A/N: There we are, at the conclusion of this short story. I would like to dedicate this chapter to all the people in the world, who, in their life, had or have to face terrible moments. Just know, that whatever happens, Hope will remain, no matter what!!!

To all who reviewed, LILKENNY, Andorian Ice Princess-AIP, snow6835, Rosa Atrus, jjsaywat97, blackrose538, neuhuli, rocksmacked, gary4ever-1725, StellaBonaseraTaylor, Miyukiseta, DLsmackedLUVER (if you register, next time I'll be glad to reply to your review), read and put this story on alert, a great thank you, you guys rock!

And to my Beta, which manage to deal with so many things, and the editing of Darkness closing in and this Christmas fic, huge thanks! You girl are amazing!!

Summary: Few days before Christmas tragedy strikes the CSI team as one of their own is taken from them. Will Christmas season bring them the miracle they're all waiting for? Angsty Smacked.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything, beside the characters I created for this story. CSI NY belongs to CBS and Jerry Bruckeimer.

Chapter 3: ...and I found love.

Doctors and nurses came in and out of his room. In a quiet silence, Stella nervously waited for one of them to tell her she hadn't dreamed it; he had woken up. But it seemed it take them forever to look at his chart, compare it to his monitors and check his eye movement as Dr Shen shoved a small light into them. Her hands joinedon her lap; she was waiting, again, and sighed.

Then, Dr Shen waved at the nurses to exit Mac's room and walked toward Stella. Her eyes locked with his, waiting for the right answer while her heart began to beat louder behind her temples. He sighed as he put a grim face, his gray beard giving him a gloomy appearance.

"I saw him blink," she stated as to counter the bad news she felt coming. "It has to be good, right?" her hands tightened around each other. She could feel her chest tightening and her breath becoming short.

"I'm sorry detective, but he's not waking up," dropped Dr Shen, his voice now slow and caring to let the word sink into her mind.

What? It had to mean he was waking up, she saw his eyes open.

"I saw him looking at me," she repeated, trying to convince Dr Shen. "He was awake, and..." her voice trailed off, she wanted to believe he was coming back. "He's..." she began, her voice now struggling with the deep, sad realization, that maybe, he wasn't. No, her heart cried in pain, it was Mac, he was going to come back. It had to be. She took a slow breath as her shoulders sagged wearily.

"Probably a reflex," continued the doctor with a soft voice, obviously used to his patient's denial. "It happens sometimes."

It happens, her mind countered in rage as her eyes darted furious sparkles. No. Nothing happens without meaning, that's what she had learned with Mac. "Accident happens," she replied angrily. "But not with Mac! There's always a good reason. I'm telling you, I saw him. His eyes were open, and he was looking straight backat me." She glared at the doctor. "I didn't dream it!"

Her furious gaze dared him to say otherwise. She knew that, deep down, she was driven again by her heart, but it was Mac. She couldn't lose hope that easily just because his doctor said this was a 'reflex', hell no.

As she talked, she cupped Mac's right hand into hers, hoping it would trigger him to open his eyes again, but sadly nothing happened. Had she really dreamed it? She couldn't believe the doctor, she just couldn't.

"You're tired and..." began the doctor, trying to find excuses for what she had seen.

"I'm not crazy if that's what you mean! I was awake when it happened. I just know it was him doing it, I can feel it." Her sight wandered to Mac's bruised face, expecting to see him open his eyes and shout at the doctor to prove him wrong. What are you waiting for, Mac? I saw you. C'mon, just show him I'm right.

The doctor sighed as he rubbed his beard unconsciously. "I'm sorry Detective Bonasera. I know you are yourself a scientist, and he's your friend, but you know as much as I do, that I checked everything I had to, before coming to this explanation."

She nodded slightly, her gaze lost on the creamy tiles on the floor, like a scoldedchild the day he was caught not handing in his homework.

"I can't stop you to hope," he continued. "It's even the best thing you may have right now," he paused, waiting for her eyes to look up. "But your partner has sustained a terrible head trauma. I'm sorry to have to tell you that, but with comatose people and this kind of trauma, people rarely wake up, and if or when they do, they're...changed." His voice lowered on the last words.

"You don't know Mac," she replied, her tone now almost pleading. "He'll wake up, I could bet my life on it, and he'll be alright." Her gaze went back on his sleeping form, caressing his bruised face and slow rising chest.

Dr Shen sighed, "I hope you're right," he said as he patted her shoulder before he exited the room, visibly giving up trying to convince her, leaving a broken Stella, alone with an unconscious Mac.

Her sight wandered to the window, staring at the frozen, flaky snow stuck on the bottom of the glass. The sun, tired of the short winter day, was already taking its leave from this world and was about to disappear, its faint, gleaming, orange light bathing Mac's room.

Careful not to move the dressing around his wrist, she brought his cold hand to her lips and kissed it warmly. She was so tired. A lonely tear rolled down her cheek as she nestled his hand over her chest, hoping he could feel her heart beating for him. Mac was going to wake up. He had to. Because if he didn't, well, she had no idea what she would do. The only thing she knew for sure was that she was lost without him. She sighed as she kept his hand close to her heart and sleep slowly took her away.


All around him was dark and cold, the world, his world, was only a dark void where he was falling, since the beginning of time, and for the rest of the eternity. He knew, somehow, that his world hadn't always been that way, but it was hard to remember, as there was nothing besides the glooming darkness to trigger a memory.

Loneliness and despair were his only companionsin this world as he continued to fall, floating lightly. Even his body wasn't his anymore as he couldn't see his hands or feet. It was like nothing existed besides his mind. And yet, hope remained; the only thing that kept him going on; hope.

A faint, hollowwhisper grazed at his soul, trying to shake his memory, but it was too far, too hollow for him to get a grip on it; so he let go for a while, floating again before he felt something else coming. At first, it seemed it was a quiet sleeping force; it reminded him what life had to be at the beginning of things. The small sleepy gray cloud came close to him for a while, and then it was taken away from him. He tried to scream at those who had taken that small life from him, ask them to bring back that faint reminiscence of hope, but no sound came from him, and he was left alone with the darkness again.

From time to time, the darkness was shaved away by another presence. A faint shape emerging from this lonely obscurity at first, the presence soon began to be the only constantthing that kept his hope alive, keeping him from slipping away for good. As centuries passed, the presence grew on him like he was bound to it. Soon, he craved more than anything to go there and joined that comforting presence, but where was there?

Confusion and loneliness had settled inside his heart as a word popped between the thick darkness; Stella. Like a shining beacon standing on the shore of life, he followed the word, turned it inside his mind, letting its softness invade his senses and soul, heal him. And then, he saw it, a faint gleaming light straight ahead, calling him.

