Back by popular demand! All my reviewers were so kind and full of such author-love for this little effort that you made me absolutely squee. There were requests to see how this one turned out, the almighty "what happens next," and I had an alternative ending nagging at me, so here it is. I hope this makes you happy in return. And just in case you were wondering, there is no such thing as a Raph in this world of mine. (Disclaimer, since I forgot it on the first one: Not mine, darn it.)
Mary had been straining for a sense of normalcy since she and Marshall had returned from the conference in Las Vegas. There were some things, though, that could not be unpacked from her travel bags and put away in a drawer, laundered and forgotten. The last two weeks had been...different. No matter how hard she had tried to return to a routine of flinging insults and protecting witnesses, she'd been conscious of Marshall in a way she'd never had to deal with before, conscious of the tilt of his head and the line of his throat when he was sitting at his desk searching for something on his computer, conscious of his long-fingered hands on the wheel when they were riding in the GMC headed to visit a witness, conscious of the warmth and strength of his body as he sat next to her at the conference table when they were having new witnesses sign the reams of paperwork needed to bring them into the program.
And then there had been the day they'd had to deal with those hitmen sent to take out one of Marshall's witnesses. When she'd pulled her cuffs off her belt after knocking one of the men down, preparing to restrain him as she'd done so often it was a habitual gesture, she'd suddenly paused, one knee in the middle of the wriggling bastard's back, looked up, and found Marshall's eyes staring at the cuffs before they flashed up to meet hers, combustible blue. She'd pulled her eyes away to finish the process of cuffing the criminal, but her hands had been shaking ever so slightly.... It had been small of her, to be sure, but she'd slammed the guy's head against the floor just a bit harder than necessary as he'd resisted her putting the cuffs on.
She was sitting alone in the office, having returned to take care of some paperwork she'd forgotten. She angrily wadded up yet another form she'd filled in incorrectly, and stalked over to the filing cabinet for another. She pulled open the drawer, stared at the folders for a moment without seeing the labels in her distraction, and slammed it shut again in frustration, just leaning against it.
It can't be just the sex thing. I mean, okay, let's be perfectly honest since I'm having a freakin' conversation with myself here, the sex was pretty amazing, and we were both completely wasted at the time. I have, however, had pretty amazing sex before and walked away the next morning. Hell, I've had mindblowing monkey sex and kicked the guy out before the sweat was dry. Why can't I stop looking at Marshall this way? He's my partner. This is just...inappropriate.
I'm sure he is not interested in a repeat of Vegas, anyway. After all, think about his reaction when he woke up and found out he was married to me....
That had been one of the things Mary had put the most effort into pushing into the deepest recesses of her mind and had the least success with, the look of absolute horror on Marshall's face when he'd seen the marriage license and realized they were married. Clearly it wasn't a fantastic situation for anyone concerned, but once she'd gotten home, a tiny little part of her....okay, maybe not that tiny, but a girl has to have some pride...had felt hurt that he'd been so sad to be married to her.
Mary stalked back across to her desk, sat down, and propped her feet up, idly twirling a pencil between her fingers. It wasn't that I wanted to be married to him. I mean, Jesus, come on. Me? Married? I SO do not do the whole white-dress, happy homemaker thing. It's just...I had no idea he'd find the idea of him and me so...repellant. And in the deepest part of her most secret heart, the part she barely even would allow to whisper in the darkest of nights, she murmured, And maybe I wonder what it would be like to be with a guy that had plans... what his plans for his wedding were like...bet Marshall's plans are good ones....
She sighed and put her feet down resolutely. Enough navel gazing. Time to go home. There's nothing for me to do here right now. Her gaze strayed across the office to Marshall's empty desk, to the neatness of it that offset the clutter of her own, to the assortment of things he kept on it, his personal odds and ends. I miss him, she thought. Whenever he's not around, I just...miss him. Why didn't I ever notice that before? I wish things could just go back to the way they were....
Mary scanned herself out, headed to her forlorn purple Probe, and drove to her house. As of this morning, it was empty and would be empty for the next week. Her sister and mother had taken themselves off for what they were calling a Spa Holiday to celebrate Jinx's four-month anniversary on the wagon. Mary had been grateful for their absence as it meant a decrease in the drama of her homelife, but tonight, she could have used the company.
