Written for Thea M for Yuletide 2008.
Huge thanks to my betas Therienne and Llwyden, who both made this much better than it was.
written December 2008, posted January 3, 2009
Caine walked lightly along the dirt path, his measured steps nearly silent next to his son's sharper tread as they moved deeper into the wooded park. It was his favorite part of the city, a quiet haven amidst the noise and bustle that filled the streets. He made a soft sound of delight as a cool breeze sprang up, and lifted his face into it to savor the contrast between that and the warmth of the autumn sun on his back.
He breathed deeply, letting out a sigh of contentment at the rich smell of earth combined with the sharp scent of evergreen needles and fallen leaves. A faint sound caught his attention, and he huffed out a quiet laugh as he watched a pair of squirrels chase each other up and down a tree in the midst of their nut-gathering. He must remember to walk these paths more often, take the time to immerse himself in the living meditation of such harmony and peace. Perhaps Peter would join him again --
"Are we almost there?" Peter asked, shoving his hands restlessly into his pockets and immediately pulling them back out again to gesture around them. "Pop? Hey, how are we supposed to find one little bunch of flowers in the middle of all this, anyway?"
-- Or perhaps not. Immersing oneself in peace and quiet was never simple when Peter was nearby. Caine sighed gently, pulling his attention from the woodland harmony to his son's restless energy, smiling indulgently as Peter's eyes made a sweep of the area and moved back to Caine. "We are... almost there, my son. I know where we are, and I will recognize the flowers. I saw them, last week when I was walking these paths." He swept his open hand in an arc, encompassing the woods ahead of them. "They... were not ready to be harvested then, but they should be perfect now."
"Okay, good," Peter said, hands back in his pockets and eyes sweeping the area again. "I still don't know why you needed me -- shit."
"Sorry," Peter said absently, his attention focused on something beyond the trees to Caine's right. "I thought I saw Ron Delgado -- damn, I lost him. If it even was him." He shook his head.
"He is, a criminal?"
"Oh, yeah. He's a real bad guy -- organized crime, runs a protection racket. Paul thinks the guy he works for has a cop on his payroll, too. Maybe even more than one." Anger radiated off Peter at the thought, his jaw clenching. "Delgado's not the only one who vanished a few weeks ago when the DA got warrants on that crew. They must've been tipped off. If that was Delgado, and we could take him in and flip him, we could clear out a lot of corruption in the city." With a visible effort, Peter shook it off, relaxing again. "But ah, what are the odds he'd be walking through the same woods as me?" he said, flashing a smile at Caine. "I must've been imagining -- no, damn, I was right! That is him! Looks like he's heading to the river. I can't believe my luck." The relaxed pose was gone; Peter was completely alert, nearly vibrating, as he reached out to squeeze Caine's arm gently. "I'm sorry, Pop, but I have to go get this guy."
"If this man is as bad as you say, should you not wait and call for... back-up?"
Peter shook his head, keeping his gaze fixed on Delgado's position. "No; the only cops I know for sure I can trust are in my squad, and by the time any of them got here, Delgado could be long gone."
"Ah," Caine said, considering that. It made sense, but would still leave Peter in danger. "Do you then... wish me, to accompany you?"
Peter smiled at him. "You know there's no one I'd rather have watching my back. But would you mind staying here this time? I can't let anything happen that a lawyer could use against us, and a civilian helping to make the arrest..." Peter looked at him apologetically.
Caine smiled and bowed slightly. "I, understand, my son. It is... cop, business."
Peter grinned, relieved. "Yeah, exactly. Okay -- this should only take a few minutes. Stick around, okay?"
"I will," Caine promised.
"Okay." Peter touched his arm again, nodded, and turned away, moving into the woods at an angle that would intersect with Delgado's path.
Caine watched him go, tempted to go after him despite Peter's words, not quite able to suppress his need to protect his precious child. But Peter was no longer a child, and would resent what he would see as interference. After a moment, Caine shook himself and stepped off the path, settling onto the sun-warmed ground and closing his eyes, smiling as he heard birds alight in the trees behind him and start chirping to each other. If he couldn't be with Peter, he could become one with the harmony around him while he waited.
