The mission had started well. Jane and Brandt were undercover again, both dressed in the finest of clothes to blend in with the elites of the Saudi Arabian business world. They'd both done endless research into various companies so they could work their way through casual small talk without incident and everything had been going according to plan. Ethan had weaselled his way into the cellars under the mansion without being detected, Benji had gotten into their networks. Brandt was blending with some other guests. Jane had managed to draw the attentions of their target.
And then everything started going downhill. Jane was invited up to the businessman's room – not an unforeseen event but not the most desired of outcomes. It was fine, she could handle herself but something was making Brandt's stomach tie itself into knots and he could feel worry building in his chest. He slipped away from the crowd he was in and voiced his concerns through his earpiece.
"Something's not right here," he said without preamble.
"You have a problem?" Ethan asked, his voice emotionless as it always was in the middle of a mission. He was their team leader first, their friend second.
"No. But something's about to go wrong I just know it."
"There's nothing in their security system that's acting out of place," Benji soothed. "Everything looks just as it should."
Brandt didn't have an argument to offer them, no proof of his theory. "Look I can't explain it but I really think something very bad is about to happen."
Ethan sighed quietly, considering for a moment. "Noted. But the target is already in the trap, as is our agent. We can't pull out now without raising suspicion."
It was true enough, trying to get Jane away from the party at this stage would look very peculiar and though their covers were good, they weren't bulletproof. Should anyone look too closely they might find themselves in a lot of trouble. Still, Brandt's heart wouldn't slow down, muscles bunching under his restrictive suit. This wasn't good.
Jane forced a girly giggle in response to something the businessman had said, fluttering her eyelashes at him, perfectly slipping into the role of slightly-tipsy very-much-available woman who was only too eager to get to know the man.
Karim Asad (a fake name of course) had the stance of someone who had once been tall and muscled but who had let themselves decay. He carried just a little too much weight and his skin seemed perpetually covered in a thin sheen of sweat, making him appear almost ethereal with the way he glimmered. His dark hair was thinning with age with a few greys standing out amongst the black strands. Overall, Jane found him, frankly repulsive.
"Such a pretty young thing like you shouldn't have to spend hours with old men like them," he told her, nodding back the way they had come.
"Perhaps we should spend time together then," she told him, leaning closer invitingly. He smelt of wine and overly strong aftershave.
"That's exactly what I was thinking," he murmured back, reaching for her hand and tugging her through an ornate door, letting it swing shut behind them. And then everything seemed to go wrong.
He waited until the room was sealed before he turned on her, his grip on her wrist turning punishing as he whirled to face her and forced her back against the door with bruising power. His easy smile flickered into a sadistic grin.
"Well now, little sparrow," he said, leaning into her space and letting warm breath wash over her face. She flinched just slightly. "Trying to trick a man into bed isn't a very nice thing to do."
"I don't- I never-" she stammered, letting the surprise she felt show on her face, acting the part of a scared innocent. "Please, you're hurting me!" He was actually, still crushing the slender bones of her wrist as though he was trying to crumble them to dust. She wasn't wearing an earpiece (it would have been far too obvious) but there was an undetectable microphone stitched into the hem of her dress so she knew that help would be on the way soon enough.
"You put on a good show little sparrow, but don't for one second think you can fool me," he warned. "I had you made as soon as you and your little friend showed up at the party. My men will be taking care of him as you speak, don't you worry."
She took a moment to feel worry over Brandt before she forced it from her mind. Right now she had to focus on herself.
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Her voice was high, panicked.
"I must admit, I'm almost impressed. But you're forgetting something." He squeezed her wrist. "I can feel your heartbeat." She very carefully didn't respond to that even though every cell in her body wanted to flinch away. She'd been trained to slow her heartbeat down in stressful situations so that it wouldn't give her away but this was the exact opposite – he could tell her fear wasn't genuine by the steadiness of her pulse. "Now, why don't you tell me who you're working for and I can let you go."
Realising that there was no point in trying to maintain a cover at this point, Jane just smiled at him before she spat in his face. He pulled away just slightly, recoiling, before he lashed out, backhanding her harshly enough that she was sent staggering sideways but he kept his grip on her wrist, tugging her back towards him.
