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I Think I Need a New Town (to Leave This All Behind)

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It's dark and his ears are still ringing from the gunshot, and Linden's just standing there, staring straight ahead into the void. He wants to shake her; wants to ask her why, if she knows what the hell kind of shit she just put them in, if she's okay.

He wants to throw up.

He can see the flashing lights of the patrol cars as they race toward the house, the sirens getting louder and cutting through the haze. Any moment now, a dozen armed officers will descend on the scene and find them there, two detectives standing over a dead lieutenant.

Holder feels the panic start to grip at his chest, bile rising in his throat. He turns to his partner, the red and blue lights playing off her pale skin, and places his hands on her shoulders.

"Linden." He crouches a bit so he's right in her face. "Hey. Sarah?"

Her eyes focus on his, then, and she shakes her head. "No."

He tugs her in closer, his lips against the shell of her ear. He almost has to yell, the sirens are so loud. "Listen to me, okay? We can work something out," he begs. "I'm not gonna let you throw your life away over that asshole." He pulls back to look at her face again. "Please. Don't."

She gives him a tight, grim smile. "I can't keep running," she says.

 

 

Internal Affairs drags him into a room for the second time in twenty-four hours.

There isn't such an easy out, this time.

 

 

There are interviews upon interviews, leading up to a trial, and Detective Stephen Holder wears a dark suit and his good shirt and tie and speaks in a clear, certain tone when he reiterates for the nth time that Detective Sarah Linden is no cold-blooded killer.

There were extenuating circumstances, he argues. Lieutenant Skinner manipulated her. He held her hostage. He built her up, broke her down, and then he used her open, raw emotions to force an end to his quote-unquote suffering. Suicide by cop, if you squint and read between the lines.

Not to mention the scores of women Skinner had killed, the ones they were still pulling out of the cold water by that damn lake house. She did the taxpayers a favor, he figures.

Should she be locked away, then, like she's no better than the killers she went after? Is that justice?

(It's a long shot, maybe, but he's pretty sure it's all they've got.)

Linden gives him a small smile from her place beside her lawyer. They haven't talked much since that night; he's on desk duty and she's on leave, and he doesn't know what they'd even say, and it's probably not the best idea under the circumstances, anyway.

He hazards a glance at Caroline, sitting opposite Team Linden. She doesn't look at him. They haven't talked much since that night, either.

 

 

(Things changed again between he and Caroline after that night.

Every disapproving look and shrugged shoulder and non-conversation about how very opposite they were in every aspect – and particularly in regard to the Linden situation, as she'd called it – had built to The Fight, finally set off one night in his apartment after a muttered comment under her breath.

"Just say it," he'd spat, and she'd glared daggers at him before opening the Pandora's box of points she'd been wanting to throw at him.

How can he defend her?, she's wanted to know, and does he realize that Skinner wasn't even armed at the time?, and they're supposed to be cops, for God's sake, and come on, Stephen, what the hell was Linden even thinking? What is she ever thinking?

"You don't know her," he'd said, defenses up.

She'd scoffed. "Should I have to? She killed a man, Stephen. What don't you get about that?"

"Yeah, well, I don't give a shit what they taught you at law school. Life ain't always black and white," he'd said, and echoed, "What don't you get about that?"

She'd stiffened, then, her mouth set in a firm line. "You're really going to back her on this." A statement, not a question.

"No doubt."

"Well, then," she'd said, and left without another word.)

 

 

Despite it all – their differences and The Fight and the cold silence between them – he ends up going to her for help anyway.

It's not a mea culpa, not what he suspects she would've really wanted, but a ridiculous, nothing-on-the-line, Hail Mary toss from the back court heave. It's her case – he knows that – and he barely has a leg to stand on – he knows that, too. He also knows his partner, though, knows her better than anyone else, and he will fight for her to the end.

"Please," he says, lingering in the doorway to her office. "If you ever gave a shit about me, just… please."

Her face softens, and she watches him for a few moments. "You really care about her."

He nods. "Yeah. I do."

A pause, and then, "Do you love her, Stephen?"

He looks at the nameplate on her desk and ignores the question. "Please," he says.

(For not the first time, he suspects that Caroline might be a much better person than he is, because while the move may put the final nail in their relationship, it also gets her in a room with Linden's lawyer.)

