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It Was The Worst of Times

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

This morning, she was vomiting to Fleetwood Mac. A few days before, MacKenzie had moved one of their Bluetooth speakers into the bathroom and with the volume pumped up as loudly as she dare with out running afoul of the co-op board, she began working her way through “morning sickness” and the Artists listings in Will’s iPod library. She'd outfitted the bathroom to make it more comfortable, seeing as how it had become a second “living” room. At her fingertips, she had bottled electrolyte-fortified water and organic gluten-free rice crackers, and she had made herself a little “nest” on the bathroom floor with three blankets and a couple of pillows so that she could lie down between the waves of nausea that accompanied her body's rearranging of her hormonal make-up to accommodate the needs of the microscopic organism that would someday (she prayed) be a healthy baby, a blond, chubby McAvoy baby. Billy's baby.

Sometimes at night, she said those words out loud just to help herself believe them. She'd known about the baby for two weeks now. Despite the overwhelming evidence (she'd done the test multiple times since she always insisted on more than one confirmation of the facts), she often felt that her pregnancy, her marriage, her present life were not reality, that she would awaken from this dream in a hot dusty ditch in the Iraqi desert, with hundreds of unanswered emails, texts and voice messages to remind her that Will McAvoy was done with her. But then, she'd look around the half-finished apartment and fight off the feelings of doom and panic. Will wasn't done with her. He loved her. He had never stopped.

“I’m finding it hard to read,” he'd told her the last time she had seen him. “I can’t concentrate on anything but thoughts of you.” She had just smiled sadly and nodded, taking it lightly as a compliment, as Will seemed to need her to do. But it worried her. Will could read for hours with her feet in his lap, her toes teasing him to a nearly full erection before she could succeed in breaking his concentration. Her inability to decide on the spot what it meant that he was having trouble concentrating when he read helped keep her from telling him she'd now given herself three home pregnancy tests, all with the same result. She was sure that if Will knew she was pregnant, he would worry, and worrying about her health was one thing that he didn't need to be doing right now, especially if he wasn't doing all that well.

But nonetheless, part of her wanted desperately to tell him. Only, what she wanted was to see his double-take (there was nothing she loved more than to put that dumbfounded look onto the face of a man who was always double-digits ahead of everyone in the room on the IQ scale). She wanted to watch his expression turn into that shit-eating grin that took ten years off of his already youthful appearance. And then, she wanted to see him sober and feel his hands take her shoulders and hold her at arm’s length while he made her tell him again, slowly, looking directly into his eyes. She wanted to feel him draw her to his body as the reality of her news made its way for real this time along his synapses. He would bury her against him, cling to her, make love to her . . . and none of that was going to happen in the visitor’s room of the Metropolitan Detention Center. So it wasn't just concern that was making MacKenzie refrain from telling Will about the baby. She simply wasn't ready to give up on her fantasy just yet. He might be home soon, and she wanted to tell him she was carrying his child in their apartment.

She hated the visitors’ room, a place that she suddenly saw as purposefully denigrating and demoralizing, and needlessly so. Is there one beneficial thing, she asked the powers that be, that can come from assaulting another human being’s self-esteem, regardless of the crime of which he is accused? Despite having produced the infamous “It’s Not” speech at Northwestern, Mac was struck by how blindly until now, she had lived inside of the establishment, smoking the great opiate of the privileged classes, the assumption that government is equitable, just, and compassionate and the belief that the judicial system is an institution that functions with the best interests of its citizens as its guiding principle and moral compass. Lying on her blankets between waves of sickness, Mac began to giggle as she envisioned the looks she would have garnered from the other women and men in the visitors’ area had she gotten up on her Cambridge Union Society soap box and tried to convince them that this was true. They would have looked on her as either incredibly naïve or completely delusional. They knew better. And now so did she.

She could feel a wave of nausea building, a big one, she feared, that would put her head in the bowl and make her already tender diaphragm muscles scream. Not that she minded. While nauseated was decidedly not one of her favorite feelings, she'd open a vein if that's what it took to have this baby. There was no price too big to pay.

She was taking scrupulously good care of her health, sleeping better, dutifully swallowing pre-natal vitamins and eating more nutritiously. She had been to an initial appointment with her gynecologist, Catherine Barrington, a sixty-ish woman, who had been Mac’s doctor before she left for Atlanta and the Middle East. The doctor had seen the news, of course, and knew about Will’s incarceration. When Mac had silently put down the three positive test sticks on the doctor’s desk in answer to the inquiry as to what brought Mac in before her regularly scheduled check-up, Dr. Barrington had uncharacteristically jumped up and enveloped Mac is a bear hug.

“We’ll get you through this, MacKenzie, don't you worry. Will’s going to come home to a healthy pregnancy, and then you two will have a beautiful baby.” As the doctor spoke, Mac had begun to sob and shake in the older woman’s arms, the first time she had allowed anyone (other than her mother via Skype) to see her cry since Will’s arrest. But she had felt better for it, and left the visit with a new determination to do this right, to care for their baby, to make Will proud, as well as under strict instructions to sleep more, improve her diet and increase her calorie intake.

Despite the morning sickness, on this particular Saturday, Mac felt good. It was an unseasonably cold day for May, grey and overcast with a steady rain that mixed with an unexpected Arctic air blast to remind New Yorkers not to become complacent that Summer had arrived. Mac was bundled up in one of Will’s flannel shirts and his sweat pants, and was able to find comfort in imagining Will being there with her in spirit, supporting her while she heaved, his soul spooned against her the way his body liked to do in bed. Some days, imagining him beside her was unbearably painful and she would have to shut him out of her mind before she was mixing sobs and tears with the retching, which left her dizzy and gasping for breath. But today was a good day.

And as if to further reinforce the realization that despite everything, she was happier than she'd been in six years, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie serenaded her with the words to “You Make Loving Fun”:

"I never did believe in miracles,
But I've a feeling it's time to try.
I never did believe in the ways of magic,
But I'm beginning to wonder why.”

It took MacKenzie a few minutes after her last bout of vomiting to disengage the ringing of the antiquated house phone near the front door from the sound of Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar. She turned down the music, got unsteadily to her feet and walked to answer the phone. James, the doorman, who affected a British accent that was almost as posh as hers, apologized for disturbing her and informed her that she had a visitor, a Mr. Reese Lansing, who appeared to have been caught out without an umbrella. When she asked that Reese be put on the line, she could hear his teeth chattering as he apologized for barging in on her like this, but he'd been out walking and . . . . For reasons she didn't fully understand, she stopped his explanation and told Reese to come on up.

She took deep breaths as she waited for the sound of the elevator door opening and Reese’s footsteps crossing the tiny lobby that she and Will shared with the co-op unit next door. She opened the door on the second knock.

“Reese . . . come in. You look like a drowned . . . I don't know . . . puppy, I think.” He did. Rivulets of water poured from his hair and his soaking-wet clothes, and his large brown eyes looked sorrowful and defeated, and, she thought suddenly, strikingly like Charlie Skinner’s. He looked down as if worried about ruining a fine rug or hardwood floor to find himself standing on plywood. “Sub-flooring,” Mac said brightly, relieved that the nausea had retreated for the moment, “impervious to water, dirt and other nasty things. I'm getting rather fond of it. They say it's perfect for raising kids.”

She looked him up and down. He was wearing jeans that were plastered to his body by the rain, along with a thin v-necked cashmere sweater over a t-shirt. These were equally soaked and made him smell vaguely of wet sheep, or, Mac supposed, of wet goat. “You need to get out of those soaked things before you catch your death of cold,” she said, sounding so English and maternal, it made him smile. “Contrary to rumors, all of which are directly attributable to a certain cable news anchor, we do have electricity, running water and even a small apartment-sized dryer. We’ll put your clothes in. I'll get you a shirt of Will’s and some of his sweats . . . . “

“Which will look only slightly less ridiculous on me than they do on you,” Reese said, speaking for the first time.

Mac looked down to where she'd rolled the waistband of Will’s sweatpants four times in a effort to keep them on her body. They were barely sticking to her hips, so she hiked them up. “Yes. Quite. I find wearing them comforting,” she added, wondering why she’d confided that to Reese, and wondering again what had brought him to their apartment. Somehow, she doubted the random walk in the rain story.

Reese did look like a clown or perhaps a small boy in Will’s clothes. Mac knew that at 6’3”, Will was a big man, but it took observing Reese endlessly rolling up sleeves and pant legs to really bring it home. A pang of yearning and loneliness rolled through her. “Follow me into the kitchen,” she called over her shoulder, “and I'll make us both some hot tea.”

"I was at my mother's,” Reese began, sipping his tea. “I needed to get out. Everything's wrong, Mac. Nothing’s normal. Nothing’s the way it should be. My mother . . . my mom . . . thinks she's betrayed Charlie . . . and it's killing her. I've never seen her like this. I keep telling her that the strategy is working . . . our only goal is to stay alive . . . to fight another day.” He smiled sadly at MacKenzie over the rim of his cup, both of them recalling him saying the same thing to her the day of the sale to Pruitt. “We have control of AWM,” he began again, “and ACN still exists. That’s what’s important. We can get it back. Find a way to buy it back,” he repeated with more passion. “There was no other strategy . . . .”

