*** And the journey comes to an end, or a beginning, depends on your point of view. Mary has reached the light at the end of the tunnel, finally finding a semblence of self. Marshall is there beside her every step of the way, and we know that's where he'll stay. ***

*** I can't thank you all enough for reading, critiquing, exploring, ranting, offering and reviewing! It's been nothing but a fabulous time :) ***

*** Thanks to sfchemist for betaing my early chapters, and fantabulously special thanks to roar526 for being her! Couldn't have written the story without you! ***

"One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can't utter."

James Earl Jones

"Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet."

-- Plato

Melanie studied the man on the couch. He appeared relaxed, reading the back of one of her books he had plucked from the bookshelves while she entered a few last notes on her laptop before his session began. Over all, Melanie thought Marshall looked worlds better than he had the last time she saw him a week or so ago; rested and less tense. She knew from Mary that the partners were spending more time together through the last two months, Mary sleeping at Marshall's a few nights during the week and over the weekends. Mary never specifically said whether the two had discussed their mutual feelings for each other, but she suspected there had been progress in that direction; the affection they felt for one another clearly conveyed in their voices.

"So," the tall man drawled as he continued to read, "there can really be a lot of issues for these women?" He held the book up so she saw the title.

Melanie recognized a well known book chronicling the trials and tribulations of daughters with narcissistic mothers. "Seems to be. Self esteem problems, unclear identity issues, trouble with emotional bonds…there's less baggage with adults who lost their mothers at an early age."

Marshall was thinking about something as he ran his fingers around the binding of the book. "What if the girl also had a father walk out on her at a young age?"

She looked at him with a half smile, knowing where his mind had gone. "She would be a little lost most of the time. Always looking for something she never had, but not able to recognize it when it stood right in front of her. They're hard to love. Always pushing back so they won't get hurt when someone inevitably leaves them. She'll either ask, or force, you to prove that you'll never leave her. You have to be willing to be tested again and again."

Marshall thought of the last time he had seen Mary. She had been in a waspish mood at the office; surly and sarcastic both to him and to Stan. Eleanor had gotten the silent treatment all day. Having spent two days accompanying Brandi to attorney visits, Mary had likely been bombarded with questions, tears and argument from her family with very few thanks. Her frazzled appearance belied the story she told of rest and relaxation the night before. He doubted she was sleeping and had asked her to stay with him for a night. Still stinging from the resultant verbal onslaught a few hours later, Marshall wondered if their fledgling relationship was already on the skids. Melanie's words now gave him pause, and hope.

"Weather the storm, as it were?" he asked with a small grin.

Melanie nodded. "I won't say it will be rainbows afterwards, but the air will be clear and the sun will shine as if it had never happened."

He smiled fully now, thoughts to seeing his partner later today. "I just try to keep my ass from getting struck by lightning."

Mary showed up at his house around ten that night, stomping by him to rummage through the kitchen cabinets until she produced a bottle of whiskey and a glass. Marshall watched her with an assessing eye. She was twitchy and volatile and he was starting to worry. He grabbed a glass for himself and quietly joined her at the counter. She gazed at the far wall while sipping the amber liquid, lost in her own mind as he waited.

"They're charging Brandi and taking the case to trial," she finally stated.

"I'm sorry, Mare," he offered. "I know you hoped they'd just plea bargain her. She'll be okay."

She snorted, then tossed back the remainder of the glass. "She'll be just fine. Thirty…sixty days in jail at the max with the piddly shit they're hanging on her. I'm not worried about that."

He could see the subtle change in her demeanor as she mentally approached the topic that had truly disturbed her; eyes downcast and one fingertip slowly spreading a drop of liquid into a pattern on the countertop.

Mary had told herself it wouldn't matter; that everyone who knew her was already aware of her ordeal and there wasn't a reason this action should affect her in any way. But she hadn't been able to stop thinking about it for three days. Anxiety levels were peaking and she had come to Marshall's to keep from falling off the edge of reason in her own home.

"My statement will become public record," she said slowly, jaw set in anger after her delivery.

"Translation: public humiliation," thought Marshall. He pressed his lips together and poured himself a glass of whiskey. There were a lot of trite platitudes he could offer that would make the situation no better and only piss her off. She didn't want to hear that it wasn't going to make a difference, because she knew it could. Not with him or with the other people in her life who cared about her, but it could be accessed by anyone searching for her or pulling her records for official business. Their personal information was kept under tight security, but a court document was not. Marshall decided to keep the conversation informational.

