The Snow Queen
A few flakes of snow were falling, and one of them, rather larger than the rest, alighted on the edge of one of the flower boxes. This snow-flake grew larger and larger, till at last it became the figure of a woman, dressed in garments of white gauze, which looked like millions of starry snow-flakes linked together. She was fair and beautiful, but made of ice -- shining and glittering ice. Still she was alive and her eyes sparkled like bright stars, but there was neither peace nor rest in their glance. -- Hans Christian Andersen, "The Snow Queen"
The thunder and lightning don't wake Stella when they start, at nearly half-past three in the morning, because she hasn't gone to sleep. When the first low rumble of thunder hits her ears, she's standing in front of her mirror, peering into its depths without much hope of actually finding any of the answers she's looking for. The thunder is nearly subaural at first, and then increases in sound until it's nearly rattling the windows in their frames, a deep bass roar that she feels in her chest as much as hears, the way the subway platform shakes beneath her feet when a train is coming. Moments later, her vision goes blue and white as lightning crackles, and a negative impression of the veins in her eyes dances in front of her gaze. She blinks a little and waits until it stops, then goes back to looking in the mirror.
She doesn't bother to turn around to see if it's started to rain, because she knows it hasn't; this is heat thunder and lightning, nothing more. These storms -- if that's even the proper term -- started when the heat did, and have been happening all week, and never once have they given way to cooling rain. There's none in the forecast, either, just more predictions of days and days of oppressive temperatures. Right now she has her own concerns, though she's not sure whether she's trying to divine the future or to make sense of the past. Either way, her own face remains a mystery to her, a secret that refuses to be unlocked.
Her skin is coated in sweat, but inside she remains cold no matter how high the mercury climbs. She turned off the air conditioner a little while ago, in some vague and foolish hope that maybe doing so would balance her outer temperature with her inner one, but all it's done is make her feel more uncomfortable than ever.
The cold is like shards of ice in her heart, a sharper chip of frozen water in her eye, like she's looking at the world through a prism that distorts everything around her into tiny, cold facets. The city is no different than it ever was, and neither is her job. Neither is Mac, who looks at her with a calm, blank face without ever seeing her, and who talks about cases and reports and DNA samples like nothing has changed, like he doesn't see the same corruption she does. What has changed, she thinks, is her perception of all of these things; it's not that she's looking at them the wrong way or that she herself is different, but that she's now, finally, able to see them for what they really are, as if the ice in her gaze isn't just a prism, but a telescope as well, or a magnifying glass.
She opens her mouth, half-expecting to see ice crystals forming on her tongue and teeth. Her skin is on fire, almost feverishly hot in the close room, and her heart is still pierced by winter thorns as another roll of thunder shakes the very foundations of the building. It's all she can do not to scream, to strike out, to punch something until her knuckles are raw and bleeding. It would feel so good. Just standing here and looking at her reflection without moving is an extreme act of willpower.
These days, she watches Mac with narrowed eyes in the lab and in his office, and especially whenever they're alone together, when he's driving the two of them to or from a scene or when they're working late. The look in his eyes is always relaxed and remote, and he never asks her a single question about anything other than work. Not that she would answer him if he did, but she doesn't think he's even realized that there's anything to inquire about.
Her pulse throbs steadily, a regular thrum in her wrists and neck that's as unceasing as the thunder. The room goes bright white for an instant in the next flash of lightning, and she realizes that the storm isn't ever going to break. She keeps on standing where she is without moving, and her face in the mirror is deeply shadowed, lines of light and dark sharply delineated on her mouth and eyes and across her cheeks. She feels like she's waiting for a sign, for some other light to flash or, maybe, for a bell to ring.
Perspiration shines on her bare flesh; a bead of sweat quivers and then falls from her collarbone, and the ice in her eyes and heart stabs deeper, still unmelted.
The horizon line shimmers in the heat and Stella can feel the concrete burning right through the soles of her shoes. She decides to treat herself to a cab instead of taking the subway, counting on a nice, long ride downtown -- for once she won't mind gridlock -- but traffic is, unbelievably, moving swiftly, and they seem to hit every green light in the city. The sweat hasn't even had a chance to dry on her skin before the driver is pulling to a stop in front of Sullivan's, and, reluctant to abandon the cab's blissfully cool interior, she considers asking him to just cruise around for awhile.
