The usual: Iím writing fanfic, not making a profit. No copyright infringement is intended against Michael Sloane, Ed Spielman, Warner Brothers Televison or any other older of Kung Fu copyrights. Comments welcome at Icarus3782@aol.com
 
 
 

 
 

 

Speechless

by Cathryn Mortenz-Teal ("Kate")

Mary Margaret Skalany lifted the chipped Redskins mug to her lips, effectively muffling a giggle beneath a swallow of lukewarm coffee. At her side, Detective Jody Powell was not as discreet. The blonde-haired woman dispensed a short, quick chuckle, then drew her lips together, raising one hand to cover her mouth and silence the laughter. She set her coffee mug aside, but made the mistake of lifting her gaze to the other detective. The direct eye contact obliterated any remaining shred of self-control, and the two women simultaneously dissolved into giggles.

Seated at his desk, leafing through what appeared to be an ever increasing mound of paperwork, Peter Caine studiously ignored them both.

"You know," Kermit Griffin announced, joining the two female detectives at the coffee pot. "Heís feeling pretty miserable." This last was said with a nod in Caineís direction. The remark failed, however, to make the desired impression. Mary Margaret rolled her eyes.

"Poor baby," she poohed, enjoying herself far too much to conjure any significant amount of sympathy.

"Look," Jody chimed in, "Itís not like weíre enjoying the fact that heís got laryngitis, but Peter Caine without his voice is like . . ." her shoulders rose into a shrug as her mouth tilted up in a grin, " . . . Superman without his cape; Siegfried without Royó"

"Miss Muffett without her Tuffett," Mary Margaret added just loudly enough for her voice to carry to a certain dark-haired detective. The investigator in question retaliated by snapping shut a book heíd been perusing and leveling a hostile glare on the trio.

Kermit shrugged and turned away, helping himself to a cup full of the sludge that passed for coffee at the 101st precinct. Seemingly chastised, Mary Margaret and Jody tried their best to look repentant. Failing, they succumbed to another bout of hand-concealed giggles.

"Donít you detectives have anything better to do?" a new voice inquired, each word precisely modulated and clipped with precision. Three heads turned in the direction of the sound. Karen Simms stood in the doorway of her office, arms folded across her chest, the look on her face one a teacher might take with an unruly student. One eyebrow arched meaningfully beneath a perfectly coiffed fringe of golden hair.

"You did it now," Kermit muttered to the women. He turned, offering a lop-sided grin to his new captain, then promptly vanished into his office, leaving the co-conspirators to fend for themselves. Each muttered the appropriate "Yes, maíam; sorry, maíam" and quickly dispersed.

Karen Simms frowned, her mouth tugging down into a severe white line as her attention shifted to the source of the disturbance. Peter Caine was studying the half-completed report on his desk, his pencil scritching across the paper in occasional short bursts.

"Is that the Dawson report?" she asked with a nod for the paper, as she stepped to his side. He spared a glanceóhis rendition of a brief acknowledgmentóand her frown deepened. She had seen the glint of fever in his luminous hazel eyes; the thin sheen of sweat stippling his upper lip. Dark tendrils of hair clung to his neck, beneath his collar, wet with perspiration. She hadnít known him long enough to form any lasting impression, but his reputation led her to believe he was cocky and self-sufficient, with a marked penchant for bucking the system. She should have known heíd be stubborn too. "I thought Strenlich told you to go home hours ago?"

Peter dropped the pencil on the desk. It rolled among the paper, finally coming to rest in the crease of an open file folder. Karen Simms watched as it stilled, then lifted her eyes to the man who swivelled to face her. The chair creaked with his movement, more vocal than he had been. He opened his mouth as though to speak, then closed it, obviously deciding better. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I thought . . . Iíd catch up on some . . . paperwork."

It wouldnít do her any good to smile, but the thin, halting thread of his voice was so unlike the rapid-fire speech he normally favored. No wonder Skalany and Powell were having such a good time of it. She schooled her expression, lightly tapping the fingers of one folded arm on the other.

"Dedicationís fine, detective, but I need you whole and with your voice intact, next Monday. Youíre the only one who saw Snipes shoot Wheeler. A murder conviction isnít going to stick, if I have a detective who canít testify. I want this dealer, Caine. Do us all a favor and go home."

"Soon. I just need to finish . . ." She had to strain to hear him over the background noise of ringing phones, banging file drawers and general squad room chaos. With each effort of speech, the fragile thread of his voice grew weaker. Even his face had grayed, the skin almost waxen in appearance; cheeks hollowed and gaunt, fever-bright eyes smudged with shadow. He hadnít lost his voice from screaming at perps, that much was certain. She remembered one particulary bad bought of flu a few years back, when sinus congestion had infected her vocal cords, leaving her speechless for three days. Apparently, he was battling something similar.

