Steele Bonded
By tvnerdgirl


Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, nor am I making any sort of profit from them. Please don't sue.

Summary: Steele's attempted marriage to Clarissa in "Bonds of Steele" has severed the final tie in their relationship. Two years later, Laura and Remington are nothing more than colleagues. When they attend a function for an old friend, the romance of the evening leaves Laura wistful. But is it enough? Can the ice be broken?

Author's Note: As the summery says, this take place two years after "Bonds". I have altered some of the events from that episode and pretended the entire 5th season never happened. In my world, "Bonds" was the final straw for Laura and the two have spent the past two years working as colleagues and nothing more. Also, in my world, Murphy joined the LAPD after his attempt to start his own P.I. firm didn't do too well. Reviews are always welcome and appreciated. They can be sent to saracat72@hotmail.com

*****

Chapter 1

"I'm telling you, Laura, it's not going to fit."

"I don't think it's that big...."

"It's big enough." Remington Steele's voice was tinged with exasperation.

"Well the only way you're going to find out, is if you put it in. If it doesn't fit, then we'll have to try something else."

"What would you have us try, Laura? I don't think you'll be able to shrink it." A wry smile quirked upwards on his face as he stared at the garment in question. It had been Laura's idea to switch to a cheaper tailor and as a result his suits had never quite fit properly. He sympathised with her desire to save the agency money, but there were just some areas he was not willing to compromise on. Laura had of course ignored his insistence that the jacket was too large and was insisting he put his arms into the sleeves in an effort to prove it.

"Do you always have to be this difficult, Mr. Steele?" She held up the jacket once more, hoping he would just cease protesting and co-operate for once.

"The function starts in half an hour. We're going to be late."

"I don't see why I have to go in the first place," he grumbled as he slipped his arm into the sleeve she held towards him. "You, perhaps, but Michaels never liked me. I don't think he would particularly want me there in the first place."

"You have to go because I need an escort," she said patiently. "And this would be a wonderful press opportunity for the agency. I need the head of that agency there, in the flesh and wearing a nice tuxedo."

"Well you have one of the two anyway," Steele said, staring dubiously into the mirror as the tuxedo jacket hung off him in a decidedly unflattering fashion.

Laura sighed as she took in the fit of the jacket and inwardly cursed the fact that Steele had been right.

"You're right, it is too big," she said with a sigh. "Do you still have the jacket in the limo that you wore to the art gallery opening?"

"Laura, I was photographed wearing that not only a week ago!" She rolled her eyes at his scandalized tone of voice and took his reaction as a 'yes'.

"Regardless, Mr. Steele, unless you want to turn up to this award ceremony wearing a jacket that looks like it could fit two of you, I suggest you swallow your pride and wear it again."

"I still can't believe that he made detective so quickly...and now this award...." Steele trailed off and shook his head, remembering the jealous young man he had known when he first joined the agency. It was difficult to reconcile that same man as a decorated detective with the LAPD.

"Murphy was a first rate private investigator, and an even better cop," Laura replied as she crossed the room and picked up the phone to call the limo. "It doesn't surprise me that he's earned an award for his work in the service so quickly. He's smart...dedicated..."

"Stubborn as hell," Steele added, but with no malice in his voice.

Laura laughed and dialled the number, crossing her fingers and hoping that the jacket would still be in the trunk of Fred's limo.

"I do appreciate you coming with me, you know," she told him after she hung up the phone. He removed the jacket and headed for the door with Laura quickly on his heels.

"And you're absolutely sure he won't be angry that I'm there?" He knew his tone sounded dubious, but it was hard to picture Murphy Michaels in a magnanimous and forgiving fashion.

"He's been married quite a few years now, Mr. Steele," Laura said softly. "I doubt he still harbours any of those feelings and if he does...well, there's nothing between you and I anymore is there?"

"No," Steele replied softly, heart as always in his throat at this reminder. "There isn't."

*****

Chapter 2

2 Years Previous:

"For once I don't even know what to say,"

"Laura, I can explain..." Steele knew he sounded desperate, but was unable to disguise it from his partner. He was busted, and he knew it. Faced with the threat of deportation, he attempted to put a quick fix on it by getting married to Clarissa the call girl and it had backfired in a spectacular fashion. Now

Laura stood before him, demanding an adequate explanation as to why he'd been about to get married and she hadn't been invited.

"I really doubt that," she cut him off.

Remington Steele looked at the woman in front of him and felt his body turn to ice. Never had he seen such coldness in Laura's eyes - such disappointment.

He wanted desperately to tell her that it had all been one big mistake, that he would have preferred that it be her standing next to him at that alter, but he knew that in this circumstance that wouldn't go over well. She was much too angry and rightly so. He knew his own explanation wouldn't be nearly enough to close the chasm that had opened between them, but he had to try.

"Immigration found out about my phony passport. It was either marry an American citizen or get deported!"

"So the next logical step for you was to marry a hooker?" Her voice bordered on fury and hysteria.

"Would you have done it?" He countered angrily. "Would you have married me for a passport?"

"That...that's not the point..." she sounded startled - caught off guard by his question...maybe even frightened. He pressed this, probing for a reaction.

"Would you?" This time his voice was softer, more curious. Cars whizzed by them on the busy street where they stood outside the chapel. His suit was ruined from the exploits of their case, and Laura was an absolute mess, but to him she had never looked more beautiful...or more sad.

"You'll never know the answer to that one, will you?" she said softly, almost regretfully. He felt his heart sink. She sounded so final.

"I didn't know what else to do," he admitted after an excruciatingly long pause. He hadn't realized how frustrating it had been to feel so helpless. In the past, he would have just left the country without a second thought and returned when and if he managed to scrounge up another phony identity. Now, instead of feeling trapped he had felt desperate to stay and was willing o do anything to remain near to the only person in this world who had felt like home to him. Had he ruined that forever?

"The first thing you could have done - SHOULD have done is come to me!" She exclaimed angrily. "Mildred has contacts in immigration. We could have figured this out together, instead of you running behind my back and lying to me...again!"

