A/N: okay here it's the last chapter, it's a bit late, but I wasn't there part of the week, and then got busy...well, anyway, this chapter is very, very long, I hope you won't mind. I pondered about cutting it in half, but since I promised only one, and then, the atmosphere wouldn't have been the same so, here is a long chapter: the big finale of Najaf...

Again, a great thanks to all who followed that story, put it in fav or in alert, and a special thanks to all who continuously reviewed. So, thanks to Andorian Ice Princess-Aip, LILKENNY, Stardust585, StellaBonaseraTaylor, Lily Moonlight, Lindsy, Smacked-for-life, DoctorLisaCuddy, Sophia923, x-Natalie-x, csi kane, Timeforachange, Aquata, Katya S, gsr4ever15, rocksmacked, jjsaywat97,Tim, Mr GOP88, Rosa Atrus, moska, Vermontgirl61, Bonasera-Taylor, cic628, da-doink-doink, Catulicious, Magenta!, Forensic Girl554, ABIGAIL and if I forgot someone please know it wasn't intentional.

And thanks to Rosa for her knowledge about Iraq and our small talks.

So if I may, tighten your seatbelt and hang on, this ride kinda take off, lol. Well, you'll tell me...

Summary: An unexpected enemy presents himself as he wants his revenge on Mac and set the team up in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Angst, SMacked, team friendship and comfort ensue. SMacked, D/L, Flack, Sheldon and later Adam.

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


"Who are you?" Stella asked with anger.

Why so much violence and rage against her partner? She needed to know. She needed to know if she could reason that man. She looked at him, her eyes darting furious sword. Tall, in his mid-thirties, and in doctors' scrubs, she could see he had thought about everything; from his medical shoes to the absence of casual clothes underneath. No, this guy was really playing serious. That's why the guards hadn't seen a thing with him. Only his gun was the odd element of his disguise. His rounded, tanned face eyed her with a dark glare, before his sight wickedly lingered too long for her taste on Mac. She could feel his hatred resting on him. If his eyes could have killed, then, Mac would be dead by now, or worse as his glare seemed to think at something before a grin appeared on his face. Her hands cuddled Mac's head over her laps as he moved slightly and let escape a weak moan. His eyes twitched, fighting to remain conscious. His bloody gash was smearing her clothes with crimson spots, and she trembled when her wet hands stroked his warm cheek to reassure him. His eyes twitched and she could see with horror the thick glassy veil upon them.

The man smirked as he stepped near Sheldon and grabbing his collar, he dragged his limp body toward the bed. Still ignoring Stella's question, he reaped open Sheldon's shirt revealing the dark skin beneath it. Then, raising his gun toward Stella, he stepped closer to the bed where Stella was supporting a dozing Mac. Without warning, he pulled on the heart plugs stuck on Mac's chest. The action tugged on his skin and pulled Mac out of his drowsiness with a grunt.

Her blood rushing behind her ears, Stella heard the heart monitor going flat line and then starting to beat to a normal pace as soon as the man stuck the plugs on Sheldon's chest. A gloomy feeling nestled in the pit of her stomach. If the guy was taking the time to separate Mac from the heart monitor, it meant he hadn't come just for the kill, or he would be done with it already. Breathing loudly, chills of dread ran down her spine at the perspective of having Mac alone in the hands of this psycho. She swallowed hard, ready to do anything to prevent any dreadful torment to her partner.

"Stell...?" his weak voice called as he was coming back to full consciousness.

"I'm here, Mac," she whispered, gently caressing his cheek. He tried to sit with a groan. Swiftly, she sat behind his back to support his battered body.

His head sagged a moment before him as he tried to clear his mind. His brain was pounding madly and a buzzing headache was writhing his ears. He had a hard time to focus, his vision greying in and out. He caught, trying to get his throat to function normally after the steel choke. Nausea invaded his tongue, and he swallowed his painful breath. His chest was throbbing madly too, and he knew from the shooting pain in his side that the guy had badly bruised his ribs with his gun. He blinked and finally felt Stella's comforting body behind him.

"So finally you're back with us, Taylor," growled the man, pointing the gun directly on Mac's chest.

Stella flinched under the rage this man was using when he was using her partner's name; and the gun toward her partner's chest wasn't to reassure her.

Mac swallowed to wet his dry mouth. "Let her go," he grunted, his voice imperative as he had found a new vigor. He raised a daunting glare toward his aggressor. "That's me ya want..." he spat. He took another painful breath between his clenched teeth, and his vision cleared before him. He could see now the guy pointing his gun toward his heart. Somehow he was relieved that Stella was behind him, at least he hoped if the man lost his nerves then, he could shield her.

"Mac, don't," began Stella, before he slowly turned toward her. Blood was still slowly oozing from the cut in his hair, and his eyes fluttered a second before he opened them with more force. She could see his resolved blazing behind his green, ocean pools.

"No, Stell..." he said softly. There was no way he was going to let her get hurt or worse, because of him.

"Look at that," snarled the man, his gun dancing dangerously between Stella and Mac, driving their sights toward him. "That is so cute." He shook his head. "Unfortunately Major Taylor you're not in command this time. I decide who stays or not." He glared at Mac daring him to say otherwise. "And she's gonna stick with us," he growled with rage, his gun aiming at Mac's head. "Like that you'll keep quiet, otherwise I'll let my bad manners take care of her."

The last words made Mac's blood boiled in rage. "You bastard!" he cursed as he shifted awkwardly on the bed and slanted forward. But hindered by his IV lines and Stella's pulls on his scrubs, he didn't make it more than few inches. His lips cracked into a painful wince as the pain in his shoulder shot in a hot flare throughout his body. He pressed his left arm against his chest, trying to ease the pain writhing his chest, and shoulder, but it didn't work. Obviously, his painkillers had worn off, and he was left with nothing to help him but his will. Breathing laboriously, he felt Stella's hands patting his back behind him.

The man smirked at Mac's vain attempt to get to him as he dragged Sheldon's body a little bit aside. With a scorn and keeping his eyes and gun on his preys, he tugged on an unused wire, and tied Sheldon's hands behind. Then, crouching beside Sheldon, he pressed the butt of his gun on the ME's neck and looked at Mac with an evil smile.

"Don't do that," voiced Mac and Stella at the same time. Horror painted on their faces, their eyes glued to the man's index finger ready to pull the trigger.

"Beg me," hissed the man between his teeth. "Beg me, and he might live."

Mac shivered at his enemy's cold tone. This guy wanted nothing more than exert power over him. If it was what he had to give, humiliate himself in order to save his friends, then, the choice was easy.

"I beg you not to..." Mac took a small breath, as his eyes connected with the man in fear. "Please leave him alone," begged Mac. Stella's hand squeezed his arm as a quiet support.

"You're not sincere enough," the man stated as he stood up and aimed at Sheldon's chest.

"No," screamed Mac as he shifted, sending more pain through his body. He winced but stared in rage. His face was crimson in anger and fear that the psycho act on his words. Mac swallowed the lump in his throat and locked his eyes with his enemy, revealing his own fears. "Please, don't kill him," he pleaded, his voice having lost part of his composure. He couldn't provoke the guy if it meant Sheldon's death. "What ya want from me?"

"I want you on your knees, begging me," the man growled with anger. "But maybe I haven't chosen the right person," he stated as his gun aimed at Stella.

"Nooo," screamed Mac with horror. His heart skipped in his chest. He instinctively put himself between her and the gun. Not her, his mind shot. Not Stella.

Her grip on his arm tightened, trying to pull him out of harm's way. "Mac, don't...You can't...I..." Her voice trailed off in fear. She was afraid it could be the end of her partner. This man was crazy and obviously he was taking great pleasure by hurting Mac.

The man smiled wickedly, enjoying the torture he was inflicting to his prey. He had to pay. He had vowed revenge since the day of their deaths, and now, after all these years he was going to be able to execute it.

"Why?" asked Stella her eyes beginning to water as she was witnessing the mental torture the man was inflicting to her partner. Her fingers wrapped firmly around Mac's arm. He couldn't do that, and put himself in danger just after she had almost lost him. She needed him. "Why?" she repeated, her voice broken by the evil stare glaring in hatred at Mac.

"Why?" answered the man angrily. "Because a butcher like him deserves it," he growled with hatred, his gun aiming at Mac.

"You're wrong," she replied as she snaked her arm around Mac waist, hoping to calm him from trying to jump on the man. In his condition, he wouldn't make it far before he got a bullet between the eyes, and then it would be over of her Mac Taylor. She would lose him.

"No, I'm right about him." He pointed his gun to Mac's head. "He's a killer. Blowing up child and women." He lashed out with rage. His hand squeezed the gun as his finger dangerously played with the trigger.

Mac's face grew pale at the reference of his dark past, his eyes stuck in shock into the man's eyes before him. He wasn't a killer. But deep inside, guilt soared, and he couldn't erase the dark faces of the charred corpses his men and himself had dug out after the blast. All this blood and smell of roasted dead corpses had made the strongest of them throwing up their gut into the desert. He breathed wearily. He was guilty of their deaths; that he was sure of it.

"It was an accident," defended Stella as her partner remained still in her arms. She could feel his guilt surging and eating at his soul. He was a good man. How dare that guy accused him of willingly killing innocent?

"An accident?" snarled the man not believing her words. "He gave the order to blow them up. It was no accident!" He stated harshly. His face was contorted in rage.

"The insurgents blown themselves up, it wasn't Mac..." Stella defended.

"He gave the order before that. And they wouldn't have been gathered like that if it hadn't been because of him," spat the man.

Mac's eyes lowered to the bed. The guy was right. He had known that fact all along. "How...?" began Mac, his voice weak and wavering. "How ya know?" his voice struggled with the guilt he had felt all these years. It was true that the insurgents had blown themselves up, but as he had told Stella, he was the one in charge. He had put them into this situation. He was the one responsible for this whole chaos. And he was responsible too if she was in danger now. He glanced quickly, catching her trembling hand tightening around his arm. He didn't want her to pay for something he had done in the past.

"Because my mother had hidden me in another building, and I saw everything," the man growled with disgust. "And I saw him," he shot furiously, his gun aimed at Mac's chest. "He was standing in the middle of this butchery, blood all over his uniform, strolling and smiling as if nothing happened."

"That's not true, we helped the survivors," Mac shot to his defense. How could this man imply that he had enjoyed that day? He had cursed that day, never able to forget about his failure and the deaths he had caused on innocent people. Even his nights reminded him about it with weary, painful nightmares.

