by Liz Gregg
Pop...Dad, where are you?
There's real danger in the air, and it scares me. I'm not afraid for myself, but for my father. For Rocky. I hope to hell he's somewhere else, somewhere safe, that he's not in the center of the storm like he usually is. The four of us -- me, Kermit, Jody and Skalany -- we stride down the corridor with a determination that has a life of its own. Whoever has the guts to take down a casino full of cops will be armed to the teeth. I don't know where the hell he is -- Pop, Rocky, whoever the Shaolin du jour is today -- and I don't know exactly what's going to happen, but I sense that it's going to be something awful.
When the hit finally goes down, it happens so fast that I react instinctively with no time to consider my actions. There are men with guns. We fire, and I kill one of them. The casino turns into a killing field. I shoot one more gunman, and in the confusion, I don't know how many people are killed or wounded. I never used to care how many died, but now I notice, and the Shaolin in me feels guilty.
Then I feel something else -- no, I feel him. My father. It's a connection I've been missing for three months, and it floods my senses with emotions of relief, love, joy -- and something dark, too. When I see him approach, the horror of this night and the open wounds of my own desperation make it easy for me to stay still and stoic. To act like I'm Kwai Chang Caine. Because right now I can't be Peter. Hell, I haven't been Peter for three months.
But as he nears me, I feel my body react to his presence. It compels me to do something, so I lift my arm and point at him: "Pop?"
"Of course," he answers, and he grins at me. He grins.
When we embrace, it's all I can do to hold myself together, to stop myself from screaming or weeping or trying pick up my father and spin him around in circles. I have him back. Dear God, my father's alive and I have him back! It must be this initial cascade of relief and elation that keeps the questions at bay and locks my anger into a temporary vault, because there are answers I must eventually have, and the most pressing question I want to ask is: Where have you been, Kwai Chang Caine?
But not yet. The questions can wait. Right now I bury my face in his hair and take a deep breath. Instead of my father's usual herbal scent, I get a noseful of whisky and stale cigarettes.
My dad pulls back when he feels me wince, but he doesn't let go. I study his face, searching for changes. Though he's still fixed up like Rocky, his features are looser and his eyes are clearer than they've appeared in the last day. But he looks exhausted, and much older. A pain stabs between my ribs, and I desperately want to take care of him.
"Are you okay, Pop?" I squeeze his arms, verifying that he's a man and not a ghost. "Are you hurt?"
My father frowns and shakes his head in a definite no.
"You gotta stop doing this to me, Pop!" My dad just winks at me, and it's my turn to shake my head. I look down and kick the toe of his boot. "Ah, Dad." I sigh as I stare at the unfamiliar glossy leather. For the second time in my life, I can't find the words. I close my eyes and feel his fingers slide across my cheek. He leans closer, and I know he's going to speak, that he's going to tell me everything that happened, that he'll promise never to leave me like that again.
"Peter," he says softly, and I know that never again will I take hearing it for granted.
"Peter! Peter Caine!"
My eyes fly open, and I'm suddenly awakened to the mayhem that's surrounding our reunion. EMT's have arrived and are working on the wounded. Cops are everywhere, and someone called the fire department, so men wearing turnout gear and carrying axes are wandering around looking for a fire. I scan the crowd to find who's calling me -- it's Simms, and I can tell by the expression on her face that she means business.
"Pop, the captain wants me. I gotta talk to her. Don't," I shake my finger at him, "do not leave here without talking to me first. Promise?"
"You bet," he says, grinning again.
You bet? Christ!
As I make my way through the crowd I run into T.J. "Hey, T.J.!"
"Peter! How's your father?"
"He seems okay. But can you do me a favor? He's right behind me," I turn to point him out, and he's gone. "Fuck! Goddamnit! Listen, T.J., find my old man and stick with him. Like glue. Don't let him leave. I'm afraid...I mean I --"
"I understand, Pete. I gotcha covered." T.J. squeezes my arm, his eyes gentle and quizzical. Tonight he has sense enough not to ask.
Unlike my questioning captain. "Peter!" She starts right in. "How is your father? Was he injured?"
"Uh, no, Captain." I look around the room and see that T.J. has somehow snared Pop -- thank God!
"With all due respect, you don't have to shout, Captain."
"With all due respect, Detective, you do have to answer me. Has your father regained his memory?"
I sneak a glance at Pop. He senses I'm looking at him, and he turns and grins at me like Rocky Dalton. My stomach does cartwheels, and I run one hand through my hair.
"I sure hope so, Captain."
"You hope so? Does he require medical attention?"
"Partner!" It's Jody. She squeezes my hand. "Is that man...Rocky, is he really your father?"
"Yes." I wonder how many times I'll be asked that tonight. I wish I could just grab Pop and take him home.
"Well, how is he, Peter? You know, up here." She tugs at my shirt, and when I look at her, she taps her head, then makes small circles in the air with her finger. "Is he, you know, okay?"
It's going to be a night of utter hell. Jody means well, they all do. They're concerned and like me, they want answers. Answers that I don't have yet.
"Detective Powell, I can see that Detective Griffin requires some assistance. Can you please attend to that?"
"Yes, Captain," Jody mutters, clearly disappointed. She looks at me and mouths, Later. Yeah, right -- in a pig's eye. As I catch another peek at my father, I see that he has his hand on T.J.'s shoulder, their heads are together, and they're talking. Damn! I should be the one with my dad, not T.J.! It's been a long three months, and there's so much I need to tell him about things that have happened...and there are so many questions I need answered.
"Peter." Simms' voice is soft but stern. I see compassion in her eyes, but her attitude is one of urgency and authority. "I understand this is a difficult time for you. But we are dealing with a crisis here, and we cannot permit this chaos to continue. I need you, Detective, to help me secure this area." She squeezes my arm. "Can I count on you?"
"Absolutely, Captain Simms," I reply without hesitation, glancing around the room for a last look at my father. When I spot him, he's sitting on the floor, holding the hand of a dealer, a young woman who is crying. T.J. is standing next to them, arms folded, watching intently.
I force myself to let go of the anxiety that threatens to paralyze me, and after a few deep breaths I'm successful. I can be counted on. Simms knows it, every cop in this room knows it. But my father? His disappearing act makes me question whether he trusts me or not, and that's something I intend to find out as soon as we get the chance to be alone.
* * *
Night crawls toward morning. With agonizing slowness, we pick up the pieces, clear out the dead and wounded, arrest the perpetrators, and interview witnesses. I'm focused on my work, but one segment of my mind is constantly aware of my father and what he's doing. T.J.'s word is gold; he's never more than a foot away from Pop as my father is questioned first by Simms, then by Kermit.
In the midst of this hell, there's good news, too. While I did kill the first attacker I shot, the second one will live. A total of three heavily armed men died violently, while committing brutal acts of terror. No gamblers, cops, workers, or any innocent bystanders died or were critically wounded, and I felt pretty good about that.
But I suppose Pop won't approve.
I turn and see T.J. "Where's --"
"It's okay, Pete. He's with Kermit."
I look past him to where Kermit and my father are seated at the bar. Pop looks too damn comfortable there, too much like Rocky Dalton. At least there's not a glass of booze in his hand.
"Peter, how much longer do you think you'll need?"
"To finish up here? At least another hour." I look at my watch and do a double-take, shocked to see that it's almost two a.m. "Why, is there a problem?"
