*** My psyche is worried about our characters. I made a comment recently that they look tired. All of them. The whole office. This is what came of it. Oh yeah, the niggling uncertainty of season finale goodness. Let's just head that one off now! ***

*** Thanks (too many to count) to roar526 for her support amidst real life! She gave me the title also, so she gets to be doubly awesome! ***


let it go,
let it roll right off your shoulder
don't you know
the hardest part is over
let it in,
let your clarity define you
in the end
we will only just remember how it feels

let it slide,
let your troubles fall behind you
let it shine
until you feel it all around you
and i don't mind
if it's me you need to turn to
we'll get by,
it's the heart that really matters in the end

our lives are made
in these small hours
these little wonders,
these twists & turns of fate
time falls away,
but these small hours,
these small hours still remain

- Rob Thomas: These Little Wonders


In the six months since Mary Shannon was put back on active duty, the Albuquerque branch of WITSEC had inducted fifteen witnesses into the program. Slightly over half the normal volume for a department their size. Six were felons, two were minors, and three others required the additional work of processing immediate families and occasionally, the family pet. One witness, a portly man whose health alarmed Marshall the day he signed the MOU, was dead of a massive heart attack a week later.

The intake load was stressful on the two resident marshals, the additional personnel from Phoenix not helpful enough to significantly lighten the burden. Add to that the three witnesses leaving the program, two voluntarily and one amidst highly vocal disagreement, and even the cheeriest of the people wandering about the office were wearing thin around the edges. Witness visits were scheduled back to back, additional threat assessments were done during the wee hours of the morning, and no one was able to keep up with the paperwork. Conversations were to the point, humor was lacking and tempers were short.

"I'm warning you, Inspector, I won't cover your ass again." Stan's voice followed Mary out of his office as she threw open the door and stomped towards her desk.

Marshall's eyes snapped to the scene and studied his boss' face as the man emerged, shrugged into his jacket and flipped off the lights. Angry, but tired too. Probably more tired than anything, so the anger was likely out of proportion to the reason behind it. Looking over to his partner, he frowned slightly as she sat silently in her chair with her hands resting in her lap, staring at the wall across the room. Pissed, but something more he was having a hard time identifying.

Stan sighed, checked his coat pockets and headed out the doors. "'Night, Marshall."

"Chief." Marshall nodded, eyes sliding back to Mary. Silent Mary. Still. Something was definitely amiss.

"He'll get over it," Marshall offered. "Just needs a good night's sleep to simmer down. Don't get your undies in a bundle about something that's nothing."

Mary's gaze found a more interesting target on the surface of her desk. Tired. They were all tired. Honestly, if she thought about it, she was hard pressed to remember the last time she wasn't tired; the last time she had dreams that didn't wake her and joints that didn't ache. It never changed.

"He's right," she sighed. "I pushed my luck one too many times and finally got my hand stuck in the cookie jar. Lucky he didn't gnaw it off and leave a stump."

"Still digging on Scott?" he asked.

A small shrug. "Dead ends. He is who he says he is. Either not clever enough to hide anything or honest enough to lay it all bare. I'm not even sure I care anymore at this point."

Marshall looked at the pile of 2350-B forms in his inbox and the stash of unanswered messages near the phone. Looked back over at Mary who toed the bottom edge of her desk in order to rock herself in her chair slightly. Looked at the clock. 8:00 pm.

Mary was pulled out of her reverie as Marshall pushed back his chair and strode towards the kitchen. She watched him pull a large box out of the refrigerator and walk back towards her desk.

"What's in the box, Jack?"

Pulling a chair over to her desk, Marshall placed the box on the surface between them. "I was inspired to purchase a celebratory gift. The gift that keeps on giving and makes everything better."

He revealed the French Silk pie in all its glory and Mary sighed as she stretched her neck out to inhale the aroma of chocolately goodness. "Oh God. You know, the only way that keeps on giving is by assuring my gym I'll renew my membership."

"Well, if you don't want any…" he trailed off as he reached in to close the lid.

"Touch it and die." She pinned his wrist with her hand. "Where's the forks?"

Marshall produced cutlery. "You want a big piece or a small piece?"

Mary grabbed a fork out of his hand and dug a chunk out of the middle. "Piece, schmiece, takes too long to cut and we're going to eat the whole thing anyway. C'mon, dig in, I promise not to get too much slobber on your side."

Marshall grimaced slightly, but joined Mary in her efforts at maximum pie consumption. She made little groans of pleasure with each bite and he saw her shoulders relax slightly. Her eyes were closed while she chewed.

"Aren't you even going to ask what we're celebrating?" Marshall asked.

Mary picked some chocolate chips off the top and popped them in her mouth. "Knowing you, it's probably some obscure event that no one who lives in the civilized world cares about. The ten year anniversary of pygmy goat wrestling or the first time the Sun and Pluto have been aligned since the dawn of man. No, wait, it's the birthday of the creator of those little plastic things at the end of your shoelaces." Mary smiled as she baited him.

"Aglets," he filled in automatically, as she knew he would.

She pointed her fork at him in triumph, "Geek."

