Steele, Inc.-Atlanta Division
 

2nd RS SteeleFiction Challenge

"Steele Hoping for a Brighter Tomorrow"
by
Debra Talley
This story takes place in 1983 and is a follow up to "Woman of Steele
 

Remington Steele stood at his office window, his eyes focused on the distant horizon. How long he had stood there, he didn't know. Ten minutes? An hour? All morning, perhaps? He tried to remember if he had eaten and finally decided he must have, since he didn't seem to be hungry. He was so tired--so very tired. It had been days since he had been blessed with a good night's sleep. If only he could relax, clear his mind...If only he could stop thinking about Anna...Anna, who had swept him off his feet three years ago in Monte Carlo...Anna, who had said she loved him more than life itself...Anna, who couldn't wait to start a new life with him...
 
When had the Anna of his memory become the Anna who had faked her own death and then returned from the dead? When had she changed into someone who could manipulate him and use him--and then set him up to kill and be killed? And more disturbingly, when had he become so gullible that mere words would cause him to risk everything he had achieved in his hard-earned new life? Hadn't he always said there were too many traps in words? That deeds were what counted?
 
Remington closed his eyes, took a deep breath and released it with a sigh. Then shaking his head in an attempt to clear the cobwebs, he covered his face with his hands and began massaging his temples. He had not heard Laura enter his office through the open connecting door. He had not noticed her watching him as he stared out of his window. He hadn't even heard her as she had quietly covered the distance to where he was standing. Still, he knew she was there. He didn't even jump when, standing behind him, she gently placed her hands over his throbbing temples.
 
"I'm sorry," she said after a few moments of silence. "I know how hard it's been for you. Did you get any sleep last night?"
 
Remington took her hands in his and brought them to his lips. "I might have dozed off briefly, but I'm not sure."
 
"Perhaps you should consider checking yourself back into the Sleep Clinic."
 
"Laura, please, I've barely gotten over my nightmares about Nurse Blackell as it is. But I do find the sound of your lilting voice most relaxing," he said, leaning his head against her shoulder. "Perhaps if you...could...read to me tonight...I could...relax..."
 
Remington's voice drifted off as he snatched a few moments of much needed relaxation. Laura tenderly put her arms around him and just held him, grateful that he was able to steal even a few moments of peace.
 
That peace was short-lived, however, as Mildred buzzed to announce the arrival of their next appointment.
 
Before he could rouse himself, Laura took the call, saying, "Certainly, Mildred. Mr. Steele and I are expecting them. Send them on in."
 
"Uh, Miss Holt," Mildred said hesitantly. "Mr. Radaker says they need to speak with Mr. Steele alone...That they're here concerning a, uh, personal matter."
 
Laura sighed and counted to ten. Then forcing a smile, she said, "Of course. Just give us a couple of minutes and then send them in."
 
Remington shook his head and held up his hands up, saying, "Laura, I'm not sure I'm up to meeting alone with a client right now."
 
"Have you ever met this Mr. Radaker?" Laura asked.
 
"Never," he assured her. "Assuming, of course, that's his real name."
 
Laura gently squeezed his arm and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, saying, "You'll do fine, Mr. Steele. Just be your normal charming self...and try your best not to nod off. That always makes a bad impression on the client."
 
"I'll keep that in mind," he said as he began straightening his tie.
 
"You can fill me in later," she told him as she walked to the connecting door. Then with a wave, she disappeared from view.
 
*******
Remington motioned for the couple to have a seat on the couch while he himself took a seat in the adjacent chair. "Now, Mr. and Mrs. Radaker, why don't you just make yourself comfortable and tell me how the Remington Steele Agency can help you."
 
"Actually, we're not here to hire the Agency," he man explained nervously. "We're here to ask a favor of you."
 
"A favor? What sort of favor?"
 
After sharing a look with her husband, the woman opened her purse and took out a photograph.
Speaking in a distinctly British accent, she handed it to Remington and said, "Perhaps it would help if you looked at this first."
 
Remington leaned over and took the small color photograph, studying the image of the little girl with shining blond hair and incredibly large eyes. He was sure he had never seen the child before, but yet there was something familiar about those large blue eyes...something haunting.
 
"She's lovely," he said. "Is she your daughter?"
 
