Jim wished he could die. He wished that an act of will could end his life spontaneously, then and there. He'd prayed for it. He'd even tried holding his breath. Once, he'd managed to hold it long enough to pass out, but then of course, his autonomic systems had kicked in again, and he'd awoken alive, moments from another round of torture.
His head ached. Not a normal, dull ache, but a piercing strike that shot through him to the beat of his heart, shocking him even worse whenever he moved the wrong way, or breathed too deeply, or thought too much. His eyes and mouth were dry. There was hardly a spot on his body that didn't throb. It had become clear to them in a very short time that no amount of physical violence could hope to break him, but he still suffered from the effects of their initial attempts.
Jim sat up suddenly and put a hand to his mouth. He barely made it to the bucket before his body convulsed and he vomited violently. The action made the pounding in his head become nearly unbearable. The drugs were hard on him. This was the fourth time he'd thrown up in under ninety minutes. He slouched on the floor, breathing heavily and praying again for death. The thought of ignoring the questions, fighting the artificial, drug-induced urge to cooperate again and again was unbearable. The only thing he dreaded more was the thought that he might eventually succumb to the drugs and give his captor the tools he would need to destroy everyone and everything Jim loved.
But death never came to relieve Jim. He endured the torture of the three nameless men again and again. Jim had come to know them simply as The Doctor, The Muscle and The Initiator. The Initiator, a tall, gray-haired man of about Jim's age, was obviously in control of the operation. He gave the orders. He was the smartest. He had Agency experience. He would take Jim's place when Jim finally broke.
The Muscle was the second smartest. He did as he was told, never spoke to Jim beyond orders to "get up", "come on", "this way". He was young, in his late twenties, or early thirties at the most. He was about half an inch shorter than Jim, but probably twice as wide. He was a skilled fighter, and he knew a lot about how the body worked. Even if he'd been in peak condition, Jim wasn't sure he would have been able to fight the man single-handedly, despite his rigorous Agency training. Weakened as he was from the after-effects of his last mission, and his lengthy hospital stay, his initial attempts to fight back were pathetic at best. Jim never bothered to try to enlist The Muscle's help. The man wanted to live and he wanted to get paid. Jim was a dead man walking – he had nothing to offer, and The Muscle knew it.
The Doctor was not smart. He was an expert, to be sure. He was a forty-something, handsome, talented, technical genius. He knew about the human mind, and how it should react to certain chemicals. But he wasn't smart. He thought expertise gave him an edge. He thought The Initiator needed him on a long-term basis. He thought the Initiator wasn't going to kill him the moment he got what he wanted. Jim never bothered to try to enlist his help, either. If anything, he tried to provoke the man, tried to force him to use too much of hishateful drugs – maybe enough of them would destroy Jim's mind completely. Then The Initiator would have no use for Jim, and would kill him at last.
Of course, that never happened, just as The Muscle had never lost control and beat him to death when Jim had tried provoking him to rage in the early part of his captivity.
Time no longer made sense to Jim. He didn't know how long it had been since he'd been taken from the hospital and brought to this place. He could no longer measure the hours – the "sessions", when he was taken out of his cell to endure their torture, were not held at regular intervals. He ate two times per day, but those times were oddly spaced at random intervals that changed every day. The lights in his cell went on and off with no regularity.
Jim knew this game. These were mind tricks, designed to keep a prisoner confused and agitated. Humans needed structure – patterns. Even the most adventurous, "avante garde" person needed some sense of normalcy. Disrupting even the basic pattern of light vs. dark was usually a good way to weaken a captive.
Knowing all the tactics didn't make them any less effective against Jim. He was extremely confused and agitated, almost constantly. But the knowledge of what he would lose if he broke made him fight all the harder – made him try to create his own sense of structure in defiance of The Initiator.
When Jim woke up in the morning (or evening, or afternoon, or whatever time it happened to be), he did nineteen push-ups exactly. Nineteen was the age he'd been when he'd joined the Air Force, and his life had begun. Whenever he went to sleep of his own volition (rather than passing out during a Session), he recited a meaningful text to himself. He rotated between seven of them, to give himself the illusion of having days in a week.
"Monday" was the Declaration of Independence. Tuesday was the Preamble to the Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance. Wednesday was the Bill of Rights. Thursday was the Gettysburg Address. Friday was the National Anthem. Saturday was the Uniformed Services Oath of Office. (That was also his go-to statement during Sessions, in the days after he'd become too addled and upset to remember his serial number).
Sunday was The Lord's Prayer, and Psalm 23. And of course, there was a daily litany of vague prayers that flowed from him often – especially when he felt the effects of the medication, or the beatings, weighing most heavily on him. Prayers for God to keep him from giving anything away. Keep him from betraying his country.
