Dragon at the Gate


"I'm sorry, he's in a meeting. Let me check his schedule...."

"I want to see him now, the bleached blond insisted, arms folded across her chest and one pointy-toed shoe-clad foot tapping impatiently.

She smiled sweetly up at the rude woman and sadly shook her head. "I'm sorry, but he's not in, at the moment." She opened a day planner and, holding it so the other woman couldn't see anything, turned a few pages. "He's got an opening the day after tomorrow at 0800, if you like? I'm afraid that's the earliest appointment he has available." She looked again at the irate woman, who now had her mouth open in shock.

"You've got to be kidding! Eight in the morning? Don't be ridiculous. I'll wait." She looked around and realized that there wasn't any place to sit. When the secretary shrugged and went back to her work, she humphed in frustration and spun on her spiked heel and strode angrily away.

Isabel raised just her eyes and smiled to herself as she watched the irate woman stride off. It was a perfect exit, marred by the breaking of the woman's left heel, which nearly spilled her onto the floor. Her smile broadened as there were snickers from the few people who'd been watching, and Kelly Blake then slunk from the room, trying hard not to limp.

The phone rang and she picked it up before it had a chance to ring a second time. "Hundred and First Precinct, Detective Division. How may I direct your call?" She listened to the voice and frowned. "I'm sorry, but he's in a meeting, just now. Could someone else help you, perhaps? Oh, I see. May I take a message, then? Oh, all right." Her hand groped for a pencil and scribbled an almost indecipherable message. "Yes, I'll be sure to tell him. Would you care to leave a number where you can be reached?" She flinched as the caller slammed down the phone. With a slight huff of annoyance, she shook her head and hung up. Then, she looked at the note she'd scribbled and copied the information somewhat more legibly onto a telephone message form.

"Hey, lady, how'd you like to do lunch?"

She looked up, smiling. The sunglassed detective settled one hip on the corner of her desk and lowered his glasses just a bit to look at her. "I'd love to, but the captain is still in that meeting with the mayor and the chief, so I've got to stick around." She glanced at the wall clock across the room and sighed. "I don't suppose I could convince you to bring me back something, could I?"

The detective grinned and stood up. "Gladly. What would you like?"

She gave him her most soulful look, "A nice, hot, New York style pastrami?"

"Torpedo or rye?"

"Torpedo, please. Heavy on the mustard, and an extra pickle, please." She reached for her purse to give him some money.

"I've got it."

She frowned. "Kermit, you buy my lunch most of the time. At least let me buy yours for once, since you're doing all the work for it."

Kermit scowled. He liked buying her lunch. And dinner. And going out with her and her daughter. And living across the hall from them. He liked their cat and, most importantly, he liked them.


He sighed. Amazing what that one word from her could do. "All right. You can get lunch, this time." He agreed rather grudgingly, but it was still a concession.

"Thank you." She opened her purse, pulled out a wallet, and handed him a twenty-dollar bill.

Accepting the money, he stood up and headed for the door. "I'll be back, shortly."

She watched him and smiled. The phone rang and, sighing, she answered it.

"Hundred and first precinct, detective division, how may I direct your call?"

She hoped that Kermit came back with her lunch, soon. She'd overslept that morning and missed breakfast, and with the captain in that meeting all day, she'd been extra-busy fending off calls and visitors. The detectives understood, but some of the callers didn't. But if the man wasn't there, he simply wasn't there.

She looked up as a man entered the bullpen. She hadn't seen him, before, but he made his way unerringly towards the captain's office. She stood and blocked his path.

"May I help you?"

"No, thanks. I'll just wait in his office." He moved to go past her, but she shifted as well and continued to block his progress.

"I'm sorry, but the captain isn't in, just now."

The man scowled. "Look, Blaisdell knows me, it's all right, I'll just wait in his office for him." He waited for her to move and when she didn't, he tried to push her aside.

She wasn't heavy enough to keep from moving a little when he pushed her, but she pushed right back and again kept him from the door to the captain's office. "The problem is, I don't know you and I have instructions from the captain that no one is to enter his office when he's away." That was a blatant lie, but she certainly wasn't going to allow this total stranger access to her boss's office.

The man glared. "Do you have any idea who you're dealing with?"

"With whom."


"The correct grammar would be 'do you have any idea with whom you're dealing?' To which the answer is, no, I don't. Nor do I particularly care. You could be the president of the United States and I still wouldn't let you in that office with him not there. Now, if you'd care to give me your name and the purpose of your visit, I'll be sure to give him the message when he returns."

"Lady, just get out of my way," the man growled angrily.

"I won't. I must ask you to leave. No one is allowed in the captain's office in his absence. And I don't even know you, so you're even less likely to gain access." She'd tried being reasonable, but this guy just wasn't listening.

He drew himself up and tried to intimidate her, but she simply raised an eyebrow and looked at him.

Furious, he drew his hand up to his shoulder and backhanded her. The blow was hard enough to cause her to stumble into the door to the office she was guarding. Her hand went to her face and came away covered in blood, mostly from her nose, but partly from the lip his ring had split. She looked up at him in fear, but then something inside flipped like a switch, and she came back upright and prepared to do battle.

"Oh, you're such a big, strong man!" she announced, only she was speaking baby-talk, much to the stranger's surprise, and annoyance. "So powerful and masterful," she continued, still in baby-talk, "You slimy piece of moldy excrement!" She stepped closer to him, and he backed up, startled. Her voice was low-pitched and intense, not hysterical, but very, very angry. "How dare you come into a police station and try and throw your weight around? I don't care who you think you are, but you are not, repeat, not gaining free access to the captain's office." She was advancing on him, finger poking him in the sternum, and he was backing up.

Broderick had entered the bullpen to bring some messages to the Chief of Detectives, Frank Strenlich, so he was the only one to see the man actually strike the captain's secretary. Everyone had, however, heard the slap and turned to see what was going on. Seeing the blood, every last one of them stood and began to silently gather behind the stranger who'd had the temerity to strike their captain's secretary.

Only Frank Strenlich had any idea of who the man was, and he groaned in dismay.

"If you think that just because I'm a woman and you're a man that you can beat and batter me into submission, you can think again. You are not getting into the captain's office. You are not going to throw your weight around here like you do at home with your own family. I am not your punching bag!" She had continued to advance, jabbing him with a pointed forefinger for emphasis on ever 'not', and he had continued to back up, until he bumped into one of the officers standing behind him and he jumped forward.

Isabel took his sudden lunge forward as another attack on her and reacted defensively by raising and extending her hands to keep him away from her, and bringing up her right knee just as hard as she could, connecting solidly right where Kermit had assured her it would count.

The man screamed and dropped to his knees, curling around himself in agony.

Kermit was waiting in the long line at the deli when he spotted a familiar figure. "Hey, Paul, what did you want on your sandwich?" he called out, effectively allowing his friend and superior to cut into the line.

"Roast beef on whole wheat, mustard, mayo, and all the good stuff." Paul said as he joined his friend.

"Got it. Isabel's been fielding calls all day. She's back at the office, starving."

Paul sighed. "I'm sorry about that, but the meeting went a lot longer than I thought it would." Then he frowned. "What kind of calls?"

Kermit shrugged. "Minimalistic and uninformative, from what I could tell."

"Great." Paul grimaced and rubbed at his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.


"She wasn't the problem, this time."

Kermit snorted a laugh, knowing his friend was referring to the mayor. "Who was?"

Paul sighed and grinned ruefully. "Circumstances and statistics, I'm afraid. Thankfully, I'm just a precinct captain, and not the commissioner. She was having a hard time of it, and there isn't a lot any of us can do except to keep on doing what we've been doing. It's hardly our fault if the courts let the bad guys go, after all."

"Yeah, but it doesn't make it any easier for the rest of the city when they do. Too bad we can't get the judges to cooperate."

Paul snorted. "Like that's ever going to happen."

They got their order and Kermit paid. Paul thanked him and they walked out, intending to eat back at the office.

It was quiet when they entered the precinct house and quiet all the way up the stairs to the bullpen, but entering, both men froze and Paul placed a restraining arm in front of his subordinate.

"No," he softly commanded, and then spoke to the room at large.

"What the hell is going on, here?" Paul Blaisdell's voice thundered through the silent bullpen.

Broderick turned to see not only the captain, but an absolutely livid Kermit Griffin. Warily, he approached, expecting to have to help restrain the infuriated ex-mercenary.

"I'm not sure what started it, but it looked like your secretary was trying to keep that guy out of your office. When I came in, it was just in time to see him slap her. Then she got mad and backed him up and when he bumped into Jody, he jumped forward and she nailed him good."

Paul turned and placed his hands on Kermit's shoulders. "Go to your office and cool off. Wait until I come for you."

"Paul," Kermit began, plaintively. Isabel was his lady and it was his responsibility to defend her.

"Kermit, no. I'll take care of this. Go on."

With a grim expression and extreme reluctance, Kermit stalked to his office while Paul turned back to the carnage.

"Isabel?" Paul asked, approaching her. She was breathing hard, most likely from the adrenaline, but possibly from the exertion of felling her opponent.

She looked up at her boss and flushed scarlet with embarrassment. She was covered with her own blood and her nose and lip were already swelling. She didn't think her nose was broken, but it certainly hurt. There were tears of pain, anger, and frustration in her eyes and she was fighting valiantly to try and keep them from falling.

"Yes, sir?" She asked softly, straightening up.

Paul had to fight a smile, recognizing all the emotions she was trying so very hard to hide. "Good job. Why don't you go see about getting yourself cleaned up while we handle the rest of this?"

"Yes, sir." She paused. "Uh, I'm expecting Kermit back any minute with lunch."

"He's in his office, waiting for you." Seeing her dismay, he smiled gently. "He's understandably concerned, and it might be a good idea if you hurried. You know how he gets."

She did. Nodding, she almost slithered out of the bullpen to go down to the ladies' room to try and clean up while Paul turned on the other people in the room.

"Mind telling me why no one helped her?"

Mary Margaret Skalaney snorted. "She didn't need our help. Well, maybe if we'd noticed anything wrong before he hit her. But I just heard the slap and turned around to see her bounce off your door, and then, man, it was like watching Kermit. She suddenly turned into superwoman. She got all cold and quiet and just started advancing on him and he started backing up. He bumped into Jody and jumped forward and Isabel took it as an attack and grabbed him by the shoulders and kneed him, but good!" There was admiration in her voice and expression that had the other three all nodding.

"I'm sorry, Captain," Frank Strenlich softly apologized. "I was talking to Jody and Skalaney and didn't realize there was a problem until he hit her. Like Skalaney said, she just backed him right up. It couldn't have been more than about a minute from the time he hit her to the time she kneed him. We were all coming up behind him, ready to grab him, but I guess he didn't realize it," he finished rather lamely.

Paul sighed. He could understand. You didn't expect anyone to be foolish or stupid enough to assault and batter someone in a police station. He looked down at the man on the floor, still whimpering and clutching himself in agony. Served him right for smacking his secretary around.

"Grimes? What the hell were you thinking?" He folded his arms across his chest and watched as the man on the floor continued to gasp and whimper. He reached out a foot and toed him in the back. "Come on, I know she couldn't have hit you that hard. Get up."

"Uh, you know this guy, captain?" Jody asked, surprised.

Paul looked up. "Yeah. I know him; although, there are times I wish I didn't." He turned his attention back to Grimes. "Come on. You going to let a little civilian lady like that win?"

With a mighty groan, Grimes reached out to grasp the nearest desk and drag himself up, still gasping for air. He managed to get to his feet and stood, hunched over and perspiring.

"Sir? Aren't we going to arrest him?" Broderick had the temerity to ask.

Paul smiled. "That's right. You actually saw the assault, didn't you?"

"Uh, yes, sir. She was just keeping him from going into your office, and he backhanded her."

Paul nodded, pleased. "Good. I'll let you do the honors, then." He started to turn away when Grimes spoke.

"You're wanted in DC," he gasped, trying to straighten up past the pain.

Paul turned to look at him like he'd look at a dog that messed on his lawn. "I don't think so."

Grimes looked annoyed... more annoyed. "You have to."

Paul's expression went cold and he turned back to the man. His voice was low and hard. "Grimes, I don't have to do a damned thing. You don't own me, remember. Just because I haven't before doesn't mean I can't say 'no'. You came in here and assaulted and injured my secretary. She's a civilian, and not a part of your slimy, filthy world. You struck her, and there's quite a lot of her blood on the door to my office and the floor, not to mention ruining her clothes. I suggest you shut up and try and think of how you're going to explain all this to your masters." He smirked. "Besides, you should thank me."

Grimes looked up at the captain in shock. "What?"

Paul grinned and looked at Broderick. "Why don't you explain it to him, sergeant?"

Broderick smiled in return. "Yes, sir." He turned to Grimes and took him gently by the arm, easily putting him into handcuffs. "You are under arrest for assault and battery, you have the right to remain silent. If you give up this right, anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, and to have an attorney present before any and all questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you at no cost. You've got to be the luckiest s.o.b. in town." He shook his head as he gently guided Grimes towards the door.

"Huh?" Grimes asked, still not realizing what was happening.

"You hit Griffin's main squeeze and lived. "Do you want an attorney?"


"Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?"

Grimes suddenly seemed to realize what was happening and began to struggle, but weakly, as he was still suffering from the blow he'd received from that woman. That little woman. "Wait, Griffin? Kermit Griffin?"

"Yeah. Captain sent him to his room. Come on, pal, move a little faster, will you? I'd rather not have to stand between you and him if he should come out of his cage, just now. So, did you understand these rights as I have explained them?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah."

"Do want an attorney?"


"Do you give up your right to remain silent?"

"Uh, not right now."

"Okay, come on; let's get you down to booking."

Strenlich shook his head. Broderick had managed to get the man clear down to the elevator, talking the entire time. He glanced at the closed door to Griffin's office and shivered. Looking at the captain, he tilted his head and asked, "Now what?" He knew that the few other times Grimes had come, the captain, and Griffin, tended to vanish for a few weeks without explanation. But the guy had hit Kermit's lady, and drawn blood. That wasn't something the ex-merc would take lightly.

"Now, we wait for Isabel to come back. He glanced around and realized that his two female detectives had disappeared. He frowned. "Now where did they get off to?"

"They probably went after Isabel," Strenlich replied. "Help her get cleaned up?"

Paul nodded and sighed, glancing at the closed door to Kermit's office. "Well, let me see if I can calm Kermit down."

The son of a bitch had hit Isabel. Kermit prowled his miniscule office like a caged leopard, furious and frustrated - never a good combination. Only Paul could have ordered him not to act and he obey. But it was very hard for him to take, having seen his beloved's blood all over the place. That thought made him stop and look down at the floor, groaning. His hands came up and ran roughly through his hair. Too hyped up to be able to sit, he began to softly mutter to himself on what he'd do to Grimes and how long it would take him to die.

When the door finally opened and Paul entered, Kermit froze and stared. "Well?"

"Broderick arrested him and is escorting him down to booking."

Kermit looked surprised. "You arrested Grimes?"

Paul grinned and shrugged. "What else could we do? He assaulted my secretary in front of witnesses."

Kermit shook his head. "They aren't going to like that you arrested him."

"I, personally, didn't. Broderick saw the assault and he's the one who arrested him. Besides, I can think of no good reason to strike a woman unless she's coming at you with a weapon and you're defending yourself. That was definitely not the case, here."

Kermit nodded. "Is she all right?" he asked, worriedly.

"Well, she was able to take him out with a knee, and she walked down to the ladies' room under her own power, I'd say she was going to be just fine. Although there was a lot of blood." Paul grimaced and sighed. "Better call the hazmat for cleanup."

Kermit bristled. "She doesn't have AIDS!"

"I know, but it's policy. Blood gets spilled, you call hazmat for cleanup. Just like we did when Perez got you."

Kermit grumbled and subsided, sinking down into his chair to bury his head in his hands, elbows on his desk.

There was a soft tap at the door and Paul opened it. He smiled to see that his secretary had apparently had extra clothes down in her locker to change into. Her nose had stopped bleeding, but her lip had a nasty cut on it. "Kermit, why don't you take Isabel to the emergency room to see if that cut needs a stitch or two?"

Kermit instantly looked up and, seeing the damage, stood. "Sure. Come on and I'll take you."

Isabel flushed and looked down. "Could I please eat, first? I skipped breakfast, this morning, and it's after one, and I'm really hungry."

"Certainly," Paul replied. "Kermit, why don't you bring the sandwiches and we'll all eat in my office. It's quiet, there." Kermit only nodded and grabbed the bag of sandwiches and followed.

All three were hungry, although Kermit, under stress, tended to lose his appetite. But he ate, never taking his eyes off of Isabel, who kept glancing at him and then away. Paul was careful to control his urge to smile at them both. It was so very obvious how concerned Kermit was for his lady.

When they finished eating, Paul stood and gathered their wrappings. "Kermit, take her to the ER and get her checked out. Then I want both of you to go home for the day. Isabel, you'll have to give your statement to someone tomorrow. I think I'll assign TJ to this case." Seeing Kermit's scowl, he explained. "He wasn't here, so isn't involved. We'll all be giving our statements."

Kermit sighed and nodded. "What are you going to tell them when they call to find out where we are?"

Paul smiled. "I'm going to tell them to go take a hike. We've retired from that line of work and them sending someone who assaults one of my people for no good reason other than bad manners is as good as a pink slip, as far as I'm concerned, don't you agree?"

Kermit looked surprised, then almost smiled as he nodded. "Works for me, boss." His expression turned somber as he turned his attention back to Isabel. "Shall we go?"

She tried to smile, but her cut and swelling lip reminded her and she winced instead. "Yes. Let me get my purse and I'll be ready."

Paul watched the solicitous way Kermit held her hand as she stood and the way he positively hovered as he escorted her out. Shaking his head, he leaned back in his chair and stretched. With Kermit getting ready to settle down with his lady, it was a good time to tell their former and occasionally not-so-former masters that their retirements were permanent. For himself, he was getting too old for it. He wanted to stay home with his beloved wife and family. After all, he was a grandfather twice over, his youngest was in college, and if he really wanted to, he could retire completely...IF he wanted to.

For Kermit, though, it wasn't quite so easy. He still had...issues. But right now, he had the perfect reason to permanently cut off that part of his past. Two perfect reasons. And he hoped his friend would do just that. Grimes had done them a favor, really. By striking and hurting Kermit's lady, he'd maybe helped sever that old tie. At least, he hoped so.

Two stitches in her lip, but the bloody nose was just that, thank goodness. The lip was impossible to bandage, and she constantly wanted to touch the wound with her tongue, but fought off the urge. The local wore off quickly and it hurt. Now that the adrenaline rush had ended, she felt the pain, and she wanted to just lie down in a warm, dark corner and sleep until she healed. Which was not, unfortunately, possible. She was glad that the captain had given them the rest of the day off, however.

