A/N: First fic for this fandom. Show is only 9 eps in so the characters are still a work in progress to get them down, and to get their voices right but this feels like a good start. There's a wee bit of violence herein, and some somewhat salty language (about on par with the books). Enjoy.


Turns out that undeniably badass though she is, Deputy Victoria Moretti is quite the bleeder. This far-funnier-than-it-really-should-be realization hits him solidly a few moments after an ash colored baseball bat connects just as solidly with the right side of her head.

Vic's a terribly tough woman – tough as nails, really – but she goes down with little more than a gasped grunt, her eyes rolling back and her frame giving just one quick entirely too violent shake before she loses consciousness.

"Uh uh, no sudden moves now," a voice says from a few feet in front of him. The man is half-hidden in the shadows, just a few slivers of his jawline visible in the dim light of the barn. "Put your hands up."

His thoughts are everywhere – conflicted, unfocused, unsure – but he gathers himself enough to realize that trying to do anything heroic or bold will likely just get him smacked in the head (or worse) as well.

So he does as told, and very slowly, lifts his hands up. He's still holding his service piece, but considering the circumstances, he harbors no illusions of being able to shoot his way out of this. He's a good shot – a very good one – but they're too close and the risks are simply too high.

No, far better to play this safe.

Cautious.

It's how Branch Connally always plays everything.

And maybe that's part of the problem. This one and many others.

Thoughts for another time, he muses as his attacker – a big guy named Jimmy Lucas – steps forward. Jimmy is a tall sturdy well-built white boy in his mid twenties. Still, Branch is pretty sure he could take Jimmy if all things were equal.

They're not, though. And both of them know it.

Right now, Jimmy has one big advantage over Branch – the blonde woman lying on the ground, bright red blood spilling down her face like water from a faucet.

"Drop it," Jimmy says, his voice muffled by the tobacco in his cheek. If you didn't know better and maybe if you squinted real hard, you might think Lucas was just a dumb good ol' boy. A big country hick with too much liquor in his blood and too much sun in his skin. Assuming those things about Jimmy would be a mistake.

Because no matter how many times you blink, Jimmy Lucas isn't just a good ol' boy. He's got some country in him for sure, but he's closer to what would happen if the Dukes of Hazzard became obsessed with Breaking Bad than he is to a hayseed cowboy. Truth is, he's a meth-cooking lunatic who apparently has no problem with removing obstacles from his path. By violent force if necessary.

Which explains why Vic is lying out cold about a foot away from him.

Two things calm him (at least a little) right about now: the first is that even though it's fairly dark here in this barn, thanks to her having hit the ground face-up, he can see her chest rising and falling. She's alive, and for now, he'll take that. The second is that he knows back up is on its way. Walt and Ferg know that they're out here and once they fail to check in, Walt will come thundering to the rescue.

Well, her rescue anyway.

He's pretty damned sure that right about now, Walt could give a rat's red ass about him. He supposes (with entirely too much bitterness in the thought) that that's what happens when you go behind your bosses' back and sleep with his only daughter. God, that makes it sound so sordid.

That's half the problem, though. For Branch, it'd been anything but. He'd have been happy to tell anyone and everyone about his relationship with Cady, but she'd been insistent on hiding it from Walt. Determined that her father should never know about their secret romance.

Looking back, that should have been his first sign that she hadn't been in it for the long run. She'd never intended her father to know, which means that she'd never intended for them to be anything more than…casual.

These, too, are thoughts for another time. Right now, he has to hope and pray that Walt's feelings for him won't cloud the rescue.

Because yeah, they're going to need a rescue.

"Drop it," Jimmy says again as he reaches down to the ground and picks up Vic's discarded gun (Branch has half a thought about attacking, but again decides against it – the risks and all that). As Jimmy is lifting up the gun, he drops the bloodied baseball bat, and then spins around and points the service weapon at Vic's unconscious form. "Or I'll shoot the bitch cop and then I'll shoot you."

