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                                                  Jugglers
who drop as much as they hold
but keep at it, their knives on fire, their fire
on fire.

Bob Hicok, Two-Thirds of an Oath

 

The only reason Tucker Baggett isn't reeling from Vic's fist smashing into his sanctimonious face right now is because she knows that assaulting the opposing counsel would hurt Walt's case. But it's a close call.

"Are we done here?" she demands.

"I do believe we are."

She gives him a fuck you smile and pushes herself toward the door, Walt falling in behind her. They've almost made it when the condescending prick says, "Although, I do have just one more question."

Vic stops with a sinking feeling in her stomach.

"You're kidding me," says Dave. "What, you're pulling a Columbo?"

Baggett lets out a creepy fake laugh and then his eyes shift back to her. "Ms Moretti, did you recently get divorced?"

What the fuck? she thinks, but Dave's objecting before she can get a word out.

"Her personal life has nothing to do with any of this."

"Well you're probably right, but I just gotta ask."

Dave sighs and looks at her.

"You serious?" she asks him, her stomach sinking even lower. "I gotta answer his question? You objected."

"Yeah but that's just for the record. You still have to answer. I can try to get it disallowed in court."

Vic rolls her shoulders and folds her arms. Everything about Tucker Baggett is oily and smarmy, and just being in the same room with him makes her feel like she needs to shower. But if this is what it takes to help Walt win his case then this is what she'll do.

"Yeah," she says. "I recently got divorced."

"And did your recent divorce have anything to do with your relationship with the ethical Walt Longmire?"

Vic can barely open her mouth she's holding on to self-control so tightly. "No."

Baggett's standing now, making a show of looking through the folder in his hands. "Oh, so can you explain to us why somebody at the Durant Regional Hospital recently reported that you and the sheriff were 'locked in a passionate kiss'?"

The way he says it makes it sound so supermarket tabloid sleazy that Vic wants to gag. She looks at Walt in horror, shifting on her feet, feeling cornered and irrationally angry at him for being here at all.

"No," she says eventually, stalling.

Baggett feigns surprise. "So this report is incorrect? There was no kiss between you and Walt Longmire?"

"That's not what I said."

"Please enlighten us as to what you did say, then."

"You asked me if I could explain why somebody would say that. I can't."

"I see." A smirk hovers at the edges of his lips. "I apologize for my question being unclear. Allow me to rephrase it. Were you or were you not—" he glances down at the folder, as if he expects them to believe he hasn't got the fucking thing memorized "—'locked in a passionate kiss' with Walt Longmire at the Durant Regional Hospital?"

Vic clears her throat. "It wasn't like that."

"Well, please, Ms Moretti," Baggett says expansively. "Do tell us what it was like."

She's so close to losing it and punching this asshole's smug, self-righteous face until it's nothing but pulp. He's trying to twist her relationship with Walt into something it's not and never has been. Never will be. She looks helplessly at Dave, but he shrugs just as helplessly. There's no way she can look at Walt right now. Or maybe ever again.

"I kissed him. Walt wasn't even conscious."

"I see. And are you in the habit of kissing unconscious men or was this a special case?"

"It was an impulse, okay?" she snaps. "We'd been up all night waiting for him to come out of surgery. I was scared and I just wanted him to wake up so I'd know he was gonna be all right."

The expression of glee on Baggett's face is repulsive. "Well isn't that just like the fairy tale?"

"What?"

"Surely you've heard of Sleeping Beauty, Ms Moretti."

"Fuck you," she snarls.

"Now, I do believe I asked you to refrain from coarse language. There's really no need for it, especially not from a pretty young lady such as yourself." The words are poisonously sweet.

"Are you finished yet, Tucker?" Dave asks, his own disgust evident.

"Not quite, Mr Milgrom. If you'll be so good as to indulge me just a little longer."

"Like we have a choice," Dave mutters as he turns away.

Across the room, Baggett sets down his folder and clasps his hands in front of him like he's about to start praying. "Tell me, Ms Moretti," he says solemnly. "Are you in love with Sheriff Longmire?"

Her throat closes.

From behind her, Walt barks, "That's enough," at the same time Dave yells, "Objection!"

Vic stands there shaking, heart pounding, a jangled mess of adrenaline, anger, and humiliation. Baggett's smile mocks her, like he thinks he's won, like he thinks there's something she should be ashamed of. It's clear he wants her, expects her, to deny it. But Victoria Moretti isn't a liar and she's not about to cower before this bloated windbag and his insinuations.

