title: sick and tired
author: Lady Charena
fandom: Kung Fu – the legend continues
codes: P/P, PG-15
sum: Aftershocks rock the relationship between father and son… (after “Plague”)
Disclaimer: This story’s mine, but I do not intend to touch the rights of the owner of the characters from KF-TLC I’ve used. No moneymaking, no offence meant.
…No warning of such a sad song
Of broken hearts…
…I lost my peace of mind
Somewhere along the way…
…I knew there's come a time
You'd hear me say
I'm sick and tired…
“There you are, Pop.”
I knew he would eventually find me. The park is deserted at this hour and I stand alone on the bridge, where my son met his informant Donny Double D this morning. The rain has stopped some time ago and the heat of the day recedes with the advancing night. The air is still warm enough to dry my clothes. I could have returned to my home, however I feel reluctant to substitute the peace of the nature with the confinement of walls, of rooms filled with the lingering tension, left of so many ill and desperate people…
Peter approaches me slowly as if sensing my reluctance – I made sure he will find no trace of it in my face. However… I had hopes for a longer time of solitude. The last few days of fighting the plague depleted my energy almost completely. My concern about my son and the unexpectedly painful memories of the time at the temple disturbed me deeply. Now Peter is safe, the pictures of the past receded back to where they belong - still I am unable to fully regain my composure.
I turn away from the calm surface of the water to face my child. Even in the dim light of the evening, Peter looks tired and pale. Irresistibly I am drawn to him. Reaching out I run my fingertips down from his temple to his cheek. Peter’s skin is too hot, perspiration pearls on his forehead. Concerned I grip his chin and turn him more towards the light. There is a feverish glaze in his eyes and he avoids my gaze. “Peter, you are not yet well.”
He frees himself from my grasp. “I’m alright, Pop. Really. Just tired.” With a sign he runs his fingers through his hair, causing it to stand up like little spikes.
I touch the back of my hand to his forehead. “Your temperature is increased. We will return home.”
“Not yet, Pop. I want you… I mean… can’t we spent some time together? Only the two of us?”
He sounds very much like a stubborn five-year-old and I smile involuntarily. “We can spend as much time together as you wish when you feel better.”
“I feel great,” he insists. Agitated Peter hits the rail of the bridge with the palms of his hands. “What’s wrong, Pop? Wanna get rid of me?”
I frame his face with both hands and make him look at me. He blushes and lowers his lids. His anger drains away, but I sense he is now even more troubled…because of my touch? I caress his cheeks with my thumbs once before I release him. “How is Kelly?”
“Better – thanks to you. She’s been asleep when I left her.”
Hazel eyes look at me with a sadness I cannot explain, before he drops his gaze to the ground. A shiver travels Peter’s body and I feel tempted to pull him close to me, to share my warmth with my child. But I hesitate, unsure if he would welcome my touch at the moment. “Peter, it is above time for you to rest. Return with me and I will help you to find sleep.” I keep my mask intact to not show any of my concern – he should by now be free of fever and illness like everyone else.
Peter shakes his head once, reluctance radiating in strong waves from him. “Why don’t you ask?”
“Peter… what is it, that you are trying to tell me?”
“Why don’t you ask why I left Kelly when she needed me? Why I leave everyone when I’m needed.”
A single tear slowly slides down his burning cheek and without thinking I bend forwards to catch it with my fingertips. Peter’s arms come up in defiance and he tries to block me as if fearing an attack. His violent reaction takes my by surprise and I grip his wrists, push his fists down and pull him into a fierce embrace. After a moment he relaxes against me and his arms go around my waist. I rub soothing circles on his back, before I slide one hand up to cradle his head against my palm.
“Pop… I… I…”
“Hush,” I tell him like I did when he was a frightened, little child. “I am here.” Sometimes I wish his fears were still as small… “You are ill, Peter. Do not fight the ailment for it will only drain your strength. I will take you home.”
I release him from my embrace, but keep an arm around his waist to support him. Peter leans heavily against me, his head on my shoulder as I move us forwards. His body still radiates heat and his steps are unsure and hesitant, but at least he is able to walk. I consider shortly calling for transport, but it would take longer than to walk and I dismiss the idea.
Slowly we move toward the exit of the park, as we pass by the place where Peter, Donnie and Jody Powell had been attacked. I suppress an involuntary shiver as I remember the wave of fear, hate, rage and despair I sensed as I pushed through the crowd to get to my son.
Obviously Peter remembers also, for he stops. “You always know what to say, Pop, don’t you?”
His voice is soft, drifting towards me like a gentle breeze. My hand sneaks out of its own will up to cradle his cheek, my thumb caressing the hot skin. “I… do not always know what to say, Peter.”
