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Tectonic Shift, Then Impact

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“Hey, I left my pass up there. Come let me up.”

“It's two in the morning,” he counters sharply, shrugging before he takes aim across the room with crumpled notepaper in his hand and the phone wedged between shoulder and ear. Swish. Two points in the corner can, nothin' but grated garbage can. So long, goodbye to Tuesday's copy. The version she'd diced up with a red pen of a knife six hours before – not that it'd been the first time. Wouldn't be the last, he's sure. He's sure he's got a fair number of days ahead of him in which Ms Mac McHale is gonna re-write his ass off.

Mac makes a sardonic chuff of a sound over the phone line and it makes him half grin, just solely because he likes to razz the hell out of her. “You're the one still at work and you're going to lecture me on - ”

“Why are you back here?” Will rips another scribbled up page off the legal pad, crumpling the yellow and switching the phone so he's gotta make the shot with his non-dominant hand. “I mean - ”

“Can we continue this face to face, please?”

Another two points, off the rim. “Mac - ”

“I can't go home, Billy.” Aaaaand that was a bit snappish, a bit sharper. Her voice had gone clipped and cold. “Brian and I... wesplitup.”

It's said so quickly that with the speed of her words and the nipping slash of her accent he can just barely make out that... Oh, shit... “Kenzie...”

Fuuuuuck. As much as he'd wanted it to happen he'd never realized how terrified he was of it actually happening, of what it would do to her, the fact that it would cause her pain.

“And I don't necessarily want to be alone. All right? Happy?” That's the crack of an uneven fault in her voice, that's the tectonic shift of her emotions. Her pride juts violently against a shock wave of sorrow and he can finally hear the smacked result of that collision in her tone, in the way her voice cracks on the last four syllables.

Happy? Of course he isn't, for fuck's sake.

She sounds devastated.

She sounds... like the rebound reverberation of a natural disaster.

Will exhales and drops his feet down, searching for his shoes as he nods once, despite the fact she can't see it. “Gimme five minutes.”

“Thank you.” She hangs up on him before he can answer.

 

 


 

 

He can tell she's been crying as soon as he sees her because he's not near as aloof or emotionally bankrupt as he likes people to assume. And he can obviously see that her eyes are puffy, her lips pressed tight, that her make-up is a mess. Not just the end-of-the-news-day sort of mess, either.

But he can also tell that she's gonna be stoic, stalwart, stubborn as a tree in the face of an oncoming hurricane: bowing but not bent. Because she's put on that dry and stiff uppity MacKenzie face. The one that's icily familiar to the stark black and white images he's seen of her father - images he'd secretly searched out after an upper level exec had passed commentary on her upbringing and something not very nice about "just because the old Ambassador thinks...". And he'd near instantly seen J. G. McHale in his memory, known exactly where to look to realize that Mac was the third from the left in the family photo that was linked to her father's Wikipedia page.

There are no fewer than three photos of her, varying ages, in the McHale related media he can suss from most CNN accessible archival databases.

Not that he has any particular reason to know that.

Not that he'd ever admit to having researched her father, for fuck's sake.

“Hey," he greets quietly, handing her pass over as he crosses the turnstiles at the security checkpoint.

Mac nods her appreciation as she takes it and gives it along to the guard, “Hey.”

“Couldn't let her in on a visitor's pass?”

He doesn't know this night guard and obviously neither does she because Mac wouldn't usually have an issue swindling her way back upstairs if it was one of the regular guys.

And especially not if she looked like she'd been crying, if she looked upset. Christ, half of the usual guys woulda tripped over each other offering to carry her up to their offices.

She charms them effortlessly, on the daily. Even if they've just gone out to grab a bite or a coffee while working on something she charms her way back. He watches it happen as she sails back through the gates, leaving a cup of something for one of them, sometimes a muffin or scone.

He'd once teased her about bribing them and she'd simply told him that her father taught her to treat anyone serving her as though she should be of service to them instead - because 'their sacrifice is the greater'.

(The fact she'd just shrugged and smiled winsomely as she'd said it had made him wanna fuck her right there, actually. She was double down adorable when she was being idealistic and naive.)

The guy at the desk just shrugs at him as he hands her pass back, seeming smug and enjoying the power trip he's been taking and Will wants to punch him square in the throat for making that a lesson on good deeds and unnecessary (unsolicited) punishment.

“You even know who this is?” he both questions and accuses, a hand waving in her direction as the night guard gives him a derisive look and watches them both pass through the turnstiles.

And he can hear MacKenzie's breath before she speaks, “Will- ”

“Look,” the guy says and dryly waves between the two of them, all lazy and lackadaisical. “She didn't have a pass. Now she does.”

“Seriously? You've gotta be - ”

“I just wanna go upstairs, okay?” Her hand grabs into his shirt sleeve once they're both through and he wishes it was any other situation, he wishes it was any other night but the one in which her boyfriend's pulverized her pride and heart at once. “Please, Will? It doesn't matter.”

It doesn't matter, not really. Not in the long run, not after the night she's had.

“You look like hell,” he murmurs as she drags him along toward the elevators. Rather, as he lets her tug him toward them, her fingers hooked up in the fabric.

She snorts and loosens her hold, her fingers stretching down his arm unconsciously before she puts more space between them. “Thanks so much.”

“What the fuck is Brenner's damage?”

