## Puzzle

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I can tell right away that something's wrong just in the way that he says the words, and how he walks out, quickly, as if he wanted to get away from us all. Rounds, he says. Yeah, right. While everyone else is talking about letting Elmer rest, I slip out of the room and start walking down the hall.

I don't see anyone there, and no swirling white coats in the next hallway I turn down, either. However, I haven't known Mark for three years without figuring out where some of his hiding places are.

I open the door to a tiny combination office/lab tucked away in a corner. There's a blond head bent over one side of the desk. I watch him for a moment, since he apparently hadn't heard the door open; there are papers scattered across the surface of the desk, and he has a pen in his hand, but nothing is going on. It looks like he's trying to bore a hole into the desk with his gaze.

He looks up, surprised to see someone here, although not surprised that it's me. "I do," he tries to cover. "I was just...just catching up on some paperwork."

Oh, yeah. I see you getting real far without ever touching pen to paper, I think teasingly. I move around the edge of the desk, closer to him, and sit down on the stool beside his. "What's wrong?"

I put my hand on his shoulder, a comforting gesture that I think nothing of at that moment, and when he doesn't answer, continue, "Is it Elmer?" That must be it. That's the only thing he could be taking this badly. "I know this was scary, but he's alive. *You*--"

"I didn't save him. I couldn't," he interrupts. Uh-oh, self-confidence is slipping, this could be bad...

"You performed CPR when everyone else had given up," I encourage him. That's what the other doctors said, anyway.

"Elmer regained a pulse after a power surge. It was a fluke. It was a miracle, an act of God, maybe one by Elmer; look, it wasn't me," he rattles off, then stands and abruptly shuffles his papers into a folder and slams them back down on the desk, knocking a glass onto the floor as he does so. Whoa whoa whoa, something is *majorly* wrong here.

"Mark..." He should know that tone by now. It's my "I know something's bothering you, so spill it now" tone, and he knows better than to ignore it.

Finally, he speaks. "I gave every ounce of myself, but I couldn't make a connection." Wait a second. Is he saying... "It just didn't feel the same."

His ability is gone. Just like that, he's gotten what he wanted...poof, it's gone? He doesn't seem happy about it, though...

"The worst thing is that I've been lying to myself. All this time, as much as I've wanted to give up this ability, I'd feel useless without it." I'm sure I look like an imbecile, standing here dumbstruck, trying to understand. I know the disappointment of getting what you want and finding out that it's not so great, but Mark's ability always seemed to cause him greater pain than joy. Of course, I also know the feeling of uselessness...

I can't look at his sad puppy expression anymore. Glass objects be damned, I hold out my arms for a hug. "C'mere." We each take a step toward the other and meet in the middle. I wrap my arms around his neck, pulling him closer to me, letting my head rest on his shoulder. I run the fingers of one hand lightly through his hair, loosing myself in an attempt to comfort him.

Only I can't hear the sound of shattering glass.

We pull apart, Mark's expression having lightened somewhat from thunderstorm to rainy day. "Did you notice that?" I ask urgently. Could this be...?

"I didn't see anything," he replies, tracking my gaze to the clear glass flasks on the rack beside us.

"Exactly." I look back at him. "Nothing broke...when we hugged."

Realization hits him. He looks at our hands, inches apart on the desktop, and now it's my turn to follow his eyes. The scientist in him has to make sure that it's not a fluke, and after such a long time spent trying to overcome this, I can't blame him.

He covers my hand with his.

It's not a fluke. Nothing's breaking now, either.

I turn my head back to meet Mark's eyes and the light suffusing his face. It's as if all thoughts of what he has lost have vanished in light of what we've apparently gained. Not that I can think of much else, either...

A moment passes, and mutually we close the final distance between us, lips touching lips hesitantly as if for the first time, though we have, on rare occasions, done this before. The kiss is sweet, like the delicacy of a rose petal captured in feeling, with the promise of more, later, behind it. Our hands are still joined, and I squeeze his in reflexive joy. His answering grasp brings a smile to my lips that I know he can feel on his.

This is right. It feels perfect, like the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle put into place. It's like forever and a microsecond all rolled into one.

Slowly, reluctantly, we pull apart. Mark's eyes are dark with desire, and I'm sure mine are the same. Are words needed at a time like this?

He's grinning. "I wonder if there's a way to thank whatever power gave us this."

I put my hand behind his head and push his forehead down to meet mine. "If there isn't," I say, another grin slowly growing over my face, "then I think the knowledge that the gift is...much appreciated...should be enough." I kiss him again on the tip of his nose; laughing softly, he takes my mouth as a willing prisoner.

My deepest desire materialized in front of me, around me, within me. If life is a puzzle, I just fit in another piece.