I cannot thank you guys enough - entering a new fandom is always nerve wracking, and so to get the response I did for my first The Newsroom fic? Beyond incredible. Thank you to everyone who read/reviewed/favourited. xx
As always, unfathomable cares to my ABFF, Tricki xx
She was nervous. She hated being nervous.
She was in a cocktail dress and about to subject herself to a room full of people who, thanks to her, knew far too much about her life; and presumed to know more.
She took in a shaky breath, picking at a loose thread of black sequins on her cream coloured clutch bag. Her phone was inside and what she wouldn't give for it to ring and announce some kind of national emergency that she'd need to run off to produce. That would be really helpful about now.
"Ready?" Sloan asked, having been caught up in the security queue. She was poured into a coral one-shoulder silk dress and looked incredible. Mac mentally reminded herself to stick close to the woman all night because no one would be able to look past Sloan Sabbith in that dress, not a chance. "Mac?"
"Do we have to? I mean, would you not rather just go to Hang Chews? A few wines, some cosmopolitans?"
"Kenzie, have you seen my dress? This is not a Hang Chews dress." She held her bag away from herself.
Mac chewed on her lip and reluctantly nodded. "Okay. Let's go."
"Do you think tonight's the night?"
"The night for what?"
"You and Will."
"You and Will. You know, you're stood on the balcony and looking down to the party, not' looking for him. He's down there talking and mingling but really looking around for you and something, something, tells him to look up because he just instinctively knows where you are and when you're near. And he sees you and you can tell he has stopped breathing because he's never seen anyone look so beautiful and he can't take his eyes off you all night and then he takes you home and…"
Mac reached out and brushed Sloan's hair off her shoulder. "…We really need to get you a man."
She sighed, "Yes, please."
MacKenzie nodded and they crossed the room towards the queue for the escalators to the main room, just joining behind the last person when Sloan's phone began to ring in her bag, "Damnit, it's my stand-in, one sec," he pressed the phone to her ear. "Hi Felicia, what's wrong? … No, the price index for gross domestic purchases increased one-point-one percent, not eleven! Jesus, we wouldn't be in a recession if it was eleven!" She moved over to the side of the room with an exasperated look towards Mac, who hadn't really understood a word she had just said. (Ask her about the Glass Steagall Act, MacKenzie knew about that.)
Mac watched as Sloan began to animatedly talk into the phone but her gaze was quickly pulled to the railings and the commotion of the party in the room below.
She was on the balcony.
What if Sloan was right? What if she was to look over and Will was to instinctively see her? Would that mean they had a chance? Lord knows she needed a sign; just something to keep her going, keep her fighting. She felt like she had spent the year apologising for screwing up and making it nearly impossible for him to fall in love with her again. The email, Wade, the imbeciles on that gossip show… one thing after another. The elusive voicemail message had given her some hope for a while, but that was months ago now and Will was determined to never mention what he had said. In fact, he had been determined to ignore its existence and seemed to have regressed back to their purely professional' relationship.
She left the queue and took a step towards the railings, cursing her stomach for suddenly flipping. She had already had butterflies in her stomach, now they had multiplied tenfold and she hated feeling so vulnerable.
She leant her hands against the cool metal of the safety bar and looked down to the swirling masses. She recognised a few people - some she wouldn't mind saying hi to, but most of which she wanted to steer clear.
It took a few seconds for Will to come into sight; he emerged from the area beneath the balcony and shook hands with Bobby from UBS News and Hal from ACN Nine O'Clock News. He kissed Terry Smith's cheek; Mac had heard she would be flying in from Washington for the event. It would be nice to say something to the 9pm anchor other than "Will's finishing up, he'll be crossing over to you in three."
He spoke with her for a few seconds before saying his goodbyes and turning on the spot.
Here we go, she thought. I'm up here. C'mon, Will. Come on…
He looked around the room, nodding hello to someone out of Mac's view, waving hello to someone she didn't know and shaking his head at a wordless drink offer from Charlie Skinner at the bar. C'mon…
Then he looked up.
She didn't know if he had stopped breathing like Sloan said he would, but she certainly had. His blue eyes seemed to darken as she watched and, good God, the man could wear a Tuxedo. He was just staring at her, mesmerized, like the entire building had ceased to buzz with chatter and ego and alcohol; just them. Just him in his four thousand dollar tailored tuxedo and she in her black strapless dress and Louboutin heels. She had walked into Lisa's work a week ago and been given the perfect dress straight off - sweetheart neckline, black slight-fishtail skirt; cream silk beneath a black lace overlay on the bodice and up the right side where a slit would have been. Mac had stared at it like it was a piece of art, only realising it was also priced like one when handing over her credit card.
