Brandt organized them food, clean clothes and a flight back in no time. By the time they reached cruising altitude, they were well fed and slightly drowsy from the day of hard work. Brandt had excused himself to the forward cabin to check in with HQ and returned a few minutes later, looking quite sombre.
He sat down heavily across from the other two agents and didn't make eye-contact while Elaine and Skye looked at him expectantly. "You'd probably like to know that Ethan, Benji and Luther have once again saved the world from nuclear Armageddon," he stated drily, and quickly added: "Don't worry, they're fine. Well, Ethan is quite beat up, but it seems nothing too serious."
"And?" Elaine asked softly.
Brandt sighed, but he'd have to tell them eventually, so it wouldn't do to hold back now. "Hunley's dead," he said, his own voice feeling thin and toneless in his mouth. "Five days ago, in London. We'll be back just in time for the funeral."
Wordlessly he slid a phone across to Skye who took it and excused herself to the forward compartment. Brandt had purposefully not told them any of the details, after all what was the point? He still didn't know anything beyond the bare minimum the analyst in charge had decided to divulge over the phone and he already didn't want to know more.
He knew there was a report waiting for him that he wasn't particularly looking forward to read. And his workload had effectively just tripled. Plus dealing with whatever the hell the oversight committee would decide to do with this situation. He just didn't feel like he could deal with something like the aftermath of Ghost Protocol all over again.
And then he stopped himself for his selfish thinking when a man was dead, who he might even have considered a friend. He wondered if Hunley had had any family and if so what he was going to tell them, and so the cycle of thoughts began anew.
With a sigh he let his head fall onto the desk. Elaine had crept up beside him, softly massaging his neck with one hand. He wished he could just stay there. Or better yet, go back ten minutes, forget what he knew now and ride out the elation of a successfully finished mission. Maybe even get some sleep while he still could and let all this wait until they landed in the morning.
Just then his phone buzzed with an incoming message. Apparently it couldn't wait.
When Skye activated the IMF issue phone with her fingerprint, it automatically downloaded her profile and set everything to her preferences. She immediately saw she had a few missed messages, which wasn't unusual when being off the grid for a few weeks, but they could wait. With motions so practised she probably could have done them blind, she opened the phone book, scrolled to B and pressed dial.
It only rung once before a familiar voice answered: "Hey."
"Hey," she replied. "How are you doing?"
"I don't know," Benji answered after a moment. He sounded tired. "Where are you?"
"About 35.000 feet over California. Although we might be in Arizona by now," she added thoughtfully. "We'll be landing in about five hours."
"I'll pick you up," he said.
"Okay," Skye replied. Then: "Shouldn't you be sleeping?"
There was a dry chuckle. "I think I'm still on..." He hesitated. "To be honest I've lost track of time zones. What about you? Isn't it like middle of the night?"
"I can't sleep yet," Skye answered. "We only just wrapped things up here. Brandt got us straight in the air after we were done."
She could almost see his thoughtful nod. "How was it?"
"Long. Boring for the most part," Skye replied not un-truthfully. She knew he was probably just asking out of courtesy.
A long silence followed. It felt weird. She hadn't even fully realized how much she had missed Benji, yet he felt even farther away now she was talking to him. She couldn't wait until they landed and she could give him a hug.
"Hey, feather?" he finally asked.
"Did you listen to my messages?"
"Not yet," she admitted.
"Then don't," Benji said. He took a deep breath. "I was … in a bad spot."
"Okay," Skye said softly. She knew the kind of messages, the I-don't-know-if-I'll-come-back-but-I-love-you-very-much-type. He had made it back alright, so there was no need to go through them. She'd just delete them later.
"What's your favourite dinosaur?"
Skye sat down and smiled. It was so Benji to just ask random questions. It was his way of saying he wanted to talk, but please not about work. "I don't know," she replied. "I've never thought about it."
The funeral was attended mostly by suits. Actually Brandt hadn't seen anyone but the priest who was not in a suit, even Elaine had exchanged her comfortable sweater for the occasion. Still the crowd was clearly divided to his trained eye: the front where he was standing in his official persona as state analyst was made up of anyone of anyone with rank and name, mostly politicians in expensive looking attire with appropriately grave faces, more to the side the various directors of other agencies in garments that were actually tailored but less obviously so. Behind them were a cluster of CIA agents, after all Hunley had been first an agent there and then their director for years and obviously still had had many friends in the agency. IMF agents were scattered more unobtrusively in small groups around the perimeter of the crowd. He knew Elaine, Skye, Benji, Luther and Ethan were standing off to his left, but it seemed like anyone who had managed to get away from HQ had come.
Brandt calmly endured the ceremony all the while itching to get away. Of course he wanted to pay his respects, but his agent instincts urged him to blend into the crowd instead of standing front and centre like he did now. But that was a luxury he didn't have any more.
Once the rites were over and he deemed he had been around for a socially acceptable time, he slowly made his way to the edge of the crowd and then faster to the entrance of the cemetery. But before he made it there, someone called him: "Agent Brandt?"
Brandt turned around and breathed a sigh of relief. "Director Brassel," he replied without breaking his stride.
"That was a good piece of work in L.A. last night," Brassel remarked as he caught up to Brandt.
Brandt smiled. "Your agents did a good job," he said. Of course officially the credit went entirely to Homeland and the LAPD.
"So, when can I call you secretary?" Brassel asked. He wasn't one to talk around the matter at hand.
Brandt snorted. "Over my dead body."
"You know, you're the best person for the job," the Director of Homeland Security replied. "Your agents need someone they know they can trust, someone who's come up through the ranks and someone who knows how to deal with the politics."
