Young Friends and Old Whiskey



June 1990



Peter stretched out on the couch, a beer balanced on his stomach, channel surfing. There was nothing he had to do, nowhere he had to go. It felt good!

A case he'd been working on for a long time finally came together and they'd made an arrest this afternoon. The case was airtight; there was no escape for the perp this time. Peter felt the contentment he always got from a job well done, but didn't feel like celebrating in his usual way. Getting rowdy and drunk didn't appeal to him tonight, getting mellow did. So he'd turned down an invitation to the Agrippa with his buddies, preferring to go home and turn boneless.

Peter stretched again. The only thing which would have made the evening perfect was someone warm, willing and female. But, as there was no one in his life like that just now, he'd let the simple joys of good beer and bad TV suffice.

Truth to tell, he wasn't sure he had the energy for anything more demanding. Oh, he could handle the sex all right, that was never a problem. It was all the other stuff: the mental, the emotional entaglements. No, sometimes, he was better off without it.

The doorbell rang, cutting off his reverie. "Maybe that's my dream girl now," he mused, moving to the door. Someone with a figure like Jessica Rabbit. "And about as real," he muttered. He opened the door. "Paul!"

"Good, I was hoping you'd be home," Paul said, brushing past his surprised foster son and into the apartment. He had his carry-on suitcase with him, and clutched a paper bag.

Peter's captain and foster father was the last person he expected to see tonight. Especially since last he'd heard, Paul was off on another one of his "trips". Peter had spoken to Annie only yesterday and she'd had no idea when Paul would be back. She still hated his trips, but seemed more resigned to them in the last couple of years. And they, in turn, had become more frequent.

"When'd you get back?" Peter asked.

"Just now."

"Does Mom know?"

"I came right here, I...." Paul hesitated, as if uncertain. Unusual. Paul was never uncertain about anything. It was one of the things Peter admired most about him: that conviction. "I hope I'm not disturbing you."

"No, 'course not," Peter said, closing the door.

"I probably should have called first...."

"It's okay, I was just vegging," Peter told him. "We got Stoker today."

"That's great, kid," Paul grinned. "Tell me all about it."

"Okay." He led the way into the living room. "Can I get you anything?"

"Actually," Paul cleared his throat. "I brought you something." He opened the paper bag and pulled out a bottle.

"Whoa...." Peter looked at the label of the 30 year old scotch. "Am I supposed to drink it or honor it?"

Paul chuckled. "Both. I know scotch isn't your usual, but I hope you'll join me. I hate to drink alone."

Peter looked at his foster father curiously. There was something haunted in his eyes, something Peter hadn't seen there since Paul had come back from one of his trips during Peter's senior year in high school. It had taken Paul weeks to get back to normal, though eventually he'd put whatever it was behind him and Peter had forgotten about it.

Now that haunted look was back.

"Why? What happened?" Peter asked.

Blaisdell didn't answer, just moved past Peter toward the couch. "Why don't you get a couple of glasses?"

Peter sighed, recognizing the tone which meant the previous question would be ignored. He went to the kitchen, finding two highball glasses. "Ice?"

Paul looked at him with mock shock. "Philistine!"

Peter grinned. "Just checking." He took the glasses and a bag of pretzels down to the living room. "I don't have any good munchies for scotch," he said handing Paul a glass and setting the pretzels on the coffee table. "I'm not even sure what scotch munchies are."

"This will do," Paul said, pouring a measure into Peter's glass and repeating it with his own.

They touched glasses. "Cheers," Paul said.

"Back at you," Peter saluted and took a sip.

The whiskey was smokey, sharp and as smooth as velvet. Amazing how something that smooth still burned going down. Peter felt its fiery path all the way to his belly.

"Whoa! That's really something."

"For what I paid for it, it better be. Even in the duty-free shop. So don't go getting a taste for it, all right?"

"I'll try not to," Peter laughed and they sat down. "So what's the occasion?"

Again that stillness came over Paul, the "off-limits" barrier he erected when he didn't want anyone to get too close.

But he shrugged it off, smiled, and said, "Tell me about the Stoker bust."

