I woke up with the headache from hell. Rolling over with a groan, I lay there with my eyes squinted at the flashing numbers that told me I had maybe 45 minutes until I had to be at work. Thoughts of a hot shower brought me out of the rumpled bed. Nightmares are a part of my life that I accepted long ago but they'd never given me a headache before.
Standing under the steaming water, I soaped automatically and rubbed shampoo into my short spiky hair. Could it be a side effect of the tincture for the re-occurring fever that I'd had to take twice more since the first trip to New York in September? I smiled, remembering the unusual people I'd met while giving my deposition to DA Maxwell. St James, the blast from my past and her family Above and Below were fond memories indeed.
The pressure had eased somewhat in the heat of the bath and I managed to get dressed before the pounding returned. It was going to be a long day but I'd volunteered for Christmas Eve so the guys with families could be there for them. Maybe the station house coffee would chase the pain away. God knows it cures most of the other ills of the world.
Driving to work was an exercise in patience with every nut in the city on the road to finish up their last minute shopping. As much road rage as I saw, it could be a real busy day at the precinct. My head was hurting too badly to add my own anger to the mix. It was all I could do to keep my stomach in place.
I leaned against the car and gathered my strength. If I could just get to my desk, I'd be fine. Some coffee and a little computer time to get my mind off of my body's aches and I'd be fine. *Just keep telling yourself that, Griffin.* Just my luck to come down with the flu for Christmas. They'd have to call in one of the others or work shorthanded without me and I wasn't about to let that happen.
I acknowledged the waves with a flick of my hand, not sure if my head might not just fall off if I nodded. Making it to the safety of my office with a short detour for a cup of the coffee that appeared to have been brewing for a day or so, I collapsed into the leather seat and closed my eyes. Not even the green shades were helping.
Little pulses of sharp shooting pains were now radiating down into my neck and I began to wonder just what kind of flu this was. Memory picked this moment to remember the brush with the Consortium and the trick I'd played on their computers, not to mention the run in with the Tong and the foiling of the museum robbery.
I reached for the phone and a number I'd only recently memorized. Waiting for the relays to set up the call so no one could trace it, I rubbed my temples with suddenly shaking hands. Not St James. Not when she'd finally found the love that she so richly deserved. Elliot Burch was just the kind of man I would have picked for her. Kind, intelligent, brave and so in love with her, it showed in every glance.
"Hello. Burch residence." St James' alto tones echoed down the line to me.
"St James. Griffin. Has there been any trouble there?" My voice tried to convey the urgency I'd begun to feel in earnest.
"None. What's wrong? Do you need me to come?" She gave him strength just with her matter-of-fact tone.
"It's probably nothing, just a bad case of the holiday flu catching up with me. Does that tincture have any side effects?"
"Not that I've ever heard. You'd better have Caine take a look at you. Maybe it's an allergic reaction. They can happen at any time, even with something you're used to eating or drinking."
"Maybe. How are the twins enjoying Christmas?" The sound of her voice was better medicine than ten aspirin. Her humorous tales of Winterfest and the babies' reaction to the colored lights and smells of the party made me laugh out loud. I let her go with a 'merry Christmas' and a promise to give Caine a call.
Okay, so I'm paranoid. With my memories and enemies, it pays to be. Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you. I don't know who said it first but clichés are no less true for being said repeatedly. By now, the pain was shooting down my arms and for a brief moment I wondered if I was having a heart attack before I felt myself slide out of the chair towards the floor.
Just my luck.
The voices were muffled and I couldn't move. The office. The pain. The sudden inability to move. I should be freaking out but the reason I wasn't had a hand on my forehead.
"Kermit. It is Caine. You will be ... fine. We are going to move you soon. Sleep now." His calm tones soothed and his fingers stroked my temples with almost tender movements. A little more pressure and I felt myself sliding back into the darkness.
I awoke in an unfamiliar bed with a couple of flickering candles providing the only illumination. The sheets were soaked with sweat beneath me and the covers were twisted around me, as if I'd been having the grandfather of all nightmares. But the figure in the chair by the bed wasn't from any bad dream. Peter sat hunched over with his head in his hands, his eyes on the floor, the very picture of misery.
