Auggie was not sure what time it was when he awoke. He slid his hand across the sheet to an empty space beside him. He felt to make sure, but there was no-one there. They had come back to his place and fell together on the bed, not wanting to speak just yet, just needing to be in each other’s space. Auggie had changed into pyjama pants and Annie wore one of his T-shirts. Again. He’d slept with his arms around her, and she’d let him. But the empty space beside him was cool to his touch and he wasn’t sure if the morning light had scared her enough to cause her to run. He reached over to the bedside table for his watch.
“I’m here,” she said, her voice coming from a silent edge of the bedroom.
He let a breath out. “Thank you,” he said, not sure if he was thanking her for letting him know she was still there, or for just still being there.
“Thank you, Auggie. For... for not pushing me last night. For just being here. For... God, Auggie, for everything. You do everything and it just keeps hurting you! I keep hurting you. I thought you were some kind of genius, but you’re not smart enough to just leave me alone.” It didn’t come out harsh. It sounded, to Auggie, like loss.
Auggie moved across the bed and to the floor at the foot of it, finding his way to her. He touched her arm, and his hands immediately made their way to the sides of her head, touching her soft hair and her cheeks.
“I already told you. You’ve got me, Annie. I’m always on your side.” If only she could see past her own tangled web, she’d know that. But he needed to know something just as clearly. “I just need to know... Do you have feelings for McQuaid?”
“You are always asking me about how I feel about them.”
“Other guys. Auggie, when you asked me about that with Simon... and with Eyal--”
“How could you have not known, Annie? We were always bouncing around, like a pinball machine. I reacted every time you were with someone else. I ran off with Parker. I did things that...” He dropped his hands, his head lowered. “Our timing’s always been off.”
“I made coffee,” she said.
“Come on, let’s go down and have some coffee and... I wanna talk, Auggie. I want to keep talking, like you said. This has been so weird. I don’t like it. I don’t want to be alone, but I can’t take how it is with us, with me and every person I know. No-one trusts me, no-one believes me anymore. I’m like a pariah. I’ve done everything everyone wanted and now no-one wants me in the game.”
“Come on.” Annie stood and he felt her lean and take his hand. As he got to his feet, Annie wrapped her arms around his neck. He smiled as he reciprocated. This was all he needed, all he wanted to be able to do right now, being her comfort.
Down in the kitchen, Annie poured Auggie a cup of coffee. He sat at the island, noticing how different it felt having Annie’s presence there than having Natasha or Hayley’s. Natasha was his past. She would always be his past. She meant a whole lot to him, always would. He loved her, had loved her. But his comfort level with her was different. He wasn’t sure how she felt, really, about how he had changed since she had been with him before. It was always Before and After. Before everything. After he’d messed her life up.
Hayley, well, he didn’t want to go there. That had been wrong, Annie knew that. Everyone knew that one. It had started as a lonely night at a bar, didn’t most of them? He’d been sulking into his beer because Annie had told him she wanted no more emotional attachments to anyone—to him. He was a dude, for God’s sake. How else was he going to distract himself from his own anguish? He had played the suave, careless “buddy” to Annie at that admission she’d hurled at him. He’d brushed it off. He’d never let anyone see his pain before, and he’d let her in and this had happened. He’d reverted back to the wall of impenetrable feeling all in that one second when she had said she couldn’t have attachments. He’d shrugged and said it was all good. And it wasn’t.
She’d shrugged and said she was all good several times since then. And she wasn’t.
But it was her turn. She was still here, in his apartment, making him coffee, wearing his T-shirt. It was her turn and she wasn’t going.
Her voice sounded scared. He reached out his hand, palm up, across the island countertop.
He heard it. In two words, all the sadness she had caused him melted over her tongue. She took a big breath. He waited.
“I was not right. You weren’t always right. But we were both right when we said we could do this. We just weren’t right at the same time. Helen... she was wrong. I told her so. I told her. But you went back to her, Auggie. I know you said you thought you were meeting me. I know you were disappointed that it wasn’t, and you were hurt. And I know hurt, I know it makes you do stupid things you wouldn’t dream of doing when your emotions aren’t in total chaos.”
Auggie nodded. He had to let her tell him about how she felt the same way with McQuaid, and not feel anything but empathy.
“I did things I will never forgive myself for.”
“What’s the point, Annie?” Auggie interrupted. “Why do we have to hold ourselves to bad feelings for the rest of our lives? We were brought alongside each other, we never let go. You had dates, I had... dates... and we stuck through that. We made wrong choices, but we made some right ones. You remember things I told you on your first day, Annie. You made an impression on me so big I came home after that first assignment you had and I sat here at this counter and rehashed every word, every touch, every single time we had contact. In two days, Annie, you’d changed my whole life again. I’d been sitting at the DPD for two years at that same desk and nothing had taken me by so much excitement as being arrested and questioned by the FBI as to why I was standing barefoot in a morgue with a call girl.”
