To Seek The Next Handhold (A Season Seven)

By Finlauré

Romance / Action

Chapter Four

I believe we all know the score. I don't own anything, USA owns everything but the faith and goodwill of its former viewers. I make no profit from my renderings of their Covert Affairs characters.

I want to thank the #CovertCrew, who keep me rallied and keep my spirits up. I'm never getting over this stupid "c-word". Instead of therapy, I wrote you this:

Chapter Four

They took a cab to Annie's storage unit after having something to eat and a couple of cups of coffee.

"I know your surprise, Annie," Auggie said.

"I know you know."

Of course she knew.

"And?" said Annie. "Is it okay?"

Auggie thought about it for a minute. He wasn't sure, to be honest. When he had given the car to Annie, inside, he'd hoped he'd get to ride in it with her. But deep down, he knew he was passing it on, giving that part of his life away. He was going to marry Parker, and he wasn't going to drive a Corvette anymore.

He'd saved up for it. It was pristine. He'd been putting the money away, and then when he had enough, he paid down on it, and then it was in his hands. Natasha had never been in it, had never even seen it. He'd kept it a secret, he'd felt it was a bit silly, in a way; such a guy thing. But he'd loved it. It was perfect; it purred like a kitten and shone like a star in the sun. He'd taken it on a few good long rides, top down, cruising along. So low to the ground, the turns were as tight as a drum. He'd had some good shocks put in it, to make the ride a bit smoother. Corvettes weren't known for their comfort, but for the feel of the road below.

And then, he'd put it up on blocks, covered it over, and took his sorry, angry ass to Iraq. And that was the end of that.

Now, as he drew closer to that same car, he was having mixed feelings. Not sitting behind the wheel, being a passenger in the car that had meant freedom, being back in the car that reminded him of driving, of the sights of the open road, it wasn't something he wanted to deal with at the moment. But it was happening.

"I don't know," he said, honestly.

"We don't have to," she said softly. "We can just have the taxi go to the first appointment."

Auggie put his hand out to her. Of course, she took it immediately. He smiled affectionately at her. "No, I gave that car to you because I wanted you to have it. And since I knew you, I'd wanted to have you. Though I didn't let myself really know that as much as I should have. I didn't want that car to go to someone who didn't get it. I guess, in a way, I wanted to know it was still here, in your hands. I couldn't see anymore, but you could, and you had become a part of me. I guess I wanted maybe to somehow still be able to... does this sound stupid... that maybe I could still be connected to driving, to seeing, through you. I already knew by that time that I could see way more with your eyes than anyone else's."

"So... what do we do about it?"

"We go. I get over it."

"Auggie, Hun. If you're not ready-"

"I'm ready, Annie. It's going to be cool. I just have to adjust to sitting on the other side. I still get to ride in it. Right?"

"You'll be with me."

"And that doesn't scare me at all," Auggie teased her, rolling his eyes.

"Hey, I'm a good driver," she said, a smile in her voice.

"You're the best," he said. "One of the many things I find hot about you."

"It's gonna be okay. You sat behind the wheel a lot when it was up on blocks, didn't you?"

"Any time I needed to think. Away from everything else."

"It's just going to be different." Annie stroked his hand with her fingers.

Auggie sighed. Just like everything.

At the storage unit, Annie opened the door, leading Auggie to the front, putting his hand on the hood of the car.

"I had it all tuned up last week, and it's all insured and ready for the road. I'll even let you drive on the straight away."

Auggie chuckled. "No, I don't think that's probably a good idea. I think I should stay out of the driver's seat." He didn't want to tell her it wouldn't ever be enough, to sit in that seat and have someone tell him where to steer and when to shift and not to be able to just drive. He didn't want to hurt her by saying it would never be enough.

"Honey, you're always in the driver's seat," Annie said, as they uncovered it and Annie stashed the cover on a crate. "I have a few things here from Danielle's. I moved a lot of it here. I guess we'll have to go through it, too."

