Thrown A Rope.

Walking away was always easy, ridiculously so. No matter how pretty the smile, how soft the voice, there was always the next woman, waiting in the next city; the thrill of the chase, the beautiful, brief, intense dance of seduction, the feeling of being held for another night, of not being alone.

He hadn't quite made it that far with Laura, which he regretted. He was sure that gorgeous hair would have adorned his pillow nicely and he felt sure that her demure exterior concealed a very passionate nature. She had intrigued him, too, a female detective, and a good one. He wished there had been time to find out more.

He envied Remington Steele, he realised. Figment of her imagination or not, Steele mattered to her in a way a nameless conman never could. Even had they made it to the bedroom, he doubted he could compete with that man she had invented. He wondered whether she ever thought of Steele that way, the ideal lover as well as the ideal detective. Fantasy lovers could be intensely satisfying, and there was no way for them to hurt you, he preferred the real thing only for the warmth of real, flawed, fleeting, physical contact, a balm for loneliness and the terrible longing to be loved.

He wasn't sure where he was going after San Francisco. The jewels were out of his reach and it could be a while before he found another big target like that. It was hard to concentrate with the thought of her so much on his mind. It troubled him that his thoughts about her ranged so widely. Simple thoughts of sex were harmless, it was a mere matter of finding another woman to lust after, and the world was full of beautiful women, most of them his for a smile.

Laura Holt was not one night stand material. His curiosity about her was not merely physical. He wasn't just thinking about how she looked naked, or what position she favoured or what sounds she would make in the heat of passion. These things crossed his mind - he was human, but they were escorted by other, more troubling thoughts, like what her dreams might be or what she would say if he told her the truth about himself.

He also wondered if she would miss him. He had to admit, it was unlikely. There was a strength about her that didn't seem to need anyone, but there was a vulnerability too, a tension that was never quite eased. She was, after all, bluffing her way through a high stakes game and that was never a relaxing prospect.

Maybe he had really helped for a while. Having a real Steele around had been useful to her. It must be hard work keeping the fictional one in the public mind but out of the public eye.

What she needed, he reasoned, was a partner, someone who could take on the role and be there whenever someone needed the real Steele to seal the deal. He could do that.

He smiled ruefully. Airports were bad places for introspection. He'd nearly fallen for his own persuasive powers. He could just imagine what Daniel would say if he dropped everything to offer Laura his services as a professional liar. The trouble was, he could imagine her smile. She had such a lovely smile.

Then there was the unfinished nature of his pursuit. She had escaped the hook. If he went ahead and vanished somewhere else, he'd never know what they could have had. He wanted that smile to greet him across the pillow. He wanted that soft, sweet, lilting voice to be the last thing he heard as he fell asleep. He wanted her to ask the questions he couldn't answer, just so he knew that they mattered to someone else. He wanted to play the part of her ideal man. He longed to impress her.

He tightened his grip on his ticket. It was a good thing that he was leaving. Something was happening to his view of the world that terrified him. Going back was never a good idea. You played the game, won or lost, and you moved on, no regrets, no ties except silk ones. You didn't let yourself get lured into long term thoughts by intriguing women.

She might have forgotten him already, basking in the publicity of her latest triumph. Maybe she hadn't given him a thought since they had parted. Maybe, if he turned up at the office, she would call the police. She had, after all, promised to nail him to the wall, which was rarely a sign of adoration.

He looked at his ticket. He was as good as free. He had his way out. He'd remember the beautiful detective who had prevented his success without in any way denting his pride. He'd feel the odd pang of regret, but he was no stranger to that. He could be anyone, anywhere in the world, alone.

She had seemed genuinely sorry to see him go. She had, on some level, cared that he was leaving. The look she had given him, alone together in Steele's hotel room, had suggested that she didn't want to say goodbye.

The ticket in his hand became oddly blurred. Being alone hurt. Being alone was torture. He sometimes felt he was drowning in a grey sea with no sign of land or rescue. A drowning man clutches at straws, and Laura Holt had thrown him a rope. He looked at the ticket for a moment more and then stood and consigned it to a bin. "A week won't hurt." he said.

He strode out of the airport and got into a taxi, surprised at how easily the address came to his lips. He would go to Steele's office and he would make the offer. Maybe it would come to nothing, but it was a better option than drowning and he felt he should give it a try.

The End.