Seventy two hours later, they were back in DC. Auggie enjoyed his time in Chicago. He showed Annie the suburb he grew up in, and some of his favorite places to hang out as a kid. Since most of what they packed wasn't appropriate for the cool Chicago weather, Auggie had even conceded and accompanied her for a morning on the Magnificent Mile. To make up for the shopping excursion, they took a tour of the Uptown neighborhood, which was once known for its Jazz scene, and took in a few performances at the Green Mill.
Auggie's alarm clock sounded and bleated out the time. He groaned as he reached for the alarm to disarm it. He felt Annie stir against him. He'd begged for one more day of respite the night before, but she was insistent. Today would be the day that she would start her reveal. Auggie tried to support her, but he was nervous on her behalf. He knew her nerves were running plenty high for the both of them, and while he tried to maintain a calm exterior he felt like he was doing a terrible job.
Annie kissed him as she moved to get out of bed. "Shower," she mumbled. He could tell she'd tossed and turned as much as he had in the night.
"If you want company," he started, and couldn't help but smile, "it sounds like you'll be too tired to reach all the spots on your own." He heard a faint rustle, and then he was hit by a shirt. His favorite t-shirt, he noticed. The same one she'd worn to bed the night before. He chuckled at her response.
From the bathroom, he heard the toilet flush and the shower start. "I'm not saying no," she called, her voice bounced off the bathroom walls and into the bedroom. Auggie shot out of bed and moved quickly to join her in the shower. She handed him a small bottle of what he assumed was a shampoo they collected at the Chicago hotel. "Hair?" he clarified. She murmured her response. Auggie placed what he thought would be enough in his hand. He preferred to use the shampoos with a pump top because it made it easier to estimate the amount he needed. But Annie had scoffed at his generic shampoo and conditioner brands. He did have to admit, the shampoo from the hotel smelled vaguely of creamsicles, and he liked it on her.
Auggie carefully lathered her hair with the shampoo. The first few times he'd tried, his hands ended up tangled in her long hair, and what he'd imagined to be a sensual and relaxing activity had quickly become a mess as they both tried to work his hands out of the tangles, neither one able to see the actual knotted mess. Now he knew to start at the scalp and work down in sections, rather than trying to do the whole head at once, as he could do with his own hair.
Annie leaned into him while he worked. When he was done, he whispered for her to turn around, and he let her rinse the shampoo from her hair after she handed him the body wash. It had become such a routine for them that he didn't need to confirm this time. He pulled the loofah from the shelf to his right and again guessed the amount of bodywash. She stood in the water stream now, and faced him. He took one of her arms, and gently placed it on his shoulder, then ran the loofah all the way down to her shoulder and back up to her wrist. He repeated the process until he was sure he'd covered her whole arm, then repeated it on the other side. He washed her legs next, and slowly teased the loofah up her thighs. He moved up to her abdomen and further to her chest ash she moaned. As he stood, she kissed him deeply.
"Oh no, Miss Walker, we don't want to be late for our big day," he grinned, and spun her around to wash her back.
"Turnabout is fair play," she responded coyly, and grabbed the loofah from him. She slowly worked the loofah over his body while he added shampoo to his hair. He smirked as he felt her place kisses on his body before following with the loofah.
"I don't think you are playing fair," he growled. He quickly rinsed his body and turned the shower handle off. He stepped out of the shower and grabbed the two towels hanging next to the entrance. He handed her one and used the other to quickly wipe the water away.
"I'm giving you three seconds to dry off," he taunted, although he said it more as a polite warning than anything else. When he heard her start to protest, he knew it was just for show. "One, two, three," he counted quickly, and took the towel from her hand. He dropped both towels to the floor and faced her. He kissed her passionately, and then lifted her so her legs wrapped around his hips. He turned and carried her to the bed. He grinned, and remembered why he set his alarm a half an hour ahead of schedule.
Ten minutes later, both were still breathless. "Okay, cowboy," Annie said, as she rolled away from him, "now I'm really going to get ready."
