Always the disclaimer that I own nothing. I make no money from my writing. Maybe one day someone will give me a publishing deal for something, but until then, here's some free stuff. If I don't profit, it at least makes me feel happy that the Network is also not profiting off of me.
Auggie was typing as Joan peppered him with rhetorical questions. He had his headphones skewed over one ear, listening to both her and the live-feedback as he typed. He scanned his fingers over the Braille display, and relayed the information back to Joan. The mission they'd set in motion in Ukraine was spiralling. Nothing was stable, and all the intel coming in was scrutinised over possible faultiness.
"We'll have to do an extraction for agents Cole and Welsley. If we don't hear from Drovnev soon, we'll have to think of a different tactic."
"I think we need to give Dvoynev more time," Auggie said. "He can do this."
"Auggie, the guns aren't the only thing we'll lose if you're wrong."
"I'm not wrong," Auggie said. "Trust Dvoynev."
He waited, listening to Joan pace behind him. He half-turned his head, ready to take whatever orders she ultimately gave. She touched his shoulder. "Let Dvoynev do the tracking device."
Auggie breathed a little sigh of relief and spoke into the headset. "Roger that, it's a go." He read the display and Joan walked toward the door. He turned. "It's going to work. And when we find out where they're going, it'll be a bigger catch."
"I hope you're right," Joan said, opening the door.
Auggie turned back to his computer. Shit was going down and every time they seemed to have things under control over there, something smashed up against another front. It looked like they would be there all night. Barber had gone to crash for a half an hour, and Auggie was feeling hungry. Late nights and hunger would probably mean a headache, so he reached in his drawer and took some pre-emptive tablets. He knew the power drinks were not his best choice, either, but he needed to work through the urge to just put his head down on his desk for a nap, and he needed be alert, even if his head threatened upheaval.
The tracking device was in place by sometime in the wee hours of the night, D.C. time, much to Auggie's relief. He didn't say I told you so to Joan. He knew his operative would come through, and though he'd had to fight hard to put the turned agent on assignment in the past, every op he'd sent the man on, the agent had pulled through. Auggie trusted him. Joan trusted Auggie. It's why most of the operations both on U.S. soil and off it were routine, and well-played out.
"Boat's offshore," Barber said over his fourth coffee. "Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub."
Auggie took a deep breath. The boat would reach international waters in no time, and the three American agents would be safe and heading back to American soil. He read the Braille that was clicking across his display: co-ordinates of the gun-shipment. Now they just had to wait until it reached its destination.
"Hey, Auggie," Holman said. "Why don't you go home?"
"Hey, Holman," Auggie replied, turning in the man's direction. "Yeah, I'd love to pack it in." Auggie tipped his head from shoulder to shoulder, trying to stretch the cricks out. He felt his watch, and groaned as he read it was just shy of four a.m.
"I'll be here for another hour, or so," Barber informed him from his desk. "I'll fill Holman in."
Auggie rubbed his eyes, and then began the shut down process on his computer, moving his laser cane into its drawer and taking his folding cane out. "Joan gone?"
"Yeah," said Barber. "She left a while ago."
Auggie stopped, not realised he had a look on his face. Joan usually checked in with him before she left. Auggie shrugged it off. Joan was exhausted, and had a small child to go home to, Auggie didn't blame her for taking off as fast as she could.
He grabbed his jacket and his bag and headed down to the main door to check out. There was a shuttle heading to his side of town shortly, but he didn't feel like walking back at all, so he opted to have them call a driver for him. He waited outside, hoping the fresh air would bring him around. He was glad that the night had been successful, he always felt lighter, like something had mattered, when they pulled off a good mission, but it took a toll on him sometimes.
The driver alerted him that he was there, and guided Auggie to the door handle of the car. Auggie sat in the back, resting his head against the back of the seat, closing his eyes, letting his mind empty. He didn't recall much of the ride, he knew he'd dozed when his driver woke him with their arrival.
"Need an arm?" the man Auggie recognised as Ross asked him, as Auggie climbed out.
"No, thanks, Ross. I'm good. Have a good night."
