Marcus knew how to bend rules, that wasn't the problem: he had bent them more than once with Holmes, and sometimes severely. (And that should have been his first warning that he would come to regret working with the man). Marcus could finesse away how Holmes had laid his hands on evidence—if the evidence was legit and proved they had the right guy—but manufacturing evidence to justify wiretapping someone's wedding or soccer league was another thing, and Marcus had limits. New York's counter-terrorism unit might be a career-climbing position for some, but Marcus's career had already taken one hit when he'd blown the whistle. It might not survive another.
He turned down the job with Demographics, and took a position with Elder and Child Abuse instead.
It was a hard adjustment. The unit was a no-prestige backwater and the cast-iron stomach Marcus had earned in Major Crimes failed to carry over to the new job. Marcus had thought he was inured to violence, but not so much, it turned out, when the victims were capable of looking back at him.
"You need to smile," his new partner told him as they left an interview with an eight-year-old and her mother. It had gone disastrously until Julia had stepped in, easing the way with a few words of Spanish and projecting the gentle sincerity that had finally coaxed the girl into saying the few damning words they needed. Julia had eighteen years in Child and Elder Abuse, and she ticked through her days like a well-oiled machine, never reacting to much of anything that crossed their desks. Until they were interviewing a victim, that was, and she suddenly became the woman you had always wanted for a grandmother.
"I smile," he insisted.
"Your mouth smiles. The rest of you looks like you want to beat someone up."
Marcus gave her a dark look. "Of course I want to beat someone up. Who wouldn't?"
Her cool glance told him that she had heard the implicit criticism and wasn't impressed. "You're sending mixed signals. Think it through, Bell: who was the last person who tried to persuade that girl of one thing while his body said something else?"
Involuntarily, Marcus flinched.
She sighed. "I can see it all through your shoulders, your jaw. So can the kids. I know it's hard, but when you're in there, you have to put it aside so you can give the kids what they deserve."
Two weeks later, schooling himself in front of the interview room door and already dreading the coming battle for a kid's trust, he cut Julia a glance. Most of the white kids saw him as the archetypal scary black man, anyway. "I'm gonna try something. Feel free to step in."
Julia tilted her head, curious, but nodded her assent.
He let himself feel the full knowledge of what had been done to this boy, and then wrapped his Major Crimes persona around himself: tougher than any common murderer and backed by the full, unflinching weight of the NYPD. He removed his right hand from his pocket. Then he walked into the room, a terrible avenging angel ready to stand between this boy and anyone who might try to hurt him.
When they finished, Julia pulled the door shut behind them and nodded at him in approval. "That works, too," she said.
It wasn't the job of Marcus's dreams, but at Christmas, when he greeted his cousin Olivia and her partner Nawar, then flew their son as high as he dared in his one-handed grip, Marcus congratulated himself again on having had the sense to turn down Demographics.
Uncle Frank, coming in behind his daughter, daughter-in-law, and grandson, clasped Marcus's good shoulder. "Kids and old folks, eh?"
Marcus shrugged. "Can't carry a gun anymore." He had been half-dreading seeing his uncle, who had beamed with pride when Marcus had first made Major Crimes.
Uncle Frank eyed Marcus's right arm, with its hand securely tucked into its pocket. "Well, I always said it'd be a better world if it was just kids and dogs. I can make room for grandparents, too." He shook Marcus's shoulder once, with rough affection. "Put Naz down, pour yourself a drink, and we'll go tell stories the rest of them are too innocent to hear."
Between them, Rodriguez and Mason made sure to invite Marcus whenever Gregson's unit went out for drinks. As near as the coroner could tell, it was Rodriguez's bullet that had taken Dylan down. She had been a regular visitor at the hospital during the short while she had been on administrative leave.
Unfortunately, whenever he went out with his old unit someone would try to buy him a drink and tell him about Holmes's latest crimes against humanity and the NYPD. It set his teeth on edge. Marcus let his displeasure be known, and eventually whoever had earned the most recent right to complain about Holmes—someone new every week, it seemed like—began keeping it down at the other end of the table.
"So, when are you coming back to Major Crimes?" Rodriguez asked him one evening.
Marcus's case-worker was already talking about the long-term disability paperwork. Marcus gestured vaguely with his glass. "I like it where I am. We do good work."
Rodriguez looked at him for a long moment, measuring, and Marcus held her gaze. "People who hurt kids," she finally said. "Hell is too good for them." She briefly raised her glass to Marcus, then tossed it back and signaled for another.
