But the icing on the cake was when Meldrick had gone to Mike's boat to take him to the Waterfront, only to come face to face with a suicidal partner. He should have known something was wrong when Cox told him that Kellerman was cleaning. He should have known when he walked into the boat and smelled how clean it was. Meldrick had made an off-handed comment about Mike selling the boat when he should have realized that something wasn't right. He took him seeing the gun before he really understood just what the federal investigation had done to his partner.
When he had finally gotten the gun from Mike's hand, Meldrick knew that things would never be the same. For the first time, he had acknowledged that what Mike had said the night before might be true. That Michael Scott Kellerman might never get over being accused of being dirty.
But now as he sat in the dim, smoke-filled bar that he didn't even know the name of, Lewis wondered if he would ever get over it either. Mike was a different person now and Meldrick had changed too. Like he told his partner, he never doubted that he was clean, but he had to admit, at least to himself, that he looked at Mike differently. There was no carefree and happy anymore. Mike was angry and Mike at the edge. Just because Meldrick had managed to pry the gun from him, didn't mean that Mike was better.
Lewis watched Kellerman as he lifted the cup to his mouth and sipped on the warming beer. He watched as Mike's face scrunched up in reaction to the taste. "That bad?" he asked, a small smile playing on his lips even though his entire being felt like frowning.
"Tastes like shit," Mike answered quietly.
"That's 'cause it's not from the Waterfront. If we was there. . ."
"We'd be surrounded by people wanting to celebrate."
Meldrick nodded, the smile slipping back into a frown. "Yeah."
Despite the taste, Kellerman finished his beer. As the thick glass hit the dull wooden table with a thud, Mike closed his eyes and tilted his head back. He sighed. The silent minutes that followed felt like hours to both men. Finally, Meldrick couldn't take it and asked, "You want a shot?"
Mike brought his back up, his eyes opened and he stared at his partner for a moment. "I would have done it, Mel." His jaw clenched tight as his eyes began to sting with hot tears that he would never allow himself to spill. "If you hadn't. . ."
"Hey," Meldrick interrupted loudly but then continued in a softer voice, "Let's not even think like that, Mikey. It's alright now." The statement lacked conviction and he knew it.
Shaking his head slowly, Mike spoke, his voice as soft and low as it had been since the gun had been pressed against his lips, "I had it all planned. It was all in my head." His blue eyes finally moved from Meldrick's face and began to skirt over the darkened bar. "When I got out of the car today, when I was walking back by myself, in the cold, I planned it. I didn't mean to, it just formed in my head. When I got back to the boat, I just started cleaning; I wanted everything to be clean when you found me."
Detective Lewis' mouth dropped open slightly as he heard Mike's words. Kellerman looked at Meldrick again and saw his expression. He nodded. "Yeah, I planned for you to find me. I thought, when I don't show up for work, you'd make an excuse to Gee and Kay about why I wasn't there, then sneak out to check on me." Mike's face took on a look of disgust as he said, "I wanted you to find me." He shook his head. "I don't know. . .I don't know why, though. Why would I want to hurt you like that?"
"Mikey," Lewis started.
"No," Mike said, his face still registering disgust. "I wanted you to find me. I imagined what you would think. I pictured you crying."
Lewis studied the table, his fingers picking at the splintered side. He didn't know what to think or how to feel. He knew he was hurt by Mike's confession but he wasn't sure how hurt to be. His partner wasn't exactly in a good state of mind, so maybe he should take everything with a grain of salt. Mike's mind was probably still too jammed up.
"I wanted," Mike said, breaking through Meldrick's silent debate. "I wanted to punish you, Mel." Lewis looked up, his jaw clenched. "Punish you for not being there, not helping."
Lewis pressed his lips together and shook his head as intense emotion swept over him again. He hated that. He hated that this man could make him nearly shake with emotion. Meldrick had never been good with feelings and Mike consistently made him feel. "I thought you was handling it okay, Mikey," he said, trying to justify the fact that he hadn't been there for Mike, just like he hadn't been there for Crosetti.