Kermit watched her pensively as she leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. She looked tired, and her lip was badly swollen, despite the icepack. Her nose was almost back to normal, already, but still a little pink. As he waited for the light to turn green, his gorge again rose and he had to fight the almost overwhelming urge to go and maim Grimes. Then he'd look at Isabel again and his ire would ease. To his surprise, he'd rather comfort her than commit mayhem on Grimes. Besides, it was getting harder and harder to find good hiding places for the bodies. At that thought, he almost smirked. He'd have to go and have a chat with Grimes, he decided. It definitely wouldn't do for anyone to get the idea that his lady was in any way a target.

"I'm sorry," Isabel softly spoke.

Kermit glanced over at her. She had her eyes closed and a worried expression on her face. "You don't have anything to be sorry for."

She shook her head. "I should have seen it coming and ducked."

Kermit couldn't help but chuckle. "In a police station? In the detective division?" He shook his head. "Only a fool or an idiot would do that."

She rolled her head to the side and cracked open her eyes. "And which one was he?"

Kermit's moment of humor vanished. "Both, I suspect."

Isabel sighed. "How am I going to explain this to Abby?"

"Just tell her the truth." He turned pensive and then softly offered, "How about I order us in something delivered for dinner, tonight?"

She smiled, and winced as the stitches pulled. "That would be nice. One thing, though, don't make me laugh or smile until the stitches come out, okay?"

He grimaced, "I'll do my best not to. If I do, just stomp on my foot to remind me, okay?"

Just the corners of her lips turned up. "Okay."

Abby was surprised to arrive home and find her mother already there. But she was lying down in her room and Mr. Kermit was sleeping on the sofa. Frowning, she made some noise, which woke their visitor, who sat up.

"Hey, Abby."

She looked towards her mother's open bedroom door. "What's wrong? Is mommy okay?"

Kermit sighed. "She will be. A man came to see the captain and thought he could just go into his office and make himself at home and your mom told him that he couldn't. He, uh, hit her and cut her lip."

Abby's eyes welled up with tears. "Was it my daddy?" she whispered. In her experience, the only man who ever hit her or her mother was her father.

"No. He's a man Captain Blaisdell and I know. He was very rude to your mom, who was just doing her job, keeping him out. She's going to be fine, though. But the doctors gave her something to make it not hurt so much and it made her real sleepy." He could see how upset the child was and opened his arms, "Can I have a hug, please?"

Usually, it was Abby asking for hugs and reassurances. He forestalled her agitation with his request. She nodded and came into his arms, where he lifted her into his lap, her arms around his neck and they sat, hugging one another for comfort.

Despite the circumstances, Kermit found that holding and hugging this little girl did wonders for his mood. All the rage he'd felt towards Grimes just dissipated. He was still upset that Isabel had been hurt, but now his attention was on comforting, rather than revenge.

And he recognized the change in himself and accepted it.

He changed his mind about ordering in food and instead got Abby to help him make a pot of stew. At eight, now, she was old enough to be allowed to help cook. He set her to work washing the vegetables while he wielded the knife, cutting the meat into small chunks and slicing the vegetables while the meat seared. By the time the painkillers wore off and Isabel awoke, the apartment was filled with the wonderful smell of stew.

She awoke and stretched, feeling the swelling on her lip and nose from the earlier blow and sighed. Sniffing the air, however, she could tell that something very tasty was simmering away on the stove. She stood and paused in the bathroom. Seeing her face in the mirror, she winced. With a sigh, she opened the medicine cabinet and took out the infamous blue and yellow tube and applied some of the ointment to her bruised and swollen face. Then she washed her hands and walked out into the living room.

Despite the pain, she smiled. Kermit was stretched out on the sofa, with Abby beside him, book fallen to the floor, and their kitten, Froggie, now an adolescent, curled up atop Kermit's hip. She couldn't help but envy her daughter's position, cradled in his arms, though.

She slipped over to the sofa and knelt down beside the sleepers. She just watched them for a time, content to be close. After a bit, she shifted so she could lean against the sofa and eventually, her head came to rest against her daughter's back and she fell back asleep.

When Kermit's inner timer went off, he awoke and sat up, carefully avoiding waking Abby. He was surprised to find Isabel sitting on the floor and gently touched her cheek, awakening her.

"You okay?" he softly asked.

"I will be." She smiled sleepily, and winced as the stitches pulled. "Something smells good."

Kermit smiled and offered her his hands. She took hold and he gently helped her to her feet. He noticed that she was favoring her left shoulder a bit, but considering she'd been bounced off of Paul's door, that wasn't really surprising. He hoped that Grimes was still hurting from her blow.

Isabel looked down at her peacefully sleeping daughter. "Was she terribly upset?"

"A little. I kind of forestalled her by asking for a hug. Seemed to work."

"Good. Of course, she's not going to sleep tonight, but that's okay."

"Let me get dinner dished up and we can wake her up." He smiled and stood, giving her a gentle hug before going into the kitchen to serve dinner.

Isabel crouched down by the sofa and gently awoke her daughter. "Hi, sweetheart. Ready for some dinner?"

Abby stared at her bruised face and cut lip and her eyes filled with tears. "Are you okay, mommy?"

"Just a little bruised. I'll be fine. Can I have a hug?" She smiled slightly as her daughter sat up and slipped into her arms, giving her a hug. Isabel closed her eyes and sighed. "I'm okay, baby. And the man who hurt me is in jail. They arrested him for hitting me."

"He's lucky," Kermit growled as he came in to call them to the table. "If I'd been there...."

"He'd probably never would have had the chance to hit me. I know." She looked up at him and smirked. "But I'm just as glad that Sergeant Broderick was there to see what happened and arrest him. What's going to happen, now, though?"

Kermit grinned. "Now, he gets sent before a judge who will listen to Paul explain that Grimes has means to leave the country and he'll get remanded until his trial. Unfortunately, it's one of those borderline charges. It can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. I have no way of knowing what the DA will decide."

"Why was he here?"

Kermit's smile faded and he sighed. "Grimes is someone from my 'other' life. The one I can't tell you much about."

She looked concerned. "Oh, dear. Is this going to cause trouble for you and the captain?"

Kermit grinned again and shook his head. "I don't think so. Not after Paul tells them what Grimes did and to whom. He said it was as good as a pink slip." He gently stroked her unbruised cheek. "Besides, they wouldn't want either Paul or me to have to work with Grimes after this. And I assure you that Grimes didn't much like me before."

She tilted her head and looked at him. "And if he's smart, if he gets out, he should run far and fast, looking over his shoulder for a man in sunglasses?"

Kermit's grin faded again as he looked deeply into her eyes. He didn't wear his sunglasses when he was with her, for the most part, and she could read his every emotion, as he well knew. "If he runs and doesn't ever come back, I'll let him go. But if he ever comes back here, I won't make any promises."

He'd told her as much of his former life as he could, including the horrors and nastiness he'd done, and his friend Paul had been involved in as well. But unlike her ex-husband, it was only words. She'd never actually seen him in 'his world' as he called it. Looking deeply into his dark brown eyes now, however, she could see the spark of something very dangerous, and she smiled.

"Let him go. He'll go the rest of his life, wondering when and where you'll come for him, and that will be a better punishment than anything you could possibly devise."

Kermit blinked.

Then his expression turned pensive and slowly, he began to smile. "You know, I think I like the way you think, lady."

"You're telling me that the one day Blake and I are stuck in court is the day someone comes in and assaults your secretary?" Peter Caine was furious. What a rotten day to be stuck away from the station! He paused in his pacing in his foster father's office and his expression was grim. "And no one helped her?"

Paul sighed. He loved his volatile foster child, but there were times.... "There wasn't time. The three in the bullpen weren't looking that way, and only Broderick actually saw him strike her, and they all turned to watch her back him down and then take him out." He shrugged. "She was obviously listening when Kermit and I were trying to teach her some self defense." His lips quirked up a bit, "To be honest, I'd have liked to see her take out Grimes. He was always such a shithead."

"But how did you keep Kermit from killing the S.O.B.?"

Paul sighed. "Because I outrank him. And he respects me." There was a note of chiding in his voice that Peter picked up on, which made him blush slightly.


"At any rate, Grimes has been arrested, and I imagine that by now he's gotten his phone calls, and...." The phone rang and Paul sighed. "Right on time. Go home, Peter. Tomorrow's another day." He lifted the handset of his phone and spoke, "Blaisdell."

Peter looked like he wanted to argue, but seeing the captain's glare and gesture to leave, he did. Damn! He missed all the fun.

"No." Paul leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on his desk. He was, surprisingly, enjoying this. "Grimes backhanded my secretary. My civilian secretary. No. Go right ahead; however, I wouldn't advise it. Why? Simple. The lady Grimes struck happens to be someone Griffin cares about." His amusement vanished and he sat up, bringing his feet to the floor with a thump. "You go right ahead and try it. I'm warning you right now that 'mercenary rules' will apply. Anything, and I mean 'anything' happens to her or her daughter, you won't be able to find a hole deep enough to hide in. Grimes blew it. He attacked a civilian in my office, in front of witnesses. I don't care how much you think you need me, his actions have put paid to either Griffin or me ever working for you again, in any capacity." He listened and shook his head. "I don't care. When he attacked her for doing her job, he severed all loyalty we may have felt. What did she do to make him hit her?" He could barely contain his rage. "She refused to let him wait for me in my office. He didn't identify himself, she didn't know him, and he thought that he could do as he wished. Well, he's cooling his heels in a holding cell, and if you ever want to see him again, I suggest you find him a good lawyer." He stood, too agitated to remain seated. "This terminates Griffin's and my involvement with you. I suggest that in future, you be a bit more considerate to the real world, or else just stay under your rock and leave it to people who understand, to handle things." And with that, he gently hung up the phone. Shaking, he scrubbed both hands over his face and back through his hair. If they contacted Kermit.... He'd better figure out a good place to hide the bodies. Just in case.

Kermit was getting ready to go to his own apartment after Abby went to bed, but Isabel stopped him. He looked at her, concern in his eyes.

"I know that we agreed that we wouldn't spend the night together, but please, stay?"

He realized why and nodded. "I'll sleep on the sofa. Let me go change into sweats, okay? I'll be right back."

She wrapped her arms around herself and nodded. He smiled gently and gave her a hug. "I'll be right back."

When he returned five minutes later, she had covered the sofa with sheets and blankets and a pillow. He engaged the deadbolt and took her into his arms and just held her for a time, until she stopped shaking. Then he released her and she gave him a wan smile.

"Thank you," she whispered, "Good night."

"Good night." He watched as she went into Abby's room to check on her and then made her way to her own room. She didn't close the door, and with a shrug, Kermit turned off the lights and kicked off his shoes. He sat on the sofa, fluffed his pillow, and stretched out, pulling the covers over himself and settling down to sleep.

Too many years of training had him awake in an instant. He didn't move as he listened for whatever it was that had alerted him. Then he heard it again. A soft sniffle. He sat up and looked towards the sound. Abby.

He slid off the sofa, not even disturbing the covers, and approached the crying child. "Abby? It's all right, sweetheart."

The child jumped at the sound of his voice, and then tentatively whispered, "Mr. Kermit?"

"That's right, honey. It's okay." He drew closer and gently lifted her into his arms. "See? I'm here to make sure nothing bad happens. What woke you up?"

"Bad dreams." She craned her neck to look towards her mother's door. "Can I go see mommy?"

"Sure, sweetheart. We can go see her." He moved silently towards Isabel's open door and paused. In the dim ambient light, he could see that Isabel was dreaming, and by the stifled sounds she was making, that it was probably more a memory of her ex's abuse or a nightmare than a dream.

"Isabel?" he softly called, not wanting to startle her awake. "Isabel, Abby's had a bad dream."

She awoke and sat up with a gasp. "What?" she asked in confusion.

"Mommy? I had a bad dream." Abby whispered, as though afraid that her nightmare might have been real.

Still more asleep than awake, Isabel stared at the figures in her doorway. "Abby? Are you all right, baby?"

"Yes, mommy. Mr. Kermit's here. He won't let the bad dreams come," the child said confidently.

"Kermit?" Isabel asked in confusion.

"Right here. You looked like you weren't having a very good dream."

Isabel sighed. "I wasn't. Thank you for waking me."

"Thank Abby. She's the one who woke up." Now that she was awake, Kermit approached the bed and placed the reaching Abby in her mother's arms. He started to turn to go back to his sofa when Isabel's next words stopped him.

"Please don't go."

He turned back and stared at her. "Are you sure?"

"Abby's right. You won't let the bad dreams come."

Kermit nodded, understanding. Approaching the bed, he eased down beside his ladies, intending to sleep atop the covers, but Abby lifted them for him. He hesitated a moment, staring into Isabel's eyes. Seeing her tremble, he nodded and slid into bed beside her and took both mother and daughter into his arms. He closed his eyes, just to feel them closer. There was nothing sexual, merely offering and accepting comfort; and it felt wonderful.

When he next awoke, it was to find Isabel spooned up in front of him, with Abby in her arms. His body was reacting to the close proximity and he shifted, planning on slipping away, but Isabel's hand on his encircling arm tightened. "Please stay."

"Isabel," he began.

"We can put Abby back in her own room. Please, Kermit?"

It was so tempting. For a moment, he was going to agree. After all, it had been her decision to not have a sexual relationship, not his. For a moment, his inner cad rejoiced in the pleading tone in her voice, but then Paul's wise counsel spoke, 'that's a nice lady, Kermit. Don't blow it...you've always gone for flash over substance... don't blow this...'

"I can't. I can't take advantage of you when you're this vulnerable." He gently kissed her cheek and slipped from the bed to make his way back to the cold sofa.

A few minutes later, Isabel came out of her bedroom. Kermit sat up. The clock on the VCR said it was almost four a.m. He stood and found his shoes and slipped them on. She came into his arms and he held her, neither saying a word for the longest time. Finally, she released him and looked up into his face. "Thank you for being strong when I wasn't."

He smiled, relieved. "You're welcome, fair lady." He thought for a moment. The night was nearly over, so he decided to remove himself from temptation. "Look, it's after four, I'm going to go back to my place for the rest of the night. You'll be okay, won't you?"

"Yes, thank you." She understood.

"Lock the door behind me."

She couldn't help the almost smile that would have been broader, but for the twinge of pain from the stitches. "Yes, sir." There was no mockery in her tone, only gratitude. She followed him to the door.

He opened the door and turned back. "I love you," he whispered and kissed her cheek, then turned away and waited to hear the deadbolt slide into place.

He heard her whispered 'I love you, too," just before the bolt slid home. Grinning, he crossed to the door to his apartment and unlocked it. He engaged the deadbolt and started for bed, hoping for another hour or two of sleep, when he saw the flashing light that indicated he had messages. With a sigh, he hit the play button. 'you have two messages. Six-twenty-eight, p.m. "Kermit, call me when you get home," Paul Blaisdell's voice demanded. With a sigh, he lifted the handset and hit the correct speed dial.


"Tell me I woke you up."

Paul chuckled. "As a matter of fact, you didn't."

Kermit winced. "Sorry to interrupt."

*"You didn't. How're your ladies?"*

Kermit sighed. "Sleeping, I hope. They each had a nightmare. I just got in, in fact." Paul didn't ask, and Kermit took that to mean that his friend didn't question his actions. "So, what was so important?"

*"I severed our ties, this evening. I got a call. I told them that they could call you, but not to expect an answer any different from mine. For me, I've got two grandkids to spoil, and as for you, I thought you might want to take this opportunity to get out from under once and for all."*

Kermit stopped breathing for a few moments as the words sank in. He glanced down at the still blinking light on his answering machine. It was, no doubt, his former masters, yanking his chain to come back to heel. And across the hall were two extremely valid reasons to bite through that chain once and for all. He grinned. "Oh, yeah," he softly replied. "Thanks. I think I have a message from them, and after today, I can't see any reason to ever go back."

*"I threatened to come after them if anything ever happens to either of your ladies. They know better than to try and come for us, Kermit. They know they'll be far better off to just cut their losses and delete our numbers from the system."* Paul waited tensely for his friend's reply.

"Thanks. I think you're right."

*"One last thing?"*

"What's that?" Kermit was feeling rather excited. Not that he was giving up the game, but that he was giving it up on his terms.

*"Don't you think it's time for you to ask that lovely lady to marry you?"*

Grinning ruefully, Kermit shook his head. His body was still reacting to how it had felt to be lying next to his lady, "Oh, yeah." How Paul knew things, he'd never know, but when he was right, the man was right. "Yeah, I think it is. Care to stand up for me?"

Paul chuckled "I'd be delighted, frog man."

"Thanks. Now to see if she'll say yes. Meanwhile, I doubt either of us will be on time, this morning. Kind of a rough night, if you know what I mean?"

*"I do. Go ahead and get some more sleep. I'll see you whenever you get in. Good night, Kermit."*

"Good night, Paul. Thanks." He cradled the phone, grinning. Yeah, it was time. He listened to the second message and smirked. He didn't bother to erase it, saving it for contingencies. Humming softly to himself, he headed for bed and another hour or two of sleep.

Paul hung up the phone and turned back to his wife's arms. "He agrees."

"I always knew he was smart," Annie replied, kissing him. "Now, where were we when he interrupted us?"

Paul chuckled. "Right about...here, I believe?"

"Mr. Grimes?"

He stood. "Yes?" he asked hopefully.

"My name is Kearns. I've been retained for your defense."

Grimes nodded, smiling. "Great. When do we leave?"

Kearns frowned. He was very slender, middle-aged, with graying light brown hair and enormous blue eyes. "I've read the police report."

Grimes waved that aside. "Don't worry about it. When do we go?"

"We don't go anywhere, except to court in a few hours for your arraignment. Whatever possessed you to assault a woman in the detective division, of all things? Is she your ex-wife, or something?"

Grimes stared at him. "I thought you were here to get me out?"

Kearns shook his head. "I was retained for your defense, and frankly, my best advice to you is to plead guilty and pray that they are feeling generous."

Grimes gaped, his jaw dropping in shock. "What?"

"Do you know yet how much damage you did to the woman?"

"Damage to her! What about what she did to me?"

Kearns frowned and glanced through his copy of the police report. "Ah, when you backed into the lady detective and jumped towards Ms. Wardleigh." He looked at his client. "I suspect she thought you were going to hit her again. What do you think?"

"What do I...? I think you should get me out of here, right now! Do you have any idea who I am?"

"Yes. You're Reginald Grimes, charged with assault and battery on the person of one Isabel Wardleigh, secretary to a precinct captain, one Paul Blaisdell." He leafed through his papers. "I don't seem to have her statement, yet. However, I do have the statements of the arresting officer, one Sergeant Broderick, who witnessed the attack, plus Chief of Detectives, Frank Strenlich, and detectives Skalaney and Powell. Admittedly, only Sgt. Broderick saw you actually strike her, but the other three all indicate that they turned to look in time to see her 'bounce off the captain's door'," Kearns looked mildly disgusted. "As I asked before, what were you thinking, assaulting a secretary in the detective division of a police station?" He looked at his client and began to wonder if a plea of diminished capacity might be in order.

