A/N: Is anybody else's DVR already set? LOL....
There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling.
Gardens are a form of autobiography.
~Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993
They spent a very short time driving before the call came in. Thomspon and Baum's team had explored the threatening car and found not the gang hit squad that had been feared but rather a totally-unrelated group there to make a drug transaction. Margaret's odd luck had pulled them to that location as if they were iron filings being drawn to a huge magnet.
Marshall turned toward Margaret's quiet neighborhood, and everyone in the car breathed a private little sigh of relief as her tidy porch came into view. Marshall pulled up, Mary got out and performed a quick check to make sure the safety of the location had not been compromised, and then they all unloaded the day's purchases. Inside, Margaret took her personal items to the bath and bedroom while Marshall and Mary opened cabinets in the kitchen and tried to figure out where all the food was supposed to go.
Marshall took the small cooler over to the refrigerator and had just finished putting away the cold foods when he turned around to see Mary shoving a box of cereal in a cabinet full of bowls and plates.
"Ah, you know," he drawled, as she slammed the door on it a second time trying to get it to close completely, "if you have to work that hard at it, it might not belong in there...."
She shot him a long, level look over her shoulder. "I will not be conquered by a box of breakfast cereal, Marshall. It will fit here." She slammed the door on it again, crunching the cardboard slightly.
Marshall shook his head, took the two steps necessary to cross the tiny kitchen space, and reached around her to wrap his fingers around hers over the knob of the cabinet. He gently tugged the door open against her resistance and brought his other arm around her to retrieve the battered box of cereal. She glared at him with a mutinous look as he twined their fingers together, firmly removed them from the door pull, and moved them over one cabinet door, pulled it open, stuck the box of cereal in the empty space there where Margaret's dry goods clearly belonged.
She turned around, leaning back and crossing her arms over her chest, studying his expression as he rested both hands against the counter, neatly caging her in. The barest little grin teased his lips. "Smug, aren't you? Happy with yourself?"
He tilted his head a little. "What, over saving the Froot Loops from destruction? Oh yeah. Big victory for me. U.S. Marshals save breakfast. Film at 11."
"I could have made them fit, you know. Mind over matter, Marshall. Mind over matter." Her eyes dropped down to his lips briefly, came back to the dancing blue of his eyes.
"Mmm. Maybe." He gently reached up, traced a fingertip over her bottom lip. "But you know what I've learned?"
"I'm sure you're going to enlighten me," she murmured, striving for sarcasm but somehow missing by miles. She shifted, unsure, suddenly torn between conflicting inclinations to push past Marshall and pull him into her arms.... I don't think we're talking about breakfast cereals anymore....
His eyes were serious, so serious as they met hers. "I've learned that usually the right thing isn't the thing that has to be forced, fixed, or muscled into place. It's the thing that was easiest all the time." And he closed that tiny gap between them and took her lips with his own in a gentle kiss.
Margaret had to go to the courthouse the next day, and her nerves were taut. She buzzed around the house that afternoon in a fury of motion, trying to burn off her excess energy. After all, the last time she'd gone to testify, she'd had to watch one of her Marshals be shot....
She practiced that afternoon harder than usual, pieces full of complicated runs and trills that needed her total focus. She cleaned the house until there was not even a frightened little dust bunny hiding under the darkest corners of the beds. She raked leaves in the small yard as if they had done her a personal insult.
Marshall took the Tahoe and went downtown to finalize details for bringing her in the next day, and Mary watched Margaret from the window as she scooped armloads of leaves and piled them in her compost heap. She'd offered to help and been told politely, yet firmly, that Margaret preferred to do it herself. Mary shook her head as Margaret finished up the last of the leaves, put away the rake, and got out a spade, a shovel, some bags of potting soil, and some flower bulbs.
It's amazing what we can find to distract ourselves with when something stressful is looming on the horizon, though Mary. Anything, anything at all, becomes more fascinating, more worthy of our time and devotion than the crisis we are going to have to face.
Outside, Margaret was stabbing the winter earth aggressively as she began to build flower beds for spring-flowering bulbs.
And really, it's not that it makes the crisis go away. Nobody believes that the crisis is gone. It just feels good to have a little order, a little control somewhere, I guess, since that one big thing is so far out of our control....
At her hip, her phone buzzed insistently. Mary unholstered it and glanced at the caller ID: Jinx. She sighed. She had not checked any of the messages she'd been left so far since she and Raph had ended it. She had, after all, had other things on her mind.
Time to pay the freakin' piper, I suppose....
She answered the call and braced for the worst.
"Are you crazy? What the hell have you done now? Raph is packing boxes! He's threatening to move out!" Jinx's shrill voice was like a dull, rusty spike being driven with tortuous slowness right into the tender spaces of Mary's brain.
"Mom, this is between Raph and me. It has nothing at all whatsoever to do with you. Please stay out of it just this once, okay?" Mary rubbed her head as if the motion would dissipate the tension headache that was forming there.
"I will not stay out of it. I am your mother. I cannot just stand idly by and watch while you throw away your whole life. Raph is the best thing that ever happened to you. He loves you. He is a good man. You need to get back here right now and fix whatever stupid thing you've done or said so you don't lose him."
