The Alternate Link of Steele 20
Date: Thursday, March 14, 2002
Adriana <>

Phew! 'Tis finished.

Usual discalimers (Archive away, Nancy)
Would like to thank Debra for all her help and patience, and also Nancy who's stored all of this on her site.

For those who have not read this story yet, I would encourage you to wait a bit longer until revisions are finished on the earlier parts. Thanks also to Yuliya who helped inmensely with the russian dialogue!


The Alternate Link of Steele 20.

By Adriana

Los Angeles. 5:12 AM

The city looked bigger than he remembered. It looked brighter, busier, louder and definitely more hostile that he had ever given it credit for. He shrugged the apprehension away, feeling too exhausted to dwell on the feeling.

Steele closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the car seat. He had the taxi all to himself now, having dropped Laura off at her loft a few minutes earlier. She had hardly spoken at all on the ride from the airport. "I'm too tired to talk tonight, Mr Steele," she had argued. "It's been a long flight, a long week. We need time to unwind and think things through, don't you agree?"

He couldn't say that he did, so he had kept his peace. Taking his silence as acceptance, she had pecked him on the lips and quickly fled into the building.

Murphy Michaels and Mildred Krebs had taken separate taxis and would no doubt be heading to their respective homes. Neither of them had spoken one word to Steele on the journey back from Russia, and though he was not concerned about Murphy, he had expected at least a few words from the reliable Ms. Krebs. But she had the right to be angry, Steele supposed. After all, he hadn't made any efforts to regain her confidence and after two years of distrust, it was evident that it would take more than a smile to get on her good side again.

In fact, he had been thoroughly surprised that she had stood up for him as they faced Sergeant Grechko. Mildred was a good woman, a good woman indeed.

And Murphy? Laura and her former partner had spent most of the flight talking, but Steele wasn't too eager to discover what had been said. Some things, he supposed, were best kept secret. Deep down, Steele hoped Murphy Michaels would take the next plane back to Denver and out of his life. Murphy might have been a priceless friend to Laura, but to him, the blonde detective was nothing but a big nuisance. Trustworthy, perhaps, but a nuisance, all the same.

Steele opened his eyes and looked out the window. He had still a long way to go.

************* *************************** ******************

Mildred's house. 5:14 AM.

Mildred took the kettle off the fire and poured some hot water in her cup. She welcomed the soothing feeling of the tea spilling warmly through her. She needed it. She had made a great effort to catch a wink or two on the plane, closing her eyes and her ears to the tumultuous undercurrents that had filled the cabin. But it had been a lost cause and now she was worn out.

Heading now for bed and wrapping herself tighter in her robe, she looked pensively out the window. Her neighbourhood, her house, her things looked just the same, but still she had felt everything around her had suddenly morphed and changed.

It had been the look of complete resignation, of total abandonment on Murphy's face as they got off the plane that first made Mildred feel the change. She had seen him shiver as they walked silently towards the waiting line of cars, and she had heard his shuddering breath as Laura said goodbye and climbed on a taxi with Steele. Now she couldn't get him off her mind.

Poor Murphy.

Still, Mildred knew full well that Laura and Steele had unfinished business they needed to take care of. It was strange that she felt so inexplicably unselfish, so utterly unconcerned about her own future. Perhaps she would look for a nice and steady governmental job. Surely, she could still pull some favours here and there.

Yeah, no problem. Nice governmental jobà nice pension planà nice, unbelievably dull, incredibly boring life.


Mildred ditched the robe and snuggled warmly in her bed. Five minutes later, she was asleep.

**************** ************** ************************

LAX Airport. 5:15 AM
With a loud slam, Murphy Michaels got out of the cab he had gotten into just minutes earlier.

"Hey, watch it, pal!" the driver yelled.

Murphy winced, pulled out a more than generous tip and handed it over. "Sorry."

He walked warily into the main hall and down to the ticket office. What was the point of delaying the inevitable? No sense in him wasting money on a cheap hotel when there were flights from LAX every hour or so.

"I need to get to Denver as soon as possible," he told a bored clerk.

