This story takes place after "Pride" and provides a possible answer to the question of why Mike Logan threw that infamous punch. Please note that the story diverges from L&O canon; the events of Exiled have not taken place in this universe. Later stories that continue this tale are, in order, Blizzard and Officer Down.
Detective Mike Logan slid into the car and handed the coffee and donut to the man behind the wheel. He was Mike's latest in a long list of partners, fresh from the Academy. Mike knew he was assigned to a rookie cop as partner for shooting off his mouth in the locker room over the way the other detectives had handled the Corelli stabbing case. An unofficial message to let him know that he had no place to advise, question -- or even have an opinion about -- the others' homicide cases. Of course, the official reason was that they were short-staffed.
"Thanks. How much do I owe you?" David Keeler asked awkwardly.
Mike Logan sighed. "It's on me, kid." He turned his head and stared out of the window.
"So, how long have you been on the Force, Mike?"
"How far did they teach you to count in kindergarten? Multiply that by ten."
"I wish you wouldn't talk to me like that. For whatever it's worth I'm your partner. Your back-up. My psychology prof at the Academy said that the foundation of every partnership was trust, and we can' t build trust if you won't even talk to me."
"Jesus!" Mike gave Keeler a disbelieving glare. "No wonder we end up babysitting if that's what they're teaching at the Academy these days." He took a deep breath. "Look, you'd do a lot better if you didn't trust me, okay. Hasn't anyone in the locker room told you why they call me The Black Cat behind my back? It's because three of my partners were shot while they were trusting me. Why do you think you were assigned to me, Keeler? You drew the short straw. So you tell your mushy-mouthed psychology professor that it's not trust that makes a partnership work. It's doing your damndest to stay alive."
Mike went back to staring out of the window.
"You're wrong you know," said Dave Keeler. Mike didn't bother to turn around. "I asked to be teamed with you." Mike did turn around at that. "I knew I would learn from you...and if nothing else maybe I would get a chance to filch your little black book."
He leaned back against his seat and unconcernedly bit into the jelly donut.
Mike laughed, and shook his head. "And I thought I'd heard it all."
Keeler started the car. "And another thing. Dr. Olivet is not mushy-mouthed."
"Olivet?" Mike was unable to keep the astonishment from his voice. "Liz Olivet?"
"Sure. Best teacher I ever had. Do you know her?"
Mike shrugged. "Met her. She was the shrink for the Two-Seven. Didn't know she was into teaching at the Academy."
"Only the last couple of years. But I guess she won't be now that she's moving to Germany."
Mike swiveled around at that. "Moving to Germany?" He caught Keeler's quick interested look but pretended he hadn't. "For what?"
"I heard she's got a teaching job there." He shot Mike another quick look. "She's beautiful, isn't she?"
"I'm not blind, Keeler." Mike said bitingly. "And I'm not floating my teeth just yet either. You don't have to ask me leading questions."
"Okay, so tell me up front. Was she ever in your black book?"
Mike looked at the fresh-faced young man in front of him and wanted to punch him. "No," he said quietly. "She was never in my black book."
Keeler nodded. "Too much class."
"Yeah," whispered Mike, and went back to staring out of the window.
Mike Logan leaned against the kitchen counter, his bored glance taking in the photograph of a couple with a baby stuck to the fridge with a Donald Duck magnet, the chipped plate with what looked like remains of egg and toast, the faded curtains blowing with the sea breeze. Just your regular picture of domestic bliss, he thought cynically. Just as well he and Liz never made it so far. Not that anything permanent had ever been on the cards for them considering that she had made it clear from the beginning that they had nothing in common. Also considering that he hadn't seen her in the three years that he had been stuck here in Staten Island. Unless you counted the night Lennie had hustled tickets for some do run by the Kennedy kid. Three months and twenty-three days ago. Yep, things were definitely over and done with. But still, it had come as a bit of a shock to hear that she was leaving the country...
In the background he heard the woman exclaim, "How many times must I tell you I don't know where he is?" She held up a handkerchief to a bleeding lip. "And how many times must I tell you that a cabinet door slipped out of my hand."
David Keeler glanced beseechingly at his partner. He was still not used to the reality of violence, even domestic disputes. Mike Logan sighed and took over the questioning.
"Look, Mrs. Bertucci, do everyone a favor and give us a break." Mike looked at the notes on his pad. "Your neighbors complained that there was yelling, and that they could hear you crying. This is the third complaint this week. If you don' t help us, we can't help you."
