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Will looked at his phone. No, he won’t do it. He absolutely will not call Mackenzie. If he calls her, she wins, and she will not win. She’s got a few months because Charlie sent out that fucking press release, and God damn why the fuck did he do that? Will rolled his eyes as he answered the question with, “because he didn’t want Will to fucking fire her ass again”.

Charlie was right; they did the news tonight. They did the news the way they should do the news. They dug into a story, the got facts and sources and stayed away from the sensationalistic shit that has been part of his life since he started anchoring his own shows. Well, except when she was… nope, he’s not going to relive that. He won’t do it. He’s stuck with her for a few months. He’s going to make her life a living hell during that time. That’s what he’s going to do. He’s going to make sure that she hates him as much as he hates her. And it starts tonight. It’s 2 in the morning. He’s going to call her and wake her the fuck up. He’s going to not so subtly let her know that she may “own him from 8-9PM”, but the rest of the day, she’s his.

Wait, no, that’s not what he wants. At least not the way it sounds. She’s going to know that every other hour life with him… nope, they do not share a life, they do not share anything except a newsroom. And that’s only temporary. He’s going to fucking pick up the phone and let her know that he will define the parameters of this… arrangement. He will expect that she will answer his call whenever he decides to call her. It’s part of the job description. And he’s going to tell her. Right now.

Before he could pick up his phone to call Mackenzie, his phone started ringing. What the fuck was she doing calling him at 2AM? Doesn’t this woman ever fucking sleep? She never slept well, and when she didn’t sleep well, he didn’t, not that he ever complained… Fuck. That’s a question he really needs to stay away from.

“What the fuck are you calling for?”

“I wanted to make sure I had the right number, I expected it to go to voicemail.”

Will took a deep breath. “Well, you have the right fucking number. Since you’re on the phone, I wanted to get a few things straight before we go too much further. That little stunt this evening will not be repeated. You do not own me any hour of the day or night. I’m the boss, I fucking own your ass 24/7 for the next 6 months.”

“As long as we’re getting things clear, let me make my position clear. I run the newsroom and that newsroom will be a place where we will start to put journalistic integrity into everything we do. I’m going to start teaching our staff about how to do the news properly and because you can’t fire me for 6 months, you’re going to fucking agree with every word I say until that blessed day comes. If you have any fucking questions about my approach, then you will ask me in my office. Now, do you want to begin a strategy session or do you intend to get some sleep tonight?”

Will took a breath. He wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight whether they got off the phone or not.

“Do you still have staff coming?”

“There’s a few more coming out in the next week or so.”

Will clenched and unclenched his jaw a few times. “We’re going to have to fill in a few holes. You can handle the interview process, but I want to meet anyone we bring in.”

“Deal. I’ll wait until everyone is in place before we start reformatting the show.”

“We’re not reformatting the show, we’re just going to make sure that we’re doing things right.”

Mac rolled her eyes. She didn’t want to take this one on with him right now. “I’ll have Jim work closely with the show as it is right now for the next couple weeks and you’ll have Don and anyone you didn’t send on vacation. In the meantime I’ll work some contacts and fill in the rest of the pieces. Can I set up Skype meetings for them to meet you?”

“You know how to Skype?” Will felt his face quirk into a smile and got serious again.

“I’m sure I can find someone in Atlanta who knows.” Mac felt herself smile. It felt good to talk to him like this again. She decided to take a chance. “You put on a good show tonight Will.”

“You did too.”

Will swallowed hard and hung up. Damn he wished he found time to get a date for tonight. But then again, he’s not sure that he needs one.

 

Chapter Text

April 21, 2010 4:47AM

Will woke up with a start. He didn’t remember his dream, but he had an insatiable need to call Mac and tell her not to go to Atlanta. His sleep-deprived mind didn’t think about why he would have such a need nor did he think about why he should care, after all, if she was putting his staff together that meant she wouldn’t be around him. As he reached for his phone his brain started to wake up and wanted to form those questions, but his hand moved too fast.

“Mac, it’s me. You’re not going to Atlanta today.”

“Will? What the fuck?”

“You came here to be my fucking EP. I don’t have a staff anymore because of you, so I need you here.”

Mac rolled her eyes and let out a breath. “You can’t be serious right now. You don’t have a staff because you gave them a week’s vacation.”

“Because you were standing there and agreed to take over. If you’re not up for this, then I don’t need to wait until Friday to fire your ass.”

Mac shook her head, glad that Will couldn’t see her. She’d laugh if this wasn’t so fucking ridiculous. “You can’t fire me, Will, for one thing, it’s not Friday. For another, I haven’t had a chance to sign my fucking contract yet. It still starts in 2 weeks. Weren’t you the one with the 94% conviction rate? Counselor?”

“You’re not going to run away to Atlanta again. I need my EP here running my show. I don’t know the guy you brought with you. I don’t trust Don anymore. You’re my EP, I expect you to run my show.”

Mac wanted to ask him what the fuck was going on, but she had a feeling that poking that monkey was going to end in disaster. She took a second to weigh her options. She could push the issue and let him know that she wasn’t going to take orders from him. She could ask what the fuck was going on and take the chance of going into dangerous territory. Or she could let him have this one and try for a not so confrontational relationship. She was going to have to work with him. “How about this? Charlie arranged an office for me in Atlanta for this week. I can use that office to talk to my people and the people who are staying. Someone from IT can set up a way to do that. I’ll also call into rundown meetings and then use the studio to run your show remotely. I’ll just talk to my people there tomorrow and Thursday, Friday I’ll be back in your studio bright and early.”

Will zoned out during her speech. He was trying to figure out why this was so important to him. He had absolutely no idea what the fuck she just said. He tried to put together everything that he did pick up. “So you’ll be back here on Friday? Okay. I can live with that.”

“Good. But I should warn you that when I get back, we’re going to start reformatting the show immediately. I’m not going to give you a chance to chicken out of what you should have been doing all along.”

Will’s mind was at war. He knew that he needed to be doing the show that he could do with her, but it was a risk. He could lose his audience and for what? Her respect? That wasn’t the prize that it used to be. A voice in his head told him maybe he’d get some of his own respect back. “Understood.”

“Good. I’ll call you tomorrow after the show and after you’ve had some time to have a drink and unwind a little and we can figure out how to proceed.”

