The day couldn't have been more like a Monday. Auggie spilled coffee on his lap. Eric Barber had brought a particularly loud bag of Doritos that Auggie could smell across the room. Joan was furious at an op gone badly with one of her teams and was short with everyone.
And then Annie came to Auggie's desk in the afternoon with the surprise news that Danielle was coming in to DC in the morning. She would stay with her mother, and Michael and the girls would arrive on Thursday.
"We knew it would start," Auggie said.
Annie leaned against his desk next to him. "I just was hoping it wouldn't start until at least Friday."
"Fat chance," retorted Auggie reaching out for her waist. "At least she's staying with your mother."
"Yes, they'll have plenty to go over together," Annie sighed.
"Focus, Annie. Wedding. Not their day. Ours."
"Right. You're right, Auggie." She put her arms over his shoulders and clasped them behind his neck.
"Annie?" Joan's voice appeared at the door. Annie dropped her hands but Auggie didn't as they both turned to face her. "I need you. Now. I need a translator to do a pick-up in Puerto Rico."
"Joan! I told you I didn't want to go anywhere this week. I can't go."
"You'll be back before the morning. Auggie can handle anything that needs handling tonight. I'll brief you in my office."
Annie turned back to Auggie. "I'm sorry, Auggie. I told her I wasn't leaving American soil this week."
Auggie shook his head. "We'll survive. We always do. It's just one day. We're not planning the Academy Awards of weddings. It's okay. Go, make Joan happy, and come home and I'll make sure you're reimbursed for missing one night with me."
Annie smiled and looked at her husband-to-be with pride. He always said the right thing, whether good or bad. This was good. She leaned down and kissed him, her hand on his chest alerting him to her approach.
"I'll stop before I have to go," she said, giving his chest a little push as she stood back up and walked out, looking back once before heading out the door to Joan's office.
The day hadn't gotten much better from then on. By the time he left the office at six, he was frustrated by nearly everything around him, people included. He knew he couldn't deal with public transit or the shuttle or any kind of travel that involved anything but sitting with his eyes closed, alone. So he called a cab to take him directly home, and made sure to relay the message to the driver that he would need to be assisted to the cab.
The ride home was pretty much what he'd hoped for, and when he finally reached the Gladstone House, he tipped the driver for letting him have his space.
The welcome smell of the kitchen relaxed him. It had had that kitchen smell before they moved in, and Annie had been trying her hand at cooking and baking, if only to assure Auggie that she wasn't going to be hopeless as a wife. He had assured her that he would be equally as hopeless as a husband, and they both took turns making meals. Annie was clearly the better cook, Auggie thought, still detecting the smell of the croissants she had made that morning.
The house was big without her there. His apartment had been the right size for him to not feel lost and overwhelmed when there was no-one there. But though this house felt so big, it didn't feel lonely, because everything of Annie was there. Her scent, her clothes, her favourite furniture, her toothbrush and hairbrush, and all those creams and shampoos. He could feel her presence within the walls in such a short period of them being there. But then, he'd always had that with her. It was how he knew that it was something special.
He did some work on his laptop, he checked his emails, and finally cleaned out the inbox. He put on an album and ate some microwaved lasagne. He wondered what it was that had kept him so occupied before he met Annie. Then he remembered: work. He'd buried himself in work.
He definitely didn't do that now. Joan was right, Annie had taken him well out of his comfort zone and he was so glad she had. Now, instead of nights and weekends spent in his office, living off coffee and pills and energy drinks and half-eaten sandwiches, he was going camping and playing Frisbee in his yard. A woman did change a man. At least, Auggie was sold on that. And it was for the better. He felt better. He didn't have those headaches like he used to, and when he did, Annie made sure he never pushed himself to make them worse. He even spent more time outside, which was something he had missed. He'd always spent so much time outside in his youth. Now, it was almost too much effort, too much work, too much preparation to do it on his own. Not with Annie. She opened that world back up for him, too. It was quite ridiculous, thought Auggie, as he read the label on a container in their breadbox (of course they'd had to have a breadbox, some things were mandatory) that said brownies, how many things had improved. Things he thought he had been okay with as they were.
He was half asleep on the sofa when his phone rang. It took him a minute to realise what it was and where it was located, but he smiled as he answered.
