by her car and had to hold her head. She took deep breaths hoping that it would stave off the piercing ache. Why couldn't anything go right? Even after all this, Will had proposed and what should've been the most happiest moment of her life was done in a hospital room with him asleep within five minutes of that, and being unable to wear the ring he wanted to give her. It was shallow and stupid, but it made her miserable anyway.
Will wrapped his arms around her just before they reached her car. He rested his chin on top of her head.
"I'll drive. You need to sit down and relax. Everything's going to be alright. We'll go back to your place, get you cleaned up, and then we can go from there. I hear Cei invited us all to dinner. For my sake, will you at least try to eat?"
Evey looked up at him and nodded. She could give him no guarantees though. She looked miserable, and she felt miserable. Maybe it was because nothing seemed permanent. It didn't matter that Will had proposed, and she'd said yes. That could be taken away from her at any moment because she didn't have that ring, and she wouldn't have it for a long while yet. In a lot of ways, it seemed as if she'd just dreamed up his proposal after all.
"You shouldn't drive. You've been out of it for a week," she said, but she wasn't quite sure she would trust herself to drive either. But she was used to taking on burdens that were more than she could bear.
"You shouldn't drive if you've got a migraine," Will countered. "You really don't look well, Evey, and I don't understand why. I know I've been hospitalized for this past week, but I certainly didn't expect you to get worse while I got better. What's wrong, Evey? Please, tell me..."
Evey shook her head. She tried to give him a smile, but she was certain that it was pretty weak.
"I worried myself sick. I barely slept. I barely ate. I cried most days because I was so afraid you would die. I have nightmares, constantly. I know it's all over, but it doesn't feel like it's over. I feel like something is going to take you away again. I feel like even though I'm awake, I'm still asleep. I don't know what's a dream and what isn't. Everything feels like a dream, and when I wake up, Carmilla will still have you and there's nothing I can do."
She turned her head away and closed her eyes.
"I can't stop crying," she said, her words a whisper as tears fell free. "It's like... I need something to ground me. To pull me back to the earth and show me that this is real. That it really is over. That I'm not dreaming. I didn't realize I needed that until you proposed."
She freed a harsh laugh and brought a hand to her face.
"I'm not even sure you did. For all I know, I dreamed that up and you're going to feel pressured now to do it, when you shouldn't feel that way."
She shook her head.
"It's as if that ring would represent that it really is all over. That I could stop worrying because we really are going to get married, you really won't leave me, the bad guys are really gone. It's just an object, but its weight would be a comfort because I don't have anything else that can give me that comfort. It's not like you can make love to me. You can't. I have nothing substantial to keep me rooted to the ground, so I feel like I'm wasting away from worry and fear and paranoia, and there's nothing I can do to stop it. I've worried myself into a sickness that I can't cure! I'm depressed, and I don't know why! I don't want to care about anything anymore, and I don't know why! Nothing is real anymore. I feel like I'm the only person in whole world and everyone else is just a shadow. Nothing and no one that I can touch or kiss or hug. And sometimes I feel like all I am is a shadow. I killed my mother! The man I love almost died in my arms! My little sister almost died in my arms! My best friend, whose death practically killed me inside, suddenly came back to life! I guess I..."
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she looked at Will. Finally, she turned away.
Will reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring again, removing it from its box. For a moment, he just twirled it between his fingers, watching as the light reflected off of the simple band. He looked over at Evey, even though she no longer looked at him.
"Then I guess I will try this again," he sighed. Gently, he took her hand and got down on one knee. He held the ring out in his palm and stared at Evey, eyes wide and pleading.
"Evey," Will said again. "Will you marry me?"
Evey stared at him, and her heart soared. A sob broke from the back of her throat, and she went down onto her knees before him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. She kissed him hard and desperate.
"Yes. Oh, yes, I'll marry you."
She kissed him again, closing her eyes and letting the kiss attempt to tie her back to the earth.
When they pulled apart from each other, Will took her hand and prayed that the ring would fit.
"If it doesn't fit now," he found himself mumbling. "You can wear it on your pinkie until we get it resized..."
