The rest of the weekend was spent in much the same way, with Will and Mac hovering little more than arm's length apart, both of them needing comfort in the wake of the accident. They both knew just how lucky they had been, recognizing that the outcome could have been far, far worse. For the better part of three days, neither of them were eager to stray very far from Will's bed or his couch, talking and cuddling and reassuring each other.
By Sunday evening, however, their workaholic instincts had begun to kick in, both of them itching to return to the chaos of the newsroom. After promising Will that she would take it easy, that she wouldn't try to do too much all at once, Mac called Charlie to let him know that they would be back the next day.
The staff were all clustered around the desks nearest the elevators when Will and Mac arrived on Monday morning, and they applauded loudly as the pair made their way into the bullpen. Mac's face flushed in an instant. Gazing around at their beaming faces, Mac had to wonder just what version of the story they had been given, and by whom.
She cleared her throat. "Conference room, now," she said briskly, shooting them all her look of practiced sternness, though the effect was considerably diminished by the almost comical redness in her cheeks. "Maybe you got away with all this standing around with Don and Elliot in charge, but I expect pitches. The G8 Summit, Libya, the NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan. Go!"
Still grinning, the News Night team scattered, spurred into action. Mac glanced up at Will as they settled into their seats in the conference room, and found him smirking back at her, as she had known he would be. He knew that she had never wanted the limelight, would always be more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it, and would be much happier if things could all just get back to normal as quickly as possible. Still, surrounded by their work family, he couldn't resist teasing her just a little. She stuck her tongue out at him, the blush finally receding from her cheeks, before calling the pitch meeting to order.
It didn't take long for the predictable rhythm of the newsday to take hold. Though Mac's arm was still immobilized against her chest, she did all the things that she normally did and more, effortlessly switching hands or working one-handed whenever necessary. Pretty soon, the others began to forget that the sling was even there, or that she and Will had ever been away at all.
The day progressed as usual, right up until the two minute warning before airtime, when Will turned and entered the control room upon leaving his office, rather than taking his seat at the anchor desk. Struggling to arrange her headset over her ears without the aid of a second hand, Mac looked up at him in surprise.
"You do know you've got a show to do," she remarked, with a slight quirk of her eyebrow.
"This will only take a minute," Will said, coming to stand behind her and slipping one arm around her, reaching for her right wrist. Before Mac even realized what he was up to, Will had slipped from her wrist the spare hair elastic Mac always wore there. Gathering her hair in his fingers, Will deftly twisted it up into the ponytail that Mac always wore when she was producing.
"Now we can do the show," Will said simply, squeezing her hip and making his way into the studio just in time.
Mac blushed in the darkness, and butterflies fluttered in her stomach, but a fleeting glance around the control room showed that nobody was paying them any attention, deeply immersed in their own tasks.
Not for the first time, Mac wondered what their colleagues knew. Too often, the newsroom felt like a slightly older version of middle school, complete with the rumours and the hormones, but she and Will had never faced any of the whispers, giggles and knowing glances she had been anticipating for months. Charlie had certainly been smiling more lately, but he had good instincts about these things, and could always be relied upon to be discreet. Perhaps Jim had spoken to the rest of the staff, said something before the gossip could reach her ears – she knew that he, more than anyone, had seen firsthand how much happier she and Will had both been lately, and there was just no way that an entire newsroom full of reporters could be this unobservant.
Still, there was no need to make it too obvious for them, so when it was time to get ready for their show the next night, Mac made a detour to Will's office, coyly presenting him with her wrist, and allowing him to tie her hair back, in private this time. He did this for her every night for the next two weeks, until she was finally allowed to stop wearing the sling. Now that she was fully able to take care of herself once more, Mac had officially moved back to her own apartment, though she and Will were actually spending more time together than ever.
The weeks passed, and Mac began attending regular physical therapy sessions at the hospital to help her regain the full use of her shoulder. These appointments kept her away from the newsroom far more than she would have liked, but Jim was happily taking on extra responsibilities in her absence, and she still arrived in plenty of time to avert any disasters that arose before showtime. By July, Mac's shoulder was almost as good as new.