“Fine.” Will felt like he was biting down something. Finally through gritted teeth he said, “Goodnight, Mac.”

“Goodnight, Will.”

Mac smiled as she lay in bed. He doesn’t want her to go. She remembered the last time she went to Atlanta to put a crew together for Will, she and that crew went to the Middle East without him and she didn’t come back for two years. “I’m coming back this time, Will.”

Chapter Text

April 21, 2010 10:03PM

Mac was exhausted. She stayed up late last night deciding whether to call Will or not to tell him that she did hold up the pads at Northwestern, but something in his voice wouldn’t let her cop to that. Then he called her and even… 20 hours later, she doesn’t know if he meant he didn’t want her to leave him again by going to Atlanta or if he really did have the expectation that his EP run his show from his studio. After his call, she couldn’t sleep. Then she had to get on a plane and get into an office in enough time to meet her staff.

Mac dialed into the 10AM meeting to introduce her and Jim. From what she put together, Don had a meeting with the producers at 10AM to give story assignments and at 6:30PM he had another meeting with production to make sure everything was in and set. Will didn’t usually attend either meeting, leaving Don to run interference between Will and the staff.  She preferred brainstorming with the staff, but gave Jim a list of stories to chase and had Jim make the assignments based on interest. She then ended the meeting by telling them to expect a one-on-one meeting invite with her today so she could get to know them.

She spent the rest of her day on the phone in meetings with staff in New York and face to face meetings with staff who would follow her until the 6:30 production meeting. During the one on ones, she explained what she wanted to do and found that many of her staff wanted to do that as well.

The show ran smoothly, though Will had very little to say to her during it. She used commercial breaks to build a rapport with her control room staff. Since she was remoting in, she couldn’t see his face during breaks, though she kind of wondered if that was a blessing. He had ignored her messages throughout the day. Jim told her that he spent a lot of his day out of his office. She’s only calling him now because she promised him that she would call tonight after the show to talk about their new direction.

Mac took a deep breath and hit send on her Blackberry. She listened to the phone ring a couple times before his voice finally answered. “What do you want?”

“Well I thought the show went rather well.”

Will was quiet for a second, allowing Mac to hear that he’s listening to music and he just took a drag off his cigarette. At least she hoped it was a cigarette, she remembered his fondness for marijuana.

“What do you want me to say, Mac? It was a show.”

“It was, and a very good show considering we’re working with a skeleton crew.” Mac tried to infuse her voice with enthusiasm she didn’t feel.

“And my fucking EP is out who knows where.”

Mac took a breath, trying to even out her voice. “I’m in Atlanta, putting the rest of your crew together.”

“And when do I get to meet this new crew?”

“Well, if you would have answered any of my calls, I would have given you contact information. Though I don’t know what the fuck you want to do with it since you don’t even know the names of your current producers.”

Will gave a humorless laugh. “What the fuck do you want me to do? Go to HR and get their pictures and resumes? I don’t have time to get to know them.”

“It would be a good start. I don’t know what the fuck you think, but I expect you at all our meetings. You’re going to be a fucking leader to this group if I have to grab you by the short hairs and force you.”

Mac didn’t realize what she said until Will’s end of the phone went silent. Before she could backpedal, Will growled, “You will not EVER be anywhere near any of my fucking hairs.”

She deserved that. But she needed to get them back on track before this got out of hand. “Learning their names is a good start. And as your EP, I expect you to begin participating in the planning of your show. You’re the fucking face of Newsnight, I want you invested.”

“Get their pictures and resumes and waste time at meetings. Copy that. Anything else?”

“I wanted to go over the principles of news that we will start to implement on Friday when I get back. There are 4 things to cover.”

“I remember, Mac. I read your God damned dissertation, I know what the fuck it says. I even know how to do good news.”

“Really, I wouldn’t have guessed that from watching your show.” Mac heard the edge to her voice and regretted it instantly. This was not going the way she intended. This time she said sorry, but at the same time that Will answered.

“You want to do the fucking news, we’re going to do the fucking news. Is that all you wanted?”

“I want your buy-in, Billy. I want to know that you want to do this.”

“Don’t call me that.” Will put his head back on his chair and took another drag. He imagined Mac sitting in a hotel room, one that looked like the one he visited her in when she lived half her life in DC, flinching at his words. This won’t work. “I’m sorry.”

“No, I get it. You’re not my Billy anymore, I’m not family.”

“Do you really think we can do this? I mean, you and me?”

Mac took a breath. “Yes, I do because no matter what else we were or are, we are professionals who believe in the work that we want to do. And we both know that no one can get out of you what I can. So I will put up with your moods and tones and overall bullshit, because good news is worth that to me.” Mac felt her teeth bore into her bottom lip as she waited for Will to answer. To her ear it sounded like he had taken another long drag.

“You’re going to put up with whatever shit I give you? And you’re going to keep whatever residual feelings you have for me out of our working relationship? You really think you can do that?”

Mac had a big smile on her face, “You know me, Will. I’ll give you back whatever shit you give me.”

Will smiled. “I would expect no less.” Will caught himself smiling and got serious again. “That wasn’t the only question.”

“I loved you and I regret what I did everyday. If the only way to work with you is to pretend I don’t have those feelings… I can do that.”

Will didn’t know the answer he wanted, but he’s pretty sure that wasn’t it. He felt hollowness in his stomach as he nodded his head, understanding this is how it had to be. She was right, he needed her to bring out the best in him. He needed her to do things the right way. He didn’t like it, and she probably didn’t either. But this is how it had to be. “Okay. Then what do we need to do?”

Mac ran through her plans for Newsnight, starting with the meetings they would have with the staff everyday and moving into the content changes. Will wondered more than once what this would do to his audience, but each time he seemed to get cold feet, she would convince him that they were doing a better thing and that there would be a short term dip in ratings, but his numbers would rebound. After an hour of going through the changes and a final pep talk from Mac, she asked, “Do you trust me?”

She didn’t mean to make herself that vulnerable, but it was out there.

“Mac…” His voice drew out her name.

“I mean as an EP.   Do you trust my skills and my experience?”

It took him a little while to answer. “I do. I trust that you are the best EP in the business.”

“Then trust that, Will. I will make you the best you can be. It may not be the most popular or the most liked, but I will make you better.”

“I know you will.”

