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If You Were Here

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(703) 555-3846

Friday 11:52 PM

is g thuis Ethan hunt


Ethan FICKING HUbt

Today 12:04 AM

ohf I’m benji

June favr me your num er

Jane


why aren't you herr

it wouif be fun if you w er re here I tjink


Benji opens his eyes and squeezes them shut the next moment. Every part of his body aches, which he had expected to happen by his third cocktail that night, but at the time he decided to brush it aside and worry about it in the morning. After all, he’s Benji Dunn, field agent of the IMF, and he had just helped advert nuclear war three missions in. If there was any excuse to get drunk like his days in uni, it was with Jane and Will after all of them thought they had sealed their certain doom in Dubai. But that doesn’t make a hangover any less miserable.

His phone vibrates next to him and he groans. He feels so sick that the thought of even checking his phone overwhelms him. The possibility that maybe it’s the IMF trying to reach him for something serious isn’t even enough to rouse the motivation in him to get up and take an aspirin. Let that missile hit. Hopefully it’ll take him out too.

A few minutes pass before his phone vibrates again, causing him to sigh and finally push himself up. His mouth is dry, head swimming, stomach turning in on itself. He waits until he’s partly sure he won’t throw up and stumbles towards the bathroom with one eye closed. Just barely he manages to swallow two aspirins down before flopping back onto his bed. For some span of time, he grips onto his bedsheets and lets the world spin around him. Then he rolls over and grabs his phone.

It hurts to read. He makes a lazy attempt to grab his glasses off of his side table, but gives up when they’re too far away. So he squints, strains his eyes, and tries his best to make sense of what’s in front of him.


Jane

Today, 2:37 AM

hey! just making sure you made it to
your place alright

11:45 AM

are you still breathing?


make sure to eat something


He types back a quick response to her. For all her incredible strength and general badassery, Jane has a motherly side to her hidden away under the tough exterior. Or maybe Benji had been really, really drunk last night.

After sending that text, he returns to his messages and finds that there’s an unfamiliar number. No contact name is available.

Benji pauses, allows himself to ride out a brief wave of nausea, and then opens his unread message.


(703) 555-3846

6:36 AM

Have a nice time last night
Benji?


Oh, god.

He swipes up and looks over what messages he sent.

Oh, no.

Benji wracks his memory to remember getting Ethan’s number last night. Of course, he had to have got it from Jane, but what could have possibly prompted her mortifies him.

His heart skips a beat. Maybe it isn’t Ethan, he thinks. Maybe he texted a stranger. They said Benji's name, after all; whoever answered didn’t state theirs. Benji sends back a text.


(703) 555-3846

6:36 AM

Have a nice time last night
Benji?

12:11 PM

is this actually Ethan?


Benji buries his face into his bed and takes a few deep breaths. Jane was right, he thinks to himself; he did need to get up and go get something to eat. Maybe just some toast or crackers. Something that he could stomach. Anything to dissipate how miserable he felt, even if just slightly.

The aspirin finally kicks in, alleviating his headache to a point where it no longer feels that his head will split open if he moves around. He gets up again, uses the restroom, splashes water on his face, and then returns to his room. The light of his phone blinks at him in greeting.

He winces and picks up his phone.


(703) 555-3846

12:11 PM

is this actually Ethan?

12:34 PM

Yep


Fuck. He got Ethan Hunt’s phone number, and the first thing he did was drunk text him. He makes a hasty reply.


(703) 555-3846

12:34 PM

Yep

shit

I'm so sorry Ethan

I don't usually do this

It's okay

I thought it was funny


That response is somewhat relieving. Everything about this situation is humiliating, but Ethan being amused is considerably better than Ethan losing all respect for him.

His musing is interrupted when he sees the little dots bouncing on his screen.


(703) 555-3846

What were you doing with Jane
last night?

Besides drinking

celebrating that the world
didn't end                        

she said she invited you

didn't you know about it?

She told me about that

Was it just you two?

brandt came

you're the only one who didn't

Maybe next time

no offense to you Ethan but I
don't want there to be a next
time                                      

no more almost nuclear war

I have bad news for you about
our job


Benji snorts and sits up. It’s nearing one; it would be better if he gets up and gets around, even if he has nothing much to do today. He still feels terrible, but at least he can make himself a small lunch and then get to work on some paperwork he has to finish for the IMF.

He grabs his phone and heads to the kitchen. After settling on eating a very late breakfast, he opens his phone again.


Jane

12:42 PM

did you give me ethan's number
last night?

12:48 PM

you asked for it

why did I ask for it?

you wanted to ask him out

I wanted to what?

ask him to go to a bar

as colleagues. your words

and you gave me his number?

did you text him something
bad?

just drunk texts

I wasn't sober either

wait, what did you text him?


He’s distracted by a new message that appears at the top of his screen.


(703) 555-3846

12:52 PM

I'll make it up

You have to meet me in Seattle
though

Seattle?

I sent you a message about it

So you can get Jane's email
but not mine?

oh that email

Jane told me in person by the
way

Sure

you have my phone number now

I'm only a text away

Great, tell Jane that drinks
are on me in Seattle

why me?

Since you two are such
close friends…

piss off


He switches back to Jane.


Jane

Benji?

what did you text him?

nothing!

he said drinks are on him in
Seattle

shit I forgot about Seattle

why are we drinking in
Seattle?

making up for last night

are you talking to him?

dumb question

yeah

I mean yes I'm talking to him

let me message him

what are you saying??


Benji sets his phone aside and focuses on eating instead. Maybe some of his nausea is due partly to hunger pains; he had last eaten in the early evening yesterday, he realizes. He resists the urge to pick up his phone when it vibrates once, and then twice. By the time he finishes eating, the temptation to check his messages is almost too much to bear.


Jane

just wanted to ask him about
Seattle

also why he didn't show up


(703) 555-3846

12:59 PM

Jane responded to you faster
than she did to me. Maybe I
should text you now.

1:07 PM

I'm not playing messenger


did she ask you why you were
gone last night?

 

No

Are you talking about me?

no comment

I'm still a bit sore, that's
all

Jane got shot and she still
managed to come

Oh that's the game you want
to play?

I drove a car headfirst off a
platform

incredibly stupid of you

We aren't living in a post-
apocalyptic world now. You're
welcome

no one likes a braggart

No comment


Benji grins and flips back to Jane, where he types a response to let her know about Ethan’s absence before getting up to take his plate to his sink. He runs over a list of minute tasks he could do that day besides paperwork -- it wouldn’t hurt to go to the store -- and then returns to his room.

The illness of his hangover has waned even further. He observes himself in the mirror and decides he’ll take a shower and put on a pair of sunglasses before going outside. Benji gathers an outfit together, swallows down a glass of water, and then jumps in the shower. The warm spray is refreshing, causing him to linger a bit until the temperature dips. Afterwards, he dresses quickly and makes his way back to his kitchen in an attempt to locate where he last threw his sunglasses.

The search doesn’t take long; they’re sitting on his napkin dispenser for whatever reason. As he grabs them, he notices the light of his phone blinking again.


Jane

1:12 PM

he didn't come because he was
too sore

he just told me that

does he know I had a bullet in
me?


