Love is…

The stroke of a soft cheek.
A blush.

It was one of those evenings when nothing was going to get done no matter how hard either of them tried.

Stein recognized this fact only moments after sitting down at his desk, and he immediately pushed back on his swivel chair, carrying him across the room, miraculously without any falling over of any variety. He wasn't one to work too hard, if he could avoid it.

Marie watched his semi-escape with narrowed eyes—erm, eye. What they were doing was really just meaningless paperwork to keep them busy until it was time to finally go home. But work was work, and they couldn't just not work…right?

But then, Stein was heading for the door, and it wasn't too long before closing time—so to speak—anyway, so Marie hastily, guiltily, stuffed the papers into a drawer in her desk, and followed after him.

He regarded her with a relaxed, wide smile. "You're like a little puppy," he told her in a casual, slightly affectionate tone.

She didn't quite meet his eyes—just looked somewhere in the vicinity of the rim of his glasses. "'S my job to keep tabs on you," she excused herself quietly.

Neither one of them mentioned the fact that keeping tabs was just that—an excuse. They both knew that so much time together was making them regret ever breaking up, ever leaving one another's side. It would have been awkward to mention it. Then, they would've had to talk about their relationship, and that simply wouldn't do. Marie had too big a tendency to lose her temper, and Stein…well, Stein was loco en la cabeza. And terrible at relationships. Hmm.

They silently made their way away from Shibusen, through the Halloween-y streets of Death City, and really weren't paying attention to where they were at all. Marie wondered distantly if they were heading back to his home, but she didn't readily recognize the path they were walking. Perhaps they'd walk forever, until they reached the ends of the world and fell off the edge, plunging forever into the depths of darkness and insanity.

But then Stein stopped walking, and Marie felt silly for imagining such dramatic exploits. She looked around briefly, and they were just in some alley. Not a park, not a field of sunflowers and sunshine. Just a small space between two buildings. A little dreary, but at least there weren't any hobos or muggers. Just a mysterious liquid on the ground…Eww.

"I've been thinking," Stein announced after a long silence, staring off into space, avoiding looking at her at all costs.

Marie crooked an eyebrow. "You do that a lot, or just recently? Thinking can lead to brain-strain, or fatigue, or whatever the term is now." She was rambling slightly, but with just enough of a teasing edge to make her companion's smile broaden.

"If you're done analyzing the quantity of my thinking," he said indulgently, his eyes sliding down towards her general vicinity, "I was hoping you might actually be interested in what I was thinking about."

And there was a hidden hue to the light tone of his voice—whatever it was he wanted to say, it was important. Or, he wanted her to think it was. But, either way, it sobered Marie up in an instant.

Her voice was low. "What have you been thinking about, Franken?"

He turned so he was facing her a little more directly. "I've been thinking…" He took a deep breath, but his smile remained casual and light. "I've been thinking that I'm not ready to be with you again."

Marie blinked. This was unexpected, and a little random. Certainly not what she'd thought he was building up to. And that smile of his—that smile made it all the worse. It wasn't as if she'd thought he was ready; she didn't even think he really remembered that they'd ever been together in the first place. Where was this coming from?

She gaped silently at him for a long moment, at a complete loss, and then turned away, huffing.

"You think I didn't know that? Who says I want to be with you, anyway?" She kept her voice low to drown out the hysterical edge creeping into it.

And then there was a hand on her face, a warm, soft hand, and her knees felt weak, and her face felt hot, and she wanted to cry and laugh and slap him and kiss him and—

And Stein said: "Marie. You never listen until I'm finished talking, do you? I said I'm not ready. I mean, we still have a lot of work to do. There's capturing—and hopefully slaughtering—Medusa, and that's going to take up most of our time. You know that."

She did know that, but she didn't like it. Why did that bi—witch have to go and try to seduce poor Stein and get him all confused about himself, the universe, and everything? Really, the witch had thrown him and his insanity off by years, taken away so much time…

"But," Stein, continued, his hand moving slowly up and down Marie's soft cheek, as if he were cataloguing the contours of it for reference at a later date, "I know we'll get that all sorted out. Y'know, if we don't die trying. And, after…" He trailed off, leaving the statement open for interpretation, his hand moving from her hairline to her jaw and back again.

"After," Marie repeated, not exactly stating or questioning. "After?" She finally met his gaze again, and was unnerved by how gentle he looked. He really didn't want to hurt her. His smile was for her sake.

"Yeah. After. Because—yeah. After. Is that okay?"

It was a chance. It was all he could promise, and it was all that Marie could ever hope for. She could either endure Hell and insanity and witch-hunting and death-defying-battles and pain just for a chance at being with him again…or she could say, No, that isn't okay. I'm ready now, and I don't want to wait until after. And then she could leave.

She blushed under the attention of his roving hand, and nodded, closing her eye. All she could hope for was all she ever wanted, after all. It was enough.

"Yes. After's okay with me."

They did call it Happily Ever After for a reason, didn't they?