*** A one shot fic I posted for month of mayhem on LJ and for you all's enjoyment here!! ***

*** The story behind the comment from And Your Little Dog Too. The conversation had there starts us off here. Some action, adventure, explosions and ....well, you know what happens :) ***


"You've never seen my girls, nitwit."

"Have too."

"What!?" she almost veered out of her lane as she whipped her head around to look at his deceptively relaxed form. "When? Where?"

He opened one eye to peer at her, "Can I refuse to answer that on the grounds it may cripple me?"

"Oh, I'd answer if I were you. Otherwise you'll be getting your own damn hotel room because I'll think you're sneaking peeks while I'm in the shower."

He sighed, "When we crawled out of that burning crack house in Phoenix two years ago."

-- Excerpt from the story: And Your Little Dog Too -- written 11/09


Two years ago in Phoenix --

Every performance had its ready room. The orchestras would tune their instruments and practice the tricky stanzas in the crowded areas beneath a stage; the dancers would stretch and primp in the hot and stuffy dressing rooms as they adjusted tights and hairpieces. Stomachs full of butterflies and minds focused on the task before them, there was always the sense of barely controlled, explosive action beneath the calm and steady facades. Something big was about to happen, and everyone hoped they wouldn't be the one to screw up.

It was no different in the small, overly warm staging area tucked behind the plywood covered windows of an unleased office building. Instead of the sounds and smells of warbled notes and hair spray, muted voice checks of hand-held radios and scents of gun oil and nervous sweat permeated the air.

Mary leaned against a back wall, unconsciously checking the position of her holster yet again as she surveyed the room for her partner. She tried not to let the hopped up antics of the younger agents ratchet up her anxiety level, but she just didn't have a good feel for this bust and hoped that laying eyes on Marshall would alleviate some of the unease. They had been brought into the fold of the multi-agency task force late in the game, and the whole operation just seemed thrown together haphazardly. Bad planning equaled dead people in Mary's experience, and she thought this whole cluster had the potential to go about six ways sideways.

Shaking her head as she levered off the wall, she decided to wander through the ranks and actively search for Marshall. Better to do something than just stand around; idle minds tended to overanalyze, and thinking too much now sometimes resulted in hesitation later. A window of opportunity for a bullet. She knew her role; knew where she was supposed to be and who her targets were. Learn the steps and stick to the script, and the curtains will fall with everyone alive.

"Jesus, it's hot," she whispered more to herself than anyone, fanning her face with a notecard she carried.

The Phoenix summer heat was brutal during the day and only mildly tolerable once the sun went down. Too many people in too small a square footage, and the heat stored in the brick building from the midday sun now radiated into the room to produce a fine sheen of sweat on everyone present.

Mary eyed the twenty or so members of the task force and ample ancillary staff as she forcefully wound her way through the throng. She knew a handful, having worked with them in a former life, but it was past the time of socialization as everyone's minds were focused on the clock. Twenty minutes until deployment. Where the hell was Marshall?

"Where have you been?" asked an impatient voice over her right shoulder.

Mary spun to meet the blue, serious gaze. "I've been looking for you. Where the hell did you go?"

"I was outside talking to Martinez, from DEA," he explained, jerking his chin towards the back doors. His expression was less than pleased. "They didn't tell us this place had a lab in the basement. Word is it's inactive as their cook was offed about two months ago, but I thought I'd get a little more info just in case. Also thought you should know."

Mary put her hands on her hips in frustration as she ground out, "You know I hate labs, Marshall."

Marshall wasn't any happier than Mary about the recently gathered information, but he knew she was especially wary of this type of set up. A retrieval during her second year in FTF had gone fantastically bad when the meth lab in the garage blew. No one had known it was there. Two agents in her circle were killed and another burned badly enough to be forced to retire. Mary had helped other team members drag the burning bodies out of the wreckage, her own injuries serious enough to sideline her for three months.

He watched her drop her gaze to the floor and set her jaw; either planning or remembering.

"You can sit this one out if you want. We're here voluntarily," he suggested, not expecting her to agree.

Mary snorted as she looked back up at him with a sardonic glare, "What? Have you been licking the vice squad again? Why would you think I'd let you run amok in there without supervision?"

Marshall cocked an eyebrow at her with a shrug, then opened his mouth to reply when the commander of the operation bellowed for everyone to shut up. Crowding Mary so she'd move forward to a better vantage point, the pair then listened intently to last minute notifications. Marshall frowned at one of the announcements.

