"Hire her," Will said firmly, striding from the room without another word.
Mac grinned, loving the return of this confident, optimistic Will. Then she remembered. "WHAT DID THE REST OF THE MESSAGE – screw it," she broke off, grumbling. "I'll just feed him another ten cookies."
But the more Mac thought about it, she realized that nagging and pressuring Will was not the answer. The surest way to get him to clam up, she knew, was to back him into a corner, so she needed another strategy. Though patience was admittedly not one of her many strengths, Mac decided there and then to stop pestering him. If she just left him alone and gave him some space, Will would tell her the truth in his own good time.
Still, not even the best of intentions on her part could stifle the hopeful, girlish grin that lit up her entire face every time she looked at him.
"I honestly don't remember," Will had said after the broadcast, with Mac chasing through the newsroom after him like a terrier after a bone.
It was nonsense, of course. That amazing eidetic brain of his was crammed so full of song lyrics and useless trivia and important historical, political, economical information that it was a wonder there was room in there for anything else, but that was exactly what had always made Will so good at his job. He never forgot anything.
The scary thing was, Mac knew he remembered with even greater clarity every moment of the life they had shared together. He loved his job, loved doing the news, but that word wasn't remotely powerful enough to convey what he used to feel for her. When it came to their relationship, Will had been 100% in from day one, expressing his adoration and devotion with a candor that frequently stole her breath away. Lying in his arms at night, she had loved to hear him talk about the day they first met, the day she agreed to go out with him, the day she had kissed him for the first time, recalling all of these moments in such vivid detail that they might have happened hours earlier, rather than months. It had been both exhilarating and terrifying, being loved this much.
When she returned to ACN last year, a small part of Mac had worried that bitterness and separation would have dulled Will's recollections, but she should have known better, should have had more faith in him. As soon as he launched into his account of meeting her parents for the first time, she knew that Will would never forget a single moment when it came to her. He remembered because he had cared, because she had mattered to him more than anyone in his entire life.
No, it was obvious that Will remembered every word of the message – he just wasn't ready to tell her yet. One of these days, though, once he was convinced that the decision was his own, that he was firmly in control of the conversation, and that it was all playing out on his terms, Mac was positive he would tell her what he had said.
Her conviction lasted exactly one week.
On Monday, buoyed by another smashing success of a broadcast, Mac hovered in the doorway of Will's office, wondering if this would finally be the night. He didn't notice her at first, and she watched him pull on his jacket, the corners of her mouth turning up at just the simple pleasure of being in the same room with him.
When Will looked up at her at last, and took in the expression on her face, he gripped the back of his chair, his knuckles turning white. His face took on that anxious look he wore whenever the words just wouldn't come, catching painfully in his throat no matter how he struggled to expel them. It was the look he had worn a week ago, when they stood in his office and she showed him the pad of paper that had altered the course of his life. Before he started yelling, she had been sure that he was about to kiss her senseless.
Mac took pity on him. "Good show tonight," she said simply, and left without waiting for a reply. She was still smiling when she crawled into bed, knowing how close Will had been, and confident that they were on the verge of a breakthrough.
She could never have imagined how different the world would look the next morning.
Will was late for the pitch meeting that day, with no phone call or text to explain his absence. As always, time was short, so Mac and the team forged ahead, and Will arrived twenty minutes later, muttering an apology as he took his seat. Wherever he had been, though, Will's mind still wasn't there with them in the conference room. Mac did her best to carry on with the meeting, but after having to call Will's name two and three times each time she needed his attention, Mac became seriously concerned.
"Everything okay?" Mac asked, after the rest of the staff had been dismissed.
"Everything's fine," Will said, though he didn't meet her gaze. Looking determinedly down at his watch, he missed her worry, and the skeptical roll of her eyes. "I've got a meeting with Charlie, I have to go."
Mac felt like he had kicked her in the chest. He hadn't yelled or criticized or glared at her, but it hurt, physically hurt, to watch him practically run towards the elevator, as if he simply couldn't get away fast enough. He hadn't been this desperate to escape her company since the night of their very first show.
And the worst part was, Mac had no idea what she had done wrong.