"All right, all right," Branch answers. He lets his gun fall to the ground, the metal making a soft thumping noise as it collides with the dust-covered surface. He starts to stand then, but Jimmy turns the gun to face him.

"I didn't tell you to move. What's your name?"

"Connally."

"Branch Connally? The one running for Sheriff?" He squints at Branch, and then nods his head in self-confirmation. "Well, shit, how about that?"

Branch ignores this, motions to Vic. "I just want to check on her. That's all."

"She's alive," he answers, his voice cold. "For now."

Branch tries to ignore the shock that winds through him at Jimmy's words. Tries to focus on staying controlled. "Please. You don't want her to die. If she does, you're in a lot more trouble than you are now. You haven't killed anyone yet."

"Which means what?" Jimmy tells him with an unsettling smirk. Branch gets the distinct feeling that this kid is humoring him. Which worries him to no end. It's one thing when these creeps are idiots; you can outwit them with relative ease and a few quick moves. But when they're relatively smart, when they have an idea what they're doing and what the consequences of their actions – and of being caught – are, well that's a whole other story. A pretty frightening one at that.

"Which means we can still work this out," Branch tells him. "No lines have been crossed. We can still work through this."

"Uh huh," he laughs then. "You cops are all the same. Always try to talk the crazy down. No action, just talk."

Focus, stay focused. "Please," Branch says again. "Let me check on her."

Jimmy considers this for a moment, then shrugs his shoulders almost nonchalantly, like he just doesn't care. "Fine. Go on and check her out. And while you're over there, why don't you go ahead and do me a favor and put those on."

"Those?"

He gestures towards Branch's cuffs. "Those. Put them on. One on you, one on her. And then toss me the keys."

"You don't have to do this."

"And she doesn't have to take another breath. Your choice, Deputy Wanna-Be-Sheriff Connally." He wiggles Vic's gun around as if to make his point.

"Okay, okay."

Branch moves slowly, sliding over towards where Vic is. He kneels beside her, pressing fingers to her neck. What he feels there – her pulse - reassures him immediately. She's lost more blood than he'd like, but she's alive. She's okay.

She's just likely to wake up with a massive headache and knowing Vic, one hell of a rage fit. Which should be at least moderately fun to watch assuming they're not both still in cuffs at the time.

Not exactly a safe assumption right about now.

"Cuffs," Jimmy reminds him. "Now."

Reluctantly, his limbs feeling entirely too heavy, he reaches out and takes one of Vic's hands. Her palm is clammy, but that's not unexpected. He slides one of the metal bracelets around her left wrist, and then moves to put the opposite one around his right wrist.

"Nuh uh. Cuff your left."

"What?"

"I'm not an idiot, Deputy. You think if she comes to, as long as you can both move, you can figure out an escape. But left on left means either you gotta sit behind her or you have to face her. Either makes trying to walk together a real pain in the ass." He's grinning as he says this, like what he's doing here is hysterical to him. It probably is.

"This is ridiculous," Branch answers.

Jimmy nods his head. "Yup. You know what else is ridiculous? How much blood can pour out of a human body after they've been shot. You think what she's losing now is bad? Trust me, it can get so much worse."

Branch sighs. Point taken. He thinks about what to do for a moment, and then, realizing that Vic is going to lose her cool either way, decides to go for the option that seems the most…comfortable? Yeah, probably not the right word here, but absent a better one, it's what he chooses to go with.

He gently lifts her up, slides his lean body behind her, and pulls her against his chest so that she's resting against it. He then reaches out and places the cuff around his own left wrist. With his right hand, he tosses Jimmy his keys.

"Hers, too," Jimmy insists.

Branch doesn't bother protesting, just thanks God that Vic is still out so that she doesn't have the sense to freak out about him putting his hands in her pockets.

After a few moments, he finds her keys and throws them towards Jimmy.

"You're making a mistake," he tells the man, meeting his eyes. "Kidnapping two deputies can't possibly end well for you."

"Maybe not, but I don't think you two will be in any condition to care about what happens to me."

"What's that mean?"

