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The box that inspired my snowflake fic!

So, I know this doesn't have initials on the front - you will have to imagine them. But this is an actual antique rosewood jewelry box that I found online one night when I was surfing the web. I was still trying to decide at that time what Nana's heirloom would be - and then I found this. Isn't it purty?

A million kisses, the sun and the moon

luna sol necklaceSo, in my trilogy that is coming to a close over on ff.net - this is the necklace that Marshall bought for Mary. It's called a "luna sol" necklace and I found it online through Sundance catalog. Personally, I thought it screamed Mary Shannon the moment I saw it. I wanted to post the image here for those of you who are following my story - and to share the pretty necklace with the rest of the group. Isn't it purty?? Oh, and of course I would LOVE it if you would go read my trilogy because it would seriously clog up the comm if I posted it over here!

I think my cat has PTSD

Okay, so here's the story:

Sunday evening (after the rewatch party) we're enjoying our spaghetti supper when we hear the unmistakable sounds of a cat fight in the backyard.Our cat Precious goes racing by on the deck followed closely by an orange tabby that is easily three times her size. That's the last we see of her for twenty minutes as we take turns finishing supper and going outside to call her. (Of course cats don't come when you call them. They're not dogs. They take a message and get back to you later.) Since Precious is my dad's cat, he called her when we were eating peach cobbler and a few minutes later she came and scooted in the back door, all twitchy and complaining. Her brother and sister, Tiger and Socks, had been in the house at the time  of the attack and met her at the door. Precious and Socks kissed noses, but Precious hissed at her brother (this is nothing new!) like, "Where were you? Some help you were when I was under attack!"

SInce the incident, Precious has been sleeping under or behind couches and has been avoiding contact with us. Last night she finally sat close enough to mom during "The Closer" to be petted but she didn't really want it. This morning she went outside for one minute, stayed within a foot of the door, and then was crying to be let back inside. She is still jumpy and nervous and seems to be afraid of her own shadow.

Is it possible for a cat to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? 'Cause I think Precious is. . . .

Tags:

It's Too Late - Chapter 1

“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”-- Ambrose Bierce


And I need you like a heart needs a beat
But it's nothing new.
I loved you with a fire red-
Now it's turning blue, and you say...
‘Sorry’ like the angel heaven let me think was you
but I'm afraid...
It's too late to apologize, it's too late
I said it's too late to apologize, it's too late —Apologize, by One Republic


Labor Day, 2009

 

Being in the hospital on a federal holiday was just like being in the hospital on any other day – it was dull. Of course since my mom was still in town, fussing over me, and saying how lucky I was to be alive, and that took some of the edge off my boredom. But even so, I was itching to be up and out of this sterile environment. I needed to get back on my feet, tie up the loose ends with my witnesses and figure out a way to break the news to Mary about my decision. Getting shot in the gut had postponed my time of departure from Albuquerque, but I would still be leaving.

 

I had spoken on the phone to my new boss just this morning and everything was falling into place for my transfer. Stan was hopping mad about my decision, however, and was pushing me to give explanations that I just couldn’t put into words for him. Eleanor seemed to understand – hell, she had been a witness to Mary and my strained working relationship the past few months and I had a feeling that her woman’s intuition was doing overtime to fill in any blanks. When Stan left my room yesterday afternoon, he asked me if I had told Mary the news yet and when I shook my head, he had looked at me like I was a man about to face a firing squad.

 

“You’d better tell her soon. I’m going to have to file your request and then it will be public knowledge and she’s going to hit the roof, Marshall.”

 

My nurse Eve had brought the dinner tray twenty minutes ago but nothing on it looked appealing. I suddenly realized that I was listening for the sound of Mary’s heels on the linoleum floor and I made the conscious effort to relax against the pillow. My stomach growled in hunger and in resignation I picked up the custard cup and took a bite just as I heard the familiar rhythmic tap of boot heels outside. She was here, and she was pissed off. Well, either one of our witnesses has screwed up their new lives or she knows.

 

I took a deep breath and looked up to meet her gaze and instantly wished I hadn’t. Her eyes were rock hard, like pieces of green jade, but even from across the room I could see they were unnaturally bright with unshed tears. She leaned against the doorjamb, her hair pulled into a messy ponytail, and she was already dressed down in a pair of sweat pants and over-sized sweater. I waved my custard cup at her. “Hungry? I’m not sure about the rest of my fine dining cuisine, but the custard isn’t too bad.” I waited a few seconds before adding, “You know, those shoes don’t go with those pants.”

 

“Don’t start with me. Do you know the kind of day I’ve had? Raph woke me up early because he thought we could spend the whole day together planning our wedding since today’s a holiday and neither of us had to work. Dumbass didn’t take it too well when I told him that of course I had to work today!” Mary crossed the room but didn’t take her usual seat at the foot of my bed. I noticed this instantly and my heart began to hammer in my chest. “After our screaming match, I made the rounds to our witnesses, mine and yours naturally since you’re still laid up in here, finishing up at the Donaldson’s.”

 

I tried to suppress my grin, knowing that it would only bring on her wrath. “How are Emily, Emma, and Ella?” I asked, really wanting to know about Jim and Sara’s four-year-old triplet girls.

 

Mary leveled her laser beam gaze on me but the tears were still there and I felt the coil of fear keep building in my stomach. Wait, just wait. She’ll tell me. “Jim and Sara said to tell you hello and the girls made you get well cards.” She dug in her shoulder bag and threw them on the bed. They landed in a colorful heap on my knees.

 

“Mer, what’s going on?”

 

“You’ll never guess what happened next. As the girls were showing off their artwork and climbing all over me and playing with my hair and screaming and laughing, Emily threw up all down the front of me. That’s why these pants don’t go with these shoes – they’re from my go bag in the car. But that’s not the worst thing that happened today. You know what happened next?” Mary tilted her head to the side and reached into her bag, pulling out another sheet of paper. She held it in trembling fingers, holding it out to me but refusing to meet my gaze.

 

“I was going to tell you.”

 

“When?”

 

“I don’t know – this isn’t something I can just tell you! I was trying to think of the right way.”

 

“Damn it, Doofus!  I was looking for another one of those damn forms that you always seem to have in abundance because you do all the paperwork but since you’re out I have to do it so I went to your desk and what do I find?” She paused to clear her throat and her eyes drifted shut. “Tell me this is one of your unfunny jokes, Marshall. Tell me that this is just a rough draft of a resignation and not the real thing.”

 

“I’m not resigning from WitSec, Mer. But I am transferring to the office in Seattle.”

 

Mary’s eyes finally met mine and for the longest time she merely looked at me without saying anything. I have to admit that I was surprised and a little worried by her silence, wondering if my words had sent her into shock. I had fully expected her to fly into a rage. Perhaps she was going to take it easy on me because I was still recovering. I had almost died this time, after all, and I knew that she was carrying a heavy load of guilt because I was lying in this bed instead of her. Finally she tossed her head and gave a snort of disgust.

 

“Seattle? That’s just crazy, string bean. It rains eleven months of the year up there. You’ll never see the sun again. You’ll turn into a vampire. You’ll have to buy a whole new wardrobe – no more boots and belt buckles for you, cowboy,” Mary shook her head at me, like she was talking to a misguided little child.

 

I sighed. So this was going to be her first tactic. She was reasoning with me, trying to get me to see the light. “Do you know how many myths you just stated? I’m not going to turn into a blood sucking vampire because I’m leaving the desert and moving to what you think is a dark and gloomy city on the water. Seattle actually does have four seasons, you know. I’m pretty sure one of them is summer when the sun shines and it gets warm and it doesn’t rain every day. And just because I’m not living in the Southwest anymore, well, that doesn’t mean I can’t take my boots and belt buckles with me. I’ll still be on the West Coast and I’m sure Seattle will have other cowboys besides me,” I rattled off my list with a tight grin and ate another spoonful of custard.