She thought of looking up one of her dial-a-dates in her trusty black book, but somehow even the wildest of the headboard shakers on her emergency list didn't sound worth the effort. Besides, she'd felt strange lately even considering sleeping with one of those recyclable, interchangeable men. He'd laugh at me, I guess. It feels like cheating. And anyway, they haven't really sounded...right.... It's like I'm hungry for something, but I can't figure out what I want, she thought, speaking of which...
She headed into her kitchen, intending to use chocolate as a panacea when the stack of mail on the kitchen island caught her eye. There were the usual catalogs, circulars, and bills, but mixed in were two large flat mailer envelopes. She was shocked to see that her overly inquisitive family hadn't ripped into them already. I guess the last time I put the fear of God into them about that, it must have worked then. Good. She looked at both of them, and opened the one with the official-looking seal first. This must be our annulment decree. Inside was a simple piece of paper ending a very complicated situation.
She looked at the decree, reading it line by line. The wording was simple, the print crisp and clean in that way that computer-generated documents have. It's over, then. Marshall is free to chase that beautiful dream, and I'm free to...to... She had no way to complete that sentence. What was it she was free to do, to be now? She lay the decree down, and she crossed her arms over her torso, rubbing as if she were cold. It felt like loss; it felt like something had, in some way, died.
She forced a smile she didn't truly feel at the silly sentimentality of the thought and shook her head. She took up the second envelope from the island and ripped it open, mind still worrying the bits and pieces of her musings like a puzzle that would not fit together correctly. She slid the contents onto the work surface, and looked at what came out in shocked surprise.
The photo of her and Marshall standing in front of the Elvis made her laugh deeply, truly, freely for the first time in two weeks. Marshall and she had only been able to piece together the minimum about the ceremony, but here it was in all its gory detail in front of her. Why the hell do I have that stupid thing on my head? Oh, look! I was right about the rhinestones on the Elvis, but I completely did not remember that he had a cape, too... The sight of the gun "bouquet" in her hand sent her into fresh gales of laughter, and she thought to herself, If I ever really do get married again, I am SO doing that instead of a handful of crappy dead plants. Her laughter subsided as she lay the photograph down and lifted the slip of paper that had fallen out with it to read it. The handwritten note was from the Elvis who had married them, and read as followed:
"Lil Darlin' (Mary snickered uncontrollably), I have to say I've had a lot of requests for a lot of songs in my time here at the chapel, but nobody ever asked me to sing 'Jailhouse Rock' for them. Then again, I've never married a bride with a gun before either. You and your new hubby were a one of a kind pair. We had a blast with y'all, and everybody here was so happy to see two people who were so well-matched and so much in love come in to get hitched. We hope you'll come see us if you're ever back in town." It was signed with an eloquent and looping capital E.
Mary looked back at the photo again. She and Marshall were holding onto each other, and they looked so happy, so....so much in love. I can understand how Elvis was confused by it. Hell, if I were looking at this picture and hadn't been present for the morning after, I guess I could be confused by it, too. She picked up the picture again, tapping her fingertips against the edge. I'm confused by it right now...
She sighed and took the photo and annulment decree to her room, took down a large wooden lockbox from the top of her closet and opened it. Inside were things she preferred to keep private from everyone. It was her own personal treasure chest. She sat down on the bed with it since she was sure she was alone, and she opened the lid looking in at the contents.
Here are all the little fragments of my life, all the things I value the most, am most proud of, all in one box, all hidden in the dark in the closet except for when I'm sure nobody can see them. What the hell does this say about me?
She ran her fingers over the bundles of letters her father had sent her, the ribbons binding them together faded and worn with her handling. The small trophy for MVP of her high school basketball team was tucked in, too. Her diplomas in their protective covers were at the bottom. Her first badge, a photo of Jinx, Brandi, herself, and her dad before he'd left them, a birthday card that Marshall had gotten everybody at the office to sign for her even though she'd threatened to shoot him for it, these were among the things that she had carefully hidden away in this safe place. She took from the box one item, and held it in the palm of her hand, considering it quietly. She was so lost in thought that she never heard the soft knock at the front door or the door to her house open and close.
Marshall had decided to forgo buying the frame because the more he thought about the photo, the more he wanted to see Mary. Wanted wasn't exactly the word. It was more a longing, a need. The past two weeks had been hard ones for him. He'd been trying to give Mary space, trying to behave the way he felt that she wanted, but it hadn't been easy to pretend that nothing had happened. She'd pulled away from him, too. There'd been no late night calls, no dinners after work, no nights spent crashing on his pull-out bed, and he had felt the loss of those things like a physical blow.
