He felt good. Relaxed. He'd slept a lot, he knew that without pondering about it, but he was still tired. Too tired to open his eyes. But it felt good to just drift between sleep and wakefulness. Comfortable. Also, he didn't stink any longer.
When he'd exited his New York Headquarters he'd been wet and grimey and sweaty and he'd blead from numerous tiny cuts where glass shards had cut his skin. He'd smelled like soot, and sweat and fire and fear. And yet, the first one to embrace him had been Stella, and even though she'd been by his side for most of their fight, she'd smelled like Stella, like a flower, a delicate rose adorned with fierce thorns that stung deathly when you least expected it. He was so proud of her. Then Peyton had been there and had clung to him and he could smell her desperation and her fear. It was then he decided to follow her to London. He wouldn't be of any use for the next few weeks anyway, while rubble was being worked over by other CSIs than his own people. For a fleeting moment he thought to bring in the Las Vegas Lab – they were second best after his own forensics team, after all.
Had he called them? It made him tired to concentrate, there was a constant underlying noise, almost like a tinnitus in his ear that annoyed him. Yes, he'd phoned their supervisor, Ecklie, who'd promised to send someone... not their best man, Grissom, though. He seemed to be on some kind of sick leave. A woman, Willows, and two guys... Stoke or Stokes or Stone and oh, someone else.
Good. Everything's in good hands then. He hoped Stella would get along with them. Brown! That was the other man's name...
The flight had been long, so long that he was still tired. People had given him strange looks because his face had just started to discolour, the bruises on his chin and under his left eye had just started to fade to a garish yellow and his back still hurt every time he picked up their luggage. But that was to be expected. Peyton was all smiles on the plane. He remembered her leaning closer and kissing him tenderly. They'd both pretended to sleep but had snuggled together under one of those blue airline blankets. When the lights went out and everybody else was either watching a movie or sleeping, she'd taken advantage of the fact that they were in a window row with only two seats.
He smiled, now more than ever reluctant to open his eyes. Waking up was highly overrated anyway, and it couldn't be morning, because there still was the insistent hum of the faulty streetlamp in front of his bedroom window – it went out every day at five in the morning, so he still got time.
Peyton. Her eyes sparkled with love when she kissed him. He brought the armrest flush to the back of his seat to urge her closer and she complied with a happy sigh. She moved and her elbow hit him in the side – he remembered that he'd exaggerated a pained oomph.
Restless, but not yet ready to wake up fully, he shifted in his bed and felt a familiar heat warm his body. Because Peyton had indeed had a plan. And startled him when under the blanket she groped blindly for his fly. He hissed a warning, but she pretended to sleep in his arms, her fingers nimbly unbuttoning his slacks and reaching inside. He wasn't aroused, the situation too exposed and full of danger to get caught to stimulate him, but already she knew his body's responses too well. "shhh, relax, Mac, let me..." her whispers soothed him and her fingers held him, slowly pumped him in a mesmerising, even rhythm meant to last, not to finish him off quickly. He couldn't help but sigh, it was so good. When she finally tightened her grip and increased her rhythm, he was too far gone to care how he'd walk off the plane with soiled pants. But then, just before he knew he wouldn't be able to hold back, the minx in his arms slipped under the blanket. Her lips closed around his hard, leaking cock – he felt the warm wetness of her mouth and had to grab the blanket to keep from gagging her with dick. Then she sucked and made that randy little hum that always drove him wild, and he came, desperately holding back a scream. When he got his breathing back under control, Peyton had already licked him clean and stuffed him back into his boxer shorts. She emerged from under the blanket just in time to smile at the stewardess who was on her way to the kitchen. And only Mac saw her rumpled looks and the smear she'd overlooked on her own cheek.
Must be the jetlag. He just couldn't get himself to wake up properly. But then – wasn't he on a vacation? He was entitled to some sleep. And the hotel room bed was so amazingly comfortable. They'd had dinner the night before and indulged in a bottle of red wine. Their food had been great, the minced pie interesting enough to be good. He'd have to tell Stella that her – repeated – warnings about the proverbial terrible eating habits of the brits were greatly exaggerated.
They'd kissed in the crowded streets that night, on their way to their hotel and Peyton had held onto him as if she'd never wanted to let go. Hadn't the people in front of all those pubs having their smoke not been so loud it would've actually been pretty romantic. But that way he wasn't able to enjoy the evening to the fullest. All the time on their way home he couldn't shake the feeling of being watched. He was obviously getting paranoid in his old days.