 

Mary had been impatiently tapping one foot during my spiel and I knew that I had won round one. I prepared myself for her next salvo. “It’s still crazy, string bean. I mean, you’re still going to be in the hospital another couple of days. And then you’re looking at a couple weeks’ down time at home, followed by a couple of months light duty. Who knows if the job offer will still be open after all that? Maybe they need the position filled now and won’t be willing to wait for your sorry ass to get well.”

 

I tried to put a lid on my anger, knowing that she was deliberately baiting me. She wanted me to get riled up, to fight back, so that I would say something I would regret and in the end hope I would give in and call Stan and tell him I was staying.  Sorry Mer, it’s not going to work this time. We’ve been down this road too many times. It’s gone too far; it’s too late to turn back now. “Actually, I talked to my new boss in Seattle this morning. I told him about the shooting, as much as I could anyway, and that my departure time was going to be delayed until possibly the first week in November. I asked if that was going to be a problem and he was very understanding. He said that we’ll work out the details later but he’s expecting me then.” I licked my spoon and set it and the now empty custard cup back on my tray. I noticed that Mary’s breathing had accelerated, her chest was rising and falling rapidly and her eyes were darting about the room. I recognized the classic signs of the ‘fight or flight’ response and I willed my own body not to respond. Strike two, Mer. You gonna take another swing or are you gonna run?

 

I watched as Mary turned sharply on her heel and crossed the room to my door. But instead of walking out, she poked her head into the corridor, scanned the hallway and then shut the door firmly. She leaned her head against the wood and without turning to face me she whispered words that I had to lean forward to catch, “You said you’d stay with me.”

 

And there it is! Now we get down and dirty! “That’s not exactly how I remember it,” I said clearly, not mincing words.

 

She whirled on a heel to face me, her eyebrows raised in surprise. “What do you mean? Maybe your memory is faulty because you were bleeding out at the time!” she snapped.

 

“There’s nothing wrong with my memory. You said and I quote ‘Well, that’s your job and you cannot quit’. And I said ‘Ok’. I didn’t say I’d stay with you, Mary. You told me to stay with you and I didn’t fight you.”

 

“Why are you doing this? Quibbling over who said what to whom?”

 

I scrubbed a hand over my face wearily. “Because I’m tired, Mer. I’m tired of you calling the shots when we’re partners, when we’ve always been equal partners, but you act like you have some kind of seniority over me. I’m tired of doing all of our paperwork and not even getting a ‘thank you’ from you in return. I’m tired of running two steps after you for the past six years and praying you won’t get shot before I can cover you because you won’t take five minutes to stop and think before you act. I’m tired of running interference for you with your family. I’m tired of wondering if that soon-to-be husband of yours is going to spill the beans about me and my job to the wrong people one day after the two of you have had a shouting match. I’m tired, Mer, and I’m done.” I leaned back against my pillow wearily, shaking from head to foot, a bead of sweat breaking out across my brow. I couldn’t believe that I had gotten all that out or that she had let me.

 

She was still standing in front of the door and staring at me like a deer caught in headlights, barely breathing and eyes unblinking. After a minute I saw her take a deep breath and gather herself. She slowly began advancing on my bed and her words came out low and fast and furious, “Someone has to call the shots in our partnership, Marshall, because if I left it up to you, you would just talk trivia and other useless crap to the witnesses and nothing would get done. You like to run behind me because you like to look at my ass and don’t even pretend that you don’t and you’re only two steps behind me when I let you drive. Otherwise you’re out of the car first running into the danger. Thank you for doing our paperwork, I appreciate it more than you know. My family is a disease that affects everyone they come in contact with so naturally you’re tainted by association, sorry.” Mary shrugged her shoulders and leaned over me, her breath hot in my face. “But my telling Raphael what I do for a living had nothing to do with you, Doofus.”

 

I was trying really hard to listen to her statements, take them at face value and not react, but her last one sent me over the edge. I leaned forward so that my face was inches from hers and the thought flitted through my mind that it was ironic that kissing her was the last thing on my mind at that moment. “The hell it doesn’t! You exposed both of us when you told him you worked in Witness Protection! Not just you! Damn it, Mary! I can’t even go out of town or leave you alone for a few minutes without you doing something completely asinine!” I collapsed back against my bed, clutching my stomach as the door opened.

 

My nurse Eve poked her head in. “Marshall, is everything ok in here? I heard raised voices and you seem to be holding your stomach now.” She crossed quickly to my side, moved my hand and pushed my gown up to inspect the bandage.

 

“I’m fine, Eve. But could I have something for the pain?”

 

“Let me check your chart and I’ll be back, ok?” Eve glanced at Mary. “Perhaps you should come back later.”

 

Mary bared her teeth and Eve instinctively backed up a step but I put my hand on her arm reassuringly. “Mary won’t be staying much longer.” Eve nodded and beat a hasty retreat. I turned back to Mary. “I think we’re done here.”

 

“Marshall-“

 

“Mary, I think we’ve said all there is to say.”

 

“So, that’s it? You’re leaving? I guess I’m right about people after all, even you!”

 

“What are you talking about?” I was genuinely confused.

 

 “No one stays – everyone leaves me sooner or later.” I could hear the tears in her voice and I refused to meet her eyes. If I did I knew that the fragile wall I had built around my heart would crumble and I would reach for her.

 

“Yes, Mary, I guess you’re right.” I sighed. “Do you want to sing the song?”

 

“Fuck you, Marshall!”

 

You already did that, Mer. That’s what started this final landslide. I closed my eyes against the anguish in her voice as she fled the room, and I heard the sound of a near collision with Eve in the hallway. I jumped guiltily as a hand lightly touched my forearm.

 

“Marshall? I’ve brought something for the pain. Are you sure you’re all right?”

 

I looked up into Eve’s worried face and tried to give her a reassuring grin but I had no idea how convincing it came off. “I just need to get some sleep. I’ll take these and try and get some rest. My mom should be stopping by after awhile to check on me.”

 

Eve placed a glass of water in my hand and I took the medication. She helped me get comfortable and then turned off the lights and left me to my thoughts. I closed my eyes and hoped relief would come soon for the physical discomfort. I had no disillusions about my mental and emotional anguish, however. That pain had been a part of me for so long that I wondered what it would be like to live without it. I let the memories of the past six years flood my mind. In the beginning, everything had been so full of promise. . . .

Part Five, Pie in the Sky

“Oh I remember you driving to my house in the middle of the night
I'm the one who makes you laugh when you know you're about to cry
I know your favorite songs and you tell me about your dreams
I think I know where you belong. I think I know it's with me.
Can't you see that I'm the one who understands you?
Been here all along so why can't you see?
You belong with me”

--You Belong with Me, by Taylor Swift

 

 

7 A.M. Sunday morning

 

Marshall Mann saw the unmarked car with the man inside trying to look inconspicuous as soon as he turned onto the street where Sally’s apartment was located. His instincts began screaming: Danger, Will Robinson! as he whipped out his cell and pushed the speed dial for Stan’s home.

 

Stan answered on the second ring with a garbled, “Hmrph – hello?”

 

Marshall allowed himself a small smile despite the tightness in his gut. “Sorry cupcake, did I wake you?”

 

“Who is – Marshall?” Stan was instantly alert. “Is there trouble?”

 

“Possibly. I’m just getting to Sally’s to pick her up and imagine my surprise to discover that there’s someone watching the building – but trying not to look like he is, if you get my drift.”

