Hello and welcome – this has taken nearly five months from the 'Huh, what if…' stage to being postable, mainly because I had the ridiculous idea of screwing with the timeframe. There are four chapters to be posted over the coming weeks: Ch1 is the fallout, ch2 is Mac and Stella actually undercover and ch3 is the entire day, mostly from Flack's POV. Ch4 is an epilogue. I'm apparently a glutton for punishment. But it's been a brilliant experience and I hope you guys will enjoy it as much I have.
This would not have been possible without the help and encouragement of the lovely Lily Moonlight and Tricki. So much thanks, guys xx
Exhausted didn't cover it. He leant against the doorframe as if it was the only thing holding him up; he could have quite happily slid down it and caught a few hours nap right there on the locker room floor.
What had started at 4pm the day before was now pretty much finished at 10.15am, save for the pile of paperwork already towered on his desk and getting added to with each phone call from the Chief. Sometimes he hated this job. But, then, days like today (yesterday?) happened and reminded him why he followed the Flack family's footsteps into the force.
"Hey," Stella announced, coming from between the lockers. She was rubbing a towel through wet curls and dressed in jeans and v-neck tee shirt – not quite the attire he'd seen her in all night. "You look exhausted."
He gave a wry chuckle and stepped further into the room, "And then some." Rubbing a hand over his face, he sat down on the wooden bench by her locker. She didn't exactly look much brighter than he, just scrubbed clean with a rosey pink glow to her skin.
"Heard anything?" She sat next to him - the fatigue in her muscles making it more of a bump to the bench - and tossed the towel into her gym bag on the floor.
Leaning forward, elbows digging into his knees, he recounted, "Sixteen arrests, twenty five girls…rescued? Is that the right word?"
"Definitely," she mirrored his stance.
"Twenty five girls rescued then... and four children."
"Children?" Her heart stopped. Gorski hadn't been lying.
"The girl who kept screaming at you - Nadija - was shouting 'my baby' and has just been reunited with her two month old son."
Stella swallowed a rapidly ascending pocket of bile. Had she not already been doubled over, she would have had to put her head between her legs to keep from vomiting right there.
"DCFS have a two, three and five year old with them too; all girls."
"Had they… Did… Were the girls on the books?"
"We don't know yet. DCFS are taking them over to Mercy for a Medical."
"He offered them to Mac, Flack, there's a pretty big chance they were being exploited."
"Oh, I'm under no illusions, unfortunately," he swiped a hand over his hair again and straightened up, stretching the curve from his spine.
She placed her hand on his knee and gave a squeeze. "You did a really good job today, Don. Really."
"I didn't do much compared to you two. Oh, that reminds me," he dug into his jacket pocket and passed her two cigarettes and a book of matches.
"What are these for?"
"After that display in there, I felt you might be wanting one."
As happy as she was to see the sparkle back in his blue eyes; the smirk tilting his lips deserved more than just the dig to his side that he received. "It was all for the con, Flack."
"Mmhmm. That was some pretty good acting."
"I am going to take that as a compliment to my semester of drama at college and not beat the crap outta you like I want to…" she couldn't help but laugh. As exhausted as they both were, the gentle banter was a refreshing break to their day, though the guilt that had been gurgling in the pit of Stella's stomach quickly roared back to life – had she stepped too far with her actions?
He laughed, "I thank you for that." With a groan from seized, fatigued muscles, he pulled himself to his feet and turned back to Stella. "I'm going to go write up a report and down a gallon or two of caffeine."
Stella nodded; she had a similar afternoon ahead of her.
"Oh, and let me know if you want a copy of the tapes for the grandkids. Show 'em how you two crazy kids finally got it together…"
She watched his retreating figure – his jerking shoulders belying his laughter – before sinking her head into her hands and digging her elbows into her knees. All the showers in the world wouldn't make her feel clean, nor the deepest sleep remove the images of her day from her mind. Those girls… that revolting specimen of man… the promises made…
She felt the bench dip at her side and looked to find Mac gingerly taking a seat next to her.
"Mac! Are you okay?"
He had his right arm in a blue sling, a cast over the wrist and a couple of fingers taped together, "I'm fine. Banged my shoulder up a bit, a rib or two and my wrist but nothing that won't heal."
She had her hand on his thigh and brought the other up to his cheek, assessing the abrasions that now bruised his skin. "You don't look fine to me."
He turned away from her touch, "It's nothing."
She wasn't convinced, but retracted her hand from his cheek nevertheless. He'd certainly had worse wounds, but that didn't stop her worry for him, nor her desire to nurse him back to health. It didn't sit right with her for Mac to be suffering. She could count on one hand the amount of sick days he had taken for a cold, a few more for when he cracked those ribs a few years back, but he was always fighting fit. Or just fighting to be fit when he actually was ill.
