Saturday, October 26th, 2013

It was well past midnight when Mackenzie let herself into the darkened apartment, sapped of all energy and chilled to the bone, sheer determination the only thing keeping her on her feet.

Dropping her purse by the door and dragging her suitcase over to the couch, she slipped off her shoes in the darkness, hissing a curse when she stubbed her toe.

It had been an unseasonably cold and rainy week in Chicago, and Mackenzie was feeling it still, shivering as she swiftly threw on an old t-shirt of Will's she had stashed in her purse, before creeping stealthily towards the bedrooms.

She inched open the door of the nursery first, the desire to sweep her son up into her arms so strong that it stole her breath away, but she gritted her teeth, forcing herself to stay back. He'd always been the heaviest of sleepers, something he certainly hadn't learned from either parent, but there was no reason to tempt fate when he was already down for the night. She settled for a shadowy glimpse of him in his crib, and the low sound of his deep, even breaths.

Tearing herself away before she could change her mind, Mac crossed the hall to the master bedroom, her heart melting when she caught sight of her husband in the glow of her nightlight, still plugged in even after her week away.

He was lying on his side, sprawled diagonally across the bed. Where her pillow should have been and wasn't, Will's face was buried in Mac's oldest, most comfortable college sweater, the one nobody but him even knew she owned. She wore it seldom, only on her very darkest days, when Will's arms alone weren't enough to keep her safe and warm.

When the urge came over her this time, she didn't even try to hold back. Swinging one leg up onto the bed, Mac knelt over her husband, capturing his mouth gently with her own.

It took less than a heartbeat before Will was responding, surging up against her, and Mac couldn't help grinning against his lips, her initial feather-light touch rapidly spiraling out of control with a sudden burst of renewed energy.

His brain took a little longer to catch up than his heart, but soon enough he was blinking blearily at her, scrambling to pull her fully on top of him onto the bed, even as his head continued to reel.

"What – are – you – doing – here?" he demanded, between wandering hands and kisses that grew deeper by the second. "We weren't expecting you until lunchtime."

"Had to come home," Mackenzie panted, so happy and relieved she was scarcely remembering to breathe. "Caught the red-eye out of Chicago as soon as the conference was over. Missed my boys too much – couldn't stand the thought of another night away from you – oh, you are so warm," she moaned, her fingers creeping under his shirt, coming to rest on the small of his back.

Noticing suddenly just how cold Mackenzie was in his arms, Will dragged her properly under the covers, earning a second grateful moan for his efforts.

Acting purely on instinct, one of her legs nudged its way between both of his, her hand reaching down for his boxers. When she noticed that he was making no effort to assist her, her body came to a screeching halt.

Will groaned, dragging his lips away from hers and burying his face in her neck. "Sorry," he apologized against her skin. "I'm too tired to even move right now."

"No, me too," Mac assured him, feeling the exhaustion flood back in as the initial rush of endorphins waned. "Go back to sleep, Will," she whispered, paradoxically continuing to kiss him even as she said it. Her actions were infinitely slower and gentler this time, craving the physical contact with him rather than anything further.

When even that became too much of an effort, she slowed again, resting her forehead against his. "Love you," she said simply. "All day, all I could think about was how badly I wanted to wake up here, with you, in my own bed tomorrow."

Will squeezed her tightly, and after sharing one more sleepy kiss, Mac pulled herself off of him with tremendous effort, rearranging their bodies so they were lying in the tightest of spoons, their eyes drifting shut as they lay their heads together on Will's pillow.

Just before slumber could claim them, Mac twisted in his arms to elbow Will lightly in the ribs. "That was for holding out on me," she mumbled, in answer to Will's flinching yelp. "You said he wasn't giving you any trouble, but those circles under your eyes tell me a very different story."

"We had a couple rough nights," Will admitted, his voice rough with sleep. "But we managed. We're all still in one piece."

"Hmph," Mac snorted, too tired to come up with a cleverer retort.

