My practicing and drills are nearly completed when I feel my son's grief, a sensation that fills me with delight and pain. I spent so many years bereft of his presence that I am overcome with gladness each time I am blessed with his spirit. Our reunion is a miracle, and to perceive his emotions, even painful ones, gives me joy beyond description. I have a son again, and two purposes: my duties to the future emperor and the chance to redeem the honor of our family. For many years, redemption held little importance for me. But now my son lives; for him I will vindicate our family name.
And today, more than any moment in the last fifteen years,
I too desperately wish to live. So in one chamber in my mind, I lock
away what Lo Si has taught me thus far, the skills I require to fight the
Ch'i Ru and survive. I will return to my master and his knowledge
later, but now I must respond to my son's cry of anguish. I do not
know what causes his sorrow, but I will find him and offer what solace
I have never been to the place where my son performs his official duties, but one day he drove me in his small vehicle on a tour of the "hot spots" in his life. This brick building is one of them. I pause on the sidewalk, looking up at the wide steps and the sign that proclaims "101st Precinct". I cannot feel Peter's presence, but my sense of him is still imperfect, and some of his moods elude my mental touches.
I enter through wooden doors and am immediately bombarded by chaos. Voices - low and reasonable, loud and arguing - nearly overwhelm the sounds of footsteps, the hum of electrical equipment, and the steady pulse of people deeply involved in their work. I review all the possibilities, then walk to a long counter and wait silently for the uniformed man behind it to complete his conversation with a young woman. I look at her. She is wearing much color on her face, her blouse is tight, her skirt is short, and her shoes are very tall. I know that she is one who sells her body to survive, and I offer a silent prayer that her soul may remain free.
The woman walks away, and the officer turns to me. "Can I help you, sir?"
I bow in acknowledgement of his respect. "I wish to see Peter Caine," I say carefully.
There is a darkening of his spirit. "Sorry, he's not here this afternoon. Want to leave a message?"
I shake my head. "I must see Peter."
The man's pale eyes narrow, and he studies me intently. "You his snitch?"
I am uncertain of his meaning, but I have never heard a father called a 'snitch'. "He is my son," I say, surprised by the shiver of satisfaction and pride that runs through me.
There is a flash of suspicion, even disbelief, then his face clears. "You're Peter's father?" he exclaims, though I have just told him so. I nod.
"Pleased to meet you," he continues pleasantly, though he does not offer his name. "Peter's mentioned you...oh, a few times!" He laughs, but I do not understand why. Then his smile fades. "Pete's at a funeral - Kira Blakemore's. He was with her when it happened, so he's pretty broken up about it. Guess they were close once." The man glances around and suddenly busies himself by rearranging papers on the counter. "Well, you know all that. I don't know why I'm telling you."
I know none of it. A twinge of disappointment brushes me, but I dismiss it quickly. Peter is not yet used to my presence; in time, he will confide in me more often. Then I remember that I was practicing new fighting techniques; I wonder if my son searched but could not find me. I feel an increased urgency to locate him. "Will you tell me, please, where is the funeral service?"
The officer quickly gives me directions, then turns his full attention to a frowning man in a suit who approaches. I sense his anxiety, so I bow and step aside to begin my journey to my son.
There are many people at the cemetery. There are uniforms and weapons mixed among dark suits and dresses. Many tears are being shed. Some people stand in small huddles while others are walking toward parked vehicles. Though I do not see Peter, I know that he is here. I remove my hat and walk silently through the assemblage. Captain Blaisdell approaches me. He holds out his hand and would touch me, but I stop and he aborts his movement.
"Caine," he greets me tersely. "You're looking for Peter?"
Captain Blaisdell motions his head to the right. "He's over there, but I wouldn't disturb him now if I were you. He needs to be alone."
I look in the direction he indicates. There is a tall, broad-shouldered man standing, one arm braced against the thick trunk of an oak tree. He is wearing a formal uniform of dark blue and white gloves. A hat is in his other hand, and he is tapping it against his leg.
The sorrowful realization strikes me that, before our reunion, I might have passed him by without recognition. In my mind, I still carry the image of Peter as I saw him fifteen years ago...a child, slim and lithe and growing like a weed.
Belatedly, I return my focus to Captain Blaisdell. He clears his throat. "Look," he begins, "I probably have a better handle on Peter's feelings right now, and how he reacts to this sort of situation. He's not good about accepting comfort." The man shakes his head. "God knows, both Annie and I have tried. But Peter blames himself. So...give him some space, all right?"
