A/N Hello again, all. A lot of my stories have been moved to my tumblr site, but I'll be reformatting a few and reposting them here, as well. The Apartment was, by far, the most popular, so here it is.
If there's any other story you'd like, shoot me a review or a private message, and I'll put it here.
Thanks and enjoy.
*Written at end of Season1*
"Okay, spill it," Auggie said, setting his fork down on his plate and leaning back in the booth. He and Annie had opted to have a quick lunch in the food court, but not even the change of scenery from their usual lunch at the desk or at the bistro down the street brought her out of the funk she obviously had been in all day.
"Huh?" Annie said, looking up distractedly from her salad.
"Spill it. Something's bothering you," Auggie stated. "And before you leave this table, you're going to tell me what it is."
Frowning, Annie poked more emphatically at a piece of chicken that was eluding her. "It's nothing, Auggie." Hearing a derisive scoff, she sighed. "Nothing you can help with, anyway."
Sliding his plate over to the side, Auggie placed his forearms on the table and aimed his gaze in her direction. "Try me."
Seeing the determined look on Auggie's face, Annie knew he wouldn't stop prying unless she talked. "My sister's husband got a new job, which I should be overjoyed for, since he's been out of work for months now."
When she didn't elaborate, Auggie sat back up and retrieved his plate. "Okay, I can see why such great news has got you pouting like you broke a heel on your favorite pair of shoes," he said with a touch of sarcasm.
"The job's in Philadelphia," Annie said, stuffing a piece of cold chicken in her mouth.
"Great city, and not too far away," Auggie said.
"They're going to have to move there in two weeks."
"It's still autumn, so they won't have to worry about unpacking in a snowstorm."
"Auggie," Annie said, shaking her head.
"They're going to have to sell the house to afford the move, not to mention getting another place to live."
"Can't you -"
"No, they really need the money, and before you ask, I can't afford to buy it myself." Giving up on her wilting salad, Annie pushed it out of the way.
"So are you upset because your sister's moving, or because you have to move?"
"Both, I guess," she replied, running her hands through her hair in frustration. "But more so, because I have to move. Danielle can't believe I haven't been putting more money aside myself, but I guess I took having the guest house for granted and didn't really plan towards getting out on my own anytime soon."
"So you have two weeks to find a new place to live?"
"Yes, and I'm having the worst luck. I've lived with Danielle ever since I came back to DC, and never even looked at apartment prices. The ones I can afford are in the worst parts of the city, and the ones I want are way out of my price range. I can't seem to find a happy medium."
Hearing her cellphone beep, Annie pulled it out of her pocket and read the text. "We're needed back in the office."
Collecting his plate and drink, Auggie stood up and cocked out his elbow for Annie to take. When he felt her fingers slide around his elbow, he followed her to the trash can, where they deposited their half-eaten lunches and made their way back.
"How long have you been searching?" he asked.
"About ten days now. Danielle's ecstatically happy, and so busy with her own move, I haven't wanted to bother her with what I'm going to do."
"And you didn't ask for my help because?"
Annie sighed and squeezed his arm, "Because you've been busy with work, and I didn't think you'd be interested in apartment hunting."
"Not as a hobby, no, but I'm hurt you'd think I wouldn't want to help you," he said, slowing as they neared the DPD entrance. Feeling for the handle, he pulled it open, allowing Annie to enter first.
"I didn't want to tell you because I'm embarrassed at my own situation," she said softly, stopping a few steps in and turning to face him. "Look, I don't want anyone else to know about this, so could you keep it our secret?"
"You have nothing to be ashamed of, Annie," Auggie whispered. "And I'd be glad to help you find a new place to live. We'll talk later, okay?"
"Thanks," Annie said, squeezing his arm once more.
"Annie! We need you over here," Joan called from the conference room. "You, too, Auggie."
Chapter 2: The Idea
"What about a loft? They're usually cheaper than full-fledged apartments, right?" Annie asked, leaning against Auggie's desk. "Of course, it'd be cheaper if I had a roommate or two, but I'd want a place to relax, and keeping a cover is hard enough with family."
Standing, she began to pace behind him, "And it'd have to be somewhere close, just for traffic's sake. I don't have much in terms of furniture, but Danielle promised she'd let me keep everything in the guest house, and they'll sell it empty. So that's a plus in my favor, 'cause I wouldn't need a furnished place."
Auggie listened patiently as Annie continued, detailing everything she needed and wanted from her new abode. Apparently, from living on military bases to college dorms to traveling around the country and then finally to settling down in Danielle's guest house, she hadn't ever had an apartment of her own. And the prospect terrified her.
"Annie?" he said, attempting to rein in her soliloquoy on the perfect apartment. "Annie!"
She stopped at the harsh sound of his voice, "What?"
"Calm down, and stop pacing. You're making me seasick."
"I'm sorry, but it's just - I feel lost," she said, dropping down in a chair. Taking a deep breath, she leaned back and stared at the ceiling tiles. "What am I gonna do, Auggie? Maybe I could just live out of my car."
Auggie spun around in his desk chair, an amused look on his face. "And shower here and eat out of the food court and vending machines?"
"Sure, why not? Or maybe -" Annie smiled.
"Well, Jai's invited me to visit his place a couple times. Maybe I could crash on his couch." Annie looked intently at Auggie as she said this, gauging his reaction.
"You're kidding, right?" he asked, a mix of horror and revulsion crossing his face. "Annie, you know he's just as oily as his father is, and I assure you that you may start on his couch, but he'd insist that you 'take his bed' 'cause it's more comfortable."
Striving to keep the giggling that was rising in her chest down, Annie continued, "Oh, come on, Auggie. He's not as bad as that. I mean, sure, he pays me unwarranted compliments and flashes that megawatt smile at me all the time, but I'm sure he just wants to be friends."
Auggie couldn't believe what he was hearing, "Annie, I said I'd help you find a place, and moving in with Jai Wilcox is not at the top of my list. In fact, I wouldn't even mention you need a new place to live to him, 'cause I assure you -"
The laughter bubbling up in Annie finally poured out. It lasted for a full minute, and soon Auggie was joining her.
"I'm sorry, Auggie," she said finally. "I couldn't resist."
