Phew! It's finally the end. Brace yourselves, folks - this chapter is a long one. Thank you to everyone who read along with me, and especially to those who commented. I hope you enjoy the ending!
Retrieval Chapter Seven
The impact of the bullet sent Auggie stumbling forward, his grip on Duarte's throat loosening. Duarte dropped, dancing out of Auggie's reach almost before his feet hit the ground, but Auggie wasn't reaching out for him, he was just falling forward, stumbling in a slow-motion topple to his hands and knees. Blood was spreading across his back from the bullet wound (a lung, that's a lung, please God let it not be his heart), and the gun felt like it was made of lead in Annie's hand.
"Auggie," she said, taking a step toward him, but Duarte raised a hand.
"Wait," he said, his voice rough but steady. "Wait."
Annie stopped, hand half outstretched, staring at Auggie on his hands and knees on the floor. A string of bloody saliva dripping from his lips, and his mouth gaped like he couldn't get enough air. How could she wait?
"Kyle?" Auggie sounded like he was talking through gravel. "Annie?"
"Oh, thank God," Annie said, or maybe she just thought it. Whichever it was, she had dropped the gun and was on her knees beside Auggie before she was aware that she was moving, easing him into a sitting position, leaning him gently against the wall. Duarte was there, too, pulling off the shredded remains of his jacket and wadding it up, pressing it against the bullet hole in Auggie's back.
"It's OK," Duarte said. "You're going to be fine." Annie wasn't sure who he was trying to convince. She'd seen people look less OK than Auggie, but none of them had ever been fine.
"Shot me?" Auggie said, fumbling for Annie's forearm. He coughed, grimaced, blood staining his lips.
"I'm sorry," she said. "It needed to be serious, for critical mass." She was aware she wasn't making a whole lot of sense, but it was hard to concentrate when Auggie was dying in front of her, when she'd just shot Auggie, shot him.
Auggie blinked, fingers flexing around Annie's arm. "...what?" he said, the word forming twice on his lips before he managed to choke it out.
"Dumont reprogrammed the nanites," said Duarte, and Auggie's head turned in the direction of his voice. "We needed to invoke the core programming to override it."
Auggie blinked. "I remember," he said, and then closed his eyes.
"Auggie?" said Annie, but the grip on her forearm was still strong, almost painful.
"Jake, wake up," Duarte said, shaking Auggie's shoulder gently. "We need you to strip out Dumont's program." He pulled his jacket away from Auggie's back, grimacing at the black slick of blood and exchanging a glance with Annie.
"Not sleeping," Auggie said, eyes still closed. "I can't."
"Can't?" Duarte frowned. "Can't what?"
"Strip the... program," Auggie said. His breath was crackling in his lungs, now, and Annie swallowed, willing the nanites to get the hell on with their healing thing. You'll be OK. Duarte said you'd be fine. "Has to be external. Blood."
"Blood?" Duarte shifted, pressing the jacket harder on Auggie's back, and Auggie's breath whistled through his gritted teeth, his hand tightening painfully on Annie's arm.
"Extraction. Reinjection," he said, and coughed again. "The... nanites spread the... pr, the pr-" His voice petered out, and Annie stared at Duarte.
"He's not healing," she said. He's not healing, oh my God. "You said he'd heal."
Duarte shook his head, and if he was faking the growing fear on his face, he was doing a damn good job. "I don't understand," he said. "Jake, what is this?"
Auggie's lips moved silently, then he swallowed hard and opened his eyes.
"Shut them off," he said. "No more Dumont... in my head."
"What?" Annie and Duarte said it simultaneously. "You'll die," Annie said, and Auggie leaned his head back against the wall.
"Better dead than led," he said, eyes sliding closed again.
Duarte leaned forward, grabbing Auggie's shoulder with his free hand. "Don't be stupid," he said. "I'm ordering you to bring the nanites back online."
Auggie's lips curled in a painful smile, bloody teeth turning Annie's stomach. "You're not the boss of me," he whispered, and then his jaw went slack, breath wheezing in and out of his throat, too shallow, too slow.
"Jake," said Duarte. "Jake."
"You said this would work," Annie said. She shot Auggie, she trusted Duarte and she shot Auggie, and now he was going to die.
"I didn't know he would shut the damn nanites down," Duarte said, slapping Auggie's cheek. "Come on, come on, wake up."
"Duarte," Annie said, feeling her tongue stick to the roof of her mouth, but Duarte wasn't paying attention. He was shaking Auggie, harder now, Auggie's head lolling like there were no bones in his neck. Annie reached over - her hand was shaking, God - and grabbed Duarte's arm.
"Check his wound," she said, and Duarte frowned and pulled the jacket away. The blood was still there, but it was half-dry, the flow of fresh blood slowed to a trickle.
Annie breathed out slowly. She hadn't imagined the way that Auggie's breathing was coming a little easier. "He's healing," she said.
Duarte frowned, then his face cleared. "Of course," he said. "If the higher-level programming's shut down, Jake can't control the nanites any more than Dumont's program can. He can't shut them down." He broke into a grin, and Annie felt like her internal organs were liquefying with relief.
"Shit," she said, looking at Auggie's face. He looked pale and sick, his mouth messy with drying blood, but he was breathing, he was alive. They were all alive.
Auggie's eyes moved under the lids, his breathing almost clear now, and Duarte suddenly grabbed Annie's arm.
"He's waking up," he said. "Annie, we have to move."
Annie stared at him, not understanding for a moment. Then she remembered what healing meant: it meant no more emergency, no more critical mass. It meant Auggie was gone again.
She struggled to her feet, diving for the gun she'd abandoned on the floor, grabbing it without breaking her stride. Behind her, she heard Auggie shift. They had to go.
You'll be OK, she thought, not daring to take the time to glance back. I promise, we'll make this OK.
And they ran.
Annie lost count of the number of turns they made into almost identical concrete-floored corridors. She hoped they weren't somehow doubling back on themselves, but after ten minutes of running, she was pretty sure that Duarte didn't have any more idea where they were going than she did. And hey, it wasn't that she disliked running, but suit pants weren't really ideal for cardio. Duarte made another left turn, and she turned with him, grabbing his arm as they rounded the corner and pulling them both flat against the wall.
"What are you doing?" Duarte asked.
"We can't just keep running," Annie said. "We need a plan."
"Great," Duarte said. "I'm thinking get back to the mine and regroup."
Annie shook her head. "Too risky," she said. "The longer we're out here, the more time Dumont has to screw with us. We need to get Auggie back."
"You heard what he said," Duarte said. "We can't reprogram him without getting his blood. And getting his blood means getting close to him, which lately seems to mean getting our necks snapped."
