"Your mission, should you choose to accept it—" Secretary Hunley says, and Benji already knows what he's going to say next. He wants to wince, but he's become very good at keeping a poker face since becoming a field agent, and so he just looks ahead with a grim stoicism as Hunley continues—"is to infiltrate Dr. Qureshi's office, access the password saver installed on his work computer, and transmit the password back to home base in time for the next stage."
Next to Benji, Ethan doesn't so much as twitch.
Brandt and Luther, however, both cough like they've been working in the coalmines for several decades.
"As you know, Dr. Qureshi is a couple's therapist who specializes in same-sex relationships," Hunley continues, ignoring them. "Agents Hunt and Dunn will gain access to his office by posing as a couple in need of counselling."
Luther coughs harder.
"Once inside, a diversion will be created remotely, drawing Qureshi out of his office for long enough to give Dunn the opportunity to hack into his computer. From there, I expect you to—for god's sake, Agent Stickell, do you have something to say?" Hunley finally snaps.
"With all due respect, sir, can't we just hack into the system and skip all this bull?" Luther suggests.
"The next stage is incredibly time sensitive, as you know, and although you keep claiming that you can get into the system faster than humanly possible, I refuse to risk it. It's also of the utmost importance that nobody is aware we gained access. With a password, we leave no trace."
"Sir," Jane pipes up for the first time, "what if we set up a situation in which we can briefly steal Qureshi's laptop instead?"
"That's essentially what this mission is," Hunley says between gritted teeth, looking at her like he's starting to suspect the Russians have replaced her with some kind of clone robot. "What the hell is wrong with you people all of a sudden? Now is a bad time to suddenly inform me that you're allowing your homophobia to get in the way of international security."
"No, sir, not at all," they all rush to assure him.
To demonstrate just how not homophobic he is, Brandt makes a last ditch effort to propose an alternate plan. "What if we send in Jane and Ilsa instead?"
"Ilsa is on an unrelated assignment in an undisclosed location, and so is my fucking patience," Hunley says. "We don't have time for this. Do you accept the mission or not?"
Ethan squares his shoulders and puts his game face on, says "I accept" with all his usual solemnity.
Benji rolls his eyes and mutters something that definitely counts as a curse back where he's from before also saying, "Mission accepted."
* * *
Ethan hated to be a cliché, but almost losing everything really put things into perspective. It made a person realize that they shouldn't wait another day to seize what they cherish in life, strict anti-fraternization policies of their elite international spy agency be damned.
(That was what he had said when he proposed, his face overly earnest in that way it got sometimes when he really wanted something and it wasn't related to a job. It was extremely embarrassing, but Benji tried to hide it and look pleased instead. Or perhaps it had been extremely pleasing, and to hide that Benji tried to look embarrassed for Ethan instead. The end result was that both emotions showed on his face, which made Ethan shoot him the special exasperated look he saved just for Benji, all fond and annoyed, and oh god Benji loved him so much, of course he said yes.)
They were very careful about it, obviously. It was a quiet courtroom affair, kept very hush-hush. The only invitees were Luther and Jane, who signed the licence as their witnesses, and Brandt, who…was there.
"Excuse me?" Brandt had said, when Benji explained his rationale for inviting him.
"Well, Luther is Ethan's best mate and all, so I sort of want one of my mates there too so it'll feel balanced, only I don't really have any friends because I'm never in the same country for more than a week and I work at all hours and I can't tell anyone anything about my life. You're the next closest thing and you'll have to do."
"Wow. That is. Truly touching." Brandt said, giving him the exasperated glare that he saved just for Benji. It was all annoyance, zero fondness.
"Four p.m. sharp, dinner after." Benji tossed a pair of cufflinks at him. He'd gotten them monogrammed for Brandt, a memento of the occasion.
Brandt caught them with one hand, because of course he did. "You could've just said you want me there and left it at that."
"That's basically what I said."
Brandt growled at him, but he was already slipping a new shirt on and putting the cufflinks in, which made it even harder to take his intimidation seriously than it normally was.
Five could keep a secret, theoretically, if all five were elite spies who have kept much bigger secrets.
Everything went swimmingly, both during the ceremony and in the months after. Nobody who wasn't invited to the wedding was any wiser, and one night Ethan even uttered the words "See, Benji? I knew it would be fine."
In hindsight, it was very much like calling the Titanic unsinkable
* * *
"Everybody is live on comms," Brandt reminds them for about the fiftieth time, like he's scared Benji and Ethan will start talking about their sex lives or something. As if there's any problems there.
Benji ignores Brandt and says, "Okay, okay, what if we go with a tried and true classic? David suspects Ian is cheating—"
"David would never suspect that," Ethan interrupts, perhaps too intensely for a hypothetical. "David trusts Ian with all his heart."
