When Benji gets on the plane, he automatically turns to the right to find his seat.
The airhostess coughs politely and puts a hand on his arm, turning him gently toward business class.
“Thanks,” he mutters, embarrassed, and slides past her to find his seat. He’s worked for the IMF for nearly five years, but he doesn’t travel for them very often. He’s more a lab-based sort of gnome.
Business class is lush. There are only two seats per row and they’re wide and well-cushioned, lined in some kind of leathery plastic, not the horrible faux-felt stuff that they always use in economy and that brings him up in terribly embarrassing rash.
None of which stops Benji from accidentally treading on three people and nearly hitting a small child with his carry-on case as he makes his way to his seat.
You can take the boy out of economy but you can’t take economy out of the boy. Or something.
Maybe he’s just clumsy.
“Sorry, sorry,” he says, ignoring the glaring mother on his right and hefting his case up into the overhead lockers. It’s big enough that he was probably supposed to check it in, but he has a lot of computer equipment in it and the IMF is good at pulling some strings.
“Need some help?” asks a smooth, blandly American voice and Benji glances over his own struggling bicep at a really horribly attractive man in smart, light grey suit.
“I, um, no. No, thanks, I’ve got it,” Benji says then nearly hits himself in the face with the case’s handle when it starts to slide back down toward him.
“Sure,” the guy agrees and slaps his palm flat against the top of the case, catching it before it falls all the way out. He waits for Benji to grab hold of it before letting go. “Got it now?”
Benji can’t tell if the guy’s being an arsehole or not, so he mutters, “Yes, thank you,” and tries not to feel too much of a bumbling idiot, while he re-stows the case – securely this time – and looks away to find his seat.
It’s 2A, right by the window. Sitting in 2B is the hot man in the grey suit.
If Benji didn’t regularly provide tech support for Ethan Hunt and survive the experience, he would be cursing his terrible luck right now.
“Wrangled it into submission?” the man asks when Benji half-smiles at him and slides around his knees to take the window seat.
“Yes, I showed it who’s boss,” Benji agrees and sinks into his seat. He hopes his new acquaintance isn’t going to talk all the way back to Washington. Benji’s English; he doesn’t believe in making conversation on public transport. Not to mention that this man is far too attractive to talk to sensibly for too long.
“I’m Will,” the man says and offers Benji his hand.
Not wanting to actually be rude, Benji shakes his hand. “Benji,” he says and tries to look really engrossed in the flight safety manual. The fact that it’s mostly made up of lies and gross oversimplifications is neither here nor there.
Will laughs softly under his breath and pulls something out of his bag to start flicking through. Benji feels bad for a moment, but then he decides that it’s probably for the best. Benji would only have said something embarrassing before too long, if they’d kept talking, but now he can pretend that he was suave instead, like a real secret agent should be.
Yes, Benji is occasionally James Bond in his fantasies. Don’t judge.
It’s a five-hour flight from San Francisco to Washington. Benji has plenty of work that he could be getting on with, but even with the heavy encryption on his laptop – boosted by some excellent coding, if Benji does say so himself – there’s nothing that he can work on on the plane without getting a bollocking from Luther.
So, an hour into the flight, he’s bored.
He fills ten minutes using the perks of business class to text Zhen, but then it turns out that she’s actually on a mission and about to infiltrate a Latverian stronghold, so she has to go.
“Bored?” asks Will quietly, after Benji has spent another five minutes tap-tapping his pen against a notebook that he doesn’t want to make notes in because he’ll just have to type them up again later.
“Sorry.” Benji winces and puts down his pen. “I’m a terrible seatmate. You should ask to move.”
When he looks up at Will, Will is smiling slightly. “I’m okay here,” he says. He’s been making notes in the margins of a thick, ring-bound booklet for a while now, the sort of pack that they give out at seminars. Benji takes advantage of the fact that he’s already looking Will’s way to glance down to see what it’s about.
He does a double-take.
The title of the document - The Misuse of Statistics in Reporting - is printed at the top of each page. It also happens to be the name of one of the better seminars Benji went to at the three-day conference he was in California for.
“Oh,” Benji says, too surprised to keep the words in, “Did you go to that? Me too.”
Will's pen stills and, when he looks back up, his lips are parted like he's going to speak. He stops, looks conflicted, but finally says, “Yeah, I know.”
Benji isn't a suspicious person but he is an IMF agent and that sets off alarm bells. “You know?”
“I saw you there. I'm not stalking you or anything. This is a weird, but genuine, coincidence.” He sounds as surprised by that as Benji feels.
“Okay, but. There were hundreds of people there, yet you remember me?” Benji will admit he's a bit funny looking - it’s the glasses, maybe also the hair - but he's not that memorable.
Will shrugs easily at that. “I remember faces.”
“What? All faces?” Benji scoffs. He has software at work that does that, not people.
Will doesn't even blink. “Yeah,” he says simply.
Benji doesn’t know what to say to that, so he ends up making his default awkward-face and hoping their plane hits some turbulence or something else distracting happens. He’d rather they didn’t crash though; he’s not that uncomfortable.
“Anyway.” Will coughs. “Before I made you think I was stalking you, you were going to say something about the seminar?”
“Right. Yes.” Benji can’t remember what that was now. “What did you think of it?”
Will pauses like he’s considering his answer. “Much better than the one on spatial reasoning.”
“Oh my god, I know, right?” Benji says, forgetting to be suspicious for a moment. “Why did they put a guy up there who didn’t have any idea what he was talking about?”
Will laughs. “I was mostly worried that he couldn’t work out how to use PowerPoint.”
“Yes.” Benji nods seriously. “That was also troubling.”
Will smiles at him, still in that small, quiet way. “Hey, did you understand this part?” he asks, swinging the booklet around so Benji can see it properly. “I think he lost me somewhere about point forty-two.”
