Accidentally in Love
I am often asked how we ended up together. "You two are as different as night and day," they'll say. "Oil and water. How did it happen?"
To tell the truth, I don't remember when exactly I fell in love with him, but I remember clearly the night I realized it. The wars had ended years ago, but he and I were still fighting... fighting to protect the peace we had created. One might think we would be weary of fighting, and in all honesty, sometimes we were. But we both felt responsible for the world which we helped create, and like a parent to a child, we both had an overwhelming need to protect it.
He had been my partner since the beginning, fitting, in a way. He had been my first friend, and sometimes seemed like the only one who understood me. I've never been exactly... open with people. He says I have trust issues. I say I'm simply a private person. Yet he's always been able to read me like an open book. No matter how hard I tried to bury myself, he always knew what I was thinking or how I was feeling. I'd accuse him of being psychic, except he has terrible luck. He likes to say he's doing 25 to life under Murphy's Law.
Sometimes I don't really get his humor.
Despite his seemingly inherent bad luck, somehow, in the end, it always turned out for the best. Case in point, if his car broke down, he would find a $10 bill on the sidewalk while walking to work or be treated to free danish and coffee at the café down the block. If he broke a mug at work, and this happened often, he'd go back to his desk to find a new one left by one of his many admirers. And if he were injured (again, something else that happened often, though not in the line of duty, more often through little mishaps that were no fault of his own), I would do his paperwork for him. Something he hated to do and usually put off until the last minute. In spades.
We lived in separate apartments, though in the beginning we had shared a room in the barracks when the organization was new and still finding its feet. When we were able to move out on our own, I found myself staring at the empty walls of my new apartment, missing him. I thought, at first, perhaps it was because I has gotten used to having my partner with me at all times, watching my back while I watched his. It was most disconcerting.
After a while, I realized what I'd missed most was his laughter, his voice. He was never one to talk constantly, but he always had something to say. He'd laugh at his terrible luck, chuckle for hours at his own bad jokes. I missed the sound of his presence. It was a long time before I realized I was lonely.
He figured it out before I did. He began inviting me over to his small apartment for movies or dinner or chess. When I realized how much happier I was in his company, I responded in kind. We each purchased new sofa beds, because more often than not, we slept at each other's place. It never really occurred to us to find an apartment together. We were still in the "best friend" phase.
When all that changed, I'm not sure. He was ever in my thoughts; when he was with me I wondered what he was thinking about. When he wasn't, I wondered where he was, how he was doing... if he was thinking of me.
Years passed. The two of us had settled into an easy and familiar routine, broken only by mission assignments where we were nearly always paired together. We had become so at ease with one another, so attuned, we could read each other without the use of words during missions. One look, one gesture, and we moved in tandem with surgical precision. Not to say every assignment was perfect, but we had a higher success rate than any other team.
Afterwards we'd celebrate by drinking too much and falling asleep on his sofa. We always celebrated at his place. Another ritual that developed over time.
One morning I woke to discover him lying next to me, his head on my shoulder. Perhaps I was not fully awake at the time, but I remember thinking how right it felt, being warm there with him. I went back to sleep - something I never do once I'm awake. When I awoke the second time, he was gone, and I remember being surprised at the empty feeling inside me.
Over a period of months after that, I began to notice myself watching him more. Or perhaps I had always watched him and not noticed. But something had changed, and I wasn't sure what it was. I felt odd when he stood close to me, and odder still when he paid more attention to some of the pretty young women of the office than me.
It took a mission and another of his little "accidents" to help me figure out what I was feeling.
It was supposed to be a standard break-and-enter job, to see if a paper factory was really a cover for a terrorist cell. The perimeter had been heavily guarded - too well for a simple paper factory. Armed guards patrolled a high wall and a barbed fence, with dogs and security cameras - the best blood-money could buy. They were prepared to keep anyone and anything out by any means necessary.
Too bad for them we were already inside, having bluffed our way inside earlier in the day as part of the cleaning crew.
The plan was to scale the wall of the maintenance building in order to drop onto the roof of the main plant. Trying to walk in was too risky, but the guards weren't bright enough to check for intruders coming in from above.
