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Kermit Griffin, mercenary and computer hacker extraordinaire, groaned to himself as he swiftly and silently rolled off his bed and into a crouch in one move. He mentally made a note to remind himself to visit the Chiropractor again. Of course if he forgot his back would remind him. The banging on his door that had awakened him and literally had him rolling out of bed, sounded again. Padding silently across the floor in his bare feet, Kermit used the peephole in the door and saw one of the few faces that were always welcome and totally trusted. Of course this face belonged in Sloanville, not Chicago.
"Paul, we really must stop this, or people will talk," Kermit opened the door for the man who had played so many roles in his life. He had been foster father, friend, mentor, confidant; but most importantly he had been best friend to a man who had few friends at all.
The older man remained silent, dragging himself and his one bag in. He dropped his carry-on bag wearily to the floor. Standing in his friend's entryway dripping wet, was Paul Blasdell; and while he had looked worse, had never looked as lost as he did at that moment. It was his eyes the younger man decided, as he relocked the door and reset the security system. They were a light blue. When the older man was angry they were lasers that penetrated to the bone, when he was laughing they sparkled and danced. Kermit had seen those eyes clouded with worry and wet with tears. He had seen them dance with mischief and glow with love. But tonight, Kermit realized as he took Paul's coat and went to retrieve towels for his friend, his eyes were dead. No love, hate, anger, pride, or tears, nothing. That scared him more than anything he had ever seen in those too expressive eyes before.
Paul held out a bag he was holding in exchange for the towels being pressed to his hands. Kermit took the bag and at his mentor's nod, reached inside to pull out a bottle of particularly excellent scotch. Kermit raised an eyebrow and set it on a counter in the kitchen. There would be time for this later, when it was time to talk.
Seeing that his friend was standing exactly as he had last seen him, holding the towels, Kermit striped the outer layer of cold, wet clothes from him, and led his friend towards the bathroom. He could only imagine how long Paul had been out in the rain to get soaked through his coat. He had probably walked here from O'Hare Airport. Once in the bathroom, Paul stood leaning against the wall and shaking, while Kermit got the water adjusted so that it was hot, but not scalding. Getting his friend's larger frame under the soothing water, Kermit left to see about dry clothing. Everything in the carry-on was soaked or mud encrusted. This could be interesting, since they were nowhere near the same size. A few minutes later Kermit left a pair of sweats he had that were too large and long for him, but would come closest to fitting Paul, on the bathroom counter for the taller man.
Kermit kept an ear out for the shower, while he debated sleeping arrangements. There was only one bed and the couch, while not bad for sitting, did not make for a comfortable bed. That left only one solution. It wasn't like they had never bunked together on their various and assorted `trips'. Besides, in Paul's condition the nightmares would be coming and he wanted to be there for him, as his older friend had so often been there for him.
He tried not to laugh as Paul walked slowly and carefully out of the bathroom as if not certain what he was doing. While the sweats were large on Kermit, Paul barely got into them and they left about two inches between the bottom of the pant leg and his friend's ankles. Paul was, however, looking a little better. Kermit quietly led his unprotesting friend to the bedroom. The very fact that he was not protesting, not talking at all in fact, told Kermit that whatever had so badly damaged Paul`s soul was still affecting him..
Laying his friend down, the computer expert took the other side of the bed. Looking at the clock, he saw that it was now quarter to 4 in the morning. Hopefully, the new day would hold some answers, like what had upset his normally unflappable friend this badly. If the mission had gone wrong, Kermit would have heard about it by now, so whatever it was, was of a more personal nature.
Paul was not sleeping. He was lying there looking at the ceiling with his haunted eyes. Kermit rolled him over on his side and rubbed his back, soothing the exhausted man in to a fitful sleep. Kermit settled in to watch over his sleeping friend and keep the nightmares away, they would come, the soldier was certain, but not on his watch. It only seemed right that he do this since Paul had kept his demons at bay many times so that he could sleep.
Morning came, Kermit found, with no thought or compassion about how long you had been in bed, or if your night had been interrupted by a friend on the doorstep in pain. Stumbling into the kitchen, he got the makings for coffee, the elixir of life, and got the machine going so that it would be ready when he got out of the shower. Morning routine set in place he headed off for the bathroom.
