The fucking James Bond theme.
Why did Benji have to use that as his ringtone? Brandt slowly let his mind return from sleep as he listened to the sound of his friend’s mobile phone. As the sound of Benji’s clearly unimpressed groans filled the room, Brandt knew that his co-worker had the hangover from hell.
Brandt almost felt a smile tug at his lips as he remembered the laughter and drinking that had occurred the previous night. It had been a successful mission which required a bit more celebrating than usual; in their opinions anyway. Ethan and Jane had left the bar earlier than them, the remaining agents returning to their hotel room just before midnight. But their night hadn’t ended there. Benji had slipped the ‘Bad Boys II’ disc into the DVD player of their room, all the while expressing his disappointment – rather vocally – that Brandt hadn’t seen the film before. The pair had watched the film intently, going through beers like there was no tomorrow.
Eventually they had passed out at around 1:30am, despite the film having not finished yet. Brandt lay sprawled across the sofa in the centre of the room, his empty beer bottle slipping from his grasp and rolling about on the soft rug beneath him. Benji, in the meantime, had started the night on the second sofa, however ended up on the floor sometime between losing consciousness and being woken by his phone.
So now, Brandt lay in his spot, his face only inches from the back of the sofa, curled up in the foetal position listening to his friend fumbling about for the device. He heard the English accent mumble countless obscenities as he searched, finally finding it inside one of his shoes. There was a small pause between the “Gotcha!” and when the ringing actually stopped, causing Brandt’s curiosity to perk up a bit. He knew it was rude to listen in to other peoples conversations, but there was something about the tone in Benji's voice when he answered the phone that intrigued him.
“Hello?” A pause. “What? Why are you calling me?” Another, much longer pause. “No. No. Not happening, sorry.” Brandt was really curious by now, however maintained the ruse of sleep. “No, Travis. I put that in the past. It’s behind me, now, and I never want to… Please don’t bring him into it. Don’t.” Who was Benji talking about? “Of course I do, you know exactly how much I miss him. Look, Travis, I’m hanging up now. Goodbye.” Brandt heard the click of the call ending and contemplated turning over to see if his friend was ok, but decided against it. He couldn’t imagine Benji being too pleased that Brandt had heard his conversation. He heard the younger agent climb back onto the sofa, however could tell that he didn’t fall back to sleep. The analyst lay there, contemplating what he had just heard, wondering if he should ask his friend if he was alright. But, at the end of the day, Benji was a grown man and if he needed help he would ask for it.
The next morning, Brandt studied Benji’s body language as they packed for the return trip. The Brit seemed distant, distracted and awfully quiet. The latter shift in his usual personality was what worried Brandt the most. Ever since the pair had met, it had been difficult to shut the tech up; even in his sleep, the younger man would often ramble off different technological terms. Once, he was sure he had heard Benji say the words “I’m sorry.” but when Brandt had asked him about it, he had told the analyst that it had merely been a dream.
“You ready to go?” Brandt asked, cheerfully, not wanting to give off any signs that he had heard Benji’s conversation. The tech was good at reading people; that was for sure.
“Yeah. All ready.” Benji gave an obviously forced smile and hitched his rucksack over his shoulder. As he stepped into the corridor of the hotel, the sound of Benji’s phone echoed off the cold, grey walls. As Brandt pulled the door shut, he glanced over his shoulder to see the tech staring at the screen of his phone before hitting the lock button and pocketing the device. He turned to Brandt, noticing the slightly incredulous look on the analyst’s face. “What are we waiting for?”
“Uh… After you.” Brandt smiled and motioned for his friend to take the lead. He followed the Brit with an increased amount of curiosity; as he walked, Benji seemed to hold himself slightly different. It wasn’t the usual relaxed pace that Brandt always saw him display, he seemed to be more rigid. Something was off.
Just short of two weeks later, their van pulled up to the airport and the group made their final preparations for their newest mission. It wasn’t going to be too hard. Brian Edwards was carrying some important documents needed to complete the job and they had devised the perfect plan to acquire them. Jane would apprehend him at arrivals; well, by ‘apprehend’, really it meant bump into him so that both his bag and her identical bag were dropped. All she then had to do was pick up the opposite bag and, as Benji put it, Bob’s your uncle, mission accomplished. Brandt and Ethan would be sitting nearby, keeping an eye out for any potential threats to Jane’s progress while Benji sat in the airport’s conveniently designed change-rooms, keeping control of the security cameras. It all sounded straight forward.
Benji grabbed his laptop bag and fumbled with it as he heard his phone begin to ring. Reaching into his jeans, he found the device and glanced at the screen, feeling his stomach drop at sight of the number.
“Benji.” He turned to see Ethan giving him a serious look. “Phone…”
“Oh, yeah, sorry Ethan.” He swiftly declined the call and turned it off before pocketing it again and jumping out of the van. The group made their way into the airport individually, Benji heading straight to the change-rooms. He found a bench alongside the wall and sat on it, bringing his legs up so that they were crossed and could act as a table for his laptop. He rested his back against the cool tiles, relieved to know that no one could watch the screen over his shoulder. Once he had hacked into the cameras, he lifted his phone to his ear and spoke into the comm.
“Good to go.”
“Great work, Frodo.” Ethan’s voice drifted down the earpiece and Benji clenched his teeth at the codename. “Legolas, do you see the target yet?”
“Nothing yet, Aragorn.” Brandt replied.
“Alright, Arwen, hold your position.” With this, Benji sighed.
“What’s wrong, Frodo?” Brandt asked.
“Why do I always get stuck with the crappy names? I mean, the hobbit? Really?”
“Well, would you prefer Gollum?” The analyst’s smile was evident in his voice and before Benji could bite back, Ethan interrupted.
“Don’t rise to it, Frodo. We’re here to work. Please.”
“Sorry.” Both men replied at the same time and there was silence once more. As Benji sat, he noticed that the young airport staff member who had been standing in the corner playing on his phone jumped at the entrance of a senior co-worker.
“Oi, Brad. What you doin’?” the older man asked. “Stop your swanning around and get back to work.” As the younger staff member almost ran across the room, Benji’s eyes became unfocused and his mind began to wander slightly. His inner thoughts were broken by Brandt, even though the tech didn’t exactly hear what he was saying.
“Ok, got eyes on the ring. Arwen, get ready to ride.”
“Gotcha, Legolas.” Jane replied, standing up from her seat, bag in hand. She began to walk across the terminal, heels clicking on the floor as she approached Edwards.
Back inside the change-rooms, Benji noticed a suspicious looking man walking far too close to Ethan for comfort.
“Uh, Aragorn, you may have a potential hostile nearby. Black suit, blue shirt.”
“Got him, Frodo.” Ethan watched as the man walked past him, glancing briefly in his direction before continuing his path. “No need to worry, no threat there.” He then turned back towards where Jane was now walking back in the opposite direction. “Arwen, how’d you go?”
“Ring is secured.” She responded with a voice full of satisfaction. Ethan stood up from his chair and brought his phone to his ear.
“Ok, Frodo, Legolas. Job done, meet you at the van.” Brandt and Benji both responded and prepared to leave. As Benji was packing up his laptop, he heard the airport speaker sound.
“Mrs Thatcher, can you please report to gate thirty. Your plane is ready for boarding.”
Benji froze on the spot at the sentence, his mind drifting off to a place that was so far from reality that he did not notice the man in the black suit entering the change-rooms. As he began to return from his minor daydream, he heard the sound of shoes tapping against the tiled floor however didn’t have time to react as an arm was wrapped around his throat and he was pulled into the man’s torso. Instantly, he felt his windpipe squeezed and he gasped for air, hands clawing at the arm as it tightened. He tried to cry out, but any potential noise was crushed under the powerful force of his attacker’s strength. He felt himself being pulled backwards into the centre of the room and he knew he needed to do something before he was killed. Lifting his foot, he pummelled it into the man’s own, resulting in a yelp of pain, however it then took an elbow to the stomach and a backwards head-butt to release the tech from his assailant’s grasp. He made to move, but the man recovered quicker than anticipated and Benji felt two hands connect with his back, sending him tumbling forwards.
As he fell, he noticed the sink getting way too close, way too fast and felt the pain of it making contact with his forehead, immediately seeing his own blood drip onto the white tiles below. Rolling onto his back, he looked up at the man who was advancing on him quickly. Before he could get out of the way, the man’s hand was around his throat, using brute strength to lift Benji from the ground. He was hoisted up and his back was forced against the wall as his feet left the ground, leaving him with no means of escape.
Brandt was almost outside when he heard the sounds of a struggle in his ear.
“Not here.” Ethan responded, his confused voice displaying obvious signs that he also had heard.
“Arwen, are you ok?”
“I’m fine. Frodo?” Jane waited for a response. “Frodo, can you hear me?” When she still got no reply, her heart began to race. “Legolas…”
“Already on it.” Brandt was already making his way back through the terminal as he spoke, racing down the corridor, avoiding people as he went. He saw the door to the change-rooms and sped up, almost slipping on some spilt water along the way. As he threw the door open, he saw his friend in the tight grip of his attacker; his eyes were drooping and he was clearly fighting off impending unconsciousness. Fortunately, the man hadn’t noticed Brandt’s entrance, leaving him enough time to grasp the ‘SLIPPERY WHEN WET’ sign and swing it. It collided with the man’s head and caused him to stumble, his hand releasing Benji as he fell sideways. Brandt didn’t give the man the chance to get up, delivering a sharp kick to his face. Once he had flopped limply to the ground, the analyst turned to Benji, who was sitting on the floor trying to get his breath back. After grabbing some toilet roll from the nearest cubicle, he knelt next to his friend and held the tissue to the gash, watching the white immediately become consumed by the crimson blood.
“Legolas? What’s going on?” Ethan’s voice was hurried, eager to hear if their teammate was ok.
“All good, Aragorn.” He replied, watching Benji’s eyes as they exhibited slight embarrassment. “Frodo is hurt but nothing serious. We’ll be out in a minute. Meet us at the doors.” After hearing Ethan’s acknowledgement, Brandt turned to Benji. “What happened?”
“I don’t know…” Benji’s voice came out as a wheeze, understandable as he was still trying to get his breathing back to normal. “I just… I don’t know… I’m sorry…”
“It’s ok, Benj. Don’t worry, ok? Can you stand?” When the tech nodded, he let the younger man take hold of the tissue and helped him to his feet. As they made their way out to the exit, as inconspicuously as possible, Brandt glanced at Benji, noting the pained expression on his face. He knew that it was more than just a result of his head wound. But he wasn’t sure what. As they spotted the van, he helped the tech inside, watching every emotion and movement on his friend's face. What was going on with him? Brandt knew Benji had been distracted before – back in Dubai when Moreau had attacked him – but then, he had been side-tracked by something the analyst had said. No other team member had spoken this time, so what had made him lose focus?
Part way through the ride back, as Jane was tending to his injury, Benji began to speak.
“I knew it was bad luck.”
“What?” Jane asked.
“Me being Frodo.” He gave a smile and Brandt turned around to look at him.
“Think about it. He’s always getting into trouble in the book, isn’t he?” The tech gave one of his well-known smiles and Brandt noticed both Jane and Ethan smiling back; clearly neither of them had spotted the slight difference in their friend. The analyst forced a smile in return and silence fell once again. He was determined to figure out what had made his friend change.
Two days later, Brandt was sprawled out on the sofa when Benji's phone rang again. Listening over the music, he could hear that the shower of the apartment was still running. Benji didn’t have to know…
“Hello?” Brandt answered the phone with a wary voice, remaining quiet despite knowing that his teammate wouldn’t be able to hear him.
“Uh, hello.” The voice that drifted from the earpiece was not all that different from Benji’s. “Is Nicholas available, please?”
“Nicholas?” Brandt repeated, wondering who the man was talking about.
Brandt scoffed slightly and subconsciously shook his head. “Sorry, but I think you’ve got the wrong number.”
“Oh.” The voice sounded both disappointed and confused, however Brandt sensed a hint of embarrassment too as the man silently cursed before speaking again. “Ok, thanks.” There was a click and the line went dead. Brandt stared at the screen, noting the high amount of missed calls from that very same number. What on earth was that? More importantly, how did they get Benji’s number? As far as Brandt was aware, no one outside IMF had access to their numbers. That was, unless the agent themselves gave the number to someone. That meant Benji must have given the stranger those details. But why do that, only to ignore any calls from it?
That brought Brandt back to what he considered to be the most unsettling question of all. If Benji had given this person his mobile number, he must know them. So why were they looking for this Nicholas Angel?
Brandt’s mind was racing. It was a phone call from this man which had caused Benji to act differently. It had to be. What had he been told that night? And who the hell was Nicholas Angel? Did this have something to do with the tech being so distracted at the airport? The sound of a door opening broke Brandt out of his thoughts and he jumped slightly, putting the phone back on the table just in time. Benji emerged from the bathroom, his head hidden underneath the black t-shirt he was in the process of pulling over his shoulders.
“Hi Brandt.” Benji smiled at the analyst, however it was not the sort of smile he was used to seeing. This smile left the tech’s lips in a thin line which only just tilted up at the edges; a far cry from the usual ‘Benji grin’.
“Hey. Feeling better?” Brandt pointed to the small collection of stitches sitting on the Brit’s eyebrow.
“Hmm? Oh yes. Much better, thanks.” He sat on the sofa opposite his friend and flopped back among the cushions. “Just making me tired, I guess.”
There it was. Brandt knew that Benji would blame his strange, lethargic behaviour on his recent head injury. But Brandt wouldn’t pry. He knew he wouldn’t get any information out of Benji himself. He was an analyst for a good reason and he planned on using his skills to find out what was really going on.
Starting with who Nicholas Angel was.
Brandt only told the others he was going for a walk as he was exiting the room, leaving no room for questions. He took a fifteen minute trip to the local library and commandeered a computer. Sitting on the uncomfortable chair, he instinctively glanced around before taking the mouse in his hand. He wasn’t quite sure why he checked around him; surely Benji wouldn’t have followed him. Maybe it was just out of habit – in their line of work, you became increasingly cautious of your surroundings.
Opening the internet, he navigated to google; he knew it was a long shot, but if it gave him the slightest bit of information then he would take what he could get. Clicking in the search box, he typed in the name ‘Nicholas Angel’ and, after a few seconds of scrolling, something caught his eye.
“London Cop Killed in Horrific Gang Shootout.”
Brandt read aloud, clicking on the link; it was to an article dated three years earlier. Due to the quality of the library’s internet connection, he began to tap his knuckles on the desk as he waited. After what felt like forever, the page loaded and he began to read.
“The small countryside village of Sandford, Gloucestershire is in mourning today after its much loved inspector was brutally murdered. Nicholas Angel, formerly a constable in the Metropolitan Police Service, had been investigating a string of violent crimes in the town alongside his partner, Sergeant Daniel Butterman, when the event occurred. Upon apprehending the suspects, shots were fired and two bullets struck Inspector Angel in the back. He was rushed to the hospital in the nearby town of Buford Abby, however succumbed to his wounds despite desperate attempts to save his life.”
Brandt noted a photograph of the scene of the shooting; glass shattered, police cars scattered and amidst the horror, a man being loaded into the back of an ambulance. Brandt was unable to see his face due to a larger police officer standing by his side, facing away from the camera. The analyst saw that the man was gripping Inspector Angel’s hand in both of his. Looking up, he read on.
“The police are yet to make any formal statement, however it has been made clear that while some suspects were arrested, several managed to escape the scene.”
Brandt was confused more than ever now. Why was this stranger from England calling Benji’s phone and asking to speak to a dead cop? Surely Benji couldn’t have been involved in the murder somehow. Biting his lip, he thought on the date of the article. That did seem to be around the same time Benji moved to America… He had thought his quick access to citizenship had been strange as it usually took way longer to get it, but he had been told IMF had pulled some strings due to Benji’s technical abilities – something about him being an asset to the United States Government…
Scrolling down, he hoped to find some more information on this Inspector Angel when suddenly he saw another photograph. He immediately stopped scrolling and his eyes were glued to what he saw.
The photograph was of a man in a police uniform, a serious expression decorating his features making him appear far older than he really was. It was a facial expression which Brandt had seen recently. The man had short blonde hair and blue eyes that Brandt knew all too well.
Brandt couldn’t believe what he was seeing. This photograph was Benji. Everything from the widow’s peak in his hair to the small flash of brown in his right eye. Everything about the picture was screaming his friends name to him. Yet the name in the caption read “Inspector Nicholas Angel”. Trying to control his breathing, which had become rapid and shallow against his will, the analyst found his mind racing at one million miles an hour. How could that picture be Nicholas when it was clearly Benji? Did Benji have a twin brother he forgot to mention? At the same time, there was no way that even identical twins could share the exact same eye condition. Brandt could feel a headache coming on due to the sheer level of what he may have stumbled across. At that point in time, he was glad to be sitting down, however he really wished he was not at a library seeing as all he wanted to do was use countless choice phrases to express his feelings on his discovery.
Did Ethan know anything about this? Surely if he and Benji had been friends for that long he would have known something, right?
