Ignis| Character: Brandt| Supporting Cast: Benji, Ethan| A wall of impenetrable fire looms before them. Suddenly, Ethan's lunging forward, pulling the semi-conscious Brandt into the flames. If Brandt ever needed confirmation that Ethan was certifiably insane, he could have used this moment. | PG | Whumpage and H/C | A/N: Takes place shortly before Friends Like These, but after my WIP where Brandt really starts to hate Korea. I seem to be writing these in reverse order, because this happens after the fic that gives Brandt the original nightmares. No need to read FLT beforehand, though. Once again, supreme thanks and internet kudos go to the folks at the Beta Branch for being fantastic and making this worth reading!

Everything is dark.

Brandt wonders if this is what it feels like to be in a furnace. He can't smell a thing besides the smoke clogging his lungs – it's a scent that he'll never escape the memory of… if he survives.

The entire world is a confusing labyrinth set out in a straight line. He knows the door was just ahead, he could still remember Ethan's voice yelling in his ear to get out, goddamn it, leave the target and get out.

He remembers struggling to his feet, trying to comply with Ethan's orders because he can't really imagine anything worse than burning alive.

He has a feeling that he won't burn alive though, that the smoke will get him first.

It doesn't really matter.

Dead is dead.

He really despises Korea.

His shambling run falters and he drops unwillingly to the ground. He finds a pocket of fresh air there, and it is with more than a little relief that he gulps it in.

Remaining crouched to the ground, he continues to crawl in what he hopes is the right direction.

The fire is making a dull roaring sound – not the crackle and pop of a small log fire, but the sound of all the oxygen in the area being greedily consumed just like almost everyone in the hellish building must have been.

He tries to avoid coughing because he knows that if he starts he won't be able to stop.

It doesn't work, not really, and the horrible cough begins.

By the time the fit passes, Brandt's struggling to remember what breathing properly is.

A sharp crack similar to that of a gunshot causes him to startle, and a window explodes somewhere.

A window.

Air.

The thought motivates Brandt, because he knows that the shattered window can't be far if he heard it over the din.

He doesn't really know what caused the fire to spread so far, so fast, but he doesn't really care.

Survival is the only thing left on his mind.

Well, survival and the sheer hatred he held toward missions that took place in Korea.

The firestorm around him bewilders him, and he runs into the same metal screen –one probably from a ventilation shaft, the rational part of his mind supplies – that he ran into just a few seconds ago.

The realization that he's going in circles hits him and he barely manages to keep moving. The haze around him doesn't seem to be as thick as before, so he refuses to stop.

Brandt continues press the jacket he ripped off over his mouth, but it's not doing much good.

He can't tell if his lightheadedness is from the lack of oxygen, shock, or both.

It's not like he'd been burned alive before. How is he supposed to tell the difference?

Loss of coherent thought, not a good sign, the only rational part of his mind supplied helpfully.

He reaches out and contacts the wall, wasting precious oxygen as he hisses in pain. The wall is scorching to touch despite the fact that the fire has been raging for only a few minutes. The smoke's thicker again, which is unfortunately a double-edged sword. The fire had started out near the entrance, so it is likely he's heading toward the entrance.

Of course, he might be heading into an entirely different area and burn to death while he's at it, but at this point he doesn't have that much opportunity left to him.

The agent chokes on the air around him again and it takes him a few moments to remember how to keep his body moving forward.

A crack, and Brandt doesn't bother trying to dodge the beam that's falling towards him.

It barely scores a glancing blow on his shoulder but he scarcely notices the pain. He recognizes the snatches of paint he's seeing, and knows he's almost out.

"Will! Will!"he hears his name being called.

He can't find the breath to reply, and instead breaks down into that awful hacking cough again. Ethan appears at his side in a second – is the GPS chip actually working in this hellstorm– and helps Brandt to his feet.

Dumbass. He doesn't even have any protective clothing on.

It doesn't seem to bother Ethan all that much because he's dragging Brandt harshly in what seems to be the direction of the exit. Brandt mindlessly obeys, his entire concentration has been taken up by the effort needed to keep his feet moving in a relatively straight line.

