by MJ Mink
He fell asleep on the sofa, too tired to bother undressing
and going to bed. He dreaded the dreams that would come and plague him
as they had for weeks. Maybe he would dream again about Damon Caine and
his father's disappearance, but Damon's face was already fading, replaced
by the image of the dungeon where he had been held. He had hated being
locked up, the sensation of his body held prisoner the way his heart had
been for so much of his life. Then had come another Kwai Chang Caine miracle-of-an-escape,
binding him to his father by more than a son's simple love. By a dependence
that he both feared and needed.
His need was smothering him. He had to save himself, before
Peter Caine was lost forever.
Tonight's nightmare was an older one, like so many, the
smell of smoke so real that it choked his lungs. His eyes burned with fiery
tears. There were the cries of monks, there were smells: burning wood,
burning flesh, burning plastic--
Peter struggled to surface from the dream. This time he
couldn't snap awake and banish the terror with a sudden gut-punch of reality
shooting him upward, panting and shaking. This time he had to fight the
demons pinning him down, demons in his mind slowing his thinking and turning
his quick movements into sluggish, grasping motions.
He finally woke, but the nightmare continued, and he called
My nightmare is the same: the temple, the first explosion,
confusion, fear, monks fleeing, trying to help. I am searching for Peter
amid the chaos and terror, then comes a second explosion--
Peter! I touch his mind, share his terror, see his
struggle to save another child. He cries out: Fatherhelpme! then--
I wake, jerking to consciousness. That very act, so
unlike my usual peaceful arising, turns the dream into reality. Something
The door was hot. He knew smoke flowed into his apartment
from the crack beneath the door, though he couldn't see it through the
blackness. Couldn't see anything until he dropped to the floor. There was
air caressing his face, hovering over the carpet, and he drew in a lung-full
as he crawled toward the balcony. He hesitated, reaching up, dragging something
off the bookshelf. His fingers wrapped around it, and he vaguely accepted
was vital...necessary to his survival. His mind refocused, shifted
into gear -- reluctantly, as though it had already given him up.
No! Fight, Peter!
Fight...right. It was what he did. Fighting everyone,
everything, good intentions, bad-- He covered his mouth and nose with one
hand as he reached up with the other, fumbling with the lock. He dropped
what he held. There was a moment's hesitation before he opened the sliding
door, and he offered a silent prayer that the air wouldn't feed the flames....
But there were no flames. No, the flames had been at the temple. Here there
was only deadly smoke that wouldn't show him the mercy the flames had.
He retrieved what he had dropped, pushed the door open
far enough to roll outside, then slammed the glass closed again. By force
of will, he swallowed his nausea and concentrated on steadying his breathing.
He wiped his eyes and peered down. The flames were below him, blowing out
glass doors and windows on the lower floors, shattering them with loud
explosions. Red and white lights strobed across the surrounding buildings,
their brightness dimmed by black clouds that separated him from his rescuers.
His lids lowered, and he rested his cheek against the
concrete. All he had to do was wait. There would be a ladder, firefighters,
someone would come...his father would come...and he was so tired. He would
wait for Caine....
I fly. I think myself there and I am--
--there. I am--
--only a man, despite my gifts. This is no small fire
I can raise a hand to, no flames within my power to douse. No blaze I can
stride through to recover my son. Why does Peter insist upon living in
a bird's nest? He cannot jump, he cannot soar that high. Not yet.
Does it matter? The temple was close to the earth,
yet I could not save my son then. Now--
Fly, Peter! You must fly! Leave your nest, there is
nothing to protect -- take wing!
He sat up and slid the thin bundle inside his shirt. He
was not alone. There were people to protect, people to rescue. Above him.
Terror rose in his throat, a thousand butterflies flitting
through him, wings flailing against every nerve ending in his body. He
drew a steadying breath. Forcing his fear into the darkest corner of his
mind, he curled his fingers deeply into his palms and exhaled. He climbed
onto the ledge, reaching for the balcony above, muscles straining as he
raised himself. You'd have made a great cat burglar, Caine, he assured
himself. As long as you never looked down. But why should he look
down? His father never looked down--rarely even looked back. Unlike himself.
Peter Caine spent half his time walking backward, wishing to change the
unchangeable, while today passed him by.
He crawled over the rail and pounded on the glass, but
heard no answering cries. He shaded his eyes and peered inside and saw
nothing. The smoke wasn't as thick; maybe they'd gotten out.
Up, then. Up another story. There were people to protect,
people to rescue. Above him.
Come, come closer. Listen. Ignore the siren song of
flames of the past. They cannot hurt you. Come, Peter. Higher. Raise yourself.
You can fly, one day you will fly higher than the one who loves you. Come
I feel Peter running on faltering adrenaline and faith.
What will he find when he reaches the top? An empty space? What will happen
to his faith then?
A father must be there for a son.
How could it be that there was no one to save? Had everyone
already been rescued? Had they forgotten about Peter Caine -- or had they
left him to die because he wasn't wanted? He hauled himself over the last
ledge, barely noticing as his forearms scraped painfully along metal and
concrete. He sprawled on his back, panting from his body's exertion. The
sky was heavily clouded; he couldn't see the stars. He turned his head
sideways, lazily, without energy. There were people circling the center
of the roof, huddled in pitifully small groups, but the one person he searched
for wasn't there.
He rolled over, lifted onto his elbows, and pushed back
onto his knees. Father, I'm frightened. Where are you?
...the monastery, empty.
...the kwoon, empty.
...the bright place in the sun, empty.
He would die if he lost his father again.
No, Peter. You are always looking into the past...
But this is Now.
He lifted his head. A crane was perched on the flat roof
of the office building across the street. It was beautiful, a miracle,
a sign. Dark clouds parted for it. It unfolded its wings and flew the distance
between them, landing at his side. It knelt.
"Are you all right, my son?"
Familiar gesture of hand on his face, lifting his chin.
Velvet eyes that searched his gaze, read his soul. Arms of comfort gathered
him into their protection.
"Father," he whispered, satisfied. "You came back for
"Back?" The head tilted, gray strands brushing his face
as his father's cheek rested against his forehead. "I will always be here
for you, my son."
As long as you can be.
He yawned. Nightmares always, eventually, made him sleepy.
He fumbled in his shirt and drew out the packet. "I saved them," he mumbled
proudly. "Your journal...the others."
His father made a small noise that sounded like a laugh
of disbelief. But his father never -- well, hardly ever -- laughed at him.
Caine took the slim volumes and slipped them into his pouch. A moment later,
a pinch of dried sticks was waved under Peter's nose and he swallowed them
The world sharpened into clarity. He was suddenly conscious
of the night, the fiery dawn, the noises, the triphammer beating of his
father's heart. People were trapped, injured -- and his father was remembering
the temple, living his own nightmare of the chance not taken. A horrific
scene, a moment of hesitation...and a son lost.
You were afraid that you couldn't save me...that I'd
"It's all right," Peter said, laying a hand on his father's
chest, willing the racing to slow. "You saved me."
"You saved yourself," Caine said tersely, but his eyes
betrayed his doubts.
Peter shrugged. "Same thing."
A familiar noise surfaced over the din of shouts and sirens.
He scrambled to his feet, pulling his father with him. "Helicopter. Let's
get these people out of here." He began to run, skidding on the slick surface
beneath his feet.
"Be careful, Peter. You're lightheaded."
Always. But he stopped and grinned at the man who stood
as composed and calm as though he waited in the cool shade of the Secret
Place. "Yes, Pop. But unless you're going to conjure a giant cloud and
float us all down to the ground, we've got to get everyone off the roof.
This whole building might be lost. Oh, hell, my clothes."
Caine stopped at his side and gave him an odd look. "Your
clothes?" he repeated. "I had not realized you were so...attached to them."
"Just my suits. And I'm not attached to them." He scooped
a small girl into his arms and smiled reassuringly at the mother who was
already burdened with a new baby. "But I hate shopping."
"Peter--" His father's expression was uncertain. Then
he shook his head and moved to an elderly man.
Peter watched him for a moment before turning back to
the job that had been unexpectedly thrust upon him.
"I'm so glad you called," Annie said, relief vibrating
through her voice. "I heard the news this morning, and when they said there
were fatalities, I called the precinct--"
"Yeah, sorry," he said into his cell phone, "I would've
called earlier but -- it's been a long day. Let the girls know I'm okay,
"Of course, dear. Do you want to stay here? You're welcome--"
"No, I'm okay, I'm staying with Pop." Why hadn't he left
some clothes at the Blaisdells? Annie wouldn't have minded. Then he wouldn't
A bundle of silk landed in his face, wrapping itself around
his ears like a giant web. He batted it away, spluttering.
"--you all right? Peter?"
"Sorry -- uh, Annie, my dad threw something at me." He
couldn't call her 'mom' in front of Caine. His father didn't mind -- or
said he didn't mind -- but Peter felt guilty each time he used the
word, particularly now that he knew more of his mother. He felt the chain
on his neck and wrapped his fingers around the locket, glad he'd been wearing
it. Still, it had survived one devastating fire, maybe it would have survived
this one, too.
Her husband, her baby, and her locket. Survivors. As she
She lives through us.
"Threw something at you?"
"Yeah...uh...." He fumbled with the fabric and managed
to one-handedly separate the loose pants and tunic. "Clothes. He thinks
I'm obsessing about clothes."
"Are you?" Annie asked laughingly.
"Of course not."
"You've always had a healthy streak of vanity about your
"Have not," he replied automatically. "Look, I have to
He snorted indignantly. "C'mon! It's no big deal. A couple
pairs of jeans, a few t-shirts..."
"An Armani suit," his father murmured, passing.
"...and I'll be fine." He glared at Caine. "Love you,
talk to you later."
He barely heard her farewell. He followed his father into
the small kitchen. "What do you know about Armani? Anyway, just because
I've been dressing more appropriately doesn't mean I'm obsessed with clothes."
Automatically, he glanced down at the simple black cotton outfit he wore
and smoothed the tunic.
"I did not say you were obsessed."
"You implied it." In the rear of an upper cabinet, he
found the rice cooker he'd given his father months earlier. "Why don't
you use this? It's much easier than cooking it on the stove. Guaranteed
to come out perfect every time."
"My rice always 'comes out perfect'," Caine said mildly.
Peter grinned. "It wouldn't dare do less. But let's try
the cooker anyway."
"You wish to have rice for dinner?"
"I wish to have it and I wish to fix it," he said bravely.
Because you like it, damnit! "There is no why,
there only is."
Caine stared at him. "Are you being cryptic?"
His grin widened. "I'll bet you hate it when I do that!"
He was pleased with himself. Flapping the unflappable Caine was always
a small victory.
