The fast-paced, winding trek through the underground finally led them to an outlet, where an electronics company van waited, motor running. The escapees climbed in, followed by Carter, and the van was on its way before they'd finished closing the door. Moments later, the driver turned and grinned happily at him. Ethan stared in shock. Benji?? "It's great to see you again, E-" He faltered, and glanced at Bogdan. After Davian, Ethan had made it clear that no one was to use his name in mixed company, EVER. "We missed you," Benji said quickly, before turning back to watch the road.
"Missed you, too," Ethan replied. He glanced at Bogdan, who was seated on the floor of the van, looking nervously between the two strangers. Ethan patted his arm, seconds before Carter pulled out the retinal scanner, and beckoned for him. Ethan submitted to the scan, followed almost immediately by a thumb-print ID check, while still trying to calm Bogdan down. He was distracted by Benji's curiosity about Bogdan, but he tossed out a plausible explanation in what he hoped was a casual and believable tone.
Claiming that Bogdan had fed him intel was true enough - early in the game, he'd given Ethan some very useful information. IMF didn't need to know that the intel he'd provided had absolutely nothing to do with the reason the other prisoners would have killed Bogdan if he'd been left at Rankow. "Did you call in the Sweepers?" Ethan asked, when his reasoning was accepted without question.
"Yup, they're on their way."
Ethan stared at the back of Benji's head while Carter put away the thumb-print scanner. Field work, for the most excitable technician Ethan had ever met? How... "Benji? How is it you're here?"
"Oh, I passed the field exam!" He grinned at Ethan through the rear view mirror. "Crazy, right?"
Ethan was suddenly aware that something was poking him in the mouth. He gripped the foreign wrist tightly, jerking it back, barely stopping himself from breaking the arm attached.
"DNA test," Carter said calmly.
"It's me," Ethan said, trying not to snap, but unable to keep from glaring.
"It's procedure, I'm just confirming it's you," she said, sounding a little more as if she knew how close she'd come to losing a limb.
"You're very thorough," Ethan said, giving her a reassuring pat on the arm. She gave him a slightly sheepish shrug, then proceeded to stick the blue "swab" into its holster to check the reading.
"Sergei?" Ethan turned to his friend. "Are you not Russian?"
"Relax," he answered, speaking in Russian, even though Bogdan had asked the question in English. Benji announced that the Sweepers were approaching, and Ethan prepped the tranquilizer gun. Bogdan wouldn't like it, but he couldn't be allowed to see the inner workings of IMF, no matter how much Ethan trusted him.
"Sergei," Bogdan said, sounding almost stern. "Are you not... Sergei?"
Quickly, Ethan shot Bogdan with the tranquilizer, and approached him before he could fall. "You'll be fine," he said. He put his hands on Bogdan's face - the closest he could get to an embrace just then - and looked directly into his eyes. "Bogdan. I always take care of my friends." He released his woozy companion to the care of the clean-up crew, whose job it was to get civilians out of harm's way with as little exposure of the department as possible. Bogdan would probably spend the next twenty-four hours heavily sedated, then wake up somewhere outside Russia with a new passport, international driver's license and a decent amount of cash in whatever the local currency happened to be. Ethan forced himself not to worry about how confused (and probably how frightened) Bogdan would be, and focused on the task at hand.
Agent Carter was already half-teasing, half-seriously chastising him for bringing a criminal along. He made a glib remark, while sifting through one of the team's suitcases and pulling out a dark coat to keep the chill off. He frowned when she asked what he'd been doing in prison. He supposed he shouldn't really be surprised that Carter had no idea he was in prison by choice, but he'd half expected his own rescue team to know what was going on. Still, all thoughts of IMF's often counterproductive habit of never letting one hand know what the other was doing (hell, of never letting one finger on the same hand know what the other fingers were doing) flew out the window when he learned exactly how his mission was connected to theirs.
He should have known it was bad. A skilled agent, sharp enough to be trusted with a newly graduated field agent, was highly unlikely to hesitate so much when asked what information had been lost to the enemy. When she finally admitted it, Ethan felt like he'd been dealt a blow directly to the solar plexus. He lowered his head, doing his best not to show how devastated he was, and knowing he wasn't successful. Literal, actual live nuclear launch codes in the hands of Cobalt's agent? Fuck!
Ethan didn't reproach them - there was no place for it. The man who'd lost the file had paid with his life, and there was nothing to do but move forward. He told Carter the pertinent information he'd gathered about Cobalt in the few moments before they reached his contact interface.
Ethan walked purposefully to the scroungy-looking phone booth, and keyed in his ID code. After a retinal scan, Ethan was greeted warmly by the amiable voice of one of their analysts - possibly Bronson. Bronson proceeded to explain the mission, just as calmly and pleasantly as if he hadn't just told Ethan to infiltrate the fucking KREMLIN with a fresh-from-training former tech, and an emotionally compromised, recently displaced team leader. Oh, yeah. And please complete said mission in less than five hours.
Ethan glared at the screen, as the analyst emphatically wished him good luck. Wow. Welcome back, Mr. Hunt.
Ethan hung up the phone and walked away from the terminal. A few seconds later, he realized that he hadn't heard the telltale hiss of the self destruct capsule. He paused, waiting another moment, even though he knew the allotted five seconds were up. Finally, he turned and went back to the booth. He slammed the bottom, where most of the workings were, and the capsule exploded. Hm. Hope that's not a an indication of how the rest of this mission's going to go, he thought.
