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Close your eyes.

 

 

You are flipping through a magazine while sitting poolside at a resort that costs more a night than some people see in two weeks, maybe three. You aren’t paying, but you had a good angle on the computer screen at the front desk when you checked in, so you saw the bill and you saw the raised eyebrows of the man holding your hand, first in surprise and then in amusement, a mischievous glint in his eye that you did not return. You were focused on other things.

He keeps trying to goad you into taking a dip in the hot tub, and you tell him no. Repeatedly. You tell him no and you tell him maybe later and you tell him i’m not really in the mood, but what you don’t tell him is shut up. You think about it, though, while you let your eyes trail another man across the way. Taller. Formidably built in a way that you might find intimidating if you hadn’t been trained to take down a man twice your size since you were eighteen. If you couldn’t hear his voice in your right ear every few minutes, asking for an ID on one of the attendants winding their way through the cabanas, saying your name.

You’re having a hard time hanging onto his words. You’re having a hard time holding faces and names in your memory, but you try, for a little while, until the man next to you slips a hand over your knee, cold and damp from the condensation of the glass he’s been holding onto, red, fruity, a daiquiri is your best guess, and he takes his hand and slides it up an inch past your knee, then two, and you want him to stop and you want him to be quiet and you -

 

 

Open your eyes.

 

 

There is a shadow looming over you and it takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the sun, bright enough that it gives you trouble even through the polarized lenses of your aviators. You blink, and you see the set of broad shoulders, backlit. You blink again, and the face of the man in front of you starts to come into focus.

You recognize him, sure enough, but you do not breathe a sigh of relief.

Instead, you tell him i’m not interested while you take off your sunglasses, folding them neatly on the table next to you, and a perverse amount of joy runs through you when his expression turns pained. It doesn’t linger long, but your guilt does, and the obvious solution is to stop looking at him, so you turn over onto your stomach and watch the ground underneath you for signs of movement in the shadow he creates.

He moves.

He moves into the chair next to you, but he doesn’t relax into it. He sits on the very edge, and he studies you with an intensity that makes your skin prickle. If you were a person concerned with modesty, if you could still manage self-consciousness, you might take issue with this, with the view he must be getting of you clad only in the black bikini you’re wearing, but you aren’t and, anyways, it’s not an appraising kind of gaze.

There are certain things you remember about him.

“Walker - “ he starts and his tone tells you the jig is up but, more than that, it warns you against trying that again. He doesn’t like it. You used to think he didn’t particularly like you either, but you get the sense that you were working with outdated information. You hadn’t previously thought that was possible with him. There is a cliche about tigers and stripes that had seemed particularly apt once upon a time, but you can recall the way his hands felt as they clasped yours between them. You know that’s not the case.

“I know who you are, John,” you admit, turning your head so that your voice isn’t muffled by the cushion. He is wearing a pair of worn jeans, and you are laying poolside at a five-star resort in Savusavu in the middle of February, summer in the South Pacific. Despite this, he is not sweating. He is, however, moving like he hurts, possibly everywhere, and you can see fading ligature marks around his neck where it looks like someone came at him with a length of garotte wire. “It doesn’t work like that.”

He waits for the rest of it.

He knows there is a rest of it to wait for.

“I meant what I said, though,” you tell him. And then, because you hope that it might make him turn heel and decide that you, that this, is all too much trouble with not nearly enough payoff, you add, “I’m not interested in anything you have to say.”

 

 

You have tried this approach before.

There is a man you left behind in California, after all, and he had not reacted well to it.

He had come home early to find you pulling clothes off of hangers and shoving them into a suitcase, and, in a fit of confusion, had tried to make a grab for the plane ticket you left lying next to your passport. You intercepted him. You stopped him with a hand placed squarely in the center of his chest, and he caught you around the wrist. His grip wasn’t particularly strong, but it wasn’t something you could easily shake off either, and you know because you tried while he was standing there asking you why and begging you to sit down, to just talk this out with him. You couldn’t shake him off, so you made a sound in the back of your throat akin to that of a strangled animal, and then you slapped him, hard, across the mouth.

He took his hands off you.

He took his hands off you, and then he held them up in front of him like you had a gun trained on him, the universal sign of surrender. He had a lot of practice with that, you remember, distantly, because you had a flash once, a month into your second lease on life, of standing on a rooftop arguing with the man who would become your partner, and watching the laser sights of his SIG bounce between the forehead and shirtfront of this man in front of you, this man that you would go on to marry, this man that you would go on to abandon. You hadn’t been able to pick a target to settle on, between the two of them, but you remember that your hands were steady and you didn’t feel much aside for the adrenaline coursing through your veins.