(703) 555-3846

No comment


I couldn't have done it
without you


The sincerity of the last text catches Benji off guard. It isn’t as if Benji doesn’t already know he was partly responsible for preventing nuclear war, but that night had been such a rush, especially with Ethan and Jane whisked away to the nearest hospital. None of them had really had a chance to talk about it all with each other until he went out with Jane and Will last night. Ethan hasn’t had a chance to say anything until now. And Benji hadn’t expected Ethan to be so direct and warm with him.

A few moments of paralyzing indecision pass, thumbs hovering over his keyboard, waiting for the words to come. Then he closes out, opens a new contact, and puts Ethan’s number in. He opens his messages once more.


Ethan

I couldn't have done it
without you

the pleasure was mine


Benji smiles to himself, puts on his sunglasses, and heads for his front door.

Chapter Text

Benji furiously pounds away at the keyboard in front of him, doing the best he can to focus on the numbers flying across the screen and not on the voices shouting in his ear. What Jane and Ethan had gotten themselves into, he isn’t sure; all he knows is that they’re both yelling about something while Will remains strangely quiet. He would ask what Will is up to if it isn’t for the fact that he’s busy preventing the security system from triggering an entire lockdown as his team does their best to find a folder to bring back to the IMF. And while a lockdown might not be bad news for Ethan, who, as far as Benji knows, is currently running across the roof like a madman, it’s bad news for him and Will, wherever the hell he is.

The squabbling over the coms is suddenly interrupted by gunfire. Everyone drops silent as the sound of two men struggling takes their place; then, suddenly, it’s over.

“Ethan?” Jane asks. “Was that you?”

“No.” Ethan’s out of breath. “I just managed to get away. Benji?”

“Sure as hell wasn’t me,” Benji answers.

“Benji, where are you?” This time it’s Will’s voice. He sounds completely frantic.

“I’m in the basement, you know that.”

“Jane, where are you?”

“Outside. Was there a problem with the retrieval?”

“Benji, get out.”

Benji’s heart skips a beat. “What?”

“What’s wrong?” Jane asks.

“They know we’re here.”

“And?”

“They’ve got the place rigged. They started a countdown.”

The words don’t entirely process. “How do you know that?”

“Took out a guy with the detonator.”

“Can’t you stop it?” Jane asks.

“There’s a combination. It’s better if we just get out.”

“How the hell am I supposed to get out without tripping the alarms?” Benji says.

“Go while there’s time, I can handle tripping them.”

“No,” Ethan interrupts. “It’ll just draw the police and kill more people.” He pauses, and then says, “I’m coming back in.”

“Ethan, stay out!” Jane exclaims.

“We have to terminate the detonation somehow! If this place goes up, it’ll hurt more than just our team.”

“There’s not much time for conversation,” Will rushes. “Unless Benji can get up here.”

“Where are you at?” Benji asks.

“The main office.”

Benji sighs, says, “Alright,” and then packs his things as quickly as possible. He can hear Ethan saying something over the coms, telling Benji to stay where he’s at, but he’s already on his way to rush up the staircase. This is the one and only time, he thinks, that he’s at least partly grateful for having to sprint up and down so many staircases to pass the IMF’s physical test.

“Benji, where are you?” Ethan asks.

“On the factory floor.”

“Do you know anything about bombs?’

“Of course I do,” he answers. “At least, I think I do. Look, I can identify some things--”

“Never mind, I’m coming.”

Sure enough, Ethan comes into view just as Benji makes it to Will. He’s standing in the middle of the room, hair in a mess, eyes focused on a silver case on the desk with its lid popped open. “Where’s the detonator?” Benji inquires.

“Here.” He nods towards the silver case.

Benji moves towards him and catches glimpse of the inside. Three blinking numbers nearing the four minute mark hover over a keypad.

“D’you think that you need a combo to start the countdown?” Benji asks.

“If there is, the only person who knows is dead now.”

Ethan appears in the doorway. “What’s happening?”

The both of them wave towards the case. Ethan takes a moment to look at it before swearing under his breath.

“What’s going on?” Jane asks over the coms.

“We have four minutes to find a code.”

“Will, did you find the file?”

“I haven’t been able to look.”

“Find it and leave. It’s not worth risking your lives like that.”

Ethan’s ready to say something, but Benji exclaims, “Wait.” Ethan and Will turn to face him. “This might be because I’ve been staring at numbers all afternoon, but I think -- I think I might know the combination.” He yanks his laptop out and opens up the program he had just been on. “When I was decrypting things earlier, I found the passkey to the security system and a few other codes that I was unsure of. I made note of them just in case.”

“You think one of those might be it?” Ethan asks.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “But it doesn’t hurt to try. Does it?”

“Give me a code.”

Benji hurries through his swamp of files, quietly berating himself for letting his desktop get so cluttered, until he finally finds what he needs. “240731,” he reads off.

Ethan repeats the code back before punching in the numbers in the same order. Nothing happens.

“Anything else?” Will asks.

“Uh.” He starts scrolling through the throng of numbers he accumulated earlier that afternoon. “Here, this might be useful. 597033.”

Ethan puts that string of numbers in. The timer continues to tick down.

“Two minutes,” Will announces.

“If you can’t stop it, just leave,” Jane says over the coms.

“Benji, find me another string,” is Ethan’s order.

He obeys, doing his best to race through everything he has saved. Each second feels like an eternity, Benji waiting for his life to be cut short with each new moment, doing everything possible to block out the anxiety that bleeds through Will’s otherwise stony exterior, until he yells out, “158439!”

Ethan inputs that code immediately. A tense half a second passes; then the timer stops.

All three of them sigh in relief. “Forty-four seconds left,” Will remarks.

“Personal best,” Ethan says. “Jane, you still outside?”

“Right next to where you ran in.”

“Great.” He turns towards Benji. “Disable the security system again. Will and I are looking for that file.”

“Godspeed,” Benji responds. “I better not have to move again.”

“No promises,” Ethan shoots back before rounding the corner back into the hallway.


“Bloody amazing how difficult it is to find a file,” Benji grumbles once they finish debriefing. It’s the most he’s able to say about the experience. He still isn’t entirely sure how to act after such dramatic moments on missions. There’s always so much adrenaline pumping in his veins at the moment that the ball of anxiety comes later, leaving him feeling slightly sick but not enough to complain to anyone else. Especially not when people like Ethan looked so cool and collected after missions.

“Welcome to the team,” Ethan tells him.

He can’t tell if it’s sarcastic or not, poking his buttons for being so overwhelmed by the immense amount of pressure that comes with each mission, but it ends up feeling oddly welcoming either way.

Then Ethan continues with, “And as a team member, you can go find us dinner.”

“Gee, thanks,” Benji says, but the idea of doing something as normal as running to a corner shop somewhere and getting something to eat after a mission feels almost therapeutic. “But you can’t complain about what I get.”

“Good point. I’ll come, too, just to keep opinions balanced.”

“You best behave yourself, then,” Benji warns.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Ethan grins. “Let’s go get freshened up.”

Benji goes upstairs and changes into something much fresher than his clothes made musty by the factory basement. When he’s finished, he waits for Ethan to leave the bathroom, then heads to the car.

“That’s the worst part about safehouses,” Ethan says as they drive down the street. “You never really know what or when you’re going to eat next.”

“It’s not so bad,” Benji muses. “Missions make me forget about eating sometimes.”

“That’s not good.”

“I have other things I’m focused on, that’s what I meant.”

