*** Thanks to all who read, wrote, wept and ranted throughout...you've made it fabulous fun!! I especially want to thank Lynne, Kathiann, Annie, Kim, Cherilyn, Sarah for their story swapping and incredible tolerance for my whining! ***

*** Freaya: thank you for the scene idea that starts this chapter ***

*** Well, our saga comes to an end *sniff*. It's a looong chapter folks, but I wanted to get all the requests in and finish the story where it finished in my head.***

I think about the years I spent just passing through
I'd like to have the time I lost and give it back to you
But you just smile and take my hand
You've been there you understand
It's all part of a grander plan that is coming true

Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you

--- Broken Road, Rascal Flatts

The slow jazz played softly in the background as the last of the wine was poured, lights low and the fireplace coals burning red as the couple curled up on the couch.

"Did you call that invite out to Detective Dershowitz?" Eleanor asked as Stan pulled her back against his chest.

"Mmmhmm," Stan was distracted by the smell of her hair, "he'll be there. Do you really think it's a good idea to have a surprise welcome back party for Mary? I'm not sure she likes surprises."

"It's just her friends, not a big deal, and I think she'll be fine so long as we don't fuss. Just a casual get together that happens to have some balloons and food."

Marshall had agreed to get Mary to come to the office for lunch one day after they got back from vacation so Eleanor could have the party. He had called the woman the day before to ask her to help investigate the true nature of any policies regarding partner relationships. Marshall was vague, but Eleanor figured Mary had agreed to live with him so he was trying to find a way for the pair to remain partners. Now that she knew about the married team in Portland, Eleanor was positive she could work her magic and make sure Stan wasn't put in a tight spot.

Mary and Marshall had one of the best records, and she was certain hopping in the sack wasn't going to change that for those two. It would probably make them even more volatile than they already were, and that seemed to work well for them.

"I wonder what they're doing out there in Georgia?" Stan mused while he lightly caressed her arm.

"Oh, I don't know…enjoying the beach, visiting Savannah, kayaking. All those relaxing things neither of them have gotten to do for ages."

Stan was quiet for a moment, then hesitantly asked, "You don't think they're…you know…fooling around?"

Eleanor laughed quietly as she rolled her eyes, "I try not to think too hard about those things, Stan. And anyway…what if they are? So are we."

"It's just that I'd hate to have to step between them for something like that," Stan sighed and shifted, "There's no way I could partner either one with someone else…it would be a disaster."

"Who says you'd have to do anything?" Eleanor turned a bit to catch his eye, "not only would Mary and Marshall be utterly discreet about something like that, but there may not be a hard policy that forces your hand. We couldn't find anything to say our relationship was a no-no, remember?"

Stan furrowed his brow as he thought back to their policy search and having come up empty. Still, the thought of his two Inspectors doing the horizontal bop threw him off his game a bit. It just seemed…weird.

"They're not kids, you know," Eleanor spoke up, reading his thoughts, "You don't need to have the birds and the bees talk with them. And we don't even know if it's going on, so quit fussing."

Eleanor put down her wine glass and leaned over to take his. Turning around, she crawled into his lap as he smiled and welcomed her, "I know the perfect way to take your mind off of it too."

Stan wasn't thinking much at all soon afterwards.

*** *** *** ***

The return to Albuquerque was bittersweet. Mary was excited to be one step closer to returning to work, and still riding the high of being with Marshall, but the little cottage by the sea would call to her for a while, she was sure.

They had made a copy of the picture of them on the obstacle course and put it in a frame to leave on the table of pictures in the loft. Mary had burst into tears with the act and Marshall had no idea what was wrong, only able to soothe her as she sobbed. She couldn't explain the sense of belonging the displayed photo finally gave her, and just leaned into his comfort.

Mary was a little nervous about the house, didn't know if she'd like it and felt a little odd that Marshall had bought it.

"I'm paying half the mortgage." she insisted as they drove from the airport.

