*** It's only a matter of time before IPS traps us into canon for Marshall, so the muses that had been prodded into producing something for the month of mayhem on LJ came up with this! Marshall insisted on having his story told. Gotta love that Cowboy! ***

He got his first badge before he remembered receiving it. The shiny, tin, five pointed star that proclaimed to the world he was in charge of Dodge City. The Masterson of the city park sandbox; the Earp of all he could see from the front stoop. Fully outfitted in cowboy boots, a straw hat and plastic chaps, Marshall knew his personal glee only from the faded color photograph framed on his parent's wall. A child's smile as wide as the cheesy grin on the metal pony he rode.

His father's badge was shined every night by the eager, skinny boy who regaled his idol with stories of shootouts and arrests during recess. Damsels in distress saved from the Black Bart of the merry-go-round, their dizzy kisses worth more than a stagecoach full of gold. Instructed on the care of a lawman's weapon, the son memorized every word; every motion of the older man's hands copied as he manipulated the gleaming black pieces. Prayers before bed followed by a shadowy ballet of gunfight reenactments after his mother turned out the light. He was faster than Hickok and Deacon Jim; standing tall as they all fell around him.

The flurry of movement on the small, black and white screen caught his eye. Mesmerized by the grace and power, he stood entranced with his forehead against the glass of Fred's Barber Shop. Images of strength fogged by his breath. Strikes, blocks and kicks that would elevate him above the mundane and give him the razor's edge so eagerly sought against the older boys outside the corner store. He watched the movies with an eye for detail, every twitch and twist repeated to match the masters; the tight control and quickness of Lee, and the fluid grace of Oyama. Marshall began to count his steps in a language not his own; count his breaths to steady his hands.

It was time for more than sighting targets in the back yard, he argued. His hands were still too small, was the answer.

A situation that demanded justice to be served; a lawman needed to step forward and right a wrong. Hank Gentry was the overlord of the abandoned lot and meted out punishment on all who entered his realm. Lisa Pappas had braids of black silk and a face of an angel. Perfumed in sixth grade with earrings and pink tipped fingers, she doubled the laundry loads of pajama bottoms in many a household. She wandered over the line of scrimmage into Gentry's world. The dirty and angry girl cursed and pushed at the boy who destroyed her books and pretty things. Gentry laughed, and Marshall placed his toe over the line. Tuco and Blondie in a Mexican standoff.

He timed his charge, crouched through the expected counter attack. Fists swift and sure to the sweet spot, sliding close to grab and twist, tilting Hank's world upside down. The fight was shorter than he thought it would be, and he stood over the fallen boy with barely a catch in his breath.

Lisa walked home next to a gangly boy with scratches on his cheek and bruised knuckles while Hank puked in the gravel as the broken bones in his wrist ground together. Rank and file shuffled with the change in leadership. His parents were called with emergency room reports, and muffled conversations after the lights were out cemented the fate of Marshall's future.

It was time for more than sighting targets in the back yard, he was told. Power and fierceness must be channeled.

The smell of gunpowder combined with the curses and jokes of men who had seen too much. He memorized the rules and regulations before they were done reading them to him and held out his hands in rite of passage. Fingers stretched around the grip with ease and the kick from the first round released endorphins that caused his vision to blur. He hit everything he aimed at. Drew a crowd of curious eyes that caused his father to preen. Marshall recalled stances practiced in a garage on the rainy days; ticked off the names of his enemies as he brought them down: Miller, McLaury, James.

Mrs. Carpenter had lived next door as long as he could remember; had been alive since the beginning of time. Stooped with kyphosis, she crooked a gout-inflicted finger at him and he heeded the call. The groceries were always put away first, bags folded to be saved for the next trip, then he watered the high plants and stooped to feed the prehistoric dog. She always offered him tea; he always accepted, and the hours would pass as he read her favorite passages from books with pages he could nearly see through. Swept into worlds of heroes and villains never known as a child, Marshall envisioned the fury of battle; sweat soaked soldiers tirelessly and relentlessly pursuing glory. The courage of Alexander, cleverness of Hannibal, and the overwhelming ruthlessness of Khan. He took them all with him; analyzed their strengths and weaknesses and learned.