He walked back to the van and stood beside the door, staring at the tools they had available, not exactly ready to explain what they had to do. "What do you got?" Carter asked.
Ethan glanced at her. "We're going into the Kremlin."
Benji laughed almost immediately. "I thought you said the Kremlin." Ethan sat inside the van, mind racing, trying to figure out how they could get into the Russian equivalent of the Pentagon without getting caught. "I thought you said the Kremlin," Benji insisted - as if getting clarification would make their mission objective magically change. Carter sat inside, across from Ethan, looking just as shell-shocked as Ethan felt. "Okay," Benji said softly. There was a shift, and the engine started a moment later.
"Get us some place quiet, but close," Ethan said. "We've got about four hours and forty-five minutes to get this done."
"WHAT?" they exploded. The van swerved, and Ethan steadied himself against the side.
"Sorry," Benji said, "but what?"
"IMF suspects that Cobalt was an analyst for Russian Intelligence, and we need to get into the archives and-"
"The archives?" Carter whispered.
Ethan nodded slightly and continued. "We need to get proof of his identity, but he's already en route, so we don't have much time."
"No shit," Benji exclaimed. "How do they expect us to-"
"Relax, Benji," Ethan said softly. "I'm working on it. What kind of supplies do we have available? We need two uniforms - a general and..." He glanced at Benji, gauging the rank of a man his age. "A Lieutenant should do. And just civs for you, of course."
"I have something that should work for me," Carter said. "But we'll have to buy the uniforms."
Ethan nodded. "This has to be fast, and once we're done, I want us like ghosts. In and out – maybe we can find costumes we can modify on the fly, so we can look like civilians once we're out of the restricted areas."
Carter nodded. "We've got a phone for you," she said, locating it and handing it to him. "Plenty of ear pieces, decoder chips-"
"Do you have the ones that attach to the phone?"
"Yup, it's the latest tech. It'll get you past any secured doors once you get through the check points in the main hall."
"I've got an idea for the archive room," Benji said. "It should work if we can confirm there's only one guard in that corridor."
"There should be, but we'll make sure nothing's changed," Ethan replied.
While Benji got them closer to the Kremlin, Ethan told Carter who he would be impersonating, and they worked up a plan for his disguise. Carter was already at work setting up one of the laptops, and pulling files. She found a good hi-res photograph of Federov, and double checked the current uniform cuts. A few more purchases needed to be made, but they had plenty of funds to cover everything they needed.
What they didn't have was time. Rankow prison was hardly close to the headquarters of the Russian government, and when they finally got to an unobtrusive place to park the van, over an hour had passed. Ethan split the team up and set them to their tasks. "Carter, you handle wardrobe. Benji, get into the system, confirm that there's only one guard posted at the archive room at a time, and get on your idea as soon as possible. I'll get a partial mask together and work on getting past the first checkpoint. Meet back here in ninety minutes. Go."
Within the allotted hour and a half, Ethan managed to find a salt and pepper mustache, and some hair pieces at a costume store that would be plausible enough, yet easy to get off in a hurry. They had a portable modem, and he had an idea for getting it close to the security checkpoint. The plan would depend on how good a shot Carter was, but he got what he needed for that part of the plan while he was out anyway. He made it back to the van before Carter arrived. Benji was already there, fiddling with an iPad. Ethan gave him a quizzical look, but Benji only smiled and said, "You wouldn't believe the apps they have for these things if you have the right access."
"I'm sure," Ethan replied. He grabbed one of the laptops and used his security code to access Carter's file. First name Jane, served as a navigator in the Air Force before joining the CIA. She had a glowing record in the CIA, though she did have some smudges in her military record for getting into fights. That was understandable. She was a slender Black woman in a military unit - she'd probably had to spend at least as much time proving herself as Ethan had as a small man in a Russian prison. Her field exam scores for IMF were stellar - both the physical and mental requirements. She'd just lost someone very close to her, so he'd have to take that into account. So far, though, she was handling herself well, and he was confident she would be able to successfully pull off her part in the mission.
He took a quick look at Benji's record as well, while he was in the system. No prior military service (of course, he could have guessed that), but an excellent record at his tech duties for IMF, and his field exam rankings were high. His mission with Carter to retrieve the launch codes had been his first, which worried Ethan a little. Naturally, Jane hadn't updated his file with any notes yet, and Benji had been behind the scenes during the mission, still performing a technician's duties. It was difficult to know how he would react, working in the field with an actual cover identity, especially in such an intense situation. Well. Four minutes to the rendezvous, then one single hour to accomplish the mission. He'd find out soon enough.
Jane met them exactly on time, with two garment bags and another large shopping bag from a department store. "Lieutenant," she said, handing Benji one of the garment bags. "And for you, General." She unzipped the bag and pulled out a smartly pressed Russian General's uniform. "I think you'll like this," she said, carefully pulling the jacket off its hanger. She pulled back the lapel to reveal what looked like a navy blue windbreaker. "Completely reversible. It even has pockets."
"I'm impressed," Ethan said honestly. "How did you get that?"
"Made a friend with a tailor who put them together for me. I fed him something about my kid brother wanting to play a joke on someone."
Ethan smiled. "Good work."
She smiled back, and gestured toward the shopping bag. "There's some casual clothes for us in here, and boots for both of you. I found shirt-fronts for both of you, too, from a costume store."
