The Rest of the Story
If you don't want to see Auggie and Annie become a couple, stop here.
Somehow he was in Eric's car. He fought off nausea as the smells of old pizza and stale potato chips assaulted him. The roar and squeals and honks of traffic lanced through his ears to stab hot jolts of flame into his brain. In some unknown century the ride eventually ended.
He leaned exhausted against his apartment door as Eric patted at his pockets, found his keys, let them in. The cool quiet of his quarters was like thick, numbing lotion over a terrible sunburn.
He blundered through the front and ran for the bathroom. Crouched over the toilet, he threw up, and threw up, and threw up again. Everything came: the little he had managed to eat, all the coffee and power drinks he had consumed and lots and lots of vile tasting bile. Eric stood by and gave him cold wet towels to wipe his face, baking soda water to rinse his mouth, and said nothing beyond 'take this' or 'give me that'.
When he had gone for a few minutes without another spasm, strong hands eased him to his feet. Could he find the strength to say 'Thank you?' He must have mumbled something because Eric said, "It's okay, buddy. Let's get you to bed."
When his knees hit his bed, he fell onto it, gripping his head with all his strength. He had to clamp his teeth to keep from screaming. He was vaguely aware of Eric tugging at him. The filthy clothes he had worn for days were gone. The sheets were smooth and cool, the blanket warm, and the pillows, the blessed pillows…
"Auggie, where are your meds? Come on, man, I need to find those pills. Help me out here." Apparently Eric had been asking for some time.
"Bathroom, under the sink, way in the back, a square bottle."
Eric was back again. "How many, Aug? I got to know how many." The narcotic was strong, could be deadly. Could he even trust Auggie in this shape to know how many?
"Two, two, please God, two."
The words were slurred, barely audible, but the need seemed so great.
Two pills were pressed into one hand, a glass of cold water into the other. He swallowed greedily, convulsively and collapsed onto the pillows.
In time he became aware of an ice pack wrapped in clean, soft cloth beside his head; he leaned into it. Sleep eased up from behind: slowed the frantically darting of his thoughts, relaxed the quivering limbs. A warm euphoria began to lighten the pain. She was safe.
Barber was careful to clean up behind himself. He knew too well how Auggie felt about messy. He had caught the rough side of his tongue often enough over it.
He washed everything he had used and returned it meticulously to its place. Soiled clothes and towels were picked up from the floor and deposited in the laundry hamper. He set fresh ice water and, after some debate, the vial of pills on the bedside table, then added Auggie's watch and laser cane.
He closed the blinds and turned off the lights, and he carefully set the new locks so that Auggie's door would be secure when he closed it behind himself. He doubled checked once he was outside. His friend was as comfortable and as safe as he could make him. He wasn't the person who could heal the other wounds.
She'd had a shower; her side had been treated, and they had found her clean clothes. She had even slept for a few hours on the plane home, but Annie was still wired when she strode into the office early Saturday morning. She lifted a hand to barely acknowledge the warm calls of welcome back as she headed straight for Auggie's station. It was deserted – clean and neatly arranged with all the equipment turned off and cold. She stopped, stunned. He had to be there!
Alerted by the sudden Eric from the bullpen, Joan stepped out of her office. As one, her staff pointed toward Auggie's area.
"Annie," Joan said, "it's good to have you back."
She swung on her boss, honey hair flying around her shoulders. "Where's Auggie?"
"Annie, listen to me for a minute."
"Where's Auggie, Joan? Tell me about him." It was a clear and urgent demand.
"Auggie is at home; he's very ill." Joan's voice was soft, calm.
Annie spun on her heels and started for the door. Joan caught her arm and held it hard. "Come into my office. There are some things about Auggie you need to know."
Annie frowned but followed. Joan led her into the office and closed the door. "Sit down."
"I have to go. If Auggie's sick, he needs help. He saved my life."
