Thanks to Dog in the Whisper for betaing this for me.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
This had already been a long year as far as Marshall was concerned. With Mary's announcement of her engagement, her breaking up with Raph, her shooting and the nightmares that it had given him, to her running off to Mexico with Faber after he confessed his feelings, the fact that she had chosen Faber over him and the inkling that she was still seeing the sleazebag had been bad a lot for him to deal with. His father's arrival for Operation Falcon to observe his worth as a Marshal and Stan's continual comments on Mary being his best inspector despite her blatant disregard for the rules and he felt he had reached an all new low in his life. Lately, he was trying to figure out where he had gone wrong or what was wrong with him.
This trip home didn't bode well. It's not that he didn't love his family, but he didn't measure up to their standards. His Dad's trip was a glowing example of that. They may have come to a small understanding, but Marshall knew it wouldn't hold up when confronted with his brothers and their families. Nope, he probably should've gone off on his own. Staying at work would've more than likely proved his theory about Mary and Faber. He and Mary were already struggling to get onto an even keel and throwing Faber into the mix would just add to their problems.
When will I ever be good enough? That thought continued to plague his mind lately and he hadn't been able to shake it. He was tired of always being last with people. No matter how hard he tried, he always seemed to fall short in measuring up to everyone's standards.
Grabbing his bag from the car rental, he hoisted it over his shoulder and headed towards the door. The door opened before he could reach the handle.
"Marshall," Rachel Mann said, pulling her youngest son into an embrace.
"Merry Christmas, Mom," Marshall replied.
"That it is. It's good to have you home again. Why don't you put your gear up in your old room, and then come down and join us in the living room. Everyone is here already," Rachel said.
Marshall nodded and went upstairs to his room. Setting his bag on the bed, he took a deep breath before joining the rest of his family.
"Marshall," Seth greeted his son, as he grabbed a chair.
"Uncle Marshall," Lizzie Mann said, running towards him.
"Hi, Princess," Marshall replied, picking her up a giving her a kiss on the cheek.
"Hey, Aaron, Twiggy arrived," Shane called out.
Marshall rolled his eyes. "Shane, what's new?"
"Jory's pregnant, due in June," Shane replied, excitedly.
"Congrats. Lizzie do you want a baby brother or a sister?" Marshall asked, hoping to turn his attention on his niece.
"Sister, boys aren't any fun," Lizzie replied.
Marshall couldn't help but smirk at that comment.
"Mommy and Daddy want a boy though," Lizzie wrinkled her nose at that thought.
"I'll keep wishing for a sister for you," Marshall whispered softly to Lizzie.
"You're the best, Uncle Marshall," Lizzie said, before leaving the room.
"Do I want to know Twiggy?" Shane asked. Marshall just shrugged in reply.
"Twiggy, what's happening in Albuquerque? Have you given any thought to transferring into a major metropolis? Think of the action that can happen while you're there," Aaron said, entering the room.
"I'm perfectly fine where I'm at," Marshall replied.
"Seriously, there'd be more action in a big city. You should look into it," Aaron badgered.
"There's plenty of action in Albuquerque. I don't need to relocate," Marshall reiterated.
"Aaron, lay off your brother. He just arrived for heaven's sake," Jory said, smacking Aaron on her way to sit next to her husband.
"Congrats, Jory. I guess I don't need to ask what you and Shane have been up to," Marshall said, teasingly.
"Thanks, Shane's head is already swollen. Don't help him out," Jory replied, smiling.
"It's always been that way. I doubt it'll change," Marshall teased back.
"Hi, Marshall," Tess said joining the group.
"Tess, where are the kids?" Marshall asked his sister-in-law.
"Dean and Becca are playing their video games downstairs. They may eventually emerge to grace us with their presence," Tess said, rolling her eyes.
"Speaking of children, when are you going to start having them?" Aaron asked. "Oh wait, first there has to be a girl. So where are you in the dating stage? Stagnant like high school?"
"More like non-existent?" Shane chimed in.
So it begins. Marshall couldn't help but think.
"Marshall, could you come out here and help me please?" Rachel called out.
She heard where the conversation was heading and knew that it would just evolve into her sons making fun of Marshall's life. They never meant anything cruel by it, but she worried about the day it became too much. Marshall might be the sensitive one, but he had a side to him that Rachel feared would unleash itself on his brothers. Shane and Aaron would be in for a rude awakening when that happened. She couldn't help but think that day was drawing nearer.
