Author's Note:

I have not abandoned my other fic, but this one insisted that it be written instead of the one that I was working on. Now that I have cleared it from my brain I can continue on the other. Please enjoy!

Over the year Mac had spent too much time in the hospital waiting room. Waiting to interview witnesses, waiting to process victims, waiting for evidence from doctors, waiting for news of his wife, waiting for Don to wake up. Waiting for comrades in arms, colleagues, and friends. Waiting for loved ones. No matter the time of day, he was never alone. There were others that waited with him. Strangers united together in worry, united in fear, united in tragedy. Each person's face told their story. Some sat still like statues, others paced the hallway. Others wept openly while others remained silent. For some they found comfort in the familiar clicking of rosary beads, others in fervently whispered prayers. When the doors to the operating suite opened all eyes would turn to see who was next to receive word. Words of comfort, words of tragedy, words of hope, words of uncertainty. For some, they would be ushered through the doors, others would be sent back to wait. Mac was the silent, sphinx-like type. The one that contemplated watched the others and waited. He glanced down at his own hands, turning them palm up in his lap. Thick white bandages swathed his right hand, covering the three inch deep cut in the palm of his hand. The ER doctor had insisted on stitching it closed before he would let him out of the room. The white bandages stood out in stark contrast to the dark grey of his suit beneath and the darker stains on his shirt sleeves and suit jacket. Blood, dried on his sleeves. His blood, but her blood, too. Too much blood. Soaked through to his cuffs of his shirt, a sticky reminder of a day gone tragically wrong not once but twice.

The plastic chair next to him rattled as another individual joined the group in the waiting room. He glanced over to recognize a familiar face, and after the events of today, a kindred spirit. Don Flack stared straight at the wall in front of them, not seeing anything except perhaps ghosts. He had escaped today unharmed. Physically unharmed that is. But there were the injuries that hurt more than ones of flesh that you couldn't see, except for the haunted look in his eyes. The two sat lost in their own thoughts.

"You should go home, Don." Mac finally said, his voice tired and without its usual authority.

"I'm not ready to do that yet." Too much had happened today. Going home would make it real. Reminders of Jess were all through his apartment. He wasn't ready to face the reality of life without her. Not yet anyway. Mac nodded his head in acceptance. When Claire had died he had lived at the lab. It was easier than facing a home full memories, but empty of life.

"How's Sheldon?" Mac asked finally.

"Few stitches and some rest. Bullet grazed him. Sid stayed with him, he said he'll take him home when he's done."

"And Danny and Lindsay?"

"A few bruises and some scratches from the glass. They're already home."

"Adam?"

"Out of surgery. When I left his family was with him."

Don didn't ask the final question, the one about the final member of the team. The one whose fate was most uncertain, who even now still lay in surgery. There had been too much blood today. Jess's blood staining his shirt this morning, the brown-red stain covering half his shirt. He glanced down at his jacket and saw more blood. This time Stella's. Blood on his jacket, blood on Mac.

He had been sitting at the bar, only half hearing Stella's eulogy of Jess. The beer bottle in front of him had his attention, and he had been only vaguely aware of the presence of friends around him. In a moment the world had exploded around him, glass shattering around him, people screaming, and the sound of gunfire. Before he could react a weight had been thrown against him, pushing him to the floor in a tangle of bar stools, and glass. The wind knocked out of him he laid there too shocked to move. What happened next had gone by in a blur. Lindsay calling for assistance and the ambulance, the patrons screaming, the crunch of glass underfoot as people began moving around. Mac was over him in an instant, calling out to Stella who wasn't moving. He remembered her warm blood spilling onto his jacket, the moment surreal as if he was watching from a long way away. Franticly, Mac had searched for the injury, calling out to Stella to stay with him. Don had the oddest sensation watching Mac with Stella as if seeing himself this morning with Jess. Next he remembered Danny pulling him out from under Stella as Sid knelt down besides his fallen comrade and started to administer what aid he could to her. The doctor barked orders to Mac to help him until the paramedics arrived the two of them climbing in the ambulance with Stella. From the other side of the room he heard Sheldon's voice confidently directing the EMT personnel to those who were in the most need of medical attention, a calm point in the chaos. In addition to Stella, Adam, two patrons and the bartender had been shot. There were a variety of other injuries, cuts and bruises to tend to as well. Don had stood there stunned as activity flowed around him until Lindsay had come to pull him outside.

"I can't do this again." Mac's quiet statement broke him out of his thoughts. Don glanced over at his colleague, his friend, a fellow damaged soul. Haunted blue eyes met hollow blue.

"I'm not sure how you did it the first time," Don replied, his voice choked with grief. "And I'd like to know. Because right now I don't think I can."

"I had her." Mac stated, the words wrested from his lips in anguish. The two sat in silence, companions in their own private hell. "Why are you here Don?"

"I promised Stella," he replied staring at the wall ahead of them. Mac shifted his weight in the chair and turned and inquiring look at Flack. "It was after the bombing. Stella had kicked you out to go get a shower and a change of clothes." He half laughed, " She said she wasn't going to sit in a room with you smelling the way you did. When you finally left Stella asked me if she was ever the one in the bed that I'd look after you. 'You know Mac,' she said, 'He'll sit there and blame himself, forget to eat, forget to sleep. He'll keep everything he's feeling inside until it destroys him. Promise me, Don. Mac trusts you. If I can't be there for him, you will be."

"She was right."

"Isn't she always?"

"I care about her, Don."

"We all do."

"I love her."

"I know."

Mac quirked his eyebrow at Don, this time in surprise.

"You don't spend five grand on a ticket to Greece for someone you 'care' about, Mac.

