a/n: I'm so sorry that I took forever to update! I've been pretty busy with university, and I've been chipping away at this chapter for a while. I should have more regular updates in the future. Thanks also to my reviewers: Ditte3, Danzjaron, Craftygirl11, and tlh45, and everybody who read/faved/alerted.
"Boom!" yelled Danny triumphantly. Everybody in the lab looked up, startled.
"Danny, you made me drop my fiber," Lindsay complained, bending her head and baring her tweezers as she searched for the synthetic fiber she'd dropped in surprise.
"What's up?" inquired Stella, looking up from the evidence she was going over for the hundredth time. They could really, really, use a break in the case, because from what she'd gotten from Armando Reyes, the only thing he was involved in was the hit and run on Mac. There was no evidence to suggest that he had anything to do with the murder, and Stella's gut instinct told her that Armando was just trying to give his friend an escape route.
"I got a hit on Robbie Cortland's credit card," Danny said, spinning his chair around to grin at Stella.
"Liquor store," Danny replied, scribbling the address on a post-it note and handing it to her.
"Well, there's no accounting for taste," put in Flack cheerfully from across the room. He stood up, whipped out his cell, and leaned over Danny's shoulder as he phoned the store. "Detective Don Flack, NYPD. A suspect in a murder just left your store. He bought a six-pack of Bud Light and a bottle of Smirnoff ice."
"There really is no accounting for taste," Stella muttered to Danny, picking her coat off the hanger and sliding it over her shoulders.
"Great, yeah, we'll be there soon." Flack hung up the phone, and turned to Stella. "Let's go arrest this guy."
"Count me in," the female detective said, adjusting the belt of her trench coat.
Harriet Grant was having an average day. Seeing as she was working at a rather sketchy liquor store at age 20, she'd already carded about seven obviously underage kids, and been hit on by fifteen significantly older men, things were going pretty well.
She had just checked out a man in his mid-twenties, and she was absently watching the door slam behind him, when her manager emerged from his office and headed straight for her. She swallowed and thrust her shoulders back, turning away from the register. "What's up, George?"
"The man you just checked out is a murder suspect. Can you get him back in here and keep him here until the police arrive?" he asked, putting his hands in his pockets nervously.
"Why can't you do it?" demanded Harriet, eyes widening at 'murder suspect.'
George put his hands on her shoulders and took a deep breath. "Because, Harry, if he sees a manager, he'll run. If he sees the young cashier, he's less likely to get suspicious," he explained slowly, as though speaking to a small child.
Harry blew out a breath through her thick bangs. Much as she hated him, he had a point. And he paid her. "Fine. What do I say?"
"I don't know, make something up! Just go!" he snapped, giving her a little push.
She wanted to be a journalist, damn it, not an actress. Frustrated, she squared her shoulders and drew on her Improv Club experience back in high school. Ripping her copy of his receipt from the machine, she rushed out into the street.
It didn't take her more than a few seconds to spot him. He was casually slouching away, red hoodie standing out.
"Sir, I'm so sorry, but I forgot to give you your receipt," she said apologetically, waving the yellow slip under his nose.
"It's right here." He frowned, and showed her his receipt. "It's got my name on it."
"I know, but that's my copy," she said. "If you could just come back inside with me, we'll switch and I'll make a record of it. I'll have to print you a new one."
The furrow between his brows deepened, and Harry swallowed hard. "I'm so sorry, I forgot again," she said, studying the toes of her worn-out Converse.
"Maybe you should pay more attention the next time. I don't have time for this!" he snapped, and she flinched at the sudden outburst of anger.
"Look, I'm really sorry, okay?" Harry drew in a shaky breath and let her eyes well with tears, not caring that she was making a scene on a crowded street in New York. "My manager says that if I forget one more time I'll lose my job, and I'm just a broke student from Indiana. I really need this job in order to stay here. Can you just come inside with me and we'll switch receipts?"
He took in the tears in her eyes with obvious horror, and she inwardly smiled. He had fallen for it. "Yeah, yeah, sure thing," he said, more softly, and shuffled back into the store after her.
She caught George's eye and gave him a discreet thumbs up, as she led him over to her register, which happened to be the farthest from the door. She took his bag and re-scanned the items, refunded them, and then scanned them again, taking her time.
He was tapping his foot, impatiently waiting for her to finish so he could disappear out the door and be swept up into the crowd of anonymity outside. Every minute that passed made his heartbeat speed up and his skin dew with sweat a little more. Suspicion had bloomed in the pit of stomach, and he was anxious to be gone.
