DISCLAIMER: I do not own Mission Impossible or any of its characters.
A/N: Hello everyone! Long time no see! I've finally managed to put a little something together over a few (very, very early) mornings that I'm happy uploading. I wrote this after watching Mission Impossible: Fallout a couple of weeks ago and this short scene came to mind. I was going to focus more on the action side of the story but decided to create a gentle aftermath fic instead. If you have the time please read and review. I would absolutely LOVE to know what you think. Constructive criticism is welcome too. As always, enjoy :) x
P.S. I listened to a wonderful piece of music called The Watchtower by Sigimund on Spotify. If you like listening to music whilst reading I can highly recommend it.
It's the sound of voices that wakes her. Hushed, no more than a whisper, echoing in the far corners of the room. A window creaks open and the sound of moving traffic shuffles noisily through the air, car horns beeping impatiently, the wail of a fire engine rising above the din. Rain hammers loudly against the pane and there's a faint smell of smoke, the familiar metallic tang of blood on her lips.
It feels as if she hasn't been breathing for hours.
One eye cracks open, then the other, the world on a strange, blurred slant obscured by tired black lashes that struggle to overcome the pull of sleep. Golden light seeps in from above, illuminating particles of dust that merge with the dark spots dancing across her sight. Her fingertips are first to come into focus, followed closely by the outline of a cannula protruding from her arm. Traces of blood lick around her wrist, bright crimson vivid against porcelain skin, only to fade where someone has hurriedly tied a bandage.
Panic flares, limbs instinctively starting to move but pain swiftly follows and ignites somewhere deep in her chest, spreading like wildfire until it flits angrily around her ribs. A moan leaves her lips unbidden, quiet, like the rustle of a midnight breeze and she curls inwards, squeezing her eyes shut against the overwhelming nausea that grips her stomach.
"Hey." A hand touches her cheek, smooths the strands of matted hair out of her eyes. "It's alright. Don't try to move just yet."
Relief floods her senses at the sound of his voice, gaze drifting to the fingers that rest hesitantly beside hers.
"Ethan." His name leaves her lips breathlessly.
"Shhhh," comes the reply. "We made it back to the rendezvous. We're safe here."
Blood rushes in her ears, a thudding pulse in her right shoulder. He leans closer, unfolds a blue cotton blanket and drapes it carefully over her. It's soft, a cocooning warmth against the shock that's slowly beginning to set in.
"They're okay," he reassures her. "A few minor burns. Nothing we can't handle."
A bruise is blooming on his cheekbone, lower lip slightly swollen. Instinctively she reaches up to touch his face, but he quickly catches her hand and places it back at her side. They should be used to it by now, she thinks absentmindedly, to living like this.
"How bad is it?" she manages and the sudden grief in his eyes catches her unawares. He's holding back, assessing her condition.
"You took quite a fall."
That much she remembers: glass shattering into a million pieces around her as the window explodes outwards. Heat dissipating, flames replaced by a fleeting expanse of blue sky and the rushing of wind. Plummeting to the ground from two stories up. The sudden sharp impact as she hits the roof of a car then tumbles towards unforgiving concrete, watching as the full extent of the explosion covers the world above in a thick blanket of black smoke.
Ash falls like billowing snow, coolness and warmth swarming around her as she tries to stay focused, tries to push herself off the harsh ground. Her elbows buckle and there's a high-pitched ringing that doesn't relent, mingling with the screaming of a siren. A voice shouts her name, arms lifting her off the ground and holding her tight. Her hands are sticky with something warm and the world spins violently. The voice calls again, softly, desperately, hands pulling at her body but everything is numb. Already her vision is darkening, cold creeping into her bones and squeezing her heart with a tightening fist. It's beat falters; she can hardly feel it at all.
"How bad?" Ilsa asks again, letting her mind wander back to the present, to the way Ethan is staring at her as if she might disappear at any moment. His eyes are still, glazed with something she can't identify. If it had been anyone else she might have been unnerved, but she's never been afraid to meet his gaze, to stare unabashedly into the oceans of his soul.
"Broken clavicle and fractured radius on the right-hand side. Four cracked ribs. Severe bruising to the left femur. Minor burns. Sprained wrist. Concussion." The list of injuries rolls off his tongue disjointedly. "Luther did a pretty good job of patching you up."
