A/N: Hi all! I'm sorry it has taken a time to post the chapter. I'll try to do my best, but guess that's not enough. Thanks to Lily for reading this piece. All mistakes are mine. A language warning! Hope you enjoy reading this!
Disclaimer: I own nothing!
16. She Flies With Her Own Wings
The 22nd of July, 2003, from NY to Portland
Danny woke up to the piercing sound of his cell phone. He looked at the time, frowning. His only day off from work and it was the boss calling. The woman beside him frowned, waking up, too.
"Messer," he replied.
He got a little paler as he listened to the speaker. When he ended the call he rose up from the bed and vanished into the bathroom. He needed to cool off with cold water.
When he got back, fully dressed, the woman sat at the edge of the bed, sheet covering her body.
"You got a call?" she asked.
Danny nodded and explained the situation.
"Yeah," Danny chucked. "Our new boss is gone, too. So guess who's in charge now, Montana."
The bed was left unmade as the couple rose from it quickly. Hearts hammering in their chests, they rushed out from Danny's apartment.
In the early hours of the morning, Stella drove on the very familiar road in Portland. She slowed down the speed as the view revealed the cottage and its garden. She loved the place and how it offered her the shelter she needed. It offered her a home. Smiling at the memories, she thought about Vera. She believed that the girl, too, considered the place as her home. Kingdom of dragonflies. That was the name she and her friend Eli had given to this place. Close by the lake, hidden from the main road, sheltered by the huge oaks, large yard, it created the atmosphere that this was the only place in the world.
She saw a black SUV parked in the yard. It brought her back to the moment. She took a shaky breath, afraid of meeting Mac. Her heart hammered against her ribs, and the wave of nausea hit her more than once. Calm down, she said to herself, reminding herself that she had been in way more awful situations than this.
After parking her car next to the other, she witnessed Trick jogging toward her as she got out of the vehicle; barking loudly but waving his tail. He was an old dog now, very dear to them all. Stella kneeled down and almost fell backwards as Trick greeted her so excitedly. He remembered her so well. Stella controlled the dog with soft orders and tapped his strong coat. She stood up and Trick ran back to the door.
Stella stood up from the ground and looked at the house. Vera stood by the door as if she couldn't believe that it really was her mother who was the visitor.
"Baby… " Stella breathed out loud. It had been the longest weeks in her life, but the longing was over now. There she was. Her daughter. The deep brown curls framer her face. Stella's heart shattered and tears filled her eyes.
"Mommy, mommy!" Vera sprinted forward.
Stella offered an open embrace for her daughter. Vera rushed into her arms. She held her tightly, hearing the brightest, the purest sound of her daughter. "I missed you."
Stella wasn't able to say anything for a moment. As she felt a wet kiss on her cheek, she pulled away to see the eyes of her daughter. She laughed, cupping her face in her hands.
"Look at you, baby." Stella kissed her forehead. "I missed you so much."
"I missed you, too." Vera snaked once again her arms around her mother's neck. Stella had no rush to go anywhere else.
The dog's barking captured Mac's attention. He was about to go out when he witnessed through a kitchen window Stella stepping out of the car and greeting the dog. He froze in his place. He didn't need to wait long to see Stella capturing Vera in her arms. He wondered how long Vera had stayed here. The mother and the daughter stayed embraced a long time before Vera turned toward the cottage and pointed to it. Stella glanced at the cottage, her face a little pale, quickly turning her attention back to the girl.
On his way out Mac heard Stella saying something in Greek. His heart crushed a little more with every step he took.
Stella noticed a man appearing on the porch. Vera glanced at the same direction.
"He told me he's your friend, mom."
Mac stood, his blue eyes directed at Stella. She swallowed her nervousness.
He knows. You don't need to hide the truth anymore.
"Hey, Mac," Stella's voice trembled. "I guess you've met my daughter."
"Yeah." Mac looked right into Stella's eyes. "She looks just like you."
She could see the hurt in his eyes. Her eyes watered, and she gazed down at her feet.
Vera looked at her mother and then the man standing a few feet away.
"How come you never told me about your police friend, mommy?"
"H— how do you know Mac is a police officer?"