"Sit!" Joan pointed at a chair. "He's saved mine a time or two as well." She let that sink in. "Auggie is sleeping under heavy sedation. He'll hold for a few more minutes. Obviously, you and Auggie have become more to one another than just colleagues. Unlike most businesses, we don't necessarily object to that, but there are some things you need to know before it goes any further."
Annie sank into the chair. "Tell me."
"First, you should know that Auggie called in favors and made deals that he will be months, if not years, paying off. He even spent a sizeable chunk of his own money. It was all done in order to get you safely out of Mexico."
"I didn't know." Annie turned wide, innocent eyes filled with anxiety on her supervisor. She felt Joan had more to say, "And?"
"Auggie was a field agent before Iraq and a damn good one. He still has those skills as well as a whole different set today. That's how he was able to rescue you. But his circumstances are drastically different now."
"I know. He was hurt. He's blind."
"Far more than that, Annie. The blast that blinded him threw him some fifteen feet through the air and slammed him down on iron hard, stony ground. His shoulder was broken, muscles in his back damaged, and he had a major concussion."
Joan closed her eyes for a moment and drew a deep breath. "They pieced and pinned his shoulder back together. He told me once that he had a non-stop, 'blinding' headache for two months after the explosion.
"When the worst of the pain had passed, they started him on intense physical therapy. He worked hard at it. In time, his shoulder recovered strength and flexibility, and his back got better." She hesitated. "Although, I suspect it still bothers him now and then… but… I don't know."
"He still works out every other day," Annie said. "It's a long and tough routine. He's very fit."
"Yes, I know, but some things don't yield so readily to treatment."
There was something unusual in Joan's eyes. Was it pity, or pain, or perhaps … deep and honest sympathy?
"He'll never tell you this, but he still gets fierce migraines when he goes for 24 or 36 hours on some high stress op without sleep or even a decent meal.
"All his missions are vital to him; it's one of the reasons I value him so highly, but I have never seen him like he was over these last three days with you in danger. He was on that line constantly. He refused to let anyone relieve him, even for an hour." Joan shook her head and frowned in disapproval.
"I finally had food brought to him. He couldn't eat it. At one point, when you were drowsing, I ordered him to staff quarters to take a shower and sleep for an hour. He went, but he was back in 20 minutes with his hair still wet. He pulled the headphones out of his relief's hands."
Annie was deeply shocked and moved. He had been her rock and her hope, but she hadn't known he was destroying himself in order to be there for her. She buried her face in her hands. How had she been so stupid? He was always the voice at the end of her lifeline: hour after hour, day after day.
Somehow, thoughtlessly, selfishly, she had slipped into thinking of Auggie as indestructible. He was the slightly older guy, with a world of field experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Agency, who had tucked her so gently under his wing when she first arrived. He had taught her everything: from how to fight dirty to how to avoid filling out the endless forms supposedly required. He had put himself and even his career on the line for her more times than she cared to count.
Now Joan was ripping away her blinders to show her exactly how vulnerable Auggie really was. She'd been afraid to let him know how much she cared – sure he would turn her away with a gentle joke – that classic cliché – the student who fell in love with her teacher.
Now, she understood that he had shown her in every way he could that he did care for her. He was blind. How hard must it be to tell someone you loved them when you couldn't even see the reaction on their face? Most men had trouble with that word, anyway. So, she was going to say it first and often. If he could do what he had just done for her, in the full knowledge of how it would affect him, she could show some courage and go first.
Joan went on relentlessly. "Once he was finally convinced you were safe and in our hands, he almost passed out with a headache so severe he literally could not form a coherent sentence. Barber all but carried him out, drove him home, dosed him with the medication he always keeps on hand and got him into bed.
"It takes him a while to recover, Annie. Go if you must, but he won't want you to see him when he's so wrecked. Don't expect to be welcomed. And, if either of you show up back here before a full week has passed, you're both fired."
"I understand," Annie said in a very small voice.
"I hope you do. By the way, you are the only person I have ever told about this. Auggie wouldn't appreciate having it spread around.
