It had been a mistake from the onset—the only question was how big.
There were I-forgot-my-lunch mistakes, left-the-lasagna-in-the-oven-too-long mistakes, and painted-the-wall-the-wrong-color mistakes. These were easy to deal with, and although they made Mary want to use the nearest person for target practice, she could live with them.
And then there were the big ones. The let-meth-dealing-sister-stay-at-my-house mistakes. The bridge-not-in-equilibrium mistakes that ended in a big, heartbreaking kablooie, that haunted people for years afterward. The love-a-father-who-robbed-banks-and-left-me mistakes. Some people decided to live with these mistakes; others decided to blow themselves up in the dead of winter as a result.
Mary's engagement was a mistake. She knew this and had ranked it somewhere between getting your partner shot because of a stupid argument and meth-dealing sister… and that was why she'd thrown the ring in Raph's face initially.
But then, somehow, perhaps with the help of a delicious-smelling goat and the guilt that wracked her over Raph's shattered dreams and given-up career, she wrongness of it seemed to be abated somewhat. So what if she'd never considered before spending the 'rest of her life' with Raph? And so what if she didn't share her deepest passions with him? Never mind WitSec regs, never mind the fact that she'd sworn upon taking the job that she wouldn't disclose anything about her job to anyone. The point was she'd never had the tiniest inclination to do so. Not with Raph, anyway.
Never mind that she was thirty-something and still lived with her mother and sister.
Never mind that, at the end of the day, despite Raph being there to lean on, she had no one there to… lean on. Except, well… except the standing, "Call me if you need anything." Except that, because that was her crutch.
And so, at the mercy of the goat fumes and a kind Hispanic woman with all the hopes of a white picket fence for her son, Mary had relented. She'd said yes, all of a sudden uncertain how big a mistake she was making, hoping it was something she could live with and deal with, hoping it was a walked-into-the-wrong-bathroom mistake.
Uncertain, that is, until she was gazing at her partner's face through a glass of liquid gold, listening to him laboring through a toast, face red and blotchy. And then, the moment those three words slipped out, all she could think was, "Oh, crap…"
This was monstrous. This was epic. This was an oops-I-swallowed-the-glob-on-the-table-thinking-it-was-just-another-one-of-your-cooking-catastrophes-but-it-was-C4-and-now-I'm-going-to-explode mistake. Crap.
Of course, C4 might have been preferable to the horrible sinking feeling in Mary's stomach. Her eyes were glued on Marshall, her neurons firing at rapid pace but not really conveying anything, and the fact that he wouldn't meet her eyes—kept his stubbornly on the contents of his glass—just made things worse.
There's no reason that… that speech should be so monumental.(But it was.) It's just a toast.(And Marshall's JUST your partner.) Sentimental. (If it was anyone else, you'd have already cut them off.) Shouldn't make much of a difference what the doofus says or thinks. (So why does it?)It's my life, and I'll wed whomever I damn well please. (But do you really 'please' to marry Raph?) I'm developing schizophrenia. (Hell, yes.)
These were the thoughts running through Inspector Shannon's head when Eleanor pinched her—hard—in the upper arm.
"What the—oh…" Everyone held their glasses up, staring at her. "Er, I mean—to happiness." She lifted her glass of champagne, not taking her eyes off Marshall as he too-enthusiastically downed his glass in one gulp. Their eyes met briefly as he set it down, and he gave her a small smile before turning away to sit down and massage his plum-colored finger.
"Mary, try one of these—they're from Nancy's. Red velvet, chocolate frosting," Eleanor was saying, handing her a cupcake. Mary took it with a grin-grimace.
"No rings in these," she muttered, half-seriously relieved. She turned to Marshall and held it out to him, sitting in a chair by his desk, but he just smiled, leaned back, and shook his head, watching her instead. A little snubbed by his cupcake-rejection, she bit off a mouthful of cupcake and stuck her tongue out at him.
Again, very mature, Mary. (Shut up.)
Three cupcakes, two glasses of champagne, several insults (both at and from Eleanor), and two hours later, Mary finally collapsed with a grunt in her chair as Stan and Eleanor got into the elevator with a quick, "Goodnight." Marshall had not moved from his position in the chair but was staring, mind obviously elsewhere, out the window at the Albuquerque skyline.
Mary sagged in her seat, tired and guilty, watching her best friend and not quite able to articulate words. It was a comfortable silence, even after the events of the day…
Even after the platonic declaration of undying affection that might be construed as not-quite-so-platonic. (What makes you think it was meant to be platonic?) Shut up. (This is unhealthy, talking to yourself, you know. Or thinking to yourself, whichever.)
"Go on home, Mary," Marshall interrupted her thoughts, standing up with effort. For the first time in their partnership, Marshall Mann looked every one of his thirty-some years. "I'll clean up hear, finish the relocation paperwork for Helen."
"Hey, my witness, my paperwork," Mary retorted, not moving. "I'll do it."
Marshall, standing, gave her an intense head-tilted look, letting a long pause settling in before saying, "It's late. Jinx, Brandi, and… and Raph will be waiting for you. I'll just finish things up here." Implied: It's not like I have a family or finance or best friend to go home to. A forced smile as he stepped around her desk and leaned against it.
"Don't worry about it."
"No, it's not that," Mary sighed impatiently, sitting up straight. She put her hand around his wrist against their usual little-touch-as-possible policy, ensuring that she had his full attention.
As if she doesn't always have it. (Dude, you're obsessed.) Perhaps.
"Marshall," Mary said slowly, deliberately, "do you think…" She trailed off, eyes still intensely focused on his. He waited, knowing she was formulating the words, and as he did, he reached out and brushed her hair back behind her ears, and she slapped his hand away as he knew she would.
That's my girl. (No, that's Raphael's girl. Big difference.)
"Do you think," Mary began again, "that there's a point where our mistakes become unfixable? Where we're screwed for good?"
"No," Marshall replied automatically, more surprised at her consulting him with this question than anything else. "I don't think anyone's 'screwed for good.' In fact, I agree with the school that posits that you control your own—"
"I didn't ask you for philosophy 101, jackass," she snapped, punching his arm and standing. "I'm going home. Don't forget to do Helen's paperwork." She grinned at the amused-exasperated expression on his face as she put on her jacket.
"One day, I'll just change my nameplate to 'Marshall Mann, Secretary' and save everyone the trouble of having to figure it out," he muttered, moving aside as Mary reached passed him to get her bag.
"Sounds like a plan," she grinned pushing past him to leave. "Alright, 'night."
"Night." Marshall watched her go.
She was halfway through the metal gate when she stopped and looked back for a moment. She paused, as if to consider a proposal, then said slowly, as if learning to say the words for the first time, "Thank you, Marshall."
And he said, "You're welcome."
We're going to be okay.