Auggie sat at their usual table, drinking a beer, waiting for Annie to arrive. It was her first day back at Langley, and Auggie was nervous for her. He hadn't seen her since the morning, when they had gone into the DPD together and Annie was whisked into Calder's office. He hadn't even talked to Joan, so he didn't know what was planned for Annie, but he had told her he would meet her at Allen's after work.
Auggie himself had been back at work now for a week. At first, it had felt strange, being back at his desk, especially after the last few times he'd been there, and thinking it may be the last time. He'd come so close to leaving, but he knew now that had been a mistake. This was his job. This had been what he had been all about since he was barely an adult. Deep in his heart, he loved his job. He wanted to help his country; he wanted to change the world. He wanted to make things right. And on a smaller, personal note, he knew his job. He knew his company, he knew the people he worked with, and he knew his way around the whole building. He was completely and entirely on even-playing ground here. Maybe he even had a one-up on most people entering Langley. It was when he left its halls and went back into the outside world that he was reminded his limitations.
He'd had a hard time coming back to Langley after Tikrit. He now knew it was even harder to leave. He'd made an impression as an operative; he'd made an impression as a tech operative. He had the respect of his co-workers and others in the building. He'd built himself a pretty good reputation based on his accomplishments in and out of the field. He cherished the excitement, he loved the puzzles, he needed the adrenaline.
He'd gone directly to Joan, to inform her that he and Annie were now engaged. She wasn't surprised. In fact, if Auggie had to guess, she'd already come to the conclusion that this had happened. She'd been very welcoming to him, invited him into the inner sanctum of her office and sitting with him. She asked him about their travels, she was very interested in the whole adventure before the plane crash that had ended it. She'd put her hand on his arm when he spoke of the crash, and remained quiet as he told her everything.
"We were scared," she admitted to him. "I really... I was scared, Auggie."
He smiled at her, patting the hand on his arm, closing his own over it.
"Eric did not go home. Once he alerted me about the situation, and may I say, Auggie, that was some great planning on your part, keeping him in the know, then he was on that computer searching high and low for some sign. And when you managed to get that signal through..."
"Yeah, that took some doin'," said Auggie. "I had to bounce a signal around some satellites and I had no way of knowing if anything I was doing was working. The laptop was malfunctioning and the Braille display wasn't doing anything at all."
"I don't know how you do half of what you do, Auggie," she said. "And I mean that in the best possible way. You have a way with computers the same as you have a way with people."
Auggie gave a slight twitch of his shoulders, shrugging off her compliment. It wasn't denial; Auggie knew these things about himself. He'd worked hard to make it so. But to have it announced back with the belief in him that Joan let show in her voice, it felt undeserved.
"I wasn't going to let those kids down," he said, simply.
"Annie told me about those kids, too," Joan said. She wasn't pushing for his thoughts, but she left it out there.
"Auggie, I need you to run a new operative. Actually, one that has come in from the wind."
Auggie was quiet. He knew when to shut up with Joan. He reversed his thoughts and followed hers. He waited expectantly.
"You got that job, didn't you?" He didn't know why it hadn't hit him before.
"I offered Annie a position. It is a separate task force but still running out of the DPD. This thing, Auggie, means that your role within the department is more important than ever. I need help. I need you to assume many of the responsibilities I have as head of the DPD."
Auggie narrowed his brows. "What does this mean?"
"It means that I will be here, but people are going to be checking in with you. You are, for a better term, my Number Two. I am going to be out office."
"I don't have to move again, do I?" Auggie asked.
"No," Joan said, and he heard the smile in her word.
"Good. I don't need the distraction. So, you've got me handling the people within the department-"
"With a raise and an increase in your security level."
"Better parking space?" Auggie asked. She didn't say anything in response, so Auggie continued. "Is this a genuine promotion? Or am I just covering someone's ass upstairs?"
"Auggie, I talked them through a lot while you were away. I told them they'd need to cajole you back, that you had given notice. You deserve this."
"But I hadn't."
"They only know you did."
"So, what, I throw out the missions and bring in the Intel and organise it all into reports at my desk?"
"I never said it would be exciting every day," Joan was serious. She added in a lower voice, "You're still covert, Auggie. I know that's important to you."
"So who is this newly returned officer from the wind?" Auggie asked.
"Decker?" Auggie was incredulous.
"It seems your words of persuasion have changed his mind. He said you talked a lot on the plane. He also had some choice words for you."
Auggie smiled. "I'll just bet. Wow. Decker." He was having a hard time puzzling his brain back around that one.
Joan interrupted him from having to further think about it for the moment. "Surely you knew you were in the running for a promotion."
"I never know anymore. I get shifted up and down the stairs like I work for a moving company."
"This is genuine. This is from me. As a thank you. Auggie, I wouldn't be here without you. We'll get to work together in conference. It will be good, Auggie, I enjoy working with you. It's a bridge."
"You don't need to convince me," he said. "Do I get to know what this new division is that you've invited my fiancé to come into?"
