John woke, a few minutes before his alarm would normally go off. He groggily rolled over and nearly fell out of bed, only catching himself at the last moment by putting one foot on the floor and a hand on his nightstand. As he righted himself and got his bearings, he glanced over at the bed, and realized why he had nearly landed on the floor. Sprawled on his bed were Pavel and Casey.
He stood there looking at them in the early morning light, and he felt something inside himself moving, shifting. All his life he'd been looking for something, for someone to make him feel whole and alive, to make him stop thinking the world had it in for him. In the last day, he had realized what he needed was simply to open up his heart and take the chance he'd always denied himself. He needed to stop being the child and finally accept the role of father, a role he'd been practicing for all his life, but had always been too afraid to embrace. He felt a ray of hope warming inside him, that in doing so he might also finally find a woman, the woman, who would finally accept him as he was and stay with him. He suddenly realized that if he allowed himself, he could stand there looking at them all morning long, but there were things to do.
He answered nature's call, but postponed his morning shower, pulling on his favorite old jeans and sweatshirt. He left a note for Casey on the bathroom mirror, so she wouldn't worry, if she woke and found him gone. He grabbed his gun, because even off-duty he was expected to be armed when he went out, and then put his favorite dark quilted vest on over it. He was headed to the big supermarket in his neighborhood, to lay in some groceries. Having a kid in the house would mean keeping the fridge and pantry a little better stocked than he normally did.
When he got to the supermarket, he made a beeline for the produce department. John selected a small bag of oranges, he had a juicer, and he was a great believer in the benefit of fresh juices. He picked up a handful of other fruits and vegetables and then headed for the dairy case. He was really torn here. He wasn't convinced milk would be all that good for Pavel, because of all the things that got into it, but finally a carton of organic milk caught his eye and he decided that that would be OK. He picked up cage free brown eggs, and then he bought some organic yogurt for himself and Casey. He then added whole wheat bread, bagels, organic peanut butter and grape jelly to his shopping cart. He went down the cereal aisle in complete amazement at all the junk on the shelves that was being passed off as cereal. He settled on Cherrios for Pavel and granola for himself.
One of the things John liked about this particular supermarket was that it featured a well-stocked kosher meat case. He grabbed a few deli meats from that case and a chicken, and decided his shopping was done.
Casey woke a bit bewildered, not realizing at first where she was. When she saw Pavel, she remembered the previous evening in detail. She didn't see John and wondered where he could be. A trip to the bathroom answered that, as she found the sticky note on the mirror.
I've gone to get some groceries. The cupboard was bare. Be back soon.
P.S. I've got my cell phone with me, so call if you think of something you want.
Just as John was checking out, his cell phone rang.
"Hello? Oh Hi Casey," he answered.
"John, can you get some coffee? I can't seem to find any in the kitchen."
"Oh, it's in the freezer, whole beans and there's a grinder on the counter top, next to the coffee pot," he answered her.
"Oh, OK I see it. Will you be home soon?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'm in the check out line now. Be home in 10 or 15," he answered.
"OK, see ya then."
Casey ground the beans and got the coffee on, determined to have a fresh pot of coffee to present to John when he arrived.
As John juggled the groceries bags trying to get his keys out of his jeans pocket, he found he had no choice but to ring the doorbell. After what seemed like ages Casey opened the apartment door.
"What took you so long?" he asked, sounding a bit miffed.
"I had to look through the peep hole, to make sure it was really you!" she said, a note of teasing in her voice.
"I deserve that one," John admitted. He put the groceries on the kitchen table and began unpacking the bags.
"Go on, jump in the shower, I'll put these away." She said shooing him away, and then calling him back. "Hey, you want a cup of coffee?"
"Thanks," he said accepting a mug of the steaming liquid. "You know, I could get use to this," he said as he headed for the bathroom, while taking sips of the hot, fresh coffee.
She just smiled. When he was out of earshot, she added. "So could I."
John put his mug down by the sink, stripped and took a quick shower. He briskly toweled off after his shower, and then wrapped a towel around his waist and took another sip of his coffee. He stood in front of the mirror and began his morning ritual of shaving.
"John?" Casey said as she peaked into the bathroom.
"Yeah," he answered a bit nervously.
"I'm making omelets for breakfast, what do you like in yours?" she asked, trying not to be too obvious about checking out John's tattoo.
