Title: Waiting Game
Author: Erin (erinm_)
Characters, Pairing: Stella Bonasera and Mac Taylor (mention of Flack, Hawkes, Danny, Lindsey, Reed, Drew, Rose, Claire, Joe, Aiden, Austin and Peyton)
Rating: PG
Summary: Stella thinks back on the rough times with Mac.
Warning: Through Season Four finale. *Written for Round 4 of prompt_in_a_box on LiveJournal. Prompt #12: "I gave myself to him, and took himself for pay. The solemn contract of life was ratified this." (Emily Dickinson)
Disclaimer: The original characters belong to CBS and the Bruckster.

Stella was going crazy waiting for Mac to return. Flack had called to say that he'd been found and was a bit banged up, but still kicking, and they were on their way back to the station. She didn't think to ask about Joe or Douglas or whatever his name was. All she cared about was that Mac Taylor was alive.

After everything they'd been through the last few years, Stella was sure she couldn't take much more. It was enough that Mac had to deal with the loss of Claire. Most of the world had moved on after the events in 2001, and while Mac said he was fine, Stella knew him far too well.

And then Reed showed up, following her around because he thought she was Claire. The boy wanted nothing to do with him once he found out she was gone, yet Mac was doing everything he could to connect with the boy. Anything to have that little piece of Claire to hold on to.

His first real date in years had been with the woman from the coffee shop, Rose. Stella applauded his initiative, but they both knew it was too soon. Mac wasn't one to show his emotions, but Stella could see that he didn't want to lead Rose on, so the date ended short and neither of them spoke of it again.

The team was Mac's family, and he would do anything for that family. When Aiden broke protocol and forced Mac's hand, he cracked a little more. Stella never told him that she'd seen him break the coffee mug that night, after everyone had gone home. And, now, they never would never have the chance to reconcile.

She still doesn't remember what happened that night with Frankie; not really. She knows Mac found her and she remembers wanting nothing more than to go with him after her release from the hospital and Internal Affairs. She didn't want to be alone, but she also knew better than to go with him. In the end, however, she would have been better off. She'd been up the whole night, pressed into the corner of her hotel room and cursing herself for not calling him.

When Lindsey's personal ghosts came back to haunt her, Mac and Stella did everything they could for her. She was a member of the family now, and they both knew that if she didn't face her demons, she wouldn't be able to keep working. Stella wasn't blind, either; she could see the sparks between Danny and Lindsey. She also could see that both of them were doing everything they could to ignore it. Even when Lindsey pointed it out, Stella refused that she saw Mac as anything more than a friend.

She remembered seeing Mac at his worst while they were waiting to hear about Flack. None of them expected Don to make it after the bombing, and Mac couldn't see much past September eleventh, under the circumstances. He went back into a shell and Stella did everything she could to keep him from shutting off completely. Even though they all saw him at the hospital, it wasn't until Flack stepped off the elevator at the station that 'their Mac' returned.

She distinctly remembers hearing the crack that "Mom and Dad are fighting" after one of their rows in Mac's office. She doesn't even remember what they were arguing about, but it was a doozy. They didn't speak to each other for the rest of the case, which was a rather difficult thing for both of them to do. Not that either of them would admit it, of course.

Mac was the only one who wasn't afraid of her during the HIV-scare. She had automatically pushed everyone away, forming her own little bubble. He ignored her boundaries, of course, grabbing her by the arms at one point and giving her a good shake. He knew what it was like to have a hundred different worries running through his head at one time, not to mention coming up with every negative outcome. He wanted to be the friend and she wasn't letting him in.

And then there was Peyton.

Stella had nothing against the woman, but she'd never had to worry about 'sharing' Mac with anyone before. He would always come to her to talk about non-work issues and, all of a sudden, he wasn't. Mac was happy, so why wasn't she happy for him? Sure, she'd smile and tell him how great it was that he was living again. But, at night, she would lie awake and wonder why she wasn't happy. She had no claim on Mac Taylor; he was her best friend and nothing more.

Of course, what was the saying? 'Friends make the best lovers.'

It was around that point when Stella realized that she'd fallen for Mac. And there was nothing she could do about it. She couldn't tell him, of course, because he didn't see her like that. And, he was with Peyton. And then they were hostages in the lab. He was so concerned with getting her out of the building that her brain didn't register much past the fact that, once again, here they were. So close, yet so far apart.

When he announced he was going to London with Peyton, her heart broke. He said they'd only be gone for a few weeks, but Stella knew Mac. When he fell, he fell hard. They'd come back married, or not come back at all. She wouldn't be one of those women who professed her love as a last-ditch effort to get him to stay. She didn't want to see the look on his face when she told him about her feelings and he didn't reciprocate.