"That's what it's all about," Auggie said, walking around the car, his hand trailing slowly along the curves of it, seeing it in his mind again. Was it bluer than he remembered? He wasn't sure anymore, but he still pictured it in his head as his fingers saw it below them.

"Top up or down?" Annie asked gently. He realised she was watching him. He turned to her and put on a half-hearted smile, which he knew immediately that she saw right through.

"Down. Let's put it down. If we're going to do this, we're going to do it right." He trailed back to help her take the roof down.

"Yeah?"

"You bet," Auggie said. "Yeah." He was going to get past this moment, and it was going to be fine. He wasn't going to break down. He wasn't going to feel sorry for himself. It was amazing, he had the chance to ride in his dream car once more, and with someone he trusted, someone that loved him even though he could never drive it again. He had the chance to feel the road under him and the wind whipping through his hair. It would be all right.

He trailed his hand back along the door until he reached the handle. He slid his fingers around it and pulled the heavy door open. They didn't make them like this anymore. He touched the seat, and then let himself drop down into it. It was much easier without the roof, and he settled himself into the seat, taking his messenger bag and putting it down at his feet before reaching for the seatbelt. Annie was beside him in a moment, and the engine roared to life. Auggie closed his eyes, feeling its power.

"You ready?" Annie asked, and instead of concern in her voice, he heard daring. A grin.

He reached his hand over and bumped it onto her hand resting on the shift. He enveloped her smaller hand with his and he smiled at her. "I'm ready," he said.

She turned on the radio, and Auggie grinned. It was the right song for the right occasion. He heard Annie giggling as she began to sing along with the Beach Boys.

"Good, good, good, good vibrations!"

How could he even think to ask for more than this? He laughed, and ran his hand through his hair, as they sped up.

"Turning!" Annie called and Auggie braced himself, remembering the feeling of hugging the road so tight the turn felt like a mere smooth arc. He couldn't help but smile. It was different, but different wasn't always bad. "Whaddaya think?" She called to him.

"Can you go faster?" Auggie asked, feeling brave in the moment.

"You want faster, Buster? You got it. Just let me get out to the straightaway."

"Where are we?" Auggie asked, suddenly puzzled.

"Where there aren't a lot of people," Annie said. "Where you're gonna get your request."

At that minute, she gunned it, knocking it into fifth as she caught enough speed. Auggie just leaned back and took in the feeling of the tires whirring around him, the slight angle of the road, the sound that reflected back to him off the objects they passed: a guard rail, a building, an open space where the sound of the wheels disappeared into the distance. Auggie absent-mindedly slid his left fingers over the stick shift, feeling the power of the engine rumbling into his hand. He sighed, trying not to reflect, trying only to be in the present. He took his hand away and instead, put his right elbow on the frame of the open window. This was his ride now, he was shotgun. As that thought crossed his mind, Annie whooped and took a turn, and Auggie shouted along with her, holding her back, pushing her on. His life was with this woman, and this woman gave him anything he needed without even thinking. He was a lucky, lucky man.

Annie finally slowed down and swung back into town. There were four houses on their agenda; they had researched online until they had narrowed it down to these four.

"You're sure you don't want the swimming pool?" Auggie asked, as he heard the sound of traffic around them again.

"Well, as much as the exercise would be wonderful, I really don't think that one was in our budget."

"No. We blew a lot of that budget already on that trip that was worth twenty times as much."

"Auggie... you get a pension from your time in Iraq, right?"

"I get all sorts of things from that little excursion. But yeah. I get a pay-out or two. We'll have to go through all that, too, you know. Paperwork. The fun stuff."

"Well, we'll do it in the spacious new home we're both going to love. Maybe not this one. Maybe not the next one. But we'll find it."

"I have no doubt," said Auggie.

They arrived at the first house and the realtor was there ahead of them. They climbed out of the car, and Auggie unfolded his cane and trailed his hand to the front of the car and Annie gave him her arm.

