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allegiance, n.

I will lie for you.

That's what she tells him.

It feels like a lack of faith that Vic is so quick to believe he's the one who shot at Jacob Nighthorse. The sting is sharp and its little wound festers. Walt ignores it the same way he ignores all the things he doesn't want to deal with; he shoulders it, pushes past it, moves on.

Which is why it takes him far too long to remember what he already knows: Vic Moretti doesn't look the other way and she doesn't keep quiet. That's not who she is.

But she was willing to do it for him.

This woman who had her life torn apart because she did the right thing, who was reviled, terrorized, assaulted, and forced to move halfway across the country because she told the truth. She was willing to lie to save him. She had already made that choice.

By the time he's properly chastened by the knowledge, Vic's done her own moving on.

 

 

blonde, adj.

"You realize," says Henry, as if they're already in the middle of some discussion, "that both of the women with whom you have been involved since Martha died were blonde."

There's something smug about his tone and it irritates Walt. He maintains his gaze out across the paddock, watching the shadows stretch like the slowest of rubber bands. "Your point?"

"Merely an observation on your change in preference."

Since Cady inherited her mother's looks in every way except the color of her eyes, Walt knows exactly what Henry's implying. He also knows that anything he could say now would be misconstrued; so he says nothing. Judicious silence usually serves him well.

Unfortunately, Henry knows all of his tricks. "And how is Vic doing these days? I have not seen her since the shooting."

"Better," Walt replies shortly. His eyes are drawn to the spot where her RV was so recently parked. Its absence feels like a missing tooth: a vacancy he can't stop himself from prodding. Funny that he'd never noticed all the empty space until she'd come and gone.

"That is good to hear," Henry says, then lets a pause linger just long enough for it to carry weight. "I am sure Travis is relieved."

Walt swallows his mouthful of beer and looks over at his friend. "Why do you say that?"

"He came to the Red Pony while Vic was in the hospital. He appeared to be... distraught, in his own way. From what he said, I did not get the impression that he is your biggest fan."

With a grunt, Walt turns back to the horizon. Purple smudges in the distance are the first harbingers of twilight. Leaning forward, he rests his elbows on his thighs. "No, I don't suppose he is."

Henry makes a contemplative noise. "He is in love with Vic."

"Yep."

"And she is not in love with him."

"Nope."

"That is unfortunate for Travis," Henry observes.

There's really nothing for Walt to say to that. In fact, he'd like to let the subject drop entirely, but he knows the winding paths of Henry's conversation. His friend is trying to make a point.

It takes a few more minutes. They sit in silence watching dusk settle like a cupped hand passing over a candle flame. Walt finishes his beer and is considering getting up for another when Henry finally speaks.

"When are you going to tell her?"

Every muscle in Walt's body tenses. He examines the scuffed toes of his boots and the scars in the wood of the boards underneath his feet. His thoughts skitter like marbles on a polished floor because isn't that the question? When and how and even if he should? High above them a hawk circles one final time before descending into the trees to roost for the night. "Tell her what?" he asks, stalling.

Henry's voice is richly amused—and, yes, smug—when he replies, "That you are an idiot."

 

 

clutch, v.

If not for Vic's insistence, Walt wouldn't have bothered getting stitched up. By the time they get to the hospital his arm has stopped bleeding and as far as he's concerned that's the end of it. It'll heal on its own. But Vic is adamant and right now he'd agree to almost anything she asked.

He came so close to losing her last night.

Sean's already been discharged and Ferg's driven him home. Walt finds it strange that a man wouldn't wait for his wife after what they've both been through. Then he reminds himself it's none of his business. It's getting harder and harder to remember that when it comes to Vic.

He's half-listening to Doc Weston as he looks over at her. There's blood on the cuffs and sleeves of her jacket, not all of it hers. She's sitting with his coat on her lap and his hat in her hands, staring into the middle distance. Her eyes look somewhere far away and Walt wants her back here with him.

Doc Weston finishes up and rounds the examination table, gloves snapping as he peels them off. "Deputy Moretti, if you still have a headache in twenty-four hours come back and see me. A Grade 2 concussion's a really serious injury."

She nods but doesn't speak.

Walt studies her as he gets up to put his shirt back on. Her silence and her absent expression are all wrong. Vic should be berating him for getting shot or making smartass comments about how he needs to learn to duck. But she just sits there, staring at his coat and stroking the bullet's jagged tear with her battered fingers. Even from this distance he can see how her knuckles are swollen and scraped, how her wrists are raw and bruised. Blood is crusted at her hairline and the skin of her throat is abraded.

They tied her up and beat her with a baseball bat. They choked her and threw her in a cellar. They would have murdered her and stuffed her body in a freezer.

Chance Gilbert can never suffer enough to atone for what he's done.

But Walt can't let himself think about that right now. He needs to focus on Vic.

"It'll be all right," he says to her, relieved when she finally looks up. "A little needle and thread, I'll be back to normal."

She stands and offers him his coat. "Yeah."

His fingers curl around her hand. At this moment the contact feels as necessary as breathing. He slides his thumb gently over her bruised skin and takes a step closer. When he reaches out to pull her in, she meets his eyes with a single wounded look before her face crumples. He tries not to hold her too tightly, afraid of hurting her more, but Vic grips him hard and presses herself against him. It's a new and visceral intimacy.

