Title: Chances

Author: Peach

Disclaimer: They're not mine. Don't sue.

Genre: Angst / R / maybe even a LITTLE fluff... (if you know me, you'll know that I can't write fluff...)

Pairing: Stella / Mac

PS: this is the…what, fourth revision I've put up since I've posted it... and I apologize for all the tiny mistakes (mainly typo's) I didn't spot earlier...


Stella bit her lower lip to keep from moaning as she applied antiseptic to her wound. It stung, but she wouldn't allow herself that one display of weakness. Stella Bonasera was tough. She had to be, especially when there had been nobody for her to lean on; there hadn't been anybody for a long time.

The day had been horrible. The uncooperative crew only made the already disturbing case more upsetting. The little - or not so little, since Mac almost lost his life for it - incident at the port had contributed greatly to the unpleasantness of the day. She regretted having gotten out of bed that morning. For the better part of her day after interviewing the suspect, she had worked with adrenaline pumping through her. Later, when she was calm enough and the rush had left her body, she turned on autopilot and held on until it wouldn't raise any questions to leave. She took off then, without telling anyone.

She hadn't realize she was hurt until she was changing out of her work clothes earlier and noticed a tear and some tiny bloodstain on her pants. The wound wasn't deep, but it was long, and considering it was likely from those cargoes and containers at the port, she seriously thought about paying the ER a visit. But she was already changed and relaxed, at home, curled up on her couch ready to forget about the day ever happened. She decided the antiseptic would do.

Just as Stella was about to dim the light in her living room, someone interrupted her peace by ringing the doorbell. Cursing, she swung her leg down to the floor and started rolling up her pants so the fabric wouldn't brush against the already tender flesh around the wound.

The person on the other side of the door proved to be impatient, because he or she rang again.

"I'm coming," she yelled through gritted teeth. "Just one damn minute!"

Opening the door revealed a sheepish looking Mac Taylor in his half-amused, half-annoyed stance, "Am I interrupting?"

"No, no," she denied and shook her head negative, her mind reeling with the fact that Mac was standing outside her apartment. Of course, he had been to her place before, but never like this. Never alone, never without ample notice, never without a reason mutually agreed upon, never without Claire. That was proof how long Mac had distanced himself from the others outside the lab - since that September morning.

When she came back to reality, she found Mac had lost the annoyance and instead, was looking at her with a fully amused expression. Belatedly, she realized Mac was still, technically, outside her apartment.

"Come on in," it was her turn to be sheepish. She stepped to the side and pulled the door open a little wider. "I can take your coat."

"Don't be so formal, Stella," he teased as he shrugged out of the heavy winter jacket that had become part of like a uniform to him. Always the same coat. She took it and hung it in her foyer closet, beside her coat. It looked right hanging there, she said to herself, and quickly chased that thought away.

Mac remained in the foyer of her apartment and watched as Stella moved around the, picking things up and trying to tidy her already not-so-messy living room. His eyes fell onto the first aid equipment Stella had yet to pack up on the coffee table. The investigator in him took over quickly, and concern filled him as he saw the wound on her calf. "You hurt yourself," he softly said, as if he was accusing her for keeping that from him.

"Just a scratch," she stopped moving long enough to shrug and went back to cleaning up again.

"From brushing up against those rusty containers this morning," he grabbed her arm and spun her around to face him. "Stella, you should have it looked at. Maybe get a shot in case of infection."

"I've already put antiseptic on it," she defended herself quickly and was ready to refuse Mac's request for her to leave the warmth and comfort of her apartment for the cold and sterile ER. "For your information, it stung like hell."

"All the more reason you should have it looked at."

"Mac," she protested with a lace of warning in her tone. "I'm fine."

"Stel..."

She didn't let him finish this time and walked right up to him - despite grimacing a little when she pulled the muscle and the wound - and stood right against him, toe to toe, "I can take care of myself, Mac. I just want a quiet evening and I'll go make an appointment with my doctor and get the shot tomorrow, okay?"

Knowing from experience that any protest would be futile, Mac sighed and nodded, "I WILL hold you to that, Stella."

"Be my guest," she merely shrugged.

"That why you took off without telling me today?" he asked, gesturing to the couch so they could have the conversation more comfortably. "So I can't drag you kicking and screaming to the ER?"

