A/N: Oh, dear and loyal reviewers; I don't know what I'd do without you. I've said it a million times; I never expected Sam and the gang to take me this far, but believe me when I tell you that this is their final tale (and you've heard that before too, I know.)
Here is the deal with what I have dubbed "Downy Feathers." It is a collection of what I guess you would call one-shots, showing significant or particularly poignant portions of Mary's and Marshall's years with Sam that we missed. Since we jumped from six months pregnant, to a brief bout with a two-month-old, to eighteen months, seven years, and twelve with a few flashbacks in-between, there are chunks we never saw. My idea of a one-shot is basically just a specific instance; sometimes it'll last for more than one 'scene' but each portion I chose to write has its own individual chapter; none of them span more than one. Although this means some are pretty lengthy, they all stay in their own little 'pocket' before we move on again. Does that make sense?
I concede there are plenty more chapters in Sam's early years, I guess because I felt the need to show the steps of Mary's and Marshall's early relationship, as well as the fact that I believe little ones change more rapidly than the older kids. Plus, I had a lot happen in the prior stories before Sam was even two what with Seth and James and Jesse and who knows what else. Just as an FYI, in the shots were Mary is still pregnant the 'three months' or 'two months' header means she's three months away from having him, not three months pregnant (but I hope the month references help with that.)
ANYWAY. Good lord. You're going to give up on me before you even get started with that kind of introduction. I just wanted it all to make sense, because it is a little bit different from anything else I've ever written. The single pieces (chapters) fit with the other four stories as applicable, but obviously there will be no flow to the chapters; it's chunked. "Downy Feathers" refers to fragments, pieces, as well as my fondness for Sam's soft hair.
Pre-Sam, Three Months, July:
Those infernal knocks on the door always came at the most inopportune time, Mary thought. Why this still surprised her, she'd never know. Anyone coming to the house was always a shock, so when you thought about it every occurrence was ill-timed.
Still, Mary didn't enjoy rushing to the hatch while she was still hitching her jeans up and trying to make sure her fly wasn't undone. That'd be a nice surprise for some unsuspecting witness – a little tease before she pinned them to the ground for daring to arrive at her home unannounced.
But when she finally made it to the knob – slower than usual thanks to her current condition – she found not some jittery ex-bookkeeper, but Marshall. He wore an awkward, nervous grin, holding a white paper sack in one hand and a plastic grocery bag in the other.
"Hi…" she managed, perhaps a little uneasy herself.
She'd just seen him two hours ago. What was her problem?
"Hey," he reciprocated. And then, shuffling his feet a few times, "You…mind if I come in?"
"Oh…" Mary knew she was being dumb and stepped aside. "Right…"
But even once he was in, he didn't have anything to say. They just stood there stupidly, Marshall rustling his bags, Mary contemplating whether she'd dashed out of the bathroom too quickly. She might still have to pee.
But the bizarre, vain part of herself that she so despised told her she was feeling conspicuous having Marshall see her all laid bare in her own home. She still had her jeans on, sure, but she'd changed into some old Jersey City T-shirt from when she'd been in college. It was a men's medium and actually fit over her round belly; she was a sight all together.
Still, she didn't want Marshall to feel like he'd come at a bad time. They were both new at this.
"You don't…" she finally spit out. "…Have to knock."
Had she really just said that?
"Only, don't put that word on the street," she tried to be funny. "Can't have it getting back to Brandi and Jinx."
Marshall managed to chuckle, "Right," and then he got on with it, "I brought you dinner…" he held up the white sack. "You said you weren't going to pick anything up on the way home, so I thought…"
His voice trailed away, and Mary knew he was wondering if he'd overstepped his boundaries. Mary didn't like being coddled or doted on, but she'd been trying really hard to let him in-in small doses lately.
"I guess that's nice…" she rolled her eyes, trying to get him to play along and fall back into their usual rhythm. "Depends on what it is…"
She stuck her neck way out to peer at the contents, and Marshall immediately unfurled the top of the bag so she could see. Mary inhaled and caught the delicious, warm-seasoned scent of spaghetti, meatballs, and garlic bread from one of her favorite Italian restaurants downtown. How could she say no?
"All right," she snatched the snack and offered a mischievous wink. "You're in the good books – for now."
With that, she shuffled – well, waddled – into the kitchen to get some silverware to dig in. Marshall followed, standing on the opposite side of the counter while she pulled out a knife and a fork. He put his second sack on the counter, which made Mary curious.
"What's behind door number two?" she jerked her head as she delved for the food.
"I thought we could watch a movie," he was getting into it now, looking wily with his telltale smirk. "Sounds like tomorrow will be slow at the office; we've got time to hang out, peruse, laugh, review…"
Mary narrowed her gaze, flicking her eyes upward to meet his in her standard glare.
