A/N: Greetings, friends! I've missed you! I said end of November, right? Well, there's been a change of plan, although an entire story in just a month is not as 'impressive' as it might seem. ;)

This fan-fiction is actually one I started a little under a year ago (I think around Thanksgiving.) I got a long way through it, and then boxed it up in favor of tales I had more investment in (continuing Sam, for example.) But now, since I have so much going on, it seemed like a good one to come out and tweak. That way, I could finish it up and have something to post without the added pressure of completing an entire tale in a short time frame. Rest assured, it's all done and ready to post with nightly chapters just like always.

This one does come with some quirks, though. Since it was started and mapped out a year ago, I didn't know for the vast majority of writing it what was going to go down in season five. For the most part, this doesn't make a lot of difference, I just feel it's important to mention in case anything that was resolved in season five pops up. It's supposed to take place roughly around the later half of season four – kind of in the 'A Womb with a View' range. I would say it slots in right before that episode, so no Mark yet, although I do have Mary already thirty-two weeks pregnant as she was in the finale. Hopefully you'll forgive the little alternation.

And with that, I hope you enjoy! I'm sure you're so over all the Mary-is-pregnant stories that I keep cooking up, but I beg you'll be kind.

XXX

August in New Mexico. It was like the hellhole of the southwest. All-consuming, never-ending, parched, dry, heat – it circled as though it were caught in the clouds above, making it nearly impossible to breathe.

And Mary Shannon, just about to tip the thirty-two week mark in her pregnancy, couldn't have been more miserable with the blazing sun beating down on her neck every second of the day. As if being held captive in her own body wasn't enough, now she was a hostage of the weather as well. And for someone who didn't wear shorts and scarcely wore T-shirts without a jacket, this was a bigger conundrum than she'd anticipated.

Monday morning she huffed into the Sunshine Building (how aptly named) high on temper and extremely short on patience. Her jeans were too tight and she couldn't stomach her usual blazer in the humidity, so she wore a God-awful blousy top Brandi had picked up for her. It was dark green, sleeveless and cut like a lampshade. If shorts and T-shirts were a rarity, anything sleeveless was usually out-of-the-question. These days her arms were as fat as the rest of her, but she was too warm to care. To top it all, her feet were screaming in protest as she shoved on a pair of boots, unable to find another item of footwear in her rush to get out of the house.

"Hey," Marshall greeted her shortly with a jerk of his head as she flew through the double doors, slinging her bag onto her desk and scattering a cup of pencils to the floor.

Marshall looked up for his computer, deciding to tread lightly with what was clearly a testy demeanor from his partner.

"Rough morning?" he inquired, one eyebrow raised.

"Hellish," she responded, flipping through a pile of sticky notes on her desk. They contained all sorts of irritating items she had pushed to the back of her mind in favor of more pressing matters.

"Anything in particular?" Marshall continued. "Or the usual?"

"Depends on what you mean by 'the usual,'" she answered, tossing the post-its onto her keyboard and straightening the pencils. "Jesus God…"

She fanned her shirt open and went to the windows behind her desk, trying to get them open.

"You do know the air conditioning is on…" Marshall reminded her, not wanting it on his head that he'd hiked up the bill by letting all the cold air out.

"Yes, I know that, Poindexter," she waved a flippant hand and continued to maneuver the windows open. "I am a dog in the desert here; it's sweltering."

She shoved the pole out of the window and it fell with a clank to the roof outside. Sighing loudly, she grabbed one of the WITSEC binders off her desk and propped it up with that.

"You know…" Marshall stood; not liking her all worked-up, and ventured around to her desk. "I'm not sure it's in our protocol to use federal materials as…window dressing," he gestured blandly at the glass. Now that it was open, a steamy breeze was wafting through.

"You gonna report me?" Mary was looking murderous as she took a seat at her desk and booted up her computer.

Marshall chose not to answer, deciding it was best to assume the question had been rhetorical. Instead, he watched Mary blow her hair out of her eyes, one hand rubbing the side of her stomach in an agitated sort of way. He was dying to ask what that was about but couldn't help wondering if it was the best idea considering her current mood. Although these days, Mary's hormones were leaving her fairly unpredictable – whatever she said to the contrary.

"How are you feeling?" he prodded with reckless abandon, but was careful to keep his tone light so she knew to what he was referring. It wasn't about the heat this time.

"Jesus Marshall," she shook her head. That was the second 'Jesus' in less than two minutes. Nothing good could come of it.

"I just wondered," he shrugged nonchalantly. "If there was more on your mind this morning than just the temperature."

"Keep asking questions and you'll feel what's on my mind," she grumbled, navigating with her mouse.

Marshall let that one sit a moment while she kept her eyes narrowed into slits, deliberately keeping them off his. She was being evasive on purpose and if he just hung on, she might give a little. While he waited, he pulled out a spare chair between their desks and settled himself to her left. She typed furiously, doing her damndest to ignore him. To pass the time, he drummed his fingers absentmindedly and checked his watch hoping Stan would be in soon so they could start their day.

