Episode: Dragon's Daughter (2nd Season)
by MJ Mink
It's past midnight by the time I finish filling out the paperwork on Xia Tan. Or Xia Dao or whatever the hell her name is. She claims it's just 'Xia', like 'Cher' or 'Madonna'. Guess she wants some fame to accompany her nasty deeds.
I'm tired, ready for some solid shut-eye, though I wonder if I'll be able to lock down my mind long enough to fall asleep. It's quiet around the precinct, so I check out with Mason, the night shift sergeant, then head for the door, already on auto-pilot. But my exhaustion doesn't prevent me from doing a double-take when I spot the familiar figure.
"Dad?" I back up and look at him. He's sitting in a plastic chair, hat in hands, a portrait in patience. "Have you been waiting all this time?" Not that it's been unproductive, of course. He's probably been meditating and praying to save Xia's soul, while counseling a few stray hookers and teaching a kung fu class in the lobby. "I'm sorry--look, I'll drive you home. Do you know what time it is?" Hell, he doesn't care what time it is. Time, as we mortals understand it, means nothing to my father. "Why are you still here? Do you need something?" Like he'd need something from me--that'll be the day. Still, he's needed me before. To be part of the dragonswing, to help prove him innocent of murder, to save the Emperor. At least, I think he needed me those times. Maybe.
It occurs to me that he hasn't said anything. Of course not, he doesn't need to. He simply reads my mind and hears all my answers to my own questions. "Sorry," I mutter, and his eyebrow raises. "Nothin'. Never mind. Let's get out of here."
I turn, but he puts his hand on my forearm to stop me. "I wondered, perhaps," he tilts his head, hesitating a beat before he continues, "if I have given you enough...space? Or do you require more?"
Shit. I'd forgotten--sort of--that three weeks ago, I told him to back off. To quit following me around like a puppy. I didn't say the part about the puppy, but I thought it, which is probably as bad as saying it, as far as my mind-reading Pop is concerned. He wasn't deliberately interfering, just trying to get to know me better. I want us to get closer, too, but I guess I wasn't prepared for the full effect of his undivided attention. After our memorable 'ride-along', he started showing up almost every day, at the precinct, at Chandler's, wherever I was, and I never knew when to expect him. He made me nervous, just standing around watching. I was on edge, making mistakes I shouldn't have made, feeling humiliated and angry that he was seeing me at my most inept, and saying idiotic things like, Back off, Dad--I need room to breathe--give me some space!
And he did, without a word of recrimination. With one of those polite bows, he was gone. I assumed that we wouldn't see each other for a day or two, but I guess he was waiting for me to contact him, because the days turned into a week, then two, then three. A dozen times, I stopped myself from going to him when I wanted advice or comfort or just wanted to visit. With each day that passed, the barrier between us seemed to grow larger until I didn't know how to face him and apologize.
But here he is, the mountain to Mohammed, so I take a deep breath and say, "It's been way too long...too much space, Dad. I'm sorry, I never meant--" I stop because he's shaking his head.
"You did nothing." He shrugs. "I was intrusive. I regret that--"
"No, it's okay." I don't want him to apologize for spending time with me. "We both just...misunderstood. I like having you around, Pop." I grab him by the neck and pull his face toward me, dropping a kiss on his forehead. "But right now, I'm wiped, I need some sleep. And you do, too. So I'll drive you home and--"
"I will walk."
"You will not," I counter firmly. I point to the window, gesturing at the heavy rain. "It's late, it's cold, it's wet, and no father of mine is going out in this weather."
His lips curve in a little smile. I think he likes it when I fuss over him. Occasionally. Probably not as much as I enjoy him fussing over me. "Perhaps I may go home with you?"
"What? Uh...sure." I don't know why he wants to come to my place, he hardly ever came over before. I was always dropping in at his new loft, but he didn't-- Hell, what if he's been waiting for an invitation? No, that doesn't make sense, he knows he's welcome. Or does he? Why am I even trying to figure out what he thinks? His mind is so complex that a literal-minded cop has no business wandering around in it, looking for answers.
On the other hand, maybe it's simpler than I'm making it. It's cold, and my place has central heating that actually works. God knows if that loft has any form of heat at all. I look at him. It occurs to me that he spends a lot of time waiting while I think things through.
And he spends a lot of time bailing me out of trouble after I've acted without thinking.
I can't win.
With a grin, I drape my arm around his shoulders, and we head for the exit. Vice Detective Morgan is coming through the doorway with a cuffed prisoner and she bumps into me--deliberately, I swear--and sends a frankly lascivious smile in my direction. Startled, I give Pop a shove to hurry him along. He ends up outside, looking at me.
"Uh...." I begin, then stop when he fingers my collar and sniffs.
"You have been to see the Ancient," he states. I can't tell by his tone if he approves or disapproves. Or neither.
"Yeah. So what?"
This time I get one of his infuriatingly innocent smiles. "I would advise a shower to wash away the..." he leans closer and lowers his voice, "...love drops?"
