A/N: Sorry my updates on everything are taking so long! RL is so getting in the way right now! Sometimes I write things then don't get a chance to do a final edit on them, so they sit on my computer for a while (this being one of those things). I'm taking an editing day to get all such updates posted on various stories, so I apologize in advance to anyone who has me on author alert. There'll be like four or five posts today in various fandoms.
I also apologize to everyone who has been so kind to review that I didn't get back to. I try to answer each review with a personal thank you, but again, sooo busy! I hope thanking you all here will suffice. I lurve you guys!
And last but not least, The Beta Branch forum is getting new people all the time. Our little community is growing! Thanks, guys, for all the help and advice on everything, and trying to push me to get some writing done around my insanity. Anyone who wants to join, the link is posted in my profile page.
Jane watched Brandt work, a little in awe at how easily he was able to carry on a conversation with these men under the guise of a big business owner. She had gotten lost as soon as they'd moved beyond the little issue with the desk, the words and numbers being thrown around being completely meaningless to her. Brandt never missed a beat. He argued, he listened quietly before agreeing to things, he pointed out flaws in some nonsensical business plan, laughed at jokes that Carter hadn't even realized were supposed to be jokes, and generally seemed to be right at home in the company of Carmichael's grunts. It almost made her wonder why he hadn't just become some successful entrepreneur, living the life of luxury at the top of some highrise somewhere, instead of getting nearly eaten by crocodiles in Panama.
Of course, Benji could probably still be working at a safe little desk, hacking into things for the government as the tech genius that he was. Ethan had any number of skills he could utilize for careers that would be far less dangerous than being a pawn for IMF, as did she, but they just couldn't stay away. Even when Brandt had "quit" after the mission in Croatia, he still hadn't left the agency. IMF just ran in their blood, plain and simple. Once you were in, you never really got out.
Unless you were permanently disavowed. Or dead.
"What, you think I'm just going to walk away and let your people draft up the designs for these things without any supervision?" Brandt said in an exasperated tone, bringing her wandering mind back down to Earth. "You can't even build a proper desk. How the hell are you going to figure out how to make the seat so a person who can't feel their legs can still climb up into it?"
Phelps stuttered for a second. "Mr. Rizner, I assure you that Mr. Carmichael would be willing to supervise this project personally. He understands-"
"I don't think he does," Brandt interrupted, putting some anger into his tone. "Is he stuck in a chair?"
"Well, he has some personal experien-"
"Is he stuck in a chair?"
Brandt glared at Phelps until the man cleared his throat. "No, Mr. Rizner, he is not."
"Then he can't possibly understand. That seems to settle it, then. I'll be serving as the head consultant on all the designs, myself. If that's unacceptable, then I'm afraid we can't make a deal."
Voices were suddenly in Jane's comm and she was now glad that Brandt had very subtly turned his off so Ethan and Benji wouldn't distract him. They were definitely being distracting now.
"What's he doing?" Benji asked.
"He's offering to do this long term," Ethan snapped, less to answer Benji's question and more as simply voicing the realization in disbelief. "Why is he making this offer long term?"
Benji continued to rattle on. "A few meetings. It was only supposed to be a few meetings. Enough to get in and plant a few bugs here and there. He can't have these people actually building handi-friendly sporting vehicles! He doesn't have a real company!"
"He's going to get caught," Hunt stated in irritation. "Nina, do something before this gets out of control. He's going to get caught."
She ignored them. It was too late to do anything about it now. Phelps was answering.
"…Very well, Mr. Rizner. We'll start drafting tomorrow if you'd like to offer your input. I'll set you up with Mr. Thomison in the design department. Does two o'clock sound reasonable?"
"Yes, thank you." Brandt shook his hand. "I look forward to doing business with your company."
"As do we. I'm sure Mr. Carmichael will be very pleased to know that you're willing to work with us."
Brandt smiled. "And I'd very much like to thank him in person some time for making the offer."
"WHAT?" Benji and Ethan both shouted, making Jane flinch.
"I'll see what I can arrange," Phelps answered before offering to see them out.
Jane took that as her cue and stood to grip the handles of Brandt's chair, turning him towards the door. He and Phelps shook hands once more before they were home free.
"Piggy and Spiral are a little upset with you, just so you know," Jane warned as the doors closed on the elevator.
Brandt didn't answer.
She looked down to see him curling slightly to the left, his right arm wrapped around his midsection, and his left hand gripping the arm of the chair tightly. He had his eyes shut and was focusing on taking small, even breaths.
"Shit," she hissed, looking up at the numbers ticking down to the first floor. "Trent, I know you're hurting, but we still have to get passed the girl at the desk, remember?"
"I know," Brandt forced out between clenched teeth. "I'll get it together. Just tell me…when we hit the bottom."
"Spiral, now is not the time," she snapped. "Trent, we're passing the third floor."
Brandt sucked in a shuddering breath and forced himself to sit up straight. "Okay…okay…I got this."
The doors opened and Jane casually rolled her false employer to the lobby. Both she and Brandt smiled at the receptionist, who offered them a slightly nervous smile in return.
"You'll be getting a new desk soon," Brandt said, throwing her a little wink. "Hope you weren't too attached to that one."