Harry was just moving his purchases into his bag when the door blew open and three police officers burst into the building, guns drawn. Instinctively, she flattened herself up against the cash and slowly slid to the floor, hands up.
"Shit." He swore, flinging his bottle of vodka across the room, and Don ducked as it shattered to his left, soaking his coat with alcohol.
Stella was on him like a tiger on a mouse. She dug her fingernails into his back as she hauled him to his feet, snapping the handcuffs on his wrists. "Robbie Cortland, you're under arrest," she breathed in his ears, before marching him out the door to the waiting police car.
"Are you the one responsible for keeping him here?" Flack was asking George, and Harry saw him moving to nod. Bullshit.
"Uh, no, actually, that would be me," she interjected quickly, jumping up from her position on the floor to move over to the detective.
"Well, you did a great job, Miss-" Flack said honestly, impressed with the young woman's ability to keep Cortland distracted long enough for the police to catch him.
"Grant. Harry Grant. And thanks," Harry said warmly, reaching out to shake his hand firmly.
"NYPD appreciates it," Flack replied, smiling at the young girl, with her artfully drawn eyeliner and red lipstick.
"Anytime I can help catch criminals," Harry replied with a smirk, closing her cash register.
Sunshine poured in through the starched hospital curtains, and Mac rolled over, eyes fluttering open in the warm light. His muscles only ached mildly now, and he flexed his arms experimentally, wishing he could stretch out his muscles. His shoulders were stiff, and his joints protested the movement loudly.
Setting his teeth, he made up his mind. He was going to be sitting up when Stella came to visit later.
With an almighty effort, he braced his hands on the rails of his bed, and pulled himself upright.
Every muscle screamed at the sudden movement. The bruises on his chest ached fiercely, setting his torso on fire.
Once upright, he swung his legs over the side of the bed. The tiles were icy against the soles of his bare feet, and his toes curled in response.
Fighting the initial rush of dizziness, he stood warily, one hand on his desk. He slowly made his way over to his suitcase, stooped like an old man.
His bruised knees hurt as they pressed against the hard tiles. He rooted through his suitcase for an acceptable shirt, one that wasn't too fancy. Eventually, he settled on a navy blue button-down, pulling it from the pile of shirts Stella had folded so neatly.
He found a pair of socks, and pulled them on quickly. The tiles were freezing on his feet, and the thick machine-knit cotton was a welcome shield. He continued going through his suitcase, finding a pair of jeans that Stella had undoubtedly dug from some far recess of his dresser, and set about the task of dressing.
Mac furtively checked the door to make sure no nurses or doctors were around to sent him back to bed. His ribs ached as his fingers fumbled at the ties of his johnny gown. He pulled at them, fingers thick, until they came untied, and he grabbed to keep the flimsy garment from completely exposing all of him to New York City.
His cheeks coloured with shame as he shuffled to the bed, sitting his bare bottom on it as he wiggled into the clean pair of underwear, and shrugged painfully into his shirt.
His shoulders felt tight as he tried to pull the shirt around his front, and he struggled with the tiny pearlescent buttons. When had it ever seemed like a good idea to buy shirts with buttons that small? He laboured to button all of them, and admitted defeat at the second from top button. Sighing, he reached for his pants, and stepped into them. It hurt to pull them up around his hips, and the button didn't seem to want to go into the buttonhole.
He flopped back on his bed slowly, entire body exhausted from the sheer effort of putting on clothes. Despite the fact that every fiber of his body was on fire, he felt an immense sense of relief flow over him, like a gentle river. He had remembered how to get dressed, without someone helping him like a child! He chose to ignore his near-flashing of some business towers, focusing instead on how he'd just instinctively known what to do. That felt good. It gave him hope.
He was sitting on his bed doing a Sudoku when Stella blew into the room like a sandalwood-scented hurricane, curls bouncing, and trenchcoat blown open.
"We caught him!" she exclaimed, settling herself on the bed next to him, and gently pulling his Sudoku out of his hands and closing it pointedly.
"Who?" Mac asked, feeling vaguely bewildered.
"Robbie Cortland. The guy who you were chasing when Armando Reyes hit you," she replied, slipping out of her trenchcoat and draping it over the nearest chair.
"Did he do it?" Mac asked again, eyes never leaving her face.
"No, he didn't," she said, shaking her head so that her curls flew. "But he knows who did, and he was there, but as we suspected, he didn't actually commit the murder."