Last physical therapy session today, Mac texted Will one morning, walking into the hospital as she typed. You should take me out tonight to celebrate. She had just reached the waiting room when her phone beeped in reply. She smiled, hovering just inside the doorway to read Will's response.
Mac was still grinning when the phone was knocked out of her hand, and she was shoved roughly, her arm scraping against the receptionist's desk as she staggered and lost her balance.
"Hey!" she yelled, but the breath had been knocked out of her, so the sound that emerged was really more of a croak. This was just as well, because it was only after she had righted herself, and was whirling around to confront the idiot responsible, that Mac finally saw the gun.
As she watched, frozen where she stood, the young man swept into the centre of the room, and, lifting one foot, he stomped down on her phone, shattering it beneath his heel. The next second, he was pointing the gun at the small crowd, and the room was suddenly filled with screams and shouts. Mac was too stunned to make a sound, her mouth dropping open in silent shock.
"Shut up!" the gunman yelled, wheeling around and aiming at anyone who dared to disobey him. Just as quickly, the cries were silenced, and all that could be heard was the sound of a dozen people gulping for air, the room suddenly devoid of oxygen.
"Everybody sit down!" he shouted. The others complied at once, scrambling to find seats as quickly as they could. Mac found an empty chair in one corner of the room, and sank down into it, her legs shaking beneath her.
As Mac watched, the gunman rounded the receptionist's desk, speaking to her in a low voice. The receptionist said something back, her forehead wrinkling just slightly, but whatever she said did not please the gunman, because the next instant his gun was pressed against her temple. Visibly trembling, the woman picked up the phone, dialed a number, and relayed the message the gunman had given her. When she was finished, she returned the phone to its cradle, and he lowered his gun, coming back around the desk and pacing from one end of the room to the other, muttering to himself under his breath.
Meanwhile, Mac's mind had been working hard, formulating a kind of plan. He has to want something, she thought. I just need to find out what it is. If he thought that she could help him, then maybe he would be willing to negotiate a surrender, and let the hostages go. She just needed to get closer.
Mac edged forward in her chair, willing the gunman's eyes to meet her own as he passed her, but he wasn't looking her way. Then, something happened that shattered Mac's hopeful delusions once and for all.
Mac's Blackberry, which she had thought broken beyond repair, suddenly surged back to life, reminding her impatiently that she still had an unread text message. The beeping sound fractured the uneasy silence, making everyone leap out of their seats in alarm. No one was more startled, however, than the gunman himself. He spun around, his nervous finger already on the trigger, and fired a bullet through the nearest wall.
Mac's racing heart leapt into her throat, and she sank back into her chair, making herself as small and invisible as possible. What were you thinking? she screamed at herself. Don't you ever learn? After the car accident, Will had all but accused Mac of having a reckless disregard for her own safety, and she had apparently set out to prove him right. This instinct, coupled with a narcissistic belief that she could single-handedly solve the world's problems, had steered her very wrong in the past.
Finding herself in the middle of a Shiite protest in Islamabad, Mac had vaulted into the fray without a second thought, convinced that she could help defuse the situation by giving these angry young men a platform to voice their feelings, but she couldn't have been more wrong. She had quickly found herself lying on the ground, a pool of blood spilling from her abdomen, the camera smashed to pieces beside her, and Jim's frantic face swimming in and out of focus above her.
Mac wouldn't make that same mistake again. Yes, she had learned the hard way that she was way out of her depth that day, but it was more than that. Mac had truly been a different person back then – that Mac was miserable beyond words, and ran headlong into dangerous situations with almost no fear, because she felt she had nothing left to lose. This Mac was different: she was the happiest she had ever been in her life – or at least, she was on the verge of it, which was almost the same thing – and she was prepared to do whatever it took to stay that way. If that included sitting back, staying quiet and leaving this to the professionals, then so be it. Trying to recall everything she had ever heard or read about hostage situations, Mac slouched a little in her chair, doing her very best to blend in.
The gunman stared at the wall for some time, as if he couldn't quite believe that he was responsible for the hole. Finally, he slowly made his way over to the receptionist's desk and leaned against it, his head cradled in one hand, staring down at the gun he still held in the other.
