Auggie had made himself think about the dossier in front of him, and the operative he was trying to conduct back from a bad pass-off. He and Annie had put in their bid and now they waited. Morag said she would get back to him hopefully by Wednesday and it was already Thursday. He was having a hard time keeping his mind off of it.
James Decker was back in Langley, and they'd gone down to the gym in the morning. It was less awkward, but Auggie could tell Decker was still trying to get his head around the new Auggie. He laughed a few times, though, and didn't flinch when Auggie took his elbow now. It was coming along, and Auggie wasn't going to push it. He knew that sooner or later James would get used to it and everything would be fine, so he didn't worry about it anymore when the man had a moment or two of fluster. He stopped being so upset with himself when he bumped into things or knocked things over in Decker's presence. He didn't need to give out a false face for Decker at all; let the man see it was okay, he dealt. And moved on. Decker would get used to it.
What Auggie did worry about was that James had found out the Belenko had moved a business into Cuba to distribute Russian guns for an uprising against the ban-lift with the US. And what worried Auggie even more was that James also was feeling the same retribution that Belenko himself had felt for his brother's death. Decker wanted to get Belenko for the other men's memories. Auggie knew Decker would listen to orders, or at the very least he would listen to Auggie. But on his own, if he got it into his head, James might get himself in trouble. Auggie promised Decker he would see to it personally that Belenko would be watched and monitored, but he would not give in to James's request to go get the information himself.
At four-nineteen, Auggie's mobile phone rang. He tapped it twice, answering, "Anderson."
"Hello, Mr. Anderson, it's Morag Duncan."
"Hi, Morag," he said, hoping it was all a-go, almost positive it wouldn't be.
"Well, I have a request, actually, from the sellers."
"A request?" Auggie was perplexed. This wasn't how houses sold was it?
"They are a funny old couple, Mr. Anderson. They are willing to except the offer you made, which was lower than their asking price, but only on the condition that they meet you. I told you they love that house. It's a home to them, and they want the right people to get it. I assured them that you and Ms. Walker were good people and looking for the same kind of home to raise a family in, but they still want to meet you. I guess if they approve, you get your house at your ridiculously low price."
"Didn't you show the house?"
"Did they have to meet them?"
"Can't say. All I can tell you is, I think you're the ones."
Auggie shook his head, running his fingers through his hair. No bidding wars. It was going to be based purely on who impressed them the most. Auggie didn't want to think about who he was going up against. A family already formed, with a Dad that drove a minivan load of boys to hockey?
"They're free any time."
Auggie took a deep breath. Annie was out of town until tomorrow. He wasn't sure if Friday would work. He hoped he could keep a Saturday appointment, and so he booked a meeting to take place at a café close to the retirement home where he and Annie would meet Morag and the owners, and then hung up, trying to make the rest of the day somewhat productive. He gave up within three-quarters of an hour, and headed out, taking the shuttle back to his block.
He and Annie had discussed travel, they had looked up bus routes and other means of transportation for Auggie, should Annie not be able to drive, which could be often, with her travel or work schedule. They had found the bus route was as reliable here as anywhere else, and Auggie would only have to go as far as the bus stop at the end of their street, along the main avenue. As for a cab or his driver, it would be a bit further from the centre of town, but the distance was similar in terms of Langley. And Auggie had asked Annie about the main street and there was a very good size bit of local town right here. He'd have no trouble getting groceries, going for produce, heading to the pharmacy, or to the many little restaurants and cafés around the area, once he was familiar.
Everything was too perfect, thought Auggie. If it all went bottom-up now, he knew he'd feel as devastated as Annie would. He shouldn't have thought about it so much that plans were formed. But it happened without prompting, his mind would wander into domesticity and its potential.
Auggie tapped his way along the sidewalk to his building. He'd miss this walk. Every sound, every street, every smell, was as familiar as any neighbourhood view. He'd have to find a new coffee stand, and where they sold really good cinnabuns. He would have to learn the take-outs and the bus route all over again.
But he'd have Annie to come home to. The trade was no comparison for him. He'd learn to walk it so that he could come home to her.
He made his way into his building and up the stairs. The halls were quiet and Auggie listened to the sound of his own footsteps and the tap of his cane as he headed back to the apartment he had lived in for much of his adult life. He'd had safehouses here and there, and the make-believe home in Italy with Helen... But this place had always been his home base. He slid the familiar old door open, hoping a fruitless hope that Annie would be waiting for him, but it was quiet. He folded his cane and put everything into the curved tray on the credenza, and then went to the fridge and took the last beer out. He needed one, to go with his next move.
