He should have seen this coming.
It’d just been a line, something that rolled off his tongue after the relief of escaping with his life, before he was back on his feet and off to help chase down a madman. He didn’t think it’d ever happen.
That, Brandt realises, was his first mistake. From the moment Ethan Hunt hopped into the Secretary's car Brandt’s life has become a series of action movie sequences, only he’s living them.
It was supposed to be simple.
They’re in Berlin, tracking a bomb maker, waiting to see if he’ll make contact with a buyer (or, if they’re lucky, an accomplice). Jane follows him to a bar on the other side of town; safe in their base of operations – really a glorified hotel room – Brandt watches as Benji starts opening files on the establishment.
“He isn’t going inside,” Jane says, voice crackling over the speaker. “Bouncer’s on the door.”
“What’s he doing?” Ethan asks from the bathroom, where he’s washing away evidence of his latest adventure: the source of the bomb maker’s location.
There’s a moment of silence, and then, “He looks spooked. He won’t go near the place.”
“Ha!” Benji says; Brandt only just manages not to jump, and a moment later Ethan sticks his head out the bathroom door. “I might know why. That bar is a hangout for a local mob boss.” Brandt comes to stand next to Benji’s chair as he brings up an image of the man: fair skin, dark hair and eyes, mid-thirties.
“Johnny Martin,” Brandt says.
Benji turns around and frowns at him. “Oh, sure, steal my thunder.”
Brandt can only blink at that.
From the doorway Ethan comments, “Doesn’t sound local.”
“He’s an expat.” With a name and a face to work with Brandt’s mind opens like a filing cabinet, pulling up information from documents he’s read. “Family moved him here a couple years ago after someone put a hit out on him.”
Benji stares at him, the way he’s taken to every time Brandt’s recalled from memory details of a target. “I’d love to get a look at your brain, y’know that?”
“So why,” Ethan says, coming around to look at the picture, “is our bomb maker hanging around Johnny Martin’s place?”
“Want me to find out?” Jane asks. The thrill of a prospective hunt underlines her words.
Ethan shakes his head. “If he moves, tail him. Otherwise, do not engage.”
During the course of the exchange Benji has brought up floor plans of the building. Brandt sticks his hand on the back of Benji’s chair and leans in close to look them over. “Martin’s been linked to murders in the past, but nothing large scale.”
“Think he’s moving up to bombing?” Benji asks.
“We’ll have to find out,” Ethan says.
Brandt knows that tone. “So Jane’s got the bomb maker --”
“And you’ve got Martin’s place,” Ethan finishes, and slaps him on the back. “Recon.”
Benji holds out an earpiece. There’s no room for resignation these days, so he takes it and heads out.
He gets past the bouncer with relative ease. Judging by the number of tourists inside, the fact that this is a mob hangout isn’t exactly being advertised. The place is stylish though not overly so, a mostly dark, open space. A few decorative pillars stand surrounded by tables, and a long, slick-looking bar runs along the back of the room.
Brandt makes a slow circuit around the edges, picking out the surveillance cameras and calculating blind spots. He’s just about reached the bar when he spots a familiar face.
“Benji,” he says, as quietly as he can, “does Martin tend to visit his own bar?”
“He more or less owns the place; I’d imagine so, yeah.”
“I think I just made him.”
“What?” From the other end of the line comes the furious sound of typing, and Brandt can imagine every camera in the room focusing their gaze on him. Assuming he wasn’t already being watched.
Martin’s alone at the bar. He could be armed; Brandt can’t quite tell from this distance. As he watches, a woman approaches Martin, smiling, stroking his arm. After a few moments he leans in to say something to her and the woman pouts and slinks away. Brandt’s still watching when Martin glances around the room, his gaze landing on Brandt before he can turn away. Martin looks him up and down and then goes back to his drink.
The file marked ‘Martin, Johnny’ in Brandt’s head opens again, this time pulling out blurry surveillance photos and overheard conversations about the man’s dealings in the dark, his preferences.
“I’ve got an idea.”
“Oh, great, this can only end well --”
He knows the file.