 

 

In the end, Sarah Linden is offered a deal, and she takes it.

(She's not deemed a threat to society, and she won't go to prison. Instead, she'll do another stint in a mental health facility, and she'll officially turn in her badge and gun, no longer a member of the Seattle Police Department and no longer his partner.

He can live with that, he thinks.)

 

 

After months without contact, his phone rings on a Wednesday afternoon.

"It's me," she says. "What are you doing tomorrow?"

 

 

His hands are stuffed into his pockets and he's bouncing on his toes, full of nervous energy while he waits for her by the entrance of the facility. People who aren't her go in and out; he nods at them, and continues to pace.

Fifteen minutes later, she emerges from the building with a wide smile and an apology. "Sorry," she says. "Paperwork."

He grins, closes the gap between them, and wraps his arms around her, lifting her off the ground. She protests weakly, smacking his arm, but she laughs and squeezes him back. A few long moments later, he sets her down and steps back to look at her.

For the first time since they've met, her face isn't lined with worry and stress. She seems lighter, somehow. Unburdened. She looks like she's been taking care of her body for once, too; her cheeks are a bit fuller, and her hair and complexion are bright and healthy and clear.

"Thanks for coming," she says.

He shrugs, like it's no big deal. "Hey, I'm still your ride."

She cracks a grin at that.

"You look good," he tells her, his tone going serious. "Are you… How are you?"

"I feel good," she says with a nod. "Really good." With a glance toward the parking lot, she adds, "I kind of just want to get out of here."

"Well, why didn't you say so?" he teases. He produces a pack of cigarettes from his front pocket, and they walk. "You quit while you were in there or what?"

She side-eyes him and earns a laugh and a smoke.

 

 

"So? What now?" he asks, when they're halfway through a late breakfast at a nearby diner.

She steals the bacon off his plate. "I don't know," she tells him, chewing thoughtfully. "I, uh… I was thinking I'd leave town for a while."

"Chicago?"

She shakes her head. "No. Just… I don't know. Not here."

"Well, how long's a while?"

She just looks at him.

He frowns. "Thought you were done running?"

"Yeah, well." She gives him a pointed look. "A guy once told me that sometimes staying put is running away, too."

"Sounds like a real idiot."

The corner of her mouth twitches up. "It's pointless to stick around here and pretend things are the same when they're not," she says. "I need to make a real change, Holder. Start fresh. And… I'm going to do that."

He shifts in his seat, leaning back against the wall of the booth. "When?"

She looks at her watch. "It's still early."

"So, just like that, then?"

She avoids his eyes and shrugs. "Why wait?"

For a few moments, he just stares at her. Then, "Okay," he finally says, and flattens his palms on the table. "Let's go."

She blinks. "What?"

"I'll go with you." She quirks an eyebrow and he adds, "Yo, Linden, I just got you back! You think I'm letting you go just like that?"

She presses her lips together.

He grins. "Am I your ride or what?"

 

 

Just outside the city, he pulls into a gas station, and Linden works the pump while he goes inside the convenience store for provisions.

Bottled water: check. Snacks (Funyuns for him, peanut M&Ms for her): check. Maps: obsolete and therefore plentiful. Cigarettes: behind the counter with a kid who doesn't look old enough to sell them.

While he waits on line behind a couple of burly-looking truckers, he makes a quick phone call to work; he doesn't give specifics, just a return date to be determined. He's glad he never got around to using his vacation days.

He goes back to the car to find Linden in the passenger seat, flicking cigarette ash out the window. He tosses the plastic bags in the backseat and unfolds a map of the Pacific northwest on the dashboard.

"So?" He lights up a cigarette and cracks the window. He points out their current location. "Where to, boss?"

She takes a cursory glance at the map before half-heartedly folding it up and tucking it between her seat and the console.

"South," she says. "Somewhere sunny."

He turns the engine over.

 

 

It's early afternoon when they cross the line between Washington and Oregon.

She's dozing against the passenger window when he pulls into the parking lot of a well-maintained drive-up motel. He shakes her awake.

"Yo. Linden. We're here."

She blinks and stretches and looks out the window. There's a light drizzle starting to collect on the windshield. "Where's here?"

"Near Portland. Does it matter?"

She shakes her head and opens the door. "Not really."