Instead, telling herself that it's only a matter of steps before she'll be sitting in air-conditioned comfort again, she pays and gets out, wincing at the way the hot air rushes to meet her as she opens the door.
A nice cold drink, she tells herself. A cold drink and a glass of ice and some cool air. It'll be fine. A night out with the usual group, one during which they're not paying tribute to any fallen colleagues. What could be better?
Things start to go wrong as soon as she opens the front door of Sullivan's. No cool air prickles her skin; if anything, it feels hotter in here than on the street. As she looks around, she notices that the windows are open as far as they'll go and that there are a few old box fans propped up on the bar and some of the back tables, and that everyone's in shirt sleeves or summer tops. Fuck, she thinks, and then Lindsay is calling, "Stella!" and waving her over to a table.
"No air conditioning?" she asks as she sits down, aware that she's stating the obvious.
Danny shrugs. "Gave out last night, they said. Refrigeration's still working, though, so cheers." He pours her a glass of beer.
"Last night?" she says. "So why haven't they fixed it yet?"
"Ever try to schedule a maintenance call for a cooling unit in the middle of a heat wave?" Hawkes asks. "I'm sure they're trying."
"Okay, but what's stopping us from going someplace where the air conditioner is working?" she says.
"We were already here." Danny gives her one of his charming smiles.
"Fine." She takes a sip of beer.
"How did your testimony go this afternoon?" Mac asks.
"That was fine, too." Three hours of her life she'll never get back, most of it spent waiting around for the prosecution to get its act together, and then they'd asked her endless questions about aspects of the evidence they could have figured out from the reports.
"That's good," Mac says after a tiny pause.
A minute or two later, after the conversation has moved on, Lindsay leans over to her. "I hate testifying, too," she says in a low voice.
Stella takes a deep breath. "This job would be so much better without all the bureaucratic bullshit," she says.
"I know. I wish we could just do our thing and not have to deal with the court part of it at all," Lindsay says. "Keep it in the realm of pure science."
"Well, we're not pure scientists, either." Stella tries to keep her voice even. Lindsay is making perfectly ordinary, perfectly reasonable conversation, and there's no reason to want to shout at her.
"No, that's true," Lindsay says. She pauses, then goes on. "See, my theory is that..."
Stella, half-listening, tunes in for a moment to the conversation Mac is having with Hawkes and Danny. Something about the collection and analysis of latent prints: no salvation there. Then again, she doesn't know what else she could say to Mac. Or to any of them. Just an ordinary evening out with the group. Right. Why did she think this would be a good idea?
And of course it's not a completely ordinary evening, she realizes, looking around the table. Flack isn't with them. She's glad that he's back at work again, at least on half-shifts, but he's not anywhere near back on his game yet. He's pale and too thin, and he seems to conduct his investigations by rote, rather than throwing himself into them with his old glee. He stumbles sometimes and then has to catch himself against the nearest wall or chair, or he loses track of what he's saying in the middle of a sentence. Stella feels sometimes like she's looking at a ghost or an afterthought, or some trick of the light rather than the man himself. He gets tired easily, too, which is why he isn't here tonight.
She'd thought that once Flack came back to work, maybe things would start to change for the better, at least a little. She knows now how foolish that hope was.
Mac is still talking with Danny and Hawkes, taking no notice of her, or of anything else. She can feel sweat crawling down the back of her neck and the underside of her hair, pooling between her breasts and in the small of her back. Her shirt feels limp and filthy, intolerable against her skin.
She pushes her chair back abruptly and stands up. "Excuse me," she says. "Be right back." They all glance up, and she thinks that Mac might be trying to catch her eye, but she just walks away.
The women's bathroom is empty. She locks herself in a stall and stands there for a minute or two, listening to her breathing. The metal door is cool under her cheek. Not enough, not anywhere near it, but it's something. When she comes out, she turns the cold water on as far as it will go and stands there running it over her wrists, trying to cool her pulse points.
She's still standing there when the door swings open and Lindsay walks in. Stella watches the water swirl down the drain.
"Are you okay?" Lindsay asks.
