Shades of You
After a long and exhausting trip abroad, Annie was fairly certain there was no better way to unwind then to spend the evening on Auggie's couch drinking beers and watching classic films. She had spent the last four days in Nepal and since being kicked out of her sister's house she had no inclination to waste the evening alone in her safe house. So when Auggie had not-so-subtly mentioned that he had nothing to do that evening, she'd invited herself over. Three beers and a black-and-white mobster movie later, she was feeling infinitely better than she usually did right after a mission.
Annie leaned back into the sofa, twisting sideways to watch her best friend. He was sprawled out across the furniture, one arm draped lazily over the back of the sofa while his legs were propped on the coffee table. The stress of arranging her ride home was evident in the way the curls over his forehead were especially twisted and stuck up at the ends. Still, there was a soft smile on his face as his half-opened eyes pointed in the general direction of the television, and Annie decided that even exhausted he looked good.
She on the other hand, looked a wreck. Wearing a pair of Auggie's sweats and a teeshirt, since her clothes had been destroyed during the mission (as usual,) she was make-up free, her right arm was a sickly shade of violet from bruising, and her hair was in a twisted and dishevelled ponytail that was mostly falling out of the elastic. For a second she was grateful Auggie couldn't see her like this, but then she was struck by another, more profound thought. Her best friend couldn't see her. He had no idea what she looked like, and would never know.
"Annie, you're staring," Auggie said, startling Annie out of her musing. "Something you want to share with the class?"
"No, nothing," Annie said, too quickly in retrospect.
Auggie's eyebrows shot up and he smirked sceptically. "Okay, spit it out," he said. "What's the question you're afraid to ask me now?" Annie made a confused noise and Auggie laughed. "You always do this when you've got something you're curious about but you're afraid it'll offend me. You make that funny little noise where you almost say something and then suck it back in real quick. So what is it?"
"I was just wondering," Annie started slowly, brushing a fingertip around the mouth of her beer bottle as she tried to think of the best way to say it, "does it really help you when you touch people's faces? To see what they look like, I mean. Does it actually work?"
Auggie frowned thoughtfully, his brow furrowing down in the middle, and then he shifted his glance up toward her. "Try it."
"What?" Annie asked, shocked.
"Trust me, it's not something I can really explain well in words," Auggie said, setting his beer bottle on the table and turning to face her on the sofa. "You have to experience it for yourself." When Annie still hesitated, he grinned. "I won't bite."
"I doubt that," Annie responded playfully, but she set her bottle aside and scooted forward so their knees were touching.
"Give me your hands," Auggie said, holding out his. Annie tentatively set her hands in his palms, still chilly from the condensation on his beer. "Now close your eyes. And don't try to be sneaky; I'll know if you peek." Annie didn't doubt that in the slightest, and she pressed her eyes shut. Auggie lifted her hands up until her palms were resting on his cheeks. "Alright, now use just your sense of touch to see what I look like."
"Okay," Annie said awkwardly, suddenly extremely thankful she'd asked this question in the safety of his flat instead of at the tavern where they normally spent their evenings. She didn't want an audience for this already strange encounter. Taking a deep breath, Annie focused all of her attention on her fingertips.
She outlined the curve of his cheekbones as they swept up to his nose. There was a shallow ridge she could feel on the bridge of his nose, and she wondered where it had come from and why she'd never noticed before. Further up, she found his eyebrows, and then the wide plain of his forehead. The furrows felt deeper than they looked, like great hills and valleys built by years of stress and worry. Her fingers slipped into the curls along his forehead, which were just as smooth and soft as she had always expected they might be.
Following his hairline down, she traced the wide curve of his ears until she reached his jaw. The corners were hard and strong, creating a sharp line down to his chin where she could feel the stubble of a five-o-clock shadow prickling her fingertips. She brushed her thumb up the dimple in his chin, and as she did so her thumbnail touched his lower lip. Instinctively she froze, and almost imperceptibly she felt Auggie stiffen too, but then his facial muscles shifted under her touch until she could feel his smile. "I really won't bite, you know."
Taking that as permission, Annie outlined his lips with her fingers, the smooth warm skin that swelled beneath her touch. She barely caught the faint intake of breath as she rubbed the pad of her thumb over his bottom lip, and it sent a strange but not unwelcome thrill down her spine. Tracing his cheeks once more she found his eyes, which he dutifully closed as her fingers neared. She brushed her fingers over the thick lashes. And then a car alarm going off outside made her jump, jabbing her finger into the corner of his eye.
"Ow, God!" Auggie hissed, pulling back.
