Sealing the Rift

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)


Author's Notes: If you really like Stivers or Falsone, I have to warn you that they both get a little smeared here. *grin* Plus, if you don't like Mikey you will get nothing out of this story. As for the timeline, it's set shortly after "Kellerman, PI". I'd like to thank my betas, Maneula and Bren. I should also let you know that I ignored nearly all of their very good advice. *grin* I liked the story, it was fun, I'm leaving it. Maneula's biggest contribution was fixing Meldrick's speech patterns for me.


Meldrick pushed the door open firmly, all hesitation having been set aside when he first made the decision to come here. He found himself standing in a small waiting room, in front of a desk behind which sat a receptionist. "Good afternoon," she said with politeness stilted from too many repetitions, "can I help you?"

"Yeah," Meldrick said, suddenly more than a little unsure. "I need to talk to," he hesitated over the title and eventually settled for "Mike Kellerman."

"And who shall I tell Mr. Kellerman is here?" she said, rising and moving to stand by the frosted glass door at one end of the waiting room.

"Meldrick. Meldrick Lewis."

The receptionist nodded and opened the door. Leaning inside, she said something Lewis couldn't quite hear. After a moment, she turned back to Meldrick and said, "Go on in, Mr. Lewis." Meldrick nodded politely to her and eased his way into Mike's office.

His former partner was standing in front of his desk, leaning against it in an unconscious imitation of how Meldrick had greeted him in the motor pool days before. "Meldrick," Mike said carefully, a little uncertain of where they stood. The short conversation they'd had by Mike's car outside the station had been tense, but their old camaraderie had lain just under the surface. Mike hoped Meldrick wouldn't bring up his parting words that day...it had been hard enough to say them. "I'm surprised you could stand to come here," he said with a little bitterness.

"Whatcha talkin' about, Mikey?" Meldrick asked in confusion.

"I guess you haven't spoken to Stivers recently," Mike said. "She and I had a little confrontation outside the courthouse the other day."

"Yeah, she told me," Lewis said, taking the seat in front of Kellerman's desk. "She don't understand, Mikey," Meldrick continued. "She didn't know how much being a cop meant to ya, not like I do. Hell, I'd almost expected you'd take us to trial."

"I wouldn't do that to you, Meldrick," Mike said, shaking his head.

"Yeah, I know," Lewis responded. There was an awkward pause. "Ya still got friends, Mike," Meldrick finally said. "Bayliss, me...Falsone seems to be softenin' up a little bit too."

Mike snorted in contempt, "I know Falsone was your partner for awhile, Meldrick, but as far as I'm concerned he's an arrogant little prick who sailed into Homicide on a stupid policy and has yet to earn his place."

"Can't argue with ya there," Meldrick said, smiling. "But every little bit helps, y'know?"

After another more comfortable pause Mike straightened up and pulled his chair out from behind the desk to sit down. "Okay, Lewis," he said briskly, "I seriously doubt that you came down here to discuss the details of my sorry position, so spill it."

"I need your help with somethin', Mikey," Meldrick said reluctantly. "I think Barbara's been steppin' out on me. I hate to bring this to ya, but I needed someone who ain't gonna go spreadin' it 'round."

Kellerman sighed and leaned back in his chair, "Kodak film," he said, shaking his head. "Why do you care, Lewis? You're all but divorced anyway."

"I care 'cause she's been puttin' this whole thing on me, that's why!" Meldrick said heatedly. "I don't do this, I forget that! If it's her that's messin' up our marriage, I wanna to know. It's bad enough it was so short."

"Okay, okay. So what makes you think she's having an affair?"

Meldrick shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Well, I been workin' my cases pretty hard lately, so it ain't that she ain't home at weird times or anything. That'd be me. It's more like...a hunch."

Mike raised an eyebrow, "You're going on a hunch? Lewis, I hate to break it to you, but a hunch is not cause to suspect an affair."

"You still talk like a Detective, Mikey," Meldrick said, shaking his head and holding back a smile. "Call it my finely tuned instincts, then. Just gimme a hand, okay?"

"Sure, Lewis, whatever," Mikey grinned a little. "I don't suppose I'd be lucky enough to get paid for this?"

"Not unless you take it in beer," Meldrick returned.

