Chapter 8: Red Sky in the Morning
Because I love Jane and Leona (who IS a goodie!).
The sun was blazing through the windows as Mackenzie whimpered and wriggled around under tangled sheets. She looked annoyingly adorable for someone in her situation.
He stood there, chamomile tea in one hand, plate of toast in the other, and rested against the doorframe, watching her face contort in a ridiculously cute way for someone who had been bedridden for nearly seventy-six hours.
She suddenly twisted onto her back, arching off the bed as she raised a hand (which seemed as though it had turned to lead) to her forehead and let out a low groan.
"Watching me is creepy you know." She croaked out, eyes still hidden under the hand that was covering her face. Damn. He'd been caught.
"Well," he said coyly, "What can I say? Someone so ill should not be so sexy."
She scoffed. "Sexy? You must be catching my flu Billy, you're having delusions in broad daylight."
Just the low tone of her voice was so incredibly attractive to his ears that he once more found himself utterly overwhelmed by how much he loved this woman. He placed the food onto the nightstand and sunk down next to her on the mattress, leaning over her and placing a hand to her clammy head. She moaned again as his cooler skin met hers.
"Oh Mac." He said sympathetically. She hummed appreciatively, her hand feebly curling round his wrist. He gently pulled her hand off her face, taking in her flushed skin and sweaty heat. Her eyes flitted open, flickering across his face, distracted, confused, like the light was too intense. Yeah, she was definitely sick.
She moved her hand up to his face, lightly tracing a finger down his jaw as he calmly watched her. He leant forward and placed a light kiss to her sweaty forehead. Her hand tried to push him away.
"Nooooo." she whined. "You are way too close. I'm contagious, get away."
"Do you really think you're in a position to take me right now, Ms. McHale?" He grinned.
"I could take you any day I want McAvoy." She slurred, her eyes closing again her feet twisting at the bottom, trying to escape the confines of the sheets.
"Yeah?" He ran a sole finger from her clavicle down to her belly, being careful not to trigger her upset stomach. "Prove it." he whispered tauntingly, his breath ghosting across her ear causing her to shiver.
"I can take you." She mumbled. Her adorably scrunched up face mellowed out into a more peaceful, serene expression, despite the redness that lingered as he gently rubbed her belly. She reminded him of a cat, flaked out on her back.
"Sure you can." He whispered, lips brushing along her hairline and down the side of her face. He could feel the hand scrunching in his t-shirt but she didn't push him away, she just twisted her fingers along the rim of the neckline.
He skated over her lips, smiling at the the unhappy gasp that he drew from her mouth before moving down to her neck, lingering there and gently massaging her hip with his free hand.
"Goddd, Will." She whimpered after he'd not moved from her pulse point for more than a minute. "Willl!"
He grinned against her neck before moving back up until his face was level with hers. Her eyes had snapped open again and she was looking at him in a decidedly unamused fashion.
"Better?" He asked innocently. She tugged a little harder on his collar.
"Mean, McAvoy. So mean."
"I was just trying to help you relax." Her eyes narrowed.
"Do feel better?" He asked, genuinely, cupping her cheek in his hand, stroking a finger across her bone. She glared at him for a few more seconds.
"Yes." She said grudgingly, turning to look out the window, making him chuckle. He gently turned her head back towards him, wasting no time in rewarding her by pressing his lips gently against hers, capturing her upper lip in his. He instantly felt her relax. He could feel her hand travel from his collar to tangle lightly in his hair, one random finger just drawing circles on his crown.
She let out another whine as he detached himself, but this time when she opened her eyes she was smiling softly.
"I brought chamomile tea." He said softly. "And toast."
Her smile widened, her finger trailing back down his face again, "What did I do to deserve you, huh?"
"Oh I'm sure you'll earn it someday" He teased. She rolled her eyes and pathetically slapped his chest, before tugging him more forcefully down for another kiss.
He really couldn't care less whether she was sick or not. She was here and she was with him and he considered himself unbelievably lucky to have a such a woman at his side. Or under him, he supposed, smiling into the kiss.
He opened his eyes, wanting to see her face again. And he jolted back.
"Mac?!" He asked, panicked. How had this happened? Only a second ago she had been - what the HELL?
Her face was bruised, cut and there was a nasty cut running deep under her eye and another contusion brilliantly red against the pale skin of her forearm. He jolted back to her face and noted the way her eyes were wide open and oh so terrified, frantically scanning from left to right, and she was gasping, hyperventilating.
