He knew that she was avoiding him, it had been days since he had told her to butt out of his life, and for the first time in history, Jo Danville had done exactly as she was told, and that stood testament to just how hurt she was by his dismissal. Not just by the way he had so harshly told her to keep out of his business, but also because he didn't feel comfortable enough to confide in her. It made what she perceived as their closeness, one sided, and doubting their friendship hurt more than she cared to admit.
For days he had watched her completely guarded in his presence, ensuring that she was never left alone with him, that he never got the opportunity to corner her. It was unsettling, and heartbreaking to watch knowing that he had enforced the distance between them. Their once boundary-less friendship was now replaced by merely a shadow of what they once were.
"Are we grabbing dinner?" Donny asked Mac. They were finally done for the day, and their case was closed. Habitually they all gravitated towards each other and almost always ended a case with a quasi family dinner.
"Sure, where is everyone?" Mac asked. He was hoping to finally sit Jo down and apologize.
"Danny and Lindsay are just checking in with the babysitter, Sid and Hawkes are on their way up."
"Ellie's been staying at Russ' with Tyler while Jo's been on the case, so she said she just wants to hang out with her kids before the next case." Mac knew by the tone of Don's voice that he didn't believe that anymore than he thought Mac would. Though Jo was a dedicated mother who loved her kids and made every effort to spend whatever little free time she had with them, she had hardly if ever missed a post case quasi family dinner, more often than not Tyler and Ellie joined them, which they all enjoyed.
"Is everything okay with you two? I couldn't but feel there's a little bit of tension between you, actually tension isn't the right word, but something definitely is definitely weird between you."
"She caught me on a bad day, and I may have said a thing or two that may have been a breach of our friendship."
"It's not like Jo to take it to heart," Don said somewhat worriedly
"No, but as I said I'm pretty sure I crossed the line."
"I'm sure you'll sort it out. Jo has your back. She has all our back, but yours even more so. From the get go she has made it her mission to look out for you and very early on you trusted her implicitly and allowed her to have your back. Not even Stella was ever that comfortable with you, even after all the years." Mac realized that what Don was saying was true. There was something about Jo that made him trust her from the moment he met her. Their friendship was new, but it was unique and he valued it.
"When you were shot and we followed you to the hospital, she was almost hysterical Mac. She was beside herself, and it's rare for someone to care as much as she does, but she does," every second that passed Mac felt more and more like an ass hat.
Jo was enjoying her glass of wine, it was almost ten both Tyler and Ellie were fast asleep on her bed beside her. They had spent the night eating pizza and watching movies. All in all it was a perfect Friday night, if only she didn't have the Mac thing hovering over her. After his not subtle request to butt out of his life, she had taken it literally and stayed clear of him. Though not really one to just take no for an answer, there was something about his tone that surprised her, but it wasn't the surprise that lingered, it was the hurt and devastation she felt to have been put in her place, by Mac who made her question their friendship, something she once felt so confident about. Her phone started beside her interrupting her thoughts, she groaned hoping that it wasn't a case.
"Hello there sexy Momma." Jo grinned as she recognized the greeting if not the voice immediately.
"Penelope Garcia as I live and breathe, how are you?"
"Ah you know, the usual. My superheroes just closed a case and headed back home to me so I thought while I was waiting around in my lair, boxing up files I thought I'd give one of my favourite ladies a call."
"Oh thank you. It's always good to hear from you. I miss you."
"I miss you too. I miss those gorgeous children on yours too. How are they?"
"They keep growing, they're great, funny you should ask, I am currently in the middle of them right now."
"Movie night in your room? Let me guess, they're both fast asleep."
"Ahh, you know this family so well."
When Penelope moved to Virginia, Jo was the first person she met. Tyler was still little back then and she was still married to Russ. They had connected so easily and have never looked back. Penelope had helped Jo through her divorce, Ellie's adoption and was a big part of her kids lives as they grew up. Tyler and Ellie adored Penelope and the feeling was more than usual. Jo didn't know what she would have done without Penelope and vice versa. Penelope was inconsolable when Jo had told her they were moving to New York, but it made sense. With Tyler going to College there, it seemed logical to keep their family close in vicinity. It did make her feel better that Jo was going to be working with Mac Taylor. Both Jo and Mac knew of each other because of Penelope but had never met. Mac was one of Penelope's brother's best friends. She had grown up following him and her brothers around wherever they went, and as the only girl, her brothers had doted on her. Mac did too by extension, and she couldn't love him more if they shared parents. Jo couldn't help but wonder if it was so easy with Mac because of Penelope, and because through her it was as though they had known each other for years.
