A/N: I have been gone for a zillion years! I'm sorry! I moved to Los Angeles, got a job as a big General Manager for an all new business opening up soon, and have pretty much been buried in work. I haven't forgotten about my stories, though, just had to take a step back for real life biz. I'll try to do better!

In the meantime, there be lots of good stories over on The Beta Branch from our other talented writers. Stop on by over there, read some stuff, edit some stuff, write some stuff to be edited, whatever. We're a fun bunch. :) thebetabranch . prophpbb . com

Annnnnd, just because I'm feeling generous and it's been such a long time, I'll clue you in on some things that might be a little confusing in here. For all those who haven't figured it out yet, all of my M:I stories connect to one another. I've been writing them out of order in the timeline, but there are lil hidden clues and bits you can find that'll help you puzzle out the order of things. For this chapter you may want to go back and check out my very first story, "Surviving the 80's." And for the people who asked and already figured it out, yes, this whole story takes place following the events of "Violent Redemption" which has yet to reach the really bad things that cause Brandt to get to the state he's in now.


Benji glanced at the caller ID on his cell and did a double-take before quickly snatching it up.

"Brandt! I was afraid you wouldn't call after…nevermind, forget I said that. How are you?"

The response was much louder than the tech expected, and he had to pull the phone away from his ear slightly. "Benji! I remembered to call before you hit the sack today! Do I get my gold star for that?"

The odd laughter followed by the sound of something clinking against glass made Benji close his eyes. "Brandt, are you drinking?"

"Maybe. Does it matter? I didn't sign anything that said I couldn't get shit-faced while I was here."

"No, but do you think that's the best idea while you're-"

"Alone?" Will chuckled. "I'm not. I'm talking to you. I mean, it'd be better if you were down here… Why don't you come down here? We'll make a night of it. It's only like an hour flight, hour and a half, right?"

Benji sighed, wishing it were just that simple. "I'm not home, Brandt. We're, um, we're on assignment. At the very least it would take four hours to get there, and we have a meeting Jane had to reschedule for tomorrow morning."

"Reschedule? What made her have to reschedule?" There was a pause before he sucked in a breath. "Wait, was that supposed to be today? Did I interrupt a mission?"

With a silent groan, Benji inwardly kicked himself. He wished the analyst wasn't always so damn sharp, and that his own mouth would stop spewing out words before he could think things through. "No, no, it's fine. The client was…well, he was busy, anyway. It was best all around that we had to postpone, for everyone. Tomorrow is…it's way better. It'll be fine."

"She's never going to talk to me again," Brandt moaned out slowly.

Ice hit glass again, making Benji flinch. "Now you know that's not true. One botched meeting isn't-"

"You don't know what I said to her." That fast, Will's tone flipped from jovially drunk back to the lost, defeated one he had been mostly using since he had woken up in the hospital. "She probably hates me."

"She doesn't hate you, Will. Nobody does. I told you already, we're all antsy to have you back. In fact - and don't tell anyone I told you - we've even got plans for a surprise 'Welcome Back' party as soon as you get out."

"Yeah, well don't plan too big. I fucked up today," Brandt said quietly. "I walked out."

Benji paused. "Walked out…walked out of where? The program?"

There was a long sigh and the sound of more liquid being poured. "Pretty much."

"Wait…you pretty much walked out, or you did walk out? There's a difference." Ethan moving past in the hall caught Dunn's attention, so he softly snapped his fingers, calling the team leader over. He ushered Hunt to sit close, and put the phone on speaker.

"Might as well be the same thing. I walked out before the session was over. I did not get my gold star for the day. The bitch'll probably flunk me for that. She's been gunning for me since day numero uno." He took another sip of whatever he was drinking. "Yep, I am done. You guys might as well start looking for a replacement, 'cause I'm pretty sure she had a big fucking smile on her face while she was stamping my file as 'unfit for duty.' Hooray for the government looking out for their own, right?"

"That's enough, Brandt," Ethan said quietly.

The glass fell and they could hear it shatter. "Shit," Brandt hissed. "Ethan, I didn't- Shit! Dammit, Benji, why did you-? Fuck! Sorry, I'm sorry, Ethan. I didn't mean to walk. I wasn't thinking. I was just-"

"Relax, Will, I'm sure it'll be fine," Hunt continued in a neutral tone. "I'll call down in the morning, make sure you're still on track. I'd be willing to bet you aren't the first one to walk out on a session."

There was a long silence. "I also threw a pencil partway through a wall."

Ethan and Benji exchanged a worried look. "Before you left?"

"No…yesterday. It's still in the wall."

Ethan smirked. "I think if they let you back in after that, they'll probably let you stick around for cutting class early."