You married the man that stood there, terrified of you, terrified of what you could do with that gun and what you might let your competition do, and four and a half years down the line he was still terrified. He said your name, once, twice, before breaking into a string of apologies, and you had wanted to be sick, but instead what you did was tell him to stop. You told him to stop and then, calmly, you told him that you were leaving him and that you would appreciate it if he didn’t try and follow you. You finished packing with him sitting five feet away, motionless on the bed, and at the door you turned to look at him. Took in the wide, welled eyes, the lines of his face contorted in something like pain, and said nothing. Couldn’t manage it. Couldn’t quite hold yourself together if you were going to have to do the same for him, so you left him there and you changed your flight as a precaution and, in the morning, you flew five thousand miles in the other direction.

How much of that could’ve been avoided had you called it quits that day on the beach instead of spending the next eighteen months trying to fit into someone else’s shoes? How much of a toll did the expectations that came along with them take on you?

How far are you willing to go to avoid feeling trapped like that again?

 

 

“I’m not interested in anything you have to say.”

You make sure to keep looking at him after you say it, so that he understands that this is not a point you will waver on, and he nods, after what feels like a long time. You expect some form of emotion to make itself known on his face, you are actively watching for it, and you keep your hands tense at your sides, balled into fists, as a deterrent in case he goes for them again. You have a thing about people touching you without your express permission now, and it makes you wonder as to your effectiveness as an agent should you ever want to go back.

His face remains impassive. Whatever you were to him, whatever meaning he once attached to you, doesn’t appear to have held judging by his reaction, and that hurts. It’s maybe as much of a surprise to you as it would be to him if you were playing more fast and loose with your emotions, with what you let show through, and it makes you angry. It reminds you that you hated his guts before and you sort of still do, despite all the stories of camaraderie you’ve been told by third parties, because as of the day that you woke up to find five years of your life gone he was the last remaining thing in your orbit connecting past to present, your fixed point, and he up and left you behind.

Eighteen months without a word.

It’s not a bitterness that you can articulate properly, nor is it one you would know how to share with him if you could, but it’s one you feel to your very core.

He stands, stiffly, and you decide that he is favoring his left leg over his right. He’s thinner than when you last saw him, but with more muscle on his body. Harder around the edges. You know that he left Burbank for a job with Verbanski Corp, so you figure it’s safe to assume that he’s spent most, if not all, of his time in the field, which is consistent with the John Casey you were previously aware of but not with the one who spent five years on extended assignment, putting down roots. You’d bet good money on him having taken a bullet in the last week. It makes the ligature marks more interesting; it makes you wonder what kind of hell he’s been through as of late and what made him pull himself out of it to go looking for you.

The only rational answer you can think of is one you want nothing to do with.

You lay your head back down on your folded hands and do a decent job of convincing yourself that you don’t actually care about how easily he gives in. You can return to your afternoon in peace, or so you think, because the part you forget is that he knows you, or a version of you anyways. A version that’s perhaps not as far removed from who you are today as Sarah Walker, lover, wife, and potential mother was. He knows how to catch his partner off guard and he knows all the right buttons to push to piss her off.

Her. You.

How much of a difference did five years make when it comes to the way you tick?

How much of a difference did the ensuing eighteen months make? Is your personal bubble a little more solid now? Is your need to grapple for control of the situation a little more pressing?

“I’ll see you around, Walker,” he says, and then leaves you to it.

You bite down on your tongue hard enough to draw blood, just to keep yourself from telling him to go to hell, just to keep yourself from making a scene.

 

 

True to his word, you see him again.

Breakfast, the next morning, and you are spearing a piece of carambola with your fork when he takes the seat across from you. He doesn’t say anything, for a while, for long enough that the waitress comes by to ask if he’ll be joining your party and whether she can get him anything. He answers the second question, but not the first, tells her coffee, black, and leaves enough room at the tail end of his sentence for you to hijack it. You’ve decided to go for something a little stronger than ice water. You’ve decided if you’re going to have this conversation, you’re going to have it with alcohol in your system, and when the waitress returns she sets a mimosa down in front of you, her smile more forced at the corners than it was before, like she can sense the tension radiating off of you.