“It shouldn’t be distracting you from eating, though.”

Benji glances at Ethan out of the corner of his eye. He looks just as cool as ever, without any noticeable hint of joking around.

“You’re not exactly the king of taking care of yourself,” Benji finally says.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re too selfless sometimes. Or maybe just stupid.”

“Ouch,” Ethan says with a small smile. “If I knew you were going to insult me, maybe I wouldn’t have come.”

“Even if that meant I had complete rule over what we had to eat tonight?”

“I trust you with that.”

“Then you didn’t come for just the food reason, did you?”

“No, I didn’t.”

Benji flexes his fingers around the steering wheel. “Why’d you come, then?”

“I wanted to tell you how impressed I was with you this afternoon.”

“You already mentioned that when we were debriefing.”

“I know, but it feels more genuine in private. Really, Benji, that was some great work on your part.”

He looks over at Ethan incredulously. “Even with the codes that didn’t work beforehand?”

“We made it out in one piece in the end. That was your doing.”

Benji’s face goes warm. “Thanks,” he mumbles back. “I mean really, uh, thanks.”

Ethan leans back in his chair. “Why so quiet all of a sudden?”

“You’ve discovered my weakness,” he says with an apologetic laugh. “I have no idea how to take compliments.”

“Think of it as me expressing gratitude, then.”

“I don’t think that helps very much.” He’s sure he’s blushing now. “Why’re you looking at me like that?”

Ethan’s lips pull back into another tight grin. “I just think you’re funny.”

“Oh.” Benji consciously untenses his shoulders. “Side effect of being the greenhorn around here, I guess. I get a bit uneasy.”

“Why? You’re just as trained as the rest of us.”

“Are you not aware of your own reputation?” Benji laughs. “Being on my third mission and working with Ethan bloody Hunt?”

“That sounds familiar.”

“What does?”

“Ethan fucking Hunt, if I remember correctly.”

He’s definitely blushing now. “You’re trying to embarrass me now.”

It’s Ethan’s turn to laugh. “It was funny to wake up to,” he says.

“God,” Benji sighs, “that’ll never happen again, I haven’t been drunk in…” He exhales and swallows. “I nearly had a heart attack when I saw your response in the morning.”

Ethan laughs harder, now. “People only text me about serious things, so yours was a welcome change in pace.”

“You mean to tell me that you’re so well-liked and yet nobody ever texts you for fun?”

“I’m usually halfway around the world, you know.”

“All work and no play,” Benji tsks. “Even more of a reason why you should have came with us to the bar that night. You could have seen me get drunk first hand.”

“I thought we had a nice conversation in Seattle.”

“Yeah, after you gave us more work to do. Doesn’t really count as a friendly get-together.”

Ethan glances out the window and nods across the street. “There’s a shop over there we can stop by.”

Benji follows Ethan’s gesture and parks next to the sidewalk out front. As they come to a stop, Ethan says, “I guess I just haven’t thought much about going out with people since I got married.”

The mention of his previous marriage makes Benji freeze for a moment. He’s not sure how much he can ask or say, leaving his brain reeling for a moment to find an adequate response. “Well,” he starts once he settles on something, “you’re not in a prison in Russia, and you’re not in a hospital recovering, so if you’re not busy, and I’m not busy, we could get drinks sometimes. If you’d like that.” When Ethan doesn’t immediately responds, he adds, “It gets boring just laying around my apartment sometimes, even if I wish I was doing just that while I’m running around with you.”

“Just running around with me, or running around in general?”

Their eyes meet. “Definitely in general. Although you make my blood pressure spike particularly high sometimes.”

Ethan smiles once more. “It’s in the job description,” he tells him. “Let’s go get something to eat before Jane and Brandt start wondering where we’re at.”

Benji agrees with a nod and follows Ethan inside. On his way in, he’s struck with the surreal realization that he might just be friends with Ethan Hunt.

Chapter Text

Ethan

7:47 PM

I'm sitting by the bar

Just letting you know

what the fuck Ethan

What?

I said 8

not a quarter to 8

I know

I don't mind waiting

but it makes me feel like
an ass

It's fine Benji. I like
being early.


Benji swears under his breath and quickens his pace down the street. It seems obvious that Ethan would be the kind of person who likes to arrive early, but for some reason he hadn’t taken the possibility into consideration when he decided to walk over instead of taking a cab. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, just to get some fresh air to quell the jitters he got after Ethan unexpectedly agreed to his proposition to go to a bar together. Leave it to Ethan to make him even more nervous than he already is.

By the time he makes it to the bar, the butterflies in the pit of his stomach are overwhelmed by his slight panting. All his training in the IMF and he’s still out of breath, he thinks to himself sourly, but he pushes the thought aside and begins looking for the familiar shaggy hair that belongs to the older agent. It’s nowhere to be seen.

Benji frowns, figures that maybe Ethan went to the restroom, and approaches the bar. Then he sits on a stool and pulls out his phone to send a text that he’s here.

“Benji!”

That’s Ethan’s voice. He turns around and catches glimpse of his warm smile and eyes, but with his hair buzzed short, the way it had been when Benji had worked with him in Shanghai years ago.

“Oh,” Benji says as he absorbs Ethan’s new look. “I didn’t even recognize you.”

“I thought it was time for a change,” he responds, running his hand through his hair. “I was getting tired of it falling in my eyes.”

“You look amazing.” Benji’s heart stops when he realizes what he said. “I mean, your hair looks amazing.”

Ethan doesn’t seem to be deterred by the compliment. Maybe Benji wouldn’t have been bothered if it weren’t for the fact that such a remark slipped out so easily as a result of his long history of going to bars with other guys. There’s a method he has about it, starting with a friendly compliment, and then eventually ending with the two of them falling into his bed already half naked.

A brief image of doing the same with Ethan flashes through his head, but it’s enough to make Benji flush. Maybe he had thought about what it would be like to take Ethan home out of his own curiosity in the past, but he hadn’t ever considered a scenario that involved the two of them together.

“You wanna get something to drink?” Ethan asks.

“Uh,” he responds, all dirty thoughts about Ethan making a slow retreat, “yeah. Sounds good.”

The two place their orders and then take a seat at a nearby table. At first, Benji doesn’t say anything, preferring instead to sip on his drink and let the other man initiate a conversation.

“Damn,” Ethan sighs finally. “I think Luther is the only person I’ve gotten drinks with since I’ve been married.”

“Glad to get you back into the scene then,” Benji tells him. “I think it’s good for someone of our profession to just shut their brain off and relax for a few hours.”

“I don’t like to idle for too long. I just feel like there’s more I could be doing.”

“You’re gonna kill yourself if you approach life like that.”

“Maybe. I signed up for it.”

Benji furrows his brow. “You alright, mate?”

“Mm-hm.”

He purses his lips and stares at Ethan intently, but his face is completely blank. “Alright,” he murmurs. “I know we’re not best friends, but this is the place to get anything off your chest.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine,” Ethan reassures.

“If you say so.”

Ethan takes a sip and clears his throat. “So, what did you talk about when you were with Jane and Brandt?”

“You really expect me to remember?”

“Alright, why’d you go drinking together, then?” he grins.

“To celebrate not dying. I told you that.”

“That’s funny.”

“What is?”

“I’ve never considered celebrating after a mission,” he says as he scratches his chin.

“You’re never celebrated a successful mission?”

