*** Another darker story that just wouldn't let me go until I wrote it. I'm fascinated by the study of people's reactions to traumatic events, especially those who see a lot of tragedy befall others then have to deal with it themselves. Mary's abduction by Spanky's thugs and her ordeal in the basement during Stan by Me could've been extraordinarily worse, and I wrote this story with the premise that the rape had occurred. Mary now finds herself in a situation where she struggles with maintaining her dignity, yet needs to confide to her partner. A lot of anger and frustration that they will both have to deal with. ***

*** The order of events in the investigation following her abduction are changed slightly in this story, but the characters remain the same (and they're not mine) ***

*** Thank you, sfchemist, for your fabulous beta skills, and to freaya for reviewing and encouraging! ***

"It is a brave act of valor to condemn death, but where life is more terrible than death it is then the truest valor to dare to live." - Sir Thomas Brown

"Marshall here."

"It's Stan." There was a hesitation, then he continued, "Is she with you?"

Marshall's brow furrowed at his somber tone. "Yes, she didn't want to go home. Why? Is there a problem?"

Stan took a deep breath and Marshall's uneasiness grew while he listened, "I know she asked you not to read her statement and I understand you'll need to honor that."

Marshall stopped preparing the sandwiches and leaned against the counter to concentrate on the conversation, "She needs some time to process things, Stan. I'll let her do that. She'll tell me what she wants me to know when she's ready. What is this about?"

"I had to read her statement in order to put the file together for Headquarters." Again the hesitation before his boss blew out a breath, "It's bad."

Marshall thought back to the sight of Mary in the basement with the shovel in her hand, eyes wide with fear as she backed up. Disheveled, blood spattered, sweaty and bruised. Her clothes awry and torn from struggles, wrists bound and swollen from the chains. She shook and faltered in his embrace, whispering words he couldn't quite understand as she clutched at his shirt.

They had to help her up the stairs, but she stopped them in the kitchen and he saw her visibly pull herself together before exiting the house to face the crowd of cops and arriving medical personnel. Shrugging off their arms, Mary walked out on her own power with her face set and chin high and Marshall had felt a swell of pride. She wouldn't let him ride to the hospital with her, squelching all his protests and insisting she was fine, intent on keeping her own cloak of pride pulled tightly around her.

He pulled his attention back to the present and the phone call. "I know it was bad, Stan. I saw her too."

"Marshall…" Stan began, and Marshall could envision him pacing as he chose his words, rubbing his head, "just…keep her close."

The cryptic statement stirred up tendrils of unease in Marshall's stomach, but he tried to reassure the man on the other end, "I plan to. Keep me informed if there's any updates."

"Yeah. Will do." Stan disconnected and Marshall just stared at the phone, lost in his own thoughts.

Mary watched him from the hallway as he hung up the phone, his conversation too muted for her to have heard the exchange. The shower had washed away the grime, sweat and blood, but it had done nothing to cleanse her soul. She was weary beyond the physical and knew the pain of humiliation and powerlessness would not soon abate. The man standing at the counter was the only human being on this planet that she would trust right now, but the thought of even telling him caused her to shudder. Time…she would need time.

"Who was that?" Mary asked as she slowly walked toward the kitchen.

Marshall startled and nearly dropped his phone and Mary had to chuckle, "Whoa, Cowboy, climb back in the saddle there."

He shook his head at himself with a return grin, "I'm still jacked up on adrenaline I guess. Going to take a while to power down."

"Ya think?" she replied, helping herself to a glass of water and noting the food Marshall was preparing.

He watched her move and catalogued the hitch in her gait, the carefulness as she reached for the glass and his eyes slid over the bruised and scratched face to settle on the colorful wrists. Marshall didn't know why those bruises bothered him the most. The thought of his proud and strong partner bound with chains by men who were the epitome of weakness and cowardice fueled a rage inside of him that would not be so easily extinguished. Bullets were too good for them, and prison a poor excuse for punishment. He wanted to chain them to a wall and let Mary exact her revenge…then he would finish them off for her…for himself.