"So I have a few days off, and was wondering if you were up for some girl time. I can fly or drive there or you come here."
"That sounds fabulous. If you don't mind coming here it'd be great to have you. I'm sure Mac would love to see you too, in better circumstances." Jo added. Penelope had dropped everything to fly to New York after Mac was shot. She and Jo had sat with Christine as they waited in vigil for him to become conscious. Jo realized just how long Penelope knew him as she comfortably filled in his paperwork at the hospital.
"It would be nice to go there without holding my breath the whole way."
"So when are you thinking of coming?"
"Tomorrow okay? The troops should be home in an hour, we'll grab dinner, and Derek will probably hang at mine before I kick him out to head to New York. I'll book a flight and call you with details."
"Sounds like a plan. Be sure to drop Mac a line to let him know you're coming so he can clear his schedule, you're not going to want to be lectured." Penelope chuckled knowing she was right.
"I will do. He dropped me a message this afternoon, he said that you guys were just finishing up a case. He was going to call after dinner."
"They should be finishing up soon. I'll see you tomorrow. Call me with your flight details and the kids and I will pick you up."
"Yay, so looking forward to it."
"Me too, I've really missed you P."
"I've miss you! I can't wait to hug you all tomorrow."
Jo hung up the phone with a big smile on her face. A Penelope visit was exactly what she needed. She was looking forward to seeing her friend. As much as she had grown to love Don, Danny, Lindsay, Sheldon and Sid, Penelope knew her like no one else really did and right now that's what she needed and all she wanted. The news of Penelope's arrival allowed her to close her eyes and fall peacefully to sleep.
Jo probably shouldn't have been surprised to see Mac at the airport, but her mere excitement to see Penelope had clouded her thinking. Thankful that she had brought her children she was able to hold the composure that threatened to abandon her as she saw him. He wanted to talk to her, and she knew that, but her stubbornness refused to acknowledge it.
"Uncle Mac, are you here for Aunt P too?" Ellie asked giving him a hug hello, Tyler following in suit. In the almost two years they had known each other Mac had become a prominent part of her kids life. Ellie thought the world of him and Tyler had great respect for him knowing that he looked out for his Mom out on the field.
"Hey Kiddo, yeah I'm here for your Aunt P too. Hey Slugger, how's school?"
"Hard, but strangely I love that part."
"Jo," he greeted warmly,
"Hey Mac," she replied politely
"So Uncle Mac, I have this paper due I was hoping you could help me with," Jo was about to jump in when Mac have her a reassuring look, he didn't mind, and it wasn't the first time he had helped either of her kids with school work or anything they needed help with.
"Hello Family…" Penelope said excitedly as she spotted them, Jo broke into the biggest grin and met Penelope's embrace with a force.
"It's so good to see you P."
"You too, all of you." She stated giving them all a hug hello.
"Hey Big Brother. It's good to see you not in a hospital." Penelope said tearfully as he hugged her.
"Hey, I'm okay little one. I promise." He reassured her planting a kiss on her forehead.
"What do you say we all grab brunch?"
"Yes, Uncle Mac can we go to that Diner near where you and Mom work. They have the best pancakes?"
"Sure sweetheart. What do you say you and your brother ride with me so your Mom and Aunt P can catch up for a bit?" Ellie and Tyler looked at her hopefully to which she nodded her consent. Mac handed Tyler his keys,
"You drive," Tyler beamed. He loved driving Mac's SUV, his Mom drove a station wagon, and living on campus and having Jo's apartment close to public transport, there was no need for a car. Penelope let Mac and Tyler take her luggage and looped her arm through Jo's as they went towards another direction.
"So you want to tell me why you're really here Penelope Garcia?" Jo asked suspiciously.
"What? Can't a girl come and visit her family?"
"She can but I know you better than that, I know you're here for other reasons aside from that."
"Okay, okay. He seems a little off lately. When we talk on the phone, he seems, I don't know how else to explain it, but off."
"You know if I can see right through you, so can he." Jo said with a smirk,
"And I can see right through you both, what happened? Did you have a fight or something?" Penelope countered.
"Not so much a fight, but I guess an or something. Let's just say he rightfully put me in my place." Jo answered as she began to tell Penelope what had happened,
"That's horse crap. You may doubt it now but I know he values your friendship and despite the fact you two haven't known each other very long, he trusts you implicitly, and for Mac that's no easy feat."