After contemplating talking to Ethan about it, he instead decided to go straight to the one person who he knew undoubtedly would have the truth.
"Hi Brandt." Benji walked through the door to the hotel room later that evening, shrugging off his jacket and toing off his boots as he did. "Where's Ethan and Jane?"
"Out." Brandt replied, wondering if it sounded almost too harsh. "Benji, can I talk to you for a second?"
"Sure." Benji stepped over towards him, leaning on the kitchen counter. "What exactly did you want to talk about?"
"When was it that you moved to America?" Brandt tried to sound as casual as he could, leaning back against the sofa.
"Uh… three years ago last… November." Benji grabbed a drink from the fridge and walked around to sit opposite the analyst. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason, just curious. Cos I was reading somewhere that if you move to the United States, you need to be here for something like, I dunno, five years before you can get citizenship." He noticed Benji pause slightly as he sipped from his drink. "I mean, you got yours and you've not even been here four years. That's pretty special, right?"
"Yeah, well apparently my skills were considered an 'asset' to the government here." On the word 'asset', Benji made quotation marks with his fingers. "So the guys at IMF rushed through my citizenship for me." He shrugged and smiled; Brandt gave a forced smile back. Benji really did have a good story for this. But he wanted the truth. There was no way he was forgetting the information he had found.
"So what did you do before you moved?" Brandt once again maintained a nonchalant approach to the question. "I mean before you were our super tech."
Benji took in a deep breath and leant forward, placing his elbows onto his knees. "Well, while I was studying at Oxford, I took a job in a computer repair store. It wasn't much, but it helped me pay off my rent."
"How did IMF find you then?"
"Oh that one is a long story, Brandt." Benji gave a small laugh but Brandt's intense look made him cringe and continue. "Fine, when I was in university, I was entered into this international science competition. There were judges from all across the globe; America included. Our group won first place, we got our prize and that was that. Several years later, after I finished my degree, I was contacted by IMF. Apparently they'd heard about my win and wanted to take me on as their new technician."
"So that's it?" Brandt didn't mean to sound as rude as he did, but he was starting to get more and more irritated; he wanted the truth and he wanted it now.
"So why did they want you so badly? Why not just grab you straight from university?"
Benji furrowed his brow at the analyst. "Brandt, what's with the third degree? I don't get where this has co-"
"Who is Nicholas Angel, Benji?" Brandt blurted it out before he could stop himself. He knew he was a lot more direct about it than he had initially intended to be, but he couldn't wait any longer. He watched as Benji froze, clearly trying to hide any emotion at the name, however failing miserably at doing so. Benji's blue eyes, usually so full of life and youth, seemed to age as he opened his mouth and made to speak. But nothing came out. Not even the slightest breathy sound. It almost seemed as though he hadn't thought of that name in years. And clearly, it didn't seem to be a name he wanted to hear. "Benji?" he tried to get the tech's attention, however the younger man seemed to be in a trance, staring into space.
Brandt saw Benji's gaze transfixed on the thin air behind him, causing him to subconsciously turn around to check. As suspected, there was nothing there, resulting in his worry for his friends current mental state to increase. He had never seen Benji like this. He slowly waved his hand in front of the tech's gaze, but to no avail. "Benji? Are you with me?"
"Nicholas! Stay with me!"
Benji's stare did not move, his eyes almost glazed over, his lips barely parted. Brandt could have sworn he saw a tear making its presence known in his left eye. "Benji, are you alright? Benji?"
"You're gonna be alright, Nicholas. I promise."
Brandt was even more worried as his friend's hands notably began to shake. "Benji!"
"Benji!" Suddenly, the analyst felt a wave of relief wash over him as he saw the tech blink for what seemed like the first time in a lifetime. He watched as Benji's breathing picked up and he swallowed; even though he was sitting down, he gave the impression that he was afraid of falling. The Brit's gaze fell to the floor and he dropped his head as he tried to calm his frantic, raspy breath. Brandt was beginning to regret asking the question, having seen what it had done to his friend, yet he still wanted to know more. If the name 'Nicholas Angel' had such an effect on him, sure it was something he shouldn't be bottling up. He watched as the blonde man slowly raised his head, blinking back the tears which were trying to escape. "Benji, what is it?"
"Brandt… I…" The tech's voice seemed so distant. So different. So… not Benji.
"Benji, please tell me." His voice softened as he reached out to touch Benji's shoulder. Sure, he was still angry that Benji had kept this from him, but having witnessed what had just happened, he couldn't find it in him to shout. Why had he reacted that way? What was it about this person that caused Benji to fall into such a state? He jumped slightly when he felt Benji shrug the comforting hand away and look to the floor again. "Benji, let me in. Maybe I can help; and I will help but I just need to know what's going on."
"Please, Brandt…" Benji's voice wavered slightly as he spoke. "You wouldn't understand."
"Try me." Benji seemed to move his head slightly, however his gaze remained fixed on an invisible object on the ground. "Benji, look at me."
"Nicholas, look at me…"
It seemed to be that one last phrase that finally broke Benji free from the power of this strange spell. Slowly, he lifted his head and made eye contact with his colleague. Brandt couldn't quite decipher the emotion that was displayed behind the man's blue orbs, however it made him feel uneasy. Whatever it was made the man he knew so well seem like a completely different person. It caused the analyst to contemplate a disturbing question: did he even know Benji as well as he thought?
"I used to work for the Metropolitan Police in London. I was transferred to a small village called Sandford where, after a string of, shall we say, strange events I became the Inspector. A gang came to the village and were the cause of some violent crimes which my partner Danny and I had to stop." As Benji spoke, things were beginning to make more sense in Brandt's head, but he remained confused as to how Benji could have been killed when he was clearly still alive. "We apprehended the gang and things turned ugly when they started shooting at me and my fellow officers. We managed to stop some of them but I wasn't ready for one of them. He came from behind. Neither me or Danny had time to react."
"Can you see any more, Nicholas?" Danny shouted from his spot behind the wall. Nicholas raised his head to check.
"No. It looks clear." Glancing around one last time, Nicholas made to get up but the sound of two gunshots made both him and Danny jump. Then he felt it. The pain was white hot as he felt the bullets rip through his back and out of his chest; he actually saw them lodge themselves in the hard brick of the wall in front of him just before his sight went fuzzy. Reaching out a hand, he placed it on the wall for support as his legs began to shake. His free hand moved to his chest, feeling the wet of what he knew was his blood on his jacket. He felt more of the liquid catch in his throat causing him to cough; he watched it pour from his lips and land on the pavement below him. The movement of it was so graceful, the way it hit the concrete and proceeded to spray out onto the surrounding surface was almost mesmerising. Suddenly, the splatter of blood below him seemed to get closer as he realised that he was falling forward. He tried to grip the wall with his hand, however all that achieved was the feeling of the brick scratching mercilessly at the palm of his hand.
"Nicholas!" a voice snapped him back to what was left of reality and as his knees hit the ground, he just managed to lift his head to see Danny running towards him. The younger officer skidded to his knees next to him and despite his best efforts to reassure his friend that he was ok, he could not produce sound. As Nicholas fell forward, Danny reached out and caught him, turning him so that he was lying on his back, his upper body resting in the sergeant's lap. "Nicholas! Stay with me!" When had his eyes started to close? The volume of the sounds around him was fluctuating, sounding miles away one second, then right next to him. "Andy! Call an ambulance!" Danny's voice sounded so far away, even though he was right there. Lifting his heavy eyelids, he looked up and saw Danny staring back down at him intensely, emotion pouring from his eyes in the form of tears. "You're gonna be alright, Nicholas. I promise."
Nicholas tried to nod in acknowledgement but his neck was feeling weak. He could barely keep his head up. He wanted to say something, anything, to Danny, however his voice had left him long ago and consciousness was threatening to follow. He could feel his eyes begging him to close; the allure of sleep was too tempting and he felt his eyelids join once more.
Another shout made him realise his mistake and he forced his eyes back open. There were sirens getting closer. How long had he closed his eyes for? He could have sworn it was only seconds…
He tried to refocus his eyes on something in order to fight the battle of unconsciousness, however everything around him was a blur. Colours merged together, buildings and trees became one. Even Danny was beginning to disappear into the background. It reminded Nicholas of one of those abstract paintings where everything just blends together and no single shape is distinct from the next. He heard the familiar voice calling to him again, this time it seemed to be so far away. He tried to claw his way through the fog to reach it, only making out a few words.
"Nicholas, look at me…" His gaze moved up to try and make out Danny's face amidst the haze, however he really couldn't tell what was what anymore. He saw some green appear behind the blur that he was sure was Danny and he knew that help was here. But by that point, the fight with sleep was long over and he felt his eyes close again. And this time, they stayed shut.
Brandt sat in shock listening to Benji recount the moments and couldn't believe that his friend went through something as horrifying as that. They had seen first-hand what Jane had gone through after she was shot. Now he understood why at the hospital Benji had seemed distant; Brandt and Ethan had just assumed that it was how he handled times like that but now he knew the truth. He wanted to ask questions; ask how he survived when they said he was dead. But he could see the emotion which was beginning to exhibit itself in the man's expression and decided to let him go on in his own time.
"When I woke up, I was in a hospital. There were two officers from the Met standing in the room who I knew. One was my friend Travis who I went to the academy with and the second was the Chief Inspector."
"Welcome back, Nicholas." The chief spoke with less life in his voice than Nicholas remembered. He glanced between the chief and Travis, who shared the same solemn expression as the older man. He pieced together what he could remember from before passing out. As the memories rushed back and swamped him, so did the pain. He began to gasp for air as he threw his head back against the pillow, squeezing his eyes shut. When he got out of there he would tell Danny that this was now the single most painful experience of his life. Speaking of Danny…
"Danny…" Nicholas breathed. It felt like he hadn't spoken for an eternity, the word scratching against the walls of his throat as it made itself heard. "Where's Danny?"
"Nicholas, let us explain…"
"Explain what?" Nicholas was now trying to force himself into a seated position, only to end up sliding back down when the pain became too much. His breathing was picking up. Why wasn't Danny there? He knew the sergeant well enough to know that he would have practically bribed his way to sit next to him through his entire recovery. So why wasn't he there? And why, instead, were two of the London Metropolitan Police Service's highest ranking officers standing over him? Something was wrong.
"I want to see Danny." His immediate thoughts were full of worry – had something happened to Danny? What had happened after he was shot? He hoped that he was ok. "Please."
"Nicholas, I'm afraid you can't see Danny right now."
"Why not? Is he alright?" Nicholas' worry was increasing at a horrifyingly rapid pace.
"Yes, Nicholas, he's fine." Travis replied, a little too eagerly in the inspector's opinion. Something was going on and he was determined to find out.
"Well then, why can't I see him?" He saw the two officers exchange a glance – a glance which screamed the word 'wrong' – before the chief inspector spoke.
"Nicholas, what do you know about the gang who you were investigating?"
Nicholas knew that they were dodging the question and it frustrated him to no end, however he knew that Danny was ok and therefore he would go along with the conversation. Hopefully if he did, they would be straight up with him. "Not much in the larger scheme of things. They had been involved in numerous violent crimes in Sandford. Started off as vandalism and stolen cars but it soon escalated to armed robberies and vicious attacks on people at night. Why?"
"Well, it has come to our attention that the gang are involved with a group of international drug dealers located in the United States. We aren't sure where they are within the country, however we do know that they are highly dangerous and need to be stopped. Now we're uncertain how your little gang fits into their plans, but we know it can't be good."
"Ok, but I still don't underst-"
"This is where you come in." Travis spoke up, stepping forward as if taking to a podium on a stage. "We need you to be our eyes and ears over there."
"Over where?" Nicholas asked. "America?"
"Yes." The chief took over once again. "We may have sent you to Sandford, Nicholas, but we still consider you the best the Metropolitan Police Service has to offer. You will be the best person to keep an eye out for anything suspicious."
"So you want me to do some sort of undercover operation? I thought I wasn't qualified for that."
"Well it's a little bit more complicated than that." Travis offered. "You see, you won't just be pretending to be someone else. You will have to become them. We don't want to risk anyone finding you." This revelation only confused Nicholas even more, but by this point he was too exhausted to argue.
"Ok, well when do I have to go?"
"As soon as you have the all clear from your doctors." The chief replied sternly. "We have arranged for a private jet to take you to Seattle as soon as possible and once you are there you will be met by your new agency."
"You will be taken in by a group called IMF. It is a rather covert agency frequently employed by the government and we feel that it is the best place for you to keep an eye on things from."
Nicholas was having a hard time absorbing the information. Out of the blue, he was being sent undercover into a secret agency in America? It was almost too much for the inspector, as he began to feel a headache coming on. But he nodded and took in a deep breath. "Ok, so I guess I will just have to accept this job regardless, but coming back to my original question, can I please see Danny? I want to at least say goodbye to him before I get shipped off."
"I'm sorry, Nicholas, but that's just not possible." Travis explained.
"Why?" Nicholas was pretty sure that he wasn't meant to be raising his voice in his condition, he didn't need the nurse to tell him seeing as his aching body was doing that job well, however he couldn't help it. He was irritated and beginning to feel rather upset at the lack of real information he was being given. "Give me one good reason why I can't see him."
"Because he is under the impression that you were killed by your injuries."
Brandt heard Benji's words and he couldn't quite grasp what the man was saying. He had never met this Danny, he hadn't even heard of him until a few hours ago, yet his heart was breaking for the guy. Despite feeling happy to have acquired Benji as his best friend, he felt so awful that another man had lost his. However, even as these feelings built up inside him, Brandt still couldn't help feeling confused and dumbfounded. The man he had known and had grown to care so much for had now turned out to be someone else completely. He was glad that his hands were resting on his knees as he could feel them shaking against his will. So was Benji Dunn just a lie? Some character pulled out of a hat like the sort Ethan adopted on a mission? Even though he knew he should have compassion – the man had been taken from the life he knew and thrown into another without a say in the matter – he felt almost cheated.
Glancing across at Benji, he noted the look in his eyes and now realised that it was the look of someone else. That was what had caused the changes; Nicholas had begun to seep through the 'Benji' façade due to the phone call he had received that night.
"What?" was the only word that Nicholas could form. The reality of what he had just been told hit him like a freight train and he could have sworn his heart stopped for a few seconds. The image of Danny hearing the news filled his mind and, just as quickly, tears filled his eyes. He couldn't bear the thought of Danny having to hear that his best friend was dead. "Why?"
"We had to be able to send you to America without anyone suspecting." The chief explained. For the first time in his career, Nicholas swore he heard some emotion in the older man's voice. "Plus, this gang is very dangerous. If they found out that you survived the shooting, we feared they would come after you. It's for your own good, Nicholas."
Nicholas scoffed. For his own good. Whatever. "And what about Danny?" he asked, anger laced in his voice. "What if they go after him?"
"We will be keeping a watchful eye on Sergeant Butterman to ensure his safety."
Nicholas really didn't know what to think. Only a short time ago, he wasn't sure how long, he was just a regular officer – granted one who took down a whole group of murderers but a regular officer nonetheless – dealing with petty crimes for the good of his village. Now, he was officially dead and was about to lose the life he had become accustomed to – along with his best friend in the world – in order to stop some drug gang. It was all too much for the already weak inspector. He could feel his senses slowly slipping away and his vision blurred slightly.
"Get some rest, Nicholas." Travis spoke softly, clearly even he wasn't happy with how things were. "We'll come back tomorrow to discuss things further."
Nicholas watched as the two men exited the room and he felt a single tear escape his eye. At that moment, he had never felt so alone. He was dead. He had no friends or family left to comfort him. More importantly, no Danny to come in and sit with him.
He let his eyes drift closed as another tear left a wet trail down his cheek and he let himself be enveloped in the warmth of sleep. It was the only place he might have a chance at finding peace. But even then, he knew that once his eyes were closed, he would be haunted by the image of Danny being told that his partner was gone.
"I lost everything that day. Everything that I knew; my home, my friends, my job… my entire life was thrown out of the window. Even though I am living this new life, with a new home, new friends and a new job, I still often wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been shot? Where would I be now? What would I be doing at this very moment if I was still Nicholas Angel?"
Brandt really was lost for words. He was still confused, however his stomach was turning at the thought of what Benji had been through. To have the life you know taken from you in bat of an eyelid – or, more appropriately, the squeeze of a trigger; he couldn't imagine what that would feel like. He studied the unreadable expression on Benji's face, noticing the distant look in his eyes. It was almost as if he was reliving the entire ordeal in his mind. It pained him terribly to see his friend like this. He wished there was some way he could help him.
It took a while, but Brandt finally found his voice. "So, what happened?" He knew it wasn't right to pry, but deep down his mind was begging for Benji to go on.
Blinking a few times, Benji opened his mouth to speak again
"Morning Nicholas. How are you feeling?" Nicholas looked up at the chief and under any other circumstances would have offered a sarcastic remark, yet at that moment in time, all he could manage was a glare. He noticed that Travis had followed the chief into the room and was throwing him an apologetic smile. He turned back to the older man and noticed the file in his hands. Observing the inspector's line of sight, the chief motioned to the documents. "In here is your new identity. IMF have created a backstory for you and will be placing you as a technician in their labs."
