John Casey smiled softly in his half sleep daze at the feel of Ilsa pressed against him. Her body was warm against his arm and the smell of her perfume filled his nose. Her fingers danced delicately over his skin, making him squirm as she stroked him lightly through his clothes. With a pleasured leer, his hand fell on top of hers, guiding her soft, slender fingers over his body. She hummed softly against his neck and pressed her lips against skin. Her breath on his neck –
The alarm clock blared, jilting Casey out of his dream. The warmth against his side was the pillow that still held the lingering scent of Ilsa's perfume; the scent faded every minute she was gone. The only hand on his body was his own. With a groan he rolled onto his side, slammed the clock to silence it, and pressed the pillow to his nose, willing himself back to that dream. Even knowing it wasn't real, he'd rather have that than nothing. Flipping onto his back, he hugged the scented pillow to his chest, calling her name. He felt her kneel on the bed, straddling his hips, running the flat of her palms over his chest with splayed fingers, then pinching against the hairs on his chest. Resting his hand on the curve of her hips, Casey gazed at her, falling deeply into her eyes; then she sank over him, her lips melting over his like chocolate over a strawberry.
He smiled and sighed and surrendered to her touch. It was hard enough to live without her, thinking she was dead. But at least when she was dead, he could move on with his life knowing there was no practical way to chase her. Now that he knew she was alive, being apart from her was torture. He could barely live in his own skin knowing he was confined to a world where they were both alive but could not see or touch each other. Casey looked into her gentle, but strong eyes, unable to restrain the tears falling from his own. He wasn't concerned, because he knew he was in a dream, and all need for bravado and strength had been left on the threshold to the waking world. Ilsa cradled his chin, kissed the tears on his cheek, and whispered words he could not understand. Casey rested his head against her chest and they rolled again, him sprawled over her, absorbing her presence. It was one of the things he loved about sleeping next to her – it was never tame. They were always entwined and embraced and tangled into each other, as if they'd fallen asleep in the middle of something.
"Don't cry, Sugar Bear," she whispered in his ear, and Casey couldn't help the sob that escaped him. The sound permeated the dream and roused him again. Coughing up consciousness like bad food, Casey inhaled loudly and pounded the clock again – only it wasn't the clock that was ringing. Wiping the weakness from his skin, he rolled again, seeking out his phone. Agent Walker. She was early.
He checked his clock, rubbed his eyes, and checked again. Nope – he was late. He considered making her wait outside for eight minutes while he took a shower and ate breakfast. He hated the idea of letting her in before he was prepared to face the day. The call from DC would come in ten minutes. His cell phone rang again and Casey opened it and pressed it to his ear.
"Yeah, I'm coming."
Rolling out of bed, he smoothed out yesterday's rumpled clothes and padded barefoot to the front door. Ilsa had left only yesterday, so Agent Walker would not likely be surprised. Out of habit, he grabbed his gun and checked the peep hole before undoing any of the locks. Agent Walker was dressed in plain clothes today, meaning she didn't have work. Casey had forgotten it was Thursday. He could still taste Ilsa on his lips.
"You just got up?" she asked socially as he opened the door, let her in, and locked it behind her.
He leaned against the door and rubbed a hand through his unkempt hair and ragged stubble.
"I brought you breakfast," she said neutrally, holding up a bag from the bagel place he liked. "Egg and cheese on everything."
"I gotta shower," he said lamely, leaving her alone in the living room and shuffling down the hall. The other reason he didn't like inviting her in before he was ready was because he couldn't keep an eye on her. He'd have to do a bug sweep later. If she was armed with a bagel, she was expecting to find him in this state, and he wasn't sure if that was good or bad. At the very least, it was kind. Smiling to himself, he figured he should say thank you for breakfast. Not even Ilsa knew he liked egg and cheese on everything bagels.
Casey had never attended a briefing with his superiors while sitting down and eating a bagel sandwich; today would've been the first had Agent Walker not yanked his elbow and took the food from his hand. He played it off as being incorrigible, and she rolled her eyes at him even though she wasn't fooled. The day's mood was vague and unconcerned and it didn't do much for his attention span. The beauty of having a partner was having a second pair of ears on the briefing… and a kick to the shins whenever he was too obviously zoning out.
After signing off, Casey picked through the last of his sandwich while Agent Walker watched critically. She had a way of filling silences with judgment and tension and though he hated idle chatter, Casey almost preferred Bartowski's ceaseless prattle to Walker's womanly wrath. Not that she had any reason to be mad but –
"Where is Bartowski?"
"You're just noticing," Agent Walker criticized.
Casey ignored her tone. He picked up his RF scanner and started a bug sweep of his apartment.
"John, I didn't plant anything," she said, exasperatedly.