"I'm on my way," Annie said. "Just in the air now. You wannna fly with me for a while?"
"You bet," Auggie replied, getting up and putting on another LP to keep them both company.
They talked until Annie's phone beeped a warning that it was close to dying, and then they reluctantly finished their call, with Auggie heading to the empty bed, knowing she would be there in the morning.
"They want someone to meet them who won't track them, trace them, otherwise know anything about them," Joan was saying. "But they have information, and they don't trust any of us."
"So?" said Auggie. "What can we do about it? They've already denounced the CIA. The FBI, the UN. I think it's a hoax. If they have something, why tell everyone they have it and then refused to tell anyone."
"Because we're not supposed to know about it," Joan said. "We're all suspecting each other and not one of us has a lead. Except I got a tip off this morning. And you, Auggie, are going to be the man to get the intel."
Auggie groaned. "Why me?" he asked. He hated the paranoid conspiracy theorists and their constant accusations, some of which were valid, most of which were absurd.
"Because, as usual, no-one suspects a blind guy. Don't give me that look, we use everything we can to our advantage here. They expect you can't trace where you meet, or recognise them in a line-up—"
"They'd be right on that one," Auggie sighed.
"Auggie, I wouldn't ask you if I didn't think you were our only hope to get this. Beside, I thought you liked going in the field."
"This isn't really in the field, Joan. This is me, going down town to get some crazy intel from an overactive imagination and an inflated sense of drama."
"This wasn't a matter of a question," Joan stated, and Auggie knew his battle was lost.
He found the chair in front of her desk with his laser cane and sat down. "Who am I supposed to be working for?" he asked, resigned.
"That's better," Joan replied, and handed him the dossier for him to scan into his computer before moving behind her desk to sit and answer his questions.
Auggie was led to a table in a quiet area of the Vietnamese restaurant he'd been sent to to meet his mark. He sat, folding his cane and waving away a menu, asking for a pot of oolong tea. He settled back in his chair to wait.
There were maybe four other patrons in the place. Unless there were single people making no sound, as there could well be, and beyond Auggie's senses.
An approach on his left, too fast to be his meet, and the sound of china clinking, alerted him to the tea. He let her pour the tea, thanking her. She had barely spoken, her speed in service was her obvious goal, and Auggie appreciated it as she hurried off to refill others' cups or attend to the most likely sixteen things she had going on in the kitchen. He sipped his tea, relishing it's bitter but smooth taste, thinking on different days when he had tasted this tea.
He felt another presence huddle up to him, near the table. He raised his face. He didn't want to appear too alert. This man needed to think Auggie didn't have the means or the capability to know exactly who he was or where he came from.
"Hello?" he asked. "Is someone there?"
"Do you need help with the menu?" asked the voice.
"Yeah, that would be great," Auggie said, his line memorised and said through gritted teeth.
"May I join you here?"
"Please," Auggie said, motioning to sit.
"Who sent you?" said the voice.
"Are we alone?" Auggie asked.
"Yes. Who are you."
"You set up a meet with my boss. She is a private citizen. I don't have your name, you don't get hers. Not until you front the intel."
"I'm probably being followed," said the voice. "How do you know you weren't followed?"
"I don't," said Auggie. "But who's gonna follow me? Do I look suspicious to you?"
"Are you bugged?"
Auggie was starting to inwardly curse Joan for sending him out here.
"No, I'm not bugged. Why would I be bugged? You were only supposed to give me the intel, I don't want to have a conversation for reference points. Do you have it?"
"I don't trust computers," said the voice. "I have one that has no connections. I gutted most of the memory chips. But I put everything I have on this. And another two, which I buried."
Auggie put his hand out on the table, and the other man pushed a thumb-drive against it before snatching his arm back.
Auggie's fingers slid over the device and he clutched it in his hand.
"How do I reach you?" he asked.
"I don't use phones," said the voice. "Not since they bugged that whole building."
"They? They who?"
There was a momentary silence. "I can't give any other info. What I have, is all in there."
And with that, the man's chair scraped back and Auggie felt the air shift as the man swiftly passed by him. The bells on the door jangled and Auggie leaned forward, closing his eyes, rubbing his thumb over the USB memory drive. That was done. He marvelled at the effort these people took to keep under the wire, when most of them wouldn't be any more under surveillance than a four-year-old goat.