She lowered her head slightly, the severe placement of chin, imbuing each clipped word with agitated sternness. "Detective Caine, I would like to assume youíve reached an age where you know whatís best for yourself, but as you seem to be experiencing a lapse of common sense, Iím going to make this decision for you. Youíre no good to me on the streets in your present condition, and your presence here, is a distraction to the other detectives in this squad room. Iíll say this only onceógo home. Go see a doctor. Go to bedóyou look like shit."

He closed his eyes, obviously running low on his usual reservoir of snappy comebacks. With almost pointed satisfaction, Simms turned on her heel and strode to her office, confident that her command would be obeyed. Another day he might have challenged her. Another day he might have offered one of those irritating half grins, and done just as he pleased, as though she hadnít even spoken.

Willful, cavalier, headstrong, unquestionably loyalóthey were all words used by Paul Blaisdell in the reports he had left her, describing his foster son. How to win past the stubbornness for a much-needed glimpse of the loyalty? Peter didnít trust her yet. She knew thatósaw it in his eyes every time he turned that dark-lashed gaze on her. He was still measuring her worth, deciding on which side of the fence she fell. It shouldnít matter what he thought, but she felt oddly compelled to win his trust. He was goodóno questioning thatóbut beyond his ability as a homicide detective, lingered an individual who made others gravitate towards him. Probably just that damn, cocky charm. Works on me too. She turned, hands on hips, and let her gaze sweep back through the doorway.

Peter Caine shrugged into a long black winter coat and headed for the exit.

She smiled, taking perverse enjoyment in the victory. Simmsó1; Caineó0.

+++++

Cold air seeped beneath Peterís collar the moment he stepped outside, the icy breath crisp with the bitter edge of a February afternoon. Ducking his head deeper into the elusive warmth of his coat, he used black-gloved hands to draw the woolen collar tighter against his neck. Pinching it shut with one hand, he dug the other in the pocket of his jeans, searching for his car keys. They came free with a metallic jingle. He flipped them back into his palm, feeling the notched edges through the thin leather of his glove, as he strode briskly across the precinct parking lot.

It had rained earlieróa freezing drizzle that had left the macadam glistening and black; the sky a faded strip of charcoal overhead. Beyond the connecting alley, Peter could see a string of traffic winding sluggishly down Poplar, red tail lights unnaturally bright in the gray afternoon haze.

He unlocked the Stealth and slid behind the wheel, grateful to sink in the relative comfort of the soft interior. It was cold inside the car and his breath plumed in the air, fogging the rearview mirror. The ignition engaged with one turn of the key, despite the frigid temperature. He let the engine idle for a few moments before slipping the car into reverse, and joining the string of traffic that meandered through the cityís congested streets. He was halfway home, the heater cranked, fan blowing warm air, before the chill gradually seeped from his bones.

Only then did he realize, home and an empty apartment, was the last place he wanted to be. There was something to be said for the comfort of oneís own bed, but more to be said for the comfort of family.

Peter sneezed. He turned the car at Magnolia and headed for Chinatown. It was the first time he could remember, actually looking forward to one of his fatherís distasteful herbal remedies.

+++++

Kwai Chang Caine knew instinctively that something was wrong. Surrounded by the soft amber glow of candlelight, he had enjoyed a particulary restful meditation period, and was unusually surprised to have it interrupted by his sonís unannounced entrance. He hadnít seen Peter in two days; certainly hadnít expected him this afternoon. Peter had told him earlier in the week that he was working odd shifts and probably wouldnít see him until late Friday. Therefore, the unexpected visit, coupled with the lack of a customary "Hey Pop, you in here?" left Caine oddly anxious.

He unwound from a full lotus, coming gracefully to his feet. Peter hovered in the doorway, the muted light of the room casting his face into shadow, while accenting the gem-bright glow of his eyes.

"Peter?" Caineís voice lilted up in concern. In three quick strides he was at his sonís side, one hand raising to grip his upper arm. He could feel a quiver of tension through the thick fabric of the heavy coat; the lick of heat at his fingertips despite the intervening material. Peter glanced away, turning his head to the side, and Caine saw the damp strands of hair clinging to temple and jaw. The priestís mouth tightened in carefully controlled restraint. "How long have you been sick?"

Peter shrugged, wet his lips. "A . . . few days." The words were raw, brittle like string about to snap.

