Stan, I'm telling you. Snap her up

Soon into partnership with Mary Shannon, Marshall begins to regret using his pull with Stan to get her transferred to ABQ WitSec. They have a rapport, but he gets the feeling that she's testing him. She listens to what he says rarely, seems to respect his life outside of work even less. She speaks to him and everybody else almost solely in jabbed barbs, and rushes in to situations recklessly without consulting him.

Four months in, Marshall calls his mom for their daily chat. They talk about the family, the dogs she's fostering now, and he's opening a beer as she asks about his new partner. He has glossed over the particulars of his new coworker since she arrived, giving only the bullet points. Now, though he begins with the same meaningless trivialities, he finds himself collapsing into a chair after ten minutes of pacing and overflowing words.

"She's rude and insensitive. From what I know about her past, she has reason to be…prickly, but I'm her partner and I don't even know if she likes me, much less trusts me."

Marshall's mother is a breather, her inhales and exhales even and regular. She considers her words and speaks slowly. Just listening to her calms him down. "Sounds like you have a teenager for a partner."

"I wouldn't call her a teenager." He tips his head back against the armchair. "Especially to her face. And I want to stay with her. She's so damn good at her job. I just don't know if I can handle the constant mistrust and condescension."

"But you still feel like you have to take care of her. You've always been like that, Marshall. Why did you want to be her partner in the first place?"

"Because she's tough and tenacious and smart, and even when she's spouting cynicism at forty miles an hour, I know she cares about the work. When she lets herself, she can be so warm. There's so much good in her, but I just don't know if I'm the right person to stick it out with her."

"Of course you're the right person. And of course you'll stick it out." Marshall's mother doesn't coddle. Her compliments are weighty and not frivolous. She isn't stingy with them, but each one feels like a gift. "What I did when you boys were being troublesome as kids was just…breathe through it. Keep the happy face, even when you feel like smacking her upside the head. Stay with her. Wait her out. You need to show her that you'll be there no matter what she throws at you. Remember why you wanted to be partners with her in the first place and keep that close to your heart."

Marshall listens to his mother because she gives the best advice of anyone he knows. He laughs it off when Mary is rude, rejects her bull and keeps his own dry humor coming, gets her coffee when she's especially cranky and always sticks close. By month eight, he is starting to feel that her snark is a sign of affection rather than rejection. Two weeks into month nine, she shouts at him to apprehend a suspect without even looking behind, and he realizes that she trusts him to cover her blind. They go out for beers and fries at least twice a week because he isn't just tolerating her, he likes being with her.

Somewhere in month eleven, he realizes that he's in love with her. It isn't the first time for Marshall. He falls in love like his mother gives compliments: not so infrequently as to seem generally cold, or so often that it is trivial. He falls with intent. But the women he has loved before were not as damaged as Mary is, and he has never invested as much of himself. So he doesn't tell her and tries to keep it hidden, but eventually he begins to suspect that she knows anyway.

I spend my time either protecting you from the world, or the world from you. And it's just... It's just a lot of responsibility

He loves her, but has no illusions about the fact that to the rest of the world, Mary Shannon is dangerous. When her mother shows up unexpectedly at her new house, he begins to understand how damaged she truly is. He watches her more closely, makes sure she knows that he is always available. Soon all he has to say is, "Hey, it's me," to remind her that she can't lie to her best friend. He still sees her behind his eyes, hot and solid above him, when he takes himself in hand at night, even if he's dating someone else at the time.

That doesn't mean that keeping up with Mary isn't exhausting. She's demanding of herself; the newest inspector in the office and she very quickly gains the largest caseload. He has his own load to handle, and is always ready to play backup for hers. He runs interference with Stan, with witnesses. Smoothing things over for Mary is like having a second job.

He considers the possibility of transferring, gets as far as the interview. When he gets a reply in the mail, reading through the letter creates a burning sensation in his gut. It takes him a few hours to identify it, but as he's lying on the ground beside the truck containing Mary and Horst, he realizes that it is shame. The thought of leaving the Marshals Service makes him feel upset because he would be giving up on family tradition and his own goals and something that he loves. The thought of leaving Mary Shannon makes him ashamed, for not being upfront and for leaving her at all. For being another person in her life to walk away.

The way she reacts to it, not right away, but eventually, makes him change his mind. She's calm and daring. She protects him and does her job. She is all around incredible. He feels lucky to have this fierce woman in his life.

But that doesn't mean that it ever stops being exhausting.

Just let it flow, like a river

Mary walks for six miles to try to find somewhere she can breathe after being kidnapped. Marshall is with her the whole way, pacing her a few steps behind so she didn't feel crowded. When Mary finally gets her breath, he starts to work on his.

That night, he relives the bullet going through Spanky's accomplice upstairs, an easy shot even through eyes narrowed in anger. He goes to sleep smiling.