"What if there's some sort of three strikes rule?" Brandt argued.

Hunt shrugged his shoulders. "Then don't strike out."

"You make it sound so simp- Ow! Dammit!"

Benji sat forward. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I just…" Brandt's breath hitched and sped up a little. "I just cut myself on the…on the glass… I…geezus, please, not again…"

"Brandt, what's going on?" Ethan demanded, growing more concerned as his agent's breathing became more erratic. His heart skipped a beat when the horribly familiar chant carried softly through the phone.

"It's not real. It's not real. Oh, god, it's not real…"

Hunt snatched the phone from Benji's grasp and stood up. "Brandt, listen to me. Listen to my voice. Whatever you're seeing isn't there, just like you said. It's not real. Do you hear me?"

"…Yes." The answer came out in a shaky breath. "Christ…it's not… Where are you guys?"

Before Ethan could answer, the phone was taken from his hand as quickly as he had stolen it from Benji's. Jane spoke to Brandt, but was looking directly at the team leader. "We're coming. Just sit tight. We'll be there in a few hours."

Benji watched Ethan, and let out a little sigh of relief when Hunt answered Jane's declaration with a nod. Without waiting for instructions, he sat back down in front of his computer to make the necessary arrangements with the IMF. This mission wasn't exactly a high-risk one, assigned to Hunt's team with the knowledge that they wouldn't be on their A-game until their fourth member was back in the fold. Another team could handle it just as easily.

"Benji?" Brandt got out between panicked breaths.

Jane shoved the phone in the tech's face. "Talk to him." She slipped away as soon as her hand was free of the cell, moving quickly to help Ethan get their gear packed.

Benji took the phone off speaker. "Probably going to rethink that drinking idea, huh?" he tried to joke.

Brandt didn't laugh. "Stupid…so fucking stupid."

"Don't be so hard on yourself, mate. You happen to be one of the brightest people I know." There was a muffled thud followed by a small, frustrated cry. "Brandt? Are you still with me?"

"I keep…I keep seeing… There was so much blood…"

Benji wondered which memory his friend was caught in, knowing that there had been more that Will would probably never tell them about. "We can just wash it off, though, right? You can stand up, go to the kitchen - or the bathroom, whichever is closer - and rinse it off your hand, right? Brandt?"

"Right…right…just wash…" Thankfully, it sounded as if Brandt was moving, and a few seconds later Benji could hear water running. Time ticked by filled with only the analyst's continual unsteady breathing, and then it was replaced by an odd humming.

Benji furled his brow. "Is that-"

"Yeah," Brandt interrupted. "Sorry…I'm not supposed…" He sucked in a long, shuddering breath. "You told me I shouldn't…but I thought it was over, Benji. I thought you were dead…I was dead… I sang it…sang it…for that time…"

After a startled hesitation, the tech nodded his head. "Well none of us are dead," he said softly. "Why don't we sing something else?"

"No." The water continued to run. "I don't want… You promised, remember?"

"Right, our secret. I won't sing, then. That way the others won't find out. How about I make requests, instead? Is that acceptable? If they ask I'll just tell them we're playing a game, naming our favorite songs, something like that."

There was a lengthy pause. "Yeah, okay. Go ahead."

"Can you turn the water off? It's hard to hear…" Benji hoped he wasn't taking a long shot, and was glad when the faucet stopped running.

"I need to…um…I need to find a…find a band-" He hissed in another sharp breath, and seemed to hold it.

"Let it out slow and easy, Will," Benji coaxed. "How about a little 'Unbelievable' while you tape up your hand, huh? Do you know that one?"

"Yeah…yeah, I can do that one."

"Good. That's good, Will."

Benji didn't let anyone else take the phone until Brandt had fully been able to calm himself down; and by the time they got to his room, he had fallen into an exhausted slumber on the floor, wedged in a corner facing the doorway. Ethan signaled the other two to stay back, and knelt down to gently rest a hand on one of Will's knees. Brandt came to in an instant, and he came up swinging wildly.

"Easy, easy!" Ethan yelled as he was forced to pin his struggling agent to the floor.

It took Brandt a little longer than they had hoped for his mind to clear, and he nodded sheepishly once he realized what was going on. "Sorry," he mumbled as Ethan helped him sit up. "Sorry. Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Hunt nodded, then caught Brandt's eyes. "Are you?"

"No," Will answered honestly, lowering his gaze. When he looked back up, though, there was a fire in his eyes that they feared had been lost forever. "But I want to be."

Ethan smiled and rested his hand on Brandt's shoulder. "Good. We'll help get you there. Whatever it takes."