Disclaimer: I own very little, especially not CSI NY.
Author: Lily Moonlight
Notes: Thank you very much for reviews, alerts and favourites! I'm really glad you've enjoyed this :D Thanks to Ballettmaus for her help, and to cmaddict for discussion, particularly for the conclusion.
This is the last chapter, I hope you all enjoy this one too :) Dedicated to Blue Shadowdancer and iluvCSI4ever (have a wonderful time!)
Finding the Future: Chapter Five
Early the next morning, Archie called at their hotel. Summoned by the desk clerk, both Stella and Mac came down to meet him in the lobby. Had she not been told who it was, Stella would not have recognised him: the rumpled and beer-stained suit of the previous day had been replaced by a shirt and a pair of chinos, his hair was combed down neatly, and he appeared to be sober. He was also bearing a magnificent bouquet of roses and a contrite expression. Thrusting the flowers towards her, he overflowed with apologies for his behaviour the day before. Immediately, Stella took pity on him, and guided him over to sit down in the little cafe the hotel contained, ordering coffee for all of them.
Once they were seated and had their drinks in front of them, Mac and she waited for Archie to begin talking. Faced with the two of them sitting opposite him, he blushed and mumbled, fiddled with his cup and almost spilled the liquid as he explained what had happened to him outside the factory; how it had come to pass that the last sight of him they had had the previous day was him being taken away in a police car. They listened, and while Mac filled Archie in on some of their own exploits along the way, Stella sat back. Absently, she rubbed her wrist. It ached, but the pain was receding. It reminded her though, if she needed it, of yesterday's events.
They had tried to leave the factory as quickly as possible, but had encountered a few hold-ups along the way before they got to Archie. After they had helped each other through the window they had entered by, they had made their way to the fence and then halted. Glancing at each other, they had reached the silent decision that climbing over it was not a preferred option. Even though Stella would not have admitted it, her wrist was hurting her and in no condition to be taking any more weight on it. And although he would not have admitted it either, it was clear from the pallor of his face, that the cuts to Mac's head and chest were paining him, along with the other bruises and scrapes he had sustained. So they had gone on a recce along the fence and discovered a small hole. Having pulled and tugged at the wire, they had widened it enough to crawl through.
Emerging onto the path some distance from the spot they had left Archie, they had hurried along, mindful of the oncoming twilight, stopping only to retrieve Mac's jacket from where he had left it earlier. When they reached Archie, to their dismay, they had seen the spectacle of a squad car and two uniformed officers with Archie in between them. Though they were some distance away, it had been clear to see he was waving his arms and protesting loudly. They had stopped and stared at each other for a moment, Stella resisting the urge to say 'I told you so', and then they had dashed forwards to investigate.
"...Yes Ma'am, we received a call from this gentleman, claiming two friends had been lost inside the factory and possibly kidnapped. When we arrived, we discovered said gentleman attempting to break into this vehicle using a cellular phone..." one of the amused officers, a burly man with a broad smile, had informed them.
After she and Mac had produced their IDs and a brief explanation of the circumstances he had tipped his cap to Stella, returned her phone to her and then offered to drive Archie home to sober up. He had also made sure they were all right, having noted their injuries. Their assertion that they were had reassured him, and no further questions were asked. The sight of two NYPD Detectives in a somewhat bedraggled state had provided some interest to the two officers' evening. Archie, apparently not fully aware of what was going on as he was still protesting vehemently that he needed to rescue his friends, had then been guided into the back of the squad car and driven away. As it pulled out of sight, Mac had slipped his hand around hers and their attention turned to each other.
Stella smiled to herself at the memory, and the memory of their dinner together, which they had enjoyed once they had changed their clothes and attended to their wounds. Although Mac had tried to insist on driving her to the nearest hospital to have her wrist X-rayed, she was more insistent that it was unnecessary. He had won the concession though that she at least needed it bandaging. After a detour to a pharmacy, they had returned to the hotel where he had seen to her wrist with a more than gentle touch, and she had tended to his cuts and bruises. Although the simple act of caring had taken on a degree of intimacy, they had both accepted it as just another facet of their developing relationship.