"Technician?" Nicholas had to admit to feeling slightly offended that he would be locked away in a lab.
"Yes. We just want you watching from the sidelines in case someone over there recognises you. We don't want to risk losing you." Nicholas had to laugh inwardly at Travis' words. How ironic.
"I'm hardly a technical expert…" Nicholas began but was cut off by the chief.
"Now now, Nicholas. Don't sell yourself short. We know about your side studies. Didn't think you could keep that quiet, did you?"
Nicholas was tempted to comment with the phrase "I'd hoped so" but decided against it. He had always enjoyed using technology; he'd had a knack for it since before he could remember. He took classes in school and continued on with them as an extracurricular activity throughout university, however when he joined the police, he never really had the need for those skills.
"When you arrive in America, you will be taught anything extra that you need to know. I'm sure you won't have any issues picking it up." The chief smiled before handing Nicholas the file. The inspector took it warily and began to read.
Name: Benjamin Dunn
D.O.B: June 5th 1975
Birthplace: London, United Kingdom
As he skimmed over the biography for his new identity, he observed several things, most notably that he supposedly studied at Oxford University. He wasn't sure that he could do this. But he really had no other option, seeing as he was dead in England. The only people he had left now were the only people who knew that he was still alive. Those people were the two men standing in front of him and the people in IMF. He really had nothing to lose by doing this anymore.
"The doctors say you'll be ready for discharge sometime late next week. We'll come back closer to your release to discuss you travel plans." With that, the men departed, once again leaving Nicholas completely alone.
"When I was released from the hospital, I was driven to an airport in Liverpool so as to avoid being seen by anyone who may have known me." Benji explained. "I was met by a man from IMF who had a private jet waiting for me, along with other documentation; passport, credit cards and the like." Brandt found himself hanging on every word that escaped Benji's lips. He wasn't fully able to grasp the sheer weight of what this man was forced to do. After taking a few seconds to recompose himself, Benji went on. "I boarded that plane as Nicholas Angel and disembarked as Benjamin Dunn. And I have never gone back. I stayed as a technician for a while, helping with missions here and there, but then, out of the blue, I got a phone call from the chief telling me that the gang had shown up again and they needed me to be prepared. IMF had me take the field exam. We were a bit worried that people may get suspicious of a technician, who had supposedly never held a loaded gun before, being able to pass first time." Benji's mind flashed back to the moments after breaking Ethan from Rankow prison.
"Uh, Benji, how is it you're here?"
"Oh! I passed the field exam. Crazy, right?"
Brandt nodded at this. That would explain why Benji, a rookie field agent, had been able to make a head shot from several meters away like he had. But there was still one question that was bugging the analyst.
"So, why the sudden change? What happened to make your past catch up with you like this?" he asked with a soft voice. "I've seen you, Benji. You've not been yourself since getting that phone call."
Benji's eyes widened slightly. "You heard that?" His voice was fully of shock at the realisation that Brandt had overheard him. "I thought you were asleep."
"Benji, that ringtone of yours could wake the dead." For the first time in too long, Brandt noticed the corners of Benji's lips turn up slightly, however the smile still wasn't his. "What happened?"
Benji sighed. "The phone call the other night was Travis. He said that after catching the gang members one by one over the past few years, the last two remaining men have appeared on their radars and they wanted me to go and help."
"Help? As in, 'go back to England and risk being found out' kind of help?"
"Yes." Benji's answer was short and sharp, only reiterating the harsh change in his demeanour.
"And you said no."
"I did." Something changed in Benji's eyes again, causing Brandt to wonder if there was more to the story. It turned out, there was. "But they called me again earlier. Just before I came back here. Apparently they've caught wind that the two gang members are heading for Sandford." Brandt immediately knew what he meant and therefore knew exactly what was coming next. "Brandt, if they're returning to Sandford, they must be after Danny. I can't just sit around here if I know that he's in danger. I have to go back."
Brandt hated the thought of Benji going back there to potentially put his life in danger. If the gang found out that he was still alive, then it wouldn't just be Danny in trouble. Before giving the idea a second thought, he blurted out "I'm coming with you."
Benji's eyes locked onto the analyst's own and the look in them was so sincere. "I appreciate that, Brandt, I really do. But I can't let you do that. I couldn't live with myself if anything happened to you because of my past."
"But Benji, I-"
"No, Brandt. This is something I have to do myself."
Benji organised a private jet through IMF to take him back to Liverpool, followed by a rental car to Sandford. He waited until the early hours of the morning, when he was sure the others were asleep, before grabbing his bags and crossing the dining room. He dropped a small note onto the kitchen counter for his friends, explaining how he had to return to England as his cousin was sick. As he made his way towards the door, he noticed a horrible feeling rising up in his stomach. What if this was the last chance he ever got to see Ethan, Jane and Brandt? What if something happened to him and he never made it back to his team? He could feel his heart screaming at him to go and say goodbye so that he didn't feel the same guilt that he had leaving Sandford. However, his mind tried to remind him that if he woke them up now, there would only be questions. Questions that he feared he couldn't answer.
No. He had to go.
With one last glance at the dark apartment, he made his way through the door and closed it behind him.
Closing the door on this life to return to the one I left behind…
He felt physically sick. Partially because he wasn't sure if he would ever see his friends again, but also due to the fact that he hadn't been back to England since he had 'died'. Worse still, what would he feel like seeing Danny again? He planned on remaining incognito; merely watching Danny from afar. This would make it even harder for him, however his friend hopefully would have healed by now and he didn't plan on throwing this curveball for him after all this time. Showing up in Danny's life now would be an unwise decision as it would prove that everything over the past few years had been a lie. He couldn't hurt Danny like that. Not after he had involuntarily hurt him so much already.
The taxi ride to the airport took far too long, in Benji's opinion; his irritability only accented by the eerie silence that had fallen over both him and the driver. Glancing out of the window, he stared out at the night sky, feeling a strong sense of nostalgia wash over him from his first trip to Sandford. It only grew when he realised the irony in this trip. Returning to Sandford after his death had been faked in order to help his friend. He remembered standing in that service station, the strange young man behind the counter asking him if there was anything he could do to help him. It suddenly occurred to him that he had used the exact same expression to that man as he had to Brandt only a few hours ago. Nicholas really was seeping through the Benji persona.
Before he knew it, the car came to a halt outside the airport. He fumbled around with his wallet, feeling certain that he overpaid the driver by about $5, but he didn't care. His mind was focused on much more important things.
He was escorted to the plane by one of the airport staff and as he got out of the small car, he noticed something. The man standing at the rear of the plane was placing some luggage into the cargo compartment. Sure, that was normal before a flight, but not when Benji was still holding all of his bags.
"Excuse me?" he approached the man, who didn't seem to hear him. "Excuse me!" The second time worked and the man turned. "Whose bags are these?"
"The other passengers, of course." The man spoke matter-of-factly as he grabbed Benji's bags from him. Once his hands were free, he rushed up the stairs and through the door of the aircraft. Once he was inside, he saw a familiar figure standing at the bar with his back turned as he made a drink.
"What are you doing here?" Benji asked as Brandt turned around to face him. "How did you find out about the plane?"
Brandt took a sip of his drink. "I'm an analyst, Benji. You're not the only one who knows how to access information that other people don't want you to know."
Benji saw the little wink Brandt threw him and couldn't resist the smile that forced its way to his lips. "And I thought I was stubborn." He commented, almost an inner thought that had escaped against his better judgement.
"You're not doing this alone, Benji. You don't have to and I am not going to let you." Brandt held out a second glass for Benji who, after a short pause, took it. He was relieved to see Benji smiling again. He didn't know this Danny Butterman, but he'd be damned if he was going to let Benji go by himself. He was going to join Benji in helping Danny and then help Benji get back to the way he was.
As planned, when Benji and Brandt arrived in Liverpool they picked up the car and began the long drive to Sandford. Once they reached Buford Abbey, they were to stop and meet Sergeant Evan Fell, the Met officer who had been hanging around to keep an eye on Danny since the gang showed up again. As they approached Evan, the sergeant held out his hand.
"Inspector Angel." Benji froze at the greeting.
"It's Benji. Please." Being addressed by that name seemed so alien. Despite the fact it was the name he went by for so long, his brain was screaming "It's not right" at him.
"Sorry, sir. I'm Sergeant Evan Fell." Evan looked from Benji to Brandt.
"This is William Brandt, a friend of mine from America." Benji introduced Brandt as the analyst shook Evan's hand. "Is there somewhere we can talk?"
"Follow me." Evan led them to a hotel on the outskirts of the town; they didn't want to take too long as they needed to get to Sandford. Once they were in a room there, Evan began to explain what he knew so far. "So as Sergeant O'Reilly explained on the phone, there are two members left of the gang you were investigating. We tracked them to Sandford and immediately knew what their intentions were."
"Tell me, Evan." Benji began. "Why is it that you haven't been able to track down and apprehend two men? Sandford isn't that big a place, sergeant."
"I know, sir, but you see the Chief Inspector said that we have to take them out a little bit more discreetly."
"Discreetly?" Benji asked, prompting a wide eyed glance from Brandt. Had the situation been different, the analyst would have laughed at the memory of one of his first exchanges with Benji in Moscow. However, sentimentalities could wait.
"Yes. You see, we believe that they still may have plans to do business with the drug dealers in America. As far as we know, that gang are being watched by the FBI and we don't want to alert them to our actions. We fear that if they know we have captured this gang, they may disappear into the woodwork and that would just exacerbate things for everyone."
"I see." Benji nodded at Evan's words, waiting for him to go on.
"This is why you were asked to return. You are the last person that these men would expect to see." As the two men talked, Brandt listened intently. Everything about the way Benji spoke and acted – even the way he held himself as he sat on the dining room chair – was different. He may have looked the same as he had since they met, but every other aspect seemed like a whole new person. Brandt was having a hard time dealing with it, but he knew that now wasn't the time to back out. He was the one who had demanded to accompany Benji; he couldn't afford to fall apart like this. He watched as Benji nodded in acknowledgement to what Evan said, barely paying attention himself. He knew he should really be listening; any mistakes now could cause either Danny or Benji their lives. Maybe even both. But it was hard for him to concentrate when the man he thought he knew was acting so strange.
Brandt didn't realise just how long he had been in his own little world for until Benji placed his hand on his shoulder, causing him to jump slightly.
"Hey, it's only me." He said with a soft smile.
Yeah, but you're not you, are you? Brandt thought, however he returned the smile.
"We're heading to Sandford now." The Brit continued.
"Are you going to be alright?" Brandt asked as he stood from his chair. Benji took in a deep breath and gently bit his bottom lip before nodding. "I know this is going to be hard for you, but just remember, I'm right here with you."
"Thanks, Brandt." The pair followed Evan back outside and approached their cars.
"Ok, if you guys follow me, I'm staying in a cottage down in Sandford and I've got the spare room set up ready." When the two agents nodded, Evan climbed into his car and, once Benji and Brandt were in theirs, they set off. Brandt drove, allowing Benji to rest his eyes, although both knew that he wouldn't be able to sleep. After a few minutes of silence, Brandt decided to ask what he felt to be a much needed question.
"So, Benji, what can you tell me about Danny?" Benji turned to the analyst, the emotion evident in his eyes at the mere thought of his old friend. "I mean, what's he like?"
The Brit smiled. "Well, I have a strong suspicion that you will like him."
"Yeah. He's a lot like Benji." His smile seemed to grow a little at that. "I knew I couldn't stick with my old personality when I became Benji Dunn, however I wasn't quite sure where to start. So I decided that if I wanted to make new friends easily in America, I would draw from one of the nicest, most friendly people that I knew." Brandt found himself smiling. At least he knew that Nicholas kept himself in good company if Danny was like Benji.
"So tell me about Nicholas and Danny. How did they meet?" Brandt wanted to learn more about who Benji really was. It may make it easier for him to understand. He also, deep down, wanted to know why Danny meant so much to Benji.
"Well, at first we didn't really get along. I didn't want to be transferred, but I was forced to and therefore didn't have a say in being partnered with Danny. I was the sort of officer who wanted to play everything by the rules. I never stepped a foot out of line or anything, while Danny was laid back, never really seeming to have a care in the world. His nonchalant attitude towards the job often frustrated me, but the more I got to know Danny, the more I found myself able to relax and not worry about being perfect all the time."
"I honestly can't imagine you being so pedantic." Brandt gave a small laugh and was relieved to see his colleague join in.
"Yeah, well I was. After I moved here, we got caught up in something huge. A group of the villagers were killing off people who would potentially ruin the image of Sandford. When I realised what was going on, they tried to kill me too, but Danny rescued me by faking my death and getting me out of town." Brandt felt his heart tug a little; this poor guy had his death faked twice? "I came back, even though Danny told me not to. I knew that once they realised Danny had released me he would be in trouble. The two of us managed to take down the entire group – a little less discreetly than it could have been. But just when we were trying to get things back to normal, Tom Weaver, the last remaining member turned up and aimed his shotgun at me. I thought that I was about to die, but at the last second, Danny jumped up and took the blast for me." Brandt felt his breath catch at those words. He had heard the expression 'taking a bullet for someone' but this was real. "He almost died that day, however had a miraculous recovery. I have never been able to forgive myself for letting them take me away from him like they did. After everything we went through together, everything we did, to just be pulled apart so suddenly was just…" Benji trailed off, looking down as his lap as if fighting tears. "I never even got to say goodbye to him." With those words, his voice sounded quite bitter, which Brandt completely understood. He couldn't imagine having Benji taken away from him. Let alone without getting the chance to find closure.
"I'm sorry." Brandt wasn't even sure why he chose those words, however he felt the need to comfort Benji somehow.
"What for?" Benji finally looked back up, the streetlights casting an orange glow on his face, illuminating his features and causing the tears in his eyes to glisten.
"For what they did to you. I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like for you."
"I don't expect you to Brandt. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. But I can't change what happened. Which is why I can't let Danny know I'm alive." Brandt shot Benji a slightly shocked glance. "Put yourself in his shoes, Brandt. I've been dead to you for over three years and then all of a sudden I turn up out of the blue? How would you feel?"
Brandt could only offer a nod in response. Showing up in Danny's life now would practically break his heart. Even though he would be relieved to know that his friend was alive and well, knowing that the past three years of grief and mourning had been a lie would be awful. Before they knew it, they were passing the "Welcome to Sandford" sign; Brandt noted the words "The Community That Cares" underneath. He also caught glimpse of Benji's sudden rigidness at sight of the sign. This was where it would get even harder for him.
Benji spotted the "Model Village" signpost, feeling a chill run through him at the memory of Simon Skinner being impaled through his chin. As they passed the church, his eyes drifted from the spot where Tim Messenger was killed to the spot just outside the walls, causing him to feel a dull ache in his chest. Brandt spotted this and threw a questioning glance to the Brit.
"That's where it happened." Brandt knew straight away what 'it' was, feeling a shudder run across his entire body knowing how close he was to where his friend had been shot. They finally found themselves pulling up outside two small adjoined cottages, Evan parking his car outside the right hand one. As the two agents got out of the car, Brandt walked around to the boot to grab the bags however froze when he noticed what Benji was doing. He was standing, glued to the spot, staring at the left hand cottage as if in a trance. The expression on his face was so vacant, yet a hint of sadness was mixed in as he stood in silence.
"Benji?" Brandt approached the man, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong?"
It took a few seconds for him to find his voice. "That's my old cottage."
Brandt looked across at the building, noting that even in the dark it still looked picturesque. Its flowers were well looked after and it gave off a welcoming vibe. Even though it was Nicholas' cottage, he could actually imagine Benji living there. Gently placing his arm around his shoulders, Brandt tried to pry his friend from the spot. As they walked towards Evan's cottage, Brandt noticed that Benji had a hard time tearing his gaze from his old one however once the building was out of sight, the younger man blinked a few times and glanced up at the analyst. He tried to force a smile however found himself failing.
That night, neither agent slept. Brandt lay on the sofa bed in the lounge staring at the ceiling as the images of what Benji had told him crept into his mind. He hadn't had any real chance to sleep since first finding out what happened to Nicholas and every time he closed his eyes, images of Benji lying on the ground outside the church bleeding to death would take over.
Sleep was overrated anyway.
Upstairs, Benji lay on his side trying to get some sort of rest, however the prospect of what the following day would hold meant that his mind was racing. What would it be like stepping into that square again? How would it feel passing the spot where he was almost killed by Reverend Shooter or where he took a bullet to the arm outside the shop? Did the pub still look the same? What about The Swan Hotel? Speaking of swans, was Mr Staker's prized bird still alive?
All of these questions were overridden by one main thought.
What would it feel like seeing him again? His stomach turned at the thought of seeing his friend after all this time. A sudden thought made him feel sick with worry: what if someone recognised him? They may have arrested half of the village that day, but there would still be people who remembered him. He would have to be very careful. Even more so in case the gang members saw him. If they caught wind that he was alive, he knew that it would be bad.