"Pete, we need to get your dad out of here. Everyone knows him, either as Caine or Rocky, and we keep getting interrupted. He was a key player in the robbery and --"
"What the fuck are you talking about?" I drop the pen and clipboard, and they hit the floor with a dull thud. "My father has nothing to do with these people!"
T.J. shakes his head. "Like it or not, Peter, he's involved. I'm sorry."
"That's ridiculous." I rub my eyes. "I don't believe it."
"Look, Peter, he's not being charged, but we have to get a statement from him. And it's not going to happen in this casino. The later it gets, the more...confused he's becoming."
Confused? Kwai Chang Caine, confused? I feel like I've stepped into a bear trap. It's such a shock that I'm hit with a powerful wave of nausea. I can't believe what's happening. My father needs me, but I've made a commitment to Captain Simms that I can't break. Especially not in front of my dad. I take a few steps back and luckily feel the solid padding of a chair. I drop onto it and prop my elbows on my knees, letting my head rest in my hands. I have to think, to figure out what to do next. I'm so tired, and everything is so confusing.
Gentle fingers with the strength of steel clamps dig into my shoulders and knead my knotted muscles. Warmth floods my neck and back, and the despair that darkens my soul eases just a bit.
"What's buggin' ya, kid? You look like you lost your best friend."
My father is kneeling next to my chair and massaging my back, grinning like that damn fool Dalton. I stare at him in horrified amazement, then glance at T.J., who raises both eyebrows and shrugs. I want to laugh, I want to shriek, I want to take my father and get us the hell out of this city and never come back. I want to forget this night, the last three months -- and Rocky Dalton.
"Does he need a lawyer?" I ask T.J.
"No. Kermit and I are going to handle it."
"Okay." I take one of Pop's hands and stand. He rises with me. His skin is cold, like I've never felt it, but I've got to lock away my concern about his physical condition along with all my other worries.
"Look, Pop, Kermit and T.J. are going to take you to the precinct so that they can get your statement. I'll be there as soon as I can, and then I'll take you home." I rub his hand briskly, as if I can share my warmth with him. "You wait for me there. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Peter. I will...cooperate?" he dead-pans, then smiles again.
"That'll be a first." Reluctantly, I release him.
"Let's hit the road, folks," Kermit says from behind me.
I turn around and look at Kermit. He smoothly removes his shades and I stare him straight in the eyes. "Take care of him."
"Oh, yeah. You are not to worry, Peter. Finish up here, and by then we should be done with your father." Kermit briefly squeezes my shoulder. "It won't be long now, kid. You're doing great."
I face my father again. I can't bear to embrace him right now; I might not be able to let go. So I command, "You behave yourself. I'll come as soon as I can."
Pop squints and tilts his head, studying me, then he abruptly straightens. He looks around, finds Kermit, and nods at him. Kermit takes his arm.
"We're outta here," Kermit mutters, as he attempts to guide my father toward the exit. But there's no moving a Shaolin who's not ready.
"Peter." It's my father's voice now, but very gentle, very soft.
"We will talk."
"Yeah. We sure will. See you later, Pop," I manage to say, then turn and start walking, moving purposefully as if I know where I'm going. Fortunately, I look up, and through blurry tears of exhaustion I see the approaching wall, so I turn to the right and head toward a cluster of tables. With any luck I'll find a napkin and be able to wipe my eyes before I give an update to Captain Simms. Talking to Simms will be a breeze compared to later on, when I can finally squeeze some answers out of my dad.
* * *
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Charles Dickens must have known a thing or two about complicated relationships with wandering fathers. When I finally enter the main room of the precinct I march straight to Kermit's office, ignoring everyone and everything, expecting Dad to be there. He is, sitting next to Kermit and peering at the monitor, his face bathed in a muted glow of orange and yellow, like a kid holding a sunflower under his face and standing in the sun. Kermit is watching Pop, not the screen, and he's the first to look up at me. He does not smile, so I know things must not be great.
I wait a few beats, and when Pop still doesn't move, I say, "Hi."
My father finally looks up. He gives me what I'll forever think of as the Rocky Smirk, and I'm sure it'll be appearing in my next batch of nightmares.
"Peter," he says, standing. He looks at Kermit, then back at me, and like a kid working Play-Doh, his face changes before my eyes. It's like he's peeling off the mobster mask and becoming my father again.
"We finished the interview, and I've been showing Caine some of the wonders of the Internet," Kermit offers. Neither my dad nor I say a word, we just stare at each other. "The situation is taken care of. Your father is free to go home. A suggestion I highly recommend."
I look at Kermit. "Thank you," I say simply, knowing he understands how very grateful I am. "But I have a couple things to do that won't wait."
"How long do you think you'll be?"
"Maybe an hour."
"Okay." Kermit stands and folds his arms across his chest. He doesn't have on his jacket or shades. It's been a long, long night for everyone. "I'll take him home."
I swallow hard. I sniff and rub my nose and manage to pull myself together again, for the I've lost count number of times.
"I have a few loose ends myself, kid. Why don't you find an empty room and talk to your father for a few minutes? Come back here when you're done."
God, Kermit, thank you! I tell him silently. I nod my head. "Good idea."
* * *
No matter what the hour, there are no breaks in the action at a police station. Assorted cops and lawyers and shackled perps roam the halls as I search for a private space where my father and I can talk. During our brief walk through the precinct, neither of us speak or look at each other. I keep hold of his upper arm, ostensibly to guide him through the confusion, but secretly I worry that he'll try to bolt.
The first two rooms I check are being used, but to my relief the next is locked, and when I knock, nobody answers. Releasing my grip on Pop's arm, I step ahead of him, praying that one of my keys will work, because tonight I'm not in the mood for demonstrations of Shaolin hocus-pocus. The last key I try slides in with ease, and I twist the knob and push the door open.
We walk into the small room. The moment is finally here, we're alone and we can talk, but the weight of anticipation and exhaustion crushes me, sapping my remaining strength. I won't make it to the chair, so I turn and lean against the wall. Its solid support and smooth, cold surface feel good against my back and head. A shiver starts at my toes and runs through my limbs. It feels like it did when I was a kid and had a high fever. It travels up my body, creeping across my flesh, tickling and hot at the same time, and doesn't stop until it reaches my face.
That's when I realize my dad's hand is on my cheek. I close my eyes.
Breathe, Peter. Breathe.
I release the air that's trapped in my lungs. I feel the tip of his fancy boot nudging my shoe. I'm not sure I want this safe moment to end. I don't know what I'm going to say to him, and I'm terrified of what he might say to me. I wish I had a personal fairy godmother who would snap her fingers and freeze us in time. Maybe when we wake up, we'd be home, or in a temple, or living on a planet in a galaxy far, fary away. Or maybe we'd never wake up at all. There'd be no unwanted answers because there'd be no hard questions.
I feel the gentle pressure of his caress, urging me to turn my head and look at him, but I resist. If I do look, who will I see? The grinning, wise-cracking, two-bit lounge lizard? The all-knowing teacher, eager to point out the lesson I should have learned from this experience? Or the repressed priest who stumbled into town three years ago? Will we be back to square one, uncertain and wary of each other?
Unable to resist any longer, I let his fingers guide my head to the side.
Trembling, I turn my head toward the palm that holds my face, and my lips brush the warm skin with the lightest kiss. Maybe I'm imagining it, but I feel his fingers pull me forward, and I let my head drop slightly until our foreheads are touching. His hand moves from my cheek to my neck, slides down my arm, and finally rests at my waist. Something happens -- I feel a warmth that starts inside me and works its way out. I understand that my father is sharing his precious ch'i, giving me his strength. I should probably refuse it because I'm sure he has little to spare, but I can't seem to pull myself away, and God knows I need some energy. We stand like this for several minutes, not speaking or moving, until I feel steadier and no longer in need of the wall's support. Renewed, I open my eyes and straighten, to fully face...who?
