this...this is the longest one-shot I've written to date. Beta'd by the fantastic Sop12345d
The old stone building stands elegant and stark, encircled by two walls—one, new and tall, metal, the other within the front garden, a small, crumbling, barely six-foot stone barrier. Outside the metal gates, green-brown grass spreads out for miles, a single winding road its only connection to the outside world. The building itself seems almost timeless; if not for the students dotting the gardens within the intricate metal gates, it would seem abandoned.
(This? This is the story of how I was a dumbass.
Muffled laughter from the first speaker; an exasperated sigh from the second.
Well? Are you going to tell the story, or am I?
No, no, I'm getting there. )
"Hey, Hunt!" The antagonist is a slim boy—blonde, voice perpetually hoarse, yet he insists on speaking with a drawl.
Irritated, Ethan turns. Rolls his eyes. "What do you want, Lane?" he asks. Lane stops—startled. Usually, Ethan doesn't confront him like this (Lane isn't worth it), prefers to simply steer clear of Lane and his cronies.
At Lane's side appears another student. Walker. Fun .
"I hear you've been claiming you can do a grande jete ," he challenges.
Ethan scoffs. "Claiming, Walker? I don't claim to be able to—I can ."
Lane's eyes narrow, and for a second, it looks like he's going to throw a tantrum. Instead, though, he says, "Prove it then, Hunt. Do a grand jete off of the wall."
Ah . Well, Ethan's not one to turn down a challenge, no matter how insane.
"Ethan," Ilsa warns, "don't do it."
He rises, takes a moment to asses the wall. Lane and Walker are both quite a bit taller than him, but he stares them down, says, cheerfully, an edge of determination in his voice, "Watch me."
Ilsa huffs, closes her eyes (mumbles my god, you're an idiot , but that might just be Ethan's ears playing tricks on him, since no one else notices) and says, slowly, "Ethan Hunt. Do not— "
"Oh, let him, Ilsa," Brandt interrupts. "If he hurts himself, it'll serve him right."
Ethan ignores them, instead taking time to judge the wall. It's crumbling, overgrown with rose bushes in some places. There're a few spots that are high enough— wide enough—to get a proper purchase on.
Quickly, he scales it, takes a moment to make a mental picture of how he wants to do this. Below, Luther arrives, plate of food in hand, takes one look at Ethan and shakes his head.
"Hurry up, Hunt! Or are you afraid?" Walker taunts, and Ethan rolls his eyes. Grins.
For a few seconds, it feels like flying—soaring. Below, the crowd gasps, a muted background noise compared to the sound of his heart, the sound of the wind whipping through his hair.
Then he hits the ground, a perfect landing. Bows.
The crowd bursts into applause. "Thank you, thank you!" Ethan grins. "Realy, it was no trouble." He catches the dark look Lane shoots him, but he can't bring himself to care.
The crowd disperses, and he makes his way back to Brandt, Ilsa and Luther; Brandt mutters something less-than-polite under his breath, but Ilsa and Luther are exchanging gossip, and he catches the tail end of Ilsa's sentence: "—you know anything about the rumours of the new student?"
"What about a new student?" Ethan asks, interest piqued.
Luther swallows his bite of food. "Oh, you mean the transfer? Yeah—they're saying that the dance school he used to attend burnt down. He was the only one who survived." Despite the grim words, his tone is disbelieving.
"Well, that's..." Brandt trails off, at a loss for words.
Ethan sits back down, makes for Luther's fedora; the other slaps his wrist away, and he retreats with a wounded expression. "Don't you look at me like that Hunt," Luther gripes, "we both know you deserved it."
"I wonder what he's like," Ethan muses idly.
"Well, if you keep acting immaturely, you'll be dead before you get to know him, so..." Ilsa trails off pointedly. Ethan rolls his eyes, huffs, opens his mouth to contradict her—
"Oh shove off and go moon over your girlfriend some more, won't you?" Brandt cuts in, irritated, "all of your bickering is putting me off of my lunch."
"Well, we wouldn't want that ," Ilsa mutters. Brandt glares at her. "Fine," she concedes, "but if any of you die, it's not my fault."
"it's today," Ilsa announces out of the blue on a chilly Tuesday morning. Ethan cocks his head to the side, curious, but Brandt asks the question everyone's thinking.
"Hmm? Sorry, what's today?"
