Admittedly, it hurt leaning into him, but it hurt only marginally less to sit up straight, and I couldn't quite give up the comfort of his embrace. It didn't help the pain in any way, but nonetheless, it was soothing in that moment, and I drew on him as I observed the scene from a distance, this time from the other side. I cast my gaze down and noticed our hands were not that far apart. His left one was in his lap, both of mine in my own, and I felt an irrational need to hold onto them, hold onto him. I wanted to curl up into him and cry, but I didn't. Mac Taylor was not the sort of boss or colleague who typically showed any closeness like this, and I was afraid that stretching his boundaries by doing that would push him away, and I didn't want him to let go of me. I didn't want to let go of him, even if I knew I should, sooner rather than later.
My head was pounding. Given the beatings and the collision with the tall mirror in Amanda's room, that was not so strange. However, I couldn't remember the last time my head had hurt to the point of bursting. Nausea washed over me in waves, as the pounding increased then decreased. I closed my eyes and released a shaky breath. I tried to focus on something to push past the headache. A particular, quite familiar scent filled my nostrils and befuddled my mind. I happily gave into it, hoping that he would just let me stay there for a little longer, in his one-armed embrace. "Jo, you okay?" Mac's voice sounded, right beside my ear. I did confirm this upon opening my eyes and turning my head slightly, to see Mac was still leaned in a little bit. Yet at the same time, his voice had seemed very far away. "Are you okay?" he repeated, and as he did, I felt his warm hand descend on my closest one.
I couldn't help but look fleetingly down to see his hand covering mine, even as I felt it do so. Mac seemed to notice and interpret this as a sign of discomfort –– I felt the pressure of his hand lessen as he made to pull back, but I turned mine and reached for his just in time, clutching onto his right hand as if for dear life. I focused on the feel of his warm, rough hand encasing mine for a few seconds before I realized that I had still not given him an answer to the question he had now posed twice. "I... will be," I replied. This case had really been personal. It would be no use lying to him right then. Anyone in my position would have been affected by it. I saw him nod slowly from the corner of my eyes. "I'll be fine, Mac. I just wanna go home, change clothes, and try to relax a little bit."
"Okay," he said. "I'll see what the paramedics say about that and if they clear you, I'll drive you home, okay?"
I nodded vaguely, trying to smile but failing as he pulled back from me and did as he had said. With his arm no longer holding me, I suddenly felt more alone than ever, even more so than when I had sat there waiting in the apartment for him and the others to get to the scene. I just hoped that they would let me go home. I really didn't feel up for a trip to the hospital or anything. I was quite sure nothing was broken or needed further attention. I just wanted my pajamas and a blanket and my daughter. She would come home from soccer tournament that night, and the thought of just cuddling up with her and watching some silly movie together like we had so often seemed a good plan to me. I was grateful that the news Mac returned with was actually positive, and as he had promised, he guided me over to his car after handing me his blazer jacket and drove me home.
When we had pulled from the street, Mac fleetingly turned his head to me in the passenger seat before refocusing on the road and asking if there was someone who could stay with me.
I told him of Ellie coming home from her tournament in a couple of hours and said that I might just sleep until then. I was tired; I was exhausted. Isn't it funny how when you have gone through a major, emotional rollercoaster, it makes you feel so incredibly tired when it is all over, while at the moment itself, the adrenaline rushes right through you and you're incredibly alert? We didn't speak anymore the rest of the ride, which did not last long. Amanda's apartment was rather close to mine, and the drive had not even taken ten minutes. I was glad that it hadn't taken longer.
When we arrived and I announced that I would like to take a shower and change into something more comfortable, Mac said that he would stay and wait as I did so, the look on his face telling me that arguing would be futile. After I had showered, dried and dressed in loose linen slacks and an oversized shirt, I walked towards the living room, the smell of fresh tea greeting me in the hallway. Sure enough, when I walked in the living room, Mac just left the kitchen, holding a steaming mug of tea in his large hands. When he caught sight of me, Mac smiled softly. "I made some tea. I debated making some coffee, but you said you might want to sleep a bit until Ellie got home, so..."