"Please, officers just go. He'll be back soon. You don't know what he'll do to me and Cindy if he knows you've been asking questions."
The woman's gaze moved behind him and Mike turned around to see a little girl clutching a doll. His stomach clenched as he saw the bruise on the four-year-old' s cheek. He had thought the years in homicide would have inured him to the wounds humans inflicted on one another, but they didn' t come even close to what he fielded in the domestics. At least most homicide perps had never professed to love their victims.
He turned back to the woman and his voice held controlled rage. "I think you'd better get your memory back real soon -- like now -- or I'm booking you, Mrs Bertucci."
The woman swooped down and held her daughter to her. "Please don't do this to me. She's the only reason I have to keep on living. You don't know Pete."
"Hey Logan," interrupted Keeler from near the window that overlooked the street. "I think he's coming in."
Logan looked into the large blue eyes staring unblinkingly up at him and his heart tightened with an unnamed fear.
"Mrs. Bertucci," he said urgently, "Take Cindy into the bedroom. I don't want her here if things get ugly."
She nodded as he herded them out of the kitchen and headed towards the open door. Keeler was already at the top of the stairs, gun in hand. Before Mike could call him to move back, he saw the burly man on the lower step pause as he took in the scene, and then reach into his jacket. Mike felt his heart plummet as a sense of déjà vu hit him.
At the 27th Precinct, Lieutenant Van Buren looked up as Lennie Briscoe walked into the room. He looked as if he had aged ten years in as many minutes. "Mike Logan's been shot. They've taken him to St. Catherine's."
Anita Van Buren stood up in shock. "How serious is it?"
"Didn't say. OK if I take the day off? For some reason he's named me next of kin."
"Sure," said Anita. "Give me a call when you know more."
Anita sat down abruptly after Lennie left. It had been three years since she'd had to discipline Mike Logan for punching a high-powered city official. He'd been transferred to Staten Island after that, but that didn't stop her from feeling that he was still one of her "boys". Their relationship had always been a little strained; his reputation as Mr. Hothead was well deserved! But she respected his ability as a cop, and had been deeply touched by his unshakeable belief in her innocence when she had been accused of shooting an unarmed teen in the back. She also remembered another conversation that she had not thought about in many years. It had been a night of personal bonding between three women whose professional lives overlapped. She reached for the phone.
Dr. Elizabeth Olivet. The nameplate on the door was still in place even if the phone had been disconnected. All of yesterday, as Anita had tried to contact Liz Olivet, she had debated whether she was doing the right thing, and even now she hesitated. Light spilled out from under the door so Anita knew Liz was home. She knocked. The door opened almost immediately.
"Anita?" questioned Liz, obvious surprise in her voice. "Come on in."
She waved at all the cartons and boxes on the floor. "Don't mind the mess but I wasn't expecting company."
She smiled, "What brings you here? Is everything all right?"
"I don't know," said Anita, still hesitant. "Mike Logan was shot yesterday afternoon."
The next moment she wished she had padded the announcement because the woman in front of her looked as if she had been the one at the receiving end of the bullet.
"Here, sit down, " she said, pushing Liz down on the nearest carton.
She went across the hall to the kitchen and got a glass of water. "I should have been more tactful. It's been so many years since we were at Claire's that I didn't know whether what I had to say still counted."
Liz pushed back her hair from her forehead, and took a deep breath. She managed a smile. "Actually, it's been over between us for years now. The news just took me by surprise, that's all."
She stood up jerkily. "So, is he going to be all right?"
"The doctors seem to think so. He took a bullet in his shoulder, a clean shot."
"Do you know how...how it happened?"
"Not the details, but it seems he pushed his partner out of the way and took the bullet. Lennie said the partner was just a rookie, very shook up."
Anita noticed that the young woman's poise was returning.
"Probably the best thing that could have happened to Mike," said Liz. "It'll redeem his sense of guilt about his previous partners."
She perched the glass on a nearby carton and turned to Anita, a detached smile on her face. "I'm sorry I can't offer you a drink or anything but I'm leaving for Frankfurt tomorrow and everything' s packed and ready for the movers."
Anita looked at her steadily for a long moment, and then she said, "Mike's partner told Lennie that the last thing Mike said before he lost consciousness was to ask for you."
A stab of sympathy hit her as she saw the younger woman's face crumple. "Go get your coat. If I drive I think we'll make it before the end of visiting hours.
