*** You all thought I forgot, didn't you? Nope. Let's just say it's been a hell of a year...good, bad, and ugly...to fit the theme. I'm still bitter about the finale of our beloved IPS, a sentiment I'm sure I share with many. Had to work my way past that to get in a better frame of mind to write this epilogue. But now it is done...done done done :) I hope it gives anyone reading the story a sense of closure (and others a reason to start again from the beginning.) And, in a way, I kinda wish the show would've gone out in a similar fashion. Something to hope for.
I've put a few notes at the end of the story...tidbits about our 2nd trip to ABQ and such. Feel free to read, or not ;) Thank you all again for being amazing readers, encouragers and keepers of the "faith", as it were. Happy Trails! ***
"Baby sister, I was born game and I intend to go out that way." – True Grit
Hogan: "Prayin' for me?"
Hogan: "Well then I must be drunk enough. Damn my eyes, I find that kind of touchin."
– Two Mules for Sister Sara
"Hey Sheriff! You forgot your pants." – Rio Bravo
** Albuquerque, NM - 6 months later **
Sheryl stood just inside the sliding glass doors leading out into the back yard and watched Leanne and Tyler dig in the sandbox that probably had more dirt in it than sand. It was a rare, warm winter day in the high desert. Blue sky and bright sunshine rapidly melting any exposed snow. Faux Spring. Its siren call was too strong for the children, and their incessant whines for freedom to venture out into the soggy yard had finally landed on her last nerve. The ground was probably still partially frozen from last week's snow, and she knew the two would return in a short while with cold little hands and demands for hot chocolate. Shaking her head at the misguided exuberance of youth, she crossed her arms and leaned one shoulder against the wall with a deep sigh.
She had grown used to Albuquerque in a surprisingly short time, finding that the faster pace of a large city suited her need to focus on moving forward without becoming trapped in the past. The kids, being kids, adapted swiftly to their new surroundings. Made new friends to bring home from the neighborhood playground within the first few weeks of moving in. Leanne had made the most strides, leaving the sullen, unhappy girl from the ranch behind to become an active and enjoyable fifth grader, and Tyler continued to gallop through his days with dreams of rodeo glory. As Marshall had promised, they had both spent time with a psychologist, and it didn't take long to assure Sheryl they would be fine. There were still a few nightmares, and Tyler's nervousness around fires, but time would likely serve them well.
Her own state of mind remained chaotic. Some days it seemed as though the past had faded to mere shadows, just memories she could ignore for a while as she concentrated on her new life. But other days…other days had her jumping at those same shadows, convinced her cover was blown and certain death awaited around the next corner or in a dark room down the hall. She tried to keep busy, enrolling in classes at the local community college and taking a part-time job at a coffeehouse down the street. Mary and Marshall had told her she didn't need to start working so soon, but Sheryl couldn't imagine just sitting around and waiting. She would make herself crazy just keeping house, checking the street and backyard every half hour for anything suspicious. No, it was better to keep busy. She didn't want to think about the depositions two months from now, the trial within the next year. Didn't want to think about Sophie - or whatever her name really was - out there in the wind...knowing what she was capable of…wondering if she knew they were still alive. It was hard not to think about her friends at the ranch: Maggie and the ranch hands…and Eliot.
"Oh, Eliot…" the sigh escaped her lips without notice as she watched the bare branches of the bushes scratch against the low, wooden fence. Lost in thought…lost.
That pain was still fresh despite the passage of time, and she suspected it would remain that way well into the future. Some days she regretted her choice to keep the secret from him, wondered if goodbyes would've dulled the heartache just a tiny bit, but then every scenario of farewell she could imagine would bring her to tears. And, if he had known, he might have been there with her when Sophie showed up. Somehow she knew Eliot would not have been allowed to live. Knew she would've had to watch him die…and there would've been no moving past that. No, she did what was best.
Sheryl wondered what he was doing now. Had he stayed on the ranch? Maybe been promoted to manager himself? She smiled at that thought. He always wanted to own his own place, but she knew he considered the men at Circle R his family, and Eliot was definitely a family man. Always talked of having one of his own…
She pushed off the wall and pulled her sweater tight around her shoulders as she walked into the kitchen. She wasn't going to think about that anymore. It would just lead her into a depressing mood of 'what ifs' that she didn't need to waste time on today. There was too much to do and some things could never be changed. As her grandmother would say, "Those who walk in the past soon turn to stone in the desert, unable to turn their face to the sun."
