Memories of a Promise
by Liz Gregg
Kwai Chang Caine walked slowly down the quiet street in Altamont, fastening the top button of his coat, pressing his arms tightly against his sides to secure the warmth from his body. Earlier, he had felt the change in atmospheric pressure. The air had turned much colder, and the wind whisked harshly across his face. He and Peter had just said their good-byes to Dr. Christian Becker and his wife, Teresa. The time had come for him to go home and heal from yet another opened scar.
"You okay, Pop?"
"I will be."
Now Caine didn't feel so sure of that statement. Seeing Teresa again had unearthed buried memories, and he needed to sort through them all. Thoughts and feelings clamored for attention, and he struggled to regain his peace of mind. He would have done anything within his power to help Teresa, and he did not regret his decision to come here. He had not, however, anticipated the emotional return to that lonely, painful time in his life. To the fifteen years where every day he tasted grief so strong that it dominated his heart and soul, and ached with a sorrow he would not let go.
Refused to let go, because it was all that remained of his beloved son.
In addition to the emotional upheaval of the past day, he realized that, much to his consternation, he was suffering from a mysterious affliction. Grimacing, he conducted a physical assessment, noticed a sore, swollen throat, a steadily escalating headache and a rising temperature.
With each step, he regretted words spoken moments earlier while standing next to his son in the frosty morning air.
"Come on, Pop, let's go."
"I will walk." And he had done just that.
Now, with a throbbing head and heavy heart, Caine began his long journey home. As he walked, memories of Teresa filled his mind like tendrils of mist drifting in from the sea, and his thoughts traveled back to almost ten years ago.
To the day he first met Teresa Keller.
* * *
The harmonious waves of sound produced by the metal flute hovered like bubbles in the chilly morning air. Kwai Chang Caine sat crossed-legged on the ground in a wooded clearing, and as the breath he exhaled produced haunting tones, he stole glances at the beautiful young artist he had just met.
Moments earlier, Teresa had said, "I believe art must be created in joy," and Caine still savored the sound and texture of her voice.
Teresa had spoken the words in reply to his question: "You do not believe art must be created in solitude?"
Admittedly, he had asked the question with the attitude of a devil's advocate. He did not believe that premise himself. Her answer, however, had pleased him. In the time it had taken to help set up her easel and exchange a few words, she had penetrated his defenses and touched his spirit.
'This is not possible', he thought, but as he watched her slender hands create magic on the canvas, he felt his heart threatening to spill forth. His ears heard the truth when he listened to her speak. His body confirmed the powerful attraction by responding to her very presence. Unable to ignore the signs, he acknowledged he had met a woman he could fall in love with.
Caine looked up once again to find her smiling at him, and suddenly realized she had spoken. His mind had traveled far away from the moment. Searching back his thread of consciousness, he heard her say, 'do you have a first name, Caine?'
Setting his flute on his lap, he answered, "I do. It is Kwai Chang."
"Kwai Chang," she repeated carefully. "That's an unusual name. Is it Chinese?" Waiting for his answer, she smiled, causing him to experience a powerful surge of intense, bewildering happiness.
He continued to pause, allowing the feeling to ease.
"It is. I was named after my grandfather."
She had started to disassemble her easel, and he rose to help her. As he reached to take it from her, his hand brushed against hers. The feel of her warm skin sent pleasurable sensations through his body, surprising him with their strength. Their eyes met, and now her smile evoked a feeling he had not experienced for many years: panic.
"I have a few errands to run. This may sound crazy, but why don't you come with me? When we're done, I'll make you lunch."
Caine looked away. He would end it now. "I cannot. I must move on."
The tone of her voice caught Caine's attention immediately. Teresa turned away quickly, but not before he read the look of hurt and disappointment on her face. Sensing this meant deeper feelings were developing, he realized he made the right decision.
Making no further move to help, not trusting himself to go near her, he stood motionless as she gathered her things and started down the hill.
She turned, and said, "Good-bye, Kwai Chang."
He nodded his head and swallowed his sadness as he watched her walk away.
