Home for the Holidays
by Sue Meyer

The Christmas carols telling of 'peace on earth, good will toward men' playing through the mall's sound system clashed discordantly with the frenetic behavior of the shoppers. Stores and hallways were crowded with harried customers attempting to make last minute purchases.

A janitor moved calmly about his work, sweeping up trash, wiping up spilled food and drink, and cleaning and restocking the bathrooms. He seemed oblivious to the chaos surrounding him, and an aura of inner peace seemed to light the space about him.

He watched the people around him as he methodically went about his work. His movements were graceful and flowing, with no wasted energy or motion. The serenity on his face belied the thoughts whirling through his mind.

{Peter so loved this season, even though it was not a part of our beliefs. The other priests did not approve of my allowing him to go into the town to see the lights, the music, the people.} He smiled inwardly. {Except for Ping Hai. The Master would sneak small gifts to Peter from the time he was three until the temple was destroyed} A sudden, sharp ache in his chest made him catch his breath and cease his movements. Closing his eyes briefly, he willed himself not to hear the sounds of screaming and explosions that still haunted him daily.

A voice calling out behind him "Pop! Hey, Pop!" caused him to whirl around, his heart thumping crazily.

A boy of about ten was clutching his father's arm and physically dragging the man to a store window to point out a specific gift idea.

Broad shoulders sagging, Kwai Chang Caine turned back to his work, moving down the mall to empty trash containers into the large bin he rolled about. {Fool!} he berated himself bitterly. {Peter is dead, and still you think you hear his voice, see his face. He is dead. Ping Hai told you so, and the Old One would not lie. It is Peter's essence you feel, not his presence. You must accept his death. You must move on.} He sighed deeply, feeling a sting of tears. {How do I go on? Why do I go on?}

He walked his usual route, following the perimeter of the mall. When he came to the restrooms in a lesser-used section of the building, he noted with surprise that the 'closed for cleaning' sign was in front of the men's restroom door. He frowned momentarily, and then stiffened as he stared through the closed door. Eyes glinting dangerously, he slid silently but purposefully into the room.

"Come on, kid. I already gave you the twenty bucks. We don't have all day here." A tall man dressed in blue jeans and a black leather jacket with his back to the door undid his belt and pulled down his zipper while advancing upon a slender boy cowering in a corner.

"Stop." Caine's voice was full of barely controlled rage as he took in the boy's terrified visage.

The man quickly covered himself and attempted to pass Caine in an effort to make a hasty retreat.

Caine reached out a hand and gripped the man's neck, pinching nerves until his captive slumped to the floor.

Brown eyes flecked with green stared at the unknown rescuer. "I-I-I didn't do anything!" The boy's voice teetered on the edge of hysteria. "I-I was hungry, and-and-and he told me I could earn some-some money. I-I didn't know he wanted me to..."

Caine regarded the boy without speaking, waves of memories flooding his mind. {Peter would stutter his words the same way when he was nervous or upset.} Aloud, he asked, "You are unharmed?"

The boy nodded, his face crumpling. "Is he-is he…dead?"

Caine shook his head. "No. But we must find a policeman and report this."

The boy shrank back into his corner. "No! No cops!"

"Because you have run away?"

"How-how did you know that?"

Caine shrugged one shoulder. "A lucky guess?" He stared down at the unconscious form at his feet. "This man's evil must not be allowed to continue. If you do not report this, he will make other boys his victims."

Tears began to roll. "You don't understand. I can't go home. I did something bad, and-and-and my dad is ashamed of me. He'll never be proud of me again. I can't face him. I can't."

"What did you do?"

"Some kids in my class dared me to swipe something from a store. I-I did it, and the manager caught me, and made me give it back. He-he said he was going to call my dad."

"You were afraid your father would beat you?"

The boy sniffled before glaring indignantly. "Not my dad! He would never hurt me. He loves..." The lad abruptly stopped speaking, then slid to the floor sobbing. "I w-want m-my da-ad. I wa-ant m-my dad!"

Caine sat down next to the boy and pulled the sobbing youth into his arms. He stroked the dark head, his heart breaking as he was gripped with an impossible longing to hold his own son in his arms again. "What is your name?"

"Jo-john. John Anderson."

"Are you about nine years old, John Anderson?"