Between "morning" and "night", there wasn't much to occupy Jim's time. The cell was made of gray, smooth concrete with no distinguishing marks other than the single, solid door. There was nothing inside the cell except the bucket and a roll of toilet paper, both of which were replaced at irregular intervals. There was no cot – not even a gathering of old rags and straw form him to sleep on. There was absolutely nothing he could use as a distraction between Meals and Sessions. So, Jim occupied himself with his own thoughts. He recalled family, friends, old teams he'd headed, fun times he'd had with team members he'd grown particularly close to.
He kept his thoughts away from his current team and his wife. Thinking about them only led to thoughts of The Initiator and what he would do to them if Jim couldn't hold on long enough for The Initiator to give up and kill him at last.
It happened on Military Oath Day. Jim always found a bitter irony in that fact. It started with a shocking visit from someone he thought he would never see again. She was dragged in by The Muscle, and The Initiator was right behind her. She nearly burst into tears at the sight of him. She glared accusingly at The Initiator. "My God! What have you done to him?"
The Initiator laughed. "What do you think I’ve done to him, my dear?"
Tears filled Jim's eyes at the sound of her voice. "Claire."
She turned back to him and hurried to his side. She threw her arms around him, sobbing and clutching him close. "Oh, Jim, Jim! I'm so sorry!"
Jim wanted to believe – wanted her so much. But he was an agent in the Impossible Missions Force. He was an expert at deception. He forced her back, and stared at her red, teary eyes. Without speaking, he pulled her hair back, forced her head to tilt and checked for signs that she was wearing a mask.
There were none. It was Claire. Claire! He pulled her to him, muttering apologies. "I had to, I had to check." Claire shushed him and squeezed him tight.
After a few moments, The Initiator spoke, and Jim clutched him protectively. "All right, all right, this is all very touching. But I brought you here for a reason, Mrs. Phelps."
Claire turned to him. "You're a monster," she hissed.
"Aren't we all," he said. "Just remember, this monster has the power to keep your husband alive. He cooperates, he lives. If not, you die." Jim was horrified, though he'd expected such an ultimatum the moment Claire walked into the room. He made no outward sign that he'd heard The Initiator speak.
"I want to talk to my husband alone," Claire said.
"Come on," The Initiator said. He and The Muscle left the room and locked the door.
"Oh, Jim," Claire said with a despondent sigh. "I'm so sorry."
"You had nothing to do with this," he said. "We all know the risks. But why did you come, Claire? He can't let you go now." He gripped her arms and stared longingly at her face, knowing that she would soon be killed.
"I want to help, Jim, that's why I came. He told me what he wants."
"Then you know I can't give it to him. If I give him my codes, there'll be no stopping him!" He shook his head, turning from her. "You shouldn't have… you shouldn't be here."
"Jim, I…" Jim's nausea spiked, and she stopped, alarmed. Jim made use of the bucket, then stayed kneeling over it, panting and waiting for the piercing pain ripping through his skull to subside. "My God, Jim!" Her warm hands touched his shoulders. She guided him away and pulled off her jacket, folding it for him to use as a pillow. "Jim how long can you go on like this?"
"As long… as it… takes," he said, still fighting the nausea. "I'd rather die than…"
"I know." She stroked his head. "I know."
"Why? Why did… you come, Claire? You know he can't use you as leverage. I… I love you so much, but…"
"I know, Jim. But… I wanted to see you. I wanted to find out if you had any message I could take to your cousin.
Jim froze for a second, looking up into her large, calm eyes. Code. Ethan was Jim's "cousin". But Jim couldn't know how much The Initiator knew. Each team leader developed their own coded dialect, but there were some common phrases that he might be aware of. "I… I haven't thought much about it," he said. "I never thought I'd see anyone who could carry a message to her." Jim hoped she would understand the switched pronoun was to confuse the enemy. "I don't know how you plan to do it either, darling. How would you escape here?"
"He has no reason to kill me, he'll have to see that. I'm the only one who can confirm his identity to the others, you know that."
"Right." Jim smiled. Claire knew very well that Jim and Ethan had a secret code between the two of them. "I should have known you'd never entrap yourself. Listen, I… I think I have a message for my cousin after all."
"Can you just let her know that I miss her, and I think often of the fun times we had in Southern Italy. I hope we can get back there one day."
Claire frowned slightly for the briefest second. It was a code any of the team would have understood, though it was special to Jim and Ethan. Southern Italy was where Jim and Ethan had gone after Jim had rescued Ethan from capture, defying Ethan's "disavowed" status on one of their earliest missions together. Ethan would immediately understand it to mean Jim was captured. Claire smiled a moment later. "Of course, dear. But I think I need her cell phone number."
