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This was supposed to be a companion piece to Brothers in Arms. A nice little tale about Paul helping Kermit out of the mercenary business. Then Kermit's ex-wife showed up. She was followed quickly by Annie's sister. Paul, being a wise man, stood back and let the women have their way. Kermit was supposed to get emotional owies and no worse, the muses dared to disagree with me and pounded on the poor man. While this tale is not really what I had planned, it is evidently what the muses had planned, and I hope you enjoy it. Many thanks and a big hug to TAE for all of the chat sessions she spent helping me figure out how to do one scene or another.

Kermit groaned as he poured himself into the taxi that had been kind enough to pull over at his signal. He tried to remember a time when he had ever felt this bad. Physically, there had been plenty of times he had felt worse; most of them had included near death and being dragged home by a companion of some kind. Usually Paul in the past, but since his friend's retirement, Steadmen or Ryker had been his companions of choice. But this was different, this was being sick in his mind and his heart, not his body. His body, however, was not in great shape, either. Well, going home and sleeping in his own bed for about a month should solve his body's issues and his mind and heart would simply have to get over things. They had had to do that a lot these days. If he had known how much he would miss having his `big brother' to talk to, perhaps he would not have pushed him to retire. No, that was not true, Paul had been soul dead and needed to retire his trench coat and fedora. Kermit Griffin, mercenary and computer hacker extraordinaire, would simply go back to his one bedroom apartment and lick his wounds until he was able to face the world again. That had been happening a little too often these days, as well.

"Hey, brother, you don't look so hot, you want I should take you by the hospital or something?" The cabbie asked, seeing the pale man sliding cautiously into the back seat.

"I'll be fine. I just need to get home," Kermit said tiredly.

"Got someone to nurse you back to humanity there, do you pal? I got the best nurse in the world at home, myself. Missus don't have no fancy trainin' or nothin', but her hands, they can cure me of anything. Fifteen minutes with her will do me more good than two days in the hospital, cheaper too, since I ain't got to take off work, or stay in some hospital or nothin'," the cabbie continued.

He was babbling on about something, Kermit was not entirely certain what, but caught that the cabbie had a wife who made him feel good. Best not to think about that, since even when they were married, Beth would not have troubled herself to nurse or comfort him if he was hurting. Not like the times he had dragged a hurting Paul home, only to be almost run over by Annie coming out to take Paul inside and start mothering him and soothing whatever hurts he had acquired this time. Right now, Kermit thought, he could really use an Annie of his own. Too bad he didn't have one, and probably never would.

"Hey, you sure you're all right pal?" The cabbie looked in back to see that his fare was unconscious in the back seat. "Lovely. Look pal, I understand that you don' like them doctors, I don't neither, but I'm taking you to a hospital," the cabbie turned and headed towards the nearest emergency room.

Kermit tried opening his eyes; the harsh glare of the bright white illumination in the room caused him to squeeze them shut again immediately. He tried to remember exactly how he had come to be here. He had been on a job in South America, and then there had obviously been a plane ride here. There was something he vaguely recollected about a cab and the driver having a wife he liked.

"This is Mercy General, I'm Nurse Ratched, you passed out in the back of your taxi. The driver was good enough to bring you here. We paid the fare and will be putting it on your bill. Now, can you tell me your name, sir?" A voice that sounded like a cross between fingernails on a chalkboard and Attila the Hun asked.

"I had some shades on, I need you to get them for me," he tried to sound pleasant and reasonable. Kermit was never a good patient but had found long ago that you could get more out of a nurse if you used sugar than by threatening them.

"Hospital policy is that you will have your personal items returned to you when you leave. Now, I need your name so that we can get you admitted," she continued in an arctic tone without bothering to look up from her notepad.

"I don't give a damn about the hospital policy, just get me my glasses, my other belongings, and the forms to check myself out of this place," he growled, having lost what little patience he had had with the nurse.

"You, sir, have been unconscious, something that indicates a concussion; and you have a sprained wrist, as well as a number of infected wounds. I don't know who sutured them up for you but they were VERY careless. I'll go and get the doctor for you, when I come back I will need your name for admittance," she glared at the uncooperative patient.

"Actually, he was very good considering how drunk he was and that he had never sewn anything but nets, before. Now, if you would please get me my shades and other belongings, I'll be on my way," Kermit growled, not intimidated in the least by this woman. He had had Paul and Annie both angry with him in the past and she was nowhere near their caliber.

"I'll get the doctor and we will see what he says about your leaving, if he allows it, then you will be permitted to have your glasses, not before." The gnome nurse, as Kermit thought of her, turned and left. The unhappy mercenary mumbled a parting shot in a language he hadn't used in a lifetime, to her back.

"I know she's a pain, but that really was uncalled for, and with a concussion and infected wounds, you really should stay overnight, or at least arrange for someone to stay with you. I can call someone for you, if you like," a far more pleasant sounding voice sounded.

"Tell me how a nice thing like you learned Vietnamese curses, Doll face?" Kermit asked, deciding that he liked her laugh, it was not loud and raucous like some women's, but it was not a high pitched tittering, either. It reminded him of the wind chimes his mom had had in their backyard, very melodious and loud enough to be heard without being so loud as to call attention to itself.

"Probably the same place you did," she answered back not quite as brightly.

"MASH unit?" The mercenary asked, comprehending her sadness.

"Evacuation hospital. I'm guessing you were army," She answered, questioningly.

"Oh, Yeah, can't say anything about what I did back then, though. Is that what put you in the chair?" Kermit asked, turning his head towards the slight squeak that he had guessed to be a wheelchair needing oil.

"No, that happened later. You have good ears if you heard the chair. I'll try and get your glasses for you," she responded, squeezing his hand for a moment before turning to head out.

"Thanks, if you could get my clothes, gun and wallet as well. I would really appreciate it, I hate having to run away from hospitals in stolen scrubs," he repeated impatiently.

"I suppose that you would leave in a gown if you had to, rather than stay here," she laughed, stopping in the doorway.

"A gown I would rather not do, thanks, they always leave your backside unprotected," he smiled his most ingratiating smile for her.

"Well, we medical people get our thrills were we can," she said, chuckling at his blushing.

"I finally met a nurse that I like," he said after she left, so she neither heard him, nor saw his smile.

"What are YOU doing in this area? None of your patients are in this wing, and I don't want that hairy beast here!" Kermit could hear the gnome nurse in the hallway fifteen minutes later.

"With the scars the man in examination room four has, Neil thought he might be a veteran and since it appeared he had recently been in a altercation of some kind, he asked me to come in case he needed help. And as for Lady, she's allowed anywhere that I go under the Americans with Disabilities Act," someone who sounded exactly like Annie Blaisdell responded, trying to stay reasonable.

"I am perfectly capable of handling the patients in my care, thank you!" Nurse Ratched huffed in an insulted tone.

"My guess is that you have handled him so well that he hasn't said a word to you except to get him out of here. If you had gotten his shades for him, he might have been more agreeable," the woman with a voice like his friend's wife sounded.

"Giving him his personal effects would have been against hospital policy. Once the doctor has had a chance to examine him and it has been decided if he is going to be admitted or not; then we would have discussed whether to give him his sunglasses or not," Nurse Ratched snarled at the other woman.

"Hello, so it looks like we got a little banged up here, friend," A large, jovial man strode into the room, preventing Kermit from hearing the two women in the hallway.

"I don't remember you being there, but yes I did get a little dinged, but if you'll just give me my shades back and some drugs for the infections and see about my wrist, I'll be out of your way," Kermit growled, still not bothering to open his eyes.

"Well, there is still that matter of the concussion to worry about," the doctor said, ignoring the request. He took hold of Kermit's face with one hand, in order to turn it towards the light and lifted the mercenary's eyelid with the thumb of his other hand, suddenly shining a high-intensity flashlight beam into his patient's eye.

In one smooth move the doctor was across the room and holding his own, now fractured wrist. Eyeing his dangerous patient warily, the doctor called for orderlies. "That was not necessary!"

"It was if you're going to be shining bright lights in my eyes with no warning!" Kermit snarled.

"I need you two to hold this man, so that I can check to see if his pupils are equal and reactive," the doctor explained to the two orderlies entering the room. Nurse Ratched, having entered behind the two men, moved to assist as needed.

"Dr. Mandel, this is not..." the younger woman never finished her sentence as both orderlies were instantly having their hands full with the enraged mercenary. One hit a wall, while the other landed on the floor

"I need to check this man for a concussion, when I tried, he injured my wrist, I'm having him restrained so that I can do it safely," the scowling doctor explained.

"Allen and Todd get out, now!" The woman in the wheelchair roared. The two young men were only too glad to back out slowly, watching the man glaring at them from the examination table. She reached over and handed Kermit his shades, while scowling at Nurse Ratched and Dr. Mandel. "The bright lights in here were hurting his eyes, what he needed was his shades, not to have a brighter light flashed directly in his eye with no warning."

"He never complained of his eyes hurting," the nurse and doctor yipped together like a pair of terriers.

"No, I just closed my eyes and asked for my shades from everyone who walked into this room." Kermit growled from the examination table, his eyes recovering, with the protection of his shades.

"You also could have asked after observing that he had his eyes screwed shut from the time he got here!" the woman in the wheelchair added. Kermit noticed for the first time the cinnamon colored German shepherd with long hair sitting next to the woman's chair.

"I am quite capable of caring for my patients," the doctor seethed.

"Nurse Ratched, get a bandage on his wrist, then we will see to admitting him. Sir, kindly contain yourself in the future," the doctor glared at the mercenary who glared right back. "If I could see you privately?" The doctor motioned for the younger woman to precede him out.

"I was restraining myself, I usually kill people for things like that," Kermit growled at the retreating doctor.

"I'll be right back with the admitting forms and someone will be in directly with a bandage for your wrist," the nurse glared at him and left.

"I don't think so, lady!" Kermit snarled as he eased himself off of the table. He had a small pharmacy in his medicine cabinet at home, and he had had enough sprains over the years to know how to bandage them. What he needed was a night in his own bed, not yet another stay in the hospital. Grasping the back of his gown in one hand to keep it closed, he glanced out in the hall. Seeing that the coast was clear, he slipped slowly and quietly down the hallway. The mercenary grinned broadly at the last door, it was marked as a locker room. He slipped in and moments later emerged, dressed like John Q. Citizen.

As he stepped on an elevator, Nurse Ratched appeared. He gave her his widest smile and a jaunty salute as the doors closed. She stood sputtering.

Three floors down, the mercenary hopped off and walked to the nurse's desk. "Could I have the personnel effects for the man that was brought in by taxi earlier?"

"John Doe decided not to stay with us? Okay, I'll need his name and address for the bill."

"I'll settle the bill, could you bring his things here, though? We're in kind of a rush to get back, his wife wants to get him to bed," Kermit explained.

"Sure, I'll have an orderly go and get them for you. I'll need you to give the patient's name and a description of what he had to confirm that you have his permission," she smiled.

"Certainly, his name is Steve Carella. He had a wallet, a gun, and his clothes." Kermit smiled back.

"I need your name for the record, sir," the young woman looked up as an orderly brought out the articles labeled as his.

"My name is Kermit Griffin," he answered, giving his real name for once.

"Okay, how about you give me the real one, you cannot have been named for a Muppet and a mythical creature," she snorted.

"That is my real name, and before you ask I have no ID on me because I raced down here to pick up my brother-in-law," Kermit growled at her.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I have to see an ID before I can hand over the gun," she stuttered.

"Listen, he's an undercover cop and he has got to have that gun and get out of here before they find him!"

The young woman wisely handed over the items. Kermit paid the bill out of "Steve's" money and walked out.

The woman in the wheelchair glared across the room at her dartboard. She was frequently tempted to put a picture of either her boss or Nurse Ratched on it, but didn't think either move would be appreciated.

"It'll be fine, I'll just call Paul and inform him that his friend is on the loose and in need of a babysitter," she mumbled. Swearing softly about the things she would like to do the man she mentally was calling `that freaking Muppet', she dialed a number that she knew by heart. "Kermit, I swear you will pay for making me place this call."

"Blaisdell," a groggy voice, gruff and gravelly with sleep came over the line.

"I would like to report a missing Muppet; he just escaped from Mercy General with a sprained wrist, a nasty infection and a concussion. He's liable to fall down and kill himself if left alone. Do you know anyone who might want to accept responsibility for this escaped animal? There's a nurse and a doctor here that would like to have him put in a psychiatric ward as a danger to society, but I thought I would fish around for better offers," she explained.

"Sounds like he made his usual impression upon the hospital staff. I'll be there in twenty minutes; he probably headed home, so I'll head there first. Thanks for calling me, Reese," her brother-in-law responded in his primed for action voice.

"Just give me a call and let me know when you catch up with him, he's fairly banged up and I would like to know that he's all right," she explained to a man with whom she would probably never be on easy terms. They simply both knew too much about each other's darker sides. They each agreed, however, that Annie Blaisdell was the best part of the other. For her sake they lived in peace with one another.

"Oh, doctor, you're still here! We can't find the patient from exam room four, he just disappeared," an intern panted as he looked at her.

"That doesn't surprise me, in fact I just got off the phone with his contact person. He's going to meet the patient at his house and most likely either frog march him back here or haul him back to his own house to recuperate there with one of the world's best healers, either way he's taken care of," she smiled at the young man.

"I just can't believe that we lost him!" The earnest young professional wailed. "He just walked up to the desk, asked for his things, and left. He even filled out all of the right forms and settled the bill.

"What name did he give, just out of curiosity?" She asked.

"He said the patient was Steve Carella, and that his was Kermit Griffin. You would think the nurse would have questioned something like Kermit Griffin," the young man snorted.

Reese laughed long and loud. "You kids need to learn to read."

"You mean his name really is Kermit Griffin?" The youngster asked.

"Yes, that is his real name. Steve Carella, on the other hand, is a character in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books. He was also the main character of a TV series by the same name and the movie Pusher, played both times by Robert Lansing," Reese explained as she headed towards the door to her office.

"Who's Robert Lansing?" The kid asked with a confused look.

"An actor," Reese chuckled, shaking her head at the younger generation.

"Hey, wait, you said you weren't surprised. Why did you think he would make a break for it?" the kid sputtered, returning to the original question.

"He obviously doesn't like doctors or hospitals, and if my guess is right, he has escaped from some of the most secure places around, we were hardly a challenge to him." She chuckled softly at the thought of their hospital's keystone kops security taking on Kermit Griffin; a man she had every reason to believe was a mercenary in escape mode.

"You know that guy?" The young man walking beside her asked, astounded.

"I met him once, at my sister's wedding. I was her maid of honor and he was best man," the youngish woman explained.

"And you recognized him just from that?" The intern stared agog at the doctor.

"He was very memorable, now I suggest that you get back to your duties before the wretched one comes looking for you." The intern paled and dashed off.

"Kermit? Wait up!" Paul Blaisdell called out as he approached the staircase his friend was about to climb. Of all the stubborn things his friend was known for, what topped the list was his simple refusal to stay in a hospital unless he was dying, or near to it. He had been imagining things ever since Annie's sister had called. Everything from Kermit's being passed out in his apartment, to one of his many and varied enemies coming upon him in his weakened state and killing the man. On top of that, Annie had awakened as he was dressing to go and had insisted on hearing every detail. She was sitting by the phone at home now, waiting on news about their friend. He would try once more to get Kermit to come in out of the cold. Maybe make him a detective, heaven knew they could use someone who was good with computers and tended to think like a mercenary.

"Hey, Paul, what are you doing here?" The younger man spoke very deliberately, and was moving with enough care that Paul was certain his head felt like it was about to fall off with no warning.

"A doctor at the hospital called me, told me you were in danger of falling down and killing yourself. She also mentioned that you were told to arrange for someone to stay with you. Why didn't you call me?" The older man was growling now in a way that all of his kids knew far too well. Kermit Griffin, however, was not one of his kids. Paul was trying not to think about how his friend looked like a corpse in need of embalming fluid and a grave.

"I'm fine Paul. All I need is some decent sleep in my own bed and some hot meals and I'll be good as new," Kermit explained, hoping he didn't look like he felt.

"You'll be fine when you can take care of yourself again. So, either come home with me now where Annie and I can take care of you, or I will escort you back to that hospital and handcuff you to the bed," Paul had taken the tone which the foster son of his heart knew meant business.

"You know Annie has never forgiven me for the last night I spent at your house. I'll be fine, really, Paul, I just need some aspirin and some sleep," the mercenary was reduced to whining.

"She was upset that you refused the hospitality of a bed, insisting that you were fine on the couch, and too much of a mess to put in a bed. Add to that her waking up in the morning, coming down to make us coffee and breakfast, only to find that her guest had slipped out in the night. This will be your chance to make it up to her." Paul decided to change tactics and see if guilt would work for him as well as it did for Annie. Kermit just looked at Paul and raised an eyebrow.

"Paul, we can argue about this later. I appreciate your coming out here, but I'm going to bed. I promise I'll call you as soon as I get up and you can yell at me then," mustering everything he had left, the mercenary headed up the stairs.

"Then I'm staying with you," Paul growled as he followed his friend. On the third step Kermit collapsed, falling forward. Paul leapt up, trying to catch his friend before he hit his head. He succeeded in preventing a second head injury only by grabbing at his friend with one hand while trying to keep himself from falling with the other. The Olympics Committee would have given him a ten for falling with style as he caught Kermit's coat, stopping his head from hitting the stairs at the same time that his legs slid out from under him and sent him crashing onto his friend. Paul's weight on him drove Kermit's chest into the stairs hard enough that Paul swore he heard the ribs breaking.

"Kermit, just lay still, I'm calling an ambulance," The older man instructed, after managing to disentangle himself and Kermit. Not being certain of his injuries, Paul didn't attempt to move his friend.

Within minutes of the phone call, an ambulance had shown up. The paramedics worked quickly, getting all of the information about their patient from Paul. Kermit lay quietly, trying not to think about the pain he was in. He was loaded into the ambulance and after one glare from their quiet patient they decided to go ahead and let Paul ride with his injured friend.

"I see our missing Muppet has returned," Kermit heard the familiar voice of the nice nurse he had meet earlier that day.

Kermit gave her one of his sarcastic smiles. The kind that had fellow mercenaries diving for cover.

"I appreciate you calling me, Reese; can you arrange for me to be able to go in back with him?" Paul smiled tiredly at the still fairly youngish woman in the wheelchair. Like fine wine, Reese seemed to get better looking with age not worse; Annie had the same blessing.

