A/N: The thot plickens.... I welcome your feedback on this one, particularly since it's heading in this new direction. It may be a bit early still for you to tell where it's going, but if you do have anything to add, I'd be grateful for the input. As always, it's unfolding slowly.
When written in Chinese the word "crisis" is composed of two characters - one represents danger and the other represents opportunity.
~John F. Kennedy, address, 12 April 1959
It was two days later when Dailey called a team meeting. The Las Vegas Fugitive Task Force Marshals filed into the briefing room with their usual mixture of humor and grumbling. They were not by nature people who sat in meetings well. They sat impatiently in the plastic chairs, minds already impatiently on other things, on resolving whatever this new situation or challenge about to be placed before them was rather than being caged in to hear it.
When Dailey stepped to the front of the darkened room and called for the lights to be dimmed, the murmuring and traded insults died away almost immediately. The projector clicked on, an image of the official seal of the U.S. Marshal Service suddenly illuminating the screen behind him. The light of the machine gave his already blue eyes an unnatural brightness, almost as if they were being lit from within.
"We will be sending members of this office to join forces with law enforcement from California, Nevada, and Arizona to do a massive round-up of fugitives currently at large there. The area we will be covering has Las Vegas as a loose regional hub, so we won't be treading on any of the other office's toes, as it were." He smirked briefly and paused to take a sip of coffee. The map of the region gleamed on the screen behind him as the projector hummed quietly.
"You will be on the road quite a bit with this little endeavor, and some of it is going to be nasty business. We're looking at everything from bail jumpers to a couple of very serious cases they are waiting on our expertise to help with. They need both brains and brawn from us." He swept his eyes over the assembled men and women a moment, looked back down at the notes.
From the back somebody called out, "Aw, not beauty, too?"
Dailey looked up briefly. "No. Beauty is not required. Therefore, O'Connor, we can take you along with no problem." Laughter ran out in the small room.
"Of course, not everybody will be going. We can't wipe out our office here to help out the locals. Duties for those of you who stay may be temporarily increased if need arises. Let us all hope we go through a quiet spell." Again, his lips turned up in that humorless little curl.
"Marshals, that is all. You will be contacted throughout the day about your assignments as the team is formed and briefed more completely. Dismissed."
They rose almost as a body, lean and hungry as a pack of muscular hunting hounds. The conversation as the group left the room was about who would be going, about what would be involved. Perhaps inevitably, war stories were unearthed, memories swapped of similar situations, of captures gone well or horribly wrong. Marshall was with them as they walked, and he smiled or commiserated with this new group that was in so many ways a family to him. He added stories that made them laugh or groan.
He couldn't shake the nagging feeling, however, as he got back to his desk and began to shuffle the papers there that Dailey's eyes had lingered on him a little longer than they should have when they'd talked about those who would be remaining behind....
Mary was pacing John Patrick's office. Periodically, she'd pause to lift one of the beautiful and rare objects scattered here or there and turn it over in her hands as if admiring or inspecting it, but her mind was in high gear and far away.
The subtle ache that she'd been largely able to sublimate before Tom Gray's unexpected appearance in the parking garage had grown teeth and sunk them deep into her. Her wings were itching to spread wide, her love of the challenge, her need to pit herself against the impossible and escape it, fists full of proof of her life, full of the proof of her victory over everything that had ever tried to conquer her.
Always before, when this urge arose, she'd gathered her crew, chosen her target, and headed out to wage her subtle war. She'd been free to dance away at the whim of a moment to track whatever prize seemed to offer her the most challenge, the greatest satisfaction, and she'd never had any impediment.
Now things were different.
She sat the heavy carved wood figure in her hands back down on the table with a thump and a sigh and slapped her hands lightly against her legs in frustration.
Different is good, though, right? I mean, Thea's right. It's good not to have to keep looking over my shoulder all the time. And some of those jobs got way, way, way out of hand. That last one McNeil was setting up. That one had the potential to get wild as hell. I'm not even sure even I could have gotten in and out of that facility.
She took another turn around the room, a tiger in a cage, stalking, stalking.
But hell, I miss it. I don't know who I am anymore. I don't know what to do with myself now. And I hate this...nothingness. I feel like I'm just drifting along. Maybe that's why I want that so badly.
Then again, maybe it's just like an addiction, and this is a withdrawal pain. Maybe if I can resist it, the craving will pass.
I mean, look at what I've gained, right? I love Marshall. I love him. And if I were to pull a job....
The complications and chaos of that scenario tumbled through her mind in images and sensations rather than words: handcuffs, running, a sharp knife slicing a thick cord, solitude in an endless cold night, tears, burning buildings, broken bodies, deserts with no water and twisted dead trees and hills and hills of endless sand.....
