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This was going to be part
of a very convoluted and much longer story...unfortunately, the timeline wouldn't
work and couldn't be tweaked so it could....however....
This story, at
least, the first part, was written October, 2003, and at the time, I thought it
needed more. This is the 'more'. As always, I'm using characters created by others
and brought to life by the talents of some very good people, most particularly
Robert Lansing - we lost him too soon.
man's life, there comes a time when he must face his past; and if he's honest
with himself, and hopefully he's at least that, he will face it - fearful, perhaps,
regretful, very likely, but with the same courage he's had previously. Of course,
on occasion, it takes even more courage than he's ever needed, before.
the first step towards enlightenment is taken very quickly, running in the opposite
direction as the perceived threat, only to come face to face with the one inescapable
Wherever you run, no matter how far or how fast, there you are.
can't escape yourself.
At least, not for long.
time he was here, it hadn't been as a tourist. He had the name and the address
and just enough skill in the language to get his request across to the cab driver.
To his surprise, the house was in a fairly nice part of the city. It wasn't quite
what he expected. He looked at the house for several long seconds before handing
the driver the fare and a decent tip and got out. He just looked at the house
for several long minutes, dredging up the courage to actually go up to the door.
The young man who answered smiled at him curiously. "Da?"
you speak English?"
"Yes." The young man frowned, wondering why an American
would be visiting him. "Can I help you?"
"Are you Sergi Berkhof's son?"
young man's smile faltered. "Yes?"
"I, uh, knew your father." He was somewhat
surprised at the expression of dismay that crossed the young man's face.
you know him well?"
"No. I...I was with him when he died."
man looked interested. "Please, come in?"
"Thank you." He followed the
young man into the house and was pleased to note that Berkhof's family seemed
to have managed to not only survive, but to thrive without their bread winner.
He was led to the kitchen, where he was given the seat of honor at the head of
the table. He took it reluctantly. There was an older woman already seated at
the table. She smiled at him, until her son explained, in Russian, what he'd said.
She looked at him, fear in her eyes.
"Did you know Sergi well?"
shook his head. "No. Not well."
"What do you know of him?"
with him when he died."
"That was such a long time ago. Gregor was but
a small boy."
"Yes." He looked up from his hands where they rested on the
table to meet her eyes. "It's taken me a long time to gather up the courage to
come here - to see you."
She looked confused. "You did not know him."
nodded. "How did he die?"
"I shot him."
Whatever he'd expected
as a reaction to his confession, it hadn't been anything like this. The woman
smiled and stood up, came around the table and hugged him, hard. He looked in
confusion at the young man, who was grinning, as well. When Mrs. Berkhof let him
go, he looked at her, at a total loss. She blushed at her boldness and returned
to her seat.
"You did not know Sergi. You could not have and come to apologize
for killing him if you had."
"I don't understand?"
"My father, he
was what you would call abusive. Back then, he would have been called a strict
disciplinarian? It was thought to be good to be strong leader of one's family.
It did not matter that he would beat my mother unconscious, or hit me until he
broke bones, yes?"
He stared at the smiling young man in shock. "He begged
me to save him, because he had a wife and children he loved. There was nothing
I could do, he'd taken two bullets, center mass. One had pierced a lung, the other
was a gutshot. Even if medical help had been available, I doubt he'd have lived.
He said he wanted to live to see his children grow up." He spoke softly, trying
to reconcile the anguished man who'd died in his arms to this seemingly happy
"The government provided a pension for us when he died. Because of
his death, my children were allowed to pursue their own paths, rather than what
he wanted. He expected our daughters to marry the men he chose for them, without
regard to their wishes and desires. Had he not died, my eldest daughter would
not be a doctor, now. Gregor would not have become an artist, and my other daughter
would not be politzei." There was great pride in her voice.
He'd been soul-searching
for months and had finally sought peace by locating the survivors of men he'd
killed. He'd searched for a number of families, but this had been the first ones
he'd actually managed to locate and approach. He'd expected to be hated and castigated,
not welcomed with smiles and gratitude. It made him wonder. From their description,
Sergi Berkhof had been a monster, not the loving, caring father he'd assumed from
the dying man's pleas to live to go back to his family.
As an honorable
man who truly loved and adored his family, this seeming dichotomy didn't fit.
It was too far beyond his understanding. Oh, he'd seen men who claimed to love
their families and were dangerously abusive, but he'd never been able to understand
it. He'd been strict with his children, but punishment was always meted out in
love, never anger, and he honestly couldn't remember administering more than a
very few spankings to his children.
"I see you are a gentle man. You do
not understand how he could say he loved us and still be so cruel? I cannot answer
you. I know only that his death was a blessing for our family. I thank you."
I don't know what to say. I wasn't expecting this."
Mrs. Berkhof nodded.
"May I know your name? I would like to remember you in my prayers. I see you seek
peace." She smiled again. "When they told me he had died 'in service to our glorious
country', I could hardly believe it. I was so happy. No more fear, no more pain.
It was such a relief. You did us a great favor, sir. One we can never repay."
looked at them, the calmness, the smiles, and the obvious contentment. He'd sought
forgiveness - but this hadn't been what he expected, not at all. He'd expected
them to hate him, perhaps to attack him. Instead, they wanted to know his name
so they could pray for him. It made him wonder. "My name is Paul," he softly told
"Paul, like the saint. I will remember you, Paul. And I will bless
you every day in my prayers." Mrs. Berkhof stood and Paul rose, as well. To his
surprise, she hugged him again, kissing him on each cheek, and then Gregor escorted
"You did us a great service, I too, will remember you in my prayers,
Then he was back on the street, confused and no closer to peace
than when he'd arrived.
It wasn't at all what he'd expected, or been prepared
for. When you've steeled yourself for what you consider well-deserved punishment,
undeserved mercy can be even more of a shock than expected hatred and anger. He
was totally at a loss. Looking back once at the house, he began walking, heading
back towards the airport, many miles away.
"I'm looking for the
Munez family? Eduardo Munez?" The old man glared at him and spat.
is dead, senor."
"I know. I'm looking for his family? I was given to understand
that he had a wife and children?"
The old man nodded, his expression only
slightly more friendly. "Si. Senora Sanchez."
"She's remarried, then?"
senor." The old man looked at him, his curiosity bright in his dark eyes. "Why
you ask for El Puto?"
He hesitated. He knew what that word meant, and it
certainly went far towards explaining the earlier reaction. "Why is he called
"He was a bad man. A, how you say, criminal. Not just a bandito,
for there are many like that. He was cruel, and had no concern for any but himself.
He had mucho dinero, but nothing for his family, comprende, senor?"
why you look for him?"
Paul shook his head. "Not him. His family."
"Only briefly. I... I was with him when he died."
old man nodded. "Did he die bravely? Or crying like the coward he was?" His sharp
glance and glinting eyes gave the clue as to which the man hoped.
shrugged. "He died wanting to see his family again."
"Even in death he
was a liar, then, senor."
"I'd still like to speak to his family."
old man sighed and nodded. This was not a one like El Puto, this was a kind man
- he knew such things. That and the fact that El Gato, the ugly one, was rubbing
against the man's trousers and was not kicked for his trouble. "Come."
followed the old man to a small Mercado, where they entered and he spoke rapidly
in Spanish to the proprietor. He met the man's worried gaze calmly. He wondered
if this was Sanchez? Finally, the proprietor nodded and turned to call softly
into the back of the store. A woman came out, wiping her hands on her apron, looking
at him with a worried expression.
His Spanish was adequate,
though Castilian, rather than the local dialect, but he could be understood. "You
used to be senora Munez?"
Her expression tightened, whether in anger or
fear, he wasn't certain. "Si. He is dead, and good riddance to him and all like
"I was with him when he died."
Her expression turned guarded
as she looked closely at him. "You did not work with him."
"No. I was on
the other side."
She nodded. "It is well that he is dead. He was a cruel
man; an evil man." She pulled her hair back from where it covered one side of
her face. "He did this because I asked for food for our children." 'This' was
a long, jagged scar that ran from her temple down her neck. She'd been lucky he
hadn't severed any major blood vessels.
"I'm the man who killed him."
expression of anger and mistrust turned instantly into a broad smile, showing
a couple of gaps in her teeth where her late husband had probably knocked them
out. "You are welcome here, then, senor!" She turned to her current husband and
spoke rapidly, faster than Paul could follow. Sanchez and the old man both grinned
and nodded, hurrying out.
As surprised as he'd been by the way the Berkhofs
had reacted, it was nothing compared to the reception he now received. He would
never have thought of anyone throwing a party for him for killing someone, but
the Sanchez family did - with the help of the entire village. To his amazement,
the entire population greeted him as a hero for having removed the evil man from
Mrs. Sanchez was one of many who asked his name that they
could bless him with their prayers. It left him even more confused than before.
The same basic scenario repeated itself time and again. For every
face from his nightmares, begging to live - to go back to their loved ones, when
he found their families, all, almost without exception, had greeted him with joy
upon learning his part in the demise of their father, husband, or son. And almost
without fail, they all wanted to know his name so that they could remember him
in their prayers. He simply couldn't understand. It didn't make any sense. However,
those faces whose families he found vanished from his nightmares, banished by
the truth of the kind of men they had been.
"I'm looking for Mrs. Bartok."
"Her family, then."
The man looked at him. "They do not
live here any more. When Bartok did not come back, she killed herself, and the
state took the children."
"What was he like? Bartok?"
"He was a
good man. A soldier, but a good man. He was a good father, and a good husband."
The man shrugged. "I do not know what became of the children."
"Thank you." He turned away - there would be no comfort here - only the confirmation
of what he'd originally expected.
Though most of those he found had been
grateful, the few he learned of where the dying man had been truthful about caring
for his loved ones left him still searching for relief.
the nightmares had gone, but he still was not at peace. As much as he missed his
own family, he still hadn't found the answers he sought. When he returned to the
US, he flew into Dayton, and headed for the old homestead. There, he talked to
his older brother, who had no answers for him, either.
"But you've found
peace. How did you do that?"
"I decided to focus on what is good in my
life. My children, my nephews, my family."
Paul looked at him and shook
his head. "I've always had those things. Maybe that's why I'm having so much trouble
James sighed and took a sip of his scotch. "I wish I could offer
you more, but I'm not exactly in the absolution business." He frowned, thinking,
"You mentioned most of them wanted to know your name so they could pray for you?"
Odd, isn't it? Here I'd always thought that they should hate me for what happened,
but instead, they promised to bless me in their prayers."
A sudden thought made him shake his head and a slight smile lightened his expression.
"I just had an idea, let me make a call...."
Silence. A garden
to work in and blessed silence. No judgment, no questions, nothing but calm acceptance.
it still didn't keep the nightmares away, though they'd changed, somewhat.
son, wake up! Paul!"
With a gasp, he sat up, breathing heavily. He looked
up at the abbot, who stood in the doorway. The abbot was a wise man, understanding
not to come too close to him when he was asleep and in distress. He rubbed a hand
over his face, forcing his breathing back under control, but there was nothing
he could do about his racing heart.
Seeing that it was now safe, the abbot
entered and sat on the edge of Paul's cot. "I wish you could tell me what causes
you such distress, my son," he said softly. "Perhaps there is something I can
do to help you?"
"What do you know about me, father?" His voice was rough
from lack of use. He'd been at the monastery for more than a month, and at least
several times a week, he'd had the nightmares badly enough to wake the abbot.
know that you are troubled, my son. I would like to help you, if you'll allow
"I'm not a Catholic, father."
The abbot smiled. "I know
that, my son, but that does not change my desire to help you. Perhaps by talking
about it, the answer will come?"
Paul looked at him, debating. Realizing
that he had nothing to lose, he began to speak.
The abbot listened without
comment until the flood of words ceased. When the tears came, he offered a comforting
hand and soft words of encouragement and explanation. As the sun came up, Paul
finally finished. "What do I do now, father?"
"My son, do you pray?"
"But you know the Lord? Know Christ our redeemer?"
looked at him in consternation. "If you're asking if I ever went forward at a
service to ask for salvation, yes. But I was a kid, then."
The abbot chuckled
softly and shook his head. "But you're a child of God, now. It matters not what
you've done in the meantime. You can speak to Him and ask Him for the peace you
Paul just stared at him, totally nonplussed. "You make it sound
so easy, father."
The abbot shook his head. "Forgiveness from God is very
easy; it's the devil reminding us of our sins that's the hard part. But once you've
gone to God with your needs, all you need to do is tell those thoughts that God
has forgiven you, and they will, eventually, cease."
"How can you be so
The abbot smiled. "Because I, too, was once a soldier.
The primary difference between us is that I found my solace somewhat sooner than
you have. But speak to the Lord; tell Him all, and if you can't speak the words
again, He will know from your groanings what you need." The abbot stood up and
with a final squeeze to Paul's shoulder, left him.
He sat for the longest
time, staring at the closed door. Slowly, he pushed back the covers and swung
his legs over the edge of the cot. Taking a deep breath, he stood. He frowned
in concentration and then looked out the small window at the lightening sky. Shaking
his head, he muttered, "What do I have to lose?" Taking another deep breath, he
sank to his knees by the cot, bowed his head and began hesitantly, "Dear, God...."
later, exhausted, he slept, dreamless and unmoving for three full days.
was never truly silent. He could hear the sounds of birds in the nearby trees,
the buzz of the bees from the apiary checking out the flowers in the garden. The
trees were finished with blooming and were in the process of developing fruit.
He was tilling the ground by hand, when a shadow fell across him. He looked up,
smiling. It was one of the brothers, holding out a glass filled with ice and fresh
lemonade. He nodded his thanks. He'd learned that words were not necessary. He'd
also learned that God does hear the silent cries of the heart. Soon, he'd be leaving
here and returning home to his own world. But first, he had a promise to keep.
He'd stay until the planting was done, he'd made a vow to God - and he had never
been one to fail to keep a promise. He'd been learning a great deal about faith
and God. Far more than he'd imagined. He lifted the glass to his lips and gratefully
took a long drink. When he'd finished, the brother smiled and took the glass back
before turning away. Paul watched him go for a moment before smiling softly and
turning back to his task. He looked around the garden; pleased with the amount
of work he'd gotten done. Sighing contentedly, he returned to digging the soil.
