A/N: Sooo, I've found my way to MI fics a while ago and what can I say, Will and Ethan can't get enough love, can they? Anyways, I decided to do something fluffy and it developed into a (rather lengthy) 5 + 1. Um, yeah, well, one part's gotten a little dramatic *coughs*

The working title for this fic was "Baby, come home" and well, that's a pretty good summary but I decided to change the title, because, you know, reasons.
Title taken from Fall Out Boy's "The Kids Aren't Alright"

I've edited and re-read this a hundred times by now and I'm fairly content with most of it and I hope very much it's to your liking, too. Although I'm not fully happy with the last part but have it anyway, because if I do one more editing session I'll probably explode. Oh, and since this is my first Will/Ethan, please be kind :)

Disclaimer: I know there most likely are a few stories out there that deal with the idea of part 4 but this will develop in a different direction as you will see and it's completely my own idea. Just wanted you to know that :)


Empty Your Sadness

1.

The sound of the doorbell shrieks through the chilly silence of the corridor. Will shivers under his coat, it's at least five degrees below zero outside and this damn hallway isn't heated. He tucks his fingers back into the pockets of his coat and nestles into the poor warmth of his scarf.

Suddenly the door gets ripped open rather abruptly, revealing a grinning Benji. "Hey!" he exclaims at the sight of the half-frozen analyst on his doorstep. "Come in, come in" he invites and motions with his hand as Will squeezes through the space between the door and Benji. He doesn't quite share the techie's enthusiasm – mostly because it's bloody cold.

Benji had invited them all around when they were having lunch together – a rare occasion these days since IMF was dealing with an apparent mole. Someone on the inside had leaked important information to a newspaper and since it's their job to be invisible they're under quite a lot of pressure now, especially Will for it appears to be some sort of intel that's gotten leaked. Details about older missions but still nothing that needs to land under the public's nose on the breakfast table. Brassel is officially pissed, the Secretary a little helpless, and the people in Will's department are getting on his strained nerves. The analyst's mood is just as cheery as the temperatures.

So when Benji suggested an evening at his, sitting and talking, maybe a movie or two, they all thought of it as a possibility to relax a bit, shake off the stress of the past couple of weeks and no argument involving work Will had brought forward had been able to convince the others – instead they were more determined than ever to make him unwind and set his mind at ease, at least for a day. In the end Will had practically been forced to come and now that he enters Benji's apartment he's glad he's here. It's warmer and more personal; the anonymity of his own flat had him going insane, slowly but surely.

"Hey!" Benji calls again as soon as Will's inside and the door is closed behind him and next thing Will knows is being ambushed by Benji's squashing hug.

"Yeah, good to see you, too, Benji." Will gently pats Benji on the back, and despite being used to the techie's preferences in greeting his smile looks a little pained. (His shoulder still hurts from his rather inelegant collision with a doorframe this morning.)

"All of us had to go through that" Ethan comments from where he's residing on the couch, pretending to nurse a cracked rib with a mock-anguished smile on his face.

Will just gives a roll of the eye and proceeds to peel himself out of his coat. Benji disappears into the kitchen and the inviting smell of coffee has Will's mood lighten almost instantly. For once not the black swill he's enduring at the office day after day. He toes off his shoes and follows Benji into the tiny kitchen where he's presented with a steaming mug and the grateful grin he offers his friend as payment is commented with Benji's remark of, "That's what I wanted to see!" The additional bump his troubled shoulder receives doesn't help matters much, though, instead it only serves to have the hot brownish liquid slosh dangerously close to the rim of the ceramic and Will giving a suppressed hiss at the sharp pain that's jabbing through his shoulder.

Benji's face falls instantly when he realises his mistake and his features distort in apology. "Sorry, mate" he says but Will cuts him off.

"Never mind. I just, well, I had a rather nasty encounter this morning" he says by way of explanation and nods towards his shoulder.

Benji raises his eyebrows in a comprehending gesture and Will gladly ignores Ethan's comment of, "I'm sure they're rather pissed off by your unfriendly manner." (Yes, okay, it's been the door to Ethan's office Will's collided with this morning. Not that he needs him to remind him of it.)

Instead Will just motions to the living-room. "I'm gonna…" he trails off but it's superfluous either way because Benji's already busy with rummaging through his food supplies.

"Sure, make yourself at home" the cupboard currently housing the techie's head says and Will turns, only to almost run into Jane who's just emerged from the bathroom.

"Hello, snowman" she greets him with a teasing smile and Will thinks he's rather quickly going to get tired of rolling his eyes at literally everyone in this house.

"Hi, Jane" he mumbles nonetheless and manoeuvres past her, careful not to spill the coffee. The next one to receive Will's sulky face is Ethan (again) for he awaits him in the living-room, maddening smirk in place, and watching him as Will settles down in an armchair, balancing the mug in his outstretched hand (he doesn't need coffee stains to complete the evening).

Jane joins them, long black hair falling over her shoulders onto her bordeaux long-sleeve shirt and Will absently wonders how this woman pulls it off to always look stunning (and still be single). Really, he has to give her credit for that. The good-looking part; he can imagine why someone wouldn't want to live together with a deadly agent.

That's probably the reason why all of them share their apartments with nothing but there phones, always sharp, always ready to be summoned to do their duty.

His train of thought that's rather quickly descending into duller areas is interrupted by Benji's call when he enters the room.

"Cookies!"

Will looks up and he can't help but join the laughter Benji's appearance elicits out of Ethan and Jane. The grin on the techie's face is so wide it goes from ear to ear and he's holding out a plate filled with chocolate chip cookies at them. The whole pose doesn't even look the slightest bit put upon. No, definitely not.

"Well, they must be delicious, then" Jane remarks with a wink at Benji.

"Homemade following auntie Anne's recipe" Benji provides proudly. "At least that's what the package said."

Ethan and Will just laugh even harder at that while Jane takes a bite and tells them, voice raised slightly against the noise the other two men are causing, "Well, auntie Anne knows how to make cookies, I dare say."

Will is still too absorbed by merriment to notice his finger venturing dangerously close to the hot ceramic of the brimful mug he's still holding and before he can prevent it from happening his skin comes in contact with the material and he jerks his burnt hand away, only causing his fingers to lose the grip on the mug and sending it south.

"Will, coffee-" Ethan exclaims helpfully but it's too late anyway.

With a loud, "Ouch!" Will jumps up, coffee spilled all over his trousers and the lower part of his shirt. "Shit!" he curses through gritted teeth as the hot liquid burns on his skin. "Shit, shit, shit!" Then he glances up at Benji, an apologetic look on his face. "Sorry, Benji, didn't mean to create a mess."

But Benji waves him off. "You go clean yourself, I'll find you some clothes of mine and in the meantime we'll see to that." He gestures vaguely at the brown puddle soaking into the carpet and the armchair.

Will returns a couple of minutes later, now wearing loosely fitting dark blue sweat pants and a grey long-sleeve and it earns him a grin shot his way from where Ethan's still ruling the sofa and Will just rolls his eyes for the umpteenth time this evening but he does notice Ethan's gaze following him as he goes to sit down next to Jane and it has him feeling slightly uncomfortable.

When they're all settled again – Will with a fresh mug of coffee standing in front of him on the coffee table – the inevitable topic comes up.

"So, any news on the mole?" Benji stretches the first syllable to make it sound casual but they all know it's a subject Will's happy to avoid.

The analyst just sighs and shakes his head, leaning back against the backrest of the couch. "Nope" he answers, plopping the p. "Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We've turned the whole floor, the whole building upside down – metaphorically – but every agent's clean, there's nothing in the files or their work to suggest one of them leaked the intel." He sounds exhausted, and his face helps to intensify the impression.

"Maybe you're looking into the wrong direction" Benji suggests but it earns himself a sharp snap from Will.

"And what way should we be looking? There is nothing left, Benji, we've looked into everything, and still we haven't got a lead and to be quite honest, Brassel isn't getting any easier to deal with." A long-suffering sigh escapes his lips and all of a sudden he just looks terribly tired. "I just feel so utterly useless. I mean, the information wasn't even that delicate, but nothing deemed adequate for the public eye, either."

"Can't you just try to keep it out of the papers as best as possible?" Jane queries but she already knows the answer.

"We're trying, Jane, but that's all we can do at the moment. And just by the way, have you ever dealt with greedy journalists? They're downright nerve-wracking." Will gives a derisive snort as he leans forward to take a sip of his coffee. "Also, the other departments aren't of much help either" he adds, voice low as he mumbles into his mug.

"I've traced every bloody email in the whole building sent within the period of three months, gone through computer logins and unusual building check-ins and outs and believe me when I say that's a shitload of data" Benji pipes up, sounding slightly defensive.

"I know, Benji" Will soothes, "and we appreciate your help but the fact remains that it's gotten us nothing palpable so far."

"What about appearances?" it comes from Ethan. "I mean, now that the information is out in the open, well, more or less, whoever it was that leaked it in the first place must be acting extremely cautious and therefore might appear slightly off."

But Will just shakes his head. "You know as well as I do, Ethan, that they're all trained agents. They know how to lie."

Ethan leans back against the sofa, slowly letting out all of the air his lungs hold. "Well" he muses, "This is genuine crap."

Jane snorts and narrows her eyes at him. "Very helpful, Ethan."

"Guys, you know what? Let's just drop this and try to actually have a nice evening" Benji offers. The collective relieved sigh hangs in the air and none of them comments on the fact that it's been Benji who brought the topic up in the first place.


The evening continues calmly after that. They soon find lighter topics to talk about and at some point the discussion begins to circle around music. While Will ardently defends Johnny Hates Jazz, Benji declares the Bee Gees as the band of the century.

"Mighty Wings is still the best song ever written" Ethan points out.

"Since it's not interpreted by a band that actually makes music, no" Benji counters.

"But it is good, he does have a point" Will comes to Ethan's defence. Facing the affronted look Benji throws his way he corrects, "Though it's by far not the best song ever written."

Ethan pulls a face and Benji grins contently.

"Do you guys actually listen to something up-to-date?" Jane enquires.

"Chart music is not my area of expertise, sorry Jane" Ethan says and it does sound slightly derogative but the smile in his eyes takes off the sting behind the words.

"I'm not talking about chart music, excuse me" Jane counters huffily. "Every heard about OWL City?"

"The one with the funny lyrics? He is genius!" Benji claps his hands in joy and begins to hum a tune to which Jane soon provides the lyrics.

Ethan and Will exchange helpless looks and Will takes a cookie from the almost empty plate and circles around the coffee table to retreat to the sofa where Ethan's sitting. He sits down and draws up his knees. Ethan uses the moment to snatch the cookie from Will's hand which results in the analyst glaring at him.

Suddenly Benji stops and says into the round, facing a glowering Will and Ethan happily munching away on the cookie, "Let's do a quiz!"

Will deflates. "Aw, no, I hate quizzes."

"Come one, Will, don't be a spoilsport!" Benji throws him a pleading glance but then he's up already, fetching and preparing his iPod.

"This is gonna be fun, you'll see" Jane says, getting up to get herself a refill of wine that they've taken to.

Will turns to look to Ethan for support but the traitor just gently elbows him in the ribs and agrees with the other two. "For once, Brandt, relax."

"Excuse me, I am relaxed" Will retorts, snort accompanying his words.

"No, you're just a little less tensed compared to your working self, you need to loosen up" Ethan argues and Will throws his hands up in defeat.

"All right, okay, I give up. But-" he gets to his feet. "I get the last cookie."

"That is a condition I think we all can live with" Ethan says around a smile and reaches out for his glass.


As it turns out, Will is incredibly good at song quizzes.

Since Ethan is the one who admittedly knows least about music he takes to being the quizmaster and therefore chooses the songs on the iPod that the others have to guess. Jane takes part as well but at the same time keeps score.

"All right, guys, here we go. Let's see if you're all as musically educated as you say" Ethan begins while he's scrolling through the songs. "Hell, Benji, how many songs did you squeeze onto this thing?" he blurts out whilst on the search for a suitable starter.

"I don't even know what I've got on there" Benji says from where he's crouched on the armchair that Will accidentally laced with coffee earlier this evening.