Marshall was not deterred and continued to bore into her with his silly little grin. He put a hand into the plastic sack and pulled out a DVD with a great, dramatic flourish, including much waving of his arms and hands.
"A classic," he proclaimed merrily.
Mary, sneering appropriately, slipped the box out of his fingers and scanned the cover. It showed a man and a woman mooning over each other; a typical rom-com she was disdainful of.
Mary snorted at once, putting the case on the counter and sliding it back to Marshall. "Nice try," she praised. "Actually, no. Awful try. No way. Off your usual game."
She snickered and scoffed at the same time, head back in the bag of food, pulling out a second, smaller pouch of bread.
"You tell yourself whatever you want, doofus," she was feeling marginally more comfortable now that they were playing around. "You ain't selling me the drivel of the rom-com."
"You haven't even seen it," Marshall protested, sounding remarkably whiny. "Give it a chance."
Mary just shook her head in response, digging for her container of spaghetti that was resting at the bottom of the sack. She groped for Marshall's for a moment, before she realized hers was the only one inside. She even peered further in just to make sure, but there was just a single portion.
"Marshall; they forgot yours…" she clucked her tongue disapprovingly. "That's why I tell you; check in the car, that way you can go back and raise hell and get out of footing the bill too…"
"I didn't order any," her partner eventually cut her off. "There was only supposed to be one."
"What?" Mary was perplexed, wrinkling her nose and peeling the lid off her container at the same time. "What do you mean you didn't get any; why not?"
"Ah," he shrugged unconcernedly. "Wasn't really hungry."
It took Mary a moment, but she understood when her fork was halfway to her mouth with the first bite of noodle-goodness. She actually paused in midair as the realization hit. Marshall had gone just for her; because she ate like a cow these days and he'd wanted to please her. Because they were…
What exactly? Together now?
She didn't know how she felt about it, and she knew it was one of the many things she'd be turning over in her mind as she lay alone in bed that night. Ever since her and Marshall's trip to Kansas just a few weeks before, things had been decidedly different and she was really trying as they ventured cautiously in, but she wanted to remain true to herself. She didn't want Marshall feeling as though he had to tend to her or give her some proverbial sun and moon just to tickle her. She wasn't that girl.
"You thirsty?" was all she could think of to say.
It was neutral. It was safe. It would not make him feel like he'd done something wrong. It would not make her feel like she'd done something wrong.
"I could go for a beverage," he knew what she was doing and made his way around the counter.
"Help yourself…" she thrust her thumb over her shoulder to indicate the fridge and Marshall did as told.
While he stuck his head in the confines, she continued scarfing down the spaghetti and meatballs, which she was making short work of; she barely tasted them, she was going so fast. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she heard Marshall chuckle from the fridge.
"Why do you still have wine in here?" he wanted know. "You're not drinking it, are you?" he wasn't accusatory, just poking fun.
"No," she shook her head around bites. "It's leftover. Not like I can bum it onto Jinx or Brandi – with Peter in the house."
"Well, I'll see if I can take it off your hands," he offered, coming up with a bottle of white and stepping to the cabinets to find a glass.
Meanwhile, Mary was practically salivating over the noodles – their rich, marina sauce, perfectly seasoned with just a hint of spice. The way she could scoop up way more than usual in one bite because they were not too long and not too short. Bliss.
"Oh my God, Marshall…" she moaned, mouth full. "These are amazing…"
He laughed as he poured his wine, "Don't go all bottomless pit on me."
"Hey; I'm eating for two, I'm allowed," she told him swiftly.
"You ate for two before the rug-rat," he reminded her. "What's that an equivalent of?" he turned, wine in hand, sipping sedately. "You feeding three now? Four?"
"We'll just go with a small army," it was how she felt, so why not get credit for it.
So busy enjoying her pasta, Mary almost jumped when Marshall reached out his free hand and put an arm around her back. The contact made her flutter a little, made her more aware of her condition for some reason, like she'd let her guard down. Part of her was scared and wanted to run, but the other part liked it. He wasn't intrusive – he was just there.
She slowed her inhalation of dinner and looked up at him, woven in next to her. He was smiling sweetly, and she recalled how thoughtful he'd been to bring her a meal after a long day at work. But his smile was also inquisitive, a little rascally like he knew something she didn't.
"You've got…sauce…" he managed not-too-awkwardly. "On your mouth…"
Of course she did. But Mary dove at the opportunity and instead of becoming embarrassed; she stretched on tiptoe and gave him a kiss. She felt his lips sneak over in the middle and lap up whatever had been left on her mouth. It made her tingly all over and that same feeling of wanting to stay rooted to the spot combined with wanting to bolt returned in full-force.
"Mmm…" he said when they parted. "Very scrumptious…" he smacked his gums together in that corny way of his.
