A/N: This was originally an idea set forth by Alex Kade, so the first paragraph is hers. However, I took it and ran with it as you can see, so everything else is mine. Thanks to Alex not only for the idea, but the fantabulous Beta as well. It's basically thanks to her I'm writing the most I've ever done in my life, and it's fun as hell.
There were missions - putting themselves at risk for the good of mankind (and a decent paycheck) - and then there were responsibilities. Brandt and Benji finding themselves stranded on a rooftop in the middle of a flash flood was the result of one such responsibility. As Brandt shivered against the rising wind and rain, claw marks from an ungrateful feline burning his chest, he began to seriously question the sanity of his team (himself, included), and their ability to gauge what truly fell under their realm of "responsibility." After all, this wasn't the first predicament they had gotten themselves into over something as seemingly trivial as cat.
At first, it seemed a trivial thing, something they could do easily in a minute on their way to safety. Benji had spotted the cat in the window of the abandoned home. At first, Brandt hadn't wanted to stop. The town had already evacuated, and the water was already up to their waists. Wind and rain pelted them, and both were hugging their waterlogged jackets around themselves. Jane and Ethan were on the other side of town, being kept out by Argentinian guards for their own safety. It had fallen to the other members to take their surveillance equipment, or destroy what they couldn't carry.
"We can't just leave it there!" Benji had insisted. "It's trapped!" Brandt had stood in the flooded street, looking at the calico as it ran back and forth in front of its second story window, desperately clawing at the screen, yowling loudly. It knew it was trapped. Someone had left it behind.
"Fast, let's go fast," Brandt had finally relented. Benji nodded, and they splashed their way into the house.
Benji was holding the metal briefcases that had the equipment they managed to salvage, so Brand immediately went after the cat. It stood, frozen on the windowsill, watching as Brandt approached, speaking in a soft tone, hands out. Benji watched anxiously. "Easy now, kitty, we're gonna get you outta here." The cat leaned its nose towards Brandt's outstretched hand, sniffing it. Brandt rubbed one finger over its head. "That's right…" he moved to pick it up and that's when all hell broke loose.
With a yowl, the cat turned around and sank its teeth into Brandt's thumb. "Shit!" he shouted, ignoring the bite and grabbing the cat around the middle with both hands. The cat snarled and twisted back and forth, and Brandt pulled it close to his chest to keep it from struggling. However, his jacket was open and the cat made quick work of the shirt he had on under it, ripping its claws through Brandt's chest, still yowling madly. "Christ, Benji, do something!" he shouted over the angry feline cries.
Benji dropped the equipment he was holding and moved to take the cat from Brandt's outstretched hands. As soon as the transfer was made, the cat calmed down, and Benji held it against his chest, supporting it from underneath with one arm, and gently stroking its back. Brandt touched his chest, hissing as he did so, and then turned glaring eyes on the cat when it began to purr from Benji's arms. The tech gave his friend an apologetic look. "Let's uh…just leave then."
Brandt nodded, and stood up to move back towards the stairway. He made the first few steps down before noticing the water was much higher than when they came in. He jumped to the landing. The water was now up to his knees, and much to his fear, it was almost flooding the first floor, leaving only a few inches between the surface and the doorframe. "Shit, Benji!" he shouted.
"What?" Brandt looked upwards at the other man who appeared at the top of the stairwell, eyes widening in realization and fear that Brandt could only assume mirrored his own.
The water itself was a deep brown, the result of tons of spill off and soil from the flooding river around the town. Even in the living room it swirled madly, and Brandt could just catch the site of it outside rushing past them, carrying trees, cars and poles along with it. They were truly screwed now.
"The roof! The roof, we can climb to the roof! Signal a…I dunno, a chopper, they'll be searching!" Benji rambled, moving back towards the window. Brandt followed him, and kicked out the window's screen. It fell into a raging river that was only a few feet below them.
"We're going to have to climb," he muttered. Benji, with some difficulty since he was still holding the cat, zipped up his jacket around the feline so his arms could be free with the cat secure. Any other time Brandt would have laughed, but since their lives were on the line now because of the cat, he didn't say anything. The cat itself poked its head out of the top of Benji's jacket to watch what would happen.
Brandt looked down at the equipment in his hands, knowing the briefcases wouldn't make it at this point. "Anything you need that's absolutely essential in here?" he asked Benji.
Benji opened his mouth, and for a moment Brandt thought he was about to argue. But the cat in his jacket mewed softly, and Benji abruptly shook his head. "Good," Brandt said before tossing the briefcases out the window into the raging river below. "You first, I'll boost you up."