If he couldn't physically be with Peter, that is. As always, even the lightest stage of meditation strengthened his bond with his son, Peter's presence blazing from a soft, steady candle to a beacon in his heart. He sensed that Peter was focused and intent, sure of himself and the job he was doing.
Caine allowed himself a moment of pure pride at that surety, and sent a silent benediction toward his son, wrapping him in protection and love. He had never intended for his son to be a police officer, had never even dreamed of the possibility, but it was a better fit than he could ever have imagined. In a corner of his heart he mourned the monk that Peter would never be, but in truth, his son had never been meant for a life of quiet meditation. He was no still lake, calmly reflecting the world around him, keeping his strength leashed beneath the surface; Peter was a rushing river, a waterfall, all boundless energy and action. Caine laughed softly to himself, thinking of Peter's impatience on the path beside him. He was still less interested in the journey than the destination -- a waterfall, indeed, plunging over cliffs to see what lay below, carving out his own path as he went, instead of meekly accepting the place already carved out for him.
That energy could have been a destructive force if the anger that had nearly consumed Peter during his adolescence had succeeded in warping him, as Tan would no doubt have wanted -- a thought that even now raised a pillar of burning wrath in Caine's heart. But the child Peter had been had never been entirely lost, even in the midst of that anger; Peter was still the protector of the weak and helpless, and had grown into a man of honor and courage that any father would be proud of, channeling his anger into a weapon aimed directly at evil of all kinds wherever he found it.
Caine drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, remembering the affection in Peter's voice as he had spoken of Paul Blaisdell. He owed a great debt to Peter's foster parents for not letting that youthful anger overwhelm and destroy the purity of his soul, even if they hadn't understood all that Peter had lost when the temple burned. They had guided the rushing river gently into a new bed, one that Peter could shape to his own needs.
It hadn't been easy, to see his son so firmly entrenched on such a different path when they reunited. But a river that changes course once can shift again when the lie of the land changes, and Caine's presence in his life was reminding Peter of the path he'd once followed. Every day, Peter was becoming more whole, learning to balance the two worlds that had shaped him -- a credit to both his fathers.
Smiling, Caine opened his eyes to gaze serenely on the growing things that surrounded him, content to wait as long as it took for his son to return.
Darkness filled his sight and he swayed, one hand reaching out to catch himself on the ground, crushing the sere grass. He battled for control, breathing deeply and steadily to regain his focus as he cast his mind out, seeking the threat that had overwhelmed him.
He found it a moment later, a thick miasma around the shining light of his son. "Peter!" he gasped, willing the vision to clear. His mind's eye filled with a vision of Peter, standing alone near the river and facing more than half a dozen assailants, fighting hard but soon to be overwhelmed. "I am coming, my son!" Caine was on his feet and running in a heartbeat, straight through the woods, avoiding roots and branches as though they were nothing more than dust motes on the air.
He burst into the clearing where Peter was holding his attackers at bay, sternly banishing the fear that gripped his heart, knowing that it would only weaken him. Peter was fine. All that mattered now was defeating this evil. Peter had already begun; one of the men was on the ground, not moving, and a second was moving slowly, obviously badly injured. As Caine watched, Peter caught one of his attackers by the arm and used his momentum to fling him into the wounded man, tumbling both to the ground and clearing a space around him. He looked up and saw Caine, and a grin flashed briefly across his face -- strange to see, in the midst of so much violence, but Caine couldn't help but smile in return, his heart lightened by Peter's attitude.
Three of the remaining men broke away from Peter and turned to face Caine, poised and ready. Caine settled into a preternatural calm, gauging them with a clear eye. He moved toward the one closest to him, pulling him off-balance and throwing him against a gnarled treetrunk, barely registering the thud before moving on to the next one. A calculated grasp of his neck, cutting the bloodflow to his brain for several seconds, took him down, leaving Caine enough time to whirl into a kick to take out the one who'd tried to sneak up behind him.
Caine looked around, in time to see Peter take out the last man with a flying kick, allowing himself a moment of pleasure at the cleanness of Peter's form. Peter spun in a controlled circle, ready to take on any other comers, slowly relaxing as he realized they'd all been defeated. The men who were able to were fleeing, dragging their unconscious fellows with them.
"That was well done, my son," Caine said approvingly, moving to Peter's side.
