This was another little plot that I always wanted to play around with but never really had much time. Now that I'm on vacation (well, essentially) I kind of want to start a new project. I should know better than to try, because I'm nearly done with Don't Call It a Comeback and I know if I stretch myself too thin I'm going to lose inspiration. But—I will complete Comeback before the month is over (I really, really hope).

I have no guarantees when this will be finished, mostly because, well, I have no clue how long this will be. It will be on the Mature-side, that much is for sure. So it'll stay M, because I always prefer to air on the side of caution.

Major props go to Trust Issues, by Kitty Invictus because I had been rereading her fic when it occurred to me to finally go through with this idea. Her story is cool and sexy, and maybe if more of you check it out she'll update it again. ;)

Very very loose spoilers for the end of season 2, but I don't think you have to worry about me predicting anything for next season. I'm just using the Africa nonsense as a set-up.

$4$

Hey, Mr. Love, I've been singin' and still
There's a hole in my heart only a man can fill
And he's had a blistered love and we're sharin' a bed
But he's not in a state to be readily left in my hands

- "More Than Melody," by Anna Nalick


Like most stories in her life, this one began and ended in Allen's.

She really needed to find a new bar. Preferably one less spook-ish. Her only friends were all spies, and even then they were mostly associates at best. She had one actual friend, something that desperately needed to be remedied. The longest conversation she had with someone that wasn't Auggie was with Joan. And the longest conversation she had with someone that wasn't Auggie or her boss was with Jai for about 45 seconds. And she didn't even like Jai that much anymore.

She truthfully hadn't expected Auggie to come back. People don't just leave for Africa for undoubtedly gorgeous women and then come right back to work in boring old D.C. When he left, she expected Joan to call her into her office and gently let her know that Auggie would be staying in Africa for the rest of time. Oh, and he was about to get married to that girl. That day.

She was being melodramatic, but at that point in time she honestly believed that it was the most likely course of events. She only had a few days to wallow in her own misery, anyway, because immediately after Joan assigned her to what amounted to a crapton of desk duty and mandated psych evals for the next month and a half. The CIA took discharging a weapon a few times into a murderous assassin very seriously.

She didn't have a whole lot of time to focus on much of anything, except possibly on those rare occasions when she wanted to go out. Danielle was dealing with her treacherous jackass of a husband, and even if she wasn't there was still Chloe and Katia. While she loved eating ice cream and bitching with her big sis, sometimes a girl needed a little more than Breyers and a gabfest.

Unfortunately, her only drinking buddy was declaring his everlasting love on completely different continent, so she was pretty much shit out of luck.

Around the time she was seriously considering trolling some pathetic club for either some female friends or maybe a half-decent if somewhat-clueless boyfriend or an equal rock-bottom, Auggie showed up. No notice, no declaration, and especially no explanation. She just came into work one morning and he was… there. Back at his usual spot, looking like he'd never been gone in the first place.

Truthfully, she hadn't known what to do. In lieu of making a real decision, she slunk back to her cubicle and pretended she hadn't just spotted her (former?) best friend after his nearly two-month long absence. Yes, it was absolutely the cowardly way out but she was at a loss of ideas.

She knew next to nothing about this girl that he had travelled practically halfway around the world to meet. She remembered him mentioning something months ago about some girl he'd met at one of his soldier buddy's memorials, but surely he couldn't have been dating her for that long without mentioning something to her. It was totally possible that it could be another Africa-chick entirely. It wasn't as though he had some history with long-term relationships.

She stayed in her depressing cubicle, barely half-paying attention to the countless files she was supposed to be translating, but really sneaking peeks at the man in question whenever she had the chance. It was ridiculous, but did he look tanner? Granted, he had spent over a month and a half in Africa, so a tan wasn't completely out of the question, but she had never seen him like this. It was quite possible his skin was darker than hers. Okay. Maybe not that tan.

He was definitely in need of a haircut. He normally rocked the shaggy and unkempt look quite well, but this looked less stylish-without-trying than it did hadn't-been-near-scissors-in-weeks. She smiled because despite her inner criticisms she did always like it when his hair curled around his ears.

Almost as if he knew she was staring at him, Auggie's head tilted towards the glass, practically locking eyes with her. Guilty even though there was no possible way she could have been caught, Annie turned her head back to her desk. Right. Work.