"Good. Let's suit up, and I'll explain the plan. Benji, you have what you need for the Archive area?"
"Yup, good to go, Ethan."
"Fine. Here's how we'll get in."
Ethan explained the plan while he got dressed. After spending over five years in prison, and decades in the service of the government, he had very little shame when it came to undressing, but for the sake of the lady present, Ethan and Benji dressed in the back of the van, while Jane waited in front. Then they switched, with Ethan continuing to discuss the plan all the while. When the time came, Benji explained how he intended to distract the guard posted at the central corridor. Amazing iPad apps indeed. "That's great work, Benji," he said, suppressing a smile at the glowing look on Benji's face. "Okay. I want us in and out in no more than twenty minutes. The modem will be a residual, but it's untraceable so we'll be safe there. If something goes wrong and I call abort, get the hell out of there as fast as you can. Jane, you get back to the van and take it where it can't be found. Benji, depending on where we are, switch to your civilian clothes and we'll rendezvous after two hours at point Ninety-two."
"Corner of Stratsnoy and Tverskaya boulevard," Jane answered.
Ethan looked at Benji, and the younger man nodded. "Got it," he said nervously.
"Fine. Let's move."
The mission was absolute hell. Cobalt made it before they did, even though Ethan certainly hadn't waited until the last second to put their plan into action, and then the lunatic had blown up the fucking Kremlin. The sight of the blast again on the news, with the images of the casualties alongside it had made him sick to his stomach back at the hospital.
Then, of course, there had been the danger of being tortured for information by Russian Intelligence, nearly killing himself in an escape attempt, followed by hours spent roaming the streets trying to stay away from anyone who might be looking for him. After that, there was the horror of seeing the Secretary - his respected and trusted superior, and his personal benefactor for so many years - shot dead before his very eyes only moments after he'd finally gotten the chance to see him again. And needless to say, car crashes that ended under water with a firestorm from angry, murderous FSB agents had only been the icing on the cake.
Ethan climbed into the moving train car, helped in by the soaked and shell-shocked analyst, thinking that his day could not possibly be any more fucked up than it was. Famous last words.
Ethan handled the quick introductions between his team and the young analyst, William Brandt. Without waiting for acknowledgment (or even a towel), Ethan activated the console interface, pulled a pair of headphones from their hook, and listened to his new mission.
"Welcome back, Ethan." Ethan shut his eyes briefly. It was the voice of the Secretary himself. "If you're listening to this, it means you've identified Cobalt as Kurt Hendricks - one of six men we suspected might be rising to an extremely dangerous position as one of our greatest enemies. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to stop Hendricks at all costs. As you know, he may soon come into possession of nuclear launch codes. It won't be difficult for him to obtain a launch device after that, and this is something we cannot allow. I've compiled everything we know about Hendricks, along with our latest intelligence about his known associates. You and your team are all that stand between us and a nuclear war that may endanger the entire planet. I know you've been out of circulation for a while, but I have every confidence in you. Good luck, Ethan."
Ethan studied the rest of the document, beginning to formulate a plan as he watched. By the time he'd watched the full dossier, not only did Ethan have the beginnings of a plan, but he had a back-up plan percolating as well. He moved the presentation back to just after the Secretary wished him luck, and transferred it to the screens mounted on the sides of the train car so that the others could see without crowding over each other. Ethan glanced around at the expectant faces of his team.
"Take a look. I need to dry off." Jane nodded, but she was frowning at him, and both Brandt and Benji were giving him strange looks as well. "What?" he asked, more sharply than he intended.
"Er..." Benji cleared his throat and glanced at Jane worriedly before looking back at Ethan. "Did... did you mean to say that in Russian?"
Ethan's frown deepened. He shook his head. "No. Sorry, I..."
Ethan shook his head again, and Brandt got up and pulled open a drawer in the back wall of the train car. "There's towels and clothes in here, Ethan," he said softly.
Ethan nodded, noticing for the first time that Brandt was already dry and changed. He grabbed what he needed and moved to the other end of the car.
Ethan intended to dry off, change and immediately go back and join the others, but once he'd torn off the soaking pants and jacket, absently blotted some of the river water off, and pulled on the slightly ill-fitted clothes from the supply cache, he found he could barely move. He spent several minutes just sitting in one of the "conference" chairs, breathing, and trying to hold up under the weight of the past several hours. Less than twenty-four hours ago, he'd been relishing his freedom from solitary and contemplating his next all-night meeting with Bogdan.
Bogdan. Ethan felt his stomach tighten at the thought of his friend, and his mind started to race again. So many things had happened so quickly that he'd barely thought of Bogdan since their parting. Ethan had wondered about Bogdan and how he was faring during his first day of freedom, but the death of the Secretary had driven all thoughts from his mind. Now, everything came flooding back, and Ethan suddenly had a consuming desire to speak to Bogdan - only partially because of the backup plan he'd just come up with.
Almost instinctively, Ethan located a computer interface, praying that there was still some kind of access available to them, despite Ghost Protocol. He found what he was looking for in the CIA's primary database. The Secretary must have conveniently arranged for his passwords to still work, just as he'd arranged for the backup supplies to be "overlooked". He located Bogdan's relocation file, then used the secure lines to call.
After a few moments, the call connected, and he heard Bogdan's nervous voice. "Hello?"