He looked like shit and I wondered why he was there. Sure we were friends and his father was probably why my head was still attached to my shoulders, but he looked like someone had just run over his dog. Time to find out what was wrong.
"Peter." Damn, when had my voice gotten so weak?
His head shot up and he reached out a hand to me that I suddenly realized I was too weak to grab. He seemed to understand, kneeling by the bed and gripping my hand tightly. His smile was a poor imitation of his normal grin.
"Welcome back, Kermit. Don't you ever do that to me again. Promise me. Never again." His tones were fierce and I might have believed in the anger if I hadn't felt the tremors in his hand.
"Promise." I licked my parched lips and he let go of my hand to grab a glass of water on the bedside table. He lifted my head gently and I managed to drain half the glass before he set it aside. "What am I promising not to do again?"
"I came in to ask for help with my computer and found you passed out on the floor. Pop came in and said you'd been poisoned. Somebody drugged the water coming into your apartment. We brought you to my place so the guys could check yours without disturbing you. Pop found the canister in the basement. They're checking for prints now."
"What kind of drug?" I licked my lips again and he let me finish the glass this time.
"I don't remember the name but it was something that should have killed you. Pop said that some tincture you'd been taking countered the drug so we could get to you in time. Why didn't you tell me you'd been having problems?" He sounded so hurt, I found myself apologizing.
"Didn't want to be a bother." I didn't have the energy to explain why I tried to keep him at arm's length. Not that it mattered, I already loved him too much to burden him with a worn out, middle aged mercenary with waking nightmares that would one day kill me.
"Damn you, Kermit. Don't you dare hide behind that 'I don't give a shit' facade. We're friends and I care for you." His hand was still behind my head, those long fingers stroking the skin at the nape of my neck. I felt a shiver run down my body and he pulled up the sheet, thinking I was cold.
"Thank you." I hope he realized that I meant both his statement and his action.
"Do you need more water? Pop wants you to drink a lot to flush the poison out of your system." He had to remove his hand to pour more water out of the porcelain pitcher. I managed to hitch myself higher in the bed and he punched the pillow up to support me. He still had to hold the glass for me but this time I finished it.
"How long have I been out?" I ached all over as if I'd been bedridden for days.
"About ten hours. Aching?" He took my nod for a yes and that grin flashed across his face. "Pop left me some herbs so you could take a hot bath. Guaranteed to take the aches out. Also, a good way to absorb some more of their healing properties. I'll be right back."
He disappeared so quickly I felt my head spin. No, that was the dizziness come back with a vengeance. I tried to wrap my mind around who could have drugged the water but all my thoughts were fuzzy. Now that I was semi-conscious, I took a good look around Peter's bedroom. A few pictures hung on the wall; a dresser with what looked like a twelve-inch tall hunk of crystal sitting on the top crowded the wall to the left.
I was propped against a bookcase headboard and out of the corner of my eye I could see several books and a clock radio but I couldn't turn my head to read the titles. From what I could see, the kid had good taste. The colors were dark and warm. The coverlet under my fingers was soft cotton flannel in shades of purple and blue. I stroked it gently and felt like lying down and pulling it over my head.
I didn't want to think any more. Not about who tried to kill me, or what kind of consternation I'd left behind at the precinct or even about how much I wanted Peter to crawl in under the covers with me and hold me in his arms. Especially not that.
"Okay, Kermit. Sit up for me so I can get this robe on you. I don't want you to catch a chill getting to the bathroom." Peter held a thick terry cloth robe in one hand while he drew back the cover with the other.
I grabbed for it because I'd suddenly realized I was naked under the sheet. He just chuckled and helped me sit up. He had to move my arms into the warm sleeves because they didn't want to cooperate. He was so tender with me that I could feel tears forming and I had to blink hard to keep them back. It must be a side effect of the drugs, I decided while swinging my legs over the side of the bed with his help.