"I do not hate anything."
"I know you don't, Pop. It was just a figure of speech."
He decided to fill up the cooker with water, just like
he did with mac and cheese mixes. "Didn't you keep the instructions that
came with this?"
Peter grabbed the canister of rice and pried off the lid.
"How much do you think we need?" he asked as he tilted it and dumped in
what he considered to be a cup or two.
"I think that is...more than adequate."
"Okay." With a wooden spoon, he poked disdainfully at
the rice, trying to get all the pieces wet. "I wonder why some of them
float and some sink?" He put the lid in place and pressed the button. "There."
Caine stared at the cooker. "Does it not need to be plugged
in?" He dangled the cord between two fingers.
Wordlessly, Peter snatched it and jammed it in an outlet.
"There. It'll beep when it's done."
"It will?" Caine peered through the glass top.
"You remind me of Lo Si and the microwave." He wandered
into the main room and settled himself in the single chair, propping his
feet on a low table. "Pop, do you think the fire was started deliberately?"
Caine climbed onto his sleeping platform and moved gracefully
into a half-lotus. "I do not know. It is possible, but for what purpose?"
"Anger, envy." Peter shrugged. "People have done worse
things with less motive. I gotta say, Pop, you have a very strange family."
Caine raised one eyebrow, then moved a plant in front
of him. From the looks of it, it was a recent acquisition and in dire need
of tender care. "I do not see the connection. And you are...not so strange."
"Very funny. I meant your brother. Damon. Maybe he...you
know...set the fire."
"I do not think so."
Which meant no. Peter stared at the plant. "I don't have
any brothers or sisters you haven't mentioned, do I?" he asked, thinking
"You do not," Caine said positively, cupping his hands
around the plant's limp stems. "That I am aware of."
"That's reassuring," he grumbled. "I wonder if the rice
is done yet?"
"It is not."
There. Just when he figured he'd never get a straight
answer, he got one.
"Do you wish to speak more of the fire?"
"What for? Nothin' to talk about." He reached over, plucked
a wrinkled brown leaf from the plant and twirled it between his fingers.
"Where did you get this thing? Polly's Palace of Doomed Plants?"
His father only shrugged.
Peter crumbled the leaf in his hand. "I'm starving."
"Perhaps we should...call out?...for pizza."
"What?" That wasn't Kwai Chang Caine speaking, was it?
"Pizza? You don't like pizza. You don't have a phone. How could we--"
His father gave him that fathomless look. "I have a telephone."
"You're kidding." It was too much. He was up and stalking
the rooms, searching for any sign of a phone. He found one in the small
empty room that his father rarely used. He picked it up. "Cordless. I'm
impressed." The ringer was turned off, of course, which didn't surprise
him. But at least it had a dial tone.
"Did you actually have the place wired? Must have been
traumatic having a phone installer invade the peace of your home." He returned
to his father, entertaining himself wickedly. "All those tools on his belt
rattling and clattering. All that gum chewing and--"
"No, there was a...?"
Peter leaned forward as if he could physically pull the
word out of his father's mouth.
Peter thought frantically. "Uh...a jack?"
"Yes," Caine said decisively, beaming at his son as though
'jack' was the baby's first word.
"Really. I never noticed one."
"There are many things you do not notice."
With a heavy exhalation, Peter sat on the edge of the
platform and swung his legs. His heels banged against the side of the wood,
setting up a steady, rhythmic sound. "Yeah, I know, all the mysteries of
the cosmos. All the stuff I don't want to believe in. All the things you
see in people--"
He started. "What? What'd I do?"
"Please." Caine seemed to be reassuring the plant with
little hand gestures. "Can you not ask your feet to be still?"
"Sorry. Being still isn't my strong suit."
"I have noticed."
He smiled tentatively. "You notice everything." If he
sat sideways, he could swing one leg without hitting the wall. He rearranged
himself and heard his father sigh. "So, what else haven't I noticed?" he
asked, without hoping for a simple answer.
"You do not notice how much you are changing," Caine said.
Peter wondered at his father's expansive mood. "I notice
more than you think I do," he replied quietly. "I've changed a lot since
you've come back. You...saved me."
"You saved yourself."
"I'm not talking about the fire."
Caine met his gaze. "I understand your meaning, my son."
"Yeah, I know you know." He felt immensely comfortable.
On its own, his leg had ceased swinging, and he glanced at it in wonderment.
If he could learn to be still, he could learn anything.
He looked at Caine, and his father smiled at him. "Reading
my mind again, Pop?"
Caine's hands hovered over a second plant. "Perhaps. You
wish to talk about the fire?"
"Get off it, Pop. Nothin' to talk about. It's over." Peter
frowned. "So how come you finally got a phone? I've been bugging you about
it for years." A scene in the precinct flashed through his mind. "Because
Skalany asked you? That figures!" A jealous demon tickled his mind, fear
nibbling at his security. Could you love her more than me? "Did
she pay for it?"
"It is a...'loaner'," Caine said, and Peter knew that
was all the answer he would get.
He rose and paced toward the terrace.
"Peter," his father called.
He stopped, always the obedient son. "What?" he asked
curtly, raising his defenses against an explanation. And hoping he would
receive one anyway.
"It is about...noticing."
"Noticing what?" he repeated irritably. His father was
really starting to bug him. He walked back inside. As he did, he caught
a glimpse of the kitchen. "Oh, shit, the rice is boiling over!"
He raced to the counter and yanked out the plug. "Shit,
shit, shit!" Why didn't his father keep paper towels around? This one dishcloth
wouldn't do the job. "What a mess. Can't you do a Shaolin thing, you know,
wave your hand and clean this up?"
"It is only water," his father replied placidly.
Peter stalked into the main room. "You knew it was boiling
over, didn't you? That's why you asked me about noticing stuff. That's
why you suggested pizza."
Caine raised one finger. "You are learning."
He surrendered, laughing, the frustration draining from
him. "I'll order Chinese instead. I don't suppose you got a phone book,
too, did you?"
The food was good and hot. Even the rice wasn't too bad.
Peter put his plate aside and picked the last of the beef and broccoli
out of the cardboard container, licking the sauce from his fingertips.
He shot a guilty look at his father but Caine apparently decided to ignore
this small indiscretion.
"Thanks for letting me stay here." Caine simply looked
at him, and Peter fidgeted. "I know, I know. You're going to say something
about sharing all you have, right? I just thought...."
He couldn't say what he thought. He looked back and remembered
the last time he had dared to ask. In the burned-out brownstone. He'd stood
in the window, arguing with his father, angry out of fear -- and fearing
that all his father saw was the anger. Why don't you just move into
An almost casual request, made with the excuse of danger.
But he'd meant far more. Maybe enough Chinese heritage clung to him that
he longed to live with his family, his real family, his father.
Or maybe he had wanted the lost years back, a chance to relive them together.
Or to return to the temple life he hadn't appreciated in his youth. He'd
never bothered to analyze his reasons for asking, because he'd been turned
down so quickly. It would not be convenient, dismissed coldly, as
though he'd asked for the performance of a time-consuming task or a lifetime
I just wanted us to be a family again, Pop. What was
so wrong with that?
Now...he should be grateful to be allowed to disrupt the
harmony of his father's precious sanctuary for even a short while.
He turned his back on his father and glanced across the
room. Far above the muffled clamor of the street, it was quiet here, an
oasis of peace that enfolded him like a warm blanket. He wanted to stay,
to drink in the heady scent of flowers on the balcony, to watch the sun
set over skyscraper mountains, to inhale incense and herbs when he woke
each morning, to see those eyes smile at him, glad he was there.
"What do you think, my son?"
Slowly, he turned his head. Caine had cleared away dishes
and containers with his usual silent movements. Now he was rubbing a polishing
cloth over his silver flute. The sight was so soothing that Peter spoke
before he could erect his usual defenses:
"That I wished I could live here."
Oh, hell. He hadn't meant to say it, didn't want
to hear the reasons why it was impossible and inconvenient, didn't want
to feel the rejection that would burn into his heart with an intensity
that his father didn't intend. "I mean that I...."
The gray head inclined. "You may stay."
His heart gave a startled thud. "Until I find another
place," Peter ventured cautiously, trying very hard to make the words a
statement, not a question.
Caine shrugged. "You may stay as long as you wish."
Wait a minute. "Wait a minute," he said aloud. "Are you
saying I can move in here?"
"You have always been welcome, my son."
"I have?" Annoyance jabbed at him. "How come you never
"Asked, I know. Damnit, Pop--" He caught himself. "Sorry."
"You are angry." Caine laid the flute on his knees and
patiently watched his son.
Peter squirmed under the contemplation. "No, I'm-- Yes.
No. I don't know. I mean...there were times when I hoped you'd ask me."
"You knew? Well, of course, you knew," he answered himself.
"Then why didn't you ask?"
"You," Caine pointed a finger at him, "must ask for what
you want. To fear rejection is to risk fulfillment."
At least he hadn't been slapped. Peter smiled sheepishly.
"Okay. So, Pop-- Dad...may I live here with you?"
If Caine was annoyed by the repetition, it wasn't revealed.
"Yes," he said simply.
"Great!" Peter beamed. "My stereo system won't bother
you, will it? And I can bring my tv and microwave. Do we need to have the
place rewired? TJ's got a cousin who's an electrician."
"What?" He chuckled to himself. The temptation to tease
his father occasionally got the better of him; at this moment, he was nearly
giddy with joy and relief.
"You no longer have a stereo system, a 'tv' or a microwave."
"Rrrright. I knew that." Of course he knew that. Despite
the shower, he could still smell smoke in his hair and on his skin. No
incense and flowers for Peter Caine. There would be more nightmares, worse
nightmares. Fire, Damon, his father falling into the cauldron of boiling
water -- cooked. Like he'd almost been this morning. "I'm never
going to eat lobster again."
"What?" He felt defensive and didn't know why.
"Life consists of...changes. There is destruction, then
there is healing. It is how we grow."
"You're bein' cryptic again." He was up and pacing. "Maybe
I should go to a hotel. It'd be easier, right? I don't want to disrupt
His father shook his head. "Shower. Bed. Those are your
"Yeah." He stood and retrieved the blue silk pajamas from
where he'd tossed them earlier. "I guess I can sleep in these. Or maybe
not," he added, catching his father's expression from the corner of his
eye. "What I'm wearing is fine." All his father's clothes looked like pajamas
anyway. How was he supposed to tell the difference? "Which room can I have?"
"The one you wish to have."
He pretended to consider his choices. "The one with the--"
"Telephone," his father finished. "Go now. I will prepare
His father was probably going to make a mattress
out of rice and corn husks, Peter reflected as he stood under the shower.