"Geez," I mutter, batting away his hands. "How can you smell that?" I keep up a one-sided conversation as we hurry toward my car. "You can really smell that? I can't smell it--I can't smell a thing. How come everybody else can smell it and I can't?"
Head bent down against the beating rain, I rush blindly to the passenger door to unlock it for him. He's already inside. "How do you do that?" I complain as I run around to my side and get in. "And don't shrug."
He shrugs. I grumble at the non-answer, but I'm feeling happy. I'm glad he's here, and I have a lot that I want to talk to him about.
But right now, all I can think of is getting some sleep.
* * *
I wake in the middle of the night--okay, the wee hours of the morning--and trot into the bathroom. Afterward, I stick my head out the bedroom door and see that my dad is sound asleep on the living room floor. No pillow, no sheet. I don't know how he does it.
It's gotten a little chilly, so I get a soft blanket from the linen closet and stand over him while I unfold it. For just a second, it's like he's the child and I'm the father, and I get a warm feeling inside. I drape the blanket over his form, and he doesn't stir. On some level he knows I'm here, but his Shaolin radar has probably broadcast a bulletin: Do not be alarmed, it is only Peter, Son of Shaolin. I don't imagine there's anyone else he trusts this much, and that funny feeling gets me all warm inside again. I watch him for awhile. Then a yawn hits me, and I realize I'd much rather be back in bed, sleeping for a few more peace-filled hours.
I'm asleep seconds after my head hits the pillow, giving me only a moment to reflect that, just like when I was a kid, having my dad around makes me feel safe.
* * *
When I wake for the second time that morning, there's sun filtering through the blinds. I get up and dress, sniffing myself in the process, hoping that the love drops dissolved in the heavy lathering I gave them last night. While the potion is on my mind, I retrieve the bottle from the wastebasket where I'd tossed it yesterday. There's a bit of liquid left at the bottom, so I tighten the cap and carefully hide the bottle behind the aspirin in the medicine cabinet. You never know when Ancient Love Drops might come in handy.
When I go into the kitchen, I'm shocked. Okay, I figured my dad might fix tea--I can only dream of coffee when he's around, I know I won't get it--but never did I imagine that he'd actually cook something for me. Something that doesn't resemble rice.
I go to the stove and lean over his shoulder. "Pop...is that an omelet? With real eggs?"
"Egg is the traditional ingredient of an omelet," he replies dryly.
"Yeah, well...." I try to poke it with my fingertip, but he whisks the pan away. "Where'd you get the eggs? I know I didn't have any." I have an image of him going outside and plucking them from a bird's nest. "Are they chicken eggs?"
He tilts the pan and slides the omelet onto the plate. He lifts the plate, takes a fork, raises them dramatically in front of me, then carries them to the table. I grab a bottle of Tabasco from the fridge and follow. He grunts softly as I liberally douse the eggs with the red sauce. I cut off a piece of yellow fluff and almost get it into my mouth before stopping.
"You haven't answered my question."
He stares at my fully laden fork. "I went to the market."
"Oh." Okay, these must be real eggs then. I shove the fork in my mouth. "Delicious," I mumble as I chew. And it is--naturally. My father doesn't do anything less than perfectly.
"I had no money."
I chew a few more times, then swallow. What does that mean--he stole the eggs? Of course not. "So how did you pay for them?"
"I did not."
I put down the fork. "Pop, you didn't just...take them, did you?"
"I told the man that my son would pay."
"Oh." Well, sure, that line always works. I'll just take this stuff, someone will pay for it later. "Umm...which market?"
"The one...there." His hand waves in the general direction of the street.
"That certainly narrows it down." There are only about eight little grocery stores in the surrounding couple blocks. "We'll go there later."
He nods decisively. He disappears into the kitchen for a moment, returning with two cups and a pot of tea. I could use a good shot of leaded, but what the hell, tea it is. I take a sip and find it's surprisingly tasty. "This isn't Lipton's," I observe. "From the market?"
He shakes his head. "The herbal shop."
Of which, as far as I know, there are none in the immediate area--assuming that Pop went on his shopping spree in my neighborhood. "Let me guess. Your son will pay later?"
He nods. I hide a smile. "Pop...you didn't by any chance go to a car dealership this morning, did you? Or a real estate office?"
His brows draw together. "Why would I go to such places?"
"Just checking." I gulp down the rest of my tea and scrape the remains of the omelet from the plate. "Dad, I want to talk to you about Xia," I say as I lick off the fork.
"That is why we are here."
Figures, that he'd know I want to talk. Is there anything about me that he doesn't know? And we're here, at my place, because he knows I'll be more comfortable talking on my home turf. I mean, I'm comfortable at his place, but there's nothing like home ground to make a guy relax and open up.
I raise my head. "What?"
"Are you...over-analyzing again?"