I feel Peter shake his head, he chuckles – but the quiet laughter quickly dissolves into coughing. “I’ve never seen something like that before,” he murmurs as he recovers, his voice scratchy. “You just talked to them and they went from a raging mob to a docile heard of sheep trailing home…”
I twist my head to look sharply at him, uncertain if he is teasing or if the fever clouds his thoughts. A small grin tugs at the corners of his mouth and I feel a vague sense of relief. “Hardly like sheep,” I answer and push him lightly, tightening my grip around his waist to get him moving again. “I did understand their feelings. These words I said… were the one… I, too, needed to hear. Like any of them I was afraid. Desperate.”
I hear Peter catch his breath. “Afraid?” he echoes hesitantly. “You’re never afraid, Pop.”
His words, sounding so much like the breathless, unwavering belief of a child, amuses me. “Sometimes I am.”
We leave the dark, calm sanctuary of the park and step onto the streets. I sense Peter’s weariness and I pull him closer to me, to support more of his weight. I smile and pat his fingers as he lays an arm around my waist. “We will be home soon,” I promise and let my lips graze his cheek. Relieved I feel his temperature is somewhat decreased. Perhaps he really suffers only from exhaustion and not from a relapse.
“You never told me, Pop. Wish you had…”
“It has never been… easy… for me to speak of my feelings, Peter.” I find suddenly that I wish he had chosen another time to address this topic. But I quickly dismiss that notion. Instead I concentrate on steering my son during the streets of Chinatown without any delay. “It will not be long now, my son. Hold on.”
“Whatever you say, Pop.”
His words are blurred and weak. My sorrow doubles as he coughs again, a throaty, painful sound. Without breaking my stride, I press the palm of my right hand against his breastbone, giving him some of my ch’i to easy his breathing.
“No.” Peter stops and tries to push away my hand. “Don’t do…”
I ignore his small resistance and he gives in. Instead, Peter wraps his fingers around mine, trapping my hand against his chest.
“You saved all of us, Pop. You’re a hero…”
I look up and catch a little smile playing across his lips. “I did not. And I am no hero. I offered my help to these in need as it is my duty.” I caress his cheek. “Do not speak now, Peter. Save your strength - and your throat.”
“Why… I already sound like Toad from “Wind in the Willows”. You remember, Pop?”
I laugh involuntarily and pull Peter closer to me. “Yes. But now do as I tell you.” Yes, I remember reading it to him, when he was three years old. I remember holding him in my arms, in the middle of the night, while he was crying for his mother until his voice would become hoarse. I remember him falling asleep when he was all cried out and the smile that would light up his face, when I kissed his salty little cheek…
I remember everything.
* * *
Like an obedient son, Peter remains silent – but I know, it will not be for long, it is not his nature. And so I welcome the sight of the building that houses my home.
My son sends me a longsuffering glance as I direct him towards the old elevator instead using the stairs. “I’m not a cripple, Pop,” he mutters as the doors close behind us and the cubicle starts its shaky ride upwards.
I do not answer and touch the back of my hand to his forehead. His skin is still too hot, but his temperature has not further increased. Peter tilts his head up and smiles at me. I soak for a moment in the tenderness shining from his eyes, before he lays his face against my shoulder. I bend forward to kiss his cheek and hold him close to my side, sharing my warmth with my son.
We depart the elevator and I direct Peter instantly to a room in the back of the loft, where there will be less disturbances than in the main room. There is no evidence that so many people had occupied these rooms during the last days – I will visit Lo Si later to thank him, knowing that only my Master can have taken care of restoring order.
He leans against the wall, watching me, while I retrieve a futon from a wooden container to unroll it on the floor. I squat to cover it with a blanket as Peter speaks. “Looks like you’ve… you seem to have some practice…” he falters, his hoarse voice trailing off.
I hesitate and turn half to watch him struggle with words, but I say nothing.
Peter shrugs, hugging himself as if to ward off a sudden cold wind. “Is this your guest room, Pop?” His gaze sweeps the room, taking in the candles and incense sticks at the small table by the window. Otherwise the room is unfurnished.
I shake my head ‘no’ and return to the task of preparing a bed for my son. I sense the question he is afraid to ask, he wonders how many “guests” I have offered a bed and – quite a thought that puzzles me – what kind of relationship I had with them. I put this away for later contemplation and rise. “For now it is your room,” I say and frame his face with both hands. “Rest, Peter.” Traveling down my fingers to his shoulders, I help my son to shed his jacket, than direct him to the futon and make him lie down.
After removing his shoes, I cover him with a light blanket and kneel close to him. “Rest while I fetch you some tea and the remedy for the illness.” Brushing the back of my fingers across his eyes to close them and to reassure my son, I start to rise – but Peter grabs my hand, almost desperately clutching my wrist. “I will not be gone for long, my son.” I gently free my wrist and kiss his feverish forehead, before I get to my feet. This time, Peter does not react.