"It means, Deputy, that you would be very wrong about me not having crossed any lines yet. I've crossed far more than you can imagine. What's one more?" And with that, he turns and leaves the barn, the door slamming behind him.

Figures, Branch thinks to himself, this week (thanks to the whole mess with Walt and Cady) has been pure hell already. It's somehow somewhat fitting then that it should end like this: handcuffed to an unconscious and wounded Vic in an entirely compromising position (despite his completely innocent intentions) and wondering if either of them are going to get to see another sunrise.

Awesome. Just awesome.


She comes to her senses around fifteen minutes later, her body jerking to "life" with a sharp almost spastic start.

And then she elbows him right in the stomach.

"Ouch," he growls.

It takes her a moment (a somewhat longer than normal one thanks to the pain radiating through her skull) to realize who's behind her, just about holding her (what the hell else was he supposed to do with his arms, this position they're in really isn't all that comfortable for either of them). "Branch?" she growls, her chest rumbling dangerously. "What the fuck?"

"Easy," he says. "Just…take it easy and give me a moment to explain."

"You have three seconds."

"And then what?" he snaps back because this sure as hell wasn't his idea. Right about now, he'd prefer to be at his golf spot with a longneck and the cool Wyoming breeze. Instead, he's here with a hurt and very pissed off Vic.

This job had seemed simple – check out a tip about a house that Jimmy Lucas may or may not have been seen around. Such an assignment is typically a two-man job, but normally, the Ferg would have been the one to join him (Vic usually accompanies Walt). These aren't normal times right now, though. The very simple truth is that Walt doesn't trust him, and that means Vic gets babysitting duty (a duty she'd been all too happy to remind him of her intolerance for).

They'd reached the house, and done a check of the perimeter of it. They'd even looked through the windows and examined the trashcans. They'd been about to leave when the Philadelphia homicide detective in Vic's head had started chirping away about something not feeling quite right. Which had led to her insisting that they inspect the barn before they left. She'd told Branch that she'd had a hunch about something. Turned out, her hunch had been right.

Jimmy Lucas had been inside. Unfortunately for them, he'd heard them coming.

Even more unfortunately for them, they hadn't seen him standing in the shadows.

Hence the blood still running down Vic's face.

And the fact that they're now handcuffed together.

Both of which are really pissing her off right about now.

"Talk, Branch," she answers, her voice deep and furious. She's flushed bright red, her anger almost amazing to witness.

"We found Lucas. Then he knocked you out with a baseball bat," he tells her, and then – without thinking – he lifts his right hand up and gently touches the bloodied wound on her temple. He wishes he had something to stop the flow (thankfully, it's slowed quite a bit) but with the exception of his shirt (which would be a bitch to get off, and he's pretty sure she wouldn't be at all receptive to), he's completely lacking in anything to use. She winces at the contact, and tries to swat him away with her left hand. Which causes his hand – cuffed to hers – to rise up. "And then he cuffed us together," he adds wryly.

"Obviously. But why are we like…this?"

"He made us go left-left. You were out cold. It was either like this or facing you."

"And that would have been bad because…"

He sighs again, and when he answers, his voice is low and tired. "I wanted to make sure you were okay."

He's so earnest when he says this that it almost completely stalls her fury. She wants to be angry – and she still is – but she realizes that there's really no point in venting on him. He'd tried to be considerate, tried to look after her. Truth is, she hasn't had a lot of men in her life who have really tried to do that.

"Fine," she grunts. For a moment, she slumps against him, and he feels a spark of panic, wondering if she's lost consciousness again.

"Vic?" he asks.

"What?"

"You okay?"

"No. My fucking head hurts," she grouses, sounding almost petulant.

"You're still bleeding."

"No shit," she snaps back before once again swatting his hand away from her.

"I'm just trying to help," he insists, sounding exasperated.

"Didn't ask for your help."

"Got that. Damn, you're a pain in the ass, you know that, right?"

"This wasn't my idea," she retorts.

"Wasn't mine, either," is his response. He's losing his patience quickly.

