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Try to Quiet the Noises in Your Head

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“Marisa? I’m back!”

With her hands full of takeaway bags and a bottle of red wine tucked under her left arm, Mary nudged the front door closed behind her with a practiced maneuver. It latched with a click just as her stomach growled, seemingly aware that she was only moments away from digging in to her meal. Hurrying over to the table, she dumped the bags onto the wooden surface and started pulling open drawers haphazardly to find her bottle opener. It was her house, but you’d never know it based on the amount of reorganization – "it just makes more sense this way, Mary" – Marisa had done.

If Mary was being honest, she didn’t mind. She had always been a laid-back person so when her plates ended up mixed in with glasses, it didn’t bother her. Marisa, however, could not stand a single thing being out of place and demanded that like things go with like things. She’d lived in the house all of four hours before she went to work organizing the entirety of the kitchen.

Mary was loathed to admit it to Marisa’s face, and if asked would swear up and down that there was no difference, but the reorganization did make it much easier to find things. Except the damn wine opener.

“Marisa!” Mary raised her voice, turning her head in the general direction of the staircase. She hadn’t seen nor heard the brunette since getting home so the only logical conclusion was that Marisa was upstairs, maybe in the bathroom? “I’m back with dinner! Where did you put the wine opener?”

She opened and closed various drawers for a moment more before finding it tucked in alongside the silverware tray. Aha!

“The wine is a different type. They were out of our usual,” She called absently while she uncorked the bottle and poured them both a glass. “Pinot Noir. I hope it’s up to your standards!”

Mary swirled the wine around her own glass, smiling at the dark red color and deep aroma. It had been a long week and this was exactly what she needed to wind down and relax. She lifted the glass to her lips and took a small sip, immediately pulling a face and wrinkling her nose. It wasn’t as sweet as she preferred, but at least that meant it would be perfect for Marisa’s taste.

Mary glanced at the stairs, furrowing her brows at her companion's continued absence. Marisa was being awfully quiet and it was strange that she wasn't down here dissecting the flavors in the wine while Mary dished up their meal. Maybe she’d fallen asleep in the time Mary was out? No...that didn’t seem right. Marisa was not a person who took naps and usually seemed baffled by the whole concept of sleeping during the day. Besides, Mary had only been gone for, what, maybe 30 minutes? 

“Marisa?” She called again.

When there was still no answer, Mary placed her glass on the table and made her way to the stairs. She climbed two at a time, motivated by her hunger and desire to eat this food before it got cold. The bathroom door was open and dark, so that left only one option – the bedroom. Mary knocked lightly a few times before she turned the knob and pushed it open.

“Hey Mar – oh.”

Mary felt her stomach somersault and her fingers tightened their grasp on the doorknob. Suddenly she felt a bit like she would be sick.

Marisa was seated on the edge of the bed, still dressed in one of her perfectly tailored pantsuits. Her loosely curled hair framed her face, the orange glow of sunset through the window behind illuminating her like some magical entity.

In her hand, a small black box.

Mary swallowed, thickly. “The food…,” She started, but she trailed off when Marisa’s gaze snapped to her own.

“I’m not hungry.”

The words were cold; chilling. Mary hadn’t heard Marisa speak like that in years, not since the incident...the day when Will sealed the only remaining doorway to another world – to Marisa’s world. The mere memory made Mary shudder. Marisa had been chasing Lyra, desperate to speak with her when the girl had dodged her and jumped through the window hidden in the trees. Will followed suit, closing the window and effectively cutting Marisa off completely from both her daughter and her home.

From there, Marisa spiraled. She was inconsolable; destroyed. Mary had tried – oh, she had tried - but no amount of trying got through the intensity of Marisa Coulter’s grief. The woman was so broken that she allowed Mary to lead her back to her house and put her to bed without a single word or argument. When Mary woke up, Marisa was gone; she’d disappeared in the middle of the night without a word and left no trace. Mary tried all she could to track her down. They had, after all, developed a strange sort of camaraderie throughout Marisa’s time in Oxford - and, somehow, they found themselves linked together through a mutual desire to care for Lyra. But no matter how hard Mary tried, there was nothing to find – Marisa was gone.