“Please, not yet? I can't handle the macho-big-brother-I-told-you-so diatribe just yet.” Nor can she look at him it seems, her finger jabbing impatiently at the elevator button as they wait. “I've been with him almost two years and you've only known me -”

“Seven months,” he interrupts, voice still tweaking sharp after the Big Brother dig she's made.

“Exactly,” she agrees sharply and nods. He hears her sigh appreciation when their elevator car arrives and she can lean into it after the doors open. She's continuing as he steps in behind her and he has to focus on her words in close quarters because otherwise he's going to focus on everything else about her but what she's saying. “I'm not whatever it is you think I am, Will. I'm way worse.”

“I don't think you're anything but you, Mac.” He says it quietly and the otherwise low-toned humming of the elevator seems to underscore the seriousness of the conversation.

“You have a...” He has a crush but it's more than just a crush and she seems to know that somehow, to know when to bite the sentence in half and breath into a break. She pauses and patiently begins again, looking up at him with near tears in her eyes and it's twisting the fuck out of his guts. “You romanticize me. You have an image in your head.”

Will frowns down over her and not because he's angry with her or upset by where the conversation is going but more because he's absolutely livid and he could ably murder the man that's seemingly crushed her vivacious confidence in one night's time. The woman in front of him, staring up at him in a dry and musty elevator, is not the critically acclaimed MacKenzie McHale. “I'm looking at the only image of you I've got, Mac. And you look like shit.”

“He doesn't want me anymore.”

It's simply said and flat monotoned and it's a punch in the gut, one that has him just tugging her sharply into him for a hug and he's surprised that she responds to it so strongly, that she wraps around him and clutches closer as they get nearer to their floor.

He just exhales as he watches the floor numbers light, one after the other, his cheek pressed against the warmth of her hair. “Then he's a fucking idiot, MacKenzie.”

 


 

 

She leads the way to the shared office in silence and he's suddenly questioning everything that he's ever, ever, said about Brenner and what the fuck was that guy thinking?? Who in the hell would let her wander Washington DC looking and feeling so -

“What are you working on?”

He chuckles embarrassment and shrugs, “Honestly?”

She'll know if he's lying and the sardonic look on her face as she turns her head says that she's in no mood for playing around or asking twenty questions.

“Tomorrow's copy. Using your notes.”

She quirks him a look that's likely about as sweetly bemused as she'll give on the night she got dumped by her long-standing boyfriend and he shrugs sheepishly at her, just taking it in stride. “I'm just gonna sleep on the couch? You care?”

Does he care? Not in the goddamn least.

They share the spacious office area with their senior producer and their director, a couple other assistant producers, but none of their colleagues ever stay much later than needed. Will and Mac are the ones that inhabit the office like it's their safe haven home and lately it's been the both of them at once. More often now than it was when she first got assigned to their group, more often now that they've become a proverbial media tag-team. He just shrugs in answer to her question waves it off as he heads back toward his desk chair and flops back into it, forcing his body to stay relaxed even as tension cords her up tightly.

He side watches her reach for the coat rack as he stretches back and shifts around, making a show of getting comfortable so she doesn't start to feel self-conscious. “Jer's got that Bears blanket in the closet.”

“This is fine,” she tells him as she drops to a lumpy couch and cuddles up under a coat she's plucked from the rack instead.

His overcoat. Expensive, wool, and fully lined. Also fully spread out over her already.

Because it wasn't like he'd planned to wear it home or anything.

“Wake me up when you leave?” Her heels dump onto the floor one after the other and he can't help but study them as she nudges her purse nearer to them.

Something about her shoes scattered to the floor while she snuggles deeper in his coat has his lungs getting cramped and clamped and he clears his throat as quietly as he can, forces himself to look away from her. “Get some rest, Mac.”

“Will?”

“Hmmm?” And he still doesn't necessarily look at her, makes a show of bringing his notes closer and grabbing at a pen as he answers after her.

“Why wouldn't he want me anymore? I'm still... I mean... I just don't understand - ”

“I dunno, Mac,” he interrupts, unable to control how rasping his voice gets. “I don't understand how there's anyone in the world who doesn't wanna be with you.”

“Don't be a shit,” she tells him, her face pale but abruptly stern and absolutely fucking gorgeous. His chest pinches inward a little because the last thing he should be thinking is that even with her makeup a mess, hair loose, eyes dark, she's possibly one of the most beautiful women he knows up close and personal.

Will just gives her a blink, no apology or inflection of any kind. Nothing but quieted sincerity and the subtle silent assurance that he couldn't possibly be lying. “I'm being perfectly serious.”

But she's distracted (as she should be). And she's already closed her eyes against kindness and nestled her cheek farther down against the back of her hand and he thinks she looks wonderfully appropriate under the woolen weight of his coat, even if she is in emotional shock.

“Maybe I've changed,” she murmurs dejectedly and unknowingly breaks his heart apart.

“Maybe he's just an enormous asshole, sweetheart,” he counters in reply, unable to come up with any other reason that Brenner could have for not wanting this particularly spectacular woman beside him. “Get some sleep. I'll wake you up in time to change.”

“Thank you, Billy.”

She'll truly break his heart some day. This much he knows.

Because all she has to do to make him fall in love her with is be in pain and still thank him for being kind.

All she has to do is curl deeper under his coat and cry silently like he can't tell and all is well within their world.

All she has to do is trust him, solely him, with her sadness.