by MJ Mink

I return home after a tumultuous day. Despite my reservations regarding Paul Blaisdell--reservations I have been unable to define--I knew he was not guilty of the murder of Senator Matheison. I believe that Peter did not share my certainty, however, and that interests me. I wish that Peter would have immediately returned with me so that we might discuss this, but he had his 'paper work' to complete and said he would join me later.

I bathe and change into comfortable silks. I fix a small bowl of noodles and vegetables. After I eat, I clean the kitchen and look out the window. Peter is not yet here. I grind herbs and mix medicines for several hours, until I retire. I can sense that Peter is troubled but unharmed, so I allow myself to sleep.

* * *

It is late the next morning when Peter finally arrives. He does not move in his usual manner. His footsteps are slow on the stairs. His aura is clouded.

"Hey, Pop. Sorry I didn't get here last night."

I attempt to lighten his mood. "Do not call me--"

"Just--" One word fires out in a shout, then Peter stops, taking a moment to regain control. "Sorry. I just like to call you Pop, okay?"

I study his profile as he stands by my work table, looking at the herbs and touching the bottles, but not seeing them. Perhaps I should not question him, but he has come seeking guidance or solace, that much is clear. I would ask what 'troubles' him, but a few days ago, that question did not receive a favorable reception. "Why is that important to you?"

"Why do you make such a big deal out of it? Christ, it's just a word!"

His anger strikes out at me, though I sense I am not the one he wishes to wound. I walk to him and lay a hand on his shoulder. He tenses and glances at me before relaxing.

"Tell me."

"Tell you what?" He pulls free of my touch, but does not move away. His gaze flits from place to place, as a hungry bee searches for the right flower, until it settles upon my face. "A few days ago, you said something about...sharing what's in my heart. That it didn't mean breaking a confidence."

I incline my head.

Peter wipes his mouth, and his feet shift restlessly. It is taking great effort for him to stand without moving. "I was--I'm sorry for the way I spoke to you that morning."

He looks down, so I take his chin between my forefinger and thumb, lifting it until he meets my gaze. "You were troubled," I say to excuse him, though Lo Si has chastised me for excusing too much when it comes to my son. "By the same concerns that trouble you now?"

"Yeah." A frown ghosts across his face and is gone. "Paul pissed me off. He...he said...he yelled at me because I called him Paul, and it reminded me...." Peter takes a deep breath. "It reminded me of other stuff. Things that happened a long time ago."

I tilt my head and narrow my focus to concentrate on more than simply my son's words. If I am to understand him, I must also hear what he leaves unsaid, the fears that hide in the shelter of his heart.

"You think because of our relationship, you have some kind of special privileges here that no one else has?"

Peter rose, folding his hands in the respectful manner he had learned from his real father at a very early age. It was the safest attitude to assume when Paul Blaisdell was on the verge of an explosion--something he'd learned from his foster father, also at a relatively early age. "No, sir," he replied respectfully, his face schooled into a stoic mask.

The rest of the words washed over him in a blur. He was conscious of the other people in the room and felt the heavy weight of their surprise and sympathy. They didn't understand that it was like a hurricane; all you could do was hold on until Paul blew himself out. Don't talk back, don't argue...just hang on.

This was a fast-moving storm. When Paul finished, Peter picked up his jacket and left, looking at no one. When he was a teenager, he could run to his room to hide with his grief and rage and frustration. But now he was adult, and there was nowhere to hide--

--Except one place.

"I'm sorry I took it out on you, Pop."

"It is the function of a father. To be what is needed."

He looks up quickly, his sharp eyes studying my face. He shakes his head. "Not every father."

I stand in the center of the room, watching closely and turning like an axle while Peter makes a circuit around the perimeter. "But that is not all that concerns you today," I venture.

He does not reply, having discovered a sheaf of drying eucalyptus leaves to be of intense interest. I remind myself that my son is a great teacher of patience; my skill in this area has grown since he returned to my life. I cross to the platform where I sit in half-lotus. I reach for a plant to tend; it was given to me by Mrs. Sing. It has long been in the darkness, in the room of her dying husband, and it cries out for light and health. I focus ch'i energy on it, wishing it were as easy to bring sunlight to my son.

