She's leaving the break room with a file after lunch when she spots the flash of Dr. Hunter's distinctive coat from 'round the corner. The sight slows her feet on her way to Mac's office, waiting for his girlfriend to leave before she walks in on him.
That thought hurts. She pushes it away and carries on.
Mac smiles at her, thanks her for the file as he takes it, turning to fish out another from the cabinet, talking all the while about the case. She responds with observations in return, answering his questions, trying to concentrate on work and not the gnawing ache somewhere near her stomach.
You're happy for him, remember?
One last exchange, and a smile, but that's one-sided. He looks over his shoulder as he gives it, and she heads out. She pauses, just a moment, by the door. His back is still to her; he may catch her staring but he won't catch her expression in the reflection from the glass walls. And that's fine by her. She'd rather he didn't know how she felt, just now.
"I can't do this anymore."
She doesn't realise she's spoken aloud until he turns toward her. She catches a brief glimpse of something like confusion in his face before she looks away.
She can't bear to meet his eyes. So blue, so piercing ... confused. When he should know, but he doesn't. How he can be so oblivious to this when he's so observant of everything else ...
He doesn't need to say more for her to understand what he's asking. What's going on? Are you okay? What can't you do? Why won't you look at me?
"I'm sorry, Mac," she apologises quickly, reflexively, still avoiding his gaze, though she can feel him looking. "I - just - " She stops.
She almost tells him it's nothing. But she doesn't lie to Mac if she can help it, and this time, she's got a serious decision to make.
"I'm fine," she says instead, quiet, forcing herself to meet his eyes and fake a bright smile. "Just figured something out, that's all."
He still looks concerned, but she's sure he'll drop it. She mumbles something about an ongoing case, and heads off to follow the latest lead.
Distraction only lasts so long.
Stella sits in her office, staring at the file on her desk without really seeing it. The artificial day of the lab's fluorescent lighting is beginning to give her a headache, but she doesn't want to go home yet.
Home may not be home for much longer.
She's been putting off the decision about her latest job offer - she gets them all the time and, not wanting to leave New York, she usually rejects them.
This time she's not so sure.
New Orleans is a tempting post because it's a challenge. The city is still being rebuilt, even this long after Katrina, and she knows she could do a good job down there. She knows she could do well as a supervisor, period. She doesn't lack confidence in that.
What's held her back has never been fear she couldn't do the job. It's always been New York. The city, her home, her friends ... Mac. Most of all, Mac. She's never been able to tear herself away before. She couldn't let go.
If she's losing him anyway, leaving might not hurt so much in the long run.
Sure hurts like hell right now, though.
That's when she knows: her decision's been made. She really can't do this anymore.
But telling Mac will be the hardest part.
Spoilers for "The 34th Floor". Beta-read by Reshi. Written September 22nd, 2010.