*** Ah, Faber. Our favorite character to hate, and maim, and humiliate, and...well, you get the picture. What if Mexico was a huge cluster? What if Mary had the epiphany we all hope she would have and came back home to the one man who truly mattered? What if it worked out? And...the real question...what if Faber came back to town? Well, my friends, let's find out! Are you ready? ***

***It is with utmost gratitude, respect and love that I give due props to Roar526, DispatchVampire and Rj_lupins_kat for their essential help and hope on this story! You know I couldn't do it without you ladies! Wouldn't want to, either :)***

***Every other day will bring a new chapter! And, please, it's fic and I own nothing but the computer I type it on. Put the lawyer away.***

"And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."

- Exodus 21:23-25

"Our sense of revenge is as exact as our mathematical faculty, and until both terms of the equations are satisfied we can not get over the sense of something left undone"

- Anonymous

Three weeks after gallivanting off to Mexico, Mary had shown up at his door well past normal visiting hours in a shirt too cool for the season and a six pack of beer. He hadn't even known she was back in town. He stood, puzzled, with a crossword magazine gripped in one hand and lamb's wool slippers that had seen better days on his feet.

"Was I supposed to pick you up at the airport?" Marshall asked, feeling slightly vulnerable in his sweatpants and t-shirt.

"I've been thinking." Her hesitant gaze and self-conscious body language had him thinking about stronger libations in the cupboard.

Self preservation had never been his forte with Mary, and the survival skill eluded him once again as he invited her inside. She took over most of the couch with a lazy sprawl and used the hem of her sweatshirt to twist open a beer for them both before he even took his seat. Took a long pull from her own bottle before beginning the ritual destruction of the label.

Marshall perched on the edge of the recliner and accepted his bottle with a nod of thanks. He let the clock tick through a half cycle before prodding. "So…what mental preoccupation brings you to my humble abode?"

Mary shot him an irritated look. "I couldn't get it out of my head," she began, focused on lifting a corner of the label off the bottle. "What you said in the office. About cowboys, and messy, and thinking."

Marshall drank about half his beer in one gulp as he used the remote to turn down the music. He had a feeling he was going to need to hear every word. On the other hand, he mused for a moment, maybe drowning her out would be wiser. He saw her tuck a strand of hair behind her ear and noticed her fingers shake slightly. He turned the music off.

"It was like one of those songs you just can't stop singing, you know?" Mary chuckled dryly and glanced at him briefly before returning her attention to her beer. "In my head, just repeating over and over. I couldn't get away." She sighed and leaned back. "Seems to be true with a lot of things you've been telling me lately. They just keep poking at me and prodding me. It's been more than a little annoying."

Marshall smiled slightly, still unable to gauge her mood and riding a small swell of uncertainty. "Are you here for clarification, then? Or maybe a cease and desist order?"

"I've been filing those since the day we met, numbnuts. You're obviously immune."

Oddly enough, the injection of snark settled his nerves. He watched her closely as she chewed on the inside of her cheek, just about able to hear the jumbled words he knew were chasing themselves in her brain. She was mentally stumbling and he needed to give her a clear place to stand. A focus.

"Mary," he asked, "what do you need?"

Mary looked up to stare at him for a long moment. The familiar planes of her face, hues of her hair and skin warmed him as always. But her eyes contained an element he was unfamiliar with. Something rarely seen and not to be ignored. Fear.

She patted the seat next to her on the couch and Marshall smoothly moved to take the spot. Watched her as she rolled her lips between her teeth with indecision. Waited.

"There are no guarantees in life, are there, Marshall? Especially when people are involved."

He swallowed. Worded his answer carefully. "Some people are more…steady than others, Mare. More invested in working out the details and hanging in there when things go a little haywire. There're no money back guarantees, no, but there are some damn fine long term warranties if you just look hard enough."

Mary stared at her beer bottle for a long moment, then gave him a shy sideways grin while she reached over to brush an imagined wrinkle from the knee of his pants.

"Okay," she began, blowing out a long breath, "I need you to listen to a story about an idiot…"


Marshall ran his fingers through her hair, continued across her shoulder to lightly stroke her neck and trace her collarbone. A purely feminine marker on the human body, the slightly bony protrusion drew many a male eye. The soft, thin skin covering it allowed for the discovery of the faint pulse beneath. Warm and delicate. A tactile treasure akin to wrists and earlobes that defined gender. A woman lay in his lap. A woman who reached up to capture his fingers with her own.

"That tickles, nitwit," Mary said gently. She shifted her attention from the game and lay back to look up at him. "And it usually means there's something on your mind."

She had learned his behaviors quickly. How he touched her…when he touched her. More attuned that he had expected and he now better understood her aversion to touch by others. She had never been given a chance to grow used to it as a child. Had never become comfortable with the intimacy of contact nor could she interpret it well. It was a disturbing distraction she chose to avoid.

Mary laced her fingers with his and used the other hand to explore the muscles in his forearm. Contact she now initiated more often and he smiled.

"Nothing much," Marshall finally answered. Lying would be futile. "A little concerned about you with Faber coming to town next week."

"Concerned about me, or you?" Mary countered, watching him carefully. "It's been nearly four months since I've seen the bastard. Trust me when I say the charm wore off long ago."

Marshall couldn't quell the twinge of insecurity that flickered in his gut, and it must have shown in his face. Mary turned towards him and reached up to wrap her hand around his neck.

"Marshall." She waited for him to look at her. "The man screwed at least one maid in the room I had invited him to stay in. I assure you, I will barely be able to refrain from shooting him the entire time he's here."

Her fingers played with his hair. Soothing and distracting. "I thought I was going to get to shoot him," he whined playfully.

"You can shoot him in the ass," Mary assured him, releasing his hand to wrap her other arm around his neck. "I've got another target in mind."

Marshall let his free hand drift down to caress her abdomen. "You are a vindictive woman, Miss Shannon."

Mary pulled him down to feather her lips against his. Whispered into his moan, "Don't you forget that, Mr. Mann."

*** Yay! They're together :) See...no angsties here, just anticipation of something wonderous, my dear friends! Do you want more? Yeah, you know what I want...REVIEWS! ***

***Oh! And one year ago today (10/3) I wrote and posted my first story on this site! You are all fabulous and I thank you many times over! ***