Chapter 10: Letting Go
Knowing she was too wired to sit still for very long, she got out of the car and followed the flagstone path leading to the small porch gracing the front of the house. She figured that, if nothing else, at least she could pace out there...
She'd barely made it halfway up the path when the first drop of rain landed on her right hand, quickly followed by a half-dozen more. Startled, she looked up at the sky, noticing the mass of sooty clouds gathering overhead. While Albuquerque generally enjoyed warm & sunny weather – she vaguely recalled Marshall boasting the area averaged 310 days of sunshine per year – sudden, violent storms were not unheard of, especially in the winter months.
She stood uncertainly, considering her options.
The narrow front porch wouldn't offer much protection against a sudden storm. She might as well stand in the middle of the front yard, for all the good it would do her.
She could seek shelter in Marshall's house – she did have a key, after all – but she just couldn't bring herself to go in while he wasn't there. Before that fateful night, she wouldn't have thought twice about it; she'd always considered his house to be an extension of her own, to be honest. What was his was hers and all that jazz. But now... Now she just couldn't.
Which left her with... her car. She eyed the vehicle distastefully, not relishing the idea of being stuck in it during a downpour. Still, beggars couldn't be choosers... Just as she was about to make a run for it, the skies opened up, dumping gallons of water down on her in a matter of seconds.
Cursing her luck, she turned around and slowly walked up the rest of the path. There was little point in getting out of the rain now; she was already soaked to the bone. This was certainly shaping up to be a fabulous day for her... Sighing, she sat down on the porch steps, trying to figure out exactly what she'd say to Marshall once he arrived.
The rain had already stopped by the time he pulled into the driveway 10 minutes later. Getting out of the car, he scowled as he caught sight of her, looking every bit like a drowned rat.
"What the hell are you doing outside?" he demanded as he walked towards her, house key in hand.
"I didn't feel like waiting in the car," she answered, hoping he'd leave it at that.
"Why aren't you in the house?"
So much for that...
"It's your house," she explained. "You weren't there."
"That's never stopped you from walking in as if you owned the place."
"It's different now. It felt like... like I'd be intruding."
"My home is always open to you, Mare," he sighed, turning away from her. "Nothing will ever change that."
"I'm sorry," she replied, idly wondering how many times she'd said those words to him over the last month. It seemed to be her only form of communication these days...
"Don't," he said tiredly as he unlocked the front door. "Just... Get in the house."
She dutifully followed him inside, acutely aware that she was dripping all over his meticulously clean wooden floors.
"You better get out of those wet clothes," he shot over his shoulder, already halfway to his bedroom.
She bit back the instinct to reply with a sarcastic remark about him trying to get her naked. Yet another way things had changed; before that night, she would have teased him mercilessly. But now...
"Here," he said when he reappeared after a few minutes, carrying a pile of clothes. "Put these on. You can just throw your stuff in the dryer."
She squished her way to the bathroom and made quick work of stripping off her dripping-wet clothes. She briefly hesitated about the bra & panties, but quickly discarded those as well as they were soaked through and through, just like the rest.
After drying herself off, she put on the UNM t-shirt & sweatpants Marshall had provided. Thankfully, he wasn't really the beefy-hunky type of guy, so the clothes fit reasonably well. After throwing her soggy clothes into the dryer and setting the timer, she went in search of her partner.
She found him in the kitchen, preparing mugs of hot chocolate. He never ceased to amaze her; even when she was being a major pain in the ass, he still tried to make things better for her. He deserved so much better than she could ever give him; and yet, despite everything, he still wanted her. The least she could do was let him know how she really felt about him...
"So, how do I look?" she asked, modeling the clothes for him in an effort to lighten up the mood.
"Not bad," he said after looking her over. "A little big for you, though. Maybe I should look for something with a little less... coverage," he suggested with a hint of a smile.
"You wish..." she smirked, happy to see her partner was in a better mood.
He motioned for her to sit down and handed her one of the steaming mugs, complete with miniature marshmallows & whipped cream.
"Thanks," she replied gratefully as she took a sip, letting the hot-chocolaty goodness warm her all the way to her toes.
