Inspired by the thought of what would happen if Stella went back to New York to visit and met her replacement.
Everything was as she had left it. With a smile, she entered onto the 35th floor, the New York Crime Lab a busy thrum of people. Stella Bonasera enjoyed the familiarity of the place she had come to consider 'home'. Despite the fact that she had only been gone a few months, it somehow felt foreign knowing she no longer worked here. What was that saying, you can never return home?
Stella certainly hoped that was not the case.
This time instead of walking into the lab as a Detective, a visitor's pass was attached to her blazer. This visit was purely social, an unexpected meet and greet with her New York family whom she had been missing dearly since her arrival in New Orleans. After blocking several days off, Stella had decided to pay an unannounced visit to her friends.
Telephone calls had gotten her through the first few weeks. Emails had sufficed after that, at first daily but now weekly. Stella had called Mac almost in tears on several occasions convinced she had made a mistake. The lab was good, her team was great but it didn't feel like home. Her best friend's advice had sustained her through the initial rough patches, one conversation in particular sticking in her head.
"Stella, you aren't stuck there forever. You need to give it more time and if it still is too hard for you, then you will always have a job back here in New York," Mac's sombre voice soothed through the phone.
"I'm worried I made a mistake. What if I don't make a good leader?" Stella sat curled up on her apartment coach, most of her belongings remained packed away. Only the necessities had been removed, a few pictures of her New York family sat on her table. Despite being given some time to settle into her new place, she had been procrastinating. It was all becoming real that New Orleans was her new home.
"Stella, you have demonstrated on more than one occasion that you are more than qualified as a team leader. We discussed that this was the next natural step in your career, experience you need to continue up the ladder. Someday you will be ear marked for my position," Mac stated matter of factly, a chuckle traveling through the phone. He could see her characteristic smile beaming back at him.
"Oh Mac, you say that like you will ever retire," Stella stated playfully. Silence then filled the line, a soft sigh leaving Stella's lips. "Mac, what am I going to do without you keeping me on the straight and narrow?"
"Someone has their job cut out for them," Mac replied dead pan.
"Stella!" an enthusiastic voice cut into her thoughts, causing her to look up in time to see Adam heading in her direction with a large smile on his boyish features.
"Hey kiddo," Stella greeted as she embraced him lightly; he quickly stood back and began nervously wringing his hands. He somehow looked older to her, more mature or was it just the fact that her time away from him had allowed her to view the lab tech as more than a young, brilliant nerd.
"What are you doing here? ...I mean not that I'm not happy to see you...I mean..."
Cutting into his rambling, Stella held up her hand effectively stopping him mid-sentence. "I'm just visiting. I had to make sure you guys were hanging in there without me," Stella stated with a smile.
"It's not the same without ya Stella," Adam replied honestly. Stella smiled warmly, giving his shoulder a squeeze. His words meant more than he knew.
"You look like you are getting along okay. How's the new girl treating you?" Although Stella had been aware of her replacement, she had not meant Jo Danville prior to leaving but from Mac's description, she sounded like a good fit for the team.
"She's tough but fair and has a good sense of humour," Adam answered, as he watched Stella's eyes stray to Mac's office. "Jo is in Mac's office right now going over a case." She nodded her head absently before returning her attention to the young man before her.
"Where is everyone else?"
"Danny and Sheldon are at a scene. Lindsay is down at the precinct with Flack." Stella smiled, that meant she could have a little time with Mac before the others returned.
"Thanks Adam. Drinks tonight, I'm only here a few days we have to celebrate," Stella ordered, causing the lab tech to smile and nod his head. With a wave, Adam departed leaving Stella looking to Mac's office.
He sat at his desk absorbed in some paper work that Jo appeared to be going over with him. She admitted that it made her jealous watching someone else doing her old job. Stella had spent a long time as Mac's partner; it still pained her to remember that was not her job anymore. She only hoped that Jo was half as good as her, Mac needed a lot of taking care of.
