Happy New Year, everyone!

I know it's been forever and I don't have an excuse except that I lost half of this chapter when my computer crashed a few months ago and I completely lost the groove for this story. It wasn't easy to come back especially since this story is in a sad place right now but I was finally able to write a new chapter. I hope you enjoy!


Chapter 8

He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept that good. Maybe it was due to the exhaustion after he'd made love to Lexie for hours or maybe it was sleeping beside her that had kept the nightmares away. But when he turned his head the place beside him was empty and he pushed himself up, leaning against the headboard, listening for any sounds in the apartment. Since it was her apartment she couldn't have sneaked out and he shook his head to clean it from the last remnants of sleep. Tilting his head, he strained his ears and exhaled a relieved breath when he heard her rummaging around in the adjoining bathroom. Seconds later she stepped out of the room in sweatpants and a simple white shirt, jolting in surprise when she saw that he was awake.

"Hey."

"Hey." Mark said quietly, watching her intently. She had dark circles under her eyes and she didn't look like she got a lot of sleep. "Did you sleep at all?"

"An hour, maybe two." Lexie didn't look him in the eyes while she fidgeted with the hem of her shirt. He knew she would regret what they did. Gritting his teeth, he inhaled deeply through his nose before he exhaled quietly through his mouth. He let the sheet fall to his waist, determined to use his body for his advantage.

"Lex?"

Her eyes shot up at the tender tone of his voice but she didn't reach his face, her eyes stopped on his chest as he had expected. He felt a slight pang of regret that he needed to use his body to coax her back into his arms but he would not let her throw up some defense walls and using his body was the best way he could think of avoiding it.

"Come here." Mark kept his voice calm but the words came out more hoarse than he'd intended to and he saw how Lexie flinched and cursed inwardly. "Please." Mark said quietly, locking eyes with her. "Come back to bed."

Lexie bit her lip, looking at him sprawled over her bed. His chest was magnificent, she had to give him that. Everything about him was magnificent. But she shouldn't have slept with him. Sleeping with him so close to losing Scott was … terrible. How could she fall into bed with Mark after such a loss?

But when she looked in Mark's eyes she knew he only wanted to help and she could hear Scott's voice in her ears, whispering 'Promise me, you'll give him a chance'. Her chest tightened and tears pricked the back of her eyes. Scott had wanted her to take this step, he'd almost pushed her into Mark's arms. Somehow she was soothed by the thought that he was sitting on a cloud looking down at her, grinning from ear to ear, though she knew that it was probably only wishful thinking. But nonetheless she walked towards the bed and slipped under the cover, pressing her body against Mark's, wrapping her arm around his waist, burying her face in his chest.

"It hurts so much." Lexie whispered.

"It won't stop hurting for a while, Lex."

Lexie bit her tongue, Mark using the short version of her name, the version only he used, made her almost lose it completely.

They lay there for quite some time, Lexie only concentrating on listening to Mark's heartbeats under her ear, feeling his hand stroking over her back. Suddenly, out of the blue, a question rose up in her. Something she wanted to ask Mark. Something she felt she needed to know. Something that might help her dealing with Scott's death.

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

"Of course." Mark replied quietly.

Lexie slipped out of under his arm and sat up. "You don't have to answer it if it makes you uncomfortable. I just ..."

"How about you ask me the question first and I decide then, okay?"

"How many?" Lexie blurted out, kneading her hands. She was not able to look him in the eyes, fearing that she might have overstepped. It was a damn personal question.

"How many what?" Mark asked quietly, stroking a finger down her arm in an attempt to soothe her. She looked at if she could snap any second, her whole body tight with tension.

"How many lives?" Lexie blurted out, jerking up her head, suddenly needing to see his face if he decided to answer the question but Mark looked slightly taken aback and Lexie said quickly. "I … I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked ..."

"What do you wanna know exactly?" Mark asked slowly and he leaned forward to put a finger under her chin, pulling her head up gently until she looked up again. He brushed with his thumb over her cheek, sighing inwardly, not sure if she really wanted to hear his answer to her question. But he could see the pleading in her gaze, could see the grief settled deep in her eyes. If he could help her by telling her, he would tell her. But he needed to know what exactly she wanted to know. "How many lives I lost or how many lives I took?"

Lexie stared at him, feeling his thumb brushing over her cheek and she closed her eyes for a second, leaning into his touch before she opened them again, saying determined. "Both."

"You sure you wanna know?" Lexie only nodded and Mark let his hand drop down and leaned back against the headrest, pressing his fingers against his closed eyelids as if he needed to think. He didn't need to think about it, though. He knew exactly how much lives he'd taken, he just needed a few seconds to tell her.

"I shot 53 people."

"And how many did you lose?"

"I don't know the exact number." Mark replied.

"You know how many you've shot but you don't know how many you've lost?" Lexie could see how uncomfortable her question made him but she still couldn't help herself to press further. "I find that hard to believe."

"Lex, please!"

