Well, hello all! It's been a while, I'm sorry to say. I dabbled in some other fandoms and RL came into play more than I'd like to admit too.
BUT, yes, new fic! This has been nicknamed 'The Beast' while in production, for it's length so far (over 15,000wds) and the fact that it plagued my every thought and then how the muse took an impromptu and unappreciated break.
I have to thank Tricki for being my beta and poker when the words began to escape me. Love ya sweets! And Lily Moonlight for theorising with me and writing the amazing 'Lost Letters' that y'all have to read if you haven't already.
On with the show. Hope you enjoy, and stick with it to the next chapters :) Becs x
EDIT**:: Quick point I forgot to mention. The character Natalie Roberts is from a past fic of mine called 'Semper Fidelis'. I loved writing her, and people seemed to like reading her, so... She sort of takes the place of Lindsay, in the sense of the other female character, not in the Danny sense. She's a married lady, for heaven's sake! So, yeah. Thanks to Lily for reminding me haha
It always eluded Mac Taylor as to why the underground garage exaggerated the weather. In Summer, it was unbearably hot; in Winter - as it was now - the short walk from his parking space to the elevator set goose pimples aloft on his skin, and his teeth chattering until his head hurt. Sometimes, with not enough sleep and too much late night television, he would devise wild and wacky theories - most times of maniacal higher-ups, few times of aliens after watching certain shows - to explain the perpetually broken air-conditioning.
Even now, as the season approached Spring, the car thumped and groaned as it cooled down too quickly for its liking in the below-zero garage. He wrapped his lapels tighter around his chest as he quickly trotted between the cars to the elevator doors. He shook off the chill as he entered the carriage, thumbing for the 38th floor.
"Good morning," Stella smirked, the New York skyline framing her as she sat on Mac's chair, feet up on the desk.
"Good morning to you too," he chuckled. "Making yourself at home?"
"Just trying it out for future reference." She swung her legs down, heels clicking onto the floor. "You ready?"
"Ready for what?" he asked with a pre-emptive sigh, hanging his long coat on the hook and turning back to her.
"Nat finished processing the Marsh evidence," she stood up as Mac crossed the office. Perching on the corner of the desk as she continued, "No match to Griffiths."
"What? But he had her blood on him," he counted on his fingers, "He was arrested at the scene; He admitted to being there!" He flopped into his chair, papers wafting from the desk to the floor.
"Oh, he was there, but he didn't do the deed," she continued, bending to retrieve the fallen documents. "Or so the evidence says, at least."
He shook his head, taking the papers. "You couldn't wait until I had had at least half a cup of coffee, could you?"
"Where would the fun be in that?" she said with an incredulous smirk, as if to suggest she would act any differently.
Narrowing his eyes as he looked up at her, he said, "I don't like it when you're dating someone and all bubbly. It makes you evil." He leant back on the chair, "-er. It makes you eviler."
She laughed, but gave him a nudge with her knee for good measure.
He scanned the disarray of the desk, pulling papers towards him as if perusing their stories as he asked, "So, how's it going? You and Aaron…" He didn't look at her.
"Oh, yeah," she watched her feet intently as she crossed them in different directions, picking lint from her jeans, "It's, er, great. I'm happy."
"Good-" he was interrupted by Nat at the door.
"Guys! I did it! I got him!"
"-morning, Natalie," he finished, changing his intended sentence.
"Oh, good morning, Mac," she smiled, still obviously bouncing about whatever results were on the portable monitor in her hand.
"Well?" Stella asked, looking over her shoulder.
She snapped back to the present, "Oh! Griffiths. I got him. I can place him at the scene,"
"So could we…"
"Yes, but I have him on the rope used to kill Amelia Marsh," Nat beamed, very happy for herself.
"What?" Stella quickly crossed the room, taking the monitor from her hands. She scanned the results, sliding a finger down the screen to see the report in its entirety. "Nice work, Natalie."
"Thank you," she grinned.
"Mac?" Stella called as he passed the two women.
"I need coffee before we get anymore developments!"
Stella grinned, watching him disappear into the break room. Realising Nat was watching her instead of Mac, she snapped back and passed the monitor. "Really good work, Nat."
"Thanks," she smiled. She turned to leave but apprehensively spun back around. "Hey, can I ask you a question?"
"Of course," she closed the glass door and gestured to the two guest chairs. "What's up?"
"I'm having a bit of trouble with a friend. I, er, I think she's keeping things from me." She looked to Stella with sad, worried eyes, though they glinted with mischievousness. "Something about an 'Aaron'…?"
Stella's worried expression died instantly, replaced with part amusement, part annoyance.