It was Jim's turn to frown. She wanted their key – their secret code. Jim shook his head. "You know how she is. Just call her at home."
Claire shook her head, still stroking Jim gently. "She's never home, honey. I didn't want to tell you at a time like this, but her father's in the hospital. She's at his side every day, waiting for him to regain consciousness and speak to her. She wouldn't even hear her messages, or a page from the hospital staff right now. But if I can get her on her cell, she won't be able to ignore it, and she can pass it along to the other relatives."
Jim nodded, but didn't speak. He understood. There was a double in the hospital, either unconscious or pretending to be. Ethan might not believe or understand the message, since he believed Jim was right there. Or, he might be harmed if they tried to discuss Jim's captivity right by the double. But if Claire gave him their most secret code, Ethan would immediately know that it had come from Jim, and he could let everyone know that the real Jim Phelps was in captivity.
Jim was in a quandary. His code with Ethan was absolutely inviolate. The only thing that made it valuable was that it was a secret that would never be divulged, no matter who asked – no matter how horrible the torture. But if Claire took the code to Ethan, he might be able to stop The Initiator's plans. Jim told himself that he was not motivated by his fury at the thought that Ethan was sitting by the bedside of The Initiator's pawn, nor the hope that he might actually be rescued and taken away from this hellish place.
But what if Jim told Claire, and The Initiator forced the information from her? Then it wouldn't matter if he had the other codes or not – Ethan would vouch for the impostor, and the impostor would have free reign.
"Jim," Claire whispered. "I love you so much. I hate seeing you like this. Hate seeing you in pain." She leaned close to him and kissed him, then looked into his eyes. "I would never hurt you, Jim," she whispered. "Either of you. You believe that, don't you?"
Jim could feel a tension building within him. The truth serum was still affecting him, making him want to cooperate. To help. And this wasn't the enemy. The Initiator. This was Claire. He loved her. He trusted her. She wouldn't let The Initiator force anything from her. Would she?
"I love you, Claire," he said. "I'm afraid… for you. He's ruthless, I'm afraid he won't let you go."
"Shh. I'm his only chance, remember? And I'd die before I hurt you, Jim. Do you understand, I'd die."
Jim stared up at her. There was honesty in her angelic, beautiful face. He believed her. He nodded slowly. "Just… be careful," he said. "Please."
"Of course," she whispered, smiling.
"Okay. The number is 562-779-8188."
Claire nodded. "And I know she'll want to call you, but… well, I can give her your answering service. Do you have the number?"
"Yes, it's 310-306-4793."
Claire smiled and hissed his forehead. "I love you," Jim," she whispered. "Everything will be alright." Then she stood up. "You're a fool!" she snapped. "A stubborn idiot!"
"What do you want from me?" he shouted, glaring at her. "You know me, or you should, we've been married long enough."
"Exactly! We're married! I'm supposed to be your first priority!"
"You know the-"
"The country comes first!" she shouted. "Meanwhile you're willing to let me die!"
"Claire, we all knew the risks!"
Clair let out a frustrated sound. "I'm sick of hearing that phrase! A catch-all to excuse ignoring your own humanity!" She turned and stormed to the door. "Let me out," she yelled, slamming her fist against the door.
After a few moments, the door opened, and The Initiator stood before them. The Muscle stood just behind him. "I hope you got what I wanted," The Initiator said.
"Of course I didn't, I told you he'd never talk!"
"I told you, you'd die if-"
"Save your threats," she snapped. "You can't afford to kill me and you know it. I can get you in without his help."
The Initiator looked suspicious. Jim frowned at Claire. "You don't know what you're saying," he said to her.
Claire glanced at him, then turned back to The Initiator. "On one condition."
"Jim lives. I won't help you unless I have your word on that."
"Claire, no!" Jim cried.
"Shut up!" The Initiator glared at Jim. Then he looked back at Claire, his expression still grim. "Can you really do it?"
Claire nodded. "I'll vouch for you. I know Jim better than anyone, and the Agency knows it. If I say you're Jim Phelps, they'll believe me, no matter how many slips you might make." He looked impressed. "But I won't do it if Jim's killed."
"No, Claire, no!" Jim hissed. "I'm not important, you know-"
"You're right," The Initiator said. "You're not important." He glanced at his guard. "Lock the door. Mrs. Phelps and I have some things to discuss."
Jim called after her, but of course, she didn't listen. They locked him in, and Jim lay back against his wife's jacket, breathing in her scent, confident that this ordeal would soon be over.