"Stop," Kellerman said, his hand moving up to run through his blonde hair. "You don't have to do that, Meldrick. It's not your fault."
Widening his eyes, Lewis fixed them on his partner. "But it is, Mikey. If I had just stopped for a second, if I had just opened my eyes. . ."
It was Mike's turn to lower his eyes and stare at the ugly tabletop. "I was so mad. My head, it was just all jammed up and it wasn't about you." He paused, swallowing hard as his hand moved and grasped the empty glass. "It was about me pitying me and wanting to show the world how bad it would feel without me in it. When I was cleaning my bathroom, I just kept thinking about the article that the Sun would write about how Michael Kellerman couldn't stand having a dirty name, so he ate his gun."
Meldrick took his hand away from his mouth, where it had been pressed tightly as if it could keep in all the emotion as he listened to his partner's desperately spoken words. He blinked several times, inhaling and exhaling deeply as he did. "You going to leave a note?" He watched as Mike nodded. "To me?" Mike nodded again. "What was it going to say?"
Mike's eyes flicked up, caught Meldrick's for a moment, then turned away. "Want another beer, Mel? I think. . .I think I do."
"Let's go some place else, Mikey. The beer here is crap and I bet they water down the Beam."
Mike nodded and gave a sigh. The two men got up and walked slowly to the door. "I'm tired," Mike murmured as he brushed past his partner. The chill of the night hit them both and once again, they wrapped their arms around themselves. Mike clutched at Meldrick's suit jacket, pulling it tighter around him. Lewis' shivering did not escape his notice and as they began to walk down the street, heading back the way they came, Mike made sure that his arm was touching Meldrick's at all times.
No one said a word until they realized that they were back at the marina. As Mike began to walk down the pier, Meldrick gently grabbed his arm, holding him still. "Naw, Mikey."
Mike just blinked in confusion. "What?"
Meldrick's brow furrowed as he shook his head. "I don't think the boat's a good place right now."
Despite his depression, Mike cracked a small smile and asked, "What? The air too lumpy?"
The edges of Meldrick's mouth curved up as he nodded. "Yeah, yeah, something like that."
The smile faded from Mike's face as he knew it would. "It's where I live."
"Yeah, but tonight you should be some place else, Mikey. That place ain't good for you tonight."
Sighing, Mike said, "Sure, I suppose I'll just go and sleep in the squad room. You could call me Brodie." There was no humor in his voice, it was flat, no emotion at all.
Clearing his throat, Lewis said, "Barbara's still at her Mama's. You can stay at my place."
Sighing again, Mike rubbed his hand down his face before shaking his head. "I don't think so, Meldrick."
"Look, you can keep my gun if you're worried, okay?"
Looking at his partner as he would a suspect in the box, Lewis asked, "What if this ain't your only gun, Mikey?"
"I'll give you my other one to hold too."
"And your knives and all your medication that could be lethal in a large amount and. . ."
"Here, I have a solution," Mike said, his voice holding hints of the anger Lewis experienced the night before. "How about you just toss me into a padded room?"
"Mike," was all Meldrick said.
"No. You think I'm losing it, don't you?"
Meldrick shook his head. "No, tonight already proved that you already lost it." As Mike stood there silently, Meldrick could see the anger bubbling up with in him. "I'm not trying to make you mad, Mike, I'm trying to keep you safe." The blonde detective's lips were pursed together tightly as he shook his head, an obvious tirade going on in his head. The cold had finally seeped into Meldrick's bones and small quakes began to assault his body, but he ignored them. "You the one who said you would have done it if I hadn't stopped by. I'm not going to walk away now. I'm not going to lose another partner, Mikey, I'm not."
Mike's face relaxed as he asked in a quiet voice, "What about tomorrow night, huh, Mel? And the night after and the night after? What about when Barbara comes home? What then? You can't keep an eye on me forever, can you?"
"How 'bout we cross that bridge when we come to it. Let's just worry about tonight. You shouldn't be alone. You know that, I know that."
Meldrick's brow creased in study of his partner. "You giving up that easy?"
"I'm cold and I'm tired and the only way to shut you up sometimes is to let you have your way."