"Marshall?" Mary was looking at him with concern as she stood at the sink.

Refocusing, he shrugged aside revenge for the time being and made his voice pleasant, "Just some wishful thinking. Are you hungry?"

She made a face as she looked at the food, but didn't look at him. "Not really, but since I haven't eaten since lunch yesterday I guess I should put something in my stomach."

Marshall reached out slowly to set his hand on her shoulder, glad she didn't flinch. "Go sit on the couch before you fall over. I'll bring it to you."

A quick glance at him, then she nodded and moved painfully to the living room. Her mind was racing with memories of the past eighteen hours, her body throbbing and aching in places it shouldn't, her resolve to remain silent and stoic undermined by Marshall's kindness, and Mary's eyes welled up with tears as she sat on the cushions. Taking deep breaths, she willed her eyes dry and surreptitiously wiped at the few tears that fell before her partner could see them. This would not break her, she vowed, it would not crumble her well built walls of protection. This too, shall pass.

Turning on the TV to distract herself, Mary found a show that would appeal to both of them and tried to detach herself from the dark corners of her mind in order to focus on the here and now. It only worked for a few minutes before scenes from an innocuous commercial triggered snippets of fear, and she was lost again.

gravel digging into her cheek as her limbs failed her…

desperate contortions to reach a weapon that was useless. Tears of frustration…

nausea from the smell of sweat and blood…and other things on her face…

frantic searches for words that would save her, words that would distract…

pain from blows meant to weaken her…pain from wrists stretched too far…pain from men who laughed…

fury when faced with death, and rage to power her escape…

Marshall sat the plate in front of her and Mary gasped as she jumped in her seat, one hand flying to her chest as the other grabbed the cushion. She gulped air as she looked at him in relief, "Sorry…like you said, it'll take some time to power down." Marshall was looking at her with concern etched into every line of his face and Mary couldn't meet his eyes so she focused on the food offered.

"This looks good. Thank you."

The flinch and fright in her eyes as he startled her stabbed through him. This was so far from the Mary he knew that he didn't know how to act, didn't know what to say, if anything. Marshall felt like he was walking on eggshells, not knowing when one would break and she would shatter with it. She vibrated with tension and he sensed her own precarious self control was only a moment from crumbling. He didn't want her to have to hold it together for him.

"Mare, you don't have to keep me company. If you'd rather go to bed I'd completely understand." He watched her pick at her sandwich, "I know you're exhausted."

She tilted her head and shrugged, "Even if I fell asleep, I'd end up awake and screaming soon after so I don't see the point," never looking away from the plate of food.

It was the lack of emotion in the statement that twisted his gut. She stated it as fact and he knew it was true, that she would not sleep without nightmares tonight or many nights beyond. He didn't think he would either, but hers would be of real pain while his would be of what ifs. He studied her as she put the plate on her lap, again wincing with the shift in position, picking up a piece of the sandwich and biting into it listlessly. Her eyes were on the TV screen, but he didn't think she was watching the show. Marshall wasn't used to the silence.

She felt him watching her and tried to keep her breaths even while chewing the obviously well prepared sandwich that tasted like dust in her mouth. She just wanted to hide, wanted him to stop looking at her because she knew he knew there was more wrong than just being beat up in a basement. Swallowing, Mary sighed and placed the plate back on the coffee table, turning to face her partner. She looked at him and tried a small smile, then her eyes skated away and focused on his chin.

"I don't know what to say right now, Marshall. I'm a mess…inside and out, and there's a part of me that wants to run as far away from you as I can while there's another part of me that wants to crawl into your lap and bawl. I'm holding it together by a thread right now because I don't want to become some weeping, sobbing mess in your living room, or stand screaming until the neighbors think you're murdering me and call the cops. In fact, I don't even know what I want to do. I don't know how to act when my mind is flying off into so many different directions." Mary couldn't stop the words tumbling out of her mouth, her voice catching occasionally and her hands pinching and twisting the hem of her t-shirt.