He sighed. They'd made slow love that night and it had been intense. Peyton almost seemed to be a different person since they'd arrived in London. She was more open, more demanding, even aggressive in her lovemaking – as if she'd left caution and everything that was holding her back in New York. He'd enjoyed it, he told himself, but he was a bit worried, too. Which Peyton was the true Peyton, after all...
Repair work in New York was well under way, with Stella being in charge and CSIs Willows, Stokes and Brown working the scene. The Las Vegas team seemed to be drawn and tense, though. It took Stella a whole week until the good looking brown eyed Texan of the group finally broke down over a late dinner Willows and Brown had backed out of at the last moment. After his third shot of whiskey Nick had finally told her that they'd been sent away from Vegas to "regroup". They'd lost a CSI – a colleague, a good friend and, even worse, their supervisor's secret girlfriend. Said supervisor was currently at a resort, healing after a complete mental and physical meltdown.
Stella had gone all motherly on Nick and brought him to Lindsey, knowing that Danny would be there. To watch something good coming out of the ashes _ a new love despite the damage at their offices – might do the CSI a world of good. Plus: Stokes wouldn't be alone in his hotel room for the night. As far as she'd understood from watching the team, Brown, who'd told her his bad marriage had disintegrated the week before he had to leave Vegas, and Willows were slowly healing together, leaving Stokes the third wheel.
So Stella was exhausted when the call came in as soon as she unlocked her apartment's door. She was wide awake, when she disconnected the line half an hour later. When it rained, it really did pour.
So tired. Still. They'd spent the weekend sightseeing, so maybe that was why he couldn't seem to move. But he cautiously blinked and it was still dark, so going back to sleep maybe was okay. If only that insistent beeping would stop. He'd complain to the hotel's manager in the morning. The weekend had been great, though. The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the tower, more museums than he could count and finally the Dungeon, a silly, funny walk through a creepy halloweenish world of ghosts and crimes. He laughed a lot and almost forgot the nagging feeling that somebody was following them. Twice that day he'd thought he could pinpoint the shadow, a glimps he caught out of the corner of his eye, a man, young, reddish hair, ducking away into a sidelane just as he turned to take a closer look. He had to imagine it, though. Peyton laughed his suspicions off. "You know, that just proves that you really needed this vacation, Mac. Lighten up." Then she sent him off to buy some soda from a street vendor. When he came back, it seemed to him as if she'd just put something into her purse. Lipstick, most likely. Just... why would she use lipstick when she'd just asked for something to drink?
Her passion that night made him forget any questions that might have bothered him, though. "I want you to remember me while I'm at the conference. I want you to ache for me," she whispered when he asked if there was something wrong with her. He'd fallen asleep then.
And now, again floating between waking and sleep, he suddenly recalled what had been bothering him the whole time. She'd been on the phone that night, in their bathroom. He hadn't heard everything but she'd said, "I want to call it off. I do no longer condone.." somebody must've said something because she was quiet, then interrupting almost frantically,
"no, no, no you don't unterstand"... "I want it stopped." There was a moment's pause, then: "I love him." But the way she said it, the person on the other end of the line had probably ended the call already. He'd drifted off, not even noticing when she slipped into bed a long time later. In the morning, after they'd made love again at her enthusiastic insistence, it had seemed like a silly dream, unreal in the face of her eagerness to please him.
Just what had she wanted to call off? If only he could remember.
Stella had invited herself for breakfast. She'd given them one more undisturbed night. Then she'd told them. Lindsey had clung to Danny's hand as if it was a lifeline. Nick had taken a deep breath and then hugged her, his eyes blurry with unshed tears, his accent thick when he said "I'm so sorry". Stella had endured it, still too shocked to react at all. There were things she had to do, time differences to consider, places to be. Like the good CSI she was, her brain was already four, five steps ahead, waiting for her body to catch up.
He grew restless. He wanted to wake up, but couldn't seem to be able to. The annoying beep was back, angrier now, more insistent. His body ached. He tried to "think away" the pain like all those times he served and got hurt as a marine. He tried to remember why he felt like crap.
"so, what are you planning on doing today while I'm busy at the conference?" Peyton had asked over breakfast. Some waiter had brought tea for her and coffee for him and for a moment Mac had thought she'd angrily frowned at the light haired stranger.
