Trade-Up (A Season 5 Reboot)

Chapter Sixteen

Auggie had been home for two hours at least when there was a knock on his door. He and Annie had eaten, and Auggie had sent Annie to her novel while he cleared, washed, and put the dishes away in their allotted places. He heard Annie humming to herself as she read, and it just warmed him. She fit there. He had been missing her before he even knew she fit.

Auggie dried his hands and went to the door, sliding it open.

"Auggie." Joan spoke before Auggie had to ask her identity. He moved aside to let her pass.

"Joan?" Auggie tilted his head, listening. "And Mack?"

“Annie," said Joan, and Auggie heard Annie get to her feet.

"Joan. What're you--?"

"Uh. I just wanted to make sure you're okay. I know things have been.... strained... between us, and I don’t like it, Annie. I... I wanted to tell you…” She faltered, not knowing how to say it now that she was here.

“Coffee, Joan? Tea? I was just putting the kettle on.” Auggie wanted to make them both comfortable, let them ease into it, and give them a little space.

“Uh, sure, Auggie, I’d love a tea, thanks.”

“Have a seat. Make yourself comfortable.” He turned, wishing there was some way he could make a connection with Annie across the room. Some eye contact would be a handy thing right now. He focused on getting the kettle and the teapot ready, but he couldn’t help hearing the women awkwardly addressing each other in the open concept apartment.

“How are you?” Joan said. “Auggie’s been keeping me posted on your health, but how are you feeling?”

“I’m just really tired. I can’t seem to catch my wind,” Auggie could tell that Annie was looking down, speaking into her lap. “I’ll be fine,” she added, hurriedly. “He’s getting so big.”

“You want to hold him?” Joan asked.

Auggie smiled to himself as Joan did not wait for an answer and handed the child to Annie. Leave it to Joan to use her baby as therapy. She’s already done it to him, he admitted, remembering the sweet baby smell and the warm bundle in his arms. His smile stayed tucked on his lips as he listened to Annie coo to the baby. He’d never seen her around babies. Or kids. He knew she had loved time spent with her nieces, but he’d never known what she was like when she played with them. He put everything on the serving tray and popped his liquid sensor over the lip of the teapot, carefully lining up the kettle over the hole. The beeping alerted him to stop filling, and he noticed the two women had stopped talking. He turned his face to them.

“Sorry. Blind guy stuff.”

“Everything here beeps or talks or yells at you,” Annie said. “You get used to it. It’s like having more roommates.”

“Except these ones are all know-it-alls and you can hear it in their voices,” Auggie said, making his path to the coffee table, tipping his knee forward when he knew he was close until he bumped gently against it, and he easily set the tray down and made sure it was all on. “I’ll leave the pouring to you, Joan.”

“Sure, do you want anything in yours?”

“No, black is fine.” He heard the tea being poured, and then Joan took his hand and placed the mug into it. He thanked her and moved closer to Annie, perching on the arm of the couch. He leaned forward, found the table, and placed his mug there, and then he slid down beside Annie.

“He’s so handsome, Auggie,” Annie said, obviously absorbed in the little baby’s every move and facial expression. “Have you held him?”

“I have. I imagine he’s bigger now.” Auggie reached out carefully, sliding his hand along Annie’s arm to the baby’s head. He touched Mack’s cheek, and ran his finger down under his chin.

“I can’t believe he’s so small. And… so real. I… was gone so long I missed that it happened. I missed everything.”

“You did it for him, Annie,” Joan said. “Because of you, he has a Daddy and a Mommy. And he’s here. He’s here and you’re here. There’s no need for regrets.”

“Joan, why wouldn’t you support me? I mean, you almost pushed me under the bus yourself.” Auggie was surprised and not surprised at Annie’s outburst. She had been dwelling on this very issue for so long, puzzling it out to Auggie, and while he reiterated that Joan stood by her, she couldn’t work it out to her favour.

