Okay, you're more than welcome to complain about the lack of update for HPTP. I'm a horrible person for leaving everyone hanging for over a month. All I can say is that I'm working on it. Meanwhile, I've contracted a nasty summer cold, hence the inspiration for this. Enjoy!
Stella pulled the blanket tighter around her as she laid on her side on the couch--where she'd been there for the last four hours. Grateful for the comfortable furniture, she briefly wondered why, when sick, people preferred the couch over the bed.
Her thoughts stopped as another round of wracking coughs consumed her, and she struggled to catch her breath as she weakly pushed herself into a sitting position.
Nose stuffy, yet runny at the same time, she had no choice but to breathe heavily through her mouth. She could practically feel her heart beating in her dry, cracked lips. Her eyes slipped shut as a wave of dizziness hit her, and she fought the urge to pitch forward onto the floor. It hurt to move; it also hurt not to move. Even her hair hurt.
Eventually the dizziness passed, and she reopened her eyes to find the early morning sunlight creeping through the window and into the room. She could tell just from the sun's brightness that it was going to be another scorcher in the Big Apple.
She sneezed and coughed again, her throat sandpaper scratchy. Being sick sucked. And the only thing worse than being sick was being sick in the summer.
Though the sun was already on its way up, she glanced at the clock and reached for the phone. She hated to call Mac so early, but she knew he'd be up anyway.
"Couldn't wait to talk to me?" Mac greeted her.
"Yeah, that's it," Stella croaked. She sounded worse than she thought she would.
"Whoa, you don't sound so hot."
"Oh, I'm always hot, though right now it's mostly because of fever."
Mac chuckled slightly before his tone became serious. "Do you need me to bring you anything?"
"No, I'll be okay," she said, sandpaper throat further inflamed with each word. "Just gonna stay home and try to get better."
"Sorry I can't work, Mac."
"Hey, no apologies. You just take care of yourself."
"Will do, partner. Talk to you later."
"Okay. Feel better."
They disconnected and Stella put the phone on the couch and went in search of more medicine. Five minutes later she had returned to the couch and climbed under the blanket, desperately hoping to catch a few hours of much-needed sleep.
Unaware of how much time had passed, Stella woke with a start to an unfamiliar noise in the kitchen. Knowing she couldn't make it to her bedroom to retrieve her gun, she frantically searched for something to use as a weapon. The only thing even remotely plausible was the phone, which she barely managed to see as it was half-lodged between the couch cushions. She stood and crept toward the kitchen, phone held overhead, poised and ready to strike whoever was in the kitchen. Close to the kitchen, her nose began to itch, and she knew a sneezing fit was imminent. She did her best to stop the hurricane-force sneeze but to no avail.
The noise in the kitchen ceased.
"Mac?" Stella sputtered as he came around the corner. "You scared the hell out of me. What are you doing here?"
"You planning on ringing my bell with that?" Mac's eyebrows quirked as he indicated the phone Stella still held overhead.
She lowered her arm and chuckled, which brought on a series of coughs.
"I didn't mean to wake you," he said as he stepped to her and gave her a quick kiss.
"Don't do that! You're gonna get sick!" Stella protested too late.
"I'll take my chances. Besides, it's worth it," he smirked as he turned and went back to the kitchen. "Hope you don't mind that I let myself in. I called before I came and knocked when I got here. You didn't answer so I used my key. Then I saw you on the couch and didn't have the heart to wake you."
She followed him, curious as to what he was concocting.
He faced the stove, his back to her. Steam rose up in front of him, and Stella could tell from his arm motion that he was stirring something in a pot.
"You're making me soup?" she asked as she peered around him and into the pot.
"Well, yeah. I mean, isn't it customary to have soup when you're sick?"
"In the summer?" she asked, able to muster only a half-smirk.
"I'm way ahead of you. I also got mashed potatoes, applesauce, and ice cream."
She perked up slightly. "Ice cream?"
Mac chuckled. "Yeah, but only after the soup."
"Oh, come on. That's not fair."
Mac glanced at her and quirked an eyebrow, amused.
"Fine," Stella rolled her eyes. "I'll eat the soup first, but only because you're making it."
"Good. Go ahead and sit down. The soup won't be long," he told her.
She did as requested and watched as he comfortably moved around her kitchen, easily finding everything he needed. A slight smile graced her lips as she thought about how she loved watching him like this, even if it meant she was sick.
"What are you thinking about?' he asked as he placed a bowl of soup in front of her.
"What? Oh, nothing." She pulled the bowl of soup closer. "Too bad I can't smell anything. This looks wonderful though."
After a few minutes of eating in silence Stella spoke. "You never told me why you were here."
"To take care of you," he replied simply. "Because that's what partners do."
Neither could count the number of times those words had been uttered between them, yet each time was special. And truthful.
Stella shook her head. "What'd I ever do to deserve you?"
"You'd do the same for me."
She could tell he wasn't yet completely comfortable with her doting, and she grinned to herself.
"How'd you get the afternoon off?"
"Easy. I'm the boss," he replied with a relaxed smile. "I told them I needed to take care of personal things."
"Oh, so now I'm a 'thing?'" Stella teased.
"Just eat your soup," he replied, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.
"Only so I can get to the ice cream," she retorted, feeling better than she had since the day before.
Two days later the pair stood in Mac's office going over the details for their latest case.
Flack knuckle-tapped on the glass door but entered without being motioned in. "Mornin'. Good to see you back among the living, Stella," he said with a smile.
"Thanks. It's good to be back," Stella replied with a smile of her own.
Mac coughed--hacked was more like it--and sniffled, drawing looks from both Stella and Flack.
"You okay, Mac?" Stella asked.
"Must be coming down with something," he replied with another cough.
"Yeah, you must've picked it up from Stella when you two were kissing," Flack smirked.
Mac and Stella tried to hide their shock at being discovered, but Flack, a long-time observer of body language, easily saw through their façade. He was mildly surprised though, having thought he'd made up the whole thing.
"Relax, guys," Flack laughed, blue eyes sparkling in amusement. "I'm kidding. What've you got there?" he asked, changing the subject and indicating the file in Stella's hand.
Mac filled him in on the details of the case, and they agreed to keep each other informed of any developing leads.
They said their goodbyes, and Flack wished Mac a speedy recovery before he headed for the door. He pulled it open and started to leave, only to pause halfway through.
"Oh, yeah, one more thing."
"What's that?" Stella asked.
A huge grin spread across Flack's face. "You two make a cute couple!"
Thanks for reading!