Mac Taylor walked away from the New York City Crime Lab he managed with a heavy heart. He had so many thoughts going through his mind, he didn't know where to start. He walked home. It was a long walk, but the time and the fresh air allowed him to think. It was strange, he mused to himself, how facing your own mortality gave you a new outlook on life, especially when it was handed to you by a young teenage girl. The fact that he had almost died twice in so short a time scared him, quite frankly. He slowed his pace, finding himself near a bus stop, and sat down on the bench, closing his eyes. He didn't like this feeling of vulnerability. It scared him. He sighed. There was nothing he hated more than being vulnerable. He got up and started walking again, still headed for his apartment.

He needed some time off. As much as he hated to not work, to leave the crime lab for even a little bit, he needed a vacation. He needed to reassess his lot in life, take stock of his surroundings. Was this even what he still wanted to do?

The wind picked up, seeming to push him forward. He quickened his pace, turning up the collar of his jacket. The wind wasn't cold or unbearable; it was simply annoying. He heard a noise, in the wind, that made his blood run cold and he turned around.

A scream. A dying scream on the wind, pushing him to find the source, to help whoever needed it. He heard it again and he turned left and right, trying to locate the source.

Nothing. The wind picked up again and the scream intensified. Mac finally realized where the scream was coming from and gritted his teeth.

The wind. It was only the wind.

Maybe I've been doing this too long. The words he'd said to Jo echoed in his head, mocking him. He frowned, picking up his pace.

What would he do if he retired? Ugh, the very word felt wrong. He couldn't retire. He was too young. Besides, the city needed him. He was at the point now that he could fight for his lab if he needed to, fight and win. But he had been doing just that—fighting—for so long that it was beginning to feel like an uphill battle.

He needed a break. Maybe he could spend more time with Reed, or his mother. He hadn't talked to either in a long time. Or maybe he could call Stella. They hadn't talked in months.

Stella. She'd know what to do. She'd tell him that he wasn't getting to old for this, that no one could do this job like him. She always saw his strengths. She'd talk him through it. Absently, he got out his phone and dialed her new number from memory. He'd never actually called it, but the number had stuck with him. He was about to hit the call button when he realized he didn't want to just talk to her. He looked at his watch. It was late; not as late as usual, but late nonetheless. He ran a hand over his face, feeling the light stubble that had accumulated over the day. He erased the number from his phone's view and dialed Jo's number instead. She answered on the third ring.

"Guys, hush, please, I'm on—I'm on the phone, Ellie! We'll talk in a minute. Hello?" she said into the phone. She sounded frazzled.

"Hey, it's Mac. I need you to cover for me for a few days, okay? I've got to go out of town for a few days. Think you could handle the lab for me?"

"Of course, Mac," she said. He could hear the smile in her voice. "It's a bit short notice, though. Can I ask why?"

"Uh, something just came up," Mac said vaguely. "I don't want to go into it too much."

"Fair enough—Tyler, leave Ellie alone, you know she doesn't like that. Really, what are you, ten? Come on." Sounds of argument on her end. "You know what? That's it. Both of you, out of here, I'm on the phone. Ellie, go do the dishes. Tyler, don't you have homework to do? Yeah, that's what I thought. Get out of here. I'm sorry about that, Mac," she apologized. "They're acting like animals tonight."

"Must be something in the food," Mac said dryly. Jo laughed.

"Very funny, Mac. Where were we again?"

"You were agreeing to run the lab for me for a few days."

"Oh, yeah. It's no problem, I'll handle it. Have fun on your trip."

"Thanks, Jo. Bye."

"Bye, Mac." Mac hung up his phone and shoved it back into his pocket. Then he began walking again, more purposefully this time. He got back to his apartment and hurried to pack a bag. There wasn't much to pack: just some clothes, his toiletries, and his laptop. He called the airline and asked for the next available flight to where he wanted to go. Lucky for him, the next flight was leaving JFK at one a.m. That left him enough time to finish packing and get through security. He arrived at his gate with minutes to spare, having stopped halfway down the terminal to wolf down some fast food.

His seat ended up being the very last seat on the plane. He was sandwiched between an aggressively blonde, bad-tempered businessman and a woman in her late twenties, who looked him over, clearly interested, before letting him get to his seat. Mac did his best not to sigh impatiently when she began flipping her hair and smiling at him, trying to get him to talk. She introduced herself as "Amanda, but you can call me Mandy" and told him about how she was headed home to visit her parents and her "soon-to-be-ex-douchebag-boyfriend Marc-with-a-'C'". Mac nodded and pretended to be interested, instead wishing that she would stop talking. After about fifteen minutes of incessant drabble, she turned in her seat and, batting her heavily mascara-ed eyelashes, said "But enough about me. What's your name?"

"Uh, Mac," he said, looking around to the blonde businessman for an escape. But the man was fiddling with his Blackberry, frowning, and didn't notice.

"Mac, huh?" the woman asked. "I like that name. What do you do, Mac?"

"I'm a crime scene investigator," he said uncomfortably. She squealed.

"Oooh, that's interesting," she purred, moving her leg so that they were closer together. "So you, like, solve crimes and stuff?"

"That's usually what a crime scene investigator does, yes," Mac said dryly. She laughed a little bit too hard, leaning closer to him.

"Ha ha, that's funny!" she squealed. "You're funny. So do you have, like, a gun and stuff?"

"Not on me," Mac said. Unfortunately, he added silently.

"Have you ever shot someone?" she asked, inching her fingers across the armrest towards his thigh. He used every bit of self-control in order to refrain from shrinking back in horror, instead only pulling back slightly. She didn't notice.

"Yes," Mac said heavily, hoping she would get the hint. She didn't.

"W-o-o-o-w," she said, opening her eyes wide. "That sounds scary. Was it scary?"

"No," Mac said shortly, his patience wearing thin. "You just do what you have to do."

She finally realized she had hit a nerve, but instead of shutting up, she misinterpreted it and tried to comfort him. She pouted.

"Aww," she said, her lip jutting out as she reached out and patted somewhere halfway up his thigh. "I'm sorry. What was it like?"

"It's like clicking a pen," Mac said impatiently, his anger lashing out at her. "except instead of getting a pen, a bullet comes out at 800 feet per second, piercing flesh thirty feet away and lodging itself in the heart. The force of the bullet and the bullet itself disrupts the electrical impulses, and they die. "

"What's wrong?" Amanda-But-You-Can-Call-Me-Mandy asked. "I'm just asking a question." She pouted again.

"I want to be left alone," Mac snapped, reaching for the in-flight catalogue. He flipped it open to a random page and started reading an article about floating bars as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. Amanda finally took the hint and resorted to a kind of pouty silence for the rest of the flight. Mac was relieved, but even though the flight was over three hours long and he hadn't slept in at least twenty-four, his slight trepidation at what Amanda-but-you-can-call-me-Mandy might do to him if he slept kept his eyes wide open. He was relieved when he heard the captain announce their landing.