A/N: First of all, I AM SORRY. Very, very sorry. I really needed to get this off my chest so please don't be mad at me.
I don't own Mission: Impossible…
"Ethan," Luther's voice was unsteady on the phone, and Ethan could tell straight away it had to be something serious and not very pleasant. And he already had a good guess on what this conversation was going to be about. It gave Ethan's stomach that all too familiar twist.
"What is it? Have you found him?" the team leader had to breathe deep to make the pounding in his ears quiet down.
"Call the others and we'll meet at the HQ," was all he got as a reply.
It had all started like three weeks before that. It was one of the blissful moments after an incredibly hard mission had been accomplished and the agents were enjoying those rare moments of peace. Ethan had gone hiking somewhere in the mountains where no-one would find him, Jane had decided to see her cousin who had recently had a baby, Benji had headed off to New Zealand to visit some old friend, and Brandt had remained at home to finally get some sleep after all of the stress of the mission.
Nothing seemed like the peace and quiet could be disturbed.
And yet one day it happened. Ethan was woken up by the beeping of his phone. He merely needed to lift it up and press one button to see the distress code on the screen. The distress code coming from Benji's number. It hadn't been even a minute till the phone buzzed again, this time indicating a phone call from Jane.
"I know, I got it, too," he muttered, not waiting for her to even say anything. A few seconds later the same thing repeated with a phone call from Brandt.
How could Benji have gotten in trouble while on vacation? That could wait though. Now they needed to find him. To locate the call. And that wasn't supposed to be difficult, they just needed to contact the IMF HQ. All such distress calls went through the IMF's systems so they must already be on track at the time. And yet…
"What are you talking about?" Luther sounded confused. "If we had gotten a distress call, it would have been passed to me. We didn't get anything".
Ethan had a funny feeling about it. It was wrong, something had happened. But he had no idea what and where. Didn't know where to even start. His phone beeped again as one more alarm message arrived. Why would Benji send it twice? It finally rang, and Ethan could have sworn it was the fastest he had ever answered it.
"Everything is fine," Luther sounded relieved now. "Just a glitch on Benji's phone so it keeps sending alarm messages. He should notice it soon. Enjoy the rest of your holiday".
Another beep was the last one. Ethan barely had the strength to text Jane and Brandt and tell them not to worry before going back to sleep.
The team leader ran a hand through his hair. Now, thinking about it, that explanation had been ridiculous to begin with. Benji, being the tech wiz he was, would have easily seen the glitch and fixed it within minutes. He should have checked it. He should have given it more thought… But he had been just so tired after a day in the mountains…
He knew that right now, Jane and Brandt were on their way to the HQ as well, having received the calls from Luther. He knew that they were having essentially the same thoughts as him. What he didn't know was what awaited the three of them there.
Benji had been missing for all this time. The friend in New Zealand had said that the Englishman had only spent a few days there before leaving without much of an explanation. The team's attempts to look for him had all proven fruitless. It looked like he had just vanished into thin air.
Now all they could hope for was not being too late…
The greetings were short and lacked any emotions. The three agents merely nodded at each other and Luther before Ethan repeated his question.
"Have you found him?"
The older agent replied with another nod, letting out a sigh and looking down.
"Where is he?" Jane's voice was shaking slightly as she spoke but the look in her eyes was stern and determined.
"Is he… alive?" Brandt asked as there was no immediate reply. He could already feel something gripping his throat painfully.
"Yeah…" Stickel finally spoke up. "He's alive. The IMF has been keeping an eye on him for the past five days".
"Five days?" Ethan's head snapped up, his eyes lighting up in the way the others knew so well. "And you're only telling us now?"
"I've only found out about it today myself," Luther fired back defensively.
"Where is he? Is he alright?" the situation was making Brandt feel increasingly uncomfortable.
"Look," Luther raised his hands up, trying to draw his friends' attention. "He's here, not far… in our hospital wing. We'll go there, but just let me tell you all I know about it first. Four days into his vacation, Benji was called out for a mission. It was a one-man op, and nobody was supposed to know about it. But… but something went wrong at one point and we received several distress calls about three weeks ago…"
"Oh, so there was no glitch," Ethan felt both angry and disgusted. He was trying really hard not to picture Benji repeatedly sending all those calls for help, only for them to be ignored.
"I'm telling you, Ethan, I had no idea about this," Luther snapped dryly.