But he knows the image of Mary desperate in that basement will never leave him.

You're going to tell me. Or I say the three scariest words I know. Ready? See you later

Marshall calls his mother when Mary is taken into surgery with the gunshot wound. He can still feel her forehead against his lips. He explains the situation succinctly. Mrs. Mann doesn't say anything, just breathes into the phone, deep and even, until his chest rises and falls in rhythm with hers.

"Thank you," he says, and hangs up. When he goes to track down whoever did this to Mary, he remembers his mother's advice about how to treat Mary. It's still some of the best he's ever gotten. Speaking to Lala and the gang, he is cheerful and methodical. He does not slow down. He does not stop. He treats himself to three beers when it's over. He feels like he can breathe on his own again.

Maybe messy is what you need. Maybe instead of just anyone, you should be looking for someone

Marshall picks Mary up at the airport after her trip to Mexico with Faber. The man in question is driving home to find his wife.

"Was the sex that bad?" he asks dryly. Mary shoves him and proceeds to eat all of his snacks while giving him a snarky recap of her time away.

Part of him is pleased because Faber is gone home to the missus. Part of him is pleased because he's still Mary's go-to person. But part of him is displeased because Mary is not as obtuse as she pretends. If she wasn't willing to take the leap and recognize that he was offering himself as her messy guy, her cowboy alternative, than maybe he has been patient enough.

Abigail Chaffee asks him out for barbeque and a chat about Texas. He accepts because she is witty and charming and attractive and he doesn't have plans for the night.

His mother doesn't pick up the phone when he calls later. He elects not to see that as a sign.

Shelley thinks it's related to how protective I am of the women in my life

Marshall doesn't attack Scalvino because he thinks that Mary is in particular danger or because the groping bothers him more than usual. He does not do it because it was a direct reminder of Mary's two-year-old kidnapping. When Shelley says he felt powerless, he just repeats it. The emotion is there somewhere, it's just not the driving force.

When he tackled Scalvino, the thought he remembers most clearly is that he just wants Mary to know that no matter what, even if everyone in her life seems to be leaving her, he'll always be there at her side, at her back, covering her blind.

Mary, you're my partner and my best friend, I'm with you all the time…I'm with you every day. If you're having a baby, trust me, we're having a baby

Marshall realizes that Mary is pregnant three weeks into their stay at the training academy in Georgia. He isn't insulted that she didn't tell him because he is pretty sure that she's still in denial and doesn't realize herself. He waits to let her find out on her own. In the meantime, he buys the top ranked pregnancy books on Amazon and reads them all through. He tucks them away when Abigail comes over, but isn't sure why. He's a curious man with a pregnant partner/best friend. It all makes sense. He hides them anyway.

He doesn't tell Mary either, lets her think that his knowledge is more of the random trivia that he spouts like it's a language only he is fluent in.

He wants to be at every doctor's appointment. Three days after the fact, he casually asks if she has any ultrasound pictures, disguising it as a joke. He takes a supplementary fathers' birth class, just in case. When Mary starts talking adoption, he reads up on that too. He wants to be more involved, but coaches himself on nonchalance. He has a partner afraid of relationships who he doesn't want to spook. He has a new relationship that he wants to explore instead of break.

My invitation did not include a plus-one

Marshall doesn't ask Abigail to Brandi's wedding because he assumed he would be going with Mary. They were going to make fun of the dresses and elaborate hats, and eat extra dessert. He has half an hour of wedding related trivia prepared.

But taking Abigail will be fun too. Living with Abigail will be fun too. He loves her. He wants to move in together. Even if it means Ghost Walks with her instead of Isotopes games with Mary.

She's my partner, Abigail, and she's pregnant. My instincts kicked in

He is alert the second Mary cries out before collapsing at the aborted wedding, and when she calls his name, he runs to her as fast as he leapt when there were bullets flying. He was right. It is instinct for him to help Mary, but not because he's closer or used to it or trained that way. It's because she's Mary, but he keeps that thought to himself.

I found a suitcase with the baby stuff

Mary is panicking, in pain and having trouble calming enough to breathe. He is the one to give the paramedics all the details: birth date, allergies, how far along she is, recent stress, what she last ate, usual amount of sleep, whether she has had high blood pressure, that she needs a seasickness patch if she's going to have surgery because she doesn't do well with general anesthesia. But when they ask for Dad, it's Mark who is shoved into the ambulance with her. Marshall is sent back to the house. The baby bag is next to Mary's go bag, stocked for special assignments, at the bottom of her closet. A pair of his socks is stuck into each because they keep her feet warmer than her own.

He is dazed when he sees her in the hospital. He has read all of the books, taken classes, he's a US Marshal trained in first aid; he thought that he would be calmer. He wants to hit Mark when he uses that condescending tone to indicate that Marshall is not welcome while his best friend, his goddamn partner, is giving birth under traumatic circumstances. But he lets himself get pushed out because intellectually he recognizes that at this point the only person whose delivery he should be so hands-on about is Abigail's.