The pounding under the hot water helped loosen his back enough that Kermit figured he would live. Sitting on the sink waiting for him, the mercenary found his favorite mug, full of coffee. Paul was up and hopefully in a better place now that he had been a few hours ago. Taking a sip and sending Paul mental thanks, he got on with his morning rituals. Perhaps today, the older man would be able to speak about what had happened. One look towards his living area as he passed through the livingroom on the way the bedroom told him that this was not to be. Paul was parked by the balcony windows, watching a thunderstorm approach. Knowing that nothing would incite his friend to work through this faster, the younger mercenary simply moved into the bedroom to get dressed.
While not a great cook, the hacker was an adequate one. Nothing fancy like you might use for entertaining. He had tried that once to impress a date, and only ended up with a huge mess in his kitchen while they had gone out to dinner. His meals were more of the substance kind, no frills but very filling. Paul was actually the cook of the two of them, but in the few years he had been married, Paul had found that the kitchen was Annie's area and had not tried invading it. He slid the two omelets onto plates and brought one out to Paul. The older man waved off the offering .
"Paul, remember what you once told me was the first law of mercenary life?" Kermit asked
The older man raised an eyebrow at his host.
"Get your food and your rest while you can, because you'll never have enough of either. So eat this now, and then you won't find yourself drinking that bottle on an empty stomach. later," Kermit continued in his most reasonable tone. Paul made no response. Kermit let it go, knowing that when the time was right Paul would eat, and talk.
Paul continued staring out the window as Kermit checked his e-mails, answered some, deleted others, and acted on a few. One from Ryker confirmed that the recent mission had been successful. Kermit debated asking his and Paul's mutual friend what had happened, but decided Paul would resent his getting the information from another source, and their mutual friend might not know. His mentor was a private man, if he was anything.
By the time noon had come around, Paul had started on his bottle. Kermit took that as a sign that Paul was progressing, by tonight he should be ready to talk and half if not totally drunk. He didn't press lunch, since Paul had finally eaten about four bites of the omelet.
Shutting off his electronic mistress, as the ex-wife liked to call it, Kermit sat down at the piano to enjoy the late afternoon thunderstorm with Paul. Both men enjoyed a good thunderstorm, reveling in the awesome power and fury Mother Nature displayed at such times. The older man had not moved since lunch, but the bottle was a little over half gone, so was Paul, come to think of it.
Deciding that something soft and jazzy would fit the melancholy mood, Kermit started playing a favorite piece, but as usual, his fingers ended up doing their own thing. Improvisation was what a musician he knew had called it. The mercenary simply called it playing the piano.
"I didn't know you actually knew how to play that thing," a rough voice sounded.
"Glad you finally found your voice, Paul." Kermit grinned in relief at that blessed sound.
Like his eyes, Paul's voice could speak even without using words. It could be harsh with anger, or velvet soft with love. Kermit had heard it bellow orders loud enough that the entire country heard him, and when in a MASH unit in Vietnam, he had been comforted by it's whispered support. He had known the voice to ring loud and long with laughter, and to threaten unspeakable things in a low pitched growl that was far more frightening then his yelling. At this moment, Kermit thought the angelic choir at it's best could not compare with the somewhat rough voice of his friend and mentor.
"My parents wanted me to learn an instrument, but I was involved with sports, and convinced them that was enough," Paul said as he took another sip of his scotch.
"Mom wanted me to learn the violin, I thought that was a sissy kind of instrument, so I asked her if I could have some drums. She said not while I was living at home. We settled on the Piano as something we could both live with. Hated while I was learning, but got to kind of liking it after a while, " Kermit explained as he continued his private concert.
"What happened out there, Paul?" Kermit asked breaking a fifteen minute silence.
"Isn't that a new set?" Paul asked nodding towards Kermit chess board, and changing the topic.
"Green and Grey, made of Mexican Onyx and Ash. Marilyn and the kids got it for me for Christmas. There was a guy at the Renaissance Fair that made them. He had a deal where if you played a game on the board you wanted and won, it was half off, if you lost you owed him a beer. The kids won it for me, and Marilyn helped them with the cost," Kermit was silent as his friend suddenly had a stricken look, and the small bit of life that had come back to his eyes died again.