"Coming Mom," Marshall called back in relief.
"Saved by Mom. We're not through here," Aaron cautioned Marshall.
The next few days were more of the same teasing about his personal life and insinuating that his career was too easy and at a standstill. He needed to relocate in order to get anywhere. Marshall knew that he'd never told them what he did for a living, but he was pretty sure they guessed it. He also knew they were of the same opinion of his father on WITSEC. Tomorrow was Christmas and he only had six more days to get through with the constant ridicule. The problem was he wasn't sure if he could stay quiet much longer.
Marshall knew that he went to bed early last night in order to stop himself from causing a scene and upsetting his nieces and nephew. He'd been really close to telling Aaron and Shane to screw off.
Coming into the kitchen he joined the rest of the adults, minus Seth at the table. The kids apparently were off watching cartoons.
"Marshall, before your father gets back I need to know if you can get the last weekend in March off. I got the hall reserved for his retirement party," Rachel said, excitedly.
"I won't know until I get back. It will depend on the case load and what's going on that week," Marshall replied, honestly.
"How hard could it be, Twiggy? You don't really do that much now do you? It's not like you're out busting your hump every day looking for fugitives," Shane said.
Marshall ignored Shane. "I'll let you know, when I get back to work."
Seth came in before anything else could be said.
"So Dad, what was it like working with Marshall?" Aaron asked, amused. He was waiting for there to be something new to tease his brother on.
"Educational," Seth replied.
"Care to expand on that?" Shane asked.
Marshall dreaded the answer he was about to hear.
"His methods are unique, but effective for what he does," Seth replied.
"In short form, he's good at his branch, but wouldn't cut it in the Fugitive Task Force. So you take a simpler branch. No action and less danger," Aaron said.
Seth was about to correct him, but Marshall stood up and took his plate into the kitchen. When he heard Shane and Aaron still criticizing his career and personal life he hit his threshold.
Jory looked up and saw something she'd never seen in Marshall's eyes before. She realized that things were about to get ugly. Thinking it would be wise to change the topic, she was just about to speak up when Marshall unleashed his anger at his brothers.
"Yeah, that's right, Aaron. No danger for us. That's why two years ago I had a bullet wound in my chest and last year my partner had one in her abdomen that almost killed her. You can't compare the danger in our jobs to the good old fugitive task force. How often have you been shot? Silly us, we don't go pounding down doors just to listen to the sounds of cuffs being put on and slapping each other on the back for a job well done. Same old high school crap that you did on the football team. Heaven forbid you have to use your brain for something. As for my personal life, what should I have followed, your high school example, Aaron? Sleep with any girl that would put out until a new one could be found? Or maybe I should have followed Shane's example. Date one sister and screw around on her with her other sister and her best friend. That worked out really well for you didn't it?" Marshall hissed out angrily.
"That's enough!" Seth shouted.
Rachel saw Marshall's face and knew he wasn't done.
"Now it's enough? Heaven forbid someone talk back to Shane and Aaron. It's perfectly fine if it's about me, but don't touch the perfect sons. Well sorry I was such a disappointment. You wonder why I only come back once a year; take a look at the double standards you've applied to me all of these years. I get you don't understand me, but then again you never really tried. The only reason you came to Albuquerque was to deem me unfit to carry on the Mann name in the Marshals Service," Marshall said, glaring at his father.
"Marshall," Rachel tried.
"Don't worry Mom, I'm done. I'm completely done," Marshall replied, heading out of the kitchen and into his bedroom.
"Are the three of you satisfied now?" Rachel asked, disgusted.
"That's not fair Mom," Shane said, defensively.
"Actually it is," Jory replied. "Every time Marshall comes home for Christmas, you ride him. Did it ever occur to you that he doesn't find it funny? I'm surprised it took him this long to explode. You damn well better apologize profusely to your brother. He more than deserves it."
"If you were smart, Aaron, you wouldn't say a word. Jory is right about the two of you. The fact that he called you out on it, says a lot. I know that you think it's funny, but I highly doubt you thought that when he commented about your high school self," Tess said.
"What is this? Gang up on your husbands?" Aaron asked.
