This is a story that used to be on an old geocities site that became defunct several years ago – I rediscovered it, did some minimal editing, and decided to re-post it onto .

Greetings and Salutations.

I wish to welcome you to my very first (long) Kung Fu: The Legend Continues fan fiction story entitled, Families: Birthdays. I did not create these characters (except for Cassandra) and I am not writing these stories for a profit. I give humble thanks to Michael Sloan for creating these characters and allowing us to have so much fun with them, and to Chris Potter, David Carradine, and all the rest of the cast for bringing them to life.

I had the idea for this story after I watched the episode Kung Fu Blues. I thought to myself - geez, isn't there something that Caine _can't_ do? He seemed able to do everything and anything. I wanted Peter to be able to do something that Caine couldn't, so I decided to introduce a deaf girl into Peter's life. Peter would know sign language where Caine wouldn't. I got halfway through writing it when I finally saw the episode Banker's Hours. Yikes! I was all ready to scrap the entire thing when Aislinn (my inspiration, my foster mother, and my wonderful editor and bouncing board) told me not to quit. I could still have my idea - Peter would just be _better_ at sign than Caine. He and Cassandra could have been the ones to teach Caine! (Which is all explained in the sequel if I ever get the thing finished - it's a monster so far.) After thinking about it (granted, it didn't take too much persuading, Cassandra wouldn't let me stop the story - she's persistent that way ::grin::) I decided to complete it.

Many thanks to my wonderful beta readers (especially to JeanneM and James Long) who did what they could to help me polish this and to Aislinn, who didn't let me give it up.

Families: Birthdays

Central Characters: Peter Caine, Kermit Griffin, Cassandra

Minor Characters: Mary Margaret Skalany, Annie Blaisdell, Kelly Blaisdell, Caroline and Todd McCall, Lo Si, Paul Blaisdell (only over the phone)

Guest stars: three thugs, a mysterious Mr. V.

Time Frame: Anytime after Caine shows up into Peter's life, but before Banker's Hours.

Synopsis: Peter's birthday is coming up. A girl from his past shows up in his life again; allowing him to keep his mind off the fact that both his fathers are gone on this special day. Not much action. Basically, a day in the life.

Comments, constructive criticisms, and praise (praise is always nice) can be directed to me by clicking on the 'review button' at the bottom.

1998 MavenAlysse

"All learning begins with these two phrases: I don't know. Let's find out!"

Families: Birthdays

Place: Oakwell Home for Children Date: June 1978

Peter Caine had been here for less than a month - and hated every moment of it. He didn't fit in, not even here among the lost and forsaken ones. His upbringing was too different for the others to accept. The way he spoke, the way he looked, the way he moved, all were subjected to the cold disapproval of the "regular" kids. He'd gotten into quite a few fights already, the older boys letting up on him gradually as it became apparent that they weren't going to be able to beat him up easily. He gave better than what he got.

Peter sat in one of the trees overlooking the entrance way to the grounds. The position was close enough that he could see anyone who came out of the building, as well as hear what might be said without being spotted himself. Usually, no one bothered him here. The adults largely ignored him as long as he stayed out of trouble, and that's how he wanted it for now. His curiosity was piqued when a police car drove up to the orphanage's gate. 'Another inmate,' he thought sardonically.

The police officer got out of the car and opened the back door. Peter watched in interest as a young girl stepped out of the car, a brown teddy bear clutched under one arm and a backpack slung on the other. She looked about seven or eight, had long blonde hair and green eyes. He noticed that she wore a brightly colored scarf about her neck.

The Home's director, Mr. Gillus, came out of the building to welcome the new arrival. "Ah, you must be Cassandra Caine." Peter's ears perked up. 'Caine? Well, what do you know?' Mr. Gillus continued. "Come inside. Thank you officer, I'll handle everything from here on."

The officer tipped his hat at the director, then made a gesture towards the little girl. Cassandra nodded solemnly, waved, and started up the steps. Just before she entered the building, Cassandra turned and looked up at Peter. He was stunned as she smiled slightly at him, then followed Mr. Gillus inside.

