WARNING: This story contains violent scenes that might be equally upsetting for characters as well as readers (and subsequent cliffhangers). Proceed with caution.
(I promise there will be fluff ahead as compensation.)
Authors note: This story is based (in parts) on my previous stories and 'Dunn and Dusted' by ThiessenClocks. I recommend reading those first. Also once again thanks to my amazing beta reader for her patience with my typos, grammatical errors, and (especially in this case) straining story lines, and for lending me her canon and characters.
The knock on the door seemed to almost have an apologetic ring to it. Ethan Hunt did not look up as he called to enter, until the door had opened and the man stepped in.
"Oh, Brandt," he greeted the newcomer with a smile. "Want to sit in? We haven't started yet."
"No, I can't," the other man sighed, closing the door behind himself. "Also I came to tell you that your mission's been scratched, since you're one agent short."
"Since when?" Luther asked from the other side.
"Today," the analyst replied. He leaned back against the door and looked down at his feet, arms crossed.
Ethan noticed he not only showed the classical signs of caffeine addiction he always developed around office-work, but there was also something else. And then he realized what it was. "Where is Agent Bray?"
"I don't know," Brandt admitted, looking up. The lines on his face seemed to have deepened, as if to draw a continuous frown onto his forehead. He sighed again. "All I know is that someone's taken her off the active field agent roster. Her status is set as unavailable and as far as I can tell she's probably not even in the country, or at least out of state."
"I thought she wasn't even on the roster?" Ethan replied a little confused.
"No. Technically she hasn't even been cleared for field work and the only reason I could put her on this mission is that we got special dispensation from the doctors," he explained.
Ethan bit his lip. "And we can't get anyone else for this mission?" he asked, almost sheepishly. "You know, our intel is very time critical."
"I know. But I don't have anyone," the analyst complained. "And short of dismantling another active team, I don't see that changing any time soon. I'm sorry, but unless and until I can come up with a solution, this mission is grounded."
"You know we could..." Luther started, but Brandt anticipated him.
"You're not going on your own. You need three people to pull this off, and you know it," he interrupted. "I'll see what I can do. Actually I'll probably come with you myself, but until then you stay put."
"You can do that?" Luther asked, incredulously. "Just reassign yourself like that?"
Brandt had pushed himself off the door and opened it a crack. "If someone can pull my agents out of my missions on short notice without at least telling me, then I can damned well assign myself to whatever mission I want."
"So, you two met in field training?"
Benji pondered this for a moment. "Technically, no," he finally replied. "Before field training, she was working in the labs, too. Chemistry and pharmaceutics. There were a couple of R&D projects we were working on..."
He broke off in the middle of the sentence and Skye gave him a glance in return that asked him to continue. Benji took another bite of his sandwich.
"We used to work on the same projects," he answered. "You can't really say we were working together. She's always been more of a solitary person, as far as I know anyway. I wouldn't even..."
"There's movement," the other agent interrupted him.
He nodded almost invisibly, to show he had understood, and bent down, as if to fetch something out of the pocket of his jacket hanging over the back of his chair. In doing so he inconspicuously looked behind himself and saw that their target had indeed just paid and was in the motions of leaving.
Meanwhile, Skye had gotten up herself and headed for the door, so she could continue observations, once he was outside the café.
"Firefly to Serenity, do you read me?" Benji whispered into his com, once she had disappeared from his field of vision.
"Loud and clear," Skye's voice whispered into his ear, tickling his eardrum.
He couldn't help the smile creeping over his face. Then he calmly continued eating his sandwich, watching their target leave from the corner of his eye. Once he was finished, he paid and left.
Outside the streets were moderately filled. It was a cloudy day, and the wind made outside temperatures feel colder than they were. Quickly he scanned the area, but could see neither his partner nor their target.
"Serenity, this is Firefly," Benji stated calmly. "I have no visual, please give me your location."
There was nothing. Then static. Then nothing again.
"Serenity, do you read?" he asked again. Disconcerted when he didn't get a reply, he took out his phone to track the device's built-in locator beacon.
