A/N Posting a bit early. Tomorrow I'll be in Collingswood NJ for their Book Festival. It's a 16 hour day starting at 4:30 AM so I'll have no time to do this tomorrow. This episode will be a bit of a break from all the spy shenanigans. Time to deal with the aftermath, and some of the real life that got put on hold.
"Orion grew up and moved on."
"The best place to hide something from a spy is in plain sight."
"No agent succeeds alone, Mary."
"We'll be here."
At a secure facility somewhere in England...
"I'd like to see my father, please."
The man at the desk was polite but not particularly responsive to the sight of an attractive young woman smiling at him. "His name?"
"Winterbottom. Hartley Winterbottom."
His lip quivered. "You're joking. No one names a person that."
She looked at him. His incipient laughter choked to a stop.
"I'll just check, then." He looked at his screens for a good while before he turned back to the young woman and said, "I'm sorry miss, we have no record of anyone named Winterbottom at this facility."
"Fudge." Her face crumpled, but he was immune to that too. Her shoulders slumped, the picture of defeat. "Thank you."
He nodded. "Good day, miss."
The young woman left the building, rounded the corner, and headed for the taxi stand.
"You're being followed," said a voice in her ear. "We count three."
"About bloody time," snarled Vivian, pitched too low for the microphone to pick it up. "I'll head to the flat on Gregory. Prepare for tonight."
At a secure facility somewhere in America...
"I'd like to see my mother, please."
The attendant smiled up at him. "Good morning, Mr. Bartowski. I'll call to see if she's available."
Of course she was, Chuck knew his mother's schedule, but trying to break the attendants of their rituals was an exercise in futility. "Certainly." Maybe things were different in other facilities, but when you had spies for your clientele, a few extra precautions sounded like a good idea.
As always, the check ended with "You're all set, sir." She handed him a sticker, and pointed the way, knowing that he already knew it. As he approached the door it buzzed and he pushed through.
"How you doing, Special Agent?" said Juan. It was a bit of a joke between them. The first time Juan asked Chuck his name, not only had Chuck pulled the old James Bond routine, but he gave himself a promotion to boot. That Chuck had since earned the promotion for real just made it better.
"When I find out I'll let you know."
Juan gave him a funny look, but waved him on his way. In this section the doors were usually kept shut, often locked, but Mary Bartowski's door was always open. Unlike most of her fellows on this level, she was here voluntarily, part of her decompression. For twenty years she'd worked alone, immersed in a group of people, mostly men, with a decidedly skewed worldview. With the fall of Volkoff, and the end of one of the longest covert operations in CIA history, assistance was provided (and to some extent mandated) to bring her back into what was considered to be normal society.
Despite the open door, Chuck knocked politely. "Hi, Mom, Doc. What are you doing?"
Mary put the dice down. "I'm introducing Dr. Dreyfus to one of Alexei's favorite games, a Russian version of Risk called 'All Yer Base', don't ask me why."
Chuck didn't have to. "I've never heard of that one. We should have you and Casey over for game night."
"That's an excellent idea, Chuck. You should do exactly that," said Dreyfus.
"You looking for an invite too, Doc?"
Dreyfus shook his head. "Not at all, this is purely professional. The stylized behaviors of a game are very indicative of a patient's status, and they serve as a diversion to let you study your subject in a more natural setting, without being too obvious about it."
Now you tell her. "And what does this game tell you about my mother?"
"That she's going stir crazy, but is willing to tolerate my ridiculous requests if it will get her out of here one day sooner." Dreyfus swept his tokens from the board. "Mary, this is an awful game. Go home."
She looked pleased, but surprised. "You're discharging me?"
Dreyfus took her hand in his. "Agent Bartowski, everything you've done for the past twenty years has been to protect, but ultimately to return to, your family. I can think of nothing better for you than to be with them now." He gestured at Chuck. "If anyone can bring you up to speed on popular culture, he can. If anyone can withstand and assist you with the occasional stumble along the way, it would be him and his wife. And they're in the Need-To-Know pool, so you see, it's a no-brainer."
She saw. "Let me get packed."
"You're not packed already?" asked Chuck.
"Chuck," said Dreyfus imperatively. "Can I speak to you out in the hall, while your mother gets her things?"
