“Annie? Annie?” Auggie slid the door shut quickly, turning, searching his apartment for sounds.
“Auggie? What? What happened?”
Auggie released the air in his lungs, stepping forward and finding her, touching her, seeing her safe.
“Are those for me?”
Auggie took a moment to calm his nerves. His walk home had taken a toll on his stress level. He’d tried to call Annie, but the call kept going to voicemail. She was hopefully still in deep conversation with her sister, making some tentative reconnections. But the feeling that he was being watched wouldn’t shake him. And there was nothing he could do; he was helpless to the feeling. His anxiety had caused him to fall off a curb; he wasn’t paying attention to anything, even subconsciously. When he’d reached the building, he’d hurried to his apartment, feeling the anxiety grow as he’d reached the door.
He was now able to laugh. “Of course, they’re for you. And this…” He brought out the ice-cream.
Her voice sounded so different. Lighter. Almost like the Annie he used to know. He hated to bring her the news that Joan had given him.
He took her arm and brought her to the chairs in the living room area. She set the ice cream on the island as they passed but took the flowers he held out to her.
“Joan called me.”
“Yes. She told me… Belenko’s here. He got past all the shields… She… she thinks…” He couldn’t say it. There was too much. He’d been tossed around for months now, without having any kind of settling of the wrongs in his life, and it was all coming down to a very bad point. He’d been trying to find Annie, to bring her back to him, and at the same time trying to shove down the feelings of dread and sadness that something was going on with his old unit and that he could not stop it. And he didn’t know where the whole thing had snowballed, but it had.
“Auggie, you’re not safe. If he’s the one who killed your…” Her voice trailed off, the gears of thought clicking in her head.
Auggie felt her hand on his arm. “It’s… I already have made a mess of everything.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure, but I think…” He turned to Annie. “I have to find someone.”
“Who? Auggie, what are you talking about.”
“Shit.” Auggie dropped his head into his hands. Something always got in the way of the good. How much more did he have to beat through to have a relatively normal life? “I wanted to just have this. I was content to just have this.”
“Yeah. Every time I get close to getting my life in the good direction, something happens. I thought I had a chance to have this.”
“Us? You can have us. I want that, too. I do. We’re trying. Right? I’m trying. You can have this…” Her fingers squeezed his arm gently. “Who is Belenko after? Is it you? Why are you a target? Auggie, I need to protect you. Tell me.”
Auggie took a breath. He shook his head. “I don’t want you in danger.”
“Auggie. Don’t you dare push me away now.”
“Bad things happen. Look at everyone I’ve ever loved. Jezus, Annie. I want to take care of my friends, and I have lost them one by one. This whole thing, my whole life has taken the goodness from people. How is this?”
“You’re not making sense, Auggie.”
Auggie stood, and paced around his apartment, stopping at the island, bracing himself against it, facing away from Annie.
“All the events in my life have only caused harm to everyone around me.”
Annie moved behind him. “Are you kidding me? Auggie, you’ve helped so many people, you’ve saved so many people. You’ve risked your life so many times for all of us. You have gone out of your way to make sure we’re all safe. That’s what you do.”
“I’ve lost so many friends.” Auggie said quietly. “I can’t loose any more.”
“I’m scared for you, Auggie, not for us. We need to get you to safety.”
“I can take care of myself.”
Auggie felt her hand on his back. Calm. Grounding. He could feel the care in the heat of her palm. And he knew she was right. Just like out in the street, he was vulnerable. Always. It didn’t matter how many judo classes he took or how good he was with contact-fighting. He couldn’t see. Nothing would help that. Hell, he was classed as being in “the vulnerable sector” with his disability, a term he never divulged to anyone. He was Special Ops. He was not trained to be vulnerable.
And yet, all the others, tough, strong, smart men, men who could see just fine, had fallen. Poison, explosions, bombs. It didn’t matter the method. They were gone. And he could be next. He would be next.
“You need protection, Auggie.” Annie said softly. “I won’t let it happen to you. I won’t.”
“Annie, you’re sick. You need to recover, to get better so this doesn’t hurt you anymore. I can’t let you put yourself at risk. You need to go. Go to California, go make amends with Danielle. You need to get out of here so you can get better.”
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m okay.”
He turned, grasping her shoulders. “You’re not. I can’t lose you, too.”
“I am not leaving you,” Annie said. There was no falter in her voice. “We’ll loop McQuaid in.”
“McQuaid?” Auggie made a face. He didn’t want to hear any more about Ryan McQuaid. He knew there were things between Annie and McQuaid, things he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear about. He knew she’d visited him a few times in the hospital, after he’d met her in there when Tony died. She’d told him about keeping McQuaid in the know when she’d picked him up and brought him home after he’d been arrested, again. He wasn’t happy about it. He didn’t like the idea of the guy. He didn’t like that Annie trusted him. He didn’t like that Annie had been swayed by him, after she’d told Auggie no emotional ties. It still sat in a bitter place in his mind.
“Auggie, just listen to me. He can help. He can set up protection, at least.”
“I don’t want his help. Annie, I don’t want your help. I want you to get better. I will not let you put your health in jeopardy.”
“Auggie. Your life is in jeopardy.”
Auggie closed his eyes. Secrets.
“Auggie? What are you not telling me?”
Auggie shook his head. No more.
“What are you talking about?” Annie led him back to the chairs, and he let her.
“When I came home. I didn’t tell you what happened. Joan suspended me for a week.”
“Because of what happened at the hospital?”
“I thought you had gone in to work. I hadn’t heard you leave. When I woke up, I went to the hospital to see McQuaid. Auggie…
“I know all that.”