"I told her the night I came here," Mac replied.
"Are you friends?" Vera persisted.
"Sweetie, we've known each other a long time, before you even were born." Stella said not quite replying to her daughter's question.
"You haven't visited us, Mac," Vera stated. "My friend Eli visits me, 'cause we're friends."
"Is that right?" Mac chuckled. "Guess things change from now on. What do you think, Stella?"
His words hovered between the grown-ups.
Stella gave a weak smile to Mac. "Guess so."
Mac headed toward Stella's rental car. Not asking if she was staying or not, he collected her bags and carried them inside the cottage. "Let's get you settled, then."
Stella watched Mac's s expression as he walked by them. She couldn't figure out what he thought. Instead, she played with Vera's long hair and noticed the absence of Jill.
"She's at the store in town. She's gone to see Eli, too. He's sick," Vera said as they followed Mac.
"So it's just two of us then." Stella smiled at the girl.
Vera puckered her brows into a frown of deep thought. She got that from her dad.
"No?" Stella inquired amused. "Why's that?"
Before Vera sprang after Mac she said simply to her mother. "It's three of us."
The words left Stella in her place, all emotions coiling in the pit of her stomach.
When she stepped inside, Stella saw that the cottage was just like she recalled it - warm and cozy. They walked up the stairs as Vera wanted to show off her room. They admired it a moment before Vera decided to go out to see that Trick was good and hadn't run after getting a scent of any wild animal. Mac came out of the room where he had put Stella's bags. Her room was between his and Vera's.
The seconds passed. The air was thick around them.
"Mac…" She began but didn't know what to say.
"Is she mine, Stella?" Mac barely managed to control his emotions.
Stella leaned against the wall, trying desperately to have something to hold on. "This isn't the right place…'
"I don't care. Just tell me. She has the necklace I gave you. S'apago."
S'apago. Yes, she remembered the Christmas night a long time ago. "I think you know the answer," Stella murmured closing her eyes but she couldn't stop her tears falling. Snowflakes played behind her eyelashes.
"Why?" Mac shook his head in agony. He had waited this moment, but for some reason he couldn't digest her words as the realization hit him. He had a child. He had a child with Stella.
"Why?" He repeated the question as she remained silent.
"Why what?" she rasped.
Mac gritted with harsh words. "Why did you come back? Why the hell did you come back after you so willingly left me?"
There was the moment where everything stopped. Her breathing, his heart beats, rushes of blood, movements of thoughts, memories.
I left you?
"Yeah, you did."
"I— I wrote a letter." Her voice was so strangled it caused goose bumps all over his body. "Didn't you read it?"
"What letter?" Mac didn't know what she talked about. "I never—"
He didn't get any chance to continue as Stella buried her face into her hands and cried: "Oh, God!"
She understood finally, after years of deception, what her ex-husband, Mac's so called friend, had done.
"What letter, Stell? Mac pleaded. "Please."
Then, she turned her flaming gaze toward him. "I saw you."
"I saw you with Claire."
"With Claire—" Mac was puzzled. "I never…' But he stopped short. And it was everything there, the shock and anger still after the years. He turned pale. The memory terribly clear in his mind.
"It was nothing…" the words slipped out. "N— Nothing happened."
"So your lips accidentally met and you decided to leave together? And—"
Leave together? No, Stell…
"— you accidentally cheated on your pregnant girlfriend?" Stella didn't know whether to cry or not. "That's nothing?"
Then she was gone past him, her arm brushing against his. He tried to stop her for she had got it all wrong. He needed to explain it that he had ended the kiss as soon as he had realized it had been a mistake. He hadn't left with Claire. He loved Stella.
She yanked away from his grip. Her eyes flamed with hurt of how it all ended. "Don't! How dare you play so innocent? You decided to cheat on me, Mac. How dare you say your words to me after what you did?"
Then, she hurried downstairs, and Mac was left alone with the haunting memories in his mind.
Stella didn't see Mac until it was Vera's bedtime. She didn't have a clue where he had been during those hours but she had been relieved that they had taken time to cool down. She had time to think and time to spend with Vera who couldn't stop telling about her summer and her friends. Stella smiled at her stories, enjoying her adventures just by listening to her and watching her silly expressions. As it began to darken, Stella prepared a meal that would have fed four people. But it was only two of them eating and chatting until it was Vera's time to go to bed. Just as they filled the dishwasher, they heard a knock on the door.