Following that, she had, still in Mac's presence, chosen an outfit to wear for dinner. It had been easy to tell from the look in his eyes that he approved very much of it, and she had smiled half-shyly at his compliment. The contact, once again, of his fingers on the exposed skin of her neck as he helped her with her jacket once they were both changed had sent further sensations through her, reminding her of his earlier touches. After that, he had offered her his arm, and they had embarked on the next stage of their journey together. The details of dinner, their walk under the night sky and everything that had been spoken of, would not be shared with Archie.
Nor would they be shared with anyone back in New York.
"...But I still don't understand how you came to be trying to get in the car using Stella's phone," Mac was asking in a baffled voice, as Stella returned to the present.
Looking chastened, Archie sighed heavily and avoided their eyes. "Don't entirely understand it myself, Mac. You know, one minute I was talking to Sal - to Stella, the next thing I know, I'm waking up, lying on the ground, on my own. When I realised I had a phone, I called for help, thinking you'd gotten yourselves kidnapped or even killed... then help seemed to be a long time coming, so I guess I thought I'd try and drive somewhere to fetch help..."
"Even though you weren't in any kind of state to be driving?" Stella said severely. "Seriously, Archie, if you had gotten in that car and driven, you could have been killed, or you could have killed someone else."
His head hung down even further, but his eyes looked up pleadingly at her. "I know that, Stella, and I'm sorry. I was just, you know, really worried about you guys. You'd disappeared, I didn't know what else to do..."
She exchanged a glance with Mac, and felt how his fingers curled round hers as their thighs touched on the sofa. Then she let her gaze bore into Archie. "Maybe you ought to consider drinking a little less, especially as you told me you don't even like beer? Obviously it doesn't agree with you." She arched her eyebrows and he squirmed and sank a little lower into the couch.
"Guess not. I'll, uh, leave the stuff alone for a while, if you think I should, Stella."
She relented her gaze, softening her expression. "Then I guess we're sorry too," she said. "For worrying you."
Archie beamed, his cheerfulness restored in an instant. "Apology accepted, Stella, even if you did abandon me..."
Stella rolled her eyes, but couldn't remain annoyed with him for long as he continued to talk, asking Mac with boyish enthusiasm if he had found the tags after all. It impressed Stella that he had remembered them. If there was a certain boyish pride in Mac as he took the tags from his pocket and dangled them in front of his friend, she could not blame him for it. In truth, she was happy to see him that way. With Mac's fingers still entangled with hers, she sighed in contentment, leaning back against the couch, happy to let the two men talk for a few moments. As she listened to them, she smiled to herself; Mac was animated, re-telling the moment he had spotted the tags amongst the wreckage, and Archie was drinking it all in, wide-eyed and admiring. The sight lifted her heart.
It was Mac who after glancing at her during a lull in the conversation, lifted his cup of coffee and suggested a toast to Stephen. She agreed warmly, as did Archie, and the three of them lifted their cups to an absent friend.
"He'd have liked you, Stella," Archie remarked, and she noted wryly that he seemed to be using her name a little more than was necessary. "Don't you think so, Mac?"
Mac regarded her with a half-smile that spoke of his deep care for her. "He would," he said, holding her gaze. "He would indeed."
Archie grinned, looking back and forth between the two of them, and at his expression, Stella shot a quick glare at him, knowing what he was thinking.
"Sooo..." he said, in an echo of his words yesterday. "You and Mac, Stella, what are you guys up to for the rest of today?"
The hint of a wink in his eye she ignored, as she answered, "Me and Mac, Archie, have a few things to do, then we're flying back to New York this evening."
"Uh huh," he nodded and set his cup down, staring at them, his lips twitching up at the corners. "Well, that's great, Stella. I hope you get done all you need to and have a good flight back, together. And maybe some day you'll come back to Chicago, together, and we can all meet again, in happier circumstances..."
There was definitely a wink there now, but instead of succumbing to embarrassment and annoyance as she had the day before, Stella smiled sweetly and remained calm. "Maybe we will. If that's the case, you'll be the first to know." A question appeared in his face, in the shape of his mouth forming an 'O' and his eyes widening. Deciding it would do no harm to assuage his curiosity, Stella nodded and smiled. "Yes, Archie, together."