Liz looked at Lennie Briscoe leaning against the nurse's station and for the first time it hit her why she was here. He straightened when he saw them, dredging up a smile.
"How is he?" asked Anita.
"Asleep. I wish I could have whatever they've given him."
"Maybe you should go home, Lennie," said Anita. "You've had a rough twenty-four hours."
He nodded. Anita continued, "I'll just have a quick look in at him, and I'll give you a ride."
He nodded again, and then quietly asked Liz, "You okay?"
Liz noticed Lennie's look of concern, and at one level it registered that this was probably the first time he had acknowledged that there was...had been, she corrected...something between his partner and her. Though he had probably always had his suspicions. Over the years that Liz had worked with him, she had developed a healthy respect for his insight into human behavior. Not trusting herself to speak, she gave a nod. As she walked with him behind Anita, she decided to ask what had been niggling her from the moment Anita had mentioned it.
"Lennie," she said hesitantly. "You spoke to the partner, didn't you?"
Lennie stopped, forcing her to stop as well.
She swallowed and asked, "What did he say?"
Lennie looked at her for a long moment while she struggled to maintain the air of professional detachment he was familiar with. Obviously she wasn't as lucid as she thought she was because he asked gently, "What did Mike say?"
"Keeler wasn't in any shape to make a clear statement when I spoke to him, but he swears he heard Mike say your name before he blacked out. They had been talking about you earlier in the day..."
"Talking about me?" she interrupted, clearly astonished.
"That's what Keeler said," confirmed Lennie, "so apparently when Mike said "Liz, don't go", Keeler knew who he meant."
His voice softened as he told her, "Don't knock yourself."
He started walking towards a door further down the corridor, when it opened and Anita came out. "He's out like a light, though I guess that's the best for him right now," she said. "Why don' t you have a quick look at him, Liz, then I'll take you home as well."
Liz looked at Anita and Lennie. If she didn't feel like she was about to take a walk in a minefield, she would actually have been amused by the way the two of them were tiptoeing around her. Affection surged within her.
"I think I'll just stay a while. I'll see you both tomorrow."
The first thing that struck Liz as she looked at Mike Logan lying in the hospital bed, hooked up to machines, was his utter stillness. He was a vital man, his forcefulness stemming from his inherent energy, and it was this quality of his that had first attracted her. Now, that had really irked her. He was everything she disliked in men -- he was brash, opinionated; a Neanderthal with a roving eye - but from the first moment when he had raised his eyebrow in a questioning look over some medical term, her pulse had done its best to win the Indy 500. But after his partner Max Greevey had been killed, Mike had been assigned to her for counseling. Standard departmental procedure, but it had given her a chance to glimpse his soul as he struggled with his grief, and it had taken all her professional training to keep from giving in to the attraction. Their subsequent professional relationship had been civil...barely.
Her heart had finally succumbed the night he had walked her home. She had been interviewing a homeless paranoid teenager accused of stabbing a cop when the girl had hit Liz; her steel bracelet gashing Liz' s forehead. Mike and his partner Phil Cerretta had rushed in to overpower the girl, and Mike had been the one who had later cleaned the wound. He and Phil had treated her to dinner at a pizza place around the corner from the precinct, and Mike had walked her home. Liz had a little recollection of the walk that summer evening except that they had eaten chocolate mint ice cream cones on the way and that when she had dropped her cone, he had offered her his. She had taken it without thinking and only after she had licked the ice-cream, had a warmth settled in the region of her stomach as she had realized the intimacy implied in the offering and the taking. By the time she had climbed the stairs to the entrance of her apartment building, and turned to give him an answering wave, she had known that it would take every ounce of her will power and professional training to get her through any future meetings with Mike Logan without letting him know that he melted her insides to mush. And after her gynecologist had raped her...it was still so difficult to even say it...she had erected a wall around her that no man, not even Mike, could breach. The turning point had come when Phil Cerretta had been shot during an undercover operation to entrap a Colombian assassin. Liz thought back to the day that had irrevocably changed her life.
Liz had been draining the pasta when the doorbell had pealed. Mike Logan had been leaning against the jamb, his brown leather jacket over his arm.
"Sorry, I'm late Doc. Just lead me to the couch."
She crossed her arms across her chest. "Your appointment was at four o'clock, Logan."
"Are you going to let me in or are we going to do the psychobabble on your door step?"
Ignoring his insolence, she looked at the rigid way he held his shoulders and reluctantly moved aside. She sighed. "I should get my head examined for letting you stay, but at a guess you could do with some dinner."