 

Marshall could tell by the muffled sounds coming from the other end that Stan was getting up and hurriedly pulling on clothes. “How do you want to proceed?”

 

“I’ll go in and get Sally, see if the guy follows us. If he does, I’ll call you back and we’ll meet at the diner on fourth for breakfast. After that – how about the shell game?”

 

“Sounds good – I’ll wake Eleanor and we’ll be ready to meet you if necessary.”

 

It was. The guy didn’t even do a very good job of hiding his tailing – but in his defense there wasn’t much traffic on the side streets at this early hour on a Sunday morning. Sally was scared and just wanted to get out of town. She couldn’t believe that they were stopping for breakfast – told him that anything she ate was likely to come right back up. Marshall told her that it was all part of the plan and that everything was all right. Sally looked at the lanky marshal and muttered under her breath,

 

“I wish Mary was here.”

 

Marshall winced. Me too.

Stan and Eleanor met them at the diner and the four of them had a very nice breakfast together. They all tried to ignore the man that slipped inside shortly after they took a corner booth – but Stan was facing the door and gave a full description to Eleanor for the police. After Marshall paid the bill, operation ‘shell game’ got under way. Marshall and Sally got back into his GMC – while Stan and Eleanor each got into matching ones from the office. They drove caravan style to a parking garage with their tail following a few cars behind. Once they entered the parking garage, Marshall told Sally to get in the back and lay down; she complied with a whimper. The three GMC’s circled the inside of the parking garage like it was an amusement park ride – and the cars passed each other multiple times to keep the tail guessing which car Sally was riding in. Eventually, their tail was hopelessly confused and guessed wrong – he followed Stan’s GMC out of the parking garage.

 

Sally screamed at Marshall from the floor of the backseat, telling him if they didn’t get off this roller coaster soon she was going to throw up her buttermilk pancakes down his neck. Marshall laughed and told her to stay down for a little longer but floored it as they left the parking garage, and Albuquerque, behind.

 

An hour outside of Albuquerque proper, Marshall finally allowed himself to relax. Sally was curled up in the back seat, fast asleep, and there were no more cars tailing them. He shrugged his shoulders and cranked the AC, again cursing the nightmares that visited him every night and left him so exhausted. Glancing in the rearview mirror he couldn’t help but envy Sally’s peaceful state. She told him that she hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep herself since he told her she needed to be relocated two weeks ago. If Marshall was honest with himself, he hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since Mary had slammed that ring down on the diner table and announced her engagement to Raphael. Ever since that morning almost four months ago now, things between them had been strained. He still couldn’t believe he had actually told her he loved her – and during her office engagement party no less! For the first time he had said the words: “I love you.” He hadn’t pussy footed around and said: “tell me what you need” or even better “that’s my girl”. Those had become his signature phrases over the years to replace the words ‘I love you’ so he could say them and she wouldn’t freak out. But that afternoon when he said the actual words and she said nothing, just looked at him – he knew that it was time to let her go. And he was slowly dying inside.

 

Dating was not something Marshall was particularly good at – and his track record with women lately was scary. Mary had given him no end of grief about Dana and that relationship had lasted only a couple of dates, thank God. She had truly been too crazy for him – and then there had been Shelly. Marshall sighed. She had actually been nice and sweet but – no, something had been off there as well.

 

The night Mary had been shot - he had told her he had a date. Marshall gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. He hadn’t had a date; he had had plans with his college roommate and his wife who were in town for a conference. Marshall chuckled though as he remembered that they had ‘happened’ to bring their single friend Sarah who had just moved to town. Instead of it being a nice reunion dinner it was an awkward blind first date, full of pauses and nervous giggling, both from Marshall and Sarah. His relief when his phone rang had been evident to everyone – but he knew that he had scared them all when he had run out of the restaurant with barely a word except for the strangled, “Mary.”

 

He remembered the hallway, running after her as she was being wheeled to the ER, and the fact that she wasn’t breathing. He remembered telling her it wasn’t time for her to leave yet and pressing a kiss against her temple. He remembered being told to wait outside and crumpling to the floor as Stan arrived. Her mother and sister arrived at some point with Raphael – and Francesca as well. He remembered interrogating Mario who admitted nothing. He remembered talking to Raphael and telling him something about ‘turning into a savage beast in order to protect our loved ones’. He remembered sitting with Mary for awhile before her surgery – how pale her skin was, how many machines were hooked up to her. He remembered telling her again that he loved her and that she couldn’t die. He called her his exotic animal and pressed another kiss to her temple.

 

Marshall glanced again in the rearview mirror but Sally was still sleeping peacefully. At least he knew he could wake her if necessary. After Mary’s surgery, those three days she had been unconscious in ICU, had been the longest days of his life. Stan had insisted that their people still needed to be seen to and Marshall was twice as busy checking up on Mary’s witnesses as well as his own. He knew that Jinx and Brandi were spending days with Mary and that relieved him – she was not alone. Once visiting hours ended in the evening however, it was a different story, and Marshall knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep without seeing his partner. He always stopped by his house first for a quick bite to eat and a shower.

 

The first night, he showed up with coffee and donuts for Mary’s nurses and he had a feeling that the food had as much weight as his badge in getting him into her room. He pulled the hard plastic chair right up to her bedside and for a minute just sat and gazed at her, silently willing her to open those eyes. After a few moments of silence, he spoke.

 

“Hey partner, it’s me. How’s my girl? Sorry I haven’t been by all day – you know how it is. Now I have to check on your witnesses as well as mine. Some of them are quite happy with that arrangement – especially Mrs. Neddlemen. What did you do to her dog, anyway?” Marshall chuckled. “I want you to know that we got your shooter. I won’t give you any more details until you wake up – that should give you some incentive, cowgirl.” Marshall paused and cleared his throat. “I brought some reading material. I’m sure Brandi and your mother has been keeping you well supplied with People magazine and Cosmo so I thought I’d bring some culture. It’s called ‘The Three Musketeers’. It’s a classic by Alexandre Dumas and it’s got a little bit of everything – action, romance, mystery. Did you know that Dumas made quite a good living writing novels but he squandered it away on women and fathered four illegitimate children?” Again Marshall paused. Spouting off his trivia without her telling him to ‘shut his hole’ just wasn’t the same. He opened the book and began to read.

 

It was late afternoon on the third day after Mary’s surgery when Marshall’s cell rang as he was leaving Mrs. Neddlemen’s house. Seeing that it was Raph, he answered on the first ring with trembling fingers.

 

“Marshall here.”

 

“She’s awake.” Raph’s voice came across the line sounding strained. “She’s asking for you.”

 

Marshall leaned against the hood of the GMC and breathed deeply for the first time in days. “Tell her I’ll be there in fifteen.”

 

Marshall broke a few speed limits and was there in ten. Raphael was leaving as he came crashing through the main ICU doors – Marshall nodded at him but continued on his way to Mary’s room. He paused in the doorway however when he saw that her eyes were closed in sleep once again. He sighed in frustration as Mary’s head nurse Emily appeared at his elbow and softly touched his arm.

 

“She’s awake, Marshall. She’s just resting her eyes. Don’t worry – she’s not slipping back into a coma.”

 

Marshall looked down on the petite woman and gave her one of his slow, easy grins. Emily gave him a gentle push in the back and walked away. He stepped softly into the room and over to Mary’s bedside. Did he dare give her one last kiss – before she was fully awake, healed and could knock his block off? Leaning down, he gently pressed a kiss to her forehead and then jumped back a foot when Mary moaned softly.

 

“Doofus? Is that you?”