Peter turned to look at him, frowning a little. "Did you feel it?" He shook his head, glancing around the clearing again. "There was a darkness to them, a feeling of -- of evil. If you hadn't shown up... I dunno, Pop. I don't know if I could have taken them by myself."
"I, too, sensed their... evil," Caine said gravely. "And I will always... 'show up', when you are in such danger. But," he added, reaching out to cup Peter's cheek in his hand, "you were... holding your own, Peter. You are a, formidable, warrior for the light." He smiled and pushed gently on Peter's cheek. "Do not... underestimate... yourself."
Peter's eyes brightened with pride at his father's praise. "Thanks, Pop -- Dad," Peter corrected himself hastily, holding up one hand in silent apology.
Caine raised a disapproving eyebrow at the term, but let it go. "What... happened? Why were these men after you?"
"I have no idea. I was closing in on Delgado when they jumped me. Did you recognize any of them?"
"I did not." Caine shrugged.
"Don't tell me, I know -- it doesn't matter who they are, and it does no good to wonder whether they'll be back. We'll cross paths with them again or we won't."
Caine laughed quietly. "Yes, my son. You have learned... that lesson, very well."
Peter shook his head. "I can't figure out if it's a good thing or not, that I'm not surprised anymore at random bad guys jumping me."
Caine smiled slightly. "Everything... is part of a pattern, my son."
Peter smacked his right fist into his open left hand, bowing, and grinned up into his father's face. "I know. I'm learning. Slowly, but I'm learning."
Caine reached out and slapped him lightly on the cheek. "Not so slowly. I am proud of you, Peter."
Peter flushed and stood a little straighter. "So, what now? Think it's worth trying to track these guys back to their source?"
Caine shrugged one shoulder, tipping his head to the side as he spread his hands. "I... do not. They are unlikely to have left a trail, and were only... hired muscle? We would discover little, if anything, I think."
"Yeah, you're probably right." Peter was scowling a little, but shook his head. "Whoever's after us will tip his hand eventually."
"Yes. And you -- and I -- will be ready when that day comes."
Peter grinned. "As Kermit would say -- oh, yeah."
Caine gestured toward the path, falling into step beside Peter as they walked toward it. "And what about your... perp?"
"Ah, he got away when those guys jumped me," Peter said with a disgusted wave of his hand. He sounded oddly sanguine about it, however.
"This does not... bother you? You do not wish to, pursue, him?"
Peter shook his head. "Nah. He's long gone -- he rabbited as soon as the fight started. I don't think he made me, though; I hadn't gotten close enough yet. He won't be hiding his tracks. Soon as I can get to a phone, I'll let Paul know he's back in town. We'll find him again."
"Yes," Caine agreed softly. "I am sure that you will, my son." He smiled at Peter, radiating energetic confidence beside him. "But for now, come. We still have... flowers, to pick."
Peter laughed, slinging an arm around Caine in a quick hug. "Okay, Pop."
"Sorry, Dad," Peter said, grinning irrepresibly.
Caine sighed, then frowned as he glanced about them, his attention caught by familiarity.
"What is it?"
"I think -- yes, I think perhaps our foes have found us a... short-cut?"
Peter stared at him, then laughed in disbelief. "Of course they have. Nothing happens without a reason, huh?"
Caine nodded. "Yes, my son. All things that happen have a purpose."
"So you're saying those guys jumped me so we'd find your flowers faster?"
Caine shrugged one shoulder up, then dropped it down again. "Perhaps."
Peter snorted. "Okay, if you say so."
"Ah!" Caine exclaimed a few moments later, pleased, as he caught sight of the small patch of flowers he sought, glowing golden in the mellow afternoon light.
Peter squinted at them. "Are those marigolds? You brought us all the way out here for marigolds? Pop, c'mon, I know a florist in the city who has marigolds year-round, we coulda just bought some."
Caine raised his eyebrows.
Peter flushed and squirmed a little. "They're Kelly's favorite flowers. I, um. I used to do a lot of apologizing when we were dating."
Caine sighed deeply, closing his eyes for a moment. "Of course. I should have known." He shook his head. "They are not... marigolds, although they are related." As they drew closer, he bent and plucked a flower. "You see? The blossom is different. This is... Mexican tarragon."