The trip to the bathroom was a little exercise in futility on my part. He had to practically carry me in and help me over the side of the tub. Unwrapping me out of my mummylike wrappings, he eased me into the steaming water. The scent of some unidentified herbs wafted up from the slightly green water and I soon felt calmer than I had in a long time.
He fussed with the small heater near the door which was heating the room to sauna levels, making sure that the draft wasn't right on me. I'd given up caring that he'd seen my scarred old body in all its ugliness. The water was already beginning the healing process. He knelt by the side of the tub with a handle-less cup that smelled like the herbs in the bathtub.
I took it and drank it down, enjoying its minty freshness and the way it seemed to blow all the cobwebs from my fevered brain. He was watching me with such a serious expression on his face that it almost made me blush.
"Are you going to be okay if I leave you for a bit?"
"Sure, kid. I'll just soak for a while." I watched him go with a sigh of relief. Good thing he left when he did or I might have done something really stupid like ask him to bathe me. One of those little fantasies that I brought out now and then in the shower when I pictured a wet Peter. I'd seen him once in the Precinct showers when he was washing up after an all night stakeout.
Closing my eyes, I unrolled the ten-second reel of memory film that had fueled a hundred fantasies in the last year. By slowing it, I could make it stretch out for quite a while. Not to mention, I can do a hell of a job of cutting and splicing in other stolen memories to make my own Peter-movie.
"Hey, the water's cooling down. You ready to get out?" His voice wove its way into my waking dream and I opened lazy eyes to see him holding out a towel invitingly. The aches were gone when I moved but sitting up, I feel dizzy again. Oh hell, back to reality.
"Take it easy and come on up. Hold on to me so you won't fall."
Too late, Peter. I fell long ago and harder than I've ever fallen before. Some joke the universe played on me. Who ever said the Goddess doesn't have a sense of humor. I let him dry my tingling body and I prayed as hard as I've ever prayed before that I wouldn't disgrace myself in front of him.
"That's good enough, my friend. Come on back to bed."
Gods, how I've longed to hear those words from his lips. Those pouting, devil-may-care, eminently kissable lips. But not like this, I brood while we head back to the bedroom. He lowers me down to clean fresh sheets. He must have been stripping and changing the bed while I was soaking.
He had another cup of hot tea ready for me but this time; I could see the wicker tray and the teapot with the towel wrapped around it. He fluffed the pillow behind me and I finished the tea before lying back down gratefully. Just that much of a walk and I was suddenly exhausted.
"Sleep, now. Pop will be back soon to check you out. Your color's better. You were so white when I found you collapsed on the floor." His hands tucked me in and kept smoothing the cover over me, lost in the memory of earlier.
I managed to snake a hand out from under the blankets to capture one of his. Catching his eye, I gripped it firmly. "Thank you, Peter. Thank you for finding me and taking such good care of me. You're a good friend."
His eyes lit up and that beaming smile came back, the one I'd missed while he was going through that rough patch. "You're my best friend, Kermit. I won't let anything bad happen to you."
I manage a smile and close my eyes against the tears. Damn drugs. Too late, kid. The only thing that could hurt me now would be for you to leave me. And one of these days, you will. It's your destiny, the one Caine talks about sometimes. You're going to be one hell of a Shaolin when you finally make your choice.
Falling asleep, I can feel his thumb rubbing soothing circles on the back of my hand. He already has the healing touch.
Voices blended into my dreams.
"The last of the poison has left his system." Caine's gentle tones filled my head.
"So, he's going to be okay. Right, Pop?" The plaintive note in Peter's voice almost made me smile.
"Don't call me Pop." Caine's admonition was said with a sigh. "And yes ... he will eventually be fine."
"What do you mean, eventually? Could he have a relapse?"
A long silence followed and I felt Caine's touch at my temple.
"His chi has been greatly disturbed, my son. Perhaps it would be best if we brought him to my workroom."
"No!" Peter's response was immediate and heartfelt if the explosive whisper was any indication. "I mean, I don't think we should move him again. If you need to cleanse his aura or something, you can do it here as well as there."
"Perhaps you are right, Peter. We should not risk a chill in his condition."
"His condition? I thought you said he was getting better."