He had thanked the young man. "you're very organised – I don't remember seeing you before and yet you know I prefer coffee."
The young man had faltered for a moment, then said, "we keep lists in the kitchen for guests staying longer than a coupla days." He nodded, then moved to the next table.
Peyton looked at him questioningly and he said, "it was a good idea of yours to get me here. My plans? Actually, I don't know. Suggestions?"
"Why don't you stay in? Weather forecast said it's going to rain anyway and the hotel does have great wellness options. I'll hurry."
He fought the urge to frown. Stella would probably love a day in an expensive spa, all expenses paid already. He himself didn't see the appeal, would probably go for a run. But why tell Peyton – he'd be back home long before her scheduled lectures were over.
They parted with a kiss in the hall, and Mac went back upstairs to get into his jogging gear. There was the note: slipped under the door of their room, in a nondescript envelope was one sheet of paper adorned with what looked like the logo New Scotland Yard. Three lines:
Chief Inspector Morton Knewles
Head of Forensics
10:30 main entrance
Mac grinned. Peyton had obviously tried to have him safely ensconced at the hotel, so that she could make sure he'd be here when this invitation arrived. He checked his watch and did the math. Too early to call NY right now; but he would and gloat to Stella with an appointment at Scotland Yard. Maybe, while he was at their lab, he could find out if there were any leads on their IRA terrorist that had so efficiently destroyed their own offices.
London Heathrow was teeming with people. Stella had never been here before and was too exhausted both physically and mentally to patiently find her way through the maze of gates and exits. She'd travelled with only her carry-on trolley and made it out to the busses and ground transportation in record time. While still trying to come up with a fast way into London, a dark car stopped next to her. The whitehaired man inside smiled and offered shrewdly: "fifty quid and you're in London, luv."
"I need to get to St. Bart's hospital immediately. I got no english money though." Her face was ghostly pale now that she realised how ill prepared she was for this trip.
He took a good look at her, then opened the back door of his car from inside. "it's me own car, luv, no registered fare. And you look like ye could use a friend more than a driver. St. Bart's it is. Yer american, yes? Yer boyfriend in trouble?"
She scrambled to get trolley and handbag inside the car, then sat with a sigh. "no, my boss."
Breathing suddenly got very unpleasant. He was sweaty and hot and couldn't get rid of his blanket. His eyelids were too heavy. He couldn't wake up. Mac frowned. He had missed that appointment at Scotland Yard. Why had he missed it?
His phone rang when he was halfway at the Yard. "Peyton, that was a great surprise, thank you for organising it!" he said by way of greeting. She played it as if she didn't understand. "The appointment at the Yard. It must have cost you quite a few favors to get me a meeting with the Chief of Forensics here. Do you have any underlying reason for it?" he laughed, knowing that she'd already said she'd accepted his love for New York and therefore didn't try to have him relocated somewhere closer to her home.
"You're at the Yard?" she sounded panicky. He didn't understand.
"Not yet, but in ten to fifteen I will. Thanks to you!"
"I didn't... shite... this is... gotta go, Mac." The connection broke and he stared at his cell, suddenly full of suspicion. Frowning he took in his surroundings without giving away that he was no longer a tourist, but a former marine seasoned on the streets of a city a lot bigger and badder than London. At first there was nothing that seemed out of place. He continued towards the Yard, crossing the street a few times as if he was window shopping on his way. There it was. A small motorbike, not very loud, parked two blocks away as if to unload something. The driver, clad in forest green leather, hadn't taken off his helmet.
Mac decided to turn right, then left, and wait. On cue the bike turned up a short time later, now parking in front of him. Mac turned left once more, again stepping onto the main road that led to Scotland Yard. Again the bike followed.
Just when its driver was occupied with traffic, Mac slipped into a side lane out of sight from the main street. A couple of minutes passed. Then the shadows shifted as a biker in green leather, but without his helmet and therefore recognisable as their new waiter at the hotel, cautiously slipped into the narrow lane. His reddish hair reflected the sunlight. He ran straight into a very pissed off Mac Taylor.
It was an unfair fight. The biker was at least twenty years younger than Mac and he wasn't held up by fighting fair. Mac on the other hand had the experience of years in the service, his lifelong training of various martial arts gave him the advantage of knowing how a human body functioned and how he could use himself as a weapon.