It's Jane who replies, lifting her head up from where it's buried in a thick book. "The new student is coming today." She blinks in the bright light and adjusts her glasses. "When'd it get so bright?"
"Oh? And how'd you know that? " Ethan asks, ignoring Ilsa's laughter at her girlfriend.
"Julia's the Secretary's assistant, remember? She told me about it this morning during our rehearsal for Swan Lake ," Ilsa replies. Oh. Right.
"Oh, yeah—how's that going?" Ethan asks—he knows that Ilsa really wants to get the lead.
"Ilsa's contending with Claire Phelps for the part of Odette," Jane says cheerfully from behind her book.
Brandt fistbumps Ilsa and says, "Awesome! Good luck!"
"So… any gossip on the new student?" Ethan asks, trying to get the conversation back on track. Ilsa grins like a shark.
Jane cuts in"—if the price is right—"
"—we might be convinced to divulge information."
"You misers," Ethan grumbles. Really, he should've expected it. "Fine. what do you want?"
"Ethan, no—remember last time you made a deal with them? Don't fall for it again—" Brandt tries to warn, but his concern, and the reminder of theIncident is neither appreciated nor needed.
"That was one time!" Ethan protests, and turns back to Jane and Ilsa, "Anyway, what can I get for you lovely ladies?"
Jane's grin is downright sharklike. Scary. Ethan shivers in anticipation. "Well… word has it that you have a private stash of sweets—"
"Oh my god," Ethan exclaims, "you'll get sugar high!"
"Candy or no gossip, Hunt," Ilsa replies, a glint in her eyes, and Ethan knows this isn't going to end well, but—
He groans. Damnit. Ilsa knows him too well. "You drive a hard bargain, Faust. Fine. But if you destroy anything again, I'm not covering for you when the Secretary asks," he warns, opens his bag and digs through it until he sees what he's looking for.
"Here." He hands Ilsa a nondescript brown paper bag, "Use it wisely, young padawan."
"Oh my god, you nerd," Brandt mutters.
"Well it's not as if you didn't know already," Ethan fires back.
The rest of the day goes routinely, save for a sort of anticipatory buzz, an excitement palpable in the air. Even the birds seem to be holding their breath; the customary cheeping of the sparrows and the singing of the songbirds is absent, leaving the school seeming almost empty save for the pockets where the students congregate.
Finally, a bit after the last class of the day, the students start to disperse for tea, but Ms. Max, the Maths instructor, calls them back. "Students! Please, line up and follow me to the auditorium," she orders, and they murmur in confusion. "Yes, Lane, even you," she snaps when the boy starts to raise hand, "Come along, students—Headmaster Hunley has an announcement to make."
She leads them down the winding corridors. When they finally get to the auditorium, they're allowed to mill about and speak quietly, and Ethan makes a beeline for Brandt, Ilsa, Jane and Luther. "Do you know what the Secretary's going to talk about?" he asks.
"It's the transfer student," Jane whispers back, "he—" whatever she's going to say is interrupted by Hunley's voice. "Everyone, please quiet down!" The students go silent, and the Secretary says, "Thank you. I'd like to introduce our new student, Benji Dunn. I trust that you will make him feel welcome." The Secretary's voice brooks no argument. The students shift, and Ethan leans forward eager to catch sight of the new student.
The boy—he can't be any older than seventeen, but the way he carries himself speaks of a quiet regality, of deadly-sharp intelligence hidden behind the glasses-frames and clumsiness. A kindred soul.
He wears navy pants with red suspenders with uniform white spots over a grey-red button-down, and somehow manages to pull it off. Oh, who's he kidding, the new student is absolutely stunning .
"—are you paying attention, Hunt?" the Secretary's voice snaps him back to reality, and Ethan flashes a smile.
"Nope, sorry, can you say that again?"
The Secretary's eye twitches slightly, but before he can go off the rails, Brandt cuts in with, "Of course we can show Dunn around, sir." The Secretary grunts, but lets it go, and presently, the crowd disperses enough for them to make their way over to the new student.
A small smile-grimace tugs at Dunn's lips, and Ethan suspects he's the cause. A second later, he doubles over, clutching at his throbbing head, and glares at Ilsa through the pain. She shrugs and turns to the new student. "Sorry about him," she apologises, "he's always like that. If it ever gets out of hand, just give him a cuff around the ears. I'm Ilsa, by the way."