He cranked the taps in a vain effort to get more pressure. Something would
have to be done about the piping in this building. He needed a fast, hot
shower after work, with sharp needles of water to drive out the day's frustrations.
This gentle flow was frustrating. He couldn't even lather his hair properly.
Which was probably the fault of this damn shampoo his father had. Where
did he get this stuff? Maybe it was from the tarantula pizza store, that
little underground grocery with live merchandise. Didn't lather worth a
damn. And speaking of soap -- hey, no problem, he could cope with such
sacrifices if it meant being with his family again. He'd pick up a few
of the necessities tomorrow. A couple bars of Irish Spring, a bottle of
Pantene, and he'd be set. They'd beat the pants off this watery golden
liquid and what appeared to be handmade soap. He wondered if his father
had any anti-perspirant. He would have checked the medicine cabinet, but
there wasn't one.
He dried himself and wrapped the thin towel around his
waist. The coverage was less than satisfactory. All right, new towels,
add them to the shopping list. He pulled on the cotton pants and tightened
the drawstring. He missed jeans. Maybe he'd pick up a pair of Calvins tomorrow.
A few henleys, one or two jackets.
"Hey, Pop, you got any deodorant?"
He walked down the hall to his new room and came to a
stop, his question forgotten. Caine was sitting on the floor in front of
a futon, waving his arms and making big flames puff from two containers
at either side of him. A row of candles sat on a small altar in front of
a brass Buddha.
"If you're trying to set my bed on fire, it's been done,"
Peter said uneasily. He walked around and squatted at one end of the futon.
"I am blessing your room."
"Oh. That's nice. Thanks." He watched for a few more minutes.
The ritual showed no sign of ending. "Will you be...that is, can I go to
bed soon? Not that I'm really anxious, because I know I'll have nightmares,
but still...I have to go to work in the morning and I really should--"
"You will have no nightmares," Caine said confidently.
"Oh," he said again and cleared his throat. "Because of
"Because you do not have your gun."
Oh, shit, that was another thing that was gone! "Pop...I'm
a cop. I have to have a gun. I'll get another one tomorrow. And I'll have
to bring it home with me."
"Not into your room. We will find a...place for it."
Something about the way Caine said "place" made Peter
think that tomorrow he would find an outhouse in the alley with a sign
on the door that read Insert Gun Here. "Dad, it's part of my job.
I know you don't like it, but I don't have a choice. I need it."
"Yes, here. Everywhere. For protection."
"Protection?" Caine echoed. "From your dreams?"
Peter looked away. "I don't know. I just...need to keep
it near me."
"Not where you sleep," Caine said firmly. With a graceful
turn of his hand, he cupped Peter's chin with his fingers. "With the gun,
you...sleep with death. Those who looked into its eye, who saw the bullet
-- those who died, those who lived, wounded...they haunt it. They linger.
They swoop into your dreams and turn them into nightmares."
He shivered and would have pulled away, but his father's
touch was compelling. "I carry it all day."
Caine nodded. "You carry pain and death with you. Not
simply physical death, but also the death of dreams and beliefs, hopes
and fears. Death of the future, of children unborn, songs unwritten, masterpieces
"Drugs untaken," he interrupted sharply. "Murders not
committed." He freed himself by standing. There was anger in his voice,
but not in his heart. He bowed his head and looked at his father. "Don't
come down on me, Pop. I know all this," Peter said brokenly. "But please
understand -- there is nothing I can do about it."
Caine rose and held open his arms, approaching. He didn't
speak until Peter's head rested on his shoulder. "I will do it for you.
I have blessed your room. We will have a cabinet where your gun may rest
until it is needed again."
"You gonna bless the cabinet, too?"
He'd never heard of blessing furniture, and he wondered
if his father was making this up simply to comfort him. He raised his face
questioningly, and Caine gently tapped his chin. They were some of his
earliest memories: his father nudging, patting and prodding him.
With a smile of acquiescence, he kissed his father's forehead.
"Okay, Pop, you win another one."
"There is no--"
Peter raised his hand. "I know. It's just an expression."
"You have many expressions," his father said with great
seriousness. "I also have an expression."
"Oh, yeah? And what's that?" he asked, playing along.
"Sleep well." Caine bowed slightly. "And...welcome home,
The room was emptier without his father's presence. He
watched the serene figure glide away and vanish into the hallway. "I'm
glad to be home," he whispered. And blew out the candles.
Peter is tense, grieving. I sigh in fond yet troubled
remembrance and contemplate the significance of his reaction. In this,
Peter the adult is identical to Peter the child. Either his grief is buried
inside, scarring his heart so deeply that he never embraces the pain, or
it is tossed skyward, thrown to the four winds, shared with grand extravagance.
Today he dances, springing around the disaster as though his feet wear
To myself but to no other, I admit my concerns about
this man who bears my son's name. I sense his wonder -- sometimes his disbelief
-- that I love him despite his changes. He does not understand that when
I feel his pain my heart breaks, for I know that his healing is not yet
complete. The road appears endless to my son who has never learned patience.
Sometimes he fears that I watch his journey in ignorance or insensitivity
-- or that his emotional impoverishment somehow annoys me. He wants immediate
answers and quick solutions; he wants his wounds cauterized so that he
may never bleed again.
He is seduced by an illusion: that the tears in his
heart will mend if he receives the answers he craves. He does not understand
how much he would resent me were I to give in to the temptation and direct
At times, he still thinks I do not understand love.
And...there are moments when his belief nearly convinces me.
But I remind myself that his vision is small, that
his horizons have closed in upon him and only gradually is his sun rising.
In time, he will understand everything. He does not think this is true,
so I must believe for both us.
He was greeted in the squadroom with a chorus of are-you-all-right-Peter's.
He grinned, happier than he should have been.
There was a cardboard box on his desk. He laid the new
Beretta aside and warily opened the flaps. With a chuckle, he pulled out
what he found--exactly what he needed. A bar of soap, deodorant, a pair
of white socks -- white? -- a regulation police t-shirt -- great,
now he had a single half-change of clothes, a toothbrush, a travel-size
tube of Crest, a bottle of Prell, a black plastic comb, and assorted sundries.
"We cleaned out our lockers," Blake said casually, no
trace of joking on his face.
"Oh." Peter looked again. The toothbrush looked new, but
the other stuff-- "Oh," he said again. "Well...thanks anyway."
"Take off early if you need to. Just today," Strenlich
said gruffly. "The rest of you--back to work." He studied Peter for signs
of damage. "You got a place to stay, Pete?"
"Yeah. With my father."
"Good. Well...you need anything...." Strenlich thrust
out his forefinger, which presumably meant that Peter should ask for whatever
"Okay, thanks," he said, slightly befuddled. "Any report
on the fire? Was it arson?"
"Nah. Remodel on the third floor. Rags and paint thinner
in a utility closet."
"Hmph." Nothing in his life was ever that simple.
TJ's chair rolled over. "Glad you're okay," the redhead
said briskly. "Now, if you're thinking of a condo, I can tell you that
this is the time to buy. It's a terrific investment, and for just a little
money down, I can put you in a great one-bedroom with a view of the mountains--"
"Thanks, TJ, but I'm staying with my father. Permanently."
"I'm sure he's thrilled about that," Jody mumbled.
Peter looked over and found her sharing a commiserating
glance with Skalany. No way was he getting involved in that discussion.
He turned his attention to the paperwork on his desk. They could check
out the Chen murder today, and maybe he could swing by and talk to the
arson folks. They might be able to tell him more.
"Permanently?" Skalany echoed.
"Oh, boy," TJ muttered under his breath. Casters squealed
as he rolled back to his desk. "Let me know when you want to look at that
"Yes, Skalany, permanently. You heard right." Why was that so damn hard for people to understand? "You got a problem with it?"
"Incense and peppermints," Janet Morgan sang as she wandered by his desk. She raised her arm in the air and made a peace symbol with two fingers.
Peace and...tranquility...sticks and stones....
There was great satisfaction in maintaining his composure, Peter realized. He should try to do it more often. "Sorry," he said to Skalany. "Guess I'm feeling a little...edgy."
She nodded once. "Must have been a rude awakening yesterday."
"Tell me about it." He nudged the stack of files in Jody's direction. "I had to climb to the roof to escape."
"It's not that far, is it?" Jody asked.
"It is when you're on the outside of the building."
"My god." Skalany's eyes widened. "How did you do it? You must have been--"
"Terrified, petrified and panic-stricken? Yeah. But my father was there."
Her eyes widened further. "He was visiting you? He could have been killed!"
I could have, too, Mary Margaret. Don't make your priorities so obvious. "He wasn't visiting. He was on the roof."
He had the attention of half the squadroom. Broderick even abandoned the front desk.
"What was your father doing on the roof of a burning building, Pete? How did he get up there?"
He shrugged. "Flew, I guess," he answered, both pleased and unnerved by the attention. "You know my father. He's always coming to the rescue."
"How can you be so casual about it? You could have been killed," Jody snapped. She stood. "Can we get to work, partner? Or you want to stay here all day telling stories about how you were nearly a dead hero?"
Patience, serenity.... He said something ungentlemanly to himself. "Fine." His long legs carried him across the squad room before she'd even moved. "Let's go, Jody--or do you want to stand around all day taking potshots at me?"
"Teamwork," Broderick muttered as they passed him. "It's
great to see."
He wanted to ditch Jody, but she refused to be ditched. In the street, she raised her keys and said, "I'm driving."
"Get over it. I don't need you being macho today."
"I'm not being macho," he snapped, glaring over the top of her car. "I'll drive."
"Peter--" She sounded like his father--or like Paul when Peter had given him a particularly difficult time. "You're going to want to look at your building. I'll drive so you can...see."
He grimaced but couldn't think of an argument. Silently, he slid into the unfamiliar passenger side and stared at the street. He remained stubbornly quiet for several minutes, feeling more foolish as each one passed.
Great Shaolin you'd make, Caine. Where's that promised serenity?
He cleared his throat. "Thanks," he said gruffly.
She shrugged. "No problem."
No conversation evolved, but the tension in the car released. Peter leaned forward, staring upward when he saw his former home peeking above the lower buildings. They parked in a loading zone a block away. Jody pulled out the police identification card and propped it on the dash. He was already out of the car, heading down the street.
Skeleton, shell, war zone--the words came easily to his brain, but his emotions were shocked. The structure stood, but the exterior was scorched and scarred. The empty windows looked like entries into hell. The flames had left the upper half of the building relatively intact, but he supposed smoke had destroyed the interior. He bent under the yellow warning ribbon and walked cautiously toward the building, stumbling over the debris on the ground, unable to tear his gaze away from the building.
"You need to stay behind the tape, sir."
