Epilogue

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It was a month later, and the New York City air held the slightest touches of the winter to come.

Mary and Marshall shuffled past silently with the rest of the procession through the dusk, laying white roses that looked red in the light of the setting sun on the coffin of Ally Bernard, eight years old and dead from smoke inhalation on a fiery night at a warehouse.

It was a testament to the new, lopsided order of things that Mary had to be the one to give Mr. and Mrs. Bernard condolences about the daughter they had not seen for two years. They thanked herself and Marshall tearfully for their roles in bringing their daughter home and for flying from Albuquerque to attend the funeral.

Since that night Marshall had been semi-high on painkillers in the hospital so long ago, things had been eerily quiet between the two partners—albeit Mary had been running around for three weeks taking exams, psych evals, and physicals to get reinstated, helping her mother and sister settle back into her house, and falling back into her hurricane way of doing things.

But despite everything she was busy with, she had tried.

They had talked little after the raid in New York because there were statements to give and reports to write, but that did not account for the uneasy tension Marshall retained toward her after a lengthy plane ride back to the southwest; she had made attempts at busting his ass, at teasing, at asking probing questions, at even asking for a bit of useless information on the logistics of an airplane's aerodynamic build. He replied to everything with a wary and infuriatingly polite tone. Mary did not know what to make of it.

She drove Marshall to get his stitches out after they had gotten back to Albuquerque, showing up randomly at his house the day of and dragging him into her car, and banter and snarky remarks should have abounded. They did not; no matter what she did, Marshall retained the wary, stony, goddammit I'm going to kill someone polite tone with her.

He did not make any move to apologize on her behalf or slip a tip to the girl behind the corner when they stopped for coffee on the way back and Mary did not include a gratuity; he just paused for the briefest of moments and followed her back to the car.

Mary tried to call Marshall every night for a week as she always did before she went to bed, even if they had been together only minutes before; it was a ritual they kept, and when, time after time, she was deferred to voice mail, she didn't know what to think.

She had been planning to knock on his door, kick it down if she had to, but things got in the way, and eventually, she gave up calling.

She did not know that Marshall sat up until four the first night she didn't call, staring at his cell phone and waiting for 'missed call' to register on it. It never came, and he never had a chance to sit battling with himself until it was too late, and the call was forwarded to voice mail.

They had seen little of each other, and since Mary's official first day back was not scheduled until the following week and Marshall took three weeks medical leave for his leg, 'little' meant 'none.'

That is, until the black and gold card came in the mail asking the two to attend a funeral service. Not even Marshall in his new-found apathy could say no to the smiling picture that came with the invitation, a cruel, teasing reminder of a girl that could have been.

They had not planned to go together, but Eleanor had booked their tickets before either had time to react, and so together they had flown. In silence.

And in silence they drove away as Ally Bernard's casket was lowered into the ground, sealing the story of the little girl who knew too much in her too-short time.

"Marshall?" Mary asked because she needed to say his name.

"Yes, Mary?" he answered obligingly.

He called me by my name… He never calls me by my name.

"What happened to us?"

"Excuse me?" Marshall asked, not taking his eyes off the road—probably a good thing considering the oh my God, and I thought I was a terror in the Probe drivers in NYC, but it still irked Mary.

***(Alt. ending at the end.)***

"You know what I mean."

He said nothing, but she kept her eyes on him vigilantly, watching his every move and looking for one that gave him away or gave her an explanation. There wasn't one, and the growing silence was beginning to annoy her.

"Marshall!" she snapped. He said nothing, did nothing. "MARSHALL!" Anger hiding fear.

"Wait," he replied finally, calmly.

"What the Hell is th-"

"We'll do this."

"What in Hell are you-"

"Mary." She glared at him, fuming, but he remained concentrated on driving, sitting stick-straight staring straight ahead. "We'll have this conversation, then. We'll duke this out, but not now."

"When, Marshall?! You can't just ignore me for three weeks and expect me to-"

"If you want to talk about this," he said rigidly, running over her tirade, "we'll talk about this. But I'm not doing this here. We're going to sit down and talk about this."

"Fine."

She watched him as he drove, analyzed his profile every time they drove past a night and it cast a fleeting yellow that illuminated his features.