He was scared to touch her.
"Mackenzie?" He had to grab her, one hand on her shoulder and one hand on her waist, trying to get her to focus on him, trying to understand what was actually happening.
"Mac?" His voice cracked. Her eyes rolled before they clenched in pain and she arched under his hands.
"Wi - W - Wi - Wi -"
He looked at her bewildered, suddenly aware of a warm wetness under his hands. He looked down and his heart stopped. There was a large circle of blood spreading out across the white sheets from a deep, maroon hole in her abdomen, staining his fingertips and palms. How can that have happened? She was fine! She had been fine! They had been touching and kissing and - how could this -
He spun around, finding Charlie standing in the doorway looking concerned. Will gulped, raising his hands in despair.
"Charlie! God Charlie - I swear to God - I have no idea what happened - she just - you have to help - "
He looked back from the weirdly unfazed Charlie to Mackenzie. Except she had changed again. He was so confused. This couldn't be real. Surely, this couldn't be real?
"Will?" Charlie called again...except he sounded more distant this time. Like he was calling from further away.
"Mac?" He called again, but now her eyes were shut. He was still holding her but she wasn't responding.
Out of the corner of his eyes he saw the scenes change around him and suddenly he's in the plaza outside of ACN. There's a crowd and next to him and there's people screaming and Lonny's on the ground a few feet away from him and he's holding the dead weight of Mackenzie against his chest. Oh God.
He snapped awake.
Dazedly he blinked, his heart still racing from the scenes that had played out in front of him just moments before. Yet he was sitting in his office, and though the warm sunlight was still in the window, it was a warmer, brighter sun than had been in his...his what? His dream? It must have been. Except it was real! That memory from the bedroom was real.
Now it was apparently a nightmare.
He twisted slowly in his seat, his mouth still half-open, his eyes eventually focussing on Charlie's concerned looking figure.
"You okay, there?"
"I - yeah." He shook himself and sat back further into his chair, attempting to reassert himself. He was in his office. He was safe. He had been here for a few hours now, and he had seen Mac just that morning.
"Will?" He repeated in a softer voice. He hated the look Charlie was giving him - sympathy was now turning into pity and he just hated it. He hated being reminded every time he saw someone looking at him that he had fucked up. That he could have been in a far less embittered position right now if he had just gotten over his pride and confessed his prevailing feelings for Mackenzie beforehand.
He found the images flashing before his eyes once more. He had readily avoided Charlie since yesterday. And there was a reason for that. And his daydream had just brought that all back.
"The day Mackenzie got stabbed...what were you going to do if she hadn't made it?"
"You only told me after the second phone call from Jackson. You were waiting to know whether she was going to make it before you told me. It was noon. You could have called me in earlier. But you waited...?"
"I'm - ?"
"The day Mac got stabbed?" He asked a little more impatiently, dismissing Charlie's confused expression.
"Yes..." Charlie said slowly, a resigned look hijacking his eyes signalling to Will that he knew where this was going. Will's look was hard and desperate.
"If she had died, when would you have told me?"
Charlie sighed and in an unusual move for him, ran his fingers through his hair. "I would have told you Will. Of course I would have told you - you think that I would keep something like that - something like that about Mackenzie from you?"
"I don't know, you obviously didn't feel the need to tell me straight away!"
He was getting erratic and he knew it, but this had been eating away at him since his meeting with Habib that morning.
"Will, how much sleep did you get last night?" It was sharp, it was curt, it was to the point and it hit the nail on the head and they both knew it.
"Not much." He muttered. Charlie huffed at him. Will spun back around. "Don't have a go at me Charlie, I don't understand how you are sleeping! Have you seen her today? I have! She's the same! She's the goddam same as she was the day before! And the night before that! When's it going to change Charlie, when's she going to wake up!? They said she was going to wake UP!"
He hadn't even realised that he had started shouting. He expected Charlie to reprimand him - maybe even send him home. Instead, Charlie levelled him with a fixed stare and waited for his breathing to even out.
"Are you going to calm down before the meeting with Leona?"
Shit. He had totally forgotten about that. Exactly what he needed! Leona Lansing and her fucking yapping puppy of a son flapping along at her heels.
Charlie cleared his throat, looking expectantly at him, tapping his fingers on his blazer's button.
"What time is this meeting?" Will asked shortly.
"In an hour." Charlie replied airily. "Can you be civil?"
