Disclaimer: None of the characters are mine. Note: I know Joe's real name was Ethan, but Joe suits him much better. He was 'Joe' while Mac was in the hostage situation too. This is my first fic. Apologies – by MacsLady. It was 10pm when Stella Bonasera heard a knock on the door of her apartment. Groaning, she rose, massaging her aching shoulder. She had taken some painkillers, but they seemed to be doing nothing for the pain. She just knew she had pulled a muscle hanging off that damn building, she was lucky she hadn’t dislocated her shoulder. She looked through the peephole, and smiled when she saw Mac there. She opened the door. Mac was dressed in jeans, a black t-shirt and his leather jacket, and was holding a bunch of roses in his hands. Stella scanned his face, his tired blue-green-grey eyes and she could see he was still affected by what had happened. 'Come in, Mac,’ she said. He smiled at her and stepped inside, handing her the roses, and leaning in to place a soft kiss on her cheek, a move that surprised her at the same time that it sent a thrill of….was that desire?... through her. She locked the door and gestured for Mac to sit on the couch. She sat next to him. 'I…I just wanted to make sure you were all right, after what happened at the bank, and to….to apologize.’ Apologize?’ she said. 'For putting myself in the bank with Joe. I did it for what I thought were the right reasons – I didn’t want to put any of you in a situation I wouldn’t enter myself, and I wanted to help those people in the bank – but I know I must have worried you, and I’m sorry for that, Stella. I almost died….and I know what it’s like when…when someone you lo….someone you care about is in danger, or….or dies. I know what it’s like to be the one left behind. I almost put you through that, not intentionally, of course, but still….Anyway, I hope you know that I would never do anything to hurt you, Stella, and I’m sorry that I almost did that with the whole Joe case.’ Stella gaped at Mac, astonished. True, she had been mad at him when she found out he’d gone into the bank with Joe, but at the same time she had understood it perfectly, and knew that he was just being Mac. She knew he would put himself in danger before putting any of his team in danger, and that he would do anything to help innocent people. She knew too that had she been the first CSI on the scene, she would have been in the bank with Joe. She was deeply touched by Mac’s words about how much he cared for her, and she was slightly confused too. She was certain he had almost said ‘someone you love’ for a moment. Had he been referring only to Claire or to her too? She smiled at him, and leaned forward to wrap her arms around his neck, something she had wanted to do all day. Feeling his warm, strong body in her arms, inhaling his scent, feeling his arms wrap around her too, finally reassured her that he really was here, he really was okay. 'Thank you, Mac,’ she whispered in his ear, ‘I understand why you did what you did, and I was mad at you for a bit, but I was proud of you too. You saved those people Mac, and you caught Joe. But thank you for apologizing, for thinking of me. And I know you would never hurt me.’ She kissed his cheek and slowly pulled away from him, wishing she could stay in his arms for longer. He seemed reluctant to end the hug too. Mac smiled at her, and relaxed back into the couch, glancing around at her apartment. The walls had been painted, but most of her photos and knick knacks and books were still in boxes, piled in a corner of the room ‘Nice place,’ he said. ‘Not quite ready yet, though.’ ‘I never have the time to get it done,’ Stella said, ‘I’m planning to get started on it this Sunday.’ 'Want some help?’ Mac asked. Stella looked at him, surprised. ' You’re sure?’ Mac laughed. 'I don’t exactly have a packed social life, Stella, and most of the days when we’re both off, I spend with you anyway, so I’d love to help. If…I mean, if you don’t mind having me here.’ Stella frowned at him, confused again. ‘Why wouldn’t I want you here, Mac?’ ‘Well,’ he shifted uncomfortably, ‘You know, when…Frankie attacked you…you said you never let men in your apartment, and this is your brand new place…I don’t want to intrude, make you uncomfortable.’ Stella smiled, thinking despite that tough Marine-Cop-Scientist front Mac tried to keep up, he really was a sweetheart. ‘Mac, when I said that, I didn’t even think of you. All men except you are banned from my place. Well, Danny, Flack and Hawkes are allowed here too, I suppose. But you, Mac, are always welcome. I love your visits, especially when you bring me stuff. So I’d love your help on Sunday. I need a good strong Marine to move my refrigerator, actually.’ Mac smiled and saluted her. ‘At your service, ma’am,’ he said. Stella laughed. Glancing at his watch, Mac said, ‘It’s getting late, I should…’ ‘You should stay,’ Stella said. Mac’s eyes, surprised, met hers. She continued determinedly, suddenly desperate not to let him go. ‘You live on the other side of town, Mac. I don’t want you driving all that way, especially with that concussion. You look exhausted too. Please, stay. It’s not that late, if you stay we could even watch a movie. I’ll make us cocoa…’ Mac’s lips lifted into an adorable half smile, and his eyes lit up. ‘With marshmallows?’ he asked. 'Yep. And I have some cannolis somewhere too…’ ‘How can I resist?’ Mac said, his smile becoming a full one, ‘ You’re absolutely sure, Stella?’ 'I’m sure,’ she said, ‘I don’t have a spare room, but the couch does fold out into a bed, and I have spare sheets. You get the film ready, while I make the cocoa.’ ‘Which film do you want tonight? After today, I’m not really in the mood for an action flick; I think we’ve both had enough of that for today.’ 'I agree. How about Of Mice and Men? It’s a nice film, and not that long.’ ‘And it’s Steinbeck,’ Mac said, ‘You can’t go wrong with Steinbeck.’ Stella nodded, and stood up heading for the kitchen. A short while later, they were sat next to each other on the couch, sipping cocoa and watching the film. ‘You do realize that George looks exactly like you?’ Stella said. Mac looked at the screen. ‘He looks like I did about sixteen years ago, a little, I guess.’ ‘ Seriously, his eyes, they’re the same as yours; they have that way of changing colour. And he has the same hair and build too. He even looks great in jeans, just like you,’ Stella blushed as she said this, aware of how flirty it sounded, aware that on some level she’d wanted it to sound that way. Mac looked at her, looking a little shocked, but blushing too. They sat in silence for a while, and then Stella winced as a jab of pain shot through her shoulder. Mac, the ever observant Marine and scientist naturally noticed instantly. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, concern evident in his voice. ‘Nothing. I just pulled something in my shoulder from when I was hanging off the building,’ ‘Is it bad?’ ‘Pretty bad,’ she admitted. ‘Here, let me see if I can help,’ he said. He slid his arm behind her back and with his left hand began gently, skilfully rubbing and kneading her aching shoulder. Through the thin fabric of her shirt, she could feel the strength and warmth of his fingers. She closed her eyes and sighed, his touch having several effects on her. Not only did it relieve the ache in her shoulder, the sensation of his fingers practically touching her bare skin sent heat through her entire body, while being comforting at the same time. She leaned back into his touch, the back of her neck coming to rest on the warm skin of his arm. ‘How does that feel?’ he asked, his tone whisper soft. ‘Perfect,’ she sighed, ‘Don’t you dare stop,’ ‘I won’t,’ Mac whispered. He continued to massage her shoulder as she opened her eyes and they watched the rest of the film, though Stella now found it harder to concentrate, due to his closeness, and the sensations his touch caused within her. When the film ended, Stella cleared away their mugs and got the spare bedclothes while Mac opened out the couch into a bed. They said goodnight, and Stella went into her bedroom, looking back one last time to see Mac was already under the covers on the sofa bed and apparently dozing off. She closed the door quietly behind her, changed into her nightdress, and got into bed, suddenly missing the closeness of Mac’s body, the feel of him next to her. She sighed. Her feelings for him had been changing for quite a while now, and at this moment she wanted nothing more than his body besides hers in her bed. It had been a long time since she’d had a man, and right now the only man she could ever imagine sharing her bed and her life with was the one asleep on her couch at this moment. Stella jerked awake at 3:30am. For a few seconds, she did not know what had woken her. Then she heard Mac’s voice… 'Stella….Stella….STELLA….’ he yelled, fear in his voice. Stella leapt out of bed, grabbed her gun from the nightstand, and ran into the living room, which was illuminated just enough for her to see by the streetlamps outside. She looked around the room, her gun following her eyes, but saw no intruder. She saw Mac on the couch, twisted in his blankets, moaning her name more quietly now, his face twisted in fear. Stella moved toward him, putting her gun down carefully on the table. She sat next to Mac, who was twisting around, sweating, still moaning her name. 