A/N: Hi everybody! Did you think I had deserted you for NCIS fanfic? Well, here's a belated M&M April fool's fic that I wrote for the LJ community for our Month of Mayhem celebration. Please note that I have never been to Vegas (yes, really, truly!) so please forgive any unintentionally mistakes you find in this piece of fiction. Also, if Mary is a bit out of character, it is because she has finally gotten the brain, heart, and courage she ordered from the great Wizard of Oz :D
"For fools rush in where angels fear to tread." –Alexander Pope
"What a fool does in the end, the wise do in the beginning." – Spanish Proverb
Mary hated April fool's day. Like everyone else, she had endured the practical jokes throughout school but had somehow managed to avoid them once she entered the Marshal Service. No one ever dared to pull practical jokes on Mary Shannon because the payback truly was a bitch.
No one, that is, until she was partnered with one Marshal Marshall Mann. The man had grown up with brothers and had had years to perfect his art. Mary never knew exactly how, when, or where he would strike – just that he would. It could be something as simple as salt in her coffee to super gluing her desk chair to the floor – she had learned over the years of their partnership to be prepared for anything. And the truly infuriating thing was that it was impossible to pull one over on him! Mary spent every April 1st on the lookout for Marshall's jokes, real or imagined, which left her no time to execute her own payback. She always vowed to get him next year, but every year he emerged the undefeated victor and would dance around the office, reveling in his victory.
Oh yes, Mary Shannon hated April fool's day.
Mary woke up with a terrible headache Friday morning that didn't get any better when she saw that she had overslept and was running late. Her mood darkened as the heel on her favorite pair of boots broke and she burnt her hand on the heating element of the toaster oven.
"Shit!" she cried, dropping her toast on the counter as her hand throbbed in pain. Her eyes fell on the calendar for the first time. "Great, April fool's day. I'm surprised it's not Friday the 13rh the way things are going."
Her cell vibrated on the island and she scooped it up with her good hand. "This is Mary."
"Mary, where are you?"
"Stan, sorry. There must have been a power outage during the night or something because my alarm didn't go off and I overslept. I'll be in soon."
"I need you stop by the Overtons on your way in."
"Why? Marshall need backup with Julia – you know she has the hots for him, right?"
"No, they're having issues with their landlord and Marshall's out of town."
Mary swallowed the last bite of toast. "What do you mean, he's out of town? Since when?"
"He left last night for Vegas. Didn't he call you?"
"No, he didn't call me – Wait, I get it. This is his April fool's joke, isn't it? And he's reeled you in on it this year."
"Mary, I don't get involved in your practical joke wars. He called me last night and asked for the day off, said he was driving to Vegas."
"Did he say why?"
"No, and I didn't ask."
"Well, why not?"
"Because I'm not nosy – he's allowed to have a life outside of work."
"But Marshall doesn't gamble or enjoy the kind of shows Vegas has – so why would he go there?"
"People do go to Vegas for other reasons."
She snorted. "Yeah, to elope." She gasped. "You don't think he and Abby – Stan, they're not that serious – are they?"
Stan breathed deeply into the phone. "I think you're jumping to conclusions and need to focus on work. Get over to the Overtons on the double, Mary."
"And you swear this isn't an April fool's joke – he really went to Vegas?"
"That's what he told me last night. Said he'd see us on Monday and tell us all about it."
"All about what?" Mary demanded.
This had to be Marshall's April fool's day joke. There was no way her best friend would rush off to Vegas and get married without her – would he? True, they hadn't been as close since she had returned from her Mexican vacation last summer. It turned out that Marshall had already known about her fling with Faber and she had had to do some serious groveling to repair the cracks in their friendship.
And then, shortly after New Year's Day, they had met Detective Abby Piers when their paths crossed on a case. Mary could tell that the female cop was interested in Marshall from the beginning and he did little to discourage her. The two had started dating – but as far as Mary knew it wasn't anything serious. But then, Marshall didn't discuss his relationship with Abby with her. Perhaps things had progressed and he had proposed. Perhaps they were-
"Mary – are you still there?"
"Sorry, Stan, we must have a bad connection. I'll be in after I go see the Overtons."
"Are you all right?"
Mary stared at her phone for a moment after hanging up with Stan. Marshall was not the impulsive type. He would not have just dashed off to Vegas and eloped – without his parents – without Stan – without her. An indescribable feeling washed over her but she pushed it aside as she checked her phone for text messages: none. With shaking fingers she checked voice mail and breathed a sigh of relief when Marshall's voice came over the line.
