Originally published in That was Zen, This is Tao #3
Episode:  Challenge


by MJ Mink

He handed back the jasmine blossom with a gesture that fell just short of apology, but conveyed his love.  Caine stared into the flower, lost in memories of Laura.  Peter patted his father's shoulder.

"I have to get to work, P--Dad.  I just stopped by to...uh, be sure you were okay.  Your wrist, is it still...?"

Caine lifted his hand and the silk sleeve fell back.  The wrist was marked, but the wound was fully closed.

"Amazing.  You gotta teach me how to do that."

His father smiled faintly.  "May I see your injury?"

"Sure."  He shrugged out of his jacket and unbuttoned his right cuff.  "Hey, we were both hurt in the arm.  Does that mean something?"

"Coincidence?" his father offered.

"Oh."  He was a little disappointed, hoping for some kind of psychic injury connection.  His heart beat faster when his wrist was circled by his father's firm grip.  Yesterday had been the first time since their reunion that he'd felt truly comfortable with his father.  Truly loved.

Over the years, he'd deliberately forgotten the enormity of his father's love, the endless care and devotion that Caine had bestowed upon him in his youth.  In Tan's labyrinth, when he'd rested his head for a fleeting moment on his father's shoulder, the emotions had burst through him, intensely, joyously familiar.

And his father felt them, too.  Immeasurable love had appeared on Caine's face - and its sudden emergence had plainly astonished him.  I needed you that night...perhaps even more than you needed me.  The revelation amazed Peter.  He'd been a crying child - and his father needed him?

Did he still?  Could Caine need his-son-the-cop for anything other than backup against the bad guys?

Need or not, yesterday his father's love had been unmistakable.  Peter sighed happily.

Caine removed the bandage and rubbed his thumb gently across the stitches.  "I will put a poultice on it."

"The hospital put somethin'...antibiotics or whatever."

Caine retrieved a small jar and scooped into it with his fingers, dabbing a brown mixture onto the gash.

Peter sniffed it.  "Doesn't smell too bad."

"Out of consideration for your fellow officers," his father said.

Peter blinked, then chuckled.  "Thanks, Dad."

Armed with concessions to modern conveniences, a gauze pad and two adhesive bandages, his father finished binding his arm with the skill and gentleness of a practiced healer.  Peter stared at it, scrambling for something more to say, something to extend this intimate interlude.

His father broke the tension.  Still clasping Peter's wrist, he raised it to his lips and kissed the bandage.  "Have I...'made it better'?" he inquired lightly.

Peter laughed, flustered but pleased.  "You remember!  I was a whiny kid for awhile, wasn't I?"

"For awhile," Caine agreed.  "And, Peter...I remember everything."  He continued to study the bandage, and Peter wondered what he was looking for.  Then Caine released his hand.

"Well...."  Peter reluctantly retrieved his jacket and slipped it on.  "I guess I'll see you...um....  Want to have dinner or something?  Tonight or...I mean, if you're busy, we can do it another time."

Caine's silence went on for so long that Peter became nervous.  "Another time, then.  No rush.  Just, uh, let me know--"

"I would be pleased to dine with you tonight."

"Great."  Christ, this was worse than asking for a date!  "I'll come by about--"  He bit back 'eight'.  "--six, okay?"  Might as well take advantage and get in as much quality time as possible with his elusive, baffling, wonderful father.

Caine bowed.

Peter bounded outdoors to his car, feeling elated and --

He wasn't sure.  But whatever it was, it felt good.

He was still floating when he reached the precinct.  "Morning, everybody!" he called, bestowing a sunny smile on his coworkers.

"He's in love again," Broderick commented dryly.

"No, I'm not," he answered smugly as he slipped behind his desk.

"I think you're right, Sarge," Janet Morgan said, eyeing him.  "I recognize that look - seen it many times.  Who's my rival, Caine?"

"My father," he replied flippantly.  "So don't break your heart over me just yet.  You still got a chance."

"If it's not love, then it's a gunfight," Strenlich muttered.  "Kill somebody on the way to work?"

His bright mood slipped a little.  "Not funny."

"Detective Caine."  Paul Blaisdell dropped a thick file on his desk.  "You need to clean up this report.  Especially the part about how Tan ended up with a blade in his spine."