He has seven inches and a good seventy pounds on you, the kind of man who could throw you around without too much effort, and it looks a certain way. Save for his injuries and your lack of them. Save for the way you glare daggers at him, unafraid.

The waitress avoids your table, after that.

You lean forward, and you tell him, “I’m not going back.”

He seems to be, if anything, vaguely amused by that declaration. You don’t see what’s so funny. You left the country and started going by the name of a French diplomat you once played as a cover. Finding you had to have taken a not insignificant amount of work, and you know it wasn’t Chuck who started filtering through your old aliases. Elana Truffaut. Trust the man who’s been operating under an assumed name for more than twenty years to think outside the box.

“Look, I know he sent you after me,” you try to level with him, give him truth instead of outright dismissal. You think he might respect that more. “I even understand why you went through with it. You wanted to get him off your back, right? Well, you tried. It didn’t work. Sooner or later, he’ll accept that it’s for the best.”

“You happy here, Walker?”

“What does that - “

“It’s a simple question.”

You can tell by his expression that he is deadly serious, and you look away from him to try and get your bearings. The restaurant you’re in is outdoor seating only, practically on the beachfront, so your view looking left is the ocean. Long stretches of white sand. Sago palms and orchids further in. The sort of lazy, picturesque tropical paradise that belongs on a postcard and, still, you knew what your answer was before he even finished the question.

“No,” you say, and then, because you need the qualifier, “But I wasn’t happy back there either. I’m starting to think - “ you lose your voice and your sentence, have to force your gaze to clear and stabilize on the water ahead of you before you can find it again. “I’m starting to think people like me aren’t supposed to be happy.”

He sips his coffee. He eyes the waitress. He practically ignores you and, eventually, you get that his silence is meant as an opportunity for you to pull yourself together without having to admit that anything is wrong, so you do. You breathe in and out for a few moments, and think about how freeing it is to be able to say these things out loud without having to be told all about how you’re wrong, how it’ll get better if you just give it time. Things you didn’t believe in California, and certainly won’t believe now.

And then:

“He asked.”

“What?”

“He asked me to look for you.”

That gets your attention.

“I turned him down. Said if you wanted to be found then you would be, but otherwise he should let you go. Move on with his life.”

“Then why are you here?” you ask.

He folds his arms on the table.

He doesn’t answer.

 

 

The last time you were on American soil was the three days you spent in Omaha.

You have a storage unit there, full of all the stuff that used to reside in your old apartment in DC before you relocated, evidently, to a hotel room in Burbank. You know this because you kept good records and you kept them in encrypted folders on a flash drive rather than a filing cabinet in the house you shared with your husband. They’re the last thing you go through before you leave California behind and, two weeks later, you brave two separate connecting flights from Nadi and go digging through your past.

You find, among other things, the key to a lockbox at a bank downtown, and that gives you access to a stockpile of cash you didn’t know you had, as well as passports and identification that you did. You clear out half of the money and all of the IDs, pay the unit up for the next two years, and leave with nothing else but a wallet-sized photo of you and your father, taken when you were eight years old, that you found at the bottom of one of your old dresser drawers. You don’t know where he is or if he’s even still alive, and you don’t have the first clue how to find him without the resources the CIA used to offer you, but it seems like an important thing to have.

Then you drive your rental car all the way out to Council Bluffs and call Chuck from a payphone there. You let it ring out and you pray that it reaches the answering machine uninterrupted and, when it does, you tell him you’re sorry. You tell him that this isn’t his fault. You don’t say a whole hell of a lot else but you manage to keep your voice steady and when you’re done you press your forehead to the glass without any regard to how unsanitary that is and let yourself cry.

You fly back to Nadi.

You forget why it was you came there in the first place.

 

 

“People like us,” he says.

You frown at him.

“What you meant before,” he elaborates. “It’s people like us.”

He still hasn’t told you why he’s here, but you think you might be starting to understand anyway.

 

 

Two days later, he joins you for dinner.

Tells you that he’s flying out in the morning.

“Finally decided to give up on me?” you ask and are unnerved to find that, despite getting what you want, you’re a little saddened by the reality of it.

This extended vacation hasn’t exactly been about making friends with your fellow tourists and Casey is, more or less, decent company. Not much of a talker, but he’s told you a few stories about his time with Verbanski Corp, enough for you to gather that you would like the woman at the head of it, as well as put together a hunch that he cut ties with them a while ago. You’re guessing freelance, now, and you don’t think it’s going very well either. He doesn’t tell you what happened to his leg, but he does gradually start to move around a little easier on it, and you guess it’s temporary nature is all you really need to know. Most importantly, he doesn’t try to tell you about before. He lets the five years you’re missing be a gap in his own history, and you are more than a little grateful for it.