He reached into his pocket and showed his badge. "Detective Caine, 101st."
The man studied it. He was tall, with prematurely gray hair and a deeply creased face that identified him as an outdoorsman. "Williams, Incident Squad. Bit off your beat, aren't you, detective?"
He replaced his badge and nodded at the apartment building. "I live here. Lived," he corrected immediately.
Williams squinted. "You here last night? You were lucky to get out."
"Most people did," Peter observed.
"Yeah. Except for the south side of the third and fourth floors. They never had a chance. What floor were you on?"
Jody approached. Peter said briefly, "My partner," then continued, "Seventeenth. Can you tell me anything about the fire? Was it arson?"
Williams shook his head decisively. "Damn fool painting contractor. Should have known better. Hell, they're hiring kids nowdays, no experience, don't teach them anything about sources of ignition, accelerants--"
"So it was an accident?" Jody asked.
The investigator spared her a brief glance. "By all indications, yes. What's going on here? You have some idea to the contrary, Caine?"
Peter shook his head. He couldn't blame everything that happened to him on his enemies--or his family. "No, I just--"
"He's just paranoid," Jody said grimly. "Let's go, partner. There's nothing more to see here."
"She's right." Williams gave her a clipped nod. "Seventeen's a mess. Smoke and water damage. Insurance should pay for rebuilding the lower floors, so the building may be liveable again, but-- Sorry, son. There won't be many of your belongings left to salvage."
"Yeah." He shoved his fists in his pockets and immediately withdrew them again. "Thanks." He offered his hand to Williams and they shook.
"You were so lucky, Peter," Jody murmured as they walked away. She blinked and swept her hand across her eyes.
"Yeah," he repeated uncomfortably. He stopped and turned back. This time he studied the surrounding buildings. None of them was closer than the width of a four-lane road. And none of them was taller than his former home. His father couldn't have jumped from anywhere. How had he gotten to the roof?
He remembered his vision and the legend of the crane...protecting the nest and its fledglings. A pretty simile for students of kung fu, but--
But he couldn't argue with one of his father's miracles, could he?
They returned to the car. "Let's swing by the Galleria. I can't keep washing and wearing my meager wardrobe every day."
"Great, I love shopping," Jody said with forced cheer, and he stared at her in silent amazement.
Another example of the incomprehensibility of women.
Sometimes his good intentions never quite made it to reality. He'd meant to go straight home after work. It was, after all, his first real night at home. He planned on bringing dinner, spending a peaceful evening with his father, maybe having a kung fu lesson--if Caine wasn't off on a date with Skalany.
But the Stealth's trunk was full of clothes and toilet articles, his friends were happy he was unhurt, the fire wasn't arson, he had a home--all was right in his world. So he allowed himself a stop at Chandlers where, he vowed, he would drink only 7-Up or ginger ale. He couldn't tolerate his father's example of water, there had to be a little flavor involved. But Strenlich bought him a beer, then Kermit offered a second, and he loved beer, really loved it, so he let all his friends buy him beers. Only one each, it wasn't like he'd had a dozen, he'd turned down some because, after all, he had an image to maintain. Cop and preacher's kid, two roles that were gradually melding together.
He leaned across the table and grinned. Jody looked almost pretty in the mellow light. "Hey, you wanna--"
"So, Pete," Broderick interrupted, "you're getting this Spiderman routine down pretty good, crawlin' on buildings. Is that who you're gonna be when you grow up?"
"Sssssspidey," Kermit muttered and raised his glass.
"I'm gonna be--" Peter pointed his finger upward. "I'm gonna be--"
"A bee?" Skalany inquired with an acid smile.
He smiled to himself, pleased that she was here instead of with his father. "I'm gonna be just like my dad! Would you like that?"
She slumped back in her chair and chastised him with a single look.
"You got a ways to go, Pete," Frank Strenlich said seriously. "The way of the tiger isn't an easy path--"
He giggled. "My dad's a bird."
"He's a bird, you're a bee. This is getting worse by the minute," Skalany muttered.
"I mean," Peter countered loftily, "he's a crane."
Kermit lowered his glasses and peered over them. "Why a crane?"
"It's--it's...the fu," he stuttered, confused. "How else could he have gotten on top of my building and saved me? He flew. He saved me. I woulda died, y'know."
"I'd rather hear about the tiger," Jody said, fluttering her lashes at Strenlich.
"Maybe he wasn't really there," Kermit muttered.
Peter tried to focus his attention on the other man. "What do you mean?"
"Maybe he wasn't on the roof with you. It could have been your imagination--or he could have...projected an image?"
"He was there," Peter replied with certainty. "He rescued other people, too. Not just me. They woulda died."
He could tell Kermit didn't believe him; none of them believed him. What if he was wrong? He'd better ask his father. "I have to go home now," he announced.
"You're not driving," Strenlich warned.
Peter put his keys back in his pocket. "I knew that." He looked around the table. "Is anybody not drunk?"
"I'll take you," Kermit volunteered.
"And my clothes?"
"And your clothes."
"And my car?"
Kermit sighed. Broderick stood. "I'll follow you in my car."
"Too bad your father's not here," Janet Morgan said as she approached the group. "He could beam you home."
"Lay off," Strenlich muttered. "You be on time tomorrow, Pete. No slacking."
"Yessir!" He offered a snappy salute and accidentally poked his temple. Kermit took him by the arm and led him into the night.
"Why do they pick on him?" he asked drowsily as he slid into the comfort of his Stealth.
"That's just Morgan. She's a...not a nice lady," Kermit said tactfully.
"She's unhappy," he offered, though he had no evidence. "But...what about you?"
"What are you talking about?" Kermit frowned. "I like your father."
"Yeah, but...that time he was kidnapped...."
"I spent hours trying to track him down, Peter!"
"Yeah, yeah, but--" His fingers fumbled with Kermit's sleeve. "Earlier, what about earlier?"
"Take your hand off me. Earlier, when?"
"You know. In the game. Poker."
"Give me a break, Peter. I don't know what you're talking about."
"That's it!" He knew Kermit knew. "I tried to talk about him and no one would listen. Not even you."
"I don't remember." Kermit turned the car down the alley.
Peter's stomach turned as the Stealth did. "Ugh. Uh...."
"If you get sick in the car, you're cleaning it up yourself."
"I won't." He concentrated on his ch'i. Son-of-Shaolin would not throw up. "I'm fine. But you wouldn't talk about him."
"Well, maybe it wasn't the time or place," Kermit answered irritably as he parked the car. "Sometimes your timing stinks."
"Oh." Peter climbed out of the Stealth and looked up. The fire escape stretched into infinity. "Are you gonna park here?"
"No, I'm going to fly the car up to the roof. You want some help?"
"I'm fine." He accepted the keys and fumbled with them in the dark. Broderick pulled up, headlights glaring at the Stealth's trunk. Peter managed to unlock it and retrieve his packages.
"You're not going to make it by yourself," Kermit grumbled.
"I will help him." From nowhere, Caine appeared and took the packages.
"That's my pop!" Peter said happily and slung one arm around the rounded shoulders.
"Thank you for bringing him home," Caine said evenly.
"You're welcome." Kermit leaned over and whispered in Peter's ear, "You're in trouble, kid."
"Oops!" Peter rested his head on his father's shoulder. "You're not mad at me, are you, Dad?" he asked in his most appealing tone.
Caine didn't answer. Peter allowed himself to be helped up the fire escape, but halfway to his goal, his legs folded.
"I need to rest for a minute," he announced.
To his dismay, his father proceeded without him. After a few minutes, Caine reappeared at the top flight. "Come, Peter."
He really was in deep shit if Caine wasn't going to help him. With a groan, Peter levered himself to his feet. He wobbled and clutched the metal railing. It would be so easy to let go. To see if flying was an inherited trait. When he was a kid at the temple, he'd wondered if he could soar--and been certain that he could not. Now, if he just let go and spread his wings....
He looked down.
The ground reached up for him, and he gave a startled cry.
Arms wrapped around his waist. He staggered against his father, safe. He turned his face away from the abyss. It could not touch him now.
"Doncha think I can fly?"
"Not yet," Caine said.
He tilted his head back. "You just flew, didn't you? You had to, to get down here so fast. Pop, I wish you'd teach me how to do that!"
"Come, Peter." One arm still slung around his son's waist, Caine steered him toward the next flight. "Do not drag your feet."
"Yes, Dad," he said obediently. "How'd ya get on the roof?"
He took it as a challenge. "I mean, it was too far to jump, right, Pop? And you weren't my imagination, were you? Kermit says maybe you were, but I know better. So you hadda fly, right? Right? You know, if I coulda flew, I wouldn'ta had to climb. Actually, flying would be really convenient, you know? Cheaper than airfare. When are you gonna teach me that? Soon, huh?" He stumbled over a metal riser and looked down. "Another step. One more. And one more. You know, Pop, the smallest trip begins with a little step. Like flying. Maybe I could try hopping off short walls. Be real handy in a fire, y'know. In case there's another one. I could just...fly away."
They were in the apartment. Caine released him, and he fell on the futon. He sniffed the cotton cover. "Smells like you. Do I smell like that? Incense and stuff? Morgan makes fun of me--you, too. Now that I live here, maybe I'll smell like that. Better'n smellin' like smoke." He looked around the room. "Hey, Pop?"
"You shouldn't have all these candles in here, y'know. They might start a fire." He pushed his palm at them, but the flames didn't even flicker.
"I will put them out."
"Yeah." He felt dizzy and nauseous. "Hey, Pop?"
There was no air. He couldn't breathe. He fumbled with his collar. "Pop--?"
"I am here."
"Pop--" He couldn't breathe, couldn't see. Fire and rain were in his eyes. "Pop--people died."
"People I knew!"
"No!" He thrashed to be free of his father's hands. "I didn't know them! I didn't bother to know them! They lived so close an' I didn't bother to know them. I didn't save them. Pop--Pop...."
There was smoke, flaming candles, cries of monks, children, neighbors. He rammed his fist against his mouth to stop the rising scream--instead he heard sobs, torn from his throat, harsh, ragged sounds. He clutched his father's sleeves, burrowed his face into his father's throat, felt the comfort of a steady pulse. And cried for a very long time.
Nothing seemed real. At some point, he thought his father helped him to the bathroom where he was violently sick, but he wasn't sure. The only thing that he knew with certainty was that he would never sleep again. Never wake up again to smoke pressing against his chest like an iron blanket. Never hear explosions, never see flames shooting from the walls.
The dark eyes burned into his. Lips brushed his forehead, trailed by gentle fingers. "You need to sleep."