She watched their interaction, noting that they appeared to have a comfortable working relationship. They were sharing the occasional laugh, Mac nodding his head as he listened to Jo's explanation. There seemed to be some camaraderie there, a sense of loyalty, all attributes that Mac could identify with. Jo appeared to be approachable, a good resource for the rest of the team. Before she had even meant the woman, Stella decided she approved. Judging from the comments Lindsay and Danny had disclosed to her, well warranted.
As if sensing her green eyes scrutinizing him, Mac looked up from his paper work. His blue eyes immediately connected with hers, causing a smile. His lips moved and the other woman in his office turned in her direction. Stella waved and started towards his office.
It was so much like home, except different.
Mac's attention had not been what it should all day. As much as he was used to insomnia, lately his sleeplessness had been having more of an effect. He had been spending more and more time at the lab in an attempt to ward of his fatigue and make use of his extra time. Unfortunately, it had not gone unnoticed and he had been called on it by several members o f his team. Most recently, Jo had added her opinion.
Mac had been contemplating going to visit Stella in New Orleans, but was unsure if that was a good idea. The last email he had received from his former partner had stated that she was finally beginning to feel things were moving in the right direction. It had been hard for Mac to field her phone calls in the beginning, Stella so unsure of herself and Mac was desperately trying not to tell her he wanted her to come home. So instead, he had been the voice of reason and exactly what she had needed.
Now though, Mac found he was missing her companionship.
"Mac, are you with me?" Jo asked concerned, as he looked up to find her staring at him. He shook his head sheepishly.
"Sorry Jo, I haven't been able to sleep well lately," He told a half-truth hoping it would appease her and they could move on.
"From what I'm told that is not a new occurrence," Jo called him on his lie and it forced him to give her a smile. She had an uncanny ability to do that, similar to Stella. Although Claire had that ability as well, so maybe it was a female thing and he wasn't as hard to read as he thought.
"No, it's not," he answered simply.
"We can do this later Mac...,"Jo offered, sensing he needed some time to focus his thoughts. Mac shook his head and was about to answer when he spotted familiar brown curls in the Lab's foyer. Staring for a few seconds to be sure, Mac saw Adam practically skipping away and then watched as she stood staring at his office. Sensing him, Stella smiled.
"Mac?" Jo asked confused as he sat staring out his office.
"Stella's here," he stated simply, the other woman turning and watching as the curly haired woman waved before starting towards his office.
"Oh," Jo watched as the detective strode toward them, dressed casually in jeans and a shirt with a grey blazer. Brown curly hair fell to her shoulder, Jo immediately aware of how beautiful she was. Stella strode easily up to Mac's office and entered as she had I'm sure a thousand times before.
"Hey Mac," Stella greeted with a beaming smile. Mac was up and around the desk, quickly embracing his friend in an unusual show of affection.
"What are you doing here?" Mac asked confused, "They let you have time off already?" he chided, as he stepped away, trying to regain his composure.
"One of the perks of being the boss Mac, you should try it sometime," Stella stated as she stuck her finger into his chest accusingly with a smile. "I just came to visit," she pointed out. Turning to Jo, she offered her hand and a big smile.
"Jo I presume?" as the other woman accepted her hand and shook heartily.
"Correct. Nice to meet you Detective Bonasera," Jo greeted formally.
"It's Stella," she replied quickly, "And I hope Mac's not giving you too much trouble." Jo smiled at this, watching as Mac gave them both a confused look. His forehead creased into a frown line.
"Me?" Both women knew he was oblivious to how much help he needed sometimes. For a perceptive detective he was so clueless at times.
"Oh he has his moments," Jo answered cryptically, causing Stella to chuckle.