"Laura, please, don't make this about us..."

"It IS about us!" She insisted. "It's about trust! It's about you not trusting me with this! How can I ever trust you, if every time I turn around you're covering up some dark secret from your past, or running off to marry a hooker for a passport?"

"To be fair, I think this indiscretion was an isolated case..."

"Not the point!" She interrupted angrily.

"You CAN trust me," he said taking a step towards her. He wanted to reach out and touch her, pull her close and take away all the hurt and anger he could see coursing through her. He hated even more that he was the cause of that hurt and anger. How had he messed things up so badly?

"I don't believe that," she whispered hoarsely. "I've tried to trust you - care about you, but every time I put myself out there, you go ahead and do something like this!"

"I did this for you!" He exclaimed, sick of the blame and immediate assumption that his past would always dictate his actions in the future. "So I could stay here with you! Laura, you constantly assume that I'm going to grow restless by staying here...that I might someday get bored and just up and leave and I have done my damndest to show you I won't but you never believe me. This was a way - my way, of establishing permanent residency here in Los Angeles."

"Yeah well next time you want to try a grand romantic gesture, buy me some flowers and charge it to the agency."

"That's not fair."

"No, what's not fair is never knowing where I stand with you. You say you want permanence here? How can I believe that when you won't even tell me how you feel? How is getting married to someone else supposed to show me your commitment?"

"Back to that again are we?" He could feel the old anger returning and as much as he tried to reign it in, he feared he would fail.

"Yes, Mr. Steele, we are and you know why? Because I still don't know. I look at you and I don't know."

"You do know, Laura," he said moving towards her. She backed up against the wall of the chapel, her pulse speeding up at his proximity. He was close enough to touch, close enough to feel the warmth of his body inches away from pressing against hers. "You've always known how I feel. Every second we're close like this you know."

"Do you love me?" She glared at him, challenge in her eyes.

"Laura, I..."

"Don't!" She put her hand on his chest and pushed him gently away, desperately trying to distance herself from him and the things he was making her feel.

"Don't dance around the question, just answer it, damn it. For once, just answer it."

He knew he should just tell her. Hell, he'd wanted to tell her for some time now, but every time he tried, the old fears and accusations got in the way. He knew that as much as she claimed she wanted him to say those three words, she wasn't yet ready to hear them. He wasn't sure if she ever would be. Sighing, he felt his shoulders slump with mental and emotional exhaustion.

"I nearly married a call girl today, so that I wouldn't have to be parted from you," his voice was low, almost a whisper. "If you have to ask me that, then you really don't trust me. And maybe you never will."

She nodded, accepting his words, but she could see the tears in her eyes that she desperately tried to hide from him.

"Mr. Steele, I...I think you and I are done. I can't do this any longer. I just can't."

"Laura..."

"Please just accept it. Don't make this any harder, okay? I'll talk to Mildred and we'll figure something out with your passport...that is if you still want to stay. There will always be a place for you at this agency if you want it, but I can't do this anymore with you. It's over, do you understand that?"

"Yes," he forced the word from his throat as if it were a physical entity that had become lodged there. "I understand."

****

Chapter 3

Present Day

"Mr. Steele, you're daydreaming." Laura's voice caused him to jump slightly. "We're almost there." He had been lost in thought as the limo took them to the hall, his mind playing and replaying the events of their break up almost two years before.

Some days it felt like only yesterday they had been a team in every sense of the word, both wanting the same thing and occasionally stumbling as they attempted to find it, but always on the same page.

After he had tried to marry Clarissa for the passport, a distance had settled in between them and while they were still friends and great partners, there was an emptiness there that had never been there before. He had hoped, however vainly, that her anger would in time abate and their relationship would resume its course, but it seemed that fight had been one fight too many and Laura Holt really was finished.

Neither of them had really dated anyone else afterwards. There was the odd dinner or movie date here and there on both their parts, but they generally fizzled out before they got going - each conscious of the other person watching them. In the past, Remington would have jumped back into the saddle with vigour dating as many vacuous women as possible to forget whatever heartache he'd experienced, but this was different.

He deliberately kept himself free now, always hoping against hope that she would see this - see his commitment and patience and take back her claim that it was over between them. Much as he felt he had no reason to hope, he couldn't help but silently wish she would give him a second chance.

If Laura noticed this self imposed celibacy however, she said nothing. They simply carried on as if nothing had changed.

Tonight would be no exception. He was to be her escort to this event and nothing more...the face to the name of her agency. He knew his job was to make the rounds, smile and make all the photo ops as Murphy was given his medal. He would play his part, and return to his apartment alone. He used to love the solitude and refuge his apartment gave him. Now it just felt lonely and far too large for just one man.

"Did you hear me, Mr. Steele?"

"I heard you, Miss Holt," he said as he cleared his throat and his mind of the memories and tried to focus on the evening ahead of him. The car came to a stop, and moments later, Fred opened the door. Remington looked at Laura, his mind lingering briefly on how absolutely stunning she looked in blue, before he extended his arm to her and smiled. "Shall we?"

****

Chapter 4

For about the billionth time that evening, Laura Holt wished that Mr. Steele didn't look so damn good in a tuxedo.

It was fundamentally impossible for her to pretend to herself that she had only a casual or platonic interest in her escort when every look he gave her sent a reaction through her entire body. It was easier when they were working on a case together. They could focus on the work at hand and she could ignore the way it felt when his blue eyes met hers and lingered ever so slightly.

At functions like these however, there was no veneer of professionalism between them and Laura had to try extra hard to maintain the aloof exterior she had been holding onto for the past two years.

Steele, to his credit had not pushed. After she'd told him it was over she had expected many reactions from him. She had expected him to just ignore her and continue on as if nothing had happened. She had expected him to try to manipulate, to connive, to trick her into romantic situations to win her back. She had expected him to turn tail and leave when he found his tricks to be fruitless. She had expected him to play every sort of game there was in order to get what he wanted.

