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Badge of Honor

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Mackenzie

The guard left her cell and she took it in before sitting on the cot they gave her.  Immediately her mind went back to the last time she was on a similar thin mattress that lay on top a metal frame.  She remembered the feeling of banishment.  In that case, he banished her from his life and the exile felt like an appropriate punishment.  The fact that it came with soldiers, war and uncomfortable mattresses felt like piling on.  She took a deep breath and reminded herself, this time is different.  This time he married her.  At the end of ten days, or whatever time she spends here, he will welcome her back.  He will welcome her back into the life they created. 

They only had a few conversations about her time there.  Neither wanted to talk about it.  She didn’t want to relive it, so he didn’t probe unless provoked.  Although she always wondered if he skirted the issue for another reason.  As well as she knows him, he never wanted to look her in the eye when it came up.  He offered to talk when she had nightmares or after particularly upsetting news items, but never because he wanted to, she assumed because he knew she didn’t want to talk about it. 

She sat down on the cot, remembering nights in the desert.  She closed her eyes and reminded herself that this wasn’t a penance, not this time.  This time, what did Neal call it?  A badge of honor.  This time sleeping on this paper thin mattress far from Will, though less far in all ways than last time, this time she should consider it a badge of honor.   She bit her bottom lip as she remembered Neal’s pride when he used those words.  That passion for the news, he learned that from her.  She takes pride in that, in knowing that she has this kind of influence over the next generation of journalists. 

And because she had that influence, she had to take this particular badge.  The name Neal Sampat wouldn’t garner the attention this needed.  The FBI violated a newsroom, they came against the 1st amendment rights given to the 4th estate and everyone should be outraged.  Will can keep the spotlight on the injustice.  At least that’s what she told him to do.  She offered it as a compromise so he didn’t go to the FBI demanding to take her place, which would do nothing more than get them both here, but in separate cells. 

She remembered the day like it was yesterday.  Neal came back from the restroom and stood silent while everyone argued over what to do.  She signaled him to follow her to her office.  She got him to give up the name of the source, promising that she wouldn’t give it up under any circumstances.  Will eventually took a head count and saw that they left and went to her office, asking what she did.  When she explained, he told Neal to hide for a little while, don’t make contact.  He forbade her from giving any money.  He shook Neal’s hand before he left.  And when Mac told the FBI she had the informant’s name, Will immediately said he did too until she called him on it.  Rebecca sorted it out and told Mac under no circumstances could she give the name to Will or anyone else.  And she didn’t. 

Mac smiled at herself, she shouldn’t feel this proud of getting one over on her chosen life partner, now her husband, and she thought for a little while he would banish her again for this.  But Neal said it the right way, she considered it a badge of honor.  She paid her penance for hurting Will.  She paid her penance for Genoa.  This time, she took pride in the distance and what the government considered a punishment. 

This badge required a sacrifice, but one that she would willingly pay.  She’s sacrificing 10 days away from Will who will fight for her every day she’s gone.  She’s sacrificing the June wedding she’s always dreamed of having.  She’s sacrificing the comforts of home, even in its current state.  But she welcomes the fight for integrity. 

Neal

Run.  Will gave him a one word instruction and while he wanted to stay and fight, the look on Will’s face told him this fight belonged to Will and Mac.  They would have more resources and weapons to wield than a social media guy.  Even on this bus he wondered if he made the right choice.  He thought back to the 7/7 attack.  That day a stranger told him what to do and he did it unquestioningly.  A couple weeks ago, Will told him to run and he followed the order the same way.  He didn’t argue, he didn’t question, he didn’t fight to take the heat himself as he intended.  Instead he allowed Will and Mac to stand in front of him and shield him.  And now here he is, in a foreign country reading an ACN news headline that Mac surrendered herself to the government. 

He spent the last few weeks hopping buses every few days just to get somewhere else.  He arrived in Mexico at least a week ago and kept going, feeling watched everywhere he went.  He wondered if everyone who runs from law enforcement feels that way all the time.  Do they ever feel comfortable again?  Will he? 

