Well, I've picked this story back up. I always had a plan beyond the first 4 chapters, and that plan evolved as season 5 evolved, but my motivation came to a grinding halt with the finale. Although I've still enjoyed reading fic, sometimes my excitement for Mary/Marshall just seems like a lost cause. It's nearly impossible to go back and watch early episodes with the same passion. But this story won't quit in my brain, even though chapter 4 had the major emotional revelations. I really want to take it through the whole return-of-the-father thing. I guess, for me, it's just that there is more angst to be had, and I am an angst junkie.

So the rest of this story is a parallel universe to season 5. I'm not sure how far I will take it yet, but major events will be woven throughout, starting with The Medal of Mary, altered some so they fit into the universe of this story.

I'd like to send a special thanks to all of the IPS fic writers who have kept my love for M&M alive! And to all the readers who keep reading, thereby keeping a demand for more fic!


Marshall stayed in Las Cruces through Sunday evening. He had been at Mary's so late on Friday night that he stopped to watch the sunrise as he got close to the city and morning was in full swing by the time he returned to his hotel room. He turned on the desk lamp as the room was still dark from the drawn curtains. After a quick call to Abigail to reiterate that he still didn't know when he would be home, he pulled out the bottle of whiskey he had purchased on his first drive down. He felt terrible all over again for lying to her. It wasn't more than an hour and a half past dawn on Saturday morning, but he decided it was the perfect time to turn off his brain, drown himself in his sorrows, and properly pass out.

He woke up Saturday evening quickly realizing he hadn't eaten in over 24 hours. He ordered take out from a restaurant at the recommendation of the front desk clerk and mentally replayed the previous night's encounter with Mary last as he devoured his pizza: the anger, the hurt, how the volatile tidal wave receded into understanding, comfort, and love. He remembered the peace he felt as he told her why he loved her, finally allowed to speak what he'd always wanted to say. The fire of their kiss burned his lips again at the memory. He'd spent years wanting to taste her.

But what would their future hold? Would they save each other or destroy each other? Was leaving Abigail worth the risk?

One question kept asking itself over and over in his mind: Could he walk away from Mary? If he stayed with Abigail, detaching from Mary would be an inevitability. They had already begun walking separate paths, which would only continue to diverge. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't imagine his life without her. They'd grown apart in the last year, but he would still drop everything to help her. He still questioned his own actions the day he protectively threw his body over Mary instead of Abigail. Why DID he choose to protect Mary first? He quickly rebuffed Abigail's unspoken insinuation, but only because he was battling the same question in his mind at that very moment. It was easy to write it off as being due to her pregnancy, but Marshall knew that thought hadn't entered his mind. He hadn't thought anything, just reacted, like his heart and body knew the direction of the truth.


He spent the Sunday hiking at Organ Mountain. The peacefulness of the trail granted him some relief, but at the end of the day, he was still at a loss. He knew two things: his heart yearned for Mary, but he didn't trust his own judgment. Regardless of his choice, he felt he needed to be honest with Abigail, then beg for her to stick with him or set her free.

The knowledge of having to return to work the next morning could not be ignored. He returned to the hotel to shower, and even though he had paid for that night, he decided to return home a bit after having dinner. Leaving Las Cruces at 3am to get clothes and try to make it to work on time was just not appealing.

He arrived home just before eleven. Quietly, he walked into the bedroom to find Abigail already asleep and he sighed in relief. He could wait another day before ripping the rug out from under her feet. He wondered if he made the right choice in coming back to the house, but he had to go to work in the morning and he needed a change of clothes. Soundlessly, he removed his shirt and pants, contemplating where he should sleep. He stepped into the bathroom and turned on the water to clean his face and brush his teeth. The bathroom sink provided just enough sound to wake her.

"Marshall?" she called as she drew back the covers to step out of bed. She padded to the bathroom door and caught him looking in the mirror, face wet and water dripping from his chin. He was staring at his own exhausted appearance, waging a war with himself. He jumped slightly when she spoke again. "You look horrible," she whispered with heavy concern.

