In the Field
Ethan took a few steps away from the phone booth. But there was nothing that way. He turned his face the other way, but… there was nothing that way, either. He was alone. Barefoot and bleeding out in a city that was no longer safe. In a world that was no longer safe.
Without the IMF, there was nothing. He was lost.
Ethan wanted to sit on the bench behind him and just let oblivion take him. It was a fleeting thought, and immediately dismissed. Ethan Hunt didn’t just give up. Ever. And it would have been even worse, after that woman - that deep cover agent - had risked her life to save him. God only knew what they would do to her for being "incompetent" enough to let him escape. He couldn’t make a mockery of her sacrifice.
Ethan did what he always did when he felt that his world had been destroyed. He put one foot in front of the other and started to work on a plan.
Jane was surprised to hear Brandt’s voice. She secured her connection and held the phone to her ear. "Go."
"The committee has shut us down," he said.
"No," she breathed. "Hunley, dammit!"
"Yeah." She could hear the hurt and the guilt in the single word. She knew he would have fought for them, and whatever he’d tried had failed.
"Now what?" she asked. "What’s the play?"
"I’m supposed to bring everyone in," Brandt replied.
"What?! I’m not going to sit behind anybody’s desk, no offense, and-"
"I know you aren’t," he said. There was something in his tone that made her pause and listen close. "Ethan was on assignment in London. He told me the terminal’s been compromised and the agent is down."
"The Syndicate." He let it sink in, and Jane clutched the phone. "He asked me to investigate former intelligence agents that are missing or assumed dead, but-"
"But we’re shut down."
"Jane," he said seriously. "I cannot ask you to violate protocol. Anything you do now, without the authority of the CIA, is unsanctioned and could be considered treasonous. But if I wasn’t able to find you on your deep cover assignment in France…"
"It’s done, Brandt," she said. "We never spoke."
"Thank you," he said. "Good luck, Jane."
The connection ended, and Jane set the phone down and tried to pull herself together. Shit! No more IMF. How the hell had she managed to see the IMF disbanded twice in less than a year and a half? Shit!
Her phone rang again, and she stared at it for a second in surprise. Could it be Brandt again with more earth-shattering news? She answered. "Yes?"
Jane felt her heart pounding at the sound of the voice. Ethan! But he sounded weak. Strained. She’d never heard him sound like that, ever. And she’d visited him in the hospital after he drove himself (basically) off a cliff. She secured the connection quickly. "Done."
"Jane, I… need…"
"Where are you?"she asked.
"Rondezvous 32, in…"
"I know. I’m in France, I can be there in three hours - four tops. Can you hold out?"
"Yes," he said. "I’ll try. Jane?"
"I’m… sorry to pull you into this. I-"
"Don’t apologize," she said gently. "Just hold on. I’m on my way."
Ethan staggered to the door. He was freezing and his head swam. Walking across the floor of the small room was like walking on the deck of a ship in the middle of a horrific storm. The person had knocked twice more before he managed to get his hand on the knob. "Who’s there?"
"Delivery for Hunter Matthews."
Ethan felt his knees start to give way, he was so relieved. It was Jane’s voice. He gripped the handle and forced himself to stay on his feet. "Can you... tell me who it’s from?" he asked, forcing himself to complete the code.
"Transcontinental Steel Incorporated," she answered. "Needs a signature, sir."
Ethan opened the door and smiled when he saw the wobbly, wavering image of Jane standing there. "Jane. Thank-" Dizziness suddenly overwhelmed him and he fell to his knees.
"Don’t talk," she said, putting a hand on his shoulder briefly. She bolted the door, and a moment later, Ethan felt himself eased back and hefted off the floor. Jane carried him, cradled in her arms like a child, back to his sweat-soaked cot. He watched her face, the concentrated frown as she examined his bare torso. "One hit?" she asked. He nodded. "Bullet?"
"Okay, you’re gonna be fine, Ethan," she said quietly. He saw her bring something big and dark over. She started pulling out medical supplies, and he felt relief wash over him again. He must have sounded pretty bad on the phone if she’d brought supplies without being asked.
Ethan turned away, focusing on staying conscious and trying to stop the world from spinning. Too soon, Jane put a hand on his arm. "I’m going to have to open it up," she said. "Take this."
