AN: My thanks goes to all my readers :-) Those who had the time to leave me a review - thank you for your kind words.
The inspiration behind this chapter comes from the episode, "Cat's Paw" from season 4 and also from "meixel's" fantastic story, "Departure" in which she has expanded on the Mike and Irene relationship/friendship.
As always, many thanks to my beta for editing.
As Mike walked toward the room his daughter occupied, he heard a familiar feminine voice engaged in conversation with Jeannie. A smile crept, unwittingly, across his face. When he reached the room, he knocked lightly on the door.
"Come in!" the voice of Inspector Irene Martin called out.
Mike opened the door with a broad grin spreading on his face. "Irene, what are you doing here?"
"I had some paperwork to drop by at the captain's office and I ran into Haseejian who told me what happened," Irene replied.
"At this hour?" Mike asked with a hint of surprise. He couldn't help but wonder what the attractive Inspector could be doing at the office when they worked at different departments.
"I've just closed a case that might tie in with that homicide at the antique store on Van Ness. I thought the captain would be interested in what I had. I'm actually on vacation as of five-o'clock this evening so I thought I'd swing by and see how Jeannie was doing." Irene turned to give Jeannie a relieved smile.
"How's Steve?" Jeannie piped up as she sat up against the pillows with a worried frown on her face.
Sighing, Mike's eyes shifted from Irene's warm and penetrating gaze to his daughter's inquiring look. "He's going to be fine. Doc's keeping him here overnight. He's got a broken arm and a fractured sternum. They're going to put his arm in a cast tomorrow morning. "
Irene winced in sympathy. "I imagine he'll be sidelined for a few weeks?"
Mike nodded. "That's right and he's none too happy about it."
"Will he really be alright to go home?" Jeannie asked. "I mean, he shouldn't be alone with those injuries."
The over-zealous concern in his daughter's voice was not lost on Mike. He exchanged a quick glance in Irene's direction and noted she was biting on her lower lip – a force of habit she fell into when she was deep in thought or nervous. "He'll be staying with us for at least a few days," Mike finally answered.
Jeannie nodded and sank back against the pillows, giving in to the sedatives.
"I better go. Take care of yourself, okay?" Irene adjusted the strap of her handbag over her shoulder then leaned over to give Jeannie a kiss on the forehead.
"Thanks, Irene," Jeannie said softly.
"Goodnight, Sweetheart," Mike whispered as he brushed passed Irene and gave Jeannie a quick peck on the cheek.
Together, Mike and Irene left the room and closed the door after them.
An uncomfortable silence fell between the two detectives until Mike found his voice. "Irene…"
"I know it's pretty late but would you like to come by for a cup of coffee?" Mike couldn't believe how difficult it was to ask for Irene's company but the idea of going home alone that night was a dismal prospect and one he didn't look forward to.
"Sure, I'd love to," Irene answered. Despite her casual outward demeanour, what felt like the wings of a thousand butterflies were fluttering in her stomach. It had been over six months since Mike had proposed to her and not long after that since they broke off the engagement when they came to the realization that it was a match doomed to fail. It was a mutual decision and one they never really discussed openly but simply accepted after a rift had broken between them. So why am I so nervous? It's just coffee for goodness sake.
They left the hospital building and walked through the parking lot to Irene's car. Always the gentleman at heart, Mike opened the door for the Inspector. He couldn't help but take in the woman's grace. Even though she was dressed in a simple two piece light blue suit with a beige blouse underneath, Irene was always the figure of elegance in his eyes.
"My car's just over there," Mike pointed to where he had parked the car, a few rows down.
"I'll be right behind you," Irene replied, her smiling never leaving her face.
The drive back to Mike's place was one filled with anxiety and a kind of excitement for both detectives. It had seemed like an insurmountably long period of time since Irene had entered Mike's home and neither knew what to expect tonight.
As they neared the house, the last of the forensic crew were leaving while Inspector Bill Tanner met them at the door.
"I think we're all wrapped up here, Mike. The kitchen's still in a bit of a mess. We tried to pick up all the glass fragments but just watch your step in case we missed anything. How are Steve and Jeannie doing?" Tanner asked.
Mike thanked Tanner and relayed Steve's and Jeannie's conditions before they bade each other good night.
"Good night, Irene," Tanner said.
"Night, Bill. Give my regards to Molly," Irene called out as Tanner opened the door to his car.
Mike and Irene watched as the vehicles drove away then they entered the house.
After the two detectives did a quick sweep of each room, they met up in the kitchen where the worst of the damage was done. The crunch that sounded as they walked on the tiled floor told them that there was still some glass that needed to be swept up.
Mike opened a cabinet below the sink and pulled out the dust pan and brush while Irene straightened up the rest of the kitchen. They engaged in small talk that revolved mostly around work. When the clean-up was complete, Irene put the kettle on the stove and made two mugs of steaming hot coffee. The two of them sat down at the small dining table facing one another, though their eyes were anywhere but at each other.