"You'll regret that little sparrow," he snarled at her, pulling her viciously towards the four poster bed. For the shortest of moments her mind filled with blank panic, terrified in the face of what he might try to do to her. But then her training kicked in and she rallied, her free hand folding itself into a fist that she sent crashing into his ribs and doubling him with a huff. His fingers refused to let go of her though, around her wrist like a vice.
He forced her forwards, one foot connecting with the back of her knee and sending her tumbling onto the mattress, falling amongst the pillows and sheets that seemed to wrap around her and restricting her just long enough for Asad to pull some handcuffs from a drawer beside the bed. He snapped one cuff around the wrist he wasn't holding and pulled forcefully so her shoulder bent at a horrendous angle. She couldn't help the scream that burst from her as the joint was wrenched apart with a popping sound, the cry drowning out Asad's cold laugh. Stunned, she barely even noticed as she was manhandled against one of the posts of the bed and the handcuffs fastened so that she was held against the wooden column.
Hands trapped, she lashed out with her feet instead, catching one of his cheeks with a deadly stiletto and leaving a smudge of red across the olive flesh. Asad moved away, out of her reach, looking pleased and deadly all at once, smiling like the Cheshire cat.
"That's better now, isn't it little sparrow? Are you willing to tell me who you work for now?" She hissed at him, tugging experimentally at her bonds – they didn't shift. "Well then. I guess I shall have to find out for myself. It's a shame, I rather liked being Karim Asad but if people are going to be coming after me, I suppose I shall just have to disappear again. Can't be helped," he told her jovially, as though they were discussing something entirely inconsequential.
He'd only just finished speaking when there was an unmistakable sound of an explosion somewhere far below them, the building shaking very slightly. From further away, the screaming started. Asad looked towards the door but he didn't seem surprised at all, simply put upon.
"I'll have to kill you of course," he said, turning back to her. "And no matter how much you struggle, those handcuffs aren't going to come off." She stopped her efforts instantly, annoyed she had been caught.
Jane watched as Asad started moving around the room, shoving various items into a bag and prayed that Ethan was on his way by now – she had no way to defend herself like this and unless she was careful, she could be in serious trouble.
"Now most people would just shoot you but that seems overly violent. You know that Karim means generous? Well, I'll be generous to you. Allow you the chance to cleanse yourself of your sins before you die." That didn't sound pleasant at all.
"What the hell took you so long?" Brandt yelled at Ethan, spitting out the blood that had pooled in his mouth from his split lip.
The team leader shrugged, looking vaguely apologetic. "I got a little held up." He reached Brandt's side then and slipped his arm over his shoulder to take some of his weight, trying not to notice the way the younger agent winced in pain. "We have to get you out of here."
Brandt was a mess. He had been jumped by three security guards when he had wandered out of the main hall, just taking a casual look around to try and calm his nerves. He'd dispatched them with relative ease but not before reinforcements had arrived to take him down and though he had fought tooth and nail he hadn't come out unscathed.
Curling his not-broken arm around his aching ribs, he shook his head. "I can get myself out. You have to go and help Jane."
"You're injured," Ethan pointed out unnecessarily.
"And she's in a lot more danger. I'll get myself back to Benji."
Without time to argue further, the team leader took off at a dead run, his mind focussing on a memorised floor plan of the building, knowing exactly which turns to take to reach Asad's room. When he reached the upper corridor he was forced to halt momentarily to take in the smoke that was filling the space, clogging his throat.
It didn't make any sense: the explosion he had set off earlier had merely been a distraction and was four floors down from here – there shouldn't be any fire. And yet, here he was, struggling to breathe.
It didn't matter, he knew, he still had to get to Jane. She could be in real trouble if this fire wasn't her doing. He ploughed ahead, tearing off a section of his shirt to press over his nose and mouth to try and ease his breathing as he raced through the elaborately decorated building. When he reached the door he needed he didn't waste any time in kicking it down before diving away as flames reared through the gap to lick at him. The smoke intensified, tears streaming down his cheeks.
When he managed to get through the door, leaping over the fire, he was greeted by the sight of Jane huddled in one corner of the bed, barely conscious and clearly terrified. A quick scan of the room didn't reveal anyone else so he rushed to her side, reaching out for her.
Her skin was covered in ash and here and there she had small burns from sparks. One shoulder was badly distorted, dislocated. The bed sheets had caught fire and were growing steadily closer to where she was curled into a ball, trying to force herself closer to the wall.
