Disclaimer: I don't own anything
Thank you very much DNAisUnique for beta-ing!
This is written for Lily_Moonlight; it's following her oneshot "A different Story" (though it's not necessarily a sequel).
Dropping into her chair, Stella propped her head on her elbows, pressing her hands to her temples and rubbing slowly – doing little to ease the constant hammering. She should have listened to Mac; he had repeatedly suggested she stay home this morning and take the day off rather than risk neglecting whatever bug seemed to grow inside of her. Still, stubborn as she was, she had left for the lab, only to realize that it had been a big mistake within 30 minutes of her arrival.
She had been pulled into the rush of the day instantly – exactly like Mac had predicted and she had cursed him for that. With his continuous absence everyone had sought her out, or so she had had the impression, coming to her with the most minor problems and by the time she had made it to her office, she had already felt exhausted.
It hadn't gotten any better during the day and now, several hours, a crime scene and some aspirin later, she was ready to fall asleep while standing.
Pulling herself together, she opened the file resting on top of the small stack, a glance at the clock revealing that there were still two hours to go on her shift – whichever it was she was on. She had lost track of that some time two days ago when – after four days of being in charge – her work hours had refused to remain shift-defined any longer.
With a soft groan she let her forehead sink onto the desk but it was only a moment before she lifted her head again. Propping it back into her hands, she began her paperwork, her concentration, though, was fragile and each interruption meant she had to start all over. More than one curse slipped from her lips, general ones and those very specifically directed at Mac, and eventually she gave up. One file in 45 minutes was a negative record for her and she shut it, frustrated with it, herself, Mac, everything. This wasn't how it was supposed to be, further was it out of her control and she hated nothing more than both in combination.
Arranging the file casually with the rest of the stack, she stood, the throbbing of her skull increasing but settling once her body was adjusted to the change of position.
Lacking her usual vitality, she walked down the hallway, searching for someone she could inform of her early departure. It seemed like an eternity until she came across Hawkes and while he didn't argue, she wasn't so sure his straightforward words of approval were any better either. She muttered something about it being no more than a strong headache and just grunted at his gentle yet firm warning not to even think about showing up before she had recovered fully. But she nevertheless thanked him for the get-well wishes then continued to the locker-room.
A growl of thunder greeted her upon stepping outside several minutes later and frowning, she glanced skywards. She didn't mind rain showers, however, there had been enough of those during the past week; compromising crime scenes, making traffic even worse and people grouchy and she was fed up with it. – Although, at the moment, she was fed up with pretty much everything.
Slipping into the hailed cab, she silently endured the start of the downpour the second she shut the door and put her mind on the positive: at least, she was already inside the car…
Leaning back in the seat, she told the driver her address, and at that, her lips curled into an inadvertent smile; the first of the day. It had been a couple of months yet the knowledge that it was, in fact, their address still had that effect on her, still felt special and still filled her with warmth each time she thought about it. Contentment settled and she let her head drop against the seat, gazing out the window. He would be waiting for her in a place that wasn't simply her apartment anymore but home and that made even getting sick worthwhile.
The cab stopped just in time to keep her from dozing off and not in the mood to wait for the change, she awarded the driver a gracious tip. Drops of water assaulted her the instant she pushed her fatigued limbs out of the car, stinging the currently overly sensitive skin of her face like thorns of ice. A slight tremble shook her as she squeezed through the parked vehicles and she drew her jacket a bit tighter, wrapping her arms around her. Lightning joined the thunder yet she barely noticed, busy to remain as dry as possible while she hurried to get into the safety of the apartment building.
The short walk had still left her wet enough and wiping water off her forehead, she acknowledged the concierge with no more than a greeting gesture. Another shiver ran through her, however, routine kept her from stepping into the elevator right away; she collected the mail first and out of another habit she scanned through the letters on her way up. Two of them were obviously bills and while she had smiled over those at the beginning – it were, after all, bills which concerned their shared living – she now just grimaced at them.
The sound of the elevator's arrival pierced through her, echoing in her heavy head and she was almost glad for the muffled roar of thunder that followed. The flickering lights, though, prompted concern; a possible power outage didn't delight her in the least. Yet again, there wasn't a lot she approved of today and suppressing the groaning sigh that lingered on her lips, she opened the apartment door.
Light fell from the kitchen into the hallway and softened noises revealed Mac's location, reminding her of her earlier thoughts. She loved coming home to that; to someone who cared about her and she cared for and her worries momentarily forgotten, she quickly put her purse, jacket and everything else into the hallway closet. Discarding her shoes, she scowled at her damp socks but after a quick consideration, she opted against taking them off. She was sick already anyway; the reason why the idea of bending down wasn't the least bit tempting and leaving a moist trail of partial footsteps, she advanced further into the apartment.
A folded blanket and pillow on the couch as well as a plastic bag with used tissues and a stack of fresh ones on the coffee table were evidence of where Mac had spent the day. It caused an approving smile to spread over her face yet it vanished quickly when the lights flickered once more. Thunder shattered the quietness and for an instant she just stared at the distant window, then her smile returned.
