He’s sitting only inches away. I am watching the way our hands fold together on my lap. My shoulder fits under his just the right way, and he’s never complained about how bony I am. I’ve never been very filled out, and my bones stick out more than they probably should, but he loves it all.
“What’s wrong?” His voice is as sinewy as always.
I glance up at him. “Hm?” I’ve always prided myself on my acting. But I’m not sure this is a role I can play so well.
He reaches up and runs a finger over the little dimple above my eyebrow. “You’re thinking about something. And you haven’t said more than two words all night.” He takes the remote and pauses the ghastly action movie we decided on.
I blink a few times. “I don’t feel too good. Am I warm?” I take his hand and press his knuckles against the fine perspiration of my brow. I bat my lashes a bit, letting the light hit my brown eyes just right. He smirks slightly.
“No. You feel great.” He doesn’t remove his hand when I release it. Instead, he makes a trail around the slight curve of my face, never breaking eye contact. “Have I ever told you how much I like your hair like this?”
It’s piled high up onto my head in a ratty bun. I haven’t showered in two days. I couldn’t help it.
“I’m sure you have,” I say, smiling slightly. I glance away. I can’t keep looking into those soft blue eyes, or watching the way his sharp jaw moves under the fine shading of hair. He certainly doesn’t look the part of an enemy agent capable of who knows what. The way his caramel hair curls above his forehead resembles Clark Kent, in a far more rural cowboy way.
“I’m going to go to the restroom.” He leans over and places an air-soft kiss on my cheek bone. A little flame follows his lips away. I can’t help but watch him as he saunters off towards my hallway, smiling when he glances over his shoulder. The second he is out of sight, I’m on my feet, rubbing at my temples to release the tension building there.
The folder is tucked in my desk drawer. Every fiber of my being is centered around that damn desk and that damn folder and that damn picture. His picture. With his sweet, sideways smile and those sparkling eyes.
I can’t do this. I have to. But I can’t.
A thought hits me then, rooting me in place. If I drop the case, then someone else will get it. I’ve already waited long enough for the agency to consider giving it away. The thought of Miles being murdered by anyone else makes my stomach sick.
But I’m going to murder him? The thought makes me a different kind of sick.
I have to do it. There is no way around this. He won’t get away. If everything in that file is true, then does he even deserve to live? The thought nearly sends me over the edge.
Where is the line even drawn? Where does the Miles I fell in love with end, and that file begin? What if they have the wrong person? Their intel wouldn’t allow for that kind of blunder, especially when the fragility of the agent involved with him is at stake.
I’ve never questioned my job. What I do saves countless lives at the price of a few.
But can I put a price on Miles? On all those nights we’ve spent together? On the future I had only just begun to glimpse with him?
Emotion normally has no say in these situations. This has to be a test. They’re testing me and my loyalty.
A few tears slip through, staining my eyelashes. There will be other Miles.
That thought alone clouds my mind. I dampen all else. I have to, or else this will destroy me forever.
I’ve done this before. This mission is no different than the others.
I slip into the kitchen. I haven’t prepared, but how could I? How could I lay out the tarps that will keep my living room from being stained with my boyfriend’s blood? This had to happen this way. The agency will send a cleanup crew.
I find the third drawer from the oven, fighting the feeling welling up in my chest. I pull on it until it comes off its hinges and clangs against the wood underneath. I reach back, find the pistol taped to the back, and yank it loose. I don’t bother pushing the drawer back in.
I can’t move further than the doorway between the living room and kitchen. Directly across from me is the hallway. The quicker I do it, the easier. The better it is on both of us. Less pain. Right to the head.
I squeeze my eyes shut, ignoring the way my chest suddenly heaves with something I can’t describe. Raw emotion, on a level I’ve never experienced.
I hear the bathroom door open. I pant a few times, gathering breath until the tears have subsided again. I can hear him coming down the hallway.
I raise the pistol, aim it right at the place where his head will be.
He comes around the corner, and before I’m able to pull the trigger, he raises the barrel of a gun directly at me. My eyes flutter wide, and my breath stops altogether.
“Maya,” he whispers, eyes glistening, his shoulders shaking a little bit. “Maya, they’re lying to you.”
“Shut up,” I hiss, adjusting the gun in my hand. “Drop your gun.”
“No. Listen to me.”
“Shut up.” I have to swallow hard to keep a fresh wave of tears down. “You’ve lied to me this entire time.”
“I’m not who you think I am.” He starts shaking his head. “The agency isn’t the agency anymore. I received an order to kill you a few days ago. At the carnival.” He reaches into his pocket and brandishes a picture of me. “You have to believe me, Maya.” He pauses, and then lets his gun go. It dangles uselessly on his trigger finger. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
I take several steps forward, bringing the gun within a foot of his head. “Shut up. Set your gun down.”