Benji skims it quickly, hoping it was something he understood. He’s more a computer genius than a statistical one.
“Yes,” he says, trying not to sound too pleased or relieved. “It’s simple. Look. Can I borrow your pen?”
He uses his hands, long fingers drawing pictures in the air and Benji is suddenly, uncomfortable captivated.
He isn’t sure what to do with that, so he tells himself it’s just the wine’s fault, nothing else. Because yes, okay, Will is charming and hot, but charming and hot never sticks around Benji for long, so why bother?
The fact that Will is charming, hot, and apparently as big a geek as Benji is, is much more problematic.
“For boring your ear off?” Benji asks, adding a little laugh afterwards.
Will grins and rubs the base of his nose. “I think I did that to you,” he says. “Sorry. I don’t get to talk about that kind of thing much.”
Benji frowns. “You don’t work in statistics?” Will is clearly very good at it; if he doesn’t work in it, he should.
“No,” Will says, drawing the word out. “Not exactly.” He waves toward the taxi rank. “I’ve got to get to my hotel. Meeting with my boss over dinner. It really was good meeting you, though.”
He bends down to pick up his bag and glances up at Benji from under dark eyelashes. Benji has a feeling he’s supposed to say something more than, “You too,” here.
To hell with it, Benji knows what he’s supposed to say, or he knows what he wants to say, at least. “How long are you in town for?”
Will straightens up too quickly. “Three days,” he says. “But I come back here a lot.”
“Right. Um.” Benji readjusts his laptop strap on his shoulder. “Would you like to have coffee? Sometime? When you’re here?”
Will smiles. It’s fuller than the quiet ones he’s been giving Benji until now. “Yeah,” he says, looking right at Benji. “I would.”
Benji feels a bit of a tit, standing on the pavement, boggling incredulously at a man he’s just met, but, well, what can you do? No one ever says yes when he asks them out.
“You... would?” Benji asks then, louder, “You would. Okay, great. Give me your number?”
Will stills for a second and, great, he can’t be regretting it already, can he? “I don’t know it off the top of my head,” he says, which is obviously a lie, since he could remember Benji’s face out of a thousand others. “Give me yours?”
So Benji does, even though he’s now more than half convinced that this is a weirdly polite and convoluted brush-off.
“I’ll call you,” Will says, taking two steps back toward the taxi rank. “Take care.”
“Yes, um. Um, you too,” Benji says, waving, then nearly walks under a bus heading for the subway.
It takes him nine days, but he does call.
“Sorry,” he says. His voice is soft and warm and Benji had forgotten what a good accent he has. “Work’s been crazy. I got sent cross-country again.”
“Ah, yes, to that famous state where they don’t have telephones,” Benji says. He’s sitting at his desk in the lab. It’s possible that he shouldn’t have his mobile out but Luther’s at a briefing with Brassel and Benji is a little bit of a hero to the rest of his team after the thing with Ethan last year.
Will’s quiet for a minute. “Sorry,” is all he eventually says, no more excuses. “Are you free this weekend?”
“Unless the world ends,” Benji agrees cheerfully.
“Want to hit the museums with me?” Will asks. “I never get to go when I’m in DC.”
“Um, yes,” Benji says. He’s not sure if museums mean that this is a date or not. But then he’d only asked Will for coffee, which could go either way too. “I have a lot of opinions about the Smithsonian though, fair warning.”
Will laughs. “I like your opinions,” he says, low.
Benji feels his cheeks get hot. Stupid fair skin. “I’ll meet you at the Lincoln Memorial, then?” he says quickly. “Midday?”
“Sounds good,” Will agrees. He doesn’t hang up and neither does Benji, so Benji’s feeling a little on edge by the time Will adds, “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Yes, me too,” Benji agrees in a rush, then does end the call, stuffing his phone into his pocket before he can accidentally say the wrong thing and change Will’s mind.
Then it occurs to him that he has a date. And not just any date, but a date with a very attractive man. He flings his hands up into silent arms of victory and does a quick spin on his stool.
It’s possible that a few people look at him strangely, but he honestly doesn’t care.
“I don’t skate,” Benji protests, wobbling onto the ice in badly-fitting boots. “Do I look like I skate?”
“Do I?” asks Will, who isn’t as steady as Benji would have expected, considering this was his idea. “Guess we’ll have to hold each other up.”
He holds out his hand. It’s cheesy and terrible and Benji can never tell Zhen or Declan or, god forbid, Ethan about this, but Benji still takes Will’s hand.
“This was really nice,” Will says then makes a face at himself.
Benji isn’t given to falling in love all the time or anything, but he might fall a little bit, right then. Usually he’s the one hating himself for the awkward things that come out of his mouth.
“Should we do it again sometime?” he asks and Will laughs.
“I’d like to.” He pulls on the tassels of Benji’s winter hat. “I’m away for work next week, but the weekend after?”
Benji forces his neck still so he didn’t bob his head about too enthusiastically. “Okay,” he says, “I’ll try to pencil you in.”
Will laughs again. His nose is red from the cold and his cheeks are flushed, stubble glittering in the dying light.
Benji thought he used up all his bravery guiding Ethan around Shanghai last year, but it turns out he has a little more. He touches his fingers to Will’s jaw and holds him still.
Will watches him and smiles softly. He doesn’t move away.
“I’m going to kiss you,” Benji warns, even though it’s probably obvious.
“I’m waiting,” Will says, so Benji does.
Benji finds himself with more of a social life than he’s had in years and keeps getting confused looks from his work friends when they don’t have to kick him out of the lab every weekend.
“Are you moonlighting as a stripper?” Declan asks, spinning a chair over to Benji’s desk and propping his chin on the back of it. “Or maybe for Apple?”