Peter does not like to be far from where I am, and he also likes to watch what I do. So it is that soon he joins me on the platform, sitting sideways. I add unnecessarily dramatic gestures to my treatment of the plant, for I have found Peter to be first lured by showmanship before he sees the lesson behind it.

"I'm afraid he'll blame me. Because I arrested him."

"You were simply doing your duty."

"Yeah. I know that, he knows that...but it doesn't mean he'll understand. He...I mean...he could've done it. I wasn't sure that he was innocent...and he knows it."

I pause with my hands hovering over the plant. "This is what concerns you--your belief that he is capable of murder?"

...Our dragon's wing, Paul Blaisdell on the rooftop, shooting men as easily as if they were tin ducks in a carnival.

...and a whisper unheard, yet as clear in my mind as if Paul Blaisdell stood before me, declaring: "I enjoyed watching him bleed to death".

My son stares at me, his lips parting but finding no words to utter. Thick lashes drop and hide his eyes, but not before I have seen something in them that I have seen too often: fear. "You are afraid of Paul Blaisdell?" I form the statement as a question, so it does not sound like an accusation to my sensitive son.

"Hell, no," he replies quickly. "Look, I should go. I've got some--"

"Please, do not leave." I catch his arm as he stands. To my dismay, Peter winces, and I release him immediately, a question on my face.

"Arm still hurts," he mumbles.

I rise and hold his wrist, using my free hand to carefully probe his forearm and ascertain that he has no broken bone. "It is badly bruised. Remove your shirt and I will tend to it."

Peter does not argue; he rarely argues any more when I offer to heal his wounds. I do not know which pleases him more: being touched or the cessation of pain.

I can do little to improve the discoloration; that must come naturally. But I rub a salve on his forearm and around his elbow to ease his discomfort. "How did this happen?"

"When I...went to arrest Paul...."

It was a nightmare from the past…Annie and Kelly stood back, crying and calling to Paul... the swing of the heavy suitcase that knocked Peter to the floor…the shock that almost sent him into a familiar, shielding huddle--until he remembered that things had changed, he was an adult, he could fight back. Then he remembered he was a cop and had a job to do. Revenge and self-protection didn't enter into the equation. It was his job, so he got to his feet and ran after Paul, favoring the arm.... "Thanks." Peter eases his shirt back on with my assistance. "That feels better." He looks at me, uncertain what to say, his eyes huge and liquid with emotion. "Pop...."

"Come. Tell me more."

In the kitchen, I prepare tea for the sole purpose of keeping my hands occupied. They would shake with anger were I to give them the freedom to do so, and Peter must not see my rage. Not yet, before he reveals the truth that I am finally beginning to see.

He leans against the counter. "I don't know where to start. I've never told this to anyone."

"Begin--" I raise my finger.

"--at the beginning, right," he finishes with a quick grin. "I guess I should have known right from the start. But I was so anxious to get away from that orphanage and their rules...."

This policeman didn't look like Starsky or Hutch, but he was a cop, so he was a good guy, Peter reasoned. And even though he was old, Blaisdell was probably heavily into sports, because at their first meeting that basketball to the stomach had a lot of power behind it--his gut hurt for a day afterward! Plus, once Blaisdell had taken him to a baseball game and promised to show Peter the local ice hockey rink.

"Well, what do you say, Peter? Do you want to try living with my family?"

Peter looked at Captain Blaisdell. The guy was nothing like his father--hell, nobody was like his father, he didn't want anybody like his father! His father was dead, he wasn't coming back, and it was time Peter Caine got on with his life. If he moved in with the Blaisdells, he'd finally be free of the orphanage and all its rules. And if he didn't like the Blaisdell setup, he would run away. There was nobody to stop him or come after him. There was nobody who gave a shit about him.

Still he hesitated.

"You won't have to change your name," Blaisdell added persuasively. "We're not adopting you."

Terrific! Blaisdell didn't want a big commitment, just a kid to borrow for awhile. "Yeah, okay." No way in fucking hell am I ever changing my name, Peter vowed silently. He was a Caine, and that meant he was someone special. He didn't quite understand why, but his father had impressed on him the importance of their heritage. Maybe someday he would do something great and make his father proud.