As the season of spring arrived, he was looking forward to the
work. He'd been here for months. He'd found his peace and was content with his
current life, though he missed his family. As soon as the planting was finished...
You have a phone call."
Paul frowned. Who? Only one person knew where he
was. For him to call, it must be important. He followed the brother to the abbot's
office, where he lifted the phone. "Yes?"
"I think you'd better come, Paul."
He sighed. "Can't it wait a few days? I've got something I need to do
before I leave."
"It's Peter. He's quit. Taken the brands. He really needs
to talk to you, little brother. He's a little upset."
Paul frowned. "He
Paul's breath caught. "What about Kermit?"
here. He's mad enough to spit nails, pacing around and muttering about 'killing
the bitch'. I *think* he's talking about his girlfriend?"
good. What the hell had Simms done to drive Peter to quit? And he'd taken the
Shaolin brands? His brother was right, he needed to get home. "Three days." It
would take that long to get most of the planting done. Whatever Peter had done
could wait that long; it might even give everyone time to calm down a little and
stop being quite so reactionary.
Paul hung up the phone.
Shaking his head, he returned to the garden and the planting. They'd have most
of the remaining transplants in within the next couple of days, and then his vow
would be fulfilled and he could go and find out what on earth was going on. Peter
took the brands? What the hell had Caine done? What could have happened to change
him so much that he'd have quit being a cop? But... he shook his head and turned
all his attention to his work. He'd learn soon enough. For now, he had a job to
He took a Greyhound bus to Ohio, calmly watching the
passing scenery. Although he could easily have taken a plane, he'd realized that
speed wasn't needed. What had happened was in the past and there was no preventing
it. All he could do was whatever damage control he might be able to accomplish.
There was no point in worrying about it until he learned more. The most important
thing was that no one was injured. He wondered what had happened, why Peter had
quit - it must have been something serious - but again, there was no point in
worrying about it until he got there and found out for certain.
got dark, he slept, easily and without any nightmares.
a good fifteen miles from town to the farm, but he thought nothing of the walk.
When an old truck slowed up beside him, he looked over, totally unconcerned with
who it might be or why they'd paused.
"Get in, James. I'm going right by
your place. What happened, your horse throw you or something?"
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Hardesty. I'm Paul, not James."
The elderly man shook
his head and laughed. "Never could tell you boys apart, I swear. Come on, boy,
get on in here."
Paul chuckled and opened the door to climb in. Mr. Hardesty
had been one of his father's friends back when he was growing up. He had to be
over ninety, now. "How's Joey, these days?"
"Doin' well, Paul. I've got
three great great grandchildren, now. Two girls and a boy. Never thought I'd live
this long, but I have. Wish your dad was still around."
Paul smiled a bit
sadly. He still missed his father, himself, but he also knew why Hardesty missed
him so much. They'd had a friendly rivalry ever since he could remember - first
with who had the most children, who had the most boys, who had the first grandchild,
great grand child, and so on.
"You'd just gloat over the great great grandchildren,
if I know you, Mr. Hardesty."
The elderly man burst into laughter. "You're
right, there, Paul. But your family still has more boys than mine."
may be true, Mr. Hardesty, but you've got more grandchildren and great grandchildren
than Dad. At the moment, I've only got one grandson. Of course, I've also only
got one married daughter."
"What about that boy of yours? Hasn't he settled
Paul sighed. "I wish I knew. I've been away for an extended
period. In fact, I'm meeting a friend at the farm to find out what's been going
on. Peter's quit his job and become a priest."
The elderly man frowned
at him for a moment before turning his gaze back to the road. "Didn't think you
folks was Catholic."
Paul smiled in amusement. "His natural father is a
Shaolin priest. I understand that's what he's become."
"Hmph. Seems a silly
sort of thing to do. What made him do that?"
Paul sighed. "I wish I knew.
Hopefully, I'm about to find out, though." The truck pulled up at the end of the
lane leading to the farm. "Thanks for the ride, Mr. Hardesty. I'll give your regards
"You do that, Paul. It's been good to see you. Take care."
too, Mr. Hardesty. I hope to see you soon."
The elderly man chuckled, "Only
if you stick around for more than an hour or two, boy."
Paul grinned. "We'll
have to see. Thanks again for the ride."
"You're welcome, Paul." With that,
he slipped the clutch and the elderly man and his almost equally elderly truck
headed on down the road.
Paul watched as the truck drove over the hill
and shook his head. It was amazing, to him, how easily he could fall back into
behaviors he'd had as a boy. He found it amusing how deferential he'd been to
Mr. Hardesty - but that was how he'd been raised, so it really shouldn't have
surprised him, he supposed. Of course, his recent time in seclusion might have
had something to do with it, as well; his time at the monastery had definitely
taken him back to his youth, when ideals of making the world a better place had
But now, it was time to return to the real world and find
out what on earth his son had gotten himself into.
By city standards,
it was still insufferably early. For farmers, it was the middle of the morning.
There was a light in the kitchen and he could smell fresh coffee. He tapped out
Morse Code for hi, ditditditdit ditdit. Then he opened the door and walked in
to find his brother taking down another mug from the cupboard.
still asleep, I suppose?"
James chuckled. "What do you expect from a city
"Well, from an ex-mercenary, I'd expect more, except that this house
has always welcomed the weary traveler with peace and safety."
brother smiled and nodded. "That's quite true. I know that I've always felt it.
He finished his mug of coffee and rose. "Well, I've got chores to do."
stood, as well. "I'll help you." Smiling, the brothers went outside to feed the
livestock and muck out the stalls.
An hour later, Paul paused
for a moment in his work. He'd helped feed the cows and milked them, then they'd
fed the horses, and now they were cleaning the stalls. He was mucking out the
stall of one of the small American Cream Draft horses his brother owned. Like
other draft breeds, it was a willing, docile, and gentle animal. It had kindly
moved out of his way without urging, snorting softly at his unfamiliar scent.
When he was finished removing the soiled bedding and droppings, he added more
straw and banked it up against the walls of the stall. As soon as he left, the
horse sniffed around a bit, then dropped down and rolled in the fresh and fragrant
pile. Paul grinned as he watched.
"She's always done that. As soon as there's
fresh bedding, she's got to lie down and roll in it," James murmured as he joined
his brother outside the stall. "Let's dump the wheelbarrows and go wake up your
Paul glanced at the angle of the sun and shook his head.
"I'll be surprised if he's still asleep."
"Well, prepare to be surprised.
I haven't seen him before nine since he got here."
Paul grinned. "That
doesn't mean he isn't awake."
James frowned at Paul, then grinned. "What,
he's afraid I'll put him to work mucking out stalls?"
"Probably. He's got
little or no experience with livestock, even nice, gentle ones like yours."
that case, I'll let you tease him about it."
Grinning at one another, the
brothers returned to the silent house.
Kermit awoke when the kitchen
door banged closed as James went out to do the chores. He felt guilty by not volunteering
to help, but frankly, he was afraid of the animals. His experiences with horses
and cows had not been good ones, starting with being chased by a supposedly docile
and domestic water buffalo in Viet Nam. The one time he'd tried riding a horse,
again, a supposedly well trained and gentle animal, he'd wound up tangled in a
barbed wire fence when the animal had thrown him. He'd just as soon see all cattle
in small pieces on his dinner plate, and all horses at race tracks, safely beyond
barriers from him, thank you very much.
He got out of bed and prepared
to meet the day. He decided that since he wouldn't be much use outside, the least
he could do would be to fix breakfast.
He looked up in surprise
when he heard James talking to someone an hour later, but shrugged, remembering
that the neighbors seemed to come by frequently. When he'd first come, he'd hoped
to find Paul, here, but that was not to be. However, James *had* known where his
brother was and how to contact him. He'd said that it would probably take at least
a week for Paul to arrive. The week would be up the next day, but for once, he
wasn't getting antsy about having to wait. There was something so peaceful about
this place that the wait didn't seem quite as onerous as he thought it would.
He glanced down at the batter he'd prepared and shrugged. There was more than
enough to feed the two of them and a guest.
He glanced up when the door
opened and James came in, followed by another man. It took him a moment to recognize
Paul, he looked so different from the last time he'd seen him. He was bronzed
from being outside, he'd gained weight, and he looked positively robust. A far
cry from the shadow of the man who'd left them just over two years earlier.
followed his brother into the house and paused. Kermit stood at the kitchen counter
with a bowl of something in his hands. He watched, guardedly as his friend slowly
set the bowl down and moved towards them.
"Paul." He shook
his head, marveling at how good his friend looked. He approached him and grinned,
then opened his arms and engulfed the larger man in a bear hug. "God, it's good
to see you!"
Paul chuckled and returned the embrace. "Good to see you,
too, Kermit." He decided not to ask how things were going, as he suspected that
they weren't going all that well for his friend or his family. He released Kermit
the moment he started to pull back.
Kermit couldn't keep the grin from
his face. "You look good, Paul."
"I feel good, Kermit." He shook his head
and grinned. "It'll be good to get home."
Kermit's grin faltered. "You're
definitely needed, Paul. The shit's really hit the fan this time." His voice lowered
into a growl.
"But that can wait until after we eat. Paul arrived a little
over an hour ago and all either of us has had is a cup of coffee," James interjected.
I mixed up some pancake batter, if that's of any interest to you?"
to cooking, Kermit," Paul ordered with a grin.
Grinning again, Kermit sketched
a mocking salute and turned back to his earlier preparations.
his head and poured coffee for Paul and himself. They sat at the table and quietly
watched as Kermit cooked pancakes.
Kermit's emotions were in turmoil. He
was thrilled with how good Paul looked, younger and far more healthy than he'd
been in several years, in fact. But why hadn't he come back sooner? Why did he
have to come begging to the retired master-spy who was Paul's brother? Where had
he been, what had he been doing, and why the *hell* hadn't he kept in touch with
his wife, at least? He fought down the resentment and anger. He knew Paul. Something
had kept him away for all that time. And Paul, of all people, deserved a chance
to explain. He remembered how bad his friend and mentor had appeared the last
time he'd seen him, almost like he was dying. He knew it wasn't a physical hurt,
but a soul-deep wound that had festered for who knew how many years? Remembering
that, his anger and resentment dissipated into nothing. Paul had come. He said
it would be good to get home. He'd always trusted Paul to pull off some kind of
magic whenever they'd been in tight spots, and the man had *never* let him down.
To think that he would now, with his son's life in the balance? Not as long as
He flipped the last pancake onto the stack and took them to
the table. James had set the table, and both men were sipping coffee. "Here you
go, gentlemen. Eat up."
James sniffed appreciatively. "Since I know I don't
have pancake mix, these are from scratch."
Kermit blushed. "Uh, yeah. As
Paul can tell you, it's one of the things I can do without a recipe."
a pretty fair cook, for a bachelor. But he's best at breakfast. Even Annie likes
his pancakes," Paul informed his brother as he stabbed his fork through four pancakes
and transferred them to his plate. Kermit grinned. Paul must be hungry for him
to start off with four of the light, fluffy disks.
James watched his brother
as he slathered butter and poured the real maple syrup over his pancakes. Considering
how the younger man had been feeling the last time he saw him, it was a delight
to watch him with such a good appetite. He glanced up at Kermit and saw an expression
he was sure matched his own. Shifting, he snagged some of the pancakes for himself
and prepared them to his liking - without quite as much butter and syrup as his
Paul was well aware that the other two men were watching
him closely. He understood why, and was secretly delighted by it. He'd looked
like death warmed over when he'd left, but it was a sickness of the soul, not
the body. He wondered what they'd think of where he'd finally found his peace?
No matter. He was healed and ready to go home and take up the reins of his life
once more. He finished his stack of pancakes, and stabbed two more.
my compliments. You've actually gotten better at this since the last time you
Kermit stared at his friend. He'd *never* known Paul
to put away that many pancakes at once, not even after a rough mission. He glanced
at James and saw the same surprise on his face. Obviously, Paul was feeling a
*lot* better than the last time either man had seen him.
Mopping up the
last of the buttery maple syrup with the last bit of pancake, Paul ate it, set
his fork down, lifted his mug of coffee, leaned back, took a sip and sighed with
contentment. His eyes twinkled at the consternation in the ranks. "What? You didn't
think I remembered how to eat?"
James grinned and rose to refill his own
mug and to bring the pot over to refill his guests'. "Oh, I was sure you remembered
how, and why, but I wasn't sure if you remembered how to enjoy it."
yeah," Kermit agreed, grinning. "So, I take it you're feeling better?"
grew serious. "I am. It's been an interesting two years." He glanced out the window
into the spring day. "I was almost ready to come home when you called. I've finished
what I had to do, and I'm ready, now." He turned his eyes back to Kermit's, a
concerned expression on his face. "What happened?"
Kermit sighed and told
him. The weird stuff that Caine had done, the way Peter had changed, how Caine
and the Ancient had pushed and prodded Peter until he gave in and took the brands....
says it's his `destiny,' but I know he isn't happy, and neither is anyone else.
I guess the last straw was when Karen wouldn't back him up on nailing that dirty
cop." He looked even more troubled and then shrugged. "Maybe Caine had something
to do with it, but unless he either hypnotized her or brainwashed her or something,
I don't know how. The minute Peter quit and took over the apothecary with Lo Si,
Caine was off on another of his searches. Seems he now thinks that Peter's real
mother is alive, somewhere."
"That's bullshit," James murmured and Paul
nodded in agreement.
"Yeah, well, if he comes back with someone and claims
she's Pete's mom, I'll demand a DNA test to be sure."
Paul sighed and rubbed
his thumb and index finger into his eyes. "Well, Peter doesn't remember his real
mother at all, so anyone could claim to be her." He shook his head and sighed,
then grinned sardonically at his companions. "Are you certain that Peter isn't
doing what he wants?"
Kermit sighed and shook his head. "I wish I could
be sure, but he avoids all his old friends like the plague. He hasn't been by
to visit Annie in nearly a year, and Kelly says he doesn't even call or send cards
on birthdays or holidays. You know him better than anyone, though, so you can
judge for yourself when we get there, I guess."
Paul looked at Kermit closely
and recognized his friend's discouragement. "Then we should get going. Did you
Kermit looked up in surprise. "But you just got here. Don't
you and your brother..."