"Of course." he agreed, knowing better than to argue, "And we can do the paperwork to put your name on the deed and note so I can't sell it out from underneath you when I skip out to Vegas with a showgirl named Buffy."

It was his way of warning her not to push the issue of him owning the house. He was happy to share and put her on the paperwork, she knew, but didn't want her to overanalyze it or try to make it an issue.

"I'm good." She assured him, and he smiled over at her.

Mary loved the house and Marshall preened until she smacked him. The ceilings in the great room and kitchen were high with a large wall of windows to overlook the neighborhood and the mountains beyond. The kitchen was roomy, but not so big as to be impractical and Mary loved the gas stove. The master bedroom had a fireplace and she was skeptical, asking him if he planned on roasting marshmallows after sex. He assured her she'd change her mind after a few cold nights. They designated the study/office and the guest bedroom, then stood in the doorway of the last bedroom and tried to decide.

"Well, you once stated you wanted a bullet room." he offered.

Mary chuckled, "That was pretty off the cuff at the time. Not really practical. Maybe an exercise room?"

"When do you exercise other than to beat up the poor rookies at the gym?" Marshall looked at her with disbelief, "And I certainly don't see you kayaking down the Rio Grande."

"I could hire Sean as my personal trainer. Think he'd move to Albuquerque?" she teased.

"He seemed nice, hate to have to shoot him." Marshall drawled and they laughed.

"Weapons." Marshall said. An idea in his mind that could possibly work.

"In here?" Mary could see him thinking.

"Yeah…swords, guns…cool stuff. Like a little weapon museum or something." He was now walking around looking at the walls and holding up his hands in measurement.

Mary snorted and walked back to the great room, "Oh yeah, that'll be great 'til the three year old stabs the baby." Thinking about an appalling news story she had read a few days ago.

Marshall poked his head out of the room, excited, "We're having kids? When?"

"Down boy. My insides are finally tacked down. Don't plan on rearranging them again for a while."

Marshall was now looking at the weapon room with other options in mind. Bunk beds and dollhouses.

Mary was unlocking the French doors in the kitchen to take in the backyard and pool. The fenced area offered privacy without it being closed in, and the pool was smaller than the one at her house, but landscaped so nicely it looked a lot bigger. She had to admit her partner did a great job of picking out the place. Turning to look back at the house, Mary smiled.

"Hey," she called and waited for Marshall to appear at the door, "Dershowitz is going to be really proud of you."


"Security lights," she motioned towards the lamps with her head, "and I saw an alarm keypad when we came in." Neither she nor Marshall had systems in their old houses and Bobby D. was always on them to get something installed.

"We have the option of getting those activated, thought I'd see what you have to say about it." Marshall offered.

Mary wasn't going to live in fear, but she wasn't stupid either, and the additional piece of mind would be appreciated for a while at least, "We can try it out for a while, see if we like it."

Marshall agreed, but with a condition, "You can't change the code if you're pissed at me." He knew she would do it if he didn't set the rule.

Mary drew a little X over her chest as she rolled her eyes, "Cross my heart."

Marshall had managed to get all his stuff moved into the house before he had left for Georgia, but didn't unpack any boxes as he wanted to wait for Mary. They dragged a few things into respective rooms and unpacked enough to keep them clean, clothed and fed for a few days while settling in.

Later, exhausted from the day and tangled together in the bed, Marshall asked, "Should we tell anyone, or let them guess?"

Mary had a moment of hesitation, "Do you not want anyone to know?"

He kissed her head, "If it was up to me I'd put it on one of those electronic billboards over the highway, but I think we may want to be a little more discreet."

She relaxed, "True, true. I bet it takes at least three months for anyone to realize we're living together."

"Hmmm," Marshall thought, "I plan on getting you a ring, so the females of the tribe may get suspicious when they see that."

"Only Eleanor would notice, and she knows already so we can't include her." Marshall had told Mary about getting Eleanor to help them research.