Will won’t let Mac stay in prison for long.  He shouldn’t even ask himself that question.  Will won’t let it happen.  If Neal could get a message to her, he would tell her to give up the name.  He’d give it up himself if it wouldn’t still land him in a cell.  Mac took a stand for all of journalism, the stand that Neal himself should have taken.  The stand he cowardly stopped himself from taking.  Now it’s up to Will.  Will won’t let her stay there.  That’s the only redeeming quality of this whole situation.  Will will get her out.  He’ll bust her out himself if he has to.  Neal wondered how it happened, how Mac ended up there.  Not that it mattered, it’s his fault Mac is there and now he has to wait for Will to find a way to fix this.  Mac won’t give up the name; she won’t help herself.  But Will?  He’s going to move heaven and earth to get her out. 

As the bus continued down the dirt road, jiggling Neal on its route, Neal thought about another question.  What happens when Mac does get out of jail and all this blows over?  Will he have a job?  A place to live?  Before Mac went to jail he thought he’d go back to ACN and imagined arriving to a hero’s welcome.  But he’s the reason she’s there.  He’s the reason that Will has to fight for her.  No one will forget that.  He’s not sure he will forgive himself, how can any of them?

He doesn’t know what comes next.  All he knows is that he has to keep running.   

Will

He watched them walk her out of the courthouse and took a second to compose himself.  He felt his breath heavy in his chest, his hand clenching and unclenching, his jaw shut tight.  This was fucking unbelievable.  It should have been him.  He should have seen it before she did.  He should have ushered Neal out and gotten the name.  He should have known she would ask for the name before she sent him away and he should have claimed knowledge of it before she had the chance.  But he didn’t.  He thought he knew everything about her.  He thought he could anticipate her moves as easily as she did his.  She told him later that when she realized what Neal did, she tried to imagine what Will would do and did exactly that.  Except for almost giving Neal money, she got it exactly right.  She even fucking told the FBI that she knew the name without giving him a warning. 

And then, then, she was even more unbelievable.  She told him that if he decided to tell the FBI that he knew too, that they would both be in prison and no one would be able to fight for them with the same passion that he can.  She actually painted a picture of the great TV that would come from the heartbroken news anchor whose fiancé sat in prison.  His Mackenzie!  Talking about making fucking good TV, telling him this story would bring him an audience.  He looked at her, waiting for her to laugh, but she didn’t.  He told her that didn’t fucking matter to him, he wants her with him.  In his ear.  Keeping him together because he can’t imagine doing the news or life or anything else without her.  She told him very plainly that he’d have to hurry up and get her out. 

He meant it as a joke.  He smirked when he told her that telling the audience his wife, his new bride, went to jail to fight for something important would play better than saying his fiancé.  She didn’t miss a beat.  If he had given his statement any forethought he would have expected her reply, but he didn’t.  She said very seriously, “Then I guess we should get married before I go shouldn’t we?”  He laughed again and when she didn’t, he reminded her of the arrangements and plans.  Her family had tickets to come from all corners of the earth.  She had dress fittings and as he listed off all the things she wouldn’t have, she simply said, “All I want is to be your bride.”  He never had a decision to make, but if he did, that made it for him.  Her husband, how could he ever want any other identity?  The husband of most beautiful, courageous, funny, loving person he ever met. 

He should have taken this bullet.  Just a couple minutes earlier and he would have.  He should have put a stop to this.  He should have his wife standing next to him, directing him, going home with him.  How the fuck did he let this get so out of hand?