"Jest if you like, but I think you might actually be interested in the reason I bought this fine pie."

Mary eyed him. He looked smug. "Okay, I'll bite. What's the grand occasion?"

"As of yesterday at 10:15 a.m., you and I made the WITSEC history books." Marshall raised his eyebrows to emphasize the point.

She thought about the events of the prior day with a furrowed brow. "We were sitting in a courtroom in Santa Fe waiting to take Tiffany home after she testified at 10:15 a.m. yesterday. Hardly a historical event."

"Au contraire -"

"Don't say mon frere," she begged.

"Mon frere," he drawled as she rolled her eyes. "Tiffany was the 45th witness we successfully hid and ultimately presented at trial. Add that to our impressive record of retaining 90% of our total witnesses within the program and top it off with never losing a witness to a breach, and we are now, officially, by the numbers, well within any margin of error calculation -"

"Point, moron," she warned around a mouthful of pie.

" - the most successful partnership in the history of WITSEC," Marshall announced, beaming a smile in her direction.

Mary stared at him for a moment. Swallowed her pie. "Really? You're shitting me."

"You think I would spring for pie to just pull your leg?"

"Huh," Mary cocked her head and squinted at him. "Who would've thought a pushy, cast iron bitch and a skinny, cowboy-boot-wearing geek would've pulled that one off."

"I'm not skinny. I'm lean," he protested. "Pre-adolescent boys are skinny. Prisoners of war are skinny. I, however, am neither of those things."

Mary grinned and held her fork in her teeth as she rolled over to the other corner of her desk. "You really shouldn't hand me that kind of opening, you know." She reached into her bottom drawer and pulled out the ever present bottle of whiskey and their two glasses.

"I have to admit, you've finally found a day of commemoration that doesn't make me want to rip the heads off of Hallmark executives or innocent well wishers. That, indeed, calls for celebration." Mary rolled back over and doled out the liquor.

Marshall eyed his glass warily. "Whiskey and pie?"

She raised her glass. "Two things that no one would think could ever go together."

"To partnership," Marshall returned softly, glass meeting hers.

One hour later, the pie box only contained a few pie remnants and Mary had her feet on the desk while Marshall stretched out in his own chair. The whiskey bottle had a sizable portion of liquid missing, and a small dollop now tried to make its way out of Mary's nose as Marshall finished his story.

"…grabbed one ankle and drug him out from under the bed wearing two earrings and a pair of women's underwear! I honestly thought the SWAT guys were going to piss themselves."

He was treated to one of Mary's belly laughs. Her eyes watered with the effects of whiskey and hilarity. She was trying to catch her breath and he sat back to admire her in this rare state of openness. It had been a long time since he had heard her laugh. A long time since he had laughed. The past year had been unkind to them both, and the last few months had stretched them thin.

Mary wiped the tears from her cheeks and enjoyed the endorphin rush from a good laugh. It had been so long since she felt good that even this little treat seemed golden. Marshall had become quiet and she looked over. He was gazing at her with a mix of affection and sadness.

"Uh uh, no way, buddy." Mary shook her finger at him. "Don't get all sappy and maudlin on me now. We haven't had nearly enough alcohol for that. Keep the happy coming."

He gave her a half grin while refilling their glasses. Holding his aloft, Marshall toasted, "Here's to the rest of our seventh year and many years beyond. May they suck infinitely less than the last one."

"Happy over, then." Mary grimaced. She raised her glass in matching tribute and slammed back the whiskey as the last year played back in her mind.

Basements and morgues. Anger towards her family, towards her job, towards herself. Emotional and physical bullets and blackmail. In summary; pain.

She shook her head slowly, the empty glass fascinating. "What am I doing, Marshall?"

He watched her fall back into herself with an ache of loss. "Would that be a literal or metaphorical question? Or maybe rhetorical? You really need to categorize these for me if you want an answer that makes sense," he teased.

Feet on the floor, and Mary hunched over the desk as she drew patterns in the moisture left by dribbled whiskey. "I got a second chance after that bullet rearranged my insides. I know that. I remember walking into my house and thinking 'This is what my new life looks like'. You, my family, Raph…everyone smiling and it all looked promising for once. For a split second I actually thought things would change. That I had changed."

"It did change us, Mary. There was way to much time to think."

She studied him as he now gazed out at the black night. A profile she could draw with her eyes closed. A few more lines beside his eyes, cheekbones slightly more prominent. He had lost a little weight. Lean. Thin.

He watched her more now. She had caught the pensive stares and increased checks on her position when in the field. Stepped in front of her once when there was no need and suffered a verbal barrage because of it. They had been apart too much lately. Pulled in too many directions, and he couldn't allow himself to lose track of her.

"You were there when it mattered, Marshall," Mary quietly offered.

He cocked an eyebrow as she read his thoughts. Rested one elbow on the desk and traced the rim of glass with a finger. "And what about next time?"

Mary remembered the worry; the urge to overprotect and overthink. "Worrying about the last time won't prevent the next time. It'll only wear you down until you get sloppy. And if you screw up and fuck with our world record I'll shoot you myself."

He grinned at her attempt to lighten the mood and turned the conversation back to her. "You don't think things have changed?"

