It’s 2018 and the universe gifts him another Pulitzer. Anyone who wins a Pulitzer will tell you how unexpected it is, how they never dreamed that they would ever win one, how undeserved it feels. It’s all a con. Mark has never met a reporter who doesn’t feel like a Pulitzer is inevitable, the foregone conclusion to their reporting journey. He counts himself among those kinds of reporters, though he likes to think he’s grown out of it. He’s not in his early thirties anymore, after all, he’s not nearly as self assured in his own greatness as he once was. But still.
“The fucking Pulitzers.” Rosenberg’s still staring at his phone like he can’t quite believe it. It’s a pretty even divide between those who are first timers on their team, and those who’ve been there and done that. Which mostly amounts to Mark and Matt and Adam trying to contain their excitement and be cool about it, and Maggie and Mike and Rosenberg being over the moon.
Well, Rosenberg is over the moon, in his gruff way. Mike managed to win two Prizes in one go, because he’s just that good, that brilliant, and has spent the entire time since he figured that out looking like he has no clue what to do with himself about the whole situation. And Maggie just doesn’t do “over the moon”, as a rule of thumb. She doesn’t really do “excited” all that much. But Mark is doing it on their behalf, and a bit for himself because, come on. It’s like Rosenberg said. The fucking Pulitzer Prizes.
“We should probably all start updating our Wikipedia pages,” Adam jokes. “For example: Adam Goldman is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and also an absolute stud muffin.”
“Don’t ever call yourself a stud muffin.” That’s Maggie, who hasn’t looked up from her phone once and doesn’t seem inclined to do so, especially for Adam.
“I have a Wikipedia page?” And that’s Mike, who glances to Maggie instinctively as if she’ll magically have the answer to every question he’ll ever ask. Which Mark can understand. It’s Maggie, she’s brilliant and she knows everything and she is just. So very Maggie.
“You didn’t know you had an entire Wikipedia page?” Matt asks. Mike shakes his head, and Matt decides that a very overly dramatic eye roll is in order. Mike grabs a pencil and hurls it at Matt’s head. The fact that it simultaneously sails over Maggie and Rosenberg and actually makes contact with Matt is almost impressive. But Matt looks like he’s gearing up to retaliate and Mark makes the executive decision to step in before someone spills their coffee and the entire ecosystem breaks down.
“All right kids,” he says, putting a hand on Mike’s arm. “Just enjoy your Pulitzers prize in peace.”
“That’s alliterative,” Maggie jokes, looking up from her phone for the first time in fifteen minutes. “Did you come up with that one just now?”
“Right off the top of my head.” She smiles. As is often the case, it makes something warm unfurl in Mark’s chest. “Are you going to enjoy your Pulitzer Prize in peace?”
“I will enjoy it the same way my father enjoyed his.” She’s back to texting. “Quietly, and without a lot of fanfare.” It’s an on brand thing for her to say, and based on his personal experience, it’s exactly what her father did.
It’s 2009 and Mark Mazzetti wins his first Pulitzer. His mother promptly bursts into tears when he calls to tell her, which makes Mark feel a bit choked up too. Screw him, he’ll be a mommy’s boy until he’s old and grey, even if she does harangue him about marriage and grandkids on occasion.
Mark’s in New York City for the team celebration, which just feels ridiculous. The vast majority of their work is in DC, they won a story involving the fucking Pentagon. But the Times won another team Pulitzer for reporting on the Spitzer scandal, and given that New York is where the main hub of the paper is, they’re all apparently meant to be there.
Mark doesn’t mind. He has fond memories of the city, of his time there back in high school. It’s just that he doesn’t really know any of the other Times people that have won Pulitzers beyond the fact that their thing was domestic. He doesn’t think he’s ever met any of them.
“You know,” Jane says, leaning an arm on his shoulder. “You could always go over and talk to some people, instead of cowering in the corner.”
“I am not cowering ,” Mark says. “If you want to talk about the times I’ve been even more antisocial than this, just ask my mother.”
“You mean to tell me that you obsessively checking your BlackBerry every few seconds is not the pinnacle of your people avoidance?” He and Jane do this thing, this lighthearted teasing that borders on flirtatious without ever even toeing over the line, mostly because Mark knows he’s not bad looking and he hasn’t yet been able to figure out whether or not he sees Jane as maternal or as a MILF. That’s the word for it, right? Mark doesn’t like it, he finds it weird.
“I used to find the quietest place and literally read a book at social events,” he admits. Jane barks out a startled sound that might almost be a laugh. “I’m serious. An old girlfriend used to rib me about it.” It hurts less now, when the image comes, her rolling her dark eyes, a smile playing on her lips.
“I can believe it,” Jane says, shaking her head. “Both the reading and the girlfriend who made fun of you for it.” There must be something in his face, because she grabs him high on his arm before he can slink off and see if Kate wants to accompany him to any of the receptions people will be hosting at their houses.
“You’re going to make at least one friend, kid, before you hole yourself back up in DC with your torture tapes and your charts.” Mark wants to protest that he doesn’t always hole himself up with work, but Jane’s already waving over someone she knows, someone named Clyde. He’s older, this Clyde, tall and thin, wiry is the word that comes to mind. When he gets closer, Mark can see the eyes peering at him from behind small glasses.
They’re so dark. He’s not sure why he’s focused on that.
“Clyde, meet Mark,” Jane says. Mark offers his hand, and Clyde shakes it. He has a surprisingly strong grip. “Mark, this is Clyde. We used to work together at the New York Post before he moved on to bigger and better things over here.”
“Don’t knock the Post ,” Clyde says with a smile. “My baby girl still works there.” Jane rolls her eyes. Mark can guess that Clyde Insert-Last-Name-Here has a tendency to talk about his daughter a lot.
“You two are both men with Pulitzers,” Jane says, clapping her hands together smartly. “You should talk.” And then she leaves. Clyde What's-His-Name pushes his glasses up his nose.
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr…”
“Mazzetti,” Mark adds hastily. He’s not sure why he feels the need to snap to attention as much as he does. Maybe it’s just something about Clyde. Maybe it’s because Jane likes him, and Mark has come to treat Jane’s word as gospel and her endorsement as a character witness to anyone else. “Sir.”
“Oh, no sir .” Clyde waves a bothered hand. “ Sir is for my son in law only. Clyde is perfectly all right.” Mark smiles.
He’s a nice guy, this Clyde. He has that kindly old man feel that reminds Mark of his grandfather and being a small boy in the suburbs. And he’s funny, engaging, and if he’s got one more friendly acquaintance at the paper, even if it’s someone living in New York, he’ll find Jane and thank her for the introduction.
He doesn’t catch Clyde’s last name before Bill Keller starts his speeches and they drift back to their respective teams.
It’s 2018 and Mark tries not to rely on old information too much. He is well aware that the Maggie he knows now is not the Maggie he dated as a teenager. It’s been thirty years since he met her; things have changed for them both. He can’t call on his memories of lazy afternoons in Central Park when she’s gnawing on her thumbnail, frowning at her laptop. He can’t think of the times he clambered from the fire escape through her window when she’s bitching into her phone about an irritating source.
And yet, Mark has this breadth of knowledge about her, that comes when you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a decent length of time. He has a similar reservoir about Lindsay, about Mike Schmidt, about a professor at Oxford, about a select few other significant relationships that tapered out throughout his life, to his mother’s eternal frustration until he finally settled down.
This means that he knows things, like how her brow furrows when she’s concentrating hard, or that she has a tendency to twirl a pen between her fingers when she’s thinking and needs something to preoccupy her hands. He knows that when Maggie leans her whole body towards someone, even just to listen to them talk, she’s comfortable.
And that when her back is ramrod straight, her shoulders tense and tight when Dean Baquet brushes past her, that means she’s not comfortable. Mark also notices as he walks over that she’s glaring daggers at his back, a muscle working in her jaw.
“Everything all right?” he asks, moving next to her. She glances at him for a moment, still looking wound up.
“Call it Pulitzer nerves,” she says tightly. Mark does not want to call it Pulitzer nerves. It doesn’t look like nerves to him, it looks the way he felt when his Sunday School teacher first told him about the concept of damnation, an uncomfortable crawling feeling all over the skin. Not nerves.
“Do you want me to?” Maggie’s response is to arch her eyebrow, the way she’s started doing when he asks her questions in that similar vein over the last couple of months. It’s a recent habit of her’s, this dry skepticism whenever Mark tries to gauge her state of being, and it always leaves him feeling strange and almost twitchy inside his body. It’s peculiar in the worst way, Maggie’s seeming ridicule that anyone would want to take her own feelings and thoughts into account. Like an off chord has been left hanging in the air with no one and nothing to balance it out.
It seems like she might open her mouth to give him an answer before her phone makes another ping, making her shake her head with a small sigh and something that might pass for a smile. Mark focuses on that.
“What’s going on?”
“My son is insistent that we let him stay up late for this, even though it's a school night and he has a bedtime.” Maggie glances back down at her phone, typing furiously. Mark would guess her answer is a no.
“I mean, your children are young. I assume they're not truants.”
“Like I was?” Mark flushes.
“No, I wasn't.” He's stammering like he's fifteen, and Maggie's already smiling. It's the no harm done smile, but there's a false note to it that makes Mark feel off, somehow. “Sorry.” This entire conversation feels off. Like a chair with one leg that’s too short, wobbling and off kilter and uncomfortable in the way that builds and builds until it becomes unbearable.
“Stop worrying so much, Joseph,” she says, and her arm makes a bizarre little spasm. As if she wants to reach out and up and touch him, but is halted at the last minute. “Just enjoy your day.” And with that, she walks off. Mark stares at her back and thinks that he should be used to view by now.
It’s 2009 and one of the members of the Spitzer team has an entire penthouse apartment, large enough to hold every Times journalist that’s won a Pulitzer today, and their families. Mark feels like the only person who didn’t bring an entire brigade of people with him, but he makes pleasant conversation with his own teammates and their families and avoids stepping on any of the small children running about.
The Spitzer team is pleasant enough as well, even beyond Clyde. Or perhaps he’s feeling particularly magnanimous due to his Pulitzer win. Maybe it’ll take him another year before he can think badly about anything ever again, even as Kate breaks away from Jane and siddles up next to him, which generally means she’s got something to nitpick him on. Mark’s feeling magnanimous about that too.
“I didn’t know you knew Clyde Haberman,” she says casually, tilting her head in his direction. Mark opens his mouth to say no he doesn’t, Jane introduced them on a whim, but he’d been fairly pleasant to talk to and seemed sharp enough, but the name Haberman prods at something in his mind, almost painfully. He says nothing, just turns his head.
Clyde is talking to a dark haired young woman and it takes Mark a few minutes before he remembers that the man had said that he had a daughter, working at the Post . Mark also remembers a high school girlfriend who was never around during the summer months to go visit her Times reporter of a father off in foreign lands.
Oh fuck. Oh fuck .
Hopefully he’s gotten better at his ability to try and control the way his emotions read on his face, or Kate might think he’s lost his mind. And Mark will have to explain that, while he was at Regis, he’d met a girl. And she’d been whip smart, she’d been beautiful, she’d been funny and kind and sardonic, she’d loved movies and she’d loved writing stories down on a moment’s notice in a notebook she’d carried everywhere, she’d had a gorgeous singing voice and a little brother, she’d been his first time and his first love and he had loved her so much before she’d ended things.
Her name had been Maggie Haberman, and she’d had dark eyes. Like her father.
Kate might have left, given that Mark has no idea what to do or say or think, and Clyde touches his daughter’s arm and leaves. She turns and watches him go, a small smile playing on her lips, before her eyes pass over the room and light on him, and then everything in her face goes slack with surprise. Mark knows the feeling.
“Mark?” He manages to snap himself out of his drooling reverie and remember to act like a normal human, lest he end up with an ex out and about thinking she wasted three years of her life on a crazy person.
“Maggie!” Maggie, short for Marjorie, middle name Lindsy. He remembers that too, even when she moves towards him and pulls him into a friendly, if surprised hug, and his brain threatens to short circuit again. “How are you?” She pulls away from him with a smile, and he can see the glint of a diamond ring on her finger when she brushes hair back from her face.
It's been a grand total of thirty seconds but there's already something chiming in his head, something he didn't know was languishing there until right now, and it bangs like the strike of a clock: you're too late . Which makes him feel like an absolutely terrible person, because it’s not as if he’d looked for her after high school, and it’s been well over a decade at this point. Maggie was allowed to move on to someone new after she dumped him, she was allowed to get married. He doesn’t have the right to feel disappointed.
“I’m good,” Maggie says. “I’m just here for my dad, I didn’t know you’d show up too. Not that I’m not glad,” she adds hastily, as if she’s worried about offending him. “It’s wonderful to see you, just.”
“Unexpected?” he offers. Her laugh is a short, quick sound and Mark is unsure whether that means she’s at ease or uncomfortable.