The one thing she hadn't expected was for him to respect her wishes, and to stay on as her partner. She had not expected this kind of loyalty, or understanding. Not from him. It was incredibly unnerving, especially on nights like this where, in the past, he would have been the most inclined to try to coax her into a romantic interlude. She told herself it was for the best...that respecting her wishes really was the proper course of action in order to protect her heart. But it was times like this when she almost wished he would revert back to his old ways, if only so she could tell herself she was right about him.

She shook her head, trying to banish thoughts of the two of them and concentrated on the ceremony that was taking place.

Murphy and two other police officers had bravely helped to resolve a hostage situation without any loss of life, either to the hostages or the hostage takers.

All three detectives were being presented with a medal of distinction for risking their lives and making sure they all made it out safely.

Laura was incredibly proud of her former partner for all he had accomplished. He had left the agency and though she had missed him deeply, she felt that

Murphy was truly happier in his chosen vocation.

Her eyes shot over to the woman who stood to the side of the stage, beaming proudly at her husband. Laura had not spent a lot of time with Karen Michaels - Murphy's wife - but every time they had met she found herself marvelling at the way the two seemed a perfect match in every way. She seemed to bring out the best in Murphy and sometimes she even felt the tiniest bit jealous that she herself hadn't managed to find that, with Mr. Steele, or anybody for that matter.

"Michaels certainly looks happy," Steele murmured in her ear, echoing her own thoughts. "And his wife is a stunning woman."

"Yes, she's..." Laura tried to ignore the bolt of heat that coursed through her as his warm breath tickled her ear and the deep timber of his voice resonated throughout every part of her. "She's quite beautiful."

"You alright, Laura?" Steele sounded genuinely concerned and she cursed the fact that he'd noticed her reactions to his voice. "You seem a bit flushed."

"It's quite warm in here," she replied through tightly clenched teeth. "I just need to get some air."

Mercifully, the ceremony itself was quite brief. Each one of the detectives involved said a few words before they received their medals and Murphy was kind enough to give some PR to the agency by naming it as being his primary influence in deciding to into law enforcement. After the concluding remarks the rest of the evening was left for the guests and recipients to mingle, dance and have a few drinks.

Laura knew that technically they no longer needed to stay. Photos had already been taken of the great Remington Steele, and Murphy's mention of the Steele agency was more than enough to get them noticed in the papers. She could easily thank Murphy for his invitation and endorsement, congratulate him and go home. A nice warm bath and a good book would alleviate the tension of the evening and she could forget just how amazing Steele's shoulders looked in that jacket.

She could do this, but the second she saw Steele start towards her from the bar, drink in hand, she knew she wouldn't. For some reason his gaze, that smile had her hypnotised and even though she had kept her distance so very well, tonight she was loathe to break it.

"Shall we give our congratulations, then?" He handed her the glass of champagne and gestured towards where Murphy was standing, surrounded by his wife and colleagues.

"Yes, we should," Laura replied as she took a fortifying sip of her drink. Steele led the way and she followed, desperately trying not pay as much attention to his back as she had to his front.

"Laura, Steele!" Murphy sounded genuinely happy to see both of them. He crossed the room in two long strides and hugged Laura briefly, catching her slightly off guard before releasing her and shaking Steele's hand. To his credit, he too seemed flustered by Murphy's friendliness. "So glad you both could make it. Laura, you already know my wife...Remington Steele, meet Karen Michaels."

"The pleasure's all mine," Steele said smoothly kissing her hand. Always the grand gesture, was Mr. Steele. "She's gorgeous, Michaels. Far too good for you, mate."

"That she is," Murphy said, the easy smile never leaving his face.

"Flattery will get you nowhere, Mr. Steele," Karen Michaels said, also in good humour. Then, turning to her husband, said, "you're right Murphy, he's absolutely full of it."

Steele choked on his drink upon hearing that and Laura smiled, feeling a little bit better seeing Mr. Steele at a loss for words.

"The ceremony was lovely," Laura said, steering the conversation back to her former partner. "Congratulations again, Murphy."

"I'm just glad it was short," Murphy said, his trademark humility a direct contrast to Mr. Steele's usual arrogance. The conversation drifted off into random small talk until the band began to play a waltz. Nobody was more surprised than Mr. Steele himself, when Karen Michaels looped her arm through his.

"You mind if I borrow your boss, Laura? Murphy doesn't waltz."

"Two left feet," Murphy confirmed with a shrug.

"He's all yours," Laura replied. Steele nodded politely towards Murphy.

"With your permission," he said. Murphy nodded back and Laura watched as the two of them took to the dance floor. They were well suited as dance partners. Both had a grace and aptitude for it that Laura and Murphy lacked. She found herself watching them with an odd sense of envy, even though she knew there was no reason for it. Mr. Steele would sooner hit on Mildred than Murphy's wife and yet she couldn't help feeling that they used to fit together that well and wondering where that had gone.

"It's funny," Murphy said, eventually breaking the silence. "He is different now. All that time, you kept telling me he had changed and I never believed you. I don't think I wanted to."

"For what it's worth, Murph, I think I was wrong," Laura said with a sigh. Murphy arched an eyebrow at her, but said nothing. Laura continued, unsure why she was confiding in Murphy when they hadn't had a really good conversation in years. "We haven't been together for a while now."

"No?" He looked surprised. "I assumed when he showed up with you…"

"Appearances for the agency, nothing more." She admitted.

"Can I ask what happened?"

Laura hesitated. Mildred had asked this question a hundred times, and although Laura had longed to talk to somebody about it, somehow it had never felt right. Deep down she knew it was because Mildred still saw Mr. Steele in the most positive light, even though she knew he was a fraud. She knew the older woman would try to talk her out of it. She knew that she would give her a hundred and one reasons to give Mr. Steele another chance and many of those reasons might make perfect sense. She knew Mildred might even be able to convince her of it.

And that frightened her, because she knew if she went back she might never get the courage to leave again - and she had no idea if that was a good thing or not.

Murphy, on the other hand, had never trusted Mr. Steele. She could tell him what he had done, without worrying he might advocate on Mr. Steele's behalf.

