It hadn’t been an easy night by anyone’s standards, I reflect, as I stand at my barre. I’d called the LAPD from the hostess stand of Club 10, and had stood at Mr. Steele’s side as we watched Anna led away in handcuffs, charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and we gave the detective our statements. To anyone else, Mr. Steele would have appeared composed, formulating carefully thought out answers to each of the questions directed to him. I, of course, knew otherwise. The toothpick had emerged from his pocket, and he gnawed at it frequently; his hand alternately scrubbing at his lower face or his neck: all of them telltale signs that he was living on the razor’s edge of his emotions. At times like these he needed soft words, some quiet logic, a gentle touch, to help him gain his equilibrium.
I simply didn’t have it in me to give him any of those things as I had baggage of my own that I was carrying.
We’d seen little of each other today. He’d arrived promptly at the office and was his usual charming, persuasive self with Stevenson, securing the contract for us by the time the man left the offices. After the meeting ended, he’d approached me, hoping to speak, but I cut him off before he began.
“I have an appointment at 9:30 with the accountant,” I’d informed him. “I’ll see you later.” With that, I’d grabbed my purse from my office and had departed.
I wasn’t avoiding him, per se, but now that disaster had been averted, I needed time to sort out my own thoughts and feelings away from him. I’m not ready for apologies, explanations or excuses. I can’t be his shoulder as he tries to come to terms with Anna’s manipulations, deceptions and betrayal. If I keep near, I know I will be consumed with how to soothe him, sacrificing whatever it is I want and need in the process, even if I don’t know what that is.
It was nearly five o’clock by the time I returned to the office. Mildred informed me ‘the Boss’ had taken off some thirty minutes before, allegedly to check in with Carolina Welles at the Los Angeles Gallery and perform a cursory check on the security system, while hopefully managing a little PR work with Caroline in light of recent events. It was for the best, I acknowledged. I actually had ended up tending to Agency business throughout the day and was still as confused as I was two days ago.
The only conclusion I’d managed to come to was that I’m not ready to give up on him. On us.
And I’m not sure what that says about me.
Is it courageous of me to believe we can find a way to get past all that’s happened these last days? To risk having my heart broken again, by the same man? To have faith that a man with so many surprises up his sleeve is worth the effort? To trust that whatever this… thing… between us is, it’s worth giving it one more chance?
I’d like to think so, but I don’t know. I feel betrayed, heartbroken, violated… abandoned. No apology, no explanation is going to change that. Only time will. But while I’m confident the first three will gradually lessen then disappear, I wonder if will ever be able to get past the last. To forget how it felt when he’d not only turned completely away, but had seemed to revile me. Would there be a day that passed when I didn’t worry something, someone, else from his past might appear and the same thing happen again?
I don’t know.
Because this experience has taught me there is something far worse than someone you love walking out of your life without so much as a goodbye: They stay, will be part of your day-to-day existence but completely shut you out. He’s done it once, so it begs the question: Could it happen again?
That’s the scary part.
I’m drawn from my thoughts by the buzzer at my door. I give it a glance. I’m not expecting anyone, yet I know who it will be and I’m apathetic about answering. I haven’t figured everything out in my own head yet, had needed more time to myself. In a split second, I make a decision. As I cross the living room, it occurs to me this could be his ‘let’s part friends’ or ‘It’s time for me to move on’ speech. If either case is true, there will be no reason to keep trying to work through in my mind how we get past this and I can fast forward into the middle of the self-loathing-for-sleeping-with-him-How-do-I-get-over-him phase… after all, I’ve already gotten off to a good start in both areas. But I vow to myself, I won’t give an inch. There will be no warm welcome. No signs of what’s on my mind until I know where his head is at. I have my pride.
I pull open the door and my suspicions are confirmed. There Mr. Steele stands, leaning against a shoulder in my doorway – a very anxious Mr. Steele. I merely stare at him, blank faced. He clears his throat nervously and holds up a bottle of champagne.
“A thank you gift, from Caroline,” he explains, gesticulating towards the bottle and stumbling over the words nervously. My only response is a detached nod of my head. “I felt the urge to share it… immediately." The tip of his tongue swipes at his lips. He hasn’t found his footing.
"How thoughtful,” I offer, impassively while indicating with my harm he can step in. He continues to fidget as I close the door behind him.
"Ah,” he draws out the word, “Actually, I felt the urge to see you.” Tilting my chin back I nod again while I cross my arms as though to say I already knew the champagne was nothing more than a ruse. He works up the courage to continue. “To explain some things."
Explanations, excuses, hopeful absolution it’s to be, then. All that I wasn’t prepared to hear yet.
