... ... ...
Peeling back the paper reveals the familiar pale blue of a Tiffany & Co box. She stops, for a second, her mind flashing back to Will's revelation of such a box. Same size. Same shape.
She glances again at the card that accompanies the gift.
"You should have this. Makes more sense than it sitting in a drawer. Happy birthday, Mac."
And this time everything stops, momentarily: her breathing; the beating of her heart; all coherent thought.
When they kick back in, she returns to unwrapping the gift, but each movement is tentative, nervous; both afraid and excited about what she knows she will find.
Through the first layer, she hesitates before opening the outer box. Her fingers rest against it; she looks again at the words in the card; her heart is now pounding in her ears and her throat feels a little crowded.
It hadn't taken her long to realise that the ring had been bought to prove a point. After the initial shock, pain and absolute guilt, her intelligence had managed to push its way through. The look in his eyes hadn't been completely solemn; there had been a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. He had known the ring, and all it implied, would distract her from seeing the truth. She didn't know if he had imagined that she would never figure it out. Possibly. Probably. Maybe she never would have if she hadn't happened to walk past Will's agent on the corner of Fifth avenue, just as someone asked him if "she said yes.". His response had been a beat of confusion, followed by "Oh. No, I was buying it for someone else." Everything had fallen into place from there.
She hadn't told Will that she knew. She could come up with the reasons why he had done it on her own, she actually had no desire to hear him confirm them. She had assumed, though, that the ring had been returned after he had successfully delivered his point. That had seemed like a logical assumption at the time. It still does. So why is it now sitting on her desk?
She looks between the box, the card and the door, trying to assess her options but unable to actually form any sort of sensible judgement. She wants to open it, to see it again; she wants to run to him and ask why, demand answers; she wants to run to him and embrace him, hold him so tightly that she is never stupid enough to lose him again; she wants to run to him and hit him, hard, many, many times. She wants to bombard him with the onslaught of questions currently attacking her. Why has he given her this? What does it mean? Why did he keep it? Why has he left it for her to find rather than giving it to her in person? What is he trying to do to her this time?
It seems far too cruel for him to have intended this birthday present to be salt for the still open wound that is their relationship. She knows he has been unable to stop himself from punishing her but that would just be too much. He wouldn't use her birthday as a weapon.
She drops into her chair, her fingers grabbing the box from the desk as she does so. She sits back, hands turning the box over and over; eyes focused on watching it move; mind focused on Will. Can he really think that gifting her an engagement ring will be taken as a simple gesture? Does he really intend for her to read nothing into this? Should she be able to read nothing into this? Without an accompanying proposal, isn't it technically just a ring? Do men give their friends string-free rings all the time? Maybe it's a new social norm she missed while overseas. She highly doubts that.
She drops her head back but stops herself from actually emitting a frustrated growl.
She knows this is all her own fault. That stupid stupid stupid bloody mistake years ago continues to haunt her. She supposes she should have anticipated this when Charlie called her about the job. How naive she was to think she could be in the same room as Will for hours almost every day and their past would stay firmly where its name suggested it should be. So perhaps she is being haunted by two mistakes.
Her head straightens up again. No, she can't consider coming back to have been a mistake. As the first mistake absolutely cannot be undone, this is the next best route her life can have taken. A life without Will in it at all would never have suited her.
But she still can't bring herself to open the box. She can't accept this gift without knowing what he means by giving it to her. And she can't accept that it means nothing.
Standing from her seat, she takes the box with her and heads for his office. She suspects he'll still be there. He'll have been expecting her visit, and most likely knows it won't just be to say thank you.
She pauses outside the closed door, trying to clear a space amid the confusion in her head, so she can at least attempt to approach this smoothly. Babbling out every question that's swirling round her mind she knows would probably be a bad idea. She needs a calm, collected approach. Although not too collected or he'll know it's an act.
She takes a slow breath in through her nose, knocks once, and pushes the door open before she can lose her nerve. Disappointment hits her head on when her eyes alight on his desk chair and he isn't sitting in it. Her head drops to her chest, but then his voice startles her with an amused, "Hi."
He is standing by the window. She can't tell why, there seems to be no obvious reason for his position in the office. Maybe he was admiring the view; maybe he was - She stops herself from hypothesising, reminding herself it doesn't really matter where he is and she is, in fact, just stalling.
