Auggie kept his hand on her cheek, his other hand wrapped around hers. Annie bowed her head. She was so quiet, but Auggie sensed she was crying. He wasn’t sure, so he moved his fingers across her cheek and brushed a tear streaming down her face. She shook her head and took his hand away with her free hand.
“Annie,” he whispered. “Don’t leave me. Please. Talk to me.”
“You’ve been through too much,” she said in a low voice. “I’m not putting you through any more. I’m a danger to you, Auggie. You’ve lost so much in this career and I... you need someone that is safer than I am.”
“No, Annie. I need you. You balance me out. You get me excited about this job. You--"
“I lied to you. I did everything to give you a chance to--”
“No! You did not give me a chance to move on. Because you never gave me reason to go. I told you Helen was a mistake. And I waited for you. All these months, I have been waiting. I woke up, while you were gone, and I checked my messages on every phone and message board I have. And every night I went to bed wishing I could hear your voice. And you didn’t call. You didn’t come back. But I never moved on.”
“What about Hayley? And Tash?”
“You had pushed me so far away by that time, I wanted to forget. I wanted to go back with Tash and forget any of this had ever happened. Hayley, well, that was a night gone on too long. I regret the first drink I sent her. I regret taking her home. I regret her being involved in us, Annie. And Tash... I just wanted someone Annie. But no-one is you. And you’ve gotten in here,” He tapped his forehead, “and I can’t forget. And I’m tired of trying to. I’ve been walking on eggshells, trying not to push you, trying to make things okay. You won’t talk to me anymore, why?”
She pulled away from him then, turning to the front. “It’s everything. You don’t trust me, I don’t trust you.”
“Is that it? Trust? You think it’s gone?”
“It is gone. You trusted me and I blew it. You blew it, too.”
Auggie felt the gulf between her and him and it seemed like she had turned to smoke.
“I still trust you. Why else would I cover for you and risk my job. They’ve already waved the suspension papers in front of me a few times for you. And know what, Walker? I’d do everything again for you. Except I would never have told you we couldn’t do this.”
“I can’t trust myself,” she said simply.
“I can. You will, too. You need people Annie. People behind you who care. You cannot do everything alone. You know this. You know this, Annie. Even Henry Wilcox didn’t go down without some backup. We all had a hand in that, Annie, not just you. You don’t need to carry that yourself anymore. We were there for you then, and we’re here for you now. Calder, Joan, and Arthur are working on things. Joan knows, Annie. She knows you better than you think, and she knows why you resigned. And she knows I’m in on it, because she knows me, too.”
Annie stood. Auggie’s heart nearly stopped and he tried to reach out to her, but she’d moved away. He heard her shoes as she slowly walked up the side aisle and across the front of the church. His heart slowly returned to a safe pace. He stayed seated, turning his head to follow the sound of her movements.
“Everything I did, I did for you. And Joan. And Arthur and Mac. I had to separate myself from you, so he wouldn’t take you away from me. I had to take you away from me, to keep you safe. After a while, I had numbed from the pain. It was better. It let me do my job. I had nothing to tie me down, nothing to stop me. And then, I couldn’t come back. I was sick. I was so used to being alone, being ruthless to finish the job, that once the job was done...”
“You had nothing.” Auggie spoke from experience.
The footsteps started again. “I couldn’t bring all that back to you. I just wanted to do my job. I can’t do this to you any more.”
“But you still wanted me to be your handler.”
“You said it. We’re a good team.”
Auggie raised his eyebrows. “We are a good team. We can be a good team again, Annie. But all this is getting in the way. It’s, like, how can we pretend none of this happened and go back to before? And yet, I want it to be like that. We made this job, this job that can be so shitty and hurt so much, we made it okay. We saved each other from falling on more than one occasion.”
He heard her sniffle. There were emotions after all. He stood, sliding out from the pew and moving up the centre aisle toward her, keeping his hand outstretched and touching the top of each pew back as he passed it. At the first pew, he took two more steps ahead, feeling her there, probably looking up at the religious sacrifice on the cross that surely hung there.
He faced the front as well, giving her a bit of space to cry, but he didn’t stop talking.
“Everything has been about talking with us, Annie. We did it until we had to. And then we never managed to get it done properly. It took forever for us to talk about our feelings. It took a rather brave attempt on yours truly’s behalf, twice, actually, to get to the point.”