Peter wasn't there when Mr. Gillus introduced Cassandra to the rest of the kids. He had kitchen clean-up duty due to his last fight. After lights out, he found he couldn't sleep. He sat beside the window looking outside, glad that none of the monitors seemed particularly diligent tonight. A sudden movement caught his eye. One of the kids was wandering about outside. 'Man, they're gonna get into so much trouble if they're caught.' The clouds parted and the moonlight shone a bit brighter. Peter could make out the features of the young girl who had arrived that day. 'What is she doing out there?' The girl came to a large tree and huddled in a small ball beside it. Concerned, Peter slipped on his tennis shoes and climbed out the window using the lattice work on the side of the building as a ladder.

He walked up beside the girl and whispered, "Hey, are you okay?" Receiving no answer he frowned, knelt beside her, and placed a hand on her shoulder.

Cassandra whirled about, terror in her eyes. She pressed herself up against the tree away from him. Peter noticed that she had been crying. He withdrew his hand and made a calming gesture. "Hey, it's okay. I'm not going to hurt you."

She stared at him suspiciously for a moment, then nodded and wiped the tears off her face with a sleeve. The two children stood up and watched each other for a moment in silence. Peter grinned and stuck out a hand. "My name's Peter Caine. I saw you come in today. You're Cassandra Caine, right?"

She smiled slightly, nodded, and shook Peter's hand.

He looked at her with some amusement. "You don't talk much, do you?"

Cassandra looked at him quizzically, shook her head and put a hand to her throat. When Peter didn't seem to understand, she slowly unwound the scarf from her throat.

Peter whistled at the angry red scar that crossed the front part of Cassandra's throat. Understanding dawned. "You can't talk?"

She shook her head. Then she placed her hands over her ears and shook her head again.

"You can't hear either?" Peter looked skeptical. "Then how do you know what I'm saying?"

Cassandra pointed to him then made "talking" motions with her hand.

"You lip-read?" He was still skeptical, so he covered his mouth with his hand. "If you really can't hear me, then I guess it's safe to say that I think you're pretty." He watched her face warily, ready to deny his words, but all he got was a confused look on Cassandra's face. She reached up and pulled down his hand with a frown, her look obviously saying, 'What did you say?'

He smiled weakly at her. "Nothing important. I'm sorry. How..." He broke off as he heard footsteps approaching. He looked at Cassandra and bit his lip. Whispering, he took her hand and led her behind some bushes against the building. "Someone's coming. If we're caught, we'll be in so much trouble." He glanced around and motioned for her to duck down as one of the administrators strode by and disappeared around the next corner. Peter looked Cassandra in the eye, making sure she was paying attention. "You have to get back to your room. So do I. If we're caught, it could mean a week of kitchen duty. Can you get back without being seen?"

She nodded, then patted his arm. Silently, she stepped out from the bushes and made her way back to the girls' dormitory. Peter, after making sure she had enough time to get away, likewise made his way back up the lattice work and into his room. He kicked off his shoes and slid into bed seconds before a monitor made his rounds of the rooms, doing a head count. 'I hope she got back okay. Can't wait to talk to her tomorrow.' With that thought, he fell asleep.

The next afternoon, Cassandra had gone outside to read. She was unaware that several of the older boys of the orphanage had followed her out and were planning on having some fun at her expense. They stood behind her, calling her names and making obscene noises, secure in the knowledge that she couldn't hear them to tattle. One boy, with a snicker to his friends, reached up from behind her and snatched her book away. When she turned, he smirked at her and tossed it to one of his friends. "Come on, mutie. If you ask nice maybe we'll give it back." They played keep-away with it for a while, holding it above their heads out of her reach. At one point, Cassandra grabbed hold of one of the boy's arms to yank the book out of his hand. He pushed Cassandra away, and she tripped and fell to the ground. Face twisted in a snarl, she stood up quickly and rammed her shoulder into the boy's stomach.

"Ooph!" He bent over with a yelp and dropped the book.

Cassandra leaned over in satisfaction to pick up the book, unaware of the boy behind her who had made a fist and was about to clean her clock. When she stood, she was startled to see Peter standing beside her, his hand up and clasped around the other boy's fist. With a quick twist of his arm, he flipped the boy onto his back. Peter, in a fighter's stance, placed himself between Cassandra and her attackers. Cassandra couldn't tell what Peter was saying, but whatever it was, it worked. The other boys shook their heads sullenly and began backing off. The kid on the ground crawled a few feet away before regaining his feet and joining his friends. The first boy, the one whom Cassandra had shouldered, straightened up and got into Peter's face. "You'll be sorry, Caine. I'll get you for this."