There are questions you want answers to, things you can maybe ask him where you couldn’t ask Chuck, but you’re not sure you’re ready for the answers, and by the time you come around to thinking you might be, he’s all set to leave again.

Or so you thought.

“I’ll be back,” he says, and doesn’t tell you where he’s going or why but you bite back the little half smile that threatens to slip, scared to give him even that much while the reasons behind his presence are still unclear. You want to trust him, intuitively, but you don’t. You can’t afford to.

“You say that like you assume I’ll still be here when you do,” you reply, and while there’s a part of you that’s teasing him, there’s also a part of you that’s not. You could go. You could disappear off the grid again, change your cover, change your hair, change a lot of things. Sure, he might find you again but he also might not. He’s very good at his job, but there’s a certain element of luck to this and you figure you might be due for some.

He shrugs, unconcerned. “You will be.”

Five days later, you come back from a resort-sponsored diving trip to the barrier reefs out in the straits off of Taveuni to find him down by the docks. You’re on friendly terms with the concierge, and he’s seen the two of you around each other often enough that he apparently didn’t think much of telling Casey that you were spending most of the day out on the boat with the diving instructors.

You tell him you’re surprised he came back.

You try to pretend you’re not surprised that you’re still here.

 

 

“Why Fiji?”

“I needed the vacation,” you say, and you are no longer just teasing but flirting with him outright, with no real desire to do anything but get him off this topic.

You took him to a bar as an experiment, some local place one of the instructors told you about, off-resort and mainly full of expats, the occasional sailor. The kind of joint that gets a little rough around the edges on a Saturday night, nothing you can’t handle, and, when you say as much, he gives you the impression that the two of you spent a lot of time in similar contexts, except for where he was usually mixing drinks while you were busy seducing the mark. He says nothing about celebratory drinks after a job well done, and you can’t decide if that was a matter of too little free time or if Chuck required quite so much attention, in the early days, that the normal things partners do with each other while first trying to feel each other out kind of fell by the wayside. Given the way it all played out, five years down the road, you’re leaning towards the latter, and it makes you a little sad, but it also makes you a little curious as to why you can remember that he has a taste for scotch and a hatred of chardonnay.

It doesn’t so much matter now, with Chuck gone from the equation, and you say something in the vein of for old times sake before you start plying him with alcohol, but he knows what you’re doing. It’s a test of how much control he’s willing to cede to you, you who has had very little control over your own life and what the people in it do to you as of late. He can hold his liquor, better than you can by a long shot based on simple things like body mass, but it still has the effect of dulling reflexes and hindering judgment, and you are a trained agent who knows how to make it look like you’re keeping pace with him when you aren’t. That makes him the vulnerable one.

His intact memories, his knowledge of you, they give him the upper hand in almost every situation, and you’ve been trying to handicap him ever since he walked back into your life. This is the best way you can think of to do that, and, the question is, how much does he trust you? Not his partner, not his friend, but you.

So he drinks. He doesn’t bother to measure his intake against your own as far as you can tell, just goes along with the game you’re playing almost like he’s oblivious to it. In exchange, you tell him stories from the eighteen months of your life that he’s missing, the first you’ve spoken of it at all, glossing over the parts about Chuck and mostly recounting stupid tales like how, through a series of unfortunate events, you got stuck at a Jeffster concert with Morgan as your only company. Occasionally, you throw in little anecdotes from the limited time you managed to spend around his daughter, before she up and transferred to a college on the opposite side of the country without much warning. You don’t ask about that, and he doesn’t offer any details, but you have a hunch that whatever messed him up enough to come looking for you is the same thing that kept his calls to his own daughter brief after a few months, and then basically non-existent.

He keeps his wits about him, but there is a point when you look over at him and determine that he is, by your estimations, a little more buzzed than he should be if he were still working an angle - if he ever was working an angle - and you want badly to take that as proof that he really isn’t here to wrangle you into going back.

And then he asks why you came to Fiji.

