Title: Right Next Door
Chapter 1 - Dust and Ashes

Summary: What if it was Mac's apartment that burned down and he takes up Stella's offer to stay in her spare room. What difficulties do they overcome as they work to find the person responsible for the arson? Tension, romance, danger and action. SMACKED

Disclaimer: I don't own Mac Taylor but I wish I did! This is a piece of fan fiction. It is written for pleasure and not for profit. The characters of CSI New York and any other regular cast and supporting cast members all belong to CBS, Paramount & Jerry Bruckheimer and Anthony Zuiker. All other characters are my own. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.

A/N: I have a lot of OC's in the story and the two that carry over from others is my NYPD veteran Detective John Sullivan, whose character was first introduced in my first CSI:NY story 'Liquid Death' and is mentioned in a few of the other ones; as well as my other reoccurring OC Dr. Ben Adams who is Mac and Stella's doctor in all my fics! SO since I haven't had chance to read every story on the CSI:NY board and if you already have "established" OC's with the same name please let me know and I'll change. But only if they are established (except Sullivan and Adams b/c they always have been mine! Lol).

NOTE: this story is only "inspired by" not 'based on' the episode with the same name where Stella's apartment burned.


6:00 pm

"Damn it Stella!" Mac's angry voice growls at his headstrong partner as they stand staring at each other in a small face off outside the interrogation room. "He quoted you in there and now he walks because of a mistake you made!"

"He backed me into a corner Mac! This wasn't my fault! That bastard is lying and you know it!" She stands her ground, fire flashing in her green eyes as she crosses her arms, not backing down to her partner and best friend. Over the years people who have worked with them on a regular basis have become quite familiar with the small heated debates that were usually held for the viewing public to see in various locations in their place of employment. Seeing the two of them squaring off over a suspect was never cause for alarm; at least not yet as they never let it amount to anything and were usually seen the next hour laughing as the best friends they were.

"He played on your emotions and you let him! There goes our damn case!"

"Well if you hadn't wasted time lecturing me about damn protocols earlier in the day we might not be here right now!"

"I had every right..."

"Well so did I!"

"Fine I guess we both screwed up and now the innocent people pay the price!"

"If you are trying to make me feel guilty..."

"Yeah?"

"It's not working!" She lightly hisses through clenched teeth, finally taking her leave as Flack walks up to Mac.

"Want some more bad news?"

"I just heard. Damn it Don, we had him!"

"I know. But..."

"It's not really Stella's fault, he played us both on this and won! Damn him," Mac finishes with an angry curse once more.

"Mac, we caught Ronald Cressley once before and I swear to you we'll do it again."

"We better Don or Thelma Ritco won't be the only one found lying in a shallow grave."

"Don't worry Mac, nice thing about these low-lifes, they like giving us another chance."

"We better get one!"

Mac offers one more look of angry contempt to the smug face staring at him with a penetrating gaze through the darkened reflective glass before he finally storms out of the precinct; heading for his office. His angry showdown with Stella still leaving his head pounding, and now he's left wondering why he got upset so easily in the first place. Part of him applauded Stella's forthright stance against the overconfident drug seller but the other part of him knew it was because of the murdered orphan girl that she allowed her emotions to dictate her actions; allowing him to walk free on a police technicality.

He raises his weary head as he's about to enter his office, spies his partner at the end of the hall with her back to him and frowns. But inside he knows tomorrow will be strained if he at least doesn't offer some kind of apology for today, for jumping down her throat so fast, when it wasn't really warranted.

So with a heavy sigh and a slightly elevated heart rate, he carefully makes his way toward her, waiting until she's finished with the person she's talking to before making himself known.

Stella turns to her partner, eyes him with a small frown before pushing past him into her office; Mac following.

"Mac you don't ow..."

"Yes I do."

"You were just being you," she throws at him and he offers a small wince in return.

"I didn't mean to yell at you in front of everyone and I'm sorry," his tense voice offers in regret. "That shouldn't be me."

She carefully notes his defeated posture and finally offers a timid smile. "Don't worry about it Mac, just say I told you so and be done with it."

"Never liked those words; they usually are following something terrible."

"I screwed up."

"Stella, I shouldn't have let you on this case and..."

"Let me?" She counters with an arched brow, her lips tugging into a small smile.

"Right. I put you into a tough situation so I'm sorry."

"Didn't mean to question you this afternoon."

"I think you did but you were right; I wasted time on...I guess it doesn't matter, he's free and..."

"We'll get him again Mac."

"I know. See you tomorrow," he offers with a slight smile as he turns around and finally takes his leave. On the way back to his office Mac reflects on their relationship; over the past ten years they had supported each other through various trials and afflictions but as the days turned into years, time not going easy on either one of them; they started to realize that their friendship needed to grow into something more; something they both seemed to want, but never finding the right words or ways to show the other that they were interested in finally moving past stage one.

Mac heads back into his office; slumps down in his leather office chair, filling his office with a heavy sigh as his tired blue eyes rest on the mountain of files waiting for him on his desk. He watches Stella pass by and can't help but offer a small smile when she finally offers one herself, followed by a wave and then disappears from his view; the promise to return to him again tomorrow as she so faithfully does.