The two sat on the phone, in silence, neither wanting to hang up. It felt familiar. It felt good. Talking, pushing each other. It felt right, while at the same time, they both knew they couldn’t have this. At least not right now.

Mac heard Will clear his throat, like he was going to say something. Before he could, she asked, “I’ve been meaning to ask you, what are you listening to?”

“Leonard Cohen.” He wondered if she was thinking about their second date. Earlier that week he saw her in the studio, doing what she loved. He fell in love with her that night, so he took her to see something he loved. Cohen was in town, so they saw him and he got to play with the band. Then he sang to her, a promise that he would fight for her because she meant that much to him. For a moment he wondered if he would have just told her then… He shook off the thought. It was their second date; he would have scared her away. And he couldn’t. He couldn’t admit it to himself yet, let alone her.

“I remember how much you loved his music.” She didn’t want to break the moment by telling him how much she loved watching him play with the band. If she could have that night back… There are so many nights that she wishes she could do different. That night was the night of their first kiss. If she would have dragged him into her apartment… Maybe nothing would have been different. Maybe she still would have… “Would you mind putting the phone close to your speakers and letting me listen, for a little while?”

Will nodded his head to no one and swallowed, trying to keep all his feelings for this woman in check. “Yeah, I think I can do that.”

Mac lay down on her bed, listening as Will did as he said he would. The third song she heard she recognized as “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” and heard Will sing along. She didn’t know if he realized she was still on the line and awake, when his voice began to crack. At the end of the song, he stopped his iPod and, Mac couldn’t be sure, but she thought he realized the phone was still there and disconnected.

Chapter Text

April 22, 2010 3:46AM

“YouTube Today.”

“Will? Do you know what time it is?”

“We have to keep YouTube Today and Pop Watch. They’re our most popular segments.”

Mac looked over at the clock on the nightstand next to her. 3:47AM. She wanted to hang up on him, but he sounded panicked. Whatever the fuck he was talking about was pretty important to him.

“Will, it’s 3:47AM. Is this something that we can talk about after I get a couple more hours of sleep?”

Will scrubbed his face with his hand. A part of him understood that she was right. He shouldn’t be calling her now. And probably not ever. At least in the middle of the night. But he woke up with his heart pounding and he realized that doing the show she wanted meant that he wasn’t going to keep the parts of the show his audience liked most. His fan mail talked about it. His minutes to minutes showed that they were watched. Focus group data proved their popularity. Okay, so he hated talking about Justin Barbarino or whatever the fuck his name was. But it worked. It kept people tuned in. He had to keep it, and if she got her way, if she did what she wanted to do, those would be gone. And then who would watch?

“This can’t wait. If you’re coming back at the end of this week and you take those segments away… Mackenzie, we need to keep viewers. I’m not saying we need to keep the segments indefinitely, but I think we need to ease into the changes you want to make. Those can go last.”

While Will spoke, Mac opened her laptop and started looking up what segments he was talking about. She watched the show before she came to the ACN studio, but after watching the first couple blocks, a lot of times she walked away frustrated with him and the show. She wasn’t entirely sure that she ever made it through an entire episode, having seen what she needed in the first 15 minutes.

Will could hear her typing on her computer. “What are you doing?”

“I’m looking up what you’re asking me to keep. I think I know the answer, but I want to make an informed decision. Which I’m sure means I put in more thought than you did when you allowed these to become a regular part of your broadcast.”

“You know what your problem is, Mac. And it’s been your problem for a long time, I just tried to looked past it because you were, you were…”

“You girlfriend?” Mac finished for him, hoping that he’d skip over whatever insult he had in his head.

Will considered what to say. He wanted to complete the thought with, “a good fuck,” but he recognized that might cross the line. And it wasn’t true. Maybe that’s the line it would cross. She was, and he’d have to forget that someday, but she was more than that. And that’s…. IT doesn’t matter. He was a good guy, he was a good guy and he would remain that even when she was hurting him. He took a steadying breath and said, “Yeah that. You’re always so sure you’re right and that you know all the people around you so much better than you do. You’re not as smart as you think you are, Mac.”

Mac didn’t say anything, forcing Will to listen to her breathe and wonder what she’s thinking. Maybe she’s playing some game with him. She’s trying to get him to speak first, say more than he should. Well, two can play at this game. He waited, wanting to ask what she was thinking, but determined not to because he can outlast her.

“First, the name of the segment is Today in YouTube.” Will wasn’t sure what surprised him, that she spoke first or what he knew she was about to say. “Second, I want to be absolutely clear about this, we are not going to continue to put fucking CAT VIDEOS on our broadcast. GOD! What the fuck happened to you, Will? You’re a fucking brilliant man and this is what you do with your God damned talent?”

“The audience –“

“I don’t give a fuck about the audience. You’ll have a god damned audience, but you’ll have a smarter one, one that wants to actually be informed about real issues, not whatever the fuck the least common denominator wants. God damn it Will, you’re so much better than this shit you allowed your show to be. I thought I was coming in for a course correction, but this shit is below fucking Page 6. What the hell happened? You know better than this!”

Will felt himself getting angry. At the beginning of the call he felt panicked, she was going to cost him his audience, his friends. But now she was attacking him and his integrity. “What the hell happened? You’re asking me what the fuck happened? You fucking happened Mackenzie. When I learned that my girlfriend had been fucking her ex-boyfriend, I realized the only people I can truly count on are the ones –“

“Who what? Who adore you? You tune in for an hour hypnotized by your face and your voice? That’s not love Will. That’s not worth a damned thing. That’s one-way communication and it ends now. I’m talking to Charlie tomorrow. You’re not going to have access to ratings or any other stats. You’re going to focus on your show and making it something worth watching. I didn’t realize it until now, Will, but I’m here to save your soul, not your show. You can put on a fucking cat video tomorrow, but when I’m back on Friday, no more. I’m not putting my name on anything that is less than what you can be. And neither are you.”

With that, Mac hung up.

April 22, 2010 3:57AM

Will heard the click and immediately called her back, but she didn’t answer.

April 22, 2010 3:58AM

Will got a glass of water and remembered that he heard someone say that people should count to ten when they’re upset, so he did. And he tried calling her back. She still didn’t answer.

