Annie made the handoff, then walked back to the overnight parking structure where she’d left her car. She opened her trunk to retrieve her purse, getting her company phone (now in two pieces) out of her pocket, and shoving it into the purse, before closing the trunk and getting in. She fished her personal cell phone out of her glove box and turned it on. There was a message from Auggie.
Welcome home, Annie. I was going to pick you up from the airport myself if I still had a driver’s license... or a car. Call me after you’ve made the handoff.
There it was. The dark cloud that hovered just beyond her euphoria over having finally completed the mission from hell. Auggie hadn’t been there when she’d called. She didn’t even know how to feel at this point. She was extremely happy that her mission was complete, and at least at the end, successful. She was also tired, and stiff from having just gotten off a nine-and-a-half hour flight.
Auggie had told her that he was on her team – that he’d be with her all the way home. But he hadn’t been. When she’d called, he hadn’t been there to answer. At first she’d been afraid that something had happened to him, but the more she thought about it, the more unlikely she realized it was. He’d been sitting at the CIA headquarters – how much trouble could he get into there? And now... his message. He sure sounded safe. In fact, he’d been joking about wanting to pick her up from the airport. It irritated her a bit, because she wanted to know what had happened. And more than that, she wanted to make sure that it would never, never happen again. She’d hoped that he understood how important it was for her that she be able to trust him. Auggie was one of the few people at the CIA that she actually trusted – he was one of her few real friends there. Her best friend there. She’d hoped that if he left her a message at all, it’d be one explaining just what the hell had happened. Where had he been when she’d needed him?
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She was going to clear her mind and call him. She knew Auggie – she did. She knew he wasn’t like that. She knew he wasn’t like him. Annie grimaced, angry that the man she'd loved in Sri Lanka had left her with a note, a bar tab, and now abandonment issues, of all things. If Auggie had left when she needed him, he must’ve had a really good reason. And she was going to find out what the reason was. Tonight.
She called him back before even starting her car, and he answered on the first ring as if he’d been waiting for her to call.
“How’d you know it was me?”
“Well, I knew what time your flight was getting in. Plus, you’ve got your own ringtone... that might’ve helped.”
She could hear the teasing in his voice, and she couldn't help but wonder what ringtone he’d used for her. She didn’t want to be distracted from the issue at hand, though. “So, what happened? You fall in the toilet halfway through the mission?”
He sighed. “Sorry about that. Look, I’d like the chance to explain, but not over the phone. Do you want to meet somewhere? Or come over to my place?”
Ah yes, her secure phone was currently rubble. She’d forgotten how insecure normal cell phones were. She weighed her desire to know what happened against her desire to take some pain killers and fall into bed. “I’ll be over in a bit. I need to go home and change first.”
Instead of pulling into the driveway, Annie parked along the street and walked up to her sister’s guest house. It was late, and the main house was dark, but she couldn’t be sure how long her sister had been asleep, and didn’t want to risk waking anyone. The last thing she wanted right now was a long conversation about how her “conference” had gone.
She slipped into her room, grabbed a change of clothes, and went to her bathroom for a quick shower. She hadn’t even had time to wash up since her car accident earlier, and she felt grimy and sticky from so many hours on the plane wedged between two people. Her shoulder stung under the spray of the water, and she briefly contemplated having it checked out before quickly dismissing the idea. The last thing she wanted was to have to explain to a doctor in the ER how she’d managed to acquire a shrapnel wound during a business trip.
After rinsing off, she stepped out and examined herself while she dried off. The shower hadn’t been long enough to fog up the mirror, and she could see her aches and pains painted across her body in some glorious bruising. She gingerly ran her fingers along a large purple one that ran across her left hip. It still irritated her just a bit that she had no idea what she’d even been carrying. Whatever it was, she hoped it was worth all this. Sighing, she slipped into a t-shirt and some sweats, tied her air up in a wet bun, and grabbed her keys.
‘I’ll be over in a bit’ hadn’t given Auggie much of a time frame to work with, but he assumed he had at least twenty minutes before Annie showed up since she’d mentioned going home to change. His apartment was clean, and he had beer in the fridge, so there really wasn’t anything he needed to do to prepare.
With nothing else to do, Auggie went back to doing what he’d been doing before Annie had called. He picked up his book, and continued reading where he’d left off, while the TV, set to the Home Shopping Network, kept up its steady background noise.
Three chapters later, he heard a knock at the door, and Annie’s voice calling through the wood. “Auggie? It’s me.”
As soon as he opened the door he could tell that she’d showered. Instead of subtle grapefruit, she smelled of some kind of delicate soap, and a sharp, citrus-y shampoo. It smelled vaguely tropical. However, there was no way to comment on it without sounding creepy, so he simply motioned her in and shut the door behind her.
“How was your flight?”
He heard her sigh and head over to the couch. “Long and painful.” She paused. “Auggie... are you in the market for imitation sapphire earrings?”
“What?” It took him a second to figure out what she was talking about. “Oh, that. No, I just keep the TV on for background noise. I came from a big family, and... what can I say? I’m used to the noise.” In fact, except when he was focused on work and really needed to concentrate on what he was hearing, he found complete silence to be rather unnerving. Still, his family may have given him the ability to ignore the noise whenever he wanted, but he didn’t want Annie feeling like he wasn’t really listening, so he found the remote in its cradle on the side table, and turned the TV off.