Marshall was happy she didn't protest the ring, "Okay, I'll take your bet, but I think it'll be less than three months."

"Winner makes the stakes." Mary said and they rock, papered, scissored with Marshall crowing in victory. He was going to have to think about a suitable challenge. Something he could live with, but would drive Mary nuts.

Mary yawned and burrowed under the covers, "Lights out at the ranch, Cowboy, I'm beat."

"Hey Mare…" he said softly and she tilted her head to see him, "welcome home."

*** *** *** *** ***

Marshall's parents were thrilled with the news of his engagement, and his mom launched into a series of stories regarding her and his father's times at the cottage. Marshall smiled into the phone to hear her so excited and Mary leaned over to listen too.

"You know, honey, your brother was conceived at that cottage."

Marshall turned bright red, "Jesus, Mom! Really didn't need to know that."

Mary fell over into the couch cushions in hilarity, shoulders shaking as she added, "Tell her what we did on the kitchen table!"

Marshall hissed her silent and shoved her off onto the floor. She laughed harder.

*** *** *** *** ***

Mary strode out of the elevator towards the office with a sense of relief, finally completing the last leg of the journey home as she came over to say hi to everyone and meet up with Marshall for lunch. He wanted her to look over the files for the witnesses they would be managing within the next month. Mary's fingers were twitching in anticipation of working again.

She sensed the change in the air and her head popped up to really look into the main area, immediately pivoting to dive back into the elevator only to run headlong into Marshall.

"Surprise!" he said with an evil, cheesy grin, "Going somewhere?"

"You're sleeping on the couch, asshole."

"We'll talk, now let's go be nice to the people who are happy to see you." Spinning her around, he forced her to continue towards the main office as the three other people she called friends stood waiting with balloons.

Mary had to admit to a good time, flattered a bit by the genuine happiness at her return and the familiar banter that she hadn't realized she missed. No one got her a goofy gift or waxed poetic on how lucky she was, just talked and ate and drank bad champagne while arguing about which of them would survive the longest in a horror movie.

"Put the villain in a room with Mary for an hour or two and he'll run screaming, I'm sure." Eleanor offered with a toast to the glaring woman.

"Or, Marshall and Eleanor could just bore him to death with protocol and copy paper trivia." Mary shot back.

"What about me?" Stan asked, affronted, "I'm not washed up yet, you know."

The four people just stared at him, "Fine." he growled and poured another glass of champagne.

"You'd go back to save some pretty young thing, Stan," Bobby said, "Dead for sure."

"What about Detective Dershowitz?" offered Eleanor.

Bobby laughed and raised his plastic glass, "Hell no. I'm the token black man…dead in the first twenty minutes."

Marshall nearly choked on his cake.

*** *** *** *** ***

"Have you found a new house yet, sweetie?" Jinx asked as Mary was over to help them move the last of their belongings into the new condo.

Mary had been home for three weeks, and she closed on the condo a week ago after the insurance payments were processed through. Jinx and Brandi were excited to move, but Brandi was having a hard time leaving Peter behind. Mary sympathized. She had agreed to spend the day helping them get the place set up since she started back to work on Monday.

"No, Mom," Mary blew her hair out of her face as she set down her load of boxes, "the market is tight, I just bought this place, and I'm fine over at Marshall's right now. He's got plenty of room."

Jinx was moving one small box at a time, and Mary glared at her while her mother sat down to rest, "It doesn't look right for you to be living there with your partner. People will talk."

"Seriously, Mom, who?" Mary leaned on the stack of boxes with her hand on her hip, "Everyone who knows me knows my house burned down and my partner has been kind enough to loan me some space."

The hurtful words Jinx had spat at her so many weeks ago still stung, and Mary had little tolerance for her mother's hypocritical morality checks. She hoped Brandi got here soon with her load of boxes. Squish had been a good buffer between her and her mother these last weeks. At least Jinx didn't seem to be drinking anymore, and Peter said she was going to meetings again. Small blessings, Mary supposed, although she just couldn't muster up the empathy she used to force herself to feel for the woman. Loosening the grip her father had on her also allowed a lot of the guilt and obligation she felt towards Jinx to drain away.