“Which one of those would be worse?” Benji asks curiously, powering down his station and pocketing his keydrive.
“No, but, seriously,” Declan says, sticking his leg out across the aisle and keeping Benji in his seat. “You’re not leaving us, right?”
Benji is unexpectedly touched. He always got the impression that Declan and Zhen just tolerated him because Ethan likes, well, doesn’t dislike him.
Still, it is Declan.
“Why?” Benji asks suspiciously.
Declan rolls his eyes and punches Benji lightly on the shoulder. “You’re Julia’s favourite. Do you remember those biscuit things her grandmother made at Thanksgiving?”
Ah, that’s okay then. “I’m not leaving.” Benji does think about it sometimes. He loves the IMF but he’s been in this lab a long time and it’s starting to feel stale. “I’m just, um. I’m seeing someone?”
“Yes!” Declan punches the air, pulling out his mobile. “I knew it. Zhen owes me dinner.”
Benji grabs his coat from the back of his chair and ‘accidentally’ lets it smack into the side of Declan’s head.
“Just ask her out,” he says. He’s in a relationship now; he gets to say obnoxious things like that.
Yes, literally crashing. Ethan Hunt never does anything the easy way.
“Benji,” he says, slamming a melted lump of plastic down on Benji’s desk. “We need to find out what was on this.”
“Sulphuric acid?” Benji suggests, poking it warily with the tip of his pen. A sliver of corroded silver shines dully out of the mess of twisted plastic, which means it probably used to be a hard drive.
He’s never going to get home and Will’s arriving in an hour.
“Benji,” Ethan says sharply.
“Weekend,” Benji mimics in the same tone. He looks at the man lurking by Ethan’s shoulder. “Who’s this?”
“Agent Dunn, Agent Hanaway,” Ethan says dismissively, jerking his thumb between them. “Benji, can you fix it or not?”
“Of course I can fix it.” Benji sighs and sits back down. “But one of you should bring me coffee.” He looks up when neither of them moves. “What? This is going to take hours.”
He doesn’t pull out his own phone until Hanaway has gone for coffee and Ethan has stalked off to yell at someone on his mobile.
Sorry, going to be late. Drama at work.
Ethan is off the phone and back at Benji’s station before Will replies.
“Have you done it?” Ethan asks, bracing his hands on the table and staring hard at Benji.
Ethan’s lucky he’s strangely endearing, Benji thinks grumpily; Benji’s missing sex and a cosy dinner in front of the telly for this.
He retrieved all the information Ethan needed from the drive, but it took much longer than Benji’s happy with.
He wonders what the hell field agents do sometimes. If he were out there, he’d remember to secure the tech, not just the bad guys.
Not that he’ll ever be out there, but Benji’s feeling grumpy so he can fantasise.
There’s a light on in Benji’s living room, which shouldn’t surprise him, since he did tell Will to let himself in, but it’s three a.m.
Yes, Will has his own set of keys to Benji’s flat. Well, not to the locked saferoom behind Benji’s wardrobe where he keeps his IMF computers, but to the rest of it.
“Will?” Benji calls, dropping his bag on the floor in the hallway. There’s no answer, so he moves into the living room and stops in the doorway.
Will is fast asleep on his sofa, his face turned into the armrest and his kindle gone to screen saver on the cushion beside his head.
“Huh,” Benji says, out loud but in a whisper. “Hello, there.”
Will shouldn’t have heard that – Benji barely heard it – but his eyes still slit open, settling on Benji before sinking closed again.
“Oh, I see how it is,” Benji says, kicking off his shoes and coming to sit on the sofa by Will’s chest. “I’m not a burglar, so you don’t need to say hello.”
“Mm,” Will agrees sleepily and catches Benji’s wrist, tugging on his arm.
“I have a bed,” Benji points out, but he lets Will pull him down until he’s lying awkwardly on the sofa, legs sprawled over Will’s and Will’s head on his shoulder, Will’s hand still wrapped around his wrist.
It’s not comfortable. It’s chilly out here and his head hurts enough that he could really do with a pillow, but he has Will and, apparently, that’s enough that for him to start to relax.
When Benji arrives, he’s expecting some kind of terrible catastrophe. Working at the IMF has taught him to expect surprise phone calls to bring bad news. What he gets, though, is Will flushed and bright eyed and thrusting a lopsided bunch of flowers at him.
“Oh wow, you brought me hayfever?” Benji says, but takes them anyway. He possibly clutches them a little too possessively, but no one has ever brought him flowers before.
Will’s grinning. Will’s practically bouncing.
That isn’t normal.
“What?” Benji asks, suspicious.
“I got promoted,” Will says, sucking on his bottom lip in a really distracting way. “They’re making me a… well, essentially I get my own team.”
“Wow, congratulations, that’s – ” Benji frowns. “Shouldn’t I be giving you flowers, then?”
Will shakes his head. “I got promoted and that means I get to relocate, if I want to.”
“Relocate where?” Benji asks. If these turn out to be sorry, I have to move even further away flowers, then maybe he doesn’t want them, after all.
“Eh, you know, Washington,” Will says, then grins again.
Benji swallows back what was probably going to be a whoop of excitement and holds up a finger. “DC, right?” he checks. “Not the one on the West Coast, and not the one in Tyne and Wear?”
“Definitely DC,” Will tells him. He rubs the bridge of his nose. “That’s good, right? We could see each other more.”
“Or you could move in with me,” Benji says and he really is just thinking out loud, hypothesising – that’s basically what he’s paid to do; no one normally listens – he doesn’t realise what a massive deal that is until it’s already out of his mouth.
Will goes still. His smile morphs into a surprised circle of lips. “I… could?” he asks.