On my workbench sits a vial with the cure for the plague – obviously left by Lo Si. For a moment I distract myself by wondering about the foresight – or knowledge? - of the Ancient… but I quickly re-direct my thoughts and take the vial with me into the kitchen, to prepare a herbal tea that will Peter enable to sleep and help to restore his ch’i.
* * *
My son seems asleep as I enter the room minutes later. I put the cup and the vial with the herbal remedy onto the table and adjust the blinds to block out the last ray of the setting sun, before I light a single candle. Moving the low table closer to the futon, I again kneel down next to my son and touch his cheek.
Peter stirs. His lids open and the look of intensity in his hazel eyes startles me for a second… “Pop?” he asks tiredly.
“Try to sit up, Peter.” I move my hand to his shoulder and help him, clearing sensing his distaste of being so weak. “Drink this.” I hide my concern and put the vial to his lips.
Peter grimaces – I am not sure if he does so because of the taste or if he dislikes my… bedside manner. I involuntarily smile and though he cannot know my thoughts, he smiles a little with me. “You will feel better soon, Peter.”
His eyes search mine. “Promise?”
I run my fingers through his hair, brush sweat soaked strands out of his forehead. “Promise,” I willingly agree.
His smile widens and again I am stunned by the love that shines in my son’s eyes. I marvel the wonder of our reunion…
“I already feel better,” Peter confesses somewhat slyly and I caress his cheek.
“Nevertheless you will drink the tea also.” Peter is not deterred by the sternness in my voice – for I fear the tenderness in my eyes gives me away. I put off an argument by taking the cup and putting it at his mouth. My son grimaces but swallows the tea.
With a sigh, he reclines and I took him in. The tension leave Peter’s body and his eyes start to close…
“Don’t leave, Pop. Stay with me,” he murmurs.
I do not hesitate, but move to stretch out on the floor next to him. “I will stay,” I whisper, my mouth close to his ear. Peter smiles as he feels my closeness and lifts his head. Taking up his hint, I slide my arm across the futon so he can rest his head upon it. From there he almost naturally comes in my embrace, rolling to his side, he snuggles up to me. With a smile I put my free arm around his waist and hold him close. I reach around him to rearrange the blanket and caress his back to relax him further. Feeling his breath at the side of my face, I remember holding him thus when he was a little boy until his nightmares vanished.
I pray this time his sleep will be free of frightful dreams.
* * *
Morning is near as Peter’s restlessness wakes me. Gray light flitters through the blinds and enables me to watch my son. Sometime during the night he slipped from my embrace and turned to the other side, so now his back is to me. I sense he is awake, so I get up and settle in lotus next to the futon. As I reach out and touch his shoulder, I feel his body going stiff. After a moment, Peter rolls to his back and his lids flatter open.
In the dim light his eyes are very dark, shadows smooth his features, leaving him with the soft look of a child. I touch his cheek and his forehead with the back of my hand and find his temperature is back to normal, the skin dry and soft.
“You are feeling better.” I curl my fingers around his neck and count the steady beat of his heart.
Peter licks his lips, averting his gaze. “I am better.” His hand covers my fingers, squeezing lightly. “Thanks for staying…for… holding me,” he adds quietly. “You must’ve been uncomfortable on the floor.”
I shake my head and smile to reassure him. Then I move to get up – but Peter does not release me. Beneath my fingertips I feel the acceleration of his heartbeat.
“Don’t,” Peter whispers. “Not yet. It’s hardly morning. Stay with me, please, Pop. Just a few minutes more. Please.”
I tip his chin up to better watch his face. There is something in his features… I cannot read… And suddenly I fear to unveil the thoughts of my unpredictable son… Yet I cannot bear to see him troubled. “Peter?”
A sad smile crosses his lips. “I want too much – right, father? I get too close and you back up.” Peter pulls my hand from his neck and turns to study my palm.
I cup his cheek and make him look at me. “What is it you are trying to tell me, my son.”
Peter turns into the caress; his lips skim the inside of my fingers in… almost a kiss. “I love you.”
Heat spreads from his touch and I slowly withdraw my hand. “You need more rest.”
“Don’t you listen to me, Pop?”
“I do.” A vague uneasiness settles upon me as I hear disappointment and pain in Peter’s words. “But now is not the right time for talking, my son. Your strength is returning, yet you need to allow your body more time to heal.”
With a sigh, Peter turns away from me, settling more comfortably on his side, one arm bend and shoved beneath his head. I reach over him to took the blanket more closely around his body. I listen to the stifled sounds of Peter’s yawing and smile. He is more tired than he realizes. For a moment I bend down low and press my cheek against his, like I did when he was a baby.
“Stay with me,” he says very quietly.