Four months later, she was back. She turned up on Mary’s doorstep at 2am, on the brink of death. She wouldn't speak and would barely eat. Eventually, Mary found out Marisa had gone North in a desperate search for the window Asriel opened, only to find nothing.

It had been two years since that day. Marisa had been a shell of a person for months before slowly, ever so slowly, beginning to learn how to live again. Mary convinced her to sit in on a graduate lecture at Oxford, hoping the draw of academia would distract her from her grief. Soon one lecture turned into one class, then one class turned to two, two to three, until Marisa was a fully committed student whose quick wit and intelligence helped her raise to the top of the class at an extraordinary pace. The grief was still there, it would always be there, but now there was more, too. There was Marisa, being authentically herself for what Mary suspected was the first time in her entire life.

While Marisa found a purpose in education, she also found a home in Mary. What started as an unlikely acquaintanceship turned into a strained friendship, which then evolved to an actual friendship.

Slowly, friendship turned to more – and more turned to love.

Mary was not happy about the way Marisa had entered her life. She was not okay with overlooking the things Marisa had done – those that she had spoken of were bad, and Mary had a feeling the truth she was given was not truth in its entirety. But something had changed in Marisa since Lyra’s disappearance. The blue-eyed woman had shattered completely and taken those pieces to rebuild herself into someone Mary was extraordinarily proud of.

Marisa learned to smile and mean it. She learned to laugh. She learned to trust.

And Marisa had taught Mary what it was to feel something for someone so passionately that you would do anything to be with them. Mary could never pretend to understand the lengths Marisa had gone to be with her daughter, but she could understand what it was to love someone with every piece of your soul. To see their beauty, and their ugliness, and to accept it all with open arms.

She bought the ring on a whim. She’d been out with Marisa on a day trip to London. While Marisa perused tailor made dresses and, her new obsession, pantsuits – Mary had wandered into a jewelry store. When she saw it she just knew. A silver band with a single diamond in the center, with a combination of smaller diamonds and sapphires clustered around. A ring that would be noticed without being gaudy; a blue that would complement Marisa’s eyes every single day. It was too much money, but she was feeling impulsive, so she bought it without a second thought. A ring that maybe, someday, she would give.

She’d hid it away, all but forgetting of its very existence. Until now.

“What is this?”

Marisa looked up at Mary with a piercing glare. She held up the little black box accusingly.

“It’s…I…um,” Mary was at a loss for words, the pounding of her heart echoing loudly in her ears. She suddenly felt dizzy.

How had she misread things so terribly? She’d thought…well, it didn’t really matter what she’d thought, because it was crystal clear that she was wrong. She suddenly felt both overheated and ice cold all at once. Her palms were sweaty, her stomach in knots, the blood pumping through her veins turning to ice.

Marisa was still staring at her and Mary willed herself not to cry.

Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid.

“I can’t.” Marisa said, sharply.

“I know,” Mary breathed, but just barely. She reached up to run a shaking hand through her red curls, hoping Marisa didn’t notice the tremor but also acutely aware that Marisa didn’t miss a thing. “Let’s just forget about it, okay? The food—,”

“The food is the least of my concerns.” Marisa was on her feet, then, one hand curled around the box and the other curled into a fist.

Mary felt a now familiar brush against her leg and glanced down to see the golden monkey staring up at her with wide, black eyes. His long tail flicked back and forth before curling, catlike, around her leg. Out of habit, Mary stretched her fingers down to him and he reached a paw up to her.

“Don’t!” Marisa snarled, suddenly and loudly.

Mary yanked her hand back as if she'd been burned. The golden monkey jumped as well, chittering as he scrambled away, leaping up to perch on top of the dresser. Marisa looked at him with more hatred than Mary had seen in years, and then she turned that hatred onto Mary.

