Hello all! I am posting on time! It's a Christmas...or some other, lesser known holiday miracle. :) Seriously, this is the first time I've ever posted a story and been late only once.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your feedback and your support. This has been a lot of fun to write, and I am actually sad to be ending the story with this chapter. :( However, I have loved writing for this fandom so very very much, I can't imagine not writing another tale. :)
This chapter starts off in 2003 then ends with Trojan Horst. Thank you all again! Enjoy!
Mary swung Marshall's SUV around a corner, almost clipping the car that had been turning left ahead of her. Good lord, but this monster was built like a boat...
The blond marshal let her eyes flit to the side, observing her partner. He looked better. Slightly. Stan had brought some of the extra clothes Marshall kept stashed at the office to the hospital, so at least he couldn't be confused for someone involved in a blood bank accident anymore. His face was still pale though.
She sighed, bringing her gaze back to the road in time to swerve and avoid bulldozing a Mini Cooper.
"Please don't kill anyone while driving my car," Marshall murmured sleepily.
She shot him another look. His head kept nodding, drifting toward his chest. "What, are you kidding? It's the perfect opportunity. My car doesn't have the horsepower."
Marshall blinked rapidly and shook his head. "Not to mention the fact that if you tried, you would leave behind evidence. For instance, your engine falling out onto the road. That might be traced to you."
One eyebrow crawled up her forehead dubiously. "Pretty witty for someone hopped up on Vicodin."
"Is that what they gave me?" Her partner dragged a hand over his face. "No wonder the car is spinning. I thought it was just your driving." He planted a hand against the ceiling, bracing himself as Mary cranked the wheel and sent the SUV shooting down his street.
Pulling to a stop, Mary shifted into park. She glanced at her partner once more. The stop had made him jerk in his seat, blinking in a manner reminiscent of a blinded owl. How much did they give him?
"Well, g'night," He said, his speech slightly slurred. Marshall fumbled for the door handle. It took him about a minute to find it.
One of those times when I would kill for a camera. Mary shook her head, grinning to herself. If she let this knucklehead try to walk into his home unassisted she would probably just wind up dragging him back to the hospital when he did a swan dive onto his front step. Unbuckling her seat belt, she swung her own door open.
Finding the handle was harder than it should have been. Someone seemed to have moved it from its usual position. Marshall drew in a deep breath. His fingers felt thick, and strangely disconnected from his body. Thoughts were moving slowly through a fog of foreign chemicals. Stop the world please, I would like to get off...stupid painkillers. The lawman made a face. He hated meds.
Finally, his fingers closed around the latch and he was able to push the door open. Marshall stepped down carefully. The walk stretched before him tauntingly, twisting ever so slightly in his perception.
Bracing himself against his SUV and wondering how on earth he was going to get inside without face planting on the sidewalk, Marshall missed the opening and closing of the driver's side door. He didn't realize his partner had exited the vehicle until she grasped his right arm and drew it over her shoulder, steadying him.
Marshall stared down at her, nonplussed. "Um...this is my place..." His eyes darted to the side, just to make sure. Yup. Definitely...well, he was at least ninety-five percent sure that it was his place.
"I know that, nitwit," Mary said pleasantly. She wrapped her left arm around his waist and stepped forward. Marshall had little choice but to step with her.
"You said you were going to go home and get some rest..."
"And I am. Just as soon as I get you inside and in bed." Mary shot a look up at him as they slowly made their way down his front walk. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't dump all of your weight on me. You're surprisingly heavy."
"Duly noted." He was already being careful not to lean on her too much, using her arm and shoulder mostly for balance. She tightened her grip as he stumbled, helping him to regain equilibrium. The tall lawman looked down at her in mild confusion. "Correct me if I'm wrong..."
"Can I finish my sentence before you decide?"
"Depends on how fast you can talk." Mary pulled a set of keys out of her pocket and unlocked his front door. "Stan gave them to me," she explained. "I also have your cell phone."
Good thing. He would have completely forgotten them. "As I was saying," he continued, stepping over the threshold, "I may be mistaken..."
"A common turn of events."
