"I'm back, Boss," said James Decker as Auggie was getting ready to shut down his computer. "I mean, I know you know, but I just thought I'd come check in personally."
Auggie pushed in his chair and put his laser cane in the desk, retrieving his white cane.
"Hey, Decker. I'm glad you did. Walk me out," he said, pulling on his jacket and slipping the messenger bag over his head. He unfolded his cane, and Decker let him step by him as he headed from the office.
James moved up beside him. Auggie nodded in the man's direction. "You made a good judgment call out there."
"Well, it's not like it was the most dangerous day in the CIA," James retorted.
"And it's not like you've proven yourself, Brother, you know that. They're keeping you close because they don't know you like I do. And they're keeping an eye on you, that's all. You'll be out of the dog house in no time. Besides, I think they're still trying to clean up the aftermath of your break out. Although, technically, I had nothing to do with that, it was all McQuaid."
"Yeah, you can cut the bullshit, I know it was you."
"Yeah, it was me." Auggie shot him a little grin.
They walked in silence for a while, until they got to the elevator. James pushed the button and Auggie let him step back beside him. "I didn't ask to be your handler," Auggie said. "Joan wanted to team us up."
"She just didn't want to scare me off," Decker said. "She figured I needed someone's hand to hold."
"We all just want to make this as easy as possible, Man. They want you back. Your mission in Venezuela, all that shit that went down in Chechnya, you know they want you back."
"Yeah, maybe just to keep me quiet."
Auggie heard the elevator chime and the doors open. He listened for people coming off and when it was clear he moved swiftly ahead of Decker, finding the door with his cane and stepping in, holding it for Decker. He found the ground floor button and stepped back.
"It's going to work out, Brother," Auggie said, kindly. His friend was rough around the edges, unsure if what he was doing was right. Auggie knew that he might decide it wasn't what he could handle, and he wouldn't blame him. But James Decker seemed a whole lot of lost to Auggie right now, and something that had been familiar and good for him years ago might bring him back in.
"Is it?" James asked. "I mean, Auggie, I hate to tell you this, but you're blind because of this place."
The door opened and Auggie swung his cane, stepping out into the hallway. He heard Decker walking beside him. He had gone out the night before with James, after Joan had broken the news that Auggie would be, for the time being, James's handler. He felt he needed to break some ice or something. They had had a few beers together at Allen's, and Auggie had briefed his fellow soldier on what had gone down in Tikrit on his last mission. He knew it was bothering his friend, and Decker was as reluctant to speak of it as Auggie was. Auggie told him the facts, straight up, and then when he'd finished, he'd leaned forward, smacking Decker's hand as he located it.
"It's all good, Brother," he'd said, and ordered them another pitcher of beer.
"Yeah, and I'm indebted to them taking me back, the same way you should be. It's not perfect, Decker, but I know it's in you. You couldn't give it up so easily. Why else did you end up in a prison over there? Listen, I only told you out-loud the things you were already thinking in your head on that plane ride back here."
"Yeah, well, I didn't know what had happened to you at that point, Auggie, Man. I didn't know about this."
It hadn't been expected, he knew that. When Decker had come in to Langley with Ryan McQuaid and Annie, Auggie had gone down to meet him in the interrogation room. He was still in rough shape from the beatings and torture Belenko had administered, and when he walked in, he'd heard James's confusion.
"What is this?" James had said, seeing Auggie's cane first. And then, "Oh, shit, Auggie!" Auggie hadn't even let it sink in, he immediately and unprofessionally held his arms out to his brother-in-arms, saying the man's name out loud.
There had been a pause, and Auggie had been afraid that his old friend was still angry, was upset with him for bringing him in. But then he realised it was shock that held Decker back for that moment. Just as he started to drop his hands, James stood and embraced him, clutching him hard.
"I guess we're even now on the life-saving thing," he'd said to Auggie.
"Yeah, I guess so," Auggie had replied.
But Decker either hadn't been convinced when Auggie said he was okay, or he hadn't heard. They presently walked down the hallway to the main door, checking out through security.
"Is that what's bothering you? Decker? More than anything else? This?" He raised the cane up.
"I dunno. I guess. I just... wasn't expecting it."
"Neither was I," Auggie quipped.
"After all that, Auggie, and you're still here."
"Like I told you before, Brother, I'm a Company Man."
"They got some strange hold on you, Man," retorted James.