"Mr. Anderson and Ms. Walker?" asked the realtor, sounding momentarily flustered.

"Yes," Auggie said, sticking out his hand.

"Hi," said the woman, taking his hand. "My name is Morag." She shook Annie's hand, too. "So, is this your first home?" she asked, and they followed her toward the door.

"Yes," they both replied.

"We just got engaged," Annie said, proudly, and Auggie could tell she was showing her ring. He felt his face radiating a goofy smile, but he couldn't help it right then. This wasn't an op. This wasn't a NOC. This was their real life, a real engagement, their own decision.

"Oh, that's beautiful," Morag said, admiring the ring on Annie's hand, "and so different."

"That's Annie," said Auggie, smiling.

Inside the house, there was nothing Auggie could distinguish. The furniture was sparse, and the rooms gave off an echo. They walked from room to room, Morag giving the run-down on the features of the house, as Annie gave Auggie a visual description of their surroundings. The house wasn't big, but Auggie could tell Annie wasn't feeling it. They asked all the questions, and discussed the options, and then they moved on to the next house, which was a little closer to central.

"Is there anything you'd be needing, any accessibility issues?" the realtor asked them. She'd obviously had time to think about their situation on the way here.

"No," Annie said. "I mean, we'll take care of that part. Right?" She turned to Auggie. They'd talked about that, but Auggie had assured Annie that there wasn't anything in a house that couldn't be adjusted for him. More important was that they could expand into a family in the home they chose.

"Yeah," he said. "We'll know it when we see it," Auggie said with a grin.

The second house felt closer to what they were looking for. It was two storeys and had three bedrooms. Auggie and Annie walked around it a few times, and then checked out the back yard. When they climbed back in the car, they were feeling a bit more positive about it.

The third house, Auggie knew was a no-go as soon as they stepped inside the door. It was too cramped, and he ran into a door frame, not once, but twice, even with Annie there. The kitchen was smaller, too, and they layout was not open enough for his ease. They wrote it off and headed to the last house.

"Don't worry," Annie said, as they headed along the cul-de-sac toward the final appointment. "We have plenty of time. We don't need to rush into this. We can try again next weekend and the weekend after."

"I know," replied Auggie. "No rushing here."

"Most people don't find the right place for months."

"Well, we're not most people," Auggie said.

"Ain't that the truth," Annie said, pulling into the final driveway. "Oh," she said.

"Oh?"

"Uh... yeah. I can't see the house."

"What do you mean, you can't see it? Is it invisible?" Auggie waited to know, his head tilted toward her.

"Uh, no. It's a long driveway. There are lots of trees."

"Trees? Aren't we in a cul-de-sac in town?"

"Yeah, but this is the last house on this side. Maybe it was the first one in here."

Auggie shrugged. "Well, it can't be worse than that last one."

"Well, it could..." Annie drawled. "But I don't think it's gonna be. Wow."

"Wow? Wow big? Or wow bad?" Auggie was getting impatient now. Annie parked the car, and Auggie snapped off the seatbelt and climbed out of the car, slinging the messenger over his head. He listened. The sound of the city was muted through the line of trees. A warm breeze blew past him and he turned as Annie moved beside him.

"It's... not big. It's not small, though."

"Well, then Goldilocks, lead me in."

The realtor was out of her car. "This is the most charming house I have in my roster," she said. "It's only been on the market for a short time, it was owned for a long time by one family. They did a lot of upkeep on it in the past few years. It's not as old as some of the houses in this part of town, and it's been upgraded a lot."

"How old?" Auggie asked. He did not want to learn how to become an electrician, carpenter, or plumber anytime soon.

"It looks like it was built ten years ago," Annie said. "But the style of it is old. Like, maybe from the forties."

Auggie groaned.

"1937," Morag said. "New pipes," said. "Rewired in 1999. There was another bathroom added in 1984. It's got a decent plot of land under it."

"Why are they selling?"

"No one left to live here. They're moving into a retirement home closer into the city. They had no children to pass it on to. Well, a son, but he died several years ago."