That’s not a question you want to answer, even if you do have one for it, because you know, for one, how stupid said answer sounds in your head, and, for two, that it will sound infinitely more ridiculous if you say it aloud. Therefore, you play coy. You give him a flippant non-answer in a tone you usually reserve for marks, and then you incline yourself towards him in a way that is not at all subtle and, you realize, quite possibly panic-driven. You don’t want any part of this conversation, and your personal bubble is still as solid as ever - he hasn’t so much as accidentally brushed a hand against you since he got here; you know that’s not a coincidence - but does it change things if you’re the one initiating contact? If you’re the one putting the option on the table?

Nevertheless, he doesn’t take the bait.

What he does do is call you out, not on your actions, but the words preceding them.

“Bullshit.”

You sigh, frustrated. Dropping the pretense of the act as quickly as you picked it up. “Why does there have to be a reason?”

He considers this, for a moment, and you can see he’s debating whether it’s even worth it to keep playing certain cards close to the chest at this juncture, when he’s tried every other way he seems to know how and you still won’t trust him. He wants that, from you. It’s the only thing you’re sure of. “You were looking for something in Omaha. Stands to reason you’re looking for something here too.”

It’s not worth asking how he knows about Omaha.

He would’ve traced your last call to Burbank. He would’ve checked with customs and, later, rental car agencies, and you were stupid, you were not thinking clearly enough to realize that you needed to run from someone other than Chuck, someone who did not lead with their emotions, so you used an alias that predates your time in the CIA but definitely exists in your records. You were Katie O’Donnell, for a while, in Wisconsin, while you were still running game with your father, and it’s the kind of privileged information that someone would need clearance for. Clearance and the motivation to go over your background with a fine-toothed comb, and if anyone is incredibly thorough when it comes to vetting the people he works with, it’s this man. You’ve known that since before you ever met him.

“How long have you been looking for me, John?”

“I asked first,” he says.

Your eyes find, then linger on, the tick in his jaw, and you wonder what part of that last sentence is currently agitating him. He doesn’t seem to know he’s doing it, and everything else in his body language screams careful control. Just that one telltale pulse bleeding through. You have to get him drunk just to get half a read on what’s going on in his head, and he knows more about your past than you do. It’s insane. It’s unfair.

But he did ask you first

“A private jet with enough fuel to get us to Fiji instead of London,” you say, the words rolling off your tongue effortlessly, for all the times they’ve played over in your head. You let your eyes trace the rim of the glass in front of you, following the pattern set forth by your fingers, and try to power through the rest of it, the unpracticed parts, with the same ease. “That’s all I remember. No names, no faces, not really any context, just - I get flashes, sometimes, things I can’t explain, and I remember thinking I wanted to go, but I couldn’t. Shouldn’t. And I thought that maybe if I came here then I would - “ your lose your conviction mid-way through, breaking off with a shake of your head, “but I wanted to remember in California and I didn’t. I don’t know why I thought this place would be any different.”

You don’t watch for his reaction, don’t trust your ability to look at him without giving too much of yourself away right now, so you focus on keeping your hands still against the wood grain of the bar. His fingers twitch, inches away from yours and the only part of him in your line of sight, but he stems whatever urge caused that and wraps them tight around his glass. Controlled, but not. Okay with it, but not. He clears his throat, and you prepare to be told you’re out of your damn mind, but what he says is, “Cole Barker.”

“What?”

“MI6 agent who helped us out a few years ago.” He pauses for long enough to down what’s left of his drink, and you look at him now, watch the way his throat works and note the steadiness of his gaze. “Tried to convince you to get the hell out of dodge after you nearly got yourselves tortured covering for Bartowski. Would’ve let you go, too.”

The implied is that Chuck wouldn’t have, at least not easily, and, somehow, you know that’s why you stayed. Why you barely even entertained the thought of skipping town. He needed you and, even if you can’t quite identify with the part of yourself that felt connected to him even then, you can identify with the part that would’ve stuck around to see the job through, regardless of personal desires.

You open your mouth to ask how he knows all of this but, it occurs to you, that Castle had more security cameras inside of it than you care to think about, and he would’ve reviewed them in the process of keeping an eye on what the asset was doing while they weren’t down there watching him. This is exactly the sort of conversation you would’ve had in a secure underground bunker, and you hope that’s all it was. A conversation.

Your cheeks are still flushed, faintly, when you say, “Maybe it would’ve been better that way. I probably wouldn’t have lost my memories. You could’ve found yourself a partner who you didn’t have to go chasing after. And he - well, he would’ve been better off without me too.”

 

 

How highly do you think of yourself, at this point?

Strike that.

How much do you hate yourself, for not being able to remember?

A little?

A lot?

 

 

“No.”