"Did Peter give you the papers we're going to sign?" Mary asked her mother.

"Really, Mary, you're going to make me and your baby sister sign a lease?" Jinx pouted on the couch.

"If you want to live here, yes." Mary was reading the printing on the boxes in order to move them to the correct room, ignoring her mother's whines, "You have a job, and the rent is well within your means since I'm making it dirt cheap. I'm not picking up the tab when I don't even live here, and you can't rent your own place because your credit is in the negative numbers."

"It's hard to just get tossed into this situation, Mary. It's been a long time." Jinx got back up to move a few things around.

Mary sighed, sensing the distress in Jinx's voice, "Mom, you and Brandi are grown women who need to have their own place. I thought you wanted to get your life back on track, and sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet."

Jinx was thinking about Mary's statement and watching her oldest daughter move about the condo.

"What happened to you, Mary?" the softly worded statement made Mary pause as Jinx continued, "You went away so suddenly, then Marshall sold his house to buy a new one, and now that you're back you seem…different."

"You know what happened. I got shot and my recovery wasn't as smooth as we all expected. I needed to take some time away. Marshall sold his house because of some things related to the case," Mary finally turned to look at her mother, "And I am different. I put a lot of things in perspective."

Jinx tilted her head, "You seem calmer…happy, even. If you can ever be happy."

Mary studied her mother back, not realizing the woman was that perceptive, but not willing to give any ground at this point.

"You know, Mom, I've found that I can." Mary went back to unloading boxes.

*** *** *** *** ***

"What are you doing, nitwit?" Mary asked as Marshall pulled her out of the study by one wrist, "I'm trying to get your eight million books onto six puny shelves here."

"The door's done and I want you to see it."

The front door had to be replaced due to pure ugliness, and Marshall had been working all morning but wouldn't let her see it. Mary rolled her eyes as she allowed him to lead her to the front of the house, knowing he was like a little boy with his first tool set sometimes, then stood back with an appraising eye as he bowed with a flourish to display his work.

Mary had to admit the door looked quite good, nearly professional, and she was starting to really like the idea of having someone handy in the household.

"Okay, Bob the Builder, I'm going to say I'm impressed, but don't think it buys you sexual favors or anything."

"I have to buy those now? Why didn't I get that memo?" he teased.

Mary snorted, looked at the door from a few more angles with a nod, then made to go back inside.

"Wait a minute." Marshall said.

She turned to look at him with eyebrows raised, waiting.

"New door…new house…new furniture," he stepped closer to her with a twinkle in his eye, "We need one more thing to have it all put together."

"New car?" she guessed.

Marshall snagged her left hand as he pulled his other hand out of his pocket, "New us."

Mary stood very still as he placed the ring on her finger, a lump in her throat. It was beautiful, and its shape brought tears to her eyes that she tried to fight back. Platinum, with a small spiral of diamonds whirling outward from the center. Perfect.

She bit her lips as she stared at her finger, wondering at the convoluted and painful road she had taken to get to this place. Wondering at the strength of the man holding her hand who had stood by her all this time. She had no words to say.

"Mare," Marshall asked softly as she remained still and quiet, "do you like it?"

Her head bobbed in a nod and then she looked up at him and he knew why she hadn't spoken, eyes full of tears and chin quivering slightly and he just pulled her to him with a smile.

"Did you think I had forgotten?" Marshall asked as he stroked her back.

She shook her head no against his chest as her arms snaked around him.

"Are you happy?"

Nodding yes now, Mary tightened her grip and he felt her breath hitch.

"Are you going to use me like a giant Kleenex?" he kissed the top of her head.

She sniffled loudly in response and he laughed, as happy as she.