They sat in companionable silence for a few moments; just two friends, sharing a quiet moment. She knew she should say something, but she was loathed to spoil the mood. Things had been so awkward with them lately; she hadn't really realized just how much she had missed this – how much she had missed them – and she just wanted to enjoy the moment a little while longer...
"What do you want from me, Mare?" he asked, interrupting her thoughts.
Break time over, she sighed, steeling herself for what was to come. She would not chicken out this time; regardless of the consequences, she would tell her partner she was in love with him...
"I told you," she said slowly, "I just need you to ask me again."
"What do you mean, why?"
"You told me how you feel. I've accepted that. I'm trying to move on. It's not easy, but I'm trying," he said before lapsing into silence. "You have to let me go, Mare," he added quietly. "I'll never be able to get over you if you don't let me go..."
"You can't do this. You can't just say 'ask me again' because you're feeling guilty, or insecure about where we stand, or whatever it is that's driving you to do this."
"It's not fair to me," he continued, cutting her off. "Hearing you say it once was painful enough; I have no desire to repeat the experience."
"What makes you think my answer would be the same?" she asked, unable to keep the hurt from her voice. While she could hardly blame him for questioning her motives, it still hurt to know he believed she'd hurt him again just to make herself feel better.
"I get that you're scared. But I know you... You're the most direct person I know. If you did love me, you would have told me that night."
"You keep going on about how you know me," she shot back, getting angry despite her best intentions, "yet you boxed me into a corner with no way out. What the hell did you think would happen?"
"Pretty much exactly what did happen, actually."
"What? I don't understand... You already knew what I'd say?"
"I always knew it was a distinct possibility, at the very least."
"Then why did you ask me? Why risk screwing up what we had when you already knew what my answer would be?" she asked, struggling to understand.
"Every day, I come to work, and I do my best to make your life a little easier. Often, that means making my life a little bit more miserable, but I do it anyway. I do it because I'm your partner, and that's what partners do. And yeah, I also do it because I love you," he acknowledged, trailing off. "And so, just for once, I wanted to do something for me; just for once, I needed to do something I knew wouldn't make you happy..."
"I'm so sorry..."
"Don't be. As much as it hurts, at least I know."
"No, you don't."
"You're not going to ask me again, are you?"
"No," he said, the sadness in his voice just about breaking her heart.
"Okay," she replied, feeling numb, wondering what she was supposed to do now.
"Look, I need to get back to the office-"
"Okay," she said, struggling to keep her voice steady.
"But you can stay as long as you need to," he continued as he got up, depositing the now-empty cup into the sink. "Your stuff should be dry soon; I'm sure you'll be much happier wearing your own clothes."
He hesitated briefly, obviously concerned. "I'll call you later. We can talk. Or... not talk. Whatever you need."
She knew he was trying to make amends because he felt guilty about not doing what she wanted. Good god, Marshall... I make your life miserable yet once again, without so much as a word of explanation, and you're concerned about me?
She wanted to tell him that it wasn't his fault, that she understood why he didn't trust her, but all she managed was a monosyllabic "yeah..."
"We'll be fine, Mare," he said gently. "We just need some time."
"You gonna be okay?"
"I'm in love with you," she blurted out, the words tumbling out before she even had a chance to think about it.
"I'm in love with you," she repeated more slowly. Calmly. Without even a trace of doubt or uncertainty.
"Yeah. Completely, ass-backwards in love with you."
"And I'm not just saying that because things have been weird between us – which they have been – but because... because I am in love with you," she added, shrugging. Funny how easy it was to say it once it was out in the open...
"You're in love with me," he repeated, sounding shell-shocked.
"Yep," she confirmed. "Is that so hard to believe?"
"At this point, yeah, it is..." He trailed off, staring at her. "Are you sure?" he asked, the hope in his voice just about breaking her heart. She knew she'd given him plenty of reasons to doubt her; she'd have to make damned sure he never again had reason to... But first things first...
"Yes, I'm sure. I've never been more sure of anything in my life."
He looked at her, obviously not convinced.
"I am in love with you, Marshall."
"You keep saying that," he said, sounding odd.
She cocked her head at him, wondering what was wrong.
"You sound like you're trying to convince yourself," he explained.
