Title: Collateral Damage

Summary: Mac and Stella unwind & reflect after Sheldon is finally freed from the prison lockdown. But one surprising action on Mac's part leads to a new understanding between them. SMACKED One-Shot. Based on & some spoilers from eppy 6.19 Redemption

Disclaimer: I don't own Mac Taylor but I wish I did (course then I'd have no time for writing)! You know the rest write (grin)?

A/N: Dang this was a great eppy for Hill Harper. Sadly no real SMACKED but hope you like the story I came up with. I did a rewrite a few times and hope you liked this. Okay off to try to get some sleep now. Enjoy!


'He's still in there…'

'Shots fired…'

'I have a man in there…not survive the night…plan to extract him now…'

'They find out who I am, I'm as good as dead…'

'We are going to have to break Hawkes out of prison.'

As soon as he had heard a man was trapped inside a world where all hell was breaking loose he knew one thing for certain; he wasn't about to leave Sheldon to become collateral damage in a war that he didn't enter voluntarily. Sheldon's frantic voice on the other end of the line; plus Flack and Stella's worried frustration was all leading to the only course of action he knew he had to take.

'Never leave a man down,' was his motto since a small boy. So when he suggested to the team they were going to devise a plan to break their man out of the war zone; he knew it was the best plan of attack and it wasn't about to fail. Sheldon was a vaulable member of the team and as he gazed up on the expectant faces of his team he knew they were all thinking the same thing and then looking to him for the direction to see the plan through to fruition.

But no one questioned him; said it was too risky or even agasint the law. There was no hesitation; it was all for one; the team was behind him and it was with their coupled strength and verbal confirmations that just cemented in his mind that Sheldon would be back with them sooner rather than later; alive and in one piece. Shane Casey they would deal with later; Sheldon's life was top priority.

'Thanks Mac...' Sheldon's grateful voice still rings in his head after his release had been secured.

"Goodnight Sheldon," Mac whispers as he looks once more at a team picture and then slowly heads out of his office toward Stella's; the knowledge that Sheldon was finally safe and being tended to by a physician not attached to the riotous prison adding to his growing inner peace. He nears her office and listens as she finishes a call with one of their team; their team that was once again whole, no one in danger of death thanks to a simple twist of fate.

He leans on the doorframe to her office and watches her with a perplexed gaze. His brain listens to her musical laughter; light though it may be, and finds his body starting to relax a little further.

Stella finally finishes her call with Sheldon and looks up into the handsome face of her partner. All night he had exhibited a fierce calmness; he had to in front of the team, they were looking to him for assurance that his plan would work and that Sheldon would be back with them in no time. But he was worried; his fists, his posture, his brow; slight movements; things the team might not look at, but things she knew were real; his fear for Sheldon was real. And now that Sheldon was free and safe, she hopes that he'll be able to finally relax.

"Sheldon?" Mac inquires as he slowly enters, easing himself into a chair facing her. "How is he?"

"He's got a few new bumps and bruises and will have some nightmares for a few more days to come but otherwise he's fine and going to rest. He's going to visit Maya's gravesite tomorrow. After all he's been through today I'm surprised he's still awake."

"Probably still riding high on adrenaline," Mac notes with a cryptic expression.

"And you look like you know what that means."

"And you don't?" Mac counters and her lips curl upward.

"I guess we are all alike in that regard; have a brush with death and want to charge right back in. You, however, have more practice than the rest of us."

"You could have joined the Marines."

"Yeah? Think I would have made it?"

"Probably kicked my ass in those days," Mac replies with a smirk; forcing her face to soften further. "Would have been just as proud then as I am now to have you at my side."

"I'm just glad you are here in person to tell me that."

"Me too," Mac states as his mind drifts for a few seconds. "Redemption."

"What?" Stella inquires.

"That's what Reggie was ultimately seeking; to make peace for what happened to Maya. That's why he wanted Sheldon there and that's why he helped Sheldon after his own life was spared. His death was inevitable; just sorry that Sheldon never got to thank him for that closure."

"He wanted Sheldon's forgiveness."

"Most like to meet their maker with a clear concience; Reggie was no different. Sheldon said that Reggie Tifford told him he was prepared to die, he used his opportunity help Sheldon and therefore he made peace with happened to Maya; mostly for himself."

"Why not seek out Sheldon sooner? Confess this to him when Sheldon had a chance to ask about Maya?"

"Don't know why he waited; but tonight was it."

"Hell of a way to ask for redemption," Stella huffs as she leans back in her chair. "How are you doing?" Stella asks in concern.

"Wasn't me in that prison tonight."

"Are you sure?" She counters.

"I'm just...worn out. Mentally spent Stella."

"You could have lost a valuable team member."

"Sheldon was given a second chance by means of Reggie but..."

