… … …
Mac's eyes had been fixed on the photograph in front of him since he had sat down behind his desk. He had come to work early to try to escape some of his thoughts. It hadn't worked.
The ten years had passed so quickly. Clichéd as it sounded, it still felt like yesterday; his senses would still be overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, smell of the horror. The way the world had seemed to stand still when he couldn't reach Claire. The waiting...
Feeling tears prickling at his eyes, he closed them and turned his head so she wouldn't be the first thing he saw when they opened again. He had insisted on working today. He just needed a moment.
As they did from time to time, not necessarily bid by any particular date or occasion, memories of Claire ran through his mind. The day they met; their first date; vacations; their wedding... He knew he was idealising their relationship; had discovered things since her death that made him question what else she hadn't told him. But she was gone. Didn't she deserve a little idealising? She deserved to still be here: This was the least he could do.
He allowed himself more time on memory lane, even smiling, chuckling at some of the images that drifted through his thoughts.
Then he became aware not of a sound, but rather the sudden cessation of a sound. There had been footsteps. Now there weren't.
He forced his eyes open, finding the doorway; finding...
"Stella." He exhaled her name, surprised and overwhelmingly pleased to see her.
She stepped into the office as he stood from his chair, and moved round his desk to greet her properly.
"You didn't mention -"
"You'd have told me not to come."
His lips twitched into a guilty smile. That was true.
As he wrapped his arms around her and felt her hands press softly into his back, he relaxed a little, for the first time that morning. The tears welled heavier, the lump in his throat swelled... And her grip on him tightened: Because she knew. Of course she knew.
He returned the tighter embrace, taking the comfort she was offering, relieved beyond all measure that she hadn't given him the opportunity to persuade her that she didn't need to be here. In truth, he had dreaded facing today without her. She had always been there. He wasn't sure how to do it alone. He needed this.
Swallowing, to hopefully permit his voice through his constricted throat, he turned his head into her hair to whisper his gratitude.
She just pulled him closer: He didn't need to thank her. Of course she would be there.