"Go," Hunley says, and even raising his head sends sparks into his vision, but Hunt doesn't move and neither does his team. It's bad this time, worse than the injury that had knocked him out of the field and onto a desk long enough to realise he was good at it in the first place. Even breathing is hard. He isn't getting out this time.
"I'm sorry, sir." It's the first time he's seen that look on Agent Hunt's face, the anguish, the rage. He's already blaming himself, Hunley can tell.
It takes a lot of effort to reach up with a clumsy hand and grab Hunt's jacket and look him in the eye. Hunt holds his arm there, and Alan keeps hold of him like a lifeline. He wants to tell him everything, everything he didn't dare say earlier about why he took this job, that it was half just to be working so close with Hunt and his team instead of against them but now it was about more than just respect, how he knew that this would kill him eventually, how he wouldn't have changed even a second of the time he's worked with them, but their time to catch Walker is running short and his time is running even shorter. All he manages is another, only slightly more forceful "Go."
All he can do is hope that Ethan feels everything behind it that is left unsaid. He lets his eyes shut. All things considered, there are far worse things to be the last thing on earth her sees that Ethan Hunt, looking so scared for him. He hears Stickell say "Ethan", prompting him to move away from Hunley's grip, then the world fades out completely.
After the first few visits from the team and Julia, the hospital room is left quiet, just Ethan left lying in bed and Luther there to keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn't try anything as stupid as trying to move yet. Luther wants to go home, they all do, but the doctors don't want Ethan to fly yet after his near-death experience and none of them want to leave without him.
Luther was scared this time, he really was, although the only person he'll admit that to is Ethan, and even then not quite yet. There's only so many times you can put your life on the line before it kills you, and when they lost radio contact after the bomb had been defused, he thought that it was the last time he would see Ethan Hunt. Thankfully, Luther thinks wryly, it was as easy for the CIA to find him as simply following the trail of flaming debris.
Ethan is still too quiet though; by now he would usually have been telling Luther all the details but whether it was the hypothermia, the altitude, shock, or something more… personal, he was keeping his mouth shut.
Luther doesn't prompt him. When he's ready, Ethan will talk to him.
"Did he have any family?" Ethan asks finally, and Luther knows he's not talking about Walker. He hesitates; he would've put money on the first person Ethan mentioning being Julia.
"Only child, parents are gone. Couple of cousins out in New York, they've been contacted. Emergency contact is an ex, he must have forgot to change it. Nobody close enough to travel three thousand miles to see him."
Ethan looks away. "Thought somebody else could've identified the body by now."
Luther hesitates, narrows his eyes, speaks slowly. "What body?"
"Alan Hunley was one of us his whole life but he deserves that at least, doesn't he? A burial in his own name?"
Shit. Ethan was still out when he spoke to HQ and everybody else that needed to know what had gone down, but Luther assumed someone would at least have told him this.
"Ethan," Luther says quietly, resting a hand on his shoulder. Ethan looks up at him. "He made it. He's alive."
Hunley hates hospitals. The food is bad and the beds are uncomfortable and he can barely even sit up yet from the wound in his stomach, so he knows he isn't leaving any time soon. He's hated spending time in places like this since before he was even a field agent, when he'd still just been another idiot kid in the army, although that seems like a lifetime ago now; being in a hospital always meant that something had gone wrong, that the mission was incomplete, and he hasn't lost that impatience.
It could be worse, he supposes, trying to look on the bright side because he knows he's going to be laid in here on his own for a while. He's alive and the world hasn't ended yet. Hunt and his team did their jobs, saved the world again.
Alan's mind keeps straying back to the mission, while he's lying here with nothing else to think about except the pain. There's always something like this going on, some lunatic developing a death ray or a terrorist group with the next plague, and they've never failed to stop it yet, but this is the first time he's been there with them, in the middle of it all instead of just reading the reports after it's all over. He wonders how Hunt has manages to stay the way he is, so thoroughly professional but still a good person somehow, soft in spite of what he does for a living, after seeing all he's seen, after everything that has been done to him. All of Hunt's greatest triumphs had been accomplished while half the world considered him an international terrorist, and that had happened more than once. Hunley had worked his way up through the army then the ranks of the CIA, saw a lot of action, saw a lot of death, but the operations he'd taken part in were all more military and less, well, impossible. He thought he'd lost that hope that Hunt and his team all rely on long ago. He only realised when he started to run the IMF that he hasn't lost it, just buries it deep; the only time it fights it's way to the surface is when he's around Ethan. He'd tried to take down the IMF for months, but he's realised that the organisation he thought was his enemy has brought out the best in him. That the man he thought was his enemy has brought out the best in him.
