Eyeing the newspaper laying open on the table, Steve froze in mid-motion, still holding the towel he was drying his hair with on top of his head. He turned slowly to face his partner.
Mike continued to lean against the counter, his relaxed stance belying the anger in his eyes. “Well?”
Taking a quick short inhale, Steve said slowly, “I was going to tell you –“
“Oh yeah, when?” Mike cut him off impatiently. “Before or after you were charged?” he snarled sarcastically.
Steve shook his head quickly in frustration, feeling his own anger rising. “Mike, you know that’s not going to happen.” He pointed at the paper. “Do you think that’s really true?”
“Of course not!” Mike snapped back then hesitated, catching his breath with a little gasp. Involuntarily, his right arm wrapped around his chest and he closed his eyes and grimaced slightly.
Steve watched his partner intently, but didn’t move any nearer. When Mike opened his eyes, Steve said dryly, “If we’re going to continue to argue, may I suggest we sit down someplace?” They eyed each other testily, until finally a small tentative smile appeared on Steve’s lips.
The fire in Mike’s eyes disappeared first then very slowly the corners of his mouth turned up slightly. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said firmly as he folded up and sat on the floor, leaning against a cupboard.
“Have it your way,” Steve countered, sitting where he was in the middle of the kitchen floor. He held the towel in his lap and stared unflinchingly at the older man.
The silence lengthened. Uncharacteristically, it was Mike who looked away first, glancing down at his hands and then back up. His hard stare had softened. “You were going to tell me, weren’t you?” he asked quietly.
Smiling slightly, Steve nodded. “Yes, of course,” he said earnestly. “It’s just…” His voice trailed off and he looked away, took a deep breath and then looked back at his partner.
“Mike, for the past two and a half weeks, I have spent more time than I ever want to do again sitting beside your hospital bed hoping against hope that it wasn’t going to be the last time I’d see you alive.”
He saw Mike take a deep, unsteady breath and his eyes widen.
“And until you’re healthy again, I am not doing anything that could jeopardize that. And that includes not letting you find out about things that you or I have no control over and can only do more harm than good.” He smiled slyly. “Whether you like it or not, Mike, I’m the one in charge right now. I get to make the decisions for both of us.”
Steve could see the older man struggling to retain his composure; he knew he had won and allowed himself a forgiving smile. “And I think the coffee’s ready,” he continued, getting to his feet and crossing to the counter next to Mike.
He glanced down as he moved the mugs closer and unplugged the percolator. He could see Mike staring straight ahead and knew he was trying to pull his scattered equanimity back together. Steve smiled to himself; after all these years together he knew just what buttons to push.
The coffee ready, Steve turned away from the counter and sat on the floor beside his partner. “Here,” he said, holding out a cup.
Not trusting himself to meet Steve’s eyes, Mike reached out and took the cup with his right hand, continuing to stare straight ahead. “Thanks,” he said quietly, taking a quick sip, then lowering the cup into his lap.
Taking his own sip, Steve looked at Mike from the corner of his eye and smiled. “Where did you get the newspaper?” he asked suddenly and saw Mike start slightly, guiltily.
Clearing his throat, Mike turned his head. “Well, you’ve been with me almost constantly for the past few days. You’re the hotshot detective, you figure it out.” With a smug smile, he took another sip of coffee.
Taking the bait, Steve laid the back of his head against the cupboard and frowned. “All right.”
After a few long silent seconds, Mike looked at him again. “Give up?”
Steve’s glance was laced with annoyance. “Not yet.”
Mike shook his head, chuckling. “You’ll never get it.” Mike took a sip of coffee then turned to his partner once more. “When you finally give up, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”
“You can be really irritating, you know that, right?” Steve sighed. “I haven’t given up, but what do you want to talk about.”
It was Mike’s turn to lay the back of his head against the cupboard. He cleared his throat again and began softly. “I know these last couple of weeks haven’t been easy for either of us, and I think it’s about time you and I part company for a little while.”
Alarmed, Steve sat up straighter, his eyes boring into his partner’s face. “What are you talking about?”
Mike chuckled. “That’s not what I mean. Relax. I just mean, I’m okay to spend a night on my own, and you’re a young man who … has needs, as they say,” he said archly, grinning slightly. “What I’m trying to say is, take the night off, go out, have some fun, preferably with a female companion… Need I be more specific?”
By now Steve had relaxed and leaned back, his own grin building. “No, no, no,” he said quickly, “I get where you’re going. I just need time to, ah, process this information.”
They both sat staring straight ahead, both smiling. Mike eventually looked over. “You do have someone you can –?“
“Yes, yes,” Steve cut him off with a laugh, “I’m just trying to figure out which one…”
“Which one?” Mike shook his head in mock disgust. “You young people these days…”
Steve chuckled. “Okay, okay, I know who I’m gonna call, but you’re cramping my style here, Mike –“
“You have keys,” Mike said simply, cutting him off.
“You have keys,” Mike said again, more emphatically. At Steve’s blank stare, he sighed. “You’re really not firing on all cylinders today, are you?”
“What?” Steve asked with a laugh and a grin.
Mike sighed dramatically. “I have keys to your house, you have…” He let the rest of the sentence hang.
Suddenly Steve’s eyes lit up and he grinned slowly, nodding. “I have keys to your house.”