"Good" Jane says, threatening determination in her voice. "It wouldn't be fair otherwise, would it?"

"I agree" Will nods eagerly, lounging on the sofa next to Ethan.

"Okay, first song!" Ethan announces and presses play.

The first few notes resound in the room and Will rolls his eyes in boredom. "That is too easy. Master and Servant, Depeche Mode."

Ethan nods, accrediting his quick answer. "That's one point for Brandt" he says, already skimming through the list again.

"Staying Alive!" Benji blurts as soon as the song starts and Ethan laughs at Jane's incredulous face.

"That wasn't fair!" she accuses but there's no heat behind her words.

"I'm the quizmaster, I get to choose" Ethan commands somewhat smugly and goes on.

The next song is more difficult for them to guess right away but then Will tries, "Spandau Ballet, I'll fly for you?"

"Very good" Ethan nods and Jane takes note.

A battle ensues that is carried out in shouts and laughter, blames and loud yells of "Gotcha!" accompanied by a clap of the hands. After the best part of thirty songs Will is one point ahead of Benji, Jane far behind with some seven points to her ledger, and Ethan can't seem to find anything difficult enough to keep them thinking for long.

"Okay, boys" he announces, "Whoever guesses the next song in under ten seconds, wins."

"Ten seconds? That's far too easy" Will complains, his newly discovered skill rendering him more self-confident.

"You want it more difficult?" Ethan challenges, "Okay, five seconds."

"Oi! That's not possible!" Benji exclaims but Ethan is already choosing the final task.

"Blame Brandt" he simply mutters, deep in thought about how he can beat the two, confronting them with an extra difficult song.

"Oh, I do" Benji huffs and throws Will a half-hearted glare which said man answers with a grin.

"Heads-up!" Ethan prompts. "Here it comes!"

The others go perfectly still, straining their ears. Jane sits up, pencil at the ready.

Three seconds pass before Benji pipes up. "30 Seconds to Mars!" he says, triumphantly. "Closer to the edge." And he gives Will a pointed look, self-satisfied. "Under five seconds, ha!"

Will nods patiently before he opens his mouth and tells him, "Yeah, just that you've got it wrong."

Benji shakes his head violently. "Nah, never." He turns to Ethan. "Right, Ethan?"

But Ethan is focusing on Will. "Give your guess, Brandt."

Will doesn't even need a second to think. "The band is right. But it's Hurricane."

Benji involuntarily holds his breath as they wait for Ethan to solve the riddle.

"Well, Benji" the agent begins, "I have to congratulate…"

Benji's eyes light up in triumph when Ethan suddenly turns to Will next to him.

"…Brandt. It's Hurricane."

Will waggles his eyebrows at the frowning techie.

"And you say you hate quizzes" Jane comments from her seat.

Will gives a short laugh. "Yeah, because I always beat everyone."

"Don't get big-headed" Ethan tells him and Benji jumps onto the bandwagon.

"You hear him, you toffee-nosed bugger."

"Don't get all British on me, Benji" Will returns, still grinning. "Besides, I'm Chief Analyst, ever considered that might have to do something with me being good at detail?"

"Oh, get off!" Benji's words are emphasised by the hand he waves at him in the universal gesture for fuck off and Will just laughs.

Yes, it definitely was a good idea coming here. He's not felt that good in a long time.


It's Jane who first complains about a grumbling stomach and once the subject is out in the open, the three men agree that a bite to eat is exactly what they need right now. So Benji grabs the phone and orders pizza and once they've got the cartons placed in front of them they settle in front of the TV, each a slice of pizza in hand. Benji insists on choosing the movie since Will beat him so meanly in the quiz and albeit reluctantly, they grant him the favour. They end up watching Kill the Boss, but no one's actually listening to Nick, Dale, and Kurt since they're all a bit sleepy already – it's nearing midnight and each of them has had a stressful day at work.

"You know what?" Jane says at some point, her voice low. "Sometimes it really would be easier without those annoying higher ups."

Ethan chuckles. "You're far more dangerous than you look, Jane" he comments.

"But it's true" Benji chimes in. "I mean, not that I'm considering anything, I'm not resorting to violence if not necessary but Jane does have a point."

From where he's slumped on the sofa, eyes half closed, exhaustion finally getting to him, Will nods slowly. "Hm, would help" he agrees sleepily.

"I mean, there would be no one to boss us about or send us out on ridiculously badly planned mission where one of us dies. If you look at it that way, it does have benefits." Benji's sitting on the carpeted floor, leaning against the couch Jane is claiming for herself.

"True" Ethan admits. "Although none of us died yet, right?" He's trying to sound cheery but the tiredness is creeping into his bones, too, and it's audible in his voice.

Benji shrugs. "Well, you did."

His words immediately wake Will from his doze and he and Jane blink incredulously at their friend.

Ethan, however, just waves it off. "That isn't even worth mentioning. I wasn't dead."

"Yes, you were" Benji persists. "I saw you, Ethan, and that is not a sight I want before my eyes anytime soon again. Well, not at all, to be precise."

This has Will perking his ears. He can't quite bring himself to believe what he's just heard. "You… were dead?" he asks, turning to his side to face Ethan.

"Well, technically-" the other man begins but Benji beats him to it.

"He was. We were out to take down an arm's dealer and that villain shot Ethan. Straight to the chest. He was incredibly lucky that the bullet didn't hit his heart."

"Slow down, Benji, it wasn't that bad" Ethan cuts him off in an attempt to silence him but the techie's having none of it.

"They had to resuscitate him" he continues. "I saw it, and that wasn't nice, trust me."

Will's eyes dart back and forth between the two of them, his face clearly suggesting that he's upset about what he's just witnessed. To say the least. He looks at Ethan, forcing his features back into their normal calm demeanour and asks, his tone serious, "Is that true?"

Ethan deflates a little, letting out a deep breath. He's not looking at Will when he takes up speaking. "I was clinically dead for about three minutes. But they brought me back. It's true, I was lucky. But it all turned out well in the end."

Jane still looks like she doesn't believe him. "You were really, actually dead?" she enquires, as if to be absolutely sure.

Ethan gives her a curt nod of the head. "Yes, I was."

"You never told us." Will can't bring himself to stop staring at him. Ethan never even once mentioned that to any of them. Then again, why should he? It's none of their business, and what does it matter, really, Ethan's alive and well. But still, it makes Will's stomach churn disturbingly at the thought of Ethan actually dying on a mission. It's not like it's a completely unlikely scenario but he certainly doesn't want it fulfilled.

When Ethan's greenish-grey eyes meet his, Will flinches ever so slightly, pulling back the hand that's somehow travelled into neighbourhood to Ethan's.

"You never asked" Ethan says and it feels as if he's directing it at Will, not at the lot of them.

Will bites his lip and lowers his gaze because he doesn't know what else to do, let alone what to respond.

"It wasn't the only time, though" he hears Ethan's soft voice next to him and the meaning of his words have him hazarding a glance again, slightly afraid of what his eyes might find on Ethan's face. There is nothing, though, nothing that should be worrying Will, anyway. Ethan is looking down at nothing in particular, his eyes clouded with that distant hazy shade that tells Will that he's far away, reliving a moment of his past.

"With Julia, in China" Ethan narrates, a fond smile playing on his lips as he speaks. "I had to die to be able to live again." He chuckles at Will's confused expression. "It was an electric shock that short-circuited the-" he cuts himself off mid-sentence, thinking better of it. "You don't want to know the details, trust me."

Will is still looking at him intently but he decides that probably he really doesn't want to know. And whether it's Ethan not wanting to tell them for personal reasons or if it's him trying to protect Will for whatever reason, Will doesn't care. Because somehow, he suddenly thinks he might not be able to bear the whole story.

Just then, someone in the film lets out a high-pitched screech and the moment is over.


Will keeps throwing stealthy glances at Ethan throughout the film whenever he's sure the other doesn't notice, wondering what it must have been like. Wondering what he'd do if he ever stumbled into a situation confronted with their team leader's death.


When they say goodbye it's well past midnight and Ethan had to in fact wake Benji up after the credits had rolled over the screen. They bid their good nights and Will shudders when he steps out into the cold, drawing his coat closer around his shoulders but it doesn't quite shield him against the frosty temperatures. Determined to get home, out of his coffee stained clothes that he's put back on, and into bed as quickly as possible he heads straight for his car, fumbling around in his pocket for the keys. The sudden touch on his arm has him flinching and he spins around but it's only Ethan standing there in front of him, hand still placed on his arm. He looks… worried, somehow and Will can't figure out why.

"Brandt, are you all right?" Ethan asks sincerely, his eyes searching out Will's gaze.

Meeting it for a split second Will mumbles automatically, "Yeah, sure."

But instead of letting go Ethan takes a step closer to him, examining him with that worried look of his. "You sure?"

"Yeah, course" Will presses out, not in the mood for conversation. He's tired and confused and all he wants right now is sleep and forget why the hell he's confused.

"You'd tell me if you weren't, right?" Ethan asks and Will does look up at that for it's said in a tone he can't quite describe. He searches for something in Ethan's eyes but his analytic mind is already in sleep mode and he's too dazed and the words jumble in his mind.

And because he just wants to get home but also because he finds comfort in the words, he replies, "Yes, I would."

Ethan withdraws his hand, offering him a small smile before taking a step back, ready to turn and head to his own car parked across the street. "Well, then" he says lightly, almost jauntily. "Good night, Brandt."

Will nods. "Night, Ethan."

Ethan is already a few metres away from him when he suddenly stops again and says as he turns, "And Brandt?"

Will glances up and because Ethan seems to expect some sort of affirmation that Will heard him, he hums, "Hm?"

"You're not useless. Don't ever think that. You're doing the best you can. Don't think that means nothing." And with that Ethan nods his goodbyes and crosses the street.

But the best is not enough sometimes, Will thinks but he doesn't voice it.

As he watches him go he thinks that he's never had anyone whose death would have troubled him. The fact that he does now scares him.


2.

"Ethan, time's up, you've got to get out of there!" Benji's voice is tense and he really means what he says. Where he sits hunched over the keyboard, his face lit up by the screen of the laptop, eyes focused on the figure scurrying through the empty spaces of the warehouse, Will can see he's twitchy, fingers nervously darting over the keyboard, and God if he doesn't feel the same. Will's hovering near the back doors of the van they're in, prepared to jump out any time and go and help Ethan. He should have been out there with him right from the start of this stupid, stupid mission but Ethan insisted that it would only draw the attention to them if more than one of them went out. Of course Will's tried to argue but you can't argue with Ethan Hunt once an idea cements itself in his head. And now Will's sitting there, trying to keep his palms from sweating, gripping the gun tight so that his knuckles turn white. His nerves are on edge, his shoulders stiff and he's clenching his teeth, he notices.

When did Ethan's stunts start to make him feel so upset? It's nothing new, now is it? And he usually gets out of them, always on the last second but it doesn't matter as long as he does get out, right?

"Seriously, Ethan, I mean it, I mean, I mean it, get the hell out of there!" Benji's voice has dissolved into an almost aggressive whisper and he's silently cursing their team leader.

Will almost smiles (if shakily) at the colourful language this job made Benji develop. But that just happens when you swap your desk for field duty.

He hasn't lost his tendency to ramble, though. "Ethan, for goodness sake, we can't afford to wait here one more bloody second, you hear me? The mission's done, we've got what we came for, now come over here and we're out. I mean- Will, help me, you're thinking the same, right? Tell him, tell him that he's a stupid godforsaken idiot, and that I'm getting rather restless over here." The techie's wide eyes quickly dart to Will but then back to the screen when he notices something out of the corner of his eye. "No. No, no, no, no, no, Ethan, no, that door's locked, no, I can't and I won't open it, that's the wrong way, we're over here. Christ, Ethan, listen to me! We don't have time for your silly solos and what are you even looking for?"

Will throws Benji a look. He seems to have forgotten that Ethan can actually hear him. Even though he refuses to tell them what the heck he's up to.

So finally, Will just decides to cut across Benji's ranting. "Ethan, I think Benji's right. We need to get out of here at once." He doesn't sound as firm as he wants to but he hopes the attempted stern tone does the job.