But then again, if they set their sights on me, they might leave Danny alone…
Benji mentally scolded himself. Neither he nor Danny would be endangered for much longer, if he had anything to do with it. He would just have to make sure he wasn't seen so he could get the job done.
Thank god I packed my hoodie. Benji had to scoff at his inner thoughts. Only a few years earlier he was chasing down hoodies and now it felt like he was about to become one. Rolling onto his back, he watched the ceiling fan as it spun around and around. Almost hypnotised by the movements, he let his thoughts take over once again, knowing that he wouldn't be able to sleep. Clenching his teeth together, he made a decision in his mind that he knew that Brandt wouldn't like.
If it comes down to it, I will willingly give my life for Danny. He thought. I just can't let Will know.
Benji sat on the edge of the bed to watch the sun rise, unaware that downstairs, Brandt was doing the exact same thing. Today was the day. Neither of them was fully prepared for what would happen, as neither knew what was to be expected. They just hoped that they could get it over and done with as soon as possible so that they could leave and Benji could put this behind him once again.
At seven thirty, Benji descended the staircase, pulling on his hoodie as he did. Once he reached the bottom, he was met by Brandt holding out a mug of coffee for him. He took it gratefully and smiled at the analyst as they made their way to the living room.
"Good morning, sir." Evan greeted him and Benji nodded in acknowledgement.
"So, what's the plan then?" Brandt asked, glancing between the other two men.
"Well, I was given instructions that you will be watching Danny while I keep an eye on things from afar. That way, I will be able to alert you if I see anyone coming your way." Evan turned back to Benji. "Is that ok with you?"
Benji's stomach just wouldn't settle. He managed a nod before placing his now empty mug on the nearby table. Shoving his hands into his pockets to hide the shaking, he looked up and took a deep breath to recompose himself. "Let's go to work then."
The trio walked towards Sandford, splitting up once they reached Somerfield. Benji found himself unintentionally stopping, staring at the store and noting that it hadn't changed at all. Memories of the battle which took place inside rushed back to him and he felt Brandt step to his side.
"What is it?" the analyst asked, his gaze following Benji's hand as it pointed to one of the windows.
"See that window there? Next to the door?" he turned to Brandt. "I got thrown through it." He gave a small smile. "Fun times." Brandt was glad to see that Benji was trying to be positive and slightly happy considering the circumstances. The pair began to walk again and soon reached the town centre. Walking up the same street that he had rode up on Mr Reaper's horse brought a strange feeling to Benji's stomach. It wasn't a nervous feeling though, almost proud at the memory. He would have to tell Brandt that story once this was all over. As they walked along the street, Benji kept his hood up and his head down, avoiding eye contact with anyone as he walked. Even though he figured people would assume they were seeing things, he couldn't take that risk. The least they could have done was made him dye his hair and grow a beard. Even better, now really would have been a convenient time for him to be wearing a mask. But, as per usual, everyone wears a mask except Benji.
They reached the spot where Reverend Shooter had fired two bullets into his chest and they paused for a second outside the archway.
"Do you see him, Benji?" Brandt asked quietly.
Benji glanced up, taking in the full sight of the village as he checked the streets for Danny. At first he couldn't see him, feeling slightly worried, however suddenly…
"Shit!" Brandt heard Benji whisper and spun on the spot, but when he looked, his friend was gone.
"Benji!" he whispered, whipping his head from side to side. When he turned back to the village, he saw a rather large man in a police uniform approaching him.
"Good morning." The man spoke with a cheerful voice and a smile on his face. "Can't 'elp noticing you seem a bit lost there."
Brandt had to think quick. "Uh… it's that obvious is it?"
The man's smile widened slightly. "Only if you're not blind. Even then, it'd be pretty obvious." Brandt laughed nervously. "I'm gonna take a stab and say you're not from round 'ere."
"Got it in one."
The man went to speak again, however another police officer in the background shouted out. "Oi! Danny! Hurry up!" Brandt heard the name and froze. Danny? It couldn't be…
"Well, I'm sorry I can't stay to 'elp, but if you need anything, just pop down the station and ask for me. I'm Sergeant Butterman. Or Danny if you like." He held out his hand to Brandt. "It was nice to meet you…"
"Will. Have a good day." With that, Danny turned and left. Brandt stared in utter shock as the man walked away. Watching him go, he had to make sure his jaw didn't hit the ground; he could imagine people would think he was strange. Shaking his head, he turned around again to see Benji emerging from the archway, a terrifyingly vacant look on his face. It occurred to Brandt that Benji would have heard their entire exchange.
"Benji… are you…" he wasn't sure what to say, however asking him if he was ok was clearly a dumb idea, as his eyes screamed at unbearable volumes that he was definitely not. After a few steps, Benji slowly began to back up, returning to his spot in the dimly lit arch. Brandt immediately followed, finding his friend standing with his back glued to the bricks. This must have been where he was hiding. Before the analyst could say a word, he noticed the glistening of evolving tears in the Brit's eyes, however Brandt blinked and they were gone.
"Brandt… I'm not sure I can do this…" he was shaking his head slightly as he spoke, gripping onto the wall behind him as if he would fall without the support. "I just…"
"Hey, now. Don't say that. I have every faith that you can do this ok? Would Nicholas give up so easily?" Benji managed to make eye contact with Brandt after staring into space. He blinked a few times and shook his head again. "There you go. Now let's go do this, ok?"
Taking in a deep breath, Benji nodded. "Yeah…" he whispered. The pair stepped out of the archway and watched Danny's car drive off; a few moments afterwards, Benji turned to Brandt. "How was he?"
"Was he happy? Did he seem ok?" Benji's eyes begged to hear how his friend was. When Brandt nodded, he forced a smile of relief. That made things a whole lot easier; Danny was ok.
Benji and Brandt watched Danny from a distance for the rest of the day, hiding in the shadows of Sandford as they observed the sergeant. They had heard nothing from Evan all day, which was a good sign. That meant that the gang members hadn't shown up; but that didn't mean they were going to slack off from their job. They would watch Danny until they were 110% sure he was safe. That night, after Danny finished work, they followed him to the pub where he met up with Doris – who he noted was wearing an engagement ring – and Tony. Upon their greetings, Benji suddenly felt his heart sink.
"Oh god…" he breathed.
"What is it?" Brandt turned to his friend, his heart racing slightly.
"Today is Danny's birthday…" the Brit pinched the bridge of his nose. "How the hell could I have forgotten?"
"Well, to be fair, you have had a lot on your mind." Brandt offered. "Besides, I suppose it's a good thing you don't have to buy him a present." The lousy attempt at a joke slipped out of the analyst's mouth before he could stop himself and he winced when he realised how bad it may have sounded. However, when he saw the corners of Benji's lips turn up, he sighed. He couldn't be sure if it was the joke Benji was smiling at or Brandt's embarrassed reaction, but either way, every smile he could get out of the man these days was treasured.
The duo sat there for approximately an hour and a half before Danny stumbled out of the pub, his drunken walk so familiar to Benji. He smiled to himself when he saw that Danny was walking home; another story he may tell Brandt at a later date. Once the sergeant was far enough away, he and Brandt stood from their spots and began to follow, maintaining a safe distance so as to not be noticed by either a bystander or Danny himself. They watched as he wobbled along the pavement in the direction of his home. Brandt had to admit, he was impressed that a man as blatantly drunk as Danny was could find his way home so easily; he assumed he had practiced. A lot. The analyst also had to refrain from laughing slightly at the way the man walked, lifting his legs high with each step as if avoiding invisible obstacles. This man seemed so much fun to be around, even if that only was judging by his drunken antics.
Benji nudged Brandt suddenly, bringing him out of his little reverie. When he turned, the younger agent motioned with his head to a house that was about fifteen meters down the road on the opposite side. They watched from their spots as Danny made his way across the road, dropping his keys to the ground as he did. Benji shook his head slightly and tightened his hands into fists, unable to relax until Danny was in the safety of his own home. They watched as the sergeant bent down to pick up his keys, clearly lacking perception due to his inebriation as he tapped the ground everywhere but where the keys actually were.
A screeching sound from behind them made Benji and Brandt spin slightly and they noticed a set of headlights speeding down the road towards them.
Well, towards Danny.
Brandt's heart began to race, worried about what was going to happen, when he noticed than Benji was no longer next to him. Glancing up, he saw that his friend was now hurtling down the path towards Danny.
Benji began to run the second he saw the car, knowing exactly what was going on. His feet barely touched the pavement as he sped in a race against the vehicle. He reached the right part of the path just in time and ran into the road.
"Danny!" he didn't mean to call out the sergeant's name, it escaped him before he could stop it, but he didn't care. He threw himself through the air and collided with Danny forcefully, the pair tumbling to the tarmac within seconds. The car continued on past and disappeared around the corner, the sounds getting quieter and quieter until the street was silent other than the sound of Brandt's footsteps.
"Benji!" the analyst cried as he got closer, noticing the two men slowly moving. As Benji rolled onto his knees, Danny sat up rubbing his head. This was definitely not good. The two agents froze, waiting for Danny's reaction, not knowing what he would say when he realised that his dead friend had just saved his life. What did happen, however, left both men quite shocked.
"Ha!" Danny blinked a few times as his eyes fell on Benji. "You look like Nicky! Funny, that!" his voice was slurred as he wavered and threatened to fall backwards. Benji glanced up at Brandt before climbing to his feet.
"Come on, Danny." he grabbed one of Danny's arms while Brandt grabbed the other. "Up you get."
"Okie dokie." Danny replied in an almost child-like voice. They pulled him to his feet and lifted his arms over their shoulders, Benji grabbing Danny's keys from his hand.
"What was that all about?" Brandt asked. "Why the hell didn't he flip out?"
"He's drunk, Brandt. He probably thinks I don't exist." Benji almost snapped back as they began to walk towards Danny's house.
"My friend Nicky…" Danny suddenly began to speak. "Did you know him? He was my best friend, ya know? He was awesome. Kinda like Batman but with a horse instead of a car. Well he had the car too. But he rode a horse…" Brandt had to bite his lip. Despite everything that had just occurred, he couldn't help noticing just how alike Benji and Danny were. Right down to the babbling. He wondered what Danny meant about the horse, but he could ask that later. When they reached the front door, Benji fumbled around with the key and succeeded in getting them all inside in one piece. The agents just managed to get Danny up to his bedroom and once the sergeant was passed out on his bed, they let out a sigh. Throwing the covers over him, Benji watched him sleep for a moment before following Brandt towards the door. As he walked, he heard Danny mumble something about a cornetto and felt a smile tug at his lips.
The pair made their way back downstairs ready to discuss their plan of action now that the game had changed. As they entered the lounge, Benji glanced around, taking in the appearance of the all too familiar room. The most notable difference that Benji found was that all of the cardboard boxes were now gone. The sofa was still in the same place, opposite the TV and DVD cupboard, where he and Danny had sat countless times watching movies. He remembered the last time they had watched something together had been the night before the shooting. Walking to the DVD cupboard, he slid open the doors to see that all of his movies were still sitting neatly on their shelves.
"Wow…" Brandt's whisper notified Benji that the analyst was now behind him. "Danny sure loves his movies." He stepped forward and scanned his eyes over the extensive collection. His fingertips gently tapped the box for 'Bad Boys II' and he smiled at Benji.
The Brit noticed the DVD and returned the gesture. "I lost count of how many films Danny and I watched. He couldn't believe I hadn't seen the likes of Die Hard, Bad Boys and Point Break."
Brandt gave a small chuckle before spotting a gap in the neatly placed row. It was a box set of movies and the last part was missing.
"Benj, looks like he's missing one." The younger agent joined Brandt in looking at the box set and quickly realised what film it was.
"Lethal Weapon 4." He spoke with a monotonous voice.
"Is that what's gone?"
"Yeah. It was the last film we watched together before…" Benji trailed off and cleared his throat. "I wonder where it is." Brandt shrugged slightly as they stepped back out into the living room. As the analyst shut the doors behind them, Benji's gaze fell on something that sat on the sideboard. "Oh my…" He walked across the room leaving Brandt confused as to why a plant could draw a reaction like that from someone.
"What?" Brandt followed.
"It's my Japanese Peace Lily."
"Your Japanese what?"
"This plant was one of my most treasured possessions. When I had to leave, I told Travis to give it to Danny. I had tried to buy him one for his birthday a few years earlier but it wound up as evidence in a murder." He noticed the baffled look on Brandt's face and quickly added. "Don't ask."
Brandt nodded. "So he's kept it this whole time?"
"He must have." Benji smiled, gently touching one of the leaves. "I recognise the pot. Danny bought it for me after I smashed the other one over someone's head." Another dumbfounded look from Brandt made him shake his head. "In my defence, he was trying to kill me." The analyst shrugged and smiled at his friend. There was so much that he had to learn about Benji's secret past. Part of him was really intrigued due to little things Benji had said along with Danny's comparison of him to Batman, however at the same time he was apprehensive. Benji was the man that Brandt had become friends with; what if Nicholas was not the sort of person he could imagine getting along with? Would that affect his relationship with Benji knowing that, deep down, he was someone completely different?
"So…" He decided to distract himself from his thoughts by starting up a conversation. "What happens now?"
"Well, are we gonna get out of here? I mean if Danny wakes up and finds us here he's gonna flip."
"I know." Benji sighed. "But those guys will be back and I can't risk anything happening to him. I can't leave him alone now."
"So we're staying?"
"I will, you can leave if you wish." Benji sat down on the sofa as he spoke. Brandt thought for a minute before stepping across the room.
"Uh-uh." He flopped down next to Benji. "I ain't leaving you. Not now." He turned and gave him a serious look. "You're not getting rid of me that easily."
Danny felt the morning creeping in slowly and the closer it got, the more relieved he felt knowing that he was on an afternoon shift. His head was killing him and, not only that, his back ached too.
What the hell happened last night?
He vaguely remembered leaving the pub. He could just about picture himself walking towards his home and crossing the road.
Someone had pushed him out of the way. Who was it? Something inside him felt some kind of recognition, but his mind was still fuzzy so he couldn't picture their face.
Rolling onto his back, he let out a sigh. He wished he could remember the person's face; he wanted to thank them for saving his life as, due to his evident inebriation of the previous night, he assumed he wouldn't have shown his gratitude at the time. He rubbed his hands over his face and he let out a small groan at realising he hadn't got changed. How drunk had he been last night? Thinking again over the moments when he was saved, something tugged at his mind. Had the man looked like Nicholas? Maybe that was the tiny feeling of recognition. But that was impossible; unless he was looking out for him or something.
Guardian Angel… Danny thought. Fitting.
He shook himself. He was being ridiculous. Thinking that Nicholas had returned from the grave to save his life was like saying that zombies existed. Well, good zombies, anyway. He would wait until they completely disproved their existence… He shook his head again. What was wrong with him?
Note to self: never drink that much again.
A sudden noise from downstairs made him freeze. Was there someone else in the house?
No… can't be… must have been the wind.
There it was again.
Sliding off the bed, he grabbed his gun from the cabinet and made his way across the landing. Listening in, there was no doubt that there was someone downstairs. Descending as slowly and quietly as he could, he soon reached the bottom of the staircase and crept to the door of the lounge. Closing his eyes, he did a silent countdown before spinning around the corner, gun aimed at the intruder.
"N-N-Nicholas?" Danny blinked a few times at the sight before him. Standing in his living room, watering his peace lily, was his best friend.
"Hey Danny." Benji smiled softly, not really knowing what to say. Instead of saying anything else, he merely waited for his friend to speak.
"I… I'm still dreaming aren't I?" Danny's head tilted slightly and his eyes narrowed. "I've had dreams like this before; although I have to say, the watering my peace lily is new."
Benji felt his heart shattering at this reaction. Slowly placing the spray bottle onto the sideboard, he made his way across to Danny and gently shook his head. "No, Danny. You're not dreaming."
"No, I am. You're dead. You're not real." Danny stepped back slightly, not knowing what to make of the situation. As much as he wanted to believe that Nicholas was alive, he knew it wasn't possible. So many emotions bubbled inside of him, words caught in his throat. All the things he wanted to say to him right now were just trapped as a feeling of horror took over him.
"Danny. It's me." Benji tried to place a hand on Danny's shoulder, yet felt his chest tighten when the sergeant pulled back.
"No. Stop it. Stop lying." Danny began to shake his head frantically. "Leave me alone, ok? I want to wake up. Now."
"Danny, please. Danny, listen to me!" Benji tried to grasp Danny's shoulders as the younger man tried to push him away. Benji wanted nothing more than to pull Danny into a hug, however at that moment, his friend couldn't even look at him. His eyes were squeezed closed to block out the view of Benji and he was instinctively backing away from him. "Danny, please just look at me." He had anticipated that it was going to be difficult for Danny, however the way the moment was playing out left Benji scared. After a few moments of struggle, he finally got Danny to stop, holding his shoulders in place and looking him in the eyes. "It's me."