She couldn't even verbalize why it mattered, but deep down inside she felt she needed at least one other person to validate her decision - as if that would somehow help her to keep her resolve.

She took a deep breath and explained it all in detail. Murphy listened quietly, saying nothing until she had finished. He stayed silent for another couple of minutes before finally exhaling and running a hand through his hair.

"I can't believe he did that," he said with a disbelieving shake of his head. Laura nodded, feeling strangely dissatisfied by his ready agreement.

"I know," she sighed, "but I don't know what I really should have expected."

Murpy continued, as if he hadn't heard her. "He must really love you, Laura."

Laura blinked a moment as she registered what Murphy had said.

"I'm sorry, he must what?"

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I agree with it," he smiled kindly at her, then chuckled softly. "It's classic Steele in the sense that he did all the wrong things, for all the right reasons."

"I'm still blanking on how this means he loves me," Laura said flatly. "Or did you miss the part where I told you her almost married a hooker?"

"No I heard you," Murphy said. He motioned for a waiter to bring over a tray of champagne and handed Laura a glass. Gratefully, she took a large sip and waited for Murphy to clarify. "It's no secret that when I was with the agency, I had feelings for you."

"Murphy…"

"No, please, hear me out," he urged. He took a deep breath before continuing. "I was jealous of Steele. Jealous of his flash, of his charisma, his charm, the way you looked at him. I was jealous of the fact that every time he did something stupid, you wanted to believe the best in him. I didn't see what you saw because I was too busy seeing him as competition."

"And now?" Laura finally said, her voice steady, but her heart beating twice as fast. Murphy gestured to the couple dancing to another waltz.

"Now, he's dancing with my wife, and I am not the slightest bit concerned because I no longer see him as competition." He smiled. "I was blind back then, and you are blind now. No man willingly gets married to anyone without a damn good reason. I know it wasn't you he was marrying, but you were the reason, Laura."

"That doesn't make it OK," she said, feeling the flush of anger creep into her face.

"You're absolutely right," Murphy replied, still calm, "but look at him right now. You said you haven't been together since it happened?"

She nodded.

"Then why is he still here?"

"Because it's convenient for him," Laura said, knowing she didn't fully believe what she was saying. She had asked herself the same question over and over ever since they had broken up, and it was the only answer she could come up with that made any degree of sense, and yet it still felt wrong on some level.

"You really think so?"

"He likes playing detective, Murph!" She gestured in exasperation to the opulence of the party. "He likes coming to functions like this and getting his picture taken. He likes being the famous 'Remington Steele and having his face in the papers every time I solve a case. He's always liked the attention. It was never about me."

"You don't really believe that and you know it," Murphy said bluntly. "It's your life and not for one second will I tell you how to live it. I don't have that right. But you need to be honest with yourself. You didn't break up with him because you don't think he is committed. You broke up with him because for the first time, you truly started to believe he was and that scares the hell out of you."

"That's crazy…"

"It's not." Murphy replied. "It's one hundred percent Laura Holt. It's why you never showed any interest in me…and I'm glad you didn't, by the way."

"We were friends, Murphy," Laura said, feeling strangely defensive. "I just didn't see you that way."

"Partly," he admitted, "but mostly it was that you knew that I was the kind of guy who wanted it all - the whole commitment package. You were afraid that getting involved with me would mean permanence and in some ways I think you are more scared of that than he is."

"You're way out of line…" she stammered.

"You're absolutely right, I've overstepped my bounds," Murphy replied, throwing his hands up in surrender. "I'm sorry. I won't say anything more on it."

He didn't get the chance to, because the song ended and Mr. Steele and Karen Michaels made their way back to where they were standing. Laura took another large gulp of her champagne to fortify herself. Murphy's words had shaken more than just her resolve.

"Enjoy yourself?" Murphy said lightly, taking his wife by the hand and pulling her close. She smiled.

"I did," she replied. She gave Murphy a teasing poke in the chest. "But I wouldn't have to dance with other men, if you would just learn to waltz."

"Speaking as the dance partner in question, I don't mind stepping in when needed," Steele said, wondering just how far he could needle Murphy before the old hostility returned. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate this newfound ease that seemed to exist between them, it just somehow didn't seem quite as fun.

"Seems to me you have a beautiful partner right here," Murphy gestured towards Laura who shot him a quick, furious glance. "You two made it look so effortless."

It was a total lie. Laura had never been particularly good at the waltz, and Murphy knew that.

"We did, didn't we?" Steele mused. He held out his arm, almost as a perfunctory gesture and Laura knew she was expected to take it. She did so, feeling more awkward with him than she had in a long time. "Come on then, let's show old Michaels here how it's done."

*****

Chapter 5

He led her onto the dance floor with relative swiftness. Laura wanted to protest but had no idea how to phrase it without sounding silly or foolish so she went along with it. When they got to the middle of the dance floor, the song changed from a waltz to a much slower, more sensual tune. Laura glanced sharply back at where Murphy had been standing, half expecting him to somehow be responsible for the shift in music, but he was deeply engaged in conversation with his wife and the Chief of Police.

She couldn't explain it, but she suddenly felt vulnerable and slightly frightened as he took her in his arms and pulled her close. His body was warm and solid.

He smelled incredible, a musky scent that was a mixture of cologne and soap. His hands were warm on the small of her back and though his face was outwardly expressionless, she could feel something deeper behind those ice blue eyes of his. She could always sense it, but most of the time had the option to ignore it or look away.

"….surprised we stayed this long." Steele was speaking, but Laura hadn't heard the beginning of the sentence. She was too lost in her own world. "Laura?"

"I'm sorry," she admitted. "I wasn't listening."

"I noticed that," Steele said, with a slight smile. "Something on your mind?"

"Just…nice to see Murphy again," she lied, "I'm proud of him."

"Yes, he certainly made good, didn't he?" Steele agreed. "His wife is a fantastic dancer."

