A/N: Several months ago, NCCJFAN and I were tossing around ideas about an AU taking place in the old West (who can resist Woody in tight jeans, right?). She and jmkw, writing as Nina Lavough, recently posted their AU "A Heart Always Knows Where to Find Home" based on this idea.
Mine was slower in coming, and I just now got around to finishing it. I'm not sure how I feel about this one. It didn't really turn out like I had planned. It's much different than Nina's. Me being me, it's much darker and angstier. Too dark, I think. But it was just taking up room on my hard drive, and I couldn't bring myself to delete it. So, here it is. It's an OK story, I think, but I'm not sure it's a good Crossing Jordan story. Anyway, if you're up for it, you be the judge...
"Sweet Grass County, Montana."
His voice cut through the silence as she poured over a new file. When she looked up from her desk, Woody was leaning against the door frame, and she noticed with some disappointment that her heart still fluttered when she saw him.
"Sweet Grass County, Montana," he repeated taking an unsure step inside. "Ever heard of it?"
Yes, of course. It was her first thought, and she opened her mouth to say so, but then stopped. "No." And then, less sure: "I don't think so."
"Well, you have now." He picked up a paperweight from her desk and began to bounce it from hand to hand, probably unaware that he was doing it.
She frowned. When had things gone so wrong between them? She had never felt as close to him as she had, snowbound at the Lucy Carver, and the physical moments they had shared had grown out of the emotional intimacy they had created there. But it had all melted away with the snow when they had returned to Boston.
She had thought she was ready. She wanted this, she wanted more with Woody. Then he had turned down her invitation inside her apartment with a weary, I don't want to be your backup guy.
She had ached for him with a physical longing for weeks, but she knew he had been right. Every time she had loved someone, even dared try to love someone, hearts had been shattered, her own included. She wasn't sure she could face that pain again.
He had tried to reach out. He had left voice messages and email asking her in that cheerful, platonic way to come out with him on a Friday night. She had ignored him, and they had barely spoken in the last month.
Now, their meetings were all stilted conversation and nervous fumblings, like this, as he fidgeted with her paperweight.
She leaned back in her chair. "So, what's in Sweet Grass County, Montana?"
"The Dorchester Strangler."
Her eyes grew wide. There had been a series of murders of young women in the Dorchester area starting the year before. Then as quickly as the killings had begun, they had simply stopped. "You're kidding..."
"Nope. Same M.O. A college student home on spring break was last seen leaving a local bar. They found her body the next day in a field outside the town of Sweet Grass in Sweet Grass County. She'd been sedated with Rohypnol. There were signs of sexual assault, but she'd been redressed after the assault. All except for..."
"Her bra. Which he used to strangle her," Jordan added grimly. She knew the case all too well. "Damn. How the hell did he end up in Montana?"
"That's what we're trying to find out. We've got him cornered, though. The Feebies are running the show now." He stood for a moment, rocking back on his heels nervously. "But..."
"But..." He puffed up his cheeks and blew out his breath. "Walcott wants us out there."
She gulped a mouthful of air. "Us. Together."
"You did the autopsies, and I was lead detective," he said almost apologetically. "We're booked on the 3:30 PM flight."
Her mouth dropped open as he stood there in front of her desk with his eyes cast down. She and Woody. On a plane. Together. Alone. This would not go well, she suddenly knew.
He reached in his breast pocket and pulled out a ticket and laid it gently on her desk. "See you at Logan in a couple of hours, Jordan."
She was aware of the warmth of the sun on her skin and the coolness of the ground against her bare arms and legs. One arm was draped over her eyes to block out the afternoon rays.
The branches of an overhead tree swayed and rustled. She could hear the ripple of the breeze across the water that splashed at her naked feet.
"Wake up, Jo. You're dreaming."
There was a rough brush of fingertips against the soft skin of her cheek. She murmured something. The sun was too warm and the breeze too delicious to want to move.
"Jo? Can you hear me? Wake up."
