by Cathryn Mortenz-Teal ("Kate")
"Damn it, Caine, watch where you're going!" Kermit Griffin took a quick step backwards, brimming coffee cup held away from his body as the younger detective barreled past. Hot liquid sloshed at the sides of the cup, teetering towards overspill, then quickly subsided.
"Sorry," Peter called over his shoulder, failing to slow in his brisk jaunt to the booking desk.
Kermit scowled, uncertain what the rush was about. With Caine, everything occurred in fast-forward. "Damn kid," he muttered. He set the cup aside, leafing through the stack of messages Broderick had handed him on entering. One day away from the precinct, and the world crawled to a grinding halt. //Go figure.// Bumping trademark green glasses down the bridge of his nose, he rubbed two fingers against the ache that had taken up residence between his brows.
"Hey, Kermit." The kid was back, a shitty-ass, half-grin on his face. The one that meant he wanted something, but hadn't quite figured out how to ask. "So . . . how was the convention?"
"Forgettable. What do you want, Peter?"
"Um . . ." The grin slipped, failed to right itself, then settled into a line of resignation. "Just wondering how you were doing on that list of leads for the Ritter case?"
Kermit retrieved the cup, taking a sip of the sludge Blake fondly called *coffee.* He grimaced. "Ritter? I thought that was Skalany's."
"Yeah. I'm following some things up for her."
"I thought you were helping Powell with the prostitution ring?"
Peter wet his lips. Hazel eyes dipped to the floor, then flashed back to Kermit's face. "That too."
"Spreading yourself a little thin, aren't you?"
"Nothing I can't handle." Peter's chin rose a fraction of an inch, jaw tightening as though daring him to say otherwise. A glimmer of hostility had wormed into his expressive gaze, but it couldn't conceal the underlying weariness Kermit sensed in the younger man.
"Still no word on your father, huh?" The ex-mercenary asked, correctly interpreting the driving force behind the excessive workload. Kwai Chang Caine had disappeared nearly six weeks ago, from an alley outside Delancey's. No evidence had been found to aide in the search for the Shaolin priest, and the disappearance remained unsolved.
Peter stiffened. A quick-silver flash of anxiety flitted through his eyes, quelled before it could take root. The younger man rocked back on his heels. Hooking his thumbs through his belt loops, he faked an ease he clearly didn't feel. He shrugged. "Nothing yet. So what's it gonna be?" One finely shaped brow rose into the dark fringe of his hair. "I could really use those names."
"Sure, Kid. Give me a few hours, okay?"
The grin surfaced again, this time clearly forced. "Thanks, Kermit. I've got some leads to run, but I'll check back this afternoon. Anything comes up in the meantime, Jordan knows where to find me. "
Kermit nodded, refraining from comment. His mouth dipped in a severe scowl as he watched the other turn away. He took another sip of the despised coffee, grimacing at the after-taste. Some things never changed: Blake's sorry excuse for morning caffeine, a records search that multiplied overnight, even the predictable pink message slips reminding him of this or that idiot report he had forgotten to write.
The world continued its plodding course, immune and callously blind to the unexplained disappearance of Kwai Chang Caine. Kermit sighed and turned towards his office, doing his best to shift into daily grind mode. "Sorry, Kid," he muttered. "I know how badly you're hurting."
Behind him, Peter Caine collected his jacket from the back of his chair and headed for the exit. One could only maintain a facade for so long, and his was quickly wearing thin. He ran a distracted ran through his hair, mouth compressing in a tight line.
//Where are you, Pop?//
Peter fiddled with one of the many incense burners in his father's apartment, flinching slightly at the touch of cold stone. He could still smell the essence of sandalwood; closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, allowing his finger to trail through discarded ash. Fat candles lined the walls, ribbons of wax frozen in mid drip to squat bases. A dappling of sunlight bled through the curtainless windows, yellowing the floor and brightening the semi-bare room. Peter pressed his back to the wall, tilting his head to stare at the ceiling. Slowly his knees folded. He slid down the wall, opting for a seat on the floor, more comfortable in his misery.
//Damn it, Pop!// He dropped his head into his hands, shivering with imaginary cold. The emptiness of the apartment settled into his bones, compounding his loneliness.
"Six weeks!" This time the words were said aloud, spat with a venom that surprised him. He shoved away from the wall, pushing to his feet. "Six, didn't-bother-to-tell-Peter-I-was-leaving-again-what-the-hell- maybe-I-was-kidnapped weeks! Shit, Pop, how can you just disappear like that?"
