"Annie?" Auggie called gently. He slid his hand across the blanket, feeling for her, but she wasn't there. He must have dozed off to the snapping and the heat of the fire. He called for her again, and then heard a splash. He turned toward the water, calling her a third time.
"It's okay, Auggie!" she called back. "I'm here. You know, the water is still quite lovely."
"You don't say," Auggie said with a grin.
"Come on in," she said, seductively.
He hesitated, but then, he summoned the Auggie he knew from before, and he stood, pulling off his shirt, throwing it behind him, away from the fire. He unbuckled his belt and sat back down for a minute, pulling off his pants, standing back up in just his boxers. He turned back to the sound of Annie splashing and the crackle of the flames. He took a grand arc around the fire, not wanting to tread on hot coals with bare feet. He trusted Annie to let him know if he was heading into a tree or into a ditch, though out of instinct, he kept a hand out front and one to the side.
"Keep coming. I'm right in front of you. You're almost to the water."
"Are the stars out?" he asked, his toes finding the lake. He took one step and felt a mixture of gravel and mud under his feet.
Her voice was just beyond him. "Yes," she replied. "All the stars."
Auggie smiled, closing his eyes but tilting his head, seeing them in his mind. He reached out toward her and took a step, anticipating her touch. After another step, it came. Her hand slid over his and he felt a rush of love as she pulled him toward her into the water. He dipped down and she wrapped both legs around his hips under the water, her hands around his neck, pulling him close to kiss him. His hands slipped around her, and soon discovered that she wore nothing, no underwear, no swimsuit, no bra. She was a goddess in her own skin, Auggie could never have enough hands to see her beauty, though he gave it his all, pressing with his thumbs, stroking with his fingertips, the buffer of the water slowing the movements down into a ballet. Annie, in turn, cascaded his neck with kisses.
"Tell me," he murmured. "Tell me about the stars."
Annie whispered through her kisses. "Speckled across the sky, they're all twinkling. Some are brighter than others." She sighed. "Some burn strong and fierce. They're so beautiful, Auggie. I never feel alone when I can see the stars."
Auggie's cheek pressed against her ear. "You're never gonna be alone again."
"Is that so, husband-to-be?" she asked, a grin solidly in her words.
"That is so, wife-to-be." He twined his hands around her body, and hers covered his until he laced his fingers through hers, holding her close.
"I sure got a whole lot luckier the day I met you," Annie said.
"You did," Auggie said with a wink. "Though, as I recall, you really aren't the type who needs luck."
She laughed, and Auggie grinned. They had both remembered everything about each other, even little things that seemed irrelevant. They both had worked so diligently to stay apart, they had used so much energy keeping themselves separate, and it felt entirely freeing to just remember, to just love each other.
Annie let go, and pushed off, and Auggie felt a rush of water around him and heard the sound of her body breaking through the water in front of him, away. He stayed where he was, listening, imagining her there, the water around her and the sky above her velvet black and speckled with stars.
"Where'd you go?" he called to her.
"I'm here," she called to him gently from somewhere straight ahead of him. "You should come here with me."
Auggie lifted his feet off the bottom and made three powerful strokes toward her voice, then stopped, listening for her.
"Swim with me," she said, and as he did, she continued. "You have your swimmer's badge, I presume."
"Yes," he said. "I actually have five badges pertaining to water."
She laughed, her voice a lighthouse in the dark. He imagined her body gracefully gliding though the water ahead of him. He wanted her, and she was all his. He'd already caught her.
"Can you see me?" he asked, curious.
"Yes," she said. "Just barely. Just your shadow."
He could hear the water rippling from her movements. "Me, too," he said. He heard her on his right, and then behind his shoulder. He turned in the water, following her sound. She continued around him in a circle.
"Where are we? I mean, here, where's the shore?"
"We're two-thirds of the way to the other side. Come on, we'll go back."