Oh, what the hell.. He’s said it now and Will doesn’t look horrified. “Yes,” he says, nodding too fast. “You could.”
Will’s company sends him on a training course for the first five days, and he comes back exhausted but buzzing, telling Benji all about his new team.
This is different enough that Benji makes sure to listen, because Will doesn’t normally talk much about his job. (Since Benji can tell Will basically nothing about his job, Benji has never complained, but it is nice, for once, to feel he knows about more parts of Will than just the things the two of them do together.)
“I have to go on a business trip,” Will says, in the middle of the night, less than a week after he got back from the last one.
“Not again,” Benji grumbles, rolling over and pressing his face into Will’s shoulder. Will has fantastic shoulders. Will has fantastic everything, all toned muscles and solid arms, even though Benji has never seen him go to a gym.
“Yeah, sorry.” Will touches the back of Benji’s head, petting the spikey bristles at the nape of Benji’s neck, where he knows he needs to get his hair cut again. “It could be a long one.”
Benji is too tired for this. He drags his eyes open and sits up, leaning over Will. Will looks wide awake, like he hasn’t been to sleep yet. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Will shakes his head, shadows of his hair moving in the dark. “Just that… No, nothing. They’re implementing a new database in the Croatia office and I need to be on hand to make sure it goes smoothly.”
“Your company has a Croatia office?” Benji asks. He keeps a file in his head on all the things Will has told him about his job; none of the parts fit together all that well, but Benji puts that down to the fact that he, personally, has never worked for a company that officially existed and so doesn’t have a real frame of reference for what Will tells him.
(The IMF recruited him straight from Oxford and the closest he came to a real job before that was a Saturday job during Sixth Form, selling shoes for a shop that turned out to have been fiddling the books and got closed down by the tax man.)
“Mmm,” Will hums. “I’m sorry.”
Benji shakes his head. “It’s not like you’ll be gone forever, right?”
Will smiles softly and leans up to kiss him. “I hope not,” he says, more serious than Benji likes.
He’s gone two weeks, then a month, and the calls that used to come daily, peter off so that Benji barely hears from him.
“Is it anything I could help with?” he asks, maybe a little bit desperately, during one of the few calls where Will actually has time to talk to him. “I’m good at computers.”
Will sighs. He’s out for a run; Benji can hear the pat-pat of his trainers hitting the pavement. “I wish it were,” he says quietly. “Benji, I – ” There’s a commotion from somewhere near him, someone shouting something at him and he swears. “Shit, got to go. I love you.”
It’s weird; they live together – sort of – but they’ve never actually said that to teach other.
“You – ” Benji starts, but Will hangs up before he can finish. “Too,” he says to empty air, just so that the thought will be out there somewhere.
By the third day, his calls are going through to voicemail and Benji’s starting to get worried.
He waits until Will’s been out of contact for nearly six days before abusing every work privilege he has and hacking into the DMV’s database.
Will’s full name brings up seventy-one hits when combined with Will’s birth date. It isn’t hard to find his driving license, with a shitty picture of a slightly-younger Will with a buzzcut and a serious expression, and his old address.
With that, Benji finds the name of the company he works for and a number for their Washington Office.
Then he hesitates. Is this weird? Is this stalker-like behaviour? Benji doesn’t want to be One Of Those Men. He also doesn’t want to be the sort of man whose boyfriend disappears in Croatia and does nothing about it, though.
“Joy, Noone, and Gates, how may I help you?” asks a bright, female voice when he finally gets up the guts to place the call.
“Oh, hello.” Benji’s accent always goes English enough that even he can hear it when he’s nervous on the phone. He doesn’t know why that is. “I’m looking for William James; I don’t have his extension.”
“One minute, let me check the directory,” the receptionist says cheerfully. There’s a pause. Then a click where Benji assumes he’s been put on hold, then a longer pause. When she comes back, she doesn’t sound as bright any more. “I’m afraid Mr James is away on business.”
“No, I, I know that,” Benji says, wondering why she suddenly sounds as nervous as he feels. “I just can’t get hold of him. Do you have a number?”
“I’m afraid I can’t give you that,” she says. “But I can take a message?”
“No,” Benji says then stops, thinks about it. “Actually, yes, could you let him know that Benji’s trying to get hold of him?”
“Benji?” she says, like she’s checking. He spells it out for her. “Any surname?”
“He’ll know who I am,” Benji says, and feels a tiny, stupid fear that maybe he won’t. Maybe he’s just moved on and that’s why Benji can’t get hold of him. Maybe he told everyone to screen Benji’s calls, even the receptionist at his HQ.
No, Benji tells himself, you’re being irrational.
“Okay then, have a nice day,” the reception says, back to bright again, before she hangs up.
“That was weird,” Benji tells the inside of the stationery cupboard where he slunk away to make this call. “Will, you work for somewhere weird.”
When he steps out of the cupboard, he walks straight into Luther.
Luther raises his eyebrows. Benji shakes his head.
“Come on,” Luther says, slapping Benji between the shoulder blades. “It’s Friday. Let’s go get smashed.”
Wow, Benji must look terrible if he’s being invited out to team drinks night. He doesn’t say no, though.
So he’s lying on his bathroom floor, trying to decide if he’s going to die, trying to decide if he wants to die, when his mobile buzzes on the floor in front of him.
If it’s Declan, texting to mock him because Declan doesn’t drink and therefore isn’t hungover, Benji may not be responsible for his choice of language.
But it’s not Declan; it’s Will.
The text says: I can’t right now, sorry and that’s it.
Benji stares at the message, trying to make sense of it. Can’t what? he thinks, but that’s obvious. He puts the phone back down carefully and crawls to the toilet to throw up the rest of the break-up binge that he hadn’t even realised was a break-up binge until right now.