She forces a return greeting as she steps into the office and lets the door close behind her. He watches her, a pleasant, patient, gentle smile on his lips. She finds that to be a little cruel: He knows why she is there, after all. He started this.
Might as well get straight to it, then.
"I found the card and present."
He nods. "Good."
Good? That's it? "Will, I can't accept it."
He shrugs this time as he tells her, "It makes more sense than it sitting in the drawer of my desk."
She's not so sure.
"Why do you still have it?"
She's certain she sees his eyes twitch wider, but if he's surprised that she knows of the true story behind the ring, he doesn't voice it. She's grateful for that acknowledgement of the fact that what they are discussing is too important for irrelevant tangents. Grateful, but terrified of where the conversation might lead.
He shrugs again and her head shakes gently, a silent request that he not try to brush it off. He holds her gaze as she waits for him to answer and they stare across the space for what seems like hours. Then he finally tells her:
"It wasn't funny."
She thinks that probably should explain it all but at that moment she can't see how it does. Luckily he must notice her confusion because he adds:
"Teasing you with the ring was supposed to be - It should have made me feel vindicated. But it didn't. In fact, it just reminded me that we aren't together."
She finds she is simultaneously sad and a little giddy to hear the sadness in his voice as he says that. She has always known he was hurt and angry. She had hoped that he wanted her back, but had tempered that hope because it seemed unlikely to happen. She reminds herself of that last part now.
"All the more reason to return it," she observes quietly.
"Yeah," he agrees, nodding.
He stops there, but she can see that there's something else he wants to say.
"Will..." she encourages, well aware that his withheld utterance could have heartbreaking results if voiced, but unable to push aside her curiosity. He gave her the ring, she needs to understand why.
"Once you had seen it I -"
He's struggling and she feels cruel to push it, but he started this. "Will, you had to have known that this would come up when you gave me the ring."
"I wanted you to have it."
"But you know it isn't that simple -"
"That's why I didn't return it. After watching you see it; after the remark you made about how that would be the ring that would do it when I do propose to someone... I didn't want anyone else to have it. Not via Tiffany, and not via me."
Though that sounds romantic on the surface, the heartbreaking implications do not escape her.
"So you're giving it to me now because you'll never..." A lump in her throat forces her to stop and she curses it for revealing her true feelings. She shakes her head, clears her throat, and tells him decisively, "I can't accept it." Moving further into the room, she places the box on the desk and steps away just before he reaches her.
"Will, you can't give this to me as a present. There are strings attached to it. You can't just pretend they aren't there."
"I'm not -"
"What did you think would happen tonight? Did you really think this conversation wouldn't take place?"
"It made more sense when I came up with the idea."
"I don't see how that can be true."
"I can't think straight when it comes to you."
"That's quite evident."
"Mac..." He waits until she looks at him properly, then in that dangerous tone that melts her heart, and triples her guilt, and makes her want to step into his arms and never move again, he reiterates, "I want you to have it."
And she wants to take it, but:
"I don't want it like this."
The implications of that do not escape him. And the implications of his responding silence are not lost on her.
She forces her disappointment aside, knowing deep down that this was never going to end any other way. "For future reference," she comments with feigned nonchalance, "I like chocolate. And flowers." She offers him a smile before turning away.
She glances back to assure him, "It's okay, Will. This makes sense."
Before she can look away again, he reaches for the box and she's captivated by the action. She wants to know what happens next. Her eyes flit up to meet his when he turns back to her. He holds out the box, encouraging, "Open it."
And then it hits her that maybe the box didn't contain the ring. Maybe she has made all of this fuss over nothing. She feels physically sick at the thought and knows that she is now eyeing the proffered gift with great unease. What an idiot she is; what a fool she has just made of herself; what must -. Then she remembers the card; the message; the fact that Will has not asked her what the hell she is talking about. It must contain the ring. So what is he doing now?
He helps things along by removing the outer box, dropping it to his desk though his eyes never leave Mac.
"Open it," he prompts again.
Intrigue has the better of her now and she is helpless to fight it. She reaches out her hand and he drops the small box into her palm. She's trying desperately to predict what she will find, not least so she can prepare her reaction, but she can't think straight - apparently they both suffer that affliction.
Trying to force her hands to stop shaking, she pops open the lid. And she stares in surprise and confusion at what is inside.
He takes a step closer and his voice is low and quiet. "I want you to have it," he repeats.