"Doesn't feel good, does it? Yet you always do it to Marshall when he comes home. The three of you always alienate him and it needs to stop or he won't be coming back anymore," Rachel said looking at her oldest sons and husband.
She then turned towards her husband. "Seth, while I realize that you were trying to prevent a fight, nothing that Marshall said wasn't true. You did go to Albuquerque to decide if he was good enough and yet you came home surprised at what you saw. He's not the little boy that adored you, but I'm afraid he's becoming the man that will tolerate you when necessary. You wanted to change things after you came back from seeing Marshall. You wanted to get to know him better, but the first chance you get to do that you yell at him after he's been harassed for three days by his brothers. How did you think it would go over?"
"I'll talk to him after midnight mass," Seth said, "but we need to get ready to go or we won't make it."
"Shane and I will talk to him too," Aaron replied, seeing the glares from Jory and Tess.
Marshall locked the door to his room and began packing his things while formulating a plan. They had gone to the ten o'clock 'midnight' mass and would think he was at a bar or somewhere else that he could go to cool off.
He refused to stay here and deal with the insults any longer. He didn't want to go back to Albuquerque and hear about Mary getting together with Faber, before he headed to Washington or even worse that they spent Christmas together. Right now the only thing he wanted to do was disappear from the world and not be found.
"Marshall," Rachel said, knocking on his door. "We're heading out for mass."
"I'm not going," Marshall replied.
"Marshall," she tried again.
"I'm fine, Mom. I'm just not going," Marshall shrugged, even though he knew she couldn't see it.
"Alright, I'll see you later," Rachel replied.
"Bye, Mom," Marshall said.
Marshall listened as they all left the house. He waited a half an hour before leaving. He drove the rental car back to the agency, after stopping at an ATM and getting enough cash to last him the rest of his so-called vacation. Grabbing a cab he went to a house that had a car for sale. It was a beater, but at least he couldn't be tracked. Getting into the car he took his phone out and turned it off so it couldn't be traced.
Pulling out of the driveway, he headed to the interstate, deciding to drive to Las Vegas. He could easily get lost in a crowd and no one would think of looking for him there. He had already toured the Hoover Dam and drove by Area 51. Mary laughed when he did that on their way home from a witness transfer. She couldn't believe they were the only two things he wanted to see in Las Vegas. She knew that he had a passion for experiencing new things. That would take Vegas out of their scope, besides he had to pass through New Mexico to get there. It wouldn't make sense for him not to just go home.
Seth, Shane and Aaron headed up to Marshall's room upon their return. Seth continued to turn over the words Marshall had said in his head. It hurt more than he thought possible. The drawing he carried around in his briefcase came to mind. Rachel was right; Marshall had adored him as a child. When he looked at Marshall now, he realized his son was right. He didn't understand him and he hadn't tried.
Seth knocked on the door.
Not getting an answer, he turned the handle. When he opened the door and the three of them stepped in, the first thing Seth noticed was the untouched bed.
"Check the closet," Shane said.
Seth walked over to the closet. All Marshall's clothes were gone and so was his bag. Grabbing his cell phone he speed dialed Marshall's cell number.
"Aaron, check the garage and see if his car is still in there," Seth ordered, getting Marshall's voice mail.
Seth called the phone again. Getting the voice mail, he left a message.
"Marshall, this is Dad. Where are you? Your brothers and I would like to talk to you. Give me a call when you get this message."
Seth and Shane headed downstairs looking for Aaron.
"It's gone," Aaron said, as he ran into them.
"What's going on?" Jory asked.
"Marshall's gone. He packed all of his things and his car isn't in the garage. I left a message on his voice mail," Seth replied, staring at his wife.
"Can't you track him?" Rachel asked.
"Let's see if he calls back. If he doesn't I'll drive around and see if I can find him," Seth said.
Seth and Aaron climbed into the car three hours later. Closing time at the bars was at two in the morning and a bar was the only place left that Marshall could be. He should've been back by now. There was nowhere else that would be open at this hour. Shane was calling all the local hotel and motels.
Rachel waited up with Tess, having sent Jory to bed: being pregnant she needed her sleep. Shane looked at the women.
"I called at the hotels in the area and he hasn't checked into any of them."
An hour later Seth and Aaron returned.