With those few encouraging gestures, Mac finally starts into his paperwork, determined to keep his mind on something other than what other kind of trouble Ronald Cressley would be getting into.


7:00 pm

By the time Stella reaches her quiet apartment, her anger from the days events have all but subsided and she is just left with a feeling of exhaustion and anxiety. This case had affected her more than ones in the past; ones with orphaned girls always did. Every time she would come upon a new case with abandoned children she would question whether she was the right CSI for the job but never put forth any other outward emotions that would betray her anxiety of the situation; but Mac always knew. Even with this case Mac had briefly mentioned it, and she once again cursed the fact that she immediately shut him down, sending him away with the knowledge that she was tough, could take whatever was thrown at her and it wouldn't affect her at the end of the day.

Trouble was it did affect her; especially being alone right now after his kind of case. Her head throbbed and her heart ached as her brain forced images of the girls' sliced up body, lying in the cold watery gutter; a shameful final resting place for a child who had no chance from the day she took her first breath.

Stella finally makes her way into her kitchen, dropping the small bag of groceries onto the counter and wondering what it would be like to come home to someone warm and loving on a regular basis. She had put the terrors of Frankie aside but when Danny and Lindsay started to make themselves known as a couple, a small feeling of jealousy started to consume her; not jealousy over Danny in any way, jealousy that they were now no longer alone; something she feared she'd always be.

"I wonder what Mac is doing right now?" She mumbles to herself as she starts to put together her meal; a meal she'll share with the evening news anchor once again. "Probably at work and then will go home to sleep without supper again. That is if he sleeps," she continues her one person conversation. "I do worry about him."

Mac was her best friend; her rock; her pillar; the one man on this planet she knew she could entrust her very life and soul. Despite the fact that he was one of the most private men she ever knew, when they were alone and the moment was right, he would offer brief snippets into his soul; small times she has come to treasure. Much like her, his emotions were strong and sometimes that carried over into areas it shouldn't.

But try as she might to push them aside; suspecting him of this also, over the past few months, stronger feelings had started to develop inside her mind and heart and now she found herself wondering about him during times she never did in the past. What did he do before he went to bed to unwind? Anything? Play his guitar? How about in the morning? Much like herself, Mac wasn't a big breakfaster but what was his regular routine when he woke up? That is if he even went to bed the night before? What does he cook for himself? Do on his days off? Read in his spare time? Enjoy on the weekends?

It was questions like these that she now wants answers to and wonders what he would think about an invitation to something more informal? Dinner out? A drink after work? Casual lunch on the weekend? Stella finishes her supper, puts the plate down and allows her mind to wander on different scenarios she could actually see Mac agreeing to. In the past months, she too has felt that he wants more but knows how he feels about being aggressive toward women and told her at one time with all the hurt in his life, he's afraid to take the first step again in fear of being rejected for a third time.

A small smile plays upon her tired lips at that last thought. Rejected? Who on earth would reject a great guy like Mac? Peyton never appreciated him and now that she was gone for good, Mac was available. But if he was that afraid of rejection, she knows it will be up to her to make the first move, something she didn't mind in the least.

"A drink after work, he'll go for that, its non aggressive," she muses to herself, finally standing up and heading for the kitchen to deposit her dishes and then heads into the bathroom to get ready for bed. After filling her curls with detangler she heads into her bedroom, fatigue finally starting to win the battle over the days exhausting events. In no time her head touches the pillow, her eyes close, and her mind is starting to formulate the question she'll ask Mac to get him to start down the road to a real relationship.


10:00 pm

By the time Mac reaches home, his fingers are almost too tired to push the key into the lock and open the door to his quiet apartment. He finally succeeds after offering a small curse and then closing it angrily; needing a tension release of any kind. Too late to hit the gym or go for a run, he takes off his coat, casually throwing it over the table; knowing he'll just need it again for work the following morning and tries to unwind.

Mac slowly eases off his suit jacket, wandering into the kitchen to see whatever he can scrounge up for a meal. When he spies nothing of value, he quickly grabs a nearby open beer, taking a few hearty swigs of the flat liquid before slamming the bottle back down on the clean counter and then heading for his bedroom.

His mind still offering images of Stella's angry and then hurt expression following his angry outburst and he once again feels remorse and shame starting to consume him.

"She didn't deserve that," he huffs to himself as he takes off his dress pants, hanging them up and then reaching for a pair of black casual pants; hoping to catch the sports scores before he actually goes to bed. After the Marines, and especially after 911, sleep was something his modest paycheck just couldn't afford; especially after days like today.

He turns on the TV, slumping into the very familiar chair, tension starting to ease. His fingers grasp the remote, aimlessly flipping through the channels until he finds the right one to linger on. However, his mind is no where near the highlights from tonight's Baseball game.

He's wondering how Stella is faring after today? She always amazes him, even now, with her strength, energy and resilience to whatever curve ball life seems to throw her way; and she had been dealt her fare share. What does she do to unwind? Does she go out with friends? Probably, she doesn't seem like the type to just sit at home alone all the time, he tells himself. And while he'd like to think she's thinking of him, inside he doesn't get his hopes up. Part of the reason he's never pursued anything further than a strong friendship with Stella, his best friend.