"Yeah, right," Auggie said, smiling. "For a minute, I thought you were serious. Jai can be charming when he wants to, but I'm glad you're not falling for his superficial ways. I have to say, it's good to hear you laughing again."
"So, back to the topic of my being soon homeless -"
"Listen," Auggie interrupted, "I've got an idea."
"What is it?" Annie said, hopefully.
"Let me make a couple of calls first, and I'll get back to you."
Standing, he reached out for her hand, and when she took it, he pulled her out of the chair and herded her to his office door. "Go home, get packing, and I'll call you later."
"Thanks, Auggie," Annie whispered, giving his fingers an extra squeeze as she headed to her desk.
Sliding his office door closed, Auggie took a deep breath and sat down in his chair again. He had the idea when she had first mentioned her dilemma during lunch, but quickly put it aside. Now, though, the thought of her leaning on Jai, or anyone else, for a roof over her head made up his mind for him. He quickly punched in some numbers to his phone.
"Mrs. Smith, this is August Anderson, apartment 2B. How are you today?"
"Oh, August, so nice of you to call. I'm fine, actually. How are you? Anything wrong wtih the apartment?"
"No, everything's fine. I was just wondering if you had found anyone for the apartment across from mine."
"I've had a few looky-loos, but nothing concrete as of yet. And I'm very particular with my tenants, as you know."
"Yes, I know. Listen, I may have a prospective tenant for you, one that I can personally vouch for. Are you interested?"
"I'd have to meet them, of course, but if they're willing to consent to everything in the lease, I'd be more than happy to have them. Let's see, it's 5:00 now. You just getting off of work?"
"If your friend wants to come by the place at 7:00, we can talk."
"Thank you, Mrs. Smith. See you then."
Hanging up, Auggie wondered what Annie would think of his somewhat hasty prospect? He wasn't even sure himself what possessed him to think of it. She'd make a better neighbor than his last, at least, he thought, smiling. Mrs. Smith's tastes in tenants ran toward solid, stable citizens, bordering on retired little old ladies and grumpy old men. He was sure the only reason he acquired the place was because she felt a bit sorry for him.
He grabbed his messenger bag, and after ensuring that his computer was locked and powered down, headed out, dialing Annie's cell number on the way.
She answered on the second ring, "Auggie?"
"Hey, Annie, have you left yet?"
"I'm halfway home, actually. What's up?"
"I may have a place for you. Can you be at my place at 6:30 tonight? I can fill you in on the details there."
"Sure. How'd you do it so quick? I only left there, like, 15 minutes ago."
"I got lucky. See you there."
Chapter 3: The Solution
Auggie checked his watch one more time. 6:25 PM. She should be here soon, he thought. He'd asked her over earlier than the meeting with Mrs. Smith to run the idea by her first. Annie liked her independence and privacy, and he didn't want her thinking he was being over-protective. He simply liked hanging out with her, and moving her across the hall from him keeps her close AND keeps a roof over her head, he thought.
The doorbell rang, and he smiled. So she didn't back out, and she's on time. Sliding open the metal door, he said, "Hey, glad you could make it."
"Are you kidding? You promised me an apartment. I even brought food," she said, breezing past him and heading to the kitchen island. "Actually, it's just leftovers, but I promise you, Danielle made it, not me, so it's at least edible."
"Your cooking can't be that bad," Auggie chuckled, walking up to her. A rather tantalizing armoa wafted in her wake. "Wait, do I smell chicken?"
"Yep, and potato salad," Annie said, unpacking the containers from the bag. Flipping the lids off, she looked around. "Got some plates?"
Auggie pulled two plates from the cupboard and set them on the counter. "So, about this apartment -" he started.
"Yeah, you didn't say anything over the phone," Annie said, filling both plates. "And how on earth did you get results in 15 minutes when I haven't found anything in ten days? Wait, you're - you're not dating a realtor now, are you?" she asked.
Auggie laughed, "No, not at all."
"Ohh," Annie said. Picking up both their plates, she walked over to the couch and placed them on the long, low table in front of it. As Auggie joined her, she said, "So, come on, spill it, where's this new place you found for me?"
"Here," Auggie said, before taking a bite out of a chicken leg. As he chewed, he sensed the air getting thicker, and he swore he could feel her staring at him.
"Here?" Annie said softly, a million thoughts racing through her head, none of which explained his answer. "You want me to move in here? With you?"
"Ohh, no, no, not here in this room," he said quickly. "Across the hall. The apartment's been empty for a month, and if you don't take it, I'll be forced to exchange pleasantries with another one of my landlady's doddering old bridge partners who always want to cook for me and help me across the street."
Taking a bite of the potato salad, Annie put the plate back down on the table and sat back into the couch. "This fabulous apartment you want me to take is across the hall from you?"
"Is it anything like your apartment?"
"Practically identical, I'm told."
"And taking the apartment would save you from little old ladies?"
"And that's the only reason you want me to move in there?"
"Well, not the only reason, no."
"What other reason is there?"
"No - no other reason. You need a place to stay ASAP, and I knew of an affordable apartment."
"Auggie, don't you think you're taking the whole 'handler' moniker a bit too far?"
"What do you mean?" he asked, a look of confusion crossing his face.
"You watch over me at work, when I'm in the field, and now you want me practically in the next room for all the other hours of the day. You may be my best friend, Auggie, but even I don't want to spend that much time with myself."
"Annie, that's not what I was thinking," Auggie said quickly. He ran his hands through his hair in frustration. This wasn't going as smoothly as he hoped. "I mean, we hang out all the time, anyway. And I promise not to intrude on you if you don't want me to. I was just trying to help out."
A knock on the door interrupted Annie's response.
"That'll be Mrs. Smith," Auggie said, standing. "Just think about it, Annie, please. At least take a look at it."
He walked over to the door and slid it open, greeted by the scent of Mrs. Smith, a heady mixture of arthritis cream and coffee. It seemed she mainlined the stuff, he thought. "Mrs. Smith, please come in."
"Oh, thank you, August," she said, walking in, patting him on the shoulder as she did so. Seeing Annie on the couch, she smiled. "I take it you're the one that wants the apartment?"
Standing, Annie approached the tall, elegant woman and extended her hand. "Yes, my name is Anne Walker. How are you?"
