Because nothing in their life ever plays out the simple or easy way, even after the team delivers Lane to the joint MI6-CIA task force, Will barely has time to check Ethan for obvious injuries before they're each pulled in opposite directions. One debrief follows the next, with barely time to breathe between them, much less eat or drink or—god forbid—use the bathroom. Luther's playing guard dog for Benji, but other than getting that point clarified, Will only sees the rest of the team in passing. He nearly causes an international incident by pulling away from his little honor guard of London's finest to make sure Ethan knows he's on his way to DC to walk JSOC through the implications of the Syndicate and their intelligence gathering operations.
Once on the plane, Will's a captive audience for the satellite comm system, but the number of people who can physically approach him is limited. All-in-all, he decides he can live with that trade-off, especially since there's a fully stocked galley he gets to take advantage of. One of the higher ranking aides makes a face when he ends up talking to Will while he's eating, but that's his problem, not Will's. The flight stewards are nice enough to keep his coffee refilled, too, even going so far as to hand him a travel mug as he's deplaning.
The day drags on and on and motherfucking on, the pace not letting up until well after midnight East Coast time. As far as Will can tell, he's been awake for close to 37 hours by that point. If there had been a life-and-death, adrenaline-fueled situation, he probably could have kept going a little bit longer, but once the final video conference screens go dark, he barely makes it to the couch in the bullpen outside the director's office before he crashes.
The director's executive assistant wakes him less than five hours later, but since she's personally delivering coffee and has one of her own assistants on the way in with a change of clothes in his size, Will tries not to be a complete son-of-a-bitch and just lets her lead him to a discreet set of rooms where he can shower and change. (He's long since given up most expectations of privacy and he supposes that being able to change out of the suit he's been wearing (and sleeping in) for more than he-forgets-how-many-hours is an acceptable trade-off.)
The second day proceeds along the same lines as the first, though he at least gets to stay in the same city (let alone the same continent.) Thanks to the same executive assistant (her name is Helen Sloane and Will carves out enough time during the day to find out her favorite restaurant and wrangle a gift certificate delivery to her desk) he even manages to sleep in an actual bed at the Four Seasons that night. She can't quite magic up more clothes, but the hotel laundry whisks everything he's wearing away and returns it with breakfast at five the next morning. Will is almost pathetically grateful at not having to walk into the White House in a creased and crumpled suit, even if all he's going to do is stand around in the background while the Director briefs the Chief of Staff.
Will doesn't expect it to be a cakewalk--half the governments in the world had been compromised by the Syndicate; he'd be shocked if JSOC didn't still have teams in the air hot and ready to strike--but he is a little surprised by the intensity of the hour they spend walking through the entire timeline, from when Ethan first dropped off the radar up to the final minutes of the handover. He knows the White House has been getting updates almost hourly, but there are apparently still a lot of things the President wants to know. He's fine with that, especially since the questions are sharp and to-the-point. He's glad everybody's watching now.
Still, he's just there to provide the right files and documentation, sliding Eyes-Only folders in and out of Director Hunley's hands as smoothly as possible, so he's caught completely off his guard when the Chief leans back and looks him dead in the eyes.
"Agent Brandt?" he asks, nodding when Will responds with a noncommittal, "Sir," before continuing, "That was your team on the ground." It's not so much a question as a statement, one that Will answers with yet another even, "Yes, sir." He's not really in the mood to hear how going outside the chain of command isn't something that can be tolerated, but Hunley's kept that sort of talk to a minimum so Will supposes he can deal with a bit of it here.
"The president asked me to convey his thanks to you and your team for stopping this group before events spiraled completely out of control."
As far as Will's concerned, events had blown by ‘completely out of control' even before Benji had been taken, but it's bad form to argue with the president's spokesman, so he puts on a good face and thanks the guy. And maybe he's been doing this too long, but he's not even the slightest bit surprised when it turns out that private thanks are about all they're going to get.
Hunley's side-eying him as they're ushered out of the conference room, but he doesn't say anything until they're back in the car and the privacy screen is up.
"You took that well," he finally tells Will. "Not getting public vindication."
"So did you," Will answers, shrugging. Hunley quirks an eyebrow, but doesn't say anything, so Will adds, "We both know that MI6 needs to get the credit, what with Atlee actually having gone rogue."
"We do," Hunley agrees. "Does the rest of your team?"
"And by the ‘rest of the team,'" Will says, "you mean Hunt." Hunley nods, a quick jerk of his head that tells Will that Ethan really has gotten under Hunley's skin, to the point that Hunley doesn't know what to think. After six months of lie detector tests, Will isn't all that eager to smooth things over, so he just shrugs again. "Are you taking care of Agent Dunn?"
