The more often Auggie woke up with Annie’s body warm against his own, the more he knew he had found the right woman. He hadn’t understood why he had been such a Casanova until now. He was looking. And every woman was not the one he needed. Or who needed him. He figured if he looked far and wide, maybe she would be there. He knew that not being able to see hindered his abilities to just smile at a girl, go over if she smiled back, and start up a conversation. It limited his options. He listened in the way other men looked. He found a female he liked and let her take him home. The check-boxes were mentally ticked or not. Sometimes they interested him, and he let round two commence.
He knew he wanted a partner. He liked being part of a team. He worked well in a team. He’d been a good field operative. He had learned to trust his handler, and to work with her. Once the army instilled a sense of leadership and strict instruction, he ended up learning control. And after the accident, control over his surroundings was the only way to function. Being a handler reinforced the behaviour. Auggie had thought about it a lot lately. He had given up so much control when he was blinded. He had to rely on others’ eyes, believe they were telling him the truth. He had to rely on other people to get him from one place to another. He had to give up control in the surroundings outside his own space, knowing that people moved things, put road blocks up, and moved flower pots and benches and sale placards. What he could control within his grasp, he held onto tightly. Maybe too tightly. Maybe this was what Annie had felt. She said as much to him. The more he controlled, the less she listened.
Maybe in order to balance it back, he needed to give up his control to Annie. And maybe that is why he was here now, with her, on the run. This was her plan. All hers. And after his initial plea for her to get far away and recover was ignored, Auggie had gone with it.
He felt Annie move and roll over to face him. “Good morning,” he said, smiling at her.
“Good morning,” she said, her voice smiley and sleepy. It made him smile more.
“This is your house concierge with your five a.m. wake-up call.”
“Wow, this establishment sure hires some sexy staff.” She leaned over and made that little puffing noise through her nose in anticipation, Auggie smiled and prepared himself for her incoming kiss.
“As much,” Auggie said, kissing her below her ear, “as I would like,” he continued, kissing the nape of her neck, “to continue this, we should probably hit the road.” He kissed her lips again. “Unless you think you’d like to just camp here in the Place d’Or for a month.”
She giggled. “As much as I’d love to live here with you, we should, you’re right. And we need a burner phone. Call Joan.”
Annie smiled at him. She put her hand on his arm. “You trust Joan. I trust you. Maybe some day, Joan can trust me again. But I know she and Arthur are on our side. We call Joan.”
Annie pulled away and they climbed out of bed.
“You,” Auggie said, hooking his thumb behind him in the direction of the bathroom. “You have twenty minutes.” The empty pause told him she was looking at him blankly. “There’s a bathtub in there. Get to it. Don’t know when you’re gonna get your next opportunity for this luxury you’re accustomed to. Go.”
He started searching for his discarded clothing, and Annie smiled and left him to it.
When he had finally retrieved his second sock, and both shoes, he sat on the bed with his leather jacket beside him and his cane in his hand. He had been listening to Annie humming in the bath. She’d left the door ajar and he felt the moist warm air rolling out against his skin. He was tempted to go in and turn the twenty minutes into at least an hour. But he stayed where he was.
His mind turned to Belenko. He thought back on the men he’d worked so closely with all those years back. He surely did not think any of this would come out of that so long after. Those were all good men. He would see this out. He could only run so far. If Belenko repeatedly got past roadblocks to keep up his revenge spree, there was no way Auggie could be sure he was safe.
So. He had to let Annie do what she did best. And he had to give up some control. He knew if they truly could go back to being the field team they had been in the beginning, they had a huge advantage over any danger. However, he also knew if Belenko wanted him dead, he would try anything to do it, but if he wanted something else... Annie was equally in danger because she was important to Auggie. Auggie dropped his head into his hands, rubbing his eyes absent-mindedly, forcing his mind to quiet. They would simply have to stick together and stay safe until Belenko was caught. The answers would come after. And Auggie had already made his mind up about that trip to the Galapagos.
He heard her pad across the floor, the tub draining in the background. She sat beside him, wrapped in a towel, and he could feel the heat, damp and sweet, from her body. He sat up and smiled.
“How do you feel?”
She took both his hands and he smiled, almost shyly. “Like I could kick some bad guy ass,” she said. “We’re gonna win, Auggie. And when we do, we go home. Right?”
“Home,” Auggie breathed, not daring to ask.
There was silence and Auggie knew Annie wouldn’t elaborate. He gave himself a nod, and stood up, took the step to the bedside table and felt for the phone that he’d put there. He returned to the bed and sat next to Annie again. “Look.” He said.
Annie read the text message. “Eric?” she asked, eying Auggie.
He shrugged at her sheepishly. “The guy’s always loyal to me.”
Annie smiled as she read the message. J’s got the dailies. Use a hot bell. I’m on it 24/7. All yours.EB.
“Just like everyone you ever met,” Annie said. “How the hell do you win everyone’s favour? It can’t be the liquor.”
“It’s my winning smile,” Auggie said. “Come on, get dressed, we’re on our way.”
They were back on the road for an hour before Annie did a parking garage car trade. Auggie climbed into the seat of the Jimmy beside Annie, and fiddled with the radio.
“I spy?” Annie suggested.
He gave her a look, and she lightly punched his arm. “Twelve riddles?” she asked.