Small is not a word he's ever associated with Victoria Moretti. How could any force of nature be small? Yet he marvels that her head fits perfectly in the cradle of his hand, that the span of her shoulders is less than the length of his arm.

Walt allows himself to stroke her hair as she cries. It's matted and limp, damp in places from rinsing away vomit. She smells of hospital antiseptic and the faint metallic undertone of blood. There's nothing lovely about survival, but here and now she's beautiful. Just the essential, breathing fact of her.

Vic's tears soak through his shirt and wet his skin. They feel like the most precious of gifts.

 

 

devotion, n.

They sit together on the porch with the morning rising around them until Vic's stomach growls. Loudly. She's giggling against his t-shirt, her shoulders shaking, when he says, "Guess this means you want breakfast."

She sits up and combs her hair back with her fingers. "Well, I did put out last night, and you didn't even buy me dinner, so..."

Walt rolls his eyes, trying and failing not to laugh, and stands up, pulling her along with him.

He cooks eggs and they eat in the kitchen. On the surface it's much like the day he brought her home from the hospital. Underneath, though, everything is altered. Vic's wearing his shirt instead of scrubs; she's healthy and smiling instead of injured and worn. He'd wanted to touch her then, but was afraid to. Now he can't seem to stop. Last night she was in his bed and he was inside her. This morning it still seems like a miracle that all of it's real.

They don't talk but every now and then she pokes his leg with her toes and grins at him. Some weight within her seems to have lifted. He feels an unaccustomed lightness himself after their conversation. A little giddy and so a little foolish. Shouldn't he be too old for this sort of thing? But here's Vic, whom he loves; has loved; will love. And despite all the ways he's hurt her, she loves him too. Maybe a little giddiness can be forgiven.

When she's finished eating, a yawning Vic moves over to the couch and flops down on it. "Ow, fuck!"

Walt gets up to see her lifting his shirt and examining her right hip. An ugly bruise has flowered where she landed when she tackled him yesterday. He sits next to her and presses a gentle kiss over the injury, trying to quell his body's immediate response to all that bare skin.

"This is your fault," she says, but without rancor. "Didn't anybody ever tell you not to stand in front of moving vehicles? Despite evidence to the contrary, you're not actually invincible."

"Sorry," he says. Then, belatedly, "thank you."

She rests her head against the back of the sofa and regards him with the sweet, fond smile he'd never seen until last night. "You're welcome. But don't make a habit of it, okay?"

"I won't," he assures her. Not anymore.

 

 

embryo, n.

The tiny spark of life that was growing inside Vic died to save her. He's selfish enough to be grateful for that.

 

 

fuck, v.

Vic unbuckles her seat belt and slides over close to him. Her hand lands just above his knee and begins a slow climb up his thigh. Walt can't decide at the moment if the bench seat is a blessing or a curse.

The Red Pony had been crowded and edging into raucous before they left. Despite that, he'd heard her clearly when she leaned up and murmured in his ear, "I want you to take me home and fuck me."

He's been hard ever since.

"Vic," he says now, glancing at her. His voice is a little hoarse.

Her mouth curves with a predatory smile. "Walt."

"You should put your seat belt back on."

"Uh uh." Her long hair ripples across her shoulders with the shake of her head. She makes a pleased sound as she cups him through his jeans.

A shocked noise escapes him when she starts working at his belt. "Uh, what're you doing?" It's taking all his concentration to focus on the road in front of them.

"What do you think I'm doing?" she asks as she gets her hand inside his pants and makes contact with his dick.

Walt tries to drag in a breath in the suddenly airless cabin. The logical part of his mind is telling him to pull over. Just brake and pull over and there'll be no danger of killing them both. But then Vic ducks under his arm and her hot, wet mouth is on him and his thoughts are drowned beneath the rush of his pounding blood.

"You can't—" is all he manages to get out.

"Arrest me later," she whispers, merciless.

Oh, god, he thinks, unsure if he says it aloud. Vic's always been a quick study and it hasn't taken her long to discover how to undo him completely.

His hands are locked on the steering wheel and his fingers grip so tightly they start to lose feeling. It's cramped and awkward and he can't move at all without pressing down harder on the gas. Still, Walt knows this is going to be over embarrassingly fast.

The world narrows to the incredible feeling of Vic's mouth and the stretch of dark highway illuminated by the Bronco's headlights. His vision darkens until he's squinting desperately to focus straight ahead. He's panting hard, choked sounds stuck in the back of his throat.

When his orgasm surges through him, he goes blind.

 

 

gauge, v.

Shouldn't there be something more to this? Walt wonders. Something more than just two people agreeing to part ways as easily as if they were deciding where to go to for dinner. There's no hurt or bitterness; no one's heart is broken or even slightly cracked. Donna seems philosophical about the whole thing and he can't in all good conscience say that he'll miss her. If he's very, very honest with himself, Walt can admit that there have been times when he wasn't actually sure he liked her at all.