"I don't need to be convinced. It may have taken me a long time to get to this point, but I know what I want. And I know what I don't want, which is to wake up in a couple of years only to realize I've lost you because I was too stubborn to admit how I really feel."
She paused, giving him a chance to respond, but he remained silent.
"I'm not going to change my mind, Marshall," she said, wondering if she was getting through to him. "I'm not going to run away," she added. "Not this time."
"All right," he finally said, nodding.
"All right," she repeated slowly. "That's it? No questions, no comments... Just... All right?"
"Give me a minute... I wasn't expecting this..."
"Did you really think I'd break your heart all over again?" she asked, saddened at the thought he might have.
"No. You may be a lot of things, but you're not intentionally cruel. You wouldn't hurt me like that on purpose. I just... I don't know what I expected, but this wasn't it..."
"Are you-" She paused, struggling to find the right words. "Do you still want this?"
Do you still want me?
He answered by quickly closing the gap between them and kissing her.
"I've never stopped wanting this," he whispered before kissing her again. "I had just given up hope that you would ever want the same thing."
"No more apologizing," he begged, putting his hands up. "Coming from you, it's just... unnatural," he added, smirking.
"Jackass," she mumbled, secretly delighted to see Marshall's trademark snarkiness reasserting itself.
"Yep," he confirmed, quite pleased with himself.
"Marshall?" she asked, growing serious again.
"I need you to know that... Just because I know I'm in love with you... Doesn't mean I won't screw things up somehow..."
"I fully expect I'll screw things up at times, too," he shrugged, seemingly unconcerned by the possibility.
"I'm serious. I know you; you're a forever kind of guy..." She paused briefly, not sure how to express her fears. "I don't know if I can promise you forever, Marshall," she said quietly, opting for the simple truth. "I want to; I really do. I just don't know if I can pull it off, and you really deserve someone who can give you that..."
"I'm not asking for forever, Mare; forever's hard, even when you're absolutely sure."
"Besides, I don't want anyone else, regardless of how long you think you can – or cannot – promise me." He paused for a moment, tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. "How about we start with today and see how that goes?"
"Okay," she acquiesced, offering a silent prayer of thanks to whatever greater power had caused Marshall & her to cross paths all those years ago. "You're truly amazing, you know that?"
"Yes, I do know that," he quipped, beaming.
"Do you really have to go back to the office?" she whined, pulling him down for a kiss.
"Yeah," he said, reluctantly pulling away. "I should get going. Stan's waiting..."
"You sure? I was thinking you could... help me... get... changed..."
"You're not playing fair," he groaned, running his hand through his hair. "I told Stan you needed me for something, but that I'd be back in an hour or so."
"That leaves us with, what, about 20 minutes, right? I can work with that," she replied, tugging at his shirt.
"Nu-uh," he said, slapping away her wandering hands. "I've been waiting for this a long time, and I'm not settling for a quickie. When I finally get you into my bed, I'm not letting you go for at least a few hours."
"A few hours?" she asked, interest suddenly peaked.
"I've been practicing," he replied, laughing at her reaction.
"I don't really want to know what that means, do I?"
"Probably not," he agreed.
"All right," she said, getting up and heading for the hallway. "Your loss..." she shot back over her shoulder as she stripped off the t-shirt, flinging it at him.
Swearing softly under his breath, he fished his cell phone out of his pocket & hit speed dial. "Stan, it's Marshall. Slight change of plans. Can we reschedule that meeting?" He paused, listening to the older marshal as he made his way down the hall, shedding clothes as he went. "Yeah, Mary's fine. Something came up... Requires my immediate attention," he continued, stepping over the discarded sweatpants just outside his bedroom door. "Okay, we'll be there at nine. Thanks," he said, ending the connection and carelessly throwing the phone on the dresser.
"Changed your mind, did you?" she smirked, watching as he stripped off the rest of his clothes.
"No more talk," he commanded, climbing into bed. "Talk later."
"Later," she agreed, reaching for him.
"Much later," he emphasized before claiming her lips.
Her last coherent thought was that forever might not be so scary after all, so long as she got to share it with Marshall...
~ ~ ~ The End ~ ~ ~