Caine had to lean forward to catch his sonís whisper, shocked by the lack of strength in his voice. He shifted his hand to Peterís throatófelt the inflamation of glands beneath his fingertips, the throbbing swell of a rapid pulse; the sweat-slick groove of heated flesh. "Have you seen a doctor?" he asked.

Peter shook his head. "I have you," he whispered, the last word almost cutting out completely. Caine drew back, brows dipping low over his eyes, using a time-tested when-will-you-ever-learn look, much favored by parents. It produced the desired effect. Peter coughed and lowered his head, a fleeting red stain spreading over his flushed cheeks. The color vanished almost as quickly as it appeared, making his skin all the paler for its departure. Head still lowered, he raised his eyes, glancing up through a veil of dark lashes. "Iím tired, Pop."

It was all Caine needed to hear.

+++++

Peter was warm, comfortableónot the heated chill-sweat of the fever, but a velvet warmth, that made him want to sink deeper into the blissful cocoon. Heíd been sleeping. Wasnít certain how long, didnít really care. He shifted once, turning on the bed and felt his fatherís hand brush across his cheek. His eyes feathered closed as the touch lifted to his hair.

Caine had made him drink somethingóa noxious medicinal brew that had tasted of wet leaves, chalk and licorice. He had scrunched his eyes closed, downing the foul concoction as quickly as possible, before surfacing for air. Within moments heíd grown groggy, and Caine had led him to a room in the back, with its newly acquired full-sized bedóa gift from a local merchant the priest had helped. Peter had peeled off his overcoat, jacket, boots and gloves, then crawled into the bed, tucking the soft pillow into the crook of his arm.

Now, caught in the murky daze of half-sleep, he felt his fatherís light touch like a butterflyís wings, gently skimming the hair from his forehead. The bed creaked and he realized Caine had settled behind him, seated with his back pressed to the headboard. His fatherís hand shifted to his arm, lightly brushing up and down, sending a welcome string of goosebumps dancing through the sleeve. In moments, warm and secure, lulled by his fatherís touch, he drifted to sleep once again.

+++++

Caine was hesitant to move, unwilling to leave Peterís side. He sat with his back propped by pillows, legs stretched out before him. Beyond the small, curtainless window, the sky had deepened with night, the myriad lights of the city creating a haze on the horizon, not unlike the setting sun. Traffic still meandered through the darkened streets, the steady drone comforting in its familiarity. In the small room, flickering candlelight chased shadows to the far corners, and haloed the bed in a soft glow.

Caineís eyes fell to his son. Peter lay on his side, his faced turned into the pillow, his breathing steady and deep. Behind closed lids, his eyes fluttered with the rapid dart of REM sleep. Caine knew he wasnít likely to awaken, but was still loathe to move.

His gaze lingered on the shadowed lines of Peterís faceónoting the soft, full curve of lips; the high angled line of cheekbone; the sharply defined brows. There had to be something of himself in his sonís face, but he couldnít see it with Peterís eyes closedóknew that the hazel coloring was the trait he had bequeathed to his son. His own hair had been dark onceósimilar, but not quite like, the silken strands splayed on the linen pillow case. The candlelight drew threads of copper and gold through Peterís dark hair, making Caine ache to touch them.

Oddóall those years in the temple, they had routinely shaved their heads, and Caine had thought nothing of it. Now, since re-encountering his son as an adult, he found himself continually wishing to touch Peterís hairódelighting in the feel of the thick strands beneath his fingertips; in the way he was able to sweep the long bangs from Peterís eyes; the curling ends from beneath his collar.

As a parent, he couldnít help marveling at the man the child had become. The boy and been lanky and awkward, while the man moved with long-legged ease. Appealing young features had matured into sculpted lines that routinely drew sideways glances. Caine had been in public with his son often enough, to witness the lingering looks women bestowed on Peter as he passed by. Heíd even commented on it once, causing the young man to blush and duck his head, embarrassed by the observation. A slight smile tugged Caineís lips. No matter Peterís reaction, he was sure his son enjoyed the attention, and often responded to it. That skill at least, had not been inherited from Kwai Chang Caine, who didnít have his sonís easy charm around the opposite sex.

He sighed contentedly, long fingers idly brushing through the silky locks of Peterís dark hair. Heíd nursed his young son through other illness at the temple, but had missed the intervening years of runny noses, sore throats, sprains and sports-related injuries. The Blaisdells had seen Peter through those hurdles for which Caine remained eternally grateful. Now it was the occasional cold, coupled with the greater fear of knife or bullet wounds; the almost routine threat of broken bones.