"That's sad," said Annie, moving Auggie forward. "Stairs," she said. "Five. Railing on both sides. There's a nice verandah on this side, Auggie." He heard her sigh hopefully as she looked around. "Needs some paint."

"The foundation passed a tight inspection last year," Morag read from her page. "I think the well was dug up when they redid all the pipes. We tested it again last week and it's fine. The results are all here in this folder."

"Two storeys?" Auggie asked, feeling the house above him. He couldn't be sure, but the wind was whistling along surface above him, and it sounded higher than one floor might. His guess was a shot in the literal dark, but Annie confirmed it.

"Yes. A neat two-storey house. It looks bigger than it actually is, because of the verandah on the side.

"How many rooms?" Auggie asked Morag.

"The kitchen and living area were converted into an open area. There's a small bathroom downstairs, and a room that could be used as an office. Upstairs, there is a master bedroom and a bathroom connected, and two smaller rooms and a bathroom."

"Oh," Annie sighed, under her breath. Morag opened the door, and they stepped in behind her.

Auggie tilted his head, almost hearing the house talking to him. Their footsteps echoed back to them just enough to give him the dimensions of the room. He kept his hand around Annie's elbow, but let his position relax, moving slowly, getting a feel for it.

"The front hall," Annie said. "It's beautiful wood. The floor is all wood through here. There's a set of stairs to the left, along the wall, and on the right it's a big open, warm room. The verandah runs along that. Evening sun, Auggie. And then back behind the stairs..." she followed Morag, who showed them the small room. "Oh, Auggie, it'd be really perfect for all your tech stuff. You could actually set something up here, instead of just camping here and there with a laptop." They moved over to the open area kitchen. There was an island, and to the left, next to the office, a small laundry room.

Annie described it as best she could, from the tile floor to the deep, two-basin sink. She told him the appliances were a bit outdated, but he reminded her that everything in his apartment was his own, and he'd be better off having familiar appliances anyway.

"We could do this kitchen over like yours easy," Annie said, placing his hand on the island, and walking around to look in the cupboards. "The fridge is even down in the same corner," she grinned.

Auggie felt the countertop. It felt like his own island under his fingertips. He traced along it, feeling the size and shape.

"Windows?" he asked.

Annie moved to one. "They look tight." He heard her unlock one and she was delighted as it swung open. "When were these replaced?" she asked.

"They replaced them in 2004, it says," said Morag.

"Can we go upstairs?"

"Certainly." Morag motioned for them to come and Annie bumped her hand to Auggie in passing and they headed to the stairs. Morag went first, and Annie put Auggie's hand on the handrail along the wall.

"Two handrails, one on the wall. Three stairs, ninety-degrees right, and then... um..."

Auggie smiled. "It's okay. I got this. Thanks." He kept one hand on the railing and used his cane and Annie's instructions, and after the second set of ten stairs, he was at the top. Annie described the little landing that connected to the hallway down the middle of the upstairs. Two smaller bedrooms and a bathroom at the end. On the right, the master bedroom over the varanda, set up with a perfectly beautiful little bathroom with a large tub. Annie kept her running commentary going in between Morag's selling points.

They made their way back downstairs and Morag told them she was going to go get them all a coffee while Annie and Auggie walked around to look a bit closer without her hanging over them. She knew when to let a sale work its own magic.

Annie explored a bit herself as Auggie paced through the rooms, touching the door frames or furniture or walls as he passed close. She went by him a few times and he just put out his hand. She always grabbed it as she passed. A little connection, a smile, something tangible to show him they were in it together. He heard her come back into the room and move towards him again.

"What do you think?" she asked.

"I don't know. I didn't expect it would be this easy."

"No, I know. I mean, we can keep looking. It's probably out of the price range with all these upgrades. It's just... it's close to town without being in the middle of it. And... it's got trees. And the verandah. We could hang a bed in it like Joan's in the safe house in Sardinia. I mean, if we bought it."