The man tapped noisily on his computer and said without a smile, "The next plane leaves in forty minutes. You're lucky- we have plenty of seats."

"Yeah, I'm lucky all right."

With his ticket in one hand and his suitcase in the other, Murphy paced around the waiting lounge until he found a comfortable looking row of seats. He put his luggage next to one end and stretched across four seats, looking at the ceiling.

The journey back home had not been pleasant. He and Laura had gone through all the fine points of what a long lasting friendship should be like, and it seemed her notions quite differed from his. He was only trying to help, but it was no use- she was the most stubborn woman on the face of the Earth. At the end of their heated argument, she had made it quite clear that she had no intention of ditching Steele once they got back to L.A.

Not that Murphy believed Steele would stay in California for too long. Knowing that Laura would need his support sooner than later made Murphy's task even harder. But, as it was usually the case with Laura and him, things were done her way.

Well, not any longer.

He turned around and looked at the panel that displayed the arrivals and departures. Another half hour and he'd be heading to his own cosy flat. To his own town, his own agency, his own life. If Laura needed him, she would call.


His stomach growled and his eyes immediately travelled along the lavish row of shops that had more than enough on offer. When Murphy didn't move, his stomach protested again, with a vengeance. He ignored it and returned his eyes to the ceiling.

What if Steele decided to stay in L.A. after all? The odds were small, but definitely worth taking into account. Murphy knew that would make Laura happy, but the mere thought of it made his own skin crawl. Whether Steele and Laura would be able to pull the con off a second time, he wasn't too sure.

Murphy shook his head in denial. He could almost see again the look in Steele's eyes as he led Laura towards a taxi with a veiled smile Murphy had not seen but felt. It had been in Steele's eyesà The rotten little bastard! The smooth talking louse! The smug mother-

Steele yawned.

Laura was right; it had been a long flight. Riding a taxi on the lazy streets of Los Angeles had never been less appealing. He looked idly at the cars passing by, their half-awake drivers heading for work, their daily routine leaving a permanent tedium imprint on their faces. He saw a few exhausted shopkeepers, and chuckled at the sight of a security guard who had fallen asleep on the job. Further away, where the shadows were less dark and the wind less stubborn, two policemen quarrelled in rusty voices and a solitary cat, the only creature privy to the furtive reasons of the night, strolled enigmatically around a drain pipe.

It was that time of the day, Steele decided, when one couldn't be sure if it was twilight or dawn. He stifled a yawn and watched stacks of newspapers being dropped from the back of a van-- Dawn, then. There was a whole new day ahead and all he wanted to do was go to bed.

As his taxi drove past a bakery, he could have sworn he had smelled the bread. Visions of a deliciously warm cheese sandwich, perfect in its simplicity, were interrupted as Steele felt eyes on him. Lovely, almond shaped, green eyes with luxurious lashes suddenly winked at him from the driver's seat. Uncomfortable, he wiggled in the back seat and looked purposefully outside the window.

The eyes in the rear-view mirror sharpened in a quest for recognition, but they finally gave up. "Don't I know you from somewhere?" the girl piped up.

Damn. Steele frowned, his eyes glued to the window, his own reflection blending in with streetlights, doorsteps and windows, his features melting into those of Los Angeles.

"I don't think so," he said.

The driver eyed him suspiciously, struggling with her memory. "You look familiar, somehow," she insisted.

He put on a strained smile and cast her a dismissive glance. "I have one of those faces."

That drew a chuckle out of her. "Hardly," she said, and smiled mischievously as an idea struck her. "You're on TV, aren't you?"

"No," he said with finality.

The driver nodded, unconvinced. "Whatever you say, Handsome."

They drove in silence for a few more minutes, but the green eyes were insistent. Steele ignored them as best he could and concentrated on the street. There were fewer people around and not nearly as many shops. The cars were more expensive and the sidewalk looked as though it were meant to be walked on by poodles on sterling leashes.

Steele smiled. It was not exactly Bel Air but-

"Driver, stop the car please," he instructed.

The taxi pulled to a stop just outside of Rossmore Arms.