Mac sat perfectly still in her chair, determined not to break the fragile equilibrium that had tentatively been established in the room. Inwardly, however, she was quaking. Though she knew it was the safest course of action, remaining motionless and silent like this went against every instinct she had ever had, and it was making her more agitated and anxious by the second. The silence in the room was deafening, and it pressed in on her, squeezing her throat closed, so that she struggled to draw breath. Her heart raced, and her hands, where she clasped them in her lap, were like ice.
Mac heard a siren in the distance, drawing nearer, and she imagined the police who must be waiting just outside, patiently assessing the standoff. She knew from experience that if the police were here, then the media would not be far behind.
Will would be watching this.
Mac's heart thudded painfully. Will, she thought frantically. Will, I'm so sorry!
Because this was going to kill him.
She imagined him standing stock-still in his office, watching a live shot of the hospital, fully aware that she was caught right in the middle of it. He must be losing his mind! Mac thought, filled with a sudden, excruciating pain. She had witnessed first-hand just how much it had shaken Will when she was hit by that car, and the only real injury that day had been her shoulder. If she died here today, it would absolutely destroy him, and he really would never recover.
Stop this, Mac blasted herself. You spent more than two years in the middle of a war-zone, and you survived. There is just no way that some punk with a gun is going to come between us now, not when we're so close to where we need to be.
Slowly, so as not to draw attention to herself, Mac's frozen fingers inched towards the collar of her shirt, until they were touching the leather cord she always wore around her neck. Touching it grounded her, and she began to feel better almost at once. She could feel the large pendant, nestled between her breasts, and concentrating on it, she was able to draw herself inwards, until Will's name, and his face, were the sole focus of her mind's eye.
Breathe in, breathe out, she said to herself, breathe in, breathe out. You're going to be fine. You're going to get out of here, and then you can go find Will. Everything is going to be just fine. If she closed her eyes and thought hard enough, Mac could almost feel his arms around her, keeping her calm and safe.
For a long time after that, nothing happened, nobody moving a muscle for hours, but Mac no longer felt restless, now that she had Will to focus on. Over and over in her mind, she imagined the moment when she would finally be able to put him out of his misery.
The part of her mind that remained alert to her surroundings was still watching the gunman, whose emotions had shifted from panicked to resigned sometime in the last hour. He had released the hold he had on the gun, letting it rest on the desk, and for some time now, he had been staring at the phone, as if he was willing it to ring. When it did, at last, a little after 1:00, he and Mac were the only ones who didn't jump.
In the end, it took very little negotiating with the police to get the gunman to surrender. He answered the phone, and, after a short conversation, agreed to lay down his gun, allowing the police officers who were waiting outside the door to arrest him. When he was finally gone, the other hostages slowly and cautiously began to move and speak freely again. Many of them hugged each other, crying tears of relief.
Mac wanted no part of it. Her desperation to get out of there, get to Will as quickly as possible, was so strong that she couldn't even sit still any longer. There are procedures that must be followed in situations like this, however, and so Mac submitted, albeit impatiently, to police questioning. When they urged her to seek medical treatment, or to speak to someone about the ordeal, however, Mac politely but firmly declined.
Finally, Mac was free to go. She was able to restrain herself, taking swift but measured steps as she made her way back through the lobby, but as soon as she reached the hospital entrance, she was off and running down the street as quickly as her legs would carry her. She noted the crush of media outside, but didn't stop for a second. Mac could probably have borrowed a phone from any number of people there, but she couldn't bear to waste even a second more than she had to. She needed to get to Will.
With this single-minded determination, Mac raced the entire way to the studio, a few blocks away, only stopping to breathe when she hurled herself into the elevator of the ACN building.
"Mac!" somebody shouted, the instant she emerged into the newsroom. Every head turned in her direction, and before she could say a word, the entire staff was running towards her, relief on all of their faces. Maggie, Jim and Don all reached her at the same time, and Jim pulled her into a tight hug.