Peter said nothing, just stared at the boy until the other dropped his gaze and backed off, muttering. When the boys had left, Peter turned to the girl. "Are you all right, Cassandra?"

Cassandra nodded, then signed 'Thank you.' At the same time she mouthed the words.

Peter smiled. "You're welcome."

Cassandra signed 'You're welcome' and mouthed the words.

Peter's smile got even bigger and he signed 'You're welcome.'

This time, Cassandra dug out a small notepad and pencil and began writing. She handed the pad to Peter. "How did you toss that boy so easily?"

Peter wrote the answer down, as well as saying it aloud. "I used Kung Fu on him. Something my dad taught me."

She took back the pad long enough to write, "I wish I could do that. It would keep those guys off my back."

Peter was silent for a moment. Then he wrote, "I'll teach you how to protect yourself, if you teach me how to sign and possibly lip-read. Deal?"

For an answer, Cassandra smiled and put out her hand. The two shook on it.

Place: Sloanville - 101st Precinct Date: August 20,1994

Peter Caine came back from patrol feeling depressed. He should have been happy. His birthday was in a few days, and his mom, Annie, had a huge celebration dinner planned with all his favorite dishes. He knew why he was depressed; there just wasn't much he could do about it.

As he slowly made his way to his desk, his eyes drifted over to the Captain's empty office. Paul Blaisdell, Peter's foster father, had been called away for an important assignment. Peter hated it when Paul had to leave, he was always afraid that Paul might never return one day. That, and he hated to see Annie and the girls worry so much.

He saw Mary Margaret Skalany getting ready to leave for the day. She looked up with a smile as he passed her desk. "Hey, Peter. How's your father doing?" She knew he had gone by to see Kwai Chang Caine earlier in the day.

Peter crossed his arms with a sigh. "LoSi said he left early this morning. He doesn't know when he'll be back."

Mary Margaret bit her lip. "Oh, Peter. I'm sorry."

Peter shrugged. "No big deal. You taking off?"

"Yeah, some of us are meeting at Chandler's tonight. Are you going to go?"

"I'm not sure yet. I still have some paperwork to get in." He smiled. "Save me a spot, just in case."

"All right." She smiled back. "Goodnight, Peter."

"Goodnight." Peter saw the light on in Kermit's office and decided to see what the ex-mercenary was up to. He knocked on the door. "Kermit?"

A gruff voice answered, "Come on in."

Peter entered to see Kermit sitting at his computer, as always, typing furiously, a grin on his face. Peter smiled at his friend. "Find anything interesting?"

"Oh, yeah. Met this very nice, very smart young lady who does computer consultations for major companies. She breaks into their computer systems and then lets the owners know how they can keep others from doing the same. It's all legal, of course."

"Of course. Sounds like fun."

"It can be, if it's done right. She's also got an interesting sense of humor."

"Oh? How so?"

"Well, we were discussing something or other and I asked her how her singing voice was."

"Why did you want to know that?" Peter interrupted.

Kermit just looked at him over his ever-present sunglasses. "It's my business to know everything I can about a person."

Peter smiled. "So what did she say?"

"She said that it's nonexistent, but that she can tap out a beat like nobody's business."

Peter grinned. "You know anything else about her?"

"Just that she moved to town recently and is going to meet her brother for her birthday. Speaking of which, there's a package on your desk. It arrived while you were out."

Peter walked to the door and glanced at his desk. "Do you know who delivered it?"

"No, no one remembers when it got here, and there's no return address on the package." Kermit tapped a few keys and logged off his computer before rising to his feet and following Peter out of his office.

Peter picked up the package. "It's light."

Kermit looked at the address written on the box. "Do you recognize the handwriting?"

A smile quirked at the corner of Peter's mouth. "I think so. If it's from who I think it's from, I haven't heard from her in a few years."

"Her? Come on, kid. Don't leave me in the dark."

Peter just grinned and began unwrapping the brown paper. Inside the box was another, this one gaily wrapped in rainbow paper. He tore the wrapping off the box, letting it fall to his desk, then opened the box. Inside was a brown teddy bear with a yellow scarf tied about its neck. A white card lay underneath it.

"A teddy bear? Who would send you a teddy bear?" Kermit was incredulous. He lifted the bear up out of the box and examined it. Peter just smiled softly and picked up the card. His grin got even wider as he read, until he was chuckling to himself. Kermit's curiosity got the best of him. "Who is it from?"