It wasn't really a request. Dreyfus shut the door. "Chuck–"
Chuck put a finger to his lips, and attached a ticker to the door, just in case. "Okay, Doc, shoot."
"Chuck, the odds are very good that your mother will never be an active field agent again. I'm counting on you and Sarah to help her transition into a different life, a new role."
Chuck ran his fingers through his hair nervously. "You know, Doc, when most people say 'hit me with your best shot, I can take it', it's usually just a figure of speech…"
Dreyfus nodded. "Yes, well, fortunately, you're not 'most people'. She'll need your help, being a spy is all she knows. You need to help her get out of that mindset whenever possible."
Great. He had to stand up to his mother. "Shouldn't you be doing that here…?"
"She needs to be able to relax." Dreyfus spread his hands, indicating the facility as a whole. "We have too much security she doesn't control."
Way to push the buttons, Doc. "Gotcha."
"She'll do fine, Chuck. I knew your mother was ready to go the day she finished unpacking."
"Uh, what day was that?"
"About ten days after she started. She'd been going back and forth for a very long time, but that day I knew she'd made up her mind, at least for now."
"Made up her mind about what?"
Dreyfus patted him kindly on the shoulder. "Mothers unpack, Chuck, spies don't."
Inside a command vehicle, somewhere in England…
Vivian was no spy, she hired people for that. Plenty of operatives got cashiered for any number of reasons, skills intact and looking to use them. Thank God no one had yet figured out a way to make removable skills, think what that would do to the mercenary market.
She shook off that nightmare, so she could watch the people she employed use their skills in her service. Father was always warning her about subordinates, especially those with ability. They had to be carefully controlled, otherwise they might start looking after their own interests instead of hers, and she couldn't allow that.
All she wanted was her father back, not too much to ask, but the British Government seemed to think so. They'd certainly tied enough cans to her tail, or thought they had. A smile flickered across her face at the thought of all those ever-so-loyal agents cooling their heels, watching her empty little bed-sitter.
They would be the lucky ones tonight.
"Movement on the dock."
"Miss Volkoff, Agent Smith reports activity at the flat."
The movement on the loading dock was what they expected, so she turned her attention to the unusual. "What sort of activity?"
"Enemy at the gates."
"What, take me while they move him?"
"A perfect distraction, is how they look at it," said the leader of the operation. "Probably hit us with decoys while they've got you busy. The usual tricks."
"Decoys?" She didn't have the men for that. "How will you know which one?"
"That's simple, they all are, that's why I sent you in when I did. They need to move him, but they have no time to gather resources. We're waiting for shift change." He tapped a monitor, showing the front gate. "I expect a group of men to clock out together. It'll be the man at the center of that group that you want to get a hold of."
Back at Chuck's place…
"I just can't imagine Starbuck as a girl."
"I know, right," said Chuck, turning the wheel, toward a driveway made of brick, lined with flowers. The house beyond matched the entrance.
"That pile just invites an attack."
"It does stick out, doesn't it?" said Chuck as he reversed into his own driveway. "Not at all in keeping with the neighborhood's rustic aesthetic."
"Very true. I'd blow it up for that alone." Mary unbuckled her seatbelt as the car stopped, but didn't try the door. "So what's wrong with Sarah?"
Fortunately the car was already stopped, or the garage door would have suffered. "Nothing," said Chuck. "She's perfectly fine. Just a little…clingy." A clingy spy.
"A little? Chuck, she broke out of a maximum-security holding facility. Twice. To do what?"
"To, um, crawl into bed and sleep with me?" He'd managed to bring her back, but only the first time. After that just about everyone recognized the therapeutic value of keeping them together. Dreyfus sending his mother home early was just more of the same, except she probably had a different definition of clingy. A clingy maternal spy. Oh, God.
"She gets nightmares."
"So if you knew that, why ask the question?" He popped the door and got out.
She got out and continued the harangue right in the driveway. "Because, being …" She looked around "…what I am, I noticed she wasn't with you today, unlike the last twelve."
Right. Here we go. "Couldn't that be a good, what's-right-with-Sarah sort of possibility?" he asked mildly, leaning against the car, looking all relaxed. "We've really got to get you a more cheerful outlook on life."