"Sorry." Lexie said, scrambling to the bedside. She knew she shouldn't have asked. She should go into the kitchen and busy herself with making breakfast to give Mark time to regain his composure. But before she could slip out of the bed, his hand shot forward and tightened around her upper arm, pulling her back into his arms.

Laying on his chest she could feel slight tremors running over his body and she already regretted that she'd asked him but then she felt his chest rising under her ear as he took in a deep breath and she held her own, waiting for his response.

"One hundred and thirty-two. That's the number of people I've lost." Lexie heard the hoarseness of his voice, husky with emotions and she leaned back, needing to see his face and Mark continued, barely above a whisper. "The ones I knew personally. The ones I considered my friends."

"How ..." Lexie licked her lips, raising her hand to press it against his chest. He wasn't looking at her, he was looking out of the window and she could see the ghosts of the past clouding his eyes. She knew she shouldn't push him, but she needed to know. "How did you forget?"

It took him a few seconds until he turned his head and met her eyes."I already told you. You will never forget."

"But how ..." Lexie began before she suddenly didn't know how to word the question.

"I'm sorry, Lex. But I'm not gonna lie to you." Mark replied softly, entwining his fingers with hers. "I can still see every single one of their faces when I close my eyes. Maybe it's the violence of their deaths that makes it impossible to forget. At least that's what the shrink told me."

"You had PTSD." Lexie said quietly, seeing the same shadows crossing his face that she'd seen on so many other faces of soldiers who came back from deployment, on faces of soldiers she'd met while she was on her overseas assignments. Soldiers who were haunted by the things they had seen.

"Everyone who comes back from war has PTSD, Lex." Mark said, his voice eerily emotionless. "In one way or another. We are all struggling with the memories that never leave us."

"But you survived."

"Yes, but it wasn't easy to come back. Not easy at all."

"But you did it." Lexie said quietly, waiting a second before she continued. "How?"

"Everyone copes in another way."

"But how did you do it?" Lexie asked insistently.

"I accepted that I will never forget it." Mark said simply, elaborating further when he saw that his answer didn't really satisfy her. "I have a little box in my head where all the memories are in. Once a month I drive up to a cabin in the mountains, close the door, shut off my phone and let them out."

"All of them?" Lexie asked, her mouth rounding with surprise.

"Yes, Lex." Mark replied, smiling sadly when he saw her baffled expression. "All of them. It might not be the healthiest way but it works for me. For one day I let myself remember before I put the memories back into the box."

"Does it work? I mean … are they staying in the box?"

"Most of the times."

Lexie remembered the night during their undercover assignment where she'd woken up to his screams, the night where she'd shaken him out of one of his nightmares. In those six weeks he had had one nightmare or at least one she knew of. So his memories were still torturing him. She still had nightmares of her own from time to time. She knew what he wanted to tell her even if she didn't like to hear it.

As if he was reading her mind Mark said. "Lex, you are a strong woman. You survived Sudan. Scott's death … it won't break you."

"You're probably right." Lexie replied. "But it doesn't make it hurt any less to know that I have to go on with my life. A life without him in it."

"I know. You ..." Mark got interrupted by the beep of his phone and he grabbed it from the nightstand, pressing the button to read the message. Looking up, he leaned forward and pressed a quick kiss against her lips before he slipped out of bed, grabbing his clothes. "Sorry, I need to go. Work."

Lexie watched him get dressed and something about him avoiding her eyes made her curious and she cleared her throat to make him look at her and raised an eyebrow in question. She was pretty certain why he acted so weird but she wanted him to say it out loud, to confirm her suspicion.

"I pulled some strings." Mark shrugged his shoulders, answering her silent question.

"You're investigating his death?" Lexie whispered.

"We're gonna find Scott's murderer." Mark stepped forward and bend down, taking her face between his hands. "I promise. I won't rest until we have him, okay?"

"Okay." Lexie replied quietly, brushing her lips over his. Seconds later she heard the door and slumped back against the headboard, the sudden silence of the apartment making her quiver. How was she supposed to get through the day without any distractions?

~M&L~

Mark canvassed the surroundings, turning around slowly in a circle, searching for the right spot. Suddenly he stopped, his gaze locked on the roof of a building about three hundred yards away. Shading his eyes with his hand against the sun, he realized that it would be the perfect spot.

"Hey." Mark stopped the next uniform and pointed to the roof. "Check out the roof of this building."

"Sir?"

"I think the shooter fired from there."

"Excuse me?"

Mark wanted to shake him, getting extremely annoyed for having to explain everything. "I was a sniper ..." Mark took a look at the officer's jacket to get his name before he continued. "So you might wanna get your ass up there, Colins, and check for evidence."

"Right on it, Sir." Colins replied quickly as he realized that he was talking to a FBI agent.

Mark followed the police officer with his eyes, making sure that he would follow his orders but suddenly a commotion at the barrier caught his attention. Someone was arguing with an officer, trying to get behind the cordon, probably a reporter. Mark was certain the police could deal with it but then the officer shifted slightly to the left and he saw the person who wanted to step through the barrier and couldn't suppress a sigh. He should have known that she couldn't stay away. He should probably help out because he was certain that Lexie wouldn't go away.

