*Hello, everybody! Let's get the party started! I know that you guys have been anxiously waiting for this 3rd installment and here it is. . . .

*A/N: So, we're returning to 3rd person POV so that we can get everyone's perspective. It took me and the muses a little bit to switch gears from 1st person, believe me! This chapter is kinda like a prologue. And we start with Papa Stan. He's worried about Mary, cause he knows something's up with her. . . . He has a late night talk with his girl. And Mary plays nurse to Marshall (not that kind of nurse, mind out of the gutter, people!). Enjoy!

"When the sun is high
In the afternoon sky
You can always find something to do
But from dusk til dawn
As the clock ticks on
Something happens to you
In the wee small hours of the morning
While the whole wide world is fast asleep
You lie awake and think about the girl
And never even think of counting sheep"

-Frank Sinatra

3:30am, Stan McQueen's house

Stan was worried. He knew there was something Mary wasn't telling him. She had been on edge for days, weeks even, and the reason for her moodiness was beyond his understanding.

It had been two days since she had accidentally discovered Marshall's transfer papers.

If her erratic behavior had started then, he would have understood. But Stan shook his head, since he knew whatever it was that was bothering his inspector happened before then.

Giving up on the idea of sleep, Stan rolled out of bed slowly in an effort not to wake the sleeping beauty next to him. Eleanor rolled from her back to her side, murmured his name in sleep and reached out to clutch his pillow. He felt his chest constrict with love, the emotion that he had not dared to voice to her yet. The very fact that she shared his bed most of the time and was no longer afraid to be in a relationship with him was enough for now. He could wait a little longer for the words and the lifetime commitment – as long as she didn't run from him. He knew she still carried the sorrow and the scars of losing her husband John. But he had waited, and she had been worth the wait.

Stan shuffled down the hall in his robe and slippers to the kitchen. Halfway there, he was joined by a giant orange tabby cat that emerged blinking from the spare bedroom.

"Sorry, Sam, did I wake you?" Stan murmured; as he leaned down to scratch the cat's ears as the animal rubbed between his legs. He chuckled as Sam's motor started, the sound following him as he continued to the kitchen to make some coffee.

He leaned against the counter as he waited and his mind drifted back to Mary. Perhaps she really was still suffering the aftereffects of Marshall's shooting. He knew she blamed herself for Marshall getting shot. He sighed. If it were anyone else he would recommend her seeing a therapist, perhaps even make the call to Shelly himself. But years of dealing with Mary had shown him that she preferred, no insisted, on dealing with her demons herself and woe to the man who tried to help her! He chuckled as he remembered Eleanor's first day in the office. Mary had been dealing with the fallout of her kidnapping and near rape and wasn't even supposed to be at work. He had told her to log off and go home. She had – in a rather demonstrative way.

"I'd like to know what you find so damn funny at this early hour, Stan."

He turned at the sound of her voice. Eleanor was standing by the kitchen table in her silk robe petting Sam, and watching him with a smile. He crossed to her and dropped a kiss on her lips.

"I didn't mean to wake you, honey."

"Then you shouldn't have made coffee." She went over to the counter and fixed them each a cup as he sank wearily into a chair. Carrying the steaming mugs back to the table, she sat across from him. "Now, what were you thinking about when I came in?"

He smiled. "I was thinking about your first day at the office, remember? When Mary shoved her desk across the floor and broke her computer?" Stan laughed.

Eleanor smiled. "Mary certainly knows how to make first impressions, although the jury is still out on whether or not she makes good first impressions."

He sighed and took a sip of coffee.

She looked at him for a long moment. "What's wrong, hon? What are you turning over in that head of yours?"

"Something's going on with Mary."

Eleanor rolled her eyes. "When isn't something going on with her – or her family?"

"Come on, Ellie, I'm serious. There's something she's not telling me. Something she's hiding."

"Do you think it's about work? About Marshall?"

Stan felt his gut clench. "I don't know – that's why it's bugging me! Until two days ago, I'd have thought maybe she knew about Marshall's transfer and she didn't know how to tell me."

"But now we know that's not it."

"No, she didn't know before she found those papers. God, Ellie, did you see her face? For a minute, I thought she was going to faint."

Eleanor frowned. "I did too."

Stan leaned forward eagerly. "You see! Something strange is going on! She's been pale, tired, anxious, and more moody than even what's normal for Mary."

Eleanor put down her coffee cup and reached for his hand. "Maybe it has to do with Marshall's shooting. You said that the last time he got shot, she fell apart, and it surprised you. Didn't you tell me she had nightmares?"

He nodded.

"Well, this time was so much worse. He nearly died, Stan. I'm sure her nightmares are back and she's probably not sleeping well. So that could explain all those symptoms you've been noticing." Eleanor rubbed the back of his hand reassuringly.

Stan sighed. "Maybe you're right, I just-"he broke off, uncertain of whether or not to voice his feelings.

"You're worried about her. You love her."

His head snapped up, searching Eleanor's eyes; they sparkled back at him.

"I never had any kids, Ellie. Mary and Marshall – they're my kids," he said gruffly.

"I know, love." She squeezed his hand gently. "And they both care a great deal for you too. They know that they can come to you when they're in trouble but it's also a sticky point because you're the boss."

"He loves her, you know." Stan's eyes met hers again; Eleanor rolled hers. "I think he's loved her since he told me to 'snap her up'. I should have let her go back to Jersey then and found another partner for Marshall. So many things would have worked out better."

"Don't say that! Who knows what the future holds for those two – after all, she's not married to Raphael yet."

"Ellie, don't go poking your nose into their business!"