"Go brush your teeth. I'll be there to tuck you in bed," Stella said to Vera and walked toward the door. Her heart began to beat a bit faster. She took her gun from the locked drawer from the kitchen and placed it in the holster. She opened the door after switching on the porch light. She saw Mac standing outside, Trick leaning against his feet.
"Hey," he said with an uncertain smile.
"Hey," Stella greeted.
She stared at him for a moment when the questioning look on his face made her act. "I'm sorry, please come in." She closed the door to release the safety chain and opened the door for Mac. He and the dog walked past her into the cottage. Trick headed upstairs and Stella was pretty sure she would find the dog sleeping on Vera's bed. Stella bolted the door and Mac couldn't help but wonder why she made sure she had the double lock and safety chain on.
She turned to face him. His gaze wandered on her face to her hip and he couldn't hide his wondering look when he saw the gun on the holster.
"Jill called me to say that she'll be in the town. Eli's sick and she was asked to baby-sit him."
"Oh," Stella replied shortly.
Mac noticed the unwashed dishes in the sink in the kitchen and the delicious smell of food still lingered. He heard the water running in the bathroom and turned to glance at Stella.
"Vera's just about to go to sleep. I don't think the bed time reading will take long." She stopped and hesitated. They needed to talk. Then, she looked over her shoulder. "I'll be right back."
Mac sat a while before rising up from the sofa. What captured his attention was the laugh of the child. It brought a smile on his face. He couldn't believe that Vera was their child. Her flesh and blood. Christ. His flesh and blood. She had carried her for nine month and given birth and he hadn't had any clue about that. Where she was born, he didn't know even that. What was the meaning of her name, he didn't know that either. He became angry and took a shattering breath as he half-heard Stella read to Vera about the Greek Gods.
Restless, Mac made his way upstairs and followed the narrow light from the girl's room. He witnessed Stella leaning against the head of the bed. The girl was curled up against her chest as Stella had one hand wrapped around her as her other hand hold a book. Trick was curled at the foot of the bed.
As Stella felt Vera's soft breaths and noticed that she was sleeping, she carefully tucked her under the blanket, brushing hair back off her ear. She leaned to kiss her forehead, whispering something in Greek. Mac had heard that sentence before and he understood every meaning of it. He leaned against the door frame and the woman turned around. A loud gasp escaped from her lips and automatically her hand reached for her gun. Then, she realized that the man in the darkened hallway was Mac. But he had seen her action and there were too many questions hovering in the air.
Stella left a faint light on the night table as she didn't want Vera waking up in the darkness of the middle of the night. She chuckled lightly at the dog.
Mac studied her as Stella walked closer.
"You named her after a god," Mac stated and moved in the hallway, giving her room to close the door.
Stella peeked once in the room. I named her after so many other things, too. She smiled as Vera seemed to sleep so peacefully. Stella turned around and faced Mac.
"She is my life," Stella whispered her eyes glassy. She was about to continue her way downstairs, when Mac grabbed her arm firmly. He drew her closer to face him.
"Why didn't you tell me?" His voice was full of emotions, the agony still there, but his voice was softer, warmer. "Why?"
The mesmerizing green sparkle in her eyes made his heart ache with all the memories. He really couldn't understand it all. After years of being hidden, she walked in his New York office like nothing had ever happened between them. Like they were only co-workers, like they never had made love, cried and laughed together, like they were nothing to each other. All the emotions he'd tried to hide came down like a late morning lullaby.
"This isn't the best place to discuss it," Stella whispered her breathing uneven. Mac nodded letting her lead the way. In the gloomy light, he saw it, the thin scar from her shoulder blade vanishing beneath her tank top. He knew how low it reached. She peeked over her shoulders and their gazes held and met. He saw all of it, the things that would always live in her. Before they reached the downstairs floor, it was the scream that startled them.
