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Disaster in the Making

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Spies always expect one thing from a situation: disaster. Doesn't matter when or where in the world you are, every single operation has the ingredients for disaster. And that's okay, because spies know how to manage a disaster and to get the results they want out of it. Sometimes, I think that's why I excel at being a spy, and why any other life seems empty. For as long as I can remember, the people and things in my life have only led to disaster. Why should adulthood be any different?

Madeline focuses on the recipe on the back of the box of Duncan Hines Brownies. It shouldn't matter so much to her after all this time, but she's determined to successfully bake these brownies for Michael's birthday. She can't help but be aware that this may be the very last birthday that she sees him for. He and his father – oil and water even though they are cut from much the same mold. Not that she'd ever let either of them even hear her think such a thing.

Oil splashes into and around the measuring cup when the door from the garage slams open, and then shut again. "Michael, honey…" she trails off when the door opens again behind her morose, stomping son.

"Don't you dare walk away from me."

Michael's eyes catch hers, accusation, forgiveness, all melded into one look of desperate knowing. If she wasn't here in the kitchen, he'd leave. But Michael's never abandoned her or Nate to her husband's moods.

"Yes, sir?" he replies, turning back to face his fear.

"I'm not signing this. The army ain't no place for you, and your mother doesn't need to spend her days worrying herself sick about you. You'll finish your senior year and then start work with me this summer. About time you started paying me back for everything I've done for you." To emphasize his point, Frank rips up the crumpled papers in his hand. "Now try and make sure your mother doesn't burn that goddamn box of brownies." With that, he returns to the garage and his whiskey.

Madeline looks down at the bowl of light brown powder that's now spattered with an unknown amount of oil. "Mom."

The word says it all. "It'll be okay, Michael. You'll see." She does her best to smile for him, even as the sadness in his eyes breaks her heart. "You'll get everything you want someday, Michael. Just maybe not this birthday."

He looks at the box on the counter and shakes his head. "Store-bought is fine with me. You know that."

"I like to cook for you boys."

He comes over to her and kisses her on the cheek. It's been a long time since he's done that. She tries to pretend like it's not a kiss goodbye. "I love that you try to."

Three months after his seventeenth birthday, Madeline isn't surprised to find Michael and his duffel bag gone. Nine months later, she tries to not be surprised when she finds a postcard photograph from her son – a photo of him at basic training.

Every disaster has the ingredients of a successful operation. It just requires one to bide their time and find a way to turn the opportunity in your direction. Even a burned pan of brownies can be used as a weapon as long as you calculate the temperature and direction correctly.