He'd noticed the color draining from Mac’s face as he'd been speaking and the slight sheen of sweat forming on her upper lip and forehead. Now she interrupted him, and putting her cup down rather unsteadily on the plywood that was serving as a countertop, said, “Reese, sorry . . . but I have to run . . . stay here and finish your tea . . . I'll be right back,” and raced from the room.

He finished two cups of tea, and was wondering exactly what "right back" meant to MacKenzie. He waited another few minutes, and then, deciding that concern trumped the prohibition on guests wandering around uninvited, went to find her.

Mac saw him enter the bathroom out of the corner of her eye. She didn't . . . couldn't . . . get up, but she wiped her mouth and tried to speak. Reese sank down on the blanket beside her just as she hit the lever to flush the toilet. She saw him looking around, registering the speaker and iPod dock, the provisions and the pillows. She didn't even try to tell him to get up or go away. How strange, she mused. If someone had told her even two months ago that there would come a day when she'd be sitting on her bathroom floor with Reese Lansing, both of them dressed in her husband’s clothes, she'd have given that prediction no chance at all. But as Reese had observed, nothing was normal any more.

“Mac,” he began, carefully and tentatively. “Are you drinking?”

At first, she was going to tell him that she had water and was being careful not to become dehydrated, but then, she realized that he meant drinking booze, and was asking her if she were hung over and that was the reason she was sick. She laughed. “Reese, do I look drunk?”

He studied her. He face was pale, her skin under the smattering of freckles was almost translucent. Her eyes were slightly red-rimmed from crying, no doubt. But, no, Reese thought, she didn't look either drunk or hung over. He shook his head.

“I'm not. Trust me, becoming an alcoholic is about the furthest thing imaginable from what I'm doing.”

And she saw comprehension widen his eyes. “Mac?” he said, reaching for her chin and turning her head to face him. “Mac, are you . . . ?”

She smiled and nodded tentatively, her eyes bright with unshed tears. And then they were both grinning at each other, and Reese was hugging her and saying that it was wonderful, a miracle, that in the middle of all of this fucking shit, this baby was a little beacon of hope, burning bright. “It's a sign, Mac, the one you were looking for. Remember a couple of years ago, when you asked God for a sign that you were doing things right, and the power went out?”

“How do you know about that?”

“Oh, Will and I still talk, and after Charlie forbade us to discuss ratings, viewers or tracking data, Will didn't have much to talk about except you.” Reese smiled. “Anyway, you were wrong, the blackout wasn't the sign, this is the sign.” Reese leaned his back against one of the exposed studs, like he was settling in for a long visit. After a minute of silence, he sighed.

“It was hush money,” he said softly, “the stock that went to Arthur Lansing in the divorce. God damned hush money that allowed the evil twins to destroy us.” Mac wasn't sure she was following, so she sipped her water and ate a cracker, and gave him room to continue at his own pace. “He was paid off to protect me . . . and others.” He turned toward her. “Did you ever wonder why he left all his holdings to Blair and Randy and didn't divide the inheritance among his three children?” There was something about the way he said the word, “three” that sounded strange.

She wrinkled her brow. No, she thought, she hadn't, but now that he mentioned it, it did seem odd. Reese seemed to be waiting for a reply, so she said, “because you would be inheriting Leona’s stock. But that doesn't make sense. Why would he have wanted to cut out one of his children, and the one most closely connected to the company at that? I don't understand.”

Suddenly, Reese looked guarded, like he'd revealed too much. “Because he was a self-centered son-of-a-bitch,” he replied, in a way that signaled the end of the conversation. He'd already told her too much. Set that McHale brain to thinking and it wouldn't be long before she started putting things together. Not that he'd mind, but others might. In fact, he wanted to tell her about his conversation with his mother that morning, when he had ranted and raved and screamed that the worst part of the whole fucking mess was the thought that he shared anything, even partial DNA, with the self-absorbed Blair and the imbecilic Randy, and how she had turned to him, and after silencing him with that piercing look of hers, had said simply, “you don't.” Best to change the subject, Reese thought.

“Is Will going insane being locked up when you’re pregnant?” he asked.

Mac shook her head. “He doesn't know. No one knows except my doctor and now, you. I only found out myself a little while ago. I don't want to worry Will . . . “ Then she surprised herself by giving voice to a thought that before that instant had only been a partially formed, vague feeling of unease, “and so much can go wrong early on . . . if something does . . . and he knows about the baby, I’m afraid he would always blame himself . . . always suspect that if I miscarry . . . or whatever . . . it wouldn't have happened if he were here or I weren't worried about him.” She looked up at Reese. “So if something happens, I think it would be better if he . . . if he . . . never knew. You know how he is.”

Reese nodded. Then he surprised Mac by leaning across her and punching up the sound on the speaker. She'd almost forgotten that she'd left Fleetwood Mac playing in an infinite loop until Reese started singing to her, drowning out Lindsay Buckingham's voice:

“Open your eyes and look at the day,
You'll see things in a different way.
Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.”

When Reese had gotten to the chorus, Mac had started to sing too, and then, they’d begun to clap their hands to the beat, alternating between slapping their thighs and “high fiving” each other.

“Why not think about times to come,
And not about the things that you've done,
If your life was bad to you,
Just think what tomorrow will do.
Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.

“All I want is to see you smile,
If it takes just a little while,
I know you don't believe that it's true,
I never meant any harm to you.”

(She gave him an exaggerated doubting look when he sang the last two lines, reminding him simultaneously of his efforts a few years back to drive her away from ACN and how much he had come to care for her.)

“Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.
Don't you look back,
Don't you look back.”

When they were done singing, they collapsed in each other’s arms, still smiling. Mac looked at Reese, and marveled again at life’s unexpected turns.

“Mac,” Reese said, “for what it's worth, I think that you should consider telling Will about the baby. I’ve been thinking about the day that Neal told us about the source, and Sloan figured out what the twins were up to . . . right before, Will had just found out that we'd fallen to 4th place in the Boston coverage . . . you know that would have just about killed him once . . . And sure, he said that he was quitting, but you know, all it took to turn everything around was you appearing on the terrace. No Effexor, naproxen and booze this time . . . just you . . . and the knowledge that he was going to be your husband. So . . . sure, he’s going to worry that you’re pregnant and he's not here to fuss over you, but hell, he's worrying about you anyway . . . and well, the knowledge that he's going to be somebody’s father just might be something he can hold on to . . . something that will make his nights in a cell a little easier.”

Unable to trust her voice, Mac just nodded. After a minute, she cleared her throat and told Reese that she thought his clothes must be dry by now. They picked themselves up off the bathroom floor, and looking out of the window, noticed that the rain had stopped.

As he was leaving the apartment, Reese asked her for permission to tell Leona that she was pregnant.

“I don't know, Reese.”

“Please, I wouldn't ask except that she needs something right now to make her think about tomorrow instead of yesterday.”

“I just don't want it all over. If I say, yes, you have to make her promise not to repeat it to anyone, not Rebecca, not anyone. Can she do that?”

“Are you asking me if Leona Lansing can keep a secret?” And he began to laugh and shake his head as if the question were particularly ridiculous. Again, there was something odd about his laughter, and Mac’s mind returned to his cryptic remark about hush money. “Yes, Mac,” he finally replied, “if there’s one thing my mother is good at, it's keeping secrets.”

Chapter Text

Will sat in his cell and thought about apartments. For the thousandth time in the thirty-seven days since he’d been locked up, he retraced in his mind every inch of the half-renovated turn of the century (the last century) grand old lady of an uptown co-op that he and MacKenzie had seen, fallen for and applied to purchase on their second day of “house hunting.” He smiled at the recollection of how easily Mac had decided it was perfect, the last easy decision of a woman who changed her mind about everything else connected to the project at least a dozen times. He had walked around the apartment on his last night there, after Kenz fell asleep, creating an eidetic image of the home they were building, the living room, dining room, kitchen, den, bathrooms and finally, the master bedroom and the three smaller ones. "We’ll have a guest room and his and hers offices,” Mac had said when they bought the place. “For a while,” he'd said and kissed her.

He thought too about the sleek, glass and polished slate, twenty-first century mausoleum in which he'd lived alone and (he winced) briefly with Nina Howard during the years that he'd tried to pretend that he could make a life without MacKenzie in it. The sale to a youngish couple in the tech industry had closed while he was in jail. Already, his memory of the apartment, with its floor to ceiling windows and bank of video monitors, was fading, almost as if he had lived there in another life. Mac, he reflected, had never been inside of it again after the night of the bin Laden broadcast (aka the night of the voicemail), well, he corrected himself, except for the one time when she got as far as the foyer.