"Sure you wouldn't rather be dancing with her then?" It was meant to sound teasing, but came closer to sounding like a jealous wife than Laura would have liked. The look Steele gave her suggested he had heard it as well.

"I don't chase taken women," was all he said.

"You don't chase many women at all, anymore," she observed. She hadn't meant to comment on it, but the words had come out of her mouth before she could stop them. "How long has it been since you have been on a date?"

"If we are going to keep things professional discussing our romantic lives is something I think should remain off topic," he said smoothly. She felt her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. "However, if you must know, there haven't been many women lately who have captured my interest."

"I'm sorry," she replied feeling properly rebuffed and angry with herself. "It was none of my business."

"It was once," he said, this time softer, more gentle. His arms seemed to tighten around her and without even realizing it, she found herself responding to him. She leaned into him, resting her head against his chest, reassured by his solid, steady heartbeat.

She was suddenly transported back to another time - a time before things had gotten so complicated. This used to be so natural for them. What had happened? Why was she so hesitant? Why was it so hard for her to believe in him? Was Murphy right? Was she the problem?

Maybe it was the effect of the wine, or the beauty of the evening, or the feel of his arms around her so like they used to be, but Laura suddenly found herself not satisfied with the distance between them. Most of the time it was a relief not having to fend off his advances or struggle with the question of his commitment, but tonight all she felt was lonely. She missed him. She had been missing him for quite some time. The closeness they had once shared seemed gone and Laura couldn't help but want it back.

She wasn't even consciously aware she was doing it. It just seemed natural to reach up and caress his face, to brush her cheek against his as they danced, to feel his heartbeat steadily increase as she tilted her face up towards his, their lips meeting for the first time in so long. Her own heart rate sped up to match his as her lips parted and the kiss deepened.

She felt her entire body flush with excitement. Warmth rushed through her along with a thrill of something she could neither define, nor explain. His lips were warm and soft, yet at the same time demanded something of her that both excited and terrified her. Her hands roamed over his chest, wound around his neck urging him, wanting him.

She wasn't sure how it happened, but somehow they had made their way out of the main hall and onto the balcony overlooking the water. The breeze was warm and inviting, sending shivers through her body. When her eyes met his, she could see a host of expressions filter across his face, illuminated by the moonlight. Confusion, mingled with desire and a hint of trepidation. For Laura, all she could feel was need.

She kissed him again, ignoring the small voice inside her head that told her this was a bad idea. She ran her hands up his chest, wanting to move further down but afraid of what might happen. It was a small consolation that they were in a public place. Despite the relative privacy the balcony provided, she knew it could not go too far. It was a formal event and they had a reputation to uphold.

She pressed herself closer, needing to feel that connection between them to drown out the doubts that coursed through her. A small moan escaped her lips as her body reacted to his. She could feel his response between the layers of fabric.

It was this such response that caused Steele to abruptly sever the connection and jump back - almost as if she had burned him. Shocked by the sudden lack of physical contact, she looked up at him, her entire body flushed and shaking.

"This can't happen," was all he said. His jaw was clenched tightly and his normally expressive face was closed off and unreadable.

"It's alright, Mr. Steele," Laura assured him. He had likely pulled away out of respect for her wishes. She could understand that - it was even quite flattering to know that he was still respecting her desire to maintain a strictly professional relationship. If this had happened in the cold light of day underneath the unforgiving florescent lights of her office, Laura would be in perfect agreement of his assessment. However, tonight the moonlight, the water and the pull of desire was far too strong. She wanted him, and she was going to do whatever it took to satisfy that need. Perhaps then, and only then, she could forget him and move on. "I want this to happen."

"Well I don't," he replied his voice curt. "I never wanted this."

"So that was someone else who kissed me like that a moment ago?" She tried to quell the anger that shot through her. How dare he tell her he didn't want this? She knew as well as he did how much he wanted it, so why was he pretending otherwise? To hurt her? Was this punishment for all the times she had turned him down? It didn't wash.

"No, that was me. I made a mistake." He was still calm, but his expression had softened ever so slightly. "I can't keep doing this. You know what I want from you. You have always known it, but you keep me at arms length. Two years ago you told me we were finished. I understand why, even if I don't like it. I have done my best to respect your wishes and if I thought for one second you had changed you mind…"

He trailed off and ran a frustrated hand through his hair.

"I have changed my mind," she said, not sure they were even having the same conversation. "I want to be with you."

"For how long?" He questioned, his eyes searching hers. "Tonight? Tomorrow? Forever?"

"Ironic for you to be asking me about commitment isn't it?" She hated the sharp edge in her voice, but couldn't help it.

"Only took about a minute to circle back to that old chestnut," he observed quietly. "I have always been committed. You haven't wanted to see it, but you know it's true. You also know I want you and if I thought for one second you would be happy waking up to me in the morning…"

He trailed off and shook his head.

"I can't do this anymore, Laura. I want to, but I can't. It's easy for you to say you want me under the moonlight with the music and the wine…"

"You think I've had too much to drink?" She exclaimed, humiliation flooding through her. She had experienced all kinds of different heartache where Mr. Steele was concerned, but not once had he ever rejected her. Not like this. She didn't quite know how to deal with that. She was angry and allowed that anger to course through her. It was easier than thinking about what he was saying and possibly having to confront the fact that she might be in the wrong.

"Maybe," he admitted. "I honestly don't know what your reasons are, but I do know that I can't continue to be your back up whenever the moon is right or there is soft music playing."

"No, you're right, Mr. Steele," she said caustically, "clearly I am not thinking straight. I should have known better than to think things had changed. I'm sorry I wasted your time."

She turned away, unable to look at him. She didn't want him to see the way he had affected her. She couldn't bear it if he knew how hurt she was, how embarrassed and angry. She had put herself out there - made herself vulnerable and he had shut her down, confirming every insecurity she had ever had. He reached out, presumably to touch her and it was more than she could handle. Without thinking, she left. She headed back into the crowded ballroom.