Still, he feels a little triumphant when Mary kicks everyone else out a little while later. Jinx apparently started getting a little dramatic as labor coach, and Mark has no clue what he is doing. Both reactions would stress Mary on a good day. Still, he can't say that he likes thinking of her in there alone. She'll probably make the nurses cry.

Soon after, she is wheeled into the OR because the baby is going into distress and isn't in a good position for natural birth. Marshall grips Jinx's hands and explains it all slowly. He hopes they remember the seasickness patch if they end up putting her under for any reason.

What about you? What do you want?

Peter and Abigail have both already gone home by the time people are allowed to go see her. He gets his turn after Mark and Jinx, but he doesn't mind because it means that he gets to stay the longest. When the nurse comes to kick him out, he shows her his badge and stays the whole night.

Mary is dazed when she wakes up. Her hands are weak and shaky. He slips her ice chips like he wasn't able to when she was in labor.

"Labor is right. It was like trying to squeeze a mule through an exhaust pipe," she tries to joke, but stops abruptly and stares at him silently for a moment. "I cancelled the appointment with the adoptive family. I don't know what to do. She's here and I'm here and I don't know if we're supposed to be here together." There are tears at the edge of her voice. She sounds utterly unlike Mary Shannon.

"Hey," he says, "that baby needs a name. What are you thinking?"

"I didn't really think about it. That was supposed to be someone else's job." She smiles weakly. "Mark wants Amelia, after his grandmother. Amelia Shannon isn't so bad."

"But what about you? What do you want?" He recognizes that she needs control back. Nothing has been in her control over the past few days. Or months. Or perhaps years.

"My grandmother was called Norah," she says after a few minutes. "What does it mean?"

He leans toward her. "It's a good one. It means honor. Like the Marshals' motto." Justice. Integrity. Service. "It's similar to an Arabic name meaning light. And if you pronounce it just a little differently, you get a Hebrew word meaning awesome or wonderful. It's a word that's often used to describe God, or something else so amazing and impressive that you can't truly fathom it within yourself." He hasn't been allowed into the NICU yet to see the baby, but if she's anything like her mother, Mary Shannon who leaves sunspots against his eyes from thinking about her, the name is fitting.

"Norah Amelia." Mary speaks quietly. He grips her hand. She touches her fingers to his. "I like it." She takes a breath, holds for a beat. "Marshall, I think I'm keeping her. I got a suitcase of baby stuff." She laughs a little, but it's barely more than a slightly coughing exhalation. "I think that I knew…I think I'm going to do this." He nods, not because he was sure that this was the decision she would make, but because whatever she chose, he would support her.

When she finally takes him in to see the baby, he recognizes Mary's writing on the card attached to her incubator, Norah's name scrawled in a hand that is finally firm.

Babies are terrorists, they're relentless, they never let you rest; they're like little, fat alarm clocks

Mary calls him exactly once in the weeks after Norah comes home from the hospital. It is four AM. His cell has been on vibrate under his pillow since she was discharged, just in case. He leaves Abigail a note. Mary hands him the baby as soon as he walks into the door. She doesn't even check the peephole before opening it, and tells him when asked that she has been up nearly constantly for over forty hours. He guides her to bed because that is at this point more important than a shower or food. The baby hasn't even stopped her wailing before Mary is asleep.

She sleeps for fifteen hours and comes out to find Marshall feeding Norah a bottle in the glider. He is looking down on her, murmuring softly. It is so domestic that she chokes, but doesn't let him see. He has taken the day off from work to watch her baby.

Mark and Jinx step in soon afterward. She doesn't call Marshall for babysitting again, and won't explain to herself why.

Do you have a plan?...Cause if I'm gonna be next to you dodging bullets…

When Marshall asks if Mary has a plan for Norah if something happened to her, he doesn't mean that he can't be partners with someone without a plan or that he's concerned about her lack of focus or his safety. He means that if she went down, he would be with her and wouldn't survive to help take care of Norah. He realizes that this is too presumptuous and lets her assume otherwise.

You don't do well with unresolved

Mary is not subtle about disapproving of his proposal to Abigail. Even if Marshall had been a stranger, he would have understood her position about the whole thing. He chooses to ignore it because he is already in so deep with Abigail. He has done his waiting for Mary and his patience for it has been exhausted. He's a pretty logical guy, and he can't justify hanging around waiting for the most emotionally closed off person he knows to wake up one morning and be in love with him. He wants to be married, wants to have a family, and has found a woman with whom he will enjoy doing both.

Never mind that there's another who has been on his mind for nearly ten years.