"Thanks, Grandmama…I was scared of rock formations for years because of that." Her grumble echoed off the bare walls of the kitchen as she leaned down to pick up the last box that needed to be moved over to the front door.
Mary had called her two days ago with the news. They had to be moved. The marshal couldn't give her any specific details, but said there had been a suspected breach in a security protocol by those involved in the trial, and the marshals could no longer be sure of Sheryl's anonymity in Albuquerque. Of course, Mary described it more colorfully, her contempt for certain members of other branches of law enforcement abundantly clear. Marshall was nice enough to call about an hour later to assure her there was no immediate danger, but that WITSEC didn't have a perfect track record by taking chances.
Sheryl had cried herself to sleep that night, the fragile tendrils of her new life now ripped right out of the ground before they had a chance to root. She had liked the small college courses, liked the little coffeehouse…had even made a friend or two. But, after watching the kids sleep before the alarm went off the next morning, she revisited her priorities. She would pack up the few possessions she was allowed to keep and prepare for the move. Surprisingly, the kids didn't seem upset about the news. She hoped it stayed that way.
Checking the clock on the stove, Sheryl realized they only had about a half hour before the marshals arrived. Time to call the kids in and get them cleaned up.
"I know something you don't know," Marshall sing-songed as he wandered back into the office after leaving the conference room.
"What size underwear your grandmother wears?" Mary didn't bother to look up from her monitor as she mumbled her reply around a mouthful of vending machine sandwich.
The scuffle of his boots paused at her desk. She could feel the disproving stare and tried not to grin.
"A robe is not underwear. And she specifically asked for that for her birthday."
"You keep telling yourself that, Oedipus."
Mary wrinkled her nose at his dismissive sniff, saved the final draft of the transfer papers and hit the print key. She sat back and rubbed her tired eyes as her partner continued on to his own desk, refusing to be drawn into her argument.
"While you and the rest of the Mickey Mouse Club held your secret meeting," she said, "I finished all the transfer and security clearances for Sheryl." The whine of the printer coaxed her out of her chair with a grunt. "I hope you remembered that little item on our agenda today?"
"It crossed my mind when I arrived at the office this morning…on time," he emphasized the last words with raised eyebrows and was treated to one of Mary's glares. Undeterred, he waved his hand over a neat pile of files on the corner of his desk. "I believe you'll find Leanne and Tyler's school records, immunization forms and all the new social security cards tucked neatly in with the financial requisitions and clearance codes for D.C."
His partner muttered something profane as she yanked the sheets of paper from the printer and stalked over to his desk. He sat back in his chair slightly, still wary of proximity after all these years. She tossed the papers onto the desk and Marshall quickly snatched one that threatened to flutter off onto the floor. He looked up at her. She looked irritated…and tired.
"You were up late again?" It was more statement than question. Her body language answered his question and he continued before she could redirect.
"Still not going to tell me about it?"
Mary sighed and raked her hair back with her fingers, focusing her gaze on the glass wall behind him. She had stayed at her own place for the last week and, until now, had only offered Marshall the explanation that it was a family matter. He didn't pry, and she was starting to feel guilty about her silence. Old habits died hard, but she felt as though his usual patience might now be wearing thin.
"I'm not trying to keep secrets from you, Marshall." She settled one hip onto his desk with her back to the rest of the office. Illusion of privacy. "There's nothing to worry about."
"You're exhausted, you're skipping meals, and you've been late for work for the last two days." He pinned her with a concerned blue stare. "I'm worried."
Mary nibbled her bottom lip for a minute and watched a small bird peck at the remains of someone's sandwich out on the patio. Her resolution from the night before seemed overwhelming in the light of day. Giving herself a mental kick in the ass, she squared her shoulders.
"Brandi moved out of Peter's place and back into mine." She glanced at Marshall to see his brow furrow in concern. "I don't know the whole story, but I'm sure it's more Brandi than Peter. She's being a stubborn ass, as usual. My negotiating skills haven't seemed to have improved over time."
His lips twitched into a brief smile with her weak attempt at humor. "So I take that to mean she's not leaving anytime soon then?"