"I didn't realize I hurt myself until I was changing earlier," she said, and at Mac's skeptical look, she added. "That's the truth!"

"You didn't tell anyone you were leaving. You didn't turn on your cell phone either. I just guessed you left."

"You need me for something?" she asked, fatigue evident in her voice; her eyes closed as she rested her head on the couch's arm and curled up like a cat beside him.

"I had wanted to take you out to dinner," he said while looking at her intently.

Seeing her tiredness, he picked up both her legs and let them rest on his knee and started to gently massaging them, mindful of the wound on the calf as he did so. Stella opened her eyes to look at him, and closed them again without asking a question. She visibly relaxed at his fingers on her skin.

He was always grateful for the trust Stella placed in him. Maybe that had to do with the job, since they had to trust each other with their lives, but she trusted him also with what she felt. He was always amazed when Stella allowed him to see her not as the tough detective when she always appeared so strong in front of the others.

"Out, dinner?" she repeated belatedly, incredulous, as if she had never heard of the terms before.

"Yes. A place where we may have a sit-down dinner," he clarified, and smiled when he remembered the last time he used those words with her.

"The last time you said that," Of course she picked up on the wording and thought back to that one time, "we ended up at the dog show with you treating me hot dog."

"Yes," he nodded. There was nothing to refute in the statement. She cut him off again before he could go on.

"And you lost 10 bucks to me," she added as an afterthought with a satisfied, even smug, grin.

"You're gonna keep reminding me of that for a long time, aren't you?" he shook his head in amusement as he asked. "I promise this time we will have waiters serving us and all. That good enough?"

She shifted and opened her eyes to look at him, intrigued. Mac rarely went out to dinner with anyone on the team for the last few years.

"What's the occasion?"

"Does there have to be one?"

"Well, I'm curious, you know. It's been a while since you have dinner with me outside of the lab."

"What about last time?"

"Not counting the last time," she claimed and at his raised eyebrow, she explained. "We went to the dog show, Mac, and ate since were hungry. Eating was no the main purpose of that outing. End of description," she said while looking at him closely. "Tell me, really, Mac, why are we going out to dinner?"

He sighed softly and lightly scratched above his brow. Stella Bonasera was like a dog with a bone when she was onto something. Always a good trait in an investigator, but it was hard on the others sometimes. All the time he had spent formulating an answer for her insistent questioning, she was watching him and didn't look away.

"I want to thank you," he finally said, deciding on revealing what was one of a lot of reasons.

"To thank me?"

"Among other reason," he confirmed, hoping to placate her. There were a million other reasons why he wanted to have dinner with Stella, some he hadn't admitted to himself right up until later that day when the incident at the port gave him a chance to think over his life so far.

"Why are you thanking me?" she really sounded clueless.

Mac looked at her as if she had grown another head, "You saved my life, Stella dear." It must be her tiredness, he decided, especially when she didn't retort him for calling her "dear". For some reason, she didn't particularly like that word.

"You already thanked me for that," she countered. "At interrogation, after we locked that bastard away. Remember?"

"You're letting me off the hook this time so easily? That from the same woman who made me pay a bet which was supposed to be a game?"

"Mac, those were games, for fun, ha ha, you know? This isn't. This is your life. Your being here, alive, and arguing with me on whether you should be thanking me is reward enough."

They were both quiet after Stella's soft explanation. Mac watched as emotions raced through Stella's unguarded eyes, and marvelled at their expressiveness. She usually kept them veiled. She must be more tired than he thought.

That was definitely a more personal and emotional declaration from Stella. She liked to keep her feelings inside herself - that from someone who had never had a chance to share the warmth and unity of family relationships. She had never let so many emotions shone through in a conversation before. This made the usually strong detective nervous.

"Oh God," she jumped up from the couch and tried to get away for a minute so she could clear her head. "I still haven't offered you anything to drink. What do you want? I don' t think I have much in the fridge right now. Will juice be all right? Or do you want water?"

Mac gently placed his hand on Stella's arm as she was about to move to the kitchen and halted her action.

"I'm okay here, Stella. Relax," he smiled gently, though wondering what made Stella jump so suddenly. "We're friends, close friends, remember? You don' t have to go and treat me like I'm some formal acquaintances you have to entertain."

"Okay," she felt colour rushed to her face, and regretted the lost chance for escaping the tension for a while.

"You're nervous, Stella Bonasera," he declared, his look dared her to deny. "Why?"