Sloane, Maggie and Don

They met Mac in the makeshift bride’s room, already dressed in the most beautiful dress than Sloane had ever seen and the most expensive dress that Maggie had seen.  The women ran up to Mac and hugged and squealed, as Don would call it when he recounted the story and poked fun at them.  He stood and watched the three most incredible women he ever met.  He admired so much about Mac. Actually, he felt jealousy towards her.  He could only wish he had a tenth of the talent and passion that she has for the news.  With her gone, people will look to him as the senior most EP and he knew that he couldn’t fill her Louboutins.  Over the last year or so, Maggie turned into the strongest women he ever met.  When they dated, he would have seen that as a turn off.  But now, since his relationship with Sloane began, he appreciates that strength in ways he never imagined.  He smiled as Sloane wiped a tear from her eye.  For the first time ever he saw what he wanted, and he wants what Will has.  He wants the half built home with a woman he loves… admires… respects.  He wants the life that caused Will to give up his bachelordom.  He wants the passion for his work that Mac embodies in everything she does.  He even wants people who would cry for him leaving. 

Sloane loosed her embrace from Mac and wiped the tears from her eyes.  She made an excuse, not sure if she cried for the friend she’ll miss or the marriage she would stand up for in a couple minutes.  Once upon a time Mac asked her if she had any human feelings.  As it turns out, she does, she just doesn’t know what they are. 

Maggie hugged Mac and whispered to her that this is a happy occasion and as such, she will not cry.  She refuses to.  Mac gave a brilliant smile as she said she believed the young woman.  Mac looked at her again.  Of all the people in the newsroom who she poured herself into, Maggie more than any reminds her most of herself.  The parallels started the first day they met when Maggie showed loyalty to Will, a little flightiness, and a doomed love affair.  She hoped that Maggie would not repeat her own mistakes when she found herself in a triangle, unfortunately for Maggie, she made her own mistakes.  Her penance came in Africa.  And she changed.  She became grounded.  She stopped laughing and enjoying life.  She figured out how to survive.  But the news brought her back to life.  Yes, Maggie more than anyone resembled Mac herself.  And Mac hoped more than anything that Maggie would find her happy ending. 

Don heard a knock at the door and opened it, finding Charlie on the other side.  When he closed the door he asked the group if they were ready and escorted Maggie to the sanctuary so Mac and her best friend could take their places at the back of the chapel.  Sloane saw Don and Maggie about to leave and commented on the strangeness of their relationships.  Mac said she believed in forgiveness and moving on.  She said she believed in second chances while playing with the engagement ring that sat on her finger. 

Don got Maggie to her seat and went to find one of his own.  When Jim came in, he pointed out Maggie.  In the back of the church, Sloane promised Mac that she would watch Will for her, make sure he doesn’t go too far off the deep end.  She hugged her best friend one more time and said how happy she was for Mac.  Charlie heard the music and told Sloane to start her march and when his turn came to walk her down the aisle, her repeated the statement adding that she will make Will a happy, happy man. 

Charlie

He gave the bride away.  He’d given away his own daughter, but couldn’t be prouder to give this bride to this groom, his best friend.  The woman who saved his friend’s soul got taken away because she fought for something any of them would have.  Charlie swelled with pride. 

He’d have to take Will out for drinks.  He’d have to let Mac know how hard Will fought for her, while skirting around questions about his well-being.  Charlie remembered the first time he met Mac.  They bonded over their different but mutual love for the stubborn anchor.  Then they bonded over their belief in telling the news well.  And in this moment, he knows in a way that not even Will does what this day means to Mac.  She married the man they both love.  She defied the law in order to stand up for her journalistic integrity. 

Will already decided that he would go on the air tonight.  Charlie would make sure to stay by Jim to reel in Will when necessary.  But while the crew mourned the temporary loss of their leader, their EP, Charlie intended to celebrate and lift a toast to the woman who got to do what the rest of them wished they could.  Will can champion her cause and Jim can act as her stand in, but Charlie will spend the rest of the day and evening as her proud papa.  And then he’ll spend the rest of the next ten days nursing his best friend through it. 

He met Mac and they bonded over their love for Will and their love of the news.  Now, he’ll bond with Will over their mutual but different love for Mac and her love for the news. 

Jim and Will

Jim stayed well behind Will as the anchor leaned again wall, hunched over after watching Mac leave with an escort of armed guards.  He knew the older man well enough to know that he wanted his space.  Mac explained to him that Will wants to protect everyone so he would see her sentence as a negligence of his duty instead of her badge of honor.  Jim assumed Mac told Will that, and he scoffed at it each time. 

