She couldn't be certain how long she'd been asleep but when Walt gently nudged Vic and woke her, she felt the acidic burn of panic rise in her throat. Opening her eyes she saw only darkness. Her heart began to thump violently in her constricted chest. It was so painful it felt as if her ribs were being crushed in a vice. The air violently forced from her lungs, she tried to scream but couldn't hear her own strangled cries.
Walt nudged her again and sensing the tenseness of her body he rested his hand on her arm. It was only then did she realise that she wasn't back in Chance Gilbert's house with a helmet rammed over her head.
"You fell asleep. I figured you might feel safer if you came home with me... I hope that's okay?"
Vic nodded and then smiled weakly as Walt came round to her side of the Bronco, opened the door and carefully helped her out.
Guiding her up the steep step and in through the cabin door, Walt directed her to the sofa and sat her down. Fragile and delicate were never words that he thought he would ever use to describe Vic Moretti but seeing her like this changed his whole perception of her. Perhaps he'd misjudged her that first time in his office or maybe there were just some things that were too hard to recover from. He was no stranger to that.
"You sit tight there while I just make this place a bit more welcoming," he smiled and took her coat from her before handing her a soft fluffy blanket from the end of the sofa. Gathering up the odd discarded can, Walt disappeared into the kitchen.
Vic immediately wrapped herself in the blanket's warmth and brought it up to her chin. She gathered it around her pulling it snug. It smelled unmistakably of Walt and for only the second time that day, she felt safe. Her thoughts turned to the big lawman and she wondered how many times he found himself sleeping on the sofa with the blanket wrapped around him, not bothering to make his way to his bed. Too drunk perhaps, or just avoiding the painful memories that lurked behind his bedroom door.
"I made you a coffee. Plenty of sugar, helps with the shock. It should really be sweet tea but I uh, I don't have any tea." Walt held the cup out to her and she gathered it to her chest gladly.
"You know they're gonna want to talk to you some more, about what happened."
"Yeah. It's okay. I can speak to them," she whispered in a shaky voice.
Walt went back to the kitchen then returned with a can of Rainier in his hand. He edged round the table and pushed the blanket further towards Vic who in turn shuffled across and tucked her legs underneath her to make room for him.
"So, how'd you end up off the road?"
Walt thought it was best to start off with some easier questions, not something that might trigger an extreme emotional response. Vic seemed to be the most comfortable and at ease that he'd seen her since they'd arrived at the hospital.
She turned on the sofa to face him. Bringing her knees up to her chest, she wrapped her arms around them.
"Sean took his eye off the road and almost ran into a bear."
"Why wasn't he concentrating?" He was already angry with Vic's husband for putting her in harms way but at least Sean had the good sense to call him when he thought that Vic had been abducted. So, Walt wasn't quite ready to lynch the guy just yet.
Sighing, Vic dropped her chin to her knees. "We were having a stupid argument about putting the top up. I was cold... he wanted to make the most of the convertible." She shook her head in embarrassment.
"I didn't picture you as the yellow convertible type." His warm smile made Vic feel at ease and she could tell that he wasn't trying to make fun of her.
"I'm not, at least not any more. I just guess Sean thought it might help put a spark back into our marriage." Vic shrugged and smiled awkwardly.
"I guess it backfired."
"Ya figure?" For the first time all night, Vic smiled, then stretched out one leg, easing it over Walt's lap. He lifted his arm and guided her leg into place, resting his hand on her shin.
"Why did it have to be Chance Gilbert's place that I found? Anywhere else and none of this would've happened."
"Yeah, you were just unlucky." Walt began to rub Vic's leg slowly and she found herself stretching out the other leg now so that they both rested in his lap.
He hadn't been with anyone this way since Martha. Given the horrendous circumstances by which they found themselves in this position, it shouldn't feel so right, so meant to be. Despite the fact that she was a married woman, Walt Longmire couldn't stop himself from wondering if this is what it could be like if he only made his feelings known to her.
Reaching across to the table, she gathered up her cup of coffee and brought it to her lips taking a sip. She then stretched again to place it back safely. Walt held her legs firmly in place so that she wouldn't topple onto the floor.
"How'd you get the concussion?" He glanced across to gauge her reaction. "One of the officers said that they found a baseball bat." Walt watched as Vic closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself. "Did he hit you with it?"
She nodded slowly screwing her eyelids tightly shut as she felt the tell tale sting of fresh tears. She didn't want to cry again, to appear weak but she had been terrified and now found herself unable to control the overwhelming wave of emotion that washed over her body.
He couldn't bear to see her crying again. Particularly when it was his questioning that had caused her so much pain. Reaching out he took her hand and pulled her towards him. She gladly followed and found herself in his lap with his arms cradling her tightly.
"I'm sorry, Vic," Walt whispered into her ear. He stroked her back and rocked her gently in his arms until her sobs subsided. Then he placed a kiss on the top of her head and carefully drew away some stray hairs that had stuck to the moisture on her face like a cobweb in the early morning dew.
Partially regaining her composure, she retold her nightmare. "He put a bike helmet on my head and then he let his little shit of a son take the first shot. Then he hit me."
Vic buried her head back into Walt's chest and slid her arm around his side, gripping his shirt. She couldn't have physically got any closer to him and it made him feel thankful that he was able to afford her so much comfort and safety.
"You need to listen to Doc Weston, if you still have that headache tomorrow, I'm takin' you back to the hospital," he whispered softly, sliding his fingertips through the soft, fine wisps of hair at her temples.
"Because you always do what the Doc says, right?" It was a rhetorical question that she knew he wouldn't answer.
"The worst part of it all was in that damn bunker of his." Vic sat up slightly now so that she could see his kind eyes but she made no attempt to sit back down on the sofa.
