He would never look at a taxi the same way again. Many New Yorkers wouldn't either. But unlike Reed Garrett most of them hadn't had the personal experience of being held at the hands of the Cabbie Killer. Only seven others could claim that and none of them lived to tell the tale. Tell the tale. That's why he had been chosen, a voice for the serial killer's message. He'd chosen journalism because he felt that the world had the right to know the truths going on in the world around him. It wasn't the first time his life had been endangered. When he was at Chelsea he had been badly beaten for his article on cheating. Never did he think that he would be the conduit for a madman's agenda. He thought he would be helping to bring the killer to justice through his investigating, not putting himself into his hands.
There was more to the tale than the ramblings of a madman. The rest of the tale helped bring the murderer to justice. It wasn't in the killer's plan for that tale to be told. As he lay bleeding on the floor, the world fading around him, he was certain that it would be the chapter that was forever unwritten. The world was going dark around him when he heard a familiar voice call out, "Stop right there! NYPD!" Mac's voice. The message he sent through his blog got through he thought to himself. He heard footsteps and the crackle of police radio. Hands were on him, checking for a pulse pressing on the wound that was oozing blood away. The pressure brought the pain back and his eyes popped open. A mass of golden brown curls swam in front of his eyes. The curls were saying his name. It sounded like she had something important to say, he knew her voice from somewhere. Stella. Mac's partner. She was talking hurriedly into her radio: something about a bus. Inside part of him laughed: Better a bus than a taxi. He tried to focus, but the room was fading again. More footsteps, this time heavier. The voice was saying something, and there was a deeper answering voice. The new voice was calling his name, Mac's voice he realized. Bigger hands pressed on the wound in his neck, the pain was back. "Reed, stay with me." Another, smaller hand covered in something warm and sticky, probably his own blood, took his hand and squeezed. Suddenly noise exploded around him, running feet, the rattle of a gurney a new authoritative voice snapping out commands. The world around him faded into black.
Reed awoke surrounded by the smell of antiseptics, harsh fluorescent lighting, and the beeping of machinery. He was aware of a dull pain in his throat he raised a hand up to touch the thick layer of bandages swaddling his neck. Awkwardly he tried to turn his head to see more of his surroundings but it hurt to do so. Gingerly he felt around in the bed, trying to find a way to call for someone. Before he could find the button a nurse came bustling in glancing at the monitors and making notes on a clipboard.
"I'm glad to see you awake," the nurse said with a smile. "I've sent word down to the waiting room. Your step-father will be up to see you momentarily."
"Step-father?" Reed tried to ask, but the sound came out as a croak. She held a cup out with a straw and placed it against his lips. Reed drank his fill gratefully. He shook his head to indicate he was done and started to say thank you. "Don't try to talk." The nurse cautioned him. "You've had a serious injury to your neck." She glanced out the glass window into the hallway and saw Mac striding down the hallway. "Here he is now," she said and gave his hand a pat as she left the room.
"Hey, Mac," he croaked as the detective entered the room.
"Hey," Mac replied, "Don't try to talk." Reed meant to grin but it was more of a grimace. The nurse had just said the same thing. "How're you doin'?" Reed half smiled to indicate he was as well as could be. "You're gonna be all right." Mac smiled reassuringly. "I need your help. I need to know what you remember. I know you can do this 'cause you lead us to him the first time. Here." Mac handed him a notebook and a pen. Reed thought for a moment and began to write. After Mac and finished his official interview he sat down in the chair next to the bed.
"I talked to your parents. They know you are okay. They're trying to make arrangements to get back to the city, but the Atlanta airport is socked in by fog." Reed shook his head and scribbled in the notebook.
Tell them I'm fine. No need to cut their vacation short.
"They're worried about you." Mac said, the tone of his voice indicating that he was speaking for himself with the word 'they'. He reached out a hand to touch Reed on the shoulder. "We almost lost you." Your clues are the only reason we found you." Mac's voice trailed off at the end, betraying more emotion than he had intended. "I need to get that back to the lab." He said standing and changing the subject one hand outstretched for the notebook.