"You're a sweetheart," I whispered as I took the mug and sipped from it, while walking over to the couch and taking up my usual spot. When he remained standing where he stood, I looked up. "Come on, Mac, get yourself a mug as well and come sit with me, unless you would rather be thirsty and remain upright," I said, patting the couch beside me. When he didn't immediately react to that either, I worried whether I had misunderstood him earlier when he said that he was going to stay. However, right when I opened my mouth to ask, he walked over to the couch and sat down beside me. I watched him as he seemed to eye the magazines lying on the table. I highly doubted whether he was interested in them, given the fact they were Ellie's –– not even I was interested in them in any way. I watched him closely for a few seconds before leaning over to put my mug down on the table, biting my lip to keep myself from wincing audibly. "Mac, what is going on?" I whispered. I knew this look from somewhere, but I couldn't place it. "You look... bothered," I concluded.
At this, he looked up at me and shook his head, obviously eager to push it off. However, I wouldn't let him get away with it that easily and quirked my eyebrow to challenge him to try and tell me that it was nothing. He seemed to see this very quickly. "I just–" he began. "When you called me and told me briefly what had happened at Amanda's, I was relieved that I heard your voice and knew you were alive, but it didn't take from the fact that John Curtis is, or was, a sick bastard and you were incredibly lucky."
I nodded. I understood. I knew this was his way of telling me he was glad that I was okay and that it had not been worse, nothing more, nothing less. I appreciated it. "He was a sick bastard, yes, but he was also a very cocky sick bastard at that. If you know anything about guns, then you would never forget the bullet in the chamber."
"Don't minimize what happened or almost happened today," Mac said as he shook his head, not convinced by what I was saying. "I should have paid more attention on you. I should have known that he was going to try and get you in particular when we continued working the case, and I should have made sure you didn't go there alone."
"Mac, I am an adult woman. Please, don't blame yourself in any way for what happened. I knew that there was a chance that he would come after me as well, and I turned down Flack's offer to go with me or let someone else come along. If anything, it is my own fault for being stubborn and wanting to go alone no matter what. Why don't we stop arguing, though? Let's agree to disagree, hmm?" The look of stoicism on Mac's face and his lack of response told me that he grudgingly agreed. My thought was to change the subject or at least slightly lead it away from this sore spot. "Ellie's supposed to be home about eight-thirty. Her friend's mom will drop her off here."
At this, Mac merely nodded. There was a flash of stubbornness in his eyes which I knew well. "I'll stay here with you until then. You don't have to stay awake for me, though. If you want to go to bed and sleep for a little while, I'll occupy myself with the television in the meantime. There's always something to watch at any hour."
I snorted at what he was saying. I had a good idea of what he would be watching on the television when he didn't have the possibility to waste away his free time reading though old case files. "When you are interested in the Discovery Channel, yes, there is something to watch at any hour. I already feel a lot better after my shower, though. I don't believe I'm going to go to bed after all. Even if I don't need a babysitter under any circumstances, asleep or not."
"Let's agree to disagree about that one, hmm? Besides, there's nothing wrong with the Discovery Channel."
"If you say so."
We did not end up watching the Discovery Channel after all, though. I had remembered a stack of new DVD's which I had bought a few weeks before and had intended to watch with Ellie. Ellie, however, had refused each and every one of them, only based on them seeming 'too boring'. I remember telling myself at that moment that that was the last time I would buy movies for the two of us to watch. Mac ended up finding them still in the wrapper and the original bag in the drawer underneath the DVD player. On my 'mild' encouragement, Mac had taken the first from the stack and popped it in. The first thirty minutes had seemed quite interesting and not boring at all. In the meantime, Mac had gotten himself a mug of tea as well and we had curled up on the couch beside each other –– me more than him even if it wasn't possible to curl up as much as I usually did due to the soreness of my body. After half an hour of sitting still in a half-straight position, it began to have its effects on me. I tried to find a more comfortable position, but that just didn't seem possible. I thought back on how Mac had held me against him in the ambulance earlier and secretly wanted to adopt that position again. I was almost certain that that would be more comfortable than any other one I was trying to worm my way into. Mac seemed to note my discomfort as well. "Can't find a good position?"
"No," I whined. When he didn't seem to respond to this, I groaned to myself. I sat up pin-straight for a few more minutes, but then decided I had had more than enough. I didn't believe he would mind much given earlier, even if I was still worried slightly when I dragged my pillow against his side, very slowly. I didn't know how he would react. I didn't believe he would just randomly pull away, but I wasn't entirely okay with the thought that even if he didn't push away, he might not be comfortable with it much either. I opened my mouth to ask if he wouldn't mind serving as a pillow, when he lifted his arm and offered me his lap. I stared at him blankly for a few seconds.
"I thought you wanted to lie down," Mac replied quite sheepishly when I didn't move.
I debated my answer for another few seconds before I replied, "If you don't mind."
