"Come to bed, Diane," Roan whispered seductively. He patted the freshly turned-down sheets beside him.
Still wound up from the video call to Burbank, Diane stepped out of her pumps and simultaneously pulled a hairpin to release the tight bun on her head. "Walker chose Mary. The mother-in-law! Are you sure this was a good idea? I should have just made her go with Chuck. He was ready to become a field agent on the spot. We need the Intersect in the field!"
Roan reached over to the night stand and grabbed one of the two martinis that waited there. His deep brown eyes never departed from hers when he took a sip from the glass. He shook his head gently. "No, no, my flower. You want the whole team back, not just Chuck, yes?"
"Damned right I do! " She started unbuttoning the brass buttons of her uniform. "Bad enough to lose them separately, but as a team, they're greater than the sum of their parts. Before them, who ever thought an NSA agent, a CIA agent and a clueless college drop-out could work together at all, let alone amass a success record like they have? It's unparalleled!"
"Darling, it's not your fault the team broke up, you know." Roan's smooth baritone was wearing down her resolve to stew in her annoyance.
She sighed. "I know. I just feel responsible that it happened on my watch. We should have seen how Shaw was manipulating Decker, and we should have seen Nicholas Quinn was a threat."
"I know, I know... and someone should have assassinated Hitler before he started taking over Europe. We can't fix everything." He held out the untouched martini for her. "Come now, it's not as bad as it seems. If Sarah had really wanted to thumb her nose at Chuck, she'd have chosen the handsome, dashing male agent as her partner. It's a good sign she chose the mother-in-law. She's trying to prove it's all professional."
Diane smirked. Cole Barker was just as much a padding to the list as the CATs were. She used her slightly nasal informing voice to say, "The handsome, dashing male is on assignment in Singapore."
"What? I haven't been there in years." Roan smiled widely and pressed the martini glass into her hand.
She took a drink and set the glass aside. It was good to have Roan here to talk her down. Now wearing only her undergarments, she sat on the bed and slid her bare toe over his knee and down to his ankle. She leaned in and used her husky voice to ask, "What would you have done if she'd chosen you, hmm?"
He waggled his brows at her. "I'd have been everything Chuck is not and made her miss him so much, she'd run home and beg him to take her back."
Diane smiled. "Good answer." Her lips connected with his for a passionate kiss.
The next morning, Diane slipped out of bed, leaving Roan asleep behind her. She needed to call Chicago before Sarah got there. She'd already arranged to have the Woodcomb's spare bedroom wired and set-up for encrypted video conferencing, so Ellie could collaborate with Dr. Dreyfus and keep Diane appraised with her research. It would come in handy for Mary to use when she was there as well. Diane wore only her uniform skirt and a clean white blouse when she made the call. Her hair was brushed, but not yet pinned up.
Mary's sleepy face squinted back at her. It was amazing how much she looked like Chuck when she just woke up.
"My apologies for the early hour, Agent Bartowski."
Mary rubbed her eyes and stretched. "No problem, General. What can I do for you?"
"Agent Walker has been ordered to report to Dr. Woodcomb for neurological tests, so she should be arriving some time later today."
"I'll tell Ellie she's coming."
"She's also there to meet with you. She chose you as her partner for her next mission because the psychiatrist wouldn't clear her for solo."
"Me? Are you kidding? What did my son say?"
Diane put on her best diplomatic face. "He was disappointed, but under the circumstances, it could have been worse." She didn't mention Cole or Roan. Maybe Chuck wasn't as worried about his wife partnering with a male agent as she assumed he was. Chuck could talk to his mother himself if he wanted her to know. "Is there a problem?"
"General, Sarah is my daughter-in-law and therefore my family. Beyond that, she risked her life and nearly killed Colonel Casey to rescue me from Volkoff and get me out of that Russian hellhole. If there's anything I can do for her, you can count me in."
"Good. I was hoping you'd say that. I will be teleconferencing with you and Walker and our Burbank support agents after Walker is done with her tests, but I wanted to speak to you alone first. Is the room secure?"