"Then, yeah, the rest of the team will deal." Will leans his head back against the seat and closes his eyes. He figures he'll be paying for the fuck off implicit in the action for a while, but Hunley doesn't react beyond a soft snort and the atmosphere in the car stays calm and even. Traffic between the District and Langley is the usual cluster, the trip taking them long enough that Will almost manages to catch a nap while Hunley works at his tablet.
There's a repeat of the White House briefing with the assistant directors at Langley. By this point, Will is practically reciting from memory, but it's the last one he's going to have to do and he doesn't much care if he sounds like a robot or not. Half of the ADs still view him as suspect, which leads to some ridiculous lines of questioning, but Hunley shuts them all down. Will isn't exactly sure of his motives, but decides it's safe enough to table all thought on the topic until his brain has gotten enough sleep to catch the nuances of political maneuvering.
Will intends to leave once the briefing is done, but he stops to make a few notes for the cause-and-effect white paper he knows he'll be tasked to write at some point, and it's long past sunset when Hunley's voice pulls him out of the rabbit hole of just how much had gone wrong to allow the Syndicate to be created right under everyone's eyes.
"I can have them disable your laptop," Hunley says when Will brushes off his suggestion that Will close down. "I'm the director—I can actually do that." He waits with a bland smile on his face—as though he's not enjoying the whole power trip he's on--while Will gets himself together. He decides that the near-homicidal levels of rage he's feeling toward Hunley's not entirely unreasonable suggestion are a sign of how much he probably does need to do exactly what Hunley is forcing him to do.
It still doesn't mean he won't have a thing or two to say about Hunley's methods, and the wave of righteous fury carries him out to where his car is still parked, right where he'd left it when the situation with Ethan had deteriorated to the point that he'd just gotten on the first flight out of the country. Once he's there, though, the thought of the drive back up to the District is daunting enough that he seriously considers turning around and crashing in the bullpen for another night. The thought of his own bed proves irresistible, though, so he mutters, "Let's do this," to the night and keys in his unlock code.
The GPS takes him on the most direct route and he follows the fake-human voice automatically. He thinks it might be the only reason he actually makes it back to his condo—there are a couple of times when he looks up from the road in front of him and can't really place where he is. Muscle memory finally kicks in and gets him to the right parking space, and then carries him up the back stairs and through the carpeted hallways to his front door.
He fumbles getting his key into the deadbolt on the first try, but that just means that when something flickers on the edge of his vision, he still has the key in hand to slash with.
It's definitely good that it's Ethan—if it had been someone with actual bad intentions, Will was off-balance enough that he probably would have had to resort to fairly desperate measures, which would have caused a mess with the condo association, not to mention the local police. If it had been one of his neighbors, he probably would have caused some bodily harm—also frowned upon by the condo people and the cops.
As it is, Ethan just knocks Will's arm aside gently enough that he'll only have a nasty bruise rather than a broken wrist. It's practically a love tap, but seriously, Will thinks. What the hell?
Ethan just stands there, that half-smirk on his face.
"Words, Ethan." There's still enough adrenaline flooding Will's body that his voice comes out sharper and more on edge than he intends. "I know you know how to talk."
"I was trying not to startle you," Ethan answers mildly, not taking offense at Will snapping, which Will is taking as an apology the appearing-out-of-thin-air stunt.
"Good job," Will says, finally getting the damn deadbolt unlocked and the door open. He stumbles in with a sigh, looking back over his shoulder when Ethan doesn't follow immediately. "The engraved invitation's in the mail if you want to be formal."
When Ethan still hesitates, Will turns with a sick feeling in his gut. "What?" he asks, reaching for his phone. He hadn't noticed anything popping up on it, but as noted, his brain was fucking fried, and if anyone had been trying to reach him-- "Is it Benj--"
"No," Ethan says, finally stepping into the condo. "No, Benji's fine, everything's fine. They kept him overnight, but just for observation." He closes the door behind him and holds his hands up. "I swear, he's okay."
Will looks at Ethan closely, trying to decide if the strain he's carrying around his eyes is worse than what had been there in London. He thinks it is--once they'd taken out Lane and basically proved Ethan right about everything, Ethan had been bone-weary and worried about Benji, but the strain of being on the run for months had mostly faded. Now, he's looking… well, if it'd been anyone else other than Ethan Hunt, Will would be naming what he's seeing as uncertainty.
Ethan stays two steps inside the door, not moving, and Will reminds himself that even Ethan has his limits.