"I would, but I doubt the...clientele down at the Waterfront would welcome my presence," Mike answered regretfully. "Tell you what. I'll run you a tab," he grinned, "and you pay it when you can."

Meldrick snorted as he stood to leave, "That's as good as giving it to me free...partner."

"You think I don't know that?" Mike yelled after him. He couldn't hold back his grin at what Meldrick had called him. Partner. It felt even better than when Falsone had called him Detective.

***

//There's definitely something surreal about doing surveillance on your partner's own home,// Mike mused, peering through a pair of binoculars at Meldrick's bedroom window. Lewis himself wasn't home, but Barbara had just finished up in the kitchen and looked to be moving on to a quiet night of reading in bed.

//I still don't really know why I'm doing this,// Mikey thought to himself. //He's not paying me, and I certainly don't owe him anything. I've paid my debts. And it's not like he's my partner anymore.// Kellerman lowered the binoculars and took a sip of lukewarm coffee, sighing. //Except that he is my partner. I never stopped thinking of him that way. Not after I partnered with Munch, not after I left the force.//

Mike raised the binoculars again when he saw the bedroom light go out. An hour later, he'd convinced himself that Barbara Lewis wasn't going anywhere until the morning. Tossing the binoculars onto the seat beside him, he started the car and drove back to the marina where he'd been keeping his boat lately. Mike was surprised to find Meldrick sitting on the deck, clearly waiting for him.

"You moved the boat," Lewis said in greeting.

"Didn't want to get any unwelcome visitors," Kellerman replied.

"Made it pretty hard for your friends to find ya, Mikey," Meldrick pointed out.

Mike shrugged. "I didn't know there were any looking. Why are you here, Meldrick? How long have you been waiting?"

"'Bout an hour," Lewis replied, answering the second question first. "I didn't feel like goin' home. Thought I'd drop by and see if ya had a beer to spare. Hope ya don't mind."

Sliding opened the cabin door, Mikey paused for a moment before answering. "Nah, I don't mind. Come on in." Meldrick followed Kellerman into the cabin. He shut the door behind himself and accepted a bottle of beer from Mike before flopping onto the couch. "Nothing unusual from Barbara tonight," Mike commented, leaning against the low partition diving kitchen from living area.

Meldrick nodded, running his free hand over his chin. "It feels kinda weird to be checkin' out Barbara this way," he admitted. "But somethin' feels really wrong there, Mikey."

Mike shrugged, "At lease you got some warning, if it is true. I never saw it coming." For a brief moment there was silence between them. "Do you want to stay here tonight?" Kellerman finally asks, pushing out the words before he swallows them.

"Alright," Lewis agrees after a moment's hesitation. "Thanks, Mikey."

"Hey, I've been there," Mike says, straightening up. "Go ahead and crash on the couch. I'm going to bed."

***

//What the hell are ya doin' here?// Meldrick asked himself as he shifted uncomfortably on Mike Kellerman's narrow couch. //Whatcha ya think Barbara's gonna to make of the fact ya never came home? D'ya really wanna give her more ammunition to fire at your sorry ass?// Lewis sighed and rolled on his back. //I'm savin' a friendship, that's what I'm doin'.//

//Since when are you and Kellerman friends again?// a more cynical corner of Meldrick's mind asked. //Why should ya bother, after the mess he got ya into?//

//And out of,// Meldrick argued to himself. //Mikey, he ain't got anyone that he knows is gonna be there for him. But he was still there for me, when the Mahoney shitstorm came down.//

//So you're doin' this 'cause you think you owe him?// that part of Lewis asked incredulously.

//No! I'm doin' this 'cause I think he deserves it.// Meldrick shifted position, the discomfort of his thoughts translating into physical agitation. //Right now, Mikey is more important than my soon to be ex-wife.//

//Yeah, sure, that's all this is// another corner of Meldrick's mind snorted. //Answer this question then. Why's the coolness between ya and one Mike Kellerman, PI, botherin' ya more than the suspicion that your wife is sleepin' 'round?//

//Shut up,// Meldrick grumbled to himself, and resolutely turned his thoughts to sleep.

