*** Something has to give because Mary's reached the end of her rope.***

She and Marshall were called for a transport Friday morning and wouldn't be back until Sunday. Mary was utterly relieved and her mood perked up. She was her usual self for the drive to El Paso, although Marshall could tell she had been crying earlier, and they hunkered down in their motel room with a plan to get their witness in the morning. Marshall used the shower around 9pm and when he came out, Mary was sound asleep on her bed in her sweater and jeans. He called her name and she just snored. Smiling and shaking his head at her, he took off her boots and maneuvered her under her covers without any protest. He read a book until eleven and turned out the light after that. She turned over and tossed a bit and then said, "Stop, Raph…get off…please…" in a tone that stilled him. It was a plea.

Marshall was strangely silent on Saturday as they picked up the new witness and began the journey back to Albuquerque. Mary asked him what was wrong and he would only say, "We'll talk about it tomorrow." They didn't get to talk about it on Sunday because of a critical incident with one of Marshall's witnesses. The paper work was done by ten p.m. and she and Marshall left the office together. She had already decided she wasn't going home but didn't tell him that.

"Mare…my guestroom is available, you know that, right? I think you need a break from the parasites at your house." Marshall wasn't mincing his words.

"It's my house, numbnuts. I'll sleep in it if I damn well please." She replied roughly, arms crossed.

He was silent and she looked up at him then regretted it. His eyes were kind and questioning as he stared at her and she nearly caved in right there and told him everything. Instead, she turned to her car and said, "Go home, Marshall. I'll see you in the morning."

He hissed out a breath in frustration as she walked away. He had seen her soften for a moment and thought she was going to talk, then the iron veil of self defense slammed down again before she could get out. It was going to get ugly, but he was determined to get to the bottom of this because he couldn't stand to watch her fade away anymore. "Tomorrow." he promised himself.

He drove home, she drove around the block and came back. He found her on the couch in the anteroom at 7am the next morning.

He squatted down in front of her sleeping form, noting half of her legs didn't even fit onto the couch, and said, "Come here often?" as he waved the coffee cup in front of her nose. She shifted, groaned and rubbed her face with her hands as she blinked her eyes open. "You're a god" she mumbled to Marshall as she sat up to accept the cup of coffee gratefully.

"So they sometimes tell me." he replied, wiggling his eyebrows. She smiled and breathed in the coffee. He sat down next to her and gave her a few minutes to mainline some caffeine before he said, "Why the couch? My guestbed can't be that uncomfortable." He was a little irritated and slightly hurt she had chosen to stay here rather than come to his house.

She shrugged a shoulder, "Would've been where I ended up at home anyway, so why go through all the rigamarole of travel when the comforts of home are right here? And no one makes me coffee at home."

"You're not sleeping in your bed?" he was trying to probe without irritating her yet...not enough coffee.

She just gazed at the wall and said, "Not so much, no. Raph and I have been fighting a lot."

"Hmmm" he nodded as he acknowledged her, "Maybe that's why you talk in your sleep."

That brought her head around, "What? When? What did I say?" she looked alarmed.

"Friday night at the motel. You said, 'Stop, Raph…get off…please…'" he tried to inject the same pleading tone she used. Her eyes widened and she looked at the floor, so he continued in a carefully neutral tone, "Personally, I'd feel a whole lot better if you could help me understand the context in which that remark would've been used. Right now, it's not settling well in my head."

"Fuck!" she cursed under her breath as she slumped back into the couch. She was trying to figure out how to spin this and just coming up angry. A part of her wanted to tell him knowing he would only want to help her, but another part of her was scared, thinking he would reject her. She lurched up and headed for the inner office and Marshall followed her. "You know, Marshall…you can be a real pain in the ass." She was pacing.

"I live to serve." He raised his cup to her.

She finally stopped, decision made, and turned around to glare at him and set her cup down on the desk hard enough to slop fluid over the side. "You know what…I lied," she started in a snarly tone, "I lied to you, Marshall. Why? The same reason I always lie…so no one will know how well I've fucked up my life this time." She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the far wall with a sigh. He waited.