"Okay," Will says. He gestures toward the couch. "You want anything? I don't remember what I had in the fridge when I took off, but there's coffee, at least. I'll even grind some fresh." He looks at Ethan again, adding, "The good stuff. Just because we're not dead. Again."
"If you're having some, then yeah, but don't go to any trouble on my account," Ethan answers, and that is, Will thinks, pretty much enough.
"Okay, look," Will sighs. "I get that I'm missing something here, but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to have the brain power to figure it out for at least another week--and that's only if I get to sleep the whole time." He leans against the kitchen door frame and rubs hard at the base of his head. There's a migraine brewing there, but he thinks if he can crash out, he might be able to sleep through it. "So, if there's something you're expecting me to pick up on, it isn't going to happen and you should probably think about just saying it straight up."
Ethan looks at him, long and assessing, as though he's not sure exactly what his next move should be (which is one more tick mark in the Not Right column. Ethan always knows his next move, even when Will is telling him how wrong it is. Will resolves to wait things out, no matter how tired he is or how stubborn Ethan gets.)
Finally, Ethan shrugs. "You look like you haven't slept in a month. I can live without coffee."
Will rolls his eyes."It's more like six months—" Will holds up his hand to stop whatever Team-Leader-speech about taking care of the basic stuff is clearly dying to come out of Ethan's mouth. He's been giving himself the same speech the whole time, and that worked out about like he thought it would, in that how it hadn't really worked at all. "Making coffee still isn't going to kill me."
"Opening the front door wasn't going so well," Ethan says, because of course he's not going to let that go anytime soon. Will can't decide whether it's good to have Ethan sniping at him again, or if he'd been insane to miss it in the first place. He decides to call it a draw, just in the interest of his own sanity.
"Yes or no?" he asks.
"If you want some, I'll drink it, but don't make it otherwise," Ethan repeats. Since it's clearly going to be a longer night than he imagined, Will throws in the towel on going straight to bed and opens the freezer to find the bag of the good decaf beans. It's a testament to just how far he'd been willing to go to get a couple of hours a night that he even has such an abomination, but there'd been a few weeks where he'd been trying every little thing. He doesn't plan on mentioning that to Ethan, though.
Ethan watches for a few seconds, but then gives in to the restlessness Will can see around his eyes and starts wandering around the apartment. Will tracks him by the stops and starts he can hear, and knows he's seeing all the work Will has put into the place since the last time he'd spent the night. He's standing in front of the bookcases when Will comes out of the kitchen with the first of the coffee.
"You've down-sized," he says, accepting a mug from Will. He nods at the shelves. "I didn't think that would ever happen."
"I had some time on my hands," Will answers
"I noticed." Ethan wanders back to the dining alcove, which now boasts a period-accurate lighting fixture plus a new paint job. "Very domestic."
Will doesn't answer, just drinks his coffee. 'Time on his hands' is the truth, but only in the strictest sense. He had had a lot of free time and sitting around trying not to play into Hunley's hands was more difficult than he'd originally assumed, especially when the months had dragged on. The calmer he was at the office, the more annoyed Hunley had gotten. Staying home every night with a list of things to update and fix around the condo tired him out enough to get at least a little sleep, and sorting through the thousands of books he'd accumulated during his life helped on the days when power tools or paint brushes weren't advisable.
Ethan continues his tour of the apartment, stopping for every little change, even going so far as to run his fingers over the patches Will had made to the dings and dents the plaster walls had accumulated over the years. Will is fairly sure he doesn't know where they all are himself, but Ethan finds one after the other. Will knows that hyper-focus: it's Exhibit A for how wound up Ethan is.
Will shifts into the corner of the couch and props his feet up on the coffee table. There's no fighting Ethan when he's like this; it is what it is, and the best thing is to just let him wind down on his own. When Ethan turns around and finds Will watching him, he just shrugs in that way that says that he knows what Will's thinking and he isn't going to argue about it.
"How's Benji, really?" Will asks, which lets Ethan cover his excess energy with a precise and detailed list of doctors' statements, psych work-ups, and a few wry asides that address how very low-brow Benji's taste in food runs. The bottom line is that he's doing well enough that Ethan had been okay with leaving him with Luther. Will had already guessed as much, but he's glad enough to have it confirmed.
After a few more restless turns around the apartment, Ethan winds up back at the bookcases. This time he finds the shelf with all the books he'd left around Will's various desks and cars and tables. Will had found an even dozen under the bed during one particular weekend cleaning frenzy.
"I'm surprised you didn't just toss these," Ethan says, and Will's brain picks up an edge under the light tone. Here it is, he thinks. It's not much of an opening, but it's the first he's gotten into whatever (beyond the sheer insanity of having been on the run for half a year) is bothering Ethan.