"Very well, Miss Walker. Do you work with August, or is your relationship more of a personal nature?" she asked coolly.
"Mrs. Smith, Annie works at the Smithsonian with me," Auggie said. "She had mentioned earlier today that she was in need of a new place to stay. Any kind of references you need, she can provide."
Mrs. Smith nodded and looked again at the young blonde woman. "I am rather choosy about who I allow to live in my building, Miss Walker, but as August said he would personally vouch for you, it shouldn't be a problem. As a matter of fact, he's been one of the best tenants I've ever had. Would you like to have a look at the place?"
"Yes, please," she said, glancing at Auggie, whose face split into a self-satisfied grin.
"Great. If you're truly interested, I've brought the paperwork with me for you to sign. It may be pushing things a little fast, I know, but I don't like for apartments to sit unoccupied for so long," Mrs. Smith said, turning and heading for the door.
Annie followed her, only pausing long enough to give Auggie a small hug. "I'll be back," she whispered.
A half an hour later, Auggie paced the length of his apartment, wondering what could be taking them so long. He'd finished eating and cleaned up the kitchen, placing all the food back in the containers and the containers back into the bag. He'd attempted to listen to music or the news on his small television, but his thoughts kept wandering.
Maybe she was right, he thought. They do spend all day together, and with her moving in across the hall, they'd be spending the rest of evening and night in close proximity. He feared his protective streak had stepped over the bounds of their friendship, and heck, if she didn't take the apartment, he'd make sure he could find her another one. It's the least he could do.
The soft echo of voices in the hall startled him out of his reverie. He couldn't quite make out what was being said, but after a minute, his door slid open again. Soft footsteps entered, and his door slid shut again. He stood, almost not daring to breathe, wondering what her decision was.
The silence stretched for almost a full minute, and soon Auggie couldn't take it anymore. "Well?" he asked softly.
The sound of hurried footsteps across the floor toward him was the only answer - and the only warning he got - before Annie threw her arms around him. He took a step back in shock before gathering her up in his arms, laughing.
"We're neighbors, Auggie," she said, smiling. "The place is beautiful, and once I get my stuff in, it'll be perfect."
"I'm so glad for you, really," he said, releasing her. "I was afraid you wouldn't take it 'cause -"
"Because you're acting like an over-protective best friend?"
"Well, you may call it over-protective, but I know you're just looking out for me, and that kind of best friend I can use."
"Thanks, Annie," he said, smiling.
"Now, I have to run. There are plans to be made and clothes to be packed. I told Mrs. Smith I'd move in this weekend," Annie said, giving Auggie another hug and a soft kiss against his cheek.
Chapter 4: The Move
Ding. Annie looked up from the file she was reading. "New message," read the pop-up window. Clicking on it, she saw that it was a reply message from Joan.
"Annie: Thank you for notifying me of your change of address. The information has been noted and passed on to those in personnel and security. Usually a vetting process is required for all agents' new accommodations, but given the street address and apartment number you gave me, I see that that's not going to be necessary."
Annie smiled wryly. Nothing got past this woman, she thought. Scrolling down further, she read the rest of the message.
"Additionally, given your recent cases..." Read: Ben Mercer, Annie thought. "...I am assigning two agents as your moving company. They will be at your house at 9:00 a.m. this Saturday. Have your belongings ready by then. Joan."
Annie shook her head in disbelief. Joan still didn't trust her? It's been months since she and Jai returned from Sri Lanka with Ben's body, and though she spent a hellish week after, she'd accepted the fact that Ben was dead, and moved forward. Also, all chatter surrounding the mission had died down. Unless there was something Joan wasn't telling her, which she wouldn't put past her boss.
So I'm under tighter scrutiny than when I first got here, she thought. Balling her fist, she slammed it lightly on the desk. "Damn," she muttered. "Damn, damn, damn."
"Annie?" Auggie's voice came from beside her. "Something wrong? You usually don't swear until after lunch."
"Very funny. It's just an e-mail from Joan. She said -" Annie looked around and noted that several agents were within hearing distance, and since she wanted to keep at least part of her life private, her new living quarters were none of anyone's business. "Not here. Your office."
She got up from her chair, and grasping his elbow, half led, half dragged Auggie back to tech. Once they were both inside, she slid the door closed. "I told Joan I was moving, and she guessed that we're going to be neighbors."
"Annie, she's the one who helped me get that apartment after my accident. Of course, she knows where I live, and now where you live, too."
"That's not the problem," Annie sighed, walking past him and taking a seat in Stu's empty chair. Auggie sat in his own and turned toward her.
"What's wrong, Annie? You're not having second thoughts about taking the place, are you? If so, I can find you another one -"
"No, Auggie," she said. "The apartment is great, and thanks again for talking to Mrs. Smith and vouching for me. I can't wait to move in."
"Then what's the problem?" Auggie asked, confusion etching his brow.
"Joan's assigning two agents to move my furniture. Apparently, she still thinks I'm in danger, or she doesn't trust me enough to -" Annie broke off.
"Annie, she's worried about you," he said, leaning forward. "And though we believe all chatter has ceased regarding the Sri Lanka affair, there's no need to be cavalier about your safety." Reaching out, he felt for her arm and squeezed reassuringly. "Let us help you, Annie. No one can do it alone, and you've got a whole roomful of colleagues, acquaintances and friends in that room out there who would lay down their life for you, just like you would do for them."
Annie smiled, "How do you always know the right thing to say? Did you swallow a Deepak Chopra book or something?"
"Or something," he laughed lightly, patting her arm. Turning back around to his desk, he said, "Now, get back to work. We've got a busy weekend ahead of us."
Annie stood, looking down at her friend, "Wait, you're helping me move?"
"Of course. Now, get."
"That's the last of the boxes, Miss Walker. Is there anything else you need?"
Annie looked all around her and sighed. Moving from a house - even a small house - to an apartment was more difficult than she imagined. Thankfully, they'd moved the furniture in first, and a couch, armchair and a couple tables were where they should be. The rest of the floor was littered with boxes stacked upon boxes. She made sure she kept her bed clear, though, just to have somewhere to sit.