"Uh, I'm not that picky. I'm sure whatever you make will be just fine," he answered almost shyly.
"Alright, well breakfast should be ready in about 5 minutes," she said as she left for the kitchen.
John finished shaving and then went back into his bedroom to get dressed. He glanced at Pavel, who was still sound asleep. He was glad the boy was finally sleeping soundly and regretted that he'd have to wake him pretty soon, to get him fed and dressed.
John had decided to leave his dress shirt off until after he'd finished eating, otherwise he'd run the risk of getting something on it. So he came out to the kitchen dressed in his best black pants, an A-shirt and suspenders. He was also barefooted. When Casey saw him she decided that it didn't matter if he was old enough to be her father and skinny as a beanpole, she thought he was incredibly sexy.
"Can you help me with the juicer?" she asked as she fumbled with the appliance and a handful of citrus.
"Here," John came up behind her and reached around her with his long arms. "Let me do that, you make sure my eggs don't burn," he teased. He found himself fighting the urge to trap her against the cabinets; to press his body against hers, wrap his arms around her, kiss her neck. He shook his head a little, to clear it of those thoughts. There was a lot to do today and he couldn't indulge his fantasies, besides this was suppose to be a time of mourning his thoughts were definitely inappropriate.
Soon they had a breakfast of just brewed coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, cheese and veggie omelets and whole-wheat toast.
"Mm, this is wonderful, I guess last night's potato soup wasn't a fluke," John commented.
"No, I love to cook. I just don't usually do it, because it seems like such a lot of bother for one person. I really wish I had someone to cook for all the time."
"Careful what you wish for, it might come true," John warned her and waggled his fork at her.
She just smiled, and then she decided that since John seemed to be in a good mood, she'd tempt fate and ask him about his tattoo.
"So, is that tattoo really a marijuana leaf?" she asked.
"Yeah, a souvenir of my rebellious youth," he answered. "I'd love to tell you the story, but we need to roust a boy and get him fed and dressed, and then we'll take you to you're place, so you can get dressed. After that we'll hit the stores to get Pavel a jacket and a warm coat."
"Sounds like you've got it all planned out."
"Pretty much, at least through the funeral, after that, well, I guess I'll figure it out when the time comes."
They put their dishes in the sink and then turned to the task of getting Pavel up and ready. As it turned out Pavel was one of those rare children who woke up cheerful and cooperative, so it didn't take long to dress him and get him fed. It helped that John had somehow managed to pick up several foods the boy liked, so soon the threesome were headed off to Casey's apartment.
John and Pavel waited in Casey's living room like two impatient suitors while she changed clothes. "What makes it take so long for girls to get dressed?" Pavel asked.
John smiled. "Uh, they've got a bit more to deal with," he answered
When Casey emerged in a simple black dress suitable for the funeral, John couldn't help think that even so simply dressed, she was still breathtakingly beautiful, at least in his opinion.
"Well gentlemen, let's go shopping!" she said with enthusiasm.
LATER THAT EVENING
Casey had commandeered John's kitchen table to spread out files and her laptop computer, so she could prepare for the grand jury she had postponed in order to attend the Rusayevs' funeral. She glanced over at John and Pavel and sighed, the funeral that morning had not brought out the best in her. It had just been so hard for her to watch the two people she was starting to fall so in love with, hurt so much. She also felt they had been poorly treated. Bad enough that Pavel was struggling with the loss of his family, but she'd also seen John struggling. At the end of the funeral there had been questions about where the Shiva would be, John explained that for Pavel's safety they would not be accepting any Shiva calls, and that had caused a minor uproar. Casey hadn't handled it in a manner that befitted an Assistant DA. Hopefully, Arthur Branch wouldn't hear about it, or at least no one would translate what she'd said.
"I think maybe it's time we take Casey to her place, Pavel," John suggested.
"No, I want her to stay!" the little boy wailed.
"Pavel, Casey can't stay here with us all the time, she has her own home," he countered calmly.
"Why can't this be her home?" Pavel wailed.
John shook his head; he was uncertain what to say to calm the boy.
"John, I can stay, if it's that important to him." Casey offered.
John moved over to the kitchen so he could stand close to Casey to have a private conversation.
"Look, I don't think it's a good idea to give into him all the time," he said very quietly.