"Right," agreed Auggie. But then he shook his head, trying to worry himself into practicality. "But... I mean, we didn't even really have time to check anything else out."

"What if there isn't anything else?" Annie asked. "What if this is the one?"

"Is it?" Auggie was starting to feel like he was under water. How had this happened this quickly? He'd expected weeks, months, even, of searching. And this little house seemed right, at the end of the first day.

"I don't know. I mean, we'll have to get a contractor or someone to come look at it. You know. Make sure it's not a money trap. But I don't think it is. I think..."

"You like it," Auggie said, smiling.

"I can see a family here," Annie said.

Auggie closed his eyes and pulled her close. The house even had the right smell, and he couldn't even pinpoint what it was. It smelled clean and woody and maybe of nutmeg and lemon oil. Each part came together to say strength, love, family. Or maybe he was reading too much into it.

"Can we afford it?"

"Can we afford not to do it? I have enough for a down payment at the very least, Annie, and probably more."

"More? What are you, Mr. Pennywise?"

"Well, I was collecting disability and pensions from the Special Forces and I kinda invested a lot of it."

"Invested?"

"Well, I mean, I don't live above my means, and they pay for me to eat out and have things taken care of. I save a bit here and there. Plus, I have friends who know how to invest."

Annie was shaking her head. "You have friends literally everywhere."

"Better believe it, Sugarplum."

"Auggie, I don't know what to say. You keep surprising me."

"I'm not rich, Annie. I'm just saying, we have enough. We can have a life. I counted on this before, and I didn't feel I deserved that money. I felt... I got what I deserved, for not knowing it was a trap."

"Jezus, Auggie, that's a heavy load to carry. And you know now it's not true."

"Well, the only thing I could think to use it for was the possibility of providing for a family. In case I wasn't bringing in enough. I didn't know Langley would want me back, and I didn't want to not be able to provide, if I had a family."

"This house would suit that purpose. I think it was meant to suit that purpose."

"Are we?" Auggie said, with only a half- joking smile.

"I think we've pretty much proven it," Annie said, and then she giggled nervously. "I'm scared, Auggie," she said through a nervous smile. "I mean, it didn't seem real until this. I don't know what to do."

"Well, I think," Auggie said, facing her, putting one hand on each shoulder, "what we do, is go home and we think about this. Pros. Cons. Are we ready? And is this the place? We can look online a bit more, see if there's anything that compares, is closer to work, whatever. And then we talk."

"I really like it," Annie said in a small voice, as if she was afraid for Auggie to know how much.

"I can tell," he said, his eyes crinkling up in the grin that caught his face. "I think I like it, too."

"Really?"

"It feels... right."

She was nodding, he could feel the steady swaying of her shoulders. "It really does," she whispered.

Morag had chosen that moment to return. She crossed the hardwood briskly, a smile plastered on her face. Annie took the coffees, thanking her, passing one to Auggie, pushing it gently against his folded arms.

"Any decisions?"

"We're going home to think about this one," Auggie said. "How long do we have?"

"Well, I was going to be showing it again on Tuesday."

"Tuesday!" Annie said. "So we have two days, Auggie."

"We'll call you Monday," said Auggie, holding out his hand. "Can we have the listing in paper?"

"Certainly, I'll give it to Annie here. I'll lock up, if you care to look at the yard or grounds, feel free. There is a small fence back behind that tree line, shows the property line. Okay? You have my card; call me if you have any questions at all. Like I said, this house hasn't been up for long, and I don't expect it to stick around at this price. Not with all the upgrades."

"You will hear from us Monday morning," Auggie said, with a grin he knew would keep her in his favour.

They followed her out, and thanked her before taking a stroll around back. Annie looked at the verandah as they passed below and she didn't see any bad boards or rough edges. The last owners had loved this house. It deserved love, she mused. Auggie just smiled, content to hear her. A year ago, he would not have believed it possible.

It was amazing, how things could change.

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