"There's no need,” I answer coolly. He’s flummoxed by the answer and stalls for a second.
"It might help put some things in perspective,” he tries again, and holds a hand out in my direction, “For us." I’m not in the mood and he’s determined. Our history works against me on this one, as I’ve never denied him a chance to make amends, and I’m not going to start now. Reluctantly, I take the bottle from his hand and he talks as he follows me towards the kitchen.
"Ah, when I went to Anna's, ah, it was for two reasons,” he begins, stopping at the bar and resting his hands against it while I remove wine flutes from the dish drainer. “First, was to say that I'd sent Raymond packing and the second, the more painful, was to say that I, I felt that we, ah…” he’s avoided looking at me as he spoke, but he looks me in the eye for the next, “…didn't have a future together. She'll always be a part of my past but I, ah, realized that…that's where that relationship belonged." He looks down at counter, a bit shy after that much honesty – if that’s what it is, and I have my doubts, the sting of his rejection still far too recent. Uncomfortable, he picks up my vegetable brush and toys with it.
"What made you realize that?" I can’t stop myself from asking the question, even as I make myself continue to appear as indifferent as I’ve been since he arrived. He taps the brush in the air, in my general direction and it takes him a long second to look up from where his eyes have been glued to the counter.
"You...” he tells me, finally lifting his head to look at me. He’s shy, almost painfully shy, certainly vulnerable. I have to steel myself. The last time I let his vulnerability go straight to my heart, look where it got me. He continues, “I'm not the same man I was when I walked into your life, Laura. I've changed... you changed me."
I can’t help the smile that lifts my lips and wonder if he notices it never reaches my eyes. I’d like to believe him, I want to believe him. I’ve watched him change over these last two years. I try to give him credit for it, but often fail. All change is temporary, the old saying meanders through my mind. I have to give some weight to the thought. If his past can come in and turn him into a veritable stranger, make him so easily forget that I matter in all this, what does that mean?
"I only changed your name,” I answer, refusing to acknowledge the rest. What he’s shared with me has clarified nothing, has only made me all the more confused.
"Yes, well, merely the most obvious alteration,” he answers, the smile he tries to give me faltering. He can’t deny, any more than I, the tension that’s between us. It’s doing neither of any good, so I mentally take a deep breath and let it out as I pry the cork from the champagne bottle.
"Well,” I comment as I pour, then offer the only treaty I can, “What shall we drink to?" Grateful, he gives me the first real smile since he’s arrived, although the strain still shows around his eyes.
"Ah, um the present, eh?" He looks hopeful that I’ll understand the reference to our conversation in front of Patton’s house.
"The present?" I feign ignorance. While I’m willing to call a semi-truce right now, all is not forgotten.
"Ah, yes,” he’s caught off guard but quickly recovers, “and the future."
"Isn't that getting a little brazen for us, Mr. Steele?" I challenge, lightly, making him nervous again, as though he’s said too much.
We freeze when strains of the song that held him mesmerized at Club 10 begin to waft across the room from the radio. His eyes dart guiltily to my face, and my smile fades. He quickly reaches over to snap off the radio.
"Let's be brazen, eh?" he asks, giving me a wide smile, trying to ease the awkwardness of the moment. I can’t help it, I’m charmed, and return the smile.
Tapping our glasses together, we entwine our arms, and sample the champagne. When he leans in for a kiss, my reaction is automatic: I move towards him and our lips meet. The kiss sends a jolt to my core, and my body reacts viscerally to it. Traitor, I scold it. I feel his lips lift in a smile against mine and I abruptly end it. Setting down my champagne flute, I leave the kitchen and walk into the living room. Crossing my arms and rubbing my hands over them, I look anywhere but at him. I hear the clink of his glass as he sets it on the counter as well.
“You’ve every right to be angry with me, Laura,” he says from behind me. I turn to look at him.
“I don’t want to be angry. I want to understand,” I tell him. I shiver when I realize the words are nearly identical to what I’d said to him after he’d all but ignored me in favor of his obsession with Anna when we dined at Club 10. He takes several steps into the living room and perches on the arm of the couch. Dropping his head, he rubs at the back of his neck, while shaking his head.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” he answers so quietly that if I weren’t just a few feet from him I wouldn’t have heard. He stands to pace. “I cared for Anna once, a great deal. I’d even imagined, a time or two, that, perhaps, one day we might have a future together.” He rubs a hand across his chin. “Then she died.” He sighs, loudly. “Ah, Laura, there I was waiting for her to arrive so we could go away on holiday together, and instead, I read her obituary in the newspaper. Then five years later, here she is, quite alive, driving me bloody well insane pretending it wasn’t she.” He turns to look at me, to make sure I’m listening. I nod my head.