Nat began to smirk, "Spill."
"There's nothing to 'spill'!" She threw her arms up in defence, but that was apparently not a sufficient answer judging by the smug look on Natalie's face. Regardless of only working at the New York CSI base for just over a year, the only women of day shift had built a relationship neither had expected. Taking on the level of high school girls at times, they would meet after work for a beer and gossip. It was the kind of female friendship that had often eluded Stella. Growing up in the care system as she had, trust wasn't something she could afford to offer up easily, but there was something about Natalie Roberts left her instantly at ease.
Though relatively new to New York (having been born and bred in Wisconsin before following her husband to the Big Apple), Natalie exuded the no-nonsense charm a native would be proud of. She was cheeky and sarcastic and had a 'thing' for guys in uniforms; in other words a perfect match for Stella Bonasera.
"Alright, fine. Aaron Bastian, 38 years old from Queens, New York. He likes action movies and sweet popcorn; prefers beer to liquor and plays a good game of pool. Happy?"
"How long you been seeing him?"
"Two months? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't tell anyone," she said, her eyeline dropping to her lap.
"Well, my last boyfriend tried to kill Mac; the one before did a damn good job of nearly killing me. People tend to worry if they hear I have a new guy. The sale of Kevlar goes up three fold."
"Oh shut up," she scolded. "I'm just happy you're happy. You certainly seem happy."
"I am happy."
"So when do I get to meet him?"
"Oh… never?" Stella smirked.
"I hurt!" Nat exclaimed, her hand grabbing at her chest.
Stella laughed, her eyes suddenly setting onto Mac's approaching form. "Come on. We need to question Griffiths again."
Stella sank down onto the locker room bench with a resounding thud. She swiped a hand over her face with a jaded sigh; it had been a long day.
"You look tired," Mac's voice announced. She noticed him standing in the doorway. "Why don't you take the next two days off?"
"You're funny," she answered, not amused but smirking. It was Friday, she had the next two days off anyway.
He laughed, "You heading home?"
"Yeah, via Sullivan's. I'm meeting Aaron."
Mac nodded, "Walk you out?"
"Sure," she smiled. She grabbed her bag and jacket from her locker and followed him to the elevators. "Anything planned for your weekend?"
"The down-side to the job."
"You need to get out, Mac! Go to a bar, meet a lovely lady-"
"Hold that thought," he laughed as his phone trilled in his pocket. He pressed to answer as they stepped into the elevator carriage. "Taylor."
Stella pressed for the parking garage.
"Hello?" Mac said loudly. "Sal? Is that you?" He pivoted slightly, stealing a look at the screen. "I got you! Hi, everything okay?"
Stella laughed as he began to pivot again. "Wait, wait, you're breaking up…Hello? Loud and clear, what's up?"
She watched as his face went through a full range of expressions: amused, impassive to worried and deeply, deeply saddened. A palpable silence enveloped the car.
"I'm still here," he slowly uttered. "Yeah, I'll, er, call you in a few hours. Thanks, Sal." He rang off, staring at the phone.
"Mac? Everything okay?" she put a hand on his arm. In just four floors, his whole demeanour had completely changed.
"That was my cousin, Sal," he breathed. "My, er… my Mom died last night." His breath hitched a slight, "Never woke up."
"Oh, Mac," she sighed, squeezing his arm before wrapping her arms around him. She felt him melt into the embrace, his face buried in her shoulder. She sighed, her heart breaking as he held tighter. He took a deep breath, turning into her hair as he did so, only pulling back as the doors jerked open to the garage. She looped an arm through his and they stepped out into the chilled air. His mind was running in all directions, asking when was the last time he had spoken to his Mom; the last thing he said to her; was she in pain when she passed…
"She was a good woman," she sighed with a slight nod, snapping Mac from his reverie. "I'll miss her phone calls where she'd say you sound like you're not eating properly," she laughed gently, casting an anxious side glance and thankfully finding a small smile from Mac. "Oh, and her rum-raison cookies with home-made ice tea. How were you not 300lbs growing up? They were incredible!"
He snorted a laugh, though his eyes weren't in the sentiment.
She smiled, pulling her other hand over to squeeze the arm entwined with hers. They walked the rest of the short distance in silence. "What are you going to do?"
He sighed, leaning back on the car. "Go pack a bag and get the next flight to Chicago."
Stella nodded, resting her hand on his arm. "I've got here, don't you dare think about it. Call me when have details and I'll get a flight over."