Benji moved to the window, standing on the ledge before ducking out into the open air. He slowly turned around, putting his hands on the overhanging roof as he did so. "Ok, I got the roof," he said. Brandt locked his hands together and then touched them to Benji's knee.
"Put your foot here," he called up. Benji did so, and with a grunt, Brandt lifted him another foot and a half upwards.
"Woah!" The tech scrambled for purchase enough so that he could pull himself up without crushing the cat between his body and the roof top. Brandt, supporting his body weight, gritted out, "Hurry up!" Finally the pressure eased as Benji pulled himself up. Brandt wasted no time, moving to the window and standing in it. He turned around, placing his hands on the roof as well. He looked up seeing a cat face staring down at him, Benji's head immediately above it. He glared at the cat again.
"Back up," he growled. Benji did so. With a heave, Brandt launched himself from the windowsill, gaining enough momentum to get his chest onto the rooftop. The shingles were not gentle against his already scratched chest, and he growled again as his legs swung beneath him in the open air. But then Benji was there, pulling him up, and he swung one leg over the rooftop as the tech pulled him a few more inches to safety. He lay there for a moment, collecting himself, and starting to shiver as the wind and rain beat down on them.
The cat purred on.
So here they were, no shelter, no cover, and no rescue in sight, as the water rose. It was then that Brandt made the pledge to himself that not only was he going to get his team to safety, but that goddamn cat as well. No creature deserved to die like this. He laughed loudly, which attracted a startled laugh from Benji. "Either you're starting to lose it for real, or it's hypothermia," Benji said.
Brandt ignored him. "You know, I'm glad we saved this cat. We might die because of it, but it felt good, right?" He laughed again. "Hell, maybe the cat saved us! If we had still been on the street, we might not have found another house to get into. I guess it's good kharma."
"Are you feeling ok?"
Brandt pulled his jacket closer. "No, Benji, I'm not ok. We're about to die a painful death, with no hope in sight, because of a cat. Fuck!" The last curse was shouted to the wind.
The now soaking wet cat mewed pitifully in agreement.
The water was now halfway up the second floor. More cars were starting to rush by, as well as trees, parts of other houses, and everything in between. The cat was mewing quietly as Benji held the drenched animal to his chest. Brandt reached over and gave its head a scratch and surprisingly, the cat leaned into it and did not bite him. "Oh, now you're apologetic," he mumbled. A moment late he added a quiet "I'm sorry."
Benji turned his head from the sky to look at his teammate. "What? Why?"
"For this. For everything." He sank his head between his knees and gestured vaguely to the rooftop they were sitting on with one hand. Benji couldn't take it anymore. He had been almost silent since this rescue began, because he had figured Brandt blamed him for their soon-to-be near death experience. Well, that might not have been the case, but no way was he letting his friend go down feeling like he had another failure on his conscious.
"Now listen here," he blurted. Somewhat alarmed by Benji's tone, Brandt met his gaze, both men trying not to let their teeth chatter or the shivers that wracked their bodies become too evident. "This is not your fault. I don't know why in the world you would think that, except that you're a guilt-ridden man who thinks everything is his fault. You can't control the weather, William, nor the circumstances we are now finding ourselves in, and you certainly can't blame yourself for having to save an animal. Hell, if it's anyone's fault, it's mine for seeing the cat in the first place." He looked away for a minute to compose himself before looking back at Brandt angrily. "And if you're going to be so…so angst-ridden in our final moments, I'm not talking to you." With that, he turned around on the roof, his back now to the analyst.
For a moment, Brandt just sat there, surprise on his face. Then Benji's words seemed to fully settle on his brain. "I don't think…everything's my fault," he argued quietly, somewhat offended.
Benji turned around and pretended to look thoughtful for a moment. "Well, yes, you do. But this one's not." Benji pulled the cat closer as a shiver wracked his body particularly hard.
"Benji, this isn't your fault, you know. We have…responsibilities. If I had been by myself, I would have done the same thing." He tried to smile around his teeth chattering, but did such a bad job, Benji laughed. He abruptly stopped though, cocking his head to one side. "What is it?" Brandt asked.
"I think…I hear a chopper!" he stood up abruptly, but the slick shingles combined with the moving cat in his jacket put him off balance, and he slipped. He moved in mid-air landing on his back so as not to injure the cat, and starting sliding towards the edge of the roof. Brandt dove after him, his chest once again taking a beating and grabbed Benji's forearm, spreading his legs and other arm to try and slow their descent.