She led the way into the kitchen. "Do you want to share some spaghetti?"
"Thanks. If you have enough."
"Only if you make yourself useful. The plates are in that cupboard, glasses over there."
Mike took of his jacket and tie, and rolled up his shirtsleeves. The kitchen seemed suddenly smaller with him crowding the space, and to conceal her awkwardness, Liz asked how Phil was doing.
"Better than Max," he said. "Where do you keep the forks?"
That was dumb Liz, she thought to herself. Maybe you should get your head examined.
To cover up, she told him about the sauce she was cooking -- her grandmother's recipe -- and about summers spent at her grandmother's house in Cabot Cove. She saw some of the stiffness leave his shoulders as the ordinariness of the conversation rolled over him. After dinner, he did the dishes while she made the coffee. As they drank it sitting across the kitchen table, Liz found herself examining him. There were lines of strain around his mouth that she hadn't seen since Max had been killed. She found herself noticing his tapering fingers with their blunt nails, the way his lashes cast shadows on his cheeks as he stared down at the coffee cup. He looked up and their eyes met. There was a sudden sense of crackling awareness in the air. Liz looked away, frightened about the way he made her feel, and summoned up her detached voice. "It must be late."
The inanity almost made her wince, but Mike only nodded. She could have said that little green men had invaded Earth and he still would have nodded because the message had been received and understood. He pushed back the chair and picked up his jacket.
In the hall, he turned to look down at her and said, "Thanks for dinner. I owe you one."
She shook her head. "Don't mention it."
She hesitated, fighting her longing to reach up and place her palm against his jaw...an physical need she hadn't felt in a long time. "I'll see you tomorrow in my office."
He stared at her gravely for a long moment as if he recognized her longing. "All you have to do is say "Don't go'. "
Liz stood her ground. "Good night, Logan."
It was the resignation in his eyes that toppled her determination. As if he had expected no less than that another door would be closed to him. He must have felt the subtle shift in her because he moved. Or maybe she did. It didn't matter because they were kissing. Not an exploring first kiss. No teasing, no testing, no flirting of tongues. Just deep hungry kisses. She arched against him, he lowered her to the floor, following her, covering her with his weight. There were no subtleties, no finesse as their fingers moved fiercely over each other, desperately seeking the heat of skin against skin. No words, no endearments, just the sounds of harsh uneven breathing. They met hard and fast to a preordained rhythm. As she took him in, her head flung back and she felt his taut body tighten even more. A great warmth spilled inside her, and then his body blanketed her completely.
How long had the frenzy lasted? How long did they lie with his face buried against her throat? She didn't know. Then slowly she sensed a change. Felt the dampness of his tears against her skin as his body rocked with sobs muffled against her breast. Cleansing sobs that released the hurt and the guilt. She stroked his hair, his neck, his shoulders till slowly his body slackened and his breathing became even, and she knew he had passed into exhausted sleep.
Liz shifted. His scent surrounded her as completely as he did. The imprint of his big, muscled body was almost familiar. She turned to hold him more securely and caught herself. She should be thinking of what had happened instead of holding Mike Logan while he slept. Liz stirred, knowing she had to move away. Her license, her years of study, her career....her future could be irreversibly affected because of what had happened tonight. But it was so peaceful...maybe she could lay like this just for a little while.
No. No she couldn't.
Using one hand to push his chest, she lifted his arm and rolled free and knelt up. He stirred to turn on his side but didn't wake up. Jerkily she pulled her blouse lying in a heap nearby and put it on. She looked at Mike sprawled soundly on her floor, knowing that she should wake him up but not wanting to deal with the emotions that were still hanging heavy in the air.
She rose and found a blanket, spreading it over him, then abruptly sank down on the floor with her back to the couch across from where he lay. She didn't know how long she watched him sleep with no coherent thought emerging form the chaos in her mind. Three years ago she would never have imagined a situation in which she would have become emotionally involved with a patient. But three years ago she hadn't known Mike Logan. Even now, did she really know him? She smiled wryly at the thought of the way his lips would quirk and his dark eyes glint if she had asked him that. He would enjoy quoting the Bible! She pushed back her head to ease the knot at the back of her neck. Why had she allowed Mike Logan to get underneath her skin? He was a man in pain but she was used to men in pain. So why was he different? She looked at the lines of exhaustion that cut deep near his mouth, and knew that there was nothing professional in her desire to heal him. In her desire.
