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Where Steel and Water Collide (The Black-Eyed Daughter remix)

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"Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say-
"Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!"

--Alfred Noyes

Veronica stopped sleeping somewhere around Arizona. Somewhere before she threatened a man with a handgun; and somewhere after she started seeing Cassidy Casablancas everywhere. In the dark watches she lies awake and stares out into the moonlight. Lately the moon has been full. If not for Mac, Veronica would be out there howling at it, she is sure.

If not for Mac. If not for the one person left who knew the old Veronica, the Veronica who had a pretty great life. Who loved a lot of people that were alive. Who drove a shiny car around and snapped pictures of cheating husbands. That Veronica is as dead as Cassidy -- as dead as Logan -- as dead as --

As dead as sleep.

They drive and drive.

"You know, I always wanted to see America, but this isn't exactly how I pictured it," Mac says wryly, and Veronica smiles at that. It's amazing that sometimes she still feels like smiling. Only with Mac, only with Mac.

* * *

Outside of Las Vegas, Mac pulls over at the Hoover Dam. In a light drizzle, Veronica and Mac hold hands. They don't say anything much about it, just smile at each other.

Across from them, standing on the precarious dam spillway, Veronica sees Cassidy standing, staring out at her, calling something out. Her mind tells her that Cassidy is dead -- at that range, how could she have missed? But she can't stop watching the blood that stains his shirt and the hand he holds out to her, pleadingly.

At least she isn't seeing Logan or -- at least there's that.

They drive and drive. In a diner in heat-soaked Jackpot, NV, she looks at Mac across the table. Mac is making her way through a buffet-style plate of fruits and vegetables, the only thing vegan she could find in all the mess of old chicken wings and stolid mashed potatoes.

"Mac, I didn't know what else to do," she says.

"I know," replies Mac, and she lays her hand on top of Veronica's, right there in the cheap red polyvinyl booth. Veronica feels absurdly like lying down on the table and putting her cheek down on Mac's hand.

The check comes and Mac pays in cash. "We don't have a lot left," she says. "We have to get more somehow."

Veronica feels her mouth stretch into something like a smile. "Don't worry. We'll figure something out." That night she leaves Mac sleeping on a ratty comforter in a motel 6 and walks the streets. She holds up two drunken frat boys, who seem more amused than anything, and a man coming out of an alley with his pants half-undone. He has $300 in small bills in a fussy leather wallet. Veronica leaves the wallet and takes the cash.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you that bad things come out at night?" she says to the man, who is backed up against a brick wall, bleeding from the side of the mouth, eyes full of fear and anger.

"Take the money, bitch," he says. "Just take it and go to hell."

"Oh, don't worry," says Veronica. "I'm going."

Mac doesn't ask where the money came from. She goes and buys them some bagels and coffee. "You keep me sane," Veronica says to her, taking a cup. Cassidy walks past the window, carrying the taser and gun that he had used to take Logan's life.

"Me, or Starbucks?" says Mac.

"You."

* * *

Highway 93 is good and deserted. Driving north into a sky full of clouds, sometimes Mac sings along with the radio. Veronica just leans her chair back a little and watches Mac's dark hair blow back in the wind from the air conditioner. Mac likes indie music, stuff with angsty guys singing clever things about love, but sometimes she surprises Veronica, like when she belts out a rousing chorus of "I Think We're Alone Now."

"I hadn't figured you for a sugar-coated pop lover," Veronica says lazily, and smiles when she sees Mac grin.

"My mom had this on a cassette tape when I was a kid."

"So did mine."

Mac's hand finds hers and they hold hands like small children as the concrete ribbon unrolls in front of them. The beating of their hearts is the only sound.

* * *

In Idaho, it storms loudly for an entire night. Lying in their scummy hotel room, Veronica listens to the thunder and watches lightning arc across the sky. There is very little rain, but the lightning flashes are enormous and the wind is strong enough to knock you over. She wonders if maybe they are in danger, but there's not much to do about it. You don't think to check a lightning rod on a crappy motel.

Over on the bed, Mac writhes around. She is not really a calm sleeper anyway, Veronica has noticed, but tonight she is worse. She kicks her legs and moans and crunches her pillow with her hands. Veronica can even hear her, quietly, saying, "Help. Help."

Veronica had planned to go out and see what cash she could pick up, but there is no point in a storm like this. She changes into a t-shirt and shorts, goes over instead and slides into bed with Mac.

"Hey," she says. "Hey, Mac."

Mac wakes up with a great shudder, not sitting up straight like on the movies but just going still, staring at the ceiling.

"I was dreaming," she says.

"Yes."

"I don't want to say what it was about."

"That's good," says Veronica. "I don't want to hear." Which makes Mac laugh a little and her hands unclench from the covers. The door rattles in the wind. It sounds like someone's trying to get in. Mac begins to shiver again.

"3 a.m. is when I think he's coming after me," she says flatly and quietly. "He's going to walk in the door and he's going to finish what he started."

"Not with me around," Veronica says, just as flatly. She is lying on her side, head propped on her elbow, and Mac looks over at the door, and then looks over at Veronica, and her eyes are wide and fathomless.

"You're my guardian angel?" she says.

"No," says Veronica, and gives in, and leans over and puts one hand flat on Mac's shoulder, and the other arm elbow-down in the mattress, and kisses Mac with her eyes open. She can feel heat on her legs where Mac's t-shirt ends, and her feet are touching Mac's feet, and the storm is battering the window. The way it ends up is that they're holding hands and they're nose to nose, smiling at one another and breathing each others' breath. And they go to sleep like that, in Idaho, and in the morning they wake up and fog is covering the ground, so that when Veronica goes out to the car, she's in mist up to her knees.

When she looks back, Mac is spinning around, trying to make a fog whirlpool. She's smiling. Mac's beautiful when she smiles.

"Could you stop being such a morning person?" asks Veronica, taking the sting out by smiling too.

"Someone needs to be," says Mac, and the mist flies up around her.

* * *

In Missoula they stop and just get out of the car and kind of sit there on a bench. Behind them is a strip mall with a cut-rate pawnshop and a salon and whatever else cheap people like to buy. In front of them, a street divider tries to break the monotony with a few trees. Mac asks Veronica if they are going over the border. Veronica stares at her palms, wondering that they don't have a pattern on them from the steering wheel.

"I don't know, Mac." It comes out harsher than she means it, and she feels Mac stiffen up, hears the hurt, angry intake of breath. For a few minutes they just sit silent, and then Mac stands up and walks away.

Veronica can hear her footsteps recede, but the sun is shining down on the highway divider and Cassidy is standing there next to a scraggly aspen tree. For once, she notes, he isn't holding anything in his hands. He doesn't look angry; his clothes have no bloodstains. The sunlight isn't warm, but it lights up his face.

Veronica leans forward, resisting the urge to get up and walk to him. "We all try too hard," she says to Cassidy. "You tried too hard with Mac. But you shouldn't have made her your girlfriend just to fix whatever was broken with you."

Cassidy holds his hands out, palms up. He doesn't speak. This isn't the way it was with Lilly, where she sat and chatted like an old friend. Cassidy was never a friend. He is a liar and a rapist and makes a lousy ghost.

"Go away," she says. "I won't forgive you. Go find Logan and apologize to him, if you're in the mood to apologize." She looks down at her hands, her knees, her beat-up shoes and her dirty jeans, and when she looks up, Cassidy is gone and so is the sun.

--end--