"Shut up! I lost my parents and my two older brothers that day. Because of you!" He violently thrust the butt of the gun into Mac's ribs making him wince in pain. "And now it's gonna be your turn." His gun deepened angrily in Mac's chest, hurting his bruised ribs. "But I swear you gonna feel it." He added with hatred.

"It was war," voiced out Stella. Her hand had gripped around Mac's arm to contain him in case he tried to play the wild card. Please Mac, don't give him what he wants. Don't let yourself get killed, not like this, not by that bastard.

Stella shivered at the hatred look the man gave her as his eyes set upon her. Then, in a violent pull, he tugged harshly on the IV lines plugged into Mac's arms. Mac muffled a scream as the needles twisted suddenly and torn his flesh, leaving smears of dripping blood on the white sheets.

"Ah," Mac moaned. His face was flushed in pain, his jaw clenched.

"Take the sling off," ordered the man as he pointed the gun at Stella's head.

With a groan, and swallowing back the throbbing pain, Mac untied the sling from his wounded shoulder and let his arm dangled freely on his side. He clenched his teeth under the flaring pain slashing his flesh. But he had to obey, this guy could very well kill Stella just to make a point. He shivered at the thought. Whatever would come, he would gladly take it if it could spare Stella's life. Please God, let her be safe.

"Now, both of you, move," said their aggressor pointing his free hand at the door. "We gonna make a small trip."

Her heart accelerated in her chest. A trip? She watched with dread as the man's eyes gleamed with mad pleasure. This couldn't be good. That man wasn't gonna let them go, especially Mac. Fear tightened in a painful knot inside her throat. No, he wanted more from Mac; she could feel it. His rage and hatred toward her partner exuded from all parts of his being. She had to find something quickly. She couldn't count on the cops. She had dismissed them quickly, worried about Mac and Sheldon, and none of them had struck her as they had understood her nervous glances toward the door. She hadn't been lucky on this one. Those cops were freshly out of school and didn't know to recognize a situation going awry. She sighed in dread, hoping at least one of their friends would show up and see that they were missing. But when? When they would be gone for who knows where? Where this guy could enjoy to slowly torture and kill Mac? Her heart accelerated in her chest. No, she couldn't count on luck. She had to find a way. But how?

Mac slipped from the bed. His bare feet met the cold floor, sending painful shivers through his already battered body. He would have crumbled right away if Stella's firm arm around his waist hadn't kept him up. As she supported part of his weight with his arm around her neck, they both slowly shuffled toward the door. Somehow he was glad he was in scrubs, at least a part of his dignity would remain intact, but for how long?

The man stepped behind them, and painfully nestled his gun into Mac's right side as they reached the door. He wickedly bent toward Mac and Stella, grabbing Mac's hair and pulling him backward. His cigarette mint breath exhaled his hatred as he coldly spoke. "The first who tries anything, I kill the other without a second thought. You got me?" He released his grip and thrust Mac's head forward.

Mac breathed loudly and looked up at Stella with remorse. Then, both nodded silently to the man, and exchanged meaningful glances. None wanted harm be done to their partner. That man was evily using their bond to corner them into doing just what he wanted. They couldn't act without a careful plan, or they knew it would mean the death of the other. They were trapped. Trapped because of their feelings for each other.

Mac swallowed. With some luck, someone would spot them as soon as they were outside and would call for backup. Unfortunately, it was the end of the day, and as they stepped outside, they both stared at a deserted corridor; the cops guarding his door long gone. They shouldn't have been surprised as his room was situated at the far end of the hospital aisle. So, no one was able to see the woman supporting the wounded man in green scrubs as they headed for the stairs; but anyone that would come by later would be able to notice the small, crimson drops he was leaving behind him, blood slowly dripping from his limp arm.

"Up!" ordered the man behind them, as soon as they entered the stairway. With dread, they heard him locking the door behind him.

Mac breathed heavily as he climbed up the stairs, step by step. His head was pounding hard, and he could feel his body on fire from the exhausting effort he was making. Stella's body pressed against his to prevent any fall. She was nervously glancing every ten seconds to check how he was doing, and although he tried to hide the pain wrenching his shoulder and head, after the fifth floor they crossed, he was starting to have a difficult time to hide his winces. His breathing became laborious and each of his step was heavier, and sluggish. He could feel the warm liquid sliding along his arm and dripping from his hand to the floor. He wasn't going to last long. He blinked, trying to shave off the tiredness that clouded his mind as sweat ran along his neck and into his back. If he wanted to give a chance to Stella to survive, he had to keep his head clear and react at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, the man behind them wasn't giving them any chances. The roof was still high, and he feared he would be of no use when they would finally reach it. He swallowed the lump in his throat, praying he would be able to give just enough time to spare her life.

She clenched her teeth, her hand carefully nestled near his ribs, trying not to hurt him more. But his flushed face and the thin line of sweat slipping along his neck were enough indications to convince her that he wasn't doing okay. Hell, he wasn't supposed to move at all after that kind of surgery and blood loss. And yet, they were trying to climb up, threatened by a dangerous psychopath that had no intention of letting any of them live. She could feel Mac's heart beating madly under her fingers. She looked up and saw the several stairs still ahead. Whatever their enemy had in mind, it wasn't to kidnap Mac very far that he had come here. No. Her gut twisted madly at the perspective of reaching the roof. No, that mad man behind her wanted to hurt him, and the roof wasn't going to let any of them a lot of space to evade him. They would be trapped, although so close of their friends.

"I guess... dinner's gonna be another day," Mac muffled between clenched teeth, trying to ease the tension growing. He didn't want his last minutes on earth spent in fear with the woman he loved. He swallowed the word, love, cause deep inside he did love her. More than life itself. He had never told her, and if today was his last day, then, she would never know.

"Save your strength, Mac," whispered Stella, her warm breath caressing his neck as she glanced behind her, checking where their aggressor was.

He smirked before he suddenly crunched his face in pain, the painkillers really gone by now. He exhaled deeply, the pain stabbing his head and shoulder with each step. "So, how 'bout Saturday?" he tried, as he felt suddenly very cold, a loud buzzing ringing in his ears.

"You shut the hell up!" growled the man behind them as he thrust roughly the gun in Mac's back.

Mac gave a small grunt in return. Stella shot a hatred glare at the man. Their aggressor snarled at her look.

"Don't worry, it's nothing compared to what I can really do," he threatened with a dark smile that sent chills down her spine.

Mac leaned more heavily against her as they reached a new floor. Panting loudly, she could feel his strength withering and her fear growing with each of his painful breath coming out of his weary lungs. His hair was matted in wet strands to his sagging head. His breath had become laborious and even the steps he was taking were unsure, and weak. Every new glance toward him was to see him blinking every now and then as to shave some thick veil before his eyes.

"Mac's not responsible for the death of your family," tried to reason Stella. "Your parents are."

"You shut the hell up!" the man shouted as they reached the door leading to the roof, and he pushed them both through it.

Surprised by the push, Stella stumbled, taking Mac with her. They fell directly on the concrete ground. The man laughed at their predicament as he locked the door from outside with a steel bar under the handle. Then, he pointed his gun to a wall on their left, where pipes were protruding from the floor.

"You," he said, addressing at Stella as he looked down at the two detectives messily sprawled on the ground and trying to catch their breath. "Go there." He pointed at the pipes.

Rose on her hands, Stella took a deep breath, glaring at the man. "I'm not leaving him," she threw with anger. But before she could speak more, Mac's strong arms wrapped her in a warm embrace. She could feel him trembling, fighting to get his strength back. She knew he was trying to protect her, but he was too weak, he wouldn't be able to fight without her. "Mac," she whispered to his ear.

"Then, he's dead," said the man as he lowered his gun and aimed at Mac's head.

Mac turned his back to his opponent, shielding Stella with his body. She felt him tensed, waiting for the deadly shot.

"Mac, no!" she screamed. "I'll go! Please don't shoot," she pleaded as Mac was holding her close of him.

Then, his forehead pressed against hers, and her eyes connected with his blazing turquoise. She was scared, scared to lose him. But his eyes were filled with love and sadness. He knew, she realized painfully. He knew the man was going to kill him, no matter what. Her lips tight, she saw in his eyes that he wanted to buy them sometime. Maybe it could work, she prayed, but she had a bad feeling that he was the one going to pay for this time.

"Let her go," pleaded Mac, between clenched teeth. "She's not the one you want." His breath coursed over her sweaty cheeks as he mouthed a small forgive me.

The man behind them laughed at their screams. "I don't care about her."

A cold shiver ran down her spine at the man's words. She stared at Mac. His face was flushed and glistening from his struggle to be able to move and talk.

Swallowing the pain to get separated from Stella but hoping it would save her life, Mac gently pushed her from his chest. He could see the pain and fear in her emerald eyes, but he couldn't act otherwise. He would buy her sometime, and maybe their friends would make it on time for her. He muffled back the pain shooting through his muscles, and sat on his feet. His breath short, he gave her a warm, reassuring smile.

"He's gonna kill you," she whispered through a wobbling voice. "Don't do that, Mac. Please."

His good hand nestled around her neck, he leaned his forehead against hers, flushed face against sad tremors. "Please go," he asked her, his voice a whisper. Their eyes inches from each other, locked, trying to break time and space forever as their breath mixed. "For me, Stell. ....Please, trust me," he said softly as their faces broke apart.

"Do as he said," the man growled, as his gun pointed at Mac's head. "Or I shoot him right now."

She nodded slowly at Mac as the cold air of the roof could now blow between them, chilling their exhausted bones and souls in a dreadly presage. Without a word, and her eyes locked with his, she stood up and took a step back toward the wall. The gleaming sunset cut his frail shape as she couldn't leave his eyes; his reassuring smile plastered on his face telling her that everything was going to be okay. She knew he was lying to protect her, and she admired his bravery facing death. As her back touched the wall, the cold reality sank into her heart that maybe, it was the last time that he smiled like that to her.

With a wicked grin, the man tossed her a black, plastic strap and ordered her to tie her wrists to the smallest pipe. Glancing furtively at Mac, who was now standing and swaying on his feet, she hoped he knew what he was doing and had a plan. She slid the band against her wrists, and tried to keep some room to get herself free. But the man, wasn't stupid and pointing his gun at Mac, he circled him and headed for Stella. Then, with a big, wicked smile grazing his lips, he pulled at the strap to clog her wrists together. Stella flinched as the blood flow in her wrists was now reduced to a thin throb, and her movements hindered. Fear appeared in her eyes as the man grinned at her, and then turned to Mac, who was wobbling on his legs. She saw him shivered as the cold wind dried his sweating body, as if he was all alone on this roof; alone to fend for their life.