"Storms coming up the coast. Rather not be out driving around looking for a place to stay in Nowhere, Oregon later, you know?" he tells her. "Figure we stop here, hang out, spend the night. We'll hit the road again in the morning."

"Yeah," she says. "That sounds good."

They have no luggage, just the plastic grocery bags from the convenience store and Holder's gun locked up in the glove compartment.

She loops the bag handles around her wrist and leans on the door to the front office, having a post-nap puff on a fresh cigarette, while he goes inside and gets them a room. He dangles the key in her face when he's done and ushers her away with a hand at the small of her back.

Room 25 is located around the side of the building. It's got a little table with two chairs, a dresser with a TV bolted into the top, and a queen-sized bed in the middle of the room.

They look at each other, and he scratches at the back of his head.

"I asked for the cheapest one," he says. He jerks a thumb backwards. "I can go back, see if there's something else."

She shakes her head. "Forget it. It's fine."

"You sure, Linden?" He grins. "I don't want to wake up with you all up on me because you can't resist my fine-ass self."

"I'll try to control myself," she deadpans. She flings the plastic bags onto the dresser. "Come on. Let's go into town before the weather gets too bad."

 

 

She tells him that she wants to make a stop before dinner, which is how Holder finds himself following her around a Gap, watching her flip efficiently through racks of clothes and pluck items from neatly folded piles.

He shakes his head and clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "We came all the way here for this? Damn. Women be shoppin.'" She cuts him a look, and he laughs. "Chill, mamacita. I'm just teasing you."

"You're a riot, Alice." She holds up a deep blue v-neck tee against her chest and stares down at herself.

"I like that color," he offers, and watches as she drapes it over her arm with the others. "You know we have this place back home, right?"

"I do," she mutters, moving to the next table.

He picks up a straw fedora and models it. "Hey, what do you think? Is it me?"

She rolls her eyes. "You're an idiot," she says, smiling anyway. She waves a hand at him. "Are you going to go find yourself some clothes or are you planning to wear that grody old sweatshirt forever?"

"Excuse me? Grody?" He sticks his nose into the collar of his shirt and sniffs. He pulls a face. "All right, fine, it's not great. You didn't give us a chance to pack. Or change, even."

She's studying an apple green cardigan, fingering the cotton-wool blend. "I didn't have anything to bring with me," she says. He gives her a look, and she clarifies, "The house came furnished, and I had my things put in storage. So."

The cardigan is piled on her arm, and he understands, then, that this was always part of the Sarah Linden Fresh Start Initiative. New job. New city. New clothes. She just hadn't planned on him tagging along for the ride.

"Okay," he sing-songs. "Fancy New Linden. I get it." He takes the hat off his head and sticks it on hers. He grins. "You gotta get the hat," he says.

 

 

He drags her into a souvenir shop afterward, telling her she should get something for Jack.

"You call him yet?"

She turns over a snow globe, little rain drops falling over miniature Portland. "I don't want to bother him," she says, and sets it back on the shelf. She looks up at him and shrugs. "We have a standing phone date anyway. Once a week. We'll talk then."

He nods. He thinks about saying more, but drops it.

She gets Jack a little wooden keychain, something she can drop in an envelope and mail. Holder buys her an oversized t-shirt with a cartoon sasquatch printed on the front.

The look she throws him is pained, if not amused. "Why?"

He grins and holds it up over his chest. "Why not? It's Big Foot."

"Why do they even have stuff with Big Foot on it?"

"I don't know. Maybe it's like a Big Foot hotspot." He elbows her. "Feel like working the case?"

It's the first allusion he's made to work, and he watches her, waiting for her reaction.

She snorts a laugh. "The Big Foot case?"

"Yeah," he says, with a relieved chuckle. He grins at her.

"Who are we? Mulder and Scully?"

He waves a hand at her. "You tell me. Short, serious chick with red hair? Check," he says, miming a check mark in the air.

"Big, tall, ridiculous guy? Check." He looks mock offended, and she laughs. "Maybe," she muses.

"Anyway," he says. "With our mad investigative skills? I bet we could find that mofo in no time."

"Oh, really?"

"Hells yeah. You ever see that show on Animal Planet? Yo, Linden, we're way smarter than those rednecks."

She laughs again, her whole face crinkling with it, and he decides he really, really likes the sound.