"Are they planning on using your circumstances as evidence during the drug trial?" he asked.

Mary shrugged, sliding her eyes over to glance at him briefly. "The ADA is saying no, it's strictly Russell and his mooks they're after, but you know lawyers. Any dirt is good dirt." She slammed back another glass and Marshall gently took the empty from her as she set it down. He could hear her stomach growl.

"You haven't eaten. That whiskey's going to go straight to your head and you'll be slobbering in about an hour."

She shot him a dirty look as he confiscated the bottle too. "That's the plan, Mr. Rogers. Oblivion before midnight." She turned to get a glass of water from the sink and then stood staring out the window into the back yard.

Marshall stepped up behind her and gently set his hands on her shoulders, slowly sliding them down to rest on her hips. He waited. Mary closed her eyes with his touch. He was always careful when he was behind her, the thoughtfulness in that gesture more powerful than he knew. She leaned back into him and drew his arms around her middle with her own hands. Resting her head on his collarbone, she tilted her face up to receive his kiss on her cheek.

"Food," he rumbled in her ear. Unable to resist another kiss, Marshall nuzzled her temple lightly and pressed her against him before releasing her and moving to the pantry. Moments like that carried him through days of verbal sparring and nasty arguments; windows of tenderness and vulnerability. He already learned she'd open them randomly and occasionally and if he didn't act quickly he'd either get his fingers pinched when they closed or end up beating his head on the glass.

Mary leaned a hip against the counter and watched her partner gather dinner items. "There's other kinds of sustenance, you know," she suggested slowly, wiggling her eyebrows.

He nearly fumbled the pasta. Their level of intimacy had started to teeter into R rated within the last few weeks. She had thrown herself into the therapy, and although issues were far from resolved, Marshall could tell her aversions to physical contact had decreased. Many images no longer inappropriately cross referenced to what should be safe and desirable. She wanted to be touched, wanted to touch him. More often than not, Mary set the boundaries and would cool them down before it went too far, but sometimes he was the voice of reason and initiator of cold showers.

Four nights ago as he found himself shirtless on the couch with her in his lap clad only in her bra and jeans, Marshall had a realization; there was no going back for him once they crossed that line. He would be completely committed. The problem was, he didn't know if she felt the same.

"Oh," he drawled as he set the ingredients on the counter, "I'm sure you'll be slobbering all over me soon enough if I don't get some food into you. I can wait." He was rewarded with an offended expression.

"I do not slobber on you, pervis," she protested. "And even if I did, you'd like it. You ramp up faster than a sixteen year old boy in a whorehouse." She loved that about him. It made her feel powerful in one way, irresistible in another.

"You just hope I don't get off that fast and leave you at the self service pump," Marshall teased. He was watching her and internally cheered with her blush.

She wasn't used to him being obviously crude and broke into a wide smile, "Jesus, Marshall!" Her cheeks burned, and Mary was pretty sure it wasn't due to the alcohol. Chuckling, she escaped the kitchen as more thoughts of Marshall's staying power were only going to further embarrass her. His laughter followed her into the other room, thoughts of statements and basements nowhere to be found.

Despite a full stomach, Mary still maneuvered him into the bedroom by midnight. She pulled him down onto the bed with her, a giggle escaping when he cursed at the quick action. She wasn't drunk, but her guard was down enough to embolden her. Mary rolled him onto his back and ran her hands up under his shirt as she kissed him. She loved the feel of his skin under her palms, chest hair a rougher contrast that made her groin ache. Her kiss deepened and Marshall responded with a groan while his hands cupped her bottom and drew her to him. Mary could only think of having more of him. She wanted all of him and any hesitation within her mind fled.

"I want you naked," she purred into his neck, her lips trailing along his pulse and up to his ear.

"Uh, God," he moaned, not only from her words but her mouth was on his neck and her hand was traveling down the front of his body to an obvious destination. Reason barely prevailed and his id loaded a clip to mow down the ego.

Grasping her wrist, Marshall rolled her off him and turned so they were facing each other. He continued to kiss her, his hand stroking her face and moving around her back to hold her.

"Marshall," she whispered, trying to figure out what happened but still wrapped up in need. "What are you doing?"

"We need to stop."

"Why?" she quietly pleaded, snuggling closer. "I don't want to. Really don't want to." She hoped it was clear.

"Neither do I, but we have to," he murmured, unable to completely resist her and briefly falling prey to another deep kiss. She slid a leg over his hip and rocked against him and he pulled his head back with a long sigh.