"Hey!" Ethan protests, but the interaction seems to have had the intended effect, because Dunn's eyes are crinkled at the edges (god, and Ethan thought he look good before ) and he says, in a soft, surprisingly low voice (and is that a hint of a British accent? Has Ethan died and gone to heaven?) "Pleased to meet you. I'm Benji—but you probably knew that."
Luther jabs him in the ribs, and Ethan realizes he's been staring at Dunn, whose hand is extended. "O—oh," he practically squeaks, shaking Dunn's hand, "I'm—Ethan. Ethan Hunt."
"Ethan," Dunn says, rolling the vowels, and graces him with a smile. "Pleased to meet you."
A few months later, Benji's (more or less) acclimated to his surroundings and routine. There is, however, one thing that refuses to bow before his optimism.
Benji flops down next to Ethan on the grass. The sky is overcast, but not in a way that threatens rain immediately. "Ugh," he groans, "I hate August Walker." Ethan makes a noncommittal hum, allowing Benji to continue his tirade. "I missed one— one!— step and the bastard's on me like a vulture!"
"So I take it you have Dance with him," Ethan rumbles, eyes closed. Benji wonders how the heck he knows that (which is...creepy. Yeah, that's definitely creepy) before he remembers that Ethan has Dance right after he does, so it stands to reason that Ethan would've run into Walker coming out of the classroom as he was on his way in.
(Ethan informed him of the fact that he has Dance right after Benji when they ran into each other on his way out of the classroom)
(Okay, maybe not run into , he may or may not have accidentally tripped on his way out, scrambling to get to his next class because he Ms. Komeda had had him stay back so she could lecture him, and Ethan had appeared out of nowhere and caught him before he face-planted on the ground—but that's beyond the point, alright?)
"Yes! And to make matters worse, Ms. Komeda assigned him as my partner! Can you believe it?" he complains, "I mean, I'm not happy about it either, but at least I don't loudly criticize how sloppy he is with his arms!"
"I take it that she's not going to partner you up with someone else?" Ethan questions, shifting slightly so that he can peer up at Benji.
Benji tsk s, "No, because apparently, my jumps aren't adequate, like, I know that, but instead of helping me with my jumps, she's forcing me to pair with Walker, who just criticizes me without showing me how to improve—and, until I can find someone willing to help me work on my jumps, I'm stuck with—with that rat bastard !" he exclaims heatedly, and Ethan raises his head.
"That's..." he pauses, "why don't you get someone to work on your jumps with you?" he asks.
Benji laughs, sharp. "Hah! As if anyone in my class would want to partner with— me !"
"What about people not in your class?" Ethan suggests, and Benji blinks.
"Huh. I—hadn't thought of that," he says, surprised.
"Exactly," Ethan claps his hand, "I'm sure that someone would love to help you—"
"Actually," Benji interrupts, propping himself up on his arm, "Ilsa is busy with the rehearsals, Luther and Brandt are—hmm, I think they're helping with the costumes, and Jane's busy with...well, she's busy," he says, lamely, "I don't really know anyone else."
"What about me?" Ethan asks, "I can help—in fact, Ms. Komeda is...well, I wouldn't say fond , exactly..." A smile twitches at the corner of Benji's lips, and Ethan finds himself unconsciously mimicking it. "Anyway, I could help, if you want."
Benji hesitates for a minute, and Ethan's heart sinks, ( I guess that's that, then— ) and then Benji says, softly, "Thank you, Ethan."
"O—of course," Ethan says, surprise leaking into his tone, "well, then, let's start."
" Now? " Benji squawks, and Ethan laughs. "Hey!" Benji glowers, but eventually, he joins in.
They're only on their second session , but Benji can already feel himself failing miserably; his legs are sore and they keep buckling when he lands (it reminds him of being younger; a stranger in what should be a familiar land, never fitting in, never enough, a crushing, all-encompassing sense of inadequacy— ). At least Ms. Komeda isn't forcing him to partner with Walker anymore, though Lane and his cronies still taunt him, using anything from his accent to his previous schooling.
( He dreams of roaring flames, licking and devouring everything around him. White powder flutters down from the blackened sky, coating everything else in a pure white, sharply juxtaposed to the fire. When he bends down to touch it, his hand comes back up coated in a thick layer of grey-white ash. )
"Adjust your leg like this," Ethan says, demonstrating. Benji does as told, makes the start, gets halfway through before his leg bends wrong and he falls over with a muffled cry of pain.