"Annie!"

She nearly jumped out of her chair when his words cut through her headphones. She'd been in the midst of translating a particular boring phone call between two Iraqi men, and while she had been wishing that she was doing anything other than translating a phone call between two Iraqi men, she had been focused on the task at hand. She had been completely caught off guard when she finally heard her name.

She yanked her earbuds out of her ears and stared up at Auggie in surprise. She truly hadn't expected to talk to him today, and she definitely hadn't expected him to come over and talk to her personally. They hadn't spoken a single word in seven weeks. Were they just supposed to pick up where they left off?

"Hey," she said. She tried to sound neutral. It didn't really work.

He probably expected her to respond with something more than a rather lame greeting, because there was a pregnant pause that made Annie want to crawl under her desk and hide for the rest of the day. But Auggie took it in stride, grinning widely and making her heart droop just the tiniest bit. "Being gone so long has made me miss good old-fashioned American bars, and in particular my favorite drinking buddy. You up for going out tonight?'

She stared up at him, tracing features she thought she'd memorized long ago with renewed vigor. A bitchy part of her brain wanted to turn him down, lie about some plans and snub him so he would understand how much it sucked to be ditched with barely any forewarning. But, crazy as it sounded, she missed his eyes, even if they would never be able to see her. "Sure," she replied softly.

"Great," Auggie said, giving her a wink and a hip-check before heading back to his office. Annie followed his movements, blinking slowly. So, she and Auggie were going out for drinks. After his two-month absence. Just like that.

Wait. What the fuck?


Amazingly, going out to Allen's is no different than it had been pre-Africa. Well, maybe not amazingly, exactly. She and Auggie were still best friends, so she never would have expected anything less. She still understood his rather self-deprecating humor, he still loved her ridiculous family stories. Two months in a different country wasn't going to change that.

Annie was still expecting a change, that said. They talked about everything, from Joan chaining her to desk duty ad infinitum to the few colorful conversations he'd had with his brothers in the last year. They talked about everything except whatever the hell went down in Africa.

Not that she noticed. Much.

"So, how are the company-mandated therapy sessions going?" Auggie asked, stirring her out of her contemplative thoughts.

Annie shrugged, mostly out of habit than necessity. "About as good as can be expected, I guess," she muttered, finishing off the last dregs of her beer. She was driving them, so she wasn't going to drink any more than this, and she noticed Auggie seemed to be following suit.

There was a bitterness to her words that she didn't intend, but couldn't stop, either. She understood the policy, understood the effects of PTSD, understood the danger any mental unstableness could have on the life of an agent. But that didn't mean she was going to be all kinds of cheery about it.

Auggie's expression contracted, his head tilting to the side as his hand reached out across the table. She wasn't sure if that was an invitation for her to take it, but she wasn't in the mood for affection at the moment. "I didn't talk to you about Stockholm before I left," he said, and the genuine concern on his face nearly broke her. "I'm sorry about that."

"It's fine," Annie replied, her voice gruffer than it had been moments before, looking away from him and his large, warm, comforting hand on the table. She was a big girl. She had been taking care of herself long before Auggie came around.

Auggie's eyebrows knitted, like he sensed her lie but was nice enough to not call her out on it for once. "How are you doing?"

"Fine," she answered once more, staring at the modest crowd gathered around the bar. She hated it when it was packed.

That was a lie, too. She was not fine. In the past week, she'd had two nightmares about the shooting. And it was only Monday. She was very un-fine.

Again, his expression gave and she knew he sensed her lie. Funny, he got these but he couldn't tell she never smiled in the Corvette. She flinched almost automatically, ashamed at the thought. He was her best friend, and she desperately needed to stop putting him on a pedestal. He was just as capable of being wrong as she was.

"So I guess that means you don't want to talk about it," he said gently, his fingers curling into a soft fist. Annie saw hurt in his expression.

Guilt washed over her, and she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. It made her want to act out. "Do you want to talk about whatever happened in Africa?" she asked. It was a dirty move, way under the belt for their relationship, but his questions and concern were getting under her skin.

He sat back in surprise, eyes widening at her response. When he exhaled, he managed a smile. Not a real one, something twisted with bitterness and regret. "Touché," he said, setting both his wrists on the table and letting his shoulders slump. "I guess I deserved that."