"I'll ask Neil about it. In the meantime, I'll be happy to stay with Animal, here, and make certain that no more doctors or orderlies are hurt," Reese smiled sweetly at Kermit and put his shades over his eyes.

"You two know one another?" Kermit asked, turning his head from one to the other.

"Don't you remember Reese, Kermit? She was Annie's maid of honor and just happens to be her sister," Paul smiled.

"You mean you don't recognize me? We only meet once and not for long, that time, but a girl does like to think she's unforgettable," Reese batted her eyes at the injured mercenary.

"You're Annie's sister?" Kermit blinked, trying to reconcile the woman he was seeing with the one he had stood with at his best friend's wedding.

"Guilty as charged, or at least I am one of Annie`s two sisters. I am certainly not her brother," she smiled. "Paul, why don't you go and get some things for Kermit while he's in x-ray and getting settled in to his room, it`ll give you a chance to retrieve your car and call Annie, too."

"Sounds like a plan, I'll see you in your room later, Kermit." Paul squeezed his friend's hand.

Kermit was taken in back with Reese alongside him, talking to him in calm and quiet tones.

"Hey, Doc, I could have sworn that we just had this guy in x-ray a few hours ago," a technician asked as he set Kermit up for a picture of the damage done to his chest in the fall.

"You're a doctor? I thought you were a nurse." Kermit looked at her, surprised,

"Sorry to disappoint you, but Dr. Reese Madoc at your service," She gave him a playful bow from her wheelchair.

"No disappointment, Doll face, just surprise," he grinned at her impudently.

"Glad to spice up your life a bit, Animal," she grinned back.

"It seems security caught him trying to escape Nurse Ratched, and you know how brutal our people are with escapees," she smiled, answering the technician's question.

"Not to worry, friend, we'll have you patched up in no time," the young man squeezed his patient's shoulder. Kermit was in too much pain to react like he usually did to being touched by a stranger.

"Okay, Animal," she continued talking as she had been ever since Paul had gone to pick up some of his things. "Paul mentioned that you play chess, do you know how to play without a board?"

"I'll let you be white;" Kermit grimaced, wishing he could take painkillers. The wait to get from ER to X-ray had been long, due to a back up in patients, and the wait to get him into a room was long as well, due to a shortage of staff that night.

"Pawn to Queen Four," She started the game, hoping to distract him from the pain that no one could give him anything for because of his concussion. Hopefully, he would soon be in a room and then he could sleep in short increments.

By the time that he was settled into a room, they had declared the game a draw. The game had, however, kept him awake and distracted from the pain. He could at least sleep for two-hour intervals, now.

"Did Paul teach you to play?" He inquired as he was settled on the bed and an IV was hooked up to his arm.

"I stayed with Paul and Annie for awhile after I found myself in this chair," she spoke carefully, Kermit noticed, about what had resulted in her injury, "and Paul taught me how to play so I would have something to do. I think he hoped it would make me a more agreeable patient."

"Did it work?" Kermit raised his eyebrows inquiringly.

"No, it took Annie to do that. She finally lost it with my attitude and told me that I might be in a wheelchair now, but I had walked for thirty years and she had been blind her whole life so deal with it already and start living again. Best thing she ever did for me, I think."

Kermit turned his head as a tall black woman in a nurse's uniform entered. Closing his eyes, he sighed, he had had enough of nurses for one day, thank you. "I would really like to leave now," he groaned.

"Give ol' Ernie a chance now, honey, heard you and I been in some of the same places, way back when," she smiled like the grandmother that she happened to be.

"Great, we can swap tales about the bad old days in `Nam." Kermit snarled sarcastically.

"Glad to see you, friend. Animal, here, already had a run-in with Nurse Ratched today, so he's a little sore on nurses at the moment," Reese spoke from the corner where she and the dog had parked while Kermit had been settled into his bed.

"I can understand his wanting to leave, then. She doesn't come in this area, so you can rest easy, Mr. Griffin." Turning to the other woman, she continued. "Can I take it you and her ladyship will be staying here? At least until his wife comes? Annie I believe her name is?" Ernie sounded uncertain as to this last information. Kermit groaned, while Reese tried to cover up a smile.

"Where did that information come from?" Reese asked, recovered enough to sound professional.

"From when we first brought him in; he was saying he needed to find Annie, it was assumed that was his wife. From your response I'm guessing that she is not," Ernie looked at Reese questioningly.

"Not unless my sister has gotten into multiple husbands," Reese laughed.

"No, she's not his wife, she's mine, although she is a friend of his. I would, however, love to hear his explanation," a familiar slow speaking, rumbling voice came from the doorway.

"Brain damage, Paul. I was suffering from brain damage," Kermit groaned, and it had nothing to do with pain. Paul merely stared the younger man with a look of disbelief.

"I didn't say I needed to find Annie, I said I needed to find AN Annie, besides I was suffering from a head wound, Paul," Kermit meekly explained from his bed, hearing one of his favorite women laughing from behind her husband.

"You should have called us to come and get you! We're your friends, that's what we're here for," Annie sounded from behind Paul, all laughter gone now.

"Look at it this way, Annie, by leaving early and without making proper arrangements, he traded his overnight stay for a three day stay. And was very lucky not to have gotten more seriously hurt," Reese growled at her patient.

"How bad are my injuries?" Kermit asked, trying to refocus the conversation away from his delusional babblings of earlier that day.

"Considering that you left AMA, and then fell on a staircase; you should be a lot more seriously injured. You seem to have broken three ribs, but thankfully, none of them punctured any internal organs. Your total tally of wounds at this point consists of a sprained wrist, three broken ribs, a concussion, and a nasty infection from a few of those wounds." Reese continued, glowering at him.

"How long do I have to stay here?" Kermit asked, in his best and most polite voice, already making plans on how he might be able to get out early.

"Kermit Griffin! You got yourself into this mess largely because you refused to stay here or stay with anyone else, so you'll stay here until they say you can leave." Annie Blaisdell lit into the mercenary in the tone that all mothers use to control errant children. Kermit had the good sense to look ashamed, and contrite. In the same way that Paul had adopted the younger man and taken him under his wing as a protg, so Annie had adopted him as a kid brother the instant she meet the mysterious man her husband relied on so heavily.

"If you have someone else you can stay with who is capable of helping care for you, we'll release you in 3 days barring any further complications. If not, then you will remain with us until we feel it is safe for you to take care of yourself," a doctor standing in the doorway announced.

"Hey, Neil, good to see you," Reese greeted the man.

"Nice to see you and her ladyship as well. Ernie, usual schedule for concussion checks, and get started on the antibiotic immediately," the young doctor stated in a friendly but firm voice.

"This frog needs his rest, so everyone off his lily pad," Reese said, reading the doctor's look.

"Exactly," the doctor agreed, "I'm Dr. Neil Hartmann, Mr. Griffin. We can get to know each other better tomorrow, for now just get some sleep."

"I'll be in my office, so if you let me know when you need to wake him, I can protect you from this vicious animal," Reese called to the nurse as they were all moving to leave, after having bid their friend good night.

"He can't be any worse about waking up than my husband was, Sweetie, so you go on home and get some sleep, I raised three boys, and that big one in there won't give me any trouble," the tall nurse said, making a shooing motion at the others.

"My guess is that he has trouble with PTSD at times. Waking up in a strange place alone may unsettle him, so let me know and I'll go in with you. I'm here anyway so it's no trouble," Reese looked up at her co-worker.

"Um hum, can I take that to mean your place is still being remodeled and is unlivable until they are done?" The older woman looked down at the doctor.

"Let it go, Ernie, suffice it to say that I'll be around and that might make Kermit a little easier to deal with," Reese answered curtly.

"You won't be here because you are coming home with Paul and me. I can't believe that you didn't call us," Annie sounded as angry as her husband and sister had ever heard her.

"I didn't want to bother you and it is not a big deal," Reese explained calmly, in hope of soothing her sister. Her brother-in-law wished her good luck, he had heard the tone, and it didn't bode well for his sister-in-law.

"We're your family, you're supposed to bother us about things like that, because it is no bother!' Annie continued, not soothed in the least.

"It's not like I don't just about live here, anyway; and it is only until the two conventions get out of town and I can get a hotel room," Reese explained.

"Ladies, why don't we discuss this on the way home?" Paul asked, hoping to defuse two of the most stubborn women he knew, before they were here all night.

"Annie, you and Paul head home and I'll see you tomorrow. You aren't even set up for me right now, and I would not ask Paul to go to the trouble of setting up a bed for me this late. Besides, I wasn't joking about thinking Kermit might not react well to waking up in a strange place with no one around that he knows," Reese continued her argument, moving the couple towards the door.

"Kermit has met you all of twice before today. At the wedding rehearsal and at the ceremony, oh, and that's right, you two danced together a few times that night. I don't think you qualify as someone he knows well," Annie smiled sarcastically.

"Don't worry about the bed, Reese, I would be happy to set the bed up at any hour, or you can get yourself ready downstairs and then I can carry you upstairs. Whichever you prefer," Paul joined his wife in inviting his sister-in-law. They were not exactly at ease with one another, so it might help if she knew he was all right with her presence.

"Fine, but only for tonight. Tomorrow I'm certain I'll be able to find someplace that has a vacancy," the dark haired woman gave in, knowing she was outnumbered.

"I'm certain that you will, since the hotel Blaisdell has plenty of vacancies and will be more than happy to accommodate you until they are finished with the remodeling of your building," Annie smiled at her sister as the group headed towards her office and her things.

Paul sighed in relief that the two were not going to part in disharmony. While they loved one another dearly, the two women were a study in contrasts. Annie with her blond hair, blue eyes, and quiet loving ways was a beam of sunlight. Reese, on the other hand, was as much a study in darkness as Annie was of light. With her dark hair that was beginning to gray a little, green eyes, and far more somber and intense personality, Reese was the shadow to Annie's sunlight, having a harshness and a coldness that Annie would never possess.

"I'm so glad you decided to stay with us instead of looking for a hotel," Annie smiled when she didn't hear her sister pulling things out of bags, but instead heard her gathering the bags up.

"I've never known you not to get what you wanted, Annie, and besides I know I won't win against you and Paul both," she chuckled.

"Smart choice," Paul gave one of his warm smiles reserved for family and close friends. Hugs or other forms of touch often accompanied these smiles, but Reese had never been comfortable with touch and Paul had rarely offered more than was necessary. She smiled her thanks as he picked up her second bag and carried it for her.

"Why don't you follow us home?" Paul called over his shoulder to Reese with a smile as they left the building and he turned towards his car.

"Sounds like a plan," she called back, smiling.

"Paul, are you certain we shouldn't be following her?" Annie asked from the passenger seat as they pulled out, with Reese behind.

"She'll follow us home. We have her bags in the trunk." Paul explained with a chuckle, while Annie laughed.

"Give me a minute here, Reese, and I'll bring one of the beds down for you," Paul sighed wearily as the trio entered the house from the garage. Paul had brought out the movable ramp so that his sister-in-law could get in the house un-aided.

"Paul, it's been a long night for all of us and morning will be coming again all too soon, why don't I take the couch and we can worry about beds later?" The doctor asked, seeing her host was as tired and ready for bed as she was, and would undoubtedly be going back to the hospital as soon as possible to see to his friend.

"Bless you, Reese. Let me go and get it ready for you," Annie said while Paul smiled his appreciation at their guest.

"I am not eating that stuff!" A loud protest was heard from one of the rooms as Reese made her way down the hall.

"You want me to make airplane noises like I do for my grandson when he starts up with me like this, honey?" The voice of Ernie followed.

"Gee, Kermit vs. Ernie, the battle of the Muppets," Reese chuckled as she entered the battle zone.

"Ernie at least knows the value of eating breakfast, unlike your froggy friend, here," the nurse grumbled.

"Tell you what, Kermit, you do everything the nice doctor and nurse tell you and I will leave this laptop for you," the younger woman smiled at Kermit's almost begging look.

"Fine. I'll eat it," he grumbled picking up his spoon.

"Paul Blasdell will be here soon, when he arrives have him give Mr. Griffin the laptop. I have patients I need to see, but I'll come back and visit you later, Animal," she smiled at the glaring man and turned to leave.

"Could you set it up for me now? I can't get it set up on my own, and I'll be finished by the time that you get it hooked up," Kermit asked, suddenly the nicest and most polite of patients.

"I guess I could do that," the lady doctor agreed, suspicious of his sudden change in behavior. She took the computer's wires and reached over to plug them in. A snickering sound from the door caused her to look to her side and see Kermit placing his literally licked clean bowl on the breakfast tray while Lady licked the last bits off her muzzle.

"Kermit Griffin! Feeding my dog your breakfast does not qualify as doing what you were told,'" She informed him in a cold, steel like tone that Paul Blaisdell would have been proud to call his own. "Do not ever feed or distract a service dog in any way while it is working. A distracted dog is not paying attention to its job or its owner, and that can prove dangerous for both of them."

"I won't do it again," he apologized instead of giving her the smart-alecky answer he had planned. It had not occurred to him that feeding the dog might be dangerous.

"I should refuse to leave the laptop, since you didn't eat your own breakfast, but I think I can convince Ernie to get you a second helping. Paul, the laptop is hooked up but you can't give it to him until he's eaten his breakfast," Reese explained to her brother-in-law, who had just entered, while the nurse chuckled at how her friend was still going to get her own way with this patient.

"You're cruel, Reese," Kermit complained.

"No, cruel would be taking back the laptop and telling Paul that he can't give you the coffee and food he brought," the fortyish woman smiled at the embarrassed look on the two men's faces.

"I think we can leave these two alone now, Ernie. Paul will make certain that Kermit behaves, and Annie will be here in a moment, I believe, to make certain BOTH of them behave," the two women left the two men to their shared breakfast of coffee and homemade pastries.

"I went by your place and got some things for you," Paul handed a bag of clothing and toiletries to Kermit.

"Thanks," Kermit responded quietly, knowing what his friend had seen there.

"Kermit Griffin, you are not going back to that place! It's absolutely unlivable," Annie Blaisdell growled, as she joined the two men.

"What do you mean, Annie?" Kermit asked in total innocence.

"You know what I mean, the furniture consists of a futon, a computer on a desk, a dilapidated table, and a 50-gallon fish tank. The only things in your kitchen were coffee, beer, and booze," Annie continued on her tirade at the younger man.

"What's wrong with it? It has a place to sleep, a place to eat, and a computer for me to work at. As for the kitchen, you just named three of the four food groups," Kermit answered seriously.

"What, may I ask, is the fourth, if those are the first three?" The blond woman asked curiously.

"Gummy bears, but I haven't been home much and they're hard to keep fresh," Kermit grinned as Paul rolled his eyes and Annie snorted in disbelief.

"What happened, Kermit? I know you would never willingly give up your piano or the chess set," Paul asked in his quiet, deliberate voice.

"Beth took those when you two divorced, didn't she?" Annie seethed.

"Oh, Yeah." Kermit looked away, not wanting to think about the messy and painful situation.

"Those were things that were given to you; no divorce court would allow her to keep them," Paul responded after a moment of silence on everyone's part.

"If I call a lawyer it will turn nasty, and Beth wouldn't be hurt, but Jake would be," Kermit explained.

"It's always the kids that get hurt in divorces," Annie sighed.

"Yes, and if giving up the piano and chess set means that Jake isn't hurt as badly, then it's worth the loss," Kermit avowed.

"You're a good man, Kermit Griffin, and that boy was lucky to have you for a stepfather," Annie said, giving her friend's shoulder a squeeze in place of a hug.

She remembered the shy little boy that Kermit had brought with him once when Paul was out of town and Kermit had come by to check on her. Eventually she had convinced the boy to have some cookies with her and he had ended up telling her about how he was Kermit's helper today. When they were done, they were going to go to the zoo and look at the wild animals, but they would be perfectly safe because Kermit would make sure none of the animals hurt them. The little boy was obviously in hero worship of his new `Daddy'.

Kermit mumbled something she couldn't understand, and she realized he had turned away from her. Sensing her friend's discomfort at the topic, Annie took his hand and gave it a squeeze before heading out to the hall in search of a drinking fountain.

"Listen, I was told that Kermit Griffin was a patient on this floor. I need to see him about some business, understand?" A high-pitched shrilling voice came from by the nurse's station.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't give that information out," Ernie answered patiently.

"What, so it's all right to call me and tell me he's here even though we aren't married any more, but when I come anyways, I can't even see him?" she shrieked.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but since you are no longer listed as his next of kin, you should not have been called, do you know the name of the person who called you?" Ernie asked, totally sweet and reasonable.

"As long as I'm here, I want to see him, though!" she demanded loudly.

"Honey, we've got sick people trying to rest on this floor, you make noise like that again, I'll be calling security," Ernie hissed.

"I have every right to see him," she demanded, more quietly this time.

"And as his nurse I have every right to stop you from seeing him if I feel you will upset him or interfere with his treatment, which I do," the older nurse explained, not backing down.

"Excuse me, but would I be correct in thinking that you're Beth Griffin?" Annie asked politely of the loud woman.

"Yeah, what of it?" She asked haughtily

"I'm Annie Blaisdell, a friend of his," the petite blond explained in a voice of liquid nitrogen.

"Since you're his friend, maybe you can convince the nurse, here, to let me see him quick," the loud woman continued in her loud, shrill, New York accented voice.

"The doctor would actually have the final say. Why don't you call Doctor Madoc, Ernie?' Annie smiled conspiratorially at the tall black nurse who quickly dialed her friend and Neil, Kermit's actual doctor, as well.

"I have to agree, though, I don't think that it's a very good idea for you to see him, he's supposed to be lying still for the next few days, and that's hard enough for him without having you get him worked up. I'm certain whatever it is can wait until he's out of the hospital in a couple of days. Another two days won't make that big a difference. He'll be out of the hospital and at Paul's and my home, recovering, I'll let him know that you want to see him about something and he can call you with directions when the time is good for him," Annie continued smiling sweetly.

"If I can see him for five minutes now, then I won't need to bother any of you later with this," the younger woman growled in frustration.

"Oh, it won't be any bother at all, he's missing some things that perhaps you could bring over when you come and talk to him," Annie retorted, all sweetness and light once again gone from her voice.

"The doctor will be here shortly," the nurse interrupted, her voice dripping with honey.

"Now I remember you! The poor, helpless blind lady his friend Paul is married to," Beth sneered contemptuously. "Since you're here they both must have gone and got hurt," She continued with a derisive snort, and then yelped as a cane rapped her ankle sharply.