She was still gazing fixedly at him when they pulled into a parking space at the motel. He did not pause after removing the keys from the ignition, just unbuckled his seat belt and let himself out of the car.

Not getting away this time, Marshall. Mary was out of the car and had Marshall by the collar before he had time to make any excuses; he stumbled along beside her as she dragged him to her door roughly, fumbled with the car key, and pushed him into the room. She let the door slam closed behind her and leaned against it challengingly, reminding him that he was not going to get away. He regarded her with a raised eyebrow but otherwise said nothing, settling for straightening out the collar of his black shirt.

"Talk," she commanded sternly when it was clear he was not going to start of his own volition.

"About?"

"Goddammit, Marshall!" Mary was fighting the urge to punch him, slap him, throttle him. "You know perfectly well about what. You act like—like I have some incurable, contagious disease for three weeks without so much as an explanation, and now you're- you're- you're-" She stuttered to a fuming halt, fury rendering her brain unable to continue coherently.

"You do have some incurable disease," Marshall replied smoothly. "It's called stupidity."

Mary opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to find the right retort but unable to, caught between uncontainable rage and surprise.

"But," he continued, sitting down on the bed tiredly, running a hand through his hair, "now you know how it would feel to be without me."

"What?"

"You heard me." Looking up at her with clear, challenging blue eyes. "If you want to rush into battles alone, at least know what you're getting yourself into. If you're going to start being a one-man team… well, then."

"Is that what this is about? I didn't ask permission before I followed you to that goddamn warehouse?!" She left her position against the door and prowled closer to him disbelievingly, advancing on him step by step by a predator. "You've been bitching for this long because I didn't have you sign a permission slip to save your ass?" Her knees were now touching his where he sat on the bed, and had he chosen to remain there, he would have had to look up at her.

He stood, rising to the challenged and forcing her to look up at him; it was a dance of dominance, and although Marshall was not usually one to lead, this was not their normal tango by any means. "You could have gotten yourself killed in that warehouse."

"It's part of the job."

"You weren't on the job, and you didn't have me to back you up," he shot back, eye to eye with her and faces so close in their contention that the breath he exhaled became the next one she inhaled.

"I don't need you to-"

"You need to decide," he raised his voice vehemently, "whether we're going to be partners or not."

That got her attention.

He continued, taking advantage of her shocked silence and hissing into her face, "Partners tell each other when they're about to go get themselves killed. Partners will work together and not rush into things behind one another's back without so much as a vest to keep a bullet out of their chests, Mare."

"Marshall-"

"If you're just going to ignore everything we have and throw it all in my face when you rush off without thinking, we might as well no have anything in the first place," he finished bluntly, brutally. A last glimmer of defiance, then he shrugged and sat back down on the bed, head down and spent.

"Having your back is what I do. You have to give me a chance to protect you, Mare," he murmured to the floor.

Defiant, because she was Mary. "And what if don't?"

He looked up at her slowly, furrowing his brow while he analyzed her face, haughty from her complete denial of any dependence on him or anyone else. The expression on her face wavered under his gaze, a slight twitch of the mouth, a tilting of the eyes—little things he noticed because he loved her and had her face memorized, from the slight crookedness of her smile to the way the left side of her face was just a little sharper than the right.

His eyes held hers evenly and asked, "Do you want me?"

She set her jaw, staying stubbornly silent.

"Mare," he said, "I need to hear it this time. Do you want me here?"

"Do you want me?" she challenged.

Without thinking: "Yes."

And she looked away because she had not heard it—those words—in such a long time, and she found it hard to believe in such a rarity. As if recalling from an eon ago someone who had told her the same thing, she murmured more to herself than to Marshall, "Because you love me."

"Because I love you," he echoed.

It took her all of a second to decide on a response because it had been there all along.

She knelt down so he didn't have to crane his neck to look at her when she spoke, and she told him deliberately, "Then yes, I want you here with me. Because you're my best friend, you're a dead shot, you love me, and I trust you. And if you want to protect me, not that I would recommend it if you plan on keeping the few brain cells you have, you can try."

"Oh, I will," he replied, breaking out into a grin. "Besides, isn't your philosophy, 'Who needs brain cells when you've got a gun?'"

