: Mac/Stella
Rating Teen

Disclaimer: They do not belong to me so I will put them back unharmed in time for the season 3 premier

A/N: My first attempt CSI: NY story and my entry in the Geekfiction Summer Sizzler. Contains spoilers for the end of Season 2. Thanks to Joan and Miss Andromache for their help.

Prompt: Double Dutch

Mac let out a deep breath as he parked his car in the cathedral's small lot, tossing his badge on the dash and ignoring the small sign proclaiming the space reserved. He climbed out of the car into the enveloping heat and humidity. It was one of those surprising days in the middle of May when the temperature suddenly jumps 20 degrees to hit the upper 80s and all the children spill into the streets after school to celebrate the coming of summer.

A fire hydrant across the street has been opened and shrieks of laughter rise from the kids bold enough to play in the water's path. Well away from them, two ropes flash faster and faster around a group of girls, their low chant picking up speed. The entire block seems to have leapt from the pages of a book full of black and white photos titled, "Summer in the City." On a normal day he might have been amused by the stereotypical scene that was playing out in front of him.

But this day, this week, this month, all have been far from normal. He might not socialize with his team often, but he makes it his business to know their sanctuaries; where each of them can be found at the end of the bad days. For Danny, it is a small pier jutting out into the river. For Aiden, it had been a park around the corner from her apartment.

This was Stella's place, weather permitting. A shade dappled bench in the corner garden of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral she should have grown up next to.

He'd known that this was where she would go after leaving the hospital. He would have followed sooner, but someone who knew the full story needed to be around when Flack's sister arrived from Virginia. So he'd stayed and held Don's hand until she had arrived to take his place.

Stella had a three hour head start on him, but as Mac skirted the building, he could see her, still sitting quietly on her bench. As he neared, he could see the tears running down her face as she stared blankly ahead, ignoring the joyful sounds around her. Neither of them spoke as he approached her, though he can tell when she has sensed and recognized him by the subtle tightening and relaxing of her shoulders.

He sits down next to her, not quite close enough to touch. He's not big on touch; he can't afford to be with Stella. She's so kinesthetic that he's often afraid that by touch alone she could figure him out, dig up all the parts of himself that he has been forced to bury over the years. But that part of Stella isn't here. Right now she's too distracted, too caught up in her own inner battles to notice his, or so he thinks. So he compromises, placing his hand down in the space between them, offering himself to her.

Not long after her fingers brush his lightly and he turns his hand over to link them together, squeezing gently.

He's unsure how long they sit like that, each staring out at the world, unseeing, lost in their own private thoughts. The heat is seeping out of the air and children are beginning to be called home before she speaks.

"It's not supposed to happen to us."

Her voice is rusty and choked from hours of disuse and tears, but he understands her perfectly. They see horrible things every day in their job. But they can block it out; distance themselves from it, because incidents like this don't happen to them.

He wasn't supposed to have to collect evidence from a crime scene in his best friend's home, or interrogate one of his team members as a suspect. His people weren't supposed to give their lives so that he could finally catch the one who always got away. He wasn't supposed to have had his hands inside another man's chest ever again. Of course, the day the planes had crashed into the Towers he'd learned that 'supposed to' meant nothing. It was a lesson he hadn't wanted to learn again.

He remains quiet, trying to pull himself out of his memories, as Stella sighs, swiping at the tear tracks with her free hand. She surprises him by moving closer and resting her head on his shoulder. He watches out of the corner of his eyes as her eyes drift shut and fights the temptation to loop his arm around her instead of leaving it squished uncomfortably between them.

There are no children left to protest by the time a fireman arrives to close up the hydrant. The squeak of metal on metal wakes Mac's sleeping partner. As the fireman drives away, leaving them alone, Mac pulls Stella to her feet. He looks her fully in the face for the first time since his arrival and notes that some of the strain of the past few weeks has eased. The sadness remains behind her eyes and he knows that tomorrow while he visits Claire's grave, Stella will be at St. Basil's relearning how to laugh from children who have seen too much in their short lives. He steps closer and hugs her briefly.

"Come on, I'll drive you home."

He pulls away, the soft tug on his hand reminding him that they are still connected. As he stares at their fingers, laced together, he realizes that he too is more relaxed than he's been in weeks and he wonders…

Whendid Stella become his sanctuary?