"No, Paul is Kermit's contact person and we were called last night. Paul's visiting with him right now," Annie answered in the same slow manner her husband's detectives would have recognized as Captain Blaisdell at his most dangerous. The blind woman, barely containing her temper with this woman, was leaning forward, pushing her adversary into the desk. What had Kermit ever seen in this strumpet? Annie could hear her hastily stepping back while balancing on spiked heels.

"That was assault! I could have you arrested for that!" The younger woman threatened.

"Go ahead and call the police, This is the 101st's jurisdiction and their station isn't far from here, so you should get prompt action." Annie smiled without a hint of humor. "Of course they would have to ask me why, and then I would have to explain about how when you moved out you took Kermit's things, and that I had merely been about to ask you to return them, when I accidentally hit you with my cane." The younger woman was now cornered between Annie, her cane and the desk.

"I don't know what you are talking about, I had every right to the things I took!" The younger woman hissed, muttering something under her breath.

"I'll make certain to give my sister's service dog, Lady, your regards since she is the only female fitting that description in this building," Annie growled. She could hear Beth's slight intake of breath that Annie had been able to hear her.

"Uh, ladies, there's a room over there if you want to discuss this is in private," the nurse hinted; much as she would have liked to see this showdown, this was something best handled privately.

"Certainly, I'm sorry that we have been disturbing you," Annie apologized to the nurse who was taking such good care of Kermit. "Could you let me know where 'there' is?" Annie continued.

"About two feet to your left," Ernie responded apologetically, as she remembered that `there' would mean little to someone who could not see where you where pointing to.

"There's nothing to discuss," Beth said in her most intimidating tone, as Annie gave her a nudge with the cane to move the woman towards the room mentioned.

"No, there isn't, as long as Kermit gets back his piano, books, and chess set. Paul mentioned that Kermit's photos and memorabilia things were missing as well. Everything else can be replaced, but those were family heirlooms and gifts," Annie responded in a voice that had been known to have Paul and Kermit both dithering and falling prostrate at her feet to avoid her wrath.

"If he wanted them back he would have said something by now," Beth snapped, as she found that Annie had effective herded her into the private room and closed the door.

"He loves your son too much to hurt him by getting into a fight with you. Returning his things would be a nice way of thanking him for caring so much about Jake," Annie said, trying to reason with this unreasonable woman.

"I didn't take anything I didn't have a right to! He hardly needs a piano that he doesn't play, and the chess set he gave to Jake. The books are old, dusty things that he never reads. His memorabilia things may have gotten in with mine, if I see them," she said mockingly, "I'll send them to him."

Beth hissed in sharp pain, the tip of the cane was resting on her toe with Annie's full weight on it.

"I may not have vision like you do, but I can see things very clearly, Annie said softly and clearly, her temper making her ice to the other woman's fire. "Not that it matters, but Kermit does play, he played once for Paul, in fact, he just never played for you. But then Kermit never was one for playing to an audience. And even if he didn't play, that instrument was the only thing of his mother's that he owned. That alone was reason enough to leave it with him," Annie said, punctuating her last statement with a whack to the woman's instep with the cane as it left the younger woman's foot.

"As for the chess set, teaching a child to play on a set doesn't constitute giving it to him. That set was a gift to Kermit from his niece and nephew; he would not have given it away to anyone. He loved it not only for the hand craftsmanship that went into building it but that those two kids bought it for him themselves with their own earnings. In time, Kermit undoubtedly would have gotten Jake a set of his own, if he had remained interested in the game, but he would not have given him that set!" Annie continued while Beth rubbed her foot.

"As for those dusty old books, that was his grandfather's library! They are irreplaceable first editions! Kermit learned to read listening to his grandfather read him tales out of those books, just like when Jake got older Kermit would have read to him out of those books. He didn't need to read out of them because he knows those books by heart, if you had ever listened to Kermit, it might have occurred to you how well read he is. Those books were a legacy to him, as well as being the source of fond memories, and Kermit has precious few of those as you well know!" The small blond woman continued in her dressing down of the taller, younger woman.

"Kermit Griffin is one of the kindest, most compassionate and loving men that I have ever known. You were lucky to have had a man like him," Annie said in the tone that led some people to see her as being far more dangerous than Paul at his most lethal. "I would like to think that you would at least have enough respect for him that you didn't deliberately take the photos, letters and things that he had saved. Those are all he has left of his parents and brother."

"Right," Beth snorted, "he's so loving and full of compassion. You have no idea the kind of man he is," Beth sneered.

"Oh, don't I?" Annie seethed, "I know that whenever Paul was gone on a mission Kermit would come and check in on me and the kids, not because Paul asked him to, but because he was concerned enough to want to see to that we had everything we needed. I know that on one of their trips, Kermit saved Paul's life by carrying him out of wherever they were when Paul was injured too badly to walk out himself. When Paul was gone and a boy at school was bothering one of the girls, Kermit stepped in and took care of it. After a storm, if Paul were gone or injured, Kermit would come over and get the house and yard taken care of. If Paul was gone and I had shopping to do, Kermit would take me or go and do it for me. Once he even did a three A.M. hospital run with a sick child and me. He climbed up a tree after an elderly neighbor's cat, once. That, Elizabeth Griffin, is the kind of man you married. He might be a mercenary, but he's a mercenary who is doing that in hopes of helping some people who are in desperate need and can't help themselves," Annie explained in a voice of velvet steel.

"Let Kermit know that I need these final papers signed," Beth said, thrusting an envelope at Annie, spinning on her heel and storming out.

"I'm sorry about that," Annie apologized to the nurse as she approached the desk, still seething from her confrontation with Beth.

"No problem, honey, personally I would have taken a switch to that child's behind some years ago," Ernie said, smiling at Annie.

"I take it that was the ex Mrs. Griffin?" Reese said from behind her sister.

"Yes. Evidently someone didn't update the charts as to who his emergency contact was and called her. She was here to see him about signing some papers or other," Annie explained, beginning to calm down a little.

"I assume since she was going one on one with you, and stormed out after giving you the papers, that she didn't get in to see him?" Reese asked, causing Annie to grin.

"I decided that it was not in the patient's best interest to be visited by his ex-wife, so I called you and Dr. Hartmann to get your opinion on it," Ernie jumped in.

"Based on the amount of noise I was hearing in there and knowing your judgment to be good, Ernie, I'll make a note on his chart that any visitors outside of Annie and Paul need to get cleared by Neil or myself," Reese said. Her tone reassured her sister, too, that Beth would not be seeing Kermit until he was well enough to get out of the hospital.

"Thank you," Annie said, smiling at her sister as an idea came to her. "Listen, Reese, do you think they might let Kermit out earlier if there was going to be a doctor at our house to watch him?"

"They might, why?" Reese asked nervously.

"Oh, well, Kermit really will heal a lot faster away from this place, and I thought maybe if you were willing to stay at the house a little longer and help take care of him, they might release him sooner," Annie explained her idea.

"And the two of us would just happen to get to know each other better stuck together like that, right?" Reese raised an eyebrow at her sister.

"Well, you would be spending some time together and you might just find yourselves liking one another," Annie smiled.

"Listen, Yenta, I don't think Kermit and I will be a very good match," Reese said, shaking her head, "We would wind up trying to kill one another if we ever got together."

"Would you at least be willing to stay at the house so that Kermit can get out of here faster?" The blond woman inquired.

"Now that I would be willing to do," Reese said, watching as her brother-in-law came out of his friend's room.

"Kermit thought he heard Beth out here, did she come by?" Paul asked, looking at the three women looking at him, all as innocent as a new day.

"She was here to see him about some papers, but she had to go, so she left the papers for me to give to him," Annie responded, handing her husband the envelope.

"We thought we heard you two out here," Paul chuckled, imagining his wife taking on Kermit's tall, willowy, bleached blond, spiked heels wearing ex-wife. Beth had never stood a chance.

"All I did was talk to her," Annie assured her husband.

"Like you talked to Vince Michaels?" Reese tried to hide her chuckle behind her hand, as Paul smiled and raised an eyebrow.

"That was mostly an accident, and no I was not that bad to her," Annie said, giving her sister a light swat.

"Why does something tell me that Paul never heard about that 'accident'?" Reese grinned, enjoying a chance to tease her sister.

"I can hear all about it on the way to drop you off at home, Babe," Paul chuckled as he put an arm around his wife and gave her a quick squeeze. Something told him he was going to enjoy this story.

"Bye guys, see you both tonight," Reese called, and got a double wave in response as Paul and Annie headed for the elevator.

"How are you doing, Animal?" Reese asked, peeking her head in his door.

"I take it Beth left?" He asked wearily.

"She left; apparently she had some papers for you to sign, Paul has them and will bring them with him when he comes back, later," she said as he groaned.

Seeing Kermit looking at Lady with interest. She dropped the dog's leash. "Lady, be a dog." The command and the loose leash released the dog from duty, allowing the dog to go and greet the new human.

"That explains why they call her your ladyship," Kermit chuckled, as he reached down and scratched the dog's ears. "I've never seen a German Shepherd that was red before, though."

"Her actual name is Lady MacBeth, and she is not a German shepherd. She a Tervuren, or Belgian Shepherd," Reese explained, wheeling next to where Kermit was still scratching the dog.

"I take it it's all right to pet her now? I've never seen a service dog so I'm not sure about the rules," Kermit explained.

"Asking is always a good start. Yes, when I've got her off duty it's okay to pet her. A good sign for that is usually if I'm holding her leash or not," Reese went on, seeing that he was genuinely interested.

"Why doesn't Annie use a guide dog?" Kermit asked something that he had wondered a few times since he had meet his best friend's wife.

"She never needed one, I guess. She wouldn't use one in the house or the yard because they are familiar areas and she rarely goes out and about except with friends, the kids, or Paul. She and Paul talked about it once, but she says that between her friends and family she has all the guides she needs. I think part of it was also that she likes dogs well enough, but I don't really think she ever wanted to have one. The girls had a cat when they were young and I think that cat was as much of a pet as Annie wanted, but then it wasn't a good experience for either one of them. The cat kept tripping Annie by wrapping itself around her, and she kept accidentally stepping on the cat. It got to a point where Annie started getting nervous going around the house for fear that she would walk on it, or inadvertently trip over it."

Kermit grimaced, imagining Annie trying to move about in a house when she was uncertain where the cat was.

"When I first got a service dog," Reese continued with Kermit's encouragement, "Paul had asked her about a guide dog, seeing how much more freedom I had with Adobe. She said that she didn't go out on her own by choice not from the lack of a guide so that a dog would not really work for her."

"Adobe?" Kermit chuckled.

"I admit that my first service dog was a red Doberman named Adobe, like the brick. Everyone called her Dobie, just like they call this one Lady even though her name is Lady MacBeth," Reese chuckled.

"Bet you got some looks," Kermit smiled.

"A few. When I had to retire her, I got Lady here, and have had almost as many looks, since most people have never seen a Belgian Shepherd," Reese agreed. Then, seeing that Kermit's morning had tired him, she called Lady back over. "Get some sleep, Kermit, I'll come back and see you this afternoon."

Kermit gave her one of his few real smiles as she left.

"Who would I talk to about filing assault charges?" A loud and shrill voice with a New York accent cut through the barely controlled chaos of the 101'St precinct.

"One of the officers should be able to help you. Hey Epstein! You want to help this lady?" A man wearing a tag naming him as Sergeant Broderick called out.

"Sure, right this way, ma'am," an older man said, leading her towards one of the desks. "Now, let's start with your name and what happened," he said, getting a notebook out.

"My name's Elizabeth Griffin. What happened is that I was viciously attacked by a woman named Annie Blaisdell for no reason. With no provocation whatsoever she hit me repeatedly with her cane," Beth began getting louder and shriller with each word.

Epstein had ceased taking notes with the words Annie Blaisdell, but had groaned inwardly. The captain was going to love hearing about this!

"Listen, ma'am, why don't I go and get the Captain? This is a very serious matter and I'm certain he would like to deal with it himself," Epstein interrupted the woman's tirade.

"As long as someone deals with it! She struck me multiple times and accused me of stealing things, and was threatening me!" She stared in again as Epstein got up and headed over to the detective division.

"Captain in, Chief?" He asked, seeing the mountain of a man that was Frank Strenlich, Chief of Detectives.

"Yeah, in his office," the chief waved in the general direction of the closed door.

"Thanks, got an assault case he's going to love!" The older patrolman growled.

"What makes this one for his attention?" Came a quiet mousy voice from a nearby desk.

"Simple, Blake, this Beth Griffin woman is filing assault charges on Annie Blaisdell," Epstein explained.

"Wonder what the hell she did to piss Annie off?" Strenlich wondered aloud while Blake looked at the patrolman now entering the Captain's office in shocked amazement.

"Chief, please escort Mrs. Griffin to interrogation room 3 and wait for us there. Blake, go and get Nancy from dispatch and meet me at the interrogation room. You can go back to your patrol now Eppy, and thanks for alerting me to this," the captain sent his men scurrying to do his bidding, all of them knowing that he had things well in hand.

"Have a seat, Mrs. Griffin, I'm the captain, Officer Epstein told me about your complaint. This is Detective Blake; he'll be handling the investigation. The man in the door is Chief of Detectives Strenlich. Nancy is a dispatch operator who will be sitting in on our meeting;" Paul introduced each person and nodded to indicate who was being referred to.

"What does dispatch have to do with my case?" The tall leggy bottled blond in spiked heels and leather asked, while snapping her gum.

"It's very simple, since this is a closed-door meeting, another woman must be present to see to it that the men handle themselves in an appropriate manner. Not that these men wouldn't, but it's a regulation that a female officer be in the room for closed door meetings between women and male officers," Nancy explained while rolling her eyes at the idea of these three very honorable men misbehaving in any way.

"Oh, all right then," Beth agreed, still looking a little confused.

"Now, according to Officer Epstein, I believe the complaint had to do with Mrs. Blaisdell accusing you of taking some items that were not yours?" Paul asked, picturing the confrontation between his wife and this creature. What had Kermit been thinking when he had married her?

"Like I told her, I didn't take anything of Kermit's that I shouldn't have," she shrieked, causing all of the cops to flinch.

"What seems to be the items in question, ma'am?" Blake asked in his quiet, non-threatening way.

"A piano, a chess set and some old books, I may have inadvertently taken some pictures and things as well, but what does this have to do with that blind woman," Beth sneered the word like it made Annie unworthy,"assaulting me?"

"Just getting all of the facts, miss," the quiet detective said while the others were seething about this woman's putdown to 'their' Annie.

"Good," the painted up youngish woman seethed.

"We'll need to have pictures of the injuries and a doctor's verification of the extent to which you were injured in the assault," Blake informed her in an almost monotone voice.

"Well, they're only bruises, but it's the point of it! She could have done serious damage to me!" Beth wailed.

"I would guess her tongue did more damage;" Nancy smirked under a false cough.

"So she only bruised you, but you want to file charges of assault?" Strenlich asked from the door in disbelief.

"She hit me with her cane and threatened me!" the bleached blond roared.

"I see, about her threatening you, what exactly did she say? Her exact words will be very important," Blake said, sounding very serious.

"It was nothing exactly in what she said but the way she said it," Beth said inching closer to Blake who seemed the least intimidating one in this group, and seemed sympathetic to her.

"So, basically, you were bruised and she said things that sounded threatening to you?" Paul repeated, wanting to make certain he had gotten this right. This bimbo was lucky that was all Annie had done to her!

"Yes," Beth was irritated as she realized how petty it sounded when put like that.

"Were there any witnesses to this assault?" Blake asked, looking at her.

"One, the nurse, I didn't get her name," Beth said with a gesture that waved that woman aside.

"Perhaps if you provide us with a description?" Blake suggested.

"She was a tall, black, fat woman, and kind of old, like her mid forties maybe," Beth guessed, getting glares from a room where no one, save herself, was under forty.

"Sounds like Ernie," Strenlich muttered naming one of their officers favorite nurses.

"I'll ask her, since if it wasn't her, she would probably know who it is," Blake said, making a note to call her.

"Are there any other things I should know, Mrs. Griffin?" Blake asked looking over at her.

"No, that should do it. I appreciate your taking this seriously, Captain," She purred, looking over at Paul and smiling coyly.

"I assure you, this case will have my undivided attention," Paul smiled in a way that was kind of like a dog waging his tail before he attacks.

Reassured by the Captain that her case was being looked into, the abrasive woman strode out. Paul smiled his thanks to Nancy as she headed back to the dispatch office.

"She has got to be kidding, Captain! Annie would never use her cane on someone without a good reason," Strenlich shook his head in disbelief.

"From what little Kermit and I heard, she had provocation to do more than that," Paul gave a half smile, wishing he could have seen Annie put this woman in her place.

"He's going to be all right, isn't he sir?" Blake asked, looking up with a worried expression.

"He'll be fine, he just has to rest quietly for a few days and then stay with Annie and me while his ribs finish healing," Paul assured the quite man, whose history with him was almost as involved as Kermit's was.

"Who's Kermit?" Strenlich asked, totally lost.

"A mad mercenary Muppet," Paul smiled, patting Strenlich on the shoulder, as he whispered, "And hopefully our new computer expert."

The chief of detectives gave the captain a hard look and, turning to leave, gave a half growl, "We have an ex spook for a Captain, why not a mercenary as a detective?"

"See what you can do to have this case end quietly with Kermit getting his things back, and her son, Jake, hurt as little as possible," Paul continued and explained to his detective what it was he wanted.

"Yes, sir, give him my best," the quiet man said as the two men headed out. Blake returned to his desk, while Paul headed back to the hospital.

"Those are gorgeous, Ernie! Who's the lucky recipient?" Kermit had overheard Reese in the hallway and immediately smiled in anticipation of the doctor's visit to him.

"Cally is," Ernie said sounding like she was swearing. She must be really bad, the mercenary thought, to have Ernie think so abysmally of her.

"Oh, Teddy sent me flowers! How sweet of him!" One of the nurses that Kermit had mentally dubbed Mary Sue for her air headedness and lack of touch with reality babbled. "It's too bad that no one ever sends you flowers Reese, but then I don't suppose that's likely to happen, is it?"

Kermit seethed. He couldn't make a guess as to whether the woman had intended to be hurtful or was merely clueless of what she had said, but it would have hurt Reese nonetheless. From her careful avoidance of the topic, and her way of dancing around anything involving it, Kermit suspected the woman was still touchy about the wheelchair she was in.

