But Life Does Not a Happy Ending Make

Chapter Ten

"So." Brandi took a seat next to Mary, handing her a glass of ice water. "Marshall came to the hospital last night." Peter crossed his arms and leaned against the counter, knowing where Brandi was headed with the conversation.

"Yeah. So what?"

"Why?" Brandi asked, taking a bite of her rice cake.

"He was with me when I got your text." Mary grabbed a napkin from the holder in the middle of the table and wiped the condensation from the outside of the glass as she studied the look on her sister's face. "He was there as a friend, Brandi."

"He was holding your hand, Mary."

"He was trying to be comforting, Brandi." Both women turned their attention towards the living room when a small wail of need wafted through the air.

"Don't think Breindel is getting you out of this conversation," Brandi said as she stood. "To be continued." Peter waited until she was out of the room before claiming her chair.

"Sweet Jesus," Mary muttered. "Continued by you? Right?"

"For a few minutes," he shrugged.

"I don't know what's wrong with the two of you."

"Well, I think the more appropriate question here is 'what's wrong with you'."

"There is no couch in the world strong enough for the duration of that visit," she informed him.

"Mary, there is nothing wrong with you," Peter laughed. "Your sister is just concerned about you. She has been for quite some time now." He proceeded carefully. "Since she heard about Marshall's engagement." Mary rolled her eyes. "Just think about it. Honestly, Mary, you're not being very fair to yourself if you don't figure it out. Someday you might have the revelation, and it might be too late." Mary sat back in the chair, her arms stretched and resting on the table.

"Squish, listen," Mary said once they were alone. "I don't mean to keep harping on you about this." Brandi shot Mary a disbelieving roll of her eyes. "Seriously, Squish. I think you should tell the father." She pointed her fork towards Brandi's stomach.

"Mary, I don't know if—"

"Brandi, I just don't want you to miss out on something that could be so right for you."

"Right for me? You don't even know who the father is." Mary gave her sister a blank look.

"You may be able to fool everyone else, Squish, but I'm a U.S. marshal. I see all." Mary's eyes widened and she made an exaggerated encompassing motion with her hands. "Plus, I can do the math." Brandi smiled, but sadly. "You're due in the middle of November. Minus nine months…Your fiancé knocked you up right before your wedding." Mary's fingers curled in the air, making mock quotations.

"I don't want to tell him, Mary. What if…What if he hates me for this?"

"I don't think Peter is capable of hating you for any reason. Jesus, there were practically red hearts floating over his head when he was around you." Mary wiggled her fingers about her head. "I'll go with you, if you want me to go. Brandi…" Mary leaned across the table and took her hand. "Don't let something so good just slip away." Brandi felt the tears slip from her eyes. She didn't know if she was crying for herself or for her sister, whose face clearly bore the pain of the mistake she willed Brandi not to make.

"Mary, I see things, too, you know." Mary straightened and started to pull her hand from Brandi's. "Don't," Brandi said, gently squeezing Mary's fingers. "That's all I'm going to say about it. I'll never bring it up again. I just, you know." Mary nodded and relaxed a little. Both women relinquished their hold on each other and returned to eating their meals.

Peter leaned his elbows on the table and laced his fingers. "So spill." Mary kept her eyes on Peter, begging herself not to start the conversation.

"Marshall asked for some space," she explained, despite her own protests. Her fingers nervously rolled the corner of her napkin. "He said he couldn't worry about coming to my rescue all of the time because he would choose doing so over spending time with Abigail." Peter raised an eyebrow. "Well, he wasn't that crude about it."

"And, what did you say?"

"I said 'okay'." Mary focused her attention on the napkin. "I said I wanted nothing more than for him to be happy. Abigail was a good person, she loved Marshall and he deserved that love." She was silent for a moment. Peter waited patiently for her to continue. "I tried, I really did," she said quietly. Mary sighed. "I've never had to do this before. There have never been rules with Marshall. I've never had to watch my mouth or my step and neither has he. We just…it's just how we are. How we were."

"Then, it all went to hell somehow," he prodded.

"I backed off, but, too far. I came off as a bitch and that made Marshall angry. That's when the fighting started."

"The night Breindel was born…" Peter started.

"Part of the fight," she nodded. "He wants to fix things and I just don't know if that's possible. I feel like going back to the way things were is a betrayal to Abigail. It just feels wrong."