"Normally I'd agree, but" – she hesitated and looked at the boy, "he's had such a rough time, if he needs me to stay, I'll stay," she repeated her offer.
John looked over at Pavel, who was looking at him with pleading eyes, and then turned back to Casey. He was on the verge of telling her it was him who would have trouble handling the situation they were about to set up. He took a deep breath. "OK, but I'm really worried about setting a precedent here."
"Oh no, we mustn't set a precedent," Casey said with a smirk.
John gave her a look that said he wasn't as amused as she'd hoped he'd be by her remark.
"OK Pavel, Casey is staying tonight" –
"Yeah!" Pavel said jumping up on the couch and clapping.
"OFF THE COUCH!" Casey commanded.
"OK", Pavel said meekly and got down obediently.
"I didn't mean to yell at you, but you should know better than to jump on furniture," Casey said, hoping to stave off tears.
John smiled; Casey seemed to parent instinctively, but she was much more stringent than he'd be about things an exuberant young boy might do.
"Alright let me help with your belt and then you go get into your pajamas," John told Pavel.
"Already," the boy whined.
"Yes already, but if you quit complaining and just go get changed, I'll read you a couple of stories before bedtime," John promised.
Pavel quickly ran to John for him to undo his belt and then ran to the bathroom to change.
"He's such a sweet boy, and you," she pointed at him and smiled, "are a push over."
"Pushover?" he said and cocked his head at her.
"Reading him two stories if he doesn't whine about having to get ready for bed," she said by way of explanation.
He shrugged, "It always worked with Bernie."
"Ivan, I need help with the toothpaste," Pavel yelled from the bathroom
John shook his head and headed off to help Pavel.
After taking turns reading two stories to Pavel and tuck him into bed, John and Casey retired to his bedroom. Casey brought her papers and laptop with her.
"Do you mind if I work for a while?" she asked.
"No, I was just going to ask if you would mind if I did some research on the Internet," John admitted.
"How are you going to do that in here?" she asked.
"When I stopped by the squad this afternoon, I borrowed a laptop that has a wireless connection," he answered.
"Ah, I see, so what are you researching?" she asked.
"Schools for Pavel, I also need to check my email. Huang said he was trying to set Pavel up with a good child psychologist," John answered.
They sat in bed side by side, each tapping away on a keyboard. After a while John closed his laptop, set it aside, yawned, stretched and settled into the covers.
"You want me to stop?" Casey asked.
"No, go ahead and work if you need to, I can sleep through a little keyboard tapping," he assured her.
"Alright, I'm almost done anyway," she replied and continued her work, occasionally glancing over to see if he was asleep or not. She closed her laptop and put her files away a few minutes later.
"You done already?' he asked.
"Not really, but I can see I'm keeping you awake," she replied.
"No you're really not, I'm just not used to this early to bed routine brought on by having a grade school kid sleeping in my living room. I guess what I really should have been searching the Internet for was a new apartment," John said, thinking over the situation.
"Yes, you had better do that very quickly if you have any plans to keep Pavel on a more permanent basis," Casey commented.
"What do you mean?" John sat up some, and turned toward Casey to pay closer attention to what she was saying.
"Well, face it John, you're going to have a difficult time convincing Child Protective Services to make you Pavel's foster parent on a permanent basis, let alone let you adopt him," Casey told him.
John sighed heavily. "You really think so?" he asked
"I'm afraid so, usually foster parents have to go through a lengthy training process and background checks and home visitations before a child is placed with them, and while many CPS agents think more mature adults make the best foster parents, a lot of adoption agencies don't like to see more than a 25 year age gap between child and adoptive parent. Add that to your work schedule, marital status and the danger of your occupation… well, I think it's going to be an uphill battle," she finally finished. When John didn't say anything immediately, she added, "Damn, there I go again, saying things you'd rather not hear."
"No it's OK. You're right and it's something I have to face. As much as I want Pavel to stay with me, and I think he wants to stay with me, it may not be in the cards."
"But you are going to try and keep him aren't you?" Casey said, suddenly dismayed at the thought that John might give up.
"You bet I am, and I'll do anything I can to keep him with me, to raise him as my own," he said firmly.
"And I'm determined to help you," she added.
"You've been so wonderful with Pavel. I don't know how I'm going to thank you," John told her earnestly.