* * *
Planning to drive straight to the precinct, Peter Caine navigated the Stealth smoothly along the empty back road. He had been traveling for just about half an hour. Usually he loved pushing the engine's limits on an open stretch. This morning, however, felt different.
Damn! I wish Pop had come home with me.
Peter thought his father had looked pale and tired. Despite his pop's stoic demeanor, Peter knew the reunion with Teresa, discovery of her husband, counseling of a troubled alcoholic, and battles with two fires had taken a heavy toll.
Thinking about their recent adventure, he saw their relationship from a different angle. Worried when his father had suddenly left town, he had followed Caine to Altamont, wanting to help in any way he could. He and Nick Elder had solved the mystery of Royce Vinson's death, clearing Dr. Becker's reputation. After the clinic had been firebombed, Peter had locked eyes with his father and had known that Caine had been grateful for Peter's help and proud of him, too.
Peter smiled with the memory, but his satisfied feelings were cut short by serious concern for his father. If only Caine had accepted his offer of a ride home. Peter wished he had insisted-- argued until he had found the magic words to convince Caine that this time Peter knew what was best for his dear old pop.
Right. We'd still be standing on the Becker's front steps
Heavy splats of icy rain began to hit his windshield. Gusty bursts of high winds tossed batches of wet leaves into the air and then, like a frustrated juggler, hurled them carelessly onto the road.
Damn. That's it, Pop. We'll see about the famous Caine tenacity.
Peter grabbed his cell phone and punched a number on the speed dialer. Be there! he silently willed.
"One Hundred and First Precinct. Powell speaking."
"Jody! Listen, I'm going to be later than I planned. Something came up."
Peter heard Jody reply, "Well, hello to you too, Peter. What came up?"
"I can't answer that yet. I just need to be sure my father is okay. Can you cover for me?"
"What would you do if I said no?" Jody asked.
Peter smiled into the receiver and said, "Thanks, partner. I owe you dinner."
Peering into the rear view mirror, Peter slowed the Stealth then expertly maneuvered a U-turn. Decision made, he drove back to retrieve one stubborn Shaolin priest.
* * *
On the front steps of his home, Dr. Christian Becker nervously watched his wife stare at the departing figure of Kwai Chang Caine. Teresa turned, and Christian looked into his wife's tired eyes.
"Tess, you must be exhausted." He wrapped his arm around his wife's shoulders, not surprised to feel her shivering. He pulled her close. "I need to go downtown. Why don't you go upstairs, get warm and lie down?"
Teresa sighed, then asked, "Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?"
"Tess, you know I always want you with me, but I won't be long, and you need some time to think." He bent to kiss the top of his wife's head, savoring the softness of her lightly scented hair.
"You win, Christian. If you need me, call."
Christian watched as Teresa went inside the house and closed the door. Refusing to let good sense guide him into the house with her, he walked briskly to his car. He hoped it was not too late, and that the mysterious Kwai Chang Caine had not once again vanished into thin air.
He drove slowly along the road, half-expecting to find nothing. Relief and anxiety overwhelmed him when the unmistakable figure of Caine came into view. Christian tapped on the horn and slowly eased the car on to the shoulder of the road behind the priest.
Christian shut off the engine as Caine stopped walking and turned to face the car. The doctor could hardly believe that soon he would finally be able speak his mind. Getting out of the car, he considered the words he would say to the man whose return he had both anticipated and dreaded for ten years.
* * *
Teresa opened her eyes, sat up on her bed and grabbed another cover, a thick, down comforter she'd had for longer than she could remember. Tucking it snugly around her body, the weight of her favorite blanket settled heavily around her, and she finally began to feel warm. Exhausted from a turbulent day followed by a sleepless night, she'd been trying to relax and take a nap, but she couldn't quiet her thoughts.
Maybe I'm trying too hard, she thought. So once again she closed her eyes, but this time she opened her mind and let the memories of Caine slip into her dreams.
* * *
The tense confrontation with local law enforcement finally over, Caine and Teresa watched as Sheriff Dowd and Deputy Mills drove away. She felt his hands on her arms and turned to face him. His eyes were filled with tenderness, and she knew that no matter how disinterested he had acted that he cared about her. It had all happened very quickly- they were virtually strangers to each other, but that didn't matter. Her pulse quickened. She had never met anyone like him before and probably never would again.
