Actions

Work Header

Lies to Buy Myself Some Time

Work Text:

Allison mentions it on a couple occasions in passing, after a drink or three, or when they're shooting the post-coital shit. But it always sounds like a maybe-someday-who-knows thing, mixed in with a mess of other maybes. Like babies.

He never tells her his thoughts about her having his babies. About how sexy she'd be with her taut little belly all swollen, or how these days, when he sees a breastfeeding mother he gets an aching, crackly feeling in his chest, like pneumonia. He doesn't share his fantasies about the condom breaking again, or that he would try and convince her not to take the morning after pill. He doesn't tell her that he thinks her grandmother had the perfect name for a little girl, because that's an even more maybe-someday-who-knows kind of thing, and Jason's smart enough to know you don't toss around talk like that with a girl unless you are sure you mean it. Especially a girl who's still carting around an issue or two with being adopted.

So yes, Allison has mentioned an interest in joining the FBI, but not that she's serious. Which is probably why she doesn't mention when she applies. And why she doesn't mention that that visit to her sister in Virginia wasn't just to spend time with her nephews. It was to have a series of interviews and exams, and she still hasn't mentioned it when, a month and half later, he gets a call from someone checking up on her references.

He tells them she's an exemplary cop. He waxes poetic about how she'd make an even more exemplary Fed. Then, he quietly heads into the changing room and kicks a locker hard enough leave a dent in it. Casey's there in the doorway as he leaves and she asks if there's anything he needs. He shakes his head. She says his name softly, like she's a little scared, not of him but for him. When she puts a hand on his arm, he gives it a squeeze and tells her thanks, really, but no. Then he goes to find Allison.

She's in a bubble tea cafe, following up a lead on a string of purse snatchings when he finds her.

"Did you plan to leave me a note?" he asks, his voice still very calm because this shouldn't make him so angry. "Or do I just get an invite to your going away party like some schmuck you're not screwing." Okay, so by the end of that sentence, he's a little less calm and more attracting the startled looks of everyone in the cramped little shop.

"Ex*cuse* me?" She hustles him out of the shop and through the sidewalk press of tourists to a gap between two illegally parked cars. Across the street, a row of cherry trees are in fully, cotton candy bloom. "Did Sarge tell you?"

"He knows? Of course he knows."

"No. Not yet. How did you--"

"You didn't answer my question."

She sighs and sits on hood of one of the cars. "I was going to. I meant to, I swear. I just...needed to wait until it was certain, because I couldn't handle---" she stops rubbing her forehead and waves both hands at him.

"Couldn't handle *what*?"

"You. Trying to talk me out of it, or, or being all supportive, or feeling sorry for me when I failed. It took me long enough to work up the nerve. I needed to see if I could do it on my own, and not--" She runs out of steam. "I'm sorry, Jason. You're right. I should have..."

"Yeah. You should have. Well congrats," he spits out, eyes fixed on a jewelery store across the street. He wants to be happy for her, but right now, he can't look at her. "See you around."

"May," she says.

"May you what?"

"I'm leaving for Quantico in May. Jason, come on," she says when he turns and starts walking up the block. She calls after him, "Look, I know I fucked up. I tried to tell you last night. I've tried to tell you every night for the last three weeks"

He turns. "You've known for three weeks?"

"Please. I want you to stay. Talk to me. I'm sorry," she says. And she does, she looks so sorry.

"I've gotta get back to work."

*

It only takes him a couple days to get over himself and man the fuck up and be happy for her. Or at least, appreciate that she's happy. "If you asked me to stay," she says, later that night, over eggs and waffles and the second of the three conciliatory wine bottles she showed up with at one A.M.

"I wouldn't," he tells her.

"But if you did."

He finishes the bundle of silverware he's rolling, presses the little paper ring around it and circles his thumb over the end, making sure it sticks. Then he looks up to find this hope on her face and it just about kills him. "I won't," he tells her, because he can't give her the truth. Which is that he can't.

She smiles wistfully and takes the napkin-wrapped roll from him. Then she turns his hand over and kisses his palm. "I love you," she says.

"I know." He watches as she kisses the inside of his wrist. "I love you too."

The make up sex is desperate and epic enough that they both call out the next day. The day after that, the precinct heater gets stuck on full blast and he rolls up his sleeves so as to not roast to death. Casey gives the hickeys on his forearm a pointed look.

"What?"

"Nothing. Just glad to see everything worked out." And then, "What? Cole and I talk."

"Uh-huh."

She grabs a pencil from his desk and twists her hair up into a sloppy approximation of a bun. Several sweaty strands fall in her face immediately, and she shoves them behind her ear. "You and Beaumont obviously have your cycles lining up, Mr. Crankypants."

"I'm not cranky."

"Today you're not. Today you're obviously well--"

"Well what?"

"Hoovered." She nods at the hickeys again. "But if you ever need a tampon, they're in the second drawer here."

"Thanks. They're actually pretty good for nosebleeds, you know?"

"I do, as a matter of fact." Then, under her breath, she mutters, "Fuck it," And starts unbuttoning her wilting blue button down shirt. The pits are sweat dark, and when she flaps the open sides back and forth a few times, fanning herself, he gets a whiff of deodorant and the salty, metallic, slightly musky smell of Casey-sweat. It's a different mix than Allison's scent. He wonders idly, and not for the first time, how she tastes. He's gotten so used to Allison's body, her nooks and crannies and sensitive spots, and he loves that. He loves her. But that doesn't mean other women don't cross his mind. And Casey, being the woman he spends the most time with, occasionaly floats across his erotic radar.

A few things help keep her appearance in his dick-driven thoughts to a relative minimum. For example, he's always been a breast man and she's got...more modest attributes in that department. Not exactly the overflowing handful he usually likes to conjure up during his solo home stretch. But, they're nothing to scoff at, either. Today, he's pretty sure that the thin white strap under the wider grey one of her tank top is for an undershirt, not a bra. Whatever it is, it's not thick enough to keep her nipples from showing, or hide the shift of the natural shape of her as she reaches for her iced coffee, lifts the straw to her lips for a long pull, then presses the sweating plastic cup to her forehead. He notes all of this with his peripheral vision as he stares just over her right shoulder. As an avowed tits man, and an attempted non-dickhead, he's long since learned how to look without being obnoxious about it.

He knows that once Allison's gone, he'll look a lot more. Not at Casey specifically, but at women in general. He's been faithful these last few years, and never had a serious urge to stray. That's not how he's built, especially when what he's getting regularly is so good. And so regular. But when he's not with someone in particular...well, if this time is anything like the last time he got back in the game, he'll be stretching his legs pretty vigorously for a while. They haven't talked about what the plan is for after she leaves, and he gets a twinge of guilt over the twinge of excitement he got this morning, when Allison was in his shower and it occurred to him he'd be fucking someone other than her sooner rather than later.

After the guilt came a surge of defensiveness. Then an automatic one of jealousy over the idea of some other guy inside Allison. Some other guy learning that spot behind her knee that gets her wet in nothing flat. He breathed through it, and reminded himself that he could make this time shitty for himself and painful for her by clinging to something that was already gone, or he could be a grown up and enjoy it while he had it. Because she was leaving him but she wasn't going to be gone. Not the kind of gone that rips a hole in your chest. And if he was quietly, privately, cutting the strings she'd hooked into his heart even as they rode each other ragged for these last few months, it was kinder to keep that to himself.

Casey snaps her fingers in front of him a few times, and he refocuses on her face. She's got a shiny mustache of sweat beads. "Hey, did you hear me?"

He smiles at her.

"What?" She leans back and gives him a suspicious look.

"Nothin'."

"Reminisce about your sexcapades later. Someone dressed like Santa hit three fish markets this morning."

"What'd they get?"

"Cash. And a whole lot of lobsters."

*

Two days before she leaves, Allison picks a fight with him. He lets her. Or maybe it's mutual. It doesn't make her leaving any easier, but it does make throwing himself into getting over her a little less hard. His first couple rounds are badge bunnies, one of whom is an on again off again sure thing whose silkily pleased, "Oh, I remember you," gets him hard enough that he has to wait ten minutes before leaving his desk to swing by her place. After riding him like she stole him for a few hours, she tugs on a robe and sits on her windowsill, one foot on her fire escape, smoking menthol after menthol. She shows him pictures of her son, who he remembers as an long-haired, awkward, zitty teen. The boy in the picture wears tan camoflage and wrap around glasses, and poses with a group of similarly shaved, M16 wielding young men. "He gets back in September," she says.

The second badge bunny he picks up looks unconscionably young the next morning, when the sun comes up and she's freed from all that careful makeup and the darkness of his bedroom. To quell his fears, he checks her wallet while she showers, and is relieved to find that while it wasn't legal to serve her alcohol, it was legal to do the things they did together all night. In most states, anyway.

Then, for a while, he plays up the blue collar schtick and visits some midtown bars lousy with well-tailored, stilleto-clad professional women whose bags hold white tennis shoes or colorful flip flops for their walks home. There's something about slumming that makes a certain sort of woman into an entirely different sort of woman for the length of the evening, and Jason likes going down on that sort of woman until she bucks like a fish on the deck of a boat.

One of those evenings, he ends up getting in a conversation with young guy who recognizes him from his days as a Yankee. He insists on buying Jason a round, and they get to talking about current line up, about the impending possible MTA strike, and, after the diner comes up, about whether Jason's more whimsical menu offerings are deliberately ironic in a creative way or just his way of fucking with people.

Three drinks in, the guy shyly admits that when he was a kid (and god, Jason can't have more than five or six years on the guy) he had one of his first crushes on Jason. Jason's drink almost goes down the wrong pipe, but he recovers with just a small clearing of his throat. He's not quite sure what to say to that, and while he summons a response, the look of "Oh shit, did I really just say that?" on the guy's face makes him cough out a laugh, which breaks the tension. "Thanks?" He thinks about it for a second, then nods and smiles graciously. "Yeah, thanks."

The guy's relief is palpable, and apparently, he's comfortable enough to then say that Jason is - the guy swears to this - on his free pass list.