Mary blinked as she tried to jump topics. "You tell me. Another relationship failed, my family is screwed up…plus one more, my witnesses make me crazy…or die on me, and I still walk around alienating most people I meet." She squinted in thought for a moment. "Nope, not really seeing much change there."

"You ended a relationship that wasn't right for you, your mother is gainfully employed and living independently, your sister ventured out to help you solve the mysteries of your past, your witnesses are safe and one even became a friend. I don't know, Mare, I see some change there." He picked at the leftover pieces of crust and could feel her glaring at him. "And I'd worry if you didn't alienate everyone you meet."

"I forgot about your Pollyanna complex. Did you forget to mention the rainbows and unicorns?"

"I got about two more glasses to go before the unicorns make their appearance." Marshall drawled.

"Ass." Mary refilled them again, defenses thin and dropping along with the level of liquid in the bottle.

She put her feet back on the desk. Sighed. "I didn't break it off with Raph."

"What?" Marshall was confused. "You're still together?"

"No, you idiot," she scoffed. "I wasn't the one to end it. He was. He walked out and I didn't stop him."

"Why?"

"What do you mean, 'why'?" she retorted. "Why did he end it? Why did he walk out? Why didn't I stop him? 'Why' doesn't really matter. That's what happened."

Marshall knew there was a deeper hurt. He didn't push his luck. "I'm sorry, Mary. I didn't know."

"I didn't tell you. I didn't want you making some insane comparisons between Raph and my father and feeling sorry for me because the men in my life walk out the door and I stand there and wonder why the hell I don't do anything about it. Blah, blah, fucking blah, cue the violins." Mary took a deep breath and a long drink.

"Hmm," he pondered. "I envision more of a bassoon chorus for you. Throatier. Less whiny."

Mary chuckled slightly at his ability to head her off at the pass. "Really, Marshall? Bassoons? What the hell is a bassoon anyway?"

"The modern bassoon is a woodwind with a double reed. It stands about four feet tall and is found in almost all orchestral pieces - " he was cut off abruptly as the chocolate chip hit his nose. Mary was aiming another with a warning look.

"Rhetorical," she said.

"Ah. Thanks."

Mary shrugged. "I guess there're some changes. Some things I might do differently now. Maybe Scott will bring some closure. And then there's Faber." She hadn't meant to mention him.

Marshall scowled. "What about Faber?"

Mary glanced over at his tone. "You don't like him much."

"If 'much' is defined as 'not one iota', then you're right." Marshall replied. "And you didn't like him much either before I left you here with him."

"He's not exactly what he seems. I was probably a little too quick to judge, as usual."

"Be careful there," Marshall cautioned.

Alcohol piqued her curiosity. "You got something to say?"

Marshall turned to face her, leaned over and rested both elbows on the table. "Due to your nature, you are able to see the one redeeming quality in a person amidst the sea of slime that they swim in. Desirable for this job? Yes. Desirable for forming relationships? Not usually. You'll nurture him and prop him up, throwing all your energy into convincing him that he's worthy of some elusive praise or lofty goal. He'll happily take all those good parts of you, use them to scrub himself clean, then walk out leaving you laying on the floor like a used dish rag. Worn thin, stretched out, and soaked in regret that you can't rinse off."

Mary just stared at him. Brain too fuzzy to mount a proper defense or lob insults.

"He probably talked a lot about what he wanted. How he wanted to change. How you helped him." Marshall knew he was right when her gaze dropped. "But he didn't ask you anything about who you are. What you want. Didn't try to get to know you, just worked at ingratiating himself. He's got eyes on the prize, Mary."

She thought of the conversation in the conference room. The chat in her living room and his carefully placed compliments. A bottle of wine and a kiss at her door. Her desire to be wooed had fit perfectly into his scheme to use her to advance his own career. Not only did he collect praise, he had planned to use her for a victory lap. There was clarity in the now empty bottle on her desk.

Marshall blearily watched her shake her head and pick a lock of hair off her cheek. The words wouldn't stop coming out of his mouth once he had started. Whiskey had always loosened his tongue, and men who would stalk his partner deserved to be taken down by their prey. She shifted in her seat and he focused on her.

"Where I am blind…" she murmured, looking up to catch his eye.

"I see," he whispered.

Mary smiled after a moment and tucked her hair behind one ear nervously. "Well," she injected cheer into her tone, "I still say I'm the smart one."

Marshall let her off the hook. "Good. You can figure out where we're going to sleep, because neither of us is in any shape to drive home."

"Cab," she said. "See? Blindingly brilliant!"

Marshall giggled and Mary followed suit. Because Marshall giggled like a wounded hyena. Because she was drunk off her ass. Because some things really shouldn't change.

Picking up her empty glass, Mary clinked it against the one Marshall still held loosely in his fingers. "To the best partner I've had all year." She winked.

"To whiskey and pie," he replied. He reached in to eat the last chocolate chip.


*** Marshall *does* giggle like a wounded hyena! Let me know if you like it, or if it should be thrown out to be eaten by wild hyenas :) Yeah, that means please REVIEW! ***