Caineís fingers stilled, his feeling of contentment violently obliterated as though doused in glacial cold. Peter had chosen his pathóthe life of a police officeróand with it the inherent danger faced by every officer of the law. In choosing to protect others, he exposed himself to harm on a daily basis. Though Caine was proud of his son, the thought that a stray bullet could steal Peterís life away in the blink of an eye, left him shaken and cold. Each time that fear had wormed into his consciousness, he had tamed it with meditation and discipline. Still it persisted, lingering like a fungus on the hem of this thoughts. There was little he could do. Peter had chosen.

Each must choose his own path.

Caineís words came back to haunt him. At his side, still lost in sleep, Peter moaned softly. He shifted, turning to face Caine, propping his head against his fatherís arm. A mass of moon-silvered dark hair flowed like liquid over the priestís sleeve. Gently, Caine dragged the back of his knuckles across Peterís flushed cheek. The fever was recedingónot completely abated, but assuaged, nonetheless. Restful now, Caine recalled a day just two weeks back, when Peter had been anything but calm:

Caine watched as Peter paced to the balcony doors and nervously fiddled with the brass-plated handle, its edges heated like desert sand by the bright afternoon sun. Watched as the younger man turned away and made another circuit of the room, stopping to finger the leaves of an aloe plant; trace the rounded edge of a candle holder; pick up, then set down an unused incense burner.

"Something is troubling you," he announced into the thick silence when his son began a third rambling circuit of the room. Peter stopped, flushed guiltily and glanced at his feet. He chewed on his bottom lip, then swept his hand back through his hair in a habitual nervous gesture.

"Itís justó" His head came up, his hazel eyes made leaf-green by the emerald turtleneck he wore. "I-I have to testify in court the end of the month. About a shooting I witnessed."

Caine stood behind his workbench, carefully pruning dried leaves from the potted herbs heíd been forced to move indoors for the winter. His fingers never halted in the familiar task as he considered his sonís words. "You often testify in court. Is there something about this particular case that troubles you?"

Peter stuffed his hands into the pockets of his black jeans. "Yeah," he said softly. "The guy that was killedóWheeleróI busted him before. Lots of timesódrugs, petty theftójust one of those guys who couldnít pull it together. Iíd bust him, and pow!óthe system would put him right back on the streets."

Caine failed to see the cause of his distress. Peter wasnít revealing anything they hadnít discussed before. Though heíd often lamented how the system worked, Peter accepted it as part of his job.

"You know this is often the case," Caine said carefully, trying to decipher the underlying reason for Peterís anxiety. His son stepped nearer; trailed one finger over the scarred edge of the wooden workbench. His eyes were lowered, black lashes effectively hiding the emotion in his eyes. Still the betrayal lingeredóevident in the taut line of his jaw, the downward scrawl of his mouth.

"I-I didnít know Wheeler had a son," Peter said quietly. His eyes darted to Caineís face. The priest drew a shuddering breath, unprepared for the raw pain he saw reflected there. Peter blinked and glanced quickly away, his gaze suddenly liquid. "Hi-his nameís Jared. I-I met him when I went to the house to notify next of kin." Peter snorted, dragged his hands over his face. "Houseóhell, itís a dump off Vine. Should have been condemned years ago."

Caine moved to his side, lightly touching his arm. He could feel the quiver of muscle beneath his fingertips; the resilient tension racing through Peterís body like leashed energy. His son shook his head, skewing his eyes sideways, glancing at the older man through wet lashes. "It doesnít make sense. Iíve seen worse things in the streetóhorrible things. Things that would give the average guy nightmares for the rest of his life. Why am I getting so bent out of shape over this kid?"

Caineís fingers tightened on his arm. "There is a mother?" he asked.

Peter shook his head. He pulled away, placing distance between himself and his father, deliberately refusing his comfort.

His own brand of punishment, Caine thought. He heard his son sniffle.

"According to friends, the woman took off years ago," Peter said over his shoulder. "Thereís no other kin, so the kidíll go to Social Services. Orphanage. Foster home if heís lucky."

Caine folded his hands at waist level, waiting to see if more would be offered. But Peter fell into silence, staring moodily into space, his own hands tucked into his jeans. The priest studied his sonís profile. Peterís face was dry, but the raw edge of emotion remained, suppressed only temporarily. "Perhaps this strikes you too close to home?" he suggested.

Peter turned, and for once Caine found his gaze unreadable. But Peter had never been adept at concealing emotion. His mouth tightened and bewilderment flooded his eyes. "I saw Wheeler take the hit. He crossed one of the dealers weíve been trying to nailóguy by the name of Snipes. I got there just a little too late for Wheeler. Asshole died in my arms. What kind of father shoots himself full of drugs when heís got a kid at home?"