Mac looked with disgust as the man had strapped Stella's wrists. Somehow he had hoped, she would have more space to maneuver than him, but he had been wrong, this guy knew what he was doing. He had planned everything from the crossfire, to secure the door accessing to the roof, to the plastic straps that was now trapping his partner. He swallowed the lump in his throat. From the moment they had started to climb the stairs, he knew what his fate was, his only worries were to make sure that Stella wouldn't follow the same deadly fate. He took a deep breath, ready to take his last steps if it was to save his partner. Now, that she was on the side, he hoped he could buy her enough time to get rescued by Don and Danny. He knew without a doubt his friends would find them. The only question was when?

"You got me now," he voiced, trying to divert the man's attention from Stella.

As soon as his voice echoed on the roof, the man took a step in his direction, a wicked smile plastered on his face. Mac shivered at the darkness the man's eyes threw at him, as if probing his soul in search of the best way to hurt him. A loud headache hammered in his skull as he spoke.

"What's your name?" Mac asked, trying to buy some time, though his legs were dangerously about to buckle under him. He clenched his teeth as he swayed a little, now wasn't the time to show any weakness. He took a deep breath and summoned his remaining strength to stay up.

The man looked carefully at Mac, scanning every part of his being, then, his gun pointed at Stella again. Mac's heart skipped in his chest as he took a sluggish step toward them.

"Take one more step and she's dead," the man voiced, daring Mac to try.

Mac instantly stopped where he was, his hands clenched into fists as the gun lingered over his partner's body. "I thought you wanted me?" he asked with despair. "Leave her alone," he pleaded.

The man scorned at Mac. "I want you to suffer like I did," he stated with anger.

Mac realized suddenly what terrible mistake he had done, foolishly he had thought the man would focus his anger towards him when Stella would be out of the game, but instead, he was using her to get to him. "Then, kill me," he yelled in anger, his good hand smashing his chest like a target. Stella shot him a scared look at his words. "I won't run."

"Mac, no," she called desperately, but was cut short by the man's answer.

"Kneeled," the man ordered with a grin, his gun still aimed at Stella.

His heart beating behind his temples, Mac crumbled on his feet and kneeled, his breath short. His green, ocean eyes met Stella's and silently asked her to forgive him for what he was about to do.

"Hands on your head," growled the man as he took a step in Mac's direction, his gun still aimed at Stella.

Wincing, Mac raised his arms to his head. The move pulled on his wounded shoulder and his face wrinkled from the hot, stabbing pain coursing through his body. He blinked to shave the drowsiness induced by his new blood loss and caught the fear reflected in Stella's eyes as her trembling lips were forming his name silently. Small tears welled down her cheeks as she realized the commitment he had taken.

The man paced around Mac as a hyena enjoying its future feast. "You took my family from me," voiced the man as he stepped behind Mac and violently kicked him in the ribs. He smiled as he felt the bone broke under his boots and Mac was thrust on his side, pain wrenching his body.

"Mac," called Stella as she pulled on her straps. The thin plastic band bit into the flesh, but she didn't care. What was happening was cruel and inhuman, Mac couldn't even defend himself because of the threat on her life. Quickly, she rubbed the band against the concrete at the base of the pipe, hoping to free herself.

"C'mon, marine," yelled the man. "Don't tell me you're already giving up!" He snarled at Mac bent in pain.

Spilling blood from his mouth, Mac raised on his good hand and remained on his knees as the man faced him with a big smirk. Mac wiped the blood from his lips, and shot to his enemy a dangerous glare. He wasn't ready to yield before him, even though he had to concentrate to breathe and ignore the flare of his broken rib.

"Good," the man smiled. "Don't forget, your hands on your head," he pointed the gun at Stella. "You don't want me to lose a bullet in her, right?"

Oh, God. Stella watched helpless as Mac brought his hands back behind his head before the man smashed his gun into his back. Her partner slanted forward, gasping and unable to breathe, his face wrenched in pain. With more energy, she rubbed the plastic band against the concrete, not caring if she was grazing the back of her hands as well.

Out of breath, and his lungs on fire, Mac realized he wasn't going to hold on too long at this rhythm. He was too weak to sustain more blows without passing out. Then, the man yelled over him, speaking about Stella. As his blurred mind conveyed her face before his eyes, he pushed on his good arm to lift his exhausted body, and kneeled before his nemesis. The world spun before him for a second before he could really take a long breath and clear his mind.

"Hands," yelled the man as he waved the gun toward Stella.

Mac's blurry vision glanced toward her as his hands went back behind his head with more difficulties. His face contorted in pain through the shooting pain coming all over his body. In a haze, he thought he saw her arms moving actively or rubbing against something, and prayed it wasn't just his imagination. Then, he felt the stenchy breath of his aggressor before him as his face stood inches of his ear.

"Don't worry, I'll take care of her," said the man as Mac saw him raised the gun toward his head.

The gun aimed at him, Mac's instinct kicked in, and with the force of a desperate hope, he pushed on his legs, giving all he had left. He threw his battered body into the man. The blow took his aggressor by surprise and his grip released his deadly weapon that went flying under a chunk of messy iron bars.

Stella's heart stopped the moment their aggressor raised his gun toward Mac's head. She knew he wasn't playing anymore. She pulled on the straps but the band resisted. Desperate, she called Mac's name as she thought for the last time. But her partner seemed to still have some strength left, and before the trigger was pulled he had jumped on his opponent, head first. She swallowed her fear and continued to rub the straps with more energy. Mac needed her more than ever.

Mac felt with content as his opponent's lungs emptied from the blow. But the man wasn't in the same shape than him, and he was quick to get back to his feet. With rage, he kicked Mac's ribs again. Groaning, Mac rolled into his opponent's legs. The man stumbled, and they both rolled toward the edge of the roof. But before they could reach the small wall separating them from the fall down the street, Mac took advantage of his adversary. Crushing him under his weight, he punched him with all his strength remaining. He felt the nose break under his fingers and the guy screamed with small yelps as blood gushed out from his broken nose while he tried to stand up.

He cursed at Mac as he pressed on his bleeding nose and sent his knee into Mac's face. Knocked from the blow, Mac was thrust against the small wall separating him from a 19 story fall. The wall bit angrily into his back, sending more jolts of pain through his body. He gasped loudly, trying to breathe as the man pressed an arm over his throat, choking him. Stars danced before his eyes as his vision greyed. He tried to push his aggressor, and the man quickly retaliated by violently punching his wounder shoulder. Hot flaring pain burst in Mac's body and head. The choke deepened around his throat, and Mac realized his strength was gone for good, as he only succeeded to weakly grab the man's collar. As air emptied his lungs, he lost his grip against the man and his hand fell limply on the ground. So that's how he was going to die, he thought bitterly. Strangled to death and with Stella to witness his failure. His head sagged on the side, but before he could slumber into oblivion, the man released his grip, and his lungs hungrily filled with air. He heaved in pain unable to move or talk.

Stella saw the fight turning into the advantage of their opponent as the man took a step back from a drowsy Mac to grab an iron bar. Blood appeared on the concrete where she was rubbing the band, then she tugged at the straps again and with great satisfaction, felt the plastic break; she was free. But as she stood up, she saw Mac being pulled up to his feet and the iron bar whacked forcefully into his ribs. Her partner slanted with a jerk on the side, his throat emitting a tearful moan as the man kept his hold on him.

Released from his opponent's grip, Mac swayed a moment on his legs, the hot pain wrenching his ribs. He tried to step back but his bare feet met the small wall right behind him. The loud rumbling of the city echoed behind him. Unable to defend himself, he saw in a blurry haze his opponent raising the bar a second time over his head, ready to give the final blow. He blinked wearily as blood seeped into his eyes, praying that Don and Danny would make it on time to save Stella. He noted without fear, that rage blazed in his opponent's dark eyes as the bar fell toward him. In a slow motion, he vainly raised his good arm over his head in a desperate move to protect himself. Groggy, he waited for the lethal blow to connect with his arm and broke the bone before it would fracture his skull. But then, a shot echoed through the hissing wind. He blinked, swaying wearily on his legs.

The bar dropped just before his feet in clicking sounds. The man before him looked down at his chest. Not really understanding what had happened to him. The man's hand brushed his chest as to shave what had stung him. Then, he realized his deadly fate as he brought it before his eyes, a crimson liquid smearing them.

Mac swallowed hardly, trying to breathe as his brain was trying to make sense through the thick haze wrapping his mind. His nemesis before him looked up, and raised a hand covered with blood towards Mac. A glassy stare filled the man's eyes. With a wicked grin tugged at his lips, his enemy took a step toward him.

Stella's heart was beating too fast as her hands dropped to her side. She stared blankly at the two frames, her right hand still gripping the smoking gun tightly nestled in her palm. Without even thinking, as soon as she had found herself free, she had gone for the gun. Seconds later, without realizing it, she was pulling the trigger as the man was about to kill Mac. But then, as her sight lay on the weary frame of her partner swaying dangerously near the edge of the roof; she witnessed evil in march as their opponent took a step toward Mac. The gun dropped on the ground, as she dashed toward both men. Her mind screamed a painful no as she realized what the man was about to do.

His back to the edge of the roof, Mac saw with fear as the man stepped toward him. His hands raised, he grabbed Mac's collar and threw him off balance. Too weak to resist anymore, Mac lost his balance. His bare heels collided with the small wall, helping his enemy to push him over the edge.

"I'm taking you with me," his nemesis growled as both men fell over the edge.

In a desperate move, Mac tried to grab at something, anything, with his good arm. But only cold air brushed his fingers as he felt his body claimed by gravity. He closed his eyes. It was the end. A small satisfaction filled his mind as he fell. At least, his nemesis hadn't hurt Stella. Then, something closed on his wrist and instead of falling his face collided with the hard concrete of a wall in a hard blow. Although he was knocked out by the shock, his instinct managed to send enough strength to his fingers to grip around the thing that kept him from falling further down the street. Out of breath, he looked up through the haze covering his vision and his ocean eyes met the green jewels of his partner.

"Hang on, Mac!" she screamed as the move had torn a muscle in her shoulder, sending jolts of pain; her arm now tugged by Mac's weight. She saw him looked up to meet her flushed face through the straining efforts. He gave her a weary smile.

"Stell," he whispered, as his body dangled limply, his good arm the only thing keeping him into the world of the living. Then, his wrist slipped a little inside Stella's bloody grip.