"That's why we're here," Mrs. Radaker explained. "Her name is Hope, and she's our foster daughter."
 
"We're in the process of filing for adoption," Mr. Radaker explained. "We were just about ready to sign the final papers when the news of Anna Simpson's arrest reached London."
 
"I'm afraid I don't understand," Remington said, unable to take his eyes from the photograph. "What possible connection could there be between Anna and your adoption of Hope?"
 
"Anna is Hope's birth mother," the woman explained.
 
As the words slowly began to sink in, Remington looked up. He started to speak, but suddenly his throat was dry and the words wouldn't come out. He merely shook his head in shock, took a deep breath, and returned his focus to the haunting, beckoning eyes in the picture.
 
After a moment he somehow managed to speak, saying, "I would ask if you're sure, but there's no need. I have no doubt you're telling the truth. Those eyes...those are Anna's eyes."
 
"Please...call us by our first names," the woman implored. "I'm Madeline, and this is Jeremy. What we have to ask you is so personal, it makes last names seem almost inappropriate."
 
"Well, you've certainly aroused my curiosity, Madeline," Remington said. "Perhaps you should start at the beginning ."
 
"Of course. Let's see...Where do I begin?" After a brief pause, Jeremy continued, asking, "When did you first meet Anna, Mr. Steele?"
 
"Please, it's Remington. I have a feeling we *all* need to be on a first name basis with this."
 
"Of course."
 
"I first met Anna in 1980, in Monte Carlo," Remington explained. He didn't even have to think about the answer to that one; he'd been lying awake nights recalling every little detail, trying to convince himself that none of what happened had been his fault.
 
"Did you know about Hope?" Madeline asked.
 
"No. Anna never said a word."
 
"We figured as much," Jeremy said. "What *do* you know about Anna's past? Before Monte Carlo, I mean."
 
"Very little, actually. She didn't want to talk about the past, and that was fine with me. I wasn't one to dwell on the past myself," Remington admitted. "I know she was raised by her grandmother in the outskirts of London, and that she left home as a teenager."
 
"Well, during the time Anna was on the streets, Hope was born," Madeline said. "Anna knew she couldn't take care of a baby, so she went back home. Her grandmother didn't approve of her lifestyle, but she still loved her-- and she loved Hope. A couple of weeks later, Anna was gone again. No word...nothing...until her obituary appeared in a Monte Carlo newspaper in 1980."
 
"And Hope...?" Remington asked.
 
"She was raised by the grandmother for a couple of years," Jeremy explained, "and then by an aunt and uncle after the grandmother died. But when they were killed in an automobile accident last year, she was placed with Child Services."
 
"That's where we found her," Madeline went on. "We had become foster parents when we realized we couldn't have children of our own, and we fell in love with Hope as soon as we saw her. It was so easy to welcome her into our home. We quickly realized we wanted her to become our daughter legally, so we filed for adoption. And everything was progressing quite smoothly..."
 
"...until the news of Anna Simpson appeared in the London press last week," Jeremy explained. "Since it turns out Anna wasn't dead after all, the adoption is no longer merely routine."
 
Remington, who had been listening intently, shifted his position. "No. Anna will have to sign over her rights to the child..."
 
"That's right," Madeline admitted. "We tried to see her yesterday, but she refused to see us."
 
"Did she know *why* you wanted to see her?" Remington asked.
 
"Of course," Jeremy said. "Our lawyer has been in contact her lawyer. We knew there was no guarantee that Anna would see us, but we had to take that chance. We love Hope, Remington. We can give her a good home. We're not rich by any means, but she'll be aptly provided for. And she loves us."
 
"Why wouldn't Anna want what's best for her daughter?" Madeline asked. "What does she hope to accomplish by retaining her parental rights?"
 
"I don't know," Remington admitted. "And I hesitate to even speculate. I'm the last person to pry away the layers of Anna's confused mind and make sense of it. But what I wonder now is, what is it you think I can do?"
 
"Anna's lawyer relayed a message to us through our lawyer," Jeremy explained. "She says she won't talk to anyone except you, Remington."
 
"But that's ridiculous," Remington declared. "This has nothing to do with me."
 
"We realize that. But if you don't go talk with her, she won't relinquish Hope to us."
 