She passed Murphy without saying goodbye, much to his surprise and climbed into the limo that waited in the parking lot. Her instructions to Fred to take her home were mechanical - as if someone else were speaking them. He didn't question where Mr. Steele was. She wasn't sure how she would answer him if he did.

She just wanted to forget this night ever happened. She had no idea how she would look Mr. Steele in the eye the following Monday morning, but she would deal with that later.

She could deal with anything after she had gone home, had a good cry and put everything back into the neat compartmentalized emotional boxes she kept locked inside. On Monday she would be calm, professional and coolly distant. On Monday she would be in control again.

****

Chapter 6

Steele watched as Laura bolted from the balcony and through the door like Cinderella discovering the clock had struck midnight. He wanted to go after her, but hadn't a clue what he would do or say if he caught her.

Attempting to sort through what he was feeling was almost impossible. He hadn't meant to hurt her -lord knows he hadn't wanted to turn her away. He hadn't felt her in his arms for two years, hadn't kissed her in two years. It had taken every ounce of strength he possessed to stop before things went too far.

Another moment, another second and they might be in the limo right now heading back to his place. While his body reacted traitorously to the thought, his heart was deeply conflicted.

He loved her. Without question or denial, he knew that now. He wanted to believe that someday she would see that. He wanted to believe that someday she would realize that words meant nothing without the deeds behind them, but so far she had seemed content to remain simply partners.

So why now? Why tonight? He wanted so badly to believe that she meant what she said - that she had changed her mind, but deep down he knew that wasn't the case. Even as he held her, he could sense her fear, her hesitation. She wasn't ready yet.

Sighing, he placed his hands in his pockets and headed back into the ballroom. He had no doubt that she had likely taken the limo, which meant that he would have to take a taxi home - adding insult to injury for a man who almost never took any form of public transportation if he could help it.

He almost didn't notice Murphy approach him until the lady at the coat check had handed him his coat - and Laura's. They had used the same ticket.

"I think your ride left without you," Murphy mused as Steele adjusted the garment to his liking.

"Yes," he said with a smile, "looks like I will have to take a lesser mode of transport, doesn't it? Fitting end to the night, I expect."

"Can I ask what happened?" Steele was surprised to see genuine concern in the other man's eyes.

"I give up, Michaels," he admitted, "I can't figure you out. Shouldn't you be demanding to know what I did to upset her?"

"I have no doubt something happened," Murphy replied, "and I know we have never been friends, but this time I don't think it was you. At least…not the way you think."

"Do tell," he said wryly.

"She told me what happened with your passport." Murphy chuckled slightly. "I can't think of a bigger mistake you could have made, Steele, but…I get why you did it. The problem is that she still doesn't. It even took me a while to see it, but you really do love her don't you?"

"Does it really matter?" He asked wearily. "All she sees is a man who tried to marry a hooker to get a green card. How I feel isn't relevant."

"You've never told her?"

"What would be the point?" Steele sighed in exasperation. "She goes on about how she wants to hear me tell her how I feel, and I want to, but…"

He stopped, unable to believe he was having a hear to heart with Murphy Michaels of all people - the man who had been his rival for Laura's affections for so long.

"I get it." Murphy said quietly. "You don't want to tell her how you feel for the same reason I never told her how I felt when I was at the agency. She wasn't ready to hear it. The difference between you and I, however, is that she loves you. You might not believe that, but it's true. If it wasn't, you wouldn't scare the hell out of her the way you do."

"Small consolation," Steele said, a rueful smile playing across his lips. "She is an infuriating woman. I wish I knew how to get through to her."

"You want my advice?" Murphy asked.

"No," Remington replied with a grin, "but I have a feeling you're going to give it to me anyway."

"Don't give up." He said simply. "I did. I left. I don't regret it for a second, mind you, but that is what every man she has ever known has done. Don't be the next. Prove her wrong every second of every day. Start with tonight."

"How?"

"That's her coat, isn't it?" Murphy said lightly. "Why don't you return it to her?"

****

Chapter 7

Standing outside Laura Holt's loft, Remington couldn't remember the last time he had been so nervous. No, that wasn't true. It was just before the first sting he and Daniel ever pulled. He was 12 and absolutely terrified he would get caught.

But that was a whole different type of nervous. This went far deeper than a fear of getting thrown in Juvenile Hall.
He wasn't sure what to expect when she opened her door. He didn't even know if she would, but he had to try. For some reason Murphy's words had touched a nerve. He couldn't explain it, but a part of him thought he understood Laura in a way he hadn't before.

She did open it, but the woman who stood on the other end of the door was different. She had changed out of her evening gown and into a pair of comfortable flannel pyjamas, had brushed her hair out so it hung soft and loose around her shoulders and had scrubbed all her make up off - but that wasn't what made her look different.

Rather, it was the way she stood, almost shrinking into herself, frightened and vulnerable. She had always walked so tall around him. No matter who had hurt her, he had never seen her lose her pride. She now looked naked in a way that Steele had never seen her, nor wanted to. Her eyes were tired and sad. Part of him wanted to simply apologise for bothering her, return her coat and leave, but he stood his ground. It had always been their pattern to fight, retreat and regroup when they were both on even ground. The problem with that was that it never got either of them anywhere.

"What are you doing here, Mr. Steele?"

"You left your coat," he said, handing it to her. His inner voice chided him at the obviousness of the statement. He was usually so good with words. "I thought, maybe…we could talk?"

"I think we have said everything we need to for tonight," Laura replied. She stood a bit straighter now, the old fire beginning to return to her eyes. Steele knew that look - it was the look she had while gearing up for battle.

"Laura, please don't shut me out." He stepped forward and touched the door. He wouldn't stop her if she shut it on his toe, but he hoped that his proximity might get her to reconsider. It worked. He could see her relent ever so slightly and with a sigh, she stepped back and allowed him to enter.

Her arms were folded over her chest as if to protect herself. She entered the living area of the loft without looking back at him. He followed without speaking, not sure how to begin in a way that could break through the shell she had erected around herself.

"Alright," she said finally after she had seated herself on the couch and met his gaze. "Talk."