Nina Howard. He needed to figure out exactly what he had been doing with Nina Howard. He owed it to MacKenzie, his wife (he turned the words over and over on his tongue like a fine wine) . . . he owed it to his wife to give her an honest explanation. Well, he had the time . . . nothing but time. He started doing push-ups and thinking. But he couldn't bring Nina into focus. All he could think about was MacKenzie.

She'd refused to go to his apartment on Election Night. Instead, she'd insisted on them both going to hers. “The bride’s prerogative,” was all she'd say, when he pressed her for a reason. That and also that she wanted to be where she could put on her own clothes. Of course, those clothes, as least the ones that MacKenzie slept in, he’d discovered, had all once been his. Her apartment was small, her shower not big enough for two, and her bed a queen rather than his king, but he'd not really fought her about the location of their first night together in almost six years. He'd have gone to the ends of the Earth that night just to not be separated from her, just to be able to touch her and watch her sleep.

When they'd acknowledged a few days later that neither wanted to live apart during their engagement, this occasioned a serious conversation in which Mac had said that she wanted them to have a place “all of our own,” a place totally unconnected to either of the lives they had been leading before November 7th, and a place “where we can build a family together.” It hadn't taken much after that for him to agree. By noon the following day, he'd engaged a real estate agent to find them an apartment and to list his for sale.

They were still living at Mac’s three weeks after they had found “their place.” They had hired an architect and contractor, and were on their fourth iteration of how they wanted the renovated layout to be. Several times, Will had raised the idea of their moving into his apartment until the work was completed. Mac always refused, brushing the request off with a joke or a change of subject. One day when Mac was off at an appointment, Will brought the subject of apartments up over a sandwich he was sharing with Sloan.

“She won't say why she doesn't want to live at your place?” Sloan asked thoughtfully. There was only one reason that Sloan could think of that if she were MacKenzie, she wouldn't want to live at least temporarily in Will’s spectacular, multi-million-dollar apartment . . . a blond, attractive female gossip columnist of a reason. Memories of Mac on the day she had learned about Nina came back to Sloan. She had never imagined that Mac could go to pieces like that. Sloan had seen the agony of losing Will radiating from her friend like psychics claim to see auras.

Will watched her chew thoughtfully for some time. “Sloan, do you know something that I don't know?”

“Uh? What?” she asked, startled out of her ruminations. He repeated his question. “I don't know,” she replied, “but I think this is one you should just give her. Just let her have it her way.”

But he didn't. He could kick himself for having been so insensitive. He was doing sit-ups now, driving his stomach muscles until they screamed and burned and took away some of his regret.

He had kept lobbying for Mac to move into his apartment while the renovations on their place were going on. It was spacious. It was near ACN. It had all of the comforts they could want. Finally, MacKenzie had said that she was probably being silly, and agreed that she would accompany Will the next time he went by to pick up clean clothes. She was uncharacteristically quiet during the cab ride the next afternoon. That should have been a tip off that she was really bothered by something, but he'd ignored it. She said nothing when they walked hand-in-hand through the lobby and into the elevator. She said nothing when the elevator doors opened on his floor.

He unlocked the apartment door and they walked in. After five steps, Mac pulled her hand out of his and stopped moving. If he hadn't been so busy babbling on about how comfortable they would be, he might have noticed that all of the color had drained from her face and her breathing had become rapid and a little ragged. Instead, he kept on going, walking into the living room without her.

When, a second later, he realized that she wasn't with him, and returned to the foyer, she was leaning against the wall, slightly bent at the waist, and trembling. “MacKenzie! My God! What's the matter? Are you okay?” The last question sounded silly, even as it emerged from his lips. Of course she wasn't okay.

“I'm sorry. I'm sorry,” she repeated.

“Why? What are you sorry about?” He walked over to her and tried to wrap his arms around her, but she already had hers crossed in front of her body as if to hold something in.

“I can't. I can't, Will. I thought I could be here, but I just can't. I can't be where you were . . . with her . . . where you lived with her . . . I'm sorry.” Pulling away from him she ran out the door and into the elevator before he could get it together enough to follow. When what was going on finally hit him, and he locked the door and bolted after her, the elevator doors were closed.

Will found MacKenzie sitting on a modern leather bench in the lobby that he'd hardly noticed before. She was doubled over with her head resting on her knees, still breathing hard. During the elevator ride down, he tried to think of something to say to Mac, some way to explain living with “her,” but for once words failed him. He sat down beside the woman he loved more than his life, and put his hand on her back. She jumped slightly at his touch.

“I'm sorry,” she murmured, “you were never meant to see . . . I thought I could handle it . . . “

“Kenz . . . about Nina . . . I never meant to hurt you . . . .”

Her head came up and her eyes blazed with pain and anger. “Of course you did, Billy. Christ! You meant to forget me with her . . . you meant to have her in your bed until . . . she was what . . . whom . . . you wanted to come home to every night . . . the woman you’d make the mother of your . . . children.” Tears shown in her eyes, as she twisted her engagement ring around and around on her finger. “You lived with her . . . made love to her . . . for months . . . and that wasn't supposed to hurt me?”

As he gaped at her open mouthed, trying to formulate an answer, she started pulling herself together. She stood, squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. Before his eyes, she reassembled MacKenzie McHale.

“I need to walk,” she said simply, and turned for the door. He quickly caught up with her and fell into step. They had walked a few blocks before he spoke.

“Wasn't that what you were doing with Wade Campbell . . . trying to forget me . . . hoping that you would want him to be your husband . . . the man who would father your children?” He'd been sorry as soon as he'd said it. He knew that it wasn't the same. It's just that when he tried to think about what he had been doing with Nina Howard . . . crazy as it sounded, emotionally, what he remembered experiencing was MacKenzie’s rejection.

She stopped cold and turned to him. “Only because you had made it very clear . . . very clear repeatedly . . . that you did not want me in your life in any capacity, least of all . . . the one . . . I wanted.”

“And you believed that?” he asked incredulously. “You actually believed that?”

She studied his face and her eyes softened and filled with tears. She spoke in a whisper. “No . . . I didn't . . . but I feared that you did.”

On impulse, he had pulled her to him and covered her mouth with his. He remembered that she had stiffened in his arms, causing a blind panic to flood through him and well up in his throat. Would his . . . his . . . affair . . . his whatever . . . with Nina be their undoing? Had he finally come up with a punishment that MacKenzie could not forgive?

He felt the fear well up and turn to panic even now, here in his cell. He quickened the pace of his sit-ups . . . ninety-seven . . . ninety-eight . . . in an effort to fight off the attack. He had seen her . . . his wife . . . only two days before, he reminded himself . . . touched her briefly, giving her the chaste hug and kiss that the federal visiting guidelines allowed to pre-trial internees. She had told him that she loved him, that she was working on their home, taking good care of herself . . . that she missed him everyday, every minute.

And back before, too . . . on the street . . . after the moment’s hesitation, she had yielded to him and returned the kiss. Then and there, he had suggested that they just move into their new apartment. They could live through the construction. Other people did. She had laughed, crinkling up her eyes at him, and agreed.

A few days after their abortive excursion to his apartment, he had sought out Sloan and told her about it. Her initial reaction shocked him.

“It's comforting in a strange way to know that there actually is pain intense enough that Kenzie won't experience it twice, even for you.”

“What the fuck! What did you say?”

“Do you really need me to repeat it?” she’d asked. He shook his head. “Will, Bro, how do you think she felt learning about you and Nina?”

“I don't know. She seemed dispassionate. Like she was over . . . us. She seemed settled . . . you know . . . okay with it.” Sloan stared at him as if he were a particularly thick undergraduate who could not grasp the concept of supply and demand.

“I know . . . I know,” he had said ruefully, realizing he was talking about the woman who had agreed to marry him without a moment’s hesitation on a day that he had both fired her and lied to her in order to destroy her most closely held belief . . . that he had been ready to marry her when she'd confessed her time with Brian . . . in order to rip the ground out from under her.

Sloan began speaking as if she hadn't heard him. “Christ, Bro, are you kidding? Dispassionate? Over you? Did you ever look at her during the time you were with Nina? Just once!” Her voice rose in pitch and volume with every word. “Did you ever fucking look at her? You have no goddamned idea what it was like for Kenzie to open Page Six that morning and see . . . .” Sloan stopped abruptly and clamped her hand over her mouth, but Will could see that the memory put fear into Sloan’s eyes.

“No, I don’t, and I would like to know,” he had said as calmly as he was able. “You were with her?” It was only partly a question. “Tell me.”

“I can't. You’ll have to ask Kenzie. I promised her I'd never . . . We all did.”

“We? Who else was there?”

She hadn't promised not to tell him that, and part of her wanted him to understand how much he'd hurt Mac, so she answered him. “Jim and Charlie.”

He closed his eyes. He'd seen her at the apartment and after that, he'd witnessed the nightmare it had brought on. What had happened with Mac that day that had involved Charlie, Jim and Sloan?