Mary shook her head and sighed. "No. So I was thinking…" she trailed off.
Marshall watched her carefully. He didn't want to press, but if he let the gears in her head grind for too long they'd seize up.
"You were thinking?" he prodded.
She crossed her arms and shrugged a shoulder. "I was thinking about just letting her have the place. Charge her rent." A beat, and then she looked over at him. "I believe you offered up your coattails at some point not so long ago?"
Marshall hoped his eyebrows hadn't suddenly disappeared into his hairline. The last thing he had expected today was for Mary to ask to move in with him. Absolute last. But he would put money on it being the best thing to happen to him today. Shock quickly morphed into a version of giddy, and he flashed her a wide grin, relieved to see her shoulders relax.
"Now, what will people say about a nice Catholic girl shacking up with a lapsed Mormon like me?" he teased, standing to move around the desk next to her.
Mary snorted and back-handed him lightly on the chest. "You've never been a Mormon, dimwit. And keep your voice down."
Marshall's fingers crawled discreetly up her forearm and jumped over to rest lightly on her waist as he stepped in close. "But I thought you liked it when I shouted your name."
The elevator doors picked that time to open and the couple stepped apart, blushing like teenagers caught at second base. Mary whispered, "Idiot," under her breath as she quick-stepped back to her own desk. Marshall continued to grin even as he greeted the newcomer.
Forty-five minutes later the pair walked out into the sunshine towards their SUV. Mary squinted and cursed as she fumbled with her sunglasses. The winter sun angled just right at this time of day, catching every mirrored surface of the downtown buildings and focusing its rays on unsuspecting pedestrians. She finally shielded her eyes by the time they reached the truck.
"So what's the big secret?" she asked as Marshall opened the passenger door for her.
Mary mocked his song and dance number from earlier as she climbed into the truck. Marshall shut her door with an irritated look and took his time walking around to enter the other side.
"I don't think I'm going to tell you now," he said, starting the truck.
"Fine, asshole. I'm perfectly content to not know what secrets lurk in your brain. So long as they don't get me shot."
Marshall pulled out into late morning traffic and pointed the truck towards the north. They'd make Sheryl's house in twenty minutes and Mary decided to catch a quick nap. Her efforts were not rewarded.
"Don't say I didn't try to warn you though," he drawled, staring out the windshield.
She opened her eyes a mere slit to glare at him. He was gloating. "I swear to God, Marshall. Either spit it out or shut your hole."
He broke into a Cheshire grin with the permission. "There's a little background, then the story gets really interesting…"
Though the drive to Tucson wasn't particularly long, it also wasn't short enough to keep two excited children entertained the entire time. Or to keep Mary from wishing for an ejector seat switch every time Marshall suggested another road game. Leanne had at least napped for a short while after a late lunch, but Tyler was wound tight with no intentions of letting go. Their late start meant a nighttime arrival into the city, and the nature of the move meant that Sheryl's new marshals wanted to meet with her and the kids asap. The family wouldn't stay in Tucson, their ultimate destination even unknown to Mary and Marshall, but the paperwork and introductions could be finalized and the partners could crash at a hotel without the worries of protective detail for the night.
Tyler giggled at something his mom said and Mary was struck by an unexpected emotional jolt. She was going to miss them. She hadn't become particularly close to this family, but the events at the ranch were somehow embedded on her psyche beyond the typical traumatic response. Maybe it was because Sheryl had saved her life, or that Leanne reminded her too much of herself at that vulnerable age…or maybe her brain was somehow tying a roll in the hay to this family. Surely Marshall could lecture her on the psychobabble topics that applied to the situation on their ride home. And just as surely she wouldn't be telling him about it any time soon.
The truck crested a rise and the city lights in the bowl of the desert below drew the children's attention like a moth to a flame. Even Sheryl seemed to perk up as they covered the last few miles. Mary couldn't help but grin. It was going to be an eventful evening.
The kids continued to chatter as the group walked into the county courthouse building, Leanne particularly interested in the two large saguaro cacti standing sentinel on either side of the entrance stairs. Marshall had told her the plants were a protected species, and if you had one in your yard you were responsible for it. If it died, you had to pay a very large fine.
"Like a pet?" asked Tyler.
