This assumes that time has passed in their universe, too. Things are better between them, but there's still some eggshell walking.
Auggie leaned against the wall of the elevator as it ascended. He leaned his head back and quietly counted the dings until he reached his floor. He looked forward to a quiet night on the couch with Annie. Since their role in Henry's take down, Auggie's plate was full at Langley with new responsibilities and a return to his former duties. Annie had not yet returned to her job, and Auggie didn't want to push. It only took a few weeks to know she was going stir crazy at home during the day. She kept herself busy with a number of yoga classes, language interpretation assignments for a local community college, and a few kickboxing classes sprinkled throughout her week. Balance, she explained to Auggie. He inherently understood. Coming back from the dead gave her a second chance. He remembered the small glimmer of hope he had after his injury. He knew the feeling of possibility, of re-prioritizing, of reinventing. He'd rushed back to work because it was the fastest way for him to find his way back to normal, but he admired Annie for being a stronger individual than he was.
Auggie reached his door and tried the handle. Most evenings, Annie was in his apartment when he got home. As usual, it was unlocked. Auggie slid the door open and was about to yell his customary greeting when his senses were assaulted.
First, there was the sound. White Christmas blared from his sound system. He didn't mind Bing Crosby's voice, but it was unexpected. The next thing that hit Auggie was the overwhelming smell of sugar cookies. Auggie's eyebrows shot up in surprise, and he started to enter the apartment while he simultaneously assessed the situation.
"Wait!" Auggie heard Annie's voice exclaim. Bing's voice was suddenly much quieter. Auggie heard rustling as Annie padded towards him. She came close to him, and then stopped. He heard items shift on the floor in front of him. He tilted his head to the side, trying to place the tiny scraping sounds.
"Hi," Annie said, close to him. He felt her lips peck his, and could hear the smile in her voice. She sounded slightly exasperated, and he felt whatever was in her hands push between them. He slipped his work bag off his shoulder, and reached up to feel the items.
Auggie smirked when he identified the string of lights in Annie's hands. "Lights?" he questioned. He tried to remember the last time he decorated for the holidays.
"Mm-hmm," she mumbled. "I meant to have it done by the time you got home, but I guess the day got away from me." She sounded almost shy to Auggie. He brushed her check with his hand.
"Where in the world did you find lights at this time of year?" he asked. He couldn't help but smile.
"Yea, that was part of what took so much of my day. I tried your storage unit in the basement first, thinking you might have some stuff tucked away. Then I had to try three stores and four tree lots before I could get a tree I liked and enough lights to cover it. I just thought…" her words trailed off, and he knew she was waiting for his input.
"Yeah," he replied. "I'm not exactly the best at evenly draping tinsel." He smiled reassuringly. "But I'm sure everything looks great. And is that," he paused and took another smell, "are you making cookies?"
She laughed in response. "Not exactly. Just some well placed candles. Sorry to disappoint. But-" he heard her turn toward the kitchen, place the lights on the table, and open the refrigerator and a cabinet. "I do have eggnog," she said over her shoulder as she started the microwave.
Auggie closed the door and tentatively made his way toward the kitchen. He shrugged off the trepidation he felt about not knowing the layout of his apartment. He knew there had to be a tree somewhere, and he trusted Annie enough to know she would place it with consideration, but it still made him uncomfortable to know things would be different. Auggie made it to the kitchen unscathed as the microwave beeped. He stopped near the island, and Annie slid the mug to bump his hand.
"Just a splash of my secret ingredient," she quipped, and he heard the screw cap of a bottle. He assumed it was rum. She poured a generous shot. Auggie smiled and thanked her before he took a sip of the warm, creamy liquid.
"So, where are we in the process?" he asked. He understood that Christmas for Annie was a different thing than Christmas for him, and he wanted to be supportive.
"Well, the tree is up, and the lights are almost up," she said with a giggle. I only bought round ornaments, but I wanted them to have a texture to them, so you can imagine that didn't leave me with many options. Auggie smiled, because he was touched that she wanted him to be able to see the ornaments. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. He placed his forehead against hers and they paused for a moment before he gave her a quick kiss in appreciation. In turn, she wrapped her arms around him and gave a quick, but reassuring squeeze.