"I won't be a moment."

He got out of the car and looked up. The fifth floor balcony was lit, the glass doors were open, and tired and lonely looking man was standing by the railing. Steele leaned back on the hood of the taxi and smiled, his gaze fixed on the dark, solitary figure. He knew from bitter experience that the view from that window was always hard to take when one was alone.

The driver poked her head out the taxi window. "Hey, Mister, the meter's running, you know."

Receiving no reply, she shrugged her shoulders and leaned back on her seat assessing her dark curls in the rear view mirror. She counted from one to sixty and watched the little counter add another few dollars, and then she started counting again. On the third round, she lit a cigarette, puffed twice without smearing it with lip-gloss, and poked her head out again.

"Here, you look like you need it," she said to Steele, offering him a smile and whatever else he might want to take.

"Thanks," Steele said, inhaling deeply.

The figure on the fifth floor turned around, surprised, but his gaze rapidly returned to the horizon. Steele quirked an eyebrow when a tall, leggy redhead came out and spoke a few words to no apparent avail. She was blatantly ignored, in fact, until she put her arms around the lonely man. Suddenly, he didn't look so forlorn as he finally smiled at the view and then turned to face his partner. He spoke vehemently and she listened in silence until he stopped, taking a hand to his hair. Then she kissed him.

Steele forced himself to tear his eyes from them; so much happiness this early in the day was making him ill. Putting the cigarette out with disgust, he climbed back in the taxi.

It took off leaving the couple to sort out their own problems.

**************************** *********** **************************

Laura Holt's loft. 5:10 AM
Unable to wait until the morning, Laura took a shower. Moments later, her hair still wet, she flopped onto her bed and crawled inside. Pulling the covers over her head and closing her eyes, she deliberately slowed her breathing, forcing her heart to calm down its pace. She concentrated on each and every muscle in her body, and willed them each to relax. Then she ordered her mind to think of a big, black, hole of nothingness.

She succeeded for about ten seconds, and then his face crept into her thoughts. What if he decided not to stay, after all?

Laura turned around with determination and punched the innocent pillow by her side. Since it didn't complain, she smacked it again and then flung it across the room. She hated times like this, with her body so tired she couldn't even move, but her mind eager to race an anxiety marathon.

Where could she get enough money to re-open the Agency?

Maybe if she ate something, she could sleep. After all, she hadn't had a bite to eat since before they left Russia. She stood up and rubbed her eyes, their lids heavy as lead. On her way down, she picked up the pillow, tossed it back onto the bed, and padded slowly towards the kitchen area.

"This is stupid," she muttered under her breath. "Stop behaving like this, Laura Holt. You will see him tomorrow and straighten things out once and for all."

She opened the fridge and found it virtually empty. She took out a carton of milk and lit the stove.

"Look, Mr. Steele-" she said as she opened the carton and started pouring the white liquid in a saucepan. "If you're going to stay in Los Angeles, we'll have to agree on a few ground rules."

The smell was nauseating. "Ugh!" she exclaimed, hastily disposing of the milk

Scanning the shelves, she wondered what she could fix instead. Coffee? Tea? No, suddenly caffeine didn't seem like such a good idea. Soup? Better not, she decided, grabbing a cookie and a glass of water instead and started back to the bedroom.

"You're losing it, Holt," she muttered again, smiling.

Rest now, Laura, she told herself. Call him in the morning and sort this out tomorrow. Then call Murphy and apologize, and then call Mildred and see how she is.

She finished the snack and pushed it down with a huge gulp of water. Then she lay down and began the soothing routine again. She began relaxing her toes, one by one, concentrating deeply on each of them, and then working on her left calf. Her right calf already looked rather blurry as her chest rose and fell ever so slowly and rhythmically. Her left thigh now, she decided. Or should that be it the right one?

Or maybe she should shift the focus to- his chest? No, his collarboneà or his jaw. Perhaps that killer smile. Better yet, those eyes...

With a silly smile adorning her face, Laura fell asleep.