"Kermit, James and I have spoken any number of
times over the past two years." He glanced at the older man, who nodded almost
imperceptibly, and continued. "Obviously, I'm needed at home, so let's go."
didn't have to say it twice. Kermit was up and clearing the table. The sooner
they got moving, the sooner they'd be home, and Paul would talk to Peter and straighten
"I'll clean up, Kermit," James softly said as he took the
dishes from the younger man's hands. "Go get your gear and get going. I think
my sister-in-law would like to have her husband home sooner, rather than later."
glanced at Paul, who was smiling almost the way Caine did when he knew things
no one else did. He suppressed a shiver and smiled at James. "Thanks. For everything."
welcome, Kermit. Go on, I'll clean up here." Kermit went.
upset. He's not usually so... ebullient."
"He's glad to see you, and considering
what you looked like the last time I saw you, can you blame him? I don't think
he ever thought he'd see you again."
Paul smiled softly. "Well, I found
the healing I needed."
"At the monastery?"
"Yes." He was calm, eerily
so for those who knew him well. James understood, though. He'd gone through similar
fires in his life. They either killed you or made you stronger. He was glad to
see that his brother had found the solace he needed. He wouldn't press for details,
though. It wasn't their way.
"Give me a call when you get settled back
in the real world, little brother."
Paul smiled and nodded. "I shall."
came back in with his duffle bag and smiled tentatively at Paul. "Are you sure
you don't want to wait another day? Rest up for the drive?"
with genuine amusement. "Kermit, I'm fine. I'm not fragile...." he stopped upon
seeing the expression on Kermit's face. James looked away, hiding a smile. Paul's
voice softened. "I'm all right, Kermit. Truly. Come on, let's go. I'm looking
forward to seeing my wife and family." His voice turned uncertain as he added,
"I just hope Peter can forgive me for deserting him the way I did."
had no choice, Paul. He knows that. If you'd stayed, you would have died, and
that, my friend, there is no return from." Kermit turned to James again and extended
his hand. "Thanks again. For everything."
"You're welcome, Kermit. Drive
The drive was long and wearying.
They went over everything that had happened since he left, how Caine had taken
control of Peter's, and everyone else's, minds. At least, that was Kermit's perception.
considered the possibilities and sighed. "But Kermit, what if this is what Peter
Kermit turned to him, startled. "You're joking, right?"
looked out the window and shook his head. "No. I'm not. If it turns out that Peter
truly wishes to follow in his father's footsteps, I'll give him my blessing."
He turned back, and Kermit spotted a flash of the old Paul, "But if it isn't,
I'm going to have a long heart-to-heart with that young man."
They drove in silence for a while; the hum of the motor and
the tires on the road was hypnotic. Paul offered to drive for a spell, but Kermit
thanked him politely and continued. Paul smothered a grin behind his hand. Kermit
hated to let *anyone* drive his car. "So, Kermit," Paul began, "How are things
going between you and Karen?"
Kermit stilled, only his hands on the wheel
moving to make minute adjustments in steering. "I rather suspect whatever I thought
we might have had is over."
"So am I." He shrugged
fatalistically. "We did a *lot* of arguing over Peter the last few months. At
the end, we weren't talking at all, just yelling, and neither of us was listening."
you to think that, it means that you were."
Kermit sighed. "Yeah, but she
wasn't saying anything I wanted to hear. So, here I am." They drove in silence
for several miles, until Kermit pulled off to get fuel.
"I'll get us some
coffee," Paul offered.
Kermit grinned. "And something to snack on?"
chuckled. "Of course." He returned a few minutes later with two large thermal
mugs of coffee and a bag full of snacks.
Kermit stared. "Uh, I hope those
"They are. Hot coffee for you, iced for me."
that much coffee will float my kidneys away."
"Kermit, they're only equal
to about half a pot of coffee, if you're using a twelve-cup pot, that is."
lowered his sunglasses and peered skeptically at his friend. "You've got to be
Paul chuckled. "I'm not. A 12-cup pot of coffee only holds 60
ounces. These are 44-ounce mugs. Besides, they're thermal and will keep your coffee
nice and hot for hours. Just don't scald yourself with it, hmmm?"
accepted the enormous mug. He took a cautious sip. It was strong and hot, just
the way he liked it. He cast a puzzled glance at his friend as he retrieved his
receipt from the gas pump. "Since when do you drink iced coffee?"
last summer. I discovered that I like it. Of course, I put sugar and cream in
Kermit shook his head, grinning. "Milk and sugar in coffee? You? What
*is* the world coming to?"
"Change is inevitable, my friend. I just prefer
to make some transitions as easy on myself as possible."
somber again. "Oh, yeah."
They spent the night at a Day's Inn.
They could have pushed through and gotten back to Sloanville by morning, but Paul
insisted that it wouldn't hurt them to take the extra time and get some rest.
Kermit agreed, reluctantly.
Kermit listened to Paul's quiet breathing and
envied him. For some reason, his mind was awhirl with concerns about Peter...
and Paul. He tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable position. The bed
was comfortable enough, but his stupid mind just wouldn't let him rest. He sighed
and sat up.
He glared over at the other bed at the soundly and peacefully
sleeping Paul. Grumbling silently to himself, he threw back the covers and slid
out of bed. Dressed only in his boxers and tank tee, he went over to the table
where his mug sat. To his pleased surprise, it was still warm enough to drink
without distaste. Maybe this wasn't such a bad idea, after all. He listened to
Paul sleep. There was only the soft, deep breathing of a totally relaxed and comfortable
man. No tossing or turning. Kermit shook his head and smiled. This, more than
anything Paul could have said, convinced him that his friend had found whatever
healing he'd required. Thinking of healing, he wondered why Caine, who seemed
to be able to heal even bullet wounds with just his `chi', hadn't helped Paul?
He quickly decided not to dwell upon that little problem, realizing just how ugly
the possibility was. Was it possible that Caine had made Paul sick? Just to tear
Peter away from his foster family? He shuddered. He hoped not.
his coffee and went back to bed, hoping that now he could get a few hours of sleep.
Kermit pulled into the driveway of Paul's house. The two men got
out and headed for the front door. Kermit rang the bell and they waited. It opened
a few minutes later and Annie stood in the opening.
Annie. I've got a little present for you."
Her concerned expression turned
to one of pleasure. "Kermit! What brings you here?" Then she paused as what he
said registered. "A present? For me?"
"Oh, yeah." He grasped Paul by the
arm and pushed him into his wife. Her hands came up automatically to fend off
the perceived attack, but her moment of terror vanished as she recognized the
"PAUL!" Her hands flew over him, touching his face, running
through his hair, and down his body, checking him for damage and remembering how
frail he'd been when he'd left two years previously. "Oh, Paul!" She threw herself
into his arms and lifted her face for a kiss.
Paul hugged his wife tightly
and kissed her soundly. Finally needing to breathe, he pulled away slightly, and
asked, "Hey, Babe, may we come in?"
She stepped back, but kept a tight
hold on his jacket, unwilling to release him until she was fully convinced he
was really there. Once inside and the door was closed, she grabbed him again,
and they kissed once more while her hands continued to roam over his body. Kermit
was glad she was blind, as their passion was strong enough to make him blush.
Finally, apparently convinced that he was real, she let him go, all but his hand.
She clung to it like a child fearful of getting lost. "Kermit, where on earth
did you find him?" She blushed with the realization that he'd been witness to
just how much she'd missed her husband.
"I figured out who to ask, and
sure enough, he knew how to get in touch with him. I didn't ask where he's been,
but I can tell you, he looks great. But, I supposed you noticed that?" He couldn't
"I'll let you know when I've had a chance to do a full examination,"
she replied saucily. Paul laughed.
"Oh, Babe, I've missed you so much."
He glanced at his friend. "You should know better than to take on Annie in a battle
of wits, you'll never win."
"Oh, I don't know. I've won a few skirmishes.
However, I'll leave you two to your reunion, and when you're ready, say in a day
or two, give me a call and I'll take you."
"All right. Thanks, Kermit.
I'll call you later, probably tomorrow." He could feel his wife's hand tightening
on his and knew she wanted him all to herself, just now. Kermit waved goodbye
and quickly left.
Paul turned to his bride and stared at her. There was
more silver in her blond hair than he remembered. There were a few more worry
lines on her forehead, but her smile was exactly as he remembered it, and her
lips.... He bent down to kiss her again.
"Kelly's off for the weekend with
"Oh?" There was no disappointment in his voice, it was that soft,
rumbling purr that even now melted her bones.
"Yes. Race you to the bedroom?"
need a shower, first. It's been a long trip."
"Can I help?" She tilted
her head coquettishly and he chuckled. "Of course. How about we go all out with
"You read my mind."
They didn't race at all. They had
all the time they needed.
When he awoke, he was somewhat amazed
to find himself at home and in his own bed, with his wife sleeping snuggled in
his arms. It had been such a long time since he last thought of his life here.
That final black hole of loneliness was now filled almost to overflowing with
the joy his Annie had always brought him. He didn't stir as she began to awaken,
until she stretched and her hands began to reassure her that he was real and really
there. With a soft chuckle, he kissed her.
"Good morning, my love."
I've missed you."
"I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"Do you want
to tell me?"
"Yes. I'll tell you everything you want to know. But the important
thing is that I'm home, and for good."
"Did Kermit tell you about Peter?"
became still. "Yes. Tell me what you know?"
She sighed and snuggled into
his embrace. "He's hardly come by at all since you left, and not once in almost
a year. Kelly calls him fairly regularly, but you know Peter, if he doesn't want
to talk, he doesn't."
"Or he'll chatter inanely about unimportant matters
until you want to scream. Go on."
"Well, Kermit's the one who finally told
us about Peter quitting the force. I called him, but he wouldn't talk to me, and
I haven't tried again."
"Fried chicken didn't get him here?"
shook her head, fighting back the tears. "I guess," she choked. "I guess he's
found his own way, and we're not a part of it, any more."
He held her closely
and tenderly, knowing how much it must have hurt her and that without contact,
she could only grieve for her lost child. It made him just a bit angry with Peter.
It would be interesting to hear his excuse for not taking care of his mother for
him. He'd counted on Peter, Kermit, and Blake to take care of things in his absence,
but Peter apparently had forgotten his promise.
"I'll go and talk to him.
Hopefully, he'll be more willing to talk to me." His annoyance was apparent in
"Don't be too angry, Paul. You know how he is. He probably feels
that you deserted him as much as Caine has."
Paul sighed. "I know, Babe,
but that's no excuse for taking his distress out on you and Kelly. Besides, what
if something had happened and you'd needed him?" Then his anger dissipated and
he shook his head. "It'll be all right, Babe." He gently kissed her, as his hand
drifted down her body.
"Mmmmm, I've missed you, so much."
you, too." His hands gently stroked her body, but she stiffened and sucked in
a breath in a hiss.
"Sorry, Paul, I'm just a little sore, I'm afraid."
Babe," he murmured, realizing just how much he'd missed being with his wife, but
it had been more than a year before he'd left in search of healing that they'd...he'd
been able to have normal physical relations with her. He'd even taken to sleeping
in the guest room because of his nightmares. Well, no more. She had some aches
from their passion the night before, but that would pass. At least they still
had the same strong feelings for one another they'd always had. He kissed her
tenderly and touched her lightly, without any intention of arousing her. "I'll
go get the coffee started, if you want to shower first?"
"Come with me?"
She still didn't want to be out of reach of him, for fear it would all turn out
to be a dream.
He smiled and kissed her again, "Always."
out that she wasn't as sore as she'd at first thought.
want me to come in with you, Paul?" Kermit asked.
"No. I think what we
need to say should be private. You're sure Lo Si's gone?"
"Yeah. He's out
with one of his ladies. I'll wait here for you."
"Thanks." With that, Paul
got out of the car and entered the building where his son now lived. He climbed
the two flights of stairs to Peter's apartment. The door stood open and he quietly
entered. He looked around, thinking it looked like Kwai Chang's home, more than
Peter's, except for the bits of soiled clothing on the floor. He smiled to himself
at this indication that at least some of the 'old' Peter still remained. He found
him sitting in a half-lotus position, with his back to the door. He shook his
head, wondering if it was overconfidence or something else that made him so careless.
He deliberately made a small sound and saw the figure stiffen.
I am Caine. I will help you."
Paul shook his head. Peter just wasn't the
same as Kwai Chang. The words sounded less believable coming from him.
thought you were going to, but I get back and you haven't talked to Annie in a
year. I was under the impression when I left that you were going to take care
of them for me." He felt a little mean spirit's satisfaction at Peter's reaction.
First he stiffened as he recognized his voice, then tried to untangle his legs
to get up and turn around, ending up sprawling on the floor in an ungainly tangle
of his own limbs. Paul had to fight it, but he didn't smile.
got his body back in control and stood up. His jaw was slack, his mouth open as
he gaped at what could only be a ghost, but if it were, it was a very tanned and
healthy looking ghost. "Paul?" He stared.
"Wh-when did you
"Yesterday. Kermit and Annie filled me in on what's been happening."
He played it cool. He turned away from Peter and looked around. "Except for the
scattered dirty laundry, this looks more like Kwai Chang's place than yours."
He turned and pinned his foster son in place with his eyes. "Care to tell me what
Peter tried to bluff, but almost immediately gave it up and
shrugged. "I'm following my destiny."
Paul regarded him, his piercing gaze
reading far more than Peter would have liked him to. "I see. I only have a couple
of questions for you, if you don't mind?"
"Not at all," Peter agreed, wondering
even as he did if he'd be able to answer them.
Paul looked away from his
son, his head lowering. "Why haven't you been to see Annie in so long?"
I've been busy?" Even as he said it, he knew it was untrue. He shook his head.
"Sorry. No excuse, really. I just...." He shook his head again and looked at Paul.
"I was too embarrassed."
Paul's body language softened. "Why?"
fidgeted. "I just was. I-I didn't think she'd approve of my decision."
don't think she deserved to hear it from you, rather than Kermit?"
flinched. "Yes, I mean, no." He sighed in frustration, "I don't know." His voice
turned plaintive and he lifted his eyes to Paul's, but didn't see the expected
anger there, only disappointment - and that made him feel about two inches tall.
"I-I should have told her. I know, but.... but I didn't."
"Yeah?" He wasn't going to look at Paul. That disappointed expression
he'd seen on his face hurt too much to risk looking at him again.
what you really want? I mean, *really*?"