Peter sighed. Sometimes his foster father could be as inscrutible as...as his real father used to be.

So he took another sip of the extraordinary whiskey and told Paul all about the past week's adventures.

"We had the surveillence on him since Tuesday. He couldn't make a move without us knowing about it. He finally made the drop on Friday, and we got him, red-handed."

"Excellent," Blaisdell nodded. "Any chance he can cry entrapment?"

"He can try, but he won't have a leg to stand on. We wanted him bad enough that we made sure everything was by the book."

"Good. Good work," Blaisdell smiled and finished his glass. "That one was too long in coming."

Peter looked at his foster father. Paul's enthusiasm for the Stoker arrest felt just a little forced; he seemed just a little too pleased.

"But you didn't come here straight from the airport so you could ask me about my caseload."

"Didn't I?" Paul asked blandly. "I've been out of touch with the precinct for almost a week. I want to know what's been going on in my absence."

"Well, sure, but before going home to see Mom?"

Blaisdell stiffened.

"Why don't you tell me what's really going on," Peter continued softly. "I've never known you to want to do anything until you've gone home and seen her first."

Blaisdell stared at him, those piercing blue eyes unfathomable. "You don't know me very well, Peter," he said with that quiet intensity that made all the hairs on Peter's arms stand on end.

"There have been...other times..." Paul continued, "when I got back and didn't see Annie for a day or so. I needed to unwind, decompress first. I won't go home like...." He stopped abruptly. "I won't do it."

Peter considered that for a moment. Maybe Paul was right; sometimes he felt he really didn't know his foster father at all. But he knew Paul well enough to know when something was very wrong. "So what happened this time?" he asked.

Paul sighed, reaching for the bottle again, filling his glass and topping off Peter's. "Peter, you know I can't answer that."

"Can't or won't?"

Paul looked at him sharply.

"I'm not a kid anymore, Paul," Peter went on. "You don't have to protect me."

"You don't know what you're dealing with," Paul said cryptically.

"So tell me so I will know."

"No."

Peter sighed. "How can I help you if you won't...."

"I didn't ask for your help, Peter."

"Then why are you here?"

The two men stared at each other for a long moment.

"I'm sorry," Peter said softly. "You're welcome here, any time. You know that. It's just.... It's just you show up, out of the blue, looking...haunted. What else am I to think?"

"That maybe I'm here because I don't want any questions," Paul said softly.

"I thought you always said I ask too many questions," Peter reminded him.

Paul smiled fondly. "Yeah. That much hasn't changed."

Peter smiled, too. Then the expression faded. "But I have, Paul. I'm not fifteen anymore. I don't think there's anything you could tell me that could shock me, or scare me. I've been around these last few years; I've seen a lot."

"I know you have, kid. And it's not that I don't think you could handle it, though I don't doubt some of it would disturb you. But honestly, you're safer not knowing. The kinds of people I deal with.... They make some of the toughest criminals you've come up against look like pikers. These people are ruthless, soulless.... And I'm one of them."

Paul took another swig of his drink. Peter frowned. For expensive whiskey, Paul was putting it away pretty quickly. Not that Peter was about to stop him. It was his bottle, he could do what he wanted with it.

"Sure you are," Peter said ironically, taking a sip from his own glass. "The same way I'm a cold-blooded killer. We've had this conversation before, Paul. I don't believe there's anything you'd do without a very good reason."

"You don't know a damn thing about who I am and what I do!" Paul snapped, his voice suddenly rising. "I've kept you well out of it for a reason, Peter. These people would eat you for breakfast and your damned cocky attitude wouldn't get you anywhere in my world except for six feet under!"

"Fine!" Peter shot back, matching Paul tone for tone. "I don't want to be part of that world. The secrets and the lies. I've seen what it's done to Mom, and to the rest of the family, and I don't want anything to do with it!"

He took a deep breath. "But I can see what it's doing to you, too, and that's what hurts. If you were like them, you wouldn't be here right now. You'd have gone home, kissed Mom, said hello to Kelly, sat down with the mail, or the newspaper and acted like everything is normal. But you're not. Something happened this week and it's eating you up inside.