"You're just as burnt out as I am," Will persisted drowsily. "Don't think I didn't notice you're not wearing mascara. You only do that when you haven't been sleeping."

Will waited a moment for Mac to respond, but the only sound that greeted him was the slow, even breathing that meant she was already dead to the world.

Snorting softly in amusement, Will kissed the back of her neck, and inhaled deeply. Sliding one hand down her side, mapping the curve of her hip and the length of her thigh, Will drew her body nearer to him gratefully, before closing his eyes and following her straight into slumber.

ooo

When Mac woke the next morning, feeling more rested than she had in days, it was to warm sunshine on her back, and the certainty that someone was watching her sleep.

Nuzzling deeper into the pillow, Mac fought off the smile that threatened to break out on her face, certain that she knew what was coming. She waited patiently for Will to bend down and kiss her back to consciousness.

What came instead was the sensation of one tiny hand patting her on the cheek.

"Gentle, gentle," Will's voice cautioned softly.

This time, her smile would not be contained. It blossomed across her face before her eyes were even open, widening further still as she took in the sight of Will standing beside the bed, their wriggling son cradled over her in his extended arms.

"Teddy!" she exclaimed delightedly, her heart soaring in her chest. She sat up swiftly, beaming from ear to ear as Will lowered him into her impatient arms.

"Hi, Snugglebug!" she crooned, squeezing him as tightly as she dared and burying her nose in his tousled hair, breathing deeply, until her lungs were filled with the scent of her baby. At last, she pulled back, gazing deep into his impossibly blue eyes.

"Mummy missed you so – so – so – so much," she told him, raining kisses down all over his face with every word. Teddy babbled happily all the while, grasping handfuls of her hair in his greedy little fists.

Will stayed and watched them together as long as he could, but far too soon the sounds and smells coming from their kitchen told him that his attention was needed there. As he retreated from the room, mother and son were wrapped up in each others' arms, their foreheads touching, sharing butterfly and Eskimo kisses.

When he returned, arms laden with a heavy breakfast tray, Teddy's t-shirt had been cast aside, and Mac was playing Round and Round the Garden around his ticklish belly button. His arms and legs splaying out in all directions, Teddy shrieked with laughter as Mac blew a raspberry on his stomach.

Mac's eyes were dancing happily when she finally took her eyes off Teddy, looking up to meet Will's. They crinkled in the corners when she saw the breakfast tray in his hands.

"Will," she scolded gently, "you didn't have to do that, not after I got in so late. Just being here was enough."

Will rounded the bed, settling in beside them with the tray on his lap. "Did you hear that, Teddy?" he asked in an animated sing-song. "Mummy thinks she doesn't need breakfast in bed on her birthday this year! Did you ever hear anything so silly?"

Teddy giggled.

"See?" Will said smugly. "He agrees with me!"

Mac rolled her eyes affectionately, but eagerly accepted the heaping stack of homemade pancakes when Will passed them to her. They propped up some pillows behind Teddy so he could sit between their legs, eating from his own bowl of Cheerios, and supplemented by the occasional bite from his parents' plates.

When Mac was too full to eat even one more bite, she leaned back, curling up on her side and resting her head on Will's chest. Teddy studied them curiously for a moment, before crawling determinedly up the length of the bed between his laughing parents, and settling himself heavily on top of Will.

ooo

After a lazy morning cuddling and playing together, the happy family finally dragged themselves out of bed.

In the past, Will and Mac had celebrated her birthday with dinner at her favourite restaurant, or taking in the latest hit on Broadway, but this year she had something simpler in mind – a leisurely stroll in the park, making the most of a beautiful fall day in New York.

Letting Will push the stroller for a while, Mac spun a little ahead of them, her arms spread wide and her head tilted back, letting the sunshine kiss her bare face. She let out a hum of pleasure and Will, watching her, felt a familiar flutter in his chest. He still had to pinch himself sometimes, reminding himself that this breathtaking woman was really his wife.