I spend the night sitting by his side. He is too tired and too drunk to have nightmares, but...I cannot leave. I watch his face, looking for a trace of my boy. I remember him so clearly. His eyes were huge with curiosity and wonder, his mouth sensitive and quick to tremble or smile, his spirit soaring and joyous. He was certain, even in the throes of adolescence. Though he was uncertain of his career, he knew his path. This man....
Some of the lines are smoothing away. Occasionally, wonder lights his hazel eyes and lingers longer than it did three years ago. But too often his mouth is tense, tight, angry. His confusion sometimes manifests itself in anger. I want to cup his soul in my hands as I once held a pure white dove; I want to release him so he can fly. I want to rescue him from this world that devoured his innocence; I want to carry him higher, into the heavens where he will be safe, where his enormous potential will burst forth like an eager blossom quivering on the threshold of springtime.
Patience, I remind myself. For a moment, I am as impatient
as my son. Along with the fury I struggle to embrace, it is one of my more
dubious legacies to him.
When he woke, sun was blasting through the windows. With a groan, Peter dragged his forearm over his eyes and rolled onto his side. The motion was a mistake. He felt like hell. He staggered into the bathroom and splashed water on his face and in his mouth. Stared at himself in the mirror. He looked like hell, too. A shave and shower helped only marginally, and the feel of stiff new jeans made him uncomfortable. He should have washed them first. Maybe his father could be talked into getting--
No, there were plenty of laundromats in the neighborhood. He assumed.
The countertop was empty of any familiar drugs. No aspirin?
"Pop?" he called. "Hey, Pop, got anything for a hangover?"
He was evidently in the doghouse, because there was no answer. No concerned father came to hover and pet him and cure his ills. He wandered into the next room and spotted his father on the balcony gathering flower petals like the Queen of the May.
"Hey, Pop. Mornin'." His smile was tentative but sincere. He waited for a response.
"Good morning, Peter."
Ouch. Whoever said Shaolin priests couldn't spread frost on a warm morning? He stared at his feet. "I guess I was kind of a jerk last night," he offered in apology.
Nothing. This was worse than he thought if a red flower was more important than a son.
"I'm sorry, P--Dad."
One eyebrow raised slightly as Caine looked at him. Peter felt like a specimen pinned to a wall.
"For what, Peter?"
The way Caine kept repeating his name was making him nervous. "For, uh...being obnoxious?" Obviously that was the wrong reply. There was probably a lesson in here somewhere, if only he could find it. "For...abusing my body with alcohol?"
For a moment he thought Caine was going to shove the knife into that poor plant. But that was impossible, because his father never lost his temper.
"To apologize for that which you do not regret shows disrespect for yourself and others."
It was the Shaolin equivalent of a spanking, and Peter could not have felt worse if his father had taken him over his knees. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean--" He drew a breath and focused. "I'm sorry that I let you down."
Caine peered into the plant. "You are not responsible to me, Peter."
"I'm responsible for the results of my actions," he protested, "and the effect they have on others." And, damnit, I want to be responsible to you.
His father nodded, but said nothing further. Peter felt no better. "What kind of flower is that? I've seen it before."
"It is a...snap...dragon."
Was it his imagination or was there more emphasis than necessary in the words? "Snapdragon, right."
Peter watched the deft motions of his father's hands for a few more minutes. "I have to go to work," he said finally. "Do you have any...herbs that would help a hangover?"
All he received in response was a pause and an emotionless glance.
"Right. Okay." He raised his arm and dropped it again. "I'll see you tonight. Can we...can I bring something for dinner?"
Caine shrugged. For a blinding second, Peter wrestled with hurt and anger, but decided to ignore them both. "Well, don't eat without me. We can go out or fix something here." He hesitated, then leaned over and kissed his father's forehead. "See you later, Pop."
He'd already turned away when he heard Caine say softly, "Be safe."
Peter whirled and pointed his finger. "You got it!" He walked backwards for a few steps, grinning at the sight of his father in his little jungle. He stopped in the doorway.
"Where's my gun?" He looked around. Certainly not near the altar. "The kitchen?" It would be just like his father to put the gun in the crisper under the lettuce and carrots. "The hall?"
There was a small table in the hallway. It was new--new to his father anyway. The thing looked like it had been sitting in somebody's attic for thirty years. He tugged at the single drawer. "It's locked."
He walked back to the balcony. "Pop, the drawer's locked. Can I have the key?" Impatiently, he held out his hand. "C'mon, I'm going to be late."
"There...is no key."
"Do you remember your lesson? Focus with your ch'i and--"
"I know that lesson, Pop, okay? I've used that lesson. Stop talking to me like I'm twelve years old again!" The words were out before he could stop them. Peter briefly closed his eyes. "Damn.... When am I going to learn the lesson about thinking before I speak?"
"I do not know."
He brushed his fingers across the sleeve of Caine's white silk tunic. "I am sorry, Pop--for speaking to you like that. Maybe that's a lesson we need to work on."
"That is what we are doing," Caine replied, the tenderness in his eyes belying the sarcasm in his tone. One hand rested on his son's cheek. "Peter...please be safe."
You're not angry, he realized, wondering why he hadn't seen it sooner. You're scared, too.
"I'm all right. I didn't die. Not then, not this time." He bent his head. He could stand here all day, just like this. He curled his fingers around the hand. "I love you, Father," he said hoarsely. He freed himself and bowed, gently slapping his fist into his open palm. "I'll see you tonight."
On the way out, it took him only seconds to focus, free
the drawer and retrieve his weapon.
The day was relatively uneventful. That dismayed him, because the hours dragged. It was a paperwork sort of day, Peter decided, disgruntled, and wondered what all the criminals were doing. He needed action, not file folders crammed with information to be condensed and fit into one-page reports of legalspeak. "The alleged suspect alleged that the complainant allegedly punched him in his alleged nose," he muttered.
But he should be positive about things. That was more the Shaolin way, right? "I'll get out of here on time," he told the monitor screen. "No hot date waiting for me...but I've got my pop. A gorgeous woman can't hold a candle to an evening of philosophy, right? Maybe I can grind a few herbs--a new sport, extreme herbing. Yep, I can hardly wait."
"Life at Chez Caine too dull for you?" Kermit asked, stopping next to his chair. "Talking to your computer I understand, but 'extreme herbing' I don't."
"It's a Shaolin thing," he said with a straight face, hitting the 'save' key and closing out yet another minor catastrophe.
"Mmm. So, were you in trouble with your old man last night?"
"No, not at all. But this morning, after I was fed, diapered and spanked--"
"Three years old?"
"More like two." Peter leaned back in the chair, drumming the end of his pencil against the rim of the keyboard. "I deserved it."
Jody wheeled her chair around. "So tonight you're staying home to make peace."
"Don't you ever knock?" he asked mildly.
"On what? Wood products?" She tapped the desktop. "Seriously...do you really think you'll be able to live with him indefinitely? Can you stand it?"
"More to the point," Kermit offered, "will Master Caine be able to 'stand' young Peter?"
"Very funny, guys." Peter threw down the pencil and rubbed his eyes, yawning. "What is this, Pick-on-Caines month?"
"You're different. Get used to being singled out." Kermit continued on his way.
"Singled out, I can stand. The picking is a nuisance," he muttered, glancing at his watch. "I'm outta here. See everybody tomorrow."
It was a sign of how much he wanted to get home that he didn't stop for food. He was starving, and his father would probably want rice--there had to be a way to expand Caine's menu. His fingers were drumming on the steering wheel. Damn, why was he so nervous? What did his father expect from him?
"You invited yourself, Caine. He expects nothing. Which is probably what he'll get," he grumbled as he swung the car into the alley.
There were three young people in the exercise studio with his father. A class? Since when had his father begun taking more than the occasional student? Still, Peter supposed that three kids--who appeared to be siblings--didn't constitute a class. Silently, he went to his room and changed into an exercise suit. The wood floor was refreshingly cool on his feet, and he wriggled his toes appreciatively before he slipped into the studio and joined them.
The stances were simple, but he held them and pushed his body. A day's worth of sitting had tensed his muscles, and relief of the strain came in a rush. He needed to do this every day; it was a more effective method of unwinding than a couple of beers at Chandlers.
One of the teenage boys was totally off his stance, and it surprised Peter that his father didn't correct the kid. He couldn't simply stand and watch, so he moved behind the boy.
"Here. Loosen your shoulders. Bend your elbows." He studied the pose critically. "Knees should be over the feet. Good. You've got it."
Automatically, he checked the other boy and the girl, correcting them only slightly. Looking up, he caught the small flicker of approval that crossed his father's face.
Suckered me into that one, didn't you, Pop? Peter thought, chuckling to himself.
By the time the class was completed, he was cocky with success. Peter Caine, tai ch'i teaching assistant. The teenaged boys were pretending that they weren't studying him, while the girl eyed him worshipfully.
Caine approached. "My son, Peter," he said as a quiet introduction.
He felt himself puff with pride, but maintained a serious demeanor. He gave them a small bow and the hand-in-fist salute. Impressed the hell out of all three. When they left, he turned to his father.
"How about a little more, Pop? I'm ready." He moved into a classic warrior's stance, bouncing playfully on his heels.
With three fingers, his father knocked him over.
Peter remained flat on the mat, laughing. "How is it you know when I need deflating?"
"You--" With his hands, Caine made a large circle in the air. "--act the peacock."
"You have to admit that I make a colorful one." He held up his hand, and Caine pulled him to his feet. "I could use some more stretching. Join me?"
It no longer amazed him that such simple movements could have such a powerful effect on his body. As a youth, the lessons had been fun, sometimes boring, but as an adult, they dissipated his tension and calmed his spirit.
As they practiced, the sky darkened, but the room remained awash in gold, illuminated by the scores of fat candles that were scattered on every level surface. Peter eyed them, but felt no fear; these small fires were benign. When they finished their workout, Peter followed his father to the altar and helped him replace the offerings. Caine draped a mala around his own neck and began his silent meditation, counting off repetitions with each bead. Peter supposed he should be praying, too, but at this moment he felt as though all his prayers had been answered, and he was content to simply watch.
When Caine completed his devotions, Peter joined him in a bow to the altar, then followed him out of the room. "Would you like to go out to eat? Or shall I fix rice again?"
His father paused as though he was seriously considering the latter suggestion. "I think," he eventually replied, "that it would, perhaps, be safer to allow a chef to prepare our meals."
"I'm insulted, Pop!"
"You are not."
He grinned. "There's that new Thai place I told you about. Want to try it?"
Caine gave a clipped nod of assent, and together they set off--on foot. Peter knew the restaurant was over a mile away, but he didn't even try to get his father to ride in the car for such a 'short' distance.
Besides, Caine liked to talk while he walked.
"Hi. Anybody here?"
