This was meant to be the final installment, but I finally FINALLY had a bit of spare time today and this chapter kind of went its own way. So I let it do its thing! Don't worry, Walt's been *ahem* 'briefed' concerning his St Patrick's Day and Easter boxer shorts, so we'll try and get this story wrapped up before he has to start worrying about what sort of underwear Vic thinks are appropriate for Memorial Day. ;D

Still T rated here. Vic and Walt each receive a bit of advice.

xxxxx

The Heart of the Matter
Part VI

"Beautiful flowers for a beautiful la—"

"What the fuck Bob?!"

Vic's hand had gone for her weapon, and she realized that she might be just a bit more tightly wound than usual.

"Shit! Don't shoot the messenger, darlin'!"

"Why are you hiding down there? You been drinking again?"

"Now that's just plain unfair! I haven't had a single drink since I got out of jail and that's the God's honest truth. Walt would kill me for one thing, same as if I didn't make sure you got these flowers… he was rather specific on that particular matter."

Her left eyebrow dropped back into alignment with her right, and she tilted her head. "Walt sent me… flowers?"

The paperwork hadn't taken too long when all was said and done, and Walt had dropped her off at home so she could prepare for their date while he and Ferg went back out to the Rez to retrieve the Bronco. He would bring her truck back later, and little did he know that if Vic had her way they wouldn't be needing a vehicle again for quite a long while after that… she directed her attention back to Bob Barnes before her imagination ran away with her.

"He did." Bob had lifted himself up from his reclined position on her small front porch, where he had been hidden from view. "And I didn't lose the card this time." He presented the small white rectangle with an exaggerated flourish.

Vic held the envelope between her thumb and forefinger, looking at the box still cradled by Bob's left arm. "How long have you been here, anyway?"

Bob shrugged. "Couple hours. Wanted to make sure these got delivered, and you were the last drop off for my shift. Was sorta surprised when you weren't home, but I didn't think Walt would appreciate me going by the station all things considered."

"You're probably right." She fiddled with the envelope, a bit nervous to know what its contents had to offer. Walt didn't strike her as the hearts and flowers type, and yet here were the flowers and she already knew where the hearts were hiding. Lost in thought, she almost failed to notice when Bob proffered the box toward her. Snapping back to awareness, she reached out and accepted the oblong parcel. "Umm, thanks."

Regarding her with a quizzical expression, Bob tilted his head to the side. "Can I say something without earning myself a smack?"

"Depends what you plan on saying."

"Reckon I can afford the risk." Bob paused, looking down at his feet. "Walt, he's one hell of a man. I'm sure you know that— he's helped me out an awful lot, and he's been through even more. I just want to say… he smiles when he talks about you, and I haven't seen him do that with anyone else since Martha passed."

Vic was caught off her guard in more ways than one. "You… knew Martha?"

"Everybody knew Martha. And she made a point of knowing everybody, too. She was a special person, but sometimes even she had trouble pulling Walt out of those deep moods of his."

Releasing a mild snort, Vic felt one corner of her mouth tugging upward. "Who doesn't? The woman must have been a saint."

Bob shook his head, expression far away, perhaps traveling back to some moment in the past. "She wasn't. No person is— trust me, I'm a damn expert. But Martha really cared, and she gave it her all."

Once again Vic looked at the objects in her hands, concrete evidence of Walt's apparent affection for her. She swallowed hard, realizing that this delivery scared the hell out of her even more than the ill-intended floral gift she'd received from Ed Gorski. "How the hell am I ever supposed to measure up to that?"

"I wouldn't worry. You seem to do things your own way."

Strangely, there was something reassuring and pleasant about a genuine smile from Bob Barnes.

"Walt is a thinker, and it's plain to see he's been doing plenty of thinking about you. All I'm saying is, don't let it go to waste."

She nodded, feeling a bit weirded out by this candid conversation but also surprisingly humbled. "I won't."

Taking a step backwards, Bob turned to leave. Before he descended from the porch, he gave his parting shot. "If it doesn't work out, let me know. I am single, ready to mingle, and I still think you're pretty as a sunrise. That weren't the beer goggles talkin'."

Vic narrowed her eyes. "Goodbye, Bob."

"Alright, alright!"

Finally inside, Vic absently made her way to the kitchen and set the box on the counter to open it. Upon viewing the contents she gasped, feeling more sure than ever that Walt really knew her, had paid attention to every little thing about her.

She hated carnations (that was no secret) and although she appreciated the sentiment roses really weren't her thing (too boring and traditional). Her heart fluttered at the arrangement of bright daisies and Peruvian lilies, mostly reds and smooth darker pinks with splashes of creamy white… it was almost exactly the type of thing she would have chosen for herself. Reaching a hand out, she brushed her fingers over a single red rose almost hidden at the center of the arrangement.

Glad she was alone and that Bob Barnes had shown enough sense not to deliver these flowers to the station, Vic went a little misty-eyed when she read the card. It was so incredibly… Walt, and somehow utterly romantic at the same time:

Vic,

I would have brought you wildflowers, but they're a bit scarce throughout the county in February. When spring comes, I hope we can go out and pick them together.

Walt

For a long time, she stood there staring at the card. He had signed his name with a little heart next to it. With two innocuous sentences he'd expressed his wish that they would still be together months from now, shared hopes for their future, and then Walt Longmire had used one of his big, manly hands to thoughtfully and deliberately add an indisputable symbol of love to the message. Nothing fancy or florid; just an unadorned and unambiguous heart, carefully colored in with entirely innocent ink.

