Episode: The Lacquered Box


by MJ Mink


"I followed you because you went with men you did not trust. I knew you were in danger. You also knew."

Peter scowled at his father's simple words. "That's not the point," he insisted stubbornly. "I specifically told you to quit dogging me."

Caine's lips twitched very slightly. "Neither of us is particularly adept at doing what he is told."

The fact that his dad was right did nothing to appease Peter's annoyance. Neither did the unarguable fact that if his father hadn't followed, he'd be dead instead of weak as a kitten, recovering from the speedball they'd shot into his belly. That double knowledge didn't help his struggle to find a reasonable argument. "You don't understand," he eventually mumbled, falling back on life-long logic.

He didn't have to look to know that the gray head was tilting in a very recognizable way, the posture Caine used when he was studying Peter like he had a strange bug under his microscope.

"I'm a cop," he continued, altering the disagreement to an angle he could defend more easily. "It's my job to protect you, as a citizen. It's not your job to protect me."

"It is."

Christ, his dad was the most stubborn-- "Okay, so you're a father--"

"And a priest."

"--a father who wants to protect his son." Peter heard his voice rising and deliberately lowered it. "But I'm grown now. I don't need a father taking care of me."

Caine didn't point out what Peter had already considered, that he'd be dead without his father's interference. Instead his dad merely replied, "One always needs a father. One always needs a son. One day you will understand this."

"You weren't around when I needed you," he snapped back.

"I was not," Caine agreed. "But I am here now."

That was typical of his father, coming up with irrefutable statements that had no bearing on the problem at hand. Peter got up from the table and went into the kitchen, busying himself by pouring another cup of coffee. He stared into the sink and took a few deep breaths before returning.

"Look...Dad. I appreciate what you did this time, and I understand why you feel the way you do. But you can't keep...you know, helping me. It's too dangerous."

"The life you have chosen is full of dangers."

"Exactly!" He pounced on the idea that maybe his dad was finally getting the point.

"So...you wish me to...." Caine faltered and looked to the side, as if searching for the precise words. "You believe I could stand by and do nothing...while you die again?"

When his father's face turned back toward him, Peter swallowed a gasp, shocked as much by the pain in the hazel eyes as by the question. For just a moment, he saw into unexpected depths, years of confusion and agony. Then Caine lowered his lashes. When he raised them, the cool barrier had returned.

Not so cool, now that Peter had seen what it protected.

"No." He blinked several times, focusing into the coffee as if it could help him explain the realities of a cop's life in a way his father would understand. But he had so many things he wanted to say, and so few words to say them. "Dad...I don't want to watch you die either. You could get hurt. These people I deal with--they have guns. They won't wait for you to kick them, they'll try to kill you as soon as they see you." He took another deep breath, regaining enough control to lift his eyes. His father shrugged.

"I have met men with guns before." Caine hesitated, his gaze becoming unfocused, and Peter remembered along with him...the temple, the carnage, the noise.... "I...." His father sighed. "I am not fragile, Peter, nor am I inexperienced."

"You could still be killed."

"Yes." Caine nodded. "As could you. But that knowledge has not kept you from living your life, nor me from mine. Now that destiny has brought us together again, our lives are entwined."

"That doesn't mean you have to protect me." No one knew it better than Peter Caine: there was no protection for anyone in this world; everyone was on his own. The sooner his father realized this....

"It means that I do not know how to do otherwise." Gently, Caine laid his palm on Peter's face.

"Me neither." He acknowledged with resignation as he rubbed his cheek against the hand, the way a cat would. The odds of either Caine deciding that protection wasn't his job were obviously too small to lay bets on.

His father winked and withdrew his hand. "You do, for you are an obedient son."

Peter laughed. "Yeah, right! That's me." His smile gradually faded as he thought about good times at the temple--him, having a wildly misbehaving time, his father correcting him with grace and patience. It had been a long time since he'd experienced anything other than reprimands and verbal spankings, and it was a strange feeling. He couldn't quite name it, didn't quite dare. Someday he might, if his father decided to stick around. Until then....

He looked across the table. Caine smiled at him, tentatively, as if unsure of the reception he'd receive. Peter grinned back.

Until then, he'd play it by ear, trying to get the hang of this new relationship through trial and error. Hell, maybe that's what his dad was doing, too.


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