"What if she said no?" He lightly asks himself with a heavy frown. If she said no, the friendship would be strained with new knowledge that one of them wanted more and the other didn't and that would be the beginning of the end he feared. His friendship with Stella was one of the most basic reasons he even got up in the morning; that and his love of justice and duty to the city he worked so hard to protect. But if he was honest he would have to admit over the past few months, feelings stronger than friendship started to grow; but as per his normal, he was too afraid to act on them.

"She's probably out," he mumbles in a somewhat sad tone; his voice echoing in his lonely abode. He looks around at his apartment and sighs; certainly not the homey place of comfort he wished it would be.

"Needs a woman's touch," he tells himself with a small laugh, knowing inside that was never going to happen; not realizing that in a few hours those words would come back to haunt him.

"I wonder if she makes supper for herself every night?"

One of the things Mac knows he misses the most with not having a good woman in his life on a regular basis, are the home cooked meals and upbuilding conversations at the end of the working day; a real reason to actually want to come home at night. As it was now, he didn't mind being in the office as it kept him from going off the emotional deep end; alone with his thoughts was something he never cherished.

"I wonder what her morning ritual is?" He asks again, only the face of the TV sportscaster offering a smile in return; one not directed to him however.

"I wonder if she ever wonders what I'm doing?" He can't help but ask himself. But with a sad laugh, knowing after today she's probably cursing his name, he finally flips off the TV and allows his head to slump back into the soft folds of the oversized armchair, his eyes finally close and sleep overtakes him for as long it was allowed.


2:15 am

A dark male figure stealthily makes his way toward his intended target, his heart racing, hands a little shaky, and a few beads of sweat darting across his dirty brow. After this many years of dancing with the beast he was sure he had worked out most of his nervous anxiety but his heart still races with fear that one of these days, this job will be his last.

He grew up with the smell of gasoline; grew to long for and find love and comfort with the toxic aroma, the intense fumes slowly eating away at his vulnerable insides year after year until he was finally told not six months ago that his body was officially breaking down and he didn't have long to live; weeks, maybe days. But he was hired to do a job and no matter his death sentence he was a man of his word and would see it through to completion. This is for Fred, he would tell himself each job.

Compassion and decency were never qualities that he had developed; virtue and honesty, never traits he aspired to; he hated mankind, vowing his revenge for a life torn away from a small child and forever altered at the hands of an ugly parent. He watched his father burn that day; the sound of sizzling flesh forever seared into his diminished conscience; but for the first time since his birth he slept that night better than he ever dreamed.

His mind quickly snaps itself back to present day as he remembers the call he received early in day.

--------
'Monty, this is Jake you still like playing with matches?'

'Yeah, where?'

'Here is the address.'

'Any particular target?'

'Apartment 67, Trent Allen.'

'It'll cost you.'

'I don't care. Can you do this?'

'When?'

'Tonight.'

'I'm your man.'
--------

He carefully makes his way toward the apartment, chewing his gum like it's his last meal on this earth; his fingers now fumbling with the matches in his hand; the matches that will be destroyed along with his presence. After dancing with the beast for this long, he considers himself a Master and Artist. Besides, these are regular people right? No one here that'll ever catch me, he tells himself. And so far he's been proven right. His mind has no concern for the lives he's about to destroy; the future's he's about to darken and the despair his actions are going to create. He feels contempt for anyone who dares to breathe the same air he does. He hates his meager existence. He hates everything.

He makes his way into the area he has spent the better part of the day getting to know. He knows he won't have much time when he enters the empty apartment, but is assured that he'll be the only one in there at the time. He quickly takes the spare key given him, out of his pocket, turns the lock and finally allows himself to exhale as he pushes the door closed, careful not to make another sound.

"This is going to be too easy," he mumbles, not realizing that the space above him is shared with one of the New York's best Forensic Investigators. He gently hums to himself as he readies his weapon and then starts to work, finally mouthing the words to the song 'Sunny came home' by Shawn Colvin, a song about a troubled soul in love with the outcome that fire provides; something comforting that his own family failed to offer when he was brought into this world against his own wishes.

'Strike a match go on and do it,' he whispers as he plants what he needs in the electrical outlet and then stands back a few feet. Within minutes, the faint smell of charring wires starts to tempt his nostrils, like a mistress, calling her lover back to her open arms. He watches with captive fascination as a faint orange glow is seen and then before he can be spotted, he takes his leave; disappearing into the night, offering only a haunted shadow on the darkened buildings that start to envelop him.

'Oh light the fire and hold on tight...the world is burning down'...his voice trails off into the mist.


2:35 am

By the time Mac finally jerks himself awake he knows instantly that something is wrong.

"What the hell?" He offers in a groggy tone as smoke immediately grabs his throat and forces contaminated air into his lungs, his eyes instantly burning. He forces himself out of the chair, his ears taking in the soft crackling of fire as he rushes into his bedroom, pushes the door open a small ways only to be slammed backward by a wall of searing heat; singeing whatever soft flesh and hair it can. Mac quickly reaches for his blackberry on his dresser, his fingers getting burned as they connect with his blazing gun and he turns on his heel, racing for the front door, shoving on runners and grabbing a hoodie; shoving into the pockets his wallet, badge and keys.

