a/n: with the fifth season premiering this week, I just wanted to get some more "smacked" stuff done before it drifts too far away from the canon. So this is basically one of those, "what-if?" scenarios, takes place throughout the series, with a few spoilers here and there. Oh and please forgive the obvious Lewis Carrol reference. Thanks.
It was unreal.
I felt like Alice, only more human. Alice, didn't seem to mind free-falling, or conversing with inanimate objects, or becoming utterly displaced in some surreal, other-world. I couldn't say the same for myself.
I've never had a problem with hospitals. In fact, I find the immaculate white to be strangely comforting. There are no dark corners in hospital rooms. There's huge windows looking out over the narrow streets, purple NYU flags fluttering in the wind. There's bright lights overhead for some people. But not for me, not tonight.
I looked to Flack, undoubtedly tense in what might have been the most comfortable chair in existence and decided that this standoff between us, the self-obligatory vow he'd taken was utterly and entirely ridiculous.
"Don, please go home," I said finally.
He did not reply, uncommon for Flack, who was usually tactfully direct, especially with me.
"Come on, Mac's going to want to all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for tomorrow, " I continued, hoping that a reference to the job would shake the sense back into him.
Four hours, Don Flack had been sitting in that chair, comfortable or uncomfortable as it may have been, and I was sick of it. And if I played my cards right, I would have my way, and he would be gone by morning. That or, I'd just have to wait it out until the floor nurse finally decided to kick him out.
"Stella, it's no big deal," he said, sounding like himself, "I don't want you to be alone."
"Flack," I smiled for the first time that day, "I know. I know I'm not alone. I know I have you and Lindsay and Danny and-"
I stopped when I realize that I wasn't helping. He needed something more concrete than that. He needed to know that if he walked out that door, for coffee, for some well-deserved downtime, for anything really, that I would be okay. That I wouldn't pull my knees up to my chest and hug myself the way I had when they'd first brought me in here.
I couldn't guarantee that. Thankfully I wouldn't have to.
"I'll take it from here," said Mac, tired and nonchalant in the doorway.
I hadn't even heard the door open, and neither had Flack apparently, who looked mildly surprised to see the first-grade detective. There was an air of resentment between them, something that I wasn't used to seeing because there was rarely any contempt between Mac Taylor and Don Flack on a regular day. Except that this wasn't a regular day, and Mac, with his almost-arrogant gaze was irritating, if not insulting, after hours and hours of a medical examination that never in my wildest dreams had I thought I'd one day endure.
Flack had been slightly more empathic. He glared at Mac, and I felt the tension rise. Mac himself had that same challenging spark in his eyes, daring Flack, testing him even. Asking him to go on and say something.
But that would have been too much. I was too tired, and so was Flack.
"Listen, I'll see you tomorrow," I told Flack, whose gaze snapped almost instantaneously back to me.
I moved to embrace him, and was surprised when I felt every muscle in my body relax at the contact. I'd intended for it to be just a simple message of appreciation, but Flack's arms were gentle and warm on my back, clad only in a thin hospital gown. It felt like family.
"Take care of yourself, Stella," he said in his regular tone, strong and unwavering.
"I will," I promised.
If not for myself, then for him.
I was stupid.
That was the only conclusion I could come to the afternoon they discharged me. I was content to sit in the pristine waiting room and pretend like there was someone coming to get me. In reality, I enjoyed the sterile environment, and in a sick, twisted way, was not bothered by the fact that I was surrounded by dozens of families who were well... waiting.
It can be a horrible thing, waiting. It is for most people. Waiting for the 4:31 train on a Monday morning, waiting for a job callback, waiting at the orphanage for the dream parents that were printed on every goddamn Adopt a Child Today! pamphlet that floated around uselessly all over the city. And there I was, Thursday afternoon, in the waiting room, pretending that there was someone on their way to get me.
There was, sort of. And he was waiting too, outside the hospital at 7:30 pm when I finally pulled myself together and walked out.