Stella spun around and Mac was right behind her. The cry was only intensified as Stella ripped open the door of Vera's room. Trick tried to comfort the girl by licking her face. He leaned against Vera, panting as if he didn't know how to stop the girl's crying. Stella was at Vera's side instant, cradling the girl in her arms. Mac stood at the doorway, clearly hesitating whether he should walk in or not.
"It's okay, baby." Stella reassured. "I've got you. Bad dream, huh?"
The girl hiccupped and sobbed as she clutched to Stella for dear life. "I'm here now, Vera. Shh.. Don't cry baby girl."
Stella soothed Vera into normal breathing as she repeated comforting words. It had happened before, Mac thought as he closed the door behind him. He couldn't help but feel like an intruder to a family that wasn't his own. But then again, it was his family now. It was his life now. It pained him at the thought of how differently things would have been if Stella had stayed. He walked down the hallway into the living room and sat down on the nearest couch. He wasn't sure how long it took when he heard Stella's footsteps. She stopped as she saw him, unable to say anything to him. She headed toward the kitchen.
"I never cheated on you."
Stella stopped her task and faced Mac who stood in the doorway. Stella made a disbelieving sound at his words.
"I don't know what you heard, but I never cheated on you," Mac repeated.
Stella sighed and recalled the things Jace told her.
"We saw you."
"Jace and me. We were at the party."
"We faced some difficulties back then," Stella smiled sadly as he shared the same expression. "Anyway. I lost you in the party. Actually, I never saw you when you vanished into the restroom and I was accompanied by Jace..." She watched him and witnessed something flashing in his eyes.
He had doubted their friendship after witnessing them together in the bedroom the night Stella got shot, Jace inches away from Stella, seconds away from kissing her, his body shadowing hers, her tremble at their narrow proximity. Mac recalled the haze memory of seeing Jace's hand on her lower back at the party. The sight triggered his jealousy and how deep he got with darkened feelings. So deep that he had responded to Claire's kiss.
"… and I wanted to leave, but not before talking with you because I had something to tell you."
Mac stood saying nothing, so Stella continued. "You were with her at the balcony."
"I—" he started to protest.
"Let me finish, okay?" Stella interrupted him.
Mac nodded, waiting for her to continue.
"I called your name but it was useless as the music was so loud." Stella recalled the night that changed their lives. "Then you kissed her. I saw it. Jace saw it. I couldn't believe my eyes, Mac. I never…" She could still feel the awful sensation of seeing them together. "You hurt me." Stella breathed and was suddenly out of oxygen. She needed to get fresh air. "I'm sorry… I can't…"
She vanished outside and left him in the dimness of the cottage. She breathed in, trying to fade out the aching images not only about Mac and Clair kissing, but the horror she went through. She headed toward the dock, sat down and rolled up the hems of her jeans. She slipped her feet into the mild water, and the sensation made her shudder. She watched the soon to be tranquil surface of the lake. The moon lightened the lake's surface. Her breath caught in her throat, and she felt the tears on her cheek, and because of Jace she cried the most.
From the window, Mac saw her heading toward the waterline, sitting on the dock, slipping her feet into the water. He sighed heavily at everything. He never meant to kiss Claire, and had regretted it with all his heart and ended it before it got any deeper, but the harm, the damage was done.
The mild wind met his skin as he headed toward the dock. She sat with her back toward him, but as he got closer she peeked over her shoulder just to be sure who the approaching person was.
Mac sat beside her, but didn't say a word.
"He never played nicely, you know."
"Jace. He followed me to our home after I left the party. He said things about you and Claire. I believed him."
"What did he say?"
Stella took a shuttering breath. "He said – he said he saw you leaving together."
Mac closed his eyes. "I can't justify my actions, but you have to believe me that I didn't cheat on you. The kiss was the stupidest thing I've ever done. I regret it. "
The silence controlled the moment as she pondered his words. He spoke the truth, of course he did. He wasn't Jace. He wasn't anything like his best friend.
"I wrote you a letter before I left," Stella said finally and pursed her lips. "But I bet you didn't get that either."
Mac shook his head. "I never got any letter." He watched her profile." I searched for you everywhere."
He reached to touch lightly on her chin. Tears glimmered in her eyes as their gazes met. "You have to believe me."
"That's not what Jace told me."