When they reached a fork in the path, Mac slowed to wait for them.

"The pond?" Mac suggested, gesturing to the left. "We could feed the D – U – C – K – S. I tucked some bread into Teddy's bag."

"So did I," Will grinned, and Mac giggled in return, slipping her arm through Will's.

They had discovered very early on that animals of all kinds would never fail to bring a smile to their little boy's face, making them frequent visitors to every zoo, aquarium, pet store and dog park in the New York City area. His nursery had become a veritable menagerie, filled with every stuffed animal known to man. But for the moment, nothing in the world gave him greater pleasure than feeding the neighbourhood ducks.

With the stroller facing forward, Will and Mac couldn't see Teddy's face when he caught sight of the pond, but they certainly heard his excited cries, which didn't cease until they came to a stop and Mac had fished his squirming body of the stroller.

"Dat! Dat dat!" he squealed, gesturing urgently and trying to escape his mother's grasp.

"I know!" she exclaimed, happily playing along. "Lots of ducks!"

When they had first heard his cry of "dat" a few months earlier, they had in fact been visiting this very pond, and wondered for a moment whether they had a little genius on their hands. As it turned, "dat" was Teddy's word for just about everything these days, with the occasional "gat" and "bat" thrown in for good measure.

Mac and Teddy made their way to the edge of the pond, and by the time she had him on his feet, tightly gripping her fingers for balance, Will had joined them with both bags of bread.

He broke off a few small chunks, and offered one to Teddy to throw, Mac crouching in the grass to hold him by the hips. Teddy took it, his body quivering with excitement, and flung the bread at the water as hard as he could.

It landed just inches from his feet.

Laughing gently, Mac settled down onto the ground, allowing Will to retrieve the bread and toss it again on Teddy's behalf.

Teddy couldn't take his wide-eyed gaze off the ducks after that, gurgling happily and clapping with delight whenever they dared to waddle closer.

Between the two of them, Will and Mac had brought with them enough bread to feed an entire army of ducks, but the supply did eventually run out.

"No more bread," Will explained to Teddy, showing him the empty bags and rubbing his hands together to brush off the crumbs.

Teddy put up a half-hearted whiny protest, but his eyes were already drooping when Mac lifted him into her arms and strapped him back into his stroller, and when they arrived home and Will tucked him in for a well-deserved afternoon nap, Teddy didn't stir so much as a finger.

Mac leaned against the doorway, watching lovingly as Will stroked his sleeping son's head, before taking her by the hand and guiding her across the hall.

"Okay, birthday girl," Will murmured, his eyes glinting as he shut the bedroom door behind them. "Rip Van Winkle in there is out like a light – finally, I have you all to myself."

Mac giggled, and then gasped, as he backed her swiftly against the wall, bending to capture her lips roughly with his own. Her blood singing with a thrill of pleasure, Mac responded eagerly, seizing him by the hair with both hands to pull him closer. When she felt herself beginning to run out of air, Mac tilted her head to the side, urging Will to nip sharply at her neck.

Mac had always been the adventurous one in the bedroom, loving it passionate and fast, bent over the dining room table, or against the shower wall. And she could feel it progressing that way now, Will's deep, plying kisses, and the firm grip of his palms on her waist inching her towards the en-suite.

But it wasn't right today, somehow. It wasn't enough.

The incongruity of the moment niggling uncomfortably like a mosquito at the back of her mind, Mac shook her head, pressing one hand firmly to Will's chest. His lips instantly broke away from her in bewilderment, but before he could retreat into himself, impossibly interpreting this as some kind of rejection, she dragged him over to their bed, pulling his warm body fully on top of hers.

Yes, she thought, sighing happily into his mouth while she still had the capacity to form the words. That's better.

On a day that had been filled to overflowing with gentleness and love, languor and affection, the urgency she so often craved felt wrong and out of place. Slow, and tender, and intimate, that's what she needed today.

ooo

Some time later, Mac lay sprawled inelegantly on top of Will, absently stroking his chest, the corners of her mouth crooked upward in a sated, tired smile.