"Mary." Peter moved towards the edge of his chair, placing his hand over Mary's. "Your friendship is not going to erase Abigail. Her death was an accident and, certainly not brought by the situation between you and Marshall." He pulled his hand away, knowing not to let such personal contact last too long. "Have you ever thought about why this…transition between you and Marshall was so difficult for you?" Mary frowned. "Or why rebuilding the friendship feels like betrayal?"

"Peter," she whined.

"Listen. You tried to change your relationship, make it more professional and negate the personal aspect." Mary nodded. "Why? Did Marshall ask you to change that?" Mary shook her head.

"I stopped talking to him about Norah and anything else we would normally discuss. I thought cutting that out of our lives would keep us from having an excuse to call each other." Peter watched her for a moment.

"So you initiated the change. You, Mary Shannon…changed."

"It's the definition of 'ironic', isn't it?" she laughed softly. "I changed. I changed for the one person who has never and would never ask me to do so." He let Mary absorb her words.

"You know, it's weird," Mary said before taking a long drink of the cheaply-priced beer.

"What's weird?" Marshall asked.

"You."

"Am I to take that as a compliment?"

"That's not what I meant." She stayed quiet, peeling the corner of the label off the bottle. "I trust you."

"I would hope so," Marshall said lightly. "I am, after all, your partner, Partner."

"No." Mary turned in bar stool squarely facing him. "I mean I trust you. I've never trusted anyone before. Past partners, friends, family…no one." Mary turned back to the label. "I can be myself around you. I-I don't feel like I have to hide or like I'm being forced to alter who I am or-or what I think. You seem to understand me." Mary looked at him again. "Understand me like you've known me for years." She was frightened by her admission, yet, at the same time, comforted by the thought that before her stood a man who would never hurt her. Mary wasn't sure of the reasoning behind the notion, but the feeling was too powerful to overlook.

"So," Marshall said, holding his bottle in the air between them. "To friendship." That word did not do her thoughts justice. She looked away, taking a breath as she searched her mind for another way to say it. As Mary looked back at Marshall, he offered her a gentle smile. She didn't need to explain further, he understood. His eyes reciprocated her thoughts with a look all too correct by entirely indefinable. She lifted her bottle, touching its neck to that of Marshall's bottle. "To friendship," she smiled.

"What, exactly, do you mean by 'betrayal'? Did Abigail…did she ask for the separation?"

"Not…well…kind of. But, not that way," she finished quickly. "She didn't mean to the extent it's become."

"Rebuilding your friendship means Marshall going back on a promise he made to Abigail," Peter nodded as he tried to put together the pieces Mary was offering. "But, if she didn't mean it that way, how do you define it as betrayal?" Mary frowned. "Maybe it's something on more of a personal level with you that makes you believe you're betraying Marshall's wife."

"You know, I liked life a lot more before you and Tweedle-Dee started putting this idea in my head."

"It's always been in your head, Mary," Peter smiled.

"Oh, you're-you're very clever, Peter," Mary laughed as she straightened in her chair. "I get, I get. I'm in love with Marshall, and, instead of giving him space, I let him go completely so I wouldn't have to admit that to myself. And, I feel like I'm betraying Abigail because now that she's gone I have a chance to swoop in and jump him. Right? That's what all of this is, yeah?"

"Mary, not exactly…No. But…" Peter sighed as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Has anyone ever told you that you are a stubborn woman?"

"It's come up before," she smiled. "Look, I care about Marshall. I want him to be happy. But, that does not mean that I'm in love with him."

"Okay," he conceded. "But, the friendship deal…" Mary's shoulders slumped.

"Yeah, we need to work on that." Brandi sat in a chair across the table from Mary, Breindel's head on her shoulder.

"Let him in, Mary. You have to start talking again," Peter said. "I have the perfect thing to get the conversation started."

"What?" Mary asked as he and Brandi exchanged smiles.

^m*m^

For the better part of forty-five minutes, Mary stood in her kitchen, hip against the counter, arms crossed, eyes narrowed. She stared across the room to her phone, silent from its place on the table. She knew she needed to take the phone's slim form in her hands and call her partner. She was wrong to push Marshall so far away. Marshall was wrong to do the same. And, though they both apologized to each other, Mary's stubborn fear prevented the healing that needed to follow. It was always her fear that stood in the way. Her fear of Marshall hurting her changed them. Her fear of losing him pushed them apart. Her fear of being in the way of his life with Abigail filled the gap, preventing any sort of closure. Her fear of having already lost him kept her best friend a world away when he was hurting.

