FMD is an author who has appeared in these virtual pages before, with surprisingly moving stories. For this one, she was inspired by an email from a fan to write a sequel to Heartbeat. "I hadn't planned on one," she notes, "but it motivated me into continuing the story." And heads up: You don't have to have read the original to get a jolt out of this one.
Requiem for Didi
Wide eyes looked at him unblinkingly, trustingly, waiting for him to reach out. As he tried to grasp the little girl, he felt the sting of a belt rip across his back. He clenched his body and ignored the pain as he had learned to do in the past. A storm raged in a distance, swirling dark mists around him, pulling the child away from him. He knew he had to get to the little girl somehow. He couldn't let those trusting eyes down. Not again...
A soft voice called him away from the storm, promising a sweet haven, but he was reluctant to turn back. He had to reach the child. Once again he felt the lash of the belt against his skin, and a child' s cry ripped the air. Panic rose in his throat. He reached out for the little girl but a huge wave swept her away, and Mike felt a choking sensation as if he too were drowning.
"Mike, wake up."
He felt a light touch on his shoulder and rolled away from it. He had to protect the little girl...
Mike opened his eyes, slowly becoming conscious that he was lying in twisted sheets...far away from the little girl he should have saved. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The betrayed look in those eyes continued to haunt him. He buried his head in his hands, waiting for the nightmare to recede. A soft hand stroked his back but he flinched away from the touch. His mind was still filled with the sting of blows and the image of the drowning child.
"Yeah," he said not turning around. A despairing sense of helplessness flowed through his veins. With the nightmare fresh in his mind, he felt a deep need to release his rage...anger at the world for the cruelty it allowed to spread unchecked; disgust at himself for letting the child down. Once again Detective Mike Logan had failed.
He got up and tugged on his jeans. He turned to pick up his shirt and saw that Liz was curled on her side, watching him with eyes full of concern and he flinched as if she too had struck him. He found his wallet and picked up his keys. Without looking at the woman lying in the moonlit bed, he escaped, cursing the woman who had raised him.
Liz Olivet heard the strains of Eric Clapton's guitar as soon as she turned the key in her front door, and a powerful feeling of relief hit her. After he had walked out in the middle of the night she had not expected to see him again till he had conquered whatever he was battling. But there was no denying that she had hoped against hope that things had changed. In the past few weeks, she and Mike had slowly been forging new ties, different from the on-again off-again behavior that had characterized their relationship for nearly a decade. In fact, three years ago, they had finally made a clean break and it was only less than a month ago when Mike had been shot while protecting his young partner that Liz had admitted to him how much she loved him.
Since being released from the hospital, he had spent almost every evening with her, often staying overnight. They had caught up on the three years they had been separated, sharing stories and tentatively building bridges over past hurts.
"Hi," she said as she dropped her leather briefcase on the kitchen stool. "You're home early."
Mike looked up for a moment and then went back to chopping pale orange carrots. His voice was distant as he said, "Yeah, well, one of the good things about a bullet passing through you is that you get to leave the second your shift is over."
Liz remembered the fear that she had felt at the hospital when she had stared down at Mike's motionless body lying hooked to monitors and intravenous tubes. She had almost lost him then. Not because the injury had been critical, but because she had not trusted her heart. Believing that their volatile relationship had no future, she had been all set to leave New York -- and Mike -- when a chance remark by a nurse had made her see that it had not been Mike who was holding back in their relationship, but herself.
Liz shuddered to recall that if she hadn't kissed Mike while he was sedated, if she hadn't heard his heart miss a beat on the monitor, if she hadn't realized in a sudden shaft of insight how much Mike loved and needed her, right now she would have been halfway across the world, a lonely, diminished woman.
And all this because she had been terrified of trusting again.
Well, that was one mistake she was not going to repeat. Liz knew that Mike was an emotionally complex and intensely private person. This was still his first week back at work after being wounded, and he was straining at being tied to a desk. She could at least try to be supportive while she waited for him to confide what was troubling him.
She picked up a carrot cube and popped it into her mouth. "So, what are we having for dinner?"