The ring pushed through. It was snug, but it fit. Evey knew once she gained her weight back it would be too tight and they would have to resize it, but for now it was there. Its weight was unfamiliar on her hand, but welcome.
Everything really was over. She was wearing Will's ring.
Evey looked up at him, tears streaming down her cheeks. She smiled at him, wide and brilliant through the tears and hugged him.
"Oh, Will, thank you. It's beautiful."
Her smile made him smile in return. Will reached up and wiped the tears off of her cheeks.
"That's the Evey I was looking for. You don't have to cry now."
He kissed her gently.
"Let's go home, Evey."
They went to Will's place. Evey had clothes there, accumulated during the month and a half that she'd spent most of the time there since Brendan's 'death.' She took a shower and got dressed. She still looked thin, but she looked better.
Then they headed to Cei's. Evey ran the doorbell and knocked. One of her hands held Will's.
Surprisingly Ju answered the door.
"Took you long enough," he grumbled, though the young vampire smiled at them as he let them in. "Now we're just waiting on the angels to arrive."
"Where's Cei?" Will asked as he started towards the living room.
"In the kitchen with Jezz. They already kicked Brendan out for trying to snag a taste."
Brendan grunted from the couch at that. He was laying stretched out on it, eyes closed. His stomach made a loud noise.
"God, can't they at least bring out snack food? Chips and dip or something? I'm trying not to eat the damn couch."
Evey gave Ju a hug. She smiled as she tugged Will in towards Brendan.
Brendan opened an eye.
"You look better but you're still too damn skinny."
Now with both eyes open, he looked at Will.
"You got to feed her. Apparently she forgot to feed herself over the last week."
Evey stuck her tongue out at Brendan. She gave Will a kiss and then headed to the kitchen. Brendan straightened on the couch, allowing Will a spot to sit.
"How you feeling, Keatting?"
"Relieved," Will sighed, sitting down beside him. "Evey had me more worried than anything before we left the hospital. I swore one of the doctors was going to drag her back and make her stay until she didn't look so sick."
Ju stuck his head between them, leaning on the back of the couch.
"Are you going to tell him about the ring or what?"
Will shot him a glare.
"I was going to wait until dinner when everyone else was here..."
"Ring?" Brendan queried with a growing wolfish grin. "You proposed, Keatting?"
He arched his eyebrows.
"Way to spoil it Ju," Will growled at the vampire before turning back to Brendan and nodding. "Yeah, twice because she wasn't sure the first time really happened."
"God, is that woman out of it."
He arched an eyebrow.
"Unless the first time was while you were still in the hospital bed. Then I'll agree with her that she could've been hallucinating. You weren't exactly in top form there for a while, my friend."
"Evey must be happy. Not only are you awake and alive but proposed immediately out of your stupor. Nice job. I was about to ask where Evey got that ring from. Looks a little tight. Now I know."
"I knew it wasn't going to fit, but I haven't exactly had time to get it resized..."
Will scratched the back of his head.
"It was Mom's ring before she passed away. Jon inherited Dad's... well, I suppose that one is mine now too..."
Ju left the two of them and went back into the foyer before there was a knock at the door. The other had arrived.
Brendan put a hand on Will's shoulder.
"Hey. You're brother would be proud of you right now."
"He may not have been too impressed by your damsel in distress impersonation, but I'm sure he let that slide."
Considering all the times he fucked up himself, Brendan thought.
"Let's just get a couple of things straight. You break Evey's heart, I'll kill you. You cheat on her, I'll kill you. You hurt her in any way, I'll kill you. We have an understanding?"
Despite the open threat, Will smiled.
"Yeah, I had you back at the first point. It's nice to know a relationship with Evey comes with an insurance policy like you. Wish I had one."
Ju walked through the living room to get to the kitchen, followed by the new arrivals. Sarah waved enthusiastically at the two men, bouncing over to greet them.
"Will! You're all better now!" she exclaimed. He couldn't help but chuckle.
"Yep, all better, Sarah. Evey's in the kitchen with the other girls, if you want to say hi."