She looks up at him, too drained now to hide her sadness at what needs to be said. "We've just been over this. I thought -"
"I knew curiosity would make you stay," he smirks.
And when he smirks like that, with such affection in his eyes, the only thing she can do is smile. She dips her head to try to hide it.
She jumps slightly when his hand lands gently on her shoulder: She hadn't anticipated the contact. It makes her look up at him in surprise.
"When I came up with the idea -"
"When it made sense."
He nods. "You weren't so dismissive of the fact that I want you to have it."
She finds that she's a little angry about that. Did he just assume she'd swoon and take the shiny object? "Oh you just thought -"
He slips his hand across her shoulder, caressing her neck, stroking his thumb across her jawline, and she finds the anger vanishes.
"I imagined that you would hear what I'm trying to say," he clarifies, his voice as tender as his touch.
"I heard," she responds, cross that her voice is barely a whisper.
"I imagined you wouldn't argue," he smiles.
"And I thought you knew me well."
His smile widens at her retort and she finds herself smiling back.
Then he moves even closer and his tone turns serious. "I know we're not up to this yet, but... Mac, I need you to know that I picture us together. I still need to punish you and I've a long way to go on moving past what happened, but I am working on it. And I'm working on it because I want us to have a future. But I realised last week that I've never told you that... Well, I thought I had the night we got Bin Laden, and I should have told you what the message had said... I guess we can attribute that to the same thing that stopped me giving you this ring in person tonight. I've got our entire life together mapped out up here," he taps his temple, "But I've never asked for your opinion. And, in truth, I'd rather not know in case I don't like it, but..."
"Will," she whispers, her head is spinning from trying to follow that,"You're rambling."
"I don't ramble."
"What I'm trying to say - even though it seems rather crazy now I'm having to say it out loud - is -"
"Will I marry you... one day?"
He nods, once. "Will you wait?"
She tries not to smile too widely. She doesn't want him thinking she's too keen on the idea, though inside she's practically doing somersaults.
"As if any other man would have stood a chance against you."
He laughs and nudges closer. "Well I liked to think that, but I decided I shouldn't just assume."
"I'd have waited," she tells him solemnly. "I'm glad, though, that I now know it'll definitely be worth it."
"So, now will you accept the ring?"
She drops her head to look at the item in question, nestled in its soft cushion, twinkling in the low light. And she shakes her head, slowly.
"No," she answers, meeting his eyes once more, "Not yet."
"One day?" he queries, understanding what she is telling him.
He nods his acknowledgement of the agreement and they stand, for a moment, in contented silence, absorbing what has just happened.
Minutes later, Will breaks the silence to remark, "I suppose I owe you a birthday present then."
She steps further into his embrace, wrapping her arms around his waist, and she rests her head against his chest. "No," she assures him, "I think this will do nicely."
The hand that had caressed her neck slips into her hair, stroking soothingly as she revels in being here again. She suspects she's not fully taken in the implications of what has been said tonight. It still seems rather surreal, and she's a little afraid she will wake up any minute. But for now, she closes her eyes and breathes in his familiar scent, and lets the moment enclose her in his warmth.
She is just slipping into absolute contentment when Will pulls away, just slightly, and the hand in her hair encourages her to look up at him.
She inhales sharply, recognising the look in his eyes - a look she had feared she would never see again. His lips curve into a grin and he comments, "What about this?" before he moves closer and he kisses her.
It's gentle, his lips moving over hers slowly and softly. He brings his other hand to meet the first in her hair, holding her close, not that he would need to. She grips his shirt in her hands, pushing herself into him, responding to his touch with the amazement of being able to do so. She has dreamt of this moment but has not done it justice.
It is Will who breaks the kiss - Mac's sure she never would have. Her eyes flutter open to meet his but are there barely a second before his lips are on hers again and this time it's about the years they have lost. They can't get close enough; they can't hold tight enough and Mac only remembers she was holding the ring when she hears it drop to the floor. Thinking of the ring; of their agreement, while she's kissing Will, makes her smile. She regrets that though when it breaks their kiss.
When she opens her eyes she finds Will smiling down at her. A blush rises to her cheeks as she smiles back. When his eyebrows rise expectantly, as if he is waiting for an answer from her, she has to kick her brain back into gear. Recalling what he asked before he kissed her, she grins as she says, "Oh that is even better."
"Good," he whispers, and then touches his lips to hers once more. Too briefly, before wishing her, "Happy birthday, Mac."