EPILOGUE

December 11, 1998

'Would you stop that?'

'I'm trying to help…'

'Well, I'm still alive and kicking, so get lost.'

Paul grunted and nervously pulled the tangled pullover. Leaning on the waiting wheelchair was his son, grinning with the funny sight that his father was… foster father that is…

'You're a terrible patient.'

Paul shot him a mean look.

'Look who's talking…'

The two men chuckled. Suddenly left with an awkward pause, their eyes met; Paul couldn't help but notice the love beaming from the hazel eyes, tangibly mixed with remnants of the scare from three days ago.

'I'm sorry I didn't tell you,' said Paul while pulling his pants on.

'You were right not to. With the hell I was in down there, having also you on my mind would have been just a tad more than I could bear.'

'Do you want to share?'

'Not now.'

Suddenly realising it was his discharge day and Peter was the only one from his household present, Paul got suspicious.

'Say… You're really sure that none of the girls could come?

'Well, Kelly had this job interview to prepare for, Carol was all busy with little Paul, Mom's sinusitis is inflamated… This, or I've come to pick you on the wrong date.'

'Don't even think about it, I couldn't stand another day here.'

Before Peter had the chance to come with a witty answer, he stopped. Seconds later someone knocked on the door.

'May I come in?'

Simon Blaisdell had reluctantly agreed to visit his older brother after a rant from his wife. He didn't like finding Peter there. His hatred for the former orphan (yeah, like someone believed that, it was all a scam to drain his naïve brother off cash) grew even more when earlier this year the minx had been made Citizen of the Year'97. Can you imagine? Businessmen and important people who open working places and actually do something for society were neglected in favour of a rascal that collected other rascals from the streets where they belonged. Outrageous!

'Hi, Paul! …Peter…'

Peter nodded and sought Paul's sign to kick the annoying element out of the room. However the sing never came, so the priest tactfully went out and gave the brothers some space. He didn't need special training to detect the overall mood of the conversation.

When Paul's voice echoed he smiled, Simon had never been able to stand up to his older brother. When a numb sound came from inside the room, however, Peter jumped.

He found Simon lying on the ground in the vicinity of Paul and his tightened fist.

'…And remember, I've killed people for things far less important than insulting my family.' Having said that he stoutly sat in the wheel chair.

'We're out of here.'

Obediently Peter grabbed the brown bag with Paul's clothes and manoeuvred outside the room.

'Simon…' he nodded and left.

x

Paul took notice of the unusual number of cars parked in the neighbourhood; the area around his hedge had never been so popular with drivers. He said nothing. Even when two minutes later Peter hugged him to ease his walking, he still said nothing.

At last, at the door of the house where he had raised three children, he grinned.

'You didn't really think you'd fool me, did you?'

'No, but I appreciate you playing along.'

'Sure, why not.'

They entered. Paul did expect a surprise, what he didn't expect was to find half of 101st in his living room. Everyone cheered when they saw their former captain standing with the support of his foster son.

Frank was the first to speak.

'We thought you've stood us up.'

Slowly Paul entered. After Frank, everyone joined in hugging and congratulating him. Quietly Peter stood aside and joined his sisters in pouring drinks. It occurred to him to try to speak to Jody again but she refused even to look at him and pretended to be busy talking to Blake.

'Still no luck, ha?' asked Kermit, silently observing the party from a corner.

'Nope. It's lasting longer than I expected.'

'Well, she still thinks you're the one.'

'I doubt it,' uttered Petered and opened another box of orange juice.

Knowing that he'd be the last to go, Kermit didn't rush to hug or talk to Paul; he even considered staying the night. With the smile of someone who had witnessed the whole thing, he sat at the edge of the couch and spent the next hour listening to the story of how Peter's herbs saved Paul's live. He was pleasantly surprised when it turned out that everyone believed that Peter's healing skills had gone far enough for him to pull it on his own; no word of the Ancient or of where the herbs came from had been said.

x

The guests started leaving; Paul had felt extremely guilty that his city's safety was at risk just because his own health was so.

Peter was with Mary-Margaret, offering some advice after her most recent brake-up. He was finding it hard to concentrate, though, since he would much rather hear what Kermit and Karen were sharing with Jody. And of course he never left Paul off his sight; his foster father was currently talking to Strenlich and Kelly. When Mary-Margaret went to top up her empty glass, Peter overheard Kelly's remark on a lovely Chinese vase standing by the fire-place. This was when it dawned on him that this afternoon was actually the first time ever Kelly visited the Blaisdell residence. Peter was drowning in shame.