“No?”

He swallows, thickly. “Barker’s been in the wind for years. Got caught up with some Chechen rebels and never reported back in.”

You know what in the wind means.

You wonder if they’re even still looking for the body.

He’s thinking only that you would’ve joined Barker in an early grave, not that he would’ve missed you, and you spend the rest of the night convincing yourself that you prefer it that way.

 

 

You don’t see him again for days.

It’s not something you talk about, what he does when he’s not with you, but there are hour-long flights running three times a day back to the main airport in Nadi, and from there it’s a few hours to Sydney, to Honolulu, longer if you’re looking towards Seoul or Hong Kong, even Los Angeles, but the flights are still fairly regular and all of them non-stop. He could be going anywhere and nowhere, and you would be none the wiser.

In his absence, you head out on the boat again, bound for the marine reserve in Namena, and come back with something between a suntan and a sunburn from all the time you spent topside. You make use of the resort’s massage therapist, for the first time, and try to re-acclimate yourself to the feeling of someone else’s hands on you. You read down by the beach in the afternoons, and quiz the concierge on the nearby villages. You fight boredom.

You don’t sleep more than four hours at a time, but then that’s not really anything new.

 

 

To understand why it is that you don’t sleep through the night requires an understanding of what it’s like to share a bed, for several months, with a man who forgets that you aren’t his wife while unconscious.

It was no one’s fault, really, but you learned the ceiling of the spare bedroom by heart before that first year was out, and even then -

Well.

Some might argue it was a lost cause long before you left.

 

 

He’s waiting for you at breakfast.

“This is becoming a habit,” you say, warningly, but you take the seat across from him. The waitress no longer looks at the two of you like she might need to call security but he plays nice with her, a tad friendlier than he ever is as a general rule, to preserve her goodwill, and you give him a raised eyebrow after she disappears with your order.

Casey gives a half-grunt in acknowledgment and curls his hand around the coffee cup in front of him, knuckles freshly bruised. The marks on his neck have disappeared, the limp long since gone, but these injuries are new and you move without thinking to turn them towards the light, to get a better look.

He lets you scrub the pad of your thumb across the skin just below the base of his fingers, but you can feel the tension coiled there, like he isn’t quite used to that level of contact, maybe from you, maybe from everyone, and has to tamp down on the urge to pull out of your grasp. You make a soft hmm-ing sound under your breath, note the places where skin is broken rather than bruised, and release him, as casual as you can manage.

“You really need to find someone who’s better at watching your back,” you tell him, with a smile that’s shaky at the corners, and his gaze drifts to your mouth.

 

 

Here’s a question for you:

What makes a man like John Casey pick up and fly several thousand miles to an island that’s only real trade is in tourists, and then spend the next few weeks commuting back and forth between countries, all in the name of a woman who doesn’t remember much about him besides how little she liked him seven years ago?

 

 

His gaze drifts to your mouth.

You begin to think you’ve read the situation all wrong.

 

 

This is how you end up on your knees, at one in the morning, picking the lock on his front door and letting yourself inside.

You chose this place for the privacy it offered, no internal hallways or shared walls, just a series of detached bungalows radiating out from a central hub, but what you’re truly grateful for, as you slip past the french doors that separate the living area from the bedroom, is their insistence on the use of old-fashioned brass keys and identical floorplans.

He has the lights off and the curtains drawn, but the fan is running overhead and that’s enough to disturb the fabric and let moonlight peek through every now and then. It’s what keeps you from tripping over the duffel bag stashed in the corner by the closet, and it’s what alerts you to the displacement of the top drawer of the nightstand, jutting out about half an inch, a sure sign of where he’s keeping his gun - or one of them - since you doubt he went digging for the bible that normally takes up residence there. You move accordingly, blocking his access to it as you settle yourself on the bed beside him.

It takes nothing more than dip of the mattress to rouse him, and he goes from dead to the world to livewire underneath your fingertips, bolting up and reaching for his sidearm in one smooth movement that you intercept easily, catching his hand in yours and interlocking your fingers to keep him from shaking you off. You tell him stop and it’s just me in a tone that you imagine is soothing, although your grip is anything but and you don’t dare loosen it until you feel him relax.

He blinks you into focus. “What the hell are you doing here, Walker?”

You know what he’s asking but you also know where he’s looking or, more specifically, what he’s looking at. Your joined hands on the bed, his fingers spread flat and yours curled, short nails against the still-broken skin of his knuckles. “Would you believe me if I said I thought you were having a nightmare?”

