Will was sure he had used every phrase in the book to describe her stubborn streak: obstinate, headstrong, intractable. It was at once her most charming as well as her most frustrating trait. The woman was just unbelievably fucking hard-headed. Well, he was hoping she was, anyway. That lighting rig had to weigh a good fifteen pounds.
He'd heard the sound it made when it connected with her head from across the studio. Who the hell tries to repair overhead lighting when the place is still packed full of employees? Were they trying to kill off the staff?
He watched in horror as she lay motionless on the ground, a small pool of blood surrounding her head. She had never seemed so still, so silent in her life. It was unnatural, really, Mackenzie in the studio and not making a sound. He sat near her head and watched in stunned silence as people whirled around him, calling 911 and shouting for help.
She'll wake up and she'll be fine, his mind told him. This is Mackenzie McHale ... nothing keeps her down for long. Right, Mac? Please wake up and say I'm right, Mackenzie!
He had watched as Charlie stiffly climbed into the ambulance that would take Mackenzie to the nearest emergency room. He had to stay behind and finish the show, trying not to wince every time he heard Jim's voice in his ear instead of hers. He was desperately close to ripping his earpiece out if he heard Jim one more time. Thankfully, the young man finally seemed to realize how much it was disturbing him, and managed to make it through the last fifteen minutes of the broadcast without uttering another sound.
When he was finally able to get to the hospital, he found Charlie sitting in the waiting room with his head in his hands.
"Hey, how is she?" he asked.
"Upstairs getting a CT scan. They'll let us know when she has a room. Last I heard, she was still unconscious. I'm sure she'll be fine, Will. She's tough."
Yeah, he wished she didn't have to keep being so god damned tough. Somebody cut the woman a break already.
Just then, a nurse found them and directed them toward the fifth floor, where Mackenzie would soon be situated in a room.
The first thing she was conscious of was the overwhelming pressure, like her entire head was being crushed inside some enormous vice. It felt like it was about to explode. A feeble, sobbing groan escaped her lips, instantly increasing the agony a hundredfold.
"She's waking up," said a strident voice, the sound reverberating around in her brain like a never-ending loop of the worst acoustic feedback. She recoiled from it, but the voice followed her easily, badgering her, until she couldn't tell where one question ended and another began.
"Too loud," she whimpered, licking her dry lips. Unfortunately, the pain was even worse when the sound came from inside her own head. She could have wept, but something told her that would hurt even more.
The voice, when it came again, was softer, and closer to her ear. "Can you remember your name?"
Name? It was a moment before she even understood the question, and another before she could begin to cast around her mind for a response, the answer swimming away from her several times before she could latch onto it. Name. My name is … "Mackenzie," she whispered at last, breathlessly, her lips moving as little as possible.
Where was she? What happened? Without pausing to think, Mac's natural, insatiable curiosity kicked in and she cracked her eyes open a sliver, but the brightness stung painfully, and she instantly regretted it, slamming them shut once more. Still seeing stars whirling on the inside of her eyelids, the pressure suddenly skyrocketed, and Mac instinctively curled onto her side, retching violently. She could feel a basin being thrust in front of her just in time, and a gentle hand holding her steady.
When she was finished, Mac brought her hands up to her head, in an effort to shield her eyes and ringing ears. They did nothing to block out the sounds of approaching footsteps, and Mac shrank deeper into the bed.
"Mac? Are you in pain?" asked an urgent voice.
"Billy," she moaned, nodding slightly, before she remembered why that was a colossally bad idea. But the fresh wave of dizziness was nothing, nothing compared to the flood of relief she felt. Will was here. There was nothing to worry about now. Whatever had happened, Will would fix this.
His head snapped up at the achingly familiar nickname. She had called him Billy just once since she had been back at ACN, and at the time he knew it was really only to get his attention. To make him realize that she didn't want him standing up to the tabloids on her behalf – she was perfectly capable of doing that on her own. No, this time was different. It was the quiet, pleading tone of her voice that tipped him off. It was the way she used to talk to him ... before.
"Why haven't you given her anything for the pain?" Will harshly whispered at the nurse.
"We did, sir. She has a head injury, we have to avoid overmedicating her right now. We can give her something more in a few hours. In the meantime, can someone fill out some of this paperwork for us? And she'll need to list an emergency contact and a medical proxy. So far she's not been able to answer too many questions for us," the nurse informed him.
Will watched as Mackenzie burrowed her head further into the pillows, apparently trying to escape the sound of their whispered voices in the small room. It was an action Will remembered well from their days together. She did the same thing when she didn't want to wake up.
His natural instinct was to grab the papers from the nurse and take care of it all himself. Mackenzie had never been good with the small details of life. Things like balancing checkbooks and remembering doctor's appointments. Those were things he had always taken care of for her before.
He tried to gather his thoughts and figure out what the hell he should be doing in this situation. His first instinct with Mac was still to act like the supportive boyfriend. God, Habib would have a field day with that one. He realized he was still staring down at the paperwork the nurse was holding when Charlie shook him from his thoughts.
"Will, stop gaping like a fish and fill out the damn paperwork. She can fix anything that's wrong later," Charlie interrupted his thoughts.
Fill out the paperwork. Sure, he could do that. It wasn't like her name or birth date had changed in the last four years. He was sure he could complete most of this. Damn, current medications and date of last period? Good lord, did they ask women that the minute they walked into any medical facility? Was that really relevant to a head injury? And how was he supposed to know if she was on any medication? She used to take the pill…
No one spoke for a few minutes after that, the only sound that of a pen scratching on paper. In the quiet, Mac was able to collect herself, focusing on taking long, deep breaths.
Her head continued to pound, and Mac could almost feel her brain swelling larger with every second that passed, expanding but having nowhere for it to go. It made her think of a photograph from a book Will kept on the coffee table, an ancient skull with a large, round hole carved in the back. A hole like that would feel so good right about now.
