Title: Just Breathe

Summary: After Mac's close call on a heated case, Stella comes to only one conclusion, sometimes you just need to breathe and remember what is most important in your life. SMACKED One-Shot. Based on & some spoilers from eppy 7.16 The Untouchable

Disclaimer: If you don't know by now you need to read my other stories! Lol I want to own Mac Taylor and fire PV! Hey a girl can dream right? :D

A/N: Well I had to come back for a bit of Mac peril and although it was as suspected very small it was worth a OS at least we thought so! And yeah Jo? *ugh* she's a crime scene in Alice's world! Haha so yeah she's outta here – enter our Stella! So this is an AU of this eppy since I have already done an eppy OS when Mac got hurt (sangre pour sangre) and Stella came from NO so that has already been done by me. Hope you all like this offering and thanks in advance!

~Dedicated to LindsC33. As always special thanks to csi-ncis.~

Note: Words in italics surrounded by double quotes taken from the eppy


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Okay so for those that don't watch here is what this OS is based off of (I was given snippets lol). It was some mild Mac peril (as predicted nothing much and kinda disappointing! Haha yeah you know me and my Mac peril) but it goes like this a woman steps in front of Mac's truck on purpose and when he stops to see if she is okay he is tasered by a guy – her partner, zip-cuffed and hooded and then taken to a dead end tunnel and threatened to stay off the case and then frees himself and yeah walks away as if it was nothing. As predicted the rest was the case with some flashbacks. So this OS starts with a scene I made up at the hospital (no Mac didn't go) and we go from there…
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Stella was used to Mac going to crime scenes by himself, she was even used to getting a call from him at the ER or somewhere else that he had taken a tumble, rushed in where angels fear to tread or even gone off half cocked and gotten himself another verbal reprimand by his superior. But tonight was different. Tonight he was targeted - on purpose.

'Mac was ambushed, tasered, kidnapped and threatened.'

Those words spun around and around in her frantic mind, her heart racing as she reached her phone, practically yelling at Don to get off so that she could call Mac. But it was just a formality as she was already rushing from her office at the lab to the waiting area of the ER. Don had met her downstairs, telling her that if she drove in her frantic condition, she'd end up killing people and the next phone call would be to their insurance adjusters trying to explain.

'Yeah Mac doesn't want to go to the ER,' Flack had told her after Mac had called him.

'Too bad, tell him I'll meet him there or else,' Stella had offered him one more threat before the line was dead and Mac was on his way to the ER and Don was coming to get her. It all started with - another blond woman had just shown up in his life with her erratic behavior and odd fanciful tales.

"I found you...oh she's not my friend...she's dead."

"Just something about her…I believed her…I trusted my gut."

"Somewhere in here is what Tessa James why trying to tell me."

But then the woman turned up dead and Mac's unspoken guilt for not really taking her ramblings seriously enough to continue to look after a superficial search put him into overdrive, forcing him to make some near fatal mistakes that nearly ended his life.

"He's going to be just fine," Flack tries to assure her; his soft tone pulling her from her thoughts.

"Just hurry Don," Stella offers with a heavy sigh. "Damn him," she gently curses.

"Typical Mac," Flack huffs with a small frown. "It wasn't his fault."

"That is not helping," Stella retorts as they near the hospital.

Stella barely waits for the police cruiser to stop before she pushes herself from the front seat and races for the busy ER entrance, her golden curls dangling around her shoulders. She eyes the area around her, flashing her badge as she heads for the back where the small treatment bays were and then stops, eyeing the target of her concern with a frantic gaze.

Mac looks up and locks eyes and knows she's worried and angry. His sapphire gaze softens but she remains in place and he can't help but sit in place and offer another heavy sigh as the doctor finishes his heart exam.

"Detective," the doctor greets her when he eyes her badge. "He'll be ready to go in a few minutes. Do you need to process anything?"

"How is he?" Stella inquires, ignoring Mac's upward pleading glances that he was okay and there was nothing to worry about.

"Sustained some mild heart trauma and has a few bumps and bruises. Told him to take it easy for a few days but doubt he'll listen," the doctor offers with a heavy frown before he pulls the soft pad off Mac's smooth chest and then finishes his notes. "You can get what you need."

"Thank you," Stella says softly as she moves forward and starts to process Mac's hair, clothes, face and hands.

"Stella..." Mac says softly after she was finished her evidence gathering.

"I'll send this to the lab right now," Stella bags it and then hands it to a nerby officer, giving him explicit instructions to take the findings to Sheldon Hawkes. "Well Doctor?"

"I'll just finish this up over there. Come and see me when you are ready to go; he's fine to leave."

"So I can go home then?" Mac asks softly.