"Not unless you want to help me unpack," Annie said, smiling at her 'moving man,' a stocky man easily six foot tall who looked uncomfortable in his blue jumpsuit.
"We'll be leaving, then. Let's go, McClain." With that, he turned swiftly and left the apartment. His partner, McClain, a slightly smaller but just as heavily built young man returned her smile as he followed.
"Thanks, guys!" Annie called out, knowing her acknowledgements were falling on deaf ears. Well, she thought, she wasn't the only one uncomfortable with using government assistance just to move. Deciding to start unpacking items for the bathroom first, she headed for that box, which sat on the couch.
An amused "ahem" sounded from behind her, and she saw Auggie standing in the doorway. "Need some help?"
"Don't come in," she said, lifting the box from the couch and setting it on the kitchen counter.
"Now, is that any way to talk to your next door neighbor?"
"Auggie," Annie laughed, navigating her way to the door. "My friendly neighborhood movers put everything everywhere. If you take more than one step, you'll end up on the floor."
Taking his arm, she guided him through the mess to the space on the couch she just cleared. "Sit here, it's the only clear space. What time is it, anyway?"
"Noon. I was going to ask if you wanted to break for lunch, but you seem to be hip-deep in cardboard."
"Never fear, my dear. I've ordered pizza. It should be here soon. I gave them your apartment number, just in case we were delayed." Annie pulled out of the large cardboard box another smaller one that held her shampoos, soaps and other bottles. "I'll be right back," she said, heading to the bathroom.
"I'll be right here," Auggie said to himself, scooting back on the couch, and using his hands, felt around his space. The couch was rather soft, slightly overstuffed, and fabric-covered. His elbow hit a box to his left, and reaching out, he gauged its size and weight. Not too heavy, he thought, and lifted it off the couch and onto the floor by his feet. Opening the lid, he gingerly felt around the top of it and surmised the contents were clothing. His fingers found hard plastic, and he realized she had packed her closet by laying the items directly into the box, ready to pull back out and hang up.
Annie found him like that, up to his elbows in her dresses, skirts and slacks. "Looking for something to borrow?" she teased.
"Ha ha. I see you've left these on the hangers. If you move it to the closet, I can hang them back up for you," Auggie said, removing his hands from the box.
"Oh, okay. Good idea." Annie walked over and grabbed the box from between his knees. Hefting it up, she walked into the bedroom and then into the walk-in closet. Auggie wasn't kidding when he said the layout of her apartment exactly matched his. It should make navigation for him rather simple, she thought.
Going back into the living room, she grabbed his hand and led him through the maze to the bedroom. "The box is on the floor, and the rack's directly above you."
"Should have no problem," Auggie said, bending down to the box.
And so they continued for another 15 minutes, when a shout from the hallway announced the arrival of their lunch. Auggie insisted on paying for it, against Annie's protestations, and they wound up cross-legged on her bed with the box opened between them.
"Thanks for paying for the pizza," Annie said, licking a drip of sauce off her finger.
"You're welcome. I was going to treat you, anyway." Auggie closed the box lid and swung his legs off the side of the bed. "I'll finish up in the closet if you want to bring the rest of the boxes."
"Sure," Annie said, going back into the living room to retrieve the remaining box of clothes and the box of shoes. She sat them at the entrance of the closet for him and returned to the living room.
Two hours later, the apartment resembled a living space more than a warehouse. Auggie sat on the couch drinking a bottled water, and Annie was setting things out on her desk. A cork bulletin board hung above it, and she was busy hanging pictures, notes, and a calendar there.
One new item had made its way onto her "board of memories," as she called it, and it occupied its own corner. A business card with ten numbers on it. She'd never used it, but knowing it was available gave her a sense of peace and security. 710-555-3258. Her "get out of jail free card," he'd called it a few months ago. He'd probably forgotten he'd given it to her by now, but it was a reminder, a remembrance of what true friendship was.
"Everything's going to be fine," Annie said, tucking the card into the corkboard's corner.
"Why wouldn't it be?" Auggie asked from the couch.
"Hmm?" Annie asked, turning away from the desk. "Oh, nothing. Just some old memories."
Chapter 5: The Keyring
Annie lay on the mat she spread in the middle of her new living room, reveling in the surge of energy she felt. She always thought that the idea of yoga was a bit hokey, but in the six months she'd left the Farm for the DPD, she quickly realized she needed a form of relaxation that didn't entail jumping out of a plane or engaging a heavy bag with padded gloves.
She sat up and stretched, then began rolling the mat up. It'd only been 24 hours since she moved in, and most of her stuff had been put away, thanks to a certain cute neighbor of hers. But it would be a while before she felt comfortable in the space. The first stop for this Sunday morning was to go shopping. Danielle's kitchen was no longer an option for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the scant supplies she'd brought from the house wouldn't last more than a few days.
"After a shower," she grumbled, standing and stretching.
Her cellphone beeped, and she walked over to her desk, picking it up and looking at the text. "You up? A2."
She quickly typed in a response, "Yes. Come over. Annie."
A knock came on her door a minute later, followed by the sliding of metal. Pulling her head out of the refrigerator, she turned to him. He stood by the door, his arm wrapped around a large paper bag. A t-shirt and basketball shorts hung on his muscular body, and he was barefoot. Annie's eyebrows rose at the sight of him. Clearing her throat, she said, "Did you just get out of bed?"
"About an hour ago. Why do you ask?" Auggie said, not moving from where he stood and transferring the bag from one arm to the other.
"No reason," she said, placing the juice container on the counter and walking towards him. "I'm just used to seeing you in work clothes. What's in the bag?"
"Provisions," he said, "I thought you'd be hungry, and although I'm a big fan of cold pizza, you might not be." He heard the bag rustle as Annie peered down into it.
"You must be a mind reader," Annie said. "I was just thinking I had to go shopping to fill up the cupboards. Is all this for me?"
"Call it a homewarming gift," Auggie said, holding it out for her. She took it from his arms and walked away. "Uh, Annie?"
"Could you give me a tour, so I don't break a toe?" he asked, a derisive smile on his face.
"Oh, of course. I hadn't even thought of that." Annie grasped his left arm, and his right automatically reached out, feeling. "The dimensions and room placement is exactly like yours. When you first walk in, to your right is my desk, where my laptop is. Above it is a corkboard with pictures and important papers on it. A few more steps, and my bookcases."