"Yeah. Well, some things just are how they are. Listen, you should come by and get to know Annie. Get to know her outside these walls you dislike so much."
"Ye—of course, Decker! We're friends, right? On and off the field. Brothers. I want you around, Man. In case you forgot, we're all we have now."
"Yeah, I haven't forgotten it since you told me, Auggie."
He heard his driver address him quietly. "I'll call you, Decker. Okay? We'll sort this all out."
"Yeah, shit, Auggie, I'm sorry, Man," Decker mumbled.
Auggie felt for his shoulder and pulled the man in for a one-armed hug before reaching out for his driver to lend him an elbow.
He sat thinking about James's reaction all the way home. He was shaken out of this solitude by the driver, who announced he'd pulled up on the curb in front of Auggie's building. Auggie gathered his thoughts as well as his belongings and climbed out, thanking the man and bidding him a good evening.
The apartment was quiet. Annie had not returned yet, and Auggie felt both glad for the time to be alone, and a wish to have her here to welcome him home. He was hungry and yet, he had no desire to eat. He sat down on the sofa, thinking about James Decker.
Annie returned almost hours later, and Auggie was still sitting where he'd plunked himself, except he had distracted himself by reading a book. He didn't get a lot of time to read anymore, and the books in Braille were just too cumbersome to stow in his bag, but he still enjoyed reading a real book. It was something that was described in voiceless details for everyone alike so they could all make pictures in their heads, whether they could see or not.
"Hey," Annie said, softly, turning on the lights.
"Hey," Auggie replied.
"Did you eat?"
Annie came over and sat down next to him, pressing into his side. He put the bookmark back in place and set the book down, putting his arm around her.
"How'd you make out?" he asked her.
"It's pretty deep, isn't it? I mean, there's more to it than just a border."
"Yeah. But Joan needs your language skills and she wants to get in there. She also doesn't want to put you in harm's way, though, Annie. You going to Russia is not in our best interests."
"I understand that, Auggie, but you know she may send me outside the borders."
"We're hoping not to, Annie. But you never know."
"So? I didn't see you since noon, how did yours go down?" She sounded gently probing. He realised she knew something was up when she turned the lights on, which meant it was dark. Auggie had recently begun to remember to turn the lights on for her when she was due home and he had completely forgotten to check the time and turn on a light for her.
"Good. Fine. Yeah, we got the drop, and it all went by the book. Decker is fast and efficient and still the same guy in the field, I think."
"Yeah, that's good."
"It's off the field he seems to be lost."
"What do you mean, lost?" Annie turned her body in slightly to see his face.
"I don't know. I can't really get a thread on what it is, but I think a lot of it has to do with what happened to me. It's shaken him, and I can't seem to connect with him like... I dunno, I guess it was a shock for him. And he already has enough bad feelings about the CIA, and this isn't helping win the case." Auggie pointed at his own eyes, and then leaned his head back.
"It's just gonna take some time," Annie said.
"I'm his handler. I haven't got a lot of time."
"Auggie." Annie took his hand. "Be patient with him. The man's been through enough himself."
"Yeah, well, it's been months since he found out."
"And you weren't here. For him to deal with it. For him to come around. He was just getting his feet back under him, setting himself here. Now he has to face it."
"He doesn't get why I am still there. He doesn't get why he's gone back, and seeing me there shakes him even more. He doesn't want to end up like this."
Annie was quiet. "I don't think it's him he's thinking about, or the CIA. In the bigger picture. It's you, Auggie. You're different. And he doesn't know how to deal with it."
Auggie shook his head, but not taking his hand from Annie's. "I can't keep doing this for them," he sighed. "It's the hardest part of seeing old friends. I have to keep showing them I'm okay. They feel sorry for me no matter what I do."
"You just have to let him know you again, Auggie. Let him see that you have a place where you work, it's not about past events, it's about you being valued and appreciated for what you do there. You know your job better than anyone, right? You are confident and you have stability because of your job. He'll understand, Auggie, I don't doubt that. Anyone who knows you for more than a day sees that. And plus, Auggie, you're the most loyal person I've ever met. I mean, hell, you stayed loyal to me for all those..." He heard her take a breath. "He'll see, Auggie. Be patient with the man."
"I didn't have to be patient with you," he said, turning slightly toward her.
She didn't say anything but she put her free hand on his cheek, looking at him. "Come on," she finally said. "Let's make something to eat."
