13: Amongst the Living
Steve sat at the meager head table, leaning into Maribel and distracting her from her conversation by whispering naughty things into her ear. She giggled and smacked playfully at him. She was quick to return to the conversation with her parents.
He never intended for this to be a big wedding, never was his thing. But upon announcing their intentions to Maribel's parents they insisted on being out here to see their youngest tie the knot.
They were amazingly likable, considering how overbearing Maribel had always told him they were. They seemed to be thoroughly enamored with him, despite the things that made him more and less than human. They seemed to have a more open mind than even their daughter did. He could see where she got it from.
There weren't a lot of other people at the reception, family, what few friends he still had, people Tom invited, and a few acquaintances and co-workers. There might have been this many or less at the wedding earlier in the day on the other side of the yard. A pastor, Tom as best man – that was about it for the wedding party.
As he leaned back, giving Maribel a break from his teasing, his eyes strayed over the crowd.
Tom and Sarah were here, just one table over, and they were looking more the newlyweds than he and Maribel were. Something happened between them two, something good, they looked happier than he'd seen either of them in months. Steve had yet to get the opportunity to ask what.
David and Angelina had staked a claim at a table just the other end of the reception area. Angelina was almost due, and they didn't need to trip on anyone should something untimely happen. He was unduly curious about how the baby was going to turn out.
He'd never seen a gemue born before, and being that sharkmues were restricted to these two and their daughter, it was going to be even more intriguing to see what would come of the union.
The biggest shock of the day was when Mira showed up. She still looked a little worse for wear, the eye patch was an odd counterpoint, but even stranger was the man who escorted her up to the head table. No one had seen him before. He expected a good blasting, as she had done to him any other time she got near him.
Steve had risen, remaining mute and praying she wasn't going to make a scene at his wedding in front of his new family. She stopped in front of him, and the blank expression on her face had him expecting the worst. When the smile broke, he physically straightened, taken aback. He made himself lean down when she reached out to hug him.
As he had straightened again, he tilted his head, a question backing up in his throat.
"Congratulations, Steve." She had yet to let her hand drop from where it rested on his forearm. "I wish you both the best."
"Thanks." He even sounded a little shocked by her congeniality.
Her smile widened. "I'm sorry I never gave you the chance to make amends. I should have forgiven you a long time ago."
Steve blinked. Was that what he thought it was? Forgiveness? An apology? Was this day going to get any more surreal?
He wanted to actually voice his apology, having never been allowed that before, but felt suddenly as if it would belittle what Mira had just said to him.
Clearing his throat, he finally managed, "You… and your date, you're welcome to stay. There's plenty to go around."
She shook her head, looking apologetic. "Thanks, but we need to get back to Concord."
"Yeah." She nodded. "We'll be visiting."
"Okay," Steve made himself smile, still wondering if this was some kind of odd set up. "Consider it an open invitation."
And with that she and the man with her had walked away. Mira had stopped and spoken with Tom and Sarah, and Steve noted the tension that was there before hadn't come back. After a few moments, Sarah rose and hugged Mira, and then Mira hugged Tom and kissed him on the cheek, and then the two had left.
As Steve returned to the present happenings, he shook his head. He let that last image linger a bit longer. This was an odd day, a pleasant one, but odd.
He rubbed the back of his head, debating about asking his wife to dance with him. Steve had enjoyed his last opportunity to do so at David's wedding. Man that was almost a year ago.
I gotta stop waiting for special occasions, he thought, grinning
He'd forgotten how much he liked swing dancing. He was good at it once – and he'd found quickly that last time that Maribel was an excellent partner. He glanced at her, finding her still engrossed in the conversation with her parents, and he decided to let it sit a moment or two more.
Steve took a swig of his beer, savoring the flavor of it as he did with every sip of the only alcohol he could taste at all.
"So this is what the dead do with their time." A voice said, and it was all Steve could do not to spit his mouthful on Maribel. That voice was familiar.
He spun in his seat, looking up to find a tall dark haired man standing in the grass just below the low stage. Next to him was a lady, well into her forties, dressed in a smartly tailored business suit.
Swallowing that mouthful became more like swallowing sawdust. He hadn't seen these two in ten years.
"Ho-ly shit!" was all Steve could say as he rose from his seat. His elation tapered off swiftly as he remembered their last interaction was when he was still "alive."