These are all thoughts he's had before, of course, he's been in the job for around three years now (a length he's fairly certain is a long time for a Secretary of IMF) and every time he sees Hunt after another mission, still joking with Agent Stickell about something or other, they enter his mind. This is the first time, though, he hasn't tried to fight them back. In this case, they're preferable to anything else he could be worrying about back home. In this job, he has people he can rely on, not people who will stab him in the back without a second thought to save themselves. For the first time in years, decades maybe, he feels like he belongs. He wonders if anyone other than Brandt has noticed that change in him and finds himself hoping that Hunt has. Either way, he can maybe take the time he needs to recover and still have his life waiting for him when he gets back, so he tries not to think about everything that still needed doing back at Langley.
He's shaken from his thoughts by a knock on the door and, god, he hopes it isn't medical staff again. He's already been stabbed with a knife, he's sure he doesn't need stabbing with so many needles too. That being said, the nurses usually didn't knock.
Alan swallows and manages an embarrassingly weak "Yeah?"
(He barely recognises his own voice.)
The door opens a little with a slight creak and his entire system floods with relief, even though Hunt looks worse than Hunley feels. There are cuts and grazes on his face, topped off with an impressively yellow bruise on his temple, and the stiffness of his movements betray what Hunley strongly suspects is more than one fractured or broken rib. There's a brace over his jeans on his right knee, and a crutch in his left hand. He's been in a fight, a bad one. He looks worse than Hunley has ever seen him, but he's alive. He's made it out of another mission anybody else would have thought was impossible, like he has every other time. He still smiles at Hunley, albeit a little sheepishly, and doesn't come any further into the room yet.
"Sir," he says by way of greeting.
Hunley lifts the oxygen mask from his face and tries to look stronger than he is. He takes a second to prepare himself before trying to speak again, and it's worthwhile, he sounds a little more like himself this time. "Agent Hunt. Is it over?"
"We recovered the plutonium and Lane is in MI6 custody."
Far from the full story, but he doubts he'd be able to fully comprehend that anyway in his present condition. He frowns and tries to sit up again, but only gets up onto one elbow before it hurts too much to go any further. "Walker?"
"Dead." His tone is flat, final, absolute.
Hunley makes a mental note to find out exactly what happened to Walker in very graphic detail during the eventual debrief. It's been a long time since he's been in this much pain. For now, though, he can live with just 'dead'. He nods, satisfied. "Your team?"
"A little shaken up, but mostly fine," he pauses, and Hunt can see the concern in his eyes. "Except you."
Alan relaxes a little. Hunt is alive, so are his people. The pain seems a little less intense now he knows he's the only one who has to deal with something this bad. It doesn't matter so much if it was worth it. He smiles when he registers that Hunt just called him a member of his team again, but it comes out as more of a grimace.
Hunt hesitates, seems to mistake his wince for a frown, for disapproval. "We all thought you were dead. Really. If I'd known- if any of us had thought there was a chance that you'd make it…" he trails off.
"I gave you an order. You followed it and you saved a lot of lives. You didn't have to come all the way here to apologise."
Hunt gives him another sheepish look. Well, Alan didn't think he was lucky enough for anybody to travel a couple of thousand miles just to see if he was feeling okay. He's just glad to have some company that isn't paid to be here.
"Unless you're on another mission already?"
"Debriefing MI6 on Lane's recent activity and some of his contacts. The CIA suggested it, Brandt approved." Hunt shrugs, then smiles slightly. "I would have come here on my way back home even if he hadn't. When Luther told me you were alive… I had to come and see you for myself."
Hunley understands. He can hardly believe it himself. He tries another smile and this one is a little more successful if Hunt's reaction is anything to judge by. He raises his oxygen mask back up over his face and leans back into the flat pillows. Hunt is silent for a long few seconds, then takes a step further into the room, closing the door behind him. "I was planning on staying a while, if that's okay with you, sir?"
Hunley resists the urge to roll his eyes for a second and just nods instead. Like he's going to refuse after a week on his own, even if this two minute conversation has already worn him out. He watches Hunt limp to the chair by the bed that has, until now, remained empty, and sit down stiffly, then closes his eyes. They're all safe, or as safe as they can be. For now, at least, it's going to be fine.
"Ethan?" he whispers, letting formality slip for a moment.
"Thank you for coming."