The water was only about a foot under the roof ledge now, and Benji's lower half hit it as he clasped onto Brandt's outstretched arm with his other hand. The cat was yowling furiously, wiggling around in his jacket, which was half in, half out of the water. "Try and…try and keep his head above water!" Benji shouted.
Brandt exhaled sharply through his teeth, reaching down with his other hand to grab Benji's. "Just…climb up!" he gritted out. The current was strong, and it was all Brandt could do to keep Benji from being ripped out of his grasp. "The cat's…fuckin' fine!" Benji began inching his grip up Brandt's arms ever so slowly, trying to speak words of comfort to the cat despite his fear and physical shaking. Brandt's arms and chest burned, but as Benji climbed higher he was able to slowly maneuver his legs underneath him so he was in a kneeling position and could use the extra leg strength to pull Benji out.
Benji finally was able to make it high enough that he could let go of one of Brandt's arms and push himself the rest of the way. The drenched cat in his jacket was now shaking uncontrollably, not making any noises. He was just about to pull himself up when something behind Brandt caught his eye, coming downstream towards them and fast.
"T-tree!" he shouted.
Brandt panted out a tired "What?" before turning around-
-and getting a face full of branch for his troubles.
The momentum knocked him off the roof, but Benji still had a grip on his arm as he clutched to the house and his friend for dear life. "William!" he screamed, as his dazed friend couldn't seem to keep his head above water. Benji had his torso on the roof and the cat had moved to the backside of his jacket. Thankfully, the cat had that foresight, or it would have been a pancake. The full weight of his friend plus the current was draining the little strength he had left, but with a heave and a grunt, he managed to swing one leg onto the rooftop. "Brandt!" he screamed again.
Brandt was aware of a fierce pressure on his arm that was almost crushing. He spluttered again and tried to use his arm push himself up towards the surface. His head erupted into the air and he took in a huge lungful before getting another face full of water and coughing. A new burning feeling in his face now matched the ones in his chest and arms. " 'm…ok…" he coughed to Benji.
Benji, now sure his friend was aware enough he wouldn't drown, started pulling Brandt towards him. Brandt helped what little he could, though his kicks did almost nothing against the current. Finally Brandt could clutch at the rooftop. "You got it?" Benji shouted. Brandt nodded weakly and Benji let go, pulling himself the rest of the way onto the roof. He then swung around to face Brandt again, still on his stomach, and began pulling the analyst up. He winced at the angry red welts that now covered his friend's face, but he seemed to be able to see well enough that, with Benji's help, he could pull himself up the rest of the way. They collapsed together, Brandt coughing weekly, and both breathing heavily.
"I am…moving to Tunisia," Brandt whispered, but Benji still heard him and silently agreed. One Benji's breathing had slowed a little, he remembered the original reason for their unfortunate swim. He stood up, slowly this time, and searched the skies, listening. He heard a feint thwup, thwup and his head swiveled trying to locate the source.
A helicopter appeared around the edge of the hill about a mile away, and Benji grinned ecstatically. "Thank God!" he shouted. The cat crawled around in his jacket, poking its head out again. Brandt got to his knees, and both started waving their arms. It seemed the helicopter saw them, as it made a beeline for the house. The water was starting to lick at the edges of the rooftop now, so it wasn't a moment too soon. As it came nearer, along with the Argentinian National Guard, they saw a familiar face grinning down at them. It was Ethan.
Two men dropped out of the chopper with extra harnesses, and wasted no time in strapping Benji and Brandt up. They seemed a little confused at first about what to do with the cat, but Benji assured them he'd hold on to it. As they were being pulled into the chopper, Brandt finally let exhaustion overtake him, allowing himself to be manhandled in and on the floor. His jacket and shirt were removed and he was covered with a blanket, sitting next to Benji who was getting a similar treatment. He held the cat underneath the blanket, where it mewed quietly again.
Ethan leaned forward. "So, your new friend?" he asked in a loud voice to be heard over the rotors. "is that why we found you on a rooftop?"
Benji grinned widely. "Yup!"
"That's what you get for trying to be a responsible citizen," Brandt mumbled.
"What?" Benji hollered back. The cat took that moment to peep out from under Benji's blanket, then dashed underneath Brandt's. Brandt opened his eyes, surprised, before clutching the cat tightly to keep it from running around. It gave a low purr before settling into his lap. Brandt leaned his head back, oddly content for the time being and finally feeling justified in this whole affair.
"Just part of the job."