“I don't get it,” Sloan was saying, calmer now, “what made you think Kenzie was over you? How did you get from her being in your hospital room 24/7 . . . you know Leona got them to give her spousal visiting privileges, don't you . . . to her not caring about you anymore?”

He’d taken a deep breath, and tried to unravel it all, pin point where it began. “I left her a message . . . .”

“Yeah,” Sloan interrupted, “ that was another good one . . . messing with her head like that for months . . . .” Will had tried to interrupt, he remembered, but Sloan had barged right on. “You made a huge fucking deal out of that voice message . . . Kenzie told me what you’d said . . . It was nothing. Nothing!”

Will could remember all of the air going out of his lungs at the words, “Kenzie told me what you’d said.” He finally croaked out something that had stopped Sloan. Then, he had managed to repeat her words.

“Mac told you what the message said? How could she have known?”

“Nina told her.”

He'd gone numb. “Nina . . . when?”

“Kenz called her to thank her for killing the 9/11 story and asked her what your voice message said, and Nina told her.”

He hadn't been able to think. Images from that night . . . that fucking night rose up in his mind. The only thing he knew for sure was that Nina had lied to MacKenzie about the content of the message. Nina . . . fresh from his bed, fresh from his shower . . . had certainly not told Mac what the message had been. Christ! No wonder she'd looked so guilty. And, he'd told her not to be. Part of him had wanted to laugh hysterically, but most of him had wanted to cry.

Sloan studied his face. “You didn't tell her she’d done a great job with the bin Lauden coverage . . . .”

“I told her that she was spectacular,” he whispered, “and that . . . “ When he’d stopped to swallow the lump in his throat, Sloan had finished his sentence.

“You told her that you loved her.”

He'd nodded. “And that I'd never stopped loving her.”

“Jesus,” Sloan had breathed like a prayer.

"In the message, I said that if she'd moved on and didn't feel . . . the same . . . to please just pretend . . . like I hadn't . . . .” He'd drifted off, he recalled, amazed that remembering the days and weeks of Mac’s silence that summer could still be so painful.

But Sloan had been relentless in her insistence that no one, no one who had ever so much as seen MacKenzie glance in his direction, could believe that her silence meant that she'd heard him say that he loved her and didn't care. “How could you possibly think that she didn't love you?” Sloan had asked over and over a dozen different ways.

Finally, in his frustration, he had blurted out, “because that's what my father told me.”

One hundred forty-nine. One hundred fifty. Will collapsed on his back on the floor, his abs on fire, his breath coming in gasps, and looked at the photograph that his sister had found and sent to him. It showed him and his father fishing at a lake near their farm. He had been eight at the time and still able or willing to believe his father’s protestations of reform and repentance. For lack of anything better to do with it, he had taped it to the wall next to his pictures of his wedding and the News Night gang holding signs saying that they missed him, thus breaking his own vow to never display a picture of John McAvoy.

His father. To say that the Cambridge-educated daughter of the British Ambassador had not been John McAvoy’s cup of tea was an exercise in understatement. The only thing that could have been worse, Will guessed, was if Mac had also been Jewish. Will flashed on a moment from that long-ago trip to Nebraska.

“She’s got a hot little body, I'll say that for her. But stick with her, and you’re going to spend a lot of time jerking off, Willy boy, cause them hoity toity English types aren't much for fucking.” Will had slowly unclenched the fist that was filled with the front of the old man’s shirt, and made himself hold his gaze steady into his father’s sneering eyes. “Oh,” John McAvoy had said with exaggerated calm and feigned concern, “our little Willy’s got it bad.” Then he'd laughed in Will’s face and told him that he couldn't wait to be around to watch when MacKenzie dumped him. “She's going to hand you your heart, that one is.”

His father. Suddenly, Will felt like he had stumbled on the key to unlocking the mystery of what he'd been doing with Nina Howard, of why he'd reacted as he had to Mac’s confession of her reconciliation with Brian, of why he had been compelled to keep punishing her long after any sane man would have stopped. The path to being able to give Kenz the answers that she needed, the answers that she deserved, lay in finally resolving things with the ghost of John McAvoy.

Well, he had the time. He had nothing but fucking time.

Chapter Text

Her lips were hot and slightly swollen from kissing and from arousal. Her skin was flushed and her eyes dark. Her hair, which she was wearing longer to please him, was a swirl of deep auburn softness around her face . . . her beautiful face . . . the only face he had ever truly loved. She was moving those warm lips down his body, beginning with soft kisses along his jawline and across his throat. She stopped briefly to tease each of his nipples into a hard little bump, an action that aroused him more than he suspected was manly. She licked and sucked on his stomach, now trimmer and harder than it had been since his college days, as if she could not get enough of his taste, enough of him. She would leave a mark, he thought, not caring. As her tongue moved lower, tracing the growth of hair that led to his groin, he felt all of the blood in his body rushing there in advance of her. Then her tongue reached him, tracing his length, and he moaned, loudly, hungrily. In response, she angled her head and took him into her mouth, more deeply than he could ever recall. As her lips covered him and she began to suck, he thrust his hips upward, deepening the penetration. She gripped him and urged him, again and again, deeper and deeper into her throat. Sensation washed over him, filling his mind, until fireworks erupted behind his eyelids and deep in his groin and he . . . .

“Oh, shit! Fucking shit!” Will exclaimed, coming awake with a jolt, as the wet mess that was his boxers and part of the pitifully thin jailhouse sheet started turning cold. He guessed this was just what happens when prolonged abstinence follows five months of having his heart’s desire no further than his fingertips. As he started to clean himself up, thankful he had no cell mate, he could hear Mac’s voice, the lilting accent with its slightly bemused undertone, “good for a man of your age? Billy, I think that twice a day for this length of time is considerably above the national average for a man of any age.” He wondered if the Guinness Book of Records had a listing for the oldest guy to ever have a wet dream.

Day 47.

 

As MacKenzie watched from the wings, Rebecca finished her answer to the question posed by the young (they all looked like babies, Mac thought) Northwestern University law student. “One more question, and then I've got to go before they get out the hook and drag me off. Yes, you in the fifth row, brown jacket.” She paused while the cordless microphone was passed along.

“Derek Moore. I’m a PhD candidate and teaching fellow in journalism here,” he said by way of introduction. As he began his question, Mac tuned him out. She looked around her. She was in the same auditorium in which she had sat almost four years before, turning two pages of her notebook into cue cards that said “IT’S NOT” and “BUT IT CAN BE.” She looked out into the audience and tried to find the seat, the row, from which she had looked on Will McAvoy for the first time after almost three years in the Middle East. She could remember feeling her breath hitch, her heart race, her palms become moist and her mouth dry up as he'd taken his seat for the panel discussion. She had missed him so. Nothing she had done, she realized then, nowhere that she had gone had lessened or erased the terrible longing, the intensity of the wanting. She remembered thinking that if Charlie was wrong, if things couldn’t be fixed, she would go to her grave missing Will with her every breath.

Unconsciously, she twisted her wedding ring, and looked up at the large image of her husband that was projected as a backdrop behind the speakers’ lectern. It was the same image that she saw every day as she entered the News Night bull pen. Only this time, under it were the words, “Day 47.” This symposium on journalistic integrity and the First Amendment protections for reporters was being sponsored jointly by the schools of journalism and law at Northwestern. Its impetus however had come from a grass-roots student group that had formed shortly after Will had been incarcerated. Consisting initially of students from Northwestern's journalism school, it had named itself The Society of Greater Fools, and had begun a nightly vigil on campus in support of Will. On the seventh day after he was locked up, they had received permission from the dean to hang a banner on the side of the j-school building, demanding that the government release Will McAvoy and counting the days since he had been arrested. Things had grown from there. Now similar groups existed on more than a dozen college and university campuses.

Mac had originally decided to decline the invitation to participate in the event, but then Rebecca had told her that she intended to go and make a presentation on the state of the law as it pertains to the protection of the anonymity of a source. Then, Jenna had told Mac that several of the organizers were her friends, that she was going and confessed that she had promised them that she would ask Mac to attend and speak. Mac had just about agreed when Pruit called, said he'd heard about the event (damn, that man hears everything), thought it would be great publicity for ACN and told her that he wanted her to go, all of which had been almost enough to make Mac back out. But she couldn't bring herself to disappoint Jenna. So, here she was waiting to address the surprisingly large gathering.

She tried to concentrate on the proceedings, but her thoughts kept returning to her pregnancy. She had an appointment with Dr. Barrington two days after she returned to New York, a critical visit, at which the doctor would draw blood for a test that would give them the first real indication of the viability of the pregnancy. While an hCG level below 15,000 at a little over seven weeks wasn't fatal to the pregnancy, Mac knew that it wouldn't be a positive development. Mac tried to steady her breathing and looked at her trembling hands. She was terrified by how much she wanted this baby, just as she'd been terrified the last time she’d been in this auditorium by how much she'd wanted Will.

