Mary flipped open her phone without looking at the caller ID. She was sitting at a red light three blocks from the Sunshine building and she was running at least 20 minutes late. She clenched her coffee between her legs, the complicated coffee beverage she picked up for Marshall was sitting in the only cup holder. A peace offering for her tardiness, but one she was going to make him pay for anyway.
"I'm almost there. Jinx blew a fuse last night when she caught the toaster oven on fire, which she neglected to tell me, and the power was out this morning." She didn't need to explain herself to Marshall but she was annoyed with her mother and she wanted to share her frustration.
"Mer," he waited to speak until she was through with her rant. She cocked her head at the abnormal sound of his voice. "I'm not coming in today. Could you go visit Neil Edwards for me? I'm worried that he's not adjusting to -"
"What do you mean you're not coming in today?" She interrupted. "I have seven visits scheduled today and we have to finish the paperwork for Simmons and O'Hara from last week."
He sighed. Mary was right. There was too much work for one person and he couldn't leave her to do it all by herself. He scrubbed his face with his hands. "I'll be there in an hour. Can you tell Stan I'll be late?"
"Sure," he could hear her grinning through the phone. Marshall was never late. She would delight in telling Stan that she beat him in and she would gloat all day about how she got there before him. "You're coffee is going to be cold."
"You drink it." He didn't respond to her baiting. "See you in an hour." He didn't say goodbye when he hung up.
Marshall sat in his truck in the parking lot for a minute before he slowly unbuckled and slid out of the seat. He gave a weak wave to the people who enthusiastically greeted him on the way inside and slipped into the elevator, leaning against the wall during the 23 second ride.
Mary was sitting at her desk, phone fused to her ear, speaking animatedly to the person on the other end. He took his seat and noticed that there were two coffee cups on her desk. At least he didn't have to deal with her before the caffeine kicked in. She slammed the phone down and he flinched at the noise.
"Where have you been?" She groused.
Marshall looked at his watch. "I told you I'd be here in an hour and that was only 47 minutes ago."
"Yeah but you're late. You're never late. What gives?"
"I told you I was taking the day off, but now I'm here. Toss me some files, I'm starting with paperwork. We can go see witnesses after lunch." He wasn't up to sparring with her so he didn't argue when the bulk of the paperwork landed on his desk.
They worked in silence for a few minutes when Marshall suddenly realized that Mary was staring at him.
"What?" He asked gruffly.
She crossed the room and perched on the corner of his desk. "Are you a little green Marshall?"
"Green?" He played dumb.
"Are you sick Doofus?"
"I'm just a little under the weather Mer, it's nothing."
"Nothing? You bring your germs in here and call it nothing." She moved back to her desk. "Jesus Marshall, the last thing I need is to be infected with your creeping crud."
"I'll try not to breathe while I'm here," he said sarcastically.
They worked in silence for a few more minutes before a stack of papers landed in front of Marshall. "Why don't you finish this paperwork and then go home. I'll go visit our witnesses. It'll get me out of range of those germs of yours," she muttered under her breath.
Marshall just nodded and Mary checked her gun and collected her jacket and then she was gone. Marshall wilted a little looking at the paperwork. There were at least six hours worth of forms to go through sitting in front of him. He fished through his bottom drawer and came up with a bottle of Advil. He didn't know how long it had been down there but he dry swallowed three pills and picked up the first page in the stack.
He had no idea how much time had elapsed when Mary came back in the door, she was a whirlwind of pent up energy. He looked at the stack of paper on his desk. He didn't remember filling out most of them. He was going to be filling out revisions for a week. He looked up at her with glassy eyes and she she stopped speaking and walked over to his desk.
"Marshall?" She sat a takeout bag on his desk. "I brought lunch. I thought soup would be good." She reached out and carefully laid cool fingers across his forehead. "Marshall you're burning up." She cupped his cheek and turned his face toward her. "Why didn't you go home?"
"You're getting my germs all over you," he said dryly.
"Marshall," exasperated. "Why are you still here?"
"Stan needs this paperwork and I didn't want to leave it all for you."
Mary raised an eyebrow and flipped through the smaller stack. "You know these are all filled out wrong?"
"Really?" Marshall reached for them. "I was just thinking that I needed to check them before I gave them to Stan." Mary carefully swept the pile off the desk and out of his reach. She placed them in the center of her desk, careful not to strew them all over the place. Marshall hated it when she reduced his neat piles to chaos.
She pulled her chair over and sat across from him. She pulled take out containers of soup pulled the lid off. Chunky chicken noodle. It smelled wonderful. She gently tugged on the pen that Marshall still had clenched in his hand and replaced it with a spoon.
