Auggie was desperate to get to Decker. Annie shook her head. She wouldn’t hear of it. She said she would go alone. Auggie opposed that vehemently. For a moment, he flashed back to her going dark without him, and he knew he couldn’t bear it again if she went her own way on her own instincts.
“McQuaid has a team, Auggie. He’ll go. All he needs is something that will get him in with Decker.”
Auggie closed his eyes, feeling torn. He did not want to put any trust into McQuaid’s men or the man himself, but so far, Ryan had given up a lot for them both.
Annie squatted down to Auggie’s level where he was sitting on the bed he had been in for the past few days.
“You have to sometimes give up some responsibilities to others, Auggie. You can’t control everything. He will be safe with Ryan; Ryan will get him out, Auggie. He’ll bring him back.” Annie held Auggie’s hand. “I could go, Auggie. I could—”
“Annie, if you go, I go. We do this together.”
“Look at you, Auggie. You can barely move. You look… well, let’s say you’ve had better days.”
Auggie moved his shoulders, feeling them argue the action. He hurt everywhere. The doctor had cleaned his wounds and taped him up and the swelling had been reduced, but Auggie was no-where up to top form. He had been broken before, he could take it, but it made it doubly hard to be any help to anyone, the pain slowed him down even more.
“You need to go back to Langley. Help from that end. That is what they need from you, Auggie. You are the best at what you do, and they need you there.”
Auggie turned his head toward her, a bit surprised. “What about you?”
“I don’t know what I will do yet,” Annie said.
“Are you going to stay with McQuaid’s company?”
“I… I don’t know yet.”
Auggie felt unnerved. The idea of her working with him everyday made him uncomfortable. He knew he was being overly jealous, but the notion that she could grow closer to Ryan McQuaid, that he could give her the adventure and partnership he never could, made his insides clench. If she came home from a whirlwind op with McQuaid to Auggie and his needs, she might tire of a life with a blind guy and all that entailed. He was a great guy, it seemed, and once again, Auggie was unsure.
Annie leaned toward him, and he felt her laughing. “You are kidding me, right? Are you feeling a bit sorry for yourself?”
Auggie hadn’t been aware of how obvious his feelings had shown on his face. “He’s a good guy, Annie. He could give you more of the life you crave.”
Annie sat beside him on the bed, leaning hard into his arm, her chin resting on his shoulder. “You’ve got to be kidding. Have you lost your trust in me that fast? Or have you decided you don’t love me after all?”
Auggie turned to her, his face surprised. “Annie—”
“If you think I’m going to start thinking you aren’t a capable person, you haven’t really learned anything about me in the past few years. You’re the man who gets things accomplished. I’ve never once thought of you any other way. It amazes me how many people you know, how many favours you have granted, not because I think you aren’t capable. It’s because you are so incredibly capable. As a guy who can work miracles. As a guy who has never let me down. And brought me back from death and worse.”
Auggie smiled a bit, his cracked lip stretching against the act. He felt Annie’s fingers tracing the swelling around his left eyebrow.
“Sometimes it gets to be too much.” Auggie heard the unfamiliar voice of insecurity come from his own mouth.
“What, me? I know I’m a bit headstrong, Auggie, and I’m sure—”
Auggie gave a small laugh. “Not you, Annie. This.” He waved at his eyes.
Annie kept close. She didn’t say anything for a moment. Then she turned his face toward hers. “You are the most amazing, strong, loyal, funny, sexy man I have ever met, and I don’t say that because you are blind, I say it because you are that kind of man. Blind or not. And the thing is, when you tell me these things, I understand you more. And what you just said makes it even more clear to me that you need to give up some of your privacy and let me take some of the load from you. You don’t have to do everything on your own, just to prove you can. I know you can. Just like you know I can get out of a lot of shitty places without your help, but it sure does make it easier when I have you guiding me through.”