"Sergei!! How are you? Where are you? Oh my God, did you hear about the Kremlin? Are you alright, are you still in Russia, is-"
"Bogdan," he said. "I'm fine. I'm alive, and yes, I'm still in Russia, but I won't be for long. Listen," he said in English. "I need to tell you something important, but I need to know that the call isn't being monitored by anyone. Now. Are you sure your line is secure?"
"Yes, it should be."
Ethan frowned. "Are you certain your line is secure," he asked again, more sharply.
"Let me make sure," Bogdan said. There was a pause, followed by a few clicking sounds. "Okay," Bogdan said. "It's absolutely clear. Now, what's going on, Sergei? Who were those people, who-"
"Listen to me, lover," Ethan said softly. "I have to tell you something that may shock you."
"Okay," he said slowly.
"You were right in the van. I'm not Russian. I'm an American agent, and I work for a special branch of the CIA."
"I know. I'm sorry I lied to you, but-"
"So, you weren't really in prison because you killed six people?"
"No, I did kill six men, just like I told you," he said. "That's what I was arrested for. But I was also in prison to try to find a man who's fanatical about nuclear weapons. It's my job to try to stop him."
Ethan paused. He could hear Bogdan breathing on the other end, but the younger man didn't say a word. Ethan glanced toward the others, but they were watching the giant monitors, completely absorbed by the intelligence file. "Listen, Danya," Ethan said softly, switching back to Russian. "I know what you're thinking. If I lied about that, what else did I lie about? Was I just using you for your connection to an arms dealer? I... I also know there's not a lot I can really say to convince you," he continued. "But I will tell you the absolute truth right now, okay? I helped you when Petr and his gang were attacking you because I wanted to - not because it was part of my job, or because you might have information that I needed. I did it because I thought you needed help, and I hated to see a defenseless man being pummeled by bullies. Everything I've told you about my feelings for you is completely true." Bogdan remained quiet, but Ethan thought he heard a slight gasp or a sigh. "Bogdan, I hope you believe what I'm telling you. But even if you don't believe me, I need your help. I need to cash in on that favor you promised me."
Bogdan cleared his throat. "I... I believe you, Sergei," he said.
"I'm glad," Ethan said, letting his relief come through in his voice.
"Is... is Sergei even your real name?" he asked.
"It's not the one I was born with. But it's what I'd like you to call me," he answered honestly. He couldn't imagine Bogdan calling him by any other name.
There was another sigh. "Okay. Alright, I... what... what do you need me to do?" he asked softly.
Ethan wanted to ask Bogdan if he was okay - wanted assurance that he really still had Bogdan's trust. But he couldn't waste any more time. The clock was ticking, and once again he had to put personal feelings aside for the sake of his duty. "I need you to get your cousin to go to Dubai for a meeting with me. I'll be there in a little over thirty-six hours. I'll send you my secure number and-"
"Wait, you want... wha... he... Dubai??" Bogdan sputtered for a few more seconds, before finally forming the words, "How in the world am I supposed to do that??"
"He's your cousin, right? Just ask him to come."
"Sergei, he's my cousin, but he's not the most trusting man I know, and he's not exactly pleased with me right now, remember? I haven't even tried calling him since I got free. How... I mean... What am I going to say? I made friends with an American agent while I was in prison, and he'd love to meet you? And in a big city like Dubai? He'll probably shoot me just for making the suggestion! You ca-"
"Bogdan," Ethan said sternly. "You're panicking, and you don't have time to panic. I don't have time to explain, but it is absolutely crucial that you get him there, you understand?"
"Listen to me," he hissed, his urgency and the enormity of what was at stake putting a harsh edge to his tone. "You owe me a favor, Bogdan, and this is it. Now, I don't care what you have to do to get him to Dubai, I'll make it worth his while, just do it!"
"Okay, Sergei," he replied, almost pouting. "I promise you, I'll get him to Dubai somehow. Okay?"
"Yeah. I'll be waiting for your call." Ethan disconnected the call, mildly regretting having been so sharp, but with no time to waste on further remorse. Thoughts of Bogdan, the Secretary, Julia - all of it had to wait. Duty first. He had less than two days to stop a madman from plunging them into a nuclear war. Grief and remorse could come later.
Ethan brushed his hair back into place, made sure his clothes were in order (he honestly didn't remember getting dressed), and stepped quietly toward the other three agents. They took no notice of him - they were intently focused on the most terrifying part of the Secretary's compiled intelligence file - Hendricks' manifesto. It was no wonder the man had been released from his position soon after he'd made that speech.
Ethan located the controller and stopped the film after the last words of Hendricks' twisted vision of "world peace" and waited for the team's attention. He watched them carefully as he explained the mission. Like every IMF mission, the lives of each person on the team depended on the actions of the others. But this mission was unique in that they would all be acting independently of their government, or anyone else's. Having the Secretary of Defense disavow any knowledge of your actions was one thing. Acting without even the pretense of "permission", and without their behind the scenes back-up, was quite another. He gave each of them a chance to withdraw, and to their credit, not one of them backed down. The hesitation on Brandt's part was worrisome, but Ethan set it aside. He wasn't even a "regular" CIA field agent - jumping into a mission the likes of what was given to IMF agents wasn't the lightest decision for a man to make.