"Coming back to work was great. I felt alive again. I would go home everyday and be smiling and within ten minutes of walking through that door I was fighting with someone…mainly Raph. He had lost control of me again and he didn't like it. I see it now. He kept fixing the house even though I told him not to. Every. Damn. Day." She was gritting her teeth and threw a pencil across the room to emphasize her words. "Then I find out he's having sex with me while I'm sleeping and I tell him to stop it, explain the problem and he says he understands. Fixed, right? Wrong. Because god knows, he wouldn't want to stop doing something just because I asked him." She was back to pacing and Marshall was watching her closely. He had only seen her this agitated a few times and it was never over something trivial. "Wednesday morning I ask him after he did it again…Thursday morning same thing. Meanwhile, now I can't sleep because I'm on alert…waiting to see if he'll try it. But hey, now he seems to finally get it." She seemed to get angrier.

"Well…that's good, right?" said Marshall slowly, brewing up a good anger himself.

"Oh yeah…now he just makes sure I'm good and awake before he initiates. Problem is, when I say no…which I'm likely to do at three, fucking o'clock in the morning…he just keeps poking and prodding at me until I let him do what he's gonna do. Just so I can go back to sleep. Funny thing is…I can't go back to sleep because I'm pissed and I don't want to lay there next to him." Her words were being spat out in packets, her expressions were fierce and she radiated barely contained violence. She was more furious than he had seen her in a long time. Marshall thought he knew where this story was going and he was getting anxious.

She was shaking her head and blowing out breaths…continuing to pace like a tiger. "To make everything just a little more complicated, he's also complaining that I never have time to really pay attention to him at the end of the day. So I develop a plan. If I have sex with him at bedtime, then I'll get to sleep through the night, right?" she grinned ferally as she spun to look at him through narrowed eyes, "But here' s the kicker, Marshall. For the first time in my life, I don't want to have sex at all anymore and I don't fake it well…because I've never had to before. So, now we're both frustrated, which leads to frustrated sex…and he's still waking me up later. That's why I was in so early. I can't go back to sleep because I'm…mad…sad. I don't know. We had a good discussion about it two days before the big blowup last week. I thought the problem was solved, but then it just got worse. He became really pushy about sex…and guilted me into agreeing to let him fix the house." She stood at one end of her desk and rested a hand on it while looking at the ceiling. "I've never cried after sex, Marshall…not until last week. I couldn't believe I was having pity sex and I'm only just engaged."

Marshall was now seeing red and he ground out, "I would call it something other than pity sex, Mary." He figured if you're crying after sex, you didn't want it…and if you didn't want it and got it anyway it was assault in his book.

She didn't acknowledge his comment and just seemed to suddenly deflate. She walked around her desk to sit in her chair and put her elbows on the desk in front of her, her forehead balanced on her fingertips. "I blew up at him Monday after I found him fixing up the house again. He doesn't listen!" she hit the desk with one fist, "I shoved him out of the house for the evening and he came back around midnight, drunk. Of course, he wants sex…of course, I don't." She stopped talking and was just rubbing her head with her fingertips. Marshall got up slowly and came over to sit on the edge of her desk, not too close to spook her into stopping her story, but close enough for moral support.

"I lost. Just…lost…Jesus. I'm a fucking idiot." she swore at herself softly.

"No, you're not. Please don't say that." Marshall stated, pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand. He didn't want to hear anymore, but knew he would listen as long as she needed him to. He felt nauseous.

"No…I'm an idiot because I didn't kick his ass to the curb that day. I wouldn't sleep in the same room with him for the rest of the week and then Friday morning I woke up with him in me again. I slapped him and we fought. He held me down again…and...and I haven't been home since." Her voice was thin with exhaustion and she just sat there silently with her head in her hands. She couldn't look at him. A few minutes passed.

"He raped you, Mary…at least twice." Marshall whispered. He thought he might cry.

"I know, Marshall." she replied softly after a few moments, "I do not want this to turn into a…"thing". I just want him out of my house so I can move on." Her voice was tired and hoarse and she looked utterly drained sitting there slumped over her hands.

Stan came in and caught Marshall's eye. The tall man looked angry and sad. He just shook his head at Stan and Stan went right to his office and softly shut the door. He called Eleanor and told her to take an extra half hour. Something was very wrong, but he'd have to find out about it later.