"I got him," Ethan's voice startles Brandt and the newer agents notices that Ethan's trying to get the comms unit online again.

"Won't be able to hear you," Brandt croaks out, light-headedly gesturing to the roar around them. Ethan casts Brandt a glare and then the pair suddenly lurches to a stop.

A wall of seemingly impenetrable fire looms before them.

Then Ethan's dragging Brandt forward…

…straight into the wall of flames.

If Brandt ever needed confirmation that Ethan was certifiably insane, he could have used this moment. Brandt is barely able to get his arm up to cover his face as Ethan throws them into the partially shattered window. The heat around them is excruciating, and Ethan's death grip on Brandt is blocked out by the overload the agent's already-reeling senses were being put through.

Brandt, nearly unconscious by this point, feels Ethan haul him through the frame of the window.

The crisp, far cooler outside air hits him like a splash of ice water, and the sudden availability of oxygen seems almost sharp.

Then Brandt realizes Ethan must have miscalculated, because suddenly they're not moving toward the ground, and instead they're falling off of the very inconveniently placed cliff and are crashing toward the water below.

The icy cold water sears into the burns Brandt must have picked up at some point while trapped in the building, and his breath escapes in a scream of air.

He's choking on the water, completely disoriented and unaware which direction he'd need to move to find the surface.

Ethan's hands are suddenly there, tugging Brandt up as he manages to kick off both of their shoes. The second Brandt's head breaches the surface he's alternatively blessing and cursing Ethan's name.

Ethan seems to be trying to talk to Brandt, but Brandt's ears are still ringing from the fire's roar. He can see Ethan's mouth making out words he feels he should recognize, but the sounds aren't connecting.

He's not even sure that Ethan's speaking English. It wouldn't be the first time Ethan forgot that Brandt didn't speak Russian, or Patsu, or whatever the hell they used in Bosnia these days.

The agent's aware that he's well into shock at this point, but it doesn't seem to matter much. He tries to get Ethan's attention, but the other agent continues to speak.

Then, blissfully, mercifully, Brandt feels his overstressed and overworked body give up and he's sliding back into the water.


He wakes up with Ethan sitting beside him in the hospital. Ethan's listening to someone else, for a change, and whoever it is seems to be in full rant.

"Torn ACL, dislocated shoulder, broken ribs, knee probably in fragments, and what do you do? You run back into the goddamn inferno to save a man who's probably already dead. And what does that man do? He stays dead for nearly five minutes, gets put on a tube, and then remains in a coma after it's taken out. He gets diagnosed with deep second degree burns on his feet, second degree on his arms, and one degree burns in places I don't even want to know could burn. To conclude our story, he doesn't even have the audacity to wake up!"

Brandt feels a deep surge of pity for the burn victim, and tries to find an appropriate quip.

"Wouldn't want to be that guy," is about all he can come up with. His voice doesn't come out like he expected, because instead of the drug-induced haze seeping out, his voice is a creaking rasp that barely gets past his lungs. The words are even more garbled than the rasp would allow because of the oxygen mask placed over his face.

His neck isn't working quite right, so he can't turn his head to check to see if his prediction that the ranter is Benji is correct or not.

Then Brandt blinks and realizes that maybe he is that guy Benji was rambling about.

Ethan, who had managed to maneuver the wheelchair someone had dumped him in, gave his customary crooked grin which looked more like a grimace than anything else.

"Sorry mate," the voice is definitely Benji's, Brandt clarifies mentally, "but your want didn't really factor into things."

Benji sounds pitying, which is a good sign of how bad it was.

Brandt tries to say something else, but his throat decides to quit working and he only can make a gesture towards Benji that causes Ethan to chuckle.

"You probably want to know what happened," Ethan grunts, his own voice sounding slightly hoarse.

Brandt, not wanting to nod because his neck and vocal cords are still on vacation, rolls his eyes.

Benji knows him well enough to take it as a yes.