"What kind of father lets his son die in a fire . . . does not look for him, when the childís life essence continues?" Caine asked softly. "What kind of father was not there for his son when he was growing upówhen the dragons were real, and the son needed him the most?"

Peter glanced away, a strangled sound dredged from his throat. "Thatís not what this is about," he snapped, but Caine heard the uneven timber of his voice; felt the choked emotion lingering just beneath the surface. He moved to his sonís side, cupped warm fingers against his cheek. Peter flinched, but Caine caught his wrist before he could draw away again.

"You share this boyís pain. Is it so difficult to understand the source?" His fingers trailed down the rigid jaw line, feeling the muscle loosen even as his touch stroked tension from the smooth skin. Peterís eyes were much too bright, rimmed by a glittering veil of tears. "It is all right to be angry with me Peter. I promise that your feelings of bitterness will not drive me away. The longer you deny them, the greater the chasm you erect between us."

Peter exhaled a pent-up breath. "Father, Ió"

Caineís grip on his wrist tightened. He tugged forward, dragging Peter against him. When his son did not protest, he folded him into his arms, gently paving the path to healing.

Morning sunlight filled the small kitchen, spiking lemon-bright ribbons across the floor. Caine adjusted the slats on the window blind, easing the glare, but inviting the warmth inside. He swirled a spoonful of honey into his sonís tea, then set the cup on a small wooden tray. Adding a plate of hot buttered bread, he was just about to turn when he felt the presence at his back.

"You should be in bed," he said with a pointed glance at Peter.

The fever-bright glimmer was gone from his sonís eyes, but his face remained drawn with lingering illness. The dark hair was disheveled, one stray lock curling haphazardly over his forehead, the longer, uncombed ends strewn against the collar of his rumpled shirt. He smiled crookedly, but the action was a pale ghost of his normally cocksure grin.

"Sorry, Popó" the words barely made it past his lips, before he had to stop and clear his throat. "I didnít mean . . . to stay the night. Guess I just . . . fell asleep . . ." His voice was still weak. Painfully so. It would be a few days before he regained full use of his vocal cords. Testing the waters too soon, was certain to put a damper on his recovery. Caine handed him the cup of tea.

"Drink this. It will help."

Peter accepted the cup, but eyed it skeptically.

"An old remedy," Caine clarified when his son made no move to ingest the liquid. "Lemon tea, laced with honey. It will ease your throat."

Peter smiled wryly. "Next youíll be feeding me . . . chicken soup."

"Do not talk," Caine admonished. He folded his arms over his chest, assuming one of his sternest parental looks. Pointedly, he raised an eyebrow. It was amazing that the ploy still worked on Peter after so many years. His son lifted the cup to his lips and took a sip. Satisfied, Caineís face softened. He reached forward and swept the tangled lock of hair from Peterís brow, allowing his touch to linger. Cool flesh greeted his fingertips, all traces of his sonís fever having departed with the night. "I do not know if you are hungryó"

Peter shook his head. "Thanks, Dad. Iíll just grab a shower."

Caineís finger stabbed in his direction. "Do not talk!" he said again, this time with greater force. "I know it is difficult, Peter, but you will never regain use of your voice if you continue to abuse it. Nod your head."

Peterís eyes crinkled at the corners, his mouth curling up in a grin. He lifted the tea cup in mock salute and nodded. For a momentójust a momentówhen the glimmer of cavalier lightness returned to the hazel eyes, Caine almost believed his son was back to normal.

+++++

Peter showered, then redressed in the clothes he had slept in. As he buttoned the rumpled shirt, he made a mental note to bring a few sets of spare clothing the next time he visited his father. He frequented the apartment often enough, that the additional clothing made sense. Though Caine had offered one of his silk gees, the thought of wearing the lightweight material outside had left Peter shivering, and heíd politely refused.

Stepping from the bathroom, he ruffled a towel through his damp hair, belatedly wishing for a blow-dryer. Though the warm shower had felt wonderful, heíd grown chilled the moment he Ďd left the heated spray. Strands of damp hair lying across his neck and brow only heightened that sense of cold.

Caine made him drink another cup of medicinal elixir, this one tasting suspiciously like over-ripe strawberries and wet sand. One glance at Peterís damp hair left his father chagrined that he did not own a blow-dryer, and insistent that the car be warmed before departing. Relegated to waiting in the apartment, Peter fretted, shifting from foot to foot as he imagined his father stripping the key in the Stealthís ignition; activating the siren instead of the heat; accidentally shifting the car from "park." Tortured by the possibilities of all that could go wrong, he covered his face with his hands and crumbled to a seat at the kitchen table, too unnerved to look into the alley where the vehicle was parked.