"It-it's my destiny."
looked up at him, surprised, and saw annoyance, now. "What?"
me. Forget fate and destiny. Is. This. What. You. Want?"
Peter looked away
again. "I...I don't know."
Paul sighed. Maybe this wasn't a lost cause,
after all. "If you don't know, then it's not what you really want, son."
jumped. His eyes widened as his head came up and he looked at Paul, startled.
Paul had just called him 'son', maybe... maybe Paul didn't hate him? "Wh-what?"
came closer and Peter marveled. He remembered hugging Paul when he left, how he'd
said that he'd come back if he ever could, and how he'd felt that he'd never see
his foster father alive again. This was certainly a very different Paul. He was
positively robust, tanned, and healthy.
"Peter, why did you decide to take
Peter gazed at him, his confusion was obvious to Paul, and
Paul pressed his advantage. "Is this," he indicated the room, but also meant everything
else as well, "what you really want?"
"I want to help people."
remember. That was why you became a cop. To help people, remember?"
can't be a cop any more."
Paul nodded. Kermit had made it very clear why
Peter had quit. But there was a way around that. "But do you really want this?
You said it was your 'destiny'. But what about free will? What about what *you*
want, Peter? Is your heart in this? Completely and totally?"
away, knowing that Paul was asking him the questions he should have asked himself
before making the decision that had brought him to this point. "No."
One of the things that I tried to teach you was that love, real love, doesn't
come with conditions. No strings, remember?" He could see Peter struggling and
his voice softened, "No hug for your old foster dad?"
With an inarticulate
cry, Peter launched himself across the room and into Paul's embrace. He clung
tightly to the sturdy frame of the man who'd done more to show him how to be a
man than anyone, particularly his father, could have.
It felt good to have
his son in his arms. He remembered when Peter had suddenly been taller than him,
and smiled. He held him tightly while his son sobbed out his frustration, anger,
fear, and pain. He didn't have to say a word; his accepting touch was all that
was required. Finally, he felt Peter begin to relax in his embrace and he eased
them both down to sit on the floor. He cradled his exhausted son against his chest
and began to softly speak.
"Love, real love, can't have conditions attached.
I love you, son, no matter what you decide to do with your life; just as long
as it's what *you* want to do. If you'd decided to become a criminal, I'd have
still loved you - I'd have hated your choice, and been bitterly disappointed,
but I'd have still loved you. Remember when you decided to try out for the police
academy? You were so afraid I'd be angry with you, but remember what you said?
That it was one of the few ways you felt that you could actually make a difference
for people? Even then, you wanted to help others. I was *so* proud of you, son,
when you finally told me your decision. You didn't know, but I already knew. They
contacted me for a reference. I was thrilled, and then afraid. Afraid that you
were doing it because you thought you had to, to please me, but remember? You
were so excited? I was so relieved when I realized that it was all your own choice
and that I hadn't pushed you into anything. If that's how you feel about all this,
then I'll give you my blessing and let you go, if that's what you want. But if
it isn't, then we need to do something about it. If it's what you truly want,
I'll back you 100%, but if not, we need to find out what you *do* want. I don't
want you to be miserable because you think you have to be in order to please anyone.
It's *your* life, Peter, no one else's, and you have to make your own decisions
on what to do with it. You'll never be happy unless you're doing what you love."
He realized that sometime during his gentle rant, Peter had fallen asleep. Smiling,
he cradled his son close and patted his back.
"It'll work out, Peter.
I promise." He glanced up to see Kermit standing in the doorway. From the look
on his face, Paul knew that he'd heard at least some of his words. He smiled and
shrugged. Kermit took a good long look at Peter and nodded. It was only obvious
that Pete was feeling better, from the expression on his sleeping face, to the
way he clung to Paul, even in his sleep.
"You want to take him home?"
until he wakes up and realizes I'm really here. Then I'll ask him."
Kermit nodded. It was what had made Paul a
good soldier, an excellent police captain, and a best friend. "Let me see if he's
got anything worth drinking around here." He found a six-pack of beer in the refrigerator,
and a case of soft drinks. Choosing two of the canned sodas, he returned, opening
one and handing it to Paul.
"I can tell that Pete lives here. There's nothing
in the refrigerator but beer and soft drinks."
"He's lost weight," Paul
mused idly as he sipped his drink and rubbed his son's back.
he's been sleeping very well, either."
"Doing the wrong thing will do that."
regarded his friend. "So will doing the right thing, under certain circumstances."
nodded. "It was bad. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. Couldn't deal with my memories.
All the enemies we fought through the years, the men who died, begging to live,
to go back to their families." He looked up, sadness in his eyes. "It was killing
me, Kermit. Like a slow poison." He looked back down at his son and ruffled the
still too-long hair. "I hadn't been with Annie in more than a year prior to my
leaving. I wasn't safe, and I was terrified that in my nightmares, I'd wind up
Kermit shivered, knowing just how dangerous Paul could be.
For him to be afraid of hurting Annie, it had been even worse than he'd imagined.
"I wish I could have helped."
Paul smiled. "You did. You made it so I could
go and find peace without worrying myself to death over what was happening here.
I'm still not sure what happened that made Peter decide to become a Shaolin, but
we'll figure that out as we go along. For now, all that's important is that this
is *not* what he wants, so when he wakes up, I'll take him home, Annie will smother
him for a while and feed him until he's full as a tick, and then we'll talk. Calmly
"There's an oxymoron for you. Peter and the words 'calm
Paul chuckled. "Well, I'll be calm and rational. And Peter
will be Peter, ranting and raving until he reaches the right conclusion. Then,
hopefully, he'll ask for our help in getting things straightened out."
you going to come back on the force?" Kermit asked cautiously. He knew that Paul
had only taken a leave of absence, but everyone really thought it meant he wouldn't
be coming back. He, himself, had believed that until he'd seen Paul again. Now,
he could only wonder, and maybe hope.
"I haven't decided. First, let's
get Peter squared away. Once he decides what he really wants, then we'll worry
about whether or not I'll go back to the department."
Kermit nodded. Paul
always did tend to have his priorities straight. He found a cushion and sank down
on it. He wondered at Peter, he'd never been all that fond of sitting on the floor,
before. But Paul was back, now, and all would soon be straightened out. He couldn't
help but smirk at the consternation Captain Simms would be feeling when she found
out he was back. Especially if he wanted his old job back.
was less than an hour later that Peter stirred. Paul continued to gently hold
him, until Peter gasped and jerked upright. He stared at Paul like he was seeing
a ghost, and Paul simply regarded him calmly.
"Feel better after your nap?"
Peter's eyes darted around the room, spotted Kermit and then returned to Paul.
He blushed. "Uh, yeah. I guess so." He shivered, but not from cold.
Paul got to his feet and held his hand out to help Peter up. Peter grasped his
hand and Paul pulled him to his feet. "Come on. Annie's preparing the fatted calf
for the returning prodigal."
Peter's flush grew darker. "You or me?"
grinned. "Both of us, I suspect. Of course, you're going to have to answer to
her for your dereliction of duty, but I think that will pass fairly quickly. She's
in a pretty good mood, at the moment."
Kermit snickered, having seen Annie
earlier. The woman was overjoyed to have Paul back, and he was fairly certain
that Peter coming home would only be the icing on the cake, as it were. "Oh, yeah.
Come on. I saw some of what she had going, and I hope I'm invited."
course. After all, you're driving." Paul threw an arm across Peter's shoulders,
noting yet again that his son had lost weight. He'd always been lanky, but now,
he was almost skeletal. "And I hope you're hungry. Your mom's going to give you
a hug and then, son, you'll *really* be in for it." But there was humor in his
tone and Peter felt no fear. Paul still loved him, despite his mistakes, and there
was no judgment from him, and that calmed his restless spirit.
enjoying this, aren't you?"
Paul turned serious. "Peter, I was dying when
I left here. Annie kept it a secret, but to be honest, no one, including me, ever
expected to see me back."
Peter swallowed hard. "What happened?"
shrugged. "I don't know. I started having nightmares, seeing faces from the past;
people who died and blamed me. I suppose you could say I was literally haunted
by my past. It got so bad that Annie and I had to sleep in separate rooms because
I was afraid I might hurt her when I had the nightmares - and they never stopped.
Drugged, drunk, nothing helped. That's why I left. I had to try and find some
way to fight off my demons."
Peter frowned. "Why didn't my father help
Paul looked at him. "I didn't ask for his help."
frowned. "I don't know. It just didn't seem right, somehow. Besides, you and he
were trying so hard to relate to each other, I didn't want what I was going through
to distract you."
Kermit, remembering what he'd thought of two nights before
"What?" Peter asked.
"Oh, I don't know, Pete. Think about
it. Your father and Paul both call you 'son', but Paul never fought for you. He
let you do your own thing. When Annie needed help with that Mike guy, your father
was Johnny on the spot. He was always 'helping' people, even if they didn't want
him to. He just 'knew' stuff, you know? Yet, when it came to Paul, here, he was
oblivious." He shrugged. "Just makes me wonder."
Paul scowled at Kermit,
his expression surprisingly similar to Peter's at that moment.
on, Kermit. You don't really think pop had anything to do with Paul's getting
sick, do you?"
Kermit stopped and lowered his sunglasses to look at Peter.
"I don't know anything at all. I just made an observation. You extrapolate your
own conclusions." With that, he turned and circled around Paul's car to get behind
the wheel. Peter, frowning in worried confusion, climbed in the back while Paul,
equally worried and concerned, got in the front.
Both men had a lot to
think about on the silent journey back to Paul's house.
welcome home." Annie hugged her gangly son and frowned. She could feel his bones
and decided that he was much too thin, but she didn't say anything. She was also
a bit diffident, not knowing if he was here willingly, or out of a misplaced feeling
"Thanks, Mom. Uh, I'm sorry I didn't...that I... well, for
She smiled, realizing that he wasn't here under duress. "I
forgive you. Now, come and tell me everything."
Peter smiled and followed
her. The moment she'd put her arms around him, he realized he hadn't had anything
to fear from her. It was almost as though he had never avoided her. He heard feet
pounding down the stairs and was prepared when Kelly ran in.
She threw her arms around her foster brother. "It's about time you came to visit.
What's the special occasion?"
She froze, the delighted
smile on her face with seeing Peter turned to one of open-mouthed amazement as
she turned to see her father.
"Daddy!" she screamed and turned from Peter
to launch herself into her father's waiting arms.
Paul chuckled. "I guess
you came home early?"
"Yes. Mom called me and told me that she needed some
help cooking for some kind of party. Oh, Daddy, we've missed you *so* much!" She
pulled back to look him over and smiled happily. "You look really good, Daddy."
feel good, too, Kel." He hugged her again and murmured, "It's good to be home,
"How long can you stay, Daddy?" Kelly asked, reluctantly pulling
"For the rest of my life, Kelly. I'm back home for good."
squealed with joy and gave him another hug and kissed his cheek. "Oh, Daddy, I'm
so glad." She turned to grab Peter's arm, as well. "Both of you home, this is
"Why don't you and Peter help your mom with whatever it is
she's fixing, hmmm?"
Kelly laughed and let go of his arm. "Okay, Daddy.
Can I get you and Kermit something to drink?"
"No, I think we're okay in
that department, for the moment. How about we just sit at the kitchen table and
"I'm all for that," Annie agreed and then led them into the kitchen,
where she set to work with her children to help her.
"What have you heard
from Caroline and Todd, Babe?"
"We're going to be grandparents again."
was all so domestic and tranquil, like a family reunion, which in a way, it was.
Kermit felt a bit odd, being included, but it wasn't an uncomfortable feeling.
They treated him like he belonged there.
When the feast was ready, Kermit
had to admit that Paul's description of Annie's having killed the fatted calf
wasn't far off the mark. There was easily enough here for half the station, had
they been invited. Glancing at Peter, he rightly figured where most of the leftovers
were going. He smiled to himself. When Annie said Grace, he bowed his head with
the others, and while Paul carved the prime rib, he gently teased Peter about
how lucky he was to have a mother who liked to cook.
The conversation was
easy and the meal was outstanding. Finally, they were all stuffed, and Annie delegated
the cleanup to the 'children'. Kermit volunteered to help, but she insisted that
he was a guest, and in her house, the guests didn't work.
Paul and Kermit
retired to Paul's office.
"What are you thinking, Kermit?" Paul asked as
soon as they'd settled into chairs with their drinks.
"I think that my
gut is telling me things that I really don't want to listen to, but it's seeming
more and more likely, I'm afraid."
Paul sighed. "Yeah. I think I know what
"Oh, yeah. I'm going to strand Peter, here, if you don't mind?
Something tells me you've got some things to talk over with him?"
smiled. "Yeah. We do, at that."
we talk for a few minutes?"
"Uh, sure." Peter looked around, frowning.
"He went home."
Peter stopped and stared at him,
surprised and confused. "Uh, okay, I can call a cab to get back to Chinatown."
noticed he didn't refer to it as `home' and was relieved. "I was kind of hoping
you might spend the night here. Maybe a couple of days, catching up?"
grinned. "Yeah, I can hang." He sprawled on the couch and looked at his foster
father with pleasure and fondness. "So, what'd you want to talk about?"
smile faded and he moved over to sit beside Peter on the couch. He glanced at
the young man he would always think of as his son and breathed a silent prayer
for the right words.
"Do you know why I left?"
Peter looked at him
in surprise, and then he looked away in consternation. He thought back to the
day Paul had left, remembered the tears they'd both shed at that time. "You went
away to die. You didn't want anyone to try and take care of you."
For more than a year." Paul sat forward and placed his elbows on his knees. His
head hung down slightly and his voice was little more than a whisper. "I *was*
dying. I hadn't been able to sleep more than an hour or so at a time without these
hideous nightmares. Men who'd died on missions, mostly men on the other side;
they were accusing me, asking me why I killed them, why I should have a good home
and life when I'd stolen theirs." He sighed. "I moved into the guest room after
one night when I hit Annie."
Peter stared in horror. "You *hit* Mom?" He
couldn't imagine Paul ever striking any woman, let alone Annie.
his anguished gaze to his son. "It was one of the nightmares. She woke me and
I reacted. Remember when I'd go on trips and when I got home I'd stay in the guest
room for a few days?"
