Auggie waited by the door, patiently. Annie was blowing around the apartment, apparently searching for something or still grabbing things to get herself ready, he wasn’t quite sure. There was still a lot of time.
Annie had talked about everything, except the impending appointment or the condition that was taking her there. She had asked him about cases, mulled over McQuaid’s involvement in them, told him about the time she and Danielle had made pancakes for their parents and made a mess on the ceiling trying to professionally flip them.
Auggie knew what she was doing. He had done it for a long time after coming home from Iraq. He had avoided all possibility that things had changed. Annie didn’t want to face any of the fears she had tucked deep inside. Auggie had faced his when he got tired of running. Annie was still running, and she didn’t know how to stop.
Finally, he heard her come stand in front of him.
“You ready?” he asked gently.
“As I’ll ever be,” she said back, forcing strength into her voice.
He gave her an encouraging smile, and slid open the door. After he had locked it, he turned to head down the hall and he felt Annie’s hand brush against his own. Almost a whisper. Since that first week at the agency, when they snuck into the morgue, and she had briefly forgotten to provide him any lead, she had never once failed to give him the availability of unspoken guidance. He had refused it a couple of times, but she never forgot to offer it to him.
He let his hand slide up her small, strong arm and grasped it above her elbow in their most familiar and comforting, if Auggie had to describe it, contact. They moved together as a team, Auggie one-half step behind Annie, his cane still folded in his right hand. He usually always used his cane, even when taking someone’s sighted lead, but he remembered before, when trust was so firmly entrenched between the two of them, and he not only had not used his cane, he let her loop her arm through his in camaraderie and companionship. Total ease of movement. Somehow, moving along in empty space seemed safe and almost forgettable when he was in her contact. He didn’t think about whether there was a curb or a hole or a tilt of the ground, because she never let him find the trip-ups on his own. She quietly led him out of all danger, and never broke the story she was teasing him with. He had found that strange, thrilling, and so right. It was a skill she had acquired just by being near him.
And he, in the same respect, had discovered he, too, was in tune with her. He wasn’t sure how, but he could tell her footsteps, her perfume, her aura, hell, even her breathing, from anyone else’s. She’d asked him about it several times, and he alluded that it was all trade secrets, but in all honesty, he had no idea how he could just feel her there. With Joan, he’d become accustomed to her heels, her stride, he learned when she was coming. Mostly. But with Annie, it had happened straight away. He had her giggling, when he would wait for her to come off the elevator, and then follow behind, grinning like a Cheshire cat until she took his arm in hers. He knew it impressed her, cheered her up, and he liked to do it to get her to smile when she greeted him. He’d always wanted her to smile around him. He cracked jokes with her at the most inopportune moments, just to hear that smile, that laugh, that trust, in her words to him. The fact that he could ease her anxiety in those days had made him happy. The fact that he could not do it any more made him very, very sad.
She placed his hand on the passenger door handle of her vehicle. He kind of missed her little VW. It suited her. Or it had. Maybe this one suited her mysterious mechanical style now. He felt all the buttons on the door panel. He had no idea what was what. Complicated. Like Annie, Auggie thought.
“We could have called a cab, Annie. Or my car.”
“No, this is fine, Auggie. Driving keeps me calm.”
Auggie wracked his brain trying to think of something to say. He couldn’t believe it had come to this. He had been able to engage in witty banter with her about nothing and everything in the past, and now he couldn’t even come up with something to break the silence. He hated sitting in a car with no-one talking. He couldn’t look out the window, he had to just sit there and dwell on it.
Annie leaned forward and turned on the radio. She’d remembered. Of course. He smiled, tucking his chin down, closing his eyes for a minute. If only she could remember the better days.
He felt her hand close around his and he reversed the hold, clutching hers, saying nothing. He waited. Sometimes he had to let others take the lead.
She parked and they got out of the car. Auggie trailed to the back of the vehicle and met her there. He opened his cane and took her elbow.
“This is going to be okay, Annie. We just face it like we do everything else. Together. Figuring it out.”
“Okay,” she replied.
“You don’t have to be chatty or anything.” He didn’t get a response, so he shrugged with a half-hearted smile. “Come on. Let’s get this over with, and then we can figure out what to do next.”