Annie drew a hand across her lips and nodded. "Thank you, Joan. I appreciate it more than you can know. I have to go now. We'll see you Monday week."
Joan had known Auggie for a very long time, Annie thought. Maybe someday he would trust her enough to tell her more about it.
On her way out, Annie stopped at Eric Barber's desk. He looked up with both warmth and hesitation in his face. She bent and kissed him gently on the cheek. "Thank you," she said. "You are truly a friend in deed."
"Annie, be careful. Auggie's got a lot of pride. Sometimes he'll savage you to save it."
"Thanks, I'll take my whip and chair, just in case." She grinned that wide-eyed, wonderful smile and left the office.
Eric turned back to his computer, crunched a chip and sighed. He had a hunch Auggie would be feeling a lot better very soon.
Annie had been knocking on Auggie's door for some time with no response. She decided to try the recently installed intercom. "Auggie," she called. "Auggie, it's Annie Walker. Let me in. Please, let me in."
Auggie was mired in sleep. He was dreaming of Annie. She was calling him; she needed him. A distant hammering jarred his head. He struggled to surface; swam up through a haze of drugs and the shadows of pain that lingered at the edges of his mind.
It took more effort than he had to spend, but eventually, he lay perfectly still between the clammy sheets. He'd been down so deep, he felt like some disgusting life form you'd find at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
With infinite care, he brought his finger tips to his temples. They felt raw and bruised. A jolt of pain crossed behind his eyes. Wasn't the damn thing through with him yet?
He reached for water and more pills, then slowly withdrew his hand. The devil's cocktail he's been riding was a bitch comin' down, but he had to quit it and quit now. He'd seen friends go down that torturous path to hell way too often.
He was sinking back to sleep, when the voice from his dreams came out of the intercom. "Auggie, it's Annie. Please, just let me in. You can go right back to sleep. Auggie!"
Ah, God. Not this! He pressed his hands tight to his temples. He could hear the tears in her voice.
He fought his way out of the tangled, sweat-soaked sheets. He vaguely remembered rousing at some point with a fierce thirst and an aching bladder. He'd made it the few steps to his bathroom and returned to gulp down a quart of water straight from the pitcher he found on his bedside table along with more pain pills. He had fallen immediately back to sleep, and he was still drugged.
The pounding at his door resumed. "Auggie, Auggie, let me in!" She just kept calling. He realized he was naked, and his body stunk. His groping hands found a robe draped over the end of his bed. He really would own Barber a big one. He pulled it on and belted it closed. Barefoot he padded to the door and leaned his head against the jamb. He had to send her away. He switched on the intercom. "I'm here, Annie. Are you all right?" He knew he was slurring.
"I'm fine, but I want to see you. Please, I won't take long."
He groaned. The woman he wanted most in the world was outside his door begging to come in, and he was a ruin – mentally and physically. He triggered the intercom. "Annie, I'm not in any shape for company. Go home. Rest. I'll come to you as soon as I can."
A steel reinforced stiletto heel slammed hard against his door. "August Anderson, you let me in right this minute, or I'll wake up all your neighbors!" She crossed her fingers and hoped that Auggie was still too fuzzed to realize that most of his neighbors were up and out by now.
Damn! She meant it. He slowly worked the still unfamiliar locks and slid the door open. He spread both arms and braced himself in the doorway. "Annie, I'm a mess. Take a good look at the wreckage and then go home. You don't want to be with me right now or probably ever."
He broke her heart. He could barely stand. He had a three-day growth of beard. His hair was plastered to his skull. His eyes were sunk in shadows and caked with sleep. His voice was shot, and he had lost weight.
He had always been tall and lean, but if he pulled down much more, muscle would start to go. To her eye, he needed at least a bit of sustaining fat over all that hard muscle and elegant bone structure. Maybe, with time, she could do something about that.
She threw her arms around his waist and pulled herself close. His chest was bare and damp with sweat, and his strong male scent sent shivers of desire through her belly.