"I can't get enough of you, you know," he whispered as he gently untangled them and propped himself up on one elbow to see her face.

She looked confused and slightly hurt. "I'm offering you all of me here, Marshall. Freely and without reservation. What's the problem?" Though he had more than convinced her of his desire for her, some small part of her braced for rejection.

He felt like he was going to throw up. "There's something I have to tell you, and something I need you to think about." The anxiety in her eyes spurred him on, "I know how I feel about you, and I know what this is going to mean to me. I love you, Mary. Really love you, and I know if we end up naked on this bed I'm going to be yours. I have to know what you feel for me. Whether you love me or not won't change my decision to be here with you, but I need to know where to put my heart. Keep it with me or give it to you." He placed a kiss on her stunned face and slid off the bed, turning to face her before retreating to the bathroom, "You don't have to make a decision right now, but I want you to think about it before we take this last step."

She knew it was true, knew it before today, but hearing the words fall from his lips caused her brain to tumble all over itself in confusion. He had just given her a piece of himself that he couldn't take back and she had to concentrate on breathing for a minute. This was new. Unexplored territory that was frightening in its propensity for utter disaster. Mary knew how she felt, but she had never been asked to say the words before.

Marshall returned to the bed before she could organize her thoughts. "Marshall, I…"

He placed his fingers on her mouth with a smile, "Not tonight. Think with a clear head. Be sure either way. I'm not going anywhere. Now, get some pj's on and get your ass back into bed."

Mary had been on full, active duty for nearly eight weeks. Cleared a week after she found out about Brandi's trial; after she knew Marshall loved her. They hadn't talked about it since then, and he was seemingly comfortable with the status of their relationship. Mary didn't feel pressured to give him an answer, but until she could she was careful with him. Knowing you could break someone's heart with a careless act was nothing to be taken lightly. She didn't know why she didn't just say the words. Tell him how she felt. Melanie had told her to just give it time, like everything else. Mary was tired of hearing that answer.

"Heads up, Cowgirl," Marshall called as she exited the elevator, barely two steps into the office before he tossed her a vest.

"Dress up day?" she guessed with a furrowed brow.

"Round up," he replied, excited. "Stan's grabbing some warm bodies from downstairs. Got us some migrants from Salt Lake that need to go back home."

She automatically began the process of gearing up as she joined him near the lockers. "The great state of Utah can't send its own crowd control?"

"This crew is known to disappear every time the hometown constabulary mobilizes so they're trying to sneak up on them with us local folk. Likely a mole of some sort that they just haven't sniffed out yet."

"What's the plan?" she asked. He always had a plan.

"No plan," he shrugged. Using his hands and fingers like six shooters, he crouched into an exaggerated firing stance. "Shoot 'em up and drag 'em in wearing their boots."

Mary just stared at him incredulously. "Good Lord, you're a moron."

Jumping over to her, Marshall snagged her and pulled her to him with both hands on her ass. Kissing her roughly he then whispered in her ear, "But I'm your moron." Jumping away just as quickly he hummed while he finished his routine. The elevator dinged its arrival and Marshall called her out of her astonished state.

"Hey Mare," she looked at him and he winked. "Save a horse, ride a cowboy!"

She was still bent over laughing as Stan and five other agents entered the office.

Mary cursed as the sweat ran down her back and she caught a glimpse of the hump she was chasing down. He slipped through the doorway of a dilapidated loading dock. Relaying her position quietly through the ear mike, she crept through the shadows in pursuit. The group of fugitives had scattered like cockroaches when they arrived, quicker than they expected and more skilled at navigating the warren of small warehouses and sheds near the tracks. Twelve agents and seven idiots. She narrowed her eyes with intent to reduce the latter number by one in a few minutes. Marshall and another agent were close enough to lend a hand if she needed it. Their prey weren't armed, so they could take their time.

She ducked her head into the open doorway to asses the interior and was dismayed to find it completely dark beyond five feet. "Son of a bitch," she hissed. Mary didn't want to give away her own position by turning on her shoulder light, but she would be blind momentarily as she moved into the darkness. Slipping in and immediately moving sideways along the wall, she submerged herself into the darkness while keeping the wall at her back and allowing her eyes to adjust. Movement to her right in the form of a faint shadow.