Mac shifted his weight as he read the words that Reed had written. "They asked if I was family. It was the only way they'd let me stay. " He paused and slipped the notebook back into his pocket. Mac stood there for a moment, "There might not be conventional words to define our relationship, but I care about you. What happens to you." He turned to walk out the door. "I'll be back later, after I catch him." Mac paused as if he was about to say something more, but decided against it and left.
That night Mac returned to the hospital like he had promised. His team had caught the Cabbie Killer, thanks to Reed's clues, including the unusual scent of candy corn. Reed wasn't sure how to feel. On some level he felt disconnected from the experience, as if it had happened to someone else. At the same time he was itching for his laptop to update his blog. The rational part of his brain told him that it was probably the pain killers he was on. Mac spent some time talking with the doctors out in the hall and then finally came back with a smile, a duffel bag, and a wheel chair.
"How would you like to get some real food for dinner?"
Reed grinned and nodded his agreement. Apparently the doctors were satisfied enough with his progress that they were willing to release him. Mac tossed the duffel bag at Reed and waved him towards the bathroom. "Your clothes are in evidence. You'll have to make do with my gym clothes. They're clean, I assure you."
Ten minutes later the pair found themselves rolling out the front door of the hospital. As they neared the curb, Mac called out to hail a cab. Reed stiffened instinctively. Firmly, Mac placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "I was there when Don locked him up." Reed glanced up at Mac who was staring down at him with understanding. "It's over." A yellow taxi pulled up to the curb and the two clambered into the vehicle, Mac giving his address on the Upper East Side.
Reed shot him a look of surprise at the address.
"You're staying with me until your parents can get home. Doctor's orders."
They drove along in companionable silence for a few blocks.
"It's not uncommon for witnesses to a crime to experience nightmares." Mac finally said slowly. "I want you to know that you can always talk to me about them."
"You would know." Reed said quietly, his voice coming out as a hoarse whisper. Their eyes met for a long moment and a silent understanding passed between them. Mac had plenty of experiences to give him nightmares, between his days with the Marine Corps as well as his time on the Force. The events of today would just be one more to contend with.
They continued the rest of the ride in silence. Soon enough Mac was unlocking the door to his apartment. A fantastic smell met them as they entered the apartment. Mac inhaled deeply as he entered the apartment and smiled at Reed. "Smells a lot better than what they were serving at the hospital." Reed grinned in response as his stomach rumbled.
"Not exactly the ringing endorsement I was looking," a voice called from the kitchen. A moment later Stella emerged drying her hands on a dishtowel, her hair twisted up in a messy bun. "I'm glad you're okay, Reed," she smiled touching him gently on the forearm. "When I found you. . ." She trailed off midsentence and wrapped him in a hug. Mac met her eyes over Reed's back and there was no need for words. Both of them had feared that they were too late to save him, that all their technology and forensic strategies hadn't been enough to keep them from dealing with another tragedy. For Mac it brought back memories of finding Stella bloodied and unconscious on her bedroom floor, of trying to keep Flack from dying after the bomb exploded. For Stella it was Mac abducted by Drew Bedford and tied to a chair in an underground train station. Stella released him with a gentle squeeze and bounced back on her heels.
"Dinner will be ready in a few minutes. Reed, I put a bag in the spare room with some things from your apartment if you'd like to change."
"I'll show you," Mac offered as he headed down the hallway. "I'll be back in a few minutes to help you, Stell."
"How?" Reed started to ask as they headed down the hall.
"Your keys were in evidence, so. . ."
Stella finished chopping up the bell pepper and tossed it into the salad she had thrown together. She turned to toss the remnants into the trash when Mac entered the kitchen. The salad looked tempting, and it occurred to him that he didn't remember the last time he had eaten. Casually he reached over and filched a piece of pepper from the bowl while Stella was distracted. The sweet taste made him realize just how hungry he was. Perceiving that his theft had gone undetected he boldly swiped a second piece. This time he was smacked on the wrist, "Watch it, Taylor." Stella admonished playfully, "Theft is still a crime in this city."