He finished the tea. No need to rush out. He left a tip and headed back to the bus-stop with plenty of time to spare. While he waited, he texted Joan. It was all routine.
And still, Auggie thought, as the bus approached and he was given way to board first, he was out of the office, it was a nice day, and he was doing what Annie did, only closer to home, and in the same language. Kind of. He was a spy, and he was still covert, and this was still a mission.
Joan was in a meeting when he got back. He put the thumb-drive in a sealed envelope and put it in the care of her assistant, and he headed back to his office to do his report. He was grateful to Barber for the inane story of a game plotline, though once again, he had trouble at first distinguishing if it had really happened, or if it was just in the game. Once he had it straight, it just sort of set the background for his obligatory report of the day's events.
Though, what if there was something on there? How would they find their source again? Auggie knew he wasn't supposed to have actually tracked the man, but he felt like he'd lost him. He would have done more. But Joan had specifically said there was to be nothing more because their contact would never come forward again, and Auggie had to trust Joan's intuition.
Annie checked in with him as he was pondering all this. He felt her subconsciously before he heard her, being lost in his thoughts. He shook himself out of it and realised someone was there, just as she said his name.
He took his headphones off and dropped them around his neck, turning to her.
"Hey," he said, a smile instantly lighting up his face.
"You made it," she said, standing close.
"I'm quite the spy," he said. "What time is it?" He simultaneously flipped up the crystal of his watch as he asked.
"I'm just heading out," Annie said. "I have to meet Danielle. She promised me she'd come alone, and that I didn't have to go over to mum's house yet."
"You'll have to face the music."
"And when are your brothers and parents coming?" Annie asked, leaning toward him, her hand pressing on his.
He closed his eyes, pressing his lips together. She had him there.
"We can do this," Annie said. "We'll be through it in a week and long out of their range."
Auggie smiled again as she leaned forward and pressed her forehead on his for a moment.
"We can do this," she whispered again and he nodded.
"I may bring her home with me. Is that okay?"
"Annie, she's family. I love her, too. Of course she can come, she's welcome anytime. You know that."
"I know. But the house... is ours. It's only right that we both—"
He raised his hand to her cheek. "Annie. She's your sister. She has a place with us." He felt her nod under his hand, his forehead rocking along with hers.
"Bring her home," he said.
"Okay, okay. I'll see you at home in a while." Annie stood up, patted his arm once, and headed toward the door.
"Yes, you will," Auggie replied, before hearing her footsteps move out of his headquarters. He knew Annie was starting to feel overwhelmed with the idea of so much family in one place at one time. He was glad it was Danielle who would be the first to arrive. Maybe she could get Annie's feet back under her. Auggie had noticed Annie wasn't as firm about things lately, and Auggie was sure she just needed to get everything back to normal after this and she'd be feistier. Asking his permission to have Danielle over was just plain silly, and he meant to tell her so again later.
She'd slept for only a few hours before heading in to Langley with Auggie, and Auggie hoped she could catch a nap before she met up with Danielle, but it didn't happen. The last thing either of them needed was to push themselves to the limits for something that would be over in a few hours. Maybe she looked tired, and maybe Danielle would be able to see it. He heard it in her voice, or in the silence she kept.
They were there when Auggie got home. He'd stayed longer than he'd intended in the office, and felt badly he hadn't been home to welcome Danielle back. He could have at least opened a bottle of wine. Instead, he was coming in the door late again.
"Oh, Auggie!" Danielle said, moving to him, the glass of wine already in her hand. She touched his shoulder and then they embraced while she kept the wine held away from them.
"Hi, Danielle! Glad you're back, does it look more lived in here now?" He stepped back to take off his suit jacket, which Annie took from his hand. She picked his hand up and cupped a wine glass into it. He sent her a smile and nodded, moving over to the alcove next to the stairs, where he set the glass, and folded his cane. He turned back to them, lifting his nose and sniffing.
"It smells so good in here. I'd have known Danielle was here even if she'd said nothing."
"We are getting better," Annie told her sister. "We both can make at least three decent meals, so that leaves one night a week to eat out."
