“Come on,” Annie said, through her tears of joy and relief. “Come on, I’ll take you now.”
Auggie’s legs shook and gave beneath him, but Annie kept him from falling. She helped him as they picked their way through the rubble and stone. The smell of burning filled Auggie’s nose, choking his throat with dust.
“How? How did you find me?” Auggie’s voice was hoarse.
“Come on, we’ll talk soon, come on, my love,” Annie, who had moments before screamed his name in such anguish that it broke through the rumble of the explosion and the ringing in his ear, now spoke to him in the most gentle, calming voice he had ever heard.
He had no idea how long it had been since Belenko’s men had taken him. He had no clue where he was, or what had happened. All he knew was, he was being supported by the most amazing woman he’d ever met, a woman who had followed him through hell and to here, and he was willing to just think of the moment, feeling her strength under him.
His feet hit smoother ground, and he heard voices shouting, commanding. A cacophony of noise, not sound. He couldn’t tell direction, his ears were ringing from the explosion and from the violent slap Belenko had given the side of his head. He let all his trust go to Annie, giving her all of his will to get him to safety.
“There’s a van,” she said, softly. “It’s right in front of us. I’m going to help you into it, okay. You’ve lost some blood and you’re exhausted, and right now, you need a hand. Okay?”
Auggie nodded, words not coming to him at the moment. He let Annie take his hand and place it on the back ledge of the open van. He felt it and got his bearings, and then he felt strong hands grip his arms and he was pulled up. He panicked for a moment, turning, his hand out, searching for her.
She was already beside him.
“Annie,” he gasped. “Did you get him?”
“Shhh,” Annie moved closer, hugging him again, only more carefully this time. “We have a Paramedic here, he wants to have a look at you.”
“I’m okay,” he said.
“Just let him do his job, Auggie, for my peace of mind.”
Auggie felt another presence step into his personal space as the van pulled away. He was given a quick going over as a preliminary exam, and then some of his cuts were taped.
Annie kept him always in her constant touch, almost as if it were a way for him to look at her and know she was right there with him. When she had to go talk to the driver, she held one hand and pressed her other against his shoulder.
“I’ll be right back,” she said. “I’m just going to the front for a minute.”
Auggie couldn’t concentrate on what she was talking about at the front, he heard the rumble of the van over rough ground. He started to shiver, his thin shirt full of holes, his jacket missing.
He felt Annie’s warm hand on his back again, and she knelt in front of him for a moment, then stood and her hand left his body again, to be replaced with a warm, heavy blanket over his shoulders. Annie crouched in front of him again, and he reached out his hand, looking for her. She took his fingers in her own and stroked them.
“You know I needed you that first day I was inside Langley,” Annie said to him, keeping him distracted, keeping him calm. “You were... like... a familiar beacon of safety and knowledge. Just to see you in your office... I felt like I would be okay. Like, if I was nervous or feeling like I was a fish out of water, and I saw you... I could stay okay.”
Auggie tried to smile through pain and swollen lips. “Things changed for me that day, too,” he said.
“For the better.” He needed her to know this, even though he sat in front of her in such a distressing state. Right now, she would not believe him about how much life she had brought to him, how much metaphoric light she had given his life. His life had been on hold somehow, though he had moved on from the bomb and it’s aftermath. He was working, he was making a good name for himself, but he wasn’t living. He was passing the time without knowing what he was working toward. He had tried so many times to get his old life back, but with Annie, he didn’t need his old life. He had the one he had with her beside him, and it was exactly how he wanted it. He could be her sounding board off the field, and her partner on the field.
“Auggie?” He heard her voice cutting through the buzzing. Auggie? Auggie? I think he’s gone into shock. Auggie?
Auggie first felt the soft pillow cradling his head. He became aware of the mattress under him, and the smell of wood smoke in the air. His left shoulder ached and he could tell his left eye was swollen shut. His jaw hurt where Belenko had put his fist, and his ear still rang a bit, but it was less intense. He slid his right arm across the blanket, trying to figure out where he was and how he was.
Her voice, to his right, filled with relief and gratitude. He heard the chair squeak, an wooden one, he noted to himself, and then she put her hand over his. In the instant that happened, he knew he was safe, that his surroundings were a sanctuary, and that the ordeal that he thought would kill him was over. Annie was here. Annie was here.
“Don’t ever leave my side again,” she whispered. “I died that day.”
“How long?” Auggie choked out.