She put a clean cloth in his hand. Ethan clenched it in his fist, balled it up, and bit down on it. He looked at her. She had latex gloves on, and a scalpel in hand. She looked at him with a question in her eyes, and he nodded. She put a hand on his abdomen near the wound, and he flinched. The whole area was inflamed, and even her gentle touch hurt badly. He tensed, waiting for the worst of it.
When it came, he screamed, clamping down hard on the hand towel. His fists clenched tightly, pounding the floor. "Okay," Jane said calmly. "I see it, Ethan. One more second." He heard her pick up the pincers, and he screamed again when she had to dig inches into him to pull out the slug. "Good, Ethan," she said calmly. "You’re doing fine. Doesn’t look like they hit anything major, but I just need to check and then close up, and we’ll be all done."
Ethan tried to nod, but wasn’t sure if he even moved. He lay as still as he could, feeling shuddering breaths heave through him. He wished he could will himself to unconsciousness, but his pain tolerance was too fucking high. After a while, he felt her sewing up, which at least meant that she was almost done. There seemed to be a lot of sewing going on, but finally, she smiled at him and said, "Done. We’re all done, Ethan."
Ethan sighed with relief, and pulled the cloth out of his mouth. "Thank you."
"Of course," she said, pulling off the bloody gloves. "I’ll bring you antibiotics soon. You should rest."
He nodded. "I… I’m sorry-"
"Don’t, Ethan," she said. She looked him in the eye. "I’d have come to you no matter what. But I was already in before you called." He was confused and didn’t try to hide it. "Brandt called right before you did. Told me what you found out about the Syndicate, and…" She shrugged. "And he lost me in France during a deep cover op."
A slow smile spread across Ethan’s face. He gripped her hand and squeezed. "We’re going to get him," he said. Then his head rolled back, and he lost consciousness.
"Got you a present."
Ethan looked up at her, and she could tell he was trying to keep the frustration off his face. He forced a smile. "Okay, what is it?"
"Two, actually," she said. "First one’s this." Jane set a cold, dark beer on the table in front of him.
"What?" he said, smiling at the drink.
"Your last day of antibiotics was yesterday." Ethan laughed and took hold of the beer. "You’re going to want it to celebrate this," she said, putting an eight by ten picture in front of him.
Ethan pushed the beer aside and stared down at the picture. It was a slightly blurry shot of a woman walking out of a busy coffee house. "Liang Min," he said softly. "Now what are you doing in Thailand?"
"Another presumed dead agent, walking around alive."
"And working for him," he said. "This is the third one in three weeks!"
"If Hunley hadn’t shut us down, we could actually do something with this."
He looked up at Jane and gave her that sad smile that said he was going to tell her something unpleasant. "It’s time, Jane," he said.
She looked at him, and shook her head. "You’re barely able to walk, Ethan. You still need me."
"You’re right," he said. "I need you. But I need you inside."
She shook her head again. "You have Benji," she said, knowing it wouldn’t work even as she said it.
"I can’t use him," Ethan told her. "He’s going to be under a microscope, and-"
"How do you know I’m not going to be under one, too?"
"You will at first, but they’ll let up on you soon enough."
"How can you be so sure!?"
"Because they’re going to underestimate you." He lowered his eyes under her heavy frown. "It’s bad, but it’ll work to our advantage, Jane. Benji looks up to me like I’m Superman," he said, looking back into her eyes. "He’s idolized me since he first worked with me, and they know it. They’ll assume that I’ll go to him first, since I know he’ll do anything I ask. And they know he can make the computer forget anything he does. You’re stronger in their eyes, Jane. You grew up in the system independent of me. You had your own team, and they put you under me, so they’re going to assume you resent me just a little, no matter how well we’ve worked together for the last year. And they have no idea how good you are with tech." He leaned forward, and those intense eyes held hers. "I need you to go in."
Jane felt her jaw clenching. Now she knew how Brandt had felt when Ethan convinced him to give live nuclear launch codes to a terrorist. "Dammit," she hissed, slamming her fist on the table. She stood up and turned away from him. She didn’t want to go in. Didn’t want to have to tow the line in the damn CIA, under Hunley, who was too short-sighted to see how much the IMF meant to the world. To them, the agents he’d cut off at the knees. She didn’t want to end up at a desk punching numbers, or training some damn rookies on how not to get killed in the field, instead of being in the field herself.
