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(92) Days of Mac

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Caroline's main memory of the funeral was eating far too much jelly and ice cream and being sick on the bouncy castle, because Mac had insisted that it not be a dour, serious occasion and had actually specified that there be "childish food and entertainments". So she also got her face painted like a lion and managed to make it last about half an hour before she caught sight of herself in the mirrors of the toilets at the East Hampton Community Church Hall and ended up in a state somewhere between laughing and sobbing.

Was it Sue White who'd first referred to Mac's hair as "The Lion's Mane"? Either way, Caroline was sure he would have found the sight of a grown woman crying at her own face because it reminded her of her recently deceased husband of only three months quite ridiculous, but nonetheless he probably wouldn't have done what Guy had done, which was, when he eventually found her slumped on the floor by the sinks, to subtly attempt to look up her skirt, and, after she had very firmly told him to go away, mutter something about "bloody lying ginger tossbags" and "said he'd tell her not to wear any pants."

However, when she eventually emerged, with an orange face after attempting to wipe off the paint with a large wad of hand towels, he was waiting for her. And in retrospect she could admit that she had been grateful for his constant presence at her side, his utterly inappropriate comments about which of the various women on the bouncy castle clearly had fake tits and his attempts to stick static-y balloons to Martin's hair keeping her from thinking too much about what the occasion was really for. Only later, after her Mother had driven her back to Mac's flat (three months wasn't really enough time to make it feel like hers too, no matter how many times they'd shagged on every available surface) and she was curled up in their bed with one of Mac's t-shirts pressed to her face, did she allow herself to break down again.

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So the wedding hadn't gone entirely to plan, what with her floating off into the clouds with a bunch of balloons, but luckily the wind just seemed to be pushing her higher as opposed to blowing her off into a field somewhere, and Mac's mop of ginger hair was a welcome focal point even when she couldn't see the frantic expressions on his face (not to mention the corresponding mop of dark hair hopping around beside him, not that she didn't think Guy was still only really concerned with getting a decent look at her "growler", as he'd put it). Eventually, after she had stopped screaming, it occurred to her that she was going to have to try to release balloons off the bunch gradually in order to return to earth, so with shaky hands she unknotted one of the strings, and, closing her eyes and gritting her teeth, let it go. There was a small jerk and a not terribly noticeable drop in altitude, but she was still alive so she counted it as a win and began loosing more balloons from the bunch. When she had got low enough, she had simply let go of the whole lot, trusting the man below who had been watching her intently the whole time to catch her. And he did.

"Part of me thought you were going to be up there so long I'd die before you got down," he'd joked offhandedly, but she could tell by the grip of his hands around her waist and thighs, and his intense gaze, that he'd been genuinely worried. And she continued staring into his eyes as he bypassed all the clamouring reception guests, as he'd deftly stepped round Guy's last lame attempt to stop them leaving, as he'd navigated up the stairs of the big house and found their bedroom and deposited her on the bed and began stripping...

He really hadn't been lying when he'd been baiting Guy with his sexual prowess earlier.

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After the honeymoon (two weeks in the Maldives, thank you very much) it felt like a bit of an anticlimax returning to work. There were still patients to be operated on, forms and charts to be filled in, Sue White to be avoided, Guy to get exasperated at... though she would be walking along a corridor and catch sight of the ring on her left hand in the window and end up smiling manically and probably further ruining the reputation of the NHS. But then she would remember and her heart would ache a little more each time until it would become too much and she would be compelled to go and seek out her husband, just for visual confirmation that he was still there.

Mac had basically been 'retired' from active duty, but he loved his work and nothing could keep him away, so he was more often than not to be found in the children's ward, charming all the nurses and generally surrounded by a group of enthralled young boys as he told tall tales of sewing people's heads back on after they'd fallen off because they didn't brush their teeth enough. He would always somehow sense her presence and look up just in time to catch her eye and treat her to one of his rare, genuinely tender smiles. Two weeks was hardly going to undo years of emotional repression (fuck you very much, Holly) but it still made her heart clench in a good way to see him so comfortable about being so open. Of course, he would say something like "Well I'm going to die soon anyway so it seems rather pointless to hide anything now" and she would just go very quiet and cling to him tightly.

In that respect, the normality of work was a great comfort in that she could just lose herself in routine and procedure and forget about the dark cloud looming ever closer over their relationship. She had never been so competent a doctor, her focus solely on getting the job done and not on whichever other surgeon had rotated in to take Mac's place over the operating table. Only Guy painting a large target on the bald head of their latest patient and attempting to fire rubber darts at it from across the room had forced her attention away from the intricate layers of bone, blood and guts in front of her enough to throw a kidney dish at his head and have a go at him, and if he didn't protest as much as he would've done previously, she wasn't going to bring it up.

