This story was completed before Season 4 began.


Chapter 1

The car is hers until 7:00, so she stops at Starbucks on her way through Sheridan. She's not a die-hard or anything. It just feels like a connection to the world out there, and lately she's been pining for the connections.

She sees him before he sees her. At least she's pretty sure it's him.

He's standing out on the sidewalk talking to some guy, and he's got his back to her.

Latte in hand, she slips through the maze of oversized leather chairs and square iron coffee tables, up to the window and into the corner, in case he looks this way. There's a pillar outside to shield her while she figures out whether or not she feels like talking to him, though she already knows she doesn't.

Still, she watches.

Even without the hat and the holster, she knows it's him. She'd know that ass anywhere. He's wearing this oddly tight T-shirt, dark blue with a darker sweat-splotch down the middle of his back. A few months ago, that would have done things to her, but she's past that now.

He wasn't into her.

No one would've asked, but if anyone had, that's what she would've said. You can't get blood from a stone. Or a turnip. Or a dead horse.

She didn't have to try. She knew it couldn't be done.

She wasn't all broken up about it, either. It wasn't like that.

The thing is, they aren't characters in some lame, ten-hour-a-year cable show. Their days are twenty-four hours long, every day of every week, four seasons a year. Sure, there's the backwoods intrigue of the job, and the unresolved sexual tension that may or may not have existed solely in her own pornographic imagination, but there's also laundry and head colds and family and grocery shopping and weight gain and mortality.

The latte is burning her hand through the cup. She considers going back for one of those recycled sleeves, but that would put her out in the open, out where he could see her if he were to turn this way, and concentrate hard, and squint for an extended period through the glare of the afternoon sun on the tinted window. The risk is too high, she decides, so she puts the coffee down on the distressed wood surface of the nearest table and waits it out.

She just wants him to leave so she can leave. She's not dressed for a stakeout beneath a cooling vent.

He turns slightly, puts his hands on his hips, and she holds her breath as though that might render her invisible. She catches a glimpse of the side of his face. It's definitely him, and he's smiling. It's been months since she's seen him smile. Maybe he enjoys life more when she's not around.

She refuses to let that bother her.

They've had hundreds of conversations in the time they've known each other, maybe thousands, and most of them haven't amounted to much. But even the weighty ones flow downstream just like everything else.

It's true: He told her he wanted her to stay, thirty seconds after she realized her husband had publicly served her with divorce papers. In the fictional world, that would still be huge. In reality, she was kind of distracted.

She was angry and she was relieved and she was terrified.

She wasn't really thinking about him or his glassy, unfocused eyes. She was thinking about her 403B and the fact that she didn't own a car. She was wondering how she would pay the mortgage and what she would say to her parents. It wasn't that she didn't know what he meant, though really she didn't. It was that she barely considered it, and even when later she did, it was relatively insignificant in the face of Sean's bitchiness and packed boxes, and the Connally tragedy, and the Nighthorse corruption, and the never-ending Martha saga.

By the time all that went down and blew up, he didn't mean whatever he'd meant anymore anyway.

The other guy comes around the pillar towards the double doors, and it startles her. He's taller and darker and younger and mustached. Hot maybe. She's never sure anymore.

She panics and turns away from the entrance, away from the low, tint-tamed sun.

It's ridiculous really. The younger, taller dude isn't aware of her, and it wouldn't matter if he was. He wouldn't know her from any other half-dressed, neurotic blonde stalker. In her peripheral vision, he walks past the counter and down the dark hall towards the restrooms.

When she looks back out to the sidewalk, Walt's gone.

Aside from the tall guy, it's only her and two teenage baristas and an elderly man reading the Billings Gazette. Since no one seems to care, she continues her suspicious behavior. She inches along the window until she can see the other side of the pillar. She has a brief but disquieting cardiac reaction to his absence.

She might never see him smile again.

She grabs her latte from the square table and makes a break for it.

Once outside, she heads directly into the sun, hot on her face for so late in the day. The air smells of heat-softened asphalt and barbecue.

"Vic?" His voice comes from behind her somewhere.

