by Liz Gregg
"I hope that I am not responsible for any of your pain."
"You're kidding, right, Pop? Hell, yes! Yes, you are responsible for all of my pain." Peter spit out the last phrase tonelessly, in an unkind imitation of his father, Kwai Chang Caine. "And because of what you did, I may never be okay. I may never be able to trust anyone again. So what do you think of that?
"My son, I...I did not know. Can you ever forgive me? Peter? Peter!"
"Come on, Peter," Frank Strenlich snarled, standing inches from Peter's chair and lassoing Peter out of his daydream, effectively ending the fantasy conversation with his father. "Get with it! Where are those reports?"
"They're coming. They're coming, Frank." Peter frowned and drummed his fingers on the cool wooden desktop. "And do you think you could stop breathin' down my neck and give me a break? I got a lot on my mind."
"Yeah, you're right." Peter looked up at Frank, surprised by the man's quick change in temper. The older detective calmly continued. "So what's up, Pete? Worried about the captain?"
"No. I mean yes! Of course I am. But the doc said he'll make a complete recovery."
"Then what is it?"
* * *
"Hi, Skalany." Peter stopped at the bottom of the precinct steps and faced his feisty partner. Strenlich had just given him the okay to take off a few hours, and he was anxious to find out where his father was and maybe have a talk with him. Skalany squeezed his arm, crumpling the fabric of his white Henley.
"Where're you headed?"
"I'm going to see my--my--" Peter stopped and rubbed his chin. Did she know his father was back in town? "Foster father. Paul," he finished, mentally committing to a visit with Paul just as soon as he found and talked to his father.
"Oh, good! I haven't gone to see Blaisdell yet. I'll hitch a ride with you. Okay?"
Peter sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Sure. Let's go."
* * *
Peter was finally alone in his car and on his way to his father's new place. He was uneasy, and the uncomfortable feelings traveled straight to his right foot, causing it to bear down hard on the gas pedal. The visit with Paul had gone well, but they had been there longer than he expected. And the kicker was that only minutes into the trip to the hospital, Peter learned that Skalany knew Caine was back in town. Not only that, but she knew exactly where the priest was living and had already been there for a visit.
After he locked his car, he peered up at the towering brownstone building. Skalany had told him Caine was taking the entire top floor. Peter still couldn't fathom how Mary Margaret found out before he had. Peter hadn't asked her; at the time, he hadn't wanted to know.
Finally he scaled the stairway and entered what looked to be the main room of his dad's new digs. It was empty and dusty, but had clean lines and lots of light. The space looked perfect for Caine. Peter was amazed, again, at how practical arrangements seemed to magically fall in place for his father.
"Dad? You here?"
"In here, my son."
Peter followed the voice to the closest doorway. Bracing himself with a hand on the frame, Peter looked around. He noticed Caine first. His dad was dressed in dark brown pants, and the tan shirt was open low. The clothes were sprinkled with liberal doses of a fine white powder, no doubt remnants from the sanded drywall. It had been just two days since his father returned, and Peter's gut still flip-flopped at the sight of him. Peter met his father's gaze, but quickly looked away.
"And behold, there was a kitchen! Cabinets. Stove. But no fridge."
Caine smiled and half shrugged.
"All in all, a nice place, Pop." Peter lifted one arm. "Sorry! I mean, Dad."
His father nodded and proceeded to wipe his hands on a clean, white towel that was sitting on the counter top.
"Funny thing is, I got the address from Mary Margaret."
Peter paused for a moment. Caine remained quiet.
"Odd way to get it, don't ya think? From her, and not my own father?"
Turning away from Caine, Peter bit his lip and focused on the pain. Hands gripping the edge of the sink, he waited for his dad to say something. Peter stared at dust motes drifting in fractured beams of sunshine that slid through gaps in a broken window shade. Maybe if he concentrated hard enough, he could become one with the mote and just float away, getting the hell out of this damn awkward situation. Then his father spoke, and Caine's voice seemed to ride on a narrow stream of light and wrap around Peter's neck, making it hard for him to take a deep breath.
"Peter. You seem...stressed. Perhaps your job--"
"My job?" Peter spun around to face his dad. "You don't approve of it, and you have no clue what it is I really do all day. And stress? You think all I need to do is meditate night and day like you do. And-and, aw, just forget it." He finally managed to take a deep breath. "You're right, Dad. It's the job. I shouldn't have come."
His clenched hands jammed painfully into tight jean pockets, Peter started to walk away.
Peter stopped and waited. Yanking his hands free and folding his arms across his chest, he willed his newly-returned father to say it again. Better yet, this time his dad should directly ask-- Peter, am I responsible for your pain?
"You are troubled, my son. Let me help you."
Peter squeezed his eyes shut. His father would never ask him. It was absurd to even imagine it. Peter should've told the truth when he had the chance, when in a rare moment of possibly guilt, or maybe uncertainty, Caine had let himself be vulnerable.
Peter sensed his father behind him, then he felt Caine begin to gently pry loose Peter's death-grip on his own biceps. Peter winced and flexed his hands, not realizing how strongly he'd been gouging himself. Caine straightened Peter's arms and rubbed them briskly, up and down, helping to relieve the tension that had accumulated. Strong fingers settled on Peter's shoulders and began to knead taut muscles. "You don't have to do that," Peter protested, but when his dad began to pull away, Peter reached back and grabbed Caine's hand. "No. Don't stop. I'm sorry."
"You have no reason to be sorry," Caine replied softly, and continued the healing massage.
"I do." Yeah, Peter had a reason. He was sorry he couldn't be honest and strong and tell his father how hurt he had been when Caine had left him, again, and stayed away for six long months. The words were trapped in his brain and wouldn't come out. His feelings had sunk down deep and, like an iceberg, they were trapped under tons of water with the jagged edges exposed, wreaking havoc when someone got too close.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you, Dad. I have a lot on my mind."
Caine ended the massage and moved next to Peter, leaving a hand resting lightly on Peter's shoulder.
"A lot...of what...on your mind?"
Nothing. Everything. Peter smiled tightly but managed to use his casual, carefree voice. "You know. Paul. Work. The usual."
"Ah. Perhaps you can stay here for a while and help me. And we can talk."
Peter finally let himself look at his father's face. Caine's mouth was curved in mild amusement, though his gaze flickered sharply in a worried examination. Most of all, Peter saw new lines around his dad's eyes and something else, indescribable, that told Peter his father was very tired.
"I have to get back to work. But I'm off Tuesday. I'll come spend the day with you, help you out."
"I would like that, my son." Caine beamed, and Peter was ten years old again, feeling happy to have pleased his father. The father he had once believed was gone forever.
"Did I tell you, Pop, that I'm really happy you're back?"
Caine's smile broadened; his hand curled around Peter's neck and he pulled his son close for a parting embrace.
Peter experienced wide swings of conflicting emotions. He guessed he'd be feeling like that until he confronted the truth. Knowing that he seldom, if ever, did anything the easy way, Peter wondered what it was going to take for him to be able to talk seriously to his father about the six-month absence. Or if he'd ever be able to talk to him about it at all.
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