Driven by hope and the sweet feeling the word produced inside him, he decided to follow the gracinglight. But as soon as he entered the light, bathed by its shining rays, a bright scorching light began to burn his whole being. On fire, it was too hard to stay, so he retreated into the comforting dark universe he used to know and wished he had never tried to follow the light. The light meant hurt and pain, he could feel it. He would never try to go back there. There was only pain, he hadn't found the warmth of the word he was looking for, only the cold bitterness of an angry, bright light had welcomed him, and now he wasn't about to make the same mistake. Had his hope being misplaced? Had the word been a false hope all along? Perhaps bait? Playing with him to hurt him at the end? Anger and confusion filled his being. Where should he go now? He didn't like this obscurity, and yet it seemed the only place he could stay without being hurt. Do I belong there, to the darkness? A sense of gloom and loneliness submerged him, and he felt his soul fading more into this obscure universe. Fear, would he let himself being submerged by it? Was it fear to stay here or to go over there, toward the bright light? Why wasn't it simpler? Should he abandon hope?


December 24th

The nurse frowned as she checked his vitalsonce again. The man in the bed seemed to be more than a friend to the woman, sitting by his side; she hadn't left him, even a minute, since he had been brought here. She sighed, she knew the symptoms; love, and yet, the woman was really careful not to show it to everyone around. A sad smile grazed at the nurse's face; did she really think that people won't notice? She nodded slowly as she plugged a new IV in her patient's arm. Her sight rested on his battered face for some time, noticing every bruise lining his face. She could understand the woman distress; the man's face covered with dark purple, bluish bruises, looked like a battlefield on itself, as small gashes drew lines from his forehead to his temples and to his jaw. The men that had done that to him had been brutal and evil. They probably didn't expect him to survive. She sighed again, as if being in a coma could mean survival. The woman watched her as she quickly wrote something on the patient's chart, a deep line creasing her forehead; worries.

From her seat, Stella watched quietly as the old, blond nurse wrote something on Mac's chart before she glanced at her.

"Nothing to worry," told her the nurse as she had probably noticed her worried look. "He's just running a small fever. Just a small readjustment to his IV and he should be fine."

Stella nodded lightly as the nurse exited the room. She checked her watch, 11 am. Four days, Mac. Four days you've left us. Four days without my best friend, without seeing you smile, without hearing your soft, comforting voice. She swallowed the lump in her throat. She could feel the treatening tears ready to roll down her cheek, but she couldn't break down. Not now. She needed to be strong for him. So, she took a slow, deep breath and softly pressed on her heavy eyelids. She turned a pair of red, tired eyes toward his frail shape, rising at the sound of the ventilator.

"Today it's Christmas Eve, Mac," she spoke softly, rubbing tenderly his cheek. "Time for a miracle; like you use to do." She smiled weakly, as if, despite his closed eyes, he could see her. "I'm counting on you, partner..." She paused, her soft fingers warming his cold skin. "I'm counting on you, Mac."

She gave his sleeping face another tired smile before she bent over him; her lips brushed his bruised forehead, avoiding the black stitches closing the gash over his left eye, where she gently laid a warm kiss. Lazily, she pulled back a small strand of damp, brown hair messily stuck on his forehead. His face was clammy under her fingers, and so white, that even the sheets looked more alive than him.

She cursed Henry's band and destiny for taking away the most precious thing she had in life, the words of Dr Shen echoing like sharp blades in her mind; people rarely wake up... and if they do... they're...changed.

She swallowed the deep lump in her throat; she wanted to believe Mac was different. All his life he had fought for what he believed, striving to achieve it with his heart, to protect it. She couldn't believe that on the threshold of death he would surrender without a fight. No. Not Mac Taylor. Not him. Never. Her sight wandered to his frail form sank into the fluffy blankets. The tube down his throat had been removed, and now she could see the amountof bruises on his face. Dark, purple spots turning into a deep, brownish yellow were shadinghis left side, though, most of it was hidden by a thick white dressing. The same gloomy colors appeared at the base of his right jaw, and she wondered how he had managed to talk to her after he'd been flungthrough the window. From the color, the size and the place of the bruises, the team had deduced the force used, and that tool...God, it was no tool, only instruments for torture, as they had beaten him with a baseball bat. A baseball bat, she closed her eyes. The force of the blow had fractured his skull on the left side, making some liquid flow into his brain and driving him here, to this comatose state. She could still recall the way Sid had looked at her after the news of his injuries had been known, the shadow of fear and gloom lingering in his eyes. The ME had examined a lot of dead people with the same kind of head injury in his life and she knew that everyone at the lab had been thinking the same thing, but none had dared to utter it aloud. How had he managed to survive to all that?

Her stomach churned, remembering Dr Shen's list of his injuries; three of his ribs had been broken in several places, although luckily none had punctured his lungs; a bruised kidney, very painful but which should slowly heal without furhter complications; the stab in his left side had, God knows how, avoided any vital organs; and although he had lost a great amount of blood, he was still there, clinging to life. As a stunned Dr Shen had explained, besides his swollen brain, his body had miraculously resisted to the deadly beating. A small smile had grazed her lips at the comment. Once again, Mac's resilience had beat the odds, and she was thankful for that great miracle in itself, but now she wanted one more. She wanted him to wake up. She wanted things to get back to normal. She wanted to let him know that he wasn't alone, and that she cared about him, that he was loved.

She sighed, and for the first time in her life, she joined her hands together, her elbows resting on the sheet near his limp hand. She didn't know if she was doing it right, but she closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against her joined hands and prayed. She prayed that Mac came back to her, that he found his way home and finally, she prayed that he would be okay.

"Come back, Mac," she murmured in the silent room. "I'm here for you, as long as you need, I will wait. Just remember, I'm waiting for you."

A painful sigh escaped her lips as she caught the sight of a piece of the white dressing, covering his chest and emerging from under the sheet. Her anger rose immediately. Henry's scum bags had managed to trap Mac, but now they were all in jail. She closed her eyes again, the image of Mac's bleeding body burning her eyes as she recalled the wicked message etched on his bruised chest while she had listened to his slurringvoice fading away. She took a deep breath; hopefully, the doctor had said that the scars would eventually disappear. She was grateful for that small news as she knew it would have become another scar for him to bear; like he hadn't enough already. Her warm hand caressed the side of his face before her fingers found their way into his disheveled hair. She smiled even though he couldn't see her, but that small feeling of his skin and damp hairs under her fingers was enough to give her hope.

"I need you, Mac. Please come back to me," she pleaded, his hand still carefully nestled over her heart.

She quickly withdrew her hand from his face as she heard the door open, and carefully laid his hand on the white sheet. Her eyes widened as she spotted Danny, his arms full of Christmas gifts and Lindsay, cuddling a smiling Lucy, on his tail.

