IN THE STEELE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING

By: xffan_2000

Note: Takes place during "Steele Searching, Part 1."

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In the inky darkness, Laura sat upright in the room's single wooden chair, staring straight ahead into nothingness, awaiting daylight. Next to her, the man she knew as Remington Steele slept. Slow, even breathing indicated his pain was dulled, yet she feared the chemical cocktail the "doctor" had injected into him wasn't simply antibiotics. In the morning, she'd tell him to find a real doctor.

And in the afternoon, he'll be gone again. The idea sprang into her head with such force, she winced. Her heart clenched at the notion, but there was no point in denying the thought or redirecting her musings. Here in the blackness of night, where she'd spent quite a bit of recent time pondering her relationship with the man next to her, she let her mind wander.

Stupid, she returned to, as always. She'd done a number of thickheaded things. Telling him they should figure out how they felt about each other outside of work. Almost going away with William Westfield. Being surprised when Steele's apartment was empty. Being even more shocked when he continued to not show up at the office for weeks on end. Falling so hard for him that she couldn't accept the fact that he'd left her. Instead, tracking him across the globe.

"When it seemed our time together had come to an end..." He'd spelled it out for her. "Remington Steele was just another name I'd borrowed. And if I was going to give it back..." Done. Over.

A tear escaped and she let it trace its wet trail down her cheek, no attempt to wipe it away. She'd denied tears those first days. All that did was give her splitting headaches. Let them fall was her approach now. It was somewhat like dealing with a toddler with a temper tantrum: let it happen, ride it out and be done with it. She discovered over the past three months that there were fewer tears each time.

His thumb on her cheek made her jerk. Damn.

She blinked, forcing back those same tears she'd just vowed to let fall.

"Laura." The pity in his tone turned her stomach. She didn't want him feeling sorry for her.

"You need to rest," she admonished him with a crack in her voice. Double damn. She kept her eyes pointed forward, toward the dark distance. "Go back to sleep."

"You're crying."

"Just relieved you're going to be okay," she covered. It wasn't a total lie.

Silence followed, making her gratefully think he'd fallen back to sleep. She exhaled, but gasped the air back in when his hand covered hers. She heard him shift against what passed for sheets in this dive, knowing he'd turned toward her. Time passed and again she thought he'd fallen asleep. "I'm glad you're here," he said, breaking the silence.

The words seeped into her thoughts and she mulled them. Glad I'm here to tend his wounds? Keep him company in the night? Here in this room? Here in London?

"With me," he said, somehow knowing she was over-thinking. "I'm glad you're here with me."

She dared to look over at him. The outline of his form was visible in the dark gray of the earliest hours of the day. He had one leg straight, the other bent at the knee; one arm placed protectively over his stomach, the other reaching out to her.

Her eyes lowered to where his hand clutched hers. As bright as she was, she couldn't figure him out. He'd left her, said they were finished. Yet here he was, holding on. "You are?"

As shadows started to give way to morning, she could see the contrast between the whites and irises of his eyes as he stared up at her. He appeared lucid, not at all stoned on whatever drugs he may have been given.

"I left a trail, hoping you'd follow." He squeezed her hand. "You did."

She stared at him.

"If I didn't want to be found, Laura, I wouldn't be found. You know that."

Thinking back, once she'd decided to track him down, finding the path that lead to London did seem too easy. Blaine - Fabrini - Murrell - O'Leary - Quintain, step by step, using every name he knew that she knew.

"You cared enough to bother," he said.

Tears stung her eyes. Damn again. When she was controlled enough to look at him, the orange light of dawn revealed how bedraggled he truly was. His normal, impeccable grooming had been skipped for days, leaving him unwashed, scruffy and wrinkled. He'd never looked better to her.

"I do care," she admitted before she could stop herself. On his smile, she threw out her self-censor. "I care a great deal more than I probably should admit."

"As do I, Laura."

Those damn tears prickled again. She covered their entwined hands with her other hand and let the moment settle.

Eventually, as the morning sun started to fill the room, his eyelids drooped. She could tell he was struggling to stay awake, to keep watch over her, as though she was the one who had the tendency to run off.

She released their hands and stood up, pulled the blanket over him. "You need to get some sleep," she said.

As she moved away, his hand darted out to catch her sleeve. "You need sleep, too."

"I'm fine right here." She sat in the wooden chair again.

He tugged her closer. "There's room enough for two."

"I don't think..."

"Don't think. Just get in bed."

His sleepy, yet firm command was irresistible. She rounded the bed and stretched out next to him. Odd though it seemed to be so close to him in a bed, yet to be fully clothed -- he still in leather jacket and heavy boots, she still in suit and heels -- she found it immensely enjoyable. Soon, she shifted, telling herself that the lumpy mattress required her to turn to her side; that the pillow arrangement necessitated her sliding up tightly behind him; that the narrowness of the bed forced her to slip her arm around him.

Her nose so close, she couldn't help but comment, "You smell awful." But she didn't mind in the least because he also smelled like him, and that comforted her after so many months of separation.

Moments before exhaustion finally slackened his body, he whispered, "You smell like home."

END