Annie looked away. Jai was by the bar, surrounded by some pretty young things. Somehow he managed to sense her stare, but she looked away before he could determine why she couldn't look Auggie in the eye.

"You don't deserve that," she murmured apologetically. She ran her fingers through her hair, ruffling her wavy blonde locks as she tried to figure out the right way to have this conversation. She couldn't think of anything.

"Listen, I'm sorry," she said tiredly, pushing her chair back and standing up. "I don't think I can do this at Allen's just yet."

Annie was just about to cut and run when Auggie looked up. "We can go back to my place if you want," he offered. She would've said no, she really would have, but there was something plaintive in his voice that she so rarely heard from him and before she could think twice the affirmative was slipping past her lips.

As Auggie gratefully grabbed his things, she couldn't imagine how doing this in his apartment was any better. But she had been wrong before.


Being back at Auggie's felt better than she expected. Even better than when they were happy and joking around for that brief half-hour in the Tavern.

They only drank a little more than at Allen's, so she barely had a buzz. The positive was that there was a distinct lack of pressure in Auggie's apartment than there was at the Tavern; there, she had to worry about appearances and her coworkers and microexpressions. She could just relax at Auggie's without the fear of judgment or Joan finding out in the morning.

Swirling the contents of her beer, she glanced over at Auggie on the other end of the couch thoughtfully. "I am sorry," she said lowly, finally giving up and setting down her mostly empty beer on the coffee table.

Auggie's shoulders bunched, and she wasn't sure if it was from frustration or anger or defensiveness. "There's really nothing for you to apologize for," he replied evasively, and she frowned because his poker face was a little too good for her liking.

"That's really not true," she said, tucking her feet under her and turning to face him better across the couch. "I've been—well, for lack of a better word, I've been really frustrated these last few months and I keep taking it out on pretty much everybody but me."

He grinned somewhat grimly, cocking his head towards her. "I'm pretty sure that whole frustration thing has been going around," he responded. "You don't have to worry about being alone in that respect."

What she really wanted to know was how alone she was in other respects. She didn't like to think that way, but after Stockholm and Africa, similar thoughts had been running rampant for the last several weeks. She was hardly prepared for a long-term relationship, but she had to admit it would be nice to have someone to greet after a mission.

It was a sense of loneliness, so acute it took her breath away. Even with Auggie back, the feeling hadn't lessened any. If anything, it felt worse than before.

If she was going to be 100-percent honest with herself, with Auggie coming home came the knowledge that they were best friends, and that was all it was ever going to be. There was no chance of the two of them ever being together. At least, she rationalized, it happened early on, when she had barely recognized her sort of crush on him. She could move on without fear of heartbreak or ruining their friendship.

Inhaling shakily, Annie leaned over and picked up her beer, draining it completely. Eyeing the smooth aluminum can, she admitted to him, "I think I just need to get laid."

They were always extremely honest with one another, but she realized they had never been that candid before. Still, that couldn't stop the smile from curving across her lips as he choked on his beer, a direct result of drinking and snorting and laughing at the same time.

Keeping her own chuckle in check, she leaned over and pulled a few napkins off the coffee table and pressed them against his shoulder. Auggie took them gratefully, covering his mouth as he coughed a few more times.

"All better?" she asked softly, a smirk still flitting around her face. She didn't take enjoyment out of his pain, but his surprise and overreaction had her biting her lip in amusement.

"Yeah, just—you took me off-guard," he muttered, still pressing the napkins to his mouth. He coughed one last time, broad shoulders shaking. "Wasn't exactly expecting that from you, Walker."

"Well, we are best friends," she replied pointedly, badly keeping her grin in check. Reaching over, she playfully poked his side with her toes. "And it's not like I haven't heard worse about you."

At her lighthearted jibe, he caught her ankle before she could pull away. Her breath hitched a little at the contact—she couldn't remember the last time they were close—but the familiar smile on his face made her muscles unclench. "What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, his tone caught somewhere between danger and amusement as his thumb brushed her anklebone a few times.

"I think given what I've been told far too many times about your after-hours habits I have more than enough right to make some jabs of my own," she observed, wiggling her toes against his side when he didn't let go immediately. "Not that I would ever even be able to come close to beating your record."