Teresa wanted him to stay.
"Well, Caine, it looks like our paths are destined to cross." She smiled, trying to keep the tone light. "I'm grateful for your help. Please, at least let me make you lunch to say thank you."
Caine shifted his gaze to a point behind her. He lowered his hands then shook his head. "I am sorry. I must go now."
"Caine, why do you have to leave now? Where are you going?"
He turned and walked a few feet away from her, picked up a stick and threw it in the woods.
She called after him. "Or are you running away," just above a whisper, she finished. "....from me?"
Caine turned sharply. He walked toward her, slowly, stopping so close she felt his coat brush against her chest. He grasped her shoulders, and they stared at each other. Teresa held her breath, uncertain what would happen next. Of its own will, her body lurched forward a fraction of an inch, and she felt the heat of his body burn though her cotton sweater. Finally, he reached down and curled his fingers around hers. Bringing her hand to his lips, he tenderly kissed it, then for a moment, pressed it against his face.
"Teresa," he said quietly, pausing to gently stroke her face. "I would be honored to have lunch with you."
* * *
Finally, Christian Becker stood face to face with Caine. Before he could speak, though, he noticed Caine's eyes appeared dull, his color pale. The physician made an immediate assessment--it seemed the confrontation would be put on hold.
"Caine, you're ill. Let me take you to the clinic. You can rest a day before your journey home."
Caine tilted his head, his eyes narrowed slightly, and he said carefully, "I will be fine. Why have you followed me? Is it...Teresa?"
Christian pushed his hands in his pockets and looked off into the woods that lined the side of the road. He knew it would do no good to argue with the man. Looking back at Caine, he saw the priest still gazing at him intently.
Finally, Christian said softly, "No, it's not Teresa..." he paused, then muttered, "well, yes and no."
Caine said nothing but continued to stare with open curiosity.
"Caine, there is something you should know about Tess. Something happened after you left. She made me promise not to tell anyone, but I can't keep that promise anymore."
"Perhaps you should respect her wishes."
"No. I've been struggling with this for a long time, and it's something you should know." Christian took a deep breath, then plunged forward. "I arrived in town shortly after you left her." He watched as pain flickered behind Caine's eyes.
"Teresa was in terrible shape," Christian continued, "she was despondent. One day she came into the clinic, describing symptoms of fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. We discussed several alternatives, and I asked her if it was possible that she was pregnant. She became very angry, and stormed out of the clinic."
Christian watched Caine react to the information by closing his eyes and stepping back until he was stopped by the parked car.
The doctor continued. "I didn't see her again for almost six months. When I did, I asked her on a date. It took a long time, but she finally agreed to go to dinner."
The doctor paused a moment, considering his words. "Caine, I wasn't sure she would ever let go of you. Eventually she came out of her shell. To make a long story short, we fell in love. I proposed."
Having never told anyone the story, Christian hadn't anticipated the anger he now felt squeezing his chest. "Before she said yes, she told me that she had suffered an ectopic pregnancy. As a result of the complications, she almost died. And she is no longer able to have children."
"I must see Teresa." Caine showed no further visible reaction.
"No, Caine!" Christian protested. "You can't do that. She's been through enough already!"
As if Christian had said nothing, Caine started walking down the road towards their house.
Caine stopped, and turned. "Christian, I must talk to her. Can you believe that you could give me this information, and have me go on my way?"
"Yes, I can believe it! Like you went on your way ten years ago." Christian had nurtured this secret agony for many years. "You left her to face a pregnancy alone."
"Idid not know," Caine looked away.
Although he had vowed he would not let Caine see his anger, Christian let his rage take over. The doctor strode towards Caine until he stood within inches.
"Bullshit." Christian hurled the word like a spear. "That's not an excuse. You know what can happen when...." Christian shook his head. "I'm not going to stand here and lecture you on the consequences of ill-considered sexual activity."
Christian's anger began to cool. Deciding to make one last attempt to persuade Caine, Christian added quietly, "Don't cause her more misery, Caine. Go home."
