So, I pulled out the old laptop and found this.


She pulls at her sweater more, bunching the thin material under her chin. She should have grabbed her jacket before leaving, but, well, she wasn't exactly feeling the chill when still in her apartment. Now, it's past midnight and she is standing in the street in her pajamas watching her apartment block burn.

She looks around, seeing couples and groups; faces she recognises from the elevator or from banter at the mail boxes. For a brief moment, the loneliness hits her again. She has no one to hold her, to keep the New York winter chill away as she watches her every possession crackle and burn to non-existence.

She shakes her head, breaking herself from her self-pity. She notes the group of firemen huddled by the hydrant, pointing to various spots of the smoking building, devising plans. She makes her way over, dodging crying neighbours and emergency services personnel. She figures she might be able to help out in some way, if just to keep her mind away from what she was losing or missing.

"Excuse me," she croaks, her voice suddenly hoarse. She taps the shoulder of one of the firemen, clearing her throat. "I'm-" she's cut off by a vicious bout of coughing. Adrenaline, smoke and shock hit her in an instant as a wave of nausea washes over her, doubling over as her breaths catch in her throat.

"Whoa, whoa…" the fireman turns around, lying a hand on Stella's back as the other one waves over his head to the paramedics. "We get some help over here?"

"No, I'm fine," she squeaks, book ending the speech with coughs.

"Mmhmm, sounds it," he laughs, pulling his gloves from his fingers and stuffing them in a pocket. He grabs her arms as she stumbles backwards, her coughing catching her off balance. "Here," he passes her a bottle of water from a passing Samaritan. "What's your name?"

She swigs from the bottle, wiping her lips with the backs of her fingers, feeling the liquid smooth down her raw throat. "Stella Bonasera. Detective," she adds, taking another sip.

"I thought I recognised you! You're a CSI, right? I was one of the responders when you blew your lab up."

"It was a little more complicated than that," she smiles, allowing herself to be guided to an ambulance.

He laughs, "I'm Brendan. Brendan Walsh."

She tilts her head to him, a smirk on her face.

"I know, I know. Beverley Hills and all that," he rolls his eyes as she sits on the tailgate. "Not quite, but either way, I had it first though."

She chuckles, eliciting another chain of coughs before an oxygen mask is thrust into her face.

"I'd better get back."

"If there's anything I can do…" she says, pulling the mask from her face.

"I'll come find you. See y'around."

Xxx

The glass doors rattle and shake as they close behind a charging Mac, the hotel's doorman muttering something under his breath.

"Mac," Stella softly calls as he enters the foyer.

Seeing her sat on her couch didn't abate any of his worry nor confusion.

"Are you okay?" he asks, pushing her suit jacket away as he takes a seat next to her.

"Yeah. No. I'm not sure. I walked in here to get a room," she gestures around her, "and it- it just hit me. I lost everything, Mac. Photographs, clothes, my cell phone…"

"Your credit cards…" he says for her, realising where she was heading.

Stella rakes a hand through her curls. "Everything."

"But you're still alive, that's the most important thing, I told you."

She nods, "Can I… take you up on your offer? Of the room? Just until the insurance pays out."

"Of course," he says as if she didn't need to ask.

"We can stop by the drug store on the way."

She shoots him a quizzical look.

"Ear plug. You said you snored."

She smiles, her eyes rolling, as he helps her to her feet.

Xx

"Stella!" Mac calls as she passed his office.

She spins on her heel, the tails of her coat flying around her. "Hi," she smiles, opening the door and setting her bag on the chair. She had finally clocked off from a long day.

"How did the Turton case go?" he asks, leaning back in the chair.

"Ugh, he lawyered up before we could get anything useful outta him. AFIS is working through the unidentified prints… but that isn't why you called me in here, is it?" she says, narrowing her eyes at the mischievous glint looking back at her.

"No," he laughs. He bends lower, pulling out a gift bag that thuds against the wood of the desk.

She smiles skeptically, "What's all this?"

"House-warming," he grins, the mischievousness sparkling in his green eyes.

She peeks inside, pulling the handles wider apart, noting a small flowering plant and a tissue paper encased surprise. She pulls the plant out as Mac rounds the desk, perching on the corner as she sniffs at the pale pink flower.

She smiles at him as she places the pot on the desk, reaching in for the other gift. She pulls the paper from around it before pulling out the mini fire extinguisher. "You're hilarious."

"I saw it and thought of you," he laughs, dodging a swat from a grinning Stella.

"You all unpacked?" he asks as she spins the red cylinder in her hand.

"Yeah, didn't take long," she slots everything back into the bag, "I'm going for the minimalist look this time." She doesn't mention that she has no choice in the matter. The insurance didn't go as far as she would have hoped after paying for the new apartment.

He just nods, knowing what she's avoiding saying.

When she has everything packed away, she picks up her handbag and looks at Mac with a smile. "Thank you," she whispers into his ear, kissing his cheek.