A/N: Here we go, everybody, another epic! This has been "in the works" for awhile now. My Marshall muse was demanding a story since I wrote 'What's in a Name' - since it was such a Mary-centric story. I was aiming for a one-shot originally but the best laid plans. . . . anyway, blame my inner Marshall voice. This is all his fault, really! Spoilers through S3 (When Mary met Marshall). In this story, Marshall is the one who gets shot in 'Don't Cry'.

This chapter HURTS - you might want a hanky. Just a warning. Also, I don't own 'em - just play with 'em!

"Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret."--Ambrose Bierce

And I need you like a heart needs a beat
But it's nothing new.
I loved you with a fire red-
Now it's turning blue, and you say...
'Sorry' like the angel heaven let me think was you
but I'm afraid...
It's too late to apologize, it's too late
I said it's too late to apologize, it's too late —
Apologize, by One Republic

Labor Day, 2009

Being in the hospital on a federal holiday was just like being in the hospital on any other day – it was dull. Of course since my mom was still in town, fussing over me, and saying how lucky I was to be alive, and that took some of the edge off my boredom. But even so, I was itching to be up and out of this sterile environment. I needed to get back on my feet, tie up the loose ends with my witnesses and figure out a way to break the news to Mary about my decision. Getting shot in the gut had postponed my time of departure from Albuquerque, but I would still be leaving.

I had spoken on the phone to my new boss just this morning and everything was falling into place for my transfer. Stan was hopping mad about my decision, however, and was pushing me to give explanations that I just couldn't put into words for him. Eleanor seemed to understand – hell, she had been a witness to Mary and my strained working relationship the past few months and I had a feeling that her woman's intuition was doing overtime to fill in any blanks. When Stan left my room yesterday afternoon, he asked me if I had told Mary the news yet and when I shook my head, he had looked at me like I was a man about to face a firing squad.

"You'd better tell her soon. I'm going to have to file your request and then it will be public knowledge and she's going to hit the roof, Marshall."

My nurse Eve had brought the dinner tray twenty minutes ago but nothing on it looked appealing. I suddenly realized that I was listening for the sound of Mary's heels on the linoleum floor and I made the conscious effort to relax against the pillow. My stomach growled in hunger and in resignation I picked up the custard cup and took a bite just as I heard the familiar rhythmic tap of boot heels outside. She was here, and she was pissed off. Well, either one of our witnesses has screwed up their new lives or she knows.

I took a deep breath and looked up to meet her gaze and instantly wished I hadn't. Her eyes were rock hard, like pieces of green jade, but even from across the room I could see they were unnaturally bright with unshed tears. She leaned against the doorjamb, her hair pulled into a messy ponytail, and she was already dressed down in a pair of sweat pants and over-sized sweater. I waved my custard cup at her. "Hungry? I'm not sure about the rest of my fine dining cuisine, but the custard isn't too bad." I waited a few seconds before adding, "You know, those shoes don't go with those pants."

"Don't start with me. Do you know the kind of day I've had? Raph woke me up early because he thought we could spend the whole day together planning our wedding since today's a holiday and neither of us had to work. Dumbass didn't take it too well when I told him that of course I had to work today!" Mary crossed the room but didn't take her usual seat at the foot of my bed. I noticed this instantly and my heart began to hammer in my chest. "After our screaming match, I made the rounds to our witnesses, mine and yours naturally since you're still laid up in here, finishing up at the Donaldson's."

I tried to suppress my grin, knowing that it would only bring on her wrath. "How are Emily, Emma, and Ella?" I asked, really wanting to know about Jim and Sara's four-year-old triplet girls.

Mary leveled her laser beam gaze on me but the tears were still there and I felt the coil of fear keep building in my stomach. Wait, just wait. She'll tell me. "Jim and Sara said to tell you hello and the girls made you get well cards." She dug in her shoulder bag and threw them on the bed. They landed in a colorful heap on my knees.

"Mer, what's going on?"