"If you have any shortness of breath, tightness of chest, severe or sudden dizziness or any other unusual symptom, come back immediately. Otherwise you can go."

Mac slowly stands up the doctor now to the right and faces Stella. "Stella…" he starts in a strained tone as he starts to button his dress shirt. Normally she would step forward and help him but as it was she just stood her ground, her silence dictating her inner thoughts.

"I was caught off guard; never saw them coming. Want to offer me an I told you so?" Mac asks with a lighter tone and small smirk.

"No, they did that for you when they nearly stopped your damn heart!" Stella's voice rises and she quickly turns away, shaking her head before she looks back at the handsome man before her. "Sorry."

"I know."

"I was really afraid Mac…when I got that call from Don."

"I'm sorry too," Mac offers in truth.

"Let's go," Stella tells him as she offers his crumpled suit jacket and they head for the doctor. The seasoned physician offers Mac a few more words of medical advice and signs off on the release form and then lets them leave. They head for the entrance in silence, Mac's hand finally slipping from his pocket and grasping Stella's as they are both blasted with cool night air. Stella's grasp around his fingers tighten but she offers no words, her mind forcing her to just concentrate on breathing until they get to their apartment.

Mac quickly glances over at Stella in the cab, frowning at her gaze that was fixed forward but knows that her stress level is higher than normal because her lips were pulled into a thing tight line and she was hardly blinking. Even the walk to the front door and the ride up the elevator was spent in tormenting silence.

"Stella…" Mac tries as they enter. But before he can utter another word, she wraps her arms around him, kisses him firmly on the mouth and just holds on.

"Oh god I thought I lost you tonight," she huffs, now able to break down. She had told him long ago that she would be damned if she ever let anyone see her breakdown in public, but in private is where the more human side of Stella came to light.

"I know," Mac sighs as his arms keep her trapped against his chest. "Trust me Stella I was worried too. When I was in that truck…all I thought about was never seeing you again and I was…scared," his voice ends in a soft whisper; barely audible. She pulls back and places both her hands on his flushed and dirty cheeks.

"I need you in my life Mac," she utters softly and he can only nod as he takes her hands from his face and holds them closely. "I can't lose you."

"You won't, you are my life," he tells her in truth.

"Mac, I almost lost you tonight."

"Stella..." Mac tries to protest, earning only a finger on his lips to stop his unnecessary apology. Tonight wasn't his fault entirely, he was targeted because of the case. She couldn't fault him for that; all he did was press the wrong person. Now she just wanted him to clean up and then hold him in her grasp until she was sure she wasn't going to lose him.

"Okay so go and have a shower and then…we'll just rest. I know telling you to back off the case would be like trying to tell the rain to stop in a downpour but at least just rest for me tonight okay?"

"For us," he smiles warmly as he kisses her on the cheek and then turns and heads for the bathroom. Once the door was closed Stella leans against the wall and tightly closes her watery eyes; her heart racing with images of finding his body in a watery grave; getting the call from Don that her beloved husband was the next crime scene body to be worked on. "Oh Mac," she whispers sadly. She finally pulls away when she hears the water start up and heads for their bedroom, slowly undressing from her working clothes and then slipping into the covers in her soft pajamas to wait.

During his shower, Mac's mind can't help but flashback to when he driving and a woman ran out in front of the truck, forcing him to slam on his breaks, an ambush to send him a powerful message from a powerful but cowardly group. He felt panic at the thought of hitting the woman; but it was his worried mind that failed to notice the man coming up behind him with a dangerous weapon.

"Are you okay?"

Then the taser was stuck into the back of his neck, catching him off guard and forcing him to his knees in blinding pain as his body absorbed the electrical shock that he was being administered. His mind went into panic, his head spinning and eyes darkening instantly; his chest heaving and his body limp in their grasp.

"Bring him."

His wrists were then captured behind his back with a zip-tie and then he was then bodily dragged toward a dark truck; his heart racing at dangerous levels. Next his mind flashes him, waking up in the back of the van with his wrists restrained behind his back and his head hooded. His eyes tried to focus and his mind to soften the painful pounding in his ears; but neither were working.

"Told you not to tase him in the neck."

"He's still breathin' ain't he?"

And then before he could register a location, he was being pulled from the truck, only to be force fed an audible threat that sent chills down his spine.

"On your knees. On your….knees now you son of a bitch! NOW!"

"Next time the trigger is pulled…"

BANG!

He opens his eyes in haste as he sees himself not waking up from the taser or worse being pronounced dead and Stella being called to come and collect his body.

'Next time Detective Taylor and you DIE!'

