... ... ...
She made it to her office. She would have preferred to be somewhere less obvious but her brain was in no state to figure out where that might be so she would have to make do. She hoped she had looked calm enough en route that no one would follow her in. Because she was certainly out of strength to exude calm any longer.
Her breath went first: Expelled with force through trembling lips as if she had been punched in the stomach. The tears that had stung her eyes as she fled now forced their way out, dripping onto her cheeks. She tried to wipe them away; tried to breathe normally; tried desperately to forget what she had learned but she couldn't shake the crushing sensation.
She forced her shaking legs to move her to her chair. She knew that sitting wouldn't release the adrenaline coursing through her body but pacing in a room with glass walls would draw attention. She turned so the seat back shielded her from any prying eyes and curled forward. She tried her head in her hands, against her lap, up straight, but nothing felt comfortable.
And then came a sob. Closely followed by a second. And then she was crying and no amount of telling herself she shouldn't be made any difference. So she succumbed. Because it hurt. More than anything else he had thrown at her since she had returned - and some of that had pushed her close to tears. But this... This...
She couldn't sit still. She felt sick; she felt angry; she wanted to scream; she wanted to hit something. Or someone. She swept out of the chair, sending it rattling backwards until it hit the bookcase. But that didn't help. The room felt too small; the air, too heavy. She walked; she paced but it still hurt. It just hurt.
She stopped at her desk, dropping onto the edge of it, her hands gripping the wood at her sides and she let the tears stream down her face. This shouldn't have surprised her. He had apologised for the comment about her not being as cute as she thinks but he had still said it. And he had been distant since then. Something had changed: Now she knew what.
She had been stupid to think that there was any hope. She had allowed herself to think that the mysterious voicemail message had contained an admission of retained feelings; a declaration of love, and she had got comfortable; content in believing that he still loved her, despite having no proof. She should have paid more attention to the lack of love in his eyes. And to Nina's - ... She pushed away from the desk, swiping at her cheeks: She wouldn't do this here. She had no right to be so upset and this was their place of work. She needed to get a grip.
She jumped at his voice, having been too lost in her thoughts to have heard him come in. She turned away, wiping at her eyes in an attempt to regain some dignity. She forced an upbeat tone as she moved behind her desk, feigning interest in the papers that covered it. "Will, what can I -"
"I know you saw the report."
"I'd have thought dayside would have given up on pieces about your love life," she managed to state. She felt quite proud that she had sounded pretty convincingly unaffected. But she still hadn't looked at him and she knew that would go against her.
Will didn't respond. She knew he would wait - silently - until she looked up.
She wasn't sure she could look up.
So instead she dropped into her chair, resigned to having a conversation.
"I find myself angry at her. I had a newfound respect for her and - It's nothing new though. Obviously I know what women can be like. It just - And, to be honest, I'm surprised at your choice. I didn't think she was your type but I suppose - And -" She managed to stop her next words before they slipped out. They could still get out of here without an argument if she stopped now. If she continued to talk she would say something she would regret.
"And?" Will prompted, softly.
"And... I would have preferred to hear it from you," she lied, quite impressed that she had found a cover story.
Will sat down opposite her and she instinctively altered the angle of her head so her hair fell strategically across her face.
"I didn't tell you because there was nothing to tell. We had dinner one evening a few weeks ago - "
If she had thought about it, she would probably have concluded that stopping was a ploy to get her to look up. As it was though, she responded automatically, finding that Will seemed deep in thought.
"When you -" he muttered. "You haven't asked about the message."
Mackenzie frowned, not understanding the change of subject. "What does -"
"You haven't asked me about the message at all the last few weeks."
She didn't know where this was coming from but she felt distinctly uncertain of how to respond. She decided just to let him run with it.
"Did you ask Nina what the message said?"
How the hell had he got from - ... "She was with you." Her stomach churned. "When I called to thank her for... She was with you." She turned away again, nauseated by this realisation. "I'm such an idiot."
"You're not an idiot. If anyone's an idiot it's me. I should have known the gossip columnists would -"
Mac released a humourless laugh. "So you're an idiot for not covering your tracks."
"No, I'm an idiot for not - ... We had dinner that night and then..."
Mac squirmed and he seemed to understand that she didn't need the details.
"That was it. After she spoke to you she insisted she couldn't - That sisterly loyalty you seem to expect. She said she'd been right in the first place and she was an idiot to get in the middle."
"In the middle of what?"
"Us. You and me. She turned me down the first time I asked her out because of the message."
"Because I'm in love with you..."
Her heart didn't have long to skip before he fumbled to take that back.
"Because - She said - Because when I was high I - You asked her what the message said!"