Anger surged hot and acidic. "What makes you think I was the one who did something? Why do I always get cast in the villain in your little family theater moments, Mom? Couldn't it be, just for once, him that did something wrong?"
"Oh, come on, Mary. You ran out of here to do who knows what the other day with Marshall instead of staying to fix a fight then. I know your job is important to you, but one day you're going to have to learn that no job is a matter of life and death! You are so overly dramatic about that secret job of yours.... I mean, really. How much more important is whatever it is that you're doing right now than being here trying to fix the relationship with the man you want to spend the rest of your life with?"
Mary thought about Margaret's pale face and trembling hands in the grocery store, about the whirlwind of motion she was exhibiting to stave off the fear of the unknown and the known about her day in court tomorrow. She thought about all the various men and women, the children and adults, she saw on a daily basis back in Albuquerque who lived with the knowledge that they were hunted, that they had seen or done the worst that mankind had to offer.
"I know you're never going to understand this and that this is probably a total waste of my breath, but once again, Mom, there are reasons why I cannot just run home and hold Raph's hand or yours right now...."
"Mary, the man proposed. My God, how many more shots at that do you think you will be getting...."
Her free hand formed a fist on the tabletop. Could she hear, very faintly in the background, the sound of ice tinkling against the walls of a glass? "Stop it! Just for once, couldn't you pretend to be on my side? Couldn't you, I don't know, consider it an acting exercise or something? This wasn't an easy choice for me...."
"Ha! As if! You threw him away! You always throw them away unless they're worthless..." Jinx paused, and Mary again thought she heard that soft chiming of ice on glass.
This is futile. She's got the bit between her teeth, and she's going to run with it until she falls from exhaustion.
"You're right, Mom. That's me. Old love 'em and leave 'em Mary Shannon. Well-called. Well, know what? Must run. I think there's a homeless bum I just saw walking down the street who looks like a a good dating prospect now that I'm single again...."
"Mary! I mean it! You get home and you fix this thing with Raph right now!" wailed Jinx.
Mary hung up. "Jesus," she muttered. She looked out at Margaret for another moment and headed for the back door rolling up her own sleeves as she went. You know what? Digging holes really does look like a good way to burn off some excess energy. Maybe if I dig one big enough, I can bury this whole mess in it.
Marshall came back to the little house to find it empty in the growing dimness of late afternoon. He paused in the doorway, arms full of his contribution to supper, listening for clues as to where the women might be. The sound of voices carried to him faintly from the back yard. He crossed to the table, laid down his burdens, and walked over to the windows. The sight that greeted him there made a smile spring to his lips.
Mary had stripped out of her jacket and sweater despite the coolness of the day, and in her jeans and a very dirty t-shirt, she was swinging a shovel, filling in a very large hole with potting soil. Margaret was using a spade to dig into another newly-made bed across the yard, her graceful pianist's hands plunging deep into the fresh earth to bury the flower bulbs there.
Marshall watched the two women for a few minutes. That natural mechanism in his brain that took in detail noted how easily Mary seemed to relate to Margaret, and he was grateful that for whatever reason, here at least, this complicated woman he loved so much had found someone she would consent to talk to.
At least a little. At least about some things. He grinned. I'm guessing they're not swapping makeup tips and fashion pointers, but after today's shopping expedition, you never know....
He put his hand to the door and stepped out onto the tiny patio. Both women looked up at him and then at each other in that pointed and amused way that let him know he'd been, at least at some point, a topic of conversation between them. He felt briefly and profoundly nervous but tucked his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels, determined not to let them sense his unease.
'Cause they're more dangerous when they know they have you on the run....
He chose, as usual, to lead with sarcasm.
"So, did you at least give the other guy a chance?" He gestured to Mary's newly-filled flowerbed.
Mary leaned on her shovel and raised a brow. "Well, usually I would, but today, Margaret said we needed some ecofriendly filler material...."
"And you know we're planning to put in another one just over there...."
"I see. Well, I guess I'd better prove my continued usefulness, then. There's pizza on the table inside."
Mary and Margaret glanced at each other and grinned.
Margaret said, "He's good. You've got to give him credit."
"Yeah," said Mary, "Guess I'll keep him. For now." She looked at him, her eyes catching his, amusement and affection glittering there. "I'm sure there will be other flowerbeds later on..."
Together they put away the last of the tools. They tucked everything away as the last of the light faded and headed into the house chatting companionably.
Mary and Margaret got clean while Marshall got plates and managed to put together a salad which Mary, of course, ignored. They ate and talked over the basic details for the next day. After the food was gone, Margaret went to her bedroom, and Mary and Marshall sat side-by-side at the table and went over strategy. They sat in a pool of light from the old-fashioned fixture that hung above the table.