He caught her with her mouth open, and for a second she just stood there. Then she closed her mouth, put her hands in her pockets, and inquired pleasantly, "Okay, what's right with Sarah?"
Chuck smiled. "Her friend Hannah's getting married tomorrow, today's the rehearsal."
"She's in the party?" asked Mary, who somehow never really thought of Sarah as having normal friends, with normal concerns.
"Matron of honor," said Chuck.
Mary came around the car toward him. "I wish I could have seen the bachelorette party."
"Sarah brought in Ellie, as a consultant." He fumbled his keys out of his pocket. "Carina offered to help, but they declined. Politely."
Mary smiled. If Casey hadn't pushed Carina to commandeer some clothes, she'd have gone from the Contessa to the Lord Roger with a smile on her face and very little else on the rest of her. And she'd been Sarah's ironically-named maid of honor, so trying to bump her off that assignment wouldn't have flown. "Should I ask?"
"You don't have to, we saved the better headlines in our photo album."
She'd pulled out most of their albums weeks before, partly to read but mostly to camouflage the little book of pictures she left behind. "I must have missed that one."
"Well, come on in, we'll get you settled and you can read all about it with a nice mug of tea." He unlocked the door into the house.
"I hate tea."
Probably something Volkoff drank a lot of. "Did I say tea? I meant coffee."
"Of course you did. And maybe after we're done with all that, you can tell me this deep dark secret you've been keeping all day."
"Spy, Chuck. Remember?"
Staying in the car, in England…
Quitting time. Men went in, men came out, slightly more out than in. The guard station was temporarily overwhelmed, as an ambulance, a courier van, and a laundry truck all tried to exit at once. The video was crap, but her team lead was able to identify them all for her.
"Laundry?" said Vivian. "At this hour?"
The leader gave her an amused grin, but he was too busy on his radio to talk. "Speed-demon, come around from the North."
"The one direction the decoys haven't gone," said Vivian, trying to keep up.
The leader nodded. "There we are," he said, pointing at the monitor on his laptop. "Four men carpooling, three in the back and one driver." He passed on the make and model of the vehicle to the incoming team.
Vivian sat still for a few minutes, but finally her patience gave out. "What are they waiting for?"
"For us to commit," said the leader. His radio clicked twice. Speed-demon was in position. "All right, gents, take them down."
Three loud explosions sounded in the distance, in three different places. The sedan in the parking lot pulled out even as the speaker announced, "Movement at the flat!"
"We aren't really attacking them?" asked Vivian urgently. This was supposed to be a peaceful operation. The flat was only rigged with gas grenades.
"No," said her chief henchman dismissively. "Just a few VI axle-busters. We scattered them around the approaches."
Vivian smiled. The little magnetic mines would sound like a team of gunners, disabling the vehicles without actually harming the occupants. Making her point but without making more of an enemy out of the SIS than she had to. "And the target?"
"Heading north, as expected. Looks like he's making a right turn. Thought they might."
"Look at the map," he said, unfolding a paper copy and pointing to one section. "That part of the city's all straight lines, can see an attack coming a mile away."
"Then won't they see your car as it comes?"
"Yeah, I expect they will. You still buckled in, Miss?"
Vivian turned and looked out the window of the vehicle they were commanding the operation from. A car was waiting to turn into the oncoming lane just ahead of them. He couldn't be serious. "A car this size?"
"Packs a wallop, she does. She's all engine, gets the armor going."
Her father was in that car.
She looked back at the leader. In for a penny…"Well?"
He nodded approvingly. "You heard the lady, Miles."
Sitting on the sofa, drinking coffee...
"It'll never happen."
"Mom, what did we say about that positive outlook?"
"Chuck, it's not about my outlook. You and Sarah? Great. Ellie and Devon? Fabulous. I'm just vibrating with positivity over here."
"I thought that might be the coffee."
"It is more caffeine than I'm used to, but mostly it's just you. This is like a dream to me, a miracle."
"So extend the miracle."
She smiled at his faith, so much like his father, always looking for the bright side. "I'll call General Beckman in the morning and thank her, Chuck, but don't expect anything else. I'd settle for reinstatement, but that means back pay, and this much back pay will raise eyebrows, and when eyebrows get raised in Washington doors shut very fast."
Volkoff Industries, in Moscow...