******************** ************ **************************

Riverside Manor, Kensington, London, 11:38 AM (GMT)
"I see, yes," Daniel Chalmers said into the phone. "Well, thank you so much, Captain. I really appreciate your call."

He put down the phone, a frown darkening his face as he walked out of the study and into the dinning room. Breakfast had been served and his guest was already there. Without a word, Daniel smiled and put her chair out.

She sat down gracefully, her beautiful shoulders straight and proud. "Thank you, Daniel."

"You are welcome, my dear."

As they proceeded with breakfast, Daniel poured them both some grapefruit juice. Nearby, a pot of tea was steaming nicely, its aroma gently gallant and civilized.

"That was Captian Stevens on the phone just now," he said. Without even looking up, knew her fork had stopped in mid air.

Felicia composed herself quickly and took a sip of her tea. "What's the news?"

"I'm afraid the plane will come back without any passengers - a terrible waste."

Felicia met Daniel's impenetrable gaze, watched what she thought was a pitiless smile, and entirely misinterpreted the look of compassion that had spread across his face.

"But Michael hasn't called yet, has he?" she ventured.

"They've only just arrived. He's bound to be very tired, my dear. I'm sure he will call tomorrow."

She took a bite or her omelette, but did not taste it. "You're right, of course."

They ate in silence and helped themselves to fresh fruit, then drank a second cup of tea. Once they had finished their meal, and enjoyed as much quietness as they could stand, the conversation was resumed.

"What are your thoughts on Laura Holt?" Felicia suddenly asked.


"Laura Holt."

Daniel looked at her and measured his response. "She is a very talented young woman, by all accounts."

"I gathered as much," she said flatly. "I meant how do you feel about her- and Michael."

"Felicia, my dear, it is hardly my place-"

"Nonsense," she declared knowingly. "I would like to know your thoughts about Laura Holt, if you please."

Daniel drew a big breath. "I think Harry is very much in love with her. It was obvious the first time I saw them together," he admitted as looked Felicia in the eye, "I thought he was over her when he came back."

Felicia lifted her head proudly. "Obviously, he wasn't."

Daniel shook his head. "I'm really sorry."

She nodded.

"For what it's worth, I think he was very happy with you, too." He took her hand in his, and gently kissed it.

A tiny smile appeared. "I know."

************ ************************** ******************

The Belle View Hotel 12:02 PM, local time.

Steele had slept surprisingly well. Opening his eyes and overcoming the slight panic one usually gets when waking up in a strange bedroom, he scanned his surroundings and suddenly remembered: Los Angeles, California, The United States of America. Ah, yes. How could anyone forget?

Laura wasn't there.

He called room service and ordered breakfast, but couldn't bring himself to get up just yet. No hurry, he figured; he wouldn't be checking out anytime soon. Switching on the TV, he sat against the pillows and let his ears deal with the morning news. His eyes, however, were focused on the small, blue booklet he was holding in his hand.

Remington Steele, American citizen since 1984.

He wondered what favours Kira had pulled to achieve something like this. Steele had thought the Russian was bluffing when he inferred he had friends in high places, but the evidence now pointed to the contrary. Another look through the black satchel Bulbakov had given him produced the same results as it had the previous night.

It had not been just a dream. His papers were there, and all of them were in order- a Green Card, Social Security card, and even a clean driver's license. Steele let out a sigh and propped his head against the back rest. It was astonishing - as far as the INS was concerned, he'd be welcome in the USA for as long as he wished to stay.

He still had one problem. What was Remington Steele going to do for a living? His financial reserves, even with the latest, hefty, addition provided by Bulbakov, wouldn't last forever, attempting anything with Laura around would be suicide, and the Agency was closed.

His mind was roaming around the suburbs of an idea when the loud ring of his phone derailed his train of thought.

He picked up the receiver. "Yes?"

It was her.

"Give me half an hour," he said, and dashed for the shower.


The Belle View- Lobby. 12:35 PM
Steele came out of the elevator and looked around the empty lobby where his watch told him Laura should have been. A traffic jam must have delayed her. Fifteen minutes later, he still wasn't worried but he was becoming. Where was she?