Ilsa blinks her understanding, rolls her tongue over the cracked, dry skin of her lips. He must have seen because his hand is suddenly on the back of her neck and he's holding up a glass of water. She drinks eagerly, swallowing the cool liquid. He's gentle, patient, and for the first time she realises how much she wants, needs, him to hold her. How safe he makes her feel.
"How long was I out?"
"Seven hours and fourteen minutes." He's been counting, she notes, and he swallows hard. "You lost quite a lot of blood."
Her fingers stretch out towards his but he leans back, frowning down at the space where his knees meet the edge of the sofa.
"What is it?"
His jaw tightens, hands fisting in frustration as his defences falter.
"This should never have happened."
There's something almost frightening in the way he fights for control over his emotions, the way he tries to still the shaking of his left hand, clenching it repetitively. She lets her fingers brush against his knee, wincing at the flare of pain that shoots up her arm.
"Ethan, you couldn't have known."
He breathes a strange sort of laugh, shaking his head in disagreement.
"I should've been able to stop it. That's what we do, right?" His voice is low, heavy, like the rumbling of thunder on the horizon after a storm. "When the bomb went off I watched you tumble right out of that room and I thought..." He hangs his head. "I should've been there."
"You were." She can still feel his arms underneath her, watching as the smoke billowed out from the building above. "I heard you."
"Ilsa, if anything had happened to you..."
He lifts his gaze and something sparks in her chest, an aching tightness that makes it difficult to breathe. Perhaps it's only her broken ribs, she muses, but the more she loses herself in his dark brown gaze the more she realises it's because of him. Because of his untamed, raw emotion. Because he's unashamedly unlocked the depths of his soul.
"Nothing happened," she whispers softly. "I'm right here."
His hand entwines with hers, thumb grazing over her bruised knuckles. He doesn't nod, doesn't say anything. He simply holds her hand. And that's enough for now.
"This is the job, Ethan. This is the life we chose to live. We accepted it with all it's challenges, all it's dangers. Luther, Benji and I chose to be here and you can't always be there to protect us. Whatever happens to us is not your fault. We know the risks."
"You can't save everyone, Hunt," she says knowingly. "At least not all the time."
Ethan smiles lop-sidedly, squeezing her hand and leaning closer before placing a gentle kiss to her palm. His breath tickles her skin and she revels in the way his lips press against the inside of her wrist as if that alone could heal the wound there.
"I just don't like seeing the people I care about in pain." There's an intensity in his gaze, a determination that burns brightly. His hand trails through her hair, smoothing down to rest against her temple. She might be bruised, she might be broken, but in so many ways Ethan Hunt has already saved her.
"I care for you, Ilsa. Deeply." A smile tugs at his lips, the lines around his eyes creasing in sincerity. "More than I can say."
Her breath hitches as he leans down to kiss her forehead, lingering longer than he ever had before. Fingers feather across her cheek, and for the first time in many, many years she feels whole. Because with him it's like she can feel everything.
"You should get some sleep," Ethan says eventually, pulling back and smiling shyly. There's a sparkle in his eye that hadn't been there a few moments ago, his features brighter, the scars of past burdens fading - if only for a little while. But as he begins to move away the familiar panic returns and her arm reaches out of its own accord, hope fighting against the fear that still rests behind her ribcage.
Her fingers catch his wrist and she holds on tight, eyes searching.
"Stay with me?"
He doesn't say anything as he sits back down, rearranges the blue cotton blanket over her shoulders. The golden light above fades, merging at last with the steel-grey clouds on the horizon. Rain taps loudly against the windows now, the steady stream blurring the world outside. With evening comes the slowing hum of city life. A foghorn drones from far over the Manhattan waters, the smell of freshly baked bread drifting up from the Italian restaurant across the street, rich and deep and soothing, and in the room below someone plays the ukulele.
Hesitantly Ethan brushes a stray lock behind her ear before finding the space between her fingers. Sleep pulls at her mind, eyelids heavy, and she exhales softly as her eyes begin to close.
"I'll be right here."
Even as the sunlight fades and she no longer has the strength to stay awake, he remains beside her, holding her hand.