I tilt my head to one side and consider his words. Of the people I have met in my life, Paul Blaisdell is rare, neither friend nor enemy, but with measures of both. His eyes have made it clear that he resents my position as Peter's father and worries that my existence somehow lessens his. I think also that he wonders if I disapprove of the manner in which he cared for my son.
I search my own feelings with honesty. I am relieved that Peter was not alone. Yet...I cannot repel the sharp knives that prick my heart when I think of Peter regarding another man as his father. I accept those feelings and look deeper within myself.
I am angry, yes, at the manner in which Captain Blaisdell completed my son's education, though I know that he acted in ignorance rather than with deliberate maltreatment. Paul Blaisdell lives as a violent man, that is plain. He encourages Peter to release his anger and heartache in violence. Such actions damage Peter's gentle spirit; in his heart, he is a savior, not an abuser. Captain Blaisdell does not understand that by giving Peter permission to vent his rage against others, he has deeply injured my son. To heal, Peter must relearn control and find ways to harness his demons, so they may be channeled into paths that will not harm others...or himself. I hope it is not too late for my son.
I say none of these things aloud, for I will not insult the man who sheltered my child. I offer Captain Blaisdell a small bow. As I begin to move, he places his hand on my forearm without invitation. I look at it until he removes it. His brows draw together, and we stare at each other until he breaks the gaze.
"My son needs me," I say softly, and walk away.
Paul Blaisdell's eyes follow.
Peter looks up as I approach. His face is wet. His expression is dazed with loss and guilt. Motionless, he watches me. When I reach him, I raise my hand to his cheek and brush away moisture with my thumb. His lips tremble and compress. More tears spill from his eyes, and I pull him into an embrace, clutching him against my chest. His face rests on my shoulder, and I feel hot tears wet my collar. The fragrance of his shampoo tickles my nostrils; it is an alien scent that is only gradually becoming familiar to me.
"I left her for two minutes." His voice is muffled against my neck. "Two minutes! I ran back, but she was dead." He draws away. In his eyes, I see the raw, unstable border that divides grief and rage. "Do you know what that's like?" he demands. "Just two lousy minutes away from saving someone you -- " He stops, and his eyes widen.
Reflected in his gaze, I see my own nightmare: darkness and flames, screams and thunder. It took less than two minutes to lose my son for fifteen years. A few seconds before the heavy beam of the temple crushed my intention to rescue him from the fire. A few seconds and a lifetime lost while I stood frozen by the sight of my child in mortal danger.
With great effort, I banish the images of heartache from my mind and return to the present. My son is watching me. His hands still cling to my arms. I squeeze my fingers around his shoulder. "Yes. I know, Peter."
He looks away and releases me in order to rub his eyes. I offer him a strip of silk from my pouch, and he wipes his face and nose. He returns the damp fabric and smiles sadly. "I, uh...missed this kind of...I mean, you. I missed you being here for me. When I needed you."
It is another of those breathless moments I have experienced since finding my son. It is as though Peter stabs me in the heart, and I am flooded with such pain that I cannot respond immediately. I keep my face impassive, for I know that my torment will only cause him more sadness. When I trust that my voice will be steady, I say: "As I missed you, my son."
"Yeah?" Peter looks around at the remaining mourners, then turns and faces away from both them and me. He folds his arms and stares across the rows of white markers that grow from the ground like alpine flowers, beautiful and cold as ice. "You seem to have done just fine without me."
"I did not," I tell him sternly, for I will not allow him to fall into a well of misplaced grief. I move closer, as though my body alone can protect and reassure him. "I existed. Though I walked far for many years, each day began with a single step. Each step became a journey back to you, though I did not dream that we would truly be together again."
He turns back to me, his face flushed. "It was a long trip, Dad."
"Yes." I nod. "And it continues. It is a journey that has no end."
His expression is momentarily puzzled, but he shrugs and places his arm around my shoulders. "Damn right, it has no end." He kisses my forehead, then releases me. "I've got a killer to catch. I'll stop by when I can." He makes a movement backwards before he halts. "Thanks for being here, Dad." He gives me a ghost of a smile, then turns around, puts the hat on his head and straightens it as he walks away.
I watch as his black uniform merges with all the other black uniforms. I watch as my son returns to his world.
Hope flutters around my head like butterflies. Though Peter and I walk separate paths, one day our steps will come together. One day we will walk alongside each other on our mutual journey.
But for now, I turn and walk in the opposite direction,
back to my world.