Generation to Generation
(immediately following "The Sacred Chalice of I-Ching")
By Jeanne DeVore
They went back to Matthew's cottage on the outskirts of the village, these three generations of Caine men. Matthew made tea and they sat in his small parlor. It was awkward at first--too much to say, no words to say it. But eventually, Matthew and Kwai Chang began to speak--to tell each other of their lives over the past 40 years.
For a change, Peter was silent, watching his father and grandfather. They were so much alike! And yet, there was a great difference between them as well. Matthew still bore the scars of the dragon and tiger--symbols that marked him a Shaolin priest. But though he still thought of himself as Shaolin, he had not actively served as a priest in many years. Peter found the differences between the two men fascinating; he'd always thought of his father as somehow belonging to the stars. Matthew was rooted in the earth.
Since his return from Nepal, Matthew had lived among the people of St. Adele simply, doing general handyman work until age and poor health prevented it, then returning to his earlier training as a medic and apothecary. The people of this rural village were pleased to have his services, and more than a few boy children bore the name of Matthew, in honor of the man who helped bring them into the world.
But though the years had been kind to Matthew Caine, he was well into his nineties and age and a hard life had taken their toll. His eyesight, never good, was failing him; he could barely read anymore, and struggled to see the faces of his son and grandson. Arthritis hampered his movement; a cane made it possible for him to keep going even when swollen joints demanded relief. His hands were gnarled and twisted, unable to do the delicate work of his youth. barely able to hold a pen or a glass. There was a tremor in his voice and a cautiousness to his steps.
His mind, however, remained sharp, and he told his grandson many stories: stories about his adventures as an archeologist and explorer, stories about the "wild west" of his boyhood. But best of all, as far as Peter was concerned, stories about his father as a boy. Kwai Chang had been just as obstinate and strong-willed as a child as he was as an adult. Just as he complained Peter had been as a boy.
They talked for a long time, until Matthew's brittle voice cracked with fatigue. And it was Peter who finally declared the conversation at an end, and insisted Matthew get his rest. As his father helped the old man get ready for bed, Peter watched that amazing transformation when the child became the parent. Just as he knew he did on rare occasions with his own father.
Peter expected that once Matthew was settled for the night, his father would come back into the parlor and they'd return to their room at the local inn. But when considerable time had passed with no Caine, Peter went to investigate.
His grandfather was asleep on his bed, his lined face relaxed in sleep and contentment. One hand stretched out at his side, and it was to this his son clung, sitting lotus style next to the bed.
"Pop?" Peter called softly. Caine straightened but did not answer, did not turn around. "He's asleep. We should get going." The illumination of the single candle on the bedside table was enough to see the tracks of the silent tears his father shed. Peter knelt next to his father, a hand on his shoulder in comfort and reassurance.
"You're afraid," Peter whispered. "You're afraid that if you let go of him, if you turn away, when you turn back he'll be gone. You're afraid that if you go, you'll never see him again, and that would be a hundred times worse than never having found him at all."
Caine turned his head and Peter was awed by the pain and confusion in his father's eyes. "I know," he continued. "I felt the same way three years ago in that hospital room. The hardest thing I've ever done was walking out that door. I was positive I'd never see you again."
His own hand covered the clasp of his father's and grandfather's hands. "He's asleep," Peter said softly. "He's not going anywhere. And you need your rest."
Slowly, reluctantly, Caine allowed his son to lead him from the bedroom.
It wasn't a long walk back to their inn in the village, and the cool autumn air felt good. Peter took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh country scents, so different from the city. Neither of them spoke as they walked. Caine wore his silence like a shroud, wrapping his thoughts around him in protection. Peter could only imagine how his father felt at this moment. He knew the pain in his own heart during those fifteen years when he believed his father was dead. Caine had known that pain for more than forty years. He knew his shock and elation when he finally found his father again. Caine was feeling that same shock, multiplied by the years. And while the man Peter found in the hospital had been suffering the effects of smoke inhalation, he'd been whole, healthy, full of the life he'd so remembered as a child. Matthew Caine was in the twilight of his life, and his son was acutely aware of it. They'd found each other again, but for how long?
"Father?" Peter broke the silence. He hadn't planned on doing so, but the question in his heart would not be stilled.
"Yes, my son."
"In the catacombs--earlier.... They said the one who touched the chalice had to be pure of heart. That he had to be free of anger, free of hatred, free of evil."
"But you said no man can be free of these things--that in order to know love you must know hatred. Good and evil walking hand in hand. Yin and Yang."
"That is so."
"W-well then--then how could you touch the chalice?"
Caine took a deep breath. "I do not know. I should not have been able to. I am not perfect, I am a man--like any other."
