A/N: So...this was actually the second story I had ever started working on in this fandom, but then the whole crocodile thing happened and it got usurped, lol. Finally got back to it yesterday thanks to The Beta Branch gang giving me some not-so-subtle shoves in this direction (you guys rock!), so I figured I should start getting it up here. Enjoy!
Ethan and Brandt stared at each other from across a table, the team leader looking up at the determined gaze of his agent who was leaning down on the wood, knuckles turning white as they supported his weight.
"You don't make the calls, Brandt," Hunt calmly reminded him.
"What, and you do?" Brandt pushed back away from the table, crossing his arms over his chest. "You just decide everything we do from here on out? Take whatever mission you feel like without even talking to us?"
Benji, who sat on a small couch across the room beside Carter, cleared his throat and nervously scratched his head with one hand. "Actually, he…he sort of…well, he did."
Carter kicked him in the foot. "Stay out of it, Benji," she mumbled out one side of her mouth, but the damage had already been done. Brandt looked at them for a second, then huffed out a disbelieving laugh as he nodded his head, turning back to face Hunt.
"Right, of course he did. Majority rules? They say yes, so that means I automatically have to?" He punched his fist down onto the wood in anger. "We're supposed to be a team, Ethan. That means we all accept the mission, and I don't. I won't."
"I don't really see what the big deal is," Benji offered, trying to dissolve some of the tension in the room. "I mean it's just a…just a kid, right? We stick to the shadows, babysit for a few days, keep the ransom hounds at bay, maybe have a daiquiri or two once the mission is over, and come home. It should be easy."
"There," Brandt declared, clapping his hands together and pointing at Benji, still keeping his focus on Ethan. "Right there," he repeated, pointing again for emphasis. "That's why we can't take this mission."
Benji looked genuinely confused. "What did I say?"
Brandt stared at him for a second before repeating the word in a slow, clear fashion. "'Easy.'" He sucked in a breath, cocking his head to the side as he continued. "You know what happened the last time my guys said a job should be easy?" He turned back to glare pointedly at Hunt. "A man's wife got taken from him."
The words acted like a flash bomb exploding in the room, freezing everything in place for several seconds, including the air in everyone's lungs. Time started again as Benji brought a hand up to cover his mouth, and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Carter dropped her gaze to the floor as she twined her fingers together in her lap, and Ethan closed his eyes, letting out his breath in a long sigh.
"That's why I need you on this one, Brandt," Hunt said quietly. "You'll act as the critical eye, see things that maybe we miss, act on something we wouldn't think to. It's because you've been through this before that makes you the best man for the job. You won't make the same mista-"
The files that were lying open on one end of the table went flying across the room with one sweep of Brandt's arms. "You're right, I won't make the same mistake again. I'm out, Ethan. I don't accept the mission." He stormed towards the door and jerked it open.
"Brandt," Hunt called out to him.
Stopping in the doorway, the analyst turned his head slightly to speak over his shoulder without directly looking at his team leader. "You said it was never my job to protect Julia, that it was yours," he reminded Ethan. "By that logic, it should be the job of that little girl's father to protect her, not ours."
"Hiring us is the best way he knows how to do that," Hunt countered.
"Yeah." Brandt bowed his head and laughed cynically. "Just like the IMF thought the best way to protect you was to put me on the job."
Ethan raised his voice in growing irritation. "It's different, Brandt, and you know it. He's a politician. He's not trained to pull protection detail."
Brandt twisted around enough to lock eyes with his team leader. "Neither are we, Ethan, I already proved that. Standing around just waiting for something to happen? That's not what we do. We're not bodyguards. Tell the IMF to find someone else."
"And if they fail? Would it be okay then to call us in? Is that how it should work?"
"Yes!" Brandt said, exasperated. "Extraction. That is something we're good at."
A little shocked by the affirmative answer to his sarcastic questions, Hunt paused for a second and furled his brow. "And what if it's too late by then? What if there's nothing left to extract?"
Brandt dropped his head and turned his body back to the door. "Then at least we won't be the ones who have to live knowing that our mistake put her in the wrong hands to begin with." With that, he slipped out the door and shut it behind him.
"Brandt!" Ethan hollered. He got up and flung the door open. "William!" Watching his agent turn the corner without so much as looking back, he sighed and returned to the room.
"Well that went well," Benji mumbled.
Carter watched as Ethan slowly made his way to the scattered pile of papers on the ground and stooped down to pick up a photo of the girl. "So what do we do?" she asked.
"We go in without him," he replied, turning to shoot a hard gaze at both of them. "And no one treats this as an easy mission. Is that understood? That's how people get killed."
Carter and Benji nodded slowly, knowing only too well the consequences of making light of a mission. They all had their weight in guilt to bear, and adding more to that was not something any of them relished. That in mind, they couldn't fault Brandt for wanting to avoid that kind of pain again, not when it seemed he was just starting to be able to breathe again after the last incident. No, they would do it without him, and they would do it successfully.
Brandt shot up in bed, gasping out a startled breath. Sweat ran down his forehead and dripped into his eyes until he wiped it away with a shaking hand.
