SPOILERS: through The Ballad of Kevin and Tess

NOTES: Another week, another depressing offering from my mourning muses...though I must say, yay for Kevin and Tess! In case any of you wonder why several of my stories mention Marco having stomach problems, it's because, in The Fifth Page, there's a bottle of antacids and an empty yogurt container on his desk. The title is a bit of an ode to a Da Vinci's Inquest episode that gueststars Richard Kahan, who plays Marco on The 4400. Unbetaed.

DISCLAIMER: The 4400 and all things associated with it belong to other people.


WASH THE BLOOD OUT

It had been one of those mornings. Alana hadn't sent an email from the shell account she'd been using. He'd nearly been in a car accident, which had caused him to be stuck in traffic and late for work. Then some self-absorbed member of NTAC medical had run into him as she left Nina's office, causing him to spill his coffee. So he dumped off his briefcase and made his way to the restroom. On his way, he wondered idly where Diana had gotten off to--her things were at her desk, but he hadn't noticed her anywhere on the main level.

As he entered the bathroom, the telltale scent of vomit reached his nose at the same time as the sound of someone flushing. He was surprised to see Marco exit the only occupied stall and head for a sink. The rumpled-haired geek's pale skin was a bit more pallid than usual, and he didn't look up as he set about his task.

Tom took the sink next to him, rinsing the coffee from his pant cuff and shoe. "You sick?"

"Huh?" Glancing over, Marco blinked at him, as though trying to think of something to say. "Oh, good morning, Tom." He shrugged and reached for a paper towel, turning his attention to drying his hands. "Yeah. I've got the stomach flu or something."

"Did anyone tell you you're a terrible liar?"

Stiffening, his hands stilled for a moment. "Uh...why do you ask?"

"Because stomach flu doesn't usually cause you to vomit blood."

Marco made a hasty swipe at his face with the damp paper towel.

"It's on your sleeve," Tom corrected, causing the smaller man to shift his attention to his shirt until he found the spot and started working on it. "You going to tell me what's going on?" This was not the first time he'd noticed that unpleasant odor in the men's room over the past few weeks.

"I'd rather not."

It was his policy to avoid delving too deeply into his coworkers' personal lives, but this was ridiculous. Not seeking medical attention after barfing up blood was not something he had patience for. "Then I'll just ask Diana-"

"No!" Turning to him, Marco blinked away a look of panic. With a deep breath and a raised hand, he backpedaled. "I mean...please don't."

"Then tell me what's wrong."

He shrugged as he focused on the stain, again. "I have an ulcer."

It shouldn't have come as a surprise. Tom had noticed the antacids on Marco's desk before, but the head of the Theory Room was awfully young for such an ailment. "I didn't realize working in the basement was so stressful," he huffed in an attempt at humor.

Marco snorted. "Yeah...well...it's not just that." With a deceptively easy movement, he tossed a paper towel into the trash bin at the opposite end of the room.

The cryptic reply caused Tom's investigative instincts to become suddenly alert. "Are you in some kind of trouble?" Given what Ryland had proven himself capable of, it was easy to jump to conclusions, even if Marco had probably saved the man's life. "Is someone threatening you for information or something?"

Turning off the faucet, he shook his dark head, an odd smile on his lips. "That would require me being worthy of notice." Pulling out a couple more paper towels, he began blotting his sleeve.

"Then what is it, Marco?" Tom could hear the frustration in his voice.

A doubting eyebrow raised above his glasses. "You really want to know?"

"I asked, didn't I?" It reminded him of Diana saying those same words at the end of the Mayuya case, though she hadn't liked his answer.

"Diana broke up with me. I wasn't expecting to see her this morning and hadn't eaten appropriately." He said it with another toss, as though it was a trivial thing, but it was like a punch in the gut. How could Tom be anything but shocked at the idea that Marco cared for Diana so much that losing her had caused him an ulcer?

"I'm sorry. I didn't know."

Marco shrugged again and leaned against the sink to examine his scuffed shoes. "She never told you we were dating. Why would she tell you she'd called it off?"

"But..." Tom couldn't help himself. They'd seemed so right for each other in an odd sort of way; Alana had thought they were a perfect match. "Why?"

"Because the Blink-induced hallucination of her ex-fiance told her we had no future and that, if she really cared about me, she'd end it sooner rather than later." Bitterness and frustration tinged his misery. "I think she'd sensed I was going to propose, and she convinced herself we had no chemistry as a means of escaping the possibility of being jilted again."

"You were going to propose?" It was like watching a train wreck--he couldn't turn away.

Nodding, he pulled out a velvet box from his pocket.

"God, Marco! Why would you carry that around with you? You should get some help. Hell, you should get another job."

Stowing the box, he shook his head. "I can't."

"What do you mean, 'can't'? Didn't you say the other day that you've lost another person from your department to the private sector? You should be able to get a new job easily. I could talk to Shawn. I'm sure The Center would love to-"

"Thank you, but..." He held up his free hand to cut Tom off. "When I say I can't...I mean I can't. I'm going to die saving Diana during a major NTAC crisis, so I have to stay here."

"You're what!"

"It was one of Maia's predictions, remember? I keep the ring as a reminder of what's at stake. I'd been hoping I'd have a few years of happiness with her before it happened, but I suppose it'll make things easier on her this way."

The calm acceptance of his voice and the magnitude of his tragic devotion caused Tom's own gorge to rise. It had taken a long time for him to really accept and respect Marco, but now he was both awed and horrified by the wiry intellectual's selfless resolve. And here he'd been feeling sorry for himself because Alana had skipped her morning email.

"Look, at least let me ask Shawn to heal your ulcer." The young agent deserved some boon for his vital role in saving the 4400 from the sinister government conspiracy that had been killing them.

Marco gazed at him with a mildly surprised expression before closing his mouth and nodding. "That would be nice."

"And as to your dying, I have an idea that might not make a difference but could be a determining factor. Plus, it should help with your stress."

"What's that?" He seemed sincerely curious.

"Have you ever considered becoming field-rated?" Learning to shoot a gun might make all the difference, and with the possibility of Dr. Burkhoff's 4400-creating formula in the wrong hands, it was only a matter of time before NTAC would need as many agents trained in firearms as possible.

He wagged a finger thoughtfully. "That's a good idea."

Giving Marco a pat on the shoulder, he steered him toward the door. "Frank runs the firing range. He's a friend of mine; I'll ask him to treat you well. And if Nina gives you any grief about it, let me know; I'll convince her."

With a self-conscious lift of his glasses, Marco smiled. It was the first genuine smile Tom had seen on him in weeks. "Thanks, Tom."

"No problem."