It’s a bit of a shock to his system to realize that he doesn’t know her anymore.
“A good unexpected,” Maggie adds, and makes a move like she wants to touch his arm. Mark isn’t sure whether he wants her to, when he hadn’t even known he missed her until a minute ago, when the hand that would touch him is adorned with the symbol of someone else’s love. But she doesn’t, just twists her fingers together, awkward in a way that he’s never really known.
Mark knows smooth Maggie, leather jacket wearing Maggie, burgeoning chain smoker Maggie, constantly willing to snap at people Maggie, scrawling in notebooks Maggie. This is a new Maggie.
“Very good unexpected,” Mark blurts out, and he cannot read the look in her eyes. It feels a bit tense.
“Oh!” It’s Clyde who breaks the tension, sliding back into the conversation and putting an arm around his daughter’s shoulders. It’s the first time Mark’s ever really seen them together, up close, and it’s the first time he’s seen Maggie ever really glow happily like this. “You two have already met.” Mark coughs awkwardly, and Maggie pushes her hair back again, ducking her head. “What?”
“Ah, Dad, you remember my high school boyfriend Mark that I told you about?” He has a split second to think about the fact that Maggie considered him important enough to mention on the other side of the Atlantic, before Clyde's eyes widen almost comically.
“ This is your Jesuit boy?” Maggie bursts out laughing, and Mark realizes two things: that she looks a lot like her father when she smiles, and that he'd forgotten what a nice laugh she had.
“Mark, I promise, when I talked about you, you had a name,” Maggie says.
“Oh, I believe you.” A part of his brain is still stuck on the fact that she had deigned him worthy to talk about with her father. They’d only been dating for a month before it became abundantly clear that Maggie held him in almost ridiculously high esteem, sought his praise and approval and affection and love with more determination than anything else in her life. And that she missed him terribly whenever he was away. “I’m also certain the Jesuit bit stands out more.” Clyde nods, and Maggie still looks like she’s stifling giggles.
“It’s been lovely to finally meet you then,” Clyde tells him, extending his hand for another handshake. Mark does shake it, and wants to say more, wants to tell him that he’d really tried to treat his daughter right, as best he could as a teenage boy, that Maggie had talked about him too, that he’d admired him long before ever meeting him.
But before he can open his mouth to spew nonsense, Kate’s standing with Erick and his family, and catches Mark’s eye to wave him over. He’s unsure of whether or not he wants to, but the Habermans seem to catch notice.
“We’re keeping you too long, clearly,” Clyde says before Mark can protest. “It’s been a pleasure.”
“Likewise,” Mark says, shaking Clyde’s hand once more before turning to Maggie and, impulsively, bending down to press a kiss to her cheek. He wonders if he imagines the way she leans into it, into him. “It was wonderful to see you again, Maggie.” She nods wordlessly. As he leaves, he can feel her eyes trained on his back, two white hot pinpricks straight into his heart.
It’s 2018 and if Mark thought Bill Keller’s speeches were too long the first time he’d done this, he had nothing on Dean Baquet and this year’s crop of winners.
For one, there seems to be nothing on God’s glorious Earth Dean loves more than to hear the sound of his own voice, except making money. It’s easier to deal with when Mark’s just one of several people on a conference call, and he can do his own thing and chime in with the occasional “uh huh” while Dean drones on and on and everyone not so subtly wants to shoot themselves in the head. He’s shared many a commiserating look with Mike, who’s developed a dry habit of timing Dean on his Apple Watch the moment anything he says passes the five minute mark, his signature scowl all the more pronounced when he knows no one in leadership will call him out on it. It always makes Mark cough his laughter into his elbow, nigh without fail.
Unfortunately, Mike’s been corralled into a different sect, with Emily Steele and Jodi Kantor and everyone else who helped shed light on the unspeakable this past year. Rosenberg too has removed himself from their habitual circle, mostly to keep his daughters entertained as Dean mercifully hands off to one of the other editors. Mark claps politely, he assumes Mike does too, they all do even if they’re tired of the man. The only two who don’t are Adam, who seems to be determinedly dry scrubbing some kind of a stain off of his button down, without much success, and Maggie, who holds her phone in one hand and takes a long, purposeful drink of her latte with the other.
There’s no love lost for Dean Baquet, on her end.
Maybe Mark understands it. Or maybe he doesn’t. There’s something about the storm of what seems to be hatred Maggie holds for their editor that he finds too raw, too intense for him to try and insert himself into. He doesn’t think he’ll be welcomed.
“Would you mind?” It’s Maggie, standing at his elbow, holding out the coffee and trying to fidget one of the hair ties on her wrist off with a hand still clinging to her phone.
“Of course,” and without hesitation, Mark takes it from her, offers his hand out for her omnipresent phone too. She lets him take that too, and quickly scrapes her hair into a ponytail as Mark tries, tries so fucking hard not to stare . At the movements of her fingers. At the line of her jaw. And the curve of her throat. He’s getting an odd sense of déjà vu, given the amount of times he’d found himself in this exact situation when they were dating. Maggie always had something in her hands to hinder her, and Mark would happily hold them whenever she needed while she did whatever it was she had to do.
He has a crystal clear memory of him delicately holding a sandwich bagel while she lobbed a pencil at some boy’s head from her school. It had been funny to watch it make contact.
Maggie takes her stuff back and drains the rest of her coffee in one go, and brushes past him on accident when she moves to toss it, which results in her taking some odd half skittish step away from him, and looking uncomfortable right after she does it.
“Sorry,” she tells him, half mumbling, yet before Mark can even say anything, ask her anything, her phone vibrates in her hand and Maggie goes back to tapping away on it like nothing happened, moves on like nothing happened. Part of Mark wants to follow suit, ignore Maggie shying away from him, from everyone really, all day, if he thinks about it, but there’s another part that wants to ask what’s wrong. Just to see if there’s something he can do, a way he can help. She probably won’t take kindly to it though, and as the speeches drone on and on, Mark just makes sure to keep one eye on her and one on the rest of the world.
“The grind never stops,” Rosenberg says an indeterminate amount of time later, sidling up next to Mark, phone in hand. Someone else is talking about something, he’s not entirely sure what, he hasn’t been paying that much attention.
“God, you’re a disaster.” Mark won’t take offense to that, because they’re having a good day. “Here, just look at this.” He takes the phone, reads the tip, and feels the pressure of a stress migraine immediately start to build along his temples. Ideally, they’d have their one day, all of them, to relax and enjoy accolades, but Mark has learned over years and years of a career in journalism that things rarely go the ideal way.
“OK, I’ll schedule some kind of story meeting,” he mumbles, pulling out his phone. “Send that to me and Maggie?”
“What are we sending to Maggie?” He’s been so hyper aware of her presence near him this entire time, but still, hearing her talk, right by his elbow, it almost makes him jump out of his skin. But she’s off her phone for the first time in ages, and just staring up at him with a neutral curiosity, all big brown eyes, and Mark hopes whatever bizarre antsiness she’s been grappling with all day has finally passed her by.
“We’ve got a news to do,” Rosenberg cuts in, shifting around so that he’s on Maggie’s other side, just as Mark’s phone finally buzzes with his text. Maggie gets it too, glances down at her cell and grimaces in that way she does whenever she feels inconvenienced by their job.
That’s another new Maggie quirk he’d learned as her colleague, rather than her boyfriend.
“So, what exactly do we have to do?” she asks, still looking at the screen. Mark’s making mental calculations in his head, trying to figure out when the timeline might allow them to publish, how long it would take them to write it, whether or not they should even try for a story meeting tomorrow when half of the team will definitely be some kind of hungover from the celebration.
“What does your schedule look like tomorrow for some sort of pow wow session with everyone else about this?” Maggie shrugs.
“It’ll likely be manageable,” she says, and Mark nods. “I just might have to move some things around to make it less hectic.” His finger brushes against her’s as they talk, and Maggie immediately jerks her hand away, almost cringing, like he pricked her with a pin, or stubbed out a cigarette on her skin. It’s quick and abrupt, and for the life of him, Mark can’t read the look in her eyes. But he makes sure to keep his hands to himself, physically holds his fingers back just in case, and Maggie looks away.
He remembers the first time they kissed. Not the first time in this version of themselves, late at the office and with the smell of work perfume on her skin and a crush of dull pain in the back of his throat that he knew, just knew, was her's, not his. No, the very first time.
When he'd held her hand as they'd walked home and he'd asked for permission and brushed a stray curl out from her face and pressed his lips to her's, soft and dry and so, so careful. He remembers how much he'd wanted to get it right, this kiss with this girl, and how she'd been smiling when they pulled away, tracing a finger up his arm. She hadn’t flinched away from his touch then.
But if there’s one thing Mark has learned in these past couple of years, it’s that nothing is now the way it was then. For anything.
It’s 2009 and Mark is so much more aware of the space he’s occupying than he was a mere hour ago. Before he’d just been a party he wasn’t entirely on board with, but one he could enjoy nonetheless.
Now Maggie’s here. Maggie, his Maggie, the Maggie who’d dominated his time in New York City with her love and her vivaciousness and how much he’d cared for her, the Maggie who’d left him for Trinity and never looked back. It’s always been a rush of emotions, to look back on that relationship, and now they’re in the same room together. It brings some odd feelings bubbling up in his chest, some element of longing and nostalgia and care he can’t entirely place. Even though he has no right to long, not when they haven’t even been together in many years.
In the logical part of his brain, Mark knows that it’s already a high strung night for him, with the Prizes and one of his more serious exes showing up seemingly out of the blue, that it’s more nostalgia than anything, but the logical part of his brain isn’t really working at the moment. Which isn’t fair, he knows.
Mark watches Maggie across the room, watches her talk to some of the New York Times brass he’d never dare approach but she can because her father is just to the left of legendary, and knows it’s not fair to let nostalgia shove into what it is, ultimately, a chance encounter with an old flame from more than a decade ago. Maggie’s a new person. He’s a new person. He might as well treat this like a new meeting with a stranger, someone he didn’t once-
It’s a kid that breaks his reverie, a dark haired toddler careening around the room, nearly crashing into Mark’s legs and sending him sprawling.
“ Max! ” A bespectacled man coming over, stern in that way only a parent can be, has dark hair as well, which is enough for Mark to put two and two together. “Sorry,” he says, putting a hand on the little boy’s shoulder. “He’s staying up past his bedtime and it’s making him loopy.” Mark shakes his head, drains the rest of his champagne glass so that, should another child attempt to bowl him over, there won’t be anything to spill.
“It’s no problem at all,” he says. Like muscle memory at this point, he extends his hand, shakes quickly and firmly. “Mark Mazzetti.”
“Dareh Gregorian.” He smiles down at the boy. “And this, in case you couldn’t guess, is Max.” Max grins, and Mark crouches down and takes the little hand held out to him. There’s no way he’s older than four years old, and that same place between two ribs aches as it always does whenever Mark is around young children.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Max,” he says solemnly, as if he were meeting the President. “How old are you?”
“Three.” Three year old Max peers at him. “Did you win a Prize?” Above them, Dareh Gregorian appears to groan at his son’s lack of tact. Mark doesn’t mind.
“Yes, I did,” he answers. “Did you?” Max giggles and shakes his head, then immediately ducks away as Dareh Gregorian musses with his hair.
“No, my Papa did.” Mark looks up at Dareh, who shakes his head.
“Not me, I’m with the Daily News ,” he says quickly. Mark finds it almost humorous that there’s such a presence of current and former New York tabloid alumns here tonight. “My father in law won one, and he’s Papa to this little demon,” Dareh messes Max’s hair again, and sighs as the kid sprints away back into the crowd, “who refuses to listen to a thing I say.”
“Kids are like that,” Mark says as he stands back up. “So I’ve heard.”
“None of your own?” Mark shakes his head. “We were in the same boat for three years, and then the rugrat came along.” Dareh shakes his hand, clearly tired and just as clearly fond. Mark has to wonder what it’s like, to love something that much.
“Just a son?” he asks.
“We also have a baby girl to balance this one out.” Ah. “She just got a bit fussy, and her grandpa took her so that I could focus on our son and my wife could talk to some family friends.” Something makes a distant thud, and both Dareh and Mark wince simultaneously, Dareh with apology and Mark with sympathy. “And that’s my cue,” he says as Mark nods in understanding. “It was nice to meet you, Mr. Mazzetti.”
“Likewise.” And Dareh is off, just as Mark remembers that he’d sat in on a history lecture taught by a Vartan Gregorian, and was there any relation? It’s why he’s looking at the man when he stops over by Maggie, puts a hand on the small of her back and leans down to whisper something in her ear, something she’s clearly receptive to, given the way she leans into the touch, and then arches up to press her lips to his, quick and brief.