A huge grin spread over his face as he caught onto her meaning and brightened visibly. "Hey that's great! I'm really happy for you guys, you know, really happy."
Stella caught the faintly bemused expression on her partner's face. "I'll explain later," she whispered to him, her lips brushing his ear and her fingertips running lightly over the back of his neck as she leaned in to him.
Then Archie checked his watch. "Oh, hey, I got to go," he sighed, rising to his feet. "Got to check in at the precinct with the officers who took me home yesterday..." His face brightened. "But I guess it's not so bad, one of them was a real nice girl, I think she liked me."
Stella struggled to not look incredulous at his statement; she just hoped he was not headed for more disappointment.
"Keep yourself out of trouble," Mac ordered as he stood up and offered a handshake to his friend.
"Right back at you," Archie sniggered and then turned to her. "Keep Mac the man in line, Stella."
"I'm sure I can manage that," she said looking up at the man in question with a teasing smile.
He raised his eyebrows at her. "So who keeps you out of trouble then?"
"You do," she beamed and dabbed a kiss on his cheek, causing Archie's grin to almost split his face.
They escorted him to the door together, and he said his goodbyes reluctantly, truly sorry to see them go; it melted Stella's heart towards him a little, and she hoped there was more luck out there for him. On his departure, he offered a chaste kiss to her cheek, which she accepted, albeit with her hands as firmly as she could round his upper arms to ward off any attempts he might make at getting too close. Although she suspected Mac's presence might be a deterrent to that.
And then he was gone, waved off down the street, leaving just the two of them.
"Me and you, hey?" Mac asked, looking at her with a glow of affection. The same glow he had owned last night when they had come to that realisation and to a decision to begin a new journey together one step at a time. Something they had settled with a kiss under the stars, the city skyline their backdrop.
"Sounds like a good idea to me," she said softly, smiling, twining her fingers round his.
"The very best," he said, and then paused for a moment, caressing the back of her hand as he captured her eyes. "I'm sure Stephen would have been happy to know about it."
She laid her hand on his chest. "So let's go tell him."
An hour later, Stella stood with the breeze lifting her hair once again. This time, however, she was not concerned about Mac's whereabouts because he was standing at her side, his arm through hers. Together, they were in front of Stephen's grave. In her left hand, she held the bouquet of yellow roses that Archie had given her. She sighed at the sight of the flowers clothing the new grave; sorrowing at the loss of someone she had never known, but who she wished she had, and who had been known to the one she loved. Mac was silent at her side, the tags in his fist and a faraway look in his eyes.
She waited for him.
"I wish I'd been able to give them to him before now," he murmured finally as he knelt down and hung the tags over the corner of the stone. Her hand lay on his shoulder as he was still for a moment.
"He understood," she said. "From all that you told me, I think he was that kind of guy, he didn't hold a grudge, and he'd have been happy for you, for finding them."
Tucking his hands into his pockets, Mac nodded slowly. "Yes, he would have been."
She touched his cheek, letting her fingers glide over his skin and up to the graze on his forehead, before she turned and laid her bouquet on the grave. Then, in silence, they stood for a minute with their thoughts.
She waited for Mac to be ready to move, then with their hands clasped, they walked away across the grass and out of the cemetery. At the car he stopped and in a gesture of intimacy that sent a rush of loving warmth through her, he cupped her face in his hands and touched her lips with his; a touch of the sunlight that shone round them.
"Thank you," he breathed, pulling away just enough to utter the words.
Their foreheads rested together and she soothed the nape of his neck with her fingertips, murmuring, "I told you, Mac, you don't need to thank me."
Studying her, still with his hands holding her so tenderly, he smiled into her eyes. "Yes I do. I do because I found far more than just those tags, Stella."
"Then I need to thank you as well," she said, her heart overflowing at what she saw revealed in his. "For what we found."
The sun sparkled in their eyes and they knew that everything else could be spoken of later. As they sank into a kiss, the breeze caressed their skin and whispered of the love, life and future they had found together.
Thank you very much for reading the story, I hope you enjoyed it :) Please review and let me know what you thought, I'd love to know :D Thank you, Lily x