"Sending help would have ruined everything," he went on. "The mission was completed but Benji got lost. The IMF couldn't locate him, and were going to disavow him if he hadn't been found. Ten days ago some couple found him in an abandoned lodge in a forest…"
"Just found him?" Brandt was trying to process the meaning behind those words.
"From what I know, they thought they had found a dead body," Luther couldn't bring himself to look at the trio. "He was lying in a pool of blood and wasn't showing any signs of life, and they were too scared to get closer and check his pulse".
Jane could feel her eyes well up, her view getting worse. She gritted her teeth as she felt physically sick at the image her mind was picturing for her. Her hands formed into fists as she took a deep breath and looked up at her friends, only to see the same feelings displayed in their faces on varying levels.
"Obviously, the police got involved," Luther went on after taking in a shaky breath. "So that had to be dealt with".
"How inconvenient," Ethan snarled bitterly. "So I get it he's been here for five days. Why tell us now?"
"They were waiting for him to wake up," the melancholy made Luther's voice emotionless.
"So he had been unconscious… all this time?" Brandt was stuttering a bit without acknowledging it.
"How is he now?" the team leader asked. Luther shook his head.
"He's awake but… he's not quite… there, if you know what I mean," he replied. "Whoever had him did a hell of a job. He had been tortured, and it's still a mystery to the doctors how he lived".
"You mean he's in shock?" Jane had been quiet for the entire conversation, not letting her emotions get a hold of her. Now she was trying her best to ignore Luther's last sentence.
"I think yes," Stickel replied. "Maybe you guys can snap him out of it…"
He motioned for the agents to follow him. During their walk nobody said a word, until they stopped near a closed door.
"Before we walk in…" Luther whispered, looking a bit agitated. "Just warning you… this might shock you. I have only seen him for a few minutes and it was hard to me".
He watched his friends nod a bit hesitantly and opened the door.
What they saw truly shook them. Benji was barely recognisable, so pale that his face was almost the same colour as the pillow, the dark circles under his eyes emphasising the paleness. Half of his face was hidden by an oxygen mask, a healing cut on his lip still visible under it, and as was his broken nose.
But the worst thing was his gaze. Just as they entered, he threw a quick look at them before redirecting his stare back to where it had previously been aimed – the wall in front of him.
"Benji," Jane called out faintly, grasping his hand carefully, trying not to upset the equipment he was hooked up to. He didn't react to any of her actions. Brandt just stared wordlessly.
"What happened to him?" Ethan asked the doctor, a woman in her fifties, who had walked up to them.
"It seems like he has been beaten with a heavy blunt object, after which he sustained several stab wounds and three gunshot wounds to the leg, shoulder and chest. He has five broken ribs. His elbow was dislocated. One of the bullets has damaged his knee as well as some muscle tissues and nerves, and its full capacity will never be restored".
"You mean he won't be… able… to… walk?" Brandt felt sicker than before.
"No, he might be able to walk but not quite at his best," the doctor made a pause, letting the words sink in. "But that is the least of our concerns at the moment. He is missing a kidney and his spleen. They also had to remove part of his lung which had been damaged by another bullet".
That was too much information to take in at once. For a few seconds nobody could utter a word.
"In addition to that, he suffered a major concussion. We can't quite tell whether his lack of reaction to his surroundings comes from that or something else".
"So he'll be no fit for field work," Luther mumbled absentmindedly.
"Field work?" the doctor repeated incredulously. "We don't know if he'll be fit to function at all, let alone work in field".
"Benji," Jane kept squeezing her friend's hand, hoping for any sort of response but he never even flinched. "It's me, it's Jane. And Ethan and Brandt are here, too," she could feel tears finally escaping her eyes but didn't bother to wipe them. "Come on, Benji, look at me…"
Brandt just stood and stared. He had no idea what to say and how to feel. He felt a lot of things, actually. So many that he couldn't identify all of them. His thoughts were all creating some white noise in his head, not letting him say anything. He felt like if he started to talk, it would be a random combination of unrelated words. He turned his eyes to Ethan who was standing stone faced, not looking at Benji and simply staring in front of him instead.
The dead silence was broken as the door opened, letting in another man. The IMF secretary himself stood in the doorway, his face lacking any expression.
"Why exactly weren't we allowed to respond to his distress calls?" the team leader glared at the man heavily, his voice shaking a bit. The others were left to decide whether it was the anger or sadness that was causing it.