"She thought the fact that you praise my work meant you're in love with me?"
"No, she thought that my saying I - ... What did she tell you the message said?"
Somehow, despite everything that had happened in the last half hour, that glimmer of hope managed to return when she asked him, "What did the message say?"
"You tell me what -"
"I told you what -"
"That's what it said."
"That I did a great job with the Bin Laden broadcast."
"That I always do a great job."
He nodded again.
"She didn't say that. I just made that up."
"You told me you're in love with me?" And the tears were back, prickling at her eyes because this just made the pain worse.
"I - Apparently I said I never stopped loving you."
"That was in May."
"So somewhere between then and now you... stopped?"
His shoulders moved in a slight shrug. "You never called me back."
"I didn't get the message!"
"I didn't -"
"You didn't know that."
She lifted a hand to her forehead, massaging her temples. She really wished she could start the day again; leave for work later; arrive after the report had shown and be blissfully unaware of everything. She knew that, in that scenario, someone would tell her. But, still, it was nice to dream. She might have had a couple more hours before she had to think about Will and - ...
"Wait! If she refused to get in the middle. What was last night?"
"It was an innocent dinner! Well, it turned out she wanted to find out if I had told you the truth yet, but it was two friends having dinner. But obviously they found someone who'd seen us the first time and it looked like more."
Mac found little comfort in hearing the explanation, though. "If her sisterly loyalty hadn't kicked in, would it have been more?"
"You asked her out. You were obviously attracted to her..."
"Do you really want to -"
"No, Will! No, I don't want to talk about this. I don't want to think about this. But it's plastered across the tv screens and you insisted on coming in here!"
"I wanted to explain."
"And you assumed, what? That your explanation would make me feel better? That telling me she turned you down; that she finished with you, would make me feel better about the fact that you chose her?"
"Not in a 'chose her over me' way. In a 'of all the people you could have dated you chose her' way. Because, that's what hurts, Will. If you don't want me, then fair enough. As you so eloquently pointed out, I did so much more than dent your fender. But why her? You couldn't find someone I don't know? No, you couldn't. You wouldn't. Because that wouldn't hurt me enough, would it?..."
And they were back at the accusation she had stopped herself from making earlier.
"... You're never going to be done punishing me, are you?"
"I didn't do it to -"
"You did. Maybe not consciously but, you did. You're in love with me, Will. But, you can't allow that. Because that would be like accepting that what I did was forgivable. And I get that it wasn't. I know. I know that I hurt you. I know that I lost you. I know that I do not deserve a second chance. I don't like it, but I'll learn to live with it... Can you? Because this limbo isn't good for either of us. If you can't work with me, you need to say now. And, seriously, this time. You can do this show with another EP. I think Don is starting to understand what we're about -"
"I'm not doing the show with anyone else."
"Then how do we move on? I know you need time but we can't carry on like this. It's going to start affecting our work and Lord knows we have enough drama in the newsroom with the Jim-Maggie-Don-Sloan quadrangle."
"It won't affect our work."
She felt like someone was standing on her chest as she regarded him with stinging eyes. "You want to carry on like this?" she whispered, unable to inject any more force into her voice.
"No, not like -" He sat forward in his seat. "Not like this. Not like the last few weeks. But like before. We were going in the right direction."
"This is where the right direction took us?"
"No -" He ran a hand across his face in frustration then he fixed his eyes on hers and she retracted her earlier thought about the lack of love in his eyes. She was undecided, though, about whether it was a good or bad thing to see. "I can't let go, Mac... I never did stop loving you. I am in love with you. Even when you ignored my message and I thought you'd moved on I was still -"
"Hang on -"
"Yes, I've known all along what the message said. I was actually unbelievably thrilled to find out that you hadn't heard it..."
She opened her mouth in outraged offence but he cut her off.
"Not because I wanted to take it back... Because there was still hope. You hadn't heard my declaration and completely ignored it. But when you started asking me what I'd said, I - There's a distinct absence of fear when you're high. It wasn't as easy to say when I was sober."
"Because there's also a distinct absence of pain when you're high," she observed, sadly.
Will nodded. "I agree that we need to move on. And I know that I'm the one holding us back but I - Mac, I don't want to move towards a future without you in it. That's not what I'm trying to do."
She withheld a facetious comment about how he had a funny way of showing it, in favour of putting all her effort into listening very closely to what he would say next.
"I never stopped loving you. And practically every day you do or say something that makes me love you even more. And, while some days it infuriates me because I want to hate you, other days I just want to wrap you in my arms and never let go... I can't move on, Mac, until I find a way to let myself love you. But that is what I am working towards. I'm not actively trying to hate you... Which is a huge step up from when you first came back."