Because if you call, I'll come. Every time

Marshall and Abigail don't break up because of Mary. After their talk on the balcony, where he said he loved her for the second time and misrepresented it for the second time, he doesn't have to come because she doesn't call. "She's my partner" is removed from his arsenal because Mary makes sure that it is. There isn't so much drama in her life anymore, anyway. Jinx is still doing fine. Brandi has a healthy baby after the appropriate amount of time and goes to live in a small apartment in Old Town. Even the witnesses seem like they are on their best behavior. Mary is wounded once, lightly, but Delia is sitting with her by the time he skids through the door to her room.

"I'll be ready for the debrief as soon as they stitch me up, Marshall," Mary tells him, as if that's the only reason he could be there.

What really saddens him, though, is that even the casual parts of their friendship slow. They don't have beers and fries together after work. They aren't partners anymore, so car trips are infrequent, and they don't do midafternoon calls just because they aren't driving together and there's too much random crap to comment upon. His socks stay in his own drawers. When they do end up out in the field together, they banter and trust each other implicitly. She might still know that he will cover her blind, but his work wife stays strictly at work, and even there she's moved from wife to something like low-ranking sidekick. They're no longer so noticeably, uncannily close, and Marshall tries to pretend that it doesn't bother him. He takes Abigail to baseball games which she enjoys mildly, and Mary stays home with Norah.

He settles into being chief inspector for Albuquerque WitSec. Delia moves up the ladder and takes on a lot of his caseload. Mary teases him and argues with him about being the boss, but tends to respect his calls, or at least pretend. He has learned after almost ten years of partnership to save his arguing for the big stuff and let the Mary eccentricities slide. When his mother asks how it's going, he tells her that everything is progressing, and then wishes he could take that clinical word back. Even her typical slow silence down the line seems particularly pointed.

The last time they sit together is the night before Marshall's wedding, having escaped from the bachelor party that his brothers insisted upon throwing him even though they won't get in until early the next morning. She was having a great time gulping back beers with the boys, but their eyes caught at around eleven o'clock and they both went outside to sit on the hood of her car. They don't really talk, and he misses the days when the two of them alone would mean a rant by her about Brandi's latest shenanigans or how stupid all the toys available for little girls are. He longs to be called numbnuts or doofus, for her to roll her eyes when he talks to her about sci-fi or trivia. But Mary Shannon is walking on eggshells around him, the only person he never thought she would have to do so for and the only person she would willingly do it for, and that is the most foreign part of the situation.

Marshall gets married on a cloudy afternoon in mid-August, just after Norah's first birthday. Mary stands beside him for the ceremony but leaves a few minutes into the reception, reminding him that parties aren't really her thing. His ring is a tiny bit loose, but he doesn't tell Abigail.

Is this it?

The chief inspector position gives Marshall a more regular workday. He still can't tell Abigail exactly what he does and there's a hell of a lot of meetings and paperwork, but he's home for dinner, sometimes in time to cook it, and there are far fewer middle of the night calls away. But that doesn't make it easy.

Abigail ends up working a manslaughter case. One of Delia's witnesses is definitely involved, but DOJ says bury it because the testimony against a well-traveled hitman is too important. He fights it as much as he can because he knows it's not the right call, but there isn't really anything he can do and eventually the pictures of all the victims who will now be laid to rest get him to give in. He tells Abigail that the Marshals Service will officially be taking over the case. They both know what that means.

They fight about it at home. After half an hour, Abigail throws up her hands and goes to bed.

Sleeping in the guest bedroom that night, Marshall tries to figure out what is bothering him most. She had fought him, but it almost seemed routine, like a role she knew she had been assigned. Mary had argued harder for the witness to be prosecuted and she wasn't officially involved from either end. He wants that passion back instead.

Abigail is paper-perfect for him, sass and intelligence curled into a Texan belle who understands law enforcement. She will go with him to the opera and the theater, play chess and Scrabble with him. She doesn't make fun when he says "maudlin" or "pedestrian," and has in fact been known to say such things herself on occasion. If he wants to take a rumba or mambo or tango class, Abigail will be doing it with him backwards and in heels. She is pretty and PC and sweet even to strangers. There's so much right in their relationship, he loves so much about her, that he wants that to mask the other stuff. He knows that he can be a good husband, eventually a good father, if he lets it all go.

But Abigail doesn't have that relentless passion that first attracted him to Mary Shannon, that balls-to-the-wall craziness, the intensity and drive that had served her both well and poorly. Abigail appeals greatly to his dorky side, but he doesn't trust her to cover him blind. In the end she is a replacement Mary, watered-down and scrubbed up and with an accent, the seeming polar opposite containing just enough quippy cop to suit him. Abigail's life is organized to both outsiders and insiders; nothing is messy, nothing needs fixing.

But Marshall Mann has discovered that he too could use messy. He has always liked something to care for.

He doesn't know what Abigail thought about alone in their bed, but they tiptoe around the topic for the next few days, both obviously still sensitive. On Sunday morning, she puts down the crossword and looks at him.