Stella wiped away her tears. "When I left our home I asked Jace if he gave the letter to you. After I'd not heard anything from you, I contacted Jace, as he was your friend, and told him where I was. I asked him to tell you where I was." She took a little pause. "In case you wanted to see me and talked things through."
Mac began to see the net that Jace had weaved. "He never told me anything about you."
"I get it now."
"Why didn't you call me?" Mac asked. "Why… Why didn't you come back?"
"Because Jace told me that you had moved on with Claire when he came here. You hadn't even cared to read my letter," Stella stated.
"But I didn't get any letter—" Mac interrupted, but Stella spoke anyway.
"I was sick, hurt and haunted by the image of you and Claire. I got it. I wasn't enough for you. Our history was very different. I didn't reach your level. Our childhood and everything… Jace said it was better for me to go on without you and show no mercy on you because of what you did to me. And I believed him. I didn't want to hurt myself anymore. So I stayed here."
You were everything to me, Mac would have wanted to say but asked instead that if Jill knew about where she was.
"Please, don't be angry at her. I asked her not to tell you."
"So you stayed here. For how long?"
"Yeah. At the party I was coming to tell you about the pregnancy. I took the test in the toilet because I'd noticed the test in my purse. I never expected it to be positive. It was a shock to see the blue lines, but I never doubted my choice. So I decided to tell you right away, because I really felt happy and after all the severity we faced before I thought you would be happy too." Stella stared the surface of the lake without seeing anything. "But I saw you…"
"Jace lied to you!"
"Jace lied to me about many other things, too. He never kept his vows for one."
"Yeah." Stella shuddered. "He acted his part really well. He acted just like how a good husband should act."
Witnessing the true shock on Mac's feature, she asked: "What lies did he tell you?"
Stella remained silent letting Mac digest her words.
"You married him?" Mac rasped. "You married Jace?"
Stella nodded in the darkness and pulled her feet from the water. She was cold, and she trembled.
A lot of things ran through Mac's mind. If Jace had been Stella's husband it meant that he had been a father to Vera. Stella had a restraining order toward Jace because of his violent behavior. He couldn't form any rational sentence as he wanted to ask her about everything at the same time. He recalled the scar on Stella's skin. The one he saw in the locker room for the first time. He gently touched her shoulder, his fingers skimming her soft skin. She didn't move, and he wondered if she stopped breathing.
"Did he make that scar?"
"It was the night I told him I was leaving him. Vera was at Jill's, so she never saw anything. I was about to leave our apartment when Jace grabbed me from behind and… Uh…I couldn't do anything to stop him. He caught me off guard." She squeezed her eyes shut. "I didn't realize he had the knife until…" She could still feel the searing pain. Stella shifted in discomfort as if reliving it all over. Mac's hand slid down her side.
He blinked into the darkness, his jaw tensed. He knew that already as he read it from the police report. A stab wound from the shoulder to the back, a concussion, broken ribs… She put up a good fight. Mac fought back his emotions as the wrath toward Jace was about to boil over. I'm going to kill the son of bitch.
"…I woke up in the hospital with a severe concussion. The neighbors called the police according to the police report I read after it all."
In the darkness he saw the glistening of tears.
Eventually, she was drawn back to reality from her worst nightmare. Never again, she thought and tried to ignore the fear of the upcoming. She knew Jace was in New York, and probably was the "tourist" taking photos of the coffee shop where she was with Flack. She was certain he knew where she lived. She couldn't do anything but wait for his next move, but she would be ready. This time she wouldn't be alone, caught off guard… she thought about the man beside her, if he was willing to stand by her after all what they had been through…
"Are we going to be okay?" She tilted her head to look at him. She looked for uncertainness.
The time came, the past was behind them.
"We will be okay. I'm not going anywhere." He had the certain confidence in his voice as if he replied to her thoughts.
A single gust of wind sent her hair into her face. He captured the strands, looking at her for permission to tuck her hair behind her ear. He would have wanted to kiss her, just to let her know, that it was him beside her now, but it wasn't the right time. They needed time. He was happy with her letting his fingers brush against her earlobe as he tucked her hair back gently.
"Let me take you home, Stella."
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