"Well then maybe you should have kept your zipper up."

"What I do with my zipper is none of your business."

"It becomes my business when I'm cuffed to you thanks to it."

"No, you're cuffed to me because you decided that we needed to check out the barn. We did and you got clobbered."

She opens her mouth to protest, but then, realizing that though she's loathe to admit it, he's pretty much right, shuts it and drops back again, the pain in her head quickly intensifying with each movement.

"This sucks," she mutters.

"Yes, it does," he agrees. "But by now, Walt will have realized something is wrong. He's probably on his way here now."

"And if he's not?"

"You've got to learn to trust the people you work with, Vic."

"Says the guy who went behind his bosses' back."

"Not my choice, but what's done is done."

"It's not just about Cady, Branch. That was bad enough, but it's about the whole running against him thing, too. No matter how you try to rationalize it to yourself, it's was a shitty thing to do to him."

"I'm not allowed to have ambition?"

"Not if it makes you into a dirtbag."

"You think I'm a dirtbag?"

"I think if you win this thing, you might find out you wish you hadn't."

"And why's that? You think I can't do the job?"

She shrugs, moving against him as she does. In reaction, one of his arms slides down against her belly, settling there almost absently. Either she doesn't notice or doesn't have the energy to push him away. Either way, it's an innocent action.

"That's not an answer," he tells her.

"You don't want my answer."

"That's never stopped you before."

"All right, fine. I don't think you'll be as good Walt," she tells him.

"Because Walt is perfect?"

She snorts indelicately. "Of course not. He's a stubborn jackass who gets himself into really idiotic situations because he thinks he can handle everything alone and doesn't ever need help."

"But you admire him." It's a statement not a question.

She shifts anxiously at that. "Admire is a strong word."

"But?"

She thinks about her words carefully, considering what she wants to admit to, deciding exactly what she wants to reveal to her co-worker. Finally, deliberately, "I think Walt lives his life by a code. I respect that code."

"And me? You don't think I have a code?"

"I think I don't know. What's with the twenty questions? What do you want from me, Branch?"

"The truth. Didn't think I'd have to pry it out of you."

"My fucking head hurts and I can taste my own blood. You'll excuse me if I'm not quite myself right now," she shoots back.

"Copy that."

"Great. Now why don't we turn our energy towards getting the hell out of here."

He chuckles at that, the sound fairly humorless. He motions around with his free hand. "Have you noticed the situation we're in?"

"So we try something new and actually try working together for once."

He wonders if her words sound as laughably ridiculous to her as they do to him. He's guessing from the intense look on her face that they don't.

"Okay. Great. Let's work together. You think you can stand up and walk? Because I can't carry you at this angle."

"I didn't ask you to."

"Vic, come on…"

"Stand up, Branch."

"You're actually serious?"

"Yep. Now stand up. We'll do it together and we'll walk out of this place."

"And then what? How far do you think we're going to get like this? I mean I'm pretty sure we can frog-walk about a mile or so every two hours..."

She ignores his last statement. "As far as we need to. Get up."

He considers arguing with her, but he knows her. She's stubborn and believes that there's nothing she can't do. He hopes she's right.

It doesn't take very long to figure out that this time, unfortunately, she's not.

Getting to their feet together is difficult, but not impossible (it just takes about three tries). It's the first step forward that does her in, however. She moves (well, more jerks) and suddenly, she's swooning, just about falling.

"Branch," she whispers as she reaches back for him, her hand clutching at the loose fabric of his shirt as she tries to keep herself from collapsing.

"I got you. Hang on." Arms circling her, he pulls her back to the ground, and then back against his chest. "Here we go. Just…breathe, okay? Breathe," he tells her, listening to her gasps for air with more than a little bit of concern.

She does just that, sucking in several deep breaths, both to calm and steady herself. The stiff stale barn air does little to alleviate the nausea sweeping through her, but she welcomes the intake of oxygen just the same.