She screamed. She tightened her grip but Mac's weight was pulling her down as well. Her other hand clutched at the edge of the wall hindered her own body to fall over, while the hard, concrete wall was poking her side in pain. Her hand tightened around his wrist, but unfortunately, her small dressing and her bloody, cut skin rendered her grip more slippery within the minute. She looked at Mac in torment. She didn't know how to pull him to her. She wasn't strong enough to do it. Especially with only one arm to take him back to safety. She needed her other hand if she didn't want them both to fall.

Mac quickly realized the dire situation Stella had put herself into in order to save him, his body pulling her down toward a common deadly fate. He locked his eyes with her, trying to shave the blurriness of his vision. He wanted to see her face, just one last time.

She saw her partner staring back at her with fear as he had realized that he was dragging her with him. Her heart was on the verge of exploding in her chest as she saw him twitching his wrist and felt him slid further from her grip. Her heart raced in fear.

"Mac, no! Don't do that!" she yelled from the bottom of her heart, her fear to lose him too real.

"I don't want ya to fall with me, Stell," he mumbled, his voice wobbling through the pain he could see in her eyes.

"I'm not falling, Mac," she screamed, lying as she felt her hand clutching at the concrete wall tightening even more, her knuckles going white. "And you're not gonna die!"

With a deep sigh, Mac looked down. Through his blur, he discerned yellow blinking lines moving. Probably traffic. He blinked, he was too exhausted to hang on, and he was pulling down his stubborn partner, he had no choice.

As he looked up, his voice came out soft and pleading. "Please Stell, let me go."

"Never Mac, I'll never let you go," she screamed, her heart burning in pain.

He could hear sobs wobbling in her voice, but he couldn't let her die because of him. With the little strength remaining in his body, he shot her his most charming smile as if everything was going to be all right and spoke softly. "I'll be okay, Stell."

She locked her eyes with him and could see he was serious. He really expected her to let him fall. "C'mon, Mac, Damn it! Can't you climb or something? I mean I can try to pull you up but...but..." she said, her voice trailing off as she realized he was smiling lovingly at her. "What?"

"I'm done, Stell," he said, feeling his head weighing even more. He blinked, trying to shave off the weariness and as to picture his words, he was suddenly run by long tremors and his head sagged for a few seconds in throbbing pain.

"Mac? Mac?" He was freaking her out. If he was unconscious how the hell was she going to pull him up? "Mac, please answer me!" her voice pleaded between the buildings painted in the golden rays of dusk.

Then, she saw his eyes twitching before he finally raised his head toward her. She bit her lower lip seeing the excruciating pain wrenching his face as he blinked several times, fighting darkness.

"Stell... Let go...' me." He slurred. He was tired. The end was close, he could feel it. So, no need to take her with him. "Can't mov'...done." His eyes fluttered, but remained open.

"I'm not leaving you!" She snapped in anger. No way she was abandoning him.

Taking a deep breath to clear his mind, Mac pulled his best smile trying to hide his pain. "Please Stell,... for once,... listen '...me... Let '...go." He repeated through his harsh breathing.

She shook her head in denial as her body slanted further over the edge, her grip on the wall becoming weaker and the wall poking her side starting to hinder her breathing.

"Damn it!...Stella!" Mac yelled in panic, as he felt her being dragged more in his fall. Burning tears wetted his eyes, his vision a complete blurred. "Please...Stell, ah...I care too much about you,...don't die... 'cause of me," he confessed between his weary breath.

"I'm not letting you go!" she stated with anger about his unacceptable request. She couldn't lose him. She cared about him too much. No, she couldn't resign herself to let him go. Either she saved him, or she was going down with him. As a response to her mental wish, her body slanted further towards the void as she let out a small yelp of surprise and pain. The concrete wall grazed her soft skin over her side, sending more pain into her chest.

Mac cursed as he felt him going down further, taking her with him. God. Hot tears welled down his cheeks. Not Stella. Not her. He couldn't let her sacrifice her life for him, not like that. Never. Taking a deep breath, he mobilized the last bit of energy he had left to move his wounded arm. His body slowly swayed in her grip. His shoulder cried in pain under the wrenching effort as his hand finally met Stella's, and he panted harshly. Softly, the cold wind lifted his wet scrubs, cooling his aching body and sending more shivers along his spine.

Stella's eyes widened, her gut twitching madly at the sudden realization of what Mac was doing. She stared with a gripping fear as his own hand closed on her fingers that held his wrist. Her eyes locked with his as he tried to give her a weak smile.

"Mac, please don't," she cried in pain, begging him not to do it.

He smiled weakly. "Forgive me," he whispered as he began to lift one of her fingers from his wrist. "I love you," he murmured as the wind brought his warm words to her in a painful confession.

"No. Mac, please," she pleaded, fighting the tears than threatened to blur her vision. Her heart wrenched in pain. "I prefer to die than live without you," she cried in tears as her emerald gaze met Mac's sad eyes.

"Stell," he mumbled too tired as he felt with joy his wrist slid further from his partner's fingers. His wounded arm dropped back limply to his side, unable to achieve his goal: freeing himself from her grip. His head sagged from the wrenching headache stabbing his brain, and his vision grew darker. Not now, he thought, fighting the darkness, his head too heavy to look at her. Please, don't let me drag her to death, he prayed.

Stella watched with fear as Mac went limp and she lost more grip on his wrist. Then, his weight was too much and her heart stopped. The world turned into a deadly silence around her as her fingers felt in slow motion Mac's wrist slipping away from her. She heard her voice yelled in horror as she was losing him. Desperate, she prayed to wake up, that it was only a nightmare, that this wasn't happening, she wasn't losing Mac. Oh, God, no! But then a shadow appeared next to her. The dark shape bent beside her as Mac's wrist definitely escaped her grip. Her eyes closed a second thinking she had lost him forever. It couldn't be real. She couldn't have lost him. Please no.

"Stell," came a voice behind her. "You okay?"

The moment she opened her eyes, she felt an arm around her waist, and her heart started to beat again when she saw Mac was still dangling against the wall. But this time, it was Don that was holding him. Both hands tightened around his wrist, her friend was pulling him up as Danny was tugging at his belt from behind. She felt herself being pulled backward as the voice repeated the same word, but more pressing this time. She turned toward the man behind her as he helped her to sit on the ground, as her legs immediately crumbled under her. She looked up and gave him a sad, weary look.

"Help, Mac, Sheldon," she breathed out slowly as she felt her body giving up from exhaustion and fear.

Sheldon nodded as he bent over the wall and grabbed Mac under his armpits while Don was taking care of his legs. Both men, lay their limp friend on the ground. Stella crawled next to him and cradled his bruised face between her wounded, bleeding hands. She smiled as his eyes cracked open when she called his name. Gently, she caressed his cheeks as a thin line appeared at the place of his eyes, his eyelids too heavy to be lifted further.

"We got you, Mac," she said, her eyes filled with joy as he was still alive. His lips moved sluggishly but no sound came out. "It's okay, you can rest now," she softly whispered as she tenderly kissed his forehead, brushing back bloody strands of hair stuck on his clammy skin.

Too drained to do anything else, Mac closed his eyes and let the darkness wrapped him, his mind lingering in the sweet comfort that Stella was alive; she hadn't fallen with him.

Danny and Don watched with worries as Stella let escape her tears, while Sheldon was checking Mac's fresh head cut and his torn stitches. A couple of nurses and docs rushed through the broken door that he and Don had crushed under their repeated shoulders blows. Then, in a couple of minutes Mac's limp body was strapped again over a stretcher and wheeled back inside. Stella closely followed him as Sheldon was supporting her frail battered body.

Danny cursed, wondering how in hell, after they had planned everything to protect Mac and Stella the guy had still been able to get inside his room. He swore that he would have the badges of those who had been unable to check Mac's aggressor ID before letting him in.

Don watched with a stern look as Danny paced the roof, avoiding carefully the smears of blood sucked by the concrete ground. Mac and Stella's blood, again. He shook his head as he stepped next to Danny. His hand softly squeezed his friend's shoulder. He knew that Danny was probably mad at himself for leaving Mac's room. If any of them had stayed longer with Sheldon, then, none of these things would have happened. He sighed, and yet, his mind was telling him, that the guy could have lurked in the dark for the best time and maybe arrived when Mac was totally alone. Then, the end could have turned even worse. He squeezed gently his friend's shoulder.

"Let's go check on 'em, alright?"

Danny nodded silently as his gaze shaved the messy ground. He glanced at Don. Behind his friend the sunset was giving away his last crimson rays, the night slowly spreading its wings over New York City. His lips tight, his steps led them to the stairs. At least Mac and Stella were alive, and that deadly day was finally over.

xxx

Stella sat quietly before Mac's door. The nurses and doctors attending at his new wounds had asked her to wait outside, and reluctantly she had slumped back on this cold chair, waiting in dread. She knew that they needed their space to take care of her partner, but after all they had been through, leaving him alone was too much to ask her. She sighed painfully, but his well being was her first priority. So she had stepped back as Sheldon had gently led her to sit on a chair.

Then, without realizing it, he was crouched before her, examining her wrists and hands. She was too exhausted to resist as a nurse brought him a medkit and he began to clean the fresh cut grazing her wrists. The antiseptic burned at her skin, but it didn't matter. The world had disappeared around her. Her mind was with Mac right now. Even if she couldn't see him, she was carefully listening at any unnatural sound that could come from his room. Through the talks and words displayed, she focused on the slow beating of his heart monitor indicating that he was alive. That both of them had held on long enough to be rescued by their friends a second time. It was a miracle. She let out a deep exhausted breath as her eyes watered freely at the realization that she had almost lost him, again. And this time, it wasn't just because of their nemesis. No, at one point, he, himself had tried to take his own life to save hers. She swallowed the awful scene her mind was replaying again and again: his wrist slipping away from her grip and him falling as he was calling her name a last time.

She closed her eyes, a trembling hand pressed over her face, trying desperately to hide her sobs from her friend. Then, she felt someone sit beside her and that someone led her against his chest. She could smell the masculine scent of aftershave, as his arm wrapped around her shoulder.

"You know Mac is strong," spoke softly Sid. Sheldon nodded to the ME to give Stella some privacy and led Danny and Don to grab some coffee. "You both are going to be alright in no time," added the older ME.

She dried her tears, not wanting to break like that in front of her friend. She was so tired. The world around her was a painful blur, shrouding her in a thick cotton haze. All sounds and sensations reduced to a minimum as her mind was focused on one man: Mac.