 

Marshall giggled. He never thought he would be so glad to hear her say that ridiculous nickname again! “Hey cowgirl, it’s me.”

 

Mary moaned again and opened her eyes. Green eyes met blue and both partners smiled before Mary’s eyes hardened slightly. “Please tell me you got the number of the jackass who shot me.”

 

Marshall turned to pull the chair to her bedside when Mary captured his hand. Shaking her head slightly she tugged on their clasped hands and pulled him down to sit on the bed. “We got him, Mer. How much do you remember?”

 

Sighing in relief and pain, Mary told Marshall what she could remember of that night, which was amazingly clear up until she was shot. When she was finished, she narrowed her eyes and looked her partner up and down for the first time. “You look like crap, Doofus.”

 

“Well, I haven’t been taking a beauty nap for the past three days, ma chere*.”

 

“French, Mr. Mann?”

 

He shrugged. “I think it’s our nightly reading material – it’s rubbing off on me.”

 

Mary rolled her eyes. “God, Marshall, you’re not reading to me in French, are you?”

 

He giggled. “No, mon petit chou* - but what a wonderful idea! I wonder how hard it would be to get my hands on a French edition of ‘The Three Musketeers’.”

 

“What did you just call me? You’re not allowed to call me something in a language I don’t speak!” Mary lifted their clasped hands and attempted to hit him but Marshall laughed and easily dodged her weak attempt. She then looked puzzled for a moment as her eyes lit on the book on her little table. “You’ve been reading to me in the evenings – wait, all night? When do you sleep, Marshall?”

 

He shrugged again. “I usually fell asleep after I’d read you a few chapters. Then I’d wake up later and read some more.”

 

“So you spent the night with me, mon chere*?” Green eyes teased him.

 

Marshall’s chest tightened and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. ‘It doesn’t mean the same thing to her as it does to you,’ he reminded himself. ‘Even though you are her best friend and you know her better than anyone else, she doesn’t belong to you.’ He nearly jumped off the bed when Mary’s hand touched his cheek.

 

“Hey, where did you go?” she whispered softly.

 

Not able to help himself any longer Marshall crushed her to him in a hug. “You’re trembling, Marshall.”

 

“I was so scared, Mer.”

 

“I know, but I’m here.” She gently pushed him away from her and with a trembling hand she traced a pattern on his shirt over his bullet wound from Horst. When green met blue again, both partners’ eyes were wet. “I tried not to die – for you.”

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

French/English

Ma/Mon chere – my dear

Mon petit chou – my little cabbage (it’s an endearment – really!)

 

 

 

Part Four, Pie in the Sky

“What hurts the most
was being so close,

And having so much to say
and watching you walk away,
and never knowing
what could have been
and not seeing that loving you
is what I was tryin' to do.”

----What hurts the most, Rascal Flatts

 

 

2:45 A.M. Sunday morning, 40 hours earlier

 

Marshall awoke gasping for breath, fingers clutching for the thin sheets as his skin was suddenly chilled from the sweat that had come from his nightmare. Sitting up and running a hand wearily through his hair, he leaned back against the wall, trying to get his breathing and heart rate under control. Come on Mann, get it together. It was just a dream. You’re not in that hospital corridor; she’s not on that gurney rushing to the ER with no heartbeat. She’s alive and well – no doubt fast asleep next to her Dominican fiancé at this time of night. Without a conscious thought, Marshall reached out for his cell phone on his night stand but stopped short of pushing the speed dial. He glanced at the clock and sighed – it was almost three o’clock in the morning. He had to be on the road in a few hours, with Sally, alone. He desperately needed a few more hours of sleep and he didn’t know if that was going to be possible if he couldn’t hear her voice. But to be selfish and wake her at this time of night while she was still recovering – as her keeper, he couldn’t justify that action. With another world weary sigh, Marshall climbed to his feet and made his way to the kitchen. Filling a glass with ice and then water he shuffled over to the couch and turned on the TV. He flipped channels for ten minutes before finally putting it on CNN and turning the volume down low.

 

The dream was always the same – Marshall found himself back in that hospital corridor, chasing after Mary as she was being wheeled to the emergency room. In the dream, he felt like he was running in place – and he could never catch up to her side. Marshall reached the doors just as they were closing behind her and the nurse was pushing him out, telling him he had to wait outside. He watched through the little door windows as the doctors and nurses worked feverishly over Mary – and he watched with tears and in horror as they pulled out the paddles and tried to jumpstart her heart back into rhythm. Marshall broke down completely when the doctor finally stopped and pronounced “Time of death” – and then with shuddering gasps, Marshall would wake up.

 

Marshall took several sips of ice cold water. The dream had been his constant companion since Mary’s shooting – and there was only one remedy for his demons and any hope for the return of the sandman. That remedy was Mary’s calming presence – as soon as that thought entered Marshall’s brain, he laughed. No one who had ever encountered his exotic animal of a partner had ever thought of her as a calming influence – but she had the ability to chase his monsters away. Of course, this was without her knowledge since he had never shared this information with her – she would gloat too much! In the beginning when Marshall had the nightmares, when he awoke he was at Mary’s bedside in the hospital. She may not have been awake yet – but she was alive and breathing. Marshall could hold her hand and even press a quick kiss to her temple. After she had regained consciousness, he had stopped giving her the kiss – he was afraid that she would wake up and clock him. But he still held her hand.

Then she was well enough to go home from the hospital and for the first couple of nights, Marshall was so relieved and exhausted that he slept like the dead. But on the third night the nightmares returned – and his sleeping pattern had been interrupted ever since. He couldn’t really call her up in the middle of the night and say: “I had a bad dream, Mer. Can you come over and stay with me until I fall asleep again?” Yeah, right, Marshall rolled his eyes; Mary would love to get a late night call like that from me. I can hear her now: ‘God Marshall, you’re such a girl!’ Marshall giggled – just picturing how his partner would react to his nightmare demons was helping.

 

He was startled out of his thoughts by the ring of his cell phone. Glancing at the clock he saw it was now 3:15 in the morning and he was instantly on alert – was there trouble with a witness? But he relaxed and smiled when he looked at the caller ID.

 

He answered on the second ring. “House of Pie.”

 

“Marshall?” Mary’s voice was soft on the other end, like she was trying not to wake the other people in her house. “Why do you sound so wide awake at this ungodly hour?”

 

Marshall swore under his breath – he really should have sounded sleepy when he answered. “I wasn’t asleep – too wired for the transfer, I guess.”

 

There was a bit of silence on her end before she asked, “Bad dreams?”

 

Marshall’s breath left his lungs in a whoosh. He had forgotten that his partner could really be quite intuitive and observant at times.

 

“Marshall, are you there?”

 

“I’m here, Mer. The monsters under my bed are gone now – your growl scared them away.”

 

“God Marshall, you’re such a girl.”

 

He giggled – he’d gotten her to say it! “Why are you up?”

 

There was silence on the other end and Marshall tried to picture where in the house she was. “Just thinking about stuff – you know, going back to work on Monday – you doing the transfer today. . .” her voice trailed off.

 

“I’ll be okay, Mer. Stan offered to go with me – but I can’t really see the two of us on a road trip together and besides that would leave you and Eleanor alone in the office on Monday. I don’t think you’d both be alive when we got back Tuesday.”

 

Mary chortled. “Me and Eleanor – alone in the office? Hmm, that has possibilities.”

 

“Down, cowgirl.”

 

“Hey, I can play nice.”

 

“You’re kidding right? You don’t play well with others.” Marshall laughed.

 

“Hey, I didn’t call you to be insulted, numb nuts.”