As they reached the other side and Annie once again slid her arms around Auggie's neck when he got his foothold, pulling him back. He would follow that fuzzy aura anywhere. He kissed her again, and then lifted her up out of the water, and she laughed, her hair streaming water and her arms tight around his neck. He turned a little to his left, and then began walking. He could feel the water on his legs receding with each step, so he knew he was headed in the right direction. Once on the shore, he took a few steps and stopped, still holding her to him. He didn't want to walk her into the fire and he wasn't sure exactly where it was.
Annie dropped back to her feet, but kept her arms around him.
"I may have sent Eyal a message. I know he can't come to it, but I wanted to welcome him to our wedding anyway. I wanted to thank him for bringing me back to you."
"He brought you back to me a few times," Auggie said. "I'm glad you did. As... jealous as I was of you working with him, I appreciate everything he did for you. For us. For the agency. He's a good guy, Annie."
"I hope things are working out with his family," Annie said. "He told me about his son. He showed him to me, playing sport with his friends. It... means a great deal to him to have a second chance."
"I can understand that sentiment," Auggie said, nuzzling her neck. "And I'm not wasting mine right now. Can you give me a hand to collect everything, and we'll go try out that tent and see how sturdy it is."
"That sounds like a good idea," Annie said, already ahead of him.
Auggie woke to the sound of birds. Birds, making that early morning sound that signalled the dawn approaching. Annie's body was pressed against his. Her whole body. He relished the feel of her skin against his. It was as close as he got to seeing all of her at once. She'd abandoned her own sleeping bag to join him in his when they'd finally settled down to actual sleeping.
He'd forgotten how hard the ground could be when one laid on it all night. Of course, he'd been much younger in those days. A lifetime ago.
He'd lived so many lifetimes since. All of them intense, all of them life-changing, all of them filled with danger and intrigue. Puzzles. He lived on puzzles. How to solve them using the pieces he had in the box. He'd solved this one, with Annie. He'd solved a lot of them with Annie. But this was a big one. Being married. Really, truly married. Not a hoax wedding, not a false marriage, not a sham op honeymoon. It was real.
The sounds of birds got louder, their calls changing as the day grew brighter. Annie stirred and Auggie kissed her shoulder. He couldn't ever have enough of her. She turned toward him, and touched his cheek. He knew she was looking deeply into his face when she did that. He smiled.
"Good morning," he said.
"Good morning," she said back, a tired smile in her voice.
"I did. I like this. We should do this again sometime."
"Maybe it will be our anniversary get-away," Auggie said.
"Okay," Annie replied quickly.
"That was fast."
"It's so good to not be at someone's call. Nor being stalked by our families. I'll do this again, why, don't you want to?"
Auggie laughed. "I never said that. I am as into this as you are. And I'm as into you as this," he kissed her cheek. "And this," he kissed her other cheek. "And this," he said, kissing her lips.
Auggie had sat eating granola bars, listening to Annie heat water and make coffee and wash her face. When she was finished with her water, she filled the basin with more hot water added to it, and went over to where Auggie sat.
"Coffee's ready," she said. "Water's ready."
Auggie had put out his hand for the coffee, but Annie took it, placing her other hand over theirs, pulling him up. "It's over here. I set you a little place. I'm just hanging up this wet stuff. There was a lot of dew, things outside the tent are damp."
"It's getting sunny again, I can feel the warmth," Auggie said, letting himself be guided by her. "They'll dry in no time."
Annie took his hand and he bent with her as she placed his fingers on a towel folded on the ground. On it was his bag of toiletries, a bar of soap, a wash cloth, and his toothbrush. She moved his hand further back. Behind the bag was a plastic basin with steaming water in it. His hands found all these things and he sat, reaching one hand back toward her, a thank-you. She took it, briefly, her response. Then she went back over to put things in the sun to dry.
Auggie took a drink and made a face. Instant. There were definite drawbacks to camping, and the coffee was one of them. However, the warming sun, the sound of the water running somewhere, Annie busying herself over to his right, and within minutes, the coffee actually tasted wonderful. It tasted like sun, and simple freedom, and it tasted of the solidarity of their love. It would never taste like that back at home. It would taste like dishwater there. But not here. He settled himself down to wash up and shave. They would have to return to that so-called real life today.
