October 1, 2017: Bearding the Lion in His Den - Marshall/Cameron, tag Maggie

Morgan Jackson

Cam carried the cake for Maggie, and a small bag of presents looped on his wrist, as they approached the door to the apartment over Inklings Bookstore. He rang the buzzer and fidgeted while they waited for Marshall to answer.

It took a little while, but finally, they heard movement and the door swung open. Marshall blinked blankly at them in surprise. He got himself together as a grey and black tiger-striped kitten attempted to escape onto the street.

He scooped the kitten up, bopping it on the nose. "Oh no you don't," he murmured as the kittens ears flicked toward him, despite craning itself toward the strangers.

Cam chuckled at the kitten, wishing his hands were free so he could scritch it. "So, um, hi," he said.

"Hi," Marshall said quietly.

"Happy birthday," Cam said. "We were hoping to maybe celebrate a little with you."

It was nice to have Cam around, mostly because Maggie enjoyed having her best friend around, but also because he carried things for her which she appreciated. When they were doing something a bit less stressful, she planned on teasing him about that a little more than she could at that moment.

When Marshall answered the door, she plastered a smile on her face. Positive personal behavior helped encourage positive responses. That and kittens. It was hard not to smile when a kitten was around. 

"And," Maggie added importantly after Cam spoke, "we brought the good stuff. Sort of hard to say no under those circumstances, right?"

"It kind of is," Marshall had to admit. He sighed, and stepped back from the door. He gestured to the both of them to head up the stairs to the apartment and followed them up. As they gained the landing, two more kittens met the three of them. One was pure black, and the other was ginger-striped. 

"Sorry," Marshall said, scooping those kittens up as well before they decided to bounce downstairs. "I got these guys four weeks ago, along with two more."

"I'd heard you were fostering kittens - are these fosters?" Cam asked, keeping an eye out for more. 

"Yeah, they'll be ready for adoption in about three weeks, I think." Unsurprised by the small town gossip mill, Marshall shut the door leading to the landing behind them. That would prevent any further kitten escapes. That's when he put the three kittens down. They immediately began investigating Maggie and Cameron. 

Marshall took the cake box from Cameron and gave the kittens a helpless look as the ginger-striped one started climbing up Cam's pant leg. "I can put them in a bedroom," he offered.

So far so good. They had been let in, which was more than Maggie had honestly expected from Marshall. She grinned in a celebratory way for the duration of the stair climb, and forced a more normal expression on her face so that the boys didn't laugh at her. The kittens that showed up and the end of their little climb seemed like a good sign as well.

She knelt down to pet the kitten closest to her, letting the kitten investigate her further before reaching out to pet it. "The don't bother me." she said, glancing up at Marshall. "They are actually really cute. And they like Cam," she added after a beat.

Cam gently removed the ginger-striped kitten from his leg - needle sharp baby claws were not his idea of a good time - and cradled the kitten against his chest. "They're cute," Cam agreed. "Besides, they'll probably just cry if you lock 'em up."

"They probably would," Marshall acknowledged and crossed the apartment to put the cake box on the kitchen counter. The apartment had an open floor plan, more of a loft or studio apartment than a traditional flat. His 'bedroom' was separated from the rest of the apartment with two folding screens. Otherwise, the space between the kitchen and the 'bedroom' was filled with comfortable furniture for lounging in, and a huge selection of cat toys. 

Two more kittens emerged from a padded cat hut, stretching as they joined their siblings in investigating the new humans. Marsh watched them - their acceptance of other people would help determine how soon they could be adopted out.

Cam set down the bag of presents, and the one full of alcohol. "I realized that I don't really know what you drink, so I brought a small selection."

Marshall shrugged. "I can always try something new." He looked down at the cake box. "So... should I cut into this, or...?"

Maggie was finally persuaded to rise from her crouched position as the general discussion moved from cats to birthday items. There would be more time to coo over the small things later. Well, hopefully there would be." "Technically, we're supposed to sing Happy Birthday to you." That was tradition for every single birthday event in the universe after all.

She actually moved the disassemble the box she;s packed the cake into earlier so that Marshall could see the entire cake. "But really," she explained as she moved the food from the box and sat on the counter, "It's up to you though. This is your gig. Whatever you want to do, we can go do it."