She took a deep breath. This was what her job was about - doing what was necessary for the greater good. She wouldn’t hesitate to give her life for the IMF if it became necessary. Could she really balk at becoming a desk jockey for the same cause?
Yes, of course she could. But she would do what had to be done anyway. She turned back to face Ethan. He was watching her with those piercing eyes. "Alright," she said. "I’ll do it." His shoulders relaxed slightly and he nodded his gratitude. "But if Hunley pisses me off just ONCE, I’m going to break his fingers off."
Ethan laughed. "I won’t stop you." He tapped his beer against the table. "Come on. You’re going to join me, right?"
It was difficult without Jane. Lonely. He had to wait until she was cleared through the agency again. He didn’t dare contact her for at least two weeks - enough time to "come out" from her deep cover in France, be shocked by the disbanding of the IMF, and integrated into the CIA. Once they were sure of her, he could try to get her help again. In the meantime, he was completely alone. He certainly couldn’t contact Benji, and Brandt was out of the question as well. He might be able to get help from Luther, but if he knew his staunchly loyal (and hard-headed) friend, Luther would resign before working for the CIA.
It was a relief when, about a week after Jane left, Ethan felt well enough to start exercising again. It was something to do, something to get his body back into shape for the show-down he knew would have to happen. His bruising from Vinter’s short beating and the resultant fight was finally beginning to fade, and though he was still sore from the healing bullet wound, he needed to get himself back together as soon as possible.
When he was ready, he worked on picturing his enemy and coming up with a workable sketch. It was difficult for him. Naturally, whenever he thought of the man’s face, he thought of the sweet little terminal agent. Standing so bravely, weeping but facing her death without screaming or pleading - just standing there, watching Ethan, and hoping that the legendary agent could save her. Damn. It took him a while to get something that he was really satisfied with. After that, he meditated on the man day and night, looking at the picture and thinking about what kind of man could possibly gain the kind of access it would take to infiltrate a major terminal.
When it was finally safe enough, Ethan called Jane. He was half afraid that she wouldn’t be able (or willing) to help now that she was back in, but he needn’t have worried. "I’ve been waiting for your call," she said eagerly, the moment she secured the connection. "I have two more names for you, can you accept a download?"
Ethan laughed. "Sure I can," he answered. "So, how… how did it go?"
"No problems," she answered. "I was deep cover, they bought that I hadn’t gotten the message to come in. Series of polygraphs, lots of questions about where you were and if I’ve heard from you. Nothing I couldn’t handle."
"Good." Ethan checked his phone, and saw two more pictures of agents he recognized from Russian and Canadian intelligence. "Got them, thanks Jane. Good work."
"Thanks. Anything else I can do to help? How are you feeling?"
"Wonderful now," he answered. "Healing."
"You can do something else for me," Ethan said. "Remember flight 601?"
"That disappeared over Asian waters?"
"That’s the one. Can you get me a passenger manifest, and anything else you can find about the disappearance?"
"Consider it done," she said. "Shit. Listen, Hunley’s coming, I-"
"Go," he said. "Don’t break any fingers."
She laughed and the connection terminated. Smiling, Ethan added the two names to his list of somehow living agents. He grinned at the picture of The Man. "You’re going down, you son of a bitch," he whispered. "Soon enough."
The young trainee cringed when he saw her, but tried to correct the expression right away. He gave her a hesitant smile. "Gonna go easy on me today?" he asked jokingly.
"Nope." He smiled, but she could tell it was forced. "You’ll thank me when you’re in the field and an assassin’s got you pinned against the wall."
"Yes, ma’am." He looked like he’d rather face that phantom assassin than do the training exercise.
She bounced on her toes. "Come on. Come and get me."
The trainee, a slim-but-fit twenty-something, a full foot taller than she, hesitated for a second. But he knew that she wouldn’t pull her punches (much), and she didn’t expect him to, either. He raced for her, and the exercise began. He was well-trained, but he was a little wild in his fighting style, and she was able to take advantage of that. She had him flat on his back on the mat, twice in five minutes. "Better," she said, noting that it took him longer to be caught the second time. "This time, let’s-"
She was interrupted by the loud ringing of her cell phone. She glanced at it, surprised. Everyone knew her schedule. Maybe it was an assignment. Maybe it was something from Ethan. "Sorry, Jacobson," she said. "I have to check."