The morning that she had awakened to a smear of blood on the sheets, MacKenzie had come close to a full scale panic attack. It was nothing, of course, and after that, Catherine Barrington had taken to calling Mac at home a couple of times a week trying to gauge the stress in Mac’s voice and make sure that she was taking care of herself. When Mac had asked her why she kept calling, the doctor’s answer had been straightforward.

“Will’s not around . . . and he still doesn't know?”

Mac nodded, and then realizing she was on the telephone, said, “he doesn't.”

They’d had a conversation right before Mac left for Chicago about the blood test and both its abilities and limitations as a barometer of the progress of the pregnancy.

“Mac, I can hear the fear in your voice,” Catherine had said. “Please, relax. It doesn't happen very often . . . not more than a handful of times in my entire career . . . have I had to tell someone that despite absolutely no indications of a problem, the fetus inexplicably failed to develop. It's . . .” the doctor pulled back from the kind of absolute assurance that she wanted to give, “it's very unlikely that you will have an abnormally low level of hCG.” Had the doctor been able to see Mac’s pale face and frightened eyes, she would have been alarmed at the degree to which MacKenzie had allowed her anxiety get the upper hand, the degree to which Mac had convinced herself that it was just a matter of time before she was told that the promise of Billy’s baby was going to be pulled out from under her, or, she thought ruefully, ripped from inside her.

Mac shook her head, telling herself that she needed to stop thinking like this, needed to stop freaking herself out, needed to concentrate on what she was going to say when it was her turn to speak.

Mac heard Rebecca’s response to Mr. Moore turn into a three way debate with another audience member, and knew that she had a few moments. Which was good because Mac had no idea what she was going to say. Of course, all people really wanted was to see a symbol of Will McAvoy, and that was fine. Mac found that she didn't see being a symbol of her husband as at all demeaning. In fact, she was proud to remind people of Will’s courage and determination and unwillingness to compromise. She thought of Jacqueline Kennedy’s refusing to change out of her bloodstained clothes so that anyone who would ever see the photograph of Lyndon Johnson’s swearing in or the casket’s arrival in Washington would always remember what had happened to Jack Kennedy.

And then MacKenzie knew what she was going to say. She heard Rebecca wrapping up and the moderator coming back on stage and introducing her. As Rebecca walked past MacKenzie, she grabbed Mac’s arm and said in a low growl, “enough of this shit, I'm getting him out of there.” Mac had only smiled and nodded, and then, she had walked to the lectern to thundering applause. The moderator also squeezed her arm as he left the stage.

“Hello, as Dean Stevenson said, I'm MacKenzie McHale, Will McAvoy’s Executive Producer.” Then, she smiled shyly, and added, “I'm also his wife.” The audience started applauding again and then slowly one by one, they rose to their feet. Tears leapt into Mac’s eyes. Damned hormones, she thought. “Thank you. Thank you,” she said, taking a ragged breath that was magnified by the microphone. “Excuse me,” she said trying to get her emotions under control. “I’m sorry.” She wiped away tears. “I just miss him so much,” she whispered, by way of explaining her out-of-control emotions and surprising herself in the process.

When the ovation died down, she began again. “Today, I'd like to tell you what Will is not doing by going to jail rather than reveal the identity of a source to the federal Grand Jury. He is not protecting someone whose actions he admires or even agrees with. He does not condone the theft of classified government documents. In particular, he is concerned about the damage that could result from the wholesale publication of such documents on the Internet, without any vetting or verifying process. He believes that such actions have the potential, if not the likelihood of doing damage to the safety of our soldiers, diplomats and security service operatives, and to our country’s ability to participate credibly on the international stage. He does not believe that the government, whatever its flaws, should be at the mercy of every person with access to its files and a flash drive. Needless to say, he is not a fan of Edward Snowden.” A ripple of laughter ran through the audience.

“In fact,” she continued, “Will believes that the source whose identity he is protecting by spending,” she looked up at the image over her head, “forty-seven days in a federal lock-up is most likely guilty of the crime of espionage. He also believes that this person should be prosecuted for that crime.” She paused for emphasis. “It is simply that, as a journalist, Will cannot allow himself to become the instrumentality of that prosecution. He cannot participate in or aid the search for a person, who by contacting ACN, made themselves a source of information for our news agency. And so he must refuse to answer the Department of Justice’s questions before the Grand Jury, even if that results in his being held in contempt of court and being locked up in a jail cell.

“I believe that is the essence of integrity. Integrity is staying true to your principles in situations that are not to your liking, and even when that means protecting someone with whom you disagree or disapprove, as long as it is necessary to preserve a principle in which you believe. We don't get to pick and choose the conditions under which our integrity will be tested. We only get to choose how we will respond. And, in my life, I have never been more proud of anyone than I am of how Will McAvoy has responded. Thank you for supporting Will. It means a great deal to him, and it means a great deal to me.”

The next morning, back in New York, Mac found herself fighting with Charlie yet again over some new demand from Pruit to alter their coverage of yet another news story to attract a younger demographic. Mac was sick of conflict with Charlie. She felt like arguing was all they did anymore. She knew that he was simply trying to keep ACN alive, as Reese had said, to fight another day, but she hated watching the constant compromising of his principles that this endeavor appeared to require.

“Pretty soon we will be doing the news with the junior high school crowd in mind, reporting on nothing but Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. God, Charlie,” she said, sighing, and suddenly feeling slightly lightheaded, “I'm so tired . . . “ and sick, she thought suddenly, as a wave of nausea swept over her. “Charlie, I need to go,” she started to say, and then realizing that she wasn't going to make it out the door and to the ladies room down the hall, she asked quickly, “may I use your loo? I must have eaten . . .”

“Sure. Go, kiddo,” Charlie replied, his voice thick with concern.

Mac emerged back into Charlie’s office about seven minutes later to find him standing in exactly the same spot as when she’d left him, a grim expression on his face. “Mac, sit down, please,” he said in a quiet, but commanding voice. She sat. “Is everything alright?”

“You mean, excluding the fact that my husband is in jail and Lucas Pruit is out to destroy everything I’ve worked for around here for the last three years? Isn't that a little like the question, ‘well, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?’”

Charlie smiled at her and took the other visitor’s chair beside her. “Yeah. What I meant was . . . well, I'm concerned about you . . . lots of people are . . . I've heard that . . . well . . . people say you’ve been hiding in Will’s office some . . . and a couple of times when someone has gone in to check on you, they’ve heard you being sick in the bathroom. God knows, this is the pot calling the kettle black, but . . . if you’re drinking or ill . . . .” Mac’s anger spiked and just as quickly died. The concern on Charlie’s face was so heartfelt that she couldn't be angry at him.

“Charlie, I assure you that I've not been drinking and I'm perfectly healthy.” She took his hand and looked him straight in the eye. “I would tell you if I were having a problem with alcohol. I would tell you if I were having any sort of health problem. I repeat, I am perfectly healthy.”

He looked like he wanted to believe her and was trying to account for what he'd heard and what he'd just seen. Finally, he spoke. “I’ve never known you to lie to me. But Mac, what kind of perfectly healthy woman spends time vomiting on a regular . . . basis . . . .” Somewhere along the line, his question stopped being a question, his voice fell rather than rose at the end, and his eyes opened wide as the answer came to him. He looked so sweet and befuddled and shocked that Mac could not keep a smile from turning up the corners of her mouth. “Kiddo?” he whispered. “You’re . . . ?”

“Perfectly healthy . . . and pregnant.”

"You haven't told him.” It wasn't a question.

“I can't. I just can't do it in that horrible, horrible visitor’s room, with those green walls closing in on me and . . . I can't say it and then have them lead him away again . . . away from me . . . from us . . . . I know I'll have to if this goes on much longer, but it's still early yet . . . and so much can go wrong still. I don't want him to worry or get his hopes up and then have to deal . . . have to deal with . . . my losing the baby . . . well, it's not even a baby yet . . . but you know . . . Losing it while he's in there.” She realized that she was rambling, and had started to tremble. “I'm so scared, Charlie. I just feel like something terrible is going to happen.” She jumped up and began to pace. “I have a blood test tomorrow that will give us some idea of the viability of the pregnancy. I just don't want him to worry . . . .”

Like you are, Charlie thought. He rose and wrapped his arms around her. “Nothing bad is going to happen. You have a new life inside of you,” he whispered. “A life that is you and Will together. This is more important than Pruit or ACN.” He smiled at her looking genuinely happy for the first time in weeks. “You know,” he said, pushing a strand of her hair out of her face and hooking it behind her ear, “when I first brought you here, back to Will, I thought that if we were lucky, my legacy would be a first-class news show.” He kissed her. “But I was wrong. It's going to be so much more. It's going to be a family.”

Chapter Text

MacKenzie was sitting huddled with Reese in the hospital waiting room when she got the call from Rebecca. Charlie had been pronounced dead almost as soon as they arrived. No one had told her, but she thought they had lost him in the ambulance. She'd seen people die before. Too many of them. Stay calm, she told herself. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Keep the hounds of hell at bay.