"He is. But his body has been weakened by the trauma. He must be very carefully watched. I was going to cleanse his chi by massaging his body with this special oil to help ... strengthen his immune system. But I must join the Ancient at the hospital for the birth of Lu Cho's child. It will be a difficult labor and she speaks no English."
"Massage?" Peter's voice went slightly higher and he had to clear his throat. "Um, I could do that. You taught me the technique when I was a child at the temple. I still remember how."
"Very well, my son. I will leave Kermit in your hands. I will just perform a preliminary cleansing while you begin the preparations for dinner. Soup and crackers for Kermit. Something nourishing for when he awakens."
I hear Peter leave and feel the blankets drawn away. Even without opening my eyes, I can feel Caine's hands begin the trip over my body. Starting at the crown of my head, moving across my chest, traveling over my stomach and groin, he finished down at my feet. Peace flows through me and I finally feel as if all of my parts are connected again.
The blankets are drawn up around my neck and he touches my forehead. "Sleep now, Kermit. All is well."
I manage a contented murmur, which I hope he understands is a thank you before falling back into the warm depths of the night.
I awoke a few hours later to the smell of vegetable soup and the touch of Peter's hand on my forehead. Opening my eyes, I surprised him into a smile.
"Welcome back. You hungry?"
I checked my stomach and head. Moving cautiously, I discovered I was pain free. "Yeah, I could eat."
"Good. Let's get you propped up. It's not often I serve someone dinner in bed. Savor the memory." He made a face at me and I laughed on cue.
Savor is exactly what I'll do with this memory. This is the stuff of fantasy. At least of my fantasies. I pull myself up and he pushes a couple more pillows behind me so I'm cushioned but upright. On the side table, I notice an insulated container of soup has joined the teapot. Peter fills a small bowl and hands it to me.
"No spoon. Just drink it down as you would a cup of tea. Miss Manners will forgive you, just this once." He teased me into a chuckle as my trembling hands gripped the bowl.
It tasted good. Better than good. It seemed I hadn't eaten in days. I drained the bowl of broth and handed it back to him in exchange for a napkin to catch the dribbles. He refilled it and this time put some of the vegetables in with the broth. I chewed them slowly and savored the taste of crunchy carrots and firm potatoes.
This time I traded the bowl for a teacup. The familiar scent of herbs filled my nostrils. Finishing, I leaned my head back against the pillows and cradled the empty cup in my hands. Even after all my sleep, I still felt tired.
"You're feeling better." It was a statement not a question and I nodded. "You look like yourself again. You scared me earlier."
"I know. I'm sorry. The price I pay for my checkered past." I shrugged and tried to look nonchalant but I could tell from his expression that I'd failed.
"Someday, you're going to tell me all about it, Kermit. Friends don't need secrets between them." His voice for one eerie moment sounded just like Caine's.
I shook my head. "Old news, Peter. Just like me. Better left in the shadows."
"No, I don't believe that." He leaned forward and touched the back of his hand to my cheek in an incredibly tender gesture. "Not with me. You can leave the darkness when you're with me. I know that now."
I couldn't think of anything to say in response to that astonishing statement. I wonder what he saw in my face before he smiled and moved back, plucking a glass bottle from under the table. When he uncorked it, the now familiar scent filled the room.
"Pop told me to give you a massage to help cleanse your chi. Scoot down and roll over so I can start. Do you need to go to the bathroom first?"
I literally didn't know what to say to this suddenly confident man who looked so serenely back at me. I opened my mouth and shut it again before realizing how stupid I must look. "Um, yeah. It must have been awhile since I last went."
"Okay. Here's your robe. I'll help you to the bathroom and leave you to take care of business." He matter-of-factly handed me the robe and gave me an arm to lean on to the bathroom. After I shut the door behind him, I did what I needed to and washed my hands in the sink. Staring at myself in the mirror on the medicine chest, I wondered what had happened and why Peter was suddenly so sure of himself.
He tapped at the door and I could hear the worry in his voice. "Are you okay, Kermit?"
