TITLE: Ghosts in the Backyard

CHARACTERS: Mike/Scarlett (Mark/Scarlett)

RATING: PG-13

NOTES: My little addition to this growing fandom.

SUMMARY: What if Mike/Mark found Scarlett in the backyard after her date?

The ground was wet and she was pretty sure her dress was ruined, but it felt right. She ran her fingers lazily through the blades of grass and continued to stare up at her artificial starscape. She forced her mind to focus on the twinkling lights instead of the real reason that she lying on the grass in her backyard on a Friday night. The truth, of course, was that after her first post-Mike date, it felt wrong to go straight up to the bed they'd shared for nearly two decades.

Naomi would kill her if she knew that Scarlett had spent the entire night with a roiling knot of nerves in her stomach. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't shake the feeling that she was cheating on her husband. Technically she was. Cheating, that is. After all, Mike wasn't "ex" yet. But then again, that didn't seem to be slowing him down. Scarlett rolled her eyes at the thought of Mike down in Peru doing body shots with a bunch of cheerleaders. It was obscene!

What about your little display earlier this evening, a nagging voice in her head called.

Her cheeks flushed as she remembered dancing with Mark. He was a child for god's sake. Yet when she was out dancing with Dean tonight she didn't feel a fraction of the heart-thumping sensations she experienced during her one short dance with Mark.

Was she really that desperate and lonely? Is this what life was going to be like from now on? Would she go all weak-kneed and longing at the sight of every young boy who crossed her path?

No! No, she wasn't turning into some cougar. Mark bore an uncanny resemblance to Mike. The old Mike, or rather the young Mike. The Mike who loved her, who didn't regret marrying her. The Mike who walked off the basketball court forever, for her. The Mike who didn't think of that decision as an agonizing mistake, but treated it as an effortless step toward the only future worth living.

Oh yeah, that'd hold up in court.

'No, your honor, you don't understand! I got lost in his eyes and honestly thought in that moment that he was my husband twenty years ago.'

Book her and throw away the key, boys.

Scarlett rolled her eyes and snorted with muted laughter.

"Mrs. O'Donnell?"

Scarlett sat up so quickly that she might have induced whiplash.

"Mark!" she gasped.

"Hey, didn't mean to startle you," he said, casually crossing the yard. His sneakers squeaked on the grass.

"No, it's fine. What are you doing back here?" she said, folding her feet underneath her as she moved to stand.

Mark shook his head and held up a hand.

"No, don't get up. I was gonna join you," he replied.

What?

"What? Why?" Scarlett blurted out.

He grinned and spread his arms wide, palms up, and turned his eyes skyward.

"I want to see the starry night."

That grin. That familiar, cocksure grin was going to be the death of her.

"Did you and Alex just get back? He texted me to say you guys went bowling."

"Yeah, he went straight up to bed. Something happened at the alley and it got him a little fired up."

Scarlett frowned, but moved back into a reclined position as she asked, "Is he okay?"

Mark waved her concern off, and his sweeping bangs fell across his eyes for a moment as he knelt down.

"Nothing a good night's sleep can't fix."

They were both silent as he settled himself down next to her. He laced his fingers together and put his hands behind his head as a makeshift pillow before staring straight up to take in the view.

He let out a long sigh, and his body seemed to sink deeper into the ground. Scarlett watched his confident grin soften into a smile of genuine wonder. He turned suddenly to face her, and she was embarrassed to be caught staring. He didn't seem to notice.

"It's amazing, Scar."

Her heart raced at the familiar nickname.

"Thank you. And, for all your help too. This would have taken me a lot longer without you."

She was aiming for casual and detached but was disappointed to hear an anxious waver in her voice.

"Happy to help," Mark replied, shifting his arms down to his sides.

"So how was bowling?" she asked.

"How was your date?" he returned instantly, taking her by surprise.

She tilted her head to the side and caught him grinning at her.

"How was bowling?" she repeated slowly.

Suddenly he looked like the cat that ate the canary. She frowned.

"That bad, huh?" he said slyly.

Her eyes widened in surprise, and he mimicked her expression, comically gaping back at her.

"No," she intoned, her voice a bit high.

He snorted in disbelief, and rolled his eyes back up to the sky.

"No," Scarlett insisted. "It was a good date. Dean is very sweet."

"Sweet," Mark muttered, as if the word was disgusting.

"And devoted to his kids," she continued. "He's a family guy. I need that."

Mark frowned and turned to face her again.

"Your husband isn't a family guy?"

"Oh, he loves us; he loves me and Maggie and Alex. But he doesn't love being stuck in the role of father and husband. He thinks he could have done better."

Mark's frowned deepened, drawing his eyebrows together in a mask of confusion.

