The idea for this one actually came from the line in "Good Intentions" about Jinx or Brandi running off with a penniless Elvis impersonator. The strangest cross-pollinations sometimes occur in my head.... I hope you enjoy this one. Please R&R.

When love is not madness, it is not love. ~Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Mary awoke face up in a large bed in a strange hotel room. That in and of itself was not a new occurrence for her. Her job often required her to stay in motels and hotels of varying quality. What were new twists on the old familiar routine were the flocked red wallpaper and peeling gilt trim. She also couldn't quite remember waking up in a room with plaster cherubs smiling down from the molding before. None of that, however, was as distressing as the fact that she found herself possessed of the mother of all headaches and completely nude on top of the completely disheveled bedding.

The light filtering through the window blinds was like being punched hard in the face, and she closed her eyes and slapped her hands over them, or tried to.... Woozily, Mary realized that there were problems far greater than a simple hangover and lack of pajamas. She...could...not....raise...her...left...hand.... It was hanging over the edge of the bed, and a heavy weight seemed to be dragging on it, pulling it down. With an animal's reaction to restraint, Mary tugged as hard as she was able in her achy condition, and succeeded in freeing her trapped limb in such a spectacular fashion that it flopped across her torso. She panted a little with the effort, but was generally feeling pleased with herself until she noticed that when her hand and arm had sprung free, they had not come alone....

Draped across her naked stomach was an arm not her own. Taken aback, Mary stared. There was something familiar about it, about the contours of the hand at the end, the long fingers, the silver standard-issue Marshal service handcuffs binding her wrist to this one.... Wait a minute....

"What the fuck!!" Mary was awake now, even without her usual morning dose of caffeine. She unceremoniously yanked her wrist and the other arm along with it hard, drawing a groan of pain from the body attached to the other end of it, currently located somewhere on the floor underneath the bedspread, hidden from view except for one long leg and the arm currently in question. The leg had a scar running up the strong calf shaped like a long s-curve. Oh no, oh please, I know that leg and that scar, too....

Mary scooted over to the edge of the bed and lifted the bedspread with her eyes closed. She took a deep breath before opening her eyes. When she did, she saw the naked sprawling form of her partner, Marshall, sleeping peacefully on the hideous red and gold pile carpet. He had not awakened despite having his arm wrenched at such an awkward angle. In sleep, his face looked relaxed, calm, happy. Haven't seen him looking this peaceful in a long time, she thought to herself. She studied Marshall again as she frantically tried to remember how they had gotten themselves into this situation. Her eyes ran over his broad shoulders, and it was there that she noticed several small, short scratches that ran part of the way down his back. What would have caused those? They almost look like they could have been made by... I mean they almost look like somebody...but they're fresh...Oh sweet tiny baby Jesus, NONONONONO.

Embarrassment turned to anger, and she leaned down and shook him roughly. "Marshall, get the hell up right now."

"Wha...? What is it? Witness in trouble?" Marshall was trying to sit up, but couldn't quite work out the mechanics of the motion with one hand chained to an angry and uncooperative Mary. He, too, clearly wasn't quite at his mental best this morning. He scrambled about for a minute inelegantly, and Mary pulled hard on the handcuffs. Marshall fell face down on the floor again, but when he turned his head to look up at Mary, his eyes were much clearer, and his expression was definitely not amused.

"What the hell?"

"Almost my words exactly."

"So this isn't your idea of a practical joke?"

"Marshall, you idiot, you know me. You've been my partner for three years now. Am I a practical joker?"

"Right. Sorry. Caught a little off guard here with the naked and handcuffed thing...."

"Yeah. I can see how that could happen," she said, glowering at him.

Marshall sighed and moved to a sitting position on the floor beside the bed. He leaned back against the bedside table. "So where are we? How did this happen? What do we know? And, perhaps most importantly, where the hell are the keys for these cuffs?"

Mary, still suffering from her hangover headache, wasn't ready to play this game, and she brought her hands back up to her face again. Marshall's hand, of course, came right up with her own, but she ignored it. Marshall opened his mouth to complain when he noticed something on her hand that simply left him without the ability to comment at all. He grabbed her hand and dragged it toward him, crawling onto the bed at the same time.

"Hey, look numbnuts, I know that apparently you had a high old time last night, but..." Mary stopped talking, stopped trying to shove Marshall back on the floor because his expression finally registered. He was staring at her left hand as if transfixed, his mouth hanging slightly open, his color actually turning slightly green. Mary looked at him worriedly trying to figure out what could possibly have affected him so strongly, and then she felt his fingertips trace her fourth finger, gently. Wait....