Marcus took a swig of his own drink, and glanced down the table. People were hanging on a story of Nash's. Every chair was full and a few more were pulled up among the rest, with Marcus himself pressed elbow-to-elbow against Mason, and yet Marcus and Rodriguez were in their own conversational pocket, separate from everyone else.
The table roared at Nash's punchline—something about a prosthetic leg—and Marcus finished his drink. "I need to take off," he told Rodriguez. He clapped Mason on the shoulder, said his goodnights, and left.
Not long after, Marcus began declining invitations to drink with Major Crimes.
Joan was not so easily put off, and brought pasta dishes to his new desk with awful regularity. One horrific Thursday spent gathering evidence of neglect in a nursing care facility in Queens, Marcus snapped. "You have to stop this, Joan," he interrupted her, when she cheerily inquired after his occupational therapy. "I appreciate everything you did for me, believe me, I do, but if you're going to drop by to see me, drop by because you want to see me. Don't use me as a way to work through your guilt." He pushed the foil pan back across his desk at her. "And I can't accept this. I can cook just as well with this," he gestured at his bum arm, "as I could before."
Joan blinked once, then twice. Then her eyes narrowed into a hint of a smile. "'Will I be able to play the violin, Doctor?'" she asked.
The corner of Marcus's mouth lifted. "'I was never able to before,'" he confirmed.
Joan nodded at the foil pan sitting between them. "If I take that home again, it'll just end up going to Sherlock. Too much cheese for me."
Marcus snorted, and dragged the dish back toward him. "Then give it here. That bastard doesn't deserve home-baked ziti."
Joan didn't come by the following Thursday, and Marcus tried to tell himself he didn't mind. He had thought they had become friends, but if that was the way of it, it was as well that he knew now.
But then Joan showed up on Monday, her hair high in a ponytail and her lipstick fresh, a brighter shade than she usually wore. "I just closed my first solo case," she announced, her face alight with pride. "Can I take you for a drink to celebrate?"
"Absolutely not." Marcus locked his workstation and pushed back from his desk. "First solo case? I'm buying."
Tucked away on the eighth floor, Marcus didn't cross paths with Holmes himself until the day a red ball kidnapping case requisitioned everyone in Detectives. Gregson brought in Holmes and Watson, of course, and despite the monomaniacal focus Holmes tended to apply to kidnapping cases, Marcus could feel the man's eyes following him at odd moments. Marcus determinedly kept a full room's worth of space between them the first day, but halfway through the next, he decided it was a waste of his energy to spend it on Holmes, and stopped planning his movements based on where Holmes was standing.
Marcus happened to catch Holmes's jerk of surprise when he realized Marcus was no longer actively keeping space between them. His electrified posture, as well as his longing, hopeful look, was unmissable. Marcus returned a flat, unfriendly stare: not willing to spend energy avoiding the man didn't mean bygones were bygones. Joan caught the moment, too, and glancing between the two of them, put a hand to Holmes's elbow to break his attention. Marcus returned his own eyes to the printout of leads he was following up, and tried not to fume at Holmes's presumption.
Two days later, Marcus stepped into an empty conference room for a twenty-minute nap. He had only just shut his eyes when Holmes spoke his name.
Holmes stood stiffly, several paces away, his right hand tucked into his pocket. He looked as exhausted as Marcus felt. "Forgive the intrusion. I have respected your request to leave you be," Holmes said, "but I wish to apologize properly, if you'll permit it."
Marcus groaned. He should have gone back up to the near-deserted eighth floor, but he had wanted to be findable, in case there was a break in the case. He sighed at the ceiling. "Say what you gotta say."
"Thank you. It was unpardonable to delay visiting you for so long, and likewise unpardonable to prioritize the effects of your shooting upon my career, rather than yours." There was clear tension in Holmes's voice. "Additionally, I should have asked you what you wished of me, rather than working my connections to arrange a place for you at another care facility. I have long respected you and your work, and likewise have had a high regard for our—" the man hesitated, "—acquaintanceship." Marcus felt his eyebrows shoot up, and Holmes quickly pushed on. "If I can make amends for any of this, I would appreciate the opportunity to do so, but I know that you owe me nothing in this regard."
The apology was ridiculously formal, and likely rehearsed, but it was also consistent with the man Marcus had known the year before, when he had refused to act without Marcus's leave after Marcus was framed for murder. He had respected that man.