The man I see is not Rocky, not Master Caine, not a devout priest. I see a face with eyes that shine with the most amazing love. I see a mouth that's not quite smiling, but clearly expressing a happiness that more than equals mine. I see my father. Just Pop.
My relief is indescribable; it's too strong for me to absorb. I can't move a muscle, but when our eyes meet, the uncertainties between us are gone and we pull at each other until we're settled into a bone-crunching hug. I never, ever, want to be separated from him like this again, and I wonder if I'll be able to find the words to get that through to him, to explain that I'd rather face the grim reaper than lose him again.
"I love you, Pop."
My father doesn't say anything, he just squeezes me tighter. His hand moves up my back and his fingers slide through my hair.
"Do you have any idea," I hiss against his shoulder, "how worried I've been?"
Abruptly, his arms fall away from me. What the hell did I say wrong? Then his left palm presses against my chest, and he shoves me against the wall. Pinning me there, he pushes my belly with the fingers of his right hand. His face is a dark with anger.
"Here," he spits out, poking me. His left hand burns through my shirt as his right finger travels up and inches across my stomach, "and here," another stab, between my ribs. Then he sighs heavily, and his left arm falls to his side. He touches my chest twice more, and his fingers stay pressed against my body. "And here, too."
"What are you talking about? What's here, Pop?"
"The places where the bullets entered your body. Your blood, spreading. Your life....over. I saw such horror...." My father shakes his head and presses his cheek against my shoulder. It's my turn to offer comfort, so I loop my arm around his back and pull him close.
"You--you mean you had a vision?"
I feel him nod yes.
"You mean tonight? You had a vision tonight? Of me being shot? Is that what cured your amnesia?"
"I saw your death, Peter, but the image did not come to me tonight." He sighs heavily. "Your death was to be tonight...last night. In the casino."
"You mean...I was supposed to die last night?" I shudder, clutching him tighter. "But you saw it -- what, yesterday? -- and saved me?"
"Yes." Pop frees himself and takes a few steps away. "And no. You do not understand." He leans heavily against the table. I want to badger him with questions, I want to know what happened and what didn't happen and when, but I can't ask now. Not when his strength is so visibly depleted.
"Pop, forget it, we'll talk later. Kermit will take you home now. You need to get some sleep."
"Home," he echoes. "Yes. It has been...so very long since I have been...home."
His exhaustion unnerves me; he's on the verge of collapse. I never should have let him give me his ch'i. I put my arm around his shoulders and try to guide him to the door. He resists and lays his hand on my chest.
"Peter, wait, I must tell you of my vision --"
"Not now." Neither of us has the strength to deal with whatever it is he's determined to tell me.
"Yes, now," he says with a firmness that belies his fatigue. "The vision came when I held Mary Margaret's hand between mine. That night when I was--"
"I said, not now," I snap. I know that Skalany spoke to him in the casino, but...I don't think that's what he means. "We'll talk later. Let's go."
He sighs and says nothing further. Once more we wind through the human obstacles in the hall. I pause near my desk looking around for Kermit. Almost immediately, Simms's door opens, blinds banging against the window, and Kermit strides out.
"I'm finishing your reports," he says without preamble. "You take your father home."
"Oh...okay, right," I stutter. "I'll come right back to --"
"You're off until tomorrow, per the captain."
"But I --"
"You want to argue, do it there." He jerks his head toward the captain's door. "But if I were you, I'd keep my mouth shut. Caine," he turns to my dad, "I'm sorry we had to detain you for so long. Thanks for your help. I hope we'll hear more details soon."
Pop nods slightly, his weight sagging against me. Thanks to Dad's ch'i, at least one of us is strong enough to support our walk to my car. Right now, I just need to get him home and into bed, then catch some shut-eye myself. There'll be plenty of time later to think about the things he's said...and has yet to say.
* * *
My father leans against me as I guide him inside the brownstone building, while I'm frantically trying to forget the last time I was in his home -- when Dad believed he was Rocky. That's hard to do when 'Rocky' in the flesh is attached to my body, his arm curled tightly around my waist, his clothes and hair still emitting the odors of booze and cigarettes.
When we finally enter the main room of the loft, he straightens and pulls away from me. I don't release my grip on his arm. It's not yet dawn and the room is dark, but as I watch his head turn while he scans the familiar area, I know his Shaolin scrutiny doesn't miss one detail.
"Not much has changed since the last time we were here, Pop. Two days ago," I add pointedly.
Turning sharply, he studies my face with keen eyes. He breaks into a big grin and laughs harshly. I glance away, trying to hide the dismay that clutches at my gut. I feel his arm move, and his fist sucker-punches my jaw. I close my eyes and, as if in slow motion, my head jerks to the right under the pressure of the half-hearted blow.
"You're still a smart-ass kid, ya know that, don'tcha," he hisses dryly, in his odd Rocky slang. I feel the tingling of panic begin to crawl along my spine and I don't know what to do. I curse myself for not taking him directly to a hospital, though I know he'd refuse to go.
When I finally steel myself to look at him again, he's staggering toward the workbench. I bolt over just in time to catch him as he slumps toward the table.
"Jesus, Pop! What the hell's going on? Are you okay?"
He's swaying and his eyes are half shut. I manage to turn him and prop his backside against the workbench. I thank God when I see his fingers curl around the edge of the table and he helps support his own weight. I stand in front of him, one arm on either side, my palms pressed against the cold hardwood surface. His cheek comes to rest lightly against my chest, but his head is turned and I can't see his face. I don't know who's here with me -- Rocky Dalton or Kwai Chang Caine.
"Pop?" I whisper, letting my chin brush against his hair.
With agonizing slowness, he turns his head until I can see his face. His eyes are cloudy.
"Peter," he breathes, "I am so tired."
"Oh, God." I throw my arms around him and feel his body shudder as he sags forward. "It's over. You can rest now. Let's get you to bed."
"No!" he cries with surprising energy considering how weak he is. As he moves away from me, his palms push against my body. Even through my heavy cotton shirt, they're like blocks of ice. It's damn cold in the room, and as I take a quick peek out the balcony, I see that it's starting to rain. I hope that my dad isn't going into shock. I wonder where he keeps his blankets. Why don't I know where he keeps them? I should know that. After all these years, I should know everything about him.
But I don't. And that lack of knowledge makes me crazy.
Worried that he's going to collapse, I ease my arms around until I'm holding his shoulders. He's staring blankly at the back of his hands.
"What is it, Dad? What do you see?" I ask as calmly as I can, counting on Pop's exhaustion to prevent him from hearing the desperation in my voice.
He shakes his head. "We must talk."
Only my father could pick a time as absolutely wrong as this one to decide to talk to me.
"Okay. We'll talk," I answer quietly, not willing to argue with an obviously impaired Caine. "But first, why don't you take off this jacket? You must have hated dressing like this."
Pop seems startled by the comment. He grabs his lapels and exaggeratedly looks side-to-side. "These are pretty nice threads, kid."
"Yeah? Well, Rocky Dalton might think they're nice. But they're not quite Kwai Chang Caine's style."