"How was the courthouse?" Mary knew Marshall had walked every inch of it that afternoon. It was his standard protocol. Sometimes she went with him. Sometimes, like today, she stayed with the witness instead. She knew that as he'd checked doors and exits accessible to the public and those nobody else but him ever noticed, learned the patterns of traffic as the employees and the visitors surged in and out in the ever-flowing tide common to every public building, noted personnel and the tightness of security, studied the layout of the courtroom and even marked the materials used in the construction itself, he'd been running scenarios, plotting escapes, thinking of worst-possible cases. It was what he did. That clever, agile brain of his had played chess all afternoon long with Margaret's testifying tomorrow, and when they actually arrived on-site in the morning everything would be as much in place as was humanly possible.
He summed all that work, all those hours of observation and inspection up by shrugging and saying, "Shouldn't be too bad. Somewhere between Baltimore and Seattle."
She nodded, understanding their shorthand for the level of security they'd encountered at those locations during various situations. She rubbed her hand idly, the palm of it red and irritated where she'd been using the shovel all afternoon.
Marshall reached over and gently scooped up her hand in his own. He stroked his thumb across the raised ridge of flesh.
"Gonna have a blister there." His eyes met hers blandly. "Want to tell me what you were really trying to bury in the backyard today?"
See? Those eyes don't miss a trick. Damn. It's not so comfortable when that discernment is turned on me....
She looked down at the capable hands that continued to hold hers so gently.
"Jinx called." Her fingers curled around his, closed his thumb inside her palm against the injured skin.
"Yeah. Apparently Raph is packing boxes."
And how do you feel about that, Mare? Are you sorry? Do you regret that? He wanted to say it, but he kept those questions tucked inside.
He brought his other hand up and skimmed it lightly along the side of her face. She kept her eyes focused on their joined hands, but she turned her cheek slightly into the soft touch.
"That bad, huh?"
"Classic Jinx. Tinkling ice in a glass, shrill melodrama, the whole "Come home now, your job doesn't matter, you're throwing away your only chance at happiness because who would possibly want you" speech, she did it up right. I really think she has a shot at the Oscar this year."
He opened his mouth to say something, shut it, shook his head, and pulled her forward into his arms. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of his embrace wrap around her, the physical steadiness of his body, the strong beat of the heart beneath her fingertips. Something that had been tight and painful inside her loosened as she felt his hands gently rub small circles on her back.
"Marshall?" she whispered.
"Yeah," he whispered back.
"Does it always have to be my fault?"
She felt him turn his face into her hair. He didn't answer at first, and she could feel in his stillness an answer forming.
"Mare," he finally said, "some people always have to blame somebody else. They need for the other person to be wrong because if they were the one at fault their whole world would fall apart. They're not strong enough to see things for what they really are, I guess." His hands continued their slow circles on her back.
Is this what I asked him? Where is he going with this? She nodded and kept listening.
"Then, well, then there are the people who always take the blame...." He pressed a kiss to her temple and sat back slightly to study her face.
She tensed as the import of his words hit her.
"Because I like you more than the average guy on the street, I'm going to let you clarify that before I get mad and throw you out a window..."
The soothing of his hands didn't slow, and she saw a little smile appear as he drew her back against him, settled her head against his shoulder.
"I'm headed for that hole out back, huh?"
"Faster than you know, numbnuts. Faster than you know."
"Then let me explain. Jinx likes to blame. That's wrong. But I've watched you take that blame on yourself like you deserve it for as long as I've known you, Mare, and that's wrong, too."
Mary pushed up and away from him, stood with arms crossed to glare down at him. "Just what are you saying?" Her voice was arctic, her stance combative.
He sat back in the chair and just looked at her. He reached for his glass and took a sip before he answered. When he did, his voice was calm, controlled. "I'm saying that, no, Mare, it's not all your fault unless you keep letting her make it your fault. How much she twists you up is entirely up to you."
He held up his hands as she made an incredulous noise. "I know, I know, it's easy to say and not so easy to do, but when has she ever, ever, stood with you? When has she ever put you first? You bend over backwards to provide for her and for Brandi, too, to keep them out of trouble, to keep them entertained, just to keep them happy, and when it comes down to the real heart of it, she betrays you again and again, Mary. If you had a witness who was treating you this way, you'd have already beaten them senseless and left them for dead in a biker bar bathroom near the border."
Mary smiled just a little at that.
"You know it's the truth. The only reason you continue to walk on this broken glass barefoot every single time she asks you to is because she's your mother. Even if that's mostly just a name and a biological condition."
Mary looked down at her hands, rubbed again at the emerging blister, confused by what he had to say.
Marshall sighed, stood, and wrapped his arms around her again. "Look. Never mind. I...should have kept my mouth shut. It just...I don't like it when you hurt."
She squeezed him back, buried her face in his shirt. "No. I...It's good to know somebody is on my side."
He pulled away slightly to take her sore hand in his. He kissed it softly, then a mischievous smile appeared. "I decided long ago it was safer to be on your side than have to play against you."
"Damn straight." They turned off the lights and walked down the hallway toward the guest bedroom. "I guess you really are a clever boy."
He laughed softly and pulled her into his arms in the doorway of the room. "Sure I am." He kissed her gently, lingeringly. "Want a demonstration?" He murmured it into her ear as he nibbled at her lobe.
She sighed. "Oooh yes. See, like I said, clever."