Once again this is the end of a story.
I realize this has been a lengthy finale, so thanks for sticking with me.
Also thanks to ThiessenClocks, my amazing co-conspirator and beta reader for lending me Skye for this (and future) project(s).
The corner Benji was headed to, was several rows down and lying in the shadow of the big, heavy crane towering over this part of the port. The closer he came, the more the crane gave him a bad feeling, and when he rounded the corner, he realized why.
He was headed straight for the river. And in front of him he could see the outlines of two tall, bulky men, dragging along a third, limp object between them, right at the edge of the dock. Benji knew he was too far away. Taking a shot at this distance was tricky, the shadow of the crane prevented a clear view at his target.
But he didn't actually have a choice. He took aim quickly, targeting high, just in case. And then he pulled the trigger. It took him five shots, then both his targets fell.
Finally there was silence. Around Elaine all hell was breaking lose, but none of it touched her. All she heard was silence. No more questions, just blissful silence that would ease her pain.
And slowly the agony receded, until it gave her room enough to think clearly again and she realized her wrists were no longer bound. Carefully she opened her eyes and found herself looking into an unknown face with light, ice-gray eyes looking back at her with concern.
And then the soft tenor belonging to those eyes asked: "Hey, are you alright?"
Benji broke into a run as soon as he saw both his targets fall. Up ahead he could make out only two shapes lying on the ground, but the shadows made it hard for him to see details, and he hoped he was mistaken. But when he came closer, his suspicion was confirmed. Two dead bodies were lying at the edge of the dock. Ethan was nowhere to be seen.
Still running, Benji pulled off his jacket, ready to dive into the basin. He didn't enjoy the idea, but the thought of how deep the water was inside the harbor filled him with a whole different kind of dread.
"Ethan?" he called again, just as he reached the two dead goons. And this time there was an answer.
"Here," the familiar voice called from bellow, before it was suddenly cut off, followed by a coughing fit.
Benji knelt on the edge and looked down.
Clutching one of the moorings let into the stone, Ethan was dangling from the wall, up to his knees in water. He coughed again, when a new wave flushed him against the wall, then looked up at Benji through a curtain of black, dripping hair. His voice was hoarse, but still nonchalantly sarcastic, when he suggested: "A bit of help, please?"
After Benji had set off for Ethan, Brandt took a quick look inside the container to make sure it was empty, then returned to the woman outside. From her file he recognized her as Elaine Bray, the agent they had been looking for. Her hair was longer, unkempt, and as dirty as the rest of herself. Her clothes were torn and what was left of them was made of a thin woven fabric.
He estimated her to be around 5'2'' and she seemed to have been muscular, but now her body had a disproportionately lean appearance indicating undernourishment. Especially her arms were uncommonly thin, he noticed when he loosened the lashing straps tied around her wrists.
When he saw a movement from the corner of his eyes and Brandt looked up and found her looking back at him. "Hey," he said softly, trying to sound as nonthreatening as possible. "Are you alright?"
The woman closed her eyes again and let her head fall back against the metal wall with a sigh.
"I feel like my intestines are burning, I haven't eaten in two days, and I really need a shower," she muttered rapidly in a low, moaning voice, just articulate enough to be understandable. "But I guess I'll live."
Brandt nodded, not knowing what to reply, and went on to loosen the ties around her feet, when she suddenly seemed to fall at him. At first he thought she had fainted, but before he could react, she had grabbed his shoulder and hauled herself up, and over him.
With uncoordinated, but astonishingly effective movements Bray proceeded forward, half walking, half crawling. By the time Brandt had caught up with her, she was sitting inside the container, bent over a leather case.
"What are you doing?" he asked with bewilderment and worry, kneeling down beside her.
"Looking for syringes and hypodermic needles," she said, and before he could ask the next question, added: "For drawing blood."
"Because Kostas has a drug that presumably affects the brain and nervous system, compelling the person subjected to it to tell the full truth to any question asked. All the vials are broken, but I got a full dose before you showed up, and I'm hoping there's enough left unmetabolized in my bloodstream that we can analyze it when we're back," she answered, picking up speed again. "And no more questions now, please."
Brandt nodded and suppressed the urge to ask if she needed help. It would have been superfluous anyway, for during her explanation Bray had found what she needed and gone right ahead. Now she stored the blood sample in her pocket and leaned back against the wall.
Brandt couldn't think of anything to say that didn't contain a question, so he just sat down next to her. When he saw she was shivering, he took off his jacket and offered it to her wordlessly, which she gratefully accepted.