Annie shook her head. "Then we have to knock him out somehow," she said.
"How?" Duarte said. "Shoot him again?"
A thought clicked into place in Annie's head. "No," she said. "I think there's another way."
Duarte raised his eyebrows at her, and she felt a smile form on her lips. "Dumont likes pushing buttons, right?" she said. "Well, two can play at that game."
The room with the electromagnet was just as Annie remembered, only this time, her mind was clearer, this time she understood what was going on. As she pushed the door open, she had a momentary flash of what would have happened if Dumont had been right, if she had been filled with thousands of tiny machines when the magnet turned on. She pushed it away. There was no time for what if.
Annie took three steps inside the room and stopped, feeling the back of her throat go dry. Something hard and cold was pressed against her temple, and she'd been in this situation often enough before to know that it was the barrel of a gun.
"Annie Walker," said Dumont's voice from behind her. "I wondered if I would see you again."
Annie took a deep breath, raising her hands. All her attention focussed on the gun, the unyielding pressure, the fact that she knew the the man holding it would pull the trigger without giving it a second thought if she took one wrong step. It felt like everything in her life had been leading up to this moment, and it was clear now that coffee had nothing to do with it, that there was nothing random about this at all. She'd given Dumont all the power he needed, and it was up to her to make sure he used it the way she wanted him to.
"I'm glad I found you," she said.
"Really." Dumont didn't sound convinced. "To be honest, I thought Jake would find you. Guess being blind really does suck."
"He did find me," Annie said. "I killed him."
There was a pause, and then the pressure of the gun disappeared, a phantom coldness still digging into Annie's skin. Dumont appeared in front of her, gun aimed at her chest. "How?" he said.
Annie glanced sideways at the dried blood that coated her hands. Auggie's blood. "You were right," she said.
"About what?" Dumont's eyes were narrowed.
"Everything." Annie swallowed. "I do have nanites. That's how I was able to kill him. They're more advanced than his."
Triumph twitched at the corners of Dumont's lips. "I knew it," he said.
"And you were right about... about me being owned," Annie said. "I was OK with it for a while, but when I saw what they did to Jake..." she let her voice trail off, shifting her weight like she was nervous. Which actually didn't require a whole lot of acting talent on her part, but whatever. "I don't think I can live like that. Die like that."
Dumont was nodding. "I knew from the moment I read your file," he said. "Jake was always a drone, even before he had the nanites, but you. All that time travelling, completely free, and then you sign on to be a puppet for the Man? I don't think so." He was full-on smirking now. Annie really hoped she would get to punch him in the face before all this was over. "We have a lot in common, Annie Walker."
"So what happens now?" Annie asked, trying to ignore the way her stomach felt greasy at his last words. "Can you find a way to hide me?"
"Hide you?" Dumont shook his head. "Oh, Annie. They've really got inside your head, haven't they?" He took a step closer, not lowering the gun, but she saw that he was holding something else, now, something small and black that looked a lot like the device he'd used in the mine. Bingo. "Think about it. You're the world's most advanced human being. The next step in evolution. Why would you want to hide?"
"The CIA-" Annie started, but Dumont laughed.
"They're insects," he said. "They have this technology, this spectacular creation, and they use it for, what? Secret assassinations? Maintaining the status quo? They've built a society based on fear, but you don't have to be afraid any more."
Annie stared at him, thinking fast. Dumont was crazy, frightening, but he wasn't irrational. She could use that. She would use it.
"One person against the entire government?" she said. "Come on, Dumont."
Dumont's smirk faded slightly. "I thought you would have more imagination than that," he said. "This isn't about running some pathetic clandestine operation to take down the CIA. This is about a new world order, Annie." He gestured with the device, and Annie watched it, straining her ears for any sound in the corridor. "It's going to be a whole new ball game and people like you and me? We're going to be the ones calling the shots."
Annie shook her head. "How? I can't just give you the nanites."
"O ye of little faith," Dumont said. "All I need is some of your blood. You'll do that for me, won't you?" He glanced towards the corner of the room, and Annie followed his eyes, noticed a computer surrounded by detritus, test tubes, hypodermic syringes. She swallowed and nodded. Somewhere in the distance, she heard the sound of footsteps.
Dumont was moving backward toward the computer, gun still trained on her, and Annie counted in her head, listening to the footsteps coming closer, moving fast, running. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi.
"There's just one more thing," she said, and Dumont frowned at her.
"What?" he asked, and Annie knew that he must have heard the footsteps by now.
"This," she said, and launched herself forward, tackling Dumont around the waist. The gun went off, but Annie knew she was well under the firing line, and then both of them were falling, and for a second she thought she'd miscalculated, that he wasn't going to use the device on her, that they would have to shoot Auggie after all.
Then there was a blinding pain in her head, and she almost wished it hadn't worked after all.
Somehow she managed to roll off Dumont, curling herself round, fists in her hair, eyes squeezed shut. She was aware of noises outside her head - yelling, a gunshot - but none of it was important. The only important thing was that something was turning her brain inside out, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Bright blotches sparkled on the backs of her eyelids, and she felt herself begin to pass out.
And then someone was shaking her, hard. "Annie," said a voice, echoing and unclear, like the speaker was underwater. "There isn't time for this. You need to wake up."
She tried to unstick her eyelids, but the light stabbed through her eyes and into her brain, sharp as glass. "Jesus," she muttered, and the shaking became more insistent.
"I know it hurts, but I don't know how long we have," came the voice - Duarte - and she struggled to put the words together into some kind of meaningful thought. I don't know how long we have. What were they doing? Why was she-
Annie grabbed Duarte's arm and hauled, managing to make it to a sitting position and then pausing, swallowing over and over to try and ride out the nausea. On the third try, she managed to open her eyes. Duarte's face filled her vision, haloed in red, white lights sparkling here and there on his skin.
"...Auggie?" she managed, and Duarte moved aside, grimacing slightly. Beyond him, she saw Auggie in a heap on the floor, like all his strings had been cut. Beyond that was Dumont, unconscious, blood trickling from his nose.
"We have to figure out how to reprogram him before he wakes up," Duarte said. "I don't want to have to knock him out again. If it's affecting you this strongly, who knows what it's doing to him."
Annie blinked a couple times and focussed on breathing in and out. Reprogram. They had to reprogram Auggie.
"OK," she said, voice sounding weak even in her own ears. "Help me up."
Duarte held out an arm, and she leaned on it, pulling herself to her feet. Duarte winced again, and Annie frowned, her eyes travelling up his arm and across to his other shoulder.