Two days later (on Declaration of Independence Day) Jim was not entirely surprised to receive a visit from Claire. The Muscle let her in, and Jim stood up, noting that The Initiator was not present. Good. Jim waited calmly, hands behind his back, as he usually did when they waited long enough for him to get some real rest before taking him to a new Session.
Claire nodded. The Muscle might have seen it as a greeting, but Jim knew it was a "go". Jim walked slowly toward them, keeping his eyes on Claire. When he was within inches of them, he vaulted for The Muscle. He attacked with his left hand, and when Muscle moved to deflect, Jim pierced his neck with the tranquilizer dart that had been attached to the second button of Claire's jacket.
The Muscle went limp, and Claire reached for Jim's hand. "Come on," she hissed.
The two of them made their way out of the cell, through a series of corridors and junctions that looked practically identical. Jim had only seen the path from his cell to the examination room, but Claire had obviously familiarized herself with the full layout. She navigated it without any hesitation, and before long, they had made it to the outer lobby.
Ethan was there, holding a gun on two men, both bound and gagged. One was a security guard, the other was The Doctor, red-faced and struggling. Jim smiled, relieved. He hadn't seen Ethan since their last mission had gone so wrong. It was wonderful to see him again, and now, Jim was almost completely certain that they would make it out, and this horrific imprisonment would finally be over. Most people Jim had worked with looked to him as the last line - the final guarantee that the mission was going to be fine, no matter what. If there was one person Jim trusted at that level, it was Ethan Hunt.
Ethan smiled happily when he saw Jim. "Hey! It's great to see your face again."
"Same here." Ethan passed the gun to Claire so she could keep an eye on the guards, and extended his arm to Jim. Jim laughed, and hugged him. Ethan patted his back before letting go almost immediately. Jim frowned slightly, but tried to shake off the sudden hesitation. Ethan had been through a lot lately. Maybe...
"I'll get the car," Claire said suddenly.
"No, stay," Ethan said. "We'll all go together in a minute."
"Yeah, sweetheart, we should stick together," Jim agreed. "Ethan, just one quick thing."
"Shoot," he said, taking the gun back from Claire, and patting her arm.
"Where can you get the best shortbread in the universe?"
Ethan smiled. "Fourth seat on the right, of course."
Jim laughed, relief washing over him. Now there was no doubt in his mind, everything was finally going to be alright. "Thank God for you, Ethan," he said.
Ethan smiled at him, face positively glowing. Then he took a deep breath, and laughed. At first, Jim thought it was relief, but as the laugh carried on, Jim realized it was just plain mirth. He backed away, glancing at Claire. She was staring at Ethan, looking confused. "Ethan?"
Ethan waved a hand and tried to control himself. "I'm sorry, Claire," he said, still chuckling. "I just... I just have to..."
Ethan didn't finish his sentence. He looked at Jim, still grinning, and put a hand to his neck. Jim gasped and staggered back. "No."
"Ethan" yanked off the mask to reveal the grinning face of The Initiator. He pulled off the electronic voice modulator that allowed even the least skilled of impersonators to speak in another's voice, and laughed again. "Surprise!"
Jim took another step back and jumped when he felt a hand on his arm. The Muscle was behind him, quite conscious and alert, gripping Jim's arm and shoving a gun against his side. Jim looked at Claire, knowing his utter shock and horror showed clearly on his face. He wanted to ask her how she could do such a thing to him, but he was shocked and disgusted beyond all ability to speak.
Claire lowered her eyes, embarrassed, then glared at The Initiator. "Why did you have to-"
"Why not?" The Initiator asked. "He'd have known it was you who betrayed him within an hour of getting to the so-called 'safe-house' anyway."
"But you wouldn't have had to see it, right?" Claire blushed, and The Initiator laughed again. "You're far too modest, Claire. You know, what I'd really love to know is how you got a detailed code like that out of a couple of phone numbers."
Claire continued to glare at him, but he seemed to expect an answer. With a hesitant glance at Jim, she explained. "The... the first number had a 562 area code. That’s the city where his favorite flat was. The other numbers were a code that refers to something sweet and enjoyable, created by a serviceperson. He had a maid named Lucy who used to make shortbread cookies for him." She looked at Jim again, and her face reddened at the pain she must have seen there.
"What about the other one?" The Initiator asked. "The response, how did you know to put it that way?"
She sighed, but continued. "The other number started with a 310, then a code for books. There was a library he used to go to as a child, and he was introduced to those books there. There's another code that means for us to send an exact location. I... it's... if you know Jim, it just..."
The Initiator laughed again. "Pays to have the inside information, huh? That's clever," he said to Jim.