"And you knew this."
"But you tried anyway."
"Yes," Caine agreed.
"Because I had to."
Peter frowned. "Did you think you could be destroyed?"
Caine sighed. "I believed--that I would be able to do what had to be done. I did not think about anything else, only what I had to do."
Peter shook his head, swallowing past the lump in his throat. "I hate it when you do things like that, you know. When you put yourself at risk like that. I know you say you have to, but jeez, Pop! You scared the hell out of me. Call me selfish, but I--I don't want to lose you. Again."
Caine stopped walking, and the love on his face seared Peter to his soul. "I know," he said softly. "I fear also--every day when you go to work. But it is your job. And I know you will do what you feel you must. I would not try and stop you, because if you did not do these things, you would not be you."
Peter smiled shyly, grateful that his father had accepted his choice of career, simply because it was his. "So what do we do? Go around scared for each other all the time? That's a hell of a way to live."
"It is no way to live," Caine agreed. "No, we must live our lives as best we can, believing that what happens--was meant to happen."
Peter smiled. "Things like finding lost fathers, maybe?" Caine stiffened and Peter put an arm around his shoulder. "Well, speaking as someone with a lot of experience in these matters," he grinned, "I'll let you in on a little secret."
Caine tilted his head in question.
"Don't be afraid you'll lose him."
Caine swallowed. "So many years were lost to us." He shook his head. "He is an old man, Peter. And he is not well. If he were to--leave me now--"
"Then you'd mourn for him and go on," Peter completed. "But the thing is, you can't live expecting to lose him. Just like you and me. You've got to take each day as it comes, grateful for every moment you have with him, because it's one more moment than you ever thought you'd have."
Caine smiled gently at his son, a hand cupping the side of Peter's face. "You are wise beyond your years."
Peter chuckled. "Yeah, that's what Natalie said." They resumed their journey and the silence settled between them again, but this time it was a little more peaceful. The concerns of the day were still foremost in their minds, but the pain of their immediacy had eased a bit.
They were silent, too, as they got ready for bed. Peter came back from the bathroom to find his father sitting at the small desk attempting to write in his journal, but instead staring into space.
"Been a hell of a day, Pop," he said smiling. Caine looked up at his son and smiled as well.
"Yes, it has," he agreed. "A hell--of a day. One I could not imagine in-- One I could not imagine."
Peter chuckled and kissed his father on the top of the head. "Night, Pop. Don't stay up too late--it's almost morning as it is." He crawled into his narrow bed, grimacing at the lumpy mattress, shifting around until he found a spot which didn't either gouge him or suck him down.
Several minutes later, Caine turned off the light and Peter heard the squeak as his father crawled into his own bed. There was the rustle of bedclothes as Caine began the battle with his own mattress. Then silence. Then another rustle. Then Caine got up again.
"This bed is impossible," he muttered. "I cannot sleep on such a surface." He pulled the mattress off and tossed it on the floor in the narrow space between the foot of the beds and the desk.
"What happened to 'if your spirit is at peace it does not matter where you lay your head'?" Peter quipped.
"My spirit is fine, it is my body which is under attack," Caine snapped. He crawled onto his mattress bed and sighed. "Ahhh. Much better."
Peter chuckled. "Night Pop."
"Good night my son."
Peter punched his pillow and settled down again. He suspected, though he wouldn't ever say anything, that his father's spirit was a lot less at peace than it usually was. Well, so would yours be, Peter thought, if you'd just touched the equivalent of the holy grail, and then discovered that your long lost father had risen from the grave. Poor Pop--no wonder he couldn't get comfortable!
It was late morning when they arrived back at Matthew's cottage. The old man appeared rested, and greeted them with large mugs of cafe au lait and baguettes of bread so fresh they were still warm. "A widow lady brings them to me every morning," Matthew told them. "I think she likes to flirt with me."
Peter laughed. He had enjoyed his grandfather's easy, slightly wry humor the night before, and found himself feeling very comfortable with him--as if he'd known him all his life. It made Matthew easy to talk to, and the two shared easy conversation. Caine, on the other hand, said little this morning, merely watched his father intently, an unreadable look on his face.
"If you don't mind helping an old man," Matthew went on, "I have some chores which need doing. At my age, it takes twice as long to do anything, so I need to start early." He gave a wry smile. Peter realized that in many ways his grandfather reminded him of the Ancient. He said so.
"Who is the Ancient?" Matthew asked.
"He is a venerable old man in Chinatown," Caine answered his father. "He is also Shaolin, and an apothecary. And also, my master," he added.
"Ah," Matthew nodded. "That is good. All men need a master. Even," he winked at his son, "those who have touched the Chalice."