"And the next time I decide to come save your miserable ass," Mary continued, getting up off the floor and flopping down on the bed beside him, "I'll print a permission slip and take it to the damn notary if you want."

"That's all I ask," he said solemnly, finally letting himself laugh when a pillow collided with the back of his head.

And then, somehow, they were laughing and giggling and swearing and running as if nothing had happened at all over the last month, pillows-turned-deadly-projectiles wreaking havoc on all that was holy and sane.

When three weeks of tension had been diffused and neither of them could breath without inhaling a mouthful of feathers, they relocated to Marshall's room and collapsed on his bed, breathless and happy.

"Is this what girls do at slumber parties? In prison?" he asked, reaching over and pulling feathers out of Mary's hair.

She burrowed her face into the sheets sleepily and replied, "Tonight I introduced you to the nice. Wait 'til I show you the naughty."

She tilted her head so she could see Marshall's look of surprise, see his ears go red. She giggled a very un-Mary-like giggle, burrowing her face back into the bed and stretching out sleepily.

It was perhaps because of this half-asleep state of stupor that she reached out, gave Marshall two thumps on the chest, and sighed with amusement, "You're such an idiot… God, I love you."

She did not mean it that way, and Marshall knew better than to take it for more than what it was.

But that did not stop him from staying awake long after Mary had fallen asleep, watching tenderly the rise and fall of her breaths—sappy idiot that he was.

Fin.

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***Alternate ending, written by my roommate while I left my laptop/fic unattended for five minutes. Remember, this is the roommate of mine who suggested, after I asked her for advice on this story, that Mary and Marshall pull a 'Romeo and Juliet.' That said, enjoy:

"You know what I mean."

He looked at her for one split second. "Mare, you know that-"

"WATCH THE ROAD!" A desperate attempt to push the wheel back.

The darkness had shrouded an "end-of-road" sign, and the car tumbled into the ravine below. In those last few seconds, she had screamed, clinging on to Marshall. As they experienced an unfriendly freefall, she realized why he was the one that was always on her mind, always in her thoughts.

The last words Marshall ever heard from anyone, but most importantly, from Mary, was "I love you."

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A/N: A few last things!

Thanks: :) Thanks so much, those of you who have read this and stuck with me the whole time and those of you new to supporting this fic. You guy have no idea how much your reviews mean to me: PeanutTree, Tawnyleaf, QueenOfHyperbole, kathiann, drypen, epicinsanity101, and all of you who've been so kind as to humor me through this first attempt of a multi-chaptered fic. And, of course, my dear roommate J.Z. whose enthusiasm, despite her morbid suggestions regarding the fate of our beloved Mary and Marshall, forced me to finish this fic in an almost-timely manner.

Beta: Now accepting beta requests.

Request: Now, although I wish I had unlimited time to explore what insane things my mind could turn out, alas I've been busy and don't see any time in the near future to write prolifically. So I'm challenging you, dear readers, to incorporate some of these crack-fiction ideas into a coherent M/M fanfiction (send me a link if you do): Mary walking in on Marshall showering (and Marshall, being the girl he is, must freak out), the one time in Once a Ponzi Time that Marshall uses Mary's real name to address her (it happens while they're searching through the car and Mary finds the purse), and Marshall with a tattoo. :D Yes, Marshall. Yes, tattoo. Ready? Set? Go!

Misc: So like I've said, I've been… busy. And to tell you the truth, I hated how this ending turned out because after like… chapter 5, it's all been written in a rush, and I just wanted to get finished that I think I squished too much into to few chapters. I also... am kind of disappointed with the epilogue... I feel like it should've been sweeter and more m/m, but alas!.

Anyway, I think I'm going to wait a good while before trying to post another fic while it's in progress; so expect some one-shots if I have time, but I'll wait to do more multi-chaptered ones until I'm not drowning in reading evolutionary research papers. Also, some advice on how to write fluff would be nice… because one major, major sticking point I had especially with this fic was that whenever there was action, I'd be able to write pages upon pages… but tender moments had be staring at the computer screen for hours not knowing what to write.

So this is it, folks. Thanks for reading—tell me what you thought! (Reviews are Marshalls to my Marys.) :D