"Good." Paul turned and smiled at the counselor. "My girls will be delighted to have a new brother."

Peter didn't think that 'delighted' was the right word. Carolyn and Kelly picked on him whenever he visited, and they'd probably continue when he moved in. Still, they weren't so bad...for girls.

"And I've always wanted a son," Blaisdell added softly.

He raised his head, his throat tightening. Peter Caine was already somebody's son. He hoped this guy didn't expect to be called 'dad', because he wouldn't do it--not ever!

"But you did," I observe gently.

We carry our tea to the wooden table and sit in the painted chairs. My son picks up one of the small cookies that I keep in my home for his visits. "Yeah. I guess. I-- Yeah. It was easier that way." He breaks the cookie in half and stares at the pieces. "Don't get me wrong--most of the time, everything was fine. Paul was fine. They're a decent family, and I had a lot of good times with them. Just...sometimes, especially after he came back from one of his mysterious trips, he'd be...tense."

"I won't go!" Peter stood by the dining room table, glaring defiantly at Paul Blaisdell.

"Sit down, Peter," Annie said nervously.

"I'm not going to church with you! I'm not Christian--don't you get it? Jesus coming back to life is a fairy tale--nobody comes back from the dead! And those saints are sick--standing there full of arrows and bleeding all over! This whole church thing is weird, Paul, and I'm not going!"

"If Peter doesn't hafta go, then I'm not going either!" Kelly exclaimed.

"Finish your breakfast, young lady," Annie said.

Paul rose, putting his napkin aside. "Come with me, Peter. We need to have a little talk."

Peter followed the older man into the study. Once there, he shoved his hands in his pockets and slumped against the wall. "I'm not going to your old church," he muttered. "You can't make me. I'm Shaolin."

"Stand up straight when I'm speaking to you."

With an exaggerated sigh, Peter pulled himself fully upright. He could almost look Blaisdell straight in the eye. In another year--

He barely saw it coming. Seemingly from out of nowhere came the flash of a compact movement, and all the air exploded from his body as he tumbled to the floor, automatically curling into a protective fetal position.

"You will never speak in such a rude manner again, either to your mother or to me. Do you understand?"

Peter forced open his eyes. Two shiny black shoes stood within touching distance. He tried to answer, but could barely gasp for air. He nodded, then without warning, his throat filled with his breakfast and he vomited on the carpet. He choked, gagging at the sights and smells and pain.

"Clean up this mess." Paul Blaisdell sighed. "I'll respect your religious beliefs, and I expect you to respect the beliefs of my family. And please, try not to make me angry. I don't enjoy disciplining you." The shoes moved away. "We'll see you after church, son."

Peter suddenly stops talking. He is staring at my hands. I look down and see that I have crushed a cookie into fine crumbs.

"He didn't do it often," Peter says in a conciliatory tone. "Hardly ever. Just once in awhile when I was especially being an ass." He flashes a nervous grin at me. "I learned when not to argue with him. That made it better. So did...calling him 'dad' sometimes."

My son, the inveterate arguer. My Peter who bickers over small things, challenges me on nearly every word I say, who disagrees and protests and 'talks back' until my hair is in danger of being pulled out with frustration.

But...I have never seen him argue in seriousness with Paul. He simply obeys, his most extreme protest a frown or a hesitant question. A memory returns to me: when I snatched the Sing Wah's evil document from Peter's grasp and spoke with uncharacteristic harshness to him--he obeyed me instantly, without further protest. That is something he learned from Paul Blaisdell.

"Pop? Really--he never hurt me that bad."

I hear anxiety in my son's voice, and I wonder what he fears. That I am angry with Paul Blaisdell? I am. That I may harm Paul Blaisdell? Were I not a priest, I would.

Or does Peter believe worse--that I am angry at him for being a victim? What I understand is that my orphaned son was so desperate for a home that he was willing to pay a harsh price for it.

I lay my hand on Peter's arm. "That is not true. He has greatly wounded you, my son."