"I…" he paused, unsure of how to arrange his words in a way that could get across what he was feeling. "I'm sorry."

It was all he could think to say. He wasn't even sure what specifically he was apologizing for. All he knew was that the look on her face - the hurt mixed with embarrassment and anger was too much for him. He hated being the cause of her pain in any capacity and wished only to make it right again.

Evidently an apology had been the last thing Laura had been expecting. She sat back, surprised, and slightly cautious.

"You don't need to apologize," she said quietly. "You were right - what happened tonight was a mistake. Two years ago, I had my reasons for ending things.

Tonight just reminded me that those reasons are still valid."

"That's where you're wrong," he replied. He sat down next to her and sighed, running his hand over his face and trying to erase the weariness he felt descending on him.

"Oh?" was all she said.

Whatever good will his apology had incurred, was now gone, and Steele knew once again he had put his foot in it.

"Oh, not about what happened two years ago. You were right to be angry about that."

"How generous of you," she said wryly.

"The thing is," he continued, ignoring her sarcasm, "that we both made a lot of mistakes back then. I went about things all wrong. I wanted desperately to prove to you that I could be trusted, and let you down just when it mattered the most"

"Yes, you did," she agreed, this time without rancour. It was sad resignation in her voice that really hurt and urged him to continue.

"It wasn't just me though, Laura, you let me down too." He took her hands and traced his fingers gently over hers before looking back into her gaze and preparing himself for whatever he might see in it. "I was so busy trying to prove to you that you could trust me, I never really stopped and asked myself if I could trust you. The truth is, I don't think I really did. I'm still not sure that I do."

"Me?" She said, startled. "Why on earth would you say that I couldn't be trusted? When have I ever lied to you?"

"You might think you haven't," he acknowledged, "but you lie to yourself - and me - every day. You keep telling me you need me to tell you how I feel, and I've wanted to. Every second of the day, I want to. For two years, working with you, being near you - only as partners - all I have wanted to do was tell you how I feel."

"Then why…"

"Because you weren't ready to hear it," he said simply. Murphy had been right. All this time Steele had thought it was his own inability to show Laura he could commit to her that had held her back, but that hadn't been it at all. "Each time I got up the courage, some new crises would present itself and you would find new reasons to mistrust me and doubt me - all so you could fuel the doubt in your mind and keep me at bay. I certainly didn't help matters with the lies and deceit, but even if I had told you the truth, would you have wanted to hear it? If I had said those three words you claim to want from me, would you ever really trust them?"

"Maybe not," she admitted, "but then again, I might. The point is you never tried. Not once. I asked you time and time again, Mr. Steele to tell me how you felt. Did you ever consider that maybe if you just tried…"

"I couldn't do that," he said softly. He wanted to reach out, to touch her, to make some sort of physical connection but couldn't gauge how she might react, so he refrained.

"Why?"

"I was afraid," he said. "The feelings I have for you…well, I've never felt them before for anyone. I have never let anybody in the way I have with you. You aren't the only one who finds it difficult to trust. The only real certainty I have ever had in my life has been the knowledge that eventually everybody leaves. With you, I wanted so badly to stay. I wanted to so badly to say those words to you - to tell you how much you meant to me, but I was terrified if I did, you still might not trust me. I would have given you all of me and I honestly don't know what would be left behind in the wreckage."

"You would go on," she said, echoing the statement he had once made to her after a particularly affecting case. "It's all any of us can ever do."

"I'm not sure I would," he told her sadly. "I've built my life around making superficial connections so that I never have to get too close to anybody. That makes it easier for all concerned when I eventually decide it's time to start again. But this time, I couldn't. Did you never wonder why I stayed…even after we were no longer together?"

"I just assumed you loved the parties," Laura said, attempting levity.

"I'm sorry about tonight," he said, needing her to understand he had never meant to hurt her. "I know I went about it all wrong. I did want you. I still want you. I just don't know how to get from wanting to…wherever the hell we need to be."

"Because I don't trust you," she said as if summing up his theory.

"Because we don't trust each other," he replied. "Be honest with me. If I told you I loved you right now…would you truly believe me? Or would you somewhere deep down in the back or your mind, assume it was just another tactic of mine - another trick?"

"I…"

"And if I did stay," he continued, "if I stayed my entire life, would you ever truly feel secure? You feel safer assuming that every man will leave you. It's a much simpler way to live when you expect everyone to disappoint you somewhere down the line. But what if I didn't? What if I stayed?"

"What makes you think I don't want that as much as you?" She asked, her voice now quiet and uncharacteristically hoarse. Steele couldn't help but notice the way her eyes desperately searched his for the unspoken. He noticed the nervous way she fiddled with her pyjama bottoms - slightly too large for her, but still not disguising the beautiful woman he knew lay underneath.

"Do you?" He echoed.

****

Chapter 8

Laura stared at him, unable to figure out a way to respond to his question. She wanted to tell him exactly how much she did care about him, but couldn't seem to make the words pass her lips. All this time, she had tricked herself into believing that he was the root cause of her distrust, when that had never really been it at all.

Oh, sure she had every reason to distrust him - especially at first. When she had first met him, he would have sooner cancelled his Columbia House movie subscription than admit he had feelings for any woman beyond the superficial.

No, her initial assessment of him had been accurate, she was sure of that. He had been a con man who was used to playing a game for a while, then leaving whenever things got too hot or he got bored or restless.

Yet somehow, over the years he had changed. Laura had watched him change. She had watched him go from being a man with five different passports with five different names, a hazy past and an uncertain future to a man who she had grown to rely on, trust and even…love.

Deep down she knew that she had loved him for a very long time. She had always thought it was the possibility of him leaving her once they fully solidified their relationship that had kept her hesitant, but that wasn't it at all.

All this time, and one conversation with Murphy was all it took to change everything. She had been outraged when he had almost married Clarissa, but part of her had almost been relieved. Being proven right about Steele had hurt at the time, but it had also kept her from having to risk anything with him. It had confirmed the fears she had and allowed her to push him away with no real risk to her own heart.