Reluctantly, she looked down to where Marshall's strong hands cradled her left one to see his fingers gently touching the gold band that circled her ring finger. She just stared, every synapse in her brain melting together, refusing to take in that tiny band of precious metal. Marshall's hand froze in midstroke on her own as if it had received an electric shock, and he slowly rotated their clasped hands. She saw on his left hand, wide and golden, a band that matched hers, a plain, unmistakable, unadorned symbol. Her fingers helplessly came up to touch it just as his had done.

"Mare..." he started and stopped a moment to take a deep breath, "correct me if I'm wrong, but does that look at all like a wedding band to you?"

Mary could not look away from the rings on their hands. The sight was hypnotic, like watching a rattlesnake preparing for a strike. "Uh-huh. I think we better figure out some answers and fast."

They were in Las Vegas for a law enforcement conference. Such events were notorious for turning raucous as the various branches met, mingled, and cut loose, especially in a place like this city. That alone, however, was not sufficient to explain how the two of them had wound up in what was undoubtedly the world's tackiest honeymoon sweet handcuffed together wearing matching wedding bands and nothing else. Mary just refused to even deal with those scratches running down Marshall's back. One trainwreck at a time.....

Moments had passed and Marshall was now looking at the handcuffs. "You do realize," he said, "that these are yours, don't you?"

Mary, still trying to put together the events leading from the casino conference center to this crimson palace of kitsch, shot him a dirty look. "So are you trying to say that I handcuffed us together?" Even as the words were coming out of her mouth, a flash of memory came to her. The two of them eating dinner and drinking, going to a club at the casino and drinking, the two of them dancing in a very inappropriate manner for partners, and then....the two of them stumbling through the door of this ridiculous room, a bottle of champagne in hand, kissing passionately, clothing flying in all directions, hands seeking, finding, her pushing him down on the bed and grabbing the silver cuffs... I handcuffed us together....why the hell did I handcuff us together? And after the handcuffs had been snapped on, binding them to one another....Well, I'm never going to be able to look at these the same way again....

She could see that Marshall was having a similar memory flash. A faint blush was spreading across his cheeks, and he hunkered over the cuffs, twiddling with them as if he could open them by force of will.

"Um, yeah....so....keys. Where do you reckon the keys got off to?"

They had to get up together from the bed to search for the keys, and this was a delicate operation since at first they were trying to wrap pieces of bedding around themselves until they realized they'd need their free hands to look for the keys in the discarded clothing. Mary and Marshall looked at each other, and humor sparked in Marshall's blue eyes.

"I'll show you mine..."

"Idiot," she snorted with a laugh. "What makes you think yours is good enough to take in trade for all this?" She shook her hair from her face with a regal toss.

He leered at her and raised one eyebrow. "What makes you think I haven't seen it all already?"

"Stop. Stop it right there if you intend to live through this...."

He just started laughing. Mary punched him, but he gently caught her fist, shook his head.

"No more damage, okay?"

"Okay," she grumbled.

"Count of three?"

"Yeah. I'm counting, though."

He made a welcoming gesture with his hand. Mary counted to three, and they dropped their makeshift covering. Mary couldn't help but look. Marshall was a pleasure to look upon. He was lean, built with a swimmer's body, well-muscled and lovely. She saw the scar on his shoulder where he'd taken the bullet when things had gone so wrong with Horst. She saw the strength is his body, and her eyes slipped down him, assessing..... My, my, my Marshall. Okay, that is worth the price of admission...and you know, last night, he was really...quite...surprisingly...whoa, Nelly...stop that right now. Do Not Go There.

Marshall was also covertly studying his partner, and his pleasure in her naked beauty was hardly less than hers in his own. Mary had a naturally curvy body kept sleek and firm by the hard work of law enforcement, and the scars from her rough job were an additional enticement to him because they reminded him of the heart and drive beneath the external. Going to have to think of nuns, he thought, taking a deep steadying breath. Nuns, Schrodinger's Cat, and carrying pi out to the 100th place. Otherwise, she's going to know what I'm thinking and she's going to kill me because I'm chained to a savage golden goddess and can't get away. Maybe we won't find the keys and she'll do that...thing...again. Marshall's mind disconnected for a moment as he relived a favorite moment from the night before, a use for handcuffs that they'd never even hinted at in any law enforcement seminar or training session he'd ever attended. Wait, no...nuns, nuns....

Despite the obvious distractions, they managed to find most of their clothing without bumping into each other too often or too deliberately. Marshall handed Mary her underwear with a grin, and she snatched them from him with a dangerous look. She found one of his socks on top of the dresser, and a moment later, he spied her pants, the target garment of their search, near the bathroom door. They moved over and pounced on them, each of them pushing their free hand in a pocket, Marshall emerging just a moment later with the tiny silver set of cuff keys in his hand.

