Happily Never After
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Epilogue – Worth The Wait
She whirred her head in the direction of the voice, curls flying and hitting her in the face. Under any other circumstances she would have appreciated the concern underlying the tone but right now it was accompanied by fear verging on panic. Rarely did one hear these particular emotions from the voice's owner. Right now, unfortunately, they were justified and Stella felt her heart freeze into an icicle inside her chest realizing the gravity of her current situation.
The next moment all internal considerations were turned to oblivion as she had to duck lower behind the car she was crouching to take cover from another barrage of shotgun coming from the other side of the street.
Mac's voice managed to penetrate the din yet again. "Stell, lay low!"
He was more than fifty feet away, having arrived from the opposite direction. They were the first on the scene, with Flack and the SWAT on the way. They had been hoping to take their suspect in crossfire and hold out till backup arrived and it almost worked. Almost being the key word here.
They hadn't foreseen they would get engaged in a full-blown street battle, just the two of them with only their Glocks, which seemed like children's toys compared to their suspect's arsenal. They had been trapped long feet away from each other, their every attempt at fighting back or joining forces literally shot down by the perp. Stella couldn't recall a predicament as dramatic and at the same time as farcical as this one. They had gotten into numerous messes during their years on the job but this was easily top five. Still, she knew they would have done the same thing again. This was their only chance to get the perp. There was not a moment's hesitation when Mac looked at her questioningly having heard the dispatcher's announcement. And now here they were, fighting yet another battle. This time it was literal, though, and Stella found she liked the metaphorical ones far better. Which didn't mean she wasn't as good at winning them. She carefully peered from behind the car to check up on the perp's location.
She knew Mac was right about staying down. Her cover wasn't going to last long and if she didn't do something fast, she would soon look like a cheddar cheese. The perp seemed to have focused on her since she was the closest to him but if she played this right, she could turn this into an advantage… She took one glance at Mac's silhouette, barely visible behind another car at the other end of the street. She took a deep breath and made her decision.
"I'm going to move in closer, Mac!" she spoke to her walkie-talkie. "I need you to cover me."
She shifted onto the balls of her feet prepping to dart for the better location.
"No, Stella," Mac's voice was calm but she detected that undercurrent of panic growing stronger. "Wait. Flack and his guys are on their way."
"Mac, he's not going to wait forever," she persuaded. "We need to make a move now."
She rose up a little higher, aiming over the hood of the car and caught the suspect's movements as he turned and began running down the street towards an alley, his gun grasped close to his side as he moved, his head turning back to make sure no one followed him.
"I'm going after him, Mac!" she screamed into her walkie-talkie.
"No! Wait for back up!"
"I don't have time to put this to a vote, Mac! It's now or never!"
"Damn it, Stella! This is an order!"
She muted out Mac's last words, already in pursuit.
Mac cursed under his breath again seeing her take off. His feet carried his body after her, rapidly trying to catch up to her but knowing that he was too far and for the next couple of minutes she was completely on her own. The thought was enough to make his heart stop in his chest and he forced his legs to move even faster.
Just as he was about to enter the alley, the white-and-blues began wheeling in with a screech.
"Mac!" Flack's figure emerged from his squad car and raced to catch up, his gun out of his holster and ready for fire.
"Where's Stella?" came Sheldon's voice from behind Don as both he and Danny joined them.
"Where do you think?"
Stella jumped out of the way of the man's fist but her backward impetus made her back contact painfully with the wall behind. It was enough to knock her breath out of her and her Glock out of her hand. It was also enough for the man to raise his fist again. This time he was successful. She doubled over, seeing black blurs in front of her eyes but she willed them away. She moved to the side and aimed a fist into his solar plexus. It slightly missed the target but it was enough to throw the man out of balance. She swiftly moved behind his back and was about to administer a finishing blow but he managed to sneak in an elbow into her abdomen, which had her gasping for air and loosening her hold on him.
She gritted her teeth and let out an angry growl. No way was he getting away. She had spent too much time chasing him down only to allow him to escape now and carry on with his killing spree. She tapped into energy reserves she didn't think she had anymore and whirred around, her foot making satisfactory contact with the underside of the man's knee and making him fall onto his face with a startled gasp. He tried to scramble back to his feet but she was already pressing on his back with both her knees.