Remington's expression conveyed his confusion...and his fear. Anna had been asking to see him for days, but he had no desire to see her. What did the two of them have to talk about? She had used him, misled him, betrayed him--and even tried to kill him. He owed her nothing, just as he owed Hope and the Radakers nothing.
 
Or did he?
 
The Radakers looked at each other, Jeremy patting Madeline's knee. Then seeing her husband nod his head in the direction of her purse, she opened it and withdrew a video tape.
 
"We realize how hard it is for you to think of facing Anna again, especially after all of the horrible things she did to you," Jeremy said gently. "But you're our only hope. You hold in your hands the future of our little girl."
 
Madeline indicated the tape in her hand, saying, "Hope is with my mother in London right now, but we want you to meet her. We want you to see her smile and hear her laugh; to watch her play at the park and go to the circus--We even want you to see her temper- and believe me, she has one!"
 
"We want Hope to be real to you and not just a name," Jeremy explained. "She deserves to be judged for herself, and not merely as her mother's daughter. Believe me, Remington, the child is worth ten of the mother."
 
Remington smiled in spite of himself and the situation. "Belle Watling to Rhett Butler. Gone with the Wind. 1939. " Seeing their confusion, he said, "I, uh, tend to draw inspiration from old movies. I've found many hidden truths buried away in flea pits throughout the world."
 
"Does that mean you'll help us, then?" Madeline asked, tightly grasping her husband's hand.
 
Remington hesitated. Could he really walk into Anna's cell and talk with her, face to face? Was he up to it, emotionally? He simply didn't know.
 
Giving the Radakers a sad smile of sorts, he said, "'Everyone thinks that detectives do nothing but ask questions, but detectives have souls same as anyone else.' Moroni Olsen to Joan Crawford. Mildred Pierce. 1945." Leaning forward, Remington took the video tape from Madeline's hand. "I can't give you an answer until I meet Hope later this evening. Will tomorrow morning be soon enough for my decision?"
 
The Radakers smiled happily as they rose to their feet.
 
"We can't thank you enough, Remington," Madeline said as Remington escorted them to his office door.
 
Remington, still holding the picture, asked, "Do you mind if I hang on to the picture for a while longer? I'll return it tomorrow."
 
"Keep it, please. It's a duplicate we had made especially for you," Madeline informed him.
 
Remington followed them into the reception area and instructed Mildred to get the address and phone number of where they were staying. Then bidding the Radakers good bye, he returned to his office and closed the door.
 
Leaning against the door, he once again found himself mesmerized by Hope's photograph. A few moments later he walked over to the couch, where he leaned over and picked up the video tape. He stood there for several moments, struck by the realization that he literally held the child's future in his hands. After a few moments, he broke his gaze and looked towards Laura's door. He had temporarily considered leaving her out of the situation, but had quickly reconsidered. If he wanted to build a future with Laura--and he did--he had to start including her in all aspects of his life. And this was as good a time as any to start doing that.
 
Calling Laura's name, he walked to the connecting door and looked into her office. Not finding her there, he walked back into the reception area through her door.
 
"Mildred, have you seen Miss Holt?" he asked.
 
"Oh, she had to step out for a minute, Boss. Said to tell you she'd meet you at your apartment tonight before dinner." Then raising her eyebrows, she asked, "You two kids have a big night planned?"
 
"Uh, I'm not sure," Remington explained as he walked towards her desk, taking out his wallet and flipping it open to the picture section. "Something has come up that necessitates a change of plans." Indicating the video tape, he added, "Looks like we'll be watching a movie at home instead of at the cinema."
 
"Rotten luck," she said sympathetically. "Want me to get a message to Miss Holt?"
 
"No, no; that's not necessary. I'll just tell her about it when she comes over tonight," he said, turning around to return to his office.
 
"Hold it, Boss!" Mildred exclaimed, reaching for a stack of file folders piled neatly on her desk. "Miss Holt wanted me to leave these on your desk. Would you mind...?"
 
"Certainly, Mildred," Remington said, taking the files from her and placing the video tape, his wallet and Hope's picture on top of the stack. "I won't be using my desk for the rest of the day anyway. Think I'll take a walk down to the park."
 
"The park, Chief?"
 
"Yes, the park," he repeated. "I have a sudden urge to get in touch with my inner child."
 
"Whatever you say, Boss. Just watch out for muggers."
 