Mac rushes into the hallway, shouting at people to wake up and banging on any closed doors; rancid smoke starting to sieze his lungs as he nears the blazing fire. The floor beneath his feet is hot and when he nears the apartment next to him he can hear the floor starting to give way. Immediately stepping back a few feet, he watches in horror as a small hole grows beneath the door, swallowing up wood and drywall with an insatiable appetite; no way to get to his neighbor.

"GET OUT!" Mac continues to shout as he races to a small boy, picks him up and hurries after his father who is carrying the boys sister, down the fire escape stairwell, his apartment being consumed by smoke and flames as each minute races past. Mac drops the boy and heads back inside, helping all whom he can, not caring that he's now burnt his hands and fingers and filled his lungs with damaging smoke.

By the time he reaches the street for the last time, Mac looks up at the floor of his apartment to find it engulfed in flames; smoke billowing from the windows, the faint sound of sirens finally getting closer. His home; his life; his whole world up until now is rapidly being destroyed as each second zooms by.

"It's all gone," he hears another man beside him softly moan. Mac turns his ash stained face to gaze upon a father clutching his son and daughter to his chest; his single parent neighbor who he had helped out earlier. Mac offers a sad gaze toward the family before looking around at the building occupants who can only helplessly watch as their homes are destroyed by one cruel act of vengeance; a man he'll soon vow to find no matter the cost; a man who will help change his life forever.

Mac finally looks back at his own apartment and echoes he same sentiments his neighbor offered earlier. "It's all gone."


5:00 am

Stella's brain finally acknowledges that her phone is ringing and she slowly opens her sleepy eyes and reaches for it; offering a small curse as her neck slightly cracks.

"Don, this better be important."

"Sorry to wake you Stella, but I thought you'd want to know about Mac."

"Something happen?" She asks in haste, her eyes forcing themselves all the way open; her heart now elevated at the thought that Mac is in danger; or worse.

"His apartment burned last night Stella. He is okay but is in rough shape as I'm sure you can imagine. Lost pretty much everything. He's there right now and Jessica is with me and we are starting to canvass but I know you'll want to be first on the scene so I called you."

"And after yesterday I'm sure I'm probably Mac's least favorite person right now."

"Stella, you are his best friend and trust me after talking to him this morning, he needs you now more than ever."

"On my way."

Stella hangs up with Flack and knows he's right. If Mac's life was just turned upside down he would need the help and support from the team; especially his right hand.

"I'm coming Mac," Stella states firmly as she wastes no time in pushing herself out of bed and racing to get dressed. In no time she is out the door, heading for the nearest drive-thru coffee establishment then racing back into traffic, Mac's former dwelling her primary target; calling the team on the way.

By the time she reaches his place, the fire trucks are wrapping up and the seasoned fire inspector is just getting started. She flashes her badge and heads for Don and Jessica.

"Flack, where is he?"

"Still upstairs," Flack replies, a frown caressing his handsome face. "Just go easy on him; he's had one hell of a night, been up since about two thirty."

Stella offers the two detectives a frown before she slowly turns around and makes her way into Mac's apartment, her heart rate starting to rise with each story she passes. She finally makes her way onto his floor, notices the makeshift flooring that was put up where the fire burnt it out, and offers a sharp intake when the putrid smell of scorched wood, rancid smoke and chemicals start to hinder her oxygen intake. She finally reaches Mac's doorway and stands in place watching him, his back to her.

His posture is defeated, his hoodie covered with dirt and debris, his hair messed up, his fists red and tender, the cuffs of his sleeves almost missing; burnt off.

"Mac?" Stella asks softly, finally forcing her partner to turn and acknowledge her presence. Stella feels her heart shatter in an instant when Mac finally turns to face her with one of the most anguished expressions he's offered her to date; quickly swallowing back his sorrow. His face is covered with ash, blood and sweat and she can tell by the way he's standing he's injured something else but probably won't mention it right now.

"Mac I'm so sorry," she offers as she takes a few careful steps toward him, a coffee offering in her hand.

"It's all gone Stella, my life is gone," he replies in sorrow, gently taking the coffee and offering her a warm hug, holding on a little longer than he expected. "Sorry," he offers as he quickly pulls back, trying to wipe away angry tears.

"Don't be sorry Mac, I can't imagine what you are going through right now. Everyone get out okay?"

"No, they found a body next door. Sheldon is on his way to get started on this. We'll get Danny and Lindsay to work on the floor below. Inspector Davidson thinks it was deliberately set, but his team is on its way so..." Mac's voice trails off as he turns around once more, offering a wince of pain so that Stella won't see and be needlessly worried.

"Where um...will you stay?" Stella quietly questions. "I know you are probably not wanting to think about that right now, but as your best friend I have a small suggestion."

"Best friend's still?" Mac asks with a slight smile as he slowly turns around. "After yesterday?"

"Mac, even best friends can have a difference of opinion," she gently reminds him. "An argument will never change what we have."

"What is the small suggestion?"