"Is this it?" she asks.

"I'm not sure," he says, but they both know what that means.

They sign the divorce papers on a sunny day in early February, just before Norah turns two and a half. They have been married for just under eighteen months. Abigail moves back to Texas. Marshall doesn't assure her that she'll find someone new, that she'll be snapped up right away, although it's true. He gets to keep Oscar because by this point he was taking care of him most of the time anyway, even though he still chews his shoes.

Marshall would go out at four in the morning to help Mary, Abigail, his mother, a witness, or anyone else who needed it because that is the kind of person he is. But if he was in trouble at four in the morning, the person he would call would be Mary Shannon.

This, what we have, it's undefinable, and up until now nothing's ever come along to jeopardize that

Kenny stays around for five months, which is surprisingly long. The concern of finding someone who is good with her kid apparently made Mary forget that she needs to find someone who is also good with her job. It takes a special guy to be willing to stick around after she keeps cutting dinners short to deal with witnesses and still asks him to watch Norah if she needs it, and Kenny isn't that guy.

A little while after, Mark moves six hours away to Phoenix where people are more likely to have cash to spend on solar paneling. He asks Mary to come with, but she sighs. "I think you should have me checked for a brain tumor, but I guess I'll be staying in Albuquerque." He laughs and kisses her on the cheek. He is married within six months. Mary refuses to call it his second marriage because she doesn't think that their first one counted. Mary takes Norah to the wedding; after that, she sees her dad every couple of months or so. Mary is surprisingly okay with the situation, possibly because having Mark around all the time was starting to annoy her but more probably because he seems to find so many excuses to come back to Albuquerque that it doesn't feel like he's abandoned his daughter.

Norah starts preschool. Brandi works mornings at a boutique and usually watches her niece and her own daughter, Ruby, in the afternoon because Mary hates the idea of Norah thinking that her mother just dumps her with strangers. On Sundays and slow afternoons when Mary just has paperwork, Marshall lets Norah sit tucked in the corner between Mary's desk and the window. Mary keeps a collection of pictures she surreptitiously snaps of Delia's funny faces toward her daughter.

Brandi is struck by a bad and out of season flu in June. Marshall ends up taking care of Ruby and Norah because Mary can't get away or find a babysitter. After that he watches them at least one afternoon a week. She's little, but Norah loves the museums he takes them to. He buys her expensive souvenir gift shop books full of long, detailed descriptions of bugs and fossils, just so he can see Mary's face when she's forced to read them.

Family tradition. I'm fifth generation…she's my partner

A year after his divorce, Marshall calls in a favor from his friend Jackie Parker, chief inspector at WitSec out of Louisville. It turns out that Jackie is looking for a transfer anyway; she's having lung problems that her doctor says might be helped by a warmer, dryer climate. Moving to Albuquerque would be a favor to her too.

He doesn't think that he's ever seen Delia so happy as when he politely asks for his old desk back. Working with Mary is exciting, but no one can keep up with her like Marshall can.

He knows he made the right choice of new superior when Jackie informs him kindly but firmly that he has made a decision and she is the chief inspector of ABQ WitSec now. She'll listen to his advice, but she is the boss. He smiles and sits down at his old desk and waits for Mary, who comes in a half hour late as usual. It takes her ninety seconds to realize what's different. She goes over to him right away, slaps him upside the head and demands "What did you do, doofus?"

He knows he made the right choice of position as soon as he's back out in the field. He might be the quietest of his brothers, but he's a fierce inspector. He loves his job and he loves doing it with his partner. He might have contented himself with a desk job, but being back out with Mary, being a team again, is where he truly belongs.

Mary clashes with Jackie for about three days before they need to go to the mat with DOJ and Jackie shows how fierce she is. Things run pretty smoothly after that. Marshall can't be counted on to take care of Norah in the afternoons anymore because he's too busy watching her mother's back, but they still go to museums every few weekends. When they are both coincidentally at an Isotopes game, he doesn't pretend not to see them. They sit together and he buys Norah a cap and a hot dog as Mary makes fun of him for being a sucker. He shells out for a t-shirt too when she gets mustard on her other one because she's jumping up to celebrate a great play. After that the two Shannon girls show up randomly on his doorstep, decked out in fan gear and grinning as they walk in without knocking.

I'll be here

The night before Norah enters kindergarten, Marshall is over at Mary's place. They sip wine and the conversation ranges from reminiscence (funny cases, the night Norah was born) to general chatter (she wants to wear those baby stripper heels that Brandi got her, Jinx has a new boyfriend). Around nine, Mary has to go deal with a witness.

"I'll be back," she says, not even asking as she reaches for her keys.

"I'll be here," he returns, grabbing from the end table one of the books he keeps at her house.

And, when she returns twenty minutes later, he is. The light it low and he's read half the damn book, even though she can see from the doorway that the thing is pure snooze.