Giving her a look, Remington carried his bundle into his office and deposited it on top of his desk. Unfortunately, he set it down on top of Laura's empty coffee cup and the items scattered in every direction. Cursing his bad luck, he hurriedly gathered the files back together into a neat pile, picked up his video, and headed for the reception door.
 
Before he reached the door leading to the reception area, however, he slapped his head and exclaimed, "Where's your bloody wallet, sport? You won't get too far with that, will you, now?" Returning to his desk and not seeing the wallet, he looked down and located it beneath his chair. With a sigh of relief, he slipped it back into his pocket and left.
 
He never noticed that Hope's photograph had not made it into his wallet. Having been "lost" during the coffee cup upset, it was now laying on top of the stack of folders.
 
**********
As Remington strolled through the park, he was struck by how active and alive each and every child seemed to be. As school hadn't let out for the day, the only children he saw were preschool age. Most of them appeared to be with a care giver and were content to stay close by their side. Some, however, strayed farther away, anxious to test their newly developing skills on the slide or the swings or the monkey bars. Remington wondered how it must feel to know that a caring adult was always watching over you... protecting you... loving you.
 
Then his eye caught sight of a disheveled, dark haired boy sitting all alone on the ground behind the swings. Inexplicably drawn to him, Remington ambled closer. The child was playing with a handful of toy soldiers and carrying on an animated conversation with them, totally oblivious to the activity going on all around him. When the boy finally looked up and saw him standing there watching him, Remington lost himself in the hollow eyes he saw there. It was like looking into a mirror and seeing his own reflection as the memories of his own bitter childhood engulfed him in a sweeping wave of loneliness and despair. Once again he felt the hunger in the pit of his stomach, as well as the even greater hunger which had filled his heart.
 
Suddenly aware of a small hand tugging on his jacket, Remington looked down into the smiling face of a little red haired, freckle faced boy.
 
"Well, hello there," Remington said.
 
"Are you crying, mister?"
 
"Ahh, no," Remington said, rubbing his burning eyes. "Must have gotten some sand in my eyes."
 
"It makes me sad when grown ups cry," the child said. "See ya!" And as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.
 
As Remington took a final look at the boy who reminded him of himself, he rubbed his stinging eyes once more. Then turning and walking in the opposite direction, he headed home.
 
"Home," he said aloud. Before he knew it, he was engulfed in a warmth which spread all the way from his head to his toes. "Home," he repeated, picking up his pace. "'There's no place like home.' Judy Garland. The Wizard of Oz. 1939."
 
***********
Mildred was shutting down the computer and gathering her personal belongings when Laura breezed into the Agency at 5:15 that afternoon.
 
"Miss Holt," she said. "I didn't expect to see you until tomorrow."
 
"I got finished earlier than I expected, so I thought I'd be sure you had a chance to pull those files I asked for."
 
"Miss Holt, have I ever not completed a task you assigned me?" Mildred asked, giving Laura a look of skepticism.
 
"No, I suppose not," she admitted.
 
"You and I both know you came back to see if I learned anything about Mr. Steele's meeting with the Radakers."
 
"And did you?" Laura asked.
 
"Sorry, Miss Holt," the secretary said with an apologetic shrug. "All I know is the name of their hotel and their phone number. And that Mr. Steele will be giving them his answer to a question of some sort tomorrow morning."
 
"It's okay, Mildred. I'm sure he'll tell me all about it this evening at dinner."
 
"Oh, that reminds me--The boss said something had come up and your plans for the evening would have to be changed--that you won't be going to the theater after all. He was going to tell you himself after you arrived at his apartment."
 
Laura sighed. "Well, in that case, maybe I'd better take a few of those files home with me. If I can't cozy up to Mr. Steele, I'll just cozy up to some paperwork. If you'll wait a minute, I'll walk out with you," she said as she disappeared into Remington's office.
 
She returned to the reception area a few moments later, her arms loaded down with the stack of file folders from Remington's desk. In her hand was a small color photograph, which she was studying intently.
 
"What you got, Miss Holt?" Mildred asked curiously.
 
"This picture was on laying on top of the files," Laura explained, showing it to her. "It says on the back that her name is Hope...Do you know who she is?"
 
Mildred studied it for a moment before answering. Finally, she said, "No, I've never seen her before..."
 