"What happened?" she asked, reaching out with the hand that wasn't clutching Duarte's arm, Her own injured shoulder complained, but she ignored it. A little sprain between friends seemed like the worst of their worries right now.
Duarte glanced down at his injury. "Shot," he said. "It's just a graze. Dumont may be the world's greatest hacker, but his aim is terrible."
Annie breathed in, swallowed. The sparkling lights were starting to fade, now, but the pounding pain in her head wasn't going anywhere fast. "You going to be OK?"
"That depends on whether we can reprogram Jake before he tries to rip my head off again," said Duarte. "He nearly caught me when I was leading him here. I didn't think he'd be able to move so fast without being able to see."
Annie started to nod, then stopped when that set off a really unpleasant firework display in her head. "Dumont said that computer could do it," she said, letting go of Duarte's arm. She didn't fall down, which she considered to be a pretty awesome victory right now. As soon as they got out of here, she was going to burn whatever the device was that made her feel this way. Burn it and spread the ashes over the Potomac. Or maybe just burn the ashes again. "We need the blood."
"I got it," said Duarte, starting towards the computer. Halfway there, he stopped, head cocked, listening. "You hear that?"
Annie tried to hear anything through the buzzing in her ears. No go. "What?"
"Someone's coming," said Duarte, and pulled out his gun, headed for the door. Annie tried to remember who else there might be in the building. One of Dumont's goons was dead, but the other one...
"You get the blood," said Duarte, and slipped out of the door. Annie turned, clinging to the table the computer sat on and surveying the wreckage of hypodermics, glassware and unconscious men that lay before her.
"Great," she muttered, and reached for the nearest syringe.
As it turned out, getting the blood out of Auggie was pretty straightforward, even though when Annie leaned down to slide the needle into his arm she thought she might pass out. Figuring out how the blood was supposed to plug into the computer, however, was like some bizarre super-complicated space-age version of those children's games where you slot a shape into the corresponding hole. There was a weird-looking piece of equipment attached via a cable to the main body of the computer, and Annie figured that was probably what she was going for, but she slid the test-tube into five different long, narrow spaces before she found one that clicked. It didn't help that there were definite sounds of a fight outside the door. Duarte could take care of himself, she reminded herself, and just hoped that it was true.
Once the blood was in place, she tapped the keyboard, and the computer screen came to life. This was the part she was pretty much freaked out about, because she wasn't exactly the most tech-savvy person out there. "Dammit, Auggie," she muttered as a prompt appeared on the screen. "I could really use you right now."
New input detected, the prompt informed her. Scan?
She pressed the y key, and the cursor blinked at her for a second before a new prompt appeared. Link created, it read. Press 1 to upload new program. Press 2 to read source. Press 3 to return to factory settings. Press 4 to quit.
Factory settings? Annie held her breath and pressed 3. Nothing happened for a second, then more text unfolded on the screen. Factory settings restored, it read, and then Annie didn't have time to read the rest, because Duarte abruptly reappeared, crashing backwards through the half-open door, landing hard on the floor. Dumont's goon appeared in the doorway, his attention focussed on Duarte for the moment, and Annie ducked behind the computer desk, reaching up to snag the test tube as the goon grabbed Duarte and slammed him against the wall.
Shit. Hands shaking, Annie relaoded the blood in the hypodermic and crawled toward Auggie's prone body, hoping like hell that what she'd done was correct. What did factory settings mean in this case, anyway? What the hell kind of factory made tiny robots that give you super strength?
Duarte was gaining the upper hand as Annie reached Auggie, and she was just about to inkect the blood back into Auggie's arm when he sent Dumont's goon flying. The guy stumbled backward and tripped over Auggie's outstretched legs, landing hard on his ass and blinking, his attention turning to Annie and Auggie for the first time. He growled, getting to his feet, and Annie started to rise, too, ready to defend them both, but Duarte got there first, cannoning into the goon and knocking him off balance again.
"Get him out of the way," he yelled to Annie, and Annie nodded, stowing the blood in her pants pocket and grabbing Auggie under the armpits, dragging him into the shelter of a low-ceilinged corner, just before Duarte went crashing back across the space they'd been in moments before.
"This better work," Annie muttered, keeping one eye on the carnage outside as she retrieved the blood from her pocket. She peered at it a second. It didn't look any different from normal blood. The idea that it was swarming with invisible machines was - well, OK, it was creepy enough that she was going to stop thinking about it now. She shook her head, trying to clear some of the fog that still lingered, and grabbed Auggie's arm, pressing her thumb down on his elbow to bring up a vein. Sliding the needle in, she depressed the plunger and held her breath. What if factory settings was even more homicidal than before? What if it made him into a zombie? What if-
A shadow fell across her, interrupting her thoughts, and she looked up sharply to see Dumont standing in the entryway to the corner she'd found, hand on a lever protruding from the wall, bleeding lips turned up in a grin.
"Nice knowing you, Jake," he said, and that was when Annie realised where she was, where Auggie was.
They were inside the electromagnet.
There wasn't time to think. Annie launched herself at Dumont just as he flipped the switch, the walls beginning to hum around her oh God they're humming oh God, and she made contact a second later, the force of her forward momentum sending Dumont flying. This time, though, Annie didn't keep hold of him, even though all she really wanted to do was pound his head into the concrete floor for what he'd done, for what he'd been doing all along. The humming was ramping up, and Annie grabbed hold of the doorframe, using it as a pivot to arrest her motion and spin her back round, reaching for the lever as her stomach gave an unpleasant lurch and the pain in her head intensified a notch. She slammed her hand down, flipping the switch off, and skidded to her knees beside Auggie as the humming began to die away.
"Auggie," she said. "Auggie." His face was twisted in pain, eyes open now, but glassy, rolling wildly. Oh God.
"Come on," she said. "Come on, talk to me. You're OK. You've got to be OK." Except he didn't have to be OK. Except he'd been reprogrammed and shot and returned to factory settings and hit with a powerful electromagnet, and she had no idea what kind of effect any of that would have on what was inside of him.
But he had to be OK. She'd promised that he would be.
"Auggie," she said again, shaking him a little, and then Auggie blinked, lips moving a little. Outside, there was a noise that sounded like a body hitting a wall, and Annie shook Auggie again.
"Annie?" Auggie said, and if Annie hadn't already been on her knees she might have fallen down with relief.
"Yeah. Yes. Auggie, it's me. Are you OK?"
Auggie's hand found her arm, and he rolled his head to one side, frowning.
"Can I take it from the soundtrack that there's a fist fight going on somewhere nearby?" he said, and Annie felt a smile start to form on her lips.
"That's an accurate summary of the situation," she said.
"Right." Auggie nodded, and used her arm to heave himself into a sitting situation. "Point me at the bad guy."