The closer they got to the part of the clinic she had her appointment in, she slowed down. And then, she reached up with her free and took his hand from her elbow, transferring it instead to her hand, pulling him close, leaning on some of his strength. At the reception desk, she gave her name and took the form for information. She led Auggie to the hard plastic waiting chairs, but she couldn’t sit still. Her knee bounced and she kept shifting her position. She tried to look at a magazine.
“It’s my future,” she whispered. “It’s my future with the agency. It could be over.”
“We’ll figure it out. Maybe it’s not. We don’t know, Annie.”
Auggie’s head snapped up at the same moment he felt Annie tense and jump in her seat. He felt her stand and stood to join her, but she held her hand on his shoulder, keeping him still. He looked up at her, schooling his face into a question.
“I can do this. I’ll be okay. Just… wait for me?”
“I’m not goin’ anywhere.” He held out his hand and she took it. He gave her a smile and a wink for added support. She squeezed his hand, sending him her thanks, and then pulled loose.
And so Auggie waited. He sat back, listening to the sounds around him, his thoughts on what the doctor might say to Annie. He tapped his cane against his thigh. Doctors. He’d had his fill of doctors. Doctors who gave him hope and doctors who took it away. Doctors who remained impersonal and detached. He disliked the whole affair. And here he sat, back in a hospital.
He wondered if there was somewhere he could get coffee. He hated having to locate something so simple. He thought about it for a bit. It meant going to ask the receptionist where there was a coffee machine. It meant trying to follow her directions, even though Auggie had no problem smelling coffee, even bad coffee, if he came close to it. If it was a machine, he had to figure out where the cups were, the lids, the buttons, the coin slot, and that brought its own set of problems. It could take a long time and a lot of effort for a coffee. He sat back again. Damn it, he should have asked Annie before she went inside.
And there it was. Their teamwork. Everything together, to get the job done. He’d always worked with her, for her. And as much as she forgot it, he had flown all the way to Hong Kong with her as her back up and her tech man. He was in it for her. And she fit his life so easily, making the hard stuff simpler. How could they have ignored this? How could he not have thanked her, and told her how much she gave to him that blindness had taken away? Every fear, every doubt he’d had about his effect on what had happened with his buddies in Iraq, the feelings his army friends, or how he felt about his guilt, she had taken away, piece by piece. He liked to keep things to himself, but he found that telling her the rough stuff and letting her listen changed his days profoundly. He missed it so much when she wasn’t around him. He had been floating in a fog those months that Annie had been gone, before and after she’d shot Henry Wilcox. He doubted he could recount one meal or one day succinctly.
He thought he could smell coffee. There had to be a coffee machine around here somewhere. He could just ask, damnit. He hated asking. He hated feeling like he was incompetent because he couldn’t see a coffee machine if it was right in front of him. He debated. If he asked, it could be as simple as it being on the other side of the room. If it was out the door and down the hall and then through the double doors and in the alcove... Auggie sighed. He wouldn’t make the receptionist take him. Or worse, go get him a coffee. He leaned forward, pinching the bridge of his nose. He should have just asked Annie.
What would happen? His mind raced back around the loop to her condition. He hadn’t witnessed her attacks, but they sounded pretty bad. It scared him more than he admitted. He tried to hold back, when she was telling him. She’d been so fragile to talk to, he was afraid to push her in case she cracked and didn’t come back to him. He realised the seriousness of it as time went on. He’d looked the word up online: Myocarditis. There were too many different bits of information when it came to something hurting someone he loved. He couldn’t glean what it meant for her future.
Auggie shook his head, dropping his hand from his face, sitting up again. He hadn’t known what blindness would mean for his own future, and yet, it had worked out fine. Better, actually, than he would ever have expected. Had he still been able to see, he would never have become Annie Walker’s handler. His old life had been exciting and fast and dangerous. His current life was just as exciting, but he’d left all that silliness behind when he met Annie. He’d tried to get the joy of women back in his life, but he was so half-hearted about it that he actually felt bad for Helen, Hayley, and Natasha. He’d tried to be someone’s boyfriend, but all he wanted was to be Annie’s. When he had been assigned as her handler, he’d been given a whole emotional file of reasons why his life had turned out as it had. And he could put all that behind him, and trade it all for Annie.