"You'll never guess what happened next. As the girls were showing off their artwork and climbing all over me and playing with my hair and screaming and laughing, Emily threw up all down the front of me. That's why these pants don't go with these shoes – they're from my go bag in the car. But that's not the worst thing that happened today. You know what happened next?" Mary tilted her head to the side and reached into her bag, pulling out another sheet of paper. She held it in trembling fingers, holding it out to me but refusing to meet my gaze.

"I was going to tell you."


"I don't know – this isn't something I can just tell you! I was trying to think of the right way."

"Damn it, Doofus! I was looking for another one of those damn forms that you always seem to have in abundance because you do all the paperwork but since you're out I have to do it so I went to your desk and what do I find?" She paused to clear her throat and her eyes drifted shut. "Tell me this is one of your unfunny jokes, Marshall. Tell me that this is just a rough draft of a resignation and not the real thing."

"I'm not resigning from WitSec, Mer. But I am transferring to the office in Seattle."

Mary's eyes finally met mine and for the longest time she merely looked at me without saying anything. I have to admit that I was surprised and a little worried by her silence, wondering if my words had sent her into shock. I had fully expected her to fly into a rage. Perhaps she was going to take it easy on me because I was still recovering. I had almost died this time, after all, and I knew that she was carrying a heavy load of guilt because I was lying in this bed instead of her. Finally she tossed her head and gave a snort of disgust.

"Seattle? That's just crazy, string bean. It rains eleven months of the year up there. You'll never see the sun again. You'll turn into a vampire. You'll have to buy a whole new wardrobe – no more boots and belt buckles for you, cowboy," Mary shook her head at me, like she was talking to a misguided little child.

I sighed. So this was going to be her first tactic. She was reasoning with me, trying to get me to see the light. "Do you know how many myths you just stated? I'm not going to turn into a blood sucking vampire because I'm leaving the desert and moving to what you think is a dark and gloomy city on the water. Seattle actually does have four seasons, you know. I'm pretty sure one of them is summer when the sun shines and it gets warm and it doesn't rain every day. And just because I'm not living in the Southwest anymore, well, that doesn't mean I can't take my boots and belt buckles with me. I'll still be on the West Coast and I'm sure Seattle will have other cowboys besides me," I rattled off my list with a tight grin and ate another spoonful of custard.

Mary had been impatiently tapping one foot during my spiel and I knew that I had won round one. I prepared myself for her next salvo. "It's still crazy, string bean. I mean, you're still going to be in the hospital another couple of days. And then you're looking at a couple weeks' down time at home, followed by a couple of months light duty. Who knows if the job offer will still be open after all that? Maybe they need the position filled now and won't be willing to wait for your sorry ass to get well."

I tried to put a lid on my anger, knowing that she was deliberately baiting me. She wanted me to get riled up, to fight back, so that I would say something I would regret and in the end hope I would give in and call Stan and tell him I was staying. Sorry Mer, it's not going to work this time. We've been down this road too many times. It's gone too far; it's too late to turn back now. "Actually, I talked to my new boss in Seattle this morning. I told him about the shooting, as much as I could anyway, and that my departure time was going to be delayed until possibly the first week in November. I asked if that was going to be a problem and he was very understanding. He said that we'll work out the details later but he's expecting me then." I licked my spoon and set it and the now empty custard cup back on my tray. I noticed that Mary's breathing had accelerated, her chest was rising and falling rapidly and her eyes were darting about the room. I recognized the classic signs of the 'fight or flight' response and I willed my own body not to respond. Strike two, Mer. You gonna take another swing or are you gonna run?

I watched as Mary turned sharply on her heel and crossed the room to my door. But instead of walking out, she poked her head into the corridor, scanned the hallway and then shut the door firmly. She leaned her head against the wood and without turning to face me she whispered words that I had to lean forward to catch, "You said you'd stay with me."

And there it is! Now we get down and dirty! "That's not exactly how I remember it," I said clearly, not mincing words.

She whirled on a heel to face me, her eyebrows raised in surprise. "What do you mean? Maybe your memory is faulty because you were bleeding out at the time!" she snapped.

"There's nothing wrong with my memory. You said and I quote 'Well, that's your job and you cannot quit'. And I said 'Ok'. I didn't say I'd stay with you, Mary. You told me to stay with you and I didn't fight you."