She walked over to the window to look out at the ebb and flow of the traffic and pedestrians on the Strip. She crossed her arms across her body in that protective gesture she was unaware of making, that holding in of all the tension and craziness she felt. For a moment she fervently wished she could be just another tourist there on vacation, just another person there to be drawn in and glitzed by the elegant facade of it all.
But the sequins and neon don't work on me anymore, sadly. And I know all the castles are papier mache, or whatever the hell the concrete equivalent of that is. And I can't just go downstairs and pretend that under the glittery surface everything is okay right now.
She heard the muted chime of the elevator doors and she turned with relief to see John Patrick coming in. He would know what to do. He always knew best what to do.
Marshall twirled a pencil idly in his long fingers watching another officer leaving Dailey's office. It was getting late in the day, and he'd still not been called in. It was hard not to feel bitter.
I have to keep remembering my situation here. I'm still a new face in this office, and it's going to take some time for them to get to know me. Dailey isn't like my old boss was, not in nature or in experience with me, and all that stuff between the covers of my service record is just ink on paper without his trust.
Some small part of Marshall, though, before it was ruthlessly squelched, cried out about what the ink on that paper said about his years of impeccable service, the number of criminals he'd helped bring in, the difficulty of some of the cases he'd been involved in.....
Marshall sighed and shook his head.
I'm just going to have to pay my dues here, it looks like. And I can do that.
That other little voice chimed in somewhat angrily: ...yeah, since there's no other damn choice....
"Tom Gray, you say? Whatever is he doing back here? I thought the two of you parted under, shall we say, less than friendly circumstances."
Mary smiled at John Patrick over the rim of her cup of steaming green tea. John Patrick had been meeting her for lunch, and so they were having Japanese food with their conversation.
"If you're referring to his trying to double-cross me on that last big job we pulled and my method of paying him back for that, then yes, I was as surprised as you were to see him again. Stranding a person naked on a roadside in rush hour traffic isn't usually the sort of thing that a person forgives and forgets." Mary used her chopsticks to grab a bit of her donburi neatly, still amused at and deeply satisfied by the memory of Tom's face in the rearview mirror as she accelerated away from him. "Maybe he figured we were even. I don't pretend to know what goes on in that head of his."
John Patrick snorted. "If anything." He eyed her speculatively. "So, tell me. Did you promise him that you'd go on a run with him?"
Mary's smile faded and she lifted the teacup again, held it between her hands to feel the comforting warm seep through the pottery. "Damn, J.P., couldn't you at least pretend to dance around it, sometimes?"
John Patrick continued to gaze at her. He leaned slightly forward. "My girl, I decided long ago life is too short to spend it dancing around unless dancing is the point at hand. But don't think you'll elude me. Did you promise Gray you'd do a job with him?"
"And if I did?" She brought her eyes up from the steam gently curling from the cup to meet those eyes, so like her own, across the table. Her expression remained calm, blank, giving away nothing.
John Patrick was still for a moment more, and then he reached for his own beverage, a glass of ice water, and took a sip. He sat it back down in exactly the same place it had been lifted from on the wooden tabletop without ever looking at it. "Then you are making a foolish mistake, Mary Shannon. And quite frankly, I expect better of you than that."
Marshall had resigned himself to staying. It was a quarter to the end of his shift, and still, he'd not been called in for a briefing as a member of the tri-state team. He'd even begun to convince himself it was for the best.
This will give me some time to really get to know Dailey. Maybe he'll let me do some local runs. There really won't be any other choice with everybody else out like this. And, anyway, I think he said he wanted to be sure of me 100% physically, too, so that's probably a reason why I'm not going just now. I'll probably get to go on the next one for sure. Ultimately, it's better not to push it.
Plus there's Mary. How would she feel if I were suddenly up and gone for two weeks? I mean, she's always known that my job was there, but we've never had to deal with this aspect of it since we've been together. She and I will have more time to get used to me being back at work before something big like this comes up and....
Dailey's voice cut through his reverie. "Mann. Need you in my office, please."
Marshall jumped, startled. His heart was racing just a little with adrenaline as he grabbed a notepad and headed for Dailey's office. He tried desperately not to get his hopes up. Probably it wasn't an assignment for the task force, and there was no point in getting enthusiastic and then getting shot down.
Mary watched Marshall packing clothes into a huge black duffel, and she tried very hard to ignore the uncomfortable mixture of things she was feeling. She was happy to see him moving with that same purpose and power she'd known him with when they'd first met, that spark that had flickered a bit after his capture by Raph. He was that almost that man who had chased her down that alley, fearless, bold, relentless, again.