"Of course I don't mind. I would offer to give you the entire couch for yourself and go sit in the armchair over there myself, but then I wouldn't be able to see the television anymore, and the movie is just getting interesting," he replied with the ghost of a smile on his face as he indicated the television with his chin.
I smiled widely at him as I dragged my pillow on his thighs and laid down with my head in his lap. I felt an instant relief of the pressure and aches on my body. A sigh eschewed from my lips as I curled my legs slightly and settled better. We stayed like that until the movie had ended at a quarter past eight. I was very proud of myself for not having fallen asleep, feeling so nice and comfortable with my head on his lap. I would definitely have to tell Ellie that the movies she had 'totally not wanted to see' were actually not that boring at all. If I said I had based this on the fact that Mac had found one interesting as well, I was sure to lose the argument, though.
When the end credits rolled over the screen and Mac yawned and announced that it was a quarter past eight already and he should most likely go, I rose from my comfortable position and stood, following him. We came to a stop in the hallway, where he snatched his jacket from the peg and padded over to the door. When he reached it, he turned to me slowly. "If there's really anything at all, please call or let me know otherwise. I mean it."
"Ellie'll be home very soon, Mac. I won't be alone," I said, even if I was touched by his obvious care and concern. It was quite endearing.
"Still," he said, giving me a quite desperate look. "If you need me, call me..."
"No matter where you are. No matter how far. Just call my name, I'll be there in a hurry. You don't have to worry..." I finished in a sing-song voice, only resulting in him giving me a perplexed expression. "You know, from the song?" I tried, but the look on his face remained unchanged, which confirmed for me that he didn't know the song or at least not the lyrics of it. It was my time to look desperate, rolling my eyes when he still didn't respond and smiling. "If it makes you feel better, I promise I will call if there should be anything, but I'm pretty sure there won't be. I appreciate it, though, your offer and you having stayed here with me until now."
"It is the least I could do," he replied. "I will drop by tomorrow morning if nothing has come in yet, because I'm on call."
"Dear Lord, if you do, please don't come too early then, because if I have to base myself on how early you are at work sometimes..." I said, groaning slightly. Even if the shower and tea had sobered me up a bit, the mere thought of being woken before seven made me want to attack him with a pillow and chase him from the door.
Mac just grinned at my response. "Will somewhere after nine be suitable for you then, sleepyhead?"
"Nine is still kind of early," I said, pouting momentarily. "What about after nine-thirty?" I tried to reason with him. Nine was definitely too early to look okay enough to open the door for him.
"Fine, and to save you the trouble of trying to whip something barely edible together from the old bits and pieces and stale bread I found in your kitchen earlier, I'll bring an offer of brunch for you and Ellie. Assuming, of course, the good people of New York City play nice and give me a chance at all to come on over... because you yourself know how Saturday mornings are most of the time."
"Mmm, nine-thirty? I would still call that late breakfast," I said, smiling wide before leaning up on my toes and kissing Mac's left cheek. I appreciated how he was often so thoughtful of me and my needs, maybe on the verge of the pragmatic but it never took away from his sweetness. "Food delivery sounds like a nice plan, and something you can always definitely make me happy with. I love you, Mac Taylor."
I hadn't expected for him to respond to this in any way, so I was actually... satisfied with the smile he gave me before telling me to take care and repeating to call him should anything come up, before he turned the knob of the door, waved one last time and then left. As I let the door close behind me and leaned back against it, I realized I hadn't even intended for myself to say it quite like that to begin with. I pushed away from the door to clear away the mugs in the living room and turn off the DVD player as I reasoned within myself. Of course I loved him. He was my colleague and best buddy and had been since shortly after my arrival in New York. You know how it goes: you always tell everyone you'll stay in touch with those you like and you make every effort at first... but then you are so busy with your new life that you forget to e-mail, or e-mail back occasionally. Messages come less often. Calls never, anymore. Then after a little while, after you have adapted to your new life and the new people in it, you grow steadily closer with them while you grow apart from the people who used to take that place in your life before everything turned upside down.
There was no denying that I found him... attractive, both in his very male physique and personality. Mac was a good and honest man with a big heart, even if he was also very private and stubborn. It endeared him to me, and at the end of the day, I could still joke with him and rely on him. I believe that was the most important –– the fact that even when his job was incredibly busy, you could always rely on him when you needed to. The thought of him and me had crossed my mind multiple times. There had been moments in the nearly two years we had known each other where I had seen him and thought of him in that way and wondered if he ever thought of me like that as well. I had always pushed such random thoughts away as silly daydreams borne of my single life, even if deep down I undoubtedly knew all along that was not the case. Maybe that's why it was safer to push them further away.