Within minutes Caine reappeared, smiling his pleasure at having mastered the art of starting a car. As soon as the vehicle had warmed to the priestís satisfaction, Peter bundled into his heavy coat and gloves, anxious to be home. He was already contemplating changing into sweatpants and thick socks; folding into the couch with the remote and yesterdayís sports page, a heavy blanket for company. Though a beer didnít have the appeal it might on another day, a bowl of hot soup was appallingly enticing.

Peter wound the Stealth through the cityís streets, thankful that morning rush-hour had passed. He didnít feel up to navigating weekday work traffic. Overhead, the sky was bright blue, littered with a few wisps of tattered clouds. The threat of rain had fled with the night, leaving bright sunlight and chill temperatures behind.

As he turned the corner, heading onto the main thoroughfare, Peter noticed a gray sedan in the rearview mirror. He thought heíd seen the same sedan a few streets back, following at a discreet distance. Cursing his unnaturally dulled observational skills, Peter shifted lanes, maintaining a steady speed. The sedan stayed where it was, but when Peter put on his blinker for a left turn, it quickly navigated traffic, following suit.

Peter swore silently. The sedan had been made, and itís driver knew it. Peter swerved to the left, barreling down a side street. The Stealth bottomed out when it hit a dip in the road, jarring Peter against the seatbelt. Jostled roughly, he banged his head against the carís roof. Cursing, he jammed the gas pedal to the floor, engaging the clutch with his left foot. His wrist popped as he yanked back on the gearshift, and his eyes darted hastily to the rearview mirror. The sedan was still with him, looming dangerously near in the narrow rectangle of glass. Ahead, an elderly lady stepped from the curve and started across the street, oblivious to the tons of near bumper-to-bumper metal screaming down on her at 78 miles-per-hour.

Peter yelled so sharply, his voice cut out completely. Wrenching the wheel to the left as hard as he could, he swerved into on-coming traffic, then out again, missing a black mini-van by a hairís width. The gray sedan was not so fortunate. It tagged the van with the edge of its bumper, the resulting impact, ripping the offending item half-off the car. The bumper dragged across the street kicking up a wall of sparks, before finally crumbling beneath the wheels of the sedan. Through it all, the elderly woman remained unscathed.

Peter turned sharply, diving into a cross street, then another. He was far enough ahead now, that he could afford some planning. Just as the right front edge of the sedan rounded the corner, Peter slipped the Stealth into a connecting alleyóonly far enough to hide the carís tail lights. Within moments the sedan flashed by in his rearview mirror. Peter slammed the car into reverse, ducked from the alley and gave chase.

Belatedly realizing he was now the pursued, the driver of the sedan accelerated, weaving dangerously through traffic. Glued to his tail, Peter reached for his mic, intending to radio the call to headquarters. There was no plate on the car, but the chase was taking them close to the waterfront area. Enough black-and-whites could make an effective barricade against the unknown perp, all but ensuring capture.

Peter lifted the mic to his lips, opened his mouth to speak . . . and wheezed on air. Not

even a whisper passed his trembling lips. Gasping, he tried again, desperately trying to force any sound from his abused vocal cords. Nothing came. That last instinctive scream at the elderly woman had shred his voice completely. Disgusted, he tossed the mic away. It bounced to the floor, suspended on its spiral cord like a bungee jumper. Looks like Iím on my own.

He plopped the cherry on the roof and activated the siren. If nothing else, maybe someone would phone in the chase. He could feel sweat clinging to the back of his neck, and realized with a sudden sense of light-headedness that the fever had returned. The seatbelt and thick winter coat were suddenly confining. He killed the heat and cracked the window, glad for the icy breath of winter air on his flushed skin and still-damp hair. Ahead, the sedan wove to the left, threading through a string of lumbering traffic which had slowed to a near crawl, on hearing Peterís siren.

The gray car cut sharply to the right, winding through yet another cross-connector, before emerging into the warehouse district of the city. Peter had a clear view of the car in front of him, when suddenly the rear end of a tractor-trailer, backing from a factory yard obstructed everything.

Peter slammed on the brakes, wrenching the wheel violently to the side. There followed the high-pitched whine of tires screeching over blacktop; the sickening sweet smell of rapidly heated rubber; a slow-motion sensation of events unfolding in stop-action time. Peter felt the bruising bite of the seatbelt against his chest and shoulder; the sting of his teeth slicing open his bottom lip. Blood flooded into his mouth, hot and velvet as the fever clouding his mind. His surroundings whirled past in a dizzying kaleidoscope of color and sound, before coming to a violent halt.