He grinned and turned his head away, not wanting her to see how much she affected him. He couldn’t keep his mouth from quirking into a smile when she was close.
“Movie quotations?” She was incorrigible. “Best high school parties? Worst date ever? What colour am I thinking?”
“You have all the car games covered, don’t you?”
“A lot of traveling time when I was a kid.”
“You moved around a lot. That’s hard on a kid.”
“Yeah. I kind of learned to take care of myself. And not to form attachments. I had Danielle, you know? She was always there. Even when we fought. No matter where we moved, she was with me. It... kind of makes me a bit...”
“Hard to get close to?” Auggie asked. “Yeah, I know.”
“I told you I couldn’t have attachments, and you’re probably wondering why I went to McQuaid. And seemed to make an attachment.”
“Yeah, I did kinda wonder about that.”
“Well. It wasn’t. The attachment I had was with you. And I don’t form attachments. They cause nothing but pain. I missed you so much when I was hunting Wilcox. I didn’t want to lose you. I didn’t want him to hurt you. It was safer to push you away. With Ryan... well, there was no fear that I would have that kind of attachment. He was a warm body and an ear to listen. He was kind to me, Auggie. I was running from my fear of hurting. I needed to put us in a box and bury it so that I didn’t need to take it with me.”
Auggie sat quietly. It made sense, what she was saying. He knew that she had a lot of scars from her childhood that she had no control of. He held out his hand, palm up. She tucked hers in his fingers. “You did, though.”
She was quiet for a moment. “I did. I always took you with me.”
After another twenty minutes, Annie stopped so they could stretch their legs and get something to eat.
Auggie stepped out waited for Annie’s contact. He unfolded his cane and held out his hand, and Annie was there in a second. They moved in tandem and Annie described the visuals for him as they strolled. They had no urgent need to hide or move fast, and they stopped and had a decent breakfast, and people watched. It was so rare to be out together, not running, not angry, not awkward.
In between the breakfast and the search for a burner phone, Annie window shopped. She bought a warm woolen hat knit from a shop along the way, and a warm tartan scarf for Auggie. They found a store to buy a phone and a card and they returned to the Jimmy and Auggie called Joan, hung up, and let Joan call back.
‘Auggie, thank God. We weren’t sure when we’d get to hear from you. You’re okay?”
Auggie could hear Barber in the background asking Joan to tell Auggie he was sending files though his encrypted email, when he had a chance to have a look.
“Okay, Eric,” Joan said, and then back to the phone, “Auggie, the two men we picked up at your place didn’t talk. Not a word. And... Then they disappeared.”
“What? Disappeared? What do you mean?”
“I mean, they’re gone, Auggie. Belenko has men in places we didn’t think to look.”
“Auggie?” Annie said. “It’s okay, we’re off the radar. Joan? Do you have any whereabouts on him?”
“Nothing. He was last seen in Germany, but we’ve had word that he’s been seen stateside. He may be looking for an ex-girlfriend.”
“Another one?” Annie said . “How many women does this creep keep on his roster? And they’re all willing to die for him? The man is not that charismatic. What hold has he over them?”
“We don’t know,” said Joan. “But we’re trying to figure out who this other ex was. Contact her before he does. I want you two to stay well away, stay low. Call me on this line. I want you to check in with me or Barber. Okay? Arthur and McQuaid are working this end. And Auggie?”
“I’m sorry. I am sorry to both of you for doubting you and turning my back on you. I didn’t want there to be any more. We’d all just gone through the whole Henry Wilcox thing. I just wanted everything to be fine for a while; I wanted to be happy with Arthur and Mack. And I should have listened to you both. I made mistakes like that before. I can’t let you two down. You’re my best operatives.”
“Joan,” Auggie said. He chewed his lip, unsure what to say next.
“Joan,” Annie filled in. “We’ll talk when we come back. You can make it up to us by getting us back safe.”
“We’re working on it. Stay safe. Look after each other.”
“We will,” Auggie mumbled. “Always.”
He hung up, thoughts processing through his brain in high-speed. He let it run its course and then he cleared his mind. “It’s gonna be all right. We’re going to pretend this is our New England getaway.”
“Those men escaped. Our trail isn’t that hidden.”
“We have the upper hand. Now. If you don’t stop worrying for a bit and enjoy the scenery, I may have to jack that radio up and sing my lungs out until you can’t concentrate on worry.”
“How do you not worry?”
“I always worry about you.” Auggie admitted to her.
“Well, then we are even,” Annie said.
Auggie smiled. He would have hated to hear that sentence from anyone at any earlier point in his life. He would have cringed that someone worried about him. But this was different. It made him feel safe. It made him feel loved. It made him feel connected to Annie. He almost embraced that feeling that Annie worried about him. It wasn’t a pitying worry. It never had been. It was a reward to finally have someone to worry about him that way. He needed to let himself get used to it just like he needed to learn to give up some of his tight-reined control.
“Yeah?”Auggie gave her a cheeky grin. “It’s bigger than a breadbox. And it isn’t red.” yes'> “You’re funny, Anderson.” Auggie felt her return to snuggle into his side, and he pulled her close, both hands caressing her back, her shoulder blades. Talking was getting less hard the more they did it. He smiled, kissing the top of her head, wanting to administer affection to her for her sake and his own. Maybe they were figuring this out, after all.