Stella studies the face of man before her and knows that his blue eyes are once again shielding his true intentions; emotions fighting a war behind the thing veneer. But with what? The past? The fact that Sheldon could have died today?

"Mac?"

"We could have lost him tonight Stella," Mac states heavily. "Any second; any wrong turn and that would have been it."

"But thanks to your quick thinking and Sheldon's street smarts, we didn't."

"Couldn't stand by and do nothing."

"And Sheldon is alive because of it. But that's not everything right? What else are you thinking about?"

"You."

"Me?"

"I wasn't in danger of dying today Mac."

"Not today; but...you nearly..." his voice dies out with a mild choke before he pastes on a tight smile and then looks back at her; hoping she'll buy his false bravado. Which of course she doesn't. "Sheldon is safe and that's what counts."

"Okay time to go."

"Where too?" Mac wonders as he watches Stella stand up and head for the coat rack behind him; grabbing her coat and putting it on. "I guess it is time to call it a night," Mac sighs as pushes himself up and then heads for the door; his path quickly being blocked by Stella's body. "But you said..."

"Right, it's time to go, but not home."

"I think we have both earned an early night," Mac mentions lightly as his eyes linger on the clock on the wall behind her. His eyes quickly move back to her and his brows arch as she offers a mischievous smile. "Something is going on inside your head. What is it?" He wonders.

"What is going on inside your head Mac? I know you are concerned for Sheldon, but I feel that something more is brewing beneath the surface and I don't think it's healthy to just keep it all locked inside. I think that..." she starts only to have Mac's fingers gently reach out and touch her cheek before he makes an uncharacteristic move and tenderly brushes her lips with his allowing heat to instantly flood both of them before he pulls back; Stella's look of happy surprise his reward.

"Mac?" She manages weakly.

"I...I'm sorry," he mumbles as he quickly turns and heads out of her office; into the hallway, his heart racing. Mac hears Flack calling his name, but heads for the stairwell, his mind not sure about what he just did; the consequence of his bold actions now playing a game of truth or dare with his anxious brain. He needs sleep and this day to be over.

"Stella," Flack stops her in the hallway, just before she reaches the door to the stairwell. "Where is Mac going?"

"Same place I am," she states in haste as she pushes past Flack and heads into the stairwell.

"Gee thanks," Flack groans as he just shakes his head and goes in search of another member of the team.

Mac just kissed me...he kissed me first...her brain keeps chanting over and over again as she finally reaches the outside, quickly glancing in each direction until she sees her beloved partner's frame a few stores to the right. She wastes no time in rushing toward him, finally stopping him in his tracks and then gently turning him around to face her. She gazes into the sapphire pools before her and notices anxiety and frustration and lightly frowns.

"Where are you going?"

"Home. I'm tired and need to think," Mac confesses in haste.

"See that is your biggest problem."

"I don't feel like going out Stella."

"I meant thinking. Your biggest problem is you think too much Mac," Stella tells him firmly as she gently leads him toward a quiet alcove.

"You said my quick thinking save Sheldon tonight."

"I meant over thinking when it comes to matters of the heart."

"Pardon?"

"Well you can't just offer me one of the sweetest kisses I have ever had and then just leave me there like that."

"I just..."

"Need to go home and think about why that was wrong? Why you acted on what was in your heart and how you can pick it apart? Analyzing it to death when it was something you obviously wanted to do."

"I'm sorry?" He mentions with some hesitation.

"Are you really?" She arches a brow in wonder, her lips tugging into a warm smile.

Mac looks at her; his lips offering a heavy sigh of emotional defeat. "No...no I'm not sorry," he tells her in truth as his arms finally come to rest on hers. "It was a rash act but one I don't regret."

"Rash?"

"Stella you nearly died a few weeks back and now today with Sheldon...and it just..."

"Makes you realize just how short and precious time really is."

"And I acted upon that emotion and..." Mac starts only to have Stella's fingers gently rest on his cheek as she guides his lips to hers; offering him a very public, hungry display of romantic affection.

"Kinda like that?" She pulls back a little breathlessly.

Mac looks at her, his face softening, but his grip on her arms still tight; not wanting to let her go.

"It wasn't just rash. It did mean something for me. Did it for you?"

"More than you might know. I won't hurt you Mac. I won't allow you to become collateral damage in some fly by night office romance. That's what worries you right? Not losing your life in some justice filled mission; it's losing your heart to an untrained person."

"Untrained?" Mac queries. "Are you trained?"

"I am and you know it; and I am the only one. I'm not about a one night stand and would never do that to you; I care too much to ever hurt you like that," Stella confesses in truth as his hands drop to hers, her fingers tightly clasping his; adding heat to her slightly trembling frame.