Mac hugged him back, loosely, for a moment, but she had more important things on her mind, so she soon pushed him away. "Where's Will?" she asked, craning around, keenly aware that the only person she wanted to see right now was the one member of their team not in the vicinity. "I'm fine, guys, back off. Where is he?"
Nobody answered, but Jim ran a nervous hand through his hair, a slightly pained look on his face. It was the one he wore when he had something he didn't want to tell her.
"Everybody back to work," Mac said quietly, her throat tightening. She swallowed hard. "Jim?"
Jim sighed, and pulled Mac over to his desk. "Will was super freaked out. He shut himself up in his office hours ago," Jim said quietly. "Said he didn't want to see anybody until it was over, one way or another, and you were either here, or…"
Mac nodded, her heart sinking. Though she had been expecting the worst, this was about as bad as she could have imagined. She beckoned Don over to join them.
"Do you guys have the show under control for tonight?" she asked them.
"Should you even be here?" Don asked. "Shouldn't you take the day off, go home, try to relax?" Jim didn't say anything, but from the looks he was giving her, he was clearly thinking the same thing.
Mac rolled her eyes impatiently. It was like they didn't know her at all. "The best thing for me right now is to stay busy, so if Will wants to do the show, we're doing it. I have no idea what I'm walking in on in there, so you'd better let Elliot know we might need him to step in."
"Got it," said Don, squeezing her arm.
"Once I go in there, I don't want anyone disturbing us. I don't care what's happening out here, nobody even comes near that door. Understand? I'll let you know what's happening as soon as I can, and we can start making plans."
Both men nodded, returning to their desks, while Mac made her way over to Will's office. She knocked softly, though she could see that the lights were off, and Will wasn't at his desk. Mac opened the door and slipped inside, shutting the door firmly behind her, and crossed over to the bathroom. She knocked again, but still there was no answer.
"Will, it's me, it's Mackenzie," she called through the door. Still, she was greeted by silence. Her heart pounding hard, Mac turned the handle, surprised to find it unlocked, and pushed the door open at once.
Sitting on the floor beside the sink, his knees bent and his hands buried in his hair, was Will. He didn't look up at the sound of the door opening. Her heart in her throat, Mac was at his side in an instant.
"Will?" she whispered, kneeling down and laying a hand on his arm. At her touch, Will lifted his head, and she saw his face, all tear-stained and bleary-eyed, his shirt rumpled, his hair sticking up in all directions. He blinked, but his eyes remained empty, not even a flicker of recognition in them, and Mac's heart broke.
"Will, it's me," she implored, cupping his cheek. "Look at me, I'm fine." But Will remained blank and unresponsive, seeing Mac without knowing her at all.
"Can you stand for me?" Mac urged after a couple minutes, gently coaxing Will to his feet. She let him lean heavily against her as she guided him out of the bathroom and over to his desk chair. Once he was settled, she cleared some papers off his desk and hopped up onto the desk herself, pulling his chair closer, so that her feet rested on either side of his legs.
Leaning forward, and stroking Will's face once more, Mac willed him to pull himself out of this stupor, wishing she knew what to do to help him. Mac tried everything she could think of, but no matter what she said or did, absolutely nothing got through to him.
Rapidly approaching her wit's end, Mac reached for Will's hands, which were hanging loosely at his sides. If this didn't work, she had no clue what she was going to do, because then she really would be out of ideas.
Lowering Will's hands to rest on her thighs, Mac wished fervently that she hadn't chosen this one day to wear jeans instead of a skirt. She needn't have worried, however, because the instant Will had his hands on her, Mac could feel the change as it came over him.
Cautiously at first, Will trailed his hands up and down her legs, as if desperately attempting to convince himself that what he was feeling was real, and not just some kind of illusion sent to torment him. His touch grew increasingly more purposeful with every second that passed, until he was digging his fingers into her legs in a way that would almost have been painful, if she hadn't been so unimaginably grateful.
Reaching the top of her thighs once more, Will tilted his head upwards, peering timidly up at her. Mac almost sobbed with relief to see that the blank look had been erased from his features. This was her Will, and he recognized her at last.
"Mac?" Will whimpered softly, his voice cracking on the single word.