It was no contest. Surprised when Mac emerged from the shadows the biker took the first blow, but collected himself and landed a clean combination of left and right to Mac's torso. Mac turned and deflected the blows, then used his opponents momentum to land his right on the biker's solar plexus. The man went down with an oooof and didn't move.
Mac took a few moments to search him. He found no weapon or ID, but plastic binders and a cell phone and got creative. When he left the dark lane minutes later, the man was packed behind some garbage cans, immobilised with his own plastic binders, a makeshift gag from bits of his t-shirt held tight with another one of the binders keeping him from screaming for help. "I'll send the Yard over in a few", Mac said, before landing another one on the perp to keep him under a little while longer.
While he all but ran towards the Yard in long strides and checking his surroundings for other followers, Mac opened the cell he'd found on the perp. There'd been some outgoing calls to the same number – something that fuelled Mac's speculation that the man had been observing him for one reason or another and every quarter of an hour had been reporting in to some sort of boss. With his own cellphone he called his hotel and asked the clerk for a number of Scotland Yard. While he dialled and asked for CI Knewles, he checked incoming calls of his newfound cell.
"This is Ltn. Mac Taylor with the NYPD. I'm afraid I'll be late for our appointment. There's a man who has been following me bound in a side lane ready for pick up."
"Lieutenant..." he pronounced it differently, then a pause, finally "I don't know of any appointment."
"Fuck". The Yard Plaza came in sight. "Then we must meet immediately. There's something seriously wrong here."
"Seems so, Lieutenant. I'll come downstairs. How do I recognise you?"
"Dark suit, pissed look."
"I'll be armed." Mac shut the phone, then looked at his find. The small display on the perp's cell glowed. There was only one number that had called repeatedly. The last time fifteen minutes ago. Mac frowned, then his eyes turned the colour of polished steel.
The room was stark white and felt cold, even though the temperature was moderate. There were the sounds of various monitors, steadily going. If you were an optimist, they showed that there was life. If you weren't they showed that they were the only devices that anchored the pale man on the hospital bed to this world. A machine helped him breathe, a pad on his chest controlled a heartbeat that had just been worrisome erratic.
"he has this episodes every once in a while. We don't know how to control it. He hasn't shown any signs of coming to. His collarbone is broken, his right arm is smashed as is his right hip. His head has taken a severe blow and we had to open it to relieve pressure on the brain."
"Is he going to come around?" Stella had never felt more helpless.
The doctor looked at her. Her beauty, though hidden behind a layer of fatigue and worry, spoke to him. He'd loved to give her much needed encouragement.
Finally he said "I don't think so. What's keeping him alive are those machines and his will to live. But during one of those episodes he is encountering he will suffer multiple organ failure and we won't be able to fix that."
"Can I stay for a while?"
He saw her tears and politely nodded. There was painfully little he could do for the man in the bed. At least he could let her sit vigil over him.
Mac saw her even before he knew how to proceed. There she was standing, talking, no arguing with a man he hadn't seen before. He flipped his own cell open, dialled #5, where he had her on speed dial. They had laughed when she learned that the first four numbers were his office and co-workers.
He saw her fishing for her cell, recognising the number on the display. He saw her looking around but he'd hidden behind a corner.
"Yes?" she sounded frightened.
"Peyton, I thought you'd be at some lecture right now!" he didn't try to keep his sarcasm out of his voice, as he stepped in plain sight. He heard her gasp over the phone, saw her jerk around and finally see him.
"Mac. You were supposed to stay at the hotel today."
The man who was with her swivelled round and saw him. He grabbed for a gun in a shoulder holster, but Peyton intercepted him. It wasn't much of a fight.
Mac started towards the pair, even though he was unarmed, when the man freed his arm and lashed out at Peyton. She fell.
"Come on, asshole, see if you can save her from a bullet." The man's voice carried over the almost empty plaza, then he pointed the gun at Peyton who somehow had managed to scramble up to her knees. She didn't seem too worried about being shot, Mac realised. Maybe the man just wanted him to get closer for a clean shot.
Then Peyton saw Mac storming towards them and fished for the large bag standing next to the man.
"Get away, Mac. I love you!" she was fiddling with something inside the bag. The man screamed in fury, then did fire at her. But it was too late. For a split second there was no noise on the plaza. The safety-glass doors of the Yard opened slowly to let a bulky man step out. Mac turned as lightning emerged from the bag between the man and Peyton.
