This is it! We've reached the end! FINALLY we'll get some sort of resolution! Hope you all feel warm and fuzzy by the end! Thanks for sticking with me for my first multi-chapter story, and keep your eyes out for more! BIG thanks to slumbajam for being my proof-reader/brainstorm buddy, and to BuJyo for helping me get it off the ground in the first place and encouraging me along the way. You guys rock!
IPS is not mine. Marshall is not mine...sniffle.
Marshall left early the next morning, this time without a note or a Danish for her. He did, however, leave her a plate of leftovers to take home with her. She smiled, and wished he would have waited for her before heading out. Last night had been wonderful for her, and she knew that she hadn't told him that. But how could one say simply thank you for everything that he had done? So many hurts he had healed just by listening, just by being, and just by holding her. It had been Marshall at his finest, doing what he did best.
She frowned and went to take a shower and collect her belongings. Vacation was over, reality had to restart. But what reality would it be? She knew there were more things to say, more things Marshall wanted to ask. But he was too much of a gentleman to push her on this. He wouldn't ask her again until he thought she was ready.
The problem was this: she didn't know if or when she'd ever be ready, really ready, for what he was offering. It was a huge chance she would be taking, and she was scared enough to admit that she was scared, which said a lot.
She forced herself to focus on getting out of Marshall's house, out of his hair, out from under his watchful eye. He had put up with enough for long enough.
An hour or so later, she was ready. She looked around his house a bit mournfully. It had been a better vacation here than it had been in Hawaii, and she didn't want to leave. But enough was enough. There were things to do: a house to reclaim, a bag to unpack, thoughts to settle…
Emotions to identify…
She needed vacation to end. It was way too complicated for her to handle.
That night, as she reheated the leftovers in her microwave, she was no less unsettled and confused than she had been before. Home had proved distraction enough for a while, as she'd had to straighten up after the not-so-secret party and unpack, and then chew out her family members for their antics. But now, as the smells from the night before revisited her, reminding her of what had transpired, of what she had felt, of what he'd said…
Tomorrow they'd be back at work. What would he say? How would he look? She knew that she'd be wondering all day, trying to gauge his emotions and thoughts. She'd try to tease it out of him, but he was thick-skinned, he would give away nothing. And she would be left to wondering. Their banter would resume, and anything that could be taken as suggestive would set her right back to wondering.
She couldn't live like that. She had no idea how Marshall had done it all these years, because he obviously had, but she was not that patient. He was right about her: when she wanted something, she went straight out and got it. And what she wanted was Marshall.
Her mouth gaped open with a faint pop. It really was that simple. She wanted Marshall. All to herself. All the time. She loved him. She loved his idiotic trivia, his quirky smile, his inability to stand on the sidelines anytime. She had wanted Raph to be Marshall because she wanted Marshall. She swore viciously and slapped her forehead. She was the biggest idiot in the entire world. Of course she wanted Marshall, of course she loved Marshall, how could she not? How did she miss it? What the freaking hell was wrong with her? He'd been right in front of her, loving her all along, and she'd missed it!
The microwave dinged and she jerked in surprise, her thoughts slamming to a screeching halt. There was no way in hell she was gonna play any more games. No more waiting, no more dancing around the subject, and no more distractions.
She completely ignored the microwave as she ran out of the kitchen for shoes and her keys, and thirty seconds later she was on the road, breaking any and all speed limits as she raced back to his house. Tonight was going to be it. Lay it all out, let him decide what the next move was. She was going to jump all in. She was scared out of her mind, but with Marshall, she knew she would be safe.
She screeched into his driveway and saw that a light was still on inside.
Her heart pounded frantically in her chest and she took a brief moment to breathe. There would be no turning back after this. But she didn't want to turn back, and she was pretty sure he wouldn't want to either.
What she would say to him, she had no idea. There were a lot of things that needed to be said and there was no way she could say it all, and she'd probably screw it up, but there were some things she absolutely had to say. It was important that Marshall knew everything, if he didn't already.
