AN:Many thanks to all my readers and reviewers :-) We've reached the end and what a fun journey it has been for me! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. Special thanks goes to my awesome beta!
General Hospital, San Francisco, 1973
Mike Stone entered the examination room, a combination of concern and relief written on his features. His eyes locked on his partner's as the doctor stepped away from his patient.
"How's Jeannie?" Steve immediately asked as he sat on edge of the exam table and reached for his shirt.
"Signing the release papers. Apart from some scrapes and bruises, she's shaken up but she's going to be okay. There's a bump on her head but Doc says she's lucky she didn't have a concussion. That crease on her arm only needed a few stitches. What about you, buddy boy?" Mike asked as he helped Steve with getting his shirt back on. His gaze took in the injuries that the young man sustained. A thick gauze covered the back of Steve's hand and larger one was taped to his side. The bruises on his face were darkening and his lip was swollen.
"Yeah, I'll be alright. They want to keep me over-night for observation but I'd really like to go home," Steve replied with a frown directed at the doctor.
Noting Steve's rebelliousness rearing its head, Mike turned to face the physician who looked up at that moment from his clipboard. "How bad is he, Doc?"
"Well, Mr. Keller is a fortunate young man. The knife wound required stitches but it wasn't serious. According to the x-rays there aren't any rib fractures, just contusions to a couple of his posterior ribs. He also has some abdominal bruising and a slight concussion that we'd like to keep an eye on," the doctor informed the Lieutenant with a sigh as he caught the young man's scowl.
"You heard the doc, buddy boy," Mike said as he clapped Steve on the shoulder.
"Come on, Doc," Steve almost whined.
"What if he came home with me?" Mike offered.
Shifting his gaze from the seasoned detective to his young partner, the physician smiled and nodded. "Alright. On one condition: I want to see him back here by mid-morning tomorrow. Concussions shouldn't be taken lightly. I'll arrange for Mr. Keller's release forms. Excuse me."
As the doctor excused himself, Steve and Mike called out, "Thanks, Doc," in unison.
When the door closed, leaving them alone, Steve avoided eye contact with Mike as he asked him the question he would rather be left unanswered, "Has anyone found Graham?"
Mike took a deep breath before answering with a slight tremble in his voice, "Yeah, Tanner found him in one of the vacant rooms at the hotel. There were no signs of a struggle meaning he must've been taken by surprise. We're still waiting on the autopsy report but it looks like he died from a single stab wound to the abdomen."
"Does Christine know yet?"
Mike nodded dismally as he sat on the edge of the table beside Steve.
"How did she take it?" Steve asked awkwardly.
"Like any wife would if she were told that the love of her life and father of their child was never going to walk through their front door again. It's one of the hardest and most unforgettable tasks you could ever do – when one your own has their life stripped away and you're left with the responsibility of delivering the news to those they left behind. It's even more heart breaking when you realize a child will never get the chance to get to know their father."
"Christine knew the risks. Scott was a cop –"
"And you think that makes it easier to accept, do you?"
"I didn't say that. What about Helen? How did she feel about the risks? I mean, you must've had some close shaves early in the marriage?"
"Those close shaves almost cost us our marriage. Helen was one hell of a woman. She was amazing. But there were times when it really terrified her to lose me, especially when Jeannie was just starting to walk and talk and hold my hand in hers."
"But she got used to it, right?"
"No, I don't think she could ever get used to the risks that came with being married to a cop. As we grew older, we both knew those risks would get higher. I admired Helen for her courage. I only wish I were that brave. When I lost Helen, Jeannie helped me through it. You know, she's just like her mother. I guess I just don't want to see her go through what Helen had to go through and what I went through. Of course, the decision is not mine to make. She's not my little girl anymore. She's grown to be a fine young woman and deserves someone who would put her life above his own. I just hope that they both understand the risks involved."
Steve locked eyes with Mike and a look of understanding passed between them. The conversation wasn't just about Scott Graham. It was about Jeannie and Mike's fear for the choices that his daughter might make for her future. Steve could see the moisture gathering in Mike's eyes and knew it wasn't easy for him to step between him and Jeannie.