He looked up from the vegetables and grinned at her. "It's a secret recipe that has been in the Logan family for thirty generations."
"Hmm," she said, reaching up to stroke back his hair where it had fallen on his forehead. "Does that mean you don't know what you're making?"
"Ye of little faith," he jeered as he bent to kiss her.
Liz responded to him with the instant fire that always flared inside her when he touched her, and he deepened the kiss. She unfastened the buttons of his shirt so she could feel the reassuring warmth of his skin, caressing the ridged flesh where the surgeon had made an incision to remove the bullet. Almost immediately, she felt him withdraw from her, catching her elbows to push her away from him.
"Hey, stop," he said. "That's for dessert."
He moved away and picked up the knife, but Liz knew that in spite of his light tone he had plainly put a distance between them.
"Sorry," she said, trying to match his manner. "Just checking to see whether your heart skipped a beat."
He did not look up from where he was chopping green peppers, but a frown marred his forehead. Liz sighed. What was going on? Why the two steps backwards all of a sudden?
She walked to the answering machine and clicked the button to hear her messages. There was only one -- from Jack McCoy asking if she would be free to have dinner with him the following Tuesday. Liz frowned, wondering at the sudden invitation. It had been years since they had gone out socially. After Claire Kincaid's fatal car crash, Jack had been in a pit of despair that had begun to take its toll on his work. Adam Schiff had privately asked her to "run into" Jack and she had done so. They had had dinner a few times, and Liz knew that her quiet acceptance of his regrets had helped him to eventually move on.
"So McCoy added another notch to his bedpost, did he?" said Mike. "You have to hand it to the guy. He leaves Casanova at first base."
Liz was not fooled by the admiring tone. Every muscle in Mike's body was tense and his eyes were spitting green fury.
"It was just dinner, Mike, as friends remembering Claire. Nothing more."
Liz paused. Obviously this was not the time for explanations. "I think it would be better for both of us if I just go and change."
"Sure. Go ahead. Another high end silk outfit is just what we need here."
Liz frowned. "Excuse me?"
"Don't you ever loosen up? Wear sweats? Tee-shirts?"
Liz's puzzlement grew at his hostility. "You're complaining about what I wear?" She looked down at her tailored royal blue suit and ivory silk blouse. "What's wrong with what I wear?"
He shrugged. "Reminds me of something my mother used to wear to church."
"My clothes remind you of what your mother used to wear?" she echoed incredulously. "What's going on here, Mike? Are you saying I remind you of your mother?
He put down the knife and crossed his arms. His voice was bitter as he said, "If the suit fits."
Liz crossed her arms as well in spite of knowing that the combative stance was against every principle of her profession. But she wasn't responding as Dr. Olivet here. "Would it be too much trouble to explain that?" she asked politely.
He looked at her and she could feel his rage simmering below the surface. "One thing about my mother, drunk or barely sober, she was consistent. It was all about control for her. And it's about that for you too, isn't it? No matter how hard you try to cover it up."
He continued as if he couldn't stop now that he had started. "How many times did you come to see me at the hospital? Maybe a dozen times? And every, single, fucking time you looked at that heartbeat machine when you kissed me. What is it with women like you? Does it give you some kind of a high knowing that you can twist a man in knots?"
Liz felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. His accusation was so uncalled for, so hurtful, it left her stunned.
"I'm not hungry," she said finally. "I don't want dinner tonight." She could feel the ice in her voice, feel it spread down to her heart.
She left the room without looking back.
Liz slowly surfaced from numbing sleep, sensing the emptiness next to her -- Mike had obviously gone back to his apartment.
Had they come so far to let it all slip away again?
She lay in the dark, staring at the pattern of shadows on the ceiling caused by the tree outside the window. The fluorescent dial of her alarm clock showed that it was a little after two in the morning. Still a long time left before she needed to get up and go through the motions of living. Wide awake now, Mike' s words reverberated in her head. Anger and hurt warred inside her, but more than that she felt a deep sense of helplessness she hadn't felt in a long time. To keep herself from dissolving into bitter self-pitying tears, she slid out of bed. Maybe the chore of making coffee would ease the ache in her heart.