His head snaps up but he doesn't look at me, he just stares at some point in the distance. The room is so still, so dark, so serene. The presence of Rocky Dalton in this place, even if it's just his shadow, feels somehow obscene to me.
I touch Pop's sleeve. "It's late, Dad. We're both tired."
His eyes lift and meet mine. He starts to smile, then stops. His hands twist and his fingers snatch mine, curling around my palms, pulling my hands together, squeezing them tightly.
"Peter," my father sighs, his brow tightening as if he's in pain.
I hear a thousand tiny taps as rain falls from the sky and beats against the glass doors. I wonder which is moving faster, the raindrops or my heart as it pounds wildly out of control. I don't know what to say, or if I should speak at all. I don't want to trigger the return of Rocky, but my dad looks as if he expects a response.
"Yeah, Dad?" Not much, but it's the best I can do.
"I am but a man." He shakes his head. "And I have no right to judge who will live or who will die...but I could not let them take you from me again, my son."
I don't know exactly what he means, but the intensity in his voice damn near makes me lose it. "Nobody is taking me anywhere, Pop. And no one is taking you away from me, either." I blink rapidly, swallow my emotions, and wait for a moment to steady my voice. "That's a promise."
Drawing his head back, he narrows his eyes and studies my face. I press his fingers, willing some warmth to them, and brace myself for whatever is coming next.
"The...father protects the son," he whispers, "no matter the price. It is the way of nature."
A splash of rain hurls against the glass, propelled by a sudden gust of wind, and as a snap of lightning paints his face with a pale and eerie glow, I have my own flash of a memory from three years past.
"And a son will protect his father," I reply, and his face shines with satisfaction.
A blast of thunder rocks the building, and my father drops back against the workbench as if he's been kicked. I don't have time to process the surge of panic that makes me feel like I'm drowning.
"Pop? What is it? What's wrong?"
Dammit! His eyes are closed, and I pause a moment to really study him and try to assess his condition. Even in the darkness I can tell he looks about as bad as I've ever seen him; he's pale and he feels cold, his hair's a mess and his clothes...I don't even want to think about them. The worst thing is his weakness. He needs sleep and time to replenish his ch'i. He needs a shower and a change of clothes, too, but as much as I'd like to be rid of all reminders of Rocky Dalton, that will have to wait until he's rested.
Another brilliant flash of lightning follows an ear-shattering crash. My dad's eyes open. I hold his shoulders and feel his body tense. His head jerks from side to side as he scans the room, searching for the presence of some invisible horror. I can feel his fear, and I'm helpless to understand or banish it.
"Where...?" he starts, then falters. "Peter?"
"I'm right here, Pop," I assure him.
He stares at me but doesn't see me. I gently lay my hand on his face and stoop so I can look at him directly in the eyes.
"I'm safe, Dad. It worked, whatever you had to do. I'm all right. They didn't kill me."
"Yes, yes," he murmurs, his face relaxing. "My son," he whispers, smiling. Taking my hand from his cheek, he presses it between both of his, folding my fingers in a fist and kissing it. "My child."
I'm pretty sure my heart stops as I'm sheltered by a sense of total peace. Although I know it's only temporary, the sensation is so magical that I half-expect the storm to stop and a rainbow to appear outside the balcony window. I so urgently want to talk to my father, to tell him that I'm so confused, and that I missed him and was desperately worried, and that now I'm incredibly happy he's home. Most of all, I want to tell him that I love him.
When he touches my face, I realize he knows all that I'm thinking and that he's feeling the same things. He pulls me into a hug and, so very lightly, his lips touch my cheek, and we rest with our heads close together. I take a long, deep breath.
"You need rest, Pop. And so do I."
The spell is broken by my words. We both straighten, and slowly Pop pushes away from the support of the table. He nods in agreement, and I help him remove his jacket. I fold it and drape it across the table, wishing I could toss it straight out the window and into the dumpster. When I catch him watching me, I wonder if he's waiting for me to help him to bed. I've never seen him this weak, and it frightens me.
"When was the last time you got some sleep?" I ask. Slipping his arm around my waist, he accepts my support. I can feel his shrug against my body.
"I...do not know."
I guide him toward the bedroom in the back of loft, hoping he'll rest better in there, with me as his guard dog lying in wait to intercept nosy meddlers.
"Well, take a guess, Dad. Two days? Three?"
"Only one night? I don't believe it." I steer him toward the futon. It's quieter in the bedroom, but I can still hear the wind whipping around like it's hurling everything that's not nailed down.
My dad stops, faces me, and raises one eyebrow. "I did not say one night." He begins to unbutton his collar.
"What, then? One day, one week, one month?"
Pop smiles at me, and for a few seconds I imagine that none of this nightmare happened. That it's just Pop and me, pretending to misunderstand each other, business as usual. Then he shakes his head, and his arms fall to his sides as if it takes too much effort to hold them up.
"While I was gone, I did not..." he sighs and closes his eyes, "...could not, keep track of the passage of time."
Could not? I'd love to ask him what he means, but now's not the time. "Well, your sleepless streak ends this minute. You're going to bed."
"But I must...."
"You must do nothing," I say firmly, looping my arm around his shoulders, "but close your eyes and sleep. That's an order."
Even though he's exhausted, Pop folds onto the bed with the grace of Kwai Chang Caine. There are no blankets or covers on the mattress, and after Pop is safely lying down I look around the room for coverings.
The ache in his voice makes me wince. I turn to see his arm lifted and his fingers curled. A memory washes over me: my father, though pale and weak in a hospital bed, was still a beautiful sight after an absence of fifteen years. His hand lifting, his words...You must learn to see with more than your eyes. Splashes of lightning dance around the room like someone's flicking the light switch on and off. I drop to my knees next to the futon and take his hand in mine.
"I wish to thank you...for tonight."
"What about tonight?"
"For...staying with me."
"Of course I stayed!" I exclaim indignantly. His hands are still cold. I really need to find the blankets, but I'm surprised by his words. As if it were possible, after finding him alive, that I'd be anywhere else in the world but at his side. "Do--do you really think I would've left you alone?"
"There have been many nights...alone...." His head turns to the right, his lashes flutter shut.
"Pop?" Leaning over, I lay my hand on his face. His eyelids quiver but stay shut. I slide my hand to his chest and leave it there. I can feel his heart pumping, slowly but steadily. I can feel the gentle motion of his breath. Time passes, the storm dies down, and there are no more flashes of light, though I can still hear the downpour pounding the roof of the brownstone building. The rhythm of the rain and the beat of his heart act as a lullaby.
I don't remember closing my eyes, or laying my head on the space next to his. The next thing I know I'm awakened by a shattering blast of thunder as the storm revives and makes its fury known. With a muffled groan, I assess my position and try to figure out how to get up without disturbing Pop. My legs are curled, and the back of my head is jammed into my dad's side. His arm has fallen across my back, his hand twisted into my shirt. Only my face is on the mattress; the rest of my body is sprawled on the hard floor, and my neck and back are stiff and sore. I feel a hundred years old.
With as much care and quiet as I can manage, I slide out of his grip and rise without waking him. After I stretch my cramped muscles, I take a look at my watch; it's just about six in the morning. I'm disoriented by the time. I feel like I should be going to bed, not getting up.
The next thing I do is make a quick trip to the john and then, shivering from the damp chill in the air, I make a sleepy-eyed search for blankets. I find them in a drawer in the bedroom, where Pop is still out cold.
