Ten Days

And they were all born pretty in New York City tonight,
And someone's little girl was taken from the world tonight,
Under the Stars and Stripes.

Her eyes flicked to the calendar as she read the date in spite of herself. September 21st, 2001.

Ten days.

Mac Taylor had died ten days ago.

So much can happen in ten days, she discovered then. A person can do a one-eighty, or a three-sixty, or end up right back at zero again; that's what he'd done.

Mac Taylor had been elaborate. Unreadable, unbreakable. Each expression held a million more emotions than expected, and Stella had been one of the three who could interpret them. His wife had been another. The mirror had been the third.

And as they stood in the hall that day, the two of them alone, talking about something minor—the weather, a problem with the copy machine, last night's baseball game—an explosion had surprised them, and they had turned as one to face the window, watching as New York City's proud twins crumbled at the hands of terrorism. The unbreakable had broken. She read the unreadable.

He'd stood there wearing look so obvious that she had almost been shocked. Uncertainty faltered in his face and then he looked at her, as if asking silently whether she'd seen it too. Eyes wide she'd nodded ever so slightly, and then he'd disappeared as the building exploded into a flurry of confusion and terror.

That was the only time she'd seen him that day. Or that week.

And now was the tenth day without him at work—the only days he'd ever dared not show up. Everyone had been stunned into isolation from him, terrified to show up at his apartment or call or communicate with him. Because who could relate? Who had lost their wife and the safety of a country they loved so much all in one day?

Everyone approached Stella with caution at work; they knew the breakdown was coming. She'd known Claire well, but was much closer with Mac. His pain was hurting her even though she hadn't even seen it yet, and his absence was only salting the wound that she hid so well.

"Yo, Stella," Danny began, walking up to her. "Listen. We got a body." Finally, she knew he had added mentally. Since the attacks, nobody had dared impose on the awkward nervous peace that had settled over the city. It was almost frightening, as if everyone was waiting with bated breath for another explosion in the atmosphere, fearing Lady Liberty's sobs would heard all the way around the world again.

At this thought, tears pricked Stella's eyes. Someone had killed at this time. Did they know what was happening? Did they know how many had already been lost?

Danny almost recoiled, but instead reached a hand out to touch her elbow carefully. "Stella?"

"Danny?" she asked, her voice echoing back in her head, hollow. "Danny, I—I can't—"

"Stella, listen, it's okay. We can—"

"I have to go," she whispered, and pivoted.

Danny's sympathy was potent in the air, and she quickened her pace as if it were in pursuit of her. She didn't bother with the elevator; no, she opted for the stairs, and flew down them absentmindedly. When she reached the ground floor, she pushed past Flack, who called her name concernedly numerous times at her back as she retreated.

The tears came then, falling from her eyes and to the pavement. Claire had died. Mac's wife. And she, his best friend, had left him alone for ten days because she was afraid?

She moved faster through the streets, emptier in this span of time than ever before, the locals huddling in their homes for safety, mourning for the loss of NY, NY's gall.

It was night when she reached his home, and she wasn't surprised to find that all recollection of time had disappeared. Minutes, hours? How long had it taken? The rain had started falling at some point between point A and point B, and it must've been a while—her clothes were drenched, hanging off her body like weights, at least ten shades darker than they'd started out as earlier.

The tears had stopped, leaving her eyes red and bloodshot as they looked sadly at his door. She stood there, intimidated by what she was about to do. What would happen? How could she comfort him? If she hugged him, would he be offended? Everything was in a grey area now—what was she in his life? A best friend, or a painful memory associated with his dead wife? Mac hated grey areas; he was a man of black and white.

So black and white she was.

Knock, knock.

She waited. And waited. And finally, the door swung open, revealing a very tired Mac Taylor.

He hadn't changed out of the clothes he'd worn that day, and looked as if he hadn't set eyes on food or his own bed in the last ten days. When he tried to form words, he couldn't. He simply took a step back and allowed Stella into the apartment.

Mac was one who was borderline OCD when it came to his house, as Claire had been. There had never been a towel out of place. The contrast was alarming, and she instantly got to work.

Sitting patiently on the couch in the living room, he watched her with glassy eyes. She cleaned quickly and thoroughly, being sure to touch nothing but dirty dishes and things that could be washed and not forgotten. Anything that he might want of Claire's was left where it was. When she was finished, she braced herself against the back of a chair in the kitchen.

She wouldn't cry, not while he was here, remaining strong. She wouldn't be selfish. Instead, she stood up straight and gave him the most apologetic look she could.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, and took a step forward.

He flinched, but made eye contact again, allowing her to proceed. She sat down next to him and looked into his eyes.

His lips moved uselessly, and then: "I miss her."

The three words bubbled from his lips hoarsely, and she was sure they were the first things to come out of his mouth in ten days. His eyes were perfectly dry and clear. He hadn't cried.

"I know," she murmured.

He shook his head once, twice, and then harder, a third time. "No... you don't."

At this, he snapped out of his zombielike state, and collapsed into her arms, sobs pouring from his mouth like a fountain. And she held him close to me, rubbing his back, squeezing him as tight as she could as if to hold him together. She apologized to him—"I'm sorry I haven't come over, I'm sorry that this happen, I'm sorry, I'm sorry"—but he didn't speak, only cried, soaking her shirt even more.

The strongest man she'd ever known had gone to pieces on my shoulder. He'd died ten days ago with the memory of his wife, but he was here still, in spirit, in emotion, in body. Her arms were the super glue now, but when she had to remove them, how would he cope? How could he live with this guilt and this anguish for his entire life?

When he was spent, he didn't move, instead kept his head on Stella's shoulder. Eventually, he fell asleep there, exhausted from his comatose-like state for the ten days previous.

She lay him gently on the couch, draping a sheet over his fragile body. He was happy, now; in a place void of pain and death.

She sat on the floor, leaning her head against the couch, lifting her hand up to lace it with his. No matter how long it took him to cope, be it ten more months, ten more years, she would be there for him, no matter what the circumstances were. Because ten days away from Mac Taylor had been enough to show her how much life can change, how close she had been to possibly losing him forever.

She fell asleep there, resting her head against his hip, holding his hand tight in hers, and somehow she knew that everything would be okay.

As strong as you were, tender you go.
I'm watching you breathing for the last time.
A song for your heart, but when it is quiet,
I know what it means and I'll carry you home.

I think this is kind of AU; were they in the office during 9/11? if not, whatever. I don't care. I know mac has only taken like, three days off from work. So yeah, this is AU.

Songcred: "Carry You Home" James Blunt