Annie was all-out grinning now, and she helped Auggie to his feet and guided him forward. Outside the magnet chamber, Duarte was in a heap on the floor, the goon advancing on him, and Annie pointed Auggie in that direction and pushed.
"He's a big guy," she said. "Be careful."
Auggie shot her a grin. "I used to be a cage fighter, you know," he said, and took three steps forward, hands outstretched, until he made contact with the goon's back. The goon span, already swinging, and Auggie took a hard punch to the jaw, staggering back. For a moment, Annie thought they'd made a serious miscalculation, but then Auggie regained his balance and threw his weight forward, ducking under the punch the goon aimed at him like he'd seen it coming, and a moment later he was hoisting the guy into the air and flinging him like he was made of balsa wood.
The goon smacked into the far wall head-first and slid to the floor, lying still.
"He down?" asked Auggie, barely even breathing heavily.
"Looks like," Annie said, already moving toward Duarte. "You OK?"
"Fine," said Auggie, straightening up as Annie helped a groaning Duarte to his feet. "You two?"
"Feel like a truck hit me," said Annie. "That damn tracker has got to go. Duarte?"
Duarte shook his head. His shoulder was bleeding again, and now he had a new collection of fresh bruises to match.
"Where's Dumont?" he asked.
Annie turned, scanning the room. Shit. "He's gone," she said. She tried to calculate how long it was since she'd tackled him, but time wasn't reliable when every second was a life-or-death situation. "He could be anywhere by now."
"We've got to find him," Duarte said, but Auggie shook his head.
"No," he said. "We've got to get out of here."
"Jake-" Duarte said, but Auggie held up his hand.
"I know, OK?" he said. "I know it's not safe to leave him out there. But you two sound like you've been ten rounds with Godzilla, and Dumont knows all my weaknesses. We were lucky this time. Next time one of us is going to end up dead. We'll call the Russians as soon as we get out, but right now, we need to go."
Duarte looked like he was going to argue, but then he sighed, wincing a little. "OK," he said.
"All right," Auggie said. "Where's the computer?"
Annie guided him to it, and he stood for a moment, hands pressed to the hard-drives, face taking on a far-away look. Then he nodded.
"Got everything," he said. "Kill it."
Annie took particular pleasure in dragging the equipment over to the electromagnetic chamber and turning it on. When the humming reached full power, she turned to Auggie and Duarte.
"Let's go," she said.
They'd been on the move for maybe ten minutes when Duarte dropped. One minute he was heading up the group, using the compass to find the main exit, the next he was on the ground, like all the bones in his body had suddenly melted.
Annie stopped moving, tugging on Auggie's arm. "Auggie," she said, but Auggie had already stopped.
"I heard," he said. "He OK?"
Stepping forward, Annie dropped into a crouch, checking Duarte's pulse. "He's breathing," she said. "He took a few knocks to the head. Plus, he was shot."
"Shot?" Auggie said. "When were you planning on telling me that?"
"I didn't-" said Annie, but Auggie was shaking his head, moving carefully toward her.
"Never mind," he said. "We can have the argument about intra-agency communication later. Preferably with beer." He bent at the knees, groping hands finding Duarte's body. "Much as I love office politics, I'm kind of busy running for my life right now."
"Can't you just, like," Annie waved her hands over Duarte's body. "I don't know, heal him or something?"
Auggie frowned. "Heal him?"
"You know, with your cyborg powers," said Annie, and Auggie's frown turned incredulous.
"I'm not a cyborg," he said. "And nanites don't exactly come equipped with tiny ace bandages and supplies of penicillin, so no, I can't heal him." He found Duarte's torso and picked him up, straightening and throwing Duarte's body over his shoulder like it was a sack of potatoes. A really, really light sack of potatoes.
Annie stood up too. "You totally are a cyborg," she said.
Auggie rolled his eyes. "Let's leave the exact definition of what I am until I get that beer," he said, and presented his arm to Annie. "Come with me if you want to live."
There were two jeeps parked outside the north entrance of the factory. Auggie handed Annie a switchblade, and she jimmied her way into the first with no issues.
"Hotwire first," said Auggie, laying Duarte in the back. "Slash the tires of the other one after."
Annie nodded and reached under the dash, wrenching on the plastic until it gave way. She found the right wires without too much trouble, and she was beginning to think they were going to get clear away when Auggie slid into the seat next to her, face set.
"Someone's coming," he said, and a second later the factory door swung open. Annie cursed and redoubled her efforts, the engine coughing into life just as Dumont's goon appeared.
"Go," said Auggie, "go," and Annie wrenched the steering wheel round, turning in a tight circle as gunfire exploded around the tires.
"Duarte said there was an airfield north-east of the mine," she said, flipping the headlights on to high beam and flooring the gas.
"Great," said Auggie. "You think you can find it?"
"Guess we'll find out." Annie swerved to avoid a tree looming out of the darkness. Behind her, the headlights of the other jeep burst into life. "Maybe we should've slashed the tires first."
"Maybe we should've just set fire to it," Auggie said, grunting as a particularly sharp turn threw him against the door.
"Sorry, sorry," said Annie, hoping the fact that the road was leading north-east was a good sign.
"Not a problem," said Auggie, fumbling for the seatbelt. "Remind me never to get in a car with you again, by the way."
"Hey, it's not like you could do any better," Annie said, and then they were through the trees and driving on cracked asphalt, the headlights illuminating a broad stretch of flat land and a small jet. "Oh, thank God," said Annie, stamping on the brakes and sending Auggie flying into the dash.
"I take it we're here," he said.
"Come on," Annie replied, flinging her door open and jumping out. The headlights behind them were still in among the trees, but they were coming up fast. By the time Annie was round the jeep, Auggie was already out and lifting Duarte's unconscious body.
"There's a plane?" he said, and Annie grabbed his hand and tugged him over to the sleek grey jet, steps already set up beside it.
"How are we going to get in?" she asked, but the door yielded when she turned the handle. Which was weird, if you thought about it, but Annie didn't have time to think. She half-sprinted into the cockpit, sliding into the pilot's seat while Auggie stowed Duarte in the back.
"OK," she said, and then frowned. Huh. This wasn't at all like the set up of the flight simulator she'd practised on at the Farm. For one thing, all the dials and readouts were missing, replaced by a large LCD screen and a keyboard.
Computers. Annie would actually be pretty happy if she never had to deal with them again. It turned out, finding out her friend was part-machine was enough to make her into a candidate for the next Unabomber. She shook her head and pressed the enter key.
Enter Password, read the screen, and Annie stared at the blinking cursor. Password? What kind of plane has a password?