Caine stiffened. "Father, I--"
"No matter," Matthew dismissed. "We'll talk about it later. Tell me about this master of yours."
"He's a great old guy," Peter broke in. "Everybody knows him, he knows everybody. Lives life to the fullest--listens to Chinese opera and the Grateful Dead. He's related to half the people in Chinatown and knows the other half. He says "When you are as old as I am, you see the start of many generations." Peter did a very good impression of the Ancient, making Matthew laugh.
"You will like him," Caine added. "And he will like meeting you. You will have much to talk about. He may have known Grandfather."
"Really?" Matthew seemed surprised. "How old is this Ancient?"
"No one knows and he's not telling," Peter replied. "He's pretty circumspect. He tells great stories, only you're never sure what's a story and what's the truth."
"I am sure you will enjoy talking to him," Caine completed.
Matthew frowned. "Talking to him? But he is back in America, isn't he?"
"Yes. You will meet him when we go home."
"Go home.... Kwai Chang, I'm not going back with you."
Peter shivered and felt his father do the same. Both of them had assumed, though no one had said anything, that Matthew would return to America with them, to live out the remainder of his days in the bosom of his family. This was not what they expected.
"But--" Caine began.
"Why not?" Peter interrupted.
"I am an old man, Peter," Matthew said gently. "I spent more than half my life wandering. Now I am settled. I have a home, friends, a place to belong. I am part of the community here. I am content. I don't want to have to pick up and start again in a new place. I'm too old to move about so."
"But Father, we were apart for so long. Now we have found each other again, I--"
"Kwai Chang, you have no obligation to me. You were not responsible that I had the bad fortune to get lost, you are not responsible now that I'm found."
"No. Now, you have a life in America. I have one here. And here is where I prefer to stay."
Caine didn't answer, only stared at his father in horror, shock and fear. Peter's heart broke for him, for the look of rejection on his face. It was the same look he himself had worn two years ago when his father had stroked his cheek, winked at him, and walked out of his life.
"Grandpa, it's not obligation," Peter spoke up. "It's love. It's wanting to get to know you. Spend some time with you. I don't go in for all that filial piety stuff--the idea that you have to do things for your parents because you owe them something. But love--that's something else again. We want the time to get to know you--make up for what was lost."
"You don't even know me," Matthew countered, but the look on his face was a little playful. He was baiting his grandson, waiting for his answer.
"Doesn't matter. You're my grandfather. He loves you," he indicated his father, "and that's good enough for me. I love my mother, and I don't even remember her. I loved my father the whole time we were separated. And I know he loved you, even though he thought you were dead."
Matthew smiled and gazed at his son. Caine still looked shocked, and also hurt. "Kwai Chang, can you not stay here?"
Caine seemed to think about it for a moment, then shook his head. "I--cannot."
"Why not?" Peter asked his father. "I mean, I wouldn't mind--as long as I knew where to find you."
Caine smiled sadly. "But there are others, who need me."
"I can look after of the Ancient," Peter insisted.
"Do not be so sure," his father wagged his finger playfully. "There are times even I cannot do that." He sighed. "But there are others in the community who have come to rely on my services. I am needed by the people of Chinatown."
Matthew looked carefully at his son. "And I am needed by the people of St. Adele."
The two men stared at each other, and Peter looked anxiously from one to the other, waiting for a break, praying for some sort of resolution. But it was the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. One thing you had to say about the Caines--they were strong in their convictions.
Finally Matthew took a deep breath and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the stubborn edge was gone, and tenderness remained.
"My son," he began, "please. Let us not waste our present arguing about the future. The future will take care of itself." He reached out and took Caine's hand. "Come, Kwai Chang. Come spend some time with me."
For a moment, Caine stared at their joined hands. Then he closed his eyes and nodded.
Peter felt the tension break and let his breath out. Nothing was resolved yet, but they'd deal with it in time.
"You said something about--chores?" Caine asked.
"I need to get my supply of herbs ready for the winter. I had a young man from the village come help me, but he managed to get everything mixed up--had no aptitude at all for it. With my eyes, I need to rely on scent and feel to identify them, and I could use your help. You said you have skill as an apothecary."
"Yes, I can help," Caine nodded.
"I'm lousy at the herb things," Peter informed his grandfather. "I leave that to my pop."
"Pop?" Matthew questioned. Caine just shrugged. "Don't worry, Peter, I don't need your help with the herbs. But if you've a strong back, there are other tasks I would like your help with."
"Good. Come with me." The elder Caine struggled out of his chair and Peter followed him outside. There he pointed to a corner of the roof where gutters and shingles lay askew. "Can you do anything with that?"