That should have made her feel ecstatically happy, she thought, but she found she couldn't feel much beyond exhaustion.
"Might it be easier if you work with me on that rather than against me?"
He seemed surprised by that response. Maybe it had never occurred to him before, or maybe he had expected swooning over his declaration.
"You want a future with me in it. You want to love me. You need to learn to see that as more important than hating me... Might it be easier to achieve that if you spent time with me? If you try enjoying my company? ... You're half way there, Will: You want this to work."
"You make it-"
"I'm not trying to make it sound simple. I know it is far from simple; I know that you hurt every single time you so much as look at me. But it's cruel, what you're doing to me, and I can't guarantee I'll still be here at the end of it."
From the look on his face, that had never occurred to him either.
"Maybe it's time to try a different technique? If you want to love me, do it! Let the good outweigh the bad, Will. What have you got to lose?"
"You." His answer was quiet; heartfelt. Scared.
"You are more likely to lose me if you carry on as you are. I know it won't be a smooth ride; I know there'll be times when the anger surfaces; when you can't bear to be in the same room as me... But the difference will be that I'll know. I'll know where we're heading and we'll be working together to get there... We both know we're better when we work together."
His only response was to gaze at her intensely across the space between them. He looked tempted by her offer but she could see him battling with himself as to whether or not he could accept it. She held his gaze, hoping he could; terrified of what it would mean if he couldn't.
"I don't know," he said, eventually, uncertainty swirling in his eyes.
"Do you know that your current plan will work?" she asked him, already knowing the answer.
"Then you're no worse off... Look, it's not like we have to start dating. Let's try being friends -"
"We are -"
"Real friends. Where I don't have to feel guilty all the time, and you don't have to hate yourself for not hating me... We can do those things from time to time - we probably should - but not all the time. If you want this to work Will, then we can make it work."
"What about what you want?"
"I asked you about the message every day for two months - even on Sundays! Will, you know what I want," she told him, softly.
Again, he just looked at her, deep in thought and obviously struggling.
It would have been a lot more romantic if he had jumped at the chance, but she really did understand why this was so difficult. And she really did know that she had very little right to even make the suggestion. "You don't have to decide now," she reminded him. "I just think something needs to change sooner rather than later. For our sake and the sake of the show."
They sat in silence for a long moment and Mac tried desperately to work out which way Will was leaning. To no avail.
Then finally he queried, "You really think we can do this?"
Mac smiled and opened her mouth to reply but thought better of it and stopped herself.
"No, go on," Will prompted.
She hesitated a beat longer then quietly admitted, "I think we can do anything we set our minds to."
A small smile finally cracked through Will's troubled expression.
"I think we've proven that we can do anything," Mac continued.
Will's smile widened a fraction. "That's one of those things you say that..." he told her, his look of adoration completing his sentence.
She smiled shyly back at him, her emotions still a raging jumble inside her. Then she watched him stand.
"I'm going to think..."
"And I'm going to talk to..."
He couldn't seem to finish a sentence, but she knew he meant Doctor Habib.
She nodded again and Will nodded back at her. Then he took one step towards the door. Just one.
"And I'm sorry for -"
She shook her head this time. "It wasn't your -"
"It was. And I'm sorry."
Those darn tears were back and tingling behind her eyes. She managed another nod and then a smile when he encouraged her to.
"I'll be in my office," he told her.
She knew in an hour he might have decided her idea was completely stupid and who the hell was she to suggest how they move forward anyway. But, for now at least, there was a little hope.
Will stopped again at the door.
"Would you - ... Shall we get some dinner after the show?"
Mac's smile grew. There was a little more hope.
"That would be good."
He turned to leave again but she stopped him - remembering what had triggered this whole conversation. "Will, maybe we should be careful where we're seen. The gossips might -"
He shrugged. "Let them." Off her surprised look he added, "Mac, this is complicated enough. A little media attention won't make much difference."
She supposed that was true: How much worse could it get? She acknowledged his comment with another nod of her head. "Okay."
"Okay," Will echoed. Then, with one more smile in her direction, he left her office.
Mackenzie watched him pass by the windows then let her gaze settle on the newsroom where, apparently, those staff members who had started to arrive were completely unaware of the important conversation that had just taken place. Her heart was still racing; her head was still pounding; her stomach was still in knots and no doubt she would still be analysing every word, every look, every silence well into next year. But at least they had a plan. A tentative plan, but a plan nonetheless. And a plan they would be working on together.
She took a deep breath, and a smile spread across her lips.
They really could do this.