"It's me," Mac choked, blinking rapidly. "I'm here."
Mac had just enough time to see Will's whole face crumple, before he launched himself at her, burying his face in the front of her shirt, his hands never leaving her thighs. Mac's arms were locked around his shoulders in an instant, and she could barely contain a whimper of her own. For hours, she had successfully maintained a tight lid over her emotions, but finally feeling the warmth of his body against hers sent a surge of relief through her so strong that it threatened to thoroughly overwhelm her. She had been so close to losing all of this.
Stop this, Mac lambasted herself. You are fine. Keep. It. Together. Will needs you.
"I'm here," Mac repeated, murmuring fervently against his ear. "I'm fine. I'm safe. I'm here." Over and over, she kept repeating these words, the whole front of her shirt growing damp.
Will was shaking so hard that it was almost impossible for Mac to maintain her grip around him, but there was no power in this world that would have induced her to let go of him right now. She held on tightly as he shook, silently, in her arms.
"You have to stop doing this to me," Will rambled against the stranglehold on his vocal cords. He kept gasping and gulping for air, and his voice cracked once more.
"I know, I know, I'm sorry," Mac murmured, her arms tightening impossibly around him.
The pair of them sat like that for an eternity, neither having any concept of the passage of time. It was hours before Will spoke again. "Did he hurt you?" he demanded, still trembling. "Show me."
Will pulled away from her, disentangling her limbs from around his body. "Show me where you got hurt," Will repeated. "Please, I need – Please," he begged, long past the point of caring whether his words made any sense.
Slowly, Mac sat back and removed her blazer, glancing down at her arm for the first time since the whole ordeal began. Her upper arm was scraped and a little bruised, but it hardly compared to some of the many injuries she had been able to inflict upon herself over the years.
She turned a little on the desk, twisting her arm and extending it to show Will. "Look," she entreated. "This is all, I swear. I'm fine."
Will took her arm in both of his hands, and traced a finger over her skin in disbelief, as if he half-suspected that his eyes were deceiving him, and expected to find broken bones and bullet holes if only he looked hard enough.
When a closer examination revealed nothing of the sort, Will let out a great, shuddering breath, and lowered his head to rest on Mac's thigh, thoroughly exhausted. He rested his arms on the desk, draped loosely around her hips. Mac trailed her fingers through Will's hair, and he sighed softly against her leg, beginning to breathe more evenly at last.
Glancing up at the clock at last, Mac saw that they didn't have much time before the final rundown meeting. She guided Will's head back up from her leg, and he needed no further encouragement to bury his head back in her middle, this time wrapping his arms around her waist.
"It's almost 6:00," Mac said, softly and reluctantly breaking the silence. "What do you want to do?"
As she had feared, the mere mention of the outside world instantly had Will stiffening in her arms, intruding on this little sanctuary that she had created for him here. She heard his breath hitch again in his throat, and she bent down a little to nuzzle his temple. He moaned softly.
"You don't have to do the show tonight," Mac reassured him, her voice deliberately steady and calm. "Absolutely nobody will think less of you if it's too much for you. We can go home, go straight to bed, and not move for a week if that's what you need." She paused. "Or, we can do the show, and I will be in your ear the entire time. It's your call."
"What about you?" Will asked at once. "What do you want to do?"
"I can't make this decision for you, Will," Mac said firmly. "You're the one sitting in that chair, remember?"
"But you're the one this happened to," he argued. "I should be the one holding you, comforting you."
Mac could hear a hint of bitter self-loathing creeping into his voice, and she was having none of it. "Don't you dare try to diminish what you went through today," Mac said, her voice low and hard as iron. "You must have been driving yourself mad, imagining the worst. This happened to both of us, and we'll get through it together. There will be plenty of time later for you to worry about me. For now, let's just focus on you, okay?"
"But aren't you still scared?" Will pressed, his voice cracking.
"Not here," Mac said, holding him tighter, resolutely blocking out thoughts of anything but him. "My control room is the second safest place in the world I could be right now."
It took a few seconds for Will to process these words through the thick fog he still found himself in. "What's the safest?" he asked, eventually.