She couldn't bear it.

And then Mac was back. Peyton-less and with a stalker. She knew when she saw him that something was wrong – and not with his love life. Mac Taylor didn't scare easily, so when she saw that he was actually afraid, she was terrified. And then she was pulled into Drew's game. He picked Stella to get to Mac; not Danny or Flack or Peyton, or even Reed. Her. Drew wanted Mac to suffer, and he believed that was only possible by threatening her.

And then there was the fire. He, once again, offered his apartment to her. And, again, she declined. It was hard enough for her to not think about Mac in any way but Mac, and she feared that staying with him until she could find a new place to live would make it even more difficult.

Lindsey told her, at one point, that she thought Mac might suspect something going on between her and Flack, which Stella laughed off. She loved Flack dearly, but as nothing more than an annoying brother. Of course, she did have to admit that there were occasions when the thought crossed her mind, as well, but he was still the brother.

Mac found her the evening after they closed the case, crying in the broom closet. She wanted to throw up when she realized the purpose of the hole in the wall. For being such a great investigator, how could she assume the worst and talk to the boy like that? The things she accused him of... she let anger take over and didn't consider that there might have been another reason.

And Mac knew that that wasn't what was bothering her; not really. It was that she'd been right there, the whole time. The boy was desperate for help and she'd missed it. Neither of them would know the notes were falling behind the dresser, but that was no excuse. Mac let her cry, holding her tight the entire time and telling her that it wasn't her fault; whether she heard him or not. Once she'd finally run out of tears, they stepped out of the closet and finished the paperwork.

When they found Austin's mother, Stella asked Mac to go along. She needed to apologize to the boy, beg his forgiveness... explain.

The Taxicab Killer struck again and Mac's walls went back up. He hated games and wanted to catch this one before they lost anyone else. Reed was there, pushing for information and angry that Mac wouldn't help. Mac was angry that Reed was making things up for his column and both of them were angry with each other simply to spite the other. When they found Reed's bag, Mac's world got smaller.

Once again, it was personal, and Mac Taylor was not a man to cross. Reed was a smart kid and, with his help, they were able to find him, the girl and the killer. Mac asked Reed to take a break from the blog and go home to visit his parents, which Reed agreed to. Mac's blood pressure was probably through the roof, but still he pressed on.

If Stella had the chance, she'd have killed him herself for the stunt he pulled at the bank. Leave it to Mac to put himself in the line of fire – just because the madman asked for him didn't mean Mac had to comply. She hated the fact that he walked in there, blind and helpless, but she also knew that he hated himself more for allowing himself to be played by Joe.

She was pacing in Mac's office when the elevator door opened. Mac and Flack stepped out of the elevator and were greeted by Danny and Hawkes, who told Mac they were glad he was all right. Mac nodded to them and glanced toward his office, where he saw Stella looking at the floor, still pacing. He made it almost three feet down the hallway when Lindsey appeared and gave him a quick hug. He threw her a smile and looked up again as Stella did the same.

Stella was frozen for a moment as she stared through the glass wall at Mac. He'd looked better, but he'd also looked worse. He gave her one of those Mac Taylor smiles and turned to Danny, who'd said something. Stella moved to the door and pushed it open as Mac neared. She gave him a smile and threw her arms around him.

"You pull that crap again..." she breathed and ran a hand lightly over his bruised cheek. Mac laughed and turned to look at his family.

"Well, you know me," he replied a moment later.

Half an hour later, Stella had slipped away from the group while Mac told them about what had happened once they left the bank. She pressed into the corner of the broom closet and closed her eyes. A moment later, she jumped as the door opened and light flooded in. "What is it with you and this closet?" Mac asked as he stepped in and pulled the door shut.

She laughed and shook her head. Mac raised a hand to his neck and stared at the floor for a moment. Both of them stood in an awkward silence for a few more moments before Stella took a step toward Mac. "You sure you're all right?" Mac looked up and gave her one nod. "Good," she said, placing a hand on his chest and stepping past.

Mac caught her hand and pulled her back, which took her by surprise. But it was the kiss he planted on her that threw her for a complete loop. Stella felt her knees go weak and she grabbed for Mac's arms, simply to hold herself up. Mac pulled away from her just enough to get some air and rested his forehead against hers.

"There's something I've been meaning to tell you," Mac said quietly. Stella breathed a laugh and leaned forward to kiss him again. They were definitely going to have to talk about this one.