Peterís head cracked against the steering wheel as the car spun to a stop. He groaned, rolling backwards in the seat, curtains of blackness shuttering before his eyes. He could feel blood seeping into his hair, dripping onto his eyelashes. He blinked, trying to focus, but the world went alarmingly black, snuffing him beneath its oppressive weight.

His head sagged against the seat. A moment later he jerked to consciousness, summoned by the presence of someone looming over him. His eyes came open slowly, the right clotted with blood from the scalp wound. His vision swam as he fought to focus on the face of the man at the driverís window: lank blonde hair, a pock-marked face. Peter tried to moveógroaned, found he couldnít.

He watched the barrel of the silencer-equipped gun bead a line to his temple. A whisper of breath seeped through his lips, eyes already fluttering shut with the weight of returning darkness. His head lolled to the side. He heard the pop of the pistolóonce, twice, followed by a sharp twinge of pain. And then there was nothing. Only darkness.

+++++

Peter groaned, struggling to open his eyes. An intrusive spray of light knifed beneath his lashes, leaving him dazed and disoriented. He felt the soft brush of fingers against his cheek and tried to focus on the slow caress. From far away, the thread of a familiar voice prodded the gray fog of his mind.

"Peter?"

He tried to raise his head, and was instantly rewarded by a sickening wave of nausea. His hands convulsed into fists, fingers curling into unfamiliar fabric as he bit back bile. A shuddering eruption of pain splintered from his left shoulder and careened to his wrist, wrenching a startled cry from his lips.

A hand settled on his right shoulder, easing him back into welcoming softness, and he realized that he was in a hospital bed. The fabric knotted between his sweat-slick fingers registered as cotton sheets. "Lie still, Peter," that same voice instructed near his ear.

"Fatheró" he rasped. His right hand groped blindly. Strong fingers curled about his, raising his hand and pressing his open palm, flat against warm flesh. Peter swallowed thickly, the spiking pain in his shoulder, drenching him in cold sweat. Another wave of punishing nausea corkscrewed from his stomach, constricting his abdominal muscles and wedging acid in the back of his throat. He moaned softly, and tried to fold his left arm over his middle, but found it restrained. That brought a sudden wave of panic, quelled only by his fatherís quiet voice.

"Sleep now, my son." The warm caress was back on his face, lightly tracing his brow, gently dusting the heavy sweat-soaked fringe of hair from his forehead. He swallowed, tried to speak. But the darkness had returned, effectively swallowing the last feeble string of his senses.

"Pop?" Peterís voice was raw and unused, lacking strength. Still it drew the attention of the man at his bedside. His fatherís face warmed with a smile, imbuing his dark hazel eyes with a radiant glimmer. The priest leaned forward in his chair, propping his arms on the edge of the bed. His fingers curled over Peterís right forearm, as his smile settled into a line of pure joy.

"It is good to see you well, my son."

Peterís lips lifted in a sleepy half-grin. He felt tired, drugged. There was a dull ache in his left shoulder, a slighter twitch of pain above his eye. "Is that what I am? I feel like shit." A glance down revealed a heavy bandage on his shoulder; a translucent IV tube snaking from his arm. The arm was immobilized, strapped securely across his chest. Tentatively, he flexed his fingers, needing to assure himself of his capability of movement. "Did I . . . break my arm?"

His voice was still much too fickleóstrong one moment, cutting into near obscurity the next. He cleared his throat and turned his head on the pillow to gaze questioningly at his father.

Caine leaned forward, draping one arm over the pillow behind Peterís head. His fingers filtered through strands of dark hair. "You do not remember?" he asked.

Peterís brows drew together as he struggled to reassemble the pieces from memory. He wet his lips. "I left your apartment . . . and . . . there was a chase. I-I think I lost control of my car, and thenó" he halted suddenly, eyes widening as he recalled a gun leveled at his temple. The image was surreal, oddly bloated, as though suspended in a fish-eyed bubble. He had a brief recollection of a man with wheat-colored hair and a pock-marked face. "There was a man . . . with a gunó"

"Yes," Caine agreed softly. Lightly he touched Peterís left shoulder. "The bullet entered here and exited clean. Two shots. Each deflected. One into your shoulder, one into the car seat."

"Deflected how?"

"The man who caused your accidentóthe tractor trailer driver. He was coming to check on your condition and surprised the assailant just as he fired the shots. It was his blow that deflected the gun."

Peter exhaled slowly, briefly closing his eyes. His stomach was still unsettled, protesting now and again with a threatening flutter of upset. He swallowed and glanced at his father. "D-did you get the manís nameóanything? Iíd like to thank him. If not foró"

Caine moved his hand, laying it across Peterís chest, halting the weakening thread of his voice. "You should not talk so much. You have been here almost two days, but it is still not sufficient time for your voice to heal. And yes, Peteró" he added, when he saw his son move to protest, "óI have the manís name. When you are well, you will be able to thank him."