At first she pretends she doesn't hear it, considers speeding up, running even, but then it would look like she's the one with the problem.

So she surrenders, and he's closer than she realized, and now it's him she can smell: sweat and soil and soap.

"What are you doing here?" he asks, and his eyes drop to her breasts, then dart back up to her face.

Stupid air conditioner.

"I have the day off," she says, defensive.

He smiles, and his eyes squint, and there's sunlight in them, and it scares her so she looks away.

"I know," he says. "It was a slow day."

Whatever the hell that's supposed to mean.

She wants to ask him why he's dressed like that, and while she's at it, what's wrong with him in general. She catches herself staring first at his chest and then at the wet patches under his arms, and then at the arms themselves, hairy and damp and powdered with dirt.

When she finally looks back up at his sunburned face, his eyes are on her legs.

"They're called shorts," she says. "It's hot."

"What?" He snaps out of it, reddening maybe. He clears his throat. "Yeah."

He looks at her like he's trying to remember her, and it pisses her off.

"So I gotta go," she says.

But then, of course, the taller, younger guy is back. "Can't leave you alone for five minutes," he says.

Very original.

"Travis," Walt says, nodding towards her. "This is my deputy, Vic Moretti."

His deputy. The deputy that belongs to him.

Travis offers her his hand, so she transfers the latte from her right to her left, and she shakes it.

A loud, drunk group of twenty-something guys in Wranglers and cowboy hats approaches, hogging the sidewalk, and Travis takes the opportunity to move closer to her.

"You're not what I expected," he says, flirting.

She's not feeling it.

Walt takes her arm and pulls her out of the path of the cowboys, towards the planters at the edge, away from Travis.

"I was just helping Travis out with some fence posts," he says, like she asked, which she didn't.

He lets go of her arm.

"Sounds fun," she says, and she smiles, and it probably comes off as about seventy-five percent sincere, give or take.

He keeps his eyes on her now. It might be a challenge, so she doesn't look away, and that's how she knows for certain the wall is down.

"We were about to get a beer," Walt says. "You should join us."

"Gosh," she says, and she knows it's not her, but it's the best she can do. "I'd love to, but I've got this rental, and it's due back in forty-five minutes."

"Road trip?" Travis asks.

"Just for the day."

"Yeah? Where?"

"I'm just kind of doing the tourist thing on my days off."

"She's evading the question, Walt."

"Petroglyphs State Park," she says because it's not a game. She just wants to leave.

"Up near Billings?" Walt asks.

"Yup," she says.

"Where else have you been?" Travis asks.

It's starting to feel like an interrogation.

"Devil's Tower. Mount Rushmore. I've only been at it for a few weeks."

"Smart girl. Getting the sites in while you're here."

Walt tilts his head, like he's straining to hear something that isn't quite loud enough.

"I lived in San Diego for a year," Travis says. "Never went anywhere while I had the chance."

"See there," she says, just to say something. "I don't want to be saying that ten years from now."

Walt insists on walking her to the car, tells Travis he'll meet him down at the bar.

It's a blue four door hatchback, brand new. She unlocks it using the remote, forgetting that if she does that, he'll open the door for her.

"You okay, Vic?"

He holds onto the door frame. She'd forgotten how intense his eyes can be.

"Am I okay?" she says.

He's trying to read her and she wants to tell him to give it up. Those days are over.

"Walt, you realize you see me almost every day, right?"

He gives her a distant half smile. Apparently he didn't.

"Are you okay?" she asks, quieter.

I was worried about you, she thinks, but she doesn't say it. She'd never say it now.

"I am," he says. "Thought I'd take a little time now that things have slowed down."

Things.

"Like a vacation?"

"Well, no. Just . . . ."

He's still trying to figure something out.

She gets into the car, puts the untouched latte in the cup holder and pulls the seatbelt around, clicks it shut. She's not sure she could be any clearer.

"So I'll see you tomorrow," she says.

"Yeah."

Finally, he steps back from the door, and she closes it.

If they had been characters instead of real people, there might have been a brief period of recovery after said things, before they began moving towards each other. But it really wasn't like that.

They're both made of real flesh and real bone.

She used to think about that a lot.