I choose the thickest cover, an ancient, handmade comforter. I unfold it and carefully drape it over my father. Kneeling, I arrange the edge neatly across his shoulders and tuck a portion under the futon. Bending over him, I bunch the rest of it snugly against his body. Remembering how I fell asleep unexpectedly, I reach under the blanket, grab hold of his boots and pull them off, then I gently tuck the end of the cover under his feet.
Squatting by the bed, I watch him sleep. He seems unperturbed by all my fussing, a sure sign that he's totally wiped out. I'm tired, too, and should go home and get some rest, but I don't want to leave him. I'm not totally convinced that Rocky Dalton is gone for good, and I want to be here to find out.
I guess I could just...there'll be no harm if I stretch out on the other side of the futon and catch a few hours of sleep here. It's windy and raining hard, and I probably shouldn't be driving anyway. I'm about to move when, without warning, Pop's fingers dig into my forearm.
"Wha-- Dad?" I rasp, my voice hoarse from lack of sleep.
My father doesn't answer. His eyes are open but I can tell he doesn't see me. His teeth are clenched and his features are twisted as if he's in pain. Then his eyes squeeze shut, and he moans in a way I've never heard before, a terrible, mournful sound. I touch his arm and...
...the floor is shaking beneath my feet. My eyes sting. I'm standing, turning, I hear the crack of gunshots, and my vision blurs with a blood-red cloud. I clutch at my stomach, my chest, I hurt everywhere, I lean over, my guts twisting into tight knots. I try to breathe but there's no air, it's like pulling fire into my lungs.
Agony stabs me in rapid bursts, knocking me to the floor. The pain is utterly pervasive; it assaults my body, squeezes my heart, and freezes my soul. I know the feeling all too well, I've been close to it before, and I feel a devastating grief, a grief that sucks all joy from life...it can't be over, not so soon...oh my God! Father! Where are you?
And I hear his voice rich with agony--
I groan, and my eyes open. The sensations begin to ease, and I feel my father's hand stroking my hair. I lift my head and see that his face is wet, and I know it's from a mixture of both our tears. Pop's eyes are closed and, like a miracle, he's still asleep. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I have a good guess -- somehow I got connected to Pop's vision, his private nightmare. He tried to describe it to me, but Christ, I had no idea he's been living with the knowledge of this unspeakable pain and grief. No wonder he's exhausted.
If I had any doubts about staying, they're gone. There's no way I'm leaving him alone to face a nightmare that makes mine seem like cartoons. My limbs feel like hundred pound barbells, but I manage to crawl on to the empty side of the futon. I'm too tired to get another blanket, but just before I pass out, I reach over and find Pop's arm and close my fingers on it. If that horrible vision comes again, I'll be right here to face it with him.
A father protects a son who protects a father who protects a son....
* * *
I wake up alone. It's my first realization -- that Pop's not here. It's not because I don't see him, it's because I sensed his presence while I slept and now his essence is gone. My next sensation is of an utter weariness of my body, a bone-tiredness that I haven't felt in years. I open my eyes, confirming the empty side of the futon, and it's only the remnants of adrenaline pumping through my veins that gives me the energy to slowly sit up. The old comforter slides off my shoulders, and I finger it, realizing that he tucked me in like a baby, the same as I did for him.
When I stand I feel dizzy, but after the feeling passes I shuffle to the bathroom door. Bracing myself against the doorjamb I listen to the steady swish of water flowing through the pipes in the walls. It must be him in the shower. Well, of course it's him -- who else could it be but Pop?
I feel apprehensive, and I know I'm an idiot for being so nervous, but I'm too damn tired to consider my pride.
Taking a deep breath, I open the bathroom door enough to poke my head in. "Pop, are you okay in there?"
A few seconds pass, then the shower curtain rattles and his arm juts out, dripping sudsy water on the tile floor. His hand forms a fist and he gives me the "thumbs up", and then his arm disappears into the steamy stall. I stare at the foamy puddle on the floor, only half satisfied, wishing I knew exactly who was in the shower, Pop or Rocky.
I go to the bedroom and flop down on the futon, resigning myself to waiting however long it takes for Pop to finish his shower and whatever morning rituals he does. It's cold, so I pull up the comforter just to warm me for a few minutes. But things don't go as planned, and I fall asleep again. This time when I wake up, I know Pop's here.
He's sitting on the floor next to the futon. His long limbs are arranged in lotus but he's not meditating and his eyes are open. Wide open and staring directly at me.
Pop smiles and nods. Without thinking, I extend my arm, intending to grab his hand, but at the last minute I hesitate. The trauma of the night is gone, and I'd feel silly holding his hand in the daylight. Yawning, I change my movement into a stretch of both arms over my head. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired," Pop says with a smile, "but happy to be home."
"I'm happy you're home, too. You really should go to the hospital and get checked out." As expected, the look he gives me is the equivalent of a resounding no. "Well, at least go to a doctor? Or Lo Si?"
"I will be fine." Mr. Stubborn is back.
"Then," I probe, just to confirm, "you're pretty sure that Rocky is gone?"
"Why? You did not...like Rocky?" One eyebrow lifts.
He's teasing, but I'm not in the mood. "Well, the fact is that he didn't like me. You know, Pop, it makes me nervous that when you get amnesia, your alter ego wants to wipe me out of your life."
"Peter," he protests, "you knew that I was alive. I did not mean those words. I did what I had to do to avert tragedy."
"Come on, Dad! You make it sound like you didn't have amnesia. Like it was you who said those things to me, not Rocky. Like it was you...." Suddenly, all the painful seconds of the past three months weave into a thick rope that tightens around my neck. I have trouble catching my breath. I sit up, forcing myself to concentrate on one breath at a time so I don't pass out. I sit quietly for a few seconds, a few minutes -- a few hours, I'm not sure. I don't care about you, kid. The noose of lies and ugly words keeps getting tighter, squeezing the life out of me, and the world around me grows dark.
I feel a tingling in my palms. I look down and see my fingers clenched into fists so tight that my hands are shaking. My father's hands cover mine and attempt to ease the tension in my grip. With a jerk, I pull away.
When I look up at my dad, I see he's kneeling at the edge of the futon. He opens his mouth to speak, but instead sighs heavily.
"Peter," he begins after a minute, then looks at me, his lips pressed together in a stubborn, straight line, "you must have known I did not truly have amnesia. That I was...acting."
"Sure I did! I knew. Yeah, absolutely." I laugh, and the sound of it is as harsh as the acid of betrayal that burns my throat. "I knew you didn't have amnesia. And I knew it was you, not Rocky Dalton, but my father in his right mind who disowned me as his son. So you must have disappeared for three months without one fucking word because, well, you needed a break!" I leap to my feet and face him. "I mean, who wouldn't need a break from a son as disappointing as I obviously am to you? I'm still a cop and you disapprove -- no wonder you wanted to get away from me."
"Enough," he interrupts, his voice stern. His hands grip both my shoulders. I try to shrug free from the hold, but Pop doesn't release me.
"Let me go, Dad. I need to get back to work." I don't look at him. I can't, because I'll either start screaming at him or I'll try to punch him in the face.
"I will not keep you here against your will, Peter. But...."
I look down at my feet until I feel his fingers ease their grip. I don't wait for him to say anything more. I deliberately step around him and stride toward the door. I'm almost out when his voice stops me as effectively as a blow to my knees.
"...I will never let you go."
* * *
At home I try to nap, but I toss and turn. Dreams of guns and a smirking Rocky destroy any chance for a healthy rest. So after a quick shower and change of clothes, I find myself back at work. I usually feel at home at my desk in the precinct. The sounds and smells, though not always pleasant or predictable, are familiar and provide just enough distraction for me to finish my paperwork.