"Hey, Mer, it's me. Just wanted to let you know that I won't be in today – since I haven't figured out how to be in two places at once and I am currently about to drive into the bright lights of Vegas. And no, this isn't your April fool's day joke," Marshall laughed. "I know that's what you're thinking, Mer. Room renting, remember? I guess since I'm out of town that means you get a reprieve this year. Don't worry – I'll be sure to make it up to you next year. Do me a favor and don't call unless there's a 911 with one of our witnesses, all right? I'll be checking my messages but I won't have my phone turned on. See you on Monday and I'll tell you all about my weekend."
Mary's heart was thumping madly in her chest as her partner's voice was replaced by the automatic recorded voice: "To replay your message, press 2. To erase your message, press 5. To save your message, press 7." She pressed '7' and then hung up.
She suddenly felt nauseous; her toast was sitting in her stomach like a lead lump and was threatening to come back up at any moment if she moved too soon. Damn it! He sounded happy – maybe even excited? Why didn't he just tell me why he was going to Vegas? Maybe because you don't tell your partner, your best friend, over the phone that you're running off to get married? Bile tickled the back of Mary's throat and she swallowed heavily in an effort to keep it at bay.
He cannot be getting married to that perky Pollyanna excuse for a Detective! With her 'Hi, Mary, I'm Marshall's girlfriend and since you're his best friend, I'd really like us to be friends too!' and her 'Marshall told me you like chocolate – I have some homemade fudge, would you like to try some?'
Now Marshall would be rushing through his paperwork so he could get home to his wife – the one who made fudge and loved documentaries as much as he did. She could just picture them feeding each other the sticky, sweet squares and talking about 'The Machine that Made Us'.
"Honey, did you see the new documentary that Stephen Fry made about Johann Gutenberg? It's an absolutely fascinating blend of history and technology-" Marshall murmured into Abby's neck.
"No, I didn't!" Abby cooed, tilting her head. "Here, have another piece of fudge and I'll see if Netflix has it."
Mary barely made it to the sink before her toast came back up.
Afterwards, she leaned her forehead against the cool stainless steel and wondered what in the hell was wrong with her. Why had she just conjured a mental picture of Marshall happily married and making out with another woman?
And why had it made her physically ill?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the vibrating of her cell. Glancing at the caller ID, she saw it was the Overtons calling.
Mary let the call go to voicemail as she grabbed her gun, badge, and wallet on the way out the door.
Mary's day went from bad to worse. She didn't notice that her car had been egged until she was leaving the Overtons and Julia was kind enough to point it out to her. By then she was running so late she didn't have time to stop and clean it off.
"I'll just run through the car wash on the way to the office," she told Julia as she got into the car.
"Oh no, Mary, that won't work! You'll have to use good old fashioned elbow grease to get it off now."
Mary rolled her eyes. "That's just great." She turned her car on and let the sound of the motor cover up her next words as she roared out of the driveway. "I hate April fool's day!"
Five minutes from the office, she heard a faint pop and the car lurched to one side. Mary growled in frustration, knowing before she even got out to check that one of the tires was flat. Not wanting to deal with the hassle of changing a tire with her sore blistered hand, she called Peter.
"Peter, I have a flat. Can you send one of your guys to change it for me?"
He laughed. "Are you serious? I would have thought you were the last female on earth who would need a man to change a tire for her. Oh, I get it – April fool's!"
"I swear to God if one more person makes a reference to April fool's day, I'm going to shoot them!"
"Uh, Mary? You know you carry a gun to help people not shoot them, right?"
"Yes, Peter, and you run an automobile shop to help people with their cars so I'd appreciate it if you'd get your ass over here and help me with mine!"
He chuckled. "Sure, Mary. Where are you?"
"Are you feeling better now, Mary?"
Mary rolled her eyes. "Squish, that's the third time you've asked me that."
"Yeah, well, you're not eating – and you ordered a salad. Are you sure you're feeling ok?" Brandi asked in concern.
Mary shrugged. "I hate April fool's day, you know that."
Brandi giggled. "But when Peter and I picked you up, you said Marshall was out of town – so he can't torture you today."
"It feels strange not to have him around – I've gotten used to his brand of torture."
Brandi looked at her sister in surprise as Peter rejoined them at the table. "So, Mary. Shawn gave you a brand new tire and he cleaned the egg off your back window and bumper for you, too. No charge."
Mary smiled. "Thanks, Peter. What happened to the tire?"
Peter grimaced. "A nail – Shawn said he saw a bunch scattered in the roadway before he got to your car. I had him go back and pick 'em up so no one else will get flats."
