“Brandt? Can you hear me?”
“Benji? I can’t… I can’t hear you…”
“Uh… I think my computer is broken…”
Benji groaned and pulled up the IM bar to type.
“Turn on your goddamn speakers, William.”
He watched Brandt read it then laughed at the analyst as he dropped his head onto the desk, leaving it there as he reached up to turn on the speakers.
“I really am an idiot, aren’t I?” his voice was hard to hear because of his current position but Benji giggled.
“Yep. But you know I love you for it.”
“You’d better.” Brandt finally lifted up his head and flashed a smile at Benji, making the younger man practically melt from the other side of the country. “How’s the mission going?”
“Eh.” Benji shrugged. “Could be better. Fortunately they didn’t need my awesome skills for tonight though, so I get to chat with you.”
“Hmmm, lucky you, hey?” Brandt winked then laughed as Benji’s cheeks went pink.
“You are so self-absorbed.” Benji tried to keep a straight face. “So unattractive.”
“Really?” Brandt stared right into the camera, noting Benji’s hitch in his breathing, knowing that he was staring right into his lover’s eyes.
“S-stop that.” Benji stuttered, his cheeks reddening even more. Brandt knew this got to him and he exploited it mercilessly.
“Stop what?” Brandt had to fight to keep the smile from forming on his lips and finally Benji looked away. With a smirk, he chuckled. “I win.”
“Whatever.” Benji mumbled; Brandt could tell that he really wanted to laugh.
“What’s my prize?” the analyst asked. “Actually, I have something in mind, but it will have to wait til you get back. I think you’ll like it too, actually.” Benji’s eyes widened slightly and Brandt gave another laugh.
“You are a cruel, cruel man, William Brandt.” Benji leant back in his chair and Brandt wriggled his shoulders.
“So how’s the leg?” Benji watched as Brandt lifted his cast-clad right leg to present to the camera.
“It’s definitely getting there. I think it’s coming off in a week.” He returned it to the ground and it made an audible thud. “But I wish it would hurry up so I could get back out there with you.”
“Ah, give over. You’re loving every minute of the attention and relaxation you’re getting. If I hadn’t been there when it happened, I would have said you were faking it so the hot nurses would pour over you.”
Brandt looked confused for a second. “Wait a second, I don’t remember you dressing up as a nurse.”
“Oh, come on… don’t say that, that’s just wrong! On so many levels.” Benji exclaimed, watching as Brandt pretended to imagine it. Or maybe he wasn’t pretending. “Hey! Daydreamer. Eyes on me.”
“Ok, ok, when you get back.” Brandt winked again.
“No. No way am I dressing up in any way for you.” Benji protested. Brandt pouted and for a second, the tech thought he was going to cave, but he shook himself and crossed his arms. Letting his head drop back he sighed audibly. “I wish this mission would hurry up and end.”
“Yeah, well, the sooner Ethan and Jane get this information the better, hey?” Brandt offered a sympathetic smile, feeling slightly glad he wasn’t stuck there too. Taking a sip of his beer, he let himself relax into his chair, but froze when he saw something. He must have given some sort of visual response to it, as Benji tilted his head to one side.
“Will? What is it?”
“I don’t…” Brandt trailed off as he stared into the darkness behind Benji’s shoulder. He could have sworn he saw something moving. After a few seconds, he was certain of it. Something was moving. Something was getting closer to Benji. Then he realised. It wasn’t something. It was someone. “Benji! Move!”
Unfortunately, his warning came too late and the intruder brought his fist down on the back of Benji’s head. The momentum made the younger man fall forward against the desk and when he went to spin around, the back of his t-shirt was grabbed. He felt himself being thrown across the room, crashing through the coffee table with a terrifying sound. As he landed, he rolled onto his back just in time to see the man bringing down a plank of wood towards his head. He lifted his arm to shelter his face, successfully preventing a head injury however it still made impact with a sickening crack, causing pain to shoot through his forearm. Benji thought he heard Brandt call out for him but his own scream of agony drowned him out as the wood broke the skin. Pulling his arm back instinctively, he felt the man straddle his waist, gripping the front of his shirt as he delivered two swift punches to the tech’s face; the first caused his mouth to fill with blood, the second sent an explosion of pain through his right eye socket.