"What are you doing here?" she asked surprised, a small frown creasing her forehead as Danny laid his things on the floor, against Mac's nightstand.

"Morning to you too," Danny grinned as Lindsay gave him Lucy and pulled Stella into a warm hug.

Stella frown deepened. "It's Christmas Eve and..." her voice trailed off as the door was once again pushed open, and Hawkes and Sid, their arms full of packages, entered Mac's room.

"Hey Stella," threw Hawkes as he set his packages into a corner of the room and came to hug Stella, Sid right behind him, waiting for his turn to wrap his arms around her.

"Hawkes what on earth..." she began as they pulled apart, but once again her voice died in her throat as a smiling Adam and a whistling Flack stepped into Mac's room, bags hanging freely at their sides.

"Guys, what is this about? I thought all of you had plans," she finally managed to say as they all looked at her with boyish grins painted on their faces.

Hawkes glanced at his friends and then at Stella. "Well, since Mac can't come to our Christmas Party, we thought we would bring Christmas to him." He nodded toward the sleeping form of his friend. "Maybe the feeling of being home will bring him back to us, who knows?" his brows arched in wonders.

"But, what about your families? You should be with them," she enquired, not happy if they had put down everything.

"You and Mac are our family," replied Lindsay, with a warm wink. "It's why we're here."

Stella took a deep breath as she felt her heart swell from the sudden joy filling her soul and her eyes watered, but she managed to keep the wet drops at bay. She wouldn't break down before them. "Thanks guys. I'm sure Mac would be happy for what you're doing."

"You know Stell, it's nothin' really," said Danny. "In all these years, Mac has saved our asses more than once. If it hadn't been for him, none of us would be standing here today." He looked at the small assembly gathered around his boss' bed, their eyes all sending back his words with a smile and a small nod. "And besides, we wanted to be with you guys... you know, breakin' some protocol while he's still asleep." A wide grin spread over his lips. "It's our last opportunity to mess around with him not goin' bossy on us."

"Yeah," intervened Adam, with a boyish grin. "I brought paper planes."

Everyone started into a laugh as he pulled a small, paper plane from his bag, and Lucy, catching a sight of the small toy, tried to reach for it with her chubby arms.

"Okay people," said Sid as he clasped his hands together before he rubbed them. "Let's get started."

Around Stella, everyone began to unzip bags and packages and started to decorate the cold, white, hospital room; hanging here a blue glowing lights or an orange one; pinning there a red smiling Santa or a green, pine crown; stuffing near Mac's bed a small CD player.

Flack winked at Stella with a charming smile as he gave her a warm hug to the sound of 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town.' "We bribed the nurses, don't worry."

She nodded slowly. "Thanks."

"Don't talk 'bout it, Stell," his eyes set on her tired face; his mind wondered for a moment how much she could take before she crumbled to the floor. "We're all happy to be with you guys," he continued. Today should have been a day of joy, and he and the team intended to make it happened for her, to boost her hopes and shake Mac's mind as he was sure Mac would do his best to come back if he could hear them, all gathered around him. He smiled. "We wouldn't have thought of it being Christmas without you and Mac, you know."

Stella didn't talk, but he saw in her eyes how much their presence had already boosted her, a tiny sparkle of hope now back in her eyes.

"Here," cut Lindsay, as she handed a small, blue, sport bag to Stella. "Some change of clothes. I know you've been borrowing the nurses' locker room these last four days. But here you'll find lots of things to freshen up."

"Thanks Linds, but I can't. I have to..."

"We'll stay with him Stella," cut Sid, as his hands slightly pressed on her shoulders. "He'll be in good hands. You know us, right?"

Stella swallowed the knot in her throat. Of course she knew she could trust any of them, it wasn't the problem. She just didn't feel she could go far from him without abandoning him. That night, that fateful night, she had let him go home alone although he was tired. If she had been with him, then, maybe she could have helped him. But she hadn't, and there he was, lying limply in this bed, fighting death, out of reach for any help she could provide; in a coma. How could she leave him? The short walk from the other night had been the only time. And when she had used the nurses' locker room it had always been when they were taking him for some tests, otherwise she wouldn't have left him alone. Hell, Dr Shen had just not allowed her to go with him for the PET scan and the MRI,otherwise she wouldn't have left him at all; those being the only times she had left him with someone else.

She sighed as Sid gently drove her away, his hand on the small of her back. Near the door, he gave her the small bag.

"You need it, Stella. Not just for you, but for him as well."

She nodded weakly as he opened the door for her, and saw a few nurses and doctors ambling in the corridor. She contemplated the busy world she had severed herself from, before she began to walk toward the nurses' locker room. There, she would be able to get changed, and maybe take a quick shower. She wasn't leaving him for long, she repeated to herself as her feet brought her before the locker room. She would be back in no time. Wait for me, Mac.


It was hard to remember where he was coming from. The dark gloomy shadows surrounding him were oppressing, trying to swallow him at the first break of his defense. He could feel their pressing urge enjoininghim to let go, to surrender to them. But he couldn't. Instead, he fought, with all his will and hope. He wasn't about to let go, not without knowing what was beyond the light. He knew that he was missing something important, something that made him whole and strong, and that thing was close, he could feel it within his grasp, and yet unable to reach it. It was just so frustrating.

Then, the small gleam of hope reappeared, although this time the cloud shonea soft, orange light contrasting deeply with the black void that trapped him. Unsure of why he was doing it, he walked toward the cloud that seemed to have a life on its own as it floated toward him as well. Surprised at first, he stopped but then resumed his course as a sudden urge of holding and protecting the cloud filled his being. The little thing giggled as his soul merged with it. A small surge of dazzling happiness filled him as he began to feel the cloud delighted of being with him. He liked that cloud, he realized.

Then, a loud rumbling shook the darkness. A maelstrom of voices and music was heard, and he braced himself from the deafening noise, waiting for the unstoppable wave that would come and submerge him. But nothing came. Instead the loud rumbling began to slowly subside, and he finally could distinguish voices, talks and words. Lots of words repeated, like; trust, miracle, home...he wondered a moment what the last one meant, it felt like an old familiar feeling around that word; home. And then, in the middle of all those words, he heard it once, then twice, and then repeated again and again. Stella! So, this word had a lot of meaning for the voices too. Maybe it was a magic word, though, another one was repeated as well; Mac. This one was weird. Somewhere, at another time of what his life had been, he felt like he used to know it, like the former, he had the feeling both were important to him, but not in the same way. Are they names? Or places that I should go to? Things maybe? It was so confusing, and yet reassuring that these words could mean something to him, finally a small piece of the puzzle was coming back to him.