"I don't want to be a part of your world, I just.... I just want to help."

Paul sighed, his eyes closing. "I'm sorry, Peter, I...." He opened his eyes again and gazed at the amber liquid in his glass, as if it could give him answers. "I shouldn't have come here."

"No, you're always welcome here. Besides, if you don't want to go home yet, where else would you go?"

Paul shrugged. "A hotel?"

"And drink alone?" Peter shook his head. "Uh-uhn. You're staying right here."

"Or what?" Paul asked, the slightest of twinkles in his eye.

"I dunno," Peter shrugged, "I'll think of something. How 'bout...if you go, I'll tell Mom you came home and didn't call her?"

Instead of making Paul chuckle, the comment made him sigh wearily. "It wouldn't be the first time," he said.

"Yeah, but did she know about the others?"

Paul looked at Peter sadly. "Annie knows more about me than any other person on this earth. She knows things without ever being told. She knows every move I make, everything I do. She knows when I come back and don't call, she knows when I come home and try to hide things from her. She knows."

Peter considered. "Then if she knows, why stay away?"

Paul sighed heavily. The pause was lengthy as he drained his glass. Peter filled it up again and Paul took another sip. He cleared his throat. "Remember last year, when you'd worked so hard on the Kuyver case? Setting it up, getting everything arranged, following leads day and night, working like the devil? And then at the last minute, it all fell apart. Things went wrong, connections were missed, and at the end of it, Kuyver walked. Do you remember how you felt afterward?"

"Yeah," Peter recalled, "I was pissed as hell. So many screw-ups on one case. Most of them weren't even mine. All my hard work and it evaporated."

"That's what you thought. How did you feel?"

"Angry. Furious. Ready to punch out anyone who got in my way."

"Uh-huh, and what did you do about it?"

Peter ducked his head. "You remember," he said softly, the memories of that drunken, brawling night still vivid, or as vivid as anything remembered through an alcoholic haze could be.

"Yes, I do. I wanted to make sure you did."

"I do."

"You were still dating Sharon then, weren't you?" Paul asked.

"I think so." To be honest, Peter often had a hard time remembering who he'd been dating when.

"Did you go see her that night?"

"No."

"Why not?"

Peter shrugged. "I don't know. It was tempting, you know, the idea of finding somebody, any body, and...and...." He flushed. Some things were still too hard to say to Paul. They were friends, but...but he was still the father figure in Peter's life, and discussing sex had never come easily. He continued, "But I didn't because...well, because Sharon wasn't any body, she was someone I...."

The light dawned. He hadn't seen Sharon that night because she'd meant too much for him to just use her as an object for his lust. Peter hadn't wanted lovemaking that night. He'd wanted sex. "Oh, I see what you're getting at."

Paul nodded. "I love Annie, more than life itself. If I'm too keyed up from...from something, I can't go home to her. It would be too easy. And she'd accept it because she loves me. But I won't treat her like that. I can't."

Peter nodded, understanding. He watched as Paul finished the whiskey in his glass and reached to pour himself another. This was the fourth, but so far, they didn't seem to be affecting him. Peter was quietly amazed; if it had been him, he'd be falling over by this point. He took a sip from his own glass, considering. Not being willing to use a loved one like that didn't mean the desire wasn't there. Or the need....

"Have you ever...." Peter paused, not sure how to continue, not sure if he even wanted to ask.

"Used somebody else?"

Peter swallowed. "Uh, yeah."

Paul sighed and Peter knew the answer without his ever saying it.

"Does she know?"

"She knows everything."

"Oh."

Yet another wrinkle in the Blaisdell family, yet another flaw in their perfection.

"H-how did she react?" he asked.

"We're still together."

Peter considered. "I think if I were her, I'd have been ready to kill you."

"I think the thought did cross her mind," Paul chuckled ruefully.

"But she put it behind her?"

"I don't think she's ever forgotten, but I know she forgave me. Of course," he cleared his throat, "it was just that once. I suspect if she ever learned that it had happened again, you might just find yourself with a new roommate."

"Did it?" Peter asked.