Marshall could see her tension building and felt his own nerves twitch as she spoke. He could hear her confusion at the conflicting emotions raging within her and knew she needed a safe place to breakdown. A place of comfort.

"How can I help you?" he asked softly, stilling her hands with his own and slowly working them out of their tight fists within the fabric.

Mary watched his hands manipulate hers, feeling so distanced from her own body that she barely felt his touch, "Tell me how you found me. Help me take my mind off of where I was."

Marshall wasn't sure how this would help her, but she had let her hands stay in his and her voice sounded steadier so he obliged. He told her about Bobby's discovery of her cell phone and the whole route of information that led them to realizing she was missing. He told her about Agent O'Conner and his bad attitude. He answered some of her questions regarding what everyone now knew about her family. She asked about Brandi's involvement and Marshall relayed the information he had gotten from the FBI and their own searches on Spanky and Chuck. Told her about finding the license plate number on her pad of paper and the circuitous route to tracking down the man whose house she was held in.

Mary sat still and listened, Marshall's voice comforting and her brain engaged in the twists and turns of his search for her and the developing story that went with it. She asked a few questions here and there to make sense of things in her own mind, and finally felt herself begin to reconnect with the world around her. The sounds and smells of Marshall's house soothing her as the remembered sounds of shouts and gunfire and smells of mildew and body odor faded away. She felt like there was now an end to what had happened, a point in time in which the nightmare stopped and she got to wake up. It took a moment for her to realize her partner had stopped talking, his thumbs continuing to slowly trace circles on her hands.

"I'm out."

Her words fell into the silence with certainty.

"Yes. You're out and you're here with me. It's over and done."

He knew she was trying to anchor herself in space and time, trying to grab reality and keep it from trying to fly away again.

"Brandi's okay."

"She's fine. We'll deal with that tomorrow…or the next day. They can wait." He'd rip O'Connor to shreds if he tried to push the issue.

She was playing with his fingers now and he let her, giving her the physical distraction that she always needed when thinking things through.

Mary's thought rambled out of her mouth before she could stop it, "I killed a man in cold blood tonight, Marshall. Gunned him down not just because I needed to…but I wanted to." She had a look of disgust on her face.

"You were surviving, Mary. There's no time to think. You just do what you have to." He wished she would look at him, "You can't second guess those actions and you can't punish yourself for them."

It was a conversation they had had before, either one of them on the receiving end.

Pulling her hands away, Mary rubbed her face and sighed through her fingers, bringing her hands to rest over her mouth as she finally looked at him. Her eyes were haunted and filled with emotion. She slowly shook her head as if there was a silent question she was answering. Dropping her hands in her lap, she slowly spoke.

"I'm not second guessing. I'd do it again. I just didn't know I could…and I didn't know it would bother me."

"We're all capable of doing things we didn't know we could when we have to. I walked away from a man who was going to blow himself up. You were going to assassinate people in order to pull me out of a gas station." He swallowed with the difficult memories, "Sometimes we have to turn ourselves over to that part of us that drives on instinct…primitive. What saves us coming out the other side is knowing right from wrong, our capacity for remorse. "

Mary could hear the tremble in his voice and see the emotion played out on his face as he spoke. He had hit the nail on the head. She needed to hear it said; that the actions she had taken with intent could be mourned later without guilt. Not remorse for herself, but mourning for the life she took. The second was no easier than the first, and the hundredth would be just as hard. The day it was easy was the day she handed in her gun.

He saw her relax just a fraction and sighed himself, "Does that put your mind at ease a little?"

Nodding, Mary turned and took a drink of water and then looked at him while worrying her bottom lip, "Are you going to stay up for a while?"

"I'm up as long as you are." There was no way he would sleep until he knew she was tucked in safe and sound.

"Let's just watch a show, okay?"

Marshall could see her thinking about something, but just followed her lead tonight, "Okay, you pick. You know I'm not too choosy."