"Nicholas?" Danny's voice was less terrified now, however the tone it held was still disturbing to the agent. "Nicholas? Is it really…"
"Yes, Danny." Benji felt a weak smile start to take over his lips from the corners as he watched Danny's face soften. "I'm here."
"How?" Danny's voice suddenly changed again; this time, it was laced with anger. "How can you be here? You died, Nicholas! How are you still alive? I went to your funeral. I said goodbye to you as they put you in the ground!"
"I know, Danny, I-"
"No! You have no idea how hard these last three years have been. First mum died and then dad got put away… You were the closest thing I had to family, Nicholas. And you just left me… I've been waking up every morning, not wanting to go anywhere or do anything and you know why? Cos every time I do anything I remember how alone I feel. I have never felt that alone before and all this time, you've been alive?" Benji noticed the tears that were welling up in those brown eyes that he remembered to be so full of energy. The pain he saw in them now was only matched by the moments after the explosion at the station. After letting all of the emotions run free, Danny fell silent and caught his breath, still unable to take his eyes off Benji.
"Danny… I'm so sorry. If I could have done it any other way-" Benji's sentence was cut short by something he did not expect. It was not more shouting, as he assumed would come. It wasn't even some form of punch or hit, which he would have completely understood. Instead, another form of physical contact was bestowed upon him as Danny threw his arms around him and pulled him into a tight embrace. Benji let his eyes close as he heard Danny's breathing next to his ear. Turning his head slightly to the side, he whispered into his friend's ear. "Happy birthday, Danny."
Brandt stood in the hallway, having watched the entire exchange, and wasn't really sure what to do. He knew that the situation had nothing to do with him, so he remained silent, merely watching as Danny went through more emotions in a few minutes than he had experienced in his lifetime. The shock turned into denial, the denial turned into rage and then finally, when Brandt started to feel slightly worried for Benji, he watched as the sergeant grabbed the other Brit and hugged him tight. He watched as Benji's arms lifted, despite being practically pinned to his sides, and he wrapped them around Danny in return. It felt slightly strange for Brandt, observing just how close these two men were. The analyst hadn't had a friendship like that since he was at school; the closest thing he had found since then had been with Benji. So now, watching him have that bond with another person was bizarre for him. But, at the same time, he felt a smile growing on his face as he watched the heart-warming reunion.
Even though the hug had lasted for some time, when Benji pulled away, Danny felt slightly lost. When the agent saw his friend's face he noticed the barely visible trails of tears down his cheeks. Offering a small smile, he spoke up. "I think I owe you an explanation."
"So they did this without you knowing?" Danny couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. Brandt nodded as he listened to the sergeant's question, knowing that the confusion Danny felt was not all that different from what he had felt back in America.
"Yes. They had it all planned out while I was still unconscious. By the time I woke up they had already told you. There was nothing I could do." Benji looked down to his lap as he took a deep breath. "I was furious at them, but I was too weak to do anything about it."
"I understand." Danny's soft voice gave Benji some comfort, but there was one thing that he had to ask.
"Danny, what happened? After I was shot?" Benji knew it would hurt Danny for him to recall those moments, however he needed to know. He wanted to know what they had put his friend through so that he could understand and help make things right.
Danny heard the shot and spun on his heels, checking the surrounding area for the shooter, however no one was there. He began to speak as he turned back to Nicholas but the sight in front of him turned his blood cold. His friend, his best friend, was now leaning against the wall, slightly bent forwards with blood dripping from his mouth onto the light grey concrete. The contrast in colour to the crimson of his blood was horrifying. As Danny moved towards him, he noticed the two tears in the back of Nicholas' jacket and before he could reach him, the inspector's legs gave way, sending him tumbling to the ground.
"Nicholas!" He rushed to the man's side, catching him just before he hit the ground. "Nicholas! Stay with me!" He let the inspector's head rest in his lap as he tried to stop the bleeding, but he knew it was a losing battle. He turned to see Cartwright approaching with Doris on his heels. "Andy! Call an ambulance!" He watched as the young detective skidded to a halt and pulled out his mobile. Whipping his head back around, he looked down at Nicholas, watching his own tears fall and land on the blonde man's face. "You're gonna be alright, Nicholas. I promise." He was relieved to see his friend attempting to acknowledge that he would not let him go, but when the blue eyes began to slip behind the cover of his eyelids, Danny panicked. "Nicholas!"
Behind him, he heard the sirens getting closer and before he knew it, they were right nearby. When had that happened? He could see his friend fighting impending unconsciousness, but he had to keep him awake. If he fell asleep now, he feared the worst may eventuate. "Nicholas, look at me!" He had intended the demand to sound softer and kinder than it came out, however as he watched Nicholas' eyes close once more, it turned into a more desperate cry. "Nicholas?" he tried to shake his friend as two paramedics approached them, but the inspector was completely unresponsive. "Nicholas?" He tried again, but still no movement. "Nicholas!" he squeezed his eyes shut as he said the name, hoping that he could somehow pull him back from the depths of unconsciousness by shouting louder.
"Sir? We need you to step back for a moment, please." Danny looked up to the paramedic who stood over him. "Please." Danny barely managed the nod, only just finding himself able to let go of his friend's limp body. He watched as they placed him on the stretcher and stood with them. "Ok, sir, what's his name?"
"Uh, Nicholas." Danny began. "Nicholas Angel."
"Alright, now we're gonna take Nicholas to the hospital in Burford Abbey. You can ride in the ambulance if you like." Danny nodded as they rushed to the back of the van, never letting go of Nicholas' hand as they went. He noticed people with cameras already; did these people show no mercy? Strategically positioning himself, he stood so that Nicholas' face was shielded from their view.
Danny sat in the back of the ambulance watching as the oxygen mask was placed over Nicholas' nose and mouth. All the while, those blue eyes never opened. His entire body was limp, his head flopping to the side with every small bump in the road. Throughout the long drive to the hospital, Danny never let go of Nicholas' hand for fear of losing him. Even though he knew it was silly, he felt that by keeping hold of his friend, he would be able to keep him alive. If he let go now, Nicholas would slip away.
While the paramedics took the stretcher out of the ambulance, Danny still kept hold of Nicholas' hand. He knew that he was probably getting in the way and making things awkward for the paramedics, however at that moment, he really didn't care.
He heard people shouting; doctors asking questions, paramedics providing information such as Nicholas' name, age, what happened… He heard it, but he wasn't actually listening. The only thing that he was concentrating on was the slow, yet beautifully constant rising and falling of his friend's bloodied chest. He felt a set of hands grasp his shoulders and try to stop him, resulting in his hold on Nicholas' hand to slip.
"Sergeant Buttermn, please." Danny felt his hand lose contact with Nicholas and watched helplessly as the doctors wheeled him through some doors and out of sight. After a few moments of trying to stare a hole in the wall, Danny finally managed to turn to face the source of the voice. It was an older nurse who was regarding him with a sympathetic smile. "Come with me, you can sit in the family room while you wait."
Danny shook his head and walked across to one of the chairs in the hallway. "I'd rather stay here, please." He could tell that the nurse wanted to insist but she decided against it, merely nodding and walking away.
Benji and Brandt both sat in shocked silence as they listened to Danny recall what happened. Benji's heart felt like it had been ripped from his chest, twisted and broken and then put back. Neither agent could find the right words to say, however if even they had, their voices had been lost long ago. Instead, they waited for Danny to collect himself and continue.
Danny had been sitting for what felt like hours. It could have been for all he knew, but it wasn't the clock that he was watching. He had been staring at those double doors waiting for news on Nicholas. Every time they swung open, Danny's heart would race, hoping it was someone bringing more information on his friend's condition. However, when they walked straight past him, he sank back into his chair, an intense feeling of melancholy washing over him with each passing doctor.
Well, they do say no news is good news, right? Danny thought as another doctor disappeared through the doors.
Another reason why Danny's eyes never left those doors was because he needed him to distract himself from the deep red of Nicholas' blood that painted his hands. He had managed to wipe most of it off with the towels that the nurse had given him, but he could still see it. It was still there.
Out, damned spot! Out, I say!
He wondered if this was what Lady Macbeth meant in the play. He had studied it in high school and never understood why she could still see the blood when it wasn't really there. Now he realised. There was hardly any red left on his trembling hands, yet he could still see it. He really wanted nothing more than to go into the bathroom and wash it off; scrub his hands until they were clean. Maybe even scrub them until his own blood escaped the raw skin – at least then it would mask the precious crimson liquid that belonged to his friend. The blood also stained his white shirt, the substance having already dried on. He had a feeling that he wouldn't ever get that out. Even if he did, he would never be able to un-see the smudges that were once splattered across it. He made a decision to dispose of the shirt as soon as Nicholas was better.
"Sergeant Butterman?" a voice raised Danny from his stupor and he turned to see a police officer standing a few feet away. He looked a little bit older than Nicholas and had brown hair slicked back.
"Yes?" Danny was sure he had seen this man before.
"My name is Travis. I'm a sergeant at the met. I used to work with Nicholas."
Danny paused for a moment, trying to figure out where he knew this man from. "Hang on. You were at the model village with those other blokes from the met. You were trying to get Nicholas to go back to London."
"Yes. We were." Travis took a step forward.
"Maybe he should have gone with you." Danny's voice was a barely audible whisper.
"If Nicholas had gone back with you then, he wouldn't be in there now, would he?" Danny pointed to the doors and Travis sighed.
"You don't know that. Anything can happen. For all you know, he could have gone back to London and been shot there. Besides, I heard what happened after we left; about the explosion. What would have happened if Nicholas hadn't been there?"
Danny hadn't actually asked himself that question before. It had been Nicholas that Tom Weaver had been trying to kill. What if Nicholas wasn't there? He had no idea how it would have played out and frankly he didn't care.
"Look, Danny, why don't you come with me. Just to the hospital café. Get a drink. Nothing's going on here, is there?"
Danny wanted to quote Nicholas; tell Travis that there is always something going on. But he had no fight left in him.
"But what if there's news?" he asked timidly.
"I'll tell the doctor where we are and if there is any news he'll be able to find us. Ok?" Danny pondered the suggestion before nodding gently.
"At the time, I just assumed he was trying to help me and take my mind off you. But I guess now I know what happened, it feels like he was just trying to get me out of the way." This made Benji feel sick to the stomach. How could something like this have happened to Danny? How could he have let it happen?
This may sound odd, but during the second flashback of this chapter, we recommend listening to 'Ascension/Nature Boy' from the Moulin Rouge OST #2 (the words at the end are not fitting unless you ship Nicholas/Danny, however we feel that the music fits the setting…) We think that this might help get the emotions of the scene conveyed :)
The pair sat for a while drinking coffee and taking about anything except Nicholas. Fortunately, Travis had seen 'Point Break' and managed to start a discussion about it. Danny joined in, despite his voice displaying an obvious lack of enthusiasm. They were sure how much time had passed when one of the doctors who had been working on Nicholas beckoned them. They followed him into the family room with the promise of news on the surgery. Danny's stomach was doing somersaults as he watched the doctor close the door and sit opposite them.
"How is he?" Danny blurted out. "Is he gonna be ok?"
Then the doctor did something that made Danny's eyes widen slightly.
Immediately, Danny knew that the news he had called them in to tell them was not going to be good.
"He is ok, isn't he?" Danny queried, already sensing that the answer to the question would be one he did not wish to hear. He could feel tears beginning to form already.
"Sergeants, we tried long and hard to save Inspector Angel. He was very strong and fought as much as he could, however I am afraid his wounds were too extensive and severe." Danny was already shaking his head, not willing to believe what was being said.
"No… no, no, no… That's not true…" he spoke to no one in particular, the words merely escaping his mouth as the tears escaped his eyes.
"I am truly sorry, Sergeant Butterman." The doctor gave the two officers a sympathetic look before standing up. "I'll let you have some time alone."
Before Danny had even realised what he was doing, he was standing next to the doctor. "No. I wanna see him."
"Danny, I really don't thin-"
"No, Travis." Danny didn't even look at the other sergeant.
"Sergeant Butterman, in times like this I really recommend that you do not see Nicholas, as it will only make you more distraught." The doctor tried to explain. "Sure, it's best if you just keep the good memories. You don't want to see him like this. Remember him before."
Danny paused as if pondering this, however shook his head again. "No. Please let me see him. I want to say goodbye."
The doctor exchanged a brief glance with Travis before nodding. "I'll see what I can do."
"I hadn't thought anything of that little look between the doctor and Travis." Danny's voice was so soft, noticing that Benji and Brandt both appeared to be fighting off impending emotions.
"They mustn't have been prepared for you wanting to see me." Benji's voice was wavering slightly as he spoke.
"I guess." Danny shrugged. "But I don't understand. They let me see you. Surely if you'd been alive then I would have been able to tell." Benji looked between Brandt and Danny, noting their curious expressions.
"They told me afterwards what they had done." Benji sounded reluctant. Even though he had not had any say in what happened, he still felt guilty about it. It was like when someone is forced to do something at gunpoint. Except, at least when you're at gunpoint you still have the ability to refuse. "Apparently there's this drug which slows down the heart rate to an undetectable speed. It basically gives the illusion of death. They said that using it was a risk to my recovery, but they went ahead with it anyway. As far as anyone else was concerned, I was already dead. I guess that made the risk worth taking."
Silence fell over the trio once more. Benji's voice had been taken by guilt; Danny and Brandt's by the shock. None of them could understand why this had happened. They knew why it had happened, but they couldn't understand.
Danny was the first to find his voice. "That would explain why it took so long for them to 'get you ready'."
Danny walked into the room and felt a chill run down his spine. It was so cold and quiet; very appropriate considering the circumstances.
There he was.
Lying on the operating table, a sheet covering his entire body. Suddenly, he felt slightly unsure about it, but he had to say goodbye. The doctor walked across and pulled over a chair for him to sit on before approaching Nicholas.
"You're sure you want to go ahead with this?" he asked, reaching for the edge of the sheet. When Danny nodded weakly, he pulled it down.
The blue eyes that Danny knew so well were shut in a peaceful manner; it really looked like he was just sleeping. The doctor stopped the sheet at Nicholas' shoulders, ensuring that the wounds remained hidden from view. That, Danny was glad of.
"I'll give you some space. I'll just be by the door." The doctor offered a soft, caring smile before walking across the room. Danny would have watched him go, but his eyes were glued to Nicholas' still face. Reaching under the edge of the sheet, he found his friend's limp hand and took it in one of his own once more.
"Ni…" he began to speak but had to hold back a choked sob. "Nicholas. I dunno if you're able to hear me anymore but I just… I just wanted to say thank you. For everything." He had to pause to take in a deep breath before going on. "You helped me become a good police officer and you taught me how to stand up for myself. You're my best friend Nicholas. I don't know what I'd do without you... what I'm going to do without…" Grasping Nicholas' hand in both of his, he felt tears beginning to fall freely. "Please… don't be gone. Just open your eyes and tell me that it's gonna be fine. Just like you did when I was shot. You told me everything was gonna be fine and it was for a while. But you got shot and now nothing is fine anymore."
Glancing up through blurred vision, he watched Nicholas' face, waiting for some kind of sign. But nothing came.
Nicholas was gone.
He couldn't stop the tears now. No matter how much he wanted to remain strong, he just couldn't fight the emotions that washed over him. Drowning him in the reality that his best friend was dead. He heard footsteps from behind him and subconsciously gripped Nicholas' limp hand tighter.
"Danny, I think it's time you got some rest."
Rest? Danny thought. Rest? My best friend is dead and he's telling me to rest? He continued to hold on to Nicholas' hand, refusing to let go with a shake of his head.
"Danny, please." There was something in the doctor's voice that sounded slightly off, but he didn't care at all. He cared about nothing other than the fact that Nicholas was lying there and he was being forced to say goodbye. Letting go of his hand at that moment meant he would have to take the first step towards leaving Nicholas behind. He did not want to take that step.
"No…" he wanted it to come out as an authoritative order, however his voice was gone and it came out as a whisper. "I'm not leaving him."
"Danny, you have to." The doctor spoke with that tone again, causing Danny to turn his watery eyes onto him.
"Why? Why can't I stay with him?"
"Because…" The doctor appeared to be stumbling over his words. "Because you can't stay with him forever. You have to move on. Surely you would want Nicholas to move on in this situation." Danny paused, realising that the doctor was right. He wouldn't want Nicholas to remain in pain and suffering. He would want him to move on with his life. A new life without Danny. And that was what Nicholas would want for him. Reluctantly, he nodded and began to let go of the hand. As it slipped from his grasp, Danny almost felt like a part of him was disappearing. He knew that it would sound crazy to anyone else, but Nicholas had become a brother to him. His best friend. Losing the only 'family' he had left was one of the worst things that he could imagine. Trying to keep sight of the inspector for as long as he could, he felt himself being led towards the door by two firm hands on his shoulders.
