Disclaimer: The characters are not mine; I just toy with them now and again
Notes: With thanks to Crowded Angels for the original prompt and to Ballettmaus for her help and suggestions.
Dedicated to Little Miss Lou - have a very happy birthday!
A Dark and Stormy Night
Stella's eyes flew open. Her hand reached out, groping across the cooled bed sheets, and found nothing, no one beside her.
Sighing, she sat upright, shivering as the air blew draughts across her skin where her pyjama top had ridden up.
With one ear open to the bass notes of the storm reverberating outside, she threw the duvet back and swung her legs out of the bed, giving a shudder as her bare feet touched the wooden floor. A moment of fumbling located the light switch and she blinked before her eyes adjusted and she could see that one slipper was beside the bedside cabinet, the other was over by the window. Yawning, she rubbed her eyes and shuffled over to slip them on her feet, grumbling as she caught sight of the little digital clock flashing the time; but the realisation that she didn't have to get up for work, or anything else, mollified her. She located her dressing gown tossed over the chair and still bleary-eyed from sleep, she wrapped the gown round her and set off to find her missing husband.
It wasn't difficult to find Mac; after all, the log cabin they had rented for a few days' vacation had only four rooms. As she'd surmised, he was in the dimly-lit living room, but what did surprise her was to find him kneeling in front of the fire, feeding it with chunks of wood. Stopping in the doorway, Stella watched him coaxing a wavering flame into something more substantial before she sashayed into the room.
"What are you doing? Apart from the obvious," she added with a grin.
Mac turned round to her. "I was wondering how long you were going to stand there," he said before turning his attention to the fire and blowing the flame which had begun to nibble promisingly at the wood. Chuckling, Stella made her way over to him, hugging her arms round her before an exclamation jerked from her as she looked at him more closely.
"Your hair! Mac, it's soaked!"
"That's what happens when you go out in the rain without a hat on," he said wryly, rubbing his head and regarding his wet palm with a frown.
Stella screwed her face up in bewilderment. "Why were you going outside in this kind of weather, at this time of the morning?"
"Because the fire needed more wood," he replied as if that was all the explanation needed.
Still baffled, Stella shook her head. "Couldn't it have waited? I thought we were letting the fire die down. It's 4am, Mac."
"3.55am; to be exact," he said with a small smile and busied himself poking at the fire which caused the flame to leap and spread itself across the wood. Stella stepped forward and held her hands out to the fire as a shiver caught her unawares.
"Couldn't you sleep?" she asked him.
His eyes stayed on the flames, staring intently at them as he placed a few pieces of coal with care amongst the wood which the fire leaped on with gusto. "I was sleeping pretty well," he answered.
Stella moved her head a little to the side in a gesture of curiosity, her sleepiness almost forgotten. "Then why are you up and about seeing to the fire?"
"Because it's cold and wet outside," he replied, continuing to stoke the flames.
"'It was a dark and stormy night...'" Stella intoned with gothic emphasis before she grinned and Mac smiled up at her as he moved round on his knees to face her. "But that still doesn't explain why you went out into it."
Mac gave a slight shrug. "I didn't want you getting cold overnight; you were mumbling something in your sleep about blankets, so..."
"So you get cold and wet yourself instead. Yeah, that makes sense." Hands on her hips, she gave him an appraising look. "Anyhow," she continued, suspicious of his real motive, "Lighting the fire here isn't going to make much difference to the temperature in the bedroom, at least not for a while."
He had turned his back to poke at the fire again as he replied, "I figured it was better to have it lit than not."
Slowly, she knelt down beside him and touched his arm to halt what he was doing. "What's on your mind?" she asked softly.
Setting the poker down slowly, he faced her, a tint of self-consciousness in his expression as he hesitated a moment before answering her. "Same thing that's been there since we found out about the baby," he said. "How I'm going to be as a father; how I'll measure up when it comes to looking after a family..."