'Fear' was not word Mary used often. 'Fear' was 'weakness', a 'challenge' to face head-on; an aspect of life that served to strengthen one's character. But, the fear she felt where Marshall was concerned remained fear. It remained the one thing she believed could tear her apart. The thought of facing those fears scared her more. Since their return from Amarillo, Mary had made it very clear she wasn't willing to share anything with Marshall. What if he rejected her attempt to reconcile? What if he accepted it, but they couldn't make it work? What if she screwed it up, again?

Mary sank to the floor and ran a hand through her hair. Too many 'what ifs'.

^m*m^

Marshall shook the can a lemon scented furniture polish and sprayed the contents over the wooden end table. After wiping the surface with a paper towel, he turned over the towel and frowned. The wet handprint sported no dust and he found himself oddly disappointed. Cleaning the house had become quite the habit since Abigail's death, a seemingly useful and sensible occupation of the quiet. But, he was beginning to understand that it was turning into more of an obsession of avoidance. He set the can and the towel on the coffee table and moved to the bookcase. Marshall's finger roamed the book spines on the shelf at eye level. He selected a collection of poems by Christopher Marlowe. As he made his way to the sofa, he noticed a small strip of a pink bookmark peeking from the pages. Sitting, he opened the book and sifted through the pages to find the bookmark.

"'The Passionate Shepard to His Love'," he read with a sad smile. His fingers traced the raised heart forms along the outline of the bookmark.

"Oh! I love this one!" Abigail snuggled closer to Marshall. "I had to do a report on Christopher Marlowe when I was in high school." She held the book so Marshall could see the pages and closed her eyes as she recited the poem. 'Come live with me and be my love…And we shall all the pleasures prove…That hills and valleys, dale and…and…" Abigail frowned as Marshall laughed. "And something else," she said. "Anyway, 'come live with me and be my love,'" she finished excitedly. Marshall snaked his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in for a kiss.

"Deal."

Marshall closed the book, gently tossing it to the far end of the sofa. Everything he looked at, everything he touched, everything he heard reminded him of Abigail. It was, at most times, entirely overwhelming. Marshall had spoken to his father several times in the past weeks, as promised, and though it was a great support, Marshall was still having trouble reestablishing a routine. He had always had his job to ground his days, but there was more to his life. Before he met Abigail, he and Mary frequented a few local bars, an excuse to blow off steam and be outside of the office. After he met Abigail, had had Monday night, the two never missing an opportunity for a romantic night out. And, usually twice a week, they went out with other couples, friends and co-workers of Abigail's. He hadn't spoken to those friends since the funeral. He didn't blame any of them for the break in contact. Marshall didn't know them well, and since Abigail was their only connection, he knew it was as awkward for them to speak to him as it was for him to initiate a conversation. And, any personal time he'd once shared with Mary…

Now, Marshall simply had his job. He loved the job and was proud of the work he did. But, the rift between him and Mary made some days hard to start.

"So, Mary made the ultimate sacrifice for you," Seth nodded his understanding. "How did it become so…" he shrugged, unable to find the right word.

"I don't know." Marshall shook his head. "No, that's a lie. I do know." He stayed silent, staring again at the floor.

"What happened?" Seth prodded.

"I think Mary and I have so harshly reached an impasse..." Marshall quieted. "It doesn't matter," he dismissed.

"Son, everything matters."

"We changed. I made her change," Marshall said, reluctantly. Seth laughed.

"Marshall, I don't think anyone can make Mary change." Marshall offered a small smile.

"What we were, ceased to exist," he continued. Seth's brow furrowed in curiosity.

"What you were," Seth repeated. "And, what was that?" he asked, certain he already knew the answer. Marshall ran a hand through his hair. One word scratched at the back of Marshall's mind, begging for liberation. "Marshall," Seth started at his son's silence. "There are…relationships in our lives that never fade. They are the ones in which we experience the worst and the best of ourselves. Nothing can change those relationships except our own stubbornness."

Marshall had no desire to hurt Mary any more than he already had. He didn't want to be angry with her anymore. Her blatant refusal to speak with him tore his heart. He needed her, needed his best friend now more than ever, but he would sacrifice his needs if it meant sparing Mary of any more discomfort. Marshall was able to get her talking, for a bit, in that dusty gas station parking lot. Knowing her as he did, he would not be able to do so again. He could only hope that she would change her mind and reach out to him. Oscar moaned a soft growl from his place under the kitchen table, pulling Marshall's attention from his partner.