"He was proud of you, Reese,” she had been saying, when her telephone vibrated. She had been telling him about a conversation she'd observed a few days before when Pruit had sent Charlie into a rage by making snide comments about Reese and Leona. “God,” she sobbed, burying her face in her hands as she'd finished, “everything’s been sending him into a rage these days.” She was oblivious to her use of the present tense.

“Your phone’s ringing,” Reese said softly. “Here let me,” he added, reaching into her bag and retrieving the phone. Looking at the screen, he said, “Rebecca,” and handed it to Mac.

Rebecca Halliday was standing in a hallway at the federal courthouse, fresh from the courtroom where the judge had agreed to convene a late evening hearing at which the contempt order against Will McAvoy, along with the subpoena for his testimony, had both been vacated. She gave MacKenzie the good news. Will’s wife's reaction was the furthest imaginable from what the lawyer had expected. A sob had torn from Mac’s throat at the news, followed by the words, “oh, God . . . oh, God . . . I can't,” spoken in a tearful voice.

“Mac! Mac! Are you alright? What’s the matter?” Rebecca asked hastily.

In response, Rebecca heard MacKenzie speaking to someone else, saying, “Will’s being released tonight. I’ve got to tell him. Oh, God, how can I tell him?”

“Tell him what?” Rebecca practically screamed into her cell phone, garnering more than a few strange looks from the law clerks and secretaries leaving the federal courthouse after a late night at their desks. “Tell him what, Mac?” she asked again, getting her voice under control.

She heard MacKenzie take a deep breath, and then her voice came back on the line. “Rebecca, I'm at Presbyterian Hospital with Reese and Leona and . . . some of the others . . . waiting for Nancy . . . Charlie . . . Charlie died . . . of a heart attack . . . about an hour ago.”

Rebecca felt herself go numb. How could this be true? She could think of nothing to say.

“Rebecca, where are you?” Mac asked.

The lawyer cleared her throat and found her voice. “I'm still at the courthouse. I was going to go over to the detention center and . . . .”

“No! Don't.” Mac interrupted more sharply than she'd intended. “Sorry,” she apologized immediately. “I . . . I just feel . . . that I need to be the one to tell Will. Come to the hospital, please. I'll leave now and be there when Will gets out.”

“I'm sorry, Mac.” This wasn't the homecoming that any of them had imagined. “I'm so sorry.”

 

Will’s face was frozen, expressionless. His eyes locked to hers seemed to be the only part of him that was still alive. MacKenzie waited. She would wait as long as he needed, do whatever he needed.

“Charlie’s dead.” He said the words flatly like a statement but his eyes held disbelief. She nodded her head. “He's dead . . . where? Where . . . did they . . . take him?”

“Presbyterian.”

“Can I see him?”

The question was not what she had expected, but she didn't really know why it should surprise her. “I don't know. They were keeping him . . . his body . . . in the Emergency Room until Nancy could get there. But that was a little while ago.” He nodded mechanically like a man in shock, she thought, which is what he was. “Reese and Leona were there when I left. Let's get into the car,” she said, gesturing toward the SUV, and then placing the hand she'd raised against his cheek. “I'll call Reese and see what's happening.”

The Emergency Department waiting room at Presbyterian Hospital was crowded with people from ACN. Mac assumed that somewhere there was a person waiting to be seen by the ER doctors, but primarily it looked like a vigil for Charlie Skinner. Don and Sloan, Tamara, Tess, Kendra, Gary, Martin and Jenna milled around talking in whispers. Milli stood alone, her eyes red and swollen. Reese, Rebecca and Leona stood off to one side with Katy Skinner. Everyone froze when Will entered. People looked confused and conflicted, not knowing what to do since the smiles, cheers and applause that would ordinarily have greeted his arrival after fifty-two days in a federal lock-up were now horribly out of place under the circumstances. So, mostly, everyone just stared at him, looking for signs of just how hard he was taking Charlie’s death.

Finally, Sloan pulled herself away from the crowd, and walked up to him. “Good to see you in something other than tan, Bro,” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. Will closed his eyes and rested his head on her shoulder. “I'm so sorry, Will. So sorry.” Her voice cracked. “I . . . I . . . need to tell you . . . .”

“Sloan,” Mac interrupted, striding up to her friend and her husband, and giving Sloan a hand signal to indicate that this was not the time for a confession of the guilt that she knew Sloan was carrying. Mac was saved from having to say anything more by Nancy Skinner’s walking into the waiting room, seeing Will and starting toward him. Will squeezed Sloan’s hand and went to take Charlie’s widow into his arms.

After a moment of just standing together, she spoke. “He loved you so much, Will. The thought of you married to MacKenzie made his last weeks happier . . . .” Her voice broke and Nancy swallowed hard. “. . . and your going to prison rather than give up the source made him prouder of you than he'd ever been, and he's been pretty proud of you on many many occasions,” she added, a sad smile playing around her lips. Will said nothing. Nancy understood. “You want to see him,” she said. “I'll walk you down.” She took his hand and let him away. Like a child, Mac thought . . . he looks just like a lost little child.

Will and MacKenzie were among the last to leave the hospital. Will, assuming the role of Director of Morale, made sure that everyone got safely into cars and cabs, hugging and kissing Leona as he had Nancy. The thought that she was Charlie’s other widow flashed through Mac’s mind, along with snippets of the Saturday morning visit from Reese a few weeks before. Finally, they climbed back into the big black AWM SUV for the ride home. For a few blocks, they just sat side by side, hands locked together, lost in their own thoughts.

“Nancy told me,” Will broke the silence, clearing his throat, “that you . . . rode with him . . . Charlie . . . in the ambulance. . . that you were . . . with him . . . when he . . . at the . . . end. Was he . . . did he?”

“He wasn't conscious, Will,” she said hastily, feeling the emotions and terrors she'd being holding back beginning to overwhelm her. “I . . . I talked to him . . . the whole time . . . I don't . . . know . . . think . . . .” She had turned her face away while she spoke in the hope that watching the silent sleeping streets passing by would stabilize her. “He squeezed my hand . . . once . . . At least, I think he did.” Will shifted in his seat to bring her profile into view, and saw a tear illuminated by a passing street lamp hanging on the tip of her nose. Suddenly, his need to comfort her, to hold her became overwhelming.

“Come here,” he said, reaching for her shoulders and turning her into his arms. She shook her head, fearing that the contact would be too much, that she would shatter into a thousand pieces that would never be able to be reassembled. He either didn't see or didn't care, and so, as she always did, always would, she yielded to his insistent touch. “If it couldn't have been me . . . with him . . . I'm glad it was you.”

She broke just like a little girl. Sobs, soul deep, wracked her body, and left her gasping and wheezing for breath. Will lifted his wife onto his lap and cradled her as he would a child, planting kisses in her hair, drinking in the smell of it and of her, and murmuring words of comfort and love. Everything that MacKenzie had been holding in for fifty-two days, or perhaps for six years, came pouring out in her tears, her grief over Charlie’s death and over the way they had been at each other’s throats since Pruit bought ACN, her terror that the child she carried would soon be gone, the endless pain of losing Will, of missing Will, of being punished by Will, and the memories of so many other deaths, the deaths of people she hardly knew and the death of a man she had loved . . . been in love with . . . no, that had always been Will, but loved all the same. As Will rocked her in his arms, he knew that his own tears for Charlie would come, but for right now, he could be strong for MacKenzie.

When they got out of the car, Mac was embarrassed by her outburst, but still weak and clinging to Will like a lifeline. The driver said simply, “Mr. Skinner . . . I knew him too. Not like you did, of course, Mrs. McAvoy, but I'll miss him all the same.”

 

She had pulled herself together by the time the elevator opened onto their tiny lobby, and she unlocked the door. The apartment had come a long way, he noticed, and he could feel her excitement at having him see it push away a little bit of the grief she was carrying. They had walls and lights and kitchen counters and bathroom tile. (He was too preoccupied to notice her gather up a stack of blankets and pillows and carry them out of the bathroom.) But they still had no bed, just the same box spring and mattress on the floor. Then it dawned on him what she'd done. She had completed every aspect of the apartment about which they had made a decision before he was incarcerated, but nothing more. Since they hadn't picked out bedroom furniture, they had no bed. Not that it mattered.

As he walked around the apartment he felt himself falling deeper and deeper into the sense that everything was wrong. This was not the way he was supposed to come home. Charlie Skinner was not supposed to be dead. He was supposed to be excited, relieved and happy. Instead he was filled with grief and dread. Alone in the bedroom, he sat down heavily on the mattress and tried to muster the strength or the will to remove his shoes. He was surprised to find the iPod in its speaker dock on the floor near the bed. He tapped it to the Recently Played playlist and turned it on, deciding he'd like to experience the songs Mac had been playing in his absence. He stared numbly at his hands which were clenched together between his knees, as the music of a James Taylor song that he used to sing to MacKenzie overwhelmed him. Charlie had known his pain . . . seen . . . his terrible loneliness, and had gone to find MacKenzie. That was amazing. Why had he never thought of it as an act of love this clearly before? Why had he never really thanked Charlie? Mac had when she'd leapt into Charlie’s arms in the bull pen after his bumbling announcement of their engagement, but he never had.