When he glanced up again, Mary had her head in her arms, honey-colored hair spread all over her desk, hiding her face from Marshall's. He wasn't worried. She was just avoiding the inevitable.

"How many more weeks of this shit?" she mumbled, voice muffled beneath her arms.

"Eight," he answered with a small sigh.

He knew she was hurting. Her feet ached; she couldn't run the way she used to, spent every half hour in the bathroom, and wasn't technically supposed to be in the field doing what she loved. Although, Stan had managed to keep that last one stretched to the breaking point. He was also willing to bet with it being her eighth month that she was starting to have Braxton Hicks contractions, which would make her even more uncomfortable.

Proving his theory, Mary groaned at Marshall's revelation of how much was still to come.

"I don't want to," she stated baldly, head still hidden.

"Don't want to what?" Marshall wanted to be clear.

"I don't know how much longer I can take it before I snap," and she finally looked up, shaking her tumbling hair out of her eyes to meet Marshall's glance. "I can't even walk without getting tired! It's demeaning and degrading as hell and I hate it!"

Marshall could tell she was fighting tears, but she would fight to the death. He didn't expect to see them fall for a minute. Nobody held back better than Mary. It was both a blessing and a curse.

"I know it's rough," he said gently. "I'm sorry."

She scowled, clearly unable to find a way to shoot down his obvious sincerity. Marshall stole away with the opportunity when she granted him the silence.

"I know eight weeks seems like an eternity right now," he continued. "But you've made it thirty-two. In the grand scheme, things are winding up. Before you know it, this kid's gonna be out and off to…"

He trailed away, trying to cover his blunder with a shrug but he wasn't sure Mary bought it. As far as he knew, she was still planning to meet with an adoptive family in a few days' time. The thought made his heart twinge with an unfamiliar pain, but he knew he had to support whatever Mary wanted. Especially since her mother and sister made no secret of the fact that they wished she would keep the little one.

Mary sighed, deciding to let what she knew was on Marshall's mind go for the time being. He didn't need to know that she was both horrified to stay pregnant one more day, but equally terrified that she didn't have a clue what to do once the kid landed. Miserable though she might've been, so long as the baby stayed inside she was safe from any life-altering decisions. Right now, he or she was secluded from all that and Mary was hard-pressed not wanting it to stay that way.

"Just hang in there," Marshall finally finished. "It's not forever."

That's what he thought.

"In the meantime," he stood, satisfied with their little chat and returned the chair to its original spot. "Can I get you anything before we put our nose to the grindstone for the day?"

"What does that even mean?" Mary furrowed her brow, looking skeptical. "Where do you come up with this crap?"

"Hey, it's not my crap," Marshall was defensive and Mary chuckled at the phrasing. Knowing she wasn't going to succumb to help on her own, he went to the sink and grabbed a glass from the cupboard. "Somebody else thought it up; I'm just taking creative license."

"Whatever," she muttered while Marshall filled the glass with water. Wordlessly, he walked back and set it on her desk. She snatched it at once without thanking him and took a long drink.

"Mmm…" she murmured; water still in her mouth so she couldn't get the words out. She swallowed and then, "Damn…"

"What?" Marshall prompted; he was stationed in front of her, ready to pounce at a moment's notice. She put a hand to her back and rubbed it slightly, but it didn't seem to be giving her much relief. She winced and set the water down.

"Nothing," she shook her head. "My back hurts."

Just add it to the list, Marshall thought. He hated seeing her dealing with so many different aches that she couldn't control, but knew he couldn't possibly hate it as much as she did.

"Are you sleeping on your back?" he wanted to know, hoping to be of some help. "That might be a contributing factor. But it's also because your lower back is curving since your belly's growing. It's making your muscles strain and…"

"Shut up Marshall," she snapped. "Get me a sign, 'Wide Load,' I'll hang it around my neck, and we'll be good to go."

That was enough to convince him to lay off the pregnancy talk for the morning. He could see her frustration level rising and didn't want to make it worse. Fortunately, he was saved the possibility of a response because Stan strolled in with his usual cheerful wave.

"Good morning inspectors," he sang merrily. "I've got a new one for us today. Wait 'till you see her."

"I can hardly wait," Mary mumbled, but Marshall wasn't fooled. The prospect of a new witness she could somehow worm her way into working with was sure to boost her spirits, however bad she might be feeling.

"Why is that window open?" Stan pointed, looking annoyed as papers on the file cabinet fluttered in the breeze. "Close it and get into the conference room. Our girl will be here in forty-five minutes and we've gotta get the paperwork started."

He strode into his office to drop off his briefcase and Mary stood, smirking dangerously at Marshall.

"I told you, doofus," she said, yanking the WITSEC binder out of the frame with a thud. "Stan, I told him!" she called. "Do you know how much money we're wasting letting the cold air out?"

Marshall shook his head, but smirked right back as she prattled on.

"Honestly inspector, you are so inconsiderate."

XXX

A/N: A short intro, but I hope you liked the beginning! I should mention too that Delia doesn't get any exposure in this. That wasn't on purpose, but for the period I was penning the tale, she wasn't on the show very much so I just left her out.