"I can be civil." Will insisted, lighting up a cigarette with fidgety hands. "Whether her muppet can be civil? The jury's still out on that."
"Her muppet?" Charlie's lips twitched.
"Yes!" He snapped, twisting to look back out of the window again.
"You went to your guy this morning?" He asked tentatively.
Will blew a long puff of smoke out of his lungs, not answering straight away.
"It didn't go well?"
Will hissed. He could hear Charlie creeping up behind him but he made no attempt to turn around.
It was fair to say that his meeting with Habib this morning, after his pilgrimage to Mackenzie, had been equivalent to the success of the Hindenburg; and equally explosive. He was fraying at the edges and he felt that there was nothing he could do to stop it. Only Mac could do that. He needed her. Badly.
He felt rather than saw Charlie stand at his side, shoulder-to-shoulder with him, respectfully not staring at him but following his gaze to the horizon, just visible through the steel-glass jungle of Manhattan. "I'm your boss, Will, it's my job to ask...can you do this?"
He wasn't sure if he wanted to punch or hug him for asking such a question.
Truthfully, he didn't know whether he wanted to keep doing the show or walk away until the situation was...resolved. All he knew was that he wanted Mackenzie. As sappy, lovestruck, sickeningly romanticised as that was, it was the only solid fact he knew about himself right now. This morning had shown him that. He hadn't recognised the man who had been in Habib's office today. And he hated himself for that a little bit. He threw a curious glance at his mentor.
"You know she's going to ask Will. I'll back you whatever you decide, but I want you to be sure either way." He now turned his head to meet Will's eyes. "No one here is going to think any less of you if you choose to wait in the dugout for a while. We're a team here."
God he sounded like Mac. Oh Charlie!
Since when did he channel Mac's spirit? Oh right - yeah, that was it: the two of them had been in on this since the beginning. This had all been Charlie's Grand Design. So maybe it was the other way around - maybe Mac was channelling Charlie? No. Mac was Mac, he knew that. Oh, why is he even asking himself these stupid questions? It's little thoughts like these that have had him in a tailspin since he woke that morning...slowly tying himself into tight little knots of anger and frustration, getting lost inside the labyrinth of his own mind.
Taking a deep breath in through his nose, he inhaled the soothing scent of the cigarette (which ironically he knew Mac would kill him for) and allowed it to flow through him before he opened his eyes once more, mind set, verdict decided. He knew there was only one option.
"I'm not leaving, Charlie."
That was it. Four simple words. Will had already made up his mind yesterday that this was the only acceptable course as long as Mac was out of the game. That had been at least one thing that Habib had led him to realise. That was something, he supposed.
He felt a hand clap on his shoulder. "Good man." Charlie answered gruffly, a distinct note of pride lingering in the air after his words had receded.
"I don't think I'm the only person who needs to be answering that question though." Charlie looked at him quizzically. "Jim?" He offered.
Charlie almost scoffed. "If you're staying, he's definitely staying."
"But he should be given the option." He could see that Charlie's cogs were turning, probably coming up with the same things he was: that chances were, Jim saw him as the enemy right now, and thus would absolutely under no circumstances want to look weak. Something he and Jim actually had in common, then...though not exactly a firm foundation stone for a relationship.
'Fine. But you talk to him."
He wasn't sure what happened in the hour between his conversation with Charlie and the meeting with Leona. Maggie had popped her head in the door a couple of times, but he couldn't recall clearly what she had been wanting. Sloan had said something to him. He was sure he was supposed to have been supervising something, or, you know, at least doing some work. But he didn't. He couldn't. His mind was all at once a complete jumble of mixed up thoughts, yet completely focussed on one woman. Disorientating didn't cover it.
Nevertheless, he found himself sitting in the restaurant at the top of AWM offices an hour later, fidgeting with his fingers whilst Charlie stared wistfully out of the window, watching the tiny cars hurtling along Sixth Avenue below.
A click-click of heels roused him from his stupor as Leona Lansing brought the number of people in the room to three. Charlie, ever the gentleman got promptly to his feet, whilst Will attempted to find the impetus to do the same. But a hand on his shoulder forced him the small distance back onto his seat. Raising his eyes he found Leona looking down at him sympathetically before she clapped him twice on the back and leaned over him to greet Charlie.
Well...that was unexpected.
"Reece isn't here?" Will asked bluntly.