"Good night, Mr. Anderson."
Auggie reached the building door, passing inside, and heard the car pull away. He dragged himself up the stairs and down the hall. It dawned on him that even half-asleep, he knew every step of this building. His cane struck against the door casing of his apartment and he reached out, finding the lock. He never got that right the first time around, which also struck him as funny, but he finally managed to slide the door open as quietly as he could, and closing it the same way. He moved to the credenza, collapsing his cane and putting everything in the tray. He went to the open closet to hang his jacket and kick off his shoes, and then went to the sink. He found his prescription pills, and took out two, and then took a glass off the shelf and filled it with water. He'd probably have to schedule melatonin in the rest of the week to get his sleep back in sync with the sun, but he knew he'd have to be up and back at work in a few hours, and it wasn't the time to knock himself out just yet. The weekend was coming, and they were moving house.
He wasn't ready for that, either.
He climbed the stairs, unbuttoning his shirt.
"Auggie?" Annie mumbled.
"Shh, it's me, go back to sleep. I'll be right there."
He smiled to himself when she didn't say anything else. Every day that he knew her, she became more in tune with him, so much so that she barely even noticed when he snuck in late. She just confirmed to herself he was there, and was back asleep in seconds. Auggie loved that there was that much comfort level to living with each other.
A shower could wait, he decided, as he put his clothes as neatly as he could on the storage bench outside his closet. He traced along the edge of the bed, finding the edge of the sheets, and slid in beside his fiancé, who immediately turned into him, and then made a frosty sound as she found him to be colder than her spot in the bed. He wrapped his arms around her and immediately warmed up, and they were both asleep in less than a minute.
The alarm blared, after what felt like ten minutes to Auggie, and Annie groaned. She rolled over and hit the button, sitting still for a moment.
"Auggie? What time did you come in last night?"
Auggie didn't move, but he replied, "four."
"Are you going in?"
"Okay. Just stay in bed, I'll get a shower and I'll wake you when I'm out."
Auggie rolled over and let himself doze off again. He was grateful for the extra few minutes. When Annie had showered and dressed, she woke Auggie with the hair dryer humming in his bathroom. He pulled himself over to the side of the bed and rubbed at his face.
"You okay? Still going in?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Just need some coffee and a shower."
"Well, go get showered, I'll make coffee, and we'll fix you up."
The morning was a literal drag for Auggie. The operatives were safe, returning back to the U.S., Joan had scheduled a meeting at nine-thirty that involved a lot of paperwork, and Annie didn't appear with a coffee until almost noon.
"Where have you been?" he asked her, curious.
"I've been having a wonderful time poking around the Potomac looking for a non-existent safehouse for Russian gunrunners. All I got out of that was wet shoes."
"The only thing I can come up with is bike clubs. They funnel the money through, all the weapons are unmarked. It makes no sense that they would actually come here to do the hard work themselves. The guns go out of here, through Cuba, through South America, through any links they have. Belenko is one of those links."
"So why are we getting so much information on the whereabouts of the gun trade being somewhere here? False intel? Someone's throwing us off? This is the third search I've been sent on this week with no results."
Auggie pinched the bridge of his nose. "I don't know. We're working on that. I had a meeting with Joan this morning."
"Yeah. I'm just tired."
"What time you off?"
"I'm heading home around four. Unless something happens. You know the score."
"Need a lift?"
"No." He gave her a reassuring smile. "I'll be fine."
"You look tired." She pressed her hand on his cheek. "Get some rest. Joan willing, I should be home after six. I'll bring sustenance."
Auggie turned towards Decker's voice.
"Hey, brother, you going home?"
"Yeah. I'm cutting out early today."
"I'm heading out, too, I'll give you a lift. We still on for the weekend?"
"Oh, yeah, you're not getting out of this one. Friday through until Sunday. And then my nights will be upside down there for a while." Auggie held his hand up and felt James's elbow bump into it. "And thanks, I'd love a ride."
Decker let Auggie's hand slide down his arm to the door handle, and Auggie got in, careful of the low roof, keeping his hand up on the edge of the door frame. He got himself situated and reached out for the door handle, catching air the first couple of times.