"Free pass?"

"You know, the celebrities your boyfriend gives you permission to sleep with, if you ever get the chance."

"Oh yeah? Who else?"

"Trent Reznor and Timothy Olyphant. We decided we each get a musician, an actor, and a sports star."

"You can't really call me a star," Jason says, feeling a surge of that uncomfortable mix of embarrassment and pride that always crawls beneath his skin when this sort of thing comes up.

The guy picks nervously at the edge of the the coaster beneath Jason's beer and says, "Well, you were to me, anyway. Is this weird? I'm making this weird, aren't I? I'm sorry. I should..." he pushes back his chair and glances at the door.

Jason puts a hand the guy's shoulder and says, "It's cool. Seriously, I'm fine."

"And straight, I'm guessing."

Bottle paused at his lips, Jason says, "Pretty much," and finishes the last of his beer. Then he orders them another round.

One round after that, he's not all that surprised to step out of the single occupancy bathroom to find the guy leaning against the opposite hallway wall, hands in his pockets, lower lip pinched between his teeth. He gives Jason a look that's half hopeful, half bold, and Jason thinks, why the hell not. It is, without a doubt, one of the top five blow jobs he's ever received. The way the guy shakes and laughs nervously when Jason pulls him up, after, and kisses him while jerking him off is strangely endearing and after, on the corner outside the bar, guy pulls out his phone and asks - not for Jason's number, thank god - but for a picture of the two of them. Otherwise, he says, his boyfriend will never believe him. Jason puts his arm around the guy and smiles his fan-ready smile for the camera. Some things you don't forget how to do.

*

He continues in this vein a few times a week until the weekend after the Fourth of July, when they track down a junkie who killed his dealer for selling him and his girlfriend a bad batch of dope. Or maybe her heart just gave out, it was a toss up really. The junkie runs, naturally, and by now, Walsh has learned not to pull any stunts when they both go after a perp. A couple months back, he "accidentally" body checked Casey into a pile of bags behind a pizza joint. After, reeking of garlic, she'd calmly put her hand on his shoulder, leaned in close, and kneed him right in the crotch. So they're *both* chasing the junkie, but it's Walsh who catches the guy.

And as he's patting the guy down for weapons something sharp jabs the heel of his hand. Instantly, he recoils, and - after grinding a knee into the small of the guy's back, he holds up his hand and squeezes, watches as a single drop of blood wells on his palm. Casey sprints up seconds later, and (quick girl) she gives the hand he's clutching one look, and drops to her knees beside him even as her eyes are going wide. She's got her cuffs on the the perp seconds later.

Walsh falls back to sit on his heels, heart dropping, dubstep style, from a footrace induced tripletime to a stuttering series of thuds that echo in his skull.

"Where?" she asks.

"What?"

"Where is it?" She smacks the perp upside the head, hard, then pulls out a pair of latex gloves from her jacket and tugs them on. "Where is it, asshole?"

"Fuck you, bitch."

She yanks him by the hair, twisting until he's ear up, then she kneels on his head until he cries out. She shouts, "Where is it?"

Walsh shakes his head to clear the spots in his eyes. He's hyper aware of the rush of blood through his veins. A river of cells, driving like salmon up to his heart, then gushing back out again, pounding at the walls of a million tiny capillaries. Washing his insides with wave after swirling red wave of the stuff. He blows out a breath through pursed lips and forces another one into his lungs. She's still kneeling on the perp's head and shouting at him.

"Left front jeans pocket," Walsh says. His throat is dry from the chase - nine fucking blocks, this guy. "Left--"

"And my sock," the guy squeals.

"Shut up!" She shoves him over. The metal tip is just visible above the edge of his pocket. She stares at it for a second, then up at Walsh, their eyes meeting for the first time since she got here. Neither of them say it. It was on the first day of the investigation, two days ago, that they learned the dead girlfriend was positive.

"It's probably--" but Walsh is cut off when she hauls back and punches the perp in the face.

The babbling and squirming ceases. Very carefully, she extracts the syringe, then she pulls an evidence bag from her jacket and drops it in. Handing it over, she says, "Go." She names an emergency room a few blocks east, then says again, firmly, "Go, Jason."

"I can wait for back up, they'll be here any--"

"*Fuck* you, Walsh. I've got this." She stands and grabs the front of his shirt, hauling him to his feet. She gives his shoulders a shove, hard enough to send him back a step. "You go. Now."

*

He knows the protocol. Back when he was in uniform, one of his partners had some out of his mind crackhead with a bleeding head wound take a bite out of his ankle, and it'd been four weeks of drugs that left him nauseous. Or maybe that was just the nerves. Neil had come up clean at 3 months, and at his 6 month OK, they'd both gotten so drunk they woke up in Bayonne.

The walk takes maybe ten minutes, but by the time he gets there and flashes a badge at the nurse behind the desk, Casey must have called ahead, because then he's behind a curtain, and knocking back a little paper cup of pills. Then, a cup of lukewarm water. He tells her about the syringe, and as she's taking his blood, his phone rings.

"Walsh," he says.

"Hey," Casey says. "I know you're... either way you, you know."

"Hey. It's okay."

In the background, on her end, someone's honking. "We're on our way to the station. He said he's positive."

"Mm-hmm."

"I just thought you should know."

"I should. That's," he hisses as the nurse removes the needle. "Something I should know."

"You'll be okay," she says.

"Course I will," he says, watching the nurse tape the gauze onto his inner arm.

*

It gets around, of course. No one says anything, but he gets these looks for the next couple days. "Everyone knows?" he asks her as they're sitting in the front seat of an unmarked car, drinking shitty coffee and watching the suspiciously busy storefront of a laundromat.

"Yep."

He sighs. He hasn't seen her give him any looks, not since that rattling one of repressed horror as she skidded to a halt, saw, and had it dawn on her. She's been totally normal. In fact, better than normal, because she'd been having issues with her boyfriend-slash-money-guy since some thing at a family barbeque--a grand, catered affair where her mother said something shitty that he still didn't quite understand the importance of. But he'd been a boyfriend to enough women to understand that the primary fuck up in question was taking her mother's side.

Three times already, he's talked her into meeting and letting him apologize. Three times, he'd somehow managed to fuck it up somehow.

"It doesn't matter that he's right," she says, after taking a sip of his coffee and - apparently realizing that enough sugar makes even the worst brew drinkable, pouring some into her cup, then back into his, then back into hers again, mixing it up with the black she manfully ordered every time they had a stakeout.

"You sure you wanna do that?"

"What?" She takes a gulp of her coffee. "All I wanted was sex, and then like four hours of sleep last night. Not a freaking deposition about his feelings."

"Drink after me."

She stares at him for a few seconds, and it's clear the moment she gets it. Then, she gives a little eyeroll and says, "You don't have cooties."

"I might have cooties."

"You don't."

"I might."

"You--" but then she stops herself. "Are you worried?"

Yes. No. Maybe. Trying not to be. He shrugs. "Are you?"

"Of course I am. But I don't think you have cooties. And even if you did..."

"I know, I know." He takes a sip of his coffee, which is actually not bad, cut like this.

"You know what's got to really suck? I know you, and I bet you won't start slutting around again until you get your results."

"I do not slut around."

She wrinkles her nose and nods. "A little bit, you kind of do. It's okay, though. I don't judge. I get it."

"And how the hell would you know?"

"You get all..." she waves a hand at him. "I can just tell when you got laid. At first, it was that I could tell when Beaumont got laid, which, when I found out, correlated with your whole vibe. Yeah you do. I can tell. And lately, I've told a lot." She looks at him like, 'Deny it,' which he doesn't. "I know you, all right? And I'm betting you're gonna wait until your test to start back up. You're that kind of guy"

It hadn't even occurred to him, but she's right. Shit. "That does suck."

She sips her coffee and stares thoughtfully out the windshield for a couple minutes. Then, "On the other hand, it might be good to give your penis a rest."

"Are you concerned about my penis?"

"Ew, no. I'm concerned because I don't know how cranky you get when you're not getting laid."

Pretty cranky, if he recalls correctly. "So you're saying you wanna lend me your vibrator."

"You can get your own, thanks."

"Who says I don't have one?"

She blinks at him. "TMI, man, TMI."

*

Two months later and he's put it out of his mind, mostly. He's been off the daily regimen for a while, and all he can do now is wait for the test at three months. He's been working out a couple hours most nights, going out more with the rest of the squad, staying up late imposing shitty decaf and his latest creations on Casey while she imposes her boyfriend and family shit on him. For a while, spending his off hours doing something other than getting laid is head clearing. But two months is longer than he's gone...since he can remember. Possibly since he was twenty-two and mourning. And so - while he is determined to see this whole abstinence thing through, it is crossing the tipping point from head clearer to major distraction.

Not that he hasn't been taking full advantage of his right hand. And his left hand, for that matter. But it isn't just the pipe clearing he craves. He starts getting massages a couple times a week - legit ones - and that helps some, but he is still feeling, God help him, frisky. Antsy. Rapidly approaching teenage levels of horny.

Horny enough to contemplate - not contemplate acting on, mind you, but just contemplate - what Casey might be like in bed. While she is talking to him. Particularly that time she comes into the changing room while he's shirtless and gives him a wolf whistle, then a biceps squeeze. "Someone's been working out."

She goes on to straddle a bench and plop down as she reads him the fax they just got from the 17th. He rolls on some deodorant, tears into a new pack of t-shirts, then tugs on that and a fresh shirt. With half his mind, he listens to her run through the guy's priors, with the other, he pictures her underneath him, clutching at his arms, head thrown back, face flushed. He imagines that she is quiet in bed. Not all that repressed, but not a screamer either. He wonders if she's a crier. Happy tears, not the 'I have serious damage I forgot to mention' kind, though those aren't always so bad. He doesn't like to see a woman cry, but he does like it when he gets to make her tears stop.

He tosses a few ideas her way as he finishes buttoning up, not missing a beat, and she mentions a contact in vice over there.

