by MJ Mink
The photographer was going to snap the picture of the wedding party before Peter was ready. Not that he'd ever be ready. He didn't like staying still and disliked posing even more. There was no way to wipe the anxiety from his face and turn it into a happy smile; a grimace was the most he could hope for.
He couldn't belong to two families...unless he could split himself down the middle. Gave Caine back the boy he missed, let the Blaisdells have the pain-in-the-ass overgrown teenager they were used to.
Adrenaline was pounding in his ears. It always took awhile to come down after a successful bust. And this time, there'd been the elevator shaft.
That endless drop.
His father's hand, catching him. Saving him.
The words echoed in his head. They came from the temple, they came from the elevator shaft. His father still thought of him as a child.
And when he was with his father, he thought of himself the same way. His adult half rebelled, but in one protected place in his soul, he held that child close and wanted to be him again. Wanted to be seven years old, full of awe, brimming with wonder for the miracle that was his life. At the time, he'd sensed it was special, but after the temple was gone and he was thrust into the real world, he began to understand just how special it had been and knew that he would never have it again. So he'd pushed the memories as far away as he could, but they hadn't gone far, and they had never set him free.
Now he felt that awe and wonder again, each time he looked at Kwai Chang Caine.
His eyes hurt from keeping them focused on the camera. He wanted to get away, stay at his father's side and never let him go again. Never let him escape, even if he wanted to.
"Good one!" the photographer exclaimed, and Peter was free.
He released his hold on Annie and turned to his father.
The space where Caine had been was empty.
He was real.
He is real. He's here, I know it.
He's not a dream.
A hand touched his arm. "I can see him, Peter. He hasn't gone far."
Automatically, he kissed her hand, then brushed his lips across the top of her head, inhaling the softly-scented hairspray. He didn't understand how she did it, but she sensed some of his concerns.
Yet she could never understand how very afraid he was.
His gaze drifted back to the empty space and lingered there before scanning the room. He turned to search all the corners, and his hand dropped from Annie's shoulder.
He felt like he was going to explode, blow apart into a million bits. "I need him," he said tightly. "Where is he? Do you feel him?"
"Honey-- Where's Paul?"
"I'm not looking for Paul," he snapped, then immediately regretted his tone. His fingers pushed through his hair. "Sorry. I'm looking for my father. I need him."
"Peter, I know." Her hand reached out and touched his chest. "He'll be back. Why don't you take me to the table? We'll sit there for a few minutes and--"
Paul Blaisdell strolled over to them. "Problem?" he inquired easily, though Peter knew the relaxed manner was a pretense.
"I can't find my father," Peter blurted. "He's gone."
Paul gave a short laugh. "For God's sake, Peter, maybe he's gone to the men's room. Give him some breathing space."
"Or what?" His own breath quickened. "Or he'll leave permanently, is that what you're saying?" What if I fall down the elevator shaft and his hand isn't there, what if I fall and fall and never hit bottom?
"No, that's not what I'm saying. Take it easy, son."
He jerked away before the hand could touch him. "I'm not your son." He closed his eyes. Hadn't he learned about control in the temple, in his father's temple? "Sorry. I...." He tried to take a deep breath, but his respirations were shallow and quick. "I'm feelin' a little...."
The room moved, waves curling across the floor.
"Come and sit down."
He allowed himself to be led somewhere. His legs gave out and he sat abruptly. Someone pushed his head between his knees.
"Take deep, slow breaths." Paul's hand rested on the back of his head.
"I'm okay! I am not going to fuckin' faint."
"Watch your language, young man," Annie said at his other side.
He tried breathing steadily, but his limbs began to shake. "Where's my father? I need my father. Now."
Paul stood. "I'll look for him."
"No!" He tried to grab for his foster father, but missed. "Don't leave. He'll be here, I know he will. Just gotta give him another minute...."
"I am here," a voice said to his knees.
Peter lifted his head and stared into his father's serene gaze. "I fell."