"What in God's name are you driving?" he asked James, his face pinched in confusion, as Decker closed his own door and put on his seatbelt. Auggie reached up and felt along the dash, and then along the door and beside the seat, getting his bearings.
"Aw, Auggie, Man, this is a '75 Chev Monza. Two-plus-two. It's a classic."
"A classic! Where'd you dredge this artifact up? Sale at the senior's home?"
"Excuse me, I seem to remember you going all ape over a car you were looking to buy when we got back from Chechnya. You were hoping to make enough for a sleek blue Corvette Stingray, even more ancient than my little Monza here. Whatever happened to that idea?"
"It came to be."
Auggie gave him a small grin. "Yeah."
"I guess... I guess you don't have it now."
Auggie chuckled. "I kept it in storage... I... I kinda had hopes that they... might be able to fix this," he motioned to his eyes, "so I kept it, just in case."
"But, no, that was just a hopeful dream. I saw my specialist about four years after for tests. They assured me quite factually that it wasn't going to happen. So, in a big reaction, the only way I know how, I gave the car away, to Annie of all people, and went to Eritrea to ask another woman to marry me."
"Jeezus, Auggie, do you do anything half-assed?"
Auggie laughed. "No, not really."
"So what happened with this other woman?"
"Well, we got kidnapped by pirates, were held for ransom, I had to tell her I was CIA, she decided I was... I came with too much baggage, she didn't want to deal with it. I don't think, looking back on it, that she really wanted to be in a relationship. Or at least, not with me. She was close to me because of her brother. Billy was in the unit with me that... died... on that last mission with me in Iraq. She thought maybe being with me would give her a part of Billy. I guess I thought the same thing. I thought I could have a life with her, outside all of this. But then, the CIA is still what broke us apart. For a brief minute, she wanted a family with me."
"And Annie? Where was she, if you were giving her your Corvette?"
"I was as blind as they come, Decker. I couldn't see what was right in front of me."
"But you gave her the car."
"Yeah, I know. And not just any car. I gave her my dream car. That should have told me something right there. Why wouldn't I keep it and give it to Parker? Nope, me, genius I am, king of missing the obvious, I gave it to Annie and told her I was off to propose to Parker."
"Damn, Auggie. Damn, that couldn't have gone over well."
"Nope. Sure didn't. Long story short, Annie ended up with another guy, I came home, Parker broke up with me, I got shitfaced in Allen's and punched an asshole in the face."
"Was he really an asshole?" Decker interjected.
"Oh, yeah, he was an asshole all right. But it was me they carted off to jail."
"Ahh, there's part of that story you told me about earlier."
"Yeah," Auggie grinned. "I'm acquainted with jail cells. But by this time, Annie was off with this guy. She ended up getting shot... he was killed... I sat by her bedside. I stood by her. And I realised what a jerk I'd been."
Decker slowed the car to stop at a light. "Did you tell her?"
"I kinda did. But not when she was conscious. And then a whole pile of nasty went down in Russia, but after it all came back together again, I couldn't waste another second. I came clean."
"Such a sweet, non-violent fairy-tale romance," Decker joked. Sometimes a joke was the only way to acknowledge something undeserving of a joke.
"If only that was the half of it."
"Yeah, it's been a definite journey through very rough waters. We were together happily for like, five minutes, and then all hell broke lose again. I thought it was done. I thought our chance was over. I never gave up hoping, but I came so close, James. I did some pretty uncool stuff myself, to try and cope, to try and make it better somehow, and everything made it worse."
"If you're together after all that, you guys are meant to be together."
Auggie smiled, broadly. "We were meant to be together from the first minute she told me she went to a Mingus Tribute festival in Sweden."
Decker laughed. "Yeah, what happened to you, Auggie? Jazz?"
"Again, it was Billy."
"Ahh." Decker paused. "Sounds like Billy meant a whole lot."
"Sounds like Billy's death meant even more."
Auggie turned to face Decker. "What do you mean by that?"
"I mean, did you like jazz when you were hanging with Billy and your unit?"