 

 

"You want to just go back to the room?" he asks in front of a Chinese restaurant advertising a take-out special in neon lights. The sky is growing darker, thunder beginning to rumble in earnest over their heads. "Sign out front says free cable. HBO, Showtime," he ticks off on his fingers. "Maybe even Skinemax."

She pulls a face. "We're not watching Skinemax."

"Yeah, yeah," he says, and steers her inside. "You say that now."

 

 

Take-out boxes are spread out on the bed when they get back, and she goes into the other room to change while he finds something to watch on TV.

"Not porn!" she calls from behind the bathroom door.

Outside, the sky has opened up, the rain drumming steadily against the window.

He's slurping noodles off chopsticks and staring at the television when she comes back out. On screen, Elizabeth Berkeley is giving Kyle MacLachlan a lap dance.

"Holder," she whines.

"What? It's Showgirls," he says. He dangles another chunk of noodles from the chopsticks. "It's a classic," he adds around a mouthful of chow mein.

"Oh, is it?" she asks dryly.

He finally looks over at her and nearly chokes; she's got on the stupid sasquatch t-shirt and a pilfered pair of his brand new boxer shorts. He's pretty sure he's in deep trouble.

"Yo." He swallows. "Did you steal my drawers?"

She climbs onto the bed and folds her legs underneath her. She smirks. "I forgot to get something to sleep in," she explains, reaching for an eggroll. "Figured it was better than nothing."

Holder's eyebrows shoot up into his hairline, and he makes a show of checking her out.

"Shut up." She takes a bite of eggroll and turns to the TV. "She's not even a good dancer," she says.

 

 

When he wakes up in the morning, the television is still on and the sun in hitting him in the eyes; with a groan, he squeezes his eyes shut against the intrusion and turns his face into the back of Linden's neck. Her long hair tickles his nose.

His eyes crack open again. "Fuck," he sighs.

In one quick movement, he rolls away from her, sliding his knee out from where it'd been wedged between her legs and his hand from underneath the sasquatch shirt.

From a more respectable distance, he watches as she stirs and her eyes blink open. She grimaces at the sun and turns over, eyeing him curiously. He folds his hands in his lap to hide the raging hard-on he'd woken up with.

"Morning," he says, his grin a little too quick.

"Morning." She frowns. "Did you say something?"

"When?"

"Before."

He shakes his head. "No."

"Hmmph." She yawns.

"You dreaming about me, Linden?"

She stretches her arms over her head. "You wish."

 

 

When they're both showered and dressed, they pull out the maps and unfold them on top of the mattress, set on nailing down a destination.

"I think we should just go all the way down the coast," he tells her. He trails his finger down the coastline and jabs it into southern California. "Boom."

"San Diego?" She crosses her arms over her chest and studies the map. "It's a long trip."

"You in a hurry?"

She eyes him. "Are you?"

"Nah," he waves her off. "You ever see me take a vacation before?"

She nods, once. "San Diego, then."

 

 

They take Interstate 5 south.

It's early in the day, the air still crisp from the storms the night before. There's coffee and donuts in the console between them, and Holder leans his seat all the way back to watch her while she concentrates on the road.

They switch off behind the wheel every couple of hours, making stops along the way to stretch or to find a restroom or to grab something to eat.

They talk, and for maybe the first time, no one is bringing up dead girls in trunks or death row inmates, or his problems or her problems or anything else they've talked enough about for a lifetime.

There's long periods of time, too, where they say nothing at all; it's a comfortable silence, not at all like the depressed, weighty ones they've become used to.

He makes her laugh some more, and he thinks that it could very well become his most favorite thing.

 

 

By early evening, they're in northern California, detouring off the 101 to see the redwoods along the Avenue of the Giants.

They pull over to take in the view, tilting their heads up at the big, old trees until their necks ache. (She tells him that now he knows what it feels like to stand next to him all day; he calls her shorty and uses her shoulder as an armrest.)

 

 

At a nearby convenience store, he looks at brochures and tries to convince her that they should stay overnight at one of the local campgrounds. She stares at him, eyebrows raised.

"What?"

"Have you ever been camping?" she asks him. She snags a couple bags of chips off a shelf and places them in a shopping basket.

"No," he says. "Have you?"

"No."

