Author's Note: Hello and welcome to "The Missing" a three chapter continuation of my recently completed fic "Cross". This story takes place between chapters twenty-eight and thirty, covering the three days Priest spent at the orphanage reuniting with his son. I do hope you enjoy this first chapter!
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Priest.
Day One: Father
Priest nodded in acknowledgement, his eyes, Peter's eyes, squinting in the sunlight. A silent exchange passed between them. Priestess knew what was needed of her. She moved through the doorway when Priest stepped aside, lingering just long enough to whisper, "He's name is Peter."
Priest nodded again.
Peter was coming in from the yard, his long arms swinging by his sides and he almost ran into his father. The boy stopped short and looked up. Priest looked down at him.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked the child.
Peter didn't hesitate. He found his father's face and held it in his gaze, the wish of a lifetime repaid in an instant. "I sure hope so," he said.
Peter did not look like him. It was the first thought that crossed Priest's mind as he beheld his son, the gangly child who was a few years short of adolescence, but had already begun to shed the obvious vestiges of boyhood. He was Rebecca's son though, that much was clear. The mother had left her memory upon the child, the stain of an unlamented soul who had been wronged in almost everyway. Peter's hair was coarse and red. He had a high forehead like his mother, although Priest refused to recognize the freckles that were his. And his movements, his ticks and twitches, were a pantomime of Rebecca's gestures. The boy's legs were particularly restless. He tapped his feet. He swung his skinny calves. He slipped his ankles around the legs of his chair, toes pointed downward, his bony knees bulging in his khaki trousers.
Priest stood quite still as he watched his son. He wondered if he would recognize him if the boy had not been pointed out to him. He wondered if he would he have ever known….
Priest's scalp itched, the bristles of his close-cropped hair drenched with sweat. The room he was in had low ceilings and the heat concentrated in the cramped space, despite the lazy fan rotating from its socket overhead. Sister Elizabeth, the matron of the orphanage, had graciously lent father and son her office for their reunion. And they were shut away from the rest of the world now, two wary animals who relied on instinct more than trust. Priest glanced at the fan above. The atmosphere was similar to that of the interrogation cells the Church kept in its prisons.
And yet, there was some reflection of humanity to be found in the office. The religious statues and pictures that adorned the walls were benign, smiling saints, clouds and angels. It was obvious that the room doubled as Sister Elizabeth's living quarters. There was a pitcher and water bowl set carefully to the side. A door on his left, which had been opened just a crack, showed a tiny bedroom. Priest tried to ignore these small, feminine touches. He was reminded of Rebecca's quarters back at the Order's monastery. He had been there, a few times…
And now Peter was here, sitting in the chair before Sister Elizabeth's plain and practical desk. Priest wondered if the matron called her charges to her office for disciplinary purposes and if the boy was scared. To lessen his authoritative presence, he leaned against the desk and braced his palms on the lip. This was the hardest part. This was the moment he would probably remember for years to come, when he first saw his son and didn't know what to say to him. Again, he was failing Rebecca. Again, he was sacrificing what should have remained sacred. And that was a sin he wouldn't be able to wipe clean. It was his eternal penance, not a burden, but a blessing, the nails driven deeper, the cross carried upon a willing back.
Priest stared at the child and was shocked when he saw pale blue eyes looking back at him. The boy, he realized, was much stronger than he had ever been. Like his mother, so unrepentantly strong…
Peter slipped his ankles from behind the legs of his chair. The sides of his shoes scraped against the floor, leaving smudges of desert dust and dirt. "It's hot in here," he said. "Even with the fan." A bead of sweat trailed down his neck and along the curve of his collar.
Priest nodded, his voice hidden in the back of his parched throat. "Not much better than outside," he finally managed.
Peter raised one shoulder in a half-shrug. He was glancing at the window, which had been fastened in place by obstinate looking latches. Priest followed his gaze and divined his meaning. He stepped closer to the sill.
