... ... ...
"What did the rest of the message say?"
He had known that would be her opening question as soon as he saw her name on the incoming call. "Hello to you too, Mackenzie. No, you didn't wake me."
"What did the rest of the message say?"
He had also known she would completely ignore his facetious greeting.
"I'm not sure we should talk on this line, it might not be private."
"They already know what the message said."
"Reece Lansing knows what the message said."
"Maybe we could ask him."
"Mac, I -"
"You do remember. Now, you said it started with an assurance that you weren't just saying it because you were high, so you can say it again."
He had known that this call would come; he had known she wouldn't be able to let it drop and each time he had played it out in his head, he had answered her question confidently and honestly and the outcome was exactly what he had hoped for when he had originally left the message. But now that it was a reality, it didn't seem like such a good idea.
"Will?" Mackenzie prompted when he had obviously been quiet for too long.
"It was easier when I was high," he admitted quietly.
Mac's tone was soft and understanding when she spoke next, but, nevertheless, she asked, "What did you say, Billy?"
Which reminded him of something he had intended to question earlier. "I see you've assumed you have permission to call me that again."
"You scared the hell out of me! I'm done making a secret of the fact that I'm still in love with you. You've known all along anyway."
Despite the fact that he had been able to deduce - from Mac's constant presence at his hospital bedside, and her advice and warnings to Jim, and her adorable smile whenever she asked about the message - that Mac was still in love with him, it still surprised him to hear her say so. The fact was, he hadn't known all along. He had thought he'd seen clues; she had said things that seemed to indicate such feelings, but he had never let himself believe that he was reading her correctly. He had been wrong before. And when she didn't respond to his voicemail message, it had confirmed for him that he had been right to be cautious. Knowing now that she had never heard the message cast everything in a different light.
"I haven't," he told her.
"Known all along."
Her surprise was evident in the higher note of her response. "How could you not know that?"
"Maybe because you were making a secret of it."
"But I wasn't doing that well!.. I thought you knew."
"No..." Honesty had worked in his head so he continued, "And then - ..."
"Then I ignored your message." It was a statement, not a question. She knew where that sentence was going.
"I thought you did."
"What did it say?"
A small laugh at her persistence preceded his reply. "I think you've worked out what it said."
"That doesn't matter though, if you won't say it again."
She was right. But after years of trying to get over her, and then three months of trying even harder, it didn't seem so easy to just say it. "Mac, I've spent three months coming to terms with the fact that you chose the option to never ever mention the message. "
"That was in the message?"
"Of course it was. Even high I knew I didn't want to actually hear you reject me."
"And you thought that's what I wanted?"
"Admittedly, now, I see the problem with offering such an option -"
"If you can't be sure the right person will hear the message."
"The right person is on the phone now."
"I had noticed that."
"Hey! It could be worse."
"I could have turned up at your apartment."
He smiled. Of course. "I'm surprised you resisted the temptation to do that."
"I thought you'd prefer to talk over the phone."
"So, you're outside the building?"
"No!" she protested, before quietly adding, "I'm... round the corner."
"I was on my way to turn up at your apartment when I - ... I realised I didn't want to be face to face with you if you rejected me."
"So we're not on the phone for my benefit."
"I think we both benefit -"
"Get in here."
Will ended the call and dropped his phone onto the table. He moved across the room, ready to receive the call from downstairs asking if Mac should be allowed in. He smiled to himself, though he shook his head, thinking about her phoning him from round the corner. He could certainly understand her reason. After all, he had left a voicemail rather than speak to her face to face. But it was crazy for her to stand outside when it was obvious from her excitement about knowing what the message said that she wanted the same thing he did. They needed to actually talk. For all the conversations they'd had in the last fifteen months, they hadn't done much of that.
He was waiting opposite the elevator when the doors opened. She met his eyes, and a smile crept onto her lips.
"Hi," she grinned, sheepishly, and he recognised that she was intentionally starting with what she had skipped on the phone.
"Hi," he replied.