"Yeah. Coming out now." I finished drying my hands and headed for the door, suddenly glad for the strong shoulder to lean on. My legs had developed the consistency of noodles. He got me back into bed, flat on my stomach with the pillows thrown onto the floor out of the way. I turned my head so I could watch him.
"In the candlelight, your eyes are so green. Is that one of the reasons you got the nickname Kermit?" He poured oil into one hand and rubbed his hands together to warm the viscous fluid before laying them gently on my shoulders. Oh, it felt so good to be touched with such tender caring.
I hummed contentedly and he chuckled while stroking lightly up and down my back. He magically knew where the sore spots were and rubbed harder on each point before moving on to the next one. I felt his fingers trace a particularly nasty scar on my lower back and all my contentment faded in the reality of what he was seeing.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to bring up old memories. They're just scars. War wounds from the past. But there's so many of them." For just a moment, his voice faltered and his hands lay flat against my spine.
"The past sometimes comes to life when you least expect it. I'm sorry you have to see them."
"No." He pressed hard for a moment and then began again the long stroking movements. "That's not what I meant at all. Do you really think of them as ugly? I don't. They're like the rings of a tree, telling the story of each year that's gone by." He was moving down my legs now, after flowing over my buttocks with a long sweep of his hands. The tension in my legs was strong and he gentled out all the knots with pressure point massage that soon had me sighing.
"Some years are good years," he massaged my left calf which is free of any scars. "And others are years of pain and suffering." He moved to the right where I had one bullet hole and two stab wounds in scar tissue. Gently, he touched each scar with his healing touch and I felt myself relax. Whatever point he was trying to make, I didn't think I'd regret listening.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed at my feet, he slowly massaged each one into nirvana. I began to feel weightless while the blood flowed lower and still lower. Oh no. Not that. I tried to think of something. Anything that would deflate my rising desire. But the points that Peter pressed seemed to lead directly to my groin.
Okay. We've got trouble here but as long as I don't turn over and expose myself, I should be all right. I'll just pretend to go to sleep and he'll cover me up and then I can fix the problem. I tried to relax completely but part of me had a mind of its own and just kept getting harder.
"Kermit. I'm feeling some tension here. Why don't you flip over so I can get your front?" Peter's voice was so matter-of-fact and what he asked was so impossible.
"Maybe tomorrow. I'm really sleepy."
"Really? The muscles here are super tense." And he ran his hands up my legs and over my buttocks, coming to rest on the small of my back. That did it. Steel had nothing on my cock at the moment.
"That's one of the reasons, I really shouldn't turn over right now, Peter." I try to match his tone of voice. The man to man one that men use to bullshit each other.
"I doubt you have anything I haven't seen before, Kermit. Did I ever tell you about my first real crush on one of the priests of the temple?" His hands were burning me with their heat. "It was years later before I realized that I swung both ways. Bisexual was what my Psych professor called it in college."
Peter? I'd always thought the kid was straight as they come. Why now? Why was he telling me this now? I could feel the trembling start deep inside of me. Suddenly I was more afraid of him than any ten Tong hatchet men.
"Don't be afraid, Kermit. I won't hurt you." His voice was so gentle but his hands were strong as they turned me over in his bed.
I looked up at him, into the beautiful blue eyes that had mesmerized me the first day I saw him. "Yes, you will, Peter. You scare the hell out of me."
He nudged my legs apart so he could slide up between them, the rough denim of his jeans teasing my skin. "I love you, Kermit. I don't know when or how but when I thought I might lose you today, I realized I couldn't hide anymore." And he took me in his warm oily hands with a lover's touch.
I couldn't help myself and I arched up. This was the culmination of every fantasy I'd had over the last few years. His touch knew, stroking along the vein below the flaring head. The glide of those long fingers almost destroyed me.
"You're so beautiful here. Straight and proud with such a lovely shade of plum. Delectable." His words would have hardened me further but I was already to the breaking point. Which I reached when I felt his tongue lick the first drops of precum from the tiny slit. He took me deep and his hum of appreciation brought my hips off the bed and the head of my cock to the back of his throat.