Grimes was becoming more and more agitated. "Look, do you have any idea who I work for?"

"For whom. Yes, Mr. Grimes. I know perfectly well for whom you work. Who do you think retained my services? The problem is you assaulted this woman in her place of work and in front of witnesses. Very credible witnesses, I might add." He turned towards the door and signaled to be let out. "In case you haven't quite figured it out, yet," he turned to make very clear eye-contact, "They're cutting you loose to hang." And with that, Kearns left, leaving Grimes to gape after him in horror.

Kermit arrived just before eight, with Isabel. He was in what those who knew him best as his 'protective' mode. His eyes kept moving, seeking a threat that wasn't forthcoming. No one in their right mind would challenge him at this point. He got her to her desk and hovered, glaring at his coworkers, who basically ignored him.

Isabel, though secretly pleased, had to put a stop to his behavior before it got any further out of hand. She gently touched his arm and he spun to look at her. "Don't you have any work to do, detective?" she asked softly. He flushed, first in anger, then embarrassment, and there were few besides this woman who could have told the difference. Her smile, slight due to the stitches in her lip, informed him that she did, indeed, know. He dropped his head in defeat.

"Fine. If you need anything, just holler."

She slid her hand down his arm to his hand. "I need you in my life, Kermit. Thank you again."

He lifted his gaze to hers and slowly smiled. "Oh, yeah. Likewise." Nodding his understanding, he straightened up and headed for his own office. He had things to do and plans to make.

Paul had been watching them through the glass in his door and smiled. Standing, he crossed his office and opened the door. "Isabel, I need you to go talk to TJ. He'll be taking your statement."

"Yes, captain." She gave him an 'almost-smile' and stood to go and track down the detective in order to give her statement.

"You are charged with assault and battery in the second degree, how do you plead?"

Despite Kearns advice to the contrary, Grimes said "Not guilty."

The judge looked at the file before her and frowned. "I see." She looked at the DA. "Motions?"

"Your honor, the defendant is a visitor to our city and has known contacts capable of getting him out of the country at a moment's notice. We seek remand, your honor."

"For a misdemeanor?" The judge seemed surprised. "Mr. Kearns?"

Sighing, Kearns stood. "No objection, your honor." Grimes stared at him in horror.

"What?" he hissed, as Kearns sat beside him. "Are you out of your mind?"

Kearns frowned at his client. "No. My job is to keep your employers out of this. It would have been much easier on all concerned if you'd simply pled guilty, paid the fines and gotten probation. But you have to make it into a circus. If you'd prefer to retain your own counsel, be my guest."

Grimes was remanded and a court date set for one week hence. He fumed all the way back to his cell. He knew a few favors to call in, and intended to do so.

Kearns sighed in relief as he placed his dismissal papers in his briefcase and made his way to the 101st precinct. He announced himself and got an escort up to the detective division and the captain's office. He winced upon seeing the face of the secretary. "My name is Kearns, and I'd like to speak to Captain Blaisdell, if he's free?"

"Yes, he mentioned that you were coming. He said you could go right in. Will you be wanting to see Mr. Griffin, as well?"

Kearns seemed surprised. "Kermit's here?"

"Yes. Shall I ask him to join you?"

Kearns smiled at her. "Yes, thank you, my dear." And with that, he turned, tapped once on the glass of the door, and entered the captain's office.

Using it as an excuse, Isabel stood up and went over to Kermit's office, knocked twice and then opened the door. Kermit was scowling as he turned towards her, but his expression cleared immediately upon seeing her.

"To what do I owe this lovely interruption?" He turned completely from his computer and focused totally on her.

"A Mr. Kearns is in with the captain. They'd like you to join them."

Kermit's scowl returned. "Kearns? A little taller than me, thin, with light brown hair turning gray, almost straight, parted on the left, big blue eyes with luggage?"

"And the captain's age, maybe a bit older, or at least a lot more booze, but yes."

"Son of a bitch!" Kermit jumped up and Isabel quickly got out of his way, following quietly in confusion.

"Sit down, Dick. I'm rather surprised they sent you up here on this."

Dick Kearns smiled. "Well, I needed a break. I heard about how you responded to the call."

Paul was relaxed. He hadn't stood or offered to shake Kearns' hand when he came in, and Kearns hadn't taken offense and simply sat down.

"Well, I'm getting a little old for the game. And Kermit's finally ready to settle down, I think."

Kearns laughed. "Oh, come on. That loose cannon? I don't see how you can keep him from killing every other suspect. For that matter, I'm surprised Grimes is still alive, considering that your secretary is reportedly his current lover? She's not his usual type, is she?"

Paul shook his head. "I'd be very...." He was interrupted by his office door bursting open and Kermit entering and slamming it behind him. Paul watched as Kearns jumped and paled even more than his fair complexion normally was as he stared at what was obviously a very irate Kermit Griffin.

"What the hell are you doing here, Kearns? Trying to get that piece of slimy excrement out on bail so you can spirit him away again?" Kermit loomed over the seated Kearns, weight forward, hands balled into fists and the flush of fury on his face.

Kearns blinked and looked past Kermit to Paul and raised an eyebrow. "Oh. I see."

Kermit slammed his fists onto the arms of Kearns' chair. "Yeah? Just what do you think you see?"

Too late, Kearns realized his mistake, but he'd been in the game a very long time. Much longer than Griffin. He'd not been on the front lines, like Kermit and Paul had been. He was much more the behind-the-scenes puppet master. He stared up into Kermit's sunglasses and nodded. "I see that you have both, indeed, retired." He smiled when Griffin deflated and backed away, a puzzled expression on his sunglassed face.

Kearns stood and turned to Paul. He shook his head and smiled. "Congratulations." Glancing at Kermit, he shook his head again. "If anyone would have told me that he could be housebroken, I'd have laughed and called them a liar."

Paul smiled back. "Who says he's housebroken?" he asked mildly.

Kearns looked surprised and turned his attention back to the glowering Griffin. "I see what you mean." He bent to pick up his briefcase. "I came as a courtesy. Grimes has 'fired' me as his counsel and will be paying for his own attorney. I advised him to plead guilty, as his witnesses are all police officers and I can't see him getting off, unless he manages to plea diminished capacity, which is even worse, in his line of work." He turned his attention to Kermit. "And thank you for not killing him."

Kermit gave him one of his shark-like grins. "Isabel gave me a wonderful suggestion on how to deal with Mr. Grimes."

Kearns' smile faded. "I see. You're well suited, then, I take it?" He glanced at Paul for corroboration, and got only a bland expression that told him nothing. "Of course, I should have known. You'd only want your own kind around you. I think I noticed old Shaky Blake out there, as well? Where'd you recruit the woman from? I don't recognize her."

"You wouldn't. She came by way of a husband who thought it was 'fun' to play Russian roulette with a four-year-old girl."

Kearns looked aggrieved and looked at Kermit. "He's dead, I trust?"

"In prison. For other crimes and misdemeanors. I haven't ever seen the son-of-a-bitch."

"If he's lucky, you never will." Kearns sighed. "I wish you both the best. You'll be missed, but I think you're making the right decision. Not the one our...your former masters would prefer, but the one that's best for both of you. Congratulations."

Paul stood, and this time, when Kearns offered his hand, he shook it, as did Kermit. With a final smile, Kearns left.

"Why did that seem too easy?" Kermit asked.

Paul shook his head. "It wasn't. His masters will be very displeased with him."

"But he can handle it?"

Paul smiled sadly. "Oh, yeah."

"Ms. Wardleigh, thank you for your assistance."

"You're welcome Mr. Kearns. Will you be coming back?"

Kearns smiled. "No, I don't think so. So I'll have to continue to wonder how on earth you managed to tame Griffin."

Isabel giggled, softly. "Whatever makes you think he's 'tame', Mr. Kearns?"

Kearns nodded. Yes, they were well suited, amazingly enough. "I wish you both the best, Ms. Wardleigh."

"Thank you, Mr. Kearns." She watched him cross the bullpen and pause by Detective Blake's desk, who looked up at him with recognition. Smiling, she returned to her proofreading of the reports.

"Hello, Shaky."

"Hello, Dicky. Been a long time." Blake looked up at the older man and thought how the booze had aged him. The man wasn't all that much older than Paul, but looked a good decade beyond his sixty years.

"Not long enough, you probably think."

Blake shook his head. "I don't mind seeing you again. Some of the others, now...."

Kearns hung his head. "But I was one of those 'others'."

"Not at heart, Dick. That's why you drink so much. To dull your conscience so you can keep on doing what it is that you do. You here to rescue Grimes?"

Kearns smiled. "No. I came to try and get him to plead guilty to the second degree assault and battery. He insisted on pleading not guilty. He'll be going to jail. Up to a year for each charge, isn't it?"

"Yes. He only bloodied her nose and split her lip. Nothing broken, nothing permanently damaged." Blake sighed. "Wish I could have seen her take him out, though."

"You, me, Blaisdell, and Griffin," Kearns fervently agreed.

Blake chuckled. "She's an amazing lady."

"She must be to have tamed down Griffin." He couldn't help himself, he kept fishing.

Blake looked up at him in surprise. "What makes you think he's tame? He's like a... leopard. You may be able to train him to obey, but he'll always be a wild animal. Isabel accepts Kermit as-is. She doesn't want or expect him to change. And her little girl has us all wrapped around her little finger, and doesn't take advantage of it. Add to that that she's a smart lady who knows her business and does her job well...it's no wonder that we all like her."

"She sounds like an amazing woman. She really took down Grimes?"

Blake sighed. "I was in court. Ask Broderick. He's the desk sergeant downstairs. He actually saw him hit her." He glanced around, "Or Mary Margaret. Dark haired lady over at Isabel's desk."

Kearns considered it for a moment, then saw both Griffin and Blaisdell watching him from the office and changed his mind. "That's all right, thanks anyway. I read the reports. It was good to see you again."

"It was okay seeing you, too." Blake watched as Kearns left the squad room and shook his head before returning to the delicate electrical work he'd been doing.

"Hey, lady. How's about I take you away from all this?"

Isabel looked up to see Kermit lounging in the doorway to the captain's office. "Sounds lovely. Where would you like to go?"

"Oh, I don't know. The Caribbean? Azores? Canary Islands? Greece? Australia?" He was grinning.

Isabel frowned, wondering what was up with him. "Uh, right. How about the deli?"

"How about something a little more upscale?"

She looked at the clock and back at him, a little uncertain. "Like?"

"Oh, how about Cherchez?"

She blinked. "For lunch?"

"Yeah. Nice little table for two, outstanding cuisine...how about it?"

"Right now?"

"Yeah. Before I lose my nerve. Come on."

She saw Paul standing in his office doorway behind Kermit and he smiled and nodded. "All right. Let me get my purse and sweater."

Kermit rubbed his hands together. "Excellent." He hurried to his office and returned less than a minute later with his leather jacket on. Isabel took his arm and they walked out. Blake sat back, watching as Paul came to stand beside him.

"They look good together, don't they, Paul?"

"They look very good together, Dexter."

"Where's he taking her for lunch?"


"Really?" Blake had a moment of surprise and then grinned. "Good for him! I hope she says yes."

"You hope who says yes?" Mary Margaret Skalaney asked, joining them.

"We'll just have to wait and see," Paul agreed, returning to his office.

Mary Margaret scowled and looked from one man to the other. Blake was tinkering with some miniaturized piece of electronic equipment and didn't even look up. "Come on, guys, who? Say yes to what?" She looked down at Blake and back to the captain. "Guys? Come on, guys?"

To her surprise, Kermit stopped by the school to pick up Abby to join them for lunch. This was certainly out of the ordinary. Abby was just as curious as she was, only she, at eight, didn't feel the constraints of having to not ask questions; but even she was somewhat cowed by the daunting edifice and sumptuous dcor. They had reservations, much to Isabel's surprise.

"I hope you don't mind, but I called our order in ahead, so we won't be so late getting back."

That had concerned Isabel. "That's fine." She was surprised that there was wine to go with their lunch. And the food was even better than she had imagined it would be. After they'd finished eating and were sitting over coffee for the adults and chocolate milk for Abby, Kermit cleared his throat. Instantly, both ladies were looking at him and Kermit flashed back to the previous year when he'd first invited them to the county fair.

"I, uh, have something to ask you both." He began a bit hesitantly. He took a deep breath and reached into his pocket. "I realized last night, that we've gone beyond just being friends and neighbors." He gazed into Isabel's eyes and saw surprise and...hope?

"I, uh, was thinking, if it's all right with both of you, that I'd like a more...active and permanent role in your family."

Abby frowned, not quite understanding. "I don't get it."

"I think he's asking if I'll marry him, Abby." Isabel's voice was very soft and uncertain.

"Yeah, I am." He looked at Abby, "Would you like me to be part of your family, Abby?"

"Would you be my daddy?"

"I'd be your step-father, but yes. I'd like to try."

"You love us?"

Kermit smiled. "Very much."

Abby looked at her mom. "I wish Mr. Kermit was my daddy, instead of my real daddy. He doesn't hurt us, and he's nice, and he doesn't hit or yell."

"But I have a big gun."

Abby scowled at him. "But you're a p'liceman. P'licemen gotta have a gun to stop the bad men from hurting people."

Isabel was trying hard not to cry. Since her lower lip had the stitches, she sucked her upper lip between her teeth. "Are you sure, Frog man?"

He gazed into her eyes and nodded, blinking to keep back the moisture. "Oh, yeah."

"We'd love to be your family, then. Wouldn't we, Abby?"

"Yes, mommy."

Suddenly, there was oxygen in the air again and Kermit took a deep breath and held out his hand, which contained a small velvet box. He opened it and took out an obviously antique ring. "This was my grandmother's. I'd like you to have it." To his credit, he'd never offered that particular piece of jewelry to any of his former wives. Perhaps he'd somehow known that they weren't worthy of the honor of his Nana's ring. But Isabel was. He took the ring and gently placed it on her left ring finger. Amazingly, it was a perfect fit. Isabel looked down at the ring and gasped.

"It's beautiful, Kermit. I'll be very careful with it."

"I love you, Isabel. And you, too, Abby." In fact, he'd first fallen in love with the child, and then her mother. But it was a different kind of love. He glanced at his watch and sighed. "Unfortunately, as much as I'd rather spend the rest of the day with you, I need to get us back to work and you back to school, munchkin." But he was smiling as he rose. He dropped a hundred dollar bill on the table and escorted his ladies out. The waitress, upon seeing the huge tip smiled happily and wished them a great afternoon.

Abby was only a little late getting back to school. And when they got back to the precinct, no one seemed to notice they'd been gone particularly long. Neither of them made the announcement, although Paul did come out of his office, glanced down at her left hand and went back to his desk, grinning.

The afternoon just flew by and when it was time to go home, they walked out together, holding hands.

Mary Margaret stared. She was positive that Isabel hadn't been wearing that huge diamond ring that morning. And she was actually holding hands with Kermit. Sensing someone close by, she turned to see Paul looking at her.

"Something wrong, Skalaney?"

"Did I see what I think I saw?"

"And just what did you think you saw?"

"A huge diamond ring on your secretary's left hand, which was being held very nicely by our resident spooky computer hacker?"

Paul nodded. "I think you may well be correct, detective. So?"

She just gaped, while the other detectives still in the squad room shamelessly eavesdropped. "When did he ask her to marry him?"

"I suggest you ask them, Mary Margaret." He looked at the rest of the people in the squad room. "And I suggest that there be no unseemly rumors spread about?"

There were a chorus of 'yes, sirs,' and Paul smiled benignly and returned to his office.

To celebrate, Kermit offered to cook for 'my ladies', as he called them. Much to said ladies' amusement and delight. He'd prepared for this day by purchasing the ingredients a day or two before. To a covered casserole dish, he placed a wild rice mixture and added the appropriate amount of water. Then he sliced two lemons in half and squeezed the juice into the water covering the rice. Some butter and some frozen fish fillets, on went the lid, and into the oven. When the rice and fish were nearly cooked, he put some fresh asparagus on to steam. Then he served their dinner and sat quietly as Isabel said Grace. To his surprise, she thanked God for bringing Kermit into their lives and hearts. It had never occurred to him that he was anyone to be thankful for, but he knew that she was honest in her beliefs. And it gave him a funny feeling inside that someone should ever be grateful for him.

Abby looked doubtfully at the fish and rice, but took a tentative bite and smiled. Isabel sighed in relief that her finicky daughter always seemed to like whatever Kermit cooked up. After dinner, he helped with the dishes, even though Isabel told him he didn't have to.

"I know I don't 'have' to. I just want to, okay? I'll wash, you dry."

"All right." He wasn't overbearing about it, but it was a little hard, still, to get used to a man who not only cooked, but cleaned. Her ex would never think to offer, let alone do anything. It was just another reminder of how different the two men were. And how lucky...no, blessed, she was to have had him come into their lives. Up until the previous night, she'd felt perfectly safe ever since she'd met him.

She glanced down at her left hand and shivered.

They watched some television together and then Kermit read a story to Abby and after they both kissed her good night and tucked her into bed with her two gigantic stuffed frogs, they returned to the living room to discuss the particulars of their upcoming nuptials.

"I've got a sister and her two kids. That's all the real family I have left. And I asked Paul to stand up for me. Who do you have to invite?"

"I've got a cousin, but we aren't really that close. My parents are gone, and my sister won't speak to me." She sighed. "How about our shared 'family' at the station? I've got a few friends I made at the city offices I'd like to invite. Maybe ask Patti to be my maid of honor? How big do you want this?"

Kermit thought about it. "Personally, I'd like something small and not too ostentatious. But it's your wedding, too. What do you want?"

"I want it in my church."

"All right."

She smiled and leaned against his shoulder. He'd taken to attending church with them, even though she wasn't certain he actually believed, still, it was important to her, and he at least accepted its importance and didn't put her down about it. She just hoped that her pastor didn't get too upset and tell her that they shouldn't marry because he wasn't a believer. Silently, she prayed that he would become one, because she didn't think she could ever love anyone as much as she loved him.

"I used to believe, you know?"

Hearing him speak on what she'd just been praying about startled her. She moved her head to look up at him. "You did?"

"Yeah. I remember praying that my mom not die until I got home from 'Nam. Then I prayed I could keep my brother and sister, but they went to live with my aunt, and finally, I prayed that David wouldn't die. Then I stopped praying."

There was such pain in him. She sat up and shifted so she could wrap her arms around him. "Sometimes, when we think our prayers aren't answered, we have to realize that the answer is 'no'. We may never know why, but it's like with Abby. Sometimes, she asks for things or to be allowed to do something and I say 'no'. It's not because I don't love her, but because I do. When she has to have shots, she screams and cries, because it hurts, but then afterwards, she wants to be held and reassured. God's kind of like that. There are a lot of terrible things that happen. And I've learned that when they do, I can lean on God to get me through. Even Mark."