"You are not escaping from here even if I have to use handcuffs and an armed guard!" Paul whispered softly in Kermit's ear. It was the velvet soft tone that left the hearer in no doubt as to the sincerity of his threat. Paul was one of the few men Kermit knew who could yell his lungs out without having to raise his voice. All he did was change his tone and you knew that every person in the state could hear him.

"I wasn't thinking of escaping. I don't suppose you know if Reese is seeing anyone?" Kermit asked.

Paul was silent. "We aren't that close, Kermit. I don't think she's seeing anyone at the moment, in fact I don't think she dates at all. What are you planning?" Paul spoke slowly and deliberately while reaching behind him for a chair.

"Would Annie know?" Kermit asked, looking at his friend.

"Yes, Annie would know. Kermit," Paul sighed not certain about his next words, "Just remember that she's Annie's sister, and neither of us wants to see her hurt." The older man looked meaningfully at his friend.

"I was just going to send her flowers, not even say they were from me. One of the nurses got some flowers and Reese was admiring them, the girl commented that it was too bad Reese would never get any. It bothered her enough that she didn't come in here, but left," Kermit explained.

One phone call from Paul to Annie had the questions answered: no Reese was not seeing anyone, and she would love to have some flowers! Three floral shops on-line and one click later the flowers were ordered.

"Why doesn't she date?" Kermit asked, shifting to ease his ribs a bit.

"I don't know, really, she was engaged at one point, but it fell apart about the same time she got injured," Paul answered, once more choosing his words with care.

"He broke off the engagement because she was hurt in an accident?" Kermit asked, cool fury in his voice.

"I don't know if the two were connected or not. I suspect that it would have fallen through anyway, or at least not been a long or happy marriage," The police captain tried to calm the younger man a little. Kermit had very little tolerance for injustice, particularly when it involved women and children. Like their too expressive eyes, it was a trait they shared.

"She deserves better than that," Kermit growled.

"Yes, she does, but she deserved better than the high society pretentious lawyer she would have gotten, too," Paul agreed.

Kermit snorted derisively at the thought of the woman he had begun to know and respect, involved with any of the lawyers he had known.

Paul reached into his briefcase and pulled out a chess set, raising an inquiring eyebrow at his younger friend. Kermit smiled acceptance and the game was begun. Not unusual for the two men, few if any words were exchanged. They had long ago developed the ability to communicate more with their looks and expressions then they could with words. It was a habit begun in Vietnam where sounds could mean your death. It had been perfected over the years in countless missions in more places than the two men wanted to remember, doing things they didn't want to think about. Words had long ago become superfluous to them. A raised eyebrow, a one sided smile, or a soft chuckle spoke volumes between them.

"You ever get that old tomcat in your alley to come in out of the rain and the cold?" Paul asked into the silence.

"Nope, Merc got beat up by a Rottie last month, took me almost an hour to get him into a carrier and to the vet. I've still got scars from the times I had to medicate him, and the second he was able to move on his own without pain, he was back down there," Kermit shook is head in wonder. "He must have taken his temper out on just about every piece of furniture I had; good thing I didn't have much."

"I think you and that cat must be brothers. You both refuse to come in where it's safe and warm. You get offered comfort and you think you're going to get collared and neutered if you accept it," Kermit smiled at that. "You get in fights you haven't a prayer of winning, and don't even take time to heal before running right back out to wait for the next fight," Paul growled his thoughts about that.

"Couple of old battle cats like Merc and me probably belong in the alleys of the world. I've had someone try and turn me into someone respectable, you know about how well that went over," Kermit snorted at the memories of that.

"You're already one of the most respectable men I know, Kermit, now why don't you and that mangy cat come in out of the cold?" Paul asked, hoping maybe this time his friend would accept.

"And sully your nice, polite, clean, and respected police precinct with my mercenary ways?" Kermit quipped.

"Blake came in about 3 years ago, so I already have one ex-mercenary. He sends you his regards by the way," Paul gave one of his warm smiles at the look on Kermit's face. It wasn't often that he got to surprise his friend.

"I'm glad that he got out, that last job we were on was not good," Kermit whispered, his hands balling up the blanket on the bed.

"He told me about Budapest, you had no way of knowing that you were being lied to, Kermit," Paul told him softly.

"No, but I should have suspected," Kermit continued his mutilation of the neatly made bed.

"Why? Why should you have a better sense than anyone else about who's telling you the truth?" Paul asked, seeing his friend's guilt.

"Because innocent lives depend on my being right about who's lying," Kermit shot back.

"So who's lying to you these days?" Paul inquired.

"Everyone lies, Paul," Kermit said with a hardness Paul had not heard from him in a long time.

"I've never lied to you, Kermit," Paul said honestly, in a voice that reached out and soothed the younger man with the peace it offered.

"No, you never have, Paul, probably the only man who can say that to me or that I would believe it of," Kermit answered, the sarcastic and acerbic bite to his voice gone.

"Then trust me now, and come in out of the cold. I've arranged it so you can take the Detective's exam right after your probationary period, and you would have your own office. It isn't big, but it has a lock, and room for all of your computer stuff," Paul held out the verbal offering.

Kermit didn't accept it, or turn it down. He took as deep a breath as his ribs would allow and studied the board. Paul looked thoughtfully at his friend. So many of their deepest and most serious conversations had occurred with a chessboard between them. The few times they had crossed swords with one another, they had found the game to be a common ground where they could meet afterwards and heal the wounds in their relationship. When they had not been able to talk, they found they could still play, and so would begin a process that resulted in their talking. Only twice had wounds been too deep to heal over a chessboard and the ensuing conversation. One was resolved by Paul retiring as a full time mercenary, the other was David Griffin's death - and nothing so far had given his friend closure on that. Once more, the old tired board that Paul carried with him on trips when he could, had made a bridge over a difficult topic.

"Please, Kermit," Paul looked up at his friend of so many years and with whom he had shared so much of his life.

"You never said please before, Paul," the younger man looked at his older friend and mentor.

Paul smiled, a warm smile that reached out and embraced the few people lucky enough to receive one. Once again no words were needed, the agreement had been reached, Kermit would be coming in from the cold. Paul chuckled, thinking of his two foster sons in the same precinct, it was a good thing his hair was already gray.

The game was declared a draw, and Paul packed up to head home to Annie and dinner, in that order.

"What happened, that landed Reese in that chair?" Kermit asked of his friend as the man was heading out.

Paul raised an eyebrow.

"You might never have lied to me, but you've not told me plenty. Tell me what it is that you aren't telling me about her," Kermit asked.

"Kermit, I would no more tell you about her past then I would tell her about yours. And before you decide to look her up on the internet and through your contacts, think about how much you value your privacy and having the right to decide for yourself what will be revealed to whom and when it will be shown," Paul left after that warning.

A quiet dinner and restful evening was spent at the Blaisdell house with Reese getting in shortly after Paul, and Annie having to be brought up to speed on Kermit's condition. The usual hot game of scrabble ensued between Paul and Reese, with Annie being the official judge on any and all words.

Having decided on an early evening, Reese logged on to quickly check her e-mails one last time. Nothing urgent there so a quick peek in the Mercman chat room to greet friends and she would be done.

Croaker86: Long time no chat, friend!

Doc: Long time indeed! Been off doing the unsaid in places not mentioned?

Croaker86: Something like that, got a little dinged up and had to meet a few of your relatives.

Doc: Nothing serious I hope.

Croaker86: Nope just an infection with a sprain and some broken ribs. Be out in no time

Doc: Behave yourself and my relatives will let you loose even faster.

Croaker86: Finally met a doctor I like, and she says the same thing, Got to go evil nurse is here!

Croaker86 has left the room

Reese leaned back in disbelief. One of the guys she had been chatting with for years on the Internet was very probably Kermit! She had been correct in thinking that he was a mercenary. She had so hoped she was wrong about that. Not many people guessed her past, so it still might work out long enough to get him out of the hospital and on the road to recovery.

"Reese, are you all right?" She stiffened at the hand on her shoulder, and Paul removed it immediately. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you. Lady started whining so I thought I would see if you were all right."

"Yeah, I'm fine. I don't suppose you know Kermit's hacker tack?" She asked as he went around to the couch and sat. Glancing at her watch, she was shocked to see that an hour and a half had passed.

"Hacker tack?" Paul raised an eyebrow.

"The name he goes by on the computer," she translated.

"Nothing like a generation gap with someone who's forty to make you feel old," Paul commented; "I'm sorry I don't know what it is, Reese."

"I think I do know it, and if I'm right then I've been chatting with him for years in one of the mercenary chat rooms," Reese continued.

"Does he know who you are in there?" Paul asked beginning to see the problem here, and feeling like he had landed in a soap opera.

"No, I go by the wonderfully vague name of Doc. I would guess, however, that if he decided to look, it would not take him long to find out," Reese guessed.

"No, it wouldn't, Reese. I would say that you could talk to him yourself, or wait until he finds out or doesn't on his own," he responded, sounding like the father of two daughters, but then he was. This was not a new territory for him or Annie.

Nether one spoke as they sat together in the office looking out over the yard.

"He's easy to like," Reese said, looking into the dark.

"Once you know him, he is, not many people get the chance, though," Paul agreed.

A shrill beep ended farther conversation. Lady brought Reese's purse over and she fished out her cell phone while killing the beeper.

"Dr. Madoc. What seems to be the problem? He was fine when I left. They're sedating him?" Reese could hear Kermit's indignant bellowing in the background. Annie, who had been passing the door, and Paul were both listening with rapt attention. "Let me see if I heard you right, Nurse Ratched went with policy verses my instructions, and woke him. When he reacted adversely to being woken up out of a sound sleep in a place he didn't know by someone he didn't know, she decided that he was dangerous and had Dr, Mandel sedate him?" The doctor was now roaring in a way that Paul had never heard and was certain would be the envy of any drill sergeant.

"Tell those guys to back off before someone gets hurt!" She demanded after hearing more sounds of battle. "Call Dr. Hartmann, I'm on my way in now, and try and get everyone out of that room," the irate woman growled.

Paul had grabbed his and Reese's coats the second he had heard the word sedate. Paul was ready and waiting with the car running. It took him only a moment to get Reese and Lady situated in the sedan with the folded up chair.

"What happened?" Paul asked in his slow direct manner as they sped towards the hospital and Kermit.

"Evidently, Ratched was filling in for the night nurse, and decided to go with policy rather than the notes on Kermit's file and woke him up out of a dead sleep to give him pain and sleeping meds. He evidently hadn't known she was there and when she woke him, he came up swinging. She decided that indicated that he was violent, so called Dr. Mandel to come and have him sedated for safety. He's mad as a wet hen and apparently fighting everybody." Reese brought her brother-in-law up to speed on the latest Muppet madness.

"Let me get this right, he was sleeping comfortably and she woke him up to give him a painkiller and sleep medication? If he was sleeping he was not in pain and obviously didn't need a sleeping pill," Paul responded, trying to figure out the logic in it.

"Awakened like that, I might have not have responded much better," he grumbled.

"Annie says you've never been one for waking up well, Paul," Reese chuckled.

"She would know best," Paul smiled at a woman who, he was beginning to suspect, might have a heart after all.

"Reese, I want to bring Kermit home, tonight," Paul stated after a moment's silence.

"I don't think he's going to be able to relax there after this. If he hasn't seriously injured himself again, then yes, I can convince Neil to let us bring him home, now.

Paul smiled his thanks and picked up his cell phone, hitting a speed dial number.

"Caine," came a brusque voice that Reese was able to hear.

"It's Paul, son. I need you to do me a favor," Paul answered his son's voice.

"Sure, whatever you need," Peter agreed easily.

"Annie and I have two guests staying with us who can't do stairs, easily, so I need you to bring the twin beds downstairs. Set one up in my office and another in the den or living room, wherever your mother directs it," Paul explained.

"Sure, why in separate rooms though?" Peter asked, slightly confused.

"Because," Paul chuckled, "It's a co-ed slumber party. Your Aunt Reese and my friend Kermit Griffin are the guests."

"Uh, Paul, do you think it's a good idea to have those two in the same house together?" Peter inquired, thinking of those personalities in sharing close quarters. Reese snorted while Paul smirked.

"Kermit's injured and can't stay alone. Reese's apartment is being renovated and there are two conventions in town filling the hotels," Paul explained.

"Okay, I'll move the beds," Peter agreed.

"Thanks, son, and mom made fried chicken tonight and there are leftovers if you haven't eaten yet," Paul grinned at Peter's response and hung up.

There was no difficulty telling which room Kermit Griffin was in. Three orderlies were trying to subdue the mercenary, while a doctor and nurse stood safely in the doorway waiting for the sedative to take effect. Paul sighed to himself; these people didn't know his friend. There were ways of slowing down a sedative and Kermit knew them all. Hopefully the enraged man had not re-injured himself.

"GRIFFIN! FREEZE!" The police captain bellowed loudly enough to be heard over the wrestling match. The younger man instantly stopped all movement. For over twenty years, now, that had been the one phrase he never challenged, fought, ignored, or commented on. Obedience to that command was frequently the difference between life and death. The orderlies moved to put restraints on the now motionless man.

"Leave him alone, everyone just back out of the room and leave him in peace," Paul ordered, moving in to take Kermit's hand and give it a squeeze of reassurance. Kermit's dark brown, almost black, eyes, stopped looking wildly about for the next attack and focused instead on the one person he trusted completely. Brown, pain filled, pleading eyes meet strong, comforting blue ones, speaking volumes of things that would never be said and didn't need to be. Some things went too deep for words.

"Doctor Mandel, might I have a word with you please?" Reese asked of the man in the doorway. Her voice was pure steel.

"I wasn't aware that you were on duty tonight, doctor," he responded.

"I wasn't, until I was called that a patient I was helping was being sedated. Now, I would like to take this conversation somewhere private so that the patient can rest," the woman snarled.

"I'm on shift right now," Dr. Mandel huffed, looking down at the other doctor.

"I'm certain someone can cover your shift for a few moments while we discuss your mistreatment of this case," Reese smiled at him like a starving lion looking at prime beef.

"I would be interested in joining you in that conversation Dr. Madoc. First, however, I would like to see Mr. Griffin x-rayed again to see that he has not done further damage to his ribs," a new voice joined the two medical professionals right outside the door.

A sharp hissing sound from the bed drew all eyes to Kermit. Still lying on the bed, wide eyed, sending Paul a pleading look. The mercenary had never done helpless well and he did not want to once more be put in that position.

"Neil, I know you need those x-rays, but would it be possible to have Paul go with Kermit?" Reese asked before anyone else could say a word.

"Certainly, and if he has done himself no further injury, then it's my suggestion that he be released immediately into your care, Dr. Madoc," the younger man agreed, seeing where Reese had been going and totally agreeing with her. Kermit needed rest and to get that he had to feel safe. After tonight, he would not be able to relax here.

Paul winked his thanks to Reese for her understanding. His brother had always said that she had a heart that was roughly the size of Alaska. He had never believed it of her, until now. He received a quick smile of acknowledgement in return.

"Now, if we could have moment of your time, Dr. Mandel?" Neil Hartmann asked, indicating an empty room that had been used for another private meeting the day before. He reluctantly went as directed. Reese and Neil following him.

"From what I gathered, in spite of the notation that I made on his chart, Nurse Ratched woke Mr. Griffin from a sound sleep in order to give him his pain medication and a sleeping pill. When he awoke in a strange place, and to strange people, he reacted aggressively in his uncertainty. She took that as a sign of violence, and called for you to have him sedated for safety reasons, is this correct?" Reese asked, trying to hold her temper in.

"It was on his chart that he was to receive pain pills every 6 hours. The sleeping medication was in order to help him get back to sleep. If she had not wakened him to give him the medications, he would have been off schedule," Dr. Mandel explained, pulling himself up to his full height.

"Did I or did I not note in his file that he was not to be awakened for anything?" Reese was half roaring by this point.

"As I said, that would have put him off schedule and you were not the doctor on record, so I went with the hospital policy," Dr. Mandel growled. This woman simply had no appreciation for following the rules and regulations. No self-control or self discipline at all.

"I don't care if it was on his chart;" Reese talked through gritted teeth. "He's palming his painkillers anyway, so it doesn't matter if this would put him off schedule!"

"And you were allowing that?" Dr. Mandel piped up.

"She discussed it with me, and since he seems to know his own tolerance, and was taking them as needed, I felt it better to leave it as it was," Dr. Hartmann explained, "And I am the doctor on record with this patient."

"The point is, there was nothing inappropriate in our conduct on this case," Doctor Mandel continued, drawing himself up.

"Nothing inappropriate! Nurse Ratched ignored the notes a doctor had made, you ordered someone else's patient sedated without bothering to call the doctor who is tending that patient, and then continue your attempt at sedating even though it put the patient at risk of further injuries!" Reese roared.

"Rolling a man who has broken ribs on both sides on his side in order to inject him is not only inappropriate it's negligent! Those ribs are still in danger of being displaced. By rolling even his partial weight on his side you were putting him at risk of causing further damage or injury! Another word for this might be mal-practice; the board will have to decide that, though," Reese continued, sounding ready to bash her head against the table.

"Sedating him was the only option, the man is violent. He broke my wrist, and this evening he broke Nurse Ratched's nose as well as all four of her front teeth, not to mention the toll his two outbursts have taken on our orderlies!" Mandel roared.

"I was wondering where she was," Reese said, trying to imagine what the senior nurse would look like with a bandaged nose, no front teeth, and bruises around both eyes.

"She's getting patched up from that maniac!" The doctor snarled at her.

"That maniac was in severe pain, it sent him into fight or flight. If you guys had told us what you were doing or had backed off when he started fighting, none of this would have happened. Heck, if you had just read the chart, this wouldn't have happened," Reese growled.

"If he remains here, he must be kept restrained!" The older man demanded.

"If he stays he will not be in restraints and you will be nowhere near him. Not that you should have been near him in the first place!" Dr. Hartmann hissed.

"We'll see what the board has to say about this," Dr. Mandel said, leaving the room.

"Thanks for backing me up, Neil," Reese smiled up at her friend.

"Any time, particularly if you happen to be right," he smiled. "Now let's go and see how your frog is doing."

"Oh, Yeah," she laughed.

"In the future, I suggest they let sleeping mercenaries lie!" Reese chuckled

"Ya think?" Neil grinned.

"Hey, Paul, I get to go home!" Kermit grinned as the x-ray tech helped the mercenary into a wheelchair.