"Yeah, so? What happened to Fancy New Linden? I thought we're doing new things."

A handful of granola bars are added to the basket. "Not that new," she says.

"Why not?"

She grimaces. "There's bugs," she half-whines. "And… bears."

"Aw, come on. Is that the problem?" He clicks his tongue on the roof of his mouth. "I'll protect you, girl. I read a thing about bears. The trick is, you just stand still and make yourself look big, I think." He does a snarly imitation of a bear statue, hands raised like claws over his head.

She looks him up and down. "Yeah, good luck with that," she says, and asks the man behind the counter for directions to the nearest motel.

 

 

The motel is old and run down and, she decides, can only be considered a slight step up from camping because of its adequate protection from bears.

"You stayed at the crappy little place –" he starts.

Her eyes get wide. "It was not that bad!" she interrupts.

"— for a long-ass time, Linden, you were staying at that flop joint."

"Did you ever see that room?" she asks.

"I wasn't that lucky."

She rolls her eyes. "Well, it was a thousand times better than this."

There's peeling wallpaper and ugly paintings on the walls and a worn, ugly brown rug on the floor in the main part of the room. The bathroom isn't much better, with cracked tiles and a flickering light in the ceiling. The mattresses are creaky, covered with cigarette-burned coverlets and they didn't want to know what else.

She slips gingerly in between the overly-bleached sheets. "I already can't wait to take a shower in the morning," she says.

"There's rust in the shower," he tells her. "I checked."

"Ugh."

He looks at her from his double bed and grins. "Feels kinda like we're in Dick Van Dyke's house," he says, gesturing between them.

She smiles at him and clicks off the table lamp between their beds. "Night, Rob."

"Night, Mary." Then, into the darkness, "Wait. That wasn't her name."

"No," she agrees.

 

 

When he gets out of the shower in the morning, she's on the phone with Jack.

"Hey, is that Little Man?" He tugs on a zippered hoodie over his t-shirt. "Let me talk to him."

Linden's got the phone pressed to her ear. "What? Oh, that's Holder. Hang on, he wants to say hello." She passes him the phone.

"Hey, what's up, Jackie boy? How's Chicago?"

"Good," says the younger Linden. "Um, what are you doing there?"

"What am I doing here? Me and your moms are road tripping it down the coast, that's what."

"Oh." A pause, and then, "How is she? Like, really?"

Holder looks across the room at her; she's sorting their clothes out while he talks to her son, using the old plastic bags for laundry and folding everything else into their shopping bags.

"Good," he tells him honestly. "Real good."

"Good," Jack echoes. "Um, just… take care of her, okay?"

He glances at her again to find her watching him. Their eyes meet, and he smiles. "Always, kid," he says into the phone. "All right, I'll give you back. Hang on."

He passes her back the phone to her.

"Jack? Listen, we're about to get on the road, so I'm going to go, okay?" A pause, and she smiles. "I will. Okay, love you. Be good. Have a good day."

He twirls the car keys in his hand. "Ready to go?"

"Yeah," she says, pocketing her cell phone. "Hey, what were you guys talking about?"

"Huh?"

"'Always' what?"

"Nothing. Guy stuff." He picks up their makeshift luggage and gives her a teasing grin. "Thanks, wifey."

She rolls her eyes. "Don't get used to it."

 

 

They get back on the 101 and set out for San Francisco.

Linden curls up in the passenger seat and reads a book she picked up along the way while he drives, which lasts only as long as it takes his attention to wander.

"Hey."

"Hmm?"

"I'm thinking of…" he says, "…an animal."

She looks up at him and scrunches her face. "What?"

"Twenty Questions."

"Holder," she sighs. "I'm reading."

"And I'm bored." He cracks the window. "Hey, pass me a cigarette?"

She turns the book over on her lap to shake one out of the pack on the dashboard and hands it to him. He sticks it between his lips and feels around in the console for the lighter until she places it in his hand.

"Thanks," he mumbles around the cigarette. "Come on. An animal."

She rolls her eyes and presses her lips together. "Is it bigger than a breadbox?"

He thinks about it for a second. "How big's a breadbox again?"

"Holder."

"Yo, when is the last time you seriously went in someone's house and saw a breadbox?"

She concedes the point and holds her hands about a foot apart.

"Bigger than that," he says. "Nineteen."