She finishes on "Good idea," and he looks up to find her half turned away, stripping off her shirt, then digging through her own locker. It's the red bra, he realizes. He hasn't thought of it since then, but it's the bra she was wearing the night she met him.

He realizes he's staring just about the time she says, "Yeah, I know, it's easy to forget I'm a girl, sometimes."

No, he thinks. Then, he turns away to sit and swap out his socks for fresh ones.

*

It's a long, convoluted case that gets them to the exclusive jewelery store in the upper 70s, and it's the greyhound-sleek girl behind the counter who mistakes them for a couple. They go with it. Casey's giddy little grin behind the salesgirl's back makes him smile, and damn, it's not like he forgets that he likes working with her. But sometimes.

"May I suggest," the clerk says after a cool once over of the pair of them, "starting with this price range." She lifts not the one Casey pointed to, but a smaller velvet lined tray of rings from the back of the display.

"May I suggest the one I asked for?" she says coolly, in this snobby little rich girl voice. She denies she uses it when it's to her advantage, but she does, and it amuses the hell out of him every time. And turns him on just a bit.

"I'm marrying her for her money, by the way," he says, snaking an arm around her waist and tugging her till she's pressed against his side.

She surprises him by patting his chest, then leaning in and kissing his cheek. "Mr. and Mrs. Shraeger-Walsh."

He turns his head and she's right there, so close he can barely focus on her face. "Nice ring to it."

"Of course, of course," the clerk says, obsequious as fuck now that she's recognized her last name.

Jason finds himself momentarily distracted by the quirking corner of Casey's mouth. He's pretty sure she's about to break character, and the thought comes that he should kiss her to keep that from happening, but before he can, she's nudging her nose tip back and forth across his. "Yes it does, pookie."

He jerks back and raises an eyebrow. "Pookie?"

"Too much?"

"Here you are, miss," the clerk says. Without breaking eye contact with him, Casey extends her hand to the clerk, who slides the ring onto Casey's finger. Casey holds it up between them, fingers artfully splayed, like she's some dancer. The thing is huge, right on the border of classy and gaudy, with dark little sapphires nestled between the largest, central dazzling diamond and all the still-pretty large dazzling diamonds that surrounded it.

"How much?" he asks the clerk.

"Honey, if you have to ask." She pats his cheek, and shakes her head. Then, after a look at his mouth that goes on longer than it needs to, she turns and launches into a rapid fire line of questioning that has the clerk eagerly spitting out the answers that the owner had failed to give them about the robbery last autumn. He slides his arm from around her as she's starting to pick up steam, and gives her ass a squeeze as he goes.

She jumps, then shoots him a glare.

"What?" He gives her an innocent smile. "I'm marrying you for your body too, you know."

"Oh yeah? And why is it I'm marrying you?"

"I make you happy," he says. Then, after the silence drags on a little too long, he adds, "And to piss off your mother."

"My mother likes you." Which is true. Disturbingly true.

"And because of my enormous--"

"Anyway," she says, turning back to smile sweetly at the clerk.

"Desire to please you."

"You think you can please me?"

"Oh, I know I can. Pookie."

She looks him up and down, slowly. "Eh," she says with a shrug.

"Eh?"

"I tend to like 'em taller."

"Oh *really*. It's a good thing I compensate in other areas, then."

"So I've heard."

"That so."

"People just like to share things with me. It's a blessing and a curse. Speaking of sharing," she turns back to the clerk and does her thing. He leans a hip against a display case and enjoys the show.

*

He does own a vibrator, actually. Well, not own it. It belonged to Allison - belongs to her, he supposes, since he could send it to her. She abandoned it one night, after it ran out of juice and the batteries they stole from his remote control died too. They'd been too into it to throw on pants long enough to run across the street to the deli. It's been collecting dust under his bed, then lint in the back of his sock drawer ever since.

He gets it out when he gets home that night, along with a pair of her underwear, two pairs of her socks, and the conditioner that's sat, unused, under his sink for months. He drops them all in a cardboard box, writes FREE on the side, and takes it up to the corner, sets it down below the button to cross on the traffic light pole. If she wanted it, she'd have taken it with her.

*

They interview two bartenders at a place where they dance on the bar and wear child-sized t-shirts over their wetnurse-sized breasts. With one of the two, the brunette with the Betty Page meets Kat Dennings thing going on, he develops what you might call a rapport. Not that he'd open himself up to problems by seeing her before they close the case in question, but it's Monday and Friday is the big "welcome to the rest of your life" day, and this girl is both funny and blessed by either god or a top-notch plastic surgeon. He should be so lucky to have her break his dry spell. And considering the head of steam he has pent up, she should be so lucky.

She's also observant and gives him their first real lead on this since last week. So when he hands her his card, and tells her, "If you remember anything," he does mean it in the professional sense. But also, she gives the kind of eye contact that makes you feel like she *likes* eye contact. As it turns out, he likes eye contact too. Her fingers brush his as she takes the card. After she reads it, she says, with just a hint of southern lilt, "Thank you, Detective Walsh."

"You're welcome, Ms. Tanner."

"Please. Call me Lilly."

"I would like that, Lilly."

"So if I have any questions..."

"Call me any time."

"C'mon, Romeo," Casey calls.

A smile tugs at the corner of Lilly's beet red mouth, drawing his eye for a couple moments, then back to those baby-blues. "Duty calls," he tells her.

"I feel safer already," she says, turning back to the big, old fashioned bra festooned cash register, and opening it with a kaching.

Outside, Casey makes gagging noises before the door closes behind them.

"What?"

"You."

"What?"

She makes her voice as low and raspy as she can, and gives him a sleazy wink. "I would like that, Lilly."

"What? I *would* like that. Her. She was-- shut up."

"Uh huh. Your appointment is the end of this week," she says. Like it's for a dental cleaning.

"Friday."

"Nothing wrong with planning ahead." She scoffs at the look he gives her. "I'm not judging. I'm not. It's just.. kind of fun to see your moves in action."

"Those weren't my moves. I have moves. Those weren't moves."

"Did I express doubt?"

"There was subtext."

She snorts. "That's one way to put it."

"You do know you're acting jealous."

"Ha. Yeah. Okay. No."

He just tugs on his seatbelt and then holds up a finger as dispatch reports a disturbance at an address related to another case. "We can talk about your crush another time."

"You're not allowed to be high on the job, you know. You're a police officer, with a gun and everything."

"And I'm not afraid to use it."

More gagging noises.

*

Negative. The news washes over him like a cool splash of water, leaving goosebumps in its wake. There's another test in three months, to be double extra sure, but as far as they can tell, he's clean. When he steps out of the clinic, she's across the street, sitting on the hood of his car, arms folded. He waits for a rush of traffic to pass, then hustles across.

"Everything good?" she asks.

"Everything's good." He scrubs his palms over his face a few times, then lets out a long sigh. "Yeah, I'm good."

She throws her arms around him and squeezes, and a few seconds later, he wraps his arms around her waist and squeezes back. "Yay!" she says into his shoulder.

The omnipresent tension at the back of his skull begins to melt. When she releases him, he holds on and squeezes tighter until she says, "Ooof. Okay. That's enough." He lets her go and then looks up at the office tower, the reflected late day sun radiant in its windows.

"So." She elbows him. "Hot date tonight?"

"Maybe later. Right now I could use a drink. Come on." He pats the hood of the car.

On their way to the bar, she calls someone named Jeff to let him know she isn't meeting up with him until later. Then, a minute or so of chit chat he tunes out until he hears the name of someone in vice he knows over at the Eighth. After she hangs up, he says, "That's not Jeff Perkins is it?"

"That's right, he mentioned he knows you."

"Why are you having drinks with that asshole? "

She turns slowly and frowns at him. "Becauuuse, sometimes I like to do things with the person I'm having sex with other than sex."

"Ew," he says, after a beat.

"What? We click. He's--"

"Not a good guy."

"He's a guy. He's better than average at taking instructions. I don't want to marry him, I wanted the last guy I slept with to not be you know who. We hit it off. It's casual. Why am I explaining myself to you? Are you actually judging me?"

"Casey, seriously, he's not a nice guy."

"I had nice guy for about a year there. What I need is a palette cleanser." After a moment, "If there's something I should know about him, just tell me. And why do you care, anyway?"

There wasn't anything. Not concrete, anyway. Just a vibe Jason got, disrespectful toward women in more than the posturing, trash talking way some guys got up to in their absence. And the kind of ambition that cut a few too many corners. Then it hit him. "Does he know who you are?"

"Who I am? Please tell me you don't mean 'who my family is'. Oh, screw you."

"I'm not the kind of person to say I told you so, but right now? For the record? This is me telling you so."

"Yeah, I'm a big girl, Walsh. Not my first booty call rodeo here."

"I know you're a big girl. You just deserve better."

She scoffed. "I don't want what I deserve. I want what I want. Right now, I just want a guy who's not going to treat me like a princess."

"Do what you want."

"I will," she snaps. They're stopped at a red light, and the rain streaked window is tinted from a bar window full of neon signs. She sighs and leans her head against the window. "Just cut this weird macho territorial bullshit and if you want to tell me I told you so later, I'm not gonna stop you. It won't be the first time I heard it. But look, what I want right *now* is to have a drink with my partner to celebrate his really, really good news. It isn't like I chose Jeff tonight. I'm here right now with you. I choose you. "

"Well." Something about the way she says that tightens in his throat. "For what it's worth, I appreciate it."

"Thank you. Then, after we're done, would you please go find someone to put your penis in, so you're not so twitchy."

"I am not."

"I spend all day with you. You're twitchy. Get laid. That's an order."

"Anyone ever tell you you're bossy?"

"Jeff. Last night. And he loves it."

"Alright. You win. New topic."

*

This time, he does not wake up in Bayonne. He also doesn't wake up in his own bed. Which, he thinks as he weighs the pros and cons of opening his eyes or moving or thinking, is to be expected.