Marshall moved to crouch down next to Mary's chair and she looked at him. Her gaze was unsure and hesitant and he had coax her to meet his eyes. "Here's what we're going to do," he began in a low voice, reaching up to tuck a strand of her hair back behind her ear, "You're going to go to my house now and sleep. Just sleep before you unravel. No one will bother you there. When I come home later today, we'll make a plan. How's that sound?" He really wanted to hold her and tell her it would be o.k., but that's what he needed, not what she needed.

She looked at him for a few more moments before replying. "That sounds good…o.k." She knew he'd make it right, he always did. Her fear that he would turn away from her vanished with his words and she felt a wisp of strength uncurl inside her. "What's Stan going to say?" she protested.

"Don't worry about Stan, I'll take care of it." He stood up, rubbed her back and cajoled her out of the chair while helping her get her jacket on. "C'mon, just go to my house…sleep…shoo." She chuckled at that and gathered her things to head out the door, happy to escape and barely remembering the drive.

Marshall's house was quiet and comfortable and Mary always liked it there. She threw her keys, weapon and badge on the front table, left her coat on the recliner and headed straight to the bathroom for a hot, hot shower. She had some clean underwear in the guest room from past travels and she then pulled on a pair of Marshalls pajama pants and a t-shirt. The guest bed was delightfully comfortable she thought…unfortunately, she couldn't fall asleep. Her mind was a huge roiling ball of anxiety and anger and she couldn't soothe herself. Finally, she walked across the hall and climbed into Marshall's bed for a change of scenery and the sense of his presence. She could smell him on the pillows and sheets and her mind and body relaxed… she drifted off into a sound sleep.

Marshall told Stan Mary was ill and had decided to take a few days off. Stan started to ask why Mary didn't tell him herself when the tall man gave him a look that stilled all protests. Marshall got home around four and the house was quiet. Moving to the guest room to check on her, he found the bedding rumpled but the bed was empty. Then he had a thought and went to look in his room and sure enough, she was curled up with a pillow asleep in his bed. "Good." He thought, "Safe." He still felt exhausted from her telling him the story this morning…the raw anger and utter betrayal had vibrated through his body too. Being that close to someone and so attuned to their moods and needs means you not only feel for them, you feel with them…and he knew that was why she had crawled into his bed…to absorb his relative calm against her storm.

He battled with himself over whether to be angry with her for not telling him sooner or whether to berate himself for not seeing it. The tiredness, defensiveness, evasiveness and the gradual withdrawl. How many times had he seen victims of the same crime stand in front of him the same way...and he didn't recognize it in his own partner. It's hard to see what your mind would never expect. He just wanted to know why she didn't come to him...didn't trust him with this. She muttered and rolled over and he watched her sleep for a minute, realizing it really didn't matter why she didn't tell him or why he didn't see it after all. What truly mattered is that she was here and he could protect her now.

He had wanted so badly to go over to her house and rip Raphael to shreds but knew he had to wait for her to ask him. He had to be careful not to take anything into his own hands at this time as this whole, ugly situation was ultimately a fight for control. She was defeated right now and he had to let her regroup and come out swinging on her own. All he knew is that he didn't want to see that look of shame in Mary's eyes ever again. She wore her pride like a mane, radiating out from her in all directions and to see it matted down was heart wrenching. He sighed in frustration and decided to make some dinner as his protective instincts were howling and the only thing he could do right now was to feed her.

She awoke to delightful smells from Marshall's kitchen a while later and wandered out. "Good morning, Sunshine!" he greeted her teasingly.

"Shut up," she grumbled, "what time is it…and what are you cooking because it smells great."

"It's 5:00pm and I'm cooking dinner. Pork chops and potatoes and something green if I have cans in the pantry." He reached out to poke her in the ribs as she wandered by him to get a drink of water. "You need to eat. You're still underweight from the shooting."

She brought her water glass back over with her and leaned against the counter near the stove to watch him cook. "Yeah…I haven't been real hungry lately. Go figure."

He looked up at her, "Did the sleep help? Feel any better overall?"

"Yeah!" she nodded, "I definitely feel more human…still humiliated, mind you…but better."

"Mare…" he began to rebuke her and she held up a hand to stop him.

"Can it, Marshall. You've been in law enforcement long enough to know how the psychology of this thing works. Especially when it's perpetrated by someone you know." She wasn't ready for compassion yet. Emotions were raw and close to the surface and Mary just wanted to maintain her dignity for a while longer. She was eyeing the pan of potatoes and reached in to snag a bite. He smacked her hand with the spatula.