"Couldn't be better," Stella says. "I'm just hot. I'm trying to cool off." She wonders for a moment if that's all that it is. The heat is enough to make the most even-tempered person snap; it's been bad enough that even a brief walk from her apartment to the subway, or a few minutes spent at an outdoor scene, leaves her headachy and nauseated and feeling generally wrung out. On the other hand, she doesn't know if it's a reasonable explanation for how murderously angry she feels almost all the time now, or how she seems to shift from rage to apathetic despair with little or no discernible pause.
She glances up at the mirror. Lindsay is standing there watching her, face tight with concern. Stella looks back down at her hands without saying anything more. Scars crisscross her fingertips in fine lines; some of the redness has started to fade, but they're still plainly visible. No makeup can cover that.
Before her first day back at work, she'd tried to cover the cuts and bruises on her face, had tried every combination of powder and foundation and concealer that she could think of. None of it had worked, all the tubes and jars from Sephora and Benefit and Laura Mercier suddenly useless when it really counted. She'd shoved them all back into the drawer, and had gone back to work with a bare face, the bruises some kind of defiant stance, a screamed fuck you to Mac and to anyone else who might have thought she wasn't ready yet.
She looks at her face now, and there's nothing there.
"The heat's terrible," Lindsay says. "I'm with you; I don't know why we had to stay here. It's not like there aren't plenty of other bars in the city that do have a working air conditioner."
Stella cups water in her palm and trails it over her neck and forehead, then turns off the faucet. "True," she says.
"Why don't we go somewhere else?" Lindsay says. "Even if the guys don't want to move. We could get some better drinks and some cool air for awhile. What do you say?"
It's not a bad idea, really. In fact, it's probably the most sensible suggestion anyone's made all day. Another bar, a good mixed drink, air that doesn't make black spots dance in front of her eyes. Someplace where she doesn't have to listen to Mac and Danny and Hawkes carrying on like nothing at all could be wrong.
She's about to say this when Lindsay adds, "We could talk."
"Talk," Stella repeats.
"Sure," Lindsay says. "We haven't had a chance, and if you ever...I mean, if you need a sympathetic ear, I'll be glad to listen."
"Lindsay." She has to force herself to pause, to turn the words over in her mind before she speaks. "What you're thinking of -- I don't want to talk about it. You -- you're kind to offer, but no."
Lindsay frowns. "Are you sure?"
"Positive." She's going to scream in another minute. "Thank you."
"Of course." Lindsay smiles this time. "No need to thank me. If you change your mind, you know where to find me. I'm happy to help."
"Right," Stella says. "We should get back."
Mac glances up at her without saying anything when she sits down, while Hawkes touches her shoulder and puts a bowl of pretzels in front of her and Danny pours her a fresh beer. She presses her fingers to the sides of the glass and feels condensation build against her skin while she listens to them talk, realizing that she's coming in on the tail end of a conversation.
" -- to square one," Danny says, and Mac nods.
"You're looking at the other family members as suspects, then?" he asks.
"Yeah. Dunno who's our best bet so far, but we're gonna go over their statements again in the morning."
"With luck," Hawkes says, "something will pop out at us. If not, we'll go by process of elimination."
"You've checked to see if any of them have priors, I suppose," Mac says.
"That's part of tomorrow's project," Danny tells him.
"Good." Mac drinks some of his beer.
"And what kind of priors are you going to be looking for?" Stella asks.
Danny looks surprised. "You know, the usual," he says. "Arrests or convictions for violent crimes. Complaints filed."
"Particularly anything where the M.O. might look similar to our present case," Hawkes says.
Stella knows this. She knows she knows this. She's done it herself hundreds of times, so she doesn't know why she's pushing the issue, but it suddenly seems very important. "Similar M.O. can be significant," she says. "You always want to look for that. I'm sure Mac could tell you just how significant," she adds in a lower, confiding tone, leaning across the table toward Danny and Hawkes. They both look puzzled, and Danny looks suspicious. As she watches, he shoots a quick glance at Hawkes and then at Mac.
"It -- of course it's important," Mac says, and he sounds both confused and wary. "You know we always look at priors."
