“Agent Brandt, can you hear me?”
“Yeah – y-yeah. Quit shouting. An’ turn off that light.”
The IMF medic obligingly lowers their voice – though the damn brightness remains.
“Can you tell me how you’re feeling?”
“Like shit.” It was a miracle he can even speak, honestly.
He's actually tch-ed at.
“Ribs feel cracked. Third to sixth. ‘S hard to breathe. Um. Think some’f my teeth’re loose.” Will hiccups. “The fuck can’t I move my arm?”
“You were shot through the shoulder –”
Should’ve been through the head, Will thinks bleakly, suddenly.
“– there’s no internal bleeding.”
It takes Will a moment to respond, partially because ‘New York State of Mind’ is stuck in his head, partially because of…um, something else. Probably. “What?”
The medic says something. Most likely they're repeating themselves, but the words don’t sound like English, or any of the other languages Will knows. He tries to understand, though, straining to hear over the loud fluttering in his ears.
It doesn’t work. “What?”
He feels fingers at the inside of his wrist, but has to concentrate on breathing. Why’s he breathing so fast? Why does he feel so cold? The question marks coalesce and clamour in his head, making him dizzy, dizzy, dizzy dizzy dizzy –
Needle – is that a needle?
“Agent Brandt, can you hear me?”
Who’s Agent Brandt, and why – oh, he’s Agent Brandt. Weird - how could he have forgotten something like that?
Something like what?
Ow, he thinks.
“Feeling any better?”
In the time it takes for him to open his eyes, he’s managed to catalogue his injuries and knows that he looks as bad as he feels, if not worse – and therefore he's perfectly justified in concluding that Nellie is a huge sadist.
“Bitch,” Will manages.
“Now, now, your parents teach you that language?”
She laughs, getting up off her chair and sitting on the bed beside him. “Don’t make me regret recruiting you, boy. You want some water?” At his nod she helps him with the glass and the straw with an ease that hinted at how often they’d done this before.
“How bad is it, Nells?”
The woman doesn’t even look at him, instead rooting through her purse for some mysterious thing. “S’just a few scrapes and bumps. You’ll be up and running soon enough.” Triumphantly, Nellie brings out a packet of gum and makes short work of the plastic wrapper.
Will raises his eyebrows (or tries to) as he watches her pop two pieces into her mouth. “You quit smoking?”
Nellie snorts. “Of course not. I just like these.”
“Boy, I'm older than you, so I can smack you silly.”
“Like t' see you try.”
As Nellie raises her hand to hit him and Will clamps down on his initial impulse to squeal in terror, someone knocks.
“You’re awake. That’s great.” Ethan smiles as he steps into the room. “We were a bit worried.”
“A bit? Hunt, you practically carried him here and demanded that –”
“Yes, yes, enough about me.” Ethan clears his throat. “How’s Will?”
“Will is fine,” Will says, deigning not to sit up. He’s not sure if his back can take it. “He wants to know how you carried him with that.”
The other man glances down at the cast on his arm, as if he’d only just realised it was there. “Oh, this’s nothing. Just a little souvenir ‘cause I didn’t cooperate.”
Nellie interrupts here. “That has to wait until after your debrief, boy. Or have you forgotten?”
He winces. He had forgotten, actually. Not that he’s going to admit it.
Another knock announces the presence of…a walking bunch of flowers. No, really, the thing was fricking enormous. If Jane hadn’t peeked around it, Will probably would’ve grabbed Nellie’s bag to shield himself from the huge evil bouquet thing.
“Hey!” she says brightly. “Feeling any better?”
“S’hard to feel worse,” he replies, watching Ethan rapidly move out of the way as Jane crosses the room to place the flowers on the other bedside table. There were yellow carnations and red daisies and blue geraniums and lavender lisianthuses – and many-coloured peonies dotted throughout. In other words: colourful and huge.
“Arranged those yourself, did you?”