Peter looked through the mass of plants on the balcony and saw Skalany. "Outside," he called. Carefully, he aerated the soil around the baby gingko tree, wondering what his father intended on doing with it when it grew up. He turned his attention to a strange thing that he thought Caine had called a xuansheng. "Hi, Xuan," he greeted it, wishing his father would just buy this kind of stuff instead of trying to grow it.
"You're becoming quite the gardener."
"Not hardly." He didn't glance her way. "I only practice extreme herbing when my father is tied up with other things."
She ignored the pointed comment. "I'm meeting Caine for dinner."
"Well, how nice, Mary Margaret," she said cheerfully. "Please sit down, relax, he'll be back soon."
Peter sighed. "Sit if you can find a place. I don't know when he'll be back, he's on a medicine run."
"A medicine run? Sounds like something out of the old west, cowboys and Indians." Skalany gave the surrounding area a once-over and decided against sitting. "You ever think of putting a bench out here?"
"The balcony is for gardening, not socializing."
She rolled her eyes. "Lighten up, Peter. Since you moved in here last month, you've gotten..."
He refused to rise to the bait and turned his attention to a fragile orchid. He studied it for a moment, wondering about the spikes of purple that shot out from its ivory heart. It reminded him of Caine.
"Oh, right. Me, uptight. I'm always uptight. When have I ever not been uptight? If I'm uptight, it's not my dad's fault. Try again, Skalany."
"How about 'hostile'?" she snapped.
"I'm not hostile." He concentrated positive thoughts on the orchid, but was almost certain that it wilted under his glare. If he killed it, his father would kill him.
"We need to talk about this, Peter."
"About you 'dating' my father?" He unwound his legs and stood. Picking up the watering can, he went into the kitchen and held it under the tap, turning on the water full force to effectively drown out anything she might say.
Skalany followed him inside. "Why does it bother you so much?" she asked loudly.
"It doesn't bother me," he said, knowing full well that he was probably incurring a thousand negative Shaolin points for lying.
Hell, who wanted to be Shaolin anyway? It was a stupid, impossible idea.
He couldn't do it. He'd fail.
Worse, he'd disappoint his father.
You're disappointing him anyway, Caine.
He stole a surreptitious glance at Skalany to be certain that it was his own conscience and not she who had said those words.
She folded her arms and leaned against the countertop.
He turned off the water and brushed droplets off the spout. "Okay, so it bothers me, so what? What I feel doesn't matter."
"Doesn't matter to who?"
"Whom," he corrected automatically, remembering his father's endless reminders.
"Doesn't matter to anybody. Look, I gotta get the plants watered."
"I'm not stopping you." She pursued him as he tried for an escape. "If your feelings didn't matter, I wouldn't be asking."
"Just--" He put down the watering can and raised his hand. "Just back off, okay, Skalany? What you and my father do isn't my business, and my feelings aren't your business. Let it go."
They both jumped at the sound of the soft voice. Caine stood in the doorway.
"Hi, Caine." Skalany gave him a warm smile and kissed his cheek. "Are you ready for dinner?"
"Yeah," Peter said, "don't mind me. I'll just scrounge up a little...rice or somethin'."
Caine gave him that familiar look and turned back to Skalany. "If you will excuse me, I will change. Then...I will be ready."
"By all means, slip into something more comfortable," Peter muttered under his breath.
"You really are a brat," Skalany told him after his father departed.
He shrugged. "So sue me."
They coexisted in an uneasy peace until Caine returned. The older man bent and lifted the orchid Peter was tending. His head tilted as if he were listening to whispers.
The damn orchid was probably turning in Peter for bad behavior.
"You are doing a fine job, my son. Our garden is flourishing."
"Thanks," he said glumly.
One hand smoothed his hair in a too-brief caress.
"Have a good time." Peter tried to smile. "I won't wait up."
His father hesitated in the doorway, then nodded once. Skalany ignored him entirely, using all her energy to send a blinding smile to Caine.
Peter accidentally sliced a stem off the small cactus. In his imagination, it screamed bloody murder and called to the Shaolin that his son was killing it. Peter tried to stick the severed pieces back together, then pushed the plant aside in disgust.
"What the hell is the matter with you?" he asked the splintered reflection in the glass doors. "You're a mess. A damned mess."
The words echoed through him, familiar. Had he come no further, learned no more in three years?
Well, he hadn't learned how to leave the demons of insecurity behind. He hadn't learned to build on the foundations his father laid for him. Not only was he disappointing his father, he was disappointing himself.
It was tempting to remain slumped on the balcony and sulk.
Instead he decided to cruise Chinatown--cop patrolling his beat, Son-of-Shaolin
checking out his dad's turf. Maybe he should get a t-shirt that read "SoS"
across his heart so everyone would recognize him.
As it turned out, everyone--at least the district's residents--did recognize him. It wasn't often he traveled these streets without his father, so the respect that was accorded him came as a pleasant surprise. He was accosted several times by people with stories to tell or minor complaints to register. A few recited their medical problems, as though they thought he'd inherited his father's talents--and maybe he had, if he'd give it a shot.
He headed into the scorpion store and picked up a basket. They could always use another ton of rice and a gross of candles. He wondered how his father paid for what he needed. It made him uncomfortable to think that before he moved in, Caine had relied on charity. "Rotten son," he muttered, picking out a small box of rice candy as a treat. "Do you deliver?" he called to the clerk.
"For the priest, yes," the man replied with a vigorous nod.
Peter grinned and hummed under his breath as he shopped. Actually, this wasn't a bad little store. There were all sorts of strange and wonderful things on the shelves. He remained alert for lizards as he cruised the few grocery shelves that were hidden in one corner and stocked up on a variety of noodles. No instant ramen cups here. He picked out a small amount of fresh vegetables and a few exotic fruits he knew Caine would enjoy.
Three times he unloaded the basket on the counter, then pulled out his wallet.
"Ten dollars," the man said.
Peter stared at him. "It comes to more than that."
"No. For the priest, ten dollars."
He understood. Poor Pop, no wonder he thought this grocery was so 'reasonable'. "I am not the priest," Peter said firmly. "I am his son, and I have a job. I will pay your regular prices."
The man sniffed. "If you're his son, why do you not take care of him better? Fifty dollars."
"Fifty dollars is too much. Twenty."
"Twenty-five," he offered, which was pretty close to the numbers he'd added in his head.
"Twenty-five, no Visa."
"Cash." Peter held out the money. "And you'll deliver it."
"You're not the priest."
"This is for the priest." He shook his head, laughing. "Do you give all your customers such a hard time?"
"I'm not a tourist."
"You are where you belong," the man agreed, accepting the bills. "About time. You will be Shaolin, too?"
Peter shrugged. "I don't know. I'm a cop."
"You probably cannot be both," the clerk said, echoing Peter's own thoughts.
He nodded. "Can I have the candy?"
"You would make your father proud. You are very like him." The man reached under the counter and handed him a Hershey's. "Here. White devil candy. I keep it for the tourists."
Peter declined with a perplexed laugh, wondering how anyone could think he even remotely resembled his father in anything. "This three-quarters white devil will have the rice candy, thanks. Nice talking with you."
On the street, he unwrapped the cellophane and popped one of the candies in his mouth. It was sweet and sticky and brought back memories of the temple. One of the masters had occasionally made up a batch--though the kids had universally preferred chocolate.
Darkness had arrived while he was inside the store, and he gazed along the street with pleasure. The shops were brightly lit, even gaudy, to attract the tourists. Richly-embroidered and sequin-encrusted garments hung in windows; Peter knew the heavy silks would be tucked in the back racks, sheathed in plastic to protect them from idly curious hands. He wandered into one clothing store, telling himself that he couldn't continue to wear his father's exercise garments. He needed something with more room in the shoulders, right?
He found a set in a dark, vivid blue, with a crane embroidered on the back in delicate shades of gray and smoky green. It reminded him of a shirt his father had, but this crane stretched its wingtips until they wrapped around each shoulder, giving the look of epaulets. Another shirt hung beside it, a pale blue silk with closures of braided gray frogs. It would be perfect to replace that old white silk thing Caine had worn to Carolyn's wedding--and every formal event since. Peter looked at the price tag and sighed, but carried the clothes to the cashier. There wouldn't be any priest's discount here, he was quite certain.
"Take them off the hangars, please," he instructed, knowing how his father loathed anything plastic. "And the tag off the blue one."
"Ah, a gift for the priest?" the woman asked.
When everyone knew you, everyone knew you. "Yes, a gift for my father," Peter said resignedly.
"I'll wrap it in tissue paper." She gave him a smile. "You're a good son."
Oh, yeah, he was a real champion all right.
Out on the street again, he nearly walked straight into his father and Skalany. "Hi!" he said, surprised. "What are you doing here?"
"I live here," Caine said seriously.
"Pop!" Peter exclaimed in mock exasperation. "I know that."
Caine reached out and cuffed his chin.
"Have a nice dinner?" he asked Skalany, making an effort to sound interested.
"Yes, at the Red Dragon." She wound her hand around his father's arm and watched him cautiously.
He nodded agreeably. "They're good. Well...see you later."
"You have been shopping?" Caine asked.
He'd noticed this before. He'd start to leave, and his father would distract him, do something to keep him around. He patted the bag. "Yeah. A little."
"Yep. No Armani, Pop." Peter gave a modified bow. "I gotta go. I'll...I won't wait up," he said as a reminder and winked at his father.
He sensed them both staring after him as he marched down
Peter said he would not 'wait up', but he does. Or rather, he tried. Now he sleeps.
Through open senses, I feel my son much as I feel the weather, smell the heavy clouds that carry rain, taste the freshness of the earth after a storm. Peter's ch'i is distinctive, growing stronger as each day passes.
I kiss Mary Margaret's cheek and close her car door. My fondness for her could easily grow, but for Peter. My son's jealousies are small and unimportant, though the underlying cause is distressing and requires exploring--one day. But it is Peter's very presence that prevents me from courting Mary Margaret with more persistence. In Peter's laugh, I hear Laura; in Peter's clouded eyes I see her pain and her love. She is almost as real to me today as she was when she lived in this dimension. Peter has brought her back to me.
At the top of the stairs, I find empty metal bins, the kind the storekeeper uses to bring my purchases. Inside, the candle cupboard is restocked, the kitchen brimming with rare citrus fruits and rich vegetables. Even the rice that Peter professes to 'hate'.
On my sleeping platform is a flat package wrapped in thin tissue. I carefully unfold the paper and run my hand across the soft fabric it reveals. Some have said I take too much pleasure in beauty, but that seems to me to be a contradiction. Beauty, whether created by nature or man, is worthy of appreciation. I touch the closures and envision the small woman who created it. She scorns machinery and its promise of swift completion; her bent fingers sew each stitch with care. I feel her satisfaction and delight, and I know that I will speak with her one day, will find her on the streets of Chinatown and thank her for the small miracle she has sewn into the fabric of the One.
