Birthdays 3

Returning to his apartment for the first time in days, Peter juggled several packages in his arms as he tried to get out his keys. 'I sure could use forty winks about now.' He stifled a yawn. 'A cold shower will have to suffice.' He glanced at his watch. 'A _quick_ cold shower.' Peter put the key to the door and blinked in surprise as the contact caused it to swing open a bit. His exhaustion left him in a rush of adrenaline. Peter quickly ducked away from the door, put the packages down, and drew his gun. He listened intently, but heard nothing. Counting silently to himself, he shoved the door open fully and rolled through the door, coming to his feet in a fighter's crouch. His eyes flickered across the room, noting that nothing was obviously missing. He quickly searched the kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom and closets for any hidden intruders. Nothing. Returning to the main room, Peter saw a large box on the dining table. He narrowed his eyes and cautiously went closer to examine it. 'All right,' he thought, 'what kind of nasty surprise is in store for me this time?' Hardly daring to breathe, the young detective ghosted up to the table. Peter instantly relaxed when he noticed an envelope lying on top of the package and recognized his father's flowing script. "To My Son, Peter."

Peter fingered the edge of the envelope as he holstered his weapon. Then, before he forgot, he brought his packages inside and closed and locked the door. Setting the packages aside, Peter picked up the envelope again and stood staring at it for a moment. A tumult of emotions rushed over him. Anger, which was quickly chased by shame, then sadness, and finally an intense curiosity. Peter opened the envelope and pulled out a single piece of paper covered in his father's neat handwriting.

It read:

My Dearest Son,

Each year, upon this day more than any other, I have reflected upon the joy and happiness I experienced on the day of your birth. Never had I been so happy as to hold you as you drew your first breath in this lifetime. In the years that I wandered, believing you to be dead, this day was held in even greater regard. I spent them remembering the few precious years I had you with me, wishing there had been more. And for that moment, you were again with me, alive and well and happy. I have found you once more, and my heart is again filled with joy, a feeling I had thought lost to me forever. I wish I could have been with you during those years, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that you were well cared for and loved within the Blaisdell home. Cherish them, for a man with two families is a man doubly blessed. As you celebrate the day of your birth, know that I love you deeply and that I keep you in my heart always.

Your Father

Kwai Chang Caine

Peter reread the note, the last of his anger disappearing. He sighed to himself and smiled wistfully. 'I, too, wish we had had more years, Pop.' He put the note down and ripped the brown paper wrapping off the package. He untied the string that kept the box beneath it closed and gave a silent whistle in surprise. Inside was an entire outfit: a shirt and pants made of some soft material, a sash for a belt, and calf-length boots. Peter stared in awe at the gift, hardly daring to touch them in fear of spoiling them, 'You don't go half-way, do you, Pop?' He sent a heartfelt thanks to wherever his father was, and thought he felt an answering reply. Reverently, he lifted the box and took it to his bedroom to get ready to meet Cassandra, Kermit, and the others.

Cassandra nervously straightened her dark blue silk blouse. She had decided on a knee-length black skirt that was fitted, but still full enough to fight in if necessary. She grinned wryly to herself. 'After what happened the last time I was here, I'm not going to take any chances.' Kermit had tried to introduce her to a group of Peter's colleagues, but Cassandra still felt extremely out of place despite the warm welcomes, especially since it was so difficult to communicate with them. 'Face it, Cassandra, you're nervous _because_ it's so difficult.' She sighed to herself. 'I'll feel better when Peter's here.' She gave herself a mental shake, annoyed at the self-deprecating thoughts and glanced around the room. She smiled as she caught Mary Margaret's gaze, raising her glass in recognition, glad she had met the fiery detective. She also nodded to the gentleman whom Kermit said was the precinct's resident electrical guru. 'Detective Blake, I believe is his name.' When she had mentioned her interest in speaking with him, Kermit had promised to arrange a meeting.

Her gaze skipped over to the hyperkinetic guy that Peter had spoken to the other night. Kermit stepped over to her and seemed to notice her stare. He got her attention, then said, "That is Nicky Elder, the precinct's medical examiner and perhaps the only man even more hyper than Peter." Cassandra grinned and glanced at the door for the fifth time is as many minutes. Kermit got her attention again. "Relax. He'll be here. I've yet to see him show up to anything on time."

Cassandra pulled out a small notebook and pencil from her purse and wrote, "Yes, but Peter has a tendency to attract trouble. I'll feel better when I can see him."

Kermit made a face, but agreed. "If he doesn't show in the next fifteen minutes, I'll give his cel-phone a ring."

"Thank you." Kermit moved off in search of drinks and Cassandra, after putting the notebook away, drifted over to the corner of the bar where she had a good view of the entire establishment. Five minutes later, movement by the front door caught her attention. She looked over and smiled as she recognized Peter's lean form. She whistled silently. 'Wow! Peter looks GOOD!'

Peter was wearing a long sleeved, black silk shirt that was embroidered at collar and cuff with flames of red and orange thread. The sleeves billowed a bit before gathering tightly at the wrists and the shirt accentuated his broad chest and shoulders without being too tight. It was tucked into a pair of black cotton fighting pants, that, while not tight, still hugged his slender waist and hips. The pants were in turn tucked into a pair of black calf-high boots made of supple leather.