I had only just set the dirty mugs down in the sink when my ring tone resounded from further down the hallway. For a second, I really had to ponder where I had left my damned cell phone again, then remembered I had put it on the bathroom cabinet and hurried there as fast as I could to get it. I was really just too late, as is my luck. The caller ID showed that I had just missed a call from my daughter, and I called her back at once. She never left any voice messages. Ever since she had gotten her first phone, it had been a mutual agreement of sorts between us that I would always call her back as soon as I could if I didn't take it. Sure enough, when I called back, she picked up at once.
*Mom, I won't be home tonight. There's been an accident on the road here, and there's no way we can pass it right now. We've been stuck here for a while, and I don't know when we will be allowed to go through from the police officers, but we'll be home a lot later than planned anyhow, so I'll maybe just stay at Sarah's. I just thought I would let you know...*
"Oh. Oh, well. Okay. I will see you tomorrow, though, kiddo?"
*Yeah, I'll ask Sarah's mom to drop me off.*
"Okay," I replied. I hoped that my disappointment was not too audible for her, but Ellie usually noticed such things incredibly well. "Love you, Ellie."
*I love you, too, Mom. Bye.*
"Bye," I replied, but Ellie had already hung up. I sighed, walking back to the living room with my phone in my hand –– so much for having quality time with my daughter. I pondered calling Mac back up. He wouldn't be that far away after all by now. I decided against it in the end, though. I decided not to take abuse of his care, concern and goodness and sat down on the couch again, grabbing the TV remote in order to zap through the channels in hopes a comedy of sorts was on that I could watch until I felt I was tired enough to fall asleep immediately.
Little did I know that at the exact moment that I had considered the possibility of calling him, he himself had just pulled up to the side of the road and contemplated coming back himself. While I had decided not to do it, he had chosen to go for it. I was rather surprised when the intercom buzzed at ten to nine. Getting upright and walking over to it, pulling the receiver from the machine, I was even more surprised to hear Mac's voice on the other end, asking me if I could let him up, without saying more. I was so surprised by it all, that I pushed the button to open the door downstairs without further thought and hung the receiver back up on the intercom panel. I stood quietly staring into thin air for a few minutes, wondering why he could possibly have returned and what had made his voice seem so full of urgency, when I heard footsteps in the hallways already. Frowning and recognizing the footsteps very well, I moved to the hallway to unlock and open the door for him. He must have really hurried.
When I opened the door, he stood by it, having just raised his hand to knock. He looked at me in surprise for a heartbeat, trying to look past me as if to check where Ellie was.
"She's not here. She called to say that they're stuck in traffic somewhere and that she'll stay over with Sarah, so coming home tomorrow morning instead of later tonight. She called just after you left. I contemplated calling you back, but..." Somehow, I couldn't finish that sentence aloud. I had been afraid to bother him or to come across as too dependent and too clingy, but I couldn't get those words across my lips. I had a strange feeling that it didn't matter anymore either way. He was here now nevertheless.
He stepped over the threshold into my apartment when I moved aside to let him in, closing and locking the door behind him as always and following him further inside. However, when I turned, I found him mere feet away from me, looking at me. I opened my mouth to ask him what was going on, when he closed the space between us until we were just a foot apart. "Jo, when you told me you loved me earlier..."
Oh, damn. "Ah. Listen, Mac..."
"Did you mean it?"
I was bewildered for a second by this question. I couldn't think of what other question would have sounded better or more characteristic for him to ask in that moment, but this one definitely came from nowhere. "Of course I meant it..." I said uncertainly, not sure at all where he wanted to go with this and not much surer that this was the answer he wanted to get. "Mac, if it wasn't true, I wouldn't say it. I'm not like that."
Somehow, my answer seemed to calm him or do something for him, as he nodded slowly, and when he looked up at me, there was a certain clarity of sorts in his grey eyes which I couldn't explain. Actually, I couldn't explain the entire situation. It seemed too absurd that he had come back to ask me if I had meant it when I told him I loved him. Maybe it had scared him and maybe it had only just become clear to him that if it really was the case, we shouldn't work together anymore. After all, relationships in the workplace were more than frowned upon from higher up, and he would not want to go against protocol, even if I wanted it. It was pretty overwhelming standing there in that moment. I began to doubt all actions in regard to him earlier that day, specifically lying with my head in his lap. I thought myself professional enough to work alongside him without my emotions interfering. Maybe I had already done that for longer than I knew, too.