"Damn it," Mac curses as he remembers trying to free himself in vain, his ears picking up fuzzy voices as they rushed toward him to help free him and call for an ambulance. That's when he knew Stella would be called and he was worried as to what she'd be told.

When they had gotten married a few years back both had promised the other that they would not take as many foolish or dangerous chances; that they wanted to come home to the other at the end of the day. This was something that they had hoped to avoid. But it was something that neither of them expected – him getting ambushed, kidnapped and then threatened. Something unplanned and out of the blue.

'Hope you said all your goodbyes.'

Then he sees his body absorbing the bullet again and his whole body shudders. He was human, he knew that. Even in that moment he didn't want to show it, not with Don or at the ER. But he was home and now he was going to be forced to acknowledge that. But here he was safe and could break down without fear of personal or emotional reprecussion.

"Next time…BANG!"

Mac's chest offers another small gasp as he relives the taser shock and quickly finishes his shower, drying and then dressing before he heads into the bedroom, dumps his dirty work clothes in the hamper and climbs in next to Stella.

"How are you feeling?" Stella asks softly as her fingers gently massage his tense scalp.

"Tired," Mac mumbles as her fingers rest on his forehead and then the back of his neck.

"Any troubles breathing?"

"Not right now," he answers in truth, looking up at her with a soft smile.

"Good. Now just close your eyes and rest; let me take care of you."

"No arguments here."

She merely smiles back and then kisses the top of his head and goes back to her tender strokes, telling him to close his eyes and just rest once more, he had more than earned it. But sleep wasn't to come easy for either of them as the new few hours would show.

Mac's mind continues to replay his ordeal over and over, being set up, tased, bound, kidnapped; until he sees himself being shot multiple times, his body reverberating with each bullet before he falls to the ground; a lifeless corpse.

"Ahh…" Mac jolts himself from his tormented sleep with a sharp intake of air.

"Mac?" Stella asks in haste as she flips on the light and then looks at him in concern.

"Sorry…if I…woke you," Mac manages between a few ragged breaths.

"Just take a deep breath Mac."

"Breathe...right."

"Stella...I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," she whispers as she takes swift action.

Stella hurries to the bathroom and comes back with a cool cloth, easing him back onto the pillows and telling him to close his eyes as she places the cool compress on his enflamed forehead.

"Just breathe Mac," she lovingly instructs as she notices his firm chest still slightly heaving up and down. "One at a time."

"I…I keep seeing myself," he tries again, his body tight and his throat dry; his heart racing. "Being...kidnapped and shot."

"I know you do," she soothes, stroking is face and trying to calm him with her tender touch. "Just take a deep breath and relax."

"I can feel them…hear their words…" Mac continues, his words short and clipped; his lungs slightly heaving. "See my death...losing you."

"Never Mac, you'll never lose me." She continues to administer touch after touch, trying to get him to focus on the sound of her voice and try to get his breathing under control.

"So...real."

"They are not here Mac, so just breathe," she tells him again, blowing on his face in hopes of cooling him down. Finally a few minutes later, his tension starts to ease and she can feel his anxiety literally starting to subside. "You'll get them Mac, tomorrow, I know you will. But right now you just need to take a deep breath...for me."

"I love you Stella," he utters in a soft tormented tone that instantly shatters her already worried heart. She leans down and covers his mouth with hers, placing a heated kiss on his already flushed lips, forcing his body to slightly elevate and then subside back down when she pulls away.

"I love you too Mac," she tells him in truth. "Just a few more deep breaths okay?"

Mac nods and mumbles an okay in compliance before he closes his eyes; his mind frantically racing to lock onto the blessed images of their wedding day in hopes of chasing away the demons threatening his very mental sanity. Stella finally takes the cool damp cloth from his forehead and pats his cheeks, before having it rest on his enflamed neck, bringing some cooling relief to his sizzling skin.

"Thank you," he mentions in a soft whisper as she settles back down beside him once more.

"We are bound together Mac, in good times and bad," she reminds him. "I guess…well we both got a good scare tonight as well."

"It won't happen again," he tries and she just stifles a small giggle at his words and frown that develops. For in truth, they both know he can't make that kind of promise and actually hope it will forever be fulfilled; their cases were just too unpredictable.

"Lets just get some rest now okay?"

"Okay," Mac leans in and kisses her on the cheek before the room is plunged into darkness once more and the whole cycle starts again. The next time Mac awoke, the images weren't as violent and so his breathing wasn't as worrisome but still Stella was there at his side, helping him cool down and reminding him of the most important thing at the moment.

'Just breathe Mac.'