Benji let out a sigh, when the trace appeared as a small green dot on the map, hardly half a mile from his present location. It flickered shortly, but promptly showed again. Equipment malfunction, he decided, and started off towards it.
The dot was moving slowly and lead him away from the square into increasingly narrow and unpopulated side streets. Once he was only one corner away he slowed down. He could hear voices up ahead and carefully inched towards the crossing, close to the wall. Interference at the wrong moment could ruin their plan.
Almost at the corner, he could identify one of the voices as Skye's. She was asking for directions in French. Then suddenly there was an alarmed shout and shuffling noises.
Instinctively Benji took two steps forward, but before he could get a look into the side street, something hard hit his neck, just below the base of his head. He felt his centre of gravity shift, as the road spun up towards him. Then someone grabbed him from behind.
He was vaguely aware of himself kicking and slashing out at his attacker, but he was held in an iron grip. The ground underneath him shifted from side-walk to street to a strange metal structure that elicited a feeling of déjà vu accompanied by a sense of rising panic.
There was a voice behind him. Skye's voice, Benji realised. Muffled, but nearby. He tried to make out words, but the more he focused on it, the more it seemed to fade, as he slowly slipped out of consciousness.
"Are you sure you don't want to take this one?" The mocking tone in Ethan's voice was only poorly disguised. "It might be some time until you get the chance to seduce a rich guy again."
"No thanks," Brandt replied promptly.
The team leader found he not only sounded happier than he had ever heard him in the office. He also looked relaxed for the first time since their initial meeting two weeks ago, leaning against one end of the bar.
"For once, our target is a woman," the analyst continued. "Also according to our intel, she clearly favours dark-haired men."
"Your bad," Ethan countered, rounding the room on the opposite end, behind the solitary grand piano.
"Do I want to know?" Luther asked over the comm, from his place in the van outside.
"Yes," Ethan answered enthusiastically.
But Brandt interjected: "No." It was a fact.
"I've got eyes on the target," Ethan cut the conversation short. "I'm going in."
"Acknowledged. Moving out," Brandt answered. And while Ethan walked up to a woman in an almost beyond stereotypical blond hair and blue eyes look, he downed the rest of his drink and walked over to the elevator, his suit jacket casually slung over his shoulder.
Once he was inside, had pressed the button and the doors had closed, Luther chimed in again. "So what was that all about?"
"What do you mean?" Brandt asked innocently.
"You and Ethan and seducing rich guys..." the technician elaborated.
"That's a long story," Brandt replied.
"So are you gonna tell me?"
In that moment the door of the lift opened. Brandt looked up at the electronic display, but he still had several floors to go. Instead a tired looking middle-aged woman was herding three rebellious children and four large suitcases into the small cabin. Pressing back against the wall, he aimed an apologetic half-shrug in the direction of the security camera.
Two floors later the woman and her entourage left the elevator, and Brandt was glad he was alone again, when Luther called: "We've got movement."
"What kind of movement?" Brandt asked.
"They... in..." The rest was swallowed in static.
"Control, repeat," the agent requested, but the only thing that came back was white noise.
The lift doors opened again, but nobody was outside. Increasingly uncomfortable Brandt waited for the doors to close.
"Control, Frenzy, do you read?" he asked again. "Anyone, this is Bandit. Come in."
When the elevator finally stopped on the right floor, Brandt was sure communications were down. His only choice now was to improvise. And since he didn't know where anyone was, his best shot was to go on as planned.
The corridor was empty, so he quickly walked to the room in question. There he noticed that the door was not only not locked, but open a crack. Carefully he pressed his hands against it, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was going on inside without alarming the occupants.
What Brandt glimpsed was very disconcerting. Ethan was shirtless, lying on the carpeted floor, in a strangely twisted way, half on his back, half on his side. The lower half of his body was covered by the skirts of the blond and blue eyed woman, but she herself was covered by the door-frame.
Hunt looked up in alarm, when the door opened. But not at the analyst, rather at something behind him.
Then something hard hit Brandt sharply over the head.