Tall and hawkish, the boy became a man with the posture and attitude of a gentleman; a wit as sharp as a thousand knives. Marshall charmed the girls with poetry and prose, the undertone of danger appealing, as the other boys were somehow wary. His rough edges taking on a polish that only highlighted the steel underneath. He studied everything meticulously, and his targets were sighted with the accuracy of Doc Carver. The gold medal was pinned on his jacket by fingers so like his own; eyes matched in color and intensity. Another photo full of smiles to frame, and it took its place under the rifle that earned him the first tangible badge of courage.

Blackbelt, merit scholar, marksman…son. It was time for more than chasing dreams through cardboard cutouts and smoke grenades, he cajoled. It's too far away, she lamented. His father leaned in to take her hand, and it was decided that the boy should go.

It was the country of spaghetti westerns and battles of civilizations past. Echoes of war whoops and stagecoaches everywhere, and the vastness of the plateaus and mountains were startling to his sense of balance. No forests and rolling hills to anchor him, Marshall was overwhelmed by the cerulean sky and infinite horizon; the scent of creosote and sage infused him. A wildness around him that beckoned to the cowboy of long ago, and he bought his first pair of custom made boots at Cowtown Boots. The belt buckle was free. The University of New Mexico had Doc Holliday walking its halls.

Academics were easy, but his thirst for knowledge was never satisfied, so the credits piled up. Philosophy, religion, math, science…classes for everyone; Marshall reveled in the classes for the few: abnormal psychology, biogenetics, ancient theatre and art. His bed was found beneath the pile of books, and the librarians knew him by name, eager to show him their latest treasure.

He spotted her twirling her hair in concentration between the biographies and reference stacks. She ignored him at first, and he was utterly invigorated by the chase. Wooing, flattering and unrelenting, he held the number of Supria Davram in his hand four weeks later and victoriously crowed outside the Zimmerman Library. She debated his politics and he praised her artwork; they ate dinner on blankets in the desert as he spun stories with the stars. Plans and whispered promises as seasons passed. He revealed dreams of justice and law; standing tall and keeping order.

A dangerous job, she argued, too many injured in the line of duty: Morgan, Virgil, Wyatt.

Cap and gown with two tassels and three cords, Marshall held his head high as his parents beamed; his heart broken by the letter in his back pocket.

It was time for more than cheap, tin stars and dog-eared westerns, he promised himself. The applications were already in the mail.

The dry heat of Phoenix was a welcome relief from the stifling humidity of Georgia. Eighteen weeks of hell, many had called it; Marshall used the training to hone his mind and body to point arrow straight at his goal. He was the Napoleon of his unit; strategizing battles before dawn and deploying men and women with a decisiveness that was never questioned. They were undefeated in city and wood; posing with victory signs in front of burnt out mock-ups. He boarded the flight to Arizona with top scores on every exam and a bronze medal: Distinguished Rifleman. The son now ranked with the father.

Justice. Integrity. Service. The badge on his hip shined every night; the weapon in perfect working order. No one went unprotected. His presence in the courts noticed by many, and his name recorded by a particular set of eyes. Calm and unflappable, Marshall escorted his charges with jaw set and senses alert; duty clear and unquestioned. The Stoudenmire of the courthouse. Partnered repeatedly with men and women who deemed him unbending, he smiled and graciously allowed them their opinion, assuredly grounded in his journey. Perfecting his skills, his facts, his aim.

Judge Daniel Carter Glass had received death threats before. Had trash thrown onto his lawn and his tires slashed. He meted justice out to many and showed mercy to very few. Took the cases no one else wanted because of the unspoken danger; walked tall despite of it as he refused to be cowed. Marshall saw the glint of metal flash on a rooftop where there should be no movement. Dove instinctively to knock the large man to the ground before a shout could be uttered.

His hip burned with fire as he pushed Judge Glass into the car, wary of the shattering glass and chilled by the grunt of his partner. Duty before all, and he drove blindly from the parking lot as men in black flak jackets swarmed from the building. Ten city blocks and one clandestine meeting spot later, Marshall felt the strength leave his legs and sat on the hot, black asphalt as the blood trickled down his thigh. Three shooters, fifteen bullet casings, and the man in the backseat had a small scratch on his cheek. The Judge presented him with an accolade; Marshall presented his partner's widow with a small box of momentos. Metal ponies, merry-go-rounds and novels read in a hot kitchen a thousand miles away.