"I don't give a damn if you're a mess," she told him. "You're my mess, and I'm not going away. Get out of the door!" She pushed him hard.
Caught completely unaware, he staggered back. Momentarily lost, he swung an arm out to orient and balance himself.
Instantly contrite, she caught it and steadied him. "Oh, God, Auggie, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. This is my fault, and after all you did. Joan explained everything."
She wasn't really making much sense, but he understood. Damn Joan! She had no right to tell his secrets. The last thing he wanted was Annie's pity. He took a deep breath, collected his thoughts and straightened his spine.
"I did my job, Annie, that's all. I'm glad you are safe, but you don't owe me anything. I'm good; I just need some sleep. You can go. I don't need help." Her scent filled his nostrils, and his head throbbed. It would kill him if she turned and left.
"We're not doing this, Auggie," she said firmly. I'm here because it is the one and only place on this earth where I want to be. You need sleep; so do I. Let's do it together. But first, I brought food!"
She darted back outside and hauled in two huge shopping bags bulging with groceries. A six pack of his favorite brew was included. She shut the door and set the locks.
His frazzled mind reeled. Jesus, had she really just said what he thought? He was still half fried with pain-killers and rank with dirt and sweat. He'd be no good to her in his present state. He needed time.
"Annie," he told her, "my home is your home, now and forever, and food sounds good. I do need to shower first."
"Yes," she agreed. "Go and do that while I get organized here in the kitchen.
Her mind was elsewhere as she unpacked groceries and started on a simple meal that she hoped he could keep down. She had come here boiling over with so much they needed to talk about. The hours of his voice over the tiny phone – always there, always steady, giving her of his strength and courage.
She found a bowl and broke eggs into it.
She wanted to explore all the things they had said and those they had left unsaid: the unanswered questions, the unspoken emotions. One look at Auggie, and her heart knew it had to wait. Wait until he had slept, and eaten. Wait until he had gained strength and distance and peace. She could wait. She could do anything for Auggie.
The hot, pulsing water of the shower felt wonderful as it pounded some of the soreness out of his back and bad shoulder. He scrubbed hard with pine scented soap and rinsed thoroughly. Then he just stood there.
He breathed in deeply of the hot steam and caught sips of water from the downpour. His mouth was dry and his talked-out throat raw. Gradually the ragged remainder of his headache eased.
Annie was in his apartment, in his kitchen, making food for the both of them? Had he dreamed that she intended to stay here, stay with him, be with him?
He snapped awake when the water ran cold. He had a death grip on the safety bar and had apparently gone to sleep on his feet. Hadn't done that since Iraq.
He pulled a towel from the rack and wrapped it around his waist. He took another and rubbed his hair until it was almost dry. He could feel the stubble on his face. Better shave. His teeth felt like they were growing fur of their own. After a long session with toothbrush and rinse, he moved on to shaving.
He found his electric razor where it belonged. It was one that gave the closest shave possible for its ilk, but he would always regret the fine, close shaves he used to get with his old, well-honed straight razor. Still, it was probably preferable to cutting his own throat. There were some aspects of being blind that there was just no way around.
He ran a comb through his hair. Not that he expected it to do much good. Maybe Annie would sort it out for him later. He pulled on clean sweat pants, an old, soft tee shirt, and then headed back to the kitchen.
"There you are," Annie told him as he let his hand guide him around the refrigerator.
"Everybody got to be somewhere, as the saying goes."
"Come and sit down; everything's ready."
"No coffee?" He would know if she had brewed it.
"No, we're supposed to sleep, remember?" There's milk or orange juice?"
"Juice, please." He found his chair, pulled it out and sat. She placed two items before him. "First course: juice at your two o'clock high, yogurt at six. There's a spoon in it already, and there's a napkin at three."
His hand shook badly when he tried to scoop up the first spoonful of yogurt. She reached over his shoulder and slid a supporting hand under his trembling one.