Kermit's arms tightened around her. "I love you."

"I know. And I love you. And I'm still having a hard time believing it's all real." She hugged him, hard, and then kissed him. "So, how long do you want to wait before we get married?"

"Well, it takes about two weeks for the blood tests and the license...."

"Kermit, that's too soon!"

He chuckled. "Pick a day, then. Just not Valentine's, okay?"

"You got married before on Valentine's day?"

He sighed. "Yeah, my first. And the last one was on April first, so that when it went bad we could just tell people 'April fools!' and pretend it didn't hurt like hell to have failed again."

"It takes a lot of work to make a marriage work. We've already got a pretty good relationship going, although, I do think that we seem to agree on an awful lot of things."

"So we have a similar philosophy. That's good, isn't it?"

She snuggled into his arms. "Oh, yeah. That's very good."

They cuddled and talked for a while longer and then Kermit reluctantly rose to return to his own apartment.

"Good night, Isabel," he softly murmured as he kissed her good night.

"Good night, Kermit," Isabel replied as she released him and closed and dead bolted the door behind him. She sighed and leaned against the door, looking forward to his not having to leave, ever again.

At nine-thirty the next morning, Isabel looked up when Kelly Blake breezed in. She stood and blocked the blond woman's way to the captain's office.

"I have an appointment!" Kelly huffed in annoyance.

"Your appointment was at eight o'clock. It's now nine-thirty and Captain Blaisdell isn't in."

Kelly sneered. "Oh, come on. Don't give me that." She waited for Isabel to move and when she didn't, she huffed in annoyance and looked her up and down. "I heard the toad is going to marry you. Guess that makes you Miss Piggy." She snorted a nasty little laugh and gloated as Isabel first paled and then flushed scarlet.

"You can call me all the names you want, but it's still not getting you in to see the captain. If you can't arrive on time for an appointment, that's your problem, not mine. The captain waited until eight-thirty and then left for his meeting with the commissioner and the other division captains. If you'd like to reschedule your appointment, I'll be happy to give you another chance, but if you don't show up, I doubt you'll ever get another."

Kelly stamped her foot in rage. "Just who the fuck do you think you are, Miss Piggy? I'll wait for the captain, and if he's in that office, you're going to be in so much trouble!" She shoved Isabel aside and strode to the door of the captain's office. To her surprise, the door was locked. She spun back to confront Isabel, only to find that Captain Blaisdell, as well as the police commissioner, and her own captain of Vice had come in. Not realizing that they were aware of anything that had gone on, she smiled.

"There you are, Paul," she practically simpered. Paul didn't return her smile, in fact, his frown deepened into a scowl. He glanced over at the Vice captain.

"You can see what I'm talking about, Mike." He looked at Isabel and frowned. "Are you all right, Ms. Wardleigh?"

"I'm fine, captain," Isabel replied, rubbing her hip where the shove from Kelly Blake had bounced her into the corner of her desk.

Paul turned to his colleagues. "Either you do something, or I'll file formal charges."

Mike shook his head. "Detective Blake, what are you doing here?"

Kelly's smile dimmed. "Uh, I wanted to talk to Paul about his... something."

"Ms. Blake, you do not know me well enough to call me by my first name. It's Captain Blaisdell to you, and it always has been. If you think that pushing my secretary around is going to go unnoticed, think again."

"Besides which," Commissioner Simms growled, "All three of us saw you push Ms. Wardleigh, and we heard what you said, as well."

Kelly didn't even blink. She straightened up and sneered. "I'm entitled to my opinion."

Paul growled. "Ten seconds." He spun on his heel and headed to the closed door of Detective Griffin's office. He tapped once and opened the door.

"Kermit, would you like to explain to Kelly Blake why it's not a good idea to call Isabel 'Miss Piggy'?"

Kermit, who had been engrossed in what he'd been doing, looked up in surprise. "She called her what?"

"She referred to you as a toad, and called Isabel Miss Piggy. Twice. I think that perhaps you should be involved. I have Mike Davis from Vice, and Commissioner Simms, who heard her as well. And we also saw her push Isabel into her desk. She's probably got a pretty good bruise forming on her hip. She says she's fine, but she's a little embarrassed."

"Where's Peter?"

"Court with Blake, again."

Kermit growled and stood up. Paul turned and stalked back to the group by his office, with Kermit close behind him.

Seeing the look on Kermit's face, even behind the shades, Kelly finally realized that she just might be in trouble. She straightened up and her chin jutted belligerently. Mike Davis shook his head.

"Blake, do you have any official reason to be here?"

"I wanted to talk to Captain Blaisdell."

"Does it involve a case you're working on?"

"No, but,"

"Does it involve a police matter?"

"Well, no, but,"

"If it was personal, then you should talk to him away from the department, and on your own time."

Kelly flushed with anger. "But what about Peter?"

Captain Davis, having heard all about it from Blaisdell and Simms, wasn't happy. "What about him? He broke up with you. So what? It happened months ago, and you're still hassling him. If they wanted to, you could be charged with harassment and stalking. My advice to you is to cut your losses and stick to your own bailiwick. If I hear of you hanging around here or that you're continuing your behavior, I'll be forced to suspend you. And if I even hear of you calling anyone from this precinct, I'll suspend you. Do you understand?"

Mike was glaring. He'd only taken charge of the Vice Squad a week earlier and was still learning everyone's names. To have both the commissioner and a fellow captain on his case already wasn't going to make this transition any easier. That and the fact that he'd come from another city, which made it hard for him with his subordinates. And he'd heard things about Kelly Blake from others even before he'd gone to this meeting. He looked hard at Kelly.

"Detective Blake, are you working a sting operation today?"

"No. Why?" Kelly's cheeks were still burning and she was about ready to lose her temper.

"Because unless you're going out on the streets to try and make solicitation arrests, I don't find your attire acceptable for work. Surely you don't go to court dressed like that?" If he was going to start laying out the ground rules, he might as well go all the way.

Kelly looked confused and glanced down at herself. "What do you mean?"

Simms had to stifle a giggle, while Paul turned to Kermit to hide his smile. Kermit was still too angry to find any of this to be amusing.

"I mean that a woman your age, dressed in a plastic micro-mini, with fishnet stockings, visible garter belt, spike heels, crop top and matching plastic bolero jacket looks more like a suspect than a cop, to me. And I'm sure that most civilians would agree." Mike's voice was perfectly reasonable, but Kelly was shocked, not to mention, furious.

"What do you mean 'a woman my age'?"

No one said anything for the longest moment, until Kermit took a step closer to Kelly and softly said, "I'd be more careful about who I called 'Miss Piggy', if I were you."

Paul coughed to hide his laugh, while Simms bit her lips to keep from grinning and Davis simply nodded. "Going a little soft around the middle, I think."

"Oh, yeah. And her ankles are starting to look a little thick," Kermit agreed.

Kelly sucked in a breath in shock. "What the hell do you mean?"

Captain Davis scowled. "Detective, you're about one comment away from insubordination. I suggest you get to work, and since I know that your shift was supposed to have started at seven, you're going to have to take leave for the time you've missed. You work for me, not yourself. You no longer get to set your own hours. I want to see you in my office every morning at eight-oh-five. If you're not there, I'll dock you two hours every single day. I also expect you to dress professionally unless you're actively participating in a sting operation. Do I make myself clear?"

Mike Davis was a big man. Well over six feet in height, and built like the fullback he'd been a dozen years before when in college. He'd become a cop because he'd wanted to make a difference. He'd transferred to Sloanville because his wife had been offered an excellent job, and he was able to buy a house with a big yard. In fact, he lived just a block or so from Captain Blaisdell. He might be new to this city, but he wasn't new to police work, nor to supervision. While Vice wouldn't ever be his choice of jobs, it was the one they gave him, and he was determined to make the most of it. And in just the week he'd been here he'd understood why they'd wanted him.

And he was looking at one of the reasons they needed him.

"Ms. Blake, are you waiting for an engraved invitation?"

Kelly, realizing that absolutely nothing was going her way, huffed and started to push her way between the two captains.

"Excuse me?" A new voice interrupted.

Everyone focused on the two women who'd just arrived.

"Yes? Can I help you?" Paul asked.

"Captain Blaisdell?" The shorter woman asked, glancing down at a small spiral-bound notebook.

"Yes, I'm Blaisdell." Paul frowned, wondering 'now what?'

"Yes, sir. I'm Belinda Martinez, and this is my partner, Sadie Hawkins. We're from Internal Affairs."

Paul glanced at the commissioner, who looked as puzzled as he felt. "Yes?" He focused on Martinez, as the spokesperson.

"I'm looking for Peter Caine."

Paul frowned, a little worried. "He's in court today. May I ask what you need to see him about?"

"We've had reports that he's being harassed and wanted to talk to him about it."

Kelly Blake went as pale as her bleached blond hair. "Who say's he's being harassed?" she snarled.

The two IA officers turned their attention to her. "Who are you?" Martinez asked, frowning and wondering why a street walker had any business asking questions or making demands in a police station.

"Kelly Blake, and I,"

"Oh, good. We don't have to hunt you down," Hawkins interjected, smiling with delight, much to the other officers' discomfort.

Kelly's eyes widened. "What are you talking about? I'm not harassing him! He's harassing me!"

Martinez and Hawkins exchanged a look and turned back to their audience. The annoyance on the faces of the two captains and the commissioner were only obvious, the look on the detective with the sunglasses was not.

Martinez frowned. "Aren't you working out of Vice?"

"Yes, she is. I'm Captain Mike Davis, the new guy in charge. Could we speak privately for a moment so I can get up to speed on what exactly is going on, here?"

"Of course, Captain." Martinez looked around for a quiet corner and realized that every cop in the room was staring at them with varying degrees of curiosity and animosity. "If there's someplace we could go?"

"Use my office," Paul offered with a gesture.

Martinez nodded, "Thank you. Captain Davis?" And led the way to the office, opened the door and entered.

Kelly scowled. "How come it isn't still locked?"

"It obviously wasn't locked before," Paul said blandly as he smiled and cast a quick glance at his secretary, who had what could only be described as a soft smirk on her face. "Kermit, why don't you take my secretary out to lunch for me?"

Kermit turned his scowl from Kelly Blake to his superior. "Is that an order, sir?"

"No. Merely a suggestion. It's after twelve and I'm sure that Ms Wardleigh would like to at least get out and stretch her legs a bit."

"Yeah, she could use a little more height," Kelly Blake sneered.

Paul closed his eyes and dug the thumb and forefinger of his right hand into the sockets. "Please, Kermit. Don't make this any worse."

"I'd love to go to lunch, thank you. Come on, Kermit, let's go to the deli. Corned beef on rye, Captain?" Isabel had gotten her purse and was pulling on her sweater as she spoke. She was smiling, now, and totally ignored Kelly Blake's presence.

"Thank you. Let me," Paul started to reach for his wallet.

"I've got it, Paul," Kermit interrupted. He grinned, also ignoring Kelly Blake. He turned to Isabel. "Shall we go, my lady?"

Grinning, Isabel replied, "Yes, kind sir." As she stepped between Kelly Blake and the Captain's office, in order to get to where Kermit awaited, she 'accidentally' trod very firmly on one of Blake's pointy-shoed toes.

Isabel was moving just fast enough to be out of range when Kelly tried to shove her, and didn't bother to look back as the larger woman sat on the edge of the desk to lift her foot and look at the ugly scrape-mark Isabel had left behind, and the possibly broken toes within the thin leather.

Again, Paul turned his back on Blake and caught Sadie Hawkin's grin. "I imagine it was hell growing up with that name."

Hawkins grinned. "Not at all. Hawkins is my married name. And it doesn't bother me in the least."

Paul tilted his head to one side, slightly. "Dave Hawkins?"

Sadie looked surprised. "You know him?"

Paul grinned. "He's a good man, for a lawyer."

Sadie grinned. "He's a good man, period." She regarded him for a moment, frowning, and then her expression cleared. "Blaisdell, I think I remember him talking about you. Something about you and your son saving his life?"

"My foster son, Peter Caine. That was a long time ago."

Sadie nodded. "Six years. Thanks. We'd never have met if it weren't for you."

Paul grinned as he slid his hands into his pants pockets and slouched comfortably in place. "Well, it's always nice when the good guys win, I suppose."

Sadie nodded. "Yes, it is."

"How long have you been in IA, Mrs. Hawkins?" Karen Simms asked.

"Only six months. I was recruited when, well, you would know."

Karen Simms most certainly did know. When Paul had returned and all the shit had hit the fan over Peter Caine's having been forced out of the department, there had been quite a shake-up. Mike Davis was one of those recruited to correct the problems and corruption that had insidiously infiltrated to the highest levels. And to which she'd played right into the hands of those who were most involved. She'd been lucky, she knew, and if her smile at the woman from IA was a little reserved, at least it wasn't as sickly as Kelly Blake's was on overhearing them.

The door to Paul's office opened and Davis and Martinez exited. Davis's expression was cold and he was obviously annoyed. Martinez didn't look any happier. Davis looked at his detective.

"Ms. Blake, I'll have to ask you to turn in to me your gun and your badge."

Kelly's jaw dropped as well as her injured foot as she straightened up. "What?"

"As of this moment, you're on suspension for harassment and stalking. Pending resolution after a full investigation, you will be on suspension with pay. Now, if I might have your weapon and badge?"

"Who says I harassed or stalked Peter? Did that little shit file a complaint against me?" Her tone became strident as she lifted up her miniskirt to pull her gun from the holster on her inner thigh and slammed it down on the desk as she ripped open her purse to pull out her badge holder and slammed that down beside the gun. "Well he'd better look out, is all I can say. When I get a hold of him,"

"I suggest you not finish that sentence, Ms. Blake," Martinez interrupted. "Because if you do, we'll be forced to assume that you are, in fact, a danger to society and arrest you."

Kelly's eyes grew large and her complexion turned a rather interesting shade of plum. "You...you wouldn't dare!" She stamped her foot and then yelped as the bruised and possibly broken phalanges reminded her of their injury.

"I suggest you call your union advocate. You'll be receiving formal documentation as soon as we've interviewed everyone involved." Martinez turned to the Commissioner. "Ms. Simms, could you arrange a time when we can get together and ask you some questions?"

Simms almost smiled, just one corner of her mouth quirking up, and glanced at her watch. "If you don't mind my making a stop to grab some lunch, you can follow me back to City Hall right now. For once, I haven't any meetings until tomorrow."

"Thank you, ma'am," Martinez said. Turning to Paul, "We'll be back, what would be a good time to talk to you and your people, sir?"

Paul took out a business card. "Call this afternoon and my secretary will schedule a time for you."

"Yes, sir, thank you." She looked at Captain Davis and said, "Thank you, too, Captain. We'll be in touch."

"You're welcome." He looked at Kelly Blake. "Do you need a ride home, Ms. Blake?"

Kelly was somewhat dazed. She'd come to cause her former lover trouble, and instead, she was in deep shit, herself. She needed to go home, pour herself a drink or four, and try and figure out what happened...after she spoke to her union rep. "No. I have my car, here." Realizing that they were all staring at her, she straightened up and tried to stalk from the room, but her sore toes made her limp all the way.

"Well, ladies, let's go. I'm somewhat curious to know what's going on, myself," Commissioner Simms told the IA officers. She looked at Paul and Mike, "Talk to you both later, gentlemen."

"Yes, ma'am," Mike replied as he picked up Blake's gun and badge. When the women had gone, he glanced over at Paul. "I know that Caine didn't report her, and I doubt you reported her, so, I wonder who did report her?"

Paul shrugged. "You've got me. She was going out with Frank Strenlich when Peter and I came back, but that didn't last once Peter was again available." He frowned, and wondered.

"How involved was Strenlich?"

"Well, he was separated from his wife. Our return sort of coincided with their reconciliation. Which may be why Kelly hasn't been after him, as well."

Mike sighed. "Well, I'd better head for my office and see what's going on. My apologies for Blake's actions."

"Don't forget, she worked for both me and Karen Simms. It's hardly your fault, and no one is going to lay it all at your feet. It sort of looks to me like it's landing just where it should, on her."

"Thanks." Mike sounded relieved, then looked rather pointedly at Paul, "Look, if I need some help getting things sorted out, can I call on you?"

Paul smiled. "Certainly. Just give me a call. For that matter, stop by the house, if you'd prefer." Seeing Mike's confusion, his grin widened. "I live about two blocks from you. The big old cedar sided house?"

"The one on the large acreage?"

Paul nodded. "With the greenhouse in the back."

Mike nodded. "For some reason, I thought that belonged to some horticulturist who raised orchids or something."

Paul chuckled softly. "Let's just say I like my garden - year round. We always plant tomatoes, peppers, and greens so we can have them fresh, even in the winter."

"Your wife must like salads."

Paul shrugged. "I like to garden, we all like to eat. It's a worthwhile expense, particularly in the winter when tomatoes may go for more than two dollars a pound."

"Boy, I hear that." Mike lowered his head, "So, what can you tell me about the rest of my officers? How many of them have worked for you?"

Paul smiled. He'd taken an instant liking to this man and so far, was pleased that his instincts were, as usual, correct. "Come on in and have a seat." He led the way into his office and closed the door.

The detectives out in the bullpen glanced at each other and then returned to their work.

The date had been set and all preparations were underway and everything seemed to be running smoothly. Kermit couldn't quite believe just how well everything was going. Grimes had wound up with two twelve month sentences to run consecutively, as well as the maximum fine for each charge. Any time Kermit wanted, he could go and see him. But Paul had advised him not to, so he didn't.

On their days off, the three of them were practically inseparable. Sunday was always church and brunch afterwards, but Saturday, after the weekly 'chores', was spent in enjoyable endeavors. The zoo, long walks in various parks, movies, picnics, and the like. Just practicing at being a real family.

Two weeks before the wedding, Abby came to Kermit with a question.

"When you and mommy get married, she'll change her name and be Mrs. Griffin, right?"

Kermit grinned, as he did every time he thought about it. "That's right."

Abby nodded her acceptance, "So, will I get to be Miss Griffin?"

The breath froze in Kermit's lungs and he was glad he had on his sunglasses as his eyes widened.

"Uh, is that what you want?"

Abby nodded emphatically. "Yes, because then you'll be my daddy."

Kermit dropped to one knee and wrapped his arms around his little girl and kissed her cheek. "I'll see what I can do, okay?"

"Okay." Abby hugged him back and then skipped off to see what they were having in their picnic lunch.

Kermit just sat and pondered this small wrinkle in their plans.

"Paul, I need a couple of days off."

Paul took off his reading glasses and stared. "A week before your wedding?" He stood. "You're not getting cold feet, are you?"

Kermit shook his head. "No. But I have to make a trip. Abby wants to become Miss Griffin, and the only way we can do that is for me to adopt her." He sighed and began to pace. "And the only way that can happen is if her real father gives up his parental rights."