He thought the last minute addition of four local officers was ill advised. Marshall could understand adding support staff if the number of detainees was larger than expected, but the local PD wanted these four guys in the thick of things. Inter-agency operations were not training grounds. Inexperience only resulted in confusion, and if lives were lost because of stupid mistakes, heads would roll.

His gaze was again drawn to the blonde head in front of him. Marshall knew where he would be; who he was targeting and which steps he would take to carry out the objective. He also knew where Mary would be. He not only memorized his parts, but hers as well; her lines, her marks. He couldn't ad lib if she deviated from the plan, but he'd know if it happened and start planning for the aftermath.

The buzzing crowd began to break up after the commander's dismissal, chatter directed toward back up clip availability and check point strategies. Marshall noticed Mary unconsciously check her gear again, her brow furrowed and eyes unfocused. They'd been partners long enough to read the subtle cues of each other's emotions.

"I don't like it either," he offered in a low tone.

She snapped her gaze up to him; a flash of relief in those mossy eyes. "I thought it might be the heat getting me all bothered, but there's just something…"

Leaving the thought unfinished, Mary began to make her way towards the parking lot where the vehicles waited as her partner followed. She turned back to him as they exited the building.

"Don't wander."

"Stay visible."

Both partners cracked a smile as they simultaneously advised the other; thoughts drawn to the singular plan to keep the other safe amidst the soon to be chaos.

"Mann, Shannon, over here," snapped the voice of one of the team leaders near an SUV. "You're riding with Fanning and Schacht. Saddle up," he encouraged as he gestured towards the car.

The group climbed into the vehicle, Mary losing the contest to drive as Marshall had already confiscated the keys from the team leader. He swung them from his finger with a singsong tease as she at first sat in the driver's seat. She narrowed her eyes and climbed over to the passenger side, purposefully placing both feet on his seat to leave behind a good amount of sand; smiling smugly as he wiped off the dirt with disgusted noises.

The drive to the meet-up locale was quiet and short, and twenty minutes later they stood in the shadow of a large warehouse a block away from the house they would soon invade. Four other team members blended into the shadows with them. Waiting.

"Sounds like a fucking party," Mary murmured as they could hear the raucous laughs of revelers and feel the beat of the music.

"PD is going to scare off the riff raff, and then we'll move." The words they had all just heard through their earpieces were repeated by one of the younger agents. Nerves making him talkative.

"I'm listening to the same channel, idiot, I don't need subtitles," Mary sneered.

Marshall kneed her in the thigh and she jerked, shooting her partner a scathing look. He gave a small shake of his head to warn her off. Everyone was wound tight and he didn't want her making the younger agent nervous. People's asses got shot off that way. She stepped on his toes in retaliation and he grunted and moved out of her range.

"I thought we were only expecting ten to fifteen inside the house. With all the cars I can see, it looks like more than that," observed Fanning hesitantly.

Mary and Marshall shared a knowing look. Deviation from the plan already. Not good.

A voice over the radio confirmed Fanning's guess a moment later. 'We've got a report of about twenty inside, not counting our two, and three on the porch. PD's arriving now. Be ready in five.'

"Good thing those four new guys came along," Marshall droned sarcastically, "now we're one-to-one instead of outnumbered."

"Toss them in as bait. We can clean up what's left," Mary replied, her gut churning at the numbers in her head. Other team members agreed. Some nervous giggling was heard.

All eyes snapped towards the direction of the house as the blue and red lights from police cars began to reflect off storefront windows. A disembodied voice gave the go signal and the agents began to silently move from shadow to shadow as they rapidly covered the distance to their goal.

Marshall watched the cop cars pull up onto the sidewalk and the chase began as the officers opened their doors. Punks scattered off the porch towards the relative safety of the abandoned yards adjacent, only to be confronted by black clad agents with semi-automatics. The house was quickly surrounded, and at least six more suspects were nabbed as the scene outside was noticed by a few inside; flight being their first response, they jackrabbitted out the back and sides of the building. He wished they could've flushed out a few more, then turned his concentration to the weapon in his hand as his team vaulted up the front stairs.

Mary counted her steps as she ran with the team towards the front porch. The rote, mental activity emptied her mind of extraneous thoughts and she began to record the event in snapshots. Suspects face down on the front lawn. Lights snapped on in second story windows. Marshall's shout as he pointed towards a figure running towards the fence. Fanning's labored breaths beside her.

They rushed through the front door behind the SWAT personnel, guns up and adrenaline pumping to near euphoria. Always waiting for that shot as you charged into the unknown. Never knowing if this would be the time you didn't survive the journey across the threshold.