There was the sound of screeching brakes from outside, and Auggie slid into the seat beside her. "I don't want to hurry you or anything," he said, "but I'm pretty sure there are guys with guns headed this way."
Shit. Annie typed the first word she could think of, hoping like hell that getting it wrong wouldn't blow up the plane or something. The screen went blank for a second, and Annie closed her eyes and wondered if she would see her life flash before her eyes, and if so, whether there was any way she could skip ninth grade.
Nothing happened. Annie opened her eyes again. There was a new message on the screen. Press Enter to start engines.
"Uh," said Auggie. "I was serious about the guys with guns, by the way."
Annie lunged forward, slamming her finger on the enter key so hard she was surprised she didn't break it. The engines hummed into life and Annie gave it as much gas as she could, ducking instinctively as a bullet whined past the fuselage.
"Hold on," she said to Auggie, and pulled back on the controls, lifting the nose of the plane off the ground. Another bullet ricocheted off the landing gear, setting the plane slightly at an angle as it lifted off the ground, and Annie fought to right it even as she was pulling up as sharply as she could.
And then they were in the air, banking steeply above the battered runway and heading out over the endless black of the forest. The only signs of human life were the two sets of headlights below, and even they were quickly swallowed up amongst the trees.
"We made it," Auggie said, and Annie breathed out. The giant screen was full of digital readouts: altitude, speed, direction, position. Everything was within safe parameters.
They made it.
"Scandinavia's a lot more exciting than I gave it credit for," she said, and Auggie snorted.
"Fjords, elk, crazy megalomaniacal hackers," he said. "I'm amazed it's not tourist destination of the year."
Annie grinned, feeling the nausea that came after way too much adrenaline. They were alive, and she really wanted to just concentrate on that fact and be happy, but now that they had space to breathe, everything else was crowding in on her. Auggie wasn't Auggie - or he was, but he was Jake as well. Ben was a rogue CIA agent. Joan and Arthur were using her. Nothing was the same as it had been when she'd flown into Helsinki just a few days before.
"You OK?" Auggie asked, and Annie glanced over at him. His head was turned in her direction, eyes squinting half-closed like he did when he was concerned, like he was straining to see inside her head.
"Yeah," Annie said. "I just..." She turned back to face front, glancing at the readouts on the screen. "I don't know if I can go back, you know? I mean, how do I work there every day, knowing what I know now?"
Auggie paused before answering. "Maybe you can't," he said. "You're the only one who can make that decision. But you're a good agent, Annie. I'd hate to lose you."
Annie shook her head. "I'm not an agent," she said. "I'm just bait."
"No," Auggie said, hand reaching out for her, settling on her shoulder. "You're not. You don't have to be what they think you are. The only thing that's changed about you is how much you know."
Annie bit her lip, grateful for the warmth of Auggie's hand, but not convinced. Auggie sighed.
"Listen," he said, shifting slightly in his seat so his whole body was turned towards her. "Intelligence agencies are dirty places full of dirty people. There are two things you need to do to survive."
Shaking her head a little, Annie glanced at him again. "What two things?"
"Number one," said Auggie holding up a finger, "you need to know what they have on you. And number two," a second finger, "you need to remember who you were before you signed up."
Annie let that sink in for a moment. "That's all?" she said. "Just two things?"
"Well," Auggie said, grinning a little, "a healthy disregard for following orders doesn't go amiss, either."
"Right," said Annie. "So, I'm assuming Joan doesn't know you're here?"
"I'm not here," said Auggie. "I'm sick. Don't I look sick?"
Annie looked over at him. His upper lip and chin were dark with dried blood, his tattered shirt stiff with it. "Actually, you look like hell," she said.
"Hey, no fair picking on the guy who can't use a mirror," said Auggie, squeezing her shoulder lightly, and Annie grinned and was reaching out to give him an answering squeeze on the arm when something on the computer screen caught her attention.
"Uh, Auggie?" she said.
"What?" Auggie caught the worried note in her voice and sat up straighter. "What is it?"
"It's the numbers," Annie said. "They've gone haywire."
"Haywire?" Auggie reached out a hand, fingers finding the screen. "Wait, the plane's computerised? What numbers?"
"All of them," Annie said, staring as the numbers changed rapidly on the screen. "Everything that tells me where we are, where we're going, how high we are. I'm flying blind."
"Can't you just look out of the window?" Auggie asked, grabbing the dash.
"It's night time," said Annie.
"Oh." Auggie's fingers flexed on the dash, and then a frown of concentration spread across his face. Annie found herself gripping the controls so hard she thought the plastic might crack. This part of Scandinavia was pretty flat, right? Pretty flat. It was really pretty unlikely that they were going to fly into a mountain. It'd have to be an undiscovered mountain, and the chances of that happening were - well, Annie didn't know what they were, and she didn't really have the mental space for statistics right now anyway. The point was, as long as she kept them level-
"It's a virus," said Auggie, blinking and pulling his hands away from the dash like they'd been burned. "Dumont. Was there a password to get into the system?"
"Um, yeah," said Annie, feeling her palms slipping slightly on the controls, slick with sweat. "But I just entered password and it worked, so-"
"Password?" said Auggie, voice rising sharply. "Dumont's one of the best hackers in the world, his password isn't going to be password."
"It worked," said Annie, feeling the nausea in her stomach ramp up.
"Apparently not," said Auggie, hands going back to the dash. "He must've booby trapped it in case it got stolen. Great way to make sure thieves don't get away with it."
"Great way to lose a plane," Annie said, feeling sweat start to trickle down her neck. How fast were they travelling? God, she hoped she was right about the mountains.
"Yeah, well, Dumont's not exactly hurting for money to buy new planes," said Augge, and then shook his head. "I can't fix the connections, the virus burned them out." He took a deep breath and his face took on a faraway look that was starting to become unpleasantly familiar.
"What are you doing?" Annie asked.
"Looking for a radar station that's tracking us," Auggie said, the lines on his face tightening. "If I can grab the data from their computer and feed it to this one..." he trailed off, jaw clamping shut.
"Can you even do that?" said Annie. "It's gotta be miles away. Oh, hey, it's working."
Auggie didn't reply. The numbers on the screen had returned to something approaching normality, but blood was oozing from his nose again. No, not oozing, flowing. Hell, maybe even gushing. Shit. Annie started searching frantically for a place to land, but there was nothing, just trees and trees and more freaking trees. What she wouldn't give for some napalm right now.
"Auggie," she said, turning the plane to head north. Northern Scandinavia was just bare tundra, right? No trees there. "Auggie, come on, talk to me, let me know you're still in there."