“Um.” Will blinks, groping for words. “No reason. Just wondering.”
“You don’t like them?”
“Uh, no, I – I love them, Jane,” he says weakly, inwardly shooting daggers at Ethan (who is covering his smile with his hand). “They’re really great.”
Her smile returns to her face, and Will reigns in the impulse to huff out a relieved sigh. The flowers were pretty, even if Jane could’ve toned it down a little.
“By the way – good to see you, Agent Richards.”
Nellie nods in acknowledgement. “Same. I see your leg’s healed up nicely.”
“Barely any scarring.”
“Told you I was good at stitches.”
Ethan voices what Will had been thinking. “You two know each other?”
“Oh, yeah. We were stationed in Australia together, briefly.”
Will listens to the story with half an ear. Something…something’s niggling at the back of his mind, clamouring for his attention. Something important. What could it be? What’s missing?
He notices that Jane and Nellie have decided to gang up on Ethan as he tries to figure it out. He wants to pay attention (because who wouldn’t want to watch Ethan being bullied?) but that thing is still niggling at him. What’s –
Please, not –
Everyone else stops speaking immediately. The buzzing at the base of Will’s skull turns into jangling and he struggles to sit up.
“Where’s Benji –”
He’s allowed outside to get some sun and fresh air, and to stretch his muscles.
There’s no shock anklet to prevent him leaving the premises, but Will wouldn’t put it past IMF to pull an Owen Davian and shoot micro-explosives into his head. At any rate, he knows he’s not allowed to get away from the watchful eyes of the on-duty nurses.
It doesn’t stop him wondering, though. It doesn’t stop him wondering what’ll happen if he gets past them and finds Benji. It doesn’t stop him wondering what’s happened to Benji.
It doesn’t stop him wondering what’s happened to Benji.
He doesn’t get any more visits – probably so that he doesn’t ask after Benji again. It’s annoying because Will is pretty sure he’s got enough self control to choose other topics of conversation. (Probably.) The jungle of flowers on his bedside table eventually has to be removed, and soon after he’s pronounced well enough to return home.
It takes a whole week for him to be able to reach Jane and Ethan – presumably they’d been on missions of their own – and when they meet up, he doesn’t even have to ask.
It doesn’t matter, because they have no answers. And that chills Will to the bone.
Where is he?
Heartbeat. Too fast, too fast like his breathing – but that was a good thing. Means he’s alive. Right?
Instinct is telling him to calmly start running through information that he knows, but his brain is not-so-calmly telling him to fuck off because he doesn’t know what he knows. Panic tries to claw its way out of his throat but he clamps down on the nausea, staring at the ceiling until the black dots go away.
One and one is one. Two and two is four. Three and three is nine.
Going through the times table actually helps, a little. He gets up to 567009 before he remembers.
He has to get to 2455489 before he’s calm enough to acknowledge that he is, in fact, alive. In hospital, by the looks of it.
Benji shakily tries to sit up, the exertion taking up so much room in his mind that he has to start counting out loud. His ankle is wrapped in bandages, and he can feel more around his abdomen, restricting his movements. It’s when he realises that he’s been attached to a ‘pee bag’ that his hand slips on the sheets and he collapses. His back howls in agony.
The pain has derailed him. Benji actually feels the white walls melt away, replaced by dirty concrete. His bed dips crazily, seemingly independent of the tipping of the floor, and the nausea rises again.
The whole place is silent. Too silent. Benji can’t even hear himself breathe – and then, noting the burning in his chest, realises that he isn’t. For some reason he’s lost his hospital gown and the stitches in his side split open one by one as he gasps in air. His fingers are slippery with blood as he tries to – literally – hold himself together, and –
– and Will’s standing over him, calling him stupid, calling him all sorts of horrible names, and then their lips are touching and Benji wants to kiss back but he can’t move, can’t do anything, and then he sees himself shooting Will, sees himself raise the gun and pull the trigger and the expression on Will’s face is disbelief and pain and heartbreak and Benji is screaming, he’s screaming and the nurses are trying to hold him down, but he has to get out, has to –
Will’s on his feet as soon as he recognises Ethan. The door’s barely shut behind the man when he demands, “What’s going on?”