Sid smiled. "It's okay, Stell," he said, as she sat upright avoiding the close proximity.

She swallowed back her tears. She was exhausted and scared for Mac. And although Sid's comforting presence was a good thing, she couldn't break now. It wasn't because of Sid, it was just her. She needed Mac, she needed to feel his strong arms around her; to hear his baritone voice chuckled; she needed him.

With a pained expression, Sid patted her shoulder as the doctor exited Mac's room and walked toward them.

"He's gonna be fine," the doctor announced. "More muscles strained and his stitches have reopened, but no real worries. Though we will get him to surgery tomorrow to redo his stitches correctly. But for now his life isn't in danger, and I prefer that he rests and regains some strength for the next surgery." He nodded towards Stella. "He's not really conscious right now, but through his haze, he mumbled your name." With a smile, he patted her shoulder as he stepped aside.

Her worried face broke into a faint smile at the mention of her partner calling her name while unconscious.

"When he'll wake up, try to remind him that stunts are forbidden in the hospital," smiled the doctor.

"I will," she promised as she headed in haste to his door. Both, the doctor and Sid, watched with a growing smile tugged at their lips as she pushed the door and entered his room.

The regular beeping of his heart monitor welcomed her as she stepped inside and watched the nurses applying a new dressing over his wounded shoulder. One of the nurses turned toward her a complicit smile. "Since you're always with him, we will dress him up later with your help," said the nurse.

Stella's face suddenly blushed at the thought of dressing him up. The nurses noticed her discomfort, and chuckled lightly.

"Mostly for you to learn to help him doing the right move with his arms," added the nurse with a smile as she carefully slid his arm into a new sling.

Stella's eyes went to Mac's still form and noticed that they had left his chest bare, except for the dressing over his shoulder and the white bandage wrapping his ribs. She nodded silently to the nurse, trying to hide her discomfort of thinking that they had meant to dress him up from head to toe.

As the two nurses exited, her face turned crimson, her mind now playing with the image of her partner in a less clothed manner. But her pale color came back quickly as she noticed the deep frown creasing his forehead; pain.

Her lips tight, she stepped to his bed. Her warm, trembling hand cupped his left cheek, and stroked his face, slowly checking that he was real. She swallowed the painful knot in her throat, as she realized that she wasn't dreaming, he was real. Her tender sight caressed his face, noting every thin wrinkles formed by the devouring pain in was in. With sorrow, her fingers followed his jaw line and to his temple. Her sight resting over the dark bags under his closed eyes. With a deep sigh, she looked at the new IV bags and other medical lines plugged into his still body. She watched with comfort his chest slowly rising and his heart monitor beeping regularly. Gently, her fingers followed the curve of his cheek to his temple, and she smiled as his lips moved slowly. He mumbled something. Intrigued, she bent her face inches of his as he spoke again.

"Stell..." He murmured softly in a whimper.

With a small smile tugged at her lips, she tenderly brushed his sweaty hair, careful not to rub on his new stitches under his hairline, and leaned quietly to deposit a soft, warm kiss on his cheek.

As if he could see her, his face cracked into a weak smile, and he whispered her name again. Gazing at the loving sight of her partner deeply asleep and visibly dreaming of her, Stella pulled the blanket over his bare chest, mindful of his cracked ribs. Like a mother tugging her sick child, she brushed his hair back and smiled.

"I'm here, Mac," she softly whispered to his ear before she leaned back in the chair. Feeling the world turning back to normal around her, her hands gently cuddled his in a never ending bond. She looked down at his sprain wrist. She wasn't about to let him go, never.

xxx

The crowd of reporters was massed at the feet of One Police Plaza, HQ of the NYPD. It was in front of a row of black microphones that Chief Sinclair stepped before the cameras. The flashes creaked on his face as New York was slowly entering a well deserved night.

"Evening New York," said the Chief. He nodded to one of his men, and stared seriously at the mass of reporters who instantly shut up, ready to record his words.

"Soon this morning, the NYPD was caught in a crossfire on the rooftop of Manhattan. Our forces sustained at the moment one casualty and six wounded. Two detectives were left wounded and stranded as the offender had set a network of heavy riffles pointed at them and hindered the NYPD action to provide a quick rescue." He took a deep breath and clenched his teeth. "Late in the afternoon, after hard work to save their comrades, the NYPD was finally able to rescue them. The offender, trying to take revenge on one of the detectives pursue them to the hospital where they were being taken care of. Although he endangered their lives a second time, it is my pleasure to announce you now, that Detectives Bonasera and Taylor are now safe and resting at the Queen of Mercy. Desperate to take revenge on one of the officers, the offender took his own life and fell from the Queen of Mercy's roof two hours ago." The Chief looked at the crowd, their microphones pointed at him. "Though if the issue concerning Detective Taylor's life had been uncertain for a couple of hours, it is not the case anymore, and the head of the Crime Lab will be back on the job after a well deserved rest." Sinclair looked at the crowd before him, his declaration over.

A reporter waved his hand attracting the attention of the Chief. "Yes, Mike," said the Chief.

"Is it true that the aggressor of Detectives Bonasera and Taylor is from Iraq? So, can we assume it's part of a bigger terrorist attack?"

Murmurs travelled through the crowd.

The Chief sighed. "No, Mike it's not a terrorist attack. The offender, Abu Al-Jafaari, also named Art Jasler, took a personal interest in one of the detectives and wanted no more that take his life. It is true that this man spent his childhood in Iraq, but with the loss of his family, he came to America where he obtained a law degree, and lived as any of us. It is strictly out of pure revenge that he attacked the NYPD and targeted one of its detective, nothing else." He looked at another reporter and nodded to a blond woman. "Yes, Cheryl?"

"Chief, you said Detective Taylor will soon be back on the job. Well, we all know his reputation as a hard worker type." She smirked and the crowd emitted a small chuckle. "But can we know the nature of his injuries? And why the weapon used for the crossfire were Police issue?"

Sinclair cringed at the mention of the police weapon. "Well, Detective Taylor was shot by a sniper riffle, 300 calibers from a Remington 700P. To add to that, he sustained multiple blows to the head and chest, and although he lost a great amount of blood, his doctor is confident that he would be up and about in no time. I guess as you said it, we all know his tenacity to get back to work."

"Yes," Cheryl continued seeing that Sinclair was avoiding her second question. "The city is grateful to the Head of the Crime Lab for his hard work, but can we know how a weapon only used by law enforcement had been found in the hands of his aggressor?"

Sinclair raked his throat. "As you stated it, this weapon is only in use in special force such as NYPD, you're right about that." No need to deny it, or they gonna eat you alive. "Now, you may recall few months ago that several weapons were stolen while traveling to New York. As we tracked them, it appeared the weapons used today were from this robbery."

"Chief, Chief," voiced other reporters as lights flashed on his face.

"That will be all. Thank you." Then, the Chief stepped back and entered the NYPD office.

xxx

Lindsay snuggled in Danny's arms as he changed the channel after the Chief conference. He sighed deeply in their couch. The day had been too long, and too strained to keep his mind away from his friends.

"They're okay Danny," she said feeling her husband anxiety seeping through his breath.

"I'm sorry, Linds, it's just that I can't take those images out of my mind. I mean, I'd never seen Mac so vulnerable and..."

"...And you're wondering what will happen next?"

He nodded. "I just never thought that anything could make Big Mac crumbled like that. I mean, it's just..."

Lindsay gently stroked his chest with her hand. "You thought he was invincible?"

"Kinda somethin' like that," admitted Danny, as his hand gently pressed on her back.

She smiled as she snuggled her head over his shoulder. "Well, you can say he is. After all these attempts he's still here with us."

Danny looked far away and kissed his wife forehead. "Yeah, he is." A small smile grazed his lips. "And thanks to Stella too."

Lindsay smiled. "Yeah don't forget that Messer, there's always a woman behind a man's strength." She smirked.

He chuckled lightly. "I know. I don't know what I would do if..."

"Shh," she said as she softly deposited a soft kiss on his lips. "We're all fine now," she finished after leaving him the time to breathe.

He smiled, and pressed her body closer, his arms wrapped around her. "I love you, Linds."

"Love you too, Messer," she whispered as she closed her eyes, and deeply sank in the loving arms of her husband, knowing that their friends would be all right now.

xxx

The warmth from the bright sun shining outside caressed his cheek and made him stir. With a soft smile gracing his face, Mac opened his eyes to a new day, expecting to be greeted by the loving face of his partner like the last two days. But this time, only the white ceiling of his room was before him. Frowning, he looked around to sadly realize that he was alone, no Stella. The chair she had occupied and almost called her home for two days was desperately empty, and somehow it didn't fit with his expectations. He sighed deeply, a small knot forming in his stomach. She was gone. His lips tight, he turned back to look at the rising sun. Where was she? He was almost sure she had been by his side the last two days, or was it three? He frowned trying to remember. Or maybe he had dreamed of her being by his side. He shook his head. No, he clearly remembered some of their talks, he smirked, if he could say that he had talked.

Their last discussion came back to his mind, and he remembered something she had said about going to pick up some clothes for the both of them. His brows creased, not sure if she had said that yesterday or the day before. Giving up, he let his head sank back into the fluffy pillow. These last days had passed in a blur for him. Being in and out every hour, unable to keep track of time or even to put up with the simplest discussion, always waking up with new faces around him and few hours less of his life. He had been so drained, so exhausted. He sighed. Two or three days, he wasn't sure, had passed since Don and Danny had rescued them for the second time on a roof. And during these blurry days, he hadn't been able to really talk to Stella. He remembered asking her if she was okay, but he couldn't be sure if she was really fine as he had finished by falling asleep before he could check further her statement. Deep down, he knew she wasn't. Her tired eyes, and the exhaustion she seemed to bear on her shoulders were good indications she wasn't properly resting, probably because of him, he grumped mentally. Always because of him.

Hopefully, he was done with that, he hoped, noticing that his IV seemed less crowded with bags than the last couple of days. He closed his eyes trying to remember the last thing he had said to Stella. It was the day before, and like everyday he had woken up several times, drowsy and not really aware of what was really happening around him. He had seen someone exiting his room. He frowned, he had deduced that it had probably been a nurse as he remembered a light being shoved into his eyes and voices around him. The word fine had echoed in his mind, waking him up to the smiling face of Stella, though clear worries lingered in her beautiful emeralds.

He had tried to move and sit but as always she had kept him protectively against the bed, her hand carefully pressed over his chest. And while she had lifted the bed with a remote for him to see, he had lingered in the soft pressure of her hand over his beating heart, a small smile tugged at his lips; which hadn't come unnoticed by the fine detective that his partner was.