When he’d gone to find her, Will wondered, had Charlie been expecting the cold-hearted bitch that Will had been describing to him for three years? He’d never asked and now . . . oh, God . . . he never could. Will suppressed a sob that rose as far as his throat. How had Charlie characterized Kenz back then during their post-engagement drink? That’s right . . . that he'd found another broken child. If Charlie had been his father . . . the voice in his ear . . . Charlie certainly would have talked him down from his reaction to the Brian business. He and Kenz would have a couple kids by now. Instead, John McAvoy had been right in there feeding the flames.

Will shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. He shouldn’t be doing this. Alone in here. Cut off. He should be with MacKenzie. He picked up his phone and scrolled back through texts from Charlie to one sent shortly after Election Day. “Take good care of our girl,” it had said, “let her know how you feel about her. She has a lot of healing to do.”

His wife . . . the words brought a fresh lump to his throat . . . appeared in the doorway and stared at him. He sensed rather than saw her presence, and did not turn his head. Finally, she spoke. “Billy, are you hungry?” He couldn't decide. He didn't think that he was capable of feeling hunger, or capable of feeling anything. “When did you eat last?” Still no response. She walked to the side of the bed and knelt down in front of him. The love and compassion, grief and fear in her eyes nearly undid him. “Will, when did you last eat?”

“When did you?”

She paused and thought. “Between the last rundown and the start of the show,” she replied evenly.

“Really?” he asked surprised. MacKenzie never remembered to eat before a show.

“Really,” she replied. “I told you that I was taking good care of myself.” And she was. However much she was convinced that her punishment was not over and her pregnancy was doomed to failure, she was doing everything right for the baby. This was Billy’s baby and she wasn't giving up without a fight.

“I’ll fix you some scrambled eggs and slice an avocado. No bacon,” she smile wanly, “you need to sleep.” She stood up and started to turn away, when he reached for her.

"No. Wait," he said urgently. She stopped, turning back to him. He pulled her to him and rested his head against her body. She stood silently stroking his hair. “Don't go.” Those two little words. So simple. So hard for him to say to anyone.

His arms tightened around her and he had to remind himself that he was stronger than he used to be and mustn't squeeze so tight that he hurt her. Charlie Skinner was dead but Charlie’s gift to him was MacKenzie. And MacKenzie was here, in his arms, telling him that she would always be there for him, that she would never leave. He buried his face in her softness and hot tears prickled and then spilled from his eyes. He felt his wife's hands tighten on his shoulders and then move to cradle his head, as he began to shake from the effort of stifling his sobs.

“It's okay, Billy. You’re safe. You’re home. Let it go.” He did. He cried for Charlie, for his not being there to say good-bye, for not being there to take on some of the burden of dealing with Pruit. He cried for himself, now truly an orphan, and for the time he'd squandered not being with Mac, for all of the times he'd hurt her and failed her and disappointed her. He cried for the wonder of her love and forgiveness, and Charlie’s faith in him, Charlie’s never giving up on him. He cried with grief that he would never speak to Charlie Skinner again, and he cried with joy for MacKenzie making him somebody’s husband, vowing to be his until the day she died.

She didn't make eggs. Well, not then. Instead, she gave him something that he needed more than food. She gave him comfort and love. She drove all thought from his mind with passion, all grief from his heart with sensation. And he did the same for her. His fingers (strange, she noticed that fifty-two days away from his guitar was enough to cause the little calluses on his finger tips that she loved so much to soften a bit) . . . those delicate, skilled fingers took her away, far away. His lips made her senses explode so that she forgot the ride to the hospital, the look on Reese’s and Leona’s faces when she told them that Charlie was gone, and the pain in Will’s eyes as she delivered the same news. For a glorious time, it all receded, and nothing was real except the two of them and the pleasure they shared.

When he finally withdrew from inside her, he moved down her body and lay between her legs. He wrapped his arms around her hips, and cushioned his head on her lower abdomen. She had one hand on his shoulder while the other played with his hair. They were quiet for a long long time. He’s hugging his child, Mac thought. She needed to tell him that she was pregnant. She should do it tonight, right now. She had spent a great deal of time ordering the reasons that she would give him when he asked, as she assumed he invariably would, why she had not told him sooner. She'd decided that she would start with the reason that was the most selfish and the most true. She would tell him that she couldn't give up on the idea that she would be able to speak those words in his arms, in their home, and not across a table in a sterile visitor’s room that she had come to despise.

Then, dread overwhelmed her and she shivered. No, not tonight . . . not before she knew the results of the blood test. She wanted to be able to tell him all of it at one time . . . “I'm pregnant but there are some early indications that the fetus isn't developing so we shouldn't get excited”. . . she would not get his hopes up only to dash them, not make him go through what she had been . . . waiting for the other shoe to fall. Catherine said that the results should be back in a few days. She could wait . . . she had waited this long. Yes, she could wait a little longer.

MacKenzie was so lost in her thoughts that she startled when he spoke. “Somehow I didn't think I'd be the only one to drop 10 pounds since the last time we made love,” he said. “I know you told me that you were taking care of yourself, but I still thought I'd come home and you’d be skin and bones.” She wasn't, he marveled silently. She looked tired and drained, but it was late and how did he expect her to look after Charlie’s death. She had been working out, no doubt about it. Her muscles were firm and well defined, but, if anything, she was softer and rounder than he remembered, her breasts fuller and heavier. The décolletage that she had displayed at the White House Correspondents Dinner (which had landed her photo in People Magazine and sent her trending on Twitter) had been given, he knew, more than a little assistance from Agent Provocateur, but this, the breasts that had filled his hands and his mouth tonight had been only MacKenzie. “You actually seem to . . . . “ He stopped himself abruptly. Will McAvoy knew better than to tell any woman that she’d gained weight, even one as slim as Mac. A sound came from deep in his wife’s throat. A moan? No, he thought again, more of a laugh.

As they lay quietly wrapped around each other and wrapped up in their own meanderings, the song, “Behind Blue Eyes,” by The Who began to play. Will listened in silence, trying decide whether to speak aloud some of what was going through his mind. Following the words, “my love is vengeance,” he cleared his throat and began.

“I think I have a better grasp on what I was doing . . . with Nina. I don't claim to be able to explain it yet, or even understand it completely . . . maybe I never will, but I know now . . . .” Will’s voice tightened and became bitter. “. . . under which rock to look for that answer.” When Mac said nothing, only coiled herself more securely around him, he went on. “I think that . . . I was being my father’s son . . . being someone he could relate to instead of an effete East Coast, Jew- worshiper, with a upper class, brilliant girlfriend . . . .”

Mac’s giggle interrupted him. She twisted around until she was up on her elbows, looking straight at him.

“Whoa, there, big fella. Could you please repeat that last part? What did you just call yourself?

“An effete, East Coast, Jew-worshiper, with a hoity-toity, upper class, brilliant girlfriend.”

"Yeah, well, Don and Elliott will be happy to know that you worship them. But, excuse me, ‘hoity-toity’ . . . Did I just hear you call me hoity-toity?” She smiled at him. “I am brilliant, of course, and you did marry well above your station, but where did hoity-toity come in? And just what does hoity-toity mean?”

Now, it was Will’s turn to chuckle. “My father called you that. He found you threatening. You talk like you went to Cambridge. He didn't care much for you.”

“Yes, I was aware of that, but as the feeling was mutual, I hardly set out to charm him.” The night before Mac had met John McAvoy, she had wheedled out of Will, lying next to her in a bedroom in his sister’s house, just how violent and constant his father's abuse of him had been. But the final straw had been his disclosure that the beatings . . . or “whippings,” as his father called them, had started when he was not yet three. After that, she'd wept for him and held his father in great distain.

"My father was always waiting for you to dump me. He was almost gleeful when you did.” Will held up a hand in the universal stop gesture when her eyes grew big with indignation. “When he thought you did,” he corrected. “When we were together before, I was constantly frightened that he would be right . . . that I wasn't good enough for you . . . that you would leave me for someone younger . . . sexier . . . smarter.” Will made a gesture like he was shooing a fly away from his ear. “He was constantly in my head, tearing me down.”

Mac had lain back while he talked and begun to trace lazy little circles with her fingertips in his chest hair. “I think that with Nina,” he continued, “I was trying to just give up the fight . . . not risk anything . . . not risk being hurt again like I would have to . . . to be with you. I could pander to the lowest common denominator with her . . . be a person my father might relate to . . . might approve of . . . I don't know . . . I need to do some more thinking about it . . . .”

“So, what happened with Nina?”