"Eyes only," Joan said, and Auggie leaned back in the seat, slightly put out, until he felt the file folder slide under his hand. He took it, and opened it, feeling the Braille under his fingers.
"Eyes only?" he grinned.
"I wanted to tell you first," Joan said, tapping his knee and standing up.
"Maybe if you had've said no eyes can read this then we'd have been clear."
"You give us an extra level of protection," Joan said and Auggie grinned at her. "Auggie," she said. "Welcome aboard."
"I've said yes, then?"
Auggie closed his eyes a minute. This was what he wanted, wasn't it? To climb the ladder to... to what? To the top? To the position Arthur had thrown to him before? To DCI? He opened his eyes and held out his hand to Joan, feeling her hand slip into his and shake it firmly.
"Welcome aboard," she said again.
"I'm looking for a sweet time," said Annie's sexiest voice in his ear as her hand slid down his chest from where she stood behind him. He grinned, taking a sip of his beer.
"Are you a leggy redhead?" Auggie asked.
"I'm whatever you want me to be, Baby," she said, sliding her hand down his arm and trailing her fingers along his hand before she slipped into the seat adjacent.
"Cheque, please," Auggie said, raising his fingers in the air.
"At least buy me a beer, Handsome," Annie laughed.
"Deal." He raised his hand again. "Is anyone looking?" he asked.
There was always a staff member close by, and they were swiftly waited on and served.
"So," Auggie said as Annie took a drink of beer. "I guess Joan had you quite busy today," he said.
"Polygraphs, fingerprints... I had to go through everything again."
"Par for the course," said Auggie.
"Am I ready for this again?"
Auggie heard the uncertainty in her voice. He put his mug down. "You are good at what you do. And this time, you know what happens when you choose to go on your own. You have consequences to go by. Is it worth it? This time, if the choice comes, you can ask yourself that. And this time, I hope you are certain about what it is you have that you can lose."
He put his hands across the table and found hers, one hand fingering the ring on the other. He smiled.
"I really missed coming here," she said, looking around. "I remember coming here with you that first time... It seems a lifetime ago now," she mused.
"It was," Auggie said. "And just yesterday at the same time. Now, the question is, does it still help to repair some of the damage the day does to you?" He took a swig from his mug as if to prove a point.
"Just as much as it did that first day," Annie said. "Just as much as it did every day after that."
"Well, from what I hear, you're gonna need it."
"What do you know?" she asked.
"Clearance," Auggie teased. "All need to know."
It felt right. Auggie felt a shift; he had felt it, since they had come back from their world travel. They had fallen back into some sort of reprise of their first ease, back to the lightness they gave each other to balance out the bad stuff. He had thought it had been tainted from all the lies and secrets, but he'd been wrong. Once the rot had been stripped away, the whole thing was fresh and safe again.
Some things were meant to happen.
Auggie slid the door behind them, locking it, hearing Annie turn the lights on. He folded his cane and took off his jacket and shoes, putting them in the closet alcove. He heard Annie falling on to the sofa and sighing as she pulled off her shoes.
He moved over to her, and she made room for him, pulling him down beside her. He put his arm around her and kissed her hair.
"No mission," Annie said softly.
"Not until you're cleared, Annie, you know that."
"Well, my appointment is next week, so I'll be able to."
"Yes, you will," Auggie said, with confidence. "And then it's back to me waiting for you to come back."
"Don't, Auggie, I'm never not coming back again."
He smiled at her. "Didn't say that. I said I'd be waiting. I'll always wait."
"Hope you don't wait too long," Annie said, peering up at him, grinning. She reached over and took his hand and placed it on her thigh.
"Hah," said Auggie, sliding his hand up to the back of her neck and kissing her, moving his other hand up her thigh. "Thought you'd never ask."
The week played out its high points and its low points. Auggie had sat down with James to hash out some kind of partnership. It was not easy. Decker was still having a hard time being on this side of the line. He'd been angry throughout his re-initiation. Auggie had seen personally to much of the paperwork and statements, just to ease James into it. He knew his friend had issues. Hell, they all had come out of that mission in a bad state of mind. It was what had sent Tony to drinking, Nate to his vigilante justice, and Charlie to throw himself into his work so hard his nerves couldn't stand it. It was what had pushed Auggie into the relentless drive to make something right, ignoring everything else but that inertia that had finally taken him down hard. And now, they were the only two left to know why.
He'd talked long and hard with James when McQuaid had sent him back from Buenos Aires. He'd found out about James reaching out to the kids in the area, organising a soccer team, coaching them in the sport and in their young lives. He'd heard the hope and the despair in his friend's voice as he talked about the kids he coached.
"You can keep making a difference," Auggie had said. "It doesn't have to kill us, Decker."
"It looks like it's nearly killed you, and more than once, by what I can tell." He'd sat back, looking at his friend. "Why didn't you tell me, Auggie?"
"Ah, it wasn't important."