They continued through the apartment, Annie detailing her belongings and furniture, and Auggie stepping carefully and placing his hand on the mentioned items. They had to stop once for Annie to stow her yoga mat into a corner. The bathroom, kitchen, and finally the bedroom completed the circuit.
"Well, what do you think?" Annie asked, leading them back to the kitchen counter. She began removing the items from the paper bag Auggie brought.
"It's not as nice as your place, but give me some time."
"It's fine, Annie. I should be able to make my way around well enough," Auggie said, perching himself on a stood at the end of the counter. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a key ring. "I, um, was thinking -"
Annie looked over at him, and saw that he had something clenched in his fingers. He looked thoughtful, and his lips were twisting, as thought he was searching for the right words. She walked over to him and placed her hand on his wrist. "What is it, Auggie?"
He took a deep breath and looked up, twisting the arm that her hand lay on and opening his fist. "This."
Annie looked down at his hand and saw a single key on a chain and keyring. "What is it?"
"A spare key to my apartment. You don't have to take it, I just thought, you know, for safety reasons, you might want it." Auggie wondered fleetingly if she would see the gesture as more overprotectiveness, but he felt her hand move off of his wrist and onto his fingers.
Annie lifted the key from his fingers. "Of course, I want it, and you should have mine, as well." Looking closer at the decorative keyring, Annie frowned. "Umm, Auggie, is there something else you want to tell me?"
"Like what?" he said.
"What about it?"
"Uhh - it's a circle with the words 'I love you' written on it," Annie said.
"No, it should be a smiley face, you know, one of those cheap ones you get free with every fifth sandwich at the bistro." Auggie said, looking perplexed. With a dawning realization, he realized what had happened, and with a speed and preciseness that surprised even him, he snatched the keyring out of Annie's hand.
"Auggie, what -" Annie watched as he quickly worked the key off of the keyring, and turning, lobbed it into the trash can.
"I'll get you another one," he said.
"What was that about?" Annie asked.
Auggie took a deep breath, shaking his head, and sat the key on the counter. "Liza. She returned that key to me three months ago, and apparently, had changed out the keyring without telling me."
"I didn't think you were that serious," Annie said softly, picking up the key and sliding it into her pocket. "Was she really in love with you?"
"Annie, you know I wasn't serious about her. And she never said a word to me about how she felt. I guess this was her way of doing it."
"Then she's a fool," Annie said. "If she really cared about you, she would have told you to your face. Personally, I think this was her way of making a very bad joke at your expense."
"Maybe," Auggie said, smiling. "But all that's over now, you know. I've moved on. We both have."
Annie returned his smile, and leaning over, brushed a familiar kiss against his cheek.
"Huh?" Annie said, straightening back up and returning to the items spread on the counter.
"You've now kissed my cheek three times in as many months. Do you like me or something, Miss Walker?" he asked, laughing.
"Of course, Mr. Anderson," Annie said, "How many best friends do you think I have? Now, since you've brought enough food to feed me for a week, how about some breakfast?"
Chapter 6: The Explanation
"Ahh, Friday Night Happy Hour has begun," Jai Wilcox said, standing up from his desk chair and shrugging into his blazer. "Care to join me, Annie?"
"It's 10:00 p.m., Jai. Happy Hour has long gone," Annie murmured dryly, not looking up from her computer screen.
"It will be if you accompany me," he said, walking around to the corner of her desk and leaning a hip into it. "What do you say? First round's on me."
"No, thanks," Annie said, finishing up her final e-mail of the day. Blinking back the dryness of her eyes from staring at the screen for far too many hours, she powered down her computer and opened her desk drawer, clearing off the files on her desk. Jai hadn't moved, and she looked up at him. His megawatt smile split his handsome face, and even though she found affection in those eyes once, facts were facts. He'd lied to her from the beginning, and even when she'd confronted him with the truth three months ago, he still hadn't divulged everything.
"So, no drink tonight, okay," he said. "How is your sister and her family? I had a great time at their last barbecue. Are they planning an end-of-summer bash?"
"No, Jai," Annie replied, wearying of his weak reconciliation attempt. "My sister won't be having anymore barbecues, and given our recent history, you and I won't be hanging out after work for quite a while."
"Annie, you know I was following orders, and I'm sorry you got caught up in it -" Jai's voice had a bitter edge that curled Annie's back.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Just let me explain, please. Why don't I come over to your sister's house tomorrow, and we can talk this out?"
"No. No more happy hours, no more barbecues, and no more coming overs. For your information, my sister has sold her house, and they've moved to Philadelphia. I'm in a new place now."
"You've moved? When did this happen? Were you going to tell me?" he said, the bitterness turning to thinly veiled sarcasm.
"In order, yes, last week, and if needed," Annie said bluntly, pushing back her chair and standing. She took a step back from him and folded her arms on her chest.
"Well, has it been vetted with Joan? You know, you can't just move anywhere, it has to be checked out."
Annie was tiring of his third degree. "It didn't need to be, it's in Auggie's apartment building."
"You're living with Anderson?" he said, rather petutantly, Annie thought. "Well, well, guess the wonder boy won out in the end, huh?" he said, standing up from the desk, shaking his head.
"I'm not living with him, Jai. It's a separate apartment, and yes, he helped me get it, but I was in a bind. He was being a friend," Annie said, with emphatic emphasis on the last word.
Megawatt smile gone, Jai turned away from her, "One day I'll tell you about your friend, Annie. I've known him a lot longer than you, and this hero worship you have may crumble if you knew his whole story."
"Bitterness does not become you, Jai," Annie called after his retreating back. When he didn't turn, and was finally gone from her sight, Annie sighed resolutely. This, she thought, was the reason she didn't tell Jai in the first place. When charm didn't get him his way, he pouted like a 3-year-old whose toy had been taken away.
She picked up her purse and bag and headed toward the parking lot. The past ten days had been so filled with work and moving that exhaustion was rearing its ugly head. A long shower and several hours under a thick down comforter called to her, and during the short ride to her new apartment, it was all she could think of.
