This is a companion piece to Missed Opportunity, told from Marshall's POV. I had several requests for it. Hope you enjoy it!
Marshall Mann watched the highway stretch in front of him, an unbroken ribbon of concrete dropping off the edge of the horizon. He kept an alert eye on the dashboard controls, the rear view mirror and his very pregnant partner in the passenger seat. His headphones relayed the plot of his current book on tape, but he had trouble concentrating. Furtive glances to Mary took in her hand resting lightly on her swollen belly, the grimaces creasing her face that indicated the baby was moving.
Marshall considered the recent strain in his relationship with Mary, as the rich baritone voice of James Earl Jones murmured in his ear. He had been uncomfortable telling her of his plans to move in with Abby. Her reaction had been...restrained. No nasty comments, only one mild youth jab and then an honest effort to give a good suggestion for a house to consider. Marshall often held back from talking to Mary about Abby and he felt her reluctance to ask him anything in regards to his girlfriend. Normally, Mary would want to know, down to the last detail, any and all interactions with a woman. But not this woman. Marshall knew it was because, on some level, Mary must recognize that Abigail was different. That this relationship was serious. That his girlfriend made him happy.
He was aware Mary didn't like Abigail, was even aware of some of her reasons. Her youth, her sunny disposition – derided as perkiness, her knowledge of his and Mary's jobs. He was also aware his partner had been more reserved of late, she bit back her snarky comments. Marshall had a feeling there was an attempt to be...nicer? That she was trying to be happy for him. His peripheral vision caught her attempt to shift her body, the arch in her back, which told him she was in pain again. He grimly made a mental note to talk to Stan. There would be no more road trips. It was simply too difficult on Mary.
Seeing the exit for a rest area, Marshall turned on the blinker. He wanted Mary to have a chance to stand up, move around a bit and relieve her bladder. He could use a bit of a stroll himself, loosen up some tense muscles. He pulled in under some shade trees and pulled off his headphones. Looking over to his fellow passenger, he smiled.
"Need a break," he said, "stretch my legs." Mary nodded absently and opened her door. He had felt bad about putting his foot down and not allowing her to drive, but she could barely fit behind the steering wheel anymore and her fatigue was easily apparent to anyone who knew her. And Marshall knew his partner. He walked towards the restrooms, smiling at his small victory over her. She had glared, but acquiesced. She had little choice really. He'd had her elbow in his witness grip as he guided her to the passenger side and on this, Marshall would not compromise. He wouldn't allow her to tire herself anymore than necessary. Someone had to look after her.
Marshall walked back to the SUV, sharp eyes taking in Mary's reclined body and closed eyes, the breeze ruffling the long strands of blonde hair. His brows drew together in concern. Something was off with her. Something she hadn't shared with him. He handed her a bottle of water and walked around to the driver's side, sitting down and reclining the seat. It would be nice to close his eyes for just a moment. He heard her fiddling with the cap on the bottle, heard the shifts of her body, heard her open her mouth, then shut it again.
He waited for her speak, to unburden herself of whatever was gnawing at her. Finally, after she made several aborted attempts, he reached out and took her hand.
"Just ask me, Mary, whatever is is you've been trying to spit out." He felt her jump, but kept his eyes closed, thinking it might be easier for her if he wasn't looking at her.
"Okay," she said, then paused. This hesitation was unusual. Marshall tensed slightly. This was clearly a difficult subject for his partner to broach. "When you said you had...been..with a pregnant woman," she said in a low voice before another pause and Marshall opened one eye to stare at her, "it seemed like you...that you liked it." She smoothed her top down over her distended tummy and kept her gaze focused on her hands. "Why? Why would you like that? With someone who was all fat and swollen? When it wasn't yours?" Her last words tumbled out. So that was it. Mary couldn't understand how he could find a pregnant woman desirable. All she could see was the bloated body, the loss of her figure. She couldn't fathom how he could hunger after a woman carrying another man's child. The lanky lawman was no fool. He knew Mary must wonder if anyone would ever find her attractive again. If the fact that she had carried and given birth to another man's child, would be problematic to some men.
He opened both eyes and sat up. How to make her understand? Blue eyes traveled from her face down to her extended abdomen. She had no idea how attractive he found her. It saddened him that she would never believe him if he told her as much. He itched to touch her, but ran his hand through his hair instead.
"It was being able to feel the baby moving. Having my hands on her belly and feeling that life inside her. I don't know how to explain it. It was magical. And she was beautiful to me." Mary's eyes tracked his hands. He could see her brows draw together. She was thinking, weighing his words, trying to fit them into her experience. He flashed back to Lauren, those few times in college that he had made love to her. She had been vibrant and fun and alive. She had a joie de vivre that was irresistible. While in appearance she was ordinary, plain even, her zest for life infused her whole being with an energy he had never before felt from anyone. Marshall had never seen anyone as beautiful as Lauren, sitting astride him, her belly resting on his abdomen, his hands on her actively moving child.
Marshall observed Mary's internal struggle, then her cheeks flush as she looked up at him and nodded. She grasped his hand and drew it over to her large bulge. Marshall's heart beat sped up as he realized what she was doing. He had longed to touch her expanding belly, ever since he realized she was pregnant. Once he knew the baby's movement could be felt, that longing increased, but he had refrained from asking permission of his partner. She wouldn't have granted it. Mary had never liked being touched, and would be even less tolerant of being touched on her waistal area, drawing attention to her unwanted condition.