Annie tidied up the campsite, and threw another few pieces of wood on the fire. She'd scavenged for all the dry wood in their vicinity, and the pile was getting small. She retrieved one of her shoes and tucked the pair together, out of Auggie's way.
She turned back to him, and saw him carefully picking up his razor. He'd washed his face and had prepared to shave, and she couldn't help but stop for a minute to watch him. Everything was meticulous, each movement precise. He was as mesmerising to watch now as he had been when she was just getting to know him. She watched him as he shaved with one hand, and used the other to feel where he'd been, and where he needed to go next, one hand always guiding the other. She watched him stop and slide his hand carefully along beside him for his coffee. She saw the look of peaceful contentment cross his half-shaved face, and she smiled, rearranging the things in the cooler so Auggie wouldn't wonder at her silence. He often seemed to know when she stopped to watch him. She knew it bothered him when others did it, but he never seemed to mind when she did it.
"You know," Auggie spoke up, "next week at this time, we will officially be married."
Annie stood and walked back over to him. "Thank goodness," she said. "It took us long enough."
"People have been waging bets on us since we were first teamed up."
"When you told me Eric said that, I nearly died," Annie said. "How were we so oblivious?"
"I'm blind," Auggie said with a shrug. "At least I have an excuse."
Annie made sure the razor was well away from his face when she gave him a little push. "Well, you know everything any way, and you still didn't know that they all figured we'd be hooked up."
Auggie finished his task and dipped the razor into the water, shaking it out. He turned to face her. "We were too stubborn, Walker. It took a lot of humbling on both our parts to get here."
"I'm grateful you worked so hard for me, Auggie. I'm so grateful that you got us here."
"You worked as hard."
"I had given up, Auggie. On everything. On us. On me. You never did."
Auggie smiled. He didn't need to go back there. He was happy to be in the here and now. And in the future. He was really happy to have a future with Annie. He was even looking forward to introducing her to his family. Especially his mother. Especially his father. His mother, always a mother, loved him unconditionally, wept for him when he wept, loved for him when he loved, would always be there to give him the shoulder he needed. There had been many times in his life where he and his father did not see eye to eye. And now, pun notwithstanding, he wanted to his father to finally be happy for Auggie's decision, and see eye to eye about his life, and about Annie. He'd wanted Auggie to be happy, so his father could feel better about Auggie's life, and for his own role as a father. Auggie knew there was a lot of deep water in their relationship, but he finally had something, someone, that he couldn't wait to bring to his father for approval. His father was a good man. Auggie wanted it all to be okay again.
He put the razor and his toiletries back in the bag and made sure the towel Annie had laid out was dry. Then he reached over and surprised Annie by pulling her towards him and down as he lay back on the ground. She cuddled into his side, making a contented sound.
"We just have to make it through the week," Auggie said.
"We've been in war-zones," Annie said. "And I'm more worried about this week."
Auggie smiled. "We got this. You and me. We can beat them all. And if they get too much, you and I get into that little blue Corvette that some handsome guy gave you with no strings attached, and we drive away from them with our phones off. We can get married anywhere. As long as we're together, this is going to happen. And I say, if we can get through what we've both been through, this will be easy. Surely family's easier to work with than heart disease and blindness and Russian prison." He squinted his eyes at her, in mock worry. "Right?"
She kissed him. "We can do it."
They cooked sausages and small potatoes over the fire, enjoying as much of the late morning as was possible before the idea that they needed to head home made any serious headway with either of them.
Annie talked about the camping trips she had done as a child. Her father had been very serious about teaching his daughters how to survive in the outdoors. Auggie loved to listen to her tell her own stories. The more she shared with him, the more colourful her image became for him. The little tidbits of information, the stories from her childhood, every little detail that she shared made her more beautiful to him. He knew that while her father had disappointed her several times in her young life, he had given her the world in his own way. And as fractured as their family had become, they all still had those good memories, and Annie and Danielle had a lot of knowledge and practice under their belts.