Maribel was suddenly next to him, her arm strung through his. As if she was going to protect him from these two. "Steve?"
He peered down at her and then to his former co-workers.
"Adam, Pamela, this is my wife Maribel. Maribel, this is Adam Grayeske and Pamela Torbino – from the Concord Count Sherriff's Department. That's still right, isn't it?"
They nodded and then acknowledged Maribel's presence. Their attention was almost immediately locked on Steve again.
Maribel looked even more fearful for him and he patted her hand in an attempt to calm her.
"How'd you find me?" Steve asked.
"When Marty told us he'd seen you we thought he'd been hitting the bottle too hard." Pamela said.
Steve couldn't help the frown that broke over his face. He didn't ask how much else Marty had told them about that meeting.
"But last week during an IA audit, they found an inquiry for information from Lieutenant Steven Martin."
Steve's frown deepened, it was something he'd been expecting for a while, and he was at once surprised that it had taken this long and disappointed that the sheriff's records weren't going to be available to him any longer.
Adam picked up where Pamela left off, "As I'm sure you're aware, Officer Martin was reported dead about eight years ago."
Steve couldn't keep their gazes.
Pamela resumed, "We thought that someone had perhaps gotten a hold of the login. I mean I don't know how it got left active that long, but the point was moot considering we found what we thought was a security breach."
"So we were assigned to investigate the breach and find the person responsible," Marty then said.
"Matter of time I guess," Steve muttered.
"Further investigation revealed some very interesting information." Pamela shook her head.
"You bought a house, you took a job here locally, and…"
Had they rehearsed this coming over here? Or where they just that tight as partners they could manage such a coordinated synopsis of their findings?
"You bought a marriage license," Pamela finished.
"You didn't even change your name, man!" Adam look flabbergasted.
Pamela sounded disappointed when she added, "You used to be a better cop than this."
"Maybe, I was tired of being dead." Steve said, stopping them both dead mid-sentence.
He hadn't thought about it prior to this, but the explanation fit, now that he did. He really did want to officially rejoin the living. Looking back on his recent year's actions, he'd been leaving less than subtle hints that he was still with the world.
Both of them quirked eyebrows at him. Pamela was the one to pipe in with, "That sounds so typically you."
A smile teased the corner of Steve's mouth. "So, come to cuff me?"
"Steve!" Maribel protested.
Steve ignored her a moment, focusing on his former co-worker's reactions. He wasn't sure what he was going to do if they said "yes."
They looked at each other, and then Pamela shrugged. "We came to enjoy our friend's wedding."
Steve let out a breath he hadn't been aware of holding.
She smiled and opened her arms to hug him. Steve stepped in, accepting her embrace.
"You look…" Pamela said.
"…and sound…" Adam added.
"…like hell," they finished in unison.
When Pamela backed away, Adam stepped in to shake Steve's hand.
"I've felt worse, trust me," Steve uttered.
"I never did believe one little truck accident could kill you," Adam laughed.
"It may not have killed me, but it took its toll," Steve sighed. "Can I get you guys something to drink?"
"Soda," Adam answered.
"Beer!" Pamela piped in.
Adam glared at her.
"What?" Pamela added, "Technically we're off duty, Adam."
"But," he started to protest.
"Lighten up, man. It'll wait!"
A little pang of nerves went off in Steve's gut. Great. They were just delaying the inquiry when there were less people for him to get embarrassed in front of.
"I'll get them," Maribel said, letting loose of the death grip on his arm.
Steve motioned them over to the table, introducing his friends to his in-laws and then motioning them to pull up a chair. He was grateful that they didn't press him immediately with the questions they had about his eight year hiatus.
Steve got that dance in with Maribel, and managed to enjoy the rest of their special day without any inquisition from the two of them. There was plenty of questions the other way around and looks of consternation from his little brother when Tom made his way over and was introduced. He reassured his brother, though Tom never took the officer's congeniality at face value.
When the reception wound down, Steve saw Mr. and Mrs. Cho to their taxi, paying their fare back to the hotel where they were staying and then came back to the small deck where his two friends and his wife were now sitting.
Knowing what was coming next, he made an excuse to get out of the monkey suit he was wearing and pulled Maribel in with him.