It doesn't have the desired effect but at least it brings Ethan to bloody talk to them. "One more minute, I need one more minute! I'm almost there!"

Benji's shaking his head violently from left to right. "You won't get your bloody minute and you know why? Because we can't afford it. We don't have another minute because one more minute means sixty more seconds which means sixty more possibilities that those thugs find us here because the camouflage's shitty and you know that."

The muscles in Will's legs begin to twitch due to the hunched position he's been in for the last couple of minutes and he shakes out his hand that's clutching the gun (he'd rather stand up and stretch his legs but that's not possible in the limited space of the back of the van), and his eyes unintentionally catch sight of the watch around his wrist.

Which is counting down the seconds.

Still counting down the seconds, just as it did two minutes before.

Shit.

There's one thing they've all seem to have forgotten about in all the hurry and the tensed babbling.

The charges of plastic explosive positioned all over the building. Which are going to blow up the place in one minute and counting.

That's all part of the plan.

Ethan still out there hunting for God knows what is not.

"Shit" Will mutters, turning it over in his head but there's no way Ethan can make it to the van in time and the clock's still counting. He doesn't recall how they manoeuvred themselves into this mess in the first place but he knows the mission was not supposed to play out like that. He squints at his watch.

Forty seconds.

He needs to do something.

"Benji. Benji. Benji, listen to me, the detonation's supposed to go off every second, Benji!" Will's almost hysteric whisper doesn't make it over the techie's rambling and the space is too small for Will to grab him by the shoulders and shout at him to fucking do something, stop the bloody countdown!

Thirty seconds.

The screen goes black.

"What the-?! Ethan? Can you hear me?!" Benji shouts at the screen, forgetting he doesn't need to raise his voice just because he can't observe Ethan's movements anymore. The comms are still working. As well as everything else appears to do except for the controls and the screen. So they can't stop the countdown. The realisation sinks into Will's head slowly and cruelly.

Benji's worried words break his train of thought. "Ethan, I can't see you anymore, I don't know where you are and I can't guide you out of there and I need you to get out!"

Will stares at Benji and he sees the slight horror creeping over his friend's face when he turns from the now dark screen to meet Will's gaze.

Will's eyes sweep to the watch around his wrist and back. Benji's eyes go wide when the realisation hits him.

This is taking too long.

Will's not the most spontaneous person and he hates blindfold actions but this is an emergency situation and he can't bloody think straight in his tactical mind.

Twenty seconds.

His voice suddenly steady, he informs Ethan, "Ethan, I'm coming to get you."

Their leader's voice fills their ears at once. "No, Brandt, you stay where you are, I'm almost there."

Benji's eyes are still locked on his and Will can almost see the gears turning in his brain. "I'm going out" he repeats, turning around to open the back doors.

Ten seconds.

His sweaty hand slips off the handle as Benji is too fazed to hold him back and a curse escapes his lips through gritted teeth.

Five.

Will's hand is trembling, he can't get a firm grip on the damn handle.

Four.

He grips the gun so tight it almost hurts.

Three.

"Brandt, I said stay where you are." But Will ignores Ethan's voice booming in his ear and finally he rips the door open.

Two.

His legs fail him, muscles strained from squatting down in that crouched position for too long so when he climbs out of the van he rather stumbles to the rough, stony ground than jumping out and taking to running because hell, time is running out.

One.

Will scrambles to his feet, head colliding with one of the doors swinging back in its original position from where he's pushed it open too hard.

Execute.

The explosion sweeps him off his feet again and he's thrown back against the van, back hitting the fender and a sharp bolt of pain rushes through his body. Reflex has him jerking up his arm to cover his face and the noise of the detonation around him echoes too loud in his ears for him to hear Benji shouting at Luther to drive and the next moment they're rushing through the hall of the warehouse, out of their hideout at the back of the building.

"Ethan!" Benji shouts. "Where are you?!"

Will tries to sit up and touch at his throbbing head but Luther's driving style has them thrown around like toys and his vision's all blurry. All around them the building is crumbling to the ground, debris raining down on them, and the air's heavy with dust and stony particles. Will's hand comes away red and sticky from his head but he's too confused to be alarmed. The van rumbles through the warehouse, evading the dropping concrete and Will doesn't even know if they're driving in the right direction because they don't fucking know where Ethan is. He tries to steady himself, gripping at the first solid component his hand can find and he feels a hand clutching at his arm where Benji attempts the same. Then there's a sudden crack in his ear and Will winces at the noise sounding like bones breaking and when his eyes meet Benji's he knows they won't make it. The techie's shocked expression tells him he's heard it as well and the sound can only mean one thing.

"Luther!" Will yells over the riot. "We need to find Ethan! He's probably injured!"

"What do you think I'm doing?!" comes back from the driver's seat as the steering wheel is yanked around and the tyres screech in protest.

In attempt to regain his focus Will shakes his head, trying to get the blur out of his eyes. This is when he catches sight of a pile of something just a couple of metres away from them.

"Stop!" he screams. "I've found him!" And before Benji can hold him back Will's jumping out of the van and running, ducking away when something falling from the ceiling almost buries him under a pile of rock and gravel. Nearing the figure lying on the floor Will lets himself drop to his knees, ignoring the pain shooting through his legs as the fabric of his trousers fail to block the debris on the ground, the sharp-edged pieces of broken concrete scratching at his skin.

"Ethan!" he shouts, grabbing the man by the shoulders and shaking him, brushing the dust from his face in a hasty gesture when he notices the wound at the side of his head.

"Will! Get inside!" Some cobwebbed part of his brain registers the sound and identifies it as Benji's voice and before he knows what he's doing he's inside the van, holding Ethan tightly in his arms while Benji shuts the doors and commands Luther to get them out of here immediately, like yesterday.

As soon as Will notices Benji's looking at him he lets go of Ethan, suddenly feeling the blood rush to his cheeks and he glances around, his eyes hurriedly searching for a defi because bloody hell, he can't feel a pulse.

Benji shouts something but Will's ears deny him service as he watches with horror Ethan's lifeless face.


Will doesn't remember how they got out of that chaos in one piece – or at least without every single one of them suffering from a severe head trauma – but when he paces up and down the hospital corridor he doesn't really care. He's so tired, his legs are trembling, his whole body is screaming for rest but he can't sit still right now. The adrenaline hasn't seized rushing through his veins and he drowns out Benji's quiet mumbling as he waits for the doctors to come out of the surgery.


"You couldn't just let it be, could you?" Benji starts halfway through the door. "No, Mr Immortal had to put everyone of us at a great risk, endanger the mission, not to mention himself and-"

"Benji, do me a favour, will ya? Shut up." Ethan's soft voice wafts through the room and the exhaustion is too evident in his tone but his face is gentle and there's that crooked smile Will's already feared to never see again.

Benji puts on an affronted look but his acting skills are as bad as ever and his pouting doesn't last long for he follows Luther's example to walk up to Ethan's bed and grab his hand since he's too afraid of hurting him by drawing him into a hug. Will just remains in the background, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips as he buries his hands in his pockets. Now that he can be sure Ethan's fine his own body feels drained, every last bit of energy sucked out of it and he feels the exhaustion wash over him. It's only when Ethan remarks how terrible they all look that he realises he's still in his ripped apart clothes, there are scratches all over his face and his knees and elbows are bloody and the bruises burn. Will rakes a hand through his sticky, dusty hair and he flinches when his fingers touch rough scab that has formed over the wound at his temple.

Benji's happy chatter finds its way into Will's ears. "And of course we had to safe your dumb arse again." The techie turns around to face Will and jabs his thumb at him. "And this idiot over there saved your life by almost dying himself."

"Now you're exaggerating, Benji, I wasn't dying-" Will interrupts him but his best friend cuts him off indignantly.

"Shut up, Will, that is my story to tell and it was a close call, don't you deny it, we were all very close to departing this earth a couple of hours before or didn't you notice the sky falling down?"

Will can tell by the matching smiles on all of their faces that they all know Benji's exaggerating excessively but they silently agree to grant him his moment. Too soon one of the nurses comes into the room, shooing them all out, commanding Ethan to get some rest and threatening the others to stay away from him for the rest of the night/early morning or whatever time of day it is, Will's lost his sense of time. Since they're well past visiting hours and visibly craving for sleep themselves they raise collective hands in defeat and let themselves be ushered out of the room. But before Will can close the door behind himself he hears Ethan's low voice calling out for him.

"Brandt."

Will freezes, just for a second, but then turns again, eyes searching to meet Ethan's.

Ethan smiles when he says, voice a little rough as if choking down a cough, "Thank you."

Will just nods. "Any time, Ethan" he says and he means it.


When Ethan comes back to work a week later Luther drags him into a one-armed hug and Benji's a little too desperate as he welcomes Ethan back, the latter having to wriggle himself out of the friendly embrace, initiating a round of laughter.

Will simply shakes his hand but the smile on Ethan's lips is fond and it reaches his eyes and Will doesn't give in to thinking what he would have done if Ethan hadn't survived.


3.

The Russian winter is a pain in the ass. Not that he's complaining, he's survived worse (the heat of a computer array for example) but the meteorological circumstances don't really lighten his current task.

Will puts some distance between himself and the couple he's inconspicuously following. That he's inconspicuously been following for the best part of twenty minutes now and it slowly gets awkward. And bloody cold. He draws up the collar of his coat, knowing that doesn't make him look any less like a stalker and not any warmer but he pretends that it helps a little against the sharp gust of wind tackling him from the side when he crosses the street, at a tourist-y pace, eyes fixed on the man and the woman, walking hand in hand a couple ten metres in front of him. Will buries his hands in his pockets and sighs excessively into his scarf, taking a mental note not to give in to Ethan next time. Sometimes, only sometimes, in situations like these when he's freezing and walking through the Russian metropolis he doesn't link the cosiest of his memories with, he thinks back to the times when he's only been the 'helper', a perfect excuse for staying in the warmth and security of four walls and a roof. But then, now that he's back to it he realises how much he's missed field work. Will doesn't know – and for now doesn't care – if missing field work is a good or a bad thing as far as his mental disposition is concerned but he doesn't entertain the thought further as he sees the couple round a corner and picks up his pace to avoid losing them.

His fingers curl around the phone in his pocket and he's scolding himself for the fiftieth time now that he didn't bring gloves. He's wearing earphones but it's not music he's listening to but his teammates babbling away.

"How's it going, Jane?" That's Benji, probably typing away on his computer and Will frowns at the thought of a warm room. He's definitely going to have a word with Ethan when this is over.

"Splendidly" comes Jane's satisfied reply. "Everything's in place. How're the streets, Will?" Her cheery tone doesn't quite match Will's mood.

"Cold" he grumbles. "Grey. Full of people."

"Cheer up, chap, another ten minutes and Ethan can say Mission accomplished."

Will actually smiles at Benji's remark and observes the couple. But they're still walking in the direction they're supposed to, so it's all good.

Until…

"Brandt? What are you doing?" Ethan's voice sounds through the earphones. Will knows he's observing him through the CCTV they hacked into from Benji's computer, coordinating the mission and getting everything ready for his own part to play in a couple of minutes' time. For now, Ethan's the one sitting comfortably in a cosy hotel room next to Benji so he's really not the one who should be complaining.

"I'm following the couple, I'm just taking a different route" Will mumbles, trying to sound nonchalant.

But apparently Ethan's not willing to let it slide. "No. The plan is not to let them out of our sight, go back!"

"I know what I'm doing, Ethan" Will tells him, a little annoyed. He's not an amateur and, frankly, he does know Moscow quite well. He knows where the couple's heading to and so it's completely legit if he takes a shortcut. "You focus on your own task" he adds for good measure.

"Can you see them?" Ethan enquires in his ear. "Because if not, go back, we can't take any unnecessary risks now, we're only inches away from successfully completing this mission."