"An old and dear friend. Look, if you go to Chandler's tonight, tell Mary Margaret that something came up." He glanced at the card again, grabbed his jacket and the bear, and started out of the precinct.

"Peter..." Kermit's voice trailed off and he shook his head in a mixture of amusement and exasperation as he watched the young detective rush out of the room.

Kermit spent another forty-five minutes working on paperwork before showing up at Chandler's. He glanced about the room, ordered a drink, and pulled up a barstool next to Mary Margaret. "Peter said for me to tell you that something came up."

Mary Margaret's face fell. "I hope he doesn't do anything foolish."

"What do you mean?" Kermit's eyebrow went up in curiosity.

"His dad left town again today. LoSi gave him the message. Peter sure looked depressed when I saw him."

Kermit chuckled. "Well, he was certainly anything but depressed when he left the precinct. It seems that a mysterious woman from his past has shown up again. He was real excited when he got a package from her." He laughed again. "She gave him a teddy bear."

Mary Margaret choked on her drink. "A teddy bear?"

"With a yellow scarf about its neck, no less."

"Peter, you sure do have interesting friends."

"Oh yeah."

Peter parked his Stealth outside the address written on the card. He nodded in appreciation when he saw the building. These apartments were located in a very nice part of town and boasted the best of security measures. He turned the engine off, took a deep breath, and walked up to the building's door. He was met by a doorman. "May I help you, sir?" Wordlessly, Peter handed the gentleman the card. The doorman perused the card, nodded, handed the card back, and opened the door for him. "Take the elevator up to the fifth floor. The apartment you are looking for is the second one on the right."

Peter nodded and followed the doorman's instructions, getting a good look at the inside of the building as he did so. 'Very posh,' he thought to himself. He rode the elevator to the fifth floor and walked down the hallway. Arriving at the proper apartment, he rang the doorbell and waited. A few moments later the door opened at reveal a young woman with long blonde hair. Her green eyes sparkled merrily as she let Peter inside and gave him a huge hug, which he returned enthusiastically. He pulled back and held her lightly by the shoulders to get a good look at her. "Cassandra, you look beautiful."

"Thank you," she signed. "You look terrific, as well."

Peter was only half-aware that he had begun signing while he spoke, easily falling back into the conversation mode he had used years ago with Cassandra. "What have you been up to the past couple of years? I tried to contact you, but my letters kept being returned."

She grimaced, her face flushed with annoyance, disgust, and anger. "Someone from my foster father's past escaped from prison. The police put the entire Forrester family into protective custody until they caught him again."

Peter was concerned. "But they did catch him, didn't they?"

She nodded. "Yes. But that is why I couldn't contact you. I had to quit my job on campus as well as all my courses. By the time the whole situation was taken care of, I was too far behind in the year to catch up. Luckily, I was able to complete them by correspondence." She grinned. "But I finally graduated with a degree in computer science and graphics. I've already got a great job working with several different types of systems."

"What do you do?"

"I beef up their security. It's great."

Something clicked in Peter's mind and he quoted, "My singing voice is nonexistent, but I can tap out a beat like nobody's business."

He chuckled at her stunned expression. "How did you know that?" she signed.

"You've been talking to a friend of mine down at the precinct on your computer. His name is Kermit."

"Ker... oh, yes, I remember him. His screen name's GrShades, I believe. He seems like a very nice person, at least over the computer. I like talking to him, he's got an interesting sense of humor."

"That's what he said about you. How did you come to this conclusion?"

"I asked him something, I don't remember what, and he replied with, 'Only the Shadow knows.' It was weird, but I liked it. How is he in real life?"

"Kermit is... well, Kermit. He can be real nice, once you get to know him. A bit paranoid at times; he doesn't like people prying into his past. He's... " Peter fumbled for an adjective that could adequately describe his friend, but failed to find one. "Well... you could meet him, if you like."

"When?"

Peter glanced at his watch. "Now, if you wanted to. Most of my fellow officers are probably down at Chandler's right now."

"Who's Chandler?"

"Not who, what. It's a bar near the precinct where we go to wind down. Would you like to go?"

She frowned. "I don't know. I would kind of like to just sit here and talk with you. I haven't seen you in such a long time. Do you mind?"