"It's already in there," he mumbled defensively.

"Chan and Wong have a different version."

He shrugged.  "Of course they do - they're criminals.  Why?  What do they say?"

"That your father stabbed Tan in the back."

Peter jumped to his feet.  "He did not!"  Emphatically, he shoved his finger at Blaisdell's chest, but stopped before it contacted.  "It happened just the way I wrote it.  Tan fell on the blade.  I'll be damned if I'll change my report because those two assholes are trying to cut a deal - or get the blood off their own hands!"

"Blood?  Are you saying they killed Tan?"

"No, I--"  He stopped, confused.  "They tried to kill me and the Ancient."

"They've admitted to the fight."

"Yeah, well....  So what's the problem?"

Paul's face tightened.  "Come into my office," he said in a low voice.

Clutching the file, Peter followed.  He slammed the door behind them and dropped into the chair opposite his captain, his expression forbidding.  "Yes, sir?"

Paul sighed.  "Look, Peter, I realize you want to protect your father, but--"

"Are you saying I falsified an official incident report?"  He leaned forward and slapped the file on the desk.  "It happened the way I say it happened."

"Your father and Tan fought.  Tan died as a result of that fight.  Even if your father didn't intend to kill him, there are still a number of possible charges that could be filed."  Paul rolled the report into a tube and batted it against his hand.

"Lesser degrees of murder," Peter said bitterly.

"Manslaughter.  Possibly self-defense.  Peter, the D.A. is going to want some kind of resolution."

He leaned back in the chair and interlaced his fingers, twisting them.  "I don't want my father charged.  He didn't do anything wrong."

"That may not be possible.  Chan and Wong will testify to the use of weapons."

"Make it possible!"  He glowered at the man who'd helped raise him.  "Those two will testify to anything - or nothing.  Whatever's in their best interest.  I'll...I'll rewrite the report."

"Falsify it?"

"If I have to," he muttered uncomfortably, suspecting his declaration did no good.  Paul always saw through his dramatic defiances.  "I won't allow my father to be charged.  I won't have him put in jail or made to go through a trial."

"A man died," Paul said and coolly met his gaze.

Peter knew they were both thinking of Moab, Utah.  "He was evil."

"Damnit, Peter!"  Paul threw the rolled papers across his desk.  They fanned out and spilled onto the floor.  "You're losing your edge!  Since your father came back--"

"Maybe I'm finally seeing the truth!"  He rose and towered over his captain.  "You'd like it fine if it was you I was protecting!"

Blaisdell's lips thinned.  "Back off, Detective Caine!  Remember I'm your commanding officer."

He straightened, feeling tension draw up into a knot in his stomach.  "And he's my father!  I'll do everything I can to protect him."

"Even though he left you for fifteen years."

The undercurrent of bitterness in Paul's words took him by surprise.

Just what I need.

"Is that what this is about?  You're--"  He swallowed the words.  You're jealous.  But what good will it do to talk about it?  You want reassurances that I don't know how to give.  "Look.  Paul.  I'm not letting him go again.  He's not leaving, he's not going to jail, he's not gonna die -- nothing's going to happen to him that isn't going to happen to me, too."

Blaisdell's eyes narrowed, and Peter watched him closely, saw the exact moment when his resolve wavered, and jumped on it.

"You charge my father, you charge me, too.  He's not leaving me - and I'm not abandoning him to the wolves."  Where had the hoarseness in his voice come from?  He rubbed one hand across his mouth.  He felt raw, his feelings laid bare, displayed for everyone to rip apart like he was some kind of carnival freak, the emotional free-for-all booth.  Step right up!  Split Peter Caine in half.  Six tries for a quarter.

Paul leaned back in his chair, sliding the pen between his teeth and gnawing on one end.  "You're trading on our relationship by asking for special privileges for your father."

He shrugged.  "So?"

"Peter, it's not--"

"Aw, don't give me the right and wrong lecture!"  He paced across the room; it was too small, like a cage.  He wanted to howl and shake the bars until they broke apart.  "If Annie was in trouble, you'd throw away all the rules for your wife!  Well, this is my father.  And he didn't do anything wrong.  Back off, Paul.  Let him be.  Let us be.  We need time."


