Hi, how are you all? What can I say... I'm SO sorry it's taken such a long time. This has been a struggle to write!

Chapter 15

Stuck my head into Mac's office without waiting for him to answer my knock. 'Hey. You got a minute?'

Mac looked up with a frown on his face, which looked like it had become a permanent feature.

'A couple.' He looked pointedly at the paperwork on his desk as I walked in.

'No worries, I won't keep you,' I said breezily. 'Guess you're busy seeing as Stella's out of town, right?'

Mac grunted but didn't take the bait. 'What can I do for you?'

'Actually, it's Stell I wanted to ask you about.'

He tensed immediately. 'What about her?'

'Only that I'd heard a rumour she's gone to DC for a few days?'

Mac stared at me for a beat. 'It's not like you to listen to rumours, Don,' he drawled.

I ignored the jibe and pushed him a bit further. 'So it's just that, a rumour? She's not actually gone to DC?'

Poker-faced, he replied, 'Yes, she has.'

So, she really had gone… but it could still be for something mundane. 'Any special reason? She got college friends there?'

'Not that I'm aware of.' Still holding my gaze, Mac picked up his pen and drew a folder over towards him.

Paying no attention to the blatant hint that I'd outstayed my welcome, I carried on. 'C'mon Mac, throw me a bone here. Why's it such a secret?' Gave a short laugh. 'I mean, come on, don't tell me she's going to go work for the CIA…' It was a half-hearted joke to begin with, but it fell completely flat with Mac who curled his lip.

'If she is, she hasn't said anything about it to me.'

'Seems like the two of you aren't saying a lot to each other at the moment generally,' I shot back.

Dead silence. Mac's fingers tightened around the pen.

'If that's all you came here for, you're going to have to excuse me. You might have time for gossip about matters unrelated to work, but I don't.' The sarcasm in his tone verged on caustic. Fortunately, I was tough-skinned.

'That a dismissal?' Raised my eyebrows but kept my tone light.

'If you want to take it that way.' Mac looked at me steadily.

Leaned against the back of a chair and folded my arms, pretending to think about it for a moment. 'Naw, I'm going to stick around a bit longer. Do you even know why Stell's gone to DC?'

'It's none of my business, or anyone else's.' He fumbled trying to open the file.

'Uh huh. None of your business why your partner's taken off to DC.' When he didn't respond to my slice of sarcasm, I continued. 'You got to admit, it's quite the coincidence that a few days ago Stell asks me about one of my guys who took a job in DC, then next thing she's gone there herself. Has it crossed your mind that Stell might have gone to DC because she wants to take a job there?'

His eyes gave him away. I caught a glimpse of panic.

'I didn't ask her,' he said after a second.

Honestly, I could have shaken the guy. Instead, I shook my head.

'Why the hell not? If Stella really is thinking of leaving New York - and you know, it's entirely possible she is - you guys need to talk about it. You can't just let her leave without saying anything.'

Mac looked like he was turning to stone. 'People move on from jobs all the time,' he said tonelessly. 'If Stella's been offered a new career opportunity I'm not going to stop her from taking it.'

I snorted. 'Quit the virtuous bullshit, Mac. This isn't about career opportunities or stopping Stella from taking a job and you know it.'

Mac's jaw clenched. 'I don't know what you're talking about.'

I struggled to hold on to my patience, and temper. 'You know damn well what I'm talking about. If Stella's planning to leave New York, it's not going to be about her career, it's going to be because things have broken down so badly between you and her, she thinks moving away is the only solution.'

It all made sense. Boy did I regret not staying and talking to her at the precinct…although guess it might not have made much difference…

Finally some real, furious emotion flared across Mac's face. 'Don't stick your nose into things that are none of your business.'

Looked him right in the eye. 'Know what, Mac, it is my business.'

'The hell it is.'

'Going to have to disagree with you, Mac. It's my business when I see two people I care about as miserable as I've ever seen them, and it's my damn business when I see those same two people apparently about to throw away their chance of happiness together.'

My voice had risen, but Mac spoke in a low, tightly-controlled voice even as he got up to face me. 'Our relationship is between Stella and me, nobody else.'

'Did you even hear what I just said?' It was getting harder to keep from yelling at Mac when he kept saying the same thing. 'Just once will you open yourself up and listen to someone who's got your best interests at heart? Are you honestly going to let Stella walk away from New York, from you, and not even attempt to face the reason why? Is that what you really want?'

He pressed his lips together, said nothing.

I pushed him. 'Would you be happy if Stell left New York? Really, Mac?'

'Of course I wouldn't…'

Finally, I was getting somewhere with him. 'So then do something about it. Stop her. Work things out with your jobs and the rules, or whatever it is that's preventing you.'

'I don't make the rules,' Mac began and I couldn't stop myself laughing out loud.

'Maybe not, but you sure as hell like to follow them, regardless of what your heart wants.' I stared at him, trying to find a way to get through to him. 'But this isn't all about the rules, is it? They're a useful excuse to hide behind.'

'Because obviously you know everything there is to know about the situation,' Mac sneered, his lip curling as he squared up to me.