Ethan does as he planned and stays in the hospital room long after Hunley has fallen asleep. The poor guy needs the rest, if he's any judge, not that he's feeling all that much better himself after everything that's happened.
If anybody had told Ethan three years ago that he'd be so worried about a guy who not only chased him halfway across the world and had a kill order out on him but made his friends' lives a misery for months too, Ethan might have hit them. It doesn't take long for priorities to change in their line of work. Now, it's all he can do not to reach out and touch Hunley's arm and make sure he's really there, not still lying dead in a basement somewhere beneath London with a couple of dozen CIA agents.
If he's totally honest with himself, and he's not sure he wants to be, it's not just concern for a colleague, or even for a friend. Maybe it doesn't help that every time Ethan thinks about how it all happened, his mind goes back to a narrow, cobbled street in Prague twenty years ago that had been just as dark, holding onto Sarah as she bled out in his arms (and he's been thanking god this time there's a different outcome since the second he found out), but it's not just the reminder of old trauma, either.
He hears the way Hunley talks about him, to him, compared to how he is with everybody else. The way he's that little bit more detailed than with most other people Ethan has seen him with, the gentle praise even when he's being admonished for whatever plan they haven't quite followed, maybe without even realising it. And yeah, maybe Ethan is overthinking this, maybe he's wrong. Maybe he's just hearing what he wants to hear. The thing is, after coming so close to losing Hunley, only emphasised by the way he's now just lying there, motionless, one hand resting just off the centre of his stomach as if to protect the knife wound, Ethan isn't sure he's willing to take the risk that he'll never get the chance to ask. He places his hand on the bed next to Hunley's, just far enough away that he can claim he was just resting it there if Alan wakes up without him noticing.
Ethan promises himself, promises, that this is the time he tells Hunley that maybe he cares a little more than he should, but he's promised himself a thousand times, before almost mission he's been sent on in the last year or so, during every debrief for events that came far too close to ending the world as they know it. This time he's jet-lagged to hell, the quick time zone changes have caught up with him; he can see the sun starting to set out of the window, and his mind is simultaneously insisting that it's five hours later and ten hours earlier than it actually is, and maybe he's a little sick himself, not that he cares to admit it. Ethan closes his eyes, only meaning to blink, but falls asleep before he can stop himself.
Alan blinks. It's darker now, half of the lights are switched off, but he's still surrounded by the hum and beep of medical equipment and the smell of disinfectant. Still in the hospital. It might have been a while since he was a field agent, but that instinct to wake up as quickly as possible has stayed with him. There's something else too; the sound of somebody breathing beside him. He swallows with a dry throat, and turns to see Hunt still sat in the chair next to the bed. He might be awake now, but Ethan has drifted off some point in the meantime. One of his hands is rested on the bed, halfway between the edge of the bed and Alan's own.
As much as he knows Hunt has to need this sleep to have fallen into it in such a public place, he's groggy, still doped up enough that he lets himself reach for Hunt's hand. Hunley doesn't mean to wake him up, but he wasn't as deeply asleep as he appeared.
He doesn't come around peacefully; he jerks awake, looking for a threat that isn't there, holding the hand Alan had touched close to his chest like he's wounded. Alan wonders if he's woken him from a nightmare. He tries to sit up but too quickly in his concern, it feels like he's about to tear out his stitches and he falls back to the bed with a curse.
It barely takes Hunt a second to snap out of his nightmare; this is probably a regular thing if he's that used to it (Hunley has enough mornings where he wakes up in that blind panic himself to know the signs). It takes Alan longer to recover. Even through the painkillers it's almost too much to handle. He closes his eyes tightly, like that can help, and waits for the pain to fade back to a manageable level. He's been trying to fool himself into forgetting how injured he really is, and it's been working far too well. He's starting to think that it wasn't so smart when he feels a calloused hand cover his.
"Are you okay?" Hunt asks gently.
He takes another moment, swallows hard before he opens his eyes. "I was about to ask you the same thing."
Ethan doesn't reply, just keeps giving him that concerned look until Hunley gives in.
"Not healing fast enough," he says, giving in, just trying to keep his voice even when it threatens to crack. "I'm sure this used to be easier when I was a field agent."
Out of the corner of his eye he sees Hunt's hand rub his injured knee. "Know the feeling. I guess neither of us are getting any younger."
Hunley is always surprised when he remembers that, despite their very different career paths, he and Hunt aren't far off the same age. Somehow, he feels much older, but maybe that's what comes from being sat behind a desk all day while other people do the heavy lifting. He tries to count it as a bonus; knife to the stomach might have finished him off if he was that much slimmer.