He heard Brandt a bit clearer this time, his heart aching knowing he was being forced to watch. Before he knew what was happening, Benji felt himself being pulled up and practically thrown onto one of the dining chairs. He knew that he was still within sight of the camera and didn’t want Brandt to witness anymore, so he made to stand up, throwing his own punch at his attacker as he did. This, however, only seemed to aggravate the man even more and he delivered a sharp punch to Benji’s throat, causing him to choke and gasp.
Trapped at the other end of the connection, Brandt felt his stomach turning as he watched the events unfold before him. It was bad enough seeing someone hurting Benji, but to be forced to watch from so far away, knowing that he could do nothing, caused him agony. He felt the lump building in his throat and tears stinging at his eyes. He wanted to do something, anything, but he found himself frozen in his spot as he saw the man, who he assumed was related to their mission, wrapping something around Benji to secure him to the dining chair.
As Benji felt himself being strapped down, he used his current position to his advantage, kicking out with his leg. He felt some accomplishment when his foot connected with the intruder’s groin. As the man doubled over, Benji threw his head forward and smashed it into the crown of his attacker’s head. This only distracted the man for a moment and soon, Benji was tightly secured. Once the cord was tied, the man rose to his full height and stared down at his captive.
“We’re gonna have some fun, me and you.” The man spat. Then the assault began. The first punch was to Benji’s stomach, forcing the air from his lungs. The next caught him in the face, causing blood to pour from his nose and his head to swim. Despite the room spinning and the sounds around him fading in and out, he was sure he could hear Brandt talking to someone. He just hoped that it was a call for help.
“Ethan!” Brandt yelled down the phone, not taking his eyes off the computer screen.
“You need to get back to your apartment now! There’s someone in there and they’re hurting Benji!”
“Shit. Ok, we’re on our way.” Ethan began to panic, trying to remain relatively calm. “How do you know?”
“I can see him.” Brandt’s words made Ethan feel ill. He knew Benji and Brandt were keeping in contact via Skype, so knowing that Brandt was being forced to watch the intruder hurting his lover would be… He tried to stop himself, grabbing his things and motioning to Jane that they were leaving. Fortunately they were just finishing up their work for the night when the phone had rung. “Are they still there?”
“Yes…” Brandt’s voice crackled and Ethan was sure that he heard a struggle in the background. He tried to drown it out as he waited for more. “He-he has Benji tied to a chair and he’s…”
“It’s ok, Brandt, we’re on our way. Do not switch off that computer.” The phone line ended and Brandt heard Benji’s pain-filled cries resound in his head. As he watched Benji take hit after hit, Brandt wished nothing more than to trade places with the tech. He would take one hundred beatings if it stopped the man from hurting Benji.
Back in the chair, Benji’s right eye had completely closed over and his breathing was ragged. He could tell that this was not going to end well. Part of him wanted to glance over to the laptop and say goodbye to Brandt, but at the same time, he didn’t want the man to see more than he already had. Though he was pretty certain that the man knew Brandt was watching and was deliberately letting him watch. Most people would turn off the feed if they were attacking someone, not wanting any witnesses, but this man kept it on. It was as if he wanted to taunt whoever was on the other end.
And judging from the screams he heard from the laptop, the taunts were working.