The weeks passed, and gradually, these agonizing moments became the norm, rather than the exception. His ability to concentrate returned, most of the time, but more and more, Will avoided speaking to her whenever possible, and he evaded every attempt she made to catch him on his own.
Will was never rude, never unpleasant, but this detached professionalism was a marked shift from the half-flirting banter they had engaged in so many times over the last year, and Mac missed it more than she would have thought possible.
With Will still categorically denying that there was anything wrong, anything they needed to talk about, Mac was left with no other choice but to get over it – or pretend to. She threw herself even harder into her work, determined that the quality of their show would not suffer because of this – whatever this was.
There were still occasional glimpses of the old Will, though these were increasingly fewer and farther between. Now, when they did come, Mac could almost see him retreating right back into his impassive shell, like some kind of frightened turtle. Mac learned to pick her moments, learned not to push too hard.
Before she knew it, autumn had descended on New York City, leaving the News Night team with more stories on their plates than ever before. One morning, during their pitch meeting, Mac was contemplating how to budget their A Block coverage of the ongoing crisis in Syria and the Occupy Wall Street protests, now spreading from New York to cities all across the country. She was jerked from her mental calculations by the loud ringing of someone's cell phone.
Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
She frowned and looked up, expecting it to be Martin or Tamara that she would have to scold for the disruption. She raised an eyebrow when she saw that it was Will who was reaching for his phone, glancing at the screen before sending the call straight to voicemail.
"Van Morrison? Really?"
Will shrugged. "It's a great song."
"It's really not. You couldn't even choose the Michael Buble cover?"
Will rolled his eyes at her, and Mac turned back to the easel, desperately tried to ignore the way even this simple exchange had made her whole stomach clench.
Will's phone rang three more times before the pitch meeting was over, and each time, Mac simply gritted her teeth and tried to tune it out. Whatever game Will was playing now, she was adamant that she wouldn't let him see how much he was getting to her, no matter how much she already wanted to tear her hair out.
Over the course of the next week, Mac heard that song so many times that she was pretty sure she was going insane. There were moments, early in the morning, before Will even arrived at work, or late at night, lying in bed before she drifted off to sleep, that all she could hear was that song ringing in her ears. She began to believe she would never be able to get it out of her head, but she was no closer to making any kind of progress with Will.
On Friday morning, Mac woke to the feeling of the sun on her face, and she smiled before she even opened her eyes. Despite all recent evidence to the contrary, today was going to be a wonderful day. After everything she's put up with recently, the universe really owed her one.
Mac's good mood lasted until precisely ten minutes after she arrived at the newsroom, when she and Maggie collided coming around a corner, and she ended up wearing an entire mug full of coffee.
"I am so sorry," Maggie apologized profusely, but Mac could hardly fault her, not when she scarcely got through a single day without breaking or spilling something herself. She had learned to keep an extra change of clothes in her office for just such eventualities.
She had just finished buttoning her new shirt when Reese knocked on her door. Inwardly, Mac was groaning, but she nodded, attentive and respectful, for a full five minutes while he explained that the newest iPhone had been released that morning, customers waiting in lineups hours long to make their purchase. Her fingers crossed behind her back, Mac promised to discuss the issue seriously with Will the moment he arrived.
Even if she had wanted to, Mac wouldn't have gotten the chance, because Will arrived only seconds before the pitch meeting, and he didn't even look at her or say good morning as he brushed past her to his seat. It was a new low for their current relationship, and Mac's heart sank even further. Swallowing hard, she forced a smile as she called the meeting to order.
Jim popped his head into her office to see her after lunchtime, and for just five seconds, Mac allowed herself to hope that he was about to salvage her day. When he hesitantly explained that he had caught their second summer intern fabricating quotes for the story he had been assigned, Mac slowly began banging her head on her desk. Leaving Jim to get the story back on track, Mac stormed out to fire her intern.
Though the casual observer would have said that the show that night ran relatively smoothly, there were a million little things that niggled at Mac, each one getting a little further under her skin. A typo on one of their graphics slipped past her keen eye onto the screen, and that mistake was all she could see for the eternity that it remained on the air. Later, an audio problem meant that when Will threw it to their Washington correspondent, the first twenty seconds of her report went unheard.