Benji had planned to be out. Then he’d planned to be in but icily cool and unaffected. Then he’d thought up a hundred different things he wanted to say and ask and know.
In the end, he opens the door and finds Will looking white-pale and hollow-eyed, completely blank behind the eyes, and everything dies on the tip of Benji’s tongue.
“What happened in Croatia?” Benji asks him, letting him in.
Will shakes his head. He stares at Benji, blinking a few times as though he can’t focus or he can’t remember what Benji looks like. He looks at the box of stuff that Benji had helpfully packed up for him and touches the head of a toy mole that he won for Benji at a fair once and said looked just like him.
Benji doesn’t want it, anymore. Judging by the look on Will’s face, he doesn’t even remember it.
“Is there someone else?” Benji asks. He’s not going to yell, not when Will looks like this, but he does need to know that.
Will shakes his head again. He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks around, shoulders hunched up toward his ears. “Of course there’s no one else,” he says, after enough time has passed that Benji thought he wasn’t going to answer at all.
“Why of course?” Benji demands then sighs. “Sorry.”
“No.” Will picks up at the box, settling it in his arms between them and holding it there like a shield. “I’m so sorry.”
There’s not a lot Benji can say to that. He shaved this morning and put fresh sheets on the bed. It feels stupid now, but he’d been hoping Will would at least want one more time. Benji doesn’t feel like he’s had anything like enough of him; he would at least like to have some break-up sex.
But apparently Will can barely look at him, let alone fuck him.
“I’d better go,” Will says. He swallows hard, licks his lips and, when he finally looks Benji in the eye, he doesn’t seem anything but sad.
Declan laughs at him, but Benji doesn’t care, he submits the paperwork and, wonder of wonders, he’s accepted into the training program.
“Are you sure, though?” Declan asks, setting another bottle of beer in front of Benji. American beer is disgusting, but Benji has lived over here long enough that he’s used to it. The fact that he’s on his seventh helps, too.
“Why not?” Benji asks, waving an empty bottle around expansively. “You’re all field agents, why shouldn’t I – ?”
“Shh.” Zhen waves him quiet. “Not so loud.”
“It’s my leaving party,” Benji grumps, but he does so quieter, looking up hopefully when Luther comes back to their table with shot glasses.
Later, when Declan’s gone outside for a smoke and Luther’s gone home to his family, Zhen puts her hand on Benji’s and squeezes. “What’s this about?” she asks seriously.
Benji shrugs. “Bad break-up.” He wouldn’t have said that if he weren’t a little drunk. Normally, he likes sympathy if he stubs his toe or something, but he hates the way her eyes go wide and sad for him, right now.
“I thought he’d moved in,” she says.
“Well,” he says, shrugging. “He moved out, again.”
Zhen still looks sad. Benji tries to think of something to distract her with and, luckily, that’s not very hard.
“Where’s Ethan?” he asks. “I know I invited him. I sent him an email and a text and a memo in the internal post. He’s not disavowed again, is he?” Because Benji used up some serious stomach lining, fretting about helping him out last time, and he’s not going to do it again.
“No, he’s.” Zhen looks awkward.
Benji groans. “Just tell me. Is he off being obnoxiously happy with Julia?”
“They divorced,” Zhen says. She says it so quickly, like she’s ripping a plaster off, that Benji doesn’t process it at first.
When he does, he feels sick. “No,” he says, dragging it out in disbelief. “You’re joking?”
Zhen shakes her head. “That’s what I heard. I think he’s taking some time out.”
Wow, Benji felt like shit before; now he feels even worse.
“We’re all disasters in love,” he decides, shaking his head sadly.
Zhen doesn’t join in. “Well,” she says, and glances out the window, where they can just see the glow of Declan’s cigarette.
Benji decides it’s time for more alcohol.
Declan and Zhen are on a mission when Benji finally qualifies.
He lets himself do a double-fist bump with himself in the lift on the way down from the Secretary’s office, and then he takes himself home.
It’s too quiet in the flat. Quiet and dark and cold, because he forgot to put the heating on timer before he left this morning.
He kicks off his shoes and flops down on his cold, empty bed, wincing when he jars a row of bruises along his left side.
He wishes there were someone here to make him some tea. Will used to mock Benji’s kettle – he used to call it his electric kettle, like that was some sort of novelty – but Benji still wishes Will were here.
Instead, Declan turns up at his flat, smirking, and hands him a cigar.
“Thanks?” Benji asks slowly.
“We’re having a baby,” Declan says, smirk turning into a startled laugh, like he’s so happy he’s surprised by it.
“Are we?” Benji tries, but he can’t keep it up. “Shit, congratulations,” he says and pulls Declan into an awkward hug.
“Hey, hey, hey, get your feelings off me,” Declan protests, but he squeezes Benji back before letting him go and pushing him down to sit at the kitchen island.
Benji makes them both a cup of tea then actually shares the cigar with Declan, even though cigars taste disgusting.
“We’re moving to the California office,” Declan says. “At least until after the baby’s born. It’s near Zhen’s family and way further from mine so, you know, win-win.”
He grins and Benji tries to grin back even though the voice in the back of his head keeps saying stop leaving me! Everyone stop leaving me.
“Found you a good team, though. I mean, not as good as us, obviously, but close.” Declan blows smoke in Benji’s face.
“And why do you think I can’t find my own team?” Benji asks, but he doesn’t actually argue when Declan names Agent Hanaway and someone called Jane Carter.
This one… isn’t.
When it’s over, they’ve lost the nuclear launch codes, Hanaway is dead, and Jane isn’t speaking.
Jane and Benji retreat to the safe house and sit on the floor, out of sight of all the windows, waiting for someone to tell them what to do next.
It doesn’t take long.