She walked barefoot into the kitchen and saw a light in the living room. She stopped as she saw Mike stretched out in the wing chair by the window, eyes closed.
He hadn't left!
Liz's heart began to hammer as she realized the implication. She must have made a sound because his eyes flew open. Liz said neutrally, "I'm making myself some coffee. Do you want some?"
His voice was drowsy, and in spite of what had happened earlier, Liz felt her stomach contract with desire. She escaped to the kitchen, chastising herself for her body's reaction to the sleep-induced huskiness in his voice. Get a grip, she told herself. You don't have to turn into Pavlov's poster girl.
Once back in control, Liz found him still stretched out in the chair, eyes closed. He straightened when she walked into the room, but didn't get up. She handed him a mug and retreated to the couch across the room, curling up against the cushions. They both sipped their coffee in silence, avoiding each other's eyes, but Liz could sense a deep weariness in Mike that went beyond the vicious words he had thrown at her.
They had broken the pattern of the past -- he had not left in spite of the anger that had surged between them. Could they establish a new pattern of trust?
She asked carefully, "Do you want to talk about it?"
He didn't pretend to misunderstand. "Who wants to know?" he asked in turn, and the bleakness in his voice caught her heart. "Dr. Olivet?"
She looked at him, wondering if he realized that he had hurt her more with this question than he had with all the accusations he had thrown at her earlier. She felt raw and bruised, but she knew the first step in establishing a relationship where they could be vulnerable with one another had to come from her.
"I want it to be me," she said.
He looked at her for a long bleak moment, and then held out a hand to her. When she walked across and placed her hand on his open palm, he pulled her onto his lap, cradling her against him.
"I want it to be you too," he murmured into her hair.
Sighing, Liz relaxed against the familiarity of his body next to hers. It was obvious they still had many knots to entangle, but right now all she wanted was to drink in the moment.
Mike's voice brought her out of her reverie. "I don't know why it's coming back...but I've been having nightmares about Didi."
Liz was astonished. The only Didi she knew of in Mike's life was a young seven year-old girl who had succumbed to injuries from severe physical abuse before the authorities could save her. But that case had been years ago, even before Mike' s partner Max Greevey had been killed. "Deirdre Lowenstein?"
Mike released a tired breath. "You know how some cases get under your skin and just sort of stay there?"
He stirred restlessly. "I never forgot the Lowenstein case. I know what you must be thinking. That it's got to do with my mother using me as a punching bag when I was a kid...and maybe it is. But I haven't had nightmares like this for ...oh, I don't know...years. Why come back now?"
Liz was silent, trying to put the pieces together. "The mind works in peculiar ways, Mike. It doesn't always go from one point to another like connect the dots. Maybe you read a similar sounding name, or maybe you heard something at the Precinct."
He shrugged, but didn't say anything.
"Okay, let's take it one step at a time. Yesterday's nightmare was not the first one, right?"
"Since you went back to work?"
He nodded again.
"So let's assume they've been triggered by something you've been working on in the past few days. Any particular case strike your notice?"
He shook his head. "Nothing unusual. It's mostly filing and routine telephone work. I had to wrap up a few loose ends with the Bertucci case."
Liz knew that had been the case Mike and his partner Dave Keeler had been investigating when Mike had been shot. They had actually been interviewing a beaten and bleeding Mrs. Bertucci about a complaint of disturbance filed by neighbors, when the husband had returned. He had seen the cops in his house and not knowing that it was a domestic inquiry, had assumed it was an investigation about the stash of drugs he was hiding, and had shot Mike.
She said, "That case may have some connection to the nightmares. I mean, it doesn't matter what you consciously believe, being shot is a traumatic experience. I'm surprised Lieutenant Harris hasn't insisted you go see Dr. Miller."
He was silent, and the truth suddenly dawned on Liz. "He did, didn't he? And you said no."
Mike released a breath. "Don't push it, Liz. You know it wasn't a big deal. Other cops have done it."