Part of him sank even further. Stella had been there for him through all the funerals in the past 16years, the anchor he didn't realise he needed until waking up on the other side. She and Claire would almost tag-team the efforts, his wife molly-coddling him at home, Stella at work. She had enough death in her life without adding his into the mix. He wanted to refuse, to tell her she needn't be there, but the words couldn't leave his mouth. He wanted her there.
"Thank you," he whispered. His eyes were cast to the floor, the colour drained from his face.
She pulled him back into a hug, holding him tighter. "Call me, okay? Any time for anything."
"I mean it," she pulled back, looking him in the eyes. "anything."
He smiled lightly, "I'll see you soon."
She squeezed his hand, before watching him drive away. He gave a slight smile but the heartbreak was more than evident in his eyes. She wiped at her eyes, her lips in a tight line.
Stella flicked at the label on her bottle, picking and pulling until it was barely there, just gridlines of glue. She wasn't paying attention. Her mind was cast back over the months after Claire's death, when Mac…she couldn't think of a word strong enough to describe how he was. Distraught? Defeated? Empty?
She wasn't sure he could survive that again.
He was one of the strongest men she knew, but he could break more than anyone.
A knock to the window startled her as Aaron ran past, looking drowned in the heavy rainfall. She smiled and waited for him to join her at the stools.
"Hey you," he smiled, placing a chaste kiss in her hair before sitting down.
"You're soaked!" Stella laughed, raking a hand through his longer dark hair, scraping back what was matted to his face.
"It's raining," he quipped taking a gulp of her beer.
"Thank you, Captain Obvious," she smirked, taking her drink back.
Aaron took off his jacket and swiped a napkin over his face, cursing his decision to not need a car in NYC. He watched as the twinkling in her eyes from their flirty banter seemed to disappear quickly. "You okay?"
"Yeah…" she sighed, "Mac's Mom died this morning."
"Oh man, did you know her?"
She nodded. "Lily was good woman. The original spitfire," she laughed, remembering various episodes.
"How's Mac doing?" he asked, dropping his laptop bag to the free chair next to him.
"So far he's doing alright, but…"
"We've been here before for his Dad and his wife and…so many people," she sighed.
"When's the funeral?" He asked, signalling Joey at the bar for a similar round of beers.
"Nothing's been sorted yet. Mac's heading up there now. I said I'd meet him when he knew anything."
Aaron nodded. He was well aware of Mac and Stella's friendship, the level of unwritten co-dependence they shared. Mac was the first -and only, come to think of it- person from Stella's life that he had been introduced too and their connection was undeniable. He was assured it was purely platonic and had no evidence to suggest otherwise regardless of what experience had taught him.
"Listen, this… this could get messy. Mac can hit rock-bottom, then go a few layers further down," she warned with hand gestures. Her worrisome green eyes bore into his brown.
He took hold of her hands. "You be there for Mac, I'll be here for you."
She smiled, leaning in to kiss him. "I'll make it up to you."
"Oh, I like the sound of that," he laughed as she kissed him again.
"You guys want these beers?" Joey Sullivan smirked, amusement and mischief twinkling in the brown eyes below bushy brows.
Aaron cleared his throat as Stella sat back in her seat. "Apologies, my good man," he laughed, taking the bottles from him.
"Hey, have you-" A voice broke Stella's reverie. "What are smiling about?" Nat continued, creeping further into her supervisor's office.
"None of yours," Stella grinned, tucking her cell phone, with Aaron's text, in her drawer.
"Mmhmm…" she laughed.
"What can I do for you, Natalie?"
"Oh, full name - you mean business. You seen Mac?"
"No, and we're not going to for a while…His Mom died on Friday. He's in Chicago for the foreseeable future."
"Oh, God…" Nat breathed, her hands grasping onto the back of the guest chair. "How is he?"
"'Fine'," Stella quoted with her fingers. "I'm getting stuff sorted here and heading over at some point."
"Yeah, no worries. Send him our love."
Stella nodded as her phone began to ring in her drawer. "Speak of the devil."
Nat motioned that she'd talk to her later.
"Hey you," she smiled, bringing the phone to her ear.
"Hi," he replied, his voice low.
"How you holdin' up?"
"I'm fine. The funeral's booked; 2pm Tuesday."
"I'll be there," she promised. His short answers and low tone spoke more than his words ever could.
He left it a beat before asking, "Everything okay over there?"
"Oh, you know," she smiled lightly, trying to bring some normalcy into the conversation for him. "Danny and Adam are destroying parts of the lab with their experiments; Flack's following Angell around like a love-sick puppy in disguise and Nat's stalking me for dirt on me and Aaron…"
"So, the usual then?"
"The usual. All send their love."
"Tell them thank you. And to get back to work."