“Have any of you seen Annie?” He asks, the weight of the sparkling drink in his hand grounding him as he pushes away the uneasy feeling settling in his stomach. The room is crowded, loud, and he can't seem to find his wife anywhere.
The group shakes their heads collectively, and he sees Rene Carpenter’s brow furrow slightly, probably coming to notice Annie’s unusual absence as well. Betty Grissom offers to keep an eye out for her, a small smile in place. “I’m sure she's just excused herself to the washroom.” She adds in consolation. It does nothing to ease the unsettled feeling.
Annie does show up again eventually, her posture ramrod straight and her smile thin-lipped. The worry increases ten-fold, though the look in her eyes tells him not to press, not here, not now.
Instead, she glides through the crowded room with grace and ease, though he can see the tense shoulders and can hear the stiff conversation, and he knows something is not right.
He can't stop himself from pressing a comforting hand to her waist as they greet another higher-up, running through the familiar and honest speech he's been giving all night. When Annie flinches slightly under his touch, a barely noticeable stutter away from his hand, he can almost hear his heart drop.
Still, he heads her demands, and does not say a thing,
Not until they get home, and Annie can't pull out the pins holding her curls in place without wincing. She gives in eventually, and his fingers weave gently through her hair as he finds the many metal clips. He still says nothing, but the prompt hangs heavy in the air.
“Th-there w-as a p-protest-t,” She says eventually, and his hands still. “Ag-gainst N-NASA.”
He only hums quietly, showing her his full attention as he brushes out her hair, slowly and evenly. She takes a minute to gather her thoughts and her words. He lets her think.
“I t-tried t-to sto-op th-them,” She pauses, and he can tell where the story is going already. He ignores the flare of anger in his gut, instead focusing on undoing the backs of her earrings. “Th-the p-p-police w-were hurt-ting th-them.”
He sets the jewelry aside, nodding slowly. “Are you hurt?”
Annie frowns slightly, subconsciously curling into her right side, and he takes that as enough of an answer. He eases her to her feet and makes work of undoing her dress, mindful of her side.
“I c-could-dn’t st-stand-d th-there and do noth-thing.” He only nods in understanding as her helps her pull her arms from the sleeves of fabric, then clasping her hand as she steps out of the bundled dress at her feet.
A stark bruise paints blues and purples against her ribs, no doubt from the intercepted force of a police baton. He traces his fingers lightly along the shapes beaten into his wife’s side, and he has to take a moment to calm his breath.
“John?” Annie’s voice is gentle, even, and he forces himself to look up at her. She’s so beautiful, bathed in the warm glow of the hotel room lamps, her hair long and loose. He almost loses himself in her kind gaze, before he sees the pain behind her expression.
“I’m alright,” She continues, running her fingers along his cheek. “G-Gauze.”
He nods, blinking himself out of his stupor and walking to the bathroom in search of a first aid kit. He finds one under the sink, and he dutifully totes the box back to their bedroom. Annie smiles reassuringly at him, but her slumped posture and tense grip on her side reveals her true state.
He wraps the bandages around her slowly, easing her into the new pressure on her injuries. Her hands come to rest on his as he pins the fabric in place, small and almost fragile seeming. Yet, Annie is the strongest person he knows.
He helps her into her bed clothes before changing out of his tux. She lies still in the blankets, afraid to move. He climbs next to her and presses a chaste kiss to her cheek as he turns out the light, bathing them in darkness. The lone light of the moon shines through the window, and his mind drifts to the men who stand on it so many miles away. A bittersweet sort of longing fills his heart, one he hadn't felt for many years.
Annie's hand finds his, drawing his mind back from the stars and distant worlds. Her thumb smooths calming motions onto the back of his hand, coming to rest on his wedding band.
“I love you,” She murmurs, and he uses the moonlight to guide him as he brings their lips together in a gentle kiss, his hand coming up to brush loose strands of hair behind her ear. Her lips are as sweet and smooth as they were the first time they kissed, many moons ago.
She pulls back first, slightly out of breath, but he can feel her smile as he presses their foreheads together.
“I love you, too.”