"No, not at all."
"And this Parker... Maybe so you could stay close to Billy somehow... because of his sister? This is war-guilt, Auggie."
Auggie was silent.
"You're carrying Billy around with you out of guilt, Man."
There was a strong, tight feeling in Auggie's chest. "No, I got Nasir. Khani. I promised them I would get him, and I did."
"Yeah," Decker said, his voice low. "And that's how I feel about Belenko. He killed my unit, in a way. One by one. He tortured you; I saw how you came out of that. And I wasn't there for any of you. But I'm not going to let him get away with it. This life has fucked us up, Man. We walk around carrying the guilt of the world with us every day. Why? Where does that get us?"
"I realised this, too," Auggie said quietly. "When I realised why I wasn't with Parker... what my reasons had been. I had been grasping at family. Someone close to all of us here had been killed, and I thought I needed to make the next move, I felt pushed to do it, before something else happened to stop it.
"And the music? That's just what I like now. I feel good about it, and I sometimes think about Billy, and the good times we had over there. He was funny. Made me laugh, when we were all scared. I've grown into jazz, instead of wearing it as Billy's badge.
"We'll get Belenko. We will, Decker." Auggie listened to Decker's silence. He hoped James believed him. He still needed to know James would not go off on his own.
"We're here," Decker said, pulling close to the curb.
"I thought so," Auggie said, letting his seatbelt loose.
"You okay? Do you need me to...?"
"Nope, I'm fine, Brother."
Auggie opened the door. "Now, no backing out on this weekend, Decker."
"You said you had beer."
Auggie grinned, leaning down into the car. "I have beer."
"I'll be there."
Auggie laughed and thanked his friend for the lift. It felt good just to sit like buddies and talk about the way things were. Auggie had learned to bottle everything up inside him, but ever since Annie had come along, he'd learned that talking wasn't the painful, wound-opening action of defeat he'd once thought it was. Sometimes, it actually brought peace of mind, and often it brought people closer. Marrying Annie, buying a home, having real friends that he could talk to about his real life, his real feelings, this was a step Auggie had wanted to take, but had been so afraid.
He climbed the stairs to the apartment, not really knowing why he had convinced himself it would be bad to let people close to him. He figured a lot had to do with needing to keep the CIA life so secret that everything else had begun from that root, and he stopped knowing where he could draw a line. So everything had become off-limits.
It took no time for Auggie to make it to his bed, where he kicked off his shoes, not caring where they landed, and lying on the bed on his stomach, he fell asleep in minutes.
Auggie was awakened feeling Annie curling around him, rubbing his back. He felt a smile creep over his face as he realised.
"Hi," he said softly.
"Hi," she said. "This is your gentle wake-up call."
"The army's got nothing on you."
"No? You like this better?" She leaned close and kissed his cheek, his ear, his lips.
"I think a lot more men would sign up for this kind of action," he replied, lifting her hair and kissing her neck, just below her ear.
"How was your nap?" she asked, rubbing his arms, letting him nip on her earlobe.
"It was quite refreshing."
"So you want your dessert before your meal?"
Auggie stopped for a second. "What did you bring?"
"I crapped out and bought pizza."
Auggie grinned. "Perfect. Pizza can wait. Pizza is good cold, if need be. I think we should have this dessert you refer to right now." And with that, he reached over, pulling Annie into his hands and flipping her onto her back as he leaned down into the nape of her neck, breathing her in, kissing her more passionately, working his way down as he opened each button on her blouse.
The pizza was good, even at room temperature. Auggie retrieved a couple of beers from the fridge while Annie played with the remote to find a movie or something to watch. Auggie heard the narration of the action on the screen and smiled that she'd located the Described Video feature. He placed the beers in front of them on the tray and Annie passed him a plate with his pizza and touched a couple of napkins against the back of his hand.
This was how he wanted to come home and spend his evenings. He thought back to living alone, mindlessly passing the evenings away. He'd long since stopped playing chess with online opponents. It had lost something for him after he'd had a few good relationships to come home to. Now, he thought about teaching chess to his kids one day.
How things had changed.