"Mac, I'm very confused..." I eventually said.
"I think I love you, too."
I only just managed to swallow my exclamation of 'What?' to that response. Instead, I just stood blinking. Of course, Mac wasn't usually thick. He knew what the meaning behind those three words must have been, coming from me. Otherwise, he never would have returned them. I wouldn't torture him in pretending that I had not meant them the way he had interpreted them, even if I had not meant for him to know. I wondered what had made him come back and what had given me and my feelings away. Had it been the way I had felt safe and comfortable in his lap earlier or the way I had gripped his hand at the scene? I wasn't quite sure what to do and stood there for a few moments before deciding to give in to my irrational need to take that last step towards him and hug him to me and myself to him. It wasn't a time to fight against those urges and make him regret he had said this, even if I didn't understand what or how. This was not like Mac Taylor at all. If it had been a storyline we were in, I would have described his reaction as OOC.
When I stepped into his arms, he hugged me tightly to him even if I could tell he was watching his actions so as not to hug me too tightly and hurt me. We seemed to fit perfectly, though; mold together rather perfectly. "When you called me from the scene, the thoughts that went through my head... I knew that you were alive, but still, I..."
I couldn't help but smile into his chest. He didn't seem able to form the words coherently, yet I understood perfectly well what he was trying to convey. I had felt the same about half a year ago when I discovered he nearly got killed trying to catch a felon who had escaped to the roof. By the time I had discovered the facts, he had been walking around in the lab, healthy and fine, but still, the knowledge of what had happened and what had nearly happened had gripped at my heart. It had definitely done more to me than I had let on. If he felt an inkling of the same for me now that I had felt for him then, I had a good idea how he must have felt getting the phone call and then seeing me at the scene. I had been a sight, even if it had been far less serious than it had looked. Such things really make you realize how soon your life could be over even when you didn't stop and stare. It made you realize it was important to let those you love know just how much you care about them, because one day it could very well be over. Ellie's face had danced before my eyes when I had tried to focus enough earlier to fire the first bullet, and my mama's... and Mac's.
Truth be told, I had not expected for him to 'let himself go' like this. I was certain the fact that my own admission earlier had played a role, and suddenly all regret I had had about accidentally sharing it slipped away. I nuzzled into his chest and felt him kiss the top of my head. It felt right.
When he pulled away slightly to be able to better look at me, I naturally looked up. The clarity in his eyes from before had disappeared, and it had been replaced with doubt. "I've no idea how this is ever going to work, if at all. I didn't really think this through at all, but I just couldn't get your words from my head, and earlier..."
I couldn't listen to this right now. I laid my forefinger across his lips to shush him. "Not now, Mac. This is more than a little overwhelming for me as well, but when you say you love me, do you mean that you trust me also?"
"Of course I trust you, Jo. I would put my life in your hands," he replied as I pulled my hand away, shaking his head and rolling his eyes, as if that was the most stupid question of all the ones I could have posed right then.
"Then trust me when I say we will figure it together, but not right now. I have a headache that can only be solved with sleep." I saw the mixture of further doubt and disappointment written across his face when I said this and couldn't help but smile upon seeing the latter cross his expression. He must have thought I was sending him away. "I wouldn't mind if you stayed the night and took the place of my pillow again, though. I'm pretty sure it would help me get a good night's sleep. Maybe in the morning I can challenge you to whip something together from the leftovers I have in my fridge and kitchen cupboards after all? What say you, Detective Taylor?"
At this, Mac smiled slightly, even if it was obvious he wasn't sure what he was agreeing to was the best plan.
"Trust me, Mac. We will talk about it extensively if you want... Just, not now."
This seemed to pull him over the edge, because he nodded, then stared me in the eyes as if he was looking at me for the first time in my life, cupping my jaw and leaning down to touch his lips to mine. It was soft, gentle, brief and sweet. When he pulled back, he stared at me with an openness I had never before seen but which shot straight to my core. "I've always wanted to do that," he said. "Now, if you want me to serve as your pillow, lead the way."
I laughed aloud, then took his hand and took him to the bedroom, where we both fell asleep very shortly after settling in, me having changed into my pajamas, him still in his clothes after ensuring me and especially himself, too, that if he got called to a scene, he would definitely have to stop by home to change first.
We did talk about it extensively. We did make it work. Five years later, and it is still working, even with the occasional challenge.
Summary: Set in the aftermath of 8.09 Means To An End. Mac admits.