Auggie believed her; he heard her honesty in her voice. He could always tell when she was lying to him. He had always known. There would be a hitch in her voice, a pause before she spoke, and he heard no sign of that. He hugged her, not caring how much it hurt his ribs. He felt her body in his arms, the hair down her back, the breath from her lungs, every last part of her was in his very hold, and his whole world was forever attached to her.
“You’re not silver to me anymore.” He said.
“What?” Annie pulled back.
“A silver ghost.”
“Oh.” Annie actually giggled, remembering. “What colour am I now?”
“There isn’t a colour. There’s just you, right here, all of you. I don’t need to imagine you or try to picture you. You just feel… safe. Warm.”
“Then trust that feeling, Augs. I love you. You.”
“I heard you tell him.” Might as well come clean, thought Auggie. It had scared him when he had heard Annie tell Ryan those words when he left in the hunt for Belenko, when they thought Auggie was sleeping. He hadn’t known what had gone on between them as they tracked him down. Auggie, who as a sighted man, would have been like Ryan, a man of action, felt a deep sense of resentment and disappointment after hearing the exchange.
“When he left. That first night here. I heard you tell him you loved him.” Auggie was scared of her response. He was hoping against hope that he had dreamt it.
Both of her soft, warm hands enclosed over his so he would see her intense gaze through her touch.
“Auggie. I did tell Ryan I love him. I thanked him for helping me save you. I thanked him for going to find your friend; for helping us track Belenko and bring him to justice. He was good to me when I was kind of lost and I couldn’t come home to you with what I was carrying. I am not in love with him. I value the friendship he has with me, and with you. He… he gave us his blessing, Auggie. He respects how I feel… how I felt even then… He knew. He told me he knew the whole time that I was somewhere else. He’d hoped I would come around but when he met you… I think he saw it when…”
“He saw how you looked me?” Auggie was only half teasing her.
She answered him seriously. “Yes, Auggie. I think… it’s pretty obvious to everyone else how much I love you. I ignored it but everyone could see it. Joan could see it, Ryan. Hell, even Barber wasn’t going to let up on it. They all knew.
“I love McQuaid for helping me get you out. I will always respect and care for him for doing that for us. I died when you disappeared, Auggie. This time, when you were gone from me, I couldn’t shut myself down. I couldn’t go to that place that had no feelings. You’ve got me hooked, August. Haven’t I proved that to you?”
Auggie faced her, and she again traced the injuries on his face with a gentle touch. He imagined he looked a terrible mess. He couldn’t imagine what he might look like, but the way she had reacted to him, with a sigh of sympathy and empathy for the pain she knew he was in, and a ginger touch as she saw his face and body, he knew it wasn’t good.
“Come on. Let’s go home. Ryan will bring us Belenko and James. I know he will.” She never took her eyes from his face. She knew he couldn’t see her, but she had to see him, to know he heard her.
Auggie shrugged and then he nodded, turning his head to the side, feeling out with his hand for her shoulder, thinking about the options and concluding that this was it. He wouldn’t risk Annie, and if he went back into danger, she would go with him. Ryan would save his friend. Auggie had to trust this, because he could not do this mission himself, as much as he would have, a thousand times over. Some times, you just have to know when it’s someone else’s turn.
“Okay,” he said. “You believe in him. And I believe in you. Let’s go home.”
“Come on,” Annie said, sounding excited. Auggie hurried along, a half-step behind her, carrying his folded cane and a big blanket in one arm and holding her elbow in their natural way with his other.
They had time before their one a.m. plane booking would take them back to the U.S. Annie had had a plan formulating in her head since before Auggie had their tickets purchased. She borrowed a car from McQuaid’s people and she and Auggie put on some warmer clothes. She drove out to a place where there was no urban lighting, nothing to break up the view of the night sky. As she brushed her hand against Auggie’s at the headlights of the car, she looked up, her happiness for the moment spilled into her body language. She almost bounced as they walked, and Auggie felt the unnatural sway of her body as she looked up, gazing this way and that.