"I don't want to hurt you either Stella and I would...I would forever blame myself if something I did, well anything to ruin our amazing friendship. I am worried about the next step."

"We just took the next step Mac. Kinda hard to go back now; but if you want to go back, I will go back."

"You would?"

"No, I am just saying that. I would in truth murder you and then create the perfect alibi for myself," she teases, forcing his brow to relax. "Do you want to go back?"

"Kinda hard to now," he tosses the same line back at her. "But if you want to go back I will."

"Smart ass," she quips as his hands tighten around hers. "I would like to take this someplace a little less public."

"Such as?"

"Rick's diner? Come on Mac, let's put some of that extra adrenaline to use; like you buying me dinner."

"Sounds good to me," Mac agrees as his left hand leaves hers; his right still clasped, his brain wanting to hold onto the warm connection for as long as possible. They make small talk about Sheldon as they head for the Diner, both easing themselves into a nearby booth, coats off and finally able to relax a little bit more.

Mac's phone goes off and he's quick to pull it out; praying that it's just an FYI and not something that will take his time away from what he hopes will be the first of many intimate nights to come.

"Mac?"

"From Sheldon. He's going to stay with Don tonight."

"Good idea. At least he won't be alone. And I think it'll be good for Don also," Stella notes as Mac puts his phone away. "The two of them now have something in common; losing someone they care about."

"You know when Sheldon was staying with me he never talked about a sister; never mentioned Maya...never opened up about his past."

"A painful past is something most of us shy away from," Stella whispers softly; prompting Mac's hand to reach out and warmly cover hers, offering her fingers a gentle squeeze. "I doubt the topic or opportunity to talk about her ever camp up?"

"It never did. Sheldon he...well he's kinda private and I..."

"Am kinda private," Stella adds and Mac's lips curl slightly. "I guess it just means we need to spend some real time with those we care about and get to really know them; them and their secrets."

"I have no secrets Stella; nothing private that you don't know."

"I know Mac."

"Speaking of private matters, Sheldong asked if I would ever think about a serious relationship again," Mac starts in a soft tone, his eyes resting on his fingers as they lightly fondle hers once again held in his grasp.

"And what did you tell him?"

"I would if I found the right one."

"Really?"

"And I know I have found the right one," he adds as his eyes finally leave her fingers and lock with her emerald orbs. "I have for a while; was just too...well scared I guess to want to see if that is what she wanted also."

"All you had to do was ask you know," Stella mentions with a smile.

"I see that now. Do you want that also?"

"I do," Stella confirms in haste; wanting to assure him that his fears toward another romantic future were unjustified and that she was in it for the long haul. "And the work thing? I know that was always your biggest stigma in the past."

"We are two professionals Stella, I doubt we'll act like love crazed teenagers in a public setting," he quips.

"Too bad. Wanted to see you act like a love crazed teenager, even just once."

"Sorry to disappoint," Mac smirks.

"You have never and I know you never will," she tells him in truth. But after hearing his romantic confession she wants to ensure that they dont start to dwell on the ins and outs of what is to come; opting for them to have made this decision and then just grow together naturally.

"So what else did you and Sheldon bond over?" Stella asks, changing the subject and ensuring Mac's comfort level is met.

"Not much. He's a pretty talkative guy about work and such...the rest...well it was a little out of my league to be honest," Mac recounts with a wry smile. "All I did most of the time was nod and pretend I knew what he was talking about. He's pretty academic even in his spare time."

"Kinda like the rest of us," Stella smiles. "Did you tell him any racing stories?"

"No, those I saved for you," he confesses and her face lights up.

"And you were worried about us?"

But when she sees his expression quickly darken, she's quick to call him on it.

"What else?"

"With Reggie's confession and Sheldon going to see Maya tomorrow, I hope he can find some peace and closure. That is important; especially with this new information."

Mac's eyes drop once again to Stella's fingers; his heart now racing as his mind flashes images of the fateful hours leading up to and then after 9/11.

"Mac?"

"Closure Stella. It's something I would never begrudge Sheldon; but something that I still long for."

"I wish that was something I could give you Mac," Stella tells him in truth as their food finally comes. "I know how important it is to you. I guess I can say she's at peace; both of them are."

"I do take comfort in that. Reed and I set up a small grave stone where we could both visit her if needed."

"I would like to go some time with you, if you would allow me?"

"I would be honored," Mac tells her with a warm smile. "I think she would like that."

"I know she would."

They finally start into their meal and the subject changes to when Sheldon first started in the field; her brain delighting in her partner's tense frame finally relaxing a little bit more. And by the time dinner was done; he looked as if the day that just passed never happened. But as her brain now pondered on the the part of the day that took her by surprise; Danny's missing badge. She wants to tell him; but knows that it's not her place, it's Dannys. I have to tell Mac. That's Danny's responsibility; just like he told me, he has to tell Mac. Plus if I tell him now, it'll ruin the moment, she reasons. But Mac is quick to catch her change in expression and calls her on it.

