Chapter 8

Beads of sweat formed along Benji's eyebrows as he watched smoke fill the room, helpless to escape. Having been knocked to the ground gave him a little more access to oxygen, but at this point Benji wasn't sure if that was fortunate or not. The extra time to breathe could either get him rescued or lead to a longer death.

Rescue, Benji, rescue. Not death. Don't think that way. He prayed the team had a chance to stop the delivery before Pendergast could get to it.

By now the smoke permeated the room and drifted to the floor. Benji took slow, shallow breaths to avoid the fumes. His eyes stung. Within a few minutes the smoke had reached his nose and now he had no choice but to breathe it in. It burned in his chest and he coughed.

Please Will. Benji thought as his vision blurred. Hurry.

He was vaguely aware of someone calling his name and the door crashing as everything went black.

Brandt charged out of the van with Jane and Ethan following closely. Marlow took tentative steps out of the van and struggled to catch up. The overgrown grass along the countryside road was slippery from the rain, and Brandt nearly slipped as he rushed towards the followers surrounding Marlow's car. He managed to take out two of them before they were spotted.

Several followers had broken the windows. They pulled two containers out of Marlow's car and raced for the water tower.

Brandt glanced around the landscape and saw a number of the followers were running from a nearby church. There was smoke billowing out of one of its windows, just below the belfry.

Behind him, Jane had tackled an oncoming follower and held a tight grip around his neck. "Your headquarters. Where is it?" she demanded as she squeezed her hold.

"The…church…there," the follower replied weakly and pointed.

Jane and Ethan turned to Brandt.

"Get Benji," Ethan commanded as he and Jane pursued the followers.

Brandt immediately ran towards the church. He threw the door open, keeping his gun drawn as he raced through the abandoned pews.

He ducked behind the pulpit as the sound of footsteps resounded along a stairwell in the back of the platform. When a follower appeared, he fired. The man yelped in pain as he went down, clutching his leg.

Brandt paused a moment longer. He didn't hear any more footsteps, and ran up the stairwell. The air was growing warmer, and he could smell smoke as he reached the second story.

"Benji?" Brandt yelled. He saw the door to the smoke-filled room. "Jesus."

The door was locked. Brandt prayed he wasn't too late. He knew Benji had to be in there. "Benji, hold on!" He kicked furiously at the center of the wooden door. By the seventh kick, the door splintered open and Brandt ran in, holding his breath to avoid inhaling the smoke.

His eyes watered and he could barely see. Staying close to the ground, he felt around with his hands until he groped what felt like the leg of a chair. He reached further, his fingertips brushing against two bound hands and a bandaged wrist.

Brandt pulled the chair up, feeling Benji's weight against it. He dragged Benji and the chair out of the room and away from the smoke. Once out, Brandt finally got a good look at Benji. His heart broke.

Benji's eyes were closed. His face, hair, and shoulders were dusted with soot and ash. Brandt could see a prominent bruise over his eye, and his blood-streaked clothing was ripped in several places.

"Benji! Benji!" Brandt knelt beside the chair, placing two fingers against Benji's throat. The pulse was barely detectable, but it was there. He ripped the rags that were holding Benji's ankles and hands together, catching Benji as his limp figure slid off the chair.

"Benji…please, wake up," Brandt pleaded as he cradled the younger agent in his arms. "Come on." He tapped Benji's cheek, but the gesture didn't rouse him.

Smoke was beginning to filter through the open door. Brandt looked up to the ceiling. If he could get Benji up to the belfry, the cool air and rain might revive him. He scooped Benji up and ran up the steps, throwing the top door open as he reached the church roof.

He settled Benji on the ground, propping him up against the stone wall. The rain washed some of the soot and ash from his face and hair.

"Benji, come on," Brandt whispered as he grasped Benji's hands in his own. "Please." He gave Benji's hands a quick, gentle shake. Benji remained unresponsive.

Desperate, Brandt pried Benji's lips apart and placed his mouth over the younger agent's, blowing air into his mouth. "Wake up, Benji, wake up!" He cried between breaths. He pulled away for a moment and pumped his hands against Benji's chest. Tears were clouding his vision as his attempts proved fruitless. He couldn't lose Benji, not when he'd just realized how much he meant to him.

Ethan sprinted towards the water tower, hoping to catch the followers who had already taken containers of mercury. Jane and Marlow stayed near Marlow's car, fighting off more followers as they tried to reach the mercury.

Ethan caught up with two followers carrying one container. He grabbed the first follower, punching him in the face. The man yelped as he dropped his hold on the container.

The second follower jumped Ethan from behind, wrapping his arm around Ethan's throat. Ethan jabbed his elbow into the follower's side. Ethan grabbed the container as the follower fell.

"Jane!" Ethan called into the earpiece. "I've got another container but I need to get inside the tower."

"Got it," Jane replied as she ran over to the tower. Once she picked up the container, Ethan entered the tower.

He crouched low beside the entrance, keeping his eye on the followers who carried the remaining container of mercury as they ascended the spiral staircase. He could hear the voices of other followers waiting for them at the top.

The followers were hurried up the staircase, their feet reverberating against the wrought iron steps. He could try to catch up and fight them there, but the risk of the container falling and breaking open was too great. He'd have to beat them to the top and catch them off guard.

He eyed the cylinder reservoir. The surface was too smooth and steep. He rushed back outside. The concrete bricks were rougher, with just enough crevices in between to allow for balance and grip. Ethan took a breath and began to climb.

"Dammit, Benji!" Brandt yelled. Tears rolled down his face as Benji kept still. He went back to breathing into Benji's mouth. "I kept my promise! I didn't leave you. Now don't you dare leave me!" His voice broke. "Please don't."

Finally, Benji's eyes opened. His chest rose as he took a deep breath and coughed. Brandt couldn't help but laugh with relief as he reached over and rubbed Benji's back.

"Hullo," Benji managed once his coughing fit settled.

Brandt pulled Benji into his arms. "Thank God, Benji. I thought I was too late."

Benji draped his arms around Brandt's neck, resting his head against his shoulder. "But you weren't. I knew you'd be here, Will."

"Of course," Brandt replied as he and Benji slowly got to their feet. Brandt kept his arm around Benji's back. He noticed Benji wincing as he stood up, his hand pressed against his torso.

"Cracked rib," Benji said, reading Brandt's mind. He gave a small smile, as though he didn't want Brandt to worry.

Brandt caressed Benji's cheek as he looked him over. It was now he could see the full extent of Benji's injuries. The cuts and bruises were much more visible under Benji's damp clothing. "That bastard," he whispered as his hatred of Pendergast grew. He took hold of Benji's bandaged hand. "I'm so sorry, Benji. I wish I could have stopped-"

"No, no," Benji interrupted. "I should be thanking you, Will."

"For what?"

"For getting me through it," Benji replied, his blue eyes bright despite the cold rain. "Pendergast tried to get under my skin like he did in the attic. But he couldn't. Because I kept thinking of you. So, thanks."

Brandt smiled, pulling Benji in again. His embrace was tender, yet firm enough to let Benji know he was safe. "Anytime." They looked into each other's eyes for a moment before their parted lips met.

Suddenly, Benji's eyes widened and his body tensed. "Will…"

"Well, what have we here?" there was a sinister voice behind Brandt. He turned around to see Pendergast standing behind them at the belfry's entrance, brandishing a blood-stained knife. "A most unwelcome visitor. I shall take care of that."