A/N: I loved Rogue Nation, and after seeing its ending, I felt like I just had to write something like this…
Disclaimer: I don't own the movie or its characters.
The Nightmares We Live With
Fog… It made everything around look more ominous than it really was. It deceived everyone, wrapping everything in a thick milky blanket.
However, for Ethan Hunt that fog wasn't good enough at its job. He saw everything with frightening clarity. He could see all of their faces: Hannah sitting into a car before it exploded, Sarah bleeding out while drawing her last breaths in his arms. Always the same half-guilty and half-pleading look in her eyes. He could hear the deafening silence in his earpiece when Jack's line went dead a bit earlier, but not before a sickening crashing noise of the technician's gruesome death. Every time it would repeat it would not get any less clear and vivid. Even though Ethan had the time to get used to it, every time he would feel the same pain, the same fear, the same crushing sense of failure.
Every time, after that, his surroundings would change and he would find himself onboard a helicopter. By his side, there would be Lindsay, her face bruised and bloody, contorted with agony, as she growled and screamed while Ethan had to wait. Every time he would watch the numbers on the defibrillator mocking him, and it would never be fast enough to get ready. Every time he wouldn't have enough time…
"Ethan, thank you," she would always say, and that would be her last words in this world. Every time Ethan would feel like a fool, like a failure. What was she even grateful for? He failed her, he couldn't help her, he was too late… He could only repress sobs while helplessly cradling her lifeless body…
This would be the point when Ethan usually woke up. But not this time. The scene changes again, and Ethan only has the time to think that it hadn't been like this before. He barely has the time to register where he is and what is going on, when a voice makes him shiver from head to toe, crawling under his skin, making him feel cold.
"This is the end, Mr. Hunt," the voice is so familiar and yet so alien at the same time. This voice is not supposed to sound like this. It's not supposed to say things like that.
Forcing all the effort he can muster, Ethan looks down at the person who has just said those words and meets his gaze. Benji's face is exactly like he remembers. His eyes are filled with unshed tears, his expression a mix of barely suppressed fear, pain, resignation to his fate, and… a tiniest hint of desperate hope. And once again, there are numbers mocking him, on Benji's chest this time, showing exactly how many minutes, seconds and milliseconds his friend, and now Ethan as well, have left to live.
"No time to think, Ethan," Benji speaks again in that same strained and alien-sounding voice, and tears finally start to escape his eyes. Ethan stares at the timer on his friend's chest, and it's running way too fast, and there really is no time, not enough time for anything, and it's not how it's supposed to go, it's not how it did go, but the numbers change way faster than they should, and all Ethan can do is look into Benji's eyes, and he doesn't even come up with anything to say until everything disappears.
Ethan woke up with a start, gasping for air loudly and grasping the sheets on his bed. The clock on the nightstand showed 4AM, which meant he had only been asleep for about an hour. They had had a busy night, even though they had tried to be as fast as possible. Ethan decided to mentally go over the events, to remind himself that they'd won, that they'd survived, all of them. He recalled bringing Lane to the police, Benji insisting on driving the van himself, Brandt falling asleep on Luther's shoulder halfway through making an undoubtedly witty comment about how Benji looked in police uniform.
Ethan sighed. Even though his breathing was back to normal now, he didn't suppose he could go back to sleep any time soon. Letting out a frustrated growl, he got out of bed, slipped into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt he had prepared for the morning and opened the door leading to the terrace, breathing in the fresh night air with much appreciation.
He was not alone at that terrace, however. As soon as the door opened, a human shape standing by the railing turned to face him sharply, and Ethan found himself being stared at by a very nervous looking Benji. It took the Englishman a few seconds to confirm to himself that it was Ethan, a friend, and the older agent noticed Benji's shoulders relax slightly, as his breathing calmed down after a rather rapid pace. Without saying anything, the blond turned back to look at the street. Ethan gingerly made his way to his friend.
"Did you even try to sleep?" he asked after a short pause, even though he knew what the answer would be.
Benji just shrugged wordlessly. The truth was, he had almost tried. But he could still hear Lane's voice in his head, giving him commands, driving him insane, and that had put any thought about sleep far to aside.
"Did you?" he inquired, finally turning his head to look at the American.
"Worst decision I've made in the past three hours," Ethan admitted after nodding his head slightly and forcing a smile. He searched Benji's features for one as well, but found none. Instead, the former technician just nodded, seemingly more to himself than to Ethan.