Auggie's eyes narrowed and she laughed happily, even when his grip tightened pointedly around her ankle. "Oh, sorry," she said, aware she sounded anything but. "Did I strike a nerve?"

Annie laughed before he could answer, determined to pull her foot out of his grip. Her heel caught under his ribs and he expelled a surprised breath of air, but before she could wrench her ankle free he'd recovered and somehow made a successful grab for her other foot.

"Auggie!" she cried, laughing even harder than before. She sat up properly against the couch—though what she planned to do to him, she wasn't sure, maybe tackle him?—but she couldn't do anything beyond that because he quickly yanked her ankles and dragged her about half a foot over to his side of the couch. She let out a yell and flailed, somehow managing to catch his arm.

"That's what happens when you're mean, Walker," he announced over her shout. "Retribution." He still hadn't let go of her ankles, even though she was practically in his lap.

Before he could pull her any farther over to him, she pushed up and lunged at him. "Retribution, my ass," she grumbled, grabbing his wrists so she could hopefully pull her ankles free.

He shoved his weight against her—which really wasn't fair, because he was significantly heavier than her—but she managed not to let go of his wrists, shoving him back with her shoulder even though he didn't so much as budge. "You're just pissed because I'm totally right," she continued through gritted teeth, her struggling affording her a knee to his chest.

"You're only sort of right," he grunted, and somehow with a shift and a shove knocked her off balance and deposited more of her into his lap.

She grinned but it was partially marred by her baring her teeth as they grappled for domination. "I'm completely—" she pushed his arm out of the way and managed to slide one of her knees between his "—100-percent—" he growled and had one of her arms behind her back before she could blink "—without a doubt—" her foot caught behind his leg and haphazardly kicked "—right."

Annie exhaled all the breath out of her lungs, unaware how she had ended up on her back with Auggie grinning happily over her. "Oh, you suck," she managed pathetically, panting as she tried to catch her breath.

Mercifully, Auggie was just as out of breath as she was, even as he hovered too close to her line of vision. He didn't say anything at first but continued grinning, like he was more than happy enough to settle down right where he was.

She shifted her leg—she was tangled up pretty effectively in Auggie's—so she almost missed the way his expression changed into something more serious. Annie's hand was still fisted in his button-down, but he had her other wrist pinned by her head. They were at somewhat of a stalemate, but that didn't seem to matter much when he was staring down at her like that.

Annie found she couldn't think of anything—anything other than memories of the two of them, of that time she kissed his cheek and he told her he liked her and that stupid phone call before he didn't murder the man who blinded him and, of course, her holding his hand before he told her he was leaving for Africa—and suddenly she really had to wonder what the hell they were doing here, on his couch.

"Are you still frustrated?" he asked quietly, and she could feel her heart rate ramp up accordingly. She understood what he was asking, but damned if she could figure out why—wasn't he still hung up on the Africa girl? Or had they broken up?

But, dangerously enough, she couldn't actually care enough to find out. Before she could lose her nerve, she leaned her head up and closed the gap. If he reacted badly, she could always lie and blame it on the beer. It was a poor excuse, but she was fairly confident he would let her get away with it.

She wasn't sure how or when they had taken a turn, but every nerve ending in her body told her they had been leading steadily up to this for the last two years. He didn't hesitate to kiss her back, releasing her wrist and arm to eagerly bury his hands in her hair, tilting her head to the exact angle he needed.

With her hands free, she clamored for more contact, her short nails biting into his back. Her tongue darted out, tasting the salty sweet skin of his bottom lip, and when his moan rumbled through her torso she shivered along with him.

His lips parted and she willingly took the opportunity, deepening the kiss without a thought. They were moving so quickly, an urgency settling between them that could not, would not be ignored. He tasted like beer—she probably did too—and something else, something that reminded her of campfires and being home.

The lack of oxygen was really getting to her clearly, but when Auggie pulled away and she inhaled deeply it didn't seem to do too much for her addled brain. "Annie, before we—" he panted, gently resting his forehead against hers. "I'm not—I can't—"

"It's fine," she assured him quickly, understanding exactly what he meant. "This doesn't have to mean anything." Another day, she might have had a different response, but right then she was so lost in her own adrenaline and lust that the thought of stopping to talk about relationship statuses actually made her want to cry. "Just no strings or whatever."

Auggie looked like he didn't quite believe her at first—or didn't want to—as he asked, "Are you sure?"