"Ok," she said to herself as she exhaled slowly. "Game on."
She got out of the car and jogged up to his door. She hesitated only for a moment, then started banging on the door. She could hear the footsteps inside and stepped back, trying to keep herself from bouncing in anticipation.
"Mary, what's wrong?" Marshall asked when he opened the door. His expression was one of genuine surprise and genuine concern, and there was definitely a trace of genuine fear there was well. Idiot man, he shouldn't have to be afraid of anything she would say to him in the middle of the night.
She shook her head and folded her arms. "Nothing, nothing's wrong. Well, something is, but not in the way you're thinking."
"Come in," he urged, stepping aside.
She looked around. "Actually, could we just stay out here?"
Something flashed in his eyes, and he nodded, stepping back to get a pair of shoes, then coming out on the porch with her, closing the door behind him. "What's up?"
She exhaled sharply, looked down at the ground for a moment, then back up at him. "I'm an idiot." That seemed as good a place to start as any.
His eyebrows shot upward, and he cocked his head slightly. "Come again?"
"I said I'm an idiot, Marshall."
"That's what I thought you said," he murmured, still looking at her strangely. "What's brought all of this on?"
"You said I needed to stop looking for anyone and look for someone," she said, looking away from him. "That maybe I needed messy in my life. That letting off steam wasn't what I needed." She glanced down at her toes, then up at him, her eyes holding a touch of fear. "You said I needed someone who challenges me, who calls me on my BS, gets in my face, and makes me think."
Marshall said nothing. How could he? She remembered what he had said, almost verbatim, and was quoting it back to him. He could hardly breathe at this moment, not sure where this was going or how it was going to end. He stared back at her, hoping his expression was as vacant as he was trying to make it.
"You were right," she said softly. "And I think you know there's only one person who does all of that."
It was impossible to remain impassive after that. He visibly jerked and his fingers clenched slightly. If she was saying what he thought she was saying…
"I've done a lot of thinking over the past few days, and, besides the fact that I've been an idiot, I found a few other things that I know I need."
She took a small step towards him, her eyes focused on his. "I need someone who keeps me grounded. Someone who gives me a reality check. Someone who reminds me that there is good in this crummy world. Someone who will stand beside me even when I'm an idiot. Someone who always has my back."
Marshall was reeling. So many thoughts and emotions were swirling in and around him that he couldn't tell which ones were stronger than others. Confusion, hope, fear, disbelief…all blended in a torrent of sensation, and it was all he could do to remain upright.
Mary exhaled, and he could see the sheen of tears starting in her beautiful green eyes. "I've been an idiot, Marshall," she said again, swallowing hard. "I've been one hell of an idiot because I didn't see what was right in front of me. You are my someone, Marshall."
He couldn't help the small, involuntary gasp that escaped him as his knees nearly buckled at her words. Hope currently took an impossible lead in his emotional cacophony and suddenly, the door he was leaning on was his only support.
"You asked me last night what I wanted Raph to be. Well, I lied to you. I know exactly what I wanted him to be: I wanted him to be you." She swallowed hastily, and shifted restlessly. "You have always been my everything, Marshall, from the very first case. You're my partner, my best friend, my rabbi, my therapist, my enabler…my Achilles heel…You are the only one who has always been there for me, without fail. You are the only person on this planet that understands me. You know what I need before I do. You know me inside and outside, good and bad, upside down and inside out, and you're still here." Her voice was shaking now, and even in the dim light, Marshall could see the streaks on her cheeks left by tears. "You're still here," she repeated.
"Mary…" he whispered, unable to believe what he was hearing.
"I think…" she managed, in a small, but steadier voice, "I think you love me, Marshall Mann. I think you love me love me. And I think you always have."
All of the breath in his lungs vanished as his chest tightened. He somehow managed to swallow the massive lump that was suddenly constricting his airway and vocal chords, and his mind struggled to find the right words to respond with.