"Are you sure they're not going to bust you?" Maribel whispered, even though they were in the bedroom, on the other side of the house from the deck.
They slowly helped each other get out of their party clothes, both stalling and both knowing it. They needed a bit of time to discuss this before facing the firing squad.
"No," Steve peered over his shoulder, not quite seeing her behind him as she undid the suspenders to his tux, "But they're here, and I owe them an explanation. Pamela used to be my partner." He sighed. "Honestly? I'm surprised she didn't deck me for maintaining radio silence."
"That close, huh?" there was a certain teasing tone in her voice.
"After the shit we went through? Partners tend to be tight. We were tight."
Maribel pursed her lips. "You going to tell them everything?"
"Are you kidding me? That'll be like putting my head in the guillotine." Steve shook his head. "They're friends, but they're still cops. They'll get the truth, just not all of the details."
"Whew," Maribel breathed. "I thought you were going to just spill your guts or something."
"I do like my freedom," Steve added, twisting in her arms and kissing her forehead.
Throwing on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, Steve headed back for the porch. Maribel wasn't far behind him, in a pair of light cotton pants and a v-neck t-shirt.
"Guys want another drink?" Steve already had the beer in hand for Pamela, a can of soda in the other for Adam.
"Yeah," they replied in unison.
He pulled one of the folding chairs from the reception tables up onto the deck and sat down, his own beer now opened. "So how have you been?" Steve started.
"Cut the pleasantries, Steve." Pamela grinned. "You were never good at it."
Steve let his gaze fall, a smirk on his face at how well she still knew him.
"Why've you been hiding out all this time? Why'd you let everyone think you were dead?" She shook her head, the hurt at being left out of that knowledge finally making its way into her expression.
Steve shrugged, not meeting their gaze. "Was in the hospital for four months. Lost both legs in the crash."
Their shock was evident, followed by careful scrutiny of the fact that he was walking now.
"Prosthetic?" Adam asked.
"Shit no. I wouldn't be walking so smoothly if it was just prosthetic." Steve laughed.
Adam tilted his head. "You don't mean…"
His audience gasped dramatically. Adam looked a slight bit disgusted by the prospect,. Maribel looked sympathetic standing behind the two of them.
"That answers why you wouldn't…"
"Couldn't…" Steve corrected.
"…come back to the force. But why'd you pretend to be dead?"
Steve glanced at Adam. "That wasn't my idea. But, after what happened, I decided it was best to let it be. Except…" He peered over at Maribel, silently apologizing for bringing the subject up again. "I tried to see Cheryl after my recovery."
Now there were three sympathetic faces.
Pamela looked away first. "We heard."
"Dude," Adam muttered.
Steve drew a breath and let it out again, releasing the pain of her death in that one breath. "After that… shit, there was nothing left to lose."
"So what have you been doing, then?" Adam asked.
Steve straightened, drew another deep breath and said, "Contract work."
They looked curious, that left a lot of open ground and they wanted him to narrow it down. Not likely.
And when the silence lingered overlong, Pamela broke it again with another related question.
"Why exactly was the Kuala Lumpur police requesting files on you last year?"
"Something about a connection to a murder case?" Adam added, nodding as if just reminded of the detail.
"You guys have been doing your homework," Steve grumbled. "I was acquitted… the entire thing was a frame job. I stepped on someone's toes and they were trying to distract me by setting the police on my heels."
Again that questioning glance he wasn't willing to elaborate for.
"So what made you decide to come back to the States?"
"Leg replacement." Steve shrugged and fiddled with the neck of his beer. "I seem to be 'accident prone.' The only place I could get the work done was right here."
"Boy there's a lot of blind spots in that story," Pamela huffed.
"That's all your getting out of me, sorry." Steve shrugged again, putting the exclamation on it by taking a swig of his beer.
"You've obviously had more work done." Adam stated. "You can't tell me that teller machine voice is a result of the accident."
"Nope, and neither are the eyes."
When they both stared at him wide-eyed, Steve threw them a secretive grin.
"What, you want me to pluck one out?" Steve said.
Adam's reaction was polar opposite from Pamela's, "You can do that?"
"Take my word, they're fabricated," Steve added.
"Care to tell us how…?"
"Nope," Steve shook his head. "I've relived it enough times in my head, that talking about it isn't something I want to do. Fair enough to say it wasn't an accident."