Paul silently sighed in relief. "I'll come with you."

Kermit shot him a glare. "You don't have to do that."

Paul shook his head. "Of course I do. If you think I'm going to let you go without backup, you can just think again."

Kermit's tense posture eased and his head dropped, slightly. "Thanks. I figured I'd take off Thursday night and come back Friday night. Get it all done in one quick trip."

Paul nodded. "Have you contacted the prison and gotten permission to see him?"

"Yeah. Friday morning."

"Okay. Get the airline and hotel set up and we can go straight from work on Thursday."

"Thanks, Paul."

"You're more than welcome, Kermit." Paul watched as his one-time protege made his way out of the office and back to his own. He was subdued, which worried Paul, but considering that he had to make a request of the man who had terrorized Isabel and her daughter, he wasn't too concerned about it.

Mark Wardleigh wasn't at all what Kermit had expected. He was taller than Kermit, almost as tall as Paul, and he was running to fat, now. He was also surly.

"What do you want?"

"You to sign this," Kermit replied, passing over the partially filled out form. Wardleigh looked at it and sneered. "Why would I want to do that?"

"Why wouldn't you? This way, when you get out, you won't have to pay any child support."

Wardleigh scowled. "Yeah? Well what I want, is to play a little Polish Roulette with them both. Shove it back up their cunts and pull the trigger. Maybe up the ass, too, this time."

Kermit's blood ran cold for an instant as what Wardleigh said sank in, and then it began to boil. "You raped them with your gun?" he softly asked, horrified.

"Yeah, well, that's why she left. She caught me with the little cunt. Said I could do what I wanted to her, but not the kid." His laugh was a nasty little giggle. "So why would I give up the kid? Next time I see them, it'll be five full chambers and one empty. Shove it hard up their cunts, or maybe their asses, and see how lucky they are." He sat back in his chair and laughed as Kermit stood, picked up the papers, and left, the sound of that maniacal giggling wreaking havoc with Kermit's already stretched and tense nerves.

When he'd gotten the door closed behind him, he stared at Paul, trembling in horrified rage.

Paul, seeing his distress, approached a bit warily. "Kermit?" he quietly asked.

Kermit looked up at him through his protective sunglasses. "He raped them," he whispered.

Paul went cold and still. "What?"

"He raped them. With the gun. When he'd play Russian Roulette with them. He - he'd ...Oh, God, Paul." He started to turn away when Paul's hands came to lightly rest on his shoulders.

"Easy, Kermit. He'll never get near them again. You know that."

Kermit bleakly looked at his friend. "I want to kill him, Paul. I want to take my Eagle and ram it so far up his rectum that I won't even have to pull the trigger, just pull it out of his mouth." He was shaking, now, in rage, horror, and the agony of knowing what that creature had done to his ladies. "Abby doesn't even remember," he whispered, wondering how he could ever forget.

Paul, understanding all the emotions and thoughts running through the younger man's mind, stepped closer and wrapped his arms around Kermit's shoulders, holding him tightly. "Calm down. You can't let them know you know, Kermit. They don't deserve your hate and anger. They're the victims, and Abby was so young that she'll probably never remember it quite like it really was. God willing."

Kermit leaned into the embrace, clinging to every word Paul spoke. He couldn't stop shaking and finally, a single sob broke free. Paul's embrace only tightened as he softly reassured his friend. He absently noticed a guard and a trustee across the room exchange a look that he understood, but didn't really register at the moment. When he felt Kermit take a deep, steadying breath, he released his friend and stepped back.

"Kermit, Mark Wardleigh is something the cat failed to bury. Come on; let's get you back to that family of yours." He didn't, at the time, realize why he'd spoken somewhat louder than necessary, but he received a nod of acknowledgment from the guard as they left.

Kermit tightened his fist around the papers he'd brought for Wardleigh to sign and threw them into the waste basket by the door on the way out.

When they got back to Sloanville, Kermit spent the entire weekend in a funk that not even his ladies could pull him out of. For the first time in months, he refused to go to church with them. Later in the afternoon, Isabel confronted him.

"Do you want to call the wedding off?"

He looked up at her, startled. "What? No!"

"Kermit, you've been brooding ever since you got back Friday night. You didn't answer the door this morning, you didn't eat dinner last night, and you didn't come to church with us. I know that you don't necessarily like our church habit, but something's wrong and you haven't said a word. What did we do to upset you?" Isabel looked at him, worried that maybe he'd changed his mind about them, and the very thought of that was tearing her up inside.

Kermit sighed and gently placed his hands on her cheeks and bent down to tenderly kiss her. "I love you with all my heart, and soul, Isabel. It's just. Well, Abby asked if she could be Miss Griffin." He released her and turned away. "Unfortunately, that would require her father relinquishing all claim to her."

Her heart stopped for a beat, then began pounding. "Is that where you went? To try and get him to give her up?"

Kermit turned back to her and wished he had his shades on, knowing his every thought was visible on his face. "Yeah." He looked away. "He said 'no', of course."

Her heart breaking, she had to ask, "What else did he say?" The anguish on Kermit's face and in his eyes told her before he could say a word, but she forced herself to stand there and listen, knowing it would probably be the end of their relationship.

"He said he raped you both. With his gun." His voice was a harsh, broken whisper and he watched as the woman he loved folded in on herself, wrapping her arms around her middle as though she was cold, and she turned her back on him, nodding.

"He did," she whispered. "I'd gone shopping and when I came home, he. He had his gun up inside Abby, who was crying and begging him to stop hurting her. She was only three. The next time he left the house, I grabbed her and we ran." She couldn't look at him, fearful of the disgust she expected to see on his face. When his arms gently encircled her from behind and he pressed his cheek to hers, she turned in his embrace and stared at him, lower lip between her teeth. "I divorced him, but he kept finding us. He never got another chance to rape either of us, but he loved to track us down and shove that damned gun of his in our faces and pull the trigger."

Kermit pulled her close and just held her until the fear, anger, and frustration from those incidents ran their course and she cried, deep, heart-wrenching sobs, as her arms wrapped themselves around his body and clung to him. "I'm sorry, Kermit," she whispered brokenly.

His embrace tightened. "You have nothing to be sorry for. You were his victims, not his willing accomplices. I just wish I could have saved you both from ever having to go through that."

"Abby doesn't remember. Only later, when he'd find us and he'd point the gun at her." She sniffled hard. "I should have told you."

Kermit hugged her even harder. "Maybe. It doesn't matter, though. I still love you. That won't change. It just makes me think of things I'd like to do to him. And if he ever comes around after he gets out, I'll see about doing some of them, myself." He sighed. "I just hate to disappoint Abby. And me," he admitted, shrugging and letting Isabel go. There were tears on his cheeks that he didn't bother trying to wipe away. "I wish she could be my little girl for real." His smile was a bit self-mocking. "But as long as I get to have the two of you in my life, that's enough. She doesn't have to have my name."

Isabel's breath caught at the enormity of how much this man loved her and her daughter. "Oh, Kermit." She reached for him and they hugged again, hard. "Please, just promise me that the next time something upsets you, you won't leave us hanging for days worrying?"

Kermit's laugh was half-sob. "I'll try. It's not something I'm at all used to, but I promise I'll try. Just remind me, okay?"

"I love you, Kermit."

He closed his eyes and just held her. "I love you, too. More than I ever thought I could possibly love anyone."

And they clung together for the longest time, their embrace reassuring each of them that their love was strong enough to deal with this and anything else that might come their way.

Paul received the notice on the day before Kermit was to be wed. He read it twice before sighing and putting it in his desk. He was NOT going to tell them until after they got back from their honeymoon. There was no urgency, after all. Speaking of the honeymoon, he'd better get his rear in gear and get on the road to get everything ready for their arrival the next afternoon. He took out the message one more time to re-read it before shaking his head and going out the door.

"Isabel, I'm leaving for the day. I'll see you tomorrow at the church. And I'm kidnapping Kermit for the evening."

Isabel smiled up at him. "Yes, captain. Just don't let him drink too much?"

Paul chuckled. "He won't have time. We'll see you tomorrow at eleven."

"Yes, sir." She watched as Paul walked over to Kermit's office, banged once on the door and opened it. "Let's get this show on the road, Griffin."

Kermit looked up, startled, glanced at his clock and began shutting down the computer. "Five minutes."

"Three." Paul closed the door and turned to grab his foster son's shoulders. "You coming to help us get ready for them?"

"Huh?" Peter looked up, confused.

Paul sighed and shook his head. "The cabin? Where Kermit and Isabel are going to spend their honeymoon?"

"Oh! Yeah, let me just grab my jacket and I'm ready to go." Peter got to his feet and grabbed his coat from the back of his chair. Paul turned as Kermit exited his office and then herded the two younger men out to his car and drove them north to the cabin.

He didn't mention the message he'd received.

Surprisingly, Kermit didn't feel the least bit nervous as he stood with Paul in the front of the church, waiting for Isabel to walk down the aisle. His breath caught as he spotted them. Abby led the way, carrying a velvet pillow with their rings, followed by Isabel's friend Patti and two other women Kermit only knew as her friends. Then came Isabel, proudly escorted by Shaky Blake. His gaze finally settled on his bride, and never left.

The ceremony had only one surprise for him. When the minister asked who gave this woman in marriage to this man, the entire congregation shouted "We do!" Staring into her eyes, Kermit realized that she'd been in on it, but he only smiled. A few very short minutes later, they were pronounced husband and wife and he was given permission to kiss his bride. He did so, to cheers and catcalls from their friends and colleagues. Marilyn and her children beamed at the couple, pleased he'd finally found what seemed to them to be the perfect woman for him.

The reception went by in a blur, until Paul pulled him aside and told him to get going before it got dark. Kermit's face was aching from all the smiling he'd done that day, and he gave Paul a big hug. "Thanks, Paul. You'll take good care of Abby, right?"

Paul chuckled. "Like she was my own, Kermit. You just remember my advice and be gentle with your lovely bride."

Kermit nodded, hugged his friend one last time, sought out his step-daughter, who was holding Annie Blaisdell's hand and regaling her with everything she saw, and said his goodbyes to them, as well, then he found his bride and spirited her away before anyone else noticed.

"Where are we going, by the way?" Isabel asked as they headed north out of the city.

"Paul's got a cabin on a lake up north about three hours. It's quiet, peaceful, and private."

"Cabin?" she asked a bit uncertainly. "Um, my idea of camping includes hot showers and electric lights."

Kermit chuckled. "It's got solar panels that heat the water and charge the emergency batteries, plus a gas-powered generator that's also got battery backup. The tank is full and, as I recall, capable of providing power for a month or more."

"Okay. That sounds good. I'm afraid I'm just not the outdoorsy type, is all." She reached across and placed her fingers over his wrist, just below his hand on the steering wheel. He smiled and let go of the wheel and turned his hand over to hold hers.

"It's not exactly my favorite thing, either, but Paul's cabin is very nice. Even Annie likes it."

The first time she'd met Mrs. Blaisdell, she'd been surprised to discover she was blind. But having seen the dynamic between her and her husband, and how much they obviously loved and adored one another, she'd quickly adapted. And the older couple seemed to know exactly how to fill the voids in her life left by her own lack of family. They made perfect surrogate grandparents for Abby, too. And, having raised two daughters of his own, she found him to be not only a wonderful boss, but a good friend and advisor on how to raise her own daughter.

And most of the rest of the people at the station, and particularly those directly under Paul, had also become her adoptive family. Although, most of the timer she felt she played the role of mother. But still, she truly liked the people they worked with. And then there was Kermit. She glanced over at him. He'd released her hand as they turned off the main highway and traversed the smaller back roads on their way to their destination. She'd never imagined finding any man to love, again; let alone one she could trust. But here he sat beside her.

She shivered in anticipation.

It was late afternoon when they finally pulled up in front of the cabin. Isabel had dozed off some time earlier and Kermit smiled at her as he turned off the engine. Gently reaching across, he lightly stroked her cheek with just his index finger. She stretched and turned to look at him. Then her gaze turned to their surroundings. "You call this a cabin?"

"Yeah, that was my first reaction, too. But it's what Paul calls it. Seems like a pretty good sized house, to me. And it has all the amenities. Solar heating for the water, generator, solar battery backup, propane stove and heat, several of the rooms have those new brick floors that absorb heat and retain it. Even in the winter, it's pretty comfortable. He opened his door and got out. Closing the door, he circled around to open hers and hand her out. Then he got their luggage from the trunk and led her up the steps of the porch and set down their bags. He took out a key and unlocked the door. Turning to her, he grinned and scooped her up in his arms.

"Kermit! I'm too heavy for you to carry."

"You are hardly that heavy, my love."

"Kermit, I'm almost as tall as you are, and..."

He stepped across the threshold and gently lowered her, sliding her body down his. "And you're simply not that heavy." He gently kissed her. Then, smiling, he turned back to grab their luggage. "Now, my dear, if you'll go up that flight of stairs, right there, we can change and I'll give you the two-bit tour."

She watched him closely and saw that, indeed, he seemed to have no ill-effects from lifting her and carrying her over the threshold. There was, in fact, quite a spring in his step as he trotted up the stairs.

Feeling a thrill shiver through her body, she lightly followed him. Maybe the tour could wait until later.

She didn't complain when he again insisted on carrying her across the threshold of the bedroom, and this time, as he lowered her, she knew that he was thinking much as she was.

She didn't look in his eyes as she began to unbutton his dress shirt. "The tour can wait, can't it?"

Surprised, he froze for half a moment, and then relaxed and grinned. "Oh, yeah."

He took his time. Despite their having been a 'couple' for just over a year, they'd never been intimate - physically, at least. They took their time undressing each other and exploring one another's bodies. Knowing that she'd been abused by her first husband, he was very careful to be as gentle as he could be. When he'd put his keys in the bedside table, he noticed a new box of condoms and it gave him a moment's pause.

"You know, there's one thing we haven't discussed," he murmured, ignoring his body's pleas to just get on with it.

"What's that?" She kissed him, her hands running up and down his back.

"Whether or not we have any more kids." He felt her stiffen slightly and he shifted away from her, not wanting to pressure her into anything. She gazed into his dark chocolate eyes and tried to read him. Only in this, she couldn't.

"I'd love to have your baby. But do you want a child?"

His heart thumped once, extra hard, and then settled down to a fairly fast rate. "I never wanted kids, before I met Abby. I figured I'd be a lousy father. But Abby seems to think differently. Of course, compared to her real father, I suppose Vlad Tepes would seem pretty good."

Isabel shook her head, smiling. "As I've told you before, you on your worst day is still better than him on his best." She stroked his cheek. "Kermit, we both love you. I think it would be wonderful to have more children." She giggled. "Of course, if we have girls, I pity the boys who try and date them."

Kermit blushed and grinned, lowering his eyes from her face. "Yeah, well, if you think I haven't learned about girls and dating from Paul, think again. I promise not to physically torture any boy Abby goes out with. Just a little interrogation, is all."

Isabel smiled. "I love how protective you are of us." She kissed him. "The question is, do you want children?"

He had never really considered the idea, before. Did he? "I'd be satisfied with just Abby," he began.

"But?" She tilted her head so she could look into his eyes.

He shivered. "I honestly don't know. I'd be terrified of hurting them."

"Your niece and nephew, have you ever hurt them?"

"No, but they also never lived with me."

"Maybe we should wait to decide?"

Relieved, he sighed. "Yeah, maybe we should." He smiled and kissed her.

"Kermit, I'm not on the pill," she hesitantly informed him. She hadn't needed to be, after all. And, like him, hadn't considered the possibility of another child.

"Paul left us a box of condoms." Kermit rolled over and opened the nightstand drawer. "The man thinks of everything."

"Or at least leaves a clue as to what we should have thought about," she replied, giggling in embarrassment.

"Now," Kermit murmured, kissing her and beginning to touch her again. "Where were we?"

Paul was having a great time with Abby. It was almost like having his own girls again at this age. They were out in the back yard, playing, with Annie listening to Abby's excited shouts of glee as Paul held her by one arm and leg and 'airplaned' her around and around. The momentary shriek of terror as he tossed her into the air before catching her turned into giggles and a request to 'do it again!' Panting with exertion, Paul firmly told her not now and, hand-in-hand, they made their way back to the deck.

"I am definitely getting old," Paul panted, dropping into the chair beside his wife.

Annie smiled and reached over to pat his hand. "You're not old. Just out of shape."

Paul chuckled. "For playing airplane, most definitely." He gazed adoringly at his wife. "But it's still a lot of fun." He took her hand in his and kissed it, then gave it a gentle squeeze.

"Will you tell me a story?" Abby asked, standing nearby, face still flushed with exertion and excitement.

"What kind of story, honey?" Paul asked, smiling.

"One about my new daddy?"

Paul racked his brain to try and come up with a story about his friend that was suitable for an eight-year-old.

"Tell her about his first day as a beat-cop, Paul," Annie urged.

Paul thought a moment and chuckled. "All right."

He pulled Abby into his lap and got them both comfortable. "Let's see. Kermit didn't become a cop until he was older. He wasn't sure that he'd be any good at it, but I told him that his job was very similar to our previous careers. He went through the academy with only one small problem. Seems the self-defense instructor thought he was too old. Kermit took him down and demonstrated that he wasn't too old at all."

"Is that like the things he taught mommy and me in case somebody tries to grab and hurt us?"

Paul, having helped in some of that training, nodded. "Yes. The teacher tried to beat him up and after getting thrown around a few times and the teacher trying to hurt him, he got angry. The next time the teacher told him to attack, he did it for real and when the teacher tried to hurt him again, Kermit ducked and then threw him across the gym, breaking the man's arm and dislocating his shoulder."

Abby's eyes were wide. "He shouldn't have tried to hurt Mr. Kermit. It kind of makes him mad."

Paul and Annie both laughed. "Yes, honey, it does."

Paul continued. "Well, despite that little incident, Kermit made it through the academy and got put on patrol. His Training Officer was younger than Kermit and didn't have any idea about Kermit's past. When they pulled over a speeder, Kermit, as the rookie, got to take point. He asked the driver if he knew how fast he was going."

"What did he say?"

"The driver said he didn't know how fast he was going. So Kermit said 'So you don't know how fast you were going. I guess that means I can write anything I want on the ticket, huh?' and his partner started laughing and stepped in and explained that they'd clocked the driver going fifty in a thirty-five mile an hour zone. Poor man was more than willing to sign the ticket."

Abby giggled. "What else?"

"Well, there was the man they picked up on warrants. Kermit cuffed him and the man complained that they were too tight. Now Kermit hadn't put them on particularly tight, so he simply explained that his handcuffs were new and that they'd stretch out after they'd been worn for a while."

Abby, who had played with Kermit's handcuffs a few times, giggled. "That's silly! Metal doesn't stretch!"

Paul grinned and hugged her. "You're right."

"What else happened?"