"Liar. You whine if I pick something you don't like," she teased with a sideways glance and Marshall was happy to be drawn into the brief bickering that ensued while they decided on a show.

Mary flipped through the channels until they settled on a movie they both liked, and before she could change her own mind, leaned over to carefully lay her head on Marshall's thigh and slowly reposition herself until she lay on her side on the couch. The contact nearly undid her, and she blinked rapidly to keep from tearing up. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, focusing on the show and the warmth of this man she trusted.

She surprised him with the move, but he was glad for the contact. It was Mary's way of inviting him into her space and he made sure to accept it without question. He reached over to snag the blanket from the arm of the couch next to him and spread it over her, smoothing it and keeping one hand resting on her arm as he finished.

"Thanks." Her quiet acceptance was followed by a sigh.

"Are you going to eat that sandwich?" he asked a minute later, concerned by her lack of appetite.

"Not right now. Maybe later." The bite she had taken was sitting in a lump in her stomach and she didn't trust her own digestive system at this time. "I don't think you want to clean your upholstery."

"I thank you for your consideration," he smiled and felt her chuckle.

As he allowed himself comfort in the solid feel of her head on his thigh and his hand on her arm, Marshall thought back to the nearly continuous prayers he had offered up over the last hours. Not a devout man, he wasn't used to turning to his faith in times of need, but now quickly closed his eyes in thanks for prayers seemingly answered. It could easily have gone another way so many times and he could be sitting here alone with no hope of ever seeing her again…touching her again. Gently rubbing her arm, he leaned back and tried to relax both mind and body as he turned his attention to the movie.

Mary could not keep her mind on the movie for more than a minute or two as voices echoing in her head continued to fight their way into her awareness. The memories of mocking and crude taunting by her captors that evolved into threats and whispered promises made her stomach roil again, and she tried to shove the thoughts back down into the far recesses of her mind. Tried to think of the damage she had done to them initially, her victory in staying alive and keeping all her fingers by bargaining, the feel of her weapon discharging as she was finally free. Thoughts that made her feel stronger, steady.

She felt herself become drowsy and closed her eyes with the hope of falling into the abyss of sleep uneventfully.

Marshall felt her breathing change and knew she had fallen asleep. He smiled down at her and was glad she was able to find some escape from pain and fear. She had pulled her hair into a loose ponytail after the shower and her cheek and neck were exposed as she lay on her side. Scratches and the smudges of bruises were scattered here and there, but Marshall's eyes were suddenly drawn to a reddened ring on the side of her neck just above her collarbone. He held his breath as he squinted at the mark, then blew it out very slowly as his gut tightened with the recognition of a human bite mark.

She had told them about the attempted rape during her ordeal while they were at the police station. He had picked her up from the hospital to bring to the station in order to give a statement, and Mary decided to give him, Stan and Bobby a brief overview of the events during the kidnapping. Lumped the disturbing event together with the shooting, bargaining and ultimate homicide in self defense. He had watched her stumble over the words a bit and hug her arms with the retelling, but Mary had glossed over any details and seemed to shake it off pretty thoroughly by the time she had gone off to give her formal statement to a junior detective. She refused to let Bobby be pulled away from his work with the Inspectors. Marshall had offered to go with her, but she waved him off with a well practiced glare and he knew not to push the issue.

But now the physical reminder of the near violation caused his skin to crawl. Even if he didn't harbor feelings beyond friendship for this woman, that bruised ring marring her skin would've still provoked the flare of protective instinct strong enough to make him grind his teeth. The thought of that scumbag on the floor touching and groping her made him want to go back into that house and empty another clip into the dead man's head…or other body parts. Again the scenarios of what might have been swirled through his mind and Marshall did not want to think beyond the word 'attempted'. Rape was a heinous crime against any woman, but his partner was precious to him, and violence of that nature would need to be avenged. Quickly. Savagely.