Liz turned in his hold, shaking her head in exasperation. "I cannot believe how stubborn you can be sometimes, Michael Logan. Your mind is trying to tell you that you need help and you won't listen."
"Forget it Liz. I know me. This dream...what I'm seeing...it isn't telling me I need help." He looked away and stared out of the window. "It's telling me that once again I didn't help. That Didi needed me and I let her down."
Liz paused, trying to assimilate what he said. She hesitated, not wanting to reopen wounds that she knew went deep into his soul. Mike had intense feelings of survivor' s guilt over the shootings of his partners. She had assumed that his own recent move to take the bullet meant for his young new partner would have assuaged some of the guilt, but Mike was a complex man.
Liz said slowly, "I'm assuming you know that Didi is representing someone else...someone in the present. Any idea who that could be?"
She felt him shrug. He shifted in his seat and Liz wondered if he was finding her weight burdensome. It wasn't as if she weighed a feather. Or maybe Mike had some repressed feelings about letting her down and these nightmares had to do with their renewed relationship. She instinctively made a move to get up, and just as instinctively Mike tightened his hold. Liz relaxed immediately. For whatever it was worth, she didn't seem to be the obvious cause of his discomfort.
To cover up her momentary lapse of confidence, she asked, "Okay, let's go back to the Bertucci case. What loose ends did you tie up?"
"Nothing much. Just finishing the paperwork on the complaint from the Bertucci's neighbors." He smiled wryly. "That sort of got pushed back after what happened."
"So you spoke to the neighbors?"
"No. It was to do with Mrs. Bertucci's statement so she came down to the station. She didn't want me coming to the apartment because of Cindy. She's still upset about her father... going away, and Mrs. Bertucci thought seeing me again may upset her more."
"Yeah, their daughter. The son of a bitch used to let her have it when he got tired of hitting the wife."
Liz looked at him...and his body went absolutely still as the same thought occurred to him.
"Man, I can't believe it," he exclaimed. "But why would I feel as if I let her down? I did her a favor getting that sleaze out of her life."
Liz felt compassion well inside her as she saw something he was too involved to see. "Mike," she said softly. "In many cases of child abuse, like with the Lowensteins, children cling to the person who abuses them in an effort to please them."
She watched his face as her words registered. He closed his eyes, cursing long and fluently under his breath. "Of course, I should have seen the signs but I was too busy feeling hard done by to see them. And because of my screw up another little girl could have ended up like Didi." He shook his head with self-disgust.
"Ease up, Mike. You had other things to deal with -- like a bullet."
He went on as if he hadn't heard her. "I should have seen it in the way Cindy looked at her when I took them out of the kitchen when Bertucci came back. She kept saying again and again 'Mommy I wasn't bad.' I should have seen it right off the bat."
Liz squeezed his hand. "No matter what happened, you're too good a cop to have let it go. You would have figured it out sooner or later."
"Yeah, maybe too late to do anything about it."
"But it's not too late. I know someone in Family Services. I'll call her in the morning. She'll make the files move faster."
They were silent after that, both wrapped in their own thoughts.
Liz was the first one to voice her feelings. "It seems so unthinkable that some parents can do this to their children," she mused. "My mother died of a heart complaint when I was in college, but Dad and I are still close." She smiled affectionately. "Would you believe, he still calls me Lil' Bit?"
When Mike remained silent, she looked up him. His face was grim and drawn. She said quietly, "It hurts me to imagine what you must have gone through as a child."
He seemed to come back from where he was, trying to focus on what she had said. "It wasn't that bad, I guess. It wasn't as if I was the only one on the block with crappy parents. We grew up okay."
Liz recalled Mike's nightmares, his history of meaningless relationships with women, his wariness of commitment, but she wisely maintained her silence.
"Besides, my grandmother was all right. We didn't talk much because she mostly spoke Irish but she was there for us. She used to call me mo graidh instead of Mike, and I used to hate it. Hell, when you're nine you don't want your friends to find out your grandmother calls you by a funny name."