April 22, 2010 4:05AM

Will was on his way back to his bedroom figuring he should probably try to get some more sleep. He didn’t know what he wanted to say to Mac anyway. Before he made it to his room, his phone rang. He knew who it was without looking. He wondered if maybe she called to say she was sorry. She crossed a line and she knew it.

“Mac.”

“If we’re doing this, we’re doing this. You’re like an addict. The audience is your drug. You can hate me… more… if you need to, but I’m not going to be your enabler. We’re going to do the news and you’re going to start being a person you can stand to look at in the mirror again.”

“I have no issues looking at myself in the mirror.”

Mac had to wonder, was she wrong about him? This can’t possibly be the man that she loves, loved. Maybe she saw him through rose-colored glasses before. Maybe he just went along with her because he felt like he had to, because he loved her. Maybe he was never the Billy she remembered.

She considered it, and then she remembered walking him through the bullpen and seeing him invested in his show and what they were doing. It was before they were really dating, before he had his first show at CNN. She remembered watching him really engage. The fight he put up when the network brought in Brian’s friend to dumb down his show. No, the Billy she loved was in there somewhere, it wasn’t a figment of her imagination. “Can you really? Where are you, Will?”

“What?”

“Are you in your living room or kitchen? Where are you?”

Will shut his eyes tight. He didn’t want to do this. He wanted her apology. He wanted her to admit that she was wrong and to say that he could keep his audience and then hang up. Anything else is unacceptable.

Mac could sense his struggle through the phone. She had to keep putting pressure on him. He was going to lash out, but he needed her to keep pushing. He still needed her. It wasn’t a lot to live on, but it would be enough. She had to give him a couple successes. He needed to see what it feels like to do the right thing again. He needs her to make sure that his show does what it’s supposed to do. If he can see and remember what a good show is like, what it means to put on a good show, she can save him from himself.

When Charlie approached her about coming to his show, she had fantasies about reconciling with him. But all of a sudden she realizes that the more important thing is to save him. That’s what she has to do, she has to save him. She has to push him and make sure that he is who he should be.

“You went back to bed didn’t you? You tried to yell at me twice and then gave up. I’ve known you a long time, Billy and I know you’re not a quitter.”

“I told you not to call me that.”

Mac steeled herself. She knew that voice, it was a growl. She heard that voice when he kicked her out of his apartment and when he told a whole newsroom that she would not have a job when she got back from the Middle East. He’s serious. She’s affecting him. She has to be careful. If she overplays her hand, he’s not going to listen. If she gives up, she may not get another chance. “Why are you fighting, Will? Are you actually proud of the show you’ve been doing?”

“Of course not. You know that. But I need the audience. If my ratings go down –“

“I don’t give a fuck about ratings, Billy. I care about you. I want to make sure that you do a show full of the integrity that I know you have. I want you to do a show worthy of you. If we can do that show, then informing the electorate is just icing.” Mac paused, giving her words a chance to sink into Will’s head. “I believe in you Will, I always have. But you have to make the decision to do the show that you can do.”

Will wasn’t comfortable with how long it took him to answer. Part of him wanted to tell her that he wanted to keep his format and that if she didn’t want to do that show, he would accept her resignation. But something kept stopping him. “I have a brand Mac.   And it’s not just my show, Elliot is coming on after me. He deserves a chance and without a strong lead in.”

The defeat in Will’s voice broke Mac’s heart. If they were in the same room, she would put her arms around him and she’s sure that he’d put his head on her shoulder. She had to get that image out of her mind. She had to save him. It’s the only way that she can prove her feelings. “You’re going to deliver him and the network a better audience. You’re going to set the stage for everyone to up their games. Including Jane Barrow.”

“Who the fuck is Jane Barrow.”

“Someone from DC, she doesn’t matter. What matters is, you’re going to make things better for everyone. Just trust yourself. Engage. Be the anchor you always wanted to be. Be the leader our team deserves.”

“I don’t know if I can, Mac.”

“You can, because I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Will felt his eyes misting up, but kept his voice under control. “You know that’s not the comfort it used to be.”

“I know. But when I deliver a few good shows, it will be. Until then, trust that I’m the best in the business.”

“Show me what you can do and we’ll go from there.”

Mac silently nodded her head. “I can do that.”

“Goodnight Mac.”

“Will, will you do me a favor?”

“What?”

Mac smiled. “See a doctor and get some sleeping pills?”

Will felt himself laughing. “Goodnight, Mac.”

Mac hung up the phone smiling. Her Billy is in there somewhere. He’ll show up when she puts some good shows together. Friday’s show will be important.

Chapter Text

April 22, 2010 9:34AM

“You told HR to bring me files of the staff?”

“I did.” Mac put a little lilt in her voice at the end of the statement, hoping it would help diffuse vein that she imagined Will had throbbing in his neck. “We talked about it last night and you said you would try to at least learn their names.”

Will tried to remember what the fuck he agreed to in their total 3 hours of discussions after the show. Fuck, he didn’t think he talked to her this much when they were dating. They usually went home, got something to eat, and… He has to stop thinking about the… those days. They weren’t that good, he has to remember that. They weren’t that good. He heard a little voice in his head call her a liar and another reminded him to focus on what he said last night. But instead of doing any of that, he went into prosecutor mode, “If I said I would learn their names –“

“And go down to HR to get their files.”

Will took a breath to center himself and hopefully keep the edge out of his voice, “If I said I would go to HR to get their files and learn their names, then it was my responsibility to do it or not do it.”

“I thought I would help you. I know how busy you are.”

He hates when she does that, it’s almost a patronizing voice. God damn it, she knows he wasn’t going to go. Hell, she may ever know that he forgot about that part of their conversation. Wait, was she making that up? He wouldn’t have had that fucking idea. But she did go on about being a leader to their team and this would help that along. “I also said I would go to my doctor, did you set up that appointment too?”

“I don’t know who you’re seeing these days or I may have.” Mac took a breath. She had a meeting coming up in a couple minutes. “Will, I have to go. I’m talking to Jan Brewer about doing our show tomorrow. I want to start our new show on the right foot. Learn their names. Come into the rundown tomorrow ready to be their leader. I’ll call you tonight about the Brewer interview.”

“We’re covering SB 1070?”

“Good, you’re aware of it.”

“Of course… Yeah I’m… Brewer’s not talking to anyone. The rest of the ACN lineup has been trying to get her to talk all week. Anderson Cooper even called me to ask if I had any contacts in her office. You don’t have this.”