They fall into silence for several minutes after that, neither doing much more than breathing. To his ears, hers is a bit labored. Enough so that after about five minutes of this, he reaches around her with his right hand and touches the pulse point on her left wrist. "You doing okay, Vic?" he asks, worry peppering his voice.

"Don't feel great," she admits, the slightest bit of a slur evident.

"I bet. He hit you pretty good." And then, not quite able to hide his frustration with her, he adds, "And that stunt you just pulled didn't do you any favors, either. When we're done here, you're definitely going to the hospital for the night."

"Oh, good. Morphine," she says with a smile.

"You do like your painkillers," he chuckles, remembering her recent trip to the hospital thanks to a bear tranquilizer dart.

"Mmm."

"Fine," he nods. "When we're done here, you can have the painkillers you want."

Her eyes open at that, and despite the pain and discomfort of the action, she tilts her head back towards him, looking up at him, "You're worried."

"Head injuries are nasty business."

"I'm fine, Branch."

"Just keep telling me that."

"Branch, I'm fine."

He considers arguing with her, but once again, quickly decides not to. It doesn't really matter who's correct right now. They're in the situation they're in – cuffed together – until backup arrives. Until then, there's not a whole hell of a lot that they can do about it. "Okay," he tells her. "But you'll have to not hurt me if I check on you every now and again."

"As long as you keep your hands to yourself," she quips. He's relatively reassured by the teasing humor he hears in her tone. There's a warning there as well, but it's light. It's clear to him that whatever she thinks of him, she doesn't think he's the kind of guy who would try to cop a cheap feel just because he can.

"As much as I can," he assures her.

She nods at that, then rolls her head away from him, instead settling her eyes on the far wall of the barn. Over that way, she can see bedding and a duffle bag.

This barn hadn't been where Lucas had been cooking up his meth, but it most certainly had been where he'd been hiding out after the catching the attention of the Sheriff's department thanks to the overdose of a high school student who'd been buying drugs from Lucas. Once that kid had rather miraculously woken up, and realized what he'd just barely managed to survive, he'd sung like a canary.

A few interviews with some of the other high school students that Lucas had been selling to had given the Sheriff's department a couple tips to follow up on – one of them the house where Lucas might have been spotted around.

This house.

Walt had tried to couch her accompanying Branch as being about her expertise with the drug trade thanks to her days in Philly, but she'd known it'd been about watching him. Keeping an eye on him.

And keeping him the hell away from Walt.

This – being knocked out and cuffed to Branch in a barn – obviously hadn't been part of the plan. But what's done is done. All that's left to do is survive.

And then kick Walt's ass for the trouble of it all.

"Vic," Branch says.

"Yeah."

"Just checking."

"Seriously?"

"Yep."

"Fucking fantastic."

He chuckles at that.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"What, Branch?"

"It's just…as long as you're talking like that, I know you're okay."

"Shut up, Branch."

"For a few minutes."

Her only response to that is decidedly unladylike grunt of annoyance.


They've been in this barn for well over two hours by now. Walt absolutely has to know that something has gone wrong.

Which is pretty damned important, because right about now, Vic's having a hell of a time staying awake. He can see her struggling, fighting like hell to keep her eyes open. His checks on her have become more frequent, but she's stopped protesting them, and that worries him more than he'd care to admit.

His mind whirls and spins.

Why does he care so much?

Because she's a colleague, he tells himself. Even if she would choose Walt over him every day of the week and twice on Sundays, it's his job to cover her back.

It's his job to do everything he can to make sure she's okay.

But it's more than that, he realizes with a bit of surprise. He actually cares about her, wants her to be okay. And he can't figure out why.

It's nothing weird, he assures himself. But there's something. There's a reason.

So what the hell is it?

"Vic?" he asks.

It takes her a few moments this time to respond, and when she does, she sounds half-asleep, like she's rapidly losing the battle to remain conscious. "Yeah.

"Got a question for you?"

"Briefs."

"What?"

"I like my men in briefs. Boxers are nice, but they hide too much."

"Oh-kay."

She smiles at that, and he wonders just how goofy she is right about now. There are no drugs involved, but clearly her brain isn't exactly working right.