Mary ran her fingers through bed-head hair, glanced around the room, and then reached over to shut the door. "It is now."
Diane softened her voice and her hardass military mien. "I haven't decided where to send you yet. It depends on how long the tests take. However, you will have a secret mission. This is to be just between us, Mary. Off the record."
Mary raised an eyebrow and nodded cautiously. "Understood, Diane."
"It is Dr. Dreyfus's professional opinion that Sarah Walker Bartowski is not being completely honest with us, or herself, for that matter. She probably doesn't realize the full extent of it."
"If she confides in me..."
Diane shook her head. "I'm not asking you to break a confidence. I want you to be a good mother-in-law. Help her remember who she is. Help her find her way back to her husband and her friends."
Mary's voice hardened. "And to the CIA?"
"She came to me, Mary. Chuck and I both discouraged her from rejoining so soon after this... incident." Diane paused a beat. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it you who told me Chuck and Sarah would regret retiring this young?"
Mary drew a deep breath and let it out. "Diane, you should have seen them when Ellie and Clara came home from the hospital. Five minutes of baby-talk and they were running like we'd brought home the plague."
Diane smiled knowingly. "I know. They ran to me and begged me to send them out of the country and they didn't care how dangerous it was or if they had backup."
"They can't even handle aunt and uncle. There is no way they're ready to have a baby of their own."
"But that doesn't mean they might not go back to private enterprise. If Sarah doesn't want to be a spy, I won't try to talk her into it."
"I'm not asking you to. I'm giving you permission to treat her as your family and not merely your partner. As long as it doesn't compromise national security, Sarah Walker takes priority over any other mission. Take care of her."
"I think you know me well enough to know I would have done that whether you told me to or not."
"You're right. But twenty years ago, someone in the CIA had you disavowed and abandoned—probably someone you trusted to watch your back. I can't help but think you might have my job right now if that hadn't happened. Chuck, Sarah, and their team saved my life. You need to know I have their backs, and yours too."
"Thank you, Diane."
She nodded. No more of this would ever be mentioned. "I need to speak to your daughter next."
"I'll go wake her up."
Time to be the general again. Diane pulled her uniform blazer over her white blouse and fastened the buttons. She took another twenty seconds to secure her hair in its professional bun.
Ellie showed up wearing a bathrobe, but she looked more awake than Mary had. Probably came from being a doctor and the mother of a baby. "General Beckman, did I miss an appointment?"
"Not at all, Dr. Woodcomb. Your patient will be arriving today. Remember, you are now officially a CIA research scientist and the head of the Intersect project. That means you have every right to order her to any tests you deem necessary."
"I don't think Sarah will give me any trouble."
Diane gave her the eyebrow. "You've never stood in the way of her job before."
Ellie planted her hands on her hips. "Like hell I haven't. Maybe Chuck didn't tell you how much I interfered with his life and the life of the girlfriend I thought worked at a frozen yogurt store, but I assure you, General, I have meddled plenty in Sarah's life before."
Diane allowed a shadow of a smile. "Good. I didn't give you this job because you're Chuck's sister. I gave you this job because you're Stephen Bartowski's protégé. By the way, have you chosen your code name yet?"
"I want to be Andromeda."
The career spy was impressed. "You followed the constellation protocol started by Orion and Perseus."
Ellie grinned. "And I happen to love that Michael Crichton novel."
"Andromeda it is then. Dr. Dreyfus will be contacting you on this video line to collaborate. Don't contact him any other way until we have your lab set up. When he calls, you need to exchange a code phrase until you recognize him by sight and voice. One of you will say, 'Limits are only in the mind' and the other must answer 'We become our thoughts.' Can you remember that? You can't write it down or tell anyone else, not even your husband." Diane never understood why people called that man 'Captain Awesome'. He dabbled in supposedly 'difficult' sports to give himself an adrenalin rush, but when it came to true danger, he was actually more cowardly than Chuck.
"Limits are only in the mind. We become our thoughts. Got it."
"Excellent. Welcome to the team. I will expect regular updates on your progress. Beckman out."