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Story Notes:

Originally published in Patterns 2, 1994, by Carousel Press

 

Glaring colors splashed across the night sky, bright lights in the pulsing city, but they barely penetrated into the cocoon-like darkness that shrouded Peter’s high-rise apartment. The vertical blinds were drawn shut and windows tightly sealed; routine security measures for a cop, but now they effectively blotted out any sound or glimmer of a reality outside, too. Time hung heavy and still.

There was an air of neglect in the apartment. The intruder, graced with more perception than Peter possessed at the moment, took in the room with an experienced glance and easily reconstructed the afternoon’s events. By the slight trace of disturbed dust, it was evident his quarry had ventured into the apartment alone after several days’ absence. Had not checked for phone messages, had not trudged up the steps to the kitchen to crack open the refrigerator and indulge in a cold brew; had in fact tossed whatever he carried onto a corner of the couch and moved straight to the bedroom. Clothes had been shrugged off and dropped wherever they fell.

It was dark now, the hour grown late, but the visitor ignored the creak of tired muscles as he moved toward the bedroom, intent on only one thing.

*******

Peter lay in a tangle of sheets, unconsciously trying to resist the growing ache in his wounded shoulder that threatened now to draw him out of sleep.

 

     Heat flushed his face. He felt the dampness on his forehead and wanted to wipe the sweat away from his eyes, but his arms wouldn’t obey. They were heavy…weighted down by the limp and unresponsive body of his younger friend. There was a roaring in his ears now that had to be from the fire and explosions, rushing closer. He had to get out! But his friend wouldn’t wake up, wouldn’t run. And he couldn’t leave him. Where was anyone to help? Where was his father?

     Too late! A shower of debris cascaded down upon them both; he felt himself stagger, lose his footing and fight to keep his grasp on the younger boy. A sharp blow knocked him dizzy then and he collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Savage pain ripped through him as a supporting beam toppled and landed with a crushing blow across his left arm and shoulder, and the chamber spun into darkness…

 

Peter awoke, panting, and blinked back the nightmare. There was more, he thought groggily - - remembering the feel of the cold slate floor against his face as consciousness returned, the waves of heat billowing along his back, new stabs of pain, and the cries of dying children. And the feeling of helplessness and of betrayal…

He jerked fully awake, away from the blurred images, some of which he remembered only in his dreams. It was night now, but early enough he could still make out familiar shapes in his room, and he knew that he wasn’t back in the temple. “Wrong arm anyway,” he muttered to himself. It was the right shoulder this time, not the left, that felt like an iron spike was being driven through to the bone. That must be what had called up the memories half-buried for fifteen years, and finally yanked him out of a much-needed slumber.

Determined to escape the past, he tried to shape his thoughts back into the present by replaying the course of the day in his mind. The doctor had agreed to dismiss him from the hospital a day early, with a prescription for pain medication, and instructions to rest and keep an eye out for infection. It was all coming back now… He’d called Nick at work and bummed a ride home from him. Big mistake - - Nick started off on the wrong foot by joking that Peter looked like death warmed over (and who better to judge than someone who spent his days at the morgue?) and then resumed his endless chatter about his current search for love in all the wrong places, not even interrupted when they stopped at a pharmacy (Nick knew one with a drive-thru), before Peter finally escaped at the entrance to his apartment building.

The pharmacy… where had he put that package?

Peter raised his head and shoulders off the pillow, and pain lanced through his arm, driving him back against the sheets, trembling. Gradually, the waves abated, and he sighed weakly. “Who needs pills?” he muttered. The nightmare had been driven back; he was sure now that his sleep would be exhausted and dreamless, welcome and, given his weariness, inevitable. It sounded plausible, but he couldn’t convince his battered body, which felt like it was engaged in a war neither side would win. Bone-weary fatigue almost overcame the sharper edges of pain, succeeding only in blunting it to a low-grade misery that still refused to surrender to sleep.

“Concentrate on something else,” he finally told himself and emptied his thoughts, until he was aware of nothing but being hot and sweaty and tangled in sheets… which brought up delicious memories of happier times with Tyler. Had it been just a few days since he’d seen her? He remembered his concern when the 101st Precinct heard about the robbery planned at the Gorky Park night club. It was just around the corner from the Agrippa where Tyler sang, what if their inside information was wrong and they were staking out the wrong place? He’d headed directly there after his shift ended, worry blossoming as he identified the shady characters and the weapons they had concealed. Until that moment, it had seemed like he and Tyler might actually admit to a mutual affection at the same time… and then all hell broke loose. No, Tyler would be no comfort tonight. A fiancée with a bullet hole in him was exactly the scenario she was rejecting when she cancelled their engagement.