"Ow!...fine." she huffed as she snatched her hand back and headed to the cabinets, "I'll just set the table then." She had briefly forgotten how territorial he was when cooking and was glad the subject of her abject embarrassment was dropped.

A short while later, he served up a veritable feast including something green. They toasted each other with beer and dug in. After slaking their initial hunger, they started to chat while eating and he said, "I have to ask…why didn't you tell me about this when it happened the first time...or when I asked Wednesday?" The question gnawed at him and she watched emotions play across his face.

She sat back and shrugged in confusion, "Who knows. I've chased reason after reason around in my mind as to why I didn't say anything. I thought it was something he and I had to resolve on our own and I couldn't go running for help again…I thought it was my problem…I had already upset you with the initial issue…and frankly, I thought you might think less of me and be angry." She saw his brow wrinkle and steeled herself for his reaction.

"Angry?...at you? For this?" He looked stunned, "God, Mare, why would you think I would've been angry at you? Surely you give me more credit than that?"

She didn't like hearing the hurt in his voice and tried to explain, "You've been picking up pieces of me for the last eight months Marshall. I've done nothing but demand your time and attention and people can only take so much. I felt like I was doing to you what my family, and Raph, have been doing to me for a year...sucking the life out of you. And, I don't know, this just seemed different somehow. I felt small and stupid...pathetic." Her brow was furrowed as she stared distantly.

He leaned forward with his forearms on the table to catch her attention and stated clearly and gently, "I'm supposed to pick up the pieces, Mary. That's my job. And as you so succinctly told me some time ago while saving my life...I cannot quit." They gazed at each other for a few moments and a gradual, small smile appeared on her face as she nodded slightly and sighed, "O.k."

She was quiet for a few minutes and picked at her food then voiced the thought rolling around in her head, "I'm a trained law enforcement officer, Marshall. Shit, I'm proficient in about three different forms of self defense and when have you ever seen me reluctant to use that on someone? So, the fact that I got whupped by my car salesmen of a boyfriend makes me cringe out of pure embarrassment. I can't even figure it out." She shook her head in frustration as she went back to eating.

"Well…look at it this way," he was thinking it through for her, "you certainly didn't expect it, you were already at a disadvantage and Raph's a big guy. You would've had to hurt him to really fight him off and subconsciously you didn't want to do that." It was hard to keep an even tone of voice when discussing her fighting off Raph.

She considered his line of reasoning and nodded. Nibbling on the scraps left on her plate now and staring at her beer bottle, she sighed. "I always thought those women who say it was their fault were insane…stupid…but now I know why they say it. You feel guilty. You feel like there was something you could've done…should've done…to prevent it. Or, in my case, something I didn't do caused it. Talk about a serious mind fuck, Marshall." Her voice caught and she was blinking rapidly, determined not to let any tears fall over this. Her hands were fisted on the table.

Hearing her say she felt guilty twisted his gut, and he could see her distress as she fought to maintain control. He reached over and unfurled one of her hands to lace his fingers through hers. "Stop, Mary. Don't go down that road because it'll lead you nowhere but bad. There is only one person who did something wrong and it's not you. You have to believe that."

"I know…it's just really easy to get distracted." She sat up straighter and physically shook herself. "O.k…I've been thinking about how to get him out of my house because I doubt he left even though I threw all his shit at him. I'm not going to be able to go over there and do it, I know that for sure. So…I was thinking…" he squeezed her hand as he smiled at her so she'd continue, "would you want to get him out of there for me?"

He leaned over with a huge smile on his face and said, "Thank you! I thought you'd never ask."

She stared at him suspiciously with narrowed eyes. "You can't kill him, Marshall, and drag his body into the woods." Marshall pouted and she had to grin, "Just convince him to leave under his own power. Of course, if he's stupid enough to give you a hard time you may have to toss him out...roughly."

"Wow…I'm going to seriously have to tone down the "bad cop" routine then." He looked thoughtful and then saw her grinning evilly.

"You know what would be better than "bad cop"?" she hinted.

"What?" he was curious as to what her devious little mind had come up with.