Caine, however, stood stubborn in his intention. "I can only do what my heart now tells me to do. I must speak with her."
Although Teresa had often spoken of Caine, she had never talked in depth about their relationship. As Christian watched Caine walk back towards Altamont, he wondered again how his wife had once fallen in love with this magnetic yet perplexing man.
* * *
Kwai Chang Caine and Teresa shared lunch together. Afterward, they spent time in her back yard, where Teresa worked on a painting while Caine meditated and played the flute. They enjoyed each other's company so much that when dusk arrived they were still together.
Later in the evening, after eating dinner together, they sat at the kitchen table. Cautiously, they related stories from their lives while sipping cups of tea. When the phone rang, Teresa got up and answered it, and for a long pause said nothing while she listened. Finally she spoke.
"Ed, you're drunk. Get someone to drive you home. Sleep it off!" She shot a look at Caine, then continued, "No, you can't come over here. Absolutely not!"
Teresa listened for another moment, then said, "Ed, I'm not listening anymore. Stay away from here and stay away from me." Teresa hung up the phone.
She sat down at the table across from Caine. "That was Ed, Sheriff Dowd. He hasn't done this in a long, long time. He's gotten himself good and drunk."
Caine asked, "But he has done this before?"
Teresa stood and started to pick up the dishes. Caine rose and lightly gripped her wrist. "Teresa?" he gently implored.
Setting down the cup, she sat back down. Caine sat too, taking both of her hands in his. "Yes. Ed's not a bad man, but he shouldn't drink, and usually doesn't. When he does, he gets mean." Teresa searched Caine's eyes and found compassion.
She continued, "The last time Ed got drunk, he came over here and forced his way in. I was lucky that night. Deputy Mills was on patrol. He saw that Ed's truck was parked erratically, almost in the middle of the street. He came in to check it out and got Ed out of here."
Teresa sighed. "Ed didn't remember any of it, and as far as I know he hasn't touched a drop of alcohol since. Until tonight."
Caine frowned slightly and said, "Teresa, Sheriff Dowd's harassment of you does it not seem excessive?"
She nodded her head. "You might as well know. Ed and I were married briefly. We had problems from the beginning. His drinking. And other ones, too. There were some things we never got past."
Squeezing her hand, Caine said, "I understand."
Teresa returned a gentle squeeze. Caine had told her about the destruction of the temple and about the death of his son, Peter. She knew it was a trauma that was still very close to him. She said, "We're divorced now, but Ed has times that he can't seem to let go."
Caine said quietly, "Letting go of love or of pain can seem impossible." He sighed, then said, "I can sense your fear. If you wish, I will stay with you tonight."
"You don't have to do that. You don't have to make this your problem."
Caine shrugged and asked, "You would feel safe staying here alone tonight?"
"Not really," she admitted.
"Then I will stay. I will sleep down here, on the sofa."
He made it sound so simple. She trusted him, had known she could the minute she met him.
"All right, then," she agreed. "I have a spare bedroom. Let me get it ready."
* * *
Later that night, Teresa paced the floor in her bedroom. She had taken a long shower and carefully rubbed her skin with a lightly scented body lotion. She stopped in front of the oak-framed mirror and picked up her hairbrush. 'Will I really go through with this?'
After brushing her hair, she took off her warm, flannel nightgown then wrapped herself in a soft silk robe and tied the sash. 'Is there any chance at all that he'll stay in Altamont?'
With one last glance at her neatly made bed, she opened the door to her bedroom and quietly walked down the hall. Nervously, she stood outside the door of the spare bedroom.
She jumped when she heard him softly call, "Teresa?" For a moment, she considered sneaking back down the hall and slipping into her room. It's now or never, she thought, and firmly pushed open the door to his room.
Caine sat in the lotus position at the end of the bed. Reaching back, he grabbed his shirt from the edge of the bed and started to put it on.
"You don't have to do that," Teresa gestured. "Put on your shirt, I mean. I shouldn't have come. I'm sorry that I disturbed you."
Caine continued to pull his arms through the sleeves, but did not fasten the buttons. "You did not disturb me." He extended his hand out to her and said, "Teresa, please. Something troubles you. Come in and sit down."