"Yes, I know, I just heard him tell you," Paul grinned at his friend, who was floating high on the sedative.

"I'm not actually going home, though," Kermit said with great thought, "I'm going back to your house." That's kind of like going home, only better."

"Yes, it's a lot like going home," Paul chuckled, as he walked beside the chair, which a nervous orderly was pushing.

"Going to your house is going home. Why doesn't my home feel like that, Paul?" Kermit looked sadly up at his friend.

"I don't know, but you're welcome in our home as long as you want to be there," Paul smiled, thinking about how Annie made the big house a home to any in need of one.

"It's Annie! That's why you have a home. I need to find my own Annie, Paul," Kermit looked quite proud of himself for having figured the solution to that question, and made a grab for the wheels to propel himself faster, resulting in a sudden hiss of pain.

"Instead of looking for another Annie, how about finding someone as perfect for you as Annie is for me?" Paul suggested, as he put Kermit's hands back his lap and the orderly started pushing again.

"I think if I found someone like that. She wouldn't like me like Annie likes you," Kermit sighed, and reached for the wheels again.

"Kermit, let go of the wheels, I swear I will use handcuffs if necessary!" Paul groused as he freed the wheels and they continued.

"Is Reese coming home with us?" Kermit asked brightly after a few minutes silence. Evidently having little or no memory of his unhappiness moments before.

"Yes, she's coming home with us to help take care of you for a few days," Paul explained.

"Oh good, I like her, she reminds me of Annie, sometimes," Kermit smiled.

"There are similarities," Paul chuckled.

"I see her!" The younger man excitedly pointed her out.

"Hi Reese! I get to go home! And you get to come with us and take care of me!" Kermit smiled broadly.

"I can hardly turn down an offer like that, Animal," Reese laughed and raised an eyebrow at Paul. Her brother-in-law merely mouthed the phrase `high as a kite' at her.

"Since I'm a hospital employee, they agreed to let me escort you two out," Reese explained, going beside the two men, the young orderly having disappeared the second he had been told he could go.

"Here I thought that none of the orderlies wanted to go near Kermit again," Paul's said with a throaty chuckle.

"I guess I scared them all off," Kermit giggled.

"Hey, look Paul, it has wheels!" Kermit said excitedly grabbing for the wheels of the chair yet again as his friend went to push it and Reese fell in alongside. The mercenary grimaced in pain again, but he couldn't seem to resist the wheels no matter how much it hurt when he grabbed them.

"Yes, Kermit, that is why they call it a wheelchair," Paul laughed at his drugged up friend.

"Quit grabbing the wheels, Animal!" Reese chuckled as he tried to grab at them and push himself.

"But I want to go fast!" He whined.

"Here, this is for you if you sit quietly," Reese bribed, holding out a giant Kermit doll in shades.

"Hey, that's cool! He's Kermit, just like me!" The mercenary babbled, taking the doll and holding it to his chest.

"Yes, just like you, and you can have him, just hold on to him tight," Paul laughed, thinking that he sounded like he was dealing with a 4 year old, not a 40 year old.

"Don't we have to check me out?" Kermit asked as they rolled past the admissions desk.

"It's already done. I think they are kind of glad to see us go, actually," Paul chuckled.

"I didn't mean to hurt the nurse, but she was a meany, she woke me up and hurt me," Kermit pouted.

"Well, you don't have to see her again," Reese assured him.

"Will the bad doctor be here when I come in tomorrow?" Kermit asked, looking around for his attacker.

"He'll be in the building, but I'll be the doctor you'll see Kermit. Just a check up, to make certain that your ribs are still all right, okay?" Dr. Hartmann reassured the man.

"Okay, I like you. You're a nice doctor. You don't hurt me." Kermit smiled at the man.

"Thank you. I try not to hurt my patients," Neil said, wishing them all good night as he went on to his car.

"Okay, Kermit, take our arms here and we'll help you," Paul said, helping his friend to his very wobbly feet.

"Hey, I want my frog! Kermit's mine! He's even named after me. Or maybe I was named after him?" Kermit thought aloud as they helped him into the front seat of Paul's waiting sedan.

"Do you guys know the Froggy song?" Kermit asked brightly from the front seat as Paul pulled the car out and began the drive home. Paul and Reese both began to laugh as Kermit decided they should know this song and began singing for them. "Froggy went a courtin' he did ride and took Miss Mousey by his side..." Kermit sang happily with Lady occasionally accompanying him. Kermit thought this was hilarious and would try and get her to join in by singing to her. By the time they arrived home he had sung all 27 verses to the old folk song, and had given them a very good rendition of `It`s not easy being green'. Paul and Reese were sorry that they had not had a tape recorder or video camera along.

"Okay Kermit. Just let me get Reese and Lady out and then we'll get you inside and put you to bed," Paul instructed. Annie, having heard the car, had the door open for them.

"You know, Reese, it's too bad that you aren't Miss Mousy or we could go courtin' and get married!" Kermit commented brightly.

"Why don't we get your last marriage settled before you start looking for a new wife," Paul suggested, guiding his friend into the house.

"Actually, Mousey was Uncle Matt's pet name for Reese," Annie giggled.

"Then there's hope!" Kermit smiled broadly.

"Let's work on being friends first, Animal, like Paul and Annie are. If that works, we can discuss going courtin' " Reese grinned.

"Is that why they're always married?" Kermit asked puzzled. "Because they're friends first?"

"Yep, then when one of us gets mad at our spouse we can talk to our best friend," Paul said with a slight smile that included his eyes, which were looking at Annie.

"Just like Mom and Dad always taught us to," Reese agreed.

"Did they tell you anything else?" Kermit asked curiously.

"That you should never marry someone you can live with, marry someone that you can't and don't want to live without," Annie answered, and smiled at Paul.

"That's really good advice, did your dad tell you anything like that Paul?" Kermit turned his head to look at his life-long friend.

"Only that a good man knows the value of a good woman, and that you should never treat your wife the way you want her to treat you... treat her better." Paul responded thoughtfully.

"My dad never told me things like that," Kermit sighed.

"Well, you can consider yourself told now, and start thinking about it," Annie suggested.

"Kermit, we are going inside and then you are going to bed," Reese stated firmly, trying to encourage him to move farther into the house.

"Fine, but I have to go potty, first," Kermit said, slowly walking after them.

"Are you going to need any assistance for that?" Paul offered, thinking that since he couldn't really bend, the clothes might be an issue.

"I think so," Kermit said after some thought.

"All right. You go ahead and I'll be there in a minute to help you," Paul assured him.

Paul looked at Reese and Annie. "Okay, Dr. Madoc, any suggestions about how to make his care easier?" Paul asked.

"Don't give him any more sedatives, for one thing," Reese chuckled.

"I had forgotten that he sometimes reacts like this to sedatives," Paul smiled one of his real smiles.

"Okay, probably keep him in sweats and front button shirts, since those will be easiest. Leave him barefoot as much as possible. And basically we keep an eye and ear on him for when he needs help," Reese instructed.

Paul smiled his thanks for the advice and snagged some clothes for Kermit out of the front room.

The two re-emerged moments later with Kermit looking far more comfortable in a pair of loose sweat pants. "Night-night, ladies!" Kermit called out merrily as he and Paul walked past.

"Night, Kermit" "Night, Animal" came the respective responses from the laughing women.

Reese looked in the front room a few minutes later to see Kermit stretched out on the bed. A big happy smile on his face and his new frog doll clutched close to his chest. Paul was sitting next to him needing sleep himself, but unwilling to leave his friend in this condition. It was obvious that this was not a new thing between the two men, and she guessed that Kermit had sat watch on Paul when needed, just like Paul was doing now. Kermit had grabbed hold of Paul`s hand with his free one, and Paul was not trying to get loose. Most men, particularly civilians, would be uncomfortable holding hands, since they would not understand what it was to have a friend you have faced death with. Between these two old comrades, however, the comfort had been offered and accepted in the past, and would be again in the future, if needed. It was interesting, seeing Paul's long artistic fingers mixed with Kermit's shorter, more callused ones. This was the first time she had seen Paul's fingers still. Usually they were busy doing something. When they had first met it had been cigarettes. At Annie's request he had quit smoking, however, and it was now often a pen, drumstick or eating utensil being twirled around in the long, musician's fingers. She smiled remembering when he used to entertain his kids with card and magic tricks. His hands had become somewhat softer since leaving mercenary work; it was obvious when the digits were seen against the hands of the mercenary. Both men, however, had the solid hands of men who worked for a living. They were strong, calloused, and rough with labor. They had good hands, Reese thought, going all of the way in.

"I do hope you took a photo of him fast asleep clutching that doll," Reese smirked. Paul merely gave her one of his enigmatic smiles.

"The sedatives hit him the second that he hit that bed." Paul, for once, didn't chuckle but laughed outright at his friend's behavior that night.

"Why don't you get some sleep, Paul? I'll keep watch on our maniacal Muppet, here," She asked, seeing the dark circles under Paul's eyes from two nights of almost no sleep.

"If he wakes up, it might be a bad scene until he figures out where he is and what is going on," Paul warned.

"I've dealt with night terrors and soldiers waking up fighting, before. If I need help or he's in any distress, I'll get you immediately," She assured her brother-in-law.

"Thanks, but no thanks. I'll be fine. It's not as though this is the first time we've done this scene," Paul assured her.

Reese smiled, warmly; thinking about how different Paul was from the man she had thought he had been when he had married her sister. All she had known was that he was a mercenary and bore a striking resemblance to another secret agent she knew, or had thought she knew. She had been convinced that Paul, like most of the mercenaries she seemed to meet, was an adrenaline addict who was never home and had few scruples and little integrity or honor. She was going to gladly be spending the rest of her life making that mistaken opinion up to him. Paul, she had discovered over the years, was unlike almost any mercenary she had met. Perhaps that was why he had eventually found himself having to get out of the business. He was, as Reese later discovered, a man of high morals and strong integrity. She suspected that, like her, he had gotten into that world honestly believing he was doing good, only to discover that more often than not he was being used. Kermit seemed to be of the same cloth, a man of compassion and strong loyalties, who only wanted to help people unable to help themselves.

"Hey, Doc, can I have my arm back now?" A voice sounded in her ear.

"Sorry, Croaker," she yawned, "I didn't mean to fall asleep on you. The sedatives wore off about an hour ago so I was able to convince Paul to leave you under my watch. Guess I was more tired then I thought."

"I was wondering if it was you in the chat room. What is a nice thing like you doing hanging around with all of us ruffians, anyway?" Kermit asked, obviously back to his old self, and ignoring her unnecessary apology.

"How do you think I got in this chair in the first place, Kermit?" She stretched while Lady scrambled out from under Kermit's bed.

"Last thing I remember was being woken for medication at the hospital, how did I get here?" He asked a little uneasily, changing the topic.

"Nurse Ratched was filling in for another nurse and totally ignored my instructions not to wake you. You woke up fighting and she had you ordered sedated after you hurt her;" Reese stopped at Kermit's raised eyebrow.

"I hurt her?" he asked curiously.

"You broke her nose and all her front teeth," Reese smirked at Kermit's expression as he bit his lip to keep from laughing.

"How did I manage that? I can't move much on my own." Kermit asked

"She grabbed you to shake you awake, you grabbed and pulled her down, then proceeded to head-butt her," Reese chuckled.

Kermit at least tried to look somewhat abashed at his behavior.

"She had it coming," Reese told him, getting a smile of satisfaction in return.

"Need a hand up?" She asked seeing him looking about as though trying to figure out the best way to maneuver himself out of the bed.

"Paul`s asleep, isn`t he?" Kermit asked turning pink.

"I'm a medical doctor Kermit, you haven't got anything I don't know about or haven't seen," she teased him.

"The point is that you haven't seen mine, and I'm very particularly about who does," he retorted, still embarrassed.

"After all the bonding things we did last night, you still get embarrassed at the idea of me seeing you as God created you?" She giggled.

"Bonding things we did last night?" Kermit asked with rapt attention.

"You said I was going to come here and take care of you and I gave you a stuffed frog, and then you serenaded me with the froggy song, not to mention you offering to marry me." She laughed as he turned beet red.

"No teasing Kermit, Reese," Annie sounded from the door in her firmest voice.

"I hate sedatives," Kermit groaned.

"I can understand why, if yesterday was an idea of how you handle them," Paul chuckled from behind his wife.

"I found out once that if I let myself give in to the high from them I don't get sleepy," Kermit explained.

"Well you were certainly high last night," Reese giggled.

"If you ladies could excuse us; Paul, can I get a hand here?" Kermit asked plaintively.

"I'll help Kermit, you ladies go back to bed," Paul instructed, as he moved to help Kermit get to his feet and shuffle towards the bathroom. After getting Kermit once more settled in bed, Paul headed up to Annie. At least his friend seemed to be completely over his reaction to the medication they had given him.

"Paul," Annie greeted him, "we can't let Kermit go back to that apartment. I may be blind, but I swear I could hear the rodents in that place. I heard and felt the wind blow through there. I won't go in to the smell in that hallway. Money can't be that tight for him can it?"

"Whatever his reason for living there Annie, it is not due to a lack of money. Mercenary work might be dangerous, but it does pay well," Paul assured her, climbing into bed and settling next to her.

"Could he maybe live in the one of the units in the building that John had us buy last year?" Annie asked snuggling up to her husband.

"Good idea, Babe, I'll talk to him about it tomorrow. And while he's recovering here, I'll just quietly move him," Paul informed his wife, while putting an arm around her and accepting her snuggling, wholeheartedly.

"Sounds like a plan," Annie said nestling in for the rest of the night.

Kermit shuffled slowly into the kitchen, bare-chested and wearing sweatpants. His almost crew cut hair was standing up in little tufts. Being dragged along by one arm was the Kermit doll that the mercenary was still carrying. He mumbled something that Annie thought might have sounded like a request for coffee.

"We have a pot of it on the table Kermit," Paul offered as the oversized toddler turned to look and then walked slowly over to them.

"Did you sleep all right?" Annie asked solicitously. The younger man made a kind of grunting sound that could as easily have been a yes as a no.

"I didn't catch that, Kermit," Annie smiled brightly, she had always been a morning person.

"That was Kermitish for yes," Paul translated, having spent enough breakfasts with Kermit to understand his sleep-fuddled friend.

Kermit grunted his support of that while drinking the cup of coffee Reese had placed in front of him.

"Would Mr. The Frog like a cup as well?" Reese teased.

"He says no thanks, but that you can just give me his," Kermit grinned, more awake, now that he had some caffeine in him.

Paul and Annie chuckled at the exchange between their two friends.

"What time do I have to be at the hospital today?" Kermit asked.

"At eleven. I can take you, Kermit," Paul offered.

"Thanks, I can call a cab, though, not a problem," Kermit assured from behind his shades.

"I'm working at home today and have some errands to run anyway, so it's no problem, Kermit," Paul assured him, smiling.

"Can I see the real estate section, Paul?" Reese asked as the three sat down to coffee and breakfast.

"Planning to move?" Annie squawked in disbelief.

"More like I have to. The management at my apartment is now restricting to one dog, and I can't give up Dobie." Reese scowled in frustration at her living situation.

"If you have two large dogs, where is the other one?" Kermit asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Staying with her breeder," Reese explained.

"Is she perhaps a red Doberman named Adobe?" Kermit asked, lowering his glasses to peer over them at her.

"Got it in one guess, Animal," Reese confirmed.

"The poor pooch is still in jail?" Kermit asked, giving a sad face.

"Ha, the dog is probably living on prime steak," Reese growled.

"Dobie is fed prime steak?" Paul looked at her in disbelief.

"Not usually, but the first time I had to leave her behind somewhere for a time, she went on a hunger strike and Lydia gave in and got her to eat by giving her prime steak. Since then, whenever I leave her there, she refuses to eat unless it's prime steak. She's really suffering, let me tell you," Reese grumbled as she started looking through the ads.

"What's the address for the kennel, Reese?" Annie asked sweetly.

"Annie, I feel bad enough that the furball and I are invading your home, I won't bring a second large dog in here," Reese sputtered.

"I'll pick up the dog while I'm running errands, now the address, please," Paul smiled at his guest. Reese handed Paul a business card, she never had won an argument against him and Annie as a united front.

"I wish Lady and I could stay at this party, but we have an administrative meeting to go to," Reese smiled, wheeling herself away from the table. "I'll see you and Paul at eleven then, Kermit."

Cheerful wishes for a good morning sent her on her way.

"Are you going to need help?" Paul asked his friend, while Annie collected the dishes.

"I don't think so, I'll call if I need backup." Kermit quipped.

Paul worked on reports in his office, with half an ear on his younger friend.

"Help," Paul heard the soft call for assistance from a proud man who hated asking anyone for help.

"Kermit?" he inquired, looking into his guest's room.

The mercenary was sitting on the bed next to his clothes and scowling. "It would seem that I do need some help, here."

"I'm always here, Kermit," Paul smiled, moving to his assistance.

"Thanks," Kermit growled in frustration.

"You know, Annie really is determined that you are not going to go back to your apartment," Paul informed the other man, while bringing his sleeve around for him.

"It's not that bad, Paul; besides, I'm invisible in that place. No one notices anyone coming and going in that area,"

"Between, the rodents, the smell, and the drafts, Annie is really worried about you being there, and so am I." Paul admitted.

"And just where am I going to go on such short notice? Move in here?" Kermit growled.

"We own an apartment building that happens to have some units available; you are more then welcome to have one if you would like." Paul offered.

"I don't take charity, Paul," Kermit snarled.

"Have I ever offered you charity, Kermit? I have too much respect for you to do that. All I am offering is a solution to a need that you have, one friend to another. And besides, Annie won't be happy until you're moved out of that place you're in now," Paul explained.

"I'll think about it," the mercenary groused.

"Hello, Mr. Griffin let's take a look and make certain that you're still recovering," Neil said, approaching the ex-mercenary only when Kermit had nodded a greeting to him. After last night, he was not going to startle this man or touch him without his permission and acceptance.

"I'm not checking back in here, recovering or not." Kermit informed the doctor.

"No, you won't need to, this will simply tell us if any extra precautions are needed in your home care," the doctor soothed, and saw Kermit relax with the knowledge that he would not be asked to come back here.

"Is Reese going to get in any trouble for last night?" Kermit asked.

"Well, the hospital administrator is not happy with her, but then he rarely is. I wouldn't worry if I were you," Neil answered the man

"Why isn't the administrator happy with her?"