Ethan learned a good deal about his team from that first real meeting. Jane's judgment was still partially clouded by the pain of having lost Hanaway. Ethan would have to be careful with her where that was concerned. She was impatient - eager to know what the plan was, how they were going to move, and when she would get her hands around Moreau's throat. There was also a distinct impatience with Brandt in particular. Ethan wasn't too surprised - most field agents regarded analysts with an attitude somewhere between mild mistrust to outright disdain, thanks to the nature of their jobs. Analysts were there to pull the strings without ever getting their hands dirty.
Brandt seemed indifferent to Jane's impatience. He was the pessimistic one of the group, again, most likely because of the nature of his position. It was his job to second guess, play devil's advocate. And Benji, of course, was still very much the new kid; eager to please both his first team leader, Jane, and his idol, Ethan, and likely to forget key points in his excitement. Ethan was mildly concerned about the disparate attitudes of his team, but he had faith that they would pull themselves together and form a knitted group for the sake of the mission.
At first, that's exactly what seemed to happen. They worked together easily, swiftly dissecting the supply cache for useful items, assigning fake ID's, and making travel arrangements. Brandt was still treated as something of an outsider - or like a younger brother. He took it well, partly because he was something of an outsider. He seemed to know his way around some aspects of the mission (like how to clear customs without explaining why they had fake limbs and real pistols in their luggage), but he was confused about other things (like the fairly simple trick of setting up a decoy hotel floor). Ethan still remembered the days when they'd had to actually pry off the numbers and replace them with the numbers of their choice in a matching style. New technology made the process a thousand times easier and faster.
The sense of separation between Ethan's agents and his analyst-turned-agent didn't trouble him much. Everyone was getting along, and learning little things about one another during their travel time. In the few hours they spent together before reaching Dubai, Ethan grew confident that they would risk their lives not only for their country (as was already true of almost all IMF agents), but that they would risk their lives for each other as well.
The smoothest part of the mission itself was checking into the hotel. They'd reserved the necessary rooms while packing on the train, and everything went smoothly up to the point where Benji opened his computer to check out the Burj Khalifa security systems.
From that moment on, everything was completely fucked. Scaling a glass building with nothing but some sticky gloves that only half worked and nearly giving himself a concussion on the way back was a nightmare in and of itself, but that was just to get the proverbial doors open. Ethan's three seconds of relief when Moreau's men didn't shoot them on sight was pitifully short-lived. Ethan's target was on the move before they'd concluded business with Moreau, and their race against time became more urgent than ever.
The one good thing that happened - Brandt's surprisingly advanced level of combat skills - was overshadowed by the questions those very skills posed. How the hell did a desk jockey learn to fight like a seasoned field agent? Brandt was a liar, either by omission or design, and it angered and frightened Ethan, though he couldn't address it at the time.
Then there was the shock of his untimely meeting with the Russian Intelligence team, wasting precious time and destroying his one and only advantage over the true enemy - surprise. The resultant chase was fueled by a combination if instinct, adrenaline and desperation. Every cell in Ethan's body strove toward his goal - get the codes at all costs. He didn't feel the exhaustion from the run, or the sting of the dust and dirt in his eyes and lungs from the sandstorm. He didn't even feel the pain of being hit by the car, or frustration that he was forced to move slowly by the damage done to his legs. He didn't "feel" at all - not until he ripped off part of Wistrom's mask, and confusion stunned him for a moment. The urgency took over again, even more forcefully, when he realized that the person who'd doubled Wistrom definitely had to be male, and his mind glanced on the possibility that he refused to fully articulate, even to himself.
Then came the devastating moment when his deepest fears were realized. The mask was removed and tossed at his feet, and Hendricks revealed himself, just before riding away with exactly what he needed to initiate a nuclear holocaust. Ethan watched the truck drive off through the cloud of dust with a growing sense of hopelessness and dread. He tried to tell himself that there was a backup plan. There was still a chance. But even that wasn't certain anymore. The only way the Russians could have found Ethan was by following Bogdan to him, which meant they might have captured Bogdan before they got to Ethan. If that was true, then there really was no hope.
Ethan's stomach lurched, and he bent forward and vomited forcefully onto the asphalt. He stared at it for a moment, eyes stinging and vision blurring behind the steamy goggles. He grasped the discarded mask, straightened, and walked slowly in the direction of the safe house.
The trip seemed to take eons, despite the fact that he found a cab to take him to the general area. He gave the driver twice his fare - perhaps from some sense of gratitude that the man never commented on his appearance, his limp, or the mask he clutched tightly in one hand. He walked the rest of the way, the pain in his legs, back, and head still nothing compared to the gut-clenching sense of despair, rage, and guilt building inside him. He was furious with himself for failing, with Bogdan for leading the Russians to him at the wrong time, and at the team for not somehow being where he needed them at the right time. Simultaneously, he felt a deep sense of anxiety for Bogdan, and for the team, since he had no idea what had happened to any of them.
He could hear subdued voices coming from the safe house, but his relief gave way almost immediately to despondency. He placed his hand on the door and the voices stopped instantly. Ethan lowered his head for a moment, then took a breath and stepped inside.
As he'd expected, three guns were trained on him, but they were lowered immediately when the team realized who had intruded on them. "Ethan! Thank God, where've you been? What happened? We've been calling, and-" The flurry of questions from his three teammates trailed off when Ethan limped wearily inside and shut the door behind him. They stared at him, and then at the mask in his hand.
"What-" Benji stopped, and Jane moved slowly toward him.
"Is that... who was it?" Ethan looked up at her. He wasn't sure what his expression must show, but her eyes widened in response.
"No," Brandt breathed. "Hendricks?"