He dangled them in front of her a moment.

"Marshall, just do it already, dammit."

"Funny. I seem to have this memory of you saying almost exactly the same thing to me in a completely different context and tone of voice last night...."

She growled low in her throat and swung, but he was already ducking the blow he knew was coming and started working on getting the cuffs unlocked. As soon as they were off, the two of them grabbed their various pieces of clothing and dressed.

Having their clothing on and the cuffs off helped to restore some of their sense of sanity, but it also made the situation they were in even more surreal somehow. There was no crisis to solve, and the two of them wound up sitting on the edge of the big, rumpled bed staring at the rings again after they were done putting on their shoes.

"Staring at them isn't making them disappear," Mary griped finally, and she stood up, and grabbed her jacket. "Let's get out of here and see if we can figure out what happened last night, or at least find some food while we think of what to do next."

"Yeah. You're right. Food would be good, I guess." Marshall sighed, ran his now ring-bearing hand through his hair, and followed her, taking up his coat as well. When he lifted his, a folded but official-looking document fell out of the pocket. He bent down to pick it up while Mary was already at the door working the locks to leave the room. He open it to see what it was since he didn't remember putting anything even remotely like it in his pockets.....

"Did you know this place is actually called, and I shit you not, the Love Shack? God, only in Vegas," Mary was laughing at the hotel's kitschy name she'd found written on the hotel check-out information on the back of the door when she turned around and saw the expression on Marshall's face.

"What is it? What's wrong?"

He didn't answer. Instead, he just waved the piece of paper in his hands toward her gently, his eyes huge, his color going pale as if he was going to pass out. Mary quickly came across the room and grabbed the certificate from him to see what had him so spooked. Her eyes scanned, paused, rescanned, paused, and then she looked up at Marshall and blinked twice in confusion.

"Marshall, this says we're really married!"

"I am aware of that, Mare, and the rings were a pretty good indicator, but thanks for checking in on my reading comprehension. I do appreciate it." His voice was barely a whisper.

Another flashback assailed Mary, this time of her and Marshall in a gaudy wedding chapel with an Elvis complete with white rhinestone-studded jumpsuit and scarf officiating, the two of them laughing hysterically, kissing, and swearing that nobody else would ever take care of them as well as they could take care of each other. She seemed to remember requesting that the Elvis minister sing "Jailhouse Rock" and tipping him quite heavily because it amused her and she knew Marshall would love the irony of two U.S. Marshals walking down the aisle to an anthem about prison.

Marshall had gone back to sit on the bed again, his head cradled in his hands.

"Marshall," she said tentatively, "do you remember...how do I say this...do you remember an Elvis?"

He looked up at her, new horror dawning in his eyes as his memory returned. "An Elvis? Yes...oh no, there was one, wasn't there?" He dropped his head back into his hands.

Mary laid the certificate down and dropped back down next to him on the bed. "So what do we do now?"

Marshall did not move, but he spoke. "Well, now, we file for an annulment, I suppose. In Nevada, you're allowed to do that if the parties involved can claim that the marriage lacked consent due to one or both parties involved being underage, insane, or intoxicated.... God, we've surely got grounds, because we may not be underage, but we hit both of the other two exactly on the mark..."

Mary tentatively put her hand on Marshall's back. "Marshall? It's going to be okay. Look, we'll get it taken care of, and nobody will ever know, okay? Everybody does something stupid when they're drunk at least once in their life. This one was yours, well...ours, although I have to say it's not my first time on the drunk-and-stupid merry-go-round. It's going to be alright. I promise."

Marshall looked up at her, and she saw for the first time the real pain in his eyes. Oh hell, I hurt him. What did I say? How do I fix it? I don't want him to hurt....


He took her hand, the one with the ring, between his, and he rubbed his thumb over the plain band, silent for another moment.

"This is not the way I saw my first marriage happening. I had...plans...I guess. Things that did not involve being so drunk I can barely remember it. Plans that did not include any Elvii whatsoever." His lips quirked briefly, but there was no real humor in the movement. Plans that included a clever proposal, an engagement, your meeting my family. Plans that included you and me waking up the morning after peaceful and in love, ready to start a life together, not searching for handcuff keys in some horrible parody of a honeymoon suite. Plans that included a happily-ever-after, not a race to a the end.

Mary's heart broke for him, for whatever romantic dream of Marshall's that had been destroyed by their actions. She turned her hand over in his to link her fingers with his, gold ring against gold ring. She put her other hand on his cheek, turned his face to hers. He still wouldn't meet her eyes, instead keeping his gaze focused on their hands.