“I have an audience with the Governor herself.”

“How?”

Mac smiled. He didn’t believe it, but he’s getting excited by the possibility of doing real news again. She can hear it in his voice. It’s the first time she actually believes that maybe this can work, that he wants this to work, he wants to do a good show. “A girl’s gotta have some secrets.” Mac’s smile grew as she imagined the impressed look on Will’s face. “I gotta go. I’ll call you after the show with more details about tomorrow.”

“Wait! Mac! Mac!” She’d disconnected, leaving Will to do the same. He sat back in his desk looking at the stack of files HR walked up to his office. He opened the top one and glanced at it before closing it and leaning back in his chair. Maybe one day he’d have to acknowledge that she’s right and this is how to do the news. He can change his show, not for her, but because of her. But he won’t change himself for her. She’s not going to make him be anything other than who he is.

Chapter Text

April 22, 2010 10:08 PM

“So how did it go?” Will tried to keep his voice even. He didn’t want Mac to know that he was excited at the prospect of being the only anchor to interview Governor Brewer.

“We got her for 9 minutes tomorrow night.”

Will allowed a smile to cross his face and he ignored how proud he was of her. “Seriously? She agreed to come on the show? How did you get that to happen?” Screw it, he didn’t care if she knew he was excited. After all, it wasn’t necessarily pride, he’s got an exclusive, why wouldn’t he be excited?

“I gave her the vision of what we want our show to be. She wondered if you were really up for that type of show, but I told her that you are every bit the prosecutor that you were when you had the 94% conviction rate. So she made sure that I was going to sic you on the spokesperson from La Raza as well.”

“Who do we have from there?”

Mac smiled, feeling proud because she knew he was excited about this. Maybe this would be all it would take to turn this around. One good show, one good story. “We’ll find out tomorrow, but they know Brewer will be on for the other side, so they’ll send their A game, don’t worry.”

Will got quiet. He knew what he should say. He should tell her she did a good job or thank her for her work or say he was proud of her. But he couldn’t. He knew she deserved every accolade he could throw at her, and he knew that keeping that from her was petty, but he didn’t want her to think that they were patching anything up. He still hated her for what she did, he was still going to fire her the first chance he got and he didn’t want to give her reason to fight him in court over it. “You know, Brewer and I have a history, I wonder if that played into her decision at all.”

Mac laughed, he was just trying to get a rise out of her. “What history was that? Did you meet one day when you were a cub reporter and she flirted with you? Do you just assume that every woman in the world has a crush on you?”

Will kept his voice matter of fact. He didn’t have a plan, he wanted to see her reaction. “I assume that about the straight ones. But in this case, well, it was more than just a crush. When I was in the Bush White House –“

“I don’t think I need to hear about your dalliances with a married woman.”

“A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell –“

“That’s enough, Will.”

“But let’s just say that I have some pull in the governor’s office. I didn’t want to use the favor I’m owed, so I hope that you got this on your own.”

“I assure you I did. And you won’t have to worry about the governor coming onto you, she will be half a continent away in Arizona.”

Will could hear the hurt in her voice and wasn’t sure what to feel. On one hand, he knew he should stop, this was a victory for Mac and the show and he’d reap the benefits from it. But, now he knows that she’s hurt at the idea of him with someone else. It seems like a good piece of information to know. She can’t possibly hurt as much as he did when she told him about… she can’t hurt that much, but it’s good to know that he can affect her. “That’s too bad actually.”

Mac stopped herself from hanging up the phone. She knew that he was screwing with her, trying to get a reaction out of her and she wasn’t going to give him one. She took a breath and silently counted to ten. “Have you started looking through the staff files yet? It would be nice if you knew a couple of their names tomorrow at the first rundown meeting.”

“I brought them home with me, they’re on my desk.”

Mac scoffed. “They’re on your desk where you can continue to ignore them.”

“I brought them home, Mac. Obviously I intend to –“

“To make excuses that you got too wrapped up in whatever fucking game is in season right now to look at them.”

“I brought them home. I was going to look through them. I had every intention of –“ God, even he could tell he was lying and usually he could at least half convince himself.

“You had every intention of what? Flipping through them once and then using your prosecutorial gifts for mind reading to learn that Kendra and Gary don’t get along because Kendra thinks Gary is cocky because he’ll speak out against Obama and Kendra’s double 800s on her ACT drives Gary nuts.”

“Who’s Kendra and Gary? And how young are they if they’re still talking about SAT scores? I didn’t even talk about mine in law school.”

Mac sighed. “Oh God! You graduated high school early, did you even have to take an SAT?”

Will’s head was racing. He had to take the ACT, but it was mostly for show. When he went into business taking entrance exams for other people, it was harder getting a reasonable score for them. “You want me to learn a couple of their names, I’ll learn all their fucking names.”

“Learn their names, don’t learn their names. I don’t give a fuck. You want to be part of what we’re trying to do, that’s great, you’re welcome to be as involved as you want. You want to go and fuck every female governor in the states, knock yourself out. But when you’re ready to be a serious journalist, don’t be surprised that the team won’t rally around your anymore. You have a fucking opportunity and you’re intent on pissing it away.”

Will listened to the silence for a couple seconds. “Oh! You haven’t hung up yet? I thought that’s what you do now. You give me a tongue lashing like I’m a little kid and then hang up, only to call back when it suits you.”

“Passive-aggressive is your playbook these days, Billy. I just call it like I see it.”

“I told you not to call me that.”

“I’m calling you an infantile name because you’re acting like a fucking child who got a toy taken away by a kid down the street.”

“You know you’re talking about yourself now? And the way I understand it, he didn’t take you as much as you whored yourself between us.”

Mac felt like she had been smacked. She didn’t want this conversation, not now. Not before she gives him a win. But if he was bruising for it, she’s not going to stop it. It’s only a 24-hour difference. “Do we need to do this now?”

“Do what?” He wondered how they go to this point. He wondered if she knew. Of course she did, and if he asked, she’d probably be able to point to a moment that he caused it. He didn’t remember, but he’s sure he did it. The conversation started with a triumph, how the fuck did they get here? Why were they fighting? Why was she so hurt? And why the fuck did he care so much that she was hurt and he probably caused it? “You fucking flit from one thought to another without rhyme or reason. How the fuck am I supposed to keep up or know what the fuck you’re thinking?”

