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Off the Record

Chapter Text

“Career politician?” He asks without introduction, leaning into the space between them.

She glances over at him, considers ignoring him, but then he grins at her, suddenly looking sweet, almost boyish, much younger than the well tailored suit suggests.

“No.” She's not shrugging him off, not writing him off completely, but technically she's here for work even if she is off the clock, even if she's the only one from the office her boss had invited. He had thought she might want to rub some elbows he had said, like she hadn't spent part of her teenage years as her father's shadow at events like this, like she hadn't already met half the people in the room. It was a political fundraiser, something that had ceased to impress her years ago, but she's wearing her wide-eyed impressed look, nodding at whatever seemingly witty remark her boss makes as she trails along in his wake. Or she had been until someone had skirted the line to speak to her.

“Not yet.” He proffers and she glances at him again with a quick shake of her head.

“Not a politician. Not a diplomat.” She knows she sounds bored. She is bored. She should be pretending she isn’t, but he hasn't seemed to notice, doesn't seem to care, so she doesn't bother pretending otherwise.

“What then?” He smiles, more charming but just as at ease. He's young, not as young as she is, but he's younger than the rest of the men here and he hasn't seemed to notice. He's comfortable in his own skin, wearing his tux with the ease and confidence she's hoping to exude as she resists the urge to tug at the strap of her dress.

It wasn't the dress that was making her uncomfortable. She had worn it before, worn it to events like this, had packed it carefully on top of the rest of her clothes, being sure not to let it wrinkle in her suitcase, knowing one of her father's old friends might call with an offer for lunch, a chance to do some networking at a dinner party. It was her role, listen don't speak, and the disquiet she still felt at being back on American soil after two years abroad, that made her want to slip away, slide into something less conspicuous.

“I'm with CNN.” They're the same words she's used every day for the last few weeks, parroting them in the clipped tones of the producers in the newsroom. It's an automatic reply, one she realizes is wholly incomplete when he raises his eyebrows, waiting for more.

“News producer.” She feels compelled to add, smiling politely to cover the slip. She hadn't wanted to give that much away. She hadn't wanted to get sucked into a conversation with a stranger when she was supposed to be working.

“Not a reporter then?”

She laughs at that, genuine amusement bubbling up at his cautious optimism. He's relieved, but not, she thinks, because of any animus toward the press. He seems genuinely interested and not the least bit disappointed that she hadn't confessed to being part of a diplomatic envoy.

“Not a fan?” She means it as a bit of a tease but he takes her seriously, answering honestly without hesitation.

“I have to be careful right now.”

“Oh.” She smiles again, politely, not quite understanding, but knowing it wouldn't be wise to ask. You don't ask someone why they’re being hounded by the press, especially not someone you’ve just met.

She sees his eyebrows rise. It's a more restrained gesture this time, professional curiosity she realizes. She had caught him off guard before, although she can't imagine why.

“You have no idea who I am.”

She can't deny it outright, it's too flimsy a lie to hold up to any amount of scrutiny, but she doesn't want to bruise his ego, even if it seems, refreshingly, he may not mind that what he's said is true.

“I haven't been here very long. The States.” She clarifies quickly, lest he think she means the party.

She's expecting the usual response, the skeptical look, a question or two about her nationality. Already he had surprised her by not asking which bureau she belonged to. It would be out of the ordinary, but not entirely unheard of, to have foreign coverage of an event like this. Already tonight she’s fielded half a dozen questions. His certainly wouldn't be the last, but he refrains, holding out his hand instead.

“Will McAvoy, with the DA’s office.”

She takes his hand automatically. His palm is warm against hers and for a moment she doesn't realize that he's chuckled. It must have shown on her face, her confusion giving way to startled respect as she realizes who he is.

“You’re younger than I expected. You, your case,” She fumbles, stumbles again for a second, wondering if she should apologize, wondering if she can without digging herself a bigger hole. “It's been all over the papers.”

“And TV.” He says lightly, taking her misstep in stride, gently redirecting the conversation, adding his own clarification. “It was a byproduct of wanting to get the hell out of dodge. I graduated early. People tend to chalk it up to ambition but I'll let you in on a secret.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?” She asks, returning his smile, equal parts relieved and amused, finds herself leaning closer. “I do have a press badge.”

“Off the record then.” He says it so easily, so casually, she wonders if his play at caution earlier had been for show and yet she doubts it. She knows he’s been hounded by the press, no one has managed to get him on the record, few reporters had managed a no comment, his silence was adding fuel to the fire, yet here he was talking to her.

“Off the record.” She echoes back instinctively, unwilling to risk him clamming up. She wanted to hear what he had to say, not out of any sort of professional curiosity, they're both past that she thinks, but out of genuine personal interest.

“There's too much corn in Nebraska.” He confides in a whisper and for a moment she's too startled to say anything and then she laughs. She laughs and then bites her lip to stop herself, the sheepish look on his face a charming apology for the heads they're turning.