The voices dimmed suddenly as if someone had turned them down, although he could hear them, muffled and lingering faintly between the murky darkness. Was he going to be alone again? But then, he heard it: the most beautiful thing in the world as his soul was filled with hope and joy at the same time; Stella. He remembered that this word made him smile and laugh, making him happy when he was sad. Voices talked more, but now he could distinguish Stella's voice from the others. A small, blurryimage appeared like a flash. Green, emerald eyes surrounded by golden, curly hair and twinkling, teasing playful, sparkles gleaming inside those giant green pools; he felt like he had tried to find those forever. His fear vanished the second he remembered that the eyes belonged to the same word he craved to find, to Stella. Someone he cared for, enough to feel lost without it.

And then, far from him, between the obscure darkness, a faint twinkling light glowed. It scared him to go toward it as light meant pain and hurt. But this time the word, Stella, seemed to be there also, near the light. Should he go? Should he risk getting hurt again? He contemplated the idea of staying, but it meant staying forever in this obscure void. Fear crept inside him, but he had to try, even if it meant hurt and pain. He was about to go toward the light when he felt the ghostly tentacles of the darkness ensnare his soul, crawling into his mind, trying to keep him with them. The small light then began to fade as he was pulled back toward the darkness.

He screamed as images of what had been his life appeared, flashing before him, warning him against the light; he saw all the pain he had suffered, the losses of the one he had loved, the mistakes he had made. And then, it exploded in his mind, Stella. He had made a mistake with her too. His soul trembled from the sudden realization of who she was. She was everything to him, but he hadn't told her. And now, she was going to be alone as he had been without Claire. That memory wrenched his soul. He couldn't do that to her. He couldn't abandon her. He knew now, he loved her. No, he couldn't surrender to the darkness.

Determination filled his mind and suddenly the losses and pain were replaced by images of joy; he remembered holding his smiling goddaughter, Lucy; his friendship with his team, and the caring gaze of his partner, Stella. His will stronger than ever, he writhed in the arms of the darkness and felt the invisible tentacles release their grip. Then, he took a long stride as the ghostly arms parted from his soul and lost their pray. Rushing toward the light, a loud beating echoed in his mind, pounding and hammering madly until he realized it was his own heart. Maybe the light was his exit? He hoped.

Approaching, from the small gleaming light, the pain began to return, teasing at first, it quickly increased becoming a hot burning fire wrenching his soul. Then, he had to stop, unable to breathe or move. He was hurting too much to go further and he remained paralyzed, staring at the gleaming light.


She let out a deep sigh as she slumped heavily in the chair, her gaze running through the decorated room. A small smile grazed her lips as she recalled the day with the team. They had managed to decorate every inch of Mac's room with Christmas balls;red, green, and golden shining garlands; stockings and LED lights already glowed their multicolored lights at the ceiling when she had come back, changed and freshened up. It was amazing how the depressing, white room had changed into a Christmas showroom that the best New York shop would have envied. Her smile widened. Danny's Christmas tree had become the official Christmas tree for the team and Don and Adam had pinned red, and green stockings all around Mac's nightstand with everyone's name on it; the biggest being Mac's. She smiled. She was more than thankful for all their attention, and hoped that Mac had been able to hear them. Now, all she wanted was a small miracle. After all, it's Christmas, had grinned Lindsay, season's miracle. A light grin spread over Stella's face. Yes, it was and Mac was one to make miracles happen every now and then, so why not one for him, this time?

Her sight wandered to his unconscious body, now covered by a red and green, warm blanket brought by Lindsay. She grabbed his hand and entwined her warm fingers with his cold.

"Time to wake up, Mac. Don't make me a liar," she sighed, trying to shave off the sad feelings that had returned painfully and threatened to crush her hopes.


...Mac, a voice called, Stella's voice.

She was calling him, urging him to come, but the wrenching pain was still there increasing with each further step, stronger, angrier, becoming more and more unbearable as time passed. Even the light had greyed from his sigh; only the pain, the constant scorching pain was there. He felt heavier too. The darkness had started to fade into a dark grey where the burning rays were coming from ahead. He tried to move forward, but his body refused to move. So, he remained there, waiting for the pain to subside, but it didn't. Instead, the teasing burn turned into a hot flare running through his throat and chest, and then his lungs, too, were on fire, though his limbs were numb and strikingly cold. But if he concentrated enough,he could feel a soft, comforting warmth coming from his hand and surrounded by a dazzling, bright wondered what it was?

And then, it exploded suddenly, bursting through his body, wrenching each of his muscles in an excruciating wave of tearing pain. It was everywhere, hot and cold at the same time, slashing through his being. He wanted to scream but his lips were stuck as another wave hit him with full force. He thought it was over this time, but the wave didn't vanish nor did he; to his misery, it increased again and again. His head was hurting, hammering, a long, hissing sound burst between his ears, and he fell. But his will kicked in, even if it hurt like hell he wanted to know now, he wasn't going back to the darkness. No, never, damn it! The ghostly face of the word, Stella, floated before him like a distant memory, daring him to try to come back as he continued to fall. So, he hanged on the only thing he could. The one thing that had brought him here near the light, that had brought back his hope and a bit of his memory, and he squeezedas much as he could, clinging to this hope, his lips desperately calling the word, begging to hear him one last time. Stella!


She glanced at her watch, unable to sleep; few minutes to midnight, she noted. Though she was tired and drained, she couldn't sleep; today had brought too many expectations with the team. Her hopes up, even though Mac hadn't woken up, she could feel him, his presence being stronger in the small room. She couldn't really explain how or why, but in fact, it was more like a small tickling energy running through her fingers, muscles and body. It had to mean it was Mac, she wanted to believe it was him.

Dr Shen had clearly stated that he hadn't woken up the day before, and that she shouldn't hope that much, but she knew it wasn't true. Mac needed some time that's all. His marine training taking the toll on everything else, he had probably come for a recon. A faint smile ran through her lips, it had to be that. She wanted it to be that. Her fingers entwined in his, she looked up at the monitors, following the green, steady line of his heartbeat going up and down, and then back at her watch. Midnight. She sighed heavily. It's Christmas.

Although the room should have been plunged into a soft, dim light, she had insisted to the nurses on call to let the light on, and so the room was bathed in a bright, white, shining light. She could feel inside her the growing feeling of nervousness in anticipation. She wanted the light to be on, he needed it to light his way back, and until people proved her wrong she would cling to the hope that he was fighting to come back. And for that, she would be there to help, even if it meant keeping watch at his bedside for days and nights, talking to him. Even if he didn't answer, she'd stay with him and help anyway she could; the light being one.

Another one was her talking to him. Her hand firmly clung to his, she bent to lay a warm kiss on his bruised forehead, careful to avoid the black stitches. Her hand lazily running through his messy hair, she spoke softly.