There was no answer, and Annie felt her own jaw tightening. She couldn't fly the plane without Auggie doing what he was doing, but at the same time, she was pretty sure that friends don't let friends bleed out through the nose while their brain gets eaten alive by microscopic machines. One thing she was definitely sure of: life had been a hell of a lot simpler before she'd know what nanites meant.
As it turned out, Dumont's virus made the choice for her. Flying using the numbers that Auggie was projecting onto the screen would maybe have worked out just fine, if it hadn't been for the fact that, ten minutes later, the controls started to seize up. At first, Annie thought they were just a little stiff, but as she tugged on them with increasing desperation it became clear that she wasn't in control of the plane any more. And whatever was in control was apparently a big fan of hitting the ground at high speeds.
"Shit," she said, turning to Auggie. He was still blank-faced, fingers white on the dash, but now he was bleeding from the ears as well oh God what was going on, and Annie shook him a little by the shoulders, yelling his name.
"Auggie," she said, trying for the commanding tone Mom used to use, the one Danielle could bring up without any effort at all. She sounded more terrified than authoritative, though. Maybe that gene only switched on when you got pregnant. "Come on," she said, grabbing one of Auggie's hands and trying to pry his fingers away from the dash. "You're scaring me, here."
Her efforts didn't get very far: Auggie's hands might as well have been welded to the plane for all the give in them, and the muscles in his arms were corded tight, like steel. Hell, for all she knew, he had an adamantium endoskeleton to go with the computer enhanced nervous system. One thing she did know, though, was that blood was starting to trickle out of Auggie's eyes like tears, and she was not OK with that, not OK at all.
"OK, that's it," she muttered, and pulled back as far as she could in the narrow space of the cockpit, slugging Auggie full in the face. His head snapped back and then dropped forward, hands coming off the dash to clutch at his temples.
"Frr," he said, and one hand groped out, grabbing Annie's arm, fingers locking around her wrist. "Gonna pass out."
"No," she said. "Auggie, no, I need you to stay awake. We're going to have to jump."
Auggie didn't respond for a long moment, his mouth hanging open slightly. She was just wondering whether she should hit him again when he blinked.
"We're still on the plane?" he said.
Shit. Whatever it was he'd been doing with the computer, it had messed him up more than she'd realised. "Yeah, Auggie," she said, trying to keep her voice patient. "We're on the plane, and we're going to have to jump off it. I need you to stay conscious long enough to pull the cord on your parachute, OK?"
No response. Annie waited as long as she could, but she could feel the plane losing altitude. It was going to crash whatever happened - the only thing she could control was whether the three of them were on board when it did.
"OK," she said, squeezing Auggie's hand. "I'll be back."
Finding the parachutes wasn't hard. The tricky thing was that there were three of them on the plane, but only two of them were conscious, and to be honest, even that was pushing it a little. She strapped one chute to herself, hoping like hell that Duarte would come around before they had to jump, and then took a second through to Auggie in the cockpit.
"Here," she said, trying to manipulate his arms into the straps, but after a second or two Auggie started to help her out, his movements clumsy and sluggish, but purposeful. Annie glanced out of the windshield, shuddering at the thought that for all she could see out there, the ground could be five miles or twenty feet away.
"Kyle," said Auggie.
"He's still out," Annie said. "I'll strap him to my chest."
Auggie nodded and struggled to his feet, staggering back into the passenger section of the plane. Annie followed, almost falling as the wings tipped left. By the time she'd righted herself, Auggie had the door open and was standing in front of her, hand reaching out to grip her wrist.
"Promise me," he said, words still slurred. "No hospitals. No Diane."
"What?" Annie stared at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Promise," Auggie said, squeezing her wrist so tight that the bones grated together.
"Ow, Jesus," Annie said, trying to pull her hand away. "OK, OK, I promise!"
Nodding again, Auggie took two steps back and bent down, scooping Duarte off the floor, arms locked around his ribcage.
"Hey!" Annie yelled over the roar of the wind blowing through the open door, but Auggie had already taken the final step and was gone. Annie ran to the doorway, trying not to think about how out of it he'd been, trying not to imagine what would happen if he passed out en route to the grounf before he had a chance to pull his chute-
-down below, the starlight glinted off something large and white and billowy, and Annie closed her eyes for a second in relief.
Then she jumped.
Landing was Annie's least favourite part of skydiving, but to be honest, this entire mission had pretty much been a showcase Annie's least favourite parts of life. At least the ground was relatively soft and she managed not to get too tangled in the trees. More importantly, she was no longer tied up listening to a ranting lunatic, or hiding in an abandoned uranium mine, or on board a falling plane. Relatively speaking, she was doing pretty damn well.
She found Auggie and Duarte a few hundred yards from her landing site in a heap of parachute silk and passed out spooks. Both of them were alive and stable, as far as she could tell, and so she moved them to more comfortable-looking positions and covered them with the parachute before making a fire and collecting some water from the nearby lake. When all the immediate issues were taken care of, she sat and watched for the eastern sky to start to get light.
It had been a really long night.
Duarte woke up just as the sky was starting to get light. Annie was semi-dozing herself, chin on her chest, when she was snapped to wakefulness by a hand landing on her shoulder and found herself looking up into a pare of pale green eyes.
"Easy," said Duarte. "It's just me."
Annie sagged a little. She was stiff and sore from sitting up all night - well, actually, she was probably mainly stiff and sore from being used as a punching bag by at least four different people in the last twenty-four hours, but who was counting, right? - and talking seemed like it required more energy than she really had to spare right now. Duarte dropped down across from her and stirred the embers of the fire with a pine branch.
"Guess the getaway didn't go quite the way we planned it, huh?" he said.
Annie shrugged. Duarte shifted a little. "Where's the plane?"
"Scattered across the country in a thousand pieces by now," said Annie.
Duarte nodded, like that was only to be expected. "And Jake?"
"Sleeping," Annie said. "He used the nanites. I don't really know if he's OK." She didn't bother telling Duarte all the thoughts she'd had about brain damage. She was sure he could fill in the gaps for himself.
Duarte sighed. "Damn nanites," he said. "I should call Diane."
"No," said Annie, and Duarte looked at her, eyebrows raised.
"No?" he said.
"I promised him I wouldn't let you," she said.
Duarte frowned. "That's ridiculous. She could help."
Annie shook her head. "It's what he wants."
Duarte was quiet for a long moment, poking at the fire. Finally, he looked over at her. "You're a CIA agent, though, right?" he said. "Promises shouldn't mean a lot to you."
Annie shrugged. She didn't have the energy to argue, or even to get angry. "If that's what you think, you can always wrestle me for the cell phone," she said.