"I don't mind at all. We have a lot of catching up to do."

"We could go later. I'd love to meet some of the people you work with."

"We could go tomorrow night. Also, Mom is serving all my favorites for my birthday dinner. You're invited to join us."

She smiled, a small dimple appearing by her left eye, "Only if you promise me that we can do something special for both of our birthdays, just the two of us."

"Have you been to Chinatown yet?" Cassandra shook her head and he continued. "I know of a wonderful restaurant down there. We could go there tomorrow, just the two of us, to celebrate your birthday. Then, afterwards, we can stop off at Chandler's and you can meet my friends. Is it a deal?"

She put her hand out with a mischievous smile. Peter smiled in understanding and the two shook on it.

Cassandra signed, "I heard that you graduated from the Police Academy with honors. What's it like being a cop?" Peter spent some time describing a few of his past cases. Cassandra sat back and absorbed it all, her eyes shining with pleasure and pride in her friend. "Seems you've done well, Peter."

Peter glanced around the room. "You haven't done so badly yourself, Cassandra. How are you able to afford all of this?"

"Follow me." She led him to the office she had in the back room. A sophisticated computer took up most of the space where she worked, the tables and chairs were covered with papers dealing with electrical pathways and her own unique shorthand. "It's not really work," she explained. "I'm having too much fun doing it."

"From what Kermit said, I gather you're pretty good."

"So I've been told. You wouldn't believe how woefully inadequate some of the security systems were. I like fixing them up. Father still can't believe I actually get paid to do this." Cassandra noticed the muscles in Peter's shoulders tense up slightly. "What's wrong?"

Peter shrugged. "Nothing. Don't worry about it."

Cassandra frowned, but didn't push, knowing from experience how stubborn Peter could be. He'd talk when he was ready. So she changed the subject. "So what time is Annie making dinner?"

"She's asked that I be over no later than five."

"Are you sure she won't mind me coming?"

Peter gave her a fond grin. "No. She won't mind. But I'll talk to her tomorrow about it if it will make you feel better."

Cassandra nodded and headed out of the office, towards the kitchen. "Care for some tea? My father found this new blend and I'm dying to try it out."

Again, Peter's shoulder muscles tensed, and Cassandra watched as pain, anger, and sadness flickered across his expressive face before Peter locked down on his emotions. She stared at him for a moment, then took him by the arm and led him into the living room where she set him on the couch. "What's wrong?"

Peter just shook his head and looked away. Cassandra's forehead creased with worry. She'd only very rarely seen him like this, and she didn't like not knowing how to help. She gently turned his head till he was again looking at her. "Peter? Please?"

Peter took a breath. "I don't want to talk about it."

She looked at him with understanding, her gaze steady, trying to send him the support he needed. "Then sign it."

At those three simple words, Peter remembered a past time.

{-1979-}

Peter returned to the orphanage after a two-month stint at Pine Ridge Corrective Facility. He'd convinced everyone that he was fine and that he could be left to his own devices. Everyone, that is, but Cassandra. He didn't know how, but she could tell that everything was not as right as he was so desperately trying to portray. In fact, she seemed to always know what he was feeling, and could tell when one of his fosterings had gone badly. With that realization, Peter drew himself away from Cassandra, afraid that she would break through the thin walls he had erected around himself - walls he felt he desperately needed to keep himself sane - not knowing that these same walls were doing him more harm than good.

For days, he made sure he was never in the same room as she was. He stayed away from their special spot on the grounds. He deliberately cut her off, trying to pretend that their year of friendship had meant nothing, all the while wretchedly aware of how much he was hurting her.

One night, unable to stand the confines of the dorm room, Peter slipped out and made his way to the old willow tree near the edge of the orphanage boundaries. It was here that Peter taught Cassandra Kung Fu, and where Cassandra, in turn, taught him how to sign and lip read, away from the prying eyes of everyone. And it was here that he found Cassandra sitting in a mediation position against the trunk of the tree. Peter stopped, surprised and a bit leery and embarrassed as well. He was about to back away when Cassandra opened her eyes. Peter sucked in a breath at the sadness and loneliness he could see reflected there. A wave of guilt washed over him.

"Peter," she signed slowly, "Why are you ignoring me? Are you mad at me?"

Peter shook his head, unable to speak.