She nodded eagerly and ran off. Jared and Amelie walked around the sofa to make their greetings.
"I hope Cei doesn't mind," Jared said, leaning against the wall. "But I invited Kanoa to join us. He's going to be... retraining, so to speak."
The officer lingered back in the foyer, just nodding in agreement with the doctor's statement.
"Retraining? What does that mean?"
Brendan was still a little uncomfortable around Charon. He knew that it regretted what had happened, but it didn't change the fact that his entire precinct was annihilated. He could forgive Charon, but it was going to take a long time.
"It means that Jared is takin' care o' Kanoa, like I take of Sarah. Jared is trainin' 'im ta be an angel again."
Brendan arched both is brows turning to Jared and then Malone.
"You don't mind having a demon as your teacher? I know you had issues with that."
"Jared doesn' be a demon anymore," Amelie said. She smiled, gave Will a kiss on the cheek and then gave Brendan one.
"It be good ta see ya both so well. I'll be checkin' on me Evey-luv."
She blew a kiss at Jared and went in the direction of the kitchen.
Brendan glanced over at Jared.
"You're not a demon anymore? Well, damn."
"Among other points of good news," he said with a smile. "I'll explain more at dinner. Kanoa, you know you don't have to stand out there all alone."
"I'm fine, thanks," the young man insisted. "And frankly, I think I'll stay here as long as that cat stays there."
Reggie, having since been returned to Brendan after his return, sat on the floor at the boarder of the two rooms, staring at the new arrival as if he knew who it was.
Brendan grinned. Ah, Reggie. He loved his cat. He looked at Jared.
"Hey, Malone's invited in, but Reggie isn't going out. He deserves to be purring at our feet during dinner. He's been a trooper, putting up with Keatting for over a month."
Will rolled his eyes.
"Yes, the little bundle of fur had to put up with me all these weeks while I fed him his gourmet prescription kitty kibble and paid for his vet visits. You owe me a shitload in veterinary bills, you know."
"It's just a cat, Charon," Jared's laughed. "You know Bastet retired millennia ago..."
Brendan just gave Will a wide, toothy grin.
"Don't worry. We'll settle up. Vet bills are a small price to pay after saving your butt from Lios."
Then he looked up at Jared and Malone.
"What is the deal with Bastet? He mentioned her before, and I know she's an Egyptian cat goddess, but what the hell happened?"
Jared made a nod towards Kanoa, but the young cop just shook his head.
"I'd really rather not talk about this..."
"Oh, stop!" Jared laughed. "If you don't tell them, I will."
"Then go right ahead!"
Jared sighed, unable to keep himself from laughing a little.
"Bastet challenged Charon to an Egyptian board game, and didn't take kindly to losing three times in a row. It didn't help that Charon boasted about it later to some of the other angels, so Bastet had some of its pets follow it around for a few centuries. That's how cats got associated with death after a while."
"You don't like cats because they followed you around for a few centuries?"
He rolled his eyes.
"Well, that's just... sad."
"Can't promise that Reggie won't follow you around, but I think the only reason he would is because he knows you're the only one that doesn't like him. So he'll be trying to fix that misconception by showing you how lovable he is."
"They didn't just follow me around," Kanoa protested. "Some of them outright attacked me while I was doing my work! I took up a job on the Styx just to avoid them, and they still followed!"
Brendan's mouth fell open into an "Ah" shape, as if that suddenly explained everything.
"See, now that makes sense. I thought Bastet had been too lenient on you."
A round of giggles erupted from the kitchen. Sarah had slipped while helping to decorate a cake for dessert and had left a perfect little hand print right in the center of the icing. Far from being upset, Cei just outlined it with another color before handing the piping bag to the child to finish filling it in.
"It's your cake to decorate," she said, trying to contain her laughter. "I think it looks better this way."
"It's definitely got personality," Evey said and smiled. "No one would ever doubt that it's your caked."
Amelie gave Sarah a kiss on the cheek.
"Ya be doin' wonderfully, mah babe."
Sarah smiled and continued decorating "her" cake, this time with much more care so she didn't slip again. Cei went to check on the things in the oven.