Brandt pulls the earpiece out and sticks it in his pocket. Then he walks up to the bar, to Martin, and orders a drink. When he catches Martin’s gaze roving over his body Brandt offers him a smile. A few moments later, Martin smiles back.
By the time he returns to their base Jane’s back from her tracking job. The three of them look up as he enters the room, all subtlety forgotten; their stares nearly pin him to the spot. Brandt allows himself a quick nod in their direction before he heads for the kitchen.
He grabs a bottle of water and takes a drink before he looks back to the team. Ethan’s on his feet, arms crossed over his chest. His expression is what Brandt would categorise as ‘wary’; it won’t be long before he starts demanding answers.
“Martin’s hosting a party at the bar tomorrow night,” he says.
“And you know this how?”
Brandt shoots Benji a look, and Benji holds up his hands, defensive.
“Hey, you said you had a plan, and you seemed to be doing pretty well on your own,” Benji says, voice getting slightly frantic as he goes on, which isn’t exactly odd, but then he won’t look at Brandt, seems to be actively avoiding looking at him, actually --
The question yanks him out of his mental gymnastics. He turns to Ethan. “I initiated contact.”
Ethan stares. “What?”
“Martin was at the bar.” Brandt sticks his hands in his pockets. “I approached him.”
“You …” Jane opens her mouth but then snaps it closed, shaking her head.
“I saw an opportunity,” Brandt says to her. Jane holds up her hands and doesn’t say anything else, but she’s watching him with narrowed eyes. Ethan’s expression, meanwhile, has quickly moved from ‘wary’ to ‘aggravated’.
“And what made you think he’d tell you anything?”
Brandt looks at him and says, “I’m his type.”
The room goes quiet. Benji shifts in his chair. Jane frowns; Brandt can almost see the gears turning as she thinks it through, until the moment everything slots into place and her eyes widen.
“Huh,” she says. The corners of her lips twitch.
Ethan, to his credit, has one of the best poker faces in the business. It’s part of the reason why he’s so good at staying in character; he doesn’t even think to flinch when an assassin requests that he kill the man sitting next to him. Now, Ethan’s brow furrows, and his mouth turns down, but some of the tension seeps out of his shoulders; he’s back on the way to wary.
“Find out what you can. Don’t get too close.”
That’s how Brandt finds himself returning to the bar the following evening, Benji in his ear, Jane and Ethan milling in the crowd. There are more people than Brandt expected – probably just as many criminals as tourists – and it makes him a little twitchy. He pulls at his shirt collar, trying to ease the pressure in his chest.
“Would you relax?” Benji asks. It’s almost like he’s psychic. Brandt looks up at the surveillance camera pointed in his direction. Then again, he probably doesn’t need to be.
“Easy for you to say.”
“You’ll be fine. This place has cameras everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. You don’t want to know some of the places --”
“Right, sorry. Point is, I’ll keep an eye on you,” Benji says, and the smile comes through in his voice.
“That makes me feel so much better.”
“Remember, the computer’s in his room near the back of the building. Once Martin’s out you should be able to access it.” There’s a pause, before, “Oh, and don’t forget your bug.”
Brandt nods, sure that the camera – Benji – will see it. Then he takes in a deep breath and starts pushing through the crowd. He heads straight for the bar and grabs a drink. They hadn’t organised a time or place to meet and with uncertainty fraying his nerves Brandt races through his tequila, closing his eyes against the taste. He keeps them closed until his pulse stops hammering in his ears. He’s been trained; he can do this. Hands pressed against the bar, he breathes out, and slowly his muscles start to loosen.
It’s not long before he feels a palm slide across his shoulder blades, and a voice says warm against his ear, “Evening, Mr Bell.”
“So what’s your cover?” Benji asks.
They’re driving through the streets surrounding the bar, looking for a good place to park Benji’s surveillance van. With only a few hours until the party begins, they all want to be prepared in advance.
His response is automatic. “William Bell, wealthy adventurer.”
Benji frowns at him. “You used your first name?”
“Take too long to recognise your alias and people get suspicious,” he recites. It’s one of the most useful pieces of advice he’s ever received. “Better to go with something you’re familiar with.”