"Probably. You got any tools?"
"In the shed."
"Then I'll be all set."
"Don't mention it." Peter grinned as his grandfather patted his shoulder and turned slowly into the house. He looked at the roof in disgust. Why was it always roofs? Why couldn't it ever be cellars? But with a sigh, he went to the tool shed to see what he could work with.
An hour later, while Peter was fastening shingles back in place, his father came out of the cottage, satchel over his shoulder.
"Where are you off to?" his son called.
Caine turned and looked up at him. "I need to gather some late-blooming flowers. They will be necessary in some remedies this winter."
Peter nodded. "Have fun--don't get lost." He laughed at his father's exasperated look and watched him go off down the lane.
Another shingle got fastened, and then Peter left his hammer and climbed down. His grandfather was alone; maybe it would be a good time to talk to him.
Matthew was seated at his table, grinding some dried leaves into a powder. A jar full of plants and water was steeping on the windowsill, and the kettle boiled merrily on the old coal stove. He looked up when his grandson entered the small cottage.
"Hi!" Peter smiled.
"Do you need something, Peter?" the old man asked.
"You got anything for a blister?" He held out his hand, which was developing a nice hammer blister.
"There weren't gloves out in the shed?"
Peter grimaced. "Yeah, but um, something had been eating them."
Matthew looked slightly disgusted. "Yes, I can help that." He moved over to the laden shelving along the wall and found a jar of thick goop, smoothing an amount on Peter's palm. "Try and change your grip on the hammer," his grandfather recommended. "Hold it--like this. That will help keep the blister from getting worse."
"I've only got a few more to go anyway," Peter told him. "Should be done soon."
"Good," Matthew nodded. "I'm getting tired of a leaky roof." He put the jar away. "Would you like--a beer?"
Peter grinned. "I'd love one!"
As beers went, what Matthew handed Peter had only the name in common with the beverage he drank back home. The bottle was brown and sealed with a stopper. The beer was warm, almost the same color as the bottle, about three times the alcohol, and practically thick enough to chew. It was a shock, and a bit of an acquired taste, but after a few sips, Peter decided he could definitely learn to like homemade French beer. He happily drank from the bottle, chewing on the end of a baguette. He was silent as he watched his grandfather work, enjoying just being in the room with the old man--looking at him and marveling at his very existence.
Matthew felt the attention and looked up. "Yes?"
Peter opened his mouth, then shook his head and laughed. "I just can't get over it--you, I mean. I still can't believe you're real!"
Matthew chuckled. "Don't I look real?"
"Oh yeah, it's just--you know. I grew up on stories of my grandfather and my great-grandfather. I never imagined I'd ever meet you. But now--it's like coming face to face with a legend."
Matthew shrugged--a gesture almost identical to his son's. "I'm no legend, Peter. I'm a man, no better or worse than any other."
"Yeah, maybe, but--" Peter shook his head again. "You're so much like him. Or he's like you. Even some of your mannerisms, your voice. It's weird."
"Yes," Matthew smiled. "Looking at him is like looking into a mirror of my past. When he was a boy, I would look at him and see myself at the same age. I would expect him to be like me, react like me, and I was always surprised when he didn't."
"Oh, I don't know," Peter countered, "you're each as stubborn as the other."
Matthew looked up from his work. "One of my less desirable traits," he sighed. "But the Caines have always been stubborn, even as far back as my great grandfather, Henry Raphael Caine."
"I remember the story," Peter said. "He's the one who gave your father the ring, isn't he?"
"That's right. Stubborn as a mule, my father said. Like his son, his grandson, his great grandson, all the way to you, I suspect."
"I guess," Peter shrugged. "He's more stubborn than I am. My father, I mean. I'm not nearly as much like him as he's like you. He always says I take after my mother."
Matthew smiled gently. "I'm sorry I didn't know her. She must have been very special."
"Oh, she was," Peter said wistfully. He pulled out his wallet. "I have her picture--" he showed him the photo he always carried.
"She was very beautiful," Matthew said, admiring her image. "And I can see her in you. But I can see your father in you, too."
Peter blushed as he put the picture away. "D-do you have any pictures of your wife? My grandmother? I don't know anything about her. All my father would say was that she died when he was young."
Matthew nodded and moved back to the shelves, taking down an ornate wooden box. He flipped through the contents until he found an envelope. He held it out to his grandson, and Peter opened it to reveal three photographs. The first was of a beautiful woman; raven-haired and delicate featured, she looked like a porcelain doll.
"Oh my god," Peter whispered. "She was beautiful."