"Because she has a nasty habit of putting the patients before the hospital. You're not the first patient she has gone to bat for and if she stays here, you will not be the last," Neil said, silencing Kermit's indignation.

"She might get fired?" Kermit went instantly alert.

"No, so calm down," the doctor reassured him. "She has been given some offers from the private sector, though. If she leaves, it will be because she wants to."

"Private sector?" Kermit raised an eyebrow.

"That's all she has said, now don't worry about her," Neil scolded.

Kermit glared but sat quietly through the exam.

"It seems that you were fortunate enough not to have done any further damage to yourself with that wrestling match last night. If you find yourself in sudden pain, come right in, otherwise, I'll see you for a follow-up in a week," the doctor said, finishing his examination. A loud squeal followed his pronouncement of health.

Raising an inquisitive eyebrow while Kermit finished arranging his shirt; Neil went and opened the door. Ernie was at the desk signing for an elaborate flower arrangement of orchids and lilies. The flowers were a homing signal for every woman working the floor. Every one of them came out to see the arrangement within minutes of its arrival.

"Oh, Teddy didn't, did he?" Cally asked excitedly, obviously certain that he had.

"No, sister, he didn't. These were sent for Dr. Madoc," Ernie winked at Kermit, who smiled back.

"Reese? Who would have sent her flowers?" one of the other younger nurses asked.

"Any man able to see past the end of his nose," Dr. Hartmann responded. "Do me a favor, Mr. Griffin, and don't hurt my friend." Neil whispered as he passed Kermit.

"What's the party for?" Reese asked, moving over to the congregation.

"Somebody sent you flowers," Cally blurted out.

"Really?" Reese asked, shocked.

"I didn't know you were seeing anyone," one of the other women bubbled.

"I'm not, this is as much a surprise to me as it is to all of you," Reese laughed.

"Open the card, already!" Cally prompted.

Ernie handed her friend the card that had accompanied the flowers. Reese read: Doc, thanks for all of the help. I hope I can repay it someday. Love Croaker86.

"Thank you note from a patient?" One of the more acerbic women asked. Kermit, Neil, and Ernie all glared holes in the girl.

"No, actually it a note from an old friend. We've known one another for years," Reese smiled, while examining her flowers. "Ready to head home, Kermit?"

"Oh yeah, Doll face," Kermit grinned and went to join her.

"I can't believe you're going to let him call you that!" A younger woman snapped, glaring at Kermit.

"She's absolutely right. That's Doctor Doll face to you, Animal!" Reese laughed as she and Kermit left.

"Just tell me these aren't pity flowers, Kermit," she asked once they were on the elevator.

"I don't do pity, and somehow I doubt if you appreciate being pitied any more than I do," Kermit responded

"No, I think I would rather be hated than pitied," she agreed.

"I would never do you the discourtesy of hating or pitying you," Kermit assured her.

"Thank you, and not just for the flowers," she squeezed his hand.

"You are most welcome," he said bring her hand up and kissing it.

"Um, where did Paul go?" Kermit asked, realizing that his friend was not with them.

"He had to go in to the precinct for something, so I told him I could give you a ride since I was leaving, soon," Reese explained as they approached her car.

They filled the ride home with small talk about places they had both gone and things that they liked to do. Kermit had almost forgotten what it was like to just talk to a woman without having ulterior motives or an agenda. Reese was, for the first time in a long time, talking to a man without thinking about the fact that she was in a wheelchair. They were both determined to make it last. Kermit just smiled when they passed the road Annie and Paul lived on. It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for going out for a drive.

"Paul, could you get that?" Annie called out as the doorbell rang. Stretching, he went and opened the front door, an elderly red Doberman following him silently. A man in work clothes and holding a clipboard looked back at him through the open door.

"I've got some deliveries for a Mr. Griffin," he said, looking at the man staring back at him.

"He's not here at the moment," the police captain answered, looking at the moving van and hoping that Beth had not done what he was thinking she had.

"Well, I got a piano and a lot of boxes for him, and this is the address I was given," the man insisted. "See, right here it gives Kermit Griffin and this address."

"Is there something wrong, Paul?" Annie asked from behind him.

"Evidently, Beth had Kermit's things shipped here for him," he explained to his wife.

Annie's response was a word that Paul rarely heard her use and that her children would have been sternly spoken to for using.

"Why not have it delivered to his new apartment, dear?" Annie asked, suddenly changing her mood.

Paul chuckled at her deviousness. "Are you certain that you were never a mercenary?"

"Listen, you going to take the stuff or not?" the deliveryman asked.

"Yes we are, just not at this address," Paul responded, grabbing his jacket.

"Hey, I got a schedule to keep! I can't be hauling this stuff all over town," the man with the van protested.

"You were a snitch for me for how many years Lenny? I'm glad to see that you went into an honest line of work. How about you move this load one more time for old time's sake?" Paul asked, smiling at the man like a cat that has a mouse trapped between his paws.

"Sorry, didn't recognize you, sure, for you I'll haul these things to the right address. Crazy woman just didn't give me the right one in the first place;" the balding man in moving overalls started to babble.

"Exactly!" Annie smiled as Paul left and the van followed after him.

Annie remained in the doorway as a familiar sounding car came up.

"What was that moving van doing here?" Kermit asked, slowly getting himself out of the car.

"Beth decided to return your things, but didn't have the right address," the blind woman smiled and then giggled.

Kermit groaned. "I'm really sorry, Annie. She must have gotten the address for this place when I couriered the final divorce papers to her. The receipt slip would have had both the sending and receiving address on it."

"It's no problem, Kermit, we're just glad that she decided to return your things to you. Paul was more than happy to show them to your apartment," Annie assured the injured man while she ushered him inside, with Reese following them, and greeting her other dog affectionately. She had recognized her sister's expression and wondered what Annie was up to.

Kermit stopped in the middle of the hallway, "Annie, my apartment is the opposite direction of the turn Paul took them on."

"Your old one was, but not your new one," the blond woman explained.

Reese used her hand to cover her smirk at Kermit's disbelief.

"Annie, I told Paul I would consider it, that didn't mean I was going to move," Kermit explained in an exasperated tone.

"Kermit Griffin, you are not going back to that place! There are rodents everywhere, trash in the halls, the smell alone could kill a person. You don't have to stay in the apartment at our building if you don't want to, but if you leave, at least move someplace safe and sanitary. Even the police don't go down in that area," Annie didn't even try to keep her concern to herself.

"If it'll make you and Paul happy, I'll stay in the apartment, but only until I can find other accommodations. I'll move into a better neighborhood, Annie, I promise," Kermit said, forestalling his hostess's objections.

Reese watched, marveling at how deftly Annie had not only gotten her way, but had ended up with Kermit thinking it was his idea.

"Somehow, I think it's a good thing that that woman never went into politics," Kermit mock shuddered, as he fondled Dobie's ear's getting a grunt of pleasure from the old dog.

"She would probably be in the White House by now," Reese agreed. "Only problem would be that Paul would have to be the first gentleman, then."

Reese and Kermit were both silent for a moment and then started laughing at the mental image of their publicity hating friend in that position. Reese stopped laughing as Kermit hissed in pain when the laughter caught up with his abused ribs. The doctor gently led him to the bed.

"Not together a week, and already you've got me in bed," he quipped as she removed his light jacket.

"And if you're a smart patient, you'll be staying in bed for a nap. Going for a drive was not a smart thing," Reese said, chiding herself for doing that.

"I'm not sorry we did that," Kermit smiled.

"Neither am I, but you really do need to get some rest," she said, helping him lie down.

"Okay, as long as I know my virtue is safe," he retorted as she got his shoes off.

"I'll guard it with my life, Animal," she smiled and turned to leave him to his rest.

"What, no bedtime story?" Kermit mock wailed.

"I don't know any, sorry."

"How about the frog and the princess?" Kermit asked. "It's one of my favorites."

"If I run into a princess, I'll send her in and you can tell it to her," Reese left the room quietly.

"I think I might have already found one, though," Kermit commented to Dobie, who was sprawled out on the floor next to his bed. "Too bad she needs a prince and I'm a frog."

Kermit didn't remember going to sleep, but he woke up to happy sounds in the yard. A soft thud followed by a scrambled pursuit. Careful maneuvering and a moment of pain got him upright. Following the sound led him out to the deck. Paul was manning a grill while Reese threw a tennis ball for Lady, and Annie was setting the table. The open bottle of wine was evidence of their relaxed and happy mood.

"I think that may be the first time I have seen her acting like a dog," Kermit commented as he came out and joined them, Dobie following slowly at his heels and flopping down between Paul and Reese.

"Oh, she's a dog all right, when she's off duty," Reese assured him, throwing the ball again and holding her breath as Lady raced straight at Paul's tomato plants, only to leap over them at the last minute. Seeing that his much worked on garden and prized tomatoes were once more safe from the careening canine, Paul turned his attention back to the steaks.

"Sorry about that, Paul, I'll try and keep the pitches over home plate," the dark haired woman apologized.

"You still can't throw straight," Paul groused softly.

"I have perfect aim with a hypodermic needle," she countered, sticking her tongue out at Paul.

"Now, children," Annie chided her husband and sister with a chuckle.

Kermit shuffled over to the others and looked hopefully from Paul to the wine.

"Don't even think about it while you're on meds, mister!" Reese answered before the question was even asked.

The younger man sighed heavily and sat down at the table. Dinner was a relaxed and contented time. The food was good, and the company was excellent. Annie couldn't remember the last time Paul and Reese and been this relaxed together. Then it dawned on her, they had never been this relaxed together. Paul and Kermit played chess, while Annie and Reese cleaned up. It was a good end to a good day.

Anne Murray was playing the background. Paul and Annie had just gotten married. It was customary for the best man and Maid of honor to dance together at least once, and this Kermit Griffin guy honestly seemed to like her, so she had not balked when he had asked her for a dance. Annie was lovely in the new dress that Paul had seen and bought her for the occasion. According to him, he was walking past a store and it screamed for Annie, she saw it and loved it. Since it was a wedding gown, though a simple one, they decided that it required a wedding and so had gotten married. It felt so good to be taking some time off and relaxing. She couldn't remember the last time she had danced with a man, and Kermit was a very easy man to dance with.

*"Remember me, doc? You were supposed to help me, doc," a voice came from behind. She turned, it was a patient from Vietnam. Dr. Jackson had said she was serving the greater good. Saving lives by helping get information the young man possessed.*

*"May I cut in?" someone asked, taking her out of Kermit's arms. It was the young man from Prague. Everyone said that the information that he had was badly needed, and he certainly deserved no better then he had given others.*

Reese searched frantically for a way out, but the only people around were the patients. Asking her for help. Asking her why she had hurt them. Asking for their minds back, and to give them back the lives she had stolen. Her father demanding to know if this was the way she paid him back for giving her every advantage imaginable. Her mother in her social club way, seething that this was not the way a proper lady behaved and was entirely unacceptable, but then that she expected nothing else from her eldest daughter. Annie begging her to tell her it was all lies and that she had not really hurt all of these people. Panicking, she searched for the one person who could get her out, but he was not here. There was no Control around to offer her a second chance. Instead, she saw Col. Oliver, who had sent her on her last mission, not intending that she come back and setting the whole team up to fail in order to achieve that end. She saw the men who had held her prisoner, who had done to her mind, what she had aided in doing to these other people's. She had not really known what was going on, but still had been a part of it. If she was honest with herself, she had had her suspicions before Control had dared her to really look at what was happening to these people and not simply accept the reports of others. There was no escape this time. No Control to help her find her way out, no Paul for Control to ask to go and rescue a lost team. No one to save her from the people she had hurt, and the justice she had earned for that.

"Reese?" A voice broke out over the mob calling for justice.

"Come on, wake up here, Doc," the voice sounded again. Kermit! The voice belonged to Kermit Griffin, Paul's friend, whom she had danced with at the wedding and whom she was helping take care of now. He had hold of her hand and was gently rubbing her shoulder. Both dogs were whining at her, looking for assurance that she was all right.

"Kermit? Is she all right?" Paul asked from the door, in his robe.

"Just a nightmare, she seems to be waking up, though," Kermit answered uncertainly.

"Sorry, guys, didn't mean to wake up the whole house," Reese whispered shakily.

"No need to apologize, Annie has a mother's ears. No one is allowed to have nightmares in this house without her knowledge," Paul smiled reassuringly at his sister-in-law.

"Great, I really needed my sister to know about my nightmares," Reese groaned.

"She already knew, Reese. Just like she knows about Kermit and me having nightmares," Paul explained.

Reese and Kermit groaned together.

"I'll be fine, Paul, you go on back to bed," Reese said wearily, lying back down.

"Okay, I'll see you two in the morning, then. Kermit, you need any help getting back to bed?" Paul asked.

"You're the second person today to try and get me into bed, Paul. I'll be fine, just going stay with Reese for a moment or two," he smiled at his older friend.

"All right, you two take care, though, and holler if you need anything," Paul looked from one to the other and then left to rejoin Annie, upstairs. It looked like he might just owe his yenta an evening out. Reese and Kermit seemed to be hitting it off, just like she had hinted.

"You don't have to stay, Animal. I'll be fine, really, just a nightmare that I have periodically," Reese assured the man sitting next to her bed.

"Faces and voices right?" He asked, sympathetically.

"Oh, yeah," she muttered back.

"I have a few of those, myself. Like damn near every time I go to sleep," he answered.

"Same here, all the patients that I could have helped, ... should have helped, and didn't," she sighed.

"You sat back torturing people and destroying their lives for the sheer joy of it?" Kermit asked, disbelieving.

"No, that was Dr. Jackson, whom I served with in Vietnam. I really did believe that I was serving the greater good. I thought I was doing the right thing, serving my country, protecting all the innocent people," Reese snorted.

"Something changed your mind," Kermit stated.

"I meet a man who challenged me to look at what I was really doing and why I was doing it. I started to really look at what we were doing and why and began questioning some of it. I found that I was being lied to about our patients and pretty much everything to do with them."

"That's when you quit though, right?" Kermit inquired.

"I agreed to go on one last mission. They were picking up an injured agent and needed a doctor along in case he needed immediate care. No one knew how badly he was hurt. My employers had set me up. I was supposed to die there, but another employer of mine sent another team out to get me when I didn't show up for our meeting. It happened to have been Paul. I had spent a week going through the same hell I had seen so many others go through," she explained, turning her head away from Kermit.

"You were doing a job that you thought was serving a greater good, when you found out it wasn't, you quit. You've since spent your time trying to help heal people. Reese, you made a bad call and people got hurt. You're doing your best to undo the damage that resulted from your decision. Let the guilt go, kid, it was not your fault. You faced up to the part of it you were responsible for and have made amends," Kermit soothed.

They were both silent.

"So, what do you prescribe to make guilt go away?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I could tell you a nice bedtime story," he offered, wishing he could give her peace.

"Does the frog turn into a prince?" She asked.

"No, the frog is just a frog. Both my ex-wives can assure you of that," Kermit smiled.

"I'm glad, I've always preferred frogs to princes," Reese smiled back tiredly. "Besides, I'm no princess, and I'm nowhere near Annie's class."

"I always figured princesses were overrated, and you certainly don't need to be Annie, since I'm not Paul," Kermit assured her.

Kermit gave her hand a kiss and sang her the only lullaby he knew, Castle of Dromore. One his mother had sung when he had nightmares as a child. She fell asleep holding a stuffed frog in shades. Paul was far from surprised to find in the morning that Kermit had not gone farther then the couch across from Reese's bed. _________________________________________________________________________________

Sergeant Broderick looked up to see the loud painted woman was back. She was wearing revealing clothes and lots of makeup. Something told him there were storms on the horizon.

"I'm here to see the Captain," she smiled sweetly.

"Right around to the right ma'am, just let me tell him you're here," the Sergeant said as he mentally shuddered. This was going to be interesting, to say the least. The rumors were still flying from the last time this woman had seen the Captain.

"I want to surprise him," she said, scooting around and heading to the detective's bullpen.

"Hi, Captain," Beth Griffin purred as she approached the older man at the coffee machine.

Paul bolted straight up and turned around, dumping the coffee on the floor in the process. Blake, with his usual quiet efficiency, was immediately cleaning up the mess, being this close, gave him a better chance to observe the entire scene, and he was, after all, an observer by profession and inclination.

"Hello, Mrs. Griffin, have you had any other problems?" Paul asked, backing up to get his personal space back. At least Peter wasn't here to see this; it was a little embarrassing; actually this was very embarrassing. The only thing worse then Peter seeing this, would be if Annie decided to come in and take him to lunch.

"I just came in to let you know that I decided to drop the charges," Beth continued closing in on the captain, looking like a cat stalking a bird.

"That's very good of you, ma'am," Paul continued, backing up, only to find that he couldn't because of the desk behind him. Trying to look at least somewhat in control of the situation, he casually sat down on the edge of the desk.

"Well, it really wasn't worth the trouble, since I was just fine. I really appreciate your concern, though," Beth smiled, almost sitting in his lap, now.

"How nice to see you again, Beth. I see that you've met my husband, Paul," Annie Blaisdell seethed from the door to the bullpen. The chaotic precinct room was silent. No one wanted to get in the middle of this catfight.

"Husband! You're Kermit's friend, Paul Blaisdell?" Beth screeched, leaping away from the pale man as though he had bubonic plague, nearly tripping over Blake in the process.

"Yes, Captain Paul Blaisdell, ma'am," he introduced himself formally, thinking that this was not happening to him.

"We won't have to have another discussion, will we Mrs. Griffin?" Annie hissed softly.

"I was just leaving," Beth said, as she scurried out of the precinct house.

"Mom, Paul may be the ex-mercenary, but you are definitely more dangerous," Peter, who had evidently brought Annie to the station, said, carefully trying to hide his smirk behind his hand.

"Absolutely. Now, if you people will excuse me, I'm going to take a long lunch with my beautiful bride," Paul smiled, moving to usher Annie out of the bullpen. "Actually, let me make two phone calls, Babe, and you can have your way with me for the rest of the day," Paul smiled, giving his wife's hand a squeeze and heading into his office.

"Peter, could I use your phone real quick?" Annie asked, smiling at her foster son.

"Sure, mom," The young detective set his mother's hand on the phone.

"Thank you, honey," Annie said, dialing the number she knew best.