He looks up. "Nothing too bad?"

"Unless you count my foot up his ass." And she kisses him.

He stops it after a minute, his eyes slightly dazed. "Wait, wait. Why are you doing this?"

She breathes in. She remembers the taste of long-ago champagne and the foreign feeling of Raph's diamond ring. "Because it took me so long to admit even to myself that I might love you, when you knew soon after we met. I set you free and wished you a lifetime of happiness, even if it wasn't with me because it wasn't fair to do otherwise, not when you had been so patient and I was such an idiot." She strokes his face. Dear man. "Now take me to bed, doofus."

He's cooking when she drags herself up in the morning, hands her a cup of coffee before she's even fully into the kitchen. Norah is sitting at the table, kicking her legs. She doesn't seem bothered by any of this. After all, Marshall has stayed over a couple of times before, once when his place was being painted and once when they got back ridiculously late after a ridiculously long case.

Even when he stays over the next few nights, she seems to take it in stride. There's no talk of "new daddy" or questions about why Marshall sleeps in Mommy's bed. When they decide that Marshall should move in, they sit Norah down to talk about it.

"Bug," Mary starts carefully. "Are you worried about Marshall saying with us?"

Norah stares at her. "No. Marshall takes me to places that you don't even like. And he cooks pancakes better than you do."

"I win," Marshall says, eyebrows up. Mary elbows him in the gut.

"You can take her to school then, Mr. Universe."

Now, I know that I took vacation days for this

In June, they take a trip to Texas for Marshall's parents' anniversary party. The drive is eight hours. Norah is coloring for the first, watching DVDs by the second and asleep by the fourth.

Marshall slips into the driver's seat when they stop to get gas outside of Clovis. "Here," he says, tossing a pile of folders onto Mary's lap. They look like standard WitSec files, photos on the outside and the inside like Seth Mann taught him, because everything matters.

"Now, I know that I took vacation days for this," she says distractedly, glancing at the photo on the front of the first one before flipping it open.

"I know you don't like surprises, so I've described them all for you. My family, laid out in manila."

She reads about his dad, who she's already met and his mom, who she knows a little about. His brothers she remembers vaguely from his wedding, but no details really stuck in her mind; she had been a little preoccupied. The outside picture of his older brother Michael is just a close up of his face, but the one pinned inside shows him in a wheelchair. He's a former marshal, shot in the line of duty at age 23, survived but is partially paralyzed. Now he's a lawyer with four kids, living in Sacramento. Marcus, younger than Marshall by four years, is a marshal with Electronic Surveillance, currently in Baton Rouge, although he's traveled a lot, and unmarried.

"What is he, a nerd boy without a chance, or a sleek geek who likes his freedom?" Mary asks, still flipping through the files.

"Neither." Marshall is a calm driver; a car like the one in front of them would make Mary swear and swerve. "He's gay, but he refuses to come out. My mom knew pretty early, and after I found him with a couple of guys in high school, I caught on, and by now everyone is aware, but he won't tell us outright or talk about it or date anyone that we know of."

"Does he think you'll all be backwards Texan dickwads about it?"

"I don't think so. If my dad is planning on disowning him, twenty years ago when he realized would have made more sense. It might be the Marshals, but it's getting easier to come out there. Also, I've met the guys in his office. Norah could beat them up if they decided they don't like it, and Marcus benches one fifty on an off day. Plus, he's pretty much their idol because he can code in his sleep, hack blind and with a fever, and he singlehandedly acts out all of Back to the Future at the company picnic."

"Sounds like you, except he can bench a hundred and fifty pounds." He gives one of his Marshall wrinkle-faced fake-laughs, but keeps it low so Norah can sleep. They're quiet for a while. Mary keeps scanning over the information. Eventually she looks up. "You had a sister?"

Marshall clears his throat. "Uh, yeah. Ada. After Ada Carnutt, first female Deputy US Marshal. She was a year younger than me. She got pneumonia when she was a baby and died. I don't remember her at all. My mom was depressed about it for a long time. She still gets quiet around her birthday. My dad never talks about her."

"I should have known that. You know Brandi, Jinx and Ruby's birthdays and what they each want, and I didn't even know you had a sister."

They pull over at a rest stop. Marshall parks. "If I asked you to go in there and get me coffee and ice cream, you'd know exactly what I liked. In a firefight, there's no one I trust more to cover me blind. You let me go with Abigail because you were putting me before yourself, and you forgave me for leaving when I promised I would never do that." He holds her face in his hands and kisses her with sweet purpose, long and attentive and Marshall Mann-slow. "I know what I know because I ask and pay attention because that's the person I am. You wear your mess on the outside anyway. You learned because you care and you'll remember because that's the person you are."