Mary knew he meant the spaghetti, but the laugh she offered was feeble trying to giggle at his joke. She also couldn't help noticing the sudden change in the look on his face; his eyes were downcast and he tried to turn away, but she'd already seen.
"What?" she prompted.
Her eyes strayed to the floor to see if maybe she'd dropped something, but evidently that wasn't it.
"Your…" he started gesturing with his hand, trying to stay casual. "Your…" he repeated himself. "Your…pants are undone."
Goddamn it. Now she was embarrassed. She must've missed the zipper after all in her rush to the door, and when she'd lengthened up to kiss Marshall, her shirt had hitched on her belt loop.
Sheepishly, she did them up as quickly as she could; crossing her arms over what little there was of her middle. This was awful. How would they ever learn to be more comfortable about a relationship?
"You know, lets…lets watch the movie," she finally said to fill the silence.
Marshall was plainly kicking himself for having brought up what he had, and Mary hated that look in his eyes. Fresh off Seth's passing just two weeks prior, it returned at the oddest moments and it killed her.
"Only if you want to," Marshall was easy. "Honestly, it was just a suggestion…" he went on. "We can blow it off and…I don't know…" he shrugged. "Talk."
That would be even worse. No, definitely the movie.
"No, let's take a look at your show…" she waved him into the living room. "I'm skilled at tuning things out, so I can always do that if I don't like it."
Marshall chuckled appropriately and, smartly, settled himself in one of the chairs in front of the television while Mary put the disc in the machine and headed off to the couch so she could put her feet up. Marshall's choice of residence also meant he didn't necessarily expect them to sit together.
But Marshall learned very quickly that he was most certainly getting the short end of the stick on this deal. He couldn't remember ever watching a movie all the way through with Mary, and he immediately saw why. She never shut up.
She huffed and puffed as she shifted herself further into the pillows, placing her socked feet on the armrest at the other end. She wished she'd just changed out of her jeans and although the shirt was roomy and comfortable, the waistband on the pants was making her belly feel uncomfortably tight.
Part of Marshall enjoyed the old snark punching its way through, even if he did still feel a little funny perched across the room from her. He knew she did too; that was why she was talking so much. It was a vicious cycle.
Unfortunately, it did take a few more disdainful comments throughout before she settled down – about how pitiful and pathetic the characters were.
But Marshall was patient, waiting her out, pointing out the sweet, yet subtle moments in the film, thinking she might soften up. He never fancied Mary a romantic, but he knew he'd be paying for his suggestion if she ended up hating the whole thing.
"I love that line," he mused quietly.
"Which one?" Mary was chewing on her thumbnail.
"Talking about his daughter," Marshall clarified, referring the leading man. "He knows both he and his significant other deserve the credit for raising the child. It takes two."
That one worked, at least momentarily. He could tell from the look on Mary's face that she was pondering the sentiment. Parents, mothers, fathers, and children had been on her mind a lot as of late. Though she hadn't said, he knew she was worried she'd make a crummy mom.
"I'm still hungry," was her heartfelt response, and she was about to lift herself up, but Marshall decided to do his duty as the…
What? Guest? Partner? Friend? Boyfriend?
"What do you want?" he asked before she could rise. "I'll grab you something."
Fortunately, Mary chose acceptance.
"Gonna have to keep you around as housekeeper," she teased. "There's popcorn above the stove," she went on. "Grab yourself a few kernels, partner."
"Don't mind if I do," Marshall agreed.
He wouldn't have thought so at the time, but his brief absence from the scene seemed to do just the trick for the pair of them. While he stood in the kitchen, microwave making its droning hum, Mary turned quiet and introspective, relaxing into the movie just as he'd hoped. He watched her slump further down on the throw pillows, watched a hand float onto her belly and come to rest there because she thought he wasn't looking.
"I guess this isn't that bad…" she whispered suddenly.
But Marshall knew he wasn't expected to respond, to pretend not to have heard. Instead, he grabbed the bag of popcorn and emptied it into a bowl before rejoining her.
"At your service…" he teased, stooping into a goofy bow as he reached the coffee table, holding the bowl like a platter.
Mary rolled her eyes, but he was startled to see her wiggle herself down the length of the couch as though to make room for him.
"You can't get your hands on the grub over there," she jerked her head at the chair he'd vacated. "Come on."
She was making room for him. Marshall could hardly ignore a request so great.
He sat, swinging his long legs onto the couch and Mary inched herself into his groove so she was practically in his lap. Marshall's heart began to race having her so close. They hadn't gone this far since his father's funeral two weeks before, and the rush returned in full force. He'd started to believe it hadn't been real.
He was afraid of what to do with his hands. There was really no place to put them other than around her waist, but her waist was her belly these days and she was very sensitive about that area.
"I'm not…" he articulated behind her ear. "I know you're not a Buddha," he managed lamely. "But my fingers are kind of squished here."