"It was just the usual luck we have," Benji says. "To shorten a long and very tedious story, the building exploded a few minutes after you followed the target in. Ethan got thrown clear, and being Superman, somehow survived being thrown into a car window. Somehow he didn't notice the fact that he could barely stand on one leg, and dashed back into the building to drag your ass out."

Brandt does his best to ask how long it took for Ethan to "drag his ass out"by flicking his finger at the clock.

"What did I do?" Benji looks faintly annoyed, and Brandt manages to give a tiny, miniscule shake of his head. Benji once again tries to translate Brandt's repeated movement. "The wall? The doctor? The ugly tiger painting on the wall that looks like it's about to eat you?"

Each time, Brandt manages to give Benji a negative answer.

The team leader looks amused, and Brandt's annoyance is compounded by the fact that he continues to let Benji stumble on and continue their impromptu pantomime game.

Brandt eventually ignores Benji's attempts and glares at Ethan until the man clears his throat – painfully, Brandt notices with a mingled feeling of guilt and justice – and says, "A little over three minutes. Dead for four minutes, sixteen seconds. Unconscious for eighty-four hours."

Benji sticks his tongue out at Ethan, then continues his story. "Ethan dragged you out, but came out on the side of the building that was near the drop. The momentum carried the two of you in the water. You went unconscious, and Ethan flipped. Paramedics came, and after the initial emergency care was done, we managed to get a private flight back to the States."

The tech pointedly ignores Brandt's incredulous expression.

"I know what you're thinking," Benji leans closer to Brandt's ear to whisper the words. "Jane and I are going to get Ethan to sign a blood-oath to never take another Korean mission again."

Relief fills Brandt. Last time he was in Korea, he got abducted by a man thinking he was Ethan. This time, he nearly burned to death during a mission that was supposed to be "routine and simple."

Ethan raises an eyebrow as two sets of glares are leveled his way.

"Anyway," Ethan rasps, "You should be cleared for field duty before I am, but the burns will probably continue to trouble you in some places for a while."

The sympathetic look on Benji's face is back, and Brandt wonders how much they paid for the painkillers they have him on.

The lack of pain is a good indication of the fact that he's floating pretty high. It's probably a good thing he can't talk, he reflects ruefully.

Brandt can't help but feel put out at the fact that Ethan looks disappointed at being placed off rotation for a small amount of time.

Another hand gesture conveys his feeling to Ethan, who has the audacity to chuckle again.

"So," Benji begins after a comfortable pause. "I'm going to go fetch the doctor. Ethan, if I see you touch anything I'm getting you placed on involuntary medical leave and signing you up for volunteer work."

Ethan assumes his classic kicked-puppy expression, his face innocently projecting the idea that he would never do anything of the sort.

Benji snorts, presumably at the idea of Ethan obeying orders he didn't like, and stalks from the room.

The team leader cranes his neck to make sure Benji is well and truly gone, then rolls his wheelchair forward, wincing.

Noticing for the very first time some of the bandages on Ethan's hands, Brandt opens his mouth to apologize.

"Sor-" he begins, but Ethan pulls a face. Brandt gratefully falls silent, the roaring pain in his throat daring him to attempt to speak once again.

Ethan looks like he wants to say something dismal but instead settles for a croaked, "You look like death frozen over."

Brandt raises an eyebrow. Isn't it supposed to be warmed over?

"That would be far too kind," Ethan says, seemingly sensing Brandt's question.

Brandt raises the other eyebrow so that both eyebrows are even. You don't look like you're firing on all-four cylinders yourself.

The older agent chuckles. "You're right, I'm not one to talk."

Thought so.

Hunt looks like he's once again going to say something guaranteed to make Brandt depressed. Knowing Ethan, it could be anything from I broke the Xbox to I'm going to apply for the team to take all Korean missions.

At that moment, Benji ambles back in. When he sees Ethan's location has shifted by more than two inches, his face grows cloudy.

As the physician enters the room, he's greeted by the sight of Benji enthusiastically lecturing Ethan and Brandt drifting back into sleep.

Sighing, he goes to change the bandages on Brandt.

Fin.