Unfortunately, the quiet couldn't last, and Will and the nurse were soon whispering once more, something about a medical proxy. Before long, they were back to hounding her directly. "Boyfriend," she mumbled impatiently. "Billy," she whined, frowning, when they pressed her.
Why didn't Will just finish filling out the paperwork already? He probably knew the answers better than she did anyway – he paid attention to things like blood type and the particulars of her medical history, when she never had.
At last, Mac felt a pen being pressed into her hand, and she cracked her eyes open once more, just long enough to sign the form. She smiled wanly at Charlie, who was standing quietly at the foot of the bed, but once Will settled into the chair beside her, all thoughts of anyone else were driven from her mind. Her head swimming, Mac reached out for him clumsily, pulling his hand towards her, knowing he would know what she wanted, what she needed. Will always knew.
With one cool hand, Will covered Mac's eyes, blocking out the hospital's dazzlingly bright lights, and she sighed with immediate relief. All too soon, however, she could feel him withdrawing, and she whimpered, trying to burrow back into the comfort of his touch.
"Sorry, Mac," Will whispered, stroking her bangs back from her forehead. "The doctor's here to see you."
Any good that Will's presence had done for Mac's condition was erased in an instant, as the first thing the doctor did was to shine a bright light straight into her eyes. It was only with the greatest willpower that Mac managed to prevent her roiling stomach from rebelling once more.
"Can you remember your name?" the doctor asked, when his physical examination was complete.
Mac squeezed her eyes tightly shut once more, but it didn't help to ease the pain. "Mackenzie McHale," she groaned, the answer coming to her easier now. Didn't we do this already? Why won't they just leave me alone?
"Can you tell me today's date?"
That was a little trickier, and her brow furrowed as she dug deep inside for the answer. She reached out blindly, seizing Will's hand once more and pressing it tightly to her forehead.
"Mac?" Will prompted her.
Mac groaned pitifully, her eyes watering from the effort she was exerting. She had always been terrible with trivial things like dates. Trying to remember broadcasts was easier – had they done three shows this week, or four? The weekly international segment, was that on last night's show, or part of the rundown this morning? Will had definitely gone up the street with Charlie for lunch, which made it –
"Thursday," Mac said at last. She unclenched, breathing hard, relieved to have finally hit upon the answer.
But the doctor wasn't satisfied. "What Thursday?" he pressed.
Mac's groan was louder this time, almost a growl. What more did they want from her? The only problem here was the pain, and that would go away if they would just let her sleep, and stop pestering her with idiotic questions. "Thursday, February 16, 2006," she spat impatiently. "The president is George freaking W. Bush. No, I don't remember what happened. Please, please, please stop talking," she whimpered, quickly running out of steam.
Though her head pounded harder than ever, Mac rolled desperately back onto her side, Will's strong hands reaching out to steady her as soon as he realized what she was attempting to do. Mac brought her hands back up to cradle her head, clapping them over her ears this time, to keep out the sound of the doctor's voice, still droning on.
Yep, still the same old Mac, he thought … except for that whole five year gap in her memory thing. He would have laughed at her response, if there was anything even remotely humorous about this situation.
He looked over at Charlie, who seemed to be watching him with a keen interest. Damn, it was almost like watching Mackenzie try to do simple arithmetic. The man seemed to be practically counting on his fingers and figuring out just how awkward this was going to be for the two of them. Just where did Mac's memory place them, relationship-wise? Charlie looked up at him with a resigned grin. Yeah Charlie, laugh it up now ... you're not the one who's going to have to deal with her, but you are going to have to deal with an EP who's stuck a good five years in the past.
The doctor indicated he would talk to them outside, but Will watched as Mackenzie continued to writhe around in pain on the bed. He really couldn't watch that much longer.
"One minute, doc" Will asked, and watched as the young neurologist left the room.
Mackenzie was pulling her legs up into her chest now and pressing her head into her knees. That couldn't possibly be comfortable.
"Mac, stop. You just got knocked unconscious. I don't think pounding your head into your knees is a very good idea right now."
"Hurts" she whimpered.
"I know it does. In a couple of hours they'll give you something more for the pain. Just try to relax for now, ok?"
"Hurts too much, Billy" she whined.
He couldn't leave her lying there like that. He made his way to the bathroom and soaked a washcloth in cold water and rung it out. He returned to her bedside and draped the cold cloth over her eyes. He began running his hand through her hair softly, watching Charlie grinning at him from the corner of the room.
You don't get it Charlie, he thought. You see this as fate conspiring to bring us together, just like you tried to do when you brought her here. But dammit, Charlie, this isn't a fucking fairytale! Everything won't magically be repaired between us by a few days spent at her bedside. And are you going to be the one to pick up the pieces when she starts remembering what happened?
He watched as Mackenzie's rocking began to ease and he stepped away from her bed, following Charlie out of the room to go talk to the doctor. He turned back and took once more look at her.
Oh, Mackenzie. This is going to break our hearts all over again.
Thank you so much for reading! I've never collaborated with anyone before, and I had no idea how this would work when I proposed it, but I've been having SO much fun! If you're curious, I'm mostly writing the sections from Mac's POV, she's writing the sections from Will's, and then we go back and forth forever trying to make them fit! If you like the story, please PM her and tell her so, in addition to leaving a review! :)
AUTHOR'S NOTE # 2 (from iworkwithpens):
It's been surprisingly difficult, but very enjoyable, to try writing a fic with another author who you only collaborate with by email. Many, many thanks to you, LilacMermaid, for doing most of the piecing together of our writing. Be patient with us, readers ... it takes a while to write an entire story, piece by piece, half a continent apart!