Mary was fighting for control, crying freely now, wrapping her arms more securely around herself. One last thing to get out, and then it would be out of her hands completely, ball in his court, and she would have to wait and hope that she hadn't screwed things up too much. "And I think I love you, too. I love you, and I am so sorry that I've wasted so much time, that it's taken me this long to—"
She was cut off by Marshall's lips suddenly melding with hers as he had taken her face in his hands, and was even now pulling her closer. A small whimper of relief and need escaped her as she wrapped her arms around him. His kiss was fierce and possessive, leaving no doubt of his feelings for her, and then it was gentle and caressing, his lips soothing her troubled state into something far more pleasant. The passion radiating from his kiss, from him, took her breath away and she clung to him, pressing herself closer, feeling the heat from him and between them as it continued to spiral upward, threatening to burn them both, but neither caring.
He broke off with a gasp, ran his lips softly along her brow, and touched his forehead to hers, their breathing labored and erratic.
"Holy crap," she whispered, one hand reaching up for the back of his neck.
"Yeah, I think that about covers it," he replied, his thumbs stroking the underside of her jaw.
She exhaled sharply, heart still pounding. "Why didn't we do that a long time ago?"
He shook his head against her. "I wanted to. So many times, I wanted to."
Tears rose again, and she gripped his neck tightly. "I'm sorry."
"No," he said firmly, kissing her again, lingering for a few moments, and then softly kissing away the few tears that had fallen. "No, Mary. There's not going to be any looking back. No regrets."
"Ok," she sighed. Then she brought her other hand up to cup the back of his neck with the other. "Marshall,…I'm scared. I know I shouldn't be, but—"
He kissed her softly, silencing her again. "I know. It's ok. I'm scared too. But it's just you and me, all in, no holds barred, taking it one day at a time. I love you, and you love me, right?"
There was a faint trace of disbelief in his voice, which she immediately proceeded to kiss away. "Right."
"Ok," he said, breathless and relieved. "We're good, then. Right?"
She nodded and took a deep breath, then pulled back just enough to look up at him. "So now what?" She grinned mischievously. "Are you going to take me inside and have your wicked way with me?"
He took in a would-be steadying breath and closed his eyes momentarily. "As much as I would love to experience your sexual wiles that I have dreamed so much about," he paused briefly, ignoring her outburst of "I knew it!", and smiling down at her, "I don't think we should."
She stilled in his arms and he caught the almost imperceptible flash of hurt. He cupped her cheeks and forced her to meet his eyes. "Mary," he said softly, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs, "I have slightly more control out here with the cold night air than I would inside. I think… I hope it's obvious how badly I want you, how much I would enjoy making love to you, with you, but we both know that we need to take our time. This isn't something we need to rush." He held her even more tightly, and emphasized his next words, making sure she understood them: "I am not going anywhere."
She searched his eyes for a brief minute, then smiled gently. "Me neither," she murmured, tugging him closer for a soft kiss.
"Anyway," he said, running his hands up and down her sides, "things are going to be messy enough as it is." Suddenly, he groaned, and touched his forehead to hers again.
"Stan is going to kill us."
Mary smiled, but shrugged. "Bring it on. He's got two options: have us together, or have neither of us. Which do you think he'll go for?"
Marshall grinned in response and pulled her in closer. "You make a good argument."
"Besides," she sighed, kissing him again, "I think I could enjoy messy."
The next morning, Marshall was anxious. Once again, his night had been plagued by dreams, once he'd actually been able to sleep. Only this time, the dreams had involved Mary coming into the office and telling him that she'd made a terrible mistake, that she wasn't ready, that she was transferring to another city because she couldn't take it. Some of them had been pretty far-fetched, but that didn't stop him from fearing that there would be truth in his reality. What if she developed a strange emotional buyer's remorse and decided she didn't want to be with him after all? He wouldn't be able to bear it.
His heart stuttered in his chest when he heard the doors to the office open. He studiously avoided turning to look at her, to gauge her emotions. She wouldn't need to see his anxiety, his fear. She was going to be the driver in this relationship, and he merely the navigator.