He's still wearing his shoes, he realizes as he starts to shift beneath the voluminous, ever so slightly lavender-scented covers. And his pants. But, he realizes after a check, no belt, his fly is open, and he's not wearing a shirt. No obvious bruises or strains, just the sound of a billion brain cells crying out. And a gross, fuzzy feeling in his throat that reaches all the way down into his churning belly.

It ain't gonna get any easier, he tells himself, and pries open his eyes to discover an unfamiliar bedroom. A quick glance around tells him he's alone in the bed, and the other side doesn't look slept in. Carefully, he manuevers to his feet, peels off his shoes and socks and flexes his toes in the red and violet colored plush little rug beside the bed. The door is ajar, and it doesn't creak as he heads into the hallway. Neither do the cherrywood colored floorboards. He turns the corner into a living area with high ceilings and nailed up sheets serving as curtains over the tall windows.

Beneath one of the windows is a big, chocolate brown leather couch. There's someone curled up beneath a white and navy blue quilt, just a pair of bare feet sticking out the bottom. On the glass coffee table in front of it is a gun, which wakes him up with a surge of adrenaline until he sees the badge beside it. And a familiar jacket crumpled on the floor. He stares at her feet and bats away the urge to tickle or suck them. He'd probably get kicked in the nose for his trouble, even if they were--

He shakes his head and scans the place for a likely bathroom, finds it on the first try, and moans in relief when he starts to drain his ready-to-pop bladder. Her bathroom sink is a mess a jumble of bottles, an elaborate looking waterpik setup, and couple dozen precariously stacked makeup tube/power/cream things. It's humid in here, he notes as he finishes and shakes off the last. Few. Drops. Wet inside the shower curtain. He feels the plum colored towels. Still damp. In a pile beside the toilet are some lacy things. Hot date underwear. Pricy looking. His head pounds as he bends to pick them up and notes the subtle but unmistakeable signs that they've been worn recently. As he turns them over, he sees a single, dark curly hair clinging to the inside of one of the seams.

He drops them, then washes his hands, cups a handful of water and drinks, then swishes. He looks in the mirror and is unexpectedly grateful to note that his hair is dry. He needs to stop looking at his partner's bathroom like it's the scene of a sex crime. As he adjusts the morning wood that shows no signs of fading on its own, he actually takes half a minute to debate the ethics of jerking off in his partner's bathroom. In Casey's bathroom. But, he figures, it beats the ethics of him still having an erection when she wakes up.

So he locks the door, pulls out his cock, and puts down the toilet lid, quietly. It's got this matching plum shag carpet kind of cover, and he feels faintly naughty sitting on it with his bare ass. It's not bad really, tickles his balls a little, and he quickly settles into an aggressive rhythm. He eyes the bathroom sink, spots an economy sized bottle of Nivea body lotion and with a handful of that, he only has to work himself for a minute or so before he's on the edge. He glances down at the lacy scraps on the floor. Buttery yellow and tangerine, with that one hair. Which means she doesn't shave between her legs, and that's all it takes. He's grabbing fistfuls of toilet paper before he's done shooting, because wow, that one hit him like a two by four to the back of the head. He shivers as his dick pulses in his hand for the last time, then again when he smears his thumb around the head, through the thick, slippery mess that now fills his fist.

He's found his undershirt, at least, and he's cooking eggs when she starts moving underneath that quilt. She moans something that probably means coffee and he brings her a mug, and a bottle of water. Her hair's an epic rat's nest and he sees as she shoves the quilt off in her scramble for the coffee, she's wearing his shirt. And nothing under it that he can see.

He must have quite an expression on his face, because she barks out a laugh, and says, "No. God no. Don't worry."

"Last thing I remember," he says, squinting at the sunlight coming in around the edges of the sheet behind her, "The bars were closing and you were demanding strawberry daquiries."

She takes a gulp of the coffee, then a couple of her water, then the coffee again. The shirt is hanging open just a crack, all the way down. She gestures at the blender on the kitchen island, which is surrounded by what looks like pink bloodspatter.

"Well yeah, I noticed that. Not really new information."

"Our second batch, I fucked up the lid. It went everywhere. By the time I got out of the shower, you'd passed out on my bed. You snore, by the way." She plucks at the rumpled collar that hangs askew just above her collarbone. "You took this off like five minutes after we got here. I must've found it on the floor and thought it was mine when I was drunk, and Jesus, would you stop looking at me like that? We didn't have sex. Or even make out, have you looked in the mirror? I'd have beard burn everywhere."

Everywhere, he thinks, and damn right she would. Out loud, he says, "Good. That's good."

"Duh." She looks at him over the rim of her mug as she drains it, then holds it out and says, "Your eggs are gonna burn."

"Right!" He takes the mug and rescues the eggs just in time, then pours them both some more coffee. For the rest of the morning and the first few hours of the afternoon, they nurse their hangovers, pick at some of the leftovers in her fridge, curl up on opposite sides of the couch and flip around her five million channels. That evening he returns Lilly's message from a few days back. They meet up and a couple hours later, they're back at his place. She's good. More than good. Just what he was hoping for. When she slips out of bed as he's dozing off, he props himself up on one elbow. He doesn't tell her she's free to stay, because the cuddling after made that pretty clear. He's not going to ask again.

"The next few weeks are pretty busy for me, but I'll call you." It doesn't take her long to dress, then she's ruffling his hair and kissing his cheek.

He pads out to the dark dining area to lock up after her, then stretches, arms to ceiling, back arching until it cracks. When he looks up, a homeless man is staring at him through the window. Jason remembers that he's naked, gives the guy a wave, and heads back to bed, scratching his balls. It's good to be alive, he thinks.

He's turning out the light when he sees the shirt from last night, wadded in the corner of a chair. He'd dropped it here before getting showered and changed for his date with Lilly. A quick sniff tells him that yes, it does still smell like Casey. Most of last night has come back to him, and he doesn't remember doing anything with her, just like she said. But, he's forced to admit, he does remember moments where it was a fight to hold himself back.

Well, shit.

*

Cole's new partner is pushier than Beaumont, older too, and still cool toward a lot of the squad. Cole thinks she hangs the moon in a way that gives Walsh a slightly creepy mommy kink vibe. Still, you couldn't argue with their solve rate. Over the last couple months, a series of high end working girls got dumped at hospital doorsteps, all with suspicious ODs. The score is three dead, one in a coma, one who fled back to Arkansas and one who refuses to talk. Shraeger's sitting on the edge of Cole's desk, talking with him about how they've connected three of the victims to an exclusive booze cruise known as a place to make certain sorts of introductions. It's invite only, Cole's saying, when Alvarez butts in and points out that one of them has a background in vice.

Cole's partner laughs her smoker-low laugh and calls from her desk, "I'm guessing it's not choir boy."

Walsh expects Casey to grumble at the suggestion - she's made her views clear on how much she enjoys dressing up like hooker - but when Walsh looks up from the stack of forms he's plowing through, Casey's on the phone with one of her contacts in Vice at her old precinct. Favors are called in, one thing leads to another and she's got herself and her plus one on the list.

*

She wears a cherry-red dress, skin tight with a subtle shimmer of beads highlighting strategic areas. Sitting like she is, straddling a locker room bench, fiddling with her thigh holster, the dress rides up, and the slit on her thigh doesn't help her modesty. That's not really what slits do, though, he thinks as he leans against his locker and waits for her.

This evening, he's playing the role of her backup/bodyguard/driver/partner. He wears a conspicuous earpiece, wrap around sunglasses, his hair a little more gelled than usual, and a dark suit he knows he looks good in.

She throws a glance his way and gives him a once over. Then, she actually snaps her fingers and says, "Here help," as she puts a bare foot up on the bench. Her toenails are a little long, and unmanicured, and there's a small blister on the side of ball of her foot. She goes back to readjusting one of her holster straps and says, "Shoes?"

He crouches beside her and picks one up, the heels are three inches at least, black and red. Her legs are so far apart that from down here, he can see the black lace of her underwear. As he picks up one of her shoes, he sings, "I see London, I see France," under his breath. Then she shifts and he notices a flash of white. He purses his lips, fiddles with the strap on the shoe for a second, and decides to go with straightforward. "And I see your tampon string."

"*Fuck* me." She says, reaching down.

He averts his gaze. The shoe strap needs undoing, then he's cupping her instep and sliding the closed toe box onto her toes. Settles her heel in, and fastens the strap. "Tight enough?" he asks. She nods, then she's finished with the holster and dropping her left foot to the worn tiles on the other side. She props her right foot on the bench, takes the second shoe out of his hand and puts it on herself.

*

It's not that he really doubts her, but he's never seen her in action. When they set sail and she starts to mingle, he hangs back and watches. At first, he's not seeing how Casey's going to score herself the perp's attention with all this competition, especially since she's a little stiff and awkward in a way most of the rest of the beauties aren't. She looks gorgeous, no doubt about that, but so do most of these women, and more than a few cross the line into unreal.

But, he realizes once she slips in and out of a few conversations - all of which he hears through his ear piece, she works the wide eyed, 'eager young thing' thing a good bit better than he'd expected. Accent on young. He knows her too well, he thinks, to not see the competent, mature partner he's come to appreciate over the last year. But he also knows that with that face, and sweet voice she's using - so different from the 'no really, I'm a hard ass' tone or the straightforward sarcasm she usually employs - she comes across as a naively curious doe-eyed coed. Not his thing, but then neither is paying for a woman's attention.

During hour two, she manages to get invited to the so-called VIP lounge, two floors below deck. He leads the way down the steep stairs and as she makes her way behind him, she steadies herself with a hand on his shoulder. They caught a glimpse of the suspect heading down here earlier, and both of them keep their eyes peeled as she mingles her way through the dim, cool, cigarette smoke laden room.

*

She's been nursing the same glass of champagne for the last forty-five minutes, and he's had his eyes on the door to a private cabin ever since he saw the suspect slip in there ten minutes ago. He's tuning out the painfully dull flirting from some corporate attorney from Dallas (and the half-insipid, half-subtly-bitchy replies she's been giving all evening) when the line goes quiet for a minute, then she's brushing past him, nudging him with her shoulder. She circles back around and sits on the back of a couch a couple feet away from him. Quiet enough for only her mic to pick up, she says, "You've been a bouncer, haven't you."