He shakes his head.

“Oh, Ethan,” Benji sighs. “It really is all work, no play for you.”

“I don’t know, sometimes there just isn’t anything to celebrate. Especially when it’s a normal part of your job.”

“But you have to congratulate yourself at some point.” He leans in. “Look, my sister nearly worked herself into a mental hospital from working too hard without giving herself a break. Life completely changed after she figured out she’s allowed to enjoy herself outside of what she believed her workplace wanted of her.”

“You have a sister?”

Benji blinks. “Uh, yeah. And a brother. Why are you asking?”

“I don’t think I know anything about you,” Ethan says. “No one ever talks about themselves when they’re working.” He shrugs. “Caught me a bit off guard.”

“Oh.” Benji reclines in his chair and crosses his arms. “Suppose you’re right. There’s not much time to reminisce about ourselves while we’re trying not to die.”

“Are you the oldest?”

“The baby,” he tells him. “And you…” He studies him for a moment. “I bet you’re an only child.”

“I have plenty of cousins, though.”

“Cousins are different than siblings.”

“Sure, but running around with your cousins every day is closer to having siblings than growing up in total isolation like some only children.”

“Suppose so.” Benji sends him a soft grin and takes a sip of his drink. The conversation falls into a lull as he does, giving him an opportunity to take in Ethan. This is the most casual Benji has ever seen him, wearing a simple flannel and pair of jeans as opposed to whatever gear the IMF had him in most of the time. And as basic as it is, it admittedly looks great on him.

Suddenly, his phone buzzes, yanking him out of his thoughts. Benji apologizes as he pulls out his phone and checks his new text.


don't answer

Today 8:07 PM

when are we going to talk


“Something wrong?” Ethan asks.

Benji is quick to turn his screen off and shove the phone back into his pocket. “Uh, no. Does it -- does it look like--”

“You just made a face, I wasn’t--”

“It was my sister.” Benji sends him a weak smile and shakes his head. “Her son woke her up in the middle of the night. He’s always doing that.”

“So you’re an uncle.” Ethan rests his arms on the table.

“Five times one.”

“So you have a nephew, and...”

“Two nephews, three nieces.”

“Do you ever get to see them?”

“Whenever I go back to England.” Benji leans his cheek on his fist and taps a finger against his glass. “I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but usually I’m allowed to pop over for a week or so each year and visit my mum and everybody else.”

“That’s nice. I don’t think I ever realized you could take time off like that to visit family.”

“So you don’t talk to your family, then.”

“Not since my mom died.”

“Oh.” He stops tapping his glass. “I’m sorry.”

He shakes his head. “Don’t be. It’s been a while.”

“What does--” Benji hesitates, shifts in his chair. “Sorry, you don’t have to answer me.”

“I don’t even know the question.”

“What does your family think you do?”

“Work for the government. They just don’t know specifically what I do.”

“And they never ask about you? Like they never try to figure out where you are or what you’re doing?”

Ethan shrugs. “My grandparents are all dead, my parents are dead. I’m an adult who’s busy with life. No one has to worry about me.”

“I don’t think I could ever get away with just disappearing like that. My sister would track me down eventually.”

“Sounds like she could be an asset to our force,” he teases.

“Well, if she couldn’t find me, Mum definitely would.” Benji scratches his ear and glances down. “I couldn’t ever just disappear.”

Ethan’s foot bumps against his under the table. “Not everyone can,” he says quietly. “That’s not the worst thing in the world. Although it makes it much more useful when you get put in a Russian prison for six months.”

Benji tries not to shudder when he thinks about it. “How did you handle that?”

“You get used to it. Tell yourself you’ll be out soon and it’s a bit more bearable.”

“Yeah, but six months is a long time. Long enough to make me a bit crazy.”

“Could have been longer.”

“Just because it could have been longer doesn’t mean that it isn’t still shit.”

“Believe me, I know.”

“Of course you do, you were in the prison.” He takes a sip of his drink and then makes a noise. “Hey, maybe our outing can be a belated celebration of your grand return,” he suggests. “Out of Russian prisons, back in the States.”

Ethan doesn’t answer immediately. Then a small smile appears on his face. “Did anyone miss me enough to warrant something like that?”

“Do people have to miss you to celebrate getting out of a fucking prison?”

“I’d say it matter if you’re celebrating with others.”

“Well, it was a bit shocking when you disappeared off of the face of the fucking Earth with only rumors to determine where you were. So I would say maybe a bit.”

His grin grows. “So you missed me.”

“Sounds sappy when you say it like that,” Benji murmurs, praying to anyone who might be listening that Ethan couldn’t notice the wave of self-consciousness that had just washed over him. Maybe he should have invited Jane or someone out with them. Being alone with Ethan is having a weird effect on him.

“Just between you and me, I hated it,” Ethan continues. “Being in prison, I mean.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Seeing you and Jane was…” He raps his fingers against the table. “Is ‘a breath of fresh air’ too cliché?”

“We’re hardly fresh, though. More of a case of seeing familiar faces.”

“Except last time I saw you, you were tech, and then you were suddenly a field agent. That was a surprise.”

“Oh.” Benji smiles sheepishly. “Uh, yeah. I passed the final hurdles while you were off in Serbia.”

“I never got to tell you congrats.”

“Bit late for it now, don’t you think?”

“If we can celebrate me getting out of a Russian prison, we can celebrate you becoming a field agent. I thought we were making things up tonight, anyway.”

“I don’t know what the bloody hell tonight is actually supposed to be,” he laughs. “Just going out? Is that suitable?”

“Casual,” Ethan says. “And since it’s casual, I have a question.”

“Yeah?”

“Did people actually talk about me that much when I went to Serbia?”

“Why are you so interested to know?”

“I didn’t think anyone cared too much about what I did, but I’ve heard otherwise.”

“Ethan, you’re kind of a celebrity. Of course there’s gossip about everyone, but you and Luther are on a different level. Seniority, I think. Also because you have such a penchant for making trouble.”

“That’s my reputation?”

“C’mon, Ethan, I know you know that already.”

The smug look on Ethan’s face is the only response Benji receives. Instead of saying anything more, he lets another silence take over the conversation. But this silence is entirely comfortable, one Benji enjoys existing in, because it’s just him and Ethan drinking together, completely loose and relaxed. “This is a change,” Benji says.

“What is?”

“For once I’m around you and I don’t have to worry about anything more than how cold it’s going to be when I walk back home.”

“Don’t get used to it.” Ethan sends him a warm smile.

“Don’t say that,” he laughs. “I’m rather enjoying this.” Then he hesitates. “I have to be honest, I was a bit nervous to meet with you.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” he starts as he brings his glass to his lips, “because you’re Ethan Hunt.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Did you not hear me earlier? You’re practically a celebrity.”

“It doesn’t seem like anyone recognizes me.”

“Probably a good thing, given your job.”

“Famous for not being recognized?”

“Let me put it like this. A reputation like yours means a lot when you’re fresh to field work and one of your first assignments is to work with one of the best agents in the entire force. It adds a whole lot of pressure.”

“Are you still nervous?”

“About working with you or coming to a bar with you?”

“Coming out.”

“I’m okay now. I think.”

“Does it make you feel any better if I say that I was happy to come?”

“Was happy?”

“Am happy. For now, at least. I don’t regret it yet.”