“I don’t have nightmares,” he says, voice rough, unamused, and you don’t doubt that. You haven’t seen him look quite this aggravated with you since he was locking you up in a cell back in Burbank, and you later came to understand that at least some of that was misdirection on his part. This isn’t. It’s warranted, you figure; you’re taking liberties with him that would have you on the warpath if the positions were reversed.

You look away, moving to pull your hand free only to have him finally match your grasp, tugging you forward an inch or two in the process. You shift onto your knees to compensate, but don’t immediately try to break his hold, and after a beat or six you even manage to look unbothered by it. How much of that is a ruse and how much of that is actual trust overriding your better instincts is a question you’d rather not think too hard on. You fixate, instead, on the steady weight of his thumb against your wrist bone, breathing in deep before you ask, “Were you in love with her, too?”

Her. You.

It’s not a delineation you intend to make but it spills out anyways. You watch it hit home for him, the subtle widening of the eyes, the flare of nostrils, the depth of your dissociation in plain view. His grip slackens like he’s no longer so sure he should be touching you, even if you were the one who started it, and it serves as an interesting contrast to the absolute certainty in his voice when he tells you, “No.”

 

 

Did you want him to say yes?

Would that have made it easier to run or just harder to stay?

 

 

He replies in the negative and that’s your cue to leave.

It isn’t your cue to lean up and kiss him, but that’s what you do. You frame it in your head as a test of the reliability of his answer, for as much forethought as you bother to give it before you press your mouth to his. If he means it, he’ll push you away, he’ll hold you by the shoulders and ask what the hell’s gotten into you, and if he doesn’t -

Well.

You don’t have time to think about what the alternative means because he reacts well before you’re ready for him to. His free hand comes up to slide along your jaw, threading into your hair, almost instantly, and you gasp into his mouth. He tastes like toothpaste, where you were betting alcohol or, perhaps, had imagined alcohol would be in play should something like this ever occur, and the angle is wrong, your position on your knees leaving you both higher and further away than you need to be for this to work right. He seems to agree because you feel yourself being lifted into his lap a moment later. A brief burst of panic blooms inside you, in the interim, that half second where you’re not quite moving under your own steam, and you fight the urge to bolt with your fingers digging into his shoulders, feeling hard muscle working underneath cotton. He doesn’t notice and you don’t want him to, but you break away for long enough to breathe, moving to recenter yourself so that you’re straddling his hips, and then find his mouth again.

 

 

People like us, he’d said.

He hadn’t been speaking to Sarah Bartowski, née Walker, the happily married woman looking forward to a future of domesticity and routine.

He had been speaking to you.

 

 

He stops.

His hands span your ribcage, skimming the space where your shirt has ridden up, an inch of bare skin between hem and waistband, and you shudder, involuntarily. It doesn’t much matter whether that reaction is rooted in pleasure rather than discomfort because you have no way of properly articulating that without owning up to a whole mess of other things, so instead you keep your arms looped around his neck when he pulls back, tries to disentangle himself from you, and let self-satisfaction stretch across your lips.

“Liar,” you exhale, with his breath warm against your neck.

But you know otherwise.

 

 

“When’s the last time you passed a firearms proficiency test?”

As far as wake-up calls go, it’s not your favorite, punctuated as it is by the envelope he tosses at you. You’re laying out on the beach, mid-afternoon, three days removed from whatever did or did not happen in that bedroom. The envelope lands on the flat of your stomach, not gently either, and you groan, annoyed. He’s standing in your light again, sand sticking to the cuffs of his jeans - he’s really not cut out for island living, or at least his wardrobe isn’t - and you haven’t seen him since the other night, on account of him boarding a Twin Otter bound for Nadi at seven the next morning. He doesn’t look to have come back with any more injuries, which is a nice change of pace.

You sit up and turn the envelope over in your hands. It’s plain, unmarked, but there’s something heavy weighing it down, possibly metal from the weight of it. You don’t have a clue what, and his face is closed to you, expressionless, so you can’t exactly take your cues from him either.

He clears his throat, presumably to remind you he asked a question he’d like an answer to, and you’re a little agitated, confusion shifting to unease, so what he gets is, “Does it count if I can’t remember it?”

Casey’s mouth becomes one very tight, very flat line.