"Marshall, this is just a bump on the road to those dreams. Don't think of it as something that has to mean those dreams have died." He was her partner. He was her best friend. Last night, he had been her lover. Today and for a time, he was her legal husband. She would take a bullet for him any day, and she loved him. She leaned in and she kissed him gently, softly, sweetly, offering what comfort she could.

Marshall's free hand came up to tangle in the hair at the nape of her neck, and he kissed her back, full of the longing he, a man of so many words, could not articulate even now that there were laws and precious metals binding them together. He slid his tongue against the seam of her lips, asking, and she parted them to allow him inside. Their linked hands continued to hold one another, fingers caressing. Memories of the night before, touches, sighs, pleasures given and pleasures shared, slid like a waterfall over both of them.

Finally, Marshall broke the kiss, leaning his forehead against hers, breath unsteady. He drew Mary into his arms and held her tightly. Mary rested her head on his shoulder and tried to calm the rapid beating of her own heart. A few moments passed and they pulled away from each other. She looked at Marshall, and he had a semblance of his familiar grin in place.

"Did you have that Elvis sing 'Jailhouse Rock' as we went down the aisle?" he asked.

"Knew you'd like that bit," she snickered.

"Oh yeah. That was the extra class the whole thing needed...." His grin faded. He reached out and touched her face gently, once, before lowering his hand. "Thanks, Mare. For what you said. I needed to hear it."

She caught his hand as it left her face and squeezed it. "You're my partner, Marshall. I'll always be here for you whenever you need me for whatever it is that you need, even when these rings come off, even when that piece of paper goes away. Nothing that has happened here changes any of that."

She dropped his hand, stood up, and headed to the door with Marshall following just behind. Mary spun, right hand on the doorframe, and looked him up and down, mischief in her eyes. "Don't buy that crap about 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas' though. I will give you hell about this for years to come, Marshall Mann...."

Marshall smiled with a deep, personal satisfaction, conscious of the glimmer of the band on her fourth finger and the weight of the matching one on his own, and said, "I'm counting on it." Then he shook his head slightly as if to clear it, and said, "Food, woman. Go. We have to find food...." and herded her out of the room while the gilded cherubs continued to smile down in undiminished serenity from their perches on the ceiling above.

Epilogue: – Two weeks later, two large mailer envelopes were waiting in Marshall Mann's mailbox. He tore open the envelope with the official seal of the State of Nevada first. Inside was the expected annulment decree. He couldn't help but feel a little saddened by it. He imagined Mary fervently opening hers when she got home, trying hiding it from her nosy family, and he knew he'd get a phone call from her later tonight. He sighed and put the document back in its envelope to be filed.

Taking up the second mailer, he looked at the return address with a growing feeling of dread and unease. The return address showed a guitar and wedding bells, and its address was in Las Vegas. He tore the strip across the top of the back of the rigid cardboard envelope and removed the contents to find a glossy 8X10 of Mary and himself in front of an altar and the Elvis they had only vaguely been able to remember. Mary had a little white tulle veil stuck on her head, no doubt borrowed from the chapel for the service. It looked hilarious with her black leather jacket and jeans.

Marshall laughed out loud because Mary was also holding her everpresent clutch piece, the Glock from her boot, in the way a normal woman would hold a bouquet. Neither of them had remembered that little detail. He wondered how the chapel had allowed them to do that without calling the Vegas PD.... We must have shown a badge at some point. Or Mary was just being Mary, and they were all too afraid to do anything but get out of her way and pray for it to be over soon.

In the photo, their arms were wrapped around each other, and they were looking directly into the camera. Marshall was struck with how happy the expressions on both their faces were. He traced a fingertip over Mary's face in the photo before he put it down. He looked into the envelope again, and found a small piece of notepaper inside. A handwritten message read, "Here's your photo. We were very honored to have two U.S. Marshals get married in our little chapel. The 'Jailhouse Rock' thing was a hoot, and we were happy to do it for you both. Elvis got a real charge out of it. You two were a lot of fun, and anybody who looked at you could tell how in love with each other you were. Good luck in your new life together." It was signed "Helen Taylor, General Manager"

Marshall picked up the photo again and looked at it. He thought about Mary's words in the hotel, about the kiss afterward, about the note sent by Helen Taylor. Mary was right. He might not get his goal the way he had originally planned, but sometimes taking an alternate route allowed you to see some awfully interesting things, especially if it took you through Vegas. He grabbed his keys and his phone and headed back out the door. He had to go get a nice frame for this photo, and then he needed to go see his partner.

I hope you liked this one. It was fun to write. Let me know what you think.....