There had been other challenges as well. As aware of her as he'd always been, he now had memories of what it was to taste her, touch her, feel her moving with him, and despite his best efforts to the contrary, there were times when his wayward mind and rebellious body conspired against him. He wondered if she knew how often he'd caught the scent of her shampoo in the conference room and tightened his hands around the edge of the table or brushed against her shoulder in the elevator and thought of simply backing her against the wall of the elevator and doing....things.....
He didn't know exactly what she'd been doing in her spare time since she hadn't been doing much with him, and that was driving him crazy. Had she gone back to her steady diet of disposable men?
Marshall pulled up in front of her house and was relieved to see her tired old car parked out front alone. Brandi's car was gone, and there was no other vehicle. She's alone then. Good. Maybe we can talk this thing through. We've got to reach a balance of some kind. It's making me crazy.
He locked the truck, headed up the path, and knocked softly on the door. When there was no response, he stood for a minute before knocking again. Again, nobody came to the door. Puzzled, he took out his key to her door and let himself in. Two weeks ago, I wouldn't have felt weird about doing this....
The lights in the living room were on and her jacket was thrown carelessly across the back of the couch, so somewhere Mary was home. He looked down the hallway toward her bedroom, and he saw lights there as well. He walked quietly down the short passageway and peered around the frame of her bedroom door. What he saw made his heart flutter painfully.
Mary was sitting in the middle of her bed with a large carved wooden lockbox open near her hip. She'd pulled out various items from it. He saw a Marshal Service badge, battered and worn, missing its pin. He saw a trophy of a female basketball player, a packet of tattered letters. What held his eyes and made him want to grab her up in his arms, though, was the golden wedding band she had in the palm of her hand. He knew it all too well; he had its mate in a dresser drawer at home and in the past two weeks, he'd taken it out to run sentimental fingers over it numerous times.
He continued to watch her, barely even drawing breath, as she turned the ring over in her fingers and then slipped it on the fourth finger of her left hand. She picked up a photograph that lay amongst the other artifacts of her life on the bed, and ran the now ringbearing hand gently over its surface. He saw a tear come to her eye, and she put down the photo and wiped at it angrily.
"Idiot," she muttered. "Time to stop this emotional crap and pull yourself together. How lame are you? If it's over, it's over. It's...it's what you wanted. Dammit, it was never even a real marriage. It was a drunken mistake. It was sure hell clearly what he wanted, too, clear he couldn't stand even the idea of being married to you, so...." He saw her twist at the ring savagely.
If I just saw what I think I saw and heard what I think I heard....Time to be brave, Marshall. If you were ever going to, now's the time.
Marshall took a deep breath and stepped fully around the doorframe. "Mare?"
She looked up from where she was twisting the ring on her finger with shock on her face, and only the fact that she recognized Marshall's voice kept her from going for her gun. "Jesus, Marshall! What the hell! You scared me to death!"
He smiled a little and entered the room slowly. "I did knock, you know, twice...."
Mary had plunged her hand underneath a pile of papers. "Must not have heard you. You could have just called me."
"And miss watching you jump like that? Fat chance."
She snorted, still watching him warily, trying to figure out what he'd seen from the door, trying to figure out how to get him to go away so she could get the damned ring off her hand before she died of embarrassment.
"Um...are you thirsty? There's stuff in the kitchen. You can help yourself while I clean this junk up. I'll be there in just a minute, okay?"
Marshall found her attempt at diversion amusing. "That's okay. I'm not thirsty. Just do whatever you need to do." He moved over to sit next her on the bed, noticing her squirm with discomfort.
"Ookaay...." Mary started putting items in the box one-handed, keeping her right hand hidden underneath an old photo. Marshall snagged the photograph, and Mary plunged her hand beneath the unmade covers of the bed. Marshall looked at the picture of Mary in a basketball uniform, and he smiled at the young warrior he saw there. Mary was grabbing items from the bed rapidly and throwing them in willy-nilly until nothing was left. Marshall continued to scrutinize the image he held, and then he laid it carefully on top of all her other treasures.