"I know your foster placement with the Voes went badly." She paused, gauging her words and his reactions to them. "Won't you tell me what's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. I'm fine." Peter slashed at the air, his signing choppy in his agitation. He dropped his gaze to the ground, unable to face her directly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cassandra gracefully rise to her feet. Inwardly, he cringed as she approached, part of him hoping she'd leave him alone, the other part hoping...

He felt her cool fingers on his chin as she gently raised his face to look at her. She signed two words. "Peter? Please?"

His resolve was weakening, but he was still reticent. "I can't talk about it." His voice was muffled as he quickly mumbled the words. But it was apparent that she had understood. "Then sign it."

Peter walked over to the tree and sat down, his legs sprawled out before him. Cassandra sat beside him, turned towards him. The light of the full moon was bright enough for the children to see each other clearly enough for the conversation. Peter took a deep breath and slowly began signing. "What have you heard?"

Cassandra shrugged slightly, settling herself more comfortably on the ground. "Not much. The others don't bother to write things down for me." Peter winced a bit, again ashamed at the way he had been ignoring her. Cassandra continued. "Something about the father getting killed in a knife fight. But not much else."

Peter heaved a sigh, not really wanting to get into the entire story, but he looked into Cassandra's eyes and found the courage to begin. "I'd been there for almost a month. It wasn't bad. Mr. Voe, he was decent, better than some foster folks I've had. He had a knack of knowing when I needed company and when I needed to be alone. Gave me privacy when I needed it. You know." Cassandra nodded in understanding. "His son, David, though, he was a jerk. Always hassling me about not really being part of the family, I think he was jealous of the attention I got from his dad."

Cassandra interrupted. "What about his mom?"

"Mrs. Voe had died a long time ago. Mr. Voe had always wanted more kids, but since he's a single parent, the best he can do is foster, I guess. Anyway, David drank. A lot. Mr. Voe didn't like it. Kept trying to get him to quit. Didn't work though." Peter was silent a moment, trying to find the words. Cassandra remained quiet as well, as if aware that any probing now would cause Peter to close up tighter than a clam.

Peter shook himself. He was reluctant to continue and his signing slowed as a result. "David came home late one night, drunk as a lord. He and Mr. Voe got into an argument. I woke up to them screaming at each other. I ran downstairs, towards the noise. They were in the kitchen. David was going on about how his dad never had time for him anymore. He... he..." Peter stopped, his eyes closed against the tears that threatened to flow.

He felt Cassandra shift slightly beside him and begin rubbing his back. A few minutes of this finally eased some of the tension. Peter heaved a sigh and opened his eyes. He locked gazes with Cassandra and saw his pain reflected in her green eyes. He took a deep breath. "David picked up a knife of the kitchen counter and attacked his father. He managed to cut Mr. Voe across the throat before I could get to him." Cassandra winced, a hand going to her own throat in sympathy. "I didn't notice at first that Mr. Voe had been cut. I grabbed David's wrist and tried to wrench the knife out of his hand. I used too much force and broke his wrist. He howled and jumped at me, knocking me against the counter. I hit my head and blacked out. As I fell, I kicked out at his ankle, causing him to fall as well. I guess he hit his head, cause he was still out when I came to. But..." Peter paused again, this time unable to stop the tears. "Mr. Voe was already dead. I called the police and tried to tell them what happened, but I was still kinda fuzzy."

Peter's hazel eyes blazed black as he signed furiously. "David tried to convince the cops that I was the one who had killed Mr. Voe. That I was trying to steal the silver, and that I'd attacked Mr. Voe when he tried to stop me. David told the cops that I'd then broken his wrist and knocked him out after killing his father." Peter stopped again, trying to regain control, his breathing erratic as he hyperventilated. Cassandra rubbed the small of his back and the back of his neck until Peter stopped shaking enough to finish. "Lucky for me, the police noticed that David was drunk and that none of the silver was out of place. That and if I _had_ killed Mr. Voe, I probably wouldn't have stuck around to call the police. They took both of us in for questioning."

Peter shook his head in appreciation, his eyes lightening in memory. "They were good. They treated me like an adult, and not like a kid who didn't know anything. They were able to find enough evidence to prove that it was David who did the killing and not me. Told me that I had done the right thing in calling the police, but that I should not have tried to take on David myself. Though another officer told me that he probably would have done the same thing in my place." Peter smiled slightly for a moment, then grew somber again. "Had to testify. All the fighting I'd done in my other foster settings were brought up by David's lawyer. I guess he was still trying to convince the jury that David couldn't have possibly done it, even though the police had already proved that he had."

