She looked out the plane window and sighed.
Of the two of them, Jodie hadn’t expected Ed to act first, but out of the corner of her eye she could see him get up from his seat three rows behind hers and move through the aisle. She had met Ed’s eyes as soon as she had boarded, reigning in her initial impulse to jump at the shock of seeing those crystal-clear blue eyes once more.
Of course, the one time she let her guard down, there he was. Luckily, she had assumed she would run into him sooner or later; Ed Layton was the one person in the world she couldn’t seem to avoid, no matter how far she traveled.
She sighed again, staring resolutely at the clouds outside the plane window as she heard Ed settle into the empty seat next to her with a loud sigh of his own.
“Hey Jodie,” he said, and she didn’t need to turn towards him to know he was grinning.
“Hey Ed,” she said. “Couldn’t stay away from me, huh?”
“You got me,” he said, and she turned and watched him shrug, relaxing further into his seat. “The chief paying me an extra ten grand to find you was a decent motivator as well, I’ll admit.”
“I’m sure it was,” she said with a laugh, turning back to the window.
She had checked him out in an instant; Ed was wearing khaki slacks and a plain t-shirt instead of his typical Armani suit. Vacation, then, instead of business, at least officially, but Jodie knew he wouldn’t be here with her if it didn’t involve work somehow. She was dressed similarly for comfort while traveling, in jeans and a simple blouse, nothing that would attract overt attention. Jodie tried not to feel too angry at herself; Ed’s attention to detail was something she shouldn’t have overlooked, and now here he was beside her. If she had made such a major mistake in the field, she’d be dead in a ditch somewhere, and they both knew it.
“Bold of you to go straight to the chief for little old me,” she said. “I’m still working within accepted parameters.”
“Bullshit, you are,” he said. “You shot me on the Tasmania job, Jodie.”
“You were in the way, Ed,” she replied tersely, turning around to face him and give him a glare.
She watched him as he schooled his features into a blank look, his blue eyes steely with determination; she had seen that look often enough as his former partner. Others had seen the looks they gave each other, people who had ceased to exist shortly thereafter. Jodie felt familiar regret at how things had gotten to this point, but she couldn’t turn back now.
“I’m trying to go underground for now, Ed,” she said softly, admitting the truth out in the open.
They had been on six continents together as work partners as well as lovers, had shared moments of beauty in between the fear and adrenaline of their chosen job. In Jodie’s eyes, Ed was as handsome eating greasy burgers in an airport lounge as he was reloading a gun or hiding behind a wall from enemy fire. She had wanted to end things, had been drifting apart from him for months; the job was getting to her. She had told the chief, but he insisted she stay and finish her contract.
“That’s not what the chief told me,” he murmured, brushing his blonde bangs out of his face. “He said you were trying to go dark.”
“I don’t want to resign yet, Ed,” she said, not bothering to deny it, “but it’s getting to me. Too many targets. I’m tired.”
It didn’t really matter that it was for a just cause; it did, of course, but it also didn’t, at the same time.
“Is that why you closed yourself off from me?” he asked, refusing to give her an out of the conversation. “All this time, after Tasmania. You might have avoided shooting me, Jodie, but maybe you wanted to, in order to push me away. Maybe I reminded you of them. Your achievements.”
Ed had always enjoyed psychoanalyzing her, even while they had been dating. He was right five times out of ten, and Jodie found his penchant for profiling as irritating as it was insightful.
“It’s not all that, Ed,” she said. “You really were in the way. Sorry about the scar, though.”
“Fair enough,” he said, smiling at her again, rubbing his right shoulder absently over the bullet scar. “It only aches in the winter. That humidity in Laos will help, probably. Never been there in January. Chief says it’s fine for you to take some time, by the way, but he paid me the extra to tag along, make sure you’re still active.”
Jodie narrowed her eyes at him in annoyance.
“Why didn’t the chief tell me that himself?” she asked. “He could’ve saved the ten grand, instead of sending your ass here along with me.”
Ed’s smile widened.
“Eh, he babbled a bit,” he said, waving his hand, “something about insisting I don’t leave his best agent to go dark and enter her ‘own personal abyss’ because she’s going through it. His words, by the way, not mine. Wanted to make sure you weren’t alone, regardless. He said we need you, and frankly, so do I.”
He took her hand, and she didn’t pull away.
“Let’s just take some time,” he said. “You and me. We don’t need to call it anything. There’s no job to do, this time. We can be ourselves. We can turn the page, Jodie, just for a while. What do you say?”
Jodie stared at him, then smiled softly.
“I think you’ll like Laos in January,” she said, and turned back to look out the window.