Duarte regarded her for a moment, then looked away. Annie nodded. "There's no reception anyway," she said.
A smile twitched at the corners of Duarte's mouth. Annie watched it, thinking about all the history she was only just beginning to see, about Duarte and Jake and this Diane person. "What's she like?" she asked, without really meaning to say it out loud. "I mean, you talk about her a lot."
"Diane?" Duarte asked, and when Annie nodded, he blew out a breath. "She's - a good person. She cares for Jake a lot. Cared, I guess." He sighed. "I'm glad she left the agency when she did. It wasn't right for her."
Annie caught an undertone in that and felt her eyes narrowing. "Do you think I should leave the agency?" she said.
Duarte met her eyes. "I think I'm glad Jake's got you watching his back," he said.
Annie remembered what Auggie had said in the plane. You have to know what they have on you. Now she knew. Hell, now she knew more than the agency did, about some things at least. Somehow, it didn't make her feel any more secure, but then, maybe secure was exactly the way she shouldn't feel if she was going to be a good agent. You can never trust anyone.
"Do you think he's happy?" Duarte asked, and Annie blinked.
"Who?" she said.
"Jake," Duarte said. "Auggie."
Annie thought about it. Auggie was usually light-hearted and definitely enjoyed the pleasures of life. But was he happy? "I don't know," she said. "Was he happy before? Is he so different?"
Duarte looked away. "Yeah," he said. "He's - more cynical. More confident." He shrugged. "He's still Jake."
Auggie was still Jake. But Jake was never Auggie. Annie shook her head. "Was he really bad with women?" she asked, and Duarte really did smile now.
"Oh my God," he said. "It was painful."
"Hey," Auggie called out from where he was lying a little way beyond the fire. "You guys do remember that I have super hearing, right?"
Scrambling to her feet, Annie hurried over to him, Duarte not far behind. "Auggie," she said, dropping to her knees beside him and helping him to sit up. "How do you feel?"
Auggie grimaced. "Like my head got run over by the space shuttle," he said, scrubbing at the dried blood on his cheeks.
Annie exchanged a glance with Duarte. "Do you know what year it is?" she asked.
The scrubbing motion stopped. "Two thousand ten," said Auggie. "And the president's Barack Obama. I'd tell you my name, but that's actually kinda complicated."
Annie let out her breath. "You suck," she said, batting Auggie lightly on the arm. "You are so not allowed to come out in the field with me ever again."
"Oh, come on," said Auggie. "You need a little potential brain damage now and then. Otherwise life gets boring."
Rolling her eyes, Annie helped Auggie to his feet. "Where are we?" he asked, turning slowly.
"If the readings the computer gave me just before we bailed out were right, we're in northern Finland," Annie said. "There's a village ten miles or so south of here and a town three miles north west."
"We should split up," Duarte said. "I'll take the village. Annie, you take Jake to the town."
"It's Auggie," said Auggie, and Duarte paused in the act of kicking out the fire.
"You'll always be Jake to me," he said.
"Jake's dead," Auggie said, and Duarte straightened up.
"I know," he said.
It didn't take long for them to collect up the few things they had, hide the parachute and scatter the remains of the fire. Actually, it probably took longer than it needed to - Annie got the impression that both Duarte and Auggie were stalling. Finally, they were done, though, and the three of them stood awkwardly in the little clearing, waiting for someone to speak first.
Annie always did suck at uncomfortable silences. "Goodbye, Kyle," she said, holding out her hand. "I'm sorry I didn't trust you."
Duarte smiled and took her hand, then pulled her into a hug. "You had your reasons," he said. "Dumont got inside your head. We've all been there."
"I wish I could punch his smug face," Annie said, and Dumont snorted.
"Yeah, we've all been there, too," he said.
Annie pulled back from the hug, and Auggie took a step forward.
"Kyle," he said, and cleared his throat. "It was good to see you again."
"You, too," Duarte said. "I'm glad you're not dead."
Auggie grinned a little at that, hugging Duarte briefly but hard.
"We'll stay in touch," Duarte said, and Auggie's grin faded.
"No," he said. "We won't."
Duarte hesitated, then nodded.
"No," he said. "I guess not." He stood for just a second longer, looking at Auggie like he couldn't really figure out what he was seeing. Then he turned and walked away.
They stood there until Annie could no longer see Duarte and - presumably - Auggie could no longer hear him. Then Annie shifted her weight and sighed.
"We should go," she said.
"Right," Auggie replied, presenting his arm to her. She took it, and they started walking. "I ever tell you about the time I shot Kyle?" Auggie said, just as they were stepping in among the trees.
"You shot him?" Annie said.
"Yep," said Auggie, half-grinning. "Right in the gut."
Annie wiped her free hand on her pants, even though the last traces of Auggie's blood were ground into the creases in her skin and under her fingernails and weren't coming off without industrial cleanser. "Was he mad?"
"No, not mad," Auggie said. "Sore, but not mad." He was still smiling, but there was something wistful about it. "That was supposed to be a funny story," he said. "Guess it didn't work out."
Annie smiled. "He was a good friend to you, wasn't he?" she said.
"Best I ever had," Auggie said, then put a hand over hers on his arm. "One of the best."
They walked in silence for a little way, Annie thinking about Auggie shooting Duarte, about her shooting Auggie, about the way she'd almost let them all get killed by trusting what she was seeing and hearing rather than what she was told. And then again, Auggie had said you can never trust anyone. Which was right? She blew out her breath, and Auggie turned his head slightly at the sound.
"Something wrong?" he said.
"No, nothing." Annie said. "Just... I'm sorry for shooting you."
Auggie raised his eyebrows. "Are you sorry for saving all our lives?" he asked, and Annie shook her head.
"Is that really what I did?" she said, trying to put her thoughts into some kind of coherent order. "I mean, you said I shouldn't trust anyone, but then I trusted you. And I tried not to trust Duarte, but then I let him talk me into shooting you. I feel like I'm doing it all wrong." She ran her free hand through her hair, tugging at the tangles viciously. "Do you really think I'm cut out for this?"
Auggie was silent a moment or two before answering. "You remember what I told you on the plane?" he said, finally. "The two things you need to survive at the agency?"
"Yeah," Annie said. "Know what they have on you and remember who you were before you signed up."
Auggie nodded. "I think you're a lot better at that second one than I am," he said.
Annie blinked. That wasn't what she'd been expecting. Huh.
They walked on a little way, the only sound the whispering of their footsteps on the thick carpet of pine needles. It was cool, even though it was still summer, and Annie's breath smoked in the air. Who had she bee, before the CIA, before Auggie and Joan and Jai and before anyone had ever taken a shot at her and before she'd known that Ben Mercer was anything other than a beach bum who'd left her without an explanation?
