the stars are all exploding | the newsroom. jim/mackenzie.
He chooses being 6,000 miles away. It’s a chance worth taking. ϟ 1,450 words.
“’Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.’ Do you know what that means?”
Jim Harper is at least 880 miles from the center of the media universe when he first meets MacKenzie McHale. Her outstretched hand is met with his firm handshake, and he’s grinning from ear to ear without a second thought. He’s spent nights wondering if she’s normal as he claims to be, albeit with a Peabody gleaming on one of the shelves in her apartment. He’s rotted in Atlanta for a year, and now the media elite has come for him.
He chooses being 6,000 miles away. It’s a chance worth taking.
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq roll into one. The Middle East is theirs for the taking, as Mac both cynically and positively puts it after a few months. America is treated to pictures of burning cities and war-torn nations by journalists who aren’t willing to turn their eyes and ears to all sides of the discussion. What can a nation like the United States do but the right thing?
The unit’s morale is low, and even journalism’s most American executive producer can’t sway Jim completely with her terrifyingly genuine pep talks. The soldiers start their restless nights, and he does too; it’s unavoidable, when there are so many sides to examine, so many lies being manipulated into truths.
“What are we doing?” A headset is hanging around his neck as he lies in his bunk, wires tangled – not that he realizes he never took it off after evening coverage. MacKenzie is below him, on the floor, wide awake in her cot. He doesn’t look to see if she is; the insomnia has snuck up on her too.
“I don’t know,” she whispers into the darkness. “Maybe that’s the point. Maybe we aren’t supposed to know.”
“Okay,” is all he says. That’s all he needs. Their uncertainty is enough of a reason to continue.
Islamabad is a gigantic rush of violence they’re all unprepared for. Protesters are silenced; journalists are shaken. MacKenzie is never one to back down from a challenge, and Jim is never one to refuse her demands. He loses sight of her for a split second, and then she’s on the ground, her fingers suddenly stained red.
She refuses anesthesia from a military doctor because it would keep her from continuing protest coverage. Her stitches are sloppily done as she yells for the nurse to hurry, even as Jim apologizes over and over again and offers to take her place for the night. He knows she’d never let him – not because she doesn’t trust him, but because she doesn’t trust herself to handle him replacing her for even a night well.
The piece on the protest gets her a second Peabody. She tells him later that the nasty scar was worth it.
Will McAvoy crashes into his orbit without warning. His new executive producer has him on a sinking ship, and Jim had stopped watching after MacKenzie left for the Middle East. He can wax poetic about Mac’s brilliance for days, but he’s sure Will can be equally brilliant when he chooses to be.
He stumbles upon Mac’s emails by accident. He doesn’t see any responses, no hopes for success or worries about narrowly missed bullets.
He spends nearly twenty-four hours of his days with Mac; the only lapses in time are the few minutes of sleep he manages to get. Standing hours are mostly professional and full of invaluable experience, and sometimes the hours in his bunk are speckled with small jokes, whispered laughs and smiles he can’t see through the blackness.
She never mentions Will. He never asks.
In the midst of the Green Zone, Jim realizes how long it’s been since Atlanta – how much of his life has been consumed by a war he doesn’t think his country should be fighting. MacKenzie is his best friend, but not his equal; he’s alright with that.
They don’t share secrets; the fact that the both of them consider it unnecessary is obvious, but remains unsaid. Their relationship is comfortable, and in the midst of war, it’s more than either of them can ask for.
As they’ve made their way through military units, they pick up more habits. Insomnia is almost a necessity, and nightmares make their way onto the horizon. Panic attacks are a piece of normalcy; Jim never experiences them himself, but he trains himself to comfort soldiers who are risking their lives for a victory that may very well be futile. It’s the one thing he is ever able to teach Mac to do. She’s shaken by the increasing tension, but he reassures her with his ability to bring an end to momentary terror.
He has nightmares, though, and she does too. It makes sleep harder to grasp, and frustration builds. He hears sobs from her cot one night, and he immediately leaps out of his bunk. He wakes her, then squeezes her hand to reassure her that she has returned to the real world, and as broken as it is, it must be better than the world in her head. They’re both tormented, but letting it defeat them isn’t an option. He whispers as much as her breathing calms, then gets softer in an attempt to ease her mind.
“Keep breathing. You’re safe. You’re awesome.”
It’s a temporary reprieve, but it’s something they both need, and he’ll take the momentary comfort amidst all the rising panic. This experience has altered them for the rest of their lives, but he knows it’ll be over one day, and there will be less restless nights. In any case, he loves this girl, and even though he’s suffering too, he doesn’t want to see her in such bad shape. She’s helped him pursue greatness, and he owes her more than he can ever repay her.
Baghdad never gets any easier, and they still have nightmares, but she never needs his help again. She can handle herself, and though she never thanks him for that one night, he isn’t bothered.
At Peshawar, their unit persuades him and Mac to take one evening off. The news can wait, and the bottle of whiskey they’ve been presented is far too tempting.
Whatever sorrows remain are drowned for the night, and Mac’s poor judgment is made known when she chooses to stream the previous evening’s broadcast of News Night without a second thought. The reception is terrible, but her eyes are glued to the computer that has managed to work in her favor. He watches with her without a word, and once it’s over she shares a short look with him and stumbles off to her cot.
He realizes why they don’t share secrets. The past two years have been enough of a complicated secret, one they’ll always be forced to share.
Her love for Will is hidden in the confines of her work, and as his admiration and loyalty grow into something else entirely, he learns to do the same. It’s the easier decision to make.
Their unit prepares to move, but Jim feels a finality in his work. He and Mac have told the story they wanted to tell, and they’ve conquered the Middle East in the best way they possibly can.
The night before the move, he spends the night sitting on the edge of his bed, wringing his hands in order to qualm a new nervousness he honestly can’t identify. He hears shuffling, then a dip in his mattress. He can see the outline of Mac’s face, the small smile as she thrusts a few papers into his hand. Among them is a ticket to Washington, DC for the following morning.
“We’re going home, Jim.” She’s crying now, and he understands. They’re leaving the only life they’ve known for so long behind. It’s time to return to a semblance of normalcy, to get back to a place where everything’s safe and familiar. She places a hand behind his neck and pulls him closer, until their foreheads touch. She moves her hand to his cheek, and for a moment they remain in complete peace. Then, he pulls her in for a hug, one hand placed at the back of her hand and caressing her hair. She breathes into him, content, and after a few seconds the moment is over.
It’s the closest thing he’ll ever get to what he truly wants, but he is satisfied. He’ll always remember when she was his best friend, and he was hers – even if she doesn’t.
Home is calling, and only the memories are left. They’re the only things he’s allowed to keep.
“You know how you’ve always had a crush on me?”
“I’ve never had a crush on you.”