Annie didn't bother responding. Instead, she kissed him harder than before and tugged his shirt out of his pants.

He didn't seem to mind her alternative form of communication, but even still he didn't let it go much farther before pulling back. She groaned at the movement, but he just shook his head. "C'mon, bed. It's that or I lose my cool and screw you on the coffee table, which trust me when I say is not as fun as it sounds."

At the surprisingly lurid imagery, her lips parted, inhaling shakily as all her thoughts went straight in the gutter. Annie followed him up, barely trusting her knees to hold her. She didn't wait for either of them to get their bearings, pushing up on her toes and kissing him once more.

Auggie grinned against her mouth, smoothly turning it into a full blown kiss with a tilt and a lot of impressive dexterity. His hands came to her hips, bringing her flush against his body once more and making her heart go double-time in her chest. He felt so much more solid against her body, a wall of muscle and skin and bones and heat.

He had his hands under her shirt, something she hadn't noticed until his skin brushed against hers. She jumped at the unexpected contact, but her back arched, a delicious involuntary action completely out of her control. She buried her fingers in his hair, her teeth clacking against his as her desire to get as close as possible to him tumbled out of her control.

Her shirt was bunched around her waist, and she didn't know why he was dragging his feet so she took the choice out of his hands and quickly ripped the shirt over her head. Tossing it somewhere in the direction of the couch, she continued backing him up towards his bedroom.

At her earnestness, Auggie wrenched his mouth away from hers and groaned, "Jesus, Annie." Her fingers were mapping every square inch of her back, lighting every one of her nerves on fire. In retaliation, she dipped her head under his chin, pressing an openmouthed kiss to his neck as she quickly unbuttoned his shirt with trembling fingers.

"Yes, Auggie?" she asked in response to his earlier plea, her breath hot as she tugged his earlobe between her lips. "Is there something you want?"

She smoothed his open button-down past his shoulders, but once she hit his elbows she was temporarily stymied. "Oh, there's something I want, alright," Auggie grumbled, not budging his arms because he was too busy with the clasp of her bra.

Annie hadn't noticed how quickly they had moved across his apartment until the backs of his knees hit the bed and they nearly tumbled over. She laughed at their combined distinct lack of grace, but that laugh hitched when he pulled her bright blue bra down her arms. She discarded the fabric happily, and Auggie did the same with his shirt.

Before he could try anything else, she put her hands and his shoulder and pressed down. He went with the motion, sitting down heavily on the bed. His chest was heaving, he was panting so hard, and if she could focus on anything other than the man in front of her and pulsing between her legs she might've noticed that hers was doing the same. Still, she took a moment to slow down, transferring her hands from his shoulders back into his dark hair, tilting his head up to better lock eyes with him.

"So what do you want, Anderson?" Annie asked pointedly, stepping between his knees. Her lips were inches from his own, and she could see that if she kept this up for much longer Auggie was going to have a hard time controlling himself. The observation made her grin widen.

Auggie's hands went to her hips, dragging her closer until her shins hit the bed. He growled primitively, his fingers digging into the soft fabric of her linen pants. "I want you naked."

Her breath stuttered in his chest—had sexier words ever been spoken?—but she managed a nod. "That can be arranged."

He didn't wait for her to find the clever little side zipper on her own, but instead smoothly divested her of her pants and panties in one go. She laughed shakily, stepping aside and watching as he did the same with his own pants and boxers.

Silence settled between them, and a rare moment of peace and almost reflection passed. She supposed this was the point of no return. As if the same thought had occurred to them simultaneously, he reached for her waist and she grabbed his shoulders, their mouths meeting in the middle.

Auggie spun them around, laying her out on the bed and crawling over her so easily she barely noticed her head hitting the back of the pillow. She let out a needy noise in the back of her throat when her body cradled his, her nails digging into his scalp a little harder than necessary. He nipped her lip in punishment, his hands tracing the lines of her body until she shivered.

In the midst of their heavy kissing, he had leaned over and fished a condom out of his nightstand, never once breaking contact with her. Annie looped her leg around the back of his, pulling a groan from him and situating his body one inch closer to where she needed him.

He needed to pull away to put on the condom, and she took the opportunity to drop her head against the pillows and exhale deeply. When Auggie returned to her line of vision, he looked hesitant. "Are you sure?"

