A/N: Inspired late at night by a post on tumblr of a young Jeff/Emily, that's all I'm saying. (also possibly, ridiculously, horribly historically inaccurate but what can I say this is a love story, not historical fiction and I'll try to research the rest better!)
Somewhere in the North of England, 1945
"You're late, Mr McAvoy."
It's already mid-afternoon and the barn is dappled with sunlight through slants in the wood and Will is almost breathless as he steps quickly through the half-closed doors. He's run all the way from the small road where his bicycle is hidden behind a mess of brambles and yet he still hasn't managed to beat her here.
"I was beginning to suspect you'd stood me up."
The smell of damp hay and manure and horse feed is strong around him and Will really hates meeting her here. He'd much prefer something light and airy and romantic – perhaps down by the brook or in the paddocks on the other side of the estate - but the barn is the only place that can guarantee privacy at this hour and the last thing Will needs is someone from the household noticing Mackenzie's prolonged absence and wandering in on them alone.
He's breaking every rule of decorum and propriety just standing here whilst Mackenzie sits coquettishly in the loft, and if her voice weren't so darn delightful as she teases him, his conscience might prevail and send him running whilst there's still time.
Mackenzie whistles his name again and something hot twists in his stomach. He turns to find her peering down at him, her eyes bright in the late sunshine and dancing with a seductive joy. "How was town?" she asks, and he knows he'll never be able to leave her.
She has her legs dangling over the wooden landing and whilst her skirt is long enough that it goes halfway down her shins, her feet are bare and Will can see each, delicate toe. Her skin is terribly pale and he wonders if she's ever been allowed to run barefoot out in the open, or if there was always someone following behind her with shoes. If he could, he'd take her to the coast and walk along the beach holding her hand and drag her into the water just to hear her squeal breathlessly.
"Fine," he tells her instead, "I bought some stamps," he adds uselessly, and hopes his voice isn't too rough with longing for her. They've been dancing around each other for weeks and he hates that he can't be near her always.
She's so young, Mackenzie; barely 23 with wide brown eyes and a tempting smile and a brain much too smart for a girl in her situation. She's a politician's daughter – a Baron's daughter, and that makes it even worse – and whilst she's been educated in some of the finest institutions England has to offer, she's also been sheltered from the world since she was a small child and it's only made her itch to explore and break the rules that much stronger.
She should be in university now, at Oxford perhaps, studying history and literature and delighting the young men in their vests and ties, but instead she's confined to a small patch of land in the north of England, evacuated by her father when things began to get a bit too interesting between Germany and France.
That was over five years ago and whilst Mackenzie has kept aware of as much information as she could, there are still aching gaps in what she was allowed to read and discover about the warfront. It's such a shame, because she's smart and quick when Will starts discussing things with her – they'd spent three hours debating the fall of Hamlet the other afternoon whilst Mackenzie twirled strands of hay between her fingers and inched her foot closer and closer to his own without touching him – and he's tried his best, in the few weeks he's known her, to teach her about the world he knows.
He was a reporter in New York before the war and spent much of his time during it in London, sending news reports back home every Monday and Thursday and now that it's over – thankfully, blessedly all over – he's taken a few months to travel north and see the country he's inhabited for so long. He'd once had plans to write a novel, but that had been scaped when Roosevelt declared war, however he's beginning to think that this small village in the north of England might be the perfect place to stop and plot it out again. It's quiet and pleasantly warm in the summer and out the tiny window of the room he rents is a view down through the village.
And, well, if there's a beautiful young woman who enjoys his conversation and company, that's only an added bonus.
Mackenzie certainly doesn't seem bored with him.
"Are you going to join me?" she asks, pouting, and Will is so entirely screwed because she's swinging her feet back and forth on the landing and all he wants to do is grab her ankle and maybe run his finger up her thigh (and if he's being completely honest with himself maybe follow it with a few kisses).
He's still standing where he was when he first entered the barn and he jolts at her words – their time together is so short and precious in the grand scheme of the day and he doesn't want to waste it ogling her ankles, even if they are delightful. He pushes himself forward and climbs the ladder to the loft quickly and Mackenzie shuffles over to give him room, smiling softly as he settles beside her – far enough away to be considered acceptable (even if nothing about this situation is really acceptable) but close enough, that if she were to choose, she could reach across and settle her hand on his arm or even his thigh, though that might be wishful thinking.
"What did you get up to this morning?" he asks, because he always likes hearing about her day, even if it often follows the same routine of breakfast, a walk, and writing letters to her father.
"I spent the morning cataloguing the contents of the library because I was bored out of my brains, Will. And yourself?" and he'd laugh if she didn't sound so despondent.
"I think I might actually kill somebody, one day, just to make life interesting. Do you know how tedious it is living here? I've counted the tiles in the bathroom three days in a row now – there are 784 of them, Will. 784."