Stood my ground. 'I know enough to be damn sure you're making a huge mistake if you let Stell walk away without even trying to work things out. I know something else, too – that you're a coward if you don't truly face up to how you feel about Stell and what that means for the two of you.'

'Are you calling me a coward?'

Any other time and the look of cold, hard fury in Mac's face would have had me running for the hills, but on this occasion I was running on adrenaline and simply folded my arms and stood a little taller. 'If you walk away from this relationship without even trying to fight for it try and make it work for both of you, then yeah, you're a coward.'

For a second, I thought Mac was actually going to throw a punch at me. I tensed, holding my breath.

The punch didn't come. Instead he marched to the door and yanked it open.

'Get the hell out before I throw you out,' he snarled.

Judging by the look in his eyes, he meant it. Clearly he'd passed the point of being able to have any kind of reasonable discussion. Wasn't happy about it, but seemed like the only option left was to do as he said and get the hell out of there.

I made a move towards the door, then stopped.

'What's that?' I pointed to his desk and the small item I'd spotted on it.

'What?' Surprised out of his anger, he looked over at the set of keys and a keychain. 'What do you mean?'

'The keychain. The Cubs one.' I'd last seen it in the hospital with Stella, it was definitely the same one, the one Mac used for his apartment keys.

Now he looked seriously confused. 'What about it?'

'You left it with Stell while she was unconscious in the ICU.'

'How do you know about that?' Mac demanded.

Rolled my eyes at him. 'I saw it on her nightstand, asked her about it when she was awake and she told me it was yours. The obvious conclusion is that you left it with her. Why the keychain, though? What's special about it?'

Mac glared at me. 'It's a keyring, Don. It's no big deal.'

'Stell gave it to you, right?' Mac didn't need to say anything for me to know I'd hit on the truth. Maybe I looked triumphant. So sue me.

'So what?' Mac said.

'So, seems to me that it is a big deal.'

Pleased me to see I'd put Mac in a dilemma: he couldn't tell me it wasn't because it clearly was, but he didn't want to tell me why it was.

Gave him a twisted smile. 'C'mon, Mac. If it was no big deal you wouldn't have left it with Stell in the hospital when you couldn't be there with her in person. What was it, a gift from the first game you took her to?' Once again his expression told me I'd guessed correctly. 'Thought so.'

Unsurprisingly, he had no answer to that. So the two of us stood there, awkward as fuck, Mac still with his hand on the door and me still standing by his desk. It was ridiculous, but at the same time it was actually pretty sad.

'What happened, Mac?' I asked, desperate to understand. 'How did you get from a gesture like that to you not even talking to each other?'

A flash of bitterness crossed his face. 'Maybe you ought to ask Stella that.'

I jabbed my finger at him. 'You're the one who ought to be talking to Stell, not me.'

Just for a second, I caught sight of the multitude of emotions behind the mask as he shot back, 'What is there to talk about?'

Swear I nearly rolled my eyes out of the back of my head in exasperation. 'Are you fucking kidding me? Fuck sake, Mac, you got everything to talk about. Start with how you feel about each other and what you both want from a relationship; talk about what you can do to make it work for both of you; talk about how you're going to make it work with your jobs and where you live. You really need me to spell it out for you?'

Wondered how many times I was going to have to say the same thing to Mac before it sank in.

'And soon as you got that fixed, maybe then talk about how you pretty much gave up on sleep while Stell was in the ICU and how she kept asking for you over and over while she was bleeding out on the street…'

That hit home. Watched him turn pale and his hand jerk involuntarily. I nodded. 'Yeah, that's right. Right up until she lost consciousness Stell was asking for you. You were the one she wanted with her. Talk about that.'

Mac began to say something, but I found I couldn't stop, everything I'd held back came spilling out. 'And when you're done talking about that, take some time to think about how damn lucky you are Stell pulled through.' Had to pause for breath, felt my heart thudding twice as fast as normal. Even though I was physically in Mac's office, my mind was in the recent past, both the real and almost real. 'She wasn't just knocking on Death's door, Mac, she was fucking walking through it.'

'I was there in the ER, I know how close it was,' Mac spat.

If only.

Took a step closer to him, getting into his face. 'We both know what it's like to lose someone we love, to have them taken away from us with no warning. Maybe you need to appreciate it a bit more. …'

'How dare you say that to me?' Mac's voice cracked with fury.

'Because you need to hear it.' I fired back. 'And because like it or not, the time's come for you to choose what's more important to you – your love for Stella and all the possibilities and unpredictability that holds, or sticking with your comfortable, predictable rules and routines, and keeping your heart locked up inside you.'

Mac stood silent, white-faced and breathing hard. I shook my head. I'd said all I could.

Made for the door, pausing for a final shot. 'You and Stell got a second chance, Mac. Don't blow it, 'cause you won't get another one.'

I walked away. Heard someone calling me as I strode along the corridor but I didn't look back.

Whew, that was tough. Please, more so than usual, I would love your reviews. Let me know what you think. It's a great help. Lily x