At least this time he can still feel his leg.
Ethan reaches a hand out to offer him help, but Benji just glares, pulls himself up and tamps down on the anger. "C'mon, let's give it another go—"
"I can't!" Benji snaps ( like rope that's been sawed at, two pieces clinging to each other to each other by the thinnest thread until it breaks—), "You don't understand—I can't , Ethan! You're a star dancer—you don't know what it feels like to—to try and try and try and keep failing !" Ethan just stands stark, still, face blank ( uncaring , so cold. They're all so cold, cold, indifferent, no one cares about me— ). "Look at me, asshole! You don't—you don't know so stop telling me to just keep trying ! I am trying—I'm trying my hardest, Ethan!"
Calmly, Ethan meets his eyes. "Are you done, Mr. Dunn?" The pun rings hollow, but Benji flushes in embarrassment. "I do know, Benji—I didn't start off with dance. I didn't even consider it an option. And when I started, I was leagues behind everyone else. I almost started too late–I've had to practice four times harder than everyone else. Trust me, Benji, I know what it feels like to fail." His tone is filled with a puzzling, gentle fierceness. "And the important thing is that you pick yourself up and try again, because one day, you will succeed. You've got enormous potential, Benji. And you will succeed."
Benji stares at the floor, humbled. "I—thanks, Ethan," he says, quietly, flushing with shame and embarrassment, cheeks hot. "I'm sorry I snapped at you."
"Hey, no harm, no foul, right?" Ethan brushes off, grinning, "C'mon, let's give it one more shot."
Almost unconsciously, Benji grins back, stomach twisting in—what? Nervousness? No, he must just be dehydrated. "I'm gonna need to get a drink before we go at it again," Benji warns, rooting through his bag.
"Sure, go ahead," Ethan replies, "it wouldn't do for you to faint now, would it?"
Benji rolls his eyes, taking slow, steady gulps, and caps his water bottle, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and says, determined, "Okay, let's try this again."
(It isn't perfect; far from it—he barely lands the jump properly. But despite that, he can taste victory.)
The muscles in Benji's legs ache (even though, after a year of jumps practice with Ethan should've accustomed him to the sensation, if nothing else) when he drags himself out of bed (read: Ethan plays Emperor's New Clothes in his ear at the highest volume), and stumbles into his clothes, rubbing his eyes blearily. He reaches blindly for his glasses and scowls darkly when they aren't where he left them. Ethan laughs at him, ( sharp like a blade— no) and Benji mutters less-than-polite sentiments under his breath, searching the room.
"Aw, thank you!" Ethan exclaims brightly, hand over his heart. In his other hand, Benji spies the dark frames of his glasses before he shifts and they're hidden behind his back. "Never have I ever received such compliments!"
"Shut up," Benji says, reaching for his glasses. Sadly, Ethan is just a bit quicker than him. "Give me my glasses," Benji says, softly, an edge to his tone. "Now."
For a second, Ethan hesitates, as if about to concede, but the next second he's bolting out the door and down the hallway, and Benji gives (reluctant) chase. Finally, by sheer dumb luck, Ethan trips and Benji dives after him, grabbing the glasses from where they've fallen on the ground, clutching them carefully. Ethan stares after them mournfully as he tries to get up only to send Benji, who's half-sprawled atop him, to the ground and send the glasses skittering across the carpet again.
"Ethan," Benji warns, "don't you—!" But it's too late; Ethan grabs the glasses and takes off again, and Benji resigns himself to his fate.
It's only natural; that's what Benji tells himself. Really, he should've expected it; from what he knows, most of the students have had the same...issue , and they all got over it sooner or later, didn't they? Yes, it's just a passing thing. It'll pass sooner or later.
( It'll pass .)
He's not quite sure who he's trying to convince. But the fact that Benji is hyper-aware of the weight of Ethan's words in the air, the confidence he exudes, the way he casually brushes against Benji, bumps his shoulder, is undeniable, inimitable.
( Just a passing infatuation , he tells himself; whether that's because it's true or because he needs it to be true—doesn't know how to function if itisn't true...)
Which, in that vein: there's Ethan, laughing at something that Brandt just said, sliding into the seat next to Benji, (Luther's) fedora perched atop his head, eyes twinkling with a carefree, childish excitement and joy. A sly smile creeps across Benji's lips, and he reaches forward, snatching the hat off of Ethan's hair, leaving him smug at the adorably confused expression that quickly turns to a pout.
