Ethan glanced over at Benji, frowning a bit as Benji shook out his hands. It was at least the third time that he’d done that in the last hour, not that Ethan was counting. He wasn’t, actually, it was just that once he noticed something, he couldn’t help but continue to notice it. Now he was wondering how he’d never noticed it before. Benji obviously didn’t realize that he was doing it, since his concentration on the screens in front of him never broke. But every so often, Ethan didn’t have enough data to determine if there was a pattern to it, Benji’s nose would wrinkle and he’d shake out his hands. Clearly they were bothering him but it seemed as if it was something Benji was used to feeling.
That thought made Ethan frown, then push back from the table, taking a moment to stretch and try to work out the kinks in his neck. They’d been working their way through the background information for hours and it seemed like there were still hours to go. Jane was still off in Peru doing That Thing That They Didn’t Know About and Will was stuck in DC handholding one of his replacements (and what it said about Will that it took two people to do his former job was a matter for another day). When Benji volunteered to work his way through the stacks of documents behind their covers for the Georgia job, Ethan didn’t think twice about saying he’d stay to help. How bad could it be, really? It was just sitting there and reading and taking some notes. How bad was that, especially compared, to pick something at random, from trying to free climb a building. Apparently, it was much, much worse than he’d thought. He was more exhausted from sitting there reading than he was after his morning run. Ethan eyed the remaining stacks of papers, corner of his mouth curling up.
“Why did they print out all of this stuff in the first place, wouldn’t it have been far easier to hand us a drive? Not to mention greener.” Ethan wandered over and pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge. “You want?”
“Please.” Benji caught the bottle Ethan tossed him, unscrewing the cap and taking a long drink. “We are so very fortunate to go old school with this because most of the old Stasi archives were never digitized since the paper is falling apart already, lack of good acid free paper even for the Stasi, don’t you know, and running it through the scanners would have destroyed it. Luckily, now it’s a matter of slapping a page under a webcam and” Benji tapped at the keyboard then spun a laptop around so Ethan could see. “Voila, captured, stored and OCR’d. This will be godsend later on.” Benji downed the rest of his water, then wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. “The database should be done compiling by the time we get to the stuff that’s already imaged.” He shook out his right hand, his left already moving across the keys.
Ethan blinked. “Wait, you’re setting up the dbase of this while you’re going through it for the profiles? Don’t you think that’s a bit, I don’t know, much?” He took a long drink himself, then put down the bottle, wandering over to stand behind Benji’s chair. “Did Reynolds tell you to do that?”
“Hmmm? What, no, it doesn’t take that much longer to do, the scanner reads faster than me after all, seemed like a waste not to do it.” Benji said, clearly distracted. “Did you know that you’re going to have dye your hair blond?” Benji glanced over his shoulder. “Can’t really see you as a blond.”
“Better than that time I had to grow the beard, that thing itched like you wouldn’t believe.” Ethan leaned over Benji’s back, pointing at a monitor. “Please, please tell me that Will is going to have to go punk.”
“Sorry, mate, that would be me.” Benji tipped his head to the side, a Cheshire grin spreading across his face. “Don’t think I can pull off all that leather?”
Ethan snorted. “I’m not touching that, there’s no way that’ll end well.” Benji laughed then turned his attention back to the monitors, frowning slightly at some line of something or other that Ethan was sure meant a great deal to Benji but not to him. Ethan watched him work, Benji’s soft muttering a familiar and comforting sound. There was something deeply gratifying in the way that he was able to ignore Ethan almost completely, even when Ethan was standing there right behind him. It wasn’t that Ethan was unimportant, it was that Ethan was safe and Benji knew that down to his bones. That level of trust was rare from anyone, let alone anyone who did what they did, and Ethan took a moment to enjoy it, to stand there knowing that there was at least one person who could go “oh, it’s just Ethan” and continue working on whatever as if his presence simply didn’t matter. Then Benji shook out his hands again and Ethan reached out, grabbing onto Benji’s left wrist before he could think about it.
“What’s wrong with your hands?” Ethan snagged a chair with his foot, pulling it over then sitting down, fingers still lightly curled around Benji’s wrist. “You keep doing that.” He sat down, close enough that his leg was pressed against Benji’s.
