A/N: What a week this last one has been...computer/phone/DSL death(s), all kinds of upheaval that's kept me from longer writing.... I took the time to do this, though, as an exercise in (in)sanity. This little one-shot started darting around my brain after the last episode. The expression on Marshall's face every time somebody asks this question is priceless. I started wondering, especially after what he did (hurray!) at the end of the show, what he's thinking when he's asked. This is the fruit.
because I know how
to rule myself.
~Pietro Aretino, 10 May 1537
He's been with her seven years now, and so he knows when it's coming. He's focused on her, not them, because they are trivial, ephemeral, perishable, and she is the sun, the world, the universe, but all the same, he knows when it's coming. He's too tuned to every aspect of her not to know when another satellite has been pulled into orbit, even temporarily.
It comes from the oddest places. He's been asked by lesbian bartenders, by felons in cuffs, by witnesses going into protection, by too many police officers in too many towns to remember. He's been asked by other U.S. Marshals, by the FBI, and once, memorably, by a U.S. Congressman. He's been asked by teenagers and grandpas, men in their prime, men who are barely old enough to vote or be registered for Selective Service, men far old enough to know better.
They wait until she's gone in that hypnotic and mystifying swirl of controlled violence and grace that is uniquely hers, and their eyes follow her. Like him, they are helpless not to watch her go, wide-eyed, hungry. They beckon to him, lean in. He knows it's coming, and he resigns himself.
"So....is she seeing anybody?"
He never answers. His expression is eloquent enough, ranging through pity, contempt, disdain, incredulity that they even aspire to those heights...and underneath it, carefully hidden unless you know how to look just right, the flickering frustration and despair of somebody who has been holding back far too long.
Because he's Marshall, he tucks away his words. He doesn't laugh, What? You? Please, as he rolls his eyes and walks away to where she stands. He gets to be there by her side, after all, and after all of the rest of it is done. It may begin with someone else, but it always ends with him. Even though he just had to go through the excruciating bamboo-under-the-nails moment of explaining to her that she was being asked out and the breath-holding all-the-gods-there-are praying moment that she wouldn't for some fickle, crazy, rebound reason accept, at the end of the day, she's going home with him. Well, sort of....
He doesn't say, Why is it that you machismo poseurs only want her after she's kicked your non-existent testes back inside you? Are you all just masochists or bone-stupid? Instead, he opens the door for her before she arrives, something she no longer gripes about too much or even seems to notice, and then goes around to slide into the driver's seat. He's going to have a long drive back listening to her unload about the general inefficiency of the local PD, the intolerable weather, and anything else that crosses her mind, and he cranks the engine with no comment. He can't think of anything he likes better, begins to plot ways to help her diffuse the tension she is carrying inside her.
He doesn't lean over, growl through gritted teeth, She just got out of a near-miss with somebody like you, somebody who can't see the real her for the stereotype he'd made and tried to make her into. No, she's not seeing anybody right now, and even if she were, it would NOT need to be you.... What he does do is surreptitiously nudge his plate closer to her so she'll notice the fries there. The rough vitreous china bottom makes a little sound on the table so she looks down. She's sad today, thinking of Raph (or at least the fact that there's not a Raph anymore) even though she's still steadfastly not talking about it. She had been lost in thought for too-long moments, just staring out the window, arms folded, that now-empty hand gripping her upper arm tightly. She hasn't been eating like she should. It makes him happy when she reaches over and snags one as though she's poaching forbidden game. He pretends to grumble so she'll take some more.
He doesn't tell them, You know what? She is seeing someone, actually. She's been seeing him for years, even though most days she mostly looks right through him. He's got her back in every single thing she does. He loves her so much it's a living, twisting pain in his chest some days. Admittedly he's sort of the jealous type, too, although he understands her well enough to know that she's not his to own or control. So, yeah. There is somebody. Step off. Instead, he stares at that number, that name, those Frostian two roads diverging there on the tiny screen of her buzzing BlackBerry and he presses the button to make it all go away.
It's a question he hates. One day, he vows silently to himself, staring at her a moment before he gently lays the phone down on her desk, one day, he's going to have an answer to that question that they keep asking him. More than a glare. More than his disbelieving laugh before he turns away. He thinks about the simple but intense little satisfaction to be had in having the right to walk over to her and take her hand lightly in his own, kiss the back fast before she pulls it away (because he knows that she will, and maybe shove him, too), and be able to look whomever asked such an asinine question right in the eye with a smile and a sigh and say, "Yeah. Me."