"Time to come back, Mac. You have slept enough. Come on sleepy head, I know you can hear me," she paused watching patiently his face, searching for any kind of sign.

With a small smile, her hand played with his brown, messy strands, realizing it was the first time she had been so close and for so long to him without him backing away. She marvelled how it would be if he was awake, and if she could do that every time she wanted, not caring about what people might think. She let out a small breath, promising to herself that she wouldn't care about what other could think if life could give her a second chance.

"Come on Mac," she urged him, her voice more pressing. "Time to come home. I'm waiting for you, partner."

As she was about to speak again, she felt a slight twinge coming from her hand. Her brows furrowed not sure if she had dreamed it, but then, the twinge changed into a light squeeze. Her eyes sparkled at the sudden realization that it was the sign she had craved for. She wasn't dreaming, it was real.

"Come on Mac, I know you can do it," she encouraged him, staring at the sleepy face hoping to see his eyes open. "Open your eyes for me Mac, please, just open your eyes," she begged, as tension crept into her shoulders.

Then, she saw, amazed, as his eyelids twitched weakly, and as the seconds passed the twitching grew stronger, and soon, faint narrow openings appeared on his face, followed by a weak grunt, his hold tightening around her hand, never letting go.

"Hey," she whispered softly, stroking his messy hair. "Welcome back, Mac. Welcome home."

"Stell..." his croaked voice slurred as opening his eyes had drained all his strength.

"It's okay Mac. Let me call your doctor." Her hand gently patted his shoulder to reassure him she wasn't leaving. "You have plenty of time to speak, okay?" She pressed on the call button, her eyes locked with the narrow opening of his. "It's gonna be okay now."

He tried to nod, and let her know that he understood, but the move made him dizzy, sending a new wave of flaring pain coursing through his muscles and all he could do was to cling to her warm hand, a weak moan escaping his lips. Behind his blurred vision, he realized, as the pain increased he was releasing it on the hand at his side. Not wanting to hurt her, he released his pressure on Stella's hand, although the pain kept firing through his lungs. He knew now why it had been so important to find her; he cared about her. And seeing her face etched in pain as he was fighting another wave of pain, he didn't want to add any more burdens on her shoulders. No. Even if he had to suck in the pain, he would not hurt her more. So he gave her a light squeeze, feeling his strength leaving him as his eyes fluttered wearily and his head sagged limply on the side.

Stella's face went white, as she watched his face being torn by the sudden flare of pain, and his hand trembling weakly between hers. She cupped his clammy cheek as his head had rolled on the side as if he was about to slip away again.

"No, Mac," she urged. Her face came inches of his. "Hold on to me Mac. It's okay. Hold on to me, with all your strength and will. You are not alone Mac. Please let me help you," she pleaded, trying to keep her voice strong as she pushed back her fear. She was so afraid that he drifted back, too drain to hold on now. "Let me ease some of your pain. Let me do that for you, Mac."

She saw his eyes opening a bit further, questions gleaming through the haze covering his light, green pools as his flushed face was now covered in sweat.

"Trust me, Mac. Let it go. All the pain, the hurt, the fear, I can take it. I'll be strong for both of us. Please, Mac. I'm begging you. Let me help."

She saw the tension in his eyes slowly vanish as his hold increased on her hand. She could feel him still holding back as his eyes were searching hers in fear; he had hurt her. "Let it go, Mac," she whispered softly, her left hand cupping his cheek, and her thumb gently rubbing his sweaty temple, stroking his damp hair. "For me Mac, let it go. Let me take some of your pain."

The crease on his forehead deepened and his hold became stronger as he finally released the pain wrenching his body, panting grunts escaping his lips. She felt tears wetting her eyes as she realized that even in the worst possible pain, he had tried to protect her, taking more on his shoulders than he should. Mac.

As Dr Shen entered his room followed by two nurses, he quickly took note of the situation and sent one nurse back. A minute later, she was back with a tray. Over the thin layer of white dressing covering the shining, metallic tray, laid two needles. His hand pressed, slightly, on Mac's sweaty forehead and quickly shoved the beam of his flashlight into each of his eyes. Mac moaned from the hurting light burning his eyes and shut them quickly. A faint smile grazed the doctor's face, as he grabbed one needle.

"I know it hurts so I'm gonna give you some heavy painkiller and let you rest," he spoke softly, watching as Mac slowly reopened his eyes, searching for Stella's comforting gaze as the pain flared again in his green, ocean pools. As soon as he found it, his anxiety began to subside. "But I need you to answer few questions first, okay?"

Stella watched as Mac's lips slowly parted to form a silent yes.

"You have been in a coma for four days." The doctor waited a minute, letting the information sink into Mac's tortured mind. "Can you tell me your name?" asked Doctor Shen.

Her heart raced in her chest in anticipation. Was he going to be okay? Did he remember who and where he was? She watched as his eyes rolled from one side to another, then to her and Dr Shen, clearly searching the answer in his memory.

Then, his faint, hoarse voice filled the silent room. "Mac...name's....Mac Taylor," he breathed out, panting and fighting to stay awake.

"Good, Mac," replied the doctor. "Do you know where you are?"

He looked around him, but his head couldn't move and all he could make out was the white, bright ceiling over him and the man in white coat beside him with Stella.

"Lab?..." he tried, as he started to doze off, though he was fighting wearily to keep his eyes open.

Stella gave him a small smile, patting gently his shoulder, and glanced at the doctor surprised. "It's because of your coat. We wear the same at the lab," she explained.

"Ah...good," his stare went back to Mac. "One more question and I let you rest, okay?" he said as Mac's eyes fluttered open, using the last bit of energy he still had as a new wave of pain wrenched his body. A long, raking moan escaped his lips as his body arched under the pain.

"Hold on to me, Mac." Stella tightened her hold as she felt him desperately gripping her hand.

"Do you remember what happened to you?" asked Dr Shen trying to speed the process. He knew Mac was in pain, but couldn't give him any medication without checking his brain function first.

It took some time before Mac finally shook weakly his head, admitting he had no clue.

"It's okay," said the doctor with a soft smile. "I hadn't expected you to answer that one." Though now, he was sure of his patient response to different situation; like being glanced at Stella, before he plunged the long needle inside Mac's IV. "The pain should start to fade as the drugs will kick in," he stated before he nodded to Stella. "Waking up had drained his strength, so don't worry if he starts to doze off." Then he added, "I think you were right. We'll need to run a couple of tests but his answers were satisfying enough for me to tell you that I don't see him having any further complications."

Stella's face lit up at the doctor's word. He's gonna be fine. She couldn't suppress the joy that filled her heart; it was just overwhelming to know that he was going to be okay. Her gaze went back to Mac's almost sleepy face as the doctor left them alone. But on the threshold, he turned toward them.