But it had been a long four months, and too many things had changed.
Holmes's eyes flickered to meet his, briefly assessing his reaction, before glancing away again.
Marcus sighed, a fresh wave of exhaustion overtaking him. He leaned back into his chair. "So you've apologized. Now you can go back to fucking off."
There was a long silence. "Of course," Holmes murmured, and left.
"And take your hand out of your pocket!" Marcus shouted after him. "Yours still fucking works!"
Just outside the conference room windows, Holmes froze. For a moment he seemed gripped by indecision: he turned and took a step back to the conference room door, then stopped again. Marcus stood to meet him. Holmes met Marcus's eye through the glass, nodded once in acknowledgement, and deliberately walked away.
Marcus's skin itched. He tried to resettle himself, but the chance of grabbing some shut-eye was long gone. When he finally gave it up and returned to the bullpen, Holmes was nowhere in sight.
Marcus's car gradually filled with stuffed animals. Andre attempted to twit him about it one afternoon when Marcus picked him up from a meeting with his PO. Marcus scooped a plush raccoon from the back seat, shoved it hard into his brother's chest, and told him the story of the girl he had given its twin to.
Andre went ashen. "Did you get the goods on him?" he finally asked. "Put him away?"
"Yeah," Marcus said. "We got him. Six years. Which ain't much, I know."
"Once word gets out, it'll be enough," Andre said with grim satisfaction, and Marcus cut him a narrow-eyed look.
"See here," Andre continued after a long silence, "if you ever get another guy like that, but you can't get the goods on him, I know people—"
"Stop right there."
"No, but a guy like that?" Andre insisted. "You can't let a guy like that walk free."
"No," Marcus said. "We don't let them walk free. Trust me. I do my job, and I do my job right."
Joan continued to stop by Marcus's desk at odd times. He presumed the erratic visits coincided with her and Holmes already being in the building to consult for Gregson, but she didn't volunteer details.
One Saturday morning, while Marcus was dragging his feet about going for a run—working his way back to full mileage had become a demoralizing slog—he impulsively thumbed Joan's name on his contact list.
"Marcus?" she answered.
"I hope I didn't wake you." It was gone ten-thirty, but in the year that he had worked with them, he had learned not to try to predict what hours they kept.
"No, no," she assured him. "Just getting ready to go for a run. But I can skip it if you need a consult." He caught the edge of an abrupt shushing hiss, directed away from the phone.
Marcus sighed. This was a bad idea. Holmes was obviously right there, and that was the thing with Joan, Holmes was always right there, even when he wasn't.
And Marcus was still getting his stamina back. He was going to look like a fool in front of Joan when he couldn't keep up. "Well, appropriately enough, I was calling up on the off-chance that you wanted to go for a run, but on second thought, it's probably a bad idea, I'm only just now getting back my endurance, and I wouldn't want to hold you back—"
"No!" she interrupted. "No, I mean, that would be... good." There was flustered pleasure in her voice. "If one of us wants to go farther than the other, there's nothing to stop whoever from going on longer."
He quirked a smile at her diplomacy. "Okay then," he agreed, and resolved to not disgrace himself in front of her.
Two hours later they ran down to a stop in front of the brownstone, Marcus breathing harder than he would have liked.
"Would you like to come in?" She jerked her thumb over her shoulder at the building behind her, suddenly awkward. "For a smoothie?" She was breathing far more easily than he was.
Marcus cast an eye over the blank windows. No lights, no movement.
"He said he'd be spending the day at the morgue, if that makes a difference."
He cut a quick look at her. Her expression was neutral. "Nah," he said, "I've got another couple of miles before I'm done. Don't want to stiffen up."
She smiled, but there was something regretful around her eyes. "So... I enjoyed that. Wanna do it again next Saturday?"
"Yeah, maybe," he said. He caught a flash of something on her face, and added, "If you don't have a case, that is."
"Or you," she added.
"Or me," he agreed, and then realized they were both grinning dopily at each other. He ducked his head. "Yeah, so. Next Saturday, then." He turned to jog away. "Enjoy your smoothie!"
"Enjoy yours!" she called after him.
He lasted until he just cleared the corner, which was when the combined power of the giggles and a stitch in his side got the better of him. He leaned against a wall until he caught his breath, muttering ow ow ow ow to himself, and then walked the rest of the way back to the L train, smiling all the way.