Mary must've been furious, he knew, unrelenting in her defense with intent to maim and kill. For anyone to put her in a position of vulnerability and powerlessness would be akin to trapping a wild animal. They would both rather gnaw their own limbs off than to accept defeat. And if defeat would've been dealt to her, Marshall didn't know how she would react. She may rant and rave, she may hide, she may even break. Life had thrown many things at Mary Shannon, and she had whipped them all back with extra speed and a curse, but being held down and beaten…Marshall shook his head to banish the disturbing thoughts. It didn't happen, and Mary was asleep and safe on his lap. Knocked a bit off kilter, to be sure, but in one piece and still herself.

He tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear and gently brushed his fingers over the bite mark as if to deliver a soothing balm. It was at these times, when she was unaware of being watched and off guard that Marshall truly saw the woman beneath the hard exterior. Soft skin, graceful curves and a delicate nature to her bones. He had heard some of his colleagues jokingly wonder if she was a man in disguise due to her abrasive personality and propensity to violence, but he only had to think of these glimpses into femininity to bring a private smile to his face. He may tease her himself, but she was most definitely a girl. Marshall leaned back to try to turn his attention to the show.

It was the smell in her dream that drove her to wake, the smell of unwashed hair infused with cigarette smoke. The man's head tucked into her neck as he clutched at her from behind while she kicked at him. He laughed as he bit her and Mary yelled in frustration when his hands were undeterred in their mission of undressing her. She caught his kneecap with a boot finally, but her victory was short lived as his companion then jumped in to help. Mary frantically pulled at the bolt. Trapped. Overpowered. "Marshall!" she screamed in her head.

"Marshall!" Mary yelled hoarsely, sitting up abruptly and pulling off the blanket to throw it on the floor as if it was going to bite her.

Marshall startled just as badly, pushing back into the cushions with his hands held up in front of him as he watched her struggle to reorient herself. She looked panicked and he tried to help, talking in a low and steady voice.

"Mary, I'm right here. You're at my house. You're on my couch. I'm right here."

Mary heard him and her eyes slowly focused on his form in the dim living room, the bluish light from the TV flickering over his features. She was shaking from the adrenaline produced in the dream, sweating from exertion and disgust as she could still feel their hands on her. Forcing herself to sit still and calm down, she took deep breaths, leaned forward slightly and held onto the couch as she talked to her partner.

"I'm good. Just a dream." Her throat was so dry she barely scratched out a whisper, "Shit."

"I'm going to get up and get you another glass of water, okay?" Marshall wanted to make sure she knew he was going to move before he did it. Didn't want to startle or alarm her with his actions.

Mary looked over at him and nodded slowly, "Yeah…yeah. That'll be good. I'm okay."

Marshall rose and looked down at her, "You're a far way from okay, Mare."

She stared up at him with an unreadable look for a moment, then replied, "I'll get there. Being here is a start."

He brought back the water, shaky himself as his recent thoughts made the whole situation even more tense and fraught with emotion. Mary took the glass from him with two hands and drank it down quickly, thirsty to the core.

"Dammit, Marshall. How the hell am I going to get some rest if I'm having nightmares twenty minutes after I fall asleep?" Mary was frustrated, "Maybe you should just knock me out, I'm sure you have some magic choke hold that'll do the trick?" She was only half kidding and grinned weakly at him.

Her request made him grimace, but he could understand her reasoning. He, too, was exhausted and could only imagine the tiredness she felt after fighting for her life for a full day.

"I've still got some meds from when I took that bullet. They might help," he offered, seeing her weigh the decision.

Mary hated to take medication and she rarely took anything stronger than an Advil if she could help it.

"You're in pain, Mare, I can see it. They would take the edge off…let you relax physically."

"What are they?" She didn't want to take anything but his argument was valid and her pain had not gotten any better since she had arrived at her partner's house.

"Percocet…and some Xanax if you want that too."

"Planning a party?" she teased with a half smile, knowing that her partner hated to take meds as much as she did, and he probably had a whole bottle left over of both.