 

“You know I love you.” The words just slipped out – and Marshall closed his eyes in pain. He did love her, in every sense of the word. But Mary was terrified of the word, of commitment, and didn’t share his feelings. He heard her intake of breath through the phone but he quickly added, “So, why did you call?”

 

“I was awake.”

 

“And so you thought I should be awake too? Nice, Mer.” He paused before adding, “You had a nightmare.” It wasn’t a question – and Marshall waited to see if she would open up to him.

 

“I really hate that you’re doing this transfer without me – and I guess that triggered the memory that became the nightmare.” Her words came out in a whispered rush and he had to strain to hear them.

 

“What was it about?”

 

“Horst.”

 

Marshall remembered all too well the case that turned into his worst nightmare come to life as he got shot in the chest which led to dying declarations of love to Mary. Of course to her they sounded like ‘best friends forever’ declarations – but to Marshall, he had meant so much more. He had interviewed with a security agency and actually entertained the idea of leaving the US Marshal Service – leaving her – for about two minutes. Getting shot during the Horst case made him realize that no matter how much it hurt, he could never leave her – even if they could never be more than partners.

 

Marshall took a deep breath. “I didn’t die Mer. I said that I would try not to, for you – remember?”

 

“I remember.” Mary’s reply sounded forced and he wondered if she was trying not to cry. “Hey, what was your nightmare about?” She suddenly demanded.

 

“I don’t recall telling you I had one.”

 

“You’re a terrible liar,” Mary chided softly and he smiled in response. After a few moments of silence she added, “Hey Doofus, I didn’t die either – for you.”

 

Marshall thought for a minute that he wouldn’t be able to breathe – he wondered if this was as close as Mary Shannon got to saying the words: ‘I love you’.

 

He heard Mary whisper to someone else in the room and then she was back talking to him. “I have to go, cowboy. You be safe today and you better not get yourself shot!” she threatened.

 

“I’ll try not to – for you.” I love you, Mary.

 

“Call me when Sally’s safe? And when you’re on the way back home? We need to celebrate my first day back to work.”

 

“We do? You, Mary Shannon, want a party?”

 

“Asking my partner over for ribs or pizza is not a party! Just call me!”

 

“Yes dear.”

 

Her answering laugh was cut off as she disconnected and Marshall collapsed back into his couch with a goofy smile on his face. Noticing that he still had two hours before his alarm went off, he turned off the TV and headed back to bed. He knew he would be able to sleep now.

Part Three, Pie in the Sky

Mary emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of steam, her body wrapped in a towel and her hair still dripping water from the ends. She cocked her head to the side to listen for voices coming from the living area but all she heard was silence. Padding softly toward her room she nearly jumped out of her towel at the sound of Raph’s voice.

 

“Mary? Querida? Are you finally done in the bathroom?”

 

Mary rolled her eyes at the term of endearment and switched directions, heading for the front living room instead of her bedroom. Raph raised his glass in a toast from his reclined position on the sofa as her eyes swept the room looking for Marshall. Damn it! Where is he?

 

Raph noticed Mary’s glance about the room and his scowl deepened. “Marshall isn’t here yet – just in case you think he’s outside lounging by the pool with Brandi, Peter and Jinx.”

 

Mary’s gaze settled on Raph for the first time and took in the pose that wasn’t in reality as relaxed as he would have her think and the fact that his eyes were snapping fire.

 

Mary’s eyebrow arched as she answered, “Who pissed in your drink today?”

 

Raph looked at Mary’s stance and knew that he shouldn’t upset her – knew that she was probably exhausted after her first day back at work, even though she would never admit it. He sighed, “It was a long day, Mary. I was hoping to come home and relax with you. Maybe talk about how your first day back was and-“

 

“Damn it Raph!” Just that quickly, Mary’s hackles were raised and Raph involuntarily flinched at her tone. “I’ve told you that I can’t discuss my job with you! I told you what I am to stop you from asking all these questions about what I do all day!” Mary was beginning to pace, running one hand through her hair to help dry it faster while the other hand was clutching the towel so it didn’t fall off her.

 

“But you’re on desk duty,” Raph was puzzled by her outburst. “You aren’t dealing with witnesses – I thought we could talk about how happy your co-workers were to have you back, what you felt like being back.”

 

He’s not backing down – and seriously, he wants me to talk about my feelings? “Raph, it was fine, ok?” Mary said through clenched teeth. “Can I go get some clothes on before Marshall gets here?”

 

Now it Raph’s turn to be angry, “Mary, I don’t want him to come over tonight.”

 

Mary had already been in the process of heading back to her room when Raph’s words hit her in the back like a sledgehammer. He watched as her spine snapped straight and she turned slowly back towards him. “What did you say?”

 

“I told you – it was a long day, for both of us and I just want to relax with you without your partner. Besides he was with you all day,” Raph pleaded his case.

 

Breathe, just breathe. You aren’t strong enough yet to whip his ass – and he has no idea that Marshall has been away on assignment and may be in trouble. Mary narrowed her eyes and gave Raph the silent treatment.

 

Raph was beginning to get uncomfortable. Mary hadn’t said anything in answer to his demand that Marshall not come over – she was just standing there staring at him, coldly. He got the feeling that he was in one of those American Western movie shootouts where the good guy and the bad guy have a stare down before drawing.

 

The tension was momentarily broken as the back door opened and Brandi came in. “Mary? Has Marshall called you back yet?”

 

Mary’s eyes never left Raph’s face as she, “No Squish, he hasn’t.”

 

Brandi looked from her sister to Raph in concern. She had definitely interrupted something here. Grabbing the iced tea pitcher and a couple of glasses she headed for the back door again. But she couldn’t help asking, “You don’t think he’s in any kind of trouble, do you?”

 

The knot of fear that had been slowly building in Mary’s stomach over the past hour tightened. “I hope not. But if he is –“ she left her sentence unfinished as she went down the hall and slammed her bedroom door.

 

M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M

 

Before Brandi beat a hasty retreat out the back door again, Raph got a little information out of her. Mary and Marshall hadn’t been working together today because Marshall had been out of town on assignment.

 

“So why is he coming over here instead of going home to relax?” Raph asked Brandi.

 

Brandi looked at Chico in confusion – did he really not know how close Mary and Marshall were? “Because he’s been checking up on Mary almost every day since she got out of the hospital – and he hasn’t been by since Thursday night. He’s probably just coming by to say hello, ask how her day was, you know, partner stuff.” And Brandi had escaped back to Peter and her mother.

 

Raph didn’t hear much after the words “Thursday night” – he remembered that night. He had told Mary that he would be really late coming home that night because some of his buddies were coming in from out of town and they were going for a drink after work. She had merely shrugged and told him to try not to wake anyone when he came home drunk.

 

Raph was surprised to see Marshall’s truck at the end of the driveway when his friends dropped him off a little after midnight. As he stumbled for the front door, he wondered what the marshal was doing here so late. He took a minute to take a few deep breaths, get the key in the lock, and then pushed open the door as Mary’s voice floated out into the still night air:

 

 “Are you fucking kidding me?! Pie trivia? Shut your fucking trap, Marshall!”

 

Raph pushed the door open softly and stood in the doorway, staring at the scene in front of him. Mary was straddling Marshall’s lap on the couch, holding a couch pillow over her partner’s face and laughing. Marshall’s hands were moving up from her thighs to her ribs and ever so slowly his fingers began to wiggle against her ribs. Mary squirmed on Marshall’s lap and her grip on the pillow began to falter as she let go with one hand to swat at one of his.

 

“Stop it!  -- I’m injured! -- You’re attacking -- an injured --- girl!” she gasped between squeals of laughter.

 

The pillow fell to the floor and Marshall’s red face met Mary’s. “You’re no girl.” Marshall’s hands stilled on her ribs but they didn’t move.