Mary immediately headed towards the kitchen with her head tucked down and eyes alert. She was to set up between the cellar doors and the back door; make sure no one tried to play hide and seek and catch the strays from the round up in the main part of the house. The radio was full of calls, commands and curses as every agent was engaged. She could always pick out Marshall's voice; he was circling around to the bedrooms from the living room. Exactly where he should be. Mary knew her partner's plans; had read the page from his playbook. Stepping over two young suspects held down on the floor, she tried to ignore the noise in the kitchen as she cleared the basement stairs.

A sudden, furtive movement caught her eye at the bottom of the steps. The stairwell light was out.

"I've got movement in the basement. Headed down with PD," she curtly reported as she motioned one of the local officers over.

"Wait for agents, Mary," Marshall cautioned, as attuned to her as she was to him.

She cast her gaze around quickly, but due to the numbers, there was no one free.

"Only PD is available. Keep you posted," she replied, steeling herself for the descent.

Two things went in her favor. The stairs were not pass through, so her ankles were in no danger of being shot off, and the sidewall was solid to the bottom. She and the officer could safely creep down the stairs only having to watch the bottom. Halfway down, she could hear frantic mumbles and the sounds of objects being moved around. There was a dim light coming from somewhere. She signaled a plan to the cop behind her, and they snuck down the last four steps.

Marshall's heart rate shot up with Mary's call, and he was now trying to plot the shortest distance back to the kitchen. The bedrooms had been cleared, and he snagged another agent to follow him towards the back of house in order to find his partner. The bad feeling in his gut roiled into a darker shade of dread. He needed to get to the basement.

A flurry of movement to his left as a man came flying out of a closet, barreling into him and the other agent. They all went down in a tangled heap, Marshall's training giving him the speed and leverage to claw his way to the top quickly. Hopped up on the drug du jour, their new friend managed to free himself from their grasp and spring down the hallway, the agents in pursuit. The chase was over quickly, but there was no one to take the wriggling man into custody and Marshall had to march him back to the front door. Time wasted and still no word from Mary. He moved quickly towards the kitchen.

The basement was dimly light by two desk lamps and three Bunsen burners. The meth lab was open for business, but the cook was trying to close up shop. Mary's gut clenched as she cursed silently. This was not where she wanted to be. There was another man darting amongst the equipment in the shadows. Mary hugged the wall as she moved into the basement towards him.

"Freeze!" shouted the officer as he reached the bottom of the stairs, raising his weapon to target the cook.

Mary almost shot the cop, just because. The unexpected and ill advised announcement of their presence completely voided the plan she had constructed in her head. All hell broke loose, and she tried to convey the pertinent info through the radio.

"The lab is active. One cook, one accessory. I need more people."

The man in the shadows darted towards the middle of the room with the officer's shout, knocking the cook over as he tried to vault over one of the tables to make a beeline for the door. Grabbed by the officer, their resultant struggle jarred a shelving unit loose, and the items on it flew into the room as the unit fell over.

Mary saw the horror in the cook's eyes as the cans and jars spun and tumbled into his workplace, and she reflexively put her arms in front of her face as she spun back towards the stairs. Colorful flames shot towards the roof as the liquids in the jars touched the burners; the cook began to scream. Mary felt something hit her back and she stumbled forward as her neck and shoulders began to burn. She yelled at the people in the basement.

"Get out of here, now! Go! Go!"

The floor tilted under her feet as powerful fumes from the mixtures oozing onto the floor filled the air, and she shook her head to clear it so she could see the stairs. Arms and legs now leaden, she watched the officer drag the suspect upwards as she forced herself to follow them. It felt as though she was moving through molasses, the burning sensation on her back intensifying, and some instinctual terror drove her to continue to place one foot on each successive stair. She heard muffled pops from the main basement, and the flames intensified with the small explosions, licking at the doorframe behind her. The stairwell was becoming dim with smoke and she began to cough. Not again.

Marshall began to smell the smoke shortly after hearing Mary's yells through his earpiece. A ball of ice began to form in the pit of his stomach, and he sprinted through the last room into the kitchen and to the basement door. A handful of personnel were clustered near the stairwell yelling down to the people emerging, and Marshall plowed into them to shove a few aside so he could see.

The team leaders were ordering everyone out of the house at the notice of the fire in the lab; explosions likely eminent due to the chemicals kept in the basement. Prisoners were dragged out by any handhold available, and the calls for partners and friends were terse and demanding. Mary wasn't answering Marshall's call as he helped pull the officer and suspect out of the stairway. She was silent, and he started down the dark stairs despite numerous attempts to stop him.