The letter came two weeks later, and Marshall was called into his boss' office. It was time for more than courtroom drama; time to blur the line between the good guys and the bad guys and face the challenge to uphold the law.

He stood upon the roof of the Sunshine Building and surveyed his domain. Old stomping grounds to the northwest, harder to see now with a few more buildings in the way. The high desert smelled differently than Phoenix; the air clearer and the landscape more weathered and permanent. Calmer. He settled back on his heels feeling older…seasoned, like the mountains in the distance. The drive was still there; a beat he danced to that never changed. A song that told of glory and respect, and he hummed it through the long days of training, studying and learning the new faces of people who weren't supposed to exist.

Memorized the names of power in this chain of command as he found his place. Read the tomes of Chenoweth and Calhoun; poured over history and tradition and polished his new suit of armor. Not razzed as badly as the younger recruits, his stature and intelligence smoothed his transition into the ranks of the purposefully unknown.

Deemed fussy by his partner and mentor. Marshall didn't like stray threads or unfinished chores; witnesses needed to be tucked in neatly each night, closet doors shut and windows locked tight. Threat assessments were impeccable and every form was completed in full. Given full privileges and sworn into active duty, he celebrated the bittersweet advancement with a toast to himself; his parents not allowed on the inside. The son was now his own man.

The woman had been in his boss' office for over an hour. Hard to see her with the shades half drawn; Marshall could only ascertain her height and hair color. His eyes warily traveled to the empty desk across from his. He had worked without a partner for four months; he was used to flying solo. The door swung open and he ducked his head to appear busy, watching from the corner of his eye as they approached. New partner; recruited from the FTF in New Jersey. Mary Shannon. He was unfailingly polite and offered her coffee; she was unexpectedly rude and made assumptions about his attire.

He asked for a transfer within three months; begged after four. Told he was the only one she hadn't demolished and demoralized in two years. Marshall gritted his teeth and returned to the fray; visions of Custer emblazoned upon his mind. He coached her on the proper completion of forms. She filled his inbox with her uncompleted paper work. He smiled reassuringly at the witness while she sighed and rolled her eyes through the reading of the MOU; glared her into silence across the table. Her rap sheet was as long as her list of commendations; referenced as one of the best in the field. Counseled repeatedly for behavior. Jekyll and Hyde, the other teams called them, and he was wont to agree.

There was a name on the record board above his own. A higher percentage of clustered shots within a period of time. He looked at her in amazement and she smiled smugly as she raised her eyebrows in challenge. Marshall tossed his chin and reminded her he could drill an apple at 400 meters. Later, Mary demonstrated that she could drill him with an apple at 5 meters. Challenges and contests; a lost bet sure to meet with embarrassing ramifications. She pushed, he shoved. He grew a thicker skin and she thinned her veneer.

They moved quietly through the run down warehouse. The operation had met with unforeseen resistance and the teams split up. He was Purvis hunting Dillinger. The blind corner was a perfect ambush, and Marshall saw an explosion of white as he went down silently; scrolling the events of Little Bohemia through his head. Eyes gritty and hard to open, he focused on a familiar boot. She stood over him firing; had rolled him against the wall. The echoes of gunfire faded as hands touched his face, wrists, neck…assessing and comforting. Found the slug in his vest as he moaned. Mary gently coaxed him back to reality with relief clearly written on her face. He teased that she cared. She had him on his feet and lucid before anyone else knew he had been down. They were awarded the collar; she was awarded his trust.

The sun was long gone as they stood on the rooftop. Anger released and fear abated for the night, the pair allowed ruminations on their former lives; before the ethical dilemmas that now twisted them into knots. The line used to be clear-cut through right and wrong. Now he prayed for the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. Doubts about choices made and paths to be chosen weighed heavily. She taught him to drink whiskey and curse at the sky. He debated her outlook on humanity; toasted her deep-seated compassion.

Offered the transfer finally, he smiled and declined. It was time for more than lone gunman tactics and solo rides into the sunset, he realized. Four eyes to watch; four weapons to draw and someone to have his back.

He likened them to Ness and Lahart; one day writing memoirs of gunfights long past. She laughed and said it was more likely they'd go down in a blaze of glory; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

***Yeehaw! I love how Mary beats his record :) Let me know what y'all think...push the button...push it!! REVIEWS!! (Boy, I'm demanding today, arent' I?) ***