"No problem, ma'am," Jacobson said, catching his breath.
She trotted to the bench where her phone sat. Naturally, the call was from an unknown number. She answered. "Carter."
She secured the connection quickly. "Done."
"Jane, I… I’m going to need something big this time."
"Name it," she said. It had been only a few days since Ethan had asked her to connect him with a former terminal agent in Austria. He’d explained why, and they’d had a little bit of a blow-out when he chose Benji to help at the Opera instead of her. Eventually, she’d accepted his reasoning. Nothing had changed, she was still the better choice for his internal connection. Benji was still far more scrutinized than Jane (as Ethan had predicted). Benji was stronger with on-site tech modifications than she was, too, so she’d capitulated in the end. But she was itching to get in on the action on this case that had become her second life for months.
"I’m going to need a helicopter."
"I told you it was big. A drop over a power plant in Morocco. No extraction, you get us in, then get yourself out and back to work. Can you do it?"
Jane considered it. It was a big thing, stealing a helicopter from the government, even for a little while. And grabbing one from a private person might be even worse. But she had a chance to help in a major way, and she wasn’t about to turn it down. "I can do it. How soon do you need it?"
"Soon as possible. We have some gear to gather up, too. Two days?"
"Done. I’ll contact you."
The connection died, and Jane looked at her trainee. "I have to go."
He was already nodding. "I understand, ma’am," he said. "Good luck."
Ethan smiled at the sight of the military chopper touching down behind Ilsa’s apartment. He waited until the cabin door opened, and the familiar figure stepped down. She pulled off her helmet and smiled at him. Ethan trotted toward Jane, hearing Ilsa keeping up behind him. Too bad Benji’d had to start driving already. Ethan thought he would have liked the chance to see his first team leader again.
They clasped hands when they were close enough, and Jane looked him up and down. "You look good!"
"All healed up and cleaned up," he said. Jane looked past him, and Ethan gestured for Ilsa to come closer. The other agent smiled and nodded at Jane. "British intellience," Ethan explained. "This is-"
"Maybe I’d better not know," Jane said quickly. "I still have to take the polygraph once a month."
Ilsa smiled wider and held out a hand to Jane. "Thanks," she said.
Jane smiled and shook Ilsa’s hand. "Hop in," she said. "I have headphones and mics for you both."
Ethan let Ilsa into the chopper, then climbed in himself, tucking their gear under the seats. Ilsa handed him headphones, and they strapped themselves in. Ethan looked around the inside of the cabin. The helicopter wasn’t one of the huge models that could carry some 24 men and gear. But it was a decent size, with room for four to six people, in addition to the a few large ammunition boxes and other stores he could see stacked along one side. Ethan was impressed. "So how did you get this?" he asked as they lifted off.
"Flirted with the pilot," Jane answered simply. Ethan laughed. "What?" she asked sharply.
"You flirted with the pilot?"
"So?" she said defensively. "Got you a helicopter, didn’t I?"
"True," Ethan said, smiling. "But… it’s never been your…"
"What, you think I can’t be a decent honey pot without you talking in my ear?" she asked.
"Honestly, no," he said. Ilsa gasped and Ethan winked at her. She looked both amused and mystified by the conversation. Jane looked back at him long enough to give him a dirty look. "So how did that go?" Ethan asked.
Jane shrugged. "The way it always goes," she answered. "She was unconscious within sixty seconds." Ethan laughed a good hearty laugh. He hadn’t had a laugh like that in what seemed like forever. "She’s in that ammo box back there, box number 10, if you want to know."
Ethan’s laugh got just a little bit louder, and Ilsa’s surprised amusement tickled him even more. "I’ve missed you so much."
"Yeah, well keep laughing, and you can have a little of my charm, too," she said, raising her clenched fist. But there was a huge smile on her face.
When they got closer to the power plant, Ethan and Ilsa strapped on their parachutes and prepared for the jump. Soon, they were hovering over the drop point, a few hundred yards south of the plant to account for the wind. Ethan stood beside the cockpit and looked down at his friend. "Jane. Thank you."
"Any time. You’ll tell me if you need me again."
It wasn’t exactly a question, but Ethan nodded. "I will."
She smiled. "Good luck, Ethan."