He moonlighted during a lean time, several years ago, and pulling that particular 'don't fuck with me' posture back on was easier than he expected. "Been a lot of things," he says under his breath.

She smiles fondly at the room in general and says, "You and your secrets."

*

A few minutes later, she's chatting up a Hong Kong investor who'd been discussing something with their suspect when they first boarded, and everything seems to be going fine when Walsh spots a gray-haired man squinting at Casey from across the room. He looks like serious money, old money, the kind that might know a Shraeger or two. He's sharing a love seat with a petite redhead and from this angle, the guy should only be able to get a glimpse of Casey's face. Her hair still hangs down in bouncy waves, covering one eye. But if she turns.

On the more crowded upper deck, getting lost will be easier, so Jason says, "Casey, don't turn around," just as the man starts to ease himself up. Swiftly, Jason crosses the room and trails two fingers across her back. With a nod, he's got her following him to the corridor that leads toward the stairs. But the old guy is faster than he looks, because as they enter the corridor, he's almost upon them, calling, "Excuse me." Jason gets ready to double back and block the guy, give her a chance to escape.

Casey, apparently, has other plans.

She moves fast, slipping an arm around his waist and backing him up against the wall. In her heels, she's an inch or two taller than him, and when she slips a knee between his legs, her thigh presses against him, intimately. His hands gravitate to her waist, instinctively steadying her and pulling her closer, then with both hands on his face, she steers him into a kiss, tilting their heads so he's blocking her.

Between their mouths, he tries to keep things semi-professional. A stage kiss, he tells himself, no tongue. But then Casey parts her lips and he gets a taste of the inside of her mouth, traces of champagne and that orange gum she was chewing earlier. As the man behind him clears his throat again, Walsh can feel her lips stretching beneath his, into a smile, and her tongue crossing into his mouth. Gently, he traps it with his teeth, and it's right then that she moans into him. Or maybe she's laughing, it's hard to tell.

He slides one hand over the beaded fabric that covers her rear end, and she takes his lead, letting herself be turned until she's got her back against the bulkhead. One of her hands slips beneath his jacket, traces his waistband around to the piece at the small of his back. He's not expecting to use it, but he realizes she's probably covering the bulge as his jacket stretches. Her other hand wanders his chest, settling on his shoulder for a few moments, then wrapping around the side of his neck. She pulls her mouth from his, starts nipping at his chin, the front of his neck. Dimly, Walsh hears someone doing some heavy breathing behind him.

She lifts her hand from his shoulder and waves it in the air beside his head. "Excuse me," the man says, then his footsteps trail off toward the stairs.

She slides her hand from beneath his jacket as she trails kisses up his jaw and across his cheek, and she's just given him a peck there when he covers her mouth with his one last time. Her long, fake nails rake across his neck, and his cock picks that moment to snap fully to attention. He tries to shift his hips back so he's not jabbing her, but she arches enough to follow him, and he doesn't grind against her per se, but for the next few moments as she slowly withdraws her hot little tongue from his mouth, teasing the roof of his as she goes, there's no daylight between them, just pressure and warmth.

"Mmm," she says as she dips her head, separating their mouths and touching their foreheads. He's breathing hard, and on every inhale, he fights the surging need to taste her again. She was slumped against the wall and when she stands up straight, she has to look down, just a little, to meet his gaze. For the space of several breaths, she's searching his eyes, one, then the other, then back again. "I thought that only worked in the movies," she said, voice husky.

"Then why'd you do it?"

An expression crosses her face, wistful and maybe confused, and she kisses his cheek. When he turns into it, chasing her mouth, she pulls away, giving him a warning look. "That's enough."

"'Kay." He rubs a thumb under her lower lip, clearing a smudge of her shiny, dark pink lipstick. She's flushed all the way down her neck, and he drags his hindbrain away from the steering wheel long enough to step back and give himself the space he needs. The deck beneath his feet rumbles, and the boat rocks -gently, but it's enough for her to steady herself with a hand on the bulkhead behind her.

He checks his watch. "We're docking in another ten. Did you flip him the bird to make him leave?"

"Yup." She tugs at the hem of her dress, but it's covered as much as it's going to. "We didn't get shit," she says, "here." She smooths down his mussed up collar, then looks him in the eye, daring him to look away. "So those are your moves, huh?"

"One or two." He adjusts the front of his trousers without bothering to be subtle about it.

She rolls her eyes. "We should get upstairs, right?" It's been nearly twenty minutes one of them called to check in.

"We got something. The cards you got, we can see..." His lips are growing strangely tingly and warm. He licks at them. They're sweet.

"It's not herpes, just lip plumper," she says, "There's cinnamon oil or something in it. It makes your mouth puffy."

He licks again. "Interesting. But let's get upstairs," he says.. "After you."

Halfway up the steep steps, she snags a heel in the grating. He's got solid footing and he catches her just in time. For a couple moments, she's still struggling for balance, so he pulls her back against his chest, holding her firmly until she realizes she's not going anywhere. Finally, she relaxes in his arms and, carefully, he sets her down.

Her foot came out of the shoe, and he kneels to catch it, tugs on it until it's free. He holds it up so she can slip her foot back in. As she does, an expression flits across her face, dark and reserved and he's not sure what it's about, but it's about something.

But they've got places to be.

*

Back at the station, after the debrief with Cole and his new partner, Jason is back in his jeans and a henley, rinsing some of the crispy gel out of his hair. When she comes in barefoot and yawning, it looks like she's wearing nothing under the oversize windbreaker. He watches in the smudged mirror over the sink as she disappears down a row of lockers.

When he comes around the corner, she's got a t-shirt on, and she's sliding a pair of jeans up her thighs. "One of the men who slipped me a card has known organized crime connections. And guess who was in Chicago last spring, when he was a suspect in the death of two call girls."

"I will never doubt your hooker-fu again."

"Hooker. Fu?"

"Like kung fu, but--"

"Oh, I get it. And damn right you don't doubt my hooker fu. I'm so much better at that kind of thing and the hotel bar crowd than the corner crack ho."

"Oh, I get it. You're classy."

"Super classy," she says with an eye roll.

He could keep going with the banter, of that he has no doubt. But something occurs to him and he debates saying it. It doesn't really *need* to be said, he figures, but he wants to. Secrets, he doesn't mind. This feels like something different. "So...we're cool with the whole...subterfuge moment. Right?"

She stares at him and it takes her a second, but then she obviously gets it. "Oh, you mean your boner?"

"I wouldn't put it that way."

"What's not to be cool about?" she asks. "Wait. You actually doubted my hooker fu?"

"I'd never seen you in action."

She points a thumb at her chest, "I got moves."

"Yes you do," he says.

"*You're* not gonna be weird are you?"

He shakes his head. "There wasn't anything to get weird about."

She looks at him for a few moments. "Just a little tongue between partners."

"*I* didn't start with the tongue."

"You were a perfect gentleman. Except for the hard on."

"I'm a gentleman. I never said he was."

"Wait. Are we talking about your penis again?"

"I didn't bring it up."

She smirks as she grabs a tampon from the box on the top shelf of her locker, then slams it shut. "On that note," she says, tapping him on the nose with the little paper wand, "I've got what was supposed to be a hot date. See you tomorrow."

He watches her walk away, and then gathers his stuff quickly, so that by the time she's out of the bathroom, he'll be gone

*

A week passes, and the case turns into something that gets handed over to the FBI. For Walsh, things don't get weird. For Walsh, things feel pretty much like they always do. Crimes happen. The perps are often weird. His co-workers are often even weirder. Customers have no appreciation for inventively prepared breakfast food. And his partner is...someone he is glad to have around.

The thing she had going with that asshole Jeff flames out when he surprises her in the shower and takes a photo, then refuses to delete it from his phone. She throws his phone out the window of his fourth story apartment. He kicks her out and, wearing nothing but a towel, she talks her way into an adjacent apartment and climbs across from fire escape to fire escape. He's gone to bed by then, and thinks she's a burglar, an altercation ensues that leaves her with a skinned knee and him with a black eye. Walsh finds all this out a couple nights later, over drinks with Shraeger.

Later, he finds out that before its swan dive, guy's phone synced automatically with online storage.

But that next day, the day after her half naked cat burgling, when Walsh is still none the wiser, he comes in to find a few uniforms standing over Shraeger's desk. They smirk when he shoos them away, and it's only after they're gone that he takes a look. There's a big, glossy photo glued to her desk. More than glued... varnished over like the DIY comics-plastered nightstand his littlest sister made for his nephew. Only this isn't Snoopy or Marmeduke.

It's blurred and pixelated from being blown up so large, obviously something moving, taken in low light. It takes a second, but then it resolves itself into a naked girl, slim and brunette and in a shower, one arm outstretched, the other not quite covering her nipples. A dark triangle of pubes touches the bottom of the frame, and at the top, the girl's face is half cut off, half out of focus, and on its own, or in a line up, he might not recognize it as his partner. He is, however, a trained detective. This photo could be something sweet and intimate between lovers, and the twinge he gets in his gut is tied by an invisible string to a box in the back of his closet.

His instinct is to scrape the 11x17 off, but he won't undercut her by fixing her problems, so instead, he grabs the Times from Alvarez's waste basket and sets it on top.

When she comes in, before she sits down, he says without looking up from his computer screen, "You may want to take a look under the paper."

She stops rifling through her bag, closes her eyes a moment, then, after a peek, says under her breath, "He is dead."

He resists saying it as he leans back in his chair, because he doesn't feel smug, like he's been expecting to. Mostly, he feels pity for her. And a simmering hatred at Jeff. And back again to her, with just a little anger thrown in for the way she ignored his warning. Then it just comes out, "I don't want to say I told you so."

She looks up, obviously hurt, which swings him right into feeling like a dick, but before he can apologize, she looks at him and says softly, "Yeah. You did."

"Don't feel bad. Mistakes happen. You'll learn from them. You're a big girl."