"No, sir," she answered, seeming a little more at ease as they began to pass through the doors.
Jane pushed the chair a little faster towards the van, not caring anymore if it looked suspicious.
"Piggy, open the door," she ordered as she was getting close.
Benji and Ethan were outside the van in seconds, both taking in Brandt's hunched over form in the chair. As soon as he was brought close enough they hurried over to help, getting him into the back and laying out on the bench as quickly and carefully as possible.
"Two o'clock," he grunted as Ethan pulled out the pain meds. "Needs to be….out of my system…by two."
"I know, I heard," Hunt replied, dumping the full dose into his palm. "That's almost twenty-four hours from now. You'll be fine."
Brandt nodded, taking the offered medication without argument.
"And for the record," Ethan continued in a scolding tone, "this is the worst idea you've ever had."
"Worst?" Brandt laughed lightly and winced at the motion. "Thought you were gonna…say 'stupid.'"
"Yeah, well, that too."
Benji leaned forward into Will's line of sight. "I second that."
Brandt nodded and closed his eyes, a small smile on his face.
"One more thing," Ethan said softly, waiting for his agent to look at him again before he continued. "You sounded really good in there."
"I know," the analyst answered before turning his head towards the back of the bench, done with the conversation as he waited for the drugs to kick in.
"Cocky little prick, isn't he?" Benji said fondly.
Brandt raised a hand and flipped him off.
Brandt had stayed asleep for the duration of the ride back to the room, kept right on sleeping as they carefully lifted him back into his chair, and even through the process of them getting him settled in bed.
After leaving the bedroom, Benji pulled the door nearly closed behind him, keeping it open just a crack in case the analyst woke and needed something.
"You didn't O.D. him, did you?" he asked, his tone coming out only partially joking.
Ethan shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. "It's too much strain. I shouldn't have let him do this. We can't let him go back tomorrow."
Beside him, Jane let out a slow sigh. "We have to, Ethan."
Both Benji and Ethan turned to her in surprise. Jane was usually the last person on board the "let's do something heroic that'll probably get us killed" crazy train...well, when it came to the guys, anyway. When it came to herself, she was pretty much on par with the rest of them.
"What?" Benji spat out.
She tilted her head towards the living area and lead the way to the couch, not wanting to have the conversation right outside the bedroom door.
"You should've seen him in there," she explained. "This is going to sound cliché, but he was practically glowing while he was talking circles around those guys. We can't pull him out, now. It'll crush him."
"Jane," Ethan started. "Look at him. His body can't take this yet. It's too soon. I know he wants to feel useful but he's being reckless. I'm not going to let him hurt himself."
"I'll watch him," she argued. "I'll be right there the whole time. If it looks like it's too much, I'll pull him out. Just let him try. Please."
Benji looked back and forth between the two, and seeing the conviction in Jane's eyes, he decided to switch sides. "What the hell, let's give him one more go, huh? We can always crush him tomorrow if it doesn't pan out."
Ethan cocked an eyebrow at the Brit. "Traitor," he mumbled, but he could tell that between the two and whatever Brandt would dish out upon waking up, he'd already lost the argument. When it was everyone against everyone, it was anybody's guess who'd wind up on top. If it were the three of them against him, he didn't stand a chance.
"Fine, one more day," he huffed, much to Jane and Benji's delight. "Jane, when he's in there with that Thomison guy, see if you can slip out and plant some bugs somewhere useful. The sooner we can pull him out of there, the better."
"Right," she nodded.
With a grin, Benji sat back in his chair. "Well, now that that's settled, I'm famished. Who wants to spring for pizza?"
Jane groaned. "We just had pizza."
"I like pizza."
And just like that, a completely new argument began over something utterly trivial. Ethan was about to jump in with his two cents when his phone buzzed in his pocket. Shaking his head, he moved into the other bedroom so he could hear over the squabbling siblings.
"Agent Hunt," he answered.
The smile that had been on his face at the start of the call quickly fell as he listened to the Secretary speak, not liking what he was hearing. The conversation between them was short, professional, but a little clipped on Hunt's end. This wasn't the way things were supposed to play out.
"…but thank you for telling me, sir," he said, his voice somber as he ended the call. He opened the door and called out to his teammates. "Guys, get in here."
They quit arguing and immediately did as requested.
"What's wrong?" Benji asked as they stepped into the room.
"Shut the door." Hunt continued once there was another barrier between them and Brandt, even though he knew the analyst was still sleeping. "That was the Secretary. Cary's team…missed the last two check-ins."
Benji and Jane exchanged a glance. "So what does that mean?" Jane asked.
"I don't know. The Secretary wanted to send us back in to see if we could find out what happened."
"But what about-" Benji started to ask.
Ethan held up a hand to stop him. "I told him no, to send somebody else. Maybe Nielson's team. We're finishing the mission here, with Brandt. I just thought you guys should know."
The other two nodded and began to leave, the argument over food no longer seeming important. Ethan stopped them one more time.
"Don't let him hear about this," he told them.
They nodded. It was the last thing they'd want Brandt to have carry around on his plate. It was full enough as it was.