"Right, that's right. We do. Because you insist on it." She turns in her seat to face him, looking at him directly for the first time all evening, and there's a little flare of anger in his eyes now. Deep down, and still small, like he hasn't made up his mind whether or not there's anything to be angry about, but it's there. And he's looking at her. He sees her. "Although," she goes on, "sometimes I get the impression that you give more weight to certain types of priors than others. Would you say that's a fair statement?"
"Stella, you're familiar with basic procedure," he says, and he starts to turn away from her. As he does, she recognizes the look on his face. It's the one that says I am not going to be baited.
"Sure, basic procedure. But you take it a step further than that." She looks at Danny and Hawkes again. They're both sitting there in silence, appearing very interested in their beers, and Lindsay, on Hawkes' far side, is biting her lip, turning her glass around and around in her hands. "Come on, Mac," Stella says. "Explain the whole grand theory to them," and sweat runs down the inside of her elbow.
"Stella -- " Mac starts to say.
"Explain to them," she says, "how it's not just that we look for priors. That part's fine; it's old news. Where it gets really special is where you stand there and tell me that if a woman pulled the trigger once, then of course she might be guilty of homicide, because it gets easier the second time."
Inside, part of her is wondering why she's doing this, why she's saying these things. Another, more insistent part of her mind is dancing for joy at having a target for her rage at last. That's the part of her that thinks the time for saying these things is long overdue.
Mac sits up straight and slams his beer down on the table. Out of the corner of her eye, Stella sees Lindsay flinch. "That's not how this works, Stella, as you're well aware," Mac says. "Do you have something you want to discuss in private?"
"No," she says, staring at him, not blinking. He can't gloss over this, not anymore. He can't.
Mac shakes his head. "Then why don't -- "
"Do you want to go for a walk, Stella?" Hawkes asks suddenly. "Get a little fresh air, maybe cool off and -- "
"I don't need to cool off," she says, not turning her head. God, no. Not with this block of ice sitting in her chest, and never mind the sweat running down her body.
"Why don't we move on?" Mac says, and his voice is too steady.
"It's so easy for you," she mutters, and then she pushes her chair back again. "How much do I owe for beer?" she asks.
"We got this round, Stella," Danny says in a dead, flat voice, not looking up.
She puts a ten-dollar bill down on the table anyway, and then says, "I have to go," as she walks to the door.
The sidewalk is no cooler than Sullivan's, but she feels a temperature change on her skin all the same as she starts to walk down the street, a hot breeze pushing at her face. Goddammit, she thinks. Goddamn him.
She takes a deep breath, then turns to face him. "What?"
Mac takes a step closer to her. "You want to tell me what the hell was going on back there?"
"You want to tell me what you're trying to prove?" she asks.
"Prove? What are you talking about?" Mac blinks at her, looking confused, and she feels the anger well up again. "We were discussing a case, Stella, and you -- "
"You act like you don't understand my objections. How could you not? How can you just sit there and talk about looking for priors like it's nothing, like you don't know exactly what you're doing?"
He looks at her for a moment before he speaks. "Stella...I did mention priors when I was talking to Danny, but you were the one who brought up specifics."
"And you're the one who first suggested that Laura whatever her name was might have murdered her husband because she'd done it before. You did that, not me. So don't act all shocked when I bring it up again." A passing couple glance at her in surprise as they walk by. Stella shoots them a quick glare and then looks at Mac again.
"That was two months ago, Stella. More than that," he says, and she thinks that he's struggling to keep his voice calm. "Why bring it up now?"
"Does two months mean the statute of limitations has run out?" she asks. "That we don't have to talk about it any more, that it doesn't matter? Newsflash, Mac, we never talked about it in the first place."
"All right," he says, "so let's talk about it now. Is that what you want?"
She laughs. "Yes, Mac. That's what I want. I want to try to explain to you why this bothers me. I want to try to make you understand something you should have figured out for yourself."
Aggravatingly, he decides to take her at her word; he nods and says, "All right. You want to go sit down somewhere?"
"Why not?" Stella says.
"Great. I think there's a teahouse down the block." He starts to walk and she falls into step beside him, pulling away a little when his arm brushes against hers.
It's not until they're seated across from each other at a small rattan table that he speaks directly to her again, stirring his glass of thick Thai iced tea as he says, "Go ahead."