“That’s reassuring,” Benji scoffs, but it’s definitely relieving to hear that Ethan isn’t pretending to enjoy himself.

Again, their conversation fades into nothingness as they meet each other’s gazes. Ethan’s face is serene, friendly, communicating a kind of gentleness that feels jarring after seeing him constantly engaged in intense action. So this is Ethan Hunt, Benji thinks. This is him when he has nothing better to do, looking a bit wearier, a bit more aged, but absolutely inviting, as well.

Something begins slowly pulsing in Benji’s stomach when he watches Ethan drink and tilt his head in thought. He waits for him to say anything at all, just because he wants to hear his voice and see if his eyes would light up with jest or simmer with the sincere friendliness that he emits. Then his phone vibrates again, this time in a longer pattern.

“Sorry,” Benji says as he checks to see who’s calling him.

“You’re popular tonight.”

“Oh, it’s nothing too important.” Benji swipes to end the call. “Let me send a message real fast.”


don't answer

Today 8:07 PM

when are we going to talk

8:16

I can't talk right now


“Sorry,” Benji repeats.

“If you need to go--”

“No, it’s nothing like that,” he interrupts. “I’d much rather stay here, actually.”

“That’s good to hear.”

Benji opens his mouth to respond, but all words leave him when he meets Ethan’s eyes. The realization that he’s never really looked at Ethan hits him like a freight train. It seems so odd to think about, but there’s never been a good chance to look at him when they’re working together in the field, and definitely never a moment to be stuck by the paralyzing epiphany that Ethan is fucking gorgeous in every way imaginable.

The thoughts racing through his mind quickly turn sour when his phone rings again. “Sorry,” he says for a third time. “I just need to take a quick phone call, alright?”

“Take your time.”

Benji gets up, hurries towards the entrance, and answers the call. “What is it?” he asks as he passes through the doors and leans against the front of the bar.

“I don’t appreciate you ignoring me,” comes a male voice on the other end.

“And I don’t appreciate you calling me when I’m busy.”

“You’ve been busy every time I’ve called you for the past two months.”

“I have a lot to do for work.”

“Is that your excuse tonight?”

“I’m out with a coworker right now.”

“Where are you at?” There’s a defensive edge in his voice.

“Like I’m going to tell you that.”

“You don’t trust me enough to--”

“No,” Benji interrupts, “frankly, I don’t. Quit bothering me, won’t you?”

“I’ll quit bothering you when you finally talk to me.”

“I doubt that.”

“You don’t have to be such a dick, you know?”

I’m a dick? You’re so--” He stops himself and exhales. “Look, Mark, I’ll call you back later. Okay? Tomorrow, maybe?”

“Is that a promise you’ll keep?”

“Keep your line open.”

“Alright. I’ll be waiting.”

“Alright. Talk to you soon.” Benji ends the call and lets out a second sigh. When he re-enters the bar, he notices Ethan’s eyes following him.

“Everything alright?” Ethan asks when Benji sits down.

“It’s fine.”

“What was that you said earlier? You can get anything off your chest?”

“It’s a long story,” he breaths. “I don’t really want to talk about it, anyway. Not when we’re celebrating getting out of a Russian prison.”

“Your nephew is being that difficult, huh?” A playful smile tugs on Ethan’s lips.

A look of faux exasperation crosses Benji’s face. “He’s such a little monster. You wouldn’t believe it. It’s so terrible when I go to visit my sister and he gives me a great, big hug.”

“Awful.”

“The worst.” The playfulness wears off as soon as it comes. “It’s fun being the cool uncle who lives in America, but I do miss seeing my nephews and nieces sometimes.”

“I probably would too,” Ethan responds. “I know my cousins have kids, even if your cousins aren’t really your siblings, but I sometimes wish I could be closer to them But life doesn’t work out the way we want it to, does it?”

“Unfortunately.”

There’s a tense pause as Benji’s mind reels for anything else to say before Ethan shifts in his chair and says, “You thinking of getting another drink? Next round on me.”

“That’s hardly fair.”

“How?”

“Because it would be better for me if I stopped after two drinks, and then I wouldn’t get the chance to pay you back.”

“Then consider it on me.”

“You don’t have to do that, really.”

“It’s fine, Benji,” Ethan insists as he gets to his feet.

“I’ll have to pay you back sometime --”

“Then we’ll just have to go out again soon.”

Ethan sends him a reassuring grin, perhaps the friendliest smile in the world, but Benji’s heart leaps to his throat and prevents him from dissuading Ethan further. There are those thoughts from earlier again, the ones about Ethan laying in his bed with only a blanket covering him, those images his eyes and mouth and jaw and arms, the pulsing in his stomach, the butterflies. And no matter how much Benji curses himself as Ethan heads towards the bar to order two more drinks, all the internal scolding in the world couldn’t prevent him from the fact that the admiration he holds for Ethan as a mentor and a friend has been nothing more than a school-boy kind of crush all along.

Chapter Text

Despite the large crowd that surrounds him, Benji feels the most vulnerable he’s ever felt on a mission. He hangs on the edge of the ballroom and watches as people too rich for their own good mill about, drinking, engaged in conversation, waiting for the charity auction of the night to begin. Somewhere else in the room is Ethan, keeping an eye out for their target, a man named Varga who, as the IMF believes, has connections with a far-right terrorist group and a biology lab that has nearly completed a potentially devastating virus. Benji’s only task for the time being is to stand with hands in pocket as he waits for Ethan’s signal that Varga’s here tonight.

It isn’t so bad to stand on the side, Benji supposes. After all, he had been shocked when Ethan and Luther picked him up from the airport that afternoon and told him that they wanted Benji working with Ethan rather than hiding behind a computer screen like he’s used to doing. The idea of him actually assisting Ethan in person, especially after the way the Kremlin mission had ended, ate him up with doubt.

Then again, it’s something of a welcome change from spending the past two months in northern Norway. The IMF placed him there just as the daylight had melted completely into night and the temperatures dipped. Being around warmth and sunshine again had definitely lifted his mood, which was elevated even further when he saw Ethan and Luther. The fact that Ethan’s skin was handsomely tanned and his hair grown out a bit was just the cherry on top.

“Virgo, the target has been spotted. The trade-off is happening tonight.”

Benji blinks, takes a moment to process Ethan’s voice, and says, “So we didn’t come out here for nothing.”

“Nope, we have to work tonight.”

“Great.” Through the throng of people, he catches a glimpse of Ethan. He’s slicking his hair back and standing in a stoic position that puffs his chest out and draws Benji’s eye to his tux that hugs his frame perfectly. Not so loose that you miss the definition in his body, not so tight that it makes him look overly large. Or maybe Benji’s just over-sensitive to how beautiful Ethan is after spending months away from him.

Benji looks away from him and follows his line of vision in hope of seeing Varga, but the crowd obscures him. “So he’s there, somewhere.”

“I’m looking at him.”

“And there’s some unknown object or person that we have to get to before he does.”

“I see you paid attention to the mission debriefing.”

“Riddle me this, then: now what?”

“Now I’m going to follow the target, and you’re going to the display room to see if there’s any particular object of interest.” 

“Right,” he says before turning and leaving the ballroom. “So I’m just wandering around and hoping to find something that may be what we’re looking for.”

“Mm-hm.”