A knock on the door gave Mike the opportune moment to excuse himself. Through the glass window, he could see it was Jeannie. "I better go see what the hold-up is with your release papers." Mike straightened up and walked to the door, opening it.
"Everything okay, Sweetheart?"
"Yeah, my papers are good to go. I was wondering how Steve was doing,"
"I'm sure he'll tell you exactly how he's doing. Why don't I leave you two kids alone to talk while I see if I can track down doc."
As soon as Mike left the room and closed the door after him, Jeannie walked over to Steve and gave him a hug. Mindful of his injuries, she kept it brief and disengaged herself when she felt him draw her tighter against his body.
"How are you?" Steve asked with a warm smile and twinkle in his eyes.
"Not bad, considering what we went through. I'm just glad it's all over and that you're okay," Jeannie replied with a sigh.
"You worry about me too much, young lady," the Inspector quipped in his best impersonation of his partner.
"Babe, you are far too young to be my father!" Jeannie let out a short laugh.
"Babe? I'm still older than you,"
"I never noticed," Jeannie said softly as she leaned forward to kiss him.
Steve lowered his head and averted his gaze as Mike's words of wisdom haunted him. It took everything in his power to refrain from responding to Jeannie's advances. He knew he loved her but he wasn't sure if at this point in time it was enough to get them through the hardships that Mike went through with Helen. Jeannie still had her studies and he still had much to learn from his mentor. It would be irresponsible and selfish to act on impulsiveness by submitting himself to Jeannie's charms and his own attraction to her. He owed her much more than stealing romantic moments to be in each other's arms whenever they could find the time. She was a bright girl with her whole future ahead of her and he didn't want to take that away.
"Is something wrong?" Jeannie asked tentatively, as she took a step back and took his hands in hers.
"Jeannie, I think we need to talk. About us," Steve began, clearing his throat before looking up bravely into Jeannie's eyes.
"Actually, that's why I'm here. I really like you, Steve but I'm going back to college soon and I don't know when I'll see you again with both our schedules. I didn't want us to start something then leave things floating, if you know what I mean?" Jeannie's voice pleaded for understanding as she interlaced her fingers in his and spoke rapidly.
Steve's face broke into a grin as he felt a huge weight lifted off him. "Of course I do. You have no idea that I was thinking along the same lines myself. Mike would skin us both alive if your grades started slipping because of me or if I started using the phone at the office for interstate calls to his daughter on an hourly basis."
"I'm so glad we got that cleared up!"
"Me too," Steve agreed as he continued to smile at the beauty before him. He couldn't deny that he felt a pinch of disappointment that things turned out the way it did but his heart told him it was for the best, at least for now. He could see that Jeannie felt the same way though he couldn't explain what made him think that. Maybe it was the way she spoke or the nervous twitch of her fingers. Whatever it was, he believed what he saw in those bright blue pools that dared to drown him in their depths. Seeing is believing. He believed Jeannie did care deeply for him but also that neither were ready to take the next step. He neglected to tell her the darker reasons.
With a light kiss planted on Steve's cheek, Jeannie gave his warm hands one last squeeze before releasing them.
Rubbing the moisture from his eyes, Mike Stone turned away from the examination room and quickly walked down the corridor toward the front desk. The last thing he wanted was for his daughter to catch him standing outside the room like a nosy father. He couldn't hear the exchange between Steve and Jeannie and only saw a brief glimpse of the pair through the small window in the door. It was all he needed to see to know what transpired. As a father he was relieved that Jeannie would be spared what most women had to endure when their soul mates were cops. As Steve's mentor, he was proud of the decision the young man made. He's a better man than I was when I stole Helen's heart. I have no regrets, but I wonder if men like Scott Graham would have if they could speak from their graves? Inside he also wondered if Helen's reason for not wanting more children was based on her fears that she would one day be left alone to bring up more than one child. Though he felt blessed to have a wonderful daughter, Mike saw in Steve the son he always hoped to have but never did. If one day both Jeannie and Steve found their fates were to be together, then he would give them their blessings but today was not that day, Mike thought. Today was a day for healing and getting back to the normal routine. Feeling at peace, the Lieutenant smiled to himself.