Understanding lies deep in his hazel eyes, but he shrugs, and his lashes fall to hide his knowledge. "Nah. Just my nose," he replies, deliberately misinterpreting my meaning.

I understand his meaning. It is Paul Blaisdell, not a hockey teammate as Peter said, who is responsible for scarring my son's otherwise perfect features.

And I remember other things....

..."Peter, come here! You're family" in a tone that brooked no argument--and received none.

...Annie, asking for my assistance, refusing to tell her husband that she was being harassed by a man who loved her...afraid to tell him, afraid of what he might do.

..."He's just feeling guilty," Peter, searching for a way to excuse the accusation that had hovered on Blaisdell's lips.

..."He asked if I just stood by and let Frank get beaten up." Bitterness from Peter over cruel words intended to inflict further damage on a guilt-stricken young man.

...And in our future, I can see Peter's past, a stark corridor lined with doors that are closed upon painful memories. Behind one, the destruction of our temple. Behind another, Paul Blaisdell sitting calmly in a chair. On the floor at his feet, my son, doubled over, arms wrapped around his torso....

Peter must read the tension in my face, for he begins to speak quickly--as he must have learned to speak to Blaisdell, trying to avert a dangerous reaction. "It wasn't his fault. I was a real bastard sometimes. I mean, I deliberately provoked him, Pop. I guess...." His voice falters, and when it resumes, it is strained. "Since you came back, I've thought a lot about the way I was. You were dead, I was alive. It didn't seem fair. And being punished...." Peter swallows, and his words become a whisper. "That was what I deserved. For the temple and for not...being able to avenge your death. What happened to you--it drove me, ate away at me. It made me do stupid things." Rage kept building inside him, day after day, month after month. Peter hoped that it would go away, that as he grew older he would forget everything he saw that night at the temple. Gunmetal grey of automatic weapons, rust-colored blood on saffron, staining dark on the stone floors, monks and children screaming and running and falling...and his father, turning away.

He couldn't tell Principal Lehman any of those things, of course. No one would ever know about the private movie that ran in his head, over and over. So when Lehman demanded an answer, Peter shrugged.

"He asked for it and I gave it to him," he declared arrogantly. "What's the problem?"

"The problem is that Mike may have a broken nose. And you, young man, are in a lot of trouble. When your father gets here--"

"Foster father."

Lehman paused, his sharp blue eyes narrowing. "Foster father," he corrected. "When he gets here, we're going to have a long talk about what to do with you. I'm leaning toward expelling you."

He shrugged again. "Whatever." But sweat broke out on his body as he wondered what Paul would do if he were expelled.

The principal said no more to him and returned to studying a folder on his desk. Peter wanted to fidget, but he figured Lehman expected him to get nervous. So he remained very still, a discipline he had learned at--

Forget that. He slouched and propped his feet on the corner of the principal's desk.

Lehman looked at him, and Peter grinned. Before either of them could speak, there was a knock at the door and Paul Blaisdell let himself in.

Lehman rose, and Peter hastily dropped his feet back to the floor. He stood, shoving his hands in his back pockets.

"Mr. Blaisdell. It seems we're meeting more often. And under unfortunate circumstances."

Paul didn't respond. He sat down, and Peter copied him.

"What's the problem this time?"

Lehman sat behind his desk and leaned on his elbows, steepling his hands. "Today's problem is that Peter attacked Michael Andrews and may have broken his nose. The continuing problem is Peter's aggressive behavior."

"Are you saying that my son is a bully?"

"Not...precisely." Lehman glanced at Peter as he spoke. "Peter only takes on the older boys, the ones who are bullies themselves." He turned back to Blaisdell. "For that reason, I've been lenient with him--until now. We can't have this sort of behavior here. This school prepares youngsters to fit into society."

"Where there are no bullies," Paul interjected with a small smile.

Lehman flushed. "It's not Peter's job to decide who is behaving inappropriately and punish them. That's the job of parents and school administrators."

"Then I suggest you and Michael's parents do your job." Paul rose, gesturing to Peter. "Peter defends, he doesn't attack. Do your job, and you won't have a problem with him."

"I'm considering expelling him."