It's cooler in the teahouse than on the street, and much more comfortable than it was in Sullivan's, but even before they came in here, he looked as pulled-together as ever, his jacket and shirt unwrinkled, still as crisp as if he'd just put them on, instead of wilting in the heat. As if he's as cold on the outside as she feels on the inside, or as if his coldness runs all the way through. She looks at him.
"You can't tell me that you don't get this," she says. "Not even you can be that dense. How can you sit there and talk about priors like it's no big thing? How could you say it to me in the first place?"
"It's standard practice, Stella, so why -- "
"After what happened with Frankie and me, how can you not figure it out?" she says quickly, before she loses her nerve. There, she's done it. She's said his name for the first time in two months.
Mac sighs. "You mean the case with the triad couple. Group."
"What do you think I mean?"
"Stella, when we were working that case, when I said what I did about Laura Jefferies, I wasn't even thinking of you."
"I know," she says. "That's the problem."
"That was -- that was different," he says. "You didn't -- you were acting in self-defense."
"And maybe these other women were, too," she said. "Maybe Laura Jefferies did. Did you ever think of that before you decided she was a potential murderer?"
"Stella -- "
"You can't say I'm different, because I'm not."
"But IAB called -- " He stops himself.
" -- Called it a good shot," she finishes for him. "I know. I was there. Would you be giving me a different speech right now if they hadn't?"
"No," he says, and looks into her eyes. She wants to look away, but can't. "I'd be fighting them on it."
He's telling the truth; that's plainly evident in his face and in his voice. "Isn't that generous of you?" she says in an undertone, and looks down at her untouched glass of tea. Her chest constricts painfully; she can feel her heart racing beneath her ribcage, the ice tightening around it again.
"Stella," he says, and his voice is softer now. "Did you really think I'd do anything else?"
"I don't know," she says. "Maybe you should ask Danny about that."
She hears him draw in a sharp breath. "That's not -- " he begins.
"Not fair?" she asks. "Oh, I think it is. Maybe this time around you came through for him, but last year, during the cop shooting? Where were you then, Mac? The lab comes first. You've said that over and over. If you'd stood up for Danny the first time he got into trouble, maybe things wouldn't have gotten so bad in the first place." And if he hadn't fired Aiden...but she can't bring herself to say that, not even now. The pain of that is still too raw, too much to deal with; she doesn't even have to shut her eyes to see the digital reproduction of Aiden's face hanging in the air in front of her, or to recall how small and old Aiden's father had looked at the funeral.
"What about it, Mac?" she says, pushing the memory away. "If I'd become that kind of liability, would we even be sitting here right now?"
"Yes. Goddammit, Stella, yes." He's keeping his voice low, but she can see how angry he is, and she feels a mean little surge of triumph at that. "What can I say that will convince you of that?"
She holds up her hands, not quite a shrug. "I don't know."
"It's the truth," he says. "I'd stand by you no matter what IAB said. And I'd fight them tooth and nail if they had done anything other than call it a good shot."
Stella pauses before she answers, knowing that he's waiting for a response. She stirs sugar into her tea and then wipes the spoon off carefully before looking up at him again. "Thank you for saying that," she says at last.
A muscle twitches in his cheek, but all he says is, "Of course." There's another pause, then he adds, "But you still haven't answered my original question."
"Why now, Stella? We were talking about a case back at Sullivan's; no one said anything about Laura Jefferies or even about women shooting men in domestic violence situations. You're the one who brought that up. What's going on?"
"I told you," she says impatiently. "It doesn't matter how long ago it was. It doesn't -- doesn't make it any better." She stops talking then, and swallows hard; that came too close to the underlying truth for comfort. "After all, it's not like we ever talked about it when we were working that case, so why not now?"
"I don't know," he says. "I thought you didn't want to discuss it."
"How would you know? You've never given me the chance."
"You've avoided me when I've tried, Stella," he says. "And you've been...you've seemed on edge the past couple of weeks. If there's anything you do want to talk about...well, I'm here now."
