Auggie wearily pulled the door closed behind him and flipped the lock, exhausted from a full day of tracking a weapons shipment across Guatemala, and trying to direct a cocky operative to a successful hand-off. Eric Barber had practically tip-toed around him all day; at one point Auggie’s nerves nearly pitched him sideways when he thought himself completely alone in the office, and then Barber spoke up right beside him. The poor man apologised with abandon and headed out early when the opportunity arose, leaving Auggie to his own company.
Auggie collapsed his cane as he headed to the credenza and then put it and his messenger bag down, pulling out his phone. He stopped, his fingers raised over the screen. He had to fight not to call. He could not call. She had said she wanted out, she had said she needed to separate all feelings from her job. Auggie sighed, putting the phone down in the tray. All feelings from her job, or all feelings from her life, like he’d heard in her voice. He had wanted so badly to be able to just… move on. And the first woman that seemed objective, he’d decided to woo. Challenges seemed to be his strong point, and this one, this high-powered, take-charge personality was a challenge. That was obvious from the minute he had been ordered to sit back down and finish her questioning. She called when she wanted him, she stopped in when she wanted him, and at first it intrigued and unsettled him. He was not used to not being in charge. In fact, the whole notion kind of scared him. Every time he felt like he’d lost control, it was that whole Iraq thing again. If only he’d been able to keep everything in place, his men would not be dead. He would still be a man who could see. He didn’t want to go there, and losing control, now, when he finally had managed to order things around him enough to live again, took him down fast.
Annie was in his care, and he’d lost control of her in his life. He never controlled her, Auggie knew that. She was as independent as they came, but he still was the one in her ear, the one she came to with all her questions, from both out in the field, and within her own real life.
Tash had split. She’d always left when she was threatened. This time, the threat wasn’t prison or the FBI, although that had been the bigger picture. The threat was another woman that Auggie had refused to break up with. He’d tried to explain about the danger that breaking up with Hayley would do, but Natasha’s temper had flared and when he returned home that night, she and her stuff were again gone into a void.
He’d loved her. He’d loved her so long ago, and he knew he would always love her, but how he felt about her in his life was different now, and only because he’d now had such a pure, synced relationship with Annie, which he’d never felt so honestly since he was blinded. There was no pretense or awkwardness at all, there never had been. Tash had been the girlfriend of a sighted man, and these past few times, she was unsure what to say, what to do, how to help, and just about killed him several times just by her mere effervescence. She had made him laugh, and he wanted that again. He couldn’t laugh with Annie anymore. It felt too forced. There was too much to discuss and they never had, and it hung there between them every time they were in the same airspace.
She had told him in no uncertain terms that she needed to step away. She never said she didn’t love him. She never said she would move on. She never said goodbye. And that, Auggie thought to himself, was why he couldn’t stop going over what she had said.
It had been two weeks since Natasha had left. Hayley was being managed. At least, he hoped so. He would hate for any of this to come back to ruin Annie: the secrets, the cover-ups, the questioning. He was not going to let Hayley break his shield he had set up for Annie the day he had given her his private number. He would not let her go down. He put her first, always had, always would. He’d never leave her behind.
He needed to put her first.
And she wanted to distance herself.
He could beat his head on a wall for years trying to figure out that conundrum.
Was he missing something? She had tried to come to him a couple of times since. And he had been trying to make his life his own again, had been trying to get over her with someone else. But she was there. What had she been doing there? He forced his mind to dissect what she had said, how she had said it. Had she touched his arm? She always made that connection with him; it was her way of making eye contact with him. But he could not see her face. She could have lied and said anything, and had he seen her face, he would have known. He knew he had missed the signals in the first place because she kept her silence and he could not see her whole soul painted across her features in front of him. It made him feel stupid and ignorant. How could he figure any of this out if he missed all the clues? In some ways, she made everything visual meld into something he could see in his own way. But in her emotions, so many times, she kept safe from his other senses and covered them with lighter words. If he had paid attention, or maybe it was if he had let himself think it, he would have heard the feelings she had in her voice, and felt it in her constant assuring touch.
How many more women would promenade through that door and sleep beside him in his bed? Probably many. He didn’t want to connect with any of them any more. He had connected with Annie in too many ways to go back. And without that connection now, he was adrift, but he didn’t care. Dangerous territory, he knew, and yet, he couldn’t stop heading in that direction. There was only one way to slow it down, one way to stop it.
And somebody had to start.
Why, then, was it such a huge obstacle? Auggie had huge obstacles facing him every day, and each of them, while daunting, had no consequence like this one. Annie had disappeared, and as much as he looked for her, he could not find her. Even when she stood beside him in Joan’s office she was not there beside him.
He snapped his fist down on his counter and then ran his hand down his face, heading to the fridge for a beer or something stronger. When he got there, the whole apartment met him, hemming him into its silence, it emptiness, and he felt too overwhelmed to stay. He collected his cane, keys, and bag and headed back out the door. He could not take himself to drown his empty heart with anymore liquor or women. He turned left and started walking, letting the familiar sounds around him and the steady tap of his cane lull him into some safe place where he didn’t feel hollow. He was carrying around the feeling of the night in Hong Kong when, out of desperation to make some sort of connection, they had gone out to eat and talk, and only barely attempted either. Even after Paris, after they hashed some of the latest stuff out, they weren’t past any of it. But there were moments, he felt them, just moments, when he heard her voice in her laugh, or a brighter tone to her conversations. He wasn’t going to let himself hope, but every time he really heard her behind that wall she’d built, he felt something like sunshine inside his chest.
He didn’t know where she was now. He knew she was on U.S. soil because he’d just gotten her there yesterday, but he had yet to speak to her. Had he known where her safe house was, he may have been foolish enough to head there. He needed to do something now. He needed to either get her out of his life, or bring her back fully into it some way or another. There was no third choice.