“That’s helpful,” Benji quips. A moment later, he’s in the display room, a cavernous area lined with cases and filled with so many priceless antiquities that it looks almost like a museum. Benji reaches into his suit pocket and pulls out a pair of glasses that he slips on before leaning in towards one of the cases.

“I have eyes, Virgo,” Luther says over the coms. “What are you up to, Leo?”

“Watching the target,” is Ethan’s brief answer.

Benji slowly works his way through the room, lingering in front of each object so Luther could get a good view as well. But nothing particularly sticks out to Benji, each item just as likely as the last to be the one that contained information to the location and completion date of the next existential threat.

“Does every mission feel this hopeless?” Benji breaths as he leaves one row and heads to the next.

Luther chortles on the other end of the coms. “They’re called impossible for a reason.”

“You’d think I’d know what I’m signing up for.” Benji pauses to study a gaudy sapphire necklace. Around the sapphire is a sun-shaped halo studded with diamonds that glint brightly underneath the light. “Who can afford to buy these things?”

“At least it’s for charity.”

Benji crosses his arms and moves on. Next in line is a music box, looking just as aged and faded as a number of other things up for sale, but it catches his attention anyway. The painted landscape on the lid is chipped, but the gold that lines its edges seems to be completely intact. The rest of the box is decorated with wood carvings that Benji only catches once he kneels for a closer look. His eyes follow the carvings, so handsomely done, until he notices small lettering right above the latch.

“Taurus, can you see that?” Benji says.

“What?”

“The letters, I can’t make them out very well.”

“It’s not much easier for me to see.”

Benji scratches his head and strains his eyes to make sense of the letters. They’re just as weathered as the rest of the box, making it a challenge to read.

“Target is speaking to one of the sellers,” Ethan says suddenly.

“Do you know which one?” Luther asks.

“Not sure. Sounds like they’re speaking a Slavic language, if that narrows anything down. Not Russian.”

Russian. The letters click in Benji’s head. “It’s Cyrillic,” he declares. “The lettering on the music box, I mean. This might be what we’re looking for, Leo.” 

“A music box?”

“Taurus, do you know where we can find a list of sellers?”

“I found one,” Luther answers. “The only Slav I see is from Belarus.”

“Belarus was part of the Russian Empire, wasn’t it? I think this music box is old enough to be made during that time. And if the target is talking to a seller, it seems likely that maybe he’ll buy something tonight.”

“Your call, Leo.”

There’s a brief pause before Ethan asks, “Are you sure that’s it?”

“I’m not sure of anything,” Benji says, “but it’s the only thing that seems like it could be what we want. Everything else is just jewelry and vases.”

“Worth a shot, then. What problems do we have to deal with?”

“The display cases are locked by a combination, it seems. Everything else is a matter of how discreetly we can remove an item from the showfloor.”

“Piece of cake.”

“Hang on, we don’t have a plan yet, you can’t say that.”

“There’s a worker about the same size as you--”

“Wait, are you suggesting that I have to steal it?”

“I’ll be there to help out, but the suit jacket--”

It’s pointless arguing with him. “Just tell me where to meet you at,” Benji sighs.

“I’ll let you know in a bit, alright?”

Benji hesitates, unsure of what to do in the time being. He decides to take another lap around the showroom, just in case anything else seems more like the object they may need, but he gets the same results as he did the first time. “What time is it?” he murmurs as he parts from the display room and back towards the ballroom.

“About time for this auction to start,” Luther answers.

The coms is suddenly filled with the sound of Ethan struggling with someone; then, he says, “Make your way towards the bathrooms in the East corridor, Virgo.”

“East,” Benji repeats.

“That’s to your right,” Luther chips in.

“Thanks.” He tucks his glasses back into his pocket, slips through one of the large doors, and paces down the emptying hallway. Once he reaches the bathroom, he slows and glances around; then he notices another, smaller corridor that branches away in front of him.

He heads that way, only to have his journey cut short when someone grabs him and yanks him into a janitor’s closet. A yelp rises to his throat but is muffled by a hand thrown across his mouth.

“It’s just me,” Ethan murmurs into his ear.

His heart continues to drum in his chest even as Ethan loosens his arm and drops his hand. It’s just Ethan, Benji tells himself, but all the adrenaline pumping through his veins is making him hyper-aware of the way his body fits against Ethan’s, the strength of Ethan’s hold on him, the sensation of Ethan’s soft breaths against the side of his face. It makes him feel a bit faint, if he’s being honest.

“You scared me,” Benji finally chokes out.

“Sorry, I had to grab you before anyone noticed.”

“I think being violently snatched out of a corridor would be more noticeable than someone casually entering a janitor’s closet.”

“Maybe.” Ethan’s arm slides down his torso until he reaches his waist. For a second, he lingers there, and then backs away. Benji releases a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding and glances downwards. In front of him is an unconscious man slumped against the cleaning supplies.

“Oh,” he says.

“Here, put his suit jacket on.” Ethan kneels down next to the man and begins tugging his jacket off.

“What about mine?”

“Just leave it here.” He finishes removing the jacket and hands it to Benji.

Benji is quick to switch jackets, then stands up straight and asks, “How do I look?”

Ethan approaches him, pulls down on his suit jacket to straighten it out, reaches up, and strokes back a stray hair. “Great.”

Benji ignores the way his throat tightens and asks, “And now what?”

He pushes a mop and bucket towards him. “Someone spilt champagne right in front of the music box.”

Benji stares down at it and then looks back up at Ethan. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“You’ll be fine.”

He sends Ethan a skeptical glance before taking the bucket from him and pushing the door of the closet open. Before he’s completely in the hallway, Ethan slips out and takes off. Benji moves much slower, taking his time as he peeks through one of the door frames leading to the ballroom and notices that the auction has begun. A few people linger outside of the ballroom, either heading to the bathroom or coming back, but nobody pays Benji any attention.

When Benji arrives at the display room, he spots Ethan near one of the cases with his arms folded in front of his chest, looking at an object with interest. Over the coms, Benji hears him say, “Taurus, you have control of the cameras?”

“Already ahead of you. Got the combination, too.”

“Great.” Ethan turns around without warning and goes towards the security guard situated in the room.

“Not above simple distraction, huh?” Benji mutters.

“Tried and true method,” Luther says.

“You have the security cameras off?”

“Playing back old material. Make this fast and don’t let the guard see your face.”

Taking a step into the display room sends a wave of anxiety over Benji. He doesn’t have a disguise on this time, nothing to conceal him from immediate trouble. All he can do is bring the music box out, put it back before anyone notices, and hope he doesn’t get caught. He bites back a swear as he enters the room completely, trying his hardest to look as inconspicuous as possible. Over the coms, he can hear Ethan chatting with the security guard about all the items on sale without much enthusiastic response.

“I’m here, Taurus,” Benji breathes as he pulls out a dry mop. “What’s the combo?”

“8-1-8-2-1-4.”

Benji’s about to enter the combo when it occurs to him that he has nothing to obscure his fingerprints with. In desperation, he jams his hands into his pockets and finds a pair of white gloves identical to the ones he had seen some other workers wearing that night. He sends out a silent prayer of gratitude before pulling them on and punching in the combination that Luther gave him.

The code takes, but not without emitting a loud beep. He winces and shifts his body so his face is obscured from the security guard’s view when he casts his glance in Benji’s direction. A terse number of seconds pass as he pretends to mop up the non-existent spill on the ground until he hears the guard’s gruff voice answer Ethan.