(Maybe later , then, given the way things are progressing; though, in this case, a better term would be falling , like Alice down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.)
"Hey!" Ethan protests, reaching for his fedora in vain, because even when he stands on his tip-toes he can't reach where Benji is holding the hat above his head. (Because Ethan is fucking short . Like, short-short .) "Give it back!"
"Make me," Benji challenges, smirking.
( What are you doing?! screams the logical side of him, quickly drowned out by the other half chanting do it do it do it! )
Ethan lets out a huff, seemingly having accepted defeat, and Benji lowers his guard fractionally.
Big mistake. (Really, though, he doesn't know why he thought anything else would happen.)
Ethan moves almost too quickly to comprehend, and launches himself at Benji, tackling him to the ground, because Ethan may be small, but he's fast, and that means momentum. "Ha!" Ethan crows, and sits up, prying the fedora out of Benji's hands.
He barely notices, though, because in the position they're in, Ethan's practically straddling him, and he can feel the blush rising in his cheeks, turning the tips of his ears a fiery red. He suddenly understands why people say they wish the ground would open up and swallow them.
Thankfully, though, Ethan doesn't notice, and climbs off of Benji, cradling the fedora like a baby and cooing at it, which, okay. Weird.
Later, Benji flops onto his bed, ignoring Luther's muttered, "And they say I'm dramatic." Well, actually, just ignoring Luther in general, a skill he's developed over the last two years of sharing a dorm with him.
"Why," Benji moans, "why me? Why Ethan ?" Which, actually, sounds pathetic. In his defence, he's not exactly equipped to deal with...well, Ethan .
"Sorry, what?" Luther asks, "can you translate that into English, please? Explain what you're talking about?"
There's a second of abject terror before Benji reminds himself that there's no reason to be afraid of telling Luther. "I… I have a crush on Ethan," he admits, quietly. Saying it out loud seems to make it real, puts a weight behind the words he's only ever thought inside his head, and it feels exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
"Oh," Lether says, playing with the curtain tassels, "is that it? I thought you were going to confess to murder or something."
"What?" He's not sure if the stunned expression on his face transfers into his tone properly. He hopes it does, because that anyone else is aware is news to him.
Luther laughs, shaking his head. "You—you genuinely thought no one knew?"
(Well, yeah, a bit—okay, maybe not; he hasn't exactly been inconspicuous , has he?)
"Well, no," Benji says, a touch defensively, "I thought I was doing a pretty good job of not letting it show!"
"Ha! As if! You blush as red as a tomato whenever Ethan does anything around you, and you practically trip over yourself to trail behind him like an over-excited puppy," Luther scoffs.
"Okay, it's not that bad, is it?" The look Luther shoots him, an eyebrow raised skeptically, removes the assumption immediately.
Benji puts his face in his hands, trying to hide the embarrassed blush creeping over his skin. "Hey, man, it's okay—practically everyone's had a crush on Ethan at some point," Luther comforts, patting his shoulder awkwardly. "You'll get over it eventually."
"That's the problem , Luther. I've had a crush on him for what—over a year and a half," Benji says miserably, "it hasn't gone away."
Luther makes a sympathetic humming noise, and sits down next to him. "Well..." he trails off.
"It's fine," Benji waves off, "it's not as if he's noticed, so I can't be that bad at hiding it, can I? I mean, so long as I keep it under control, it'll go away eventually; and I don't want to make it awkward for him–I mean, imagine that, telling your straight best friend that you're crushing on him? Yeah, no."
Luther shoots him a puzzled look and asks, "What? No, Benji, Eth—" He's cut off by someone calling his name, and Benji buries his head under his pillow and tries to disassociate from his feelings.
They're cooped up in Brandt and Ethan's room, the ceiling above them sloped, a skylight propped open partially, stars like tiny pinpricks of white against the velvety black of the sky, unusually unobscured—the moon is new and but a sliver, and the clouds, usually giving the sky a puffy grey look are nonexistent, the candles around the room the only source of light. A single, mostly empty bottle of cherry brandy rests in front of Brandt, who takes a sip from it.
The room sways slightly when Brandt speaks, the faint light throwing shadows that move int Benji's peripheral vision. "'Mmkay, who wants—who wants to play uh, wait, Luther, what do you play when you're drunk with friends?" Brandt questions, a slight slur to his voice.