"One more move," she hissed and shoved her right knee harder in between his shoulder blades. He groaned but seemed to finally understand it was over.
She was just finishing handcuffing when Mac skidded to a halt in front of her, followed by Flack, Danny, Hawkes and a number of SWAT officers. She felt a small triumphant grin grow on her lips as she saw the amazed faces of all the macho guys watching one woman tackle their bear of a suspect. She got to her feet just in time to find herself face to face with her furious boss.
With a grim expression, Mac scrutinized her face, already turning purplish where their suspect managed to land a couple of blows. She was sure she was in for a tongue-lashing, and in front of the whole squad no less, when she suddenly found herself gathered in his strong embrace, Mac obviously not caring there were at least a dozen of curious spectators around, and they were all on the job. Her heart warming at the thought of how long a road they had to come to get here, she sighed, allowing her muscles to finally relax and the adrenalin to subside in her veins.
Mac held her tightly, his face hidden in her curls. He was slowly starting to calm down, having worked up a rage that could crumble walls at the very thought that the perp could hurt her and he wasn't there to protect her. Memories from New Orleans came flooding back but he pushed them away. She was safe and sound in his arms.
"I should make you sleep on the couch for this," he said softly into her hair.
She moved her head back to look him in the eye. "And that would that be a punishment for me or for you?" she asked pointedly, mischief in her eyes. "You might wanna rethink your marital penal code, Taylor."
"You're pushing it, Taylor," he whispered before pulling away. His stern expression might have carried more clout, though, if he could refrain himself from affectionately tucking a stray curl behind her ear. He couldn't, though, and what it revealed was another purplish bruise. He frowned, all playfulness gone.
"Sheldon, call the paramedics," he ordered the younger CSI.
"Mac, I'm fine." She waved a hand at him.
"We'll have to work on your definition of 'fine', Stella," he said wryly.
"My definition of 'fine' is no different than yours," she shot back.
Mac chuckled and was about to offer her a quip when his heart stopped in his chest. In a second, Stella had gone pale and in the next, he saw her body falter and slide to the ground. He managed to reach his hand out in time to shield her head from hitting the concrete.
Her fingers wrapped around the plastic bracelet as she fidgeted with it. It wasn't normal for something so minor as a few bumps and scratches to take this long. The bracelet twirled around her wrists over and over again before she tightened her grip on it and tried breaking it off her wrist, sighing and dropping back into the pillows in a frustrated huff. Hospitals weren't her thing and she was sick of being in one. She'd seen the inside of a hospital room one too many times the past few months for her own liking and this time was no exception. A part of her wasn't even sure why she was here. None of the injuries she'd sustained were severe enough to make the visit a necessity and she was almost positive that fainting spell had been because she'd skipped lunch. Doctor Stanwick came to stand before Stella with a stern expression on her face.
"Doing acrobatics again?" she said turning on her flashlight and examining Stella for proper eye reflexes. Then she looked over the bruises and cuts on her face. "Well, you've got a mild concussion and this here-" she gently touched the edges of the still slightly bleeding wound. "-will need stitches."
"That's not bad," Stella muttered as the doctor sat on a stool opposite her and prepared the sewing kit. Upon hearing Stella's comment, she looked up at her.
"Not bad?" she asked with a hint of anger. "Stella, you've been in a coma and had a surgery in the last three months. You should really take care of yourself. Do I really need to remind you that you should be taking it easy and getting back to full health instead of running through the city with a gun playing cops and robbers?"
Stella looked at her, surprised at the harshness of Stanwick's words. The doctor immediately picked up on it.
"I'm sorry," she smiled apologetically. "But I'm your doctor and your health comes first for me. And if your husband can't, I have to try and put some reason into your head."
"Mac? Reason?" Stella scoffed.
"Fair enough," she chuckled. "He's even worse than you are," she added. Then she became serious again.
"But maybe what I'm going to tell you will make you see some reason."