"Well, they got a call for a convenience store robbery. They spotted the perp running from the scene and Kermit jumped out and took off in pursuit. When he got the robber cornered in a blind alley, he told him that running would only get him to jail tired...and that if he tried running again, he'd better be really fast, because the bullet from his gun could travel at twelve hundred feet per second and he was too tired to bother running any more."

Abby giggled again.

"What else?"

"Well, it wasn't his first day, but I think my favorite one was when he pulled over a woman for speeding and running a red light. She was beautiful; Blond, tall, and shapely. He was writing her a ticket and she said that she didn't think that cops gave pretty women tickets. He told her that they didn't, and then handed her the ticket to sign."

Annie chortled. "I remember that. He said she looked like his ex-wife."

"Was she prettier than my mommy?"

Paul shook his head. "No. Your mother is the second most beautiful woman in the world."

Abby smiled and asked. "Who's the first?"

Paul hugged her and set her on the deck. "Why, my Annie, of course." He stood up, leaned down and kissed his wife. "But Kermit might have a different opinion."

Abby giggled. "I think you're both the prettiest."

"Thank you, sweetheart." Annie pulled on Paul's hands and he lifted her to her feet. "And now, I think it's time for me to start fixing us some dinner. Anyone care to join me?"

"Oh, yeah," Paul and Abby chorused, following her.

It had been a wonderful week, although they'd both missed Abby. So much so, that they cut their honeymoon short by a day. They'd had enough solitude and were ready to finish forming their family. When they got back to the city, they stopped off at the Blaisdell's to pick up Abby.

"You're home early," Annie said as she answered the door.

"How'd you know it was us?" Kermit asked.

She smiled. "I won the bet with Paul. He said you'd be home yesterday."

The newlyweds exchanged a look. "Oh. So, how's Abby been?"

Annie grinned. "She's wonderful, of course. But don't be surprised if she asks you about your early days on patrol. She only wanted stories about you."

Kermit groaned. "Oh, great."

"He made sure they were suitable for an eight-year-old, Kermit. But you may have to explain just how beautiful Isabel is."

Kermit grinned. "Gladly." He hugged his wife and then asked, "So, where's Abby?"

"I think she's out with Paul."

"I'll go get her," Kermit murmured, giving Annie a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for taking care of her for us."

"Any time, Kermit. She's a delight."

"Thank you," Isabel replied.

"Uh, Kermit, there's something you need to know."

Kermit had scooped Abby up in his arms when she ran to him. He looked at Paul, concerned. "Oh? What's that?" He looked at Abby, who was grinning.

"Well, while you were gone, we did a little remodeling on the apartment building."

Kermit paled. "Oh? What kind of remodeling?"

"Well, you're going to need to reset the code. It's currently 007."


"On the front door." Paul was grinning, but there was a touch of worry in his pale blue eyes.

Kermit shook his head. "I don't get it."

"It's a surprise, Daddy." Abby explained.

Whatever Paul was talking about flew from his mind as what his step-daughter had called him registered. He grinned at the child and hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. "Well, whatever it is, I'm not going to worry about it right now. At the moment, I just want to get my ladies home, fix something to eat and relax."

"There's a crock pot full of pot roast waiting for you when you get home," Annie informed them, smirking.

Kermit looked over his sunglasses at her. "What if we'd stayed another night?"

"It would have been none the worse for it," Annie insisted.

Paul chuckled. "She had me up and over there at seven to make sure it would be done when you arrived." He pondered a moment, "Look, why don't I go over and show you the changes we made?"

Kermit looked down at his bride, who smiled. "Why don't you come for dinner, then?"

Annie frowned, a bit worriedly. "Are you sure? I mean, you just got back."

Kermit read his wife's expression and grinned. "We'd be delighted."

"I'll get my sweater," Annie said with a smile.

They stepped off the elevator and turned towards their apartments and stopped. There was a wall with a door in it where there had been a corridor, just a week before. There was a blinking keypad on the wall by the door. With an uncertain glance at the smirking Paul, Kermit pushed the buttons, 0-0-7, and the blinking light turned green and there was a click, and Kermit pushed the door open. He glanced back at the Blaisdells and grinned. "Blake?"

"Who else?" Paul smiled in return.

Kermit walked in and stopped again. What should have been a ten-foot wide hallway was now what would have been called in another setting, a lobby. There was a sofa by the window, and a credenza on one side with a lamp on it. And the doors to their apartments were open.

"I wasn't sure if you'd want to completely open it up or not. But I checked, and these aren't bearing walls, except by the outer wall."

Kermit stared at his friend, frowning in confusion. "I don't get it."

Paul sighed and shook his head. "Kermit, where did you plan on putting all your computer gear?"

Kermit thought for a moment and flushed slightly. "Oh."

"We also switched the apartments around."


"Because your apartment faces south-west and has a lovely view. Not that you'd ever notice with those drapes of yours. I thought that the ladies would like it and when you're buried in your computers, they could enjoy the sunlight and the view."

"I like it," Abby piped up. "It's pretty."

Kermit frowned for a moment, and then shrugged. "Okay." He looked at his bride. "Well, shall we take a look?"

After looking at the rearranging and the new furniture in the living room, which Paul insisted was just a wedding present, they discussed it and decided to open up the walls and enlarge the living room. Later.

Dinner was perfect, as was the company. Afterwards, while Isabel put Abby to bed, Paul drew Kermit across the entryway to his half of the apartment. Kermit was instantly on alert.

"What is it?"

Paul wouldn't look at him. "I didn't tell you before, because I wanted you to have some time together before having to deal with it."

"Paul, what are you talking about?" He was finding himself feeling very anxious. Paul wasn't normally quite so reticent about things.

Paul took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "I'm talking about Mark Wardleigh."

Kermit's expression went hard. "What about him? He change his mind about signing?"

Paul shook his head and brought his eyes from the floor to Kermit's. "Not exactly, although, I do have all the papers ready for your signature to adopt her."

Kermit frowned. "I don't get it."

Paul sighed again. "Remember when you came back into the waiting room after talking to him?"

"Yeah, so?" Kermit's hands began to spasm, forming fists, then releasing, again and again.

"Remember the guard and the elderly trustee that were also in the room?"

Kermit had to close his eyes to concentrate and remember. "Okay, old guy pushing a broom, guard was younger, your age, maybe. Standing by the door, watching the trustee?"

"And us. They overheard us."

Kermit's eyes opened, showing his confusion. "Yeah? So?"

Paul sighed again. "Kermit. They heard us."

Kermit still wasn't getting it. Paul shook his head and tried again.

"Mark Wardleigh is dead, Kermit."

Kermit's eyes widened with the surprise of that information. "Dead? How?" He still didn't understand.

Paul placed a hand on Kermit's shoulder. "I got a report the day before your wedding. Seems he was cornered in the laundry room. You've heard how inmates don't like guys who hurt kids. You inadvertently told them that she was only three. They grabbed him, pulled down his pants, placed his genitals on the steam press, and closed it. Then they sodomized him with a broom handle. He made it to the hospital, but when he saw what they'd done to him, managed to slice his wrists with a plastic knife. He wasn't discovered until the next morning."

Paul watched his friend closely as the information sank in. Finally, Kermit sighed and looked up. "Can't say as I'm sorry." He honestly couldn't think of anything else to say.

"And, technically, he killed himself."

Kermit shrugged. "My only concern is how to tell Isabel and Abby."

"I can do that, if you want. Tell Isabel, that is."

Kermit shook his head. "It's not your responsibility."

"Sure it is. Come on. You can provide the comfort afterwards."

Surprisingly, Isabel took the news rather well. Paul didn't give her any details, only that he'd been attacked and later committed suicide.

After Paul and Annie had gone, she went into Kermit's arms. "I want to feel something, but I honestly don't. All I'm feeling is relief."

Kermit sighed. "Good." He hugged her more tightly. "I love you."

She clung to him. "I know. And I'm ever so grateful. And I love you. And I think it's absolutely wonderful that I don't have to worry about him ever again. We're safe. I don't have to be concerned with the thought of his coming after us." She drew back a bit and looked into his eyes. "Am I bad for feeling like this?"

Kermit smiled. "No. Relief is the perfect feeling, I think. And I suspect your minister would probably agree." He held her close again and kissed her cheek. "What are we going to tell Abby?"

Isabel sighed. "The truth. He died in prison."

Kermit nodded. "Paul brought me some papers to sign.

Isabel thought for a moment. Then smiled. "So you can adopt her?"

"Yeah. She asked me that since you were going to become Mrs. Griffin, if she could become Miss Griffin." He shrugged. "Only way that could happen was if he gave up his rights." He held her silently for several moments. Then he pulled away slightly and said, "Or die."

Isabel looked up into his eyes. "You didn't kill him." She stated it as a known fact, not a question.

"No. But I may have said something that was overheard." He looked away. "He told me what else he liked to do with his gun besides play Russian Roulette."

Her breath caught and her head dropped. "Oh."

He held her closer. "I love you. I'll always love you. For the rest of my life. You were a victim, but you're not one now. You don't ever have to be a victim again. Not as long as I live."

She sighed. "Come to bed."

Kermit grinned. "Oh, yeah."

Abby was walking on air. She couldn't stop smiling. Her teacher frowned at her, wondering what made her so happy, all of a sudden. Since it was the day she was planning on videotaping her class, she decided to start with her.

"You seem particularly happy today, Abigail. Care to tell me why?"

"I get to be Miss Griffin."

"Oh?" Her teacher frowned.

"Uh-huh. My new daddy is going to adopt me so I can have the same last name as him and mommy." She grinned happily.

"Oh, your mother recently remarried?"

"Uh huh. My new daddy said he married my mommy so I could be his little girl." Abby grinned proudly and didn't notice the look on her teacher's face and kept burbling on about her new father and how happy they all were.

"That's enough, Abigail. I need you to come with me, now." She stood up and grasped Abby by the arm, just at the elbow and pulled her to her feet. Abby cried out.

"You're hurting me. Let me go!" She struggled but found herself dragged bodily to the principal's office. She was shoved down in a chair and told not to move. Tears running down her face, she rubbed her sore arm and sat, trembling and wondering what she'd done wrong?

The teacher went in to speak to the principal, who called Child Protective Services, who came down and took her to the hospital. Her questions went ignored and unanswered and her tears were mistaken for something other than from her teacher hurting her.

Isabel was at her desk, proofreading reports when the dark blue suited couple came in and looked around. She noticed them and stood.

"Can I help you?"

"We're looking for a Kermit Griffin?"

"May I ask why?"

"We're from Child Protective Services. His stepdaughter has accused him of molesting her. With her mother's permission."

Isabel paled. "Excuse me?"

"Is Mr. Griffin in?"

Isabel was finding it hard to breathe. "What do you mean, she accused him?"

"She reported to her teacher that he married her mother so he could molest her."

The captain's door opened and Paul stood in the doorway, scowling.

"I don't believe it."

"You're Captain Blaisdell?"

"Yes." He folded his arms across his chest. "Abby's been going on about how much she loves becoming Miss Griffin. I can't see her making an accusation like that."

"You know the whole family, then?"


"Where is Abigail now?" Isabel demanded.

"She's at County General, being examined."

"And who is there on her behalf?" Isabel was getting annoyed.

"CPS officials."

Isabel smiled sweetly, and Paul, seeing it, eased out of the line of fire.

"Does anyone know her well enough to be able to reassure her?"

The woman from CPS frowned. "Why?"

Isabel leaned forward. "Because her natural father, who recently died in prison, molested her. He enjoyed using a revolver to play Russian Roulette, and...other things." She stepped out from behind her desk.

"Who says she accused her father of molesting her?"

"Her teacher, Mrs. Stevens."

"Did anyone else ask Abby about it?"

The two CPS people looked at each other, frowning. "Uh, just who are you?" the man asked.

Isabel smiled sweetly and insincerely. "Why, I'm just her mother." She straightened up and took another step closer. "If you've upset or harmed my daughter in any way...."

She was interrupted by the sound of a cell phone ringing. The female CPS officer gratefully turned away to answer it. Everyone in the room watched her as she spoke softly into the device. She began to shift nervously and looked over her shoulder at her partner, who turned to join her. She turned the phone so he could hear as well, and they both started to fidget, realizing that everyone in the room was glaring them with a great deal of animosity. The call finally ended, and they put their heads together, obviously arguing over whatever the call had been about.

Just then, two men entered the squad room, laughing and talking. They hadn't come more than six feet into the room when the shorter, older man froze. The taller, younger man continued talking for a few seconds until he realized his companion had stopped.

Peter turned to look. "Kermit?"

"What's going on here, Captain?" Kermit had his gaze fastened on the unknown couple who were looking decidedly nervous, now.

"Uh," the man began and had to stop to clear his throat. "Kermit Griffin?"

"Yeah?" His shoulders almost imperceptibly inched higher as his weight shifted forward and his knees flexed, preparing for a physical confrontation.

"Uh," the strangers looked at one another again and then back at Isabel, who had managed to get her sweater on and had her purse over her arm. "You'd better take us to our daughter, and don't be terribly surprised if we wind up suing over this." She looked past them to her worried husband. "Someone said that Abby said that you married me so you could molest her." She said it quietly and very matter-of-factly, so her husband's reaction wasn't expected...at least, not by the couple from CPS. His colleagues were impressed by how calmly he reacted.

"They WHAT?" Kermit roared. Peter closed his eyes and shook his head, wondering where they could possibly hide the bodies. Paul, expecting this reaction, had started moving while Isabel spoke and was in front of Kermit, holding him by the shoulders and speaking softly to him.

"Take it easy. It's obviously a mistake. Don't go ballistic just yet. We need more information, first." Paul's soft voice of reason wasn't very reassuring to the couple from CPS. That 'yet' was hardly promising.

Paul turned to the couple. "What's the problem with Abby? That's what that call was about, isn't it?"

The couple glanced at each other and then the woman spoke. "She's in hysterics and won't let anyone near her. She keeps screaming for help and that she wants her parents."

"Both parents?" Paul asked rather pointedly.


"Kermit, Isabel, you go with these two. I'll be right behind you." Paul went back into his office and grabbed his suit jacket and came back out, rolling down his shirtsleeves as he moved. "Strenlich, keep a lid on things here. We'll be back when we get back."

"You heard the captain, folks. Back to your own jobs, now. Captain, you'll keep us apprised?"

"I will. Meanwhile," he paused beside Strenlich. "See what you can find out about this. There's no way Kermit would ever hurt a kid, most particularly not Abby."

"Who do you suggest I send?"

Paul shook his head, watching the tense posture of both of the Griffins as they preceded the couple from CPS out the door. "Use your best judgment. I'll keep Kermit from killing anyone, if I can. Abby in hysterics does not bode well for anyone involved."

"Take care of them, Captain," Strenlich called as he turned back to his detectives. "All right. Who wants to go down to Abby's school and try and find out just what happened?" There was no lack of volunteers, and that was a problem. "Blake and Skalaney," he chose. "Get down to that school and find out exactly what went on."

They went.

The couple from CPS nervously ferried their passengers to the hospital. Detective Griffin occasionally growled, and his wife continually muttered what could have been threats. Once at the hospital and parked, the two CPS officers gladly followed them into the Emergency Room. Neither felt comfortable in having either Griffin behind them.

They hadn't even gotten through the doors and the screams of a terrified child could be heard. The CPS couple hurried to block the Griffins' progress until they could ascertain exactly what was going on, but there was no holding them back.

Isabel, upon hearing her daughter's screams, began running, while her husband prevented anyone from stopping her. He wisely didn't draw his weapon, but the expression on his sunglassed face kept anyone from challenging him. He backed down the corridor, following his wife, the two CPS officers following him.

Isabel found her daughter in an examination room, naked and shrieking at the top of her lungs for help, alternating between calling for her mother and father with pleas to stop hurting her. Seeing her child, Isabel's breath caught for a moment. She had livid bruises over much of her small body, and she crouched huddled in a corner, screaming her lungs out while several medical personnel stood around, trying to figure out what to do. All but one, who was trying to talk to the child and calm her.

"Abigail!" Isabel spoke over the din. Her daughter saw her and launched herself into her mother's arms, crying loudly.

"I want Mr. Kermit! Where's Mr. Kermit? He'll take care of us, mommy!" She was still practically screaming, interspersed with hysterical sobbing. Isabel knelt on the cold linoleum floor and held her daughter, softly talking and trying to calm her down.

Kermit entered and saw his ladies on the floor. Realizing that Abby was naked, he practically ripped off his suit coat and popped a couple of buttons on his shirt as he stripped down to pull off his t-shirt and then redressed. He went to his knees and gently slipped his t-shirt over Abby's head and dressed her, using his tie for a belt. Seeing him, Abby wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her head against his chest, sobbing. He wrapped his arms around her and stood. Abby's legs came up and wrapped around his waist, so she was clinging to him with all her might.

"Shhh, sweetheart, it's okay. I'm here. I'm here. I won't let anyone hurt you any more, sweetheart. Shhhhh." He managed to keep his voice low and soothing as he tightly held his child. He'd heard her calling for him, and it broke his heart to have gone from being called 'daddy' just that morning to 'Mr. Kermit' again. But she still trusted him to protect her.

The woman who'd been trying to calm her down stood up from where she'd been sitting on the floor. The relative silence of the sobbing child and murmuring man was a blessed relief. She watched, frowning, as the man swiftly calmed the hysterical child. She spotted the four CPS people and walked over to them.

"What's going on, here? I thought you said she accused her father of molesting her?"

The two pair of CPS officers looked at each other and shrugged. "That's what the school said, so we brought her in to get examined. She cried all the way here, but when the doctors tried to examine her, she went nuts and started screaming. She's been shrieking for nearly two hours, now. I'm surprised she's got any voice left at all."

The woman scowled and glanced back to where Kermit had sat on the examination table, still holding and comforting the child, with Isabel standing beside them with one hand on each of their shoulders.

"Does that look like a pair of abusive parents to you?"

The four CPS officers squirmed. "Uh, no?"

"Right." The woman shook her head and turned to the family.

"I'm Dr. Jacobs. I'm the psychiatrist that was called in when she wouldn't calm down."

Kermit looked up. "What did you do to her? When she went to school this morning, she didn't have a mark on her, and now she's covered with bruises, and it looks like someone gave her an injection of some kind." His voice was a low, incensed growl that made everyone in the room flinch.

"The injection is my fault. I thought she was hysterical and gave her a sedative." She glanced down at her watch and shook her head. "She should have been unconscious half an hour ago. That's one determined little girl."

Kermit's growl was inarticulate as he held his daughter tighter; returning his attention to trying to sooth her terror.

Isabel's expression varied between fury and anguish. "What did you do to her? What happened to her clothes?"

"We tried to examine her for sexual abuse," one male doctor began. "But she went nuts, kicking and screaming. It took four of us to get her clothing off, but then she really went wild and started biting, as well. She finally wiggled away and tried to run, but we managed to stop her."

