This story was completed before Season 4 began.


Chapter 1

She didn't have a choice, she was going with him. That's what he told her.

She rolled her eyes, cussed under her breath, and slammed her desk drawers, all four of them. If Ferg and Ruby had been there, she wouldn't have acted like this. He'd had enough of it.

He slammed his own drawer, felt the veins in his neck bloating.

His intent hadn't been to intimidate, but when he got out there, she was standing with her back to the window, her eyes downcast as though she'd accepted what was coming and was waiting for it.

Dozens of times he'd been on the cusp of asking her what her problem was, when she planned to get over it, why she was still here if she was so unhappy. But he never did. Fear and guilt mixed with some other more pungent emotion he couldn't name always stopped him.

He'd acted crazy. He admitted that. And selfish, and that was worse. His memories were shrouded in dream-haze, but he remembered it all: He remembered her cleaning the blood from his face when he should have been cleaning the blood from hers, and he remembered the long stretch that followed when nothing at all passed between them.

"This is your job, Vic," he said. "If you want to keep it . . ."

"If I want to keep it what?" Her eyes flicked up to his face. "Say it."

It shouldn't have come as a surprise that she'd lost respect for him, and it definitely shouldn't have pissed him off, but it did. Sometimes it really did.

"If you want to keep it," he said, "you'll do it."

"So you're saying if I don't do it, you'll fire me."

He scratched his cheek, expecting sandpaper. He still hadn't gotten used to that.

"That's the way it works, Vic."

He went back into his office, but he didn't close the door. She was quiet the rest of the morning.

After lunch he picked up Omar's truck. When he got back, she was waiting outside the station in shorts and hiking boots, holding a day pack.

"Got your sidearm?" he asked when she got in.

It was an impotent reminder of his authority. Of course she had her sidearm. She was a pain in his ass, but she never let him down.

"Yup," she said then spent the remainder of the thirty minute ride staring out her window.

After talking with the ranger, they followed the trail around the north face of Buck Peak. Though it was late May and warm, there were still crunchy patches of snow thriving in the shadows. At the third gulley, they left the trail and travelled cross-country to the ridge then down the other side into the clearing.

The plantation was what they'd expected: small and healthy, a perfect square of delicate, brilliant green. A local operation, the ranger had said, kids most likely. The plants probably wouldn't even make it past adolescence.

She took pictures while he bagged evidence. There wasn't much—no encampment, no piles of trash, no irrigation system beyond furrows carved for strategic use of the incline. The crop depended on run-off and rain, and so far that seemed to be working.

"Science nerds," she said.

He didn't look at her.

"Dean's list science nerds," he said.

"They can wave goodbye to their scholarships."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

He was careful not to touch her as he put two of the five evidence bags in her pack and zipped it up.

"That comfortable?" he asked.

She smelled like eucalyptus.

"It's fine."

The pack rested on the bulge of her sidearm held tight against her body by the waistband of her shorts.

"Want me to put the gun in?" he asked.

He imagined his fingers sliding over the sweaty skin at the small of her back.

"What if I need it?" she said.

"Good point."

He tried to get her to walk in front of him so he could keep an eye on her going over the rocks, but it turned into another negotiation, another struggle, and he gave up. He listened for her breathing behind him and adjusted his pace accordingly. She was in excellent shape, but his stride was twice as long as hers, and the terrain was technical, and the air was thin.

"You're not slowing down for me, are you?" she said, winded.

"No."

"Just go your own pace."

At the top of the ridge, he waited for her.

"You didn't have to wait," she said, working to catch her breath.

"The County might disagree."

She scoffed. He squinted out through the trees towards Durant. There was no winning.

"Okay," he said.

"Okay what?"

She crossed her arms and cocked her hip, but there was no color, no spirit behind it. He didn't want to be the cause of that. He lifted his sunglasses and looked down at her, at the beads of sweat on her nose, at his reflection in her Ray-Bans.

"Never mind," she said and started down the north side.

He followed at a safe distance.

Back on the trail in the early dusk of the high country, he pulled his Nalgene from the side pouch of his pack and unscrewed the top.

"Want yours?" he said.

She was gazing down into the misty ravine far below. She was right next to him, but she wasn't there. He pulled her bottle out and handed it to her.

"The angle of repose," she said.

"It's steeper than that."

"You think?"

"Yeah," he said. "That's more than thirty-four degrees."

He hadn't noticed on the way up. It was quite a drop.

She took a drink, and another, then she screwed the cap back on and turned to him. He startled when her eyes met his, and squirmed when they stayed.

He took another drink, replaced the cap. She handed him her bottle and took his, maintaining the eye contact. That in itself was sufficiently strange, but then she reached up with her free hand, and he flinched. His swirling thoughts gained momentum. She paused, watching his confusion while her hand hovered, then she touched his face, ran her thumb over his chin, just below his lip.

He felt the wetness there, the water that had dribbled undetected from the wide mouth of his bottle. She wiped her thumb on her shorts but still didn't look away.

"You never say my name anymore," he said. Some other mind was controlling his mouth.

She said, "I know." Then finally, finally she withdrew.

She pushed his bottle into its sheath then turned so he could do the same, and that was that, as though it were all completely normal.

She waited for him to start walking down the trail, and even more than before, he wanted her to go in front, but he couldn't bring it up now, he couldn't have said anything, even if he had the words and the ability.

The snow had turned to slush in their absence, and in spots the slush was slippery. He wasn't worried, but he thought she might be. There were sections of wet dirt and rocks and pine needles, then there was the slush again. The further they descended, the slushier it got to the point where he slipped twice, twice braced himself for a fall, but both times caught himself somehow.

He turned to find she was further behind than he'd realized. She was being cautious.

He watched until she said, "I'm fine," and for once she wasn't being defensive. "Don't watch. It makes me nervous."

So he kept going, focusing on the sound of her footsteps. He tried to figure out what to say, given the odd shift in tenor, but he didn't get it done, and ultimately it was her who spoke, calling forward to him, "Why are you such a dick all the time?"

For a variety of reasons, the natural impulse was to stop and to face her, but he knew it was in his best interest under the circumstances not to react.

He mulled it over, monitored his respiration before calling back to her over his shoulder, calmly, "You think it's me being a dick? Now, I mean?"

"Don't you?"

Her voice was further away, so he raised his to say, "I was being a dick for a long time. I'll give you that."

"But?"

"But now I think it's you."

She grunted some sort of response, like maybe his honesty had caught her off guard, and she might have made some other noise, something higher pitched, but she didn't say any actual words. He wanted to give her time to do that. Wait-time it was called. The world in general needed more of it.

They weren't fighting. He was fairly certain they weren't doing that, but when time expanded to fill the space available, he re-evaluated, kicked himself for not lying.

"You're offended," he said, shuffling through a slushy patch.

Still, she said nothing, and it was then that the pieces began floating towards each other. He strained for the sound of her footfall, but it wasn't there.

"Come on, Vic," he said, thick with emotion he would have rather not shared.

He didn't know what he was making such a big deal about. In this particular situation, he had nothing to lose. That had already happened. Whatever it was she wanted to say to him, he could take it.

So he sucked it up, and he turned around. And she was gone.