He was tapping his foot. He hadn’t even realised. He wanted to pace, but he wasn’t sure the layout, and he could hear some other people further down. He didn’t want to put a show on for them. He felt his watch. She’d been gone a while now. He wished he had brought his earbuds for his phone. At least he could listen to music or surf the Internet or something, anything, to pass the time. He tried to not hear the low conversations about illness. He heard someone get up and walk across in front of him and then stop. No-one said anything, and then after a moment, the footsteps moved off again. Several minutes later, a voice to his right asked him if he needed any help, even though Auggie hadn’t done anything to give the idea he needed anything at the present.
“No, thanks,” Auggie said, through a forced smile. “I’m just waiting for someone.”
Auggie was not going to ask if there was a coffee machine from this one. Some people you just went out of the way not to ask help from. It was okay. He didn’t need coffee. He was jittery enough without it. He wanted this to turn out okay for Annie. He would be strong for her if it wasn’t. He had it in him. He could let her lean on him if she needed to, and he would carry her if she couldn’t stand.
He felt it. A warm, fuzzy aura, just off in front of him. He turned his eyes up to where he knew she was standing, staring at him. Was she happy? Was she crying? He stood, feeling such frustration at not being able to see her face and then knowing what to say. He stepped forward, holding out his hand.
“How did you know it was me,” she said, her voice small, but curious.
“You should know better than this by now, Walker. I always know when it’s you.”
Without warning, as she had sometimes wont to do, she crashed into him with her arms around him fast. He recovered quickly and wrapped his arms tight to her. “What? What is it?”
“We can talk in the car.” She pulled his hand to her elbow and started out of the clinic.
“Annie, wa--” Auggie had no choice but to follow her lead and hope she was okay until they made it all the way back to the vehicle.
It seemed shorter returning to the car than it had walking to the clinic. Auggie heard her close her own door and then he turned to her. “You’ll tell me the truth, right, Walker?”
He put out his hand, needing her contact, to connect to her and feel her emotions through her touch. She took it.
“There are lots of reasons for it. They aren’t sure where it came from. I could have gotten a virus when I was away, or when I was shot or in prison in Russia, or it may have been a reaction from a drug. They don’t know. But there are treatments, different ones than the one I have been given.”
“Yes. Safe and... Auggie, he said some people recover. Some people come out with no serious damage and go back to their lives. Some people recover on their own.”
Auggie, for a minute, felt anger toward her. She was trying to spare him the pain, and trying to put off feeling her own feelings. But then she put her hand on his cheek and leaned to him, pulling him in. He could feel her peering into his face intently, the way he could always feel her, somehow connecting to him outside vision.
“You’re telling me the truth?”
“Yes, Auggie. Yes. They never gave me hope, they said it was damage that could cause a cardiac arrest. They never told me what that doctor told me. And he brought in another specialist. They both told me that I have a good prognosis.”
Auggie could almost hear the tears of joy in her eyes. What she was telling him was that there was hope, and Auggie felt his own eyes well up with tears in the prospect. The mood in the car had shifted from fear and anxiety to hope and relief.
“I need rest. Lots of it. I’m to be admitted as an outpatient for treatment, starting Friday. I don’t know, Auggie, I need to work.”
“Nope. Not gonna happen. If it’s rest you need, it’s rest you’ll have. I’ll personally flood all hiring boards with bad news about your work ethic if you even try to look for work. And Joan will--”
“Joan has no love for me, Auggie. She’s finished with me. And I quit, remember? I can’t go back.”
Auggie sighed, his hands still on her cheeks. “We’ll figure it all out, but we get you well first. And from now on, Annie, you talk to me. Remember when I said I never want to stop talking? I meant it, and I mean it now. We need to keep talking. If we build walls, at least let’s build them around the two of us together. I’ve learned that together is our key. We seem to accomplish miracles when we work together. Why should we waste that?”
“I don’t think we should,” Annie replied.
“Then, work me a miracle and find me a coffee, will ya? Blind guy needs caffeine, STAT.”He felt her smile between his hands. It almost warmed them like sunshine.