"Ask your question, Branch."

"I'm not sure I want to hear the answer."

"Okay, then let me sleep."

"No. No way." He puts a hand on her face, as if to slap her.

"Do it and I'll plant an elbow in your crotch," she growls.

"You don't have the angle for that."

"Maybe not, but I'd sure as hell try. Now ask your question or let me sleep," she says, her voice suddenly very tight as a surge of pain cracks through her skull. He sees her close her eyes for a moment, riding out the wave.

"Okay, fine." He takes a breath and then asks, "Would you quit?"

"What?" She opens her eyes and again leans back so that she can look at him. It's a foolish move on her part, one that causes her more pain, but she stays in the position she's in, looking up at him.

"If I won the election, would you quit?"

There's another few moments of silence, and for a moment, he think that maybe she's finally passed out, but then she says quietly, "I don't know."

"But you might."

"I'm not sure I trust you, Branch. And I can't work for someone I don't trust."

"Fair enough."

Her words sting, and that, too, confuses him. He shouldn't care; this is about his future. There will be others who would work with him eagerly so why does it matter that she might not? Why does her lack of trust bother him?

"Might not matter anyway," she tells him suddenly.

"Why's that?"

"My husband is considering…"she stops for a moment, squeezing her eyes against a shot of nearly blinding pain. When she continues, she's practically gasping for air, "…another transfer."

"And if he goes, you go?"

"I think so."

"You think so?"

"It's complicated."

"So is this thing with me and Walt. I need you…you need to understand that."

"Why?"

"Because I never set out to betray him. Cady and me, we didn't get together to hurt him. I loved…I love her. She chose to keep it a secret. Not me. She chose to break up. I'd have been okay with being honest from day one."

"You had to know how he'd react."

"I guess…maybe it was stupid, but I guess I figured he'd understand."

"He didn't."

"No."

"What if you lose the election, Branch? What then? Will you quit?"

"I'd pretty much have to."

"That's a shame."

He startles at that. It's not like Vic to say such things, especially to him. She's a woman who keeps most of her thoughts – unless she's angry or annoyed – to herself. Which means that this has to be about her injury.

So he says as much, providing her with an out, "Your head really must be hurting," he chuckles. "I think you were almost nice to me there."

"Concussion."

"Right."

"But it would be a shame, Branch."

"Why?"

It's at that moment – before she can even open her mouth to answer - when the door to the barn opens and Jimmy Lucas enters, carrying a rifle in his hands.

"Heyo, look who's awake," he calls out with a grin.

She looks up at him and despite the pain and the grogginess, manages to spit out, "I'm going to fucking kill you."

"Oh, I like her," Jimmy says to Branch, his grin turning into a leer. "Maybe before I kill you two, she and I should play."

Branch is about to respond, about to tell Jimmy that if he even tries to touch Vic, it'll be the last thing he ever does, but the fiery blonde replies first, her voice a growled warning, "You want to play? Take off the cuffs and we'll play."

"I just bet we would. Unfortunately, as much fun as that sounds – and it does sound fun - I got a buddy on his way to pick me up and get me the hell out of this shithole town. By the time you two are found in the morning, we'll be long gone."

"They'll know it was you," Branch tells him.

"Yeah, probably, but they'll be so busy trying to figure out what happened to the two of you, it'll take them awhile to get that I'm nowhere around." He gestures over towards a can of gasoline sitting against the wall, then touches his rifle. "A couple bullets and then some fire. Very cleansing I hear."

"You don't want to do this," Branch insists once again, a hint of panic in his tone.

"Oh, yes, I do. Not every day you get to say you capped two deputies."

"Not today, either," a deep voice rumbles from behind Jimmy. And then, just before the gunfire begins, the voice – the one belonging to Walt Longmire – orders, "Branch, get her down. Now."

Walt needn't have said the words; Branch is already in motion, already acting on instinct. He reaches his arms around Vic, holds her tight against his chest, and then rolls both of them away from the line of fire, putting his back to the gunfire. He tucks her as tight as he can under him, his chin rested atop her hair. It's amazing to him just how small and vulnerable she feels against him.