"I like it," Danielle said. "It's... really you both here. I mean, I see the blending of the styles and I really like it. It's kind of modern-cosy."
"That's us," Auggie said. "To modern-cosy!" He raised his glass, and one of them stepped toward him and clinked it.
"To modern-cosy!" the sisters both said, and Annie stepped and linked her fiancé's arm with her own, turning him toward the kitchen, and the three of them slowly wandered to the island.
"It's so beautiful," Danielle said, rubbing her hand on the countertop of the island. "I'm so glad you found this place and took the chance." She smiled. "I think you're going to be so happy here."
"I know we are," Annie said.
"Annie?" Auggie whispered.
"Hmmmmpph," she mumbled into her pillow.
"Come on, one more day, Walker." Auggie was working straight through until Friday, but Annie would have the two days before her wedding to do whatever she needed to do.
"Can't I call in?" she groaned.
He said nothing. He knew she would make her own mind up.
Moments later, her heard her moving, sliding off the bed, her feet padding across the floor. He went back downstairs to pour her coffee.
Twenty minutes later, she was sitting at the island, coffee in hands, elbows on the counter.
"Thank you, Auggie," she said in a happier voice, one he recognised from earlier times.
"You're staying on D.C. soil today, Walker. I happen to know this."
"You do, do you?"
Auggie shrugged and gave her a half-wink. "I may have had some clout in the bigger decisions there." He gave her that grin and her hand covered his.
"You're one of a kind," she said.
He nodded. "I think that's a given," he said. "And you're one in a million. And you're all mine. Or you will be in three days."
She giggled, and squeezed his hand below hers. "I know, Babe. I'm counting the minutes."
Annie stopped into see Auggie three times, and he went to her office twice that day. Auggie's day was good, three successful operations completed and a cracked code for an intercepted message. Joan said nothing about the information on the thumb drive he'd brought back the day before and Auggie didn't ask. He didn't want Joan to think he was gloating if it was pure fantasy on there.
Annie had fielded three calls from Danielle and two from her mother. She talked to the florist she hadn't wanted to involve, though she'd managed the bare minimum arrangements. She translated five documents and interviewed a witness to a botched document exchange. Auggie's visits were greatly appreciated. When Joan found Annie in Auggie's office the final time, she sent them both home. They both felt a bit guilty, but Annie assured Auggie that Joan had been smiling at them when they left, and Auggie assured Annie he could hear it when she'd said goodbye.
They stopped and picked up Cantonese food and then hid out in the Gladstone house, not answering phones for a few hours, just relaxing, eating, and having their own time.
"Danielle and my mother are coming to help tomorrow," Annie said. "I told them there's to be nothing moved in this house, they are to stick to the yard."
Auggie poked at the rice with his chopsticks, feeling how much was left in the cardboard container. "Well, the weather is supposed to be really nice. And it's not as hot as it was, so it's all going to be fine. I won't go out there. It gives me an excuse to stay out of the way. Did you rent chairs?"
"I only rented a dozen."
"That's good. We don't want them getting too comfortable," Auggie joked.
"Your family is coming in at the same time?" Annie asked, picking through her noodles.
Auggie rubbed at his eyes, as if talking about them wore him out as much as being surrounded by them did. He put the carton down.
"My parents and two of my brothers will be arriving together. The other two are coming in a bit later."
"Okay," Annie said. "Which ones? I'm already panicking."
Auggie sat back in the seat, turning towards her, as if he were watching her. "Okay, a brief lesson in brothers," he began. "You may need to take notes."
He heard Annie putting down the remnants of her meal, making the area clear so she could pull her feet up and wrap her arms around her knees and get comfortable. Auggie put his hand out and she took it in hers, as she always did.
"Okay, my oldest brother is Callum. He's in web design. He's married to Laine, and they have two boys, Tanner, and Seanie. He'll be coming in with Andrew, the next eldest. Andrew is an artist. He's quite successful; he's been doing a lot of stuff for book covers and music albums, apparently. Which is good, because they have a son, and they're expecting again, says my mother. Their son is named..." Auggie had to think. "Nicholas. Phew, for a minute I couldn't remember. My dad, half the time, just called us all boy. With four of us, he was never sure which one of us he was addressing. Anyway, Nicholas, and a new one on the way. How're we doing?"