Even Will was off his game, stumbling over his words as he had the night he finally admitted he hadn't been sleeping. If she had believed for a second that he would actually answer her, Mac would have asked him what was wrong, but the gulf between them was so wide these days that he might as well have been on the other side of the world, and not just in the next room. As it was, Mac didn't say a word, merely closing her eyes, exhausted and miserable and frustrated beyond belief, desperate for this night to end.
Finally, it was 9:00. The second he was off the air, Will dashed from the studio back to his office, and by the time Mac had made her way to the newsroom herself, he had already vanished entirely. She shouldn't have been surprised, but that didn't make it any more convincing when she told herself that it didn't hurt.
On any other night, Mac would have kept the staff back after a performance like this, going over every mistake that had occurred and making sure it never happened again. Tonight, she practically begged them all to just go home. She wanted nothing more than to do the same, and to drown herself in however much alcohol it took to make her forget that this day had ever existed.
Mac lived on the second floor of a brownstone in the West Village, and when the cab finally turned onto her quiet, tree-lined street, she could have cried with relief.
Letting herself into her apartment at last, Mac simply dropped her bag on the floor of her living room, and marched straight into her bedroom, changing into the most comfortable t-shirt and sweat pants she owned. It had been surprisingly warm in the city today, and the air in the apartment was stuffy, so Mac opened her living room window, letting in the cool night air.
Mac was just settling onto her couch with a very large bottle of wine when her Blackberry beeped, signaling the arrival of a text message.
"Come on, what now?" Mac whined, reaching over to the coffee table for her phone.
It was from Will. In spite of herself, her heart skipped a beat.
Are you home? Check your email.
Mac was still rereading this message seconds later, trying to process this new development after near silence from him for over two months, when the computer by the window beeped too. Mac made her way impatiently over to the desk, not even sitting down before she grabbed the mouse.
From: Will McAvoy
Subject: The Voicemail Message
For a moment, Mac swore that time stood still, that her heart had actually stopped. When it began again, her legs gave out from beneath her, and she fell forward, knocking a picture frame and several books off the desk before she managed to land awkwardly in her chair.
By the time her fingers had stopped shaking long enough to click on the message, her heart was racing so fast that she thought she might actually be dying, and the tears were already streaming down her face. There was just no way that Will would do this to her unless…
Listen … I swear I'm not saying this because I'm high. If the answer is no, then just do me a favor and don't call me back or bring it up or anything. But I have to tell you – I mean, after tonight, I really want to tell you that I … I never stopped loving you, Mackenzie.
Mac let out a loud whimper, before clapping a hand over her mouth. He remembers it by heart. For a moment, she couldn't take her eyes off the screen, reading the brief message a hundred times. Oh, Will.
Pushing her chair back from the desk so hard that it left a mark on the hardwood floor, Mac stumbled back over to the coffee table, where she had left her Blackberry. Her fingers still trembling, she had to try three times before she found the right phone number in her address book.
There was no answer.
"Come on, Will," Mac pleaded, gulping through her tears, dialing again as she paced frantically back and forth before the window. "Pick up, pick up, pick up, please pick up."
A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of October skies
And now on top of everything, she really was losing her mind, because over the distant noise of traffic a few streets over, she was hearing that song again. But it was so loud, almost as if Will was –
The Blackberry fell, unheeded, from her hand. It crashed to the floor as she whirled around to face the open window, realizing even as she did so that the beautiful maple tree in front of the house blocked any view she might have had of the street below.
Without wasting even one more second, she raced through her apartment, running faster than she ever had in her life, taking the stairs two at a time in her hurry. She slammed the front door of the brownstone open and sped out onto the stoop, catching herself on the railing just in time to prevent an ungraceful fall all the way down the stairs.
At the bottom of the steps, standing on the sidewalk, his hands in his pockets, was Will. Catching sight of him, Mac sobbed harder, her hand pressed tightly to her mouth.
"Happy Birthday, Mackenzie," Will said simply.
