Spoilers: Mentions of 'Recycling' (S1), 'What You See Is What You Get' (S1), 'Charge of This Post' (S2)
Translation: The title is French, meaning "To wait is to learn."
You live you learn, you love you learn
You cry you learn, you lose you learn
You bleed you learn, you scream you learn...
You grieve you learn, you choke you learn
You laugh you learn, you choose you learn
You pray you learn, you ask you learn
-- Alanis Morissette
Sitting at the bay window and far too comfortable to move, Mac Taylor lets the song play with a sigh, remembering Claire's bittersweet smile whenever it would play over the radio.
"You know, sad as it is, Morissette's right," she'd informed him once. "You do learn, because if you don't, you keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over."
She herself had been right... He'd learned... As the years passed, since the Towers had fallen, his mind had oft returned unbidden, reminding him of her and all she had represented. He had loved... he had lost... and over time, he had slowly learned that no matter how much it hurt, the loving was worth the losing.
His gaze falls on the photo that holds precedence on the mantle—him, with Stella, at the department Christmas party last year. He had an arm slung over her shoulders, a grin spreading across his lips; her head was tipped back, and she was laughing at something he'd said.
Yes, he'd learned... Learned that love was immortal, that nothing could slaughter it—not even the ability to move on... Learned that dates could revolve around irony, that a number could represent bliss one moment and oppressive emptiness the next...
He and Claire had been married on the eleventh of September, now eighteen years ago. And then he'd lost her, almost fourteen years in. His heart had bled silently—a perpetual knife had embedded itself there unwanted. And no matter what, he'd fought back the pain, the tears, the mourning, fought to keep his mask up.
And he'd learned that no one—not even himself—could be invincible. He'd learned that he couldn't fool everyone, and least of all Stella. She had appeared at his house a week later, never asking if he needed or even wanted her—she knew without hearing it from him that the answer would have been yes. They had sat together in silence, neither speaking, for hours, until she'd finally reached over and touched his arm gently. And that touch broke him. All that he'd fought back with numbness and stoicism came crashing to the surface like waves on a beach on a stormy night, his grief finally released to crash down upon the one person who would bear it with him.
When he'd finally been able to breathe again, when he'd finally been able to speak without choking on the words, he'd looked up to find a wetness in her eyes that mirrored his own. That night, he'd learned again that he had an irreplaceable friend in Stella Bonasera, fiery temper, Greek, and all. And that night, he'd learned that he wasn't obligated to suffer alone, though it would be long years before he could truly let her all the way in.
He'd slowly let himself learn to laugh again, to begin to live life without feeling like he was betraying the memory of Claire. But still people had remained at a distance; he saw the glances, though he'd never commented. He'd known that Stella watched him, always somewhat worried for him, wanting to see him the way he had been, and finally, he'd found the right time to ask her... well, 'out' wasn't perhaps the right term, given that they'd gone to a dog show that had been their crime scene not three hours before and he'd bought her a hot dog, of all things, for dinner, but they'd spent that time together—something they hadn't really done since before Claire died. Or at least, not like that. Granted, he'd had to pay her ten when his favorite lost, but he'd still learned that asking when the question wasn't related to the case didn't always give him the answers he didn't want to know. Seeing the pleased surprise in her eyes that night had made him realize that she was another one that he simply couldn't bear to lose, that he cared for her beyond simple friendship.
That realization had torn him apart, and he'd spent countless days praying, hoping, fighting, all to come to terms with the fact that it was okay to move on, that he wasn't desecrating his first marriage by loving another. But still he couldn't get up the courage to do anything more than open up to her—if theirs was a romantic relationship from the start, no one on God's green earth would have ever been able to tell; it was that odd.
A year later, he had made the choice, decided to live life the way his wife had been so adamant about.
"You only get one shot at life," she'd told him one night. "Why not live it while you can?"
The night after Don had been trapped in the building, once he'd been able to assure himself that his friend was awake and more than sufficiently alive, he'd gone back to Ground Zero.
"I love you, Claire," he'd told her quietly, reading silently over the names as he had done so many times before. "I almost thought that yesterday was my day to be with you again... But it wasn't... Maybe I was given that second shot at life, but either way, I'm taking your advice: live it while you can.
"After you were gone, I didn't really want to... I didn't really know how... But she's taught me so much, Claire... She can't replace you; you know that... but she's carved out her own space to me... I'm asking your blessing, Claire, to take my chances with Stella... After that one disastrous date with Rose after that shootout in the coffee shop, I didn't dare destroy a friendship I couldn't bear to lose... But I've got to put my heart on the line one of these days... You always said you didn't want me living like a hermit if something happened to you... Do you still want that?"
He'd lost track of time that night, but he'd left with one less weight bearing down on his shoulders.
Which was why, tonight, he'd asked her to come by for dinner. Informal, between two friends, and for different reasons than she assumed, but that didn't mean it had to stay that way.
Now the doorbell rings, and he sets his mug down on the coffee table, rising from his place to answer the door. He doesn't need to see through it to know who's standing on the other side.
"Stella," he says as he swings the oak back. "Come on in."
"Hey, Mac," she smiles, stepping in as he moves aside. There is a moment's hesitation, and then she touches his arm. "Happy anniversary."
"Thank you, Stella... It really is."
For indeed it is: the Towers fell four years ago; he and Claire were wed eighteen years ago. And though she does not know it, he is about to create a new anniversary on this night, and this one revolves around her.
You live; you learn...
Summary: To wait is to learn. Time heals the heart. Mac accepts his scars and takes the step he should have taken long ago.