What he feels most right now is relief. Relief, hope, and a pervasive sense of shame for having convinced himself that a relationship could be built from jealousy and guilt and a dream. What he keeps coming back to—what he can't seem to stop thinking about—is Vic in his office, her faith in him as warm and bright as the sunlight streaming through the windows. Even if you were guilty, I couldn't do that. She humbles him again and again.

His thoughts wander until Donna's voice breaks through them. "I'm curious about something."

He turns his head and raises his eyebrows in question.

"You know she's in love with you, don't you?"

Everything in him sparks and whites out for an electric moment. It feels a little like the time Henry shocked him with the hotshot. Walt has to clear his throat before he can speak. "Why, uh, why do you say that?"

Donna hums, considering. "I thought initially that it was a kind of possessive infatuation. But we had something of a... difference of opinion, and she told me she didn't think I was worthy of you. That's when I realized that she genuinely cares for you, even to the point of self-sacrifice."

"She... when did she say that?"

"The mother with the substance abuse problem? When I got there I objected to the fact that child services hadn't been called even though she was clearly unfit to care for her daughter."

He nods, remembering. Some cases linger in him like ghosts. "Melissa Parr. Her daughter was Olivia."

Donna shrugs dismissively. "Well, I have to admit that I was impressed with the way Vic handled the mother at the time. But honestly, Walt, from what I've seen of her behavior, she's very volatile. The kind of aggression and hostility she displays are definite warning signs."

"You don't know her," he says, a trickle of anger beginning to pool in his gut.

"Granted, but I do have some experience in coming to conclusions based on observation." She smiles as though they're sharing a joke. "All I'm saying is that I wouldn't be surprised to find she has a personality disorder, or at least some underlying pathology that needs to be addressed. I think you should be careful."

Walt sits up and leans forward, letting his hands dangle between his knees. Right at this moment he has to turn away from Donna before he says something he might regret. "Like I said, you don't know her. Vic cares about people. It's what makes her such a good cop. Maybe she can be too... passionate about getting at the truth sometimes, but—"

"Walt, you really don't have to defend her to me, I—"

"I'm not defending her," he says loudly, his anger spilling over. There's a startled silence. Deliberately lowering his voice, he repeats, "I'm not defending her. Vic is... she's been through a lot. You know how trauma can affect people. She's been struggling on her own and I haven't..." He takes a deep breath. "I haven't been much of a friend to her. But whatever she does, she does it to help people, especially people she cares about. She's saved me, more than once. She saved you."

"Excuse me?"

He finally turns his head back to Donna, wanting her to understand. "Vic's the reason we found you as soon as we did. I was convinced that you were abducted because of me and I wanted to prove that one man was responsible. If Vic hadn't insisted on broadening the investigation to include connections to you, I don't know how much longer it would've taken for me to admit I was wrong."

"I..." Donna frowns and shakes her head as though she doesn't know what to do with the implications of that. "I didn't know."

"Yeah, well. That's Vic." Some of the anger drains away now that he's made his point. "She's got a temper and she'll fight anybody when she believes she's right, but she's not... volatile. At least not in the way you mean." He huffs softly as a memory rises to the surface. "Although she did force me to take a pain pill after I passed out in your office. I pretended to take it and then spat it out the window. She actually stopped the truck and went back, picked it up, and made me take it. Told me I was acting like a four-year-old."

Donna returns his smile with a bemused one of her own. "You know, it's funny, but I honestly can't tell."

Now it's his turn to frown. "Can't tell what?"

"If you really are that unaware of your own emotions or just deeply in denial."

Walt wonders if this is what it's like to be one of her patients, being simultaneously examined and judged. It's not a feeling he cares for. "About what?"

"You're in love with her, too." She shakes her head slowly. "I can't believe I didn't see it before."

His mouth falls opens but nothing comes out. This is what he's been hiding, and hiding from, for so long. To have it flourished like the rabbit from a magician's hat—especially by this woman—feels like betrayal. Vic is worth so much more than that.

Swallowing, he manages to force himself to stand. "It's getting late. You probably need to get home."

Donna has the grace to look contrite. "Walt, I'm sorry. I didn't meant to upset you."

"You didn't," he says and holds out his hand to help her up.

 

 

harried, v.

The first conversation about it goes like this:

"We're not inviting them."

"Vic."

"Walt," she mocks.

"You can't just not invite your parents to the wedding."

"Watch me."

 

He tries for conciliation the second time.

"I don't want you to regret not having them there, Vic."

"Trust me, I won't."

 

The third and final time they discuss it, he's willing to concede.

"Look, I had the big Italian wedding when I married Sean. I wore the dress that my mother approved. I invited the people my father wanted me to invite. The church, the flowers, the food — none of it was what I wanted. And the truth is that I didn't really care. I was trying so hard to be the daughter my parents wanted and the fiancé Sean wanted and I figured at some point it would all just—" she shrugs and gestures vaguely "—I don't know, click into place and feel the way it was supposed to."

"Okay," he says slowly. "But this time it's different, right?"

Her expression softens. "Of course it's different, Walt. And because of that, the only people I want at our wedding are the ones who care about both of us. Or at least care about you and tolerate me for your sake." She grins and kisses him lightly.

He can't match her mood, though. They both know that her father already hates him. Then again, Walt doesn't care much for Vic Sr. himself. Loving Vic and having a daughter himself, Walt feels little but contempt for the way Victor Moretti treats his own daughter. But he's determined to at least be civil for Vic's sake. He knows how important family is.