Will rolls his eyes and the vocal equivalent is audible in his voice when he responds, increasingly irritated, "Calm down, Ethan, it's not like they're going to be kidnapped when I've not got my eyes on them for ten seconds." Really, Ethan is over-interpreting things. Nothing is going to happen except for the couple going to the agreed meeting point and Will rejoining them in a few seconds' time when he's crossed the bridge. This mission is easy as, it's all about them oh so stealthily intercepting the deal the couple's going to agree upon soon – without letting the couple know they're there of course since that would only endanger the deal – interfering in the exchange that's going to take place and then impeding the other party's getaway. (The other party namely being some very bad Italian gangsters who abducted the couple's daughter who appears to be the child of some high ranking American politicians. Why the whole thing's got to take place in Moscow of all places is a riddle to Will.) Nothing they haven't acted out many times before. So Will is confident that it's going to be just fine.

Ethan, on the other hand, seems to see the need for arguing over their procedure. "Brandt, that is not what we discussed, I want you to go get ba-"

"Are you telling me how to do my job?" Will doesn't care if he's interrupting him, for God's sake, he knows what he's doing.

"Since I'm your team leader, yes, I am" Ethan bites back, not even bothering to hide his increasing anger.

"I've got this, Ethan" Will tries one last time. He takes up a quicker pace, for one, because he's getting cold, and then because he wants to get the couple back in sight as soon as possible. Mostly, to shut Ethan up.

Speak of the devil.

"No, you do not, apparently." The accusation echoes through the earphones and Will scowls. He's got a good mind to take them off right now but he suppresses the urge, knowing that'll only make matters worse and he doesn't really need a fight with Ethan now. Or afterwards, when the mission is done.

He gets one, anyway.

"Why?" Will asks, now clearly having had enough of this. "Look, I know what I'm doing-"

"No, you're not, because you're currently standing on a bridge in plain sight with a fucking helicopter over your head!"

And where did the helicopter come from? Bugger.

Will looks up which is really not the thing he should be doing. "Oh, shit" he mutters. Granted, he hadn't noticed the damn thing approaching. There's no doubt whoever's in there is looking out for him. They already anticipated they might get unwanted company during this but this is really uncomfortable right now.

"Yes, shit" Ethan hisses through the earphones. "Brandt, walk slowly" he commands.

It would have earned him an annoyed roll of the eyes would he have been able to see it. "I know how to run away with not actually running, thank you" Will retorts and examines his surroundings with a quick cursory once-over. Spotting a guy leant against the wall of a house next to a café, cigarette perched between his lips, he decides to just improvise. Pretending to look around somewhat helplessly he strides towards the stranger, stopping in front of him and trying his best to look like a lost tourist. His hand reaches up to take out one of the earphones, he's listening to music after all, right? His Russian is not the best, but he knows enough to not be branded as an American right away.

In his ear, Ethan is getting really angry right now. "What the hell are you doing? Brandt!" His voice doesn't make it above a hissed whisper but Will knows he'd be close to shouting would they be standing face to face right now.

Will simply ignores him and instead lets the stranger explain the way to him. He doesn't forget to nod eagerly every once in a while and repeat fragments of what the man is telling him.

"Brandt! We don't have time for this!"

Will smiles gratefully at the guy, expressing his thanks with a Russian accent he's well aware he needs to train on more intensely, and then walks in the pointed direction.

As soon as he's out of earshot he puts in the earphone again and speaks under his breath. "This is called acting. I'm trying to get rid of the bloody heli."

As it looks, his good grades in acting classes were justified for a few seconds later, Benji informs him that the heli's gone.

"See?" Will tells Ethan, smirking satisfactorily. "I told you I know what I'm doing."

But Ethan steamrolls right over him. "Where's the couple?"

Well, shit.

Too occupied with looking convincing Will completely forgot to keep an eye out for the man and the woman he's supposed to not let out of his sight.

"Fuck!" he curses under his breath, turning around, eyes scurrying over the streets and the heads of the people around him but the couple's nowhere to be seen. "I've lost them" he admits reluctantly, silently berating himself for not staying sharp.

He hears Ethan draw in a sharp breath through gritted teeth. "I told you this wasn't a good idea!"

"Just because you've been distracting me with all your talking!" Will accuses him. "Can't you see them over CCTV?"

"I'm already on my way" comes the curt answer and shit, this really shouldn't have happened.

"Benji?" Will tries. "Benji, can you see them? Can you give me their location?" He's taken up walking again because he needs to find them. In theory, they know where the deal will take place but judging by the unwanted guests in the helicopter Will assumes that they've been uncovered which means the gangsters have been warned and the meeting point has most likely been changed. Which means anything could have happened to the couple. Which is kind of… unfortunate.

Heading into the only direction Will knows right now, the one where the couple should have been going, he hopes his little moment of inattentiveness doesn't cost them the whole mission. As soon as the thought's passed his mind, he hears a most unappreciated sound above him.

"Shit, the heli's back, Benji, I need a location!"

"Why are you asking me, I don't know where they are! They- They disappeared! It's not like I'm watching TV here, I've got to help Jane."

The next voice belongs to Ethan. "Brandt, I'm coming to get you. Stay where you are, try to hide."

But Will shakes his head, quickening his pace once again. "No, I can still find them! Besides, we don't want any more attention, do we?!"

Ethan decides to get a bit clearer. "Shut up and stay where you are."

But even if Will wanted to walk on and ignore his team leader's orders, a sudden orange colouring of the sky stops him short and he hears the faint, familiar sound of an explosion.

"What's that?" he asks, perking up his ears although he already knows. Because the next moment he can see a dark cloud of smoke rising from one of the buildings not far away from his current position. Red and orange flames climb into the grey afternoon sky and he knows one thing for a fact.

"Guys, we've fucked up. We've fucked up real bad."

They've calculated that the gangsters might have backup, someone in the background keeping watch, they've considered they would be prepared for any eventuality but burning down the fucking building? Will can only hope that the daughter isn't in there and that the couple didn't reach their destination on time. Hopes he knows he won't ever know the answer to because the building is burning and there's a fucking helicopter over his head and in a few minutes the whole of Moscow will know about this and they'll have caused massive public attention and as soon as the media gets hold of what's been going on here someone will be ripped to shreds. Why does it always have to be them to (quite literally) set fire to the political ties between the US and Russia?

Moscow really isn't his favourite page in his photo album.

"What's happening? Will?" Jane has kept out of their comm fight but Will's announcement has her piping up.

Will sighs, knowing that viewing it correctly, he has fucked up. "They set the building on fire" he informs Jane, voice low and resigned. He doesn't contemplate why this suddenly feels like a combination of Moscow and Croatia all over again and instead tries to focus on getting out of the heli's field of vision.

"Shit" comes Jane's eloquent reply when he's dodging a throng of people, rounding a corner and running towards the entry of a house that looks like it can shield him from unwanted attention.

No one says anything for what feels like an eternity, even Benji's uncharacteristically quiet; they're all waiting for Ethan to say something, to give orders, because none of them really knows what to do now. But no orders come and so Will waits in the doorway, allowing himself a few seconds to catch his breath and get his head back on the right way. It's his fault, he knows it, but it's also true that if Ethan hadn't distracted him he'd have easily found the couple again and the mission would bear the status accomplished by now without any incidents. An unpleasant feeling settles in the pit of his stomach, memories returning to the front of his mind he's carefully locked away and he feels sick. The fact that he doesn't know what happened to the couple or the girl for that matter only makes it worse. Because if they died, if they died because of him, Will doesn't think he can look anyone in the eye again, especially not Ethan for he still feels guilty about what happened in Croatia even if Julia's alive and well. He knows it's irrational but he can't help it and the thought that now he perhaps does have innocent deaths on his ledger kills him.

Will tries to stay focused, stay sharp, and he tells himself he won't know until the building's been examined but the dreadful anticipation weighs heavily on his shoulders.

A sudden sharp sound next to him and a vice-like grip on his arm make him snap out of his trance.

Ethan's standing next to him, pressed against the wall in order to hide from the heli's prying eyes and he looks a bit out of breath. Not to mention that he's really fucking angry.

"Ethan, what the hell are you doing here?!" Will miraculously manages a whole sentence before Ethan's hissed reply can cut him off.

"Saving your ass" he simply growls.

Will knows it shouldn't but the implication that he needs rescuing irks him. So much, in fact, that he starts arguing. "I had a plan, Ethan, and it was working until you decided to barge in and distract-"

"Brandt, calm down." Somehow Ethan manages to sound quiet and smooth even now.

"No, I'm not gonna calm down!" It's hard to refrain from shouting when Will really, really wants to. He knows he's only placing the blame on someone else so he doesn't have to think about his own failure and since when has that become his strategy? Blaming Ethan won't help and it certainly will only hold them up, keep them from trying to relocate the couple and then disappear.

Ethan seems to realise exactly that for he's pulling at his arm, dragging him out of their temporary shelter and down the street. Will follows reluctantly but it doesn't keep him from continuing his enraged tirade.

"What about the couple? We've lost them, Ethan, we've lost them and the bloody thing went up in flames and shit, we've fucked up and-"

"Nothing's over, we can still save it."

Will ponders for a second how his colleague – friend, they're friends – can sound so calm when practically everything's going from bad to worse in record speed and they don't have a backup plan.

"And how're you gonna do that?" he snaps.

"Guys, I don't think fighting will help us much right now" Jane intercepts their argument.

It only helps to fuel Will's fury further. "Shut up, Jane."

Ethan throws him a disapproving sideways glance. "You don't tell a woman to shut up."

Will rolls his eyes, dodging a street lamp. "She's Jane, she can take it."

Ethan leads him through the streets, so fast that it only takes Will the best part of a minute to lose his orientation. The helicopter's still there, he can hear the faint sound but they've managed to put some distance between them and their persecutors.

"What are you gonna do, eh?" Will asks again because he doesn't have the slightest clue as to where they're going.

"We simply need to get there before someone else does" is Ethan's cryptic reply. He doesn't look at Will, he's currently peering around the corner of a street, checking if the coast's clear.

"So, that is your plan? Running right into the eye of the storm, hoping to find them alive, find them at all?"

"Do you have a better one?"

No, Will does not, so he clams his mouth shut and follows Ethan.

"Look, Brandt" Ethan begins, stopping short at another corner, piercing eyes fixed on Will's. "I don't blame you for what happened, okay, but we haven't got time for discussions right now."

Oh. He doesn't blame him. Will blinks, somewhat confused, but doesn't contemplate the thought any further. There'll be plenty of time for thinking when this is over. It's funny, though, that it's Ethan who wants to avoid discussions now since he's the one who started one in the first place.

Okay. Stop. Will decides to put that train of thought to rest. Whether it's been him or Ethan or whoever who made this mission go to ruins it's not important now and later on Ethan will insist that they're a team and they're not going to brand one of them with the failure of today, and really, he's right, isn't he? What does that help?

Still, deep down, Will knows it's his fault.

Because he suddenly realises that Ethan's expecting some sort of answer from him he nods shortly and then they're running again and Will tells his brain to shut up.

Something flashes in the corner of his eye and he stops and turns around but there's nothing.

"Something the matter?" Ethan asks from where he's come to a momentary halt a couple of metres ahead.

Will merely shakes his head and hurries to catch up with him.

They make their way through the streets of Moscow and soon they're nearing the current spot of all the city's attention. But Will can't seem to get rid of the piercing feeling in his back, boring through his nerves and making his skin prickle. Then, when he takes a split second's gaze to the side he sees it.

"Ethan" he whispers. "Ethan!"

The older agent stops and turns to face him.

"Don't turn around!" Will hisses. "I think we're being followed."

Ethan takes the hint and continues on his way.

"Use the windows" Will commands, and when he chances another look himself he has his hunch confirmed. "Small man, black coat, blond hair" he informs Ethan. The next detail draws a derisive snort out of him. "Pitiful moustache" he adds.

"Why do you think he's following us?" Ethan enquires from in front of him.

Will makes an unidentifiable noise, straining his eyes not to lose the man in his peripherals. "Because he looks like one of the bad guys and he's been following us for five minutes now. I dare guess that's a rather clear indicator."

They take another turn and the man vanishes out of Will's sight for the briefest of seconds.

Ethan doesn't get the chance to respond anything for suddenly two loud shots rip the chilly air apart and Will lets out a choked scream when Ethan stumbles in front of him, falling to his knees as though he tripped over a lose cobble stone. Will looks up, eyes searching out the small moustached man but he's not quick enough to duck away when another bullet buzzes past him, grazing his upper arm and he clenches his teeth at the sharp pain. His fingers fumble for his own gun but when he catches sight of the enemy further down the road the man's gone before he can pull the trigger.

