‘you ever have sex with somebody who just tried to kill you. it’s incredible.’
The first time he kisses her, she tastes copper.
She can’t tell if it’s hers or his.
Can’t tell if it matters either.
Sarah drinks burnt coffee at 4AM in the greasiest diner this side of Southern California.
He was serious about the pancakes.
The waitress keeps finding excuses to walk by their table, smile quivering at the corners, and Sarah uses the excuse of shrugging off her jacket, of folding it into thirds and shoving it to the far side of the booth before folding herself in after it, to find out why.
“You might want to do a better job of concealing your weapon, Agent Casey,” she spits.
He growls. Leaves it.
She watches the way his knife slides, the way his jaw works.
Runs the tip of her tongue over the raw skin at the roof of her mouth.
She’s heard all of the stories there are to tell about John Casey.
Knows him as the lethal, unsympathetic hard-ass who didn’t exist prior to 1991.
But before that:
She put a bullet in between the eyes of a man in Prague.
He was the guy standing six inches to that man’s left.
She knew him as that first.
First, she knew him in Prague.
On the rooftop, Chuck makes his speech.
On the rooftop, Chuck tells them, in no uncertain terms, that they’re playing by his rules, and then he leaves. She lets him think that. She watches him leave and thinks, yeah, she can give him that. She can give him that today.
Reality will come crashing in all on its own.
She can give him that.
“That one’s going to be trouble,” Casey says.
Two important things you should know:
1) When she shot that guy, when she turned a corner and found herself facing the wrong side of a loaded gun, she had been new. Green. Less than a year of field experience and able to count the number of people that she had shot, fatally, on one hand.
2) When she pulled her sidearm, he didn’t identify himself. Didn’t throw any acronyms at her. Just stood there with his gun in her face, while Casey watched her like he was curious to see if she had it in her to pull that trigger. Like he didn’t think she did.
He was wrong.
The guy went down hard and the pool of blood that spread on the wooden floor was sticky when her boots tracked in it, would appear more brown than red when it dried on the toes of them.
She hadn’t known that about blood before.
She had known the taste of it.
“We should talk,” she says.
Casey treats a shitty day the way others treat a hangover.
The greasy diner. The early hour. It makes a certain kind of sense, paints a certain kind of picture.
“Fine.” Fork clatters to plate. If it’s meant to startle, it doesn’t. Not her, anyway. “Larkin went rogue. Did you?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “If I did, are you going to shoot me too?”
“I’m not going to apologize for serving my country, Walker, especially not when it keeps scum like your boyfriend off the streets.”
She almost decks him right there, in front of the college kids in the back booth and the anxious waitress standing behind the counter. Wants to see blood marring the white of his teeth, wants to feel the sting of it in her knuckles. Wants to cause him pain.
She almost decks him, but she doesn’t.
She almost decks him, but he’s right, so she doesn’t.
He twists her arm behind her back and shoves her forward.
He gets the jump on her and shoves her and she gets blood on the soles of her boots, on the toes of them. It trips her up. It sends her careening into a table, makes her bend in half at the waist from the force of it, and then he has his hands around her neck.
She throws an elbow back into his jaw, hard enough to knock out teeth, and goes for her gun. Gets to it in the time he takes to shake the hit off only to find she’s out of bullets.
This is where she says her name.
Sarah Walker. CIA.
This is where she holds an unloaded gun in front of her like a cross and says her own name like a prayer.
He pulls his badge.
She coughs, a hand coming to settle at her throat where his thumbs had just pressed, and the inside of her cheek aches and swells.
Their branches can’t figure out how to cooperate, so they get their orders separately.
Separate affiliations. Separate jobs. Same charge.
That bodes well for them.
She stands in the parking lot in her Wienerlicious uniform and his gaze travels the expanse of her legs when the wind blows at the hem of her skirt.
“Nice,” he says.
“I’d say the same about you, but Buy More green isn’t really your color,” she retorts.
His laugh is all malice.