"Me, either, but there's something very familiar about her," Laura said. "It's the eyes...I've seen those eyes before..."
 
Realization dawned on both women at the same time.
 
"They're *her* eyes, Mildred!" Laura exclaimed. "This child has Anna Simpson's eyes!"
 
"I didn't even know she had a daughter!" Mildred exclaimed.
 
"Neither did I."
 
Mildred's eyes suddenly widened even more. "Oh, Miss Holt, you don't think that the Boss is her...? That Mr. Steele and Anna...? That they, you know..."
 
"Yes, Mildred, I know... But jumping to conclusions won't do any of us any good."
 
Laura took a long look at the file folders in her arms and then another look at the photograph in her hand. Then taking a deep breath, she walked to Mildred's desk and unceremoniously dumped the entire stack.
 
"On second thought, I don't think I'll have time to cozy up with paperwork tonight," she explained. "It looks as though Mr. Steele and I will be spending the evening cozying up with the truth."
 
*********
Since Remington hadn't left her a message saying otherwise, Laura found herself driving to his apartment at their agreed upon time. Since she had no idea what to expect during the course of the evening, she had spent the previous two hours imagining every conceivable scenario. But in the end, it all came down to one indisputable fact: Remington's past was just that--past. She had known when she met him that his previous life had been...shady. She had known it--and she had accepted it.
 
She and Remington could have no chance at a future together until they could loosen the grip of the past. And if that meant accepting the possibility that he had fathered a child with Anna... Well, then she would just deal with it. And likewise, if he choose not to disclose that part of his past to her, she would just deal with that, also. Even she had parts of her past that were too painful to bring to the surface...
 
Laura pulled the Rabbit into a vacant space near the elevator in the parking garage beneath Remington's building. Turning off the ignition, she gripped the wheel tightly and took a deep breath. "Okay, Laura," she said aloud, giving herself a pep talk. "This is a case where trust is more important than truth. Whatever happens, you have to trust him."
 
After taking three deep breaths and releasing them, she stepped out of the car and headed to the elevator. Before the elevator arrived, however, she changed her mind and took off in the direction of the stairs. After all, it certainly couldn't hurt to work off a little stress.
 
********
Laura was standing outside Remington's apartment about to knock when the door suddenly opened of its own accord and revealed a flustered Mr. Steele, keys in hand.
 
"I thought we were still on for tonight," Laura stated, confused.
 
"We are...I just realized I left something important at the office and I'm on my way to get it...I left you a note," he explained.
 
"I'll go with you," she offered. "No sense in you going by yourself, since I'm already here."
 
"Sure. Just let me get the door..." he said, inserting his key in the lock and turning it.
 
"Don't tell me you're this concerned because you failed to bring home some paperwork," Laura teased.
 
"Hardly. It's a picture," he explained, leading the way to the elevator. "I thought I put it in my wallet, but I must have dropped it when I knocked over that stack of folders on my desk."
 
Laura stopped, opened her purse and withdrew the photograph of Hope. "This picture?" she asked him.
 
He took it from her and gave a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness you found it! Where was it, anyway?"
 
"On your desk, on top of the folders," she explained.
 
"What were you doing at the office? I thought you had gone for the day."
 
"I got finished with my appointment early and stopped by for a minute."
 
"Well, I'm glad you did," Remington said as he unlocked the door and motioned for her to enter first. "Did, ah, Mildred tell you our plans for the evening had changed?"
 
"She mentioned that our visit to the movies was off."
 
"I, ah, thought we could just watch a movie here instead. But first, how does a bowl of noodle soup sound?" Remington asked. "I made it from scratch this time."
 
"You mean it didn't come from one of those little foil packages?"
 
"That's exactly what I mean. After I got back from my walk in the park..."
 
"You took a walk in the park?" Laura asked, surprised.
 
"Yes, I did," he said, irritated. "And I promise to tell you all about it later... But right now, I'm telling you about the soup..."
 
"Sorry...go on."
 
"After I got back from the park, I was overcome with this urge to cook up a warm, cozy pot of soup. I wasn't much in the mood to go out for dinner, anyway," he explained. "I hope you don't mind."
 
Laura moved closer and draped her arms around his neck. "Mr. Steele, there's nothing I'd rather do on an evening like tonight than share a bowl of warm, cozy soup with you."
 