His patience wearing thin, he walked over to the reception desk. "Good morning. Any messages for Room 416?" he asked.

The receptionist went to the message panel behind him and did not come up empty. He handed over the piece of paper and smiled. "Here it is, Mr Blaine."

"Thank you."

Steele read carefully, twice, and sighed, "Bloody hell, Laura."

A bellboy hailed a taxi for him.

************************ ************ *******************

Century City Towers. 12:54 PM
The stillness in the air seemed eerie. The Sunday afternoon climate didn't sit well with Century City- it made it look utterly purposeless. Steele shuddered, the calm atmosphere unnerving him as he stood in front of the twin towers. He couldn't bring himself to go into the building. He needed time, damn it! He knew the moment he set foot in that office, his fate would be sealed- he wouldn't be able to pull out or walk away.

Laura was hitting below the belt.

He raised his eyes to the massive faade of the building and sighed. Remembering the couple on the fifth floor of Rossmore Arms, his mind went back even further to his own lonely nights on that same balcony. He knew the view from Suite 1157 would be equally brutal.

He also knew that Laura Holt deserved better.

As he walked along empty corridors and past closed offices, memories flooded back to him. Happy memories of late morning meetings, of Miss Wolf parading around with a suffered look on her face, of the deliciously affronted Murphy Michaels, of Mildred's excessive but welcomed courtesies, and, of course, of the even more welcome attentions of Laura.

Steele walked slowly and stopped outside the glass doors of the former Remington Steele Investigations offices. The name was still there, but the furniture wasn't. Afraid of disturbing the strange silence, he stepped in cautiously. As he walked slowly through the reception, his instincts kicked in and his senses sharpened. Then he caught a whiff of her perfume, and realised it was coming from his old office.

He noticed the bare, white, picture free wall to his right and doubted its recent paint job had been the work of the movers. A lonely telephone sat incongruously in one corner, but the room looked massive without either the desk or the plush couch to fill the void. Standing against the endless horizon that stretched beyond the windows, with a hand on the pane as if caressing the clouds, Laura Holt looked rather fragile.

Steele cleared his throat and announced his presence. If Laura heard him, she didn't show it. The view of L.A. seemed to have her enthralled, and her eyes were still lost somewhere outside, or perhaps, somewhere within herself.

Slowly, he approached her. " I thought we agreed that you'd drop by the hotel."

Receiving no answer, he took another step toward her. His breathing was slow, controlled, and deep. He realised it hadn't been perfume he had smelled earlier, but shampoo and soap- and the scent of her skin. He felt his pulse quicken and had no desire whatsoever to control it.

Cautiously, he slid an arm around her waist and pulled her towards him. "You know," he said, "when people ask questions they usually require an answer." He pulled her even closer, and still she didn't object.

Laura absently rested her head on his shoulder, her eyes still focused beyond the clouds. In an attempt to protect her from her own thoughts, he nuzzled the top of her head with his jaw, and felt her sigh. As his eyes followed hers he took in the immense blue skies, the city below, his past and his future.

The view was staggering.

"Have you been crying?" he asked softly.

She nodded and he fell silent. They stayed like that for a few minutes, with her hand on his arm, caressing it lightly.

Then, with a tender squeeze and taking a big breath to calm her nerves, Laura let Steele know the truce was over. "Have you had any breakfast?" she asked at last.

"I had just gotten up when you rang," he said.

She finally turned to see his face and smiled bravely. "Come on; we'll do lunch."

Laura took a step forward and away from him, but she didn't go far, as his grip on her was strong. She shot him a questioning look.

In response, he gestured meaningfully around the empty office. "Unusual place for a Sunday rendezvous, wouldn't you say?"

"I was feeling nostalgic," she answered nonchalantly. Her eyes, however, told another story.

"I see." He released her and looked around again. He didn't even want to imagine how hard it was for her to stand there now, her entire dream gone except for the man with a borrowed name. "Do you know if it's been leased yet?"

"No, I haven't been back since-" She gestured vaguely and turned around so he wouldn't see her increasingly moist eyes.