Will lets the gun fall to the ground, crouching down next to his friend. "Ethan? Ethan!" he exclaims anxiously, the burning building, the helicopter, and all the chaos around him momentarily forgotten.

"Ethan!"

Ethan's still conscious but Will doesn't even want to imagine the pain he's in. Two bullets have wormed their way through his jacket, one in the area of his stomach, the other in his chest where it's causing the blood to soak through the fabric.

"Ethan…" Will falters at first but then he puts his hand over the stomach wound, applying only so much pressure he thinks Ethan can bear, ignoring the pain in his own arm. "You're gonna be all right, everything's gonna be okay" he mumbles but the steady, reassuring look in his friend's eyes has him trailing off. Ethan attempts a smile but the pain distorts his features and that's when Will snaps back into reality.

He reaches up with his free hand, not noticing that it's covered in blood as well as the one still pressed over Ethan's wound and touches at the earphones he's miraculously still wearing. The gesture is superfluous but it grounds him a bit, gives him the reassurance that there're not alone.

"Ethan's down!" he tells the others. "Jane? Benji? Where are you?"

The sound of furious typing fills his ears until- "I've got you, Will, stay where you are, we're coming."

Will snorts at that, what does Benji think? It's not like he's got any options and it's certainly not like Ethan's up for a walk.

"Yeah, right, hurry up" he mutters, and fervently prays that they'll reach them in time. He's never felt so bloody helpless in his whole life.

Will's eyes find their way back to Ethan's face and when he notices that his friend is floating between the various states of consciousness and sleep and what's in between his heart picks up a rather unhealthy pace, never mind that his ears perceive a very disturbing sound and when he looks up again, the heli's cruising over the rooftops only a few crossroads away.

"Benji, Jane, hurry up" he murmurs when something cold suddenly brushes against his hand.

Will's glance scurries downwards and he sees that Ethan's hand covering his is the cause for the shivers running down his spine.

"It's gonna be fine." Ethan's voice doesn't make it over a hoarse, alarmingly weak whisper, and he squeezes Will's hand a little, the one that's still covering Ethan's wound.

The touch doesn't quite manage to reassure Will, instead it's making his heart beat even faster, but he feels eerily grounded and allows himself to take comfort in the contact.


The husband is still in intensive care and the doctors are not sure whether he'll make it, the explosion did some impressive damage to his body but his wife's come out of it with only a few scratches and a shock. Luckily, the girl hadn't been in the building, and because Benji had been so smart as to briefly contact headquarters from Moscow when it all went to shit they had activated a team stationed there which then took over and managed to track down the Italians and find the girl.

To be quite honest, Will doesn't really give a damn about the story and he's really come to hate hospitals. This doesn't keep him from heaving a heavy sigh of relief, though, when Benji calls him with good news.


A few days later they meet up at Jane's, and the jaunty atmosphere almost lets Will forget about the events in Moscow. His arm's bandaged but it feels ridiculous compared to Ethan's injuries. The man in question is sitting on the sofa, leant back and eyes closed, smiling along to Benji's rambling. Will doesn't dare sit next to him although he suddenly craves for the touch of his hand, and the mere thought has his cheeks going hot. When the contact happens, though, in the course of the evening, he's not able to look the other man in the eyes, feeling embarrassed by how he knows his face is giving him away, and feeling guilty for what happened in Russia.

"Don't hold yourself responsible" Ethan says under his breath, and lets his hand fall away.

When Will does look up, Ethan's sauntered over to Benji and Jane who are arguing about something, and perhaps he stares a second too long because Ethan looks back and catches him but Will's not quick enough to avert his gaze. Ethan just smiles, though, and Will actually manages to crack a weak answering smile of his own, thinking that he doesn't want to see the other man on the verge of dying ever again.


4.

His phone rings shortly after Will's got home, jolting him awake out of a light but dreamless doze he's passed out into on the sofa. He hasn't been sleeping well as of late, well, he hasn't been sleeping much at all. After the disbandment and reinstatement of the IMF and all the events lying between those two ends he feels drained, tired. The mountain of paperwork Hunley has dumped on him doesn't really help matters. Ethan's out on a solo mission and Benji is very occupied with a specific technical problem that only seems to increase the longer the cheerless week drags on. This means a shitload of work and no company other than the one of numerous mugs of coffee all going cold before Will can actually find the time to take a sip.

That being said, Will really likes his sleep and he just wants a few hours of peace, all right?

Speaking of Ethan.

The lit up display reads his name when Will wearily picks up the phone from where he's tossed it heedlessly onto the coffee table. Ethan probably needs advice. Then again, he rarely calls when he's on a solo mission and he rarely needs advice. Will sighs deeply but answers the call nonetheless because when was the last time he could deny Ethan anything. (He doesn't indulge in pondering where that thought came from.)

"William Brandt." Will is almost embarrassed by how worn out he sounds but he's too tired to flinch and honestly, he doesn't really care.

The only sound that drifts to his ear through the speaker sounds like a rush of air and creases appear on Will's forehead as he listens. "Ethan?" he asks tentatively but suspiciously, his brain ready to set off the alarm bells.

"Will." It sounds as if pressed out through gritted teeth and heavy panting and Will's too upset to wonder why Ethan suddenly uses his first name.

Now his alarm bells are shrieking. "Ethan? What's the matter? Where are you?"

The painful groan he gets in lieu of a reply makes his insides squirm and he sits up straight, phone pressed to his ear and his other hand placed on his knee, clenching and unclenching his fingers, tearing at the fabric of his trousers. Something happened, that's for sure and whatever it is, Will's not going to like it.

"Will, I'm sorry to call you but…" Ethan trails off, the words coming out with short, sharp gasps of air and Will has an inkling as to what happened but he wishes to God he's wrong.

Of course he isn't.

"Will, I don't… think I'll be… coming home… this time."

The words attack Will and slice through his chest like knives and he's sure the next sharp intake of breath doesn't come from the other end of the line. Ethan has been injured, that's nothing new so far but this time it seems bad. Really bad.

"Ethan, don't talk like this! Where are you?" Will knows he may sound a little too desperate but then again, who wouldn't when they've got their dying friend and team leader on the phone? The words leave his mouth in a rushed manner, stumbling out all over each other and when there's no reply for the best part of ten seconds Will already fears that this is it.

But then Ethan's strained voice reaches his ear and he can't help the trembling wave of relief that washes over him at the sound. "I'm-" a cough interrupts the sentence and Will winces at how weak Ethan sounds. The sudden, very strong wish to be at his side slumps onto his chest with such violence Will almost struggles to breathe.

"Prague" Ethan rasps into his ear. "I'm in… Prague. And I got… shot. More than once."

With every word he hears Will grabs the phone tighter and the fear that's tied itself around his chest is choking him. He sucks in a shaking breath, wondering at the back of his tortured mind when Ethan's well-being started to affect him so much.

Remembering the situation at hand he commands, "You need to go to a hospital!" He doesn't sound as steady as he intends, though.

The answer he receives breaks him. "Won't make it."

Will closes his eyes for a terribly long moment and reprimands himself to stay professional. He's known for remaining calm in the most heated situations, coming up with a way out when everyone else has already dismissed the idea of getting out any other than in body bags, so, he can do this, right? Just think logically. That's what he earns his living with after all.

"Okay, Ethan" Will inhales deeply, managing to calm himself down a bit but he knows that the talking he's about to take up will serve more to keep him from freaking out than to actually help Ethan. "Do you know where the next hospital is? Can you check on your phone?"

A muffled sound that vaguely sounds like Ethan shaking his head combined with another choked cough is his answer. "I'm almost out of battery."

Will swallows around the forming lump in his throat.

Oh.

So, Ethan called him instead of an ambulance? Why would he do that when his life depended on the fucking call? Will feels his stomach churn at the thought. As much as he's touched by the gesture (and he is, goddamnit) he thinks it's stupid. Disastrously so because hell, Ethan really doesn't sound as if he's going to make it. And that means something because Ethan Hunt is bloody immortal. Will's never quite approved of all of Ethan's ridiculously dangerous stunts and despite having witnessed and assisted in many of them till today he still can't say he's used to it. And he won't ever be, for that matter. But all the other times he's had Benji or Jane or even Luther to help him collect Ethan from wherever he'd ventured off to. He can do the patching up, he's done more than one first aid course and he does pride himself a little with the medical knowledge he's piled up over the years but he can't save someone over the bloody phone without having anything to actually help. Will would tell Ethan to stay where he is and stitch himself up as best as possible while he boards the next plane to Prague but it wouldn't work. He'd be too late and the thought of not being able to save his friend when he's Ethan's last straw hurts even more than the prospect of never seeing him again. Because he would be responsible for his death. He can almost taste the irrationality on his tongue but he swallows it down like a bitter pill because whatever is logical or not, he would feel this way about it. With a mental smack to his head Will reminds himself that it's not over yet and he sure will do everything in his might to help Ethan.

Eyes scurrying over the bare walls of his poor looking apartment Will searches for a hint to what he can say. "All right. Stay calm. Try to breathe normally."

"I'm managing, Will. You aren't." The interjection comes accompanied by a small, strained laugh that sounds more like someone choking on a drink but it hits Will full force nonetheless.

So he actually said those things out loud. Stay calm. Try to breathe normally. Yeah, more like instructions for himself, aren't they? Ethan's got a point there. But the fact that he's managing better than Will is does feel a trifle disturbing because it's not Will who's in a life or death situation. Not really, anyway. Will feels the blood rush into his cheeks and he tries to hide it by lowering his head although he knows Ethan can't see it.

He can probably hear it, though, when Will says, voice meek, "Sorry. I'm just… a little worried, is all." It's the understatement of the century, they both are very well aware of that but neither mentions it and Will is infinitely grateful for it. The fact that Ethan noticed, that he might know comes crashing down on him a second later and Will stops breathing for that particular second. When it comes, it comes all at once. Gritting his teeth Will forces himself to concentrate because if he doesn't manage to get Ethan help, he'll never know if he knows and he'll never find out whether Ethan could actually be interested.

Will is too occupied with worrying himself into madness than to bother wondering why Ethan called him of all people in the first place. He braces his elbow on his knee and buries his head in his free hand. Where are his abilities when he needs them?

"It's okay, Will." The sudden sound of Ethan's voice snaps him out of his trance and he's wide awake again, staring down at his hand. "Are you… are you all right?"

The question sounds – is so ridiculous Will actually feels like laughing. For a second he ventures he might have dreamt it but there Ethan is, asking him if he's all right when he should be worrying about his own condition right now.

"Ethan, what- yes, I'm all right, I'm fine. But this isn't about me. So, tell me, can you… can you see anything? A street sign that'll tell me where you are, then I can look up if there's a hospital nearby." Will's speaking way too fast, fingers itching to open up Google Maps and search for a medical facility, but he gets a reply nevertheless. Not the one he craves for, though.

"No, there isn't anything." Ethan sounds more exhausted by the second and the fact that Will misses a word every few seconds has him wondering worriedly how much longer both Ethan and his phone will last. "Listen, Will" A terrible cough and what sounds like spluttering cuts across the sentence and Will bites his lip at the mental image of Ethan trying to speak through the blood in his mouth. "Will, there isn't anything you can do, I'm sorry, I'm…"

Why the hell is he sorry? Will should be sorry and damn it, he is because he can't fucking do a thing for Ethan.

"Wait, wait, wait" he interrupts hastily. "Tell me about the wound. Where did…" he blinks through his aggravating incapability of voicing it, "Where did the bullet hit you?"

"Bullets, Will, bullets" Ethan mutters tiredly.

Right. He's forgotten that bit.

"Shit!" The curse escapes his lips before he can stop it. This is all just so bloody unfair!

"Will, it's okay-"

"No, it's not okay!" Will's practically shouting now but he doesn't really give a shit. "Ethan, it's not okay, you hear me? You're- you're dying over there and I can't do anything to help you and-" he trails off, voice breaking and head spinning. When the fuck did it get like this? When did the universe decide to screw his life up beyond repair?

