Freedom (by Katherine)

Summary:   A special day for Laura.
Category:  Kung Fu–The Legend Continues
Genre:  Drama
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  2243


“You don’t have to do this, Love. It’ll be all right,” Laura Caine told her husband, trying to put conviction in her words. “This really isn’t necessary.”

A faint smile crinkled the corners of Kwai Chang Caine’s eyes. “I can handle this, Laura. Please, do not be concerned.”

“Are you sure, My Love.? This really may be going above and beyond. . .”

He brushed his index finger across her lips, then leaned in to give her a light kiss. “It will be all right, My Wife.” He tightened his lips in determination, and said bravely, “After all I am Shaolin.”

“I don’t think even Lao Tzu contemplated Peter when he wrote the Tao, Sweetheart. And taking our son to the woods with you while you look for herbs is just asking for trouble.” She looked at him worriedly.

“I must get the herbs. My supply is running low, and you need them,”” he told her softly. “Peter will be all right. He is my son. I will care for him. Please, go to town, take some time for yourself.” He nodded at her encouragingly, and turned her around, gently pushing her toward the door of their cottage.

She hesitated at the door, then she smiled. Then, touching his shoulder in salute to a brave comrade, she marched down the sidewalk, not daring to look back.

He watched her go, then turned back into the little house. The silence was oppressive. He knew from sad experience that a quiet Peter was not a good omen at all. His worst fears were realized when he could not find his son in any of the child’s favorite places in the cottage. The young couple had learned to keep the doors shut and locked, lest their son be found wandering outside, trying to widen his horizons for trouble.

The day was warm, and sunny, so the doors were open and the screen doors at the front and back of the house were securely latched. The screens were still intact. Caine sighed in relief, then squared his shoulders and began a more painstaking search for his child. Concentrating hard, making himself one with the house and opening his being to its every nuance, he finally located the child, helped immeasurable by a loud crash and a satisfied giggle. He found his child seated on the floor in his nursery, covered in dust and smiling happily among a pile of the books which his parents read to him before bedtime.

He looked up at his father, and smiled angelically. Holding up his favorite book, he pointed at a picture and said, “Tigger,” followed by a long discourse which his father listened to carefully, without understanding a single word. The toddler nodded, happily, apparently assured that his father appreciated the importance of what he was telling him.

With a sigh, Caine picked up the books, then took his son into the bathroom to remove as much dust as possible, not wanting to know where the child had been to get so dirty. “I am glad your mother did not see this,” Kwai Chang said seriously. Peter watched, mesmerized as he always was when his father talked to him. “Since we will be in the woods, I do not feel that it is necessary to clean you up completely. I am sure I will have to do so again when we return.”

Without waiting for his son’s agreement, he picked up his child, his pouch and his flute case and found himself unable to unlatch the screen door, since his hands were full. Shrugging, he deftly swung his foot upward, catching the hook and sliding it out. He considered locking the door for a brief moment, then tilted his head at the toddler and grinned. “Shall we go, My Son?”

Laura wandered through town, thankful that it was one of her good days. As her disease progressed, there were more bad days than good ones. Despite everything her husband could do, the disease had not been stopped. The herbs he gave her had slowed its progress, giving her more time than any of the doctors had anticipated, but she knew that she didn’t have much longer. Kwai Chang knew it, too, but he seldom spoke of it, just gave her loving support and the rock of his love to cling to. It had been his idea for her to have some time alone, without having to deal with her rambunctious son and his misadventures. She took a deep breath, enjoying the feeling of the sun on her face, and a few hours of freedom.

She smiled in greeting, at the man who was coming toward her. He wore the robes of a Shaolin priest, and his shaven head shone in the bright sunshine.

“Hello, Dao,” she said softly.

He smiled in return, but she saw the flash of sorrow in his eyes. Everyone in town knew that Laura Caine, the woman who was married to that cultist priest, was terminally ill. There had been no point in hiding it, everyone in town knew when someone sneezed, anyway.

“How are you, Laura?” He spoke softly, as if in deference to her condition. He took her hand and held it, unmindful of the stares of the people who walked past them.

“I feel very well, today, Dao,” she told him. I’m running some errands, then I might go to a movie. I haven’t decided.”

“May I accompany you?” he asked hesitantly, still holding her hand.

She pried her hand from his and shook her head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Dao. Kwai Chang wouldn’t mind, but the whole town would be talking. Our lives are public property anyway, I don’t want to add to the gossip.”

Dao’s lips tightened angrily. “This is his fault. If you had married me. . .”

“If I had married you, this still would have happened,” she said firmly. “But I didn’t. I know I hurt you, Dao, but I knew from the first time I saw him that there could never be anyone else.”

“We were happy, Laura,” the priest began, but she shook her head.

“We were, we are good friends, Dao, nothing more. Now, please, walk with me to the grocery. Tell me about Ping Hai. How is he? I haven’t seen him in a week, at least. . .”

