A/N: This has been rattling around in my head for awhile and my muse has been kicking me to go ahead and post it. It's a little different, but eventually it gets to the same place...
The usual disclaimers apply, even when I forget to mention them...
He was surrounded by nature. There were trees closing in on either side of the trail he walked. The songs of birds filled the midday air and high overhead, a hawk rode the thermal currents, looking for prey. He heard the sound of a large animal crashing through the underbrush. A deer. The pamphlet he'd been given at the ranger station warned him that there were bears and mountain lions ranging these mountains. They didn't make him nervous at all. There was no damage any of these animals could inflict on him worse than the damage that had already been done. There was no creature on the planet more dangerous than man.
His body was sound and his mind was sharp, much to his eternal relief. It was his soul that had been damaged. He wondered if the damage was permanent. That's what found him here, hiking along these mountain trails, alone, day after day. He was seeking a salve for his wounded soul.
The sound of running water reached his ears. Looking skyward, he noticed the sun had slipped past its zenith and was sliding toward the western horizon. It would be dark in a few hours and he'd have to think about finding a place to stop for the night. He followed no particular schedule. He simply followed his body's rhythms, eating when he was hungry, sleeping when he was tired.
Sleep. Now there was an activity he dreaded. Because sleep brought dreams, and dreams brought her and she brought pain. I can't do this, Bobby, his mind heard her say. I need a break.
A break? A break from what? From each other. From working together. From being together. He'd finally done it. His intensity had broken her and, like everyone he'd ever cared about in his life, she had left. But with her, it was different. When she left, it had caused a mortal wound to his heart and his soul. So he'd taken an extended leave, and he'd gone away. No one knew where he was, and no one knew how much he hurt. No one knew that he was on the verge of giving up. And what was more...no one cared.
He took off his baseball cap and ran a hand over his untidy curls as he entered a small glade. He wandered to the edge of a stream that coursed his way through the wilderness, strolling near the water's edge and studying the prints left by the animals. His mind recreated the scene at the water's edge in much the same way he recreated crime scenes. A deer had come to drink...legs spread it leaned down to the water for a drink...but something spooked it...it took off suddenly...chased by...wow...a really big ass cat. Mountain lion. He scanned the other tracks left in the moist dirt. Rabbit there, raccoon over here, skunk near that rock, fox by this tree... He'd gotten really good at reading what the animals left behind.
He watched the water cascade over the rocks, churning and roiling its way to calmer places. That was just how he felt. His soul was restless, churning and roiling its way toward a calmer existence. The difference between this mountain stream and himself was that the stream found its calm. He couldn't. No calm, no peace...just turmoil...and pain.
I tried...I really did...and I thought I could do it...and maybe I still can...but I need a break...a break...I have to go...
Every time he closed his eyes, he heard those words ringing in his mind, chasing away any chance for restful sleep. Most nights he spent sitting by his small campfire, watching the flames consume wood as pain consumed his soul. And he began to wonder if he could go back. Sure they'd know him. He was the crazy bastard who couldn't keep a fucking partner. Even the one everyone thought would work eventually gave up the ghost. He was just too much for people. The kick of it all was that he had finally let down his guard. He had let her in, let her come to know who he really was. He had trusted her with his heart and she had betrayed that trust.
It's just for a little while...I'll come back. This isn't permanent. I just need a change. Give me a few weeks and I'll be back...
But he hadn't waited. He couldn't do it. He simply couldn't sit and wait for something he knew was never going to happen. Within just a few days, he was gone. He wouldn't...no, he couldn't do it without her. Do what? Anything. Work, sleep...live. He knew she wouldn't be back. She needed a change, a breath of fresh air. And so she'd gone. The captain was busy looking for someone to take her place. Take her place? Not possible. There was an emptiness inside him, empty save for pain and the rage that now filled it.
He had taken an extended leave, for personal reasons. He had the time. Deakins had tried to talk him out of it, tried to find out if he was okay. But he had shut down. He was letting no one else in. He was done. It hurt too fucking bad. But he went through the motions. He was just tired and needed time off to rest and regroup. He knew the captain didn't buy that. But there was nothing he could do. I'll just be at home, he told him. Call me anytime. That night, he'd gotten in his car with every intention of driving home and drinking until the hurt was gone. But he hadn't done that. He'd just driven...and driven...and driven...