"Stop it, let's go!" Claire hissed.
"What's the matter, Claire? I'm just complimenting the man on an elegant little system, that's all. What's wrong with that?"
"You don't have to-"
"Rub it in? Why not? This bastard's been making my life hard for weeks now! Getting in the way of our goals." Claire blushed again and lowered her head. "Oh come on, Claire, what's the matter? Don't you like it when a good plan is executed perfectly? In your line of work, I would have thought that nothing could be more satisfying. Or is it that you're ashamed of yourself now? It's a little late for that, isn't it, darling?"
"You're calling him Jim?" Jim cried in shock.
Claire looked sadly at him. "I'm sorry."
Jim shook his head, recoiling from her false apology. "Why?" he whispered. "Why, Claire?"
"I... it... it was to save you," she said. "I wanted-"
"You know I would have gladly died before I let this happen!"
"I know, but I..."
She took a step toward him, and Jim backed up so quickly that he forced The Muscle to back up as well. "Stay away from me, traitor," he spat.
She stopped, and tears came to her eyes. "Jim, I love you."
"Stop it, Claire! If you cared about me at all, you'd have put a bullet through my head yourself before you would do something like this to me. To all of us!"
"He's right, Claire," The Initiator said, still smiling.
"Stop," she hissed.
"What? Why not just tell the truth," he asked. "You did it for the money." Claire scowled at him, but she didn't contradict him. "You're worth plenty, Mr. Phelps, but she stands to more than triple her profits with me." He winked. "Plus, I'm a little more adventurous in bed."
"Stop!" Claire cried. She looked at Jim, worry in her eyes.
She needn't have been concerned. Jim didn't rail at her, or shout. He just stared at her, somewhere between confusion and disgust. He felt not so much as if he were looking at a total stranger, but more as if he were looking at a monster – an inhuman creature that he'd once somehow mistaken for a person.
Claire's lip trembled, and tears shone in her eyes. The sight only served to repulse him further. "He... he... I made him promise not to kill you," she said, her voice trembling. "That part was true, Jim."
"Well, I hope to God he breaks that promise," Jim said fervently. "Because I can't live with myself anymore." Claire looked shocked, sad and confused. Jim didn't have a single ounce of sympathy for her. "I don't know how you managed to hide yourself from me. From the Agency. But you may as well stop hiding from yourself right now."
He took a step toward her, but The Muscle tightened his grip on Jim's arm. Undaunted, Jim glared and pointed at her with his free hand. "You're a traitor, Claire," emphasizing the word with the full venom of his hatred. "You betrayed your team – people who would let themselves be tortured to death before they did the same to you. You've betrayed your husband. Only you know all I've done for you. But that isn't why you're dead to me, Claire. You're dead to me because you betrayed your country. You sicken me. And when your new boyfriend no longer has a use for you, I hope he makes it a gut shot, because I want you to have time to think before you die. I want you to think about me, and how happy I'll be that you've finally gotten exactly what you deserve."
Claire stared at him, her wide round eyes almost huge with shock. The Initiator laughed again, but it was half-hearted compared to his jovial laugh from a few minutes ago. "Relax, Claire," he said. "It's just the ravings of a frustrated man who knows he's lost the game." Claire turned away from both of them and didn't respond.
Jim turned his eyes away from her, and saw The Initiator looking at her with a slight frown on his face. The Initiator shrugged, and smiled again. "Well, my friend," he said, stepping backward to look at the guard and The Doctor. "You've been a colossal waste of time," he said to The Doctor, aiming his gun. The man's eyes widened, and he shook his head vigorously. The Initiator shot him dead without further words. The guard was next, and Jim felt The Muscle start, his hand tightening slightly on Jim's arm. The Initiator turned back to Jim. "No sense having an extra loose end," he said.
"Exactly," Jim said suddenly. "It's safer without me, you know." The Initiator looked at him, smoky blue eyes piercing Jim's vibrant, crystal blues. "As long as I'm alive, you're in danger."
Claire whirled to look at him, then at The Initiator. He looked thoughtful, and he was toying with the gun. "No," she hissed. "You swore to me!"
"What difference does that make?" Jim asked, still speaking to The Initiator. "She'll forgive you when she sees the money. Why endanger yourself?"
"I won't, I won't help you if you kill him," she said sharply.
"You don't get it, Claire!" Jim shouted, his frustration boiling over. "When he's got what he wants, I'm dead anyway, so why not get it over with?"
"Dammit, Jim, why are you so determined to die? I'm trying to save your life!"
He stared at her, rage turning to shock in an instant. "How can you know so little about me?" Jim asked, in genuine awe.