"Yes, she was," Matthew agreed softly. "Su Ling. And I loved her. We lived in China; Kwai Chang was born there. But when the war started, since I was an American citizen, I felt I had to go back and do my part. She had family in China, so she and Kwai Chang stayed behind. We both assumed I'd be stationed in China; they needed Chinese speaking soldiers. But the army, in its ultimate wisdom, sent me to France instead." He shook his head.
"When I got back home in 1945, Su Ling was dead, killed by Japanese soldiers. And Kwai Chang was living with her uncle at a temple in the mountains. I didn't know if he would remember me; he'd been so small when I left. But he did. We stayed at the temple until the Communists invaded in 1949. Then we came to America."
Peter looked at the other two photos. One was of Su Ling and a very small boy; he couldn't have been more than two or three--Kwai Chang. Su Ling had a smile that lit the photograph, and the little boy was giggling. The third was of Matthew, hair extremely short, and an older Kwai Chang, aged perhaps nine or ten, with equally short hair. Neither of them were smiling, and Peter suspected it was an "official" photo, taken when they arrived in America.
"But then you left again," Peter said.
Matthew nodded sadly. "I was searching for the Cross of Casteneda. I have always been fascinated by archeology, the mysteries of the world. Kwai Chang had begun his training at a temple up north. I thought I would be able to go on my quest and return before he needed me again. But there was an accident. Injuries. And the loss of several years. I finally made it back and looked for him, but he had left the temple by then, and I didn't know where he'd gone. No one knew. I went back to China, thinking perhaps he'd returned there. Then I heard about the temple in California and traveled there, arriving too late. An old priest told me Kwai Chang had been killed, and his son with him. I stopped searching and eventually came back here to St. Adele, where I'd been during the war. I knew the Chalice was here. I felt peace here, so here I stayed."
"And here you're planning on staying, no matter that your son is back in your life now," Peter completed. He set the beer aside and took a deep breath. "When I found my father again--after fifteen years--it seemed unreal. I was working undercover at the time; I had a job to do or I don't think I'd ever have left him. I wound up getting shot, and then it was him who didn't leave me, the whole time I was in the hospital. But once he knew I'd be OK, then he sort of--faded into the woodwork, and I didn't see him for almost a week.
"I wanted him to come live with me, but he refused. Said I had my own life, he had his. He thought I was asking because that's what I was supposed to do--have my father live with me, take care of him. But it wasn't like that at all. I asked because I didn't want to let go of him. I wanted him with me all the time. Obligation or responsibility never even entered my mind. And when he refused, it hurt; like he was rejecting me. Like he didn't approve of who I was, what I'd become."
"Do you still feel that way?" his grandfather asked.
"Not so much anymore," Peter admitted.
"And yet your father doesn't live with you, does he?"
"But I see him all the time--at least once a week, sometimes more. If he had a phone I'd call him every day."
"Out of obligation?"
"No. Out of love. Because I want to. I love him and I want to be with him. I also like him as a person. I don't understand him half the time, but he's still one of my favorite people to spend time with."
Peter swallowed against a dry mouth; the beer had been amazing, but it hadn't exactly quenched his thirst. "The thing is, being across town, and being across an ocean are totally different things. We lost fifteen years; you've lost much more. We're still learning about each other. You can't even begin to do that when you're so far apart. He wants to get to know you, spend time with you. Not to put down France or anything, but what's so terrific here that you can't leave it and come home with us?"
Matthew shrugged. "Nothing but my life."
"And this--" he waved at the cottage, "--this is more important than getting to know your son?"
"The things don't matter, Peter," Matthew corrected. "But who I am, the life I have made for myself. The people here have accepted me into their village, their homes. I am well looked after here, and I serve them well. If I were to come to America, I would be 'old man Caine, the priest's old father, waiting to die.' I would be dependent on charity. I would not be free."
"I'm sorry, Grandpa, but the Shaolin have always depended on charity. My father lives in his apartment rent free. He's given most of his food and the other things he needs simply because he is a priest. Don't get me wrong, he works very hard for the community; everyone in Chinatown knows that if you have a problem, find Caine--he'll help you. The Ancient spends his day perfecting calligraphy and discovering new uses for his herbs. And he is venerated. You know what the Chinese are like--they respect their elders."
"Modern Chinese in a big city?"
"Old habits die hard," Peter shrugged. "Or if you don't want to live with him, you can live with me."
"No, Peter," Matthew smiled kindly. "I could not do that."
"It's hurting him, you know. He thinks you're rejecting him. Rejecting his way of life. Have you been apart so long, you don't know how to be together?"
Matthew looked down sadly, a finger slowly tracing the outline of Su Ling's face and the form of his very young son in the photo. "Perhaps," he sighed. "I have not been a very good father. I have been absent more than I have been present. He grew from infant to child without me. And then from young man to adult. I do not know my son. I do not know how to be a father to him. I do not know what he wants from me."