"Thanks for the pep talk, grandpa." She huffs out a bitter laugh. "Big girls listen to their friends. Big girls don't..." her eyes focus on something distant, maybe a memory. Whatever it is, it twists her lips into a frown.

"Don't what?" he prompts, leaning forward and propping his elbows on the flurry of paperwork that covers his desk.

"Don't ignore good advice for stupid reasons."

"Reasons like what?"

She focuses on him again. All around them, the room is bustling to full morning life with the sound of the fighting of crime. And, judging by the familiar peel and rip of duct tape from Banks's direction, the padding of a desk. Casey starts to say something, but then her phone rings, and she's on for more than ten minutes with a witness from case that went cold four months ago.

After she hangs up and finishes scribbling out notes on the call, he asks casually, "So what are we going to do to get back at him?"

"Him?"

He glances at the stack of newspaper in the center of her desk.

"*We*," she says, clearing away the newspapers, digging a bottle of White Out from a desk drawer and unscrewing the top, "Are not doing anything." She empties the contents onto the photo, then points at the bag that holds his bagel. "Napkins." He hands them over and she uses them to smear the opaque white fluid over the image until it's mostly obscured. "We," she says, tossing the bottle and napkins in the garbage, "Are going to wait a few weeks until his guard is down."

"And then?"

"Then I'm going to make him pay." Her calm smile is frightening. In an oddly hot way. "You can help if you want."

"Wouldn't miss it." He goes back to the rap sheet he was scanning, but a page and a half later, he can't help adding, "I thought asshole was what you were looking for."

"I never wanted an asshole. Just..." she gestures with one white-smudged hand as she searches for the words. "Someone knows how to be a little selfish in bed. Not all the time. But sometimes. And who trusts me to know my limits. *While* respecting them. And pushing them. It doesn't feel like a lot to ask. Does that make sense?"

He nods. All the sense in the world and then some. As she turns back to her keyboard, he lets his mind loose to roam the possibilities of where she likes to draw the line. Exactly how she likes to be pushed up to the edge.

A few minutes later, out of nowhere, she breaks his train of thought (which had just pulled into ‘what are her feelings on anal' station) with , "Did you know he has abnormally small testicles?"

*

Four hours later, they're heading back to the car after questioning the ex-wife of a missing bus driver. He asks, "So when you say abnormally small."

"A large gumball. Maybe. And he had backne."

"Steroids?"

"Wouldn't be surprised." Then, she makes a surprisingly loud groan. "God! What was I thinking?"

"You were thinking you wanted something uncomplicated."

"I was so ready to be over Davis, I was thinking that I was going to sleep with the next remotely attractive guy who hit on me. At that point, I'd even have done you."

"Talk about lowering your standards," he says, breezy as anything.

"Come on, you know what I mean," she says, elbowing him in the ribs.

He doesn't, not really. And at this point, he thinks it's probably best if he doesn't try. So he shoulders her right back, nudging her off course for a few steps, then they're separated by a clot of pedestrians for a moment, and when they're side by side again, he says, "For what it's worth, you looked good. In the picture, I mean."

"Way to totally miss the point."

"I get it the point. And I look forward to holding him down while you beat him up. I'm just saying." He's not sure what he's saying. He just knows that he's still got one or two blurry Polaroids of his late girlfriend in the back of his closet. They've started yellowing with age, but these days, when he brings them out, they don't hurt. They just fill him with warmth and nostalgia for girl she was and the boy he used to be. He's glad he has them. And he feels like telling her that in the right hands, with the right guy... hell. He doesn't know what he wants to tell her, besides the fact that she's beautiful, but he can't make that come out in a way that doesn't feel like exposing a secret. What comes out is, "I'm just saying that from what I saw, you've got nothing to be ashamed of."

"Oh my God. I am not *ashamed*. You actually think that's the problem here?" Her voice frays on the last few words, and she clears her throat.

"I know it's not. I'm," an idiot, his mind supplies. "It's just too bad someone like him got to..."

"What? Bang me?"

Got to look at you, he thought. Got to be with you, because I bet it is something else. But right now, he is figuring out, is really not a good time to keep opening his mouth, so he doesn't.

For the next block or so, she's quiet, and every time he sneaks a glance at her, her expression is not even blank, just perfectly neutral. He wouldn't call himself an expert at reading her, but he's proud to say he's gotten as good as he's going to get for now. And right now, something about what's coming out of his mouth is really bothering her. The fact that she's stopped showing any of it means it's something serious.

When they get to the car, she starts to unlock the driver side door and he waits on the other side, hand on handle. But then she stops, puts the hand with the keys on the roof, and looks at him guiltily. "Look, I know it didn't do any good. You probably knew it wouldn't. But thanks anyway for trying."

"You know I've got your back."

"I do."

"That's all that matters."

"I guess," she says.

*

Her foul mood continues, off and on. For the next two days, he endures it without comment. By day three, keeping his mouth shut is getting old, so to cheer her up, he digs out a charity calendar he did back in the day and hangs June up in her locker. In it, he's twenty-one, grinning like he's on top of the world, and wearing nothing but a strategically place baseball glove. She doesn't stop laughing for ten minutes.

*

Lilly calls him, and they play phone tag for a while, never managing to connect. Eventually, one of them doesn't bother calling the other back.

*

The anniversary of his late girlfriend's death approaches, and like always, the days get grayer, the nights grow longer, and the box in the back of his closet is *there* in a way he forgets about for longer and longer stretches each year. On the day of, there's a jumper who turns out to be a sniper and Jason manages to deeply piss off Casey by not following orders when he steps out onto the ledge.

Everything turns out fine except for the jumper, who - despite a red dot on his unprotected chest and another on his forehead - opts for suicide by cop. He raises his weapon at Jason, gets his brains painted across the soot-stained limestone, and topples eight stories to the airbag below.

Once Jason gets back inside, Casey punches his arm. *Really hard.*

"Ow!"

She opens her mouth to say something. Then she bites it back closed again, stalks past the uniforms and out the door.

*

"Come get a drink with me," he says at the end of the shift.

"Don't you have something better to do today? Like try and get yourself killed?" She looks at her watch "You've got two hours left."

"Come on."

"I'm pissed off at you."

"I know."

"They had him covered."

"It could have ended peacefully."

"It could have ended with you," she makes air quotes, "in heaven with her."

And that hurts. Because there may have been years in past where that was a factor, but this wasn't that. It hurts enough that he wants to slam his locker and walk away. But he also wants to settle things between them, and unwind, and if he goes home, all he's going to do is drink and pull out the box. He doesn't want to be alone. And he likes that she's not afraid to hurt him.

She's grabbing her purse from the bottom of her locker when he lays a hand between her shoulder blades. "I'm sorry. Come get a drink with me."

He gets a little drunker than he plans to, and she walks him back to his place. After pouring him into his bed, she kneels beside him and kisses his forehead. He curls up on his side and presses his face to her knee. She's stroking his hair when he falls asleep.

*

Crime happens. The perps are strange. He's got a thing for his partner. He keeps it a secret.

*

They end up tailing a suspect on New Year's Eve. They end up two blocks from Times Square, squeezing through the crowd when the throng erupts into screams and confetti and noisemakers. No way they're moving for now, and he turns back to say as much to her, but she's disappeared. He tries going up on his tiptoes, searching as he's jostled and elbowed. Some woman screams directly into his ear and kisses him on the cheek. Someone grabs his hand, and when he turns to look, Casey gets shoved directly into him. She shakes her head and looks embarrassed as Auld Lang Sine plays over nearby loudspeakers. Her cheeks are pink from the cold, and there's confetti stuck on her eyelashes.

It's tradition. It's a bad idea. It's not something he feels like stopping himself from doing, so he kisses her on the lips.

She leans back and narrows her eyes at him, and when he leans in for another kiss, she ducks her head and turns away. "I think we can make it through there," she shouts, pointing across a crowd that looks as dense as ever.

*

Two nights later, she knocks on his door at quarter to midnight. He shuffles out of his bedroom in nothing but his pajama bottoms, and when he sees it's her, he sets his gun on one of the stools and undoes the locks.

"S'up," he says, hanging on the door.

"Okay," she says, and then she just stands there looking at his chest. Behind her, a powered-sugar-light dusting of snow swirls on the empty street. A gust of frigid January air blows in, and his nipples pucker so fast, they itch, so he scratches. "Okay?" she says again.

"...Okay?"

"Right." She nods. "So, we need to just get this over with so we can get past it."

"Past... it?" He steps back and gestures for her to come in. He has to fight the wind a bit to shut the door, then he locks it.

When he turns around, she's standing awfully close. "You. Me. Sex."

"Oh. Wait. What?"

There's a sparkle of melting snow in her hair and her teeth are chattering ever so slightly. "This is a one time offer. You in or out?"

He knows that it could easily fuck things up between them, but this is the sort of thing that he would regret not having done for the rest of his life, if something were to happen. And things happen. So he's in.

She, on the other hand, looks ready to bolt if he makes any sudden moves. So take it slow, he thinks. Give her a minute to back out. Give himself a minute to fully wake up, so he can be sure to do this right, if she doesn't. "Can I brush my teeth first?" he asks.

She checks her breath, "Sure. Do you have a spare toothbrush?"

And then they're side by side in his bathroom, brushing their teeth and having an impromptu staring contest in the mirror. He finishes first, rinses and spits. She keeps working on her molars as he wipes his mouth on a washcloth. Her hair's up right now, in a ponytail that's slipped down and to the side from the neat, high place it started this morning.

He moves her hair, baring the back of her neck, then drops a lazy kiss on her nape, right at her hairline. Back and forth, he brushes his mouth, his stubbly chin, then he's untucking her shirt to run a hand over her belly. As he continues to kiss her neck, it strikes him how easy this feels, and how that's scary. And how he likes it.

When she bends over to spit, her ass presses against his groin. He's not hard yet, but there's time for that. As she finishes rinsing out her mouth, he asks, "How do you feel about being on top?"