It’s not nostalgia Mark feels here, it’s something else, almost like jealousy. Sure Dareh Gregorian works at a tabloid and Mark is employed by one of the world’s most prestigious newspapers, a job that landed him a Pulitzer freaking Prize, but Dareh Gregorian is married to Maggie and they have children . And once again, for an entirely different reason, Mark is again thinking about how it’s just not fair.
It’s 2018 and it’s Mark who breaks off from the group to go over to Mike’s section and tell him that they’ve got a story meeting the next day, on the off chance he hasn’t checked his phone. He hasn’t, of course, because it is dead as it always is, which is why Mark had his omnipresent portable charger on standby in case Mike needed it. He often needs it. Mark doesn’t mind that, doesn’t mind Mike’s antics and the way it stirs a warm spot in his chest to watch him fumble with his phone out of his pocket and write down the time they’re all supposed to be at the office on his palm, of all things, using Mark’s pen. It’s sweet and good, and it provides a distraction from the look on Maggie’s face when he’d touched her hand earlier.
Mark doesn’t want to think about it, because the only word that comes to mind is “affronted”. She was “affronted” at his touch. But even that doesn’t seem quite right, because Maggie wasn’t offended she was in contact with him, or disgusted. Just as if she didn’t expect it at all, and definitely didn’t want it. Even though, later, when he’d been going over his speech and Elisabeth’s, he’d felt her chin on his shoulder, despite the fact that there’s no way that would be possible if she weren’t standing on the tips of her toes to lean over his shoulder and look at what he was doing. That was definitely deliberate, just as her reaction earlier had been instinctual, both equally as confounding. It’s the why of it all that’s been tickling at the back of Mark’s mind ever since, even when talking to Mike.
“If it’s going to be at nine in the morning, someone’s going to be bringing donuts, right?” Mike asks, squinting down at his hand. Mark laughs and passes a hand through the other man’s hair. Thankfully, there are no cameras pointed towards this side of the room that could catch him doing it.
“Michael, I promise, I will bring donuts whether or not anyone else does either. And a box of coffee.” Mike beams even as Emily tugs at his arm to whisper in his ear, which Mark graciously takes as his cue to go back over to the stairs and pretend that he’s emotionally invested whatever speech is about to be given, when all he’s trying to do is figure out how to not stumble through too many of his words when he has to go up on the platform.
He’s always hated public speaking, ever since he was a child.
“Hey.” He’d already been leaning down, could hear the subtle tap of her heels as she’d walked up to him, even if she only just comes up to her shoulder. “I assume you’re running through every possible ad-lib twice over in your head?” Mark attempts a chuckle and tries not to wince at the way it falls flat.
“Something like that,” he tells her, and Maggie’s lips twitch for a moment. “Are you doing OK, Maggie?” When she looks up at him this time, it’s still with those same dark eyes, but there’s nothing unreadable in the bland confusion in them.
“I’m fine,” she tells him, like she genuinely cannot understand why he might be asking that question. It’s probably when he keeps on looking down at her that she gets it, scoffs and ducks her head like he’s being ridiculous. “OK, that was. That was just a weird thing. Feel free to write it off as a hot flash or something.”
“A hot flash?” he asks, trying not to sound too skeptical. Maggie rolls her eyes.
“Sure,” like she’s doing him a favor. “And I did want to apologize for that, by the way.” That catches him off guard, and he feels like he’s going to fuck up some kind of muscle in his back as he leans down even further, tries to see if there’s a way to get on her eye level and know that she’s not just joking. “I’m serious. I’m sorry about it, really.” It’s not the most comforting statement. It’s not comforting at all, really, though he hopes Maggie isn’t able to tell. She might, she’s perceptive, and he wears his emotions on his face.
“Well.” His hands are in an awkward position, one rubbing along his jaw and the other pressed on a spot so close to his heart he can feel his pulse in his palm. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. “Thank you for that, but there’s no need.”
“Oh, I know, but.” Maggie fidgets with her hands. “I mean, it’s not as if you’re some repellant thing, Mark.” He does wish she would stop talking. “You’re far from repellant, you’re lovely, it was just some weird quirk and I just. Wanted you to know that it’s not about you.”
“Maggie, you don’t have to apologize.” It makes his skin crawl, not that she’s speaking to him but that she’s trying to apologize for a normal reaction, as if he’d somehow be angry or upset with her for, what? Having the audacity to not want physical contact 24/7? Mark doesn’t want her to think he’s that kind of person.
“And I get that-”
“You don’t want me to touch you, that’s fine,” he begins, and stops when she makes some odd sort of scoffing noise. “You don’t need to spin yourself in a circle to try and justify it, really. Don’t worry about that.”
“Jesus, Mark.” He’s not exactly looking at her, but he can almost picture the way Maggie’s rolling her eyes, the way she does any time someone manages to exasperate her. Sometimes it’s even been him. “I was just trying to be nice .”
If he were braver, maybe, or they weren’t in public, or their relationship wasn’t this series of touch and go, push and pull, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, Mark would tell her that therein lies the problem. That it’s commendable, sure, but Maggie’s always had a history of refusing to put herself first and being nice often comes at the expense of her own comfort, that he’s known that ever since they were teenagers and he’s concerned, frankly, that this tendency of her’s has gotten worse over the years, especially now.
Mark won’t say any of that, though. Maybe once, when he was allowed to do it, but Maggie has a husband, and she’s had one for quite a while, and if she wants security and someone to look out for her best interests in spite of herself, that husband can do it. Even if Mark would very much like to do it too, would like to look her full in the face and tell her how he holds whatever’s good for her close to his heart.
“All I’m trying to say,” Maggie says after a moment, voice low and rasping, moving closer to him, “is that I do like you, Joseph. That I don’t want a weird moment of mine to hurt you, and that I’m truly sorry if it did, even a little bit.” He’s still got his hand on his heart as he leans down towards her, almost against her, and he can still feel how it beats, and wonders if she ever knew how it would beat for her. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. If she could ever hear the way it would beat, like a reassurance, also for her. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
“You’ve never hurt me,” he tells her. Maggie blinks up at him, and he makes himself smile. He can tell she makes herself do the same, because he knows her, he knows her face, and it doesn’t quite reach all the way to those dark eyes.
It’s 2009, and Mark is slowly nursing his way through a second glass of champagne, ignoring any and all buzzes on his Blackberry because he won a Pulitzer and he’s earned at least one night off, even if it’s the night he’s having.
“So, you've now met the illustrious Clyde Haberman,” a voice says suddenly at his elbow. He'd forgotten that Maggie is a fair amount smaller than he is. She’s wearing heels, though, so she manages to come up to his shoulder, leaving how she managed to sneak up on him a mystery. Likely Mark’s been far too preoccupied by his own thoughts. “Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?”
“I think he likes me?” Mark offers. Maggie smothers her laughter in her palm. He smiles too. “Which I consider to be a success, really.”
“Do you?” Her voice sounds lighter, likely now that she’s gotten used to seeing him around and it’s less of a culture shock. If he hadn’t met a man that was so clearly her spouse, Mark might have even called it flirtatious. “Meeting Clyde Haberman himself was a life goal, was it?”
“Did you ever hear the way you talked about him, Maggie?” he asks. “You made that man a god for three years.” She’s laughing again. It’s a very nice sound.
“That’s just because you took my bias as gospel,” she says. It’s a fair choice of words, because Mark knows he’s right, Maggie deified her father almost every time he got brought up. Just based on stories alone when they were teenagers, Clyde Haberman could do no wrong, was the closest thing to the perfect man anyone would ever meet. And he’s definitely a stand up guy, even with Mark’s admittedly limited interactions today.
“He lives up to the expectations, you know,” he tells her. “I feel like I need to stand up straighter for the rest of the night.” The only reason he isn’t now is because Maggie has always been smaller than him, and if he actually stood up straight he’d be quite literally looking down his nose at her. Which doesn’t seem like the nicest thing to do, particularly on a day celebrating her dad.
“He’d love to hear you say that,” she says. “He’s been very pleased with you ever since the two of you met earlier.”
“Anything to dispel whatever preconceived notions he might have of me from when I was a teenager.” Maggie rolls her eyes.
“OK, listen.” Mark tries to tamp down on his grin. “Anything I said was literally all good things, and it’s not my fault the only thing he retained over the years was the Jesuit part. Truth be told, I was probably ridiculously sappy about it all.” That stirs something in Mark’s chest, something completely unexpected that he hadn’t even known was there. It feels odd, because he shouldn’t be feeling anything beyond some fond memories, but it’s as if, somewhere between North Carolina and this moment right here, all that’s happened got a part of it washed away, sluiced out of his life. Duke, Oxford, the bad dates and the good ones, that Mike guy, all of it.
He’s somehow both in his thirties and a teenage boy enamored with a very fascinating girl all over again. Except that she’s married and he’s smart enough not to be in love anymore. He’s supposed to be.
“Well, that’s very touching,” he says, even though he’s the one who reaches out and touches, puts a hand on her shoulder. He means for it to just be a moment, but she leans against him slightly and certainly doesn’t shake him off. “I’m grateful that you wanted to talk about me to your dad, especially if you were being nice about it.”
“Are you kidding?” Maggie asks. Her hand is on his now, the one on her shoulder. “You were a good boyfriend Mark. Really. Of course I wanted my dad to know about you. Besides,” and here she tucks some hair behind her ears, almost self conscious, “Kathy at least needed to know your name before we fucked off to Syracuse for a week.”
“It’s fine,” she says with a wave of her hand. “Besides, it’s a nice story, at the end of the day. And, like I said.” Her hand is still on his. “You were a really good boyfriend. It’s sweet.” She leans into him. “Boy takes girl away on a romantic island holiday to make her feel better. And it’s actually a good memory, out of context.”
Mark would like to say he didn’t do anything anyone else wouldn’t do, but if he’s honest he probably was a bit more overworked about the situation than most people would be. But most people didn’t see the look on Maggie’s face, young as she was, when she told him that Clyde had been forced to skip out on spending the holidays with her and her brother for the sake of the Romanian revolution, or heard the way that she’d cried about it once he’d prevailed over his parents’ objections and gotten her to accompany them on their family holiday for the rest of break. Mark had, so of course he wanted to spend time with her, treat her right, make her happy.
He doesn’t have an answer to anything, not one that’s remotely appropriate, so he’s all too happy when Maggie crows, “Oh, speak of the Devil!” and Clyde Haberman appears as if conjured by magic, holding an infant.
“I think Miri is officially tired of time with Grandpa,” he proclaims, and Maggie takes the baby from him with a soft cooing noise. For a moment, Mark feels profoundly out of place, particularly when Clyde kisses his daughter’s cheek and vanishes back into the crowd and it’s just the three of them. Mark and Maggie plus baby makes three , he thinks dryly to himself.
“Miri?” he asks.
“You remember how my mom’s dad wrote an episode of Star Trek , way back when?” Mark does have a vague memory of the fact that what she just said was factual, but not much else.
“I remember just that, but yeah.”
“Well, the name of the episode was Miri , and when Dareh-my husband-found out, that was his vote on a name if we ended up having a girl.” And Maggie hasn’t taken her eyes off of this baby, apparently named Miri, since she’s had her in her arms. If he’d had a camera, Mark would have almost been inclined to take a picture. He’s never seen Maggie look so relaxed. Which is why it’s so incredibly jolting when her phone starts buzzing loudly in her purse.
“I can take her,” Mark offers, if only so that she looks less like she’s about to burst a blood vessel. “It’s fine,” he adds when she raises an eyebrow at him.
This baby is incredibly small. Which makes sense, it’s not as if Maggie is some kind of Amazonian, she only manages to come up to his shoulder in heels . But it seems as if everything about her daughter is so incredibly little and detailed and peaceful, still and asleep without even noticing the change in hands or that her mother is now on the phone. Not that Mark is noticing much of that either.
“Thrush,” Maggie says, sounding inescapably fond, “I can promise you that you have a thousand friends more qualified to help you out if your boys have the flu, considering that you had kids back when I was still fucking engaged.” It’s an old habit that started when his niece and nephew started learning how to talk and retain words, but Mark very nearly shushes her, despite the fact that there’s no way Miri is retaining anything at this age. All she does is move slightly in her sleep and snuggle against his chest.
Maybe his mother has a point about wanting him to settle down. The idea of having kids of his own is a very alluring one. Especially if they’re going to be like, delicate and almost perfect and instantly lovable and Mark can see the glimmers of Maggie in her face.
“Everything all right?” he asks when Maggie puts her phone away.
“Oh yeah, don’t worry about it.” She moves back closer to him. “Glenn Thrush from Newsday , he’s an old friend and seems to make it his life mission to torture me with a thousand phone calls a day.” She sounds just as soft as when she was talking about him to her dad, earlier, her hands almost touching his as she takes her daughter back, and Mark is seized with a sudden desire to know everything, everything that’s happened since the 90s and how she’s been and who she is now. But when he raises his eyes to meet her’s, the words dry up. He can’t read the expression on her face, but she’s just standing there looking at him and her daughter and her eyelashes are so dark behind her glasses they almost look wet. And Mark knows he could stare at her for hours and never need to say anything at all.