"Your love," Peter answered quietly.
"It's not that simple."
"Yes, it is," Peter insisted. "That's exactly what it is. You're both getting caught up on who you are, where you live and how you spend your time, you aren't remembering what's important. Sure, you've been apart a long time. That's all the more reason to get together now. You don't know him? Then do something about it! Learn about him. But staying here while he goes home isn't the way to do it."
"Why won't he stay here?" Matthew questioned.
"He says it's because people need him back home, and that may be part of it. People in Chinatown have come to depend on his wisdom as a priest, as well as his skill as a healer. But I think it goes deeper than that. We've had some rocky times over the past three years. He disappeared again for several months a couple of years ago. I think he feels if he stays with you, I'll see it as abandonment again. I won't, but I don't know if he'll believe that. I wouldn't mind him staying here with you, as long as I knew where he was and where I could reach him. And, um, he's got some very special friends he's not gonna want to leave too soon."
Matthew smiled wryly. "A lady?"
Peter chuckled and flushed. "A couple of them, actually. One of them's partner at the precinct; they date off and on. And the other--well, she's a lady friend, but not the way you mean. She's my foster mother, and her husband, my foster father, is away for awhile. My dad's kind of been looking after her, helping out around the house, that sort of thing. They've grown very close, and I don't think he'll leave her any time soon."
"Ah," Matthew nodded.
"Look, maybe you two can--switch off or something. He'll stay for awhile with you, you'll come stay with him. I don't know. But I do know you need to do something. Because if he leaves here and you're not with him, he's gonna think it's because you don't love him enough--that he isn't worthy of your love. That he's done something wrong. I know--I've been there."
Matthew sighed heavily. "I do not want to be a burden, Peter," he said sadly.
"You wouldn't be."
"I am an old man--every day is an effort, everything is a struggle. I would be--I couldn't help it. Old men are like that."
Peter took his grandfather's gnarled hand in his own. "A burden you carry willingly isn't heavy at all, Grandpa. Let us prove it to you. Come home with us. Please."
Matthew smiled softly and covered Peter's hand with his other one. "We shall see." He let go. "And now you had better get back to work. If it rains, I'll be in trouble."
Peter grinned. "No problem. I'm almost done anyway." Peter stood up. "Will you at least think about it?"
Matthew nodded. "Go now."
Peter grinned. It was a start. "Thanks for the beer!" He headed back outside.
Peter was coming out of the shed after putting his tools away when his father came up the walk. "Get what you were looking for?" he asked.
"Yes," Caine nodded. "Where is--my father?" The hesitance in the priest's voice said more than the words--pleasure and fear in equal measure.
"Inside. I just got done here, I was gonna go on in. Gotta put something on this blister. Grandpa put something on it before, but then I went back to work and made it worse again." He held up his hand and his father tched at the red, raw spot on his palm.
Caine led the way into the cottage. The elder Caine was sitting in his chair by the fireplace, dozing. Caine smiled at the sight, putting a finger to his lips at Peter. He put his satchel of herbs on the table, then looked at the laden shelving. Peter pointed to the goop his grandfather had used before, and Caine nodded. But this time after applying the paste to his son's hand, Caine wrapped it in a gauze strip for protection. Peter whispered his thanks and Caine patted his shoulder.
He was sorting through the contents of the satchel when Matthew woke with a grunt. He blinked, saw his family, and smiled. "Many pardons," he said, struggling to his feet. "When you're an old man you can sleep the day away without people calling you lazy."
"A definite advantage," his son smiled.
"Gives me something to look forward to," Peter added, making Matthew laugh.
"Did you find what we need?" he asked Caine.
"Come and see," Caine indicated the piles of herbs on the table.
The two men spent several minutes looking over the collection. "Very good," Matthew stated. "These will see me through the winter."
"They must still be prepared," Caine reminded him.
"Yes, but that is much easier for an old man to do. It is the walking that gets harder all the time."
"Father--" Caine began.
"No matter," Matthew dismissed. "Would you like lunch?"
Caine looked like he was going to protest some more, then changed his mind. "Yes. What can we do?"
They lunched on bread, fruit and cheese, washed down with an amazing wine. Afterwards, Matthew shooed them out of the cottage, telling them to take a walk.
"There's an orchard out back. And a large, full tree. You'll see my chair there. I indulge in that lovely French custom of siesta."
Peter frowned. "Grandpa, siesta's Spanish."
"It's still a good custom," Matthew answered with a shrug, making Peter laugh.
"Let me help you, Father," Caine asked.