"It's nothing, Caine. I should probably say good night." She started to step toward the door.
"Teresa." The sound of his voice caused her to freeze. She stood near the doorway, afraid to come in the room, but more afraid to leave. Meeting his steady gaze, she found sweet warmth in his eyes, and at that moment, her heart became his.
Teresa took his hand, and Caine gently pulled her down to sit close to him on the floor.
"Tell me what is wrong. Are you afraid?" Caine leaned forward slightly, looking deeply into her eyes.
"No, I'm not afraid. Honestly, there's nothing wrong." She looked down at her hands, held firmly by his, to momentarily escape the intensity of his gaze "I...I know you're looking for the essence of your son. I know your soul is not at peace, and you don't want to make plans for the future. I don't understand why, but right now, I really don't care."
Caine tipped her head up and said softly, "I had every intention of maintaining distance from you. An intention I seem unable to keep."
"Unable or unwilling?" she asked, voice caught in her throat. He massaged her hand, and she felt the strength behind his gentle touch.
"Perhaps both." He stroked her hair, and smiled reassuringly. "You can still return to your room."
"I know," she whispered, keenly aware of the warmth of his skin, the nearness of his body. She lifted his hand to her lips and kissed it. "I want to stay."
His hand turned, slid across her face then pulled her close. She closed her eyes just as she felt warm lips cover hers. The kiss quickly grew passionate, and she shuddered as a tremor of erotic heat surged through her body. She circled her arms around his waist, and he crushed her against his hard body.
Caine opened her robe, then pushed it over her arms until it fell behind her and blanketed the carpet. He carefully lowered her on the soft silk and spread lingering kisses on her neck and chest. Knowing fingers trailed a path of flames all over her body. Holding each other tightly, they made love with an intensity that would carry them both late into the night.
* * *
In the early morning hours before dawn, Caine held Teresa in his arms while she slept. Not able to sleep, not wanting to move, he was equally amazed by the joy of making love to her and dismayed by the creeping sense of guilt and anguish that threatened to extinguish his passion. Their night together had confirmed his suspicions; he could make her happy while his own heartache healed.
She was beautiful and talented with a sweet, gentle spirit and he knew his love for her would only grow as time passed. Yet as he gently kissed her hair and shoulders, he felt uncertain that he would be able to stay and feared the time had not come for him to stop his wandering.
In her sleep, Teresa shifted away from him. Restless, Caine decided to get up. Once standing, however, he didn't know what to do or where to go. He needed the peace meditation could bring, but doubted his ability to quiet his mind.
Caine walked to the window and looked out in the yard. They had both enjoyed a day of quiet companionship, appreciating the calm beauty of nature. They had spent the night discovering and pleasing each other. There was a simple word to describe how he felt: happy.
"It's too much," he heard her say from the bed.
"Too much," he repeated.
"Everything that haunts you. It's so big it keeps you from enjoying what we've had today. It's too much for me to erase."
That's when Caine realized she thought he had asked her a question, while he thought she had somehow read his mind. For he had meant that the contentment he felt being with her was too much, and eventually would turn into the demon that would drive him away.
First he heard her footsteps, then he felt her arms wrap around him as she lay her head against his back. One of her hands touched his face, and he realized then that tears had fallen.
"Whatever it is, Caine, let it go tonight." He let her turn him around, and met her gaze. Her eyes glistened, reflecting his anguish back at him. She pulled his head to hers. Before she kissed him, she said once more, "Let it go."
He allowed himself to become lost in the softness of her embrace.
* * *
As Caine neared the Becker's house, it started to rain. The fall was heavy and the drops were freezing. Caine barely registered the cold, because he could not make sense of what Christian had just told him about Teresa. He could not believe that after being so intimate and spending so much time together that he had not felt that Teresa had been carrying his child.
Before entering the home Caine dried himself off the best he could. Silently, he climbed the stairs, consciously trying to slow the pace of his heart, commanding order to the chaos of his mind and quieting the din of emotion. Physically, he felt terrible. Once at the top of the steps, he scanned the doors and focused on the one where he sensed Teresa's presence. Wondering what he would say to her, he reached the door and knocked.