He took a few steps towards the exit, as if considering something. Then cautiously, but with great resolve, he turned around. "Laura, I have been thinking," he said with a hopeful glint in his eye. "Perhaps I could lend-"


"You haven't heard me yet," he pointed out, resenting her hastiness.

"I know what you were going to say, Mr. Steele. I won't take that money."

He run a wary hand though his hair and his eyes went to the ceiling. "It's only money, Laura."

The look she gave him could have melted the ice caps.

"I have it; you need it. It's as simple as that," he argued. "Money is money!" God, she could be so stubborn sometimes.

"How can you say that?"

Steele raised his arms in frustration and then let them drop with a sigh. They looked daggers at each other for the briefest of moments, the vein in his forehead twitching, her fists resting dangerously on her hips.

Finally, he decided for the pragmatic approach. "Do you want to open the Agency again, or don't you?"

"Of course, I want to!"

"Can you get the money from anywhere else?"

She turned around and started to leave, but Steele shot after her.

"Laura, Laura, Laura wait-" He quickly caught up with her by the doors. Stretching both his arms and putting his hands on either side of the entrance, he effectively blocked her way.

"I'm not listening to this," she insisted as she pushed his arm aside.

He let her pass, following closely behind. "Who are you going to ask, eh? Murphy's got his own agency to worry about. I doubt Mildred is in any better financial shape than you are. And I know you wouldn't go to your mother even if you were reduced to begging on the streets!"

"There are banks," she said tersely.

"As far as they know, the only business you ever owned bankrupted within months-"

"I don't want to discuss it, Mr Steele. Are you coming for lunch or aren't you?" she asked, never breaking her stride.

"Come on Laura!" Steele exclaimed as he made a sprint and blocked her path again, this time holding her in place by putting both his hands on her shoulders.

It was his pleading gaze, however, that made her stop.

"It's not-"

He bent his knees and levelled his eyes to hers. "What?"

"It's dirty money, Mr. Steele. I can't take it," she said. "I'm sorry."

"Listen, Laura. What do you think I'll do with it if you don't take it?"

She shrugged her shoulders and looked away.

"I'll spend it at fancy hotels and expensive restaurants, and quite possibly, I'll lose on the track-"

"Mr. Steele!"

His fleeting smile vanished quickly. "Take it, Laura," he urged quietly.

She looked at him, her resolve fading rapidly- until she remembered Spain.

Steele saw the change in her eyes and guessed the reasons for her hesitation. "Nothing can bring those guards back."

She nodded and said nothing as she took a step backwards and was released from his grasp. "Are you going to go back to London?"

The dumbstruck look on Steele's face told Laura he had been caught off guard.

"I suppose, at some point," he said tentatively. "I'll need to sort some things out, business, personal-"


"Yes, and Daniel, too. I asked him to keep an eye on her for me."

"I'm sure she can take care of herself, Mr. Steele."

Steele quirked an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Women don't need men to guard their virtue anymore-"

"Ah, certainly. Of course not."

"Felicia is a very resourceful woman," she said, looking him straight in the eye.

"That she is. That she is," he agreed. Then as an afterthought, he said, "Half the money is hers, you know."

"Now that Freddy Hawkes is no more," she said, regretting her words as soon as she said them.

His face expressionless, Steele suddenly stiffened his back. Would Laura never, ever let it go?

"Sorry. I didn't mean that," she said sheepishly.

As he took another step backwards, the gap between them grew wider. With a defiant look on his face, he weighed the truth of her words. He turned as if to leave, but found he could not walk away. He just stood there, his back to her.

"You know, Laura," he said with a sigh, "I don't think this is going to work."

Laura could have kicked herself. Her mind was split between her rational sense of morality and her urgent need to assure him it was all right, that she wouldn't judge him. She wanted to just let bygones be bygones - to just hug him tight and kiss him. Instead, she found herself nodding in agreement as he was turning around.

She froze when she realised he had seen her.

"You agree, then," the light in his blue eyes vanished; the hope vanished. "You will never understand, you will never forgive, and you will never trust me, will you?"