"Aw honey, you're so thoughtful!" Brandi cooed as she leaned over and gave him a short kiss.
"Damn kids!" Mary hissed. "I fucking hate April fool's day!"
Peter shook his head at her language and her quick placement of blame. "It might have been an accident-" he broke off at Mary's look of disbelief and rage. "Or not."
"I should get back to work."
"Don't go yet, Mary, you've hardly touched your food."
"I'm not really hungry, Squish."
"What?" Brandi's mouth fell open. "Ok, now I'm worried – what's wrong?"
Mary continued to toy with her food, refusing to meet her sister's gaze. "Marshall drove to Vegas last night."
Brandi and Peter exchanged puzzled glances. "Why?" Brandi asked.
"I don't know. I didn't get his message until this morning; said he'd tell me all about it on Monday."
"All about what?"
Mary's fingers clenched around her fork. "His wedding."
"What?" Peter and Brandi gasped.
"I think he and Abby went to Vegas this weekend to elope."
"But – but – that's crazy!" Brandi sputtered. "He wouldn't do that without telling you – without inviting you! You're his partner – his best friend – his-" Brandi's voice died away as she took in her sister's quiet, pained countenance and she looked at Peter, silently appealing to him for help.
"Mary, you don't know why he went to Vegas – it doesn't sound like his message was very specific. He could have gone for any number of reasons. He could have gone for-"
"For what, Peter?" Mary's head snapped up, her green eyes flashing in the sunlight. "Shopping? Drinking? Gambling? To take in a cabaret show? A stripper show? He's been my partner and best friend for eight years! I've listened to his nuggets of trivia from the dung beetle to why Pluto is no longer considered a planet. I know that he thinks pie makes everything better and while he's not afraid to take risks, gambling holds no interest for him. The bright lights of Vegas would not be attractive to my geeky partner– so why is he there, Peter? Why else do people go to Vegas?"
Peter opened his mouth to respond but Mary held up a finger for silence as she picked up her cell and scrolled through her contacts. Finding the number she wanted, she pushed the call button and waited to be connected. "Hello, this is Marshal Mary Shannon. I'd like to speak to Detective Abby Piers . . . could I leave a message for her? I see. No, I will call back on Monday." She hung up and stared thoughtfully into space.
Brandi leaned forward, touching Mary lightly on the arm. "What did they say?"
"Abby signed out for the weekend and won't be back until Monday. The receptionist even told me she's out of town, though she didn't say where."
"Doesn't mean she's gone with Marshall to Vegas to get married," Peter pointed out but raised his hands in defeat when both sisters glared at him.
"Can you get off work early, Mary?" Brandi asked.
"I could try, why?"
"It's a little over two hours to Vegas. If you could get off by say four, we'd make it by six."
"Yeah! Peter and I could research wedding chapels while you stop Marshall's wedding." At Mary's look of surprise, Brandi explained, "Mom's driving me nuts and eloping sounds better all the time!"
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Peter muttered. "We don't even know for sure that Marshall's getting married but even if he is, doesn't the poor guy have the right to be happy?"
Brandi kicked him in the shin under the table.
But Mary was lost in a memory that Peter's words had triggered.
Sitting across from her partner in Lindy's coffee shop, she plunked her engagement ring on the table between them.
"There – happy?"
His blue eyes bored into hers. "Are you?"
"Mary?" Peter's voice snapped her back to the present and she looked across the small table at him.
"He's not happy with that Mary Poppins wannabe," she snorted. "Abby is too sweet, too perfect - he can't see that she's smothering him. She doesn't keep him on his toes, doesn't challenge him like-" her voice trailed off as another memory washed over her.
Marshall's blue eyes stared into hers as he leaned over her desk. "Maybe instead of just anyone . . . you should be looking for someone. Someone who challenges you, calls you on your BS, and gets in your face, and makes you think."
Peter watched the emotions play across Mary's face and chuckled. He leaned over and whispered in Brandi's ear. "I think Mary's having an epiphany."
Brandi's brow wrinkled in confusion but then she smirked as she followed his gaze. "You mean, she's finally realizing that she's in love with Marshall?"
"Yup. I just hope she's not too late."
Mary stared at her computer screen in disbelief. Sure, she knew people went to Las Vegas to elope and she knew that Sin City had lots of wedding chapels – but she didn't know that there was that many!
"And to think I only googled the nice ones," she muttered under her breath. "Doofus wouldn't get hitched at the hunka' hunka' burnin' love chapel."
"Mary, what are you doing?"
She jumped guiltily as she minimized her search and met Stan's gaze across her desk. "Nothing – I'm working."