“My past and present had collided in a way I never quite could’ve imagined. The woman I’d once cared for, believed dead, had come back and was in danger. She needed my help.” He looks at me beseechingly. “I didn’t think you’d understand.” Sitting back down on the arm of the couch, he runs a hand wearily through his hair.
“So instead, you tried and convicted me of failing to support you. And that’s not the worst of it: You were furious with me, for the conclusion you reached, without ever having given me a chance!” I accuse. “Tell me, Remington Steele, when have I ever not stood by you when you’ve come to me!?” I demand to know, my voice betraying a deep, abiding hurt I hadn’t wanted him to see. He scrubs his face with both hands, then holds them palm up towards me.
“How could I expect you to understand how conflicted I was? That I needed to help an old lover? Especially in light of what happened between us that evening,” he challenges.
“A mistake!” I retort, throwing out my arms and leaning forward. “That’s what happened!” It was another slip on my part. I hadn’t planned to throw it out there, especially like that. In fact, I haven’t even decided, emphatically at least, that it was. But there it is, in living color between us.
“The hell it was,” he bellows, taking to his feet again. His utter outrage is there in the tremble of his hand as he shoves it through his hair, the clenching of his jaw, the muscle twitching in his cheek. “Have you any idea, whatsoever, what the other night meant… means,” he corrects, “to me?”
“Ha!” I bite out. Not the most eloquent response, but it makes the point.
“Just what is that supposed to mean?” he booms.
“What do you think it means?” I ask, throwing out my arms again. “Actions, Mr. Steele. Your actions spoke volumes about how you felt about the other night! For that matter, they’ve made it perfectly clear, time and again, that I cannot possibly hope to compete with your damned past. Every time it shows up, you shut me out! Five hours between when you left my bed and arrived at the office, and in that short span of time you made the decision to freeze me out… when you weren’t directing your anger at me! What does that say about the importance of us finally crossing that line, of my place in your life?”
“Damn it, Laura. I was confused,” he protests, angrily. “If I recall correctly, you found it no less difficult when Wilson Jeffries popped up from your own past and he wasn’t a bloody ghost come back to life!”
“You’re right, I didn’t,” I admit. “But I turned to you, whereas you… you turned away from me!” In saying this, I turn away from him now. The room has taken on a chill, and stride towards my bedroom, stomping up the stairs. Still, my tongue seems to have taken on a mind of its own, and while I’m finished, it’s not. “And I sure as hell didn’t screw you on Tuesday night, then him on Wednesday! Important. Ha!” Without plan, I laugh shortly, sarcastically, to emphasize the point.
I throw my hands up in the air, disgusted with him and furious with myself. I hate that he has the ability to do this to me, has from the start: setting me off balance, revealing too much of myself to him, letting him know I care for him far more than I want to, maybe ought to. I yank open my closet door a little more violently than necessary and pull out a sweater, flinging it on and then tying the sash tight around myself. When I turn around, I involuntarily take a step backwards, because the man standing below is more furious than I’ve ever seen him. Automatically, my chin juts out and my lips tighten. I may not have wanted or planned to say what I did, but I’ll be damned if I’ll apologize. He takes note of my response and if the hand fisting at his side is any indication, his temper has just edged from boiling to nuclear.
He waits until I come back downstairs before he speaks, prolonging this standoff between us. I nudge my chin upwards another millimeter, refusing to be the one that bends, despite the ice-cold look of fury he’s peppering me with.
“Would you care to spell out what, precisely, it is you seem to be accusing me of?” His voice is frosty as nitrogen and he speaks between clenched teeth.
In our nearly two years together, I have never pushed him this far and, now that I have, I’m not sure how to handle the man standing before me, or if I even want to. Yet, I instinctively know it would be unwise to accuse him outright, because there is every chance he may walk out that door and be done with this life once and for all. That’s reason enough to frighten me into backing down. No matter how angry I am or how shattered the heart he stole from me is, the idea of a life without Remington Steele in it in some manner is unthinkable. My chin drops and I hold up my hands in a conciliatory gesture.
“I’m sorry, that was out of line,” I offer. “It’s none of my business who—“
“The hell it isn’t,” he explodes. He storms in my direction, only to retreat, tugging a hand through his hair as he mumbles to himself. He turns to face me again. “I swear, woman, I need a bloody road map to make sense of how you arrive at the conclusions you do.” The words are no less heated, but at least the walls are no longer shaking. Still, the comment ignites my own precarious temper. He needs a map? Oh, ho. Talk about pot-kettle and I say as much.