"Hi, Reese," Annie said when the phone was picked up "Paul and I are heading out, maybe all night, I assume we do not need to hire a babysitter or a chaperon for you two? Why am I hearing Jerry Springer in the background? Let me get this right, you handcuffed Kermit to the easy chair and are forcing him to watch that show?"

"I see, the handcuffs were the only way you could get him to stay down and Jerry Springer is punishment for his trying to work on Paul`s to do list even after he was told to rest," Annie tittered. Paul, coming up and hearing her side of the conversation laughed at the vision of his friend being forced to watch the daytime talk show. "Well, there's food in the fridge, or you and he can order in, and you have our number if you need anything. Okay, don't wait up for us," Annie smiled, disconnecting the call.

"So where are we going, Babe?" Paul asked, leading Annie out the door.

"Oh, I thought we might head to the Marriott," Annie purred as Paul helped her into the car.

"Fancy, but definitely doable," Paul smiled and thanked God once more that he had found Annie.

"Good, I figured we could go to our room and have room service bring up an early dinner after we work up an appetite," Annie felt the car give a slight swerve, as Paul lost his concentration on the road for a moment.

"I believe I have just been propositioned! And I`m a married man!" Paul gave a low rumbling chuckle.

"That's not a problem, since I happen to be a married woman," Annie replied, laughing with her husband.

"Happily?" Paul asked, caressing her cheek with one hand.

"Very, and you?" Annie asked leaning herself into the soft touch she knew so well.

"You know, Babe, I always thought that the happiest day of my life would be the day we got married. Somehow though, every day with you is even better then the one before it,"

"Oh, yeah," Annie giggled while Paul laughed, hearing Kermit's catch phrase for any and all situations coming from his wife.

"Did you two have a nice nap?" Reese asked, looking in on her patient and seeing that he was awake and getting up. Dobie slowly worked herself out from under his bed where she had been napping.

"Yeah, I did. Where are Paul and Annie? Shouldn't they be back by now?" Kermit asked, a little unnerved by the silence of the house.

"Annie called and said she and Paul were heading out for the evening and we were not to wait up since they might not be back until morning," the dark haired woman explained.

Kermit looked at her in silence, his expressive eyes hidden behind glasses.

"They do not have a problem with us being here, Kermit." Reese stated firmly, correctly interpreting the man's thoughts. "They just needed a romantic night together, they would have gone out if we were here or not. Now do you want to do Chinese or Pizza?"

"Chinese sounds good," Kermit responded absentmindedly.

"Kermit Griffin! If our being here was getting in their way they would have talked to us about it," Reese assured her friend.

"You're right, so a romantic night of Chinese delivery and old movies?" Kermit offered, raising his eyebrows.

"Make it old war movies and you're on," Reese laughed at Kermit's expression.

"What, no trying to sneak an emotional, tear-jerker, chic flick in? You really do like war movies?" Kermit asked in surprise.

"Kermit, the only person I ever lie to, is myself. If I say that I like war movies, I like war movies. At least the older ones, the more recent ones are sometimes a little too realistic for me," Reese explained, moving towards the movie cabinet.

"Oh, yeah, I don't watch the more recent ones, either," Kermit said, shuddering in remembrance of his not so great reaction to Platoon. Beth had wanted to see it, so they had gone, she had not been happy that he had ended up excusing himself and going out in the lobby to call Paul on his cell phone. Another Vietnam vet had joined him a little later. When the man had not returned, his wife had come after him and they had left the movie. Beth had not wanted to miss the movie so had stayed, and told Kermit the whole way home how embarrassed she had been at his leaving. Just one more time something had not gone as planned for them. He had wanted to explain what made him leave, but wasn't able to find the right words, and she wasn't in the mood to hear what he was saying, anyway. It was a fairly good sign of how their how relation went.

"Kermit, what do you say to the John Wayne war movies collection?" Reese held up a box set in inquiry.

"Sounds like a plan, what was the other one you pulled out?" Kermit asked seeing another movie had joined the war collection.

"A Gathering of Eagles. It's a Robert Lansing movie, one of Lady's favorites," Reese grinned.

"Lady likes that one?" Kermit raised one eyebrow.

"They play handball in it and she keeps hoping that they'll pass it off to her so she can play, too. She also says he's an all around good-looking guy. She`s a sucker for his voice as well," Reese went on, straight-faced.

"And these are all Lady's observations, right?" The dark haired man asked, lowering his glasses just enough to look at his companion.

"Absolutely, some are Dobie's, as well. Do I look like the kind of woman who would sit and drool over a nicely formed body?" Reese grinned.

"Well, let's not deprive the dog of her favorite. We'll watch that one, first," Kermit agreed, not commenting on his friend's previous statement.

"Sounds like a plan. Let me get the dogs settled and make some popcorn, by then the delivery guy should be here with dinner," Reese answered, letting Lady and Dobie out back.

When the dogs and Reese returned, the middle-aged professional was gone. A faded t-shirt and worn sweatpants replaced the crisp neat blouse and slacks. The black hair that was usually up in a braid or bun, hung down, now, and a pair of glasses covered the greenish gray eyes.

Kermit wondered if she was aware of how much more appealing she looked like this, and decided she was probably not.

Kermit settled onto the couch with Reese taking the love seat next to him. The food had been delivered just in time for opening curtain on Blaisdell Theater's movie night. The two dogs had decided to settle themselves between the two humans so as to catch any food dropped by either person. All four had decided that for tonight, at least, life was good.

Paul headed upstairs to change into clean clothes the moment he and Annie got home. He would have just enough time to change and have coffee with the others before heading to work. This night out had been exactly what he and Annie had needed in order to reconnect. How she always knew exactly when to do something like this was beyond him, but her timing was, as usual, impeccable.

"All right girls, out you go," Annie said, opening the door and letting the canines out in the back yard. Odd that Reese was not up and doing that task. Even stranger, Annie realized, was Lady leaving Reese's side. Something was not quite right.

"Kermit? Reese?" The petite blond called out. Kermit could not leave without Reese, and Reese would not leave without Lady, so the two must be in the house somewhere. But if she was here, why had Reese not heard her dogs and let them out? That would be like Annie not hearing one of her children in distress.

"Everything all right, Babe?" Paul asked, knotting his tie as he came down the stairs.

"Reese didn't hear the dogs asking to go out, and neither she nor Kermit have answered me," Annie explained.

"I'll go and look into it, neither of those two have ever slept through coffee being made," her husband assured her as he went down the hall to check their guest's rooms. A jingling of metal tags told him that Lady had followed him down the hall after she had returned from her excursion to the yard. With a slight nudge and yipping type sound, as though excusing herself, she nosed past him into the den.

"What so funny, Paul?" Annie asked, following the dog to the doorway where the older man was standing. "Why am I stepping on popcorn?" she suddenly asked, reaching down to feel what it was under her feet. She was certain it seemed like popcorn, but why would there be popcorn on the floor?

"Kermit and Reese dead asleep on the couch and loveseat, respectively. For some reason there's popcorn all over the floor. I can't wait to hear their explanation for this," Paul chuckled, confirming her suspicion about the popcorn.

"I'm certain it will be unique. And to think I was the one who said we didn't need a babysitter," Annie tittered.

Grinning like a naughty schoolboy intent on a prank, Paul leaned over the back of the couch. "Kermit," he whispered, and was interrupted.

"Let me sleep five more minutes honey," Kermit mumbled.

"All right, sweetheart, just tell me why there is popcorn all over the floor?" Paul replied softly, still at Kermit's ear.

"Reese threw some at me and I threw some back," Kermit grumbled, turning red with embarrassment, and shifting himself.

"Lady, stop licking me, I'm up already! You threw the first round Animal, I was only defending myself," Reese groused as she moved herself from the loveseat to her wheelchair.

"Right, I was sitting over here watching a movie and suddenly there's popcorn bouncing off my bean," Kermit growled.

"I said I was sorry about that, I was tossing it for Dobie and missed," Reese mock complained.

"Apologies given while laughing like a hyena lose their sincerity somehow, besides the dogs were over there," Kermit retorted gesturing to the other side of the room.

"What can I say, I have very bad aim," Reese giggled.

"You two got into a popcorn fight?" Paul asked in wonder, breaking into the middle of the argument. Neither guest was generally that playful. Or rather they didn't display their playfulness in this type of mischief.

"Sorry about the mess, Annie, We'll clean it up," Kermit assured his hostess, groaning as he worked at getting himself upright.

"That sounds like a good idea, since you can't agree on whose fault it is, and you both participated, you can both clean it up." Annie shook her head, remembering handling Peter and Carolyn like this at times.

"Wouldn't you have been more comfortable in the easy chair?" Paul asked, trying to help his friend, get upright off the couch.

"I wouldn't want to take your chair," Kermit mumbled, embarrassed once more.

"It's not a problem, go ahead and use whichever chair is most comfortable for you," Paul growled at his friend.

"Right, got it, use the recliner," Kermit said, hustling past his friends on his way to the bathroom.

"I see Lady got to pick one of the movies again," Paul grinned seeing A Gathering of Eagles on top of the movies pulled out.

"What can I say, she loves that movie," Reese smiled, following her sister and brother-in-law in to the kitchen.

"I just thought of something, one of the ground floor apartments in the building we own is open, Reese. It's right next to Kermit's. It would be perfect, since the last occupant was in a wheelchair, so it's already geared for that." Paul offered, looking over at his sister-in-law.

"If you're certain that you don't have other applicants for it," Reese agreed hesitantly.

"No, weren't even planning on renting it out. We would have to check with Kermit, but I don't think he would object," Paul assured the dark haired woman.

"Check with me about what?" Kermit asked, entering the kitchen and smiling his thanks to Paul as the man handed him a cup of coffee.

"Reese has to move, due to owning two large dogs, Paul and I had thought of the apartment connected to yours. We hadn't planned on renting it, since there is a door that connects the two apartments," Annie explained to the mercenary.

"Oh, listen, if this is going to be a problem," Reese sputtered.

"No problem, Mon Cheri," Kermit assured her, kissing her hand.

"You're sure, Kermit?" Reese asked, still uncertain.

"To quote you, `I only lie to myself.' If I say it's fine, then trust me, it's fine." Kermit assured her.

"So it's like two separate apartments with a connecting door, right?"

"That's exactly what it is," Annie confirmed.

"Why was it done that way? It seems kind of odd," the younger woman thought out loud.

"One apartment was used by a mother in a wheelchair, her son and his family lived in the other apartment; The door was there so that they could get in quickly if she needed help," Paul explained.

"Okay, we can try this," Reese, agreed, smiling.

"We can always take the door out and turn it back into separate units later, if it doesn't work as a connected unit," Paul smiled. He was definitely going to owe Annie on this, she was right, they were hitting it off, Kermit had never taken to anyone like this before.

Annie smiled; she could hear the occasional laugh over the vacuum in the den as the two miscreants cleaned up the misfired ammunition from their war of the night before. It was nice to see this long repressed side of her sister coming out again. Who could have guessed that Kermit would have an inner imp dying to come out as well, or that those two would bring it out in each other? Perhaps all the inner children had needed was the presence of a playmate. Perhaps, like Reese, Kermit had been a mischievous child whose childhood was ended to early by a war that nether one got over, totally. Well, maybe they could find peace in one another as Paul had found it in her.

Annie headed out to the deck, to enjoy the sounds of the birds and insects, as well as the smell of the fresh cut grass and the roses Paul always put along the deck, knowing that Annie enjoyed the smell of them. The three oldest ones had been planted by the children as mother's day present's one year, those were her favorites. Peter would need to be fed a bit this year, she would remind Paul when he got home tonight, like the plant's giver, the bush always seemed to be in need of feeding. A metallic jingling told her Lady was coming up the steps to join her.

"Annie, your dog just killed our cat!" Mrs. Jacobs, a neighbor came over wailing. So much for peace and quiet, Annie thought sighing.

"I can't believe that Lady would kill an animal," Annie sighed. It would be this neighbor that the dog would get into trouble with.

"Well, Mittens is dangling from her mouth right in front of you!" the older woman snorted.

"Lady, drop it," Annie called out remember the command Reese would give if she wanted the dog to drop something. An only slightly damp, but very much alive cat was deposited gently into Annie's outstretched hand.

"Mitten's is just fine, only being given canine transportation out of our yard," Annie said holding in a chuckle. She would have to thank her sister for teaching her dogs to be soft mouthed.

Annie held the offended feline out towards her slightly hysterical mistress. The slightly calmer woman was accepting the pet, just as Annie heard the screen door open. Odd that she had not heard any footsteps.

"Oh, you have one of those killer dogs in your house! What on earth were you thinking!" the elderly neighbor screeched.

"Dobie is perfectly safe, she's so old she's arthritic in two legs. All she wants is a warm spot to nap in, she won't bother you at all. Tell you what, why don't you go and put Mittens in your house where he's safe, and we can have some tea?" Annie suggested, soothingly.

Mittens leaped out of his owner's hands and dashed in the house with Lady hot on his tail. Annie groaned at this newest disaster, while Mrs. Jacobs began wailing in terror about what that beast would do to her precious baby. Annie knew both dogs to be perfectly safe around other animals. Dobie would and always had ignored them on duty and off. Lady would ignore all of them when on duty, and when off duty would do nothing more then move the intruding animals out of her territory.

"I'm dreadfully sorry about this, ma'am," Reese said, coming out and carrying the cat in her lap with a sulky Lady following behind warily eyeing the visiting feline.

"Well, just see to it that those monsters don't go hurting my precious again," the irate woman said, turning and leaving in a huff.

"I'll get some ropes to tie the dogs out since they evidently don't stay in the yard any more," Reese sighed. Once again, she had inadvertently created a problem.

"Relax, neither dog left the yard. As long as one of us is out with them, I don't think you need to tie them up, Annie reassured her sister.

"Reese, have you seen Kermit?" Annie asked an hour later, Annie having managed by a polite phone call to sooth the ruffled feathers, or rather fur, next door.

"I thought he was playing with his laptop on the porch?" Reese groaned, preparing for yet another Kermit search. Since he could get up and down on his own, now, the man was determined to be active. Peter at his worst was a better convalescent than Kermit at his best, according to Annie.

"I think I hear something in the garage," Annie said, cocking her head to one side to listen more closely.

Reese quietly opened the connecting door to the garage. Kermit was happily doing something on Paul's workbench.

"What are you making?" she asked, looking at the object on the bench.

"I'm fixing a picture frame," Kermit explained.

"I see, looks special," Reese commented, looking at a homemade frame with uneven edges, and a crooked mounting in back. It was a treasure that hade been kept and protected over years. "I made my dad a wallet once when I was in school. It wasn't very good, arts and crafts was never my area, I figured that he probably lost it or just chucked into some drawer of well meant but useless child gifts. I was helping mom, sorting out his things after he died, turns out he had used that wallet from the day I gave it to him on. By the time he died, it was two pieces of dilapidated leather barely staying together. I never understood why he didn't get a new wallet when that one died."

"It was a gift from his daughter," Kermit replied tersely.

"And the frame?" Reese gently prodded.

"A gift from my brother," Kermit's tone ended the conversation.

"A treasure indeed. Don't stay out here too long, Kermit," Reese requested in a gentle voice that conveyed her sympathy on his pain as she headed back inside.

"Did you find Kermit?" Annie asked as her sister joined her in the kitchen.

"He's fixing a picture frame at the workbench. He'll come inside when he's through," the younger woman assured her hostess.

"He sounded like something was wrong when you two were talking. I overheard," Annie explained handing Reese a cup of tea.

"You're never going to stop trying to convert me, are you, sis?" Reese smiled, changing the subject.

"It really is better for you than all the coffee you drink," Annie smiled back, and giving the familiar response of a conversation that had occurred before and would come again.

"I like coffee," Reese offered her time-honored reply. The consistency of the answer in the old debate warmed both sisters.

"Chloe called, she asked how you were doing on the project she needed help for," Annie related the phone message.

"I haven't had time for it, I'll have to get going on that this afternoon. She's studying her family roots and heritage at school. Janice couldn't remember any stories and has few if any older pictures, so Chloe asked me to write down some of the stories and send her any older pictures that I had," Reese explained, grimacing as she sipped the tea. "Well, I'd best get going on our niece's project if I'm going to get it mailed off to her in time."

"Good luck, "Annie responded, as Reese headed for the den to work on the project. "Oh, Reese, you can work out here on the table if you need to spread out."

"Thanks, I might need to, at that," the doctor called back.

"Who's that?" Kermit asked over her shoulder, pointing to a photo in the family album a quarter of an hour after he had been left to fix the damaged frame.

"Peter, my twin brother. That's Mark, my younger brother, and Janice, my younger sister," Reese pointed to each person as she identified them.

"Looks like you were having fun,"

"We were, that was our eighteenth birthday party. Fun time was had by all," Reese sighed.

"The photos of him stop there. Vietnam?" Kermit asked softly.

"About six months after that photo was taken. Mom and Dad never were happy about him going, but he saw it as his duty to go. He figured that the draft would have grabbed him, so he looked at which military branch could give him the best deal and then ended up joining the Air Force. I think Annie may have been the one most hurt by his death," Reese stared at the photo of her brother's last birthday party.

"He and Annie were close?" Kermit asked quietly.

"Very. We're eleven months apart in age. During March we were all the same age. We use to call it twin month. Annie was inconsolable when we got word that he had died," Reese continued.

"Was that why you volunteered?" Kermit asked, taking one of her hands.

"Maybe, I don't know exactly why I opted to go, it seemed the thing to do. I was almost twenty and had just finished getting my nursing degree. Everyone seemed to think my going over there was a sign of my agreeing with the US involvement, but really I was just going over to serve the men fighting over there. I didn't really understand enough about the reasons we were there to know if I agreed with them or not. Too young and thought I knew everything," Reese chuckled sarcastically.

"I went over there on the draft. Figured it wasn't all a bad thing, though, my dad had just left us and I was able to send most of my paychecks home to Mom. I got there, thinking I knew just about everything, damn near got Paul killed the first week I was there. Young, dumb, and stuck on stupid," Kermit snorted.

`Weren't we all, back then?" the dark haired woman agreed.

"Your parents?" Kermit asked, pointing to another photo.

"The honorable Senator and Mrs. Madoc, that would be them,"

"She looks interesting," Kermit commented, taking his glasses off and looking at an older photo of a youngish woman with a cow on a lead.

"That's Princess, one of the dairy's best milkers," Reese smiled like a mischievous child.

"And the woman Princess is leading about?" Kermit asked grinning his appreciation of his companion's humor.