He didn't mean it to come out so rude, though he was relieved to find that it sounded far less accusatory out loud than it had in his head. Sitting down smartly, Leona appraised him with what Will could only judge to have been a smirk before nodding her head awkwardly.
"I didn't think his particular, shall we say, personality, would add to the diplomatic atmosphere I wanted for today." She replied dryly. Will scoffed, inwardly touched, whilst Charlie chuckled into his Bourbon.
"And why did you want a diplomatic atmosphere?" Will pressed, entirely sure that her answer would be one he would not like.
"We need to start to working on a response to the public." Leona told him firmly, seeming to anticipate Will's wince.
He had been trying to avoid the press for two days now (ironically hiding out in a Newsroom) and he felt no urge to rectify that. On the other hand, had it been him covering this story, he knew he would have pressed his team to do something earlier. Only then did it occur to him just how much flack Leona must have been taking to give him -(them) space.
Two days. That was a long time in the age of tewnty-four hour news.
"I can understand this is a delicate issue for you Will - for both of you and your team - but we're starting to get hounded and the longer we delay it the harder it will be to control it; I know I don't need to tell you that. Everyone understood your reluctance these past couple of days; everyone knows your history with Mackenzie, but you can't hide forever and we have to face that we have a very serious situation wherein someone has tried to kill one of our journalists for exerting their constitutionally protected right to free speech, to say nothing of freedom of the press. This was an attack on American liberties, and it is a story."
"They weren't so keen on defending our freedom to say what we wanted when we were going after the Right." Will snarled.
"Well, now you've actually managed to win over a few of them, so congratulations. Although, when I say 'win over', what I really mean is that they're making you and Mackenzie poster kids while simultaneously hinting that karma played a role; which, hypocrisy aside is actually managing to win us some sympathy back, so we should use it before we start getting stories saying there is a lack of professionalism around here and people are putting their emotions ahead of their jobs."
Charlie placed a consoling hand on his forearm as Will glared at her.
Leona shrugged, trying to look apologetic. "I'm sorry Will, but there is only so long I can hold them off. As much as Mackenzie's arrival became a bit of a pain in the ass for me, she's a damn good journalist and a good person and I know she didn't deserve this. I know you're close to her and you're a close team down there, but I'm fairly sure a woman like Mackenzie McHale will not thank you if she recovers to find that you're getting all sorts of ridiculous bullshit from other networks because you were too wound up in your own grief to work the story."
Will couldn't even look at the 'I told you so' expression Charlie was aiming in his direction. He knew they were both right.
Clearing his throat, sitting up a little straighter and placing his hands on the desk in front of him to try and stop his fidgeting.
"Have you got any suggestions?" She shot him another sympathetic smile. He wondered if she and Charlie had already started on the Bourbon earlier - this was so unlike her.
"Frankly Will, I'm impressed. If it was me I would have lashed out before now."
"Well, you know...my affable personality and all..."
Charlie leaned forward, obviously deciding it was time to enter the conversation. "Right then. Well, obviously we've been mentioning it every night at the end of the broadcast, and Don and Elliot have been handling slightly more detailed reports, but after the police reports come out later, we'll actually have something to report...hopefully."
"Well we know Mac wasn't the intended target." Will said with a very dry throat.
"We're the only ones who actually know that so far." Charlie added, his hand back on Will's arm.
"OKay. I want you back in the chair tonight, Will." Leona firmly, holding him with a firm gaze. "And I mean back. Not that half-Will that's been bumbling along these past couple of days, I mean you. Mackenzie's Will. I want you firing back at the people who did this, because you have a right to. We all do. She's one of ours, she's an American journalist and she was innocent. You've done the right thing and not lashed out, but now we can pursue this, and we don't let them get away with it."
"You hate Mackenzie." Will replied dumbly, in a mild state of shock at the words he was hearing from this woman - this woman's - mouth.
"I just explained to you that I do not." She told him calmly. Bewildered, Will looked to Charlie who just raised his eyebrows at him, face inscrutable.
"So, we say that a police investigation is now underway, that Mac was not the target of the shooting -" He stopped, guilt flooding his face. "Should I really be the one saying that?"
Both Charlie and Leona shouted him down. "Yes!"
"If you don't do it, I'll personally tell Mackenzie that you acted like a dumb, pussy-minded scaredy-cat pussy." Charlie said stoutly. Whilst Will was amused by Leona's eyeroll (the pair of them suddenly reminded him a lot of himself and Mac), he still felt very uneasy about going on air and saying that his EP - who as Leona rightly said, everyone already knew he had been in love with - had been shot because of him.