"You could always leave," he suggests, and Mackenzie glances at him quickly, like he's lost his mind. Sometimes he forgets just how young she is, especially when they're debating Soviet Russia and the rise of Lenin and whether or not Stalin can really be considered an ally even if they'd all been fighting the same fight not three months earlier.
"I can't leave. Don't you think if I could I would have already?" and she sounds so defeated he's half tempted to take her hand and lead her down the road and never return.
Some nights he lays in the tiny room he rents above the butchers on the high street and thinks he'd quite like to return to New York with Mackenzie by his side – she'd love the city and he'd marry her in an instant if it were at all acceptable to do so. He thinks they'd be very happy together; he could write and she could study all the history and literature her heart desired.
"I brought you something," he tells her instead, because whilst he can't take her from this life he can at least provide distractions from it. Mackenzie pauses in her frustrated rant about the housemaid, Ellen, and her continual crusade to ensure that none of the few young lads returning from the frontline set their eyes on Ms. Mackenzie unless they're suitable, and her eyes go wide at the book Will pulls from his threadbare pants pocket and presents to her.
(And he doesn't even want to think about what Ellen considers suitable because he's entirely sure that a 30 year old American journalist who smokes, drinks and enjoys a laugh and with barely enough money to cover his rent each month and only three pairs of pants and a typewriter to his name isn't it.)
"One copy of Woolf's A Room Of One's Own, presented to Ms. McHale without charge."
"Oh Billy thank you!" she gushes, and the nickname catches him completely off guard. She's never called him that, and as she takes the book from him she cradles it to her chest a moment before cracking open the front page. She hums, and Will is caught watching the small smile grow on her face and the blush high in her cheeks and the slope of her nose that curves into her lips and thinks, I wonder what colour they'd be if I kissed her.
It would be so easy, and so entirely scandalous, to just reach over and press her back into the hay and discover the noises she'd make with his weight settled against her.
He's 90% sure she'd let him, as well, and that's probably the most terrifying aspect. She has no real boundaries when it comes to him, and Will knows he's in danger of falling for her. The only thing holding him back is that he's merely a summer fling born of boredom and far too few dashing young men.
Over the next couple of months they'll return to the countryside, and soon enough Mackenzie will return to London, and Will will be forgotten in a haze of dashing young Peers and gentlemen and one day Mackenzie will laugh and blush, remembering how silly she'd been, batting her eyes at that gruff old American.
It makes his heart ache to think like that but he's nothing if not realistic, and quite frankly if he can make her life a little more interesting until she returns home than he's happy too – he'd hang the moon if she asked him.
"I think you'll enjoy it," he tells her honestly, because she's passionate and obstinate and far too intelligent not to be involved in the world. He'd asked her one day what she would do if she could be anything and she'd turned to him plainly and said, "I'd go anywhere. And everywhere. And then I'd come back home and write about every place I'd been a million different times and make people read the stories and talk to me about them until they were so sick of listening to me that I had to find someone new to talk to."
And Will had laughed because he can imagine her doing just that, all the while thinking, I'd travel to the ends of the earth with you and never tire of your voice.
"I'll get this back to you as soon as possible," she tells him, but Will shakes his head.
"No. This is yours," and taking a risk, reaches out and folds his hand across her own on the book cover. Her fingers are warm and thin and soft, and if he were a brave man he would hold them tighter. Mackenzie inhales sharply and when he pulls his hand back her cheeks are stained red and her eyes are wide.
"I should be going," he tells her with a thick voice and he hopes he doesn't imagine her bite her lip to stop her protest. They both know he should – not only is it getting late, but they've pushed their boundaries a little further this afternoon.
Will pats the back of her hand with a soft graze of his fingers and then pushes himself up to walk to the edge of the loft. His joints are stiff from sitting in one position and his knee pops awkwardly – remnants of a high school baseball injury.
Mackenzie is silent as he descends the ladder, but as he turns to smile and wave at her before leaving he finds her face drawn and serious, like she's trying not to cry.
He almost stops and runs back up the ladder, but that would be a ridiculous course of action so instead he pauses, and lets her fight back control of her smile.
"Be safe," she calls to him, and he thinks it's such a strange parting comment, and rather poignant considering the last few years.
He steps from the barn and the air is cooler now that the sun is beginning to set. Mackenzie will already be nose deep in the book and he wonders if she'll have it done by this time tomorrow. Easily, he thinks, and laughs. She'll be terribly passionate about it as well.
There's a scuffle behind him and he startles as she appears at the barn door, peering around it cautiously and calling, "Billy?" like a lost child.
He stares back at her and her eyes seem impossibly wide and terrifyingly innocent.
"Same time tomorrow?" she finally asks, and Will smiles and nods fondly.
She has the book clutched to her chest and her feet are still bare and her hair is a mess that was once held back by clips and pins but is now flying in tendrils and she looks like a thousand and one warm, summer nights that he'd love to live by her side.
He sighs as he turns back to the tiny path leading to the road where his bicycle is hidden and thinks, my heart is in no way prepared for you.
Please be kind.