Maggie was hoping that maybe he would like to prolong the evening a bit, even if it was something as simple as hanging out and talking, though going out would have been good as well.

Marshall winced at the idea of having 'Happy Birthday' sung to him. "I can live without the birthday song."

"Most of us could," Cam pointed out from the seat he'd taken on the floor. He was being mobbed by kittens. Two were in his lap, one was attempting to nest in his shoulder. The one that Maggie had abandoned was chewing on his left hand. The last kitten was clearly decided on a line of attack, its head tilted as it considered Cam. "But it's a birthday tradition - you should let us indulge ourselves. We did bring booze and cake."

Marsh smirked at Cameron. "Fine, but only because my cats apparently like you."

"It's all about not looking them in the eyes. Pretend disinterest, and a cat is, like, 300% more interested in you."

"You didn't have cats growing up," Marshall observed.

Cam's grin faded a little. "My ex does. Two of them."

Maggie looked to Cam pointedly. "Oh no Mister. Your birthday comes around and I'm singing. Loud and off key." Her threat was probably not real, but she liked making it all the same. Besides, the show of cats swarming Cam was enough to sway Marshall to their way of thinking. She looked to Marshall as though to tell him, 'you're about to get the same thing.' In the few moments they had been in Marshall's place, it was slowly starting to feel like old time. Was she old enough to feel nostalgic?

As the conversation steered the more unpleasant aspects of their lives, she could not help but to think how quickly the evening could turn sour. Both of her "boys" were dealing with things they didn't deserve to have to deal with. "Maybe drinks first then."

"Drinks," Marshall agreed. "Especially if you expect me to let you two sing Happy Birthday."

"I don't think Maggie cares about permission," Cam pointed out, nodding toward the bag of alcohol. "I'd offer to pour, but... cats."

As if to underscore his point, three of the kittens settled in his lap, purring loudly. "Okay, how do you live with this level of cute?" Cam asked in exasperation.

"With cat toys," Marsh answered as he came out of the kitchen and flicked some milk jugs rings out across the hardwood floor. The kittens came to life, attacking the plastic rings, then each other. Cam was able to finally get up off the floor, so he took the opportunity and picked up the bag.

He set the bottles on the kitchen counter, between him and Maggie. "Couple of Maggie's favorites, couple of mine, and some other stuff that can mix, assuming you have things like dark cola or orange juice."

"I've got both," Marsh replied, picking up the bottle of Angostura Single Barrel Dark. Rum sounded amazing at that moment, mostly because he was in the company of his friends. Some of his usual dour mood melted off him. "Remember when we got fucked up on the rum I snuck out of my dad's liquor cabinet?"

Cam laughed at that memory. They'd been on Christmas break, during their freshman year of high school, and had hidden out at Cam's uncle's house, because they'd known he'd taken his wife on a trip to warmer climes for the holidays. "We got so sick," he recalled.

Maggie arranged the bottles so that they were all lined up, mostly out of habit, save for the one Marshall was checking out. All of them sounded good, though she was partial to the very rum Marshall was holding. "Good choice," she said, more to herself than the him.

The recalled memory of their experience with a similar bottle made her laugh all the more. "It's not like knowing that before would have deterred us. I think I'm the one who insisted that we wouldn't get sick if we had a little water before." In theory that worked if you had enough to balance out anyway.

"We needed a lot more water," Marshall recalled. "I was so sick. Dad seriously thought he needed Doctor Gibbons to come for a house call. I was so embarrassed to admit that I'd taken that bottle."

Cam snorted. "That's how he found out? I just remember him giving me stink-eye for weeks afterwards."

Marshall shrugged and put the rum down, then rummaged in the fridge for the dark cola. "I never did like lying to him. He always trusted me, like he'd trust another adult." He took a breath and said, more quietly, "Especially after Mom got diagnosed."

Cam, assuming that he could have run of the kitchen, since he and Maggie were in the house, opened cabinets until he found the glasses. He poured himself a generous measure of Midori and sour, eyeballing the proportions easily. 

He took a sip, and took measure of Marsh over the rim of his glass. "You never said anything to us," he observed quietly. Marshall had never shared with them the nature of his mother's disease, even when he'd stayed in Silver Lake when Maggie and Cam were heading to college.