He kept his body balanced over the slightly bumpy field terrain, feeling the long, dead grass pulling against his boots. He kept tuned to Annie’s movements, but he delighted in the fresh air, again, not for the first time. But this was different. It was silent. There was almost a hum from the sky; maybe it was the stars, their energy so strong in unison that a blind guy could actually hear it from Earth, Auggie couldn’t tell, but he definitely felt it, heard it, experienced it.
Annie stopped, taking the blanket from him, stepping away from him and spreading it out. In a moment, she was back, her hand around his, guiding him to the blanket and pulling him down beside her gently. He was still very sore and moved stiffly and slowly, and she was very careful with her contact on his injuries.
“Are you going to explain now?” Auggie had asked her where they were going several times and she just smiled in that voice of hers and said, “You’ll see.” It made him laugh every time. Now, he felt her hand wrapped around his and she stroked his beautiful fingers.
“My Dad showed us all the constellations, Dani and me. When I look at the stars, I feel love. He took the time with us, it was one of the few things we did that showed he really cared, and that he wanted to be with us, teaching us stuff. Dani and I always looked at the stars when we were apart, to think of each other.” She turned to Auggie, and said, without any irony, without any kind of fancy talk dancing around any of it. “You showed me part of you that scares you, part of you that no-one sees. Every now and then, you let me in. I want to do the same. I know I haven’t been very good at this lately, but… I want to show you my stars. My time as a kid, moving, the loneliness… I am sharing that with you.
She leaned back, and he stretched out on his back beside her, facing the night sky, letting her let him in.
“Over there is the Summer Triangle, riding low this time of year.”
“Vega, Deneb, and Altair,” Auggie recited.
“Yes,” Annie answered. “They’re so bright.”
“Let me see,” Auggie said. “Where is it?”
Annie took his hand and lifted it high, pointing with her hand over his, her index finger resting on his. She traced the shape of the triangle in the air.
Auggie smiled, his mind picturing three bright lights piercing through the black sky.
“How about this?” Annie asked, and she moved his hand to a different angle, and traced. “Here, here, here, here, here, here,” she said, moving his hand from star to star in the constellation.
Auggie’s brain made the pattern like a map behind his eyes. He smiled. “Ursa Major?” he asked.
“Oh, you’re good,” she said. “Try this one.” And again, she traced the pattern in the sky, noting where each star was.
He thought, letting his mind print the shape out clearly, so he could recognize the pattern. “Orion’s Belt?”
“Too easy,” Annie said. “You didn’t tell me you know the stars. But I should have known. Like Chloe said, Auggie knows everything, Annie.”
“Was that after the Smithsonian visit?” Auggie asked, turning his head toward her, smiling.
“Well… I kind of showed off a bit there.”
“Yeah. Actually, I was trying to impress your sister.”
“What?!” Annie asked, laughing. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I wanted her to like me. Thought maybe she’d sister-talk you a little about the impressive blind art guide.”
“She didn’t need to. I already was impressed.”
“Show me another one.” Auggie had already lifted his hand, waiting for Annie to point out another constellation. She moved his hand again, letting him imagine the points where his index finger was paused in the air against the sky.
Annie traced out a flattened W and Auggie tried to picture it, but he needed to have her show him again, and then she could see the grin cross his face in the starlight.
“Cassiopeia’s Chair,” Auggie said smugly.
She laughed and shook her head. “Who needs a telescope when you have a blind guy to show you the stars,” she said with a giggle. “Okay, Genius. Try this one.”Try as Auggie might, she had finally stumped him. He wasn’t too aggravated by it, however, because Annie rewarded him by pulling him close and kissing him deeply. He wrapped his arms around her so tight he thought his own ribs would snap, and he didn’t care. If it weren’t for James, he would stay here in this field, ignoring the cold, loving Annie forever.