“Were you mad at me? Did that make it—“
“You don’t get it, Annie. I couldn’t get to him. He was killed, Annie, he did not drink himself to death. I couldn’t stop it. I told him not to drink any more until I got there. But he was dead.”
“I know. Auggie, it is not your fault. I told you that.” Annie’s voice was soft, and slightly timid. She kept her hands on his hands. “You can’t control everything, Auggie. You can’t. I understand that you need control in your life, you need your order…, but this is out of your hands. My condition… is out of your hands. What Belenko is doing, is out of your hands. Your men are not in your command any more. You couldn’t save them any more than Joan could, than Calder could, than I could. What you need to control right now is you. You need to be safe. You cannot worry about me. Know why?”
He could hear the smile in her voice at her last question. He raised his face to her.
“Because you can’t worry about and love the same thing. It messes the whole works up.”
Auggie let the warm smile cross his face. She always had the right pep talk ready for him.
“I won’t leave you, Auggie. I am not going to California now. I am going to go when Danielle and I are both ready, and then you and I are going together. Okay?”
Auggie’s mind unraveled slowly from its earlier tangle of emotions. He could feel the warmth of her hands around his. He knew she was looking at him through those soulful eyes Danielle had told him about. He didn’t want her to go anywhere. He’d spent so long trying to convince her to stay.
“Auggie,” she whispered. “Let me protect you. Until they find Belenko. Until all this mess is over.”
“And when it’s over?”
“When it’s over… then… we can take a breath. We can work on us. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I want us to do it together. I know this has been so hard on you. I’m so sorry for your losses. I… I’m scared, Auggie. I can’t do this without you. I know how much it hurts you that you need help now, I know. But you’ve saved my life so many times, Auggie. We’re a team. It’s what we’ve have always been. We can’t stop it now. Even if we wanted to. I need you, Auggie. I tried so hard to not need you, to prove how I didn’t need you. I have grown as an operative; I am not that fresh-faced rookie. But it doesn’t mean I don’t need you. And it doesn’t mean I know better.” She laughed a bitter laugh. “I wanted to think I did. I wanted to show everyone I could do the job better than anyone. And having emotions made it too hard. But you were right, in Paris, when you said it didn’t make me a better operative.”
“I was so angry with you, Annie. With me. With both of us being so self-righteous and stubborn. Over and over. Every time, one of us was ready, and the other one was running.”
“Well, we’re both here, right now. I’m not going anywhere. And neither are you. Unless we go together. We can keep our eyes on one another--”
“So to speak,” interrupted Auggie.
“Groan. Eye roll.”
Auggie broke into a smile.
“And we have ice cream to demolish,” Annie said. “And I can put these beautiful flowers in a vase. Let me guess, you picked them out yourself?”
“You bet. I have a real eye for colour.”
“I can tell.” She leaned up and kissed him, and he welcomed her in. “They’re beautiful.”
He listened to her move to the kitchen, searching for something to put the flowers in. “Just like you,” he mumbled to himself.
He hadn’t trusted her in so long. He had lost it when she made the decision to go dark. But somehow, hearing her in his kitchen, running water from the tap, humming to herself, he realized that she herself had come to once again trust her own feelings and not run. That gave him hope.
They both still had so much to work on.
And now, things were being put in a press. And the truth was, Auggie was starting to feel fear. He had not felt a fear like this since he had woken up blind in a hospital. Everything was out of control, and spinning around so fast he couldn’t orient himself. He needed to put his trust into someone else. If it was anyone, Annie was the one to get it. He didn’t feel like he was giving up anything to trust in her eyes.
He stood up and followed her to the kitchen, where he could hear her getting spoons. She tapped the spoon on the back of his hand and he grabbed it as she took his other hand and placed it on the open tub of ice-cream.
“This is how we do it,” she said. “When things are good, when things are tough, when we get through things, or when we need to be coaxed to keep on trying.”
“You and Danielle?”
“You miss her a lot.”
“Is it going to be okay?” Auggie dug into the ice-cream, taking a spoonful on his tongue.
“I really hope so. We talked for a long time. But she isn’t ready to forgive me.”
“Talking is the first part. You have to talk to get anywhere.”
“Are you speaking of anyone in particular?”
Auggie heard her licking her spoon, probably watching his reaction.
“I just know that no matter how hard it is, it’s easier than not talking.”
“I’d say you’re pretty smart, Auggie Anderson.”
“Maybe, when all this is over, we can go away. Maybe to the Galápagos Islands, after all. We can spend the rest of our lives talking. You can take up drawing nature, and I can take up the cello.” He smiled at her, a quirky grin that made her giggle.
“With hands like yours, you’d make a damn fine cello player.”
“What, these?” Auggie dropped his spoon and wiggled his fingers at her, then slid them across the counter, seeking any part of her they came across. He moved around the island, keeping tactile connection with her skin. “This was how the night was supposed to go.” He said, trailing his hands along her arms, along her collar bones, along her jaw, kissing her ready mouth.
She returned the kiss hard, and then held his face close to hers between her hands, willing him to hear the truth in her voice. “As long as I’m here, nothing is going to happen to you. I promise you. I won’t let you down, Auggie. I won’t again. We’re a team. We work together. Together first.”
“You won’t go to McQuaid?”
“I won’t go to McQuaid. But Auggie? Maybe we could go to McQuaid.”
“Won’t that be a bit awkward?”
“Only for him.”
Auggie laughed, but was stopped short with Annie’s lips over his. He slid his hands up her arms, pulling her cardigan from her shoulders. The whole world of bad disappeared if only for the evening, when they made their way, leaving a trail of clothing along the floor and up the stairs, to Auggie’s bed.