It’s 2018 and Mark has no idea what he’s supposed to do.
Of course, this is generally true in most cases, but specifically right now, as hyper aware as he is of Maggie right next to him acting as if she wants to jump out of her skin. He’s generally aware of Maggie no matter what the occasion, like there’s some kind of tether from him to her, but it just feels incredibly heightened right now. Maybe it’s because of how off she’s been acting all day, that off kilter way, and some part of him that he’s never been able to shut down, not since he was a boy, is aware of it, and maybe some corner of his brain is working on how to center her again.
Even if he’s not technically allowed to do that, they’re still friends . Maggie likes him, and Mark cares about her. He doesn’t want her feeling off kilter when she’s won a Pulitzer. Or at all, in general.
Most of the speeches are done at this point. Dean’s gone, about a dozen times, and so has Elisabeth. Mike has, in his typical, surly, gruffly sincere way that makes Mark's chest ache. Even Mark had his turn, making sure not to stammer too much and to let everyone who needed it know just how much he appreciates them. The man speaking right now, Mark doesn’t know his name, is in the midst of another banal speech, giving everyone and their mother the lowdown on his career, like almost everyone does. It’s annoying for Mark, he avoided it in his own remarks and he tries to avoid it in general, but he doesn’t hate it so much that he tries to avoid it by walking away, which is.
Which is exactly what Maggie is doing.
Watching her leave gives him the same off feeling he’s been getting the entire day. That feeling from when they’d talked, that feeling when they’d touched. That strange, uncomfortable energy that’s been pulsing off of her in waves, that’s what he’s feeling now, watching her go.
He’s feeling that and a discomforting sense of uselessness. Mark knows himself enough to know that he thrives when he’s able to help, able to be of service, and he doesn’t know what to do when he can’t. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do.
Chase after her? A part of him wants to, really wants to; several parts of him want to. It makes him antsy, fidgety as he runs his fingers through his hair and twists his wedding ring like he’s trying to snap his own finger clean off, and Mark can’t help but look at the spot she’s just vacated. But maybe Maggie doesn’t need him checking up after her. Maybe Maggie doesn’t want him checking up after her. Mark isn’t inclined to invite himself into her space just to satisfy himself if she doesn’t want it. Except.
He’s been having that off feeling around her the entire day. She’s been off the entire day.
He glances toward the exit just enough to see a noticeable red dress duck into the women’s restroom. Everyone’s paying attention to the illustrator giving the speech, not to him, and it’s easy for Mark to quietly slip away and out of the crowd and pray no one asks him what he’s doing or where he’s going. He ducks into the women’s restroom too.
“Mark, this is the ladies’ room.” Maggie isn’t looking at him, she’s got the bridge of her nose pinched between her thumb and two fingers, like she has a headache, and is curled in on herself, leaning on the far end wall like she’s trying to shrink away from everything and everyone.
She sounds a bit stuffy.
“Yeah I just.” He finds himself twisting his wedding ring again. “I just wanted to see if you were all right.” Maggie makes a wet sound, half sob half laugh. She swipes her hands under her eyes before she looks at him, and her eyes are red when she does.
“I’m doing great, Joseph,” she says, and she sounds as bitter as she does stuffy. “Can’t you tell?”
“Sorry.” Maggie sighs, long and shuddery. Mark moves so that he’s leaning against one of the sinks, and she stays on the wall. He’s trying very hard to treat this like an encounter between two people, and less like he’s dealing with a skittish animal, but there is an element of that there, if only in how cautious he feels, how determined he is to not make any movements, to do or say anything, that might be interpreted as some kind of threat.
“No, I’m sorry,” Maggie mumbles. “That was uncalled for.” She takes in a deep breath, and it still sounds unsteady.
“Don’t worry about it.” Mark hopes he sounds reassuring, and hopes that maybe there’s a hint of genuine feeling in the scoffing noise she makes. For a moment, it’s silent, in that bizarre, echoing kind of way it can get in tiled rooms, and he gropes for something to say. The harsh buzz of something on porcelain knockoff makes him start.
“That’s my phone,” Maggie tells him, and sure enough, on the sink next to him is her phone. “You mind handing that to me? Just in case?” He does pick it up and does walk over to her, although if Mark were in her position, trying to cry all by his lonesome, he likely wouldn’t be in the headspace to be answering work calls. But maybe it’s not a work call, because he’s holding out the phone in question and Maggie still hasn’t taken it, is just looking.
Her phone is still ringing, still in his hand. Mark sees a flash of "Diane" on the screen. Maggie has seen it too, is visibly tense.
“This day sucks.” Maybe it's the echo in the restroom, but her voice sounds thick with tears. “I know it’s not supposed to but it does.” It stops ringing, mercifully, and Mark puts her phone down, facedown, on the sink. If someone calls again he’s letting it ring, work be damned.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Maggie shakes her head, movements jerky, and glances up at him from beneath wet lashes. “You can talk about it.”
“I really can’t,” she tells him, and Mark knows he shouldn’t say the quiet part out loud, the undercurrent that’s carried all of this, but it’s going to explode out of him, explode out of her even if she says she doesn’t have anything to get off her chest.
“I know the Glenn thing is still tough,” he says gently, and Maggie draws her shoulders up with a sharp intake of breath, like she’s trying to protect herself. “But you are right, this is a day you should be enjoying, for yourself, so-”
“Mark.” Her voice cracks, and something between his ribs does too.
“I just want to understand,” and his voice is softer still. “So that I can help.” Maggie’s got her hand over her eyes again, and he waits.
“I'm trying to be diplomatic as I can, here," and Mark wants to tell her that she doesn't need to be diplomatic, not everything has to be based around her trying to cater to other people's selfishness, "but I didn't want to win this with you. Any of you.”
He remembers some meeting, with Maggie and Glenn Thrush sitting right next to each other, finishing each other's sentences, bouncing ideas off each other like they were two halves of the same person. And Mark understands exactly what she means.
Maggie's lip is trembling and she bites down on it. Hard. He wishes she wouldn’t.
“You two were friends,” he offers, and he gets another harsh sounding noise in response. He has a feeling it’s not directed at him so much as it’s directed at herself.
“Yup.” She doesn’t bother wiping anything this time, when she pulls her hand away from her face, and he can see tears in her eyes. “And you’re all wonderful, all of you, but.” Maggie spreads her hands helplessly. “I had this plan, Mark. We were going to do all this great reporting and people were going to recognize that and we’d get rewarded for everything , all of it, and it would feel amazing and we were supposed to have a book deal and be on top of the world together and now.” Her voice cracks again, and Maggie presses her lips together into a thin line.
“You miss him,” Mark finishes. She sobs, and he has to curl his nails deep into his palm so that he doesn’t reach out and touch her.
“You’re not really allowed to miss people like that,” she tells him, sounding dull. Mark wants to tell her that she can, she’s allowed, if you’re friends, close friends, with someone for that long you’re allowed to miss the person you thought they were, she’s allowed to miss the person she thought her friend was. But Maggie has more to say and he’s not going to cut her off just to add his own input. “So instead I’ve just felt weird and off and wrong about this whole thing even though it’s very ungrateful and I know it’s been bothering you and that stuff on the stairs was a part of it and it wasn’t about you.”
She’s looking at him now, and will it always somehow find a way to take his breath away, until he’s old and dying in his bed? Mark’s nails bite deeper into his skin.
“Maggie, it’s okay-”
“I know, I know that’s what you said.” She twists her fingers together; it looks like it hurts. “But I want you to know it’s not about you, it’s about everyone else who isn’t you, and everything that’s going on right now, but not you.” He nods, and Maggie’s breath hitches in her throat. They stand like that, close but not quite close enough, Mark wracking his brain to think of what he can possibly say and Maggie clearly trying to look like she’s not on the verge of tears. But he knows her, he knows her well and he’s known her for a long time, and he can tell.
“Maggie,” he says after the silence almost stretches into uncomfortable. “Can I touch you?” She’s looking at him like he’s grown an extra head as he keeps his hands firmly at his sides. “Do you want me to touch you?”
There’s more silence, only for a few seconds, before Maggie makes a choked off sound, low in the back of her throat, and leans forward so that her face is pressed against his chest, because she still is smaller than him and it’s so easy for him to wrap his arms around her, hold her close to him and stroke her hair. Which Mark does, of course he does, and feels Maggie sob against him and clutch at his jacket. It’s not the first time Mark has done this, but it’s the first time in a while and this time there’s not much he can do other than shush her gently and resist the urge to tell her it’ll be all right, because she won’t want to hear it and he doesn’t know if that’s true.
So he just kisses her hair and lets her cry on the same day she won the highest prize journalism has to offer.
It’s 2009 and Mark, having said his perfunctory goodbyes, even shaken hands with the Habermans and kept himself cordial and perfectly polite, is watching the smoke curl up past his lips and into the air. It’s not freezing, but it’s not the muggy heat New York tends to get either, just a nice nip in the air that makes him appreciate the warmth of the cigarette between his fingers without hankering for a jacket. Mark can smoke and debate the pros and cons of getting an earlier train back to D.C. He has his hotel room booked for the night, and it would be a waste of money, but he could just spring for the Acela ticket and be back home by tonight, in his own bed.
Mark’s seen his parents, he’s spent time with his sisters, he’s received his award and the congratulations, he even caught up with old friends. He’s done everything that needs to be done, he might as well leave.
Instead, he takes another drag and blows smoke out towards the stars.
“You’ve never heard that smoking’s bad for you?” A voice says at his side, and Mark almost drops the offending cigarette at the sight of Maggie gazing up at him, eyes unreadable behind her glasses. And then he inhales a bit too sharply, and rather than come up with some kind of answer, he coughs, undignified and hacking, into his elbow.
“Says you,” he rasps out after a while. “Aren’t you the one who got me hooked on Marlboros in the first place?”
“I reject the inherent premise that I corrupted your sweet Jesuit soul,” Maggie says dryly. “Although I do appreciate that you’re still smoking my brand.”
He does still think of it as her brand.
“You want?” he asks, extending the lit cigarette towards her. Maggie shakes her head, and looks like she’s forcing down a smile.
“As amazingly tempting as it sounds, I quit a couple years ago.” Mark’s eyes widen.
“Yup,” she says with a nod. “Around the time Dareh and I decided to try for kids. Better safe than sorry, and I’ve been trying to stay on the wagon ever since. But please,” Maggie adds, as if she’s worried about offending him, “don’t stop on my account. It smells incredible, and my guess is Clyde won’t be hailing a cab for at least another minute.” She nods her head to the left and sure enough, Mark can see Clyde’s long, lean figure trying to pluck a taxi out of the cram of traffic. So he smokes, and Maggie leans on the wall next to him, eyes closed and lashes fluttering on her skin. Roll back the clock a couple decades and Mark would have said she looks beautiful.
Instead, he finishes and crushes the stub under his shoe and keeps quiet.
Maggie’s eyes open when he pushes himself off the wall and clears his throat, and he gratefully accepts the Altoid she offers him after digging around in her purse for a few moments. Maybe it’s a mom thing, always having the right thing available in a bag on any given moment.
“Off to hail your own cab now?” she asks. Mark nods.
“To spend a lonesome ride back to the Marriott.” Maggie’s eyebrows shoot to her hairline, and she pushes herself off the wall too. She’s wearing heels, he can see that, but still she only reaches his shoulder.
“You’re serious?” He nods again. “Mark that’s a five minute walk from here, at most.”
“It is?” Maybe he should feel like an idiot, but he grew up in New Jersey. Most of his time in New York was spent either at Regis or on the bus ride to and from Regis. If he ventured into the city, it was always with Maggie or Michael Barbaro, and he always let them take the lead. Besides, he lives in Washington, why should he spend time exploring another metropolis a few measly hours away?
“And here I was expecting to get off my feet in a matter of seconds,” Maggie says, but her tone is thick with humor and he decides that she’s not actually aggrieved. “Dad!” Clyde glances over, and waves cheerfully at Mark when he sees him. Mark waves back, watches Maggie walk over, speak briefly to her father, and press a kiss to his cheek.
“Everything all right?” he asks when she walks back over to him.
“Yeah, I’m just your official tour guide to get you through the streets of the city in one piece.” Mark rolls his eyes.
“What about your husband?” he asks, gesturing back into the building. Maggie waves her hand idly.
“He’s already gone home to make sure the kids get to sleep when they’re supposed to and don’t go stir crazy,” she tells him, and they’re already walking, her heels clacking against the pavement. “No need to worry.” He nods, and pushes a hand through his hair. It still ends up falling in front of his eyes again.
“Then I’m stuck with you, I suppose.” It’s cheeky, adventurous, maybe bordering on flirtatious, but Maggie glances at him and he can see the corner of her lips quirk up in a smile.