"You weren't there P." Jo replied quietly. Penelope placed a hand on Jo's arm that was resting on the steering wheel and gave it a squeeze,
"Trust me when I tell you that he probably feels as bad if not worse than you do about this. You'll sort it out."
"I guess," Jo said with a shrug, not entirely convinced.
After brunch Jo ran errands at the mall with the kids leaving Mac and Penelope at Starbucks to catch up on their own. Mac watched in amusement as Penelope casually sipped her Salted Caramel Mocha waiting for him to unravel before her.
"You know you're going to anyway so you may as well start Tay." Penelope encouraged holding her Grande with both hands waiting for him to begin. Mac sighed, he may be able to stare everyone else down, deny the truth to whoever asked, but not Penelope. She was the sister he never had, and if there were a person he would tell freely, it would be her.
"I've been having issues remembering things, after the shooting" she waited for him to go on, when he didn't she began to ask him questions,
"As in I don't know where I left my keys, did I shampoo my hair this morning, or I don't know where I am difficulty remembering?"
"More, I forget what colour is red, whether square fits into a round hole. You know kindergarten stuff."
"What did the Doctor say?" she asked realizing why he would be so adamant to assure everyone he was okay.
"That I just have to keep working on my exercises, it's just about retraining my brain."
"How does this fit in with your job?" Penelope inquired delicately,
"The good thing if not the frustrating this is that I remember everything else, but the basics, I have a problem deciphering." Penelope placed a hand over his. Mac met her gaze and placed his other hand on top of hers,
"I'm glad you're here Squirt."
"Me too. Have you talked to Christine about this?"
"Yes. She sort of Shanghai'd me thanks to Jo's poking and prodding."
"Also known as a friend concerned for another friend." Penelope slipped in,
"I know. After I talked to Christine about it, it didn't seem as bad. But I sort of chewed Jo out and told her to butt out of my life."
"Wow, don't you feel like an ass hat?" she teased,
"I truly do. I regretted the words as soon as they came out, I just didn't know how to reel them back in. She's been avoiding me ever since."
"Try harder, you owe her that much."
When the Danville's returned to Starbucks Penelope stood to her feet and not so subtly excused herself and the two Danville kids so she could take them shopping, before Jo could protest they were gone.
"Like a tornado that one." He observed with a smirk,
"Subtle as a sledgehammer." Jo muttered knowing that a talk was inevitable.
"I'm sorry Jo," Mac apologized meaningfully,
'As one of my closest friends, you had a every right to back me into a corner. I appreciate that you care about me that much."
"I told you to butt out because I didn't want you to know what it was I was struggling with, not because I don't trust you, but because I didn't want you to worry. I didn't want you to look at me differently, and I didn't want you to see what was going on." As Mac began to tell her what he had only told Penelope less than an hour ago, he felt the weight lift from his shoulders. Jo understood his fear and his hesitation,
"I get it. You're still an ass hat, but I get it."
"I'm sorry if I made you feel as though I didn't trust you, that we weren't the kind of friends who can keep each other accountable. I trust you with my life Jo. When I was in the operating table, I think I was hallucinating. You and I were standing in my office and you asked me what I would miss, and I began to tell you what I would miss. I said the people, the team, Danny's stubbornness. Lindsay's conviction. Hawkes' brain. Flack's sarcasm. Sid's quirkiness. Adam's…well Adam." Jo smiled,
"Your friendship," he added. Jo softened,
"I even told you I'd miss your Post Its." Jo chuckled as she rolled her eyes,
"Conscious or otherwise, spoken or not I cherish our friendship Jo. You see right through me and you have been my partner from get go. I guess I was so scared to be completely honest with you because I didn't want to change that."
"Tell me," she encouraged without being demanding. As he told her, she couldn't help but feel her heart ache, she knew why he was so scared. It wasn't that he didn't want anyone to know, well not entirely. She knew that he didn't want them to worry about them, but his fear wasn't just that. It was the mere fact that saying it out loud, gave it power. And saying it out loud meant hearing it for himself, and he wasn't really ready to hear it just yet. Without a word she stood up and sat beside him in his booth. They sat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes, and without a word Jo dropped her lips to his shoulder,
"Okay," she murmured and that one word conveyed such definitive solidarity that was a true testament of their friendship, and it made him so grateful for her, and the rest of his inner circle for he knew that one word spoke not only for her but for the rest of them too. Mac draped an arm across her shoulders and pulled her into a side hug kissing the side of her head.
"Thank you." He said so simply yet so meaningfully.