Marshall flushed and poured himself a drink. "What was there to say?" he asked, bitterness creeping into his voice. "You two had your futures to build. I had responsibilities."

If they were determined to visit this topic, something that they had tiptoed around in every discussion an encounter until now. It probably wasn't the best idea to bring it up now, but if Cam and Marshall were determined, then she would also travel down that road. "We were still your friends, Marsh. You could have come to us. We'd have been there for you. We're still trying." So, she was a little more direct when it came to these sorts of discussions, but hopefully he wouldn't take it the wrong way.

After that little outburst, she went about pouring her own drink so that she could divert her gaze for a moment and give her hands something to do.

Marsh drained his glass rather than say anything, and immediately poured himself another drink. 

"What was I supposed to say?" he asked finally. "I was fourteen when Mom started showing symptoms. How was I supposed to explain how she'd suddenly not know me, or that she was looking for seven year old me, or two year old me? How could I explain that I couldn't bring friends over, because if she was having an episode, she'd be absolutely terrified of anyone she didn't remember? We didn't even have a diagnosis for her until senior year."

Cameron looked down at his glass, suddenly feeling ashamed for pushing the issue, and ashamed for not knowing any of this when Marsh had needed them most. It didn't matter to him that they'd all been kids, that he'd probably had the emotional sensitivity of a rock back then. "We'd have still been there for you," he offered, repeating Maggie's words.

"When?" Marshall asked bluntly. "Both of you were in college, halfway across the country. And then after that, you were overseas. Maggie was building her business. You got married. You two had lives."

"And despite living in completely different parts of the world," Maggie interjected, "Cam and I were a part of each other's life. We were each others support system. We wanted to have you right there as well." She almost added that it wasn't as though Marshall had exactly missed out on much, at lease where her path was concerned. She'd finished school and turned right about to return home where she preferred living, and despite the business she was growing, most of her personal life was much the same as it had been before college. Well with the increased amounts of wine to take the place of juice boxes she;d had as a child.

"So bluntly put," she said, now with the assistance of hand motions to emphasize her points, "we miss having you in our lives, and we want to change that. We can't do anything about the past at this point, so it's really a question of going forward."

"It's a small town - it'll be pretty hard to avoid us," Cameron joked weakly.

"You say that like I do anything but work and go to the nursing home," Marshall pointed out tiredly and had more to drink.

"You could change that," Cam countered. "Seriously, we've missed you, and want to work on being friends again. We're older, maybe a little wiser, but we still care."

"And if you reject us, I'll have to stalk you," Maggie added as though this was something she would actually do on any serious level. Show up a few times a week at his store was more along the lines of what she would actually agree to. "So in the long run, hanging with us again might be the less stressful alternative."

"As Cam pointed out, it's a small town. It would be pretty hard to stalk me," Marshall said. "I mean, I'd see you."

"But then the question would be, are we stalking you, or are we just going about our business," Cam said. He waggled his fingers. "Spooky."

Marshall snorted. "You've hardly changed," he observed. "You're still a smart ass."

"Let me pretend I could actually successful stalk you Marsh." Maggie insisted, glad to see some more light hearted behavior enter back into their impromptu celebration. "I ask for so little."

She laughed at Marsh's assessment of Cam's character. It was the damned truth. "Yeah, he's the same as he's always been. Just taller. And he can legally acquire alcohol now."

"Hey, I'm a lot more bearable with some alcohol, so it's a good thing I can get it legally. I can almost stand myself some days," Cameron quipped. He eyed the cake. "So, can we celebrate properly with cake now? We should have something to absorb the alcohol."

"We could have cake," Marsh agreed. "I haven't had dinner yet, so something food-like would be good. Maybe we should order pizza?"

"Urgh," Cam said, revealing his not-so-hidden food snob. "You should just let me at the content of your fridge and freezer, if we're going to have real food."

"One of the reasons I've always valued our friendship is your complete honesty. Cam." Maggie said with a teasing grin before sipping again from her freshly made drink. Her gaze swung to Marshall, almost sympathetic now. "If you want pizza, you have to stop him now. The second the fridge opens, that's it."

Marshall snorted. "I guess it would be different from the usual suspects that get prepped in my kitchen."

"You have usual suspects?" Cam pulled a face. "That's what the internet is for! Porn and recipes."