Mike grinned and nodded back. “Just change the sheets when you’re done.”
With a happy chuckle and tossing the towel over his shoulder, Steve got to his feet, put his coffee cup on the counter then reached down to help Mike stand. “You sure you’re gonna be okay on your own tonight?”
Mike smiled affectionately. “Absolutely. And I will feel much happier knowing you’re not sitting around here baby-sitting.”
Steve slapped him on the shoulder. “I’m gonna make a phone call.”
# # # # #
“This is nice,” Emily said softly, reaching across the table and putting her hand over Steve’s. “I hadn’t seen you in such a long time, I was really getting worried.”
Steve shook his head. “Well, it’s been a hell of a couple of weeks, but things are getting better…”
“Steve, I did see that article… it’s not true, is it?”
“Nope, not a word of it,” he said quietly and watched as the gorgeous blond across the table smiled warmly.
“I didn’t think so. We have so much trouble with reporters sometimes too. What’s that Lincoln quote? At least, I think its Lincoln…something about never believing everything you read…”
“That’s a fact.”
“So,” she said, taking a sip of wine, “how did you manage to get away tonight?”
Steve chuckled and leaned back, picking up his own glass. “It was my partner’s idea actually,” he said with a reflective smile. “He thought I needed the change of scene.”
“He was one of the cops who was shot, wasn’t he?” Emily asked gently.
“Yeah, yeah,” Steve said quietly, swirling the wine in his glass. “I almost lost him twice in the past couple of weeks.” He looked up and smiled. “But he’s great now, he’s gonna be fine.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear that, I really am.” She put down her wine glass and cleared her throat self-consciously. Steve looked up at her. “So…” she began slowly, “he’s staying at your place … I’m assuming…” she gestured vaguely, hoping he would catch her drift.
His confused look changed slowly into one of pleasure as he put his own glass on the table and leaned towards her. Sliding his left hand out of his jacket pocket, staring into her eyes, he held up a ring of keys and dangled them before her face.
“He has a house too,” he said softly and suggestively with a come-hither smile.
# # # # #
Steve woke slowly, shivering under the light touch of Emily’s fingertips over his chest. Without opening his eyes, he reached out to pull her close and felt her head against his shoulder. He kissed the top of her head.
“What time is it?” he asked softly, and felt her reach across him to pick up his watch from the night table.
“What time do you have to be at work?”
She put the watch back down and laid her hand on his stomach. “I can go in later – I don’t have a deposition until 11.”
“Good,” he sighed, pulling her closer.
After several quiet minutes, Emily said softly, “I have an idea. Why don’t we go pick up a good big breakfast somewhere and bring it over to your partner.”
Steve pulled away slightly to look at her. “You really want to meet him, don’t you?”
She smiled. “Yes, I do,” she said simply.
“For a lot of reasons. For one, I want to thank him for providing us with the wherewithal for this…” she gestured around the bedroom, “and your night off last night.”
Steve chuckled and pulled her closer.
“And,” she began quietly and carefully, “I want to meet the man you love so much.” When he pulled back again to stare at her questioningly, she slapped him lightly on the stomach. “Don’t deny it. I can see it in your eyes and hear it in your words when you talk about him.” She smiled knowingly at him.
Steve wriggled uncomfortably under her touch, and began to sit up. She pulled him back down.
“Don’t be embarrassed about it, Steve, I think it’s wonderful. There haven’t been many times in my life when I’ve had the opportunity to witness pure, unbiased love. I find it wonderfully refreshing, and I’m intrigued.”
Steve’s uncomfortable look turned warm and sympathetic. “You really want to meet him?”
She nodded, grinning.
He nodded back. “All right, let’s do it.” He tossed the covers back, and the two naked lovers scrambled for their clothes.
# # # # #
Mike became aware of someone sitting on the edge of the bed, and he opened his eyes slowly, only somewhat surprised to see his partner. Sunshine was peaking around the edges of the curtains so he knew the sun was up.
“Good morning,” Steve said with uncommon enthusiasm. “How did you sleep?”
Mike cleared his throat and carefully pushed himself up. “Fine, good.” He shook his head slightly, trying to wake up. “Are you just getting home?” he asked, recognizing Steve’s wardrobe from the evening before.
Steve grinned and raised his eyebrows. “The night’s not over yet.”
Confused, and wary, Mike asked, “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Steve began, pulling the covers off the older man, then getting up and walking to the dresser, “Emily and our breakfast are both waiting for you downstairs.”
“What?” Mike hadn’t moved. Steve turned from the bureau and tossed a pair of boxer shorts in his direction.
“Get dressed. There’s a beautiful woman and an amazing breakfast waiting for you downstairs.” Steve crossed to the armchair, picked up Mike’s pants and shirt and brought them over to the bed.
“Uhm, what?” Mike repeated as he sat up straighter and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.
Steve stood in the centre of the room, looking mystified. He threw his hands up in disbelief. “I know. I can’t figure it out either, but for some reason, my date Emily really wants to meet you.” He crossed to the door and turned back. “So, chop-chop, get downstairs as soon as you can.”
Steve left the room. Stunned, Mike sat on the side of the bed, trying to figure out what was going on. With a bemused sigh, he stood up, picked up his clothes and crossed to the bathroom.