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Love Like You've Never Been Hurt

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"It's not that bad." Auggie said, as he leaned against Annie's desk. He'd shown up as soon as her debriefing was over. If you could call a half-hour of Joan yelling at you a debriefing.

"I've been here a month," Annie said. "I shouldn't be making stupid mistakes anymore."

"It's the CIA. You never stop making stupid mistakes."

"Is that supposed to be comforting?"

Auggie shrugged. "You're given a lot responsibility in highly dangerous situations. It's a given that you're going to screw up."

Annie sighed. "I think I'm going to go home and mope."

"Uh-uh," Auggie said. "You're coming out with me. I'll buy you a drink and tell you everything I did wrong my first month."

When Annie didn't respond, he said, "Come on. You don't want to sit at home alone with your thoughts right now."

Annie bit her lip. "Okay, but I can't promise to be good company."

"That's all right," Auggie said. "All I require is your presence. Oh, and your car. I need a ride."

Annie had expected the night to be torture. She wasn't in the mood to be social and the events of the day kept playing in her head over and over. But then Auggie got her laughing about his first day and they started comparing worst first days in general and the next thing she knew, the bar was closing.

"Thank you," Annie said when she pulled up in front of Auggie's apartment. "You were right. I needed that."

"Well, I won't rub it in."

*

"I can't believe we pulled it off!" Annie said. It was the next week and she and Auggie were out for celebratory drinks after a successful mission.

"I told you!" Auggie said. "You're good at this, Annie."

Annie smiled. "It feels good. Like I'm meant to do this and all that corny stuff."

"That's the CIA getting its claws into you. You'll never be free now."

"When I was backpacking through Europe, I remember thinking I never wanted that, I never wanted to be tied down to a job, but this? To know I'm making a difference—"

"You're getting corny again," Auggie said.

"You can't tell me you don't feel the same way."

Auggie took a sip of his beer and then said. "Okay, my turn to get corny?"

"Feel free."

"For a while there, I thought I was never going to be anything but a burden. To my family, my friends, my country, everyone. So, yeah, it does feel good."

They were still talking fast and furiously when Annie brought her car to a stop in front of Auggie's apartment.

"Okay," Auggie finally said. "I better go before one of my neighbors starts wondering about the car lurking outside the building."

Annie looked at the clock. "Neither of us is going to make it through the day tomorrow."

Auggie grinned. "What are you talking about? Operating on little-to-no sleep is one of the qualifications for this job."

"But I had fun," Annie said. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

"Well, see, now I'm tempted to invite you in."

"It was a kiss on the cheek."

"So that's a no?"

"Goodnight, Auggie."

*

"Come to dinner with me," Auggie said, a couple of weeks later, as they waited for a briefing to begin.

"That an order?" Annie asked.

"It's a show of confidence," Auggie said. "I can rephrase it, if you like. Would you be so kind as to come to dinner with me?"

Annie laughed. "It would be my pleasure."

"Tomorrow?" Auggie said.

"Sounds good."

Joan started talking, but Annie's thoughts began to drift. She felt like she was back in high school, like she should call Danielle and ask, "What you think? Is it a date?" But maybe the question should be did she want it to be a date? Which was complicated. Danielle's efforts aside, she hadn't had a much of a romantic life lately. Mostly by choice—getting burned by Ben still hurt—but it wasn't like the universe was throwing a lot of date-able guys in her path. At least, not until lately because Auggie was very date-able and this wasn't the first time her thoughts had strayed in that direction.

So, yes, on the surface, she wanted it to be a date, wanted to see if all those nights spent at the bar together were leading anywhere. But Auggie was her friend and it had been a while since she'd had any real friends. There were a couple of people from college she still talked to, but, mostly, she'd been traveling and they'd been getting on with their lives. And now that she finally had a career of her own, it wasn't like she could really tell them about it. There was her sister and, Danielle was great, they'd always been close . . . but it didn't really count. First, because she was her sister and, like their mom used to say, they were stuck together, so they might as well like each other. And now there was this barrier between them because of everything Annie couldn't say.

So it meant a lot to her that Auggie was her friend, that she had someone she could sit around talking about nothing with, who would come after her when something was wrong. She didn't want to risk that. And they worked together and she'd heard enough rumors about Joan and Arthur to realize that the CIA's encouragement to date coworkers created as many problems as it solved.

Then Auggie shifted in his seat beside her and, all of a sudden, she relaxed. It was Auggie. She knew they'd have a good time together.

*

They went to an Italian restaurant a couple of blocks from work. It so perfectly straddled the line between "dinner with a friend" and "date" that she suspected Auggie had the same mixed feelings about the night that she did.

"So," Auggie said, after they'd ordered.

"So," Annie said.

Auggie laughed. "Sorry, I'm normally much smoother than this."

"I'm not," Annie said.

"What are you talking about?" Auggie said. "I've seen you in action."

"In the field," Annie said. "That doesn't translate into real life."

"It's the same thing," Auggie said. "Smile, act confident and nobody will know the difference."

"Is that what you do?"

"Sometimes. The rest is just natural charm."

"You'll have to teach me that."

"Oh, it can't be taught," Auggie said.

Annie laughed. "You are, in fact, a very charming man."

"Well, see, now you're going to make me blush." He paused. "And I bet you're blushing, too."

"You don't know that," Annie said, though her cheeks were indeed hot.

"Yeah, you're blushing."

Annie took a long sip of her water. "So," she said deliberately. "Tell me about your day."

"You were there for most of it," Auggie said, but he picked up on her conversational cue and changed the subject to a book he was reading.

Which pretty much set the tone for the evening. One of them would venture a remark that slipped ever so slightly into the "not exactly friends" territory, the other would follow suit, and then one of them would pull back. And, in between, they would laugh and talk and the hours slipped by until Annie was almost shocked when it came time to say their goodbyes.

They'd ended so many nights like this. In her car, outside his apartment. But the tension was all around them and Annie felt like she was being pulled in two different directions, two different possibilities for the way the night would end.

Auggie reached across the car until his hand found hers. "I had a really good time."

"Me too," Annie said.

"We should do it again."

"Yeah," Annie said. "We should."

She leaned across the car and, even then, the night hung on that edge. What were they saying? What did they mean? What did she want? She closed her eyes and decided.

And her lips met his.