Mary pressed his hand down and her eyes met his. The infant was actively kicking and Marshall's delight was broadcast in his ear to ear grin. This was amazing. He brought his other hand over and placed it on the other side of her tummy. Gingerly holding the child between his palms, Marshall began a gentle caressing, circling her stomach, pressing in closer where he felt the small ripples of movement. His heart was literally quivering with the joy he felt, the tenderness towards this child of his best friend. Marshall bent down, resting his cheek against her belly. The tiny kick-boxer was still working out.
Mary's hand drifted down to rest lightly on his head. Marshall was surprised and froze momentarily as her hand began lightly stroking his hair. His overloaded brain began to flail uncertainly, but then the baby delivered a solid right hook and his attention was focused once more on the activity under his cheek. Miracle of life. He was amazed by it over and over. He wanted this, desperately. Wanted a child with a woman he loved. He was hoping that perhaps Abigail could be that woman. Mary had made her feelings clear last year, fleeing from him in terror and Marshall had decided he had to move on. There would always be a section of his heart reserved for Mary, and Mary alone, but he couldn't pine away for her while life passed him by.
His caresses became softer and Marshall felt Mary's body relax. Venturing a quick glance up he saw her eyes were closed. She had dozed off. He smiled, glad she was getting a few minutes rest. Resting his check against her once again, he murmured quietly. "Hey there little guy or gal, it's your Uncle Marshall here. You need to let Mommy get some rest. She gets cranky without enough rest. Trust me. I just wanted to say hello and tell you that I love you. Now be good." He swallowed hard. He wasn't sure that the opportunity to talk to the baby would be granted him after the birth.
Straightening up he saw Mary was awake and smiled at her, filled with a rush of affection for this woman who filled so much of his days. Her lips lifted in a soft smile and for the first time in a long time she gazed at him openly, not hiding. She leaned over and pressed a soft kiss on his mouth. Marshall felt a jolt of surprise and his brain flat-lined. Her lips parted slightly under his and he tried to force his brain to think, to tell his body the proper response. Her timing always did suck. He sighed and ran one hand up her arm to wrap around her neck and gripped her gently, but firmly, preventing her from leaning any further into the kiss. He pulled back and looked at her in confusion, his body screaming at him to recapture her willing lips, his brain screaming at him to remove himself from a situation that would only cause pain to all involved.
"I don't deserve you," she said quietly to his unasked question, "don't deserve your friendship, your loyalty, everything you bring to the table. I'm selfish and uncaring." Her eyes slid away. Marshall quickly brought a finger under her chin and brought her gaze back to him. He couldn't lose the moment now. She must feel something for him. She must.
"You know that is not true." Palm once again cupping her child, he leaned in close. Her eyes warily met his. "You are doing the most unselfish and caring thing possible in giving up this child. You love it so much you want it to have what you didn't – an intact family with parents that love both it and each other." His fingers danced up from her chin to her cheek, resting in a caress. "And you have my friendship forever. Don't ever doubt that." He looked at her with all the tenderness he could muster. He needed her to believe what he was telling her.
Marshall was uncertain about the meaning of the fleeting expression that crossed her face. He dropped his hand from her cheek and nodded towards the restrooms. "Better take advantage of the opportunity, " he said, turning his attention back to the dashboard and bringing his seat upright again. Mary sat still a moment, then slowly swung her legs over and pulled herself up with difficulty. Marshall watched her move towards the restrooms at a measured, almost shuffling pace and frowned. Something was bothering her still. Touching his lips with his forefinger, he wondered about that kiss, what prompted it, what it meant.
Smiling wryly, he thought about how long he had waited for a kiss with Mary Shannon. She would wait until he was happy with someone else. It had been a sweet kiss though, perhaps redolent of nothing more than friendship and gratefulness.
Pulling out his cell phone, Marshall quickly dialed Abby and felt a little tingle of pleasure when she answered in her slow Texas drawl. He knew by this point she laid it on for him, but he was okay with that. He liked it. Quickly telling her he would be back in a few hours, he listened as she relayed the highlights of her day. Wrapping up his call as Mary opened the passenger door, he turned to her and raised an eyebrow. Ready to go? Mary nodded a silent affirmative and buckled her seat belt. Marshall turned the key and the engine sprang to life.
Turning to his friend, he reached across the distance between them and placed his palm on her waist again. The baby was quiet, probably tuckered out from all that earlier activity. "Thank you Mary, for sharing this with me." He sought her green eyes. There was something he needed to say.
"I've wanted to...to feel your baby. To feel it moving. You know," he halted, words uncertain, "you know if you change your mind, about giving up the baby, that I...that I would help you?" He would. He would be there for her in any capacity she needed from him. He would be a father to this child. An errant image of Abigail's face flitted through his mind. She would have something to say about that.
"I know Marshall. I want my baby to have both a father and a mother though, who both love it. Who love each other. Who will raise it in the same house." Marshall heard the pain in her voice. She had given this a lot of thought. He felt a small pang contemplating the loss of this child, this child he already loved. His hand slid around to grasp her fingers.
"I love your baby Mary. You know that right? Because it's part of you. I love him or her already." Mary squeezed his fingers, gave a tremulous smile. Marshall hoped she understood the unspoken subtext of his words. I love you, therefore I love anything that's a part of you. He watched her face as she registered his words, the meaning behind them. Returned his gaze. And didn't run away. Perhaps, there was still a slight opportunity for them. Perhaps.