He shrugged with a return grin, "Nah, just waiting for the street value to go up a notch. Gonna buy me a new shoulder holster."

Mary had to chuckle with the drawl and Marshall smiled to see her relax just a smidge.

Sobering, Mary decided to give the meds a try. She wasn't planning on going anywhere or talking to anyone, so if she was off her game it wouldn't matter.

"If I took both I'd probably sleep for days, so let's just try the pain meds for now."

Marshall gave her a thumbs up and went to retrieve the meds and Mary stood to stretch and take the dishes into the kitchen. She had stiffened up again and her first couple of steps only served to assure her the pain medicine was a good decision. She was bruised, scraped and cut…the worst injuries being her wrists and the damage done by the men. The doctor and nurse at the hospital tried to convince her to fill the prescription, but she waved them off just as she waved off their advice to spend the night. The only medicine she would take was the Tylenol and the contraceptive. Thank God she was already on the pill.

The hospital visit had been torturous in itself, having to tell the story twice and suffer through the exam. The SANE nurse was wonderful, really, but there was nothing anyone could've done to make it easy, to make it less violating, humiliating and painful.

She was glad both men were dead, glad they both lay in that house lifeless when she left. She would never have to testify against them and drag the whole ugly mess out into the light of day for people to point and whisper. That was her biggest fear, honestly, that those who knew and respected her would look at her differently. Feel pity for her and view her as less than she was. Especially those close to her…Stan…and Marshall. She was going to have to tell him, and the thought made her stomach turn again and spurred her to hurry to the bathroom.

She nearly bowled him over as she rushed into the bathroom and shut and locked the door, and Marshall stood in the hallway perplexed, then concerned as he heard her be sick. Not wanting to linger outside the door and embarrass her, he headed into the kitchen to set down the medications and give her a minute to recover.

Leaning both hands on the counter and flexing his shoulders, Marshall knew something would have to give. He needed her to talk about her ordeal because he could barely stand not knowing anymore, but he knew he couldn't push her as that would result in a shut down and she would retreat. He remembered his own volatile emotions after being shot, the need to internalize everything so you had time to sort out your own feelings before having to deal with the reactions of others. Rage, fear and vulnerability too close to the surface to tolerate the comfort of others without shattering into a million pieces. Mary would be juggling that now, he chastised himself, and he needed to give her the time to regroup. Calling upon patience and understanding, he walked back to the bathroom.

He knocked softly, "Mary? You okay in there?"

Mary was sitting on the floor with her back against the tub, a cool rag on her forehead as the nausea subsided to leave her weak. She didn't want to talk to him, yet wanted to tell him everything. The conflict was tearing her up. Why was this so hard to talk to him about? Why did it bring tears to her eyes to think of saying the words…telling the story to him? She could tell Marshall anything. They talked about things that would make other people cover their ears and sing in order to avoid hearing them. What made this so awful? Why did it make her feel stripped bare and raw? Mary now knew…knew why women never reported the crime.

Her lack of response was a bit alarming and he called again, "Mare…I can unlock the door from out here you know. Talk to me."

"I'm fine, Marshall. I'll be out in a minute. Stop hovering." Mary tried to put a snap into her tone.

He wasn't buying it, but gave her a little wiggle room, "If you're not out in five minutes, I'm coming in." Shaking his head at her answering mutter, Marshall went back to the living room to wait for her.

She appeared a few minutes later, pale and tired looking, and stood near the couch with her arms hugging her elbows, just looking at him. He could see her weighing options in her head, but didn't know what the dilemma was, so he just sat and waited.

Mary studied her partner as he regarded her from the couch, his face and posture so familiar and comforting to her after all these years. She had come over here instead of going home in order to try to salvage the small amount of pride and dignity she had left, and found even that slipping out of her grasp as words tumbled about in her head.

"Just say it, Mary," she prodded herself, "just tell him. Tell him about the cowards who made sure the fight wasn't fair. Tell him how you thought of him to keep yourself from going insane while your world fractured. Tell him you fought…fought until you could do nothing but just breathe. He'll tell you everything will be all right. He'll tell you you're still Mary."