"Jane!" He shouted to get her attention. She was so out of it that she didn't even blink at him. "I need to get to your hands!" Again, there was no response so he moved her himself, doing his best not to hurt her but needing to get her out the way so he could free her and get out of there. He knew he only had a few more minutes before he would be passing out himself from oxygen starvation.
The younger agent stirred as he shifted her, apparently being roused as she was moved closer to the flames. She threw herself backwards again, a hoarse shriek escaping her.
"Jane!" He shouted again and this time it caught her attention long enough for her to understand what was happening. This time she leant forwards of her own accord.
Without a key to the cuffs and no time to pick the lock, Ethan chose to simply shoot through the rather thin chain, carefully aiming so that the bullet wouldn't ricochet at either of them. With her wrists released it was easy enough to see that one of them was broken, twisted oddly but Jane didn't cry out as he shifted the limb, having slipped back into semi consciousness. She needed air desperately.
Ethan hauled her into his arms and started moving instantly, a mental timer slowly ticking down until he knew he had to be out of there or they were both dead. Thankfully the fire seemed to have driven away everyone else, guests and guards alike so he passed unimpeded.
When they finally managed to get out of the building, Ethan could barely see, his face wet with tears and his lungs aching fiercely. He hacked in a futile attempt to clear his airways as he staggered forwards, heading in the vague direction they had left the van. Jane was silent in his arms. They'd barely made it five steps when the van pulled up in front of them, Brandt appearing as the door slid open to let them in and Ethan passed his charge to the other agent with relief. He felt just about ready to collapse himself.
Not that Brandt looked much better. Benji was the only one that didn't look as though he was half an inch from death and he was ranting about it as he threw the van into drive and sped away, heading for the outskirts of town where there was a conveniently located military hospital they already had connections to.
"How is she?" Ethan asked in a rasping voice, cutting straight through Benji's tirade.
Brandt looked grim. "Breathing but only just. Her shoulder's dislocated and her wrist's broken but apart from that she looks like she's in one piece." In the quiet lull that followed the words, the three men could hear the way she struggled to draw breath, wheezing painfully.
"How long until we get to the hospital?"
"Another few minutes," Benji told them, glancing worriedly over his shoulder. "What about you?"
"I'm fine," Ethan said, even though he knew the others wouldn't believe him. At their predictable protests he expanded: "I'm unhurt. Breathed in a bit of smoke but nothing serious. Brandt's in worse condition."
The younger agent shot him a look of betrayal even though a fool could see that he was badly hurt. His nose and lip were both bleeding and he moved gingerly, afraid of causing further harm to his broken arm or bruised ribs. "I'll be fine."
Jane coughed softly in his arms then and Ethan and Brandt both turned to look at her simultaneously.
She stirred slightly and looked up at Brandt looming above her. She smiled very softly at him before letting herself pass out again but it was enough to give them some comfort.
"We're almost there," Benji called.
They stayed in the hospital for just under a week. As Ethan had told them, he really was alright, a few minor burns here and there but generally okay. Brandt took a little more fixing up but his arm was a clean break without complications and his none of his ribs had actually snapped. Several cracks but no breaks.
And Jane... Jane was going to be alright. She had a fair amount of recovery before her as her lungs healed from the abuse they had taken but in the end she should get past it. In all honesty, she was more annoyed about the fact both of her arms were out of commission, one wrist almost crushed and one arm dislocated. Brandt had found a certain sadistic joy in seeing her having to ask for help with the simplest of things, even though he knew that she would kick his ass once she got better.
Benji was in a mood with them all, muttering something about overzealous field agents who got injured too much. Ethan thought it was almost cute.
It wasn't until they had all returned to a hotel they'd be staying in for a few days before they could return to the USA that Jane managed to catch Ethan alone.
"I've been meaning to thank you," she told him earnestly. "You came back for me."
"We're a team," he reminded her. "We don't leave team members behind."
"Still. It was a risk you didn't have to take and I'm grateful. Though..." She hesitated, blushing just a little. "Maybe next time, someone else could be the one to corner the mark?"
Ethan smiled softly at her, touched that she could show him this kind of vulnerability. "I think after everything that's happened you've earned a break," he told her. "Besides, it might be kind of fun to watch Brandt trying to seduce another man."
There wasn't even that much Jane in this. Oops. I never liked her all that much so I might have skimmed it a bit. Sorry.
Benji will be the final chapter (Earth). So that's something to look forwards to. Thanks for reading.