*** *** *** *** ***

Mary walked into the ICU with a large bag of bagels and spread and two boxes of donuts and asked the secretary at the main desk to find Kelly for her. Having dug Kelly's card out of her wallet yesterday, Mary had called the woman to find out she was working that night and Mary told her she wanted to come by and say hi. Knowing food was a gift sure to be appreciated, Mary had actually set her alarm for o'dark thirty in order make an early run to the breakfast shops and arrive at the hospital by 5:30 am, wanting her gift to be enjoyed by both shifts. Marshall had grumbled and hidden under the covers when she turned on the bathroom light and Mary had accused him of wussing out, for which she received no acknowledgment. Solo it was.

"Mary!" Kelly came out from a back room and quickly walked over to help her with the packages. They put them in the little side break room and Kelly turned to look Mary over. The tall woman was dressed for work and wore her badge and weapon and Kelly could not believe the transition.

"Oh my God, I hardly recognize you," just shaking her head and the difference between the strong and proud woman standing before her now compared to the barely recovered one she had seen a few months ago.

Mary was smiling with the approval, "Yeah, well, I've spent a little time putting myself back together. Been back at work for about three weeks now."

They grabbed a few chairs and sat around the table, "I have to say, I can now see why everyone was in shock when they found out how sick you were. They all kept saying it was hard to believe you could be taken down, and seeing you today makes me understand."

Becoming a little embarrassed with the praise, Mary switched topics, "I really wanted to come by and say thanks for all you did…for all everyone did. I know you probably don't get to hear it as much as you should." Mary certainly knew that feeling.

"Just seeing you is satisfactory, but we will definitely keep the food." Kelly teased, then turned it back on Mary again, "So, how's Marshall?"

Mary laughed, "Still in bed, probably. I wasn't able to pry him out from under the covers." she let the statement sit for a minute.

Kelly's eyes lit up and she leaned forward, "Really? Do tell!"

Mary summed up the story by waving her left hand in the air and Kelly grabbed at it, "Gimme…let me see."

The women talked and laughed for a little while longer until Kelly had to attend to a patient. Calling her goodbyes, Kelly reminded her about that invite and Mary waved in agreement.

*** *** *** *** ***

Eleanor noticed the ring right away, but agreed to keep the secret a little while longer as Mary told her about the bet, plus she wanted to see how long it would take Stan to clue in. Mary let her know she had four weeks to go to win and threatened Eleanor with a mass stapling disaster if word leaked out before then.

Mary passed all her requalifying exams the week before and was finally put back on active duty, celebrating with Marshall at their favorite greasy spoon for breakfast that morning.

"This is what I get?" Mary teased as she gestured at the half full diner, "cracked plastic chairs, a snotty waitress, crappy Christmas decorations and runny eggs? I can't believe I hauled my ass all over that training course for this."

"Picky, picky," Marshall droned as he had his eyes on the newspaper next to him, "And I hear your ass looked pretty damn good out there."

She made a disgusted face, "Let me guess, Phillips?"

"Ding, ding, we have a winner," Marshall looked up and smiled at her, "Ass kicking privileges go to the little lady in blue."

"God, you know just what to give a girl." Mary beamed.

"Make it sooner rather than later, would you?" Marshall signaled the waitress for more coffee, "I almost flattened him at the gym the other day."

Mary reached over to tickle him under the chin and he swatted at her, "Awww, aren't you sweet. All protective and crap."

"Well, you do have to actually survive through the wedding ceremony in order for me to take life insurance out on you, you know." He was reading the paper again and trying not to grin.

"I should've shot you by accident a long time ago." Mary growled.

*** *** *** *** ***

I was two weeks before Christmas and Mary was glowering at Marshall's attempts to get her to help decorate the tree. Her partner was positively bubbly about the holiday, and Mary could've cared less. Christmas had never been much more than another day at her house growing up, some years there was a tree, some years not. Mary always tried to make it nice for Brandi by cutting out snowflakes from the scrap paper around the house, and taking her to the church services on Christmas Eve to hear the choir, but Christmas morning was pretty much a crap shoot. Jinx always had a present for them, but Mary dreaded the disappointed look on her little sister's face when it wasn't the doll or game she had been wanting, but clothes or school supplies instead.