"I guess we can turn off the light now?" he asked with a slight grin.

She smiled back, nodding again, as the light was turned off, and the room was plunged in a dim, soft, orange light, the green lights of the monitors glowing on their faces in the rhythm of Mac's slowing heartbeat. His eyes were hazy and fighting to stay open when her face came close to his, not wanting to speak aloud.

"You can rest now, Mac. You're not alone anymore," she murmured to his ear, her breath caressing his face as she dropped a warm kiss over his forehead and brushed away a small, wet strand of hair. She watched with satisfaction as his tired gaze left her, his face began to relax as the drug was kicking in and he let his eyelids shut; his body obviously drained by his tremendous fight, he had dropped his barriers and his head sagged into her hand cupping his burning cheek. A proud smile grazed her lips as she realized he had abandoned himself to her; no shell, no barrier around him, just him, Mac Taylor.

"I won't let you go now," she whispered to the night as she eased herself back into the chair, her hands still stroking his cheek and holding, firmly, his limp sweaty hand with the other. She knew that she wouldn't be able to sleep tonight, unable to let her eyes rest on something else other than the comforting image of Mac's finally sleeping figure. She listened at his shallow breath as a real smile carved her face for the first time in days; Mac had woken up. He had come back to her, as she had prayed, Mac Taylor had done another miracle.


December 25th ...Christmas day

He was floating again, but this time he didn't feel alone, no. He had something to hold onto, someone he cared for more than his life; his anchor was by his side to help him to never drift away into the cold, dark sea that he had awakened from. As his eyes fluttered open, he noted with delight that indeed he was back into the room with the white ceiling, although this time, the bright, hurting light was gone, replaced by a soft, salmon light coming from the rising sun behind the window. He was alive. He welcomed the cool air that slightly filled his burning lungs as he took a small breath. Though his mouth and throat were dry and itching, it was good to be back.

His head rolled on his side as he wondered what was weighing so much on his right hand. Though he couldn't move his arms yet, curiosity was taking over. A weak smile spread over his bruised face as he caught a bunch of messy, golden, curly hair laid over his arm. Stella. The word brushed his lips as the sweetest delight in the world. His reason to fight, and wake up was there, holding onto his hand to be sure they would not be separated again. More than anything, he wanted to take her in his arms, and hug her for the rest of his life. He had come back for her. But then, the painful memory of him, never telling her what he felt came back to haunt him. She doesn't know, he realized with pain, she's my friend, we never... his eyes stared at the ceiling for a moment, thinking. This was going to be hard; he wanted so much to hold her, but not like a friend, not anymore. What was he going to do? Deep in his thoughts, he didn't see Stella stirring up tiredly, and putting back some rebellious curls behind her ears as her sleepy eyes rested on his pale, tormented face.

He's awake, she realized a wide smile carving her face, as she noticed his eyes staring sternly at the ceiling. She couldn't resist and gently stroked his bluish cheek. With great efforts, he turned his head toward her, his face lingering in her warm touch as their eyes locked and silence lingered between them. They were gazing at each other for a very long time before one of them, hearing the door being opened, dared to break their invisible link.

Two nurses entered the room, one holding a pile of fresh, white sheets as the other, a small brunette, stepped to the monitors. They greeted them with a gentle smile.

"So, you finally decided to join us, Detective Taylor," enquired, playfully, the small brunette.

He nodded, his mouth too dry to utter a word.

"Well," continued the other, a tall, male nurse. "I came to change your sheets. So with the help of your good friend here, and granting that she allows us to come a bit closer," he stated winking at a blushing Stella. "I will change your sheets and let you rest for the day."

"I'm not..." rambled Stella, as she watched the nurse push a long stretcher near Mac's bed, and with the help of the other nurse, lifted Mac's frail body with the help of the sheet underneath him and laid him, softly on the stretcher.

He let out a small groan, as his body moved for the first time in days. Though, it was nothing compared to the hell he had been when he first woke up.

"I bet you didn't know you had that bodyguard protecting you," threw the smiling brunette to Mac, as she glanced at Stella.

Their eyes locked and the world disappeared around them, not noticing the two pair of eyes grinning at them as the nurses glanced at each other before they finished tieing up his bed. Then, Mac felt his body being lifted once again with the sheet and gently deposited onto the fresh bed.

"Okay, here it's the hard part detective," said the small, brunette nurse as she addressed to both. "You better hold on to her," she advised him as the nurses began to lift his motionless legs to roll the old sheet onto his waist and then up to his back.

Pain ran through his muscles as his body was forced to move against his will, and he groaned weakly. Stella's warm hand tightened around his as she watched his face tense under the flaring pain, his chest rising quickly under his short, rasping breath. He swallowed as their eyes connected again. Things were so easy when she was around, he thought, as he lost his soul into the emerald glimmer, pain slowly subsiding as long as he was connected to her deep, shining pools.

"Done," broke the nurse, the sheet rolled up in her hands as she glanced at her friend with a complicit look. It was time to leave and they left those two together; comatose patients had a lot to catch up after they'd woken up. At least, she thought, as she pushed the door to exit, this one was heading toward a happy ending. Well, if these two were able to get their heads around and to get to real business. She smirked, she had always found very cute to see love blossoming for the first time, even though people were already living it for years.

Silence filled the room as their eyes were still locked together. But as Mac tried to lift his arm to cuddle her hands between his, like he used to, a wrenching pain burst in his chest, drawing him a loud, rasping cough. Soon his dry, scorched throat was burning, increasing his cough.

As worries creased Stella's face, she grabbed the glass of water left on his nightstand, and brought the straw to his cut lips as she lifted the top end of his bed. She watched, anxiously, as he tried to grab the straw with his hands, but finally renounced when he realized his strength was far from coming back. He shot her a weak smile when she set the straw directly into his mouth, but deep inside his green, ocean eyes, she could see the frustration already burning. Without even knowing what she was doing, she patted his shoulder as he sipped a small amount of water, and left his head to lean back. As he was done, she put the glass aside and gave him an encouraging smile.

"It'll come back, Mac."

"I know," he said tiredly.

"So why are you so frustrated?"

He swallowed, and for a second she swore she had seen the ghost of fear behind the green fields of his eyes. "I guess, seeing me like this must break a myth," he dropped, sadly.

And then she realized he was afraid of her reaction. Not his failure or anything, but what she might think of him in the long run. Probably rambling in his thick head that he should already be able to stride in the hallway and go for a walk. Typical Mac. Why was she so surprised anyway? She should have known that he was going to react like that. She locked her eyes with his, putting a schoolish grin on her face.

"Well," she began. "I must admit, I'm surprise you're not already up and trying to flee this hospital," she provoked.