His hand when it encircles one pigtail, fingers catching at the ends as he tugs off, now that’s something else entirely.
In grade school, they tell you it’s the boys who pull your hair and push you in the mud that like you and that’s just their way of telling you, of getting your attention. The same principle applies here, she thinks.
She swallows four aspirin and chases it with a shot of vodka.
Slaps an ice pack into the center of his chest, harder than absolutely necessary. He groans. Covers her hand with his before she can pull back, and holds her there, her body bent at an awkward angle, half-stooped and too close. She can’t rise to her full height with him sitting like that, with him pressing into the bones of her hand like that.
“What?” She asks.
“Aren’t you going to ask about that guy you killed?”
“Is it going to bring him back if I do?”
He releases her or she pulls free. Whichever. She ends up across the room and the ice pack ends up against his jaw, a bruise blooming where her elbow had connected. He kept all his teeth.
Her hand is cold, turning numb at the palm. Sore.
“You fucked up my undercover.”
So it was an op.
A dead target, not a dead agent.
“Yeah, well, you fucked up my ankle,” she says, like that makes them even.
The good doctor gets blown to smithereens.
Only he doesn’t.
That Casey thinks it’s her who did it is a compliment at best, a professional courtesy at worst.
That Chuck thinks it’s her – that he believes Casey over her – makes her want to put her fist through a wall.
He kisses her.
(This is her hotel room.
This is Prague.
This is her mouth open to his and his lip split, that bitter copper taste like licking a penny, familiar from earlier, familiar from her own. This is his hand curled around the back of her neck, his thumb at her throat again, and the way the pressure makes her push him away and pull him closer in turn.
“You sleep with everyone who tries to kill you?” She asks.
“That’s an awfully long list,” he says, “And I don’t have that kind of time.”)
He knocks on her door.
She is to the point of throwing things.
She is to the point of throwing fists at her punching bag, the rest of her apartment in boxes that line the walls. A trail of sweat runs down her spine, clothes sticking to skin, and when she opens the door, when he knocks and she takes one last swing at the bag, sends it careening towards the other side of the room as far as its tether will allow it to, she says nothing. Steps aside and says nothing as he walks in.
The bag is still swaying.
“Nice place you got,” he says.
Sarah crosses her arms. “Is there a point to you being in it?”
He smiles coolly. “You’re pissed about Chuck.”
It’s not that she snaps, but the manner in which she snaps. Spits the words at him and then lets her jaw clamp shut, lets that brief moment of panic play out on her face, because he’s hit a nerve, a big one, probably one of the last few that she’s got that hasn’t already been stomped all over, and now he knows it. She doesn’t know him well enough in the ways she needs to – he’s her partner, her fucking partner now, where before he’d just been the other guy in Prague, the one she hadn’t shot, the one she’d let press her into the mattress in her hotel room not an hour later, and she doesn’t know how to reconcile the two – but she does know this:
This is what they do. This is what they get paid to do.
Break things, not fix them.
“You’re pissed because an old-timer like me is better at your job than you are,” he says, and this time she does swing at him.
He ducks rather than dodges, takes advantage of her distraction to get his hands on her ass, to hoist her up. She scrambles the second her feet leave the ground, kicking and clawing before it becomes abundantly clear that her options are either to find purchase or risk him flat-out dropping her on her ass on purpose.
She hooks her legs around his waist and he looks almost pleased.
“Careful,” she taunts, “wouldn’t want you to break a hip.”
Her back collides with the wall, enough force to knock the air right out of her, and her gasp gets swallowed up by his mouth.
He kisses her like he wants to climb inside of her.
The hand on her ass and, later, the hand between her legs, spreading her wider, is the same one she stabbed with a corndog stick a handful of hours ago.
When she thinks about it, she almost laughs.
Her jaw aches, a side effect of the one good hit he managed to get in.
It’s oddly fitting.
She’ll feel this for days afterwards.
Sees the bruises in the bathroom mirror.
Won’t know if she’s looking at battle scars from fighting or fucking.
Doesn’t think it matters either.