“I need you both in Moscow,” the Secretary tells them. “Get your asses in gear.”
Benji looks at Jane, but she doesn’t look at him, just reloads her pistol and puts it back in her shoulder holster.
“Come on,” she snaps over her shoulder and Benji scrambles up to follow her.
“I just want to shoot someone,” Jane complains, checking and rechecking the weapons cache in the train carriage they’re currently holed up in.
Apparently Ethan will be along soon. That’s what the Secretary said, anyway, and things tend to work out the way the Secretary wants them to.
“Well, don’t shoot me,” Benji tells her. “I bleed a lot.”
Jane doesn’t smile. But she flicks a glance over at him and there’s actual life behind her eyes, which is better than she’s been doing since Hanaway died.
“If he’s not here in another half hour, I’m going after him,” she tells Benji, raising her eyebrows as though expecting an argument.
Benji knows better than to argue with a secret agent with a gun, especially a really angry and hurting one.
Luckily no one has to go after anyone. Ten minutes later, there’s banging on the side of the carriage and then the beep of someone entering the door access code.
Jane jumps to her feet, gun out, so Benji does the same, even though his pistol still feels foreign in his hands.
The man that comes tumbling through the open doorway isn’t Ethan. Benji gets a glimpse of broad shoulders and a dark suit that’s dripping wet, before the guy is twisting back into the shadows and pulling Ethan inside too.
The doors close and Jane flicks the lights on.
“Who’s this?” Benji asks Ethan, angling his pistol at the back of the new guy’s head. His hair is soaked dark and Benji can’t get any feel for what colour it would be if it were dry.
The man freezes.
Ethan says something that sounds like, “William Brandt,” but by then, he’s turned around and Benji can see for himself who it is.
Benji doesn’t know who William Brandt is but this, right here, this man who randomly tumbled into their train carriage in the middle of Moscow, is Benji’s Will.
Stupidly, Benji’s first thought is that Will is here to see him and that he picked a really bad time to do it. Then he remembers that Will was the first person into the carriage, that he turned around and pulled Ethan in after him into a moving train.
That was a man who knew what he was doing.
Ethan gets up, stalking across the carriage toward… something and Jane follows him, but Benji can’t look away from Will. Will keeps staring back at him.
He’s dripping wet, shivering with cold or from whatever Ethan just dragged him through, and Benji stands up without thinking, walking to their stash of clean clothes. He hands Will a fresh jumper in complete silence, careful not to let their hands touch when he passes it over.
“Benji?” Will mouths.
Benji shakes his head jerkily and looks away, forcing himself to pay attention to the mission briefing that Ethan is giving. He doesn’t know what he wants to say to Will right now.
Benji ignores Will in Moscow and ignores him some more on the plane to Dubai.
He talks a lot, when he’s trying to ignore someone, but none of it means anything. Will keeps trying to get him alone, but Benji has a hard enough time not freaking out in the field, as it is; he can’t throw a relationship talk in there, too.
“No,” he says, as they climb into the car at Dubai airport.
“Don’t,” he says, as they check into the Burj Khalifa.
“Please,” he says, after they’ve lost the codes again and Ethan has disappeared into a sandstorm.
He’s already feeling brittle from Jane and Will yelling at each other and then both of them turning on him, blaming him for Cobalt finding them.
He doesn’t blame Ethan for storming out. He only wishes he had the balls to follow him.
Then, Will sits down at the table and tells them that Julia didn’t leave Ethan; she died.
Benji can’t take it in. He thinks of Julia, who was bright and sweet and brave, who let Benji kiss her cheek and laughed when he blushed, and he feels sick when he tries to picture what must have been done to her.
“Fuck,” Benji says and curls his hands into useless fists.
“So that’s it, that’s my story,” Will says. He’s paler now than he was before, even more shut away, if that’s possible. His eyes flicker over Benji for a second, then he gets up and walks out of the room, closing the door to the bedroom behind him.
After a minute, Jane says, “Go after him,” nudging Benji with the pointy tip of her shoe.
That is the last thing Benji wants to do. It’s also the first thing he wants to do, because Will’s upset and that tugs at a place inside Benji’s chest that he rather hoped had died.
“Why me?” he asks. “Do you know how the English comfort people? We make them tea then tell terrible jokes at them until they stop having emotions near us. I’m not sure that’s what he needs.”
Plus, Benji wants to hug Will, really, really badly. But he doesn’t think that would help either of them.
Jane just looks at him. “Do you think I’m the right person to help someone through their guilt?” she asks flatly.
It’s a fair point.
“Okay,” he says, “but I warned you.”
He knocks on the bedroom door then lets himself in, because he’s sure Will won’t want him, if he’s given the choice.
Will is sitting on the bed, head in his hands. He startles when Benji opens the door, but relaxes when he realises it’s Benji standing there.
Benji doesn’t know what to make of that.
“I’m okay,” Will says dully. “You don’t need to worry about me.”
For some reason, that makes Benji mad. “I’m not,” he snaps. “Jane is.” But he crosses the room and sits down beside Will, making sure their legs are pressed together, because Will’s eyes are dry but he’s making low, hurt noises in the back of his throat, like he can’t help himself.
“So that’s what happened in Croatia, huh?” Benji says, after a long, awkward silence. “And here I thought you’d just met someone else.”
Will’s whole body tenses up. “I’m sorry,” he says. It sounds like every other time he’s said it. “After... after everything, I couldn’t. I couldn’t think, couldn’t be in the field, I sure as hell couldn’t go back to you.”
“Did you know I worked for the IMF?” Benji asks. He’s been wondering it over and over, turning it around in his head. “Is... Did you deliberately sit next to me on that plane?”
“What?” Will finally looks at him. Surprise has put some colour back into his cheeks. “No. I guess maybe some booking clerk knew we were both going so put us next to each other? But no, I didn’t know about you.”