Vic knew then that she was lost, if she hadn't been completely aware of it before. After carefully tending to the flowers she whipped around the house to set the rest of her plans in motion…

x

He wasn't used to following orders, but he was determined to do his best on this very special occasion.

It had been too long since the youthful obedience of Walt's football days or the regimented line of discipline he'd towed in the Marines. When he began his career as a deputy it had been less that Lucian Connally gave orders, more that he issued vaguely good-natured threats. By that point in time, Walt had already had a few hard-scrabble lessons on how and when to take matters into his own hands, so he was suddenly spending a lot of time calling the shots for himself.

With Martha, it had been different. She never tried to tell him what to do, but when she disapproved of his actions or decisions there was sometimes that clever womanly edge of 'I would never tell you what to do, but…' which all but screamed '…but you are 100% wrong and I will continue to remind you of this fact by cooking your least favorite foods for dinner every night until you admit it.'

Things had seemed so simple then, when he was able to judge the harmoniousness of his marriage based on the absence of lima beans on his plate.

Cady had come along, and perhaps she was the most successful at ordering him around— for a time, at least. She had Walt wrapped around her little finger when she was a young girl, as daughters and especially only children are known to do. From strictly enforced piggyback rides to the appropriation of frankly outrageous amounts of cash used to purchase the latest pink plastic abomination for her dolls to utilize toward their vacuous and anatomically incorrect purposes, Cady pretty much had his number from the time she'd learned to walk. Still did on occasion, but as an adult she was generally mature enough not to take advantage.

Victoria Moretti was another story altogether. Walt had found himself strangely inclined to let her be the boss of him, and not only earlier this afternoon at the speed trap where she'd undeniably been in charge. No, his willingness to let Vic push him around involved far more than just another chance to steam up the truck's windows.

Maybe it was because there were some aspects of law enforcement where her training far exceeded his own, or perhaps it was the instinctive knowledge she'd gained as the only sister of four tough Philadelphia brothers. Vic had been through some rough patches in life, like he had, and in some ways those experiences might have been worse for her because she didn't have the support of an understanding spouse the way he did. Walt tried not to frown as he thought of Sean and the numerous ways the other man simply hadn't measured up.

Yet in spite of it all, Vic had arrived in Durant with what probably read as a slightly threatening air of authority for some, but at times just made Walt want to follow her around like a puppy dog. He'd been lost for so long after Martha's death, maybe he had needed that— needed someone who wasn't afraid to take the lead and possibly kick his ass a few times along the way.

His new deputy had been willing to provide all the kicking he could handle, whether he was ready for it or not. Somehow Vic had busted her way through all his barriers, snuck into his heart and become one of the best friends he'd ever had, and more recently turned his brain completely inside out with the depraved assortment of things he wanted to do both to her and with her.

Now, when he thought about taking Vic's orders, even the ones that didn't include underwear, it got his synapses firing in eighty million different directions until he wasn't sure which way was up. In point of fact, he was no longer certain he even cared. Maybe right now not knowing which way was up was more or less equitable to not being sure who was going to end up on top, and Walt had a nagging suspicion that they were likely to take turns.

Orders were one thing, but advice was something else. Although he'd received a lot of advice through the course of his life, most of it unsolicited, Walt would freely admit that he'd ignored about three-quarters of it. The small proportion of offered wisdom that received consideration generally came out of Henry's mouth, and maybe that's why Walt had stopped to see his friend at the Red Pony on his way back from the Rez.

It somehow seemed appropriate for Henry to be the first person Walt told directly about the change in his relationship with Vic. At least, Walt had thought so, until it became clear that a rather smug and smiling Henry had already known. Apparently he had been broadcasting. Henry assured him that since the channel in question was Radio Walt, the transmission range was highly limited. Henry's receiver was appropriately tuned, of course.

They had talked, in a casual way that they really hadn't done in far too many months, and Walt confided in Henry about his feelings and his date with Vic and the fact that he had absolutely no earthly idea what he was doing. Either he was going to blow it, she was going to eat him alive, or potentially both.

Henry's counsel had been surprising, and in some ways quite opposite of what Walt himself had thought or planned. It was valuable to hear his trusted friend's perspective on Vic and what was likely to please her. Henry assured Walt that he should listen to his instincts and not get hung up on traditions or societal dating norms, a concept which apparently had the rug pulled out from under it a good couple decades ago. Walt supposed he should have clued in that things were different these days after Lizzie Ambrose thought a 911 call was an acceptable way to set up a date. Admittedly, he'd been a bit distracted at the time.

Armed with Henry's advice and what could only be classified as 'provisions,' Walt had headed off to finish preparing for his 8pm arrival at Vic's. On his way out the swinging doors, he was halted momentarily by Henry's familiar smooth tones.

"Walt?"

He turned his head slightly. "Yep?"

"I am happy for you."

"Thanks, Henry." A smile passed over Walt's lips, likely suspected by Henry but ultimately kept as a cherished secret between Walt and the weathered wood in front of him. Taking his leave, he felt a renewed confidence and an unexpected sense of excitement building in the pit of his stomach.

He had his orders. He was armed with advice. Now he was ready to seize the day.

xxxxx

More soon! I'm working seven days this week but fortunately that does mean some shifts are a bit shorter than others. With any luck I'll catch another rainy one and get a few steps closer to finishing this! Hope you're all still enjoying it— I hear some out there have had snow today, so it should be easy to pretend it's still February!

Do drop me a line and let me know what you think, and what Henry might have told Walt! :D