"Consider again." Paul's smile became tight. "Before you take such a step, I suggest you speak to the school board--particularly its chairman, John Stanton. Come along, Peter."

He couldn't believe it--free and clear! Hell, Paul was okay. He stood up for what was right, he was a cop--and that's what Peter wanted to be. He'd take care of every bully and every criminal who dared to walk the streets on his beat. Yeah!

He bounced on their way to the car. "Thanks…uh, Dad," he said, deciding this was a good time to be diplomatic. "That was great! You sure told him! You know what?--I'm gonna be a cop, too! So this is, like, practice for being a cop, right? I'll be like Starsky, smashing the hell out of worthless scum! Bustin' noses left and right!"

"Get in the car," Paul said sternly, but Peter could tell he wasn't really pissed off.

Grinning, he slid inside. Paul put the key in the ignition, then looked at him.

"If you're going to be a cop, you need to start learning about guns."

"Yes!" He could hardly believe his good luck! Hell, yes, he wanted to learn about guns! Especially automatic weapons. He'd never be caught by surprise again, not like at the temple. Fuck all that crap about 'gentleness overcometh strength'--the right firepower overcometh just about everything.

It is difficult to lift my head for it has become very heavy. I wish to weep for my brilliant, inquisitive child...his graphic description of his slide into violence tears at my heart.

"Pop...." Peter's voice shakes. "It turned out okay. Don't feel bad."

He sounds like a child when he tries to reassure me.

"He is the one who taught you about weapons."

"Yeah." Peter sits back against the chair. "I was excited about it. And it made me feel more comfortable, because I finally had something in common with him. Annie didn't like it, but Paul said that's the way women were--gentle. She tried to talk him out of taking me to the practice range, but we both ignored her. Turned out I was a 'natural'--that's what he said. I figured it was all that archery practice you and I did, but I didn't say so."

He flashes a grin at me, and I am briefly transported back to a more innocent time, when his only targets were made of straw and wood.

"Anyway, we went a couple times a week. Then he used his influence to get me onto the police range. But the first time we went...well...."

Peter looked at the array in awe. "Wow! Look at this!" Cautiously, he ran his hand over the stocks. He wondered if the terrorists had used weapons like these when they attacked the temple. "Which one is an Uzi? I want to try it." Hell, if it was good enough for the Israelis, it was good enough for Peter Caine.

"Here." Blaisdell selected one for him and exchanged a smile with the sergeant who handed them ammunition.

They made their way to the last firing booth, the one Paul selected, he said, so Peter wouldn't be embarrassed by his lack of skill. But, Peter thought proudly, he was a 'natural' and damn good! One day he'd be a marksman. He held the weapon low and pointed it at the distant target that was in the shape of a man.

"No, not that far away. Lie down." Paul readjusted his grip. "Now, hold it on your shoulder. You'll get a better aim."

"Really?" Peter was doubtful. Some of the weapons he'd been experimenting with had quite a recoil, and this one looked powerful. Still, Paul knew what he was talking about.

"Take careful aim. Get used to the feel and weight of it. Fire whenever you're ready. Ear protection first."

Peter hesitated, propping himself on his elbows as he brought the ear guards up. "On TV, they shoot from the hip. I mean, they hold out the Uzi know, shoot like that."

Paul laughed. "You're not in a war, Peter, you're on a practice range."

"Yeah." He bit his lower lip. "But--"

"Take a chance. Be a man," Paul challenged in a low voice. "Michael Andrews was a man. He didn't cry when you broke his nose, did he?"

"No," Peter answered sullenly. That was history--a month ago, for chrissakes. Who cared about it now?

"A broken nose is very painful."

"So what? Cover your ears, I'm ready." Peter balanced the weapon on his shoulder. Paul adjusted his arm, moving the weapon farther from his face. "I thought you said--"

"Close, but not too close."

Make up your mind, he grumbled silently. He rested it on his shoulder and took careful aim. He wanted to blast the target to smithereens, smash the hell out of it! He'd show these other cops that he was just as good as them! Gently, he squeezed the--

Blunt force slammed to his face, causing instant, blinding pain. Peter howled. He dropped the weapon, scrambling to his knees, try to hold his face together. He tasted blood in his throat. It gurgled and bubbled, and he choked on it, frantically trying to swallow.