He kept moving as if she hadn't spoken. His brain wasn't fully in gear and this task was the next easiest thing on the agenda since his food was gone now.
"I'll go make sure Chuck is awake," she said, and headed out the front door.
The bug sweep turned up nothing, but RF scans only picked up the cheap ones anyhow. With a resigned sigh, he brushed his teeth, found that stupid green polo he wore to work, and pressed on through his day.
The one thing that helped was knowing that Ilsa was not a photojournalist. Now he could look at the cameras and think wistfully of the cover lives they'd shared and shed that day without being consumed by it. He figured he must've always known deep down that she was more than she claimed. He'd sensed that strength about her – like if she knew his real life, she'd be fighting right beside him. Closing his eyes, he pictured her holding that gun to Federov's head. Casey wasn't even armed at the time, but he felt like he had the might of the entire Marine Corps backing him up, and Ilsa was at the center of that strength; she was the pinpoint of light and pure solidarity holding his world together. If eternity could be chosen from any point in time on this Earth, that pool step was where Casey would choose to stay forever.
Casey sat in his recliner, staring at nothing. He lacked the motivation to warm up food for dinner, the whiskey bottle wasn't calling to him, and the television couldn't get loud enough to drown out his thoughts. An alarm sounded when Bartowski let himself in the front door, but the kid knew how to turn it off. Casey changed the codes so often, he could barely keep up, but Chuck never had a problem with it. Casey tried to remember if he'd told Chuck the new code, but when the alarm silenced, it ceased to matter.
"Self-medicating?" Chuck asked, sitting on the coffee-table opposite Casey's recliner and nodding toward the whiskey bottle.
"Haven't touched it," he answered, more as a warning that he wouldn't be drunk and chummy this particular evening. Chuck never seemed to care if Casey was in the mood for company, and if Casey had a little more energy, he'd toss Chuck out.
"Maybe that's not what you need."
"And what do I need?" Casey carped bitterly.
Chuck rubbed his palms together like he was preparing to say something profound. "You need to get her back."
"Sure," Casey agreed sarcastically. "Let's start with plausible scenarios."
"I don't understand why you and her can't transfer to the same assignment," Chuck persisted. "You know, be on the same case, work the same –"
"I get the picture," Casey interrupted. "And that's not possible, nor would it be safe."
Chuck deflated a little and rested his forearms on his knees. "So we are doomed."
"I can't have Lou, you can't have Ilsa."
"What are you talking about?"
"Love. It just doesn't work with men in our situation."
"Listen, Intersect," Casey said, lowering the foot-rest on his recliner so he could sit forward and look Chuck in the eye. "We are not in the same situation. When this assignment is over, I leave and move on to the next assignment."
Casey shrugged. "You're probably dead."
Chuck swallowed hard and looked at his knees. "That's cheery."
With a hollow chuckle, Casey patted Chuck's knees and sat back. He should've figured the windbag would keep talking.
"So we are doomed – you and me. I die and you just … pretend you're dead already."
"That's the spirit."
"Would you trade all this for her?"
"Nope," Casey answered too quickly to be believed. Chuck laughed conspiratorially and went to the kitchen to find shot glasses and pour the whiskey.
"She was an amazing woman."
"Is," Casey corrected. "She is an amazing woman."
The both drank and Chuck nearly choked on the drink. Casey laughed at him and poured another round. Somehow when Chuck saw him pining over Ilsa, the kid didn't see weakness but strength – and Casey knew it wasn't about holding his liquor as they drowned sadness with shots.
A little after ten, the whiskey was gone and the two men staggered into the courtyard. Chuck stumbled into his apartment with the excuse of finding some decent food and Casey sat heavily by the fountain. His eyes fell on that gate he'd watched Ilsa walk through the night before when she'd left his apartment and gone to the airport and to her next assignment. He was glad she'd come to his bed that night and they'd shared that priceless piece of heaven. He was glad they'd blown each other's covers and had the privilege of finding the person underneath. Knowing she loved him for the man he was and not the energy consultant he pretended to be …
"Big guy," Chuck called.
Casey slipped drunkenly out of his reverie and hit his head on the second tier of the fountain as he fell backward into the basin, sending water sloshing over the sides. Chuck's hand was on the front of his shirt a moment later, yanking him above the surface. He laughed at himself as he stood up, sobered by the mixture of soaking clothing and cool night air.
"I got us some pizza bites," Chuck said, holding out a plateful of the water-sodden microwaved snacks. "Maybe I should get us some more."
"Maybe," Casey agreed, holding his hand to his aching head. Shaking the water from his shoes, he looked one last time at the gate before following Chuck inside the apartment. If Ilsa had taught him anything, it was not to let anyone in too close. He was only going to the Bartowski's apartment now because he'd cracked his head on the fountain and Ellie was a doctor. It's not like they were his friends. That would just be stupid.