"Right here," Mac said, hear eyes tearing up and her throat tightening. "Wherever you are." She tightened her arms once more. "Now, stop deflecting. I know this is hard, and I won't ask you to make any more decisions tonight, but this one is on you. Tell me what you need, and I'll make it happen, okay?"
Will didn't answer right away.
"Will?" Mac prodded gently.
"Give me a minute," he said desperately, bunching the back of her shirt in his fists. She could feel him trying to inch closer, working to control his breathing, and her heart broke for the millionth time that day. With these simple actions, Mac knew without words that Will was steeling himself to be braver than he felt, because he wanted to make her proud.
Mac meant it when she said that she would stand by Will's decision, but she found herself wishing that he had chosen differently. Not for herself, but for him – she just couldn't help feeling this was a bad idea. Not for one moment did she imagine he would let her down – Will would kill himself before he let that happen – but that was precisely the problem. What if he pushed himself too hard tonight, sending him straight back into the tailspin she had just drawn him from, only worse? How would they ever recover?
Still, she could almost hear the thoughts going on in Will's head right now, and there was a part of him that wanted to prove to himself that he could do this, that things could go on as normal, because both of them were here, safe and sound, in spite of what they had been through today. And so, worried though she was for him, Mac knew that she was powerless to deny him this. Drawing him even closer, Mac curled her legs around his torso, hugging him to her tighter than ever, doing anything she could to give him the strength he would need to get through this.
"I'll do the show," Will said at last, his breath warm as he mumbled into her shirt. "But you've got to be there," Will blurted, terror flooding into his voice almost immediately. "I don't want even once second of silence, Mac, otherwise—"
"Shhh, shhh," Mac crooned, burying her fingers in his hair once more and gently massaging his scalp. "I know. I've got you, I'll take care of you, don't worry."
Though there was nothing else she could have done, Mac wished she hadn't left this conversation so late, because it really was time now to join the rest of the team for the final rundown meeting, and there was no time to calm Will down before he had to face all of those people. She wished she could shield him from all of it, but she had to attend the meeting, and she didn't even want to think about what would happen if she suggested leaving him here while she went on her own.
"Come on," Mac said. "It's time to go." She reached for Will's hands and pulled him to his feet, easing him slowly around the desk. Before they had taken more than a couple steps, Will halted, wrapping his arms back around her and burying his face in her neck.
Mac gave him as much time as she could, but eventually, she had to pull away. She cupped Will's cheek, forcing him to look her in the eye. "You don't have to say anything. You don't even have to pay attention. Just leave it all to me, okay?"
One hand on the small of his back, Mac guided Will out into the newsroom. The rest of the staff were already seated in the conference room, but Jim, Don and Charlie were standing just outside the door, waiting. When Will and Mac finally reached them, Charlie hugged her and kissed her cheek.
"We're doing the show," Mac announced without preamble, taking Will's hand as soon as she pulled away from Charlie, and linking her fingers through his.
"Are you sure?" Don asked, peering doubtfully at Will. It looked as though it was taking everything he had simply to remain upright, and the wild, petrified look still hadn't receded from his eyes.
"I'll have him ready," Mac vowed, squeezing Will's hand and stroking it with her thumb to give him something to focus on. "We'll have to do things a little differently tonight, but we can make it work."
From the moment she realized what Will's decision was going to be, Mac's brain had been in overdrive, working out the logistics of the broadcast. Though it was Jim who had asked the question, Mac turned and locked eyes with Will, explaining her plan as if they were still the only two people in the room.
"Jim and Don will really be running the show," she explained. "All the technical details and everything. All I'm doing is managing Will, and anything he needs to know goes through me. Elliot's on standby in case we need him to take over, but we won't. We can do this. Everybody understand?"
Will was hanging onto her every word, and she squeezed his hand encouragingly when he gave her a slight nod, before turning away from him at last. "I'm sure, Charlie," she said firmly, answering the unasked question she could see forming on his lips.
"That's all I need to know," he replied, offering her a small smile. "Glad you're okay, kiddo."
That settled, the group made their way into the conference room to join the rest of the team, Mac helping Will into a chair near the door before taking the one beside him. As the meeting got underway, Mac's pen flew across her notepad, scribbling a rudimentary script.