"Only a few more minutes," she declared, taking in a deep breath. "God, it smells like Christmas in here!"
Jezz giggled, flushed with excitement and happiness.
"It feels like Christmas too! Kind of feels like it should be Christmas."
She bumped Cei's hip playfully.
"There are even presents!"
Evey arched an eyebrow.
Her stomach rumbled loudly.
"Oh, lord. I think my week of my no food diet is catching up with me. I feel ravenous."
Cei poked her in the side.
"Then you better eat everything I put in front of you. You're too skinny, Evey. Eat a goddamn sandwich!"
Sarah giggled as she put the finishing touches on the cake.
"Looky, Sis! Isn't it pretty?"
But before she could answer, the child caught sight of the ring and pointed towards it.
"Oooh! What's that?"
Evey blinked for a moment, her mouth open about to compliment the cake. She looked down at her hand and flushed.
"Will, he uh..."
She blushed. Jezz hurried over and so did Amelie, who grabbed Cei. All the women hovered around Evey. She smiled and whispered.
"Will proposed and gave me his mother's ring."
Evey lifted a shoulder in a half shrug, but she glowed.
"It's small, but we'll resize it. Tomorrow if I have any say."
"Congratulations!" Jezz said and hugged Evey in a fit of giggles. "I'm so happy for you!"
Amelie gave Evey a kiss.
"Ya must be so happy, luv."
"I am. For a little while there I thought... I thought I would be scared for ever. I kept waiting for something to come out of the bushes and take Will away from me. I don't know why, but somehow this feels so much more permanent. Nothing is going to take him away from me now, because now, he's... Well, he's mine."
Sarah clapped her hands happily.
"Hooray! Sis is getting married!"
Cei laughed and gave Evey a wink.
"You lucky, lucky girl. You take care of him for me, you hear? Don't let him get tangled up into too much mischief."
Stepping around everyone, she peered into the dining room at Ju, who was busy setting the table.
"How's it going there, Julien?" she asked. He frowned, looking back at her.
"Your table isn't the right shape to accommodate these settings properly."
"Well, make do. This is my house, not yours."
The cruentus grumbled as he tried to fix the settings to his liking. Cei turned back to the others in the kitchen.
"We're almost ready to go. How does that food in the oven look, Jezz?"
Jezz bounced over to the top oven, just bubbling over with excitement.
"The lasagna looks great. It's definitely ready."
She pulled on the oven mittens with a flourish and took out the lasagna. It smell fantastic.
Evey went over to the bottom oven.
"Looks like the turkey is just about done too, Cei. You've been cooking that since last night. It's got a beautiful brown. You want to take the turkey, and I'll take the garlic bread, salad, and rice?"
"Sounds like a plan to me," Cei agreed. "Amelie, would you mind grabbing the sweet potatoes praline? I'll go call the boys to the table."
Evey took the bread first, setting the three trays on the table and then coming back for the salads as Amelie got the sweet potatoes. She leaned to Amelie.
"Have you noticed something different about Cei? I really can't put my finger on it, but she's different."
Amelie just smiled.
After setting up the salads and the sweet potatoes, they returned to grab the rice and the wine. Evey walked next to Sarah and told her that the boys were going to be thrilled with her cake.
Jezz was already at the table serving food onto the plates. Lasagna, turkey, rice and sweet potatoes.
"Dinnertime!" Cei called to the guys in the living room. "I hope you're all hungry. I know Brendan is, Mister Tried-to-steal-the-garlic-bread."
Brendan practically flew out of his seat and made a bee-line for the dining room table.
"And what of it? I'm starving and that garlic bread smelled delicious and it was just begging to be eaten!"
Reggie got up, eying Kanoa, and followed after Brendan, knowing full well that the werewolf would give him some scraps.
As soon as the cat was gone, the young officer followed tentatively after. Wil rose from the couch.
"It smells great, Cei. I can't wait to have a real meal again. Hospital food tastes... regurgitated."
Cei laughed, ushering him towards the dining room.
"I've missed your sense of humor, Will. Welcome back."
