AUTHOR'S NOTE: This isn't a new chapter, but a pretty substantial rewrite of the one I posted back in November. The content is essentially the same, but I churned out the original version in a rush and I was never truly satisfied with how it read. I hope you'll take a look at this new one and let me know what you think!
Her lips were everywhere; his hands were everywhere.
The uncertainty had been suffocating Mac for hours, but now that she'd sloughed off the chrysalis, she was finally free to fill her lungs, free to stretch her calcified limbs, free to match Will's enthusiasm and then some. In exactly no time at all, they were entwined on his bed, lost in each other, their mouths easily finding the rhythm that neither had ever been able to forget.
(The butterflies had long since given way to fireflies, glowing and flickering in every atom of her body.)
Neither of them could get enough.
Mac just had the presence of mind to pull off Will's jacket and urge him to step out of his pants before tumbling with him onto the bed. After that, all she wanted in the world was to spend the rest of her life kissing him, reveling in the feeling of him in her arms, and not a single obstacle standing in her way.
It was only after she had lost her skirt and Will was working methodically on the tiny buttons of her blouse that Mac remembered something very important.
"Wait," she gasped, the effect of her words somewhat muted by the way she continued to kiss him, like she'd devour him entirely if she could. They were both spiraling rapidly out of control, but she really did need Will to stop for a moment and listen. Otherwise, he was in for a very big surprise in just a matter of seconds, and she genuinely had no idea how he was going to take it.
"Wait," she tried again, giggling a little this time. "I've got to warn you—"
"I already know about the scar," Will assured her, and before she could correct him, he had already parted her blouse, revealing her silky, cranberry-coloured lingerie, and a thorny scar on her stomach, raised and dark against her pale skin.
The correction was on the tip of Mackenzie's tongue, but Will's hands on her waist were already beginning to wander, and she could see at once that he was not to be diverted for the foreseeable future. Biding her time, Mac eased surreptitiously onto her side, allowing Will to take a closer look.
The scar ran parallel to her left hipbone, and he propped himself up beside her, tracing it slowly and pensively with one finger, his expression never changing as he drank in the sight of her.
"It's smaller than I expected," he observed after some time. "It doesn't hurt any more, does it?"
Mackenzie shook her head. Honestly, the scar was such a part of her now that she almost couldn't remember a time when her skin had been smooth and blemish-free.
Will showed no signs of being anywhere near finished with his exploration, but Mac was happy to allow him to carry on for as long as he needed. She had forgotten how good it was, basking in the weight of his gaze on her – with his eyes alone, he could make her feel warm, and powerful, and more cherished than any person who had ever lived.
When Will was satisfied that he had mapped the entire length of the scar, he bent down to kiss it. "You're so beautiful," he murmured, almost purring as he nuzzled his face against her skin. "I've missed you so much."
It had been so long since Mackenzie had seen Will this relaxed, and she had no desire to break the magic spell that spun around them, but it was already very late, and there was an even more important conversation before them tonight.
"Will?" she said quietly, interrupting his ministrations. "It wasn't about the scar."
Will tilted his head, gazing up at her quizzically.
"I said before that I needed to warn you about something, but I didn't mean the scar," Mac clarified. "I meant – this."
With these words, Mackenzie turned to lie flat on her back, allowing Will his first glimpse of something he hadn't noticed before, a peculiar black line on the right side of her abdomen, roughly mirroring the position of her scar. It was smaller than the scar, however, and mostly hidden beneath her lingerie. After an encouraging nod from Mac, Will pulled aside the red fabric, revealing the rest of the mark.
Will's heart skipped a beat. His eyes opened wide, darting up to Mac's for confirmation before sliding back down to the mark, stunned and speechless disbelief rapidly giving way to bewilderment.
"That's my name," Will breathed, filled with awe.
Mac nodded. The spiky W, M and A, linked by an otherwise unintelligible scrawl, this was the prize sought by every fan who waited outside the AWM building each night after the broadcast. Only this time, it had been inked permanently onto Mackenzie's skin.
"What – when – why?" Will spluttered.
"After I got stabbed and before I came back to America," Mac replied calmly, as she watched him absorb the bombshell. "I stayed with my parents in London for a while as I was recovering. I had it done there, on New Year's Eve."
"But why?" he repeated, utterly dumbfounded. "Why would you—"
Mackenzie sighed, stroking the tattoo fondly with her thumb. How to explain how it had felt back then, two whole years after their breakup, and she was still woefully and painfully adrift?
As Will watched, Mac's eyes took on a glazed and distant look, and he knew that she was far away and remembering. He tried to be patient, certain there must be a story there, but his heart was still jangling in his chest, and now the room was beginning to spin around them.
"I think I need to lie down," Will said faintly, desperation creeping into his voice.
Mackenzie came back to herself in an instant, cursing as she helped Will to lie back against the headboard. Biting her lip, she hovered anxiously until he pulled her down beside him, her head upon shoulder. Taking her hand in his, he rested both of them on her stomach, matching her deep, even breaths until he could open his eyes.