Her words struck him hard, his brows furrowed as he raised a sight full of sorrow and sadness. "I...I just woke up, sorry," he said, his voice hoarse, and his throat still hurting to talk. "I guess,... this coma has taken its toll on me, sorry," he breathed out, his face flushed from all the effort he had made so far.

"Well, glad you realized that Mac. So does it mean you're gonna give yourself a break?" she replied, as she winked playfully.

He let out a small sigh followed by a weak smile and he rolled his eyes. "I surrender, okay? I got the message."

She grinned wickedly. "Fast learner; good. Maybe we can skip the next lesson and try directly for the last one now that you know that nothing will change the way I see you."

"Which is?" he enquired, now intrigued, his eyes gleaming with expectations.

"Well..." her voice died in her throat as Flack pushed the door open.

"Hey Stell," he threw, before he stopped on the threshold, staring at a fully awoken Mac. A stunned, stupid grin grazed his face.

"Don't stay in the doorway, Don," enjoined Mac, "the doc says it's not good for me to be in gusting winds." He teased and watched with delight, as Flack's dropped jaw finally settled back in place before he walked toward him.

"Mac! I'm so glad to see you, man! How do you feel?" He stopped near the bed, his smile now painted all over his face.

"Good. Got an angel to watch over me," he said as he glanced at Stella, blushing again near his bed.

"Yeah, quite the worst Taylor's addiction I've ever seen," he replied, with a small wink to Stella. "I'm not sure rehab could work on her."

Now it was Mac's turn to blush whe he saw her cheeks shaded with a soft dark pink. She stared at Don and then at Mac, her face serious. "Well, I'm sure you would have done the same for me," she cut as both grinning men turned toward her.

"Without hesitation," shot Mac as Flack watched him, startled at the instinctive answer his friend had tossed. And then, he noticed that Mac and Stella were clinging to each other, their hands not parting from each other even in his presence, and his grin widened even more. Maybe things were really going to change.

"I'm telling you Linds, I changed her two hours ago. She's just eating and pooping too much..." Danny's voice trailed off as he stepped in and his crystal, blue eyes met Mac's tired gaze. He turned toward his wife still in the doorway, Lucy clinging to her father's neck. He took a serious look. "Well, I don't like to remind you, Lins, about these things, but... I told you so," he threw with a boyish grin as he stepped aside, revealing Mac's room.

"What, Danny?" she said, his statement getting on her nerves. "I don't see what it has to do with Lucy not being changed and your..." her voice faded as a wide smile spread over her lips and gleamed behind her eyes when she caught the sight of Mac. "You!" she said as she gently slapped Danny's arm, and passed an amused Flack. "Are you... Can I..."she began, looking at Mac. "Oh hell! You're not the boss here!" And on these words she cupped Mac's cheek and gave him a warm kiss on his forehead. "You can send me a memo for not kissing my boss later," she threw, her eyes daring him to try.

Mac grinned, his bluish cheeks taking a faint reddish color as he blushed, "I won't."

"Good, now I can completely relax. How do you feel?"

"I'm okay."

They all turned to him with an amused gaze.

"And besides your usual 'I'm fine'," cut a voice behind them, "how is it to stare into death in the eyes? I always wondered what my patients, sorry, bodies would have to say if..."

"Sid," cut Stella, happy to see the ME, "I don't think Mac is interested in your story right now."

"Oh," he dropped, as he patted Mac's arm. "Maybe next time, then."

"Yeah," replied Mac, as he watched his friends starting into playful conversations, their faces shining as they were clearly happy to see him awake.

He had missed them so much, especially Stella. He watched her moving, lightly, from the corner of his eyes, noticing for the first time her tired posture as she was now standing near his bed. Her face showing deep, curving, dark bags under her eyes, as her stiff movements betrayed her long restless watch beside him. He winced at her weary shape; all because of him. From what he had picked up in their talks, she had stayed with him since she had found him, right after he had been tossed through the window of the crime lab building.

He swallowed the knot in his throat, remembering the painful fall as everything had spun around him. In a pretty weak state, the only thing he had managed to see was her face, shedding tears when she had discovered him. He had wanted to tell her so much at the time, but it had been impossible as his body had betrayed him, and he had woken up here and now. He sighed weakly.

But now that he was back, he wanted to take the time to talk the truth to her. Maybe he would regret it, maybe they'd built something, but he had to. Even he knew that all his friends had gathered around him and was happy to see them, he was grateful she hadn't left his hand. It was soothing to be able to touch her soft, warm skin under his fingers, even though he couldn't move, his body still numb from his coma. He had missed her so much. He didn't care if everyone noticed it. He just couldn't let her go. Not now; never. He had been on the verge of losing everything, of losing her, and now he wanted to live and not wait any longer. But something stopped him from telling her what he felt right now, in this room, in the middle of their friends. Her. She might not want any of this, and the perspective of hurting her in any way was enough to make him hesitate and clam up.

While Danny and Flack had gathered around Mac, proudly exhilaratingtheir awefor their boss and friend who had managed to kick Henry's scum bags' ass even though he was cuffed and in a three against one fight, Stella's eyes couldn't leave his tired, bruised features. Watching, obsverving each muscles of his face and body to reassure her that he was okay. So, when his mood changed from a weak smile to a deep frown carving his forehead, Stella had already begun to worry. Even though with the small Lucy snuggled to his side, his mind seemed very far from them.

She wondered if it was the fact that she was still holding his hand in front of the team, or something else that was bothering him. The doctor had ordered to the nurses to put him under heavy painkiller, his IV linked to his command, but his strength wasn't back, neither his ability to move his hand to the small pump commanding the shots. Though knowing Mac, he would probably take less than required. She sighed thinking about giving his hand its freedom, but when she started to let go, she felt his hold tightened even more. With a quick glance, she locked her eyes into his, catching the ghost of fear beneath them as he quickly shaved it away, locking up his feelings inside. What is he afraid of? Then, his sight went to Danny, avoiding her questioning stare, and she felt his pressure relax. But she wasn't about to let go this time, even though he hadn't talked, she got the message. She'd stay close, no matter what.

But strangely, the day went without anyone asking her to get a break or go eat something. No, everyone, especially Sid, had left her alone, and she had happily kept Mac's fingers entwined in hers. His touch so comforting, that even sometime, she found her thumb gently caressing the back of his hand without even knowing it. But what brought her even more joy was the quick glance from Mac from time to time, a small smile grazing at his lips every time their eyes locked. She had missed their quiet bonding, knowing what he thought by a dive into the depth of its green, ocean pools.

"Well, time to go," uttered suddenly Sid as he glanced at his watch and waved at the team to empty the room. "Mac probably needs to rest now." Strangely, none of them protested.