"So, camping in Sweden," Auggie said, listening as Annie poured water on their fire, the embers hissing loudly as the steam rose. "There were some perks to that military brat lifestyle."
"Yeah, there were. It was tough, moving around a lot, but we did get to see a lot of different things growing up. So I know we were lucky in many ways. But then, I'm envious of you, Auggie. I'm envious of your home, one place, the whole time. Your parents are still together. You had such a big family, it would be so crazy, I know, but so much home, you know? I would have liked that, too. I would have liked to know where my home was. That there were lots of people there who would back me if I needed it. You got to be young, Auggie. You visited your grandparents and rode your bike to school. I think I would have liked all that, too."
Auggie thought about what moving around would do to a little girl. No wonder she and Danielle had become so attached to each other. No wonder the pain between them after they each felt betrayed by each other had been so terrible. Annie had become attached to things quickly as a grown up, until she came home from killing Henry Wilcox. She had retreated back to a kind of disconnection, as though she remembered she could not get close to something without it being taken away.
So many things came back to moments from one's past that were thought to be long passed. Life impacted life. A small moment could still hold it's course decades in the future. There was no way of erasing life, each part formed the person that stood today in their own body. Without each moment, that person would never have been formed. Someone else would stand in their place, maybe as wise, maybe as honest, maybe as beautiful, as jaded, as hurt, as troubled, as happy, but different.
He loved this Annie. He loved her laugh. He especially loved the laugh that burst from her in a torrent. He loved that she pressed her hand on his arm before she left him. He loved that she called him from wherever she was to tell him she wanted to just listen to him bring her home. He loved every part that made up this Annie, even the parts that had hurt him. It was all those things that had brought them here, right now, to this lake, to this life, to this week.
They would go home. They would greet family as family came. They would enjoy the time they had with them, they would show off the home, the love, the ring, the life they had. And then, when they had endured the week together, they would be joined in marriage, and the hard work would have been all worth it, and paid in full. It would be finally real.
And then, thought Auggie, they would leave all the cleaning up and the chaos control to Eric and Danielle. They would spend a night together in an undisclosed location, and then depart on a real honeymoon. Not anything connected to the Agency, or an op, or a drop. It was all them, planned together over Auggie's laptop in the early morning one month prior.
Of course they'd make it. Nothing had stopped them before. Not plane crashes, not dubious deaths, not power-hungry sociopaths, not double-agents with their mind on revenge. What was a little family gathering in comparison?
After the last trip from the campsite, where Annie did a thorough sweep, making sure they'd left nothing behind, she untied the guide rope. Auggie packed their things in the back of the SUV, carefully making sure everything was sitting right and nothing would spill or poke or flatten anything. Annie closed the hatch and Auggie headed to the passenger door.
"All in?" he asked, finding the door handle.
"Yup. We got everything. You'd never know we were here."
"Well, I'd never know we were here," Auggie deadpanned. "And I was here."
Annie groaned, and Auggie gave her a quick grin, his lips turning up with his own sense of amusement. She shook her head and started the vehicle, backing it out to turn around and get back on the narrow side road.
Once they were on the way, they started talking about what Auggie had been doing at Langley for the past little while, with their computers being targeted for Wikileaks break ins. Auggie was trying to keep one step ahead of the hacks, and he'd set up a whole new system to re-route any unauthorised infringements to a dummy site which, in turn, would blow their identification cover and whereabouts. So far, they'd slowed down some of the illegal traffic trying to crack their codes, but it was nowhere near as safe as Auggie would have it. Joan had already had Auggie wipe her computer twice of malware just last week. He was tracing it back and had his tech crew chasing them down this weekend.
Annie had no patience with computers, and hated when she had to sit for hours using one. However, listening to Auggie talk about them was entirely different. He made data searches and torrent riders seem like its own exciting espionage, invisible to all but Auggie. He told her that breaking codes was like finding out how music was put together. She didn't really understand it, but Auggie did, and when he spoke about it, she could see how passionate he was about it. It was more than numbers and patterns for him.
