Author's Note:

Okay, so this is my first CSI: NY story. I love the show, but it's not one I usually write for. I've been really into the characters lately, though, and this just wouldn't leave me alone with Valentine's Day so close around the corner. You know how it goes. So, please review, and tell me what you think.

And of course it's Mac/Stella. They're such potent characters that live and breathe and just beg to be played with.

(Wow. That sounded terrible.)

On with the show!

Chapter One

"Once a Year"

I start feeling ridiculous before I even open my eyes, and I can tell it's that time of year by the groan that works its way up my throat.

The alarm clock blaring from my nightstand tells me it's six o'clock, which isn't so unusual, as much as I'd love to say I slept in most Saturday mornings. These days, sleeping in is a thing of the past. Even when I try, I can't do it. The red letters on the clock stare at me until I'm up, which is the case this morning. The red letters also tell me that it's February 14, which I'm happy to report doesn't happen more than once a year. Once a year is more than enough time for me to feel awkward and uptight for an entire day, thank you very much.

I promise my hatred of Valentine's Day isn't recreational. I have my reasons, as unscientific as they may be. I guess I could go on about the perpetuation of the belief that if you're not dating on February 14, then there's something wrong with you. I could, and I could pull it off. I've got facts and everything, but that would just be lying.

It's because this is the one day a year that public displays of affection are practically expected rather than frowned upon. Today I'll walk in the lab and be instantly knocked over by the smell of roses coming from every other office. The exceptions, of course, being mine and Mac's. Mac's because he doesn't get flowers, and mine because he doesn't send them, either. That simple fact is almost enough to send me back to bed, but being able to tough it out is something I've always prided myself on. Not that it's easy. Being in love with your boss is hard enough without having to survive an entire day dedicated to it.

So, rather than wallow in bed all day, I turn off my alarm and head for the shower. The water is almost hot enough to scald away the crawling sense of dread and by the end of my shower I've convinced myself it won't be so bad.

Almost, anyway. I do what I can.

When I look in my closet, the first garment to catch my eye is a red silk shirt I bought a few weeks ago. Realizing its subtlety, or lack thereof, I roll my eyes and keep looking. Finally I decide on a charcoal-colored pantsuit and a white blouse, hoping that it's plain enough to keep people's attention elsewhere. My hair is the same curly mess it always is; I gave up experimenting with it years ago. A rushed round with a tube of mascara later and I'm headed out the door, praying almost audibly that today goes quickly. The sooner I'm at home with a never-ending glass of wine, the better.

Normally I would have stopped somewhere along the way for some form of caffeine, but in all the apprehension I waded through this morning I managed to make myself late. I pass at least three Starbucks along the way and I swear they're calling my name. The only thought that keeps me strong is the knowledge that the sooner I go in, the sooner I get out. If I'm lucky, anyway. Unfortunately, most days serve to remind me that without bad luck I might not have any luck at all.

The lab is every bit the zoo it usually is, only this time more people are smiling than swearing. I manage to pass Flack with only a slight nod in acknowledgement and I take it as a tentative step in the right direction. It's my first good omen of the day. Lindsay walks by with an armful of roses, and from the look on her face I decide she's not entirely aware of her surroundings. I make a mental note to keep an eye on her work and slink into my office. I barely have the time to release the breath I'd been holding since I walked in the door before I realize that I'm not alone.

Mac stands, hands in pockets, next to my desk wearing the black shirt he knows I love and a sheepish grin that he knows I'm powerless against. A second later I smell his cologne.

If it looks like an ambush and smells like an ambush, it probably is.

Ignoring the slight constriction in my chest, I give him my best attempt at a nonchalant smile.

"Morning, Mac," I say and walk around the desk to lay my coat across the back of my chair. I feel Mac's eyes following my movements and I try not to notice.

"Good morning."

I'm behind the desk for maybe five seconds when the smell of espresso hits me harder than a subway car. Instinctively my nose tilts up into the air and I can hear Mac's laughter next to me.

"I should have timed you," he said, nodding to the cup of coffee waiting for me on my desk.

I bring the cup to my nose and take a deep breath, despite having accepted years ago that caffeine doesn't travel in airborne particles no matter how much I want it to. The scent is heaven on earth. I give a little moan before I think to suppress it and sneak a look out the corner of my eye at the amused grin on Mac's face. Luckily, I've learned to handle potential humiliation like a pro.

"How did you know?" I ask, sitting the cup back down on the desk. I would have poured it down my throat already, but a scalded mouth wouldn't allow me to enjoy my wine later tonight and that thought is probably the only thing keeping me afloat right now. I take a seat and my eyes drift over the top of my desk; the amount of paperwork demanding my attention is awe-inspiring. How did I ever let it get this bad?

