As Election Night drew to a close, Mackenzie McHale lingered along the fringes of her newsroom, arms crossed in front of her stomach. Now that the heady buzz of adrenaline and champagne was wearing off, she was left with only butterflies, teasing persistently at the pit of her stomach.
For the twentieth time tonight, Mackenzie caught herself toying with her engagement ring, and a gentle smile lit up her features, stunned and disbelieving. With just a few impassioned words, Will had turned her world on its head this evening, and she was still working to find her bearings.
Mac thought she must be dreaming at first, that she'd finally succumbed to her overwhelming exhaustion and fallen asleep on her feet in the control room. But even her most vivid of dreams could not have conjured up the way Will's hands tangled in her hair, the clumsy way his lips descended upon hers, the cool and tangible weight of diamond and gold on her finger.
No, this was real.
Incredible, but real.
In her distraction, Mac didn't hear anyone approaching until a large hand had crept around her from behind, settling firmly on her right hip.
Her lips parted, allowing the escape of an undignified and involuntary squeak. Her body remembered faster than her brain did, however, and she melted back against him, his fingers curling around her waist. For the first time since Will's rambling, incoherent announcement to the staff, she felt like she had both feet on solid ground.
Sighing blissfully, Mac turned and tucked herself against him in one fluid, practiced motion, her arms draping loosely around his stomach and her head against his shoulder. It was a dance that had once been as natural as breathing, yet it had been so long since she'd been free to touch him that it was enough to take her breath away.
Will pressed his lips to the top of her head, his nose buried in her hair. "Come home with me?" he asked, his voice muffled and cautiously hopeful. "I'm not ready to let go of you yet."
"Me neither," Mackenzie nodded, pressing a kiss of her own just above his heart.
The butterflies were multiplying.
Mackenzie swallowed hard and curled her legs beneath her in the car, draping herself across Will's body when he slid in beside her. If she could only keep all of her attention on him, she thought, maybe then she could imagine them away. Plowing tenaciously onward, she tilted her head to capture his lips with her own trembling ones, slowly, gently giving them both the time to explore and refamiliarize.
A few blocks from the apartment, Will took one of Mackenzie's hands in his, lightly stroking her palm as he cradled it in his lap. It was a simple gesture, meaningless coming from anybody else, but this was Will. It had been so long since he'd touched her properly that every nerve ending in her body was on red alert, starving for his touch.
She'd learned to treasure every millisecond of contact in the last few years, no matter how inconsequential. Even the way he'd grasped her shoulders on the night they got Bin Ladin – Mac still carried with her the memory of his large hands, warm on her skin, his wild eyes piercing deep into her soul. It had been agony not to touch him back that night, but she knew he wouldn't thank her for it later, once the impressive cocktail of drugs coursing through his veins had subsided and he was scrambling to take it all back.
Will had touched her so many times tonight that this should have paled in comparison, but the gentle sensation of one finger on her skin was enough to make her forget to breathe, her heart skipping a beat. Electricity coiled warmly in her belly, the frissons growing stronger with every block.
They resumed kissing as soon as they stepped into the elevator, faster and deeper than they had in the car, or in the shadowy corner of the studio.
An uncharacteristic urgency radiated from Will as he pressed her against the nearest wall, dipping his head to gain better access to her neck. Speed and instinct were more Mackenzie's domain than Will's, but he was throwing himself impulsively into this kiss, as if he'd truly forgotten that the last five years had even happened.
Mac stroked his arms slowly, savouring being so close to him after all this time, but the elevator seemed to be gathering speed as it climbed, the air growing immeasurably thinner with every floor.
She'd visited this apartment only twice, and hurtling back up there now was calling up a flood of uncomfortable associations – how this was where she'd found Will lying in a pool of his own blood because she'd never responded to a voicemail message she'd never heard which he'd only left because he was too wasted to realize how much he'd be kicking himself for it later.
By the time the elevator came to a screeching halt on Will's floor, the oxygen had almost entirely run out, and alarm bells were clanging in Mac's ears.
His confident hands roaming up and down her back, Will made to lead Mackenzie from the elevator, but she remained rooted to the spot, allowing her lips to drag away from his, and pressing one shaky hand to his chest.
"No regrets?" she choked out, the words tumbling unbidden from her lips.
The question had been gnawing at her insides all evening, worming its way into every doubtful corner of her heart. She'd tried to outrun it, tried not to ask, but she simply couldn't go another step without knowing. It wasn't fair to either of them. Better to know now, better to give him this out now, let them both protect their hearts and salvage their pride, before they got in too deep and someone got hurt.
(They were already fathoms too deep, and it was already going to be an exercise in torture).
The look Will shot her was one of impatience and exasperation, but his eyes were still smoldering wild and dark, and so Mackenzie was adamant. "I mean it, Will," she said firmly. Crossing her arms in front of her chest, she moved back, just beyond his reach, keeping the elevator door propped open with one foot.
She knew Will. She knew he'd meant his promise never to hurt her again. But she needed to know.
"I want this," she said urgently, desperate for him to understand. "I want this more than I've ever wanted anything in my entire life. But once I step foot inside your apartment, there's no going back. You get that, right? I can't do this and wonder if you're going to wake up tomorrow and change your mind."
"I'm not going to change my—" Will protested automatically.
But Mac cut him off. "I know, Will, but this is all happening really fast, and you're standing there looking at me exactly like you've gotten your hands on a few too many cookies. So I'm asking you again, and I need you to think, really think about this before you answer me – no regrets?"
They stared at each other, eyes wide and chests heaving, and she could see the moment when her words finally began to sink in. Will scrubbed his face with one hand, and as Mackenzie watched, the fever and flames slowly cleared, until the eyes reflecting back at her were the familiar blue she loved so much.
This time when he stepped back towards her, Mackenzie allowed it, his hands settling on her waist, solid and steady.
In slow, deliberate movements, Will eased Mac's arms down from around her torso and took her hands in his larger ones. "I regret many things," he said soberly, deaf to the sound of the bell calling the elevator back down to the lobby.
Mackenzie's heart hammered in her chest, but she drew a long, deep breath and squeezed Will's hands, urging him to continue.
"I regret so much of the last five years," he went on, stroking the back of her hands with his thumbs. "I hate how long it took me to stop hurting you. I deeply regret allowing you to bait me into firing you tonight – I knew what you were doing as soon as the words were out of my mouth. But asking you to marry me? No. I've never been more sure of anything. From the moment I put that ring on your finger where it belongs, I regret nothing after that."
Mackenzie's face broke into a gentle, genuine smile, just her second in far too long, and she nodded. She could feel his honest words reaching deep inside of her, piercing the papery cocoon around her heart, every ounce of anxiety steadily dissolving into her bloodstream.
This time, it was she who initiated the kiss, she who drew him into the apartment, swiftly navigating the path to Will's bedroom. Every step felt like a rebirth, like shedding a weighty and cumbersome skin, and leaving it behind them without looking back.
I never intended to stop here. Or even start here, actually. This fic was always going to be a one-shot, maybe two parts, and this chapter was never part of the original idea at all, just something I started as an afterthought to try to get into it. But I've been struggling to write at all lately, and I'm absolutely determined to have this one finished before the premiere, and this suddenly seemed like a really obvious natural break.
Wish me luck? At this point, it could be anywhere from one to three more chapters … we'll see! I'd really appreciate it if you could let me know what you think so far!
Thanks to Steph and Emily for listening to me whine on and on about this one.