"Eat and then get out of here. I'm not heartless Marshall. I wouldn't have insisted that you come help me if I'd known you were sick." She watched him, he had yet to take one bite of his soup, sitting there holding the spoon in a daze.
"Marshall?" She said slowly, "Hey?" She leaned in so she could see into his downcast eyes. "Talk to me buddy."
"I don't think I'm very hungry," he managed after a few seconds. She waited for the rest of the thought but it never came.
"Okay," she said finally. "Why don't you go home then. I'll finish this."
He nodded quietly and rose to his feet. He stood there for a second, looking at the floor and then reached blindly for the back of the chair to steady himself. Mary was standing beside him before she realized that she'd moved. She wrapped her fingers around his bicep and could feel his muscles tremble slightly under her fingers.
"Come on, I'll take you home." He roused marginally at her words.
"What?" He shook his head. "No, my truck is here. You have things to do," he trailed off as a wave of nausea rolled over him. He pulled out of her grip and just managed to avoid running to the bathroom. He worked not to trip on his feet and barely had time to drop to his knees before dry heaves ripped through his body. He endured and when the spasms finally eased he leaned his head weakly against the wall of the stall. He wiped at his mouth with the back of a shaky hand and tried to catch his breath.
"Marshall?" Mary stood with her back to the door holding a bottle of sprite.
"You're in the men's room Mer."
"Well, you're oriented to place and person," she deadpanned.
Marshall chuckled despite the protest of his abused stomach muscles.
"What are you doing in here?"
Mary rolled her eyes. "I came to check on you," she acted like this was the most natural thing in the world. "And I brought you this," she held the Sprite out to him. "Just little sips. It might help settle your stomach." She waited while he opened the bottle and took a small sip. "Are you ready to try to get out of here?"
"Sure," his head was still foggy but he felt a little better. He ignored the hand she offered him and pulled himself to his feet. He washed his hands thoroughly and rinsed his mouth out. He attempted a smile that came out as more of a grimace. She patted him on the back and followed him out of the restroom.
Marshall fumbled for the keys to his truck when they got to the parking lot. Mary covered his hand and he allowed her to take the keys from him. "I'm taking you home," she said simply. He started to argue but saw the determination in her eyes and decided to save his energy.
"My truck will still be here," he reminded her.
"Safe in the lot of a federal building," she agreed.
"But you'll have to come get me and bring me back."
"Well, in that case," she held his keys out to him and then snatched them back when he reached for them. "Marshall," she shook her head, amused. "You really are off your game today. I'll come get you. Just get in the car."
Marshall was quiet on the way home, and Mary glanced at him nervously. Marshall was rarely still and almost never silent. She pulled up at his apartment and he opened the car door. "Thanks for the lift," he spoke slowly. She shut off the car and opened her door.
"You're coming in?" He looked mildly confused.
She nodded and walked around to stand next to him.
"What happened to being afraid of my germs?"
"I'm sure it's already too late for that. Come on, let's get you inside." She kept pace with him and took the keys as he fumbled with the lock. "Why don't you go change into your pajamas and lay down."
Marshall headed for his bedroom and Mary wandered down the hall after him and into the bathroom to check out the medicine cabinet. She chuckled to herself at the way his toiletries were arranged by height, labels facing out. She grabbed a bottle of Tylenol and the thermometer and went to find him.
Marshall was curled on his side under the covers and she could see him shivering. She brushed an errant lock of hair off his forehead and sat down next to him. She held out the thermometer. "Open," she said and placed it under his tongue. 102.1 the readout said. She just shook her head and handed him two Tylenol and a glass of water. He swallowed the pills and she started to stand but stopped when Marshall reached out and snagged her wrist.
"Will you stay? Just for a few minutes?"
Mary's chest tightened strangely at his request. She nodded and he scooted over to make room for her. She kicked her shoes off and swung her feet up onto the bed, leaning against the headboard. Marshall's head was lying by her hip and she ran her fingers through his hair idly until his breathing changed and she knew he was asleep. She sat there a few more minutes before she slipped away.
She left her shoes by the bed and padded into the living room. She called Stan and informed him that they would be out for the rest of the afternoon and Marshall would probably be out for the rest of the week.
She curled up at the end of the couch and turned the TV on but muted the volume. She settled on The Price is Right and watched halfheartedly as some schmuck spun the wheel.
She jumped as her feet moved and she turned to see Marshall sitting at the other end of the couch, her feet in his lap. She rubbed her eyes and squinted at the clock. "Hey, I must have fallen asleep." She sat up, moving her feet off of him. She eyed Marshall. "How are you feeling?" Marshall shrugged. "Then why are you up?" She asked.