The Instigator smiled, and tsked at Claire. "He's got a point, Claire," he said. "You're only hurting him by keeping him alive."
"I told you, I won't-"
"Oh, I know," he answered. "But don't worry, I'll keep my promise." Jim felt his hopes fall. "You almost convinced me, Mr. Phelps. But you're no danger to me, not with Claire and Ethan vouching for me." Jim's hands clenched involuntarily, and he struggled to keep his features even. "Besides. It'll bring me joy to think of you suffering year after year, while I get everything I've ever wanted." The Initiator looked up at The Muscle. "Want to make a bigger salary, Alan?"
"If I can, sir," he answered.
"Take him to the second location and wait for my instructions."
"Yes, sir." There was a sharp prick on Jim's neck, and he dropped to the floor, unconscious.
Jim awoke an undetermined time later, and found himself in a clean, well-furnished apartment. He lay on a plush couch, and Alan – the second-smartest man on the Initiator's team – stood over him, a gun in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. As soon as Jim focused on him, Alan held out the bag.
"Bathroom's down the hall."
Slowly, Jim took the bag and looked inside. Three boxes of permanent hair dye – black, brown and red. Jim looked up. "What are your orders, Alan?"
"Keep you alive," he said simply. "Keep you relatively comfortable."
"And keep me imprisoned."
Alan nodded. "Yes, that's right."
Jim gritted his teeth and dropped the bag to the floor. "What if I don't want it?"
Alan sighed. He put the gun into his belt (on the side farthest from Jim) and approached the couch. Jim tensed, but Alan didn’t touch him. He picked up the bag and held it out again. "Please don’t make this harder than it has to be, Mr. Phelps," he said. "You already know how badly I can hurt you without killing you. I’d rather not do that to you, sir."
Jim found himself trembling slightly, but not from fear of more pain, although that certainly wasn’t welcome. It was from a strong emotional reaction to the thought that Alan didn’t want to hurt him. After Claire’s betrayal, and the outright vindictiveness of The Initiator, the simple, "I’d rather not do that to you, sir" was almost enough to bring him to tears. He steeled himself against the feelings of gratitude that welled up in him. After all, this man was in it for the money, as much as Claire was. Jim slowly took the bag from Alan, pulled the box of black dye out and made his way to the bathroom.
"Maybe it doesn't mean much, coming from me," Alan said as he passed. "But I’m sorry about your wife."
Jim stiffened, then nodded and left the room.
In the first six months of his captivity, Jim tried to end his life three times. It was a difficult task to attempt, since The Initiator had already ordered everything to be removed that could possibly help Jim. There were no knives, no forks, no cords of any use. He wasn't allowed any neckties, and he was provided with loafers and house shoes – no laces anywhere. So his first attempt involved a bit of ingenuity. He ripped through one of the sheets, forming it into strips, and knotting them as if he planned to make his escape through a window. (All the windows were barred and shuttered, so there was no escape that way, dead or alive.) Alan found him before he'd even lost consciousness and cut him down. He'd looked at him in disbelief, then he'd removed away all of the sheets from the small apartment.
The second attempt involved mixing ammonia and bleach in a bucket, and closing himself with it in the bathroom. He was again discovered before he could do any real damage to himself, though he'd tried to time his attempt for only a few hours after Alan's visit, so that he could be assured he wouldn't be interrupted. But Alan was, as Jim knew, the second smartest member of The Initiator's team. He must have known something was wrong in Jim's behavior, because he was back moments after Jim locked himself into the bathroom. He was beaten soundly for that attempt, and Alan was ordered to sleep on Jim's couch and keep an eye on him for the next two weeks.
The third attempt failed as well – Jim had slowly, carefully, gradually filed a spoon down on various surfaces, until it's edges were sharp, and its tip pointed. He'd tried to end it the "old fashioned way", and he'd got as far as losing consciousness inside the warm bath. But he awoke, wrapped tightly in blankets, lying on his bed, with Alan sitting near him. Jim had cried openly, and begged Alan to kill him. He'd tried to make the man understand what it was to have done what he'd done, and to have lost what he'd lost.
Alan had looked almost remorseful. He'd stared at the floor for a few moments, then looked up at Jim. "I'm sorry, Mr. Phelps," he said. "But I can't let you kill yourself, and I can't kill you. But…" He paused, and Jim looked at him closely. "I'm not sure if I'm supposed to tell you this or not. But your friends are still alive."
"What?" Jim had said, barely above a whisper.
"That team you were on? They're not dead."
"You… you're just saying that, so I'll…"
The man shook his head. "This is a long-term plan, sir," he said. "And it's not over yet. So… I think maybe you shouldn't give up on life just yet."
