Sarah slept most of the way from Chicago to Buenos Aires, not because she was tired, but because she really didn't want to be stuck in a long, uncomfortable chat with the mother-in-law she couldn't remember. She must have cared about the woman at least somewhat to have agreed to try the dangerous double agent play in Moscow. Chuck had told her about that.
Sarah knew she couldn't avoid the talk completely, or it would look suspicious. So, with that in mind, she took the initiative. "I don't know what I called you before, but is 'Mary' all right for now?"
"You always called me 'Mary'—well, that or 'Frost'. That was my code name in Volkoff Industries. Alexei, my mark, used it like a pet name." Her eyes shut and her head shook in a miniature shudder.
Chuck had mentioned the insane evil man who took a shining to his mother and tried to take his father's place in her affections. Mary had encouraged it because that was what spies have to do to get close to their marks. "Is it going to be a problem that I don't remember Volkoff?"
"God, I hope not. I'm doing my best to forget. Can I ask you something, Sarah? Why did you choose me as your partner for this mission?"
Sarah shrugged. "You weren't my first choice."
"WHAT? Beckman said—"
"Calm down. Neither was Chuck. My first choice was solo. Carina and Zondra were second."
Mary nodded. "Your bridesmaids. We've met."
Sarah was appalled by how much she had allowed her personal life to mix with her professional one. Falling in love with an asset. Socializing with her partner. Having her old tactical squad be her bridesmaids. What kind of spy was she? Of course, that was the point to rejoining the CIA. To prove to herself and everyone else that she was a good spy, despite her rather shameful behavior over the last five years. What in the world had she been thinking?
"They were busy," Sarah said. "I chose them because I remember working with them. I don't remember working with you."
"Well, let me remind you then. The first time we met, we both pulled our guns. The only thing that prevented us from blowing each other away in Griffith Park was Chuck arriving, introducing us, and begging us not to kill each other in front of him."
"We thought you were rogue."
"He didn't. You did."
Sarah wasn't sure how to answer that. Should she try to stick up for a judgment she didn't remember making?
Mary shook her head and held up a staying hand to preclude any response. "Not without good reason. Chuck's biggest weakness is trusting people. I'm thankful he has you to watch his back."
"Are you going to leave him? Get a divorce?" Her voice was so calm, so... non-judgmental. She just looked at her with those disarming motherly eyes. It was no mystery how this woman had survived twenty years on a long-term mission. She had the patience of a saint.
"I'm not going to tell Chuck, if that's what you're worried about. I will tell you to talk to him yourself. However, Chuck uses Morgan for his sounding board. Why don't you use me?"
Sarah took a deep breath and released it. "It crossed my mind, but then I found something with all the picture albums Chuck made me look at." Sarah paused, bit her lips, and started again. "It was a homemade prenuptial agreement. It said something like, 'I, Sarah Walker, promise to always love Chuck Bartowski. I will not even contemplate the word divorce and promise never to use my prenup.' We both signed it, dated, and everything. Not a legal document, of course."
The older woman smiled a knowing smile. "No, of course not. But you cared enough at one time to sign it. And Chuck cared enough to keep it."
"I still care about him. I feel terrible that I can't remember our lives before. That I can't be the same person he fell in love with. I don't even know who I am anymore."
Mary placed her hand atop Sarah's on the armrest that separated their airline seats. "I fell in love with a spy too. I was gone for over twenty years, abandoned my kids and my husband, and declared a traitor to my country. For all anyone knew, I was sleeping with the most diabolical criminal since Josef Stalin. But one man never stopped believing in me, never stopped looking for me, and never stopped loving me until the day he died: my husband, Stephen. Our son is cut from that same cloth. There is nothing you can do to turn him against you. Nothing."
Sarah was immediately reminded of all her recent efforts to kill Chuck, Ellie, Casey, and Morgan. Chuck had forgiven her for all of that.
Mary paused for a second, as if she knew Sarah would need time to wrap her mind around such a huge concept. She resumed, a little quieter than before. "As long as you keep trying to remember, keep moving toward him, he'll be waiting with open arms."
"I will not contemplate the word divorce," Sarah affirmed softly.
"Good. That's half the battle." She patted her hand one last time and removed it.
Sarah shifted in her seat as if to signal the end to a chapter in the conversation. Time to start a new one. "So my shrink thinks I need people to remind me of all the things I have forgotten. What do you want to remind me?"
"Hmm, let's see. I've already mentioned the time I nearly shot you in Griffith Park. How about the time Volkoff and I tied you and Chuck up, set explosives everywhere, and left you both to die?" Her voice wasn't completely serious, but it wasn't really jesting either. Mary's choice of bonding moments might be completely suspect if Chuck hadn't mentioned this incident to her before.
"And you left me a razor blade to cut the ropes."
She sighed. "No. Sorry. Chuck told me the story. He's a bit of a talker."
Mary chuckled. "Yes, he is. Maybe I'll skip all the things he would know about, like the after-Thanksgiving-dinner time I pointed a gun at you—"
"Mary, did we ever have any encounters where we weren't threatening each other?"