“Still. Could be dangerous.”
Brandt smirks. “I think I can handle it.”
Benji holds his hands up in surrender and goes back to concentrating on the road. Silence fills the van. Brandt sticks his elbow on the windowsill and watches the buildings pass.
“Adventurer? Really?” Benji blurts out a few moments later.
Brandt shrugs. “He goes for the outdoorsy type.”
“You, outdoorsy?” He laughs. “The analyst?”
“As outdoorsy as you, techie.”
“Guys?” Jane leans forward from her seat in the back. “Can you stop flirting and find a park?”
Brandt lets a smile cross his face and turns around. “Johnny.”
Martin grins at the use of his name and shifts a little closer. With so many people around no one would think twice about the two of them standing almost chest to chest. Meeting in a crowded place is typically advised against, but there’s nothing Brandt can do about it now, so he lets his hand skim down Martin’s arm to encircle his wrist. Martin makes a pleased sound at the contact.
“You look good,” he says, pulling away just far enough to eye him up.
Brandt shrugs. “You never said what we were celebrating.”
“It’s not important.”
“Yeah, that’s not suspicious at all,” Benji says.
Brandt looks to the nearest camera and has to turn his glare into a general glance around the room. “Can I buy you a drink?”
Martin smirks. “I’ve got something else in mind.” He tilts his head to the side, towards the crowd, and starts walking.
In his ear, Benji snorts. “Totally original, this one.”
Brandt lets Martin get a few steps ahead of him and hisses, “Shut. Up.”
“Alright, alright, sorry.”
Near the end of the bar Martin’s come to a stop, and is looking back at him with a puzzled expression. Brandt pushes through the mass of people until he reaches him.
“Something wrong?” Martin asks, leaning in close.
Brandt shakes his head. “A lot of people, that’s all.” He brushes his hand across Martin’s side, dropping the bug into his jacket pocket in the same motion. Martin doesn’t notice, reacting only to the touch; he smiles at Brandt, dark and hungry.
He lets Martin take hold of his arm, following him around the corner of the bar.
Where he comes face to face with their bomb maker.
Brandt freezes. Luckily, so does Martin. He schools his face into an expression of polite disinterest; though his insides are squirming with adrenaline his training allows him to keep his cool.
Martin isn’t having nearly as much luck. He glares openly at the bomb maker and, before the man can speak, releases his grip on Brandt’s arm and says, “Excuse me for a moment, Mr Bell. I need to speak with my associate.”
Brandt nods. “I’ll wait here.”
Martin briefly strokes Brandt’s lower back, and then he and the bomb maker disappear into the crowd. Brandt heads back to the bar and slumps against it, taking in a deep breath. In his ear the sound of the party grows steadily quieter; it’s a strange sensation.
“That was lucky,” Benji says on a sigh of relief. “Bugged him just in time.”
Brandt shakes his head, because of course, of course he bugged him just in time. That’s his life these days.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Martin’s voice comes through, angry and clear.
“We needed to meet --”
“No,” Martin says, and the bomb maker falls silent. “I told you, I’m not interested. You come here again and I’ll kill you myself.”
There’s nothing for a moment, and then the sounds of the party starts to return. Martin’s on his way back.
“So that’s it, right? We get to go home now?” Benji asks.
Ethan’s on the other side of the room. He meets Brandt’s eyes briefly as he says, “Jane, meet me outside. I’ll catch up with our friend. Brandt?”
It takes a moment for him to understand the question for what it is: Ethan’s giving him the choice. He’s got control over this part of the op. He can end it right here if he wants to. Brandt glances over his shoulder and the crowd parts as if on cue. He catches sight of Martin just as he comes back into the room, before he disappears amongst the people. Thirty seconds, maybe less.
Turning back to the bar, he says, “I can’t break cover. If he gets suspicious --”
“Wait, what?” Benji interjects.
“He met with our bomb maker,” and Brandt’s speaking as much to Benji as to Ethan. “If there’s any correspondence between them we might be able to track the source.”
“Key word there is ‘might’ --”
“Brandt, maintain cover,” Ethan cuts him off. “Rendezvous with Benji for extraction.”