A hot blaze of embarrassment flushed his face. "Christ, Annie. I can feed myself!"
"I know you can, babe," she said pleasantly. "Just a little help to get started."
A soft kiss brushed his tender temple. He could feel her breasts against his back. "Was that a term of endearment I just heard?"
"You bet … babe."
Together they lifted the first spoonful to his mouth. It tasted good – thick and rich with just a hint of vanilla. She released him and returned to the stove.
He had his hands under control by the third spoonful. The soothing yogurt coated his unsteady stomach and allowed his hunger to re-emerge.
He was just about to lick the bowl when she took it away and put a fragrant plate down before him. "Scrambled eggs on the left, buttered toast fingers on the right. Your fork is here." She tapped it twice on the table top.
He discovered there was a mound of soft scrambled eggs filled with chopped, fresh herbs and just the right amount of salt. The toast was a thick, country wheat bread dripping in butter. She had cut it into finger-width strips that made it easy to eat. Annie sat down opposite him with her plate. He could hear her crunch hungrily into her own toast.
"There's jam if you want it," she told him.
"Yes, please. I'll have the orange marmalade. I know you prefer the raspberry jam."
"Damn, you're good." He had sorted the rich scents that flooded his small kitchen and correctly spotted both varieties. To her the marmalade had very little odor.
"Something still works well," he offered with the first real smile she'd seen since she got here.
She drank in the sight of him as she refilled his juice glass and watched him empty his plate. He looked better. The clean, sharp planes of his face; the generous mouth that could kiss so sweetly; the long, hard muscle under smooth, firm skin. And his hands – he used them with such precise and controlled grace to feed himself, with never a spilt drop. They were beautiful – large and strong with corded tendons and fine, blue veins – very male. She ached to feel them caress her body.
He sighed with contentment. "You can cook… babe. I think I'll keep you."
"Don't give me that, Auggie. You can cook, too. I've seen you do it."
When on earth had he been such a fool as to let her see his fumbling attempts to cook? Ah, a sudden memory floated up. "I do make a killer grilled cheese."
"Nothing finer than a good grilled cheese on a rainy day."
It had been that dismal day in mid-winter when they had played laser tag here in his place. Something with Yoda and ET masks he thought. About all he could remember was the feel of Annie in his lap.
"It's just bread and cheese and way too much butter."
"Listen, that grilled cheese you made was a work of art, and I should know. I'm an expert on art. I work at the Smithsonian."
Giddy with fatigue, they both cackled.
"I brought steaks, Auggie. I could grill one if you're still hungry."
It sounded good, but he knew better than to push it this soon after one of his damned 'incidents'."
"Later," he said. "Right now we both need more sleep. I heard that yawn."
"You're right; as always, sir."
He gave the traditional enlisted man's answer. "Don't 'sir' me; I work for a living."
"Not for a week you don't. Joan gave us a few days off." She laughed at his surprised as she opened the dish washer and piled in their breakfast dishes.
Good Lord, his breath caught in his throat. Was he going to be able to bathe in the sweet honey of her company for a whole week? Just Annie, just him. The thought was dazzling.
"I need to wash up," she was saying. "Can you wait a few minutes before you come in?"
"Sure, kid," he growled.
"Well," Annie's voice dropped an octave into a sultry murmur. "If you want me, just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you? Just put your lips together and blow."
He laughed aloud, and he could almost see the Bacall roll of her hips as she sauntered from the room.
It wasn't long until the first few notes of "How Little We Know" lured him into the bedroom. God, he loved a girl who knew how to whistle.
When he reached his bed, he found that the sweat-soaked sheets he had rolled out of had been replaced with fresh ones. That shower had lasted a lot longer than he thought.
He could feel her close beside him, waiting. She smelled of his own pine soap and fresh clothes. Her body radiated a subtle warmth that drew him. A warmth that, if he could claim and hold it, would warm all the empty spaces inside him forever. But, above all, he needed to know it was what she wanted, too.