"Good," he said, kissing her. "Because I have the feeling we're going to need all the warmth and coziness we can use tonight."
 
*********
The soup and hot home made rolls were delicious, but the conversation was minimal. Laura had hoped Remington's earlier melancholy had vanished, but that didn't seem to be the case. Apparently, it had merely taken a brief leave of absence. After the meal, they cleared the table and straightened the kitchen in silence. Laura had the distinct feeling all evening that Remington had something to tell her; she just wished he'd quit beating around the bush and get to it.
 
Taking their glasses with them, they retired to the fireplace. Laura excused herself, paying a quick visit to the bathroom adjoining Remington's bedroom. When she returned to the living room, she found him studying Hope's photograph in the flickering light of the fireplace. He was so deep in thought he hadn't even heard her return.
 
Lowering herself to the floor and settling in close to his side, she plunged ahead. "You've been awfully quiet tonight; I feel like you're in a place I can't reach. I wish I knew what to do or say to help you."
 
He put his arm around her and gave her a squeeze. "You are helping, just by being here. I realize I haven't been very good company lately, and I just want you to know...well, how much I appreciate the way you've stuck by me through this whole mess. I'm not sure I could get through it without you..."
 
"We'll get through it together," Laura assured him, giving him a smile and a quick kiss.
 
Once again, he lost himself in the picture of Hope.
 
"Would you like to tell me about her?" she asked, hoping he would open up if given an opening.
 
"I've been wanting to tell you about her all evening," he admitted. "I just don't know where to begin."
 
"She's lovely," Laura said as she silently took the photograph from Remington and studied it closely. "She has such haunting, sad eyes..."
 
"She has Anna's eyes," he said. "Laura, Hope is Anna's daughter."
 
"Yes, I figured that. Those eyes are a dead give away." Laura paused, wondering what to say next. She had decided this was a situation where trust was more important than truth, but Remington had brought up the subject himself. The least she could do was try to make it easier for him. "What do you know about...her father?" she asked, looking away nervously.
 
Remington smiled, put his finger under Laura's chin, and turned her face toward him. "Laura, Hope is four; I met Anna in 1980...Do the math."
 
Laura couldn't help giving a little sigh of relief. Then looking him in the eye, she said, "It wouldn't have mattered. That was long before you stepped into my life as Remington Steele."
 
Remington kissed her and smiled, grateful for her unconditional acceptance. Pulling her closer, he continued. "As to who the father was, I haven't a clue; Anna never even hinted that she had a child. Regardless of who he is, he's obviously out of the picture."
 
"How do the Radakers fit into all of this?" Laura asked.
 
"The Radakers have been Hope's foster parents since last year, and they want to adopt her. Everyone assumed Anna had drowned in Monte Carlo in 1980... "
 
"...when her obituary appeared in the newspaper," Laura said, fitting the pieces together on her own.
 
"Right. And then when the current news about Anna hit the papers last week, it became apparent that ..."
 
"...she hadn't died after all."
 
"Right again," Remington said. "The Radakers adoption plans were put on hold until they could convince Anna to revoke her parental rights. So they flew to LA with their lawyer, but..."
 
"Don't tell me...Anna wouldn't see them," Laura guessed.
 
"How could you possibly have known that?"
 
"Just a gut feeling."
 
"Anyway, Anna relayed a message to the Radakers through their lawyer...It seems the only person she will agree to speak to concerning the adoption is..."
 
"...you," supplied Laura.
 
Remington stared at her in amazement. He started to say something, but quickly realized he had been rendered speechless.
 
"It's not so surprising," Laura explained. "Anna's been asking to speak to you for days. This just gave her some leverage in getting what she wanted."
 
Remington turned his gaze to the fire and was once again lost in thought. This time it was Laura who placed her finger under his chin and turned his face towards her. Looking into his eyes with understanding, she said, "Let me help you get through this. Tell me what you're thinking."
 
"You want to know what I'm thinking ?" he asked, his voice rising. "I'll tell you what I'm thinking. How *dare* she try to manipulate me like this?! And even worse, how *dare* she hold a four year old hostage? Who does she think she is, to take a child away from a loving family? She doesn't have a maternal bone in her body, Laura...How could she even think about stopping that adoption? Hope has a chance to be part of a family...to be fed and clothed and educated...to be safe and secure and protected...to be loved...All the things that Anna never had- that I never had- All those things are within Hope's grasp...And Anna thinks she can just snatch it all away?!"
 