Later, walking alone through town with several small bags in hand, she felt a sense of accomplishment. Her errands were all done. Almost all. She stood in front of the post office, staring at the letter in her hand. It was addressed to her parents, one last plea for understanding. Her other letters han been returned unopened, but her husband had encouraged her to try one more time. He had even offered to let her use some of their meager funds to call her family from a pay phone, but she refused. Closing her eyes for a moment, she squared her shoulders and went into the post office.

She walked back to the cottage, noting the remnants of Peter’s morning adventure, and put away the things she had bought. Then, she wandered around the little cottage, revelling in the thought that she could do anything she wanted to do. Stopping suddenly, she realized what that was.

Kwai Chang Caine leaned against a tree, watching his son sleep. He smiled, checking to make sure that the herbs he had found were intact. His pouch looked a little the worse for wear; Peter had dragged it through the woods, babbling happily to his father while Kwai Chang kept one eye on his child and one eye out for the herbs he was looking for.

When he completed his search, Caine pulled a blanket from his pouch and sat down. Peter, never one to be still, had run around the tree several times, stopping to show his father wonders like a caterpillar, sunning itself on a leaf. The man pulled out his flute and started playing softly. The toddler’s activities slowed, and he finally came and sat down by his father, listening to the flute. It wasn’t long before the child was sleeping soundly, while Caine continued to play softly.

He stopped playing, and put away his flute, folding into lotus position, and throwing his head back as he began meditation.

Laura walked through the woods, not liking the quiet. But she continued, finding a direction when she heard the flute in the distance. She stopped at the edge of a clearing, imprinting in her mind the picture of her husband, sitting under the tree, with their son beside him. Smiling, she walked to her family and sat down. Kwai Chang opened his eyes, and looked at Laura with an upraised eyebrow. “You were to take some time for yourself,” he said mildly.

“And do whatever I wanted to, right?”

“Yes,” he agreed solemnly.

“And that’s what I’m doing, My Love. I want to be with you and Peter.” She sat down, then lay down by the tree, putting her head on his thigh. He smiled, brushing the hair from her forehead. They sat in silence for several moments; she closed her eyes, enjoying the feel of his gentle touch and the warmth of the sunshine.

She finally whispered, “I could stay here forever.”

He didn’t answer, which wasn’t unusual, but something about the quality of his silence made her look at him. Compassion shone in her eyes, and she reached up to gently wipe away the tears that were spilling down his face. He lifted her, cradling her against him, and laying his cheek beside hers. They held each other for a long time, not needing words. They simply gave each other comfort, each clinging to the other for solace and support.

When Peter began stirring, she said, wearily, “Kwai Chang, I think I need to go home.” He stood and helped her to her feet. They gathered up the pouch and flute, and Caine shouldered his still sleepy son while Laura folded the blanket. They walked home, the man carrying his child while his wife walked beside him, holding on to him and keeping her fingers entwined with his.

Laura rested for the rest of the day, but she woke up when she heard Kwai Chang softly reading to Peter in the nursery. She crept into her son’s room and found Caine, in the rocking chair, finishing one of the Pooh books, while the toddler slept peacefully in his arms. She kissed the baby’s forehead and told him goodnight, then Caine carefully put the child in his bed. Peter always slept well in his parents arms, but it was usually “iffy” as to whether he would sleep once he was in his bed. Tonight, he slept on without complaint.

Caine took Laura’s hand, intending to lead her back to bed, but she resisted. “I want us to stay in here with Peter for awhile,” she explained. He moved her over to the rocking chair; she shook her head. “Please sit down, My Love,” she said shyly.

“Where will you sit?” he asked, sitting uncomfortably in the rocker.

Grinning wickedly, she said, “Here,” and sat down in his lap, resting her head against his shoulder. His arms came around her, and he held her tenderly, beginning a gentle, rocking motion She fell asleep, but he continued to hold her, letting the peace of the room soothe him….

Laura woke in her bed, but her husband was not beside her. She sat up; it was still dark outside. It was not unheard of for her to waken and find Kwai Chang gone, but tonight she could not go back to sleep. She got up and put on her robe, tying it around her while she walked into Peter’s room. Her baby was still sleeping soundly.
Caine wasn’t in the house. She knew he was nearby; she could feel his presence. She walked to the back door. The door stood open, and the screen door was not latched. She could make out movement in the small shed the young priest used for working with plants and herbs. “He must be fixing the herbs for me,” she said to herself.
Carefully, she opened the screen door, and closed it quietly behind her. As she drew closer to the building, she heard a sound she had never heard before. Her husband was crying, not merely tears, but heart-wrenching sobs which tore at her being. She stepped forward, but then stopped. After listening for another minute, she quietly turned and went back into the house.

When he finally came to bed, she waited for him to lie down, then pulled his arm around herself and rested her head on his shoulder.

“You should be sleeping,” he told her, softly. But he put his other arm around her, encircling her in his warmth.

“I love you,” she murmured, snuggling closer.

“And I you,” he replied; his voice was hoarser than normal, but she didn’t remark on it.

“I won’t leave you, My Love,” she murmured against his shoulder. “I’ll be here whenever you need me.”

He sighed, and drew a deep breath. “I will always need you, Laura,” he responded, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead. They held each other until their son woke up, demanding, a clean diaper, food and parental attention, not necessarily in that order.

***End***

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