As if she'd been reading his earlier thoughts, Annie said, "The tree is just to the left of the TV console as you look at it. I bought one that fit just perfectly between that and your record player." She paused while he readjusted his mental map before she continued. "There's a candle in the center of the coffee table, the center of the kitchen island, and on the entertainment center. It's in a jar, and they are burned down enough that there's no open flame." Auggie couldn't help but smile as he thought back to other conversations they'd had about him mixing with candles. "There's garland in the windows, along with some lights, and there's a wreath on your front door, but other than that, nothing for you to worry about in here. At least there won't be," she said as she released him and started across the room, "after we finish decorating this tree."
"We?" he asked, his eyebrows raised. "It seems to me like you have this under control," he declared as he raised the mug to his lips again. He used the mug to hide his smirk. The truth was, he thought her efforts were cute. And they were clearly important to her.
He did smile at Annie's response. "C'mon, soldier," she ordered, "you've got three minutes to finish that eggnog, and then there's a box of ornaments that need hanging."
"You really want a blind guy to hang your ornaments? I don't think that's such a wise-"
"Oh no you don't," she laughed, "If you can walk me through diffusing a bomb over the phone, I think you can handle hanging a few ornaments." Auggie laughed. It felt good to hear her talk about work in a positive tone.
He drained his mug before he headed towards the tree. Before he reached it, he felt a box at the back of his hand.
"I'm putting this down on the console," Annie informed him. "There are 4 types of ornaments, and five of each ornament. Go to town."
Auggie felt the plastic that held the ornaments in place, and let his fingers move lightly across the round ornaments. "Smooth," he reported, and kept his fingers moving, "striped" he said, as he felt thin lines of glitter surround the ornament. "All glitter," he said, and then rubbed his fingertips. He felt the glitter stick to the tips and groaned a little. He was not a fan of glitter, even before his injury. Now would have to rely on Annie to make sure he didn't look like a participant in Carnavale. He placed his fingers on the last row. "And matte?" he asked, as he moved his fingers between the last ball he touched and the first row to compare the textures.
"Bingo," Annie said, and Auggie was proud of himself. Maybe decorating a tree wouldn't be impossible, after all.
"OK," Annie said after his smile tapered off a bit. "Looking at the tree, you take the twelve to six-o'clock, and I'll take the six to midnight." Auggie nodded with his newfound confidence, he set about the only way he could imagine. First, he felt the tree for approximate dimensions. Then he mapped it in his head, while he tried to mentally break it down into a grid system. He worked hard to hang his ornaments as evenly spaced as he could manage, while simultaneously trying to alternate between the variations. As he placed his last one, Annie crossed to his side of the tree.
"Oh my God, Auggie," she breathed. For a moment, Auggie froze, worried that he somehow had screwed it up royally. He so didn't want to disappoint her that his eyes got wide in panic, and his heart began to race. When he felt her arms snake around him from the back, he let out a sigh from a breath he didn't realize he held.
"It's beautiful," Annie exclaimed as she squeezed again. Auggie smiled with relief, and turned in her arms, wrapping his around her. He planted a kiss in her hair.
"I'll take your word for it, Walker," he said as he squeezed her in return.
"Thank you," she said to him quietly.
"For what?" he asked. As far as he could tell, he should thank her for her efforts of the day.
"For indulging me," she responded, her head tipped up towards him. "I know decorating isn't your thing, and I didn't want to force it on you if it was a sore subject for you. I know things were different for you after-"
He cut her off before she could voice any more guilt. "Hey," he said as his hand gently cupped her cheek. "You are allowed to be excited about the holidays. And you are allowed to want to celebrate." He took a deep breath, "Yes, I sort of became a scrooge after my injury. It took a long time for me to want to think about holiday traditions. But you know what?" He paused to make sure she would really hear what he had to say. "I want us to have traditions, Annie Walker. And if those traditions include eggnog, strategically placed candles, and a tree wedged against the wall, well, I think it's a great start." He used his hand that cupped her cheek to pull her close, and felt a tear splash from her eye.
"I love you, Annie," he said quietly just before he captured her lips with his. She responded by wrapping her arms around his neck and deepening the kiss. Auggie smiled and responded in kind.