There isn’t any time to waste, now. Benji fumbles with the glass until he has it open and the music box is exposed. Then he throws a look over his shoulder, sees that the security guard isn’t watching him, and reaches in for the music box.

Once his fingers touch it, he realizes what a delicate object it is. Even if there was a thumb drive or whatever else inside with the potential to destroy humanity, it hurt to have to move with it so quickly and then hide it away in a mop bucket. But there’s no time to think about anything than replacing the glass and making his escape as casually as possible.

It isn’t until he’s halfway down the hallway that Ethan ends his conversation with the security guard and follows Benji’s path. Benji picks up his pace when he hears Ethan’s footsteps approaching him from behind. Then Ethan gently grasps Benji’s forearm and murmurs, “Let’s go.”

They hurry back to the janitor’s closet together, where Benji tosses his gloves to Ethan and changes back into his suit jacket and Ethan starts working on the music box. After he puts his jacket back on, Benji leans over Ethan’s shoulder and peers inside of it. It’s even simpler than the outside, with only a small mirror hung on another painted landscape in the lid. There’s nothing else there.

“Oh, no,” Benji breathes.

“Don’t freak out just yet,” Ethan soothes. “They’re not just going to have something like that laying in plain sight.”

“Maybe, but if it isn’t in here, I’m the one who told you that we should target this music box.”

“Taurus, tell Virgo to calm down.”

“Calm down, Virgo.”

Benji ignores Luther’s comment, stands up, and places his hands on his hips. “What’s the value of an old music box like that anyway? It has to have belonged to someone special if it’s being auctioned off here.”

“Or they’re just hiding something.” Ethan pushes up against the mirror. It pops off with a light click, only held in place by Ethan’s hand. The two of them watch with baited breath as Ethan pulls the mirror off the lid. Yet again, there’s nothing.

“Great,” Benji moans, “now you’ve broken something priceless.”

“Wait,” Ethan says. He turns the mirror over in his hands and grasps at the back of it. There’s a second click as a thin layer slides off of the back of the mirror, revealing slips of paper with long strings of numbers on it.

“That’s it?” Benji asks, voice a tad incredulous.

“It has to be it.”

“Going old school, aren’t they?” 

“We’ll run it through our systems and see where they lead us when we get back. For now, we should probably return the music box.”

“Oh, damn,” Benji sighs, “I shouldn’t have taken off that suit jacket.”

He bends over to pick it up when muffled voices come from the pocket of the unconscious worker. Both he and Ethan look up at him in interest for one moment, two, before Benji takes a step closer and realizes there’s a walkie-talkie in his pocket.

“I can’t speak Greek,” Benji says.

Ethan furrows his brow and leans in. “Whatever it is, it sounds like bad news.”

“You guys might want to leave,” Luther tells them. “It looks like they noticed the music box is missing.”

“Maybe it’s a good thing I took the suit jacket off after all,” Benji muses.

Ethan quickly replaces the mirror on the music box, gingerly shuts the lid, and throws the gloves on top of it. “No time to return it,” he says as he shoves the scraps of paper into his breast pocket. “Let’s go.”

“What about him?” He gestures back at the man. “He’s not dead, is he?”

“No, he’ll just be passed out for a bit longer. C’mon.”

Ethan leads him into the corridor but then halts when he reaches the hallway. “Security camera check, Taurus?” he asks softly.

“Someone’s headed your way.”

He flips around, looks at Benji, grabs his arm, and then yanks him across the hallway. “Is it okay to act like you’re gay?” he breathes.

“What?” is Benji’s immediate response as his heart comes screeching to a halt at the words you’re gay coming out of Ethan Hunt’s mouth.

“Yes or no.”

“Uh, yes--”

Ethan swings his body so the two of them are thrown against the wall facing the bathroom door. Benji lets out a groan when his back hits the wall, but has no time to gain an idea of what’s happening before Ethan’s arms are propped up against the wall around his head. Goosebumps prickle at his skin when Ethan’s cheek brushes against his and he sighs into his ear. “Sorry,” Ethan whispers, and Benji is torn between why are you sorry? and you better be as a response, but nothing comes out. All he’s aware of is the scent of Ethan’s cologne, sweet, woodsy, and oh, Christ, is this going to be stuck in his tux afterwards?

He bites back any noise of approval when Ethan suddenly laces his fingers through his hair and presses his face even closer. Why Ethan did this is completely lost on him, but the fact that he’s only an inch away from kissing Ethan is nearly too much to bear. He wonders if Luther can see them through the camera or if the angle of the wall obscures them. Hopefully the latter, because he’s sure his expression looks a bit too realistic to just be “acting gay,” as Ethan had put it.

To the left of Benji comes the sound of harsh Greek. Ethan pulls away suddenly, straightens his suit jacket, and responds with some gesture towards Benji. The few seconds away from Ethan has Benji falling back to Earth. Now it makes sense. Pretend to be Ethan’s gay lover. Embarrass the approaching the security guard. Leave quickly before anyone suspects anything.

The conversation with the guard comes to an end as Ethan shoves his hands into his pockets and turns back to Benji. “Got caught,” he says sheepishly, and he nods towards the area of the ballroom.

The guard watches them as they head that direction. Benji’s unsure of what to do next, until Luther says, “Leave whenever you can.” Then Ethan picks his head up, looks around, and slides out the main entrance with Benji in tow.

“What the fuck,” is all Benji says as they hurry back towards the van.

“I know, I’m--”

“That was surprisingly simple.”

“Oh.” Ethan smiles weakly. “Yeah, that was. You did great, though.”

“Did I?”

“We intercepted the information, didn’t we?”

“Sorry, guess I’m just… processing.”

“I’m sorry, too. For just throwing you into…” He grimaces. “...that.”

“’Salright, I just wasn’t expecting--”

“It’s an old trick, first thing that came to mind--”

“I mean, the bathroom was open, wasn’t it?” Benji pauses. “Oh, yeah. Old trick.”

“I won’t do it again if it makes you uncomfortable.”

Benji doesn’t answer immediately. There’s no easy way to respond to that. Of course, he doesn’t mind Ethan pretending to be completely infatuated with him, but the way it toys with him may not be the best consequences for their missions. But how is he supposed to communicate those circumstances to him?

“I’m fine, really. It caught me off guard, that’s all.”

“Don’t anticipate it happening very often,” he continues. “But I’m glad to hear that you don’t mind it.”

They finish their return to the van in silence. Luther’s busy disconnecting from the security system when they enter, Ethan in the driver’s seat, Benji next to him. “You have the information?” Luther asks. “I can start looking through things.”

“Yeah, it’s right here.” Ethan hands him the strips of paper.

“You weren’t kidding when you said they were going old school.”

“Guess a thumb drive was too big to hide in a music box.” He starts the van up and glances over at Benji. “Did we do good tonight or did we just get lucky?”

“Got lucky, I think,” he says. “Although I’m glad we didn’t have to fight our way out of a Greek jail or something.”

“I’m trying not to go back to one for a while.”

“I think that’s easier said than done for you.”

