The phone rings while Casey is in the middle of a cough attack. She still picks up, but doesn’t get further than her own name before she has to stop to hack up what feels like a ton of phlegm.
“Shraeger? Are you alive?” Beaumont asks.
Casey clears her throat one last time and manages to answer, “More or less. Why?”
“Good! Then you can come over here and keep an eye on Walsh. My shift starts in forty five minutes so hurry up.”
It might be that all the coughing has held back the oxygen flow to her brain or something, because that made very little sense.
“What? Keep an eye on him why?”
“Because you gave him the flu, and since it’s your flu, it’s only fair that you get to deal with it.”
All right, this day could have started better. Casey sighs. "Look, Beaumont, it's just the flu and he's a grown man--I don't think you need someone to watch him during your shift."
"Casey--just get over here. I'll explain when you get here."
Beaumont sounds tired and more than a little impatient and that peaks Casey’s curiosity. She hadn’t really meant to go anywhere today. The worst of the plague is over, except for this persistent cough that her doctor assured her is not going to kill her, but she still feels gross and isn’t quite up to chasing criminals yet. Her plans for the day until just recently included a gallon of hot tea, some terrible daytime television, and preferably not moving from the couch at all. Walsh better be actively dying.
“All right, I’ll be there in twenty.”
Beaumont is out in the diner when Casey arrives. She’s staring into a cup of coffee like it holds all the secrets of the universe and she looks like she hasn’t slept much. There are dark circles under her eyes and a little wrinkle of concern between her eyebrows, and there’s no mistaking the relief and gratitude on her face when Casey steps inside.
“Hey, thanks for coming. He’s sleeping, finally, but I have no idea how long that’s going to last. I think I’ve managed to get his fever down a little, but you better keep an eye on it. You know how he is about hospitals.”
Casey remembers Walsh sitting in his car outside the ER for hours when Beaumont was shot, trying to work up the nerve to go inside. She nods. “Yes, I know, but why did you need me to come over here?”
“You know about his old girlfriend? The one who died?”
Casey nods again. “Yes. Yes, I do. What’s that got to do with...”
Beaumont already has her coat on and is halfway out the door. “Just go with it, okay? And call me if he gets any worse. Bye!”
But Beaumont is gone. Casey sighs and wanders out back in search of her ailing partner. Anything that has Beaumont worried has to be pretty bad.
Walsh is an unmoving lump under the covers when she enters the bedroom. Casey walks on tiptoe over the floor, not wanting to wake him up, but when she’s halfway to the bed, the lump starts shifting around.
“No, it’s me. Beaumont had to go to work.”
A flushed face peeks out from under the comforter. “Casey? Hey. What’re you doing here?” It comes out a little slurred and Walsh’s eyes are bright with fever. If he feels anything like Casey did a couple of days ago, she feels sorry for him.
“Beaumont asked me to come over and keep an eye on you.”
“Shouldn’t have,” Walsh croaks. He really does sound pretty terrible.
“It’s my flu. It’s the least I could do.”
Walsh frowns. “Technically, it’s Alvarez’ flu. He was the one who gave it to you.”
“Would you prefer it if I called Alvarez to take care of you?” Casey tilts her head to the side and gives him her sweetest smile. “I hear he’s already made himself at home around here.”
“That’s what I thought, Hot stuff.”
He groans and dives back under the covers. “I hate you. Please go away and let me die in peace.”
Casey pats the top of his head, the only part of him that’s visible. He feels way too warm. “You do that. I hope for your sake you have tea.”
The answering mumble could be a ‘yes’. It could also be a ‘no’, or possibly a recital of one of the dirty limericks Banks and Delahoy spent an entire day composing the week before.
There turns out to be tea. It’s only Earl Grey teabags and nothing like the fantastic loose leaf lemon and ginger Casey has at home, but beggars can’t be choosers. She boils water and makes a cup and then sits down at the counter to drink it, wishing that Walsh kept a TV out here. She could be watching Oprah reruns right now.
There are a couple of old newspapers under the counter. Casey finds a pen and starts filling in the half-finished crossword puzzles while she watches the people in the street outside, hoping no one will come in and demand she feed them.
It’s about an hour later when she hears Walsh come stumbling out into the diner. She starts turning her head. “Hey, how are you feeling? You want anyth.... oh, dear god in heaven!”
Walsh has stopped in front of one of the refrigerators and stands there, pressing his forehead against the stainless steel. His eyes are closed and he looks half asleep, and also a bit like the fridge might be the only thing holding him up.
That, and he’s completely bare-ass naked.
Casey’s first instinct is to cover her eyes with both hands. Then, she has to carefully peek through her fingers to confirm that, yes, Beaumont is a very lucky girl.
Trying to get off the high stool with her eyes closed would probably be a recipe for disaster and besides, Casey is a grown woman, she’s seen naked guys before. Still, this is a lot more of Walsh than she’s strictly comfortable with. Casey makes sure to keep her eyes above the waistline as she approaches him.
“Walsh? Um... where are your clothes?”
“I’m hot,” he mutters, by way of explanation, moving his head a little to find a new cool spot.
“Well, yes, I’m sure a lot of these passersby would agree, but dispatch will be getting calls about indecent exposure very soon, so maybe we should get you back to bed, okay?”