“You’re not serious?” Benji’s voice pitches higher in his distress.
Brandt glances over to one of the cameras and offers what he hopes is a reassuring look. “You’ve got your eye on me, right?”
He’s saved from hearing Benji’s response as Martin reappears, sliding his hand around Brandt’s elbow.
“Sorry about that,” Martin says, smiling. “Shall we?”
He lets Martin lead him towards the back of the bar, to a door marked ‘Employees Only’. From there they head down a corridor until they come to what looks like a bedroom-office hybrid. There’s a desk in one corner with a computer on it, and on the far side is an enormous bed. A camera is perched on the wall across from the desk, angled so that it can see almost all corners of the room. This is where he needs to be.
Martin shuts the door behind them.
“So,” he says, stepping forward.
Brandt moves fast, catching Martin by the shoulders and pushing him back against the door, crowding in to catch his mouth. Martin makes a muffled, shocked sound but quickly melts into the kiss. His hands go to Brandt’s shirt, pulling it free so he can run fingers over Brandt’s stomach, down his side.
Brandt pulls back for air and Martin growls, “Fuck, William,” and starts nipping at the line of Brandt’s jaw.
He can’t help the moan that escapes his throat; it’s been so long since someone said his name like that, and Martin’s hand is drifting towards Brandt’s belt with definite purpose.
“Bed,” he says, and lets Martin walk him backwards til his legs hit the mattress.
Brandt ends up on his back with Martin straddling his thighs, hands still working at his belt. He shuts his eyes and tries to focus on his breathing, keeping his mouth shut against the noises he wants to make as Martin fondles his cock through his jeans.
But then Martin leans down to mouth at his chest, and Brandt opens his eyes and finds that he’s looking straight at the camera, and it should make him feel bad because that’s Benji having to sit there and watch all this unfold, but instead the thought sends a rush of desire through him so intense that he fucking gasps, and he’s harder than he’s even been in his life.
He rolls them til he’s on top – catching the surprised then appreciative look on Martin’s face in the process – and sticks his hand down Martin’s pants. A button goes pinging across the floor but neither of them cares. He wraps his fingers around Martin’s cock and strokes, uses every trick he knows until Martin’s coming apart in his hand, limbs gone slack, sprawling across the bed in a post-orgasmic haze.
Brandt reaches into his pocket and takes out a needle.
Having found a park for the van, they return to the hotel, and Brandt gives it a few minutes before he approaches Benji. He finds him in his room, chewing absently on the end of a pen.
“I need you to find something for me.”
Benji glances up from his computer. “Yeah?”
“An anaesthetic,” Brandt says. “Small enough to fit in my pocket but strong enough to knock a man out for a decent length of time. Preferably without killing him.”
“This for your date tonight?”
He resists the urge to roll his eyes. “No, I’ve just got a craving. What do you think?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Benji says with a wink.
Before Martin can get his brain back in working order Brandt finds a vein and sticks him with the anaesthetic. He watches as Martin’s smile goes from contented to something sluggish; soon his entire body relaxes, and it’s only then that Brandt realises how quiet it is.
The ache between his legs won’t go away, but he’s not about to act on it. When he’s finally sure he can move without setting himself off Brandt stands, starts fixing his clothes.
“Benji,” he says. It comes out rough, and he clears his throat. “You there?”
“Can you access Martin’s computer?”
“Um,” Benji says, and the tremor in his voice makes Brandt pause. “The data stick, just --”
He removes the stick from the heel of his shoe – pretty straightforward hiding place, really, he expected more – and pushes it into one of the USB slots. A new window pops up on screen; Brandt watches the progress bar until it fills, and a message appears: ‘System link complete’.
“It’s done.” He grabs the stick and wedges it back into his shoe. “Heading your way now.”
He slips out the emergency exit and heads down the street to the next block, where Benji’s currently parked. He opens the back of the van and hops in.
They peel out as soon as the door is closed. The trip is made in silence.
Brandt’s reclining on his bed, going over the summary of Ethan’s chat with the bomb maker, when a file drops into his lap. He looks up from it to find Jane, a bit of a smirk on her face.