"Why are you doing this? Quibbling over who said what to whom?"

I scrubbed a hand over my face wearily. "Because I'm tired, Mer. I'm tired of you calling the shots when we're partners, when we've always been equal partners, but you act like you have some kind of seniority over me. I'm tired of doing all of our paperwork and not even getting a 'thank you' from you in return. I'm tired of running two steps after you for the past six years and praying you won't get shot before I can cover you because you won't take five minutes to stop and think before you act. I'm tired of running interference for you with your family. I'm tired of wondering if that soon-to-be husband of yours is going to spill the beans about me and my job to the wrong people one day after the two of you have had a shouting match. I'm tired, Mer, and I'm done." I leaned back against my pillow wearily, shaking from head to foot, a bead of sweat breaking out across my brow. I couldn't believe that I had gotten all that out or that she had let me.

She was still standing in front of the door and staring at me like a deer caught in headlights, barely breathing and eyes unblinking. After a minute I saw her take a deep breath and gather herself. She slowly began advancing on my bed and her words came out low and fast and furious, "Someone has to call the shots in our partnership, Marshall, because if I left it up to you, you would just talk trivia and other useless crap to the witnesses and nothing would get done. You like to run behind me because you like to look at my ass and don't even pretend that you don't and you're only two steps behind me when I let you drive. Otherwise you're out of the car first running into the danger. Thank you for doing our paperwork, I appreciate it more than you know. My family is a disease that affects everyone they come in contact with so naturally you're tainted by association, sorry." Mary shrugged her shoulders and leaned over me, her breath hot in my face. "But my telling Raphael what I do for a living had nothing to do with you, Doofus."

I was trying really hard to listen to her statements, take them at face value and not react, but her last one sent me over the edge. I leaned forward so that my face was inches from hers and the thought flitted through my mind that it was ironic that kissing her was the last thing on my mind at that moment. "The hell it doesn't! You exposed both of us when you told him you worked in Witness Protection! Not just you! Damn it, Mary! I can't even go out of town or leave you alone for a few minutes without you doing something completely asinine!" I collapsed back against my bed, clutching my stomach as the door opened.

My nurse Eve poked her head in. "Marshall, is everything ok in here? I heard raised voices and you seem to be holding your stomach now." She crossed quickly to my side, moved my hand and pushed my gown up to inspect the bandage.

"I'm fine, Eve. But could I have something for the pain?"

"Let me check your chart and I'll be back, ok?" Eve glanced at Mary. "Perhaps you should come back later."

Mary bared her teeth and Eve instinctively backed up a step but I put my hand on her arm reassuringly. "Mary won't be staying much longer." Eve nodded and beat a hasty retreat. I turned back to Mary. "I think we're done here."


"Mary, I think we've said all there is to say."

"So, that's it? You're leaving? I guess I'm right about people after all, even you!"

"What are you talking about?" I was genuinely confused.

"No one stays – everyone leaves me sooner or later." I could hear the tears in her voice and I refused to meet her eyes. If I did I knew that the fragile wall I had built around my heart would crumble and I would reach for her.

"Yes, Mary, I guess you're right." I sighed. "Do you want to sing the song?"

"Fuck you, Marshall!"

You already did that, Mer. That's what started this final landslide. I closed my eyes against the anguish in her voice as she fled the room, and I heard the sound of a near collision with Eve in the hallway. I jumped guiltily as a hand lightly touched my forearm.

"Marshall? I've brought something for the pain. Are you sure you're all right?"

I looked up into Eve's worried face and tried to give her a reassuring grin but I had no idea how convincing it came off. "I just need to get some sleep. I'll take these and try and get some rest. My mom should be stopping by after awhile to check on me."

Eve placed a glass of water in my hand and I took the medication. She helped me get comfortable and then turned off the lights and left me to my thoughts. I closed my eyes and hoped relief would come soon for the physical discomfort. I had no disillusions about my mental and emotional anguish, however. That pain had been a part of me for so long that I wondered what it would be like to live without it. I let the memories of the past six years flood my mind. In the beginning, everything had been so full of promise. . . .

Ouch! Didn't you wonder if Marshall had a breaking point though? Please review!