She reaches out to take him by the shoulders and steer him back into the bedroom, and can barely hold back an alarmed gasp at the heat that’s coming off him. With a fever this high, it’s a wonder he’s even ambulatory.
Walsh turns his head to look at her. His eyes are glassy and not quite there. “Jenna?”
Jenna? Who the hell...
“No, it’s me, Casey. Your partner, remember?”
He blinks and seems to focus again, shaking his head a little as if to clear it. “Right. Casey. Sorry.”
“Never mind. Come on, back to bed. And underwear, definitely underwear.”
Casey frogmarches him back into the bedroom and deposits him on the bed, using a sheet to cover him up. The moment she turns her back to reach for the bottle of aspirin on the bedside table, he’s trying to get up again. It’s almost a little frightening how easy it is to keep him down. Walsh isn’t a big man, but he’s all lean muscle. Seeing him so weak makes Casey feel a little unsettled. She fills a glass of water from the pitcher by the bed and tries to make him hold still long enough to get him to swallow the pills.
There’s a pile of discarded clothing on the floor, underwear, sweatpants and a t-shirt. It’s all sweaty and disgusting and Casey wouldn’t touch it if her life depended on it. Instead, she heads for the dresser and rummages around until she finds a pair of clean boxers.
Walsh stares at her, uncomprehending, when she hands them to him.
“It’s underwear, Walsh. Something considered polite to wear in the company of people of the opposite gender that you’re not having sex with. Please put them on?”
To his credit, he tries, but he keeps getting his legs tangled up, and Casey ends up having to help him get dressed.
“I hope you realize that you and Beaumont will be doing my paperwork for the foreseeable future,” she tells him when they’re finally done and Walsh is at least halfway decent again. It doesn’t matter whose flu it is - this is way beyond the partnership code.
He mutters something incoherent, closes his eyes, and passes out.
It turns out to be one of the longest days in Casey’s life. Walsh’s fever keeps spiking and there are at least two different occasions where she is holding her cell phone, fingers on the buttons, wondering if she ought to call an ambulance. The only thing that stops her is the thought of how Walsh would react to waking up in the hospital.
She resorts to a bowl of cold water instead, sits on the edge of the bed and wipes his face with a wet cloth to try to cool him down. He’s drifting in and out of sleep, murmuring softly about things that probably don’t make any sense to anyone but him.
There is one time, in the late afternoon, when Walsh opens his eyes and looks at her, and Casey can tell right away that it’s not her he’s seeing.
“Jenna,” he says, his voice barely more than a hoarse whisper. “Jen, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
She understands then. He never told her the name of his murdered girlfriend, but this has to be it. His eyes are filled with so much regret and longing that it’s breaking her heart.
“It’s okay,” she tries to reassure him. “It was a long time ago, it’s okay now.”
It sounds stupid, even to her own ears. Just because it’s in the past doesn’t mean it’s okay. Walsh has been living with the memory of her for a long time, became a cop because of her, and it’s clear he’s never been able to let her go completely. Casey doubts he ever will. There are some things that shape you, that stay with you for as long as you live.
“I’m sorry,” Walsh repeats, choking on a sob. He curls up and buries his head in her lap. “I never meant for you to get hurt, I never meant for it to happen. I’m so sorry, Jen.”
Damn it, if he goes on like this, Casey is going to start crying as well. She strokes his hair and tries to come up with something to say that won’t sound completely pathetic. Not that it matters, since he probably won’t remember this anyway.
He probably won’t remember. And Beaumont said to just go with it.
She doesn’t know if it’s the right thing to do. She doesn’t even know if it’s a kind thing to do. She does it anyway, leaning down to whisper in his ear, “It’s all right, Jason. I forgive you.”
Walsh stills in her arms, turns his head to look up at her, without doubt still seeing the ghost of his dead girl. “Jen,” he breathes out, one final time. Then he closes his eyes and fades out again, but this time there’s a faint smile on his lips.
Soon after that, the fever breaks. Walsh is still warm, but his temperature is not dangerously high anymore, and he drops off into a true, restful sleep. Casey sits back and finally breathes out. He should be all right now. He needs to be, because she never wants to have to do this again.
She goes into the bathroom and splashes some water on her face, and then brews another cup of tea and raids the fridge in the diner for something that doesn’t look too strange. She checks on Walsh a couple of times, but he stays fast asleep.
Casey is on her third cup of tea when Beaumont comes back from her shift.
“Hey, thanks for staying. Did everything go okay?”
Casey debates with herself how much she should tell Beaumont. Walsh probably wouldn’t mind her knowing, but there’s still something that makes Casey hold back.
“Yeah, it’s fine. He’s been sleeping, mostly. I think he’s getting better. His temperature is down, at least.”
Beaumont nods, satisfied. “That’s good. I appreciate it.” She digs around in the fridge and fishes out a bottle of beer. “Me and Cole just spent five hours chasing down a bank robber in an Elvis suit. He sang his way all through booking. Nice to know someone had a quiet day.”
Casey smiles and hopes it looks natural. “Yep, alllll calm and quiet here.” She puts the empty tea mug in the sink and goes to get her coat. “I’m gonna take off, I’ve got a date with my couch. See you tomorrow!”
It’s probably best if this whole thing gets to stay between her and Walsh. There are plenty of secrets between the two of them already. Casey can keep one more.
She does not, however, intend to keep quiet about the nakedness.
- fin -