"Did it what?"

"Happen again."

"No. Only the once. And there were...extenuating circumstances which factored into it. I've never even considered it since. I love and respect Annie too much to risk what we have. No, usually, if I'm feeling...on edge, I'll check myself into a hotel, or go visit an acquaintence of many years--we have a history together. I'll get drunk, I'll fall asleep. The next morning, I.... Then I can go home."

There was a silence as Paul sipped at his whiskey again, and Peter took a drink from his.

"Where's this acquaintence now?" Peter asked. He realized he didn't know anything about Paul's friends or associates from that other part of his life.

"East coast," Paul replied. "He has a similar...arrangement with them. He has another life, too."

"Is he a cop?"

Paul laughed. "No. He's in the private sector. Consulting. Very successful." Paul looked at him. "You'd probably like him."

"So introduce me."

Paul just shook his head. "Doesn't work that way."

"Why not? You don't have to introduce him as your buddy in the spy business, you could just say, 'Peter, this is Fred, the investment broker'."

Paul chuckled. "He's in computers, not investments. Though I don't doubt he's dabbled a bit. We all have. And his name's not Fred."

"Then what is it?"

Paul stared at him again. Despite the whiskey, the gaze was no less piercing. He shook his head.

"Oh, come on, Paul. Let me have that little bit, at least. Why not?"

"I can't, Peter. Please, just accept that. I've probably said too much as it is."

"Why? A computer consultant on the East Coast? That's real specific, there's probably only a about two thousand of those, and that's in New York alone. It's not like I could ever find out who it is. And it shouldn't matter even it I could."

"You just don't get it, do you?" Paul snapped.

"No, I don't," Peter shot back. "How can I? You won't tell me anything! You come here, obviously hurting, and I get to sit back and watch you suffer? Without even getting to know what caused it? What's not right here?"

Paul didn't answer, merely stared into his whiskey morosely.

Peter took a deep breath. "I've told you things about myself," he went on, struggling for calm, "about my father, about the temple. I've told you about my life."

Paul looked up at him, silently.

"So do the same for me," Peter said softly.

"I wish I could, Peter," Paul said, and his voice was despairing. "I wish to God I could. You don't know...." He sighed heavily. "Sometimes it's a burden, so damned heavy.... I wish to hell I could tell you. But I can't. And it doesn't matter how much you want to know or how much I want to tell you. I can't. Please try to understand that. It has nothing to do with you and whether I think you could handle it. If it were up to me, I'd tell you everything. But it's not that simple. Nothing ever is." He sighed again, a weary, hopeless sound, and drained his glass again.

Peter swallowed. It hurt, so much, to see Paul like this. There was so much pain in him, so much despair and sadness. And he was helpless to do anything to ease it. He couldn't even find its cause. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have pushed," he said softly. "I know you came here because you figured.... I don't know what you figured, but you didn't figure on gettin' the third degree. I'm sorry. I'll shut up about it." He picked up the bottle. More than half of it was gone. "You want any more?"

Paul took a deep breath. "I shouldn't...." He hesitated. "Oh, hell, I'm not driving, go ahead. You can just pour me into a cab later."

Peter filled Paul's glass and his own. He'd only had a glass and a half of the strong liquor and he was feeling it. God knew how Paul was still coherent. "I can just let you crash here, too," he said.

"I don't want to put you out."

"You're not. I told you, you're welcome here. Any time, for any reason. Or no reason. No more questions, I promise."

Paul snorted on a laugh. "That'll be the day."

Peter ducked his head, grinning. "Okay, no more questions about certain subjects." He held his glass and Paul touched his to it. As irritating as it was for Peter to be cut out of this very important part of his foster father's life, he also knew the necessity of it. Even if he didn't understand it.

Paul nodded, sipping at his glass, and for a time, they sat silently. It wasn't exactly a comfortable silence; there were too many things left unsaid. But it wasn't an edgy silence like when Paul first arrived. It was the silence of two people who didn't have to speak when they were together. The silence of understanding.

Paul put down his glass and rubbed his hands over his face wearily. When he picked up the glass again, his hand trembled slightly.