Annie's eyes snapped open and she quickly grabbed his shoulder. "Oh my God, I'm so sorry," she said anxiously. "Are you okay?"
"Fine, fine," Auggie said, waving her away and blinking his watery eyes several times. "It's not like I need them anyway, right?"
"Seriously, Auggie, are you okay?" Annie pressed, ignoring his joke.
"I'm fine, I swear," Auggie assured her. "I just wasn't quite expecting that." He rubbed his eye once more and then straightened up. "Well, did it work? What was it like to see with your hands?"
Annie called up all of the details she'd gathered and used them to create an image, and then compared that to what she saw. "It was different," she admitted. "It was more like seeing the outlines of everything, but without colours. And I noticed a few things that I hadn't before, little details I hadn't paid attention to."
"Like what?" Auggie asked curiously.
"That bump in your nose," Annie replied.
Auggie laughed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Oh yeah, broke it when I was a kid," he said. "Or rather my brother broke it for me. Two of them did, actually, come to think of it." Auggie dropped his hand and turned to face her again. "You know, I've never actually tried this with a sighted person before. I had no idea what it was like for you. So, not quite the same?"
"I think it was sort of like the difference between a sketch and a painting," Annie answered thoughtfully. "Paintings are all about the colours and the depths, but sketches are the outlines and the little details and the shadows. It's different, yeah, but at the same time it's better in some ways too."
Auggie nodded pensively, his gaze distant. Finally he seemed to stir back and as he held out his hands he asked, "May I?"
"Oh, yeah, of course," Annie said and she took his outstretched hands. Carefully she placed them on her cheeks and then let her own hands drop into her lap. Auggie's expression shifted to one of complete focus as he began cautiously exploring the lines of her face. The tips of his fingers were slightly rough, worn from years of using them to find his way around and racing over sheets of Braille print she figured, but the coarseness of them over her skin felt comforting.
He outlined her jaw, up around her ears and toward her forehead. Idly he twisted a lock of hair around his fingers, his head cocked to the side as he took in the feel of it flowing through his grip. Annie found her eyes drifting shut of their own accord as he brought his fingers through her hair once more before returning them to her face. She didn't want to admit just how nice it actually felt, especially considering he was her best friend and that was a whole new array of secret feelings she hadn't even begun to examine yet.
Auggie's fingers moved down the bridge of her nose and across her eyelids, slow and cautiously so as not to hurt her, and then swept along her cheeks back to her nose. He hesitated for a second before moving down further to her mouth. Annie couldn't stop the involuntary noise that left her when the coarse fingertip scraped against her lip, and he froze. "Sorry," he said, making to pull his hand back.
"No, it's fine," Annie said, grabbing his wrists and stopping him. "You just surprised me. It's fine." Auggie waited a second and then seemed to accept her answer because he went back to his investigation. He traced the shape of her lips with his eyes narrowed in concentration and she could tell he was committing every centimetre of her face to memory.
"Just as I thought," Auggie said, his palms resting against her cheeks once again.
"What's that?" Annie asked curiously, intrigued by the determined look on his face.
Auggie's lips curled in a small smile. "I always knew you were beautiful."
Annie felt her heart seize in her chest at the outright sincerity in his words. There was something so powerful and overwhelming and she knew he wasn't just teasing with her this time, like he had so many times before. This wasn't a best friend's reassurance after a bad date, or a joke about flirting coming from other co-workers. This was a man telling a woman that she was beautiful, plain and simple.
Reacting without hesitation, before she could overthink it, Annie leaned forward and closed the space between them, pressing her lips to his. Auggie froze in surprise, his hands still on the sides of her face, but then abruptly his posture relaxed. One hand slid down her back, resting at her waist, and the other curved around the back of her neck to draw her closer. Annie wrapped her arms around his neck, leaning into his grip and enjoying the sensation. Auggie's lips were gentle but insistent against hers, filled with the right amount of respect but longing.
"Annie," Auggie murmured, pulling his lips away just a fraction but keeping his forehead resting on hers. "Are you sure about this?" he asked. "This isn't just stress, or the mission? I mean, this is real, right?"
"I'm sure," Annie repeated, tangling one hand in his hair earnestly.
"Thank God," Auggie said, letting out a relieved breath. "Because I've wanted this for a long time. What changed your mind?"
"Well as stupid as it sounds," Annie said, "I've realised that in all this time, you're the only one who's ever really seen me."
Auggie's face split into a wide grin. "That is horribly cliché, Miss Walker," he informed her pointedly.
"I know," Annie said and laughed. "Now shut up and kiss me."
If possible, Auggie's smile grew even bigger. "That I can do."