When he tells her as much, she shakes her head and sighs in frustration.

"How do I explain this to you? My relationship with my parents is nothing like what you and Cady have. I didn't do what I was supposed to, which was grow up and catch a nice boy from the neighborhood and pop out his babies. In my family, I'm the disappointment, okay?"

Walt honestly can't fathom how that's possible. "I'm sure they're proud of you," he begins, but Vic cuts him off.

"You don't get it. My mom, well, that's a different kind of weird for another conversation. But you've met my dad. He doesn't respect me as a person or as a cop. All he cares about is image. In Philly he wasn't interested in my career until he had to deal with the fallout from the IA investigation. That was an embarrassment to him because it turned into a huge scandal.

"The only reason he came to Wyoming last year was because he found out from one of his buddies that I got shot and it made him look bad. He waited a week, though, Walt. He found out I got shot and he didn't even call me. For a week."

If he hadn't already disliked Victor Moretti, this would be what tipped the scale. Walt has no idea what to say. That anyone could treat their child so callously is incomprehensible to him.

Vic puts her arms around his neck. "I love that you care about this so much and I know you want me to be happy. But I'm telling you that if my parents come to our wedding, I won't be happy. My father will be a dick to you and criticize every single one of my choices in life up to and including marrying you. And my mother will probably flirt with you the entire time because she's done that to every guy I've been with since I hit puberty and my boobs got bigger than hers."

Walt blinks. The idea of his future mother-in-law flirting with him at his wedding to her daughter is... well. "Um."

"Yeah, I thought that might put you off." Vic smirks at him for a few seconds before growing serious again. "I promise I will call them the day after. They can be pissed and yell and get it over with then. And if you want we can go to Philly one of these days and you can meet the entire Moretti clan. Then you'll understand how grateful you should be that we live thousands of miles away from them. But please, Walt, just let me have this one day."

"Okay," he says with a nod, even though he's not entirely convinced she won't regret her decision. "I do want you to be happy, you know."

Vic lips curve into the smile that's just for him. "I will be."

 

 

inarticulate, adj.

Ruby walks into his office and shuts the door. "Just when are you planning on telling us?" She sounds exasperated and for once Walt genuinely doesn't know why.

"Tell you what?"

"Walter!" she chides, as though he's being deliberately obtuse. "About you and Vic."

He feels his mouth fall open. "Uh," is the best he can manage.

Lips pursed, Ruby walks right up to his desk. "Honestly, you've been mooning over the girl all week and one of the boys is bound to notice sooner or later. You might as well get it over with."

"I have not been... mooning." He can hardly get the word out it's so absurd. While he might have found himself spending more time watching Vic lately, or finding reasons to talk to her, or even once or twice touching her shoulder or arm, they have both behaved in a completely professional manner at work. There has definitely been no mooning.

"Oh, you most certainly have. You know, I always thought it would be Vic who gave you away if something ever happened between the two of you." She seems to consider this error for a moment, then reaches out and pats his hand. "But that doesn't matter. It's good to see you happy."

He stares at her helplessly, feeling utterly adrift. "I... uh... Ruby..."

Her smile is both affectionate and sly. "On second thought, maybe you should let Vic tell them."

 

 

juxtapose, v.

When he raises his head she's crying. "Vic?" he says, immediately trying to move off her, but she wraps her legs more tightly around him.

"It's fine." She turns her head away and swipes at her tears with one hand. "I'm okay."

"You're not okay," he says gently. "Tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing," she whispers, squeezing her eyes shut.

It's such an obvious lie that Walt doesn't bother trying to argue. Instead he concentrates on soothing her. His fingers trail over her cheek and jaw, then up to smooth back her hair. He presses kisses to her temple, the corner of her mouth, and the soft hollow behind her ear.

After a few minutes, Vic's legs relax around him. She opens her eyes and sighs. "It's stupid."

"I doubt that," he tells her, then eases over to lie on his side next to her. "But even if it is, I still want to know."

She studies him for a long moment with a furrow between her brows. At last she turns onto her side, wriggling back until she's flush against him. Walt wraps his arm around her and pulls her in tight, dropping a kiss on her bare shoulder. For all his taciturn reputation, it's often Vic who has the most trouble talking about her feelings.

"It's different," she says haltingly. "With you. I don't think I ever really loved anybody else."

His heart trips and he has to press his face against the nape of her neck with a ragged exhale.

Vic threads their fingers together and squeezes. "And I guess I always knew something was missing, even with Sean. I started to think it was me, you know? That maybe I just wasn't capable of loving someone like that. But sex was never a problem. It kind of felt like it was... separate. This separate thing that was fun even if we were fighting. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah," he tells her. "It does."

"But it's not separate anymore. It feels... there's so much and I don't know how to— like it has to go somewhere and there's nowhere to put it." She shrugs one shoulder. "So sometimes I start crying and I feel stupid, but there's nothing wrong. You can just ignore it. Okay?"

"Vic," he says roughly, overwhelmed. "I can't ignore it."

"I know it's not the same for you, because you loved your wife. I'm not— I don't expect you to—" She breaks off as he shifts away.