“I still know how to shoot a gun, John,” you say, deadly serious for all that you were trying to be lighthearted before, and he nods. Like he even needed the confirmation. Like he hadn’t seen you in action and heard the same spiel about your implicit memory being unaffected. This isn’t him gathering information, this is him priming you for something, and you look down at the envelope again. “Although somehow I doubt that’s what’s in here.”

“You’d be surprised,” he replies, mollified for the time being. “Might not be big enough for your Smith & Wesson, but that Guardian you used to carry would fit just fine.”

“You’re telling me you brought me a gun?”

“No.”

“Because I have a gun.” He eyes you, doubtfully, and you are not wearing enough to argue with that. “Well, not on me.”

He grunts his agreement, and then fixes his gaze elsewhere. “You going to open that?”

“I don’t know, are you going to stand there and hover over me while I do it?” Your kick your bare foot out until it collides with his ankle, nudging him to the side, wholly unwilling to do anything while he’s looming over you and staring, and he takes the hint, dropping down next to you in the sand, if somewhat awkwardly. He maintains the usual distance, and you’re curious as to how long that’s going to last now that he’s figured out you’re not adverse to his hands on you. “So, any hints?”

“Scared, Walker?”

“Of you?” You might imitate his derisive tone perfectly but the answer, not that you’ll ever admit it, is yes, and you decide you have a right to be, as you upend the envelope and watch the contents tumble out into your lap. One plane ticket with your name on it, dated for the end of the week, and, more concerningly, your badge. You tackle that, first, trying to keep the wonder out of your voice when you ask, “Where did you get this?”

“Beckman always did like you.” He pauses, then reconsiders, “She came around to you, anyways. Me, she always liked.”

You’re barely listening to him, too busy trying to make heads or tails of what you’ve just been handed. You turned in your badge in the name of getting your head on straight, of figuring out who you were and who you are, and, although that’s a decision you’ve regretted a handful of times, at no point have you seriously considered asking for it back. Memories weren’t the only thing you lost; your confidence and your grip on trust were both shaken in the aftermath, and you’re smart enough to know how dangerous it is to go into the field without either.

He should know better than that, too.

Except -

“That’s why you came here, isn’t it?” You look up at him, tearing your eyes away from your hands and finding his gaze, or trying to. He dodges you, deftly, looks out to the shoreline because he is skilled at a good many things, but emotions, both exhibiting them and dealing with them, were never his strong suit. You remember that much. You knew that much before. “You went and got yourself reinstated after that thing with Verbanski fell through, and then you figured out you weren’t as good at flying solo as you used to be, didn’t you? That’s what this was about. Not Chuck. Not anything else. You just wanted your partner.”

From his silence, you guess you got at least most of that right. You’d be proud of yourself, too, if he didn’t look almost ashamed. It’s admitting weakness that he hates, you think, not wanting you, but it still doesn’t make you feel any better. He nods, after a moment, still not looking at you when he says, “You were right about needing someone to watch my back.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m retired,” you remind him, gently.

“You’re also bored as hell,” he shoots back.

You grimace. “I think you’re projecting.”

“I’m not,” he says, and he sounds so very certain about it that you’d be inclined to believe him anyway, if you didn’t already know it was true. You are bored. Vacationing in paradise lost its appeal two weeks in, and, untethered to anyone or any place for the first time in your life, you found yourself feeling directionless rather than free. You need the routine of orders, of work, to set a pace for you to follow, and although you’ve known that for a while now it surprises you that he’s apparently figured it out too. “You’re a spy. It’s in your DNA. Settling down with Bartowski didn’t take that out of you, and neither did this.”

Maybe something in his words makes you smile, but he isn’t looking at you to see it, and you force yourself to tamp down on it before you ask, “So, to be clear, you’re asking me to leave this nice, scenic, tropical island to go run around with you in Minsk?” That gets his attention, much as it’s indicating that your answer, for all intents and purposes, is yes. “Really, John, Eastern Europe in February? That’s your best offer?”

That tick in his jaw starts up again, but all he says is, “I go where they tell me to.”

You run your thumb over the face of your badge, dislodging a few grains of sand that have worked their way into the grooves of it and, yeah, you won’t really miss that. “Well, I guess I do too. Wouldn’t want you to get shot again. Or stabbed. Or whatever happened to your neck before - choked?”

“I can handle myself just fine.”

“Mmm,” you hum, letting that smile break back through, “keep telling yourself that, old man.”

“One more thing,” he starts.

“What?”

“Stop calling me John.”

 

 

fin.

 

 

 

land mines from slybrunette on 8tracks Radio.