***

Mike woke early the next morning, wanting to be ready to continue his surveillance of Barbara Lewis well before she got up to go to work. Quickly putting a pot of coffee on, Mike noticed Meldrick still sleeping curled up on his couch. Lewis would have to wake up soon to get to the station in time for work, so Kellerman made his way over to the couch to wake his former partner.

He hesitated before shaking Meldrick awake. In sleep he looked much more relaxed than when waking, if not completely at rest. Studying features he'd missed in the past months, Mikey felt a little knot of pleasure curl up in the pit of his stomach. //I missed you,// he told the sleeping cop silently. Reaching down, he gave Meldrick a little shake, calling his name.

"Wha...?" Meldrick asked, blinking sleep out of his eyes and looking a little disoriented for a moment. "Oh, hey Mike," he said as he came fully awake.

"You've got to go home to change before you go to work, Meldrick," Mikey pointed out. "Let me give you a bit of a lift. I'll have to drop you off a couple blocks from your house, but it's better than walking."

"Right, thanks," Lewis said, pulling at the wrinkles in his clothes before giving up with a sigh.

Mikey emerged from the darkroom where he developed his photos with a sigh. He gripped the damning photos, enclosed in a plain manila envelope, firmly in one hand as he made his way out to his car. The pictures weren't as bad as some he had delivered, but it only made it worse that he was taking them to Meldrick. His best friend, when you came right down to it, even after all that had happened.

It was Lewis' day off, and he was spending it at Mike's boat instead of at the house he shared with his wife. He'd been staying with Mike on and off for a couple of weeks, thought lately he spent his nights on the boat more often than not. As he parked, Kellerman could see that Meldrick was sitting out on the deck in a sweat suit, nursing a beer. He got out of the car reluctantly, and stepped onto the Case Closed. "Meldrick," he said, "let's go inside." //This is personal,// Mike thought, //it's not something that should be done out here.//

Meldrick seemed to understand what Mike meant, because he stood wordlessly and entered the cabin. Following, Kellerman held out the enveloped. "You've got good instincts," he said regretfully. Lewis flipped through the photos expressionlessly until he reached the last one, when he looked up at Mike inquiringly. "I stopped shooting before it got really bad," Kellerman explained with a shrug. Lewis just nodded and sat down, rubbing a hand over his eyes.

Mike joined him on the couch. "You don't seem very upset," he commented.

"I guess I ain't," Lewis shrugged. "Barbara and I started havin' trouble before the honeymoon was even over. I never got to the martial bliss part. Hell, I never even got the fringe benefits," he grimaced. "I don't think I was ever in love with her, Mikey."

Mike took the bottle that hung limply from Meldrick's fingers and took a drink. "I almost envy you," he chuckled a little bitterly. "Annie and I had a couple of years, but that only meant it hurt more in the end. You know she didn't even stay with the guy she left me for? Sometimes I think that if we had only stayed together through the hurt, we would've been okay."

"I can't help thinkin' there's somethin' wrong with me, y'know?" Meldrick commented, snagging the bottle and taking a pull. He could faintly taste Mike from where the other man's lips had touched the bottle. Lewis considered getting another bottle, but decided he'd rather share. "My brother, Crosetti, Barbara...even you. I screw everyone over if they get too close."

"I hadn't realised I'd gotten close enough to be in danger," Mike said thoughtfully.

Lewis finished off the beer and went to get another from Mike's fridge. Pausing, he grabbed a second for Mike. "You got closer than anyone, Mikey," Meldrick revealed, his back safely turned to his partner. Returning to the couch, he carefully avoided the other man's eyes as he went on. "I've had two supposedly permanent partners since you, and not a single one of them has felt right. Oh, I manage, but none of them were my partner. That's still you." He finally raised his head and met Mike's eyes, "I think you'll always be."

Mike found himself reaching out to pull Meldrick into a hug. It was something they had done only rarely as partners, but he felt they both needed it now. "I missed you," his whispered almost involuntarily, his lips near Lewis' ear.

"I ain't deservin' this," Meldrick murmured as they parted, handing one of the fresh bottles of beer to Mike. "I really left ya hangin'," he explained, referring to final resolution of the Mahoney shooting. "I shouda said somethin' about my part in it, maybe ya still would've been a cop."