“So you are.”
It is, indeed, a mere five minutes, give or take, from where they’d just been to the lobby of his hotel, with easy chit-chat the whole while that makes him feel younger, makes the night feel like it’s from a different time. He was almost seized by the desire to hold her hand. Instead, he just kept them firmly straight at his sides.
Mark expects Maggie to shake his hand again, maybe touch his arm, and walk over to the nearest cab and head straight home. He waits for her to do it, half leaning towards the lobby, almost swaying awkwardly. But she doesn’t immediately go. She just stays, and he can see her twisting her fingers together, see her fiddle with the diamond on her right ring finger. If he has to guess, it’s her engagement ring. She twists it around so that he can’t see the jewel anymore, just the silver band.
“Would you like to come up?” It’s an innocuous thing to ask. It’s a dangerous thing to ask. Mark has every right to do it. Mark shouldn’t be doing it. But he does it, he asks, and Maggie opens her mouth like she’s about to say something, then closes it. For a moment, silence. Even with the sounds of Times Square furling around them, the air feels thick and quiet.
She doesn’t end up answering his question, she just nods, and he holds open the main lobby door for her so she can step through.
It’s 2018 and Mark feels his brain dipping back into 1989. In 1989, his family had stopped in Rome during Christmas break before heading to Syracuse for the rest of the holidays. Simultaneously, in Romania, the people had finally had enough of the regime and had risen up, in one of the most covered stories of the year. And, because of that well covered revolution, his high school girlfriend found herself in Rome with no parental supervision, as her journalist father had been told to go to Romania during the weeks he had with his children when they visited him that winter. And, because Mark had been in Rome, he had met up with her, and been able to persuade his parents and her stepmother that it wouldn’t be too big an issue to let her accompany his family to the south, just so that she’d feel better. And, because his girlfriend had worshipped the ground her father walked on and had been upset he couldn’t be with her, he’d held her as she wept and avoided telling her it would be OK because it wasn’t his place to do so.
And, because that high school girlfriend had been Maggie, and they’re in a very similar position right now, Mark is thinking of those weeks in Sicily. She still cries the same, soft and choked off sounds, deep and shaky breaths when it finally starts tapering off. Mark doesn’t know how long he’s been waiting for those breaths, but after a while of his arms around her, he hears them.
Maggie pulls away first, brushing her hands across her face and not quite meeting his eyes. Mark pushes strands of hair out of her face and now she is looking at him, now she’s staring at him with dark, wet eyes, then glances at his mouth, and for one frightening moment he thinks she’s going to try to kiss him. Mark doesn’t want to kiss her, not now, not like this, and not if his gut instinct is right and she’s trying to pay him back for. What? Being a literal shoulder to cry on?
He keeps his hands firm on her shoulders, and Maggie sighs, deep and shuddery, pressing the heels of her palms hard against her eyes.
“Ugh.” She sniffs and refuses to meet his eyes when she pulls her hands away, like she’s embarrassed or ashamed. Mark reaches to rip off a paper towel and hands it to her.
“Do you need anything?” He hopes he sounds gentle. He wants to be gentle. Maggie tries to smile; it looks thin and watery.
“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be alright,” she says. “I’ll be fine Joseph, really. Go back out and celebrate. You should.” Here she looks at him, pale faced with her red rimmed eyes and smudged makeup, and something cracks in his chest. “You’ve earned it.”
“That’s all right,” he tells her. She’s not flinching away from his hands on her this time, so Mark keeps them there, rubs circles on her skin with his fingers. “There’s plenty of time for that.”
She nods, and moves away from him, leaning against the sinks and blowing out another shaky, long exhale through her mouth. Maggie swipes the pads of her fingers under her eyes, and makes an odd choking sound when they come away smeared. “Shit.”
“Hang on.” He will admit to not having much experience in the ways of makeup removal, even with two sisters, but still he grabs another several paper towels, a handful this time, and runs one of them under some water. “Do you mind?” Maggie shakes her head and lets him move closer, lets him tilt her chin up. He likely won’t do that good a job, but at least it might be a bit harder for someone to point at her and immediately know she’s been crying.
Maggie doesn’t say much of anything for a while, and he doesn’t say much of anything either. There’s just silence and his hands on her face, rough textures on her skin. He’s got a hand under her jaw and she leans into him.
“Thanks,” Maggie says, and even hoarse and low, it still almost makes him jump after minutes of quiet.
“Well, I can’t promise that it’ll live up to the original product, but I’m trying my best.” He lets himself smile, just a bit, and maybe it’s small but it eases something tense along his shoulders when Maggie smiles back.
“Not just for the impromptu makeover here, but for earlier.” Her voice sounds more even, less tremulous, her breathing a bit more regular. “Just now. With the, uh.” She waves her hands around vaguely, because Maggie, as long as he’s known her, doesn’t tend to try and bare her feelings even when she’s emotionally sound. “You know.”
“Don’t mention it,” Mark tells her. He lets his thumb brush along her cheek. “You’d have done the same for me.” He knows it’s true. He doesn’t know much, but on that he’s certain. Maggie gives him another tiny smile, and this time she holds his gaze instead of looking away. Mark holds her’s too, and steps away after a moment. It’s not any kind of majestic handiwork, but he thinks he did as best he could, considering his lack of experience with eye makeup.
“I’m assuming I look normal?” Maggie asks, clapping her hands together smartly. She doesn’t turn to look at herself in the mirror, just brushes some stray strands of hair away from her eyes and avoids touching her face. “No running mascara or anything like that?” Mark shakes his head.
“You look lovely.” He almost tells her, You look beautiful , but it’s still a toe over the line, and even if it’s true she might not exactly welcome it right now. Maggie moves toward him, and he’s not sure if he should be stepping back or even move at all.
All she does is touch his hand. Gently, and not for a very long time, but she does it, and she opens her mouth like she’s about to say something. She doesn’t. She turns and walks out, the heels of her boots clicking loudly on the tiles. Mark stares dumbly at his hands after she leaves, and it’s like he can still feel her tears soaking through his shirt for a moment. Ideally, he’d have a moment to himself to just sort through the past several minutes in his head, free of distractions, but this is the lady’s room, and he can’t exactly stay in here forever. So he throws the damp, makeup stained towels away and leaves a few moments after her.
Maggie’s wearing a red dress. It’s easy to spot, and Mark is grateful. He doesn’t take his eyes off of her for too long for the rest of the night.
It’s 2009, and Mark almost pours himself a drink when he enters his hotel room. He decides not to, at the last minute. In some part of his brain, it’s because he wants to remember this. Not that he’s all too aware of what exactly this is. At the moment, this is Maggie in his hotel room, shutting the door behind him with the two of them inside. This is illuminated with a soft, dim yellow glow, courtesy of the two table lamps he left on before he left for the Times building; he doesn’t like the harshness of the overhead all that much.
This is Maggie walking over to him, dark eyes moving behind her glasses as she takes everything in.
“If my calculations are right,” she begins slowly, “I think I could afford a stay at this place if I emptied out a third of my retirement savings.” Mark feels his cheeks heat up.
“Sorry?” She chuckles and runs a hand through her hair. If he remembers correctly, it’s a habit she does mostly when she’s nervous. It’s good to know that he’s not the only one feeling nervous right now. About this .
“Here I would have thought winning a Pulitzer would have ended your terrible apologize-for-everything habit.” Mark almost says sorry again, but thinks better of it at the last minute. He does like that she’s trying her hand at a joke. He already feels so tense, and he’s not entirely sure why, but this helps.
“Pulitzers don’t come with a personality transplant button,” he offers as his own witty banter, and Maggie smiles again. She’s close. When did she get this close?
“That’s not a bad thing.” He finds himself focusing on the small details of her. There’s a smudge on her glasses. Her hair looks almost chestnut in this lighting, before he blinks and it goes away.
Mark can’t tell who moves first, but he thinks it’s her. He thinks it’s Maggie who does it.
The memories are more than ten years old at this point, almost bordering on twenty if he thinks about it, so Mark can’t say for certain whether or not she kisses the same, but she kisses so wonderfully in both his faded recollection and now. Her lips are soft. He thinks they pull away at the same time, and Mark feels a prickle of heat along his spine, like the thermostat is turned up too high. Maggie swallows.
“I’m married,” she says, calm and measured and hoarse. Like it doesn’t twist a knife, even just a little. “And I love my husband.” The image comes, unbidden, of Dareh Gregorian, allowed to be affectionate with her in public, in full view of God and everyone. Mark forces it away before he gets sick. Even if this isn’t Dareh Gregorian’s fault.
“I know.” Mark finds himself brushing hair out of her face. “And if you want me to stop, I’ll stop.” She moves neither forward nor back, just looks at him. “But Maggie.” His hands are on her face now. “Maggie.” He’s kissing her, he’s the one who moves to kiss her this time. And she kisses him back, not dispassionately. Not dispassionately at all. “ Maggie. ” It sounds too much like begging, the way he says it, and he almost wants to swallow it back.
Maggie tugs him closer, her fingers tangled in his hair. It must take effort, he has to be a full head taller than her even in her heels, and he can feel the strain on his back as he bends down. He can also feel the way her glasses dig into his skin.
“Wait a minute.” He pulls away feeling flushed, and Maggie looks flushed, and he moves his hands. “May I?” She looks confused for a minute before nodding. He removes her glasses, carefully sets them on the little coffee table closest to him. He cups her face and leans in to kiss her again. They’re good kisses for him and he hopes they’re good kisses for her. He thinks so, she’s responding. Eagerly
Her hands are on his and then his hands are on her collar and he stops kissing her a moment to ask, “Can I?” and she nods and kisses him some more. He’s undoing buttons for her and she’s undoing buttons for him and he feels it, her hands on his skin. They’re stumbling, and by the time he’s able to shrug his shirt off they almost fall onto the bed. It’s the breather they both need, the startling impact of her back hitting the mattress and the shock of all his weight momentarily supported by only his hand as he hovers above her.
For a moment, they don’t do anything but look at each other and breathe.
Her hair fans out on the pillow, dark on white, like tree roots. It’s grounding. Mark’s free hand cups her cheek. She turns her head; she kisses the inside of his palm, his wrist. His mouth. It’s enough. This can be enough. More than enough.
Maggie arches into him and lets him put his lips on her throat. Mark thinks of all those he’s taken to bed since 1991, all the men and the women on both sides of the Atlantic. Some he’s loved, some he’s hated, some he’s never bothered to care about. None who have ever compared to her.
In an ideal world, he thinks that he would like to take his time. Relearn her, have her relearn him too. But there’s an energy to this that was never really there before, ever. Frenetic, almost frantic. He wants to do this, he really wants to do this, and he wants to do this now. He’s missed this. It’s a flurry of activity to get the rest of their clothes and Mark’s not thinking about protection when she’s got her hand on him and he’s got his fingers between her thighs; he’s not thinking about anything at all when he’s inside her and feels her breathe, hot and harsh, on his neck.
He’s not thinking about ethics, or marriage, or anything other than Maggie and that this ended too soon, they ended too soon. He kisses her so he doesn’t say anything stupid, moves against her and moans her name into her own mouth as she kisses him back.
It’s 2018 and this time, the Pulitzer party for the Times people is at some bar/restaurant thing whose name Mark cannot remember for the life of him. It looks the way most New York restaurants tend to look, decorated with several sources of low lighting and faux Monet paintings, and at the moment, packed full of people, reporters and their families.
Mark’s family isn’t here, Max has school tomorrow and the whole shebang would have ended long past what would have been considered a reasonable bedtime for either him or little Joe, so Mark’s been passing the time chit chatting with his colleagues and everyone around them until Lindsay calls him so he can talk to the boys.
So far, he’s engaged in deep conversation with Rachel Schmidt at least twice, to Mike’s apparent chagrin, and scheduled a playdate with Adam’s wife, and tries not to make it too obvious that he glances at Maggie from time to time. She’s easy to spot and some part of his brain is pathetically hardwired to be able to find her, talking to her family and holding her younger son close to her like she’s scared to let him go.
It’s odd, how he can see the makeup around her eyes still smudged, even at a distance, but she’s beaming at her father and Mark is once again reminded that it’s only around Clyde that she’s ever looked so happy.
He hasn’t seen that very often, Maggie’s happiness around her dad, but he knows that much. And it’s good, Maggie deserves to feel happy right now, and it’s the perfect time for his phone to buzz and for him to step outside and focus entirely on his children. Joe can talk now, though it’s mostly incorrectly pronounced shouts more than anything and Mark loves to hear it, even if it is a school night and they can’t actually be there with him.
It’s good enough. The last time he won a Pulitzer he’d had no marriage, no sons, nothing like that. It’s good to look at them smile and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that no one loves them more, that he doesn’t love anyone more than he loves those boys. It makes him feel complete to hear their voices, to be able to talk to them and wave goodbye and think about how he’ll be able to tuck them into bed by this time tomorrow, provided everything at work goes according to plan.