As he stepped out into the hospital corridor, he was greeted by a solemn sight. The rest of the Sandford police service was waiting for him, sad expressions decorating their usually chirpy features. Doris stepped forward as Danny approached, wrapping her arms around him tightly. The emotional recomposing Danny had attempted as he had left the room all came crumbling down as he fell into her embrace and the pair let their tears fall onto each other's shoulders.
"I never understood why I had to leave so quick, but I guess at the time it didn't seem all that odd; what, with everything else that was going on in my mind."
Benji sighed. "When they explained what they had done to let you see me, they explained that they needed to remove my oxygen masks and drips… everything that was helping to keep me alive. If they had left it, they couldn't have shown you that I was dead."
Danny's face seemed to change at the revelation, causing Benji to worry what was going through his mind. "So, you mean, the longer I stayed there… Oh god…" The sergeant ran his hands over his eyes and Benji realised what he meant. He tried to reach out a comforting hand to his friend, however pulled back, a little unsure of what to say. "I'm so sorry, Nicholas, I didn't know I…"
"No, Danny. Please. You have no reason to be sorry." Benji offered. He watched his friend try to gather himself before trying to go on. With a deep breath, the officer continued.
"But, that was the last time I saw you." Danny looked between the two men, noticing how sombre their expressions were. "We held your funeral about a week after that and as far as I was aware, you've been buried at the church here ever since."
Benji was utterly lost for words. He had been told at the time what had happened, however until that moment could only imagine what his friend would have gone through. Now that he knew exactly what he had, the agent felt lost. How do you comfort someone when you were ultimately the cause of their heartache? It was easy enough to say 'I'm sorry' or 'It's alright', but that does nothing. Nothing that Benji could say or do would be able to wipe the previous few years clean. Wipe away the pain and sorrow that Danny had endured. Wipe away the wrongs done to both of them. He wasn't able to change the past, however he was damned if he couldn't change the future. He was going to stop these men from getting any further and then he was going to help Danny move on. He glanced at Brandt, whose expression was hard to read. The analyst was clearly affected by what he had just heard; Benji didn't blame him. Brandt had known Benji for a long time now. But suddenly, he finds out that the friend he thought he knew is a completely different person. He knew that would be difficult.
It was difficult for all of them. As well as the revelation for Brandt, Danny was now being forced to deal with the fact that his best friend did not die. That bombshell was bound to leave him shaken. He could barely comprehend what must have been going through the sergeant's mind when he came into the living room earlier. Looking across to his old friend, Benji noticed the stare he was receiving. The vacant look in Danny's eyes made Benji wonder if he was contemplating the possibility that this was still a dream. Quite frankly, that thought would be completely understandable. This wasn't something that you could say "Oh, ok cool" to and then just move on. Benji had really thrown Danny a curveball by showing up in his life again and the only thing he could do was to help the sergeant get through it.
The pause seemed to last forever. No one knew what to say or where they would go after this. Danny was the one who roused that concern.
"So, where do we go from here?" he asked, glancing between Benji and Brandt who, in turn, exchanged a look. "I mean, if you're right and those men are after me then what do we do?"
"Well our main priority is to keep you safe." Brandt took the liberty of speaking up, even though he still felt slightly out of place after Benji and Danny's reunion. "We need to stop those men, but we want to avoid anything happening to you." Danny offered Brandt a small smile at this.
"Well, I have work this afternoon. We could discuss it there; using police time properly and all that. I mean, we are hunting down bad guys, aren't we?" Benji had to let a smile take over his lips at this; seeing Danny as confident and positive about his job like this made him happy. When the two agents nodded, Danny stood up. "Well, I'll go and get ready then." Before he made his way to the hallway, Benji noticed another of those glances traveling in his direction. Once Danny had disappeared around the corner and his footsteps could be heard going up the staircase, Benji put his head into his hands. He knew that as he walked from the room, Danny would have been worried that when he returned he would be gone. He had managed to hold it together while Danny had been telling them what he had experienced, but now that his friend was out of sight, he let the emotions pull him under. He squeezed his eyes shut to try and stop any tears falling, but it was no use. He soon felt Brandt's hand on his shoulder and looked up.
"Are you alright?" The analyst gave him a concerned look before adding "I know that is a totally stupid question, but we're gonna get through this. You and Danny are gonna sort this out and I'll be right with you both along the way." Benji nodded in acknowledgement.
Danny couldn't remember the last time he took a shower this quickly. He just needed to get back downstairs to make sure that he hadn't been dreaming. He didn't seem to find his clothes fast enough, almost putting his trousers on the wrong way around. His mind was elsewhere at that moment in time. Once he had tied the laces on his shoes, he made his way to the staircase. This was it. Now that he was fully awake, it would be the moment of truth; had he been dreaming?
He stood at the top of the stairs for a few seconds, taking some time to collect his thoughts, which by that point had become a jumble. He stared down to the hallway below as if it was his path to the gallows. Finally, he gripped the bannister with a slightly shaking hand and began the descent. Taking each step at an agonisingly slow pace, he heard every creak echo around him. Once his foot hit the carpet of the final step, he took in a deep, shaky breath before turning into the living room.
It was empty.
His mouth fell open slightly as he glanced around the room for Benji or Brandt, but neither of them were there. He felt his stomach wriggling around inside him at the thought of having to go back to normal life after such a vivid, wonderful dream. It had to have been a dream, anyway; surely nothing like that could have happened in real life.
That's it then. I knew it was too good to be tr-
"Danny." His thoughts were cut off by a familiar voice and he spun around to see the two other men standing behind him. He wanted to throw his arms around Benji once more, but decided to stop himself. He knew that it would only make him emotional again. "You ok?"
He smiled slightly. "Yeah, let's go to work." Benji felt a smile tug at his own lips; hearing Danny say something that he had once said to the sergeant gave him some feeling of contentment.
During the whole trip to Sandford Police Station, Benji felt his stomach doing somersaults. The shock and emotions of seeing Danny again had been almost too much for him, but now he had to face the rest of his former colleagues. He wondered what the Andies would say, seeing as they always seemed to have a smart arse comment for everything. What about Doris and Tony? He had always considered them good friends before the shooting. And then Bob and Saxon. He tried to picture what they would say in his head, however after so long, he could barely remember the sound of their voices.
Brandt turned to look at Benji in the back seat. The Brit was keeping his head down, just to be on the safe side, however the analyst could still see his pained facial expression. Returning to his old home after so long would be hard enough, but after he was taken away from it in such horrific circumstances… Brandt really was struggling to imagine what his friend would have been feeling. He turned his attention to Danny, who was next to him in the driver's seat. The sergeant was watching the road, but Brandt noticed that every now and then, he would check the rear view mirror, almost as if making sure Benji was actually there. He figured that Danny would still assume it was a dream; that was completely understandable.
When they pulled up outside the station, Brandt studied the building. He was slightly shocked at its size, being used to the larger police stations of America it seemed quite small, however if this was the same group of police officers who brought down a murderous gang, then he wouldn't judge them on the size of their workplace. The trio made their way through the door and were greeted by a man sitting at reception.
"Mornin' Danny." The man didn't even have to look up from the book he was reading to know who was entering, however when he did raise his head, Brandt noticed his eyes widen. "Inspector Angel…?"
"Morning Sergeant." Benji had to hold back a smirk at the curly haired man's facial expression.
"You're not dead?" he mumbled, practically dropping his book to the desk. "Nobody tells me nothin'…" He shook his head slightly in utter shock as the three men continued on through the station. As they passed into the main section of the building, Benji prepared himself for whatever reaction would come; it was pretty hard for him to do so due to him having absolutely no idea what that reaction would be.
Saxon lay at Walker's feet, minding his own business when he noticed the trio walk in. He let out a friendly bark and scrambled to his feet, bolting across the room before Bob could realise what was happening.
"Saxnwayadn?" He followed the dog with his eyes until they fell on the blonde man who was petting the animal as he stood next to Danny. "Omiwrd"
"What?" Tony asked, looking up. His jaw dropped when he saw what had left the PC so astonished while Doris proceeded to drop the pile of paperwork she was carrying. Another door opened at the loud bang.
"Nice one, Doris." The two Andies walked into the room and before they could say another word, froze on the spot. Both stood, jaws wide, cigarettes hanging from their lips as they stared at Benji in stunned silence. Benji had to raise his eyebrows at the never-before-seen situation.
"Isn't smoking banned in public places nowadays, Danny?" He turned to the sergeant and winked. Danny's eyes lit up slightly, just the way Benji remembered them, and he nodded.
"I thought so." Benji smirked and turned back to face the detectives who still stood with the same expression. Despite the serious situation surrounding Benji's return, it was incredibly hard to not laugh at the two as they stood there, mouths agape, as if they had seen a ghost. Well…
"Chief?" Doris was the first officer to break the silence.
"Hello Doris." Benji smiled at her as she took a careful step towards him.
"You're not dead?" Tony found his voice next, remaining in his chair due to the inability to trust his own legs. "We thought…"
"Me too." Danny nodded, inwardly relieved that the others could see him. Either Nicholas really was alive or they were all going crazy. But at this moment in time, he didn't really feel the need to worry about that. Cartwright finally managed to close his mouth and turned his gaze on Brandt.
"Who's that?" He pointed at the analyst, who stepped forward.
"My name is William Brandt. I work with Benji." At mention of his name, Benji threw a nervous glace at his blatantly confused colleagues.
"Benji?" Wainwright asked, taking two steps towards the trio. "Who the fuck is Benji?" When Benji raised his hand, silence fell again.
"What the fuck is he on about?" Cartwright exclaimed, allowing everyone's thought to be spoken aloud.
"It's a long story." Danny interjected before anyone could ask, not wanting to make the man have to explain everything again. Tony finally managed to build up the strength to stand.
"Please, Tony, I'm no longer your inspector." Benji held up his hands. "There's no need for formalities."
"Thought I told you no more being a twat, Angel." Wainwright chimed in again. To this, Benji could only offer a shake of his head.
"Look, I understand you're probably a bit confused…" Benji's comment was rewarded with a simultaneous scoff from the detectives. "But we have some serious work to take care of. After that, I promise you a full explanation." Once the group had slightly got over their shock, Danny, Benji and Brandt headed out to one of the patrol cars. As they began their drive, Danny pulled up outside the corner shop and turned to the other men.
"You want anything from the shop?" He didn't realise the nostalgia brought with this sentence until Benji answered with a smile.
The car was stopped out on the very same road Nicholas and Danny had caught Martin Blower for speeding on, pulling up in the same spot so that they could discuss things. Along the drive, Benji had called Evan, informing him of their encounter the previous night. Once he had ended the call, silence fell.
"Nicholas?" Benji took a few seconds to realise that Danny was talking to him; he hadn't been called that for so long so it took a little getting used to.
"Yeah, Danny?" He shifted in his seat slightly, wondering what his friend was going to say.
"How did you guys meet? You and William, I mean." Brandt turned slightly to catch Benji's eye before the blonde man spoke.
"Uh, well we met in Moscow just over a year ago-"
"Wait, Moscow?" Danny's voice made both agents' stomachs flutter with nerves. "Were you there when the Kremlin blew up?"
"Oh man, that's wicked!" Brandt and Benji exchanged a nervous glance.
"Fortunately we weren't nearby when it happened though." Benji blurted out, not really wanting to recall the concussion he had after nearly getting blown up with the Kremlin. He was quite glad that his friend stopped the conversation there, worried about what further questions he may ask. Not ten minutes after arriving at their destination, Benji's phone rang again. As he stepped out of the car to take the call, Brandt turned to Danny.
"So, uh, Danny." The sergeant glanced at him and raised his eyebrows. "Last night you said something about Benj- Nicholas. How he was like Batman and… rode a horse?" Brandt was a bit wary about bringing it up, still feeling like an outsider, however what the younger man had said to him caused his curiosity to spike again. He saw Danny's lips twitch in the corners and they soon formed a smile.
"Well, when I first met Nicholas, I was kinda… amazed by him. He was like the police officer I wanted to be. Kinda like Super Cop. He taught me lotsa things about how to be a good officer and stuff like that. Only problem was, he stumbled across these deaths and knew that there was something funny going on. But I didn't believe him; none of us did. Turned out my dad and a bunch of his friends were running this group which was killin' off people who made the town look bad. They tried to kill Nicholas when he figured it out, but I managed to fake his death and I got him out of there." Brandt sat with his eyes wide hanging on every word Danny said. Benji had mentioned this to him earlier, however hearing it from the sergeant felt different. He nodded as a signal for Danny to go on. "I told him to go back to London where it was safe but the next day he came back, ridin' down that street on a white horse carrying a shit load of guns. It was amazin'! You should have seen him!"
Brandt was having a tough time just trying to picture Benji as 'super cop', let alone imagining him riding a horse carrying weapons. He shook his head in vague disbelief. The door opened suddenly and both men looked to Benji who was climbing into the back seat.
"What did he say?" Brandt asked. Benji pocketed his phone and glanced between them.
"Apparently the car from last night turned up just outside of Buford Abbey. It was torched."
"Great." Brandt spoke with an evident lack of enthusiasm, reminding Benji of their plane ride to Mumbai.
"So what'd I miss?" Benji asked, noticing Danny's smile.
"I was just telling William here about that time you rode into Sandford on Reaper's horse like super cop." He spoke giddily, leaving Benji's cheeks red.
"You really did that?" Brandt turned a bemused look on the younger agent who shrugged as if it was nothing. The analyst's jaw dropped. "Seriously?"
"You ain't heard the half of it." Danny raised his eyebrows again in anticipation and Brandt almost felt jittery as he waited for him to continue.
"Danny…" Benji tried to protest this story-telling attitude, but the sergeant was having none of it.
"So he rides into Sandford on Reapers horse, guns here, there and everywhere. He then starts fighting the NWA. Now they're all shootin' at him and he's shootin' back. Amanda Paver gets him in the arm, but he just keeps on goin'!" Danny began making guns with his fingers and pretended to shoot people. "He took out every member without actually killing anyone."
Now I see where the Batman comment came from… Brandt thought.
"He fought everyone; even the trolley boy!" At this, Brandt turned to Benji with a quizzical eyebrow raised but the younger agent just shook his head. "Then we're back at the station and out of nowhere, Tom Weaver appears pointing a gun at him. He was all ready to shoot him but…" Danny trailed off, leaving Brandt waiting and Benji opened his mouth to take over.
"Tom Weaver was about to kill me but Danny jumped in front of me. He saved my life." Benji smiled at Danny who had turned to look at him. "If he hadn't done that I don't know what would have happened." Brandt sat in shocked silence as he waited for one of them to continue. It was Danny who did so.
"Well, I just didn't want to see you getting' yourself all shot up, did I?" He sounded as if he didn't want to take any sort of credit for saving his friend's life. "Then there was this stupid sea mine which went and exploded."
"Exploded?" Brandt couldn't stop himself. First off, he had no idea why there was a sea mine in a police station and secondly, he was utterly stumped as to how the officers could all still be alive today.
"Yeah…" Benji offered. "I have an empty filing cabinet to thank." He gave a small laugh and Brandt was about to smile in return when suddenly the windscreen smashed. Instinctively, all three men brought their arms up to cover their faces as glass flew through the entire car.
"What the f-" Brandt's cry was cut short by continuing gunfire from a car that had just appeared.
"Danny! Stay down!" Benji yelled, pulling out his gun and throwing open his door.
"Nicholas!" Danny shouted his friend's name, sliding down his seat as a bullet whizzed past him.
"Benji! What the hell are you doing?" Brandt watched as his friend rolled out of the car and began to fire back, using the door as a shield. With an exasperated groan, he followed suit, staying low to avoid any stray bullets. He noticed Danny reaching for his gun but shook his head. "Danny, do not move." He glanced at the sergeant who nodded, his eyes wide with horror. Glass fell over Benji's head and shoulders as the window above him shattered and he lifted up his weapon again. There were two men standing either side of the car, guns aimed at the trio dispelling bullet after bullet. Benji spotted the man on the left run out of ammunition and used the distraction to his advantage, catching him in the side with a single pull of the trigger. He saw the man go down with a shriek of pain and the second man spun to see. Once he noticed his friend had been hit, he glanced back to Benji who quickly ducked, begging that he hadn't been seen. The Brit's breathing picked up as he heard shouting and more gunfire as Brandt continued to shoot at their attackers. More glass crashed around them before the sound of slamming doors and screeching wheels ended the noise. The three men took a few seconds before making any movements. When they finally managed to get back into the car, they examined each other. Brandt's ear was dripping a thin trail of blood down the side of his neck, Benji had a cut on his cheek and Danny's forearms were scattered with little abrasions from the flying glass. But both agents were relieved that he was ok.
The drive back to the station was one of a nervous atmosphere. No one knew what their next plan would be but they knew that they needed to figure that out. Fast. That had been the second time in less than twenty four hours that these men had tried to kill Danny and Benji knew that they weren't going to stop there. They decided that seeing as they knew where Danny lived, it would be safer to stay at the station for a while, at least until the whole thing blew over. That way, Danny would always be surrounded by people and never in a position where he could be ambushed. Stepping into the main part of the station, they were greeted with the smiling faces of the Sandford Police Service holding up a black forest gateau; clearly they wanted to celebrate their old inspector being alive. Yet, when they noticed the small injuries the three men were sporting, the smiles disappeared.