Marshall's family is by turns boisterous and calm, and seems to enjoy making fun of him as a bonding ritual, something that Mary can appreciate. His brothers and sister-in-law are fun to be around, they go along with her humor and no one asks awkward questions about her work. Michael and Marcus tell their brother, who they call "Marsh" or "Mar," that they approve. They think that Mary is someone who can finally keep Marshall in his place and stop him from getting too caught up in himself. Norah loves Marshall's niece Sophie. Marshall's mother, Linda, takes Mary to shoot at the gun range she owns. It rains that night and Mary learns the peace of sitting on a porch swing next to a woman who knows how to breathe. Overall, she is as comfortable with the Manns as she ever is with anyone other than Marshall. At the end of the weekend, Mary leans on Marshall's shoulder.

"Can we please clone your family and ditch mine? We're the law and I'm pretty wily. I bet if we killed them, we could get away with it."

He smiles and puts a hand on her back. "Come on, Lizzie Borden, time to go home."

You call on Jesus enough that I think he's somewhere in this family too

They never used protection regularly because it never seemed necessary. They both trusted each other in regards to STDs. Mary is old enough that pregnancy didn't seem likely, and Marshall confessed early on to low sperm motility anyway. They're both surprised when they end up in the ER because Mary is bleeding heavily. She miscarried before she even knew that she was pregnant.

Neither of them is sure who is more devastated. Mary tries to hide it at first and pretend she's fine. Marshall ends up taking care of her, first teasing out the pain and then becoming a receptacle for it, and she allows him to because that's the way it has always been between them. Those are the roles in which they are comfortable. Mary requests a tubal ligation so there are no further complications. She wakes up three weeks afterwards to find Marshall crying at the kitchen table. He asked for testing of the fetus. It was a baby boy. There were no chromosomal abnormalities; the baby would have been perfect. She was just too old to carry to term.

Mary calls Marshall's mother because the person who she would normally ask for help is the one who needs taking care of.

Linda Mann reminds Mary how to breathe. She suggests that they put up a headstone. Mary figures that she knows what she's talking about. There's one out there for a baby girl named Ada, after all.

Mary lies in bed with Marshall. She rubs his back and breathes for him until he starts doing it in synch.

"I love Norah," he says quietly. "I remember every minute of the night she was born and just being around her makes me smile. But that was my only chance to have a baby with you."

She presses her lips against the back of his neck. "A boy," she murmurs. "What would we have called him?"

His voice is hoarse and clogged, but he somehow finds a smile as he says, "Joseph. I already have a Mary, and you call on Jesus enough that I think he's somewhere in this family too."

She buys a tiny plot in a grassy cemetery outside the city and erects a marker that simply says "Joseph Mann." She gets two larger adjoining plots along with it. When she takes him out to show him, he shivers although it's not windy, cries a little, then smiles and calls it the most romantic gift she's ever gotten him.

"Not much competition," she teases, but she still tucks herself against him even before his arm slides around to pull her close.

Because you're such a forgiving person

They're in the middle of Texas with a witness, Marshall calmly listening to Mary complain about the heat and the delays in their trial time and the fact that they took her sunglasses away at security, when they spot Abigail walking out of the courtroom across the hall. She clearly sees them, but is good enough to pretend not to, either to protect their identities or because it is still too painful for everyone. Mary quiets for a second before picking up her ranting again, although it sounds more forceful now, as if speaking about the other annoyances will take away this discomfort as well.

Hours later, after they have successfully seen the witness through trial and onto a plane headed to his new life, they are alone in the car on their way back to Albuquerque. Marshall is dozing in the backseat. Mary declared herself awake enough to drive, although her exhausted brain is probably only keeping itself awake wrestling over that brief hallway glimpse from the courthouse.

Eventually she hisses, "Marshall," not even bothering with any 'are you awake' politeness. "Why did you break up?" In five years together, they've never talked about it.

His voice comes back to her immediately, albeit slightly hoarse from grogginess. "Our situation was untenable."

"Make sense," she snaps. "This isn't spy school. You don't get a prize for being the most cryptic."

In the rearview, she can see him lever himself up slightly on his elbows. He squints as the oncoming cars throw headlight beams onto his face. "Abigail and I…we seemed to work perfectly together. Everything was fine and pleasant. But when push came to shove, we didn't know how to handle tension. We didn't know how to argue properly or how to really resolve a fight."

"Seems like something you could have gotten counseling for," she says blandly.

"Yes. But in the end I didn't want to. Abigail, she wasn't what I needed and I don't think she ever would have been." He's too lanky to slide through to the front seat, so she pulls over at a rest stop so she can climb in back and kiss him. A few minutes later, he settles into the driver's seat with a cup of coffee.

"My turn for a question," he says as he turns on the engine.

"We're taking turns now?"

"That's what happens when you have a kid. You remember all of those social niceties that you've forgotten after spending too much time in certain company." Before she can slide into quips about Norah being the most mature member of their family, he says, "Okay, so why did you forgive me? What I asked you to do when I got engaged to Abigail, it wasn't fair."