Which is so very wrong because Vic should never be vulnerable.

She just…shouldn't.

That she is now, that she's unable to protect herself, it makes him want to protect her even more. And so he does, tightening his hold around her.

The gunfire only lasts a few seconds, and then there's the sound of boots walking across the floor of the barn.

"Branch," he hears just before a hand settles on his shoulder. "You two all right?"

"I'm fine, Walt," Branch answers, rolling him and Vic back over. He's not at all surprised to find that she's finally lost consciousness, her body limp in his arms. He lifts up their cuffed together hands and motions to Vic. "But she's not. We need to get her to a hospital."

"Don't worry," Walt tells him, his voice almost ridiculously calm considering the situation. "Everything is going to be just fine."


Walt grows considerably less calm as the minutes tick by without word about his deputy. Branch, after a quick check-up, has been released and told to go home and rest. So, of course, he's sitting in a plastic chair watching Walt pace.

He thinks about the things he could say to Walt, the conversations he could try to start. He rejects them all – now is neither the time nor the place to work on their issues. Assuming, of course, that they can be worked on at all.

He doesn't assume that.

Not one bit.

So instead, Branch stays silent, his eyes alternately tracking Walt and watching the door leading back towards where they have Vic.

It's just after midnight when it finally opens and a doctor exits and makes his way over towards Walt. Branch stands up, moving silently to stand next to Walt.

"How is she?" the sheriff asks.

"She took a good hard hit to the head, and there's a hairline crack to the skull, but the tests have come back looking good. We'll watch her overnight to make sure there are no complications, but I think she's going to be just fine."

"Can we see her?" Branch asks, ignoring the curious look he gets from Walt.

"Briefly. She needs her rest."

"Is she lucid?" Walt queries.

"Not so much, but she is conscious. At least for a few minutes."

"Walt, you mind?" Branch asks.

"Go ahead. I'm going to call her husband."

Branch nods his gratitude, and then follows the doctor back through the doors and down the hall. "In there," the doctor says before turning and walking away.

The deputy takes a deep breath, wondering what he's doing, why it's so important to see for himself that she's all right, then enters the room. He's momentarily taken aback by what he sees. She's lying on the bed, wearing a hospital gown, tubes going into her, and a white bandage covering the wound on her head. She looks pale and not at all like the hot-tempered Vic he's used to.

"Branch," she greets, her hazy eyes opening up and gazing right at him. "Figured you'd had enough of me for one day."

"I have," he admits.

"Then don't cuff us together next time," she says lazily.

He considers reminding her that he'd had no choice, but instead, chooses to tease back, "Maybe next time you don't have us wander into the barn. That never works out well for anyone."

"Yeah, that's true." She giggles then, getting a strange look from him. She explains by saying, "Mm. I got my morphine."

He picks up her medical chart, and gazes at it. Through the years of being a deputy, he's learned a little bit about painkillers, knows a few of their technical names. "Not quite," he tells her. "But close enough. How are you feeling?"

"Fantastic." She grins widely when she says this.

"Good." A beat and then, "You worried me tonight."

She cocks her head. "Why?"

He shrugs. "You may not trust me, Vic, but we're a team."

She opens her mouth to respond, but for once in her life, Victoria Moretti has absolutely nothing to say. So she stays silent, just gazing up at him.

"I'll let you sleep," he tells her after a long moment, moving towards the door.

"It would be a shame if you quit, Branch," she calls after him, reminding him of the last thing she'd said before the now-dead Jimmy Lucas had entered the barn with a rifle. "Because trust can be earned."

He keeps his back to her. "I hope I earned it tonight."

And then, without waiting for a response, he leaves the room.

She stares after him for a moment, her mind just barely able to focus through the heavy haze of drugs. She has the feeling that something quite important has just occurred, but what it is, she doesn't know.

That, she supposes, is for tomorrow.

For now, she sleeps.

-fin