It’s warm outside, when Mark hangs up and stares at what little night sky he can see, given New York’s horrendous light pollution. Not too hot, given that it’s dark, but warm enough that he doesn’t feel compelled to seek shelter inside. It’s as good a time as any for a smoke break, especially with the lack of children around him for him to be mindful of.
He still smokes Malboros.
“That smells incredible.” Mark almost drops his cigarette. Dareh Gregorian looks unphased by the potential fire hazard. “It was getting a bit stuffy back inside, so I decided to come out here for some fresh air,” he offers by way of an explanation. Mark nods and takes another drag and tries to wrack his brain for something remotely acceptable to say.
He’s not in the business of having many conversations with Dareh Gregorian. Any conversation, at all. What do you say to a man when you loved his wife first, loved her longer, and now she’s stepping out on him with you?
“Thought you were a Camels man,” is what he lands on, after a while and several puffs later. Dareh shrugs.
“Back when I could afford to be picky, yeah,” he says.
“Now I’m a decade plus on the wagon, any cigarette smells good to me.” It’s eerily similar to what Maggie said, last year, when he was mixing his smoke with snowflakes before the inauguration and she’d leaned against his shoulder, tired and making jokes about how maybe she shouldn’t have quit. It makes sense, doesn’t it? They’re married, they’re meant to be complementary to each other. Two halves of a whole.
Mark isn’t jealous. He’s not. He’s not allowed to be.
“I’d blow some in your face,” Mark tells him, tapping some of the ash out, “but that might be considered rude in some circles.” Dareh laughs.
“You’re funny, Mazzetti.” He doesn’t sound particularly antagonistic about it, which somehow works to make Mark feel even more on edge. “You’re a funny guy.”
“Is that what she sees in you?” Mark almost hacks up a lungful of smoke. Dareh is at least generous enough to pound him on the back. If he dies, maybe he’ll try some half hearted mouth to mouth resuscitation.
“I, uh.” Mark can’t help but glance back inside, where Maggie’s now in conversation with Mike and Rachel. She still looks normal, thank God. “I don’t think that’s for me to say.” Dareh makes a non committal humming noise, and he looks in the same direction Mark is. For a moment, he spitefully wonders why. It’s not like he has to steal moments, or get his fill whenever he can before she books it out of a hotel room. They’re married, he can stare whenever he wants and no one will find it odd or creepy or demand an explanation. He can love Maggie out in public.
“You mind if I ask you something else?” Mark shrugs. He’s still not sure what to say. “Do you make her happy?”
He doesn’t say anything. For a moment, he just thinks.
“I used to,” he says, cautiously. He doesn’t know if he does now, when all of this started because she was hurting on Thanksgiving over what happened with Glenn Thrush, and everything since that has been snippets of time that don’t allow for much gauging of her emotional state. But when they dated, he made her happy. Mark knows he made her happy.
“Guess that’s all I can ask for,” Dareh says, running his hands through his hair. Mark tries not to notice his wedding ring. “I have a feeling she’s not going home with me, so. Just make sure she’s doing all right.”
“She’ll get there,” Mark blurts out, more on impulse than anything. This time, Dareh Gregorian scoffs.
“Sometimes, she doesn’t.” Mark opens his mouth. “The details aren’t for me to say, Mazzetti.” He closes it, and nods. Dareh nods too, and goes back inside to Maggie’s side, like that’s where he fits best. Mark’s cigarette has basically burned away to a little nubbin of nothing, and he grinds it under his shoe before heading back inside as well.
Dareh Gregorian is observant. Mark doesn’t know all too much about him, even though he and Maggie are doing what they’re doing, but he’s observant enough to know that he becomes, in fact, the one to leave first, his kids dutifully kissing their mother goodbye and departing with their father and grandfather. Soon after, Maggie’s hailing both of them a cab, and even in a city awash with lights, she stands out.
“You should have said hi to Clyde,” Maggie says after a minute of silence on the drive back to the Marriott. “He really likes you.”
“I didn’t want to intrude,” Mark tells her, twisting his wedding band around. Maggie hums noncommittally. “And I’m sure you would have said hi to my parents if they were here.”
“Provided they even remembered me at all.”
“I mean, they don’t live under a rock, they certainly know of you,” he points out. “And I talked about you.” Maggie’s still staring out the window, and apparently that’s the time for Mark to once again lose a brain to mouth filter. “You know, my dad once told me you were one of the strongest people he'd ever met.” Maggie turns and gives him a very confused look, and Mark feels like he's said the wrong thing. “Sorry, I just-”
“You didn't say anything untoward, I'm just stunned.” She shrugs at his look. “I was always under the impression that your parents didn't like me very much.”
“They liked you just fine,” Mark says quickly, and resists the urge to get retroactively irritated. “They were just, uh, pretty sure I was gay, so you were a culture shock.” There's a moment of silence in the cab before Maggie bursts out laughing. It's the sweetest sound to him, with the image of her redrimmed eyes still burned in his brain.
It’s 2009 and for the first time in his entire, thirty odd years of life, Mark doesn’t have an issue with the temperature of his hotel room. It’s generally either too cold or too hot from the get go, and any attempts he makes to then rectify that always end up with the converse effect of the room now either being too hot or too cold. Apparently, all he’s needed to make that feeling go away is Maggie, in his bed. The two of them tangled in the sheets, her head resting on his chest and his arm around her shoulders.
Mark wonders if she can hear his heartbeat.
“I’m not asleep, by the way,” Maggie says, breaking the silence, nearly making him jump out of his skin. She lifts her head up, brushing dark hair out of her eyes. “I can hear the worry gears in your brain churning away.”
“They’re not worry gears,” he protests. When she tilts her head, “Just regular gears.” And she doesn’t know this but when he listens to the soft sound of her breathing, they slow down. They stop. As if her very existence is enough to soothe him. Maggie puts her head back down, traces soft, abstract patterns on his skin. He thinks he feels the number eight, the letter s.
“Anything I can do?” Mark sighs and kisses her hair.
“It’s all right,” he says. “But why did you think I was worrying?” Maggie clears her throat, and he can almost hear her smile.
“You’ve always been a little bit worried about performance,” she points out. Mark doesn’t have a mirror, but he can imagine that he’s blushing furiously. “Just wanted to make sure you weren’t beating yourself up over some imagined ideas of what you could have done better.”
“You know, you’re calling on memories from when we were both teenagers,” he says. Maggie makes a soft noise. “I’ve grown.”
“I’ll assume that’s code for you not remaining celibate?” she asks with a snort. Mark shrugs.
“Well, practice makes perfect.” Maggie moves a bit closer to him with a sigh.
“I suppose it does, doesn’t it?” He doesn’t necessarily have a response to that, and if she’s calling on her own memories he doesn’t want to intrude or pry. “Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic.”
“Well,” Maggie sighs again. “Not to beat a dead horse, but Syracuse is back on the mind. If that makes any sense.” Mark nods.
“That makes perfect sense.” Most of their times together when they were dating were either in her room or in some hideaway they were able to find around the city. His house in Syracuse was nicer than any of those places, and it was one of the first times they were able to actually sleep together without worrying about supervision or lack of space, given his express wishes that his parents leave them well enough alone. It had made him feel very grown up, being able to fall asleep at her side for those weeks.
“Like I said,” Maggie adds. “A good memory, out of context.”
“It was a good memory for me too,” Mark tells her. “I mean, obviously, it’s not a good memory that you were unhappy, but the trip, divorced from that, it had some good moments.” He feels Maggie’s lips on his bare skin for a moment. “It’s the first place you told me you loved me.”
“Well, if I remember, that’s because you said it first,” Maggie says. It’s true, he had. He’d just kind of blurted it out, and Maggie’s eyes had gone to the size of dinner places. And then she’d said it back, because that’s what teenagers do when they fall in love, they just say their feelings without thought or reservation, and no kiss had ever felt sweeter than the one they’d had after that moment.
“I said it because I meant it,” he says. “And I could go on a long diatribe about the idea of love when our brains aren’t even fully developed,” Maggie makes a small scoffing noise, “but the crux of it all was that I love you and I said it because it’s true.” He’ll kick himself for it later, that slip in the tenses, but he doesn’t even notice at first. Not until Maggie goes very still in his arms.
“Hm.” For a moment, he’s ready to walk it back, blame it on fatigue and post coital fuzzy brain, but if he thinks about it.
If he really thinks about it.
They didn’t break up because he’d stopped loving her. Not even because she’d stopped loving him. Maggie had made it very clear, a few weeks after school let out for his summer and a month after her graduation from Fieldston, that it had nothing to do with how she felt. Her father was getting a new posting in Israel, she’d told him, shoulders tight and tense, and he’d be there for at least four years, all her time in college in Connecticut. And she’d already had to deal with one long distance relationship already, had one for almost ten years at this point, and she didn’t want another one. She hadn’t been sure if she could handle another one. Mark had accepted that; they’d said their goodbyes and gone their separate ways, and that had appeared to be the end of that. A love paused, a love put on indefinite hold.
“Everyone deserves to feel loved, Maggie,” he says quietly. “Everyone deserves to know that there’s someone out there who loves them.”
“Everyone?” she asks, more of a whisper than anything, more against his skin than to him, to this room.
“Everyone.” Mark tries to make this sound not so terribly hokey. “I just. I want you to know that someone loves you. There’s been someone who’s loved you. In case you ever felt unsure about that.” It’s unfair to say, he knows it’s unfair to say. She’s still married, he can still feel the press of her rings, they’re still on her fingers even after what they’ve done. “I do love you. And I did back then too.”
Maggie makes an odd hiccuping noise. Mark has his hands in her hair and he’s not expecting some kind of response. He’s not. It would be cruel to, and he didn't say it just so that he’d be able to hear it back. And yet, she says nothing. His shoulder feels damp, where she has her head buried in it. Mark just keeps stroking her hair. There’s a shift of movement and Maggie’s hands are on his face, and her mouth is on his. Maybe it’s an answer, maybe it’s nothing at all, but he cups her cheek and responds, gently as he can. Mark tastes salt, on her lips, as she kisses him.
It’s 2018 and they managed to keep their hands off each other all the way into the elevators. Mark keeps his shoved deep into his suit pockets, doesn’t even take them out to check a text or do anything other than push the button to get the elevator and the one to get to his floor. But then the elevator doors close and for the life of him, he cannot remember who kisses who first.
It’s a short kiss, the elevators here are fast and Mark’s ears are pricked for the telltale ping, just in case they get ambushed by people going down. Thankfully, there are none, and it’s not that long a walk to his hotel door, he doesn't have to wait too long for his door to unlock once he slides the key against the sensor. It’s almost eerie, how similar this feels. Same hotel, same lighting situation given how much he still hates the overheads, same woman. The door closes and he presses his back against it, presses Maggie close against him and this time Mark is definitely the one who kisses first, cradles her jaw and bends down and kisses her.
He’s resisted talking about this, them, for the last few months whenever he goes to confession. It feels wrong to do, like he’d be betraying Maggie’s confidence in some way, even though he knows that it’s between him and a priest, him and God. Maybe Mark’s being selfish and wants to keep something for himself, even from God. But he should start talking about it; it must be some kind of wrong, some kind of sin, for a simple kiss to feel this good.
The first time, back in November, he might have been able to chock it up to nostalgia and how long it had been since their last kiss, almost ten years. But they’ve been doing this for a couple months now, and still, Maggie’s arms around his neck and his hands on her skin and the feeling of his lips against her’s is just so perfect. It would almost be unfair, if Mark wasn’t the one who was allowed to be kissing her.
Except that he is allowed, and he is kissing her. It’s a short way to stumble over to the bed, though for a moment Maggie trips over her shoes and he feels her clutching onto his shoulders tight enough to hurt. It’s a good breather for the both of them, even if all Mark does is stare as Maggie pulls her hair tie out and slips it onto her wrist, starts fumbling with the back of her dress.
“May I?” She nods and drops her hands to her sides, and Mark reaches around to the back of her dress. Her perfume smells like jasmine.He pulls down the zipper of her dress very slowly, and Maggie doesn't say anything. Just stays still and allows him to do it, even when he expects her to grab his wrist and ask him to stop. She doesn't.
“You're sure, right?” The look she gives him could almost be interpreted as fondness. But there is something alive behind her eyes again, a something that had been missing the entire day, and that more than anything eases the knot coiled tightly in his chest.
“Yes, Joseph, I'm sure,”she tells him, and then leans up to kiss him again, wraps her arms around his neck while he’s got his hands trailing along her spine, skin on skin. Mark’s able to slip her dress off her shoulders as she helps him shrug off his jacket and starts unbuttoning his shirt. It feels like he could kiss her for hours and that’s all he’d need.