And then she was flying down the stairs towards him. She missed the bottom step, and would have twisted her ankle if she had landed on it, but it didn't matter, because one delirious second later, she was in his arms. Half-laughing, half-crying, the pair of them, Will caught her and whirled her around, until they were both so dizzy that he was forced to set her down.
Her feet firmly planted back on the ground, Mac wrapped her arms around Will's neck, neither of them making any attempt to take even one step apart. As tightly, as desperately as he had hugged her on Valentine's Day, this embrace put that one to shame.
Finally, when the world had stopped spinning and Mac could begin to take her bearings, she pulled back just a little. One arm still wrapped around him, Mac rested the other hand on his solid chest, trying to convince herself that any of this was real.
"Will," she breathed, "am I dreaming? I can't believe this is happening."
"Believe it," Will whispered, leaning back in kiss her cheek, still wet with tears. She instantly blushed the prettiest crimson he had ever seen.
She pulled back again, just far enough to lean her forehead against his. They stood like this forever, just breathing together and listening to their respective heartbeats slow to a more reasonable rate.
"What happens now?" Mac asked softly, once her breathing had returned to normal.
"I don't know," Will admitted, sighing softly. "I've been working really hard with Dr. Habib for the last couple months, and all along, my only goal was surprising you tonight. Whenever I let myself start thinking any further than this moment, I freaked out. I was really afraid I was going to chicken out."
"Which is why you've been avoiding me all this time," Mac murmured, understanding dawning at last. The weight she had been carrying on her heart since August was lifted in an instant.
Will shut his eyes, grimacing. "I am so sorry about that. I know you've been unhappy, especially today, and that was the last thing I ever wanted. I just … I just wanted this to be perfect."
Mac pulled back from him, cupping his cheek in one hand until he opened his shame-filled eyes and looked at her.
"It was, Will," Mac vowed. She raised herself up on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek in return. "It doesn't matter how it started, or what else happened, because this, right now? This makes today the best day of my life."
"I still have a lot I need to work through," Will hastened to warn, desperate that she not get the wrong idea. He took her hands in his and swallowed hard. "I still need – I still need to work on forgiving you. But I needed you to know that I'm trying. That I want to forgive you. Because I miss you. I miss us."
Will forced himself to hold her gaze as he said this, though he was petrified that this confession would spoil the moment he had worked so hard to create, but Mac didn't even blink, and Will instantly breathed a little easier. He should have trusted her, should have known that Mac wouldn't scare so easy – as long as she wasn't being kept in the dark, there was nothing that Mac couldn't handle.
"And you still love me," Mac added, her voice still full of awe.
"Yes," Will stressed, clinging to the one thing he was certain. "Always." He paused, taking a deep breath. "I've felt a lot of things towards you in the last four years, some of which I'm really not proud of now—"
"I think you were probably entitled," Mac interrupted softly.
"Maybe," Will said, shrugging. "But through all of it, through everything that's happened, I could never stop loving you." He paused again. "Mac, it's not going to be easy, but I'd like – I'd really like it if we could try again."
"That's all I've ever wanted," Mac wept, the tears falling down her cheeks once more. "I love you so much, Will."
A gust of wind swirled around them, the red leaves falling to the ground like rain. One of them caught in the back of Mac's messy ponytail. Will reached up, intending to brush it away, but before his hand was even halfway there, Will froze, utterly captivated by the sight before him. Cupping her face in one hand, Will took the opportunity for the first time in years to just look at her. Mac's blush deepened, but she didn't shy away from his gaze, and the stars and the crescent moon shimmered like diamonds in her watery eyes.
Slowly guiding her backwards, so that Mac was pressed firmly up against the stone newel of her front stoop, Will tilted her face up to meet his. They kissed softly and gently, slowly reacquainting themselves with tastes and feelings that had once been as familiar as breathing.
They both jumped a little when Will's phone rang in his pocket.
Laughing against each other's mouths, they decided to just let it ring.
Thank you so much for reading! I'd really love to hear what you thought!
I've had this one in the back of my mind pretty much ever since the finale aired, but it took me forever to decide what Will's ringtone was going to be. Once I finally figured that out, the whole thing pretty much fell into place.