"As if I would! Mary and I aren't exactly best friends forever," Eleanor sniffed. "But it won't hurt to hope that she comes to her senses before it's too late."

"What are you talking about?" Stan moaned.

"That Mary will realize she loves Marshall the way he loves her," Eleanor stated proudly. "Because she does, you know. She's just in denial."

Stan's mouth fell open.


Mary came to consciousness slowly, not wanting to leave the warm embrace of sleep, but something was trying to get her attention. She opened her eyes and blinked in the darkness, not needing to see the time on Marshall's red number nightstand clock to see that it was still really early. She shifted her legs slightly only to feel Marshall's arm tighten around her slightly.

Mary smiled. Sometime in the night, he had worked his arm under the afghan so his hand was resting over her stomach. It was still flat, but wouldn't remain that way for long. She laid her hand over his and closed her eyes again, wondering briefly what had awakened her in the first place. When Marshall's arm shifted slightly and pressure was applied to her bladder, her eyes flew back open. Fighting back a laugh and a groan, Mary lifted his arm and escaped to the bathroom.

When she came back into the bedroom, Marshall was curled into a fetal position, clutching his stomach. Concerned, Mary bent over him and whispered in his ear.

"Marshall? Does your incision hurt?"

His eyes flew open and met hers in the darkness. He nodded slightly.

"Did you take a pain pill before you went to bed?" she asked as she smoothed the hair back from his forehead, noticing that he was sweating slightly.

"No, Karen gave me one with lunch but I haven't taken one since."

"Silly man, that was over twelve hours ago." She had seen the medicine bottle on the kitchen counter earlier so she left to get it. She also snagged a banana for herself.

Marshall had propped himself up with pillows in her absence and turned on the bedside lamp. When he saw the banana, he laughed. "That isn't for me, is it?"

"No, it's for Peanut. Oh, are you supposed to take this with food?" She looked down at the label on the bottle and sighed. "Some nurse I am. I'll be right back."

A few minutes later, Marshall had eaten his banana and taken his pill. Mary was finishing her own banana with peanut butter while he looked on in amusement.

"You know, we could have shared the banana," he said.

"Speak for yourself! Karen's going to have to buy more bananas today as it is."

"Are we going to have to buy bananas every two days during your pregnancy?" Marshall asked.

He said 'during my pregnancy' – is he already thinking of staying? Mary's heart soared.

"Because if so I'm going to have to warn the local grocers before I leave to stock up," he continued.

False alarm.

"When have you known a grocery store to run out of bananas?" she scoffed as she licked the peanut butter from her fingers.

He shrugged. "I haven't, but you may cause a shortage."

She filched a pillow from behind his back and whacked him with it.

"I'm in pain, don't make it worse! Some nurse you are!"

"You can't be in that much pain if you're carrying on like this," she shot back.

Marshall grabbed the pillow back and stuffed it behind his head again, grinning. "I'm not at all sleepy, though. Read to me? Like you did in the hospital?"

Mary looked down at him in surprise. "You heard me."

He nodded. "The words didn't come through but the sound of your voice did. I always knew when you were there, Mer."

She sighed. "Where's the book?"

He pointed to the nightstand and she pulled out the drawer. Her hand hesitated before pulling out "The Count of Monte Cristo" as it was sitting next to the Seattle Guidebook. I wonder if he's looked at the letter today. I wonder if I put it back in the right place.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Marshall speaking over her shoulder.

"Isn't the book there?"

"Yes, it's here." She slammed the drawer shut and turned back around. "Right next to a guidebook of Seattle."

He frowned and his eyes skittered away from hers. "Mer, you know I always get guidebooks of new places I intend to visit."

"Seattle's not just a 'new place', string bean. You're planning to move there." She glared at him.

"And you're planning to talk me out of it." He glared back.

"Damn straight."

"I think we've arrived at an impasse tonight, Mer."

She opened the book and raised her eyebrows. "Shall I read, sir?"

"By all means, Nurse Ratched."

She glared at him for the reference but complied with his request. Mary lost track of time as she read about Dantes escape from his prison and the island. When she stopped and looked at the clock, it was five a.m. Her throat was dry from reading aloud and Marshall had abandoned his pillows at some point, preferring her lap, and was snoring softly.

Leaning over, she placed the book on the nightstand and turned off the lamp. She scooted down in the bed until she was mostly lying flat on her back, Marshall's head still pillowed on her hip.

"Not Nurse Ratched," he murmured sleepily. "You're my Florence Nightingale."

"Didn't she fall in love with her patients?" she asked him quietly, not even knowing if he was still awake.

"Hmm, that's different. Talk about – in movie – Back to Future," he murmured.

Of course you would know that!

She poked him. "They talked about what in 'Back to the Future'?"

"Florence Nightingale effect – when nurses – doctors – fall in love – patients," he murmured.

"But why do they call it the 'Florence Nightingale effect' if it has nothing to do with the real Florence Nightingale?" she asked aloud, exasperated.

Marshall's only answer was a snore and Mary sighed. Sure, when she wanted to know some of his endless knowledge, he fell asleep.

She was almost asleep herself when he began mumbling again.

"You're my Florence. But you don't love me – because I'm just your patient. You don't love me."

Mary giggled. He must be having one crazy ass dream. But then she sobered because she knew his fear of her not loving him back was very real.

She reached down and ran her fingers reassuringly through his hair.

"I wouldn't be so sure of that, Marshall Mann," she whispered softly.

*I LOVE Stan - and Eleanor will never leave in any of my stories. In this "world", they are together - though her job offer will be addressed later! Katie, Karen, et all to come. Reviews are love!