Auggie strode into the DPD, trying not to notice the hush and the stares he was getting.
“Good to have you back, Auggie,” said Frank from the fourth desk. Auggie gave a small smile and a nod in his direction.
“Glad to have you back, Auggie,” said Annalisa at desk seven.
Auggie smiled, nodding again. “Thanks,” he said quietly, moving forward. He slid open the door of his office and stepped inside. From his side of the room, all sounds were shut off. The computer on the right hummed and there had been the sound of keys being struck on a keyboard, but they stopped, and the sound of a chair rolling back slowly was the only thing Auggie heard.
Three steps sounded and then Auggie felt a presence tower over him.
“Barber,” he said, lightly.
The sound of one more footstep towards him didn’t prepare him for the press of the bigger man’s body, his own arms pinned down by Barber’s embrace.
“Auggie!” was all the man could gasp out.
Auggie had known what Barber had done for him to bring him safely home from Belenko’s clutches. Joan had told him over the phone how Barber had not gone home, for fear something would be missed, and how he had slept in the DPD on a cot in Auggie’s office. Auggie had counted on Barber a lot at work, more than he had really accounted for. He was an irreplaceable co-worker, but Auggie realised now it was more than that. He was an irreplaceable friend. The man, while bumbling, making a mess, saying the most appropriate thing at the most inappropriate time, had never been anything but loyal, honest, and genuine.
Auggie raised his arms and slowly put them around Barber, and then, when it hit him that he had friends that were friends not because he was in the CIA or in the Special Forces, but because they genuinely loved and cared for him, he returned Barber’s hug with the same emotion.
“Hey, Auggie, dude,” Barber said, when he had let go a bit and took a good look at Auggie. “You look terrible.”
“Thanks, Eric, it’s good to see you, too,” Auggie said.
“I mean, it’s so good to have you back, man, I knew you’d make it, no-one can put you down for long. Here, your chair’s right here, ten O’clock, I never touched anything. Well, yeah, I did touch a few things, but I think I put everything back where it was.”
“Can I have a word in?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry, Auggie.”
“Thank you, Eric. You really came in for me.”
“Of course I did, man. That’s what friends do.”
“Yeah, about that...”
He felt Barber’s question hanging in the air. He smiled at the man. “I consider you to be one of my best.”
“I’m honoured, Auggie.”
“No, I’m honoured, Barber. A lot of things have come to my attention in the past few months. And one of them is that I haven’t acknowledged to you what an asset the DPD has in you, and, well, what a friend I have. So I just wanted you to know, man... it’s appreciated.”
He bent down and opened the drawer, pulling out his laser cane and the headpiece, folding his own cane and dropping it in. He turned back to Barber.
“Are you ready to bring Belenko and his henchmen in?”
Auggie smiled. “Let’s do this.”
Auggie slid the door of his apartment open. He had almost forgotten being home, and yet, it was all so mundane. He closed the door, stepping to his credenza, putting his cane and bag there, and turning with a smile to the kitchen where he knew she stood.
“Walker?” He said, more in question to what she was up to than whether she was actually there.
“I wanted it to be special.”
“Your first day back.”
“It smells good.”
“I called Danielle. Told her it was life or death. I needed coaching.”
“And?” Auggie walked forward, his hand reaching the counter and trailing it until he found Annie. He took her in both arms.
“And... we have Bourbon chicken and rice pilaf, and a very nice white wine, and I made a cheesecake for dessert.”
“No way. A cheesecake?” Auggie remembered her less-than-substantial skills in baking.
“And I think it turned out, too,” Annie said, sunnily, guiding him around the island to the place setting she had laid out for him. She touched the stem of the wine glass to the back of his hand, and let him figure the rest out as she went to finish up on the stove.
The meal, Auggie had to not only admit but exclaim, was delicious. He was more than surprised that the cheesecake had turned out and they shared a piece between them.
“So how was your first day back?”
“Yeah.” Annie shrugged. “I know Ryan’s got Belenko now. They’ll soon be on their way back here, I hope.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“You know I talked to him?”
“But I’m here.”
Auggie smiled. “I know.”
Annie smiled, taking the last piece of cheesecake he offered her on his fork.
