Title: Close Your Eyes
Part: 1 of ?
Rating: M (Or R if you’re using the other system)
Disclaimer: I don’t own them (Damn you, Shaun Cassidy!)
Author's Notes: Using some of the clues given in the series, this is my guess about what happened between Tom and Mariel, questioning Rose's parentage. Spoilers are mainly for 'Redemption'. Comments/feedback always welcome. Warnings: None for this part.
Summary: After the plane crash of 1996, Mariel finds herself fighting her attraction for Tom in an effort to save her marriage.
Mariel closed the door behind her and leant against it, eyes shut, body half slumping, allowing herself just a moment’s peace. Her office wasn’t exactly the most restful place in the world; truth be told it was barely an office at all, more like a glorified closet that she had to share with one other resident. Still, it gave her somewhere to dump her things and, more importantly, a sanctuary from the medical students and interns who had quickly learnt better than to follow her into her haven with their incessant questions.
Stepping half reluctantly away from the door, she flicked on the small desk lamp, illuminating the room in an old worldly glow. It had been months since she’d last bothered opening the blinds. Night, day, it didn’t seem to matter when she was here, the two blending together relentlessly. Sinking into a chair so worn it was beginning to become uncomfortable, she picked up a stack of paper work awaiting her attention, promising that she would have a break and work on it for just ten minutes before she went back out there.
Searching under the mounting piles of folders for a pen would certainly be a lost cause and so she turned behind her to retrieve one from the tub of biros on the windowsill instead. The hand that whipped one out slowed and dropped forgotten to her lap as the photograph of her husband and son seemed to demand her attention. For a brief moment she thought about calling them, struck by a sudden urge to hear Jesse’s voice. Russell had left four days ago to go on an advanced animal handling course up north. There had been no way that Mariel could get any significant time off of work and so he had had to take Jesse with him. The guy who ran the zoological park hosting the course was fortunately an old friend of Russell’s and hadn’t minded the tag-along in the slightest. Last she’d heard, Jesse had been made an honorary keeper and was having a great time helping to feed and look after the animals there. A much better time, she guessed, than if he had stayed here with her. And at least he got a break from listening to his parents constantly trying to pretend they weren’t arguing.
Mariel sighed heavily and the hand that was subconsciously resting on the phone receiver slipped away. Calling Jesse would mean having to speak to Russell. Having to lie to him again, to say that she missed him and wished he was coming home soon. She simply didn’t have the energy for that right now.
Too often of late she felt like some kind of fraud and, perhaps even worse, like a complete fool. She had a sweet, kind, handsome husband who was doing the very best he could for both her and their son. A husband who she knew was utterly loyal to them and who cared about them more than anything in the world. Who was a good man. She should adore him and feel luck to have him, and in her own way she did. She knew that not many guys would have been so supportive when they found out they’d accidentally gotten their nineteen year old girlfriend pregnant. He’d immediately asked her to marry him, said he’d get a job and help support her through college and medical school, without a thought about himself or his future. He’d been brilliant back then, all she could have asked for under the circumstances.
Yet at times she still hated him a little for it. He’d been just a bit too good and it made her feel all the worse about the small part of her that still deeply resented him for what had happened. The part blamed him for it, accused him of trapping her too young. But at the time she had been scared, little more than a kid herself, thinking that she’d ruined her life and her career and he had offered her hope and security. She would have definitely have been a fool not to accept it.
There were plenty of moments now though – as much as she loved their son and still cared for her husband – that she wonder if she and Russell would still be together if Jesse hadn’t come along. She somewhat doubted it.
It was the little things bugged her most of the time. Stupid things; his over attentiveness, his constant fussing, his wanting to make everything right even though she kept telling him he couldn’t. They were awful things to dislike someone for and the guilt of it did nothing to improve her unhappiness. But it was like he hadn’t grown out of being her college sweetheart and yet she had long moved on from there. They just weren’t on the same page anymore. Hell, half the time they weren’t even in the same book.