She looked back towards Jared.
"Aren't you coming too?"
"Of course," he said. "I was just about to move when you spoke up."
Evey took her seat next to Will. Amelie sat beside Jared. Jezz sat beside Ju. Brendan took the head of the table, knowing Cei would take the other head.
Evey snatched a slice of garlic bread.
"God, I'm suddenly famished."
"That's because you've barely eaten all week," Brendan said, and snorted. Jezz giggled.
"Before any of us start eating," Ju said calmly. "I believe several of us have announcements to make."
He looked around the table at everyone.
"Who wants to start?"
Evey didn't stop munching on the garlic bread. There were announcements? As in plural? Everyone pretty much knew by now that she and Will were engaged... so... Evey swallowed and shrugged.
She looked at Will and took his hand.
"Um, I'm pretty sure everyone knows by now, but Will..."
She flushed. She smiled.
"Will and I are engaged now. He proposed."
There was a pleasant round of applause from everyone, even though it wasn't entirely surprising. Sarah, who was seated between Jared and Kanoa, tugged on the doctor's sleeve.
"Can I tell them? Can I tell them?" she asked. Jared chuckled and nodded.
"If you want to, yes, go right ahead."
The little child squealed with excitement, standing up on her chair.
"Zuriel got promoted back to an angel and reassigned to be a guardian!"
Jezz squealed with pleasure and clapped her hands together.
Evey stared, her jaw slightly agape.
"Oh, my god, Jared. That's That's incredible!"
She wanted to rush over and hug him, but instead reached across the table and took his hand.
"I'm so happy for you! You so deserved it. You're already an incredible guardian."
Evey even got a little teary-eyed. Jared blushed.
"That isn't the only thing..."
Taking his hand back, he carefully reached up and removed his shades. The entire table gasped, even Ju: Jared had eyes! They were a shade of pale, faded gray-blue and at first seemed entirely alien on his face. After the initial shock died away, Will was the first to breathe a stunned, "Whoa..."
She couldn't say anything else. He was still blind. She could tell by the cataract fog that glazed over the eyes of all those who were blind. But, just... the eyes...
Jezz had covered her mouth. She slowly put down her hands.
"Mr. Jared... They gave you eyes? That's... That's wonderful!"
Amelie's gaze searched Jared's face. She had known him far longer than anyone else at the table. Millenia upon millenia. She had never imagined eyes upon his face. Her hand trembled up to his face to touch the corner where they crinkled. She gasped and brought her other hand to her lips as tears spilled from her own eyes.
"Jared... Ya didn' tell me. Why did...?"
She couldn't finish the question. Why was he given eyes after so many thousands of years without them? For what purpose?
He still couldn't see her though Amelie was aware of that. Her heart clenched.
He blinked a few times, narrowing his new eyes as he turned to her.
"As a guardian angel, I need to be more approachable," he explained. "Having no eyes... can be frightening..."
Jared blinked again and, for the first time in his entire existence, tears rolled down his cheeks. He flinched slightly at the new sensation, but calmed as soon as he realized what it was. He was crying.
Amelie's own tears began to overflow. She touched his tears and let out a half sob, half laugh. She hugged him, pressing her face against his neck as she wept. One of her hands was in his hair, the other against his back. She wanted to kiss him. He had only kissed her once the night of the masquerade after Evey had given him the vision of her.
He had told her once that when it was all over then they would talk about each other to see if "they" were something he desired to pursue. But since then they had never spoken of it of them again. And even though they had nothing to do with what had just happened, the desire to kiss him, to taste his first tears and hers, grew within her.
"Oh, Jared..." She whispered softly against his skin.
Evey bit her bottom lip, watching them. God... Amelie really loved him, didn't she? Evey thought. She exchanged a glance with Jezz who nodded, and then with Will, wondering what he thought of the miracle before them.
He raised his eyebrows, glancing back at the two angels and smiling, but at the same time giving a shrug. There wasn't anything he could do about them...
Sarah, on the other hand, refused to let the two of them just sit there and poked Jared in the ribs.