Mac focused on keeping her voice even, though she was sure she was more clipped than she wanted to be. “Do we need to talk about us? Obviously you haven’t gotten over what we were. And you still want to punish me. Can I tell you my side? Will you finally listen to it?”

“What the fuck side could you possibly have? You slept with your ex-boyfriend for four months, a year after we started dating.”

“We weren’t serious yet.”

“What the fuck does that mean? I was there Mac. You were fucking him while I was telling you I loved you. How much more serious do you think we could have been? You’d get him off and then call me for one of our nightly chats.” He hated this. She was near tears and so was he. They were both raw. This can’t be good for either of them. God damn it, why was she here? Why was she putting herself and him through this? She could leave and it all stops. The pain stops. Why is she doing this?

“It started be--. You know what? It doesn’t matter. I didn’t know I loved you until after. And I’m sorry that you got hurt.”

“So that’s it? That’s all you have to say on the subject. And now… What? Are we supposed to just talk about the staff or the show like nothing happened?”

“You mean work together and pretend that you aren’t the love of my life? Yeah, until you can forgive me or move on, I guess we have to.” Mac took a breath, hoping to reset the conversation. She’ll figure out later how to best deal with this when it happens again. “Have you looked at the files at all today or did they just sit at the end of your desk forcing you to choose between being the man you want to be or the sorry excuse for a man that you currently are?”

“I can’t possibly be the fucking love of your life if you were able to go off with him for four months.”

She had an answer for him, but he wouldn’t be able to hear it right now. She has to focus on this win. If there is any chance of him listening to her, she has to give him this win. She just has to stay focused. “Jan Brewer and La Raza will go in the A block obviously. I want to send a strong message that we’re not going to keep pandering to non-news and put BP in the D block, nothing’s happening there.”

She was like a fucking whirlwind. Wasn’t she the one that brought up their past? He tried to run through the beats of their conversation because he really didn’t remember. He didn’t get very far before he realized that he needed to come up with a response to her last statement about the line up, wherever the fuck that came from. “We’re not going to cover Deepwater Horizon tomorrow?”

“Repeat after me, Will. It’s going in the fucking D block. There’s no new news.”

“Did that idea come from one of the damned teenagers?”

“They’re not teens, they all graduated from college. Except Neal, but he just works with social media. And he’s 25.”

“I don’t know about this Mac, they don’t have any experience. And please spare me one of your fortune cookie profundities. They don’t have experience. They don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. And if your staff isn’t able to keep you in check –”

“So we’ll train them and we’ll teach them how to do news the way we want it done.   There may be some rough edges we’ll need to smooth out, but they’re eager and we can teach them.”

Will’s head was still spinning, but he had to smile. There it was, her passion for what she does. Will had never met anybody in any profession who loved what she did as much as Mackenzie McHale loved everything about live news. Her passion for the news and for influencing… people… was absolutely infectious. She literally made people better. That was one of the things he loved most about her. He swallowed hard at that realization. It was dangerous. It was dangerous to watch it again. When Mac believed in something, how could anyone not sell his soul in pursuit of it? He thought once that she had that passion for him, and when he was wrong he spun out of control and… this is where he’s at. “Mac, news is your one love. Lead them, grow them, do whatever the fuck you want with them. I won’t stand in your way. I’ll come to the meetings, I’ll back you as your boss and I’ll deliver what you need.”

“Is that what you really believe?” Mac waited for a reply that she didn’t get. “Will, I love the news and I intend to air the best damn show on the television. But we’re going to do that. And we’re going to do that because I can’t do it without you and the talent and integrity you bring to the show. You phoning it in isn’t enough. I got Jan Brewer because of you and for you. Not because she wanted to fuck you, but because she saw the potential you have to do the news well. And when that group that we’re leading sees it too, they’re going to be inspired by it and they’re going to rise up to it.”

Will swallowed as he thought through what she said. “You got her for me?”

“Will, I’m going to remind you what the two of us can do. I’m going to earn your trust back in this and show you who you can be. Just watch, Will. Trust me. This is going to be the best show you’ve ever done.”

Will didn’t know what to say. He believed her. How could anyone not believe her when she got like that? Or at least not want to believe her? But part of him wondered when it would happen, when would she run from him again, when would she betray him, how would it happen this time? But he also believed that she wanted this and that she wanted this with him. And he knew that he wanted it. He wanted to do the news the way she wanted to do it, because she inspires something in him that no one else ever has. But the idea of it, of her, hurt. It hurt.

“What are you thinking Will?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think it’s possible.”

“Tomorrow is probably the most important day of my professional life because I’m going to show you that it is. Just watch, Will, it is and you’re going to be part of it.”

“You really want this for me?”

Mac smiled, hoping that he could hear it in her voice. “I told you before that I’m here to save your soul as well as your show. I’ve done a lot to hurt you, so I want to give you this more than anything.”

“Okay, you got your episode. Show me what you can do.” He could swear he heard her smile into the phone. Will pressed end on his phone and double checked to be sure it disconnected, then put his phone in his pocket for good measure. He felt his eyes watering a little as he felt regret. He knew it was silly, but with no one around, he said, “And, Mac, good job getting Brewer. I don’t know anyone else who could have.”

Will sat down at his table and picked up the first staff file. She wants this win for him. She believes in him. Even if she runs away in a few months, maybe what she sees in him does exist. Maybe if he can tap into that, then when she leaves and he gets a new EP, he’ll end up with a better show. Maybe.

Will finally went to bed at 1AM and at 3 woke up to a dream of everyone at work laughing at him or feeling sorry for him. He reached for his phone, ready to call Mac to ask her not to tell anyone why they broke up. He couldn’t take the chance that he would have to face that humiliation, that anyone else would ever know that he was her second choice, that there was another man who for a time was important enough to her that she put what they had in jeopardy. He has to face that every time he sees her. More people knowing, and talking and asking well-meaning questions. He couldn’t deal with that idea. Her phone went straight to voicemail, so he hung up and tried to go back to sleep.