Peter nodded. He remembered several times that had
happened, and how tense the whole family had been until he got back to `normal'.
"Well, it happened. I didn't hurt her very much, because I
was already growing weaker, but I couldn't take a chance of it happening again."
He looked back down at the floor. "That was a year before I left. I tried everything.
Shrinks, counseling, drugs, booze...nothing helped. Finally, I wasn't sleeping
more than a few minutes at a time before they'd start. I couldn't eat, couldn't
sleep. The doctors were saying I was dying and they didn't know from what. I-I
decided that I couldn't put the people I love through that, so I left. I thought
that maybe, if I could find the families of those men in my dreams, I might find
some kind of peace."
"And it worked?" Peter asked in surprise.
smiled wryly and shook his head, glancing over at Peter for a moment. "Sort of,
but not really. I was surprised with the first family I found. The Berkhofs were
grateful, because he was abusive. Mrs. Berkhof asked my name so she could pray
for me." He barked out a laugh, but it was as much a sob as a laugh. "That happened
a dozen times, and I couldn't believe it, or understand it." He shook his head
and glanced again at Peter. "Most of the ghosts, at least all the ones where I
found the families and they were better off, vanished from my dreams, but the
rest just got louder, only I had the evidence of the ones who had gone to fight
back. I started to get a little better. I was up to sleeping a whole hour at a
Peter felt the moisture swell in his own eyes as he watched and
listened to Paul. He chewed on his lower lip, uncertain what to do to try and
help. Finally, after Paul was silent for nearly a minute, he shifted closer to
him and put a hand on his shoulder. "So what happened then?"
and closed his eyes. Leaning back against the couch, and incidentally into Peter's
touch. "I went to my brother's."
Peter blinked. He barely knew his foster
uncle. "Yeah? What'd he do?"
Paul smiled, but left his eyes closed. "I
asked him how he coped, and he said that he'd decided to focus on the good things
in his life, his family, mostly. But I'd always had that, so it wasn't much help
for me. Finally, he suggested I try going somewhere peaceful." He shrugged and
smiled sardonically. "I certainly didn't have anything to lose, so I went."
Paul sighed. "Yes. The abbot was most helpful. He'd wake me
up when the dreams got too bad, and then, one morning, he got me to tell him about
it." He shook his head in wonder, still marveling at how simple it had been. "His
Peter looked at Paul oddly. "But you're not Catholic."
right. But we both worship the same God, Peter. Our doctrinal differences aren't
all that important. Though I'll admit that I was surprised." He smiled, his expression
was one of wonder and joy. He looked Peter in the eye and said, "God met me more
than halfway, Peter. I learned a great deal at the monastery, and no, I'm still
Peter frowned in confusion. "I guess religion doesn't make
a lot of sense to me."
"Well, you are a Buddhist, aren't you?"
yeah, I guess. Shaolin, anyway." He rubbed the still-new brands on his forearms
and wondered. "I don't know much about Christianity, that's for sure."
sighed. "That would be my fault. When you first came to live with us, you went
to church on Sundays, but I could tell that it bothered you, so I told you that
you didn't have to go if you didn't want to. So you didn't."
"Yeah. I remember that." He looked at Paul, noticing for the first time that he
was getting the same feeling from him as he would sometimes get from his blood
father, and he wondered. "Maybe I need to learn about your God, too."
smiled. "Whatever you want, Peter."
And there, Peter realized, was the
biggest difference between his two fathers. The one by blood insisted his was
the only right way, and Paul was willing to let him make his own choices, and
respected him for them, even when he disagreed.
"I never expected to see
you again," Peter softly whispered. "I was sure you were going away to die, so
we wouldn't have to watch you suffer. You were suffering, we all knew it, but
no one knew what to do about it." And why didn't my father know and why didn't
he do anything to help? Is Kermit right? Could my father have made Paul sick?
It was a sickness of the soul, after all.
"Let it go, Peter." Paul softly
spoke, his hand coming up to touch Peter's where it rested on his shoulder. "I'm
all right, now, and I've come to understand a great many things, though I don't
know if I have the words to explain them." He shrugged. "I know what I know and
that is enough for me."
Peter looked into Paul's eyes, the blue orbs were
window to the soul behind them, and they were as calm as the lake on a summer
morning. "Can I have a hug?"
Paul smiled broadly. "Of course you can."
He pulled his son into his arms and hugged him tightly. "I'm home, Peter, home
for good, this time."
It was a promise and a vow, and Peter rejoiced in
"Hey, can I get in on some of that?" Annie asked from the doorway.
She'd shamelessly listened in, but neither man cared.
"Babe, you know
you're always welcome." Paul released Peter with one arm and grasped his wife's
hand as she sat down beside Peter. They embraced again and Peter felt that same
warm, safe feeling he'd had almost from the beginning of his life with them. He
reveled in it, now.
"Hey, make room for me!" Kelly said as she entered
the room. She'd been studying in the kitchen so she could keep an eye on her dad.
Seeing her mother enter the den and the door left open, she felt she'd be welcome.
laughed and they made room for her.
After several quiet minutes of simply
hugging each other, Kelly sighed. "This reminds me of when we were kids and got
scared by the thunderstorms."
"You've always loved thunderstorms, Kelly,"
her father softly corrected her.
"Well, yeah. They were a great excuse
to come and snuggle with you guys."
Peter looked at her in surprise. "I
"Well, they might have startled me, but I was never afraid
of them; not like you were, Peter."
Annie nodded. "But it certainly was
useful in helping Peter fit in."
Peter frowned. "Wait a second. You mean
that first time there was a storm, you all set me up?"
"No," Paul gently
chided. "Thunderstorms have always been an excuse for the kids to come and get
a little extra attention. That first time when you were here, it gave us the opportunity
to invite you to join the family. The fact that the storm upset you was only incidental.
After a while, they didn't even wake you up."
Peter stared, first at Paul,
then at Annie, and finally at Kelly. "You knew that?"
Kelly shrugged. "No.
But it didn't matter, don't you see? It was just an excuse to cuddle with our
"Sort of a bonding session, if you will," Paul added. "Remember
how we'd all sit up in the dark, when the power was out and tell stories?"
remembered; everyone had to take a turn at storytelling. He invariably told a
tale from his childhood at the Temple, while Paul would tell undoubtedly sanitized
versions of his adventures, and the girls would repeat their favorite fairy tales.
They had been some of his favorite times.
"But you knew the girls weren't
"Of course. That first time it happened when you first came here?
I saw you in the doorway and knew that you were afraid. Do you remember what I
Peter did. "You said to come on in and join the rest of the family,
that it was all right and that it was okay to come in." He also remembered how
hesitant he'd been and how he'd needed a lot of urging from Caroline and Kelly
before he believed it was really all right.
Kelly sighed. "I miss those
times. That's one bad thing about growing up. You don't feel like you can impose
on your parents every time something frightens you."
"I miss them, too,"
Annie softly agreed, hugging Kelly. "Remember when we'd all get together and just
giggle and talk?"
"Yes, but that only happened when Daddy was gone, and
I think it was a way of coping with the fear he wouldn't come back, wasn't it?"
but then he'd come home, invariably in the middle of the night, and he'd find
us all in bed, sound asleep."
Peter remembered the first time Paul had
left, with the explanation that he had a job to do and would be home in a week
or so. When he'd asked about where he'd gone, Paul had explained that he did some
special work for the government, sometimes, and it required him to go away for
a while. But he'd always come back, and when he did, he was always so obviously
happy to be back with them that it hadn't bothered him. So why did it bother him
so much every time Kwai Chang left? He frowned, thinking.
"What is it,
Peter?" Paul softly asked, seeing his troubled expression.
"I was just
wondering why it was when you went away on your missions, I didn't feel like I
do when Pop goes somewhere."
Paul's lips tugged into a slight smile of
satisfaction, not that Peter recognized it as such. "Perhaps it's because I always
informed the family before I went, and said how long I expected to be gone?"
there it was. Kwai Chang Caine never told him when he was going, unless it was
at the last minute, and never, ever, how long he expected to be gone or when and
if he was returning. Of course it triggered feelings of abandonment. Even when
Paul had gone away to die, he'd promised to return if he could. And he'd said
what he was going to do...go to fight his demons. And then Peter recalled Kermit's
question as to why his blood father hadn't helped Paul - and the thought made
him feel sick.
"Peter? Are you all right?"
He looked into the concerned
blue gaze of his foster father - his *Dad* and reached for him, the tears starting
to run from his eyes.
Paul gathered his son close and held him. He didn't
know what had brought on the tears, but he was there for him, to comfort and console.
After several minutes of silence, wherein Kelly started to say something, but
was hushed by her mother, Paul asked, "Peter, what is it, son?"
word 'son' made Peter cling even more tightly to his dad. Paul looked over at
his wife and daughter and shook his head; he had no idea what had brought this
Finally, Peter stopped crying, but he didn't pull away. Instead, he
pressed closer to Paul, who began to understand. He reached out a hand for his
wife and drew her to them. The gentle, loving touch of the only mother he'd ever
known brought on more tears, but they were different. These were not the tears
of anguish and suspicion he'd cried before, but those of love and the need to
be loved. Kelly seemed to recognize it as well and knelt by them and wrapped her
arms around her brother, as well.
They all stayed like that for a long
time, until Peter regained control of himself and pulled away. Paul immediately
let him go, though Annie's hands lingered on his cheek and Kelly gave him a last
hug before sitting back on her knees by the couch.
Paul watched closely
as Peter's breathing finally evened out. He didn't say anything until Peter's
eyes met his.
Looking at Paul and seeing the love and concern in his face,
he nearly started crying again. Somehow, he knew Kermit's suspicions were right,
in which case, it was his fault that Paul had gotten ill and had to leave.
recognize that look, Peter, and I assure you that my getting sick was *not* your
When had Paul begun to read his mind, Peter wondered. He shook
his head and remembered something Kermit had told him, about not taking on anyone
else's guilt, as it would only drive him crazy. He took a deep, shaking breath
and held it for a few seconds before letting it out. He could see Paul's worry,
he smiled. "You know, you're the best dad any kid could ever want."
here," Kelly agreed, leaning up to give her father a quick hug.
I may have missed something, here," Paul murmured. He lifted a hand to ruffle
Peter grinned. He was never afraid when Paul reached for
him, as he'd never struck him in anger. In fact, Paul had never even spanked him,
and only once had he known of either of the girls getting spanked, not that they
hadn't, just not after he arrived. "No, I just realized some things, and I'm ashamed
to say that I think Kermit might be right."
Paul's breath caught. Kwai
Chang Caine. "Now don't jump to any conclusions without any evidence, Peter,"
he gently cautioned.
"Dad, I know. In here," he tapped his chest over his
heart, "and in here," he tapped his temple, "and finally, in here," and he touched
his abdomen, "I *know*."
Paul looked deep into Peter's eyes and slowly
nodded. He knew all about that kind of knowledge. It was the kind that never lied,
and might not ever be proven, but it was as certain as the tides. He looked away
and sighed. "But why?"
"I think he was jealous."
"Uh, mind letting
us poor womenfolk in on what you're talking about?" Kelly asked impatiently.
not important, Kelly." He looked earnestly into Peter's eyes. "What's important
is that our family is back together again. Right, Peter?"
He knew Paul
believed him, knew it with certainty, and Paul still wanted him as part of his
family. The tears welled again as he nodded. "Yeah, our family is back together."
He choked on the words, but was smiling through his tears. Paul smiled at him
and gave him another hug.
"We'll talk about this another time, son. For
now, let's just enjoy one another, shall we?" Paul whispered in his son's ear.
He felt Peter nod in agreement and tightened his hold before releasing him.
stood up. He was emotionally exhausted. He needed time to come to grips with what
Peter believed about why he'd gotten ill, but it was certainly something to think
about. Meanwhile, it was late, and definitely time for bed.
"Come on, I
think it's well past all our bedtimes, and I for one, need some sleep." He smiled
as Annie pressed against his side. Well, maybe not immediately to sleep. He kissed
Kelly on the cheek and gave her a quick hug. "I know, you were doing your homework,
so you can, of course stay up. But keep it down to a low roar, okay?"
Daddy." She smiled broadly. Even though she was in college, now, and he'd been
gone for two years, he was still the same, and she took comfort in that. She glanced
at the clock and decided that her homework could wait. She went into the kitchen
and cleared the table of her books and papers.
Peter offered to help her,
following her silently and picking up the heavy books and carrying them up the
stairs for her. They heard Annie's soft giggle as the door of the master bedroom
closed and exchanged pleased but embarrassed glances.
"As much as it embarrasses
me, I love how much they still love each other," Kelly murmured. "I just hope
that some day I can find someone who'll love me as much as Daddy loves Mom."
sighed, "Yeah. If I ever find a woman who looks at me the way Mom looks at Dad,
I'll do my very best to make her happy."
"Peter, what did you mean about
knowing something? I know Daddy understood, but Mom and I didn't get it at all."
can't tell you, yet. Not until we're sure. I'm hoping I'm wrong, but I don't think
"Is it something bad, Peter?"
"Yeah, it's bad. But it's not
anything for you to worry about, I promise."
Kelly regarded her brother
for a few moments and nodded. "Okay. I'm sure that between you and Dad, you'll
be able to take care of it." She smiled and opened the door of her bedroom. "Thanks
for the help, Peter. Good night."
Peter placed the books on her desk and
turned. Impulsively, he gave her a hug and kissed her cheek. "Good night, Kelly.
Sleep well." He left her and headed down the hall to the bedroom that even now
they all thought of as his.
Entering his room, he turned on the light
and looked around and smiled. It still looked exactly the same. It wasn't a shrine,
he knew, but something Annie did to make sure he knew that he always had a home
here. He felt a pang of remorse that he'd kept away for so very long and had no
doubt hurt his foster mother and sister. Sighing, he toed off his shoes and flung
himself on the bed. Stretching out and rolling onto his back, he laced his fingers
behind his head and stared at the ceiling, thinking.
He desperately wanted
to be wrong, but deep inside, he knew he wasn't. Whatever was he going to do?
he closed his eyes and almost immediately fell asleep.
me, Paul," Annie whispered insistently.
"Willingly," he agreed. He'd missed
her so much, her gentle voice and touch, the way she could whisper in his ear
and inflame him, the soft sounds she made when he brought her pleasure... each
time was better than the time before, and their love had grown through the years.