"Well, little lady," he responded in his best drawl, "I'll let ya mosey on over to do that, and I'll rustle us some grub." He grinned, and then laughed as he was beaned in the head by something from Annie's direction. He reflexively caught the pair of boxers before they could hit the floor. "Thanks, little lady," he smirked with his exaggerated drawl as he tipped his imaginary ten gallon hat.
"You are incorrigible," she laughed.
Auggie slipped on the boxers and made his way to the kitchen. In the kitchen, he immediately moved towards the coffee maker. As he slipped the carafe out, he couldn't help but think back to a few weeks ago, and the envelope that set everything in motion.
With coffee in hand, he made his way back to the bathroom as he heard the blowdryer stop. When he entered the bathroom, the air was warmer, and he smelled the slight tinge of burned hair. Never had Auggie had this many hair products and gadgets in his bathroom. She'd insisted on stopping on their way back to his apartment on their first night back in DC, and he hadn't known what he was agreeing to. He held the coffee out in front of him tentatively, "grubs up," he smiled.
"Just a sec," he heard. "Let me just finish this curl." There was the click of metal against metal and a gentle thud as she placed the curling iron on the counter. He handed her the coffee, and got a kiss in return.
"If it helps," he teased, "I think your hair looks great." Auggie moved to the other side of the counter and grabbed his electric razor.
"Thanks," she replied and he could almost hear the accompanying eye roll, "Hot curling iron at your 10 o'clock." Auggie nodded in acknowledgement, and set about the task of shaving. He knew that being clean shaven would help put him into the headspace he needed to be in today: back to the real world.
Twenty minutes later, they were dressed and ready to go. Annie wore a pair of slacks, button down shirt, and a leather jacket, paired with her signature stilettos- all purchases from Chicago. Auggie was surprised when she didn't buy any of her typical skirt suits, but tried not to read into it. After all, he knew women always reserved the right to change her fashion sense, and he imagined functional was the name of her game in their time apart.
He heard her pick up the keys to her rental car from the table by the door. He held an arm out to her as he grabbed his messenger bag and tucked his cane inside. As she hooked her hand around his bicep, he used his other hand to cover hers. Her hand was cold. "Together," he reminded her as he squeezed her hand.
"Together," she whispered as she opened the door.
They rode in silence. Auggie tried to think of something to say that he hadn't already said, but he couldn't come up with anything that didn't sound trite. He checked his watch instead. They were right on schedule, but he already knew that would be the case.
Annie dropped him off as planned. Auggie made his way to the meeting point he'd established the day prior. It had been a long time since he'd been able to see the reflecting pool, but there was always a sense of calm surrounding it. He needed that now. He sat on a bench with two cups of coffee when he heard the telltale sound of heels and the unmistakable smell of Chanel No. 5.
"Joan," he smiled. He was genuinely glad she was there, even if his nerves made him nauseous.
"Auggie," she replied. As he stood, he felt her take the coffee he held to her before he was enveloped in a hug. When they pulled apart, he could feel her appraising him. "You look better," she started. "Those weeks away suited you." Auggie couldn't help but smile in response. He took a half step to the side to find the bench with his leg. He sat down and took a sip of his coffee. It was too hot to comfortably drink, but Auggie didn't care. He needed a moment to gather his thoughts. He needed to remember that he was about to hurt a friend for a good reason, and that reason was somewhere in the crowd behind him.
"What did you want to meet about, Auggie?" Joan asked, and Auggie smiled a little. Joan Campbell was always one to cut to the chase. He swallowed another hot gulp of coffee and took a deep breath.
"Joan, I-" he began.
"You're leaving the DPD," she deadpanned. Auggie was slightly taken aback, but he expected the possibility that she'd jump to that conclusion. He decided to feign surprise to buy himself a minute or two.
"No! Joan, what makes you think that?"
He heard her take a sip of her coffee. "You call me to set up a meet outside of the agency in the middle of the day when we have nothing active that needs this level of privacy. You buy me a coffee to cushion the blow. You've been clutching your own coffee cup and you are doing that thing with your leg that means you're nervous but trying to cover it. Whatever you came to tell me, Auggie, I won't like it."