"...but you seem to be trying to be nice." He quickly raised his left hand, holding the forefinger and thumb about an inch apart. "A little bit. Not enough to ruin your reputation of delighting in the misery of others."
"Nice?" Mary snorted as she flicked the light switch and gently directed him toward the hall. "Oooh, no. No, no, no. This is not nice. This is based purely out of self interest."
"Do tell." Marshall nudged his bedroom door open with his foot as he and Mary continued their bizarre version of the slowest three-legged race ever.
"If I leave you here unattended and you keel over, you'll probably end up cracking your head open on the toilet seat. Then when I come by to pick you up in the morning..."
"I'll have invented a time machine?"
"No, numbnuts, you'll have to go back to the hospital to be treated for a concussion." she narrowed her eyes at him as his settled onto his bed. "And don't bring up the time travel movies."
Marshall started to lean over so he could pull his boots off, but instantly realized how bad an idea bending was when the room nearly flipped itself upside down. Mary's firm hand pushed him back upright, and to his surprise she knelt and grasped the heel of his right boot. "Anyway," she continued, tugging at his footwear "I would have to take you back to the hospital, and if you think that I am waiting around..."
"...on those damn..."
The boot came free with a jerk. Mary calmly set it to the side. "...for the second time in less than twenty-four hours, you have another thing coming." She quickly repeated the process for his left boot.
"Your concern for my well being is touching," Marshall said dryly as he slowly pulled his feet onto the bed and stretched out.
Mary's eyebrows drew together. "You don't want to take anything else off?"
"Not the way you tip."
The afghan he kept folded at the foot of his bed landed over his face. "I was thinking of your shirt, pervis."
Marshall pulled the knit material away from his face, rolling so that he hid his grin in the pillow. The pain meds were starting to really kick in now, and the world was slipping away. He thought he felt Mary adjust the afghan so that it covered him, but he couldn't be sure.
With an effort, he cracked one eye open and looked toward the door. Mary stood framed there with the light from the hall shining behind her. Hands on hips, she leaned her back against the doorjamb and crossed her ankles. Her silhouette was wavering, like he was viewing her through water, or smoke. It made him think of the tales of faeries...not the nice, Disney version wee people, but the mischievous, fey creatures of folk tales. One never knew if the faery they were speaking with would be of the helpful, kind variety, or the one carrying a lantern that lured unsuspecting travelers to their death in the cold depths of a bog. They were unpredictable, uncontrollable, fascinating, and unspeakably alluring. Mortals coming into contact with the realm of Faerie almost never chose to return to their former life.
His lips had the same oddly disconnected feeling as his hands, but he forced them to cooperate with his tongue. He had one more question to ask before he slipped into the waiting blackness.
Mary straightened and stepped forward. "Did you say something?"
"Did you say something?" Mary gazed down at her partner. She could have sworn that he was trying to ask a question.
Marshall's eyes cracked open a little more. "M'not gonna wake up with one eyebrow shaved, am I?"
Mary grinned. Partly at the question, partly at the drowsy, half-slurred voice he asked it in. "Good idea. I'll definitely take it into consideration."
"D'you always kick people when they're down?" He mumbled, voice fading.
"It's when they're within easy foot range," she replied.
A silly grin spread over his face as the blue eyes slid shut. "That's my girl."
Mary froze, unsure of how to respond. Her initial instinct was to loathe all sappy nicknames. Sweetheart, honey, darling, snookums...all of them slid into her category of 'things to induce nausea.' Her head cocked to one side as she contemplated her next move. Yelling at him would do no good, he was already too far gone and she doubted he would notice being slapped either. There was always the eyebrow shaving idea...but Stan would see it in the morning and that would raise all sorts of awkward questions.
Mary glanced around her, as though checking for witnesses. Ascertaining that there really was no one else in the room besides herself and Marshall, she allowed a soft smile to curl the corners of her mouth.
As nicknames went, it wasn't too bad.
She kind of liked it.
Marshall groaned as he came back to consciousness. For a few seconds, the lawman was incredibly disoriented. The antiseptic smell and uncomfortable mattress let him know that he was resting on a hospital bed. He could have sworn that he had gone home...