He glanced at her through the mirror, then back at himself. "It's been a long weekend," he replied, painfully.

"Anything I can do?" she asked as she stepped closer to wrap her arms around his waist, hands grasping his bare chest. Their eyes locked in the mirror. Her eyes narrowed questioningly as she took in his haunted depths.

Being in her presence confused him. He did love her and he didn't want to break her heart. The guilt came back with a surge threatening to drown him. She was so loving and kind. Part of him wished he divide himself in two so one of him could live the life he always wished for with Mary and the other could just stay in the life he has with Abigail.

"I..." he began slowly but stalled because he couldn't say the words. He immediately questioned what he really wanted. He couldn't do it tonight. The exhaustion was overwhelming and he didn't want to say the wrong thing. Tomorrow night, he told himself. He just wanted one more day to make sure. "I think I just need a good night's rest," he sighed.

She kissed his shoulder blade and gave him a tender squeeze. She was tempted to press the issue as he had been gone all weekend and she wanted to reconnect. Everything about him seemed off, but she knew she'd get nowhere with a tired Marshall. She hoped something hadn't gone terribly wrong with a witness.

Releasing him from her embrace, she climbed back into bed and he followed a few minutes later. She snuggled into his side, her head on his shoulder, hand resting on his chest. He wrapped an arm across her back, not wanting to seem too distant, but the intimate embrace made him feel like he was betraying Mary. 'That's funny,' he thought mirthlessly. He didn't feel like he'd betrayed Abigail when he listed to Mary the reasons he loved her, nor when his lips finally touched hers. He weighed the two women in his mind for the thousandth time in last 48 hours. Everything came back to Mary, but he was afraid to lose the life he could have with Abigail.


Mary slept late Saturday morning. She had fallen asleep on the couch after Marshall left but relocated to her bed when she was awakened by the light of dawn. After the emotional onslaught of remembering the conversation from the night before, she made a pot of coffee and took a shower. The sound of Marshall's last words to her echoed in her head: "No matter what happens...I just want to tell you... I love you."

She knew he was still deciding what to do. His words were ominous. As much as she wanted to believe he would make his way to her, she decided it was time to start emotionally preparing herself for him choosing Abigail. She pictured what life without Marshall would entail as she drove to Mark's to retrieve Norah. She knew life would keep her busy, between Norah, her family, and work. Distractions wouldn't be hard to find, and while she would be crushed, she would carry on as usual. She would probably cry in the shower sometimes, where she could hide the tears even from herself, as they were drowned by the volume of water falling above her. But then she would get out, dry herself off, and get on with her day. Mary was a survivor, and she was incapable of letting anything destroy her. However, there would be something missing, an empty space that would never be filled, a hole quite similar in dimension to the one she incurred when she was seven years old.

She would miss Marshall terribly. He was the only person that knew how to handle her. He was the only person she opened up to. She could barely admit it, but she cherished having that rare, deep connection with someone where words were just too simple to describe it.

She shook her head to push the thoughts from her mind. She couldn't focus on negative thoughts or she would drown. She desperately needed to swim. She had to give Marshall time to think and in the meantime she had plenty of responsibilities with which to busy herself. She was grateful to have Norah at the center of her focus.

Mark convinced her to stay for lunch. He gently tried to pry about her mood, but Mary wasn't sharing. She was quiet, but the time passed quickly as they talked about Norah and played with her. Mary watched as Mark read her a book. He really was turning out of be a great dad, despite all of her misgivings. Wouldn't life be easier if she could fall for Mark and they would live happily ever after? She scoffed at herself, almost amused by the absurdity of the idea. That just wasn't a path she could walk. She considered that she, at one time, had most certainly thought that the idea of a life with Marshall would be equally absurd. However, the differences between the relationships were just too great to list, and the respective histories had come to define the present possibilities.