“You’re one to speak. Rand-McNally and I have become bosom buddies since you entered my life!” I snap. That muscle in his jaw twitches again and I watch as he fights for control of his emotions.
“Then let me draw you a personalized map,” he grinds out. “I neither slept with Anna nor did I screw you, shag you, lay you, or any other offensive term that suits you in your temper.” His voice continues to rise as he speaks, until he is thundering again. “I made love with you, Lau-ra, and I believed it was the same for you. Am I mistaken?” The implications of what he’s said are terrifying and his question at the conclusion is enough to make me want to bury myself in a carton of Haagen-Dazs until I can forget it was ever asked. Instead, I wrap my arms around myself as a tremor races through my body and avert my face, staring at the door to the loft as though it holds the answer. Then I realize it does. Dropping my arms, I stride towards it with intent.
“It’s been a long day and I think it would be wise for us to take some time to cool off, to think about—“
“Lau-ra,” he draws out my name, clearly vexed with my avoidance. “Answer the question.” I let out a short harsh breath, pulling open the door before I face him.
“After what’s happened, does it even matter?” I evade.
There are times I forget small, pertinent details about my Mr. Steele. Such as he has a temper that may ignite slower than my own, but when pricked gives my own a run for its money… that a gentleman he might be by nature, but he once lived on the streets where he was anything but… and how fast he can move when inspired. In a blink of an eye, I’m reminded of all three.
“Not this time, you don’t! You’re not running away from this!” he roars. Before I know what’s happened, he’s slammed the door shut, and I’m trapped between him and it. In the second time in as many minutes, I’m not sure who the man is in front of me or what to do with him. “Answer the question, Laura!” I cross my arms and avert my face. Trapped, and not at all happy about it, I have no choice but to answer him.
“You’re not mistaken,” I answer, with no little resentment for the admission being pried from me by his hand.
From the corner of my eye, I watch his body shudder with relief, and a shaking hand swipe at his mouth. It hadn’t occurred to me saying what I had might hurt him, but clearly it had. Deeply. Good. A little dose of what he’s put me through these past days. Then he reminds me again that his long lean muscles are not meant for strength but quickness. He grasps my face in his hands, and before I am fully aware of what’s happening, his lips are covering mine and I’m pressed between a hard door on my backside, and an equally hard body on my front. My senses are overwhelmed from the moment our lips meet. His heady scent, the taste of the champagne lingering in his mouth, the way he’s kissing me as though it’s both the last time and the first. It takes every ounce of willpower I possess to cram my hands between our bodies and shove him away.
“Don’t!” I command. His hand swipes at his face, one registering disbelief.
“Why not?!” he counters briskly, unable to hide his utter frustration.
“Because it doesn’t matter what happened three days ago,” I answer. My heart clenches in my chest remembering how I felt those two days, and those memories are reflected in my tone.
“It does,” he insists adamantly, crossing the room and embracing me again, pressing his cheek to the side of my head. “It does matter. It means everything.” I wriggle away, shaking my head.
“No, it doesn’t,” I insist. To my utter mortification, I can feel tears threatening and I need him to leave before they start flowing. “The only thing that matters is when it comes to your past I can’t win. I’ll never win. I’ll always be left on the outside looking in, wondering how long before someone, something that I have no clue about comes back and lures you away.”
“That’s not going to happen,” he tries to assure me. His blue eyes are earnest and I almost believe him. Almost. But I know better.
“Yes, it will. It happened with Felicia and then Daniel. Now with Anna,” I remind him. “It’s only a matter of time before it happens again.” With a forlorn shake of my head, I tip my head towards the ceiling and hold a palm to my forehead, gathering my strength to say what needs to be said. Swallowing hard, I take a deep breath and let it out slowly before looking at him again. “You’ve been honest from the start: You can’t make promises about tomorrow. I’ve been honest as well: I need more than a roll in the hay, and you can’t give that to me. You’re a good friend and a great partner. I think—“
“I love you, Laura,” he interrupts, speaking so quietly I almost miss the words. My blood roars in my ears, my heart pounds against my ribs and I’m convinced I imagined them. I give my head a small shake as though I can erase them so easily. He steps to me, and presses his palm against my cheek. “I’m not going anywhere, Laura. I want to go to work with you each day, come home to you at night. I want to fall asleep with you in my arms and wake with you there. I want to cook you dinner in the evenings, make you breakfast in bed on the weekends. I want to dance with you before the fire at my flat at nights, spend lazy afternoons with you curled up in front of the television watching movies while feeding you endless amounts of chocolate.” I can’t help it, a laugh escaping my lips at this. “I want to make love with you until we ache, then make love to you one more time after. My future is here, if only you’ll allow me to have it.”