She knew Auggie had gone out with the rest of the tech crew to Allen's a couple hours earlier. They had extended an invitation to her, but Annie knew if she didn't finish up the last of her filing and e-mails, it would need to be done over the weekend. And this weekend, she decided, was hers. She needed to decompress, rather desperately, now given the extra stress of her recent blow-up with Jai.
Skipping the elevator, she climbed the short flight of stairs to the second floor of the apartment building. Rounding the corner to her and Auggie's hall, she was struck dumb and still by the sight in front of her. A tall blonde with a short black skirt and tighter blouse had Auggie in a tight embrace, with him plastered against his door, his hands down by his side, and her arms wrapped around his head as she kissed him.
"I - uhh -" Annie's voice squeaked out at the sight. Neither of them seemed to notice her presence, and tearing her eyes off of them, she quickly walked past them to her door, heels clicking louder than she'd like on the tile, and fitted her key in the lock.
"Annie?" Auggie's voice came behind her, but wanting to hide any further embarrassment, she pretended she didn't hear and quickly opened the door and slid inside.
Leaning against it, she exhaled, feeling a mixture of acute embarrassment and exhaustion. This day could not get any worse, she thought. Dropping her purse into her armchair, she began to shed her clothes on her way to the bathroom. A quick shower, an even quicker late supper, and finally blissful slumber. The faster the day was over, the better, she thought.
When she was done, she pulled on a soft, loose tank and pair of shorts. Her damp hair hung down her back. Padding barefoot through the bedroom, she walked into the kitchen.
A startled squeak emanated from her as Auggie's voice came from the darkened room. Feeling for the light switch along the kitchen wall, she turned the light on and saw him sitting on her couch. His hair was tousled, and his cheek still bore a red smear.
"Jesus, Auggie! Are you trying to scare me to death?" Annie nearly shouted at him. "How did you get in here?"
Auggie held up the smiley face keyring that held her spare door key. They had exchanged them the weekend before. "I knocked, but you didn't answer. Annie, let me explain about what you just saw."
"I'm a big girl, Auggie," she said, opening the door to the refrigerator and pulling out a half-eaten hoagie. "I know what happens between a man and woman when they're attracted to each other, and, obviously, what happens when large amounts of alcohol are involved."
Taking a large bite out of the sandwich, she walked over to the armchair, and setting her purse onto the floor, sat down, curling her legs under her.
"So where is she?" she asked.
"Gone. We met at the bar, and when I attempted to leave, she insisted on giving me a lift," Auggie said, playing with the keyring, twirling it around his finger.
"Then, of course, she had to help me to my door. I tried to explain that I was quite capable of finding my own way, but she wasn't listening. When we finally got up here, I was saying good-bye and thanks when she attacked."
Annie nearly choked on her sandwich as laughter bubbled up in her. Swallowing the bite, she said, "Attacked you? With her lips?"
"Annie, please, this isn't funny," Auggie said, trying not to smile, but losing the battle. "She apparently thought I was playing hard to get, and wanted to plead her case for extending a few drinks into a one-night stand."
Still chuckling, Annie popped the remaining bit of sandwich into her mouth. She stood and headed to the kitchen. Grabbing two bottles of water, she headed back to the chair, pressing one of them into Auggie's hands.
"She was beautiful and obviously into you," Annie said. "What happened?"
"I - I don't know," he said, setting the unopened bottle on the table. "After Tash, and then Liza, and your observation about using women to get what I want, maybe one night stands don't appeal to me much anymore."
"So you asked her to leave. You - you haven't seen anybody since Liza?" Annie asked softly. "Auggie, you can't just withdraw like that. And what I said was directed solely at Liza, not the entire female generation."
"I'm not saying I'm going celibate, Annie," he laughed. "And yes, I have dated since Liza, but drunken coeds don't appeal to me much anymore." Standing, Auggie made his way around the table. "I just wanted to apologize for embarrassing you like that. I'll talk to you tomorrow?"
Annie unfolded her legs out from under her and stood, reaching out to his cheek. With a few swipes, the red lipstick smear came off. "Good night, Auggie."
Reaching up, he grasped her fingers. Bringing her hand to his lips, he pressed a soft kiss against the knuckles before releasing it.
"What was that for?" Annie asked.
"Well, I'd kiss your cheek, but I'm afraid I'd miss and take your eye out," he said, smiling and making his way to the door.
Annie was busy cleaning her apartment Sunday morning – the first time since she'd moved in, and it showed – when she heard a familiar knock at her door.
"Come in, Auggie," she shouted, not bothering to look up or remove her head from the open cabinet.
She heard the door slide open and shut, and she continued, on her knees, dusting out the kitchen cabinets. She'd finally gotten around to purchasing some appliances and needed a place to put them. Finally satisfied with the level of cleanliness, she shut the cabinet door and stood up off of her knees.
The place was empty. She knew she heard the knock and the door opening and shutting, so where –
"Since when do you leave your door unlocked, or let people in without checking the peephole?"
The slow, deep voice came from directly to her left, and she whirled around to see Auggie standing inches away from her, his eyes a mix of mirth and seriousness. "Jesus, Auggie! Since when do you sneak up on people?"
"Even so, you didn't answer my question," he said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Annie rolled her eyes at him and took a step back, leaning against the counter. "I left the door unlocked because I've been in and out of the apartment, taking trash out and bringing my new purchases in. Being out of the country for a few days nearly every week hasn't given me much time to do so. Secondly, you always knock the same way, so I knew it was you."
His arms slid down his chest, and he said, "Still, you should be more careful."
"I'm a big girl, Auggie. I've been on my own since I graduated high school. A full decade's worth of experience." Since she'd been cleaning for a few hours already, Annie really didn't have the energy to argue. "Did you need something?"
"Umm, no," Auggie said, wondering at her dismissive tone. "Just didn't have any plans for lunch, so I thought maybe we could order something in. But I can see you're busy, so I'll just go have a sandwich or something."
He turned and walked around the counter to the front door. "Auggie," she said with a sigh. He stopped, but didn't turn around. "I'm sorry." His head dropped a bit, but he still faced the door. "Actually, I was going to take a break and have lunch, so –"
"Chinese?" Auggie said quickly, half-turning back to her.
"Yeah, sounds great."