"On what is the question since I have a fairly good idea it's not related to one of your witnesses."
"Stan, you wound me! What makes you think I'm not hard at work on their behalf at-" she glanced down to see the time on her computer. "3:15 on a Friday afternoon?"
He snorted. "Because it's late on a Friday afternoon and your partner isn't here to keep you in line. Go home, Mary. You look terrible."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "I'm going to let that one go because you're letting me go home early. Thanks, Stan." Mary grabbed her jacket just as Charlie came up to her desk with a stack of papers in his hand.
"Here, Mary. This just came out of the printer in the workroom and I assume it must be for you since neither Stan nor I would want a list of wedding chapels in Vegas. Are you planning to elope this weekend?"
Mary groaned and her eyes fell shut even as she felt Stan's gaze fall on her. "Stan, I-"
"My office, now, Inspector."
Mary ripped the pages from Charlie's hands. "Thanks a lot, kid." She stormed into Stan's office and made sure the door swung shut behind her before she faced her boss.
Stan didn't waste any time. "What the hell are you doing, Mary? Are you checking up on Marshall behind his back? Do you have any actual proof that he's gone to Vegas to get married?"
"Actually I do, Stan."
"What?" Stan's eyebrows shot up as he slowly sank into his desk chair.
"I called the station and asked for Abby." She waved off Stan's protest. "Wait a minute. They told me she signed out for the weekend yesterday afternoon and that she's out of town."
Stan was silent, absorbing her words for a few moments. "Mary, while that is an interesting development, it is by no means a smoking gun."
Mary began to pace. "Why is everyone so positive that Marshall and Abby have not run off to Vegas to elope?"
"Mary, listen to yourself – does that sound like something reasonable, reliable Marshall would do?"
She halted for a moment before resuming her pacing. "No, but he's changed since he started dating little Miss Perfect. When he proposed, she probably said: 'You're gone so much with your job, who knows when we'll have time to plan a wedding so why don't we just go to Vegas this weekend and elope?'"
Stan leaned over his desk. "Mary, I have a better question: why does this bother you so much? Marshall deserves to be happy – if not with you, then -"
Mary's head whipped around. "Wh- what are you talking about?"
Stan sighed. "Mary, let's quit pretending that I don't know what's been going on around here for the last eight years, ok? That boy has had deep feelings for you ever since he told me to 'snap you up'. I've watched you two become the best damn team this office has ever had – but at what cost? I've been waiting for Marshall's resignation as your partner for over a year now. He can't survive in this limbo you've put him in much longer. It's time to fish or cut bait, sugar."
Mary threw her hands up in frustration. "What the hell does that mean?"
"I mean, it's time to reel him in or let him go. Go to Vegas, find Marshall and tell him that you love him. But if you don't or you're still not ready," Stan paused and sighed wearily. "Then for the love of God, Mary, let him go. Let him be with Abby or some other woman who can love him like you can't – or won't."
Mary was shaking so badly she thought her legs were going to collapse out from under her. With the care and concern of a father for his daughter, Stan came and stood in front of her and placed his hands on her shoulders. Her green eyes met his.
"Stan, I think I-" she stopped, swallowing her fears. "But Marshall, he's my-"
"I know, Mary," Stan reassured her, squeezing her shoulders gently. "Go tell him."
Mary flashed a smile before grabbing Stan's face and placing a kiss high on his forehead. "You're still the man, Stan."
He chuckled as he watched her fly out of the office. "Who knew April fool's day was a romantic holiday?" he said with a shrug.
"I guess I got the place wrong too – thanks for your help, bye." Brandi hung up her cell and put a line through the Flamingo hotel and casino on her sheet. She glanced at Mary in the rear view mirror before she turned to Peter. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack."
Peter's eyes flicked towards hers as he briefly took his off the road to give her a reassuring smile. "Well, at least Mary has an idea the kind of place Marshall would choose – that at least gives you someplace to start."
Brandi nodded as she glanced at the names Mary had highlighted on her pages. "Yeah, but there's still so many – I mean there's like a thousand wedding chapels in Vegas!"
He nodded. "So, where would you like to get married if we do decide to run away to Vegas?"
Brandi bit her lip. "The Bellagio?"
He laughed. "I should have known! My fiancée has expensive tastes." He shot her another look. "I guess it's a good thing then that I managed to get us a two bedroom suite there, huh?"
"Oh, Peter! Really? How did you manage that?"
"I have my ways – and I figured you might want to check out their wedding packages."
Their conversation was interrupted by Mary's exclamation from the back seat.
