A/N: I have to write this one. It's been waiting for a long time now, and with the new season starting and watching the reruns of the old one, it's clamoring too loudly to ignore. This one started out as a couple of 10 iPod Shuffle segments that I'm going to meld. This happens sometime after "Once a Ponzi Time." "Don't Cry for Me, Albuquerque" never happened in this world, and, well....other stuff has....
Working from seven to eleven every night,
It really makes life a drag, I don't think that's right.
I've really, really been the best of fools, I did what I could.
'Cause I love you, baby, How I love you, darling, How I love you, baby,
How I love you, girl, little girl.
But baby, Since I've Been Loving You. I'm about to lose my worried mind, oh, yeah.
~ "Since I've Been Loving You" – Led Zeppelin
Marshall traced his fingertips across the lacquered wood of the tabletop, tracing abstract images as the neon reflected there. He had commandeered his favorite back booth when he'd come in, back securely against the wall instinctively. There was classic rock playing low in the background, something plaintive and bluesy by Zeppelin that suited his current mood, and he was working his way through a bottle of Mary's favorite scotch. Ordering it had seemed fitting at the time, an irony, and he appreciated those as a rule, although this one had a double-edge to it that was cutting into him like trying to hold the blade of a well-crafted sword in the bare palm of his hand.
This was a good place to come to as a refuge. They knew him here. Not because he did this often. God knows he didn't do it as often as he sometimes felt the need to. They knew him here because sometimes the two of them came here to grab a bite when the day was done, to share a beer before they they separated for those brief hours they spent away from each other.
Before she leaves the man who she shares her life with to go back to the man who she shares her bed with. Does she ever notice the paradox there? Probably not. She's not much on paradox or irony or anything that can't be wrestled to the ground and beaten into submission....
He'd lost track of time quite some time ago, but that was the point, wasn't it? Outside, the cold still chill of winter had wrapped around the bar like a fist of ice. Marshall's long black coat lay folded neatly across the back of the booth, his last act of habitual neatness before he abandoned everything, deliberately laid his responsibilities and his burdens down as purposefully as he'd tucked and folded that dark wool.
'Cause sooner or later, I'll have to put all this back on and go back out there where it's so cold it's painful... But not just yet. Not just yet....
He sipped from the glass on the table methodically while his sharp analytical brain took a brief moment to assess his sobriety.
Not drunk enough yet. Still thinking about it...about her...and him and....and...
He rubbed his ring finger absently as though there were some restriction causing him pain there. About that same time, the cell phone he'd set on the table in front of him came to life, vibrating and humming insistently with the ringer off. A cynical grin that had more pain than humor in it twisted his lips briefly as he watched the phone do its frantic little dance. It had already demandingly buzzed three or four times, and he had just as steadfastly refused to answer it. He knew who it was.
She doesn't need me. She's made that manifestly clear. Whatever it is, she can handle it herself. She believes she can handle everything herself....
She was going to marry that damn fool Raph, and there wasn't a thing he could do about it. Oh, well, yeah, there were probably things he could do, but he didn't much fancy jail time. He laughed mirthlessly and finished off what was left in his glass, poured more from the bottle on the table. He indulged himself for a moment as he drank, gave his mind bold permission to wander down dark and dangerous paths he never, ever let it even peer over the barred and locked gates of when he was in better control of himself.
What would good old Raphael do if he knew...if I told him about...If I laid this out for him and just said, "You don't know her at all, not ...at ...all." Would he give me the satisfaction of throwing the first punch? Would he give me a reason to destroy us both, end it all?
He sat the glass down hard on the table, spilled some over the side without noticing in his agitation, and covered his face with his hands. The scotch was getting to him now. He could feel it, but the relief he'd expected wasn't coming. He wanted to sob, to scream, to destroy something. When was it going to stop hurting? What was it going to take? And how the hell had it all turned out this way? Why did he keep clinging to this like somebody holding onto a burning piece of coal?
Why can't I just pack up and get out? Leave her? Go back to Phoenix or request a transfer to any other field office anywhere? I've had offers enough. God, even Alaska has a field office, don't they? She'd never find me there....
A ridiculous image of Mary in a snow suit pursuing him over the ice and then harpooning him like some sort of wild seal struck him, and he laughed a little, rubbed at his chest, his eyes. On the table, his cell went off again. Restlessly, he shoved it to the far side of the table. Why the hell did she keep calling him?
What does she want from me? What else can I give her that she doesn't already have? I don't have anything left anymore. She already has it all. Already has it all.....
He lifted the glass and emptied it, drank as if he were dying of thirst, relishing the pain as a different source of agony than the one ripping him up inside, praying that the alcohol would numb it soon because he was pretty sure he was going to go crazy if it didn't soon.
Sometime later, he realized that the phone had stopped its buzzing. Good. She gave up on me. He tried not to feel the spear of pain that sent through him. He also tried not to think about what she might be doing, what they might be doing together, but the images just kept coming from his helpful, creative brain. He could see her, exquisite, golden, the idol and idyll of his heart all too clearly, knew what she liked, knew just where she was sensitive along her neck.... Does he? Does he know her like I do? He put his elbows on the table, tore at his hair. Damn, damn, damn. Would it never end?
Suddenly, there was the rustle of fabric near him, the sound of someone sliding into the booth across from him. He refused to look up. He could smell her, the clean scent of her, of shampoo and soap, and something else, that tang of her that was indefinable but that made everything in him both yearn with agony and sigh in relief. He heard the sound of the bottle sliding across the table, and he did not move. He could not. His hands in his own hair were all the anchor he had, all that was preventing him from some unplanned action, from a stream of unpredictable and likely unforgivable words, from reaching across the table for her....
Her voice, when it came, was low and mostly steady, rational-sounding, the forced calm that she used to hide real fear and panic. He'd heard that voice, the handling the situation voice, a hundred times with witnesses, with Brandi, with Jinx, but only once before with him, once as he'd lain in bloody agony with a bullet in his shoulder.... "We always answer, Marshall. That's the unspoken damn rule."
He said nothing, did not move.
She continued. "I got so worried I was on my way to your house, and as I passed here I saw your truck parked outside. Jesus, Marshall. I've been trying to get you for hours. You know that? Hours. We don't do that."
His hands flexed once, and he lowered them. He looked up at her with his most cutting smile firmly in place, eyes sharp despite the amount he'd had to drink. She held the bottle between her hands, knuckles white on it as she watched him with confusion and what in any other person might have even been called apprehension, trying to figure out what had made him come here, do this tonight.
As if she doesn't know. As if there could be anything else. But, if she wants to play these little games, by all means. Let's play.
He felt something hum through him, dark and dangerous. He reached across the table, and with surprising dexterity for someone who was very much drunk, he plucked the bottle from her grasp. He waggled it at her admonishingly when she scowled at him and poured another glassful, lifted it.
"Marshall," she said, urgency, worry, and a growing irritation in her tone.
"Mare," he said her name in an exaggeratedly serious fashion sure to irritate, and he kept his eyes focused on his glass, took a large swallow, two. "Seems that lately lots of 'set rules' between us have been going by the wayside, right? A lot of the old 'thou shalts and thou shalt nots' have fallen. So, really, what's one more on that great big heap of bones?" And he tossed back the rest of the drink, slammed the glass on the table, pulled out the cash he'd already neatly and carefully folded in his shirt pocket for his check ahead of time, stared at it a bit blearily for a moment, tossed it onto the table, and then struggled unsteadily to his feet.
There will be backstory/continuation. Hang on for chapter 2. By all means, though, let me know what you think of this one in the meanwhile.