Behind her was a vision, a painful apparition
of a darker world that no one should know.

"That's not the point, Mac!"

"It is the point, Stella!" Mac roared, rising to his feet to become eye level. She leaned away from his desk and shook her head in disbelief. "The bullets don't match the gun registered to him, there are no prints on the scene, no witnesses to back up that he was ever there, a different color hair matted in her blood. There's more reasonable doubt than there is solid evidence at this point!"

"He told her he was her father, got her into his house, raped her, and shot her! Have you seen the look in his eyes? The way he talks, how he shows no emotion to his dead child? He's proud to get away with this, Mac! I don't understand how you don't see it. How can you not see it?"

"He'd never met her before!"

"And that's an orthodox reason to not feel for a dead fifteen-year-old girl? Mac, her foster parents told us she was going to meet her father at his place!" her fist met his desk angrily. "She really thought it was him but it was all a lie, the son of a bitch just wanted to kill her!"

"She shouldn't have been so naive! Just because he claimed he was her father shouldn't have sent her running! She should've brought her foster parents, a cop, someone! Just because she's an orphan doesn't—"

There it was. He'd said it. The word the two of them had tactfully avoided using for as long as possible. It had slipped.

The thin line they'd subconsciously drawn had just been torn and leapt over mercilessly.

Stella withdrew her hand slowly, shock shadowing her features in pain.

Mac caught his mistake and shut his mouth, remorse splashing over his own face. He opened his mouth but didn't speak, not breaking the eye contact they made.

"Stella, I..."

She shook her head. "I understand," she said softly, and turned to stalk out of his office.

"Stella," he called after her, but she either didn't hear him or didn't turn around.

Mac growled at himself and ran a hand through his hair.

Stella was always an extremely professional CSI, doing the job well and thoroughly. Cases she got too close to emotionally were always important to her, and though her assumptions almost always turned out to be true, he couldn't sacrifice the integrity and factuality of everything the lab did for stabs in the dark that weren't logically backed up.

He wanted to side with her, so, so badly, but his head was pointing in every other direction.

He wasn't too stupid to not realize where his heart was pointing him now, however. Shaking his head, he pushed the door to his office open and hurried out.


Slowing to a stop, he turned his head to the sound of the voice. Adam. "Yes?"

"Is Stella okay?" he asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow.

He didn't know how to respond to that, so he simply walked away.

Out the door and into the busy twilit streets of New York, now he had to figure out where to go. After Frankie, Stella never went home when she had to calm down, or when she was agitated—actually, she usually went to Mac's, but he was fairly sure she wouldn't do that now.

Central Park, he thought, and then his feet began to move.

When he saw her, he breathed a sigh of relief, though he wasn't sure why. She was perched on the edge of a bench, her hands clasped in front of her, her head down, staring at the grass. Dogs barked in the distance, children squealed as their parents tried to wrangle them home for the night. Cold air was beginning to shoo everyone into their houses, yet Stella sat alone within it, breathing it in.

As he walked closer, he wasn't surprised to see he hadn't startled her. Stella knew, she always knew. Where he was, what he was doing, what he was thinking.

He sat next to her and assumed a similar position, except he looked up and out, staring at the couples walking hand-in-hand along the cobblestone pathways, others sitting in benches and staring up at the clear summer sky, waiting for the first stars to show their bashful faces.

Mac inhaled and leaned back, casting his eyes over to Stella for a brief moment.

"I didn't mean it, you know," he finally said, his voice gruff. He chewed on the inside of his cheek.

Stella didn't look up, but he wished she would've. If not for his sake, then for the sky's sake. The reds and purples had intensified and blurred together by the horizon, followed by a patch of purple-grey, and then finally the dark blue, sprinkled with stars that had poked their heads out from behind the dying sun's rays. Mac always thought of Stella as a star. Isolated, but appearing like everyone else from a distance. Still, she found a way to twinkle.

He remembered vaguely one time he'd voiced this opinion in a joking way; he'd called her a "shooting star," she had laughed at the pathetic pun and squeezed his shoulder affectionately.

He rubbed his hands together and looked over at her, keeping his gaze on her this time. "Stella, I'm sorry."

Now she raised her head but didn't look at him, instead seizing the brilliant sky in her path of sight. "I feel so helpless, you know?" she murmured, her lips trembling slightly. "The poor girl... she just wanted to meet her family. So many false alarms, every... orphan," she spat the word out like it poisoned her lips, "goes through them. I did. So many times. When I was old enough, I started to go by myself. I didn't want to have to bring my fake parents to approve, if they were my real parents, I could approve of them myself. I wasn't stupid or incapable of doing this myself. Of course, after a few tries, I discovered this was a bad idea."

She bit her lip to stop it from shivering and pulled one of her sleeves down, revealing a long scar on her right shoulder.

Sympathy spilled out of Mac like a fountain, but he knew Stella didn't like it when he voiced thoughts of that nature. He couldn't find words, so she continued to speak, still squinting up at the dying sky.

"It's so obvious in this man's actions; he knows we can't get him, he knows we have nothing on him, so he's not trying to guard his reactions. He's so happy." Anger masked her face and she clenched her teeth and fists. "And I can't do a thing about it, Mac."

She'd finally addressed him, which was a good sign, but she was still trying not to implode, he could tell that much. When he turned to face his body to her, she finally looked at him, her eyes rimmed with red, her hands shaking the slightest bit. "And I know I'm emotionally attached, but Mac, you can't say that she was naïve. You can't say that just because she's an orphan she was being stupid about the whole goddamn thing, because that's the farthest thing from logical—"

He took one of her hands in two of his, keeping the eye contact strong and meaningful. "Stella, I don't mean a word I said back there—"

"I know we don't have enough evidence, but I also know that we haven't looked enough, because we can get him on something, I know he did it, and because of that there has to be something in this universe that can prove that. And you know what? I'm not going to stop until I find that, and frankly, I don't care what you have to say about it, I might be just a stupid orphan, but Mac, I'm not gonna let that define me—"

The look on his face silenced her ranting.


She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. When she opened them, tears were pooling along their bottoms.

"You know that when we argue, I get carried away."

She nodded.

"And so do you."

A small smile, and another nod.

"We don't think much when this happens. Clearly. But listen to me: I'm sorry. And, believe me when I say, you are everything but a stupid orphan. Anybody who ever tells you that can personally answer to me, okay?"

A genuine smile appeared along with a single tear that she quickly hid with the back of her hand.

As they rose from the bench, so fluidly timed that it was almost as if they were one, his hand found the small of her back comfortingly, and his lips found her cheek, just as they did one month later as they walked from the interrogation room, Flack leading the way in front of them with the merciless bastard in handcuffs. But that day, Mac's other hand found Stella's, and they smiled in the other's eyes.

Not an orphan, he thought, not an orphan at all. A star. A twinkling, shining, shooting star.

Songcred; "The River" Missy Higgins