Kermit was listening, but he was more focused on Abby. When she went limp in his arms, he was startled. "Abby? Abby!" He loosened his grip and stared in horror down at the limp little body. He began to hyperventilate as he looked up at the assembly of CPS officers and medical personnel. "What the hell did you do to my daughter?" he roared. Fortunately, he was unwilling to give up his limp burden, but he wanted answers. Now.

"Kermit, calm down." Paul Blaisdell stood in the doorway, taking it all in. He could see that Abby was breathing just fine and turned his attention to the psychiatrist. "You said you sedated her?"

"Yes. Forty-five minutes ago. She should have been unconscious within two minutes, but she was so hysterical that she managed to fight off the effects until she calmed down."

"You drugged my daughter?" Isabel snarled, shifting closer to her husband and child and placing herself between them and everyone else.

Paul groaned silently, recognizing the posture. He moved into the room and confronted Isabel. "Take it easy. First of all, who claimed that she'd been molested?"

"Her teacher," one of the CPS people said.

"Exactly what was she supposed to have said?" Paul continued, maintaining eye contact with Isabel and his back to the others. He knew where the danger was, and, amazingly, it wasn't Kermit he needed to worry about.

"Something about him marrying her mother so she could be his 'little girl'."

Paul sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. Upon opening them, he saw the confusion on Isabel's face. Glancing down, he saw the same confusion on Kermit's. Shaking his head, he turned.

"It's a family joke," Paul explained.


"Yes. It's a family joke because Kermit met Abby before he ever met her mother."

The four CPS officers looked at each other in confusion. "But the teacher said..."

"And she was crying when we arrived...."

"Did anyone think to ask her why she was crying?" Paul asked reasonably.

It was obvious that no one had.

Paul shook his head and turned towards the psychiatrist. "Does he fit any of your profiles of a child molester?"

Dr. Jacobs shook her head. "No. All he's demonstrating is caring concern. Not to mention parental pain that his child has been hurt. You said he's her stepfather?"

"Yes. They have a court date next week. Her natural father died and he's adopting her."

Jacobs nodded and looked at the still irate and belligerent Isabel. "May I ask how long you've been married?"

"Just over a month, now. We only told Abby about the adoption this weekend. She was so excited...." Silent tears began to trickle down her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around her husband and child.

Dr. Jacobs turned to the CPS officers. "I think you've made a terrible mistake, here."

"Oh, yeah," Kermit growled out. "No one has yet explained where all these bruises came from." He shifted, adjusting the limp Abby so her head rested on his shoulder. "I know for a certainty that she didn't have any bruises on her arms or legs this morning, because she dashed from the bathroom to her room in just a towel. So, where did the bruises come from?"

"Uh, well, most of them probably came from us trying to restrain her so we could examine her," one of the interns explained.

"Yeah, that little kid can kick!" another agreed, still unable to stand up straight from where her foot had connected. There were several nods of agreement, all from medical personnel unwilling to even now get too close to the unconscious child.

Kermit glanced up at his wife and couldn't help the smirk that briefly flashed across his face. "Yeah, well, that's what we taught her to do. If someone tries to grab her or hurt her, she's to kick and bite and gouge and scream her head off until she gets help."

"She learned pretty good," someone softly said, garnering soft murmurs of agreement.

Dr. Jacobs noticed Kermit softly rocking and frowned. "I think we're finished, here."

One of the CPS officers, a man, frowned at her. "But the child hasn't been examined, yet."

Dr. Jacobs scowled up at him. She pointed at Kermit. "Oh, come off it. Does he look like he'd ever harm that child?"

Isabel squeezed her husband's shoulder and approached. "I can already answer your questions. If you examine her, you'll find some old scars," she hissed. "From her natural father, my first husband. He thought it was fun to hurt me, but when he started to hurt our daughter, I ran. I ran for four years, and every time I got on welfare, they'd tell him where we were and he'd come back and stick that rotten gun in our faces and pull the trigger. Thankfully, the live round never coincided with his aiming it at us, but it got to the point that I wished it would!" She was nearly spitting in her rage.

"Thank God we met Kermit. We'd moved into an apartment and I'd managed to find a job. A lousy one, but still a job so that we didn't have to be on welfare. Abby lost her key and knocked on the neighbor's door to ask to borrow his phone." She glared at the CPS officers. "He met my daughter first. He fell in love with her long before he noticed me." She sniffed, trying to stop the flood of tears that were beginning to fall. Paul, seeing her distress, stepped close and put one arm around her shoulders and his free hand on one of Kermit's.

"He's the sweetest, most gentle man I've ever known. He's kind, and caring." Her expression turned to one of wonder. "He knows all about what my ex did to us, and he still loves us." Her breath caught in a sob. "When some idiot attacked me a couple of months ago, he stayed with us and held us both throughout the night to keep the nightmares away." She glared at the CPS officers as well as the medical personnel. "How long will the nightmares last this time?" Her face crumpled up and she turned, sobbing, to Paul, who held her gently for a few silent moments as most of the medical people slipped out, leaving only Dr. Jacobs and the four CPS officers.

"I think you'd better go back to whoever made the report and see what the hell really happened," Paul told them firmly, then turned his back on them again to try and comfort his friends.

"How long?" Kermit rasped, lifting his head to look at Dr. Jacobs.

She glanced down at her watch. It was nearly two in the afternoon. Normally, the sedative she'd given the child would wear off in three to five hours. But she'd never had anyone fight off the effects so well, before. "Normally, just a few hours. But she was terrified and thought she was fighting for her life. She may not wake up until morning." She watched as Kermit shifted her in his arms again and rubbed his cheek against the child's temple. It was obvious to her that this was a loving and caring father. Not one who could ever abuse a child. She noticed the slightly odd dynamic with the older gentleman.

"May I ask how you fit into the family, sir?"

Paul looked at her, his eyes cold and unforgiving. "I'm Captain Blaisdell, hundred and first precinct. Detective Griffin works for me, and Mrs. Griffin is my secretary."

His hand gently gripping Mrs. Griffin's shoulder and his other hand gently kneading Detective Griffin's shoulder told her a different story. "But how do you fit into their family?"

Paul frowned. "Dutch uncle, perhaps?"

"Grandfather," both Isabel and Kermit said at once, lifting their red-rimmed eyes to his. "You're the one we can go to when we have a parenting or marital question," Kermit added as Isabel nodded.

Paul smiled and shrugged. "All right. Why not? I've got how many 'kids' down at the station?"

"All of them," the couple again chorused before returning their attention to their unconscious child.

"I suggest you take her home and put her to bed." Dr. Jacobs paused a moment. "If she's ever allowed to sleep with you, this would be a good time."

"Oh, yeah," Kermit bitterly agreed. He stood up, trying to shift his daughter so he could carry her comfortably. Paul came to his rescue, helping him to get his left arm under her legs, so he could cradle her against his body. Kermit nodded and started to walk out. "My car's downstairs. I'll drive you home and pick you up in the morning."

"All right." Kermit's voice sounded defeated. Once he was out of the room, Paul turned on the CPS officers.

"You'd better find out fast what the hell happened. There is no..." He was interrupted by the arrival of Blake and Skalaney.

"Captain, you've got to see this," Mary Margaret exclaimed. Her lips were tightly pressed together and steam practically rose from her fury. She held up a video camera in one hand like a trophy.

"I have a VCR in my office." Dr. Jacobs led the way.

"There. Stop it right there!" Paul glared at the four now very subdued CPS officers. "That's where the bruise on her arm came from, and explains why she was crying. Do you agree?" His tone brooked no arguments.

"Yes, Captain. She wasn't trying to say she was being molested, she was bragging about being adopted by her stepfather." The woman CPS officer shook her head. "The teacher hurt her, so she was crying. Then we terrorized and traumatized her." She looked at her colleagues. "We blew this one, big time."

"I want that woman arrested for assault and battery, and I want her charged for child abuse. There was no reason for this to have happened. None at all, and I, for one, will not tolerate it," Paul was incensed. He stood up. "I'm taking the Griffins home, now. I want a report from CPS on my desk in the morning."

The four CPS officers exchanged a look. "Yes, Captain," the woman agreed. After he and his two detectives had gone, the four CPS officers heaved a relieved sigh.

"Hold on a minute. I want to talk to you, but I need to catch Captain Blaisdell, first." Dr. Jacobs stood up and ran after the departing cops.

"Captain, just a moment, please."

He turned back to her, his expression hard and forbidding. "What now?"

"Look, I'm sorry about everything, but...."

Paul sighed, relenting. "It wasn't all your fault, Dr. Jacobs. What did you want?"

She bit her lip, knowing how what she was about to say would probably be received. "I'd like to talk to Abby tomorrow, after she wakes up, of course. I know that's probably the last thing any of you wants, but it may help. I want to apologize to her and talk to her about what happened today. Reassure her that she didn't do anything wrong. If you don't want to bring her back here, at least get her to someone to talk to. The school psychologist, perhaps? Or I could invite him to join us here? Say, two o'clock?"

Paul was going to refuse, but then his brain took control over his heart. "All right. But don't expect them to just forgive and forget."

"I don't. I just don't want that little girl to develop a phobia about doctors." She shrugged. "And I do want to apologize."

"I'll tell Kermit. You won't be able to see her alone; I can tell you that much right now."

"Actually, I'd like the whole family to come. Which obviously includes you." Seeing his scowl, she quickly added, "And any other family you feel might be helpful."

Paul nodded, rubbing his eyes with the forefinger and thumb of his right hand. "All right. I'll tell them. Two o'clock tomorrow." He turned and walked away, joining the two detectives who were waiting for him by the elevators.

It was a good thing that Paul was driving. Kermit was unwilling to let go of his daughter. Ensconced in the back seat of the Cadillac, he shifted Abby so that she lay across his and her mother's laps, then he put his free left arm around his wife. The trip home was completed in silence.

Paul followed them up to their apartment. Once there, Paul sighed. "If I fix something, will you eat?"

Kermit and Isabel looked at each other, then at Paul. "No," Kermit admitted.

Paul nodded. "I didn't think so. It's only a little after three. Go to bed, comfort each other, and stay home tomorrow. The psychiatrist, Dr. Jacobs, would like to see all of us tomorrow at two."

"All of us?" Isabel asked wearily.

"Yeah. The three of you, me and probably Annie. I don't think Peter would be of much use. He's probably too angry about this to even remember how to spell his name."

Kermit almost smiled. "Oh, yeah. Two, huh? What about finding out what really happened?"

"Her teacher made an egregious error. That bruise on her arm came from the teacher. She was crying because her arm was hurt and she was afraid. She didn't know why she was in trouble, and didn't understand what was happening to her. Not until they tried to take her clothes off."

"What happened to her clothes?" Isabel softly asked. She was leaning against her daughter and husband, eyes closed, emotionally exhausted.

"They cut them off of her." Paul grinned rather snidely. "You taught her well. Will she need some throat spray tomorrow? She was screaming her lungs out, I understand."

Kermit grinned. "Probably not. When we taught her to 'scream', we just found the highest, loudest note she could sing, and told her to sing it at the top of her lungs for as long as it took."

Paul sighed, relieved. "Good. She still may be a little hoarse, though. Go on, get yourselves to bed and I'll see you tomorrow. I'll pick you up to go see the doctor."

"If I wasn't so wrung out, I'd go kill that teacher," Kermit muttered, coming back to himself now that he was somewhere safe that he didn't have to defend so carefully.

"Well, I sicced CPS on her. Seems she videotaped their conversation." Paul shook his head. "How anyone could mistake an obviously happy and excited child for an abused one, is far beyond me." He could see they were out on their feet. "Go on. Get yourselves to bed. I'll lock up behind me."

"Thanks, Paul," Kermit murmured as he turned and followed his wife towards their bedroom.

Paul unplugged their telephone, locked up and left.

They cuddled their daughter between them and, surprisingly, slept until the next morning. Kermit awoke first and sighed. He looked down at his ladies and smiled softly. He just hoped that there were no lasting ill effects of the previous day's trauma. He was realistic enough, however, not to count on it. He slid carefully from the bed to avoid waking them and padded his way to the bathroom. After a twenty-minute shower, he felt ready to finally face the day.

He checked on his sleeping family and gathered his clothes to go back and dress in the bathroom. He padded silently around the room, dressed only in a towel, as he decided on just what to wear. Not going to work, so he didn't need a suit. He finally settled on black trousers and matching turtleneck.

Dressed, he stood and watched Isabel and Abby sleep. They hadn't moved an inch since he'd slipped out of bed, which was good. It meant that they still felt safe. He scrubbed one hand over his face, wondering what to do if Abby had a lot of bad dreams from this. Or worse, what if she remembered what happened when she was three? With a silent sigh of frustration and worry, he walked from the bedroom to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee.

He was on his third cup when there was a soft noise and he turned to see Abby standing in the doorway, still dressed in his t-shirt and tie.

"Hey, sweetheart. How're you feeling?"

"My elbow hurts." She held up her left arm, where the livid bruise left by her teacher had turned spectacular colors.

Kermit winced and set down his coffee mug. Turning to her, he opened his arms and she smiled and ran to climb into his lap. He sighed, glad she still trusted him. "Yeah, it looks like it hurts, sweetheart. She sure didn't understand what you were talking about, did she?"

Abby shook her head, snuggling close. "Oh, yeah. She doesn't listen. How come I got in trouble?"

"You're not in trouble. It was a mistake." Kermit was having a hard time accepting what had happened, but knew that it was more important to downplay it in order to reassure his daughter.

"Mrs. Stevens is a mean lady. I don't know what I did wrong. I didn't back talk her or anything!"

"I know, sweetheart. She didn't listen to what you were saying and only heard what she wanted to hear." He paused, thinking, and then added, "She didn't understand about my marrying your mom so you could be my little girl."

Abby shifted away so she could look up into his face. There was a frown on her face. "Why not?"

"I guess it's something like an inside joke. Only family and our friends understand it. Outsiders don't, or can't, or won't."

Abby considered it for several long moments. Finally, she nodded. "Okay. Just for us, then. Like the number for the front door?"

"Oh, yeah. Just like the number for the front door. Although, I do hope you don't give it out to all your friends!"

Abby giggled and snuggled close again. "Of course not, silly. That would be like giving away my old key."

Kermit marveled at her seeming resiliency. And astuteness. He hugged her and kissed her temple. He was content, for the moment, to simply sit there with her in his lap and arms.

A few minutes later, Isabel came out, dressed for the day. Her eyes were still a little puffy from having cried the day before, but otherwise was looking well. Kermit grinned up at her as she came and drank the last of his now-cold coffee, grimacing at the taste.

"Blech. You could have warned me."

Kermit chuckled. "Sorry. How are you feeling this morning?"

Isabel looked at her contented child in her father's arms and smiled. "Much better, I think. How about you two?"

"My elbow hurts." Abby held up her bruised arm and both adults winced at the livid hand-shaped bruise.

"I bet. Why don't you go get dressed and I'll see if I can find something to help make it feel better?"

"Can I take a bath?"

The adults looked at each other. Abby always bathed at night, before bed. And even then, sometimes had to be coerced. "Sure, sweetheart. Do you need one of us to fix the water for you?" Kermit let her slide from his lap and stood up.

"Yes, please."

Kermit went into the bathroom and turned on the water, adjusting it for her. "Do you want a shower, or a bath, sweetheart?"

"Shower, please."

Kermit adjusted the shower head to provide the softest spray and angled it for her height. Then, he gave her a quick hug and a kiss and left her. Returning to the kitchen, he found a fresh cup of coffee and his concerned wife waiting for him.

"She wanted a shower."

"She hates showers."

"I know." He took his wife into his arms and hugged her. It was rather worrying to think that maybe something had happened that they didn't yet know about that would cause their daughter to suddenly want to bathe, and in a shower, to boot.

While they waited, Isabel began pulling things out to fix breakfast, even though it was closer to lunch time than breakfast.

"Mommy!" Abby screamed from the bathroom.

Isabel shot one terrified look at Kermit and ran.

She found her daughter huddled in the bottom of the tub, soaking wet and sobbing. She turned off the water and gathered her dripping child to her bosom. Then Kermit was there, wrapping Abby up in a big, fluffy towel and gently cradling her to his chest.

"What is it, Abby. What scared you?"

The little girl shivered and then laughed nervously and pointed. "Froggie scared me!"

There, huddled behind the toilet was their cat, staring up at them all with enormous eyes....and dripping wet.

The adults exchanged a relieved glance and had to fight back smiles. "What'd he do, sweetheart?"

"He hit at me through the shower curtain. Then he fell in and he scared me."

"He didn't mean to scare you, honey," Isabel explained. "But it's okay. Are you clean enough, yet?"

"Uh huh."

Kermit kissed her cheek and handed her over to her mother to finish drying and help pick out her clothes for the day while he rescued their cat from his hiding place behind the toilet and wrapped him up in another towel.

"Come on, Froggie, you don't need to drip dry."

Paul arrived at one-fifteen to take them to the meeting with the psychiatrist. He arrived to what appeared to be a very normal Griffin type morning, save for the still somewhat damp cat. But the whole family was smiling and in good moods. He was relieved, to say the least.

"What happened to the cat?"

"He thought Abby in the shower was unusual and batted at her through the curtain and then fell in the tub," Kermit explained. His expression told Paul just how unusual it was for Abby to take a shower.

"No permanent damage, I trust?"

"No," Isabel answered. "He scared Abby, though. But everything's fine, now."

"Good. You all ready?"

Kermit sighed and nodded. "Yeah. I don't want to, but I guess we have to. Any further word?"

Paul nodded. "Oh, yeah. The school board is terrified you'll sue them."

"I don't want to go back to school." Abby announced firmly.

"Mrs. Stevens has been put on suspension pending the outcome of CPS's investigation."

"Good. But what about rumor control?"

Paul sighed. "I don't know. If Dr. Jacobs got the school psychologist to join us, we can ask."

"Why wasn't the psychologist called in before that bi-teacher and the principal called CPS?"

"I don't know. We can ask. Meanwhile, Annie's down in the car, waiting. Shall we go?"

Reluctantly, they went.

"Thank you for coming, Mr. and Mrs. Griffin. Have you met Mr. Freedman? He's the school district's psychologist."

Kermit scowled. "We have not. Why weren't you called instead of CPS, though?"

Freedman sighed. "I don't know. Particularly since I was there yesterday. I didn't hear a thing about it until late yesterday afternoon after the police had been by to try and ascertain what had occurred." He frowned, not making eye contact with anyone, "I apologize for Mrs. Stevens' behavior, but I really don't understand what happened." He focused his gaze on Abby, who sat in her mother's lap, with Kermit between them and the two doctors. On their other side, sat Annie, and then Paul. To the two mental professionals, the family was presenting a very united front, with the two men on the outside, protecting the female members of their group.

"Abby, are you all right?"