The phone rang. Paul made a sign that he was going to take it. His son followed every slight change in the older man's expression. That's why it was impossible to miss the dark cloud that briefly passed through the steel-blue eyes. However Paul plaid well; he closed and continued his conversation like nothing happened.

A couple of hours later most of the guests were gone. While the former captain was enjoying the company of his women, Kermit was looking for Peter who had sought refuge in his room.

'Wow…'

'What?'

'As if it was yesterday when right over there posters of Dirty Harry and the Green Hornet graced these walls…'

'Shut up.'

'I knew they shouldn't give a badge to someone who thought Harry Callahan the coolest guy on earth.'

Peter was sitting in lotus on his old bed. He spoke with even voice.

'As far as I remember the coolest guy for me has always been my father.' Kermit halted. 'Dirty Harry came right after that.'

Captain Griffin knew when the fun was over.

'So, may I come in or what?'

The young priest finally looked at his friend.

'You're always welcome here,' he winked with a sneaky grin, vividly remembering himself as a confused teenager that only Paul's enigmatic friend with green shades seemed to understand.

Countless were the times when twelve years older Kermit had shared his knowledge on life with teenage Peter, in this very room, sitting on the edge of the bed with Peter by his side, absorbing every word, always with legs crossed in lotus.

Kermit sat on the edge of the bed.

'I take it you're staying here tonight.'

'Yeah.. I'll be around for a while, China Town is not that far.'

'Good thing I sent Karen for your stuff, then.'

'You did that?'

'Of course.' Kermit sighed and took his glasses off; then he decided it was time to relax, so he simply nested on the pillows. 'I honestly thought that evening on the roof was going to be our 'farewell'. '

'Me too, Kermi.' Peter smiled. 'But I'm really glad to be home. Thinking about that week…. down there… it's surreal.'

'I know. And…' Kermit stood and took something out of his bag. '…In name of old times...'

'Do you have to give me papers every time we meet?'

'You see, if you had come home six months earlier, you'd have collected all of this in person.'

Peter remained silent.

'I was joking, Pete.'

'I know. Anyway, what's that?'

'The solution to some of your problems.'

'Some?'

'The material ones.' Kermit handed Peter a stack of papers. 'Here, the deed to a certain four-story building in China Town. Merry Christmas!'

'What the…'

Peter read through the first page. Miraculously he had found himself the new owner of the Academy - no more rent, no more sleepless nights trying to figure where to find money.

'How?!'

'Let's just say it is courtesy to a certain new friend of yours, you know, the one known for living in a big, white house…'

'I don't believe this…'

'You've obviously made an impression, kid, take advantage.'

'I can't accept this, it's against…'

'Peter!'

'What?'

'Are you planning to turn the building into a hotel?'

'No…'

'A casino?'

'No!'

'Then what's the prob?'

'I…'

He checked the papers again. True, so much possession was against his order but with the new state of affairs he could finally concentrate on teaching and training, he was no good as a businessman.

'Are we good?'

'Yeah… Yeah, I think so.'

'Great. Next…'

'There's more?'

'Let me see… Ah, there it is. 'With the present document the Municipality of Sloanville, NY, grants Peter Matthew Caine an indefinite concession over the Hobson Fire station, Chestnut St 34, Chinatown.''

Kermit handed over the document.

'This is a joke, right?'

'Mmm, seems legit to me…'

'So, what now?'

'To save you some reading, you're basically in charge of the Youth Centre now, and whichever mayor takes over, they won't be able to take it from you. All you need to do is take care of the building.'

'No more rent?'

'Nope.'

'Kermit…'

'Uh-uh, it's on Uncle Sam.'

Peter slid fingers through his hair.

'Does Paul know about this?'

'Of course, everybody does.'

'So, no more rent troubles…'

'Nope… You know, I expected you to look a bit more enthusiastic.'

'No, I am, I am, just…'

'Should I guess?'

Peter's voice got a certain rough note.

'I was just… hoping… that the more I postponed my return, the greater the chance…'

'To find her here?'

A pair hazel eyes stared at Kermit; they were wet, agonising. Peter nodded.

'Oh, boy, you are into deep, aren't you?' Peter nodded again. 'She was a bit delayed, that's all.'

The hazel eyes grew bigger.