Dark lightning jolts through my consciousness.
Rising swiftly, I go to his room. Have I not promised my son freedom from nightmares? But these dreams are not of the fire, nor are they the children of his policework; they are not spirited into our home by the weapon. These are different--they are the offspring of Peter's soul, his own children who wander abandoned and lost, waiting for Peter to reclaim them.
I sink cross-legged beside the futon, projecting peace and patience to them.
Soon, I whisper. Soon Peter will know you. Soon he
will embrace you. You must wait awhile longer, wait until he is ready to
Peter jolted awake. His heart raced painfully, and his breath caught in his throat. He coughed and rolled on his right side, pushing himself onto his elbow. "Father?"
Caine was there, sitting in a meditative pose, watching him calmly.
"I had that nightmare again. The one where I can't find you. I'm running through halls and there's a big door--"
"What does it mean?"
His father shrugged. "Soon you will know."
"Do you know?"
Caine shrugged again.
"That means you know. Because if you didn't know, you'd say 'I do not know', right?" He frowned. "I don't like it. In the dream, I'm afraid for you. I want to help you."
"You will help me, my son."
"So, you do know what it means!"
"No." The older man shook his head. "I know...that there will be many journeys ahead. When I need help, you will be there for me."
"Yeah." He leaned back on the pillow. "Did you get your gift?"
The head inclined in assent. "Thank you. It is beautiful."
"It reminded me of you." Peter's gaze lowered. "How was your date?"
"You're back early." He made it into a question.
Another shrug. He didn't have the nerve to ask--it wasn't his business anyway--but he wondered if his father was sleeping with his sometimes-partner. "I heard from my former landlord today. They expect to have the renovation finished in a couple weeks."
"I could move back in then," Peter continued awkwardly. "You know, if you...if I...well, you know, if we...."
Caine folded his hands in his lap and looked like Buddha. "Whatever you wish, Peter."
As if I have any idea of what I wish, he thought wryly. Peter Caine is as much a mystery to me as Kwai Chang used to be--still is, for that matter. "Yeah, okay. So...you think the garden is doing well, huh?"
He stared at the ceiling. A spider was spinning a web in one corner. In his own place, he would have vacuumed it into oblivion. But here, his father would give him a lecture about the sanctity of all life. You lucked out, he told the spider. "What do you use the snapdragon for?" he asked.
"It..." Caine shrugged, "...has few medicinal uses."
"So you just have it because you like it?" he teased, turning his head to study the other man. "Any relation to the dragon's eye?"
"No. It is so named because it resembles the...mouth...of a dragon."
He slid a suspicious glance along his father's placid features. "Reminds you of me, you mean? Peter 'the Mouth' Caine?"
His father actually chuckled. In a single move, he went from a half-lotus to a standing position. "Sleep well, my son. You will have no more dreams tonight."
"How do you know?"
The soft smile lingered. "Your mind is too full of other things."
"My mind is always full. It's never stopped me from dreaming before," he grumbled.
But Caine was already gone, vanished like a breeze that
ran over the skin, invisible and invigorating. Peter fell asleep, dreaming
of the next day and the one after that. Dozens of dreams...learning new
skills, practicing old ones, learning about his father, learning how to
be Shaolin, learning what he would do with the rest of his life....
The day had been particularly tense--a stakeout had ended in violence--and Peter was exhausted. He wasn't in the mood for dinner or conversation; instead he arrived home late and fell directly into bed. The noise began as he was just falling asleep. Peter listened for a few minutes, then rolled off the futon and bounded to his feet. He stalked into his father's meditation room.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
With a marked sigh, Caine lowered the bamboo flute and turned his head to study his son. Candles reflected off his eyes, giving them a glow from another world. He said nothing.
"Pop--" Peter raised one hand and struggled to find gentle words. "I know you're meditating. But can't you meditate quietly? I need to get some sleep."
"The...music never bothered you before."
"Yeah, well, it's bothering me now." He paced restlessly back and forth behind his father. "At least...play the other flute. The little one. Not this--this tuba, for God's sake."
The minor blasphemy didn't earn him the expected disapproval. "It is not a tuba," Caine said mildly. There was an electric pause. "However, if it will...soothe you, I will play the other."
"It would soothe me if--" He stopped himself and went into the next room, returning with the small silver flute. He squatted beside his father and handed him the instrument. "Pop, can you ask your flute to be quiet?"
Caine's head turned sharply toward him. For a moment, Peter thought his father was angry. Then the older man murmured, "Quietness is not my flute's strong point."
He laughed and stood. "No kidding! Just...ask it to have pity on the poor son who has to get up early and make a living to support his poor father."
"You do not have to support--"
"I know, Peter."
They glared at each other, and Peter wondered where the hostility originated. They had been getting along so well--pretty well, he amended. Living with his father was a lot more difficult than living with a woman. Women were easily distracted--and pacified, when he made an error. His father was neither.
"Perhaps quiet music would soothe your sleep?" Caine offered tentatively.
Peter blinked. "Perhaps. Some of your special tea would do it, too."
"Ah...no." His father waved one hand. "It is not wise to become dependent for peace upon something outside yourself."
"Like music?" he asked sarcastically.
"Like tea," Caine said with unnecessary emphasis.
"Fine." Peter backed away. "You don't want to help me, fine. Just remember that my nightmares will wake you, too."
"Peter," his father called after him.
"Back off, Pop."
"Peter--believe in yourself."
He didn't bother to turn around, but the words clung to him like leeches. He closed the door to his room with a gentleness that didn't reflect his confusion.
A few of the candles on the altar had flickered and died when he'd stormed out of the room. He relit them and stared at Buddha as he made fresh offerings. His father had provided this for him, knowing that some of the statues they'd had at the temple had only generated indifference. Some had frightened him; as a child, he'd been certain they'd noticed his every transgression. But Buddha was perfection, the purest symbol of the faith he had tried to ignore for years.
From the top drawer of the small bureau, he retrieved the mala his father had given him at Sing Ling's ascension ceremony. He rolled the beads around in his hand; they were smooth and cool and brought back memories of the early days, when he was certain, before the changes of adolescence had begun to flood his mind with doubts. He held them in his right hand. Automatically, the fingers of his left hand touched a single bead, and he began his devotion.
Music would have been a nice accompaniment.
But his father's flute was silent.
His father was always so damn still. It used to aggravate him; now Peter accepted that his aggravation was actually envy. He could never be so still...but it would be nice to have that deep sort of peace on a regular basis. Lately he'd been able to achieve it through meditation or prayer, or by closing his eyes and listening to the sound of the flute or--like now, simply by watching Caine as he lit candles. But he couldn't maintain the tranquility.
Would Shaolin training give him peace? He wasn't certain if serenity was a manufactured Shaolin trait or a personal one. Maybe there was no hope that he would ever be his father--be like his father, he corrected immediately.
A few delicate notes drifted across the night air. Peter opened his eyes and searched out the older man. Caine was standing on the deck, playing one of his formless songs. Not so formless, Peter realized in surprise. They all had common threads woven through them, gentle harmonies that called to something buried deep inside him.
He pushed himself to his feet and glanced at his watch. He'd promised to meet the gang at Chandlers for Broderick's birthday toast, but the idea was becoming less and less appealing.
He wandered out to the balcony and sat on the wooden flooring beside the small pool. Leaning his chin on his arm, he stared into the water. It was too dark to see his reflection. He remembered the times he would pause here, when he was still recovering from the fall and too weak to move without tiring quickly. He used to stare at his image in the water, fascinated by it, seeing someone other than the one he feared to see. The Peter of the water was content and relaxed. He thought some of that Peter was still with him.
He returned to one of his favorite pastimes: watching his father. A slight breeze lifted Caine's hair. It had grown longer, and Peter wondered when his father was going to cut it. Visions of Lo Si's beard flashed in front of him, and he tried to picture Caine with chest-length hair.
"How old were you when you met my mother?" he asked, vaguely surprised by the wistful tone in his voice.
A lingering note ended as Caine removed the flute from his lips. "Twenty-six."
"How old were you when you married her?"
The flute moved again. "Twenty-six."
"So you knew right away that she was the one. How old were you when I was born?"
Caine laid the flute on the rim of the pool. "Twenty-seven."
"Sounds like I'm behind the normal Caine schedule," Peter observed with an uneasy laugh. His gaze was drawn back to the water again. Reflecting the night, it was black and murky, vaguely threatening.
"There is no schedule." Caine hesitated. "What troubles you, my son?"
He flinched, remembering when he'd demanded Caine ask that question and his own reaction when the response had been less than what he'd wanted. He wondered if his father had used that phrase deliberately--and decided he had, because when did Caine ever do anything unintentionally?
The voice of his childhood god, the one that had haunted his dreams for years. He shrugged. "Maybe I'll never meet the right woman."
Immediately, he raised his head. "You don't think so?"
His father crossed his legs and sat before him. "It is a possibility. It is an equal possibility that you will find your...soulmate."
"The great love of my life? When's it going to happen, Pop? Can't you see the future?"
Caine shrugged one shoulder. "Always in motion is the future."
Peter smiled involuntarily. "Don't start quoting Yoda on me. I never should have made you watch the trilogy."
One eyebrow twitched in response. "You did not...make me..do anything."
"That's the truth." His amusement dissipated. "So you're saying I should be patient. That my great love will show up eventually, and I shouldn't rush into relationships."
"I did not say that."
"You mean I thought of it?" Sometimes he amazed himself. "I'm learning, Pop."
Caine smiled faintly. He raised the flute again and began playing. Peter found comfort in the sounds for several minutes, then the lack of conversation made him fidget.
"Did you know there are two kinds of people in the world, Pop?"
Caine laid the flute in his lap and waited.
"Those who put people in categories and those who don't." He smiled brightly.
His father raised the instrument to his lips again.
"That fits us, you know. You don't put people in categories, and I do. Do you think that's part of my problem?"
"Do you think you have a problem, Peter?" It looked like the flute was going to be permanently abandoned. Caine rubbed the mouthpiece against his shirt.
He snorted. "Well, for one thing, I'm not like you."
Caine stopped moving and studied him. "Why is it so important for you to be like me?"
A number of flip answers came to his mind, but for once he didn't speak before he thought. "Because...you're in control. You're happy. You know what you want. You get what you want."
His father continued to watch him. "Then...you feel that you are out of control, unhappy, and do not receive what you need?"
He shifted and pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. "No...yeah, I guess. I mean, you can't deny the 'out of control' part, can you?"