"I'll make the call from my place. See you back here in half an hour," he said, letting himself back out.
Annie nodded to herself. Well, that's a step in the right direction, she thought. She'd found over the past few weeks that work-Auggie was slightly different than home-Auggie. At work, he was full of enthusiasm, confidence and hard work. But here, when he's dressed in a tee and sweatpants and walked around barefoot, she'd seen a touch of vulnerability and hesitantcy that she couldn't quite place.
And, ever since last week when he'd come over to apologize for the coed he was making out with in the hallway, things had been a bit strained between them. She headed to her bathroom to wash the layer of dust off of her.
Half an hour later, they were sat cross-legged on her couch, eating from their respective containers.
"So, what were you doing in the cabinets?"
Annie swallowed the mouthful of noodles before answering. "I got some appliances and needed to make room."
"Like what? A crepe maker?" he asked with a grin.
"Nothing so fancy. Just a blender and food processor. My cooking skills aren't quite on par as Danielle's."
"I don't know about that. I've had your coffee," he said.
"Too bad we can't live on it, huh?" she asked.
And again, they slid into silence and continued to eat their food. Once Auggie's chopsticks hit the bottom of the box, he dropped them in and sat the empty container on the coffee table. This wasn't going as well as he hoped. Way back when Annie had first mentioned her need for a new apartment, the solution had come so easily to him. Offer her the place across from him. Have a buddy nearby.
Now, though, it seemed they were growing further and further apart, and the prospect of losing her friendship gnawed at him. He felt now that he had to say something, bring up his concerns, and hope that he was just imagining all this.
"How are you doing?" he asked, deciding to start off slow.
"Fine, why do you ask?"
"Just wondering, your family's moved away, you're in a new place, along with a new job. I've been worried for you."
Annie cracked open her fortune cookie, popping one end of it into her mouth as she pulled the slip of paper out. "I've been okay. We always moved around when I was a kid, so – oh, wow."
"Huh?" Auggie said.
Annie stared at the strip of paper between her fingers. The love of your life is sitting across from you. "Huh? Oh, nothing, just silly message on fortune cookie," she said hastily. "Want me to open yours?"
"Nah, I prefer to make my own fortune. You can have it, if you want."
Annie reached over to grab it, but sat back again. Given how much her fortune shook her, she didn't want to risk it. Instead, she stood and grabbed up the empty containers. "Are you done with yours?"
Auggie offered up his container, but when he felt her grab onto it, he didn't let go. "Annie, what's going on here?"
She could laugh and brush off his inquiry, pretend everything's fine and get on with her chores of the day. But the look on Auggie's face wouldn't allow her. He looked lost and just a tad bit hurt. Again, an emotion she knew she'd never see inside the office. But here, he allowed it to come through. The vulnerability, the emotion. It'd startled her at first, a side of Auggie that she'd never expected to see.
Releasing his empty container, she stepped back and sat down on the couch next to him. "I don't know, Auggie. Maybe it's the new place, being away from Danielle and the girls. Maybe it's the job."
"But it's not," Auggie supplied. "Something else is going on here, and I wouldn't be much of a friend if I didn't say I'm here for you."
A half-laugh escaped Annie before she could stop herself, and Auggie flinched back a bit. "Or maybe not."
"No, no," Annie said, reaching out to grab his arm before he moved away. "Sorry, it's just – this is much more than friendship, don't you think?"
Auggie nodded. She wasn't far off the mark on that one.
"And I don't know about you, but this is all new to me. Besides my family, I've never really been this close to anyone."
"Not even Ben?" he asked, before he could stop himself.
At the mention of the man's name, Annie's hand slid off of Auggie's arm. She thought hard for a minute while Auggie sat expectantly. "You know Roman candles?"
"Thinking back on it now, that's what it seemed like. Burning hot and bright for a long, long time, but eventually – eventually the flame goes out, and you're left with nothing."
Auggie smiled, "Yeah, I know what you mean."
"All I'm saying, Auggie, is that –" she sighed and leaned back on the cushions. "God, why is this so hard? I'm over him. I have been for a while."
"Good," Annie said, getting back up off the couch. "Now, I'll just throw these away, and then you can help me clean."
"I can, huh?" Auggie asked. "I guess I can do that. Hey, don't forget this," he said, picking up her fortune slip.
"No, I think I'll keep that."
Chapter 8: The Texts
A/N A2 is August Anderson. A&W is Annie Walker
A2 you there
A&W yes, i'm here
A2 want to come over
A&W right now? i'm in the bath
A2 nothing, it's just, thanks for the image
A2 you started it
A&W and you ran with it
A2 just a healthy male, that's all
A&W weak excuse, and you know it
A2 but legitimate
A&W what are you up to? aren't you going out
A2 don't feel like it tonight. what about you
A&W same here. bath and a book night
A2 more like bath and a blackberry
A&W ha ha
A2 need someone to scrub your back
A&W are you offering
A&W i was joking
A2 i wasn't
A&W does that line work all the time
A2 not everything is a line, annie
A&W so you're not teasing
A2 not this time
A&W i'm not ready for this
A2 you said you were over him
A&W i am, i was
A2 and yet you cut down any flirtatious move a man makes on you
A&W no, not every flirtatious move
A2 so, just the ones from me
A2 don't tell me, i've heard it before. you just want to be friends
A2 then why
A&W i like you
A2 and i like you
A&W i have never had a friendship like this. don't want to break it
A&W i don't want it to change
A2 it has already, annie
A&W i know
A2 don't be scared
A&W not scared, terrified i'll make the same mistake
A2 you did nothing wrong
A&W nothing, except fall in love
A2 i'm not him
A&W i know
A2 i'll protect you
A&W i know that, too
A2 and i would never hurt you
A&W of course
A&W let me think about it, okay
A2 take all the time you need
A2 sweet dreams
Chapter 9: The Answer
The next morning, Annie was walking down the hall when she heard Auggie's voice around the corner. The smooth, deep sound sent a delicious thrill through her, and she slowed her steps. As she was about to turn the corner toward him, another voice joined his conversation, and she stopped a foot away from the edge of the hallway. The female voice was unfamiliar to her, but as she stood and listened, she realized that whoever it was, Auggie knew her. Not wanting to eavesdrop, she turned to go the other way, but Auggie's words soon stopped her.