It had always been an incendiary love, never harsh, but burning like napalm.
as they lay in one another's arms, Annie asked, "Paul, what did Peter mean?"
sighed. He'd been nearly asleep and her soft question brought him back to full
consciousness. "He thinks that Caine had something to do with my getting sick."
Except in matters of National Security, he had long maintained a policy of total
truth and honesty with his wife. On the rare occasions when he didn't want to
talk about something, she respected his need to protect her from whatever it was
that was bothering him. She had enough confidence in him to know he would never
frivolously keep anything from her. Especially not his feelings.
Paul sighed again. "I don't know, Babe." He allowed the hand
not attached to the shoulder she was using for her pillow to gently rub up and
down her side.
After a few moments, she softly asked, "Are you really tired?"
chuckled. He'd been home two days and if he hadn't been healthy, she'd have worn
him completely out; as it was, even before he'd stopped sharing her bed out of
fear of hurting her, he'd been unable to be intimate with her. "No, I'm not that
tired, yet. What did you have in mind?" he added, teasingly.
"Ooh, I can
think of lots of things."
She did, and he more than willingly joined in.
as he held her close and they drifted into sleep, he couldn't help but wonder
if Peter was right?
Peter felt the touch of his father's mind
and awoke with a start.
*I sense a disturbance
in your Chi. What is wrong, my son.*
Before he could control his thoughts,
he projected the name. "Paul."
*Ah, he has died, then. I will come.*
felt only relief that his father hadn't gotten the entire truth from him. Realizing
what his father had said, he scowled. This was looking worse and worse. He glanced
over at the bedside clock and groaned. It was four in the morning, and he was
wide awake. Disgusted, he threw back the covers and got out of bed. Padding in
bare feet, he made his way, first to the bathroom to relieve himself, and then
down the stairs to the kitchen. Looking in the refrigerator, he studied his choices.
Finally deciding, he hauled out the leftover prime rib and the ingredients for
He laid out his ingredients on the counter and began building.
me one, too, would you, please?"
Peter jumped and turned, nearly dropping
the slice of bread he was adding mustard to. "Gee, Paul, sneak up on me, why don't
Paul looked at him and grinned. "I didn't. You were too far away
to hear the scuff of my slippers. What's wrong?"
Peter sighed. "Pop did
that mental telepathy thing to me. He 'sensed a disturbance in my Chi'. I couldn't
help it and thought about you. He assumed you were dead and we'd just found out.
He's coming." He concentrated on building a second sandwich for Paul, wondering
what had woken him up.
Paul sighed. "I'm sorry, Peter."
He passed a thick prime rib sandwich to Paul and, after putting the rest of the
food away, took his own sandwich over to the kitchen table to sit across from
"Milk okay with you, Peter?"
Peter grinned. "Yeah, sounds
perfect." He waited while Paul poured two glasses and brought them to the table,
setting one in front of him and taking a sip from his own glass before sitting
down. They started eating, the silence brooding, but not uncomfortable.
right. I know I am."
"Don't let it worry you, son, it isn't your fault."
sighed. "I know, but I'm the cause, for whatever reason."
"If you say 'I
wish I'd never been born,' I'll have to pound some sense into you," Paul growled.
lifted startled eyes to his foster father. "What?"
"Peter, it's out of
your hands. Let it go."
"He thinks you're dead."
"Let him keep thinking
that. It might be interesting to see what he does."
Peter sighed. "All
right. I'll try and guard my thoughts. But it's awfully hard to keep secrets from
someone who can read your mind."
"But he can't, Peter. You said he 'sensed
a disturbance in your Chi,' that's not the same as reading your mind. Otherwise,
he'd know I'm not dead, yet."
Peter thought about it and smiled. "Yeah,
you're right. Great! Now, all I have to do is guard my thoughts, right?"
chuckled. "You can try, son, that's all you can do."
"Yeah." He grinned
at his dad and, feeling better for their little talk, tore into his sandwich.
When they'd finished and cleaned the kitchen afterwards, Peter was able to go
back to bed and right to sleep, without worrying.
Paul slid back into bed
and carefully gathered his wife close to him.
"Is Peter all right?" she
"Yes. His father contacted him. He thinks you just got
word that I'm dead."
She awoke more fully. "Why would he think that?"
it's what he expected." He felt her shudder in horror. "Peter's going to try and
keep his thoughts to himself, for now."
him that none of this is his fault, but he sees himself as the cause."
sighed. "Hasn't our son been put through enough in his life, Paul?"
no one ever said life was easy, and as for the question of 'why me,' the simple
answer is 'so, why not you?'"
"I don't have to like it, though."
huffed a soft laugh. "No, no one said you have to like it. Our job is to support
and love him. Eventually, it'll all work out, I'm sure."
calm about all of this."
He was silent for a few moments. "I suppose so.
I spent most of the past year in a quiet, desert community. A monastery, to be
exact...." He went on to tell her all that he'd gone through from the time he'd
left two years before. Much of it brought tears to one or both of them, but at
the end, she understood as much as she was capable, and grateful that he'd found
the light and peace he had so desperately required.
And the fact that
he could once again make love with her was simply an added bonus.
didn't occur to Peter to return to Chinatown, he was too busy reacquainting himself
with his foster family. It amazed him that they forgave him so easily for his
dereliction of duty over the preceding two years. There was no anger, no lingering
disappointment, only the joy at his return. It was so different from the way his
father treated him, and he didn't quite understand, but was grateful for it, and
relishing every moment basking in the love of the Blaisdell clan.
a wonderful three days.
Unfortunately, it was interrupted by the arrival
of Kwai Chang Caine.
Peter was in the kitchen with Kelly and Annie.
They were discussing plans for dinner while Paul was in his den with Kermit, talking
about police work and possibilities.
The doorbell rang and Annie went to
answer it, leaving her children arguing over the menu.
smile of welcome dimmed. "Master Caine, I wasn't expecting you." Still, she backed
up to allow him entrance.
"I felt a great disturbance in Peter's Chi, and
knew something had happened. I am deeply saddened by your loss." He took her hand
in both of his and bowed over it.
Annie felt a creepy chill run up her
spine. Her heart began to pound and she had the desire to pull her hand from his
grasp and wipe it on her pants. She turned to the sound of footsteps and felt
inordinately relieved to recognize the steps as that of Peter.
brings you here?" Peter still didn't want to believe what he did, but he wasn't
going to back down without knowing the truth.
"I have come to offer comfort
on your loss." But he didn't let go of Annie's hand, and he didn't turn to look
at his son.
Peter felt the acid in his stomach churn and a sick feeling
crept into his heart. "Why?"
Caine frowned and finally looked at his son.
For some reason, he couldn't read him, and it annoyed him. He released Annie's
hand and turned to the younger man. "It is my place to be with my family at such
Peter was confused. "Your family? I'm the only member of your
"I am your father," he turned to Annie, "And this is your
mother, is she not?"
Annie gasped at the implication. "Master Caine, I
am Peter's foster mother, and Paul is my husband."
"But he is gone, now,
and you have needs. I will provide for you."
She stiffened and backed away.
"No. Thank you, but no. Paul is the only man I'll ever love, and no one could
ever take his place."
"Pop, you don't belong here," Peter said sternly.
turned on his son. "Do *NOT* call me 'pop'!"
Peter shook his head. "What
are you doing? Annie is Paul's wife. What do you mean, coming on to her like this?"
is your mother, as I am your father."
He sounded so reasonable and looked
so innocent that Peter almost fell under his spell. Then he shook his head. "No!
She's my *foster* mother, Pop."
Enraged, Caine turned to his son, "I have
told you, do *not* call me 'pop!'" His hand struck out like a snake and Peter
closed his eyes and flinched in anticipation of the blow, but a moment later,
he opened his eyes to see his father's fingers a bare inch from his face, and
the fingers looked odd, with another hand crushing them. His eyes tracked that
second hand up the arm to Paul's calm but angry face.
Caine was shocked.
He stared at the apparition crushing his fingers and didn't register the pain,
only the stark amazement of the man who stood before him.
"You are dead."
should be, yes. If you'd had your way, I no doubt would be." Paul pushed and let
go of the hand he'd intercepted before it could strike his son. "I only have one
question for you. Why?"
Caine's face screwed up in rage. "Peter is *my*
"I never said he wasn't."
"You took him from me."
I took an angry, hurting boy from an orphanage and invited him into my home and
family. He made his own place, here, with us. We love him, and he loves us. It
was from choice, not happenstance, that he became my foster son. Foster - I hate
that word, but when you came back, I was glad that we'd kept that distinction.
I did whatever I could to make your reunion as easy as I could, even to stepping
back and letting him agonize over the duality of his feelings, alone. I should
have told him that I still loved him, no matter what, but I stepped back, forcing
him to deal with you without backup. I tried at the same time to tell him he was
still welcome, but he was never sure that he belonged."
Caine glared at
Paul. "There is great darkness in your Chi. I had to protect my son from that
"There is darkness in every man's soul, Caine, even yours. The
trick is to find the light and stand in it, banishing the darkness. The job of
being a parent is to teach your children what they need to know to survive, and
to love them unconditionally for as long as you live; to back them up in their
life-choices, even when you disagree, and to support them through bad times. I
never asked Peter to become a cop; that was all his own idea. He was afraid that
I'd think he did it out of some misplaced feelings of obligation. When I found
out why he wanted to be a cop, I was thrilled. Yes, I'd have liked him to do something
safer, but he made his own choice, without any pressure from me, and I'm proud
of him and what he's accomplished, so far. If he wants to be a priest, that's
fine, but if he doesn't, I'm not going to insist he continue."
"He is *my*
son. He will do what I say."
Paul frowned and glanced at Peter, who had
his head hanging down, and a deep, beet-red flush on his face. "Peter?" Paul softly
Peter lifted his head and Paul could see that the flush was one
of hurt and anger. "I'm not a child any more, *Pop*, I don't have to `do what
you say' any more. I'm an adult and perfectly able to make my own decisions. I
don't want to be like you. I don't want to manipulate and trick people into doing
something that they don't want to. And I don't want to be a shaolin priest."
looked surprised, and then furious. "It is your *destiny*," he said insistently.
shook his head, his eyes meeting his father's. "No. It isn't. It's what *you*
wanted, Pop, not me. I never wanted to be like you, not even as a kid. I wanted
to be someone who could hug someone else, who could instruct without hitting,
who could love and be loved without strings. Those are all things Paul Blaisdell
taught me, things you seem to have no knowledge or comprehension of. Why in the
world would I want to be as cold, unfeeling, and manipulative as you are?" His
chin lifted and he took a deep breath, "I'm not you, pop. And I never want to
be like you." He waited, his eyes staring into his father's and he saw the rage
and...something more. He shivered inside and wondered if what he saw was madness.
Chang Caine flushed with his fury. "You will do as I tell you, you are *my* son,
"I'm an adult and I can make my own decisions without your interference."
He cast a quick glance at Paul, who was looking at the floor, but as he gazed
on his foster father, the blue eyes rose to his, and the left eyelid closed slowly
in a wink of encouragement. Taking a deep breath, he turned his attention back
to his father. Softly, he spoke. "I don't want to be a priest, Pop. I never did.
I *liked* being a cop. I *liked* what I was doing. Why couldn't you see that?
`There's always another way.' Well, you're right, but not in the way you thought.
I don't have to be your little puppet, I have the ability to decide for myself
what I want and need, and I don't need to allow you to keep trying to force me
into your mold." He swallowed hard and continued. "I quit, Pop. I'm not going
to make myself miserable to try and please you any more. I-I still love you, but
I'm not going to be like you." He stared earnestly into his father's furious gaze
for a moment, and then turned away. "Sorry, Pop."
Kwai Chang Caine glared
at his son's back for a moment, and then turned to Paul. "You have done this,"
he hissed in fury. He leaped into the air, aiming a kick at Paul's head, but to
his absolute amazement, Paul moved out of the way. Landing heavily, he snarled
and attacked again, only to once more see his quarry move out of the way of the
blow. This time, Paul moved deeper into the house, and Caine followed, practically
slavering in his rage.
Kermit, seeing what was happening, started forward
to help his friend, but Annie's hand on his arm stopped him. "No," she softly
told him. "You can't fight this battle for him. He has to do it himself, or Caine
Peter, too, had started forward to try and stop his father, but
Kelly's hand on him stopped him. With eyes shiny with tears, she shook her head.
"You can't, Peter. You can't take sides, now."
Anguished, Peter turned
away from the fight, only flinching as he heard furniture overturn and what he
assumed to be a lamp break. He couldn't watch. No one could outfight his father,
particularly not Paul.
Paul kept his hands out, partly for balance, partly
to deflect any blows that came too close. Another kick to his head, and Paul leaned
back, caught Caine's foot, and forced it even higher, causing him to crash to
the floor, but not until he'd crushed the coffee table beneath him. Paul winced.
The table was heavy mahogany and glass, and even though the glass was tempered,
Even that didn't stop him, Caine came back again and again,
putting on an amazing display of martial arts skills, but not one of his blows
landed; Paul always seemed to be just an inch to one side, or farther away than
Caine thought he was. Finally, as he tired and reached exhaustion, Caine charged
Paul one final time, his arms reaching to encircle the older man, intending, apparently,
to tackle him to the floor.
Paul met him solidly, both of his fists coming
down from above his head on either side of Caine's head. The sickening crunch
of breaking bones was heard and Caine cried out in pain, falling to his knees
at Paul's feet.
Paul's breath was coming fast, and his heart was pounding,
but he was in control of himself. He stepped away from his fallen foe. He shook
his head at the concept that Caine had hated him to the point of trying to kill
him, and for what? He lifted his gaze to his family, who were all looking at him
with varying degrees of surprise and wonder on their faces, all but Annie. His
wife's blind eyes gazed in his direction filled with pride and love. He smiled,
Kermit shook his head in wonder. Glancing down at Caine, he asked.
"So, how did you do it? How'd you make Paul's nightmares get so bad?"
Caine gasped out, then the glint of madness came again into his eyes, he glared
at Paul, "Why did you not die?"
Paul stared calmly down at his beaten foe.