She’s got her hands on his belt and he can feel her breath hitch slightly, and Mark pulls away for a moment. She seems to tell what’s going through his head pretty quickly, given the way one of her eyebrows immediately goes up to her hairline as she sits down on the edge of the bed.
“I just want you to know we can stop,” he says quickly, getting on his knees in front of her. He’s never particularly liked looming over Maggie too much. “If you feel like it.”
“Which is very chivalrous of you,” Maggie tells him, running a hand through her hair. “But I’m a big girl, and I have had sex before.”
“And you don’t owe me,” Mark adds. Maggie’s mouth is open like she’s about to say something, but nothing comes out. “Especially not for earlier. So.” He shrugs, and then Maggie leans forward to kiss him again, fingers carding through his hair. Mark kisses back, unzips her boots and slides them off one at a time, hooks his fingers in her tights and they follow suit. “Lie back?” Maggie nods and does just that as he shrugs his shirt off and struggles out of his pants less than elegantly before managing to get them off.
For a moment, he does nothing, just puts his hand over her’s where it’s lightly gripping the covers. It’s meant to be just a touch, but Maggie catches his fingers and just holds for a moment. Mark swallows down the desire to say something sappy and settles his face between her legs.
He’s never been in the habit of discussing his sex life with people, but if he did he imagines he’d have a few male friends from college who don’t understand why this is one of his favorite things to do. Maybe he just cares about more than just his own gratification. Maybe he just likes doing things he’s already good at. Maybe he has a mild obsession with putting things in or on his mouth. Maybe he enjoys the feeling of Maggie’s fingers carding through his hair. He really does enjoy the feeling of Maggie’s fingers carding through his hair, if he’s entirely honest.
She’s never been the loudest in bed and he’s a bit preoccupied, but he stops when he hears his name in between soft sighs and small whimpers, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and rests his chin on her thigh.
“All good?” Maggie huffs a breathless laugh.
“All good, I just.” She bites down on her lip, a dull flush on her cheeks. She reaches for him. “Come here.” He kisses his way up her body, presses them on her face, until he finds her mouth, and it’s a series of quick fumbles to get their underwear off and to get a condom from his nightstand, to get it on and then, and then, and then .
It’s familiar, but never stale. It feels almost like something close to home, and no matter how many times they do it, how many times they’ve done it in the past over their lives, Mark will never get tired of it.
It would be easier to handle, emotionally, if it was just fucking. But Mark feels when he’s with her, he always has; he feels when she rolls on top of him and when he puts his hands in her hair and kisses her, when they move together, when she rocks down on him and he thrusts up inside her and he sees stars. It would be easier, if all he cared about was this, himself, but he wants her to feel good, feels a prick of warmth akin to pride, but less self aggrandizing, when she moans low in her throat against the crook of his neck and comes.
He follows suit soon after with a groan of her name, and for a moment, they hold each other and breathe. It’s the first time, since they’ve started this again, that they’ve had time, that he’s had time to make sure Maggie gets what she really deserves, and he can almost imagine that they’re in love again.
Maggie moves off of him and pulls the covers up, and he definitely misses the wastebasket when he tosses the condom, which he’ll blame on being post coital and loopy. His hand brushes against her’s and he feels it when her fingers twitch away, almost like an automatic response. He keeps his own perfectly still, doesn’t try to reach out and touch. For a few seconds, it’s just their shared breath and his slowing heartbeat in his ears.
“You OK?” He has got to sound like a broken record at this point, but all Maggie does is laugh, without any trace of bitterness or irony in her voice, and moves purposefully, to slot her hand in his, her fingers against his, almost clinging-tight. She turns her head and presses a kiss to his bare shoulder.
“Yeah Mark,” she says, voice gentle. “I’m OK. You’re sweet to ask.” He doesn’t have much of a response to that, just pulls her closer and relishes in the lack of tension he feels along her spine.
It’s 2009 and Mark must have fallen asleep at some point after their second round. It’s been a hectic past 24 hours, what with the Pulitzer and Maggie and the sex, and at some point he’d listened to the even, steady sound of Maggie’s breath and his brain, his oftentimes fast tracked brain that refuses to shut off, slowed and slowed and let him rest.
The clock’s blinking some time at two in the morning, he’s not really focused on it, and with the blinds closed against the glare of the city, he can just barely making out a moving shape. Maggie, likely trying to be as quiet as possible as she slips back into her clothes and rummages around for her shoes.
They got kicked off somewhere in their haste to get to the bed, Mark remembers that much. They’re likely tossed away alongside his loafers. It’s as good a time as any to shift and sit up against the pillows. He’s not going to watch her moving around in the dark, that’s just creepy
“Where are you going?” Maggie almost jumps a foot in the air with a sharp sound. In hindsight, he probably should have made a noise. Probably not the most tactful he’s ever been, but his eyes are still sticky with sleep.
“I was tired and I needed the rest but, um.” There isn't much light, but he can see Maggie thin her lips, in that nervous, fidgety way she gets when she's uncomfortable. “I should go home.”
“Right.” Logical. Makes sense. “What are you going to-”
“I'll make something up.” Maggie's voice wobbles slightly, and Mark is seized with the desire to apologize. Not that she didn't do anything too but still. Still.
Maggie is married. He is not. And maybe he should have known better than to engage with a married woman, even if that married woman was his ex girlfriend. Even if that married woman is that ever so talked about one that got away. Even if that married woman is Maggie Haberman and he’d loved her once, he loves her still.
Maybe he did a bad thing. Not maybe, he likely has done a bad thing. Mark’s not in the habit of going after people who are taken, not generally. But he doesn’t necessarily know if he’ll regret it, in the long run. That’s the unknown factor.
“You’re spiraling,” Maggie says, clearing her throat and slipping into her shoes.
“I’m not spiraling.”
“You are, I can tell.” He thinks, maybe, he hears a smile. Maybe Maggie’s about to have some kind of mental breakdown. “There’s no need to spiral, I promise. You’re fine.” Mark isn’t sure about that statement, ethically or morally or religiously, but he doesn’t say any of that. It likely wouldn’t help.
“I’m not spiraling,” is what he says, again, repeating himself and trying not to sound petulant. “I’m fine. You know me, my mind goes a hundred miles a minute. It’s incapable of shutting off.” Maggie moves closer to reach for her glasses, and it’s an odd sensation, having her look down on him for a change. She sits on the edge of the bed, fidgeting with her fingers.
“Yeah, I guess I do, huh,” she says softly, almost mystified by it. Like she can’t quite believe any of this. Mark understands, he can’t believe it either. He still feels like this happened in some kind of a dream land and that any moment now, he’ll be yanked back to reality and Maggie will be nothing but a memory.
“You’re fine too,” he offers, folding his hands together. “In case you were worried about herself.” With what little illumination there is, he thinks Maggie might be opening her mouth to say something. Instead, she closes it again, bites down hard on her lip.
“Thanks,” is what she goes with instead, still twisting her hands on her lap. The silence feels very thick, and Mark wishes he could do something to alleviate it. But the words won’t come, and it’s likely a good thing that they don’t. It all feels too weighty for just some passing comment. But he still wishes he could at least say anything, even if it makes him sound like a headass.
“You’re a good person, Maggie,” he says after a while, sitting up a bit straighter. He keeps his hands firmly clasped, though there is a small but persistent urge to reach out and take her own in his. “For whatever it’s worth, even if it’s coming from me.” He can hear her swallow.
“It means something, actually.” Maggie’s voice sounds hoarse. “Coming from you.”
He wants to tell her that she doesn’t have to leave. It’s not for his own gratification, but if she’s not ready to go home, if she’s tired and needs more sleep, she can stay here. He’s not going to kick her out of bed, and it tugs at something in his chest, to see her just sitting there.
But he also knows Maggie. He knows her better than he might ever care to admit, particularly considering the history is well more than a decade old at this point, but he does. And he knows that when Maggie gets like this, tight lipped and clipped and refusing to speak on her own without any prompting, continuing conversation isn’t necessarily the most helpful, not when she’s trying to sort her thoughts into little boxes, which is generally what this means. He doesn’t mind.
“I should go,” Maggie says, standing up and pressing her hands to her eyes for a minute. Mark nods. It’s still dark to the point where he can just barely make out the expression on her face. She leans down and kisses him high on his cheek, almost at the corner of his eye, and her fingers brush against his skin for a brief moment. Mark doesn't look at her when she leaves, doesn't even move until he hears the door close.
There's a bitter taste in his mouth, not entirely dissimilar to the way it feels after you eat something sweet, and even the emptiness feels sharp and acrid in the aftermath.
It takes him a while to fall back asleep, his eyes stinging bizarrely even behind closed eyelids, as he is, finally, yanked back to reality and Maggie becomes nothing more than a memory. More recent, yes, but one that he will, in all likelihood, never revisit or even see again.
It's 2018 and Mark's still awake as the night bleeds over into early morning. Still early enough that he should, in fact, be trying to fall asleep, the clock on his nightstand blinking somewhere between 2:45am and 3:00am. Maggie’s sleeping, curled up beside him, having passed out almost immediately.
After answering some emails, of course, because she’s Maggie. But still, even when they were dating she had a history of staying up inexorably late. She must have been exhausted to crash as early as she has.
If he were a more braggadocious man, Mark might attribute it to his performance earlier, but he’s well aware that it has more to do with the incredible workload she puts on her shoulders, a workload that’s only increased since last November. He’s happy to let her rest next to him, staring at the ceiling and waiting for the fatigue to come as he listens to the quiet, even sound of her breathing.
But apparently, she has a tendency to put her phone on full volume even when sleeping, so his heart almost stops when it starts ringing. He’d likely have reached over to shut it off if Maggie hadn’t instantly jerked awake, reaching over to the nightstand and instantly pressing it to her ear.
“Hello?” Mark recognizes the slight tinge of nerves in her voice. He’s a parent too, if someone’s calling him at odd hours there’s always a slight worry that it has something to do with his sons, or with some kind of catastrophic world event. Instead, Maggie sighs heavily, and makes a movement that he assumes is her pinching the bridge of her nose, like she does when she’s annoyed. “It's almost three in the morning,” he hears her say, voice still scratchy with sleep and already laced thick with irritation. She shifts away from him, as if trying not to wake him. “What is it that needed to be talked about now ?” Another pause, and another sigh. “Yes, well, thank you, much appreciated.” There’s yet another pause, and her tone is even more clipped. “Because, Ms. Hicks, I was sleeping and the reality of time differences continues to elude you. Good night.” The phone’s out of her hands and back on the nightstand immediately afterwards, and Maggie presses the heels of her palms into her eyes as she lies back down.
“And here I thought Hope Hicks was always so considerate of others,” Mark comments with a slight shrug. Maggie scoffs.
“What clued you in?” It appears to be a rhetorical question, particularly when she leans up on her elbow, chin in hand, with more to say. “Sorry. Did I wake you?”
“No, not at all,” Mark says, hopefully reassuringly. “I wasn’t falling asleep any time soon.” Maggie hums, moving back closer to him. “And if you want to get some more rest here, that’s fine.”
“As much as I appreciate that,” Maggie says, and he thinks he can make out a smile in the dark. “I’d better get back home. I’m on carpool duty tomorrow.” He nods, and averts his eyes when she gets out of bed, as she rummages around and pulls her clothes on.
“People still drive in this city?” he asks. Maggie moves to stand near his side of the bed, struggling with the zipper of her dress.
“I drive in this city,” she tells him, making a face. “I also get a lot of tickets in this city but that’s neither here nor there.” She appears to give up on the zipper situation, turns and kneels down near him. “Do you mind?”
“Not at all.” Mark pulls it up and finds that he’s trying hard not to touch her skin. It’s not even a day old, the memory of her hands flinching away from his touch. Maggie straightens, and sits on the edge of the bed, close to him, to put on her boots. For a moment, all he does is watch her and tries to figure out the odd feeling in his chest.
“You should try and get some sleep,” Maggie says, turning to look at him.
“That’s your official diagnosis?” His lips quirk up slightly. “Maggie Haberman, who rarely if ever manages to go to bed at a reasonable hour or sleep through the night?” She laughs, running a hand through her hair. He’s not particularly used to seeing it like that, loose and falling over her shoulders. He likes it.
“Well,” she sighs, though still smiling. “Do as I say, not as do.”
They lapse into silence, and Mark is eerily reminded of the last time they were in a situation like this, Maggie sitting on the bed of a hotel, ready to leave him and no doubt self castigate herself over infidelity, while he thinks of the right thing to say or do. Except this time feels less weighty than the last. This isn’t just a one night occasion, this is an entry in what he has a feeling might be an expanding list of encounters. Maggie isn’t giving off a feeling like she wants to fling herself off a building, and Mark isn’t trying to sort through a hundred different emotions in a hundred seconds or less.
“I suppose,” he says dryly, “That this is the part where we promise we won’t be doing this again.” That’s been as much a staple of this as the sex. Sometimes he says it, sometimes she does. But there’s always the common refrain when it’s over.