"What's up, Oscar?" Marshall walked into the kitchen, kneeling on the floor to pet the dog's head. "What's going on, Boy?" Oscar offered nothing, simply perking his ears as he heard a second buzz from Marshall's cell phone. Marshall frowned and stood, reaching for the phone he had carelessly pitched on the kitchen table earlier that afternoon. "It's Mary," he said absently. He looked at the display, humming thoughtfully as he read the message.

"Brandi and Peter are engaged. Again. I'll get the pizza; you bring the beer so we can celebrate."

"Five…four…three…two…one…" On cue, the phone buzzed again.

"Better yet. You bring the pizza, too. Then I don't have to tip the delivery man." Marshall smiled and shook his head.

"That's my girl."

^m*m^

"Beer and pizza delivered," Marshall said as Mary opened the door. He stepped inside, handing Mary the pizza box.

"Oh, you got my message," she said, smile wide. Marshall laughed and followed her into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator, placing all but two bottles inside.

"How is Mom?" he asked, twisting the top off the bottles.

"She's good, she's good. She's going to try to go back to work on Monday." Mary placed the box on the kitchen table and grabbed a handful of napkins.

"Um, that's kind of soon, isn't it?"

"I don't know," she shrugged. "There are a few moms coming in to help her over the next two weeks. She won't have to do anything but watch the students. The moms can demonstrate the dance moves." Marshall nodded as he listened.

"And, Brandi and Peter, huh?" he said slowly.

"Yeah," Mary smiled softly. "I'm…I'm happy for them." The two stood quietly on opposite sides of the table, Mary staring at the floor, Marshall watching her. He took a slow breath, moving closer to her.

"Just ask, Mary." He handed her a bottle. She looked at him, his permission drawing her courage to start the painful conversation.

"H-how are you doing?" He held her eyes for a moment before speaking.

"I'm fine," he tried unconvincingly to assure her. "I'll be all right. Eventually." Marshall fidgeted with the bottle in his hands. "How are you? With the whole…Kenny thing?"

"Pissed," she admitted. "It hurt. It still does." She saw a single tear fall from the corner of his eye.

"Marshall," she said, her own tears falling. He took her bottle, setting both next to the pizza box on the table.

"Come here." They moved towards each other, Marshall wrapping his arm around Mary's shoulders as hers found his waist.

"I'm so sorry, Marshall." She rested her head on his shoulder. "I wish there was something I could have done." She looked up at him. "I shouldn't have let you walk out of the hospital that night. I-I should have followed you. I should have been there for you."

"You were," he whispered. "I should have let you stay." His arms tightened around her. "We're here now, Mare. That's all that matters."

"Talk to me." She settled her head on his shoulder again. "Tell me what…tell me what happened." Mary felt his body relax slightly as he took a moment before speaking.

"Abigail had…a hot head newbie. Her team was waiting for back up, waiting to raid the house. He didn't want to wait. He went in and Abigail went in after him." Marshall stopped speaking and Mary took her turn to tighten her arms around him. "I think you know the rest," he continued quietly. "I saw you at the cemetery. The flowers were beautiful. What you said…" Mary tried to back away, slightly embarrassed, but Marshall kept her in place, resting his chin on the top of her head. "I pushed you. I didn't want to, but I did. I was angry with you for…for this stupid change that happened between us. I know it wasn't your fault, Mary."

"Neither one of us handled that very well, did we?"

"No." Marshall eased her back a step, wanting, needing to see her face. "I need us back, Mare. I need that…" He laughed. "That normalcy in my life." Mary smiled.

"Don't say 'normalcy'."

"Whatever it takes," he said, taking her hands. "I'll talk about anything. I'll do anything to get us back." Mary felt the warmth of Marshall's hands slowly melt the cold tendrils of fear that had been holding her for far too long. Between them, the fear dissipated, leaving the challenge in its wake. It was time for the walls to come down. It was time to redefine, correctly, a once-strong friendship; time to re-establish the dependency they allowed one another. It was time to shovel aside the pride, the pain, the sadness, the nightmares of the last three years and find 'Mary and Marshall.'

"Yeah," Mary nodded slowly. "Whatever it takes."

^m*m^

Stan stepped off the elevator, whistling as he made his way to the glass doors of the WITSEC office. His morning started in the most pleasant of ways as he spent a little quality time with Lia. And, his meetings with the DOJ had been painless and inconsequential. He swiped his identification card and waiting for the click of the locks before opening the door. Stopping at the corner of Marshall's desk, Stan took a moment to admire the sun, warm and bright through the near floor-to-ceiling windows. It was a sign that spring was in full force, guiding and shaping the new life around him.