"Nobody banned you from trying to research those calls," the secretary fired back. "Why didn't you try to locate them if it seemed so suspicious to you? We couldn't send anyone for the sake of the mission but theoretically you could have gone and helped".
Ethan's hands formed into fists. He knew it was true. He had had to do something… but had done nothing. He decided against saying anything, breathing heavily and still glaring at the Secretary.
"And after the mission was completed…" Brandt started in low voice.
"We lost agent Dunn," the Secretary look down. "We thought he had died…"
"Oh, that would have been convenient," Brandt smirked bitterly. "But he didn't, and you had to bring him here to keep an eye on him in case he woke up. So that he wouldn't get the IMF in trouble. You could have just killed him and not bother!"
"Yes, we could," the Secretary ignored the sarcasm in the former analyst's tone and looked at him with full seriousness. The reply made Jane tighten her grip on Benji's hand, which still didn't get her any response. "But we decided against it".
"In case you might need his services again?" Ethan asked, his voice quiet, calm and steady.
"Look," the Secretary sighed, taking a few steps forward, "I understand you are quite emotional now. I know you are friends. But this is his job. And yours, too. You know the risks, and so did agent Dunn. You all signed up for this the moment you qualified for field work. Don't make me lecture you about our rules and your duties".
It took Ethan a lot of willpower to just nod. Not a single word was spoken before the Secretary mirrored the gesture and left the room.
Time went by, as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. The team kept coming to the same room and seeing the same picture. The only changes were that at some point the oxygen mask was removed, and the physical injuries disappeared, some of them turning into scars. But he still wouldn't look at them, wouldn't talk, wouldn't react in any way.
After a while the visits got rarer and rarer before stopping completely. Ethan still would come there alone and sit by Benji's bed without saying anything. He couldn't tell himself what kept bringing him back here, the need to see his friend or just the calm and quiet of the place – something he could barely get in the outside world. Even in the safety of his own apartment, he never felt so alone. He would just sit there, deep in his thoughts, sometimes for hours, before leaving without uttering a word.
But soon even that stopped. Benji became a faint memory of the past, a ghost from ages ago. There were new missions, new things to do, the world kept moving on, and so did the team. Life went on.
It was a year after the visits had stopped. Jane was walking down a street to meet up with the boys in their bar. She was in a hurry, knowing that she would have to pay for drinks if she was late but suddenly something made her freeze. For a second, she could have sworn that she saw a familiar face across the narrow street. A painfully familiar face. Her heartbeat peaked as she jogged towards the road to get a closer look at the man, but had to stop as a bus passed by, blocking her view of him. As soon as the vehicle had left, however, there was nobody there. The vision of the blond man she used to know so well was gone, and no matter how hard she tried to look, turning her head around, she couldn't see a trace of him.
It took her about thirty seconds to recover and another five minutes to get to the bar. She felt so distant that she didn't notice anything wrong with her teammates' expressions as she walked in.
"So weird…" she muttered, sitting down next to Andy, the team's new technician. "I thought I saw…"
"Benji's dead," Ethan interrupted her quite harshly. "Died three days ago. Luther called me a few minutes ago, said he had only found out then. The doctors said he had lost a bit too many organs to be completely safe and healthy so…" he gritted his teeth and sighed.
Jane's eyes widened and she just stared. She could have sworn she had seen him just a few minutes before, but she knew how it happened. She still sometimes saw Hanaway's face in the crowd despite knowing all too well it was impossible.
"At least he's not suffering anymore," Brandt mumbled, knowing how banal and standard the phrase was and yet how much it fitted. Benji's existence in the past two years could have hardly been called a life anyway.
The rest of the evening was spent in silence. Andy left quite soon, feeling that at the moment he didn't quite belong, deciding to leave the three agents alone with their collective thoughts. None of them spoke, none of them considered it necessary to share their thoughts. They knew they all had the same thoughts in their minds. Same doubts, same feelings. They knew they would move on later, but now they just sat there, in some frozen point in time and in some alien space. Something in them seemed like it was broken but the pain wasn't burning hot as one would expect but already dull and faint. It was in the past. It had already been in the past when they had found out. And in front of them there was future. And there would always be people around, as some old friends were being replaced by new ones, and the missions wouldn't give them the time to ponder on just how weird it actually was. Life continued.