I know that a few of my stories have Stella and Claire as friends but not this one ok? Just to clarify….Very angst-y just to warn you. Rating for events surrounding 9.11.01
Stella's boss was not really the type to get close to the team. He liked them, yes, but being the only married man on the team he rarely joined them for drinks or other after work social activities. With a wife like Claire who could blame him? She had only met her once, but Stella recalled thinking that Claire was perfect for the reserved man who over saw the NY Crime Lab. Despite fifteen years of marriage Claire had looked at Mac like he was still her knight in shining armor. The look Mac had sent back clearly indicated that he did not mind saving damsels in distress, especially if they had short blond hair and blue eyes. Stella had seen that look with not a slight twinge of jealousy; not because she wanted Mac, but because one day she wanted someone like that. Some one who would love her and protect her. Having no family made her self reliant at an early age.
That was Christmas of 2000. Christmas the next year was to be much different. One day in September, the world around them had literally come crumbling down when the World Trade Center Towers had collapsed. She and Danny had been going over some evidence when a sound caused her to look up. From their floor they could see the tower with smoke pouring out. Moments later they saw the second plane hit. Stella had not been able to stop the small scream that erupted from her mouth. The scream had been what attracted Mac's attention. He had come into the Lab to enquire about the results when he saw what had the attention of everyone in the room.
"Stella whAT THE HELL?!?" She had turned at the sound of her name and heard her boss' voice rise as he took in the scene out the window. He had turned white and tore out of the lab as if running from the horror. It was only moments later when she heard Danny's voice as he made the connection; "Shit. Claire works there."
Five days later there was no word from Mac, and no one knew if Claire was even alive. The phone system was spotty; so many people were making calls trying to find loved ones and friends you were almost better off going directly to the person you were trying to reach. It had been understandable to give Mac some time; was he searching for Claire? Had he found her and was now helping at the site? Or was he…? The lab was running on a skeleton crew and those still there were starting to get concerned by the third day and several were panicked for their boss by the fifth. Stella had made her decision; after her shift she would go to his place and see if he was there. That was her only plan. If he was there she would assess the situation and go from there. If he was not she would put out a MPB.
Arriving on foot at the building Stella had asked the door man about the Taylors. He had seen Mr. Taylor about three days ago, he had not looked good. Mrs. Taylor had not been seen "since it happened" and it was starting to be thought that she would not be seen again. Stella's heart had broken at the news. She made an attempt to buzz up but no one was answering. Finally (and with the persuasion of her badge) she got the door man to let her in and the super to unlock the apartment door. Steeling herself before she walked in she was still heart broken at the sight that met her eyes. The place was a mess and stank. Glass was scattered around the living room, picture frames on the floor lying where they had been dropped after being torn from the walls. Other debris was scattered about the place. If Stella had not seen the man standing at the window with dead eyes looking at the fresh voids in the skyline she would have thought the place had been ransacked. Leaving Mac to himself (Stella was pretty sure he was not even aware of her presence) she had gone to investigate the rest of the apartment. The smells were coming from the washroom and the kitchen. Something had been in a slow cooker and was burnt beyond recognition. Stella had a hunch it had been in there for five days. How Mac had had the presence of mind to turn the thing off she'd never know. Following her nose to the washroom Stella almost vomited when she got to the door. She was a crime scene investigator and had seen her share of messes but this was beyond anything she had yet to experience. There was vomit everywhere and she was wiling to guess that the toilet had not been flushed for five days. Searching the cabinet she found some Melatonin. Taking the bottle and returning to the kitchen she dissolved the maximum dosage in a glass of water. Taking it to the living room she finally made her presence known to the man at the window.
"Mac." She walked up beside him. He looked at her with hollow eyes. She did not have to ask to know what he knew. Instead she took his hand and led him to the couch, having the presence of mind to avoid the master bedroom. He was surprisingly compliant, following her and allowing himself to be pushed into a seated position. Stella handed him the glass and said "Drink this. You don't want to get dehydrated." Again, he complied without question or comment. He just continued to stare, unblinking, ahead. He downed the glass in three swallows and thirty minutes later, was asleep. Knowing she had about six hours Stella made Mac comfortable and went to work. Starting in the bathroom she systematically cleaned and straightened. Judging by the state of the shower Mac had been at the site, possibly looking for his wife; there was dirt everywhere and on the floor, under the bodily fluids were the clothes Mac had been wearing the day he ran out of the lab. They were covered in mud and dirt. He must have come home, turned off the slow cooker, and showered. She left the pictures off the wall, stacking them in a corner for him to see when he was ready. Finally she ended up in the kitchen and started a simple meal, allowing it to cook while she cleaned up the last of the mess. She was drawn from the kitchen by a sob. He was awake and weeping. Silently Stella went to sit beside him, pulling him into her arms.