Laura simply stared, her temper rising, also. She was trying really hard to trust, forgive and forget, but it wasn't easy- especially the latter. Some things could not simply be forgotten. She had already proved to him that she was making the effort, and it infuriated her that he wouldn't acknowledge it.

"How dare you?" she exclaimed.

Steele stared back, watching her fume, and then he made a hasty decision- a last, risky gamble. "I'll leave the money with Mildred, if she will take it," he told her, "Enough to pay for your solicitors, for the licence, for the bills-"

"No, you won't!"

He had expected her reaction, but Laura Holt was fooling herself if she thought she was the only hard-headed person in the room. "Let's see you try and stop me, Laura," he challenged.

"I won't use it."

Steele pasted a smile on his face and shook his head unbelievingly. Difficult she might be, but this time, her attempts to push him away would be futile. He had known it as he stood outside the building and he had confirmed it as he held her in his arms, not five minutes ago - He could never leave her, not for her sake and not for his own. If it had to be hard, then so be it, but Remington Steele was back for good.

"I will not touch one cent," she argued again.

"Be that as it may, the money will be there," he said as he took a step forward. "I'll fly to London as soon as possible- at least, someone there will appreciate the rest of the money. And then-"

That earned him a slap.

His eyes glittered, but that was all the emotion he allowed himself. "And I'll come back in two weeks," he said, finishing his interrupted thought. "If Remington Steele Investigations hasn't resumed business when I return, then, by God, I'll open the bloody agency myself!"

Laura laughed. "Ha! You wouldn't last two weeks!"

"We shall see, won't we?" he retorted evenly. "Good day, Miss Holt."

He walked down the corridor and reached the lift. It took a full minute for it to reach their floor and the entire time Laura stood there, motionless. Steele tried to ignore her, but he couldn't stop his heart from racing. Finally, he stepped into the lift, pushed the ground floor button and the door began to close.

"Mr. Steele!"

Quickly, he reached out to stop the doors. Holding his breath, he cautiously stepped back out into the corridor. He saw her standing five yards away, motionless. He continued to look at her for a moment, but when she didn't move a muscle or utter a word, he decided he must have imagined it.

As the doors slid closed behind him and left him standing in the corridor, he blinked, perplexed. "Sorry, I thought you said something," he muttered, pushing the down button once again and turning back around to face the lift.

Another silent moment passed as Laura swallowed hard and stared at his back, trying to think of what to say.

"It seems perfectly clear, Mr. Steele, that we've come to a standstill," she began, feeling his curious eyes on her, urging her on, challenging her. "You're acting like a chauvinist pig, and that's something I would have never expected from you."

Steele shrugged his shoulders. She was right. So what?

"Yet, the fact remains that I love you and you love me, and we need to sort things out."

Steele wanted to smile, jump, and yell, but he did none of those things. Instead, he stood there quietly and watched her pace around in the hallway as she always did when she talked her way through a complicated mystery.

"In order to do that, I need you in Los Angeles. And since you'll be staying, I think it's in the best interest of both of us that we lay out some ground rules-"

Finally, she lifted her head to look him in the eyes.

Steele nodded and took a few steps toward her. "You love me and I love you?" he inquired.


He moved another step closer.

"Ground rules," Laura warned him, stretching a protective arm.

"Indeed," he replied, pushing her arm aside and taking her in his arms. "I know all about ground rules, Laura."

"Mr. Steele," her tone more urgent now; his face oh, so close.

"Later, Miss Holt."

He lowered his lips to hers briefly and the smell of her again filled his brain. The softness of her lips caressed his jaw and her fingers eagerly tousled his hair. He let out the breath he could no longer hold and buried his face in her brown mane. Suddenly Laura pulled back, looking him in the eye with a frown on her face. Interminable seconds dragged by as she prepared for battle.

As his eyes searched hers for an answer, terror crept up his spine. Ill prepared as he was, Steele was taken aback when suddenly Laura was there, tasting his lips without consent, ruthlessly caressing his back and neck. She assaulted all of his senses without mercy and demanded capitulation while surrendering her own arms. In response, he held her tightly, kissed her stubbornly, and then yielded honourably. The spoils of war would be sweet, but he knew he would still have to wait.