But God, why him? Emotionally crippled, philandering Mike Logan. Loyal, generous, compassionate Mike Logan. Even now, six years later, she still asked herself the same question as once again she found herself staring at Logan as he slept. She had no answer then and she had none now.
She remembered that after a night of tossing and turning in bed, she had gone into the hall to find that he had already left her apartment. That same afternoon, she had requested that his case be transferred to another Department psychiatrist. And a few days later, when she had visited the 27th Precinct to interview a suspect who claimed voices had ordered him to kill a seven-year-old girl, she had met Logan as if the night had never been. And perhaps that would have been the best way to play it all around if only Logan had let it be.
Five weeks after the night, she had reached home after a long and dreary day at work, and a longer and drearier hour at the shops to see him peel away from the shadow as she turned the key to her front door.
"What are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you too, Doc," he said as he took a large bag threatening to spill from her arms.
She placed her grocery bags on the kitchen counter and turned to face him, her body stiff with tension and dread.
"I know this has nothing to do with work and it sure as hell is not a social visit. Why are you here?"
He leaned against the sink and sighed. "I didn't come here to argue Liz. The Hell is I don't know why I came here except that I knew I had to...I came to ask if you were all right?"
She was taken aback, "Shouldn't that be my question?"
"Liz," he said, "I want you to know that I didn't plan it."
He unconsciously twisted the ring on his finger. Taking a deep breath, he continued. "I know you've been hurt by someone you trusted..."
"Stop..." she said tightly.
They stared at one another and once again electricity crackled in the air. Liz looked away.
"Another thing," he said, "that night...that night we didn't...I didn't use any protection..." He stopped. "So is everything okay?"
She remained stunned for moment. "You were worried that I may be pregnant?" She couldn't believe it. Was he actually concerned about her? Or was he worried about what she would demand from him?
"Is that so difficult to believe?" he asked fiercely, and she knew that in some way she had hurt him. She sat down suddenly unable to take it all in. She stared at him. He looked away and ran a hand over his eyes. It was such a tired gesture that Liz's heart, always unsteady when he was around, tripped.
"You don't have to worry," she said, "I'm not pregnant."
He stared at her with a frown, then nodded. "I'd better be going."
She stood up. "Good night, Mike."
At the door, he paused to shrug into his leather coat. Liz stood as if in a trance, still dazed at what he had said. There was so much left unsaid.
It was as he straightened his collar, his movements far jerkier than usual, that she realized what it must have cost him to come tonight, and she had a sudden, urgent need to stop him from leaving just yet.
"Mike," she said and her urgency must have conveyed to him because when he turned to her his face had an alien gravity. "I want you to know ...your coming today, I..."
Her words trailed off into incoherence at the intensity in his eyes. She lowered her lashes. "Thank you," she whispered.
He didn't say anything, didn't move, so she risked looking up at him again. Their eyes clung and the temperature in the room soared. This time Mike looked away, and moved to open the door. Almost out, he turned around. In a voice devoid of inflection, he asked, "Will you have dinner with me tomorrow? I owe you one if you recall."
Liz's recalled more than the dinner, and to her embarrassment felt the heat rise in her cheeks. "I don't think it would be a good idea."
She stopped to gather her thoughts and said what she had been saying to herself for the last five weeks. "Look, Mike we're both adults, reasonable adults who have nothing in common except that we have to work together. Let' s not make this difficult. Let's just forget it happened and move on."
Something flickered in his eyes at her words, but it was gone so quickly she couldn't pinpoint what had caused it. "I don't think I could."
He moved closer to trace a finger down her cheek, then twirled it into a long brown curl that lay against her shoulder. "I don't remember much of making love to you, but I remember the way you smelled. I couldn't get it out of my mind for days."
"We shouldn't be doing this Mike," she said, but she made no effort to move away.
"It's not your perfume," he continued as if he hadn't heard her protest, dipping his head to smell her throat, "though that's very nice too."
She looked up into his eyes, mesmerized by his voice.
"We shouldn't be doing this Mike," she repeated, but even she knew that her voice lacked conviction.
"You remember it, too, " he whispered as he stroked her jaw. "Don't say you don't."
She swallowed to ease the dryness in her mouth and saw the triumphant satisfaction in his eyes. His mouth dipped to brush against hers, and tiny shivers ran along her nerve endings.
"Has anyone ever told you that your eyes turn to diamonds when you want me?" His voice was just a murmur as his mouth skimmed across her cheek.