She smiled, her head tipping to the side and lock of curled bangs bouncing against her cheek. She flexed her fingers in a wave and watched, chewing on her lip to suppress a grin as Will wiped his palm on his jacket before waving back. He gave the slightest gesture to her gown, his eyes wide and in awe from what he could see over the top of the short balcony and railing. He motioned for her to come down to which she nodded, releasing her teeth-worried lip and smiling widely.
She turned to find a pissed-off looking Sloan coming towards her, "You okay?"
She opened her bag and dropped her phone inside with as much menace as she would afford to Apple versus Gucci. "This is proof that I need more than three minutes to talk about the economy, Kenzie."
"Or find more qualified stand-ins that didn't leave school last week?"
Sloan eyed her curiously; she was practically giddy. "What have I missed?"
"Nothing," she smiled, shaking her head as if she couldn't possibly fathom what she was talking about. "Let's go get you a drink."
Sloan wasn't convinced but was led to the escalators, main room and over to the bar where Will handed them both glasses of champagne. Charlie spoke before Will could utter a word, "Ladies! You're doing ACN proud tonight, you both look beautiful."
"Thank you, Charlie," MacKenzie smiled as they both clinked their champagne flutes to Charlie's bourbon tumbler. She hid her burgeoning grin behind the rim of the glass as she noticed Will's blatant staring at her dress and hourglass figure.
"Is Elliot here yet?" Sloan asked.
"She means is Don here yet…"
"MacKenzie! …Is he?"
"He's over there getting shot down by Deanna Crawley from NCA," Will gestured over his shoulder.
"But she's married…"
"To a Marine..."
"I know!" Charlie guffawed, taking a slug of bourbon and loving this night already.
"I think we should take our seats," Will announced, noting the sudden influx of guests moving towards the tables set up around the room. His hand slid from her shoulder and down to the small of her back, his voice low and husky in her ear as he whispered, "You look incredible."
She wasn't sure if he would have felt the shudder that ran down her spine or the hitch of her breath as the whisky-touched words washed over her skin. She licked her lips and smirked, not trusting herself to even look at him.
They joined Elliot and his wife Sarah at their table with Don appearing just in time before the lights dimmed. He stood half-bent for his seat and staring open mouthed as Sloan thanked Charlie for holding out her chair. She tucked her legs under the table and flicked her hair from her bare shoulder, "Don," she smiled.
"Don, shut up and sit down," Charlie roared.
MacKenzie hid behind her glass again, focussing her attention to the man behind the podium on stage and squeezing Sloan's knee in congratulatory praise. Her attraction to him was more than obvious for Mac, and if his once-again-single gaze was on Sloan, then Maggie's would be on Jim's and the rosebuds would be gathered and blooming!
Will pulled his chair further into the table, his arm casually falling over the back of MacKenzie's chair.
The room's chatter transformed to applause as broadcasting legend Robert Van Darcy took to the stage, a sheath of papers in his hand and a genial smile on his lips; a smile perfected over years of televised news. He stood behind the podium and fixed the microphone to his liking. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Congratulations for surviving a year of Primetime Broadcast News!" The applause began again, some chortles coming from the audience.
Will's thumb brushed against her bare skin and a torrent of warmth flooded MacKenzie's body. She lightly - her fingers almost shaking - placed her hand on his thigh.
The speaker continued, "It has been quite a year, and I know I start this speech every year with that, but... It really has been this time. The BP Oil explosion, the 112th Congressional election and, of course, our brave countrymen finding and eliminating Osama bin Laden." Again, applause, this time with whoops of delight from his two hundred or more rapt audience. "And that's not to mention the news within our own ranks: Munro Corden retired after 30 years behind the desk, Alison Beatty had triplets and was unfathomably back on TV barely three months later, and Will McAvoy turned a complete 360 and found a voice thanks to his ex. We are still unsure how we feel on that one."
Any shapes Will was drawing against Mac's skin instantly stopped as his hands balled into fists and entire body tensed. She squeezed her hand on his thigh to calm him; it worked to a degree, but he still felt a fire within him to jump to her defence. He could not be more sick of people using her as some kind of joke.
The rest of the table - and a majority of the room, it felt - had turned to see their reaction. She had shrunk slightly, hiding behind her bangs and setting her jaw; Will was staring at Van Darcy with an intensity they had all been on the receiving end of at some point and not particularly enjoyed the experience.