"Jackpot! The Mann wedding is at the Excalibur at 7." Mary threw down her pages and phone and leaned her head back against the seat.
"We'll be in Vegas by 6, Mary," Peter reassured her.
"That'll give us time to check in and get cleaned up – maybe get you something to wear before you head over to the Excalibur," Brandi said.
Mary's head shot up. "What? Squish, I'm not going shopping!"
"Mary, you can't wear your work clothes! You're going to a wedding-"
"I'm crashing a wedding – that's a huge difference!"
"Whatever – you still need to look your best. Let me do your hair and fix you up a bit."
A long forgotten memory flashed through Mary's mind of the last time she had let Brandi dress her and the effect it had had on her partner.
"Look at me."
"What? No. Why?"
"Because I'm talking to you. Oh my God. You can't even look at me. Marshall, for God's sake. It's not like I'm naked."
"Naked would be better – that makes me feel so . . . dirty."
Mary smiled. "Ok, Squish. But no dressing me up like a whore this time, ok?"
Brandi laughed. "I promise."
"You should have gotten the matching necklace," Brandi pouted as she finished French braiding Mary's hair.
Mary sighed and tried not to squirm on the low seat in front of the mirror. "You were lucky to talk me into the dress."
Brandi's mouth fell open. "Mary, it's gorgeous on you! The hint of green really brings out your eyes; but some jewelry would help too."
"I told you – the only jewelry I'm wearing is my badge."
"I may need it to get inside the chapel."
Brandi sighed. "Well, at least you're not wearing your gun."
Mary's eyes met her sister's in the mirror as she grinned. "Don't bet on it."
Brandi's fingers stilled in Mary's hair. "Where?" she demanded, scanning the little black dress that ended just above the knee.
"It's a trade secret - and I'm going to be too late to stop the wedding if you don't quit fiddling with my hair, Squish!"
"Sorry! I just want you to look your best for him."
Mary sighed. "Brandi-"
Brandi lifted her hands in surrender and Mary stood to look for her dress shoes.
"Have you thought about what you're going to say?"
Mary paused, one foot in mid-air over a shoe. "You mean, other than 'Don't make the biggest mistake of your life'?"
Mary shrugged and slipped her foot into the shoe. "Isn't that enough?"
"To stop the wedding? Probably. But he's going to want to know why you're here – why you think it's the biggest mistake of his life to marry her." Brandi bit her lip. "You really think that?"
Mary nodded. "I do."
"I just do."
Brandi shook her head. "He's going to want a better reason than that, Mary."
Mary grabbed her jacket off the bed and crossed the room to the door, throwing the words over her shoulder. "Wish me luck."
Brandi wanted to grab her sister and shake some sense into her. But she didn't. Instead, she simply said, "Good luck."
She almost turned back. This wasn't something she did. Mary Shannon did not run towards things – she ran away from them, as far and as fast as she could. She couldn't believe that she had driven all the way to Vegas, well technically, Peter had driven the car and she had just been a passenger, to tell Marshall-
What exactly was she going to tell Marshall? Squish was right. He was going to want more than a simple "Don't marry her, string bean, she's not the right woman for you," explanation. He would want to hear the words, the words that Stan had told her to say before she left Albuquerque, the words that he himself had said to her at her ill fated engagement party.
"Here's to . . . the best friend I've ever had – could ever hope to have. The girl for whom no man will ever be good enough. I hope you know that – I love you."
Mary paused on the sidewalk outside the Excalibur and took several slow, deep breaths. What the hell was she doing here? She felt like she was playing the heroine in some silly chick flick, running to tell the man of her dreams not to settle for little Miss Perfect because-
He belonged with her.
The memories were coming fast and furious, scenes from the past eight years of their partnership playing like a home movie in her head. Only now was she beginning to realize the ugly truth: she had taken Marshall for granted every damn day for eight years. She had just expected him to be there no matter what: to read her mind, finish her sentences, back her plays, and follow her lead. She had just expected him to take her shit, deal with her drama train family, and accept the fact that she believed the rules just didn't apply to her. With a flash of guilt and pain, she remembered their conversation at Garcia's Café.
"Think you'll ever get married?"
Marshall smiled and took a big bite of his breakfast burrito. "The right flight attendant comes along, who knows?" he nods down at the newspaper story.
"Well, if you ever did take the plunge, not that I'd wish that hell on any woman, would you tell the missus about the job?"
"That's it? No diffuse and flowery philosophical treatise with footnotes?"
"It runs contrary to WITSEC regs."
"Heaven forbid we run contrary."