"So far, so good. Following you," she said, giving his hand another squeeze.
"Right, good. Okay, next up is Michael. He's a landscaper. He's married to Keri, and he has a daughter, Ayla, from a previous marriage. Her name was Shayna. They divorced just before I went to Iraq, and she's still very much a part of Ayla's life and everything's pretty cool, from what I gather."
"Tell me about Toby," Annie said.
"Right. My brother Toby," Auggie said.
"Did you tell Neighbour Toby that your brother is a Toby, too?"
"I did. He was more interested that my name was weird," Auggie laughed. "Okay, my brother Toby. He's a carpenter. He's a total adventurer. And a big fan of gaming. He's the one that would kind of save me from the other two. Until I got so good at wrestling at high school that they left me alone. They were almost grown men by then, maybe they'd smartened up."
"Why were they so mean?"
"Only because I was the end of the line. If there was another one, I probably would have joined them."
"No, you wouldn't have," Annie said. "You're too kind."
"Well, maybe I wouldn't have been if there had been another one."
"But there wasn't. You're the baby."
Auggie smiled sheepishly. "Yeah. I'm like a collective of all four of them."
"They were probably all jealous. You clearly had it all. You were probably the favourite."
"Favourite? They were horrible."
Annie looked at him. He would have been so loved by them all. He would have been protected if anyone outside the circle threatened the kind-hearted youngest Anderson child. She bet they all railed and rallied when he was injured in Tikrit. She bet there had been shit to pay by all of them. She smiled at him lovingly, knowing that there was a bond that, no matter what, wouldn't be broken between brothers. He was who he was because they all had had a hand in his making. She couldn't wait to watch them together and learn more about whom her husband-to-be was when they knew him best.
"Tobes and I were always close. We got closer when we were both still in high school together. Andrew went to art school, and Cal went to university and we just ended up as a pretty good team."
"And you told him about the Agency?"
"I tried for the longest time to keep it from him. But I knew I needed an accomplice to keep it from everyone else in the family."
"You never told them?"
Auggie gave the slightest of shrugs and took a drink of his wine.
"And they still don't know?"
Auggie sighed. "Sometimes I suspect they suspect," he said. "And then I'll have conversations and I totally think they're still unaware. In the dark, so to speak."
"They didn't ask about the tattoo?" Annie knew they all would have seen it, when he was home recuperating from his injuries.
"They know I was in a Special Forces unit. They don't ever suspect it's the Special Forces Unit, and that I am in it because I am CIA. Again, if my Dad or any of them ever really suspected, I don't think they'd share that, especially with my mother."
Annie shook her head. He was so open and yet so secretive. He had kept things from so many people, including her. She wanted him to be a good spy, to know how to keep secrets and lie with the best of them, but she also wanted to bring the shield down that he'd built up over himself against the people closest to him.
"Well, I didn't figure I'd ever tell my own mother," Annie said. "And I'm glad I did now. I don't like lying to her, no matter how frustrated I feel about her."
She looked at Auggie's expression. He knew what she meant. And he knew he still had that choice to make. She didn't push him any further. "So does Toby have a girlfriend? Or boyfriend? Either or?"
Auggie shrugged, shaking his head. "Girlfriend. I don't know. He has dated an Emily, and Suzana, a Jen, a Selina, and a Sharisa over the past few years."
"I may have made those names up," said Auggie. "But that's the sentiment. I stopped keeping track after a while. There was an Emily, and a Suzana, though."
"Yup, you're brothers," Annie said, matter-of-factly.
Auggie scowled at her. "I'm a one-woman man. Always have been. I just hadn't found the one woman I wanted to be with, until I did, and couldn't have her."
"Well, then you got me instead," teased Annie, and Auggie started to protest until she leaned over and stopped his words with a kiss, and he knew she was kidding.
"You're the one," he said, kissing her back.
"We should take this party upstairs," Annie said, sliding across the cushion to stand, keeping Auggie's hand in hers. She gave it a tug and he stood, grinning.
"Shouldn't we get this?" he asked, waving his hand to their take-out boxes on the table.
"Later, later," Annie said, leading him to the stairs.