Annie's brown eyes widened desperately, and she brought his face back to hers. "Please," she whispered heartbreakingly, the closest she'd ever come to begging. He might have been a stronger person than her, but there was no way she could walk away after all this. And they had barely even begun.

He nodded minutely. She made room for him, but he still kept one hand firmly on her hip, opening up her body for him just a little bit more. One sharp movement and she gasped, her eyes going even wider than before as Auggie cursed in her ear.

It felt like their bodies had been meant to do this, like they'd been doing this for years. She tilted her hips, striving for that perfect spot, and he buried his face in her neck, groaning, "Dammit, Annie."

She ignored his curses and continued to move against him, even when his hands went to her hips once more. She was going to have bruises in the shape of fingerprints, she was sure of it, but it was completely worth it if that coiling heat in the pit of her stomach was any indication.

Little, breathy whimpers were escaping her, rising in pitch and frequency. Abruptly, Auggie's hands left her hips, finding and grabbing her arms. At some point, she had fisted her hands in his comforter, but she hadn't noticed until he wrenched her fingers out of the fabric, her muscles smarting from the tension.

Auggie's fingers laced through hers, pulling them up by her head. She resumed her grip on his hands, twisting her hips in an endless hope that something would give. His hipbones dug into hers—more bruises, no doubt, completely worth it—and she cried out his name.

He still hadn't removed his face from her neck, and somehow without even having any experience she know he was close. But she hadn't expected him to tilt his mouth towards her ear and demand, "C'mon, Annie. Talk to me."

Talk to him? He wanted her to talk? She could barely remember her own name, but he wanted her to form full syllables and sentences. And then he thrust against her, tearing another cry from her throat as it felt like her muscles were having mini-seizures.

"Aug—Auggie," she said raggedly. Her voice sounded foreign to her ears, raw and frantic. He wanted her to talk to him, so that meant she needed to use real words. "Just—please. More."

She couldn't be sure, but she thought he smiled before he licked the sweat off the skin of her neck. He kissed her, and she responded instantly, biting his lip. She couldn't understand why, but he released her hands, gathering both wrists above her head. His other slid downward, brushing past her breast, ghosting over her side, and finally slipping between them. He pressed down unforgivingly on that bundle of nerves as he kissed her with bruising force.

This time, Annie's whole body shook from head to toe, vibrating with the precision of a tuning fork. Auggie was barely a half-second behind her, and the feeling on him inside her just set off more mini aftershocks.

He had collapsed against her, but she could barely feel any of his added weight. Weakly, she brushed his damp hair out of his face, tucking the curls behind his ears. "Goddamn, Annie," he mumbled, his words muffled by his forehead against her collarbone.

She laughed breathlessly. "Right back 'atcha," she muttered, her words catching as he pulled out and away from her. He tied off and tossed the condom, and she watched silently, her body feeling exactly like Jell-O at the moment.

Auggie didn't offer to let her stay the night, but she didn't ask. Instead, he returned back to the bed, gently nudged her a few inches to the left, and tugged the covers down. It was an unspoken invitation, and their actions and her shattering orgasm left no room for second thoughts. She slid into bed with him, letting him drape a strong arm around her waist, and drifted into dreamless sleep for the first time in months.

$4$

This was long, but I wanted a good set-up. Or at least a decent set-up. Really, anything that you guys would find acceptable.

I hope you found the M-rating to your liking… if you didn't, we might have a problem because this will not be the last of its kid for this fic. ;)

Regardless, I hope you all are having great holidays! I'm having a lovely break at the moment, and if you have some free time I highly recommend checking out Spyridon's livejournal account. Earlier in the fall, she put together this fantastic Secret Santa project (creatively titled Operation Alpha Maiden). I participated, along with a handful of other people, many of whom you may recognize (coughArtemisRaynecoughAsphaltAngelcough).

But right now, the Santa fics are being released. There's a handful up at the moment, and I invite all of you to read through them and maybe if you're feeling up to the holidays leave a review or two. After January 18th, Spyridon will reveal all the writers, at which point I'll finally upload my fic on here. :D

Here's the link, just remove the spaces to check it out: operation-cafe . livejournal . com

Hope you guys all have amazing holidays, whatever they may be! (And hopefully I'll have this next chapter up before New Year's!)