She vaguely realized there were hands grabbing her, dragging her up the stairs as she stumbled blindly to keep up.

"The cook," she rasped.

"He's crispy. We have to go. Keep moving, Shannon."

Mary's eyes teared too severely for her to see her partner, but there was no doubt he was the one half carrying her through the door into the kitchen. Another coughing fit knocked her legs out from under her, and she was thrown over Marshall's shoulder as he continued to barrel out the back door with the last of the occupants. Events were muddled and mainly forgotten after that.

Relief as he stumbled over her lying on the stairs; concern as she could barely walk, much less run as he needed her to. Relying on his own strength and speed, Marshall grabbed the waist of her vest, slung her arm over his shoulder and draped her off his side as he charged up the stairs and into the kitchen. She completely slumped against him as they hit the fresh air and her lungs rebelled, and he resorted to a fireman's carry to get them clear of the house. He noticed the back of her vest was wet, and felt nauseous with the thought that it could be blood.

Reaching a safe distance, Marshall placed her on the ground and Mary grabbed onto him to keep herself upright.

"Burns…it burns," she whispered, one hand clawing at the back of her neck.

He realized his own hand tingled where he had gripped her wet vest, and immediately called to another member of the team as he started undoing the Velcro straps of Mary's vest.

"I need water bottles! As many as you can find!"

"Damn it, Mary, stop fighting with me," he hissed at her as she kept trying to brush his hands away, "You've got some chemical all over you and your clothes are soaked with it. I have to get them off."

"I'm late for work," she mumbled, head flopping forward as Marshall leaned her over his thigh.

He could already see the reddened skin on the back of her neck and upper shoulders, and he cursed as he pulled his knife from his pocket. The water bottles arrived with a paramedic, and he balanced Mary face down over his knee as he cut her t-shirt and bra off, exposing her back. They poured copious amounts of water on her, Marshall holding her arms to restrain her as she sputtered back to awareness with the cold bath.

"What the fuck…hey!" she slurred, trying to turn her head to look at him.

"You're okay…relax. Just getting you cleaned up," he murmured, trying to soothe the agitated woman.

The paramedic was now soaking some dressings with water, and Marshall asked him to secure Mary for a minute. Making sure she was still, Marshall shrugged out of his own vest and outer shirt.

Mary thought the cold water was ultimately refreshing, and the relief from the burning sensation on her back was welcome. Her view consisted of the grass, but if she let her head loll to the side she was treated with the sight of flames roaring through the second floor windows of the house. Somehow, she knew, that was significant. There were lines she was supposed to say; a part she should be playing, but the buzzing in her ears was getting louder and now Marshall was trying to get her to move her arms.

More cool, wetness to her shoulders, then dry cloth slid over her arms and wrapped around her back. Down became up as she was slowly laid back, and Mary's hands scrambled for purchase with the sensation of falling. She swore she felt her brain slide to the back of her head. Dizzy. Nauseous. Then someone was taking her shirt away and she panicked; grabbed at the cloth to hold it against her.

"It's all right, Mary. You're covered. Let me have that," Marshall assured her.

"I don't…clothes…I need…," she protested

"You've got my shirt on. It looks great," her partner teased, even though her continued confusion alarmed him.

Mary was mainly limp and compliant as he and the paramedic repositioned her. Marshall made sure she was decent, exposing her only briefly as he switched out shirts. No one but him and the EMT saw a thing, and he was damned sure Mary would never know about it. Judging by her slurred speech and random comments, he was fairly confident she wasn't going to remember much of the event. The paramedic thought her burns were minor, but suggested she be seen at the ER. Marshall agreed with a curt nod, and the young man set off to tend to the next injured agent.

The tableau before him was akin to Dante's Inferno, Marshall mused, but crack houses and meth labs should really have their own level of hell. He wondered why, after all these years, he let himself overrule his own gut. Shaking his head as he gazed upon the destruction, he was pulled from his train of thought by Mary's hand on his leg. He looked over to meet her puzzled stare.

"What the hell is going on?"

A return to clarity, and he released a breath he didn't know he was holding. "Roasting marshmallows by the fire. Not what we rehearsed and not quite the show we paid for."

Mary stared at the flames silently for a few minutes, then closed her eyes again on a sigh, "I want a refund."

Marshall reached over to place his hand on her head and grinned in agreement.


*** There ya go! Tata mystery solved :) I hope you enjoyed it, and please, PLEASE let me know what you think! REVIEWS :) ***