"Another Mick who kissed the Blarney Stone," she said shakily.
"I'd rather kiss you," he said.
And he did.
Sitting in the cold hospital room, Liz sighed as she remembered the first of the intermittent nights spent in each other's arms and the days spent keeping each other at arm's distance.
Why am I here? I need to leave and move away from here so I can get a perspective on this. Liz remembered that she had given Claire Kincaid the same advice as the young ADA had waited with a drawn face outside Jack McCoy's hospital room when he had undergone surgery for prostrate cancer. If there had been any doubt in their colleagues' minds that there was more to Claire and Jack' s professional relationship it had been erased that night. Cool, calm Claire had not stirred from his side till Liz had finally prevailed on her to come home with her. "You're going to be no use to Jack... or anyone else... if you exhaust yourself," she had told Claire.
Liz remembered that they had ordered in Chinese and spent the night talking about Jack...and Mike. Claire had not been able to understand Liz and Mike's on-again-off-again relationship.
"I don't get it, Liz. You deserve more. He runs a swathe through women and whenever he has some spare time on his hands he comes to you and you take him back. And when his nanosecond concentration span shifts, off he goes to find some other woman. Any woman. As you very well know, our Mike Logan is not known for his discrimination. Don't you have any self-respect?"
"Those women don't mean anything to him Claire. Just because you browse through trashy magazines at a news stand doesn't mean you can't appreciate good books."
"Don't delude yourself Liz. You're not his Complete Works of Shakespeare. Not that I don't blame him, Liz. Why the hell should he go out and buy his own copy if he can borrow it from a library anytime he wants it. How long are you going put up with this?"
As Liz stared at Mike lying heart wrenchingly still under the green hospital sheets, the only sounds the monotonous beeps from the machines that monitored his heartbeat and breathing, she thought back to that night. It had been another momentous night in her life.
ers and Mike's.
As she had stayed up unable to sleep she had run Claire's question again and again through her mind. "How long are you going to put up with this?"
The next time Mike had come over she had told him that she did not want to see him again. And her tone must have been convincing because he did not argue or even try to kiss her. It was as if he had been expecting it all along.
The next night, when she had turned on the news, she had seen the report on how Detective Mike Logan had punched a homophobic politician. No one on the Force could understand why. He had been transferred to Staten Island and that had been the last she had seen of him for three years. Three years in which she had got some semblance of normality back in her life. Had even made an effort to go out on dates, find another man who could move her like Mike Logan could.
And then some months ago she had attended that shindig in honor of the First Lady that Lennie Briscoe had invited her to. She still did not know ..or admit to herself...why she had gone. It was not as if she was a Hilary Clinton fan like Anita Van Buren. It had turned out to be a disastrous evening. Mike had behaved obnoxiously, leering at every woman in the room, even hitting on a blonde with Jack McCoy though it had been obvious to all present that the two had wanted to be left alone. He had not spoken one sentence to her, not even looked at her directly. And then that awful karaoke had started with Munch insisting everyone sing. She was mortified to admit that she had chosen to sing the theme from Titanic to needle Mike, to make him remember. But for all the reaction she had got from him, she might as well have sung the theme from Barney. She had a feeling that Lennie Briscoe had somehow suspected something because at the end of the evening he had bundled Mike into a cab with Phil Cerreta instead of her, even though their route was the same. Bless Lennie.
Liz had made a decision that night. She was going to leave New York -- and Mike Logan -- and start a new life with a clean slate.
Sitting in Mike Logan's hospital room that thought bolstered her now as it had done that night. Nothing had really changed. Yes, Mike had been shot, but his condition was stable. A few weeks from now, he would be back to being himself...with no room in his life for Liz. She would be a fool to change her plans and stay.
Liz took a deep breath. She would go home and finish packing, and tomorrow afternoon she would board her flight to Frankfurt.
The door opened, and a red-haired woman in a starched white uniform walked in. She stopped when she saw Liz. "Excuse me, but visiting time was over at seven. You shouldn't be here."
Liz glanced at her watch; the dial showed that it was a little after nine o'clock.
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize. I guess I must have missed the announcement and no one came in after that."
"Oh that's probably because he's resting comfortably. He's hooked up to the nurse's station so we keep an eye on him from there."
She went around to the side of his bed where an intravenous tube was linked to his left hand. "But he needs his painkiller now if he's to sleep through."
The nurse gave Liz a kindly glance. "Don't fret, hon. He's a big boy and the bullet went through clean. He'll be out of here in no time and waltzing, as if defying death was just a dream."