As they sat there, one heart shattered, another breaking for people she barely knew, the phone rang. Ignoring it, the machine soon picked up and the voice of the dead filled the air "This is the Taylor residence. We can't get to the phone right now but if you leave a message we'll call you back as soon as we can." At the first syllable Stella had made to shut it off but was surprised to be stopped by Mac. "No." He sat as the recording finished, breaking down with fresh tears as another voice replaced the first. It was Danny. "Mac? Claire? Anyone there?" Rising from the couch, Stella picked up the handset before the younger man could hang up.
"Hey Danny. It's Stella. I'm going to need to stay with Mac for a few days. I don't think he's going to be coming in anytime soon."
"Anything about Claire?"
"We've not talked yet but I'm pretty sure the worst has happened. I'm afraid for Mac. He's going to need someone here for a while. Can you explain the situation to the chief? I'm certain he'll understand. If he doesn't I'll deal with him later. Don't let him give you any grief because of this. You're only the messenger."
"Ok. Anything I can do?"
"No. but if something comes up I'll let you know. I better go."
"K. Take care of him Stella."
Hanging up she went back to the couch. Mac had stopped crying again and was just sitting; the dead look back on his face. Hearing the timer go off in the kitchen Stella pulled him up and into the kitchen. Fixing him a small amount of food she set it in front of him. "I know you probably don't feel like it Mac, but you need to eat. Just a little." She felt like she was back in the orphanage as an older kid. Rarely had a child come in who had lost all family members but it had happened. When it did the Nun's had gotten some of the older kids to help with the grieving one. Stella had helped with two little girls. Both of them had reacted the way Mac was currently acting. Everything was mechanical. He did as he was told, eating his food as if he were on autopilot, not registering anything.
Mac remained like that for a week. The only time he had spoken was the one word that first day. After that Stella had made sure to get the phone before the machine did. That entire first week she was not completely sure Mac knew she was even there. Finally, when Stella had been at the apartment for just over a week, holding him when he wept, sitting up well into the night with him, he finally looked at her.
"She's gone." His voice was hoarse from lack of use and from hours of weeping.
"What am I going to do?"
"You're going to grieve. You're going to take all the time you need to get over her. It might be years but one day you will wake up and gladly greet the day. One day you'll be able to breathe again. But until then you're going to just survive. You're going to do what needs to be done. You'll work yourself to the bone then keep going. And I'll be here as long as you need me."
"Why are you doing this?"
"I don't know. I know we don't know much of each other out side of work but you are something of a friend. I don't like it when anyone I know hurts. I can't fix your hurt but I can be here for you. So here I am."
More tears. This time with words. "I loved her Stella. She was my life. Why? Why did those bastards take her from me?"
Knowing he was not expecting an answer she remained where she was, taking her hand in his, letting him know that there was someone there. That he was still connected to the living.
Stella stayed with him for a month. Two weeks into her stay he said he needed to be doing something and returned to work. She had been right; Mac threw himself into his job with a renewed vigor. It was as if he was trying to fix all the injustice of the world, such was his fervor. He did not sleep much, only when she made him take the melatonin at night and even then his rest was fitful. On his more restless nights she would sit up with him listening to him talk. Most of the time he spoke of his life with Claire. Stella did not mind; she knew Mac was grieving and healing. She could tell the road was going to be long though.
Finally, one day he said to her "I think I'll be ok now. You don't need to stay if you don't want to." It had been abrupt but by this time Stella knew him well enough to know that it was not personal. The next day she left, taking the few things Danny had brought over with her.
She and Mac had never spoken of that month, he had never thanked her with words but his actions were all the thanks she needed. Every time he looked at her his eyes spoke his thanks. Even now, some four years later, sitting at the counter of the coffee shop, hearing his voice as he once again spoke of Claire, and the injustice of what happened; explaining his need to recheck the evidence, there was acknowledgment and thanks in his eyes. Stella had not heard Mac speak of his wife since she had left his place at the end of that month.
It was the memory of that conversation that gave her the courage to ask him about his wedding ring later. His simple answer of "I don't want to." told her more than he meant it too. He could take it off if he wanted to but was making a conscious choice to wear the ring. He was done grieving. Maybe one day she would be able to tell him what he had come to mean to her since that month at his place. Maybe one day he might even tell her that he felt the same way about her.
Please R&R! I know this is heavier than what even I usually write but it would be nice to hear what you think, even if you hate it.