"What happened, Danny?" Doris asked, stepping over to examine his arms.
"We got attacked."
"What? By who?" Tony chimed in, unmistakably feeling defensive over his young friends. Danny turned to Benji, his eyes pleading for him to do the explaining. Nodding at the sergeant, he began to speak.
"Remember the men who we were chasing just before I was shot?" he received a collective nod from the group and continued. "Well, the met have been chasing them since I left Sandford and there are two left. These two have now returned with the intention of killing Danny." Benji and Brandt both noticed the officers standing in shock at the revelation. Brandt decided to take over, as talking about it was clearly affecting the Brit.
"That's why we're here. Now we had hoped to remain hidden, Benji did not want to cause a stir turning up in your lives after what happened, but last night the men tried to run Danny down. He was ok, but we knew that we could just hide in the shadows while protecting him." Benji gave the analyst a small nod of thanks before once again beginning to speak.
"I know it's a lot to ask of you all, but we need to take extra caution so that Danny is not left alone. They just tried again while we were out in the car and we don't want them taking a third try. We think it would be best for Danny to remain here, where he can be kept safe and watched over by all of us. At least two people with him at any one time. It may sound like we're being overcautious, but I don't want these men finishing what they started." Benji looked up at the clock and saw that it was starting to get late. "Right, what we'll do is set up a rota; who will be doing what at each time." He turned to Brandt. "Can you help them do that, I'll go and inform the twins of what's happening." Brandt nodded and watched Benji disappear through the double doors. It amazed him how the man who was usually the one taking orders seemed so natural and at-ease when giving them. He shook his head and made his way across to the officers, feeling slightly uneasy as he was still new in the area. But he had to put that aside; they had work to do.
Once Benji had explained everything to the Turners, he made his way towards the other room again, however his phone buzzed in his pocket. It was a message from Evan.
The met called. Got more info on the gang members. Worse than we thought. Danny is in serious trouble. Meet me at the church ASAP.
Benji's stomach dropped at the text, fearing for his friend. Biting his lip, he shoved the phone back into his pocket and pushed open the doors. Across the room, he saw everyone crowded around a desk; seeing Brandt mingling with the people he used to know felt so surreal.
"Brandt?" The analyst looked up and crossed the floor when Benji beckoned him. "I've had a text from Evan. Apparently things are worse than we thought. I'm just gonna meet him over at the church so can you just keep an extra eye on Danny?" Brandt felt his mind drift back to Julia. Granted, she was actually alive, but he still felt unsure about any sort of protection responsibilities. At least this time, he had the other officers around to help. And Benji.
"Are you sure that's wise?" Brandt asked, worried about his friend going off alone.
"I'll be fine, Brandt. The met thinks Danny is in even more danger than we anticipated. That's why I need you to stay here; the more people he has around him, the better." Brandt hesitated for a moment, but when Benji threw him the familiar heartbreaking glance, he nodded.
"Just be careful." He called, as Benji walked away. The other agent raised his hand in acknowledgement and once he had disappeared again, Brandt sighed. A week ago, Brandt wouldn't have let Benji go off alone like that, however knowing now what he was capable of, he knew he would be able to take care of himself. Although, he still felt that slight twinge of worry in his gut. Shaking himself, he walked back to the table and continued to work on their plan. They wouldn't let anything happen to Danny. That was certain.
Benji drove to the church in silence, not wanting to attract any attention as he travelled. They had come so far in this, he wasn't about to stuff things up now. Flicking on the headlights as the sunlight slowly faded, he turned the corner to see the church come into view. As he pulled up the car on the other side of the road, he glanced up, seeing the roof where he had stood merely moments after Tim Messenger was killed. A chill ran down his spine as the image of the virtually decapitated journalist filled his mind. He spotted Evan's car across the road and with a deep breath, opened the door. Glancing around, he made sure that the coast was clear before making his way across the tarmac to the church grounds, being careful to remain as quiet as he could. Even though there was no one around, he still didn't want to risk being seen by anyone. As he crossed through the gap in the wall, he could almost see the church fete around him, people walking around happily, Doris laughing over the spit-roast, Danny running around in his cowboy outfit. All the memories that rushed back to him brought a smile to his face as he looked around for Evan. After a few seconds, he saw the sergeant's silhouette near the bricks and turned his walk into a jog, pulling his jacket around him to keep out the breeze.
As he got closer, Evan moved and disappeared around the corner, keeping out of sight. Furrowing his brow, Benji followed, turning the corner to find the space before him empty.
"Evan?" he whispered, looking around for the man. "Evan, where are you?"
Unfortunately, due to the darkness around him, he wasn't able to see the movement behind him; the rock was brought down on his head with horrendous force and he went down immediately, unconsciousness claiming him before he hit the ground.
At 5am, Brandt woke from his restless slumber and stretched out on the hard sofa. Checking the clock, he sat up slowly, ready to take over from the Turner twins on 'Danny Watch' (as the Andies had so kindly labelled it). He hoped that Benji would be able to tell him what Evan wanted the previous night when he saw him; with any luck the new information may help bring this all to a close. He stumbled across the room and made his way through the door, rubbing the last bits of sleep from his eyes as he went.
"Morning, William." The neat-haired Turner nodded as the agent walked into the room and Brandt smiled.
"What time did Benji get back?" Brandt asked. There were a few moments of silence as both twins stared at him before he realised. "Sorry, I meant Nicholas." He saw the name click in their minds and had to give a small laugh.
"Oh, sorry, he ain't got back yet." The curly haired twin replied, walking off to get some sleep. The other twin followed and gave another nod before the pair disappeared.
Odd… Brandt thought as he made his way across the room to where Danny was sleeping. As he sat down on the nearby chair, he felt a slightly uneasy churning in his stomach, however tried to push it aside. Benji was able to take care of himself. Lifting his feet to rest them on the desk, he grabbed his phone to check his emails only a few moments of quiet passing before a slight shuffling next to him made him jump. He turned to see Danny opening his eyes and offered the sergeant a smile.
"Oh, mornin' William." Danny smiled back and shifted a bit so that he could sit up. Before he could say another word, a yawn broke through and he lifted his arms to stretch out his stiff muscles. "Where's Nicholas?"
"Uh, he had to pop out last night to see one of the met sergeants who had been watching out for you."
"Ain't he back yet?" Danny's voice was starting to fill with the same worry that Brandt felt.
"No. But I'm sure he's fine. You said it yourself, he took down a whole group of murderers; I'm pretty sure he can face anything." Danny nodded and swung his legs over the edge of the sofa.
"So." Danny shrugged his shoulders awkwardly. "What's Benji like? Is he just like Nicholas was?"
"Well-" Brandt was cut off by the door bursting open and both men turned to see the Andies rushing in.
"What is it?" Danny asked, getting to his feet. Brandt followed and they waited for the detectives to explain.
"Staker just found a body out by the castle. We've just been up there checking on it and found this." Wainwright explained as he handed over what looked like a wallet. Brandt was pretty sure that they weren't supposed to be handling evidence like that, but right now, his nerves were beating down any common sense. He looked at the item that was now in Danny's hands and as the sergeant opened it, his heart dropped a few hundred feet.
The wallet belonged to Sergeant Evan Fell.
"Sergeant Fell?" Danny asked, turning to Brandt. He immediately noticed the wide eyed look the analyst was wearing and he began to worry. "What is it?"
"That is the met officer that Benji went to meet last night." He spoke with only one emotion in his voice. That was terror. What had happened? Had they been ambushed during their meeting? Had the gang members killed Benji too? Or did they take him during the attack? How did they know he was alive? So many questions ran through Brandt's mind and from the look on Danny's face, he could tell that the sergeant was sharing his thoughts.
"Do we know how long the officer has been dead for?" Danny asked the logical question, prompting an eager nod from Brandt as they practically shook in their spots.
"We can't be sure, but the coroner at the castle reckoned about twenty four hours." Cartwright replied before the two made their way back to their office.
"Wait, twenty four hours?" Brandt whipped his head around to Danny. "That means he must have been killed before Benji got the text…" Both of them immediately knew what that meant, but it was the sergeant who voiced it.
"It was a trap." His voice cracked a bit as he spoke, displaying the true worry that each man felt. Danny turned to Brandt with fear pouring from his eyes. "Did Nicholas tell you where he was going?"
Brandt nodded. "The church."
A not so gentle slap to the face was what caused Benji to stir. He could feel the warmth of the sun beating down on his face as he tried to gather his thoughts. He was at the church. He was there to meet Evan. Then… black.
Immediately, he knew it had been a trap. He should have listened to Brandt. However, if they had him now, that meant that they weren't out trying to kill Danny. Brandt would probably kill him for thinking that, but he didn't care. He decided to open his eyes and, once they had adjusted to the bright light, he realised that all he could see above him was sky. He was lying on a hard surface and his wrists had been tied in a painfully tight manner in front of him. He blinked a few times and a man came into focus.
"Well, well. If it isn't Nicholas Angel." The man smirked evilly. "I heard you had a knack for returning from the dead, but this just takes the cake." He laughed as Benji continued to look around. After a few seconds of analysing, he realised that he was lying on the roof of the church. At least he hadn't taken him far. Maybe if Brandt realised that he was missing, he might choose to look at the church first. He suddenly had a thought. If Danny found out what was going on, he would want to go with Brandt. He knew the sergeant well enough to know that for sure. That way, he would be potentially putting himself in harm's way; not what Benji wanted. He tried to sit up, feeling completely vulnerable while lying down, but when he made the attempt, his head swam viciously. Maybe not.
"How did you know I was alive?" he asked, trying to mask his fear despite every word grating against the walls of his throat.
"Please." the man scoffed. "You shoot up my car, kill my buddy & think I won't see you? Although, I must say, I didn't recognise the other bloke with you and Butterman. Who was that?" Benji kept his lips glued shut. Brandt had dragged himself into this mess far enough; he wasn't about to make things worse for him. "No?" the man taunted, playing with the gun in his hands. He waited for a few more moments and when Benji still refused to answer, he stood up and closed the gap in three strides. Gripping Benji's jacket tightly in his hands, he yanked the man up into a sitting position and pushed his back against the wall. The strength of the brick connecting with his spine caused a surge of pain to rush through him and the wind was viciously forced from his body. He gasped a little bit before feeling a hand wrap around his throat, effectively lifting his chin so that he had to look directly into his captor's eyes. "How are you alive? Hmm?" He squeezed a bit tighter. "I put two bullets in your chest that day. I heard you'd been killed. So how the fuck can you be here right now?" Despite the grip on his throat, Benji managed a slightly spiteful smirk.
"You need to work on your aim." While the retort gave him an ounce of satisfaction, it only lasted a few seconds before the man's foot connected with his stomach. On impact, he began to cough, his body instinctively keeling over so that he was back on his side. Another kick to the stomach left him once again gasping for breath. The man stepped backwards and perched himself on the wall nearby, staring Benji down as he did.
The agent lay there wondering if this was it. He figured it was almost poetic justice; he had cheated death so many times in this village that maybe this was just his time. Looking back, he had been attacked by Michael in his hotel room, 'stabbed' by Danny at the castle, shot by the Reverend in the square and then the explosion at the station. The little voice in his head was taunting him about it.
"Basically, I'd say your nine lives are up, Nicholas."
He let out a sigh and rolled onto his back. He wanted to just close his eyes and drift off to sleep, however he knew that his captor wouldn't let him. His head ached something chronic and every now and then he would have to blink away black spots. He really didn't feel like he had a chance in hell of surviving this. But suddenly, he was struck with an idea. Maybe there was something positive that he could bring from his unavoidable fate.
"How about we make a deal?"
Brandt was out of the car before Danny had even put the hand-break on, however the sergeant was on his heels within seconds. They ran across the road and sprinted to the church grounds, looking around for their friend. They begged for the kidnapper to have not taken Benji elsewhere, otherwise they would merely be wasting precious time. Time that Benji did not have. Brandt ran his hands through his hair, almost as if he could pull out all the answers as he searched, his breathing becoming the only thing he could hear.
Come on, Benji. Come on… Damnit…. Benji…
"Will!" Brandt spun on his heel and saw Danny. "You go round that way and I'll take the other way. They've got to be here somewhere, right?" The worry in the sergeant's eyes was crystal clear, however he was trying to remain calm. Brandt nodded and made to run around the church, hoping that Benji would be there.
Danny took off in a clockwise direction, each foot hitting the ground in turn. Whipping his head around, he looked frantically around the vast space for his friend. How could this have happened? Was this his fault? Nicholas had been pushing to watch out for him, everyone was there at the station while his best friend was out there being abducted by the very person who Danny was being protected from.
Oh god no… he could feel the tears wanting to fall. He had saved Nicholas' life so long ago and then promptly lost him. Now, he just got him back into his life again and he might lose him all over again. This time, permanently. Sure, he may have dealt with Nicholas' death before, but that didn't mean he wanted to do it again. He had to save Nicholas. He had done it before and he could do it again. As he rounded the last corner of the large building, he saw Brandt appear around the other side.
"Anything?" the American shouted.
"No…" Danny replied, instinctively stepping away from the walls. He had never liked standing too close to the church after what happened to Tim Messenger, afraid that something might fall on him. As he moved, something made him freeze. Just as he had feared, something did fall. However, it landed on the ground in front of him and it was far from an entire chunk of the roof. Bending down, he reached out and found it to be some small chips of brick. Brick that matched the type used in the reconstruction of the church roof perfectly. As he rose to his feet again, he felt Brandt step beside him.
"What is it?" Danny didn't respond to the agent, merely rushing forward away from the building. Brandt was confused yet he followed, wondering if the younger man had found a lead. "Danny?" he noticed the sergeant was now looking up.
Then Danny's jaw dropped. "Nicholas!" Brandt's heart skipped a beat as he quickly followed the gaze up the wall of the building, travelling higher and higher until he reached the top. Then he saw.
"Oh god… Benji!"
Where the wall of the church met the roof, there was a gap between two pointed spires and in it, balanced on the edge, was Benji. He stood looking out over the village, his hands bound in front of him and just behind him, they could see a man holding a gun. A few seconds after they had shouted, the spell that seemed to be holding Benji's gaze released him and they saw him glance down. They couldn't see him all that well due to the height but they felt his eyes on them. Brandt couldn't understand why he was willingly standing there. Sure, he had his hands tied together, but Benji was a fully trained field agent and had much experience with hand-to-hand combat from his time as Nicholas. He could easily disarm this man. One man with a gun. Just one. So why was he giving in?
What is he doing?
Benji stepped out onto the edge of the roof, feeling the constant jabbing of the gun into his back as he did. It had been a long time since he had been up on the roof of that church; the view felt almost nostalgic. Even though being held hostage and about to willingly jump to your death wasn't the perfect time to get corny, he didn't foresee himself getting another chance to take in the beautiful sight of the village he loved and once called home.
"You won't forget to hold up your end of the bargain now, will you?" he asked, trying to hide the very evident shaking in his voice. "I do this and you leave town without harming Danny." Before his captor could answer, Benji heard something. A shout from down below. It sounded an awful lot like…
"Nicholas!" It sounded like Danny. He wanted to see his friend's face one last time before anything happened, but at the same time, he wasn't prepared to see the expression that would no doubt be painting those usually happy features. He kept his eyes forward, locking them onto an unknown point in the distance to stop himself from looking down. Then another yell came.
Brandt, what are you doing here? Take Danny and go. He doesn't need to see me die. Again…
Finally, he let himself give in and found his head lowering so that he could see his friends again. There they were. Both of them looked terrified; and rightly so. He could practically hear them in his mind, yelling at him wondering what he was doing. He wasn't sure if they could see his face clear enough, however he let a soft smile take over his lips and gently nodded his head.
Brandt and Danny watched as Benji slowly stared down at them, still baffled as to why he wasn't resisting. Squinting, Brandt noticed something about Benji's face. He looked like he was smiling. After the small display of emotion took over the Brit's face, Brandt noticed him nod his head slightly.
He was saying goodbye.
"What?" Danny's panicked voice sounded and Brandt turned to him. "What is it?
"Look, Danny…" How do you explain what Brandt just witnessed? How can you tell someone as close to Benji as Danny was that he was about to willingly die? "Just stay here, alright? Watch Benji. Don't let him out of your sight." Brandt didn't wait for Danny's startled "What?" as he took off across the church grounds to the door. He knew that Danny wanted to help save Benji too, however Brandt had promised his friend that he would ensure no harm came to the sergeant. He was not about to let Danny run straight up to the man who wanted him dead. Taking out his gun, he took two steps at a time, begging that his friend would still be standing there when he reached the top.
Danny watched Brandt go, wondering what had got into him. With another glance up at his friend, Danny noticed that the smile that had appeared a few seconds ago had now disappeared. What was going on? Why was this happening? This couldn't be happening. What even was happening?
Then it hit him.