"Brandt, this is not a good idea. you've drunk too much and you're gonna regret it tomorrow—" Luther warns. He's possibly the only one of them not tipsy; in celebration of Benji's eighteenth birthday—he's a whole year younger than the youngest of them, Ethan—Ilsa conspired with Brandt, Luther, and Ethan to get him drunk. Though he's not certain he'll be very happy in the morning, the brandy's given him a pleasant tingle—he feels a bit like he could conquer the world.
"No no, let's play—wait, Ethan, what should we play?" he cuts in, more reckless than usual; normally, he'd never do so, but the alcohol's cut the hesitation down so much that it's practically nonexistent.
"Well," Ethan taps his fingers against the floorboards lazily, expression thoughtful, "there's Cards against Humanity with shots, or, if you're nostalgic, there's spin the bottle, truth or dare, or seven minutes in heaven—"
"Nope nope nope and nope!" Benji exclaims, mind skittering away from the suggestion. "I have bad memories of playing seven minutes in heaven when I was like fourteen. They locked Alex and I in a closet and left us in there for the night." Which would've been fine if Alex was female, but needless to say, the rest of the group had decided to have a lark and lock him in a closet with his crush. Who was Alexander. Yeah, that was fun, trying to explain why his voice kept cracking and stuttering.
"Yikes," says Brandt, trying to give him a consolatory pat on the knee, misses, and practically topples over, a vaguely confused look on his face.
"Okay, so we're down to truth or dare and spin the bottle—" Ethan rejoins, only to be cut off by Luther.
"Truth or dare," he says, firmly, "we choose the victim—erm, players by spinning the bottle."
"Sounds good," Benji confirms, relief washing over him; he really, really doesn't fancy playing spin the bottle, for various reasons.
Brandt clears his throat. "Just to make sure—nothing we do gets out of this room, yeah?"
"Yeah," Benji choruses along with Ethan and Luther. Thank goodness.
Brandt raises his hands defensively. "Right. okay. just checking. I'll go first." He chugs the rest of the brandy and sets it on the floor; the bottle scratches across the floorboards, spinning, spinning—and finally stopping on Ethan.
Brandt's grin is practically shark-like. "Truth or dare," he snickers.
"Dare—no, nope. Truth," Ethan backtracks, and Brandt pouts.
" Fine ," he whines, "then… Do you like anyone?"
"Basic," Luther huffs.
"Really?" Benji heckles, "That's what you ask? You could ask him anything and you ask him if he has a crush?
"Hey, I can ask anything I want!" Brandt defends, indignant.
Luther shoots back a witty comment, and in the commotion, Benji almost misses Ethan's quiet, "Yes."
"Really?" Luther's attention snaps back to Ethan. "Who is it, Ethan?"
"Yeah, who is it?" Brandt chimes in.
"Next," Ethan says, the tips of his ears fiery red. "Next, next, next!" Reluctantly, Brandt passes the bottle to him, and Ethan spins it quickly.
"Luther!" Ethan says in a sing-song voice, "Truth or dare?"
Luther sighs. "I'm gonna regret this either way, aren't I?"
"Probably," Ethan acknowledges, grinning, previous embarrassment apparently evaporating.
"Fine," Luther sighs again, resigned to his fate. "Truth."
"Wimp," Ethan sniffs.
"No, I just care for my sanity," Luther shoots back, which, fair . "What's your question?"
"Hmm," Ethan hums, "Okay—if you were to kill someone, how would you do it, and why?"
"What the heck , Ethan?!" Brandt and Benji exclaim in tandem. Ethan shushes them.
"If I did kill someone, it would probably be because they killed a family member or were just plain rude. I'd make sure i had an alibi—probably an out of town event, which I'd post about and talk about for quite a while beforehand, and I'd leave in a car, go a few miles out of town and catch a bus back; then I'd invite the person over for dinner at my place and kill them swiftly—poison their drink or food. I'd then put on gloves and cut them up, chop off the fingers so that I couldn't be discovered as the perp from DNA under the fingernails, after which I would put each limb in a garbage bag and put all of the bags in a chest freezer. After that, I would, over the course of multiple weeks, dump the body into a river, one piece at a time." Luther's in-depth answer is… frighteningly well thought-out and... Yeah. Frightening.