His mind latched onto those words like a drowning man clutching a nearby buoy and he was then able to pull himself back up above the murky waters in his mind and focus on positive things and the panic attack would cease. Much like herself, Stella knows that he'll go into the lab the following day and act like it was no big deal, shrugging off the teams concerns as if his ordeal was something that he would endure on a regular basis.

To them he was impervious to fear, harm, death even; never showing himself vulnerable or weak to those under his command. But at home, in private, in her loving care is when the real Mac Taylor would surface, the one with nightmares, regrets, frailties, weaknesses and fears like every other human. He just needed to be reminded of the simple things from time to time.

'Just breathe Mac.'

He hears her voice soothing his tormented conscience and once again fixes on a happy memory and the next hour passes by a little more smoothly. But it wasn't until just before their alarm finally goes off that he realizes just what her soothing words did for him for most of the night; they reassured him that he wasn't alone and that she was still with him. she was his lifeline, even if he didn't always ask.

"Morning," she greets him with a small frown, her fingers brushing a small bruise on his face. "You look tired."

"I am," Mac offers in truth as he tries to stifle a small yawn. "Think I'll come home a bit early tonight if the case manages to close."

Stella looks at him in shock and he smiles. "I'll believe that when I see it."

"Well you will be with me so I hope you do believe it," Mac counters, forcing her lips to twitch upward at his playful comeback.

They linger together a bit longer before Stella removes herself from the bed and heads into the bathroom to have a shower. His husky scent was still lingering from the night before and immediately it teases her over tired brain. But she goes about getting her shower completed and then heads into the kitchen so that he can have his shower and they can get back out into the field to get their bizarre case over. Mac and Don had gotten a few good leads that finally led to multiple arrests and the case was finally closed.

"It was the club owner, Keith DeYoung…doing the clean up for Matthew Stratford and Derek Perry. You couldn't stand to see her cold so you did up her top button because you felt sorry for her."

"I didn't kill her."

"You hired the men that did, you might as well have shoved the needle in her arms yourself."

Finally it was time to call it a day; the case was over and the three men and one woman responsible for his ordeal and Tessa's death were finally where they belonged – behind bars and Tessa James was finally at peace.

"Ready to go home Mac?" Stella inquires.

"I just need to see Sid about the remains of Tessa. I'll be right up," he tells her with a soft smile. "I won't be long."

She gives him a nod but knows that it could take some time and so heads to the lab to finish something up. Mac heads down to see Sid, his mind replaying over and over the words from Tessa James "I found you." But it wasn't until he found the newspaper clipping about himself on Tessa's photo-shrine wall that he knew why she sought him out – she needed his help and thought he was the best because of that article.

"Hey Mac," Sid greets him as Mac walks up to the body of Tessa James on the cold table between them. "Just making her final arrangements."

"Where is she going?"

"Potter's field."

"She's not a Jane Doe, Sid."

"Without a family member or friends for official identification I have to make this determination."

"I'm her friend Sid, her name was Tessa James."

After that he heads back upstairs, his mind and heart heavy from the exhausting day's events but wanting nothing more than to get his wife and get home.

"Hey Mac got a sec?" Flack calls him.

"Sure, what is it?"

Stella finally exits the lab, heading for Mac's office but pauses when she sees Mac and Flack talking in a close manner, Mac no doubt assuring Don that he was indeed okay despite his ordeal the night before and for his friend not to worry. But she knew that Don, much like herself would always worry about a man they held in high regard and close to their hearts.

So she heads back into her office to put away the file to the case that has caused them both heartache for the past two days. She flips open the case file and gazes at the crime scene, her mind instantly putting Mac's body there instead of their victim. She allows her mind to dwell on the fact that the grisly photo's might have been her beloved husband and within seconds her head is spinning and heart racing. Mac could have died last night; just like that he'd be gone.

BANG!

"Oh go…" her voice dies out as this time it was her turn to endure a small panic attack. But just as she takes in her second sharp breath, two loving hands latch onto her arms and she feels herself being pulled back against Mac's rapidly beating heart.

"Just breathe Stella," he tenderly offers her the same advice she had given him.

And that was all she needed in order to take one more deep breath before she turns around in his grasp and offers him a small loving smile. She was always so used to having no one offering her the same loving devotion she offered them in return; but Mac changed all that. And just those few simple words, offered in loving concern were enough to tell her he was right. She just needed to breathe. The case was over; he was alive and with her right now. That was all she needed and it was the most important thing to remember. Their love, it was the strongest bond of all.

"Let's go home," he tells her warmly.

THE END!


A/N: Okay yeah so this was a one off and hope you all liked it and the angle of it being AU (like them being married & Stella instead of Jo) but please review so that I know what you thought and you know much Alice gets writing faster for you all from your kind feedback. Thanks again SMACKIES! :D