"Jeezus, Auggie. Not important? I don't even know how—" He sighed. "We lost touch."
"My fault as much as yours."
"I'd say there's more than just Belenko we need to catch up on," James had said.
Auggie had nodded. "Yeah, I know a good bar..."
Decker had listened to him, in the end. He hadn't wanted to, and Auggie had calmly let him tell his story. But in the end, he came back to Langley with Auggie. He didn't have anything else. He'd already lost his standing by having been thrown in jail back in Argentina. He complained that it was like being coerced back into the Corleone Family by Tom Hagen himself. He tried to talk himself out of it and then back into it, but in the end, Auggie won. James would be safe, at least while Belenko still was out there. If nothing else, he had the protection of the agency now.
The upside, thought Auggie, as he took off the gloves he wore to pummel the heavy bag at the gym, was that he now had a sparring partner in his workouts. Annie was soon to be allowed to give her all again, but until then, Auggie got back in shape after his long holiday by letting his friend body slam him into the mat.
He groaned as he laid there on his back, sticking his hand up and letting James pull him back to his feet again.
"You losin' it?" Decker asked. "What happened, man?"
"I ate lots of good food and relaxed on beaches and in snow lodges for a few months. I'll be fine, I just need to get back into it." He went to the bench and got his towel, and then he dried his hands and neck. He turned. "Peg board?"
"Yeah. Fastest time, two out of three."
Auggie grinned, and started toward the wall. James moved along beside him and bumped against him as Auggie slowed, and Auggie reached up and put his hand on Decker's shoulder, moving along slightly behind him. Sometimes an elbow seemed too intimate, and there was something boiling inside James that Auggie didn't want to intrude upon. Decker seemed genuinely upset about Auggie's situation, and Auggie had tried hard to play it down, to shrug it off, but James was shaken.
Auggie moved to the bucket of pegs by the wall. He grabbed two handfuls.
"I need them already in there. Three spaces apart. You'll have to put them in your pocket and retrieve them as you go. Just leave them in when you come back down."
"You make this extra hard for me," James muttered with a laugh.
"Just levelling the playing field a bit." Auggie grinned, but Decker said nothing that Auggie could hear, and in a way, he was glad he couldn't see his friend's face at the moment.
James went first, climbing the wall, taking each peg out and jabbing it into the next hole as he pulled himself up. Auggie cheered him from the side, clapping his hands and shouting insults and compliments.
He heard Decker's trainers hit the floor as Decker jumped down from where he had lowered himself. "Okay, Brother, you're set up," he said, patting Auggie on the back.
Auggie slid his hand along the wall until he touched the wooden frame. He reached up and touched a hand hold and then set his jaw and tensed his arms and begin to pull himself up the wall, peg by peg. It was hard, pulling himself up and finding the next peg at the same time, his concentration stayed fully focused on his muscles, his direction. His fingers brushed the next peg and he grabbed hold, his arm taut, his opposite hand already prepared to seek the next handhold.
Decker shouted when Auggie had reached the last peg, and Auggie relaxed, letting himself swing back down. As he lowered himself, he called out to Decker, asking for coordinates on the floor rising to meet him.
"You're there, man, about three feet."
Auggie imagined the three feet and let himself drop to the floor. "Shit," he said. "I am out of shape."
"Well, not everyone can do prison workouts to keep their physique," joked Decker.
"Oh, you'd be surprised," Auggie said, following the wall back to the bench with his water and towel.
"I really don't think you can surprise me any more, Auggie," James said to his back. Auggie took a drink and turned back to him, but Decker had already started up the wall once more.
"Hey, we didn't time you!" he called to James.
"It's all right," James grunted. "We all know I'm faster."
"Oh, har," said Auggie, moving back over for his next go at it. After a week of being back in the gym, Auggie was feeling pretty good. It was something that was important to him, even more so when he could no longer see. He wasn't Active Special Forces, but he still represented their determination and readiness.
He took his turn again and was nearing the top when he heard Decker call from below. "You have an admirer, Auggie."
Auggie continued his climb, hoping Decker meant Annie. His hand swept up but he felt the end of the wooden framework and the smooth wall above it, so he began lowering himself back down again.
"Floor?" he called out.
"Oh, uh, sorry, Auggie, you're about four feet off."
Auggie dropped down one more peg and then jumped out to land on both feet. He turned around as he heard a pair of stilettos approaching him and he smiled, waiting for her, his hand subconsciously out to her. She took it, guiding him in for a kiss.
"Looking good, Soldier," she said, her hands sliding up under the back of his black tank top. She turned to the other man. "James?"
"Hey, Annie. How are ya?" Decker hadn't had much time to get to know Annie, and Auggie wanted to fix that sometime soon.
"You almost ready?" Annie asked.
"Yeah, James seems to think he can't be bested by me," Auggie said with a grin.
"You have a lot to learn," Annie said to Decker, a huge smile on her face as she led Auggie back to his gym bag.