She stood, still holding onto his hand, pulling him up behind her. They walked hand in hand to the kitchen, and Annie handed him a box of pasta from the cupboard. He automatically started filling a pot with water, trying to curb the thoughts that kept popping into his head. The ordinariness of the chore gave him some distance, and he was silently grateful to Annie. He measured out the pasta and Annie got out the oil, the salt, and some mushrooms, and they worked on the meal together. Annie lightened his mood with a breakdown of her most embarrassing moment of the day, and Auggie felt the tension between his shoulders that was threatening to move behind his eyes dissolving with each laugh. He moved behind her and slipped his hand around her middle, kissing her under the ear, and moved on to the fridge, a smile on his face. No doubt about it, Auggie thought to himself, she made every part of his life better.
The following day, Auggie and Eric were trying to search out a face at a conference that was happening in Cuba, during the historical meeting of the presidents. There was a general move forward, as far as the relationship between the two countries was concerned, but there had been questionable intel about a Russian plan to infiltrate and interrupt the negotiations. Decker was brought in for the play. Auggie once again felt the hesitance from his old friend, sadness, definitely, and no doubt a good handful of pity. Auggie wanted James to see how he worked, how connected he was to his job, how easily he manoeuvred, and how quickly he could do it all. James was professional, he was friendly, he was agreeable, but he was not sure yet, and it was painfully obvious to Auggie.
They had agreed that Decker would go in, if need be. James seemed calm and capable. He still had a good head on his shoulders. The only thing he seemed unsure about was Auggie, and what the Agency had done to him. Auggie felt the anger under the surface and he knew that James needed to burn this off, or he wouldn't be good at his job. He wanted to shake him, or arm wrestle him, or something, but even their work-outs at the gym hadn't broken the tension that Auggie felt. He was waiting for James to laugh at one of his quips, and it never happened. James hadn't laughed since he'd come back. Auggie wondered if the kids Decker had coached had made him laugh.
Decker had been dismissed, while Barber, Holman, and Auggie worked on frame by frame shots from the Hummingbird network. Auggie's level of comfort and confidence went back to normal as he worked with his hacker army. They were fine with him as he was. Of course, he'd met both of them after returning from Iraq. He didn't have to make up for anything. He wished James Decker would see it like that.
What Auggie was not aware of, was that James Decker was on his way to Annie's office she shared with three others. Which was for the best, as Decker had taken it into his head that he needed to talk to someone, and it had to be Annie because she knew Auggie best.
Annie was at her desk as he approached the door. He pushed it open and entered, nervously looking around. Annie looked up, puzzled, and then stood and followed him back out into the hallway.
"What are you doing here?" she asked him, taking him to the chairs further down the hallway.
He looked at the wall and then back at Annie. "How do you wrap your head around it?" he asked.
"Around what? Auggie?"
"Yeah. Like, he was this amazing soldier; he was all action and handling situations on the ground. And he's not that guy anymore. He can't be that guy anymore."
Annie smiled at Auggie's old friend. "I didn't know him as a sighted man," she told him.
He shook his head at her. "You didn't? You never knew him before?"
"No," Annie said, grinning at him. "Why does that surprise you? He was as perfect the day I met him as he is now." She blushed and Decker chuckled.
"I don't know why it bothers me so much, Annie," he said, his head dropping lower.
"Because you love him, James. He's your brother. He's really the same guy with the same values and the same humour and the same drive as he always had. Maybe even more so. But now, he has patience and empathy and a strength that give him real character. I've never known anyone like Auggie, James, and not because he can't see. It's all the other stuff that most people don't learn in a lifetime."
Decker was quiet. Annie leaned further down, her hand on his back. "He doesn't want you to tiptoe around him. Just be his friend, James, like you always were. Ask him questions. He doesn't mind that. Tease him a bit. Let him know you're comfortable with him, with who he is, because that man in that office? He is as valuable now as he ever was. He is not less productive than he was. He has respect here.
"You wonder why he came back here after the bomb blast, after Belenko? He knows his job. He has this whole place down, both physically, and psychologically. He needs the adrenaline, the same way you do. You and he have the same drive. It's what made your team strong. If he is going to be your handler, James, you will make a good team, but you need to let it go. You need to stop thinking of Auggie as used to be and start just thinking about him as Auggie. He's okay, James. He really is. He's adapted and moved forward. He'll ask for help if he needs it. The more at ease he is with you, the more likely it is he'll just out and ask you, and it won't be a big deal. That's all I'm saying, James, is that in so many situations, it's not a big deal. And when it is, you deal with it then."