The doors were locked, the lights were out. The scattered papers had long since settled to the floor, and the dust had long since started settling on the scattered papers. Dustcloths had been rather haphazardly thrown across the larger items of furniture. Everything about the place said this company was closed for business and would likely stay that way for a very long time.
The yellow tape was a nice touch.
Volkoff was dead. Killed by his enemies, said some. Betrayed by his friends, said others. His empire was up for grabs, and claimants had come out of the woodwork to do the grabbing.
Only to find there was nothing to grab. Electronic transactions, virtual accounting, non-existent warehouses for non-existent stock. The Volkoff Empire was not an empire of people and things but of connections, and no one but him knew where those connections were. They couldn't even find his wealth, but the search for it had long since left his abandoned office behind.
The woman stepping over, under, and through the yellow tape wasn't looking for his wealth, wasn't trying to claim his empire. She didn't want her father's business, she wanted her father, but it looked like she would never see either of them again.
The assault had gone off like clockwork, the little car accelerating to insane speeds even as the other car turned crossed into the other lane, its broadside open for just a few seconds. Their little car rammed it in the back, coming away with barely a dent as the larger vehicle was rendered into scrap.
Speed-demon skidded right in next to the wreck as the command car drove away to the pick-up. Men got out, threw open the doors of the sedan, and extracted the stunned Hartley from the very clutches of his equally-stunned captors. They gently (as mercenaries define the word) placed him in the back of their own vehicle and followed the command car to the pick-up, a large black moving van with the gate down as it moved.
Speed-demon drove up the gate and stopped right behind the command car as the gate rose. Vivian was already out of the smaller car, holding an ice-pack on the back of her neck but otherwise uninjured. With not a lot of room to maneuver, she got into the speed car as the extraction team got out. She gently (as daughters define the word) brushed the hair back from his face. "Father?"
He seemed to get his wits together, focusing on her at last.
"It's me," she said soothingly. "Vivian."
"Vivian," she said again, heart sinking. She'd seen that face before. He'd demonstrated his 'Gregory Tuttle' persona for her, but she found the transformation of her powerful father into that shambling pathetic shell to be unsettling rather than amusing. Not as unsettling as it was now. "My name is Vivian MacArthur," she said, offering her more civilian name, one that Hartley might recognize.
"Hello," he said amiably. "Any relation to Jane MacArthur? I had such a crush on her…"
"I thought so, you're the very image of her." Hartley smiled at some memory. "How is she?"
"She died, long ago," said Vivian bluntly. "I never knew her."
Hartley's face collapsed in lines of sorrow. Not faked. "Oh, I am sorry. I hope she didn't suffer."
Surely that wasn't an apology. Her father never apologized. "She met a man who took what he wanted," she said.
He clasped her hand gently. "You have my most heartfelt sympathies, my dear."
Vivian shot him, one dart to the chest. Hartley never even knew it as he passed out. "Take him away."
"No." Mouse or not, he was still her father. "Leave him somewhere, they've got to have trackers looking. They'll find him."
Now, sitting at her father's desk, she wondered if they ever had. She swept a hand across the desk, testing the thickness of the dust, her fingers slightly aware of the ridge of the hole where the Hydra apparatus sat, useless now. The eye smashed. He'd tried to smash it himself. She reached out to touch the statue that he'd wanted to use, a horse much like Artemis. She tried to pick it up.
It wouldn't budge. Her father had lifted it easily but now it seemed part of the desk itself. She twisted it, and felt some give. When had her father had this bric-a-brac mounted? Why?
She felt along the base, and found a little hollow in the metal. She probed it with her finger, but it was no hole, just an irregular dimple. She moved the curtains aside and took a closer look. It wasn't a dimple, no simple flaw in the metal. It was an inverse image.
She pulled out her one remaining treasure from her father, the locket he'd given her so many years ago. Love, Daddy, it said, on the back.
Her father was always so practical with his affections. She pressed the front of the locket into the hole. The horse began to turn, its raised hoof pointing.
Inside the wall, she heard a click.
A/N2 The idea that Frost would be given no downtime, no therapy for what had to be a monster case of PTSD, is just another ridiculous notion in the long line of ridiculous notions that makes up the majority of season 4. I'll try to be fluffier next chapter, but with Vivian in Moscow that may not last long.