Lewis couldn't argue with the logic, so the two headed off to his place. Again, they walked in silence and didn't speak until they stepped through the door and the heat hit them. "Nice," Mike breathed as he took off Meldrick's jacket for the first time since it'd been draped over him. Folding it carefully, almost reverently, he laid it out over the arm of Meldrick's white couch. Until the light came on, he hadn't realized he'd been in the dark. "That's too bright." A moment later, the brightness of the room gave way to soft shadows as Meldrick dimmed the lights.
Meldrick's eyes were fixed on his partner and he watched as Mike slowly sank down into the couch, his body settling back into the cushions, causing a decorative pillow to fall to the floor. When he realized that Mike's eyes were closed, Meldrick moved to the couch and sat down next to him. Still, he continued to watch Kellerman closely. His eyes studied the other man's face, the lines of weariness, the crease of his brow, the downward set of his lips.
Meldrick moved back a little and tilted his head upward, his hand coming up to cover his eyes as he felt the intense emotion sweep over him once again. He fought hard, breathing heavily, to fight back tears as the image of his best friend holding a gun to his temple flashed through his mind. He clenched his eyes tighter together as the image flipped to the black metal of the gun pressed against the pale red softness of Mike's lips.
God, he hated this. Why did this man have to create such emotions within him? Why couldn't he shut them off like he did with everyone else? How he wished he could just push Mike away, send his partner back to his boat with the lumpy air, just so he could push these feelings back.
Meldrick's breathing paused for a moment when he felt a hand on his arm. "Mel?" His eyes opened and he saw the blue eyes of his partner examining him. "Are you. . ."
"Yeah, I'm fine, Mikey," Meldrick said, waving his hand as if that could clear away the obvious concern the other man had for him.
"I'm sorry," Mike said as his hand slipped off Meldrick's arm and he went back to leaning back on the couch.
"For what?" Lewis was still struggling to keep his emotions in check, but he was doing better than he had been only moments ago.
"Doing all this to you. I'm selfish."
Kellerman sighed. "I'm so tired."
Meldrick nodded. He understood; he was tired too. "Well, let's get you settled. Barbara keeps the spare room for her family. I wanted to turn it into room for all my stuff that she doesn't like, but no, she made it into a guest room for all the guests that we don't have." He shrugged. "'Cept I guess we have one now."
"I don't want to move," Mike said, his voice sounding like a tired child's. "I'll sleep here." Before Meldrick could say anything, Mike's breathing had changed and he was asleep.
Letting out a sigh, Meldrick stood and moved to table in the foyer, where he had deposited Mike's gun as well as his own. He moved up the stairs quickly and quietly. After he locked both guns away, he changed into sweats, grabbed a blanket and went back downstairs. He knelt at Mike's feet and gently untied the shoelaces, then pulled off the shoes. Mike wouldn't be comfortable sleeping in those jeans, but there wasn't much Meldrick could do about that.
Picking up the fallen pillow, he placed it near the arm of the couch, then gently maneuvered Mike until he was lying on his side, his head on the pillow, with his legs bent. Meldrick draped the blanket over him, then stood up and just looked down at the man. He remembered how he'd used to think that Mike was just a big kid. He'd look across his desk and see Mike there, a big grin on his face, and he'd think that his partner looked exactly like a happy child. But Mike didn't look like that now. He looked older, no longer like a kid.
Meldrick couldn't help himself when he knelt back down next to him and he couldn't help himself when his hand moved up and his fingers trailed lightly over Mike's features. He brushed the hair back from Mike's forehead as he leaned in. The emotion came back tenfold as his lips pressed against Mike's skin and Meldrick allowed himself to close his eyes and enjoy it. But just for a moment.
And that moment passed quickly. He moved back, retiring to Barbara's uncomfortable white chair. Sitting so that he was facing his partner, Meldrick continued to study him until his eyelids grew too heavy and his body grew too relaxed.
He slept until quiet noises woke him up. Blinking and taking a deep breath, he found himself now covered with the blanket he had draped over Mike. His eyes moved to the couch, which he found empty. Getting up and stretching, he walked clumsily towards the origin of the noise. He entered the kitchen and was greeted with the sight of Michael Kellerman sitting on the floor, his head in his hands, crying.
