None of this was right. It hadn’t been right for a long time. If ever.
Auggie sat back in his chair. He’d come in to work early, too early, really. There was minimal activity in the halls, the DPD was almost empty, and Auggie’s office sat silent around him. He’d meant to fire up his computer for the past ten minutes, but the concentration he needed to perform such a simple task was unattainable because every neuron was screaming her name.He’d tried to distract himself with Hayley. God knows he’d gone down that road before. He was a pro at distraction. It made him a great CIA agent. It hadn’t worked so well in his personal life. It had especially not worked after Tikrit.
At first, when he had come out of rehabilitation, supposedly prepared to meet life without his most important bodily sense, he was afraid to even contemplate a relationship. To bring baggage like bombs, death, and blindness into a relationship was unfair. He didn’t need to subject anyone to that. Self-pity deluged any thought of a relationship.
When he had reestablished himself with his neighbourhood as a blind man, he found himself spending time with alcohol at a jazz bar three blocks from his apartment. On his third evening of losing himself in the buttery tones of the music and the shots of Patrón, he felt a warm essence slide in beside him. He turned, his face questioning the interloper. She leaned close and touched his knee. It had been too long. He was too inebriated. It was inevitable.
She was indifferent to him the next morning when she dressed to leave. He was torn between wanting her to be into him, and being afraid of the rejection that was sure to follow. Four times he woke to her gathering her things and leaving. He stopped letting it happen, thinking about what it was he wanted. Before… Before, he’d wanted to marry, to have kids. Natasha had not wanted that. She’d been so wrong for him in the whole end-game. But she was exciting and brilliant and beautiful, and all that had driven him to go past the line that had been set before him. When it all turned sour, the only thing that he did was run away, distract himself with another mission.
Auggie realized that he wasn’t going to be a top catch. He had been cocky before, the twinkle in his eyes carrying his thoughts and flirts directly to the woman of choice. Women had teased him, running their fingers through his loopy brown hair, enjoying his smile and his sly wink. He used to be able to pull a woman from across the room. Now, he had no idea who was out there, whether they even saw him, and how to get their attention. He knew his white cane threw out red signals: Dependent! Incapable! Cripple! It frightened some people. They felt it wrong to even touch it. They didn’t want to know anything about blindness, it scared them. If something so frightening could happen to him, it could happen to them. If they ignored him, then they were safe.
So there went many of the eligible women. Women like Renée, who laughed after he bought her drinks all night. She had actually said it out loud, that she couldn’t possibly get involved with a blind man. It was a punch to his soul, to his masculinity.
Women became a test after that. How could he snag them, how could he take them home and prove he was no cripple. And yet, proving anything would mean nothing, because he’d given up on himself. He would not need to face disappointment if he brushed it all off, walks of shame and all. If he left first, it would mean he wasn’t hurt.
He never used his blindness to woe women. That only brought in the worriers and the nurse maids, the stifling ones that would impede his every move, wanting to be at his side, thinking they had to help. He shot the coddlers down before they could suck the life out of him. If he didn’t want to be blind, he sure as hell didn’t want to play it up into its own show.
And so Auggie, in his distractions, became almost fun. He gave up on real feelings. He made light of his blindness to distract anyone uncomfortable with it. He worked hard and made himself respected at his job. Most nights, he went home alone. Other nights, he’d make bets with some of his colleagues from work on who would make the best moves at the bar, and somehow find himself an attractive chauffeur to get him back to his place.
And then she came along. He’d almost not even noticed her lack of embarrassment and discomfort when she found out he was blind and learned the techniques he used for guiding and orientation, because she’d made everything so normal, so unimportant, so regular. She’d told him she found him “mesmerizing”. That he impressed her more than anyone she’d met in the building. And not in a pitying, cloying way, but as a real, genuine admiration that came so purely from her.
When he ran into Natasha again, he almost tried to get everything back. He wanted the comfort of someone who knew how he was. Before. He almost pushed her to choose him. Almost, because, in the end, his blindness cursed him, and he could not follow her. She was already gone before he couldn’t feel her beside him anymore. She wasn’t going to come back. He was left behind. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Except Annie had not left him behind. Not ever. Not until now.
He dropped his head down into his hands, letting his palms push into his eyes, trying to release the pain that thinking of Annie brought to him.
He’d left her. He’d left her behind and ran to Parker. He hadn’t seen the look on her face, the one he now knew had been so plainly written in her eyes right in front of his own.
And where had that gotten him? Parker ran away, too. She didn’t trust him, she said. He’d lied. She’d never even brought up her doubts about marrying a blind man. He joked a lot, to make her open up. She let it slide. He never knew if it was a part of her reasons to go, but he suspected that it may have been. She knew he was capable, he had never faltered there. When his capabilities grew into CIA-proportions, it was too much. Maybe she had wanted less?
Annie. He’d always come back to her. When all else failed, he dialed her number. Even if only to say goodbye.
The most important one in his life, and she left the biggest hole when she wasn’t there. And it left him distracting himself again, hoping the pain could be buried in someone else’s scent, someone else’s touch, someone else’s voice. But all he could think of was Annie.
He brushed it off. They were fine. Everything was all back to normal. And it was. But it wasn’t. He used to know when she was there. The instant she was near, he felt it. He’d never explained it, never knew how to. It was a combination of her scent, her “warm, fuzzy aura”, as he thought of it, and her footsteps with their hurried and deep pace. He never had been wrong and even that made him angry now, because now, he couldn’t feel her at all. It was an empty space. He used to be able to see all of her beauty that poured from her soul to him, and he couldn’t see any of it because it wasn’t there.
It stuck him as poignant. The one woman that took over his every fibre of being over the rest was the only woman that had no face. It was slightly ironic now, in a way. She had become almost faceless after her mission to take down Henry Wilcox. But of all the important relationships he had had, the ones that he had set his hopes into, the ones that had ripped him apart more than any other, she was the only one he’d never laid seeing eyes on. Billy had had pictures of his sister, of his whole family. Auggie used to lay and listen to stories from Billy while looking at the dark-haired young lady in the photos. He remembered some of her features when he made love to her. With Annie, he imagined and coaxed his seeing mind to picture her, but in the end, she was Annie. He didn’t need to put a face on her.
She had guided him without fear, with pure protection and love, she had laughed at his blind jokes, she had accepted him without qualm, never forgetting his one huge infallibility and never letting it be one. He was not broken. He did not need fixing. She saw what he was trying to show himself: that he was a better man now. He’d learned so much about empathy, about patience, about strength. She told him how much she respected him for these things. They were gifts given to him to balance some of the disability. He had traded up, when it came to her. He had given up his vision and received an incredible person, an incredible life, and somehow, they’d almost worked to make it not work. He was exhausted. He was devastated. The empty hole that had been his sight was nothing compared to the empty vast hole where she used to be.
And now, he’d distracted himself into a place he had no right to be. He was messing with two people’s lives that were not Annie. He didn’t know whether he was working them, or they him. He had feelings for them both, for one he hadn’t loved yet, and for one he had and who had changed his life in wonderful and terrible ways. He wanted to not care. But the only thing on which he could set his every waking thought, the thing he worried about the most, the thing he loved, was always, and ever would be, Annie.