Safe in her mother's lap, the child could afford to be brave and, perhaps, a little snide. "My elbow hurts where Mrs. Stevens jerked me around." She lifted her arm to show off the livid bruises. "And I have lots of other bruises, too."

"And I have to apologize for those," Dr. Jacobs said, leaning across her desk a bit to see her better. "I didn't know that you were just doing what you were supposed to do when you think someone's trying to hurt you."

Abby's expression turned petulant. "You gave me a shot. I don't like shots."

Dr. Jacobs nodded. "I know, and I'm really sorry. I didn't understand what was really going on."

"Do you have any idea what Mrs. Stevens thought you had said, Abigail?"

"She didn't understand the family joke," Abby said bitterly. Hearing the tone of her voice, her parents exchanged a glance and Isabel hugged her child, while Kermit placed a hand on her shoulder, gaining her attention.

"Don't be rude, Abby," Kermit softly murmured. Abby flashed a moment of fury, but then sighed and nodded.

"I'm mad, daddy. Mrs. Stevens hurt me and then nobody would listen to me or tell me why I was in trouble. They scared me and touched me like you said people aren't supposed to touch kids, and they held me down and cut my clothes off and I got scared and nobody would listen and nobody would tell me anything and you and mommy weren't there and I got scared and nobody cared and...."

"Shhh, Abby, we know. It's over, now, honey." Isabel tried to calm her daughter, who was again becoming agitated.

Kermit slid to his knees beside them and wrapped his arms around mother and daughter. "It's okay, sweetheart. We know. We need to talk about what happened so we can figure out how to keep it from ever happening again to anyone else, okay?"

Abby pouted. "But why'd it have to happen to me?"

Paul sighed and spoke up. "I think I have the answer to that, Abby."

Everyone focused on Paul in surprise. Kermit slid back into his chair. "Oh?"

Paul looked sadly at his friend. "Mrs. Stevens has a son."

There was only confusion on everyone's faces. "Yeah? So?"

"So, his name isn't Stevens. It's Jennings."

Kermit frowned. "Jennings?" His wife and daughter watched as he raked through his memories until he finally reacted. "Ralph?"


"That was what, twelve years ago?"


"I don't understand?" Dr. Jacobs quietly interrupted, exchanging a confused look with Freedman.

"Ralph Jennings was a young man Kermit arrested when he was still on patrol, and a rookie, at that," Paul explained.

"What happened?"

Freedman sighed. "I remember him. Or at least, hearing about him. He was the high school football star. Had a brilliant career in front of him. All the big colleges were offering him scholarships. This place was lousy with recruiters, as I recall."

Paul nodded. "Until that night," he murmured softly.

Dr. Jacobs, Isabel, and Abby had no idea what they were talking about. "So, what happened?" Isabel asked her husband.

Kermit sighed. "I was on patrol. We saw this car weaving badly all over the road and I went to pull him over when my T.O. recognized the car and told me to let it go. I asked why, and he said it was this Jennings kid. I said I didn't care, he was driving like a drunk and our job was to protect everyone else in the city from his stupidity. Unfortunately, by the time I convinced him that I was right, Jennings had turned a corner. Since I was driving," He glanced at Paul and shook his head, "and it was my first night I actually got to drive, I went looking for him. I spotted him at a red light, next to another car. From the way his car was shaking, I knew he was planning on racing off from the light, whether or not the other car wanted to play. The light turned green, he floored it; he sideswiped the car next to his and accelerated away. I flipped on lights and sirens and went after him. He ran the next light and took out a bunch of kids in the crosswalk before losing control and smashing into an ice cream shop and killing eight more kids." He closed his eyes and sighed. "It was Halloween, about seven-thirty, and twelve kids died, three others were seriously injured, and two never walked again." His expression was bleak. "I was the arresting officer."

"If your T.O. had listened to you to begin with, you might have prevented that tragedy," Dr. Jacobs softly murmured.

Kermit grinned sardonically. "I was nearly driven off the force. They tried to say that my going after him caused him to panic, causing the accident. Mr. Murphy, however, the man in the sideswiped car, came forward and told them all off. Fortunately, Mr. Murphy was the editor of the Standard, at the time."

"They nearly drove him out of town, too. But Jennings was .18 on blood alcohol, and there were traces of cocaine in his blood. He got life and won't be eligible for parole for another twenty-five years." Paul sighed and shook his head. "Such a waste. But he did it to himself. No one forced him into it. Once the recruiters found out about the drugs and alcohol, even if he'd gotten off, no one would have wanted him. It was bound to happen. You were just unlucky enough to be the one brave enough to do the right thing."

Kermit grinned sardonically. "Oh, yeah. That was before I went to work for you. Come to think of it, I went straight from rookie to detective. Kind of unusual, isn't it?"

Paul smiled softly. "Not for someone like us. I didn't even pull patrol."

"I don't understand," Freedman said. "Why not?"

Paul straightened in his chair. "Because of how I came to be a cop. I ... transferred from my old career and got to skip the academy and patrol. I went straight to detective and within a year made sergeant, and three years later, lieutenant, and then a couple years after that, captain."

"That's very unusual, isn't it?" Dr. Jacobs asked.

Paul's smile hardened. "Not when you come from the profession we did."

"Were you military?" Freedman asked.


Freedman and Jacobs exchanged a look and decided not to probe any deeper. There was a decided chill developing in the air.

Taking a deep breath, Dr. Jacobs asked, "So, she recognized your name and decided to cause you trouble by hurting Abby?"

Kermit sighed and glanced at his wife and daughter. "So it would appear." He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I worry about my past coming back to haunt me, but not this past."

"He killed twelve children. I don't feel sorry for him in the least. As you said, no one forced him. He probably got several warnings and didn't believe there could be any consequences of his actions. Now, his mother has attacked and abused Abby because of her own lack of responsibility in raising her son." She shook her head and looked down at her daughter. "She has no one to blame but herself. She didn't have any cause to hurt Abby. Or anyone else." She looked up and turned her head to see Paul calmly regarding her. "I want to sue her. I want to make sure she never gets the chance to hurt another child."

Paul nodded. "She's been charged with willful child endangerment, abuse, assault, and battery on a child. If it goes to trial, it will all come out about her son and the families whose lives he ruined. And that's just the criminal charges."

Isabel turned to her husband. "I want to file a civil suit, as well." She turned to Dr. Jacobs. "We'll need pictures of all the bruises and statements from everyone involved, please. What happened to Abby should never have happened."

"You're right, of course. Although, the CPS officers should have checked it out before dragging her in, but they were going on the report of Mrs. Stevens." She sighed. "If you'd rather, I'd suggest you take the photos, yourselves. It would be less stressful for the child."

Abby scowled. "I'm right here, you know," she spoke out rather stridently. "I'm not dumb." She wiggled out of her mother's embrace to face the doctor.

Kermit grinned. "She's trying to tell you not to patronize her." He shifted in his chair, "Come here, sweetheart. They just don't understand."

Abby looked disgusted. "Why not? They're grownups. They're supposed to know everything." Her expression turned to one of worry. "Aren't they?"

Paul winced, but answered for his friend. "Not always. Grownups don't have all the answers, Abby. Your daddy and I don't know how to set a broken bone or operate on a damaged heart. But we know about getting bad people off the streets and keeping them from hurting anyone else." He watched as the child frowningly considered his answer.

"Oh." Her anger dissipated and she sighed. "I don't want to go back to school."

Kermit sighed and gathered her into his lap. "I know, sweetheart, but it's the law that you have to."

Freedman shifted forward in his chair. "I talked to the other kids in your class, today. They were all afraid that Mrs. Stevens was going to hurt them, as well. At least, most of them were."

Abby's lips twisted into a frown. "All but Heather and Stacy, I bet."

"Were they teacher's pets?" Freedman asked gently.

Abby nodded, and received a hug from her father.

"Well, they're bringing in a new teacher for your class. Mrs. Roberts. I think you'll like her." He could see the doubt on her face, but had no way to reassure her. He glanced at Kermit. "There is something else, if I may be so bold as to ask?" He was instantly skewered by every eye. He smiled, a bit uncertainly, and said, "I understand that you managed to, and I quote, 'scream your head off for more than two hours' yesterday?"

Abby smirked. "Uh huh."

:How come you can even talk, today? I'd think your throat would be too sore to even swallow, let alone speak."

Abby frowned and looked up at her grinning father. "I guess I'd better answer that." He set Abby on the floor. "Abby, sing 'ah' for me, please?"

Abby folded her hands in front of her and closed her eyes a moment and then sang a clear, true note, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh"

"Higher, please, sweetheart."






"One more, please."


"Now, like we practiced, that note, sing 'eee' please?"


Kermit sat back and grinned at the amazement on everyone but Isabel's face. "Okay, honey, that's very good. Thank you."

Abby smiled broadly and climbed back into his lap, looking smugly at everyone. She giggled when Paul winked at her.

"That...That's amazing." Dr. Jacobs shook her head. "So, when everyone was thinking that she was screaming hysterically, she was just singing?"

"Sort of. That particular note is C above High C. It's very irritating, as I'm sure you noticed."

There was a hesitant knock at the door.

"Come?" Dr. Jacobs called. The door opened and a nurse stuck her head in. "Is everything all right? I heard someone screaming?"

"Everything's fine, thank you. It was just a demonstration." The nurse looked at everyone somewhat nervously, and paused a moment when she saw Abby, sitting in her father's lap and smirking.

"All right, just checking." The door closed and Abby giggled.

Freedman stared at Abby, awestruck. "And you kept that up for two hours?"

Abby nodded. "I got tired, though. And nobody would get mommy and daddy." Her eyes filled with tears and she turned her head against her father's shoulder and softly began to cry.

"It's okay, sweetheart. We're here and you're safe, now. Shhhhhh." Kermit's voice was soft and soothing to his little girl, who soon sniffled hard and looked around again.

"Can we go home, now? I don't like it here."

"In a bit, sweetheart. I think Mr. Freedman has some more questions for us." Kermit leaned forward to grab a tissue from the box on Dr. Jacobs' desk and handed it to Abby, who blew her nose and then slipped from his lap to throw the tissue away before climbing back into his lap and snuggling into his embrace.

"You taught her how to protect herself from abduction by telling her to 'sing' and kick and bite and everything?"

Kermit frowned and cast a puzzled look at Paul, who had helped him come up with the training for his little family. "Uh, yeah?"

Freedman became excited. "Do you think you could teach our students?"

"Huh?" Kermit looked a bit flustered.

"Would you be willing to demonstrate how to fight off an abductor in an assembly at some of the schools?" Freedman looked at Paul, who had a considering look on his face. "You're cops. You know how many kids are snatched every year?"

Paul sighed. "Yes. We do." He tilted his head at Kermit and grinned. "Let us think about it and maybe we can come up with a presentation for you." He glanced at his wife, who had been remarkably silent throughout this entire day. She was listening intently, however, and would no doubt have something to say later. In private. He reached his hand across and covered hers where they sat folded in her lap. She smiled at him and turned one hand over to grasp his.

"Thank you. In the meantime, I know it will be hard, Abby, but I'd really like it if you came back to school. Your classmates have been asking if you were okay."

"We want to meet the new teacher before she goes back," Isabel spoke up. There was no room for negotiation in her voice.

Freedman nodded. "Of course. I fully understand. You just want to protect your daughter."

"Oh, yeah," Kermit agreed.

To everyone's relief, Abby's retransition back to school went well. The new teacher was young and very friendly to all the children, without being a pushover. A month after the incident, Kermit, Peter, Paul, Skalany and several other officers came to Abby's school to give their safety presentation.

"Now, you all know not to talk to strangers, right?" Blake asked. There were loud calls of yes, along with some catcalls from some of the older children. But Blake wasn't fazed. "So, what do you do if a grownup tries to grab you or drag you into their car?" He looked around. "Anybody?" Still no answers. He smiled. "Well, here's one possibility." He backed to the side of the stage and the curtain rose, showing Abby skipping across the stage. Peter Caine called her over.

"Hey, do you think you could help me find my puppy? He got loose and I lost him."

Abby frowned at the 'stranger'. "I don't know you. Leave me alone!" she said loudly, not quite shouting.

"Please help me find my puppy?"

"Get away from me!" Abby shouted, starting to back away. Peter, playing the part of the bad guy, lunged for her and grabbed her by the body and lifted her. Suddenly, it was like he was holding a wildcat, as Abby 'screamed' for help and began to twist and struggle and elbow and bite and gouge and kick. One foot caught Peter in the knee quite soundly and he yelped and let her go. Abby, well trained, ran off stage.

The curtain fell.

"Okay, so, you manage to get away. What do you do next?"

"Go home?" came a tentative answer.

"That depends. How close are you to home? If very close, then by all means, go home and dial 911, and if someone's home, tell them what happened and have them call 911. What if you're not close to home?" There was silence.

"Well, if you're near a store, like one of the convenience stores you buy your candy at after school, run in there. There's almost always people inside. You tell the clerk what happened and ask them to call 911 for you. It does mean that you'll have to wait for the police to arrive, so be prepared to wait for a while for them. Suppose you're not close to a store or anywhere there's a lot of people?"

"Run and hide?"

"Only as a last resort. If you're on your way home from school, you can run back to the school and find a teacher. Or, you could run up to a house and bang on the door and ask for help. You don't want to be alone, is the main thing. Got it?"

"Man, my ears feel like they're going to echo with their 'screams' forever," Peter grumbled after the assembly. Paul and Kermit had taught the kids how to 'scream' properly to avoid losing their voices and be able to continue calling for help, no matter what. "One thing, though?"

"What's that?" Paul asked, slumped in his chair and with his feet up on the coffee table. They were at his house, the entire contingent from the earlier presentation. The coals were started and in a few more minutes, he'd be going out to start grilling steaks.

"Let the perp be a punishment detail, would you? I've got bruises on bruises, and my knee is killing me."

"Go put some ice on it. And be grateful she was pulling her punches," Kermit growled from his supine position on the sofa.


"Oh, yeah," Paul and Kermit chorused, grinning.

Mrs. Stevens went to prison. She showed no remorse for what she'd done, insisting that Kermit had to be a child molester - after all, look what he'd done to her son. And when she said that on the stand, it opened the door for the prosecution to bring up what her son had done. Abby was an excellent witness, repeating almost verbatim the events of the day. She even had the excitement in her voice over getting to become Miss Griffin. The jury was captivated by her, and when, at the end of her testimony, she announced that she was getting a new little brother or sister, there was amused laughter; except for the embarrassment and chagrin of her parents, who hadn't yet made the announcement. But how could they possibly be upset with their so obviously happy and proud daughter?

As Kermit cradled his new son against his chest and chatted with their friends at the christening, he spotted someone he hadn't expected to see again. He handed their son to his wife and murmured an apology before he strode purposefully from the church. Paul, seeing his friend's agitation, followed.

"Kearns, you weren't invited."

"Sorry. Just had to see for myself. Married and kids. Who'd believe it?"

"I, for one," Paul grumbled. "What do you want, Kearns?"

Kearns smiled. "Just came to offer my congratulations to the happy couple, is all."

"Thanks. Now go away."

Kearns sighed. "Still the same hardass as ever, eh, Griffin?"

Paul grinned as he spotted Mrs. Griffin making her way towards them. "Actually, Kermit's just a sweet little frog."

Kermit looked at him in shock, as Kearns laughed. "Yeah, sure he is. Just a soft, squishy little tadpole."

Paul hid his smile as Isabel stopped behind Kearns and scowled. Kermit, seeing the expression on her face realized what Paul was up to.

"Mr. Kearns, isn't it?"

Kearns jumped, startled and spun on his heel. He hadn't heard her come up behind him. He smiled. "Mrs. Griffin, congratulations."

"Why are you here? If you think you can coerce my husband or Paul into going back to work for you, you'd better think again."

Kearns blinked. "I only came to...."

"Try and talk one or both of them into coming to work for you, yes, I'm sure. It's not going to happen. They both have better things to do, like loving their wives and children. I don't recall inviting you, so I'd appreciate it if you simply leave without making a scene." Her arms were folded across her chest and her expression could only be called belligerent.

Kearns smiled. "My dear young woman,"

"Don't you 'dear young woman' me, Mr. Kearns. I know who you are and who you work for. You are not welcome here. In fact, I'd rather not hear of you coming back to this city, if at all possible." She advanced on him, and he backed away. "I don't want you near my family. I don't want to have to wonder if you or any of your cronies are sniffing around. I don't want to worry about some creep either trying to hurt my family or coerce them into doing things they don't want to do. I don't want to see you again, Mr. Kearns. And I want you to go away and tell your masters that Sloanville is off limits to them. If you need to warn us of something, either use the phone or email." She smiled sweetly at him, turned to her husband, gave him a quick kiss, and headed back to her new son, after whispering that the ceremony was about to start, so he'd better hurry.

Kearns stared after her. "Wow."

Paul grinned. "You'd better get going, Dick. You don't want her to come after you. Believe me."

Kearns looked at him, eyes wide, and then turned his attention to Kermit, who was smirking. Unsure, he started to shake his head, when Paul leaned close and softly said, "When I hired her as my secretary, she mentioned that what I was looking for was a dragon to guard the gate. Believe me, she's more than lived up to that comment. The only woman I'm more concerned with displeasing is my wife. And you know how Annie can be."

Kearns did. Much to his chagrin the one time he tried crossing the blind woman. He shuddered at the memory and his eyes widened. "You mean, she's worse than your wife?"

Kermit chuckled softly. "Oh, yeah. But only because Isabel can see to aim."

Kearns shuddered again and gave the two men a rather sickly smile. "Well, best wishes to all of you. I hope your families thrive and that every happiness will be yours."

"That's a good wish. And attainable, providing you delete all reference to us from your little databases." Paul smiled. "I'm certain that Kermit would be more than happy to help you in that particular endeavor."

Kermit stepped closer to Kearns, causing the man to back away, towards the exit. "Oh, yeah," he softly murmured.

"Uh, well, yes. Well. I do have to be going, now. Good luck!" And with that, he beat a hasty retreat while the two men watched him flee.

Paul grinned at his friend. "Now, I believe we have a christening to deal with?"

"Yeah." Kermit turned and led the way back into the chapel. "Dragon at the gate, huh?"

"Well, frog, dragon, not a whole lot of difference, if you think about it."

Kermit chuckled. "Yeah, both reptiles, I suppose."

"But hardly cold blooded, my friend."

"Oh, yeah." Kermit grinned and made sure that he was watching Paul's face when his new son's name was announced. Paul David Griffin squalled like a banshee when the water was applied, but Kermit didn't notice. He was too busy watching the emotions crossing his friend's face. His son was handed to him, and he gently cradled the infant to his chest. Now, it was definitely time to celebrate. Paul was having a barbecue for the occasion, and would very likely take a very close interest in his new godson.

With Isabel and Abby flanking him, they led the way out of the church. It was a clear, balmy morning with just the lightest of breezes. A lovely day filled with great promise, just like his life.

Even if his wife was a dragon.

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