He quirked one corner of his mouth and gave a bit of a shrug. “The first time, you weren’t home.”
She gave a small laugh within her tears. A good sign, if only a small one.
“Annie. I know I’m not some suave, debonair, rich, jet-setter, or a body-builder with smoldering eyes, or...” He dropped his head. “I’m just a dorky computer tech wizard, and I can’t drive you around in that fancy Corvette you have, and I can’t look you in your eyes and tell you how important you are to me, and I can’t see your face to know--”
He was stopped by the force of her arms around him and her body against his. He enveloped her in his arms, not knowing if she was acquiescing to his words, or only for a deep need for a connection. He knew he needed a connection; she had been so distant that even when he held her elbow she wasn’t there beside him.
She was there now, in the fullest sense. He rested his chin on her hair, breathing in her clean, soft scent. Her body fit into his arms and chest so well, it was like she had been molded for him. He shoulders shook with her silent sobbing. Her walls were cracking and he was going to be right here to pick up the pieces and sweep them as far away as he could.
“I told you I never want to stop talking. And I don’t. What can I say?” He lifted her chin so she could see his mischievous grin. “I’m a talker.” He felt a laugh from her and he hugged her again. “Please don’t go away from me, Annie. Please tell me you’ll come home with me and keep talking. We can work this out. I know we can. I have faith in you, Annie. You’re stronger than anyone I know. And, hey, I may have come through a few things, too, just sayin’.” He sighed. “I know we can do this.”
She turned her head, her cheek resting calmly on his chest, letting him hold her. “I’m afraid.”
“The only thing I am afraid of is not having you, Annie. Not teasing you, not talking to you about stupid things, not lying next to you, and not waking up next to you, that’s what makes me scared.” He spoke in a calm, quiet voice, murmuring into her hair.
“You make everything easier for me, Walker. You don’t know this, but I don’t always feel very sure of myself outside the agency. I know where I stand there, and I know my business and I have all those halls mapped. But outside, in real life... I get lost sometimes. Metaphorically and physically. I’m not always the happy-go-lucky nerd in the computer lab. I don’t like to admit how much I need help. And I never have to with you. I’m not damaged to you.”
Annie leaned back; he felt her peering deeply at him. “You aren’t. You’re the one thing that isn’t damaged in my life.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” he teased.
“You’re not damaged to me. You are the way you are, you’re Auggie. You’re the same man I met, I only know you as you. How can you be damaged to me when I admire you, I’ve admired you since you gave me the grand tour. If there is anything I know, it’s that I haven’t ever thought of you as less than anyone, Auggie. You never lost anything that I’ve seen. I never knew a sighted version of you, so you have never lost anything to me. If it’s any consolation, you’re more interesting to me because of who you are.”
“A total dork?” he smiled into her hair.
Her laugh felt lighter, but he still didn’t let go of her. As long as he could keep her there, he would never let go. “I like that part, too,” she smiled.
Auggie felt her move back from him. She reached up and touched his face, bringing it down gently toward her. He dared not to breathe—
Her lips took his and his entire world lit up inside him. He enveloped her in his arms and kissed her back, with more passion and feeling than he had kissed anyone, well, since he’d last kissed her. He felt her hands clutching at his arms, his chest, making sure he was truly there, solidly in front of her and he kissed her with all the love that he’d been unable to share for nearly a year. She pulled away only a little bit, and he pulled her head gently back towards his, letting their foreheads touch in the way that connected them without eye contact.
“I won’t let you go again,” Auggie whispered.
“There’s so much to say. There’s so much to work out.”
“We have time. We have all the time in the world, Annie. Come home with me. We can start talking and never stop until the sun stops coming up. And then you’d have to talk, to tell me the sun wasn’t coming up. ’Cause, you know, I can’t really...” He waved his hands in front of his eyes, smiling at her through his old joke.
She groaned. “Eye roll,” she said, and he felt her arm reach up, presumably wiping her eyes with her sleeve. Auggie knew his own eyes would be rimmed with red, and damp with emotion, but he reached up with his hand, again gently brushing her cheek, wiping the tears himself.
“Come home with me. That’s all I ask of you right now. We can talk, or sleep or I’ll hold you like this. Just come home with me.”
And everything inside him became peaceful and filled with radiance when he felt her nod.