“I did no such thing. Annie, I have been behind you this whole time. I have put myself on the line time and time again for you. I have almost had moments where my marriage was going to break, and some of those moments arose from backing you. But I also told you that we were your family. And that you don’t go outside the family. And you did, again and again and again. I can understand running on a hunch, we’ve all done it. But you ignore everyone and go it alone, and Annie, we can’t have a functioning organization if a member is not working within the team. What else was I supposed to do? I was facing wrath from all sides. Auggie and I both were removed from the building and sent to work in basement departments when we were allowed back in. If only you’d come back to us. Kept in check. Even with Auggie, on encrypted phones, or something. But you did it alone. I was angry. I was angrier than I should have been. I have my reasons, none of which I care to share right now. But suffice to say, maybe I saw a lot of me in where you were, and it made me angry and it made me want to push you as far away as I could. I’ve done a lot of running, and… I’m not proud of a lot of what happened… and I see you doing the same thing. I feel sad, and it makes me angry with you.”

He voice dropped in pitch and volume. “I was angry with how you did it to Auggie. He didn’t deserve it, Annie.”

Auggie sat back, shaking his head, willing her to not open his wound. He listened to the quiet, and it actually surprised him. He’d expected Annie to flare like a match, but maybe it was the baby in her arms, holding her temper for her.

“It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done,” Annie said, and Auggie knew she was watching him as she spoke. “I shut down so I wouldn’t know how much I hurt about it all, about how much I’d hurt him. And you. I know when I get the feeling I’m right, like I know better than anyone, I almost have to follow it through without being about to stop it. It’s bullheaded.”

“We’ve all done it,” Joan said softly, watching her baby sleep in Annie’s arms.

“I think we all probably remember a little plane ride I took in the cargo bay,” Auggie said, leveling the conversation.

Annie dropped her head, staring at the beautiful baby. “I wanted someone to be proud of me. I wanted someone to tell me I did right. I couldn’t stop until I had made it right.”

“And was it right after that?” Joan asked. “Is it right now?”

Annie shook her head slowly. “It’s definitely not all right. But it’s getting better.” And as she said this, Mack opened up his eyes and smiled at her. She and Joan both giggled instinctively, and then she looked at Auggie, who had confusion on his face. “Mack woke up. He’s smiling at me like crazy.”

Auggie’s face lit up, and his finger strayed back to the baby’s cheek, feeling the smile across Mack’s toothless mouth.

This.

This was what he wanted. He’d wanted this a long time ago. He’d always thought it would happen in the future. And then the future changed. He’d adapted to a different life and it surely did not seem to include a family in any game plan. But this seemed so right. And there was no way he could tell this to Annie. It had taken him years to get enough courage to ask her on a date. And now, she was too muddled up with thoughts and anger and sadness and loss and pain, and her health was at risk. He would not dream of adding to that mess. She was not even close to ready to ask this of, and yet, that small thought that this, all this could be his, theirs, lit a small flame in a safe part of his brain. He didn’t fan it, it was a ridiculous thought at the moment, no-one was near ready for that, and he hadn’t really even contemplated what it would mean to be a Dad that couldn’t see. He was sure there was a way, but he really had not figured on any of it happening, so he didn’t dwell on it. The flame was lit there and he left it burning.

“You wanna hold him?” Annie asked Auggie, and she leaned close and shifted the baby into Auggie’s arms. The weight of the baby gave Auggie his answer, Mack was indeed a growing little boy. Auggie settled the baby in and rubbed his back. Mack hummed and cooed.

“You’re a natural,” said Annie softly.

Joan was silent. Auggie could only imagine what she was thinking as she sat there quietly looking at her two operatives and her child. The wheels turned in his head and he once again saw where Joan had made her play. Smooth, thought Auggie. Leave it to Joan to cover all the points in the dossier on her visit here tonight.

“What’s your prognosis, Annie?” Business Joan was gone, it was Annie’s concerned friend that spoke now.

“It’s… it’s actually good. I haven’t had to take any nitrates for days. I’m just taking it easy. Too easy. I’m a bit stir-crazy.” Auggie could tell Annie felt frustration under the surface, but her hand calmly stroked the baby’s wispy hair, and her other hand had moved to rest in the middle of Auggie’s back. Grounded. The whole thing was right. It felt right. Annie was calm, she was no longer angry, and he held that beautiful baby that had arrived despite every odd he had against him since he’d been conceived, with Annie’s hand on his back, the other softly comforting the restless little child.

“The longer you really rest, the more likely you will get healthy. Too much too soon, you’re right back at the start.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, anyway,” Annie said.