"I just… can't help but feel sorry for him. What was."
"I know. It's hard, when you think of what he's lost. But think of what we've gained by having him still here. He didn't die in that blast, James. For that, we should love him more now, and care less about the past."
Decker nodded, running his hands through his hair. He looked at Annie, and he saw the beauty in her eyes as she talked about Auggie.
"He will amaze you, James. In more ways than you think. And he will also be stunningly everyday, probably like the Auggie you knew before. You just have to put the two notions of him together in your mind. Give it some time, but don't let it put a wall between you. You won't even notice half the time, I'm betting, once you get used to the idea."
Decker looked sideways at her, and she still had that same expression. No two ways about it, this woman loved Auggie, and she loved him as he was. Auggie was not to be pitied, she'd said. And seeing the love in Annie's eyes for Auggie, knowing that Auggie felt good about his job, respected, in control, and still had the excitement he needed, the puzzles he loved to sort out in that smart brain of his, Decker felt some of the tension in his chest let go, just a tiny bit.
"Do you still trust his judgement?" Annie asked. "Because if you're going to have him in your ear, you need to be sure."
"Did you? I mean, right at the start?"
"I was scared. I was new. He was always sure of himself to me. I just went with his gut until I figured out how to read my own. He never let me down, James."
Decker's eyes teared up, and he wiped at his eye, wishing Annie didn't see it. "Me, either," he whispered. "None of us."
"Then don't let him down," Annie whispered at him, looking at him with a pleading expression. "He needs you, James. He needs you just as you were, as brothers."
Decker nodded, a smile on his face this time. He felt much better about his feelings, and while he still had them, he knew they would subside and he would see Auggie again as everyone else saw him: smart, capable, kind, giving, driven, and just around all that as a normal constant, blind. And it wouldn't be a big deal to him, either, once he settled down to the idea.
Annie stood, and James got to his feet beside her. "Thanks, Annie."
"You should come visit us," Annie said, and leaned up and kissed his cheek.
"No Chee-tos on the keyboard!" Auggie called as he stepped out of the office, leaving Barber and Holman running a scan of recognisable Russian agents against a photo capture from a camera in Havana.
"Decker? Hey!" Auggie turned, automatically holding his free hand up.
"Walk you out?" James asked, patting Auggie on the shoulder. Auggie stepped in and touched Decker's arm, following it to his elbow. He felt the muscles tense for a moment in Decker's arm, and then James relaxed.
"Don't mind if you do," he said, and they headed down the hallway to the elevator together.
"You may need to go to Havana," Auggie said.
"I can do it, Auggie. I want to prove myself."
"I guess we both need to, huh?"
The elevator arrived and they stepped in, Auggie letting Decker guide him this time.
"You don't have to prove anything to me, Auggie."
"I kinda do."
"You shouldn't have to."
"I know… but I love ya, Man, and I'll do the extra work to make it okay again. But you have to promise me you'll stop with the holding back at the gym, man. Are you scared to take down a blind guy?"
"I never -" Decker began and then chuckled, seeing Auggie's grin. "Okay."
"I mean it, though, Brother," said Auggie. "It's gonna be right between us. I'm still Auggie. I just run into a lot more things than I used to." He waited. "And you can laugh at that if you want to."
"What else am I gonna do? Cry? Give up and go home?"
"I guess that's not you at all."
"Damn straight it's not me, and it's not you, either, Decker."
They stepped out of the elevator and crossed the floor to security.
"No, you're right, Auggie. You know me better than anyone, even still. I was kind of in limbo while I was away there. I didn't have to make any real decisions because I'd left all that here. I didn't expect anything here to change. I still expected you to be out running missions and being all heroic."
"I don't do as many field missions, but I am always heroic," Auggie laughed.
Decker laughed, too, and Auggie realised it was the first time he'd really heard his friend laugh in years. As they went out to meet with Auggie's driver, who was approaching to lead Auggie around the heavy traffic parked in front, James turned and pulled Auggie into a hug this time.
"You got my back, Brother," he said. And then he stepped back as the driver touched Auggie's arm. Auggie paused, and then he grinned and nodded in Decker's direction, knowing his friend saw him, maybe now in more ways than one.