 

 

By midday, they're in San Francisco, where they check into an utterly generic and relatively cheap (but satisfactorily clean) hotel near the water before heading out.

They go to Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39, where they wander the boardwalks with the rest of the tourists and take in the sights; the sidewalk performers and the wild sea lions and the Golden Gate Bridge. They eat clam chowder out of paper cups and funnel cake off of paper plates, and she makes plans to buy new running shoes as soon as possible.

He tries, unsuccessfully, to pull her into a tattoo shop.

"Come on, Linden. Maybe a butterfly? I'm not saying it has to be, like, right on your ass…"

She snorts a laugh and walks away from him, toward a gift shop, where she buys a postcard with SAN FRANCISCO written in big, colorful block letters over a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.

"Love you! Wish you were here!" she writes on the back, and signs it, "XOXO, Mom."

Holder snags her pen when she's done. "And Holder," he scrawls at the bottom, and drops it into a mailbox.

 

 

They stand at the wooden railing and watch as ferries make their way to and from Alcatraz. Holder studies her face, trying to gauge what she's thinking.

"Hey." He nudges her. "Wanna go? We could see where the Birdman lived."

She watches the ferry a few more seconds before shaking her head. "No," she says.

"You sure? I heard it's haunted."

She looks up at him and gives him a small smile. "I know what you're doing."

He puts on his most innocent face. "What?"

"You're testing me," she says evenly. "Looking for cracks."

His face falls a bit, and he leans back against the railing. "Just want to make sure you're okay."

"I am," she says. She gets closer, standing with her toes butting up against his. "Look, I'm not saying I never think about it, it's just… I just decided that I'm not going to let it ruin my life."

He has a vague recollection of warning her against just that. He nods. "Good," he says.

"This feels right," she continues, and there's an undercurrent of excitement in her voice that he's not sure was ever there before. "It's like… the farther away we get from Seattle, the more I feel like I can finally detach from everything that happened. You know? Like I can move on."

"Fancy New Linden," he says.

She grins. "Yeah."

He nudges her foot with his. "Seriously, though. Where are we on the tattoo thing?"

She laughs.

 

 

Later, they sit in a booth in the back of a bar, grazing on an appetizer platter and nursing a couple of cranberry-and-seltzers.

All around them, people are laughing and drinking and flirting, and they're mostly ignored except for the drunk who wanders over and whose arm Holder threatens to break if he doesn't get it off her shoulders.

"My hero," she deadpans, watching the guy stumble away.

He winks at her, and she grins.

Holder decides that what he really wants is to hear her laugh some more, and that the best way to do this is with his favorite cheesy pick-up lines.

"Did it hurt?" he asks.

She pulls a face. "What?"

"When you fell from heaven?"

He gives her a sleazy-sexy-smarmy look that makes her giggle, a lovely, bubbly sound, and he laughs right along with her.

"You like that? 'Cause I got more where that came from, baby."

"I'm sure you do," she says, shaking her head. "God. Is that how you pick up women?"

"What? It works sometimes." He gestures at the crowd. "Better than that guy's move, at least."

She rolls her eyes, but can't hide her amusement. "Well, come on. Let's hear 'em."

"Yeah?"

She shrugs. "Give me the good stuff."

"You got it." He shifts forward in his seat and touches her new sweater. "Was this on sale?"

She looks down at his fingers. "Yes."

He sighs dramatically and says in a fake whisper, "You're supposed to say 'no.'"

"Oh," she says. She straightens in her seat. "Okay. Start over."

He touches her again. "Was this on sale?"

"No."

"Too bad, 'cause it'd be 100 percent off at my place."

"Oh, Jesus." She snorts a laugh. "That's terrible."

"Yeah, yeah," he says. "Well, I'd tell you a joke about my dick, but it's too long."

She squeezes her eyes shut with a groan.

"What, no good?" he laughs. He touches her arm again. "Hey, baby, are you Jamaican? 'Cause you're Jamaican me crazy."

 

 

He's still going when they leave the bar, walking back in the direction of the hotel.

"Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?"

She grins. "Hey, Holder," she says. "If I said you had a nice body, would you hold it against me?"

"Oh, snap!" He laughs. "There you go, 1-900. I bet you used that one a few times."

"Wouldn't you like to know?" she teases.