"Am I that easy to read?" to his surprise, Stella admitted without putting up a fight.

"I can read it only because you feel comfortable enough to let me read you. You're an enigmatic woman, Stella, and highly guarded. You are apt at hiding your feelings. I am honoured you trust me enough to let me read them."

"Of course I trust you. You're probably the closest to a family I have."

"Thank you," warmth filled him, to hear this strong woman admitted she trusted him, but he also ached for her, for her lost chance at feeling loved and cherished as she should as a child.

"Why are you thanking me again? Did you catch a bug or something?"

"For trusting me," he replied solemnly. "I had some time to think about my life so far this morning, after that wake-up call. I just realized I had been taking many things for granted, including your friendship and loyalty and trust and everything else."

"You're a great friend yourself, Mac Taylor," Stella declared softly, and silently added to herself, so much more if you'd allow yourself to be. She wasn't sure where this conversation would lead them, but it was definitely one of the more personal talks they had since that day that now seemed so long ago.

"That's another reason I want to take you out to dinner tonight. To thank you for always being there for me, for anchoring me."

"You're welcome," she whispered, "but I don't want you to feel you're obligated to treat me dinner just because I had been a friend to you. I draw on a lot of your strengths too."

"I'm not obligated, I know. I enjoy spending time with you," he stated truthfully, then, with a teasing smile. "Why else would I be spending so much time with you?"

"I was about to say that's mutual, you know," she scoffed. "I guess I should ask you out of my apartment now then, huh?"

"Stella, you wounded me."

"Too bad, Taylor."

They grinned at their silliness and fell silent; enjoying the closeness they felt with each other. No words were needed.

"I was so scared this morning, you know," it was again Stella who broke the silence between them. "Of course I still did my job, but those were more out of reflexes than knowing what I was doing. I kept seeing you crushed between the two cargoes when I closed my eyes, and I couldn't bear that. It was horrible. I kept thinking 'Oh my God. I almost lost him.' Over and over. It was like a stubborn DVD put on repeat."

"You saved my life, Stella, remember that. Don't believe those images."

"I kept telling myself that too, you know, but those images were so real, so strong. I tried staying close for the day, but that was impossible. We both had our work to do and we had to deal with a million different things. I couldn't just stay by your side the whole day."

"I would have dropped the things I was doing and stayed with you, you know? If I had known, I would make it happen. Seeing you were okay was as much needed comfort for me this morning too," Stella knew it must cost him dearly for that admission. Mac Taylor had always been a strong and proud man. It was uncharacteristic of Mac to be so open about his feelings, but nobody could really tell how much a brush with death would really change a person.

"I know you would," she murmured. "That's why I didn't tell. Can't have the whole crime lab stop working because I was having bad flashbacks and visions."

"You're only human, Stella. Don't be too hard on yourself."

"I try not to," she gave him a soft smile. "But sometimes, it's hard to control how I feel, what I feel. It's a part of me to want to feel strongly, I guess."

"You are a very strong woman, and a passionate one as well, no doubt about that."

"You think?" she asked for confirmation, a feeling of warmth and pride spread within her.

"I know you are," he amended. "You just proved that today, remember?"

"Here you go again," she said, a little exasperated. "I'm sure you would have done the same for me, Mac. It's what partners do. It's what best friends are for. It's not that big a deal."

"To me, it is," Mac turned to look at one of the most important people in his life. "You gave me a chance to think about a lot of things in my life today. Let me realize something I've been in denial for a long time. It's a chance for me to act on those decisions."

"You're suddenly very philosophical," Stella teased. The mood was too dark, way too dark, but all the while very intimate. "So, what are some of the things you are, as you so graciously put it, allowed to do with this second chance?"

"I'm not too sure you'd want to know."

"Mac, I'm your friend. Of course I wanna know," she countered and turned to look at her friend. "It's not something illegal, is it?"

"No, of course not!"

Stella had to stifle a laugh at his expression. "So tell me. Otherwise, I'll bring on the thought police."

Mac stayed still and quiet, his expression turning from teasing to seriousness. Stella let him. She had known him for a long time, and she knew when to give him space; now was one of those times. Of course she was curious about what Mac had to say, but she knew he was a deeply private person and opening up like he had tonight had cost him. She was willing to let him off the hook should he choose to.