"You see," Paul said later as he sat with Peter in the emergency room, "a broken nose does hurt, and pain is an important motivator. The next time you attack someone, consider the consequences. Always assume that one day there'll be retribution." He stroked Peter's hair, then hugged him. "I know it was a hard lesson, son, but it can save your life."

"He was right about retribution, but I wasn't very good about remembering. I almost got myself killed a few times, those first years on the street." Peter gives me a small smile. "More times since then. If it hadn't been for you...."

"You take many chances," I whisper, my mouth stiff and dry.

"So do you." Peter looks away, then moves to crouch next to my chair. "I felt-- When you came back, I didn't know what to feel anymore. You reminded me of things--that there was another way of living--and I'd get mad because--damn it, I was cheated out of so many years."

The anger and grief and memories are too much for my son...and for me. Peter leans against my sleeve, and I grip his shoulder, willing my pounding heart to slow so I do not frighten him. I have already resolved to confront Paul Blaisdell and demand reparation for the damage he has done to my child, but nothing will erase the pain Peter has suffered. I am desolate when I think of him, thrust into a new world and into hands that could be both kind and cruel. My sensitive child, who never experienced abuse in his early years, subject to the severest kind as he struggled through adolescence and into manhood.

Finally, Peter lifts his head and rises to his feet. He laughs, embarrassed. He goes to the sink and splashes cool water on his face. I follow and hand him a towel.

"Sorry, Pop."

Still he apologizes, and for nothing. I reach to cup his cheek in my hand, stopping when he flinches.

"Sorry," he says again, tilting his face forward to accept my touch.

A leaden weight begins to grow inside me. "Peter," I force myself to ask, "when I...push the lesson in...?"

"What?" His eyes widen as he understands. "God, no, Pop! That's not the same thing at all! That's--" He spreads his hands wide as though they help him search for words. "That's love, not anger. I've never been hurt by that. Although it smarts a little," he adds, mischief sparkling in his damp eyes.

"Yet...often you draw away when I reach for you."

"Habit." He shrugs, and his expression becomes bleak. "Part of the baggage I drag with me. It's not because of you. Believe me, Pop."

"I do."

Peter grins, but quickly sobers. "So how come you never hit me? I must have been a real pain in the ass. I remember getting in trouble, going where I wasn't supposed to, fighting, spying, snooping around--and you never even yelled at me. Where did you find the patience?"

"You taught me patience. You still do." It is uncanny sometimes, the manner in which our thoughts coincide.

"I'll bet." With an intense look, Peter puts his hands on my shoulders. "No matter what I did, I knew you'd never hurt me. Not in any way. I still know that. All I ever worried about...." He takes a deep breath, as though this is something he has wanted to say for a long time. "All I still worry about is disappointing you."

I capture his hands, holding them together in the fashion of prayer. "You have never disappointed me, Peter, and you never will. I have told you this."

His face flushes. "I know. So...are you disappointed that I don't believe you?"

I shake my head at his teasing. "Have another cookie," I say in the age-old manner of a parent distracting an offspring.

"Don't mind if I do!"

As I watch my son return to the table and tip the remaining cookies from the plate into his palm, and I consider what I will say to Paul Blaisdell. What words can I use to a man who both loves and destroys my son? And how I will curb my aggressive instinct, that of a bear protecting its cub from danger?

Though...I am years too late to protect him from the worst of the abuse.

A hand curls around my arm. I look up into my son's emotional gaze. "Really, Pop, it wasn't that bad. Anyway, it was only for a couple years. It stopped when I got big enough and cocky enough to fight back." Peter shrugs one shoulder. "I learned how to fight, starting lifting weights, got good with weapons--I got so tough, he started to be afraid of me. But...." He looks away.

I wait, but he does not continue. "Peter?"

He shakes his head. "Nothing." He clears his throat. "I have to get back to work."

I walk with him toward the door, surprised when he turns and hugs me very hard. I squeeze him, reluctant to let him return to that dangerous world, but knowing he must have freedom.

"Thanks, Pop," he whispers against my ear.