"Shit," he whispered, doing his best to calm himself down. After taking several slow, deep breaths, he stood up and wandered out into the kitchen of his small, simple apartment. Getting himself some water, he only took a few tiny sips before setting down the glass and leaning his hands against the counter, his head hanging low between his arms.
"Shit!" he shouted again, and knocked the glass through the air. It shattered against the wall, leaving a wet stain on the paper where the water exploded out in a wide radius. Brandt ignored it as he rushed back into his bedroom and ripped a shirt off its closet hanger.
"Athena is in position," Benji said from inside his tactical vehicle - a silver school bus with dark tinted windows. Looking over the camera feeds on his computer, he first saw Carter. She was the spitting image of the hot, new substitute teacher making her way around the campus in her free time between classes. Hunt, by contrast, was sitting at the coffee shop across the street from the fancy private school looking for all the world like a businessman working away on his laptop. Seeing the rest of the parking lot virtually empty of all cars aside from a few staff vehicles, the tech scrunched up his face as he spoke. "I think I got here too early. Do you think we got here too early? I looked like an idiot pulling through the gate. 'Oh, excuse me, I didn't mean to be a half hour early. I'm just so excited to be driving around a busload of spoiled pre-teens.'"
"Relax, Hermes," Ethan said under his breath, hiding a slight smile. "The rest of the convoy should be here soon. They didn't suspect a thing."
Benji sighed and changed the subject. "Why do I always get stuck with the ridiculous code names? I couldn't have been Apollo, or…or maybe Ares? God of war? That would've been better."
Carter jumped into the conversation while she walked with an open book in her hand as if she were studying it. "Hermes was the messenger of the gods. It makes more sense."
"It doesn't need to make sense. It's just a code name. With only three of us-" He cut himself off as a line of buses that matched his appeared on the video feed, having just pulled around a street corner where he had tapped into a traffic camera. "Zeus, convoy is approaching from the South. We've got…six buses."
Ethan sat up a little straighter in his seat and swiveled his chair just enough to see the South end of the street from his peripheral vision. "Copy that. That's six potential threats. Keep your eyes out for the assignment, and Carter, make sure you tag that bus."
"On it," she answered, scanning the groups of children that were beginning to filter out of the building. "Anyone see her?" she asked as the kids boarded.
"Negative," Benji replied as his eyes flicked from one video feed to the next. "I think I can see some of her friends…she should be with them, right?"
"Where the hell is she?" Ethan asked, standing up to get a better look. "Does anybody see the assignment?"
He had just begun to race across the street when another voice broke through the comm. "Olympus, you've been compromised. I repeat, you've been compromised. Communication is not secure. This is Prometheus. I've stolen the fire."
"Is that-?" Benji started to ask.
"What's your status, Prometheus?" Hunt interrupted.
"Oh, the usual," Brandt replied, breathing heavily as he ran. "Keeping myself out of the stars. Gods don't exactly immortalize screw-ups."
Ethan and Carter convened at their bus as Hunt asked, "Can you make it to the Trojan Horse?"
"Negative, Zeus, too far. Campus is too big. Might as well be on the other side of the galaxy."
Snapping his fingers at Benji, Ethan urged him to get the bus moving before turning his attention back to his earpiece. "The girl?"
"Scared. Upset. Doesn't know what's going on. We pretty much just threw her world into a big, black hole, here."
"Stop!" an accented voice carried over Brandt's comm. Ethan recognized it right away as South African, and furled his brow as he mentally filtered through potential candidates for who the threat may be.
"Don't stop," he ordered, "they won't shoot while you're holding the girl. They need her alive. We should be able to rendezvous in a minute." Only silence met him. "Prometheus, do you copy?"
The accented voice returned, much clearer, much closer to Brandt's mic. "We all copy, Zeus. Where is the girl?"
Alarmed looks passed between the three members of the IMF team. Ethan stabbed a finger towards the windshield as a sign for Benji to go faster. "I don't know," he answered. "I was under the impression my agent had her."
"What he is carrying is a doll - a very impressive one, I might add, but a doll just the same. Somehow I do not think it will get the Senator's attention, don't you agree? Now tell me where the girl is, and perhaps you get your agent back in one piece."
They could hear Brandt laugh for a second, but then the noise was cut off by a grunt. When he spoke, there was a touch of smug amusement in his tone despite the fact that he was obviously speaking through gritted teeth. "Oh, come on, you heard everything. They don't know where she is, and you know it."
The sound of something heavy being slammed against metal – most likely lockers – carried through. "Tell me where she is or I kill you now."
"Kill me now and you'll never find her," Brandt shot back.
Benji hit the brakes hard as he drove right up onto the grounds at the backside of the campus. Ethan and Carter had jumped out before the bus had even come to a complete stop, and were already racing towards the two buildings closest to them. Carefully, but as quickly as possible, Hunt made his way down an empty hallway, gun at the ready. A sharp gasp echoed in his ear, and then the failed kidnapper was speaking too clearly into the mic for the device to still be on his agent.
"You find the girl, and you call me on this line in one hour. Until then, consider me the eagle to your Prometheus."