"How do you feel about---"

But he doesn't wait for her answer. They've got time but he's done waiting, so he turns her around and kisses her. They make it to the bedroom, her walking backward, him steering, without him ever having to take his mouth off hers. Then, with a shove, she's bouncing back onto his bed, and he's crouching at the foot. She's got these lace up boots on, and before he's even got the bow undone, she's arching back, wrestling off her sweater and the layers beneath until she's just wearing a bra. A neat little dark-brown satin number.

She props herself up on her elbows and watches as he wrestles her boot off. "Anything off limits?" she asks.

"I'll tap out if I need to, but I like the way you think. How 'bout you?"

She tilts her head and stares at the ceiling as he works on her second boot. "I trust you."

"Noted," he says, flippantly. He doesn't feel flippant as he finally frees her foot. She's got her jeans undone by this point, and as he tugs them down her legs, he feels giddy. And greedy. He sits back on his heels and takes a long look at her. Her underwear is bikini cut, matching her bra, and there are faint pink lines on her hips, where the waistband of her jeans squeezed her skin. She nudges his knee with her sock clad foot, then his stomach. Then she hooks a foot around the side of his waist and tugs.

He lunges, tucking a hand beneath her and scooting her up the bed once, twice until her head hits his pillow. As she's dragged across the sheets, her briefs slide down to the top of her thighs, and once he's got her situated, he kneels between her legs and pulls them the rest of the way off. When he grabs her hips and flips her to her stomach, she gasps, and then giggles nervously when he gives her ass nip. A few kisses up her tailbone, then he's unhooking her bra, and she's pushing up onto her hands and knees and tossing the bra off the bed. She rolls to her back, on the bed beside him, and points at his pants.

"Uh-huh," he says, spreading her legs and settling between them. Her hair down here is just as lush and dark as he'd guessed, and he nuzzles her there. She squirms and plants a hand on the top of his head, then one leg slides up over his shoulder and her other knee splays out to the side, parting her lips and exposing a slick, pink target. Later, he can be an explorer, tease her as he builds a trail of kisses and licks, but right now, the only thing he wants is to feel her coming right up against his mouth.

When he trails a thumb down the inner curve of one lip, right where hair fades into tender, naked skin, she tenses up and gasps. "Ticklish?" He asks.

"A little. Not there."

"Tense?" he asks, looking up at her as he brushes down her lips again with both thumbs, pressing them together, then up, parting her and spreading her open. For a moment, he just looks at her and licks his lips.

"No. I'm -- I'm fine," she says, voice higher pitched than usual.

He releases her lips and strokes down again, then he covers her with all his fingers and rubs a couple slow, gentle circles against her mound with the heel of his hand. "I'm not gonna tell you to relax," he says, turning and kissing her inner thigh.

"I'm good." This time, she sounds a little irritated.

"You can brace yourself, if you want to."

"Oh yeah, I really need--ah!" She gasps sharply as he licks up between her petal soft inner lips to her clit, then sucks, giving it a sideways flick, then another, then a few firmer circles with his tongue. Spreading her lips wider, he sucks again, soft and slow, then flattens his tongue against the length of her slit as he works his hands up under her cheeks. Even if she wasn't arching up against him and tightening her fingers in his hair, he'd still have the taste of her, the way his chin's getting damp, and the hitches that keep interrupting her breath. She takes another deep one and then, almost too quiet to hear, she moans as he shifts his attention to her wet little hole.

It's so soft, yielding to the tip of his tongue, offering more of her taste, her heat, and he doesn't want to leave that, so he traces the feathery skin around it with the tip of his middle finger as he licks back up a few inches and circles, opens his mouth against her and lets her ride his tongue. She rocks up against him, spreading her knees wider, and as she does, he twists a fingertip just inside her, then curls it gently as he strokes back out. In again, a little deeper, tracing inside to where curves and folds inside her go smooth, a little deeper and she clenches around him. He withdraws slowly, feeling her squeeze him as he goes, then he watches her glisten for a few moments, until her hips settle back to the bed. On the end of a sigh, she says, "Pants off."

"In a minute," he says, leaning in.

But she catches his by the forehead and diverts him from her pussy. "No. I have had to look at *that* ass every single day since we partnered up. So you get it naked *right* now."

He evades her hand long enough to drag a lick from bottom to top, and when he leans back to shove down on his waistband, he turns his head spits out a hair. "Yes ma'am." He's hard as a rock, can feel his fucking pulse in it, and over the course of tomorrow, he knows he'll think about this at least a thousand times. After he swings his legs over the side of the bed and shoves his pajamas to the floor, he grabs a condom from the nightstand and takes a moment to put it on.

"In a hurry?" she asks, dryly, skimming her fingertips across his lower back.

"Nope," he says. He settles back down between her legs and dives back in, tasting and licking and sucking and stroking her inside with one finger, two fingers, one again, then two, deep, and his thumb circling her clit. He just zones out, closes his eyes, and has a long, wet makeout session with her cunt. He feels her get close a few times, moaning and clenching up, and he keeps at whatever he's doing at that moment, but then she loses it, and shifts away before pulling him back in by the hair. He expected her to be bossier, 'more like this, less like that,' but she urges him with the tension in her thighs. She guides him with a gentle hand on his face. Mostly, she lies back and opens herself to him, arching up into his touch.

A glance up finds her with her head tossed back, playing with her breasts, rolling her stiff, brownish-pink nipples between her fingers, dragging her hands across them, then pinching and rolling again. As he shifts on the bed, lifting his head for a better look, he feels precome-slick latex slip against the tip of his erection. He stops and stares for long enough that she looks down, and the way she looks at him right then, that's a look that absolutely cannot be a one time thing.

Holding her gaze, he lowers his mouth to her again, and when she bucks up against him, he wraps his hands around her hips, steadying her, holding her down as he works her closer and closer and there she goes, making noises now, pleading little moans, mumbling, "Little more, yeah, if you stop I'll--oh--" Her breath gets choked off as she clenches and kicks at his back. He holds fast as she shivers, gasps in a sharp breath, grinds up a few more times, then collapses back to the bed, panting.

A slow wiggle of his tongue against her clit earns him a sharp shove on the forehead, then her hand flops back to her belly. He catches it, places it above her head, then he does the same with her other hand. She shivers again, sliding a knee up along his side, and says, "Now kiss me."

He does, on the lips, and braces himself on one elbow, above her as he reaches down and guides the head of his cock down the slick, still twitching softness of her pussy. He dips just inside, the heat seeping through the latex, drawing him deeper, then back out. One more time, and she's covering his fingers with hers, guiding him in, then tugging his hand away. She lifts her hips, impaling herself on him inch by inch, and he stays perfectly still above her, letting her. He watches her face shift, a ghost of a smile, a pause and a wince, a wiggle and shift, and she's almost got him surrounded when he just can't take it anymore and sinks the rest of the way in, pinning her to the mattress and holding her there.

He presses his face to her neck and just breathes for a moment, settling in to the feel of her, backing himself off not from the edge, but from closer than he'd like. He half expects her to urge him on impatiently.

Instead she just runs her fingers through his hair, stroking lazy circles with her nails down to his neck. Her legs come up around him, wrapping around his waist. Her heels brush his ass, accidentally at first, then a deliberate drag down, then up the crack. Down, then she's sliding her soles down his leg until they settle against the backs of his calves. "Giddy-up," she says, bucking up against him.

He grinds her down into the bed, shifting his hips in a slow circle, then gives her a peck on the lips. "Any time you wanna reverse cowgirl me, you're welcome to it."

"That's cool," she says with a casual shrug. "You do your thing."

"Oh, I'll do my thing, all right." He slides an arm under her, lifting her and holding her against him, keeping them connected as he shifts back to kneel and sit on his heels. It's an awkward shuffle for a moment as he crosses the last few feet to the wall and she clutches at him, tits pressed to his chest as she holds on and ends up straddling his lap. Then he's got a hand braced on the wall, and she's got some leverage with a foot on the bed, and he thinks to say to her, ‘Giddy-up,' but her tongue's in his mouth, then things get fast and sloppy and the good kind of rough real quick.

She rides him like there's a race, arms around him, fingernails scraping his back. Every in a while, she'll whisper a "Yeah," or "Get it," or once, memorably, "Jesus motherfreaking Christ." It's hard to catch a rhythm because she keeps changing it up, faster, slower, a deep grind, then she'll hold on and let him lead for a minute. Both hands full of her ass, he drives up into her slow and deep until she starts chasing his thrusts with her hips, speeding things up, and then slowing down again.

Her second climax comes out of nowhere. One second, she's lazy again, head tipped back, taking stroke after stroke. The next, her cheek is pressed to his, her fingers curling against his shoulder until he feels her knuckles grinding in. "Stay still," she whispers, and after one little roll of her hips, she's fluttering around him, deep inside, and whining in his ear as her body goes rigid. She breathes out unsteadily and jerks in his arms, scrambling at the back of his neck with her nails. She shivers again, whispers, "Okay. Okay, I'm good," then lets out a long, satisfied sigh as she goes limp in his arms.

She's pliant and laughing to herself quietly as he lays her down on the mattress and sinks back inside of her. She's staring, dazed, past his shoulder and up at the ceiling as he picks up speed. Before he gets too far, he cups her chin and turns her face toward his, waits for her to meet his eyes. She does, still half-lidded and open-mouthed, and as he feels the last few strings of tension inside him tighten to the breaking point, she wraps her arms around his neck and pulls him down, lazily kissing his chin, his throat, the spot right where his neck meets his shoulder. She sucks, and makes this low contented noise that he feels in his belly. And that. Is.

It.

*

She's blowing softly on his neck when he regains situational awareness. His heart's still pounding in his ears, but with a slowly dropping tempo. With an oof, he rolls them over so he's on his back, then he reaches above his head with both hands, stretching. She hold the edge of the condom as she slides off, then flops down to the bed beside him. From the angle they ended up at, her head hangs off the bed. He pushes himself up with a groan and presses a kiss to the flushed triangle of skin between her throat and her tits.

"You want anything?" he asks as he climbs over her and off the bed. "Water? Juice?"