"Why would I do that?" Will phrases the question as carefully as he can—he isn't in top form, but try as he might, he can't connect the dots he can see hanging between Ethan's words.
"They're not exactly your taste," Ethan answers, which is true enough, but still doesn't really answer the question.
"I wasn't that desperate for the space," Will finally says, which is, again, true, but not really moving the discussion forward. The whole subject is suddenly annoying the crap out of him. Part of that is because he's dead tired, which he freely acknowledges. But he's not sure if the rest of it is because he's slipped back into a loner headspace and has forgotten how to deal with someone in his home, or if Ethan's jumpiness is rubbing off on him.
Or all of the above, Will thinks. It's been a long half-year and he really has let his brain fold in on itself and fall into a lot of the bad habits he'd picked up after he'd left the field the first time. Plus, Ethan's spent that time strictly isolated and no matter how good an agent is, no one can do that indefinitely, not without ramifications. If he's tired, Will thinks, Ethan's got to be beyond exhausted. The way he can't seem to settle confirms that assessment in Will's estimation. Pointing that out won't help—for a man who is as intelligent as he is lethal, Ethan can be remarkably stubborn about assessing his state of mind—so Will tries a flanking move.
"Man," he sighs. "Sit down for two seconds." He tilts his head back against the cushion and regards Ethan through mostly closed eyes. "You're making me crazy with all the pacing."
For a second, Will thinks it's going to push Ethan the other direction, but on the next loop he makes, he stops and settles himself on the other end of the couch. He still looks like he's at DefCon 2, waiting for the elevation to 1 so he can explode into action, but he is sitting. Will knows enough to take his victories wherever he can.
He also knows not to rest on his laurels, so to speak. Ethan's not going to be still for long, not if they're just sitting there in silence, but Will's brain is not up to a lot of subtlety. "What I can't figure out," he hears himself saying, "is why I'd trash your books."
"Well," Ethan answers, "I didn't just mean my books." He shrugs. "It's been a while. It's been a shitty time."
"Okay," Will says, drawing the word out. The pieces start fitting together in Will's head. If he wasn't in such a weird place himself, he thinks he'd be insulted. As it is, he can almost see the even weirder place that Ethan's in, enough to take the edge off. "I could be misreading this, because, yeah, it has been pretty shitty lately, and I am starting to hallucinate about being in my own fucking bed, but it sounds to me like you think I'm the type who'd cut and run, the kind of guy who'd walk after a little stress."
"Weekly polygraphs are not a 'little' stress," Ethan says, and Will can hear the air quotes without even trying. "Not to mention the isolation and the surveillance, the hit to your career, to your integrity and reputation--"
"Ahhh," Will interrupts. "You've been talking to Benji."
"Yes," Ethan said, now in the stick-up-his-ass tone. "Yes, I have been talking to Benji, so excuse me if I didn't want to just assume nothing had changed."
Will sits up at that, the annoyance that Ethan has always been able to create overriding everything else. "Let me get this straight: you can sit in a Russian prison for two years to keep Julia safe, but I can't take the stress of some bullshit Company head game for six months? Is that what you're saying?" Ethan doesn't answer, but Will still knows how to read him, and the answer is that yes, of course, Ethan and his insane need to do it all is saying exactly that.
Will takes a long, steadying breath, and then takes another. The thing is, he knows just how much he's missed Ethan, even the parts that make him crazy. And he knows that if he doesn't step back, he's going to say something that will take a month to dig out from under. When he weighs it all out like that, it's easier than he expects to just… let it all go.
"Look," Will sighs. "I'm going to bed." He stands up and looks down at Ethan. "And since we seem to be in a place where every single thing needs to be spelled out, you're invited to join me."
Okay, so maybe he hasn't entirely let everything go, because that last part had come out all but drowning in sarcasm, but there's only so much he can be expected to deal with before his brain starts throwing out digs, and the whole situation is so far over that line he's mildly surprised that's all that came out.
Ethan looks up at him for a long few seconds, but then nods once and hauls himself to his feet. Will had put everything Ethan had left in the apartment in a drawer in the bedroom; Ethan has at least figured out not to comment further on that. He grabs a t-shirt that's so faded Will isn't even sure what it had said when it'd been new and, after a wordless exchange with Will about the order of potential showers, disappears into the bathroom. Will thinks about telling him that there's a new toothbrush in the top drawer, but since that's where he's always kept them, he figures Mr. Photographic Memory will be able to manage. He pulls his tie off and tosses it over the dresser, and then methodically empties his pockets and lines up everything—phone, keys, change, receipts, random scraps of paper—on the bedside table.