But sat next to her, with the cuts, bruises and bandages and the look of defeat in his eyes, she was worried.
"Something you want to tell me?" he asked, gesturing to the cigarettes by her side.
"Oh," a blush suddenly warmed her chest, "Flack's little joke. Listen, Mac," she slid away, not far but she had created a definite distance between them. "How I…acted in that room, I…I…"
"Saved both of our lives and those of the two girls. At least."
"If you hadn't distracted him as you had, I would be far worse off than a torn ligament and a few broken knuckles. And Nadija would definitely not have been reunited with her son."
He closed the distance between them and pulled her into him using his good arm. He had some discomfort from his ribs but not enough to pull away. "Thank you."
She laughed against his shoulder, "I don't think I've ever been thanked for…that." She kept herself somewhat rigid, so as to not subject his injured frame to her full weight.
"No, I imagine a deity of some description was getting that accolade…"
She gave a hearty laugh at that. "Are you on painkillers or something?"
He was smiling as she pulled away and stood up, a faint blush colouring both their cheeks. She scraped her fingers through her damp hair and twirled it into a ponytail, her elbow nudging the locker door shut and causing the noise of metal-on-metal to reverberate around the room. "I'm going to head to the hospital before starting on the paperwork, if that's okay. I want to see Nadija and the baby." Her hands fell to her hips as she turned back to him.
"Of course. I've had enough of hospitals for today so I'm going to check in with Mason and see what the ADA has in store for us." He braced his good hand on the bench and put as much pressure as his body allowed as he pushed himself to his feet. One step forward, however, and he felt a shooting pain through his knee and nothing solid beneath his wavering hand.
"Whoa, whoa, you okay?" Stella asked, tucking herself into his side and under his arm. One hand splayed across his chest, the other across his back, worry etched deeply across her features.
"Yeah," he blinked, thankful for the stability she was offering. He bent his leg, testing out movement and garnering a sharp pain as a result. "I guess I twisted my knee as well."
"Well, it doesn't exactly surprise me, Mac," She shuffled closer to him as he attempted to stand on both feet, the grimace he flashed not lost on her. "I think you need to go home and…and rest up…"
She swallowed. She wanted to tell herself the sudden dryness in her throat and warming flush to her cheeks was out of worry, but who was she kidding? She could still smell the cologne he had doused himself with the evening before; the musky undertones suddenly triggering flashbacks to her actions, to his reactions, to those split-second thoughts that she fought from keeping but ultimately had to use in her favour. Their favour.
His heart thumped beneath her touch, his weight pressing onto her side, the solidity of his torso almost familiar to her now. The guilt that had once been resident in her gut had quickly changed to tingles, flutters, everything she couldn't afford to associate with Mac Taylor.
His exhale danced across her skin and caused a fallen curl to quiver, his eyes drawn to the caramel curl and the emerald green eyes it partially hid. He'd looked into those eyes every day for fifteen years but only now noticed them. Properly noticed them. "Stella , I…"
"…will let me drive you home?" She cleared her throat and stole her eyes away, manoeuvring herself into a more supportive position under his arm. She practically steered him to the door as he gingerly put full pressure on his leg. "We need to ice that knee, too."
He hobbled with help to the door, using Stella for more support than he would have liked. "Stella, wait." He pulled them both to a stop, and suddenly realised that not one word was on his tongue. What did he say? How did he say it? Why had they agreed to Mason's ridiculous plan in the first place when it left him sore and limping and realising that there was a whole other side to Stella Bonasera of which he ached to see more?
Both of her hands were on his chest now, his back pressed against the doorframe. He brought the hand on his good arm to her cheek and gently stroked his thumb across her skin. Holding his breath for whatever reaction she may have to his next action – bracing himself for more potential pain – as he brought her closer into him and touched his lips to hers.
It was soft, delicate, apprehensive. His mouth gently pressed against hers until he felt her – almost imperceptibly – lean closer into the embrace. The divide between darkened locker room and glaring corridor was lost on the pair as his confidence grew and he moved his lips against hers, deepening the pressure and passion and allowing the immensity of their night and shared experience to come to the forefront.
She slid one hand from his chest up to his face, his stubble scratching across her palm as she laced her fingers through his hair. A voice somewhere inside of her was telling her to think, but a louder voice was reminding her of the fantasies her mind had concocted that day and how the reality was so much better.
He pulled back and she smiled, almost dreamily, "Thank you."