He opened the fridge and poked around, then got nosy in the freezer. Soon he had a serviceable winter stew started, much to Marshall's amusement.

"You don't turn off the work part, do you?" he asked.

"You mean the part that actually likes cooking?" Cam asked. "Hell, no. Just because we are required to eat to live, doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy it."

Maggie placed a hand over her eyes as though she was shielding her sudden mental pictures from being viewed. "Why do I now have a terrible fear that you cook in the buff? How much of your nakedly prepared food have I ingested?" Her tone was still playful, if only touched with a shade of curiousness she wasn't sure she wanted answered.

"So what is it you plan on making?" she asked, changing the subject.

Cam laughed. "Wouldn't you like to know?" he asked, and batted his eyelashes at Maggie.

Marshall snorted. "I'm sure she has an idea. You two lived together," he pointed out.

"But what if I was on my best behavior while we lived together?" Cam retorted.

"I don't think you know what 'best behavior' is."

"Trust me. There was not even good behavior, let alone best behavior." Maggie insisted to Marshall. "Not than any of us ever had much best behavior to begin with. You would think though, with me being a lady and all..." she trailed off since the claim would have led her to laughing.

Marshall smiled at Maggie's words. "Hey, I tried to be a good kid. You two were horrible influences, but we established that already."

"Someone had to make sure you had fun," Cameron pointed out easily, then winced. A kitten had made its way into the kitchen and was using his pant leg to scale vertically along Cam's leg. He looked down at the kitten. "You are so lucky you're cute."

Marsh sighed and carefully unhooked the kitten from Cam's leg, depositing the furball on his own shoulder. The kitten settled itself quite happily, as long as Marsh didn't make any sudden moves.

"I was only a bad influence when I got older," Maggie insisted, though she wasn't quite sure how true that statement actually was. Sometimes she wondered if she imagined herself as being more or less devious than she actually was, so she never had a real secure hold on the reality of that situation. "It was you two that really led me down that path."

She laughed as she watched the kitten's fascination with Cam. "You should adopt one. You're a natural cat person, Cam."

"Not until I don't live with my parents anymore, which you still have to help me with," Cameron reminded Maggie, stirring the stew. He then finished his drink and poured another.

"Why are you living with your parents?" Marshall asked. Even though both of his parents were essentially gone, he couldn't imagine voluntarily living with them again.

"Because my divorce sucked, and I just wanted to get home. I also figured that I should be reasonably adult about looking for a house, and not take the first one that I see," Cam replied honestly. He nodded to the kitten on Marshall's shoulder. "Are they gonna be ready to adopt soon?"

Marshall nodded and reached up to scratch the kitten's chin. It's eyes went half-closed with pleasure and it began purring. "Yeah, they're almost at the two pound mark. Once they hit that, they'll get fixed and then notices will go out that they're ready to go to forever homes."

"I offered to do something mean to her. I'm still offering." Maggie said, though it was more to herself. She had tried to stay out of those problems as much as possible. Still, it was hard not to hold a grudge when your best friend had been involved.

"See, that works out perfectly. We'll find you a house, and by them you can adopt your little buddy there, and I can be Auntie Maggie and bring it all kinds of toys. Marsh can even help me pick some out." she offered her other friend a wide, devious smile as she tried to bring him around to her way of thinking.

"The more serious question," she added after a moment, "is what exactly you're looking for house-wise."

"At least two bedrooms," Cameron said instantly. "Really, probably three, and two bathrooms. Good kitchen, with enough space for me to have a top of the line stove and fridge installed. I'd prefer hardwood and tiled floors - I hate carpet so, so much."

He thought further. "I want a decent sized yard. I want to be able to host parties and barbecues."

"So... something in Windsor Estates?" Marshall suggested.

"Yeah. With all that space, you'll need a big lot, and fancy furnishings," Maggie agreed, although she thought that you could technically have all of that in an older, less up to date neighborhood. Those places would have 5 by 5 size rooms though. Well, practically.

"You'll need something other than carpet though if you're seriously thinking about getting a pet. The clean up time alone will be so much shorter." Cats weren't too messy in the first place, but maybe if he ever leaned towards dogs or something similar.