'The plan was to have her here before the Chinese New Year. Well, it will have to be after.'

Peter gulped.

'You mean… She's really coming?' His questions sounded more like a whisper.

'Of course she is! I keep my promises!' As his younger friend didn't look terribly convinced, Kermit continued. 'I probably shouldn't tell you this, but as it turns out, Tara has a small inheritance here.'

'Where, in… Sloanville?!'

'Aham.'

'In this very city?'

'That would be Sloanville, yeah…'

The priest got up and started pacing around the room.

'How?..'

'I want to say coincidence but I think we both agreed there's no such thing.'

'Can you tell me a specific date? Maybe I could meet her at the airport…'

'No, no… No! I don't have a specific date, and you are not meeting her at the airport.'

In his typical frog fashion, Kermit knew more than he said. He simply estimated, and correctly so, that it was not the right moment to tell a man in love that the object of his feelings is actually taking a job here... Nor that this job was at 101st.

Peter grunted.

'You're annoying.' He sat. 'I was somehow afraid, you know. That… that she'd forget me…'

'Have you checked a certain pendant hanging round your neck?'

The young man smiled and immediately touched the half-medallion. Then he kissed it.

'No…'

'Peter!' He turned. 'Believe me, Tara hasn't forgotten you.'

x

While Kermit was bidding Peter 'good night' the rest of the Blaisdell household was having a bit of a situation.

Carolyn McCall, Paul's older daughter, was nervously loading the dishwasher. The whole day she had successfully avoided her father's uncomfortable questions, right until now.

'Dad, seriously…'

'I am serious. Carol, this is your marriage we're talking about.'

'Exactly! How can a complete stranger be of any help?'

'Abe Bernstein is a renowned specialist, he's also a friend of mine. I would never put the future of your marriage in the hands of a stranger.'

'Dad…'

'Honey, it's just a talk. He'll be impartial, he'll listen to both of you. Please, please do this.'

'This whole marriage consultancy thing sounds very suspicious.' She poured some wine and sat on a high chair. 'Besides, Peter already offered to help.'

'Peter?!'

'Yeah. He does that. And I know for a fact that he has helped many families.'

'In Chinatown…'

'Are families in Chinatown any different than families in other parts of the city?'

'That's not what I meant. But with all respect he's not a specialist, he doesn't have the relevant education…'

'Dad! After the holidays we'll do it, OK.'

Paul shook head and took something out of his pocket.

'Here is Abe's card.'

Reluctantly Carol took it. She did it just for the sake of pleasing her father, who she almost lost only few days ago.

The truth was that it was Todd who didn't want to see a shrink. His macho nature couldn't fathom the idea of sharing his most intimate secrets with a stranger. When Peter offered help he was all for it. The image of the arrogant cop from his wedding actually offering marriage advice was as ridiculous as it was hilarious. So Todd agreed, to please his wife and for a peace of his mind, he agreed.

x

Some time later Kermit was preparing to leave. Little Christy had a mild fever and her parents decided it was inappropriate to leave her with the baby sitter.

While Karen was in the kitchen with Annie, Kermit finally used the moment and pulled Paul in a darker corner of the dimply lit living room.

'Well?'

'The same.'

'The same voice?'

'Yeah.'

'Didn't you try to hold him longer?'

Paul was taken aback.

'Kermit, I have a tumour, I'm not retarded.'

'I'm sorry. …Anyway, go have rest. I'm already working on this. Besides, as long as Peter is sticking around I'll sleep better.'

'What do you mean?'

Kermit was ready to get into how no one could sneak anywhere near the property without Peter sensing him but it was too late, in any sense, to get into this argument again.

'You should trust your son a bit more, that's what I mean. We'll talk again.'

'Sure.'

x

Peter was taking full advantage of the quiet house. Finally alone, he prepared a glass of warm milk with cinnamon and honey and headed for the sitting room. However a surprise ruined his plans.

'Hey, I didn't mean to…'

'It's OK, Paul.' He was stunned at first but his sagacious mind quickly accepted that this conversation had to happen sooner or later. By this account now was as good a time as ever.

A photo album with deep-red hard covers was lying open on the coffee table. Paul had been so devoured by its content that he completely forgot he was doing it without permission.

Those little misunderstandings left aside, the former captain was too amazed to pay attention to anything outside the photo album. He just sat with weakened knees and stared.

'What… is this?'

Peter sat next to him and checked on the specific photo his foster-father was looking at.