He smiled and turned away. Ilsa watched him, and at his slight nod she opened the cabin door. The wind rushed in, and within seconds, Ethan was airborne.
Ethan never called. Jane began to wonder if he’d survived whatever it was that he’d been doing in Morocco. She wondered if he’d finally found the Face - the Key to the Syndicate, whose picture he’d drawn and sent her soon after he'd sent her inside. She wondered if he’d survived his inevitable confrontation with the man.
There was no contact. Nothing from Brandt, Benji, nobody! It was frustrating, but Jane just did her job and pretended she didn’t know anything she wasn’t supposed to know. Soon after the helicopter drop, she heard rumblings. Rumors that something big had happened. Someone crucial had been captured. Hunley was going before the Committee again.
Jane feared (briefly) that Ethan had, indeed, survived the power plant only to be captured by the CIA. But she told herself it was much more likely that Ethan had got the Key and brought him in - clearing his own name and proving that the Syndicate was real at last. This was ETHAN. He’d avoided capture all this time. He’d averted a nuclear apocalypse beyond all odds. There was no way he could be caught now.
"Agent Carter?" Jane looked up from her trainee evaluations. "Sorry to disturb you, ma’am, but you’ve been requested in A–108."
It was a generic conference room. Jane frowned slightly. "Requested by…?"
"Doesn’t say, ma’am, I’m sorry," the young woman answered.
Jane waved a hand at the clerk and thanked her. She left her desk and headed for the conference room. Again, she worried that the wrong thing had happened. Maybe someone had discovered she’d been helping Ethan, and she was about to receive disciplinary action.
She closed her mind to the worries and moved through the halls to room A–108. One there, she tapped on the door then opened it without waiting for an answer. She’d been summoned, after all, so she was expected. She froze when she stepped inside and saw the room’s sole occupant.
He smiled. "Hi, Jane."
She turned around, almost as if she should be checking for hidden cameras, or as if she expected Special Forces to arrest him any second. He was on his feet when she turned back to him, the little smile still there. She grinned and hugged him, being careful to feel for any flinching from him as she squeezed. He held her tight and she felt (rather than heard) his contented sigh.
"What happened?" she asked.
Ethan pulled back and looked at her with the same intensity she’d seen that first night in the supply cache in England. His smile turned fierce. "We got him. We got the son of a bitch!"
"YES! Yes, I knew you would do it!"
"Couldn’t have done it without you." Jane have him a half shrug, but Ethan kept that intense gaze on her. "Thank you, Jane," he said.
"You’re welcome," she said. "But I was just doing my duty, Ethan."
"More than that," he said. "But that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?" He reached into his pocket and pulled out a black cell phone. He looked down at it, smiled, then set it on the table. He looked up at her again and pushed the phone toward her. "How would you like to stop training newbies and get back in the field?"
Jane snatched up the phone almost before Ethan stopped speaking. "We’re back in business?"
Ethan nodded. "We will be. Hunley’s in front of the Board with Brandt right now."
Jane held up the phone. "But you don’t even know the outcome."
He smiled at her. "Oh yes I do."
Jane shook her head and slipped the phone into her pocket. "I’ll clean out my desk."
Ethan rubbed a sweaty hand on his jeans, gritted his teeth, and fed the reel into the library’s microfiche machine. The screen lit up and requested a retinal scan. He swallowed, and looked into the correct place on the large screen.
His ID was verified, and the new chief analyst’s voice spoke. "Good morning, Mr. Hunt." Ethan listened, still on edge, while the woman’s voice explained that remnants of the Syndicate were attempting to regroup under new leadership. The problem was explained. The mission was set before him. His team was mentioned. There were no errors in protocol, no unusually casual language, and most of all, no threats, murder or drugging at the end. The film burned itself up at the appropriate time and Ethan left the booth, relieved.
The world was in chaos. Their mission was deadly dangerous, there wasn’t enough time do everything they needed to do, and they might all die before it was done. But they were the IMF, and that was just par for the course. He wasn’t afraid. The IMF would make it right, no matter what it took, and the world would be safe again. (As safe as it could be, anyway.)
Ethan walked out of the building and stepped purposefully toward his car. He was already coming up with a plan of action, and the sketch of a plan B. He smiled at the thought of what the others would have to say about Plan A, pulled out his phone and dialed.