Knock, knock, knock!
I glanced up from the map I was looking over up at the door. Across from me, Nikki also sat up from where she had been lying on her back on the bed, and looked at the door before looking across at me.
Our eyes met.
"دقيقة!" I called out, and began rolling up the map, while Nikki hastily got up and went to her backpack, unzipping the right side pocket and taking out our two tickets.
We met in the middle and exchanged our items; she gave me the tickets and I gave her the map, which she shoved under her pillow before taking a seat again beside it.
As I crossed the space of the compartment to the entrance, she took up one of the magazines that were left on the windowsill, and began to read, miming a relaxed position though I could see the tension in her feet.
Her feet had always been her tell for me. I could judge her next move based off of where they were angled, and know if she was lying or if something was bothering her by how much tension was in them or her legs.
Like now for instance. We were on the run and someone was knocking on our door. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed, relaxed for all outward appearances, but her toes were too pointed. Her feet too still and strained. As if she had drained all emotion and tension from her face and upper body, and shoved it down to hide in the lowest extremity. It was always the same: if she was sitting, you watch her toes, if she was standing you watch her kneecaps and calves. Watching for the tension, the sudden tightening of the muscles.
For a CIA agent, that was a pretty good tell to have, because everyone does have one. Everyone. Some are just more obscure than others. And who really looks at people's feet?
At the door, I pressed my ear to the panel and listened. I heard the guttural sound of a man clearing his throat and a breathy muttering in Arabic undertones. Definitely just the conductor.
With a quick movement I slid aside the compartment panel and stood framed in the entryway, making the crack just wide enough so that my face and body was blocking any view into the room.
The man gave me a halfhearted nod in way of greeting, and I passed the tickets to him with a returning nod of my own. He accepted them, punched holes in both, and then passed them back with a bored air, turning away without another glance.
I watched him move on to the next door, and took a glance down both ends of the corridor. Besides the conductor, they were both quiet.
Sliding the compartment panel closed, I turned to see Nikki watching me, the rolled up map now held in her hands which she wordlessly offered me. I took it, sitting down heavily in my place on the opposite bed again, spreading out the map before me.
Our closest and best option at the moment, I thought, would be to cross the channel of water that divided the coast of Africa with the populated Europe. There were plenty of black-market boatmen along the wharfs of Algiers, our current destination, that we could bribe to smuggle us across the channel and into Elche, Spain. It would be effortless to blend in as one of the thousands upon thousands of tourists. From there, Aaron and Marta could finish what they set out to do, and I would be free to live out the remainder of my life. I hear Sri Lanka is nice this time of year. But then……Nikki.
"Nikki….What are you planning to do? You know when all this is over?"
She looked up at me, then angled her head to gaze thoughtfully out the dirty train window.
"I don’t know. I haven't really thought about it, you know? It's not like I have to run for my life or something. I mean, sure I've maybe got a few X's on my name but nothing that will really require a global manhunt. Especially if Aaron succeeds. I think the CIA will have more pressing problems to deal with."
I nodded, following her gaze outside the window, watching the African coastline fly past and feeling the gentle sway of the train on the tracks through my feet. I was feeling it. That itch at the back of my mind. I didn't want to leave her. I knew she was right in that she had comparatively few threats, and if her brother did succeed in his plan, if he did expose the troubled programs of the CIA, then they would be far too invested in covering their own asses to pay attention to a lone female analyst.
I knew all that, and yet I couldn’t bear the thought that if in that slim possibility she ever did run into that one threat, I wouldn’t be there to protect her. I didn't want to have to watch her get on that train again. I didn't want to feel her slip through my fingers again.
"What are you planning on doing?" Nikki asked, breaking the silence and turning her clear eyes on me.
I shrugged. "I don’t know either really, but maybe that's the beauty of it. I'll go where my feet take me, I guess. There's a benefit in being dead."
She smiled, making a breathy little sound that could have been a laugh, and I found myself getting lost in her eyes, completely enraptured. Slowly her smile faded, her lips parting slightly as she was caught in my gaze like a deer in the headlights.
"Well," I began, slowly, "since we both have no idea….." I paused. Man up, Jason. "Think we could have no idea together? I mean, it would be safer that way. For you." I added quickly.
Something unreadable flashed in her eyes, and I saw her inhale, glancing down at her feet while she tucked a strand of hair behind her ears. "Is that the only reason?" She said softly, her eyes flicking up to mine briefly before jumping back down to her feet. "To keep me safe?"
I never looked away from her, feeling my heartbeat jump a few pulses. "No," I said honestly. "Not really."
She inhaled again, her lips parting while she glanced up at me, holding my gaze this time. Suddenly I recognized what it was in her eyes.
It was hope.
Leaning in, I placed my hand along her neck, sliding it up to her cheek as I closed the distance between us and met her lips with mine. Her lips were soft, her skin against my hand even softer, and all I could do was breathe in the smell of her shampoo and her perfume. I felt her hand on my chest and she leaned into me, her mouth responding against mine in a desperate flood of emotion. We kissed each other as if we had been two lovers who hadn't seen each other for months.
And for once in my life, I finally knew I was getting something right.
We broke away for air after a moment, our faces still just centimeters away from each other, my hand still on her cheek and her eyes closed. My own eyes were fixed on the soft smile upon her lips.
"Stay with me?" I whispered, slowly running my thumb up and down over her skin.
She opened her eyes, meeting mine and smiled. "Always," she breathed, before closing the gap between us, and I could feel her smile against me as we kissed.
My other hand dropped down to encircle about her waist, pulling her closer and onto my lap, and she slid both hands around my neck, running one hand tenderly through my hair.
Up until the moment when I was threatened with the possibility of losing her again, I didn't know how much I cared for her. I knew I had felt something for her, but in this moment, I was completely blown away by the amount of the love I felt washing over ever particle of my being for her. This woman I now held in my arms? I wanted to protect her. I wanted to care for her. I wanted to love her. I wanted to die for her.
It was like a part of me that had long been sleeping was suddenly woken up. And for once in my life, I knew my purpose. I knew where I belonged, and I knew where I wanted to be for the rest of my life.
I wanted to be right beside her.
Stay with me?