Stella looked at her and the doctor took a deep breath. "Your blood tests came back," she began. "And they showed some...for the lack of a better word, unexpected results."
Stella held her breath, the memories of her AIDS ordeal coming back to the surface. "Is...is something wrong with me? "
"You can say so," Stanwick began slowly. "Your body isn't functioning normally..."
Stella held her breath.
"...and it won't be for the next nine months." The doctor smiled at her.
Stella just stared at her, unable to utter a single word. "I'm...pregnant?"
"Yes, fourth week," the doctor informed her.
Stella continued to stare at her, a rush of unexpected emotions and feelings sweeping over her in a giant wave. She was pregnant...she was going to have a baby...Mac's baby...
"Stella? Are you ok?"
"I...um...just surprised, I guess." She managed a small smile. "I mean, we've talked about it with Mac and..." she looked at the doctor. "I love him so much and it was my dream to have child with him...it's just that...it's so unexpected."
"Best things in life always are."
Stella looked at her as she smiled at her serenely and went on to prepare the sewing kit. Her hands instinctively went to her abdomen and she felt a feeling of warmth and love spread through her fingers to her whole body. She smiled to herself. Still, there was an anxious pang in her heart as her mind started to process the life-changing news. She would be lying if she said that Mac wasn't going to be happy – he was going to be ecstatic about it, she had no doubts, but she had to wrap her mind about it herself first. She had gone through an awful lot this year, they both had, both professionally as well as physically and mentally. Hence, they decided they would take time to settle back into their life and job together before making any big decisions because they wanted to make everything right this time. Meanwhile, she was not three weeks back (she had to grin at herself realizing the timing – however they would look back at her leaving and the New Orleans debacle in the future, there would always be one good thing that came out of it) before they were faced with another earthquake.
"You keep pacing like that and you'll wear a rut into the carpet."
Mac's head lifted from watching his feet pace and he smiled at her before briskly heading to her and wrapping her in his arms. His hand held the back of her head gently as he rubbed her back and shut his eyes, inhaling her cent and letting the worry he'd been holding onto dissipate.
"Are you ok?"
"I'm fine, Mac… a couple bruises and…" she sighed and licked her lips before shrugging and rolling her eyes with a nod, "I'm fine."
He nodded and brushed a kiss to her forehead gently before wrapping his arm around her and pulling her close as they walked to their car. "Are we still on for tonight?"
Her brows furrowed and she paused midstep, turning to him and cocking her head in a silent question before the proverbial light bulb went off. "The wine tasting. I… I completely forgot."
He stepped up closer to her and tilted her head up, "You sure you're ok? You never forget things like this."
She dropped her eyes with a soft laugh and then looked back up to him, touching his cheek gently and caressing his cheekbone with her thumb, "I'm human, Mac. Even I forget our date nights sometimes." Then her expression changed and she pouted, raising an eyebrow at him. She had her perfect diversion from Mac's further question about her health and she was going to use it. "You think you'll weasel out of it this easy?"
He sighed in exasperation. If she was back to teasing him, he needed no better proof that she was indeed fine. "If I knew all it took to get out of it was a bump on the head, I'd have given myself one," he said under his breath.
"This can be arranged," she retorted and raised an eyebrow at him as he chuckled softly, "Besides, now we're even."
"A week ago? I waited at the diner for 15 minutes… and you were in your office doing budget reports?"
The pink tinge to his cheeks and awkward laugh assured her that he hadn't forgotten the call he'd gotten from her… nor the argument that followed… nor the way they'd made up later that night. She smiled warmly and leaned up kissing him gently and then putting her hands in his, "I really can't wait for tonight."
"Me either." He returned her warm smile and lead her to the street, hailing a cab with his free hand and clasping her hand securely in his other one.
They said it was women who had intuition but when it came to his wife, Mac had it, too. Or what was the male equivalent. Maybe it was simply the fact that he was so attuned to her that he could detect even the slightest change in her demeanour. The tiniest crease on the forehead, the smallest twitch of her mouth, the briefest shrug spoke volumes to him. Stella was as breath-takingly beautiful and intricately complex as a Beethoven's symphony and she wasn't easy to interpret or read but in the years they had known and loved each other, he had become the maestro.