A moment of silence, then he heard her say, "Come in."
He opened the door and walked in. Caine saw her lying on the bed under a pile of blankets, propped up on one elbow. Surprise clearly registered on her face.
"Caine! I thought you were gone. Why are you back so soon?" Tossing the blankets aside, she sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. "Is it Christian? Is he okay?"
"He is unharmed."
Teresa nodded her head. "Good. But look at you--you're soaking wet. Caine, what's wrong?"
Caine walked to the bed and sat next to her. He cuffed her chin, very lightly, then took both of her hands in his. "Teresa, Christian told me about the pregnancy."
"The pregnancy?" Teresa looked puzzled.
Caine nodded. "And also your inability to have children."
Teresa didn't say anything. She closed her eyes a moment, and Caine gently rubbed her hand. Finally she said, "I don't know why he told you this. Is he here?"
Caine shook his head. "He is upset. I do not know where he went."
"It happened so long ago. I don't think about it as much as I used to. I still don't like to talk about it, though. I've asked Christian not to mention it. Why did he tell you about it?"
They both sat quietly, looking at each other. Caine had not known what to expect, but her calm reaction surprised him. He lifted his hand and touched her hair, then said, "Teresa, Christian believes that I...."
His words seemed to get caught on an invisible hook and dangle in the space between them.
Teresa's eyes shifted, and she finished, "That you were the father. My God, Caine." Her hand flew to her face. "I never told him the whole story. I left Altamont for six months, and Christian formed the wrong conclusion."
When she met Caine's gaze again, her eyes held tears of pain. "Christian never pressed me for details, and I never felt like talking about it. All these years, he's believed you were involved."
Ghosts of phrases from ten years ago shook loose from his memory, a time when Teresa had told him, We had problems from the beginning. There were some things we never got past.
Caine said, "The miscarriage happened during your marriage to Sheriff Dowd."
Teresa nodded her head. "The ordeal was over long before I met you. After you left Altamont, I saw Christian at his clinic, but only one time. Deep down inside, I knew I was depressed and exhausted, so I went away for a while. Tried to run away from the memories. I should have learned from you that it's impossible, right?"
"Teresa, I am so sorry." He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. Teresa gently touched Caine's face, then gasped softly in surprise.
"Caine! You feel very warm." She pressed her wrist to his forehead. "I think you're running a fever!"
"I will be fine." Caine insisted, but Teresa did not seem convinced.
He felt her arms slip around his waist and, wearily, he leaned into the embrace, accepting the offered comfort. Hugging her tight, he savored the feel of her warm, soft body, still sweetly familiar though many years had passed. As Teresa's feelings of concern washed over him, the adrenaline that had propelled him to this point wore off. He began to feel the full effect of the illness that had struck him so suddenly.
Caine tried to focus on healing his body, but pain and confusion clouded his mind. Those long years ago, it had seemed so clear to him that he must not stay with Teresa because his destiny lay elsewhere. And by leaving, he had followed the path that led him to his son. But Christian had also been right. He had left Teresa during a vulnerable time in her life and until now, had not returned as he had promised.
Caine was so absorbed with these thoughts that Christian's voice, thick with pain, surprised him.
"How cozy," Christian said, standing in the doorway of the bedroom and glaring at Caine and Teresa. "You two have kissed and made up."
As soon as he uttered the words he regretted them, but for Christian Becker, the past two days had been nearly unendurable. Even though proven innocent, Christian had lived too long in the cold shadow of implied guilt. The move to living in the light of innocence was blinding him.
He was grateful for Caine's help and trusted Teresa, but as he watched the two one-time lovers extricate themselves from their embrace he felt angry. Had it been one of passion?
Even though he knew Caine seemed ill, he couldn't prevent the jealous thoughts and feelings from swirling in his mind and clutching at his heart. How ironic it was that thanks to this man, his life as a healer had finally begun, but his own spirits had plummeted, reaching an all time low.