"Scary cop." She had seen Marshall do "scary cop" a number of times and it made her nervous. He could get the most severely psychotic look on his face if he wanted to and would move like a predator. She had to laugh now, though, as he was making idiotic faces at her at saying, "Like this?...or this?...what about this one?"

He suddenly sobered and looked at her with the kindest expression, scooted his chair closer until his knees held hers and took her hands. "Mare, I hope you know that this doesn't change how I think of you or who I think you are. You are my best friend in the world and the one person on this planet I would actually kill someone for and drag their body into the woods." He reached up to trace her cheekbone with his thumb and said, "He tried to cage you, Mary…and you should never be tamed." He leaned forward and softly and briefly kissed her on the lips and then got up to take some dishes into the kitchen.

She somehow felt…clean. Like he had just wiped away a stain or smudge that was bothering her. She stared at this man for a moment before he taunted her as usual. "Are you going to help me clean up, or just admire my ass for the rest of the night?" Throwing a napkin at him, she joined him in the kitchen.

They watched a movie and Mary drank another beer because she could. She had a feeling Marshall was going to head over to her house after she was asleep and that was fine with her. She didn't really want to know when he was going because she'd worry about him. She fell asleep drooling on Marshall's shoulder around ten and he razzed her awake with false proclamations of disgust. She punched him and ran and he leapt over the back of the couch to try to catch her before she hit the bathroom. Ever faster, she washed her face and brushed her teeth in the safety of that bathroom and by the time she came out he was happily on the couch again. She called her goodnights, and as she turned into the guestroom, took a rubberband to the ass. "Ow! Dammit, Marshall!" she yelled at him as he laughed like an idiot in the other room.

Tuesday 2:00 am

Marshall had sat in the dark in his living room for nearly an hour mentally preparing for his trip over to Mary's house. He wanted to take the time to remember what Raph had done…to see it in his mind in order to feel the anger well up in him. He would abide by Mary's wishes and not harm the man unless he was pushed…he was hoping to be pushed.


Raph awoke sluggishly when he felt the mattress sink under someone's weight as they sat down next to him. He smiled and said, "Hey Honey, where have you been? I knew you wouldn't stay mad at me for too long." He stretched and suddenly froze as a male voice answered.

"Oh, she's still mad." Marshall stated flatly. He was staring at the form of the awakened man in Mary's bed with malice.

Raphael sat up quickly, moving away from Mary's partner as he did so, "Shit! Marshall, what the hell are you doing here?...And why?"

"Sit still, Raphael, and listen to me very closely." Marshall warned in a tone of voice that sent a chill up the other man's spine.

Raphael had a brief thought of continuing to escape the confines of the bed until he saw a glint of metal in Marshall's lap. The man was holding his weapon, and even though it wasn't pointed at him, the threat was understood. "For God's sake, Marshall, what the hell are you doing? Have you gone completely insane?"

Marshall continued to speak in a low growl, ignoring Raph's questions, "You have ten minutes to pack up your things and get out of this house. Ten minutes until I remove you myself. I'm going to go out to my truck and wait, and if I don't see you leave…with your things…by the time those ten minutes have passed, I will come back in here. Do I make myself clear?"

"No…I'm not understanding this!" Raph said, clearly confused as he jumped out of the bed on the other side and began to search for clothes on the floor in the dark room. "This is stupid and crazy…where is Mary? Does she know you're here doing this crazy thing? Did she tell you we had a fight or something? I didn't know she was this mad!"

Marshall was watching him and trying to control the fury coursing through his veins. The man didn't even acknowledge what he had done. He had made the connection between Mary's mood and Marshall's visit, but couldn't even tell when the woman he supposedly loved was hurting. Didn't even know that he had hurt her. The bastard just thought she was "mad".

"She's safe, Ramirez." Marshall stated slowly and tonelessly, "She said "no"…said it and pushed you away and you took her anyway." He stood and stalked towards Raph as his words dripped with venom, backing the man up against the wall, "You raped her and I should kill you, but she won't let me. So, you're leaving now, and if I ever see your face again I'll plug you through the forehead." He took a deep breath, holstered his gun and said, "Ten minutes."

Raphael was stunned as the man's words finally made sense. "You can't say I did that! She would've stopped me if she really wanted to. She's just mad because I don't always let her have her way like everyone else does! Do you always do everything she says?" he challenged Mary's partner.