Chapter Text

April 23, 2010 11:12PM

Will felt like shit. The whole ride home, he replayed the day in his mind. The conversation with Reese, the push and pull between what Mackenzie wanted to do and what Reese wanted. It felt like a tug of war between good and evil, God and Satan, if he believed in such shit. His mother did when he was growing up, that’s close enough. Damn it, he wants it to succeed. He wants the show that she says she can produce. And despite the fucking mess she put on, he knows that if anyone can do it, it’s Mackenzie McHale.

But it comes with a price. A high price. It’s not just the audience and the ratings. That’s part of it; of course that’s part of it. That’s why Reese is able to hold out that carrot to him, because he needs the fucking audience like Charlie needs bourbon. He needs them. His audience loves him and he can’t find that anywhere else. And he can’t let himself fall under her spell, because if there’s one thing he’s sure of, it’s that she doesn’t love him. But if he lets her in, if he lets her run his show, run the only part of his life that matters, he’s going to forget. He’s going to fall in love with her again and he can’t let that happen.

She ruined his life. For all her bravado about how she’s there to “save his soul as well as his show,” she ruined his life. She ruined his life and let the entire company know about it. Pilots – Charlie literally said Pilots – know that he wasn’t man enough for her; that she had to go to someone else. She embarrassed him in front of his colleagues, and then she embarrassed him on the air, in front of his audience. And it doesn’t matter that they were mistakes, she made people pity him. Charlie pitied him. The blonde girl… Maggie pitied him. What did she mean that someone cheated right on top of her?

Before Will could imagine what that meant, he greeted his doorman. When Manny mentioned the show, Will was going to say that’s not the show they were supposed to do, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t the show they should have done. And she was right. They made a mistake. It must have been Maggie, the blonde one, that offered to go to 10:00 that did something that cost them the interview. It cost them the interview that Mac counted on as the centerpiece of the most important show she ever produced. That’s what she said. Mac wanted it to work. For him. Mac wanted to put together a good show for his benefit.

Before he could let that thought sink in and wonder if she felt like shit too, his elevator dinged and the door opened. He was home. Alone. She was right about that too. Last night during their fight she said that when he was ready to join them in the fight for journalistic integrity, no one would be there. They wouldn’t care, they wouldn’t rally around him. And tonight, after he suffered through her fucking indignation, he turned around, looking for backup. And they were gone. There was no one there. He was just as alone then as he is now.

“Be the leader, Will. Be the integrity. Be the moral center of this show. Be the integrity.” Fuck. She believed in him. And fuck if he didn’t like the feeling of that. Charlie believed in him too, that’s why he was loyal to Charlie. He used to be loyal to Mac… for as long as he thought she was loyal to him. He looked around his apartment. That’s it. That’s the list of everyone who believes in Will McAvoy. Charlie and Mac.

“Be the integrity. Be the leader, Will.” It ran like a mantra through his head. Charlie told him to get it the fuck together. Charlie brought her in because he knows that she will bring out the best in Will. He has to lead. He has to show Charlie that he deserves the faith that has been put in him.

Having made a decision, he found the office directory, delivered with the staff files. No doubt Mac thought he should put the staff’s numbers in his phone. Neal Amani Sampat was passionate about helping a man get to work. He can start there. He can be a leader starting there. Neal’s name and phone number went into his phone and he called.

“Neal, it’s Will. I hope you don’t mind me calling so late. I got your number from – you know, there’s a booklet.”

“The office directory.”

“Yeah.”

This is the easy part. Even if he believes that immigrants… no, he has to stay on track. This is the easy part. “That guy you found in Spokane. I want you to get in touch with him and tell him you’re gonna pay for a cab to take him to and from work. He should send you the receipts, then give them to me.”

Will took a breath as Neal gushed. He wanted to put this on the blog, whatever the fuck that is. Will made it clear that he doesn’t want credit. Less clear is Will’s desire to be the man that Charlie thinks he can be. The man that Mackenzie thinks he can be. He’s not doing this for her and he’s not doing this for Charlie. He wants to be that man. He wants to do something in this pitiful life that means something. He wants to be the leader. He wants to be the integrity. Just the way she said.

Now the hard part. He didn’t really have a plan, but he knew before calling that he would have to talk to her. He would have to say something to her. He wanted to do something first to show that he was going to be the integrity and the leader. He had to make that gesture before he could expect her to believe it. But he felt his heart pounding. It was the right thing to do and he knew it, but he didn’t want to do it.

“Is Mackenzie around there?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you put her on the phone?” To his own ear, he could tell that he was losing patience. The longer it took to get her on the phone, the more opportunity he had to hang up. He couldn’t do that. This was too important. She needed to know that he made a decision. She asked him, “Are you in or are you out?” He couldn’t bare the thought that she might not know that he made the decision. He as going to be the person she thought he could be. He was going to be the leader. He was going to be the integrity. He had to let her know that she doesn’t have to save his soul, he was choosing to save himself.

“Sure.”

Mac felt like shit. Jim invited her over after the show and she went even though she wanted to be alone. So she sat at the back of the bar, away from the staff. She knew that Will felt the same way she did and she knew it was her fault. She was going to reclaim him for journalism. She was going to save his show and teach everyone else how to do the news. She was going to make him the man she always dreamed he was. And she couldn’t even pull it off once. She had to be the leader, to go out with the staff and make those connections. She had to show them that they were fighting the good fight. But she couldn’t put her heart into it. She was fighting for Will’s soul, but they weren’t. At some point they would have to ask themselves what they’re fighting for and they won’t have an answer. Hell, she wasn’t even sure if the Will she remembered was still there under all that hurt and anger he harbored for her.

He wants this. She knows that, even if he doesn’t know it yet, he does. He wants this as much as she does. And she’s the only person who can bring it out of him because she knows that it’s there. No one knows him the way she does. She fucked it all up. But Goddamn if she’s not going to figure out a way to fix it. He’s got a weekend. She’s not going to push. He’s got a weekend to make up his mind. He wants this; he just has to realize it. And he will. Eventually. But she shouldn’t have pushed. She shouldn’t have fought with him last night. She has to keep things professional.

She didn’t notice Neal coming towards her until he extended his arm with his phone in his hand. He told her it was Will, so before taking the phone, she made the decision to take it all back. They have so much potential, this show has so much potential. She needs him to see it. She needs time. She has to walk back her ultimatum.