“No one laughs at that.” He says with genuine surprise after a moment. “It's a stupid thing to say and not at all true.”

“It isn't?” She asks because she thinks perhaps he isn't exaggerating as much as he says he is. If it wasn't the corn, there was too much of something in Nebraska, certainly enough to send him running straight through law school. She couldn't be sure, the papers weren't specific, but she knew he had been with the DA's office for five years, and she can't imagine him being much more than thirty.

“Not entirely. The corn can be kind of beautiful if you like that kind of thing.”

“I've never,” she says because it only seems right to match his honesty with her own, “seen corn growing. Not in person. I've seen it on film of course, but I've never seen it.”

“Never driven around upstate?”

“Just the Finger Lakes, wine country. I spent a long weekend there once. There wasn't much to do.”

“Not recently then?”

“No, oh.” She adds realizing how much she's given away. Normally she wasn't embarrassed by being the youngest person in the room, she had an impressive resume, but it paled in comparison to his. While he was trying the city's biggest case of the year, she would be lucky if they let her see the copy for the morning broadcast. “I was in high school.”

“No weekend long wine tour then?”

“Not really my thing.” She replies with a half shrug, feeling a bit self-conscious. It wasn't a fair assessment. She hadn't drunk much since her twenty first birthday earlier in the year, hadn't drunk much more than cheap beer at university before that. She liked wine, she was pretty sure, but she didn't know how she felt about wine tours.

“Grape pie?” He seems hopeful about this, delighted by her possible culinary exploits.

“Yes.” She smiles with a slow grin, eyes crinkling as his excitement. There's a part of her that wants to say more, encourage him to continue, but she can't seem to find the words to string together, an awkward saving grace.

“So not an entirely wasted trip.”

“No,” she says trying to tamp down on the smile that's still growing. She knows she should stop, that at best she looks like a fawning idiot, at worst anyone who glances over will think that they're flirting. She should stop but it takes a concerted effort, a quick glance around the room, to get herself back under control.

“Mark seems to have gotten lost.”He  comments, mistaking her scan of the room for concern.


“Your colleague.” He clarifies and she feels the sting of embarrassment as she realizes he's referring to her boss.

“I'm an intern.” She doesn't know why she says it other than she doesn't want him thinking she's getting ahead of herself, putting herself on the same level as Mark Draper.

“I know.” He doesn't seem bothered by the fact. If anything, it seems to soften his opinion of her. “I expect he'll be jealous you talked to me.”

“Mark,” it feels weird to say his name, to be talking about her boss like this, like they knew each other personally, like he hadn't asked her along because people like Will McAvoy were more likely to open up to a young doe-eyed girl with an English accent than they were to a stodgy old man. “is-”

“Is either hoping you would run into me or could never imagine that you might.” He fills in for her and she looks away to hide the heat she feels rising to her face.

He wasn't wrong but she would never say so, never say something like that, especially not here in a room of her father's friends and colleagues, in a room full of what she hopes are future sources.

“It's all right. I'm allowed to say stuff like that.”

She sees him smiling at her out of the corner of her eye and turns back toward him, not quite looking at him. “He's a great journalist.”

“Yes, he is.” Will agrees and she offers him a shy smile, relieved to be back on safer ground.

“I should-” She nods toward the rest of the room, hesitating even after she spots Mark along the far wall deep in conversation with a journalist she recognizes from NBC.

“Do you have a card?” Will asks as she shifts back, stepping away to reestablish a more professional distance between the two of them.

“A card?” For a second she can't imagine what he means and then she remembers the small stack of business cards she'd had printed last week at the behest of one of the more senior interns. She would need them she'd been told. She would need them and she hadn't thought to carry any with her.

“I-” She should apologize but she winces instead, relieved when Will pulls out a business card and hands it to her before pulling out another along with a pen from inside his jacket.

“Do you have a phone set up where you're staying?”

“Yeah.” She nods almost following up with, I have to, before realizing she doesn't want to remind him she works for the press.

“Would you mind?” He turns the card over and holds it out to her with the pen.

She quickly scribbles her name, pauses over the number, double checking it before handing the card back to him.

“MacKenzie.” He reads and she smiles, feeling herself flush.

“I work late most days. Don't be afraid of calling. I'll still be up.” The flush deepens. She must look like an idiot, sound like one for suggesting he call her in the middle of the night but she doesn't take it back.

“Alright.” He offers her a quick smile, professional, proper, but there's something about it that makes her shiver. “It was nice to meet you, MacKenzie.”

“You too.” She keeps her smile demure, holds out her hand, carefully stepping back when he releases his grip. “Give me a call if you ever want to go on the record about the corn.”

It's a ridiculous thing to say but it makes him laugh, the sound of it following her across the room as she leaves him standing where he had found her, grinning.