Jim had stared at him, looking for any sign of deceit, but he'd found none. Not that he trusted himself to pick out a liar after Claire, but Alan had never seemed like much of a liar before. Aside from pretending to lose consciousness during Claire's staged rescue attempt, Alan had never lied to Jim that he could remember. Besides that, Jim believed that The Initiator would want Jim to suffer as much as possible. The fact that Ethan and the others were alive was probably something he wouldn't want Jim to know, and Jim believed the caution in Alan's demeanor as he revealed the information.
Jim had dried his eyes and sat up. "Thank you, Alan. That… you don't know what that means to me." And from that day on, Jim had made it his new resolution to survive, and if at all possible, see the false Jim dead before he destroyed everything and everyone Jim cared for.
In the next eighteen months of his captivity, Jim tried to escape seven times. Each time, he was thwarted and caught, no matter when he tried to make the attempt. He began to believe that the entire house must be rigged with surveillance equipment, which (of course) was probably not unlikely.
Six of the seven times, Jim was violently punished for his "crime". He was subjected to beatings, and the kind of creative physical torture that Alan had employed while they were still trying to get information from him. On his sixth attempt, Alan had broken his arm, leading to a recovery period that was absolute misery. Alan took away the books he'd brought over the first couple of years, and refused to bring newspapers to him, or even really talk to him while he waited for his arm to heal. Jim was miserable for months, and was nearly cured of trying to escape.
When the seventh and final escape attempt was thwarted, Alan was absolutely furious. He dragged Jim back from a train station, seething with barely controlled rage. He unleashed a little of it when he got Jim back to the small flat that Jim had grown to hate. Jim put up what defense he could, but Alan stopped before he did much damage, slamming Jim down onto the couch and glaring at him. "You're screwing with my life here," he shouted. "If I let you get away before he's ready, I'm a dead man!"
Jim was surprised. He'd always assumed Alan was favored by The Initiator. "Come off it!" Jim shouted, still furious for having been caught. "He's paying you a big salary to keep me locked away, that's what you really care about! You're his favorite, aren't you? His best weapon!"
Alan glared. "You know better than that! The man has no loyalty, you saw what he did to Doc Anderson! The second I cross him, I'm dead, and I'm not going down that way! I'm not letting you get me killed! I’m going to see that you stay put permanently!"
"What are you-"
"I’m gonna break both your legs, and I’m not gonna set them right, which means you’ll have trouble walking for the rest of your life. That should slow you down."
Jim was practically petrified. He quickly tried to calm Alan down. Normally, he didn't bother to try to bargain, but he was horrified by the idea of being incapacitated again, and of being damaged permanently. "Wait, Alan, wait." Alan rolled up his sleeves, and took firm hold of Jim's right ankle. "Please, Alan," Jim said, a tremor creeping into his voice. "Please, let me just... I... I'm sorry, okay? I didn't realize he had you trapped in this situation, too."
Alan glared at him. He didn't let go of Jim's leg, but he didn't do anything to it, either. "What's your point?" he asked darkly.
"I... my..." Jim took a breath and struggled to calm himself. He was part of the IMF, dammit. He wouldn't fall apart, no matter what happened. "I'm a man of my word, right?" Alan gave him a slight nod. "Okay. Then, I give you my solemn word that I won't try to escape again. Ever." The man looked shocked, and Jim nodded. "On my honor as... as a servant of the US Government, I promise you, I'll cooperate. Third time failed to be the charm for me twice, and even if I could get out of here..." He shook his head, not even wanting to think about what would happen to him if he was ever discovered by The Initiator, or even by his own government. He'd been willing to face the prospect of being disbelieved, or even just remaining in hiding, but it wasn't worth being forcibly and permanently broken apart by this man. "I'm not even asking you not to punish me," he said. "Just... don't break anything, okay? Can we make that a deal?"
Slowly, Alan released Jim's leg, then held a hand out to Jim. It startled Jim at first, until he realized that Alan wanted to shake his hand. Jim reached out slowly and the two men shook hands firmly. "It's a deal, Mr. Phelps," he said. And without further ado, it was over. Jim expected to receive another beating, to have his books taken away again, or to lose his newspaper privileges, but none of that happened. Alan checked over the house, as usual, to make sure there were no makeshift weapons around, then left the house, locking the bolts behind him.
Jim kept his word, and he spent the next year in his prison in relative comfort, with Alan as his only source of human contact, and newspaper articles his only windows to the outside world.
About three years after Jim's imprisonment in the "second location" began, Alan came into Jim's apartment/prison with his weekly burden – a week's worth of groceries, Jim's favorite newspapers and a bottle of bourbon. Jim helped him with the stuff, dumping the bags on the kitchen counter and opening the bourbon.