"It's been three years," she reflected quietly when he nudged her, "and even now, I'm not sure how to explain it to you. Until five minutes ago, it never occurred to me that you were ever going to see it."
Will squeezed her hand, wordlessly begging her to continue.
"I needed it," she said simply. "I don't know how else to say it. I wasn't myself for a long time after we broke up. I know everyone thinks that getting stabbed really messed with my head, that it took something from me, but in a strange way, it was actually what brought me back to life. I had been existing for so long. After that, I started to find my way back to living again."
Mackenzie paused, watching Will trace the tattoo gingerly, an inscrutable look on his face.
"But even after that," she continued, "I think I was trying to be the person I was before we were together. I didn't realize it then. I just knew it wasn't right, that something didn't feel right. One day, I finally figured it out. I guess I got it to remind myself that even if I never saw you again, you were the single most important relationship I would ever have. I needed that tangible reminder of you if I was ever going to forgive myself and move forward."
Will didn't speak, but she could feel him hanging onto her words, trying to make sense of them.
"I'm sorry," she repeated, tilting her head to look up at him. "I know I'm not making sense. I promise I'll tell you the whole story from beginning to end if you want me to, but for now, can we just…"
Will allowed her to recapture his lips, and he responded – Will never failed to respond when it came to her – but she could feel the change in him, feel the gears turning in his head, instead of losing himself in their kiss. His hands kept returning to the plane of her stomach, sweeping from tattoo to scar and back again, as if determined to memorize these new contours of her body as well as he'd known the old ones.
At first, Mac contented herself with threading her fingers through Will's hair while they kissed, giddy with the knowledge that they had all the time in the world now. Soon, however, she began to feel that he was still wearing entirely too many clothes. She reached between them, her fingers ghosting over his stomach, but before she could undo even one button, Will's hands instantly ceased their explorations, clamping down over hers like a vice.
Mac's lips tore away from his with a disappointed whine. "Will?" she panted, tilting her head curiously at him.
Will stared down at his hands as if they had moved of their own accord, but he made no effort to loosen them. "I don't want – you can't – I'm not —" he stammered.
"Get there," she teased, slowly taking back possession of her hands and propping herself up beside her flustered fiancé.
The seconds stretched out uncomfortably between them, Will's body strangely rigid, his hands still clutching his shirt. "I'm – uh – not in as good a shape as I was five years ago," he muttered at last, tightly, avoiding her gaze. "I've put on some weight since then."
Mac snorted, pushing him onto his back and straddling his hips. "Careful, McAvoy," she said huskily, leaning forward to rasp into his ear. "That's my fiancé you're talking about."
Mackenzie expected to earn a smirk out of him at the very least, but Will ducked his head, his eyes looking anywhere but up at her, and she could feel his breaths coming shallow and fast beneath her. The longer she watched, the more scarlet his face became, the flushed skin spreading over his ears and beneath the collar of his shirt.
Her heart thudded to a standstill. "You're serious," she said, flatly and incredulous. "Will, come on. Everyone from Jenna to Leona is hopelessly jealous of me right now. Don't you know that?"
The silence she received in answer was deafening.
"Right, that's it," Mackenzie said, clambering off the bed and extending her hand. "Get up," she ordered imperiously.
"Mac, come on," Will protested, visibly mortified. "It's late, can't we just—"
"Get. Up," she repeated sternly, a tone he had long ago learned brooked no argument.
Her hand bunched in the back of his shirt, Mac steered a reluctant and agitated Will into the ensuite, flicking on the lights and forcing him to confront their images in the mirror.
"This is the man I want," Mackenzie said sharply, jabbing her finger at his reflection. "This is the man I love. I don't care if you're older or heavier or wrinklier. I love you."
Her chest heaving with emotion, Mac watched Will squirm under the harsh fluorescent glare. She could see all too plainly that her words were failing to take root, and it utterly floored her – how could he be anxious and insecure about this, with her?
Will turned his back on the mirror, and the seeds of an idea began to germinate in Mac's mind. "I own you, right?" she asked him thoughtfully. "You told me that before."
"You absolutely own me," Will said, wistful and wary, like this mystifying fact was a tenet of faith, and pride in being hers was the only thing still tethering him to reason.
"Then we do have a problem," she concluded slowly. "Because you haven't been taking care of something that belongs to me, and that's not okay."
Will's mouth fell open in a stunned 'o' of surprise, making him look more like a lost little boy than ever. "That's not – I'm – You — "
Mac sighed, hoisting herself up onto the counter and leaning back against the mirror, utterly exposed yet at ease in her skin. "I've changed too, Billy," she said, her soft, coaxing voice cutting through his splutter. "I'm not as thin or as young as I was either, but you still want me."
"I really, really do," he promised, his voice heavy. He shuffled closer when she reached out to take both of his hands in hers.
"And I want you too," she replied. "But you're doubting yourself right now, and that feels a little bit like you're doubting me, doubting my judgment in choosing you."