For a moment, she considers how it might go if she tried to tell him what things are really like for her these days, if she tried to explain how cold she feels even in the midst of this heatwave. If she told him that all she can see when she looks at him is the man who calmly talked about recidivism in domestic violence cases her very first day back on the job. Who took at her at face value when she said that she was okay -- and maybe she'd wanted him to do that, just like she'd wanted him to agree with her when, earlier, she'd told him that she didn't want to go to a hotel, but that doesn't mean that...dammit, he should have known. He should have pushed the issue even so.
But she wouldn't have wanted that. Right.
And how can she tell him that now anyway when she thinks she's seeing him, and the others for what they really are, when she no longer looks at a person's surface shine, but at the underlying dark spots in their mind or soul? There's never been room for that kind of truth-telling in their relationship anyway, not before all this happened and especially not now. She decides to tell him another truth, instead.
"The fact that you're only noticing that now is part of the problem," she says. "Because it's not a new thing, Mac."
"I know that, Stella," he says. "I may not have said anything, but believe me, I'm aware of it."
"Really," she says, and for a moment she considers not saying the next thing, then decides to go for broke. "As far as I can tell, the only time you've been aware of me is when you're fucking me."
She expects him to flinch when she says it, or maybe to look down at his hands again; instead, he raises his head and looks out the window. His jaw is set and that muscle in his cheek is jumping again, and when he speaks his voice is locked-down and dry as dust. "If you aren't comfortable with it, Stella, I wish -- "
"Oh, I'm comfortable with it," she says. "Don't get me wrong. I just don't think you actually notice me any time that we're not in bed together."
She won't tell him just how comfortable with it she is -- or maybe that's the wrong word. She won't tell him how much she's started to need it in the last month or so, or at least to crave it. It had started as a matter of comfort, after all, or at least as a matter of her need to forget, to be able to stop thinking for an hour or two at a time, and it had been disturbingly easy to make the mental adjustments necessary for her to fall into bed with him. And all this time he's never noticed the frost in her eyes, or at least he's pretended not to. She's not sure which option is worse.
"That's not true," he says, and turns to look at her; his eyes are wide and angry. "I do notice you."
"Do you," she says, not turning it into a question. "Then you must know why what you said during that case pissed me off so much."
"It was never about you, Stella," he says. "I told you that. Laura Jefferies was a separate issue."
She doesn't know how to make him understand. "Have you ever killed a person?" she asks suddenly.
"What?" he says, looking surprised.
"It's a simple question, Mac," she says. "Have you ever killed a person? You must have, right? I mean, all those years in the Corps. It's not an organization for conscientious objectors."
"Of course I have," he says. "You know that."
"So did it get easier after the first time?" she asks. "It must have, right? And you must be more likely to kill again now, much more than some random civilian. Pull the trigger once as a soldier, twice, then why not do it again after you're retired the first time someone pisses you off?"
"It's not -- "
"Bearing that in mind, why isn't military background a red flag when we check out a suspect's record?" she says. "Why don't we jump on that when we see it come up?"
"Actually," Mac says, "we do. Not because military experience makes someone more likely to be a killer, but because it may be a lead. If someone's been taught to do things a certain way, or if, say, they know how to use weapons that the average person wouldn't...of course we look at it. And you know that, Stella."
"I do," she says, turning her straw around and around in her hands. "But you've never told me that it might be easier for a soldier to kill, not the way you talked to me about Laura."
"Being at war isn't fun," he says. "And it doesn't make someone a killer."
"Neither does having to shoot your boyfriend in self-defense," she says.
"That's my point, Stella," he says. "You shot in self-defense. You did what you had to do to save your own life. Same as I did when I was at war. I don't think a woman who acts to protect herself from assault is a murderer, any more than I'd label a soldier one. I -- I may have misspoke during that case. I grant you that. I was speaking in a more general sense, not trying to pinpoint specifics."
"Then you should have said that," she exclaims, and is embarrassed at the way her voice starts to rise. "Because the real problem here is not that you misspoke. The problem is that you can sit there and spout that shit about recidivism the very day I come back to work, and never once think of me or even -- "
His fingers close suddenly around her wrist, and she jumps a little. "I think of you all the time, Stella," he says, staring into her face, the words an angry hiss. She stares at him in shock. "But not when I'm talking about homicide, because you're not a murderer."