Spring broke, and it was abruptly far too warm to go running in long sleeves. Marcus's jackets didn't hang quite straight, but he had reasonable confidence that a suit masked his new asymmetry. Unfortunately, try as he might, there was no hiding that asymmetry in a short-sleeved tee. He had managed to salvage a fair amount of muscle mass on his left side—and improved on it through his delts—but there was only so much he could do on the right with a weighted cuff and damaged motor nerves.
Marcus showed up late at Joan's, feeling exposed and vulnerable, and all too conscious that he looked like a fiddler crab.
Joan's eyes flicked lightly over his torso. "I always did like you in that shirt." It was a worn gray v-neck, old enough that he could pass it off as workout gear, but still kinder to the tatters of Marcus's vanity than anything else in his bureau. She probably had seen it once or twice, when it was newer. It had fit him like a glove then.
"Yeah, well. I can't say the sight's what it used to be." It came out with more bitterness than he wanted.
She frowned, and turned away to kick a heel up onto the stone wall fronting the steps. "Look, I know I'm the last person in the world to get an opinion on this."
He walked a few steps further down the wall, kicking up his own heel. "I'd say Holmes was the last person to get an opinion on it, actually."
She was quiet for a moment. "I never said I was sorry for my part in what happened to you."
He huffed. "Don't. That's never been one of the things I wanted from you."
She turned her head to look at him, her gaze assessing, and he cursed himself for having allowed the question of things he might want from Joan to be voiced between them. She abruptly returned her gaze to her knee. Then she straightened and swapped legs. He mirrored her motion.
"You get to have your own opinion, of course," she said, "and this is probably just the surgeon coming out in me."
He turned to look at her. When he was shot, it had been as good as confirmed that she had once been a surgeon, but she never spoke of it.
"But one of the things I learned in Gross Anatomy," she continued, "is that anatomy plates are pretty, but they don't do anything for me. Actual bodies do."
He smirked, unable to resist. "That'd explain a thing or two about you, investigating murders for free."
She laughed. "Not like that, act your age. No, look, actual bodies," she pressed on, "they're never blank. People shape their bodies, their bodies shape them. Sometimes you can read entire histories from them, people have been living in their bodies so long. My Gross Anatomy cadaver—well, all of our cadavers, actually, not just mine, but mine specifically, when we opened her up, she..." She trailed off, frowning at Marcus. "Are you laughing at me?"
He'd been trying to keep it back, but now that she had noticed, he let it loose. "So what you're saying is, I was pretty, but now you want to cut me up with knives."
She opened her mouth, and shut it again, and her cheeks flared with sudden color. Marcus laughed harder. "I am saying," she said with careful dignity, "that I like that shirt."
"No, I distinctly remember you saying that you like me in this shirt."
She blushed harder. "Yes. That, too," she allowed, looking anywhere but him. "Fort Greene Park, or along the river?"
"The river. But only if you promise to tell me about your first crush, the gross anatomy cadaver."
"The park, then," she said, but she wasn't really angry.
"The river," he cajoled. "C'mon, I want to hear about your cadaver. And if you want, I'll tell you about the disaster that was my first hostage scenario at the Academy."
She cut him a look, but turned toward the river. Seven miles later, they still hadn't gotten around to talking about the Academy.
Marcus and Joan weren't dating, precisely. They got together for drinks sometimes, and they still met regularly for runs. He went as her plus-one to her brother's wedding. But he could hear the spaces in the things she talked about—spaces by the name of Holmes—and those spaces prevented them from tipping over the line.
"Tell me what you and Holmes have been up to," he asked one evening, over drinks.
Her ponytail swung with the speed at which she turned her head to look at him.
"Try to leave out the lawbreaking parts, if you can," he added. "We may be friends, but I'm still a sworn officer of the law."
She smiled suddenly. "Well, it's not me and Sherlock, exactly," she confided, and then proceeded to tell him about a trunk of cold cases that Holmes had handed over to her, and the case that she was working on at the moment: the murder of a set of English siblings named Tarleton.
"How the hell do you do follow up on anything, at that distance?"
She grinned. "I met a detective sergeant at Scotland Yard when we were there. She and Sherlock hate each other, but she likes me fine. She doesn't seem to mind chasing down potential leads, if it means maybe closing a case that Sherlock didn't."
He frowned at her. "Do you two do this bad-consultant, good-consultant thing on purpose?" She laughed. "So tell me about this case."
At the end of the evening Marcus attempted to help her into her coat. He didn't make too much of a hash of it, he was proud to say, although that was more by Joan's grace than his own dexterity.