"They never go away, do they," he asked quietly with a little sigh.
"The nightmares," Benji clarified. "They never truly leave, do they?"
"No," Ethan rasped. "They don't. They get rarer though. It gets better with time. It doesn't heal completely, but it does help".
Benji nodded again. There was a long silence which neither of them dared to break. The Englishman began to rub his wrists absent-mindedly, not noticing the concerned look from Ethan that lingered on the bruising visible on them. He made a mental note to thank Brandt for letting him drive that van to the police station. It had kept his mind busy on the road, but more importantly, it had given him the almost overwhelming feeling of control. After spending hours not completely in control of his own body, unable to make any sudden or significant moves and then unable to even speak from his own mind… With only the thought that he would have been the cause of dozens of deaths… And then Ethan had showed up and it had somehow become even worse… And then Ethan's plan to trade his life for Benji's had made things somehow even harder…
"Ethan, I'm sorry," the Brit finally spoke, his voice low and slightly quivery.
"What?" Ethan stared at him, bewildered.
"I let you down," Benji continued, looking down at the floor, avoiding Ethan's gaze. "I let them catch me. I think I wasn't attentive enough, and…"
"I nearly got you killed," Benji spat out through clenched teeth. "You almost died because of me!"
"… because I wasn't good enough and didn't see them coming for me…"
Ethan fought the urge to grab his friend and shake him. It actually hurt him to hear this. He reached out and put his hand on Benji's shoulder – an action he immediately regretted, as the younger man reacted as if he had been electrocuted, his muscles going stiff and his breathing picking up again.
Mentally scolding himself for not predicting this reaction to the touch, Ethan snapped his hand back. He should have foreseen it. He had gone through this himself many years before. At least Benji wasn't talking anymore. There was another pause, as the Brit was staring at the older agent, wild-eyed and trying to bring himself back to reality.
"Benji, listen," Ethan had to take a breath before continuing. "None of this was your fault. These people… if they want to get you, they will get you. Just like they took you yesterday. Just like they took me six months ago".
Benji's eyes snapped up, the all too familiar 'worried about Ethan Hunt' expression showing up on his face again. Ethan sighed. Of course Benji didn't know about what had actually happened in London six months earlier. Ethan hadn't told anybody about it. Now was not the time for that conversation, however, and, in order to not let Benji interrupt him, Ethan continued.
"We are not indestructible. We are people. Nobody expects you to be completely fine after all of this… after nearly dying…"
"We could have both died there," Benji interrupted bitterly. "Though I would have probably been torn into a few more pieces".
Ethan chose to ignore the grim remark.
"And you can't possibly foresee and know everything. Nobody can. Because that really is impossible".
Ethan felt slight reassurance when Benji's features softened a bit and his lips twitched in a ghost of a smile.
"If anything, it should be probably me apologising," Ethan went on. "I knew what these people were capable of and I still dragged you into this… I don't know how I would have done this alone, but I probably should have…" he stopped, feeling that Benji's glance at him turned into a glare, quite similar to the one he saw from him on that canal boat hide-out in Vienna.
"You still don't understand, do you?" unlike in Vienna, Benji's voice was now soft and quiet. "If I, or Brandt, or Luther needed your help, would you back down if it was dangerous?" Ethan opened his mouth to reply, but Benji didn't let him say a word and went on. "I know you wouldn't back down. I have seen you not backing down," he swallowed. "Really, I told you back in Vienna that we wouldn't have this conversation ever again. Shall we make it into 'never ever EVER have this conversation again'?"
The thing was, Ethan did understand it. He understood why Benji had stayed and refused to leave him in spite of how much danger it had put him in. He understood why Brandt and Luther had been so determined to find them no matter what. He would have done the same for any of them, if not more. But understanding and accepting were different things, and it was accepting it that was a problem for the older agent.
Letting out a breath, Ethan nodded curtly, a smile tugging at his lips.
"Good," Benji's face was closer to a smile than Ethan remembered it ever being in the past days. He felt Benji's arm around his shoulders and mirrored the gesture, relieved that it didn't get a panicky reaction this time. The tension, the fear, the worry that had been lingering over them all this time was finally beginning to fade away. A new day was already lighting up the sky. Soon they would go home, there would be new missions, and they would take on them and accomplish them. They were alive, and that was what mattered.