Sitting on his sofa, he called his parents.
He had a good relationship with his family now. It had been a rough go for a long time, but in the last few years, they'd evened out again. He didn't call on them for anything, preferring to make his own way as he'd always intended. His parents had five children and several grandkids, Auggie had never wanted to put any kind of burden on them. While he knew they were proud of him, they missed him. They'd already almost lost him once, and they wanted to keep him close, he understood that. Auggie had always been more independent than the others, and it didn't surprise them that he wanted to keep his life in a separate place. He wanted them to think he was working at a safe job that didn't endanger the fabric of society so they didn't worry. He hated when they worried. His father tried to make everything right, and his mother fretted and drove herself nuts. He'd watched it happen before, and he wanted no more of it. And so, living in DC, he kept them close by just letting them know he was thinking about them, and he called them enough that they could relax and let him be.
"I didn't think you were going to call me until next week," his mother said. "Though I guess I'm glad you did. What's up, Hun?"
"Oh... you know... We're buying a house."
The response was so loud that Auggie took the ear-bud out of his ear for a second. He'd already gone through all this when they'd come home to DC and he decided to let the family in on the engagement.
Now, his mother was excitedly gushing that they would have somewhere to go to meet this beloved Annie. She asked him if they'd set a date, and she soon started looking on her calendar to prompt him to picking an actual day in September. He told her they weren't doing anything big, and that he'd let her know. The last thing Annie needed was his mother stepping in and taking the day away from her, though Auggie knew his mother wouldn't do it out of spite or any mean spirit. It would be all for love, and possibly a little need to enjoy the bride's planning, having only had boys to marry off.
While Auggie didn't pin down a date, he did let her know that she was welcome to come to the house when and if they became the proud owners and had had a chance to make themselves comfortable in it. By that, he meant he didn't want them to come when he was still running into things and making miscalculations. He needed to look as comfortable and confident as he did when they visited him here in this apartment, which had happened twice since the accident. Auggie wasn't one to be coddled, and wouldn't let them make the trip more often than that because he felt out of place when they were in his comfort zone. His comfort zone was so different than theirs, even more so now. Every mistake he made, every misstep, every accidental spill, it became a big deal, even if only to himself. He knew they were watching him. He knew that they were proud of him, that they were impressed, intrigued, and grateful. He also knew they were sad, they still felt the loss for him even more than he did, because they had given life to him and watched him grow, a sighted boy into a sighted man. It hit them hard. He understood this. But he didn't have to endure it personally, so instead, he took the trip to the old family home every now and then to keep them all happy. He was comfortable enough there to get around without too much mishap and when he was his mother's guest, it felt right for her to cook for her son in her own home. He didn't feel the host's obligation to make things all right this way.
However, this was bound to happen at some point, and Auggie thought he'd rather at least let them know what was going on so he didn't hear about how he never told them all anything. His brother was always informing him that that was a main topic of conversation when the Andersons talked together: how Auggie never told anyone anything that was going on in his life. Of course, his brother knew why, having been read in to Auggie's profession, but he couldn't change their minds about how they thought he was secretive from his own family. Which, Auggie admitted, was kinda true. He was secretive, he had to be secretive. But he realised that his personal life, a home and family, was something that should be shared. He couldn't keep everything secret because his life was so much more than that now.
"I'll keep you in the loop, okay? I'll let you know as soon as it all goes through and we sign the papers. You'll get to come and tell me all the things that I should change, and meet Annie, but I know you won't want to change her in any way."
"Auggie, I'm happy for you. I really am."
"I know, Mum."
"Give my love to her, okay?"
"I will. Give mine to Dad."
"I will. Good luck, Hun."
Auggie ended the call and got to his feet. Talking to his mother had made him hungry, and now the beer was all gone, so he decided he'd better eat something as he caught up on the news of the day. He flipped on the news channel and headed to the freezer.
After he'd eaten, he stayed sitting on the sofa, listening to a news story about Cuba, and his thoughts turned back to Decker. He knew that exact same feeling the Decker was having now. He'd had it boiling inside of him until he was ready to kill Khani with his own two hands for what he had done to his team, what he had done to Auggie's life. He knew Decker was feeling helpless that he'd not even known what had been happening as his team was killed, member by member. He knew Decker wanted to make some kind of balance. But it couldn't be done that way. He needed Decker to realise it before he went too far. It was just like James to keep poking around when he was told not to. It was why he was a perfect member for Auggie's team. It was how he and Auggie had always worked, they got the job done. It was why Auggie had understood so much of Annie's drive, why he'd finally agreed to her plan to go dark. They made the best operatives because they needed to make it right, no matter the cost.