"Paul?" Kermit asked as his friend began once more to watch the storm. Once more he was meet by silence. With a silent curse, the younger man went to answer a persistent knocking at his door.
"Hi, Kermit! I made some cookies with mommy toady and brought you some." Jennifer, the little girl from across the hall, said proudly holing out her amature 6 year old effort at baking.
"Thank you, honey, I'll enjoy these a lot." Kermit assured the little girl who got her hug and scurried home.
"Paul, was there...," The mercenary quit mid-sentence, since the person he was talking to was racing for his bathroom. Kermit quietly followed after, this too was a service Paul had performed for him, and he would do so now for his friend. He quietly rubbed his friend's back as the heaves sent spasms through it. After Paul had quit being sick, Kermit was there with a glass of water and a washcloth.
He washed and cleaned up his friend. Paul, meanwhile, was sobbing. He was not a man who cried often, but when he did it was like this. great, gulping, gut-wrenching sobs brought on by some unspeakable horror; and for him to cry, it must have been very bad indeed. The things these two men had seen, done, and experienced, would give anyone nightmares. Sometimes it would get to them; obviously something had gotten to Paul.
"She was seven years old, Kermit! Seven!" Paul got out between sobs.
"Who was she?" Kermit asked quietly as he joined Paul on the floor.
"She was the little girl of the chief, from the tribe that we were helping. She was so proud because her mother let her help cook the dinner for the important men coming to see daddy. She gave me this big smile when I told her how good it was. She had a smile just like Kelly has," Paul sobbed, as he thought of the child who reminded him of his own 7 year old, he pulled himself into a ball, hiding his face. Kermit sat next to him, rubbing his back.
"Something happened to her?" Kermit already knew the answer, he had seen far to many innocent women, children, and elderly die. There had been something about the little girl serving dinner that had gotten to Paul; something that made her not just another little girl.
"An AK-47 is what happened to her.," Paul shouted. "The gun runners came and she was caught in the cross fire. The only way I could have saved her would have been to break cover run out there and get her. There was nothing I could do, Kermit. I saw her die right in front of me and could do nothing."
"You're right, there is nothing that you could have done." Kermit agreed, feeling for his friend.
"Don't we do what we do for people like her? To let them have a better life?" Paul ranted.
"Yes, that's what we've always been about." Kermit agreed, these were things Paul knew and needed to hear again that moment.
"Tell me how she has a better life when she's dead?" Paul asked.
"She doesn't, but a lot of other people, including her village, will get to have better lives because of the guns that are not being sold, and the gunrunners that are now in jail." Kermit told him.
"What about all of the others? All of the other people that I see in my nightmares, people that we were supposed to be helping?" Paul asked quietly.
Kermit was quiet for almost a minute before he said anything, then, "Paul, take that police detective job in Sloanville and get out of the business," he answered replied with a grim smile.
"Just walk away from it all?" Paul asked in disbelief.
"Paul, do you still believe in what we do? That the work we do is worth it?" Kermit asked, suspecting the answer.
"Not really, it's been a while since the few lives we save have seemed worth all of the ones we take. I`ve killed too many people," Paul admitted softly.
"Then get out, give the boss your resignation and take that job where you will see the good you are doing, where you aren't killing people. Staying here when you don't believe in it is only going to kill you slowly, Paul." Kermit argued, "This is killing you Paul, you see every innocent person that died, and it's too many.
"Too many dead." Paul repeated.
"Yes, it's time for you to get out of the shadows. Go enjoy the sunlight for both of us," Kermit said, helping his friend up."
"Why don't you come with me, you can enjoy it for yourself that way?" Paul offered, praying his friend would accept it. The last few jobs had been hard on the younger man and his teacher knew it.
"Not yet, there are some people that I need to save first," Kermit smiled.
"Well, don't forget to save yourself while you're at it. And remember I'm only a phone call away."
Morning came and with it a resignation was on a desk in Washington, and an acceptance letter was on the desk of the chief of police in Sloanville.
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