She stepped off the elevator but didn't move any further into the room. He knew what was coming, so he answered before she could ask.
"The rest of the message - after asking you to never mention it if your answer was no - said... that I never stopped loving you. I confessed that I only bought that ring when I realised that you would do opposition research and find out about LA and - "
The anticipation that had lit her face at his first admission quickly dropped with the last.
"You - So the ring wasn't -"
"Everything else I told you about the LA deal was true," he quickly explained, realising he hadn't delivered that in the best way. "I knew it wouldn't come to anything; I was still trying to impress you."
"But you hadn't planned to marry me?"
"Mac, I had intended to marry you from our second date. But, no, I hadn't bought a ring."
"Until five years later in order to - What? Punish me even further?"
She seemed to have completely missed the endearing beginning of his reply and her hands were on her hips as she focused on the last part.
"It was meant as a joke -"
"Oh, well, yes, it was hilarious! I suppose you had a good laugh once I'd left the room."
He paused for a moment, remembering what he had done once she left the room. He hadn't confessed to that in his message and he wasn't sure he was ready to admit to it now.
"Actually, it didn't seem so funny after I'd spoken to you," he told her solemnly.
She must have believed the honesty in his words because whatever response she had opened her mouth to offer didn't pass her lips.
"I'm sorry," he promised, "And I'm glad we were face to face when you heard that. In fact I'm glad you didn't get that message."
Her expression was unreadable as she stared at him before saying, "You know I'm going to ask Nina whether you've left anything out."
Just the idea of that made him smile. "That's why I told you about the ring."
A sparkle returned to her eyes but a hardness remained in her features. He had certainly done a good job of eradicating the excitement that had been in her tone on the phone.
"So, what was the question?"
He frowned, not understanding what she was referring to.
"If my answer was no, I wasn't to ever mention the message. My answer to what?"
Ah. "I wanted to know if you thought we might ever have another shot."
"I'd have thought that was your call."
He shrugged a little. "Evidently I thought it was yours."
"Because you were high?"
"Because I haven't known all along that you're still in love with me."
"Now that you do know, do you still want the answer to your question?"
"Well given the goofy grin and the following me around hounding me about the message, oh and the particularly well veiled remarks at the hospital, I think I can probably conclude that you hope that we will have another shot."
She nodded. "I'm not sure that's the answer you would have got that night though if I'd been around to take the call."
"Are you saying that because I called your grin goofy?"
"Maybe, on some level... But mainly I'm saying it because it's true. Despite your assurances I'd have thought you were saying it because you were high."
Though it sounded like she was speaking hypothetically about a past possible event, he knew her concerns related to the present. "You think I said it because I was high?"
"I think it's unlikely you would have said it if you weren't. You haven't dealt with what happened between us. You bought a ring to punish me! You hired Brian to punish me! -"
"I hired Brian because I thought you'd rejected me. Yes I wanted to punish you but I also wanted to see that - despite you not wanting me - you didn't want him. I -"
"But that's not normal!"
"When have you ever known me to be normal?"
"You can't go from that to professing your love for me and exp-"
"The professing came first."
"Not before the ring. Buying that ring was a sure sign that you are still angry at me. You don't go from that to -"
"There's a fine line between love and hate -"
"And when you're high that line can blur -"
"I wasn't high when I -" He stopped himself this time and Mackenzie's mouth snapped shut as he effectively stopped her as well. Composing himself, he covered, "I'm not high now and I want to have this conversation with you."
"You weren't high when you what?"
"I meant -"
"If you have evidence that will help your case I'd use it."
"Mac, I'm not high now and I -"
"You're telling me what the message said. Something you have avoided doing all night. If I hadn't persisted, would you be telling me?"
He liked to think that he would, but he couldn't be certain.
She closed her eyes, shaking her head as she turned towards the elevator. "I should have th-"
"Mac, if I didn't want to talk about this, would I have invited you in?"
The elevator doors opened but she turned to face him. "Yes. Because you couldn't have ignored my hounding much longer. You're a good guy, you have to please people."