A quick survey of the room settled Stan's attention on his inspectors, sitting at the table in the conference room. Spring seemed to have breathed new life into the pair, as well. The previous four weeks bore a great change between the partners. Mary and Marshall were speaking to each other, again. Though not quite to par, Stan saw the positive change for what it was – a step towards healing. It strengthened his willingness to believe all might just be right with the world again.

With a deep breath and a content sigh, Stan slipped his hands into his pants pockets and smiled as he moved towards his office. Nothing was going to spoil his good mood.

"Give it back, Mary!" Stan stopped in the doorway and turned towards the sound of Marshall's voice.

"No way!" Mary returned. Stan took a few steps forward and watched through the glass wall of the conference room as Marshall chased Mary around the table. She pulled out several chairs, hoping to trip Marshall in her wake, but he gracefully dodged each one.

"Mary!" She opened the door of the conference room and headed towards the kitchenette.

"Do you want some coffee or not, Marshall?" she called.

"I want my pen back," he answered, taking his turn to emerge from the room. Mary smiled widely as she placed a black coffee mug on the countertop.

"With or without cream?" She reached for the coffee pot.

"Mary." Stan watched Marshall's muscles tense with the warning, readying an attack as she poured the coffee. Mary returned to pot to the coffee maker. She poured a healthy amount of creamer into the mug and poised the pen over the rim. Marshall jumped from his position, resuming his chase. Mary ran towards Stan.

"Hey, Stan," she as she came to a sudden halt behind him, placing her hands on his arms. "How was your meeting?"

"Wonderful," he answered. Marshall stopped in front of Stan.

"Hey, Chief. Anything to pass on from the meetings?"

"Nope. Same old, same old."

"Ah, good news, then," Marshall nodded. Stan stood still as his marshals bobbed back and forth around him, each trying to figure out a way around Mary's human shield.

"Any…problems this morning?" he asked.

"None, Chief," Mary answered.

"Except Mary," Marshall amended. "But, then, when is she not?" he smiled.

"Oh, you're a funny man now? Stan, tell Chevy Chase over here to get back to work."

"May I suggest you both get back to work?"

"You may," Mary said. "But, let's face it. That's not going to happen." Stan caught Marshall's eye, needing only a well-placed rise of his eyebrows to convey his words. Marshall took a step back, silently acknowledging Stan. Mary looked over Stan's shoulder as she noticed Marshall's movement. "Oh, that's right," she laughed. "Time to back down, Marshall. Did you-did you get the look?" she asked excitedly. "Did you give him the look, Chief?" Stan answered Mary's question by stepping to the side, leaving her exposed and vulnerable. "Shit!" she spat. Marshall moved quickly, snagging Mary with an arm around her waist before she was able to run away. Stan shook his head, watching with an amusement he would not admit to the marshals, as Marshall snatched his pen from Mary's hand and dragged her back to the conference room.

Marshall opened the door and, with an arm still around Mary's waist, guided her into the room.

"That was a lot of not fair, Marshall," she said, wiggling her way out of his grasp. "Stan can't pick sides."

"Maybe you shouldn't have been snotty," he suggested, slipping the pen into the inside pocket of his suit coat. Mary crossed her arms.

"I was not snotty."

"You may, but that's not going to happen," he mocked.

"Well, it wasn't," Mary defended. "You know," she started, slowly stepping closer. Marshall watched her carefully; weary of the sweet smile on her lips. Her fingers found the collar of his coat, deftly working their way down the lapels. "I never did get my coffee." The words quickly left her mouth as pulled the pen from his pocket. Marshall, prepared for her actions, allowed her to take the writing utensil. His fingers closed around the wrist of her empty hand as his arm circled her waist and he used his body to push her back against the edge of the table.

"You may get your coffee," he said quietly. "But, you are not leaving this room with my pen." Momentarily distracted by the nature of Marshall's hold, Mary recovered with a smirk.

"Fine," she said. "Fine. You can have your damned pen. It's not like I don't know where the rest are," she threatened.

"Oh, did you guess bottom drawer of Stan's desk?" he asked, returning her smirk.

"You know what, Marshall? You're a real bastard."

"And, so proud of it," he smiled. Mary grumbled and tried to pull her wrist from Marshall's hand.

"Let me go, Jackass."

"No," he said, eyes narrowed. "I don't know if I trust you enough to let you roam free."