After what felt like a lifetime, the beatings finally stopped. Benji wished he could see himself in order to assess the injuries he had sustained, however judging from how he felt at that moment, it was probably a good thing he couldn’t. He knew that his right eye needed some medical attention, as he couldn’t see a thing out of it. Both his lip and nose were pouring blood and he could also feel some of the same sticky liquid running down his injured arm. Every inch of his body was aching and the room appeared to be on a forty five degree angle. Brandt seemed to have also fallen silent, awaiting whatever would happen next. The man walked over to the kitchen, disappearing from Brandt’s view for a few moments. Even though Brandt had no idea what was happening, when he saw Benji’s eyes – well, eye – widen with terror, the sick feeling in his stomach intensified. When the man returned into sight, the analyst realised what had caused his lover to be so afraid.
In the man’s right hand was a large knife.
Brandt found himself holding his breath as the man got closer to Benji. Was he going to be forced to watch as the man he cared about most was brutally murdered? He found his hands to be shaking as the silence caused his own breath to echo. He watched Benji’s chest as it heaved and he could practically hear the younger man’s heart pounding against ribs, which were no doubt bruised at least.
Benji watched the man with one eye as he stepped right up to him and bent next to his head. Gripping his hair, his attacker pulled his head back slightly so that he could speak directly into his ear.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you.” He sniggered. “Just leaving a message.” Then, keeping his tight grip on Benji’s hair, he lifted the knife to the tech’s left eye. The blade hovered over it for a few moments, leaving Benji even more terrified than before as his breathing became laboured. The knife began to descend towards his eye yet at the last minute, it moved up slightly, sinking into the skin just under his eyebrow. Benji froze, knowing that if he so much as flinched, he would wind up blind. Clenching his teeth together, he felt the blade sliding across his skin from his nose outwards, deep enough to hurt, but still relatively shallow. This man was a pro – there was no doubt about it. The precision he used was horrifying, almost as if he had done this before. Keeping his teeth jammed together, Benji tried to supress the cries of pain as best he could, but by the time the blade was halfway across, he couldn’t stop himself. He screamed out in agony, knowing that Brandt could hear every sound. He felt the warm blood oozing out of the cut and as the knife was pulled away, the stinging continued. As the man released his hair, Benji dropped his head forward, having to squeeze his left eye shut to stop the blood running into it; but it was no use.
Brandt’s heart was beating against his chest nonstop as he watched, terrified that the man was going to leave Benji blind. He tried to close his eyes, yet doing so did not stop the cries of pain coming from the Brit. He stared at the screen, mesmerised, as Benji’s attacker stepped towards the laptop, toying with the knife in his hands, swirling his finger in the blood. Benji’s blood. When he was right in front of the camera, he bent so that his face was level with it, leaving Benji in view behind him. All he could see was the blood covering his left eye; that, coupled with the breathy groans of pain, made Brandt fear the worst.
“Take this as a warning.” He said with malice laced in his voice. “Stay away from Mr Bronson. Or I might have to come back and put this one out of his misery. Got it?” He glanced behind him at Benji before standing up straight and walking to the door. A few seconds of silence passed between them, only broken by the rapid breathing coming from the tech. When Brandt finally snapped out of his trance, he realised that he was gripping the table so tight that his knuckles were white.
“Benji!” he yelled, almost frightening himself. “Benji can you hear me?!” It took a few seconds, but a small groan gave him some relief. “Oh thank god. Are you ok?” His voice was filled with concern as he watched the younger man regaining his breath.
“Br-Brandt…” Benji’s voice hitched as he spoke. “I can’t… I can’t see…” Brandt’s heart shattered at that moment. Benji sounded so broken and pained as he said that. His voice displayed such high levels of vulnerability as the words escaped his mouth and Brandt felt his eyes well up.
“Benji, did he… The knife… He didn’t…” Brandt didn’t know how to word the question but Benji seemed to understand.
“No… but I thought he was going to.” Benji’s voice was almost a whisper. Brandt nodded, even though he knew no one could see him, but his heart sank more when he saw Benji’s head lull forward.