Will stared at her, stunned and miserable, until at last she took pity on him, drawing him to stand between her legs and wrapping her arms around his neck.
"You've been letting other people get in your head for far too long, and that stops now," Mackenzie said, quietly but very firmly. "I'm the only one allowed in there, do you understand me?"
Will hesitated, then nodded against her shoulder, wanting to believe her, to see himself the way she saw him, a far cry from the man he saw in the mirror every day. He exhaled deeply, his breath hot on her bare skin.
"We're both going to start taking better care of ourselves," she continued, threading her soothing fingers through his hair. "We'll eat healthier, we'll exercise, we'll get more sleep. But above all, we are going to communicate. If we're going to make this work, I need you to talk to me, especially when you're doubting yourself, and I'll do the same. Okay?"
"Okay," he replied cautiously, and Mac squeezed him tighter. It would take time – her influence was powerful, but no magical cure against a lifetime of self-doubt, and what he was promising was not going to come easy. She vowed not to push Will, to let him set the tempo for the time being. For tonight, just knowing that he was willing to try, for her, meant everything.
"What do you need from me?" she asked lightly, stroking up and down the length of his back. "Don't think, just say the first thing you think of."
"Tell me you love me?" Will begged, the words spilling out of him before he could drag them back, his skin burning hotter than ever as he tried to hide his face in the crook of her neck.
Mackenzie pulled back at once, framing his crimson face with both hands and forcing him to meet her gaze. "I. Love. You," she vowed, throwing her entire soul behind her words. "If you never believe another word I say, please believe that. I may not have said it as early as you did, but I swear I meant it every time I said it. I love you. I'll tell you eleven times a day if that's what it takes for you to believe me."
His eyes shining with unshed tears, Will sighed with relief when Mac allowed him to tuck himself back against her neck.
"Tell me again that you own me?" he whispered, his voice as small as he could make it, so soft that she almost didn't hear him.
"I own you," she said reverently, swallowing hard at the lump in her throat. "For the rest of our lives, you belong to me."
They held each other for an eternity after that, neither saying a word, just catching up on lost time and breathing each other in.
Needing to touch him, Mackenzie reached between them carefully with both hands, letting her long nails scrape a trail on Will's shirt all the way from his neck to his waist. She earned a soft, shivering cry for her efforts, one that lit a flame deep inside her belly, reawakening all the fireflies in an instant.
"That sound right there?" she whispered, her arms slipping loosely around his waist. "I missed that most of all. It's the sound of your guard being down, of just letting yourself feel, without wondering what the audience thinks. I can't tell you how much of a high it is to hear it, and to be the one responsible."
Will blushed fiercely, but Mackenzie vowed to keep telling him in every way possible just how much she loved him. Maybe, one day, he would be able to accept it without hesitation.
Until then, she allowed him to palm her thighs in his hands, stroking her skin from knee to hip. Her legs were almost always the part of her that he reached for when he was feeling sad or frightened or uncomfortable, and Mackenzie said nothing now as he calmed himself through her touch.
It wasn't long before his fingers were wandering further north, coming up to retrace the signature that now adorned her abdomen.
"Do you like it?" Mac asked for the first time, smiling.
"I do," Will admitted, shame colouring the edges of his voice. "I know I'm not supposed to, but I really, really do."
"Why shouldn't you?" Mackenzie asked, genuinely surprised.
"Because it's like a brand!" Will complained, shifting uncomfortably, but forcing himself not to pull away. "It's like I'm saying you belong to me."
"Will," Mackenzie said exasperatedly, unable to hold back an affectionate, teasing giggle. "That's exactly what it is, I thought you understood that. I own you, remember? So…"
"So … I own you too?" he asked slowly, his voice filled with wonder. Somehow, for all the proud assertions that she owned him, it had never occurred to him that the reverse might also be true. The weight of the truth sent the room spinning for the second time tonight, Will's knees threatening to give way beneath him.
Mackenzie was a rock through the entire dizzying storm, silently anchoring him against her body, keeping him upright until the vertigo passed and it was safe to guide him back to bed. She curled his half-clothed body around hers, and turned off the lights.
In the darkness, it was harder to keep his promise, all his fears crawling back out of the woodwork like photophobic moths. Owning Mackenzie was too much, too big to think about right now, a responsibility too great for a poor farmer's son from Nebraska. "I'm sorry about tonight, Mackenzie," Will murmured regretfully, feeling the silkiness of her lingerie beneath his fingers, certain this was not the way their night was supposed to end. "You deserve so much better than—"
But before he could say another word, Mackenzie's index finger was pressed firmly to his lips. "Hush," she commanded. "I fully expected to wake up tomorrow miserable, unemployed and alone. Instead, I'm in the arms of the only man I have ever loved. If I have ever done anything to deserve that, then I am the luckiest woman who ever lived."
Will held his tongue, and Mac fell asleep quickly after that, but the tide was coming back in, and all his insecurities along with it. You're wrong, Mackenzie, Will thought, as he finally followed her into a restless slumber. I'm not remotely good enough for you.