"No. No, you were right. You were trying to make it work with Abigail and for once you had to take care of yourself."

He shakes his head. "It shouldn't have gone down that way. I shouldn't have done that, not with the way that..."

"The way that I am. Because of my dad," she finishes. She had thought that it would be harder to talk about him after she found and lost him again, but it's been easier, actually, at least with Marshall. "But I forgave you because of the way that you are. You've stuck with me for years longer than anyone else. Like, past the point of craziness. I would have you committed except that you do make damn good pancakes. So I gave you this one. Think of it as your freebie. For life."

"Because you're such a forgiving person."

She steals his coffee and takes a gulp. "God, you know me so well." And she tucks herself against the window to sleep, trusting him to drive them safely through the dark.

All those trips to the natural history museum

Marshall never adopts Norah. She has a perfectly good father who she calls Daddy, who sends birthday presents and calls twice a week. She sees him every February break, Memorial Day and for two weeks in the summer, along with any time he's in town. But Marshall was the one who came if she woke up panicked in an unfamiliar place. It was his cool hand she felt on her forehead when she was sick, or pretending to be. She remembers sleeping between him and her mother if she had nightmares, feeling like a giant on his shoulders when they went to the park. He lends her books he thinks she'll like and never makes her feel awkward if she needs tampons. It is Marshall who helps her with algebra and Arabic and softball, who knows which girls on her dance team bother her, and who runs interference when she and her mom get cranky with each other. He talks Mary down when Norah comes home from her first party.

("I sat her down when she was fourteen and told her to her face that alcohol is illegal for minors and I would have to arrest her, and that we have a family history of alcohol abuse."

"She's sixteen and smart. She didn't drink, she wouldn't have driven if she had and she's home an hour and a half before curfew. Everything is fine.")

But he is also waiting up, having sent Mary to bed, when Norah comes home late, with hastily reapplied makeup after she said that she was going on a babysitting job. His voice is low and calm and so disapproving that she starts to cry just from hearing it. He doesn't tell Mary and she never does it again.

She hugs him right after her mom when she graduates from high school. He gives her a pair of cowboy boots of her own and tells her to take the world by storm. His face lights up when she whispers that they'll have to figure out how to tell Mom she's going to be double majoring in archaeology and entomology.

"It was all those trips to the natural history museum," he boasts. "Highly specialized and potentially non-viable career opportunities, here we come!"

You're either freezing or humid, dragging your ass from one tourist trap to the next

Mary and Marshall retire together the year that Norah finishes grad school. There's a small party. Their families attend, some past and current coworkers. It's not a sad affair, but it is a little bittersweet. They wake up the next morning with nothing in particular to do. Marshall suggests taking up some hobbies.

"We could start traveling. Or play tennis. Oh, you can finally start helping me out with my gardening."

Her face is expressionless, as if she isn't even going to bother looking at him in disbelief. "You must have me confused with someone who likes any of that crap."

They end up going out for coffee and pie, snarking on the people going past. Even Marshall gets into it, because suddenly everyone seems so young.

But that's only good for a day or two, and they still need something to do with their time, so they experiment a little. They go to the gun range and Marshall convinces Mary to take another shot at riding horses, a skill she never quite mastered even after years with the Marshals and more than a few visits to his family's place, but nothing lasts long enough to be a new pursuit for them to throw their whole lives into the way that being marshals was. Finally they take a shot at volunteering at a homeless shelter and support center. Even Mary isn't too bad at it once Marshall reminds her half a dozen times what is inappropriate. She tends to work with middle-aged men, people who are suddenly down on their luck and angry about it. She rarely coddles, she doesn't take shit, and she knows how to find decent jobs and cheap housing for people who have lost everything.

They've spent their whole careers giving people new identities. It's nice to start helping people find their way back to their old ones.

Even if we aren't partners, I'm with you

Marshall starts wearing a wedding ring. He bought it himself. It is slimmer and more purely silver than his first one, and it fits perfectly.

"Hey, doofus, did you think I wasn't going to notice?" Mary asks when she finally notices.

He says placidly, "Well, you are renowned for your astuteness."

She sits beside him, speaks quietly. "We're not in the Service anymore. We can get married if that's what you want."

"And be normal with you? My heart would cease beating."

Mary throws him a dry look. "Okay, smartass, what's with the bling, then?"

He looks at her seriously. "I just want you to know that even if we aren't partners, I'm with you. I'm committed, I'm in this, I'll always have your back."

"Please. The guy who always puts up with my insults and my BS and my mess? It's been over thirty years, Marshall. I know you have my back. You're the only one I trust to cover me blind."

The next week, she has a ring as well. It's unobtrusive and she wears it on the wrong finger of the wrong hand. He knows anyway.