The words shuddered to sudden stillness, and Peter realized he was shaking. He drew an unsteady breath, feeling the anger wash through him. In the beginning he had worried for his father's safety, concerned that something grave had happened. Such thoughts only led to despair, and Peter had nearly driven himself insane, consumed by his inability to help. It was easier embracing his anger--imagining Caine sidetracked by a new *path* that didn't include his son.
Peter swallowed thickly. It was the first time in almost fifteen years that he'd been without a "father" in his life. Paul had filled the void after the orphanage, and again when Caine had left for six months. When it came time for Paul to leave, the priest had eased the vacuum created by the police captain's disappearance. But now Paul was gone, and so was Caine. The absence of both men caused the long-buried sense of abandonment to kick in. He thought he had buried that emotion after the Bardo, and again later, after successfully completing his Shaolin training. Drawing a breath, he attempted to center his thoughts, but found the pain too raw to silence.
Peter shuddered. "Time to grow up," he muttered, but the words were toneless, spoken without conviction. He slumped against the wall, shoulders sagging as lash-heavy eyes dipped shut, summoning a memory only weeks old . . .
//"Peter, you are being difficult." It was one of the few times Kwai Chang Caine ever used a clipped tone of voice when addressing his son. The son in question squirmed on the sheet-covered pallet and glared at his father. Rumpled strands of hair lay tumbled across his brow, and curled against the damp collar of his white shirt. A thin sheen of sweat glistened on the high arc of one cheekbone, accenting the dark bruise that marred otherwise flawless skin.
"It's no big deal. I took a tumble down the staircase. Let me go home."
Kwai Chang Caine raised a brow, forcibly refraining from commenting on his son's awkward grace. For a man who moved smoothly, perfecting difficult kung-fu moves, Peter had a tendency to trip over his own feet when in a rush. Today, as usual, he had been operating in high gear--barreling down the steps, while chatting over his shoulder. The result was an unexpected fall. Caine suppressed a smile. That at least had silenced Peter's chatter.
Caine reached out and swept the long bangs from his son's forehead, hesitating when his fingers encountered a small lump at the hairline. "I would prefer you spend the night." His hand shifted, sliding to the temple, probing softly, then trailing down Peter's neck. The gentle touch became a caress. A shadow of a smile tugged at the priest's lips. "Is my company so unpleasant, you wish to leave?"
Peter huffed out a breath. Knocking his father's hand aside, he tried to sit up, long denim-clad legs becoming entangled in crisp white sheets. "No. I wish to leave, because I wish to leave. I've got a life, Dad. You know, commitments--" He didn't even know how long he'd been out, only remembered the headlong fall into darkness. Swallowing thickly, he forced down a wave of nausea as the remembered vertigo hit him.
"You are supposed to see Jordan tonight?" Caine guessed.
Peter flushed. "No. Yes. Um . . . we kind of left it up in the air. Look, Pop--I'd really rather just go home."
Caine smiled. "You think I am selfish?"
Peter was flustered. "Selfish? I don't understand."
The touch returned to Peter's neck. Caine's fingers were firm and supple, kneading tension from the sweat-damp skin. "You have been extremely busy recently, Peter. We have not spoken at length, nor shared one another's company for some time. Can you fault me for wishing to detain you, when I have the opportunity to keep you to myself for one night?"
Peter wet his lips, uncertain how to respond. He hadn't expected such a bare-bones admission from his father, who preferred to veil most everything in *lessons* or riddles. An odd warmth spread through his middle as the impact of the words struck home. His lashes dipped, shrouding the uncertainty in his eyes, and then his gaze lifted to his father's face.
Caine's expression was serene. His fingers grazed across Peter's cheek. The hand shifted, curling behind his neck, gently tugging him forward. Peter bowed his head against his father's shoulder, his own hands rising to knot in the fabric of the priest's tunic.
"Sorry, Pop. You've got an idiot for a son."
The priest smiled, lifting a hand to stroke the silky crown of dark hair. "No, Peter. Just a clumsy one."//
The memory washed away and left him staring at empty walls. His anger had drained, replaced by the gnawing fear that kept him awake at night--tossing through restless hours, his stomach knotted and cold. He shook away the thoughts, walking briskly from the apartment. Booted feet skimmed over the steps that had once tripped him and sent him tumbling headlong into darkness--
He hitched in a breath.