"I have a spare bedroom that you can use temporarily..."

"Stella, I wouldn't even think of putting you out like that. I'll get a hotel or...or something," his voice trails off once again.

"Mac..."

"Stella, what happened to your no men policy?"

"Mac, you are my best friend and I think this extreme situation qualifies me to bend the rule this once," she offers lightly. "Especially for you."

"What would the team think?"

"I think they would think it's expected of me," Stella tells him.

"Pardon?"

"Mac you and I have known each other longer than most people we work with and everyone knows we are best friends and partners; for you to temporarily allow me to help you wouldn't be out of the ordinary, in fact I think it would be expected. I would be in trouble if..." Stella's voice nervously rambles on, forcing Mac to look at her with a slight smile, the first his handsome face has produced in hours.

"You can't do this alone Mac."

"Thanks for your concern, but I'll be okay," he huffs, taking a sip of his dark coffee as Flack re-enters the room; Stella reaching for her phone to call Danny and Lindsay for their immediate help.

"You okay?" He asks Mac in concern.

"I will be when I find the bastard that did this!" Mac replies in angry contempt.

"Just the one dead body so far, your neighbor, a Trent Allen, know much about him?" Flack asks.

"Divorced, no kids that I know of, works down at the docks; pretty much kept to himself. I didn't hear him even trying to escape, might have been dead before the fire started. Sheldon is working on that now. What else?"

"Not much else," Flack frowns. "Ian Davidson is waiting on Danny and Lindsay to finish up, but you know him and his team is on its way so..."

"He'll have to wait," Mac snaps in return; looking at his friends in remorse. "Sorry."

"Mac, you just lost everything, why on earth are you apologizing?"

"Just am."

"So, you going to be staying at Stella's or a hotel?"

"Hotel," Mac replies in haste. "And that's final."

"Ok-ay," Flack drawls as he goes to take his leave, heading back into the hallway to continue his discussions with any of Mac's neighbors who might have seen anyone suspicious, but he knows at two in the morning most people would be sleeping. He needs the ones on the street who were up at that hour and might have witnessed the elusive arsonist making his escape.

Mac turns to Stella who simply shrugs before she goes to take her leave. "Mac, asking for help from your best friend who cares a lot about you is the right thing to do. It's a sign of strength; not weakness."

Mac watches her leave and then turns back to the charred mess before him with a heavy sigh. He wants more than anything to be at his partner's side trying to solve this, but right now he has to figure out what if anything from his present life can be salvaged and what on earth his next move will be.


Stella makes her way next door to find Sheldon just getting the body wrapped for transport. She eyes the burned corpse and offers a deep frown.

"Can't tell right now but it looks like he was taken by surprise, maybe smoke inhalation?" Sheldon guesses with a small shrug. "Won't know more until we get him onto an inspecting table. How's Mac?"

"Angry," Stella replies as her eyes start to scan the surrounding area for anything that might seem out of place. "Danny and Lindsay just arrived and are going to work downstairs but I was just told that Davidson is going to be there with them so that should make things interesting. I'll join them and then catch up with you at the lab. I'm sure Mac is going to be busy with insurance and stuff like that but you know he'll want to be kept in the loop."

"You got it," Sheldon replies as he nods to the ME transport technician who carefully wheels the body outside, Sheldon following.

Stella continues to search the darkened mess around her, hearing Mac's angry voice in the room next door, not even able to imagine what he must be thinking. He just lost everything he owns; how on earth does he pick up the pieces from all this? Her eyes finally rest on a small burnt tin with foreign writing on it and quickly bags it as evidence along with a few other items. She hands them to one of the waiting CSI transport people with instructions for it to be given to Adam Ross, his new priority case to work on.

Stella slowly heads into the bedroom to examine it, hearing Mac's voice getting louder as he finally approaches.

"Stella?"

"In here," she calls out and he's quick to follow her voice, entering the room with an angry expression. "Sheldon is on his way back with the body and Danny and Lindsay are working alongside Davidson on gathering arson evidence," she tells him, finally noticing his hands and wrists, the swollen and burnt skin, singed hair and dirty nails.

"Mac you should have your hands looked at."

"They are..."

"Mac, they are raw, blistered and almost about to bleed. There is a medic downstairs. Please?"

"Fine," he finally resigns, knowing inside he's not going to win this battle of wits with her. In truth his hands are in agony but he can't show weakness; never has and wasn't about to let anyone know this situation has him near the emotional and mental breaking point.

Stella watches him take his leave and then goes back about her task of trying to find anything that might tell her why a supposedly healthy man in his forties wasn't able to get out with the rest of the building occupants. "What secret are you hiding Mr. Allen? Who did this to you and why?"


Monty Jamison hopes when Jake Burns sees his handiwork on the news that he'll be pleased; he remembers the feeling of satisfaction when he watched it burning from about a hundred yards away; his ears picking up the delightful screams of those trying to escape, the faint sound of those racing to help and the angry curses of those that never could.

To be able to hold fear and terror in your hand, offering them as tasty candies to the undeserving masses was reward enough for Monty Jamison. In reality he had come to hate his given name; daring himself at one time to have it legally changed but then changing his mind at the last second, choosing instead to live with the scar that would forever be his epitaph.