"Annie, are you sure about this? You've been through a very bad experience. It can affect your judgment. You could need time to decompress, think?"
"I heard what you said at the last, 'Come home to me'." Did you want me to hear it; did you mean it?"
"In my whole life, I never meant anything more."
"Then I'm where I belong."
Their kiss was long and sweet, but in time the aching need for sleep pulled them apart.
"Wall or outside?" he asked as he lifted the covers.
"Wall." She had seen his impression on the outside when she changed the linens. He wouldn't want to feel penned in.
"In you go." She had picked the side that he always thought of as 'hers'. 'Hers', even when some other woman filled it for a casual moment. He stood there mesmerized by the impossible thought of Annie in his bed. A memory came to him.
"Annie, do you recall giving me permission to really look at you? I hope so, because I want so much to do that now.
"Cum 'ere," Annie mumbled.
"I said, Come Here," she enunciated very clearly.
Hesitation gone, he glided into the bed and took her in his arms. He explored and found that she wore nothing except a silky gown that came barely below her hips. She smelled wonderful, so … so Annie. Not just her perfume, but her own, highly individual woman scent.
Intoxicated, he slid his hands up to encircle her face and felt the classic rounded square that had been described to him. Her chin was firm and her jaw line straight and smooth. He was familiar with her strength and determination, and he could read it in her features.
Her mouth was wide and her lips full and firm. Her nose was straight and beautifully formed, neither long nor short. Her brows arched high, perfectly matched below her wide forehead. It hurt that he would never see the rich brown of the rounded, seeking eyes that so impressed everyone who knew her. Yet it was enough. She was here in his arms. He breathed her essence in contentment.
Wait! He drew in a deep breath. Yes, it was there –- just a hint. His hand flew to the bandage on her side. She winced when he touched it. There was a sticky spot on the fresh gauze. He brought the tip of his finger to his tongue. It was blood alright.
"Annie, you're bleeding." His voice was calm, but his heart raced.
"Just a few drops. I think maybe I popped a stitch getting that last grocery bag out of the car. I'm fine. They said it would heal up naturally within a few days. I am supposed to keep it clean. Seems reasonable."
How could he be such an ass? What she needed this hour, this day, was not sex but real love - affection, rest and care. She'd been hurt, alone and lost in the dark. He could certainly qualify as the live-in expert on that subject. And she'd come here fixed on taking care of him. He needed to be gentle with her. He could be gentle. For Annie he could be anything.
She turned on her side so that she faced him and scooted closer. He folded her into his arms.
"My turn now," she told him. She stroked his face, pushed back the dark hair that had grown down almost into his eyes. Her fingertips were soft and warm as they gently massaged his temples, tiptoed across his closed eyelids and stopped to cup his cheekbones and warm them. How could she know that they ached in the aftermath of his migraine?
Her hand drifted across his left shoulder to lightly finger the thin scars left from the surgeries that had repaired it.
She rested her cheek against his chest, and he could feel warm, wet tears slowly dribbling down between them.
"Don't cry, sweetheart," he whispered. "It's over. You're safe and home with me. I'll always watch over you. I'll never let them leave you out in the cold again."
She laughed through her tears. "Auggie, you big boob, don't you know 'cry for happy' when you hear it?
"Happy?" Could she really mean happy with him? This caring, clever, courageous woman? And he had just learned for himself that she was as stunningly beautiful as they said.
"Yes! Happy! I love you, Auggie Anderson. I have for months. You're my heart, my home, my hero. I adore you, you idiot! You're the strongest, bravest, smartest, kindest man I ever met. You couldn't get rid of me with C4 and an Uzi." She nuzzled close against him.
"Now, kiss me and let's go to sleep." She lifted her wet face to his.
Sometime later, sleep claimed them. They were clasped closely in one another's arms. Neither would ever be alone in the dark again.
Reviews, comments and constructive criticism are all most welcome.