“Doing what?” Benji was still, eyes locked on Ethan’s fingers where they were bracing his wrist. “Sorry, I’m not sure what you mean.”
“You keep shaking out your hands.” Ethan turned Benji’s hand over, thumb running up the center of his palm. “Is there something wrong?” He glanced up when Benji drew in a sharp breath. That wasn’t a good sound and Ethan frowned, looking down at Benji’s palm. “There is something wrong.” He pressed down lightly, feeling the tension in Benji’s hand.
“Not, not wrong as such, it’s more,” Benji cleared his throat. “Stiff perhaps is the best word for it.” Benji shrugged, obviously trying to make light of it. “Too much typing, that kind of thing, happens all the time, I don’t even notice it really, occupational hazard and all of that.”
“Yeah? I bet you don’t notice, you do tend to get a bit focused on what you’re doing to the exclusion of anything else, even your own pain.” Ethan flashed him a quick grin. “Not that I’d know anything about that.” Benji snorted and Ethan could tell he was rolling his eyes without needing to see Benji’s face. He looked down again, looking more closely at Benji’s hand as he began to slowly work out from the center of Benji’s palm. His gaze lingered on the lines crossing there, trying to remember the lessons his grandmother gave him so long ago. That was the life line, or, no, that was the heart line and that was the life line there. It was long and Ethan smiled to himself. It wasn’t that he believed in any of that, he didn’t share his grandmother’s superstitions. But still. He could hear her voice in his ear “Ah, he will live a long life, a good life, you can see it there.” Ethan may not believe, not entirely, but he figured they could all use any bit of help they could get.
Ethan began to work his way up Benji’s fingers, rubbing gently and trying to ease out the strain he could feel through them. Ethan paused when he touched the ridges and gouges carved into Benji’s fingertips. “Benji.” He cupped Benji’s hand in both of his, barely brushing the tip of his index finger across the scars. “Jesus, Benji.” He stared, shocked to realize that he’d never noticed this before. The scars were fresh, still a bit pink and they had to be sore. There was no way they couldn’t be sore.
“Like I said, occupational hazard.” Benji replied, voice soft. “It’s nothing, Ethan. It doesn’t hurt. Besides, it got rid of any worries over fingerprints, yeah?” Benji let out a short laugh but Ethan could hear the strain behind it. “It’s nothing.”
“It must have hurt like a bitch.” Ethan reached out, tugging Benji’s other hand over. “Fuck, Benji. Don’t tell me this doesn’t still hurt.” The scars were even more pronounced on Benji’s right hand and Ethan could see small patches of red along the side of his thumb and index finger. He touched there lightly, looking up just in time to see the flash of pain cross Benji’s face. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Benji tried to pull his hands back but Ethan held on. “Ethan, you don’t have to”
“I know.” Ethan cut him off. “I know but let me anyway.” He watched as Benji bit his lip, then gave a tiny nod. He started to work on Benji’s right hand, being careful to pay attention to Benji’s reactions. A little bit of pain couldn’t be helped, Ethan knew that from all the times the physical therapists massaged his leg during his rehab. A little bit of pain was one thing, but actual pain was something else. That wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted, well, he wanted Benji to not hurt, not now when they were here and supposedly safe.
For once, Benji was quiet and the only noise came from the whirring of the fans from the computers and the sounds of their breathing which slowly moved into sync. Ethan kept his eyes locked on Benji’s hands as he worked. These weren’t the hands of someone who sat behind a desk. No, these were the hands of a fighter, a warrior, of someone who used his hands for survival. He turned Benji’s left hand over in his, thumb tracing the callouses left by the hours he knew Benji spent at the range. The knuckles of his pinky and ring fingers were slightly swollen, they’d obviously been broken more than once, probably during a fight or from working the heavy bag, or, hell, maybe from having to hang from a ledge while getting shot at. There were more small scars along the back of his hand and Ethan followed the trace of the long one that ran from his knuckles down around his wrist. It was old, white and nearly faded, but still there, still another sign that Benji’s life was anything but ordinary.