'That… That's the family I should have had.'

Both men took a minute to contemplate. The picture was placed on its own, in the centre of a single page. On it was a gorgeous, young woman with straight red hair, very young, too. She was holding a toddler, not older than year, year and a half. The boy looked as happy as a child could; he had dark, wavy hair and was cuddling in his mother's arms. The two were safely protected in the arms of a tall, young man, perhaps in his early 30s. He had dark long hair, tied in a ponytail, and he was smiling, with a big, sweet smile Paul recognised on the spot. The man was proudly looking at his son while his wife was looking at her husband. They looked happy, so happy it seemed unreal.

Desperately trying to break the awkward silence Paul asked the first thing that came to his mind.

'Where d-did you get this from?'

Peter sipped from his freshly topped up and way-too-full glass of cognac.

'From my cousin.'

'Say that again…'

'I have a cousin,' Peter nodded. 'I've always had a cousin… Living few hours bus ride from where I grew up.'

'And you find out now?!'

Peter grunted.

'Paul, until two years ago I didn't know I had an uncle… Well, two that is, but that's another story.' He drank again.

'May I?'

The older man leafed through and was immediately stunned by the image of baby Peter in the arms of… well, an older Peter…

'What the…'

Peter smiled patronisingly and let his foster-father take a closer look. From the other end a man with dark-blond hair, big, hazel eyes and Peter's face was holding a toddler… with dark hair and the same big, hazel eyes.

Several times the man looked either at Peter or the photo.

'I'll be damned…'

'That's my other grand-dad.'

'Well, that explains a few things…'

'He's been a great man, a war hero.'

'Viet Nam?'

'Second World War; saved hundreds of people from the camps.'

Paul whistled.

'Kid, you've got one hell of a DNA.'

'Tell me about it.' Peter wanted to tell him he knew only half of the story but resisted.

'So what's his name? Did he live in San Francisco?'

'I'm not going to tell you.'

The quick, sharp answered took Paul by surprise.

'Why not?'

'Because I know you, you'll interfere, you'll try to find things.'

'I won't if you don't want me to.'

'I'd rather not take the risk.'

'Peter… What has happened?'

The younger man left the glass.

'I came… where I am… alone. I learned… what I know… alone. I went to hell and back… alone. The things I found out are so many, and so horrific if true, that most people in my place would have given up on their sanity by now.'

Amazed Paul was staring into the hazel eyes he had known and loved for years, he was desperately looking for the impatient, arrogant cop he left behind almost four years ago.

He never found him.

'I am exactly where I need to be… and I will keep going… and searching. Alone.'

The older man shrugged.

'It's the Caine way, isn't it?'

'It's the Shaolin way. I am Shaolin, Paul.'

The former captain nodded and looked down. He genuinely had no power for this conversation tonight but the truth was, he had no power for accepting the truth.

Paul gulped and kept skimming through the album. The young woman from the faded photo Peter always had in his wallet was present at most of the pictures, always smiling, always holding a baby in her arms… or being held in her husband's arms.

Many times the former captain had wondered what Kwai Chang Caine must have been like as young. Now he knew. The man's remarkable physical shape was evident even through the simple shirt. In many of the pictures he appeared with folded sleeves, and in none of them did he have brands on his forearms.

'I don't understand… How could he?'

'Paul…'

'Why?...'

'Paul, please.'

'How could he leave again? And when you needed him the most…'

'Paul, enough!' hissed Pete and pulled the album.

'I'm sorry…'

'When I said that this time he had a reason I meant it. Don't you believe me?'

'Peter… you want to defend your father, that'd normal.'

'I'm not defending him, I'm merely stating facts.'

'OK. What reason?'

Quickly Peter weighed his possibilities. Paul's health was not getting any better, regardless of the miracle at the hospital. In that moment he honestly couldn't tell whether his two fathers will manage to meet each other again.

The younger man got up and checked the staircase.

'Is Mom asleep?'

'Yes…?'

Soundlessly Peter went up, taking two stairs at a time. Paul took the time to check the album further and he could swear he never realised when Peter came back.

'Jesus…'

'Sorry.'

'A cancer patient dies of heart attack, imagine the irony.'

'I'll try to make more noise,' whispered Peter and took a deep breath.

'Well? What is it that you don't want your mother to know?'

'My mother… Paul… There's a chance that my… mother… may be alive.'

END OF EPISODE 3

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