"All right - yes!"  He whirled and braced his arms on the desk, glaring into Paul's eyes.  "Yes, I'm trading on our relationship.  Yes, I'm asking for a special favor - this time and every other time.  I don't care if he kills a hundred people, I'll ask every time.  He's my life."

The last words cut through him, an unexpected attack dredged from someplace in his past.  He is my life.  He turned and looked out across the squadroom. I'm a cop.  My job is my life.

I'm Kwai Chang Caine's son.  Following my father is my life.


He lowered his head and pressed it against the coolness of the window jamb, regathering the strength that had abruptly deserted him.

"All right."

He turned.  Paul Blaisdell was bending over, collecting the papers from the floor.  Peter squatted and finished gathering them.

"Clean it up.  Patch the holes."  The older man opened a log book and leaned over it.  "Get back to work, Detective."

"Yes, sir."  He hesitated, but Blaisdell didn't look up.  "Thanks...Paul."

His foster father didn't answer.

Peter left the office, feeling inexplicably sullied.

I did the right thing.  I saved my father.

That was all that mattered.  He hadn't done what his father abhorred - he hadn't sacrificed his honor.  After all, Caine had to do what he did.  He was innocent of murder --

Wasn't he?

If his father had a telephone, he probably would have called and cancelled their dinner.

But he didn't, so at precisely six o'clock, Peter pulled his car into an empty space half a block from the kwoon.  He turned off the ignition and sat there, collecting his thoughts.  Tan's death had been shadowing him all day, lurking behind the other cases he'd worked and every conversation he'd had.

You owe me an explanation, he silently told his father, wondering if he'd have the courage to say it to that serene face.

He levered himself out of the car and walked the short distance.  The kwoon was empty - he wished his father would learn to lock the damn door! Flicking the lock behind him, he proceeded up the stairs.  An aroma set his stomach rumbling.

"Dad?"  He followed his nose and found his father.  "You're cooking.  Did you forget we're going to dinner?"

Unhurriedly, Caine stirred the pot, turned off the gas flame, and replaced the lid before answering.  "I thought I would cook for you."

"Oh.  Great," he responded without enthusiasm.  He leaned over and lifted the lid.  "It's rice.  It doesn't smell like rice."

Caine gestured to the small oven.  "Vegetarian lasagna."

"Vegetarian lasagna!" he repeated, surprised.  The 'vegetarian' part was intimidating, but he was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.  "Sounds...um, good.  I didn't know you could make that kind of stuff.  What, uh...kind of vegetables?"


"Eggplant."  He forced a smile.  "My favorite."

Caine sent him a sharp glance.  Peter kept the smile on his face.

"So, did you have a good day, Pop?  Dad."

The head inclined.  "It was...full."

Well, don't give me any details.  He walked around his father and opened a few cupboards.  They were mostly empty.  "Don't you have any plates?"

Caine pointed to a lower cabinet.  Peter retrieved two plain white china plates.  "Steal these from a restaurant, huh?"


At least I got a word out of you.  He grinned, unrepentant.  "Probably got your towels from a hotel, right?"

His father opened the oven, carefully donned mitts, and removed a pottery dish in which lasagna bubbled.  He placed it on the vacant burners, closed the oven and laid the mitts aside.

"You're so precise," Peter murmured.  It wasn't the first time he'd thought about it.  "I'll never be that way."

Caine paused and studied him.  "You are a...marksman," he observed.  "Does that not require precision?"

"Yeah, but...."  He couldn't think of an argument.  "That's different," he said weakly.

"You use a computer.  You testify in court trials.  You complete detailed reports.  All those acts require precision."

"Yeah."  He didn't want to think about trials and reports right now.  "But that stuff is the boring part of my job.  It's not me."

"Your...train set?"

"A toy," he said, dismissing the countless hours he'd spent on it.

"Ah."  Caine stared at the plates in his hand.

Peter flushed and carried them to the table.  He returned for silverware, chopsticks, water glasses and delicate ivory napkins.

"A very...precise setting, my son."

He grinned.  "Yeah, but this is...simple, it's just setting a table."

"Yet you found my simple act of removing our dinner from the oven to be precise."

"Yeah, but --"

"'Yeah but'?"