“How did you get that?” Ethan kept his voice low. “It must have been deep when it first happened.” He traced along it again. “It looks old.”
“It is. My sister Emily fell out of the punt while we were out on the river one day. The tide got her and she got pulled down into the undergrowth along the bank. I dived in after her and had to yank her out from the roots of the trees. I didn’t even realize I was bleeding until we got to shore and she saw and started screaming. She hates the sight of blood even now, which is a bit of a laugh, what with the twins being holy terrors and getting into everything.” Benji laughed again, though this time there was nothing but amusement behind it. “Tommy said she passed clean out the day he came home with an arrow sticking out of his arm.”
“I bet. How old were you?” Ethan pressed both of Benji’s hands between his own. They were warm now and nearly all of the tension was gone.
“Eight, I think. She was six so, yeah, eight or so.” Benji cleared his throat. “Christ, haven’t thought of that in years.”
“So you’ve always been a hero then.” Ethan tangled their fingers together. “Why does that not surprise me?” His thumb was resting on Benji’s pulse and he could feel it pick up, just a little, as he slowly stroked across Benji’s wrist.
“I’m not,” Benji swallowed. “I’m not a hero, you know that.”
“No, I know that you are. How many times have you saved me now? Hell, I stopped counting awhile back.” Ethan squeezed Benji’s fingers lightly. “There’s no point when I know you’ll just end up doing it again.” Ethan pulled his right hand free, then turned Benji’s left hand palm up. He slowly stroked the tip of his index finger from the tip of Benji’s middle finger down his palm and then back up. He heard Benji’s breath catch and he did it again and then once more.
“Ethan.” Benji sounded a bit lost. “Ethan, stop.” That made Ethan look up. Benji’s eyes were dark and he was biting at the corner of his bottom lip. “Please, just.” Benji pulled his hands free and Ethan let him. “I, we, there’s, we should get back to it, there’s still stacks to go through but I appreciate it really, look,” Benji held up his hands, fingers wriggling. “There, all better now, so we should”
Ethan reached up, curling a hand around Benji’s neck. “Benji.” Benji let out a shaky breath and Ethan gently tugged him forward, resting his forehead against Benji’s. “Please don’t tell me this is a terrible idea. Not again.”
“It is. But that’s doesn’t mean you should stop.” Ethan could feel the warmth of Benji’s breath against his cheek. “You always do find a way to make the most ridiculous things seem like the perfect idea.”
“Are you calling me ridiculous?” Ethan slid his hand into Benji’s hair, tilting his head just so.
“If the shoe fits,” Benji said, smiling. He was still smiling when Ethan kissed him. Benji let out an appreciative hum and Ethan smiled against his mouth before kissing him again, slow and gentle. There was time to be slow, to savor it. It was so different from the last time Ethan kissed him, and Ethan had been convinced that the last time was just that, the last and only time he would ever get to kiss him. Then it was gunfire and missile strikes and his hand clutching Benji’s shoulders as he pushed him against a wall and kissed him fast and dirty. He still remembered the way Benji kissed him back, just as desperate, before shoving him away and saying “That’s a terrible idea”.
Benji wasn’t pushing him away now, though. Now he was running his hands up Ethan’s arms and down Ethan’s back. Now, his tongue was tracing the shape of Ethan’s lips and Ethan opened his mouth for him. Now Benji was kissing him, kissing him slow and deep and Ethan didn’t even bother trying to hold back the moan that pulled from him.
“See,” Benji leaned back, voice a bit hoarse. “You can make it seem like the most perfect idea indeed.”
“Good.” Ethan kissed him again, lingering over it. “How does going back to my place sound?”
“Hmm, like it’s ten minutes farther away than mine.” Benji cocked a brow. “Unless you think you can wait that long?” He skimmed a hand down Ethan’s back and Ethan arched into it.
“I’m thinking we’ll be lucky to make it out of the building, so your place it is.” Ethan pulled away reluctantly, then stood, reaching out and taking Benji’s hand. “Shall we?”
“Yeah.” Benji leaned back, fingers of his free hand flying across the keyboards, locking everything down. “Oh hell, yes.”
Ethan laughed, then pulled Benji along after him, slapping the lights off as they went out the door.