Though she hardly looked up once, seeming to be entirely focused on the task at hand, a bigger part of Mac's brain was still concentrating on Will. She never took her hand off him throughout the entire meeting, squeezing his arm or stroking the back of his neck whenever she felt his anxiety building.
Mac was dimly aware that she and Will were on display, that everyone could see her touching him, but she couldn't spare the energy to worry about that right now. She didn't want any of them, anyone but her, to see Will like this, but these guys, all of them, were family. It had seemed so important before, to keep their relationship away from prying eyes. Now, all Mac cared about was getting him through this night.
Don waited until the end of the meeting to bring up the touchiest subject of all. "We've got to cover the story about the gunman, Mac," he said, almost apologetically. "Everyone else is going to have it in the B block, but this one is entirely your call."
Mac's throat closed briefly, but she swallowed and nodded. "I know." Will let out a tiny whimper she prayed only she could hear.
"Easy, easy," she murmured, stroking his arm. She turned her chair to face him, lifting his chin so he had no choice but to look at her. "We'll put it off until the very end of the show, okay? It'll be the last thing you have to do."
Will did not look at all sure about this, tension lining every inch of his face, but he braced himself and nodded. Mac squeezed his hand harder than ever.
When the meeting was over, Mac guided Will back to his office, closing the door firmly behind them, and pulling his taut body back into her arms. She had just over an hour to pull Will together, and make him presentable for television.
For the next hour, they hardly said a word. Mac shoved a sandwich into Will's hand, forcing him to eat for the first time since breakfast, while she organized her notes. Sending him into the bathroom to change, she finished writing his script, making good on her promise that he wouldn't have to think for the rest of the night. When Will emerged from the bathroom, his hands were trembling too much, so she helped him to button his shirt, put on his tie, and comb his messy hair.
When they simply couldn't delay any longer, Mac escorted Will to the anchor desk, securing his microphone to his jacket.
"You can still change your mind," Mac told him, crouching beside his chair and stroking his hand. "It's not too late. Elliot can still step in."
Will shook his head, wordlessly, but he still looked like he was only seconds away from bolting out of his chair and curling up in a ball on the floor of his office. Mac would have liked nothing better than to take him back there, or better yet, bring him straight home, but they were rapidly approaching airtime, and so all she could do was to squeeze both of his hands in her smaller ones.
"You can do this," she said quietly, resting her forehead against his. "Just listen to me, and you'll be fine." Then, with her stomach tangled up in knots, Mac turned and entered the control room, leaving Will's side for the first time in hours. She knew that if she turned right now and saw the look on his face, she would not be able to keep walking, so she didn't stop until she was settled in her chair.
Her eyes glued to one of the monitors, Mac's heart ached to see that in just those few short seconds, the anxiety on Will's face had increased tenfold. She fumbled with her headset in her rush to reassure him. "Ninety seconds, Will," she said into her microphone, the sound of her voice erasing a fraction of that tension.
She kept talking to him as she organized the script in front of her, but with less than thirty seconds to go, another wave of terror flashed in Will's eyes, and he gripped the edge of his desk so tightly that his knuckles turned white. "Mac, I—" Will choked.
"Do you trust me?" Mac interrupted, her heart pounding in her chest.
Will swallowed hard, his throat dry. "With all my heart."
"Then we're going to do this. Now, sit up straight. Relax your shoulders. You know how to do this. Just breathe. Ten seconds."
In spite of her confident words, even Mac couldn't believe the transformation that came over Will when the red light went on and the cameras started rolling.
"Good evening. I'm Will McAvoy. Today is Friday, July 8th."
As he had done so many times over the years, Will was pulling himself together, going somewhere deep inside himself and tapping into some hidden store of strength even he didn't realize he possessed. Other than the fact that Mac was feeding Will every word that came out of his mouth, rather than vamping or reading from the prompter, he looked and sounded almost like his normal self. Still, this was on a whole different scale than anything he had ever attempted before, and the slight tremor in his hands told Mac's keen eye that he was frightened out of his wits. Mac crossed her fingers and sent up a quick prayer that she would be able to guide him through it unscathed.