For some reason, Benji believes him. It makes some of the hurt in his stomach ease. Not all of it, not even a lot of it, but some.
They sit in silence. Benji doesn’t know what to say to make Will feel better. Selfishly, right at the back of his brain, he doesn’t know if he wants Will to feel better, because Benji has been feeling like crap for a long time.
Looking at Will now, though, it’s obvious that he has been too.
Eventually, Will stares down at his hands and starts talking. “All I could think, after Croatia, was that Ethan’s wife died because of what he does for a living. I kept thinking about you and how I was putting you in the same kind of danger and – ” He looks miserable, blank-eyed and lost.
“You were worried about me?” Benji asks slowly.
“I was terrified,” Will says, so quietly Benji almost misses it.
There’s not much to say after that.
It feels like, one minute, he’s asking Will to jump into a giant computer cooling system, and the next, Benji is standing in a darkened room, gun drawn, trying to shoot the man who’s trying to strangle Will.
They keep moving. It’s too dark and Benji’s shaking, but he knows he has to do this; there is literally no other choice. He breathes out slowly, stops listening to the doubts crowding around in his head, and squeezes the trigger.
Will and Wistrom both freeze and Benji panics for a split, sick second that he’s somehow hit them both. Then Wistrom falls and Will doesn’t and Benji can breathe again.
“Holy fuck,” Benji gasps out, laughing in pure relief.
“Thank you,” Will says with feeling and grabs the lever, slamming the power back on.
Benji sits down where he was standing. Around him, people save the world, and he helped with that, he saved Will, and that will do.
They get two rooms, but Will follows Benji into his room, dropping his bag just inside the door and catching Benji’s hand before Benji can move away.
Will turns over Benji’s hand and looks down at his fingers, which are all cut up from trying to patch up the circuit board earlier. They hurt a lot, like a thousand really annoying papercuts, but Benji saw Ethan’s leg and Jane’s hip and has decided not to make too much of a fuss.
“You were kickass out there,” Will tells him seriously.
Benji wants to say that of course he was, but he doesn’t, too distracted by where this is going.
“I mean it, you saved my life.” Will lifts Benji’s right hand toward his mouth, glancing up at the last second like he’s checking to see if Benji is going to stop him.
Benji doesn’t know what he wants to do, but he doesn’t think he wants to stop him.
Will presses his lips to Benji’s sticky, bloody fingertips, kisses light enough that it doesn’t hurt.
“Um,” Benji says. He means to sound chiding, but obviously it comes out breathy. Will’s kissing his fingers; give him a break. “I don’t understand.”
Will shakes his head. “You can hold your own,” he says. “I’m sorry, I should have... I wish I’d known that before.”
Benji closes his eyes. “So do I,” he says and pulls his hand away, even though that suddenly makes it hurt an awful lot more.
There are a lot of debriefings.
There are also a lot of meetings that are called debriefings but are more like interrogations.
It’s exhausting. For all that Benji didn’t want to talk to Will back in India, he now wants that more than he can say, but they’re being kept far away from each other.
The closest they come to a private conversation in the next three weeks, is when Benji’s waiting in the corridor outside the Interim-Secretary’s office and the door opens and Will comes out.
Will stumbles a little before he straightens his shoulders and nods at Benji.
Benji makes himself nod back. Will looks like he hasn’t been sleeping, which is fair since Benji hasn’t been either.
“Agent Dunn,” a voice calls from inside the office and Benji and Will share a rueful smile. Benji freezes, about to look away, but something in Will’s eyes stops him.
“Meet me afterwards?” Will asks softly. “Your place?”
Benji nods quickly. “I don’t know how long I’ll be.”
“That’s fine, I can wait,” Will says, but Benji reaches into his pocket and pushes his keys into Will’s hand.
Benji wants to say something witty or meaningful or just mean here, but he doesn’t get the chance because his name is being called much more impatiently, now.
“Later,” he says instead and Will’s fingers curl around his as he takes the keys.
He stops in the doorway and turns his face back out into the hall so his smile is a little less ridiculous by the time Will sees it.
“Hi,” Will says, coming out of the kitchen, still wiping his hands on a towel. “It’s just pasta but I didn’t think you’d want to cook.”
“How did you know I was finished?” Benji asks, hanging up his coat and taking a seat at the table.
Will gives him a small smile. “I have spies everywhere,” he says. Then he laughs, his low, self-deprecating laugh that Benji didn’t hear much of while they were on their mission. “I asked the lady on the front desk to call me when you left. I might have let her think I had a surprise for you.”
Benji looks at the food, which smells delicious. “This is a surprise,” he allows.
There’s a second plate on the table, but Will doesn’t sit down, just hovers. He’s taken off his suit jacket and rolled his sleeves up, arm muscles standing out in long, sinewy lines when he leans against the back of the other dining chair.
“Just sit down,” Benji snaps, flustered. “I can’t eat if you’re watching me.”
Will sits and they eat in silence. Benji wants to ask how Will’s debriefings are going, but, if they’re anything like Benji’s, they’re endlessly frustrating and he won’t want to talk about them.
“My name’s William Brandt,” Will says suddenly.
Benji puts down his fork and looks up. “I got that,” he agrees.
“James is my middle name. William James is an alias I’ve used before; that’s why I gave it to you.”
“I told you my real name,” Benji says. Of everything, Will lying about his name doesn’t actually bother Benji all that much, but it is an irritant.
“You did.” Will smiles, tilting his head. “That was kind of dumb of you.”
Benji bites his lips together so he doesn’t smile. “I called your work. The woman I spoke to knew who you were. Or pretended to, anyway?”