By the time he’s finished, the tears that had been threatening are spilling over. I stare at him, unable to find the words, my heart’s racing and, despite myself, I feel my hope take wings and soar to the skies. But since Wilson and my father, I no longer believe in promises. It’s not a part of myself I’m particularly proud of, but I need something more, especially in light of what he’s just put me through. I need him to give me something he’s never given anyone else before. An irretractable commitment. Proof.
“What’s your real name?” My words are barely audible, and I hold my breath waiting for his anger, perhaps his disbelief. Neither comes, instead hurt and longing war within his eyes.
“I don’t know,” he answers softly, but he’s tortured by this fact and can’t hide it. He drops a kiss on my forehead as if to soften the blow for me. “I can’t recall ever knowing it, my name changing with each new family as it were. The name you gave me is the only one I have, the only one I’ve ever wished to claim as my own.” My face scrunches up as the tears continue to drip from my eyes. I don’t know if I’ll understand the harm people can visit upon each another, especially children. “Forgive me, Laura. Keep me.” The plea, the need is undeniable.
“For how long?” I ask as he thumbs away my tears.
“For good,” he answers, then leans down and touches his lips to mine. “I love you, Laura,” he murmurs against my lips, before kissing me hard, the palm on the back of my head keeping our lips firmly joined. Our lips part, and he continues to ask, to hope. “Tell me you want me.” My fingers clutch at his shoulders when he kisses me this time. “Tell me you’ll keep me.”
He’s growing more desperate, as his uncertainty in what I’ll do builds. The kiss grows more tender, weaving its spell around me. There’s always been so many obstacles between us, preventing us from moving forward. Many of those problems still exist: his past, my past, his impulsivity, my hesitancy, his spendthrift ways, my natural frugality, his need to bend the rules, my need to play by them. But when I feel his fingers cupping the back of my head flinch and the arm around me tighten as though he’s afraid I’ll push him away again and this time send him away, my decision’s made. Good or bad, right or wrong, I feel… complete… happy when I’m with him. For the first time in our association, I believe what he’s said on faith alone. I lean back, parting our lips and I see fear and hope warring in his eyes.
“I do. I will,” I whisper. He doesn’t say a word, doesn’t smile, but blows out a long, shuddering breath and beneath my fingers I feel his body tremble before he leans down and kisses me again.
Hours later, I lay with my head on his shoulder, an arm and leg splayed over him, lazily trailing my fingers across his chest as he strokes my back and periodically presses his lips against the top of my head.
“Hmmmm?” I answer, never lifting my head. I’m content to stay just where I am.
“I was thinking…” He allows the thought to trail off.
“About?” I nudge.
“When we go to the flat tomorrow, it might be wise for us you bring along a few changes of clothes for yourself… to keep them there.” He’s nervous about making the suggestion and I find that endearing.
“I was just thinking it would be wise for you to do the same, here,” I tell him. I feel him nod his head and he hugs my shoulder in answer.
I mull all that’s happened the last few days and can’t help but be amazed by where we have ended up. In bed together is the least of it. So much has been said, yet there’s still one thing left unspoken.
“Remington?” His chest rises and falls slowly when he takes a deep breath. Apparently, I’m not the only one adjusting because each time I’ve used the name it’s been followed by a heartfelt kiss or indrawn breath as he savors it coming from my lips.
“Hmmmm?” I press up on and elbow and lay my palm against his cheek, then wait until his blue eyes meet mine.
“I love you,” I whisper, then watch as he closes his eyes, swallows hard and nods his head rapidly. It takes him long seconds to collect himself, and when he does, he wraps his arms around me and rolls us over, settling himself between my legs which part to welcome him.
“That certainly wasn’t the thing to say if you’d planned to get any sleep, love,” he forewarns as he fingers my hair back off my face. Goosebumps pepper my skin at the endearment. The evidence of what he eludes to lies heavily against the apex of my legs. I give him a jaunty smile and raise my brows.
“I don’t recall saying I was tired,” I retort, drawing my fingertips down his back, then caressing his firm bottom.
“Absurdly passionate, indeed,” he mumbles as he leans down, letting his lips hover close to mine. “I’m truly a fortunate man.” With that, he settles his lips over mine as I laugh.
I suspect there will never come a time when we don’t spend at least a part of each day sniping and snarking, fussing and fighting. We are, after all, two very headstrong people. But, as Remington’s lips tease and taste mine while his hand cradles my neck, I finally own all our bickering for what always has been and always will be: foreplay.