Ethan learned his lesson the hard way.
It had been two weeks since they, the (unofficial and illegal) Impossible Missions Force, had taken down the Syndicate. Two weeks since they trapped Lane in a glass box and handed him over to the authorities, since Ilsa disappeared from Ethan's life for the fourth time.
Two weeks since there had been a bomb strapped to Benji's chest.
It had been one week and six days since Ethan and Benji decided to get hammered together and ended up hooking up. One week and five days since the morning after getting hammered and hooking up, which began in muttered apologies and avoidance of eye contact, but ended in confessions of mutual feelings for each other. One week since their first official date.
Time certainly flew.
Ethan learned his lesson the morning after he and Benji spent their first night together, not just as teammates or friends or a hookup, but as a couple. Benji's apartment was in Fairfax, and was small and bland enough to not look suspicious to anyone who might break in; it was also cozy and, well, Benji enough to feel like home. He was in the kitchen when Ethan woke up and wandered out of the bedroom, brewing coffee with his back to the door while humming to himself. Ethan grinned and padded over to his boyfriend, wrapping his arms around the other man's waist with a murmured, "Hello, handsome."
Well, he would have said that. He planned on saying that, but all he had time for was, "Hel—oomph!" before he was knocked onto his ass by none other than said boyfriend, who looked absolutely horrified.
"Oh my God, Ethan," he said, scrambling to his side and dropping down next to him. "Oh my God. I'm sorry. Christ, I'm so sorry."
Ethan was too stunned to have an opinion. "The fuck?" was all he could say.
"I don't—I don't know, I just...I felt hands on me and I didn't know whose they were, and I just—." Benji seemed to choke on the last words of the sentence, breathing much too quickly. "Oh God," he managed. He pressed a hand to his chest and leaned forward, trying desperately to catch his breath even though he was sitting on the floor. It took Ethan a minute to notice, but he was shaking as well.
I snuck up on him, Ethan realized. The last time someone surprised Benji from behind, he'd been dragged away and strapped to a bomb. Of coursehe freaked out.
"I scared you. I'm sorry," Ethan said sincerely, but Benji either didn't hear him or didn't care. He was staring at the floor now, shoulders heaving, face flushed, and still clutching his chest. "Benji, you have to breathe."
"What's happening to me?" Benji whimpered. Ethan had been where Benji was now more than once, and he knew exactly what was coming. The worst it had ever been was after he had to send Julia away, and the knowledge that she was safe didn't ease his panic the way that her presence always had. Ethan vowed that no matter what became of he and Benji in the future, he wouldn't let him deal with this on his own. It was ironic that loving Julia meant having to send her away, but loving Benji meant sticking by him no matter what. Life was funny that way.
He wanted to wrap his arms around the Brit, but thought better of it. Benji didn't need to be crowded, and he certainly didn't need to be startled again. He settled for placing a hand on his boyfriend's back, prepared to remove it if the contact wasn't welcome. Benji, however, leaned into it. Ethan began to rub small, slow circles on Benji's back, and the tension in his body eased just a little bit more.
"You're having a panic attack," Ethan said, his voice soft and his words slow. "You're going to be okay. The next few minutes are going to absolutely suck, but I promise that you'll be okay. Just breathe." He listened to ragged gasps turn into long, shaky breaths and continued to rub Benji's back. It seemed to help soothe him, if only a little bit.
It was no secret that Benji loved Ethan to the moon and back. He loved him like a teammate and a friend, and if he loved him romantically? Only time would tell. More than that, though, Benji trusted Ethan. He trusted him wholly and completely with his life, so when Ethan told him to breathe, he did. When Ethan made a point of each inhale and exhale he took, telling Benji to breathe with him ("In through the nose, out through the mouth," he commanded gently. "There you go. That's it. You're doing great."), Benji followed him.
In and out. In and out.
Eventually, his heart wasn't pounding and his hands weren't shaking. His head didn't feel ready to explode anymore, and he was no longer choking on air. He sagged against Ethan, drained, who responded by wrapping his arms around Benji and drawing him into an awkward, sitting down hug. Benji relaxed against Ethan's chest, still focusing on breathing.
"You're okay," Ethan murmured, pressing a kiss to his crown. "You're okay."
"I'm okay," Benji mumbled into his collarbone.
He wasn't okay, not yet and not for a while, and they both knew it. He would be, though, and that was all that mattered. Benji was going to be fine. Ethan would make sure of that.