"What's going to happen to him?"
"He's going away for a bit. Accessory to murder, obstruction of justice, stuff like that," Stella said, smiling one of the first genuine smiles Mac had seen from her in a while. Her white teeth showed, and a memory tugged at the back of his consciousness…
The first time he'd seen that real, happy Stella-smile had been magical.
Their first case together had been closed mere hours ago, and the two detectives were slogging through an endless pile of post-case paperwork. Stella had taken on her share uncomplainingly, even though it was past ten o'clock.
Mac capped his pen and put it down, slipping the last of his forms into the appropriate folder, and moving it to his out box, to be submitted first thing tomorrow. He stood and stretched, looking out the window.
It was raining heavily, and the weak orange light of the streetlight just outside his window was wan and drowned in it. It was just after midnight, and aside from the watery halo of the streetlight, the darkness was inky and complete. He just wanted to stay warm and dry in his small office forever.
Shrugging into his trench coat, he grabbed his umbrella and switched off the lights. He put his hands in his pockets and made his way down the hall to the elevator, passing rows on rows of empty, darkened offices. Only one light remained on, the fluorescent lights glowing like a beacon in the rainy night. A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips as he checked his watch, and rapped lightly on the door.
Through the glass panels, he saw her head rise from the report on her desk, and she called out, "Come in."
"How are you doing?" he asked, geniunely concerned. If he was exhausted, he could only imagine how she felt. The eyes she fixed on his face were enough of an answer. Her green gaze was bleary, but determined. She looked ready to pass out, and the pen trembled in her fingers, but she raised her chin and faced her fatigue head on. He caught flashes of the incorrigible spirit that had prompted him to insist on picking her from the batch of rookies eager to join his team.
"I'm a little tired," she admitted, running a hand through her curls, and signing her name on the blank line at the bottom of the form. "I'm glad you're here, actually. Can you be my witness?" Without waiting for an answer, she held the pen in his direction.
"Of course," he said, adding his name next to hers.
"Well, that's one down, three more to go," she said, mustering some small semblance of cheer at the thought of another few hours here. "I'm making progress, here."
"I can see you are." He pulled the pen gently from her hands and put it in her wire mesh cup, and closed her folder of forms and incident reports, pushing it to the side of her desk. "Why don't we call it a night?"
"But Mac, I'm not done yet," she protested, biting her lip.
"You've done well for today. You can finish tomorrow," he replied, eyeing the stack of completed paperwork with appraisal. He handed her her jacket and scarf, and stared her down.
She quailed under his unflinching blue gaze, shoulders crumpling inwards. She buried her face in her hands, letting her eyes close for a few precious seconds. "I'm so tired, Mac."
"I know. Why don't we get some food, and I'll drive you home?" he offered, feeling sorry for his rookie. She was obviously hanging by a thread, and he felt a little guilty that he hadn't noticed a few hours earlier and sent her home for some rest. Adding to his guilt was the fact that he'd completely forgotten to give her a break for supper, and she hadn't eaten in almost twelve hours. She must be starving.
"Okay." Accepting her rain jacket, she let him help her into it, stumbling over her chair slightly as she pushed it back. Snatching her keys from her desk, she flicked the lights and locked the door behind her, following him blindly down into the elevator and out of the deserted building.
She leaned against streetlight as he unlocked his car and got in slowly, her entire body stiff and sore from sitting hunched over for so long. She dozed off on the way to the coffee shop, and he had to gently push her shoulder to rouse her.
She shook herself, eyes opening reluctantly, and then shot upright, shoulders squared. "I'm awake!"
"It's okay, Stella. You're off the clock," he replied, a smile emerging onto his face, and fading quickly as he stepped outside into the rain.
The coffee shop was small, dimly lit, and practically empty. Mac led Stella to a booth in the back, where she immediately and gratefully dropped into the padded seat, leaning back against the plush material.
"What do you want?" he asked as he unbuttoned his trench coat and prepared to go order for the two of them.
"Um…" Stella drew out the word as she considered it. She knew coffee was a bad idea this late at night, and she debated just giving in to her caffeine craving as she pulled out her wallet. "You know what? I could really go for a hot chocolate with whipped cream, and a cup of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich." She fumbled with her wallet, and pulled out a ten-dollar bill, sliding it across the table to him.
He took it, and she vaguely watched him leave her field of vision to go order for them. He returned five minutes later carrying his plate, with one of the baristas carrying hers.