He felt his cheeks heat again.  His father's hands framed his face, cooling his fever.  He lifted his eyes and met the level gaze.  The dark eyes were filled with wonder and puzzlement, as if Caine was as uncertain as his son.  That wasn't possible, of course.  His father was always sure of everything.

"Why did you kill Tan?" Peter blurted.

Damn!  Why the hell had that come out now?

But the question was spoken, and he refused to retract it.

The hands dropped, and their withdrawal angered him.

"You intended for him to die.  But you told me there's always another way.  I want to know the truth - and don't give me that crap about evil.  I don't buy it."

Caine folded a towel and placed it in the center of the wooden surface.  He donned the mitts again and carried the lasagna to the table.  He returned to the kitchen to scoop the rice into a bowl that he also toted to the table.  He put large spoons in both the containers.

"Will you please talk to me?"

Water was next, a pitcher of it lined up with the food.  Caine sat at the table and spooned rice onto his plate.

Peter paced in a circle, running his fingers through his hair.  "Damnit!  Why won't you answer me?"  He grabbed the high back of his chair and leaned against it, staring down at the bent head.  "Pop -- why did you kill Tan?"

He wanted to wrap his hands around that stubborn throat and throttle it until the words spilled out.  But it wouldn't work, nothing he said or did would work.  Defeated, he sank into the chair and stared at the plate.  His emotions plummeted, and he felt tears lurking dangerously close to the surface.  He had to get out.  "I gotta --"

"It brought me no honor," his father said in a low voice.

Peter held his breath.


He waited as long as he could.  "Destroying evil brought no honor?"

His father picked up his chopsticks.  For a moment, they hovered over the rice, then they were laid aside.  "My intent was not...clear."

What did that mean?  "Your intent?  You mean your motive for...fighting him," Peter thought aloud.  It was an easy path to follow.  "Were you angry?  About the temple?  I can understand that.  He destroyed it.  You said he was almost like a brother.  Hell, why wouldn't you lose your temper?  If I'd known that Tan was Master Dao when I first met him, I would've done the same thing."

The gray head shook.  "It was not precisely the destruction of the temple that unleashed my...."  His father looked up.  His thumb lifted and briefly pressed into Peter's chin.  Caine sighed.  "My action was unworthy."

Peter was frozen into immobility. Me, he thought, incredulous that he hadn't understood sooner, it was me, my death, our separation that pushed you over the edge.  Pushed you to throw aside everything you believed and taught - allowed you to watch a man die.

You intended to kill Tan and--

God help me, I'm glad I was your reason.

"Well, my thoughts are unworthy," he said shakily and patted the hand that rested on the table, still a little awkward about initiating contact.  "Are you gonna have some of that lasagna or is it all for me?  I'm starving."

Caine didn't answer, so Peter scooped the mixture onto both their plates.  He wasn't certain what eggplant was, but this looked like real lasagna.  He poked it with his fork and hesitated.  "You know...I love you, Pop.  And I think your intent...came from the heart."

Caine winced and said nothing.

Peter stifled a sigh.  He tasted the lasagna.  "Oh, shit!" he exclaimed.  "That's hot!"  He poured water into his glass and swallowed it hastily.  "Can't get burned - you'd want to put a poultice on my tongue."

"A remedy that would have a low...probability of success."

"Yeah, right, you mean I talk so much, the poultice would never stay in place.  I'm starting to understand you, P--Dad, so be careful what you say."

"I will try to be more cautious."

The look that was leveled at him made him pause.  "Sometimes you're too cautious.  Don't go out of your way to be cryptic."

One eyebrow raised, then Caine picked up the chopsticks again and took a small mouthful of rice.

Peter blew on a heaping fork of lasagna and nibbled cautiously at the edges.  "Hey, this is pretty good," he exclaimed.  "Were you a professional cook for those fifteen years?"

Caine shook his head.

He waited, though he didn't really believe he'd get any more details to fill the blank period of his father's life.  He reached over and ladled a spoonful of rice onto his plate -- just to please his father.  He mixed it with the lasagna and ate it quickly.  "Terrific."

His father sent him that look again which he finally interpreted as disbelief.

"I mean it.  Rice isn't so bad when you mush it with other stuff.  Like rice pudding.  I used to eat that."

The look returned, doubled.