"Still that side?" Ethan says from where he's leaning against the doorframe, stripped down to the t-shirt and boxers. "From all the kicking that usually went on during the night, I'd have thought you'd have moved back to dead center." Will shrugs. Ethan's right: Will has never shared a bed easily, but then they both tend to sleep like shit so it mattered less with Ethan than it ever had with anyone else.
"Made it easier to pretend it was just another op, that you were going to be back in a week or so," Will answers as he unbuttons his shirt. It feels like it's a big deal that it's easy to admit that; it's probably even a bigger of one when Ethan offers, just as easily, "Yeah, I mostly stuck to the left side, too."
Will feels his mouth twitch up into a half-smile. Ethan grins back at him. "We'll never hear the end of it if Benji or Luther find out we have our own sides of the bed."
Ethan snorts. "Jane. Jane Carter is the one we really have to watch out for."
"Some things never change," Will agrees. It's all maybe a little too forced to be their pre-Syndicate winding-down-the-day routine, but they're trying and Will thinks that's the important part. "We can save it for a special occasion--a birthday present or something."
Ethan laughs, and Will can put up with a shit-ton of aggravating stuff to have that back in his life.
* * *
An hour later, when they're both still awake, and neither one of them has made a move to touch the other, Will says into the darkness of the bedroom, "All the downsizing and the projects--they were keeping me sane, yeah, but the end game was to put this place on the market." He hasn't said that to anyone, has barely acknowledged it to himself. "Still is."
"You've been here a long time," Ethan says. His words are careful; Will knows he's turning over at least a half-dozen doomsday scenarios behind them.
"I decided it was time to move on." Will shrugs, knowing Ethan will feel the movement. "If your luck finally ran out, I-- didn't want to be here." He leaves with the memories unspoken, but not unsaid. Ethan's very still on the other side of the mattress, as if he knows that it's the next part that's really going to throw a curve ball into their relationship. Will rolls onto his back and sighs. "If you pulled it off one more time, I thought it was time we both had a say in where we live."
The words drop into the room like a ticking bomb. Will counts off his breathing and has reached twenty-two before Ethan moves finally, a restless shifting that on anyone else would have been nothing. With Ethan, it's enough that Will's half-braced for the lights to come back on and the rest of the night to be spent on that particular back-and-forth that's not quite an argument, but not really a discussion either. Instead, Ethan says quietly, "I don't need that."
"Ethan," Will answers just as quietly. "Did you think I never noticed how this is never 'home'?"
Ethan had always been very careful never to refer to the condo as that. He'd say 'your place,' or 'the apartment,' or just say something like 'spend the night in Kalorama.' Will had had a lot of time to think about things while Ethan was gone; the decision that he was ready for that to change had come very early on in the cycle. Plus, it isn't as though Will had a strong attachment to this place. He likes the neighborhood, but that's about it.
"No, but that doesn't mean you have to pack up and move."
"It's not anything special," Will points out. "I bought it for the neighborhood, but that was a decade ago. I barely spent any time here until I got my leg torn up."
Ethan moves again, sitting up this time, but not saying anything. Will stays where he is, watching the slightly lighter bit of darkness that's the t-shirt over Ethan's unmoving, straight back, very aware that he's just changed the rules between them.
Before Ethan had gone off-the-grid, they'd been living together for all intents and purposes, but God knew they didn't ever talk about things like that. Will's had a lot of time to think about that, about how they both prefer to pretend things that just sort of happen are organic, and therefore better. It had taken an embarrassingly long time to admit that it was little more than a convenient dodge. And that they'd just been enabling each other and, once they'd gotten everything sorted out and Ethan was back, that Will just needed to man up and take the lead. He probably could have done it a little more smoothly, but waiting for even another day had suddenly seemed like an enormous waste of time that they might not have.
The silence stretches out until Will's just about to back off a little, tell Ethan that he's not putting out an ultimatum, that it's fine if Ethan needs time to sort things out, when Ethan takes a long, drawn-in breath and says, "You're sure?"
"Yeah," Will answers quickly, before Ethan think a single other thing. He reaches out to lay a hand flat on Ethan's back. "Yes."
"I-- Okay, then." Ethan relaxes a fraction, leaning into Will, and Will is suddenly aware of how long it's been since he's touched someone with any degree of care. He can't imagine Ethan's in any different of a place, which sucks, but at they're not only on the same continent now, but actually in the same room with no one demanding their presence elsewhere for the foreseeable future.
Will can work with that.