"What I'm trying to say is," Van Darcy began again. "In 1930, the BBC famously reported that there was no news that day. We can safely say that will not happen again - not while we still have guys overseas, terrorists on our soil and truth to get out there. Keep up the good work and enjoy the night. You've certainly deserved it. Thank you."
The group forfeited giving the applause that the rest of the room gave as the speaker returned to his table, a show of camaraderie to MacKenzie. It was the general consensus to take a sip of their respective drinks, it seemed, with MacKenzie leaning into a still-tense Will to whisper, "Forget it. It doesn't matter. Don't let it spoil the night," her fingers brushing against his leg.
Thankfully, he did relax during the second speech. There were four speeches to be heard overall, the third of which was from Will; an honour he had not taken lightly.
When it came to his time, Will climbed the steps to the platform, shaking Wilson Carney's hand with a smile and shared joke. He stood behind the podium, pulling out a piece of paper from his inside pocket. Clearing his throat, his face set to his Serious News' demeanour as he began, "Four score and seven years ago..." The audience erupted into laughter and a smattering of applause. MacKenzie shook her head, it never ceased to amaze her how much he could command and control a room.
She watched as Will glanced over his speech, before folding the paper and scrunching it in his hands. "You know, my team could not be more thankful that tonight is finally here. I have written, re-written and started over on this speech literally twenty times since being asked to talk; subjecting anyone passing my office to drafts and punch-lines and quips and- There is literally a path in the carpet that circles fifteen feet from my door now because everyone avoids my eye-line lest they hear it all again." He swung his arm around, describing the path; he wasn't exactly lying about that either.
"…But, I'm not going to read that speech. Don Keefer will be happy with that because he called it sentimental shit anyway..." Don took it a cue to stand and take a bow, eliciting giggles from his nearby tables. "Don Keefer, ladies and gents,"
Don took his seat and Will continued, "So, yeah, I'm going to talk about loyalty instead. Loyalty is important to me. As, I'm sure, it is everyone. And yet, an act of unmitigated, almost selfless loyalty has resulted in MacKenzie McHale becoming tabloid fodder and the butt of jokes. It ends now."
Her breath hitched in her throat at the sound of her name, ignoring Sloan's look.
"Mr. Van Darcy was correct in calling Mac my ex. That is not a secret - she made sure of that. And he was correct in commenting on my change of editorial direction with Newsnight - though I think he meant a 180 turn not 360." A quiet chuckle sounded from the room.
"What is inexcusable, however, was his labelling that change as somehow MacKenzie's fault. I am forever indebted to MacKenzie McHale. She woke me up. She made me enjoy the news again. She made me realise that all was not lost in a world in which the top story on people's minds was an actress' failed marriage, where companies are falling over themselves with their lies and where journalism' thinks it is above the law.
"Everyone in this room needs a MacKenzie McHale in their life and if anyone wants to come to Charlie Skinner, Elliot Hirsch, Don Keefer, Sloan Sabbith, myself or anyone at Newsnight and discuss rationally and logically why they are moronic assholes in their treatment of a beautiful, intelligent, selfless -I said that twice, I know- woman, we welcome you. Otherwise, and I repeat, this ends now." He took a breath, shoving the unused speech into his pocket, "Thank you."
Sloan was first on her feet, immediately followed by Charlie, Don and Elliot in rapturous, passionate applause. Will left the stage with only their table making any noise, the others in the room were in shocked silence as they watched him cross to his colleagues, take MacKenzie by the arm and guide her from the room.
She was practically trotting next to him in her Louboutins to keep up with Will's meaningful strides. He pushed the glass doors open and found Lonny leaning against the hood of the town car, smiling as he spoke with an attractive young lady. Will called his name and Lonny jumped into action, opening the far door for MacKenzie and Will to file in.
"Wasn't expecting you for a few hours," Lonny said, leaning into the car and garnering a pointed look from Will that essentially said shut up and drive'. He closed the door and announced his apologies to the woman. She, he realised with a smile, already had her number written out and ready for him to take, which he did with great pleasure before sliding behind the steering wheel and turning into the evening traffic.
"What even was that? Are you high again? I-I-" MacKenzie began, unsure where to even begin.
"I couldn't stand by and let Van Darcy say that! Not with the entire room laughing along!"
"I don't need you to protect me, Will!"
"No, but you need someone to correct fucking pricks who are badmouthing you!"
"I don't care what they say about me!" she gestured back in the direction of the party. "I only care about the numbers and they're good and getting better! I have a thick skin, Will."
"You don't deserve what they were saying!"