"Why do I get the feeling you two are conspiring against me?" Mac asked, his gaze moving from Stella to Jo and back to his former partner. Her lips were pulled into mischievous smile as she gently laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"Because we are Mac, I need to ensure someone makes sure you don't stay here every night. You are as stubborn as a mule." Stella could attest to several occasions where she had been the only reason he had bothered to leave. That was the worst part about being in New Orleans; Stella knew that Mac would never give her a truthful answer as to how he was doing. He was the master of denial.
"I prefer the term jack..."
"Okay, that's enough. You two have had your fun. I'll catch you later Jo," Mac stated quickly, dismissing his colleague and trying to regain some control over the situation. Mac hadn't figured on the two women's common interests to include him and how they 'handle' him.
"Is he always a party pooper?" Jo questioned, as she gathered her papers from his desk.
"Usually," Stella answered playfully. She heard a warning sound from Mac, indicating he was not impressed with the line of conversation.
"Nice to meet you Stella."The other woman graciously smiled, Jo sensing that Mac's well-being was very important to her. She got the distinct feeling they cared very much for each other. Of course, they had been partners for a very long time so it made sense they remained close.
"You too. We're meeting after work tonight for drinks if you're interested. I'm only here a couple days." Jo nodded her head in acknowledgement, before giving Mac a final smile before leaving them alone in the office.
"Well you two sure found some common ground," Mac stated grumpily, as he returned to his desk to sit down. Stella laughed as she sat opposite him, her petite frame dropping heavily into the chair. Looking about his office, Stella realized how much she missed the familiarity of the lab. She still found herself making the comparison, 'it wasn't like that in New York' but she was starting to realize that it was never going to be the same. Instead, she had to focus on making it the New Orleans Lab.
"I see you're not too happy that ground is you," Stella offered as she crossed her legs, resting her hands upon her knees. "Any good partner looks out for the other. I just want to make sure someone has your back while I'm gone," Stella pointed out matter-of-factly. "It's hard giving up that position to someone else."
Mac's eyebrows rose as he watched her genuinely appear concerned about his well-being without her around. "Stella, I am more than capable of looking out for myself but, as far as my backside goes-Jo has it covered."
"Good," Stella sighed deeply, as if releasing a burden. "That makes me feel better knowing everyone is in good hands. I prefer my hands but Jo appears to have things in order." Mac merely nodded his head in agreement. The transition had been smooth, but it had been obvious Stella had left a large void to fill. Jo very smartly had not tried to replace Stella, very quietly earning the team's respect with her actions.
"Well, everyone will be happy to see you. Your presence has been missed Stella," Mac answered truthfully, meeting Stella's gaze. Mac contemplated adding it was really hard for him but refrained. Stella smiled, leaning forward to lean on his desk. They had been in this exact position so many times before; it was as if she hadn't left. So easy to forget the fact she would be leaving in a couple days.
"It hasn't been an easy transition. You heard me those few weeks- I was a mess. I think I have it worked out now though. I feel like I can visit without the risk of wanting to stay overwhelm me. Mostly, I just really missed you guys." Stella felt her eyes misting and quickly wiped them, her trademark smile lighting her features. "And I came prepared to have a good time. So book yourself off Mac, you are taking me sight-seeing."
Mac chuckled at this comment, his brow rising questioningly. "Stella, you lived here all your life."
"Okay, so I just want to enjoy my time here with my best friend," Stella verified with a smile, "Starting with drinks tonight at Sullivan's." Mac groaned slightly.
"What time?" Stella laughed as he gave her a mock-annoyed glare.
"It will be fun."
Fun was probably not the word he would choose to describe the scenario but once present, he knew Stella was right-it would be fun. Mac sighed, before giving Stella a pleading look. "No more trading state secrets with my new partner," he gave her a warning look causing her to smile before nodding in agreement. "And you will stay at my place. There is a spare room. No arguments."
It was her turn to hand out a warning glare, "Mac Taylor, you drive a hard bargain. It's a deal," Stella shook her head as he smiled triumphantly.
Mac suddenly felt that maybe it was not such a bad idea to take a few days off.