It took Mac only a few seconds to adjust to listening to Jim with one ear and concentrating on Will with every other part of her being. She knew that they all thought she was crazy for trying to do this tonight, but they couldn't have been more wrong. Other than being worried about Will, this was the calmest Mac had felt all day, because having to focus on so many things at once meant that there was just no energy remaining for her to think about what she had gone through. As she had told Will, that part would come later.
Still, they weren't out of the woods yet. The longer Will struggled to keep it together, the worse his hands shook. Not a moment too soon, they reached their first commercial break.
"Close your eyes," Mac said firmly, the moment they were clear. Will obeyed her without question, bowing his head and hunching forward a little in his chair. "Take a deep breath. In. Out. I'm right here. I'm fine. You're doing fine. You've got this."
Mac kept a running commentary like this going for the rest of the commercial break, knowing that it didn't really matter what she was saying, just that the sound of her voice was the only thing holding him together. With each segment that followed, Will's trembling grew progressively worse, and each time it became harder and harder for Mac to pull him back from the brink. Finally, Mac had him lead into the final commercial break, knowing there would be nothing she could say that would calm him down this time.
"Just one more segment, Will," Mac said, much more calmly than she really felt. "Are you ready?" This was going to be the most difficult hurdle of all, and they all knew it.
"I don't think so," Will choked, wild-eyed with fear once more. "Mac, I can't do this."
"Yes, you can," Mac said adamantly, but she was already on her feet, up and moving back towards the studio, marker and notepad in hand. Before she pushed open the door, she turned and addressed the staff.
"When this is over, I want everyone out of here. Everyone. We'll talk on Monday, but for tonight, I want you all to leave without a word the second we're off the air."
Without waiting for a response, Mac shoved open the door and marched back into the studio. With sixty seconds to go, she took up a spot just to the left of the camera and knelt down, writing furiously. Finally, she stood and held up the notepad for Will.
"Look at me," she said, staring deep into his eyes. "Look, Will. You're almost done. You're going to have to read this one, I can't speak it for you out here. Just read it for me, and then we're out of here. Ten seconds."
His whole body shaking with tremors, Will's eyes fixed on the notepad Mac was holding in front of her chest. With monumental effort, he pulled himself together one more time.
"This last story hits close to home for this program. A gunman took a dozen people hostage in a New York City hospital this morning," Will read, his voice low and emotional, but perfectly clear. "Among them was News Night's own executive producer, Mackenzie McHale. After a standoff lasting more than five hours, the gunman surrendered to police. No word yet on motive, but all of the hostages were released unharmed."
Will shuddered, about to crumble under the pressure, and Mac gestured pointedly towards the prompter. "Terry Smith is coming up next with the Capitol Report from Washington. I'm Will McAvoy. Good night."
Mac counted down the few remaining seconds until they were clear, and then she was flying across the room, throwing her arms around Will as he collapsed onto the anchor desk, shaking and utterly spent.
They had done it. It was far from the best show she and Will had ever put together, but it had been enough. They had gotten through it. They weren't likely to gain any new viewers after a performance like this, but Mac had a feeling they wouldn't lose many either. And anyway, that wasn't the point – not to her, or Will, or anyone who really mattered. Given the circumstances, Mac was more gratified by this broadcast than any other they had ever done together.
"I am so proud of you," Mac murmured fervently, squeezing Will so tightly that he couldn't possibly breathe. Far from complaining, he was trying to burrow deeper into her embrace.
"I can't let go, Mac, please don't make me," Will begged.
"Not a chance," Mac replied throatily, her eyes bright and her heart pounding hard. "Let's get out of here. Let's go home."
Thank you so much for reading! Yes, I'm finally back! I was really excited about writing this chapter, because that scene in Will's office was really the starting point for the story, but you would not believe the trouble I had with the gunman part of the chapter. And then I felt like this chapter was getting kind of long, but I couldn't see a natural break, so I decided to leave it as is.
Anyway, I think I'm reasonably happy with it now, but I'd love to hear your thoughts!