A part of her was already starting to miss him, already wanting him back before he'd left. This would be the first time since they had come together truly that they would be apart. She knew she loved him and that he loved her and that they were strong enough to endure this separation, but the thought of two weeks' worth of empty pillows and dark dreams for companionship made her feel sad and a little anxious. Would he miss her, too, or would he be so wrapped up in the chase that he wouldn't notice? She wasn't going to ask. It was too high school girlfriend.....
A third part, a part she was trying desperately to pretend did not exist at all, was simply, humanly, horribly jealous. It wailed and kicked its feet in anguish as Marshall loaded the tools of his trade in his gear bag, as he checked and rechecked, as he prepared to spread his wings and fly. It flapped own cramped wings against the walls of a self-imposed cage and asked her Why? Why? Why him and not me? so stridently and so much that she was afraid Marshall would be able to hear it himself in a moment.
"So.... two weeks, huh?"
Marshall turned to her and pushed back an errant lock of hair that fell over his forehead. "That's what Dailey said. These things usually have a set duration, but it might run more or less, depending." A jubilant grin broke out face, and he stopped packing to come across the room to where she perched against the dresser and take her hands. He pulled her into his arms and he kissed her hard and fast before spinning them both around in a giddy little circle.
Mary couldn't resist his happiness, and she laughed at him and wrapped her arms around his neck to hold on. "You idiot. What the hell are you doing?"
He kissed her again lightly and let her go. "Sorry. That was my official happy dance. I've been holding that in since Dailey told me I was going."
"Feels good to be back in the saddle, huh?"
"You have no idea."
You're wrong about that, Marshall. You're just wrong. But now is not the time to have this discussion. Not when you're packing a bag to leave for two weeks and your eyes are shining like the starry night sky.
She watched him finishing his packing, checking and double-checking his mental list, and finally he pulled the top closed with the double zippers with a satisfied sigh. He hefted the large bag and sat it near the door.
"Done and done. I'm ready to go."
And I'm going to have to let you go. With all of me. So...
"All your prep finished then? Nothing left to take care of before your two-week departure? No item left unchecked on that list? Nothing else that might need...tending to?" She continued to lean against the dresser, ankles crossed, the picture of ease.
He blinked at her, a little confused.
"N-no...I don't think so."
She saw him going over the list in his head, could practically hear him. She pushed off the dresser with her hands and sauntered across the room toward him, a slow, deliberate approach. His eyes snapped to her, and she saw the light of understanding dawn.
"Mmm...yeah. Oh. Two weeks is a long time, Marshall." She was close to him now, standing with less than a handsbreadth between them, but she did not touch him.
"You're right. It is a very long time." His voice was husky, and his eyes dropped down to her mouth and back up to her eyes.
"So you want to make sure you take care of... everything... properly before you go." She trailed her index finger lightly along the buttons of his shirtfront, keeping her eyes fastened to his. "Some things take time to attend to the right way, you know. Lots of little details. And some things don't keep well, especially not for two whole weeks."
He caught her hand and brought it to his lips for a kiss. He smiled as he did, that wicked light she loved so much dancing in his darkened eyes. "You're absolutely right. How careless of me. I'll see to... that... right now."
Mary lay staring at the play of morning light on the ceiling. The bedding was a tangled mess, and to be honest, she wasn't exactly sure just where the other pillow had wound up, but she'd recovered enough after Marshall had left to make a warm little nest and pull it across her as she'd dozed off. Now, hours later, she was awake and her brain was back in gear.
Damn. I wish I could bottle what that man does to me and take it when needed.
She grinned a little at the thought of Marshall Mann as a drug. Even if I could do it, I'd still be too greedy to let anybody have even a drop of that. Because, let's face it, I need it all... the... time. She stretched like a large, satisfied cat, and contemplated getting up.
Her good mood slowly faded as she thought about the two Marshall-less weeks stretching in front of her, of her conversations with John Patrick and Thea about staying away from Tom Gray, of her continuing confusion about her place in the world now.
Get up to do what? Get up to call Tom Gray or my crew? Get up to schlep around this hotel room? To become a devotee of daytime TV? To God-forbid go shopping all day? To haunt J.P.'s office all day? To sign up for unemployment? To learn how to paint velvet Elvii? What the hell am I supposed to do now?
She pounded her hand on the mattress beside her.
That's enough. That's enough pity. It's time to get up from here and do something.
She rolled to her side and grabbed her phone. She looked down a long moment at the picture it displayed as wallpaper, a photo Thea had taken of her and Marshall. Then she made a brief call, made the arrangements for the meeting, and when she got in the hot water spray of the large shower a short time later, she felt many things, but the greatest of them was a sense of satisfaction. She'd made a choice, and for now, this was the one she was going to live with.
Question, comment, or statement? That's what the button is for. Love to you all.