We had to walk along a narrow ledge to reach the roof top of the main plant. Just when we'd reached the end, his foot slipped, causing him to drop to his knees on the ledge. I felt my heart leap into my throat. If I reached for him, I might have sent us both off the edge. Fortunately, his luck held and he managed to catch his balance on his knees.
But his mishap did not go unnoticed. His foot had dislodge something - a stray pebble, a piece of tile - whatever it was clattered into the courtyard below. Dogs barked in the distance and above us a spotlight swept the grounds below. We both drew our guns, feeding off each other's silent signals.
He pressed his hand flat against the wall as he carefully leaned over to peek around the corner of the building. My own hand was pressed against the wall just above his. With startling clarity, I realized our hands were just a hair's breadth away from touching. I could feel the heat from his fingers against my own. An inch or two more and our hands would be entwined. With a start, I realized just how appealing I found that image and was surprised by the force of which I wanted it.
Still looking around the corner, his index finger touched my ring finger, tapping four times. Four guards. My skin broke out into gooseflesh at the simple touch.
How I completed that mission, I'll never know. So dazed was I at the thought of his hand in mine it's a wonder I didn't alert the entire compound to our presence. We got in, got the information we needed, and were on our way out when Murphy came knocking again.
I reached the top of the maintenance building first, having scrambled up the grappling rope we'd left in place earlier to climb down to the ledge. I moved away, eyes alert to anything that might give away our presence. I could hear him climb, hand over hand, up the rope to me.
He was almost to the top when the rope snapped. I could see his face, eyes widened in terrified surprise, as the rope snapped off the hook, sending it clattering to the stone rooftop. Then he was gone. I lurched forward, his life - our life - flashing before me like some clichéd movie.
Had he not been able to catch himself on the ledge below, I've often wondered what I would have done. Would I have had to leave him there, broken, dead? Would I have joined him? I couldn't imagine life without him. He was too much a part of me. I was not a whole person without him.
A calm sort of clarity settled in as I realized somehow, I'd fallen in love with my partner. And strangely, I was okay with that.
He managed to pull himself up onto the ledge. I found an extra length of rope in his pack. Using myself as the anchor, I pulled him up. When he was at the top, I reached out and grabbed his hand. When he was safely over, I didn't let go.
We waited until dawn, hiding in a closet while the guards swarmed outside investigating the noise the hook had made when it clattered against the rooftop. I held his hand and kept by his side all night. He never asked why. Then at dawn, we slipped out with the cleaning crew.
That night, at his place, I told him everything. It never occurred to me to wait, test the waters, see if he could reciprocate. We'd always been honest with each other, and his near-miss the night before had scared me more than I cared to admit.
After I told him how I felt, how he made me feel, he simply smiled, leaned against me and said, "I know."
It didn't really surprise me that he already knew. He's always known me better than I've known myself.
"How long?" I asked, daring to close the space between us, taking his hand in mind, twining our fingers together like I had wanted to do on the ledge.
"For a long time."
"Why didn't you say anything?" His other hand crept across his body to wrap around our clasped hands.
"You hadn't figured it out yet."
I moved closer, pressing the side of my body against his. "You could have told me."
He shook his head. "You wouldn't have been ready to hear it."
He was right. He was always right. "How long have you been waiting for me to wake up?"
He shrugged. "Does it matter?"
I thought about it for a moment, then shook my head. "No. I'm sorry it took so long."
He smiled a little. "Don't be. This way, we got to be friends first." He looked up at me and I was both lost and found in him at the same time. I leaned in until I could feel his breath on my lips. I kissed him then, just a soft touch of lips against lips as we were both inexperienced. But it was... nice. More than nice.
He leaned his head against my shoulder and I leaned my head against the top of his. We sat that way for a long time, not talking, just taking comfort in each other's presence. I fell asleep like that, leaning against him on his sofa, the empty place inside me not feeling quite as empty as before.
Telling the story, years later, neither of us can say when it was we first fell in love with the other. We had been through so much that somewhere, somehow, along the way we accidentally fell in love. Though it took an accident for us to admit it, neither of us begrudge Murphy anymore when he comes calling.
It did, after all, turn out for the best.