"C'mere," he says, moving her so she's on her back and he can look down into her eyes. "It's different for me, too," he tells her. "Maybe not in the same way, but it's different with you."

More tears well up, then spill onto her cheeks, and she makes a frustrated noise. "It's 'cause of all the crying, right?"

"Yep," he agrees, unable to suppress his smile. "That's exactly why."

 

 

kinaesthesia, n.

When he walks into the office that morning he's expecting to see Ferg slumped over asleep on his desk after the night shift. Instead the place seems empty. Shrugging, Walt heads for his office but stops short when he comes level with the cell.

The door's open but someone's in there. Even before he can see her, he knows it's Vic.

How and when this awareness of her developed he's really not sure. It's just something he's come to accept: that whenever they're in each other's vicinity he can sense her. The same way he can feel a current in the air on his skin, or some animals can perceive the Earth's magnetic field. Or simply the way he knows the shape and position of his body even in the dark.

He walks over and stands in the open doorway of the cell. "Hey."

"Hi," she says, pulling on her boots without so much as glancing at him. Her voice is subdued and she looks pale and exhausted.

"Trouble at home?" he asks, even though it's none of his business. Except it is, he tells himself. Vic is his business. Especially when she's spent the night in his jail.

She pauses in profile just before Ferg bustles in and starts talking. Walt has to bite his lip to stop himself from telling Ferg to get out as Vic turns her head toward him, but the moment when she might have spoken has already slipped away.

"Mortician say anything else?" he asks when there's a pause in Ferg's report.

"Yeah, that, uh, Notley's funeral is in about an hour."

Walt looks back to where Vic's still sitting. "Want to come to a funeral with me?" he asks, hoping he can get her to talk to him on the drive. "Might cheer you up."

But she gives him a wan, barely-there smile and says, "I'll take you up on the next one."

With Ferg still standing next to him, Walt can't do anything to change her mind. He could order her to come along but that might just piss her off and then she'll never tell him what's going on.

Which leaves him nothing to do but his job. And if he's preoccupied on the way to James Notley's funeral, there's no one to know it but him.

 

 

liminal, adj.

In the moment he experiences it all with almost painful clarity. Every detail is bright and sharp and distinct: Vic's nails pricking his back; the fine grain of her skin; the scent of her hair; the fading sunburn on her shoulders. Each look, each touch, each movement is a universe unto itself, startling and full of wonder.

Above and below him she's all softness and heat, her body graceful and strong. Even naked and pressed together he can't get close enough to her; at every moment he's reaching, seeking, grasping for more.

She's a flame in the shape of a woman. In every place they touch, he burns.

 

 

metamorphose, v.

During the six weeks of his voluntary leave of absence, Walt receives twenty-seven messages from Vic. She asks questions, gives him updates, and more than a few times yells things like, "Pick up your goddamn phone, Walt!" He saves all of them. Some nights he sits on his couch and listens to them play back one after the other. It becomes an increasingly lengthy hobby as the weeks go by.

He thinks about her. He thinks about a lot of things.

On the outside, the man Walt is now doesn't look much different from the man who was Martha's husband. A little older, a little more beaten up. Within him, though, fundamental parts of himself have been excoriated and left pink and tender. In the same way that wind and water scour rock, time and experience have altered his shape. Grief and anger and pain have left their scars.

But he's been shored up in places, too, the way a bone reknits itself stronger at the break. And a scar is just the story of a wound that's already healed.

He spends his days mulling over all of it. Change and connections and the other side of loss. Martha's murder, Branch's murder, Barlow Connally's death.

Vic.

If he equates his life to a line of verse then this is his caesura. In this space at the midpoint, between words, he pauses; he examines. He measures twice to cut once. He fits the pieces together tightly at the joins. He builds to last.

The clarion call of Vic's voice rings out from his answering machine. Day after day, he comes closer to an answer.

 

 

noon, n.

The pain pill makes him feel woozy like he knew it would. His thoughts drift about sluggishly but he can't catch hold of them for long. They're all moving south and Vic is driving. She's angry with him and he can't remember why. He needs to find Donna. That's what he has to concentrate on. Finding Donna.

His gaze strays back to Vic. She'd kissed him in the hospital. On the mouth. He'd woken up confused. Was kissing something they did now? It was certainly something he'd thought about doing. But it had seemed wrong for some reason. And the reason was Donna.

Remember Donna, he tells himself.

The sun is high and bright overhead, almost blinding. No shadows anywhere to be seen. Vic's wearing her sunglasses again. They hide her eyes and he doesn't like that. She has beautiful eyes, so changeable in different light. And she always meets his eyes; her gaze is always direct. Even when she's hurting; even when he's hurt her.

That's it. He hurt her and now she's angry with him. Except... she kissed him. And she's taking care of him. And she's helping him find Donna.

Donna.

So maybe she's not really angry. Not jealous, she'd said. Moving on. Is that what he wants her to do? It doesn't sound like something he wants. But he's not supposed to want Vic. He's not supposed to love Vic. There's a reason why but he can't remember. And she's sleeping with Eamonn; she'd said so. Which makes no difference to him. It's none of his business, like he told her. Besides, he has Donna. That's who he's meant to be with. Who he wants to be with. Of course.