She spent Sunday running errands, doing laundry and cleaning up the house, doing anything to avoid thinking about Marshall. Would he be at work tomorrow? Would he let her know what was happening before having to face each other in such a setting? As she was putting away the last of her laundry, well after Norah had been in bed, she heard the doorbell ring. She glanced at the clock, seeing the time as well past 11pm. Marshall... she thought to herself. Who else would it be at this hour? She had to suppress the grin that was threatening to spread across her face as she walked to the front door.


Marshall was awakened by the vibration of his phone on the nightstand some time before 4am. He fumbled for its contours and answered without looking at the screen.

"This is Marshall."

"Hey," a voice whispered and he suddenly pushed back the covers and sat up. They hadn't spoken since he left her house Friday night. "Hey."

"I'm sorry for disturbing you. I know that I'm probably the last person you want to talk to right now but... something's happened," she spoke softly and tentatively; controlled but disturbed.

"What's wrong?" he asked as he jumped out of bed, speaking a little too loud and waking Abigail.

"I was getting ready for a bed a few hours ago when there was a knock at my door. When I opened it..." Her voice cracked and she didn't know what words to use to finish the sentence.

"What? What happened?!" he asked as he started pulling his clothes on, his pulse rate doubling, terrified something had happened to her or Norah.

"James Wiley Shannon," she struggled.

"Mary," he whispered tenderly, shocked by her answer. More than 30 years of her life culminated in this moment. He felt a rush of pain and empathy for her, but then suddenly realized she didn't tell him what happened next. "Where are you? Are you safe?"


He exhaled loudly in relief. He hadn't thought if James ever showed up he would do anything to hurt her, but the man had been gone for over 30 years. There was no way to know what he would do. "I'll be there in 20 minutes."

"No, no. Go back to sleep. I'm fine."

"Where's Norah?"

"With Mark," she answered as it dawned on her that he said he could be there in 20 minutes. He apparently was no longer in Las Cruces. "Where are you?"

"At home."

Mary was silent and a million questions swept through her mind. Was Abigail there? Had they talked? If he is home, does that mean he decided to stay with her? Why couldn't problems in her life be resolved just one issue at a time?

Marshall was oblivious to the significance of her silence, focused on getting to her. He walked out into his living room to slip into his shoes and put on his jacket. "I'm leaving in a minute."

"Don't worry about it. Go back to sleep. I only called because I didn't want you to hear about this from anyone else," she insisted. If he had worked things out with Abigail, she didn't want to know, she didn't want to think about it, and she wasn't ready to see him.

"Okay, okay," he replied, fully planning on ignoring her request. He could get there quicker if he just said okay and got off the phone.

"Okay. Goodnight," she spoke quietly then hung up the phone.

As he reached for his keys in the living room, he suddenly realized Abigail was probably awake in the bedroom. He couldn't leave without saying anything. He instantly regretted not dealing with his mess earlier that night and felt guilty about the solace he had sought by trying to delay it until tomorrow. He walked back to the bedroom, keys in hand.

She was already sitting up in bed. "Marshall? It's almost 4 in the morning. Where are you going?"

"I'm sorry. I have to get over to the FBI. Mary's father just reappeared."

"Why do you have to go? You had such a long weekend and just got to sleep," she protested.

"I know. I just need to make sure she is okay. I'm just going to make sure she gets home safely and doesn't spend the entire night down there," he placated.

"Marshall," she warned, "You aren't her keeper."

Marshall was momentarily paralyzed by her choice of words. She had no idea as to the significance of that single word. After all of these years, something inside of him still insisted that he was. He didn't want to hurt Abigail, but he knew she deserved someone who put her first, without question. He knew it could be him, should be him, but his relationship with Mary changed everything. They desperately needed resolution after the conversation the other night, and with everything they had been through over the years, and that was going to take some time. Things might not work with Mary, but it wasn't fair to subject Abigail to his inner turmoil and the arduous process of reconciling a relationship with another woman.

However, he didn't have time for that conversation right now. It would have to wait a few more hours. Right now he needed to get to her. "I'm sorry. I've got to go. We'll talk when I get back."

Abigail nodded to release him, and he ran out the door.