Sighing, wishing she could remove his concerns and fears, even as she knew she had almost exactly the same, Stella stroked his hair. "You've nothing to measure up to, Mac. You'll be perfect as a father, and don't forget, it's going to be two of us looking after our baby." She gave him a look full of meaning; conveying to him that they were a couple, a partnership, ready to take whatever lay ahead for them together. It was a reminder, which he accepted with a small lift of the corners of his mouth. "And don't forget," Stella added as she narrowed her eyes at him in mock-seriousness, "You getting sick after being out in the cold and wet isn't going to be much help to me."
Seeing him look suitably chastened, even though he muttered something about how they still had several months before the baby was born, Stella shook her head. "What am I going to do with you, Mac?"
He grinned suddenly, running his fingers through his hair, the light from the fire glinting in his eyes. "How do you want me to answer that?"
Stella smirked as several possibilities flared in her mind, but she wasn't letting him off so lightly. "Before we do anything else, I'm going to dry you." She jabbed a finger at him. "Stay there while I get a towel."
"I won't move a muscle," Mac promised solemnly and she threw him a grin over her shoulder as she made her way to the log cabin's tiny kitchen. There she caught up a fresh, dry towel and with it draped over her arm, she returned to the living room, yawning expansively on the way. Ever since finding out she was pregnant a few weeks ago, the increased tiredness had been the most noticeable change and she was impatient with it, though becoming resigned to it along with the other, more subtle changes; lower blood pressure which had led to her feeling the cold more than usual and a heightened sense of smell.
Obviously wanting to make sure she stayed warm, in the short interval she'd been absent, she saw with a smile that became tender that Mac had brought their bedding through and arranged it in front of the fire. He had bolstered the blaze with more wood and coal and it now burned magnificently; leaping and rippling flames of gold and amber which entranced her for a moment; its radiance warming her through.
She crouched down next to it and directed Mac to come and sit in front of her. He arranged himself with his knees drawn up to his chest, his arms hanging loosely down between them. Kneeling up so she could reach the top of his head, Stella got to work rubbing the worst of the wet off his neck and hair. When she had finished, she ran her fingers through his hair and he sighed in deep content. Smiling softly, Stella smoothed the strands down and began to massage his scalp with her fingertips and Mac groaned as his head tipped backwards.
"You do that for much longer and I'll be asleep," he mumbled and she laughed, kissed the top of his head and moved so she was sitting more comfortably, pressed into his side.
"A little more sleep won't do either of us any harm," she said and he smiled, sliding his arm around her.
They sat, Stella leaning her head on Mac's shoulder while he stroked her arm, both of them gazing into the castles and caves that the fire made of the wood and coal. The tumult of the rain had lessened to a murmuration, the sound contributing to the drowsy atmosphere in the cabin. Eyes half-closed, Stella realised how pleasantly sleepy the heat of the fire was making her as she watched the swaying, wobbling flames spread patterns over Mac's skin, captivated by them...
She closed her eyes, opened them again, felt them sliding shut again and finally jerked back to alertness as she felt her head tilting forward.
"Why don't you go to sleep?" Mac asked as he rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand.
"Only if you do," she mumbled and a laugh rumbled from his chest.
"You got a deal."
Despite her eyelids sinking shut, she forced her eyes open and blinked at him. "Seems kind of a shame to go back to the bedroom after you moved all this... How about we just stay here?" She added after stifling another yawn.
"Sounds like a plan." Mac smiled. "I'll go change back into my pyjamas."
Struggling now to keep her eyes open and her yawns under control, Stella watched as he headed into the bedroom, tugging his shirt off as he went, before the lure of the pillows and the duvet became irresistible. She made herself comfortable in the makeshift bed, warmed to blissful cosiness by the fire, and was barely awake by the time Mac came padding back to join her.
"Warm enough?" he asked in a low voice as he lay down beside her and brushed a curl from her forehead.
"Mmm, perfect." Opening her eyes a fraction, she smiled and caressed his cheek. "Thank you."
"Any time," he murmured, kissing her palm and drawing her into his arms, one hand resting over her stomach, so she floated into sleep, her head tucked under his chin, enfolded in the warmth of his embrace.
Thank you for reading; reviews very welcome as always :) Lily x