Hunt squeezes his hand when he doesn't speak.
Alan knows Ethan was married once, to a woman who is still in hiding, but hasn't heard about any relationships before or since, although most agents keep their personal lives to themselves until they can't hide it anymore. Alan himself hasn't so much as been on a date in a long while. Back when he joined the CIA, he would have been fired at best for being openly gay, since it's become a little less harsh he's been too busy or just felt too old. His last relationship had ended around the time he became Director of the CIA. It's been too long, so he needs to be sure he isn't just seeing things, that it isn't all just one way.
Hunley closes his eyes again for a long moment. "Hunt… if you're here because you feel guilty, you don't have to stay any longer. You were there to hold my hand when I thought I wasn't going to make it. That's enough."
"That is not why I'm here, sir."
"Then why?" Alan says, because apparently he's determined to make this difficult for both of them.
Ethan doesn't answer, can't meet his eyes. His lack of reply gives him the answer he needed.
"You're going to have to get down here," he says with a wan smile, patting the heavy bandages wrapped around his stomach. "I'm not too flexible at the moment."
"Are you sure, sir? This isn't exactly within regulation."
"I'm the secretary, I can change the regulations. Like you said, Ethan, neither of us are getting any younger."
Ethan stands up, holding onto the rail on the side of the bed to steady himself. He leans over to kiss him.
Alan's lips are dry from the oxygen mask, and Ethan's are split, from the cold or a fight, he doesn't know, just that he tastes blood. The taste of metal on his lips doesn't change anything; he manages to sit up a little straighter and lean into it. Maybe it's been a while, but it's been worth the wait. It's the best first kiss Alan has ever had.
Ethan meets up with Luther later in a bar they'd first found all those years ago when they were still tracking down Jim Phelps. The area of London might have changed a lot since then, but this bar has thankfully stayed pretty much the same. Luther is already there, sat at a booth in the corner closest to the fire escape, and waves Ethan over when he sees him limp through the door. There's a beer waiting for him on the table, and he half-collapses into the side of the booth opposite his friend.
Luther twitches his sunglasses down his nose and gives Ethan a long, analytical look over them, not dissimilar to the way he looks at a system that he's trying to crack, then grins. "We've been in London less than twelve hours, Ethan."
"Don't play it coy, I've known you too long for that. Who was it? You finally get together with Ilsa?"
"A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell," Ethan says with a quick smile. He thought he'd hidden his satisfaction better than that, but Luther has known him for a little over twenty years now. It doesn't really come as a surprise that he sees through it so easily.
"Come on, man, I know you. You haven't been serious enough about anybody to get a look like that since Julia, you wouldn't be smirking like that if it was just some girl you met in a bar. What's she like?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't realise we were back in high school." When Luther's expectant look doesn't change, he sighs. "Okay, he, not she."
Luther only looks more satisfied that Ethan has given in a little. They know each other too well for that to have come as a revelation.
"That's all you're getting."
Luther raises a hand in surrender and doesn't push any further. "Okay, whatever. I thought you were gonna go visit the Secretary today, anyways?"
Ethan doesn't reply for a second, but he can feel heat rising in his cheeks. "Who says I didn't?"
Luther's eyes widen and Ethan suddenly regrets mentioning it. He knows most of his team don't necessarily... get on with Secretary Hunley- Alan (that's going to take some getting used to), after what they went through when he was in hiding, but even Benji had seemed worried.
Before he can break into excuses, Luther laughs. He slides his phone from his pocket and starts typing rapidly.
"Brandt owes me fifty bucks." At Ethan's raised eyebrows, he continues. "If you guys didn't finally get together on this mission, me and Benji had a plan for when we all got back home. Brandt was convinced we'd have to resort to that."
"Come on, it can't have been that obvious."
"Ethan, you know I love you, but it totally was."
"Anyway, what were you going to do? Lock us in an elevator?"
Luther waves his hand and grins even wider. "You'd just climb out an elevator. We were planning on locking you in the conference room. No windows, electronic locks, small air vents, good sound system to tell you both to get on with it."
Ethan rolls his eyes. "And you say I'm a pain in your ass."
"You are a pain in my ass, Ethan," he says, claps a hand on Ethan's shoulder. "But do you think I'd spend all that time coming up with this shit for anybody else?"
Ethan manages a grin of his own, even if Luther's hand had found about twenty bruises. "Alright, laugh it up. Just go spend some of that money you won on the next round."