"You probably should leave that," Peter said in a respectful undertone. "The wind'll only bring the sand in and it stings when the gusts come real hard, worse than sunburn." Pushing himself out of the chair, he moved over to the pitcher on the washstand and lifted a ceramic cup from a shelf underneath. He had to use both hands to tip the pitcher and when he did, the water only dribbled into the cup in a small stream. Peter was careful. Meticulous. He didn't spill a drop.
"Sister Elizabeth says we should never have to ask for water," he explained. "If we want something to drink, we're allowed to just go and get it, even in the middle of lessons."
"Sister Elizabeth is very considerate," Priest noted, slightly awed by the child's resourcefulness.
Peter handed the cup to him, their fingers, small and large, interlocking for the briefest moment. "She's fair," he said.
Priest felt awful taking a drink before the boy, but he didn't want to offend Peter. He sipped slowly, just enough to wet his lips and tongue, before trying to hand the cup back to the child. But Peter only shook his head.
"I never go thirsty," he said.
Somehow, that made Priest feel better.
He took another drink from the cup and then set it on the desk. A ring of moisture formed around the base of the mug. Priest tried to scrub it away with his thumb. He hoped that Sister Elizabeth wouldn't mind.
Peter had gone back to his chair and he was swinging his legs again. Priest noticed that his shoelace was untied. The string made a soft, scratching sound as it dragged against the floor, like edge of a broom. He wasn't sure why, but he almost started to smile.
"The Priestess said you've been looking for me," Peter muttered. He had a habit of chewing on his cheek, a nervous gesture, Priest assumed. Why couldn't he put the child at ease? It had been so much easier with Lucy, the girl he remembered, the small, peachy-cheeked baby who had cooed and cried when he held her in his arms. Would it have been the same with Peter, he mused. Would he have loved the boy from the moment he was born?
And did he love his son now?
The question was treacherous, a fanged, sinister threat. It was hard for Priest to set aside his guilt. His perception of the boy was colored by the taint of a remembered sin and a betrayal that still lingered ten years later. He had left Rebecca to die. And he had left Peter to this…
What if I can't make it up to him?
Priest ran the toe of his boot along the coarse grain of the unfinished floorboards. He was terribly aware of Peter's eyes, his eyes, set right on him.
"I'm glad I was able to find you," he said at length.
Peter sat up straight. He had sunburned cheeks and a smile that was familiar. "Sister Elizabeth only told me a little about you," he replied in a rush. "She figured you were dead. Vamps, you know. She said it was the vamps that got my mama and they must've gotten you too. I always knew you were Priests though…but your cross doesn't look like I imagined it. I thought it might be a little smaller. And black. Not brown."
Priest grimaced. There was a painful innocence in Peter, owing both to his isolation at the orphanage and his general ignorance. Silently, he thanked Sister Elizabeth for sparing the boy most of the details of his mother's death, which Priest himself would certainly not rush to supply. Rebecca had not been killed by vampires, although she had died a hero's death. Peter, however, was too young to know the truth.
The Monsignors had murdered his mother for breaking her vow. And Peter was the catalyst, he was the most precious sin, the bastard child who seemed more righteous than the all the pious fury of the Church itself.
Priest blinked. He knew Rebecca would be proud of her son. And so to, was he.
"I'm sorry Sister Elizabeth assumed that I was no longer alive," he said, trying to render his voice soft, but managing only to retain his usual gruffness.
Peter suddenly looked at his feet. "I kinda figured that's why you never came to get me before," he said, "if you were dead."
Priest was surprised at how easily the boy could wound him. It was the mark of a parent, he supposed, to care so much for a child and in his pain he rejoiced. The apathy he had feared had only been a misconception and beneath the hollow pit of his guilt, the hole that had deepened within him over the years, Priest thrived on his hope. No, things weren't the same as they were with Lucy. Not even close. But he could find another connection here… or make one anew.
"Does that disappoint you?" Priest asked. He knew he could not deflect Peter's own sense of abandonment, but perhaps there was a way to edge around it. Their wounds were still too raw to be touched and any misstep now could signal the fatal death blow.