She doesn't say a word, but doesn't try to pull away from him, either. The anger fades from his face then, and he just looks weary. He lets go of her wrist and sits back in his chair, rubbing his forehead. "I don't know what else to tell you," he says in a low tone.
Stella sighs. She doesn't know what to tell him, either, she realizes. As he leans back, his jacket falls open a little, and she sees, as she looks at him, the fading red scar on the side of his neck. The cut there has long since healed over, but there's still a mark. If she had to guess, she'd imagine that it'll be gone entirely by the end of the summer, but she can't say for sure. She looks down at her fingertips, at the fine white lines there, and she thinks about the scar on his chest, the one she saw for the first time on the day of the bombing. She'd touched it not long after: days, or maybe a week or so at the most. He'd shuddered when her fingers brushed it, and then relaxed into the caress.
"How are you holding up since the bombing?" she asks him.
"What?" He opens his eyes. "Fine. Just fine."
"Yes. I'm glad things are getting back to normal. I..." He straightens his jacket, not looking at her. "I don't -- don't want to talk about it."
"Of course you don't," she says. "And I don't want to talk about Frankie any more."
"I guess not," Mac says.
She nods. "So come over and we won't talk about any of it," she says.
He raises an eyebrow in surprise. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure," she says. And she is. She doesn't think it'll do any good or make things any better, but, just like it has all along, it'll probably let her stop thinking for awhile.
"Your place," he says. They've always gone to his place, the whole month they've been doing this.
"Why not?" she says, pushing her hair back. "I'm not all the way unpacked yet, but I'm getting there. Besides, it's a lot closer than your place."
She leans closer to him, nudging his leg with her foot. "I'll make a bargain with you," she says softly. "We won't talk about all those things we don't want to discuss. In fact, we won't talk at all. Think you can let your actions speak for themselves?" She slides her foot up his calf, and watches his eyes go wide again.
"Let's go," he says.
In the cab, she sits close to him and whispers into his ear, telling him all about what she's going to do to him when they get to her apartment. She's serious about not wanting to talk once they get there, so she figures she should make the most of the ride over. He looks calm while she's talking to him, but when he puts his hand on her knee, she can feel his fingers trembling.
He rests a hand lightly against the small of her back as they walk up the front steps of her new building, and in the hallway outside her apartment she turns her face up to his and shoves him into the wall and kisses him hard. He kisses her back, hands tightening on her waist, and when he starts to say her name, she shushes him with two fingers pressed to his lips.
"Not a word," she whispers, and it's the last thing she'll say until afterwards. He kisses her again and she pulls at the lapels of his jacket, then turns away to unlock the front door. They're still kissing as they stumble through the doorway together, and he lets go of her long enough to let her turn the tumblers of the locks again and put on the chain; then his hands are inside her shirt and she's shoving the jacket off his shoulders to the floor, tugging at his buttons. There's a faint trace of salt on his skin when she starts to lick the hollow of his throat, and he arches into her when she scrapes her teeth across his Adam's apple.
Up until now he's always been gentle with her, too goddamned gentle, and very careful. Maybe this time, though, he remembers what she told him about letting his actions speak for him and the obscenities she murmured into his ear in the cab, or maybe he just finds something about the silence freeing. In any event, he follows her lead, and there's nothing gentle about his hands or his mouth as they make their way into the bedroom, nothing hesitant about the way he pushes into her touch when she shoves one hand down the front of his pants or the way he cups her breasts and rubs his thumbs across her nipples through her bra. The lace scratches into her skin and the friction makes her moan, and then he backs her into the wall and bends his head to tease at her with his tongue.
The shards of ice that surround her heart never go away, but they become a little easier to ignore when she's being otherwise distracted, and so she's not thinking about the cold or about seeing him through a prism of frost as they collapse onto the bed together and fumble off the last of their clothes. She's sweating again, but it feels good now, the hot slide of his skin against hers a welcome change from the humidity of the street. The inside of his mouth is even hotter, and he bites her shoulder hard enough to make her jump, then starts to slide down her body, kissing her belly as he pushes her legs apart and his fingers dig into the insides of her thighs. His tongue flickers into the cup of her navel and traces slow circles around it.