This was a one time thing. This was still a mistake. We’re not doing this again. That was the last time. That can’t happen again.
Mark remembers that first time, back in November, him and Maggie standing out in the cold as she rebuffed his apology and still told him it was an error, never to be repeated. He thinks it was about ten minutes later that they did, in fact, do it again.
This time, Maggie shakes her head and just stares at him evenly with her dark eyes. There’s not enough light for him to read the expression on her face, if there even is one, all he feels is the heat of her gaze on him. He looks back.
Maggie reaches out and pushes some of the hair off his forehead, passes her fingers through it in that way she knows he likes, always has even when he was young. It takes him off guard, when she leans forward and kisses him. There’s no intent behind it, no gear towards sex, just her closed lips on his, her hand now cupping his cheek. He can feel the sweep of her eyelashes on his skin. When Maggie pulls away, she doesn’t move her fingers.
“No.” Her voice is heavy with emotion. “This isn’t that part.” Her hand drops on his, holds it for a moment before she all but snatches it back. “Just. Don’t tell anyone?”
“Of course not.” He would never. Maggie nods, and then she kisses him again. When she pulls away and stands, his eyes still follow her. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” He’s not sure, when he asks, if he means that about their story meeting or something else.
“Definitely.” Her answer holds that same uncertainty too. “And Mark?”
“You might not remember it, but back in Sicily, I would have told you I loved you whether or not you said it first.” Mark can feel his heartbeat pounding in his ears again, like he’s run a 10k. “I’m not sure why that’s on my mind, but I just wanted to tell you.”
“I remember,” he tells her. “Thank you for letting me know.” He thinks she smiles again, in the dark, before she collects the last of her things and leaves. This time, Mark does watch her go, watches the spill of light from the hall grow smaller and smaller until the door swings shut with a click.
He’s not a jackass, and he hasn’t been operating under the assumption that Maggie’s been using him for sex all this time. But he has been under the assumption that he’s cared more, and certainly, in recent months, that she’s reserved her affections for Dareh Gregorian more than him. He doesn’t mind it, but with what she just said, with everything that happened today, he thinks. He thinks he might have called this wrong. That maybe there is no skew, one way or another. He cares, Maggie cares, they both want this to continue, and they’re both caring the same amount.
It’s that thought, more than anything else, that finally seems to ease him enough to finally let him sleep.
It’s 2009 and Mark is torn between calling this jamais vu and déjà vu. Déjà vu is, of course, the feeling of having been somewhere or done something or seen something before despite never having been to that place or done that thing or seen that thing. Jamais vu, if he remembers correctly from his Duke days, is the feeling of never having been somewhere or done something or seen something despite having, in fact, been to that place or done that thing or seen that thing.
Because he has, in fact, spent time with his niece and nephew before. He’s done it many times, since they were infants and being brought home from the hospital for several classic Italian family photo ops. But at the same time, he feels as if he’s never done it at all, as if the whole concept is a stranger to him.
All Mark can think of is last month, and Maggie Haberman’s baby daughter.
It’s idiotic of him, he knows. Maggie Haberman is an ex girlfriend from high school he had a one night stand with a month ago, and that’s it. Logically, laying the facts bare, that’s all there is to it. Slightly less logically, he can add that there was likely a heavy amount of nostalgia involved. He equates Maggie so heavily with New York, and the Pulitzer ceremony was the first real time he’d spent in the city after graduating Regis. In all likelihood, it was just those old feelings from high school bubbling back up and trying to make him think they were still alive and well.
Because it makes Mark such a dumbass, to be this hung up on the girl who dumped him in the early 90s. Especially to the point where he’s still thinking of her and her daughter and the family she built without him, even when he’s with his own.
“You seem distracted.” Chris coming up beside him, with a seltzer in one hand and a beer in the other, almost makes Mark leap out of his skin. Likely means that he is distracted. “Luke and Emma wearing you down already?”
“Not at all,” Mark says, hoping he sounds polite and accommodating. He does take the seltzer. “Besides, I think you guys have more of a right to be tired than I do.” Chris laughs and watches as the kids chase each other around in circle after circle.
“Exhausting, but worth it.” It sounds like it, though Mark won’t admit his jealousy even to his brother in law. “Have you thought about it?”
“About what?” he asks, taking a sip of his drink. “Having kids?”
He’s not going to tell Chris that he’s flirted with the idea a bit. Not a lot, and not seriously, and Mark doubts that any kind of adoption agency is going to consider a single reporter who covers dangerous subjects and travels to dangerous places and lives in a different state from most, if not all, of his blood relations a serious candidate, but. But he did some babysitting in high school, and he’s let his sisters know that he is, always and forever, just a phone call away if they need any help with their children.
Maybe that’s why seeing Maggie last month has stuck with him as much as it has. Not only seeing her, being with her, but seeing her family, seeing her with her daughter and her husband with their young son. The time they’d spent together hadn’t been insignificant, three years isn’t insignificant, and maybe if things had gone a different way that could have been their family. Their kids, and his emotions wouldn’t be in such an unbearable tangle lasting several days when he’d see her last.
Maybe he’s not just missing Maggie, but missing the idea of a life with Maggie. It’s not something he cares to think much about, and not something that he wants to entertain given how improbable, nigh impossible it is, so he just takes another sip.
“I could see it,” Chris says, like they’re talking about the weather. “You with kids, some kind of family.” Mark ignores the dull hollow feeling in his chest. “Are you seeing anyone?”
Mark shakes his head. Any answer he could give isn’t something he’d feel comfortable giving. He could say that he had a one night stand with an ex-girlfriend he’d happily categorize as his first love if he were ever asked, and she’ll likely never show up in his life again. He could say that he’s been going on almost bizarre coffee dates with a junior reporter at the Times , a Mike Schmidt who covers baseball and seems incapable of wearing anything without a stain, but that opens up a whole new can of worms he’s not yet comfortable discussing with his very Catholic family. He could say that his dentist seems almost insistent to the point of pushy about setting him up with his daughter, even though Mark’s already met her once, a perfectly nice woman named Lindsay who’s tall and blonde and detached and the exact opposite of his type. He’s also fairly certain that she is not at all interested in him, so that’s not going anywhere.
Disinterested dentist daughter, confounding male colleague, married ex-girlfriend. Neither of his recent escapades, if they can be called that, are prime candidates for starting a family with.
“Work’s been busy,” Mark says instead, watching Luke attempt to climb a tree. “Haven’t really had the time to, uh…”
“Shop around?” Chris laughs, and takes a swig of his own drink. “When it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen. Don’t sweat it.” Mark smiles and nods, and watches as Emma glares at her brother disapprovingly as he falls.
He remembers that Maggie had a younger sister named Emma. Her half sister through Clyde’s second wife, if he remembers correctly, and he has a vague memory of meeting her when he was asking said second wife for permission to take Maggie with him on vacation. He remembers a little girl clinging to Maggie’s hand, looking at him with wide eyed curiosity and looking at her with unabashed adoration. Mark remembers knowing what she felt like, in a way.
Mark pushes his sunglasses up his nose and tells himself to stop thinking about Maggie Haberman. The past is in the past, no matter how distant or recent. It’s going to stay there, whether he likes it or not, whether or not he misses it.
It’s 2018 and Mark is back in New York, about two weeks before both his birthday and an event for the new documentary, for the formal Pulitzer ceremony. They’re all in New York, even the Russia team, all of whom are based in D.C. But New York remains the cultural hub of the country, or so he’s told, so they have to come to the city for this.
Everyone from everywhere is here, in this building that somehow manages to feel cold and drafty even in the beginning of May, when spring is starting to bleed into summer. Emily Steele is chatting with Ronan Farrow and Kendrick Lamar, which is a strange combination that might just somehow work, and the Washington Post teams are mingling with some of the folks from local news outlets. It’s like Comic-Con, for journalism.
Their team is huddled just with each other, going through their phones and trying to do some last minute sourcing on a story some of them have dropping some time tomorrow. Matt’s glaring at everyone, because Matt always glares at everyone, and both Mike and Adam are engaged in conversation while somehow looking just a little bit lost. Maggie’s tapping away on her phone, as usual, bouncing between contacts and he assumes one of her children.
Mark doesn’t mind this. The people here who he might have wanted to meet are people he’s already met, and everyone else are people that he can live without ever coming into contact with. Except Mia Farrow. Rosenberg said he saw her, and personally, Mark wouldn’t mind meeting Mia Farrow. Because she’s Mia Farrow.
“Ah shit.” That’s Matt, staring over Maggie’s had at some guy holding a phone. “I think that’s a Facebook Live person heading in our direction.” There’s an almost collective groan and eye roll, and Mark leans against the wall. He finds his hand dangling dangerously close to the nape of Maggie’s neck, and finds that it’s actually hard not to reach out just the tiniest bit and touch her.
It’s getting ridiculous, honestly.
“Maybe he won’t.” That’s Mike, being unusually optimistic. No sooner does he say it that the apparent Facebook Live guy comes up to them, scarily cheerful and asking them to gush to the folks back home. Mark could almost cringe by how painfully unenthusiastic their forced enthusiasm sounds.
He tries breaking the tension with a joke, a joke that he knows he’s stolen from Elisabeth and that she stole from some WaPo guy, but no one in their circle watches these things anyway so no one will notice.
It makes Maggie laugh.
He’s tried not to be too obvious about keeping his eye on her today, but everyone is here, including Dean, and based on what he’s seen she hasn’t come any closer to liking him any more than she did back in April. And Mark still remembers April, he remembers the feeling of stroking her hair as she buried her head against his chest and he remembers kissing away her tears later that night and he remembers the nervous tremble in her fingers that entire day. He doesn’t want to see a repeat of that. He’d like to see her happy on the day she’s honored for her hard work and her achievements.
So he likes that he was able to make her laugh, even as Matt and Adam duck away and Rosenberg moves aside to say hello to some old friends at the Associated Press .
“It’s more lame than it is funny, you know,” Maggie tells him, though she’s still smiling.
“Excuse you, the kids these days call that dad humor.” She’s wearing heels again, and he’s still ducking his head to talk to her. It’s as familiar as everything else, really.
Maggie opens her mouth like she’s about to say something, until something behind him catches her eye. When Mark turns, he sees Mike being led away by the Facebook Live guy, which is doubtlessly sending him into heart palpitations.
“I’m gonna go deal with that,” Maggie points, “before Mikey implodes.” And she does, leaving Mark to answer several emails, and at least one text from his mother asking if he’ll try and visit before he has to go back home.
The time flies as they wait for everyone to show up, and somehow he and Maggie find each other again, several minutes later, in some hallway just a little ways off from the main room. Maggie has her arms wrapped around her bare arms.
“You OK?” he asks. Maggie nods.
“I didn’t anticipate the chill in May, especially indoors, so here I am.” Mark nods, and moves closer, until they're both leaning against the same stone wall, almost hidden from the rest of the outside world.
“And with…” He fumbles for the right words. “Everything else?” Maggie looks at him, and nods, shifting her shoulders.
“Yeah, Mark.” She smiles slightly. “I’m doing fine.” She leans until her head is against his chest again, almost like she’s seeking comfort, and Mark leans against her too, his cheek resting on the top of her head.
“We should probably join the rest of the crew, then,” he tells her, and feels Maggie nod.
“Can we just.” Her voice is slightly muffled against the fabric of his blazer. “Not go in just yet?” Something inside him tenses, but she doesn't have that same wet, stuffy quality to her voice like last time. “I just need to build up mental fortitude for a whole night of this.”
“We're sitting at the same table,” he offers, and feels Maggie nod again. He wants to put his arms around her, wants to drape his jacket across her shoulders to fend off the chill, wants to trace patterns on the back of her hands like he used to when his brain started overloading, wants to see something other than distant melancholy behind her glasses. “If that makes you feel better.”
“It does, actually.” With a long sigh, she peels herself away from him and glances up, her eyes meeting his. “Though fair warning, I might monopolize your conversation. Dealing with Dean sets my teeth on edge on a regular day.” Mark can understand that.
“Feel free to monopolize my conversation whenever you feel like it.” Maggie smiles, and, almost as if she’s acting on impulse, leans up to kiss his cheek. Mark watches as she walks away towards the main hall, where everyone else is, and his skin stings a little where her lips were.
And later, when all is said and done and they’ve eaten and clinked champagne glasses and watched people receive diplomas like it’s a high school graduation, he and Maggie are back in yet another hotel room. He’s kissing her, hands on her back pressing her close, while she’s got a hand on the side of his face and the other arm winding around his neck.
And it feels just as good as it has all the other times before, maybe even better, because as he kisses her, Mark can feel Maggie smile. And that alone is sweeter than any secret tryst ever could be.
The zwischenzug (German: pronounced [ˈtsvɪʃənˌtsuːk]) is a chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interposes another move that the opponent must answer, and only then plays the expected move.