Mary was fidgeting fiercely, the hand with its incriminating golden band clenching and unclenching beneath the bedspread. "Are you sure you don't want something from the kitchen? I have chocolate chip cookies.... You know you love chocolate chip cookies." Her tone was enticing, seductive, and Marshall wanted to laugh. Instead, he decided to end her misery. He had a sure-fire plan to bring the hidden hand out from its hiding place.
He leaned close to her, deliberately invading her personal space, looked at her with a cocked eyebrow and a leer. "Do you know what I love more than chocolate chip cookies?"
Her eyes went wide, slipped down to focus on his mouth, and flicked back up to meet his again. She shook her head without saying anything. Her lips parted ever so slightly. I'm so hungry. This is what I've been hungry for, Mary thought.
Well, that wasn't the reaction I was expecting.... Marshall had expected her to sling an insult or innuendo, push him away from her, something that would start a tussle and allow him to grab her hand and reveal the gold band without revealing his own spying in the hall. As the old saying goes, though, When in Rome....
Marshall closed the remaining distance between them and brushed his lips against hers softly, once, twice, a third time, bringing his hands up to cup her face. He felt her hands slide up to clutch at his shoulders and she made a little noise, of happiness or distress, he couldn't be sure, but she was kissing him back with a sudden desperation that woke up every sleeping memory of that crazy night between them. Suddenly, she broke away from the kiss and placed her right hand on his chest to push for distance between them.
"Marshall, don't. We can't....I mean, let's not get carried away and do something else we'll regret." Because I can't live with it if what's between us gets any more damn broken than what it is right now, can't lose you any more than what I already have....
Marshall captured the hand she'd placed against his chest with his own, and lifted it to his lips, careful to kiss her where the ring touched her skin. "I agree. Let's not live with regrets. With could have beens. With what ifs. They'll eventually drive you crazy."
Mary was trying to pull her hand out of his, and she was actually blushing. Mary Shannon, she who could not be shaken, she who had used phone sex as an interrogation tactic, was actually blushing.
"Marshall, I ...um...I....Look, dammit. I know you didn't want to marry me, know that the whole idea of waking up hitched to the fucking nightmare that is me and my life turned you green. I'm sorry about the thing in Vegas. I am more sorry than you will ever know that you came in here and found me with this ring on my hand like some kind of psychopath from hell, and I wish I had an explanation for that, but I just...well, don't. Can't we please find some way to go back or get around it? I miss you. I don't like it when we're not together. I don't like it when I can't call you, can't go to your house, can't be with my best friend. Tell me what to do to fix this...." She trailed off, out of words for her shattering emotions. She stared at his face, hope written in every line of her own.
Marshall's heart was soaring. He was still holding her hand in his own, and he looked down at the glittering band that circled there.
"Well, I think it's far too late to go back," he said softly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mary's face fall. "But it's never too late for people who care about each other to find new ways to show that." He slipped the gold band off her finger and rolled it between his own, releasing her hands.
"When we were in Las Vegas, you told me that you would always be here for me whenever I needed you for whatever it was that I needed. Did you mean that?"
Mary looked at him in surprise. "You have to ask? Of course I meant it. You're my partner, Marshall, my best friend. Hell, you're closer to me than my own family. I mean I know I don't say it very often, but you know how I feel about you."
He took a deep breath and he nodded. "You know what that sounds an awful lot like?" He reached into the box and pulled out the photograph of the two of them holding one another, drunk but joyous, surrounded by the accoutrement of marriage, Elvis smiling benevolently in the background. He tapped the image.
"It sounds an awful lot like this, if you ask me." He smiled softly and reached out to stroke her cheek.
Mary looked at him with confusion. "Marshall, what.... I don't understand."
Leave it to Mary to need it clear and plain. Leave it to the two of them to do it completely in their own way once again. He'd planned this moment in his mind a million times, seen it happening in a restaurant, in the moonlight, in his livingroom, even in the office after everybody else was gone. He'd never imagined he would be putting his entire heart on the line sitting on her unmade bed clutching the cheap gold band from their previous Vegas wedding on the eve of the annulment of their first drunken foray into wedded bliss. He'd never imagined he'd be this tongue-tied, this unable to say four words for fear that, despite the fact she'd been so clearly wishing when he'd come in, she would hate him, run from him, leave him with nothing but ashes and dust.
I came here tonight to take back the happiness I saw in that photo, to claim what she and I both deserve. Please let me be right....