Danny was suddenly hit with the horrifying truth that had caused Brandt to bolt only seconds ago. He shook his head at Nicholas and began to chase after Will. He would not let Nicholas give up his life. He had lost him once, Danny would not lose him again.
Benji saw Brandt begin to run and could no longer keep the smile from fading. Danny was beginning to panic, clearly knowing that something was up from Brandt's hurried exit. His friend looked up and Benji found himself making eye contact with him. Benji knew exactly what Brandt was doing and that worried him. What worried him even more was that it was obvious by the change in Danny's facial expression that he had also realised what was going on and the sergeant was now also running.
He glanced around and realised that the man was standing right behind him now; his torso was practically glued to the agent's back as the gun was pressed into his side a bit harder. Benji's breathing was now shaky, his whole body trembling with the reality of what he now faced. He would not deny the fact that he was terrified but if this meant Danny remaining safe, then he would do what was necessary.
"Ok, so you'll keep your word, yeah? You promise not to hurt Danny…" Benji knew he had reiterated the deal what felt like a million times since first suggesting it, but he didn't care. He wanted to be absolutely 110% convinced before he…
Suddenly, the man's hand gripped the scruff of his jacket and he felt himself being tugged backwards slightly, feeling the hot breath of his captor on his ear.
"I never promised anything."
Benji's eyes widened at this and his heart raced even faster, despite him feeling like it was not possible. His breathing picked up, realising that his death would not prevent harm coming to Danny. If he died now, this man would go after the sergeant and, knowing that Brandt would try to protect Danny, he feared the analyst would be killed in the process. This wasn't how this was meant to go. He wasn't prepared to lose two friends because of his own surrender. He felt the man's grip on his jacket adjust minutely and he knew what was coming.
But before anything else could happen, the sound of the door bursting open sounded from behind them and Benji found himself tumbling backwards, landing on the floor of the roof with a painful thud.
Brandt rushed up the stairs like it was a race to save the world. Sure, the world wouldn't literally end if he didn't make it, but he would lose his best friend. That was close enough. His feet burned as he took each step, his calf muscles screamed for him to stop, but he kept going. Nothing was more important than rescuing Benji. He almost dropped his gun in his race to the top however he felt glad when he saw that brown wooden door come into view. Grabbing the handle in his right hand, he twisted it and threw open the door.
He saw them immediately. The man standing with Benji in front of him, the gun being pushed forcefully into his friend's side. Even though the younger agent wasn't fully in view, Brandt noticed that he seemed more unnerved than he had moments before. He watched as the man spun around, yanking on Benji's jacket so that the agent fell and landed on his back on the concrete. Holding up his gun, Brandt aimed it at his friend's captor, but the other man didn't seem phased in the slightest. Brandt held his aim strong as the man rushed him and before he had chance to pull the trigger, Brandt felt himself shoved backwards as the two bodies collided. He stumbled back into the stairwell and almost lost his footing as the man tried to push him. Having lost sight of Benji, the analyst quickly glanced up with the hopes of fighting back, however his attacker was already one step ahead of him, swinging out his leg, which connected with Brandt's jaw. The agent couldn't stop himself from falling, the horrifying realisation of the drop ahead of him made him feel sick. He hit each stair with a resounding thud, feeling the wind knocked from his lungs as the hard floor hit his back and stomach in turn. Hearing the door slam somewhere above him, he felt the gun slip from his grasp and after what felt like fifty steps, he came to a halt, his head swimming with newfound dizziness. Glancing up, he saw the reason for the sudden end in his movement.
Benji saw Brandt standing in the doorway and the slightest slither of hope sneaked into his mind. He watched the analyst hold up his gun as his captor ran. The collision between the two men made Benji wince, however when they disappeared from sight, he worried. With every ounce of energy that remained in him, he scrambled to his feet, running towards the wall by the door. Sliding into the small gap between the wood and the brick, he stopped. Controlling his breathing, which proved a difficult task, he waited and when the man appeared again, he struck. As the door slammed and was locked, his captor looked up and saw him, but was not fast enough to prevent Benji's attack.
Brandt saw that standing over him was Danny and before the agent could comprehend what was happening, hands grabbed him roughly and pulled him to his feet. Grabbing his gun again, Brandt was running back up the stairs; this time, however, he was not alone.
"Why aren't you outside?" Brandt asked, his voice wavering as he ran.
"I'm not just gonna stand there while Nicholas gets killed, am I?" Danny snapped. "What kind of a friend does that make me?"
As they reached the door, Brandt grabbed the handle again, but his heart stopped when he found it to be locked.
"Shit!" Brandt banged on the door with his fist. "Benji!" Kicking at the wood, it still refused to open, causing Danny to join in. It was awkward in the small space in front of the door, but both men kicked and rammed the door as hard as they could, shouting their friend's names in turn.
"Nicholas, hold on!" Danny yelled, his voice cracking slightly with the fear of what they would find when the door eventually opened. Amidst their yelling and banging, Danny was sure he heard signs of a struggle from outside, only adding to his dread.
Brandt's shoulder was aching even more now that he was ramming it into the hard door, merely bouncing off each time. He wanted to fire his gun at it, however he knew that would be stupid.
Please, Benji. Just hold on, we're coming. Please…
After what seemed like an eternity, the pair managed to synchronise their kicks and after several more attempts, the door burst open. They were out onto the roof in less than a second and the sight before them made their stomachs drop.
Both men looked around the vast yet horrifyingly empty space of the church roof and feared the worst. Rushing to the sides, they looked down, terrified of the view they would be greeted with. The first two sides showed nothing; no bodies lying at the base of the building. They then took the other two walls, leaning over hesitantly.
"Will…" Danny's voice was wary as he beckoned Brandt over. The agent sprinted to see what Danny was looking at and felt confused when he did so.
"What?" At the bottom of the church, lying on the ground in a slowly spreading pool of blood, was Benji's captor. But there was no sign of Benji. Brandt wasn't sure whether to be worried or relieved. "Where the hell is he?"
"I'm right here…" The all too familiar voice drifted from their left and they turned to see a jubilant sight. Hanging from the edge of the roof, gripping onto the brick with a white knuckle hold, was their friend. He had a split lip which Brandt was sure hadn't been there before and his eyes looked exhausted, but otherwise, he was ok.
"Oh thank christ…" Brandt breathed.
"Guys… Can you help me up please?" At Benji's request, both men rushed, grabbing an arm each as they hoisted him back over to the safety of the roof. All three fell to the floor, Benji in the middle as Brandt went to work removing the bonds from his wrists. Meanwhile, Danny had moved into the kneeling position and, once his friend's hands were free, he grabbed one of them.
"Stop scarin' me like that, Nicholas."
Benji lifted his spare hand and drew an X over his chest. "Cross my heart."
Once the scene was being dealt with and Benji had been looked over – not just by the doctor, but by the nosy villagers who proceeded to stare with mouths agape – they headed back to the station. There was a collective relief that both Danny and Benji were now safe; the officers were able to step back from their protective stances and Brandt felt like he would soon be able to return to America. But there was one question that played on everyone's minds. Not only was it bugging Brandt, but Danny, Tony, Doris… even the Andies were concerned.
What would Benji do now?
Right now, the man had two very idealistic choices. One option was that he could return to America and continue to be Benji Dunn, IMF agent. However, at the same time, now that his life was no longer in danger and his friends knew that he was alive, he also had the choice of staying in Sandford and taking back the life he had stolen from him. Brandt felt increasingly worried that Benji would choose the latter. It was clear how much Danny and Sandford meant to him, particularly as he watched the pair talking across the room. He wasn't sure what they were talking about but Danny was smiling. Brandt sighed and sipped his water; he knew it. Benji had probably told Danny there that he was staying in England for good. Of course, Brandt was happy for both of them. To have had their friendship essentially destroyed, it would be wonderful to see them piece it back together again, but at the same time, that meant he would have to return to America and tell Ethan and Jane that Benji had gone. He hoped he wouldn't have to make up something like they did when Nicholas became Benji; he couldn't do something like that. Maybe he would just let them know that he was moving back to England and would visit every now and then. At least they would have that.
Brandt's mental babbling – he must have picked that up from Benji – stopped when he saw Benji give Danny a hug before walking over to him.
Ok, Brandt, be nice. Tell him that you're happy for him and that you hope that you can keep in touch…
"Ok." Benji said with a soft smile. "You ready to pack up the car?"
"What?" Brandt was a bit stumped. "I thought…"
"You thought?" Benji furrowed his brow however quickly realised what his friend was referring to. "Oh, you thought I was staying."
"Well, yeah. I mean you had all this taken away from you and now you've got the chance to take it back. I figured you'd jump at the chance to go back to how things were." Brandt shrugged, placing his cup on the table as they moved to a quiet corner to talk.
"Brandt." Benji began. "I loved my life here. I loved my job, my friends. Everything. I helped people and saved lives. But with IMF…" he trailed off for a second, looking around to check no one could hear. "We saved the world, Brandt. That's hardly something I can just come back from." Brandt nodded. He had hoped for this result, however was slightly shocked that he had actually chosen to return to America. But at the end of the day, Danny had his best friend back in his life and Brandt would not lose his.
The pair made their way to Evan's cottage and collected their things before getting back into the car. Instead of going straight to the airport, they made a quick stop at Danny's house. Brandt said goodbye to the sergeant first, receiving a warm and thankful hug before he stepped back and waited at the end of the path.
"So…" Benji bit his lip slightly, noticing the tear that was starting to appear in Danny's eye. "What is it?"
"I dunno, Nicholas, it just… it feels like I just got you back and I'm losing you again." Danny shrugged.
"But you're not losing me, are you?" Benji gave him a smile. "Planes fly, don't they? We can visit each other. How about I try to organise us a tour around the filming locations of Bad Boys or something?" Danny's eyes lit up at this and Benji had to laugh. "See? There are perks of having a friend in America."
"Yeah." The sergeant smiled.
"Speaking of that, I have a question." Benji spoke nervously.
"That night before you first saw me again, I noticed something in your DVD collection. Lethal Weapon 4…" Danny looked down to the floor as the title was mentioned. "Where was it? Did it get broken?" Benji knew that wouldn't be the case, but he really was curious.
"No, I uh…" Danny reached up to rub the back of his neck. "I threw it out."
"You what?" Benji's eyes widened. "Why? You love that film."
"I know, but it was the last one we watched together and after your funeral, I guess I just couldn't handle the memory it gave me. I do miss it, but I couldn't…" Danny's voice drifted into an inaudible whisper and Benji nodded in understanding.
"So, I guess I'll be seeing you then?" Danny spoke with a hint of sadness in his voice but his face didn't display too much of the emotion.
"Yeah. You'll be fine, Danny." Benji smiled.
"I know. I've gone for three years thinking I'd never see you again. At least now when I say goodbye, I know it's not for good."
A final hug ended their farewell and Benji walked to Brandt at the end of the path. As the Brit opened his car door, Brandt suddenly had an idea. Turning on his heel, he made a brisk jog up the path to where Danny still stood, leaving a slightly confused Benji behind him.
"Danny, earlier, you asked me what Benji was like." Brandt gave the man a soft smile. "Well I just wanted to let you know that he is a lot like you. He said he took inspiration from one of the best people he ever knew." With one last smile at Danny, the analyst made his way back down the path just as fast as he had approached, the stunned sergeant merely standing in his doorway. Danny looked at his old friend and wasn't quite sure what to do. He was having some trouble imagining Nicholas acting like himself, however despite that inner uncertainty, he couldn't stop the humbled smile that slowly crept over his face.
As he watched the two men enter the car, Danny waved a final farewell. He was glad to know that Nicholas was ok and while it was sad to be saying goodbye again, it didn't hurt this time. Because he knew Nicholas would be back. He always came back for Danny.
The plane ride back to America was quiet. Benji lay down on the sofa of the jet as soon as they arrived and before Brandt had the time to stow his hand luggage, the younger man was asleep. With a smile, the analyst grabbed a blanket and covered his friend, feeling glad that everything was going back to normal. Brandt let his legs give out and he flopped backwards into the opposite sofa, letting himself slide down into a comfortable position. He watched Benji sleeping, wondering where they would go from there. Sure, they were going to try and get back to the way they had been before this event but it would still be difficult. Knowing that Benji was, deep down, a completely different person was still sinking in; after seeing what Brandt saw in England, he would not be able to get the thought out of his head. Nor would he be able to remove the image of Benji standing on the roof of Sandford's church, ready to willingly give his life for someone else. He had a new look on Benji; he still considered him his best friend, but he knew that he wasn't quite the bumbling rookie that he gave the impression of. He was far more skilled and capable than people realised and, even though he would love to tell Ethan and Jane about how incredible Benji really was, he could imagine that the other man would want to keep it between them and only them.
Brandt totally understood that. He had seen what explaining his past did to Benji, he would not want him to have to go through it all over again. Even though the Brit knew that Brandt would be there to support him, he wouldn't push it. As far as anyone was concerned, he was Benji Dunn. Nicholas Angel was a ghost now, a shadow of his past. At least now, he had managed to get some stability back regarding that part of him and he would now be able to live knowing that Danny was no longer in pain and he did not need to feel the guilt anymore. Brandt knew that Benji would always feel culpability for what happened and what Danny went through, but he would have his friend there to remind him that he was not to blame.
The taxi returned them to where Ethan and Jane were and, after paying their fare, they made their way up to the apartment. Brandt could tell that Benji was thinking hard as they stood in the elevator and he wanted desperately to ask what was wrong, but deep down, he knew. Realising that both his former life and his current one were on the same page would be a big adaptation to make. When they reached the door, Benji froze on the spot, staring at the door in front of him before turning to Brandt.
"Brandt…" he began, his voice wary as if he was unsure about what he was going to say. "You won't… Uh…"
Brandt knew what he meant immediately and shook his head with a soft smile. "Not unless you want to."
"Thank you." Benji smiled back before knocking on the door. It opened and Jane stood wearing her pyjamas and a grin, while a small tub of ice cream was wrapped in her fingers.
"Hey, guys!" When she widened the door's gap, the two agents stepped inside and dropped their bags on the floor. At that moment, Ethan appeared from the bathroom, his jeans hanging around his hips as he rubbed his wet hair with a towel.
"Welcome back." he smiled at them as they disposed of their jackets and shoes before flopping onto the couch where Jane was now sitting cross-legged eating her ice cream. Benji promptly reached over and grabbed the tub from her, taking a big spoonful as Jane laughed at him. Ethan continued as he pulled his shirt over his head. "So, Benji, how's your cousin doing?"
"Huh?" Benji looked up confused but when Brandt elbowed him subtly in the side he realised. "Oh, sorry, yeah. He's fine now. We've got no need to worry anymore. Everything's gonna be just fine." He turned to Brandt and gave one of his trademark grins. Brandt found himself smiling back; despite knowing that Nicholas still hid inside somewhere and would no doubt show himself every once in a while, that grin told Brandt what he wanted to hear.
The old Benji was back.
Chapter 20: Epilogue
Danny always loved Christmas. This one was particularly special, knowing that somewhere in America, Nicholas would be alive and well, celebrating Christmas eve with his colleagues and new friends. Despite wishing that he could be there with him, Danny was happy for his friend. Just knowing that he was alive made the sergeant smile. Right now, the Andies were probably down the pub, Tony would be spending time with his family and Doris was off in Edinburgh with that Jerry... a grocery boy and a policewoman (officer!), what a match. Danny, in the meantime, was spending some well-deserved alone time. With a beer in one hand and the TV remote in the other, he sat on the sofa and flicked on the sports channel. Just as he had got comfortable, the doorbell rang. Danny rolled his eyes and groaned in irritation. Typical. It was probably the Andies, drunk, coming to piss him off. Or maybe some kids playing knock and run. Or maybe even the Andies playing knock and run. Either way, he was going to give them a piece of his mind.
The doorbell went for a second time as he was approaching it.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming!" He reached out and opened the door, ready to hurl any and all profanities at the creator of the disturbance, however froze as he saw who stood in front of him.
"Nicholas?" Danny's eyes widened and Benji had to laugh.
"Well, are you gonna just stand there gawking or can I come in? I'm freezing my arse off here."
"Oh! Yeah, come in." Danny stepped aside and let his friend in, shutting the door before throwing his arms around him. "It's good to see you Nicholas."
"It's good to see you too, Danny." Benji stepped back from the hug and reached into his bag. "I brought you something, but I figured you could open it tonight." He handed a wrapped gift to him and smiled as Danny's eyes lit up.
"You shouldn't have!" Danny grinned and Benji followed suit.
"Yeah, well. I've missed a few birthdays and Christmas'. Felt like I should make up for it." He watched as Danny eagerly ripped open the paper to reveal a brand new DVD.
"Lethal Weapon 4?" Danny looked back up, his mouth wide in a mixture of shock and happiness.
"Well, I figured you couldn't leave that gap in your box set forever. Besides, I thought we could watch it tonight."
"Thanks, Nicholas!" Danny pulled him into another hug and Benji smiled. He hasn't realised just how much he had missed Danny's company. But he didn't have to miss it any more.