She knew that she still loved Russell, but she also knew that she wasn’t in love with him the way a wife should be with her husband. He simply wasn’t enough and that scared her; it made her feel like was she throwing something important away in order to keep others happy. She knew she couldn’t live like that forever, but she simply couldn’t find the courage to do anything about it. Even if she was desperately unhappy.
Mariel jumped, startled from her thoughts as the door suddenly opened and one of medical students popped her head in.
“Dr Varon?” the young woman asked, too harassed to even notice how shaken Mariel looked, “We really need you out here. We’re getting swamped.”
Mariel nodded, swallowing hard, breathing deeply, pushing all thoughts but professional ones away.
She got up, abandoning her paperwork once more and headed back out. For a relatively small hospital, serving just one average sized town and a couple of hamlets, they certainly were kept on their toes.
At the nurses’ station Ruth smiled in relief to see her.
“Thank god for that. We thought you’d bailed on us.”
Mariel grinned ruefully in return, “You know me better than that. Once I set up camp here I’m in for the long haul.”
“Yeah,” the older woman replied, a little too seriously, “I keep telling you that’s not healthy. For you or your family.”
Not wanting to have that discussion yet again, even if the nurse meant well, Mariel ploughed straight on to business.
“So, what do you have for me?”
Ruth gave her a knowing look but said nothing further on the matter. “Exam 3,” she stated, handing Mariel a chart, “Eight year old girl with a high fever. Looks like just a nasty case of flu but she’s dehydrated and drowsy and her dad’s worried.”
Mariel nodded, took the chart and headed off to the room in question, annoyed at how even though she tried to push them away, thoughts of her husband kept assaulting her as she walked. And not exactly pleasant, happy thoughts either.
She’d never considered herself the type likely to get a divorce. She always worked hard at everything, she definitely wasn’t a quitter and she really didn’t want to split up her family. Russell had put so much in to trying to make it work that she just couldn’t stomach telling him that he’d failed. And it wouldn’t be fair on Jesse to have to see his parent’s marriage break down, to have to try to come to terms with the fact the mommy and daddy didn’t love each other anymore. She couldn’t bear to put him through it.
But continuing the way they were right now wasn’t fair on her either. And she wasn’t sure how much long she could bear feeling so deep down miserable. So indescribably lonely. She wondered if thinking of herself like this made her a selfish wife and a bad mother.
“Good afternoon,” she said politely, opening the door to the exam room, practised professionalism only just hiding her troubled thoughts, “I’m Doctor Varon, I-“
She couldn’t help but grind to a halt as she saw Tom standing there. Talk about timing.
It had been almost a year since the hurricane and the plane crash in which he’d nearly lost his life. Since he had left the hospital following his recovery she had specifically tried to avoid him as much as possible. She was having enough problems in her marriage as it was, without being around a guy who looked at her the way her husband never had and said things she shouldn’t find so welcome.
What had said to her, last time they had properly spoken?
She had taken him to the crash site because he wanted to see it. He needed to in order to try to make some kind of sense of what had happened to him. No one else seemed to understand that but her. For a long moment he had stood there, staring at the water which had nearly taken his life. Where his wife had died. Mariel knew she should have felt awkward, as though she was prying on a private moment, but she had simply felt right. Like she was meant to be there.
Eventually he’d turned away from it, somehow more at peace, thanking her for bring him. Then he had moved closer and looked at her in that almost hypnotic way of his, and for an instant she was sure something would happen. And, when she realised that she secretly wanted it to, she had told him she had to go. He had let her leave without protest but he had asked her to do something for him.
“I want you to remember this. No matter what happens in the future, remember this. Remember how it was when we first met.”
“There’s gonna be a lot of rough days ahead, a lot of changes. The only way that we’ll get through it is if we remember.”
And she had. She remembered how, in a moment of curiosity, she had asked him if he knew how he’d survived and his immediate response that it was because he had met her. She remembered vividly how he told her that the first time they met he felt like he was destined to be in her life. She remembered the desperate need to comfort him as he had momentarily reached out to her before facing the press for the first time. And she remembered that, despite how crazy it all sounded, she had believed all he said, even welcomed it. That thought had kept her awake more than once at night and had made her avoid him for almost a year.
“Mr Underlay,” she said softly, surprised and unable to hide it.