"Well, now I know who's bad side not to get on—don't smile at me like that, you look fucking terrifying," Brandt hisses. Ethan hides a laugh behind his hand.
"Right, it's..." Benji takes a moment to figure out who's turn it is. "Luther's turn."
"Good. Right." Luther sighs. Again. He seems to be doing a lot of that lately. Benji can't think of why. The bottle slows until finally, it stops on...
"Truth or dare," Luther says.
"Um, dare?" Benji questions, nervously. "I'm going to regret this, aren't I?"
Luther's grin is terrifying, and Benji starts to fidget in nervous anticipation.
"I dare you to… kiss Ethan."
What?! Benji shrieks internally.
Externally, though, he keeps it together well. "Really? And you though Brandt's question was basic?"
Ethan, on the other looks—annoyed? Disgusted? Whatever it is, it makes his stomach sink, and he swallows. "Right," Ethan says, awkwardly, "Okay. Let's just..."
Ethan leans in, and Benji remains frozen like a deer caught in the headlights. Ethan's lips brush against his lightly, tentatively, and Benji's brain flatlines before rebooting and he remembers that Ethan's only doing this because of a dare—a fucking dare .
He jolts, suddenly, scrambling away from the other, and chokes out, "I—I have to—go!"
"Wait, Benji—!" Ethan calls after him, but he's already gone, mind spinning, shame crashing against the walls of his heart for putting Ethan in a situation he's uncomfortable with, thinks, It was a dare, Ethan only kissed me because Luther dared him to.
Just a dare.
"Hey, Benji, you remember what's happening?" Brandt asks as he peeks at Benji's planner, laid out on the grass and marked up with events and assignments.
"No, why?" Benji questions absentmindedly, "What is it?"
"Ilsa's play? Swan Lake, remember?" Brandt prompts, and Benji pauses.
"Oh. Yeah," he says, then, realizes, with a start, that he doesn't have that marked down. Whoops. "Thanks for the reminder." He flips a few pages ahead, to December, and marks it down.
( It's almost been two and a half years since he got here.)
" Plus there's an after-party! With alcohol!" Brandt sings, trying to get him to smile a bit.
"Right," Benji mutters, halfheartedly, "Yeah. Sounds good.
"Hey, cheer up—I know your relationship with Ethan isn't so great, but hey! He's thinking about leaving after the after-party." Brandt grins, expecting Benji to be—happy, or excited or whatever, but—
"What?" Benji whips his head around so quickly that he's fairly certain he gives himself whiplash.
"Yeah—I figured you'd probably want to know; though it'd take a load off of your shoulders," Brandt grins, clapping him on the shoulder, fully unaware of Benji's inner turmoil.
"...Yeah." He smiles, weakly, "Thanks for telling me, Brandt."
Really, it's probably for the best—it's not like they've talked recently, or like they're close anymore. When Ethan leaves, his heart will mend, and he'll move on.
(It doesn't stop him feeling hollow.)
Benji hasn't seen Ethan in months. Well. He's seen him, in the loosest sense of the word—he catches sight of the other during sessions, and when Ethan walks down the halls to knock on a door, hangs in halfway, one leg up, supported only by a hand on the doorframe, and flashes the girl inside ( her name is Julia Ilsa tells him, pity and sorrow mingling in her eyes) his brightest, most stunning smile no doubt.
Is he bitter about it? Yes. Is he surprised? Not at all.
There's always been, since day one, a lingering doubt. A niggling feeling. A thought clawing at the base of his brain, whispering, you'll never be enough . And, frankly, it's true—Benji is under no illusions—he's aware that he's a nerd, he's awkward and clumsy, trips over his words and his legs in equal measure (except when he dances, because dancing is like flying, only without the risk of falling).
(And yet somehow he managed to fall anyway and if that isn't a metaphor for his life he doesn't know what is.)
So no, he's not surprised that Ethan, the Ethan Hunt, has gotten bored of him (maybe a selfish part of him wishes that would never happen but it did and he's not surprised, honest ). And yeah, he had honestly thought that—screw that, he had hoped— Ethan would have the decency to say it to his face.
He's—he's fine with it. Really.
(He does not feel like collapsing and screaming. He doesn't.)
He stares out at the horizon, thinks about the fact that he's standing on a balcony outside of a room where there are festivities for Ethan's going-away going on and he just—
It hurts, okay? It fucking hurts. (And yeah, maybe he is smashingly drunk and moping. So what?)
