six ans de mer
a Remington Steele story
by dirty diana
for Yuletide 2005. beta'd by Liss.

He takes her to the movies. Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Warner Bros., 1942. She pretends to follow the story, about a love that conquered everything, and nothing. He buys her popcorn.

"You see, Laura." He rolls up the sleeves of his tailored shirt, exposing slender wrists and an expensive watch that never tells the correct time. "It all turned out all right, in the end."

"No, it didn't." Laura shakes her head. She hadn't understood that at all. She prefers the action movies, what he calls capers. The Italian Job, Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Paramount, 1969. These have rules, at least, ones that she can recognise. Find the treasure, stop the killer, save the girl. But it doesn't seem to matter, when he takes her to the movies.

He buys her popcorn, small, and a soda, large, with a credit card that existed before he did. He walks her home, and she tries to picture herself falling into his arms at the end of the story, like Colbert and Gable. It Happened One Night, Columbia, 1934. She can never quite manage it.

Maybe she's not a falling kind of girl. Maybe she doesn't think that he'd catch her.

"He's not what you think." Murphy told her that when she drove him to the airport, waiting on his flight to Denver. "He'll let you down."

Murphy was disappointed. So was she, but she didn't know why. She doesn't tell him that it's impossible for Mr. Steele not to be what she thinks. She imagines something different, every night, between the moon and the rising sun, between her sheets, when her fingers are warm on her own skin, and she finally lets go.

Laura's mother drops by more often now, every few months. Laura takes two aspirin, and Mr. Steele takes them both out to dinner. She's got a new hairstyle, a new man. She asks pointed questions about wedding dresses and baby carriages, and Mr Steele charms her with a merry laugh, one that doesn't answer anything. Laura doesn't tell her mother that he has never committed to anything whose weight couldn't be measured in carats, or sold on the black market.

She says these things to his face sometimes, when her mouth gets away from her.

"Please. That's unfair." He reels off dates, and Laura counts backwards on her fingers. It seems he can't possibly have been here for that long, but he has, and he measures commitment by the number of times that they've avoided getting caught.

"Everybody's got a past, Laura. We've all got our Acapulcos." He uses her name with every other breath. It throws her off balance, and she says so.

"What's in a name, Laura? A rose by any other name..."

"Still stinks," she finishes. She tries to attach names to him in her head, and none of them fit. Or maybe all of them fit, and she shivers, imagining him shrugging off the name that he's using now as easily as he cast off the rest.

"It doesn't matter what my name was, Laura." He takes her to the movies, and afterwards takes her home, to a place where everything still smells factory-new. He cradles her head in both hands as her kisses her, and she wishes that he'd stay, to give the place the scent of something real.

She skips a breath. He loses track of his words, tracing her mouth with his fingers. "It doesn't matter, Laura." He says this with sweet conviction, the way that he says everything, even when he's wrong, even when he knows it. "You simply dislike leaving a mystery unsolved."

If that's true, she can't see what's wrong with it. She decorates her new home in hard lines and soft colours, and he tells her the contradiction suits her. He makes her dinner, something with a name that's long and French, in a sticky sweet sauce. Laura never learned to cook. She never had the patience.

"You'll never get a husband," Laura's mother would tell her. Still tells her, sometimes. Laura didn't want a husband, didn't want to lose herself in a man who hardly knew her. She only wanted to work.

He finds her in the office on Saturday mornings, and brings her coffee. He takes tea, with a splash of milk. He helps her sort through the files that cover her desk, insurance reports and coroner's inquiries. She kicks off her pumps, leaving them in a corner, and listens to him reading aloud.

She wonders where he'll go, when he leaves.

"You just gotta go for it, honey." Bernice told her that, over the phone, the night that she left. Bernice had been drunk, her words slurring indiscriminately into each other. She'd never sounded happier. "Sure, it might not work out. But at least you gave it a shot, right?"

Laura's not sure.

She wishes she knew his name. She doesn't trust him to stay, but she trusts him to find her when they stumble into webs, each stickier than the last. She trusts him to cover her with his body, when the heat from the explosion knocks her off her feet. He gets there just in time, always, and she's never half as surprised to see him as she knows that she should be. Find the treasure, stop the killer, save the girl.

"You gave me quite a scare," he'll tell her, as he picks her up off the ground.

She raises her eyebrows, even as she checks his hands and chest for blood. "Gave you a scare?"

Laura is always scared. Every time. It doesn't stop her from charging in, though, even though her ankles hurt, from running from and into danger in brand-new pumps.

"It's no job for a lady, don't you think?" her mother asks at dinner. "For a while, certainly, but not forever." Mr. Steele pours more wine, pretending not to hear.

Laura doesn't want to do anything else. She never has.

He takes her to the movies, and then he takes her home, and his kisses leave her gasping. His hands are warm and strong. His lips are soft, enough to make her think of promises, and she thinks that maybe he would catch her, after all, that falling into his arms might be just like falling off a building and finding someone there to hold her.