I'm chagrined, then I have to laugh. Ever since Annie told him--in front of me, thank god, or I wouldn't have known where this came from--that 'Peter tends to over-analyze situations', he's found a couple times to use the expression. "Why is it that on those few occasions when I don't jump right into something without thinking, people say I'm over-analyzing? What is that, Pop?"
He shrugs. "Irony?"
I pour more tea for both of us. "That's a good word for it." I warm my hands on the mug, growing serious as I think about Tan's daughter. "You know...Xia and I are exactly alike."
My father waits, saying nothing.
"We both swore to avenge the deaths of our fathers. The only difference between us is that she followed through and I didn't."
"If she had truly 'followed through', I would be dead. As would you."
"Yeah, but I mean...we both wanted the same thing. We thought along the same lines. Our minds are...alike." And that scares me. Yeah, it's easy to hate her for killing innocent people, but for a short while in the bar, she was vulnerable and I felt her pain. I understood it, because I lived with it, too. I understand why she did what she did.
I look down at the hand on my arm. From the way my father says my name, I guess he's repeated it a few times. "Yeah? What, are you going to tell me that it's okay? That it doesn't matter that I promised to avenge your death? Even though I failed, I'm still a killer in my heart. Just like Xia."
Having captured my attention, he releases my arm and leans back in his chair. "She had rage in her heart; you--"
"I had rage, too." Still do.
"Yes." He acknowledges the embers of my anger with a nod. "But you did not--and do not--possess the evil necessary to carry out acts of violence without provocation. She was willing to hurt anyone in order to force me into a confrontation. She does not have your empathy, nor your capability for forgiveness."
"Forgiveness?" I echo. "I never forgave any of them--not Master Dao or his mercenaries, whoever they were."
"Yet when Tan crossed our paths again and I told you it was he who destroyed our temple, you did not seek him out. You did not pursue your vow of vengeance."
The observation stuns me into momentary silence. My father is right. Once I knew Dao's new identity, I could have tracked him down. I failed then, too.
"You did not fail," my father says. I close my eyes as he cups my chin in his hand and turns my face toward him. I don't want to look at him; I'm too ashamed. But he waits me out, holding me in an effortless grip until I finally raise my lashes.
"Peter, you could not avenge my death." He smiles slightly. "For I am not dead."
Well...yeah. "But the temple...everything else, the other monks, the kids...."
"Are they the loss you wished to avenge?"
"Yes. No." If my father had lived, I would have been angry about the destruction. But we would have gone on together, somewhere else. I would have had my life. "No," I repeat softly. "So...when we ran into Tan again, I didn't feel the need to kill him because he didn't kill you?"
"Partly. Revenge is not a part of you, Peter. But for Xia, it is her life. Her father is dead, he will not be resurrected, and she holds me responsible. She was raised to be discontent; she was fed the fruits of evil and violence. You were raised to follow the truth with understanding and compassion. She is not like you, and you are not like her."
Why is it that I can brood on things for hours or days--or years--and my father can cut to the chase in a matter of minutes? When he's in the mood to be straightforward, that is. "I still failed," I mutter stubbornly, not quite ready to let this go. "I didn't do what I promised."
He bends his head. "Peter, if you had succeeded in your revenge, if you had killed those people and later discovered that I was alive," my father says pointedly, "how would you have felt?"
I've impaled myself on this hook pretty good, but he sets me free like a fish on a line. "Gosh, Dad, I guess I would've been kinda embarrassed."
The expression on his face is one of dismayed exasperation--until I laugh, then he gets the joke and gently taps my chin with his fist. I keep grinning at him. A few words of understanding and I feel better. I wonder why--is it his logic or his gentle reassurance that lifts the burden from my shoulders? I don't need a shrink--or Annie or Paul or Kelly--to tell me that I want his approval and that when I get it, my night turns into day. Yeah, I need it, so what? It's a perfectly normal reaction, and I don't understand why certain people get so bent out of shape about it. After all, we were separated for--
"Peter? Are you...doing the over-thing again?"
Startled, I shut down that train of thought and stare at my dad. "What?"
His expression is bland. "Are you over-analyzing."
"No, you said 'doing the over-thing'. Pop, who's been teaching you to talk like that?" It had better not be Skalany. I'll have to talk to her again about priests and women.
"Lo Si," he says, and I snort at the idea, though I'm not really surprised. The Ancient is pretty damn sassy for someone his age.
"Right." I rise and carry my plate and the two mugs to the kitchen. "Pop, let's go pay for breakfast. I don't want to see your face on a wanted poster at the post office."
"Your great-grandfather's face was on just such a poster," he says in that totally non-sequitur way he has of driving me nuts.
"Uh-huh. Well, if you keep your nose clean, yours won't be."
He pauses, looking at his reflection in the microwave's window, and rubs his nose.
"Very funny." I hand him his jacket and hat. "Cut the comedy routine and let's go pay for your purloined purchases."
"If they are purchases," he points out as we leave the apartment, "they cannot also be purloined."
I can see it's going to be one of Those Days.
I'm looking forward to it. It's been a long time.
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