AN: A very special thank you goes to all who have followed this story right to the end. And of course, to my beta for her encouragement and proof reading. Happy New Year to all. I will be working on my other works in progress in the New Year now that this is completed.
Just letting my readers know that the conclusion to this story is a little on the AU side of things :-)
Mike barely slipped the key into the lock when his front door swung open revealing the radiant smile on Jeannie's face.
"Mike, you made it!" Jeannie wrapped her arms around her father's neck and closed her eyes as her mind processed the fact that Mike had made it home in time for Christmas dinner.
"Come on, you two. Dinner is served," Steve's cheery voice broke through the tender moment.
As Mike walked inside his home, he couldn't help but chuckle at the sight that greeted him. His partner donned an apron over a crisp red shirt and flecks of flour dusted his light brown hair. Despite the gauze covering the wound on his head, Steve looked in good health with a smile that lit up his handsome face.
"Look at you. Don't tell me Jeannie had you slaving away in the kitchen?" Mike quipped, hanging up his coat and hat on the stand beside the door.
"Steve's a really good cook," Jeannie said proudly. She hooked her arm through Steve's, causing the young man to blush and look down at his shoes.
"Really? Well, what are we waiting for? I need evidence of the fact!" Mike chuckled, planting his hand on the back of Steve's neck and giving him a friendly jiggle.
"Evidence, huh?" Steve laughed, shaking his head.
"And is this a new shirt?" Mike continued to tease the younger man as he looked him up and down in mock surprise. In the years he'd known Steve, he thought he was also well acquainted to his wardrobe. Trying to impress Jeannie or me? Both?
Steve blushed even more and looked to Jeannie for help.
"He's going to midnight Mass with us this year," Jeannie said, rescuing Steve from an awkward moment.
"Okay, who are you and what have you done with my partner?" Mike kidded then his curiosity kicked in and he asked in a neutral tone, "Seriously, in all these years I've known you and you never once accepted an invitation to go to Mass. What changed?"
"I don't know. I guess I decided to give it a go. Brennan called me just before you came and told me you guys talked about what happened last night. I came close to catching that bullet and if it wasn't for him and a certain someone up there watching over me, I wouldn't be here spending Christmas with two of my favourite people in the world. I have much to be thankful for and this is my way of showing it."
Steve's words were spoken from the heart and Mike couldn't help but feel a sense of pride for the young man. With a nod and a smile, he wrapped one arm around Steve's shoulder while the other was wrapped around Jeannie's and together the three companions made their way to the dining table.
Hearing Steve making Jeannie laugh and seeing her face light up with delight made Mike reminisce on the days when he and Helen shared similar moments. He watched Jeannie pass around the presents from beneath the Christmas tree while he sat on the recliner and Steve was perched on the edge of the sofa, leaning forward with a carelessly wrapped parcel in his hands. Mike's gaze fell on the gift in Steve's clutches. He'd originally bought Steve tickets to see a basketball game but while the Steve and Jeannie had insisted to clear away the dishes, Mike snuck up to his room and searched for something more meaningful to give to his partner. Wrapping it up the best way he could, he then placed the parcel under the tree among the rest of the presents gathered there. Traditionally, he and Jeannie always waited until Christmas Day to open up presents but this year, he decided to break their tradition for they still had some time to fill until they made their way to the church.
"Mike, I don't even have to read the gift tag to know this was from you," Steve chuckled.
"Just open it, will you," Mike snapped with mock irritation.
Jeannie walked over to the sofa and sat on the arm rest, eyeing Steve as he ripped open the crudely wrapped gift.
Discarding the paper onto the floor, Steve lifted the lid off the box which was tattered at the edges. The young man pulled aside the crumpled tissue paper to reveal what looked to be a black tuxedo nestled neatly inside. He freed the garments from the packaging, a look of awe etched on his face.
Jeannie recognized the tuxedo the instant Steve held up the jacket which was tailored to specifications for Mike for his wedding day. She looked across to see her father blinking as if something were bothering his eyes. Silence filled the room and all eyes were on Steve and the gift.
"Mike, I don't know what to say." Steve's voice was barely audible but the silence magnified every word he spoke.
"I thought maybe you may need it one day. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but one day. I was a little taller back then so you might need to have it altered," Mike replied, gruffly.
"Thank you. I really wasn't expecting to get something that, well, you know…" Steve stumbled over his words, clearly at a loss of what to say.
"What did you think I was getting you?"
"I don't know. Tickets to a game?" Steve shrugged uncomfortably.
Inside, Mike was laughing and he was secretly glad he had a change of heart. Yeah, tickets. Not this year, Buddy Boy.
"Hey, how about you open up one from me?" Steve pointed to a small rectangular gift at Mike's feet. "Actually, that's from Jeannie and me. We decided to go in it together this year."