"Grab me a couple of glasses, will you?" Jim said.
Jim paused and looked at his jailor/friend. "What's wrong?"
Alan shifted uncomfortably. "I… I have new orders, Mr. Phelps," he said.
Jim felt his heart sink. He took a breath. "Better get those glasses," he said. Alan did so, and Jim poured them each a double bourbon. Alan downed his in two long gulps. "Must be pretty bad," Jim said.
Alan nodded, and Jim re-filled his glass, then took a seat on the couch. "I got my orders the usual way. Letter in a safe deposit box. I'm supposed to give you a message, then I'm… well…"
"What's the message, Alan?"
Alan sighed and took another sip of his drink. "It's… well… the team you were part of…"
Jim's hand tightened on the glass. "Go on."
"They were killed," he said. Jim cringed, and lowered his head. "Your friend, Ethan Hunt? He's been blamed for it, and he... he's dead, too."
Jim gasped and sprang to his feet. "No!"
"I'm sorry, Jim. He was ambushed on a train. There wasn't any way for him to escape."
Jim turned away. He emptied his glass, filled it, then emptied it again. He was half way through a third before his hands stopped shaking. "You're supposed to kill me now, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir," Alan said, voice sullen.
Jim turned back to face the younger man. "So. Is that what you're going to do?"
Alan frowned. "I'm supposed to," he said. He looked down at the floor. "Supposed to put a... a picture in the box, and then I'll get my final payoff. And then..."
"And then you can get back to your life. I understand. But that isn't the question, son." Alan looked up at him, but didn't speak. "Listen, I know what you're going through right now. You're obligated to someone and you have been for a long time. You're not sure what he's asking you to do is right. In fact, knowing his reputation, you might be next on the list after me. Especially since you'll be the only one besides Claire who knows he's an impostor." Alan looked away again, but didn't interrupt. "We haven't been placed in the best of circumstances, Alan. But I've come to know you in the last few years, and... whatever decision you make, I know it'll be the right one."
Alan sighed and lowered his head, looking like a dog who'd displeased his master. "Jim, I wish you weren't so-" He paused and looked up, finally facing Jim again. "You always treated me decently," he said. "Like I was more than just some cheap hood."
"That's because I know you are, Alan."
Alan looked seriously at him. "You're an honorable man, Mr. Phelps," he said. "You've never lied to me. So I know if I ask you something, you'll tell me the truth, right?" Jim nodded. "So... if I ask you... I mean to say... say I were to accidentally leave the deadbolt unlocked one day. Do you suppose I'd get shot, or picked up by the Feds some time after?"
Jim shook his head slowly. "I sincerely doubt that, Alan," he said. "In fact, I can say with certainty that no cop, or Fed, or anyone else would even know you existed."
Alan nodded thoughtfully. "That's good to know, Jim," he said. "I think I'll take one more swig of that."
Jim filled Alan's glass again, and the two men shared a drink in silence. Finally, Alan stood up. Jim stood as well, and they looked at each other for a moment. Then, Alan extended his hand and Jim shook it.
"It's been nice knowing you, Jim." He gave a self-deprecating smile. "I guess I'll understand if you can't say the same."
Jim smiled. "It's been nice knowing you, Alan."
The Muscle smiled at him. "Thanks, Jim. Say, I picked up that coffee you like today."
Jim nodded. Allan tipped an invisible hat, then left the apartment. The usual sound of the three heavy-duty bolts sliding into place was absent. It took every ounce of Jim's will power not to rush from the place immediately. He forced himself to take his time and evaluate what he needed. He took the false ID that had helpfully been provided to him when he'd first been brought to this place, resolving to get it changed as soon as possible. He tossed a few changes of clothes into a pillow case (needless to say, he hadn't been provided with luggage), and tossed in anything else he might need.
As an afterthought, Jim checked the grocery bags Alan had brought. Under the bread and eggs, Jim found his favored brand of coffee. He pulled out the sack, noticing that it didn't feel like coffee beans, or even the pre-ground stuff. Jim opened the bag and smiled. It was filled with four fat rolls of twenty dollar bills.
"Bless you, Alan."
Jim dropped the money (still in its unconventional container) into the pillow case and left the apartment – finally free after three long years. At that moment, when he stepped into the hall without his ever-present "body-guard", Jim was able to forget the pain – forget the heartbreaking betrayal that had lead to his captivity, and to the murder of his friends and of the man he loved. He was free. Free after so many years of living in a not-quite-gilded cage. That's all that matters, he told himself.
For the first few weeks, he might even have believed it.