"You are...making excellent progress."
"Am I?" His gaze shifted. Across the alley, he could see lights coming on in the next building. "What about happiness?"
"Are you so unhappy, my son?" Caine asked gently.
Peter blinked. "Not...right now. But sometimes...I feel lost."
"You have not found your path."
"When I find my path, will I be happy?"
"That's no answer," Peter snapped, disappointed.
"I do not know how you will accept your happiness. That knowledge is within yourself."
"I don't need philosophy, Pop."
"What do you need, Peter?"
The million-dollar question. He wasn't quite ready to ask about Shaolin training, whether it would help him, whether it would make him happy--or at least help him see inside and understand his confusion. And there was no point in rehashing the probability of finding the great love of his life. He wasn't ready for her anyway...and certainly not ready for a child to guide. I need to find my own path before I can guide another, he realized, remembering his father's wisdom and endless counseling in the temple.
I need to go back to the temple. Another thing he couldn't say, because his father would think he meant it literally and pack them off to Braniff. But to finish what he'd begun as a child and a youth.... Maybe that's what he needed: completion.
"Right now I need ice cream," he said finally and pushed himself to his feet. "Want some? I picked up cherry ripple and mud pie."
He assumed his father would decline and was surprised when the answer came immediately.
"Chocolate," Caine said and retrieved his flute.
"Chocolate, right," Peter muttered under his breath as
he walked into the kitchen. "I will never understand you."
He cries in his sleep. He is terrified, dreaming again of dragons under his bed. The same dragons that have always pursued him: fear of aloneness, fear of inadequacy, fear of not achieving the unachievable goals he sets for himself.
So much fear....
I feel helpless.
I do not know how to help him except to be here. To keep him alive when he risks death. To soothe his spirit when he punishes it for failing him.
I do not know what to do except to watch him do as he wishes.
And help him through his dreams.
He couldn't stay. His nerves were stretched, fine filament ready to snap. His dreams were destroying the tranquility of his father's home--his father's life. He could see them reflected in the shadows that bruised Caine's face, in the regret and fear in his father's eyes.
The dreams were always the same--the sharply-angled halls, his father in danger--except for one time, the night he had awakened, sobbing, to find himself cradled in his father's arms like a baby. He'd been rocked and patted, no silence this time, but soothing, meaningless words designed to calm his terror.
They hadn't worked.
He couldn't remember more than fractured pieces of the dream. Crying wildly, grabbing people he knew--Rebecca, Paul, Annie, Skalany, Strenlich, Kermit--shaking their shoulders, shouting in their faces:
How can I hold myself together if he goes away again?
Faces flashing by, all his own:
...Young Peter, flawed son of the omnipotent master
...Orphan Peter, troublemaker, ringleader, fighter
...Pete, testing the Blaisdells, pushing the limit, you can never love me as much as he did
...Caine-the-cop, out of control, living on the edge, flirting with death
...Son-of-Shaolin, searching for Young Peter who is so lost...
...All screaming at me, all coming apart, how can I hold us together without him to mend my soul?
I'm losing you.
I can't be the one you want me to be.
I'm not who you think I am.
I'm not who I thought I was.
"I gotta move out," Peter announced in the middle of a kung fu lesson.
He made restless turns on the mat, pacing in small circles. His fingers combed crooked paths through his hair. "My job, I got too much to do-- The apartment'll be ready by the weekend. Look, Pop, it won't bother you if I leave, will it? It doesn't mean--well, you know. I just...I just gotta be by myself. I gotta think things through."
He spared a glance for his father, half-fearful of what he would see. All he saw was Master Caine, as composed as always, offering him the hint of a bow.
"I don't know what I'm doing any more," Peter continued, unable to stop talking. "I feel like I'm running, always running--to or from something, I don't know. Is it my job? I don't know. Is it you? Is it me? Is it something else entirely? Is it my destiny?--whatever that is. I keep fighting it like--like--"
"I believe the expression is 'tooth and nail'?"
"Yeah. I can't stop runnin', Pop." He paused in front of his father, head bent, trembling with exhaustion that was not of the body. "I don't know how to stop. I'm afraid."
"What frightens you, my son?"
"I don't know. It's like something is chasing me, but there's never anything there. I turn around and-- You know, I used to do that, right before I found you again."
"Do what?" Caine placed both hands on his shoulders.
Peter inhaled deeply and accepted the strength that was offered. "I used to think you were behind me. For a few weeks before you-- I told Paul that I thought I was going to die, that you were waiting for me, to help me across. And I would have died, Tan would have killed me, you know, if you hadn't been there."
"Peter." Caine's expression reflected their mutual pain.
"It's all right. When I found you...then I knew what the feeling meant. But now...I have this same feeling. Only it's not you. I wish...sometimes I wish there was somebody...."
"You wish you could talk to Paul," his father said gently.
"I--yeah. He was easy to talk to. But...." He drew a long breath and pulled free of his father's touch. "There's something else. When he left, I...missed him, it hurt like-- But I didn't have to please two fathers any more. Hell, I couldn't. You both want so much, different things...." He didn't dare look at Caine to see his reaction to the confession. "I know I shouldn't feel that way."
"You must feel as you feel."
Great. "I feel guilty," he snapped. "Don't give me philosophy, Pop. Why don't you ever have any real answers? When Paul left, it was like when the temple was destroyed. It hurt so damn much, but the pressure was off, you know? There was this--this demon inside me that said I was free, that I could be whatever I wanted. That I didn't have to follow your--"
He heard his words as if they'd come from a great distance, from someone else, not him. His breath caught as panic rose from his heart, and he looked at Caine.
His father's eyes were misted.
"Oh, god!" Peter grabbed the older man and hung on tightly. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded! Losing you was--the worst thing that ever happened to me. Until I found you again, I always wished I'd died at the temple with you. It's just--just--"
"I understand. You do not need to apologize." Caine broke away from his embrace, the first time Peter could remember that happening. "There was much studying, many restrictions.... I understand that you would be happy to be free of them."
"Not happy," he breathed. "Never happy. Relieved, maybe...." Shit. When was he going to learn that lesson, the one that would teach him to keep his mouth shut?
The mouth of a dragon was right...flames that seared whatever they touched and scalded the ones he so desperately loved.
"Peter, it is all right. I understand."
Yeah, you understand, all right. I may break your heart, but you're determined to understand. "I know you do. But I didn't mean it the way it-- Shit, I'm just making things worse."
His father shrugged. "The truth does not make 'things' worse. You feel as you always have."
He looked up quickly. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Caine's gaze shifted away. He settled a stick of incense into a holder on the altar and lit it. He watched the smoke drifting upward. "Many times since we were reunited," he said finally, "you have wished that I would go."
Tension twisted in his throat. "No, I haven't!" he protested hoarsely. "I've never wanted you to leave!"
"You have. You fear changes...facing the past...preparing for the future. You fear...that your love is not enough."
Peter walked to the window, but didn't look out. Instead, his hand brushed through the small flame that flickered at the tip of a thin candle. "Enough for what?" he asked in a low voice and snuffed the fire with his fingers.
"Enough to...face your dragons. And...embrace them."
He turned around, his gaze searching his father's face for answers to questions he couldn't form. "I don't know what my dragons are. Maybe--" He hesitated, wondering where the invisible sentinels were, the ones that stood guard at his father's temple. "Maybe you're one of them."
Caine's breath caught slightly, but he didn't look away. "Perhaps," he said and slowly smiled.
Peter laughed awkwardly. "My mouth is my biggest dragon. I wish I could just keep it closed."
"No." Three fingers patted his arm. "I am pleased that you can confide your secrets to me. Do not be afraid to do so."
He met his father's dark eyes. Pain lurked under the love, but there was satisfaction there, too. Approval. So, his father told the truth about wanting to hear everything--
Well, of course, his father told the truth, he was Shaolin, and Shaolin don't lie. That was a cornerstone of his faith, and he would never believe otherwise. Kwai Chang Caine never had, never would lie to him.
Shaolin don't lie....
I've never been a good undercover cop because I can't lie convincingly.
Peter shuddered and rested his forehead against the silk-covered shoulder. "I'm not afraid," he said hoarsely. "At least...not afraid of talking to you. Not any more. And I don't want you to leave, ever. But the dreams...will they ever go away? I've had them for so long."
"All your life. There has always been much fear in your heart."
"Yes. Will the dragons go, Father?"
The shoulder under his cheek lifted. "Dreams reveal the present and the future. Without your dreams, you would be ill-prepared to face either."
Another Caineism he would tuck inside to pull out and study later. "I...think I'll move back to my apartment. If it's really okay with you?"
"It is really okay," Caine teased as they separated. "You will still come by for your lessons?"
"Of course. And to help out, if I may."
"I would be honored."
They exchanged a salute. "Now, how about I fix some rice?" Peter offered brightly, thinking of the new rib place that he was anxious to try. Offering to cook was a sure path to a restaurant.
"I will fix the rice," Caine said mildly, shattering Peter's dream of honey and molasses ribs. "You see to the snapdragon. It was distressed this morning."
"Okay," he agreed glumly. "And where do you keep a needle and thread? While I'm out there, I'm gonna sew that damn dragon's mouth shut."
Caine laughed and tapped one finger against Peter's lips. "A closed mouth does not always keep secrets inside. Besides," he tilted his head, "without your words, I would have to go to a...sports bar?...for my entertainment."
"Oh, that I can see! Right, Pop. You, bellying up to a sports bar." He kept a running monologue as he headed to the balcony to tend his little charges. "Yelling at the tv, screaming for your favorite team, slapping bets down on the bar--"
"I could do that," Caine said, leaning against the door jamb.
Peter sent him a grin. "You can do anything." His smile faded. "Except keep out of trouble. Pop--"
"Sometimes a dream is only a dream," his father replied with surprising levity.
"Really," he commented dryly. "Well, since you've come back into my life, all my dreams seem to be coming true."
"Thank you." Caine grinned with the full, bright smile that lit up his world.
"I meant the nightmares!" Peter said, only half teasing.
The sky was coloring. Peter held the flowerpot between his knees and watched the clouds turn pink. "I thought you were going to fix rice," he said eventually.
"You...are moving out. So we are watching the sunset together."
For one of the last times, Peter added silently, then wished he could take back the thought. Sometimes wishing made things happen...good things, bad things. For fifteen years, he'd wished his father wasn't dead. He'd wished he didn't have to decide between pleasing Paul and pleasing Caine.
He'd wished he could be a normal boy instead of a bald-headed freak living in a temple.
He opened his mouth to ask his father if wishing truly made it so.
Then he cuffed the snapdragon under its little chin and told it to shut up.