"Here's to absent friends," Paul whispered hoarsely, "and to lost ones." he drank again. "So many losses. So many deaths."

Peter frowned, but kept his mouth shut. If the whiskey would loosen Paul's reticent tongue, he wasn't going to stop it.

"Sometimes I wonder, Peter," Paul continued. "Sometimes I think I did you a real disservice. I taught you to rely on people. To trust them, depend on them. But ultimately, the only person you can rely on is yourself. No one is ever what they seem, no situation is ever what you think it is. There's always something hidden, something you hadn't counted on. The random factor."

Paul's words were starting to slur.

"All you want to do is make a difference. Help those who can't help themselves. You can't understand why others don't see things the way you do, when it's so obvious that you're right. But they don't see it that way. They're after power, or money, or personal gain. Or for some agenda so hidden that you never see it coming. Altruism never enters into it. That's the definition of a mercenary, after all. For the money.

"But you've got ideals, you assume others have them, too. Well, maybe they do, but they're not the same as yours. They conflict. They run at cross-purposes. And the next thing you know, you're no longer fighting a common enemy, now you're fighting each other. And why? For ideals, some nebulous concept that has no intrinsic worth, no value in the ultimate scheme of things.

"Alliances are broken, confidences are shaken, friends become enemies, and enemies all blend together, no longer concrete causes, definite opponents. Now it's merely 'us' and 'them'.

"Suddenly, you find yourself thousands of miles from home, far away from the people and things you love the best, wondering what the hell you're doing here. How did you get here? Why do you keep coming back when every time you go, you become more and more disillusioned?

"But you know, down deep, where your thoughts are dank from neglect, that you're there because there's nowhere else to be. It's become like a drug; you can't live without it. The uncertainty, the danger, the risk. You need your fix. It doesn't matter how much you love your other life, the respectable one. It can't give you the buzz you need--the danger high. And without that, you slowly begin to go crazy. It's like wanderlust, but more volatile, more urgent. You have to go; it isn't even a choice. It's an addiction, all right. And you need it--physically need it."

Paul's knuckles were white around the glass. "Every time the phone rings, you wonder if it'll be another call, another request to put out another fire in some distant part of the globe. And even though you see what it does to your wife, your family, even though you hate leaving them, you get the call and you still feel the tingle. The rush. So you go. Maybe you tell yourself this is the last time. Maybe you've had another fight with your wife about it. You still go. You still feed the lust.

"And then you come home, in one piece physically but with yet another chunk torn out of your soul. And you swear that you're through. That next time you'll tell them to find some other flunky to do their dirty work. You've had enough.

"But then the phone rings again."

Peter was stunned by the raw emotion in Paul's words, the naked pain reflected in his face. He wondered if Paul even felt the tears running down his cheeks.

"I've lost so many people, Peter. Friends. Family. Loved ones. Brothers in arms. Lost to hate, to greed, to damned rank stupidity. Each time it leaves a hole behind. Holes, gaping, empty holes which scab over but never really heal."

"I know about loss, Paul," Peter said softly.

Paul looked at him and nodded, sniffing. "We were all young once, all innocent. Every loss, every betrayal stripped that away until we became old before our time." He downed the last of the whiskey in his glass and then swallowed, hard, as if to keep it from coming back at him. "I'll be sixty next month," he whispered, "and all I have to show for it is a string of losses. Betrayals. Failure." He stopped then, trembling.

"And the rank of captain on the Metropolitan police force, and a chest full of medals and a wall full of commendations, and the respect of every single person in the hundred and first precinct," Peter said, reaching over and putting his hand on Paul's arm. His foster father's hand shook and Peter eased the empty glass from his grasp, setting it on the table. He knelt in front of Paul, holding both of his hands. "Maybe that other stuff, maybe that isn't what you'd wanted out of life. But you're a cop, too. And that was your choice."

"It's not enough," Paul said, shaking his head. "It's not enough."

"Yes it is," Peter countered. "Every time what you do as a cop makes a difference in this city, every time someone can walk down the street and be safe because you put a criminal away...." He squeezed Paul's hands. "That's when you know you've done something good. That's what erases the past."