"Oh.  But at least I tried, right?  That's what counts."  He stuffed his mouth with lasagna and immediately decided he shouldn't take such big bites.  He couldn't talk that way, and the silence made him nervous.

They finished dinner, Peter upholding most of the conversation.  "Brandy on the terrace?" he asked as he helped clear the table.

"I have no brandy and no terrace."



Peter shrugged.  "Not a very good one."  He wandered across the room and leaned against the wall, sliding down and pulling his legs up.  "You need some furniture.  Want me to buy a sofa?  Broderick has a pickup I can borrow to bring it over."

His father shook his head.  "It is not necessary."

"Well, I'd like to have something to sit on when I come over," he complained.  "I'll bring a chair, okay?"

"If you wish."  Unexpectedly, Caine sat beside him on the floor - sideways, so he could stare at Peter.  "Something more troubles you."

"Yeah," he admitted.  "Does it show?"

His father shrugged.  "You are...tense."

One hand grasped his shoulder, its fingers probing and rubbing.  Peter shifted and presented his back to Caine.  "That feels great," he said in a broad hint.

He tilted his head sideways and saw the half-smile.  The second hand fastened on his other shoulder, and he bent his neck appreciatively.  His tight muscles were kneaded - sometimes too hard, as if his father didn't realize his own power.

Memories floated to the surface of his mind...there had been other times, years ago, another life.  When he was a boy.  Sometimes, after an especially strenuous workout, his father would soothe his sore muscles with oil and firm hands.

How could he have forgotten?

Under the familiar grip, his tension melted away, and Peter closed his eyes.

"What troubles you?"

"Mmm...?"  He tried to refocus his mind.  His worries of the day seemed less important than they had earlier.  "Oh...Paul wanted to...charge you...you know, about Tan.  I talked him out of it."

The movements of the hands didn't falter, and Peter was certain that he no longer had muscles in his neck.  Never again would it have the strength to hold up his head.

"How did you do that, my son?"

"I, um...."  What was the question?  "Uh...I told him....  Well...I said if he charged you, he'd have to...uh, charge me, too."

A long moment passed.  Slowly, the massage came to a halt.  "You...blackmailed him?"

Peter flinched as the hands dropped away.  He turned around and hung his head.  "I guess."  He stared at his father's fingers.  They were folded together and resting loosely on his crossed legs.  It brought back memories of the temple.  The hands, the wedding ring, so familiar....  "I wanted to protect you."

"That is not necessary."

Of course not.  There's nothing I can do that you can't do a thousand times better.  You don't need me for anything.  "I want to," he repeated stubbornly.

This time there was no response.  He remembered when he was little and could climb onto his father's lap, secure in the knowledge that he would be cuddled and hugged, have a song sung to him, have his chin cuffed or his ribs tickled.  Now....

He looked up and met his father's eyes.

And could read absolutely nothing.  Because there was nothing in them to read.

He looked away.  Beside him, his finger drew circles on the wooden floor.  There wasn't even a light coating of dust to hold his mark; everything was so damn clean.  So perfect.

The only imperfection in the room was Peter Caine.

I'm sorry I disappoint you, but I'm not sorry for what I did.

His father rose.  Peter looked up.

"I will make tea," Caine said, and Peter knew that because of love, his sin had been put aside --

But not forgiven.

He stood, rubbing his palms on his jeans.  "I'm sorry.  I...suppose you're not very...happy with me."  He looked directly at his father.

The steady gaze held a hint of sorrow.  One hand reached up and cradled Peter's cheek in its warm grasp.  Caine shook his head, and Peter's heart plummeted.

"What?  You want to go to jail?  That's the alternative.  If that's what you want--"  He tried to pull away from the comforting touch, but his father's grip slid down to his neck and refused to release him.

"What you did...."  Caine's expression became tender, and his fingers loosened.  "It was my sin also.  In that, we are alike."

A split-second of confusion vanished when understanding blasted him.  Caine letting Tan die...Peter jeopardizing his job, his future and his relationship with his foster father....

He stared into the brown eyes that were so like his own.  After a few seconds, he nodded, and his father's hand dropped away.

Peter folded his arms and shivered, then straightened and moved toward the kitchen.  "I'll help you with the tea.  Got any cookies to go with it?"