When he is gone, I prepare to confront his abuser.

* * *

There is much activity around the Blaisdell home. Yellow tape lines the perimeter, though most of it has been trampled to the ground. Power tools make much noise as they are wielded by men wearing sweatshirts and denim jeans in the cold. Sheets of glass rest against a truck that is parked on the street.

Paul Blaisdell stands in the yard, hands on his hips, watching the work. He does not hear or see my approach. I wait by his side.

His head turns slightly, and he is startled. "Caine! I didn't know-- Peter always says that you're quiet, but--" A wall of brick facade falls in a clatter, interrupting him. "Watch the bushes!" he calls, waving away the dust that billows in a cloud, then lowers his voice. "Oh, hell, why am I bothering? Annie's going to have a fit when she finds out they've destroyed her rhodies. Come inside, Caine, though it's not much quieter."

He is correct. Work is being done in the dining room; plasterboard is being laid over new studs, a technique I would not have used in a house built as strongly as this one. I follow Blaisdell into his study where he closes the door, muffling but not blocking the noise.

"Annie and Kelly are staying with Carolyn for a few days. They're still pretty shaken. Would you like a drink?"

I shake my head. He pours himself a shot of amber liquid from a crystal bottle on the desk, then sits. He gestures for me to do the same, but I remain standing.

He turns the glass around in his hand, staring into it. "I want to thank you again, Caine, for all that you did. Both here at the house that night and...all the rest of it. Without your help, I probably would have been killed."

He waits, but I have no response for his appreciation. My heart is filled with my son's pain, and I must speak it.

"Peter has told me of your mistreatment of him when he lived in this house." My voice is barely above a whisper.

"Mistreatment?" Blaisdell's head jerks up. His face turns gray, making the lines of strain around his eyes and mouth more apparent. "What do you mean?"

"You abused him. You struck him. You broke his nose. My son is scarred physically and emotionally because of you," I say flatly, "and now you must atone for your sins."

Blaisdell's fists grip the arms of the chair as he pushes to his feet. He has great difficulty rising, and I sense that his body is in as much disharmony as his spirit. Regretfully, I acknowledge that I cannot find it in my heart to offer to tend the illness of one who has so injured my child.

"That's bullshit!" He glares at me.

I carefully rein my anger. "You deny that you injured him? That you struck him many times?"

"Christ!" He turns in a slow circle. "Peter was...defenseless. For God's sake, Caine, you have to understand--I had to teach him to protect himself. He had this incredibly...naive view of the world and of men. Life is hard and Peter was soft. Whatever he learned in that temple was of no help on the streets."

"On the streets?" I echo. "He was not on the streets. He was in your home, under your protection. It is a sacred trust to accept responsibility for another's child."

Blaisdell's thick eyebrows seem to sink, covering his eyes under their heavy shadows. "You should be grateful. You taught him only defense--I taught him how to be aggressive and stay alive." He approaches me, stopping three feet in front of my face. "Yes, I taught him the meaning of pain--if that's a crime, then I'm guilty. But I also taught him how to use pain--his and others'. If I hadn't, your son would be dead."

I look down at my hands, clasping them in front of me, willing them to be steady. "Peter was a boy, a child when he came to you."

"He was nearly a man."

"No." I look to the side, gathering my thoughts before I again meet his eyes. "Peter still has much of the child within him. When he came to you, his body had grown, but his emotions had not. His life in the temple, the tragedies he faced--they did not prepare him for the harsh reality with which you confronted him. Peter trusted you. You betrayed that trust."

"Caine--" Blaisdell's mouth moves, but he is unable to form more words. Walking like an old man, he crosses slowly to the window. His back is to me, and he speaks to his reflection in the glass.

"It was a...difficult time for me, those years when Peter was here. I was trying to...get out of the mercenary business altogether, but...I never could." He looks down as his fingers run across the wooden ledge. "With Peter...I saw a chance...a chance for him, for me...a chance to steer him away from the path I'd taken."

"The path of your life has been a violent one. So it was that you directed Peter toward, not away from, violence as a way of life." He does not reply, but I cannot let his explanation end here. "Did you also strike your daughters and your wife?"