“We don’t like to use that term,” Annie whispered to him, her seriousness belying the joke of her statement.
Auggie laughed. “The thing is, Annie, you just came right in to my life and never questioned if I should be in yours. You never questioned anything about me. You trusted me. You asked me questions about your sister’s husband. You asked me about how to tell your sister you’re CIA. You came to me. A blind guy. You never passed my judgement over, until, well, until you did.”
“I was lost to everything but making Henry pay. I lost more after I started retaliating for him hurting people I love. The more I got involved, the worse it got. I had to see it end and I had to make sure that it would stop. My involvement made it worse. And I couldn’t stop.”
“It’s over now, Annie. It’s over. The war is over and you’re home now. If you are still living in the war, you can’t ever be home.”
“I want to be home,” she said, and Auggie could hear tears in her voice.
“You can do this.”
“Show me how.”
She was really crying now. He pulled her over to him, standing and holding her again. “I can. I was sent to be your tour guide and the tour took a trip into the battlefield. I’ve been there, and I can bring you back. But you have to trust me again. And I need to trust you. I need you to talk to me, Annie. All the time. I need you to tell me. I miss a lot, in case you haven’t noticed. Like all the times I missed knowing I was breaking your heart when I was going in the opposite direction to you... with Parker, with my anger... I’m good, but I don’t catch everything. I need you to talk to me. You can make it back off the battlefield; it’s a good place to be away from. You have battle damage, we all do, but, Annie, you’ve seen past mine since the day you met me. You’ve worked around it, made allowances for it, made it almost... something special to work with. I mean, I’ve never had so much non-visual contact or cues from anyone like with you. You just know exactly how to... I don’t even know, you just have synced with me so well that I don’t even need to see to see you. That sounds so silly, but it’s true. And I want to be able to do the same for you, to work around what has changed you, to make it okay, to make you feel like you are a whole, good, person with a history that makes you a better one, one with empathy and understanding. One thing about having battle scars, Walker, is that we are way gentler with others who also suffer. You’ve closed yourself off to helping others, you may not realise that. By shutting your emotions down, you’re stopping the goodness that you will do with your understanding.”
“Why are you always right?”
He smiled, but it was sad. “I’m not. That’s partly why we’re stuck in this place.”
“I don’t think we’re stuck,” Annie told him, letting her arms drop loosely around his back. “I think I want to move forward. Slowly. Because I’m scared of losing.”
“I can move slowly,” Auggie said, feeling this to be a safe place for a joke. “Just take my cane away and put me out in the world, and watch how slowly I can move.”
“When will I be able to joke about it?”
“When you know you can survive it.”
He felt her just staring at him. He pulled her in, letting his forehead rest against her, getting his own share of “visual” contact. “You can survive it, too.”
“I want to. With you.”
Auggie smiled. “You are always safe with me. I won’t turn you away, Annie. We’ve got the hardest part behind us. The rest? The job, field work, your medical condition, all that, we can work at together. Okay? We’ll figure it out. We’ll get some good doctors, and we’ll take it as it comes, together.”
“Everywhere I go, Auggie, you have friends. Friends who respect you so much, who say they are better for knowing you. How can you have that much effect? But you do. You don’t know, when I was away, I thought about you every day. Every day, I imagined coming back to you. I made up so many scenarios that when I was coming home, I couldn’t see you. Because none of them were real, and I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear what I did, and all I wanted was for it to be gone, and for everything to be okay with us. You got me through all of it, you don’t even know. It was you that I came home for. And it was you that scared me the most for disappointing.”
“Well, I do have a good circle of friends who enjoy a good bottle of booze now and then,” Auggie started with a smile.
“It’s all more than booze, Auggie. They like the St. Bernard that brings it to them.”
Auggie laughed out loud. He’d forgotten her remark about the stuffed animal she was going to buy him as a souvenir.
“Well, what can I say? I’m a legend. Now, what say we put some food in that stomach of yours, and figure out what we’re gonna say to Joan when we call her.”
“We’re calling Joan?”
“Well, we have to get you reinstated into her DPD, right?”
Annie smiled. “I think I lost my other job. McQuaid’s going to be okay, but I don’t think his agency is.”
“I know. I’d heard he’d been released.”
“Are you going to go see him?”
“I’ll give it a few days. I don’t want to go anywhere right now. If that’s okay.”
“Of course it’s okay. We’ll set up a little cosy camp-out and order pizza and we’ll watch TV and just be here for each other. If you need to cry or scream or talk, I am going to be right here. I told you we’ll take it slow and safe, and that’s what we’re going to do, because we are not going to mess this up, Walker. Not this time and not again.”
“You told me before that you would tell me what I look like,” Annie said in a small voice.
“Pretty good party trick,” said Auggie, brushing her hair from her face.
“What do I look like?”
Auggie smiled, closing his eyes. How could he ever tell her how beautiful she was?