“I can’t,” She spat, then lifted the small box up. Her hand was shaking as she opened the lid and looked at the ring. She snapped it closed just as suddenly as she opened it. When she spoke, her voice was soft yet deadly. It sent a shiver down Mary's spine. “This cannot happen."

"I understand." Mary breathed, voice soft enough to be swept away in the breeze. She bowed her head, fighting against tears that threatened to fall because she would be damned if she let Marisa see her fall apart.

"I can't," The word that bubbled out of Marisa's lips was strangled, and her voice broke in such a way that Mary couldn't resist looking up at her. Marisa was holding the box with both hands, staring at it with wide eyes, expression pained yet unreadable. "I can't. I can't."

With each repeated word Marisa seemed to become more unravelled – blurting I can’t I can’t I can’t over and over and over. Tears sprung to her eyes, and then escaped down her cheeks. The I can't's stopped only when the sobs took over, and speaking was no longer a possibility. Marisa's eyes moved around the room, rapidly, as if she was looking for an escape - a way to disappear. Then, she stumbled back, her legs hitting into the bed that she slowly sunk down on.

“Marisa?” Mary was at her side in an instant.

Hesitantly, Mary reached for her. Marisa recoiled, but Mary was nothing if not persistent. She stayed next to the other woman, close enough for her presence to be felt but not so close as to be overwhelming. She forced herself to keep her hands folded in her lap until Marisa made the first move - leaning closer in the subtle way that Mary knew meant she was given permission to approach. That small shift was all the encouragement Mary needed, scooting closer to wrap her arms around Marisa, holding her securely yet gently. It was a comforting grasp, not a restrictive one.

They stayed like that for what could’ve been minutes or hours, Mary was completely unaware. At some point the monkey approached, pressing his golden body against Marisa's thigh. Marisa cried and cried, Mary shushing her while fighting tears of her own, until finally, eventually, the room was quiet.

Marisa was still wrapped in Mary’s arms, her head buried into her neck, when she spoke.

“I’m sorry.”

Mary blinked. Those were the last words she’d expected to hear. She brought a hand up to stroke across Marisa’s hair, coming to rest on her cheek.

“No, I shouldn’t have – I didn’t think,” Mary said, squeezing her eyes shut as her heart gave a painful lurch. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re not understanding.” Marisa pushed away, then, sitting up far enough for blue eyes to meet blue eyes. Her makeup was smeared, and her hair a bit frizzy, but Mary was still in awe of her striking beauty. She didn't think she'd ever get used to the way Marisa Coulter made her heart throb.

“What don’t I understand?” Mary stroked her hands down Marisa’s arms, letting them come to rest at her hands. Her stomach twisted in agony when she realized Marisa was still clutching the box.

“I want to.” She looked up, gaze hard and truthful.

Mary’s eyes widened, and Marisa’s filled with tears.

“You will never know how badly I want to say yes,” Marisa swallowed thickly. “But…,”

“You can’t?” Mary’s eyes were shimmering now, and she swiped angrily as a tear escaped and trailed its way down her cheek.

Marisa nodded, reaching out with her free hand to cup Mary’s cheek. More tears had followed the first one, and Marisa used her thumb to brush them away. “I care for you. It would be much easier if I didn’t,” She shut her eyes, taking a breath. “You need to understand that I’ve hurt everyone I’ve ever loved. Lyra…,” Her voice trailed off, breaking as an all too familiar wave of emotion hit her.

“Lyra—,” Mary said, quickly, only for Marisa’s head shake to cut her off.

“I wanted her to be mine so badly that I destroyed every chance I had to be with her, to know her. I’m not good with emotion or boundaries, Mary. I never have been,” Marisa swallowed thickly, reaching out to clasp her empty hand around Mary’s. “I had a marriage once that I destroyed, and I had an affair that was just as terrible.”

Mary tried to argue but Marisa pressed on.

“I've ruined each of my chances at happiness,” The corners of her lips tilted up into the ghost of a pained smile. “I won't ruin yours as well. I want to protect you.”