"Tarragon? Like the herb?"
Caine sighed again. "Yes. Like the herb."
Peter had the grace to look abashed. "Sorry. So what's so special about it?"
Caine gathered several of the plants, plucking them carefully. "I learned about this when I was... traveling," he said, keeping his eyes fixed on the blossoms.
"When you thought I was dead," Peter said, a little unevenly.
Caine nodded once, and straightened, meeting his son's eyes and the pain they held squarely, knowing his own eyes echoed that pain. "Yes. When I thought you were dead, and I wandered in search of healing. I was in a border town for a while, and a.... friend, there, taught me about this herb. I had not thought it grew so far north."
"You were in a border town?" Peter's eyes had sharpened, his whole attention focused on Caine, as it always was whenever Caine mentioned something from those years they'd been apart.
"I was," Caine said quietly. "But that is a story for... another time. For now, what matters is that I learned of these flowers." He broke the flower heads off, placing them into his bag to use later, and slid the stems and leaves into a small pouch, holding it out to his son. "Here."
"Wait, Pop, no," Peter protested, hands up, "I'm no herbalist."
Caine smiled. "No, you are not," he agreed, hiding his amusement at Peter's offended look. "But you are going to... Donnie Double-D's -- bachelor? party, are you not?"
"Sure, later tonight, it should be a great time. Wait -- you're not coming, are you?" Peter asked warily.
Caine shook his head once. "I am not. But these herbs, when made into a tea, help with a, hang...over?" He quirked an eybrow at Peter, who grinned happily.
"Well, that's different! Thanks, Pop!" He reached for the pouch eagerly.
Caine shook his head again and grabbed his son's wrist with his free hand, scowling. "First, do not call me 'Pop'. And second, the herbs are not for you. If you are so foolish as to drink to such excess, you should embrace the pain that teaches you the error of your ways."
Peter scowled right back, on the thin edge of sulking. Perhaps over the edge of sulking. "Well, if they're not for me, why are you giving them to me?"
Caine released Peter's wrist and pressed the pouch into his hand, wrapping Peter's fingers gently around it until he accepted it. "It is for... your friend, Donnie Double-D."
"He's not my friend, he's my informant. There's a difference."
Caine shrugged. "You trust him; he trusts you. You are going to his, bachelor, party. You are... friends."
Peter made an aborted gesture, looking annoyed. "Okay, fine, I guess we're friends. But why are you giving me these to make tea just for him? Is it special wedding-hangover tea, or something?"
"Ah." Caine smiled. "No, not wedding tea. It is so that Lula does not catch him with a, hang-over."
"What, so I have to suffer and Donnie gets off with a special tea from the great healer Caine?"
"Peter," Caine said reprovingly. "If you are... hung-over, you will suffer a headache, perhaps some nausea. Yes?"
"Yeah, and it's no fun, Pop, let me tell you."
Caine sighed as his son's tone left no doubt that he'd suffered many such hangovers before. "And if Donnie Double-D is... hung-over, and Lula finds him in that state..."
Peter blinked, going wide-eyed and touching his throat with one hand. "She'll kill him," he said, sounding horrified and, perhaps, impressed in spite of himself. "She practically throttles him when he's five minutes late. If she thinks he got drunk at his party, after promising he wouldn't... she'll kill him where he stands."
"Yes," Caine said, inclining his head. "I believe that even Lo Si would hesitate to face Lula when she was..."
"Pissed off," Peter finished, nodding.
Caine sighed quietly. "I was going to say 'angry', but yes... 'pissed-off' is also accurate."
Peter tossed the pouch once in his hand and slipped it into his jacket pocket, reaching out to clap Caine on the shoulder. "You're a good man, Pop -- sorry, Dad." He grinned, then jerked his head to the side. "C'mon."
They walked back down the path, the light of the setting sun still warm on Caine's face, but barely noticeable next to the warmth of his son at his side. "Peter. Perhaps, tomorrow evening, you would care to have dinner with me?"
Peter glanced at him, shifting a little closer and putting an arm around Caine's shoulders. "Yeah. Yeah, I'd like that. Maybe you can tell me about that border town."
Caine smiled, his heart filled with peace. "Yes, my son. Perhaps it is time."
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