A shaky sigh covers his next words, an uttered question to which Will doesn't really want an answer. (Well, he can't really decide whether or not he does.) He just says it because it's the obvious and hell, the only thing he can think of. "Why did you call me?"

Ethan hesitates for a moment but his voice is fond (or maybe Will's just imagining, he might be projecting) when he eventually says, "I wanted to-"

The dying battery of the phone cuts off the last words and the line goes dead. Will stares down at his own mobile, eyes wide and unbelieving.

He really, really wants to murder someone right now.


This time it takes Ethan five months to return to the land of the living.

After the phone call Will wastes no time but goes straight to Hunley, informing him about the recent events, giving his best to keep his composure and pretending to take this in stride when inwardly he goes mad with worry. When he talks to Benji afterwards he doesn't even try and hide his distress because yes, he very well knows why he's reacting like this and Benji seems to figure it out as well judging by the looks he shoots him when he thinks Will doesn't notice. The techie's not the best judge of human emotions but even he can see that Will's behaviour is anything but healthy. Although Benji himself struggles to remain calm when he hears of Ethan's disappearance and yes, let's admit it, apparent death. Because he can't have survived the damage the bullets did to his body, Will's heard him struggling over the phone and he's not going to get that sound out of his mind any time soon. But then, this is Ethan Hunt and Will's starting to think this man has a thousand lives. At least this thought is what he holds on to while he tries to calm himself down, telling himself that they've been in situations like this numerous times before and it's not – as ironic as it may seem for anyone outside of their job – completely out of the ordinary. Not with Ethan.

Hunley agrees after a bit of persuading and convincing to send out a search and rescue team but he denies Will a part on that mission, using the flimsy excuse that he needs him here in HQ. But this time Will doesn't argue because he knows he won't be of much help in Prague. He can work from here, help Benji sift through the data they've got on the case to try and track down Ethan. Which shouldn't be too hard, right? They've got the phone, tracing it should lead them straight to Ethan's current position.


The phone turns out to be a dead end.

When the search and rescue unit arrives at the position the computer calculated, Ethan's not there and he's nowhere to be seen. They search the whole city, look into every designated safe house, go through hospital records, analyse surveillance tapes but Ethan's name remains off the grid, and after three days of chasing they're groping completely in the dark, grasping at straws, when Hunley calls Will to his office and calls off the mission. Will's protests remain unheard and isn't it ridiculous? Only half a year ago Hunley's mad manhunt went on for six months and now he's giving up on finding Ethan after three bloody days. Will refuses to understand the non-existent logic behind that but he knows that in the end he will have to accept it.

The first few weeks still find him hoping to somehow, miraculously hear from Ethan but when no call comes, no note is found in his letterbox, and nothing turns up in the office he knows he has to accept the truth, as painful as it may be. Benji understands him, attempts to comfort him even, although he doesn't really manage.

"I'm… I'm so sorry, Will" the techie says quietly from where he's sitting on Will's couch, watching the analyst as he continues to stare out of the window onto the wet streets. "I know how much he meant to you."

The use of the past tense has Will turning around with a half-pained, half-angry expression covering his features, glaring at his friend. "Means, Benji, means." They hold each other's gaze for a second longer until it clicks in Will's brain and he realises what he's just admitted.

"Shit" he mutters under his breath and lowers his head, feeling his cheeks redden.

"Don't even try, Will" Benji cuts him off before Will can even take a breath to say something. "I'm not completely unobservant, you know?" He attempts a lighter tone, tries to sound a little joking but it only serves to make Will feel worse.

"How long?" Will asks wearily, his voice toneless and defeated and he doesn't really want to know because it's embarrassing, isn't it.

"It's been rather obvious for a while" Benji muses, the thoughtful ghost of a smile twitching at his lips.

Will just sighs heavily in response, letting himself drop onto the nearest chair, raking both hands through his short hair. He ends up burying his face in the palms of his hands so that he doesn't have to look at his friend.

"I'm a disaster" he mutters, self-deprecatingly.

"Yes, you are" comes the reply and Will looks up only to frown at Benji because he doesn't really need to be confirmed in his feelings, thank you very much.

Benji attempts a small smile again and this time it looks honest, as well as his words are when he says, sounding reassuring, "But we all are, aren't we? I mean, just look at our history and yet we've always made it. So, we're a well-functioning disaster I dare say."

"Jane probably isn't. A disaster, I mean" Will lamely argues but he feels his mood lighten just that little bit. "Or Luther, for that matter" he adds as an afterthought.

Benji chuckles. "Not as much as the three of us, probably" he agrees.

And although they know that this time Ethan won't come back because it's completely and utterly against all likelihood (and they know something about probabilities) Benji still refuses to give him up and Will is aware it shouldn't but it fuels his hope just a bit. He knows why he calls Benji Dunn his best friend.


The IMF officially declares Ethan Hunt deceased after two weeks and Will has to mobilise all his willpower not to throw up when he sees the note in the file.


Six weeks into it Will still refuses to talk about Ethan as if he's dead. It doesn't go unnoticed how he avoids using the past tense when speaking of him but none of them mentions it and it's better this way. He still looks through every report and record he gets, re-reads the file on the mission in Prague for the umpteenth time and every time he realises, defeated, that he can't conjure up a new lead, a clue as to where their friend might be.


Three months after the phone call Will decides to bury his hope under his pillow when he gets up for work on a Monday morning. Benji understandingly pats him on the shoulder when they meet for lunch and Will forces a smile onto his face, ignoring the stinging behind his eyes.

After that they all just carry on, despite accepting it still hurts but Will forces down the feelings that threaten to crawl under his skin and tighten around his chest. He still doesn't get much sleep but that's nothing new and he refuses to take time off because working keeps his mind off Ethan.

When he comes home one evening, declining Benji's kind offer to come round for a cuppa and movie, he wonders what took him so long to identify his feelings for Ethan as what they are or what made him develop them in the first place. The worst part, the fact that he never got the chance to tell him, and that he won't ever again get one, that he could never try to convince him into trying, hits him over preparing a poor looking supper.


At the beginning of October Benji insists on Will accompanying him after work because "You need something to cheer you up, chap." They watch a very bad horror movie (Will hates horror movies and so does Benji but this one is so bad it's actually funny) and Benji feeds him tea and chocolate and as time goes by the evening finds them lounging on the sofa, leaning into each other and laughing at the television. Benji does his best to make sure Will's mind is otherwise occupied and by the almost comfortable look on the analyst's face he can mark this goal as achieved. They down a few bottles of beer and Benji is definitely a bit drunk when he falls asleep next to Will halfway through the second movie, his head resting on Will's shoulder, disturbing the analyst with his snoring. When Will turns around at the door to say goodnight that evening he actually feels lighter than he has the past few months. His raised hand is accompanied by a smile and this time it reaches his eyes.


Will's never thought of finding himself in such a bad condition one day. But there's no way he can look at this logically because it is not logic that had him developing such deep feelings for his teammate. If anything, falling for Ethan of all people is the most illogical thing he probably could do. Still, it's happened and now Will's got to live with it. With it and without him. Isn't it ironic? Shaking his head at himself he dismisses the thought and instead focuses on the almost happy feeling that the evening with Benji has given him as he walks home.


It's the 12th of October, a Tuesday. Will's never going to forget this date. Because Ethan Hunt chooses this day for his miraculous resurrection.

It's just another ordinary day at work; Will is working on some intel. Earlier this day he refused Jane's request to accompany her on a mission to Sofia, declaring that he's currently coordinating two other missions and one of the teams are in a dead end situation, which means he needs to prevent them from screwing up and therefore they need the intel IMF's received this morning. Jane accepted his declination with a curt nod but her hand on his shoulder when she reminded him not to overwork himself told him that she knew the real reason.

It wasn't a lie, though. The team in Paris does need his help and the ringing of his phone has Will frowning because that's another distraction he can't afford. His frown deepens when the display states No caller ID and he is tempted to reject the call. But then he swipes his thumb over the screen to accept it anyway.

"William Brandt." (He vaguely wonders how many times he's answered his calls like this, always sounding a bit sour because he doesn't get good news over the phone. Ever.)

"Brandt, don't yell at me." The voice addressing him is familiar. Very much so.

Will blinks disbelievingly at the screen of his laptop patiently waiting for him to turn his attention back to his work. He swallows, and surprise is lacing his tone when he says, "Ethan?"

"The same."

Will shakes his head, suddenly feeling a little light-headed. Well, today seems to be an exception as far as the bad news only policy is concerned. He actually laughs. A tiny, pathetic sound. "How the hell- I thought you were dead!" The last word slides over his lips smoothly and Will wonders perplexedly how he managed that.

"Well, let's just say I've had my fair share of predicaments to fill more than one lifetime" Ethan chuckles.

Will grins. He actually, honest-to-God grins. So wide it almost aches. "Yeah, well…" he finds himself at a loss for words and finds that it's not very pleasant for it has him feeling a bit embarrassed (he's dealt with that feeling quite a lot as of late and it's beginning to trouble him). "Where are you now?" he asks eventually to hide his struggling for words.

"Down in the carpark, waiting for my reception committee."

He gets an amused snort in return. "I'll fetch you, you git. Try not to get shot in the meantime. Or knocked over by a car." And on that note Will hangs up and immediately dials Benji. If he's quick enough he might also reach Jane before she leaves for her mission.

The beeping counting the seconds before Benji picks up almost kills Will but his heightened spirits don't fade. Ethan is alive. He's freaking alive.

Well, he's Ethan freaking Hunt. That's what he does. Dying and turning up again when no one expects it.

Bastard.

Benji reacts the way Will kept himself from doing, actually flailing a bit over the good news but Will cuts him off before he can dissolve into rambling because he needs to reach Jane.


Ethan's waiting for them in the carpark, wearing a worn out black leather jacket over a white t-shirt and jeans. Overall he looks like death warmed over and Will internally chides himself for thinking that even now, after facing five months of God knows what, he still looks stunning. Ethan has the nerve to smile smugly at them before the smirk turns into an honest, friendly smile and Will believes him when he tells them he's glad to see them again. Jane looks like she wants to smack him round the head but she manages to refrain herself from it and hugs him instead. She does shake her head, though, disapproving smile in place.

"You are the biggest idiot I've ever encountered!" Benji greets him, bumping his fist against Ethan's shoulder.

Ethan momentarily frowns, apparently his body's not quite healed.

"I mean, seriously? What the hell were you thinking?" The techie mimics Jane's previous motion, adding a roll of his eyes. "Why am I even bothering, you won't listen to me anyway."

"I'm back, aren't I?" Ethan argues light-heartedly, patting Benji on the shoulder.

"He does have a point, Ethan" Jane contradicts but she's still smiling. "Two, actually."

"Next time you warn us, you hear me?" Benji continues, waving his hands in an over-enthusiastic gesture. "You had poor Will here reduced to a shadow of his former self."

"Next time? God forbid" Will mutters under his breath before his mind processes Benji's words. "Yeah, well, it wasn't that bad, Benji, I mean, look at yourself." He knows his rambling barely conceals the redness in his cheeks and he lowers his gaze, intently studying his shoes that suddenly seem terribly interesting.

"Nah, don't deny it, Will, you were miserable, and I mean miserable-"

Thankfully, Janes cuts him off. "Thank you, Benji, I think we've all got your point." She winks at Will and hell, if he doesn't blush even more at that.

Ethan remains silent, shoving a protesting Benji aside and stepping towards Will. The analyst raises his head and looks at him, then cautiously extends his hand but all he receives is a mock-annoyed eye roll. Then Ethan simply places a hand on Will's shoulder and draws him close into a hug. Will is surprised to say the least and is startled into motionlessness at first but then he tentatively brings his arm up to rest on Ethan's back, not quite managing to hide the astonishment in his features. The moment lasts a split second too long to not raise potential questions but Will doesn't mind. Of course he doesn't because despite he's aware of Jane and Benji watching them he enjoys this much more than he probably should. It's still too soon that Ethan takes a step back but still remains in arm's reach.

Will bites his lip, not sure what to say; his mind has gone astoundingly blank and his ability of stringing words together has well and truly fucked off.

