A/N: Sorry for the wait. I've had a lot of uni work recently and have even more of the same to come. Could be another longish wait between this chapter and the next. Meanwhile I hope you enjoy this part.
"I've been having nightmares."
For a moment he's not sure he heard her correctly. He runs a hand through his hair. "Nightmares?"
"Bad dreams," she says. "Every night for the past two weeks." Wrapping her arms around her middle, she hangs her head. In the building complex, something clatters and there's an angry yell, some squabbling and then silence. Softer talking follows the quiet, almost ten seconds later.
Stella raises her eyes to meet Mac's. When she begins to look away again he stops her, gently touching his fingertip to her jaw. "Let's sit down, okay? I'll make us some more coffee and you can tell me about it."
"No. Mac, I –" She shakes her head and he pulls his hand back; her hair bounces around her shoulders. Though her eyes fill with liquid, she stares at him with a look of defiance.
"You should go home and sleep. It's getting late." She blinks and the first of her tears fall free, sliding down her cheeks. The green of her eyes is intensified by the liquid. She turns her back on him.
"I'm not leaving you like this." Surprise flits over his face for a moment. He hadn't intended on saying that and the passion behind the words overwhelms him. He's thankful that she can't see his expression. "You can tell me about your nightmares or we could do something else, watch TV or something, but I'm not leaving until I can see that you're all right."
"Mac, I'm not sure what to say to you, how much to explain. I..." Her arms wrap around her; he watches as her fingers grip the material at her sides, teasing it.
"Then don't say anything. I hear there's a movie on TV tonight."
"There's usually a movie on," she says.
"Well, yes." She does have a point there.
They stand in silence that threatens to tear the room apart like a person walking through a cobweb. She shifts from one foot to the other and then she turns around to face him again. "A movie."
"Yeah. How about it?" He tries not to let his relief show.
"I, sure. Why not?"
He makes them more coffee as she takes a seat on one end of the couch and flicks on the TV. The screen takes a moment to warm up and then colour bleeds into the screen and sound beats from the speakers. She adjusts the volume and flips channels, settling on a movie as he joins her and places mugs on the coffee table.
Though they are side by side, there's a fair distance left between them. A frown flickers on his face. "It's hot," he says, nodding at the coffee mug.
"Yeah," she agrees.
Again there's a raise in noise levels in one of the surrounding apartments. This time a door slams and footsteps pound the hallway. He narrows his eyes. "Is it always like that?"
"Not all the time. Sometimes they're worse. Most of the time I don't even hear them."
An ad introducing a new brand of dog food blares on TV. The owner of the border collie wears a goofy grin as he pours dry biscuits into a bowl. He kneels down and pats the dog while it eats. An annoying voiceover announces it as "a nutritional choice to keep your pet's teeth healthy and coat shiny". There's a slight pause and then the movie returns.
"It's already started." She looks at him. "And it's not a movie. It's a TV series."
He hates watching things when he hasn't seen the first few minutes. On several occasions he's talked to her about it. He always says that the first bit is integral to how the story develops and often a story will come full circle, which if you missed the start, you won't understand. She argues it can be more fun trying to work it out when not all the information is there.
"Does that matter?" she asks. "I know you don't usually-"
"No, it's fine. We can watch."
Her eyes widen. "This must be really important to you if you're willing to miss the beginning."
Flicking his gaze from the TV screen to look at her, he gives a short nod. "It is. You are. Stel, I hate to see you miserable."
He swears her face flushes. She turns from him before he can properly see. On instinct, he reaches for her hand. Surprise fills him when her slender fingers close around his and hold on tightly. "Have you watched Firefly before?" she asks as the opening title shows onscreen in a glowing print.
"It just so happens that I have actually. It's a great show. Joss Whedon's work is always amazing."
His words earn him a smirk. "Always, hmm? Firefly, I can see. Buffy, on the other hand... You find a blonde teenager who stakes vampires amazing? I didn't think you were one for that sort of thing, Mac."
"There's a lot you don't know about me then," he jokes. His eyes glimmer in the faint light.
"I imagine there is," she agrees.
He has no response for that so focuses back on the TV where Mal and Kaylee are entering a ballroom. Mal makes a comment about his pants being too tight; Kaylee soon moves off in the direction of a buffet table weighted down by fresh fruit and cheeses. Her pink ruffled dress bobs slightly as she walks.
"That dress must be hell when taking a bathroom break."
"I imagine it would be," he says.
"What? You've had experience with wearing dresses, Mac?" Her eyes sparkle slightly when he looks at her in horror. "I mean other than seeing women wearing them," she adds to set him off that little bit more.
Forgetting everything else for a few moments, Mac desperately tries to cover. "No! No of course not. I just mean... what I mean is... the dress looks like it would be difficult to go to the bathroom in." He gulps in air. "Stop laughing."
She leans over and catches the end of his tie between her fingertips. Tugging it ever so slightly, she smiles at him. "This was a good idea."
Though still perplexed by her behaviour, he smiles back. "I'm glad you think so." He's surprised when she doesn't move away from him straight away. Her breath comes out heavy on his neck. "Are you okay?"
Shifting back finally, her smile fades. "Let's keep watching the movie, okay?" she says softly.
He lets her get away with not answering his question and leans back with a soft sigh to watch the rest of the show.