His father, the twisted bastard that he was deserved his fiery death; Trent Allen had wronged Jake and so Jake sought retribution. He knew of Chief Ian Davidson's reputation but tried to change his MO and so kept the seasoned fire veteran guessing at every fire scene. However, he knew one of these days Davidson would stop him; it was that thrill that fed him.

Monty walks over to his small table, taking the bottle of golden poison and downing a few hearty gulps before lightly gasping for air as the alcohol burns his cancerous insides. He's dying, his doctor had told him. An honest man at the free medical clinic that he visits from time to time to get an update. Monty always just offers a curse when he's told to quit drinking and smoking; scoffing at the idea that his life deserves prolongation.

"My father killed me long ago," he whispers into the dark stillness of his dingy shelter he now calls home. "May he rot in hell," his twisted laughter is head before it's silenced with another offering of the Jack Daniels in his soot covered fingers. He looks at a small picture of him and his best friend; Fred Rogers, who died long ago and sighs. "Soon Fred, soon I'll join you and soon both of us will be at peace."

He finally walks toward a small table and picks up a remote to a small black and white TV, waiting for the news of his latest masterpiece to be broadcast for the entire city to see.

"And my father said I would amount to nothing," he sneers in anger, tempted to throw the bottle at the TV as he has done in the past. "At least I'll die knowing he was a liar." And with those haunting words left to dance around in the stale air he puts the bottle to his lips and takes in all he can until his liver calls it quits and he passes out on the floor; missing the video display of his handiwork.


Mac slowly walks out of his neighbor's apartment into his own and just stands in misery; not realizing he has an audience until the older man gently coughs. Mac quickly swallows before he turns around to offer Veteran Fire Chief Ian Davidson a slight frown.

"Ian."

"How are you young man?" Ian asks warmly.

"Homeless," Mac replies bitterly. He looks up to see Ian's sad smile and offers a small apology. "Sorry."

"Don't be sorry Mac, not after what you have been through. You might be homeless right now, but certainly not friendless," Ian reminds him and Mac's lips offer a slight smirk. "Or loved I see. Good looking woman you got there. Can tell she cares for you a lot. She'll help you get through this."

"We're partners and just friends," Mac is quick to correct.

"Sure," Ian nods his head; offering Mac a knowing smile. "Friends. My team will be finished shortly but you should get yourself looked at."

"I'm fine."

"I'm sure your lovely partner didn't buy that line either. Funny thing about women Mac, and how they can pick up on what we don't want them to, especially when we tell them what we think they want to hear. I'll give you as much time as you need but when you're done I will need your apartment Mac. Just to rule things out for my report. I hope you understand."

"I'm done I guess," Mac replies with a heavy sigh, looking down at his hands.

"Get them looked at Mac. This will be here when you get back. Do you have a place to stay? Janice and I..."

"I'll just stay at hotel and..."

"What happened to your friend, Mac?" Ian smiles.

"Can't."

"Well whatever you do, don't let a chance like that pass you by; especially right now. Now go and get yourself looked at young man. That's an order."

Mac looks at Ian and realizes that he too isn't trying to tell Mac what to do just offer some kind assistance in his time of need. So with a soft smile, a non verbal agreement, he slowly heads past Ian, receiving a warm squeeze to his shoulder and a whispered I'm sorry, before he heads into the smoky hallway and then finally into the fresh air outside.


By the time Mac finishes with the medics and wanders back up his apartment, now decorated with yellow tape, it is mid day and the team has taken it's leave; allowing the Arson Investigation Unit to finish up and him to just be in what was left of his home; alone.

"Can't believe this," Mac whispers to himself as he heads back into the living room, clutching the small plastic container that was provided to him in which to gather whatever he could to take with him; anything worth salvaging from a life with so much history and so many memories, wiped out in the blink of an eye.

He finally takes his leave for the last time today and heads back to his truck and into the office; the only place that he fears he'll have to call home until he is back on the road to rebuilding himself a new future. He quickly deposits the box into his work locker, thankful for a clean sweater. After washing the dirt from his face, careful of the wrappings that the medics put on his hands, he pulls on a sweater and goes in search of answers; not caring about the rest of his appearance.

"Hey Mac you okay?" Danny asks in concern as Mac makes his way into the lab to help in whatever way he can.

"Don't you need to get your insurance in order or something?" Lindsay lightly questions.

"I am fine and need to work. I know you are all concerned, but trust me I'm fine."

Danny and Lindsay exchange amused expressions but know better than to question Mac once he's made his firm stance known on a particular subject. Danny watches Mac head for Stella but only offers a heavy sigh as he turns his head back to his task, trying to help determine what started the fire. Inspector Davidson would be sending one of his men over later in a joint effort if it was indeed arson; if it was natural causes then Davidson's team would run with it.

"What did you find?" Mac asks Stella as she leans over microscope, somewhat tempted to touch the golden curls inches from his lightly skinned fingers.

"Your neighbor had a small tin full of extra strength Ambien; which is a very strong over the counter sleeping aid. Taken in short doses it can be very effective; longer term and it can aid in death."