"Yes, kind of like a pet," Marshall answered. "You don't have to feed it or walk it, but you have to look out for it. Protect it."
"Like us," Leanne said. "Me and mom and Tyler are a protected species."
Mary chuckled and Leanne smiled at her, proud of her own comparison. As he had noted once or twice at the Circle R ranch, Marshall again saw a resemblance between them. A brief spark of kinship. The what ifs of life hadn't lined up for Mary, but maybe Leanne would get a better shot at it. Was going to get a better shot at it, he corrected himself. He glanced up to catch Mary staring at him uncertainly as she waited for Sheryl and the kids to clear security.
"Ready?" he asked, after joining her on the other side and re-securing his weapon. He placed a hand on the small of her back. She stiffened slightly, then took a deep breath and nodded before striding into the lobby.
Sheryl was holding the elevator for them and they all piled in. The ride to the fifth floor was made in silent anticipation, the only distraction Tyler's off-tune humming as he ran his finger along the Braille markings on the buttons. Finally, the doors opened to reveal an office very similar to Albuquerque: a small anteroom with a key locked entryway into the marshals' area. Two men waited for them by the office door.
"Marshals Shannon and Mann?" the first asked, approaching the group with an outstretched hand.
Introductions were made all around, the two men being the new team for Sheryl's protection to the next destination, and soon the tired family was ushered through the security door and towards a conference room in the back. One of the new marshals stopped in front of the closed door and turned to address Sheryl.
"As I'm sure you're fully aware, Mrs. Christianson, there's been a lot of scrutiny around all the players in this case. With the involvement of even more federal agencies, there was a decision to tighten security around the key witnesses slated for testimony. Additional relocation strategies were considered and the final plans were given the stamp of approval a few weeks ago."
Sheryl swallowed and reached out to place her hand on Tyler's head. Nervous. "I understand. I understand why we needed to be moved. Is there something more I need to know? Do I need to sign more papers?"
The marshal set his hand on the doorknob as he answered. "No ma'am, you've been more helpful than we all could have hoped. It's just that this situation is highly unusual, and I hear through the grapevine there were favors called in." He cut his gaze to Marshall for a moment. "It seems WitSec is giving two witnesses in the same case the opportunity to relocate together. Considering it's a strategy rarely, if ever, used, there's no reason to believe it would compromise the overall security of either witness."
Sheryl frowned, confused, as the marshal opened the door with the final caveat, "Of course, we would only proceed if both parties agree.
Leanne reacted first, squealing in delight as she bolted into the room, Tyler right on her heels, his own yells adding to the chaos. Sheryl took two steps forward and stopped, shocked. She reached out shakily to grip the doorjamb and Marshall stepped forward to steady her.
"Eliot…" she whispered, staring at the man who was now hugging two ecstatic and wiggling children.
Eliot looked up from nuzzling Leanne's hair to smile at Sheryl, his grin growing wider when she repeated his name.
"Hey, darlin', you look like you've seen a ghost." His voice trembled.
"How? Why? I mean…what happened? I thought -" She pressed one hand against her mouth as emotion overrode the ability to speak.
Eliot set the kids down, though not successful in detaching them completely, and made his way over to the woman by the door. They stared at each other in silence for a few moments until he reached out slowly and brushed a piece of hair away from her cheek. The gentle touch pushed her over the edge and Sheryl burst into tears as Eliot pulled her into his embrace.
Marshall looked over at the other inspector. "I would call that an agreement."
Mary moaned softly as she was pulled from a perfectly unmemorable dream by some sound that was no longer important now that she was fully awake. She pressed her cheek into the coolness of the pillowcase and peered through her lashes at the darkened window near the bed. Night. And very late by the feel of it. The silence beyond the window and the faint red glow of the blinking stop light two blocks down confirmed it. Her neighbor always called it the Witching Hour; when the collective dreams of so many souls could alter fate. Mary snorted softly into the dark. Her neighbor also liked to sit outside on his porch drinking rum and wearing a tutu. Probably not the authority on collective dream states and ancient lore.
Her chortled musings disturbed the only other dreaming soul around. Marshall's aborted snore tickled the underside of her left breast and brought the memories of the last few hours to a delicious forefront. She smiled and stared down at the dim form of her partner draped across her midsection, not surprised that neither of them had had the energy to disentangle themselves or crawl under the covers a few hours earlier. Fun and games had fueled an unexpectedly frenzied lovemaking session that left them both spent.
