The Present

Rating: PG
Disclaimer: I do not own The Newsroom.
Summary: post 1x06. From time to time, with her there every day, the past was very much the present…
Spoilers: For up to episode 1x06.
Ship: Will/Mackenzie
Dedication: To Victoria. A little 'welcome back to civilisation (and The Newsroom!)' present.
Date: 2nd August 2012

… … …

"You bought the ring last week!"

Since their meeting had started, ten minutes ago, Will had known that Mackenzie had something else on her mind. She was distracted when he was talking. She was looking at him; focused on him, but he had known that she wasn't really hearing what he was saying. He had briefly considered asking her what was wrong, but decided against it lest it lead to a conversation he didn't want to have. Like this one.

He wasn't surprised that she knew about the ring. However, he was a little surprised it had taken her so long either to find out or to confront him about it.

"I know I deserve punishing, Will, but… To buy a ring just to make a false point? That's just mean."

He didn't need to point out that being mean was an excellent way to inflict her punishment, because she continued.

"And I know I deserve mean, but…"

Her words trailed off and he felt a pang of guilt at the hurt he could see in her watering eyes. He had been mean that day and, at the time, had been convinced that she deserved it. Since then - as had been the norm the past year - he had fluctuated between that feeling and thinking that maybe she had suffered enough. It had been clear since the day she returned that she deeply regretted what she had done; that she had punished herself for it, and would continue to do so now that she was faced with it on a daily basis.

But, despite everybody's assertions that they were three - now four - years on; despite knowing that it had also torn her apart, he had found that he couldn't just move on and accept that the past was the past. From time to time, with her there every day, the past was very much the present. Maybe if all he was thinking about was the betrayal, he could have forced himself to see that she had atoned. But he didn't just feel the pain of the end of their relationship. There were moments - frequent moments - when he remembered meeting her; falling in love with her; spending time; holding hands; thinking about what his life would be like when - never if - they got married. In fact, the time he spent thinking about the good far outweighed the time he committed to the bad. And it just made the whole thing harder. Because it just made the bad hurt more; kept it fresh. Kept him constantly in a state where he wanted to hurt her one minute and protect her the next.

Perhaps Doctor Habib was right. Perhaps he did need to talk about it.

"No," she continued, and he watched her pull her professionalism back around her. "No. We need to get the show sorted."

Perhaps he needed to talk to her.

"But?" he prompted, ignoring her rather sensible attempt to put the topic of 'them' aside.

Her eyes were wide and almost pleading with him not to continue what she had started. "We should get the show -"

"We could sort out the show in less than ten minutes. We're that good."

She nodded her agreement but still looked anxious about continuing their other conversation. It made him feel even more intrigued about what was to follow that 'but'.

"So? You know you deserved mean, but…?"

One last plea with her eyes, but he wasn't going to back down.

With a sigh, she admitted, "But… Looks and words; well timed digs at the fact that I monumentally screwed up something wonderful. I never - … To have your agent buy a ring, just so you could - … That was calculated, pre-meditated. I - … I thought that we had at least become friends."

She shook her head and the guilt intensified, knowing what was coming next.

"Do you even want to be friends? Were we ever even heading in that direction? Were you letting me think we were friends so it would hurt all the more when you did something like this?"

That was actually more than he had expected. She had taken it further than he had thought she would and he didn't immediately know what to say.

"Would it have been so hard just to explain to me that you knew you were never going to LA? To tell me that you had intended to propose to me. Wouldn't that have been enough? Did you really need to use props to twist the knife?"

At the time he would have said yes. At the time he would have said that she deserved it for sweeping - as he had known she would - into his office and suggesting that he had not been as invested in their relationship as he had; for daring to imply that he should not have been so hurt by her betrayal. Even now he believed that she deserved to feel guilty about that. But, he had to admit that producing the ring had been a step too far. He could have inflicted enough pain with words. He didn't need to do it with flair. If only because, no matter what she had done in the past, they were friends now in the present. She shouldn't be able to doubt that.

"Of course we're friends," he told her, sincerely.

She regarded him with sad eyes. "I don't know that there's any 'of course' about it. I knew that you wanted me to hurt, but I never expected you would -"

"I'm sorry. You know I wasn't thinking straight, I -… I thought it would be a joke."

"Did you? Or are you telling yourself that now?... I've been back a year, Will. I thought we'd been through enough since then that - … I don't expect you to forgive and forget. I would never ask that of you. But if you can't move forward, then eventually this is going to stop working. We're not a team if you're harbouring desires to make me suffer."

He didn't know what he should say in response to that. He couldn't deny harbouring such desires, because he did. But they were far from being his only desires. Though he wasn't sure he could tell her that either.

He settled for, "We have moved forward."

"Have we?"

He nodded. "I haven't fired you."

"Because I'm a damn good producer."

His lips quirked automatically into a smile. "Yes. And because I don't hate having you around. I'd expected that I would."

"Yes, you made that quite clear," she muttered.

"Mac, I like having you around. If Charlie had asked me first, I would have offered him a 'hell no!' and done everything in my power to stop him…"

Though he was certain that she had known that all along, she still looked crestfallen at his words.

"… But he didn't ask and… I'm glad you're here."

"But you still hate me."

"I don't hate you."

She shot him a sceptical glare.

"From time to time, I hate you. But, it's the old you I hate. You," he gestured towards her, making it clear what he meant, "would never do… what you did."

"No I wouldn't," she agreed, affectionately, assuring him that she meant it.

She held his gaze with hers and it quickly became one of those moments where he was nearly overwhelmed by the fact that he was still in love with her.

"So I should just accept that, from time to time, you'll be mean?" she asked him, oblivious to his thoughts.

"No," he replied.

She looked cynical again.

"Okay, yes. But not that mean. Just looks and words; well timed digs."

She nodded. "And -… No. Okay. Okay, we should get back to work." She looked down at her notebook.

He frowned, wondering what she had stopped herself from saying this time.

"'And' what, Mac? Go on," he encouraged gently.

She slowly shook her head and looked up again to face him. "It doesn't matter."

"Go on," he repeated softly.

"It's not important. I was just wondering if - …"

This time just a look prodded her to continue.

"I was wondering… Do you foresee a time when you won't need to be mean to me anymore?"

She was looking at him with such contrition; such regret; such hope in her expression, and it tugged on his heart. She looked adorable. As she usually did.

He hadn't expected this question but he instantly knew the answer. His thoughts drifted to tearing up the receipt; to the ring that still sat in his desk drawer. He smiled at her and told her honestly, "Yes. I do."

A smile spread across her lips - relieved and grateful. "Many, many years down the line though, right?" she enquired, a glint in her eyes.

He laughed, glad that she felt comfortable enough to joke about it. She smiled at him again before returning her attention to their work. He watched her for a moment, not really taking in what she was saying, and responded quietly, "Maybe not."