Disclaimer: I do not own them.
The morning sun was already considerably high above the horizon when William Brandt left his hotel bedroom. One could wonder how on earth he'd managed to get that much sleep after everything that had happened in the previous few days. He supposed he was really tired, yes, but it was a blessing, really, that he could sleep at all. Thank luck for small wonders.
Upon entering the living room, he found that Ethan and Benji were already there. The blond jumped slightly at the sound of Brandt's footsteps. The movement stirred Ethan, who had been dozing with his head almost touching Benji's shoulder, most likely unnoticed by Benji himself.
"Hey," Brandt said softly and almost sheepishly. Something was making him feel uneasy, but he couldn't quite grasp it yet. Before he could think of what he was going to say, he was already speaking again, "Man, you look like hell".
That came out harsh, but it was true. The Englishman had dark bags under his eyes, that looked even darker against the paleness of his face. The look in his eyes was heavy, as if expecting a threat to appear from any corner. His hands trembled slightly – whether from exhaustion, stress, or both, Brandt couldn't tell.
"Aw, thanks man, you look lovely, too," Benji replied, his gaze softening a bit. Hearing sarcasm from him was a relief to Brandt, but he couldn't help but notice how plain tired he sounded, his voice lacking the snappiness such remarks would usually contain.
"You do need sleep, you know that, right?" Ethan spoke up at last, looking at the blond almost sternly. Benji shot him a glare, and the older agent let out a frustrated breath. Brandt could only wonder why he was giving up so easily. Maybe he was planning to knock the silly bastard out at some point during their flight to America; or maybe it was something else, he couldn't figure out.
"I've had plenty of sleep," Benji snapped, his voice wavering even more due to the emotions seeping through his façade, "in the back of the Bone Doctor's van. Don't feel like sleeping any time soon, thanks".
Brandt swallowed thickly. He recalled Ethan's terrified face while watching Lane's video 'message' at the train station; recalled his own feelings of fear and cold despair at running to the parking garage and being way too late; the mortifying grip of hopelessness upon hearing Lane's demand… It had seemed impossible. It had been impossible. He remembered telling himself, back then and there, that Benji had already been lost; gone; dead. That they all had needed to come to terms with that and move on to avenging him by defeating Lane… And yet there Benji was now, alive and relatively well. Another wave of the same emotion he had felt a few minutes earlier washed over him, and this time Brandt understood.
"Benji… I'm sorry," he said with a short and shaky sigh. The Englishman's eyes widened slightly in a silent question.
"I… I gave up on you," Brandt went on, looking down, unable to meet either of his friends' gazes. "When you got… taken. I guess I just got scared, I don't know… But I couldn't see a way out and I just… I thought…" he trailed off, a thick lump in his throat not letting him continue. He felt Ethan's hand on his back but still didn't dare to look up. In his peripheral view he saw the older agent open his mouth to say something, but the Englishman was faster to react.
"It's okay," Benji almost whispered. When there was no reaction, he applied more effort to speaking. "Brandt," the agent in question felt a demand in that tone and looked up. There was a warm half-smile on the blonde's worn out face. "Really. It's okay".
Brandt almost laughed at that. Not a single thing that had happened could be considered to be anywhere near 'okay'. Well, maybe except for the fact that they were all still alive.
"Besides," Benji spoke again, his features suddenly forming a more serious and thoughtful expression again. "You weren't that wrong. I mean… there were three possible outcomes to Lane's plan. And the only thing they all had in common was that I ended up dead in every single one of them".
"If you thought this was going to make me feel better, you were wrong," Brandt laughed humourlessly. But Benji seemed to be too deep in thought to pay attention to that remark now.
"If Ethan hadn't come, Ilsa and I would have died, along with dozens of civilians," Benji went on, his tone calm and almost dull.
Brandt fought the urge to interrupt him to ask what the hell had actually happened there, at that restaurant near the Tower. Ethan and Benji hadn't had the chance to fill him in on it yet, and he felt like he was missing something very important. He shot a helpless glance at Ethan, who was merely watching Benji's features intently, some mix of emotions displaying on his face. Evidently, now was not the time to ask, and Brandt moved his gaze back to the blond as he continued.
"If Ethan had arrived and Lane had received the disc, Ethan and I would have died," Benji wasn't looking at either of his friends now, wincing slightly and clenching his hands into fists. "And if Ethan had arrived but Lane hadn't got what he had wanted, everyone would have died," he swallowed and drew a deep and controlled breath.
"And yet here we are," Ethan's voice was soft and quiet, trying to give as much reassurance as possible. "None of those outcomes happened".
"That's because even Lane underestimated how crazy you really are," there was a ghost of a smile on Benji's face, and yet his eyes were almost accusing. At least as far as Brandt could tell. That made him feel even more lost on this part of the story. But yet again he had to keep himself from asking.
"The thing is…" Benji said slightly hesitantly, his gaze dropping down again, "I think it was Lane's luck that I made it that far. I mean…" he took a shuddery breath, "I was expendable. From the very start, Lane needed you alive, Ethan. I was just a tag-along. They wouldn't mind getting rid of me at any given point. Even Ilsa…" he took another breath and rubbed his chest absently. Noticing that Ethan was about to speak, he raised his hands defensively. "I know she was really on our side and had to constantly prove her loyalty to Lane. I just didn't enjoy having to pay the price for it every time. Like in Morocco. She saved you, but… I'm not even sure anymore whether she intended to let me live or it was just a pure accident that I survived".
Ethan nodded understandingly, the look in his eyes darkening. Brandt almost growled. Not knowing what they were talking about was infuriating, especially given how important it seemed. He saw the internal turmoil both of his friends seemed to be in. But he knew nothing and couldn't do anything to help. If this was going to go on for a bit longer, he could give no guarantee that he wouldn't start yelling again.
"I made it to the end, and Lane found a way to turn even that against you," Benji was still looking down. "I wonder… what if I had…"
"No," Ethan's voice was hoarse. "Don't you think that. You said Lane had underestimated me. I think he overestimated me. He needed me alive to steal the data. But I wouldn't have figured it out without you. And it was you who ended up stealing it anyway".
"I didn't do it alone," Benji reminded weakly before his glare darkened again. "And it… it almost…"
"And I wouldn't have done it alone, either," Ethan cut him off, and Brandt could tell it was deliberate. "Just as I wasn't alone when we unlocked the disc," he looked at Brandt, who felt slightly relieved that someone has finally acknowledged his presence. But these charades were wearing him out.
"Can anyone here tell me what the hell happened?" he growled exasperatedly, his voice once again louder than intended. His friends' eyes went wide, and for a few seconds they just stared at him, startled.
"What's going on here?" Luther's voice sounded from the door. "What's with all the yelling?"
"Ethan was just about to fill Brandt in on what happened while we were separated," Benji answered almost brightly. Brandt shook his head at how noticeably fake that tone sounded. "You can join in if you want," he added to Luther as he stood up and gingerly started to make his way from behind the table. "And I need a shower".
"Okay," Ethan started after making sure Benji had left the room, "I'll tell you everything that's happened but only if you promise to help me find a way to put Benji to sleep on our way to America".
And despite himself, Brandt realised he was smiling. They were not unscratched after their mission – they never were. But they were alive. And sometimes that was more than enough.