Liz smiled weakly, "That'll be the day. Mike hates dancing."
She looked at him lying so motionless it made her throat ache. "Did he defy death?"
The nurse gave a quick grin. "Yeah, well, let's just say this is a good time to remember that all the times he annoyed you by leaving the toilet seat up, at least he was up and breathing."
Liz drew in a sharp breath and nodded. What would it have been like if Mike's injury had been more severe... if she had lost him. She recalled Jack McCoy's ashen face outside Claire's room when the doctor' s had given up hope after the car accident. She was terrified at the thought that, but for the grace of God, that could have happened to her as well. Maybe she should stay in New York till she was sure Mike was back to being himself.
"Go on," urged the nurse with a smile. "Touch him in the special way only you know. Call him darling or any nickname you have for him. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking unconscious people can' t hear you. As long as he knows you love him, and are waiting for him, he'll come back to you."
Liz heard the nurse's words and color drained from her face.
A twisting kaleidoscope of images jumbled through her mind. It was if she had been seeing unfocused colors, but by a magical sleight of hand the lens had cleared and she could see the patterns clearly for the first time.
All this time when she had despaired over Mike' s flight from commitment, his distancing, it had never once occurred to her that she might have been the one who had kept him at bay. That she had been so scared that he would pull away if he knew how much she loved him that she had gone out of her way to give an impression that she wanted a no-strings relationship. She had never initiated any move in their relationship, responding in spite of her qualms when he came to her, but never letting him know that he was welcome.
She realized now with sudden clarity what she had always known nebulously, but never as a coherent thought. That she was the woman Mike Logan wanted, but couldn't trust himself to have...because she had never given him any indication otherwise.
Liz recalled the look on his face when he had undressed her one night after several weeks of separation to reveal a new matching set of plaid underwear. He had traced the edges of the bra as if in a trance. "You wanted me come back," he had whispered in utter amazement.
Even before Phil' s shooting, when they were just professional colleagues sparring with each other, she had been the only one for him. Once, angry with herself for being attracted to him and jealous of all the women he flaunted, she had asked him scathingly, "Is it just me or do you have a problem with all women who have a triple digit IQ?"
He had given her his trademark lopsided smile and said, "You're the only one I know, Doc."
The only one.
She had always been his only one. That was why he had come to her the night Phil had been shot. Not because she had been assigned as his psychiatrist by some departmental cog in the wheel, but because he had needed her, Liz Olivet. Their coming together that night had not been born of misplaced need for solace or momentary passion, but of recognition.
If only they had trusted each other...and their own hearts...a little more.
"Are you all right?" The nurse's concerned voice broke through her thoughts. "If you don't mind my saying so, I think you should go home now. His condition is stable, he'll sleep through the night."
Her voice gentled, "Why don't you just kiss him good night and go get yourself some sleep as well. When you come in tomorrow, everything will seem brighter and better."
Liz swallowed and nodded jerkily, still overwhelmed by her self-discovery. She looked down at his face, so drawn and silent, and realized that in all the times they had made love she had never allowed herself to trace it with her fingertips.
Liz shook her head. So much wasted time. Suddenly, she wished Claire was alive so she could have told her what she knew now. Too late again.
Lifting a hand that trembled a bit, Liz stroked his cheek. Her eyes blurred as she ran her fingers across his dark, marked eyebrows that she loved so much, his straight, strong nose, She bent and whispered the words that she had kept locked in her heart, and tenderly kissed the corner of his mouth.
His reaction startled her and she wondered if she had imagined it when she heard the nurse's surprised laugh as she glanced away from the monitors above his head. "Hey hon, you're one lucky woman. Now go on home. Scoot. We' ll see you tomorrow."
When Liz walked down the green-toned hallway carrying a basket of crimson-veined carnations, she was surprised to see the number of people milling around. Obviously the evening before she had been too numbed to notice the clamor of visiting hours. The nurse she had met the night before was on duty at the station and gave Liz a thumbs-up sign as Liz walked by.
Liz saw Mike's eyes widen when he recognized who pushed opened the door, but all he said was, "They must have made it sound worse than it was if you thought you had to bring flowers."
He glanced at the tabloid lying on the nightstand. "Should know better than to believe what the newspapers say, Liz."
Liz stopped, taken aback. Last night when she had left him, he had been lying so still her heart had twisted with fear. Today, he was sitting up as brash and sarcastic as he had ever been when deliberately baiting her. Had she misread the moment last night? Had her flash of self-discovery really just been self-delusion?