“Have you spoken to Ryan?”

“A couple of times. Suffice to say, he’s not really in a good place with all that.”

“He’ll need a replacement for—“

“Don’t even say it,” Annie said. “That’s a mess. I’d rather just be in the field, thanks.”

Joan leaned forward. “Just get healthy, Annie. I mean it. And then we’ll talk.”

“Talk? What do you mean, talk?”

Joan stood, and Auggie felt her move to his side. He sat forward and shifted the little boy so Joan could get hold, and when Joan stepped back, Auggie felt his whole chest and his arms wishing for the warmth of that baby back. Mack made a very happy paragraph of noises and Auggie smiled, his mind elsewhere.

“I mean, just get healthy. We need you, Annie. Let Auggie look after you. You guys are a great team, in the field, and in each other’s lives. I don’t know where either of you go from here, but I am happy you’re both here together.” Her tone, now light, changed completely. “Now, I have to get this little boy home, it’s past his bedtime!”

Auggie laughed out loud, hearing his stern boss making silly voices, and no doubt silly faces. He stood, and followed her and Annie to the door.

“Take care of yourself,” Joan said, and she hugged Annie hard. Then she turned, putting her hand on Auggie’s arm. “Auggie? See you tomorrow.”

“Yes, you will,” Auggie replied, as Joan stepped out and Annie shut the door.

“What did she mean? Talk?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

Auggie turned, wishing he could tell her everything he was feeling, but it wouldn’t be fair to Annie. It wasn’t even fair to himself, it might just hurt him in the end, just like everything else.

He moved to the credenza and opened the second drawer on the left side. He felt for the zipped bag of small pillar candles he’d stashed there. There was a lighter in there, too, and he soon located it at the back. It always seemed practical to have candles on hand, and he knew that it was completely unreasonable nowadays, but here was the perfect opportunity to purge the resources, as it were. He wanted Annie to be calm, to feel completely safe. Light, though a wonderful guide, had a way of putting faces on things that the dark didn’t have to hide. He hit the light switch on the way by, and Annie, who had been watching him with keen interest, stood in the dark, waiting for him to find her.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” she replied.

“Come with me.” He took her arm gently and guided her across his apartment to the stairs that took them to the bed.

“It’s pretty dark in here,” Annie said.

“It is, isn’t it,” Auggie replied, with a smile. He made sure she was safe at the top of the stairs and then he headed to the dresser, putting a few candles on the otherwise empty top. He found the wick with one hand, and lined up his other hand. Lighting anything without sight was almost a practical joke on him. He held the lighter flame for several seconds, hoping the wick had caught. He held his hand over the candle and grinned, feeling the heat immediately. Score another one for his legend.

Once he had the first candle lit, Annie could see him as he worked to get the others glowing. She watched his beautiful hands as he so carefully lit all four candles, only having to give a second try to one of them. He turned.

“What’s this for?” Annie asked.

“For you.”

“Why?”

Auggie crept over to where she stood. “You never have to hide from me,” was what he said.

It was obviously the right thing, because Annie took his hands and led him toward his bed, which now felt, to Auggie, like their bed.

“I’m tired of hiding. And running.”

“You can stop now. There are bigger things. Your life isn’t about just stopping the bad guys. It would be unfair of any organization to ask its operatives to live their lives only for their company. You have a life to think about, too, in the field, out of it, you still have a life. You can’t let it have all of you. It can take parts of you enough without you subscribing to it.”

“Do you ever hate them? I mean, the CIA? For sending you on that mission? For not knowing that it was at risk, that you were at risk?”

“I can’t go there anymore, Annie. I was angry at everyone for a while. It didn’t matter who you were. But I’m not there any more. I know that my whole life can’t be inside those walls of Langley.” When she didn’t answer, Auggie tilted his head, squinting at her. “Where’d you go?”

He felt her hand on his cheek, and heard her smile in her voice. “I am here, Auggie. Don’t doubt it any more.”

Auggie closed his eyes, feeling everything in the touch of her hand on his face. He saw her, glowing in oranges and pinks and lime greens, and warm, velvet purples, and rich marine blues. She brought so much in her to fill his senses that it didn’t matter that one sense wasn’t there. He could so totally see her now, and his heart felt like it had just jumped for joy.
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