“I will be close,” I answer and brush my fingers through the unruly hair at the back of his head. Drawing a line down his neck and around his shoulder, I rest my hand at his upper arm. Peter’s skin heats beneath my touch, but his body does not relax in slumber. Fine tremors course the lean form of my son and I wonder…
“I can’t sleep,” Peter interrupts my thoughts. Shifting his head slightly, he sends me a pleading gaze over his shoulder. “Can’t you… lie with me, Pop? Just once. I feel so…” He stops and shrugs, averting his eyes once more. “It felt good tonight. I felt so… safe.”
I hesitate, sensing a second meaning behind his words – but I am unable to determine it. I did hold Peter when he was a child and I held him tonight. He might be a man now, but he is still my son – so why does his request now fill me with uncertainty?
I hesitate and ponder my choices. If I decline and leave him now, I will unnecessarily hurt Peter, for I know he will feel rejected. He always does, even if it is entirely unintentional. If I stay… what damage can grow out of an embrace? What disaster can our closeness breed? I already missed too many opportunities to hold him…
With this I make up my mind and settle down on the vacant space of the futon, close to Peter. Sliding an arm loosely around his waist, I wait for his reaction. For a long minute he lies very still, than I feel Peter relax against me. With a smile I bury my face in his silken hair.
* * *
I did not intend to sleep. However the last few days must have tired me more than I realized. Vague sunlight comes through the blinds and informs me, that we have well slept into the morning, as I wake, lying on my back. But is not the light that roused me. An almost imperceptible touch travels across my skin. Fingertips mapping my features, trace the lines on my face as if they could wipe them away by magic. The touch is gentle, loving, curious and… searching? I open my lids to meet liquid hazel eyes, filled with a longing I cannot identify. “Peter.”
He kneels close to me, his thigh pressed against my side. Heat emerges from where our bodies touch, but Peter is not feverish. I lift my hand to remove his fingers from my face.
“Don’t move… Pop, please. Let me…” He hesitates, biting down onto his lower lip.
My hand drops back to the futon.
Peter’s finger slide sideward to cup my cheek in a familiar gesture. I smile and close my eyes. He bends low and I expect him to kiss me onto the forehead, like he sometimes does. Soft, warm lips hesitantly cover mine and I gasp with shock. Peter’s lips leave mine and travel across my cheek.
After a second I turn away from his caress, dislodging his grip on my face.
I do not open my eyes. Instead I listen… to the harsh sound of Peter’s breathing, to the wild flutter of his heart, so loud it must fill the room, the dampened echo of the streets below… to anything except my wheeling thoughts.
Peter sits very still; except for his finger I feel trembling against the side of my neck. He is confused and filled with fear – but I also sense his arousal… It is an even greater shock than Peter’s kiss.
I open my eyes and wet my dry lips, in a nervous gesture unlike me. It must be only my imagine that they feel and taste different… “Peter.”
My voice, sounding normal, seems to shake him from his state of stunned immobility. Peter withdraws, sitting back on his heels. His eyes drop to his hands, clutched in front of him. “I-I… I’m sorry,” he finally whispers. “I… don’t know why…I… must be. still the fever.”
It is a lie. I clearly sense his longing, deep confusion - and despair. But I find that I am bereft of words that would soothe him. And I do not dare to take refuge to my only other means of comfort – touch. I feel like everything could break apart if I touch Peter now, so strong is the tension filling the room.
Yet… I cannot bear to see my son in such pain. I slowly sit up and kneel next to him, our knees almost touching. I cover his hands with mine, gently unfolding the fingers, clenched into fists. “Peter.”
“Don’t be mad with me,” he whispers. “I’m sorry.” He lifts his face to look at me and I study his anxious, pale features.
“I am not angry,” I answer. “You… did nothing that requires forgiveness. The last few days have been very stressful for you, your emotions are confused.”
Disappointment fills his beautiful eyes before the veil of his lashes takes it away. “I’m late. I’ve to go.” Despite his words he makes no movement to leave.
But I do something I have done seldom in the past – I take the easiest way out. I release his hands and sit back on my heels. “Yes.”
Peter hesitates for some moments, then he gets to his feet. Still kneeling on the futon, I watch my son slip into his shoes and fetch his jacket. His back is turned to me, stiff and ungiving.
Just before he leaves the room, he turns to face me. “I’m sorry.” His words drop into the silent, drawing circles, just like pebbles falling into a lake.
I find, that I cannot trust my voice and so I nod only.
Peter waits for an answer – then he turns and leaves me alone with the turmoil of my thoughts.
Just for a second I recall the feel of his lips on my, the gentle pressure, the taste… the heat of his body curled up to mine…
I bend my head in shame. It cannot be. He is my son, not one to be desired. Whatever misdirected his feelings, it is my duty, to guide him back to his way.
But still I wonder…