"Don't the firewalls keep changing?" Annie asked.
"Oh, the whole thing is constantly being realarmed, but they're fast. They work fast. Passwords can be retrieved in seconds if you're running a hack programme."
"They're fast, Auggie, but you're faster."
"Could only be a matter of time," Auggie replied. "And I'm only running the DPD's tech. I can't cover everything at every second."
"Oh, I think we are all a little safer with you behind the keyboard," Annie replied.
"And Barber," Auggie added. "The man's a wizard."
"No wonder Jai tried to steal him from you," Annie said. "I'm glad he came back."
"He knows where the treats are," Auggie replied.
Annie chuckled, thinking about the chaos of Eric's desk, and how sometimes that chaos spilled into Auggie's territory. In the beginning, it had frustrated Auggie, always having to remind the other man to leave the chairs in the same places, and not to move anything on Auggie's desk. Over time, Eric had become mindful of Auggie's needs, but still liked to leave Auggie a gift of a chip bag or sandwich wrapper beside his keyboard, just for old time's sake. Auggie had grown accustomed to it, maybe he even kind of expected it. Annie had thought when she first met Eric that the man would be clueless to anything Auggie needed outside the computer world, but she'd been wrong. And now, she watched Eric pretend to be oblivious, but at the same time making sure that Auggie had everything he required. She knew they had a relationship that had worn into a comfortable kind of friendship with an illusion of annoyance floating above it to keep people from knowing how deep that friendship went. Annie was proud to call Eric a friend to both of them. She was proud of Auggie for letting it develop.
He spoke highly of Barber now, as well as Holman. He'd left the DPD tech in their care, and he wasn't worried a bit to do so. Auggie had learned to trust others instead of only himself, that was one aspect of his life the bomb had redirected. He didn't have to do everything himself, he understood that teamwork was much more acceptable and often got better results than working alone.
He knew come tomorrow morning, he'd be back there with all new ideas. He already had been mulling three new plans of attack as he talked to Annie.
There had been a question, not once, but twice, if Auggie would return to the CIA after what it had cost him. He'd come close both times to walking away.
But every time he contemplated the idea, he knew it wasn't going to happen. Even one weekend away, and he was chomping at the bit to get the adrenaline pumping over the deadlines of time and space. He knew Annie felt the same. It wasn't a matter of them quitting the Agency anymore. It was a matter of figuring out how to work there together, and still have their own life outside, and Auggie was pretty proud of how well that part was working out. He had had so many concerns, they both had, after returning from their break away together, about how it would work. But the way Joan had taken Annie back under her wing, leaving Auggie with his tech crew and his other operatives, but still having her in the department had made it work. They were together and not together. Joan was better at this than they were, Auggie had to admit. They needed to be there. Joan needed them there. And that was all there was to it. They were CIA.
They made three stops on the way home. Once for coffee. Once for a restroom. And once for a walk along what the sign claimed was a scenic stroll along historical land, dotted with buildings from centuries past. Annie told Auggie that there were some foundations and a refurbished looking barn, but the best thing to see was a field of sunflowers that a farmer had planted beyond the walking trail. Annie stopped as soon as they crested a hill, and Auggie stopped immediately, instinct mirroring her movement.
"Oh, Auggie," she exclaimed, and Auggie immediately recognised her reaction to something breathtaking.
"What? Tell me." He closed his eyes, a smile on his face, waiting to hear what she saw.
"Sunflowers. A field of them. Just a huge expanse of golden faces framed with golden flames, all looking in the same direction. And we're in the exact right spot to see them." She raised his arm and held his hand to the point where the field began just down beyond the next line of trees, and moved it in an arc, to give him an idea of the size.
"Wow. That's a lot of sunflowers," Auggie said, amazed. He remembered seeing pictures of fields like this, but he'd never actually seen one himself. He figured he still wasn't going to, technically, but standing in front of one with Annie was close enough for him. He saw everything through her eyes.
"It's beautiful, Auggie."
"I know," he said. "It is absolutely beautiful."