"Meldrick," Mike said, capturing his partner's gaze, "stop. I don't regret what I did. Given the chance, I wouldn't do it again, but only because of all the shit that came down afterward. Everything I did, I did to protect you and Stivers. If you'd said anything, chances are we'd all have gone down and I wouldn't even be able to say I protected my partner. I've accepted what I did, and I forgave you for any part you had in it a long time ago."

A long silence followed, during which the partners sipped their beers and stole covert glances at each other. "What about Stivers?" Meldrick finally asked.

"Bitch," Mike muttered. Lewis blinked at the hostility in Mike's voice but said nothing. "She rolled over on us, Meldrick," Mike explained. "Neither of us gave up anything on any of the three of us. We couldn't lie, but we didn't betray each other." The intensity in Mike's voice was reflected in the tension that knotted his muscles. "But Stivers, she gave us up for Luther Mahoney! Where's the loyalty, where's the honour in that?"

Hearing Mike's tirade, Meldrick understood for the first time why Mike couldn't forgive Stivers. She'd turned over two partners to save her own ass, and Mike had sacrificed the one thing he'd most valued to save his partner's. She'd betrayed the loyalty he held most dear. Not knowing how to respond, he sat quietly and let Mike wind down.

"I'd give just about anything to be a detective again," Mike said eventually, his tone weary, "but it's never going to happen."

"I'm here if ya need me, Mikey," Meldrick promised quietly, knowing that this was one hurt he could not help, but wanting to do what he could for his partner. //Like I shoulda done the first time. It's good to be settin' things right.//

***

It was cold. A bone chilling cold that was somehow appropriate to Meldrick's purpose in coming here. Sighing, he made his way inside and to his wife's house, manila envelope in hand. He knew what would be waiting for him. His bags, carefully packed, the divorce papers, and Barbara. Lewis wondered if Barbara knew what he was bringing to her.

Today was the day they were to sign the documents that would seperate them as far legally as they had already become emtionally. Reaching their door, Meldrick unlocked the door with the key he'd not had a use for in more than a week. Barbara sat on the couch, waiting for him. His belongings sat by the door, as expected.

"Are you ready?" she asked, and Meldrick saw that the papers were already set out on the coffee table.

"Yeah," Lewis replied, not bothering to take off his coat. "But I got one question for ya before I sign those papers."

"What's that?" Barbara asked patiently.

"How long?"

"How long what?" she said, her face clouding in confusion.

The feigned ignorance only irritated Lewis. "Don't ask me 'how long what'!" he said aggressively, dropping the envelope on the table atop the divorce papers. "How long you been screwin' around on me? How long have ya known this guy, Will? How long have ya known you ain't lovin' me?" By the time he'd finished, Meldrick was yelling.

Barbara shrank back in her seat, her face going pale. Her eyes flickered from his face to the envelope and back again. "How did you find out?" she asked, her voice small.

"Answer me," Meldrick said, breathing heavily in his anger.

His wife closed her eyes, though whether to hide his face from her eyes or to hide her eyes from him, Lewis didn't know. "Since before I married you," she choked out.

"And this is why things were never right between us?" he asked. "Not because of me or what I did or didn't do, but because of you?"

Barbara nodded silently, quickly wiping tears from her eyes as if he wouldn't see them if she was fast enough. "We'd been seeing each other for two years," she explained, "and we'd just had a horrible fight. We both said unforgiveable things, horrible things that hurt each other terribly." She hiccuped as she attempted to choke back a sob, "I didn't want to be alone, Meldrick! And less than a week later you asked me to marry you, and I thought 'This is it. This is my chance at happiness.' I knew you were a good man. I thought I could be happy with you."

Meldrick laughed bitterly. "What happened? When?"

"At the reception," Barbara revealed shamefacedly. "Will showed up at the reception and took me aside. I couldn't talk to him then, but I told him where we were staying in Toronto. I...I saw him at the hotel. We talked for nearly an hour. He explained everything. He told me he loved me, that he always had. He said he'd ask me to marry him...except I was already married." She looked up, meeting Meldrick's gaze. His anger had drained out of him, leaving looking emotionally drained. Defeated. "That's why I wouldn't make love to you on our marriage night. It felt wrong, because I wanted to be with Will."