“I’m sorry… about everything. I’m just so sorry. There’s no way I can even--” It felt so shallow compared to the list of sins she was thinking of. It wasn’t enough to make up for the broadcast, let alone the three ring circus that was today. Or her declarations to him about saving him. She couldn’t even save herself, how the fuck was she going to save him?

The tone of her voice broke his heart. He’d never seen her cry except when she told him about… He’d never seen her cry except the day that she left him. He kicked her out. She apologized that day too.

He had to focus. Now more than ever, she needed to know what he called to tell her. He will lead this group of people that she wants to develop. He will be the integrity. “I’m in.” There, he said it. And she has to know that he doesn’t say anything that he doesn’t mean.

“What?”

“I’m in. I’ll see you on Monday.”

Mac didn’t know what the fuck was happening. But if he’s coming around, then she needed to see how much she could get. “Are you still gonna worry about the ratings?”

“Yes.”

“Still going to worry about being popular?”

“Yeah.”

“About being loved by strangers?”

Will was getting irritated. He was in. He was going to be the leader. He was going to be the integrity. What the fuck else did she want from him? “Are you gonna keep asking me questions that all mean the same thing?”

Mac smiled. He was in. He said the words and he doesn’t say anything that he doesn’t mean. He’s in. “Til I get the right answer.”

“I’m in.”

“There it is.” She would have liked to get more, but it was a start. It would be enough.

Chapter Text

April 24, 2010 10:07 AM

Mac lay in her tub, relaxing. She usually doesn’t do this, but after the horrible week she had, she felt like she deserved it. She needed to get some new furniture, but this was important now. Maybe accepting Charlie’s offer to work with Will again was a bad idea. She always knew it was, she knew that he didn’t really want to work with her again, she assumed Charlie strong-armed him into it. Which he kinda did, he just didn’t face Will head on. She thought that she’d be able to help him recapture his love for the news and with enough time, he’d realize he still loved her and they would reunite. Her sister called her naïve. Mac couldn’t disagree anymore. Will has made it absolutely clear that he wants nothing to do with her and, well, she doesn’t know what to make of his “I’m in” call. She’s not going to believe him until he shows her, and what’s the chance that he will show her anything? No one knows when big news will come up. And if something did come up, she can’t guess anymore what Will will do.

She should call Charlie and tell him she’s done. It’s not worth this. She can still produce fucking Lunch. Shows like that don’t come around everyday, Mac eyerolled. Mac felt herself biting her bottom lip and laughing at the absurdity. She spent 3 years in a warzone, unable to get over this man and a half-week with him and she’s ready to walk away for the worst show idea she’s ever heard. And the worst part is, her therapist would probably say that’s the healthy choice.

Mac’s eyes went heavenward, “Come on God, just give me a sign.” Mac let her head fall back to rest on the water and let out a long breath. Just as she was starting to feel relaxed, she heard her phone ring. She let out a humorless laugh, “Maybe it’s God.” She reached over for the phone and saw Will’s name on the caller id. “No, it’s only a person who thinks he’s fucking God.” She put the phone down, not wanting to deal with whatever bullshit he had prepared for her.

Will listened to her phone ring getting more and more irritated. Why the fuck wasn’t she picking up? What could she possibly be doing on a Saturday that’s more important than this? He hadn’t slept at all the previous night. Every time he tried he heard her voice in his head demanding him to be the leader, be the integrity. Around 2AM he was on his 4th beer and decided on his plan of action. He just finished and now he had to tell her what he did.

When the phone went to voicemail, he hung up and texted, “Call me.”

Mac heard the text come in and looked at the message. Two words. She was going to finish her bath, he would have to wait for her convenience. She laid her head against the bath wall. Unless there’s a big news emergency and they need to go to work. No, it’s not going to be anything like that, she would have gotten a news alert. Mac took a deep breath to relax. After a couple seconds, she realized she could text Jim and see if anything is going on. No there’s no reason to do that, if there’s something important happening, she’ll start getting calls from a lot of people. She put her head back again and took another relaxing breath.

She could check the AP website, they would be the first to run a story. A quick peek and she would know if she needs to go to work or if sometime after this bath, that will relax her, she has to call Will. She looked at her phone, determined that Will will not take away her bath time. If there’s something happening, then her phone would be ringing off the hook. And it’s not. She doesn’t need to check on world events. She doesn’t need to call Will back like she’s some sort of dog responding to her master. And Will isn’t going to ruin her fucking bath time. She put her head back and took a cleansing breath. As she closed her eyes, the phone beeped to tell her another text came in.

She knew it was from Will. Her deep cleansing breaths started coming a little faster. And there was more of a heave in them. It occurred to her that maybe it wasn’t Will. It could be work. For all she knows, North Korea could have a bomb on it’s way to New York. The end of the earth may literally be coming and her end would be coaching Will through the newscast.

Or it could be a message telling her about student loan forgiveness even though she doesn’t have any loans, she’s been getting a lot of those recently. She tilted her head back, and even though she knew she was going through the motions, damn it, she was going to fucking relax. She wondered what time it was in London, maybe her parents were calling. They’re 6 hours ahead, so if it’s 10 here, then two hours to make it noon. Two minus six is 4. Add that to noon and…. Oh who gives a fuck!

She grabbed her phone. “Mac, where are you?”

It was fucking Will. She knew it. And now she knew her bath was ruined, so she called him back.

“What do you want?”

Will smiled at the phone. “I got the interview. Jan Brewer is going to do our show on Monday. I even took care of the pre-interview so there can’t be anymore fuck ups.”

Mac wasn’t sure what she was hearing. “You got the… what the… You didn’t go all the way to Arizona to rekindle whatever you had with her did you?”

Will laughed. “I didn’t go to Arizona. I called her up and told her that unless she came on the show, the only people who our audience would recognize as being in support of her law were the sub humans we had on yesterday. As it turns out, she didn’t want them as her spokespeople.”

“You got Jan Brewer.”

Will nodded his head. “Um-hmm.”

“I, I got to say Will that I’m surprised.”

He had planned for this moment. There were so many things that he could say. He knew that she was disappointed and he wanted to give her the shot she wanted. He wanted to be the man that she wanted him to be, because that is a better man than he’s ever been. She deserved this after the hell he put her through. But instead, he simply said, “I told you yesterday that I’m in. Now I’m showing you.” He took a breath and said, “I’ll see you Monday, Mac.”