Ethan turned to him, expression grim, and nodded once. There was no accusation in Brandt's eyes, for which Ethan was grateful. Whatever lies he'd told, he was definitely dedicated to the right cause judging by the fear in his eyes.
"Dear God," Benji whispered, sinking down slowly into his seat. His face was sheet-white, and his voice cracked. "Oh, dear God."
"What happened Ethan," Jane asked, her voice unusually flat. There was no accusation from her, either - only the desire... maybe the need to know.
"FSB caught up with me right before I caught up with him," Ethan answered. "Alerted him to my presence. Lost too much time fighting them off. I..."
Ethan stopped, suddenly too exhausted to speak. What difference did the rest of it make? Hendricks was gone, and they were finished. Brandt and Jane looked at him with both fear and sympathy in their eyes, and their unspoken question was clear. What now? What do we do? Ethan had no answers, and he didn't even have the energy to tell them as much. He limped slowly toward the bathroom at the back of the room, pausing beside Benji, who now sat with his head down on the table, breathing heavily and possibly trying not to hurl. Ethan touched his shoulder, and Benji gasped and looked up at him. His eyes were red and glistening, and Ethan turned his head quickly away from the sight. He gave Benji's shoulder a slight squeeze before letting go and stepping into the other room.
Ethan closed the door, dropped the mask onto the table beside the old-fashioned basin, and stripped down, dropping the sweat-drenched, sand-covered suit like a shed skin. He got into the shower and turnedon the water as hot as he could stand it. Absently, he tossed out the goggles he'd once again pulled off his face and forgotten. He stood under the hot stream, washing away the grime of the last hour, trying to force all thought to drain away as well.
Eventually, the water began to grow cold, and Ethan forced himself to turn it off and face his life again. He found a towel and hastily dried off. He was surprised to see that his bag was just inside the door. It was a testament to how upset he was that someone had managed to slip it into the room without him noticing.
He pulled out something to wear, then took his phone and the tracking device out of the pockets of his dirty clothes. He held the phone for a few seconds, debating on whether or not to try to contact Bogdan. He was almost afraid to call him. If Bogdan had been captured, then a Russian Intelligence agent would have the phone anyway, and it would be futile. If they were watching Bogdan, it might lead FSB to Ethan and the team, and that was out of the question. No. He would wait. Just the thought of how quickly Hendricks could travel - where he might have gotten to by then - made waiting seem insane, but things were too uncertain and he couldn't risk being delayed by Russian Intelligence again.
Ethan was only half dressed when he heard the heated argument coming from the other room. It seemed to have been going on for some time, but was now escalating quickly to a shouting match. Brandt and Jane were at each other's throats. He tried to block it out, but it was impossible. The breakdown he'd hoped wouldn't happen was under way, and he felt the tension like a physical force in the pit of his stomach. He reacted suddenly, shocked by the feeling of his stomach lurching again. He bent quickly over the sink, as his body pushed up what little remained inside his stomach. He heaved again and again, until the bitter, harsh taste of bile alerted him to the fact that there was absolutely nothing left to eject.
He struggled to calm himself, rinsing his mouth, then holding his breath to keep from dry heaving. Calming down was difficult, to say the least. Hendricks' mask was there on the table, haunting him and declaring his failure, and two of his agents were ripping each other apart in a fruitless, frustrating attempt to find a reason for why everything they loved was about to be destroyed. It was useless - snapping at each other like hungry wolves when they could - should - be trying to figure out how to work together to salvage the situation. It infuriated him, but just when he'd decided to go back in there and help them straighten out their priorities, his phone buzzed.
There were only four people who had this number, and three of them were in the next room. Ethan snatched up the phone and connected. Relief, joy, frustration and gratitude sped through him in an instant, and he settled on what always took priority. Duty. "Better have good news for me. Is he here?"
"Yes, yes, he's here," Bogdan replied, sounding slightly breathless. "Come to the docks - pier six, and look for a man with a Dunhill pipe and a silver lighter. Okay?"
"I got it," Ethan said hastily. "Dunhill, lighter. I'll be there."
"But please be sure you're not followed," Bogdan whispered. "He thinks we might-"
"No one will be following me," Ethan said, tone sharpened by the memory of the Russian agents holding him back. "Just make sure no one's following you."
"I'll send you a message when I'm sure," Bogdan answered.
"Good," Ethan said. "And Bogdan."
"Good to hear your voice, Danya."
"Ya tozhe, Seryozha," he said softly. "Same here."
Ethan disconnected the call, pulled on a shirt and tucked his gun into his belt. The argument outside the room had gotten louder, and they'd moved on to include Benji in their wrath. Ethan's own wrath finally burst forth, and he stormed into the room and confronted the stranger on the team, forcing him to show himself to the other two. Ethan was disappointed when he offered Brandt the chance to come clean, and the offer wasn't accepted.
After receiving Bogdan's "all clear" message, Ethan set the empty gun on the table, grabbed his sunglasses and the diamonds, which had been put back in their velvet bag, and walked away. As always, Jane wanted to know the plan, but he was still furious about the useless fight and the degeneration of the team. "The plan," he snapped, glaring between her and Brandt, "was to stop him together." He left the rest of it unspoken - the fact that obviously, they were no longer capable of working together. They were no longer able to trust one another. With a brief (slightly less sharp) statement to Benji, Ethan stalked away from the safe house toward the docks.