Paul had certainly chewed him out for that stunt at the Agrippa. Peter remembered with a start that he hadn’t called his foster parents to let them know he’d released himself from the hospital. Another dressing down, he figured. Half a smile lurked at the corner of his mouth. No matter how much he infuriated Paul, the respect and compassion they had for each other wove around and under the harsh words, the tapestry that held their family together. Nothing could unravel that closeness.

It was a closeness he treasured, but rarely thought about. Until now, faced with another relationship that should have been as warm… and wasn’t. Which was a major reason Peter had checked himself out of the hospital early. He wanted to be alone, uninterrupted; needed time to sort out the whirlwind of thoughts and images that buffeted him, with the discovery that he had two fathers now.

Two fathers. Paul, who has rescued him from the orphanage and welcomed him into a warm and caring family with a mother and two little sisters. Who had seen through his caustic teenage front and accepted him… chosen him… and allowed him to become whatever Peter was driven to be. And to his surprise, Peter found he wanted to be a cop like Paul. A man, like Paul. Until now… another father. His first father, his true father, who had comforted him and cherished him as a young boy - - and finally frustrated him with his serene omniscience when Peter grew into adolescence at the temple.

Peter focused on that memory, drawing it in more detail. Kwai Chang Caine looked much the same now - - lank graying hair instead of the monastic shaved head, and eyes that had seen and suffered more than Peter remembered, but otherwise as calm and enigmatic as ever.  He’d broken through that mask though, with the crack about Splinters of Black… it was a kick to see his father looking genuinely baffled. Caine still had the powerful and graceful physique that Peter remembered, and he realized with a start that he had grown to be as tall as his father, that they stood eye to eye now. Literally, that is. They definitely didn’t see things eye to eye.

The anger Peter had felt at being robbed of his father was replaced by confusion. The dawning joy at being reunited was washed with a growing fear and uncertainty. What he wanted back was the father he had known twenty years before, the man who would come to him in the middle of the night to comfort him, with stories of dragons and a smile like a sunrise. But Peter wasn’t that child anymore - - he hadn’t even been that child when they were separated. By then, he and his father had discovered bitter differences, and in the years they were apart, Peter had come to reject everything Caine valued. Those memories he sometimes dreamed about, of waking up to find his father guarding his sleep, were of days lost forever. Merely finding Caine again would not restore them. How could a Shaolin priest welcome as a son the man Peter had become?

Forgetting to lie still, he tossed in restless frustration and immediately bit back a groan. Damn! The shoulder hurt! He closed his eyes against the pain, and when he opened them, the dim light in the room wavered. It was the scent of candles that assailed his senses next, and he realized that the flickering light was real, not a pain-induced haze. But how… ?

A shadow moved in the doorway, and Kwai Chang Caine appeared, so softly that even rice paper would not have revealed his tread. “You are awake?” he asked. He hovered there; Peter almost had the sense that Caine was tentatively waiting permission to enter, but he dismissed the thought. He had never known his father to be unsure about anything.

“Pop?” The single word blurted out, ahead of the deluge of questions that Peter struggled to put into words.

“Drink this,” Caine instructed him, sitting on the edge of his bed and gently raising Peter’s shoulders enough for him to sip from the cup he cradled in his palm. Peter did so, half his mind wondering what concoction his father had rendered, the other half trying determinedly to resist the sudden sleepiness so that he could ask the first thing that he could formulate into a coherent sentence. “What are you doing here?”

Caine felt Peter relax against him, knew the herbs were taking effect and that Peter probably wouldn’t be aware of the impulsive caress of Caine’s hand against his flushed cheek. “Shhh…“he said. “I am here… because a father doesn’t sleep until he knows his son is safe.”

*******

The observer heard Caine’s words and stood silently in the doorway with his heart in his throat. Perhaps Caine sensed he was there; perhaps not. Both men only had eyes for their son. And because no one was watching, Paul Blaisdell didn’t bother trying to hide what he felt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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