Which was why he knew something was wrong the moment she stepped out of that ER room. She was distracted and avoided eye contact but he decided to let it drop for the moment hoping Stella would tell him what was going on in her own time. But evening came and she remained eerily quiet.
He listened to the ear-splitting silence as he frowned into the mirror and exited the bathroom, making his tie for the wine-tasting as he went. He found Stella ensconced in the bay window in their dining room she loved so much, her knees under her chin and her emerald dress flowing down the ledge in a magnificent waterfall of satin. He felt his frown deepen as he watched her. There was something on her mind and it was serious.
Hearing his footsteps, she turned around. "Ready?" she asked with a smile he knew was only for his sake. She stood up and smoothed her dress.
"You look beautiful," he uttered as she came up to him and proceeded to help him with his tie. Their fingers met and Mac held them tightly for a moment, reveling in the electric sparks the contact generated under his skin. "I'll never stop wondering why you chose me."
"Maybe because you're the greatest guy I've ever met?" she said with a small smile. "Or maybe not and I'm just a masochist," she added wryly and placed a soft kiss on his lips.
He chuckled. "Whatever your motives, I'm happy with my end of the deal."
"You'd better be. And now stop distracting me and let me finish with that tie or we're going to be late."
"I didn't know you distracted this easy." He raised an eyebrow at her and she just shook her head though the blush that crept up her face didn't escape him.
Then he watched as her expression became that of pure focus as she perfected the knot. Then she was done and soon they were out the door and in the cab.
The cool glass of the cab window soothed the throbbing from the bump on her head as the drive progressed. The bruises and cuts on her face she managed to cover with make-up and her hair but the bump was another thing. She begrudgingly focused on the rhythmic throbbing reflecting her own heartbeat and mused about another heartbeat that she would soon be able to hear in her body. Sitting alone when Mac was getting ready in the bathroom, she decided she would tell him tonight. This was wonderful news and she couldn't keep it away from him. They would make this work.
Still, she stayed silent most of the ride, quietly stewing over how best to tell him that they were soon going to have another presence in their home. She opened her eyes as he squeezed her hand gently. She turned to him with inquisitive eyes and smiled tenderly.
She nodded slowly and squeezed his hand in return, "Just a little shaken up."
"You know, we don't have to go. If you're not feeling up to it." He captured her cheek against his palm and studied her face with concern etched into his blue orbs.
"I know your idea of alcohol is yellow and reeks of hop but you are not getting out of this," she said and laughed as he rolled his eyes. Then she became serious again and sighed. "I want to go I just… Um…I just doubt I'll be doing much tasting tonight," she said uneasily avoiding his gaze by averting her eyes to the floor of the cab.
"You're not feeling well?" He scooted closer, gently encircling her arm with his fingers. "I knew I should have pressed Stanwick to take you in for observation for the night."
"No, it's not that. I just…can't drink wine."
He frowned. "Why? You love wine and were really happy about this."
She took a deep breath. Just tell him already!
"I still do…but for the next eight months I'll have to do without it."
His brows furrowed and he studied her face before his eyes widened in realization. His sight dipped to her abdomen and then back to her eyes. She smiled hesitantly and nodded once, her smile growing immediately as his hand moved from her arm to her abdomen. "How far?"
The feeling of joy that overpowered him at that moment was so profound that he had to remind himself to breathe. He shook his head and leaned in, crushing her lips to his and showing her how enthusiastic he was over the news. She reciprocated the kiss with equal fire but Mac suddenly pulled back.
"And the fainting? Is everything ok?" he asked with worry.
She put a hand to his cheek. "Everything's fine. The little Taylor was just reminding me to take it easy."
"Now you'll have the big Taylor breathing down your neck, too," he said.
She beamed at him. "Wouldn't want it any other way."
So, this is it, guys. Thank you so much for embarking on this journey with us – we hope you had as much fun reading this as we had writing it! Before you go, do leave us a final review:)
One more thing – what if we told you we're thinking of a sequel? Would you be interested?
Have a great Halloween, everyone!