The whiskey burns his throat (he tosses the four fingers back in one go but he can't stop because it's the only thing at the moment stopping him crying) and he grimaces. There's the sound of footsteps, and he turns halfway, blinks.
Ethan Hunt is standing there, four paces away, dressed to the nines, and—
"Hello, Ethan ," Benji sneers, bitterness making it sound like a vile insult. He sees the way Ethan stops in shock, recoils. Good. Maybe that'll show Ethan how he feels.
Ethan opens his mouth, says, "I—"
Benji pours himself another measure of whiskey, the clinking of glass-on-glass stops Ethan. He tosses back the liquid, says, sharply, "No. Don't say anything. Just—don't."
"Benji—please, Benji, what did I do? I know you hate me but—please, just tell me what I did. I'll leave forever—you'll never see me again, I promise. Please, Benji—"
Benji's laugh is bitter, sharp, more of a bark. "See? There you go again, pretending you don't know and I—I hate it! I hate that—that—that I'll keep running after you even though you're just using me—that no matter what you do to me, I'll keep following after you—"
The confusion in Ethan's voice is so real it's almost convincing and that's what kills Benji, that he says, eyes wide, "I—what are you talking about, Benji?" God. God . It fucking hurts , like a scimitar to the heart, freezes him to the bone, and he feels this heart crack and shatters again.
"You—you left me, Ethan! You didn't even have the decency to say that you got bored of me, or that I was making you uncomfortable with my feelings! you just left!" Benji snaps, hand tightening around his glass. And, yeah, maybe it's a bit dramatic, but Benji is done , okay?
There surprise on Ethan's face. "Oh—Benji. That's—that's not—I thought that I was the one making you uncomfortable with my flirting. I—you were just ignoring me to be polite—" And there's that damned acting again. Maybe in another life, Ethan could be an actor or a super-spy. And the thing is, it's so convincing . Benji doesn't want to believe him, he does, but—
It's that last bit that stops him. "You were flirting ? with me ? Why—I'm just Benji Dunn—you're Ethan bloody Hunt…why would you ever be interested in me?" And—he hopes it's true. God, he hopes it's true—has hoped it's true, heart aching at the idea, the knowledge that Ethan won't ever return his feelings. And if—if it turns out that Ethan is just playing him, a sick game of cat and mouse, cannibal and FBI agent, Benji's not sure what he'll do. How he'll feel.
Ethan's silence is—is—
Benji can't take it.
He pushes past Ethan, the glass and decanter hit the ground (and shatter, shatter, shatter, shatter—)
He turns, (why does it feel so slow) faces Ethan (for the last time, perhaps?). The pain on Ethan's face as he whispers,
"What for?" (that's the question, isn't it, has always been?)
A breath passes, and Benji thinks, That's it. That's it.
Then. "For—for not making it—this. I—god," Ethan pauses, takes a breath. "I'm sorry for not making it crystal clear that I like you. That I like-like you."
Oh. Oh. Oh .
"Oh," Benji utters it softly, the syllable falling from his lips like a petal, soft and beautiful. And—oh. Oh, oh, oh. They hug tightly, cling to each other like their the other's lifeline. Desperate (And if Benji nuzzles into the shorter dancer's neck and Ethan presses his lips to the top of Benji's head, that's for them to know).
Ethan pulls back, and Benji barely stops himself from whining at the sudden loss of warmth, but Ethan's megawatt smile makes him melt on the inside; "May I trouble you for a dance?" Ethan asks, softly.
"Y—yeah, sure," Benji stutters, a tentative smile pulling at his lips, the tears in his eyes blurring his vision slightly.
"Hey, hey," Ethan says, removes Benji's glasses carefully and wipes Benji's tears away with his thumb. The gesture makes a laugh bubble up in Benji. "You alright?"
"Yeah," Benji grins, "yeah, I'm fantastic. You said something about a dance?"
Ethan offers his arm, despite being shorter, and Benji takes it, allowing Ethan to lead him inside.
Ilsa catches his eye on the way in, winking, and Benji blushes to the roots of his hair, and Ethan grins. "Shut up and dance with me," Benji growls.
"As you wish," Ethan shoots back, and debates between cuffing him and kissing him, and, apparently, Ethan's thinking similarly, because in the next second, their lips clash together—sloppily, and they break apart, laughing.
It's going to be a good night.