"Hey, where'd you go?" Marshall called, having been trying to get her attention for the last few minutes.

He knew Mary didn't like Christmas, knew her memories of the holiday were grim and depressing, but he was hoping she would try to make Christmases with him a little better. His attempts so far had elicited nothing but sighs and glares, and Marshall decided to pull out the big guns.

Making sure she was looking at him now, he began, "Remember when I said I would try not to ask much of you?"

"Uh oh," Mary thought as she answered, "Yeah, I remember."

"Well, Christmas is one of my favorite holidays…" he started before she cut him off.

"All the holidays are your favorite holidays."

Staring her into silence, he continued, "…so I want to ask you if you would try to find something about it you can enjoy. If you can't do that, then at least let me enjoy it. Okay?"

Feeling about two inches tall, Mary looked at her partner and realized she had fallen back into the old habit of thinking her universe consisted solely of herself. She wasn't taking Marshall's feelings or needs into account and mentally chastised herself.

"I can make snowflakes?" she offered with a small smile, pleased to see him relax and smile back.

"I love snowflakes."

The tree had more snowflakes than ornaments, and Mary made so many Marshall brought some into work to hang on the tree there, never revealing the artist.

*** *** *** *** ***

"You know I win this bet in a week, right?" Mary was teasing Marshall as they got ready for the Christmas party at work.

"So sure of yourself. It's cute, actually." He mocked.

Mary made a face at him and bumped him out of the way as she left the bathroom. She was only going to this party because of Marshall, and if he was going to give her a hard time she would damn well stay home. The weeks up to the holiday had been a little kinder as she allowed herself to appreciate the enjoyment her partner got out of the season plus trying to remember the reason for the holiday in the first place. There really wasn't a point in wallowing in past hurts and wrongs, especially since she really felt like it was time to move forward.

"You never have asked me what the loser will be subjected to," Marshall called, "Aren't you curious as to your fate?"

Mary had been so certain of winning that she really hadn't thought to ask, "Fine. What will I have to put up with while you whine?"

He stuck his head out of the bathroom to grin at her and wiggle his eyebrows, "You have to wear the Santa hat at work for a week."

"Wait a minute," Mary protested with her hands on her hips, "You can't pick something that you don't mind doing if you lose."

"Where is that written? I don't remember that being said at any point."

"I don't think…"

"You didn't win the toss so you don't get to think."

"I'm not going to…"

"Yes you are."

Marshall had moved to stand right in front of her with a gleam in his eye. He grabbed her in a rough embrace and Mary put her hands on his chest.

"You are going to wear that Santa hat all day…" he growled, then swiftly bent to place a hard and deep kiss on her mouth and her hands gripped his chest. He began to trail kisses along her jaw towards her ear while continuing, "…and then I'm going to bring you home and strip you out of everything except the Santa hat…", Mary now leaned into him as her legs were getting less cooperative, then moaned as Marshall ran his tongue over and under her earlobe while whispering, "…and then devour you until I make you say "ho, ho, ho"." He grabbed her ass and pulled her firmly against him.

"Oh, jingle my fucking bells," Mary whooped in her head.

Marshall released her just as quickly and Mary gave a little whimper in protest.

"But, of course, if you win I guess you'll just have to settle for laughing at me all day." he said while walking over to pick out a tie.

"You're Santa's evil little elf, aren't you?" She growled with a glare as she caught her breath and straightened her dress.

"Decisions, decisions…naughty or nice…hmmm." Marshall continued to softly taunt her with one raised eyebrow, humming a little tune while she glared until they left.

The holiday party was always a chaotic event, and this year was no different. Good food, good alcohol and generally bad behavior, all would profess to either a rip roaring good time or miserable hangover the next day.