"No, Kwai Chang. Let an old man have some time alone. Take your walk and I'll meet you in the orchard." With a wave of his hand, he dismissed them, turning back to the table and the lunch dishes.
Caine looked at his son, ready to protest again, but Peter shook his head and led his father out of the cottage.
They walked silently down the lane. It was Caine who would need to start this particular conversation, Caine who had to speak first. And just when Peter despaired of his father's ever saying anything, he spoke. "He won't let me help him."
"That's 'cause you try to baby him," Peter explained. "You don't let me get away with that crap, either."
"I am not so old," Caine countered.
'He's only as old as he feels. He's probably around the same age as the Ancient, and you don't--okay, bad example," Peter amended and Caine smiled.
"He should not have to work so hard," Caine went on, "not when I can help."
"He's been managing by himself all this time. And if he doesn't work, what's he gonna do--sit around and wait to die?"
Caine sighed. "You spoke with him?"
"Of course," Peter grinned. "You didn't think I'd let a chance like that pass by, did you?"
"What did he say?"
"Lots of things. And lots that he didn't say, either. Mostly what I got is that he has his pride. He doesn't want to be a burden to you or the community, and he's afraid that will happen if he comes home with us. I think he also feels bad about being an absent father. He missed a lot of your growing up. He doesn't know how to make that up to you--doesn't think he can."
"But he is pushing me away--"
"It's not that, Pop. He's just scared."
"So am I," Caine admitted.
"I know," Peter smiled. "So was I, three years ago. I still am, sometimes, when I don't know how to approach you about something, don't know what to say. But we manage to work through it, whatever it is." He put his arm around his father's shoulders. "You know, seeing the two of you, seeing you together--it's showing me a lot about you and me. You can look at things differently from the outside. Maybe that's why I can see what's happening between you and him; we've already gone through a lot of the same things."
Caine sighed. "I--do not know how to talk to him. I cannot find the words."
"Then don't say anything. Just back off and let things happen in their own time." Peter smiled, remembering Paul Blaisdell telling him the exact same thing.
"But time is what we do not have--"
Peter threw up his hands in exasperation. "Oh, save me from these righteous Shaolin! You're both so stubborn, so convinced of our own way you can't budge an inch for the sake of someone you love!" Peter put both hands on his father's shoulders. "What was that you always told me--a tree with firm roots can bend in the breeze. But a stiff branch is easily broken. If he's gonna be unyielding, then you yield. Remember yield to succeed?"
"This is not a battle, Peter."
"It's always a battle, Pop. Even love. Especially love." They resumed their walk, ending up at the tree at the edge of the orchard. "If he's gonna be stubborn, then you give in. Stay here."
"My son, I--"
"Not forever, just--for awhile. Stay with him. Get to know him. Let him get to know you. Become a part of his life. Then later, when it's time for you to come home, maybe you'll be so much a part of his life he's not going to want to let you go. And maybe he'll come home, too. It doesn't have to be permanent, for either of you."
Caine stared at his son. "But you and I--"
"Have had three years together," Peter completed, "barring the odd six months, of course. But the difference between staying here with your father and wandering off down your path is that this time I'll know where you are. I won't be worrying whether you're in trouble or dead or something. And--" he shook a finger at his father. "I expect you to call me now and then. Drop a postcard. That sort of thing."
Caine chuckled. "I think I could manage that."
Peter laughed and reached for his father, hugging him tight. Caine held on, almost desperately, seeking affirmation from his son. Peter gave that to him, holding him close, kissing his temple, offering security. He eased out of the embrace. "So will you do what I said?"
Caine shrugged. "We shall see."
Great, thought Peter, that's just what Grandpa said. Back to square one. He sighed, settled on the ground beneath the tree and stretched out. Caine sat next to him and pulled out his flute, playing a beautiful, haunting melody which forever after would remind Peter of France on a warm autumn day.
Eventually, Matthew came shuffling up the path, moving to join his son and grandson. At his approach, Caine stopped playing.
"No, keep going," Matthew waved his hand. "I love the sound of a flute. It reminds me of listening to my father play when I was a little boy. He would light a fire and sit before it, playing music that made the heavens look down in envy. And I would sit at his feet and think that there was no sound on earth or in heaven more beautiful." He settled himself in the chair and reached a hand to his son's shoulder. "Please. Play for me."
Caine gazed at him for a moment, then nodded, turning his attention to his instrument again.
For quite some time, the only sounds were the occasional call of a bird, or the rustle of a small animal, and the haunting tune of Caine's flute. Stretched out beneath the old tree, staring at the blue sky and the golden leaves, surrounded by his family, Peter decided this was what peace felt like. It felt good; he liked it. If only it would last....