His voice held regret as he continued, "It was after she died that I found out it meant 'my beloved.'"
Mike paused, his mind going back into another era. "She was a big fan of the Kennedys. She thought I would grow up to be a President too."
He grinned down at her. "Imagine that, huh? Me, President Mike Logan. I wonder what she would have said if she had lived to see me follow my old man's footsteps."
"She would have been just as proud," smiled Liz. "Presidents don't get to save little girls."
He looked down at her, startled by her words. "I never pegged you as a dreamer, Liz. You know real life isn't like that. It's ugly and cruel and sometimes just God-damned screwed up."
"I know," she sighed. "But sometimes you just want to hold on to an illusion instead of seeing the facts."
He rubbed his chin against her head. "This isn't about beaten up kids, is it?"
The despair that had been bubbling just below the surface since she had woken up in an empty bed flooded her. Her voice was muffled against his shirt. "I thought we were done fighting."
Mike felt like a heel and knew that he should apologize for the cruel things he had said in the kitchen. He didn't even fully know why he had said them, except that ever since the nightmares started an uneasy fear had been building up inside him, as if the peace he had found with Liz in the past few weeks was set on quicksand, and that once again he would be left to face the past...and the future... alone. Maybe, in a warped way, he had been testing to see if she would still want him after he did all he could to alienate her.
He lifted his hand to stroke her hair, to let passion tell her how much she meant to him when he did not have the words to tell her, but she disengaged herself from his arms and awkwardly moved away.
"I'm not ready for this." Her look pleaded with him to understand. "I'm sorry, Mike but we still have things to work out."
The fear that he had kept banked all night suddenly raged free. Had he finally, irrevocably, lost her? Over the years, no matter how severe the disagreement or how long their separation, he had been able to count on her instinctive, immediate response to him. He had been able to overcome any opposition, any doubts, any irritation by his touch. It had been like that from the first time that they had kissed.
Up till now.
His world collapsing around his feet, he stood up. "I could do with more coffee," he said casually. "Do you want some?"
In the kitchen, as he automatically went through the motions of making coffee, he saw the way she stood staring blankly out of the window, hugging her arms around her middle. His throat ached at the pain he had caused her. The silence between them stretched like a taut rubber band until she snapped it by asking slowly, "Do you remember the first time we had coffee in this kitchen?"
He looked at her, his eyebrows knitting in puzzlement at her line of thought. "It was the night Phil was shot."
Liz sighed. "We should have come a long way since then, but we haven't, have we?"
He stared at her, unsure where she was going. Liz raised her hand to the back of her neck, trying to ease the knot that had formed there. Her voice was low as she said, "I'm still as scared that I will lose you."
She let out a deep breath, and her voice was weary as she continued, "About the hospital -- I checked the monitor to...to reassure myself that you still loved me. Every time. It was never a control thing."
Mike cringed, his words coming back to haunt him.
Her voice thickened as she continued, "And every time I touch your scar I remind myself that I could so easily have lost you forever."
Mike looked down at the kitchen table, staring at the veins in the marble top.
"I should never have said those things," he responded finally. "I'll understand if you don't forgive me for saying them."
He put down the mug he was holding, and turned to face her. "If it helps any, I want you to know that you could never lose me."
She looked at him questioningly, her eyes still wet.
"It's as if you are in my blood or something." He looked away, twisting his ring. "When you are with me, everything else just goes flying out. You know, like that Shelley guy who said something about bright reason mocking you, leaving you naked to laughter."
He noticed her expression of surprise at his admission, or maybe it was at his poetic turn of phrase. He explained reluctantly, "Miss Conway, Eighth grade English. I had a crush on her."
Mike saw Liz forget the tension in the room at his words, shaking her head as if couldn't quite grasp the image of a young Mike struggling with obscure romantic poetry without smiling at the thought.
He didn't return her smile, and slowly Liz came back to the present. Mike rubbed his hand over his mouth as if unsure what to say next. "God knows I can be all kinds of an idiot, Liz, and I don' t know why you would even care, but if you leave me again it would be like...like I was breathing but I was dead."