'Mac?’ she said, then louder ‘MAC!’ He shot up, blankets still twisted around him, his eyes open and wide with terror. They scanned the room, and found her. 'Oh, God, Stella,’ he said in a hoarse whisper, and pulled her tight to him in a hug. Stella was surprised, but she wrapped her arms around him, hugged him back. She stroked his back, noticing his t-shirt was soaked through with sweat. What in the hell had he been dreaming about? They stayed like that in absolute silence for a long few minutes, the silence broken only by Mac’s harsh breathing, which as Stella soothed him, eased back into a more regular pattern. ‘What happened, Mac?’ Stella whispered, ‘Did you dream about Joe? Or was it 9/11, or Beirut again?’ Mac pulled back slightly so that she could see his face. His eyes met hers. ‘Joe,’ he said, ‘Joe had pushed you off that building, and you were falling and falling, and I was there and I wanted to save you but I couldn’t get to you....’ ‘Oh, Mac,’ Stella said, kissing his cheek, ‘It’s okay. I’m right here.’ She took his hand and placed it against her cheek. ‘See?’ she said. ‘I’m fine, Mac.’ Mac’s fingers ran down her cheekbone, sending shivers through her. ‘It was so damn real, Stella…I…really thought you were…’ ‘Hey, I’m tough, Mac. I’m not going anywhere,’ Stella said. ‘I….I don’t want to lose you, Stell,’ Mac whispered, keeping one hand on her face, taking her hand in his other one and squeezing it gently. ‘I can’t lose another woman who I….’ he closed his eyes briefly, and then opened them, pinning them on hers. Stella could not look away from his soft, intense gaze. 'I can’t lose another woman I love Stella. And when I say love, I don’t mean as a friend. I mean like….like I loved Claire. I’m in love with you, Stella. I’m sorry. I know you probably don’t feel the same, but after what we’ve both been through, after you almost…I couldn’t not tell you. I….I’m sorry.’ Stella stared at him, sure she must be the one dreaming now. She had never expected to hear Mac Taylor say those words. ‘Mac, what did you say?’ He swallowed, then said, slowly, ‘I am in love with you, Stella Bonasera.’ Stella was still certain she was dreaming. But then she felt a sharp twinge in her shoulder, unmistakably real. For the first time in her life, she was glad to feel pain. Tears began to trickle down her face. Mac’s eyes widened in alarm. ‘Oh, God, Stella, I’m so sorry, I….’ ‘Mac, stop apologizing!’ Stella said through her tears, and leaning forward placed a soft kiss on his lips. She pulled back, met his eyes. ‘I love you, too,’ she said, and the admission was easier than she’d ever thought it would be, so easy that she wondered why she hadn’t said those four words before. Mac’s eyes lit up in a way she had not seen since before his wife died. He smiled at her, a full smile that reached his eyes, and then leaned in and brought his lips to hers in a soft, sweet kiss that gradually became more and more passionate as years of pent up desire and longing and need finally found escape. Stella felt all the defences she had built up since she was a child, since Frankie, the defences that she had built to stop herself falling in love, come crashing down. At the same time, she felt the part of her that had felt achingly empty for so long, the void that had pained her even before Frankie’s betrayal, fill up, felt her hidden wounds from years of being unloved and being hurt by people who she’d thought had loved her, heal. Desire rushed through her, electrifying every inch of skin that was in contact with Mac’s body. She moaned and opened her mouth to him, pressing herself against him, not caring about his soaked shirt. She pulled him deeper into the kiss, opened her mouth to him, moaned again as their tongues met and danced. Now she knew for sure she wasn’t dreaming. Stella would have been happy to kiss Mac like this forever, but there was the need to breathe properly. She felt Mac ending the kiss, gently, slowly disentangling his lips from hers. He pulled back, his breath coming fast and hard again, as hers was now. As Stella struggled to bring herself back under control, not really wanting to, she felt Mac place feather-soft kisses along her chin, up her cheekbone, to her ear. He kissed it, and then she felt his warm breath tickling her ear as he whispered, his voice low and tender, ‘I love you, Stella Bonasera, and I’ll never apologize to anyone for that.’ The End.