"Pick a hotel. Parkview, done," said Mac jokingly, and yet without a smile.
It was nearly unbearable, "I think I'll just head home."
"Apartment is still a mess, so-"
"It's okay Mac, I'll manage."
I could sense that familiar pull of anticipation in the pit of my stomach beginning to build, and for once I didn't have the sense to brush it off. I looked to Mac to confirm that this was it – he'd just see to it that I got a cab, got home safely and then...
I shook the cobwebs from my head. It was pointless to think that way, to almost be satisfied that such as a tragedy had occurred, and that maybe, just maybe, he'd be a little more emotionally supportive. He was, maybe, in his own way. A rock, almost, holding together the loose pieces of me, of the city, of everything together beneath his weight. And I got the logic to that, I understood that if he broke his careful demeanor to be a friend to me tonight, maybe that would slow his investigation and cloud his judgment. If anything, I wanted justice, I always wanted justice. I'd told the nurse to be thorough, and maybe if Mac broke his professional air of concern now, things wouldn't get done.
But I really needed used a hug right then.
He had something better in mind.
"You need to take some time."
The brief spark of sadness in his eyes, overcome by solid black colour in the dim light, screamed Claire right in my face, and I wanted to break down right then and there.
"Are you sure you don't want a hotel? Like I said, cleanup isn't quiet finished."
"I'm a big girl, Mac. I just want to go home," I cursed myself at the contradictory implication of that line.
How could I be an adult and a child at the same time?
It doesn't matter. I'd won. I could see his features softening, his face becoming younger, an array of emotions crossing his face before understanding finally set in. It must have been the same for him back then, in the midst of the dust and the rubble, which is perhaps just me being overly-nostalgic. But tragedy just makes its way back to Mac Taylor, whether it be direct, or by comparison.
He hailed a taxi, not a hard task in the middle of Greenwich Village, but I was stupidly overwhelmed by the gesture. I even surprised myself in the process by squeezing his arm just as I slipped into the cab with only a little pain shooting up my spine. I was no less surprised when he got in right next to me as though he'd planned to all along.
I guess by now I really should be better at reading his intentions. I am for the most part already I know, but I'm almost proud of the fact that I can never figure him out entirely – no one can. It was the beauty and the mystery and the tragedy that came with being Mac Taylor.
The ride was regrettably a short one, and in the back of my mind I mused that my apartment would no longer be in the same pristine condition I usually kept it in. Not tonight, and never again afterwards, no matter how I scrubbed my fingers to the bone, I would never be rid of the blood.
I let the evening, the day, the past few weeks fade from the forefront of my mind, just barely allowing them to stain my memory for a rainy day to come, until all I was left with was Mac Taylor, an awkward cab ride, and an old mantra that's been with me from the day I aspired to belong somewhere.
Take me home.
It was four months before my apartment became hell once more, this time in a slightly more visionary way. I was nearly exasperated by the flames that wasted no time in engulfing the living room. Thank God for my sensitive respiratory system. He was there of course, within an hour, Flack at his side, full of concern and worry and, to my giddy delight, was completely willing to hug me.
So you can imagine how absolutely ecstatic I was when Mac Taylor did the same.
It must've been like hugging some flighty tree that they have to tie wires to in order to support against harsh winds, for him. Forget being upset about my home burning down, Mac was hugging me. I mean, sure we'd hugged before, but this was different. This was different because never in my life had I been so adamant in feeling like holding on, forever. It had been different when Claire was around. Claire was great, Claire was one-in-a-million, and Mac was the only person who missed her more than I did.
But Claire was gone now, and although that fact existed, it did nothing to take away from the jolt of guilt that accompanied the quick kiss on the cheek that I managed just before pulling away.
Before he had the chance to offer the coffee in his hand, I could feel the anticipation burning in my stomach. The emotion grew volatile, like the night in the cab, the silent plea, Take me home.
"So, I got an extra room... "