Not today, though. Today, everything reminds me of Rocky Dalton and the fact that my father adopted the persona intentionally. My father straight-out rejected me, and in the inner sanctum of his home, he accused me of making a pass at him. I don't swing that way, kid. The memory makes my stomach tighten and I start to feel sick again.
Impulsively, I cradle my face in my hands, welcoming the coolness of my palms against the heat in my cheeks. I'm angry and hurt by my father's admission that he really didn't lose his memory. I'm also deeply troubled by the depth of the pain I felt when, during the never-ending night, I somehow stumbled into his vision of death and destruction. And I'm moved by the closeness we shared, too. If only we could have talked about it all then.... Dammit.
'If-only' never fixes anything. I wince when a fiery stab of pain claws at my gut. During the couple of hours I've been at my desk, I've eaten too many Tums to count, so I decide to try a drink of cold water, hoping it will douse the flames.
I stand and stretch, and when I turn I see Skalany talking to Kermit. She looks happy, even animated, and I frown, irritated by her good mood. On the other hand, Kermit looks somber. While I watch them, Skalany catches my eye and smiles. She starts to walk toward me, but Kermit stops her. They chat for a few moments and when they're done, Skalany glances at me nervously. It's Kermit who heads in my direction.
By the time I grab a drink at the cooler, Kermit is standing next to me.
"Peter, I need to talk to you."
"Sure." I drain the paper cup and crumple it in my fist.
"In my office," he snaps.
"Kermit --" I start, but I find myself talking to his back.
Once we're in his sanctuary, he sits at his desk and motions me to have a seat. Folding my arms against my chest, I stare unwaveringly at a point a few feet to the left of his shoulder. He may be able to lure me in here, but he can't make me sit if I don't want to. I hear both his sigh and the scrape of his chair being pushed back.
"There's good news, kid," he says, standing, and his voice sounds serious in contrast to the lightness of his words. He walks to my side and I sneak a quick look at him, but his glasses prevent me from reading his eyes. He continues, "Skalany just returned from seeing your father. She says that as far as she can tell, there is no sign of Mr. Rocky Dalton."
"Jesus Christ!" I explode, walking to the bookshelf and slamming my fist down on top of it. "How can she be so fucking self-centered? Doesn't she have any common sense? Or-or just plain old common courtesy?"
"Why am I not surprised by your reaction," Kermit utters dryly.
I turn around and face him. "My father has had little or no sleep for at least a month," I shout, ignoring his remark, "and he doesn't need Skalany pestering him and yakking his ear off! He needs rest, and especially solitude so he meditate and regain his --"
"Detective!" Kermit hisses, with just enough authority to make me pause. He tears off his green shades, tosses them on his desk and strides until he's within inches of me. Though his features are tight with stress, his eyes show me worry, not the anger I expected. "I'm no expert on psychological mumbo-jumbo, but I have an old-fashioned hunch that you're not this worked up because Skalany disturbed your father's serenity!"
I lift one hand and point towards the door. "She --" I start, then bite my lip. I point at Kermit. "And you --"
I drop my arm to my side and shake my head. "Fine. You're right, Kermit."
"Of course I'm right."
"Damn it! Damn him!" I'm shaking with emotion -- mostly anger. I'd still love to give Skalany a piece of my mind. And Kermit, how can I ever explain to him how it felt to have my father reject me to my face?
"Kermit, my father didn't have amnesia. He intentionally became this -- this Rocky-person! And worse than that, he lied about it. Lied to me, to you, to Skalany."
"And your point is?"
"Is there an echo in here? Yes, your point! Peter, this is the way your father operates. When he broke that smuggling scam, he became a fashion designer. And -- and when he played Pai Gow he became a gambler. So why is Rocky different?"
"Because Rocky Dalton -- no. Because as Rocky Dalton, my father, Kwai Chang Caine, denied I was his son! He turned me away, even when we were in total privacy."
"Knowing your father, he must have had a reason, and a damn good reason, to do that! He must have known it was important for him protect his cover at any cost. He would never intentionally hurt you...or hurt any of us. You know that."
"But I'm different. Damn it, Kermit, I'm his son! I lost him for fifteen years. He was dead and buried! Then he came back to me, back from the dead. How many people in your life have been resurrected from the grave?"
"None, thank God," Kermit mutters. I feel the weight of my exhaustion threaten to bury me alive. I don't know why I confide in Kermit -- my cynical friend will never understand.
"Peter, your father has been back for, what, three or four years? This is what he does! You should know by now, kid. Kwai Chang Caine is mysterious, he's cryptic. He goes off on his own, but he always comes back. Peter, I'm not good at...talks like this. I never raised children, but it seems to me that once kids start growing up, they separate from their parents."
"I thought you said you don't do psychological mumbo-jumbo, Kermit."
"All right. Then let me put it this way. Many times you've asked all of us to take a leap of faith and trust your father, even when there was no concrete evidence or logical explanation. Why can't you trust him that way, too?"
"Because with me, it's different."
"Because trusting me should mean he confides in me. It should mean he tells me everything."
"Well, kid, brace yourself. Caine has requested us -- me, Captain Simms, Skalany, T.J., and, of course, you -- to meet him in the casino lounge. Tonight. He told Skalany he'll answer all of our questions. Do me a favor and try to cool down so that you can hear what he has to say!"
* * *
Later in the evening when I reach Pop's brownstone, I know he's there even before I walk inside. He must be waiting for me to take him to the hotel for his meeting, his little pow-wow held for the benefit of us unenlightened individuals who usually dial 911 for help in an emergency.
I'm glad I talked to Kermit. I think that now I can face my father without exploding in a rage or revealing just how broken my heart is. Kermit's right; even though I'm upset, I have to listen to the whole story.
When I walk through the door he's watering one of his plants. He turns toward me and nods.
"Hi, Pop. Are you ready to go?"
He sets down the watering can. "Peter, we must talk about this morning."
"Forget it, Dad. I'm -- I'm sorry I lost my temper."
He shakes his head. "You have no need to apologize. Before we go, I would like to explain."
Please, God, no more right now. "No. I mean, I'd rather hear the rest of it along with everyone else."
"My son," he says, his voice a study in patient persistence. There seems to be no avoiding whatever is coming next. I finally meet his eyes.
"What is it?"
"You were hurt?" I can't believe I'm hearing a confession like this from my father. Damn! Why didn't I make him go to doctor? My pulse starts to race, and I can't keep the panic out of my voice. "When? When were you hurt?"
"The blow to my head...against the windshield...it was powerful."
"You mean--you mean when you were hit by the car. Your head must have shattered the windshield." I close my eyes. Until this moment, I'm not sure what I thought happened to him. I guess I thought there was some Shaolin miracle and that he'd escaped the accident unharmed.
"The physical injury occurred so close to when I had my vision," he shakes his head, "to when I had my nightmare of death, that I became disoriented. I did not have amnesia, not exactly, but I did not know where I was. I trusted no one."
"Not even me," I whisper, still unable to detach from the trauma of his admissions last night.
My father sighs heavily. "Peter, it was not that I did not trust you. I did not trust myself." He pokes at his chest with both his index fingers. "My powers of discernment and perception were gone. I could not perceive what around me was real and what was fantasy."
"That's why you didn't go to a hospital. Or to Lo Si."
"Where did you go?"