"Nothing erases it, Peter," Blaisdell said, despairing. "Nothing can make it go away."

"Maybe not totally. But every sinner can atone, isn't that what they teach you at church? Your being a cop is atonement for anything you might have done in your other life."

"But it's a sham!" Paul cried, pounding his fists on his thighs. "It's a lie. My whole life is a lie!"

"No it's not. Just because you're something besides a cop doesn't invalidate that part of your life. It's real and it's important, far more important than what you do outside. Besides," Peter slid his hands up Paul's arms until he held his foster father's upper arms tightly and gave him a small shake. "Tell me, look me in the face and tell me that you never did any good when you were working for them. Can you tell me that?"

Paul said nothing. He just stared at Peter, the tears streaming down his face.

"Of course you can't," Peter continued. "I remember the one time I got you to tell me anything, and you said something about helping some people to become independent and free. That doesn't sound like failure to me. That doesn't sound like you're a murderer. Soulless. That sounds like a man of morals, compassion, a strong sense of right and wrong, doing what he can to make the world a better place.

"You say that at the beginning you had ideals? Well guess what? You've still got them. You show them in your other life, and you show them every day when you walk into the precinct. You show them when you come home at night and your daughters look up to you as their knight in shining armor. Or when you won't go home because you're on edge, because you love Mom too much."

Peter took a deep breath. "And when the snotty kid you dragged out of the orphanage was so awed by you that all he wanted to do was make you...like him. That's why I became a cop, you know. I wanted to make you proud of me. I saw the way people respected you, the way I respected and admired you. And I wanted to have that myself. If I can ever be one tenth as good a cop as you are, I'll feel like I've really accomplished something."

"I'm sorry," Paul whispered.

"For what? Being human? That's what makes you who you are. I'm glad you're a human being, flawed like the rest of us. It's too hard when your role model is perfect." Peter paused. "I used to think my father was perfect. Oh, I know now that he probably wasn't, but what does a twelve year old kid know? He seemed perfect to me. I thought I could never be like him. Like he'd always be disappointed in me because I couldn't measure up.

"But do you know what? I never felt that way with you. It always seemed that you...you loved me in spite of my flaws. Or maybe because of them. I never thought you were perfect, I just thought you were....wonderful. Everything I wanted to be."

Peter didn't move, keeping his grasp on his foster father, daring him to contradict. Instead, the older man took a deep, shaky breath.

"I'm sorry I dumped on you tonight," Paul said, his voice trembling.

"I'm not," Peter said. "Think of it as....payback, for all the times I've dumped on you. I mean, that's what friends are for. Right?" He grinned.

Paul struggled to smile, too, but he looked so miserable, Peter's heart broke at the sight. He reached up and pulled the older man into a hug, holding him tight. Paul clung to him, choking on sobs.

"Shh, it's all right," Peter soothed, rubbing his back and thinking of all the times their positions had been reversed. "It's all right."

"Oh, God...." Paul whispered and Peter felt a tremor go through him. He recognized it.

"You gonna be sick?" Peter asked.

Paul nodded jerkily and straightened from the embrace, a hand going to his mouth.

"Come on," Peter urged and got Paul to his feet, steering him to the bathroom where Paul was thoroughly sick.

Peter knelt on the floor, holding him against the heaves, fighting the urge to throw up himself, his throat constricting in sympathy.

It seemed a terrible waste of good whiskey, but on the other hand, it had served its purpose tonight. Paul had brought the bottle over intending to get drunk. Once the whiskey had loosened his tongue, all those fears and insecurities, the things Paul usually kept inside, walled off where no one could get at them, came bubbling out to the surface, swept in on a wave of thirty year old scotch.

Maybe, just maybe, that had been the idea all along.

Peter realized he still didn't know what had brought about this morose mood, what had happened this week to make Paul suddenly question the person he thought he was. But it didn't matter. Whatever it was, it was over now. Paul was home, hopefully to remain so for some time. And the evening's revelations had taught Peter more about his foster father than he'd ever dreamed of knowing.