“Hey, Benji! Stay awake ok? You need to stay awake, Ethan’s on the way.” He saw Benji lift his head; it didn’t get past him that the effort seemed to be difficult for the tech. When the younger man finally managed to raise his head, Brandt was able to see his face more clearly – and he instantly regretted it. He could see now where Benji’s right eye was red and swollen shut, but it was the left eye which made Brandt feel even more ill. There was so much blood covering Benji’s entire eye, dripping down his cheek and running down under his chin… He couldn’t even make out where it was coming from. He hated this; being stuck on the other side of the country knowing that the man he cared so much about was in danger yet also knowing that there was not a thing he could do about it. He wasn’t sure how long it would take Ethan and Jane to get there, but he needed to make sure Benji remained conscious until they did. Even if that was all he could do to help, Brandt would damn well do it. “Benji. Tell me what you had for breakfast.”
“Wh-breakfast?” Benji sounded groggy and confused. “Why the hell do you want to know that?”
“Benji, look, it may sound stupid, but you really need to stay awake. Ethan and Jane are on their way, but until then you’re gonna keep talking until they get there. Ok?”
“Mmm-hmm.” It was a weak response, but a response nonetheless, so Brandt went on.
“Great. So, tell me then.”
“I didn’t have any…” Benji felt so stupid discussing what he ate – or didn’t eat – for breakfast while he sat bleeding and aching all over, but he understood Brandt’s reasoning.
“Not enough time.” Benji’s voice almost showed a hint of amusement as those three words reminded them both of the first time they had worked together.
“So have you eaten at all today?” Brandt felt a slight twinge of more concern at this, as Benji needed energy. Particularly after what happened, because without that energy he would likely pass out a lot sooner.
“Yeah, I had, uh, I had a burger for lunch.”
“A burger? Now, Benji, you know they’re not good for you.” Brandt tried to speak with a teasing tone, however he feared it wasn’t working.
“Just cos I don’t like to eat salad all day every day like you, you health freak.” Brandt smiled inwardly at Benji’s response, glad to see that his sarcasm and wit were still there.
“Hey now, I don’t just eat salad!” The analyst protested, but he heard a weak scoff from the Brit.
“Yeah right.” His voice was still laced with impending unconsciousness, yet sounded slightly stronger than earlier. “Why don’t you tell me what you ate for lunch today, huh?”
Brandt paused. “Alright, smartass.” With this, the tech began to laugh slightly – he couldn’t help it – yet he instantly wished he hadn’t when he began to cough. Brandt saw the blood shoot out of his mouth and winced.
“I win, once again…” Benji’s voice was breathy and back to sounding weak.
“Yeah, you do.” Brandt tried to hide the fact that he was close to tears. “And I’m gonna have one hell of a prize waiting for you when you get better.”
“Oh?” Benji’s voice hitched in curiosity.
“Mind outta the gutter, Agent Dunn.” Brandt ordered.
“How is thinking of a giant chocolate cake having my mind in the gutter?” Benji sounded almost incredulous.
“Well, if that’s what you want.” Brandt feigned disappointment but before he could add another retort, he noticed Benji’s head beginning to fall forward again. “Hey! Benji, don’t you fall asleep yet! You can only go to sleep when I say so, got it?” He saw Benji trying so hard to face the camera again, his head lifting a few centimetres before flopping down again. “Benji?” Brandt begged for a response. When none came, he began to panic even more. “Benji!”
Silence may have only lasted for a few moments, however to Brandt it seemed to be a lifetime. He waited for some indication that Benji was ok; but nothing happened. In those few moments, Brandt began to worry. He wasn’t sure exactly how badly Benji was hurt. If it was only minor, then he would simply be worrying over nothing, yet if the injuries he had sustained were more serious…
Would Benji wake up again?
He didn’t want to even think of what he would do if something happened to his lover. Having watched it happen, Brandt wouldn’t be able to live with himself knowing that he had seen every second of it and not been able to help. The silence ended suddenly when a loud bang made Brandt jump. It came from off screen and the analyst initially feared that someone had returned for Benji, however when he saw Ethan appear he felt some relief. Jane was right on his heels as they ran across to Benji.