With great effort, he pulled out of the kiss, visually measuring her resolve. "Ground rules?"

She nodded.

Slightly disappointed, he let her go and started walking back towards the empty office. "Coming, Laura?"

She looked at the closed doors of the lift that had threatened to take him away and then at his retreating back as it headed in the opposite direction. Her decision made, she hurriedly caught up with him in the foyer.

He had a most peculiar look around his face, very serious and at the same time, strangely daring. "I think that these ground rules of yours need some slight modifications," he explained.

Realising that he wasn't joking, Laura frowned. "What do you have in mind?"

"To begin with, I do not function best in an advisory capacity. God knows, you won't take much advice from me, anyway."

"Not true," she chided.

He smiled ever so briefly. "I'll agree to do as much paperwork and legwork as is needed, as long as you agree not to eat, live and breathe private investigating. It's not asking too much for you to spare some time for us, is it?"

Her eyebrows shot to the sky. "You'll agree to do paperwork and legwork?"

"Further more," he said as if she had not spoken, "you will acknowledge that, in some areas, I am more capable than you are and have more practical experience-"

"Wait just a minute-"

"And-" he continued with a warning look. "And therefore you will not distrust me if my methods seem to be somewhat unorthodox."

He waited for a second while she considered this.

"I do trust you, Mr. Steele," Laura said honestly.

"Thank you," he replied, without braking stride. "You will use one third of the money to open Remington Steele Investigations and keep it running until business flourishes-"

He sensed Laura's discomfort, but couldn't allow himself to stop now. "I will give Felicia the third of said money which is hers, by right-"

Laura took a big breath, struggled with herself- and said nothing.

"And I will give the other third to the families of those guards, setting up a compensatory fund- under an alias, of course." Apologetically, he added, "That's the best I can do for them, I'm afraid."

"Thank you," she said simply.

"We will start this as partners, in business and in life. Agreed?"

She swallowed hard. "Partners?"

"I don't want to be just your best friend, Laura; you know that as well as I do. I want more - I need more."

"How much more?" she asked, rather apprehensively.

"Let's take it slowly," he suggested, and then gave her a sly smile. "Passionate Lovers?"

"You don't quit while you're on top, do you?" she asked with a smile.

"Really, Laura. I thought I proved myself in Russia. Why, with the stress and all-" he joked, tugging on his collar in a mock heat flush.

Laura slapped him on the chest and they both laughed.

When the laughter subsided, she looked at him seriously. "It scares me," she admitted in a tiny voice.

He made a horrendous face and growled, "Me? And here I was, thinking I was rather handsome."

Laura pecked him on the lips and retreated fast. "I'm serious."

"I know, I know," he said, still smiling. He waited for a moment, and became serious, as well. "Laura, I want this to succeed more than I've ever wanted anything. It's not impossible, you know. People have been doing it for ages, I promise you."

She nodded and crossed her arms, inspecting his eyes carefully. "Partners, you say?"

Steele smiled. "I'll get Mildred to check into leasing the offices again straight away," he said, looking around with longing. "I missed this place."

"Me, too," Laura admitted as they walked into Steele's old office and stood looking out of the massive window. "I'll get in touch with Fred. We can't have Remington Steele commuting in taxis, can we?"

"Definitely not," he agreed as he stood behind her and again drew her close, his eyes joining hers in admiring the blue sky outside.

"So, how will we break it to the public that Remington Steele is back in town?" she asked, her eyes on the city below.

"You still hungry?"

Laura turned around to look at him. "Answer my question, Mr. Steele."

"I am," he insisted. "Are you still hungry?"

She finally broke into a smile. "Yes."

"Well, then. I know just the place."

He fished around for the telephone and realised with delight that it was still functioning. As Laura turned around and returned her eyes to the landscape, he took her hand in his and dialled with the other.

"Claude, my good man!" Laura heard him say, a tranquil smile spreading across her features. "Steele here."

The End.