When he got home that evening, he practiced alone in his foyer, using his own coat as a prop. The next day, just before his lunch break, Joan stopped by with the Tarleton photos.
"You thinking of taking the sergeant's test?" Julia asked him, as they drove back to the station.
Startled, Marcus turned to look at her. "I thought we were speculating about who my new partner is going to be when you retire."
She shrugged. "And now we're talking about whether you're taking the sergeant's test. You should, you know. You're smart enough."
Marcus grimaced and shook his head. "Yeah, that's not gonna work. Not with this." He gestured at his right arm.
She glanced at it. "Because you can't do the job? Or because they say you can't? If it's the latter, you should take the test, then make them prove their case. Don't just hand it to them."
He frowned at her. "You don't know how it is."
"Don't I?" she asked. It took a moment to click: he often forgot she had been one of the first out lesbians in the Department.
"No," he insisted, "you don't."
She shrugged. "You're probably right."
He watched the street roll by for a minute. "Yeah," he finally said, "it's been a rough year. I'm not sure I wanna face that just yet."
She nodded. "That's fair. But I've got Wendy's study materials in the back, from when she took it."
Marcus laughed. "You're not pushy at all, are you?"
"I can think of worse ways to spend my last month," she said, as phlegmatic as ever. "And it's better than a damn watch, anyway."
When the elevator doors slid open a week later to reveal a startled Holmes already inside, Marcus was almost okay with it. Holmes awkwardly shuffled to one side while Marcus nodded a noncommittal greeting and punched the button for the basement garage.
Holmes drummed his hand against his thigh. "I am aware that you and Watson," Holmes said to the doors, "have been seeing each other of late. Not seriously, of course, not while—" and the man gestured awkwardly between them, "—but still, she has been—" he writhed with a moment's discomfort, "happy." Marcus pushed back the impulse to laugh at him. "I have already assured her that I can and will make myself absent if you two wish to spend time at the brownstone, but I wanted to extend that offer to you as well, if she has not already."
The elevator dinged to a stop and the doors slid open. Holmes hissed in annoyance and reached across Marcus for the button panel, then froze with a guilty glance at him.
Marcus waved him on, bemused. "Go ahead, we can finish this conversation. Yes, I've been seeing Joan. Yes, we can hang a sock on the door if we want you to clear out."
Holmes hit the close-doors button and they waited a painfully long few seconds before the doors slid shut and the elevator once more began to sink.
Holmes turned to face him. "I wish to make peace between us, however so much we can. For Watson's sake, if not our own: I am aware that I have not earned it."
Marcus gave Holmes a measured look. "I haven't given you the opportunity, you mean."
"I am well aware that I had opportunities, back when you were first injured, and I squandered them." He hesitated. "I wish to point out that I have respected your desires that I stay away, and I am speaking to you now only for Watson's sake."
The elevator doors slid open on the garage. "I could tell you that next time you're taking the bullet." Holmes winced, and Marcus continued, "But you've already been shot, and I don't wanna establish a pattern of taking turns—"
"—because it would be Watson's turn next," Holmes interrupted smoothly. He bounced once on his toes. "It's an absolutely terrible idea, agreed."
Marcus shook his head, nearly amused to so quickly be back on old ground. Holmes looked hopeful. The doors slid shut.
Marcus made a decision, and pushed the button for the eighth floor. "I've got a case that's been giving me trouble. I was going to ask Joan to look it over, but seeing as you're here..."
"I would be honored."
Marcus gave him a dark look. "Just so long as you remember that we've been putting away abusers long, long before you came on the scene." Holmes solemnly nodded his agreement.
Marcus pulled out his phone.
"Are you texting Watson? Tell her I might be late to the brownstone for dinner tonight."
"She's not expecting you for dinner tonight, you self-absorbed asshole." Going to be late for drinks, he thumbed, still hope to make it to dinner. Asking your partner for a consult on the Sutherland case, hope you don't mind.
Holmes bounced again in satisfaction. "She won't mind. She'll mind even less if you ask her to come play, too."
Marcus shook his head. "Nope. This one is for you to show me that you know how to behave."
When Joan's reply came back, Holmes was at Marcus's desk, paging through the case file.
Need a buffer?
Holmes glanced up, then tapped a line on the page he was looking at. "Tell Watson you can still make it to dinner," he said, and turned the file so Marcus could see.
I'm good, Marcus thumbed back. See you in an hour.