A/N: 11 years ago today, I buried a woman who had been with me since I was born and who lived with me since I had been 5. 9 years ago today, I was a freshman in high school, watching the devastation on TV with my classmates and praying that no one I cared about was involved… 5 years ago I was a high school senior and my team of classmates dominated at the annual powderpuff game. This year, I prayed for my grandmother and the victims, and spent the day with my family. Forever in our hearts.

DISCLAIMER: I own nothing. It's not BETA'd. I freestyled this in like 30 minutes. I just wanted to post this today.

Mac Taylor stood in his bedroom, adjusting the tie on his neck and staring at his reflection, his lips a thin line as he thought about the nine years that had passed. He braced his hands on the dresser and sighed as he thought about all the people who had come into his life, and gone from it; Aiden, Jessica, Peyton, Claire. His heart broke thinking about Claire, about the plans that they had made and about the beach ball that, until recently, he had kept. His final way of clinging to her.

He sighed and pulled on his sport coat before heading into the living room and grabbing the single red rose he'd gotten to take to the site. It was time.

He walked out his front door, and headed to Ground Zero. As he walked, his mind focused on the one woman who wouldn't be there this year. For 8 years, this had been their way of remembering. Ground Zero for the ceremony, coffee afterwards, and then a walk of the city. This year would be different, it'd be like losing Claire all over again; this year, he would be without Stella.

He blinked as he realized he'd made it to Ground Zero. His feet leading him even when he hadn't been paying attention. He stood in the mass, holding his flower and and letting the heartbreak he'd been hiding over Stella's departure blend with the still raw pain he felt over Claire. He rubbed his eyes, no tears for the tough as nails Marine, and ran a hand through his hair as he listened to each speaker.

And then it started; the hardest part of the day had come. The names of the WTC victims began to be read. Each name brought sobs and heartache. The emotion around him almost too much to bear.

"Claire Conrad-Taylor."

He closed his eyes and let his body tense as the memories flooded over him. Seeing the planes hit from his office, running down the street, looking through the people running away for Claire while trying to call her, holding Stella as she kept him back from the falling buildings. Everything flooded over him in a millisecond and as he felt like the world was caving in around him again, a tiny hand slid into his.

He blinked open his eyes and looked down to the tiny tot with her hand in his. Big blue brilliant eyes twinkled up at him and he smiled as the blonde little girl gripped his hand tighter. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and then hoisted her into his arms, "Where's Mommy and Daddy, Lucy?"

She giggled softly and shook her head.

"You broke free and came all by yourself?"

"She's not quite that independent yet, Mac." Warmth rushed through his body at the soft female voice that spoke from behind him. He turned over his shoulder and met the red rimmed, green eyes that he knew so well. She gave him a small smile and stepped forward, placing a hand on Lucy's back and the other on the back of his neck, "You didn't really think I'd miss today?"

She searched his face and felt her heart break at the obvious evidence to the contrary. He had believed that she'd stay gone on the day he needed her support most. She sighed and blinked as a tear slid down her face, "Mac, I could never…"

She leaned in and hugged him awkwardly for a moment before allowing them all to turn back to the ceremony. Upon its finish, she slid Lucy from his arms and walked with him to the gates, watching as he set the rose down and gazed over the still hard to look at remains of the towers.

He turned to them and walked over. Her hand took his and she smiled slightly as their fingers locked, "We might have to amend the plans for the day."

He smiled and touched the face of his god-daughter gently before looking at Stella and smiling, "For a good cause."

She nodded and let him lead the way to the park, allowing Lucy to enjoy the crisp clear weather. The two adults sat on the bench watching her in silence, allowing themselves time to their own thoughts before he turned to her, "I'm glad you came today."

She smiled and nodded, "Me too. There's nowhere else I would rather be today."

She reached up and caressed his cheek, "I left the job, Mac." Her voice dropped to a soft whisper as she let him near and held his eyes with hers, "I could never leave you."

She gave him a warm smile and leaned in brushing his cheek with her lips for a moment before pulling back and rubbing his cheekbone with her thumb.


"I love you, Mac."

Her eyes met his and she smiled shyly before the happy cries of Lucy coming towards them broke the moment and she turned, catching the child in her arms and hugging her gently.

Later that night, after Lucy had been left with her parents and night closed in, she stood in his living room. The wine in her glass swirled slightly as she rolled the glass in small circles and looked out over the New York skyline. "Still feels like yesterday. I remember it all so clearly."

He came up next to her with his beer and nodded, "Yeah." He took a swig and looked at her out of the corner of his eye, "You know, one thing's remained constant over the past 9 years."

She turned to him with a furrowed brow and tilted her head, "What's that?"

"You've always been there when I needed you."

She dropped her eyes with a soft smile and nodded, "Mac, I always will be."

His eyes searched hers for a moment and he reached over taking her wine glass from her and setting it down along with his beer before turning back to her. She watched him approach slowly and met him halfway, her hands on his biceps and his on her waist. She smiled as he pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her curls as she clung to him, "What you said at the park..."

His whispered question was soft and she pulled back an inch to stare into his eyes and nodded, "I meant it." She nodded and captured the sides of his face in her hands, "If the last few months away have taught me anything… it's that I love you. I think, I always have. Sometimes you don't realize how important something is to you, until it's gone."

Her words double meaning wasn't lost on him and he nodded. When he'd lost Claire, the circumstances were out of his control, but standing here with Stella in his arms, he knew she was giving him the power to take control; to reclaim what he thought he'd lost. She smiled at him and let her hands drop to his shoulders.

"I love you, Stella."

Her lips widened into a bright warm smile and she pressed her body closer to his, "Yeah?"

He gave her his famous half smile and leaned in, pressing his lips to hers.

9 years ago he'd lost a woman he loved, his wife, his Claire.

This year, he'd found a woman who loved him, his partner, his best friend, his Stella.

A/N: You should know, "I love you, Mac." were the 911th words in this piece. Pure coincidence...