"I was thirsty. You're still here?"
Mary jumped off the couch and started for the kitchen. "I thought you needed a keeper," she tossed over her shoulder. "What do you want to drink?" She opened the refrigerator door and leaned inside. "No wonder you're so skinny Doofus, there's nothing to eat in here." She pulled out a bottle of apple juice and poured a tall glass.
Marshall sipped at the juice she handed him. "Don't you have plans tonight?"
"Nothing that won't keep."
"Really Mer, you don't have to stay. I'm gonna live. I know you don't like to be around sick people. When Jinx had bronchitis last year you practically lived at the office for a week."
"Are you trying to kick me out?"
"No, I just don't want," Marshall shoved the glass into Mary's hand, sloshing the juice over the side, and bolting for the bathroom.
Mary hastily set the glass down and followed him. Marshall hovered over the toilet and Mary ran warm water over a washcloth. She knelt down next to him when he slumped against the wall and gently wiped the sweat from his brow. She was quiet and patient. She watched as Marshall slowly regained a little color.
"Back to bed," she said softly and she wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled him to his feet. She got him settled under the covers and sat next to him. "I may not be good at this but I'm here. I want to be here with you."
"Okay," he said simply and his eyes fluttered with the effort of keeping them open.
Mary migrated back to the couch while Marshall slept, she was restless but trying not to disturb him. She pulled the paperwork that Marshall had been working on that morning out of her bag and set up camp on the coffee table. She started at the beginning and corrected the very few errors she found. Even sick her partner was excellent at his job.
She was daydreaming with the pen in her mouth when Marshall's screams echoed from the bedroom. Mary jammed her knees into the underside of the coffee table in her haste to get off the floor and scrambled to Marshall's room. He was thrashing, tangled in the covers, in the throes of a nightmare. She crossed the room in one step and grabbed him by the shoulder but missed his flailing hand. He caught her across the cheek with the back of his hand. Her vision went blurry and she grabbed her face with one hand.
"Marshall!" she shouted. She grabbed the covers and pulled them away from him. He woke slowly, confused. Terror stark in his eyes. "Marshall," she breathed. She sat next to him, the throbbing in her head temporarily forgotten. "It was just a dream," she took his hand, rubbed the back of his knuckles. She waited as the confusion faded.
"Mer," he ran his fingers through his hair. "Mer!" He pulled away from her and pushed himself up reaching for her. His fingers were gentle as he touched her face. "What happened?"
"It's nothing." She brushed her fingers aside and focused on him. "That was some nightmare you had there."
Marshall nodded, not distracted from the view of her rapidly swelling eye. He flexed his hand, noticed that his knuckles felt tender. "Did I do that?" He looked horrified.
"Did I do that?" He interrupted.
"It was my fault," she started.
Marshall pulled away before Mary had finished. He scrambled out the other side of the bed and practically ran from the room. Mary was still sitting, stunned, on the bed when he returned with a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a dishtowel.
"Hold this on your face," he thrust the vegetables at her but carefully avoided brushing her fingers as she reached for them. He backed away and bumped the door. Mary reached for him and he cringed.
"Marshall," she had to stop this. It was already out of hand. "Sit down," she pointed to the bed. Her voice held that no-nonsense tone that struck fear into the heart of felons. He crossed in front of her and sat on the edge of the bed gingerly, he looked ready to bolt. Mary knelt by his knees and forced him to look into her face.
"Tell me what you were dreaming."
"What?" The question threw him.
"The nightmare. Tell me."
"I don't remember." He wouldn't meet her eyes.
"Bullshit. I've seen you on the wrong end of a Colt .45 and you never looked like that. Tell me."
"I lost you," he mumbled.
"What?" She was confused.
"You had been taken, and no matter what I did I couldn't get to you," he sighed. His shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Marshall." She wrapped her fingers around the back of his neck. She leaned up and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He was stiff in her arms but she held on doggedly. She stroked the little hairs on the back of his neck and he finally slumped heavily against her, his arms snaking around her body. He shook as he hung on and she whispered in his ear, taking his weight without complaint.
"Marshall, Marshall," she pulled away slightly so she could see in his eyes. "You didn't hit me." She laid her fingers across his mouth when he began to speak. "You were flailing. I went to wake you up and I got in the way. Hey, hey," she redirected when she felt like she was starting to lose him. "You know I wouldn't tolerate any Dick hitting me. You know that." He focused on her eyes. "I wouldn't let anyone hit me," she spoke slowly. They were almost there. "I'm right here."