"Because there is a beneficent and merciful God." He gazed down a few more moments
and then softly added, "I forgive you. For what you did to me, what you tried
to do, I forgive you." And with that soft declaration, he turned his back on him.
beyond the point of feeling pain, Caine lurched up and forward to attack once
more, but Kermit was there to stop him, with Peter right beside him. Kermit caught
Caine's flailing right hand and twisted it to defuse the blow, only to hear bones
breaking. Startled, Kermit let go and watched as Caine again fell to his knees,
this time, cradling his broken wrist and crushed fingers from Paul's earlier interception
of the blow he'd aimed at Peter's head.
Finally, the reality of his situation
penetrated his consciousness and he realized what he had tried to do, and that
he'd failed, miserably.
"Peter?" he asked plaintively, his eyes seeking
his son. But Peter wouldn't look at him. He was staring at the floor, shaking.
Paul turned to see his despondent son
standing alone and moved to him. "Peter?"
He lifted grief-filled, anguished
eyes to his foster father. "How can you forgive him for what he did to you?" Peter
Paul went still for a moment, thinking. "Because I can." Seeing
Peter's confusion, he continued. "I can forgive him what he did to me, Peter,
because by forgiving him, I break the cycle of hate; but I can't absolve him of
what he's done to you, or the rest of the family. Just as you can't apologize
or take the blame for his actions, I can't absolve him of what he's done to anyone
but me. But I can, and have, forgiven him. I won't forget, however, that's beyond
my ability, I'm afraid."
Peter stared at Paul, still not understanding.
"Peter, it's all right. It wasn't your fault, none of it." Paul emphasized
his words with a gentle hand reaching up to stroke the tears from his son's face.
Peter leaned into the caress, and then forward, into Paul's arms.
his eyes and hugged his son, and as the taller man's head came down to rest on
his shoulder, he turned his face and kissed his cheek. "It's all right, Peter,
I still love you. I always will."
And the floodgates opened, and Peter
sobbed, clinging to his dad.
Kermit watched in wonder as Annie and Kelly
joined Paul in a group hug with Peter. Shaking his head at them, he turned his
attention to the cause of it all. "You're under arrest for attempted murder. You
have the right to remain silent; you have the right to have an attorney present
before questioning. If you so desire and cannot afford one, an attorney will be
appointed on your behalf before any questioning. Do you understand these rights
as I have explained them to you?"
Caine stared at him in consternation.
"I'm arresting you for the attempted murder of Paul Blaisdell.
Do you understand your rights?"
Caine blinked at him in confusion. Kermit
sighed and pulled his cell phone out. He was about to dial the station when there
was a soft knock at the front door. Seeing that the Blaisdells were still clinging
tightly to one another, he shrugged and answered the door.
He should have
been surprised, but he wasn't. "Lo Si. You're a little late."
looked troubled and almost ill. "Kwai Chang Caine, what has he done?"
besides making a pass at Annie and trying to kill Paul, not a whole hell of a
lot." He looked at the elderly man and could see he wasn't looking very well.
He shrugged. "I just read him his rights. He confessed that he gave Paul some
kind of herbs to give him bad dreams, intending for him to die. Paul didn't, however,
and he got a little... annoyed that he didn't follow the plan." He stepped back
and let the Ancient enter, turned and led the way to the living room. It looked
like a tornado had touched down. "As you can see, he didn't take Paul's survival
The wizened little man stared in horror. There wasn't one single
piece of furniture that hadn't been overturned or broken. More amazing was the
condition of the combatants; Paul Blaisdell hadn't a mark on him, but Kwai Chang
Caine looked like he'd gone twelve rounds with the Shadow Assassins, and lost.
shook his head, wondering how in the world Paul Blaisdell had managed to stave
off Kwai Chang Caine's attacks. He scowled down at the whimpering Kwai Chang Caine.
"What have you done, Kwai Chang Caine? What darkness has possessed your chi?"
snorted at the gentle tone of the old man's voice. "He tried to kill Paul because
he had the audacity to love Peter and wanted whatever Pete wants for his life,
instead of trying to force him to become something he doesn't want to be. Wake
up and smell the coffee, Lo Si. The `darkness' is green, I'm sorry to say. The
green of envy, because Paul was a better father than he could ever hope to be."
He glared at the old man, "And it seems to me that you were his willing accomplice,
for most of it. Maybe not trying to kill Paul, but everything that the two of
you put Peter through." He shook his head. "Don't think you're going to get him
Lo Si gazed sorrowfully down at his friend and slowly shook his head.
"You have left the light for the darkness, Kwai Chang Caine. Shambala is now closed
Caine stared at him in horror and a wail of grief and anger escaped
his lips. "But Peter is *my* son!" he wailed like a spoiled, petulant child denied
Lo Si shook his head again. "You have lost more than your son,
Kwai Chang Caine." He looked up at Kermit, "And so have I." He glanced over at
the Blaisdells, who were blissfully unaware of what was going on, being solely
focused on one another to the exclusion of all else. "I hope one day they can
forgive a foolish old man." He turned back to Kermit. "You said he used herbs?"
He slipped Paul some kind of herbs to make him sick and give him nightmares, and
then his own subconscious and past took over. He nearly died, Lo Si! I'm not letting
The Ancient sighed and nodded. "No, you cannot. He has a sickness
in his chi - his soul, if you will. I will discover what he used and how he administered
it. If he is wise, he will not fight his punishment." He looked again at the broken
Kwai Chang Caine and shook his head. He placed a gentle hand on Caine's shoulder,
snatching it back when Caine gasped in pain. "I am sorry, Kwai Chang Caine, but
I cannot help you, this time. You must accept your punishment. Meditate, Kwai
Chang Caine, conquer the evil that has taken over your chi." Seeing the glint
of madness in Caine's eyes, Lo Si stopped talking and backed away a step. Shaking
his head, he looked at Kermit.
"He's nuts, right?"
"Yes," the old
man whispered, horrified. "Why did no one see this?"
"Because we were all
under his spell, including you, Lo Si. I'm going to call for backup and transportation.
They can stop off at the ER and tend to his injuries, but he's going to jail."
yes, I understand." He looked again at his friend and shook his head in dismay.
"I am sorry for my part in the harm he has done."
"Yeah, well, he had you
fooled, too, I suppose. He fooled a lot of people, and the others, I think he
just hypnotized them." He didn't make the comparison to other charismatic and
evil men. He didn't have to.
"I will go and meditate and find the evidence
you will need." Without another look at Kwai Chang Caine, Lo Si turned to leave.
Si?" Paul softly said, lifting his head and looking at the old man.
Si bowed lowly in submission, but said nothing.
"I don't blame you for
anything that happened."
Lo Si lifted startled eyes to Paul. "You are most
generous. Thank you," he said simply and then turned and left.
Paul's eyes and frowned. Paul shrugged and turned his attention back to his family.
He'd try and explain it to Kermit, although he'd already done so to his family,
but he'd try again... later.
Kermit reopened his cell phone and hit a speed
dial. "Yeah, this is Detective Griffin, hundred and first precinct. I've got a
suspect in need of transport. Oh, and medical attention. I think he's got a broken
collarbone, and I know his wrist is broken, and some of his fingers may be, too."
He listened and smiled a bit grimly. "No, I didn't beat him up. Although I will
take responsibility for breaking his wrist. The rest he more or less did to himself
in attempting to kill another man." He listened some more and his smile turned
smug. "The attackee is Paul Blaisdell." He listened with satisfaction at the consternation
over that little announcement. Word would be all over town within an hour at this
rate. Good. Let them start to sweat. He finished giving them his location and
then disconnected, and immediately made another call.
Guess who I just busted for attempted murder?" He listened to his colleague's
guess and then announced, "Your boyfriend."
There was a shocked silence
and then a flood of questions. When she'd finished, he calmly informed her that
Caine had admitted it in front of witnesses, including the man he'd tried to kill.
Mary Margaret asked who, and he told her, then had to jerk his phone away from
his ear as she screamed. Shaking his head, he simply hung up on her. That took
care of the important parts, Simms was sure to know any second, and she'd call
the Commissioner, who'd tell the Mayor. Oh, yeah. Paul was home and he was feelin'
Once Caine had been removed, softly muttering to himself
about how Paul should have died, Kermit sighed in relief. He rather suspected
that when they stopped off at the hospital, that those worthies would probably
decide to keep him for a psych eval. Considering Peter, maybe his pop in a rubber
room was a better idea than prison. Just as long as he didn't get out any time
soon, and if he ever did, he stayed away from them; that would be fine. He looked
at his friends and sighed. They were still in the same position they'd been in
after Caine had been defeated. He felt a twinge of envy, but chided himself that
they were a family, and he was just a friend. He got ready to leave, when Paul
stepped away from his family and approached.
grinned, "You're welcome. Hopefully, nothing like this will ever happen again,
but if it does, just give me a call. You thought any more about coming back?"
thinking. Have you informed the department that I'm back?"
"Sort of. Called
in the transport, told them who the attackee was, then called the precinct and
told Mary Margaret. She was getting loud when I hung up." He shrugged.
should do it, then," Paul agreed. Mary Margaret was a good cop and a good detective,
but she was also the biggest gossip.... He smiled and to Kermit's surprise, came
over and gave him a hug. "Thanks, Kermit, for everything."
leaned into the embrace, his eyes closing at the sensation. Most of the time,
the idea of hugging another man would have been anathema to him, but he and Paul
had a long history and were as close as family. He returned the hug and then stepped
back. He grinned. "So, I guess I'd better get going. I'll go down and make out
my report. Do you want me to let anyone know how you're doing?"
a glint of mischief in his eyes. "Tell them that I beat Caine."
roared with laughter. "Oh, yeah!" With another quick hug, Kermit took off, leaving
Paul with his family.
Paul stood gazing at his wife and son and youngest
daughter. He smiled, content. Then, his stomach rumbled, and he asked, "So, did
you guys ever decide what to fix for dinner? I'm starving over here."
provided the distraction needed to bring them back to the here and now, and he
slipped his arm around his wife's shoulders as Kelly and Peter immediately returned
to their earlier wrangling over what they should have for dinner. As they all
headed back to the kitchen, Annie softly asked, "So, what would *you* like for
"Well, with Kelly and Peter here, I'm not going to get it, so
how about something you really like to make, hmmm? Or, how about we go out, instead?"
Oh, I'd love to go out, but what about the kids?"
Paul chuckled. "Peter!
Kelly!" Both immediately stopped their arguing and turned expectantly. "Your mother
and I are going out. You two can fend for yourselves. Don't wait up." With that,
he guided his bride upstairs, where they started packing an overnight bag. A hotel
would be appropriate. A moment later, there was a soft tap at the door.
Annie called. The door opened and two very subdued young adults entered.
wrong?" Paul asked. He noticed that both of them were blushing furiously.
how about I go out and bring something back and then Kelly and I go out to a movie,
Paul immediately understood their embarrassment. "What did
you have in mind?"
"There's this really good Italian place that does takeout,
Daddy," Kelly explained.
Paul sat on the bed and grasped his wife's hand.
"Italian, huh?" He knew Annie's thoughts from the pressure of her hand in his.
and then Kel and I will take off. There's a movie marathon down at the Cineplex."
What kind of movies?" Paul asked in concern. Even though both of them were legally
adults, he still couldn't get past the parental mindset on what was appropriate
"It's a classic comedy marathon, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton,
Keystone Kops, Harold Lloyd, and the like," Kelly explained. She'd wanted to go,
but hated to go alone; however, with Peter along, it would not only be fun, but
it would give their parents more time alone, and it was only obvious that they
wanted that. She did her best pleading look, the one that seldom failed her.
sat in his lap, one arm slipping around his shoulders, and smiled. "Sounds lovely,
"Great. Come on Kelly, let's get going, we need to have dinner
back here in an hour and the movies start in two and a half." Peter grinned at
his dad and grabbed his sister's hand, dragging her out.
to the pounding of feet on the stairs and the slamming of the front door. Paul
chuckled. "An hour, huh?"
"Not much time for more than an appetizer, but
I'll take it."
"You will, huh?" He ran his hands up her body to her neck
and, cupping her face between his hands, he kissed her.
up and breaking the kiss, she moved over to the door and locked it. "In case they
get back early," she murmured. She slowly raised her hands to unbutton her dress,
and then slowly stripped it off, knowing how much Paul liked to watch her undress.
She draped the dress over his head, smiling seductively as she heard him toss
it aside. Reaching up behind her back, she unfastened her bra and removed it as
she straddled his legs, allowing her breasts to cradle his face. She dropped the
bra as his hands ran up her body to her shoulders and he nuzzled at her breasts.
Babe, I've missed you so much," he softly murmured as his hands began to fondle
her breasts and then pulled her into his lap. He lifted his face to hers and kissed
her, deeply. Her arms wrapped around him, one hand finger-combing his hair, the
other sliding down his back to pull herself closer to him.
"You have too
many clothes on, Paul," she whispered, then squealed in surprise as he abruptly
moved, rolling back onto the bed and over so that she lay beneath him.
seconds," and he was gone. She listened as he practically tore his clothes off
and smiled, satisfied that even after all these years, she could still elicit
such a response. In less than the half minute promised, he was back, fully aroused
and totally in control.
"Now, where were we?" He murmured. "Ah, yes, I
remember." And he lowered his face to hers and again kissed her, while one arm
supported his weight from her, and the other fondled her breasts and then stroked
down her body.
When Peter and Kelly returned with dinner an hour later,
they were *not* ready to eat.
Paul was awake when Peter and Kelly
returned after their movie marathon. He listened to them laugh and discuss the
movies they had seen. There was the sound of happiness and contentment in his
children's voices and he was pleased. He knew that Peter wasn't dealing with what
had happened, yet, but he was coping. He was using their love and affection as
a bulwark against thinking too much. Yet.
Satisfied that his children were
safe, he shifted slightly to his side, holding his Annie closer and burying his
face in her hair. Within moments, he was asleep.
Peter lay awake
in his bed. The movies had been great, and Kelly's company was wonderful, but
now he had time to think. And thinking wasn't necessarily a good thing, just now.
On the one hand, he felt sick over what his father had done to Paul, and thought
to do to...with Annie. He shuddered just thinking about that. That was too sick
to even contemplate, so he forced it from his mind. On the other hand, Paul and
Annie still loved him. They didn't blame him for what his father had done, and
Paul had even forgiven him for his misdeeds. But he couldn't. And he couldn't
understand how Paul could. He was angry, and hurting, and happy, all at once.