"Why didn't ya just get the marriage anulled?" Lewis asked sadly. "We could've avoided all of...this."

"I...I didn't want to hurt you," she said, glancing away. "You seemed like you really needed someone to love you. I thought I could do that for you. I didn't realize 'til later that you were loved, and that I'd come between you."

"Whatcha talkin' about?" Meldrick asked, truly confused.

"You really don't know, do you?" Barbara asked, surprised. "Don't tell me...you let the fact that's he's a man blind you to the fact that he loves you more than his own life."

Meldrick blinked as the statement sank in. "Mikey..." he breathed in realization.

Barbara nodded. "The fault for the failure of our marriage isn't on either of us alone, Meldrick," she said, moving the envelope aside and picking up a pen. "It's on both of us. You were so afraid of loving him back that you married me. I married you," she carefully signed the forms, "because it would hurt the man I loved as badly as he'd hurt me." She held the pen out to Meldrick, "It's lasted more than long enough."

Nodding, Meldrick took the pen and carefully placed his signature next to hers on each of the forms. As he picked up his bags and turned to go, Barbara said, "It's given me some comfort to see you heal the breach between you and Mike. You don't need to be afraid. He'd die for you."

"You have no idea," Meldrick said as he stepped through the doorway.

***

Lewis pulled his car in behind Mike's and, getting out, saw the other man sitting on the deck of his boat, looking up at the stars. Meldrick paused for a moment and enjoyed the sight. Then Mike caught sight of him and grinned and the mischevous light in his eyes recalled their first case together. Meldrick smiled back. "Hey, Mel, how'd it go?" Mike asked, taking Lewis' bags and helping him onto the boat. Meldrick thought for a second and decided he liked the nickname.

"Well, she explained everythin'. Y'know she been seein' the guy before she married me?" Meldrick shook his head. "One hell of a rebound." After a moment, Meldrick couldn't help but feel that the whole situation was funny. A glance at Mikey, holding back a chuckle of his own, triggered the laughter. If it was a little hysterical, neither one of them mentioned it.

"C'mon inside, let me get you a beer," Mike offered, a hand on Meldrick's back.

The two of them sat on the couch, the laughter slowly dying down, and nursed their drinks. Finally, Meldrick sighed. "Y'know why I married her in the first place?" he asked. Mikey shook his head. "I was afraid. Afraid of being alone, 'fraid of tellin' the person I really loved how I felt. Barbara seemed like the kind of woman I shoulda been with. I thought she could stop me from feelin' so alone." He shook his head at himself, setting the empty beer bottle aside. "It only got worse, though. After I married her, I felt more alone than I did before."

"Who was it?" Mike asked softly.

"Huh?" Meldrick hummed absently.

"Who was it you really loved?"

"Who I was in love with..." Lewis trailed off. He regarded Mikey thoughtfully for a moment. Instead of answering, he placed a hand on Mike's shoulder and, leaning in, slid it gently up to rest at the back of the other man's neck. Tilting his head a little, he brushed his lips against Mike's. Drawing back a little, he met his partner's startled gaze. Then he kissed him again, his lips gentle, tasting.

After a moment, Meldrick felt Mikey hesitently return the kiss. He flicked his tongue against Mike's lips, seeking entry, those lips parted. As the kiss deepened, Meldrick felt Mike reach up to cup his face, moaning softly into the caress. Eventually they parted, both flushed and breathing heavily.

"What does this mean, Mel?" Mike asked, sounding almost frightened. "I don't want to lose you..."

Meldrick shook his head. "You're ain't gonna to lose me, Mikey. Not ever. Don't ya see? We already been through the hurt, we made it. I love you. I'm in love with you. There ain't nothin's gonna stop us, not anymore." Meldrick reached out, stroking Mike's cheek gently.

"I never thought I'd hear you say it," Mike murmured, turning his face into the caress and kissing Meldrick's palm. He pulled Mel in for another kiss, whispering "I love you" just before their lips met again, heat flaring up between them.

***

Meldrick lay on his back, Mike's head resting on his chest, Mike's arms around him, their legs tangles together beneath the sheets. He smiled and ran his fingers through the other man's hair tenderly.

It felt good to love and be loved.

--End--