She walked slowly inside the church and stopped just a few steps from the entrance. The service had already started, she was late as usual. That last thought struck her like a blow to the stomach and she had to step back outside to collect herself before going back inside and searching the front rows for the grieving faces of her family members.
Her father looked pale and serious but that was nothing new. His stern face hardly ever showed any emotion. Her mother was a whole different story her face, especially her eyes always betrayed even her most intimate thoughts and feelings. Right now the swollen bags under her eyes and the tears that flowed freely down her face spoke volumes about her pain. Tara had to hold herself back from rushing to hug her mother tightly and breakdown right in her arms.
'She needs you Maclay. Hold it together.' She passed in front of her father who acknowledged her presence by giving her a nod and a squeeze on her arm. She did the same and then turned to stand by her mother's side but not before giving her a strong hug for both their benefits. The blonde tried to stay in the moment but her mind was million miles away. She was aware that her mother was clinging to her arm so once in a while Tara almost absentmindedly squeezed her hand trying to offer a tiny bit of comfort, something to let her mother know that she was there even though her conscious thoughts were elsewhere.
For Tara the whole thing went by like a surreal dream, from having to say the eulogy, to carrying the coffin, hearing the gun salute like an echo, handing her mother the neatly folded American flag and finally seeing the last vestiges of what used to be her brother lowered to the ground. Right up to the last second she held on to the hope that this was all a nightmare that she would soon awaken from. Unfortunately, this time there was no alarm clock ringing in her ears, there was only a dull silence intermittently pierced by her mother's weeping.
Back at her parent's house she started to feel like she was going choke the next person who patted her on the back and told her how sorry they were. She began to feel suffocated and hastily loosened the knot on her tie and unbuttoned the jacket of her police uniform. She rushed through the kitchen door and headed for the back way out.A strong arm stopped her escape.
"Going somewhere Maclay?" Asked a balding man with a gruff voice tinged with a strong New York accent.
Tara held the door open with one arm as she flatly answered, "I need some air."
The man nodded knowingly and let go of her arm. "I think ya also need some of this." He said, holding up a silver flask filled with whisky.
Tara raised an eyebrow and walked out to one of the garden benches. She didn't have to turn to know that the man was right behind her. He sat by her side took a quick swig from the flask making bit of pained face before offering it to the blonde who took a long and hard drink without so much as blinking. She was grateful for the burning liquid traveling down her throat. The burning in her belly reminded her that she was still alive. She took another quick drink and handed the flask back to her bench companion.
"It wasn't your fault you know." He said while studying the woman's features.
"So I keep hearing." She answered staring off into the distance.
The man scratched his head in exasperation. "Ya keep hearing it cause it's true. Your brother was a cop, he knew the risks of the job as well a you do, as well as any of us do."
"Captain, my brother was a rookie and I was supposed to take care of him. He was just a kid." She said with anger and sadness coloring every word she spoke.
The captain rose and looked at the blonde officer straight in the eyes.
"Pardon my French but...bullshit! Maybe cause you were so close no matter what, you were always going to consider him to be just a kid but he was a man Maclay and rookie or not he was also a trained officer who died in the line of duty. That was unfortunate but it comes with the job it's the choice we all make when we marry it. What happened in that alley wasn't his fault or yours it's the nature of the streets we work in and if you choose to ignore that he knew that you're taking away the value of his choices and actions."
Tara's mind knew that what the Captain was saying made sense. She just wished someone could explain it to her heart. Tara nodded mainly to appease her boss before he continued his onslaught of wisdom.
Captain Mackenzie understood the gesture for what it was: a signal that she didn't want to listen to him anymore. He shook his head and opted for changing the subject.
"Listen if you wanna take a few more days off..."
She cut him off quickly stating, "No, I want to get back to work as soon as possible."
He sucked in air knowing that he would have to bring up another sore subject for the blonde detective. "You know... I spoke to Doctor Black today and he says that Harris won't be in any shape to get back to the field any time soon."
The blonde furrowed her brow. "But I saw him yesterday, he said he was doing great."
"He's much better, out of mortal danger and all but he's going to need a lot of rehab before he can get back to the streets. He'll be getting out of the hospital in a couple of days but there's no telling how long it will take for him to make a full recovery." He explained and tried to choose his next words carefully.
"I know you're not gonna like what I'm about to say, especially after all you've been through. Losing your brother and nearly losing your partner at the same time is huge but I'm not only your friend I'm also your Captain, you can't count on Xander being your partner when you come back. I've called for a reassignment.
The blonde rose to her feet with a start. "You what?" she yelled. "Mack how could you do that to me, to Harris?"
Mack put his hands up defensively. "Hey Harris was the first to agree. He's in no shape for the field and he's o.k with taking a desk job while he fully recovers."
Tara was dumbfounded everything was just so wrong. First her brother and now her partner, she felt alone. "I don't want another partner." She stubbornly exclaimed, knowing full well how childish that sounded because of course no matter what she would eventually get another partner, that's just the way it was but she didn't have to like it.
Mack put his hands in his pockets. It was moments like this he wished he had listened to his mother and had become a pastry chef instead of a cop. Making cupcakes was sure easier that this. "Sorry kid." He said as he walked towards the house. He didn't dare turn his head back because he knew if he did he would have to see one of his best detectives crying like a lost child. 'Whatta job.' He thought. 'Shit, I could've been baking cookies.'
Captain Mackenzie was wrong about Tara Maclay though. If he had turned around he would not have seen her crying. He would have seen her balling her hands into fists, and tensely holding her arms at her sides.