"Thanks," she smiled, as the plate was set in front of her. She waited until Mac had settled himself before taking a mouthful of soup, letting the creamy warmth soothe her.
He waited until he'd had about half his glass of water before looking up. It took her a few minutes to realize that his eyes were on her.
"You did a really good job on this case, Stella," he said honestly. He didn't give compliments lightly, but he gave them when they were well-deserved, and she had certainly worked hard. In fact, she'd blown his expectations out of the water. "I was impressed."
She smiled. It started out small, but grew in size and warmth, until she was showing almost all of her perfect, pearly teeth. Her tired eyes lit up, and he was momentarily distracted by the luminous expression on her face. "Thank you so much, Mac. It means a lot coming from you," she said, eyes still aglow.
It wasn't until he was lying in bed that he realized how much he hoped to see that smile again.
"What's going on, Mac? You just zoned out."
Stella's voice tugged him back, and he looked up, a small grin tugging on the edges of his lips.
"I think I just remembered something," he said softly, looking at his fingertips. It felt so vivid, so real. He hoped desperately that it wasn't just a figment of his imagination.
"What did you remember?" she asked, eyes curious, as she leaned closer to him.
"It was just after our first case together. I felt guilty for forgetting to let you eat after we got the case, so I took you out to a coffee shop for some food. You were so tired, you were practically comatose," he said, chuckling lightly at the image of her eyes, bleary and half-closed. "I told you that you'd done a great job with the case, and you smiled."
"I remember that!" Stella said, laughing. "I fell asleep in the car on the way to the café, and then I barely made it through my hot chocolate. You drove me home because you didn't trust me to make it on the subway. But seriously, I was so green and new and confused about everything, hearing you tell me I did a great job just made my week."
"Glad I could help," he replied drily. "I guess I should tell you now that you exceeded my expectations. I didn't want to lay it on too thick, but I was really impressed."
"You never lay it on too thick, Mac," Stella retorted, teasingly. "Have you heard from the doctors about when you can leave?"
He bit his lip for a few seconds. "They said within the next few days. Everything's healed up well, but they're just worried about my memory. They don't think I should be living on my own."
"They're probably right…" Stella trailed off, an idea tugging at the back of her mind. She could offer to have him stay with her, but would that be biting off more than she could chew? She cared deeply for Mac, and didn't want to see him alone, or even worse, stuck in the hospital and going crazy from boredom. "You could come live with me for a bit."
It was out before she could even consider stopping it, and she didn't even want to take it back.
"Stella, really? I don't want to impose," he insisted, blue eyes wide with surprise.
"You wouldn't be imposing," she replied calmly, checking her watch. "Where else were you planning on going?"
His voice was hard and bitter, hitting her like a wrecking ball. The pieces of her heart which had slowly begun to glue themselves back together shattered back into brittle shards. She caught her breath, realizing that even without his memory, Mac was still Mac. His pride was keeping him from asking for help, and she hoped he would accept her lifeline. She had absolutely no idea what she was getting herself into, but the impulsive voice inside her head told her that it didn't matter. She cared so much about him, all she wanted was to see him recovering. She ached to see him recovering, and if he could do that in a familiar home, then she would do whatever it took to make sure that it happened. "Mac…"
"I really don't want to impose," he insisted, examining his palms studiously. "I mean, think about this, Stella. I don't remember anything, I don't even think I can write or recognize big words. I'm like a five year old trapped in a – a," he faltered, rubbing his temples in some faint hope that it would help him remember. His pale cheeks coloured with shame, and he ducked his head even lower. "How old am I?"
"You're 48," supplied Stella, brow creasing in concern. "It's okay, Mac. These things will come back. It just takes time."
"You and my doctors both say that, but it feels like I'll always feel this way," he replied, barely able to meet her eyes.
She reached out suddenly, and gripped his shoulders firmly. "Mac, you just remembered something. That's amazing! It's okay that you don't everything yet. We're all here to help with that."
"I guess you're right," he admitted, rewarding her with a small smile.
"Now, are you going to accept my offer, or do you want to be bros with Don until you recover?" she prompted, giving him a luminous grin.
"You know I'd rather live with you for a bit, no offense to Don," he replied, sitting up a little straighter. "When do I get out of here?"
"I'll see what I can do about tomorrow," Stella said, biting her lip. "Are you sure you're ready for this?"
The real question was if she was ready for this.
If you liked this update, please review! It's really encouraging and my reviews have dropped over the last few chapters, which is a little discouraging.