Mary sat up straighter, eyes flashing. "Protect me? From what?"

"From me."

Mary gaped at her. “Are you seriously playing the it’s not you, it’s me card?”

Marisa furrowed her brow, but Mary powered on.

“Bullshit, Marisa. If you’re saying no because…because you think that you’re bad for me, then I won’t accept that.”

“I am bad for you,” Marisa shot back. “That is not speculation. I’ve been bad for everyone, I've destroyed countless relationships and lives, why would anything be different now? You know how I am - you were there for what happened with Lyra!” Her voice faltered on the name, and Mary felt her stomach twist at the look of heartbreak on Marisa’s face.

“That was different—,”

“It was love,” Marisa spat, narrowing her eyes. “There is no difference.”

“Marisa—,”

“I can't,” Blue eyes lifted to meet blue eyes. “If I was different, if I was better…,”’

“I don’t want you to be different or better,” Mary pushed through the emotion clogging her voice. “I just want you to be you, Marisa, flaws and all. I don't need anymore than that.”

Marisa pressed her lips together.

“You don’t have to say yes,” Mary continued, earnestly. “I don't expect you too. I didn't have any plans of asking you, really, at least not yet...I just, I saw the ring and it was so lovely and...," She trailed off, taking a breath. "We don't need to be married, not ever if you don't fancy it. But please don't throw everything we have away because you're frightened.”

“I—,”

“You’re enough for me, Marisa,” Mary leaned forward, then, and pressed her lips fiercely against Marisa’s for the briefest moment before pulling back just far enough to murmur against her mouth. “Whether we label what we are or not. I'm happy with you, and that's all I need," She leaned forward to punctuate the statement with a feather light kiss. "And you should know by now that I am more than capable of protecting myself no matter what it's from."

Marisa tilted her forehead against Mary’s. “And you have no idea what I'm capable of.”

“I do,” Mary whispered, hot breath tickling Marisa’s lips. “I'm not saying that you are guiltless, Marisa, because you are not - but I am saying there is more to you than your mistakes."

Marisa sniffed, her grip on Mary's hand tightening.

"I’m sorry for bringing this all up, I didn’t - I just thought...,” Mary trailed off, sighing deeply. “I don’t need an official ceremony or any labels, truly. Could we just go back to how it was and just...be?”

A small smile flitted across Marisa’s lips. “I would like that.” 

Mary smiled and let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Forget the ring, okay? I’ll return it.”

Marisa pulled back, then, extricating herself from Mary's arms. Unfurling her fingers, she studied the little black box before flipping it open. Her eyes were cloudy with the emotions swirling around in her mind – she looked conflicted, and pained, and hopeful all at the same time. Mary watched as Marisa ran a single finger over the gemstones. Then, with the utmost care, she pulled it out of the box and turned it around and around in her palm. Mary watched, silently, as Marisa studied the ring with the same fierce intensity she wore while studying in the lab.

And then, wordlessly, she reached for Mary's hand, flipped it palm-up, and deposited the ring in the center. She looked into Mary's eyes, a tiny, mischievous grin playing at her lips, as she lifted her left hand.

"Would you...?"

Mary's breath caught in her throat. A million thoughts swirled around and around but she ignored them all, instead choosing to take Marisa's soft hand in hers and slip the ring onto the fourth finger of her left hand, gaze flickering from the blue of the ring to the blue of her partners eyes. She tried to speak but the words simply would not come, her brain too busy trying to decode the meaning of this action and to remind herself to breathe. 

Wordlessly, she ducked her head to press a feather light kiss against the sparkling stones. When she looked up, Marisa was smiling. A small smile, but a smile nonetheless.

“I still need time,” Marisa leaned in to touch her lips to Mary’s cheek. "I'm not ready to say yes, not yet."

She trailed kisses along Mary’s cheek, the corners of her mouth, the tip of her nose. Then she brushed Mary’s curls out of the way and leaned in, whisper quiet words escaping directly into Mary’s ear.

“But I won't say no.”