She stretched slowly and deliberately, shifting her position to relieve a few aches and especially to be able to reach up and disentangle her wrists from the last loose loops of rope attached to the headboard.
"Whoa, cowgirl," came a sleepy grumble from somewhere around her navel. "Planning on hitting the trail?"
The scratch of his stubble on her stomach made her catch her breath and she reached down to run her fingers through his hair. "And where, exactly, would I go?" She asked.
Marshall turned and slowly climbed up her body, pausing briefly to run a hand over a breast as though he couldn't help but touch her. He kissed her chest, neck, jaw...and Mary felt a telling pressure begin to build in her belly. She tilted her chin up towards him as he settled his weight onto her, supporting himself on his forearms. He accepted her invitation with a feather light kiss that she knew was a promise of more.
"That's true," he replied to her question. "I guess you're stuck on this cowboy's ranch now. Shame."
"A rude cowboy who doesn't even take off his boots in bed." She smiled as she ran her hands down his smooth back and under his unbuckled jeans to grab his ass and pull him against her. The feel of rough denim along her naked thighs was just as arousing now as it was a few hours earlier.
He growled and gently kneed her legs apart, his hands now cradling her head as he kissed her slowly and thoroughly.
Marshall came up for air and stared at her in the dark. He ran a finger along her lips and smiled. "I'm just the hired help, ma'am. Get paid to rustle things up and offer you the adventure of your life."
I want to know what you ache for…if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive. The memory of nearly forgotten words seemed to amplify her body's response to this man and she wrapped her legs around his hips to hang on.
*** *sniffle* I will miss them! Please send me your final reviews...I will be *so* excited to see them. Thank you thank you! ***
***Well, the gals and I (rjlkat, roar526, dispatchvampire, neenerski1 and tilleygirl) made our second pilgramage to Albuquerque this last spring. Just as beautiful as last year and we visited some old haunts (Garcias, Old Town, the Sunshine Building) and some new (Tent Rocks, the zoo, Tigaux Park.) We were blessed to have befriended Tangie Ambrose, who played Deputy U.S. Marshal Delia Parmalee, last year on our set visit and she and Paul Ben Victor were again wonderfully gracious and invited us to join them for another day on set with IPS! Wow, it was just as exciting as the 1st time we were there! Things were a little more familiar and people a little more relaxed with fangirl visitors (or as Fred says, "Superfans") this time. Mary took the time to come and chitchat with us, introducing us to her real-life dad (there for a minor part) and her real-life brother, Will McCormack. Who, as you know, played the douchebag Agent O'Conner. I just want to say that Will is one of the nicest people you'll meet, and it was hard to hate O'Conner quite as much after that! :) Fred, Paul, Mary and Tangie took the time to let us get pictures with them even! That was a hoot! We sat and watched them film some office scenes from Ep 7 for about 3 hours. We chatted with the director, Michael Watkins (we also met him the 1st time on set and he's a character!) and their real-life U.S. Marshal, Rick Ianucci. Rick is a really interesting guy and told us some great stories about his adventures in the DEA and Marshals Service. He now runs a ranch in New Mexico that serves war veterens with head injuries called Cowboy Up. Impressive. All in all, it was a fantastic visit and we were just in heaven (of course!) On our way out of the studios we ran across Mary again who was also headed home. She had her girls with her and introduced us to them too. They're all beautiful...and Rose didn't seem evil at all! lol :) If you'd like to see pics of our set visit, Tilleygirl posted them on the MaryMarshall LJ page.
This is my last story for IPS ficdom, my friends. I feel that I've told Mary and Marshall's story as best I can from my vantage point. And, with IPS all done, I just don't have the desire to call them back from their ride into the sunset. I'm forever grateful to all the wonderful readers on here, and especially to those who have left reviews. I can't tell you how precious those few words and opinions are for a writer! I've met my best friends in the world through this site and I hope others have too. Maybe there will be a show down the road with a character that inspires me the way I was inspired by Mary Shannon...maybe not. All I know if that I now know I'm a writer. I'll keep polishing and working, and maybe you'll see my book on a shelf someday. Maybe.