Most people were surprised to see Mary as she had not attended the last few years, and she received many "great to see you up and arounds" and "you look greats" until she was hunting down the shortest path to the bar. She had lost Marshall and Stan about a half hour ago as the men were being dragged off for some contest of male grunting or something, leaving Mary to fend for herself socially and fend off typically intelligent men who would know better than to approach her on a sober day. Her mouth was sore from the false smiles, her feet hurt in the high heels and she now had a wet spot on the front of her dress from the newbie who thought he could maneuver her under the mistletoe without her realizing it.

Finally, however, she saw Marshall above the crowd and he turned to catch her eye, giving her a beaming smile and Mary sighed. He was having a good time, and she really wasn't as miserable as she was making herself out to be, so she smiled back with intent to hang in there for a while longer. For him.

"Mary," came a familiar voice from behind her and she turned, "What a wonderful surprise! You look fabulous!"

Bev Carter was a middle aged, plump woman who supervised the smooth running of the evidence room. She held tight control over anything case related, and you had to promise your first born in addition to undergoing body cavity searches to remove anything from her domain. Mary truly liked the woman, but hadn't had the chance to see her since she'd been back.

"Bev! It's good to see you too." Mary suffered through the brief hug from the slightly inebriated woman and smiled warmly.

"When did you get back, young lady, and why haven't you come down to see me?"

"I was down there the other day, but I didn't spot you. How have you been?" Mary grabbed another glass of champagne from a tray being brought around

"Same shit, different day, you know," the women shared a sympathetic moment, then Bev looked her up and down appraisingly, focusing on the drink held in Mary's left hand.

"Do my eyes deceive me, or is that a diamond ring on your finger, my girl?" Bev raised questioning eyebrows with a bigger grin.

"Oh crap." Thought Mary, frozen and thinking fast, "Santa hat with perks…Santa hat on Marshall…Santa hat and nothing else…Santa hat on Marshall…fuck it."

"It is a diamond ring." Not offering anything more, but Bev's face just lit up. She had been after Mary to find a good man for a long time, not ever knowing about Raph, as no one outside the WITSEC office did.

Squealing, Bev hugged her again and Mary tried to keep her drink from spilling and looking around to see if anyone else noticed the hubbub. Thankfully, it didn't seem to be attracting any attention.

"Well, tell me all about him!" the older woman begged, rubbing her hands together, "Where did you meet him, what does he do, is he good in bed?"

Mary snorted and smiled, then replied, "I've known him a long time and it finally all came together. He's my best friend."

"Oh honey, I'm so happy for you! What does that partner of yours think?" Her question had Mary biting her cheek to keep from laughing.

"He's one hundred percent supportive. Thinks it's the best decision I've ever made."

Bev squealed again and regaled Mary with love stories and matchmaking successes in her time until the Marshal was able to extricate herself and head towards Marshall.

"I'm wearing the damn hat." She reluctantly groaned as she stood next to him and they surveyed the crowd.

"Yes," he hissed, pumping his fist in the air, "I am the champion."

She jostled him on purpose so he would have to step awkwardly to save his egg nog, "Bev from the evidence room spotted the ring."

Marshall looked at her warily, "How much did you tell her?"

"I told her I was marrying my best friend. And that my partner thinks I'm a very smart woman." she smiled at him.

Marshall chuckled, almost hugged her then checked himself as he remembered where they were, "She doesn't know it's me, does she."

"Not a clue."

Bev may not have known who Mary was engaged to, but she certainly knew how to spread the word and within a half hour Eleanor had heard the buzz. She quickly looked for Stan and hurried over to pull him aside where they wouldn't be overheard.

"I just wanted to tell you," she began as he looked at her questioningly, "that I found out there is no official policy prohibiting partners from becoming romantically involved or maintaining a relationship. In fact, there are two married teams in the US, and as long as they meet all the standard requirements for maintaining their witness case loads and percentages, there's nothing to say they cannot work together."

He looked at her oddly, "And you're telling me this right now because…?"