And that was the truly terrifying thing about him. No matter what she did, that risk was still there. Two years had passed and her feelings had not lessened.

Two years had passed and he had stayed. With no hope for a relationship between them, and against all odds he had stayed. Every day she walked into the office and saw him there ready for work, only confirmed that he wanted something more from her than just a fling. It was easy to expect the worst of him, and so much harder to trust.

And she wanted to trust. She hadn't realized just how badly she had wanted that until he told her just how frightened he was as well. She never dreamed that he was just as scared as she was. He had always seemed so confident and sure of himself - cocky even.

But now, sitting across from her on the coach, his hands clutching hers almost desperately, he was anything but. He had confessed to her that he was afraid she wouldn't believe him if he told her how he felt about her. It hit closer to home than she would have liked. She wanted to believe that hearing Mr. Steele say those three magic words would be able to erase all her doubts and fears about him but that wasn't the case and never would be.

No words could erase those doubts and fears, especially since they weren't really about him at all…they were about her. And he knew that. Murphy knew that. It seems everybody but her had known that.

She had wanted him tonight more desperately than she ever had and if he had gone along with it, it likely would have killed any chance they would have had at starting over again. She would have woken up hurt that he hadn't told her want she needed to hear. She would have been angry with herself for letting her own guard down and probably would have never trusted him again. He obviously had known that, and that had been why he pulled away. Not because he hadn't wanted her, but because he had.

Because he still did.

It was enough to make her bold. Enough to make her want to trust - more than three words ever could.

"How can I show you, Mr. Steele?" She asked. Her voice felt thick and heavy. Tears threatened but she kept them at bay. "How can I show you that we can trust each other?"

"Answer one question for me," he replied, looking suddenly very frightened. Laura couldn't imagine what he would want to know that would unsettle him like that. "Why don't you ever call me by my name?"

"Your name?" She repeated, confused, "but I don't know…"

"Not the name on my birth certificate," he clarified, "I don't think I will ever know that, and frankly I don't think I need to anymore. The name I have thought of as my real name for quite some time now is the name you gave me. Remington. It's the only name that I have ever felt truly comfortable with.

That's why I stayed - because I am Remington Steele, and you are a huge part of that."

"I…" she swallowed, at a loss for words, "I had no idea. I always thought…"

She didn't know what she had always thought. Calling him by the name she had invented had always felt wrong somehow. She wasn't sure why, but she feared doing it. It almost felt more intimate than finding out his real name ever would. It was an intimacy they hadn't yet managed to cultivate with any real solid foundation so she had shied away.

"That it was temporary?" Steele guessed.

"Yes," she finally acknowledged. She felt hesitant - almost shy. His hands were still warm on hers, but she suddenly felt like there was still too much distance between them. She wanted to touch him. Reaching out, she ran her hand softly through his thick black hair. If he was surprised by the gesture, he didn't show it. Rather, he closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation. "I always thought finding your true identity was the most important thing in the world for you. I guess I just assumed that when that happened, you would be gone. Calling you Mr. Steele was just way of keeping myself from getting too attached to that name…to you."

"I'm not going anywhere, Laura," he whispered. His eyes were the deepest colour of blue she had ever seen and the intensity with which he gazed at her was both terrifying and exhilarating. She felt more exposed sitting on that couch in her flannel pyjamas than she had that evening in her strapless gown. "I promise. I want to be with you the rest of my life. I have wanted that for the longest time."

And there it was - raw, honesty. The honesty she thought he was incapable of showing and it had been there all along. Behind every crazy scheme and every failed attempt at a romantic interlude, the motive behind it had all been the same.

He loved her. When he had started she had no idea, but she could see the truth of it now as she looked into his eyes. It was a truth she had hidden from for two years now - a truth that had scared her more than anything.

It was a truth she hadn't been ready for until now. She knew now she didn't need anything else from him beyond what he was giving her - what he had always given her. Whenever she had needed him, he had been there. They had stumbled and faltered, but not once had he given up - not even when she had given him every reason to.

She felt overwhelmed and unsure how to respond. The only thing she did know was how amazing it was to finally allow herself to trust and how she desperately wanted to show him that he could trust her with his heart as she trusted him with hers.

"Laura?" He was looking at her nervously. She realized she hadn't said anything and that he was waiting for a response. She wanted to say so much to him and couldn't figure out how to word any of it.

And then she realized that for two long, words had been the problem.

Standing up, she took his hand and gestured for him to follow her. He did, curious, but silent. Her hand was arm in his and trembled slightly as she lead him towards the bed in her loft. Once there, she turned, ran her hands across his chest and up to his face. Urging his face down to hers, she kissed him, softly at first and then deeper.

It was a different kind of kiss from earlier in the evening. Gone was the desperation or the feeling of having something to prove. His lips were warm and safe but with a feeling of excitement that was completely at odds with that safety. Warmth settled within her body in places she had long thought cold.

His body felt so alive against hers. His lips were on her neck now, his arms around her waist, thumbs brushing up against the bare skin underneath her pyjama top. His touch was strong, firm and at the same time excruciatingly sensual. Her whole body filled with heat at the thought of what those hands might feel like elsewhere on her body.

He pulled back slowly and Laura allowed herself to catch her breath. He laid a hand gently on her cheek and kissed her lips softly. He was obviously waiting for a sign - some kind of acknowledgement that she felt comfortable taking things further.

She did so by taking his hands in hers and guiding them to the front of her pyjama top, undoing the top button slowly. Encouraged, he undid the second and the third before stopping, one more time.

"Are you sure this is what you want?"

"I'm sure," she murmured, feeling more at peace with this decision than she ever had. "Make love to me, Remington."

No further words were spoken, and none were needed. They spoke to each other in a way they had never been able to before - with every touch, sigh and kiss.

Maybe in the morning she would tell him she loved him. Maybe he would say it back, but she knew now it wasn't necessary.


Either way, tomorrow was a new day and they had the rest of their lives to talk.

 

The End


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