"We couldn't find him anywhere. I went to the office and tried to track his cell phone. He must have it turned it off. We ran his financials and other then a few sizeable cash withdrawals at the ATM a few blocks from here, nothing shows up. I have the phone numbers for both Stan and Mary. I'll call them if we don't hear from Marshall soon," Seth said, talking to his wife. He saw the tears starting to form in her eyes. "Marshall will be fine. He knows how to take care of himself."
"He's supposed to be with us, not running away from us," Rachel replied.
"I know and I'm sorry," Seth said. "Let's just try and get some sleep."
It was now seven in the morning and Marshall had just passed Tucumcari, New Mexico. He was half way to Vegas. He was feeling a little guilty about not leaving his Mom a note. She would be worried. Tomorrow he'd pick up a disposable phone. He'd arrive in Vegas around six tonight and would need to sleep. After that he could get the phone and the things he needed to escape his life for awhile.
"I'm sorry, Mom," Marshall whispered, even though he knew she couldn't hear.
Rachel sat up in bed. She realized Lizzie was tugging her arm.
"Grandma, Grandpa, hurry, Santa's been here."
Seth and Rachel smiled at their granddaughter and headed downstairs. Becca and Dean were waiting excitedly by the tree with the rest of the adults half-awake on the sofa.
"Alright, let's start," Tess said, covering a yawn.
"Aunt Tess, we can't start yet, Uncle Marshall isn't here. Do you want me to go get him?" Lizzie asked.
Shane hated what he had to say next. "Uncle Marshall isn't here, but he'd want you to open your gifts."
"Where did he go, Daddy?" Lizzie asked.
Shane wasn't sure how to reply. No one wanted to upset the children.
"He got called away to work," Seth replied. He hated the lie, but he didn't want to tell Lizzie they caused Marshall to leave.
"He didn't say goodbye," Becca said.
"Uncle Marshall always says goodbye to us," Dean joined in.
"We were gone when he had to leave," Rachel replied.
They all opened their gifts until the only ones left were Marshall's.
"I'll go start breakfast," Rachel said, needing something to keep her distracted. The sight of Marshall's gifts under the tree made her want to cry.
Marshall arrived in Vegas as he anticipated. Checking into a hotel off the strip he collapsed on the bed exhausted. He fell asleep a few minutes later. Unfortunately, it was a restless sleep, haunted by images of the last few years. His mood was growing darker and he was unsure how to stop it. He had always been able to get over everything that was thrown his way. This was the first time he couldn't seem to let it slide.
The sun streamed in through the blinds in Marshall's room, waking him up. Looking at the clock, he saw that is was eight in the morning. At least he could say Christmas was over. He grabbed some clothes before showering and changing. Once he was done he headed out to grab a disposable phone, some food and several bottles of good whisky. The sooner the week flew by the sooner he could bury himself in his work. If he came back early there'd be questions and more harassing, and the one thing he knew was that he was done bearing the brunt of everyone's jokes.
Stan entered the office and heard his phone ringing. Seeing the area code he had a good idea who it was.
"Stan, this is Seth."
"Is everything okay?" Stan asked, confused.
"I was wondering if you heard from Marshall at all since Christmas Eve," Seth said.
"No, I haven't heard from him since he left to visit you. Why?" Stan was getting a knot in his stomach.
"We don't know where Marshall is. Could you ask Mary if she's heard from him?" Seth asked.
"I can give her a call. She's off until tomorrow," Stan said.
"Don't bother her on her time off. If you hear from Marshall, could you please tell him to call us?" Seth asked.
"Do you want me to trace his phone?" Stan asked.
"I've tried. It must be turned off. He's not using his credit cards either. He did take a large sum of money out before he left. I'm assuming he's using cash to stay off the radar," Seth replied.
"Why would he be hiding from you?" Stan asked.
"Family quarrel," Seth replied.
"I'll ask Mary as soon as I see her," Stan said, concerned.
"Thanks, Stan. Sorry for bothering you."
"It's not a bother. Let me know if you find Marshall."
"I will." Seth replied.
Stan hung up and started his own search. He ran Marshall's aliases, financials and tried to track his phone just in case it was turned on. Marshall wasn't prone to suddenly disappear. A part of him debated calling Mary, but he decided to hold off. She didn't take vacation time often and he didn't want her coming in unless it was absolutely necessary.