Peter shrugged, his shoulders jerking beneath his beige shirt. His was chewing on the inside of his cheek again and his lips were pushed together in a tight line, the corners of his mouth dipping down into a tell-tale frown. For a minute, he stopped swinging his foot and the hum of the rotating fan overhead filled up the empty space of silence in the room. Priest listened to the whir of the slender blades, his heart providing an awkward counter beat.
Peter glanced up at his father, squinting, as if he were looking at him through the cutting glare of the sun. "You didn't want me," he mumbled.
Priest wasn't certain if he was asking a question or simply affirming what he already believed to be true. He opened his mouth to respond, but found himself mute. The pulsating heat, that throbbing, unforgiving warmth, seemed to leave the room, the slick of sweat on his neck cooling until he was chilled. He thought back to the Order's monastery in Cathedral City and the labyrinthine corridors and high-ceilinged, hopeless dormitories that were always cast under the pall of a crypt-like cold. It had been a relief, the few times he had visited Rebecca in her quarters. Her bed, although narrow, gave them an excuse to cling closer to each other, their limbs a hectic tangle and her hair, her red hair, spread out over the pillow…
My God, Priest thought, looking at his orphaned son, who had been sacrificed to appease his parents' guilt, young Isaac led to the altar. My God, how will he ever forgive me?
"It wasn't that," he said in a desperate attempt to wash clean the unseemly truth. "I couldn't keep you with me. I'm sure Sister Elizabeth told you stories about the War. I was on the front lines…fighting to make sure you were safe here. I couldn't be with you…and neither could your mama, although I know she wanted to."
"But they wouldn't let her." Peter had his hands clenched over his knees. "Sister Elizabeth told me…she told me a lot of things. Priests can't have children. They're not supposed to. My mama knew that, didn't she? What about you?"
Priest sank against the desk, surprisingly weak in the legs. He felt as though he were trying to stand up against a sandstorm, with the wind screaming down along the plains and he was blinded and beaten. He was being pushed back, back…
It's going to hurt, he thought. All he'll remember of me is that I hurt him.
"There are rules," he began, his voice guttering. "All Priests have to follow them. Your mama and I said we would, but…we also had you. Now I don't regret that and I know your mama definitely didn't. She loved you, Peter and so do I. That's important for you to remember. You were always loved."
He wasn't sure if his words resonated with the boy. Children were hard to read and Peter had already dropped his head, staring at his lap. There were a lot of questions left that Priest knew he would have to answer and although he didn't know if he'd ever be able to satisfy his son's curiosity and longing, he thought he might as well try.
And it wouldn't be a penance or another punishment. It wouldn't be a sacrifice he would be forced to endure. This was a gift he could give gladly, willingly, to the child he had always been missing, to the mother he had never quite forgotten.
Priest thought back to the few fleeting moments he had held Lucy after the train wreck, how good it had felt to cradle his daughter in his arms, no longer the squirming baby, but his child nonetheless. And here was Peter sitting before him, not quite grown, but just as lonely and vulnerable as Lucy had been.
Priest crossed the small space between them and he laid his rough hand on the boy's head, his fingertips grazing over that red, red hair. But when his son looked up at him, he finally recognized the eyes, the eyes that looked like his and the face, with freckles on his sunburned cheeks.
"I figure I could stay a little while," Priest said. "A couple of days, maybe, if Sister Elizabeth will allow it."
Peter did more than shrug, he nodded, the top of his head bumping against Priest's palm. "Hey," the boy said, his voice small and wondering, "what do you want me to call you?"
Priest didn't hesitate. He gave his son the name that everyone used, the title he had been known by, but never deserved until now. "Father," he said. "You can call me Father."
Author's Note: Thanks so very much for reading! If you have a free minute, please leave me some feedback. Reviews are better than all the chocolate Easter bunnies in the world. ;)
The next installment is in the works and should be posted in roughly two weeks. Until then, take care and be well! And to those who celebrate, Happy Easter!