"I can sense you, you know?" She turned, finding Mac leaning against the breakfast bar that separated the open kitchen form the living-area.
"I know." He smiled but his voice was strained from coughing and his "stuffed" nose was audible, his brows, however, rose in concern. "You look beat."
"I love you, too, Mac."
"I'm aware of that." Mischief lit up his eyes yet it was gone as fast as it had come, replaced by renewed concern and he left the spot he was standing at, approaching. Lightning then thunder accompanied his gentle act of tugging one of her damp curls behind her ear, his fingertips lingering. They caressed her skin when he lowered his arm again and for a moment Mac and Stella just stood opposite each other.
She was aware of the discomfort of the clammy fabrics clinging to her frame but she wasn't quite willing to move, grateful that Mac pulled her into the embrace she had longed to be pulled into. Burying her head in his neck, she kept her arms at her side, his enveloping her, allowing her to rest, to draw strength.
More thunder swallowed his murmured suggestion she get out of those clothes and still snuggled against his body, she nodded, something, she realized, she shouldn't have done that same instant. She, herself, added her intention of taking a hot shower to which he offered a soft kiss onto her hair and he held her patiently until she was ready to slip out of his arms.
Her own arms went around her body at the lack of contact yet they were unable to prevent the chill that ran through her. It was what had her wait another moment after she had walked into the bedroom, not keen on shedding her clothes, on exposing her skin. But she wouldn't get any warmer this way and began to undress eventually; piece for piece. Another cold shiver captured her once they were all piled up at her feet, the hot shower even more appealing and despite the ongoing thunderstorm, it was where she stood a couple of minutes later.
Leaning against the wall, she shut her eyes, letting the steaming water run over her. It eased the frostiness slowly, her body relaxing and she just wanted to stay where she was, warm, not moving – when all of a sudden everything went dark. Confused, her eyes shot open, merely a fraction of light left, then, realizing what had happened, she hurried to turn the water off so it didn't have a chance to get cold.
She remained standing for another instant, savoring the warmth that was held inside the shower cabin and opening the shower screen only reluctantly. The towel was wrapped quickly around her body but not before another shiver had captured her.
Even cooler air greeted her when she stepped into the dim bedroom and she slipped into the velour robe Mac had given her for Christmas then gathered the pile of her clothes.
Lightning illuminated the darkened room, thunder crashed and diverting from her intended task, she walked over to the window, dropping her bundled garments onto a chair instead of the laundry basket.
As far as she could tell, the entire block was without power and with night beginning to fall, the only source of artificial light was coming from passing cars. The beaming headlights came and went, much like the flashes of electricity brightening the gloomy sky, both sparking the drops of rain to life. They danced against the low hanging clouds, contrasting their unspoken threat that, at the same time, wrapped the city in mystery. Buildings always seemed to change form in thunderstorm inflicted twilight, appeared taller, rose with downright pride towards those thick clouds. They welcomed the lightning which permitted their steel facades to glow with unspoken secrets, wind responding to them as it whisked rain against the window; demanding entry, toying with those who dared to get into its way.
It was a spectacle of nature that fascinated her over and over again and she was so absorbed by the display of forces that she jumped slightly at the two arms snaking around her torso. She didn't take long to settle though and sank into Mac's chest, his lips touching her temple in a tender kiss. A second later, his hand had moved up to her forehead and she let him, allowing her strained eyes to shut for the moment.
"I know I probably have a fever." She twisted her head as his arm returned to encircling her, their eyes meeting. "You had one, too."
His reply was a silent look and she shifted, falling back against his body.
"It's not fair though," she complained, staring into the continuing raging of nature.
"So, it was fair that I was the one who got sick? First." His voice made it clear that he didn't think it was; she hadn't thought it either and short of an answer she picked up the belt of her robe, winding it around her hand.
While not fair, it had certainly been ironic that he, having had to pick her up in the middle of nowhere because of the accident she had been in and in just a downpour as was still happening outside, had fallen ill three days later. However, mopping his brow, as they had then joked about, hadn't been possible since work had consumed her; devoured her really. He wasn't the only one who had caught a bug in that weather but at least he had been the only one with a doctor-ordered week-long sick leave because of having more than a simple cold. Though that also meant she had most certainly contracted his bronchitis…
"You're the one with the code of chivalry." That the reply was late didn't prevent her from flashing him a triumphant smile. "You always insist on making my life more comfortable." The emotion didn't reach her eyes and his sole response was a look of skepticism.
"I'll get you something to help with the fever." He pressed his lips to her forehead before his arms slipped from her body. A cool breeze brushed through her and her smart retort that she already had the fever and didn't need any help with it remained jammed in her head.
She watched his body slink into the shadows, lightning illuminating him briefly but he had reduced to no more than a silhouette upon reaching the bathroom. He hit the light switch and the corners of her mouth twitched upward at his grunt when nothing happened.