"That doesn't -"
"You told me what the message said. 'I said I never stopped loving you; I said I only bought that ring to punish you.' All matter of fact. No dramatic pause after your declaration of love so I could melt and swoon. This wasn't you telling me that you're in love with me. This was you answering my question."
"But answering your question involves me telling you that I'm in love with you."
"No. It involves you telling me that, when you were high, you wanted to tell me that."
"Will, when you're not high you're not ready!"
"Then why -"
"You have had many opportunities tonight to tell me that the message said you're in love with me. You have had many opportunities in the last five minutes to tell me that you are in love with me. But you haven't. Because you're not ready. You're not over what happened."
She shook her head and stepped backwards, into the elevator. "It's okay. Thank you for telling me what the message said. We don't need to... ever mention this again."
She pressed the button for the lobby, but he moved forward and stood between the doors before they could close.
"It was bound to happen one day, you shouldn't feel bad."
"You weren't high when you what?"
"That's your evidence, right? You have something that you think proves that you are still in love with me... But you don't want to tell me what it is. Because you're not ready. It's okay. I should have been more realistic in my -"
"I tore up the receipt. I wasn't high when I tore up the receipt for the ring."
"I wasn't high when I -"
"You tore up the receipt?"
"I did. And not because you told me that ring would do the trick when I do propose to someone. But because I - After I saw your reaction, I -... Yes, I am still messed up about what happened with us; I do still get the anger-fuelled urge to do crazy things to punish you - moreso since I've thought you rejected me - but that night... On that monumental night, I wanted you to know that ever since you came back I have imagined that one day we will end up together."
Mac was certainly surprised by that. Whether by his tone or the timescale of his feelings wasn't clear, but he continued anyway while she didn't seem to have a comment. He stepped closer to her, lowering his voice, hoping to make her hear the sincerity in his words; to make her believe what he was saying.
"Maybe I wasn't ready. Maybe I did only say it that night because I was high..." He stopped in front of her, close but not touching, and she maintained their eye contact, tilting her head to look up at him.
"The doors are closing," she murmured, but she made no move to stop them.
"Let them," Will told her, feeling the elevator start to move as he continued, "Maybe I do still need help to sort out our past in my head. But I want you to know all of this. I want you to be a part of it. You broke my heart! The least you can do is help me fix it."
Her eyebrows rose at that. "That's your argument? I owe you?"
Will nodded, quite satisfied with the words he had eventually managed to find. He had cracked hundreds of criminals on a witness stand and many more in his news reports, but finding the right thing to say to Mackenzie MacHale had always been his biggest challenge.
"How do I know that once it's fixed you won't realise you were just clinging to the past? To some notion of me that no longer exists?"
Will smiled and moved even closer, but still retained a centimetre's distance between them. "The same way I know that you won't break it again."
"Blind faith?" she quipped softly.
"No. The ability to see what's right in front of me."
Mackenzie's lips curved into a smile and Will was pleased to see the excitement he had seen from her earlier return. "You know, you might not be such a great fool, after all."
"I wouldn't go that far."
"No. No. We need you to be a fool..."
They stood for a moment, eyes locked as they just smiled at each other. Until the friendly electronic voice announced their arrival at the first floor and the elevator jolted to a halt, gently rocking them into each other. Will's hands landed on Mac's waist as he steadied himself, and hers fell softly against his chest.
The doors slid open, and Will reached across to press the button to return to his floor. His eyes, though, never left Mac's.
"Are you going to kiss me or what?" she asked him, quietly, her fingers stroking light patterns against his shirt; her wide eyes full of hope.
"I was waiting for the right time," he replied, borrowing her earlier excuse.
She recognised the move and her smile widened adorably. He knew she wouldn't respond the same way he had. They both knew that fifteen months ago they were not in the right place to be starting anything. Three months ago would have been fine, but for the whole Will was high and Mac's phone was hacked issue. But now that all that was out of the way...
"What about now?"
"Now would be perfect."