The first two stemmed from his blood father, the last from his foster father and
The crux of the whole thing was that they loved him. Without
reservation, without strings, without compensation. They simply did. And that,
all by itself was comfort for the other things, the betrayal, the manipulation,
the pain. With a sigh, he turned over onto his stomach, hoping that maybe he could
go to sleep.
He jumped. He hadn't heard the door open or
Paul come in. He looked up, startled. "Paul?" He couldn't imagine what had brought
him here, now. Not that he was annoyed or anything. Quite the contrary.
you all right, son?"
Son. Peter's disquiet calmed. "I'm still trying to
get my mind around what Pop did, and why." He shifted to his back and sat up,
adjusting the pillow behind him and leaning back, incidentally making room for
Paul on the bed.
Paul took the hint and sat on the foot of Peter's bed.
"I can understand how difficult that is for you. You still had him up on a pedestal."
sighed. "Not really."
Paul was surprised. "Oh?" His hand reached out to
gently rub Peter's foot beneath the covers.
"No. I just felt... trapped,
I guess. Like I was in a maze and there was only one way out, to do what my father
wanted me to do." He shook his head. "Man, why couldn't I see what he was doing?"
he's your father and you didn't want to believe anything bad about him?"
paused, thinking, then he frowned and nodded. "Yeah, I guess so." He looked at
Paul and tilted his head to one side, "But you never tried to manipulate me into
Paul chuckled softly. "Oh, I don't know. Seems I did a
lot of cajoling and threatening in order to convince you that you needed to apply
yourself in school and get decent grades."
Peter grinned. "Yeah, well,
the promise of being grounded helped, but your asking me when I got a bad grade
if I'd done my best, and even if I lied and said 'yes', you accepted it. It made
me feel so guilty, to know that I'd lied to you and you bought it."
I knew you weren't being honest, but I wasn't sure if you really thought that
you had done your best."
"Yeah, and you still made me take it over in summer
school." He stared at Paul for a few moments, seeing the fondness on his face
and feeling the love this man had for him. "Thanks, Dad."
Paul looked up
and smiled. "We may not be family by blood, Peter, but you *are* my son. Stubborn,
independent, and able. Don't ever change, all right?"
Peter smiled. "Okay,
Dad. I'll do my best." They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes. "So,
what woke you up?"
Paul chuckled and shook his head. "Parental sixth sense.
I knew that you'd be having trouble sleeping, trying to figure out how you could
have prevented what happened and trying to accept the guilt for your father's
actions. Well, guess what? You have no culpability in this. You may have been
the excuse, but it was *not* your fault. Got that?"
"Yes, sir!" Peter felt
inordinately better. The only thing that could possibly make him feel even better
Paul shifted forward on the bed and gathered his son into his arms
for a hug. Peter's eyes closed and he hung on tight. One of the great things about
being a member of Paul Blaisdell's family was that there was never any dearth
of physical contact. And his dad gave the best hugs on the planet. Even better
than mom's. "I love you, Dad," he whispered.
"I'll love you for as long
as I live, son. Never doubt that."
"I won't. Not again." Peter tightened
his arms around his dad, relishing the feeling of his strength and love. No, he'd
not doubt him again. Not as long as he lived. Paul demonstrated his love every
day, and even when Paul was furious with him, he still loved him, and that was
the most reassuring thing of all.
Paul felt Peter relax and gently eased
back. He helped his exhausted son get comfortable and tucked him in. "Sleep well,
Peter," he whispered to the nearly sleeping young man and leaned down to kiss
his son on the forehead.
Peter mumbled an "I love you, Paul," and was
Paul watched his son sleep for several minutes, until Annie came
looking for him.
"Is he all right?" she whispered.
"He will be."
Come back to bed."
Paul smiled. "You're insatiable, you know that?"
for two years you've been gone, for a year before that you slept in another room,
and for almost a year before that, you couldn't...." Her voice caught and she
shook her head, fighting back the tears. He was instantly conciliatory and went
to her, going out Peter's door and closing it softly behind them.
sorry, Babe. Hey." He gathered her into his arms and held her as she sniffled,
fighting back the tears.
"I never expected you to come back to me, Paul."
Annie, love. I'm sorry, Babe. I should have contacted you sooner."
shook her head. "No. You did what you needed to. You found healing and then you
came home to me. Now, we've got a *lot* of loving to make up for missing, so,"
her voice turned pleading, "Please?"
There was no way on earth he could
resist her. And he never wanted to try. She was right; the last two years before
he'd left had been hellish on their relationship. And it had gotten dangerous
for him to even sleep with her. "Come on, Babe. Let me love you."
up at him, her eyes still sparkling with unshed tears. "Forever."
I doubt I can last quite that long," he teased.
With a giggle, she pushed
away from him and ran back to their bedroom, with him right on her heels.
woke up to hear her parent's footsteps and laughter. With a smile at that reassuring
sound, she drifted right back to sleep.
Kermit finished his report
and sent it to print. He was well aware of the consternation going on among the
hierarchy of the department. Karen... Captain Simms was in deep kim chee, and
she knew it. But so was the Commissioner. So were a lot of people. The Mayor was
making noises about a complete shakeup. He wasn't quite sure what had happened,
there, but something was certainly in the wind. He wasn't worried, though.
was a tap at his door. "Come."
Blake came in and looked at him. "Is it
Kermit grinned. "Paul is home, yes."
Blake shifted uneasily.
"How's he look?"
"He beat the crap out of Caine."
"He beat up Peter?"
"Nope. Kwai Chang... well, okay, he didn't actually
beat the crap out of him, but he managed to break some fingers and a collarbone.
I got to break his wrist, but that was after Paul had finished with him and turned
his back on him. Pete and I stopped his last attempt." He shrugged, inordinately
pleased. "So, what's the word?"
Blake came the rest of the way in, closed
the door and sat in Kermit's visitor's chair. "Well, Mary Margaret told Simms
that Paul was back and that Caine had tried to kill him. Oh, and he's in the psych
ward. Seems he went a little nuts when they tried to take care of him at the hospital.
Even with the broken bones, he tried to escape." He shook his head. "I heard he
was foaming at the mouth, but I kind of doubt that one." He regarded his long-time
colleague. "Paul really is okay?"
Kermit grinned. "Oh, yeah. Got him home
and Annie practically crawled inside his skin with him. I got out as fast as I
could. He's looking good, and I guess he's feeling pretty good, too. At least
I'd guess that from the way Annie won't let him out of her reach."
sighed, relieved. "I have to admit that I never expected to see him alive, again."
He smiled. "I'm happy for them."
"Yeah, well, there are people who are
going to be very unhappy, and soon. It's time to batten down the hatches, my friend
and be prepared for gale forces and rough seas."
"Is he going to come back?"
he asked hopefully.
"We didn't get to settle that before Caine came in.
Can you believe he made a pass at Annie?"
Blake went very still. "And we're
not hiding the body?"
"Nope." He shook his head. "Caine attacked him, and
every time he tried to kick him, or threw a punch, Paul was just that much farther
away." He smiled. "It was impressive. You've seen Caine in action." Blake nodded.
"Paul was faster."
"Wow. So, how come he didn't kill him?"
shrugged. "I don't know. I think he didn't want to hurt Peter by killing his old
man. When I left, though, they were having a Blaisdell huddle."
He'd been in a couple of those, himself. So had Kermit, as he recalled. "Good.
Peter needs Paul and Annie. They're possibly the best parents I've ever seen."
He stood up. "Meanwhile, I guess I'll go start battening down those loose hatches.
I've got that old cabinet by the coffee machine rekeyed if you need to stash anything."
grinned. "Thanks, but I've got everything I need right here," he patted his laptop.
"And it goes home with me."
"Good idea. You think it would be okay if I
gave Paul a call tomorrow?"
"I think he'd love to hear from anyone at all.
He's still deciding whether or not to come back. I, for one, would very much like
to see both him *and* Pete back here where they belong."
Kincaid isn't going to be very happy. He and Captain Simms...."
flinched. "It's okay, I know whatever I thought we might have had is over. So,
she's after TJ's dad, now?"
"Yeah. TJ is mightily upset. I think he'd rather
have Paul back, too. Or maybe take over his father's job? Paul would be good as
commissioner, don't you think?"
"He would, except for one thing."
You know how he feels about them."
Blake sighed. "Yeah, I suppose so. Well,
let me get out of your hair. Thanks for the info. Paul beat Caine, huh? Wish I
could have seen that."
After sleeping in until
nearly ten a.m., the Blaisdells woke up and settled down for a family breakfast,
complete with children teasing one another unmercifully. The only reaction it
received, however, was fond smiles from their parents. As they sat over their
last cups of coffee and discussed what they should do for the rest of the day,
the phone rang. Kelly, who'd been loading the dishwasher, got it.
It's Mr. Blake."
Paul smiled and accepted the cordless handset. "Blake,
how are you?"
"Kermit said you were back. How are *you*?"
It's good to be home, Dexter. How are things there?"
"Well, I wish you
were back at work. As soon as Kermit arrested Caine, the shit's hit the fan. Simms
and Commissioner Kincaid have their heads together, trying to figure out how to
defuse the situation. I think that if you press, you can get Peter's job back,
including all his back pay. They'll be lucky to keep their pensions, if you ask
Paul nodded. "That's good to know. Any word from the mayor?"
is that she's highly upset. She's afraid the media will find out and make her
look bad. It's really a crapshoot, still, but if you come down and start making
noise about being back and ready to come back to work...." He trailed off, hoping
his opening would be taken up.
"We'll see. I need to discuss our options
with my family, first. I may just take the retirement and I'm not sure, yet, what
Peter wants." He cocked his head at his son, who looked up at him and smiled,
then shrugged. They were still reconnecting as a family and hadn't gotten to future
plans, yet. "When I know, I'll call you or Kermit, okay?"
And welcome home, Paul." There was relief in his voice.
"Thanks. I'll talk
to you later." After turning the phone off and handing it to Kelly to replace
on the cradle, he looked at Peter. "Well, I guess some of what we need to do today
is decide whether either of us still wants to be a cop."
Peter sighed and
looked away. "I don't know that I can go back. It was pretty awful, Paul."
know. It looks like Commissioner Kincaid and Captain Simms have realized the trouble
they can get in over this." He shrugged. "I can talk to the mayor, but think about
it and decide if it's what you want. There's no point fighting if it isn't what
you want. It's up to you, Peter. What do you want to do?"
thinking how different his life was with Paul back. There was no pressure to do
anything, only questions to help him decide for himself. He looked at his foster
father and asked, "Can we do that pro/con thing?"
Paul grinned. "Of course
we can, son."
"Then that's what I want to do, first. See what my options
and obstacles are."
"All right. One of the options might be to get you
reinstated here, and then get a transfer to a different department in another
city or even state." He could see that he had caught Peter's interest and relaxed.
There was plenty of time to help his son decide, and if it required him to get
tough, then so be it. Peter had, according to Kermit at any rate, been railroaded
over a dirty cop; victimized and forced to quit. It was possible that Kwai Chang
Caine had something to do with it, but that didn't matter. His son had been mistreated
by people he had every right to expect to back him, and he'd defend his son to
Kermit was sitting in Paul's den, sipping his scotch
and regaling him with the recent goings on at the precinct, including Karen Simms
sudden departure and the arraignment of Peter's father. "It looks like Caine's
lawyer is hanging all his hope on an insanity plea. I suspect that if you're there
for any length of time, he'll get it."
"Well, I'll only be there for as
long as I have to be. I have no desire to see the trial. In fact, I'd prefer not
having to testify, but that's not going to happen."
"How's Peter holding
Paul smiled. "Surprisingly well. He hasn't gone to see his father,
though. I think the wounds are still too raw, like the brands on his arms."
yeah. He's tough, though. Have you decided on whether or not you're coming back?"
He tried to seem nonchalant, but Paul knew perfectly well that Kermit was anxious
for his answer.
He shifted back in his chair and stretched. "Well, Retirement
has its place, but I'm not at that point, yet."
"So, I've got an appointment with the mayor and Commissioner Kincaid tomorrow
afternoon. Part of my deal is that they have to reinstate Peter, as well."
his back pay, I trust?
"Oh, yeah." They grinned at one another, satisfied.
Peter looked at Paul and smiled. It was good to see him back in
his gray suit and heading for the precinct. It felt good, as well, to be going
with him. When they'd gone to talk to the mayor, he'd been nervous, but she'd
been very friendly and supportive; especially after she got all the facts about
his quitting. Now, two weeks after Paul's return, they were both going in for
their first day back, and it felt great.
The mayor had called in Commissioner
Kincaid and Captain Simms, as well, and had offered Paul the post of Police Commissioner
right in front of them. He'd respectfully declined, stating his difficulty in
dealing with politicians on a daily basis. She'd smiled her understanding and
ordered Kincaid to accept his reinstatement - or else.
And suddenly, Peter
had six months of back pay in his bank account. He was looking forward to getting
back in harness, and couldn't stop grinning.
Entering the station behind
Paul, he couldn't help but think that this was another homecoming, of sorts. Broderick
was his usual self, telling them 'welcome back'; Chief Strenlich was almost ebullient,
he was so glad to see them both; Kelly Blake was noticeably absent, but Jody and
Mary Margaret were both there, waiting and happy to see them. Blake was, as always,
quietly pleased and demonstrated his feelings by having provided a varietal coffee
and fancy pastries. Chen and TJ were grinning as well in their welcome, but they
were more interested in the pastries and coffee, of course. And Kermit was...Kermit.
Showing nothing behind his dark glasses, but both Paul and Peter knew that their
master hacker was delighted with their return.
Peter's old desk had been
cleaned out and was ready for him. He had, however, a new chair with a big, red
bow on it. Grinning, he sat down, leaned back, and put his feet up on his desk.
The phone rang, and he quickly reached for it. "Hundred and first precinct, Detective
Paul entered his office and was pleased to note that
it had been recreated to match how he had left it; thanks, no doubt, to Kermit
and Blake. He had his mug filled with good coffee and a Napoleon pastry, and settled
at his desk and sighed. It was almost like coming home, only not quite as good
as that had been; but then, Annie wasn't likely to be here with him. He opened
the first file on the stack in his in box, and began reading.
It was good
to be home and have things back the way they should be.
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