"So he was doped up on these then he might have been too drowsy or dizzy to make it out of the front door instead of dying a few feet from it," Mac ponders.

"Sheldon and Sid are still working on a blood sample and actual cause of death but for now this could be our best lead. I'll get Lindsay to run with it; see if she can find where he bought these and try to establish a pattern."

"I can..."

"Mac, you look like hell and smell worse, why don't you go..."

"Home?" He rushes in anger.

"I was going to say downstairs and have a shower or something, I know you keep extra clothes in your locker like I do."

"Sorry," Mac frowns and Stella offers him a kind smile; looking at her partner in loving concern.

"Please?"

"I don't have clean clothes here, took them home a few days ago and..."

"Then go to the store and buy some as you'll need them tomorrow."

"Stella, I am okay. I'll leave in a few hours and..."

"You're not going to are you?"

"Everything I now own is in a small plastic box downstairs; the rest of my damn existence reduced to dust and ashes! What the hell do you want me to say?" Mac fairly shouts, garnering a few quick stares and gasps. Stella offers a small smile and Mac quickly calms down.

"Stella I'm sorry. I have some calls to make," Mac finally concedes, taking his leave and heading for his office. Stella watches in concern but knows there is no point in arguing with him at work as Mac prides himself on keeping his life separate from those he works with; allowing herself and only a handful of others actual glimpses into the world that is Mac Taylor.

By the time the sun starts to set, Stella is only half way toward finding out what other secrets Trent Allen was hiding besides the fact that his blood was full of the powerful sleeping aid. As suspected when she walks up to Mac's office he is still there, trying in vain to write with his wrapped hands.

"Mac you need to get some real rest. You have been up since an ungodly hour," Stella gently reminds him, walking up to his desk and slowly sitting down before him.

"I guess it's a good thing I don't believe in karma," Mac huffs, gently rubbing his tired eyes, dislodging some black residue which only marks his face a little more. "I would almost believe that it was because of my stupid actions yest..."

"Don't you dare sit here blaming yourself Mac," Stella lightly warns. "You couldn't have seen this coming. But I am not here to lecture you on that as I doubt you'd listen to me anyways."

"Stella..."

"Mac you need to rest, and should stay with me, there I've said it."

"You found something on Trent?" Mac lightly asks.

"His initial blood test came back positive to high dosages of Ambien, which means when the fire started he was probably out like a light."

"So he died of semi natural causes," Mac frowns as he leans back in his chair, the smell of smoke still lingering on his hair and body in general. "Suicide?"

"Possible. Flack is checking into his personal history so we have it covered. So will you go and rest now?"

"Where Stella?"

"Mac, even Flack thought..."

"If I promise to go to a hotel tonight will that ease your mind?"

"A little," Stella replies with a timid smile.

"Then I will."

"Mac, I want to help you. I can't imagine what you are feeling right now, but I am here if you need me."

"Just help me get to the bottom of this."

"Mac..."

"Stella, I am fine. Really. I'll get through this."

"Alone?"

"As I always do."

"Alone."

"I'll be okay, really."

Stella offers him a firm smile; once again able to tell by the look on his face that right now is not the time for another brow beating or emotional showdown. "If you need anything, you'll call right?"

"I will."

"No you won't."

Mac watches her take her leave and then feels his sorrow staring to consume him; feelings of helplessness and despair, rapidly taking over. He slowly pushes himself out of his chair and wanders downstairs toward the locker room, pulling open his locker door with some hesitation.

Mac stares at what's left of his possessions and feels his eyes starting to water as his hands reach for them. However, just as he's about to reach them, he finally feels his adrenaline starting to drain and can do little more than slump back down on the bench, holding his head in his hands and offering a small outburst of emotion. The thought of going to an impersonal hotel all alone with nothing but the clothes on his back doesn't seem like the great idea he thought it was this morning when the idea first popped into his head.

He needs a drink and while part of his brain is telling him that is the wrong, the other part says to hell with sobriety and find the nearest bar. With a heavy fist he slams the door shut, pushes himself back upright and quickly takes his leave. The ride to the hotel was one of tormented silence, a bleak existence now being offered. His mind wonders if he had died in the fire if anyone other than Stella would mourn his passing? Sure the team would be sad for an allotted time, but who did he really matter to?

"Mac, snap out it," he scolds himself as he pulls in front of a store to get a few things. People offer strange glances at the soot covered man, as he quickly gathers a few things and then heads for the cashier; offering a small explanation as to his appearance. The next stop is the hotel and as soon as Mac nears it he knows he's making another mistake and so instead of stopping, pushes down on the gas pedal and heads for the other side of the city; toward the one place he knows he shouldn't be going.

He slowly walks into Flannigan's pub and takes a seat at the table, slamming his keys down on the table and ordering his first shot of whisky.

"Tough day Mac?" The familiar bartender lightly questions.

"Hell Stan...pure hell," Mac states in anger, quickly downing the shot on an empty stomach and then demanding a second.

"Mac, you should have something to ea..."

"Look, every thing I owned in this damn world was reduced to a pile of ashes that you can just piss on! Now give me the second shot, that's your job right!" Mac growls, garnering a few stares and frowns before he offers a heavy curse, looking down at his blackened fingers with contempt. "Sorry."