"You seemed to feel better," she had said, sadly taking back her hand from his chest as the head of the bed had stopped moving.

Without answering his head had turned to look at her. His gaze had followed the line of her soft chin, the small groove of her sweet cheeks and to her golden curls falling in a shining rain over her shoulders. He had felt good at the moment, in peace. His lips curled upward at the memory of her loving face.

"Mac?" she had called, probably intrigued by his insisting gaze. But he hadn't really cared, he had just been happy to see her, alive and sounding well, and before he had been able to say anything his eyes had shut again to wake up hours later.

This time, it was dark outside and his room was a bit colder, silence was filling the poor lighted place, though it was enough for him to distinguish the nestled form of his partner against his bed; her head resting on top of his hand. Another smile had appeared on his face that day as he had gently pulled his hand from hers and had dared to do a thing he had only dreamed until then. Afraid he would wake her up from a well deserved rest, he had delicately brought his hand over her hair to caress them. The soft curls had danced in his palm as his fingers had travelled through her golden hair. Still half sat, he had slowly bent toward her, his face inches of her face before he had softly kissed her cheek. "Thank you for saving my life," he had whispered to her sleeping face, before being greeted by her murmuring his name.

A smile had then grazed his lips, happy to be part of her dreams. He sighed, remembering his confession on the roof and the words he had told her. He had wanted to tell her for a long time now, but the roof and the way it happened, hadn't been the way he had envisioned to do it. He closed his eyes. He hoped she would forgive him for it. He remembered her tenacity to hold on to him, and her words, but she had probably said them out of friendship, and because he was about to die. But now she knew that he loved her. A knot formed in his throat, his lips tight. The next days would be very straining for him. He had to talk to her, to know if she acknowledged his feelings or if his words had altered their friendship. Fear crept slowly inside his heart. He didn't want to lose her.

Slowly, he opened his eyes and stared at the window. The sun rays warmed his face, and he blinked, his body relaxing from the well greeted heat. He was alive. From the time he had taken that shot, he hadn't been sure he would be able to make it. But he was here, and it was because of Stella. He knew if she hadn't been there, he would have died from blood loss, then infection, and again from his fall. He sighed. Yep, she had been there for him every step of the way, and she hadn't spared herself in the process. He looked at the night stand and noticed the phone as an idea soared through his mind.

With a small grin, and a few winces, he managed to grab the phone and dialed the number he knew that would help him. Surely, he could do that for her.

xxx

The warm afternoon sun grazed her cheek and winked mischievously at her face, as it hid between the silver towers. Stella pouted and turned at the sound of the horns behind her. A cab had just quickly stopped as a poor dog had crossed the street. Her lips tight, she continued toward the hospital entrance a duffel bag dangling loosely on her shoulders. She smiled weakly, her brows slowly creased. Hopefully today he would be awake, and he would be able to keep up a conversation. Even if she wasn't going to tell him, she had missed his smile and his warm, green eyes locking with hers. She had missed him a lot; she had missed him being conscious and alive beside her. She bit her lower lip, wondering what was going to happen to them now. Since his doctor had said that he would be fine, her mind hadn't stopped repeating his last words on the roof. The one he had whispered thinking it was the end for him. Was he really serious? Did he really love her? A bigger smile finally grazed her lips, excited at the idea that he could feel the same way as she did.

She nodded at the nurse at the entrance desk and entered the lift, pushing on his floor button. She wondered if he was going to back down now, and try to act as if nothing had happened. She sighed. It could be a real possibility. There was no rush anymore, no reason not to go back to their little game where they carefully avoided the subject. She tightened her lips. But she was fed up of this game, she wanted to tell him. She needed him at every moment of the day. She wanted to be able to hug him whenever she needed it, to touch him and feel his breath on her. She sighed, but now it was her turn to tell him and she hoped he hadn't changed her mind.

But hopefully, he would be awake, and she would have time to talk to him. She bit her lower lip, remembering these last couples of days. It had been tearing moments to see him get back to consciousness only for a few minutes before he was plunged back in a slumbering state. His doctor had said that it was normal. After the amount of blood he had lost, and his fever, and if you added his broken rib, he had a lot to heal before he could be back one hundred. She sighed. Even if every time he had woken up she had gladly smiled to him, encouraging him, it had been very painful to see him struggle just to stay awake. The valiant, strong man she knew had only been able to say ten words in three days. Even if she had been happy for each of his tries, it had wrenched her heart to see his eyes carved by those dark bags gazing at her in wonder, and unable to express his thoughts before he drifted back to sleep. Though she had to admit, she had spent a lot of hours just gazing at his face, wondering where his mind had taken him and to who. A small smile tugged at her lips again. Of course, she had good suspicions about the who every time he had called her in his sleep.

Another sigh escaped her lips, she hoped he wasn't going to deny his words. The doors opened and she stepped in the busy corridor, still in her thoughts, fear creeping inside her heart. Through the nurses and doctors pacing the small alley, she quickly made her way toward the end of the aisle. Then, after a minute, she found herself before his door. Taking a deep breath, she softly knocked before she pushed the door open as she hadn't heard his answer.

His room was bathed by the afternoon, shining sun and lighted his face with yellow streaks. She smiled as his face was relaxed, his eyes closed, though he was still bearing the dark bruises of his late fight. Assuming he was sleeping, she tiptoed to his bed and sat in her well known chair, dropping the duffel bag in a corner. Then, she noticed the deafening silence. Her heart skipped in her chest. She should be hearing his heart monitor, but as she looked around she noted that it was gone. The nurses had probably removed it. She sighed, it had to be a good news then. Focusing her attention on Mac, she softly slid her fingers between his and watched with delight his chest rising softly. Without even thinking about it, her thumb gently stroked the back of his hand. She watched with content as his lips slowly parted into a gentle smile, and his face turned toward her. Slowly waking up, his eyes opened and his hazy sight slowly focused on her.

"Hey," she whispered with a warm smile.

"Hey," his voice echoed softly.

"How you feelin?" she asked.

"Good enough to leave this place," he replied with a small grin, his voice still hoarse from the lack of talks.

She carefully looked at his face. Although he had plenty of rest as he had sleept the last three days, she wasn't sure it was a good idea to leave. Then, she gazed at his eyes, and noted that they were gleaming with his old daring sparkle. She was glad that he seemed to have found his strength back. But he was probably too tired to leave that soon. "Well, that depends on your doctor, I can go and see..."

"Already arranged. I was just waiting for you," he said, as he lifted his chest to sit in a better against his pillows.

"For me?" she said a bit stunned. "Why?"

He gave her a warm smile and gently squeezed her hand. "Well, I wanted to talk to you before I go back to my place," he said bitterly. Knowing that he would soon be back to his place and alone was making his heart wrenched in pain. He would miss her holding his hand and waking up to her beautiful face. He sighed inwardly, but he couldn't tell her that. He couldn't ask her to feel the same way that he did. If she hadn't talked about his words on the roof until now, it meant only one thing: feelings weren't mutual. He pushed aside his sadness and tried to convey how much he was grateful for what she did for him. His green, ocean eyes locked with hers. "I...thanks for saving my life," he said warmly, his gaze connecting with her.

She bit her lower lip, and gave him a shy smile. "You welcome." Her hand tightened around his. "That's what friends do for each other, right?" she quipped with a warm smile.

A small light gleamed in his eyes. Friends? So be it. He bitterly acknowledged her answer. "Thanks," he repeated, feeling that in final he shouldn't have told her. Now she was probably thinking that he had freaked out on the roof. He sighed inwardly. Too bad, he would have to cancel his plan.

"Is that for me?" he asked, pointing at the navy, duffel bag on the floor.

"Yes, I thought you would like to leave with your clothes on, though I didn't know you'd be discharged today." She frowned. "How did you do that? I asked yesterday to your doctor, and he said you needed at least two more days."

"Well, I guess I've been more convincing," he gave her a small wink.

"I see. Care to share?" She graced him with a mischievous smile.

He chuckled lightly. Even if she wasn't returning his feelings at least she seemed to behave as her usual, so he guessed he hadn't lost her friendship. "Can't tell ya all my secrets," he smirked with a grin.

"Not all but..." her face crunched. "...remember, you promise to tell me more about your military past."

Right, he had forgotten about that. "I...maybe later," he said, avoiding the subject.

She smiled warmly. She wanted him to talk to her. She knew that after all these events, his mind was still darkened by what their aggressor had said and his soul would bear the dark shadow of guilt for a long time.

With a small wince, he pushed the covers and twisted his body. His bare legs dangled from the bed, and he blushed as Stella was watching him with intensity. Damn it! He had forgotten that the nurses had refused to give him scrubs this morning, so he was still wearing that gown from his second surgery, and that thing was up half way to his tight, revealing a little too much of his legs.

"Huh, I..." he frowned. "Huh, can you turned around?" he asked, his cheeks now crimson. Stella's lips curled upward and without a word, she turned to look at the shining sun outside.

Mac looked at Stella's back for a second before he let his feet dropped to the floor. The cold tiles greeted him but this time he was happy his legs didn't buckle under him. He swallowed the knot formed in his throat as he bent to grab his bag. Awkwardly, he hobbled to the bathroom, his bag in hand, and hiding as much as he could the opening in his back, showing more of his body parts than he wanted to.

"So, hm..." she started as she caught a glimpse of her partner's naked back, sliding into the bathroom. "What the doc said?" she shook her head, as she bit her lower lip. She heard him give a small curse. Of course, she was heading for small talk, but right now, knowing Mac could be undressing right behind that door was making her nervous and even blushing. She wondered why? They had shared for years the same locker room, though none had changed in front of the other. Her cheeks turned into a soft pink, remembering their small talk on the roof when she was looking for the shaft; small talk that had turned into foreplay. A wide grin spread over her lips. But then, she frowned as she wasn't hearing his small groans anymore.

"Mac?" Silence lingered in the room. Worried if he was still fine, she stood up. "Mac?" Taking a step toward the door, she heard him call her name shyly. Her heart skipping in her chest, she opened the door, and stared at Mac, stunned.

With a sheepish grin plastered on his face, he looked at her in misery. Then she realized why. Bare foot, he was wearing the pair of navy jeans she had stuffed in the bag, and his forehead was beaded with sweat.

"I...can't pull my sweater on." He dropped, trying to hide a wince as his wounded arm was trapped half way in the sleeve.