"Wow, I actually missed this place," Mary said almost brightly as she walked straight over to her desk and dropped her bag. "Crazy. That'll wear off before lunch." She turned to look at him, but he was staring at his computer screen, trying to appear focused on his newest witnesses. "Whatcha got there?" she asked.
His eyes involuntarily flicked to her and he smiled at the rampant curiosity on her face. "New witnesses, the ones you missed out on."
She grinned. "The reason you're Dopey in the House of Dwarves?" She came over and stood beside his chair, one arm around the back, the other propped on his desk as she leaned over to look at the screen, bringing her body impossibly close to his. She wasn't acting any differently, but he couldn't be sure if that was a good indication or a bad one.
"Holy crap! Five kids under the age of six? What'd this couple do, rob an orphanage?" Her disgust was genuine, totally Mary, and while it was encouraging for Marshall to see, he couldn't help but he a little wary. What was she thinking about? What was she feeling? Was anything going to change between them based on last night's confessions and actions? It was difficult to say…but she was still leaning rather close for comfort.
All of a sudden, his hand was covered by hers, her fingers somehow finding their way in between his. He looked over at her to see her watching Stan's office like a hawk, even as she moved her other arm from his chair to rest on his shoulder. He glanced at that hand, feeling more than a little tossed about. So…she wasn't regretting last night, then? Things were going to change between them after all?
He found himself grinning far too broadly, but it couldn't be helped. He had Mary.
Her lips pressed into the side of his head softly, but lingering, dancing by his ear. "Hi," she breathed, almost too quietly for him to hear.
"Hi," he managed to get out as he attempted to control his smile.
"I missed you last night," she said in the same low, husky tone, kissing his ear quickly and nuzzling the soft, sensitive spot behind it. He shuddered at the contact, and felt her smile against his skin. She squeezed his shoulder tightly before she pushed away and returned to her desk, leaving him rather flustered.
Heat flared across his entire body and he could only swallow hastily as certain images invaded his mind. He watched her walk away, and saw the quirky smile she flashed at him that said she knew exactly what she had just done to him. He was torn between relief that she did, it seemed, still want to be with him, and frustration that he was so susceptible to any and all of her ploys. Things were going to be very interesting from now on, if she wanted to play with him like this. Her continued smirk told him she was enjoying this thoroughly.
What have I gotten myself into? he thought, clearing his throat slightly as he saw Stan coming out of his office. Deep breaths…deep breaths…
Mary snickered quietly at Marshall's very obvious discomfort. Stan noticed it as well and gave her a questioning look. She shrugged as if clueless, then smiled brightly at him.
"Stan the Man, hard to believe this, but I actually missed you."
He smiled back. "It is hard to believe, Inspector, but I thank you anyway."
"Looking a little tired there, Stan. What gives?" Mary asked, glancing over at Marshall again. His ears were returning to a normal shade, finally, and he was now watching her interaction with their boss and wearing a carefully controlled expression. She could fix that. She looked back up at Stan, who was apparently oblivious.
Stan shrugged. "Oh, you know, Marshall's new witnesses have been taking a toll on all of us. Those kids are more terrorizing than the Taliban and a lot less pleasant."
"Hmm, sounds like a fun time."
"Oh, yeah, hilarious," he said on a sigh.
"Maybe you should get away for a while, Stan," Mary suggested innocently enough. She leveled a heated look at Marshall, and was gratified to see his controlled expression falter and watched him squirm slightly, his eyes darkening as he managed a tight smile.
She smiled widely in return, loving that idiot more for the potential those eyes held for them, for everything she had found in him. They had all the time in the world, and she wasn't going to waste a single moment further.
She turned her chair back to Stan, her eyes still fixed on Marshall. "Try a vacation, Stan. It did wonders for me."
YAY! I hope you guys enjoyed it! I'm so sad it's over! It's been a blast! Final reviews, please! And brownie SUNDAES to you all for not killing me. =)