"You're not thinking about. . . you already told him. Without consulting me?" Marshall rears back, his face awash in shock.
"You know, I was going to, and then I remembered it's none of your goddamn business."
"Are you kidding?"
Mary snorted. "I don't think so."
He leaned in, his voice pitched low with tension and hurt. "By telling Raph what you do, you've told him what I do. And I wasn't quite ready to share that information with your future husband."
Mary flinched at the memory. She had never apologized for her behavior – in fact she had acted like the injured party, never acknowledging the fact that she had indeed endangered not only her partner but her witnesses with her hasty confession. And to what end? Now that her engagement had been dissolved, the knowledge could really come back to bite Raph, Marshall, and herself in the ass.
Mary shivered. Telling Raph about WitsSec had been one of the biggest mistakes of her life – and yet how long had Marshall stayed mad at her? A day? Two days? A week?
If he had been the one to betray her, she knew she would have held a grudge a lot longer. But her partner was a better human being than she was – he was quick to forgive and it took a lot to make him mad. That was just one of the reasons they made such a great team; Marshall balanced her out.
Through all the years, he had walked side by side with her down countless streets and alleys, rarely falling out of step and always having her back. They had shared more beds on witness transports than the "rules" allowed but no lines had been crossed. He had even pulled himself up from underneath a car, with a gunshot wound no less, to protect her.
Nothing would ever be the same if he married Abby. Things would change and Mary couldn't let that happen. She and Marshall were partners, for better or worse.
He belongs with me.
Mary went into the Excalibur.
The Canterbury chapel was beautiful – the online pictures had not done it justice. Mary was staring at the beautiful woodwork and inhaling the fresh cut flowers when she saw her tuxedo clad partner duck in the doorway at the front. Not wanting to waste another second, she made a beeline right for him.
Marshall's eyebrows rose right into his hairline at the sight of his partner walking down the center aisle. He looked her up and down, admiring the way her black dress accentuated her curves.
"Mer?" he whispered, once she was close enough. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm stopping you from making the biggest mistake of your life," she hissed, grabbing his arm and pulling him into the alcove off to the side.
He looked down at her in confusion. "What?"
"How could you, Marshall?"
He heard the hurt in her voice and responded to it by placing his hand on her arm. "I'm confused – how could I what?"
"Run off to Vegas to marry Abby without telling me?"
Marshall felt the laughter tickling the back of his throat and he fought hard to keep it and the smile off his face. She had driven all the way to Vegas because she thought he was eloping!
"Come with me, Mer." He moved his hand to her elbow and amid her soft protests, led her out the side door into the hall.
Mary was looking up at Marshall in confusion but some of it disappeared when she saw Seth Mann in the hall. He was with another tall man who bore a striking resemblance to Marshall but she had never seen him before.
"Well, Mary, this is a surprise," Seth greeted her. "Marshall didn't mention you were coming."
"He didn't know. It's nice to see you again, Seth."
"Mer, I'd like you to meet my brother, Mark," Marshall smiled. "He's the lucky son of a gun who's getting married in about five minutes."
Mary's mouth fell open and she felt her face grow hot with embarrassment. I'm going to kill him. I was right all along – this is his joke! I fucking hate April fool's day! She glared at Marshall, whose grin simply widened in response.
"It's great to finally meet you, Mary," Mark was saying. "Marshall has been talking about you for years! I hope you can stay for the ceremony."
Mary managed to focus on Mark's words. "Oh no, I don't think I should-"
"Oh please, Gwen would love to have another guest!"
"Mary, you could sit with us. My wife, Anne, the boys' mom, has been dying to meet you," Seth encouraged. "And we have reservations at the Camelot Steakhouse afterwards."
"I really shouldn't-" Mary's words were cut off by the rumbling of her stomach and her eyes fluttered shut. She had never been so embarrassed in all her life. If she had been late and had interrupted the actual ceremony . . . the very thought made her shiver, mostly in relief that her pride had not been compromised further.
Marshall laughed. "I think Mary's stomach just accepted for her, Dad."
She tried to elbow her partner in the ribs but he easily dodged which set the other two men laughing. Music came from inside the chapel and Mark said they had better take their places.
Marshall grabbed her hand. "Don't disappear on me after the ceremony – we have a lot to talk about, Mer."
"I'm going to stab you with my steak knife!" she hissed.
Her eyes widened as he kissed her fingertips before releasing her hand. "That's my girl."
"So, you really thought Abby and I had run off to elope?" Marshall asked incredulously.
Mary shrugged as she toyed with the stem of her wine glass. "You were very cryptic with your message, Doofus. And you turned off your phone - what was I supposed to think?"