Christian took a few steps toward them. "I don't understand, Tess. He leaves you alone and pregnant, yet here you are." He shook his head. "But it never bothered you all these years he's been gone, so I don't know why it would--"
"Christian, it's true Caine left me." Teresa stood and moved toward her husband. "It's even true that he broke my heart--"
"No need to remind me, Teresa. I've held your hand while you've cried."
"And I've seen your heart break every time you've spoken his name. I saw the pain in your eyes today, when once again you had to say goodbye."
"I was a fool to go after him--"
"Please, Christian! Stop talking and just listen. The baby--the father, it wasn't Caine."
"What? He has to be--"
"But he's not. The miscarriage happened long before I met Caine. It happened when I was married to Ed."
"It is time for me to go." Caine's voice startled both him and Teresa. Caine, standing next to the bed, took a few shaky steps forward, then swayed and held on to the chest of drawers. Christian was stunned at how bad the man look. He crossed the room and placed both his hands on Caine's arms.
"You're not going anywhere, Caine." Christian tried to guide Caine to sit on the bed, but found the man to be immovable.
"I am." Caine shrugged and moved easily out of Christian's grasp. But Caine was worn out and Christian was fast.
"No, you're not," Christian insisted, once again grabbing hold of the priest. As the two men stared each other down, Christian wondered what on earth he was going to do next.
* * *
The wind gusted wildly, and the icy rain had turned to snow. Peter searched in vain for his father, praying that Caine had not taken a secret path through the woods. Peter's feeling of gloom gradually increased the closer he came to the house. By the time he arrived he had only one mission: finding and protecting his father. Slamming on the brakes, he haphazardly parked the car and rushed out, not taking the time to lock or engage the security for the Stealth.
Reaching the front door, he took advantage of the fact it was open, and entered, calling, "Dr. Becker, Mrs. Becker..." then "Pop?"
No response came and, hearing no sound from the downstairs level, Peter bounded up the steps, taking two at a time. He walked into the bedroom just in time to see what he thought was Christian pushing his father.
"What the hell are you doing?" Peter shouted angrily and was instantly at Caine's side. He shoved Christian away and turned just in time to catch his father. The priest slumped into his arms.
"Dad? What's wrong?" Caine didn't answer, but Peter could tell he was breathing. Peter slipped his fingers over his dad's warm wrist and though the pulse was rapid, it was sure and steady. Supporting most of Caine's weight, Peter made it to the bed and sat down, holding his father in his arms.
Peter glared at Christian. "What did you do to him?"
"Peter, your father is sick. Teresa and I were talking, then Caine got up to leave--I was only trying to help him."
"Help him?" One by one, Peter unfastened the buttons on Caine's jacket. "Some help. He's shaking and his coat is soaked."
Teresa tried to help Peter, but he would have none of it. "I'll take care of him." Peter slid his arm behind his dad, holding him while he removed the wet jacket.
"Dad, talk to me," Peter said quietly but intensely. "Dad!"
Finally, Caine started to stir, and Peter helped him sit up on his own. "Pop, what's going on? Are you all right?" Peter grabbed both his father's cold hands and rubbed them. "He's shivering," Peter muttered and quickly took off his own coat and draped it over his father's shoulders. Peter had never seen his dad like this, and he was frightened.
Finally, their eyes locked. Peter searched and found his father in the gaze, the love and wisdom mixed with some pain and heartache, but mostly the stubborn father Peter knew and loved. Peter smiled with relief. It might take awhile, and he couldn't explain how he knew, but Peter was sure his dad would fully recover.
Peter looped an arm around Caine's shoulders. "What do you think you're doing, Dad, scaring me like this?"
"I will be fine--"
Christian interrupted. "Caine, whether you admit it or not, you're ill. You need help."
Peter focused all his attention on his father. "Listen to me, Pop. Is your throat really sore? And do you have a killer headache?"
Caine raised his eyebrows and didn't answer. Christian and Teresa looked at them expectantly. Peter caught the wisp of a shadow pass his father's face and realized Caine desperately needed to get home. He squeezed the priest's shoulder. "Come on, Pop. I'll take you home."
Christian shook his head. "I don't think it's a good idea for your father to travel home without a thorough examination. At the very least he needs treatment for fever and dehydration."