"I caught you."
"Yeah." He closed his eyes and rested his forehead on his arms. "What if I fall again?"
"I will catch you again."
His lips curved faintly. "I might fall a lot of times."
"I will always catch you, my son."
"Promise?" His breathing began to steady. Cautiously, he raised his head again. Caine was sitting cross-legged on the floor, giving his undivided attention to his son. The sight made Peter feel both elated and humble. "You know that I killed a man upstairs. I shot him in the heart."
To anyone else, Caine's expression might have appeared unchanged, but Peter read behind his eyes.
"You're a cop. Your father understands that deadly force is sometimes necessary," Paul said firmly and patted his arm. "Isn't that right, Caine?"
"No, he doesn't." Peter didn't shy away from the stare. "My father thinks there's always another way. He doesn't believe in taking a life, no matter what the reason. Right, Dad?"
Caine bent his head in acknowledgement.
"But he was holding Kelly. He would've killed her."
"So...you killed him." Caine shrugged. "Is the difference so great?"
"Yeah, you're damn right there's a big difference!" His voice rose, and he stopped to consciously lower it. Nothing would spoil Carolyn's wedding -- not the robbery, not kidnapping and death, and certainly not her foster brother's tantrum. "He was scum. He contributed nothing to society. The world is better off without him."
"In your judgement. But...." His father opened his hands and held them with the palms up. "Everyone is loved by someone."
"Aw, c'mon, Dad!" He would have leaped to his feet, but both Paul and Annie rested their hands on his forearms in gentle restraint. "A woman would have to be crazy to love somebody like that!"
The dark eyes bored into his own. "He was someone's son. And, perhaps, he was someone's father."
It took several seconds for the unexpected blow to penetrate his defenses. Then he swallowed and turned his face aside. Annie's hair brushed his cheek, and he could feel the strands trembling under his ragged breaths.
"Caine, please," she said with obvious distress. "Peter is overwrought. Maybe now isn't the best time to talk about this."
"Let's go back to the table," Paul said, his hand tightening on Peter's elbow. "It's been a rough day and --"
"No. I have to know." He pulled his arms free and studied his father's face. It was as neutral as always. "When I kill again, will you still catch me?"
One eyebrow twitched. "Yes."
"Swear it," Peter commanded.
"Take it easy, Peter," Paul said.
"Promise me," he whispered to the man who watched him.
"I have said that I will. My word is enough."
He searched the dark eyes. Their shape and color were memories from the temple, but what was behind them was newer. There was an emptiness that had never been filled, pain that had lingered too long and carved a permanent scar across the tranquility.
The expression was familiar; he saw it in the mirror every morning.
"I need more than your word," Peter persisted. "Make me believe you. Swear on Mother's grave."
The softness of the beloved face hardened, and suddenly Peter was staring at the implacable master. Caine rose and folded his hands together at his waist. If he'd been wearing a saffron robe, the image would have been complete.
Peter stood, not breaking their gaze.
"Annie," Paul said, "I think it's time we offered another toast." He paused and touched Peter's shoulder. "I hope we'll see both of you later. Unscathed," he muttered in an attempt at dry humor.
Annie hesitated as though she was going to speak. Instead, she left with her husband.
Father and son watched at each other.
Peter finally broke the silence, his gaze flickering away. "I...I know you don't like...any of this." His gesture included the wedding reception, the drinks, the music, the people...himself.
Caine tilted his head to one side.
"I know you wouldn't be here if it weren't for me." The unrelenting stare made him nervous. "Well, that's stupid, isn't it? Of course, you wouldn't be here. You wouldn't know the Blaisdells, so why would.... Aw, hell."
His father said nothing.
Peter ran a hand through his hair and scratched the back of his neck. "I mean...would you even stay in this town if I wasn't here?"