He took his dishes out and put them in the dishwasher. He opened the laptop he'd left at the far end of the island and powered it up. He was anticipating getting McQuaid's gift laptop back; it was being returned to its former technical perfection for him. He would never admit to anyone how fly that laptop was. He wouldn't give Ryan McQuaid the satisfaction of ever hearing how impressed Auggie was with this piece of equipment.
He waited for the phone call he knew would come from Annie before she went to bed. Just hearing her voice made the air around him softer, somehow. When she called, he took the phone to bed, as she was doing the same, and talked to her about nothing until one of them fell asleep. They usually never knew which one of them fell asleep first, but Auggie liked to think that they fell asleep together. He smiled at his own schmaltziness. He told Annie about their meeting on Saturday, and she wondered aloud the same thoughts he'd had. She brightly assured him that it would be fine, and told him that she had a good feeling about this old couple. She told Auggie about the best cherry pastry she'd had since Dani moved, and told him she'd resisted buying a new handbag.
"You never said anything about the wood stove," Auggie said.
"Uh, the wood stove? In the house?"
"Yeah. Don't you like it?"
"I didn't really think about it, Auggie. It is a wood stove. She said it has electric heat. Wood is a hassle, Auggie."
"Did you forget to tell me, or did you just not want to?"
"What do you mean? I was telling you everything I noticed. I didn't even think about the stove. I didn't figure you'd want something like that. You seem much more modern than an old wood stove."
Auggie paused. She didn't figure. "I want to keep it," he said.
"You old softie," she said, a smile in her voice, and any of the tension he'd just been feeling dissipated. "You're going to tell me why your sudden interest in wood stoves while I fall asleep," she said, her voice filled with teasing and with love.
Auggie smiled. How could she know why he'd want it? She was right, he didn't give off the vibe of a woodstove kind of guy, and he didn't know why he'd become already so attached to such a thing. Except that maybe it meant home, family, comfort, and that was his new direction. As he told Annie about his grandparents, it became clearer to her and to him what the woodstove stood for in so many ways.
"It's better than a fireplace," Annie mumbled. "We can heat water on it if the power goes out and it's way more efficient."
"Yeah. And you can't sit and watch a wood stove fire, Annie. You have to experience the fire the same way I do in this case. The sound and smell of it, the heat from it. We can sit with our hot chocolate in front of the wood stove and not look at the fire together."
She giggled sleepily and Auggie was not too tired to smile at their conversation. Everything was so comfortable and normal. It was how it was supposed to be. No games, all acceptance.
Once more, no-one was sure who fell asleep first.
Auggie knew she was there, just like he'd always done since he'd met her. He lifted his head and smiled towards the door. "You're back," he said softly.
"I still don't know how you do that," Annie said, walking over to his desk. He rolled his chair out and stood up, grinning as she took him in her arms. "I missed you."
"Me, too," Auggie said, holding her tightly.
Barber entered the room. Instead of floundering and excusing himself as Holman had done last week, Eric just strode over to his desk and set his latté down, saying, "Oh, hey, Annie, you're back. I'm glad."
Annie laughed. "Thanks, Eric."
"Yeah, it's this Sadsack over here has been mopey for two days," Barber said, sitting down and looking through a folder.
"I have not," protested Auggie. "I was working diligently, which is very different."
"He was mopey," Barber stated again to Annie.
Auggie scowled and turned back to Annie, who he knew was laughing at him, and his expression quickly changed. He couldn't help it, she took his frustrations and flipped them away. Auggie turned back to Eric.
"Did you get the Rostjek file?"
"I have it right here, Man. Go. Go home, Auggie. I have it covered."
"You call me if you need me," Auggie said.
"No," Eric said. "We won't. You're going to be meeting some old couple to impress their socks off, and I do not want to be the one to make that not happen. In fact, I'd kill to go watch. I think it'd be a hoot."
"A hoot? Barber... nevermind, just..." Auggie turned to the desk drawer, retrieving his things, putting the laser cane in its place. "Thanks, Eric."
"Sure. No problem. Good luck! I'm sure they'll love you both, just like the rest of us." Auggie could hear the smug sarcasm teasing Auggie further, and he laughed.
"You have a good weekend, Eric," Auggie said.
"Does this look okay?" Auggie asked. "I don't know what y'wear to meet people who may want to sell you their house."