It's not wrong to love somebody, even if they don't love you back. She'd thought Walt felt something for her and that was her mistake. It hurt (so much, still) but she's put on her big girl panties and she's dealing with it. No way in hell is she going to allow Tucker Baggett to pervert something that's beautiful and special and hers.

Vic raises her chin. "Yes."

For a glorious instant the bastard looks shocked. Then shock morphs into triumph. "And isn't it true that your feelings have lead you to obey Walt Longmire unquestioningly?"

"No."

"No? So you admit to being in love with him yet you ask us to believe you wouldn't go to any lengths necessary to protect him, Deputy Moretti?"

Somehow the use of her title makes the entire situation seem worse, more sordid. Baggett's trying to paint her as some pathetic, lovesick subordinate, and the tiny sliver of truth in it lodges painfully under her skin.

"I'm not asking you to believe anything," she bites back, taking a few steps into the room. "You asked me a question and I answered it. I don't just blindly follow orders from anybody. That's not who I am. And Walt has never ordered me, or even asked me, to lie or to cover something up or to do anything illegal. That's not who he is."

There might be a flicker of unease on Baggett's face and it's goddamn satisfying.

Vic stalks closer and cocks her hip, feeling reckless and mighty now that she's calling his bluff. "So is that it? Or is there something else you 'just gotta ask'?"

The congenial gentleman mask slips and his beady little eyes are vicious. "How long have you and Walt Longmire been lovers?"

Dave's latest Objection! rings out as Vic starts laughing.

"Guess you didn't do your homework, huh?" Her tone is deliberately insulting. "If you had, you'd know that Walt's got a girlfriend. He's not interested in me."

Saying it doesn't even sting when she's wielding it like a weapon. She moves in, crowding Baggett, and he takes a step back. "Let me spell it out, since you seem to be having a hard time getting it. Walt Longmire has never done or said or even hinted at anything remotely inappropriate to me, with me, or in my presence. Yeah, I kissed him. One time. We are not and never have been lovers. My feelings are just that: mine. They're private and they have no bearing on how I do my job. Is that clear enough for you?"

Baggett opens his sour little mouth to bluster and Vic gets right up in his face.

"But since you're so interested in my sex life, maybe you want to hear about who I have been banging. God knows, I could be running around the tri-county area subverting plenty of decent, law-abiding men with my wiles. Or maybe you want to know about my fantasies. Locations, positions, frequency. Could be relevant, I guess." She looks him up and down insolently. "You know, for the record. Or maybe it's just the kind of shit that gets you off."

This close she can see Baggett's speechless rage and maybe even a hint of fear. It feels good. It feels fucking great.

"You will never be even a fraction of the man Walt Longmire is," she tells him softly. "And if you try to take him down, you'll fail."

Baggett's face is red and sweaty and there's a vein pulsing away at his temple. Vic flashes him a cheerful smile and hopes he has an aneurysm. "Now we're done here."

Walt and Dave follow her outside in silence but she can feel Walt's eyes on her. She walks quickly down the driveway and keeps her focus straight ahead. The heady flush of triumph she'd gotten from smacking down Tucker Baggett is rapidly being swallowed by cringing embarrassment at what she's had to reveal to do it. And who she's revealed it to.

"So, Walt, why don't I give you a ride back to town?" says Dave from behind her. "We should discuss strategy for tomorrow."

Whether it's the truth or an act of mercy, Vic doesn't care. Say yes, she begs silently.

It's five more steps before Walt says, "Okay."

Relief rushes through her like a flood.

When they get to the Bronco, she turns and holds out her hand for the keys. Her eyes focus on a spot just past Walt's left shoulder. She can't possibly look at him or touch him or even share the same space with him. Not now, not yet.

His hand hovers above hers and she waits several agonizing seconds for him to do something.

"Vic," he says at last. His voice is gentle and it actually hurts.

"Don't," she tells him, low and urgent. "Please."

The keys crunch as he clenches them in his fist before letting them fall into her palm. The metal is warm from his hand.

"Thank you," she whispers.

She makes sure she leaves first, edging just over the speed limit the whole way back to the station. By the time she gets there her breath is coming in gulps. Tight bands around her chest squeeze relentlessly.

Vic parks, heads inside, and goes through Walt's private door to avoid being seen. She shuts herself in the Reading Room and slides to the floor in a heap. Her whole body shakes with the great, wrenching heaves of her lungs.

This is the ledge where all roads lead since Chance Gilbert.

With her head between her knees, Vic stuffs the sleeve of her jacket into her mouth to muffle the sounds and waits for it to pass.

Like everything else in her life, it does.