"Nononononono!" Ethan shouted into his mic, but the link went dead. "Benji, get that comm. back on the line!"
"I-I-I can't. I can't trace it; I can't tap into it. It's almost is if Brandt…" He clamped his mouth shut.
Carter lowered her gun as she stood at the end of the last hall in her building and closed her eyes. "He's buying us time."
Ethan balled his fist up and nearly punched it into one the lockers, but he stopped himself at the last second, settling for merely hitting it with the heel of his palm. He leaned his head against his hand for a few seconds before speaking. "Then lets not waste it," he said as he pushed himself back up. He pulled his own mic out of his ear and shoved it in his pocket, whispering out a curse as he made his way back to his remaining teammates.
"Benji, I want a playback on everything Brandt said," Ethan ordered as he jumped into the bus.
The tech nodded and had the conversation sounding through the speakers within seconds. Jane, Ethan, and Benji listened intently, looking for the clues they knew Brandt must have been dropping for them.
"Space references," Ethan pointed out. "Stars, galaxy, black hole-"
Benji snapped his fingers. "There's a small planetarium on campus. Do you think he-"
"Jane, go take a look. Don't take a direct route; weave around campus and watch your back. These guys are probably waiting for us to lead them right to the mark. Benji, take the bus back around to the front of the building - park it near the west side. I'll meet you there, and be ready to move. I'll be coming out hot."
"Why? What are you doing?"
"Pulling the same prank twice." He smirked at the tech. "How good are you at taking corners with this thing?"
Benji's face dropped. "We're the decoy, aren't we?" At Ethan's smile, he sighed and got ready to drive. "It can't be that much different than the van, right?"
"Atta boy," Hunt said, and nodded to Jane. "Let's go."
Jane and Ethan split up and carefully began winding their way through the buildings, doing their best to look as though they belonged on campus should a member of the faculty pass by, and keeping a close watch on anyone who might be paying a little too much attention to them. The field trip taking place on a Saturday where most of the kids weren't supposed to be on school grounds was a blessing and a curse – the curse making it easier for the kidnappers to get to her; the blessing revealing itself in the ease in which Ethan and Jane could traverse the halls without too much worry of being detected, and the simple fact that Benji had been able to drive a bus right up onto the grounds without anybody even noticing. It seemed there were only some lingering staff in the office portions of the building, as well as a classroom reserved for Saturday detention in one of the front hallways. It was this room that Ethan slowly made his way towards, after he went in search of the item that would aide him in his plan.
Everything in place, Ethan switched the game up a little. He had seen the guy that was supposed to be trailing him, losing him easily enough in the maze of hallways and buildings without letting on that the team was aware of the tail. Now Hunt would have to go find that guy, and pretend to still be mouse when, in fact, he was now the cat. It didn't take long, as Ethan had left a false trail of breadcrumbs for the idiot to follow via directions whispered to his team over a purposely insecure line.
"Guys, I got her," he spoke quietly into the comm, and watched from around a corner as the guy snapped his head up at the announcement.
"Location?" Jane asked, playing along.
"Detention hall, west side. I'm going in."
He stuck around for just long enough to see the guy repeat the news to whoever else was after the girl, then sped off to beat them to the punch. When he was close, he pulled the nearest fire alarm, managing to get back to the room just as the door swung open and kids started filing out. Noting two men – one of them his prior tail – converging on him from the east end of the hall, he bent down and scooped up the other part of his plan.
"Hermes, I'm on the move. Package has been obtained."
"Ready and waiting, Zeus," Benji replied.
The two men saw the girl in Ethan's arms and took off after him. As he ran, he caught a third moving to intercept him from an adjoining hall.
"Three on my tail!" he warned. "Athena, status?"
"All clear," she responded as she pushed the door open to the planetarium. "Get her to transport. I'll meet up with you at the rendezvous."
Hunt silently thanked his teammates for so easily picking up on his ruse without him having to explain much of anything, and as he hurtled out the door towards the bus that Benji had already started moving forward in a slow roll, a grateful smile lit up his face. He leaped up into the open door, cradling Brandt's doll to his chest like a real girl, and gripped hold of one of the seats as the tech floored it. A black SUV careened around a corner to pick up the three assailants, which Benji allowed to catch up just a little before gunning the bus through the school's exit out into traffic.
"Where'd you find the doll?" he shouted over his shoulder as he weaved through the streets, making sure to keep the SUV just close enough not to lose them.
"Exactly where Brandt told us – 'the other side of the galaxy.'" His knuckles turned white as he squeezed the chair even harder. "The opposite end of campus from the planetarium, not the front doors. He told us what we needed to know, we just didn't figure out the code in time."
A sharp turn tilted the bus up slightly on two wheels, nearly throwing Ethan off his feet. "Sorry!" Benji shouted. A glance in the mirror revealed the SUV rounding the turn several cars behind them, as well as a very flustered-looking Ethan. "We'll get him back," the tech assured his leader.
"We'll get him back," Hunt repeated coldly, something flaring in his eyes that made Benji believe wholeheartedly that Ethan would most definitely succeed, and god help anyone that got in his way.