She walks on ahead of him, and he watches her for a few moments before he easily makes a few long strides to catch up to her.

"Hey, I got one," he says, bumping her arm with his. "I bet you five bucks I can kiss you without even touching you."

She stops walking and turns to him, her face scrunched up. "Okay?"

He moves in, then, puts his hands on either side of her face, and kisses her. Her fingers curl in the fabric of his shirt and pull him closer.

When he pulls back, he gives her a big grin. "I lost."

She laughs. "Very sneaky," she says, and she doesn't push him away.

"Yeah, well, you know how I do, Linden."

"Mmm," she hums. She tugs on his shirt a little. "I thought you weren't going to try to kiss me again."

He leans in. "Guess I lied," he says against her lips.

 

 

The door to their room is kicked shut and Holder pushes her up against it, his tongue in her mouth and his hand up her shirt.

He moves her hair aside to suck on the side of her neck, and she moans. Linden's on her tiptoes, pulling him down to her level by the back of his neck. He grunts.

"Too damn short," he mumbles, and grips her thighs, lifting her easily and pressing her back against the door.

Her legs lock around his waist. He thrusts his hips, grinding against her, and she gasps and tightens her grip on him, pressing herself closer. She moves her mouth along his jaw and scrapes her teeth against his pulse point; he groans deep in the back of his throat.

He lifts her again, and moves over to drop her onto the closest of the room's double mattresses, quickly covering her body with his own. His hands fumble when he tries to undo the little buttons on her cardigan, so he breathes hard and watches while she does it herself, shrugging it off.

They lose more clothes: his sweatshirt, her camisole; his t-shirt, her bra. He works the button on her jeans while his mouth moves over her collarbone, her back arching as he tongues at her breast.

She finally shoves him aside and reaches down to shove her jeans over her hips, kicking them off, before she pulls at his belt.

He chuckles at her boldness. "This ain't a race, you know."

Her feet are pushing his jeans down his hips. "If you're not inside me in the next ten seconds, I'll cross the finish line myself."

He's pretty sure he might love her.

 

 

("I don't know how Dick and Mary did it," he says, after, all knees and elbows around her.

"Rob and Laura," she says. "Maybe they pushed the beds together."

"Maybe," he says.)

 

 

They get a late start the next day, due in no small part to Holder and his mouth and the fresh bite marks on her thighs.

Linden naps against the window while he takes the first shift; his foot is heavy on the gas, wanting to put as many miles behind them as he can as quickly as possible.

Two and a half hours in, she wakes up and pokes his leg with her index finger. "Hey," she says, her voice still drowsy. "You want to pull over? Let me drive for a while?"

"Nah." He shrugs. "I'm kind of in the zone over here. Think I'm good for a while." He glances over at her. "Go back to sleep. I know I kept you up… all… night," he drawls, mock-leering.

She smirks and stretches her legs as best she can. "Actually, I think I kept you… up, all night."

A grin spreads across his face. "Oh, snap," he says, and she giggles. "Linden with the dirty talk."

They're in for another long ride, and they continue their pattern of switching off behind the wheel. They stop to stretch their legs, for food and for bathrooms, and then for the time her hand slides along his thigh and tugs the zipper down on his jeans.

"Gonna make me crash the fucking car," he says, his voice tight and his dick in her hand.

(They have to stop again, later, when he decides to pay her back.)

 

 

By the time they reach San Diego, it's too late for the beach and they're too exhausted to do anything more than grab sandwiches from a deli and hole up in another generic hotel for the night.

They go to bed early, and he pulls her tight against him and buries his nose in her hair.

There's a few minutes of silence; then, "Stephen?" she whispers into the dark.

He cracks an eye open. "Hmm?"

"I'm glad you're here."

"Me, too," he says, and kisses the back of her neck.

"I spent a lot of time thinking about leaving, you know? Getting out of town, starting over," she continues softly. "It just seemed right after… everything."

He runs his hand lightly back and forth over her hip.

"I don't know if…" She trails off and finds the hand at her waist; squeezes. "I'm glad you're here."

"I'm your ride. Where else would I be?" He brushes her hair aside and presses his lips under her ear. "I know you said you're fine, but… you ever want to talk about it? You know, that night?"

She shakes her head. "No. Not just yet," she says. "After everything, I think I'm kind of talked out, to be honest."