Once Will stood straight again and began walking, Jim called his name and caught up.  Jim told him that Sloane could cover the show if he needed a night off.  Of course he wouldn’t take it, but Jim hoped he would, not only for the sanity of the new husband, but to ease Jim into trying to fill Mac’s shoes.  Jim worked with Mac his entire professional career, he believed in his ability to mimic her decisions, but he knew that he couldn’t handle Will the way she did. 

Jim nodded his head as the two walked out together.  Will went to his car and eventually signaled for Jim to join him.  The two sat in silence, Jim looking out his window and Will stewing as he looked straight ahead.  When the car stopped at the ACN building, Jim looked at Will and said, “She’s been through worse, you know.”

Will closed his eyes and to Jim’s eyes he looked like he could get sick.  Slowly he nodded his head.  It finally occurred to Jim that Will carried the guilt of not protecting her when she needed him most.  “She made it through.  She’s a fighter.”  Will didn’t say anything.  “We’re going to get her through this.”  Will’s eyes closed and Jim watched a tear fall from his left one.  Will needed another minute.  Jim could give that to him. 

The show went exactly as planned.  Charlie stationed himself in the control room in case Jim needed help with Will.  They started with the story of a journalist going to prison to protect a source.  Jim decided to assign that story to a new reporter who could remain more unbiased than the rest of the team.  Will kept professional and moved to the next story and through each block without any issues. Jim called for the editorial that he and Will wrote for the day, a carefully crafted statement about the necessity of the first amendment.  But instead, Jim heard his anchor -- Mac’s anchor, News Night belongs to Mac, Jim’s just babysitting – say.  “As you heard at the top of the hour, News Night’s own executive producer currently sits in prison so that she can protect the identity of a source.  What we didn’t say, because we wanted to remain as unbiased as possible, is that Mackenzie Morgan McHale became Mrs. McAvoy earlier today in a civil ceremony.  She sacrificed her dreams of a fairy tale wedding, her freedom and her comforts because she believes so strongly in the mission of journalistic integrity.  So while the government continues to hold hostage one of the finest journalists and people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, News Night will end each broadcast with a reminder of how long she has spent away from her newsroom, her friends and yes, even the new husband who doesn’t know how he’ll live without her.  So this is News Night on the first night of the unjust detention of a journalist.”

Charlie looked at Jim and said he would talk to Will.  At the end of that conversation, Will walked past Jim and Jim called out, “She wouldn’t want that, you know that.”

“Well I don’t want her there.”

Will entered the elevator and found his car without another word.  He went to his building and Manny greeted him, apologizing for Mac’s detention.  Will ascended the floors in another elevator and when the door opened, he stood in his old apartment.  They kept it for storage until the renovations finished in their place.  He couldn’t face their place, not without her.  He told himself that he wanted to be here because it had power everywhere and finished walls, table and chairs.  But the fact is, she hated this place.  She didn’t want him to keep it, she offered to use her apartment for storage.  But he insisted.  Paperwork or some shit excuse that he made.  Back then, it wanted a place to run, in case he needed it.  Now he needed it.  But when he stepped into the baron and dark area, he knew that he could never mistake this place for home.  He only ever used this place to sleep after work, he never considered it home.  She was home to him, this simply made it possible for him to exist.  He lay in bed, on her side, trying to get comfortable. 

Mackenzie

She didn’t want to watch News Night, didn’t even think that she’d get a chance to.  Will made sure she didn’t get placed with the general population because he feared for her safety.  When they told Rebecca their plans to wed that day, Will reminded the lawyer that as the wife of a former prosecutor, Mac should have additional protections.  Rebecca nodded her head, tamping down whatever smart aleck comment she had out of respect for the couple.  But from her cell, Mac saw it.  She saw the finger prints that she left throughout the broadcast.  The end of it, hearing the desperation in Will’s voice, nearly made her cry.  She lay on her cot, so similar to the one in the place where she won her Pulitzers.  She reminded herself that today she earned her badge of honor.