He and Vic are just working together, trying to find Donna.

He and Vic, together.

 

 

oath, n.

"Will you tell me about Denver?" Vic asks softly.

He's still a little drunk on the feel of her warm, bare skin under his hands, so it takes a moment to process the question. "What about it?"

"How you got those scars."

It's not a memory Walt's proud of or that he'd ordinarily share. But Vic already knows the worst of him; she's witnessed most of it. So he tells her about hunting Miller Beck: how it went wrong, how Henry saved him, and how an old woman named Ada Black Kettle sewed him back together.

When he's told her all of it, Vic pushes herself up and looks into his eyes solemnly. "Don't you ever do anything like that again." Her voice is quiet but fierce. "Promise me."

He recognizes the words. They're the ones he said to her the night she told him how she'd held a gun to her temple and tried to pull the trigger.

Walt reaches up to cup her cheek and the moment feels weighty, ceremonial. "I promise."

When she leans down and kisses him it feels like a benediction.

 

 

parabolic, adj.

Two days after what Henry's been calling his Hypothermia Holiday, Walt's back at work and catching up on the FBI's side of the investigation. He's just finished reading the interview with Agent Brooks when Vic strides into his office and stands defiantly in the middle of the room.

"I punched the FBI agent," she tells him bluntly. "In my defense he was a total dick. But it was a really stupid thing to do and it could've had serious repercussions for the department. I'm sorry."

Walt regards her with bemusement. Finally, he chooses the obvious question. "Which one?"

"Uh, Towson."

"Yeah, he is a dick."

Vic snorts a laugh and then presses her lips together, trying to hold it in. Walt gestures for her to sit and waits until she relaxes into a chair.

"What happened?"

"They wouldn't let us do anything all night, kept saying we had to wait until morning. So we wait and Branch goes AWOL without saying a damn word to anyone, which was just awesome by the way. And in the morning I find out that those assholes knew all along where everybody was because the agent who was taken hostage had a tracking device on her. I was just so fucking pissed, you know? Then the patronizing jackass tells me to be patient like I'm five years old and asking if we're there yet. I just... couldn't do anything. So I punched him." She winces as she says it and looks down.

Walt takes a deep breath, considering. There's a physics to Vic's anger he's come to know. It rises, peaks, and falls like a curve he could plot on a graph. Or the arc of a fist into someone's face. His own anger is more of a straight line, gradually increasing or receding against the y-axis as it stretches along the x. Still, he knows what it's like to be overcome with that kind of impotent frustration. Punching someone isn't the best method of resolution but it's not as though he's never done it himself.

"How's your hand?" he asks eventually.

"Fine." She wiggles her fingers at him. "It's not like I hit him that hard."

Walt can't help a small smile at her audacity. But, "This won't happen again, Vic," he tells her. Because as important as she is to his department, he can't allow his deputies free rein to assault people.

"It won't."

"Okay," he says, satisfied. "Well, since Agent Towson hasn't pressed charges and there's nothing about it in the official report, I don't think we need to say anything else."

Vic stands with the air of someone who's been given an unexpected reprieve. "So we're good?"

"We're good." He watches her start back out to her desk, thinks about how he would've felt had their situations been reversed. "Hey, Vic."

She stops and turns in a spill of light angling through the window. "Yeah?"

"Thanks," he tells her.

Her answering smile rivals the sun.

 

 

quoin, n.

"Never point your gun at something you don't intend to shoot" was the first lesson his father taught him as a boy. "Be patient" was the second. This was followed by, "And be sure before you take your shot. Once that bullet leaves the chamber you'll have to face the consequences, whether you intended them or not."

Walt hires Victoria Moretti on the strength of her impressive credentials but he still takes her to the range to test her skill for himself. Before he hands someone a gun and the authority to use it he likes to see what he's working with.

It's no surprise that she more than satisfies the job requirements. She's fast and accurate and proficient with an impressive variety of firearms. There's a coiled power in her stance and a lethal grace to her movements that remind Walt of a predator stalking prey. Each weapon seems to become an extension of her body with seamless, fluid motions.

In the dangerous and unconstrained way of all wild things, she's beautiful.

Walt feels a disquieting sense of tension as he watches her. He tells himself it's not attraction.

 

 

resurgence, n.

"That Moretti's got a fine pair of—"

"Lucian," Walt says sharply.

"No need to get all riled up. I'm just declaring what the world knows to be true." He captures one of Walt's pawns with his knight.

"She's my deputy."

"So? Ain't no sin meditatin' on the glories of nature." Lucian raises his hands high like a tent revival preacher. "For it says right there in the holy book, 'whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely—" he raises his eyebrows pointedly at Walt "—whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.'"

Walt rubs his hands through his hair with a sigh and stares doggedly at the board in front of him.

"You ain't a monk and you ain't dead, Walt."

"Vic is married, Lucian."

"You call that little pissant a husband? It's just plain unnatural. Like one of them golden eagles takin' up with a rodent."

He remembers a hospital room and a drugged Vic telling him, "You're different 'cause you're a man, Walt." That one sentence had torn away the fabric of his denial.