"Yeah, okay," he says. "I get it. If you ever do, though."

"I know." There's another long few moments of silence, and then she says, "I never apologized to you. And now that I think of it, I never thanked you, either."

He stills, frowning. "For what?"

"For… that night. Putting you in that position," she says. "And because I know you asked Caroline to help me. Even though." She leaves it at that.

"Yeah, well." He shrugs awkwardly behind her. "Ain't no thing, Linden."

"Don't do that," she says in a harsh whisper. "Don't make it seem like it was nothing."

He presses on her shoulder until she turns around to face him. "Hey." He touches her jaw. "I'd do it all again. You know that, right?"

She kisses him on the lips. "I'm really glad you're here."

 

 

"I'm starting to dig these little shampoos," he tells her in the shower the next morning. He holds the bottle between his thumb and forefinger and poses for her. "Makes me feel like a giant."

She snorts a laugh. "Yeah, you're already like a giant," she reminds him, standing on her tiptoes for emphasis.

Fingers pressed into the tattoo on his chest, she stretches as far up as she can, chasing his mouth with hers, until he gives in and leans in the rest of the way to meet her. He dumps the bottle of shampoo over her head and rubs, and she laughs.

There's water and shampoo getting in his eyes and his mouth, but she kisses him again and presses her body up against his, and he couldn't care less.

 

 

The local weatherman promises cloudless skies and temperatures in the seventies, and they set out for the beach early, stopping at the first surf shop they come across in search of bathing suits and towels and sunscreen.

("Do they make SPF 800?" he muses, eyeing her pale skin. "Dead serious, Linden. You sure you won't just, like, burst into flames when we get on the beach?"

She rolls her eyes. "Ha-ha-ha," she says, and snags the highest SPF they have anyway.)

Holder finds himself a pair of board shorts, bright yellow and obnoxious, and goads her into buying a two-piece.

"All that running gave you a slammin' bod," he tells her, watching her appraise the swimsuit in her hand. He gooses her, and she slaps his hand away with a grin. "Take advantage, mama."

She makes an indecisive noise.

"Yo, I'm just saying, but I think Fancy New Linden wears bikinis," he shrugs.

She snorts. "And I think Regular Old Holder just wants to see me in as little as possible," she says.

"That, too."

 

 

The beach is crowded, but they find a spot and lay their towels out side by side on the hot sand.

She squeezes sunscreen into her hand and helps him apply it to his back, taking extra care with the tattoos on his shoulders and the back of his neck. He starts with the skin just above her bikini bottoms and works his way up, his hands continuing to roam onwards.

"Uh, I think they're fine," she tells him, smirking at his overenthusiastic application to her chest.

"I think so too," he says, and she give him a playful shove before dropping back onto the towel with a contented sigh.

He watches as she props herself up on her elbow and pulls her paperback from a tote bag. It's nice, he thinks, to see her with the sun on her face, and he finds himself staring.

She notices. "What?"

"Nothing," he says, and stretches out beside her.

He taps her every once in a while to remind her to turn over, the skin on the bridge of her nose and the tops of her shoulders already starting to turn red. When they grow tired of just sitting, they wander along the beach, and he pulls her under a lonely pier and gets a hand underneath her bikini bottoms.

("This is so illegal," she whispers, even as she cants her hips toward him. She leans her head back against the thick wooden post and shuts her eyes.

He slides a finger into her, then two, and listens to her swear under her breath. "Don't see no cops around here, Linden.")

 

 

There's a seafood restaurant near the beach, where they order fish tacos and sit outside to watch the sun go down over the water.

"Yo. This right here?" he says around a mouthful of mahi mahi. "Worth the whole drive."

She closes her eyes and breathes in the salty sea air. "Yes," she says.

 

 

They sit on the sand in the dark, later, watching the tide roll in and out. The breeze coming off the water is cool, ruffling her hair, and she tugs the sleeves of his sweatshirt all the way down her arms.

"I think I like it here," she says.

"Me, too," he says.

She knocks her shoulder into his and smiles up at him. He laces their fingers together and lifts her hand up to his mouth, pressing a kiss to her knuckles.

Soon, they'll need to make plans. Find a place to live, find jobs, tie up the loose ends from their old life.

For now, sitting there on the beach, her fingers wrapped around his, is enough.