--and his father's waiting arms.
It was dark by the time Peter returned to his apartment. The sun had dipped below the city streets, replaced by the yellow haze of street lamps and the passing glow of headlights. His mind was still at the precinct--reworking the list of names produced by Kermit, as promised. He'd spent the last few hours running leads into dead-ends, then bagged the evening when the hour inched past eight.
"Hi," a soft voice greeted as he entered the apartment. Peter closed the door behind him. Jordan MacGuire stood in the living room, her short gilded hair backlit by the muted glow of the wall lights. A tantalizing aroma wafted from the kitchen, informing Peter she'd been occupied while awaiting his arrival. "Hope you don't mind. I know we left things kind of up in the air, but I thought I'd make dinner and--"
He took two steps forward, wrapping an arm around her waist, as he bent his head and brushed a light kiss across her lips. When he would have drawn away, she tugged him forward, intensifying the greeting. He smiled against her lips.
"I knew there was a reason I came home."
She leaned her head against his shoulder and he tightened the embrace, thankful for the blissful warmth of the supple body pressed to his. Despite the levity of his tone, he felt hollow inside. She seemed to sense his need, for she waited, simply holding him as the tension subsided. When she lifted one hand to stroke his cheek, he caught her fingers and drew the palm to his lips.
"I didn't know you'd be here, or I would have come earlier," he told her. It was how they usually left things. A kind of "we'll see" attitude, created as much by conflicting schedules as the tentative ground of their relationship, both reluctant to advance into deeper territory.
Peter released her and eased out of his jacket. She watched as he disappeared into the kitchen, returning a moment later with an opened bottle of beer. "Something smells good," he observed.
"Hmm . . ." She brushed by him, catching his arm and turning him back towards the kitchen. "Then come and help. I'm just as much a novice around pots and pans as you are."
Despite her protest, dinner proved appetizing. Peter ate with the same kind of mechanical numbness that had plagued him throughout the afternoon and most of the evening. Afterwards he helped her clean up, then collapsed on the sofa, a bottle of beer for company. He took one sip of the beverage, then shoved it away. Leaning forward, he rubbed at his eyes.
"Long day?" Jordan guessed. She nestled beside him, curling her legs on the sofa, shoes discarded on the floor.
"Long six weeks," Peter replied absently.
"Oh." The word slipped from her lips and he turned to look at her, his gaze hooded and sharp. They'd had similar conversations before, none particularly pleasant.
"Sorry," he said, suddenly bitter. "I can't let it rest."
Jordan sighed. "I know you miss your father, Peter." Her fingers curled into the crook of his arm. "But isn't it possible, he simply decided to le--"
"No!" he snapped. He shook off her hand and surged to his feet. It was one thing toying with the idea himself, but to hear another say it--to plead with him to admit it. "No, he wouldn't just leave. Not without telling me. Not without--" his voice caught, "--saying goodbye."
He stepped away from the sofa; walked to the window, where he could stare into the faceless night. Fear tangled with confusion, reawakening the burgeoning sense of abandonment. //Pop, please--you didn't just leave, did you? You wouldn't do that to me. Not again.//
"Peter, I'm sorry." He saw Jordan's reflection in the glass, felt her touch--hesitant and feather light--against his back. God, how many times had they been through this--over and over again--and to what avail? Bottom line: Kwai Chang Caine was gone.
"I didn't mean to snap," he apologized. Sighing, he laced a hand through his hair. He turned, and gathered her into his arms, needing more than anything to heal the distance between them. His lips brushed her temple. Slipping one finger beneath her chin, he tilted her head up, lightly exploring her mouth with his own. The intoxicating bow of her lips yielded beneath his, and the tentativeness of the kiss was replaced by growing hunger. He tugged her closer. "Stay with me tonight," he whispered.
He knew he'd never banish the darkness alone.
"Here you go, that's the last of it." Kermit Griffin tossed a handful of papers on Peter's already cluttered desk, then took a moment to adjust his impeccable tie. "Bottom of the barrel, Kid. You need anything else on Ritter, you're solo--at least where a modem's concerned."
Peter's eyes flashed from the file he'd been studying. Rocking back in his chair, he tapped the eraser-end of a pencil against the desk. "Thanks, Kermit. I'm still weeding through the stuff from yesterday."