Remington's anger had rendered him breathless and it took a few moments for him to calm down. Finally, he took Laura's hand in his and brought it to his lips. "Laura, the thought of standing face to face with Anna again right now scares me half to death, but I have no choice. I'm that child's only hope."
 
Laura smiled and touched his cheek. "I know. You're her Daniel."
 
"Will you go down to the jail with me in the morning?" he asked. "I need all the backup I can get."
 
Laura was thoughtful for a moment. Then smiling tenderly as she stroked his chin, she said, "Mr. Steele, no matter how crazy or complicated our lives may get, I will always be the woman behind the man."
 
"Thank you," he said, pulling her close for a serious kiss.
 
Breaking the kiss a few moments later, he said, "I think this is as good a time as any to meet Hope."
 
When Laura looked puzzled, he stood and helped her up. Then walking over to the TV, he picked up the video he had received earlier.
 
"It's a video the Radakers made of Hope," he explained. "They wanted to be sure I met her for myself before I made my decision. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to pop it into the VCR this afternoon."
 
"Then why didn't you?"
 
"I wanted us to meet her together," Remington said. "Laura, I don't know how to say this, but my old life, it's disappearing. One moment it surrounds me like an ocean, but when I reach for it, it slips through my fingers. You're the reason it's disappearing, Laura. You've taught me that there's a better way. Without your understanding and support, I wouldn't be able to face Anna tomorrow-- and I would be condemning Hope to a life without hope. Thanks to you, she will have a happy life. And because of that, I want you by my side when I meet her."
 
Laura wasn't used to such praise and could feel the tears welling in her eyes. In a vain effort to cover herself, she said, "Well, don't just stand there! Put in the tape and let's meet her!"
 
******
If Remington had harbored any doubts about whether to grant the Radaker's request or not, the video would have erased them all. He and Laura were captivated by Hope--by her impish smile, her trembling pout, her contagious giggle, her quick temper and her unbridled enthusiasm. They watched her visiting the circus, playing in the park, pitching a fit at bedtime, crying over a skinned knee, reading to a small family of dolls and bears, falling asleep at the kitchen table with her thumb in her mouth, playing dress-up in clothes ten sizes too big, helping Madeline decorate a cake, and dancing with Jeremy in the rose garden.
 
As they sat together on the couch, Remington's arm around her shoulders and her body pressed against his, Laura realized that he was more relaxed than she had seen him in days. When the video ended after their third viewing, she picked up the remote, turned off the TV and stood up.
 
"Where are you going?" he asked, suddenly alert.
 
"It's late, Mr. Steele. And I think tonight might just be your lucky night..." Seeing his silly grin at her choice of words, she clarified, adding, "...and you'll get some sleep."
 
He took her hand in his and gently pulled her back down beside him on the couch. "Please stay...just until I fall asleep," he pleaded. Seeing her hesitancy, he continued. "If I'm going to face Anna tomorrow, I'm going to need my wits about me. And if I don't get some sleep..."
 
"Alright, Mr. Steele. I'll stay until you fall asleep," she conceded. "Could you please hand me my purse?"
 
Puzzled, Remington leaned over, grabbed her purse from the far end of the couch and handed it to her. Opening it, she pulled out a paperback book and turned to a previously marked page. Seeing that he was still puzzled, she said, "I'm going to read you a bedtime story. Hopefully, the combination of it and my lilting voice will ease you right to sleep. Now, just put your head in my lap...That's right...Just relax..."
 
With that, she began reading:
 
Annabel Lee,
by Edgar Allen Poe
It was many and many a year ago in a kingdom by the sea
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee...
 
Remington was asleep by the time Laura reached the final lines of "Annabel Lee." Gently easing his head onto one of the couch cushions, she stood up. Retrieving a blanket from his mirrored closet, she tenderly covered him, tucking the edges around him securely. Noticing Hope's picture on the coffee table, she picked it up and smiled. Then giving Remington a kiss, she walked through the apartment, turned out all of the lights and left, locking the door behind her.
 