"Says the perp wearing my shirt." Mac replied in kind, leaning against the counter. He reached over and tugged the hem of the red tailored shirt she was wearing, his tailored shirt to be exact. She moved to slap his hands away from her but before she could succeed he caught her wrist in his hand. Stella squealed in indignation. Her green eyes flashed and she brought around her other hand to push him away. Mac's reflexes were faster, and in truth he had anticipated her reaction. In a blink of an eye he had both of her wrists trapped. Her mouth opened in surprise to find herself pinned against the counter by Mac in his kitchen. She struggled against him, but her movements were token at best. If anyone else had attempted the same maneuver they would find themselves with a wildcat on their hands. It said a lot for her relationship with Mac, her level of trust in him that she felt no apprehension in her current dilemma. In fact, the tingling sensation that was spreading across her body had nothing to do with fear, or the warmth from the proximity of their bodies, but another feeling entirely.
"I didn't have time to stop by my place between the grocery store and Reed's place," she explained ceasing her struggles. "I didn't think you'd mind." Mac loosened his grip on her wrists but didn't entirely release her, either. He made a point of giving her an exaggerated once over. "Looks better on you anyway." Their eyes met for a moment a spark of something unspoken in the air between them.
"Thanks for all this, Stell," he nodded his head to indicate the dinner partially laid out on the table.
"I couldn't have you bringing Reed home without putting something in your fridge first. A half gallon of milk and cereal is not groceries." Mac grinned silently at her.
"Guilty as charged."
"How is he?" she asked a serious note creeping into her voice, tossing her curls in the direction of the hallway. A few strands had come loose during their mock struggle.
"The doctors said he'll be fine with rest. The wound was clean and missed the carotid artery." A few millimeters to the side and he would have been dead before they got there. The emotions of the last few days, weeks even, came to the surface and his posture changed. He released Stella's hands and turned to lean beside her on the counter. "He'll have an interesting scar. No lasting damage. It'll hurt to talk for a few days and he'll be in some pain until it heals. The doctor wants someone to stay with him to keep an eye on him." Silently she reached out and rested her hand on his forearm in a comforting gesture.
"You've logged enough hours over the last few days to get you some time off."
"I seem to remember someone there with me the whole time," he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close.
"It's what we do." Stella tucked her head against his shoulder, allowing herself to relax.
"Your boss said to tell you to take the next two days off. Something about logging enough hours over the last few days. . ." she chuckled under her breath.
Reed appeared in the doorway, a questioning smile on his face.
"Hey. You ready for dinner?" Stella asked slipping out of Mac's arms her cheeks coloring slightly. Mac made a small sheepish shrug as he stood back up to his full height. He found himself being shooed salad in hand into the dining room. The two of them made quick work of setting the table and settling in for dinner. Mac rummaged one of the drawers and found a notepad and pen for Reed so he could join in the conversation as it was. After the drama of the last few days they kept the conversation light, talking about the latest action movie and the newest episode of the hit sitcom on TV. When they had all eaten their fill Mac took Reed into the living room to call his parents, acting as his interpreter since he still couldn't talk very well. Before too long Reed was nodding off on the couch, the pain medication taking its toll. He shuffled off to bed with a whispered thank you.
Stella and Mac sat on the couch flipping absently through the channels. On TV Bobby Flay was cooking something that involved a lot of spice. A disaster movie involving a large snake and a tornado was on another channel. Of course all the networks were filled with coverage of the 'Cabbie Killer's Last Ride' which neither of them wanted to watch.
"I don't know if I would have had the courage," Mac said finally. The words floated in the air, out of context.
"Courage for what?" Stella asked, straightening up a bit and turning to face Mac.
