Our feet clacked upon the pavement, echoing in the alley, as we walked together towards our next assignment. But something was off; everything felt different. Our past assignments have never had this odd feeling. No matter how bad the assignment was, he usually smiles; at least once.
We have been partners for years; I now consider him one of the best friends I have ever had. As a woman, the guys used to jest with me, saying I could not handle it. He has always, in his own silent ways, shown his faith. Things may have been rough, but it has never been tense like this before. Even if it seemed that we might die, he had always turned to me at a certain moment and gave his little half smile.
"I trust you," he'd say to me. "See you in a moment partner." And off we'd go, blazing through danger together.
There were times when we definitely were hurt, but in the end, we'd just laugh it off back in the safety of The Base. Like the time when he got shot in the arm. He was sitting at the back of the ambulance, an EMT attending to his wound, but he still managed to look at me, without a single wince and nodded. I always knew what he meant. We made it. It had been one of our biggest cases, and we came out dirty and bloody. But one look or a nod at each other, and we'd smile. We knew we got out of there because of each other, and were able to enjoy that we had accomplished what we were sent to do.
No one understood him the way I did. He didn't have a full smile or grin, but his smirk or half smile has a charm of its own.
But I wasn't seeing it right now. Why was he so tense? Unless….
"You were assigned to The Case, weren't you?" I could barely even hear myself, but he caught it. He stopped and looked at me with his obnoxious chocolate eyes, giving me all the info I needed. "It's practically a suicide case. They only want to send the best, but…they don't expect the person to live…" I searched his face, his eyes—those deep chocolate eyes—hoping that they'd tell me something different.
They didn't. They only confirmed.
I felt my eyes tear up, but I pushed them away. "It doesn't matter. As long as we're together-"
"We're not," he said flatly. He was always one to go straight to the point.
I looked at him. "Ju-just you?" My voice wavered slightly.
"I will stand alone."
And that was when the tears started flowing. They escaped without a single warning. He pulled me into a hug, trying to comfort me. He reached for something in his pocket and pulled back just enough to hand it to me while keeping his other hand on my shoulder.
"I have something I need to tell you," he stated quietly while checking around to make sure we're safe. Unable to control my voice, I knew all I could do was listen to him. "And as soon as that door closes, you need to run from here. Promise me you'll get away." He looked me in the eyes, a stern look upon his face.
I nodded as I managed to whisper, "Promise."
He hugged me again, more tightly this time, as he whispered something to me I thought I'd never hear him say.
"I love you."
I was surrounded in silence when he pulled back from me, almost reluctantly. I saw the tear in eye. But he kept his face ever stern and turned away from me.
I stood there, thinking quickly to myself. From then on, I knew I could never forget that look he had in those eyes of his. The sadness, the love, and the regret.
He had made it to the end of the alleyway before I could gather my senses. And after a quick pause, he threw open the door that was in front of him, his hand reaching for his gun. I watched in slow motion as the door closed, cutting off any visual I had of him. But just before that door closed completely, I thought I saw that single tear slip down his cheek.
The shots rang in my ears almost immediately and the yells woke me from my stupor. As soon as that door closed, I kept my promise to him. I ran in the other direction and got myself out of there quicker than I ever have in any of our training sessions. The shots were still being let loose and I could hear the ringing as I ran away from that site.
And here I am now, in our-no, my – office. His mission was a success but he died doing his duty, just like we were trained to do. I had not moved from my chair since I arrived shortly after leaving the mission site. I realized that I had not even looked at what he had given me. As I opened my hand, my heart broke. It was the picture from the day he was accepted into the team. The one where he had his arm around my shoulder as I smiled facing the camera. I had never noticed, but in this picture, he had been looking at me.
People say, "It's better to have loved then lost than to have never loved at all." But, what about me? I lost the love before I could even experience it. Now I am not even able to tell him what I came to realize back there in that long, dark and dirty place. I looked at that picture he gave me as I found a spot for it on my desk. I stared at his face.
"I love you too."