"What about the guy that shot me?" he persisted, despite his fatherís disapproving frown. There were too many questions ricocheting around in his head, too many sketchy memories that cried for completion. He could still feel the lingering effects of intravenous drugsóthe fog on the edge of his senses; the numbness in his shoulder that was certain to dissolve into renewed pain once the medication wore off. He was edgyótired, yet oddly restless. Beyond the blind-shrouded window of the hospital room, mustard-gold light hinted at late afternoon.

"He has been . . . taken into custody?" Caine tested the fit of the words. "Mary Margaret has linked the assailant to a man named Snipes."

Peter made a soft sound of disgust. "The dealer Iím supposed to testify against. The one that shot Wheeler." He lifted his free hand and probed the tender spot above his eye, only to encounter more gauze.

Caine snagged his fingers and drew his hand away. Absently, the priest traced his thumb over Peterís knuckles. "Apparently you hit your head when you lost control of your car. You have a few stitches," he explained with a nod for the newly discovered bandage. His thumb continued its warm path across the back of Peterís hand. "Wheeler is the father of the boy you told me about?"

"Yeah." Peter was silent a moment. He cleared his throat. "Guess Snipes didnít want me testifying. Came pretty close to getting his wish."

Caineís hand stilled. "Peter." He said the name carefully, drawing his sonís attention. There was an odd inflection to his voiceóa twinge of fragility Peter had never heard before. He felt his fatherís fingers tighten on his own; felt the welcome rough edge of callouses, padding the priestís hand. Caine leaned forward and pressed a warm kiss through the scattered fringe of bangs on Peterís forehead. Slowly, he sat back.

"Father?" Peterís lips parted without sound. Astounded, he lifted his hand, catching the single tear that tracked down his fatherís cheek. For almost three days he had been without the power of his voice, but he never felt as speechless as he did now.

"This man . . . almost took you from me," the priest explained quietly. Liquid fringed his lower lashes, threatened to spill onto his cheeks. He lowered his eyes and the water rushed forward, flowing unheeded over weather-lined flesh. "I think of this child, bereft of his fatheróof the pain he must feel. I think of the anguish I carried inside for fifteen years, when I thought you were dead. Of the fear that I bottle each day, knowing how truly precious our time together isóand how very fragile."

Peter choked, unable to believe what he was witnessing. His father rarely showed emotion, reigning wayward feelings into tightly leashed control. Though he had often lamented that personality trait, Peter had grown to accept it, even expect it. That he was the cause of this uncharacteristic distress, was almost more than he could bear. He struggled to sit, the sudden movement wrenching a groan from his lips. His fatherís head came up in a flash.

"You must be still."

"Dad, I-I-Iím sorry. Not just about this. Ió"

"You have no cause for remorse, my son. Pleaseó" he stilled Peter with a hand. "I do not wish to share you with these strangers. But you must heal to come home, and for that you must rest."

"Butó" Peterís gaze was bewildered; pleading. Gripping Caineís wrist, he sagged against the bed, his strength sapped beneath the weight of his fatherís command. Suddenly nothing was as important as pleasing the man at his side. He turned his head on the pillow so he could face the priest. The ache in his shoulder sharpened as the blissful haze of medication began to fade, but the pain was a minor distraction. His stomach knotted as age old fears tangled with newly awakened emotions. "Please donít go," he whispered.

Caineís smile was soft. He raised his hand and traced his thumb down Peterís cheek.

"I will stay," he promised. The commitment reached beyond the present, binding both father and son; twining past and future in a newly forged, unbreakable bond.

Peter swallowed the lump in his throat. In the distance he could hear the muted warble of the intercom, paging a Dr. Foller to the third floor nurseís station. Somebody walked by the door to his room, and he heard the scritch of rubber-soled shoes against waxed tile. Caine was watching him steadily, his dark hazel eyes augmenting the vow. Slowly Peter relaxed. His fingers uncurled, easing their grip on Caineís wrist. He winced as a sliver of pain rippled through his shoulder. The priest stroked the back of his fingers over Peterís temple, coaxing the newly etched furrow from his brow.

"Sleep," he instructed. Peter felt his eyes growing heavy; felt his lashes tumbling down of their own accord.

" Ďm not tired," he mumbled, but the darkness was warm and velvet and his father had promised to stay. Only then did he realize that wound which healed was deeper and older than the hole torn in his shoulder; rawer than the blistered thread of his voice. He fell asleep, soothed by the gentle caress of his fatherís hand.

óEnd Speechlessó

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