 

Raph heard Mary’s intake of breath and she put a hand to her side. Marshall was instantly concerned and leaned his head close to hers – Raph pushed himself off the door frame and walked unsteadily into the room.

 

“Get your hands off my fiancé, Marshall.”

 

Mary and Marshall looked up at Raph in surprise. Marshall looked like he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar – but Mary’s face quickly turned to one of disgust.

 

“Welcome home, honey. You stink.” She untangled herself from Marshall’s lap and crossed to Raph’s side.

 

“Don’t change the subject,” Raph demanded, proud that his speech was only slightly slurred. “What’s going on here?”

 

Marshall had picked up his jacket and was preparing to leave. “Mary and I watched a marathon of NCIS.”

 

“That’s all? What about what I walked in on?”

 

Mary snorted. “Our tickle fight? Marshall was spouting trivia and I was trying to shut him up. He retaliated by tickling me – it’s not like we were getting ready to have sex, Raph.”

 

Raph could have sworn Marshall blushed but it was too dim in the room for him to be positive. “That’s a good one, cowgirl. Maybe once the doctor gives you your spurs back –“ Marshall teased.

 

“Idiot!” Mary cried and heaved the couch pillow at Marshall who just laughed and dodged the missile as he went out the front door.

 

Mary never really explained what Raph had walked in on that night – just repeated that it was her and Marshall having fun. But Mary never had that kind of fun with him. They had always had an amazing physical connection – but the sex was on hold until she was fully healed. Mary was not the cuddling type so he could not even ‘spoon’ or hold her in sleep at night. Raph often wondered if he could hold her hand when they went for walks or if she would punch him.

 

He thought that once she got home from the hospital things would be better – they could be close again. No one would be able to separate them, tell him that visiting hours were over and that it was time to leave. With Mary off work for a bit, she would have some free time and they could finally get serious about planning their wedding. Raph had quickly learned that Mary’s ideas were vastly different from his.

 

“Querida, I took the day off so that we could make some wedding plans.”

 

Mary was reading the newspaper out by the pool. She looked up at Raph in surprise. “Like what?”

 

Raph sat next to her and began to talk excitedly. “I thought we could drive around to some of the churches and cathedrals in town – get a feel for where we would like the wedding to take place.”

 

Mary tried not to laugh. “I’m not really a church wedding type of girl, Raph.”

 

Raph’s face puckered in confusion. “But I thought you were Catholic.”

 

“I was raised Catholic – I don’t exactly practice the religion or attend Mass on even a semi-regular basis. Hey Squish, when was the last time I went to confession?” Mary asked her sister who was desperately trying to look like she was reading her fashion magazine and not listening to their conversation.

 

Brandi raised her head and locked eyes with Mary, also trying not to laugh. Finally she smiled very broadly and said, “I’m not sure – when you lost your virginity?”

 

Raph looked horrified but Mary looked thoughtful. “Sounds about right – I would have been fourteen. Wow, I should go again sometime, huh?”

 

Now Brandi did laugh outright. “Just don’t ask me how long it’s been since I’ve been!”

 

The sisters shared a smile and then Mary turned her attention back to Raph, who was trying not to look disappointed. “What? Come on, Raph! Surely you know me well enough to know that I don’t want a church wedding!”

 

“Well, where do you want to get married?”

 

Mary snapped her newspaper open again. “I don’t want a lot of fuss and nonsense. Something simple – we can just apply for a license and get married in front of a justice of the peace at the courthouse.”

 

She missed the look of pain that flashed across Raph's face. “What – on your lunch break?”

 

His tone made both sisters put down their reading material. Brandi and Mary exchanged glances and Brandi wordlessly got up to give them some privacy.

 

Mary turned her full attention to Raph. She paused, trying to consider what to say before it actually flew out her mouth. “Raph, I’m not Cinderella. I have never dreamed of a fairy tale wedding.”

 

Raph looked at her in disbelief. “I can’t believe that. Every girl wants to be a princess – be swept off her feet by Prince charming – and live happily ever after. A big fairy tale wedding is part of that.”

 

Mary shook her head sadly. “Not everybody wants the same things – and it’s been a long time since I thought of myself as a princess.”

 

Raph reached out and brushed hair back from her face. “You’re my princess.”

 

Mary flinched as if he had struck her. She jumped out of her chair and tried to run but Raph caught her, spun her back to him.

 

“Mary, what did I say?”

 

“Please don’t – don’t call me that.” Her eyes were filled with tears and she was shaking and she knew that she was going to fall apart any minute. She needed . . . needed . . . anger. Yes, her friend anger. Mary squared her shoulders and looked Raph boldly in the eye. “I’m not your princess – I’m not anyone’s princess. I don’t want a frilly, decked out church wedding! I don’t want six bridesmaids, a limo, a five-tiered cake, a dress with so much tulle that I can’t find me in it – I don’t want any of that – all right?”

 

Raph was silent for a long moment as he looked at this woman who was his fiancé – he loved her so much, but did he even really know her? One minute she was falling apart for some reason that only she knew and the next she was emotionally pushing him away so hard he thought he’d never find his way back.

 

Raph took a deep breath. “What do you want, Mary?”

 

Mary opened her mouth to give him a cheeky answer and then closed it just as quickly. Did she even know?

 

Just then the back door opened and Jinx came out with Marshall in her wake. “Mary, Marshall’s here with fresh croissants from that French bakery you like.”

 

Mary met Marshall’s eyes and he smiled at her. “Good morning, cowgirl. You’re looking better today. You’re still here, Raph? Good thing I brought extra – but good luck wrestling one away from Mary,” Marshall laughed as he moved over to the table where Jinx was already sitting.

 

“I guess croissants aren’t too frilly for you, Mary?” Raph choked out as he headed for the door. “Especially if you really want them.”

Pie in the Sky, Part Two

Raph added more ice to his large tumbler of iced tea and wished for the hundredth time it was beer. But ever since he had moved into the Shannon household he had respected Mary’s wishes that there be no alcohol in the house because Jinx really, truly was trying to stay on the wagon this time. Mary of course had snorted in derision when she had said those words to him and Raph had the strong impression that she thought it was only a matter of time before her mom slipped and had a drink. But with Brandi dating Peter and him being strongly involved in Al-Anon, perhaps things would be different this time around; when Raph had reminded Mary to think positively, she had looked at him like he had just said that he could make purple rain.

 

Raph stretched his long frame out on the couch and tried to relax as he waited for Mary to emerge from the bathroom. She had locked herself in – again. When he asked why she felt it necessary to do this, she had jumped down his throat: “It’s the only place in MY house that I can get some privacy – you people have taken over every other room! And thanks to the damn doctor and his restrictions it’s not like we could do anything in there but take a shower!”  Raph exhaled loudly in frustration. He never knew what was going to set Mary off these days. She was even more irritable since coming home from the hospital. In the beginning, he had been so relieved that she was going to make it that nothing else seemed to matter. Not even the fact that she woke up calling for Marshall, he grimaced with the memory.

 

When Stan had called to tell them that Mary had been shot on the job, Brandi and Jinx were scared and confused because they really had no idea what she did every day. Raph had to bite his tongue all the way to the hospital to keep from spilling the beans as Jinx and Brandi kept asking how this could have happened to Mary when she was ‘safe and sound’ at the courthouse all day. When they crashed through the doors of the hospital waiting room and saw Marshall’s tear stained face, Raph feared Mary was dead. Stan was quick to reassure them that Mary was still alive but her condition was critical – Marshall didn’t say a word for a while. Mary had to be stabilized before the surgery could be performed and then she had lain in ICU, unconscious, for three days.