Grinning, Mary stepped quietly towards the figure when the bag came down over her head. She was whirled around and slammed against the wall, her weapon flying out of her hand as her arm went numb. Cursing, she shouted for help as she began to struggle. Adrenaline pumping, she was quick to inflict damage to the man behind her. They ended up falling into a stack of pallets, allowing her to free her head from the bag. Barely having a chance to take a deep breath, she caught movement to her left as the second man dove at her. Instinct, fear and pure superior fighting ability dictated her next actions and she had two disabled men lying amongst a broken pile of wood as Marshall and the other agent came skidding through the door.

He heard her shout and was moving before he could think. Marshall knew it was only a minute or two journey to the building she was in, but he felt like he was running through molasses. He heard a crash as he flew through the door, flashlights revealing his disheveled partner standing over two groaning men writhing on the floor. Impressive. Then he saw her face and stepped towards her quickly. She was scared to death.

"Mary?" he asked quietly, not wanting to draw the other agent's attention to her.

She shot him a look. "Let's cuff these fuckwits and get the hell out of here, Marshall."

Nodding, he quickly followed her instructions as she located her gun. They marched the men out and Mary put her hand on his arm. "Wait a minute."

Marshall sent the prisoners with the other members of the team and turned back to her. "Are you hurt?"

Shaking her head, Mary bent over to place her hands on her knees and take a few deep breaths. "Just trying not to be sick and embarrass myself," she croaked. Her partner stood quietly by her side with his hand on her head while she gathered her wits. "The last time I was ambushed like that it didn't turn out so well," she offered an explanation.

"You sure you're all right?" He knew she was still infused with adrenaline, injuries masked by the hormones, and any psychological trauma invisible.

"Just beat up," she answered, starting to feel the bumps and bruises from the fight. Straightening, she flashed him a grin and jerked her chin towards the road. "Let's get out of here, Cowboy. I'm good."

Marshall smiled and followed her out, pride a welcome companion.

Marshall sat straight up with her shout, reaching out to her blindly. Contact with her arm sent her scrambling out of the bed twisted up in the covers, and she landed heavily on the floor. He climbed over to help her as his brain caught up with his body. Nightmare. She had had one every night since the bust four days ago. Melanie had a lot to say, but it came down to the fact that they would fade in time and Mary's next session should help also. Meanwhile, Marshall insisted she stay with him until they decreased in frequency.

The sudden contact with the floor woke her completely, and Mary untangled herself to sit on the carpet and pant as she regained her equilibrium. "Shit," she whispered.

"Same dream?" Marshall asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he joined her on the floor.

She nodded and he took her hands in his. She had told him about the faceless figures and disembodied voices. They sat quietly for a few minutes, her breathing harsh in the dark room. Mary would tell him when she was ready.

"Okay," she finally said, and Marshall helped her off the floor. Putting the covers back together, he crawled back in and pulled her in after him. Mary tucked herself into him, head on his chest as his arms encircled her. Gradually, her trembling ceased and he felt her relax. He rubbed her back and allowed his eyes to drift shut.

Mary listened to her partner's heartbeat beneath her ear. Strong and steady, it beat fast and hard like her own until he calmed with her; his emotions mirroring hers. It soothed her, and Mary wondered at the significance. A simple sound that conveyed intimacy and comfort…and love.

"I love you," she whispered, amazed at how easy it was to say the words.

Marshall's eyes flew open and he gazed at the top of her head. He had to make sure what he thought he heard wasn't the beginning of a dream. "What?"

She raised her head to rest her chin on his chest. "I love you, Marshall. I have for a while. I don't know why it took me so long to say it."

"You had to be sure," he replied, tracing her cheekbone with a finger.

Mary wiggled up to place her forehead against his. "I'm sure."

Marshall pulled her in for a kiss and they both sighed with pleasure. The kiss ended with the beginning of the next, caresses becoming bolder and slightly frenzied. Pajama pants were poor barriers, and beads of sweat formed on Marshall's forehead as Mary's hands wandered increasingly further south.

"Jesus, Mary, you make me crazy," he moaned as she explored.

"Touch me, Marshall…please," she pleaded and gasped as he obeyed.

Clothes divested, Marshall finally rolled her under him and held her tightly as he pressed his face to her neck, shaking with his effort at control. "Mary," he ground out, needing her permission. She angled her hips and raised them to meet his, her intent clear. No words were left to be said as they fit together, both only able to move and feel. Moans to meet pleasure and gasps increasing in tempo until a murmur became a curse and bodies slid together on a shout. Seamless. Whole.

*** What more could you want: action, adventure, snark, fights and sweet sweet love! :) Thank you again for all your encouragement and kind words! Please don't leave the last chapter hangin'...REVIEW! ***