"To be a father," he observed staring at Billy Mays endorsing his Sham-Wow!. "Claire and I had talked about kids. I don't know that I could have done it."
"You would have been a great father, Mac." Stella reached over and took his hand and squeezed it. "Never doubt that."
"I don't like the way I felt today," he continued, uncharacteristically talking about his emotions. Mac kept all his cards close to his chest. It was rare that he opened up at all. "We have the finest team, the best technology, and we still had nothing to go on. And Reed. Reed would have been the victim." He put the remote down and gave up the pretense of finding something on TV to distract them. "I warned him about what he was doing. Making assumptions. About Jimmy Comitis."
"He's young, Mac. In his eyes he can change the world. Not unlike we were at that age." She slid closer to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. Mac smiled a little at the last thought. He had learned soon enough about the harsh realities of life after joining the Marines. "We did find him. It's over."
"I don't like feeling helpless."
"No one does, Mac." Stella responded quietly her own personal nightmares of feeling helpless coming to the forefront of her mind.
"Sorry, Stella," he said softly, his voice turning rough, whether from lack of sleep or emotion it was uncertain. "I didn't mean to pull up bad memories." He snaked his arm around her waist and pulled her close to him. Stella took the opportunity of the unusual display of affection to snuggle against his chest. Her eyes were heavy. She was physically and emotionally drained.
"It's okay. They can't hurt me when I'm with you," she said sleepily as her eyes drifted closed. Mac shifted his position on the couch to settle Stella into a more comfortable position. He rested his chin on top of her curls.
"I'll always be here for you," he whispered into her curls. Mac's eyes drifted shut as well.
Around five in the morning Mac awoke to the unusual sound of the sink running in his kitchen. He tried to turn but was hampered by the weight of his partner with whom he was partially pinned under on the couch. In the dim light he could make out the shape of someone moving in the kitchen. The shadow came closer and turned into a Reed shaped shadow holding a cup.
"Nightmare?" he asked with concern.
Reed shook his head and pointed to the glass of water in his hand.
"Thirsty?" Reed nodded his head in the affirmative. He moved into the living room and sat down in the armchair opposite the couch. He sipped his water and stared at his, well whatever Mac was to him, contemplatively.
Stella was curled up on the couch, half of her on Mac. Her curly haired head was tucked right up under his chin. One hand was wrapped up in his shirt, the other flat under her cheek. Mac's arm was loosely draped around her waist, the other absently playing with the corkscrew curls that were splayed against his chest. The two sat there for a few long moments in companionable silence.
"Does she know?" Reed finally whispered hoarsely.
Mac raised an eyebrow at the question.
"How you feel?" Mac stared at Reed for a long moment. Reed's eyes met his stare unwaveringly. He could see the inner dialogue Mac was having with himself. Mac turned his gaze away first and looked at the sleeping form on his lap.
"No," was his only answer.
Mac reached down and wrapped one of Stella's silken curls around his finger. Gently he rubbed the strands between his fingers before letting them fall away. He smiled softly at her sleeping form before finally answering, "I don't have the courage."
"Pey. . ." the word came out as a croak but the understanding was there.
Mac immediately shook his head back and forth. "Not the same. Peyton knew it, too. That's why she left."
Reed opened his mouth to speak again but this time nothing came out. He moved back to the table and grabbed the pen and paper. After a moment's pause he began writing and passed the finished words to Mac.
I didn't think Stella was Claire just because she left your apartment that one time. I saw you together. Through the window that night-- at the coffee shop-- Sullivan's. I'm trained to be observant. Even after I thought you were together. My graduation, when I came for dinner, the Ranger's game. Tonight.
Mac put the notebook down on the end table next to the couch.
"It's not meant to be that way," Mac said finally, his tone indicating this was the end of the conversation. "It's late." Reed nodded, recognizing a dismissal when he heard one. He stopped and touched Mac briefly on the shoulder before heading back down to the guest room. Mac watched him go and found himself alone again with only his ponderings on his impossible situation.