Apparently, he was willing to delve deeper, "You're sure? Absolutely sure?"

"Only if you are, Mac," she confirmed softly, waiting to get to know Mac Taylor a little more.

He stood up and walked to the window, staring out into the night lights that made up New York City. "I've decided to finally let Claire go and start living my life again."

It took a while for Stella to digest those words and left the full impact on their meaning hit her. She bit her lips, contemplating what Mac's decision would mean for his team, for their friendship, for ... their relationship.

He turned around as if to see if she was scared by his admission yet, and he found her eyes wide, staring at him, an equally serious expression on her face.

"You seem ... surprised," he commented softly.

"Are you alright with that? I mean, Claire has been such a huge part of your life, and she will always be part of you."

"Claire will always be with me, but in a different way," he closed his eyes as if to fight the still painful memories of that fateful day. "But I realized she wouldn't want me to be the person I have become. She had always been so full of life, so bright, and I have turned so ... dark."

Stella smiled at his chosen adjective to describe himself. Yes, Mac Taylor had closed off since that day, and she was glad he had finally decided to let loose that anger and hatred he had harboured for so long.

"When I couldn t let Claire go, I held myself back in the past and forced myself to forget many things that are happening around me. I forced myself to deny things that I wanted to feel. I had many what-if scenarios in my head this afternoon, and I thought, if I had died that morning, I wouldn't have died a free man. There's someone," Mac hesitated and swallowed, struggling a little to continue. The accident has put things in perspective for him, but he was still a private person; that wasn't going to change any time soon, "someone I'm having some intense feelings for. I'd regret it if I had gone and not let her know."

Mac finally turned back around to face Stella, and wondered if her smile of support had gotten tenser in the time he revealed his inner most feelings.

"Do I know her?" she asked, and waited patiently for his answer as he closed his eyes, the evidence of a internal battle waging inside him written clearly on his features. It didn't come. "Is it Jane?"

"No, not Jane," he denied. It was his turn to watch her, and he thought she seemed relief when he said that.

"Then ..." she started her question again, and this time, Mac finally had gathered enough courage to tell her the truth, to stop that tiny piece of pain from seeping into her eyes as she speculated  albeit in a clueless manner  about who it was that impacted so much.

"I see her everyday, and even when I don't, I dream of her and imagined her in my apartment lounging lazily with me," he admitted and saw her eyes widened. He hadn't really narrowed down the field a whole lot, but she must have read him through his expressions. She had always been good at reading him.

"Mac?"

"I'm looking at her right now," he finished off his declaration softly. It wasn't the most direct admission of his feeling, and it certainly was a far cry from being eloquent, but it got the message across. The ball was put into her court, so to speak.

If Mac's heart wasn't in his throat, her expression would have made him laugh. She stood in front of him, eyes wide, and Mac could pin-point the exact moment she had correctly decipher and confirmed his message.

"Me?" her voice shook uncharacteristically.

"I don't see another woman in here, Stella. Do you?"

She hit him softly on his arm instead of answering.

"Ow, watch it, lady. I'm still a man recovering from a near death situation," he caught her hand in his and feigned hurt.

"Knock it off, big guy," she laughed and let his other hand grab hers.

He grinned and pulled her against him. She stood toe to toe against him, her height sans her heels put her a few inches shorter than him, but she could still see his eyes without a problem. She freed her hands from his and threw them around him before burying her face at the crock of his neck. He leaned down and kissed the top of her head, nuzzling his cheek against her curly strands.

"Hey Stella," he nudged her softly after they had stayed in that position for a while in complete silence. "I revealed a lot about myself today. Aren't you going to reveal a little, too? To balance things up, you know?

She laughed and pulled away a little, enjoying Mac's arms around her waist. "What do you wanna hear?"

"Something like how you feel the same way I feel about you would be nice," she could see amusement in his eyes, and they were dancing for the first time in a long time.

"Well," she tilted her head to a side and put on a thoughtful expression. He frowned, and his hold on her loosened. Before he had completely let go of her, she leaned in, kiss his cheek softly, and whispered in his ear, "I feel the same way. I have, for the longest time."

She pulled back and looked at her with a full smile, "That enough revelation for you?"

"That'll have to do," he grinned, genuine contentment filling him up. He leaned in to kiss her on her lips before picking her up and spinning her around the room. "We'll deal with some other revelations other times."