"I'm going to look like a -"
"Like a what?" Leona asked with an air of impatience. "A victim? You're not Will. You're not guilty either. You didn't have your hand on the trigger."
"Like a - I dunno - a coward -"
They didn't even say anything to him, just looked at him with mixtures of confusion and disgust.
"Seriously? Will?" Charlie asked incredulously, though in a much softer voice.
"It was supposed to be me." His voice was strangled, but he met both his bosses' eyes with a ferocity that had been lacking before. "It was supposed to be me and Lonny pulled me down, leaving her just standing there -"
"Lonny was just doing his job -"
"I know! I'm not blaming him, I'm just saying - everyone thinks - you know...what they think about us, and I just left her there unprotected."
There was an odd silence.
"Will," Leona said, in a voice he had never heard her use before. His mother had used that tone with him once after he had let his little brother get lost in the woods one day. "I'd bet this whole company on you not even knowing what was going on when those shots went off. Neither you nor your bodyguard, nor anyone else for that matter could have protected her."
Why the hell was he paying Habib all this money? Leona and Charlie had just talked him down in about five minutes instead of two hours.
"We could look into you doing ACN morning tomorrow if you're feeling uncomfortable about this?" She suggested warily, more than familiar with Will's renowned dislike for making his private life public. "Then we get them to ask you some questions and you can clarify what happened? That should help set the record straight."
They could both see him stiffen at this suggestion, but it was a mark of how deeply his emotions ran that he actually looked like he was considering it. Thankfully Charlie came up with a solution before he had to speak.
"What about one of the staff?"
"You guys were all in Hang Chews." Will said, distracted.
"Yeah, no, I was meaning the security guards. They saw everything. And as of tomorrow they'll be thought of as witnesses. I don't think we can ask Lonny, but those guards are our guys, I think they'll help us out here."
"Not connected to Will or Lonny, no emotional attachments to Mac...I like that." Leona agreed, as Will shot Charlie a grateful look.
"Right. So." Will ran his hands through his hair, trying to kick his brain into gear. "Mac is stable, police are pursuing an investigation, looking into death threats, and an attack on freedom. I'm just saying though, Leona, I'm not going all Fox News here - this isn't going to be some 'we're facing extermination' bullshit; 'immigrants are ruining our way of life'. They'll probably do that, but we're not. This was an isolated incident, not one of the Horsemen come to end us. It deserves trial and punishment, but that's as far as I'm going."
"You'll have all the support you need."
Apparently it was that simple. Will knew there must be a business or publicity side to this that Leona was probably having to think about too, but he knew she was one of them now. He trusted her enough to not want anything to do with it. She could handle the crap on that side.
He held her gaze for a few moments, just to be sure they both knew where they stood. She looked stoicly back at him, no sense or hint of anything other than compassion and support glaring back at him.
Charlie had a small, encouraging smile on his face. He raised his glass (somewhat cheekily, Will thought) and downed the remaining dregs before putting the glass back with a sharp clunk and straightening his jacket, looking like he was now ready...Will wasn't quite sure for what, but he was ready.
"Let's do this then." He thought that he sounded far more confident than he felt. But let that last for a little while longer and they might actually have a chance at getting through another evening. Will stood up, buttoned his jacket again and downed his own Bourbon (earning a look of great approval from Charlie).
Will muttered something indistinguishable back and pushed himself away from the table, moving towards the lift. He got two paces before he turned back to the two people watching him.
"Thanks. Both of you." He thought he might have seen Leona smile again. Or maybe this really was all a hallucination. The thought had crossed his mind.
Well, if it was he was just going to have to go with it and see where it lead.
"You've secretly always liked Mackenzie, haven't you?" Charlie realized with a sly grin, watching Will step into the elevator. Then he turned to get a look at Leona's face, which was almost neutral. Except for the faint ghost of a smirk.
"I wouldn't like to be on the wrong side of her." Leona hedged, before heading for the next elevator. Charlie's grin widened. That was a veiled compliment coming from Leona.
Finally they were pushing back.
So I hope that little burst of Mac at the beginning helped a little. Officially four chapters to go, Mac is back into. There's really not long now. I swear. And lots of fluff when she does!
Thanks again for sticking with me you guys! Let me know what you think of Leona :)