"The power's out." She couldn't resist and he turned, no light needed for his mocking glare to be thrown at her.
A long, rolling yet distant thunder silenced his muttered response and he disappeared into the bathroom, rummaging through the cabinet while she moved over to closet. She pulled some fresh clothes out of it and was still dressing as he returned. His features filled with interest once he recognized the sweater she was getting into; the one she had given him on his last birthday for his jogs – and that she had probably worn more often than him since then. Not because he didn't like it but because it was rather frequently already part of the laundry when he searched for it.
"I assume you're comfortable?" Contrary to his teasing tone, his eyes were warm and she simply smiled, accepting the medication as well as some water wordlessly.
She swallowed both then followed him into the living-room, the fire he had lit in the fireplace filling the room with a warm glow, the heat warming her instantly. Pillows were propped up in the near-by window seat and offering him a grateful smile, she crawled onto it. She pulled up the warm blanket that was waiting at her feet, holding it up for him but he just wrapped it around her, covering the both of them with a second one. Content, she snuggled into his arms which he drew her into and they just lay there, side by side, the instant perfect as it was.
Night had descended fully, rain was beating continuously against the window as thunder grew louder again, the time between bolts of lightning shortening. Still, none of it could destroy the peacefulness that they were engulfed in and she sank a little deeper into his chest.
"I was afraid as hell of thunderstorms as a kid." Her voice showed signs of the roughness of a sore throat, of fatigue, yet she didn't want to sleep; didn't want to miss out on savoring that moment of Mac and her – sick or not. "I used to hide in the bathroom and refused to come out until about an hour after it had passed." She turned towards him, meeting his eyes that twinkled in the fire, the image obviously very clear in his mind. He didn't say anything though and she shifted back, his fingertips starting to brush over her upper arm.
"What made you change your mind?" His words were soft and she shut her eyes until the tingle of warmth had slipped away.
"I didn't want to be afraid of them." She knew that he smiled and she did, too, when she felt the spontaneous kiss he placed into her hair. "So I made myself watch and now I just love them." Once again she twisted her head to find his eyes, the flickering of the flames and lightning reflected in them, letting them sparkle in an array of colors.
"You made yourself watch thunderstorms as a child?" A faint smile was still gracing his lips, giving away his amused disbelief and huge admiration and she nodded slowly.
"Behind closed curtains the first times. I would stand there and just peek out every once in a while, drawing them tightly shut as soon as lightning flashed." The memory prompted another smile to appear on her face, her eyes darting to the fire and they stared for a moment before returning to his, the smile fading. "At that time I was so afraid of being scared of anything… I was horrified of being vulnerable and I didn't want for anyone to be able to tease me about anything…So, that fear beat out the one about the thunderstorms."
Instinctively, he tightened his hold around her, protecting her, easing any possible pain the reminiscing of her past could inflict.
"I love you, Stella."
That soft whisper said everything: what she had described was the Stella he knew and he understood the guarding shield she had had to build perfectly. But he was there whenever she wasn't able to hold it up; when she had to let go because her empathetic yet just as fragile heart was at the verge of breaking and she needed to be simply Stella, the woman requiring – and having every right to – unconditional love and care.
Her eyes gave the answer; she loved him, too, and intending to seal her unspoken words, she lifted her lips to his but withdrew before they could connect. A second later, they did so regardless, as he had lowered his mouth to hers yet she didn't allow the kiss to last.
"I've had the bug." He cut off anything she was about to say. "I'm immune." His fingers brushed through her curls as she studied him, not quite convinced but his hand curved around her back of her head, pulling her closer again. This time, she didn't draw away, letting his lips linger and responding once he began to caress hers.
She loved those gentle kisses, loved the warmth they held and communicated and it was almost easier to lose herself in them than in those filled with sheer passion. Each touch seemed to have a meaning, told something; how much they needed one another, loved one another. They offered contentment purer and more complete than any acts of pleasure, with a sense of unmistakable belonging and it were those kisses neither had to initiate the end of. The tender play simply faded out while they drifted apart simultaneously, their lips joined for as long as possible until the contact finally broke.
Her eyes fluttered open, locking with his. No words were needed; they had just conveyed it all and now savored the emotions, the affection while they slowly returned from the world they had been in.
The thunder had ceased, occasional lightning disrupting the otherwise constant dance of the flames and sinking a little lower, Stella cuddled back into Mac's chest. The rhythmic beating of his heart seemed in sync with the steady drumming of the rain, his fingers joining in with regular strokes they glided over her arm with. Only the cracking of the fire stood out but anyhow, it provided an undeniable comfort; safety, and without any of her doing, her eyes dropped shut. She struggled to open them again, blinking a few times before she gave in and allowed her eyelids to close. He would still be there when she woke up; neither would ever go anywhere. It was an unspoken yet binding promise they had given each other with their first kiss and with that certainty she drifted into a calm sleep.