They were the last of the wedding party at the steakhouse. Marshall's parents had left for the airport and the happy couple had retired to their honeymoon suite. Gwen's maid of honor had left to try her luck in one of the casinos half an hour ago, finally leaving the partners alone.
"I didn't mean to be cryptic, Mer. Perhaps I wanted to pique your curiosity-"
At Mary's pointed look, he raised his hands in defeat. "All right, I was hoping you'd call and leave me tons of messages and I'd cave and tell you what was going on – so you'd come join me for the weekend. But I never thought you'd think it was my wedding!" Marshall laughed.
Mary narrowed her eyes but she finally smiled. "Perhaps I wouldn't have if today wasn't April fool's day – it was a lousy day, string bean."
He reached across the table and gently picked up her sore hand, tracing the outline of her blister. "I noticed your hand at the chapel earlier – what happened?"
"It's nothing." She tried to pull her hand back but he held tight, his fingers continuing to trace a circle around her wound.
He raised his eyebrows and waited until she started at the beginning and told him about her day. "Sounds like you were looking for an excuse to get the hell out of Dodge."
"Maybe I was." She signaled for the check with her free hand.
"So, why did you come to Vegas to stop 'my' wedding?" He asked as the waiter brought their check. He released her hand, and gave it back to the waiter along with his credit card.
"I told you – to stop you from making a mistake."
"I think your exact words were 'the biggest mistake of your life'. Why do you think it would have been, Mer?"
She squirmed in her seat. "It just would have. You thought my marrying Raph would have been a mistake."
"You didn't love him." He pointed out.
"Do you love Abby?" She shot back.
She watched as Marshall dropped his gaze and ran his finger around the rim of his wineglass. "I wanted to," he whispered. "I tried to." He picked up his glass and finished the rest of his wine in one gulp. "But it's a moot point now since Abby and I broke up last month."
Mary swallowed. "I'm sorry, Marshall."
He looked up at her again, blue meeting green. "The hell you are," he smiled sadly.
An uneasy silence fell over the table. The waiter brought back the receipt and Marshall's credit card. Mary watched as he signed it and returned the card to his wallet. She still hadn't given him the real reason why she came after him but because of the turn their conversation had taken, she wasn't sure now was the right time. She jumped when he broke into her thoughts.
"Feel like taking a walk and getting some air?"
The cool desert air felt good after the warm closed in feel of the steakhouse. Mary couldn't help but notice how she and Marshall kept in step with each other all along the Strip, even though his legs were longer than hers. Had it always been that way? Even in the beginning? Or had he suffered through a learning curve, to shorten his stride to match hers?
"Penny for your thoughts, Mer."
"I don't think they're worth that much, string bean."
"I'd still like to know what you're thinking."
"I was thinking about the fact that you and I are walking in perfect sync – and I was wondering if we always did that or if you learned to match your stride to mine since your legs are longer."
She expected him to launch into a dissertation on the length of a person's stride in proportion to their height or at the very least complain about the fact that he was never allowed to take full strides when walking with her and that he was starting to suffer early joint pain as a result. But instead, Marshall cocked his head in thought before replying.
"I don't know. It's been so long now that you and I have been partners that it's just something we do, walk in sync. I don't remember falling out of step with you that often – except for the times you push me off the sidewalk, of course."
Mary smiled and glanced up to see that they were nearing the Eiffel Tower. "Can we go up?"
Marshall looked at her in surprise. "Do you want to?"
She shrugged. "I know it's silly, but it's probably the closest I'll ever get to Paris."
Marshall entwined her good hand with his. "It's not silly, ma Cherie."
"I suppose this view is nothing like the view from the real Eiffel Tower," Mary said as she looked out over the lights of Vegas.
He shook his head. "But we can pretend."
Another silence fell between them but this time it was easy and comfortable- one born from years of breathing, living, and working side by side. Mary decided it was now or never.
"Marshall, why did you and Abby break up?"
He sighed. "Pick a reason: she wanted to move in together and I wasn't ready, she couldn't understand why I couldn't talk to her about my job," he paused and turned, looking directly at her. "And then there was you."
He nodded. "She didn't understand our relationship, our partnership. She got upset because you were always calling and interrupting us."
Mary snorted. "I was calling about our witnesses."
"I know that, Mer, but I couldn't tell Abby that, could I? I mean, how did Raph react to my calls? To your leaving at all hours of the day and night?"
"Not well –but he was a little more understanding after I told him about WitSec."
Marshall's face darkened. "I wasn't going to tell Abby about what I do – what we do."