"I'm William Brandt, by the way," he said after a while.
The woman looked up and showed him a hint of a smile, carefully, shyly. "Elaine Bray," she said, and Brandt nodded in acknowledgment. She held his gaze for a moment, then quickly looked back down at the floor. Quietly she murmured, "Thanks."
Benji had known from the outset that getting Ethan out of the water wouldn't be easy. But he hadn't realized exactly how hard it would be, until he himself was hanging from the dock wall, one hand clinging to the slimy rung of a ladder. The other arm he had wrapped around Ethan's shoulders, helping him to hold on.
With his hands still tied, Hunt had a harder time grabbing the ladder, but to open the lashing straps, Benji would need both hands and had to effectively let go of the ladder. At the last attempt a wave had almost washed them both off. He wasn't about to try that again.
In the meantime, though, he was in desperate need of a better idea. By now they were both soaked, he could feel his own wet clothes pulling him down and his hands and feet ere numb from the cold.
And although he knew Ethan would never admit it, Benji could see he was exhausted and barely holding on. For that matter, he himself only just managed to keep hold of the ladder and a rough wind had come up, sending more waves their way. Therefore he was immensely relieved when he heard a familiar voice overhead.
"Hey," Luther said, poking his head over the edge of the wall. Behind him stood Sidorov, looking over his shoulder. "Need a hand?"
"Yes," Benji and Ethan replied in unison.
And a few minutes later they were sitting on the dock, dripping puddles onto the floor.
"Do all your plans end like this?" the Russian asked, lighting a cigarette.
Ethan gave him a tired smile. "Only the good ones."
Sidorov nodded with a dry chuckle, then walked away a few steps to answer his phone.
Meanwhile Luther had finally freed Ethan of the lashing straps. "Are you alright?" he asked quietly.
Ethan nodded silently. "Just," he said through chattering teeth, "no more questions. Please."
Luther nodded and stood up as Benji rejoined them after retrieving his jacket, which he had left behind on the dock, and which was subsequently still dry. "So what...?" he started, but was interrupted by Ethan.
"No questions, please," Ethan repeated in a hissing tone. "I'll explain later."
"Sorry," Benji mumbled, then turned to Sidorov, who had just come off the phone.
"Good news. Coastguards just picked up Kostas. He tried to flee on a motor boat," the Russian said, looking at the agents in turn. "If you're alright, I got to go now. Reports and all that."
Ethan nodded. "Thanks for the help."
"My pleasure," Sidorov relied, then added with a smirk. "Until next time." He motioned to a group of his men standing nearby, and they left the IMF agents alone on the dock.
"Let's get home," Luther decided, and the other two agents nodded their agreement. He looked at Ethan still sitting on the ground. "Can you...?" he started, then swallowed the question at the last moment.
"I can walk," Ethan replied and with Luther's help pulled himself onto a pair of unsteady legs. For a moment he wondered if he had talked too big, when the world in front of his eyes started spinning out of control.
"Just not very well," he mumbled, took a deep breath and waited for the vertigo to subside. When he looked up, he decidedly ignored Benji's and Luther's worried looks. "Let's go."
"Hey," Luther said, superfluously knocking on the door-less frame that separated this compartment of the plane from the adjacent one with a curtain. "What are you...?" He broke off, leaving the question hanging in the air.
"It's alright," Ethan answered, looking up from the computer screen. "The serum has mostly worn off and I only had one dose."
Luther nodded and stepped behind him to look over his shoulder. "Catching up on all the fun you've missed?"
"Sort of," Ethan replied. His screen showed an agent's profile, from the picture Luther recognized Agent Bray. "Have you read her file?"
"No," Luther replied and skimmed over the scarce data. "But there doesn't seem to be all that much in there anyway."
"Well, there wouldn't be," Ethan put in. "Considering that technically this was her first mission."
"Hold on. Didn't Benji say they were in field training together?" Luther asked and Ethan nodded. "And he's been through that, what, two – three years ago?"
"Yes," Ethan said. "And it looks like she's been in northern Africa since then. Over two years, the only agent left of the original mission."
"Damn," Luther muttered. "How did that happen?"
"It doesn't say," Ethan replied. "But that's not the most interesting part. There's next to nothing on her background."
"Well, first mission, straight out of field training. What do you expect?"
"According to this she's been with the IMF since 2000," Ethan pointed out. "No mention of how she was recruited, or where from, or what she did in between. And no one spends over ten years in field training."
"You know you could just ask her?"
Ethan gave him a sarcastically questioning glance and Luther smirked. "Good to have you back."