Ethan doesn’t even look at him. Just waves his hand, and Will waits a second before sitting back down.
“What’s going on?” he repeats, a little more calmly.
Ethan takes a breath. “IMF wants to disavow Benji.”
What the fuck. “Why.”
As soon as he asks, he knows the answer. He knows the protocol. He knows that it’s IMF policy to deny all knowledge of agents who were killed or captured.
“Benji’s not responding to any treatment, Will. It’s been a month.”
No one had told him this. “What do you –” Alarm rises sharply, tasting like blood at the back of his throat. “It’s not brain damage, is it? Is it?”
Ethan shakes his head. “No, he’s… He’s emotionally compromised.”
“No fucking shit,” Will practically snarls. “We all are. I sure as Hell am, and if –”
“That’s the thing,” is the quiet interjection. “They’re going to do the same to you.”
“I see.” A minute passes before he realises he’s gripping the table tightly enough to whiten his knuckles. He doesn’t let go. “W-well, just because I care about my –” He can’t say it. His lips refuse to form the word – if he even knows what word to use.
Colleague, friend, lover? No. They’re long past the first, perhaps more than the second, and nowhere near the third.
Benji. His Benji. That works.
“When are they –?” he asks, not even bothering with full sentences.
“They’re not going to.”
His forehead crinkles in a frown, and he feels the beginning of a headache brewing behind his eyes. “What – you just said that –”
The only indication that Ethan was hurt – and Will isn’t 100% sure even about that – was that the corners of his mouth are turned down. “You really think I’m going to let them go through with disavowing you two?”
He’s starting to lose the feeling in his fingers. Still doesn’t let go. “That’s…” Will pauses as something occurs to him. “Why are you here?”
“Brandt, I –”
“No, no, no.” God, brilliant word choice there. “How come you’re here telling me this? How come I’m not already out in the street?” Or dead?
“I’ve threatened to leave if they push through.”
Will stares. “Ethan, you don’t. You don’t have to do that.”
“I have to make a stand when it counts, Will.” He attempts a smile. “Besides which, I’ve been disavowed what, a hundred times by now?”
The ex-analyst wants to smile, wants to laugh, wants to let his heart lift a little. And it does, but for all the wrong reasons – it lifts because he’s just thought of a solution. Trouble is, he’s sure no one is going to be happy about it. Himself excluded, of course.
“What happens if I go quietly?”
Ethan looks up at him slowly, eyes narrowed. “What?”
He licks his top lip. “What – what if I just go, without fuss? You think they’ll let him stay?”
He talks over Ethan’s protests, the idea having taken solid root in his brain. “If I’m gone he won’t have to – he’ll never have to make choices like this. And once he recovers he can get back to going on missions with you and Jane, and –”
“Will, stop being stupid. Listen to yourself.”
“Ethan, think about it. I’m the one who got caught. I’m the one who put him in that position. I’m the reason why he’s – why he’s –” Will’s voice cracks as he tries to continue, and he purses his lips.
“Don’t blame yourself for something you’re not responsible for. Don’t do this to yourself, Will.” Ethan steps towards him, places a hand on his shoulder. It takes monumental effort not to childishly shrug it off. “Not again.”
“I don’t want to lose him,” he finds himself saying. “I can’t.”
Ethan doesn’t reply to this beyond squeezing Will’s shoulder.
Will swallows. “…he doesn’t know.”
“He never will if you leave, Brandt.” Ethan pauses. “Do you think you can live with that?”
Will…Will doesn’t know if he can.
The door opens.
“He’s awake,” Jane says gravely.