"Somehow...I found my way to Shambhalla. Or perhaps...they found me." He shrugs. "Once there, with their help, I was able to stop the bleeding. The swelling subsided. I began to heal."
"The swelling? Where, in your brain?"
"My God," I say softly, wondering just how close I really came to losing him again. Without thinking I move close to him, and I drape my arm around his shoulder. When our gazes meet, he looks surprised, maybe because he knows that I'm still angry at him. Are my irritation and frustration with him always so strong? Can't he feel, that more than any anger or any hurt, that I'll always love him?
* * *
We're finally out of that damn, disgusting casino. I know I'll never be able to set foot in the place again. I don't know what was worse, being there again or witnessing the scene I had to endure when Pop held court. Everyone was pleased and grateful to him, I could tell by the looks on their faces. I don't know why it gave me such troubling feelings, but it did. Pop explained why he had to keep us all in the dark, and I kept pretty quiet about it, but his reasons didn't come close to satisfying me. I managed to keep most of my doubts to myself, and Pop and I even shared a warm hug, but my questions are far from answered, and the pain from the past three days is still very much alive.
Pop agreed to let me drive him home, more proof of how exhausted he must be. As I pull onto the street I glance at him sitting serenely in the seat next to me. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I swear there's a smug look on his face. Despite everything I know he's been through, my concern for him evaporates. My temper ignites and fire spreads through my veins until it forms a searing pulse of pressure just behind my eyes.
"So what it all boils down to is that you did all this to save me, right, Pop? I guess it's another case of the shattered ends justifying the cryptic means."
"As I said, Peter, you and your friends would have been killed." His voice reveals some surprise but is patient, as if he's talking to a backward relative. "This was the only way."
"And you're sure about that." I don't wait for an answer. "You're sure that the only way to help us was to disappear for three months without a word. To make me go insane worrying about you. And... and to deny that I am your son."
"It's just you and me now, Pop. No Rocky. No need to protect your cover. Tell me the real reason you couldn't confide in me. And none of this, 'you're a cop' bullshit."
"But Peter, you are a cop. I could not ask you to turn your back on your beliefs and your career to assist me in illegal activities."
"It never stopped you before!"
"I needed help in ways that I felt you would be unprepared to accept."
"Wait a minute, Pop." I can't stop thinking about what he just said, that he couldn't ask me to turn my back on my beliefs and my career, and suddenly the random pieces of my confusion start to fall together. "My career? This isn't about me being a cop!" The truth hits me powerfully, and I'm suffused with the intoxicating energy of sudden insight. "This is about me not being a priest! You wouldn't let me help you because you were pissed off that I didn't take the brands!"
I try to look at his face, but his head is turned away from me. It doesn't matter, because I've never felt so exhilarated in my life, and I couldn't stop myself if I wanted to.
"I...am proud of you, Peter," he states with certainty, but I get the strong feeling he's giving me a pat answer because I've really stumped him this time.
"You may be proud of me, but you're angry at me, too. You're mad because I didn't become a priest, and you don't really trust me anymore, do you. Why don't you just admit it?"
We finally reach the alley that leads to his brownstone. I pull over, slam on the brakes and cut the engine. I don't want him to retreat within the safe confines of his home and hide behind a thirsty plant or unpainted pot. I want him to face this truth right here and right now. A long, strong gust of wind rattles the car; I think it's the beginning of another storm. I look at my father and he's staring straight ahead. There's not a lot of light but I can see his expression is absolutely devoid of emotions.
He finally looks at me, and his face is terrifying. I've seen my father angry and sad, hurt, struck with grief, and even wearing the mask of Rocky Dalton, but I've never seen him look like this. His eyes are dark and empty, as if all that makes my father who he is has been drained from him. He opens his mouth, pauses, then his words come out in an atypical rush.
"At the Temple, when you completed your training, was there not an instance, one moment in time before you stood poised to embrace the heart of a Shaolin, when you might have spoken to me of your doubts?"
"What?" His question stuns me into an utter and stupefied silence. Is it possible that after all the stunts I pulled during the years at the temple and the three years that he's been in town, that I'd finally embarrassed or even humiliated him?
My father closes his eyes and his entire body shudders. He turns his head away from me. "I must...walk."
My fingers clamp around his upper arm. Panicking, I find my voice. "Wait! What do you mean, the heart of a Shaolin?"
His eyes open and for a moment I see in them a flickering red flame, and I wonder if I've pushed him into some terrible and dangerous rage. The smacking noise of tires rolling against wet pavement makes me realize that it was probably just reflected headlights from the nearby street, but I can't be sure because now he's staring at my hand.
"Pop, no. Please --"
But before I can finish, my arm is hurled back so powerfully that I'm rammed into the driver's seat door. By the time I assemble my remaining wits, he's out of the car and the door slams shut. I scramble after him, but by the time I'm out and look around, he's already gone.
"Fuck!" I scream, slamming my palms on the roof of the Stealth. "Goddamnit!" I lay my forehead against the cold wet steel and force myself to think -- where the hell did he go? Back to his loft? I don't think so. I can hear his voice asking why I hadn't talked to him before I chose to remain a cop, and I have to admit it's a damn good question: why didn't I? At the moment, I have no answers, just another question -- does my father believe that since I refused the brands, that I also turned my back on his way of life?
And on some level, maybe he thinks I rejected him, too.
As gusts of wet wind assail my body, I straighten and close my eyes. I can't take the time to worry about what my father thinks, because I'm not letting him go this easily, not this time. Gritting my teeth, I summon every bit of strength I have. I focus harder than I ever have in my life and, like a desperate struggle to grab the brass ring, I reach out to find Kwai Chang Caine.
Cold bullets of rain batter my face. Long moments pass, and then I feel a chill, a coldness that starts deep within me and quickly snakes its fingers around my heart. I open my eyes and look straight ahead of me, and see my father.
Drenched by the downpour, he's standing with his back pressed against a brick wall. His neck is arched and his teeth are clenched as if he's in pain.
I don't understand what's happened to him, or what could've injured him so quickly. I run to him and grab his arms; they're stiff and lifeless. If I've done anything to hurt him, I'll never forgive myself.
"Let's get out of this rain, Dad! Come on!" I shout, wanting to be heard above the clamor of the raging storm. Dad won't acknowledge that I've said a word, let alone take a single step.
I tug at him and by sheer determination drag him to a half-sheltered doorway. By the time we get there, I'm panting from the effort and shivering from the freezing rain and cold wind.
"Pop! Dad, what's wrong?" I cup his face between my palms. "Dad, please, talk to me! I'm sorry, and I--"
The space around me suddenly turns a sickening shade of gray. We've been transported from the grimy city street to some other place, a dark world that's sterile and desolate. My father's eyes fly open and his fingers find my wrist, wrap around it and squeeze with such strength that I think my bones might crack.
'I came to this town to find that you placed your trust in a man who taught you to kill. You embraced his teachings and let them guide your life.'
'But you were gone, Father! I had no one else!'
'By your own hand you turned your weapon of violence toward me.'
'I would never have used it, Father! You know that! Never!'
'Ultimately you chose his path over the path of a Shaolin. My usefulness has come to an end. My time with you is over.'
'No!' I shout, over and over again, willing him to understand, but this effort saps what little strength I have left. I gratefully escape the pain of his words by sinking into the depths of the surrounding darkness.