"You look terrific. They'll love us, Auggie."
He stopped, taking a breath, reaching out and finding her shoulder. He smiled to her. "Yeah, they will," he said. "What's not to love?"
She drew her finger along his chest, leaning up to kiss him. "How about me, how do I look?" she asked him.
He fingered her blouse. "Pale green," he said.
"Nope. Red. Maybe a pink-red."
"Well, I was close," Auggie grinned. "You look beautiful." He touched her hair, sliding his hand over her ear. She had it pulled back into a ponytail. Small details to make impressions. He leaned forward and kissed her back.
"We better take a more responsible ride," Annie said. "We'll take my car."
"They are both your cars, Annie."
"That Corvette will always be your car, Auggie. I just like to drive it."
They readied themselves and locked up, heading down to the parking lot behind the building.
"You realise how much easier it is when we make up a story to get the job done?" Annie asked as they drove down Auggie's street. "I mean, I keep thinking we have to get our story straight and then I realise that we don't have a story, that this is real."
Auggie felt the same way. Even when he'd married Helen, it was for the mission, at the beginning. But with Annie, it had been all truths, hard and wonderful. And the relationship with Helen had been much less, so much less, than this one. He didn't even know Helen as long or as well as Annie before Helen died. Or not died, as the case was. He'd definitely not been through as much in the short time they'd been together. Helen wasn't with him when he could have used the support of a loved one. In fact, Auggie figured, she probably had known about him being in Iraq, she would have found out things. She probably knew he'd been injured, she had probably known at least the bare basics. And he knew nothing except that he'd buried her.
He'd buried Annie, too. But he knew. She had told him everything she was going to do before she disappeared. And she had left him with a kiss, she told him she loved him. She'd found her way back, even when she was not prepared. Helen had been in complete control. She'd only found her way back when she got tired and lonely from her secrets, and even then, it was like she thought he might have been waiting for her to come to that.
"This is real," Auggie said. "The only thing we can't say is the Agency."
"What Agency?" Annie asked. "I met you through the Smithsonian where I worked in acquisitions and now work as an importer/exporter. You roamed into the ladies' bathroom one too many times."
Auggie laughed. "Well, only one of those was a mistake," he said.
Annie parked outside the café, and Auggie climbed out of the car, letting his cane fall open, wondering if they were already here. He met Annie at the front of the car and took her elbow as she headed toward the door.
"Yup," Annie said. "Morag's here. Oh, they look nice. They're grey and adorable."
Auggie puffed a laugh through his nose. "That's good," he said and moved along a half-step behind Annie.
Morag stood to greet them, and Auggie shook hands as she introduced them.
"Annie Walker, Auggie Anderson, this is Mr. And Mrs. Gladstone."
"No, no," said the kind, older male voice. "It's Chet and Rena."
Annie placed Auggie's hand on the back of the chair and after shaking the Gladstones' hands, she sat beside him. He was glad to have her right there, because he couldn't get cues from her if she'd been separated.
There was the obligatory small talk and they ordered some coffee and tea. Annie ordered a soup and salad and Auggie made the decision of the easier task of eating a turkey sandwich.
Then, Rena, who seemed as sweet and small as Auggie could ever imagine, burst out with her question. "So you two are very interested in the little house?" she asked. "What draws you to it, may I ask?"
Annie spoke up first. "It's a surprise. No-one expects it to be there. It has character, and it looks like it was loved. We want that. We've had some rough years and we really want to have some good things happen."
"You want a family?" said Rena.
Auggie felt himself nodding as Annie answered. "We do. We do now. Our priorities have changed. We're both getting older, we need some stability and we want to grow our love into a family."
"I want somewhere safe to teach a kid how to ride a bike," Auggie said. "I want somewhere where they can go outside and look at bugs and not worry about them being snatched off the street. There are trees that they can climb, and woods to walk in and hear in the wind. I've lived in the middle of the metro area for years. It's a great place when you want independence and ease and everything close by. But this is still close to that, and yet, not close at all."
"It was built on an older property," said Chet. "There was an older house there when I was a kid. I always thought of it as the new house."
Annie and Auggie both smiled at his memory.
"You lost your sight in Iraq, is that right?" Rena said kindly.
Auggie nodded. "Yes, Ma'am, I did."
"A shame," she mused. "But you came home."
"That I did," Auggie replied. "I still get a chance."
Chet spoke for Rena. "We lost our boy. He wasn't even a boy anymore, he was a grown man. He was engaged, too. Late bloomer, our Greg. He was enlisted, like you; they sent him to Iraq, too. He was supposed to be married that summer. It's been over fifteen years now. IED took him. He was our only child."