Marshall laid down the photo and took her hand in his again. "I'm saying that I don't want us to be apart anymore, either, Mary. I want us to be together all the time. I'm saying that I think the people at the wedding chapel were right. I'm saying that I want the chance to lie down next to you every night and wake up next to you every morning in peace and love. I'm saying I want to spend the rest of my life with my best friend. Will you marry me, Mare?"
Her mouth was hanging open and she looked as shocked as though she'd just been slapped. "But...but...you didn't want to marry me...you were so...so...green, couldn't stand the thought of it! Marshall, I saw it! And Marshall, I'm not exactly Today's Bride material. We both know it!"
Marshall tried not to be discouraged; he hadn't expected this to be easy, and she hadn't said no. "What I said was that I had plans and that waking up hungover, married, and chained to somebody in Vegas wasn't really a part of them. Not that some of it wasn't fun while we were there...." he smirked a little and then his expression became serious again.
"As for you not being marriage material, maybe you're not the girl in the fluffy white dress...." She was looking down, and he put his hand under her chin to force her to meet his eyes. "But you're the only woman I will ever want, Mary Shannon. In jeans and a leather jacket, with a Glock in your hand, you were the most beautiful bride I ever saw. Marry me. Be my friend. Be my partner. Be my lover and my wife."
Mary, the woman who never cried, the woman who sneered in the face of death and made grown men tremble with fear, felt a tear slip down her cheek and she nodded.
"Yes?" Marshall said, his heart racing, his hands sliding up and down her arms. "Is that a yes? 'Cause I'm going to want to hear you say it like a verbal contract sort of thing here...."
She smacked at him gently, "Idiot. Yes. Okay? Yes. God help us both, but yes. I will marry you."
He pulled her into his arms and they were laughing and kissing, mouths meeting and pressing together, the tang of salt from tears mixing in. He broke the kisses long enough to take the Vegas wedding band and slip it solemnly back on her ring finger. They looked at it on her hand again a moment together, and she reached the hand with the ring on it up, slid it into his hair, and pulled him back down into a long, deep kiss, all humor gone.
When they woke up the next morning, they were once again chained together with Mary's handcuffs, but neither one of them was overly concerned about finding the keys.
It was Marshall's turn to put the kids to bed. Matthew and Elizabeth, age 6, were being their normal charming selves, which had meant that a fifteen-minute battle raging across most of the living room and part of the kitchen had ensued before Marshall had simply grabbed one under one arm, one under the other and carried them bodily up the stairs to their rooms. "Why twins? What did we do to deserve twins?" he muttered, only half-kidding.
The twins were in Matthew's room tonight waiting on their story. When they'd heard Marshall muttering, they'd called a guarded truce. Being survivors, they were adept at reading the atmosphere, knew the warning signs, and had an uncanny sense of just how far to push both their parents before getting punished. Someday, Mary always said, they were either going to make wonderful little Marshals or fantastic little felons.
Marshall came in and sat down on the cowboy bedspread. "What story have you two decided to hear tonight?" God, please, please, please not the Dr. Seuss again. I can take anything but rerun number 1000 of the Dr. Seuss. I will go beg Mary to shoot me if it's Dr. Seuss....
Matthew cut his eyes at his sister, and she gave him a tight nod that had to have been genetically gifted to her from her mother. "We want to hear the story of the two wedding pictures on the mantle."
Marshall looked up in surprise. "What? What did you say?"
Elizabeth impatiently gestured. "There are two pictures of you and Mom on the mantle. In both of them you are kind of dressed in wedding clothes. In both of them there is a weird man in a fancy suit in a place that looks kind of like a funny church. In both of them, Mom is holding her gun. In one of them there are a bunch of other people, too, Uncle Stan, Aunt Brandi, Gramma and Nana and Papa but not in the other one. It's like a mystery. Matthew and I have been trying to figure it out. Tell us the story."
Marshall ran a hand through his hair, and turned when he heard a noise at the door. Mary was leaning against the frame of the Matthew's room with a wicked little grin on her face. "Yeah, Dad. Tell them the story. Go right ahead. I can't wait to hear this one, either."
Okay this is the end. I hope you like where it went. Yes, Mary was a little softer than usual in this one, but I hope you think she was still in character. I believe, firmly, that there is going to come a day where she's going to lay down her barriers and let him in. I think it's going to be lovely.... Hit the button and tell me what you think.