His chest throbbed, further increasing his confusion. Hadn't he been shot in the hip?
No...no, that had been years ago...
He must have been dreaming.
The hospital room was dark, lit only by the softly beeping monitors. He could see the glittering city lights through the window. It must be late. Or very early. Marshall sighed softly. The last fading images of the dream danced through his head. Gentle hands adjusting the afghan. Mary's wavering silhouette as she watched him fall asleep. The lawman winced as his wound throbbed. His last memory of that night was her, leaning against the doorway of his bedroom.
Marshall's eyes swung to the hospital door. He didn't really expect to see her...didn't even know why he was looking...
She was there.
Standing in almost exactly the same position.
Instead of resting on her hips, her hands were tucked tightly around her middle, like she was trying to hug herself, but she was there.
Marshall gazed at his partner, taking in her disheveled appearance. Mary's blond hair was still pulled back into the rough ponytail, straggling strands escaping around her face. A layer of desert dust and old sweat caked her skin. She was wearing the same pants and black, marshal's jacket she had on when he had passed out.
Tear tracks were visible on her cheeks, cutting through the dirt and grime of the horrific day.
Marshall met her eyes, seeing in them a bone deep weariness and strain.
"You look tired," he croaked, voice rough.
Mary bit her lip, and the silence of the sleeping hospital stretched between them. "I...I thought..." she shrugged; a twitching spasm. "I thought you were going to..."
Marshall stirred, pushing himself up slightly. "What happened...did you get Horst?"
A smile; tiny and fleeting tugged at the corner of her mouth. For a moment, a hint of her indomitable spirit glinted in her eyes. "Oh yeah."
The smile disappeared as quickly as it had come and her eyes flitted away from his. Mary hugged herself even more tightly, as thought trying to squeeze herself into an unnoticeable ball. "You know I do respect you, right?" Her voice was very small.
He smiled at her. "I know." He could see some of the tension leave her almost immediately. Her shoulders slumped in unspoken relief. Marshall motioned to the chair by his bed. "Want a seat? I know you hate them, but they're better than nothing."
The corner of her mouth tipped gently as she stepped into the room. With a groan, she sank into the mauve, low backed monstrosity. "It's an improvement over those upchuck colored half cheeked deals. I bet I can sit here for more than fifteen minutes without losing feeling in my lower extremities." she leaned forward and placed her folded arms on his mattress before dropping her head down onto them. "You know that you're not off the hook, right?"
His eyebrows raised slightly. "Excuse me?"
"Just because you didn't die doesn't mean you get to quit." Her voice was muffled, her face hidden in her arms.
Marshall actually chuckled, wincing slightly. "Okay." She didn't realize that he hadn't made the choice just because he was probably going to die shortly.
Because he wanted to be by her side. Because she wanted him to stay. Because he was her best and only friend, and she knew it.
One of her hands was inches away from his fingertips. Long fingers with short, sensible nails. Some of his blood still stained her knuckles, mixing with the desert dust, and gun oil.
Try it. Reach out and take her hand. Just try it...
He was moving, reaching...
Mary straightened up and leaned back in the chair, her hands on the plastic armrests and out of range. She hadn't even noticed.
His partner smiled at him. A smile of affection and friendship.
That would have to be enough for now...
He smiled back at her, watching as her eyelids slowly drooped lower and lower. This woman was his exotic animal. His own encounter with the Faerie realm. She was the sun that his universe revolved around. Had been for a long time.
and maybe for years more...
The smile slowly faded as Mary slipped into the sleep of the truly exhausted.
Unfortunately, he was just one of her many planets.
and maybe forever.
Waiting until he was absolutely certain that she was deeply asleep, he straightened, wincing. Marshall reached out and gently took hold of one of her hands where it hung limply. The lawman lifted the dirty, long fingered hand and kissed it lightly. For now, he was her only friend, her keeper, her partner and he knew he could not quit.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! It's been a wonderful story and you've been wonderful readers and reviewers! Please let me know what y'all think of the last chapter. Hope to see you all again with another story!