He raised a curious eyebrow at such a formal greeting.
“Tom,” she corrected, tucking her hair behind her ears, her nervousness more obvious than she would like.
“Hello, Mariel,” he replied with a soft, inviting smile.
There was an awkward pause as she tried to thinking of something appropriate to say. Then, suddenly realising she was meant to be here as a doctor doing an examination not on a social call, she forced herself back to detached professionalism, hoping he hadn’t noticed her awkwardness. Or if he had, he at least didn’t know the reason for it.
“How long has she been sick?” she asked, moving past him to examine Kira, who was lying asleep in the bed.
“Couple of days,” he replied, stepping up so close behind her that she could smell the delightful distraction of his aftershave. She wondered if he was doing it on purpose. If he knew how it made her tingle inside.
“What are her symptoms?” Mariel continued, furiously tucking her hair behind her ears yet again, barely realising she was doing it.
“Fever, headache, cough, aches, tiredness, drowsy…” he rolled off, reaching around her to gently brush a few strands of hair away from his daughter’s feverish forehead, “She’s been feeling really rough since yesterday morning and I haven’t be able to get her to drink anything today so I thought I’d better bring her in.”
Mariel nodded, pulling at the skin on the back of the little girl’s hand and watching it fall back into place too slowly. “Sounds like flu,” she stated, instinct making her stroke Kira’s hand in a comforting gesture, “but we can run a few tests just to be sure. I’ll have a nurse set up a drip to help with the dehydration. She should be fine in a few days.”
She looked up and smiled briefly, not wanting him to get the impression that she was being cold with him, before stepping round him once more and heading towards the door.
She stopped, turning back.
“Are you okay?”
How did he know? Was it really that obvious? She and Russell hadn’t spoken to anyone about their problems - not even Ruth, who suspected something was the matter, knew the whole truth - so she doubted that he’d heard anything on the gossip mill. Not that she considered him the type to be much into the gossip mill in the first place. He could of course be referring to how awkward she’d been acting around him, but something about the way he spoke and looked at her made her almost certain that he knew about her marriage troubles. He’d said such odd things to her when she had been treating him after the plane crash, yet she’d believed every single one of them too. He was either just highly intuitive or had some kind of sixth sense. Not that she usually gave any heed to such ideas. But something about him always seemed to make things feel so different.
She nodded sharply in response to his question, not wanting to confide in him of all people about her problems with Russell. It wasn’t right. She turned to leave once more before his voice dragged her back again.
“It’s just you seem kinda…distracted,” he pressed, a mixture of concern and suggestion. Like he realised she understood exactly what he was referring to.
“I’m fine really,” she insisted once more, with what she hoped was a reassuring smile, “Just tired that’s all.”
He nodded but she had the strongest feeling that he didn’t believe her.
“How are you?” she asked in a rush, wanting to get him off topic, a distraction from his enquiring gaze.
He nodded again. “Fine. Slowly getting used to civilian life.”
She’d heard from some colleagues that he’d resigned from the air force shortly after he had left hospital, clearly wanting to stay in Homestead with his daughter. Since then he’d been working as a deputy for the County Sheriff’s Department. Rumour had it though that the current sheriff was on the verge of retiring and Tom was being lined up to take his place. It made sense she supposed – he had plenty of experience with all kinds of situations and was a natural leader. He’d do a good job for the area.
“It’s not quite flying jet planes,” he continued with a slightly rueful smile, “but it keeps me busy.”
“Well at least the uniform suits you,” she pointed out, her lips moving before her brain had time to stop them. A blush shot immediately to her cheeks, instantly realising that she’d said something she definitely shouldn’t have. His wife had not long died and she was a married woman. She should not be doing anything that could be construed as flirting. Especially with him.
“I’ll go get a nurse to set up that drip,” she continued, embarrassed.
“Okay. Thanks,” he replied again, his face a picture of calm but his eyes showing some fond amusement.
She liked it.
“It was nice to see you again, Mariel,” he added, just as she had the door open.
She looked back briefly, nodding in return, at last giving him a proper smile, “And you.”
This time she finally did leave.