Craving for the opportunity to remain alone with his partner, Mac nodded at Sid's comment. "Sorry, Sid's right, I'm a bit tired," he admitted, though he hoped she, would stay with him.

Mischievous grins were exchanged at his affirmation. Mac admitting he's tired. Lindsay and Danny glanced at each other as they picked up a sleeping Lucy from Mac's side, and nestled the small baby into Danny's arms. Then, as fast as they arrived, they all quickly said goodbye and left as they headed to the door, big grins on their faces.

Mac observed nervously, wondering if she was going to leave too. Although, she bounced lightly on the sole of her foot, she didn't make a slight move to exit his room. When he realized she wasn't leaving, he released the breath he hadn't seen he had held on; a small smile tugging at his lips.

The door closed, and his room returned to a silent contemplation. The day had gone in a flash. The pleasure of being alive again, even though he couldn't move yet, and to see all his friends visiting him on Christmas day had taken its toll on him. He gazed at the room that his team, his friends had decorated the day before, the lazy, green garlands hanging from one side of the room to the other. A small grin grazed at his lips as he noticed the red stockings with the name of everyone on it, his, being the biggest, and the shy, Christmas tree gleaming and lighting the room in orange, blue, green lights as it blinked. Christmas. The word echoed in his mind as his thoughts slowly slipped back to what had brought him here. I was supposed to invite her today, and instead she spent her week here, waiting and worrying. His eyes filled suddenly with painful sorrow. All because of me.

"What are you thinking Mac?" softly asked Stella as she had noticed the gloomy shadow returning in his green pools as he looked down; a deep frown creasing her forehead.

He took a deep breath, before he raised a weary pair of eyes on her. "Sorry it took me this long. You worried for me and I should..."

"Hey Mac," she cut him, her voice soft and soothing. "Now you're here and it's all that really matters." She looked down at their entwined fingers and a wide smile gleamed in her eyes as she raised them up. "I'm just glad you're here."

"Me too," he whispered, "it's just... well, you here... with me..."

His eyes finally locked into hers and her jaw dropped at what she saw; Mac's timid smile looking at her. She tried not to smile too widely at the timid attitude that her partner was taking. Mac, shy? That was new.

"I... I wanted to spend this day with you," he breathed out. "I know it's selfish, and well, I wanted to ask you that, before...well..."his voice trailed off, his gaze looking out the window at the setting sun before it came back to lock with Stella's eyes. "I'm sorry Stell, I never did, I should, but..."

She put a soft finger over his lips and his voice immediately faded as he looked up, his heart beating a bit further in his chest. "So we did, Mac, so we did." She gave him her best comforting smile. "We spent Christmas together, and to be honest, I wanted you to ask." She let her words sink into his mind as she watched his tense face relax. "I'm happy you're okay, and maybe next Christmas we will..."

"No," his strong tone surprised her, as she locked her eyes into his, puzzled. But quickly, his charming smile grazed his lips.

"I won't be able to wait till next year." He finally uttered with a small breath. "I..." he paused, his eyes gleaming with a new strength. Now or never, Mac. "I want more Stella. If I had asked you to join me for Christmas it would have been a date...I mean..." he stopped, letting his words sink into hers as if to let her any chance to run away. But she didn't move nor run, so he continued. "I care a lot about you... more than you can imagine, and I..."

"Mac," she stopped him, her warm gaze locking with his. He raised a nervous look to her. "I do care a lot about you too, and I want more too." She smiled, no, she wouldn't be able to wait until next Christmas either. She sighed. "I missed my friend and I..."

He smiled back, interrupting her. "Come here," he said, as he tried to lift his right arm to make some room beside him, but failed miserably, only raising it an inch from the sheets.

"Well mister tough guy," she teased him. "I guess you're gonna need me for some time," she said with a playful smile as she gently lifted his arm and the red and green blanket. Then, she snuggled beside him, careful not to press on his sore ribs and wrapped his arm around her neck.

"Want to play the nurse," he teased with a warm smile.

"You know me, always ready to give a hand," she replied playfully as she laid back the blanket over her and gave him a warm smile before she let out a small, sad puff.

"Stella?" he asked, afraid she might be backing away after all.

"Just wondering why it took us so long?"

His brows creased, "I have no idea. But I know how to skip to the next lesson." His boyish smile back on his face, his eyes sparkled with a gleaming light as he imagined what he wanted to do next.

"Oh yeah and how?" she wondered, encouraging him to continue.

His smile spread to his ears as he put all his strength into his arm to pull her close to him, her face inches to his. As his lips timidly brushed the soft skin of hers, the green of his ocean pools turned into a bright, dazzling blue and locked into the green jewel gazing at him in expectation.

"Thanks for believing in me," he spoke softly, his warm breath caressing her cheek.

Giving all he had left, he managed to lift his hand to her golden, curly hair, and stroke the golden strands with delight, his tense body finally relaxing. He wasn't alone anymore, she was there, with him.

"Thanks for coming back," she replied and, as she hadn't pushed him away, their lips joined into an eternal, passionate kiss.

His hand slowly slid along her neck, stroking her soft skin as he lingered into tasting her lips. This time, there was no doubt in his mind that he had made the right choice for coming back; she was his destiny, she was the part of him that he had missed for so long. As their lips broke apart to let their lungs breathe, he could see her eyes shining with a new light; true happiness. He smiled, realizing that his were probably reflecting the same joy of finding her and finally being able to be with her completely, without barrier.

"Fast learner," she uttered softly as she locked her shining eyes into his. Then, a soft statement paralyzed her for a second, before it filled her soul with an infinite warmth.

"I love you," he whispered in her ears, her soft, curls nuzzling with his bruised cheek.

She looked up, catching with delight the new fire blazing behind his blue pools and she knew that he was going to be okay. Gently, she snuggled her head against his shoulder, her body lightly pressed against his to share their warmth, but not enough to hurt his tender chest or ribs. She heard him whispering with delight as he felt her body against his. Carefully, she lay her arm over his chest avoiding the wounded area, her fingers beginning to stroke lazily. She closed her eyes, relaxing her tense muscles into his arms as she felt his chin resting softly into her hair. His warm breath caressed her neck. She smiled, happy. She could rest now, even if they still had a long and rough road ahead of them, they would be together to face it, and together they would overcome any obstacles. As she tightened her hold around his frail chest, she felt his body relaxing under her touch, and his breath became slow and steady; a broad smile carved her lips as they had finally found each other.

"I love you too, Mac," she murmured in a soft breath as sleep finally claimed both of them.

Between the lazy, white flakes falling outside, the soft, golden light of the setting sun tenderly caressed their tired, but peaceful faces, welcoming back its bravest children to a world of joy and happiness.

The End...

A/N: Well, I hope you liked this end, now don't forget to leave me your comment... And Merry Christmas to you all. :)