* * *
I wake up not knowing where I am or what happened to me, but I know one thing -- I'm in my father's arms. It feels comforting but very strange, because the last time I awoke this close to my father was when I was a child. I look around, trying to get my bearings, and see we're sitting on the floor in his loft, a few inches away from his futon. When I realize that my clothes are soaking wet, my memory returns with the force of the night's violent winds.
"You -- you accused me of rejecting you!"
I try to pull away from him but I discover that, like an errant toddler trapped in the grip of a watchful nanny, I'm locked in his embrace.
"I did not," he says, with great gentleness.
"You did, I saw it! I mean I heard you! Outside, in the rain." I twist my head so I can look into his eyes. The cold emptiness is gone. My father holds my gaze while I study his face. His warmth has returned, his caring...his love. I let myself relax, and his arms loosen their grip. It's only then I feel that I'm shaking like a leaf; I let out a breath and try to relax, and his arms loosen their grip.
"Then what happened out there, Dad?"
"We were standing in the alley, outside of my building." His voice is quiet yet strong, its strength resonating against my cheek. "You asked me what was wrong, and then...then you placed your hands on my face and told me you loved me."
"But I know what I heard! You said..." but already the exact words are getting fuzzy, "...you said I picked Paul over you, and that you were mad because I turned my back on the Shaolin path to be a cop."
"I did not say such things."
"Then you were having a vision and I became part of it and...."
I feel my father shake his head. "No, my son, he murmurs. "I told you that I loved you, and then you collapsed."
I can't even speak because I'm furious with myself for losing it at such a damn important moment. I don't believe my father would lie about this, but if I had just kept myself in one piece I would know exactly what happened. I start remembering other things I said to him, about him not trusting me because I didn't take the brands. Or am I imagining that, too?
"Jesus," I breathe, unable to accept it, any of it. I pull away again, and this time he lets me. I sit up straight and look around. Right now I need to concentrate on some facts.
"How'd you get me up here?"
"You were not completely unconscious, and you were able to support most of your weight. Working together, we were able to climb the stairs, and I brought you inside."
"I don't know why I collapsed, Dad. I can't remember exactly what I said or what you said, and I hate that."
"Peter," he begins, "you are physically exhausted. How long has it been since you have eaten or slept?"
"A day. Maybe two -- but that's not new for me."
"Perhaps not. But combined with the stress of my long absence and your disappointment in my actions --"
"I'm not disappointed, Pop!"
My father raises one eyebrow, silently calling me on my guilt-induced lie, and I have to look away from him.
"You have been so worried about me," he continues, "that you have neglected to take care of yourself at a time when it was critical for you to do so."
"Well, it's critical that I get out of these wet clothes and... Whoa!" I try to stand but my legs have other plans. I plop back down to the floor. I can't remember ever being this weak except for times when I've been critically injured.
I look up at the face of the person whom I've loved the most and the longest: the face of my father, Kwai Chang Caine. He's kneeling in front of me, and looking at me with an expression of incredible tenderness and infinite patience. Like the wings of a seagull, his two hands float toward my face and when they reach it, his strong fingers fan out and slide back into my hair. His palms cradle my cheeks. His voice is as soothing as gentle waves lapping a silken beach.
"Sleep, my son."
* * *
"Rise and shine, kid."
The unmistakable baritone of Kermit Griffin interrupts my dreams, and I wake immediately. I'm warm and comfortable on my dad's futon, covered with two thick blankets. Sunlight pours through the windows and I realize I must have slept through the night and well into the morning.
Stretching and yawning, I discover I'm naked except for my briefs, and I wonder how Pop managed to do that without waking me up. I make a tentative assessment of my physical condition and am pleased by the conclusion that I feel pretty damn good.
"What brings you here, Kermit? Trying to give me nightmares?"
"A nightmare, by both name and definition, tends to occur after the sun has set, when normal people sleep. Not during midday."
"Midday? What the --" I look at my watch. "It's almost noon! Christ, I'm late, I --"
"Relax, kid. You're covered."
"Indeed you are. The goodwill ambassador of Chinatown obtained the necessary authorization."
"Say what? Could you please speak in English, Kermit?"
"Your father came down to the precinct and explained everything to Captain Simms."
My father appears and stands at Kermit's side. He places one hand on Kermit's shoulder. "Just that because of the demands of the past few days, you needed rest."
"Which I vouched for," Kermit adds.
"And quite sensibly, your captain agreed." Dad's smile is smug; for whatever reason, today I don't mind.
"But we need to interview the witness to the Crane murder. So up and at 'em, my friend! We can leave from here. It'll save us time."
"Okay. All right." Things are happening fast. "But I need clean clothes."
A plastic bag drops on the floor next to the futon.
"Your father already thought of that. He asked me to stop at your apartment and pick them up."
"That's...great," I mutter, mentally wincing at the thought and resisting the urge to look in the bag to see exactly what Kermit picked out. "I guess you two thought of everything."
"Yes, of course we did," says Kermit, clearly pleased. He turns a bit and looks at my dad. "Thank you, Caine for your assistance. I need to place a cellular call, which I will do from my chariot." Kermit glances at me. "You've got ten minutes, Peter. I know that cuts into your allotted hair styling time, but we're already running late. So, chop-chop!"
My father sees Kermit to the door and picks up his coat from the work bench. I grab my plastic sack of clothes and hustle to my feet.
"Whoa, Pop! Where're you going?"
"I am meeting Lo Si for tea. After that...." He shrugs.
"So, uh, I suppose you'll be home by dinnertime?"
"Yes. And if you wish, I would be honored if you would join me."
As he puts on his jacket I go stand next to him.
"Thanks. I'll bring takeout from Chow's. And Dad... I don't know quite what to say."
"Perhaps, where...the hell... is my car?"
I laugh aloud, and at first Dad just smiles but then he joins me with an honest-to-God belly laugh.
"Now that you mention it, where the hell is my car?"
"It is," he quickly sobers, "parked in the alley-way."
"Yeah. I remember now."
"I will see you at dinner this evening?"
"Wait, Dad. Please."
I drop the bag and grab his arms with both my hands. "I remember that a lot happened...a lot was said last night. I mean, I was pissed-off, and you -- well, I don't know exactly what was going on with you! I don't remember it all perfectly, but before I go off to face the cold cruel world, I need to know that everything's okay."
My dad tips his head to the side, his eyes narrow, silently questioning me.
I squeeze his arms. "Okay with you. And with me." I swallow and clear my throat, feeling more ridiculous each second, but needing to know. "Okay with you and me. You know."
He studies me with brown eyes that hold all the answers to all the questions in the universe, and certainly all the answers I'll ever need. If only I knew how to ask in the right way, using the right words, then he'd know I was ready to hear what he has to tell me. He'd share everything with me, the good and the bad, and I'd finally begin to understand him...and maybe myself, too. I hope I'm ready soon.
"I think that...I do know."
"Always." He touches my chin with his thumb, curls his fingers into a fist and gently rubs my neck. "With you, my son, things are always...okay."
We both move at once and fall into hug that has no traces of Rocky Dalton. Everything about this man -- his clothes, his scent, his posture -- is one hundred percent my father. He may not be entirely himself yet, but he's well on his way. And I'm still not satisfied with the outcome of the past few days, but today I have work to do.
Dad releases me, and squeezes my shoulders. "Now get dressed, my son," he says, and adds as he heads toward the door, "before the neighbors start to talk."
I laugh and wipe the wetness from my eyes. "You don't have any neighbors, Pop!" I yell to the empty room, knowing that he hears me, closing my eyes and seeing quite clearly the smile on the face of Kwai Chang Caine.