“Ethan! Ethan, is he ok?” Brandt knew he probably didn’t need to yell, but he really didn’t care at that moment. He needed to know that his lover was ok. He watched Ethan gently lift Benji’s head and place two fingers to his neck.
“He’s ok, Brandt. He’s gonna be fine.” Ethan briefly managed to look over to the computer to throw the analyst a reassuring glance. Brandt was glad to know that Benji was in safe hands now but he wouldn’t be completely calm until he had Benji wrapped in his arms. “We’re gonna get him sorted, Brandt, but I’m afraid we should switch off the computer for now.” These words made Brandt’s heat sink. He didn’t want to lose sight of Benji; he never wanted to again. He was about to protest when Jane spoke up as she crossed the room to the laptop.
“I promise we will keep you informed. I’ll call you with any news.”
“Any and all news.” Brandt corrected, before adding. “Please.”
“Of course.” Jane nodded before leaning down to control the mouse. “Talk to you soon, Brandt.” Then the screen disappeared, taking Benji and his friends with it.
It was just short of two weeks before Brandt saw Benji again. The analyst’s cast was now off his leg so he was able to cross the apartment and take the younger agent into his arms. Benji had been discharged from the hospital in San Francisco no more than a day earlier and then Ethan had escorted him across the country and back to their home. His embrace was gentle, yet it showed Benji just how much Brandt had missed him.
Brandt looked to the hallway and saw Ethan, giving him a grateful smile. The older agent returned the gesture before stepping back and shutting the door as he left. It took a few more moments of simply holding Benji before the analyst could convince himself that he wasn’t going anywhere and he finally pulled back.
“How are you feeling?” Brandt asked, leaving his right hand on Benji’s shoulder while bringing his left up to his neck, running his thumb along his jawline. Benji closed his eyes and sighed at the touch, smiling softly.
“Better.” A few seconds passed before he opened his eyes again. “Thank you.”
“For being there for me during… You know…” Benji shrugged slightly. “If you hadn’t been there to keep me talking and reassure me that everything was going to be ok, I-”
“Hey, hey. It’s ok. You have no need to thank me.” Brandt cupped Benji’s face in both his hands and brought their lips together. It was a quick kiss, yet when he pulled back, Brandt rested his forehead against Benji’s, keeping his mouth a mere breath away from the tech’s. “I’d do anything for you, you know that, right?” Benji’s eyes shut again as he breathed, his lashes flicking over his cheeks as he nodded. “Now, let’s get some rest. We don’t have to be anywhere tomorrow so we can sleep until our hearts are content.”
“That sounds great.” Benji smiled, stealing another kiss before Brandt took his hand and led him down the hall. Once they were in their bedroom, Brandt helped Benji out of his jacket and t-shirt, wincing as he saw the bruises that lined his ribs and the bandage that covered his forearm. As Benji changed, Brandt gently traced his index finger down his spine, stepping up behind him to place a trail of kissed down his neck before nuzzling into his shoulder. Once the younger agent was changed into his pyjama pants, Brandt held back the covers of the bed for him to climb in, joining him once the light was switched off. As he slid under the covers, he took Benji into his arms, letting the tech use the crook of his chest and arm as a pillow. One of Benji’s arms wrapped around his waist and he sighed with serenity. Brandt had his left arm tucked under his lover, his hand gently holding onto his shoulder, while the other travelled down to stop at Benji’s hip. He caressed the soft skin above the waistband of his pants. The touch was nothing but loving as they lay in each other’s arms, Brandt watching Benji’s face relax in the dim moonlight. He felt the younger man’s breathing change slightly and wondered if he had fallen asleep, so he placed a gentle kiss to Benji’s forehead.
“Love you, Benj.” He whispered, closing his eyes so that he could join Benji in sleep. A few seconds later, he heard a small whisper in return.
“I know.” Brandt cocked his head up and could feel his lover’s lips turn up into a smile against his chest. He let out a small laugh at this before settling down and letting sleep wash over him.