“Martin’s financials. He’s not exactly rich, but I hear you got the seduction part down.”
Brandt smiles, and it’s only a little bitter. Jane gives him a knowing look, her expression softening as she sits on the bed.
Brandt waves it off, glances over the files out of curiosity. “Benji get anything off his computer?”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
When the time comes to report back to Ethan the details of the mission, Benji is brief, lacking in his usual good humour. In the rare instances that he looks Brandt’s way it’s little more than a fleeting glance, and he can’t meet Brandt’s eyes. They both watch him leave after he’s done, and when Ethan turns to him, questioning, Brandt agrees with Benji’s report and leaves it at that.
“Might not be the best idea,” he says, frowning.
Jane lays a hand on his knee. When Brandt finally looks up at her, she squeezes affectionately and says, “Try him.”
The entire afternoon passes, and it is well into the evening before he ventures out to Benji’s room, where Brandt finds him engaged with something on his computer. His presence goes unnoticed; Benji’s still a technician at heart. Eventually Brandt knocks on the doorframe and Benji’s head snaps up, face flushing.
Brandt gives a little wave. “You okay?”
Benji clears his throat, nodding towards the screen. “Your friend the crime boss seems to be clean.”
He feels he should protest to that, but Benji’s attention is back on his computer, and the silence quickly turns awkward. He remains standing by the doorway, feet firmly planted, one hand still grasping the frame in an effort to keep from leaving.
“Want to get a drink?”
The words are out before he can stop them. Benji does nothing but gape at him for a few long seconds, before he shrugs and grabs his coat.
They end up in a dive bar close to their hotel, something dark and crowded with tables. It’s pure luck that they’re given a booth right at the back, but it’s still small enough that they can’t move without their legs bumping.
Brandt waits until their drinks arrive, and then says, “Is this going to make things weird?”
Benji blinks at him. “Weird? Is what going to make things …” At the look on Brandt’s face he quickly stops. “Right. Weird.”
“I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable.”
Benji twirls his glass slowly between his fingers. His cheeks start turning red, and he doesn’t look at Brandt when he asks, “You, uh, you make out with guys a lot?”
He notes the way Benji skipped right over that last comment, unable to stop himself from filing it away. They’re talking, though. It should be honest.
“You do a lot of things working for IMF.” Brandt frowns as soon as he says it – nice, real honest there – and adds, “Before I joined I’d had experience.”
Benji’s eyebrows go up. “Huh.” His tongue darts out to wet his lips, and Brandt watches, a curl of interest sharp in his gut. He looks away before Benji catches him.
The conversation dies in favour of new drinks. Brandt allows himself to sink back into his seat, and it’s not long before Benji does the same.
A little while later he sets down his beer and says, “I, uh, deleted the surveillance videos that had you in them. They were in their own folder,” Benji pulls a face, “little bit creepy, but – you don’t have to worry about Martin having images of you or anything.”
“… Thanks, Benji,” Brandt says. For once, his smile feels genuine.
Benji shrugs it off, and then downs the rest of his drink. “You’re buying, yeah?”
Things go back to normal after that, or as normal as his life can be. There’s banter and the occasional discussion regarding who gets to play seducer next; Brandt still thinks of himself as the helper – even when he’s forced to break out his ‘ninja powers’, as Benji calls them – and is surprised to discover that it doesn’t bother him. It’s easy enough to get used to working with a team.
And if sometimes he catches Benji looking at him too intensely, or finds himself replaying in his head the way Benji’s voice sounded that night --
Well. He tries not to let it affect him.
And as it turns out, their bomb maker is just the lowest rung on the ladder, working for another organisation set on holding the world to ransom, and before he knows it they’re halfway around the world and Ethan’s about to enact his latest stunt involving explosives and boarding a cargo plane mid-flight.
Jane’s in position by the rear door, ready to extract Ethan as soon as he’s done; Benji’s eyes are bright and focused when he looks to Brandt to give the go-ahead.
His life is now an action movie, and Brandt’s going to enjoy it as long as he can.