Irene was first to break the silence. "Did you have any plans for Valentine's Day?"
"No. What can I say? I'm a bachelor," Mike laughed nervously at his own humor, all the while kicking himself that he hadn't thought of something more sensible to say. "Did you?"
Irene shook her head then raised the mug to her lips.
The room filled with a silence so dense that even the ticking of the clock sounded like a hammer striking an anvil to their ears.
With a heavy sigh, Irene set her empty mug down on the table top. "Mike, I should go."
"You know you don't have to leave tonight. It's really late. Why don't you stay the night?" Mike offered. Great move, Casanova. Now she's going to think I want to sleep with her.
"Thanks, but I really should…"
"Please, Irene. I'd rather you didn't go home alone tonight. I'm sorry I'm not exactly good company right now, but I'll tell you what. Tomorrow morning I'll cook us the best breakfast you ever had! Helen always told me that I made the best omelette in the States. What do you say?" Mike reached across the table and took Irene's hand in his. He peered into her green eyes and hoped she wouldn't take his offer the wrong way. While he couldn't deny that a small part of him wanted Irene to stay because he missed her company, he was also genuinely concerned for her safety. The murder of a young girl in a neighbourhood nearby and the attack on Jeannie rattled him and he knew he would get no sleep knowing a woman he cared about was at home all alone. Despite the fact that Irene was a cop and he knew she was capable of taking care of herself, Mike couldn't help but feel a degree of protectiveness over her.
Irene looked into Mike's weary eyes and saw the fear and concern in them. He really did care enough to risk a misinterpretation to his request. "Okay but on one condition."
"Anything, you name it."
"I get the sofa." Irene smiled and gently squeezed Mike's hand in hers.
"I have a better deal. Why don't you take Jeannie's room. She won't be using it tonight and it's far more comfortable than the sofa or so I'm told," Mike replied with a wink.
"Alright. It's a done deal, Lieutenant." Irene threw her head back and chuckled then in a more serious tone she added, "Helen must've been a lucky woman."
"It was more the opposite. You know I had to ask her out three times before she finally said yes?" Mike's nervousness faded and he thought back to that fateful day when Helen had finally agreed to date him.
"Oh? Don't tell me she finally said yes because it was Valentine's Day?" Irene quipped.
"As a matter of fact, that was what she told me. Her exact words were: Alright, fine, I'll go out with you but only because it's Valentine's Day, hot-shot. Pick me up at eight and don't be late."
"And let me guess. It turned out to be the best Valentine's Day ever, right?"
"Oh no, actually, it was the worst. Not only was I almost an hour late due to a flat tire but I was so nervous that I knocked over the wine glass and it ruined her dress then I realized that I left my wallet at home so she ended up taking care of the check. I was so embarrassed; I took her home and thought she would never want to see me again."
"Then what happened?" Irene prodded, intrigued by Mike's admissions.
"I avoided her from then on. We were about to graduate from college and I signed up to join the marines. She cornered me in the library the day before graduation and demanded to know why I hadn't called her. I started blabbering like an idiot making up excuses. She gave me this look that told me if I didn't tell her the truth there and then I was going to regret it forever."
"And did you tell her how you felt?"
"Well, more or less. I took her into my arms and kissed her. When I pulled away, she laughed and said to me: You know, I was wondering why it took you so long to kiss me, Michael. When I apologized about our Valentine's Day date she rolled her eyes at me and told me that she had worse. She said: At least it was memorable. Well, until this day, I still remember our first date. I thank God every day for giving me the courage to finally ask this wonderful woman out. She made me the man I am today and gave me a beautiful daughter. Valentine's Day just hasn't been the same since…since I lost her."
Irene sat unblinking, mesmerized by Mike's story. Her eyes misted over and a prickling sensation caused them to water.
Reaching across the table with his free hand, Mike gently brushed the single tear drop that rolled down Irene's cheek.
Blushing with embarrassment, Irene extricated her hand from Mike's then wiped her eyes and looked away, letting out a shaky laugh. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get all emotional like that. It's just…it was a beautiful story." Irene started to rise from her seat. Secretly, she wished she had something similar to share but all that her mind could yield were painful memories of a past romance she would rather forget. "We should get some sleep. I'm pretty tired and you look beat too."
"You're right. I'll…er…I'll get Jeannie's room set up for you." Mike sensed that something he said had triggered a painful memory but fearing it would do more harm than good, he decided not to pursue the matter.
As they walked out of the kitchen, Mike took hold of Irene's arm. She turned to face him and their eyes locked on one another in a moment of understanding. She fell into his arms and leaned against his strong chest, listening to the steady rhythm of his heartbeat.
When they eventually parted, Mike looked into Irene's eyes and whispered, "Are you okay?"
Irene nodded fervently. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just tired. It's been a long day."
"Tell me about it." Wrapping an arm around her shoulders, Mike led her out of the kitchen and switched off the lights.