His eyes darkened again, "Then I got sent to Pine Ridge for two months." He stopped.

Cassandra looked at him carefully, aware that the story was not finished. She drew his attention. "Why were you there for so long?"

Peter averted his eyes, but Cassandra refused to let it go. "Peter! Why?"

"After the whole thing was over with, I wanted to forget about it. I... refused to talk about it to the counselors at Pine Ridge. They kept at me until I finally talked to them."

"But you didn't tell them everything. Did you?" A knowing glint in her eye.

Peter shook his head his eyes filling with tears once more. His face fell and he started speaking out loud. "If I had just been there sooner. I could have saved him. If I hadn't of gotten knocked out, he would still be alive. It's my fault he died. I should have saved him." Peter's thin frame was wracked with sobs. He bent forward, his forehead almost to his knees, his hands covering his face. He didn't want to see the disgust he thought must be on Cassandra's face. After all, it was his fault that Mr. Voe was dead, wasn't it? He was surprised when he felt her wrap her arms around him.

Cassandra sat beside him for a long time. She rocked him back and forth, silently comforting him. Her touch and presence finally conveying to him that it was not his fault that Mr. Voe had died; that she did not blame him, as he felt that some of the "counselors" at Pine Ridge had. Peter finally sat up and looked in her eyes. What he found there calmed him more than any words could have. He grasped her hand. "Thank you."

Cassandra smiled at him, brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes. "You would have done the same for me." She glanced down a bit shyly. "Are we still friends?"

Her gentle reminder of his attitude lately was not accompanied with a surge of guilt. "Not just friends. Family."

Peter's heart warmed when she practically beamed at him. "Family. I like the sound of that."

{-1994-}

He drew his attention back to the present, and once again, as he had years before, Peter nodded and poured his heart out to her. He told her how he had been reunited with his father and of the confusion and guilt he felt. "I want to get to know my father again, but I don't want Paul to feel like I'm abandoning him. Like the years he's been my father were worthless. But, another part of me wants to ignore my father, to pay him back for all the years of betrayal and loneliness I have felt."

"Have you told them how you feel?"

Peter shook his head.

"Why?"

"I guess..." He paused, gathering his thoughts, "I don't know. I'm not ready to, just yet."

Cassandra nodded her understanding. "When you're ready, Peter. But don't wait too long. Don't let all that anger and hurt stay within and fester. Promise?"

Peter looked at this girl-'Young woman,' he corrected-and wondered how she had become so wise. Solemnly, he spoke out loud. "I promise, Cassandra."

She nodded in satisfaction. "Will I be able to meet your father at the dinner?"

Peter shrugged a bit uncomfortably. "I do not know. He left unexpectedly today. I don't know where he went or when he'll be back."

Cassandra put a hand to his cheek and he briefly closed his eyes and leaned into it, savoring the contact. He leaned back and sighed. "Paul's on an assignment, so he may not be there either."

"Who will be there?"

"Family. Annie, Kelly, Caroline, Caroline's husband, Todd, and you. We're hoping that Paul and my father will make it back in time. The Ancient might come. That's about it."

Cassandra tilted her head. "Who's the Ancient?"

"A very old and wise man who lives in Chinatown. His real name is LoSi and he's a good friend of my father's"

"He's a friend of yours as well."

Peter was aware that this was a statement, not a question. "Yes. He's..." he waved a hand in the air, vaguely, "been helping me work things out with my father."

Cassandra grinned, her face lighting up. "I like him already. Can't wait to meet him."

Peter smiled, finally relaxing. "And I can't wait to introduce you to them all." He took both her hands in his.

"I've missed you, Cassandra. It's been too long since we last met."

She squeezed his hands tightly and nodded in agreement. Peter felt her try to withdraw her hands, but with a grin, he held on a bit tighter. Cassandra smiled back, glanced at her hands, then looked up into his eyes with a glint in her own. 'Uh oh,' Peter thought. He strained to understand her next words as she slowly mouthed, "Okay, Peter. Be that way. Let's see how much you have remembered about lip reading." With a good-natured groan, Peter nodded, and the two friends spent the rest of the evening renewing old communications.

(on to part two)