"Besides, I've seen the way you look at her, and the way she looks at you. And I'm telling you, Walt," Lucian points a gnarled brown finger at him, "that girl's marriage wouldn't last another week if you found your backbone and said your piece. She's waitin' on you but she won't wait forever."

Walt doesn't know which of the possible futures scares him more.

 

 

should, modal v.

"What are all those markings?" Vic asks Sal Vayas.

"Seventy years of my family's work is written on this land."

She walks towards the trees. "Any of this land belong to Marco?"

Walt listens to Sal, observes him with the same attention he gives every interview. But another part of him is aware of Vic in his periphery and he takes her in with an instant's glance.

Shorter strands of hair have escaped her ponytail to frame her face. The finest of them flutter in the wind. She reaches out and traces the path of a shape scarred into the birch bark, as if the answer to her question can be absorbed into her skin. The afternoon sun filtering through the pale trunks limns her in white and gold.

There are things he notices about Vic that he'd find unremarkable in anyone else. Her hands are so often in motion even when the rest of her is still. Sometimes when they're on the road and it's warm enough to have the windows down, Vic plays with the rushing air as though it's water. She cups her palm to catch it or spreads her fingers open to let it run through.

It's lovely to watch her in those fleeting moments, when she's absorbed in the movement and unaware. When he doesn't have to pretend that he's not looking.

He never wonders what it would be like to have those hands touching him.

 

 

tintinnabulation, n.

The day's forecast is for temperatures in the mid-40s but it seems no one's told the weather that. Overnight the world has been remade and now he and Vic are standing in a scene from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Every leaf and branch is sheathed in a needle-thin layer of ice, as though the trees have blossomed with the season's new crop. A light wind brushes them against each other and plays a soft, tinkling, almost-melody.

Vic stands in a pool of light, her face uplifted and smiling. The sun reflecting from the snow forms a luminous aura around her like halation. She seems otherworldly and out of his reach, belonging to this frozen landscape much more than the world Walt inhabits less than twenty feet away.

When he calls her name to bring her back from that eerie place, his brash, tough deputy turns to him with an expression of astonished wonder so beautiful it stops his breath. His heart stumbles in its rhythm and leaves him suspended in this moment, spellbound.

Then she moves and returns to her usual self, though still with a hint of a glow on her skin. "What?" she yells, head tilted and hands on her hips.

That other world shimmers and vanishes before he can finally inhale.

 

 

untrue, adj.

Her question takes him utterly by surprise. "Are you seeing someone?"

"What?" he says, panicked and embarrassed. "No."

It's not the first time he's ever lied to her, but it might just be the worst.

He sees her recognize it, watches her face turn cold as she closes herself off right in front of him. Immediately he wants to take it back, to undo the transformation he's just witnessed. But the damage is already done. Something fragile between them has been severed and he's the one who wielded the knife.

 

 

victory, n.

"You need to stay awake, Vic. We're gonna get you to the hospital but you've got to stay awake. Okay? Vic? Hey, did you know your name means 'victory' in Latin? Victoria was a Roman goddess, a symbol of victory over death. That's a pretty good name to have, right? Vic? You know what else? She determined which side would be successful during a war. Like the valkyries did. You know about those? From Norse mythology. Wagner, he was a German composer, wrote about them in an opera, Die Walküre. There's a famous piece of music from Act 3 called 'Ride of the Valkyries.' About eight minutes long. You ever heard it? Vic, talk to me. I need you to stay awake. That's okay. I've got it somewhere, I think. I'll play it for you sometime. You'll probably recognize it when you hear it. But the valkyries, you know, they rode into battle and chose which soldiers would die and be taken to Valhalla. You've heard of Valhalla, right? Vic? You listening? There's a lot about valkyries in Old Norse poetry. Sometimes they have wings, which I never understood because why would they ride horses if they could fly? The goddess Victoria had wings too, though, so you're in good company. All those beautiful and powerful women. Vic? Come on, Vic, stay with me."

 

 

wayward, adj.

He'd opened the door.

That fact repeats itself in Walt's mind for days after they return from Arizona. It's a crack snaking through the foundations of his belief in the kind of man he is.

More and more he's been feeling a particular kind of restlessness in the charged air of Vic's presence. The heavy, electric weight of a gathering storm. But he's never been as close to the edge of this precipice as he was that night in Arizona.

He hadn't heard her phone ring or her conversation with Branch. He could have pretended not to hear her knock, could have continued on to the bathroom where he'd been headed.

But Vic had knocked on the door and he had opened it. Whatever it was that she wanted, he wanted it too.

 

 

x-rated, adj.

When Branch tells him the story of Vic at the strip club in Odin, it seems funny. Walt even teases her about it later.

That night, though, when he's at home on the couch, it stops being funny and becomes... something else. He's consumed his usual volume of liquid dinner and it's that time of evening when his fuzzy slide into oblivion should begin. But he's still staring up at the blurry ceiling because whenever he closes his eyes he sees Vic slowly unbuttoning her duty shirt with a wicked little smile on her face.

I always thought I had a really nice ass, she says in his memory.

He tells himself he's not doing this. He's not thinking about Vic's ass, or any other part of her body, or her body at all, period. The blessed numbness of alcohol is working against him tonight, though, making it more difficult to remember or care why it's wrong to think about her this way.