"It just seemed like a really good time." she said perkily with a smile, then took his arm to lead him back into the fray.

A number of women had now come up to Mary to see her ring, and Marshall just stood by and admired it with them, muttering the requisite "I'm so happy for her" and "he's a great guy" as he tried to maintain his composure. The looks on Mary's face were priceless, not used to having this much attention, and he was going to bust a gut soon. He did, however, melt just a little bit each time she described him as her best friend.

Eleanor was sure Stan would pop a vessel as she watched him react to the news that Mary was engaged while talking to another couple from two floors down. He turned to glare at her when the couple left, and Eleanor grinned sheepishly then trotted behind him as he made a beeline for his Inspectors.

"Incoming." Marshall muttered to Mary as he saw Stan cruising across the room.

"Fuck." Mary returned, looking for an exit as she saw the expression on their boss' face and chugging the rest of her drink.

Trapped, they both put on their best "Hi, welcome to Albuquerque" smiles they used for new witnesses. Knowing Stan wouldn't make a scene, most WITSEC officers don't, Mary and Marshall just steadied themselves for a quiet and intense diatribe.

He stood in front of them, grabbed Mary's hand and stared at the ring, then dropped it to just glare, "I don't…I'm not…dammit…you and you…" then just breathing.

"Nouns…verbs?" asked Mary and Marshall pinched her discreetly, "ow!"

"What he's trying to say is that he's very happy for you both and will do his best to assure you of your privacy within the walls of our office," turning to her boss, "right?"

Stan's coloring faded from the nuclear red palette to irritated pink and his glare lessened. Shoving his hands in his pockets he tilted his head, "You're not going to make me regret keeping my mouth shut, are you?"

"No sir." They both replied simultaneously. All business.

Stan just stared as them for a minute longer then turned to stalk off muttering, "You people make me crazy."

The three people left behind waited until he was well out of earshot to double over in laughter, relief at finally knowing all was going to be well for a while.

Mary wore the Santa hat with a grin everyday.

*** *** *** *** ***

They were married on a foggy beach in Georgia three days before the first anniversary of her shooting, having had a busy year and finally finding enough time to take vacation and arrange for a small ceremony with their immediate families, very close friends and a special guest. Their vows were simple and their kisses long and there wasn't a dry eye in the small crowd. Ice cream sundaes were had afterwards, and the sun came out so they all could sit outside the ice cream parlor and enjoy the sea.

Mary and Marshall stayed at the cottage for another week, but had to get back to some dicey witness issues after that. Four months later, Marshall was grazed and knocked unconscious in a transport gone bad and Mary had to be sick in the bathroom after the paramedics assured her he was going to be just fine with a few stitches. Sitting on the floor of the stall and shaking, she figured he had waited long enough and life was just too damn short.

Marshall was cleaning the kitchen after the last guest had left from their family dinner. They had started to invite Brandi and Jinx to dinner once a month after the wedding, and now included Peter as he and Brandi were to be married next summer. Mary remained on the patio, finishing a sketch of the mountains that she just didn't seem to get right as the spring weather had finally warmed enough to be outside. She heard Marshall open the oven door to wipe it down, as the strangely fastidious man did after he cooked anything, and waited.

"Hey Mare?" he called with a question in his voice.


"Why is there a solitary hamburger bun in the oven?"

She waited a moment or two then called back, "You disappoint me, Cowboy. Work on that one for a minute."

Silence. Then she heard him knock something over as he was moving and saw him stand in the doorway a moment later with an incredulous look on his face.

"Really?" he whispered.

"We're going to have to redecorate the weapon room."

She laughed at him while he danced like an idiot.

*** I'm sad it's ended...I really am. I could write so much more!!! Thank you again, and please leave your final REVIEWS...I'd LOVE to get to 500...*hint!* Until next fic! ***

*** If you want to see Mary's ring, here it is on my live journal: (take out the spaces)

http : // bujyo .livejournal .com / 9346 . html