'Yum. Oh, Peter.' Cassandra raised a hand to draw his attention and smiled softly as Peter looked up and waved to her. She watched as he gracefully glided through the evening throng at Chandler's and made his way towards her and the rest of the party. He seemed unaware of the affect he was having on the females in the room. Cassandra just smiled to herself.

"Cassandra, you look lovely," he sighed, then took her hand and kissed it.

Cassandra felt her face warm and signed back, "Flirt. I bet you say that to all the girls." She stepped back a bit to take in Peter's finery up front. "I may be lovely, but you, dear boy, are absolutely gorgeous." Cassandra bit her lip to keep from grinning when a look of pleased self-consciousness flashed across his handsome face.

Kermit walked up. "Peter, we were afraid you wouldn't make it."

"Wouldn't miss this for anything." The two clasped hands.

Kermit glanced at Peter's clothes. "Nice threads."

Peter ran a hand down the front of his shirt, a joyful smile on his face. "They are a gift from my father."

Kermit pulled his glasses down to the end of his nose and looked over them incredulously. "Caine? I was under the impression that he had no money. I wonder how he was able to afford it?"

Peter shifted on his feet, a strange emotion crossing his face. "So do I, but it is impolite to ask the giver about the worth or acquirement of a gift."

"Shaolin philosophy?"

Peter shook his head. "Chinese culture."

Kermit pushed his glasses back up. "Well, you can't ask, but there's nothing keeping me from asking. Sides, I could use a new outfit anyway," he grinned. He glanced at Cassandra, then back at Peter. "Let me get you a drink before everyone mobs you to wish you a happy birthday." With that, he walked off.

Cassandra watched him go, grateful for the chance to speak privately with Peter. She tugged lightly on his sleeve to gain his attention. "You're not mad at him anymore."

Peter seemed to understand. "No. I'm not."

She smiled, pleased, then a genuine grin spread across her face making her look positively puckish as she glanced quickly around the bar over his shoulder. "Do you know how much of a stir you created with that outfit?"

"What do you mean?"

She motioned with a nod to the rest of the bar. "The women are looking at you like you're a prime steak and they haven't eaten in weeks!" Cassandra clucked her tongue as Peter ducked his head and blushed. "Don't tell me you're shy? I thought you liked this kind of attention?" she teased.

Peter shrugged. "Usually. Just... not tonight. Have you met everyone yet?"

Cassandra allowed him to change the subject. "Not everyone. I was waiting for you."

Peter offered her his arm. "Then allow me to introduce you."

She curtsied. "Thank you, kind sir," she signed, and took his arm. She finally got to meet the rest of Peter's friends, but was even happier that Peter was finally out of his earlier depression. Later that evening, something occurred to her and she drew Peter off to the side. "Peter, why were you so late tonight? Kermit and I were getting concerned."

Peter smiled softly. "I called Mom to let her know that my father hadn't forgotten my birthday. I know she was concerned." At Cassandra's puzzled look, he explained. "I overheard some of her conversation with Paul." Peter shrugged. "Then I stopped by the Ancient's." He leaned in conspiratorially. "He was concerned, too."

Shaking her head in admiration, Cassandra leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Happy Birthday, Peter."

Peter embraced her and the two turned their attentions back to the party.

Cassandra unlocked the door of her apartment and turned to Peter. "I had a wonderful time," she signed. She took in Peter's features once more, affectionately. His soft brown hair was a bit of a mess, his colleagues seemed fond of ruffling his hair, and they took every opportunity to do so. 'Especially the women,' Cassandra noted with a grin. Peter had taken it all with good grace, only rolling his eyes every now and then at the attention. His hazel eyes were bright and the sadness that had lurked in the back of them was completely banished now. Cassandra sighed in contentment. "I know you're back on duty tomorrow, so when can we get together again?"

"Wednesday? Dinner?"

She smiled. "Perfect."

"Goodnight, Cassandra. Pleasant dreams."

Cassandra stood on tiptoe and softly kissed his cheek. "Night, Peter. Drive safely." She watched him give a final wave, then entered her apartment and locked the door behind her. She began turning off lamps and closing the window blinds as she made her way towards her bedroom. 'I'm so glad I found Peter again. I almost forgot how much I enjoy his company.' She set the alarm on her clock and checked that her computer was turned off. 'All that bitterness he carried around at the orphanage seems to have disappeared. Or' she qualified, 'has at least been greatly reduced. I'm glad he found his father again. Not many are so lucky.' She thought a moment of her own parents before banishing the uneasy memories. She brushed her teeth and removed her make up, then headed for her bedroom. She undressed and quickly pulled her nightgown over her head. 'I can't wait to meet his father. Peter's told me so much about him. To finally be reunited again, after all these years, must be one heck of an experience.' She turned the light off and slid beneath the covers. She had been astounded at the reactions of Peter's friends when Peter showed off the finery his father had given him. 'The whole room seemed to relax. I think Caine would have been in some real trouble if he'd forgotten Peter's birthday. His friends would have lynched him! Peter has some good friends watching out for him. Glad I met them.' She snuggled down into her pillows. She remembered Peter's excitement and happiness at the party. 'It's so nice to see Peter smile,' came one last thought before Cassandra fell asleep, a look of contentment on her face.

The End.