"Okay now," she said in a very matter-of-fact tone. "Everything is all hunky-dory. You're an angel again. Hurry up and tell Mama you love her so she stops crying!"
Amelie flushed, her dark cheeks turning a deep, chocolate crimson. She pulled away from Jared, embarrassed now, especially with Sarah's demand. She quickly wiped the tears away and sniffled.
"I be fine, sugah," she said, and gave Sarah a smile. "No more cryin' from me."
She fanned her eyes to help them dry.
"Sorry 'bout that, Jared."
He cheeks flushed, and he shook his head.
"Don't be sorry, Amelie. She's right."
Before she could respond, Jared touched her face gently and pulled her back towards him, bringing his lips to hers in a soft kiss. It wasn't a very long kiss, but when Jared pulled back from it, he smiled at Amelie.
"I do love you, Ari."
Amelie's heart soared. His smile brought laugh crinkles to the corners of his eyes. After so long... She smiled back, her eyes watering again from happiness.
She had waited thousands of years to hear him say those words to her. She touched his face and kissed him again.
Sarah wrinkled her nose, as if she found their display of affection gross. Cei giggled, glad for them both.
"Maybe we can give the rest of announcements while we eat," she suggested. "This is taking... a touch longer than expected."
Amelie release Jared and flushed.
As they began to eat, Jezz decided to be brave.
"Uh, Ju and I are going on a cruise..."
"What?" almost everyone cried in unison as they turned to look at the young noctis. Ju promptly slid down into his chair, cheeks turning bright red.
"We thought it might be a good opportunity to try and get me over my agoraphobia."
"I think it's a wonderful idea!" Cei said. "If not an unexpected one."
"It's a two week cruise. Casinos and the works and it goes through the islands of the Caribbean. At night there's lots of stuff to do still, even though during the day is when we'd be able to get off the boat and see the islands."
She smiled and shrugged. She looked over at Ju.
"It's okay that I told them right?"
Ju sat up in his seat again, a thin smile on his face as he nodded.
"We would have had to eventually," he sighed, adjusting his glasses. "We'll be leaving about two weeks from now."
Jezz smiled and she ate some of the lasagna. She looked back to the others.
"I thought it was a good idea. Not too crowded and Ju likes playing cards."
"Because he has a distinct advantage."
Ju couldn't help but smirk. He turned towards Cei, raising his eyebrows and tilting his head to one side.
"So, when are you going to make your announcement? I think everyone else had finished with theirs, if I'm not mistaken."
"Oh, I don't know," Cei teased. "Maybe I should have them guess."
Evey arched an eyebrow.
"Guess? Why? What's yours?"
Cei got the attention of everyone almost immediately with the exception of Brendan. He smirked over at her from across the table and grabbed another chunk of turkey. He was already on this second plate.
Cei just shook her head, taking a bite of her dinner was a wide grin across her face.
"Oh, come on! Just give me some guesses. Jezz, Ju, and especially Brendan: don't help!"
"Did I say anything?" Brendan said.
Amelie smiled. "I can cheat."
Evey grinned at Amelie and then turned that grin to Evey. "Yeah, too bad, Cei. We could guess until our face is blue, but without any clues we're just shooting at the air. So spill it or Amelie will spill it for you." She stuck her tongue out at her friend.
"I think she wouldn't cheat in the spirit of good sportsmanship," Cei retorted, sticking her tongue out in return. Ju rolled his eyes.
"You should at least give them a hint, Cei."
Brendan wiped his mouth with his handkerchief, downed his wine for courage and then smirked.
"Cei, you're taking too long trying to tease everyone into a frenzy. So we're going to skip you. It's my turn now."
He reached into his jean pocket, pulled out a velvet box and tossed it across the table at her.
"Surprise," he said with a wide wolfish grin. "And in case there's any discussion on the matter, that was bought last week. Before the events of Cei's announcement. If she ever gets around to it."
Inside the box was a white gold band, twisted into an elegant shape. In the center was a diamond and on the sides, in a delicate string, were sapphires.