Walt allowed her some space but he rested his hand on her thigh just above her knee. "It must have been frightening, but at least you had Sean," his attempt to engage her about her husband didn't seem to be working.
"Oh yeah, he was a great comfort." She couldn't hide the note of sarcasm in her voice. "That's when he told me that he'd called you."
"He did the right thing, Vic. If it hadn't been for Sean..."
Vic sat up abruptly and moved off to his side. More than anything she was agitated and angry that Walt had any respect for her husband. "No, he fucking didn't. He nearly got you killed. I sat in that shit hole and watched as one of Gilbert's lunatic relatives threw down what I thought was your body and I lost it. I lost it in front of my husband. And I swear, if it had been you in that bag, I would have killed Sean. I would have torn him apart. He's such a fucking coward, I hate him, I hate him..."
As Vic broke down and began shouting, Walt pulled her to him once again. She fought to escape his grasp but his strength was too much for her and he held her tightly.
"I thought I'd lost you," she sobbed and he could feel the dampness of her tears seep through his shirt.
"And then..." Vic slammed her palm into his chest, "...when I found out it wasn't you, you had to go and try and get yourself killed. I swear Walt, I can't do this anymore."
"Hey," Walt took hold of her hand before she could hit him again. He smiled, his eyes crinkled and he tilted her chin up with his free hand. "You can't get rid of me that easy." His thumb grazed the edge of her jaw and he felt her relax and lean into his touch.
His head told him that this was a dangerous situation for them to find themselves in. She was fragile, concussed and confused and the very last thing he wanted to do was to add to that confusion. But his heart was telling him a very different story. What harm was it doing, this closeness, this intimacy. He was being everything that she needed him to be at this moment. It was innocent, sacred and yet, if he were to just tilt his head, close the distance between their lips...
"I didn't care what happened to Sean, Walt. I left him in the car. I had to know." Shaking her head, she looked into his eyes and cupped his face between her hands. "But if I'd lost you, Walt, I don't think I could have gone on. I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here."
"You would've. You'd have Sean."
Vic shook her head. "No, I don't think I could because I realised something today that I think I've known for a long time now." Vic's fingers ghosted across the rough stubble of his cheek and eased their way through the soft strands of his hair. "I don't love Sean anymore, I don't think I even like him because he will never be the man that you are."
"Don't, Vic. This isn't the right time. You're hurt, you don't know what you're sayin' ." Walt pulled away from her and instantly he was struck by guilt as he saw the hurt in her eyes. He cursed his heart for allowing him to believe that it would be okay to offer her more than just comfort and he struggled with the crippling desire that was beginning to win the inner battle that he fought with himself.
"You should get some sleep, Vic. You take the bed, I'll be okay here." He patted the arm of the sofa.
"Please, I don't wanna be on my own right now." Vic lifted up the blanket inviting him to return to the sofa. How could he refuse her, when the eyes that pleaded with him were so full of pain and regret.
As he sank back down into the sofa, Vic curled herself onto his lap and he pulled the blanket across her."I'm here, Vic. I'm not goin' anywhere." Rubbing her shoulders through the blanket, Walt let his head drop back against the sofa and eventually he allowed sleep to take him.
He woke, cold and stiff. His left leg was numb and his arm was tingling with tiny persistent stabbing pains. Vic was snoring lightly in his lap. She seemed at peace, all of the worry erased from her face. Moving slightly to allow the blood to flow back down his thigh, she stirred and pulled the blanket up over her shoulders. He could tell that she was in a deep sleep and so he manoeuvred himself so that he could slip out from beneath her.
Whilst the sofa was comfortable enough, he knew that she needed to be in a bed. Sliding his arms under her legs and around her shoulders he lifted her with ease and carried her to his bedroom. Pushing open the door with his foot, Walt placed her gently on his side of the bed and then carefully eased off her boots. After covering her with the sheets he climbed onto the bed next to her and lay on his back with his arms above his head.
The alarm clock told him that it was 2.30 in the morning. Sean would be back at their home by now wondering where Vic was. Walt knew that he should feel bad for the guy but he couldn't. He didn't deserve, Vic. From what he'd gleaned about Sean on the few occasions he met him, was that he was inferior to Vic in almost every way and he guessed that Sean was blatantly aware of that. It was the reason that he tried to control her, stifle her and it was also the reason that he was so jealous of what he himself had with Vic.
"No, no... please don't let it be... you bastard, I can't open it, I can't..."
Beside him, Vic began kicking out at the sheets as if trying to free herself. Leaning across, Walt tugged her until she was lying on her back. He had hold of her shoulders firmly when her eyes shot open, wild and startled. She couldn't focus at first and began struggling all over again but as her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the room she saw Walt hovering above her and in her relief she reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down to her.
"It's okay, Vic, you're safe." His moist breath caressed her face and she closed her eyes taking deep measured breaths.
Opening them once again, she looked from the warmth of his blue eyes to the closeness of his lips. Without thinking she pulled his lips to hers.
"You know I had to do that," she whispered into his lips. "Just to know that this is real and that you're still here."
"I'll always be here, Vic." He gradually pulled away from her grasp and lay again on his back with a heavy sigh. "I have to take you home to your husband."
"I know, it's okay." Vic sat up and nodded her head in resignation. "You're a good man, Walt. Too good."
The engine of the Bronco idled quietly as Walt walked his Deputy up to her front door.
"I hope he doesn't give you too much of a hard time." Walt nodded towards the house.
"I can handle him."
"I don't doubt it."
Vic walked the remaining few steps on her own. As the key turned in the door she looked back.
"Thank you for being there for me." She smiled and lifted her hand.
Walt watched until the door shut behind her and then he whispered into the night air. "Always."