He shrugs at my question. "You were running late."

This makes me laugh.

"So I get rewarded instead of punished? This job is better than I thought."

This time, he laughs. The sound makes me smile.

"Keep that in mind the next time you get fed up with me."

I spare him a look that says very clearly, I don't get fed up with you. He decides against a rebuttal and I consider myself lucky; sometimes convincing Mac of his worth to me seems like the hardest part of my job, especially when I have to leave out the "L" word. Corpses and foreign DNA are nothing compared to the torment I know simmers just below Mac Taylor's surface. He would never admit it out loud, but we both know it's true. I think that unspoken communication is what makes the bad times we have all the easier to handle.

The silence between us now, however, is devoid of all meaning. It's comfortable enough, and if I'm honest with myself I would admit that he's a welcome distraction from the paperwork that's waiting for me once he leaves. I cross my legs and give him my utmost attention while he pulls up a chair directly across from mine. His mouth is fixed into a tight line and he clasps his hands in his lap. While his pose is immensely attractive, I know it means something.

"I know that face," I say skeptically. "What's up?"

He winces. "I'm that transparent, huh?"

"Not enough for me to know what's on your mind without you telling me."

That thought alone is enough to unnerve me; I like knowing what I'm getting into before I get into it. Unfortunately, with Mac that was rarely possible. Every now and then I seem to develop some kind of divine insight into him, and can tell when something is bothering him. Those moments, though, don't last forever and I'm back to hoping that if he needs me he'll come find me.

"I've been thinking."

Uh-oh. The lump in my throat is telling me this can go one of two ways, and I'm not sure about either of them. The more romantic side of me is playing out a scene from Gone with the Wind and wondering if maybe I should have worn the red shirt. My scientist's brain is running through plausible scenarios at the speed of light while yet another part of my brain instructs my brow to furrow and my shoulders to lean forward to give the appearance of an eager ear. I brace myself for what comes next.

"What do you think about getting an intern?"

The question is so far removed from what I was thinking that I laugh out loud.

"You're serious?" I ask and laugh a little more at the shocked look on his face. I manage to pull a straighter face out of my bag of tricks and consider the question. "Um, I haven't given it much thought, actually." My eyes move toward the mass of paperwork just inches away. "I admit, though, that having someone else to worry about all this is an extremely tempting idea."

"That's what I thought," he says and I'm certain I look as surprised as I feel.

"Mac Taylor is willing to let someone else do his work? Without a fight? I'm shocked."

He looks mildly offended. "Not all my work. Just filing; things like that."

"That's not an intern, Mac," I say with an amused smile. "That's a secretary."

He winces again. "Intern sounds better."

"How bad is it?"


"Your desk," I clarify. "You must be buried if you're willing to hire someone to do it for you."

"It's not that bad," he defends and we both know I can see right through him. He's a lot less adamant when he says, "I can handle it."

I raise an eyebrow. He knows I don't believe a word he's saying.

"Go get some of it," I say with an exasperated sigh that's really more for show than it sounds.

"No, it's fine," he says, pushing himself out of the chair. "It was just a thought I had. Forget I said anything."

"Really, I'm going to be stuck in here all day anyway," I say honestly. "I just finished the Campbell case and I have reports due. I'll get some of yours while you're in the field."

"Campbell?" he asks and I see the scientist in him flaring up. "Gunshot wound, right? The ballistics came back?"

I nod my head. "Suicide."

"Hmm," he says and then looks back at me with sky-blue eyes. "Never mind the paperwork. I'll get it later tonight. I didn't feel like going home, anyway."

His voice tells me he's joking, but his eyes tell me he's not.

"Get me your urgent stuff and I'll add it to the stack," I say, temporarily ignoring the fact that he doesn't have plans on Valentine's Day, either. I can examine it later, when I don't have to worry about keeping up my poker face.

"You don't mind?"

"Not at all," I say, and it's mostly the truth. I hate paperwork, but I love him. "I'll get both of us caught up. What else are friends for?"

"I'll owe you," he says. It's his version of admitting defeat, and I accept his surrender gracefully.

"I'll collect."

He starts out of my office and before I forget I call out, "Thanks for the coffee!"

He answers with a tight smile and walks off, leaving my heart beating rapidly in his wake. Shaking the sensation off, I pull the first file of the morning off the desk with a sigh. Of all the things I could be doing of Mac's on Valentine's Day, paperwork was probably the last on my list.