If it had been any other person, Cei would have chucked the box right back at his head. But since it was Brendan... she stared at the ring in complete shock. For a moment, she was rendered completely speechless.
"You bought this... before?" she repeated, looking up at him. "Even if it meant...?"
"Did that ever matter to me, Cei?" Brendan asked, his voice soft. "I can't imagine being without you. So, I had to make sure you couldn't just go away."
Cei began to cry, nodding as she took the ring out and placed in on her finger. Will leaned in to Evey, actually a little worried.
"Won't she outlive him?" he asked quietly. Ju answered from across the table.
"That isn't so much an issue anymore."
Evey arched an eyebrow at Ju as Brendan got up and walked over to Cei. He took one of her hands and with his other hand wiped the tears from her cheeks. He kissed her nose.
"I guess that's a yes?" he whispered to her.
Even though the rest of the table had their attention on Cei and Brendan, Evey's gaze was on Ju.
"Not an issue?"
There was only one way it wouldn't be an issue.
"How could it not be an issue...?"
The truth dawned on her. Her eyes widened and she turned around to look at Cei and Brendan.
He smirked at her when he caught her gaze.
"Best detective in the world."
Evey's jaw dropped.
"When? How? HOW?"
She shook her head.
"You said you've been trying for years, but hell, Cei you never indicated you were anywhere near close to a cure!"
The word "cure" had the desired affect.
"Ah, well, that explains much," Amelie said.
Cei turned and kissed Brendan before looking at the others and smiling.
"Much of the data I collected from my recent experiments happened to apply to my research," she said, almost crying again. "And I guess you could say I had an epiphany."
"So this means...?" Will began, still in awe that this was even possible. Cei nodded.
"I'm human again."
"Oh my god," Evey said. "Oh my god."
She couldn't say anything else. It was a miracle.
By now Brendan had gotten into Cei's chair and had her on his lap.
"Yup. Surprised the hell out of me too. She just ran into the bedroom at the butt-crack of dawn yelling her head off."
He nuzzled her throat.
"At least I won't hear anymore complaining about cardboard blood and I don't have to watch her flirt with guys anymore just for sustenance."
"Though the grocery bill is going to increase significantly now," Cei added. "And it's still going to take some getting used to."
She kissed Brendan's cheek and laughed.
"You'll have to be my bodyguard now that I don't have any of the powers vampirism granted. Think you can handle it?"
"No problem. You needed plenty of bodyguarding before. I don't see how this makes much of a difference," he teased back.
Evey and Jezz laughed.
"I'm sure the grocery bills will be livable," Evey said and gave them a wide grin. She took Will's hand. He smiled at her.
"As soon as we all get stable jobs again, I'm sure everything will work out."
"Well," Cei began, sliding off of Brendan's lap. "I'm going to go back to school. Teaching, that is. I've been on 'sabbatical' from the local university for long enough, I think. And Evey always has her PI agency."
Evey groaned and then smiled.
"My PI agency. Sweet lord. I'm going to turn into Davidson."
Brendan got up, giving Cei back her chair and returned to his. He began piling on his third plate of food.
"The precinct is still being rebuilt, while we've been mostly working out of a trailer for now. The place is cramped as hell. I can't wait to have a building again. They're going to put up a memorial for all the people who died that night in it, I hear."
Everyone nodded. It was good to hear that things were improving. Will looked down at his plate.
"Am I the only one who doesn't have a job lined up?" he asked.
"I don't," Ju admitted, but Cei corrected him.
"You're a professional adviser, Ju. Besides, you can actually win at gambling."
Evey gave Will's hands a squeeze.
"There are still vampires that need hunting. And I'm sure there are plenty of jobs you can do."
"You can always apply to be an officer," Brendan offered helpfully. "Unless you find acting more to your taste?"
"Go professional. Make a movie about vampires."
"I'd rather stay away from the stage for a while," Will said, rubbing the back of his head. "I promised Sid I'd finish out this run of Jekyll & Hyde, but after that... I need a break."
The hunter took a moment to think about Brendan's other suggestion.
"Don't you have to get special training to be a police officer? I don't know if I could afford to go back to school again."