"That can't possibly be true. How could he do better than you?"

It was Scarlett's turn to frown. She tried to speak, but found that she couldn't, so she swallowed hard instead. She wanted to turn away from him, but his eyes were drawing her in. They were so wide and sincere. She knew that his statement wasn't just some offhanded compliment.

It took a few moments, but once she felt confident that speech was once again possible, she attempted a complete sentence…

"That's very sweet, but—"

…and failed. In the process of replying, she had shifted her hands outward just a bit, accidentally brushing her left hand brushed his right. She stopped speaking and pulled back as if his skin had emitted an electric shock.

"But what?" he asked.

She could feel him staring at her, but she kept her eyes glued on her simulated constellations.

"Nothing. Hey, don't forget to give your dad those papers for me, okay? The divorce papers?" she replied.

"Okay," he said softly.

He suddenly sounded very sad and very tired. For the first time, Scarlett felt the chill of the night soaking through her dress.

"We should head in. It's getting chilly," she said.

His hand was on her arm. His hand. Was on. Her arm.

"Stay," he said, and she when she turned to him she could see actual pain in his eyes.

Her maternal instinct kicked in. It was almost certainly her maternal instinct. She just couldn't leave him when he looked so sad and needy.

"I must look ridiculous, lying on the grass in an evening gown," she said, but she settled back down next to him anyway.

"You look pretty," he said softly.

She suddenly felt irritation flare up in her chest, and she couldn't completely identify the reason. Something about his unusual mood shifts made her think he was being insincere. How could he go from crestfallen to flirtatious in a minute flat? Was he toying with her?

"Stop it," she said firmly.

He seemed surprised by her change in tone.

"I mean it," he insisted.

"You're not even looking at me," she scoffed, turning her narrowed eyes on him.

He looked back at her.

"You said earlier that you deserve to have somebody smile at you and tell you that you're pretty."

He paused and allowed his eyes to sweep down and back up her body before he continued. Scarlett felt her skin grow warmer.

"You're pretty," he concluded.

"When did I say that?" she asked, trying to push aside her sudden discomfort.

"The day we met," he replied.

"Oh! Did I? See, I was just a little bit tipsy. I don't know if you noticed. We just got back from happy hour," she said quickly.

"I noticed."

Oh. Her cheeks burned.

"Well that sounds ominous," she said, wincing.

The grin was back. Oh god, he had witnessed her drunken rant about men. Why didn't Naomi drag her inside before she started saying things like that? Why didn't she pull her in the house before she—Oh my god!

"Oh my god. Did I also…" she trailed off, memories flooding back to her.

"Grope my face? Yes you did," Mark supplied cheerfully.

Scarlett groaned and hid her face behind her right hand.

"Oh, Jesus! I was going to say 'smell you' but that's even worse," she said, her voice muffled.

"Well, if it's any consolation, you didn't smell me," Mark replied, but Scarlett was too caught up in her own embarrassment to hear him.

"Groped? Is that really the best way to describe it?" she asked, fearful of his answer.

"Molested works too," he answered, perfectly nonchalant.

"Oh god!" she muttered, covering her face with both hands.

"No, it was actually fine," Mark placated.

Scarlett laughed.

"Yeah, fine. As if all normally functioning adults greet their son's friends inebriated and handsy," she said drolly.

She heard Mark shift next to her, but kept her hands over her face.

"It really wasn't that weird. Here, I'll show you," she heard him say.

Then his hands were on hers, gently prying them from her face. She allowed herself to be repositioned, too shocked by his sudden nearness to argue. Once her hands were down by her sides, Mark moved his hands back up to her face.

Scarlett stifled a gasp as his fingertips kissed along the column of her throat. She involuntarily arched her chin upward, and Mark took advantage of the extra room by trailing his fingers all the way up her neck to her chin.

She should stop this. This was so weird. And wrong. And oh my god, he looked so much like Mike. So much that it hurt. He was the ghost of her husband, bringing painful memories of the way he used to look at her back when he truly loved her.

She closed her eyes because it hurt too much to remember, but didn't speak.

The fingers traced delicate circles on the curve of her jaw before sweeping up to her cheeks. She opened her mouth to tell him to stop, because really, this was getting ridiculous, even if it did feel unbelievably good. However, she swallowed her words when his fingers moved to her lips, so feather light that she might have believed it was a gentle breeze if not for the electric spark she felt where his skin met hers.

"It was kind of like that," he murmured, his lips so close that she could feel his breath on her skin.

What? She hadn't realized his face was so near, and her eyes flew open.

"Oh yeah," she began, sarcasm dripping from her words. "That wasn't weird at—"

She never finished her sentence because Mark's lips replaced his fingers. Her last word came out as, "Ahmmmmph."