“You were gone for four days before we had your location. Joan and Calder, even McQuaid and Arthur, we were all searching for you. We found you but they couldn’t make a move until—”
“Until you knew for sure.” He turned his head a bit, trying to train his one undamaged eye in her direction. “But you didn’t wait, did you?”
Her silence told him everything, the hand squeeze told him more. “You’re pretty badass,” he said. “One of the many things I like about you.”
“Like?” Annie said. She was close to him now, she was leaning in near.
Auggie raised his left hand and it bumped her shoulder. He smiled and continued to follow her shoulder blade and her neck to her cheek. “Did I say like?” he asked, his gravelly ill-used voice made soft with his words and his audience. “I meant love. I love you, Annie Walker.”
She didn’t even pause. She said “I love you, t—” as her last word was swallowed as Auggie’s hand behind her ear pulled her in and he kissed her hard, all his fear for losing her so many times making this moment more needed, more desired, more intense.
Auggie slept for a long time, in between moments of panic that woke him up and sometimes sent him straight on his feet. Annie had the doctor give him something for him to sleep so he could recuperate soundly. While he slept, she continued to work, staying in touch with Joan or Barber. She could hear the absolute joy and relief from Barber’s voice through the phone speaker. If Auggie didn’t know what a loyal and amazing friend he had in Eric Barber, he would now. Joan had told her Barber had worked non-stop since they had gone on the run, only taking a few hours home to sleep. She told Annie to tell Auggie that the office would be cleaned of all pizza boxes and chip bags before he returned. Annie did not tell Joan or Barber that Auggie was having a hard time coming back from the brink of terror. She believed in him too much to let that slip. And she would be here this time.
When he woke again, in the mid-evening, he was calm. What had woken him up wasn’t fear or terror, or the sounds of Belenko’s doctor’s little tool. What had woken him up was the perfection of the moment. He was on his side, and Annie had tucked herself into his front. His hands, seeking to see her even in his sleep, had travelled around her and he was holding her body close, feeling his own breath reflect back off her hair and neck.
She had told him Belenko got away. She had told him that Ryan McQuaid, for whom Auggie imagined it was hard to fight alongside Annie for Auggie’s sake, had gone on ahead with the leads they all had on Belenko’s travels. Joan didn’t want Belenko out of her radar again, and Barber had every means available to him to track the man’s whereabouts. Annie assured Auggie they would have him, and that they would also find Deckard first, and he would be safe.
“I have to go,” Auggie said. “I can’t be laying here, knowing where he is and not going to him.”
“Auggie, you can’t. Let the others find him. Let McQuaid make the connection.”
“I know where he is.”
“You said you were the only one left of your team. You said you didn’t know Belenko?”
Annie had her own questions. Auggie was not going to offer anything but the truth this time.
“I was protecting him. He made me promise his secret would be safe. He wanted to be dead. I wasn’t the one to give his secret away. That was his job. Until now, until Belenko...!” Auggie’s still-swollen face tightened into anger.
“That’s why you need to let the secret out. Where is he? Why does Belenko want him?”
“He thinks Belenko is a traitor that killed his brother in a hostage trade-off. I never met Belenko. I hope to never meet him again until I have him in my hands and a good blade with me.”
“They’ll get him, Auggie. You need to rest. You’re dehydrated and weak and there’s no way I’m letting you out of this bed at least until tomorrow. I promise you, Auggie, we will get Belenko, and he will pay for what he’s done to all of them. And Deckard, wherever he is, can go back to whatever life he has made for himself.”
Fitful sleep made him tired when he was awake. His body clock had gotten messed up during his time in captivity, and he lost track of all time. When he was awake, sometimes he could hear water dripping, or smell dust and decay, or an echo of a footstep. He could still feel the bindings around his wrists and ankles, and when he woke up out of a real sleep and jumped up, it may have been to make sure he wasn’t still chained hand to foot. Sometimes, Annie brushed the hair from his forehead and talked to him, bringing him back out of that prison he’d survived.
“My watch,” he mumbled to Annie at one point during the second night.
She rolled over. He seemed to sleep better when he had her in his arms.
“We’ll get you a new one, Hun.”
“Is it night?”
“It’s night. It’s one A.M. I’m right here, and it’s okay. That watch helped me find you. We’ll get you a new one, and a new cane, and some clothes. And then we’ll work our next move, okay? Belenko won’t get away with this this time. He messed with the wrong team.”Auggie heard the last sentence with all the love and loyalty she placed into it as he fell asleep. And this time, he slept long and deep.