"Let her through." Mark said quietly as he reached the officer. "She is a NCIS agent. She belongs to me."

The officer hesitated a second before he let Lexie through and Mark grabbed her arm and pulled her to the side. "Lex, what are you doing here?" Mark said, slightly angry. "You shouldn't be here."

"I had to." Lexie said, giving no further explanation and one look in her face made it clear that he couldn't convince her to leave.

Lexie looked him square in the eyes before she stepped away from him and walked slowly towards the crime scene. Mark followed her quickly, wanting to be next to her when she saw the blood that had soaked into the concrete.

Lexie's curt steps faltered slightly when she spotted the blood on the ground but she still stepped closer, crouching down directly beside the dark red spot. She stretched out her hands until they were hovering only a few inches above the concrete where Scott had died.

She didn't move for a few minutes, only staring at the ground and when she finally stood up again and met his eyes, Mark almost flinched back when he saw the look in her eyes. He could only see revenge. Hot and cold at the same time.

"We need to find that son of a bitch." Her voice was as cold as her eyes and Mark had to suppress a shudder. He shouldn't have let her through the cordon. He should have kept her away from the investigation. He almost let out a sigh of relief when he heard Monroe's voice behind his back. "Agent Grey, a word please."

Maybe it was more effective when her boss talked to her. She wouldn't listen to him anyway but she might listen to Monroe. He sent a silent prayer skywards, hoping that Monroe would be able to convince her to step away from the case. Mark had thought it might help her if she was included but the look in her eyes made it clear that she was blinded with rage. She would be like a ticking time bomb. No one would know what she would do when she would stand directly in front of Scott's murderer and he couldn't blame her. He would feel the same way if it was his partner. That was the reason why he didn't want to have a partner. It was easier to work alone.

He threw one glance back to Lexie and Monroe before he turned around and walked towards the building he'd sent Colins in. He would check for himself. It might be of help when a former sniper took a look at the place the shooter had probably fired from.

As he reached the roof he waited until the officers were finished with collecting the evidence before he stepped to the brink of the roof, looking down to the crime scene. His sniper senses took in the distance in seconds, his head turned automatically as he tried to determine how the wind conditions were on the roof. The building was surrounded by larger buildings that probably caught most of the gusts of wind that were coming in over the industrial area. It was a perfect spot.

Mark crouched down, letting his hands trail over the gravel that was covering the roof top. Looking around he saw that someone had actually brought a rifle up to the roof and he shouted towards the officer nearest to him. "Will you hand me the rifle?"

The man took one look at his FBI jacket and the authority he'd heard in Mark's tone made him rush to the rifle and handing it to Mark. Mark laid down on the ground, adjusting the rifle and when he looked through the scope he spotted Lexie and Monroe. He fixated the rifle on Lexie, watching the emotions running over her face. She was extremely pissed. He could tell. But this wasn't his concern right now. He shifted the rifle a few inches to the right and concentrated on the blood spot. It was the perfect spot. Every trained sniper could take such a shot.

Mark looked up from the rifle and propped his chin on the metal, cursing under his breath. He'd hoped that he would find something on the rooftop that would make the shot a lot more challenging so that they could limit the number of possible shooters. But you didn't even need military training or a special sniper rifle to take this shot. The shooter could be practically anyone.

~M&L~

Late at night, as Mark studied the case files, trying to find a lead, the one thing they might have missed that would lead them to Scott's murderer, his thought process got interrupted by a knock on his door. A look on the clock told him that it was already two o'clock in the morning and that he should probably get some sleep and he furrowed his brows when he heard a second knock, followed by someone pounding against his door. He couldn't imagine who would want to see him at this time of the night but he stood up nonetheless and walked to the door. Judging by the intensity of the knocks, the visitor, whoever it might be, wouldn't stop until he opened the door anyway.

The moment he turned the knob and opened the door, he was knocked back when the person on the other side shoved the door into him and he stumbled back, a curse already forming in his throat but before he could utter one word, the person stepped into his apartment and just jumped him, pressing her lips against his, forcing her tongue into his mouth and before his brain even registered that it was Lexie who kissed him, he already dug his fingers into her ass, kissing her back with as much passion.

She didn't even give him the slightest chance to form one coherent thought. One of her hands was already on its way down his stomach, searching for the zipper of his pants. He knew he should stop her, he knew he should stop her frantic attack, he knew that she only needed a distraction, that having sex with him was her cope mechanism but he also knew that she needed it. He had been to war, he had dealt with losses in the same way that she was trying to deal with right now. It had helped him. For a few minutes.

But he actually cared about Lexie and he knew she cared about him. He wouldn't deny her to escape reality for a few precious moments. But he would make sure that she wouldn't use him just for sex. He would stand by her side. All the way. He would not lose her. He would not let the darkness, the grief, destroy what was between them.

Lexie knew she shouldn't use Mark like this. But she needed him. She needed this. She needed to feel alive and if anyone could understand why she was doing what she was doing it was him. She couldn't think about where this whole thing with Mark was going. Not now. For now she needed his body. She needed him to make her forget.