Will nods. “Yeah, like I said it’s an old alias. I got a call after you did that, actually. I told them you were harmless and not to terminate you.”
Benji rolls his eyes. “Well, thanks. I think.”
“Benji,” Will says carefully. He presses his socked foot to Benji’s, rubbing his toes lightly against Benji’s.
“I miss you,” Benji says in a rush, even though he’s pretty sure that should be Will’s line. “You were here and I thought everything was going really well and then you left me and I felt like shit because I was sure it was my fault, somehow.”
Will opens his mouth to interrupt, hand darting out like he wants to touch Benji’s arm but falling onto the table between them, instead.
“I know that wasn’t it,” Benji hurries on. “But I didn’t know that then. I even know why you couldn’t tell me the real reason, but I still don’t trust you.”
Will swallows noticeably hard.
“Yeah,” he says, voice gravelly. “That makes sense. I’m sorry though. I am.”
He obviously is. Benji knows he should hold out longer, punish him more, but he’s missed him so much.
“I need you to swear to me that you won’t run off again,” Benji tells him. “No matter what happens, don’t decide that your stupid, analyst brain makes you better able to predict what’s going to happen than I am.”
Will nods so quickly, it’s almost funny. Maybe Benji will mock him for it later, when he feels confident mocking Will again about anything.
“Okay, that’s a start.” Benji was the one to take a leap and kiss Will the first time, so he decides it isn’t his turn, this time. He turns his hand palm-up and looks at Will pointedly.
Will grabs his hand hard, possibly harder than he means to, since he looks immediately apologetic when Benji winces.
“I don’t know what happens next,” Will confesses, staring down at their hands.
Benji laughs helplessly. “Do you think I do?” he asks and squeezes Will’s hand, not wanting to let go.
Eight Weeks Later
Seattle isn’t the place Benji would choose to go for his first non-business trip with Will, but it’s where Ethan wants to meet them, so they go.
He and Jane leave the table first, clutching their assignments. Choosing to join Ethan’s team full time is an easy decision for him, but he’s not sure what Will’s going to pick. The only thing Will still refuses to talk to him about properly is going back in the field.
They’re rebuilding things slowly, no more cover stories and no more (well, fewer) lies. Even though Will hasn’t moved back in yet and they haven’t had sex since before Will went to Croatia, it’s going well. Benji’s happy.
“I’m going to get a drink,” Jane says, nodding at a bar on the waterfront. “Coming?”
Benji glances over his shoulder at where Will and Ethan are still sitting at the table. Will has a hand up to his face, shoulders tense, and Benji curses himself for not planting a mic on him when he had the chance.
“I’ll wait,” he tells Jane.
Jane snorts out a laugh. “I’m shocked,” she says flatly, looking over at Will then back at Benji and shaking her head. She waves the phone they both listened to as soon as they could. “I’ll see you on the plane to Kandahar.”
“See you,” Benji agrees, not taking his eyes off Will. He thinks Will might be crying. He’s not close enough to tell for sure, but he can see the harbour lights shining off his eyes.
Benji’s known Ethan a long time, but he can’t even start to guess how Ethan’s going to react to finding out Will could have saved Julia. If it were Will, Benji starts to think, then has to cut that thought off at the feet. He has enough nightmares as it is.
Benji watches Will stand up from the table and his heart jumps into his throat for a second when he thinks that Will isn’t going to take the phone, won’t accept the mission. But Will does at the last second. He looks up and sees Benji watching him and tries a smile that falls flat.
“Hey,” Benji says when Will reaches him.
“Hi,” Will says then sits down, unexpectedly hard, on the side of the wall overlooking the ferryboat landing point.
Benji sinks down next to him, worried when he sees how hard Will is shaking.
“What did he say?” Benji asks, staring down the phone in Will’s hand. Will had been adamant that he wasn’t going back out into the field and now one two minute conversation with Ethan has changed all that.
“I…” Will blinks really fast. Benji tries not to panic over too many worst-case scenarios. “I can’t tell you, but it’s, um.” He sniffs then rolls his eyes at himself and leans into Benji. “It’s good, it’s all good.”
Ethan forgives Will about Julia, then. That is good. Benji likes this little team of theirs; he’d hate to have to find a new one.
“Good,” Benji says and knocks his elbow against Will’s. “So, Kandahar?”
Will glances down at his phone. “Is that where we’re going?” he asks. “Kandahar? Not tonight, though, right?”
He reaches down and touches Benji’s knee, curving his hand around Benji’s leg, just above. A ferry pulls into the docks, crowds streaming off, but Benji ignores them, turning all the way around to face Will.
“Not tonight,” Benji agrees. “We have an invitation to join Jane at the bar?”
He’s surprised when Will shakes his head. “No,” Will says, sliding his hand up Benji’s leg. “Come back to the hotel with me?”
Benji bites his lip. “Yeah?” he asks. They’ve been so careful around each other for so long. “What’s changed?” He doesn’t want to ask, but he needs to know.
Will smiles suddenly, laughing even while he shakes his head. He’s still trembling but Benji thinks it might be from the relief of finally telling Ethan the truth. Will’s shoulders are relaxed for the first time in a long time. “Nothing,” Will says, “everything.” He leans in and kisses Benji, smiling against his mouth. “I love you.”
Benji stops breathing. “This is... What? You can’t just, I don’t.” Benji waves one hand, flustered. The other is clutched tight Will’s jumper. “I mean, I love you too, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Will says, like it’s anything but. He slides closer to Benji and leans their foreheads together. “After Kandahar can I have my keys back?”
“To our apartment?” Benji asks, lips moving against the corner of Will’s mouth. He could sit back, but he doesn’t want to.
“Our apartment,” Will echoes and tackles Benji backwards onto the boardwalk, like they’re just two regular guys, happy together.