Stella's accused Danny more than once over the years of having an oral fixation, but Mac's working a pretty good one of his own, as she's discovered since they started sleeping together. Not that she's complaining, and it's one of the good parts about his frustrating gentleness: the way he's able to keep her strung out for what feels like hours sometimes, quivering right on the edge as he licks at her, his tongue rough on her clitoris as he pushes his fingers inside her so that she'd be gasping and boneless by the time he finally let her come. And then he'd move back up and kiss her on the mouth again, and he'd be harder than ever by then; he'd have to stop himself in the middle of moving inside her and hold his breath, wait, and then start moving again after he'd somehow collected himself.
It's so good, in fact, that she doesn't want it right now, because she knows that once he starts he'll be in it for the long haul, and this will slow down too much; she'll be helpless at the slide of his tongue. So she stops him and pulls him back up, and kisses his lips while she works her hand in between their bodies and starts to stroke his cock, teasing up and down his length, and she laughs into his mouth when he stutters a moan and rubs himself into her palm. He smiles a little at that and kisses her deep, a thin trickle of sweat coursing down his forehead as he sucks on her lower lip.
She rolls him over onto his back and pins his hands against the mattress, then trails her hair across his chest and rubs her breasts against his body while she keeps on kissing him. He reaches up to cup her face in his hand, and she turns her head and kisses the tips of his fingers, then sucks on them until he starts moaning again. She kisses him, kisses his scar and nuzzles against it, then moves lower, working him with her hands as she settles between his legs, rubbing herself against his thigh. She strokes him a little more and then slides her mouth over the head of his cock, moves up and down with him until she can't wait any more. He groans when she stops, and she kisses him one more time with a smile, then pulls back and rolls onto her hands and knees, presenting herself to him and feeling herself open, feeling the tremble in her thighs and stomach. She hears him draw in a tense-sounding breath, and she shuts her eyes and waits.
His lips touch the back of her neck and his hands close around her hips as his cock presses into her, and she pushes back toward him as he thrusts into her. There's nothing slow or hesitant about the way he does it, and it's her turn to suck in a sharp breath; God, this is just what she needs, like that, his hardness in her and the surge of sensation, of friction, as they both rock into it. His moan is quick, almost keening, his breath a sweltering rush of air against her ear as he kisses the side of her face and then her neck again.
Her hands dig into the mattress, scrambling for leverage, and he keeps one hand on her hip as he moves in and out of her; the other hand comes around and strokes across her belly, and then his fingers are on her clitoris, rolling her hard between thumb and forefinger. She cries out and feels herself start to come, feels the pressure build in her as her thighs start to shake and the wave moves over her, again and again until she's aware of nothing but his fingers and his wet tongue on her neck, the gasps he makes as he starts to thrust harder and faster and then comes himself, deep in her, his fingers digging into her hip so hard that the pain starts to feel like pleasure and almost sends her over the edge one final time.
Her knees go weak after that and she collapses onto her stomach, and Mac sinks down on top of her, his face against her back and his arms around her waist. They lie there, still not saying a word, and Stella listens to their breathing gradually slow and quiet. After awhile, Mac moves off her and lies down next to her, and she rolls over to face him; he turns onto his side and puts his arms around her, and she lets him, resting her forehead against his shoulder. She feels him kiss the top of her head, and she doesn't move. His hand rests on her spine, rubbing her back in a slow circle.
She doesn't tell him to leave and doesn't let go of him, and eventually he starts to doze; she moves away a little once he does, but stays next to him, listening to his steady breathing beside her as she stares up at the ceiling. When the thunder and lightning start, an hour or so later, she gets out of bed and goes to the window, and stands with her hands pressed to the cold glass.
When Mac comes over and puts his arms around her and wraps both of them in a blanket, she lets him, and lets him kiss her slowly once or twice before she turns her attention back to the sky. "I haven't forgotten anything, Stella," he says quietly.
"I know," she says, and he kisses her again, just once more. They listen to the thunder rumble and watch as the lightning illuminates the skyline in jagged blue and white. The storm still doesn't break, and inside her she feels the bands of ice constrict around her heart; for the first time she can't tell if they're tightening their grip or beginning to crack. Stella leans her head against Mac's shoulder and waits to see which it will be, and his arms are tight around her as they stand at the window and look out at the city.