"Is my being here enough to make you stay?" Peter asked in a low voice. "You said you've been...walking for fifteen years. You must like walking. What if --" His voice shook, and he stopped for a moment before continuing. "What if I fall and you're not here? If you're gone again. Are you just gonna...walk on? I mean, if you are, that's okay. I wouldn't, won't try to...to stop you. You're an adult, right? You've got your own life, you don't owe me anything. Hell, I wouldn't want you to stay if it was only because you thought you owed me. You don't. It's not your fault that the temple.... What I'm trying to say is...is...."
"That you are apprehensive."
"Yeah, I guess." Terrified would be more accurate. That the next time I look up and you're gone, I'll never see you again. He remember the night in the Agrippa Club. When you can snatch the matchbook before me, you will no longer need a teacher.
But he hadn't gone to his father for lessons, so there was no reason for Caine to stay. He could leave today, this minute.
Peter glanced down and peered up through his lashes. "Is there room for me in one of your kung fu classes?"
His father studied him. "When you are ready."
One eyebrow raised.
The second eyebrow raised.
Peter sighed and displayed his most ingenuous smile, the one that always worked with Paul Blaisdell. "Well, it couldn't hurt."
Caine shrugged. "True. I could not help but notice that your fighting technique has grown...sloppy."
"Sloppy?" He widened his eyes, playfully affronted. "I am not sloppy."
"Uncontrolled, then." His father reached across and fingered his lapels, pulling the sports jacket closed. "And...."
"And what?" Peter put his hands on his hips, distracted from his performance. "What?"
The head tilted. "Your choice of clothing."
He looked down at himself. "What's wrong with it?"
"Nothing is wrong with it, for...for...." Caine made a rotating gesture with one hand, as though he couldn't think of an occasion that suited Peter's outfit.
"Pop! Dad," he corrected immediately. "Hey...y'know, this jacket wasn't cheap. And neither were the shirt or pants."
"And boots," Caine observed.
"Yeah! There's nothin' wrong with them."
"Perhaps not for a..." Caine's arms spread wide, "...rodeo," he finally declared. "Not for your foster sister's wedding."
"What?" He turned to study his reflection in the window. "Nobody else complained!"
"They must believe I did not raise you properly." Caine walked away.
"What?" He followed his father, nearly running down a couple of guests before catching up with him. "What are you talking about?"
"I did not raise you to dress inappropriately."
"P--Dad, you raised me in robes and tunics!"
"They were appropriate for the temple life."
"Whoa!" He stopped, but his father didn't, so he had to follow again. "Are you joking with me, Dad?"
"A concept with which you have difficulty?"
"Yes! No! Well...." He tagged behind the other man, trying to figure out what his father was saying.
No, not saying. Teaching.
Peter grinned. "I'm sorry to have brought dishonor to our family, Father."
Caine turned toward him and waited.
"Will you teach me how to dress properly?" He tried to temper his smile. "I don't learn very quickly. It would be a long job. But...will you help me?"
The merest shadow of amusement flickered in the hazel depths. Caine bowed to him. "I will."
Peter pressed his hands together in prayer fashion and returned the bow. Then he gently punched his father's shoulder. "Thanks, Dad. And you know, after we work on clothes, there are a few other things you could teach me."
"Indeed." He looked around to search out his foster family. Paul Blaisdell met his gaze. Peter grinned and set him a thumb's-up sign. Paul shook his head, a wry gesture Peter had become very familiar with over the years. The one that said, I know you conned me, kid, and I can't believe I fell for it again.
He wrapped one arm around Caine and hugged him. He had the distinct feeling that his father hadn't fallen for his act, but had accepted it as safe passage for both of them, a retreat from a demon that couldn't be confronted and banished in one afternoon.
"So, master, tell me what I should have worn today."
Caine raised one hand. "Your first lesson may wait for a more...appropriate time."
"Right," Peter agreed, but he knew
damn well that his first lesson had been underway since the moment
he'd spotted a Shaolin priest walking through a Chinatown fire.