They couldn't even do this right, but Marshall took the silence for acceptance and wove his hands where they rightfully belonged, one on either side of her protruding stomach.
"This may have some merit after all," Mary admitted to avoid the persisting awkwardness. "At least this guy's buddy keeps him in check when he gets too pompous."
"Like the supporting role, do you?" Marshall asked, only able to see the top of her honey blonde waves.
"Mmm hmm," she hummed. "He reminds me of you."
Marshall was taken aback, "How so?"
She shifted just a little in his arms, trying to get comfortable.
"Brains, wit, and principles," she said shortly.
Marshall was unexpectedly touched; Mary didn't do mushy, and to be fair she had tried not to be. She'd just tried to be complimentary, tried to break the ice. It was easier when she didn't have to look at him. But he was still raw from Seth dying, vulnerable with the pregnant woman he'd spent eight years loving, and he couldn't help it.
"That's nice of you to say," he murmured.
He could tell she was grinning, "Don't get used to it."
Silence fell once more, but it was kinder to them on this front. Mary sighed and nudged herself into him a little more, liking his strong, long and lean body compressed with hers. After what he thought was an appropriate amount of time, Marshall started to run his fingers through her hair, resting his chin lightly on the top of her head.
"Do we suck at this?" she asked awhile in, completely out of nowhere and distracting from the tail end of the movie.
"Do we suck at what?"
Another sigh – a consideration.
"I don't know," she murmured uncertainly. "Being…we?"
"No," he whispered confidently; chin not leaving her head, fingers not stopping their rhythm. "We're finding our way – a little slowly, I admit."
"I don't mind slow," Mary found herself admitting.
Marshall was inclined to agree, "Me either."
The pattern resumed; Marshall had the distinct feeling that Mary was falling into a trance, maybe even falling asleep, but he just let it ride. His emotions were too close to the surface for him to trust himself ruining it with fresh memories of their time together at Seth's passing. He was still sensitive.
And even the thought had him shuddering back to reality without thinking.
He hadn't meant to startle Mary and she turned to gaze up at him, perfectly awake, big green eyes meeting his soft blue ones, dancing with the dulled light of unwise reminiscence.
"You okay?" she was casual, but concerned.
"Fine," he assured her. "Just thinking."
"Not too hard I hope," she wouldn't turn back around.
She did understand, and faced the screen once more, but she reached for the hand that was resting at the side of her belly and took it in hers. It was all the coaching Marshall needed.
"It still hurts sometimes," he divulged. "At the most unexpected moments, I think of him."
She squeezed hard; harder than he was used to, but it was so jarring it was comforting.
"I know," she assured him evenly. "Two weeks isn't very long."
No, it wasn't. It wasn't at all, and yet Marshall hardly dared to believe how much had changed in just fourteen days. He'd lost his father, but he had Mary. He actually had Mary. Whether he kept her or not was an issue best left for down the road, but you couldn't replace this time as they lay entwined in each other's arms, an unborn little boy resting nearby.
When Mary exhaled for the third time and turned her head so her profile rested against his chest, he knew all he had to do was reflect on today to get through whatever might lie ahead. Everything he needed was wrapped up in one single moment, and he'd cherish it forever.
He was certain, as they reached the end of the movie, that Mary had drifted off into dreamland, but the words he heard were not in his subconscious.
"Live with me, Marshall."
He about had a stroke.
She didn't even open her eyes.
"Live with me. Move in."
So much for slow.
Now her lids snapped open, probing up into his with their familiar exasperation.
"You got a better idea?" she dripped with sarcasm. "A cottage in the woods? Condo in Boca? Sewer down a manhole cover? Yes, here," she finally finished.
Marshall gaped, but there was really no need for him to consider, to think, to wait it out. She'd suggested it and it was only for her and her happiness that he was holding off. He was ready to shout it from the rooftops if she were so inclined.
"If you're sure," was his response.
"Marshall…" she couldn't shift onto her stomach the way she wanted and had to stay part-way reclined, but managed to get her point across. "Why waste anymore time? There are some things we need to wait on…" she didn't specify what. "But there's no point on this. We spend every day together, sometimes eighteen hours; we know we can stand it…"
"How romantic of you," he mused.
Her fingers ran up and down his chest. She felt sequestered and sheltered in his arms, and she wanted that feeling to last. To last and to last and to last and to never leave her behind.
Mary swallowed, "I want you here."
Marshall leaned in and laid a kiss on the crown of her head, wanting more than anything for her not to feel uncomfortable because it was the last thing in the world he felt. He'd not garnered this much joy since his dad had gone, and nothing had ever seemed so right.
"Then here is where I belong."
A/N: I hope you enjoyed my first little scenario! Please review! I love you guys! I'm hoping half the fun of this collection is that you'll have no idea what's in the next part LOL!