"You want a suggestion?" she asked sincerely.
"You have something in mind?" he asked.
"Yes, let me be a part Pavel's life," she requested.
"Of course, I can't imagine raising Pavel without your help," he admitted.
"Thank You," she said excitedly and threw her arms around him, giving him a hug and a kiss on his cheek. They drew apart both a bit embarrassed.
"Well, um …" John cleared his throat, "I'm going to try to get some sleep before Pavel wakes us up again with his nightmares."
"Yeah, I'm sure that's a good idea," she said and turned a way from him turning off the light on her side of the bed.
They laid next to each other in silence for a while and then they simultaneously spoke each other's names, and then they laughed.
"Ladies first," John said.
"You think after what I said at the cemetery, I still qualify?" she asked with humor in her voice.
John laughed, "Oh, I don't think calling Mrs. Petrov an old cow means you have to surrender your right to be considered a lady," he answered, then added, "But I do think you should give people fair warning of your temper by changing your hair back to red."
"But don't gentlemen prefer blondes?" she asked.
"Maybe, but as beautiful as you are, I think you were even more beautiful"-
Before he could finish his thought, the night's calm was shattered by a scream from Pavel, and he and Casey were soon by the child's side.
John picked the frightened boy up and brought him to the bedroom, all the time crooning to the child in a mixture of Russian and English. John put Pavel down on the bed, and he and Casey laid down on either side of the boy. They let him talk to them, describing his nightmares, which sounded surprisingly like a replay of the attack on his parents and grandfather. They took turns talking to him, reassured him that he was safe and that they wouldn't leave him. Pavel finally fell asleep curled up between them, and Casey drifted off to sleep too, but John didn't fall asleep right away.
He lay awake in the quiet of the early morning and thought about all that Casey had said. Some of it worried him, and some of it raised hopes in him that he thought would never rise again. She wanted to be a part of Pavel's life and she was determined to help him keep Pavel, so she was bound to be a part of his life too. Now, if he could simply find the slime balls that endangered his boy's life and put them behind bars for life, figure out a way to pay for a bigger apartment and a good private school for Pavel, and convince the bureaucrats at Child Protective Services that he should be Pavel's adoptive father. He sighed, turned over, punched his pillow, laid his head down and was soon gently snoring.
The next morning was a bit hectic as all three of them tried to get ready at the same time.
"I better run, I've got an early motion hearing," Casey said as she tried to down the rest of her orange juice.
"Hang on, I'll drive you. I have to take Pavel to see Liz Olivet, and her office isn't that far from the court house," John offered.
"Oh good, I'll get a few extra minutes with my favorite guys and I won't have to shell out for a taxi or mix with the rush hour crowds in the subway," she said with a smile.
"No, you just have to put up with my driving," John said with a smirk.
"Come on Pavel, don't dawdle," Casey cajoled the boy.
"But I don't want to see the 'sigh kite trick' lady!" he said stubbornly.
Casey and Munch both had to stifle laughs at Pavel's unique interpretation of the word psychiatrist.
"Pavel, Dr Olivet has a very special job. She helps children who have had bad things happen to them," John gently explained.
"Like having their mama and papa and grandpapa killed?" Pavel asked.
"Yes," John answered simply.
"She will help me?" Pavel asked, a certain amount of disbelief in his voice.
"I think she will," John answered honestly.
"OK," Pavel answered and began cooperating with the necessary activities to get them out the door and under way.
At the courthouse, John pulled his car into a Kiss & Drop Zone, an area meant just for dropping off passengers. Casey grabbed her briefcase out of the back seat on the passenger side of the car and then circled around the car, she signaled to both of her guys to lower their windows. Casey leaned into the car through the open window where Pavel was sitting and gave him a kiss. "Be a good boy today."
Casey next took a step toward the front of the car, bringing her closer to John and then impulsively kissed him. The kiss was neither a peck on the cheek nor a round of tonsil hockey, but something in between, and something that definitely would leave him thinking about her all day long. "You be a good boy, too," she said and then turned and walked quickly in the directions of the courthouse. John was so stunned by what she'd done, he just sat there for a while until the car behind him blasted on his horn.
John put the car in gear and drove off, still a bit dazed. Pavel smiled to himself, his two favorite people were falling in love nothing could be better. He wouldn't even mind seeing this lady doctor.