Annie and Auggie both offered their condolences with genuine sadness over their story. Auggie thought of his four brothers and his family. It would have killed them the same had he not come home alive, but at least there were others to carry the family on.
Rena spoke again. "We want this house to continue to have people who love it. Greg loved this house, he was helping us to renovate it over the years so he could have it for his family, but he wouldn't hear of us leaving it. He would want someone who finally found what he found after a lot of hard-knocks, which was a loving relationship and the possibility of a family and a home. And he would be so proud to share it with a brother who fought alongside him and made it home."
Auggie was moved. Obviously Morag had told them a bit of the back story. Instead of his disability being a hindrance to showing his capability of looking after a house and family, it was a sign of honour, a sign of the brotherhood that he shared with their son. He'd only given his sight. Greg had given his life. It was all in the game of straws, who came home and who didn't.
"I didn't know," Auggie said. "But I honour your son's memory."
Annie's hand was wrapped around his, and he realised she'd done that a while back. He squeezed it.
"It's very obvious that you too are in love."
Auggie smiled and then shook his head. "Everyone keeps telling us that."
"It's nice," Rena said. "It's nice to see. Chet still holds my hand, too. If you have that kind of love, you can handle anything together. Even things that might break your soul. If you're together, you will be stronger."
"We're starting to get that," Annie said. "We want to be together holding hands when we are looking back on our lives, too."
"Were you together when he went to Iraq?" Rena asked Annie.
"No," Annie said. "I met him two years after he'd returned home. He handled everything on his own. He did a good job, so he's looking after me, now."
Auggie heard their laughter and he smiled. Annie told him it made her mad that people assumed she'd been with Auggie before and stuck by him despite the accident. She asked what was wrong with falling in love with a blind guy? But the way she spoke now was only love, not adamant reaction, and the older couple across from them took it in kind. Auggie turned back to them, wondering when they would be informed if their bid was accepted, when Annie picked up his hand and placed it in the older woman's hand across the table. Rena flipped her hand and took Annie's placing it in Auggie's and putting hers over theirs both.
"We want you to have it," she said to them. "We accept your offer."
Auggie heard Annie's breath huff out in happy surprise beside him as she turned and hugged his shoulders. He was a bit surprised, he hadn't actually thought it would happen right then. He realised now that they probably hadn't set up meetings with everyone, but already had made a connection to them when Morag told them Auggie had fought and been blinded in Iraq. They wanted to meet the people they were letting take over the story of the house in their son's place.
Auggie stood, followed by Annie. Handshakes and hugs; Auggie thought he hugged Morag, too, at one point. It was almost a small celebration, and everyone was coming away happy, content with how things could happen.
There would be paperwork and signing, and lawyers and bank papers, but the process was happily begun. They would move in May, and the next part would begin. The images Auggie had running in his mind earlier that he tried to control came flooding back, the evenings on the verandah, children in the back yard, a barbecue set up. This time, he let them come. He and Annie drove back to the apartment on a complete high, their plans escaping in waves as they thought about the future.
Just as they were reaching Auggie's place, his phone rang.
"Auggie, I'm glad I caught you. Are you and Annie available tonight?"
Auggie was puzzled. He turned to Annie. "It's Joan," he said, tapping the place on the phone to knock it into speaker mode.
"Joan?" Annie asked, pulling the car into the parking space.
"Hi, Annie. I'm in a bit of a pickle. I forgot that tonight was Arthur's big tadoo at the governor's gala. I've been calling people all day to look after Mack."
"We'll do it," Annie said, turning off the engine.
Auggie's mouth dropped open. He laughed sheepishly. "I guess I have no say in this one, Joan."
"That's probably the way it should be, Auggie," said Joan slyly.
Auggie threw up his hands. "I got nothin'," he said. "You want us there?"
"Which would be easier for you, Auggie?" Joan asked. "We'll at least give you that one."
"Well, it's no secret that my place is always easier for me, but this is about Mack. He'd feel happier in his own place, too."
"Auggie just wants to eat your food," Annie said, and everyone laughed, knowing how hard that ease had been to come by.
"That was why I didn't ask Eric," Joan said, and they chuckled again at Barber's expense.
"We'll need to leave around six. Is that okay?"
"Done deal," Auggie said. "We'll be there with play-clothes on," he said, before disconnecting the line.
He turned to Annie. "We're in for it now," was all he said, before climbing out of the car.