"A few," she said, but there was a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her lips. Sarah couldn't help but find herself growing fond of the stranger who was her mother-in-law.
She didn't ask for more anecdotes and Mary didn't talk just to fill the quiet. With the obligatory chat out of the way, they could both enjoy the peace and quiet.
As they disembarked the plane, they spotted a "tour guide" wearing a red and yellow ballcap and holding a card reading "Mary and Sarah from Chicago". Sarah walked up to him and said, "Have you ever been to Chicago?"
Ballcap guy's red polo shirt was embroidered with the name "Miguel" but he didn't have the slightest Spanish accent when he replied, "Many times, but I only go for the pizza."
Sarah smiled and nodded at the correct answer to the code phrase. Miguel showed them to an SUV painted the same red and yellow as the ballcap, with an airplane logo on the side and "Buenos Aires Sky Tours" underneath. They drove for an hour to get to the private airstrip with its red and yellow building and the same logo as the vehicle. Signs outside boasted daytime and "starlight" tours, which would cover the need for clandestine spy missions. This was obviously the field office.
Inside the building, Miguel pointed out the restrooms and showed them to their backpacks. "Go ahead and check out all your gear. You have plenty of time. Your flight is going to be delayed a few hours."
Mary raised a brow. "Delayed? Why?"
Sarah was glad the older woman had asked because she was obviously much better at keeping her cool than Sarah would have been. A few HOURS? What the hell...?
"Sorry, Agent Bartowski. General's orders."
Mary nodded and took the whole thing in stride. Sarah wasn't quite placated. Bad enough Beckman was in cahoots with Dreyfus to make her take a babysitter along on what should have been her own mission, but to purposely strand them after she'd already endured the 12 hours in the air and a 40-minute stop for refueling? No. Sarah felt she deserved a better explanation than "general's orders".
She pulled out her phone. The main screen had a notification she'd received a data file from Chuck. She dismissed it to look at later and dialed the general instead. Mary would probably want to know why too, so she set it to speakerphone.
Beckman picked up on the first ring. "Agent Walker, is everything all right?"
"Yes, ma'am. But we've been told you ordered a two hour delay in our departure. May I ask why?"
"You can thank Grimes for that."
Thank? She was going to chew the furry little weasel out. And maybe mention to Chuck that he should show a little more pride and professionalism than to stick his video game buddies on his spy team.
"Why is that, General?" Mary chimed in from over Sarah's shoulder.
"On a routine check of your equipment list, he asked for the rigging certification on your parachutes."
That was more than a bit on the obsessive side. Their pilot should be responsible for that, not some Buy Moron in Burbank. Sarah was just about to voice that very thought, but Beckman didn't give her a chance.
"When the field office told him they'd assigned you T-10D's, Mr. Grimes insisted you should have ram-air parafoils instead. There was a... discussion." Obviously general-code for argument. "He went over their heads and brought it to me. I agreed with Grimes. Their parafoils were past their expiration dates. They had to send someone to a neighboring city to get fresh ones."
"Oh," Sarah said, now extremely glad she hadn't spoken on impulse. Still, she knew 'oh' sounded pretty lame. Mary gave her a puzzled look, but she didn't say anything aloud while Beckman was still on the line. "I guess we wait then. Sorry to disturb you, General."
"Good luck, team. Again. Beckman out." The connection severed before Sarah could say anything else.
"Did Morgan just save our lives?" Mary asked.
Sarah shook her head. "Not exactly, but he did make the difference between us having a couple of jellyfish chutes with no steering, completely at the mercy of the wind and gravity and having the kind where we can control precisely where we land."
"We will have to thank him for that, you know," Mary said. She sounded almost as begrudging as Sarah felt.
However, begrudging or not, it was undeniable. "Yeah, that's kind of major." In looking at her backpack supplies for anything she could find fault with, she realized he wasn't quite the Buy Moron she'd thought a minute ago. A set of throwing knives. A gun that fit her small ankle holster. Bug repellent in her preferred lemon scent, not pine. Her voice had a bit of awe in it when she asked, "Mary, where did Morgan train for this?"
Mary shook her head. "Morgan learned a lot from Casey, but this isn't military or government expertise. He knows us. Look." She held up a baggie with three pieces of Dentyne. "Morgan's brain got fried when he had the Intersect too. Chuck said he forgot all his favorite movies. But somehow he managed to remember that I like cinnamon gum and the last time I could have possibly mentioned that to him, he was nine years old."
Sarah shuffled through her supplies. Gum would be standard on a parachuting mission because of the need to equalize pressure on the eardrums. If her gum was cinnamon too, that would prove it was just coincidence. Morgan wasn't even here to do the gum-buying. This was all planned through email from the other side of the globe. Sarah found all kinds of useful items as she looked for her matching gum bag, but she had none at all. Then it dawned on her. Her lower jaw dropped as she looked up at Mary. "Morgan must know I hate gum. I don't have any."
"Like I said, he knows us."