“We’ll clean later. Come here.” Auggie stood, reaching for her hand, which she offered. He led her to his red couch and he sat facing her.
“What would you think of me taking time off?”
“I should think you’d want time off.”
“Some stuff happened today at Langley,” Auggie began.
“What do you mean, stuff?”
And Auggie, true to his word about no more secrets between he and Annie, told her about being led by Langer unknowingly, down to the polygraph room to meet with James Decker. Decker had been back stateside for a few days, after Ryan had rescued him out of the prison, with the help of Auggie’s codeword and name. Auggie had spent a long time on the phone with James, convincing him to come in. Once he had them both inside the polygraph room, the false CIA agent Langer released a poison gas and had them trapped, almost killing them.
Annie was predictably upset. She hadn’t heard this, only having been in touch with Ryan’s side of the capture. She hugged Auggie, shaking.
“It’s okay,” Auggie said. “Calder got him. Calder got him.” He stroked Annie’s hair.
“Oh, Auggie! I’m so sorry! I should have--”
Auggie reached up, sliding his palm over her mouth, cutting her words.
“You haven’t had anything with your heart lately, have you.” He said it as a fact, and he let his hands slide down to the back of her head, reading her if she forgot and shook or nodded her head.
“No,” Annie said.
Auggie thought for a minute. “What you’re doing is working. I think you... we... can beat this. I think you’re going to recover nicely.”
“What were you saying about time off?” Annie shook off his references to her illness. She still was scared that it would come back and that it would hurt Auggie more than her.
“I was talking to James... after... you know.”
“Wait, you’re okay, right?” Annie’s voice was deeper with concern.
Auggie smiled at her. “I’m okay. It was scary at the time, but... I’m okay.”
“Okay.” Annie. She was staring at him with all her attentive hunger for whatever he wanted to tell her. He could tell, because her head never turned or bent downward.
“He asked me why I was still there, still working there, after all I’ve given and it’s taken. He asked me if that was all I wanted. He made me think, Annie. I mean, I’ve been thinking for a while, since before... this.” He took one hand away and motioned between the two of them. He heard her laugh a little. “I do want more. I want more with you. The CIA has taken a lot from me, but in the end, it gave me you.” He took a deep breath, and continued. “After I talked to James, I went back up to sit in my office. Hash it out in my brain.” He let a grin cross his still-cracked lips. “Of course, I couldn’t possibly hash it out alone, with Barber sitting there asking me what he could do to help, and so... well, I asked him.”
“Asked him what?” Annie’s full attention was on him. That was another of the things he loved about her. When her attention was on him, it was fully there. He could tell when she was distracted, and he called her on it.
“I asked him what he thought about me leaving the agency.”
“Leaving? Auggie, you love it there.”
“It’s cost me a lot.”
“I know.” Annie’s head did drop down then. He brought her face back up to look at him again.
“I can’t leave it. It’s... my home. But I put in for a leave of absence. I want to get away from it. I’ve put too much of my life in it and I need to take care of some of the other things that I’ve always wanted.”
“Like? Annie sounded hopeful.
“Like taking you away. Like making our lives outside Langley more important than our lives inside. Like maybe thinking about, I don’t know, getting a real ring for your finger instead of a prop from Joan. Like making you the happiest woman you can be. Like not worrying about the world for a while. What say you, Walker. You wanna run away with me for a while? I think I can safely trust you with the safety of this blind guy.”
“Ya think?” Auggie could hear that grin in her voice, the one that quirked her mouth up and almost made her growl.
He twitched his head a bit, as if to say he supposed so, and then broke into a bigger smile.
“Where do you want to go first?” Annie asked, her arms over his shoulders.
“Wherever the wind takes us.” Auggie replied.
“Sounds good to me,” Annie said.
The cheesecake wasn’t the only dessert had that night. Auggie led Annie up the stairs to his loft bedroom, and there couldn’t have been more passion, laughter, and loving than there was that night, after two attempts on Auggie’s life had nearly ended any future between them. And when they had sated their desire for each other, they ate another piece of cheesecake in the wee hours of the morning, followed with a shared glass of wine.
Auggie felt Annie, warm in his arms, and he knew he had traded everything in for this. And it had been worth all of it. And it always would be, because this was real, as real as her breath on his neck.