He drops into a crouch and sets his gun on the floor, eyes never wavering from mine. When he straightens, he moves closer and presses his forehead against the barrel of my gun. A little gasp slips through my lips.
There is a long moment, during which I can’t look him in the eye. I am glowering out the window, fighting the urge to throw away the gun. I have to do this. I received orders.
Finally, I move slightly backwards and drop the gun as loudly as I can to the floor, my arms going limp at my sides.
And then I charge.
I had caught him by surprise for the time being, my fist catching him on his jaw. Pain erupted in my hand but I kept going, my knee finding his stomach not long after. It didn’t take much time for Miles’ training to kick in, his defensive maneuvers becoming more effective. I noted that he was refusing to go on the offensive. It only fueled an anger that I hadn’t even realized was there.
How could the Agency be wrong? They were never wrong. Miles was only trying to save his skin. Of course, anyone who was watching this tussle would recognize that I was also trying to save his skin. I loved him. Every part of me loved every part of him.
As I grabbed a decorative glass bowl from a side table and chucked it at his face I could only think about how this was so entirely wrong. My emotions were boiling, moving from one direction to the other. I loved him. I wanted to kill him.
The only thing that I knew was certain was that we both had very big secrets that we were not telling each other.
I paused for a brief moment. Blood was dripping from the corner of his mouth, a bruise was already forming on his jaw. He didn’t look any less handsome.
I backed up to the door, my hand finding to doorknob. There was no way I was prepared for this. My blood was pounding in my ears as I slowly turned the knob, the stillness of Miles making me internally cringe.
As fast as I could, I ran out of the apartment, sure that I would not return. Everything was compromised. My feet carried me down the stairs as fast as they could, faster than I had moved in years. I had to get out, to get away from this place.
Barreling through the door with pure adrenaline rushing through my veins I hadn’t even noticed the dark figure hovering just by the doorway. Not until they had clotheslined me and my head smacked into the ground, everything going black.
The throbbing coming from behind my eyes was the first thing I felt. Second was the fact that my hands were zip tied to a chair. I had, of course, found myself in more compromising positions before, but I didn’t think any of the lessons learned from those experiences quite applied here.
I opened my eyes slowly, finding the glaringly white light intrusive and unnecessary. “Can we tone it down?” I yelled, though I hardly expected any kind of response. I doubted that I had found myself in anything but enemy territory.
It was easy to see, once my eyes had adjusted, that I was in some sort of interrogation room. The bright light, the absence of color, the one lone table with an empty chair across from her.
Unfortunately it took me just a moment too long to recognize the room. The lock on the door had already clicked and the pungent smell of some awful floral perfume came wafting over me as a sense of dread filled my stomach.
I hung my head just a tad bit lower, my eyes desperately searching for some way out of the zip ties.
The voice was stern, cold, calculating, and there was no way for me to mistake it as someone else.
“Cress, pleasure to see you.” My teeth were grinding so hard I knew I was undoing years of expensive dental work.
“I wish I could say the same,” he said evenly, but his facial expression was of malicious disgust. “Would you like to explain to me why you were found attempting to reason with a known terrorist?”
“I got a few punches in,” I mumbled in protest.
“So did he,” Cress straightened his red tie.
“Cress, how bad is the situation? How long have I been out?”
“All in good time.”
“Is he…” I choked, “…dead?”
Cress regarded me with curious loathing. “No,” he said finally. “But he is as good as dead at this point. Your testimony is the last nail in the coffin before the Agency executes him.”
“Who’s going to be the one to…” I trailed off, the answer to my question already in my mind. Cress smiles grimly to reaffirm it.
He’s going to kill Miles.
“If I hadn’t knocked you out, what would you have done, Maya?” Cress leaned against the back of his chair and crossed his arms. “Because you and I both know you would never have killed him.”
“I just…I thought that maybe…” I lost my train of thought. My mind was drifting back to Miles’s forehead pressed intentionally against the barrel of my gun. Cress was right. I never would have killed him. But if Miles was truly guilty, he never would have capitulated unless he was calling my bluff. And after the day at the carnival games booth when I won and he sulked, Miles was aware that I was a very good shot. He knew I wouldn’t miss or hesitate if I really meant to fire.
I blinked, and Cress reappeared before me, staring at me as though I was a pesky pigeon nibbling at the hem of his khaki pants. I thought of the same khaki-colored files I’d read about Miles’ crimes. And then an idea formed in my mind. It was completely crazy, but if it worked, Miles would be free, I’d be free, and the Agency would never get another case. I looked into Cress’ dark brown eyes and smiled.
“What?” He looked surprised.
“In about thirty minutes, you are going to let me out of here. We are going to rescue Miles, and then you are going to resign from the Agency to help us escape. I know about your friend that can get us new identification. And then, you will never see us again.”
Cress snorted. “What makes you say that?”
I lean forward.
“Because he’s innocent, and I can prove it.”