 

Raph took a long drink of iced tea. Those three days of waiting had been some of the longest of his life. Looking back now, they all blurred together. Jinx and Brandi spent most of the day with Mary and he came as soon as he could get off work. Raph rarely ran into Marshall during those three days – but he knew the marshal had been there. On the second afternoon he found a copy of “The Three Musketeers” by Mary’s bedside. Knowing that this book was not on either of the Shannon women’s reading lists, he asked the attending nurse about it.

 

“Oh, that book belongs to Mary’s partner, Marshall. He comes late in the evening and stays most of the night with her, reading. He must have forgotten it last night.”

 

Raph’s blood still burned as he remembered another man spending the night with his fiancée while she was in such a compromising position. He would have gladly stayed the night with Mary but he was kicked out with the ‘common’ people when regular visiting hours were over. Marshall used his US Marshal status to stay by his partner’s bedside all through the night. Raph felt violated on Mary’s behalf – and he wondered if she even knew about her nighttime visitor.

 

Raph gave a snort of disgust as an inner demon said: She wouldn’t have been surprised that Marshall was by her side, would she? After all, she woke up calling for him not you. He contemplated his half full glass of iced tea and again wished for something stronger.

 

It was late afternoon on the third day after her surgery that Raph noticed Mary starting to wake up. She would move her left foot a little, then her right hand. Raph’s heart began to beat faster – she was going to wake up! After about five minutes of lying perfectly still again, Mary gave a soft groan – then another. With her eyes still closed, she whispered,

 

“Marshall?”

 

Raph’s heart fell. He simply couldn’t believe it – she was asking for her idiot partner? Before her fiancée?

 

“Marshall?” This time it was a little stronger but sounded confused and a bit uncertain as Mary finally opened her eyes.

 

“No Mary, it’s me, Raph.”

 

Her eyes rested on him and he gave her a moment to focus. “Hi,” she said softly. “What happened?”

 

Raph’s eyes faltered away from hers, not sure how to answer. “Do you remember anything?”

 

Mary’s hand fluttered to her stomach. “I think I got shot.”

 

“Yes, but that’s all I know.”

 

Mary nodded. “I need to talk to Marshall. Can you call him?”

 

Raph gave her a look of disbelief. “You just woke up – don’t you want me to call your mom and Brandi? Can’t we talk for a bit first?”

 

“Raph, we’ll have plenty of time to talk later,” Mary’s ‘take no prisoners’ voice was back. “I need to talk to my partner, now.”

 

He had given in, of course. Mary just wouldn’t let things go and he wanted to make her happy. But they never really got the time to talk again. As soon as everyone knew she was awake, Mary was surrounded by Jinx, Brandi, Stan, some woman from the office named Eleanor, and of course Marshall. He never left – first to arrive and last to leave. Mary seemed to grit her teeth and bear everyone’s interference, except Marshall’s – he seemed to make her smile, even laugh before she was ready.

 

“Don’t do that, Doofus! My muscles aren’t recovered enough for gaiety yet!”

 

“I can’t help it if you find this book funny, Mer. If you want, I can stop reading-“

 

“No! We’re just getting to the good part!”

 

Raph had just arrived from work to find Marshall in the chair by Mary’s bedside, with his cowboy boots on the floor. His stocking feet were propped up on her bed and “The Three Musketeers” was open in his lap; Mary was tilted up in the bed, clutching her side, and smiling.

 

“Mary, are you in pain?” Raph demanded from the doorway.

 

Both partners’ swiveled their heads in Raph’s direction. Marshall waved a hand in greeting and Mary dropped the hand that had been clutching her side.

 

“No, I’m not. Just laughing a bit too hard and my muscles are complaining.”

 

Mary’s doctor walked into the room. “But laughter is the best medicine! What made you laugh?”

 

Marshall held up the book so the doctor could see the title. “A classic – and a great story, I approve. I guess I don’t have to ask how you’re feeling today, Miss Shannon?”

 

Mary’s smile turned to a scowl. “I’d feel better if you’d spring me!”

 

“Well, I do have some good news on that front. You’ve been doing well in physical therapy and exercising on your own. But I would like to see you eating solid food before I discharge you.”

 

Mary’s scowl deepened. “You seriously call the food you give us to eat here ‘solid’? You mean like rock solid?”

 

Marshall laughed out loud as Raph grimaced. “Now Mary, the doctor really is trying to help you get out of here.”

 

The doctor nodded in sympathy as he headed for the door. His parting words were, “Perhaps your friends could smuggle you in some ‘real’ food. Just don’t let anyone else know it was my idea!”

 

Raph came and sat on Mary’s bed, reaching for her hand. She raised her eyebrow in surprise but didn’t pull her hand back. “What have you been missing, Mary? What food are you craving?”

 

Mary and Marshall answered in unison. “Chocolate.”

 

Raph shot the other man a look of astonishment. How did he know that about Mary?

 

Marshall gave Raph an unintelligible look. “When Mary’s desk drawer is filled with Dove chocolates and she wants to stop for Frosty’s at least twice a week, it’s not hard to figure out that your partner has a passion for chocolate.”

 

The next day on the way to the hospital, Raph stopped and picked up Mary’s surprise. He just knew she was going to love it – it was chocolate, after all.

 

“No, I don’t want the cupcake, Raph.”

 

“But Mary – it’s chocolate. You said you wanted chocolate!”

 

Mary blew out a breath before replying. “Yes I did. But I don’t want the damn cupcake.”

 

“Why not?” He hoped that didn’t sound as whiny as he feared it did.

 

“Because the frosting is three fucking inches high – it’s all gooey and – no!”

 

Raph’s eyebrows knit together in confusion as his romantic gesture went up in smoke.

 

Just then Marshall sailed through the door carrying a simple paper bag. Mary’s eyes lit on it immediately in interest. “What’s in the bag, cowboy?”

 

“Mann’s House of Pie – we deliver. Today’s special is-“ and here he paused and waved the bag in front of Mary’s eyes slowly.

 

“Is that from Maggie’s?” she gasped.

 

“Yup. You get three guesses to name the flavor and the first two don’t count.”

 

“Chocolate peanut butter?! Hand it over!” Mary cried.

 

Raph’s anger was barely being held in check. Here he had planned a romantic surprise for Mary only to have her turn her nose up at it – and THEN she dives at the offering from her partner. He needed a beer, several beers, now.

 

“Mary, I’m going to call it a night. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

Mary slowly turned from Marshall’s bag that he was now unpacking to look at Raph. Her face instantly filled with remorse. “I’m sorry about the cupcake, Raph. It’s just too-“

 

“It’s ok. We’ll talk about it later.” He gave her a quick peck on the lips and fled out the door. As he walked away he heard Marshall tell Mary that the rest of the pie was in her fridge at home. Raph was almost out of earshot but he still managed to hear Mary’s reply: “I love you like an eight dollar whore.”

 

Raph stopped in his tracks. What did THAT mean? Did she love Marshall? And what was with all the nicknames she had for Marshall: cowboy, doofus, idiot, numb nuts? She had not given him any nicknames – the most she had done was shorten his name from Raphael to Raph. Marshall had snuck into the hospital and stayed with her all night – he knew about her chocolate obsession. Marshall had a key to her house and knew where everything went inside. Was it possible that Marshall knew Mary better than her own fiancée did?

Pie in the Sky, Part One

PIE IN THE SKY

 

N. a fanciful notion; ludicrous concept; the illusory promise of a desired outcome that is unlikely to happen.

 

 

“Marshall still isn’t here?”

