Thank you, as always, to Tricki and Lily Moonlight x
Coffee was helping, but it was really just his stubbornness that was getting him through the days.
The team had had big case after big case. They had had machines go down, interrogations flat-line and scenes wash away in the rain; all with the chief showing extra interest in the labs because of media interest.
He was long past exhausted.
Clocking-off time had come and gone by the time he allowed himself five minutes of respite at his desk – feet up, eyes shut, light off. He took a deep breath, feeling his body begin to relax, his muscles lethargically mold into the chair, sleep just a second away... Then his computer gave a noise.
He let out a defeated sigh before he even opened his eyes. The computer sounded again as he snapped on the lights, rubbed his face and tried to focus on the suddenly over-bright computer screen. Maybe it was the out-of-state results coming in, maybe the quote for the new parts for the Mass Spec, or maybe yet more interview requests from the newspapers that needed forwarding to the press department.
He never expected it to be a Skype request from Stella Bonasera.
"You're still up," She smiled as the picture came into view – she wasn't really expecting to find him there; or at least was hoping not to. It was midnight for her, meaning it was one-am for him.
The lamplight shining across his face highlighted the stubble, the bags and the deep wrinkles to make him look at least ten years older, not just the three since she had moved away. He had looked tired during their last Skype conversation just two weeks ago, but nothing to be overly worried about. Somehow she managed to swallow down the initial shock of the sight.
"You too." She looked good – tanned, tired but almost relaxed. She had definitely settled into the New Orleans way of life.
She held up a pile of manila files to the webcam, Mac mirroring with a stack of his own.
She was framed by the moonlight reflecting on buildings and in far-off water, the light casting an ethereal glow around her. It looked almost as peaceful as the skyline from his own window, and he imagined as deceptively serene as his also. "So, I had a dream about you," She smirked, slapping the files back to her desk and settling into her chair.
He gave a short laugh. "Dare I ask?" It never ceased to amaze him how she could say something so left-field and it would make him forget whatever was troubling him. He even had a smile on his face.
"Well, it's a little fuzzy but… you had retired and moved down here and into my guest room. You spent your days fishing down on the bayou," She smiled at the smirk spreading across his face. "And your nights playing bass in the house band over at The Blues Saloon." She gestured over her shoulder in the general direction of the bar. "Oh, and Ed Begley Jr was a backing singer, but he was dressed like Jessica Rabbit." She wavered a hand over her eye like the cartoon character's hair, her lips set in deadly seriousness, but eyes sparkling with mischief.
"Why do all your dreams about me involve a cross-dressing celebrity?"
"Only the ones I tell you about do." She pursed her lips, raising her eyebrows.
He laughed again – after a week where he hadn't been able to find any humour in any situation, it shouldn't have surprised him that she was making him laugh. He may have also been blushing.
"So what do you think? I have a spare room and I happen to know that The Blues Saloon is hiring a bass guitarist… I sorta arrested the last one."
"We had a 17 year old runner float up on the bay, and the guitarist's name came up in the buyer's list," she shrugged. "The owner would be open to having a cop in the band if it kept the rest of them clean. It's a good offer, Mac."
"It is. There's one downside to it though – I already have a day job," he picked up the stack of files again.
"You're forgetting the 'retire' part," she began, "And this job hasn't been a 'day job' for you since you got it, Mac. It's," she looked off screen, "past one am for you and you're still there and I'd bet good money that you haven't been home in a few days." Taking a breath, she continued, "I also bet you've been 'sleeping' in that chair, almost rammed a guy's head through the mirror in an interrogation room and nearly pulled your gun on Adam when he startled you."
"…Who called you?"
"Lindsay," she said, her jaw set in anger at his behaviour, but brows knitted in concern. "And Don, Sheldon and Adam."
He looked down, raking a hand through the back of his hair., "So I only have Jo and Danny not telling tales on me?"
"Danny was in the background of Lindsay's calls reminding her of incidents. I know them all, Mac, and I'm worried. You're working too damn hard and there's only so much more you can take before something bad happens. It's only a matter of time."
"I'm fine, Stella," he said through gritted teeth. If the team had a concern, he would have expected them to come to him, not phone someone thirteen-hundred miles away; even if it was Stella. He didn't like that his team was second-guessing him, not trusting him and talking behind his back. He was handling the pressure just fine, he did not need an intervention!
"Don't pull that crap, Mac! I know you! You haven't changed that much in three years, you know? Not even the eighteen that I've known you. You're exhausted and you're working yourself into an early grave and I am not going to sit by and watch it."
"It's been a busy week, that's-"
"That is not 'all', Mac," She said, finishing his sentence. "You nearly shot Adam!"
He took a breath, "He surprised me in the evidence storage unit. You remember how quiet he is. I didn't 'nearly shoot him', I just had my hand on my gun."
Her hands clenched off screen. "Did you just hear yourself? Yes, Adam can skulk in the shadows, but a month ago, would you have had your hand on your gun? Or would you have just laughed that he got you? Threatened him with a weekend shift if he did it again? C'mon, Mac…"
He didn't say anything. She had a point, unfortunately.
She moved her arm off screen, and an email notification popped up on his screen.
"That's your flight details. You're taking a vacation."
He sighed, "I can't-"
"I am picking you up at the airport tomorrow. You are staying with me for at least a week; I may let you go back to New York after that. However, I may also tape you to something and keep you here until you've properly relaxed. You shall be at my mercy."
He managed a small smile, his façade fading. "We've worked cases like that, Stella."
"Exactly. But I know how to not leave marks." She smirked, eliciting a chuckle from Mac. "Everyone's really worried about you, Mac. They can hold the fort for a few weeks."
He nodded, somewhat reluctantly, as a yawn made a burgeoning escape. "I'll see you tomorrow."
She grinned, "Good."
"Do I have to bring my guitar?"
She smirked again. "Either that, or the can of whipped cream."
"Different dream. See you tomorrow!" She signed off.
His mouth opened in retort but her picture had disappeared before he managed to utter a word, leaving him with a smirk that mirrored hers and laugh rising up from his belly. God, he hoped she had been joking about the tape…