“I hated the person I was becoming with her. And I hated hurting you.” He turned to her and tilted her chin up so that he could look into her eyes. “I hate myself for what I did to you.”

“Billy, don't . . . .”

“Tell me what happened when you found out about Nina. Sloan won't . . . I asked her after the time we went to my apartment, and you couldn't stay. She said I need to ask you, so I'm asking you.”

Mac sighed deeply. She sat up in bed and pulled the comforter up around her neck, clasping her knees. She wasn't sure what he was going for here or what she should say. Would hearing that she’d collapsed unable to process the concept that she had lost him play to his ego or his guilt? “I found out reading Page Six. It's wasn't really the words . . . I know they exaggerate everything . . . It was the picture of the two of you. You looked so happy. You were holding her hand and looking into her eyes . . . .” Suddenly, Mac was overwhelmed by emotion, tears filled her eyes and poured over, she clasped her hand over her mouth fearing that she would actually cry out in pain. Will started to reach for her, but she waived him off, a gesture that punished him more effectively than anything else she could have done.

“Anyway,” Mac continued when she could trust herself to speak, “sometimes when I have a strong emotional reaction to something . . . something bad, my body kind of takes over, and it did that time.” She tried to make her voice as unemotional as she possibly could. “Sloan found me in the ladies’ room, and I treated her to the whole gamut . . . tachycardia, hyperventilation, chills, sweating, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting.” She ignored Will’s horror struck expression and plowed on. “It was clear that I was in no condition to EP the show, so she got Charlie. He sat with me for a while.” She said this last sentence with tenderness and gratitude in her voice that tore his heart. “Jim got involved . . . I really don't remember how . . . I guess Sloan called him since he was going to have to take over for me. None of them would let me get into a cab by myself, so Sloan went home with me. I had two more attacks . . . one in the cab and the other after we got home. Luckily Sloan was with me because the cab driver wanted to go to a hospital, but she got him to just take us to my apartment.” She wasn't looking at Will anymore. “After the third one, Sloan made me take Xanax and that broke the pattern. I took it and Effexor for a little while so I'd be able to work with . . . do the show, but they are nasty stuff when you use them for too long so I quit and started using meditation and yoga to cope.” She paused. “And that's it.”

At first, Will couldn't speak, and so he just stared at her, as she slowly turned to face him. The shock on his face surprised and angered MacKenzie. “Good God, Billy, what did you expect my reaction to be? I thought I'd lost you. This wasn't the parade of bimbos . . . some one night stand. You looked like you were in love with her. Charlie . . . Charlie told me that that wasn't true, but . . . I don't know . . . you gave one hell of a convincing performance.” She curled on her side facing away from him, but she didn't stop him when he wrapped his body around hers.

“Kenz,” he whispered, “you must believe me. I have never loved another woman in my life. There was . . . is . . . only you. I'm so sorry. For Nina, for all of it, for everything. Please . . . please, forgive me. I will never hurt you again. Never . . . .” And then his tears drowned out his words.

 

The day they were laying Charlie Skinner to rest dawned clear and bright. It was Will’s third day home from prison, and the day on which he intended to resume the anchor desk for the evening’s broadcast of News Night. Will’s incarceration had moved News Night back into the number two spot in the ratings, and his return to the airways was expected to be one of the most watched newscasts in the history of cable news. The morning sickness, which mercifully had given MacKenzie a break the previous two mornings, was back with a vengeance and harder to hide that day. Luckily, Will was so preoccupied trying to decide what he would say about Charlie if called upon to speak, she was able to sneak off unnoticed and retch privately in the bathroom.

They were silent on the drive to Connecticut. Will played absently with his wife's fingers. MacKenzie stared out the car window. At some point along the way, Mac silenced her cell phone to prevent it from interrupting Will’s solitude. No one was likely to call her anyway since almost everyone she knew was also making his or her way to the little church where they would reaffirm the belief . . . hope . . . that Charlie’s soul was peacefully existing on some higher plane unreachable by the likes of Lucas Pruit. Mac bristled at the thought that he would undoubtedly be there and that Nancy had actually invited him back to the house for the wake. But it was good manners and Nancy was the widow of the President of ACN, and if there was anything that MacKenzie McHale had been raised to understand, it was the value of duty and manners.

Just as the car was pulling into the driveway of the church, Mac felt her phone vibrate with an incoming call. She had both of her hands wrapped around one of Will’s and he had just begun to speak about how he didn't know if he could get through this, how he didn't know if he could talk about Charlie without breaking down, and she wasn’t about to pull away to check her phone, or do anything but keep him as the complete focus of her attention. So she didn't look at the caller ID and let it go to voicemail.

It wasn't until they were walking into the church with the rest of the News Night staff that MacKenzie chanced a glance at the screen of her phone. Her heart leapt into her throat and stopped beating. The call had been from Catherine Barrington. The test results must have come back. She tried to tell herself that it could wait . . . that she could wait . . . until after the service. She had waited this long. She could wait a little longer. But she couldn't, and she knew it. In the vestibule, she whispered to Will that she needed to find the bathroom and she'd be right back. He should go on in without her. He looked confused, but nodded. She squeezed his hand and headed back out of the door.

“Catherine, hello,” MacKenzie began as soon as she heard the call connect, her voice strained and soft. She knew that she should be inside the church, standing beside Will and singing along with with everyone else, singing the Navy Hymn, also played for Marines, like Charlie. She remembered it from videos she'd watched as a little girl of Jack Kennedy’s funeral. She should be inside. But she couldn't be. Not yet. She would go mad if she had to spend one more moment not knowing one way or the other. “I had a missed call from you . . . .”

“Yes, Mac,” the doctor replied. “The test results are back.” She could almost feel MacKenzie stop breathing. “Your hGC levels are off the chart. They're above 220,000 . . . 220,926 to be exact. If they were any higher, I'd be thinking twins, and I'm not ruling that out, but my guess is it’s just one. A big strong one.” Catherine Barrington waited but Mac didn't speak. At least the doctor could hear that the younger woman was breathing. “So stop all thoughts of miscarriage right now, MacKenzie. This kid’s not coming out until it's good and ready. If you want something to keep you up at night, start thinking about how you’re going to juggle your professional career for the next 18 years with the demands of raising a child . . . or two . . . ‘cause with your other blood work numbers, my guess is that even if it's not twins, you’ve got time for one or two more after this, if you want them.” Mac couldn't bring herself to speak just yet, but her mind went to the pictures of Catherine’s three children, now grown, that decorated the bookshelves in her office.

When Mac still didn't respond after another few seconds, Dr. Barrington went on. “MacKenzie, you . . . are . . . fine . . . Couldn't be better,” she said, emphasizing every word. “Can you hear me? Do you understand me?”

Finally, Mac spoke. “Yes, I definitely understood you.”

“Are you alright? You sound very strange for someone who just got great news.”

“I'm at a funeral service . . . .”

“Oh, I'm terribly sorry . . . .”

“Thank you . . . .”

“I wouldn't have intruded . . . .”

“No . . . No . . . I called you . . . I just meant that’s why . . . that’s . . . that’s why . . . that’s why my voice sounds like this . . . that’s why I'm being quiet,” Mac sputtered, trying to process the news and the relief that was beginning to unknot her stomach and loosen the constriction in her throat, sensations that she only now realized she had been living with for the last seven weeks.

“Mac, go now . . . don't let anything stop you . . . right now . . . in the next sixty seconds and tell Will that he’s going to be a father,” Dr. Barrington commanded in her most authoritative voice.

“Yes, ah . . . yes, sir . . . yes, Catherine, I'm sorry . . . .”

The doctor chuckled. “Call when you get a chance and schedule an appointment for you and Will. Now go . . . Good-bye.”

“Okay.” Mac disconnected and tried to breathe. This was, she realized, the first instant that she believed, truly believed, that she and Will would be parents. As strains of “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” enveloped her, tears sprang into her eyes, a smile fought its way to her lips, her hand came up to her mouth and her knees buckled slightly. Oh, God! Thank you, God, she prayed. Billy’s baby. Billy’s baby was alive, growing and healthy.

MacKenzie hurriedly walked down the aisle (which seemed endless) to the second row of pews, where Will stood singing and waiting for her. “I need to talk to you,” she whispered. Here and now seemed as good as any time. Besides, she was following orders from her doctor.

“Everything alright?”

“Remember the night before you went to prison?” He stared at her wondering how she could ask that question. If he lived to be a hundred, he'd never forget that night. The memory of their lovemaking had comforted him and tormented him for fifty-two days. Misconstruing his silence as calling for a memory jog, Mac continued, “the power was out in the apartment . . . .”

“Yeah . . . definitely,” Will responded, hoping to convey that he remembered every second and every touch.

She looked into his eyes in a way that he thought he'd never seen before. He’d seen love in her eyes, he'd seen compassion and sympathy, he'd seen lust and desire, but this was different . . . this was something more that he couldn't define. Then, she leaned against him and whispered in his ear, “we made a baby, Billy.”