Though Mike already knew what Jeannie had in store for him, he was surprised that Steve had a hand in it. It just made the gift all the more special to him. Trying to adopt a poker face, Mike unwrapped the present and held up the wooden box as he opened the lid. There sat his pocket watch, polished and serviced back to its original state. He lifted the silver case from the satin insert and turned it over in his hand. He felt like he'd been transported back to the year Helen presented it to him. He remembered it as if it were only yesterday as he squinted read the engraving etched across the steel surface.
Mike, Now & Forever. Always Yours, Helen
Now it was Mike's turn to lose the power of speech. He swallowed hard and looked up at Jeannie then at Steve who were both watching him expectantly.
"Thank you, both of you. That was very thoughtful. I've been looking everywhere for this," Mike finally said hoarsely.
"Let's just say I've been honing my skills as a detective of the San Francisco Police Department. Jeannie found the watch after a little detective work from me," Steve replied with a cheeky grin.
"I wanted to give it to you some time ago but since you've been busy, Steve suggested that I take it in to the antique store and have it repaired inside and out," Jeannie added.
Mike placed the watch back into the box and set it down then got to his feet and gave Jeannie a kiss on the cheek before giving Steve an affectionate ruffling of his hair, dislodging the flour remnants.
When it came to Jeannie's turn to open up her gift, the last one that still sat beneath the tree, Steve looked on nervously. His face had paled and he sat quietly, not daring to allow his gaze to stray in Mike's direction.
Mike shifted his gaze between Jeannie and Steve, knowing this could be the moment that their lives would change, if it hadn't already. He had thought that his gift to Steve would be enough of a hint to ease the younger man's nerves but if anything, Steve looked even more nervous to the point where he looked like he was going to be ill.
Steve brushed his fingers through his wavy hair which had started to dampen from perspiration. He took a deep breath and steeled himself as the young woman who had come to mean so much to him lifted the velvet lid and peered inside the box.
Jeannie's jaw dropped as she picked up the ornate locket and with trembling fingers opened the catch to reveal the black and white photograph of her parents smiling lovingly at her. Her fingers felt the grooves on the back of the locket and she turned it over carefully. There beautifully inscribed were the words:
Jeannie, With Love, Now and Always Steve
A tear slid down Jeannie's face. She looked down at Steve who sat still on the sofa, every muscle taut, as his eyes slowly rose from her hands to meet her bright blue gaze.
Steve thought he had died and gone to Heaven. Looking into Jeannie's eyes, he was sure he would drown within their depths. He knew if he didn't break away from her enchantment, he would pull her down from her perch and kiss her passionately as he held her in his arms.
Time stood still and Mike felt powerless to intervene as the two young people sitting before him shared a special moment.
Jeannie was first to break free from the intensity of Steve's gaze. She leaned forward and kissed Steve on the cheek, whispering in his ear, "Merry Christmas, Steve. Thank you."
A flood of mixed emotions circled Steve's heart as time started moving forward again.
An awkward ambience surrounded the three occupants of the Lieutenant's home. Mike decided everyone needed a distraction. He rose to his feet and walked over to the turn table. Music filled the room and Mike held his hand out to his daughter. Together they danced with Steve who had regained most of his color, laughing in the background. When the next song began, Mike grabbed Steve by the arm and pulled him up to his feet. Clapping, laughing and moving their feet to the beat, the trio were lost in the rhythm of Elvis Presley's hits.
Exhausted, Mike broke away from the scene and headed to the kitchen to grab a drink. He wasn't sure how long he had been gone for but when he returned to the living room, Steve and Jeannie were standing by the window below the mistletoe wrapped in each other's arms, their lips were in doubt locked together. Nodding to himself and smiling, Mike walked away and decided to get some fresh air. As he passed the coffee table he picked up the wooden box which housed the pocket watch.
Unlocking the back door, Mike stepped outside into the crisp night air. Something cool and wet ran down his face and for a moment he thought he was shedding a tear or two. When he brought a hand up to his face to wipe the liquid away, he felt the sensation again, this time on his fingers. He stepped away from the house and looked up into the night sky then cupped his hands in front of him. It had been some twenty years since it last snowed in San Francisco. But the snow-flakes were lightly drifting and falling in earnest, dusting the ground around him like a winter wonderland.
I love you, Mike.
Helen's words warmed his heart as Mike stood out in the cold, letting go of emotions he held back throughout the night. "I love you too, Helen. I always have and always will," he whispered, mesmerised by the snow falling around him.
How would it make you feel if Steve cared more about your daughter than you realize?
This time, the voice of a dear friend spoke through the chilly breeze.
"I couldn't be happier," Mike found himself answering. Looking down at the box in his hand, he opened it and took out the pocket watch. Glancing at the dial, he saw that it was nearing midnight and time for them to go to Mass. He placed the watch in the pocket of his vest then turned around, and retreated back into the warmth of his house. He shut the door against the bitter cold, with the knowledge that he was opening another door in his life. For Jeannie and Steve the road to happiness was beginning but for Mike, their love for each other was a reawakening of a romance he would treasure for eternity.