Truth is a difficult thing to share with someone when the outcome leans toward self-humiliation. It can be painful to the point that you don't want to continue on living. It can manifest itself to physically hurt you. It can break a man.
Usually it is avoidable, however, on occasion it is most necessary.
Mac pastes a blank expression on his face and takes the final steps into the scene of one of his worst nightmares. The lab is empty but for himself and Stella. It's quiet. Everything looks too clean, too smooth, too white. He clears his throat to get her attention before he thinks better of it and backs out.
Stella glances up from the slide she'd just put together and a smile flashes over her lips. "Mac," she greets him. "Hey."
"Hey," he replies. He stares at her.
"Was there something you're after?"
"Yeah, actually. There is," he confirms. He shoves his hands deep into the pockets of his lab coat and stands dumbly in front of her.
She quirks an eyebrow when he doesn't say anything else. "Are you going to fill me in or do you expect me to read your mind?"
"I'd rather you read my mind," he mutters. "It'd make this easier."
Her expression dampens. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."
She shakes her head. Cascades of wavy hair bounce around her shoulders. "Mac, talk to me. Tell me what's on your mind."
"I don't want this to change our friendship."
"Then we won't let it," she returns easily.
Mac's teeth find his bottom lip and he gnaws gently at it. "I care about you, Stel. I can't lose you."
A quiet smile reaches her face. "I know. I care about you, too, Mac. It's okay."
"That's just it, Stella. It's not okay. The way I feel about you... it's changed. It's, uh, grown."
She stares blankly at him. "Oh?"
Sighing loudly he ducks his head. He can feel the heat rise up in his cheeks and when he touches his hand to his neck it burns him. "Do you..."
"Do I what?"
"Would you like to go out to dinner with me sometime?"
"Sure, Mac. Dinner sounds great. But what's that got to do with -"
"As my date," he cuts her off.
"Sorry," he says quickly. "I shouldn't have said anything."
She shakes her head. "No, don't apologise. I'm glad you told me. I just... wow, Mac. I don't know what to say!"
"Yes would be a nice start," he hints. His lip curls up and he wonders fleetingly why his heart is racing as fast as it is.
There's a silence that feels like it goes on for minutes when really it's just been seconds. Stella fidgets with the hem of her shirt – a blue blouse today with a V-line neck – and Mac looks at anything and everything that isn't her. He can't look her in the eyes knowing that she's very likely about to reject him and give him the 'we're just good friends and nothing more' speech.
He'll curse himself if his words have destroyed their relationship.
Stella finally looks at him and he forces himself to look back. She frowns slightly before her expression transforms into a carefully blank one.
"Stel, please say something. You're killing me here," he jokes.
"Sorry," she nods at him. "And yes."
"Yes, I'll go on a date with you, Mac."
He had never thought that telling her the truth would actually deepen and expand their relationship, but there it was. Yes. One simple word, one simple answer to his proposition and he felt like his was floating. Mac beams at her and blushes some more and then waves towards the door. "I should finish that paperwork from earlier. Talk to you more about this later?"
"Sure," Stella grins. "I can't wait."