Ethan was amazed when he saw the tall, slender blonde man through the puff of pipe smoke. Absurdly, he found himself wondering if arms dealers had some kind common pool of anonymous helpers, and what kind of reference Max might have given this one. It was almost comforting to see a familiar face, but Ethan was far from thrilled to see the damned ski mask again.
Resigned, he put the mask on and let the blonde man lead him on a long, winding walk to who knew where. Eventually, they stopped, and Ethan's pockets were searched. The phone was put back in his pocket, but the diamonds were kept. Finally, he was made to sit down, and his wrists were chained to the arms of his chair. Then, without taking the mask off, the blonde man went away. Ethan heard his footsteps retreating, then there was complete silence. Ethan was alone in the unfamiliar chamber.
Ethan took slow, deep breaths, willing himself to remain calm. Sitting chained to a chair, blind and completely helpless was hardly Ethan Hunt's idea of a good time. Then, of course, there was the fact that every single second that passed was a second closer to global nuclear annihilation. What if Bogdan had been captured after all? What if this was just a ploy to capture Ethan, and Bogdan was being forced by FSB to continue with the meeting? Bogdan hadn't broken for them when it came to giving up his cousin, but what if they'd tricked him some way, or threatened something even deeper than when they'd interrogated him before? The Kremlin hadn't been half-destroyed when Bogdan had been captured last time.
Finally, Ethan heard the sound of footsteps. He tensed, then forced himself to relax. There were two sets of footsteps, then only one – approaching him quickly. "Can I?" It was Bogdan's voice, and Ethan relaxed a little bit. There was, of course, still a chance that FSB had gotten to him, but at least there wasn't the sound of a safety being cocked. There was a grunt that must have meant yes, because the mask came off, and Ethan was greeted by the excited, happy face of his old friend. "SERGEI!!! Sergei, my friend. I told you I would get him here! Didn't I say it?"
Ethan nodded, and glanced at the man standing in the shadows several yards away. "How do I know it's him?"
"Yes, it's him," Bogdan replied. "I trust you, you trust me." He turned to the other man and gestured excitedly toward Ethan. "This is the guy! This is the guy! The one I told you about." Ethan took a moment to look at his surroundings. He was in the hold of a freight vessel, filled with boxes labeled with the names of various kinds of artillery in several different languages. It almost seemed like no two boxes were in the same script. The arms dealer leaned against a moveable platform that seemed to be holding a cannon sized rocket launcher. The amount and variety of weapons in the room would have convinced Ethan that the dealer was not an FSB operative, even if Bogdan hadn't been so genuinely ecstatic in his introduction. FSB wouldn't have had the time nor the inclination to gather all this and make a fake set for him. They would have just grabbed him the moment Bogdan got him in the area, and taken him to an interrogation room.
At the moment, Bogdan was gripping Ethan's shackled wrist, asking for him to be released. The arms dealer ignored his cousin, focusing instead on counting the diamonds that Ethan had brought for Bogdan. Finally, the man spoke, and the dance began.
The meeting was tense. Both of them had everything to lose if their trust was misplaced, and Ethan was running short on time. In the end, though, not only did Bogdan get his diamonds, but Ethan got what he needed: the location of the tactical satellite Hendricks would need, and a promise of whatever equipment he needed to shut the satellite down. Bogdan's intelligence back at Rankow had been spot-on accurate. The Fog, as he liked to be called, was no more interested in a nuclear holocaust than Ethan was.
"I can give you equipment and transportation, but no men," The Fog said.
"I'll take care of the manpower," Ethan replied.
The dealer nodded, then looked at Bogdan. "You handle the rest of this. But be careful, you hear? If you bring FSB anywhere near me, I'll strap you to the end of this cannon and blow you across the docks, understand?"
"No, no," Bogdan said, cringing. "I… I m-mean yes, I understand, I'll be careful. You don't have to worry, cousin." The Fog snorted, and Ethan's eyebrows rose at the exchange. Judging from the true nervousness in Bogdan's manner, it seemed that the threat carried real weight. Apparently, nepotism was not one of The Fog's flaws.
The dealer headed for the stairs, tossing a set of keys to Bogdan as he passed. "Be done in here within the hour," he said.
"Okay, no problem," Bogdan replied. The Fog left, with a nod to Ethan, and Bogdan came over and began to unlock Ethan's cuffs. "He's really not so bad, when you get to know him," he said quietly.
"Sure," Ethan said. He rubbed his wrists absently, and Bogdan set the shackles and keys down on a nearby box. "But you know you don't have to work for him anymore, now, right?" Bogdan shrugged noncommittally. Ethan frowned slightly and stood up, pulling Bogdan around to face him. He cupped Bogdan's face with his hands and forced him to look into his eyes. "Danya, listen to me," he said in Russian. "I gave you those diamonds for a reason. You stay with him, and you'll be risking going back to prison, but I won't be there to help you. Those gems are worth thousands of dollars. When we're done here, I want you to get out. Go to America."
"America?! How can I get into-"
"There's enough money there to buy passports, ID's, whatever you need," Ethan said. "Promise me you'll get out of this, Bogdan, and I promise you, if I'm alive after all this is over, I'll find you."
Bogdan stared at him, his eyes misting. Finally, he wrapped his arms around Ethan and squeezed him tight. "Okay, Sergei," he said softly. "Whatever you say."