"A few maybes. I'll keep you posted." He hesitated, cocked his head. "I guess there's nothing new on my father?"
Kermit's brows crept above his glasses, but he frowned at Peter's hopeful look. "Come on, Pete. You know I'd tell you the moment anything like that came in."
"Yeah, I know." Peter glanced away, a guilty flush staining his cheeks. "It's just that ..." He shifted in the chair, his frustration palpable. "I keep hoping . . . maybe-maybe something--"
"Peter, everyone's got their ear to the ground. Believe me, we know how much this means to you."
Disgusted, Peter tossed the pencil aside. "I just wish he'd warned me. Prepared me that he might not be there someday. I got too use to having him around."
"Priests have all the audacity." Kermit quipped. "Makes you mad--him off somewhere while you sit here squirming."
Peter glanced up, surprised. "W-well, it's not like he had a choice," he sputtered. "I-I mean--"
Kermit waved a hand in dismissal. "Come on, Peter. Quit putting the old man on a pedestal. He's perfectly capable of taking care of himself. You know it and I know it--he'd be here right now if he wanted to be. If he gave half a shit about what his son was going through--"
"Wait a minute!" Peter shoved to his feet, body suddenly bristling. An angry flush crept over the delicate arc of his cheekbones. Leaning forward, thighs bumping against the desk, he leveled a hostile glare on the ex-mercenary. "My father was attacked, Kermit! Struck in an alley by a couple of thugs who used their car as a battering ram--"
"So he didn't have time to warn you," the other inserted quietly. "Didn't really have time to do anything."
Peter drew back sharply, mouth clamping shut on the rush of words that had tangled on his tongue. The confrontational edge slipped from his eyes. He blinked, anger giving way to confusion. The corners of Kermit's mouth tipped up slightly.
"Hurts doesn't it, Peter?"
The young detective drew a breath. He glanced away, the sweep of long, dark lashes veiling his eyes. "I blamed him. It was easier that way." He hesitated. "Thanks for making me see it wasn't his fault." Wearily dropping into the chair, he leaned forward and propped his elbows on the desk. He bowed his head, fingercombing his hair with a nervous hand. After a moment, he shook his head, a crooked half-grin flitting across his lips. "You practicing psychology now?"
Kermit shrugged, the movement oddly reminiscent of Kwai Chang Caine's one-shouldered roll. "Guess your father's rubbing off on me."
"He's irritating that way."
"Like his son," Kermit countered, his expression one of innocence.
Peter readied a descriptive reply, but Broderick's interruption cut him short. The desk Sargent stuck his head around the corner. "Peter, pick up line three. Something about your father."
"Shit!" The detective nearly upset the phone in his haste to reach it. Punching down the button, he raised the receiver to his ear. He could feel Kermit hovering at his back, sudden tension crackling between them.
"Caine," Peter barked into the phone. A garbled voice greeted him on the other end, and he hastily scribbled a note on the nearest piece of paper. His reply was brief, spoken in Chinese.
"Well?" Kermit asked when he'd hung up the phone.
"Maybe nothing," Peter supplied, but it was obvious from his tone he struggled to suppress his excitement. "One of the merchants in Chinatown saw a man that looked like my father--" he paused, frowning slightly as if perplexed, "--only different."
Peter shook his head. "I don't know. Like me--Western. I'm gonna head down there. The guy wasn't making any sense."
"Want me to come along?"
"No thanks. I could do without the intimidation." He paused, eyes skewing sideways, mouth curling in a sly, secretive grin. "Besides--it could ruin your rep. Someone might think you actually cared."
Kermit snorted. "Fat chance," he said, and strolled away. Peter watched until he reached his office, then quickly pocketed the address he'd written down. Force of habit made him double-check his gun and his shield. The routine act instilled a sense of calm. He was halfway to the door when he realized he'd forgotten his jacket. He half turned, catching a glimmer of movement from the corner of his eye, and for a moment he thought he saw his father--there in the squad room, among the clutter and the too-strong coffee--smiling benignly, beloved flute in one hand, battered fedora in the other. Though only a trick of his mind, Peter's heart rose to his throat. In the blink of an eye, his composure shattered. He sucked in a breath.
"I'll find you, Dad," he vowed, voice rough with emotion. "Six weeks or six months, I'll find you."
Grimly determined, he gathered his jacket and headed for Chinatown.
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