"You'll have to take the civil service exam, and I can give you my study guide for it. It's a little old, but it does the job. I can always get you a new one. I'm sure you'll pass the physical exam without issue," Brendan said and then grinned. "Then the drug and lie detector tests, and once you pass all that all easy for you I'm sure they'll send you to the Academy. Or you can always enroll in the Academy first and then apply in which case you'll do all the other stuff I mentioned after."
"Academy training can take from three months to a year, depending on how much you work."
"I can get you on scholarship if you're really considering this."
He looked to Evey then to Will again. Evey looked over at Will.
"Are you considering it?" she asked with a smile.
"Well," Will said with a slight shrug. "It would certainly be more stable than the last few jobs I've had, although I wonder if the abnormality in my blood would be an issue."
"Oh, come on Will!" Cei laughed. "Look at Brendan! He's a fucking werewolf, and he passed with flying colors, I'm sure."
"Will, a drug test consists of peeing into a cup to see if you take drugs or are an alcoholic. Are you an alcoholic?"
He tried to say that with a straight face, but it didn't work. His grin was face-splitting.
Will rolled his eyes and couldn't keep from chuckling.
"I only have one addiction, which unfortunately is going to be more difficult to sate now that Cei's human."
"I actually had a thought on that," Ju said, leaning forward. "The Council of Elders has managed to make itself look like the most inept cruenti law system ever implemented, and many, many cruenti in this city aren't happy with how they are being run. I'm sure they'd be willing to part with a little blood in exchange for a few favors."
"I can still produce my Gracillis for you," Cei offered.
Evey bit her bottom lip.
"You have the formula, but Will still needs to get blood somehow."
She looked at Ju.
"The idea has merit, but even if Will gets rid of the Council which won't be easy I'm sure for money and blood, once that's done and replacements are elected in, there's no guarantee he'll be able to get blood after that."
Cei always willingly offered her blood. The only other vampire was Ju, and Evey wasn't about to ask him. It seemed a little out of place.
Jezz pursed her lips. She looked at Will.
"Do you need noctis blood or could it be any vampire?"
Will rubbed his forehead.
"It could be any vampire so long as he's at least 500 years old. That's how old the vampire who enthralled my parents was, so no one younger would do."
"And you misunderstood my suggestion, Evey," Ju added. "I meant that he could offer his services to protect the Council. All of them are older than Cei; she was the youngest member."
"So he offers to protect them that gives him the blood and some extra money."
She looked over at Will.
"What do you think about that?"
"It's a start," Will agreed. "I've dealt with most of them before, so it shouldn't be too hard to get something worked out."
He turned to Evey.
"In any case, I think everything's going to work out in the end, no matter how long it takes."
Evey relaxed a little, having been unsure of what he would think of the idea. She just hoped he wouldn't become ill from lack of blood. There was little she could do to help there. Her blood was partially angelic, not cruentus.
"I'm sure it will," Brendan said, and smirked. "Besides. You've still got me to back you up if you need it. Just say the word."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Will gave Evey a quick peck on the cheek before reaching for his wine glass.
"I propose a toast. A toast to the beginning of a new life for all of us."
"Ah, I be likin' this," Amelie said lifting her own glass.
Brendan refilled his before he too lifted it. "I'll drink to that."
Jezz giggled and lifted hers which was still mostly full.
Evey smiled at Will and gave him a kiss on the cheek in return, before lifting her own glass.
"To good friends."
"To old friends," Amelie added with a smile.
"A new future," Brendan said, and gave Cei a wink.
"To love," Jezz added quietly.
"To trust," Ju said, turning to her with a smile.
"To cake!" Sarah suggested eagerly, and Jared couldn't help but laugh as he lifted his glass.
"To new experiences, in life and love," he said.
"To conquering fears," Kanoa added uneasily. Reggie purred from his lap.
"Mrrrrrooooow!" the cat added.
"And of course," Cei said, finally lifting her glass. "To overcoming challenges, no matter how difficult, no matter how long, no matter what it takes."
With the uniform clink of their glasses, their words were sealed.