Her lips tight, she looked at his bare chest partially covered by his loose sweater. She stepped close to him, feeling the heat of his body radiating. With a shy smile tugged at her lips, she helped him to slide his right arm into the sleeve, mindful of his stitches. Her fingers grazed at the skin of his chest and she blushed at the electric shock sent through her limb. She bit her lower lip. Here wasn't the place, her mind repeated to her. Not here, Stella.

Her breath tickled his bare chest as she helped him to slide into his sweater. He breathed slowly to lower his heart rate who had started to madly race the minute she had entered the bathroom. His gaze lowered as his eyes lingered into the soft crook of her bare neck. With care, she helped him to slide his arm into the sling, and she looked up, her eyes locking with his. He swallowed the warm desire that invaded his being and wondered if the close proximity of death and his confession hadn't freed him from his mental barriers. He stared at her gleaming emeralds, waiting in expectations. One blink from her, acknowledging his feelings and he would act on it. But she didn't. He took a deep sigh.

"Thanks," he finally mumbled, his heart about to explode in his chest. She stepped back. Frowning, he grabbed his bag and followed after her.

"So, what the doc said?" she repeated, looking at Mac with a frown as he hobbled slowly.

"That I was fit to go," he quipped with a wink.

A wink? Again. Why was he doing that so much, was he nervous with her? she wondered. "No, I mean did he give you instructions, list of medications..." she stared at his hunching posture as he slumped wearily on the chair, and avoided her eyes. Definitely nervous, she deduced, and not in shape to leave, she added for herself.

"Ah, that. Huh, there're on the night stand," he said as he put his boots on. He was too tired to put some socks on or even to tie his laces, so instead, he stuffed the laces inside the shoes, and stood up.

Stella picked up his list and looked at him with a frown, noticing his laces inside the shoes. That's a first. He had to be very tired to do that, she realized. But why stubbornly trying to leave then?

"You know those indications are for your dressing and what you have to do every six hours." She read more on the list. She smiled as she looked back at him. "Hopefully, I've been trained for this, so you should be fine," she quipped with a broad smile.

He widened his eyes. "What are you talking about?"

Ah, right. She hadn't told him about the nursing crash course she had taken when he was sleeping. "Well, your nurses taught me what was necessary to help you through this." She said with a shy smile, not talking about the numerous time she had been there to help them clean him. Well most of him, leaving them to take care of what he had of most private.

"What ya mean by that?" he felt suddenly very nervous.

"Well, to make a long story short, I'm gonna be your nurse for at least a week. I took some days off and..." her voice trailed off as she saw him becoming white. "You okay, Mac?"

"Yeah, yeah, but Stell..." Oh, God. This week was going to be hell. Now that she knew his feelings and hadn't returned them, how could he behave with her around and 'nursing' him? This was going to be a real torture. "You don't need to, Stell. I'll get a nurse to come and help me for the dressings and besides that I'll be fine. I mean I don't want to bother you, you've done enough already and..." his eyes connected with her emeralds as she was smiling broadly.

"Nah, Mac. It's okay," she interrupted him. No way she was going to let him out of her sight until he had completely healed. Nope. She would stick to him. "So, ready to go?"

He looked at the room around him as he grabbed his bag. Surely, he wasn't gonna miss this place. "All set."

She stepped next to him, and took the bag from his hand.

"You know, I can still carry my bag." He smirked. "I'm not crippled." And he didn't want her to think that he couldn't handle himself, though as the memory of his sweater came back to his mind, he couldn't say he had been really convincing on that one. His lips tight, he looked at her in misery.

"Of course, you aren't, Mac. Just let me help, okay." She stared at his green pools. She could see that he was still thinking that he was weak. She sighed and patted his arm. "Let's go, Mac," she said as she headed for the door, but kept his bag. Her hand on the handle, she was about to open the door when his warm hand covered hers.

He looked at her with remorse, noticing the white dressing wrapped around her hands. This was his fault. "You don't need to do that for me, Stell. I... I don't want you to feel obligated or anything..." his voice rambled.

She chuckled lightly as she squeezed his hand and gave him a sparkling look. "C'mon, Mac, let's get you home." She didn't want him to feel guilty or anything, but somehow she felt this cold hospital room wasn't the place to reveal their heart, so their talk should wait.

He slightly nodded, understanding that she had more to say, but here wasn't the place. He sighed, it was probably why she hadn't come this morning, pondering alone about how she was going to tell him that she wasn't interested. That she couldn't return his feelings. He sighed, but at least he was glad, they would talk some place else than in the hospital. He needed to go home and feel normal again. His lips tight, he followed her in the corridor. At least, she was safe, and right now it was just what really mattered to him, even if she was going to tell him that she didn't love him back.

xxx

She turned the key and pushed his apartment door open to let him in. With a shy smile he wobbled inside, his bag dangling freely to his side as he had managed to get it back. He lazily tossed it in a corner and turned a shy grin at her as she followed him with her own duffel bag hanging over her shoulder. He couldn't stop but wonder why she had insisted so much at being his nurse, as she called it for a week. He sure could handle himself, and...his thoughts trailed off as he remembered the bathroom. Well, yeah, he hadn't made a good point by being so incapacitated when he had pulled on his sweater. But even if he was glad to have her around, he didn't want her to be with him out of pity. And right now, he really felt as if she was there because of that. He sighed heavily.

"You know, I'll be fine, Stell. You don't need to stay," he said, hoping she would understand that he didn't want her to feel obligated toward him. He was home, and he was out of the hospital, so he was going to be fine. And further more he had to cancel his plans, now that she hadn't returned his feelings. But if she was there with him, it was going to be awkward to cancel them, with her to listen to it. He let out a small sigh.

Stella took off her jacket and let it rest on the back of his kitchen chair. She frowned as she had picked up at his heavy sigh. "Mac? You okay?" she quickly asked, looking at him with anguish. He looked so tired, and weary, his legs seeming on the verge of buckling under his weight. He shouldn't be out of the hospital, she repeated to herself.

His lips tight with remorse, his green, ocean eyes connected with her emeralds. "You don't need to stay, Stell, really. I'm a big boy, and I..."

She nodded slowly. "Do you want me to go?" she asked now not sure of what he was trying to say. Maybe he had thought about what he had said on the roof and was changing his mind. That would explain why he was trying so hard to make her leave.

His good hand rubbed the back of his neck. "I..." He sighed as he looked far behind her, he gaze lost in pain. "I can't ask you to stay...I." He didn't want to be a burden as he had already been for her. She had risked her life several times for him, and he couldn't ask her to stay just because he wanted to take her in his arms, to feel her breath on him. No, she hadn't said she loved him back. He slowly shook his head in misery. Then, he couldn't ask her to stay. But deep inside, he didn't want her to leave either. He swallowed the knot formed in his throat, and watched in misery as the shining sparkles disappeared from her eyes.

"So you want me to leave?" She repeated, her voice filled with sorrow. Did she mistake his words? Why was he now looking at her with so much pain in his eyes?

He closed his eyes, biting his lower lip. Why was she insisting so much to stay? Why was she staring at him with those eyes that made him want to protect and shield her? He stared back at her and knew that he had to try at least one more time. No regrets, his mind shot. With his anxiety rising through his body, he took a shy step toward her, his legs swaying a little from exhaustion and anxiety. He waited a second to see how she was reacting. As she didn't move, he took another and was in her space.

She watched him with growing eyes as he shyly came closer, and finally stopped right before her. His breath tickled her face as she gazed at the green pools turning into a crystal, blue ocean. "Mac?" she muffled as he took a step closer and his body brushed hers. Instinctively, she took a step back and found herself against a wall. Her heart skipped in her chest as he had taken another step and his hand softly cupped her cheek. She shot him a gentle smile, as her heart pounded in her chest, about to explode.

His heart beat madly in his chest as he had trapped her against the wall, and she hadn't tried to escape his touch. A shining smile graced her face, and he took it for an invitation. Swallowing his doubts he leaned closer, his face mere inches of hers. His hand slowly drifted toward her soft neck, enjoying her delicate skin under his fingers. He smiled as his fingers were covered by her golden curls. Male aftershave mixing with the sweet floral scent of her perfume enveloped them as their warm breaths mixed together. Gently, his lips brushed hers, testing if it was all right, if she wasn't pushing him back. But as her smile widened and her eyes sparkled in expectations, he leaned closer. His body pressed against her, his burning lips finally parting and tasting hers with all his tenderness.

Sparkles of delight exploded in her body as Mac kissed her; her breath sucked by his blazing passion. She moaned from the intensity she could feel coursing through him and vibrating through her body. Then, after some long minutes they broke the kiss, out of breath. Unable to move or talk after this extraordinary moment, she felt his cheek pressed against her. She too was unable to break the contact of their skin, the need to be close devouring their souls. Surging from nowhere, she felt weak and vulnerable as the last events replayed quickly in her mind. His face growing paler, his eyes shallow while he was slowly dying in her arms. She closed her eyes, trying to muffle the pain that had eaten at her since that damn bullet had embedded in his shoulder.

He could feel her slightly trembling against him, and he wondered if it was because of him. If she had really agreed for that kiss. But then, her face nestled in his neck, and wet burning tears streaming down his neck.

"I almost lost you," she muffled as her body shook through her silent sobs.

He snaked his good arm around her waist and gently pressed her against him. Her frail body immediately snuggled closer as she was releasing all the tension from the previous days.

"I'm sorry," he whispered in her ears. "I... I..." he tried to speak, but gave up, the lump in his throat too big. Instead, he pressed her more against him, trying to ease her soft trembling. His thumb softly stroked her back. He was powerless, and wanted to wrap her in comfort, but his sling was hindering his moves. "I'm sorry, Stell," he repeated, his voice filled with remorse.

Her arms wrapped around him, eager to keep him against her, to feel him warm and alive under her touch. "Please, don't do that again," she pleaded with a weak voice.

His lips tight, his hand slipped to her neck. He gently glided his thumb over her grazed cheek. Slowly, he lifted her chin up. His eyes settled on the little scar that could have taken her away from him. Very slowly, his thumb dried her tears. He swallowed the lump in his throat as their eyes connected. "I love you, Stella," he whispered, his breath caressing her cheek. "But I can't have you give your life for me," he whispered into her ear. "I can't."

She smiled lightly, her eyes glistening through the small tears she was trying to hide. "Well, you can't expect me to watch you die, Mac, and do nothing. I don't think my heart will hold it anyway."