Without letting herself think about what she was doing, Scarlett kissed him back, opening her lips, pressing her tongue against his, bringing her hands up to play with the ends of his hair at the base of his neck. At the same moment, that hand that he wasn't using to prop himself up moved to cup her neck, and she knew it was crazy, but the way his thumb moved back and forth behind her ear while his other fingers twisted in her wavy hair was exactly what Mike like to do when they kissed.

Mike.

Her husband.

Oh GOD!

Scarlett's hands moved from Mark's neck to his shoulders and she pushed with as much force as she could muster. Their lips parted with a smack, and Mark's hazy, confused eyes took a second to refocus on hers.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"What's wrong?" she repeated, an octave higher than normal.

She pushed him back another couple of inches and quickly rolled to the side so that she was out from under him. Clambering shakily to her feet, she shook the grass off her dress with more force than was strictly necessary and made a beeline for the back door.

"Mrs. O'Donnell, wait!" Mark called out.

Without even turning around or slowing her pace, Scarlett held up a warning hand and replied.

"No, Mark. You have to go home now. This is insane."

She heard him moving, his footsteps drawing closer.

"Back gate!" she shouted, her eyes focused on the door only a few feet away. "Leave through the back gate. Please, Mark, just go!"

He didn't change direction, didn't even pretend to head towards the gate. Instead he caught up with her as she opened the back door to the house, his large hand completely encircling her arm in a near bruising grip.

"Please, Mrs. O'Donnell, don't do this," he pleaded.

She finally turned to look at him, fear in her eyes. His lips were red and his carefully coifed hair was starting to curl around the edges from the dewy grass. He looked frantic, desperate, and completely vulnerable.

She felt a solid lump in her throat. What had she done? This poor kid had a crush on her, and she'd taken advantage of that because, what? Because he looked like her soon-to-be-ex husband?

"Mark, I'm very sorry for what just happened. I shouldn't have kissed you back. That was completely inappropriate, and I wouldn't want to give you the wrong idea about our relationship," she said, her tone entirely business-like, as if she was on autopilot.

He frowned, and his eyes flashed with frustration, as if her words were some sort of challenge.

"I'm not sorry," he replied forcefully, although he did let go of her arm once he realized that she wasn't going to run inside and slam the door in his face.

Scarlett sighed and turned to face him completely, her back against the door.

"Mark, I'm Alex's mom. You're seventeen years old. What just happened out there can't ever happen again."

She crossed her arms over her chest and waited for her words to sink in. Mark's obstinate expression remained for another moment before she saw a flicker of realization in his eyes. His shoulders slumped in a show of defeat.

"I know," he muttered.

Scarlett nodded.

"That's why you need to go home now."

"Okay," he conceded without looking up. He turned and started walking across the deck, and Scarlett couldn't help but pity the retreating form.

"No, Mark, you don't have to go through the back gate," she called out. "I'm sorry. You can go through the house."

He turned and met her eyes, finally. There was a look of resigned sadness there that she wasn't really expecting.

They walked silently through the kitchen and when they approached the entryway, Scarlett happened to glance at the white envelope on the dining table.

"Oh, Mark! The papers," she remarked, reaching for them.

"Here," she said with a gentle smile, holding out the envelope to him.

He just stared at it for a second, his expression blank. Scarlett watched and waited for him to take the papers, but he made no move to do so. Before she could ask if he was okay, she found her back pressed against the wall behind her. His mouth met hers in a bruising kiss. She gasped and he took advantage of her parted lips, sweeping his tongue along hers. His hands trapped her wrists by her sides, but she was so shocked that she didn't try to move away. He pulled away just as suddenly a second later, leaving her to brace herself against the wall and take in a sharp, shaky breath.

"MARK!" she sputtered.

Mark was already bending down to pick up the fallen envelope, his hair hiding his face.

"I'm sorry!" he stammered. "I'm sorry. That was the last time. I'm sorry."

Scarlett took a few steps away from him and felt her ire rise.

"Damn it, Mark! What the hell was that?" she hissed, trying to keep her voice down so that Alex wouldn't hear them.

"That was the last time," Mark repeated.

His voice was so small and sad that she had to believe him. He looked entirely defeated, barely meeting her eyes. No matter. Scarlett knew she had to get him to leave. Now.

"You'd better go," she said roughly. "Ned will be worried about you. It's late."

"Yeah," he replied, staring at the crumpled corner of the white envelope instead of at her.

With that, he turned and left through the front door, envelope clutched in his right hand.

That night as she lay in bed, Scarlett tried not to think about the fact that Mike's shoulders had slumped in the exact same way when she asked for a divorce.