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It Was The Worst of Times

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She had it down to a routine, or perhaps a ritual, rising each dawn after a few hours of troubled sleep to apply ice to her swollen eyes. She knew that it did not completely conceal the effects of her nocturnal crying jags, but she thought that it helped as much as anything could help. One simply couldn't cry for hours night after night, week after week, at almost forty, and not do damage, probably permanent damage, to the delicate skin around the eyes. When the ice melted, the ritual compelled movement. Sometimes she ran, ran for miles, pounding her legs down onto the deserted sidewalks. Sometimes she arrived at the ACN gym before anyone she knew, other than on occasion, Maggie, and put herself through a punishing workout. When she was done, she’d pull herself together to face the day . . . MacKenzie Morgan McHale McAvoy, Executive Producer of “News Night with Elliott Hirsch substituting for Will McAvoy.”

Then one morning, three weeks after Will’s arrest, a new element had been added to the ritual. Nausea. It had come over her like an ocean wave as she lay applying the ice, building from a wispy ill-defined sensation interjecting tentative tendrils into her consciousness to the all consuming focus of her mental processes, an iron fist clenched around her esophagus. It took her a few moments to concede defeat, to hastily remove the ice pack from her face and stumble into the unfinished master bathroom that for five blissful months she'd shared with Will. The bathroom that was now hers alone. Alone.

Billy, she thought, as she clutched her gut and bent over the lidless toilet bowl, Billy, what have I done to you? To us? Why did I argue with you when you wanted to kill the Kundu story to protect Neal? Maybe if I had agreed with you, he would have refrained from setting in motion the events that brought us to this place . . . to Neal hiding in Venezuela . . . to you in a federal lock-up . . . to me . . . and then there were no thoughts except for the retching and the sickness.

Her period had been due two weeks after her wedding day . . . or the day Will was incarcerated . . . take your pick. God, she thought, sitting on the bathroom floor, afraid to venture too far from the bowl, what a choice of demarcations. Charles Dickens’ words, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” came into her mind. Looking into Will’s eyes as she made him her husband and seeing the peace and confidence reposing there, had been the high point of her life. She had known in that instant, that it was she, and not John McAvoy, who had won the war for Will’s being. In that moment, Will had known without reservation that he was loved, appreciated and treasured. It had made bearable what followed. But she would also never forget the embarrassed little smile that had come to his lips and into his eyes as the federal Marshall had clipped on the handcuffs, the smile she had wiped away with a kiss, a desperate, passionate kiss that told him he was her hero, her Don Quixote, her lover and her life. The handcuffs couldn’t have been necessary, she fumed for the hundredth time. He had surrendered himself voluntarily and on time. He was Will McAvoy. He wasn't going to run off or grab a gun and shoot his way out of the federal courthouse. God damn it! To treat him like a common criminal . . . like his father being arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct . . . had been a power play by a little man, who more than doing justice, was out to beat Nebraska. She loved this country, but her anger at the Justice Department rose like bile in her throat.

She staggered back to the bed, stretched out and closed her eyes. Then, with a tiny sob, she rolled onto her side and gathered the sheets against her face trying to inhale the last traces of Will’s scent. She had not washed the sheets since his arrest, and didn't know when she would be able to bring herself to do so. It would be like erasing him. She also slept in the t-shirt that he had worn their last night together. At first, she would not send any of Will’s clothes to the laundry or move anything in the apartment from where he had set it down, preserving the place like a film set waiting for the actors to return to continue the scene. But then, she'd tearfully confessed this to her mother.

“Oh, Mackie, my darling, my sweet girl . . . you must stop mourning Will as though he were dead,” her mother had said. “I know this is unfair and so very hard . . . you two have been through so much . . . and now to be apart. But you must keep telling yourself that he will be home soon . . . you were very young when Ted was being held . . . . “ And then, her mother’s voice had broken, and they’d cried together. After that, Mac had begun to live more normally, except for the sheets and the single grey t-shirt that she could not be without.

Initially, she hadn't been surprised when her period was late. Stress often made her late. Yes, she'd screwed up not taking the pill with the regularity it required. (There had been so many years away from that routine, her mind rationalized. Didn’t have any trouble being scrupulous about it when it was Wade, a little voice chimed in. That was for far less time, and oh, just shut it.) Then, she'd screwed up again when she’d inadvertently chosen one of her most fertile days on which to terrify Will with the news that she spoken to Neal’s source. So when she'd stopped Will’s desperate kisses to remind him that they should abstain or use a condom, but they'd not had any condoms, and he had said that he didn't fucking care . . . that he needed her that night, there had been no hesitation. She'd been sure that they weren't running much of a risk . . . it had only been once (well, twice and maybe a third time) while she'd been ovulating. She felt confident that they’d skate by. At thirty-seven, women tried for months, years even, to get pregnant, didn't they? . . . and those were women without her history, without a knife wound and abdominal adhesions.

But now, she wasn't so sure. Either she’d failed to produce a lining this month into which an embryo could implant or it was still inside of her. She'd been waiting for weeks for the twinges in her lower abdomen that signaled that her period was about to start. She’d had a few, but . . . nothing else. She started using tampons in case the bleeding began without warning. Each time she removed one, the private battle going on within her raged. This was the worst of times . . . but if . . . if . . . it would be Billy’s . . . and she desperately wanted Billy’s baby.

For about a week, she’d been noticing that her breasts ached and felt fuller, and now this. When the nausea passed, she dressed for her run, putting on her tightest sports bra, now, the only one that was truly comfortable for running. She shoved a twenty into the key pocket of her athletic leggings, and charted a course that took her by a drugstore.

 

It was three days later before she made herself pee on the test stick. Then, she sat, with the lights out, half of her brain registering the seconds on the timer app of her glowing phone, and the other half trying to decide which outcome she feared most. “Time’s up,” she said aloud, taking a deep breath and pulling the stick from its paper sheath. Even in the dim light of dawn, the result was clearly visible . . . a small plus sign . . . a positive test. She and Will had conceived a child.

“Oh, God, Billy . . . “ she whispered. “Come home. Please, come home.” Then, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, MacKenzie did both.