"Mike?" Meldrick called as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He saw his partner look up quickly then begin to wipe his eyes and pretend he wasn't crying. Moving to sit down next to him, Meldrick asked, "You okay, man?"
Mike sniffed and turned his head away, obviously ashamed to have been caught in the act of crying. "I'm fine, Lewis," he answered, his voice betraying him.
"Mike," Meldrick started, but stopped when his partner began to speak.
"Why are you doing this, Meldrick?"
"Doing what, Mikey?"
Shaking his head, Meldrick replied, "No, I don't know. What am I doing?"
"Being here. Not leaving me alone."
Perhaps it was a brain still fogged with sleep, but Lewis was having a hard time understanding what it was that Mike was saying. He could hear the words, but they seemed to be jumbled up. Finally, Meldrick asked, "Where else am I supposed to be?"
"I don't know, where ever you've been since October. Why are you getting so close now? Why do I get your support now and not then?"
Lewis shook his head. They were back to this again. "Is that what I'm doing? Getting close? 'Cause I thought I was just making sure you didn't smoke yourself." Mike tensed and Meldrick noticed. "I'll say I'm sorry for not being there for you a million times if you need me to, Mike. But I'm not going to make the mistake again."
"Crosetti," Mike sighed. "Everything goes back to him."
"No," Meldrick said loudly. "This ain't about Crosetti, it's about you. You right, Mikey, if I had supported you for the last couple months, maybe I wouldn't have to be scared right now."
Kellerman looked at Meldrick for the first time since he'd walked into the kitchen. "Scared? You're scared?"
"Hell, yeah, I'm scared. You ever seen your partner, your friend, hold a gun to his head, Mike? You ever walk in a burial march for a friend who killed himself? You ever realize that there's two paths you can take in every situation and sometimes you take the wrong path and you end up fucking someone else up without meaning to? Yeah, I'm scared. I'm scared that when I leave you alone, you'll do something and all I'll be left with is memories." Lewis took a few deep breaths before continuing, his voice softer now. "All I have left of Crosetti are memories and a stupid yo-yo. In ten years, Mikey, I want to have more of you than that."
"I don't have a yo-yo, Meldrick," Mike said, trying to forget the pain and depression and lighten things up.
Lewis went on as if he hadn't heard Kellerman speak. He was more talking for himself now, saying his thoughts out loud, trying to work things out for himself. "I care about everyone, but I don't let everyone in. You're my partner and that's something that's stronger than anything, even my marriage. I don't know why I let you in. I hadn't meant to. You just sort of weaseled your way in and I hate that I'm so scared for you and for myself and I hate that if you were gone, I would hurt. I didn't want to get close to you, Mikey, I didn't. I mean, I thought I'd distanced myself with you like I do with everyone else, but I guess not because I ain't never felt like I did on that boat with you before in my life."
When Meldrick finished, he took deep breaths, his eyes fixed on the floor. His hand moved up and he scratched his head as he waited for Mike to respond. Now he had a better understanding of what Mike meant about his head being all jammed up. Meldrick was having a hard time thinking and processing the abundant amount of thoughts in his head.
"The other night," Mike started softly, "why'd you kiss ?"
Rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands, Meldrick shook his head. "I don't know. Just felt like the thing to do." There was a pause following his statement and it aggravated Meldrick. He wanted Mike to say something, anything. He could feel Mike's eyes on him. "I mean, I ain't that way. You know that. I'm a married man, I don't. . ."
"I didn't mind the kiss," Mike whispered. When Lewis looked at him, his eyes slightly widened in shock, Kellerman shook his head. "I liked it and I don't understand that." His head still shaking, Mike pursed his lips and furrowed his brow as he thought. "I've never though of. . .I mean, I'm not that way either, Meldrick. But," he said, drawing out the word, "I liked the feel of your lips on mine. I liked it," he said again, shrugging. "And I don't understand it." After a long moment's silence, Mike asked timidly, "Did you, did you like it?"