And where was he now? He had no idea. He was somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. He had filled a backpack with food, tossed in two changes of clothing and a few other things, parked his car at a trailhead parking area and headed off down the trail. It was July, but the nights were downright cold. His light jacket and wool blanket weren't quite enough, but he was too numb to notice or to care. He never slept well anyway. After a few hours, he was awake, finding himself just sitting by the small fire and staring into the flames, or laying on the ground, watching the diamond-flecked sky. Most nights, he would sit for awhile, then put out the fire and continue down the trail in the dark.
He had no idea what he was going to do. Go back to Manhattan, to his empty life and stare at the empty seat of the desk across from him, pretending she was going to come back? No. He couldn't do that. He could transfer back to narcotics. He'd liked it there; he liked undercover work. No one ever made him as a cop. He could play any role. He was good at pretending. Or he could go someplace else. To Phoenix, or Seattle, or Atlanta...
But, no. His job was all he had now, and he really liked Major Case. He would go back to New York, back to the squad room, and slip into his role as the Chief of D's fair-haired boy. He'd solve his cases, crack his suspects, hand Carver his confessions...and pretend he didn't hurt. He'd get a new partner, or two, or three...and he would close himself off from others, permanently. He would never go through this again. Never.
That night sleep was even further away than it usually was. His ever-busy mind refused to wind down. Had he been home, he would have raided his liquor cabinet and drank until his mind calmed down. He didn't have that option here, but that was probably a good thing. His pain would send him into a downward spiral, and he just would not have the motivation to stop it. That much he knew. So it was probably a good thing that he was where he was right now.
His arms were tucked under his head and he was watching the stars. He heard the snap of a branch in the woods. Big animal...probably a deer. Maybe a bear, or a mountain lion...well, that was ok, too. Another snap. He didn't move. He didn't care.
The underbrush rattled as the animal broke into the clearing, and a quiet "oh" emanated from it. Curious, he pushed himself up onto his elbows and looked toward the trees.
She was a small woman, dress in khaki shorts, a dark shirt and hiking boots. The pack she carried looked almost too big for her, but she was trim and muscular and handled it with apparent ease. "I'm sorry to intrude," she said, her voice colored with the accent of someone raised in the south.
His mouth moved, but no words came out at first. Finally he managed, "It's no intrusion."
"I didn't wake you?"
"That's good. I'll leave you alone now. I'm sorry if I disturbed you."
When she started to turn, he got up. "No...you-you don't have to go. At least, not on my account. Um, are you...intentionally hiking at night, alone?"
"Alone, yes. At night, no. I was just looking for a place to camp for the night."
"You're welcome...to stay here. I won't bother you."
She studied him cautiously. "You're here alone?"
She considered his offer. He didn't look dangerous, but then, neither had Ted Bundy. But she was bone-tired and the next clearing like this she came across could be miles away. He understood her hesitation. "I'm harmless," he offered with a small smile. "But if it'll make you feel better, I'll move on. You look tired."
His offer surprised her. He would leave so that she could have this campsite? "No...no need for you to leave. Thank you for your generosity."
There was something about this big man that set her at her ease. She slid off her pack and set it on the ground. In silence she unpacked her sleeping bag, acutely aware of his eyes on her. Yet, she wasn't creeped out, and she wondered why.
He'd laid back down and pulled the blanket up to his rib cage. He watched her unpack her sleeping bag, wondering why he had invited her to stay. The point of his being here was to lick his wounds in solitude and try to recover to the point that he could go back to his life in New York without her. He had almost made up his mind to move on anyway when she laid out her bag and looked at him. "Just so you know," she warned in that warm drawl of hers. "I have a gun."
Amused, he smiled at her. "So do I."
Taken aback, she stared at him, not sure if he was serious. He raised a hand. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that like that. I-I'm a cop." When her skeptical look didn't abate, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his shield, tossing it to her.
She studied the gold shield, relaxing now. She tossed it back to him and smiled. "I'm afraid we may not get along so well, detective. I'm a prosecutor."
In spite of himself, he laughed. "I think we'll get along fine, counsellor. Where do you hang your shingle?"
He nodded and laid back down, tucking his arms beneath his head again. "Rest well, counsellor. I, uh, I probably won't be here when you wake up."
"Is that so?"
He turned onto his side and tucked one arm under his head, looking across the small fire at her. "I like to get an early start."
"Where are you heading?"
He shrugged. "Wherever."
She nodded. "That's my destination, too." She snuggled down into her sleeping bag. "If you're still here when I wake up, I won't complain too much. Good night, detective."
He watched her for a minute. "Good night, counsellor."