Despite himself anger welled in him at that loss, the pain threatening the edges of his consciousness. He swallowed, taking the memories and the phantom pains with it.
The silence surrounding them grew oppressive. Pamela and Adam seemed to be taking their time digesting what he told them.
"How much does the home office know?" Steve finally worked up the courage to ask.
"We haven't made the final report yet. Only that someone has been using your name for some rather expensive transactions."
Steve straightened and felt Maribel set her hands on his shoulders. "Uh huh."
"What do you think we should tell them, Steve?" Pamela piped in before Adam could voice his opinion.
Steve drew in and let out a deep breath, not comfortable with the situation he found himself in. "Tell them – tell them what you want to. You want to tell them I've been hiding out for eight years – be my guest. I've done nothing they can trace back."
Brows rose at that.
"Don't ask, and I won't have to lie to you."
"I don't like that Steve," Adam growled.
Steve sighed. "I'm not the same man I was eight years ago, okay. I don't know that anyone would be after what I've been through."
Adam looked away. "No, I suppose not."
"They might be thrilled to know you're still around," Pamela offered. "Would you consider coming back if they asked?"
Steve's lips thinned considerably. He shook his head before responding. "If you'd asked that a couple years ago, I might have jumped at the chance. But, after everything I've been through – done – they don't want me back. Trust me. I'd be just a liability waiting to happen."
Their faces fell before screwing up in morbid curiosity.
"I'm not exactly thrilled with the dilution of my talents in my current job, but it's an honest living." He smiled insincerely – uncertainly. He shrugged a moment later, lightening the mood by adding, "Besides, I'd hate to have to move back over the Sea."
A startled laugh escaped Pamela, even when Adam looked upset and even a touch angry.
"There's nothing for me in Concord anymore guys, really." He stood up. "I appreciate you following up the lead – for coming out and saying hello."
They rose as well. "Yeah," Adam replied, uncertainty in his voice.
"Good to know you're still around, Steve," Pamela said. "Try to stay in touch a bit more will you?"
She produced a business card and handed it to him.
"Yeah, I'll do that." He looked it over twice before shoving it in his pocket.
"Maribel, it was a pleasure to meet you," she said turning and taking Maribel's hand. "Keep this lug in line will you."
Maribel smiled unsurely. "I do my best."
"Steve." Adam seemed to shake his hand only because courtesy dictated it.
"Adam," Steve replied. "Take care of yourself out there. Even Concord's got its rough patches."
"You know it." A grin lit on the man's lips. "We'll try not to blow your cover… too much."
"Yeah," Steve laughed, "do me the favor."
He clapped Adam on the shoulder and waved to them both as they retreated up the walk.
He and Maribel continued to stand there long after the sound of their vehicle retreated into the night.
"What do you think they'll say?"
Steve shrugged. "Not even sure. Was getting very mixed signals from them."
"You worried about it?"
Glancing down, he nodded. "A little. But I can't rejoin the living only part way, right?"
"No, I suppose not."
"It'll work out, babe… I promise."
"If you say so."
Before that conversation could spiral off into something negative, Steve snatched Maribel off her feet and into his arms. Her automatic reaction was to wrap her arms around his neck.
"Steve!" she said breathlessly.
"What?" He grinned widely. "I still need to carry my bride over the threshold and make this official, right?"
She hit his chest playfully. "How is it different today from any other day?"
"Because now I get to refer to you as Mrs. Martin." He leaned in and kissed her lips.
She curled closer to him, tightening her arms around his neck.
When she quit the kiss and leaned back in his grip, she said, "Mrs. Maribel Martin. Has a certain ring to it."
"It does at that."
And with that Steve carried her into the cottage and shut away the outside world for a while.
A/N: OMG this chapter - this event has been written for nearly 10 years... Yeah.. that long ago... this piece has never seen the public before (and vice versa). I always knew that Steve and Maribel would eventually get married... and hints have been dropping throughout this tale that they were in the planning stage! I'm so happy to be able to finally share this with someone!
That also means that this story is DONE! *DANCES* Wasn't sure it was ever going to happen!
Thanks for those of you who have taken the time to read it! Reviews, Crits, suggestions are all welcome! This will be coming down by the end of March for prep for Publishing! So any and all eyes and crits would be welcome to make the story the best it can be!