Ethan sighed with relief, and squeezed him back. The feeling of Bogdan's arms tight around him was overwhelming. It had only been a couple of days since he'd last seen Bogdan, but those days had seemed like decades. He felt strong emotions welling up – relief, fear, gratitude, love. Ethan shuddered when he felt Bogdan lower his head and gently kiss his neck. He leaned into the kisses for a moment, then pulled back suddenly. "I don't have the time, Danya," he whispered. "I want to, but…"
"We don't have to leave for an hour," Bogdan whispered. "I missed you, Sergei, I-"
"I can't," Ethan said. Duty called, and he couldn’t waste even an hour. But Bogdan pulled him close, kissing him again, and the temptation to give in was strong. Ethan had no idea if he would even survive the next twenty-four hours. In a moment of selfishness, Ethan gave in, letting Bogdan lead him back behind the crates, despite his vocal protests that he didn't have time to do what they were doing. They shared a fast-paced, passionate, and necessarily rough few moments together before forcing themselves to stop and get on with what had to be done.
Once they'd hastily re-buckled belts and smoothed out shirts, Bogdan asked what Ethan thought he would need, and together they gathered what they could from the stockpile in the warehouse. There were a few other supplies that he needed which weren't stored on the ship, and Bogdan introduced him to the men who could produce them. It seemed that Bogdan was the resident diplomat, making connections, and handling the difficult task of introducing strangers to extremely mistrustful men with an ease and grace that Ethan wouldn't have given him credit for. Watching him smooth feathers and extract promises from some of the most dangerous men in the world, Ethan could see why Bogdan had reached such a high position in his cousin's enterprise.
Finally, with the help of one of the dock workers, Ethan and Bogdan loaded the generous amount of machines, weapons and other miscellaneous equipment onto a flat-bed truck, and headed to the airport. The Fog had connections at a small airport, and Bogdan arranged for Ethan to use a comfortably sized private jet that was part of his boss' collection. Even though he'd announced that he couldn't lend Ethan any manpower, Bogdan consigned one of The Fog's pilots to him - a man who would fly them where they wanted and take the jet back "home" with no questions asked. Bogdan worked his own kind of magic at Customs. With the right amount of money (which he took from his cousin's stash) passed to the right agent, their highly suspicious looking bags and boxes were sent through without being checked. Ethan was impressed, and he couldn't resist giving Bogdan a pat on the back for a job well done. Bogdan positively glowed.
When they arrived at the jet - a very fancy affair with the best accommodations - Ethan had every intention of loading the crates onto the plane and making the call he didn't really want to have to make. But Bogdan came inside to show him around the jet, pointing out amenities like a regular salesman. When he showed Ethan the private room, with its warm lightning and tiny bed, Ethan's plans flew out the window. He grabbed Bogdan, shocking a high-pitched yelp out of him, and tossed him onto the small bed. It reminded Ethan of their single night together, on a bed too small for two men with the possibility of being caught hanging over his head. This time, the room smelled like clean airplanes and fresh bedclothes instead of prison air and sweat, but Ethan's passion was none the less vibrant for the comparative opulence of the setting.
Bogdan's shocked expression soon turned to one of pleasure, and they made love, movements eager and hungry, but not so rough and hasty as before. Ethan was keenly aware that this might be the last time he would ever see Bogdan - their task was definitely worthy of the "mission impossible" label, and that was if everything went according to plan. Even still, he forced himself to bring them to climax quickly, then sat up before he could truly enjoy the bliss of those first few moments after. Bogdan was clearly disappointed, but he didn't complain. They cleaned up, re-buckled again, then sat on the bed, shoulders touching, while Ethan tried to work up the courage to say goodbye.
Bogdan shifted and put his hand on Ethan's shoulder. "Be careful, Sergei," he said softly.
"I will." Ethan turned to him and kissed him gently. He told him the words he always said when he had no idea whether or not he was going to see the next day. "I'll be fine."
Bogdan's smile didn't reach his eyes. "I'll miss you."
Ethan frowned slightly. This sounded dangerously close to "goodbye", rather than "see you soon". He faced Bogdan and gripped his arms. "I'll be fine," he said. "I'll find you when it's over. Promise me you'll go to America after this."
"Promise me, Bogdan," he said, not bothering with embarrassment at the desperation in his voice.
Tears filled Bogdan's eyes, but he nodded decisively. "I promise."
"Okay," Ethan said. He kissed Bogdan again, then forced himself to let go. Bogdan left him, rubbing his eyes and practically running away from the airfield. Ethan watched him go, only pulling out his phone when Bogdan was out of sight.
He sent a brief message to Benji - just the name of the airfield, the plane's ID number and "ASAP". He took advantage of the time it would take them to reach the airport to wash his face, straighten the bedclothes, and send a message to the pilot that they would be moving soon. Before long, his teammates stood before him again, both embarrassed and somewhat stung for having been left behind. Ethan didn't allow for apologies, though he was gratified that Brandt in particular felt the need to try. Ethan emphasized that they would need to work together to clean up the mess they'd unfortunately made. The three of them seemed to have formed some kind of truce while he was away (as evidenced by the fact that they hadn't killed one another), and they got back to work without further contention.
The final stand against Hendricks flowed about as smoothly as the rest of the mission had – which is to say that everything that could go wrong, did. Nath turned out to be too fucking playful for the world's own good, Hendricks had the foresight of a sage with his damned server-killing virus, and he also had the dedication of a true lunatic.
Fortunately for society as a whole, so did Ethan.