Ethan studies his features for a moment and the silence is almost deafening as they all wait. For what, Will can't suss out. Then Ethan simply sighs in exasperation and closes the remaining distance between them. Will just feels the sudden touch of a warm hand on his neck and the gentle pressure applied pulling him forward and he almost gasps breathlessly when Ethan kisses him. The initial surprise that had him freezing on the spot slowly leaves his body and he relaxes a bit, allowing his hand to travel upwards and settle on Ethan's cheek. He feels the other man's hand in his hair and it feels so maddeningly good.

"Yeah, guys, didn't need to see that, honestly, I'm happy for you that you finally got that straight but there's CCTV in this carpark, just to remind you, don't want the whole of IMF to know tomorrow, do you?" Will can practically hear the unease and the fidgeting in Benji's voice but all that his remark entails is Ethan smiling against his lips and Will finds himself mirroring his expression.

When they break apart for air Will feels slightly dizzy and he's probably grinning like a fool but does it matter right now when he's finally got what he's yearned for so long? He takes a trembling breath (this time it's not because of the fear but the utter happiness possessing his body) and smiles sheepishly at Ethan.

"Welcome back, Ethan" he cracks, heart still beating at a rather unhealthy pace.

The corner of Ethan's mouth twitches into a lopsided smile and he nods. "Brandt."

Will briefly frowns. "Will" he corrects. Names, he thinks, displeased.

Ethan falters for a moment, eyes searching out Will's gaze and when grey-green meets blue Ethan's eyes read okay and he smiles, the gesture audible in his voice when he repeats, and Will thinks to hear hidden relief in his voice, "Will."

Of course it's Benji who destroys their moment. "Right, err, what do you think about going back in? I'd venture to say Brassel might appreciate to be informed about his most infamous agent's resurrection."

This elicits laughter out of all of them but they know he's right and so they turn towards the entrance. Ethan slides his arm around Will's waist and Will ponders if he's ever been happier.

Jane looks like she wants to roll her eyes and sigh an excessive "Finally" but she refrains herself from doing so.

Somewhere to his right he hears Benji gifting them with something along the lines of, "This totally didn't look like Torchwood there." But no one is actually listening to him and in Will's mind the ranting soon fades into a distant static noise.

And Will doesn't need any time to realise because he's known all along. This kiss just intensifies a million times more the feeling deep in his chest and the certainty with which he knows one thing for a fact. He's in love with Ethan.


When they leave from work the same evening, Will's mind suddenly reveals a question he's been stopped entertaining a long time ago. He turns to Ethan walking quietly at his side and asks, voice low, "What did you want to say when the phone cut you off? The reason why you called me?"

Ethan looks up at him and there's a tender smile brightening his face. "I wanted to hear your voice" he explains plainly, not even hesitating for a second.

Will blinks at the unexpected answer but when Ethan takes his hand he tells all the CCTV cameras to screw themselves and follows him.


5.

Will jolts into wakefulness when there's a twitching of the fingers underneath the palm of his hand. He looks up only to be greeted by a fond smile and tired eyes.

"Hey" Ethan says, voice still a little hoarse from the lack of use.

Will only manages to hold his composure for a second longer before he loses it. "I can't keep doing this, Ethan. I simply can't and I won't. Are you even aware what it does to me to always have to wait outside the door for the doctor to tell me whether or not you're going to make it? Constantly having to fear for your life, it's… it's breaking me, I can't deal with it anymore. Sometimes I get the feeling you're actually determined to die on a mission. How many bullets did they dig out of you already? I mean, the danger's part of our job, I know what I signed up for but I didn't sign up for this, you know? Patching you up when we're in the field, I can take that, watching you jump from buildings or diving a hundred or so metres, driving head-first into a car crash, no problem, but this? I can't. Seeing you die is something I'm confronted with way too often for my personal liking, you know? I don't know, but you don't seem to comprehend what you do to me every time this happens. Each time when you're out on a solo mission and Benji comes up to me with that concerned look of his I think This is it. I won't see him again. He's not coming back. Damn it, Ethan, I'm going through hell every time, it's just… it's not fair."

Will stops, not because he's said everything he wants to but because he's simply out of breath and his voice is starting to crack.

And all Ethan offers him in return is, cocky smirk in place, "You're turning into Benji."

Will looks affronted for a moment before his face distorts. "Ethan, I'm serious. I can't do this anymore."

Ethan reaches out with the hand that's not wired to an IV and gingerly brushes back a few loose strands of hair that possessed the audacity to fall onto Will's forehead.

"You're tired" he observes, worry audible in his voice.

Will suppresses a yawn, feeling the exhaustion creeping through his bones at the mere mentioning. "Haven't slept more than three hours the past two days." He looks up, eyes narrowed at Ethan when he continues, "Which only might have to do something with my partner deeming it a good idea to jump through a window right into a room filled to the brim with armed super villains." He snorts at Ethan's innocent expression but he doesn't quite manage to keep the worry out of his features when his eyes spot all the tiny bruises on Ethan' face and arms where they had to dig small pieces of broken glass out of his skin. Will is sure he will never forget the noise of crashing glass in his ear and the following sound of multiple guns being fired at the person he holds dearest. Ethan's plan had been absolutely imbecilic but it had been their only option for about twenty seconds weren't enough time to come up with something better and less life endangering.

"Hey, you have to admit that I did a good job distracting von Strucker's minions so that you could get to the hostages." His attempt at a light-hearted tone doesn't have the desired effect on Will for the smile on his lips feels forged.

"Yeah, well, twenty-something against one isn't quite what I call a fair fight" Will says, closing his eyes for a second, feeling the utter fatigue quickly gaining control over his body.

"You need to rest, sweetheart" Ethan mentions softly, his hand turning under Will's so that he can intertwine their fingers.

Will looks up again, his eyes flickering to their joint hands for the briefest of moments. "You know, that coming from you doesn't sound the slightest bit funny" he retorts sarcastically but damn it, Ethan's right. He can barely keep his eyes open for longer than five seconds.

The laugh Ethan gives at that doesn't sound healthy at all and it has Will's heart constrict painfully.

It must be visible on his face for Ethan says, his voice the softest Will's ever heard it, "Hey, I'm fine, okay? And I don't want us to swap places just because you refuse to look after yourself."

Will swallows around the forming lump in his throat. Nearly everything Ethan's said tonight Will wants to direct right back at him. How can this man be worrying about him when his own conditioning is alarming enough? Will opens his mouth to protest but when his tired mind doesn't gift him with any words to say he closes it again and takes to studying the bruises on Ethan's hand instead. Gently caressing the tender skin with his thumb, Will mutters, his voice nothing more than a hoarse whisper, "Just don't do it again, okay? Because I don't think I'll be able to watch you die one more time."

Ethan's smile almost sets the world back into order. Almost, because they're still in a hospital and Ethan's still hurt and Will needs more than the ginger touch of his hand and that smile to convince him that everything's all right again.

And the answer he receives only helps to make him feel worse.

"You know I can't promise."

Will's head shoots up, a hurt look in his blue eyes as he searches for something in Ethan's features, something that tells him he doesn't mean it, something that tells him he hasn't heard correctly. But there is nothing and Will feels a stinging behind his eyes.

"Then lie" he commands, the waver undermining his attempt at a firm tone giving away his feelings.

"Will-" Ethan begins but Will cuts him short.

"Just this time, all right? I need- I need to hear it, okay?" His voice loses all its strength throughout the sentence and Will feels his shoulders slacken and he knows he's shown Ethan his weakest spot, laid out his innermost feelings before him and the fact that he did scares him. It scares him how that implies how much Ethan actually means to him. If he's asking – demanding him to deliberately lie and if he wants to deceive himself into believing it, it means that Will's feelings go beyond a foolish infatuation. Well beyond that. Suddenly the thought that had absently crossed his mind a few months earlier when Ethan miraculously returned from the presumed dead and kissed him in front of everyone in the carpark, returns to his thoughts and he knows it's true. Damn it, it's true. He's in love with him.

Ethan seems to understand Will's need for confirmation and assurance and so he says, squeezing Will's hand lightly, "I promise."

Will offers him a grateful, shy smile in return and rests his head on his arm on the mattress, finally giving in to his craving for sleep. Ethan's hand, the one that's not holding Will's, travels into his hair and the analyst allows himself a little sigh at the heavenly feeling.

The stay quiet for a while, Will's eyes fluttering closed as Ethan cards his hand through his short, dark blond hair, and the silence between them doesn't feel uncomfortable.

"You know" Ethan speaks up after a while, "You don't have to say you're okay with my jumping from buildings and stuff. Because you're not. I know you're not."

Will opens his eyes but he doesn't raise his head, his current position too cosy to give up. As he ponders Ethan's words his minds rolls back to the impressive amount of missions they've been on together by now and he thinks that since they nearly both died in Dubai, no he's not. He's definitely not okay with it.

Fuck.

Will bites his lip as he curses his mind to choose this very moment to have the realisation dawn on him that it started all the way back in Dubai. He doesn't know which exact occasion, which moment it was that had sent him falling for Ethan but he suddenly realises that he'd been lost right from the start.

Feeling slightly embarrassed about his newest findings he mumbles, trying his best to stay focused, "But you won't stop it, no matter what I say."

Ethan considers this and then concedes, "You do have a point there." He smiles down at Will and then asks, the question completely ripped out of any context, "Did you catch him?"

Will blinks, a puzzled expression taking over his features before understanding softens his lines and he nods. "We had to take von Strucker down but the hostages are safe, yeah."

For some reason he's grateful for the change of subject, a part of him doesn't want to dwell on deadly matters any longer. Especially since it won't change a thing. Ethan's forever going to do something dangerous because he can't live without it, he's made for it, and Will's going to forever be worried about him.

As long as they're forever going to get out of it safely, Will thinks he can live with that.

"Good" Ethan says, an absent smile on his lips as his eyes dart around the hospital room. "And just for the record –" he adds, "half of the digging out bullets I performed myself."
Will actually laughs at that because it's so out of the blue and said in such a joking tone that he can't help but feel amused. He does manage a derisive tone, though, when he scolds him. "Very funny, Ethan."

Ethan decidedly ignores his comment and settles a little further into the pillow, quietly chuckling away, the drugs clearly doing their job. Will watches him as Ethan's eyes fall closed and his own mind shuts down, the prospect of sleep being the sweetest one he's ever been presented with and so he follows Ethan's example and soon he's dozing off into nicer lands when Ethan's sleep-tinged voice has him returning to wakefulness again.

"By the way, your opening speech, was that… a declaration?"

Will flushes pink, clearly not expecting something like that. "Um..." he stammers eloquently.

Ethan saves him the struggle of finding a suitable answer and continues, just as quiet and tender, "Because I'd like it if it were. Because…" he trails off, his soft eyes focused on Will and the analyst finds himself not strong enough to avert his gaze.

"I love you, you know?" He says it with such easiness, so casually and effortlessly, his hand stroking through Will's hair that Will almost forgets to breathe. But at the same time it sounds so honest, so sincere, and Will is struck by the wave of affection that crushes down on him that very moment.

"Well, it… it was" Will manages, smiling sheepishly, still too stunned by Ethan's confession. And he realises now that perhaps it truly was, that he said all those things because he needed Ethan to hear them, needed him to know how he feels about him.

Ethan's smile is all Will needs by way of response and he doesn't even consider for one second that all Ethan's saying might be drug-induced because he couldn't sound so frank and heartfelt, now could he?

Feeling utterly content and resisting the urge of getting up and placing a gentle kiss on his lips Will settles back into his sleeping position.

But before he closes his eyes to eventually allow sleep to take all the stress of the past couple of hours off him, he mutters, his tone just as sincere as Ethan's, "Ethan?"

"Hm?"

"I love you, too." He's surprised at how easily it slides over his own lips but knowing that he hasn't said those words to many people in his life it's probably the most honest thing he's ever said. And he truly means it. Because he does. He loves him.

Will can hear the smile when his partner says, "I know." And the words add to the warm feeling in his chest and he thinks there's no place on earth he'd rather be right now.

"I'm staying" he informs Ethan, the words slightly jumbled because he can't fight sleep anymore.