Her jaw remained stubbornly set and her lips closed, and Mary felt tears of frustration gather in her eyes as the words in her head would not emerge.

Marshall saw her distress and stood to place his hands on her shoulders, "Hey, it's going to be all right. It will."

Mary dropped her eyes and swallowed, then stepped back out of his grasp, weakly stating, "It's been a long day. I'm going to bed." She glanced up at him again quickly, then turned to walk painfully to the bedroom.

He slowly let his arms drop as he watched her retreat. She had shut down. He saw it happen as she stood there and there was nothing he could do but let her go.

He checked on her about a half hour later and she seemed to be sound asleep. Marshall was still keyed up, so decided to give Stan a call to prepare for morning.

"Anything new?" he asked his boss after the man answered, "Spanky decide to spill his guts? If not, I've got a few ideas for the questioning in the morning."

Stan swore quietly before slowly speaking, "Marshall, the FBI took custody. He's not ours anymore."

"What?!" Marshall was on his feet as he spat, "That's not a pissing contest they would win. Who the fuck made that decision?" He could practically see spots in front of his eyes he was so mad.

"O'Connor wouldn't give me details, but my guess is Spanky's going to roll over on a lot of people. He's got nothing to lose…he's looking at the death penalty. Unfortunately, I think he's planning on implicating Mary in order to stroke O'Conner's ego and try to finagle a reprieve." Stan knew the last part would only further anger Marshall, but he didn't want the man to learn about it from anyone else.

"Jesus Christ, Stan," Marshall was pacing, trying to keep his voice low so not to disturb Mary, "I swear to God I'll kill them both if they try to take her down. Find something to derail them."

"O'Connor's on a mission, but we may have something to use on Spanky. I need your expertise, though." Stan tried to focus his Inspector.

Marshall stared at the ceiling and tried to calm down, "Okay, but I'm not coming in until morning. She's finally asleep."

"How is she?" Stan's quiet question was filled with concern.

"She's Mary. She's not going to stay down, she's going to want to be involved in the case from every angle, and the best thing we can do for her right now is support that."

Stan was quiet for a moment then hesitantly asked, "She talk anymore about what happened?"

"She talked about having to shoot a man, but that's about it. I got her to take some pain meds and she went to bed. Not real forthcoming right now. I would expect her to be more abusive than usual for the next week or so until she regains her footing."

"I have to release her statement tomorrow," Stan warned.

"I'm sure she knows that, Stan," Marshall was becoming irritated, "Just let her have this little bit of control over the whole situation with me. She wants to tell me about it outside of a piece of paper for her own reasons and that's fine. I'm sure you can keep mum for a while longer?"

Stan knew he could, but there would be others who couldn't. "I'll respect her wishes."

Marshall could hear the reluctance in his boss' voice and offered his own advice, "Oh, and don't coddle her. She's liable to cut off your head…or other vital body parts if she thinks you're treating her favorably because of this whole mess."

Stan sometimes wondered if the tight partnership of Mary and Marshall was more than it seemed, but he was never so glad for that connection as he was now. Marshall knew her better than anyone, and Stan knew Mary wouldn't trust anyone else right now. She was in the best place she could be.

"See if you can get her to go home for a while tomorrow and get your ass into the office to plot with me," Stan ordered, "The sooner we get a crack at the FBI's case the better."

Marshall agreed and disconnected, intent on getting to Spanky one way or the other…almost hoping O'Connor would get in his way. Shutting down the lights, he readied himself for bed and checked in on his partner one last time. He wondered if he should just sleep in the chair in case she awoke with nightmares, then figured that would piss her off and just made sure both her door and his were open so he could hear her if she called.

He awoke to the sound of the shower before dawn, and it took a few moments to remember that Mary was there. Marshall was worried he had slept through a nightmare, and lay awake until he heard the water shut off and her emerge from the bathroom. Not wanting to startle her, he just called out from his room.