"What, so only you can insult me? Is that it?"
"No! Well, yes, but-"
"Will, if you do your job well, people are always going to be on your back. That's how you know you're doing a good thing."
"And when Greg Brady said we couldn't have the debate because you would be attached?"
"That was Tate Brady and yes! We could have probably still got the debate format if you had talked to him instead of shutting down and doing your Clark Gable impression to get him to leave!"
"He wasn't going to give us jack because heaven forbid we make the candidates think about real subjects!"
She sighed; they had had this conversation - argument - before. She closed her eyes, "…This wasn't how I was supposed to start off…"
His voice lowered, he didn't want to fight either. "How did you mean to start?"
She leant over and kissed his cheek, "By doing that and saying thank you. That was… beautiful, unexpected and appreciated." She smiled, curled bangs moving on her eyelashes as she blinked. "Though, unnecessary." She smoothed her hand from his cheek, letting it rest on his knee.
She had never had someone go to bat for her like that. Not with words. Insurgents had been killed to protect her team, Jim got shot in the ass grappling with the guy who had stabbed her in Pakistan, Charlie had risked a hell of a lot to bring her to New York and give her a job; but no one had ever stood on a stage and told people to effectively go fuck themselves for her. She didn't know how handle that; how to process that with all the things that had happened, been said over the years. Was it forgiven? Forgotten? Or ever present and unrelated?
"I said are you coming up?" He gestured to the apartment building outside the tinted window. She hadn't even realised they had pulled up. "I have wine. We can watch us leaving the party on a 'Breaking News' loop on TMI."
She smiled, nodding her head and scooting over the seat towards the door. Lonny had opened the door for her and held out a hand; she was thankful for the help because manoeuvring in the dress wasn't the easiest of tasks. She stepped next to Will on the sidewalk as he announced, "Lonny, go home."
Lonny smirked, pulling a scrap of paper out of pocket and his cellphone. "Oh no."
Will waved a hand in the air, not needing him to elaborate further. "Lonny, go be disgusting then."
Lonny was about to retort but thought better of it, a smirk spreading across his lips as he got back into the car.
The doorman to the building welcomed them into the foyer and, though she knew the way, Will's hand fell to the small of her back as he guided her to the elevator. As the doors closed and the muzak serenaded them into an awkward silence, MacKenzie asked, "Did Don really try to hit on Deanna Crawley?"
"Yeah," he laughed, his eyes cast to the floor and hands bracing the railing on either side of his body.
"Because Priya Strawn from UBS had already shot him down."
She shook her head, "Is he at least going to try with Sloan?"
"Sloan likes Don?" he asked, somewhat confused as the bell dinged at his floor.
"Yes!" She exclaimed, leading the way through the short hall into his apartment. "God, a woman has to practically throw herself at a man, clad only in saran wrap and a smile for him to notice her."
"It's a peculiar one, but I wouldn't say no…" he quipped, almost to himself, as he turned into the kitchen area and began looking through the wine labels.
She spun on her heel, the remark not lost on her, "From how you reacted to me in this dress, I think you noticed me pretty well…?" Her hands were on her hips, her head slightly tilted and a smirk on her painted lips.
Oh yeah, he noticed her. It was getting damned hard not to.
He averted his gaze back to the bottle in his hand, clearing his throat. "I think we both were noticed when we ran outta that place."
"Hmm… yes…" she dropped her bag on the kitchen counter with a smirk; he hadn't denied that he had noticed' her, and there was no insult regarding her transgression with Brian fucking Brenner after it. "Do you have anything to eat? We ran out before the food."
"Menus on the fridge," he gestured to the stack under a NY Jets magnet.
"Dare I ask what's inside the fridge?"
"Bottled water, beer and baking soda."
"I used to stock bacon, eggs and cheese, but got told not to, so…"
"It'll go really well with this Pinot Grigio."
She looked up with a smile, her back leaning against the counter top. It took some manoeuvring, but she managed to lift herself up to sit on the counter. "Crispy sweet and sour pork with noodles?"
"You remembered that?"
"If you spend two years stealing a bite, it sticks in your mind."
She gave a giggle, "Throw me your phone." He did as told and she dialled the number, bringing the phone to her ear as he grabbed a corkscrew. She couldn't help the smile as she read out the menu numbers to the restaurant; watching as he opened the wine, shrugged off his dinner jacket and hung it over the kitchen island chair, unhooking his cummerbund and tossing it to the island. He switched on TMI, lasting barely five seconds before flicking over to the news channels and shaking his head in disgust.