"No, of course not." He whirls and scowls at me, his brows pulling into a single straight line.

"Why not?"

"Because...they're women. I don't strike women."

"In your mercenary work, there must have been times when--"

"All right!" His breath catches, and he coughs several times before he clears his throat and continues. "That was...different. Annie and the girls are family."

"As Peter is not and was not."

"You think that because--" Blaisdell stops and his face pales. After a few moments, he lowers himself back into the overstuffed chair. "Maybe you're right. Maybe that's why I took out my frustrations on him. Peter was never truly part of our family, though God knows we tried. He always held himself separate." He almost says more, then stops and looks up. "I'm not saying that I blame him, or that it's his fault I occasionally lost my temper...but he was a difficult teenager. He was deliberately provoking."

It is Peter's nature to provoke; it was his way as a child and I do not doubt that his tendency toward defiance and misbehavior increased after the terrible night at the temple. However....

"That is your excuse?" I ask evenly, though my heart thuds wildly against my chest.

He looks at me, not as a father but as a man. "Those are reasons, not excuses. But there's no reason you will accept, I know that. Caine...I'm not a monster. I was under a lot of pressure. I regret certain things that I had to do, but I can't change them. And I don't know that I would if I could."

"Peter is still haunted by your cruelties. You say you regret them, yet you continue them." I clench my fists behind my back, forcing their tremors to subside. "You berated him at the precinct. You struck him here, in your home. It brought those memories back."

"Oh, Christ." Blaisdell leans forward, pressing his palms against his forehead. "It's been so long--why can't he forget?"

I know he does not expect to receive either an answer or an absolution from me, so I remain silent, waiting for him to make a decision.

"I can't change the past," he eventually states, his voice a monotone.

"The past is now," I say shortly. "It has been days, not years, since you injured him."

He wipes one hand across his mouth, then both arms drop limply against the sides of the chair. "Right. Caine...." He looks up at me. "I wish we'd become friends. I could use someone like--" Blaisdell shakes his head. "Water under the bridge. My life is falling apart. I suppose...I thought I could live the way I did and get away with it. Make amends later by becoming a cop, raising a family, donating to charities--" An ugly laugh is torn from him. "I was a fool to believe in redemption. Everything is coming back now--evil attacks my family, ghosts haunt me, the grown children of those I--"

I raise one eyebrow, but wait without speaking.

He studies my face for a few minutes before continuing. "I don't know how to make things right with Peter. I think you're the only person who can heal the scars he carries--and they're not all from me, you know."

I say nothing.

Blaisdell stands and moves very close, staring into my eyes. "I'm in your way. I know that. He can't handle both of us. Too many memories, too much confusion."

I hold his gaze. "I know you will do what you believe is best for Peter."

"Yes. Best for my entire family." He stares a moment longer, then steps away. "Are you sure you don't want a drink before you leave?"

My lips twitch in response to his dismissal. I move to the door and bow to him. "I hope you will find your path," I murmur softly.

"If there's still a path left for me," I hear him say as I leave the room.

The buzz of an electric saw follows me for several blocks. In its own way, it is soothing, though I am glad to leave the chaos of the Blaisdell house and return to the peace of my home. Perhaps, with strength and patience and hard work, my child will be able to share in that peace.

* * *

"You sure about that?"

"I came back," I answer softly, then take my son in my arms to comfort him.

The man who both sheltered my child and cut deep scars into his soul is finally gone from his life. Perhaps not forever, but long enough for Peter and I to work together to repair the damage done to him.

"What are your thoughts, my son?" I ask, stroking his hair and relaxing as Paul Blaisdell's footsteps echo on the brick floor of my hallway and finally fade into nothing.

Peter shakes his head, and I hear how he fights to keep his voice from trembling. "If he loved me….I don't understand why he did the things he did."

He rubs his face on my shoulder, drying his tears on my shirt. "Nor does he, my son," I whisper against his cheek. "It is a part of human nature that is difficult to understand."


I lift my head. Now that Paul Blaisdell is gone, I am able to say a silent blessing for him, that he may put his demons to rest.

Then I close my eyes and say the same prayer for my son.


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