After an endless eternity the doors opened and a doctor came out with words for Detective Taylor. Mac wasn't entirely sure what the man said but the words, "Out of surgery" and "Asking for you." were the important ones that registered. Mindlessly he took the plastic bag offered by the surgeon and tucked it in his pocket, for once his mind not registering caliber. Numbly Mac followed barely aware of Flack following in his wake. The doctor directed them to a door with a smile and continued on his duties. Mac hesitated at the doorway. A nurse was working on the monitors next to bed, blocking his view of her. After a moment, she stepped back, smoothing the sheets over her still form.

Stella's hair was a tangled mess against the stark white of the hospital pillows. There was an unnatural pallor to her skin that was magnified by the harsh bruise on her cheek and the scrape across her forehead. Deep shadows settled beneath her eyes. The rise and fall of the sheets was so shallow that it was almost imperceptible.

"Are you her . . . family?" the nurse asked glancing uncertainly between Don and Mac not quite sure who to address the question to.

"Yes," Mac answered for them both, not bothering to enlighten the nurse further. She smiled encouragingly.

"She did regain consciousness briefly, but is resting now. You may sit with her, if you like."

The two men nodded, and settled in the hard plastic chairs that the hospital seemed full of. Neither said a word until, two kindred spirits bound together by tragedy. Mac reached out and took her limp hand in his and whispered words that even Don couldn't make out. As the pale fingers of dawn crept up over the horizon and spread to fill the sky the two kept their silent vigil. As the sun steadily neared its zenith Stella's eyes began to flutter open. Mac leaned forward and took her other hand and squeezed tightly, "Good morning," he said with a smile as her green eyes tried to focus on the face in front of her.

"You look like hell," She observed candidly as the words tumbled out of her mouth.

"You look amazing," Mac replied. "Except for the gunshot wound and the cut on your head." And in his eyes it was the complete truth. She was alive, and that was amazing.

Stella frowned and glanced down at her hospital gown. She tried to move the sheet and then winced in pain.

"It's probably best if you don't move. How much do you remember?"

Stella's eyes unfocused slightly, "We were at the bar. We were having a drink for. . ." she glanced and noticed Don sitting next to Mac. ". . .Jess." she finished quietly. "You walked in and then, there were gunshots."

Mac filled her in briefly on what happened afterwards and the injuries to the other members of the team. There was a long silence as Stella digested the information. Finally she blurted out:

"Whose going to process the scene?" Mac laughed at her reaction.

"Sinclair's there now with a team."

The nurse bustled in a smile on her face, "Glad to see you are awake, Ms. Bonasera." She glanced over at the two gentleman. "I'm going to need to do a few tests and to change the bandages. Why don't you go get a snack or a cup of coffee? I'll be back in a few minutes." She made some changes to the IV drip and the bustled out of the room.

Don stood up immediately and nodded. He walked over to Stella's bedside and brushed a finger against Stella's check. "I'm glad you're still with us, Stell."

"Don," she gazed at him intently, "Thank you." Stella glanced meaningfully in Mac's direction.

"I'm always here for you Stella." Don shrugged to indicate that it was nothing.

"Me, too, Don. We'll get through this."

"Mac said you were his lucky charm. I'll meet you downstairs, Mac."

Stella watched Don, and then turned her attention to Mac. "Lucky charm?"

"In the waiting room. . . the doctors weren't sure you'd pull through. . . I told Don I couldn't do it again."

"Do what?"

Stella watched Mac's face as he framed his reply. She had known him for so long that she could see his mind working, despite the drug-induced veil through which she currently viewed the world. After a few moments, the wall that he kept his emotions safely tucked behind fell away. He smiled at her uncertainly, and finally answered. "Loose the woman I love." Stella stared up at Mac blankly for a long moment, and then her eyes widened as he bent over and kissed her gently on the corner of her mouth. Over the years Stella and Mac had exchanged chaste kisses before. But before today, Mac had never been the one to initiate the display of affection. A slow smile spread across Stella's face and she stared back at Mac.

"I love the drugs they are giving me."

"It's not the drugs, Stella," Mac answered, a soft smile about his lips, the stress and tension of the last 36 hours receding. "A few nights ago you said you didn't need coffee grounds to know how lucky you were to have me." He paused, smoothing the sheet out with his hand. "Tonight I realized how I couldn't bear to lose you." Stella stared up at him, perplexed, confused, and hopeful. The world was soft and fuzzy around her and she wasn't entirely sure she was hearing him correctly. She squeezed his hand tightly, a solid anchor in the swirl of colors surrounding her. The only color that was steady was blue. The blue of his eyes staring intently down at her. "You may not wear my ring, or share my home, Stella, but you have my heart."

"I must be dreaming," Stella answered dopily. It was the only logical explanation.

"You're not dreaming, Stell," Mac took both of her hands in his and squeezed. "And I'll prove it to you when you're feeling better."

"I've always loved you, Mac." Stella confessed in the uninhibited way of the heavily medicated. "Did you know that?"

Mac just shrugged and smiled, "No. It looks like we have a lot to talk about when you're out of this place."

The nurse bustled back in and looked at the pair of them, hands entwined, lost in each other's eyes. She cleared her throat to announce her presence. Mac turned, noticed the nurse smiling at them, and then released Stella's hands.

"Behave for the nurse," he admonished her, tugging one of her curls playful as he moved away from her bedside. "I'll be back after I take Don home."

"Don't worry, sir. I'll take good care of your wife." The nurse told him with a sympathetic smile.

"Thank you," Mac replied not bothering to correct the nurse. The mistake didn't bother him as it once might have. In fact the assumption made him. . .hopeful.