Silence descended on the apartment suddenly, as Auggie made himself comfortable on the other end of the couch. He was about to offer her a beer when she spoke up.
“You wouldn’t happen to have any extra strength Motrin, would you? I forgot to take some at home.”
Auggie frowned. “I do. You get knocked around some more after we lost touch?” Not that a bomb, and an attack from a Mossad agent weren’t reason enough to need pain relief, but the way she was talking made him wonder what else had happened. From the time he’d been taken to polygraph, to hours later when they’d finally cleared him, he hadn’t been allowed access to anything having to do with Annie’s mission or status. By the time Joan had finally told him he was clear, he’d already been going home for the day, and the only thing he’d been able to find out was that the mission was complete and Annie was headed home.
“Oh, you know,” she started, a little too casually, “finding a shard of metal embedded in my shoulder, evading capture by armed assailants, a car accident... the usual.”
He cursed softly and leaned forward, burying his head in his hands. “You wouldn’t believe how much I hate the seventh floor right now.”
Auggie ran his hands through his hair, and brought them down again to grind the heels of his hands into his eyes – a bad habit they’d never been able to break him of at rehab. “There was a shake-down. We lost contact, I was trying to find you, and one of Arthur’s people came in demanding we all go down for polygraphs right that instant.” He groaned quietly and rested his forehead against his tightened fists. Annie had been in danger, and she’d gotten hurt, and he hadn’t been able to do a thing to help her because Arthur had picked that day, of all days, to go on a witch hunt.
“The middle of a mission, and I had to sit there and answer stupid questions. Then they sent me back up and had me wait – locked out of everything until I was cleared.”
Auggie stood. What he really wanted to do was curse and throw a few things, but that was one habit they had managed to break him of in rehab. The only thing worse than being this angry was being this angry, and being surrounded by all the stuff you’d just broken.
“Give me a second.” Auggie forced his voice to reflect none of the anger he was feeling. He went to his bathroom, and found the pain killers. Then, returning to the living room, he handed her the bottle. “Keep it. I’ve got more where that came from.”
Before he could go back to his end of the couch and resume fuming, she stopped him with a hand on his wrist.
“Auggie...” she trailed off.
“You said you had a shoulder wound. Did you have a chance to get it looked at?” He had no idea what she was going to say, but he was half afraid he wouldn’t like it. Really, there was nothing she could say to fix this. He hadn’t been allowed to do his job, and she’d gotten hurt. If she fed him some ‘all’s well that ends well’ line right now he probably would throw something.
“Yeah... kind of. The other agent – Eyal. He stitched it up for me.” Auggie heard the bottle rattle, and he assumed she was getting out a couple pills.
Damn it, Auggie knew the Mossad agent wasn’t a doctor – he’d read his file. “You should probably have it checked anyway. Especially if you were running around afterwards.” Not to mention getting into car accidents.
She still hadn’t let go of his wrist, and he sighed. “Where is it?” Auggie felt her shift on the couch as she put her back to him. Then, she took his hand and guided it towards her right shoulder where she’d pulled aside her shirt.
Auggie very gently traced the tender flesh. It was a little inflamed, and warmer than the surrounding skin, and he could feel small, even stitches running parallel to each other along the gash. “Seems like the stitches held. You probably should’ve covered it in the shower, though.” He could feel the tips of her wet hair sticking out of whatever hairstyle it was in, poking his arm.
“Wait... how did – “
“Hair’s wet.” He interrupted her. It was the easiest explanation. “And wet wounds tend to swell a little in the water. That’s why doctors will usually tell you not to let them get wet at first.”
“Sounds like you speak from experience.”
He shrugged, moving back to his end of the couch. “I’ve had my fair share.” Auggie suddenly remembered that he hadn’t given her any water for her pills.
“Shit, sorry, Annie. Let me get you some water.” He started to stand, only to have her interrupt him this time.
“Already took them dry. It’s how I usually do it anyway. Lazy, I guess, but it doesn’t bother me.”
He could feel her looking at him, and suddenly had no idea what to do. She hadn’t made any comment yet on his explanation, and while he trusted her to understand that he’d had no choice, he remembered what it was like in his early days at the Agency. He remembered when he could count the people he really trusted on one hand and still have fingers left over. He knew Annie hadn’t been around long enough yet to know very many people – not very well, anyway. And as her handler, he should’ve been the one person she could always depend on. No matter what.
Auggie froze in surprise at the sound of her voice. “Stop what, exactly?” He heard the rustling of her moving again, and felt the couch dip as she sat right next to him, close enough that their thighs touched.
“Stop beating yourself up, Auggie.” He felt the weight of her head suddenly on his shoulder. “Look, I was worried when you dropped out of the mission. And I was a little irritated that I didn’t know what had happened, but it wasn’t your fault. Why don’t you turn the TV back on and we’ll just relax for a little while? We can plan the demise of everyone on the seventh floor a little later, okay?”
And just like that, she was over it. He marveled at her ability to let things go sometimes. He started to reach for the remote, but paused. “Hey, your hair’s getting my shoulder all wet.”
She lifted her head just long enough to playfully swat him. “I’m the one who’s wounded. Deal with it!”
Her head descended to his shoulder again, and he chuckled, switching on the TV. “Oh, hey, it’s silk tie hour. Let me know if you recognize any of Jai’s wardrobe.”
Auggie smiled when he heard her snort in reply.