She decided to play it cool and cautious. She parried with a smile, "I should have known your thick skin would have prevented any major harm, Logan."
She placed the flowers on the table under the wall-mounted television. "So did they catch the guy who did this?"
"Yeah, they collared him, along with a stash of coke worth 100 grand on the street. Seems he didn't know it was just a domestic complaint and panicked."
She hesitated, then asked quietly, "Are you all right, Mike? With what happened."
He looked at her for a long moment. His mouth quirked, "If you haven't noticed Doc, I'm on a hospital bed, not on your couch."
Liz bit her lip. Her training echoed her own insight -- the familiar pattern of sparring was Mike's way of maintaining a distance from her in case he exposed his vulnerability. But suppose she was wrong? Should she take a risk?
She tried again. "So ..what do the doctors say? How long will you be here?"
He shrugged. "One, maybe two weeks. What about you? I heard about your new teaching job in Germany? Shouldn't you be heading for the airport?"
This was a day for surprises. "Wherever did you hear about Germany?"
"Keeler, one of your groupies from the Academy. Too bad he missed the chance to be one of your cases now that he's got a shot-up partner."
Liz looked down at her hands at the bitter edge to his voice, wondering if she should really be here.
Pasting on a smile, she stood up. "My 'get-well-soon' wishes seemed to have worked so I guess I'd better be going."
"Good guess," he said edgily. "Have a nice day."
But before she could leave, the red-haired nurse walked in, smiling as she recognized Liz. "So, Detective, all set to rejoin the land of the living?"
Liz allowed her mind to wander as Mike flirted with the nurse while she checked the intravenous drip attached to his wrist and made notes on his chart.
Last night, everything had seemed so simple, today everything seemed so complicated. "Fighting and sex...doesn't sound so bad to me," Claire had said the night Liz had confided in her and Anita about the problems she was having with Mike. But Claire hadn't known the half of it; the painful chasm such a pattern of behavior could bring with it.
Maybe it didn't matter how much they loved each other if hurting one another was the only way they knew how to behave when they were together.
As the nurse was leaving, she threw Liz another smile. "What did I tell you last night? Get some sleep and everything will be all right in the morning."
Mike looked at the nurse's departing back, and then at Liz. His eyebrows went up in the way she loved. "You were here last night?" he asked, incredulity apparent in his voice.
She nodded, unsure of what to say, or where the conversation would go now that he knew this was not just a social "get-well-soon" visit.
He looked at her for a long moment. "When I woke this morning I thought you had been here."
He smiled self-deprecatingly. "I must be losing it though, because I thought I heard you call me 'darling.'"
Liz straightened her shoulders. The nurse was right. She was a lucky woman...to get another chance. Jack McCoy had not been so fortunate.
Her eyes holding his gaze steadily, she walked to his bed and reached for his hand. Entwining their fingers, she said, "You're not losing it. I did call you darling."
She smiled a little shakily. "But you didn't get everything I said. I said, "I love you Michael Patrick Logan and I won't go as long as you want me to stay with you. Forever if you want me to.' "
He stared at her as if she was speaking an unfamiliar language. Then he let go his breath in a deep whooshing sound and leaned back against the pillows, closing his eyes. She could see he was struggling to digest her words. He said slowly. "That morning after Phil was shot, when I woke up... I reached out for you. And you weren't there." He smiled bleakly, but didn't open his eyes. "Of all the miserable moments in my life that was the worst one."
Liz listened in stunned silence as he continued, "I knew you were right. That someone as smart and beautiful as you wouldn't really have anything in common with someone like me, but it tore me up in any case."
She bent her head to get a grip on the tears that threatened to spill any moment. "Oh darling, I'm so, so sorry that I hurt you. I never really believed that. I only said that because I was such a coward."
She stroked his cheek, and he turned to press his mouth to her palm. She swallowed. "The scariest thing is that I almost made the same mistake last night. I had made up my mind to catch my plane today. You were safe and well so I decided that there was no reason for me for me to stay."
He looked bewildered. "But I thought you realized that you loved me. Isn't that why you decided to not to go?"
She shook her head. "I already knew that. I have loved you so long I can't even remember a time when I didn't." She gave him an adoring smile that turned his insides over. "I decided to stay because I realized you loved me."
"And also because," she whispered, "when I kissed you last night, the monitor showed that your heart missed a beat."