Chapter 6 - Three years

Marshall waited in some trepidation for Mary to arrive at the office. She had been cranky all week. He had a fair idea of why. There was nothing he could do about it. But still, a cranky Mary was not enjoyable and they had a witness visit this morning and a new witness to pick up in the afternoon. He watched her warily as she blew into the office, irritably tossing her jacket on her chair, and stalking over to the coffeepot. It was going to be a long day.

After getting fortified with caffeine, she turned to Marshall and said sourly, "So, which pain in the ass witness do we have today?"

He became intensely interested in his paperwork, responded mildly, "Jordan Andrews. Routine visit." Waited for the shoe to drop. Mary didn't care for Jordan. Marshall had begun to suspect it was because Jordan had always displayed a bit too much interest in him. She was a relatively young woman, not beautiful by any means, but not plain either, always nicely groomed and well dressed, Great sense of humor, interested in many arcane things. Marshall quite enjoyed his visits with her, and had only started with their last visit to clue in to the fact that her attention to him bothered Mary. And Mary always had a comment to make. A sarcastic one. As WitSec inspectors, they had to be careful about emotional entanglements with their witnesses. It was very easy for a witness to develop unhealthy attachments to their inspectors. And occasionally the inspectors got too close to their witnesses. He thought about Epps and cringed.

Marshall considered Mary's reaction to Jordan. Wondered for the first time if maybe Mary was jealous. Felt a lift in his heart. If Mary was jealous that might mean she actually felt something for him. Felt something more than friendship. You didn't feel jealous of a friends interest in someone, did you? He realized a wall of silence was coming from Mary and looked up. She was frowning and just turned away, sinking down heavily in her chair.

Mary groaned and let her head flop on her desk. Her sister was coming in today and it was her birthday. That annual reminder of another year passed, and with what to show for it? Marshall could see these thoughts running through her head as clearly as if she had spoken. Getting kind of hard to maintain that 35-ish claim. Still don't have a real boyfriend. My mother is still living with me a year after coming to help me 'unpack'. Now, my troubled sister is coming for God knows how long. And to top it off, Jordan Andrews. After three years of partnership, he knew her far better than she realized. She would be appalled if she knew she just how attuned to her he was. He was even aware of where she was in her cycle. Not knowledge he ever planned to share with her.

As they drove to Jordan's home, Marshall reviewed what Mary had told him about her sister Brandi. She had had a far larger hand in raising her than her own mother did. But Mary had left home at sixteen. Brandi would have only been about nine. And started getting in trouble shortly thereafter. Mary felt guilty about that and responsible to a certain degree. Brandi – in and out of trouble with the law, drug user, string of loser men, spotty employment history at best. And Mary was ferociously protective of her. Family. A complicated subject.

He snuck a look at her, took in her slumped profile, her head resting against the window. The bits and pieces of her personal life that he had put together over the last three years had been obtained largely during times of great emotional stress. Mary never volunteered anything willingly. He knew Brandi was a subject of conflict for her. She was her baby sister, she loved her, she wanted to make things better for her, but at the same time, she was tired of bailing her out, tired of her not listening to what Mary had to say. He was aware this impending visit and the looming 'surprise' birthday party, that was hardly a surprise, were weighing on her. He felt sure these were the reasons she had been so out of sorts all week.

He frowned slightly. There was a new man she had been seeing. Mary wasn't one to share much about her love life, but he suddenly wondered if this ball player was a factor in her mood this week. If things weren't going well...It was wrong of him to hope that was the case, because it would make Mary unhappy. But there it was. He wasn't particularly concerned about this new love interest. Men didn't tend to last long with Mary. His frown turned into a smile. Except him. Three years on and he was still here. And Mary was willingly still with him. No, he wasn't worried. At the end of the day, he was the one who was always still there. Eventually, she was going to recognize that.

Mary spoke suddenly, rousing him from his thoughts. "You know my mother is throwing me a surprise birthday party. I don't know why she can't just leave it alone. She certainly did a good job of it when I was a kid and maybe would have appreciated a party." Irritation rang through her voice. "Do you suppose there is any way out of it?"

Marshall ventured a sideways glance at her, his heart feeling tender for the neglected child that had wanted a party. "Maybe," he suggested tentatively, "she's trying to make up for past shortcomings." Mary snorted.

"Maybe, it's just an excuse to get plastered."

"Well, I think you have to go. Your sister is coming in for this party. You can't bail on her."