"Like you?" Brandt asked.
"Hell no," Brassel replied. "I've had my share of that pie.
The analyst smiled, knowing he had just won the argument. "Good day, Director Brassel."
Brandt had started to bring some sort of order into the paperwork on his desk when there was a knock on his door. His analysts had done good work handling anything that could do without him on their own, but there was still enough that needed his personal authorisation – or that of the secretary, but he wasn't about to let things get bogged down by technicalities. Also his chief of security had insisted on posting someone in front of the door – for security reasons, she had said, but actually to screen anyone who wanted to come in and send away anything that could wait until later. Which meant that if someone had made it close enough to the door to knock, it had to be important.
"Yes?" he said and stood up in surprise. "Director."
"Agent Brandt," Erica Sloane replied, closing the door behind her. "I want to say I have considered Alan Hunley a friend and I know he held you in high regards as well. You should know I feel partially responsible for what has happened."
"We all do," Brandt replied darkly. He looked her over out of habit. She was wearing the same clothes he had seen her in earlier at the funeral, but a document bag was slung over her shoulder she had not been carrying then. "Would you like some coffee?"
"Black, two sugars," she replied and took a seat. "I hope your agents are alright?"
"They are," he replied guardedly, pouring their coffee. He moved aside some papers from his desk, before he set down the cups, then he sat down across from her.
Sloane took hers with a thankful nod. "I was hoping you might be up for the secretary position."
Brandt grimaced. "Have you been talking to Director Brassel by any chance?"
"In fact I have. And I agree with him," the Director of the CIA replied. "If you took the Secretary's chair it would be the best for everyone involved, and I know the committee has already offered."
Brandt suppressed a sigh. "And I have already rejected it," he replied. It was not that he disagreed with her, actually he knew it probably would be the best for the IMF to have him as secretary, but the fact of the matter was he didn't want to. He was tired of conversations like this that consisted mainly of pleasantries, and of the politics that felt like a constant game of chess, only everyone was trying to alter the rules in their favour. He wanted to go back to being a field agent, in fact he had been reviewing candidates for the Chief Analyst position with Hunley before his most recent mission. They had wanted to make a decision once he was back, but that obviously wasn't going to happen any more.
But he wasn't about to tell Sloane that, instead he said: "Ma'am, I've been driving shotgun to the last two secretaries. I've damn near done the job without the official title in between. I think I am the most qualified person to decline it." His eyes darted back to the document back that now sat on her lap. "But I'm assuming you're not here to talk me into it? Because if so, I'm afraid you're wasting your time."
"No," Sloane admitted. "Can we talk openly?"
Suddenly it seemed like Brandt's day was about to get significantly more interesting. It was an open secret that most heads of the diverse federal agencies were often listened in on by their agents – for 'security reasons'. But usually this was accepted as a necessary measure unless discussing the most sensitive information.
Brandt knew that his own office was free of bugs, since he had checked it himself this morning as a matter of habit, but to humour Sloane, he placed his phone on the desk and activated a jamming signal that would render any listening devices in the vicinity useless. "Go ahead," he said.
"After the conference in January, Alan had asked me to have a look into the archives for anything codenamed Morpheus. I didn't find any solid material until very recently and considering it seemed important at the time, I thought you might be interested," she said and pulled out a folder which she set in the middle of the desk. It looked old, and had the crest of both the CIA and the IMF printed on it, meaning it was from when the IMF used to be a sub-division of the CIA, back before the early 2000s.
Brandt reached for it, but the CIA director put a hand on it and looked at him sternly. "Now, before you open this, you should know that this was very hard to acquire," she said. "This, as far as I know, is the only copy. And it has never been digitalized. Plus I found it in a section of the archives that technically not even I should have had access to."
"I understand," Brandt replied. Whatever was in this folder, someone had tried to bury it, deep. And they had almost succeeded.
Sloane nodded and pushed it over.
When Brandt opened, to his surprise, he looked at an agent's profile. An IMF agents profile, with DISAVOWED stamped across it in big red letters. The agent had been a young man named Lucas Blake, dark haired, looking at the camera with a charming smile. He reminded Brandt a little of Ethan, only Hunt had probably still been a schoolboy when that picture was taken.
"It's part of our not so glorious history that in the 60s and 70s the CIA was involved in drug trafficking operations that it was originally tasked to prevent. When it came to light that several agents involved in this were also generously lining their own pockets in the process, the upper management finally decided something had to be done, creating Project Morpheus," Director Sloane explained.
"Basically we loaned one of your agents to go under cover and root out any agents with more than professional relationships to the drug cartels from the other side," she continued. "The project went well for a few years, until in '94 Blake suddenly disappeared. It was assumed that he had gotten involved in some gang rivalries and probably been killed in an altercation with a rivalling group."
Brandt looked at the dates below: MIA in June of 1994, presumed killed and subsequently disavowed thereafter. "And then the contact who named himself Morpheus showed up in Fall..." he said thoughtfully.
"It would suggest there might be a connection," Sloane agreed. "Whatever the case, I'll leave the matter to you, for now."
"Thank you," Brandt nodded and closed the file. "I can trust that this stays between us?"
"Of course," Director Sloane replied and stood up. "Good day, Agent Brandt. Don't bother, I'll find my way out," she added when he also made to get up.
"Good day, Director Sloane," Brandt said. Once she was gone and the door closed behind her, he used his hand-print to open the secret drawer under his desk that only ever could be opened in this way and stored the file there. After what had happened in L.A. he had a feeling he might have need of it soon.
We're at an ending once again. Thanks everyone for reading and for the lovely reviews! I hope I'll be back with more soon.