"You need anything, Mare?"

There was a pause before she replied, "No. Thanks. Just needed a shower. Go back to sleep."

"You'll come get me if you need me, right?"

He wanted to make sure she understood his true willingness to be there for her.

"Scout's honor," she promised with a smile, using his usual response.

A half hour later Marshall felt the mattress on the other side of the bed dip as his partner tried to carefully crawl in without waking him. He dutifully scooted over to make room, and she whispered her thanks as she hunkered under the covers, careful to stay on her own side. Marshall rolled so he could surreptitiously peek at her from under his eyelids.

"I know you're looking at me. Your eyelids are twitching." A corner of her mouth curled up with humor.

He grinned in return as he opened his eyes, "Caught. Bad dreams?"

Mary nodded, "And too many shadows. This is better."

"You want me to put some pillows down the middle?" he didn't want to accidentally roll into her and scare her.

She snorted and reached over to smack his arm lightly, "I'm not scared of you, nitwit. And I'm usually the one to invade your side anyway."

They had had occasion to share a bed a number of times over the years, and Marshall normally had to extricate himself from his snoring partner the next day. She roamed while she slept.

"Okay, just don't cripple me if I roll over on you."

"Whatever. Go back to sleep." Mary curled up and closed her eyes, finally feeling drowsy again as the scents of Marshall's bed and his physical presence soothed her and she could relax. She knew he was still watching her, but just ignored him and felt sleep close in.

Marshall watched her face relax as she fell asleep, and then allowed himself to follow.

He woke to his quiet alarm about two hours later and Mary was curled up against his back, whether in seeking warmth or comfort, he didn't know, but he was reluctant to disturb her. Trying to keep his movements smooth and small, he slid out of the bed without waking her and headed off to the shower as he needed to meet Stan at the office by eight.

Marshall came and sat on the edge of the bed as he was ready to leave.

"Mary," he called softly, only able to see a tousled thatch of blonde hair peeking above the covers, "Hey, Mare…Mary." She grunted and burrowed under the covers even more, hair disappearing.

He was going to have to pull out the big guns, and grinned as he tugged down the blankets slightly, "Sweetie pie…" he singsonged teasingly.

"You're just itching for a fat lip, buddy," came the indignant, muffled voice from within the linens and he smiled.

"Good, I've got your attention now."

Mary peeked out from under the edge of the cover and blinked at him, "What? What do you want?"

"I'm heading into the office to work with Stan on some leads for the case and some ammunition against O'Connor. I wanted to make sure you'll be okay here by yourself." His gaze was assessing and he saw her eyes open a little wider with a quick glance around the room, so he added, "I'll stay if you want me to."

Mary looked back at him, and despite a little uncertainty about being alone, was not going to let fear get the better of her, "No. You don't need to. I'll be fine."

Her partner stared at her for a moment more and she knew he sensed her reluctance.

"Marshall, I'll be fine. I'll call you later, okay?"

"Okay…and call if you need me to come back. I'll leave your phone here on the nightstand. Your weapon and badge are in the front drawer and I'm leaving you the keys to my truck. I'm going to take the SUV."

"Sounds good." Mary gave him a small smile, then rolled over to go back to sleep, wincing with the movement and realizing she may have some limitations.

She heard him move to the door and reluctantly called, "Hey, Marshall?"


"Can you leave me the SUV instead? I don't think I'm up to clutch work today," she asked, trying to be vague.

Realizing she would've stiffened up , Marshall agreed quickly, "Absolutely. The keys will be in the drawer too."

Mary mumbled her thanks and allowed herself to fall back into sleep before she got to thinking about the day ahead of her. Marshall watched her for a few more minutes, then sighed as he headed out the door after switching the keys. As much as he hated to leave her, he knew she would need the time alone to regroup and she was perfectly safe at his house.

*** She just couldn't tell him, and it'll get harder and harder. Please let me know what you think and if you would like more of the story. I'm a slave to the REVIEWS. ***