"My Grandmother, she and Grandpa lived on the family farm. Uncle Howard and his wife actually ran the farm, but grandma and grandpa lived there, too. People use to call her little Maggie sure shot," Reese laughed quietly.

Kermit smiled as well, he had successfully changed the topic and gotten her to laugh. If he did nothing else the entire day, his day would still have been blessed. "Why did they call her that?" He sensed there was a story here.

"During the depression, farmers had to do whatever they could to get by. The family had started an alfalfa patch to help support the farm. One of the problems in that area was people coming in the night and harvesting the crop and stealing it. Aunt Janet had to go into town to take care of a sick friend, and some local thieves saw the family leave and assumed everyone had gone, since the lights were all turned out. Grandma was actually still home, but had a headache, so had turned her light out. She heard someone out by the field and decided to check it out. She grabbed the shotgun and headed out to check on the field. She saw two people out there and decided to take care of it herself. It's never been clarified as to weather she had aim like mine and was aiming over their heads and nailed one, or if she was aiming and hit exactly where she meant to, but she scared one off and shot the other in the rear end," Reese chuckled.

Kermit almost choked on the coffee he was drinking. "She shot him in the butt?" he laughed.

"It gets better, there was only one doctor in the area and that happened to be Grandpa. Grandma was his nurse, so after Grandma put the shots in him, the guy had no choice but to come back to them to get it taken out. The guy was laid out flat on the table, butt showing, while Grandpa removed the pellets and Grandma told him exactly what she would do if he ever came stealing their crops again. They never did have trouble with crop theft again," Reese concluded the tale.

"Now, that sounds like a woman you and Annie would be related to," Kermit chuckled. "She looks like she might have some Indian in her,"

"She was a quarter Miami Indian, I only know one tale about her grandmother, but I have heard that she was quite a character," Reese smiled.

Kermit raised an eyebrow in invitation to tell another tale.

"Evidently her husband was rather ashamed at his having to marry an Indian woman. How exactly it had come about that they had married when he was so ashamed of her is not known, but he was. So whenever her husband and his family came into town she would remain hidden in the back of the wagon while they got supplies, lest it be known that there was an Indian in the family. Well, there was this nice young guy named Bran Martinson who worked at the local general store. He would chat with her while they shopped. One trip, her family got their shopping done came back to the wagon and found that she was no longer in the back. She and Bran were already gone, headed a few towns over. The two of them started the dairy farm together and lived happily ever after together, at least as far as family fiction knows," Reese grinned.

"I think I would have liked that woman," Kermit chuckled, imagining her family's shock at her disappearance.

"I think I would have, too. The really frightening thing is that that is the sane side of the family," Reese tittered.

"Insanity runs in your family?" Kermit raised an eyebrow in amusement.

"One of our many times great uncles out of the blue one day just up and left his family to work the river boats on the Mississippi River. No hint as to why he left or what caused him to decide on riverboats. Everyone said he had always been a bit off," Annie snickered, joining them with coffee.

"Maybe he and the missus were having difficulties?" Kermit suggested.

"Could be, if that was the only time he had done something strange, but he was known for doing weird things," Reese explained, grinning. Kermit chuckled his agreement with her.

The next few hours were spent exchanging family tales and fiction. Kermit actually felt like part of the family.

"Well, Annie said, getting up, "Paul and I have been invited out, so you two will be on your own again, tonight. I assume the popcorn incident won't be repeated?" Annie tittered at the embarrassed sputtering of her two companions.

"We'll behave ourselves," Reese assured her, once she stopped laughing.

"Why does your saying that make me more nervous instead of less?" Annie quipped.

"You know what my mom use to make really well?" Kermit asked. sitting back in a chair on the deck watching the sunset while Reese groomed lady.

"Chocolate Chip cookies?" Reese guessed, as Dobie groaned in pleasure from the massage Kermit was giving her with his feet.

"Well, yeah, those too, but she made really good Gingerbread. I haven't had that since she died, come to think of it," Kermit got quiet, realizing how long it had been since he had had one of his favorite deserts.

"Annie has the fixings, why don't we go and make up a batch of gingerbread?" Reese offered.

"I don't know the recipe and all of Annie's cookbooks are in Braille," Kermit said after a moment's hesitation.

"I know how to read Braille, I have a very bad track record in the kitchen but between the two of us gingerbread should be doable," Reese grinned at Kermit's shocked expression.

"I can help?" Kermit asked lowering his glasses and peering at her over the top of the shades.

"You'll have to, since I can't reach everything," she responded.

"Okay, let's see here, we need eggs, molasses, sugar, butter, flour, honey," Reese read off the list of ingredients while Kermit retrieved.

"Mom? Paul? Anybody here?" Peter Caine called out as he entered his foster parent's house.

"In the kitchen," Reese called back, always happy to see her nephew.

"Hey guys," Peter entered with an animal carrier that was hissing and snarling.

"Hi kid, is that Merc?" Kermit asked, moving to take the carrier from the younger man.

"Dad had the vet keeping him but evidently he was being disruptive and had to leave, dad said to bring him here," Peter explained.

Kermit groaned, but then, if someone had put him in a carrier and taken him to a doctor's office and done to him what had been done to Merc, he would have been swearing at the world, too. The cat gave Kermit a scathing look and jumped from his lap to the floor.

"I'll get his things set up in the laundry room," Peter said, indicating the cat.

"Thanks," Kermit acknowledged the help. Paul would have understood the terse answer, as Kermit being Kermit, Peter still was not certain if the older man liked him or merely tolerated his existence.

"Everything all right Pete?" Reese asked, seeing that the usually talkative and hyper young man was being rather quiet and withdrawn.

"Pop just went on one of his trips again, I'll get over it," Peter shrugged as he went to put Merc's things away.

"Caine, someday we will meet, and I will want answers for why you do this to him," she growled.

"Reese?" Kermit looked at the woman that he had come to think of as a friend. Any resemblance to Annie was gone in a cold, dark, fury. Kermit was thankful that she wasn't angry with him. This woman he could see as a mercenary.

"Sorry, I just hate it when he does this kind of thing to Peter. Petey's a good kid, and I hate to see him hurting. His father knows he has abandonment issues, and yet he still goes on these `journeys'. I understand that as a priest, the man needs to be in touch with his spiritual side, but all Peter needs is a call or a postcard. Anything to tell him his father is thinking of him, and to help Peter keep believing that his father is coming back. He has all of the compassion in the world for others, but so often misses his own son's needs," Reese seethed.

"Always the shoemaker's kids that go shoeless," Kermit agreed that it sounded like Peter was getting a bad deal with his father. "At least the kid has Paul, and you know how Paul feels about him."

"A peacock would not rival Paul when his kids do well," Reese chuckled.

"Hey, Peter, we're going to make some gingerbread, would you like to help out?" Kermit invited the young detective to join the fun.

"Sure, why not, Kelly isn't speaking to me at the moment, so no other plans," Peter smiled his acceptance of the offer. Peter had never been as at home around the mercenary as the girls were, but he did count the man as a friend. Kermit had once picked him up from a party he was not supposed to have even been at, about five minutes before the police came and arrested the whole group for under age drinking and drug use. Even better, he had not said a word to Paul and Annie about it on the basis that every kid was entitled to be dumb once without their parents knowing.

Merc sauntered into the room just as Peter joint the other two humans. With a shriek of indignation the cat launched at Dobie, the elderly Doberman merely growled a warning. Ignoring the warning, Merc smacked the dog, only to find himself picked up and being shaken. From the position he was in, he couldn't get at his attacker, so he played dead, and found himself unceremoniously dropped. The dog he met as he spun around was not elderly and not growling, but she was menacing. Merc decided to play nicely for now.

"Okay, all of the ingredients are together, now we just mix, pour and bake!" Reese announced as the guys began putting things away.

"Oh, there was a Beth Griffin at the precinct yesterday, was she related to you?" Peter asked, curious to find out more about Paul's mystery friend.

Kermit dropped the molasses and honey that he was carefully putting away. The two bottles crashed to the counter, shattering. Their sticky contents covered the floor. All three animals raced over to get some of the sweet treat before it was cleaned up. Peter spun around at the sudden noise, dropping the eggs he had been carrying and, slipping in the goop on the floor, knocked over the flour and sugar. Reese, trying to grab for the dogs and not upset the batter, hit the lever on the old fashion electric mixer, moving it from the slowest to the highest as it got tipped into the batter. Batter was sprayed through the entire kitchen as the high-speed beaters hit the mixture.

"When Annie sees this, Animal, we are going to be executed immediately," Reese groaned, looking at herself, the two men and the three animals. They had certainly set a world's record for decimating a kitchen.

"When I see what? Why am I sticking to the floor?" Annie asked, having followed the voice to where her guests were.

"Lady NO!" Reese bellowed, too late, as the molasses and honey covered dog jumped up to greet Paul.

"I'll pay for the suit to get cleaned or replaced, Paul," Reese offered quietly, as she saw the sticky, goopy mess on her brother-in-law's suit.

"WHAT HAPPENED TO MY KITCHEN????" Annie seethed in a tone that Paul had heard only once in all the years they had been married. If these three were smart they would be prostrate at his wife's feet begging forgiveness. The kitchen was her domain and she would not be happy about this.

"It's his fault." "It's her fault." Annie heard simultaneous blames given. "I didn't ask about blame, children, I asked what happened." Annie demanded.

"We were making gingerbread, and we invited Peter to join us since he was dropping off the cat," Reese began.

"Gingerbread? You three developed a sudden hunger for gingerbread?" Annie sputtered.

"That part was my fault, my mom use to make it and I got to thinking about it when Reese and I were swapping stories," Kermit confessed, grimacing.

"So you thought of you mother's gingerbread and had to have some right then?" Annie asked, still upset but now confused, as well.

"I mentioned that you had the makings for it, and that I knew how to read Braille. I sort of offered to make him some," Reese admitted.

"And I asked if I could help, since she would not be able to reach everything," Kermit picked the narrative up.

"That doesn't explain this mess. Reese, you may be known for disasters in the kitchen, but usually they are not of this magnitude," Annie glared at her sister.

"Well, that Part's kind of my fault, I asked Kermit about a woman from the precinct named Griffin," Peter began, but Kermit tried to break his foot by standing on it.

"Well, Kermit can't stretch easily, and over extended his reach trying to get the molasses put away. When he was putting it away, the jar slipped, and then hit the honey on the way down and knocked it over, both jars broke. The animals came over to lap at the stuff, and ended up getting it all over themselves," Reese continued.

"And I was about to mix the batter, and got startled by the commotion with the jars, and hit the wrong button on the mixer so that the beaters went into the batter on the highest setting. We were just about to try and figure out how to get it cleaned up when you two got home, I mean Peter even had the mop and bucket out," Reese completed her explanation.

"Lady, get back here!" Reese barked out as the Belgian Shepherd made a break to get past Paul into the living room, where her tennis ball was.

She dodged past Paul, smearing his leg and the wall with her stickiness, and raced down the hall. With speed and reflexes born of a lifetime spent in law enforcement, officially and otherwise, Paul spun around and tackled the eighty-pound dog just outside of the carpeted area of the house. Grunting under the weight, the older man picked the dog up and carrying her, proceeded back towards the kitchen area. Annie, hearing him coming, and having to stifle the smirk at her husband's sputtering as Lady licked his cologne off, stepped out of his way. Muttering under his breath, Paul carried the canine past Reese and towards the garage. Reese followed quietly, Paul silent was even more ominous than Paul at the top of his lungs. This was not good.

"Reese, you go and get cleaned up, I'll bathe the animals. After you get changed come on out and you can dry them. No sense both of us being a mess," Paul grumbled.

"I'll go and get some clean clothes for you and put them in the entryway bathroom so you don't track on the carpeting," Annie sighed, in exasperation. Peter, you start mopping the floor so that Kermit and Reese can get into the garage without going through more mess," Annie instructed.

"Right, Paul, I'll um, just go and get into some clean clothes," Reese quietly wheeled herself towards the entryway bathroom, where Annie was meeting her with clean clothes.

Paul put Lady back on the floor and picked up Merc. Both dogs not being stupid, followed quietly, they knew when it was best to stay silent and do as they were told.

"Kermit, you go get yourself cleaned up and help them," Annie ordered as she moved towards the cleaning closet.

"Are you certain I can't help you in any way?" Kermit pleaded, wanting to get back in his hostess's good graces. He really hadn't meant to be so much trouble. He knew how much pride Annie took in her clean house. Paul could bring the President home and know that Annie would have the house ready. Part of it was out of necessity for a blind woman, but a larger part was pride in the fact that in spite of being blind, she cleaned her own house just like every other wife and mother did. And Kermit had not once, but twice, made a mess of her clean home.

"No Kermit, you can't help me. I know you mean well and you're forgiven for the mess, but please just leave me to clean it and go help Reese and Paul with the animals," Annie instructed, cursing under her breath as she stuck in yet another spot on the floor. How three people and three animals could make this big of a mess was beyond her.

Kermit quietly slipped back to the office and changed clothes.

"Paul?" Reese's voice was followed by a cautious knock on the garage door.

"It's safe, come on out you two," Paul called from the garage shower that had been installed so that when he or Peter were doing messy work on cars or the yard they could shower off before entering Annie's immaculate house.

Kermit and Reese slunk in to be presented with a dripping wet Merc, he was not a happy cat, but he was a clean one. Since the suit had already been totaled, Paul had merely slipped off the suit jacket and shirt, and was proceeding now to clean Lady, Kermit took the towel wrapped cat from Paul and began rubbing the feline dry. A slight struggle could be heard as Paul held Lady under the warm shower and bathed her. Reese was helping Kermit with the cat, when a soaked Paul and Dripping wet dog emerged from the shower. Never saying a word, Paul handed Reese a pile of towels and the dog. Kermit decided the cat was dry enough, and took one side of lady, while Reese did the other. Paul, went back in the garage bathroom/shower area, and put both himself and Dobie in the shower. By the time he emerged again, he was clean and in sweats from his gym bag. Dobie was clean and almost totally dry from the toweling she had been given by Paul. The older man tossed a blanket down for Dobie to lie on.

"You know, Paul, skip the cleaning, I'll just buy you a new suit," Reese smiled sickly, and glanced at the label, wincing as she saw the name. "Brooks Brothers, it is," she groaned.

"Thank You," Paul smiled at her enigmatically before heading into the house, leaving the two of them to dry the dog with the long coat.

When the older man had opened the door, they had heard sound of Annie giving a lecture to Peter about thinking before acting. Peter had not meant to offend, or startle Kermit, so Kermit had not said anything. Like Reese had said, Peter was a good kid, he just had to learn tact and judgment, hopefully they would come with age.

Occasional sounds of frustration could be heard whenever the cleaning trio would hit yet another sticky spot on the floor. Kermit and Reese would cringe and Lady would try and lick them to give comfort.

"Okay, the kitchen is safe to pass through," Paul called out half an hour later.

"Umm, Paul, since Reese and I were able to make that big a mess on our own, do you think maybe Annie would let us go back to our homes?" Kermit asked quietly.

"You two did this to try and get home sooner?" Paul's voice never broke a whisper.

"NO! We were just wondering if, since Kermit seems to be doing so well, I would be right there if he needed a hand..." Reese let the idea peter out.

"The day after tomorrow," Paul told them, "and try and get through tomorrow without a disaster."

The two ex-mercenaries looked contrite. They had not really meant to cause any of this trouble.

"Kermit, you can't use skank as an official word!" Reese protested, "Annie you're the official scrabble word judge, does the word skank count?"

"Were mercenary rules declared?" the blond woman asked, taking a seat on Paul's lap.

"Oh, yeah," Kermit responded, smiling.

"Then as an ex-mercenary, you're on your own here, sis," Annie chuckled, leaving the three to finish their game.

"How did she know..." Reese sputtered. Kermit and Paul both guffawed at her drop-jaw reaction.

"Annie suspected for quite some time now, but when you fit in so easily with Kermit and I she knew you had been one of us. The nightmares were another clue," Paul explained, while Reese tried to find a word.

"Pinochle," Reese declared laying the word down and going out.

The two men both stared at her.

Every mercenary I ever met plays that game," The dark haired woman explained.

It was allowed and points were added up, with Paul winning by a narrow margin.

Annie joined the trio for a game of Canasta, then. It was Kermit and Reese's last night there and so far nothing had happened. The animals had gotten along fine, and the two guests had stayed out of her kitchen.

"Oh, be right back, Annie jumped up and trotted to the kitchen. She returned minutes later with gingerbread. "All you had to do Kermit was ask, I would have been happy to make you some."

"Thanks Annie," Kermit blushed, he would never presume to ask his friend's wife to bake for him, but it was nice that she had offered.

The partnership changed three different times that night to make the game fair. First it was couple against couple, but both pairs had an almost telepathic communication. The sisters verses cops, except that there was still the strong connection that resulted in few words being needed. Finally, Kermit and Annie took on Paul and Reese, the connections were not there and the game was the challenge the four people had been looking for.


"Kermit! I'm home!" Reese called out, entering her apartment. Appreciating anew, the comfort of having someone who would want to know if she was home, or not.

"Dinner's almost ready," Kermit called from his adjoining apartment. The door between the two homes was rarely closed.

"Ready?" Kermit came through to her side, still in his suit.

"Are we dressing up for dinner tonight?" Reese tittered.

"Only the finest in dining and dancing pleasure for you Madame," Kermit took her hand and kissed it.

In the month they had lived here, Kermit had almost totally healed, and the two had found themselves sharing many tasks and usually eating together.

"Um, Kermit the last time I danced was with you at Paul and Annie's wedding." Reese chided her friend.

"Yes, but I am now officially a detective and you officially are now officially in private practice, both very good reasons to celebrate," Kermit smiled.

"I totally agree," Reese laughed, following Kermit to his side of the door and seeing a candlelit table with an appropriate meal waiting.

"Am I being courted here, mister?" Reese asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Oh, yeah," Kermit smiled, hitting a button that turned the stereo on to soft music.

Ironically, Anne Murray came on singing the same song they had danced to a lifetime ago.

"May I have this dance?" Kermit asked, holding out his hand.

"Kermit? I can't dance, remember? Reese stared at him in disbelief.

"Please?" Kermit offered again.

"Okay, but lose the glasses, I like to see the man I dance with," Reese smiled her acceptance.

His trademark shades on the end table, Kermit lifted Reese and, setting her feet on his, and holding her about the waist, they danced. A second chance at something that ended before it began 15 years earlier.

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