 

Brandi’s head snapped up from where she was bent over her latest homework assignment at her sister’s voice. She frowned as she took in Mary’s appearance – sweat pants and tank top, hair pulled up into a loose ponytail and face that was slightly flushed from exertion. She really hoped that Mary hadn’t overdone it by going for a power walk after her first day back at work.

 

“Peter just called. He said he and Raph should be here in a few minutes.”

 

Mary yanked the ear buds out of her ears and turned her iPod off. “Squish, I wasn’t asking about Raph! I was asking about Marshall – did he call?”

 

Brandi shook her head in confusion. “Why would he call the house? Didn’t you take your cell with you?”

 

Mary rolled her eyes as she slapped her iPod on the charger. She yanked her cell out of her pocket as she sat next to her sister at the dining room table and waved the device a few inches from Brandi’s face. “Have you ever known me to be without my phone? I’m just covering all the bases because I haven’t heard from him since he told me he was headed back to Albuquerque. That was hours ago.” Mary was biting her lip and furiously looking through her recent text messages, seeing if there was one she had missed.

 

Brandi was now even more concerned that Mary had done too much today. It had barely been two months since Mary had been shot in the stomach and had nearly died as a result. The three days her big sister had been unconscious after surgery and they had been waiting for her to open her eyes – hell, wondered if she would open her eyes had been the longest 72 hours of Brandi Shannon’s life. But Mary had clung to life with the tenacity she was known for – and now to see her sitting at their dining table, scrolling through text messages and swearing under her breath, Brandi couldn’t help but breathe a short prayer of thanksgiving.

 

Mary looked up from her phone to see Brandi looking at her but not really focusing on her – her little sister appeared lost in thought and her eyes were tearing up. Damn it! Everyone is still walking on eggshells around me since the shooting – I’ve got to figure out a way to make them stop before they all drive me MAD!  “Squish?” Mary said gently. “Where did you go? Are you OK?”

 

Brandi refocused with Mary’s words and blinked her eyes rapidly in an attempt to keep from crying. She knew tears made her sister uncomfortable – and she had cried too much in her presence over the past few weeks as it was. She did, however, reach out and grab Mary’s hand, squeezing it tightly.

 

“I’m just so glad you’re still here with us.” Her words made Mary squirm slightly in her chair and Brandi laughed lightly. “So how was your walk? Are you sure it wasn’t too much after your first day back at work?”

 

Mary blew out her breath in an exasperated sigh. “No Squish, it wasn’t too much. The doctor said I need to push my limits – how am I going to regain my full stamina otherwise?”

Brandi laughed again as she got up to get Mary some iced tea. “Yeah, that doctor had no idea what he was saying when he told you to push your limits! But you still have some restrictions, right?”

 

Mary took the glass from Brandi and took a nice long swig before replying. “Damn doctor! Yes, no heavy lifting, no driving, and no sex.”

 

Brandi’s eyes widened. “Oh, poor Chico.”

 

“What about me?” Mary demanded.

 

Brandi patted Mary’s hand in consolation. “Of course I feel your frustration too, Mary. Is that why you’ve been such a bear lately?”

 

“I am so not having this conversation with you, Squish.” Mary pulled herself to her feet and started walking towards the bathroom. “I’m going to take a shower and if Marshall’s not here when I get out I’m going to call him and rip him a new set of. . . .” her words were cut off as she slammed and locked the bathroom door.

 

“Marshall is coming over again?”

 

Brandi’s head snapped up for the second time in less than an hour as Raph’s irritated voice reached her ears from where he stood by the Shannon’s front door.

 

M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M&M

 

The hot water poured over Mary’s body, washing away the sweat that had accumulated during her ‘power walk’. God I had that term! It sounds like something little old ladies in matching hot pink or aqua track suits do in packs, not kick-ass US Marshalls! She sighed and adjusted the water stream so that it would work on some of the knots in her shoulders. She missed the days when she would go running with Marshall after work – hopefully her energy level and her muscles strong enough to let her get back to that routine soon.

 

She had missed Marshall’s presence in the office today – and she knew that it had killed him not to be there on her first official day back after the shooting, even if she was just riding the desk for awhile. The last time she had seen him was four nights ago when he had broken the news about the transfer.


“So I have some bad news.”

 

Mary tilted her head from her position on Marshall's shoulder so she could look him in the eye. They had just finished watching a marathon of NCIS. “Don’t tell me – you’re really gay and you have a secret crush on Tony.”

 

Marshall’s face broke into a smile. “No, Cowgirl – I won’t be there on Monday.”

 

It took her a minute to process his words and then a moment of panic set in. “You said you’d never leave.”

 

“Mer – no, I’m not leaving you. I could never do that.” He gathered her closer to his side, running his hand up and down her arm soothingly. After a few moments, he continued. “Sally Stevens has to be transferred.”

 

Mary pulled away from him. “Fuck! That asshole found her?”

 

“Not yet – but he’s close. He’s hired private detectives and they’re closing in. Stan and I both think that the danger is high enough that I need to get her out of Albuquerque.”

 

Mary nodded her agreement and settled onto the opposite end of the couch. “So tell me the game plan.”

 

Marshall shook his head. “Mer, it’s not your concern. Stan would have my ass in a sling if he knew I was still talking to you about cases when you’re supposed to be taking it easy. You’re coming back on light duty, remember?”

 

Mary snorted and shoved her foot into his upper thigh, barely missing a vital organ. She chortled when he shot her a dark look. “Spill it, numb nuts. We’re partners and Sally is still MY witness. Besides, you may come up with the plan but we always tweak it together.”

 

With a sigh, Marshall gave in and told her about Sally’s transfer to Salt Lake. Mary listened with eagerness and a strong stab of envy, realizing that he would have to make this transfer without her. She pointed out one or two areas that could use improvement or backup. Marshall grinned, nodded, and made notes on his laptop.

 

“So Cowgirl, is there anything you want me to bring you back from Utah?”

 

“Are you kidding me? With your twisted sense of humor, you’d probably bring me back a bag of salt!”

 

“Hey, I never thought of that!” Marshall mused, which earned him another kick in his thigh.

 

“Doofus!” But she said it softly, without any bite.

 

“You know, I’ll be passing right through Cedar City – want me to stop at Joe’s?”

 

Mary’s stomach rumbled in hunger and her mouth watered as she thought of the little mom and pop diner they had discovered in Utah while transferring witnesses to Salt Lake City. “Not fair! You get to have the world’s best banana cream pie without me!”

 

“I’ll bring you some back if you ask nicely.”

 

“Yeah, right! How in the world are you going to keep a cream pie from melting between Utah and New Mexico?”

 

“I’ll think of something – I know it’s your favorite.”

 

Mary uncurled from the end of the couch and stretched out beside him again, laying her head on his shoulder. “That’s mighty nice of you, cowboy. I do like that pie.”

 

“Hey, did you know that the first pies were actually invented by the ancient Egyptians and were called ‘coffins’ because the crusts were thick and inedible? That’s because the crust themselves were the actual baking dish and people only ate the inside filling. Pies that didn’t have top crusts were called ‘traps’ which is pretty funny because when you tell me to ‘shut my trap’-“

 

With a loud groan Mary sat up and grabbed a couch pillow and shoved it over Marshall’s face. “Are you fucking kidding me?! Pie trivia? Shut your fucking trap, Marshall!”

 

Marshall began to shake in laughter and pulled Mary to him in a hug. Soon both partners were shaking in uncontrollable mirth.

 

Mary’s memory of that night faded as she realized the water had run tepid and she knew she must have been in here for a while. Shutting off the water and stepping out of the shower, she began to dry herself off. Looking at her cell phone she had placed on the counter she saw that another thirty minutes had elapsed and still no word had arrived from Marshall.