Auggie put the coffee cup down next to him and ran his hands through his hair. It was his signal to put her on alert. "I'm not leaving, Joan. But I do have something important to tell you, and I'm afraid that you might not forgive me."
"Auggie," she said, her hand reached out to his forearm. Auggie closed his eyes and took another deep breath.
"Hello, Joan," came a voice from behind him.
Joan's hand quickly withdrew from Auggie's arm, and he heard a gasp. He felt Annie's hand rest on his shoulders, and he reached up to grasp a hand.
"Annie," Joan breathed. He could hear the shock in her voice.
For a tense moment, no one spoke. Auggie continued to squeeze Annie's hand. He wasn't sure who was grounding who in that moment, but he knew he needed to hold on to her.
"Joan," he started, but the woman cut him off.
"You knew?" she said quietly. She phrased it as a question, but he knew it was a statement.
"I did," he confirmed.
"Who else?" she asked. Auggie could tell she was trying to do the calculations in her head.
"Calder," said the voice behind him. "They were the only two from The Agency."
"Right," Joan responded. Auggie could hear the distance in her voice. He knew her well enough to know that she was working through all her conversations in the last year with him and Calder, trying to figure out how many times and in what ways they each lied to her. He thought this would be the hardest part, and he hoped he was right.
"Joan," he began, but he wasn't sure what he could say that would express his regret. "It was for your safety."
"Mm-hmm," came the cold response. "So, what's your plan," he assumed she directed the question to Annie.
"I'm not sure," she replied, and he knew she meant it.
"Calder told her there would be something for her at The Agency," Auggie contributed. He felt the need to clarify, "if she wants it." He felt suddenly like a toddler trying to participate in an adult conversation. He wanted to protect both of these women, but he knew no matter what he said, one would be upset. He couldn't force The Agency on Annie, and he'd already betrayed Joan's trust.
More silence before Joan started to rise from her seat. "I suppose your actions were behind Calder's promotion?" she inquired. Auggie sighed. He hadn't thought that Joan would feel not only betrayed about being left in the dark, but also by the accolades that had fallen upon Calder since the whole thing shook out.
"It wasn't my intention," Annie said, her voice sad. Auggie was again glad he couldn't see. Joan's face must have read exactly as his had when he learned about Helen. He felt the hands leave his shoulder, and Annie's voice traveled to the front of the bench as she spoke. Auggie stood. He didn't want to give the illusion of sitting back and watching a tennis match. "Listen, Joan," Annie rushed, her words tumbling out. "I'm sorry, but I had to protect you and Arthur. I had to protect your son. You know you would have done the same in my position. I did what I had to do, and I followed my instincts to complete my mission. And-" she paused and took a breath. "I had to tell you before I made a decision about coming back." Another deep breath when Joan didn't respond. Auggie reached an arm around Annie's waist so he wasn't just floating between them.
"I am sorry for betraying you Joan, but I would do it again to protect your family," Annie attempted to reiterate.
Joan must have nodded, because Annie let out a small sigh. "Yes," the woman said, but Auggie still didn't hear forgiveness in her voice. Auggie felt her turn to leave without her customary arm squeeze for him. He heard her take a few steps before she turned back.
"Auggie, I'll expect to see you tomorrow?" While phrased as a question, Auggie knew it to be an order.
"Yes," he choked out. His plan had been not to get involved. He knew if he jumped to Annie's defense it would only cause more tension. He had to trust that she could handle herself with Joan.
As the click of Joan's heels faded, Annie and Auggie both released exhausted sighs and slumped to the bench. They sat there together, arms wrapped around each other for a long while. Auggie kissed the top of her head. No matter what Annie's next move was, he knew they would handle it- together.
Thanks all for the reviews and encouragement. This story was meant to be the reunion of Annie and Auggie, and I think we can safely say that it's pretty well established. So for now, this is the end of this particular story. I don't honestly know whether Annie would choose to fully go back to her old life, but again, that wasn't really the focus of the story I was telling, so I'm OK with it being ambiguous. Hope you enjoyed!