Peter never took his eyes from Caine. "I think my father's been examined enough over the past twenty-four hours. He's got a bad bug, that's all."
"Trust me, Doctor Becker, I can handle it from here." His voice grew soft. "I've been trained by the best."0
Peter shared a look with his father, then patted the pouch that was slung around Caine's neck. "What do you have in here, Pop?"
Caine dipped his hand into the old leather bag. He pulled out what resembled a small, thin piece of wood and then popped it into his mouth.
"I knew he'd find something in there. What's that, Pop? Willow bark?" Peter smiled at his father's expression of surprise. "See, sometimes I really do listen." Peter kissed his dad's forehead. "Pop, I could fry an egg on you! Let's get home."
After saying their good-byes for the second time that morning, Peter walked his father to the Stealth, keeping his arm around him, happy when Caine slipped an arm around Peter's waist, too. Once Caine was seated, Peter adjusted the controls so the seat reclined. As Peter knelt on the ground and fiddled with the knobs, he said to Caine, "Pop, something happened between you, Teresa and Christian, didn't it."
Caine shifted on the seat and said nothing. Finally, he softly whispered, "We shared a memory, my son."
Peter stood, satisfied that he made his father as comfortable as possible.
"Don't worry, Pop. You don't have to say anymore." Peter grinned, "Hell, I don't even want to know."
Peter pulled out the seat belt and wrapped the strap around his dad, safely buckling him in. When he finished, he took off his jacket. Caine had insisted Peter put it back on while they were still inside the house, and Peter hadn't wanted to argue. Now Peter had other plans.
Bending over, he opened his coat and draped it over his father like a blanket.
"Peter!" Caine attempted to sit up.
"Stop that!" Peter ordered. "Listen, Dad, it's just you and me now. We either do it my way, or I'm taking you back inside to let the good doctor run a few of his tests."
Caine shook his head and made a small noise of protest, but settled back into the seat. Kneeling next his dad, Peter neatly tucked the edges of the coat around Caine's feverish body. His dad looked at him irritably, but Peter saw the love and gratitude hiding behind the Shaolin's eyes.
"By the way, Pop, what you have is the flu. It hit us hard last week. Kermit, who never gets sick, missed four days. He passed out right in his office. I don't think he'll ever get over the embarrassment." Peter stole another look at Caine, then grinned ruefully. "Either I'm just a carrier and will never get it, or I'll be next."
After driving for a short time, Peter noticed that Caine had started shifting in his seat, shivering from the high fever. "Pop, don't you have anything in your bag stronger than willow bark? You know...to help you feel a little better?"
"I do not."
"All right, then. I have one stop to make before we head home." Peter steered the Stealth into the parking lot of a 24-hour convenience store. "I'll be right back"
A few minutes later, Peter hustled across the parking lot carrying a brown paper bag. He got into the Stealth and opened the bag. "Here. Orange juice. You will drink that, won't you?"
Caine nodded his head.
"And extra strength Tylenol." Caine looked up in surprise. "Listen, Pop, you didn't bring any goodies in your pouch for the flu, so you'll just have to use what the rest of us mere mortals use."
"Peter, I do not wish--"
"C'mon, Pop. Take a couple of Tylenol. It won't kill you."
"Hush." Peter reached over and pressed two of the white pills into Caine's palm. "Trust me. This once."
Caine hesitated and looked at the two pills. Then he groaned, threw them in his mouth, and drank the entire bottle of orange juice. Caine gave Peter one last long-suffering look before stretching out on the seat and closed his eyes. Peter leaned over the console and made sure Caine was covered with his jacket. As he pulled the Stealth out of the parking lot and onto the road, Peter smiled, and reached out his hand out to hold his father's. Caine did not move, but gently returned the pressure.
Awhile later, Peter touched his father's forehead. He could tell the fever was down. Peter sensed that Caine slept soundly, peacefully. Whatever had happened in Altamont, Peter knew it must have been a doozy. Who knows. Maybe he'll tell me about it sometime.
Nah, Peter smiled. Some things never change. Gently holding his father's hand, Peter proceeded to drive safely home.