The boy sniffed indignantly. "I'm ten! I'm-I'm just short." He nestled into the strong arms holding him. "What-what are you going to do now, Mister?"

Caine rested his chin on top of the boy's head. "We will call your father. He will come for you. This I know. A father will never stop searching for his son. Never."

The beefy desk lieutenant stared down over the countertop at Caine and the young boy. "Sure is a good thing you caught that guy, Mister Caine. Since we had him cold on this attempt, he confessed to violating at least a dozen young kids in public restrooms all over this city."

Caine shrugged. "I was there. I am glad that he will no longer be able to harm young boys."

"What did you say your young friend's name was?"

Caine smiled and ruffled the boy's hair as he hugged him close. "His name is John Anderson."

The lieutenant glared at the boy. "I hope you know that you are damn lucky that nothing happened to you other than a good scare, John Anderson!"

John made no comment, and dropped his head. Caine felt the youngster shiver. "He has learned his lesson."

John tugged at Caine's arm and studied the clock anxiously. "You're sure my dad is coming for me? He really wants me back?"

Caine swallowed against the lump in his throat. "Your father..." He swallowed again and cleared his throat. "Your father is very anxious to see you again. He will be here soon."

At that moment, a larger and older version of John crashed through the door and stopped for one frozen moment to stare white-faced at his son.

"Dad! Dad! Dad!" John flew into his father's strong arms without a moment's hesitation.

The joy of their reunion was so blinding that Caine had to look away. {My joy would be no less if I were ever to hold my son in my arms again.} He closed his eyes against the pain that threatened to engulf him. {Two years. It has been two years since Peter's death, and my heart still bleeds from the wound.}

"Mr. Caine? Mr. Caine?" John tugged on Caine's arm impatiently.

Caine opened his eyes to look into John's shining face and swiftly schooled his features into an impassive mask.

"Mr. Caine, here's my dad. He wants to meet you."

Caine grasped the hand Tom Anderson extended to him.

"Mr. Caine, I can't thank you enough for giving me back my son." Anderson's face was still wet with tears, and his voice quivered. "My wife and I have been out of our minds with worry. You can't know what we've been going through these past few days, wondering where John was, if he was hurt, if he was hungry or scared, or even if he was dead."

He turned to his son. "And you, young man…" He grabbed John to his chest in a fierce embrace. "After we've celebrated Christmas tomorrow, you and I are going to have a long, long talk. Understand?"

John's reply was muffled against his father's chest, but he clung tightly to the solid figure.

Anderson kissed the top of his son's head before looking back at Caine. "Mr. Caine, my wife and I insist you join our family for the holiday tonight and tomorrow. You have given us the best Christmas gift that she and I will ever receive -- our son home with us, safe and sound."

"Your invitation is most gracious, and I thank you. But I...will be spending the holiday with my own family."

Anderson glanced down at the wedding ring on Caine's left hand. "Oh, of course. I'm sorry. I'm a little excited here. Of course you would want to be with your own family, especially this time of year." He went on earnestly. "Mr. Caine, if there is ever anything we can do for you or your family..."

Caine smiled briefly and nodded, speaking almost as if to himself. "Just knowing the son has been reunited with the father is enough." He bowed slightly. "And now, if you will excuse me, I must go. My family is many miles from here, and it will take some time to reach them." He settled his brown hat more firmly on his head, and slung the strap of his pouch securely over his shoulder.

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Caine." Anderson shook hands with Caine again. "I hope you have as wonderful a holiday with your family as I'm going to have with mine."

John flung himself at Caine and hugged him tightly. "I'll never forget you, Mr. Caine. I hope your son knows what a great dad you are."

Caine's arms tightened convulsively about the youth in his arms. {I had a great son.} He fought back unbidden tears as he suddenly wondered, {Did he know that? Did I ever tell him that? Did I ever say the words 'I love you' to my son?}

Releasing John from his embrace, Caine nodded solemnly at the reunited father and son, and turned to leave. {I have not lied. I am going to visit my family. It is time I returned to visit Laura and Peter.}

Once outside, he lifted his face to the sky. A cold mist was falling from the leaden gray sky. He hunched his shoulders deeper into his coat as he started walking, resolutely heading to the west -- back to the ruins of the temple, back to the graves of his wife and only son. Like so many others, he was going home for the holidays.

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