"Stella?" Mac asks softly.

But knowing she'll have another time; probably tomorrow to focus on Danny, tonight it's Sheldons turn; his and Mac's. So with a firm smile she shelves Danny's upcoming troubles and raises her glass.

"To Sheldon," she offers with a slight toast of her glass of wine.

"To redemption."

"And second chances," she adds.

"And new beginnings."

"That is a lot to toast," Stella chuckles. "We've had a busy day."

"Not as busy as Sheldon. He's tough though; he'll bounce back after this."

"You trained us well Mac," Stella tells him. "It's what you expect."

"Do I expect too much? Do I ride the team to hard?"

"I would tell you if you did," she assures him and he can't help but smile.

"That you would."

"Trust me Mac, everyone is very proud to be on your team, especially tonight; myself included."

"Good to know."

"You look a little more relaxed," Stella notes with a warm smile as they linger in the booth; their dinner's nearly finished.

"Thanks to you," Mac notes with his own smile of affection. "I needed this."

"And I need this," she whispers as she leans in closer; once again offering herself as taste of his inviting mouth, her lips lingering on his before they move to his ear. "I'll never hurt you Mac, I promise."

"You know with Sheldon staying those few weeks it got me used to having some around after work on a regular basis."

"Liked that did you?" Stella smiles Mac helps her with her coat, her back to him.

"I did."

"Well you could always ask him to move in with you," she teases.

"Not exactly who I had in mind when it comes to sharing living space."

"Really?"

"Would you like to come over for a coffee or something?" Mac asks in haste.

"I would love to come for a coffee or something," she tells him in truth as they slowly head out of the diner; a cab waiting to take them to their final destination.

"You know hearing Sheldon's frantic voice on the other end of that line...today was close Stella," Mac starts as they wait for the cab to deposit them at Mac's apartment.

"The mental images are hard to push aside also. I mean I can't imagine what Sheldon was thinking when he came back into that common area and all hell had broken loose. Seeing those guards like that; having Reggie stop him before he could hit the Warden; being confronted and then duped by Casey."

"Well he kept himself alive and played it smart," Mac adds as the cab finally stops and they slowly get out. Stella stops at the front door to Mac's apartment, prompting Mac to look back at her in wonder. "Stella?"

"Just want to make sure this is what you want."

"I want this," Mac confirms as he leans in closer, his fingers grasping hers once more; their bodies inches apart. "I want you to believe me."

"I do believe you Mac," she whispers softly, their eyes locked in a heated showdown of emerald and sapphire. "And I want this just as much as you."

Mac's lips curl into a soft smile before he turns and leads them through the front entranceway and then into the elevator; his brain delighting in the feeling of her body pressed up against hers.

"So did Sheldon ever mention me?" Stella asks casually.

"Your name did come up a few times," Mac replies, forcing Stella to look at him with arched brow. "All positive of course. He speaks very highly of you. I can't blame him."

Stella loops her arm through Mac's, pulling his body closer to his but offering no words in return; her brain just delighting in the fact that he was now starting to really relax and open up. They head into his quiet apartment and Mac feels his nervous anxiety starting to develop. She wasn't here on business or even a merely a friend; she was now more and more often required another set of behavioral patterns.

"I can hear you thinking Mac."

"Just wondering what you wanted to do..."

"Coffee?" She suggests in haste as she nears him. "Just relax okay. Nothing has changed."

"Nothing?" He arches his brows.

"Well maybe the fact that you might not be waking up alone tomorrow," she teases and his face warms instantly.

"Kinda like the sound of that," he whispers in truth as his arms automatically encircle her waist. "Like the sound of that very much."

"So earlier after the coffee you had offered me 'or something'. What is the or something you were offering?" She inquires, his face gently blushing.

"To be honest, I didn't think that far ahead."

"Mac, that is the best thing I have heard from you all day," Stella counters as she wraps her arms around his neck and guides his lips to hers. Mac's mouth starts to crush hers with hungry desire; their bodies melding together as heated passion starts to cover them. The evening ahead was theirs, their team safe and tomorrow waiting for them; no time tables; no schedules; no calls for the field; and no one expecting anything from either of them except to continue with their present course. A course that was leading them toward a new future, where the only thing that was guaranteed was their love for each other.

THE END!


A/N: Well hope you all liked it and that's it for a few more weeks. Then *ugh* what's her face shows up again. *sigh* thanks everyone and have a good night (hmmm morning depending on when you read this! Lol)

PS: Remember to go to my profile and vote for which SMACKED family sequel you want next.