It took a moment before Meldrick nodded and when he did, neither man said a word, they just sat there on the cold linoleum floor. After a while, Lewis' deep voice said, "Maybe it's just because Barbara and I aren't getting along."
Turning to Kellerman, he explained, "Why I liked it."
Mike thought for a moment then asked, "Why'd I like it?" At his partner's shrug, Mike mused, "I mean, Julianna and I. .."
"Oh," Lewis interrupted, a smile curving his lips. "Julianna," he said, drawing out the name into almost a melody. "I knew something was there."
"Yeah, you must be a damn fine detective to figure that out, huh?"
Meldrick's smile widened as he turned the familiar sarcasm in his partner's voice, something he hadn't heard in a long while. "Well, you know me, Ace Detective."
Allowing himself to smile, Mike nodded, but as before, the smile faded. "Why do I feel so bad, Mel? I wasn't indicted. I know I'm clean, so why do I feel like I did take the money?"
Shrugging and shaking his head, Meldrick answered, "I don't know. You're just that type of person, Mikey. Either you're happy or you're not. In between doesn't really exist." Following an impulse, Meldrick ran his hand through the mussed blonde locks gently. "You make things hard for yourself. You see yourself as only one way and you want others to see you that way too and now you're disappointed that they don't." Meldrick paused for a moment, his eyes searching Mike's as his fingertips continued to gently massage Mike's scalp. "Or, at least you think they don't."
Tilting his head, searching for more contact with the other man's hand, Mike whispered, "You don't look at me the same."
Meldrick nodded. "You're right, I don't," he agreed softly. "But it's not because of the investigation or because I thought you maybe took them bribes, because I never thought you did," he assured. "I look at you differently because you've changed. I look at you and see a man disenchanted with his world. I see a man who is no longer secure in himself, who is unstable."
"I don't have any plans to kill myself," Mike whispered, his eyes still gazing into his partner's.
"I'm not talking about just that. Before, you knew who you were. Now, it seems like you're searching to find who you are." Anything else Lewis was going to say was forgotten as Kellerman placed his hand on his chest. He knew Mike could feel the pounding of his heart just as he could. He knew that his breath, heavy and quick, was no secret either. His reaction to Mike's touch was obvious.
"I don't understand this, Meldrick," Mike whispered, his mouth close to Meldrick's ear. Neither man realized that they had drifted that close.
Meldrick barely shook his head as he said, his voice sounding way too breathy to be his own, "Me either." They both realized that they didn't have to understand it at the moment. Neither of them thought about it when their faces turned, their lips brushing each other's skin. And neither Meldrick nor Mike paid any more attention to the question of understanding as their lips brushed lightly together. Meldrick's hand drifted to the back of Mike's head, holding him in place gently as Mike's hand moved from Meldrick's chest to his shoulder, then traveled down his arm until his fingers were able to intertwine with his partner's.
It was Meldrick who ended the kiss before it went farther than just lips. His hand slid away from Mike as his head turned away as well. He cleared his throat and fixed his eyes on the wall. Allowing his fingers to stay threaded with Mike's, Meldrick stayed silent even though he knew Mike was waiting for him to say something.
Finally he pulled his hand away. His voice was soft as he said, "Barbara thinks I can't get close to anyone. She thinks I won't let anyone close to me." Letting out a sigh, Meldrick stood up, leaving his partner sitting there on the floor. "I don't think you should go to work tomorrow, Mike. I think you should go talk to someone."
"I thought I was talking to you."
Looking at the clock, Lewis looked back Kellerman and said, "It's late, Mikey. Sleep'll make things better." That pesky and persistent emotion he felt when he was with Mike hadn't gone away when he stood up, nor did it go away when he ignored his partner's hurt voice. In all actuality, the emotion intensified as he looked down at Mike, still sitting on the floor, hurt and confusion in his eyes and in the lines of his face.
But Meldrick Lewis was not a man to give into his emotion or even to show them. In the past two nights, he had done too much of both and he would not give in to them again.
No matter how much it hurt to see Mike's defeated form crumbled on his kitchen floor.