I thought I'd never stop coming. Each time he tongued me; I jerked and came some more. I lay exhausted on the sweaty sheets with my brain melted into a puddle of nonthinking matter. I felt him crawl up the bed and pull me into his arms. My head found that hollow between his neck and shoulder by sheer instinct. His silk shirt teased my cheek with its fragrance of fabric and Peter-sweat.
I took a deep breath and held it, trying to imprint his scent into my inner being. If this never happened again, I'd at least have that.
"Why now, Peter?" I made my mouth work.
"Because I could have lost you before I ever had you. I knew you'd never make a move because of some bizarre belief that you're not worthy of me. Silly man." I could hear the smile in his voice. "Just holding you, made me come when you did. That's what you do to me."
Moving my hips, I felt the damp spot on his jeans. "Really. How interesting."
"Don't get cocky. Both of us are going to last longer next time." He feathered little strokes against the cheeks of my ass and I felt my cock come alive again. Only Peter could have brought me back from the dead so quickly.
"Oh, you're good. I guess it's true what they say about experience beating out youth." Peter kissed my ear, tonguing it before biting the lobe gently.
Raising up, I looked down into his eyes. Searching for the truth of why we were here. But all I could see was the love, shining out of the sparkling blue gaze. I fought to hold onto my disbelief but it melted away under his burning glance. Oh hell, what was I thinking? Could it really be this easy?
"Yes. But it will be easier if you'd get naked. Maybe, then I'll remember what it is we're supposed to do." I managed a wavery smile and had to hold on while he whooped and flipped me over on my back.
He was out of the bed and stripping before I could catch my breath. But that was a lost cause anyway, once I saw that beautiful body glowing in the candlelight. "Like what you see, sailor?" He stood hands on hips with his thick cock jutting out in front of him and I licked my lips in anticipation.
"Oh yeah!" I reached over and tugged him into bed. He came in a rush; all those long lean limbs entrusted into my arms. The feel of skin against skin was beyond any fantasy I'd ever dreamed. We spent long moments just touching each other, learning the hot spots on each other's body. The inside of his elbow when I licked it with a rough tongue made him moan. His nipples were instantly hard and aching with just a couple of licks.
But his cock was a thing of true beauty that I shaped tenderly with my hands and mouth. It had been a long time since I'd deepthroated a man but the old ability came back with a vengeance when I got my tongue wrapped around him. His moans were intense by the time I upped the ante with a slick finger behind his balls and up into his opening.
He hiccuped once, going tense for a moment then relaxing totally. When I touched his prostate, he bucked and came in long spurts of salty sweet liquid. I drank him down like a fine wine and slowly let him slip from my lips when he was done. I've never seen his face so relaxed. For the first time since I'd known him, he looked totally fucked.
Which brought me to my next question. I slid up beside him and his arms closed around me in a fierce hug. "Peter. Just how much experience do you have with men?"
He blushed and opened his eyes. "A little mutual masturbation and a couple of blowjobs. I never trusted anyone enough for the rest of it."
"And you trust me? What are you thinking of? I could hurt you. I don't want that." The very thought of a virgin Peter was enough to stiffen my resolution among other parts of me.
"I do trust you. And you trust me or we'd have never gotten this far. When you can admit you love me too, then we can talk about you completing my education in man to man love making." He sounded so sure of himself that I let him lay me back and bring me off again with that wickedly mobile tongue.
Pulling up the covers, he brought me back into his arms and slipped one of his legs between mine so we were joined along the entire length of our bodies. He even snagged a pillow for us to share. Suddenly I thought of Caine.
"What if your father comes back tonight?"
"If you don't think he set us up, then that drug did some serious damage to your brain. I mean, come on. He had to go to the hospital to help out one of his people. Who's at least two months away from her due date." Peter snorted. "I figured it out when he was suggested moving you to his workshop. He's known for some time how I feel about you."
"And he probably knew how I felt as well. So, you think he'll be okay with this?" I asked hesitantly. The kid really does look up to the wily old man.
"Oh yeah!" He imitated me exactly and kissed me.
Oh yeah, indeed.
The end for now