"Alright, fine. What if David…has absolutely barbaric ideas about what constitutes appropriate drunk food? I mean, there's no more point trying to be healthy after you've had ten beers, and yet David insists that a handful of nuts and seeds will do us for the night, and even has the cheek to try to talk Ian out of chips and gravy when it's universally acknowledged that that is the only thing to eat after a night out."
"What if Ian steals all the blankets when it gets cold out, and David can't bring himself to confront him head-on about it because Ian looks so sweet all bundled up like a warm burrito? It's a huge elephant in the room in their relationship, this unspoken conflict. David might never find the words to talk about it."
In their ears, Brandt clears his throat and says, "This is all unusable shit."
"Sorry that our pretend marriage is too perfect to have any real problems," Benji says.
"Okay, but the comms are live," Brandt reminds them for the fifty-first time, "and the secretary could be listening in at any moment, so can we please come up with something?"
In the end, they invent an issue with Ian's in-laws making him feel like they disapprove of their union because they always thought their son could do better. Jane skillfully prevents Ethan from reading more into it and starting a brand new tangent about how David's parents would adore Ian if they were still alive.
Despite the inauspicious start, they actually manage to get their shit together and pull off the mission without a single hiccup. The therapist welcomes them into his office, and then leaves them alone in it to deal with a distraction manufactured by the rest of their team. Benji hacks into his computer and sends the intel they need to Luther, so quickly and efficiently that they have quite a bit of time to kill before Dr. Qureshi returns none the wiser. (Benji insists that making out with Ethan on the therapist's couch is for verisimilitude, it makes their covers look more real.)
They leave the office with a promise to make a follow-up appointment that they will never keep, and proceed to the rest of the mission.
'The rest of the mission' consists of Jane impersonating a member of the royal family of Lesotho, Brandt making a sniper shot that Benji was certain he wouldn't be able to, Ethan diving from a twenty foot platform into an opening only five feet wide, and then all of them jumping from the roof of a building onto a helicopter. So. The fake fake marriage incident becomes but a distant memory.
* * *
"Hunt is refusing to confirm or deny whether you've gone much more Method than necessary for your last cover," Hunley says without any preamble.
Benji's eyes dart to Ethan, but there's about as much expression to read there as a freshly erased whiteboard. "What, uh…how may I help you, sir?"
Hunley holds up a sheet of paper Benji can't quite read from where he's sitting and says, "Your taxes are being filed as a married couple now?"
Benji's eyes dart to Ethan's again. Still nothing. The decision is his. "We…um." He clears his throat. "That's because we are a married couple now."
"My office. Now." Hunley turns on his heel and marches away without another word.
Benji wipes his suddenly sweaty palms on his trousers.
"HR won't like this," Ethan says, but his voice sounds calm and steady.
"They won't make us quit, will they? We've saved the world five times and counting. Surely they wouldn't make us quit. Would they?"
They walk to Hunley's office in silence, mostly to avoid anyone else overhearing. Before they go inside, though, Benji grabs Ethan by the arm and says, "Listen, I'll just quit right now and then you can stay. You're the best agent in the IMF, plus you're basically unfit for any other job whereas there are tech jobs everywhere. And it's slightly my fault for forgetting that the tax thing would show up, I really should have thought of that—"
Ethan interrupts his breathless self-flagellating tirade by doing some fancy kung fu move with his arm that breaks Benji's hold, turns it around, and ends up with Ethan holding his hand. "You're a bad liar but a great agent. I know you, I know you're secretly just as much of an adrenaline junkie as me now, I've ruined you. You're not fit for any other job either, and this wasn't your fault. Neither of us is quitting."
He lets go of Benji's hand before they walk into Hunley's office because even he isn't that ballsy, but Benji does feel marginally better.
The first thing Hunley says to them is: "We can't afford to lose either of you. It's a matter of global security that you get a divorce immediately."
Benji supposes it's pretty telling that that option didn't even occur to him or Ethan.
Further proof that Ethan is a keeper comes in the form of him looking Hunley dead in the face as he says, in that soft-spoken, unassuming tone he uses to trick bad guys into thinking he won't hit them right before he hits them, "Sir, in the interest of global security, I think you'll find that it makes much more sense if you…just keep your mouth shut about this whole issue. With all due respect."
Hunley gapes at them, and for a while there is a lot of swearing at indiscreet volumes. Luckily the office is soundproofed, as all offices of directors of spy agencies should be, and in the end he gives in when he realizes that neither Ethan nor Benji, extensively trained not to crack under any kind of torture, is going to budge on the divorce issue.
Six can keep a secret, if five of them were elite spies who have kept much bigger secrets and the sixth is their boss.