"What are you thinking about?" he asked, his fingers threading gently through her damp hair.

"How much I love our life," Mac replied simply, kissing his chest. She lifted her head, resting her chin on her hands so she could meet his sleepy gaze. "If you had told me ten years ago that I would spend this afternoon feeding the entire duck population of Manhattan, I would never have believed you, but this is genuinely the best birthday I can remember."

They dozed for a while after that, exchanging lazy kisses whenever they roused themselves, until their growling stomachs and a glance at the clock pulled them from their cozy nest.

They found Teddy sitting up in his crib, chewing contentedly on the corner of a very familiar-looking pillow. He grinned toothily when he caught sight of his parents.

"Hello, my darling," Mac cooed, reaching for him. "And just what have we got here? Did Daddy give you this while I was away?" She glanced pointedly at Will, who shrugged sheepishly.

"Like father, like son?" she asked, arching one eyebrow, recalling how she had found Will last night, her old sweater a poor substitute for the warm body he normally curled himself around in sleep.

"He knew something was missing," Will protested. "I was just working with what I had!"

Mac rolled her eyes fondly at him, before nuzzling Teddy's chubby little cheeks.

ooo

After dinner, Mac grabbed her notebook and a pen, and settled into her corner of the couch, playing back the week's worth of shows that Jim had produced in her absence. Just how much had Will tried to get away with, without her there to keep him in line?

Teddy was on the floor nearby, playing intently with the toy farm that Charlie had bought him. Will, meanwhile, had made himself scarce – Mac had schooled her features obligingly when he left, pretending not to know anything about the chocolate cake she had spied earlier in the fridge.

Watching Will discuss gun rights for the umpteenth time in the wake of yet another school shooting, Mac pursed her lips thoughtfully, wondering if there wasn't some other way to frame this debate next time.

"Dada!"

Mac's head jerked up at once, her heart skipping a beat. "Teddy?" she asked breathlessly. "What did you say?"

"Dada!" he chirped again, louder this time, one finger pointing unmistakably at Will's frozen face on the television.

"Will!" Mac exclaimed, her heart racing now. "Get in here!"

She swooped a bewildered Teddy up in her arms, turning to face Will just as he raced in from the kitchen.

"What's wrong?" he asked in alarm.

"Teddy, who is that?" she asked cautiously, pointing at Will and working hard to keep the excitement from her voice. "Can you say it again, Snugglebug? Who is that?"

"Dada!" Teddy repeated for a third time, and Mac's heart swelled full to bursting at the stunned, adoring look that graced Will's face.

Will wiped his eyes as he made his way towards them, taking Teddy and wrapping him in a big bear hug.

"Hey, buddy," Will said, pulling back at last, "what about the one we've been practicing this week, huh? Who's this?" he asked, pointing to Mac.

Teddy didn't say anything at first, his eyes crinkling in the corners the way Will's did when she was concentrating.

"Teddy?" Will prompted him again hopefully. Mac bit her lip, and was about to tell Will truthfully that it was fine, that it didn't matter, that hearing his name from Teddy's lips was just as exciting as if it had been her own – but Teddy wasn't finished surprising her tonight.

"Mama!" Teddy burst out this time, his face screwing up with the effort of the unfamiliar consonants.

Choking back tears and smiling so broadly that her face hurt, Mac wrapped her arms around both of them, smothering them with kisses anywhere she could reach.

ooo

It was some time later before Will remembered about the cake, but when he did he insisted on lighting every one of the candles before placing it on the table in front of her. "Make a wish," he encouraged her.

Gazing at him across the cake, all their faces aglow in the flickering candlelight, Mac smiled, and shook her head.

"I don't need to," she said. "You've already given me everything I've ever wanted. What else could I possibly ask for?"

But she bent over the cake all the same, and when she blew out all the candles in a single breath, she wished simply for a million more days just like this one.