Tears flowed unchecked from her partner's eyes. She released him to wipe them from his cheeks. She took him by the shoulders and he didn't resist when she laid him back against the pillow. She liberated the sheets from under his feet and smoothed them over his arms. She turned and lay down on the other side of him. She curled herself around him and draped one arm across his chest. She felt him tense.
"Just go to sleep Marshall. My head hurts." He relaxed slowly and Mary smiled.
Sweet sentimental Marshall. He'd rather cut off his own hand than hurt her. She wouldn't stand for an abusive man but no one had ever treated her the way Marshall did. She wasn't naive, she knew that Marshall cared about her more than most partners cared about each other but it was complicated. Marshall was her best friend, only friend she amended. He was the only partner she'd ever been able to work with and the thought of losing that terrified her. Still, she couldn't deny the low hum of desire in her belly as she lay there with him. She idly traced his ribs with the tips of his fingers and he moaned in his sleep. She could feel the stirring all the way down to her toes.
"Love you Mer," he mumbled into his pillow. Her breath caught in her throat. She carefully controlled her breathing and watched him sleep.
She was still awake when his fever finally broke. He was soaked and shivering and she was damp and sticky. "Marshall," she nudged his shoulder. "Marshall, wake up, we have to get you out of these clothes and then you can go right back to sleep."
He was groggy when he rolled to face her. "What?" He mumbled. He turned and looked at her and inhaled, suddenly awake. Her eye was nearly swollen shut. She was going to have one heck of a bruise in the morning. Marshall slid out of bed. He grabbed the headboard for balance when he stood too fast. He picked the peas up off the floor, they were still half frozen. He tossed them to her and she held them over her face.
He dug through his right middle drawer and pulled out a pair of black pajamas with yellow smiley faces on them and a matching yellow t-shirt. He sat them next to Mary and dug them in the drawer again and came up with a green pair with saguaro cactuses. "You should change." Mary nodded and watched as Marshall slipped into the bathroom. Mary had changed and stripped the bed by the time Marshall emerged. She was just tucking in the clean sheets.
"Come sit here," she said. He pulled himself off the door frame and sat heavily on the bed. "We need to talk."
She hadn't known that Marshall could pale further but his skin turned ashy at her words. "Marshall?" She turned to face him and leaned toward him. "What's wrong?"
"We have to talk?" He squeaked.
Mary realized that no good things ever came from that phrase. She hurried to continue with what she wanted to say. "You know I care about you right?" He nodded slowly, still unsure where she was headed. "I couldn't stand to lose you." She shook her head when he started to speak. "I've spent most of my life holding everyone at arms length because every time I've ever needed someone they let me down. It was easier not to have any expectations. And that worked. With everyone except you."
She stood and paced in front of where he sat. "I know that you love me," she said. "But I'm afraid that if we change things it will all come crashing down." He saw her fists clench as she faced away from him. "I don't know if I can do it Marshall."
"Mer," she turned and looked at him, waited expectantly. He met her eyes without hesitation, completely confident in his words. "I won't leave you. I won't hurt you." He reached out and she let him fold her hands in his. "But you're going to have to meet me part way. Mary. I can't force you to feel something that you don't. But I promise you this. No matter how snarly you get, no matter how you fight and scratch and push me away I'm still going to be standing here. I'm yours."
The tears this time were Mary's. She fought against them. She didn't love easily, didn't cry easily but God help her, she believed him. She believed that her witty, zany partner, the only one who could corral her, the only one who could keep up and reach into the fire without getting burned would stick around no matter what. Mary felt the walls around her heart crumble as she crumpled into his arms.
Her ragged breathing evened out slowly and she pulled away to look at his face. He looked tired and still a little green around the edges but also content, with a serene expression that she'd never seen before. Out of nowhere she started laughing. She laughed so hard that more tears rolled down her face. Marshall looked bewildered and the expression was enough to quiet her mid laugh.
"I'm not laughing at you Marshall," she hurried to explain. "It's just this situation." She looked down in herself dressed in Marshall's pajamas. She could tell he was getting feverish again and he was exhausted. Despite all that she felt more at peace than she had in a long time.
She handed him two more Tylenol and climbed into the bed beside him. He faced her and she ran her thumb along the soft spot below his ear.
"How is this going to be?" He asked her hoarsely. "Are you sure? Because I don't want to cross the line only to pretend that we never crossed it."
"I'm sure. How often have you known me to change my mind?"
"I'm just not sure if I'm hallucinating."
"You're not hallucinating. And I'll tell you again tomorrow, and the day after if you need me to."
"Where do we go from here?" He asked again.
"Right now you go to sleep, there is plenty of time to figure out the rest of it."
"What are we going to do when you get the flu?"