Marshall had turned to walk out of the room as he heard the man's comments, but stopped to answer his question, "I do everything she needs…and that's where you always failed."

Raphael became furious when Marshall turned his back on him and began throwing accusations at his retreating form, "Maybe she doesn't want it with me because she's getting it from you! Is she with you now…in your bed? She's my fiancé…she's mine!" He was dressed now and headed into the hallway to confront the retreating man…not thinking his actions through.

Brandi was awoken by Raph's shouts and opened her door to see what was going on. She saw Chico standing in Mary's doorway yelling at the other man in the hall…Marshall. "What is Marshall doing here? Is Mary o.k.?" her thoughts were racing. Marshall turned around and stepped towards Raph and Brandi sucked in a breath. She had never seen him look like that before and she was afraid. Marshall had always been Mary's goofy, nerdy partner and Brandi would sometimes wonder how useful he could possibly be as a cop. In that instant when she saw his face and the way he moved she suddenly knew why Mary trusted him with her life. "Maybe I shouldn't tease him so much." She decided.

Marshall stood in front of Raph and said menacingly, "I already have a reason to break every fucking bone in your body, Ramirez. I just need an excuse. You crossed the line and now you're done." Raph's eyes flashed angrily and his fists clenched and Marshall's mouth lifted in a lopsided grin as he said, "Please…give me an excuse." Nearly a minute passed as the two men stared each other down. Suddenly, Marshall said softly, "Go back to bed, Brandi."

Brandi shut her door immediately and hoped Chico was still alive when Marshall left. She had no idea what had prompted this showdown, but it must've been something bad to bring her sister's partner over here in the middle of the night looking like that.

Marshall sensed Raphael back down and said, "Eight minutes" as he turned again to walk out of the house. As he passed Jinx's room, she was emerging to see what was going on. She stopped in her tracks as Marshall came down the hall and his eyes met hers. "Go back in your room" he instructed in a voice that commanded obedience. She backed up quickly and shut the door, breathing hard. The man was frightening and she wondered what the hell was going on.

He sat in his truck, gun back on his lap, and took many, deep calming breaths. His stomach turned as he mulled over Raph's words. It was all about control. Raphael wanted Mary for his own and he was treating her like a disobedient child…ignoring her wishes and punishing her for her perceived transgressions. He was really hoping to have to go back in and drag him out. One minute before Marshall would've returned, he saw Ramirez exit Mary's house with his duffle bag in hand. He got into his car and drove off and Marshall followed from a non obvious distance to make sure he wasn't going to loop back. Raph pulled into a Motel 6 and parked and Marshall sat and watched. Only after he observed the man check in and finally enter a room did he pull away.

He shook his head sadly, what Raph didn't understand is that Mary was not a woman you could possess…not a woman you could bend to your will and mold into what you wanted. She was truly that exotic animal…never tamed, but sometimes allowed you to touch her or stand by her if she so desired. She tried hard to go against her nature for Raph and had almost succumbed…she had approached that cage. Raphael thought Marshall was claiming her for his own but he was wrong. The Keeper was healing her wounds and setting her free.

Tuesday 4:00 am

Marshall showered and crawled into his bed after returning from Mary's feeling relieved. She'd be able to move on now, and he never doubted she would. He was just drifting off to sleep when he felt her crawl into bed with him. "Mare…what are you doing?" he was worried.

She sensed it and said, "Relax, Prudence. I'm not going to jump your bones. I just really needed to remember what safe felt like."

With that simple statement, he rolled over and reached for her. He pulled her to him and curled around her…holding her tight. He was humbled by her trust and knew this was one of the times he was protecting her from the world.

She realized this was the safest place she could possibly be…her last line of defense. She could rebuild here and she relaxed into him, finally allowing herself comfort and solace. The tears began to fall, silently and relentlessly, soaking his t-shirt and making her shoulders shake. His arms tightened around her and he buried his face in her hair as if to infuse her with his strength.

She cried until they were limp with exhaustion and Marshall stroked her hair and back soothingly. He felt her breathing slow and he whispered encouragement, "You're going to be o.k."

"Only because I have you. Thank you." she whispered. She slept soundly...with gusto.

*** That was an emotional rollercoaster to write, but I like how it turned out. Thank you for reading and, of course, your REVIEWS!!! ***