"I know."


5 + 1

Will slowly lowers his head, eyes locking on his hand that comes away red when he withdraws it from his side. His face probably distorts in surprise; he hadn't seen it coming. It being the bullet that has sliced through him.

He's currently standing in the middle of a narrow back alley and his comm is not working. Which is kind of bad now that his side has suddenly become the very painful centre of his attention. Will doesn't quite recall how he managed to get himself in this situation in the first place, the pain is dulling his other senses rather quickly and thinking is something he'd rather postpone. In fact, his legs start sending urgent messages to his brain that something to lean on would be greatly appreciated and the wall behind him looks cosy enough.

Will blinks through the beginnings of a dawning state of unconsciousness and tries to further examine the wound. A sharp hiss accompanies his attempt at drawing up his shirt but at least that has him fully awake in under a second. He can't see much though, it's dark and the next streetlamp's a good hundred metres away plus what he sees is all red and smeary. His cold fingers reach out to touch at the ripped apart flesh but then he realises that his hands are trembling and why is breathing getting so hard all of a sudden? Will blinks rapidly but it doesn't help for everything is swimming before his eyes, going in and out of focus at a rather disturbingly irregular pace and his field of vision narrows.

He reaches up for his comm but it's useless since the damn thing isn't waterproof and he's just emerged from an unwanted bath in the river. How he managed to get trapped here, he doesn't remember but it doesn't seem that important right now. If only he could let the others know that he's in trouble…

His own gun lies abandoned on the ground a couple of metres away; as if this day was determined on demonstrating him what a streak of really bad luck is, he ran out of ammunition the moment he was facing one of the guys they were chasing. Luckily for him, the man wasn't that good of a shot. Well, how good his aiming really was he'll find out later when he's detected a way to contact his teammates.

His feet are slowly losing their hold on the ground and Will feels himself slide down the stone cold wall onto the not much warmer cobble stone ground. Now that he's sitting breathing becomes a little easier since he doesn't need to focus on keeping himself steady on his feet but his side hurts even more due to the crouched position he's ended up in. Will briefly considers calling out for Ethan or Jane (Benji's back up in that tower coordinating them) but that'll only get the thugs on his lead and he doesn't need that. But then, Benji (or any of the others, really) should have noticed by now that he's not with them anymore as far as team communication is concerned so they shouldn't take too long in finding him.

At least that's what Will hopes while he shivers violently, vaguely asking himself when and where he left his jacket. Two shots are fired in the near distance but his hearing's dulled and it's like he's perceiving everything through cotton wool. Then there are steps echoing on the cobble stones and the fact sluggishly registers in his mind that they're aiming for him. Will lifts his head (or tries to) but his vision's all blurry and he can't make out the figure hunching down in front of him and he barely registers the strong grip on his shoulders. One of the hands leaves his shoulder and that has him falling slightly forward into a very inviting embrace.


Will frowns at the bandage under his black t-shirt, flinching when he cautiously tugs at the material.

"Don't" he hears from the side and when he glances up he sees Ethan peering at him with a strange mixture of worry and disapproval in his eyes. "You still need to heal."

Will only grumbles something unintelligible and takes to staring out of the passenger's side window of Ethan's car. He's still feeling slightly cold, as if the muddy river water is still clinging to his clothes when outside the temperatures are far too high for the beginning of March.

"Hey, you okay?" Ethan's voice is soft and Will hears honest concern lacing his words.

He can't count the times he's heard this question out of someone's mouth. Whether it's Ethan looking after him whenever he can manage to slip out of work or Benji or Jane when they come to visit him at the hospital or the nurses and doctors swarming around him.

"Hm, sure" he mumbles but he actually is quite comfortable even if it does sound a bit like a lie. He's been waiting for this day for a whole week and now that the doctor finally gave him a clean bill of health, discharging him with only a prescription for painkillers and the order to stay away from any work for at least another week he's feeling somewhat dull. Will puts it down to the faint throbbing in his side and leans back in the seat, eyes lazily darting over to Ethan.

"Are you sure? You look a little pale." Ethan gives him another searching look before he fixes his eyes back on the road.

Will just continues staring. He's tired, yes. He was very eager to leave the hospital since those institutions are ranking high on his list of least favourite places to stay. And although the wound in his side has healed to a great deal already he still feels the pain. Not as clear and sharp as when he first woke up on those hospital sheets but clouded most of the times, dulled (which is – at least to some degree – the work of the painkillers).

So, of course Ethan's asking. Will doesn't look as good-humoured as he should at the prospect of the quietness and privacy of their flat. Still, he shrugs it off and even manages a small smile. He's trying to be reassuring and he knows he's doing disastrously bad but he's not not okay, right? Somewhere in between, he thinks with a strange mixture of melancholy and suppressed anger.

Will doesn't know why and he doesn't seem to find an answer no matter how often he's rolling it over in his mind. But there is something at the back of his mind. He should be grateful that Ethan found him in time, that he's bloody alive but there is something else. The bullet has gone in at a very odd angle, creating quite a challenge to stitch him up according to the doctors. But it was just a bullet to the side. Will briefly considers the sound of that thought. It's… ridiculous, he knows it, and rather arrogant, too.

But – let's face it – all the others had worse. When they were chasing Hendricks, Jane had been injured and still went on with the mission, Benji, the poor sod, had a bomb strapped to his body, and Ethan – well, Ethan's bloody immortal.

As if he's reading his mind, Ethan says, "Stop worrying Will. And stop blaming yourself."

"I'm not-" It's a feeble attempt at justification and it's valued just as much when Ethan cuts him off.

"Yes, you are. Stop it."

Will just sighs, he isn't in the mood for arguing, and he doesn't want to quarrel with Ethan. Not when all he really desires is a nice and quiet evening in comfortable togetherness.

"Look, Will" Ethan begins, and it sounds as if he's about to give a speech.

Not a good sign, Will decides.

"You got injured on a mission, it was an unfortunate incident and now you're fine and that's all there is to it." Suddenly, he turns, looking Will straight in the eyes. "Right?"

Will lowers his gaze, nodding. "Should be, yes."

And then he just talks because there's nothing else to do and Ethan would squeeze it out of him eventually. Better get over with it sooner rather than later.

"It's just, I don't know… I shouldn't be so easy to take down."

Ethan blinks at him in confusion and only stops the car at the last possible second before they rush over a red light and create a car crash.

"You haven't been taken down" he corrects but Will's already talking over him, ignoring language specifics.

"I'm a trained agent, I've been back in the field for a while now, I should be able to handle this kind of situation."

Ethan shakes his head and Will thinks to see a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. It stirs up the anger inside of him a little more because why is he smiling?!

"I'm serious" Will adds grumpily, now hating himself for bringing up the subject and ruining the cosy day he could have had.

"I know you are" Ethan soothes, eyes on the road, and the smile is gone. "But you're not invincible, Will. It's not a shame not to have a situation under control, and you heard the doctors. It wasn't a surface wound and you had lost quite a dangerous amount of blood. So don't even start."

Will makes a last attempt. "Yes, but-"

"None of us is better than the other, we're a team, okay? And we work together." Emphasising the last word Ethan lays a glance on him and the sadness Will finds in it weighs heavy on his shoulders. "For a moment there, I thought I'd lose you." Ethan's voice is low but the words are still clear as they hang in the air between them.

Will knows he's made a mistake bringing it up. Because over all the fuss and the operation, the medical treatment and the numbing effects of the painkillers he's forgotten that Ethan's feelings for him are just as deep and strong as the ones Will's harbouring in his heart. Although he still doesn't quite buy Ethan's argumentation (he should, really, he's being ridiculous and stubborn), he knows that in the end it's just psychology and pressure he creates for himself. It's in his nature to overthink things, to find reasons where there are none, to come up with interpretations which don't help in the least but this time Will pulls himself together – for Ethan, for his own sake – and files the incident under 'just another mission'.

None of them talks for the rest of the ride.


The keys clatter where Ethan drops them on the counter in the corridor. Will steps in right behind him and the familiar air of their apartment soothes every hostile feeling left, leaving a calmness seeping into his bones that he hadn't expected. Just as he's about to peel himself out his jacket, Ethan in front of him turns and faces him, fixing him with a stern but worried expression.

I seem to rub off on him, Will thinks fondly.

He takes Will in for a second, the poor appearance of a man, and just as Will begins to think that he won't be able to take this expression any longer, Ethan opens his mouth to say, "We're good?"

Will blinks but he doesn't let confusion or any feeling other than the settling content wash over him. He smiles, and this time it's an honest smile. "Yes, we're good."

The mask of worry on Ethan's face cracks and he smirks, "Good. Then shut your mouth about that crap, you got me?"

"Aye, sir" Will doesn't even try to suppress the chuckle. Perhaps he's still in for a treat tonight.

Instead of leaving it at that, though, Ethan steps in, slowly closing the remaining distance between them and despite having experienced this countless times by now, Will still can't help his heart rate speeding up. The embrace he finds himself in catches him off-guard nevertheless but he lets himself be gathered to Ethan's chest, enjoying the warmth his lover is radiating.

"Never do that again."

It's whispered into Will's ear and although there are at least a dozen meanings to it by the end of this day Will knows which one to pick and he actually grins when he mumbles, words muffled by the little space there is between his lips and the fabric of Ethan's shirt, "May I remind you, Ethan, that I'm the one constantly seeing you die?"

Ethan takes a step back, outstretched arms firmly resting on the analyst's shoulders. "No, you may not."

The whole situation itself is odd enough and Will needs to remind himself that they're actually there because Ethan just sounds so reprimanding but affectionate at the same time and before he can stop himself Will is laughing (and where does that come from?). The kiss Ethan presses to his lips doesn't quite manage to stop him but then he lets himself revel in the feeling and they're kissing clumsily, Will still fully dressed in shoes and coat. But just as the slide of Ethan's lips gets more demanding he breaks away, giving them both some time to catch their breaths.

Ethan brings a hand up to ruffle Will's hair even more, finishing the job the wind so elegantly embarked on.

"Remind me next time we're in a life-endangering situation and you see the need to argue over some detail that I actually love you so that I don't accidentally shoot you."

"You mean next time you do something stupid."

"Yeah, well."


When he crawls under the blankets this evening Will can't help the happy sigh that escapes his lips at the heavenly prospect of at least eight hours of undisturbed sleep in a comfortable bed. The hiss at the sharp shooting pain accompanying his movement is an unwelcome reminder of the cause of his withdrawal of such comfortableness.

Without even looking up Will raises a hand, keeping Ethan at the distance he is now, stopping the question he knows lies on the tip of his lover's tongue.

"I'm fine" he says, and he actually means it.

Ethan accepts it, quietly.

Will knows he's only worried, knows Ethan cares about him but he's fine and the other man needs to get comfortable with the thought of Will hobbling through the apartment for a couple of days. If not comfortable, he needs to get used to it, at least. If only the fact that Ethan knows how much Will loves him would keep him from doing something stupid. But Will knows as undoubtedly as he knows he'll hear the Are you okay? a few times more in the next days that it won't. And it makes him a little sad. But he's not about to admit that, and Ethan is Ethan and Will can't – and doesn't want to – change him.

Will quietly nestles closer to Ethan, resting his head on his chest, tucked right beneath Ethan's chin and closes his eyes. When he'd changed into his pyjamas he'd been in favour of talking but now the simple proximity has a deep feeling of content rising in his chest and he opts for cuddling instead. As if in silent understanding Ethan wraps his arms around him and pulls him even closer, placing a kiss on his hair.

"Get some sleep" he whispers and Will thinks that's actually a good idea.

He lies awake for several more minutes, listening to the rhythm of Ethan's breath that tells him he's still awake, too, probably staring at the ceiling. Ethan's hand has somehow found its way into Will's hair and his fingers are carding through the tousled strands and Will allows himself to relish the heavenly feeling as it slowly lulls him into a deep, dreamless, content sleep.


A/N: Found the (tiny) Top Gun reference? Found it? Oh, and I couldn't help it, just needed to include a bite of Marvel ;P Remarks on Ethan's taste in music or any overall suggestions can be left in the review section. I'd love to know what you think!