He saw her gray eyes darken as she slowly grasped the implication of what he had just admitted. She walked around the table, stopping so close to him that their bodies almost touched. "Shelley again?" she asked softly.
He shook his head; his breathing becoming faster as Liz deliberately reached up and, once again, started to slowly unbutton his shirt. Her fingers slid over his shoulder to gently caress the scar. Instantly his muscles contracted in a purely sensual response.
"Liz..." His voice was low, almost harsh. "I thought you said you weren't ready for this."
"That was then...this is now."
"We still have things to work out."
"Hmm...," she murmured. "I think a little 'naked laughter' might help."
He caught her elbows, wanting her to be certain of what she was doing. "I don't think Miss Conway had quite the same thing in mind."
She leaned close and traced his scar with her lips. "Do you?"
It was his undoing. Mike pulled her to him, feeling like a prisoner let out on an unexpected parole. After a moment, he asked, "Now that you know, is this what you're going to do whenever you want your own way?"
"Only when I think I'll be able to get away with it," she admitted, but her eyes told him that she understood that this was his way of making amends, of letting her know that in spite of the cruel words he had thrown at her earlier, he understood that her delight in her power over him was not about the power of control, but of shared passion.
With a wry smile, he said, "Well, you're getting away with it right now."
Later, they lay together with her back resting against his chest. Mike was filled with a languorous sense of well being; a deep sense of contentment soaking into his muscles, his bones, his very being. It was a feeling he had never experienced before, not even with Liz. But could he trust it to last?
He hesitated. "I can't promise I won't be a jerk again."
He felt her stir against him, and then shrug imperturbably. "Okay. You'll be my cross to bear."
He stiffened with astonishment.
"I know," she said, and he saw that she was smiling. "I was quoting Max."
"Who told you?"
"Marie?" He was astonished. "Where? When?"
"Years ago. At that baseball match for the Police Widows Relief Fund, remember? You were playing and I was ... well, that's not the point. All she did was talk about you and Max."
He looked down at Liz's dark head turned resolutely away from him. He grinned to himself. So she had been interested in him long before Phil was shot? She had never mentioned that before. He thought back to the days when he and Max used to be partners, often vocal in their disagreement. He sighed with regret. "Max was one of the best, but I can't figure out how we survived together."
"You don't have to agree with everything someone says or does to love them, Mike. Max loved you. I love you."
He was silent as the words reached out and wrapped him in a warm cocoon of acceptance. "So the next time I act like an ape, you're not going to throw me out into the cold to grow into a mean old crank?"
He felt her pause. Then twisting in his arms, she gave him a quick grin over her shoulder. "Are you kidding? Having you around seems to be one of my better ideas."
For a moment, his heart clenched at her nonchalant response. Then he realized that he had his answer. He relaxed.
"Seems to be?" he asked, quirking his eyebrow.
She settled back into the curve of his body, placing her hands on his where they clasped hers in a warm embrace. "Well, it's a bit early to be absolutely sure considering we've only known each other close to ten years, give or take a few ups and downs."
"So how long will it take to be sure?"
"Oh, I don't know. Ages."
He felt her body go still at his impulsive question, but her voice was calm as she asked, "Is that a proposal, Logan?"
His heart almost came to a standstill at her words, and then he said slowly, cautiously, "If you want it to be."
Now it was her turn to pause. "And if I say yes," she asked lightly, "what will you do?"
He tried to match her tone, giving nothing away. "I'll sleep easy."
He didn't realize how his arms around her had tensed until she wriggled against him to loosen his hold. She turned around to face him with a tender smile. "In that case, my darling, no more nightmares."
He looked down at her, searching her eyes. What he saw finally brought him peace. He gently pressed his mouth to her forehead. Then he settled her more comfortably against him and closed his eyes. There would be time enough to talk later.
"Good night, Mike," she whispered.
"Good night, mo graidh."
For a long time, Liz lay smiling at his choice of endearment, listening to his heart beating steadily against her cheek as he drifted into a quiet restful sleep.