She'd been Annie. Not the same Annie, but not so different, either. And maybe she could never be that Annie again - not with everything that had happened to her - but she could make sure that she didn't drift too far away. That was something she could do.
"So, who were you?" she asked finally. "Before you signed up, I mean."
"I was Jake Foley," Auggie said.
That wasn't what Annie expected either, although if she'd thought about it, it should have been. How long would it be before she automatically remembered that Auggie hadn't always been Auggie, before she could associate that past with him without it feeling alien? Maybe it would never happen. In some ways, she hoped it wouldn't.
"Hey, can I ask you a favour?" she said.
"Sure," said Auggie.
"No more secrets?" Annie said.
Auggie slowed and then halted, turning toward her, hands finding her shoulders.
"You know I can't promise you that, Annie," he said, and Annie felt her shoulders sag a little, even though this time she had mostly been expecting it. "But I can promise that I'll always be on your side. I hope that's enough."
Annie stood for a moment, scraping together the energy she had left, then nodded, taking Auggie's arm and setting off again. "It's enough," she said, and she was surprised to find out that it was true.
After a moment, Auggie sighed. "I know I don't deserve this," he said, "but can I ask you a favour?"
Annie smiled. "Anything," she said.
The house was set a little way back from the gravel road, tucked in among the North Carolina beech trees. It was new enough that it looked weather-proof, but old enough to almost seem like it had grown there, bleached wooden boards blending in with the grey tree trunks, wrap-around porch twined with every kind of vegetation. Annie climbed the steps to the front door, noting the battered car half-hidden behind the house. Somebody was home.
She knocked and waited. In fact, she'd been waiting so long that she was beginning to think whoever was inside was hiding from her when finally the door swung open and a woman appeared in the doorway frowning out at her through a mess of curly hair and black-rimmed glasses.
"Can I help you?" she said.
"Oh, hi!" said Annie, trying out her biggest smile. "I'm really sorry to bother you, but I'm just visiting for the weekend and they told me in town you were a doctor?"
The woman's frown deepened. "A doctor?" she said.
"Yeah! You're Diane, right?" said Annie, and when the woman nodded, she rolled her shoulders a little. "See, I wrenched my shoulder about a week ago, and it feels a little twingey, and to be honest, I just wanted to get it checked out before driving all the way back to DC. I know it's an imposition, but if you wouldn't mind helping me out?"
The woman blinked a couple times, pushing her glass back up her nose. "Oh, well, I'm not exactly - I mean, yes, I'm a medical doctor, but I'm more of a researcher, really, so..." She trailed off and stepped back from the door. "You'd better come in," she said.
The inside of the house was just as homey as the outside, the floor well-kept boards and rag rugs, the walls lined with photographs. There was a framed diploma on one wall, Diane Hughes printed in the centre in flowing Gothic script. Next to it was a photo of a man with messy hair grinning at the camera. Annie took a long look at it and bit her lip.
"So, it'll probably be fine if you just put a little ice-" Diane said, coming through from the kitchen and pausing in the doorway, brandishing a towel and an ice-cube tray. Annie plastered her smile back on and waved her hand at the photo.
"Oh, hey, I think I know this guy!" she said, and Diane frowned, taking a couple of steps forward and checking which photo she meant. "I mean, I used to know him. He was my brother's room-mate at Georgetown. Jack something, right?"
"Jake," said Diane, blinking rapidly.
"Yeah, that's right," Annie said. "What's he up to now? Oh my God, you two aren't-" she made a vague gesture, and Diane shook her head, curls flying.
"No, no," she said. "Actually, he's, uh." She looked away. "He's dead."
Annie didn't have to fake remorse. Sometimes this job sucked. "Oh God, I'm so sorry," she said. "How did he die?"
Diane closed her eyes for a second. "Saving lives," she said. "That was his job. Saving lives." She looked up, meeting Annie's gaze, almost defiant.
"Like a firefighter or something?" Annie asked.
"Or something," said Diane, and Annie decided that was it. Enough was enough.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I totally didn't mean to upset you. I need to learn when to shut the hell up."
"No," Diane said, putting the ice and towel down on a little table. "It's - I mean, it's kind of nice to talk about him, you know? I don't really know anyone now who knew him, and-" She shook her head. "I mean, when it happened, I thought I would never be OK again. And now - it's different. It doesn't hurt the same way any more." She shot Annie a worried look. "Do you think that's bad?"
Annie smiled. "I think it's what he'd want for you," she said, and Diane smiled too, her chin trembling a little.
"So," said Annie, and made her way to the couch, plopping down and patting the seat next to her. "Tell me all about Jake."
Finding Auggie in the CIA headquarters was sometimes a little tricky. Oh, sure, he was in his office a lot of the time, but he had a sneaky tendency of disappearing just when there was a tedious job to be done that was way beneath his level of expertise. Annie still hadn't figured out all the places he holed up in, but on Monday evening, a little over a week after she'd returned from Helsinki, she found him sitting on the bench by the fountain, staring morosely toward the water.
"Hey," she said, setting herself down next to him. "I thought this was my place for moping."
"Just keeping it warm for you," said Auggie. "How was your weekend?"
"Pretty awesome, actually," Annie said. "I went out to North Carolina, met this amazing woman. She's a doctor, but she mainly teaches at the university in Chapel Hill. Spends her summers in this beautiful house in the woods. It's like paradise out there."
"Sounds like a nice life," Auggie said. "You think it makes her happy?"
Annie thought about it. "Yeah," she said. "I think it does."
Auggie nodded, half-smiling. "Good," he said. "That's good."
"You know," said Annie, putting a hand on Auggie's arm. "You should really come out there with me next time I go. I'm sure she'd love to meet you."
Auggie sat still for a moment, then rose to his feet, Annie's hand slipping from his arm. "Jake Foley's dead," he said, his face turned away from her. "And he's going to stay that way."
Annie sighed and stood up, too. That was a battle for another time, and one she wasn't even sure she wanted to win. "And what about Auggie Anderson?" she said.
There was a pause, and then Auggie shook his head. "Auggie Anderson is tired and hungry," he said, "and he could really do with a beer."
"Oh really," Annie said, linking her arm through his. "Does that mean you're buying?"
"Hey," Auggie said, the tight lines on his face starting to smooth into a smile, "you never even brought me salted licorice back from Helsinki. You owe me."
"Oh, come on," Annie said. "I shot you in the chest and made you jump out of a plane. If anything, you owe me."
Auggie grinned at her. "Huh," he said, setting off toward the building and pulling her along with him. "When you put it like that, I guess I do."