She lifted her arm from her eyes and saw the figure crouching on the ground beside her. He wore a wide-brimmed hat -- a cowboy hat, she thought -- which he titled up from his face with one finger. The sun was behind him, and she could not make out his features.
She smiled lazily. "I don't want to wake up..."
"Come on, Jordan," the figure said, brushing her hair from her face. "Wakey-wakey. The plane's about to land."
Plane. She was on a plane. There was the hum of the engines and the feel of the air vent blowing down on her.
Her eyes snapped open. Woody sat next to her, shaking her arm lightly. "Come on, Jordan. Trays up, carry-on luggage stowed and all that. We're getting ready to land."
She blinked back into focus. "I was dreaming..." she muttered.
"That must have been some dream." He yanked his seat back into the upright position. "You've been mumbling in your sleep for the last fifteen minutes"
She frowned. "I was?"
"Yeah. What was all that about?"
"I don't know. There was a field, a tree, a little pond. I was lying in the grass. Someone was there. That's all I can remember."
He shrugged and went back to his magazine.
The dream stayed with her even as they landed, picked up their rental car, and headed out onto the road. It had all been so vivid: the sun, the breeze, the touch of the man's hand, and she found herself replaying it in her mind throughout the long, silent trip toward Sweet Grass.
It was late by the time they reached their motel. Sweet Grass County was a dry place with mile upon mile of empty horizon. Spring had not arrived yet here, and patches of snow still dotted the prairie. She rode with her head pressed against the passenger window, not able to shake her dream or the strange familiarity of the landscape.
They were staying along with other crime scene personnel at a tidy Holiday Inn not far from the field where the girl's body had been found. They were due to meet up with local and federal agents first thing in the morning.
It had been a long day, and they both yawned as they headed toward their side-by-side motel rooms. She nodded and grunted a good night as she lifted her cardkey to the lock.
"G'night, Jordan," he mumbled in response. Then he stopped and turned around uneasily. "Jordan?"
She pushed the door open. "Yeah?"
"I don't know. You haven't answered any of my emails or returned my phone calls lately, and I was getting kind of worried," he said, trying to hide the traces of hurt in his voice.
"Oh, that." She laughed casually. "Busy. You know. Work's really kicking me in the pants these days."
"Oh." There was a pause. "Because I know we've never really talked about...what happened in Littleton. I just don't want there to be anything weird between us."
"Weird? What, us? No. It's all good, Woody. Really."
He waited a beat and then started again cautiously. "When I said that I didn't want to be your backup guy, I just meant..."
She held up a hand to stop him. "You were right, Woody. Absolutely right. It's all for the best."
He paused for a minute. "Absolutely." She thought she detected trace of a small, sad smile. "Well, good night. I'll see you tomorrow."
He was gone down the hall then and into his own room. She closed the door on her empty room and collapsed with exhaustion on the bed.
The tree swayed ominously and dropped a tumble of leaves into the pond. Heavy black clouds threatened overhead. A figure on a horse was retreating in the distance: a man, his coat collar pulled around his ears. Somewhere a woman screamed.
She was aware of the thudding of her heart. Her mouth was dry, and she knew the scream had been her own. She sat up and fumbled for the bedside light in the unfamiliar room, the sound of the scream still in her ears.
It was the same tree, the same pond as in her dream from the airplane. They meant nothing to her, but it had all seemed so real somehow, and not the surreal, disjointed imagery of usual dreams.
She dragged herself into the bathroom and flinched as she clicked on the harsh bathroom light. Her eyes were rimmed with dark circles, and her heart still raced. Why? Why would these seemingly innocuous images cause her to wake up drenched in sweat?
It wasn't the images themselves, but the tide of emotion that each one brought on. It was a peaceful enough view of a weeping willow by a pond, a man on a horse. Yet, she had awakened with an overwhelming sense of grief and fear.
There was something about this place. She had felt it as soon as she had stepped off the plane: a strange sense of disquietude, and the uncomfortable feeling of...what was it? Deja vu?
She stepped into the shower and readied herself for the day ahead, knowing there was no point in trying to return to sleep.