DISCLAIMER: The Longmire characters are the property of Shephard/Robin Company and The Warner Horizon Television. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2013 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
“You’re saving it for her. You’re just too afraid to admit it.” Vic tried not to replay Lizzie’s words as she sat in Branch’s hospital room, waiting for him to wake up. She couldn’t remember all the words Lizzie had flung around the cabin, but she remembered those.
She’d never felt so awkward. Or so guilty.
Or so...relieved. That it was out there. Finally.
She’d tried to hide that last reaction. Still was hiding it, even as she sat in the chair next to Walt—Cady had the chair closest to the bed, was holding Branch’s hand and murmuring words Vic couldn’t make out but could imagine.
Sweet things. Loving things.
Things she’d imagined Walt saying to her on one of the gazillion nights Sean was traveling. It wasn’t cheating. Just a silly little crush on her boss, on this crazy cowboy who made John Wayne seem like a big crybaby.
She snuck a look at Walt. He seemed to feel the movement—subtle as she’d tried to be—and met her eyes. She smiled; he smiled back. She hoped her smile looked less tentative than his did.
She stood, suddenly unable to sit in the room with him. “Who wants coffee?”
Cady shook her head, but Walt got up, and said, “Punk, you need to eat. Not too long ago you were the one lying in that bed, so you’ve got to keep your strength up. Branch would want you to. More importantly, he needs you to.”
Cady turned to look at them. “Maybe a nutrition bar and some coffee?”
Walt nodded. “We’ll be back in a bit.”
Vic followed him out of the room, busying herself by seeing how much cash she had on her. Crap, a buck fifty?
“Don’t worry. I got it,” Walt said as they walked into the cafeteria. “You know what kind of bar she meant?”
Vic nodded. “What flavor, though?” She would have asked Cady, but she figured Walt would know.
“Cady’s not fussy.”
“Good. That’s good.” God, could this be any more awkward? “So, you make up with Lizzie?” Really? What in the hell was she doing? The tension between Walt and her needed to go down, not up. She didn’t want him talking about any love rectangles—and was that an idiotic expression or what?
He didn’t seem to mind her prying, though. “Don’t plan to. Can’t make a life with a woman who’s always waiting for you to mess up.”
“That’s true.” She felt that way with Sean a lot of the time. Like she was always atoning for past beaus. It wasn’t as if she’d cheated on him, though. Not like she thought maybe he had, during that last year in Philly before the shit hit the fan and they’d moved away—moved here. He’d been away from home so often back then, working late, he’d said, but when she’d called his office line, he’d never been at his desk.
Not that she’d told him she’d called. And she’d phoned from one of the blocked lines at the station that they used when they didn’t want Philadelphia Police to come up on the caller ID.
“What she said, Vic—I don’t know where she got that from.”
“Yeah, way off in left field, huh?”
“Yeah.” He met her eyes, and she thought something was wrong. He lacked his normal assurance.
She took a deep breath, then said “You remember that present she brought by?”
“She gave it to me a hell of a long time before I gave it to you. I had it in my desk drawer. I think I was hiding it.”
He stopped walking and turned to face her.
“I’m so sorry. If I’ve ruined this for you...?”
He shook his head. “Wouldn’t have mattered when you gave it to me. I never did open it. That got under her skin a bit when she happened in one day and saw it still sitting all wrapped up in her fancy paper and bows.”
“So you don’t know what it was?”
“I don’t think I want to know.” He smiled the “what can you do?” smile that she loved.
Was it bad that she had catalogued his expressions?
“She could be an asset to you, Walt.”
“Oh, like a cell phone?” His eyes were twinkling as he glanced at her.
“You know what I mean.”
“Like your husband is for you? You pretty much called him less than a real man, if I remember your words right?”
“Good damn memory.”
“Well, I’m not sheriff for my looks.” He laughed softly. “If that were the criteria, Branch would’ve won the election.”
“I don’t know. A woman could get used to you.” She tried to make her tone teasing, just two friends joshing around. But it came out sounding a whole lot more like truth than humor. She pointed to the nutrition bars, said, “There you go.”
He got one, then said, “I could eat something. Which of these is the best?”
“Trust me, you’ll be sorry if you get one of those.” She grabbed a big chocolate chip cookie and a bag of pretzels for herself and put them on his tray. “Cookie’ll do you right.” When he looked doubtful, she laughed and said, “Live a little, Walt—jeez.”
“I did.” He swallowed hard and pushed the tray toward the coffee pots. “I stayed with Lizzie after the party.”
“I know. I figured that out when none of us could get you at your house.” She smiled gently. “Another reason to carry a cell. You can be reached wherever you go.”
“That wasn’t my point, Vic. I...I pulled away from Lizzie after that because I felt like me being with her was wrong.”
“Wrong as in caused Cady’s accident? Because you being home wouldn’t have changed that.”
“I know. I worked that out. Had a lot of time to think after the accident before Cady woke up.”
“So you can be with Lizzie, then.” She tried to keep her voice breezy as she poured coffee into a large mug.
“I don’t want to. I’ve had some time to think on that, too, since she stormed out.” He poured coffee into two cups, added cream and sugar to one of them. “I’ve gotten used to having you around. I like having you around. And...maybe Lizzie was a little bit right. But you’re married, Vic. I don’t do that.”
“Remember that job offer Sean got for Australia? He really wants to go to. I don’t. We’re, ummm, not in the best place right now.”
He met her eyes, the deep, searching look she usually saw him give a suspect or a crime scene. She didn’t look away.
“Am I supposed to be interested in that?”
She could feel her face turning red. But not because he’d sounded mean. He was actually being direct—asking her if she liked him, in his totally Walt roundabout way. “I’d like it if you were.”
He smiled. It was a quick smile, a blink and you miss it expression. But it had been a real smile.
And she’d never seen him give Lizzie anything even remotely close to it.
“Well, I guess you’ll keep me apprised on that, then?” He didn’t look at her as he said it, just busied himself with getting lids on the coffees.
“I guess I will.” She grinned at him when he shot her a sidelong glance, and he smiled again in the warm, beautiful way she suddenly realized she might see more than anyone else—except Cady, of course.
“I’m glad you’re staying,” he said, after he’d paid for everything and they were headed back to Branch’s room. His voice was the rough one that meant he was saying something packed full of real feeling—feeling he was going to try to hide a little in the gruffness.
She loved that she evoked feeling in him. “Me, too, Walt. Me, too.”