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When he and Caroline weren't having lots of extremely satisfying and mind-blowing sex, Mac had taken it upon himself to tutor Martin through his final exams, stating that Martin HAD to pass them before he died or he'd never forgive himself. By some miracle, with Mac's gentle encouragement, tireless enthusiasm and banning of "all twattish Swiss anaesthetists in a five mile radius" from coming near him, the man had actually begun to make some discernable progress. Once he'd stopped spending the first five minutes of every session sobbing at Mac and Caroline's "doomed relationship" of course.

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And it wasn't just Martin in whom Mac was now taking a vested interest. Boyce, usually so dependable with witty retorts and hilarious pranks, had become somewhat subdued. Nothing at all to do with the mysterious disappearance of Dr Statham, he would vehemently insist, but Mac caught him sneaking into Statham's office to water his seedlings one day, and if Boyce had broken down (in a terribly manly fashion, of course) and needed a hug and many pats on the back and a few consoling words, well it wasn't for Mac to say. Afterwards, Boyce had sniffed, dried his eyes and gone off to find Kim with a new, determined set in his shoulders. Mac considered it a job well done, even if Boyce was only going to ask her for a quickie in the HR stock cupboard.

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When the day finally came, it would be that Guy was the only person there at the time. They were hanging out in the anaesthetists' room, Guy making some usual quip about how he was surprised Caroline hadn't died of gingeritis yet from having to shag Mac all the time, Mac snorting and asking if he felt his "Swiss cheese spooge" would be any better when he'd felt a piercing pain in the side of his head, and would've laughed and pointed triumphantly at the panicked and even, dare he say it, concerned look on his friend's face, but he was too busy collapsing sideways onto the floor and blacking out.

When he woke up, he was surrounded by the familiar paraphernalia of beeping monitors and IV drip stands, though to be experiencing them all from a patient's perspective was a little disorientating. Caroline was there, of course, holding his hand shakily but managing a gentle smile. And if he didn’t mention the red rings around her eyes then that was because he was a gentleman and not because if he didn't confront them then it wouldn't be real. She still looked impossibly beautiful to him, and he told her so, squeezing her hand back before zoning out again into medicated bliss.

He would wake up periodically after that for only a few minutes at a time, gradually becoming less and less lucid, but enough to discover that Martin had finally managed to pass his exams, that Boyce and Kim had decided to move in together, that he still really hated the smell of lilies but that it was infinitely preferable to the usual hospital smell of disinfectant and overcooked food, that his favourite smell was still Caroline's shampoo, mixed with her moisturiser and a smell that was just uniquely her as she curled up on the bed next to him, crying softly into his shoulder as he drifted off for the last time, never to wake again.

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After the funeral, she had been granted two weeks' compassionate leave, had spent most of the time crying and watching appalling daytime TV and eating far too much chocolate, but had had to venture out into the real world again for the will reading. Everything of Mac's had basically been left to her, of course, as both his parents were dead and he had no siblings, but there were a few stipulations about specific items being given to certain people. Martin got the pool table, not that he really had room for it in his student flat but he was determined to get it up to his room even if it meant he had to sleep on it. Guy got Mac's motorbike, engendering a rant about "fucking ginger bastards" and "can't even escape from them when they're dead", but he still went home with it in a trailer attached to the back of his Celica.

Caroline had gone back to living in her brother's house after Mac's death, his flat being an all-too-painful reminder of his absence, but the reading forced her to go and make an inventory of all its contents and begin to sort through what she wanted to keep and what she wanted to get rid of. She eventually moved all her own stuff in (there had never seemed like a good time during the three, blissful months they had together) and, gradually, as she returned to work and life continued as it always had done, the pain became a little easier to bear, and the flat a little more hers, with enough of Mac still to make her smile; things like the whole shelf devoted to comic books, or the few outfits of his that had been his favourites that she still kept in the wardrobe.

Guy, much to everyone's surprise, had taken up motorbike lessons with a steely determination ("I'm not going to let that tosser beat me when he's fucking dead!") and celebrated getting his full licence by getting spectacularly drunk in the hospital bar, necessitating Caroline driving him home even as he was insisting that "S'fine – I could ride this fucker with my eyes closed now, because I AM A MAN AND I WON!!", the last part of the sentence being shouted into the sky as some sort of defiant last stand against meddling ginger bastards everywhere. She had eventually sublet her brother’s house to him full-time, as he apparently didn't want to go anywhere else, and as he stumbled up the stairs to his bedroom without even a perfunctory attempt at grabbing her boob, Caroline reflected that he had really changed over the past few months too, and smiled to herself as she turned to leave and drive back to her own flat. It would take Mac dying for Guy to become fully human.

And in another few months, after Guy had offered her a lift home on the bike for the nth time, perhaps she would accept.