The hesitate bartender fills his shot glass with the second helping of the golden liquid, but as he turns to leave, Mac's hand shoots out and snatches the bottle back.

"Mac!"

"I'm not driving, AM I?" He half shouts as he eyes the eyes a few inches from his fingers.

"Fine," the older man frowns in concern as he takes the keys and hurries to attend to another customer.

"Gone..." Mac whispers in misery. "Everything is gone."

About an hour later, the bottle is almost empty and Mac's body is about to shut down for the night. After earning a few further warnings from the bartender, the bottle is finally taken away from him, leaving him alone to ponder his miserable plight. His clothes still smell of smoke; dusted with ash and blood; his hair messy, his hands lightly bandaged but his mind in agony.

"It's all gone Stan," Mac manages with a slight slur, his brain not telling his mouth the right words; not allowing his body to just push himself up out of the chair and finally take his leave.

"Mac, what happened to you today? For the past hour you have just kept mumbling it's all gone. What is gone?"

"MY LIFE!" Mac snaps, before offering a heavy frown and looking back at the empty glass in his tired fingers. "I should...leave..."

"And go where?"

"Home..." he starts with a slight drunken curse. "Home...my home is gone...burned to the ground...all gone."

The older man looks at him in concern before reaching for the phone. "You need a friend Mac. Can I call..."

"Have no friends...all gone...everything is gone..." his voice rambles off with a hint of anger. "Everything...is gone."


Stella finally reaches home with a heavy mind and heart. Today Mac's world was ripped apart; his future altered once again by an act out of his control, and she knew inside that he was going to be up all night pondering what he could have done differently and how was now going to just pick up and move on. Some of his Marine memorabilia, the few remnants of Claire and some other items she knew he cherished were reduced to mere heaps of ruins in minutes; his past now existing only inside his tormented brain.

But as stubborn as she knows he is, he also has to acknowledge that, especially right ,now he has to be the one to ask for some sort of help or he would always come to resent those that try to force it on him. She finally wanders into her kitchen to try to make something to satisfy the gnawing hunger her stomach was reminding her of.

However, just as she's about to start into dinner the phone rings and she's quick to answer it, wondering if it's Mac, finally asking for help.

"Stella Bonasera?"

"Who is this?"

"Stan Gregson down at Flannigan's. Don Flack told me to call you. Said you'd want to personally handle this. Mac Taylor is your partner right?"

"Stan what did he do?"

"Nothing yet, but you need to come and get him before he does anything stupid. Downed almost a whole bottle of whisky without food in a few hours. I'm surprised he's still awake; most men would have been passed out cold by now. He's one damn stubborn fellow. Stella he said his home burned today?"

"Mac's right and you did to the right thing in calling me," she replies with a heavy sigh, already fumbling to get her shoes on her feet. "Did he drive?"

"I have the keys right here. I have to close in a few hours and didn't want to send him to a shelter."

"Thanks Stan, I'm on my way; that's not far from where I live. Just don't let him leave."

Stella quickly hangs up and rushes for the door, frantically waving the next cab to drive close. Flannigan's was a place Mac sometimes invited her to when he was in the neighborhood; meaning he was probably on his way to see her when his mind offered another kind of detour, the wrong kind. An angry Mac was hard to handle at the best of times; a drunken, angry and destitute Mac Taylor might be impossible to handle right now. But she knows inside that no matter his attitude in the morning she will never let him be sent to a shelter in his hour of need.

The cab comes to a halt and she spies the Avalanche still parked out front where Mac left it when he entered. She looks inside and notices the few bags of items he bought himself and the fire issue plastic container that holds the last few remnants of the life of Mac Taylor. She hurries inside to see Stan offer her a look of relief and Mac half slumped over the bar, his mouth still offering angry curses and his body now slightly shaking.

"Did he do any damage?" She asks Stan as she approaches Mac; some hesitation holding her back. She is used to seeing Mac strong and in control, but seeing him in such a depleted condition was almost too much to bear.

"Just to himself," Stan huffs as he hands Stella the keys to the truck.

"Mac?" Stella asks softly, as she gently touches his right shoulder, forcing him to look up at her with watery eyes.

"Stella?" He manages in a weak tone, forcing her to reward him with a strained smile. "What the hell are you doing here?" He growls in anger before turning away, his head resting on his folded arms once again.

"I'm here to help you Mac."

"I don't need help!" He snaps as Stella pulls out a few bucks and pays whatever Mac consumed. Then without saying a word she gently starts to unfold his body; getting him ready to go. Mac offers a few more angry protests at first, finally looking up and locking his tormented watery sapphire eyes with her warm emerald ones.

"Let's go Mac."

"Stell...I don't need...help," he lightly stammers as she forces an arm around her shoulders, calls out a goodnight to Stan and starts to lead Mac to the front door.

"Yes Mac, you do need my help and I intend to make sure you get it; starting right now. I'm taking you home, with me."



A/N:
how do you like it so far? Please let me know if I should continue or not? Thanks again.

PS: Check out my new "steamy"/smexy one shot called "S&M" (guaranteed to make you smile!) :)