"Gatorade, if you have it, water if you don't." she says with a croak.

"Coming right up." After waste disposal and mop up in the bathroom, he washes his hands, splashes his face a few times, and spots himself grinning in the mirror. He's got some orange Gatorade in the back of the fridge up front (there's this thing with chicken and sunflower seeds that he's almost got right), and he brings her back a glass, himself a bottle of water. She's sitting up Indian style in the middle of the bed when he returns, tugging at the poor, fucked-up remains of her ponytail.

"Here." He hands her the glass, then kneels behind her, carefully undoing the snarls and loops and finally freeing her elastic. Some gentle finger combing, and it's more or less untangled.

When he finishes and slides his hands over her shoulders, she sighs and leans into him, back against his chest, head tipping back to rest on his shoulder. "Better?" he whispers into her ear.

"Mm," she says, eyes closed. "You're good at that."

"Got two baby sisters."

She smiles. "Figures." When he wraps his arms around her and pulls her to him more tightly, she lets him, sliding a hand over the one on her belly. For a minute, they just sit there, their breathing falling slowly into sync, the sound of traffic filtering in from outside, the smell of sex lingering in the air. The sun won't be up for another few hours, and he plans to make good use of the rest of tonight. At this moment, though, he wants for nothing.

Her lips brush his jaw, his cheek, then she's sliding out of his grasp. He lets his hands trail over her as she goes, keeping contact until the very last second. The bedclothes are wadded up, so he has to kick them aside before he can flop back comfortably. As he listens to the sound of her peeing, he traces the bite mark on his shoulder, then he touches his mouth. He licks all around his lips until he catches a trace of her intimate flavor. His dick may not be up for round two yet, but there's so much left to her that he hasn't explored. And vice versa.

He smiles to himself, and imagines her climbing all over him, having her way with him, showing him just who it is who's in charge. He's still smiling when she returns from the bathroom, and it only fades when she starts putting on her bra. Frowning, he sits up. "You're leaving?"

"Mm-hmm." She pulls on her jeans, commando, and sticks her underwear in her pocket.

He can only stare silently as she pulls on the rest of her clothes, then sits on the far side of the bed and starts with her boots.

So that's it, he tells himself. That's it? That, he's pretty sure, is bullshit. But it's her choice. It's the way she wants it, and there's no point, is there, in asking her to stay. That's not what he does, asking people to stay. They either want to leave, or they don't. They either want him, or they don't, and he doesn't want anyone who doesn't want to stay. She works on her second boot now, and the silence begins to feel strained, a harbinger of awkwardness to come. He sees it stretching out before him, and decides no. That can't be how this goes. What he means to say to her is 'We're cool, right?'

But what comes out is, "Casey. I want you to stay."

She freezes for a long time, then looks over her shoulder at him. "Jason," she says gently, the 'come on', heavily implied.

"Where you gotta be? Huh?"

She shakes her head. "I can't."

Fuck it. In for a penny. He gets up and catches her around the waist, pulls her back on to the bed, on her side and spoons around her from behind. She relaxes in his arms, but the exasperated way she sighs is like a kick in the gut. After a kiss on the back of her head, he says, "Why not? Hmm?" He turns her to her back and leans over her, kisses her carefully, and a few seconds in, she kisses back. A few seconds after that her hands are coming up to his face and stroking it as she curls her tongue against his, arching into him, so responsive that just the brush of his thumb down her neck makes her shiver.

But eventually she pulls away, and when he follows, she pushes firmly on his chest. She scoots back to the edge of the bed, and continues doing up her boot.

He says, "Give me one good reason," and doesn't bother to keep the hurt out of his voice.

"I can't. And I need you to let me go, okay?" She finishes gathering her things, and then the bed dips beside him and she kisses him softly on the lips. "I told you what this was."

"You did. And I heard you."

"Jason."

"It's cool." He almost says, ‘You got what you came for, good for you.' But she was right. He knew what this was at the start. That it didn't end up there wasn't on her. That he did this knowing full well how he felt wasn't on her either. If she felt the same, she'd be staying. Or, a sprout of foolishness inside him offers, she'd come back. Either way, there's no point in telling her how he feels. So he says, "No, you're right. We're cool."

"You sure?" She looks doubtful.

"Absolutely." He gives her an easy smile, then swats her butt. "Now go on, get outta here. I'll lock up in a minute."

"For what it's worth, you lived up to the hype."

"For what it's worth," he says, then he pauses, considering. "You met my expectations."

"I didn't exceed them?" She teases.

"They were already pretty high, Casey."

She looks like she doesn't know what to say to that.

"This was a good idea. Clear the air. Get this behind us. No more wondering."

She nods enthusiastically. "Definitely."

"Totally."

"So." She glances toward the exit. "Sleep well."

He digs up a leer. "You know it, babe."

She rolls her eyes. "Night, Walsh."

"Good night, Shraeger."

After she leaves, he lies there for a long time, thinking. Remembering. Then he tries to take a mental knife to where she's hooked herself into his heart. But it's a sticky, tangled mess, and maybe, he thinks, now is not the time. Here, on sheets that still smell like her, with lips that still taste like her, he can let those barbed hooks be. He can start getting over her tomorrow.

*

The awkwardness he feared never materializes. Not on her part, anyway, and if he sometimes finds himself flipping through his mental Rolodex of moments from that night, he's careful not to let it show. Unfortunately, the getting over her part doesn't materialize either. It's not any harder to work with Casey, now that he knows what it's like to be with her. It's not even harder to hide, because it's deeper down now. It's part of him. It's one of those secrets that defines him and, during the right days, the right moments, warms him all the way through. On the wrong days, it stings.

A few days later, it's one of those that are more bad than good, and he gets the urge to go out and put a person or three between that night and now, but by the end of the shift, he's listening to Casey spout theories about where their suspect might have come up with an entire tractor trailer full - front to back, floor to ceiling - of blown up beach balls, and he forgets all about seeking distraction.

As they're getting ready to leave for the day, she asks him to come get a drink with her.

He will. Soon. But the thought of the loose, boozy smile she gets after one and a half drinks, the way she lets down her hair after two, the casual hug she'll give him at the end of the night as they go their separate ways... it all stretches out before him like one long paper cut. "Next time," he tells her with a smile. "Later." Then he's turned and heading out before she can twist the knife.

*

Crime happens. The perps are strange. He's got a thing for his partner. He keeps it to himself and waits for it to fade.

*

Two weeks or so after that night, there's a knock at a quarter to midnight. He finds Casey on the other side of the door, determined look on her face, arms crossed, still wearing her work clothes.

"S'up," he says, swinging the door open and leaning on the door frame.

She squeezes past him, walks in a few steps, then rounds on him and points at his face. "I've got a problem."

"Sorry to hear that. Anything I can do?"

"No. Because my problem is you."

"What did I do?"

"You," she gets up in his face and pokes his chest. "You were *supposed* to get out of my head."

"Didn't know I was in there."

"That was the *whole point*, of coming over here that night. Great idea, Casey, screw him out of your system, but oh no, now you're *stuck* there, with your," she gestures at his arms, "and your," she points at his mouth, "and your..." she gestures aimlessly for a moment, then ends up pointing at his crotch.

"I'm sorry? Actually no." He sticks his hands in his pockets. "I'm not sorry."

"Good. So here's what I'm thinking," she says, pulling out her hair tie and shoving it in her pocket. She starts unbuttoning her shirt and staring at the floor. "I propose--"

"Hold on there, tiger. Before you finish that, you need to know something."

"Shit. You're seeing someone. Shit, I knew it," she rebuttons her shirt.

"No. No, it's just that what happened? The whole no strings attached, do it once and get it out of our systems thing, that was a one time thing for me too. Okay?"

Her face falls. "Oh." Her brows draw together, and she looks over at the grill. "Okay. Right. I understand. Totally understandable. I shouldn't have--"

He cups her chin and makes her look him in the eye. "Casey, are you listening?"

"I get it."

"Don't get it. Listen. If all you want is to get me out of your head, get this thing of ours out of your head--"

"We have a thing?"

"You *know* that we do." Then, he lets go of her face and says more gently, "You know that we do. And if all you want is to get over it, I can't be that guy. Okay?"

"Okay." She sighs, glances down at her shoes, then meets his gaze again. "I get it. I'm sorry. Good night."

She's turns to leave, and every scared, weak, barely-healed thing inside of him tells him not to risk it. Tells him to let her go before she hurts him again. Letting this thing die before it takes root is kindest thing he could do for himself. He knows that. And deep down, he knows he probably deserves that kindness. But he's also selfish. She makes him feel selfish. She makes him want in ways he hasn't in a long time. She makes him forget about ever wanting anyone else. She makes him forget about the barely-healed parts of him. And, he realizes with a sudden calmness, there is no way he's letting her walk away without a fight. Or at least, some truth.

Just before she reaches the door, he catches the back of her jacket. "But," he says, sliding an arm around her, untucking her shirt, and warming his hand on the soft plane of her bare belly. "But, if you've got it in you to give this crazy, unprofessional, completely ill-advised thing a try, I am on board. One hundred and ten percent."

"Oh," she says, sounding lost in thought. "Okay."

"If you need some time to think about it, that's fine." He releases her and takes a step back. "I'm going to head back to my room, now, and get ready for bed. Whatever you want to--"

She doesn't let him finish the sentence. Instead, she throws herself into his arms and kisses him, wrapping her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck. He catches her, filling his hands with her ass, and stumbles his way toward his bed. When they get there, she doesn't even let him get undressed. She just pulls a condom out of her bra and tosses it at him, then starts shoving down her pants and underwear all at once. This time, he notices with smile, she's wearing slip on shoes.

*

It's still dark out, but barely, when she wakes him by crawling back into bed. He pulls her close and nestles up behind her, burying his face in her hair, which smells like freshly dried sweat, traces of shampoo, and, he inhales deeply, just a little bit of his come from round... three was it? Things had gotten pretty sloppy by that point.

"You know what?" she whispers, sliding a hand over his and threading their fingers together.

"What?"

"I could get used to this."