Cameron eyed the kittens. "I'd probably adopt a cat or two," he admitted. "If it's just me in the house, I'd rather have a couple of four-legends friends keeping me company."

He wrinkled his nose those. "Not dogs, though. Too much dependency."

Marshall laughed. "So you want pets who will ignore you until they're ready for affection? Sounds like you're a cat person."

"See, I don't get that justification," Maggie said, laughing at the whole conversation now. "You'll get cats because you don't want to be in a big old house all alone. Fine. I totally follow you there. But what happens when someone breaks into your house, and your cats are like, 'oh hey. The good silver is in the dining room.'" This question was probably half formed thanks to the consumption of alcohol, even though her one glass so far was not quite empty just yet. "A dog wouldn't do that. A dog would protect your good silver...or whatever you'd hide that was valuable."

Cameron snorted. "I don't need a dog to protect the good silver. I don't even own good silver. That's why there are things called security systems."

He poured another drink, aware that he was drinking far faster than he probably should be. He mentally shrugged. If he ended up too drunk to go home, it wouldn't be the first time it had happened in front of Maggie, and it looked like the furniture in Marsh's living room was comfortable enough.

Marshall laughed and poked at the stew, judging it to be cooked enough. Cameron probably wasn't sober enough to be consulted. He ladled three bowls full and set them at his dining table, along with spoons, forks, and napkins. "Let's eat, before we get any drunker," he suggested.

"You will have good silver one day. It's what adults with houses and jobs eventually do, or so every television show in history has insisted." Well, perhaps it excluded the characters on Roseanne, but definitely everyone else from TV was included. She had to agree that, despite all this talk of pets and expensive possessions, Marcus was on the right track regarding food.

"See," Maggie said as she followed his instructions and took a seat, "This is one of the reasons I've always liked you Marshall. You're the idea guy."

Cam snorted inelegantly at Maggie's insistence that he'd have good silverware one day. "Maggie, honey, 'my good silverware' - and I use that term loosely - went to the ex-wife."

It was a sign of how drunk he already was that the word 'ex-wife' didn't sting the way it usually did. He very carefully made his way to the small table and sat down.

"I will allow," she began then paused to drain the remaining drops of her drink before continuing, "that the idea guy is also the person who warns us about pending trouble. I'm fine with that. Makes it easy for me to feel good about being less responsible if ever we all feel like getting into trouble."

Cameron snorted. "We should rotate the responsibility," he proposed. "Otherwise, poor Marsh here is going to end up being our designated driver all the time."

He slapped Marshall on the back a little too enthusiastically. Marsh was a little to drunk to care, though he was in agreement with that suggestion. "If I'm going to get looped into hanging with you two again, I'd appreciate not being the reasonable, responsible one all the time."

"Fine." Maggie raised her hand in the air and shook her head in a weirdly normal way despite the alcohol. "You gang up against me. I should have known."  Her hand settled down next to her glass and she nodded, as though agreeing to some random plan she had instantly devised.. "You're both grounded. What do you think of that."

"Psssffftt," Cameron managed and got up to get bottles to refill their drinks. "I think that means you need to drink more. And then we can do something stupid, like fire up that XBox and play some Rock Band."

He peered at plastic instruments in the living room. "That is Rock Band, right?"

Marshall turned a couple of shades of red. He had a slight addiction to the game. "Yeah, it is."

"Awesome!" Cam pumped a fist. "So, we each need just one more drink, and then we'll be drunk enough to do that shit without remembering it, or at least not caring that we'll probably look completely stupid."

Maggie looked to Marshal as though he should defend her universal grounding of the people in the room who were not her, though the talk of more drinks and Rock Band drew her attention away from that declaration...for the time being. "If only we'd all had cell phones as kids so we could relive those moments you hoped liquor would help us forget, Cam."

Cam laughed and poured them all a drink. "Do I need to declare this a cell phone free zone?" he asked. "Because I will."

"Fuck that," Marshall said. "If we're getting totally drunk and stupid, I want photographic evidence." He took his drink to the living and turned on his TV and console. "Let's do this thing."

Cameron laughed again and followed Marshall. "I got drums," he said, claiming the plastic kit and wooden sticks.

Marshall looked toward Maggie. "What about you?"

Maggie shot Cameron a look that clearly indicated how silly a phone free zone sounded. Thankfully Marshall was there to set things right. Intoxicated Maggie really felt like Cam simply wouldn't get along in life without her guidance.