The pressure of the explosion met him before the boom threatened to rip his eardrums apart. CI Knewles was slammed back inside the Yard, the safety-doors half closed as the explosion rattled them. And then Mac was flying until an unforgiving concrete wall stopped him. He heard his bones snap under pressure and darkness close in on him as his cell slipped from his nerveless fingers.
"How is he today?" CI Knewles entered the hospital room, walking gingerly. While the safety doors had taken the brunt of the explosion he'd nevertheless been swept off his feet and slammed into the receptionist's desk. He had bruises on places he hadn't known existed on his body. And yet – one look at the beautiful brunette sitting next to Mac's bed told him that he'd been more than lucky.
"Not good. Last time he almost didn't come back." Knewles knew Stella was referring to yet another of those crippling episodes and he sighed.
"There's news on the IRA I thought I'd deliver in person. Dr Peyton Driscoll is dead."
Stella looked at him uncomprehending. "Yes. I know. She died in the explosion."
"Actually, the real Dr. Driscoll died or rather vanished four years ago. The woman who died on the Yard Plaza was Megan Kinney. Her brother and father are leaders in the IRA – they were trafficking drugs into the US for the money they needed for their fight. Megan was a medical doctor. She had worked as a forensic in Scotland for a while. Then they managed to plant her to New York. There she was able to get information on planned raids etc."
"A mole. The bitch was a mole. Damn, couldn't she find someone else to hurt but Mac?"
"We think Mac Taylor was ... an accident. According to phone calls we ... obtained"
"Isn't that illegal? And couldn't you have prevented what happened?!"
CI Knewles had the grace to cough. "Well, we mostly listened to George Uppard's cell. That's the bloke Lieutenant Taylor nabbed in Krickety Lane. There were some calls he got from a bird he never identified by name. She insisted a few times that something must be called off, but unfortunately never got into detail. We identified her number after we found Taylor's phone. Therefore we think she really did fall in love with your boss. She did try to keep him out of harm's way. But her family and the leaders of the IRA were adamant he died. After all, he was responsible for the big NY-raid and the death of some till then very successful terrorists.
"In the end she sacrificed herself in order to protect him."
"Did him a world of good, it seems." Careful of the various tubes and IV-lines Stella touched his undamaged left hand, trying to warm his clammy fingers.
"Oh no, not again. Another episode..."
And for the first time CI Knewles had to watch as the monitors went crazy, their rhythmic beep all of a sudden totally out of whack.
The light was so strong, it should have burnt his eyes. But it soothed them and him in a strange, unfamiliar way. A body took shape and his heart constricted with never resolved sadness and love. It was Claire, alive, beautiful and just the way he remembered her from that last kiss that brilliant morning in September so many years, so many mistakes and failures ago.
"Don't beat yourself up, soldier", she said, like always knowing what he'd thought. Then she laughed her delighted little laugh as she saw the skeptical look on his face. "We're all entitled to our fair share of mistakes. Nobody will think less of you if you make them. And you really did love her. Like on a scale your mistakes will be weighed against all the good you've done in your life, every rose you've smelled." She shrugged and suddenly looked like the mischievous young woman she'd been when they first met.
"I was a good rose to smell at!" it was an odd thing for her to say and even odder for him to understand what she meant and he laughed, feeling just as young again. "There'll be other roses if you let them bloom", she said with a kind, loving smile, but her voice faded and his heart was light.
The pain crashed into him with a force that made his breath falter. He didn't know what hurt more: his arm, his head, his pelvis? Or his eyes that teared up from the too bright light in the room.
He wanted to tell them to turn off the lights, but he couldn't speak because of the tube down his throat. The constant shriek of monitors screamed at him and suddenly there were people in the room, tuning the machines, snapping orders. The only focal point was his left hand, held in the gentle grip of someone whose fingers were shaking badly but never losing their grip.
And there was Stella's voice in his ear: "You must stay awake. I will not let you go just yet and leave me with all the mess at the office at home." Her frantic insistence would have made him smile had the tube not blocked any facial expression. So he just looked at her and gripped her fingers as hard as he could. He was a bit confused when he saw her cry and smile at the same time.
Summary: What if Peyton had an ulterior reason to get Mac to London? Post snow day; mention of post living doll.