The playing field had been leveled somewhat. No longer was he beholden to his foster father with no way to repay the debt. Repayment, with interest, had begun tonight. Tonight a wall had been breached and once toppled, could never be erected again. No longer was it Paul's secret. Now it was theirs.

The whiskey had been purged. The dry heaves had finally slowed and stopped, and Paul leaned heavily against Peter, his chest still heaving, his pulse beginning to slow, his strength sapped by the severity of the bout. Peter brushed the sweaty hair away from his forehead, stroking his shoulder.

"Hang on a second," he said, making sure Paul wouldn't fall over without his support, and moved out from behind him. He filled a glass with water and soaked a washrag.

"Here, rinse your mouth out," he said, handing him the glass. Peter flushed the toilet, and wiped Paul's clammy face off with the rag.

"You gonna be okay now?" he asked, concerned that the illness had passed.

Paul nodded. "Yeah. Suitably chastened." He swallowed hard. "God...."

Peter smiled and extended his hands. "Come on, let's get you to bed. You think you can sleep?"

Paul closed his eyes and sighed. "Yeah," he said, then opened his eyes again. "Once the world stops spinning."

"I've been there," Peter chuckled. "More times than I care to think about."

"So have I, but it's been years," Paul admitted, using Peter's hands to lever himself up off the bathroom floor. "More years than I care to think about."

"Oh yeah, you're the guy with the three-day hangover," Peter grinned.

Paul blinked at him. "When did I tell you that story?"

"After I got drunk that first time, borrowed your car and went to that party. Remember?" It was an incident Peter would never forget; he'd come much too close to striking Paul, too close to ruining everything that night.

"I remember. I guess this is turnabout," Paul sighed.

"I guess so," Peter agreed. "Come on, let's get you to bed."

"I don't want to kick you out of your bed, Peter."

"Don't worry about it. I've slept on the couch before, it's really not too bad. And you need the bed tonight. Besides, it's closer to the bathroom."

Paul nodded in concession, went to take a step, swayed, and leaned back against Peter for support.

"Come on," Peter said gently, and helped his foster father out of the bathroom. He led him to the bedroom and eased him to a seat on the bed.

It was all Paul could do to stay upright as Peter pulled off his shoes. He sat on Peter's bed swaying slightly, and he frowned, squinting, as if trying to figure out why the world kept moving in and out of focus.

"I've done some terrible things in my life, Peter," he slurred. "I've killed. Far too many deaths. Too...too much pain, too much suffering. But I've done some good things too."

"I know you have," Peter soothed, pulling back the covers and urging his foster father to lie down. "That's what I've been telling you."

"You know what the best thing I ever did was?" Paul blinked up at him.

"What?"

"The best thing I ever did...." Paul sighed. "Was bringing you into my life. Taking you out of that place, giving you a home. A family. People who cared about you. A place to belong."

Peter smiled, pulling the covers up over the older man. "Well, I don't know if it's the best thing you ever did, but it was sure the best thing that ever happened to me. You gave me a life, a reason for living. Something to believe in again. I'll always love you for that."

"I wanted to be your father, Peter," Paul said, and his eyes misted again. "But I couldn't. So I tried to...be your friend." He closed his eyes.

"You were," Peter soothed. "You are. I admire you so much. And I'm so glad you're in my life. You'll always be my very best friend."

Peter brushed his hand over his foster father's brow, smoothing the unruly hair. "I love you, Dad," he whispered and pressed a kiss to Paul's forehead.

Paul didn't say anything, merely sighed, a small smile on his lips.

Peter stayed there, sitting on the bed, gently stroking Paul's hair, until he was sure his foster father was asleep. Then he got up, tucked the covers around him, and moved to the bathroom door. He flipped on the bathroom light and left the door slightly ajar, should Paul need it during the night. He went to the door, looked back at the bed where Paul was beginning to softly snore, and smiled. Paul would probably have a killer hangover in the morning, but for now, he was at peace. And that, as far as Peter was concerned, was all that mattered.

"Sleep well," he murmured, turned off the light, and closed the bedroom door behind him.



Go to the Table of Contents