She finished the call, putting the phone next to her and chewing on her lip. He was rolling up his shirt sleeves and she was getting flashbacks to five years ago; to when they almost missed the Mayor's Christmas Ball because he refused to zip her dress up, to the night she won her first Peabody award, to the bathroom stall at Sherri 's wedding.
She swallowed and looked down when he turned to her, tucking her hands under her thighs and swinging her feet.
"Ordered?" He dug his hands into his pockets, bouncing on his toes.
She was certain she was blushing, "Yep! Delivery within the next half hour."
He nodded, crossing back to the bottle of wine and bracing his hands on the counter. His back was hunched and she watched as he took a deep breath before crossing over to her. Her brow was knotted in confusion for his actions, but quickly changed to poorly disguised shock as he leant his front against her knees.
He was avoiding her eyes, reaching behind her to the cabinet. She couldn't understand how she could smell his cologne and yet be certain she had stopped breathing. Her heartbeat was thundering in her ears, his breath blowing curls around her ears as he brought out two wine glasses and closed the door.
He placed the glasses on the counter, but instead of moving back to the bottle of wine, he moved his hands to her knees. She gasped, her eyes instantly dropping to where his fingers were splayed across the material of the dress. He gently moved them apart and settled himself between her legs.
She put her hand over his, their eyes locked together as her back arched. "Will?"
He had no earthly idea how she could say one word - one syllable - and have it contain so much hope and so much desire that his eyes closed and a shudder ran down his spine.
He threaded his hand in her hair, his palm under her ear and thumb stroking across her cheek. His darkened blue eyes bored into hers with an intensity that she remembered fondly before he pulled her towards him and pressed his lips to hers.
They were soft at first; cautious, enquiring, promising. Her hand covering his on her knee smoothed up his forearm, the blonde hairs soft under her touch as she moved her other hand to his back. Her fingers clawed his dress shirt into her fist as he deepened the kiss, pulling him closer against her.
"No, wait…" she pulled back, her eyes still closed and lips tinted red. "Wait."
"I can't… I-I… If this is only a one-night thing for you, I can't…" she pressed her lips together, tucking her hair behind her ear where his hand had been just seconds before. "I can't lose you again… and I know it was my fault I lost you the first time, but I would never, never, never do that again because I couldn't cope if I had you and lost you again, Will."
He curled a finger under her chin and lifted her eyes to meet his; dark, vulnerable, beautiful. "Listen, I swear I'm not saying this because I'm high. If the answer is no, just don't call me back or bring it up or anything, okay?" he began. He couldn't remember what he had actually said on the voicemail - the cookies had taken care of that - but he certainly remembered the gist. Her eyes had grown wider as she listened, "I just really want to tell you that… that I've never stopped loving you. I stopped liking you for a while, but I always loved you. If you want to try it again, me and you, call me back or let me know, but, please, no big gestures in the office. They know enough about us, let this just be me and you if you want it." He licked his lips, "And then I said something about falafel."
She started to smile, then laugh, placing her hands on his cheeks as she said, "I love you too."
He grinned as he pulled her back into him and kissed her with four years worth of misguided, wasted passion; passion that they had tried and failed to find with others. She moaned against him as she was pressed flush against his body, her fists creasing his shirt and tugging it from the back of his trousers.
He had just pushed the length of her skirt up to her thighs, his fingers splaying further up her pale skin as her hands dipped beneath his shirt, when the doorbell rang.
"Ignore it," he murmured against her lips.
She pulled away again, her breath coming out as short pants, "It'll be the food."
"Shit. Shit, wait here."
He grabbed his wallet from the inside pocket of the dinner jacket and trotted to the door, raking a hand through his hair. He thrust a hundred dollar bill in the young kid's hand, grabbing the bags and slamming the door shut before more than a thanks' could be uttered.
He quickly returned to the kitchen, but found it empty. Dumping the bags on the island, he noted the single shoe in the middle of the floor with another near him in the open doorway between kitchen and hallway. He followed the trail, his lips tilting to a smile until his breath hitched in his throat at the sight of the carefully placed dress on the floor, leading to the bedroom.
He had no idea how she had managed to do that in the two seconds that he was collecting the food, but good God he wasn't going to be spending too much time working it out. He had just taken a step when his phone sounded in his pocket. "Fuck…" he breathed, pulling the cell out and checking the caller ID. MacKenzie?
"This is me calling you back…" she announced as he brought it to his ear, her voice low but he could tell she was smiling.
He laughed, a smirk on his lips as he turned the cell off, placed it on the side and followed the trail to his bedroom.
"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've never stopped-"