She flinched, hearing the hurt in his voice. "That was one of the biggest mistakes of my life, Marshall, telling Raph and compromising not just myself but you and our witnesses as well," Mary swallowed. "I'll understand if you're still mad at me."
He reared back in surprise at her words. "I don't believe it. Was that an apology?"
"It's as close to one as you're going to get, string bean."
Marshall came and stood next to her at the railing, bumping his shoulder affectionately against hers. "I can never stay mad at you, Mer, no matter how hard I try. Believe me, you've done plenty of things over the course of our partnership that has made me see red but in the end, I've found it's just easier to let them go. You do your share by putting up with my quirks and eccentricities and I return the favor by putting up with the damage inflicted by your claws."
She cleared her throat, looking up into his eyes. "Why have you stayed with me, Marshall?"
"Why have you stayed with me?" she repeated. "I mean, I've abused you, taken you for granted, dumped all the paperwork and whiny witnesses on you, not to mention I've blamed you for things that aren't even your fault and you've said nothing, done nothing but stay by my side for eight years. Why, Marshall?"
Marshall reached over and brushed a wisp of hair out of her eyes. "You know why, Mer."
She shook her head, willing the tears not to fall. "You've poured out your feelings to me not once but twice and I ran from you both times. Hell, the second time I screwed somebody else so I wouldn't have to think about how much your feelings scared the shit out of me, Marshall! What kind of a person does that? Why would you ever want to be with someone-"
His finger against her lips cut off the rest of her words. "Don't you think I've asked myself the exact same questions?" he said softly. "How could I care for a woman who is so blind to how her words and actions affect other people? How could I love a woman who runs away from me every time I even hint that I want something more with her?" He removed his finger, sliding his hand up to cup her cheek.
Mary shivered under his touch. "And have you found any answers?"
He smiled. "The only answer I have is that I love you, Mary Shannon, claws and all. And I'll stand still until you decide to run to me instead of away from me – until you realize that you love me too."
Her eyes fell closed as she leaned her cheek into his palm, shifting her face slightly to drop a kiss on his warm skin. "I do love you, Marshall." She felt his hand tremble against her cheek.
"Mer-" he whispered hoarsely.
"No more talking, Marshall. We've done nothing but talk for eight years."
"Do you have a better idea?" he grinned.
She closed the short distance between them, pressing her lips to his. Marshall gasped and Mary took the advantage of his open mouth to plunge her tongue inside. She was vaguely aware of his arms wrapping around her waist, pulling her flush against him, but she was too lost in the taste of his mouth and lips to notice very much. Why, oh why, did I wait so long to do this? I had no idea that Marshall could kiss like this! These lips belong to me now . . . no one else. Mary made a low sound deep in her throat as she hooked her left foot around the back of Marshall's knee, forcing more body contact. Marshall answered with a groan of his own as he deepened the kiss.
When she pulled away several moments later, she was amused to feel his hands on her ass but she didn't say anything. She just leaned into his embrace and looked up into his glazed expression.
"Marshall?" she asked finally, shaking him slightly. "Marshall?"
He looked down at her with a big, goofy grin, his mouth opening and closing but no sound came out.
Mary felt something tickling at the back of her throat and for one horrifying moment, she thought she was going to be sick again. But she finally identified the foreign feeling as the laughter escaped her lips.
"It took me eight years but I think I finally found a way to shut you up!" she crowed.
Marshall focused on her for the first time since their kiss, his arms tightening around her. "I wouldn't recommend trying this method around the office," he said hoarsely.
"Well, maybe not in front of Stan, but-" her words broke off as her attention was caught by a pair of kids. With barely suppressed laughter, they threw small wads of paper in Mary and Marshall's direction and ran off.
Marshall loosened his hold as Mary bent down to pick up the crumpled piece of paper that had landed by her left foot.
She gasped. "Marshall, this is a hundred dollar bill!"
"No, it's not."
"Yes, it is!"
"No, it's not, Mer. The kids around here have been doing it all day. Have you forgotten that it's-"
"April fool's!" the kids cried as the elevator doors closed.
Mary growled and tossed the bill on the ground. "I hate this day!"
Marshall's eyebrows rose in surprise as he pulled her back into his arms and returned his hands to their previous position on her butt. "Really? 'Cause I think it just became my favorite holiday!"
She rolled her eyes at him.
"Did you know in Scotland they celebrate April fool's for two days instead of just one?" He grinned down at her. "It's true, they-"
"Shut up, Doofus!"
Is it May 1st yet? Here's to more M&M moments in Season Four! Reviews are LOVE!