*******
Remington couldn't help cringing as the cell door slid shut and locked with a clank. He didn't want to be here, in this place, at this time...but here he was. And the sooner he faced Anna, the sooner he could close that chapter of his life. Having made that decision, he took a long look at her. She looked nothing like the Anna he had fallen in love with in Monte Carlo; she was pale, with dark circles under her empty eyes. And she looked lost. Remington surprisingly felt no contempt for her, no hatred; rather, he felt compassion.
 
"Hello, Anna," he said.
 
Smiling warmly but warily, she said, "Hello, Remington Steele."
 
"You wanted to see me?"
 
"Yes. I wanted to tell you...how sorry I am things turned out the way they did."
 
Remington raised his hand to his mouth and began chewing his thumbnail as he contemplated a reply.
 
"I don't blame you for not believing me. Walter doesn't believe me, either. He bought me the best lawyer money could buy, but he refused to see me." She paused briefly, then continued. "I don't know what prompted me to...behave the way I did. No, that's not true; I *do* know. Marleau was blackmailing me, and I don't take kindly to be blackmailed."
 
"Neither do I," Remington said, finally breaking his silence. "But no matter how despicable I find it, it doesn't give me the right to kill someone--or to ruin their life."
 
"You're referring to Hope, aren't you?" Anna asked.
 
"She's the only reason I'm here."
 
"I know."
 
There were several moments of awkward silence, and then Anna slowly took a few steps in Remington's direction. He didn't walk away, but his look told her not to come any closer.
 
"I know you'll find this hard to believe, but I do care what happens to Hope," she assured him. "I've always cared about her welfare; that's why I gave her up."
 
"We all have to live with the consequences of our actions, Anna. But don't make Hope live with the consequences of yours. If you really do care about her, you'll relinquish your parental rights and let the Radakers adopt her."
 
"I always intended to do that; I only tried the blackmail gambit because I was so desperate to see you...and I knew you wouldn't see me otherwise." Taking another step in his direction, she said, "I really did love you, you know. The days we shared in Monte Carlo were the happiest of my life. I suppose... all the bad decisions I had made up to that point... were just too much of an obstacle to overcome."
 
"Anna..." Remington said, struggling to find the right words. "For whatever it's worth, I don't hate you. I thought I did when I walked in here, but...I don't any more."
 
"If I ask you something, will you give me an honest answer?" she asked.
 
"If I can."
 
"Back in Monte Carlo...Did you really love me?"
 
A small smiled crossed Remington lips as he said, "Yes. I really did love you."
 
"Thank you, Remington Steele. Now, if you'll send the Radaker's lawyer in, I'll sign those papers."
 
Remington turned and called the guard, waiting as the cell door slid open again. Then giving Anna a final lingering, bittersweet glance, he turned and walked away.
 
*********
To celebrate, Laura suggested they take the afternoon off and go to a matinee. As they settled into their seats in the sparsely filled theater with their popcorn and drinks, Remington yawned.
 
"You're not going to sleep through the movie, are you?" Laura asked.
 
"Perish the thought, Miss Holt! I have never fallen asleep in the cinema...Well, not unless I was hiding under the seats until the janitor left so I'd have a warm, dry place to kip for the night."
 
"Well, thanks to your generosity and kind heart, at least Hope will never have to do that," Laura said warmly, popping a piece of popcorn into his mouth.
 
He yawned again. "You know? I think I just might be able to sleep tonight."
 
"Amazing what facing your fears can do for your state of mind. As a very famous man once said, 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.'"
 
"Not a movie quote, but uncannily appropriate, Miss Holt," Remington said approvingly. "What say after the movie, we..."
 
"Shhh!" Laura instructed, popping more kernels into his mouth to hush him up as the lights went out. "The movie's starting."
 
As Laura sat watching the movie and munching popcorn, she suddenly realized hers was the only hand dipping into the popcorn box. Glancing at Remington, she realized he was asleep, his neck crooked at an awkward angle. Smiling, she gently eased his head onto her shoulder and planted a kiss on his forehead.
 
"Sweet dreams, Mr. Steele," she whispered. "You've earned them."
 
The End
 
 
dtalley@mindspring.com
 

Steele, Inc.-Atlanta Div.


This story copyrighted 2000 by Debra Talley and is purely for entertainment purposes. The characters of Remington Steele are used without permission.