"Crystal, how have you been?"
"Better now that I've ran into you, Aug."
Annie heard the unmistakable sound of a kiss, and her fingernails involuntarily dug into her palm.
"I've missed you, Auggie. It's been, what, a month since our date? I thought we could get together tonight, there's this great new place that has an in-house band -"
"Crystal, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to decline."
"Oh, so you're busy tonight? It is kind of late notice, I know. How about this weekend?"
"Sorry, no, you see, I'm sort of involved with someone else now."
"Someone else? Who is she? Is it serious?"
Annie's heart literally skipped a beat as Crystal's voice turned from a high-pitched seducing tone to low and disappointed.
"You don't know her, and the relationship isn't serious as of yet, but I am serious about her."
"Ohh, okay. I'm - I'm happy for you, Auggie, really. I'll see you around?"
As their footsteps echoed down the hall, Annie let out her breath that she hadn't realized she'd been holding. When the footsteps were gone, she walked around the corner and into the DPD. She sat down at her desk and stole a glance into Auggie's office, where he stood talking to Stu.
She'd settled into her apartment and had been there for about a few weeks when, last night, she'd received that text from Auggie. Their normal banter and joking had quickly turned to something she wasn't quite ready for, although, now that she thought about it, it wasn't out of left field.
Ever since she'd taken the apartment across from him, they'd found themselves either at her place or his a few times a week. And, after the incident with the drunken coed, she'd never seen him with another girl there. At first she thought he was maybe spending time at their place, but now, after what he said to Crystal, was he just not seeing anyone else?
"Annie, would you join us in the conference room?" Joan said, walking up to Annie and pulling her away from her thoughts.
"Of course," Annie said, standing and following her across the room. A couple other agents sat at the table, and Annie took a seat on the end.
"One of our civilian informants has disappeared, and we need to retrieve his information before anyone else can. We thought you might be of help," Joan said, sliding a file down the table to Annie. "It's an easy operation, but as you know, even a simple brush-pass can go wrong."
Annie frowned, remembering back to the incident Joan referred to in Zurich. It was supposed to be an exchange of briefcases, but had gone terribly wrong, resulting in several deaths and Annie being forced to go to ground for a time.
"You're to go to the address listed in the file and pick up a thumb drive in the mailbox and return back here. Usually, you would be alone on something like this, but I'm going to insist you wear an earpiece. Pick one up from Auggie before you leave."
Annie blinked at this, "Do you really think that's necessary?"
"Of course, or I wouldn't have said it," Joan replied coolly.
Annie nodded and, grabbing the file, left the room. Joan's mistrust in her gnawed at her, and she wondered if she'd ever truly win the woman's confidence again. Sliding open the door to Auggie's office, she was surprised to find Stu there instead.
"Oh, hey, Annie. Auggie said you'd be dropping by. This is for you," he said, handing her a small box. Annie opened it and took out the earpiece, fitting it into place.
"Are you going to be my handler for this?" Annie asked.
"Oh, gosh, no," Stu said. "Auggie had to step out for a minute, he'll be back."
"Okay, thanks, Stu," Annie said, giving him a smile and walking out.
She was halfway to the informant's building when a crackle sounded in her ear.
"Yes, Auggie, I'm here, about ten minutes away from the place. It's an apartment building, right?"
"Yes, our informant left a message before he went off grid that he'd left the thumb drive in his mailbox. Have you got the key?"
"Yes, it was attached to the file."
The earpiece was silent for about five more minutes as Annie drove, then crackled to life once again.
"Hey, about yesterday -"
"Auggie, can we talk about this later?"
"Nobody else is listening, Annie."
"But aren't these transmissions recorded?"
"Not right now, they're not."
"I just wanted to say that I meant what I said, all of it, but if I'm pushing too hard, just say so. I know you're still getting over Ben's death, and -"
"You're not pushing anything, Auggie. And I let Ben go weeks ago. His death was tragic, but he'd lied to me once too often."
"So what's holding you back?"
"I - I don't know," Annie said softly. She was nearing her destination, and slowed down. "Look, I'm almost at the building. We'll talk at home, okay?"
"Okay," Auggie said, switching the transmission recorder back on.
On the drive back to the apartment, Auggie sat quietly, thinking back to the conversation he'd had with Crystal that morning. He'd wanted to cut ties with her gently, but still he surprised himself with his own words, that he'd found someone he was seriously interested in. Not since Natasha had he felt such a deep connection with another person, and the idea simultaneously thrilled and unnerved him.
The previous night's text conversation played over again in his mind, and even he was surprised at the direction it took, and how easy it was to say those things to Annie. He realized, today, that it was easy because it was true. When he first had the idea of her moving into his apartment building, he thought it was to help her out and keep her safe. But maybe, subconsciously, it was because he wanted to be with her.
"We're home," he heard Annie said, and he realized the car had stopped. He opened his car door and waited for Annie to come around to his side. He felt her hand on his bicep, and they walked silently through the parking lot and into the building.
As they neared their respective apartment doors, he turned towards her. He felt her hand release his bicep and slide down his arm. Her hand grasped his, and she lifted it.
A feeling of soft lips against his knuckles made him gasp, then smile. "Annie?"
"Remember what you asked me this afternoon?" she asked, holding their clasped hands against her chest.
"Ask me again."
"What's holding you back?" Auggie asked once more, stroking his thumb against the soft skin of her hand.
Auggie's words were cut off as he felt her lean into him, and then felt her lips against his cheek. His eyes closed at the touch. He turned his head slightly, and then felt the same caress against his lips. It was hesitant and slow.
"Nothing's holding me back, Auggie. And you were right last night. Things have changed already. There's no use in fighting it."
A brilliant smile etched across Auggie's face, and he enfolded her in his arms. Annie clung to him like a life preserver, allowing the emotion of finally letting go of her past wash over her.
"So what now?" she asked, face pressed against his shoulder.
"Well, I was thinking of asking you out on a date, but I think we're past that stage," Auggie said, releasing her.
"No, a date sounds wonderful," Annie replied, stepping back from him. "After everything that's happened, a little normalcy sounds perfect. Tonight?"
"I'll pick you up in an hour."