A/N: Just in time for the Holidays! Hello there, my SMACked friends! I am back bearing yet another story for all of you. I haven't been online much for the past week – busy with gift-wrapping and shopping. But I did get some time off to write this one.

I just got a new Apple MacBook and I have been feeling Carrie Bradshaw, writing late at night on my bedroom floor or bed, working on this new story. I do hope you guys will like this. So, I'll stop yapping and leave you to it.




I know it's been some time
But there's something on my mind

A memo was passed around the lab last week. The department will host a party tomorrow to commemorate the comrades who died in the line of duty and the lives lost during terrorist attacks. It was pointed out in that memo that if you have lost someone close to you during those attacks, it's imperative that you attend that gathering.

Everyone lost someone at 9/11: a friend, a brother, a sister, a kid, a parent, a relative, a husband… a wife. As their lives are taken from them, their loved ones lives are taken with it.

From the moment I read the piece of paper, I threw it away. I will not and have no plans to go. All these years, I've been trying to forget… move on with my life. When I finally did, they're trying to make me remember. Is it enough that my first relationship in five years has just ended? Now they want to open old wounds?

I lost my wife on 9/11. Claire. Never did I imagine that when she walked out the front door that morning, it was the last time I would see her. We fought over a stupid thing the day before, made up that night and kissed goodbye as she ran late for work. The next thing I knew, they called all hands on deck at the World Trade Center. I saw the South Tower collapse right in front of my eyes. My wife was in that building.

I couldn't move from where I was standing. A cloud of soot and debris came right at me but I didn't run. Stella grabbed me and pulled me to safety. I wanted to run to the buildings and try to look for Claire. But I knew in my heart that she's dead. I remember not letting go of Stella's hand while we waited for the surge to stop, while we carefully approached the damaged site, while seeing the bloodied body of my wife being wheeled away to the morgue. I was still holding her hand while I identified her up until her casket was laid on its final resting place.

I cried. I still do, sometimes. But Stella never did. Not one tear came from her eyes. She promised to be strong for me. And she was. Stella held me through the shaking, the sleepless nights, the grief until I was able to stand on my two feet again. She made me laugh again with her stubbornness and child-like demeanor at times. I knew she was also hurting but did a great job of somehow hiding it. Never fooled me though.

Right then, the woman I was thinking about helped herself inside my office with the same note in her hand. "Not going, I suppose?" she asked, flopping down on the couch. I shook my head. "I figured. Well," she said propping herself back up. "I'm not either."

"How come? It'll be a dress-up party," I asked her. She liked those kinds of events where she can wear evening dresses and all the make-up she wants… not that she needed much.

"Well if you're not going, I guess I won't be having a date," she simply said with a smile. "I hate not having that extra accessory when I'm all dressed up." I looked at her with an eyebrow up. "You know, arm candy! Women can have them, too."

I chuckled. "Then why me?"

She leaned across my desk… her low-cut top sending dangerous messages. "We all know how nicely you clean up," she whispered with a wink. She exited my office humming an unknown tune. If I hadn't known her that well, I'd say she was flirting with me. But, no… Stella wouldn't do that.

That night, instead of going straight home, I visited Claire's grave. I was an unusually cold (colder than the usual November) night and I was the only one on the lot. I was thankful for the silence. I know, with this blanket of stillness, Claire could hear me better.

Once in a while, I would go here and just sit in front of her grave, with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of red wine. Then I would talk to her about my day, as I would do when she was still with me. I know she will not respond, she wouldn't tell me what to do, she wouldn't hold my hand when I finally break down. I just want her to listen, wherever she is right now.

I've been around enough to know
That dreams don't turn to gold

Just as I've suspected, Mac will totally ditch this department party. I know the chief added the 'if you lost someone' line to make him come. There have been two other events like this in the past. And ever since the first one, they have been making (hoping, actually) Mac would show. Everybody knows how hard 9/11 hit him. It almost killed him.

The chief begged me to make Mac attend last year's party. He said about giving him an award of recognition or something to that effect. And they were requesting him to speak at the said event. They wanted to applaud 'how Detective Taylor carried on, putting the past behind him and living his life again'. Yeah, something like that. If only they know how he got there… how we got there.

Behind that strong front of professionalism is a very fragile Mac Taylor. For the past five years since he lost Claire, something has been eating at him. It's something he refuses to talk about up until now. I've been with him – beside him since the Towers fell. He never physically let go of my hand every time we're together. Even that… I don't know why.

I know he's trying to his that deep inside, he's vulnerable. Mac is used to be leaned on to and people rarely see him in his worst. I have. They all think that he doesn't need anyone – after the terrorist attacks, he's turned into stone. A shell maybe, but not stone.

Does he cry? Absolutely! Real men cry – and he's an example to that. He won't admit to it but I can count with both my hands and feet how many of my shirts he stained with his tears. He cries to me… but not with me. He needs strength and in those times, I'm his strength.

I'd be lying if I say that I do not have 'more than friends' feelings towards Mac. I mean after all, we've known each other for ten years and I've seen him in his highs and lows. We have somewhat an intimate relationship – not in a physical degree though. There have been trivial flirting between us; and being a prude that he sometimes is, I'm sure he doesn't see it. But from my end, I get a kick out of watching him turn a tinge of pink.

When he left after shift that day, I knew where he's heading. He might come to me when he needs to talk out something. But when he needs someone just to listen, he goes to her… Claire. He'll have red wine or champagne, two glasses and a bunch of flowers with him and he'll sit by her grave all by himself, talking and drinking until the bottle's half-empty.

How did I know? Well, when he knows he's tipsy, I'm the first one he calls to drive him home. I found out early that I'm the first one on his speed dial. This has happened more times than there are numbers on a calendar. Those nights would end up with crying himself to sleep on the couch with some Mexican soap opera droning in the background. After I tuck him in… it'll be my turn to cry.

Just two weeks ago, he broke up with his girlfriend Dr. Peyton Driscoll. He called me, wanting to talk. It broke my heart hearing how he found it hard to give his all to the relationship while finding it easy to let her go. I couldn't tell him that it's true with every relationship he has. Plus, he's too blind to see the people who want to help him… to be with him.

I guess, I've known him enough to know that I'm not right for him. As a replacement for Claire. As his other half. He's too much for me and I'm not enough for him. Yet it seems as though I'm one of the important persons in his life. There isn't a special moment in his life that he spent without me ever since we met. And if that's all I'm getting, then I'm thankful for it.

By the way, I have a CSI:Miami question. How old is Ray Jr. in season 5? I have a Horatio/Yelina idea in my head. I can't wait to start on it but I can't until I have that information.

This story is inspired by Whitney Houston's song "Where Do Broken Hearts Go".

Happy Holidays and have a Merry 2007!