"No," she held a finger in front of her and moved it from side to side in a gentle lecturing motion. "This is your celebration Marsh. You pick first. Mic or guitar?" she offered the options of unclaimed instruments. "And I won't take no for an answer either."

Marsh picked up the guitar and looped the strap over head, then passed Maggie the mic. "My singing abilities haven't improved since we were high school."

Cameron laughed. Marshall actually didn't have an unpleasant voice - he just couldn't get over being the center of attention. "If you get tired of singing, we'll rotate instruments."

"And you think mine have?" Maggie asked as her fingers enclosed around the plastic mic as she winked at him. At least she could keep up with the rhythm if not always quite on key. Let's get started."

Marshall picked created a play list for them, picking songs he thought Maggie could sing. They played, and between songs, Cameron encouraged them to keep drinking. "We can just pass out here! Drunken kitten cuddles!"

"You're just lucky I actually have enough pillows and blankets for you two," Marsh retorted. When his head started swimming more, he got said blankets and pillows out, then had to sit down to actually play the game.

"Oh that sounds awesome." Maggie said quickly at the mention of kittens and cuddling."You should write that down somewhere so that we remember it later." It was only the truly drunk who made suggestions like that. She also thought she sounded a lot better than she might have had a few drinks ago.

Marshall snorted. "We don't have to write it down," he asserted drunkenly. "The cats will cuddle us as soon as we're lying down. They'll want to use us as heaters."

Cam laughed, having the sense that they'd all be lying down sooner rather than later. "And people say cats don't need us."

Maggie actually stuck her tongue out at Marshall, an action she knew she had not taken in years. "When you're all confused and think the cats are trying to eat you, don't blame me. I encouraged you to write down the idea."

Marshall stuck his tongue out, right back at Maggie. "Who's the cat expert here?" he asked. "Yeah, me."

Cameron laughed hysterically, losing his rhythm and causing them to fail the song. "Oh... my... god... the look on your face."

"You ruined the band, Cameron," Maggie lectured, using the longer form of his name as though that was part of her chastisement.   "Can you believe him Marshall?"

"Of course I can believe him - it's Cameron," Marshall dead-panned, then fell into a seat laughing. "I quit - I can't even play anymore. My fingers are mushy."

Cam snorted. "Mushy - that's a technical term, huh?"

A triumphant look crossed Maggie's face as Marshall joined in on her accusation. It was the right thing to do after all. "He's just trying to deflect." Maggie assured him. "We're on to you Cam."

"Pfft..." Cam blew a raspberry at the both of them and claimed the love seat, sprawling across it. "Be on to me. I'm amazing."

Marshall snorted. "That makes no sense." He grabbed one of the pillows he'd gotten out earlier and threw it at Cameron. It bounced off Cam's face, but ultimately ended up where it was supposed to be: under his head. 

"Don't care. Gimme blanket," Cam demanded. Marshall laughed and dumped a blanket over him. "You're the best, Marsh."

"Yeah, whatever you say..." Marshall looked over at Maggie. "You ready to pass out too? You can have my bed."

"It's about that time I think," Maggie replied. It seemed like it had probably been a handful of years since she'd been this drunk, but at least the company was the same. She was also far gone enough that she didn't mind accepting the offer of his bed. At least, she didn't flat our refuse as she might have at some other, more sober time. "Are you sure?" she asked by way of compromise.

"I'm sure - I've slept on the sofa before. Just be prepared for a lot of kitten snuggles." Marsh gently pushed Maggie toward the bed. "Want a t-shirt or something?"

He'd have offered Cam a change of clothes, too, but Cameron was already snoring. Marshall rolled his eyes at that. "He could always just fall asleep."

Maggie allowed herself to be directed towards the bed since she tended to be a lot more pliable when she was drunk. "I'm going," she said quietly, more to herself than to Marshall. And the bed looked lovely to her, as good as a bed ever did to someone who needed it. She took a seat on the edge of the bed, and shook her head at his offer. "I'm good, Marsh. I think you're right about Cam though. No one will ever sleep as well as he does."

"No probably not," Marshall agreed with a laugh as he settled into the sofa. "Night, Maggie. Sleep well."


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