Mary's shoulders slumped as she acknowledged defeat. "I know." She hesitated for the briefest of moments. "You are going to be there aren't you?"

Marshall grinned. "I will not abandon you in your hour of need. Of course I'll be there. I'm not buying you a present though."

Mary chortled and shook her head. Marshall's spirits were lifting. Mary's foul mood was fading, they were on the way to visit one of his favorite witnesses, and he would have a chance to practice his Russian on their new witness they were picking up this afternoon. The day was looking up.

They arrived at Jordan's and were warmly welcomed. Jordan gave Marshall a hug. She had learned not to touch Mary. Bringing them into the kitchen and serving up iced tea, she settled down into a chair and turned a bright smile on Marshall.

"So, let's run through the questions and get them out of the way. Yes, I' m fine. Yes, work is good. No, I haven't changed jobs. No, I haven't had any contact with anyone from my past. And yes, there is something new in my life." She paused and waited expectantly.

"Ok, I'll bite," Mary said dourly. Marshall was grinning broadly. He picked up Jordan's hand.

"You got engaged!" he said excitedly, lightly fingering the ring on her left hand. Mary looked in surprise at the beaming woman and her grinning partner.

"Who is this guy?" she asked sharply. Marshall gave her a warning look. He knew her thoughts had gone immediately to potential threats, but she needed to show a bit more sensitivity. This was a happy moment.

"Good lord Marshall. You get more excited over this stuff than any woman. Are you sure you're not gay?"

Marshall looked up at her with a mischievous gleam in his eye. Very slowly raked his eyes up and down her body, then drawled in a low, seductive voice, "Yes, quite sure." He felt a sense of triumph as she grew flustered.

Jordan was laughing. "Not to worry Mary. I haven't told him anything about my past. A major breach of trust I think, but I'm putting you and Marshall ahead of my own fiancé, and am following the rules. She slid over a file folder that was sitting on the table. Here, a complete dossier on him. Or at least everything I know about him. You can check him out."

She forestalled the next question. "We've been friends for three years, I met him at church, but we really started dating six months ago. That's why I haven't mentioned him before. Your last visit, he was just a friend. We both realized we missed each other when we were apart. We just really click together. He knows me as well as any person in my new life can." Marshall had gone still as he listened to her. Small flares of hope lighting up in him. Jordan had progressed from a friendship to more. It was possible.

Jordan looked at him in amusement. "Marshall, can I have my hand back now?" He flushed as he quickly dropped her hand. "You can meet Tom anytime you want." He nodded and looked over to Mary.

"Guess we're about done here then. Congratulations Jordan. We're very happy for you." Mary gave him a look at the plural. Marshall didn't speak for her. He made a small movement, silently asking her to let it go. He had begun thinking of them in tandem. Would have to watch that. They stood and walked to the door. Marshall hugged Jordan as Mary headed to her car.

Jordan held him back a moment, kept an eye on Mary. "Marshall, you are a great guy. And I can see there are a lot of feelings between the two of you. If you want more than friendship, pursue it. I know Mary doesn't much care for me, but I think that may be because she has felt a bit jealous. I'm a warm and open person. I know this. I've been told. I enjoy your company. I've never been shy about showing that. You're a very interesting man. I think she may have misinterpreted my behavior towards you." She looked at him a moment, then continued slowly. "If Mary feels jealous, you need to ask yourself why."

Jordan squeezed his hand, smiled and gently shoved him out the door. Feeling a goofy grin spread across his face, he walked out to the car. Jealous? Why indeed. Marshall felt his heart soar as he saw Mary standing by the car, arms crossed, impatiently waiting. Impatient, tempestuous, fierce, savvy, smart, beautiful, sexy. His Mary. Complicated, brash, damaged, tender, passionate. Full of life, full of compassion, full of loyalty. Loyalty to her witnesses, loyalty to her family, loyalty to him.

She cocked her head to the side, the light breeze catching her hair. "What are you grinning at idiot?"

Marshall chuckled. Yes, he was an idiot, but he was her idiot. They had to pick up a new witness at the train station – Tasha – and tonight was Mary's birthday party. He would get the opportunity to meet Brandi, to get to know Mary better through her sister.

Marshall was smiling broadly. He held out his hand to Mary, was delighted when she hesitantly took it, after giving him a brief, assessing look. Life moved on. Mary was trying to find her way. And he was going to be there beside her, as she navigated her way through, moving his life in step with hers.

The End

***Thanks for reading everyone. I decided I would just take this up to the point where the show started. Hope you enjoyed it.