Walt allows that, on occasion, he's felt a certain frisson when they're together. Vic is a beautiful woman and his physical response to the fact is involuntary and outside his conscious control. It doesn't mean anything beyond that. If he's more than once found himself distracted by her wide smile and a laugh that tips over into dirty sometimes, or the way her hair shines in the sunlight, it never lasts for long.

Yet the image in his mind of Vic up on that stage refuses to be wiped away. The dancers in the club, in all their various states of undress, had done nothing for him at the time. He's been to strip clubs before and they've never held much appeal. But somehow the idea of Vic moving to the music—incongruous as she'd be in her boots and jeans and practical undershirt—has him gripping the edge of the couch while his heart picks up speed.

He knows she can dance. He saw her once at the Red Pony, looking so unlike the woman he knows that it took him a few seconds to recognize her. All dressed up and sultry in a way that her everyday clothes only hint at. Her hair was falling in loose waves around her face and across her shoulders. She wore a short skirt and high heels and a sleeveless top with a neckline that dipped low between her breasts. Everything about her was lush and enticing, and she moved with a sinuous, suggestive grace he'd found impossible not to watch.

Walt suspects that more than a few men were envying Sean that night.

Somehow even the thought of Vic's husband isn't enough to curb the fantasy now unfurling in his imagination. She's married, the better part of him whispers. She works for you. He squeezes his thigh and shifts restlessly on the couch, trying to think about something, anything else. But it's useless.

His eyes drift closed and he can see her lit by a spotlight: the vivid details of her tank top stretching across her breasts, her jeans molding faithfully to her hips and thighs. She flashes a coquette's smile as she reaches for the hem of her shirt. His hand wanders up to the buttons of his fly.

He's breathless and aching and lost in anticipation. His good intentions unravel.

 

 

yarak, n.

They do a first reconnaissance together with the ease of long familiarity. As much as he wants to protect Vic, there's no one he trusts more to guard his back and he's glad to have her with him. The line between relying on her and keeping her from harm grows more difficult to walk every day.

Walt knows that he made some bad decisions in the wake of Branch's death. He'd thought that he could keep Vic safe by pushing her away; instead he'd abandoned her exactly when she most needed him. He should've ignored her protests that she was fine when she so obviously wasn't; he should've been paying more attention.

Things are better between them now. Not quite as they were but improved. They've found their rhythm again and it feels like finally being able to stretch after sitting too long in one place. It feels like blessed relief.

When Malachi still hasn't shown by midnight, Walt suggests they take watches in shifts. He knows there's no use in trying to convince Vic to go home. This way, at least, he can make sure she gets some sleep. She'd been sick not too long ago and he's caught her attempting to hide a few yawns tonight. If it also means he can deal with Malachi without involving her, so much the better.

Walt takes first watch, promising to wake her in a few hours. She falls asleep quickly with her jacket jammed against the door as a makeshift pillow. In the darkness she's hardly more than a silhouette and his memory supplies the details that his eyes can't make out. It's strange to see her leached of color when she's always so vibrant in his mind. Vic is a creature of the light.

As he looks out into the landscape of black-on-black, a scrap of poetry he can't place flits into his thoughts. She sleeps. And her sleep becomes the river I build my house beside.

She's not dating Eamonn.

Walt's made a lot of assumptions in the last few months and so many of them have turned out to be wrong. Too often, he's reacted at the level of gut instinct, without enough thought; and each time he's strayed farther from the man he should be. Sitting here now with Vic, it feels as though he's finally distilling experience into significance. The whys and the becauses of the way he's been hurling himself through his life since Barlow Connally's death.

It's like lying close to the earth and seeing the details of each individual blade of grass divorced from the idea of the field.

An uncomfortable conclusion is burgeoning inside Walt, one he both welcomes and fears. To acknowledge it and act on it will change everything. He's not sure that he's ready. But how much more can he stand to lose?

Vic shifts a little in the passenger seat and lets out a sigh. Her jacket slips from its place under her head and he leans over to push it back. This close he can see the darker shadows under her eyes that speak of a lack of sleep. One eyelash has fallen to her cheek and he reaches out cautiously to smooth it from her skin. It remains on his finger when he sits back.

When Cady was a little girl she used to make wishes on eyelashes and blow them into the wind. Walt leans closer to the open window and brings his hand up to his lips.

 

 

zealous, adj.

It's not easy to find gifts for Vic. She almost never wears jewellery, he's not foolish enough to try and buy her clothes, and she has no particular taste in books—she says she's happy reading her way through his collection. The times he's come right out and asked her to tell him what she wants, she's offered suggestions such as make it stop fucking snowing and teach the people in this goddamn county how to drive.

And, on one memorable occasion, orgasms.

For her fortieth birthday, though, he's determined. And what he comes up with is inspired, if he says so himself. It requires meticulous planning, a certain amount of cunning, some surreptitious investigation, and a touch of bribery. But when he arrives at the Red Pony with three still-warm pizzas flown in from Chicago courtesy of Omar, the stunned delight on Vic's face is worth every second of effort.

"Oh, you are gonna get so lucky tonight," she tells him with a broad, happy grin.

As he kisses her to a chorus of wolf whistles and cheers, he thinks, I already am.