Biting his lips, he tenderly pressed her head against his shoulder, his fingers entwined in her golden curls, his thumb gently caressing her nape. He sighed heavily and dropped a soft kiss on her forehead. "I can't let you risk your life for me, Stell. I can't lose you," he confessed. "I care too much about you." He felt her shifting lightly in his arms.

"I care too much about you too, Mac," she whispered, drying her tears in his sweater. She could hear his heart beating, and his voice vibrating through his chest. She relaxed slowly, recognizing all the signs that made him being alive and real.

Smiling, he took a step back, his hand still gently nestled over her neck. "Then, we have a problem," he stated with a shy smile. They had to talk about it. He couldn't let her think that things weren't going to be complicated if they were heading towards this new road.

She raised a pair of red eyes on him and frowned. "What ya mean?"

He smiled warmly to reassure her. "Both stubborn," he said with a smirk. "I guess things are going to be rough and..."

"That won't change what we are," she quickly replied. "Or what we're feeling." No, their friendship would remain, no matter what. But now, she hoped they had a chance for something more.

His face lighted. "True." He searched in her sparkling, tired eyes to see if she was afraid of the future they could create. He didn't want to hurt her in anyway, but gladly he didn't see any doubt. "Let's take it slow, then." At least, this way, they would have time to build a future together, he hoped.

She nodded and sank back her head in his shoulder. She knew what he meant, and, even if she would have liked to feel his entire body trembling from joy under her fingers right now, she knew he was right. She smiled inwardly, happy than even now, he was respecting her enough to take it slow, and let her get used to him, though he didn't need to, she had waited for so long. But, he was right, they couldn't rush things. Not after what had just happened, or they would both question their implication later. And that, could be a real problem. She felt his arm snaked around her and keep her close of him. Closing her eyes she listened to his beating heart pounding in his chest. She felt good there. She belonged there. And for a moment none of them moved, nor speak, just enjoying the comforting presence of the other, it was all that mattered.

Sometime later, she felt his body slightly trembling, and she realized he was slowly swaying on his legs. But before she could say anything, he stepped back leaving her some space to breathe.

"Let's change," Mac spoke softly, a soft smile plastered on his face.

"Change?" she asked bemused, what was he talking about?

A boyish grin appeared on his face as he grabbed her hand and led her to his spare bedroom. She frowned wondering if the bedroom was the best next step to take it slow. But then, when they arrived in the room, she smiled, the pieces of the puzzle gathering together. So that's why he had wanted to leave the hospital so soon. She smiled looking at the room. On the bed, was neatly set two dresses from her wardrobe, and a pair of shoes to match each.

"How on earth did you manage to get them here?" Stella asked bewildered.

"Let's just say that our friends were happy to give us a hand to plan this evening," he said with a grin.

"Evening, Mac?"

He smiled, his good arm patting her shoulder as her eyes locked with his. "Well, I promised we would be going on Friday, and since we are Friday, and I have only one word..."

Her eyes widened at the sudden realization. "Our dinner, but Mac, you've just been released from the hospital, and you're in no shape to go wandering into a restaurant." She looked at him, his frail body still swaying wearily on his legs. And she could bet seeing the dark bags under his eyes and with the sleeping drugs still in his system that it was going to be a big fight for him to stay awake the whole night. Her eyes glanced at his right arm nestled in the sling.

"I'll be okay," he added, noticing her worried stare towards his arm. "It's healing, remember." He headed for the door. "You got ten minutes," he said with a big grin plastered on his face as he left and closed the door.

She grinned like a kid as she turned toward the dresses neatly set on the bed. She stared at them. Surely, it had been done by Lindsay. She smiled, which meant, Mac had asked her and hadn't been afraid to show his feelings to his teammate to organize their dinner. Her smile widened. He really meant all he had said and done, and somehow she couldn't believe this was really happening. With a trembling hand, her fingers brushed her lips where minutes ago she had felt his burning passion. Her heart beat madly from expectations for this evening. Of course they had decided to take it slow, but after a nice evening and a romantic dinner, then, things could accelerate a bit. She grinned lightly, so she'd better hurry. Ten minutes he had said. Quickly, she undressed and slipped in her black dress. She smiled, she loved that one. She had noticed his sight unable to leave her the first time she had worn it. Although at the time she had pushed him to go out with other women. She hadn't been able to stop but smile from his boyish, amazed grin he had given her when she had entered his office that day. She sighed in content, finally things were looking up for them. He was safe and healing properly and with their dinner date ahead, she knew she was going to enjoy nursing him, now that they had both acknowledged theirs feelings.

xxx

Slowly, he slumped on his bed and glanced at the dark suit hanged in his closet. He had opted for a black suit hoping to impress her tonight. His eyes closed for a second as he tried to shave off the sleep that hazed his vision. His legs were heavy, and his whole body ached as he had run a marathon. He knew he should take a pill for the pain, but he was already under heavy pain killers and he didn't want to be knocked out for the night with the drugs. No, he wanted to enjoy every second he would have Stella gazing at him and smiling happily.

"Not now," he mumbled, desperate, as he felt a headache blossoming behind his temples.

No, tonight he was keeping his promise, and he was taking her to the nicest restaurant in the city. He smiled knowing she was going to love it. The place was at the top of a building facing central park on one side and the city on the other. The whole floor had a large veranda, allowing every customer to gaze for hours at the enlightened city at their feet.

He smiled and slowly took his sling off. He winced as the pain in his shoulder echoed dully through his flesh. Slowly, he managed to get the sleeve off his wounded arm. Beads of sweat, appeared over his forehead, and he felt a thin, cold, wet line sliding from his hair and to his back. He shivered lightly and pulled the second sleeve out. His breath short, and using only his feet, he kicked off his boots. A small buzz echoed in his head as he untied his belt, and unzipped his jeans. The buzz increased loudly. The doctor's words echoed in his head as he recalled their talk this morning.

"I'm discharging you only if you don't strain yourself Detective. You're in no condition to move around and stay up for a long period of time. But you'll see that if you try, your body will quickly tell you otherwise."

He had smirked at the doc. He knew himself, and he wasn't about to strain himself too much. It was just a dinner. His hand rubbed his face tiredly, trying to shave off the threatening sleep.

"No detective, I release you in the express condition you go straight back home and to your bed as soon as you're there. I mean it Detective. Your body won't allow you to stay up more than a couple of minutes, after that I'm afraid you could just pass out, so you better be in your bed when it happened."

He winced as he took a deep breath and tried to stand. But his legs buckled under him, and he fell back on the bed, his exhausted body bouncing limply. "Ah," he softly let out. Just a minute. Just a minute to rest, and then we go to the restaurant. He thought as he wearily closed his eyes, his hand slowly resting over his bare chest.

xxx

More than ten minutes had passed as she had taken the time to go in the bathroom and tied her hair up, leaving only a few strands to fall on her bare shoulders and back. She smiled widely at her reflexion and exited the bathroom, hoping to impress Mac. She glanced at her watched and noticed it had taken almost twenty minutes to get prepared. But where was Mac? He was usually too punctual to be late. With a small frown, she went to his door and softly knocked. Her frown deepened as only silence greeted her.

"Mac?" she tried as she slowly opened the door. She peered inside, her cheeks warming at the thought of what she could pick.

But then, her sight stopped at the slumped form over the bed. Her lips tight, she walked slowly to his bed and observed her partner sleeping. His eyes were close and his face relaxed as his lips slowly parted through his small breathing. She noted with delight that he had managed to take off his sweater, his sling gone, leaving his chest bare but with the white dressing covering his wound. With a small smile, she noted that his boots were off too. At least he had managed to get half undressed, she mentally quipped.

With a tender smile, she knew that the dinner was out of question and without a word, she tiptoed out of his room. Quickly, she changed into a pair of sweater and short tank top from her bag and came back into his room. She noticed that he hadn't moved, still laying limply on his bed, his arms sprawled aside. Smiling, she closed the door behind her and walked back to his bed. He was still deeply asleep and didn't seem to notice when she sat beside him and the bed bounced softly. Tenderly, she brushed his messy damp hair. His forehead was hot, but not enough to have a fever she noted with comfort, shaving off her worries. Softly, she stroked his cheek, and called him.

"Mac?" she smiled as his eyes slowly opened and he graced her with a weak smile.

"Fell asleep," he mumbled his eyes blinking to remain open. "Sorry..."

Leaning on her elbow beside him, she tenderly caressed his face, her thumb stroking his temple. "I have a better idea," she said softly as she passed his good arm around her neck. "But I'm gonna need you to help a bit," she said with a grin, her face inches of his. "Need you to push with your legs, okay?"

Still groggy, Mac pushed on his legs and felt his body being gently tugged to his pillow. Soon his head rested over the fluffy square. He let out a tired sigh and looked up to face Stella bent over him. She was smiling shyly, her hair falling from her head and making a private curtain around his head as she leaned closer. Her warm breath caressed his cheek as she pressed her lips against his and kissed him. He moaned softly, delighted by the sweet caress of her lips. His hand slipped over her back, pressing her against him. He felt her finally releasing her stance, her body snuggling over him. Then, she stopped moving and his eyes slowly closed again at the thought that she was with him. He fought to remain awake but sleep was claiming him again. In a confuse state, he was vaguely aware that his pants was removed, a small chill running over his body as a proof he wasn't really dressed anymore except for his boxer. Then, a blanket was laid over him, and a warm body snuggled against his left side. Gently, the same body lifted his chest and two warm arms enveloped him as his back rested against Stella.

"Sorry for the dinner," he mumbled as he snuggled deeper in her arms.

"I'm not," she whispered to his ear, her warm breath caressing his cheek. "Like that I can have you for myself."

"Don' lik' to shar'?" he slurred. His eyes closed as her warmth softly invaded his body, and he was wrapped in a gentle cloud of comfort.

Her chin delicately rested over his damp hair as she deposited a warm kiss. "Not when it's about you."

He grinned weakly as sleep pressed heavily on his weary mind.

"I love you, Mac Taylor," she softly whispered as she felt him drifting toward sleep. Her arms wrapped tightly around his bare chest, enjoying the contact of his soft skin under her fingers. "I love you, Mac," she repeated. She wanted to be sure he would know. Until then, she had never told him, and since he had told her a couple of times already she wanted him to know why she was here, and now. Not just because she cared for him as a friend, but because she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. And as she felt him relaxed in her arms, safe, she closed her eyes too, knowing that wherever his dreams were taking him this time, she would make sure she would be with him.

The End


A/N: Well, I hope you liked it, so don't forget to let me know what you thought of this. Have all a great weekend!

Journey of the Broken Hearts will be updated next week.