During a break in the music, he spoke up. "You know, except that I'd probably be bored stiff within a week, I can really see the appeal of country living."
Matthew chuckled. "Ah, but the country is for the old, Peter. Cities are for the young. You might like to visit the country, but the city is where you belong."
City. Reality crashed in upon him, but along with it, the opening he'd been looking for. If these two stubborn men couldn't make a decision, he'd make it for them. He sat up. "Speaking of which," he grimaced, "I've got to get back."
"Back home?" Matthew questioned.
"Yeah. I've got a job to do, and my vacation time is running in the negative numbers as it is. My boss will kill me if I take any more time off."
"When do you wish to leave?" That was Caine, looking at him in confusion.
"As soon as I can. I think there's a flight from Paris this evening. This is gonna cost me a mint. Mind, it's worth it, but my Visa bill's gonna really suffer." He grinned at his father, who looked stricken.
"I did not realize we would be leaving so soon--"
"No, Pop, I said I have to get back," Peter corrected. "You don't."
"Why don't you stay on for a little while? It doesn't have to be forever, just a few weeks or so--get to know each other, start to make up for lost time. There's nothing you need to rush back for. The Ancient will understand, Ricky and your other students will accept it, and Mom--Mom'll be thrilled." Peter could just imagine Annie's reaction when he told her of Caine's good fortune--she'd pump her son for all the information he could possibly dredge up.
"My son, I--" Caine began to protest.
"Please, Kwai Chang," Matthew interrupted. "Please, my son. Stay with me awhile." He extended his hand to his son.
The two men stared at each other while Peter watched them, his breath held in anticipation. But finally, Caine took his father's hand and nodded, and Peter let his breath out, his face spreading with a smile. Not only was he glad the two men had finally agreed on a compromise, he was grateful his gamble had paid off. He didn't know what he would have done if his father had gotten obstinate and insisted on leaving with him. Maybe conked him on the head to make sure he stayed!
"That's great!" he exclaimed.
"But Peter," Matthew looked toward him. "Will I see you again?"
Peter grinned. "Oh, I imagine I'm gonna be racking up some pretty impressive frequent flyer miles here," he answered. "And you know you can always come home with my dad." Matthew's eyes narrowed, seeing exactly what his grandson had done/was trying to do. "You'll see me again," Peter continued. "Soon."
"That is good. I will miss you, my grandson. But at least I will have Kwai Chang here--to keep me out of mischief."
Peter laughed at the twinkle in his grandfather's eye and got to his feet. "I'd better get going--got a long trip ahead of me. 'Bye Grandpa. I'm glad I got to meet you."
Matthew struggled to his feet. "Good bye, Peter. It was a wonderful to meet you, too. We must do it again sometime." He enveloped his grandson in a great hug. "You are more of a Caine than you realize, little grasshopper," he whispered, "that was a masterful piece of manipulation."
Peter laughed and kissed his grandfather's forehead. Then he turned to his father.
"Peter--" Caine began, climbing to his feet.
"Shut up and gimme a hug," Peter murmured, reaching for him. They hugged tightly. "Cherish every moment, Pop," he whispered. "Cherish every moment."
"I will," Caine answered, kissing his son's cheek tenderly. "But I wish my father and my son would let me complete a sentence upon occasion!"
Peter laughed and pulled back just far enough to look his father in the face. "You got something you want to say to me, Pop?"
"Yes--" Caine studied his son for a moment. Then he sighed. "Have a safe trip home, my son."
"I will," Peter grinned, hugging his father again. When the hug broke, he put a hand on the priest's shoulder. "Be good," he teased, "don't do anything I wouldn't do."
Caine's eyebrow crept up near his hairline. "That gives me a wide range of activity indeed," he commented wryly.
Peter laughed and patted his father's shoulder. "You guys take care. I'll talk to you soon."
"Have a good flight, Peter," Matthew called.
"Thanks. 'Bye." Peter started down the path, then turned around and faced his father and his grandfather. He placed his open palm over his closed fist and bowed, delighted when both men bowed to him in return. With a grin, he turned again and headed into the lane, making his way toward town, there to catch a bus which would take him to Paris--and home. He felt some sorrow at leaving his father behind, but more than that, he felt joy, and a feeling of connection. These two very important people to him needed the time to get to know each other. He'd had three years with his father, and while he'd miss the priest during his absence, he couldn't begrudge this time to him. For as important as his time with his father was, his father's time with his own father was equally important, maybe even more so because so much time had been lost to them.
Just before he crested the hill, Peter looked back at the orchard. The two men, almost mirror images of each other, old and young, were slowly walking back to the cottage, arm in arm.
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