Ethan snorts, but says nothing more. All three of them are silent on their way back, Luther working, Ethan thinking about God knows what. Benji tries focusing on all the sights of Greece on the drive, but his mind keeps returning to Ethan throwing him against the wall and holding him close. Ethan’s a quick thinker; the idea of retreating into the bathroom wouldn’t have taken too much work to come to. It’s not as if there was any more of a risk of getting caught in the bathroom than they had standing right outside of it. But Ethan chose to act like they were two attendees getting a bit too frisky for the night’s events to stay inside the ballroom.

Benji bites his thumbnail, furrows his brow, and watches the night sky zoom past them. Maybe Ethan Hunt gets panicked, too. He’s only human.

Chapter Text

“Benji.”

He’s not sure if he imagined his name or not, but the sleepiness that glues his eyes closed is too stubborn to break its seal. Instead, he shifts in his seat, turning away from the direction that his name came from.

“Benji.”

A hand touches his shoulder this time. The unexpected sensation startles him into sitting upright and jerking his head towards the voice.

“Hey, we’re here.”

He manages to open his eyes. Ethan’s sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, offering him a soft grin. Benji blinks.

“Where’s ‘here’?”

“Vermont. We have to stay at a motel tonight.”

“Mm.” He rubs his eyes and lets out a sigh. “Motel? We haven’t had to do this for a while.”

“It’s the best we can do right now.”

Benji’s vision slowly becomes less bleary as his awareness of the world returns to him. “How long was I asleep for?” he asks. “I didn’t even realize I was dozing off.”

“Not very long. You went to sleep right before I crossed the border.”

He strains his memory for what he was doing before his impromptu nap. The mission today was a simple intel task: go to Canada, collect some data, and run through everything they gathered to see if any connections could be made to various organizations and people around the globe.

“Where’s my tablet?” he asks.

“In the back seat. I threw it back there when you fell asleep. I didn’t want it to fall on the floor.”

“Sorry,” Benji says. “I don’t know why I’m so tired--”

“It’s no big deal to fall asleep in a car,” Ethan interrupts. “How about we go inside so you can get some more rest?”

Benji’s heart flutters stupidly as he nods his head and leaves the car. It’s not like Benji hasn’t ever experienced the basic kindness that Ethan extends, but it catches him off guard every time. Ethan is tough and intelligent and a natural leader, and it only makes sense that he would naturally care about his team, but the simple fact that Ethan cares about such minute things in Benji’s life means the world to him.

He lets Ethan get ahead of him so he can’t catch the look on his face. Working with Ethan is Benji’s most favorite thing in the world, but the lovesickness that sinks into his chest whenever he thinks about him for too long hurts some nights. Months had passed since that night at the bar, and yet the stupid crush on his favorite colleague had only grown. It’s bad enough that he sometimes wonders if everyone inevitably falls head over heels for Ethan, or if he’s the only agent in the IMF who can say he has.

Benji shoves his hand into his pocket and finds his phone tucked away. A frown crosses his lips as he pulls it out and checks his messages. Nothing new had appeared on his phone in the time since he checked two hours ago, but he opens up the last text he received anyway.


don't answer

Thursday 4:52 PM

what are you doing tonight?

mark, I told you I'm busy this
week

next week then?

Friday 1:57 PM

sorry, I didn't see this

I don't know mark

what does that mean?

I'm busy right now

Yesterday 11:02 PM

I miss you

I made a mistake


I'm sorry

Today 6:44 AM

why do you have to bring this
up right now? I told you that  
I'm busy                                

2:57 PM

I'm sorry

call me when you can?


He turns his screen off and shoves his phone back into his pocket. Normally he wouldn’t bring his actual phone with him on a mission, but this one was low stakes, and the chance that Mark would continue their agonizingly slow conversation gave him so much anxiety that he had brought it along with him, for better or for worse.

Guilt ripples through his chest suddenly. What are the ethics of sighing over a coworker while your ex-boyfriend is texting you again? Surely it didn’t matter too much. Not when your coworker is straight and you’re hesitant on even talking to your ex at the moment.

“You okay?”

Benji looks up at Ethan and sees him holding open the door. “Yeah, just tired,” he says before hurrying inside. From the corner of his eye he catches Ethan sending him a skeptical look, but heads to the front desk without another word. Benji stands off to the side, fingers sliding across his phone, resisting the temptation to pull it out and look over what Mark had sent him again. Working with Ethan today had been a great distraction; now that he’s just waiting to go to bed, the thought of sending Mark another text consumes him.

Ethan catches Benji’s eye when he holds up a pair of keys and nods towards the door they entered through. He follows him through it and to their room, located right in front of the place they parked and not too shabby for a roadside motel. Ethan tosses his small bag on one bed; Benji throws his jacket on the other. He sits down and begins to unlace his shoes when Ethan says, “You were lying back there.”

Benji stops and glances up at him. “What?”

“There’s been something bothering you, I can tell.” Ethan shoves his hands into his pockets and leans against the wall in front of Benji.

“I’m tired, I told you that.”

“You’ve been acting strange all day.”

“How so?”

“You seem preoccupied.”

Benji bends forward again and pulls one shoe off. “It’s nothing you need to worry about. Just normal life stiff.”

“So there is something.”

“Nothing worth mentioning, hence why I didn’t bring it up.”

“It’s worth bringing up if it’s distracting you.”

“It’s not distracting me,” Benji sighs as he wipes a hand across his face. “It’s not a big deal, really.”

Ethan takes a few steps forward before sitting down next to Benji. “I don’t mean to sound pushy,” he says. “Just checking in on my teammate.”

“I appreciate the concern, it’s just really boring.” He kicks his other shoe off. “Petty, day-to-day drama, you know.”

“Your nephew again?”

“My wh--” Benji stops, then lets out a laugh. “You remembered my nephew?”

“You think I forgot about going to the bar with you?”

“It’s not exactly the most momentous occasion in history, is it?”

“It was the first time it was just you and me together without our jobs being the reason why.”

“Well, excuse me, it was momentous.” Benji grins, and Ethan grins, and both fade into something softer. They’re so close to each other, alone in some random motel, free for the night. The temptation to reach out and stroke Ethan’s cheek is powerful, but he shoves the feeling down in his stomach and takes a breath.

“It’s just… love problems,” Benji murmurs at last.

Ethan’s eyes flicker. “I didn’t know you were dating somebody.”

“I’m not. My ex has just been contacting me, that’s all.”

“Oh.” He drops his shoulders and leans back onto the bed. “I see why you looked so down today.”

“And why I don’t want to talk about it?” He lies down as well. “It doesn’t matter, really. Just silly stuff.”

“It matters if it’s making you feel bad.”

“Not really.”

“Benji,” he says, incredulous laughter in his voice as he props himself up on his elbow, “you’re my friend. I care if something is bothering you.”

“I think I’d rather go to bed.” His voice wavers right at the end when he catches the way Ethan is looking at him. Those damn green eyes absolutely melt him. And the current situation they’re in isn’t helping matters.

Ethan breaks the brief lull with, “You know, the longer I lay here, the more I feel like going to sleep too.”

“These beds are weirdly comfortable.”

Ethan reclines on the bed again. His hands tumble off his stomach and onto the mattress, left hand rolling out even further until his fingers brush against Benji’s. There’s no immediate jerk away from him, no apology. Ethan’s fingers twitch as he breathes out, and the sensation immediately goes to Benji’s head. It would be so easy to fold his hand around Ethan’s, but he doesn’t want to ruin the moment with the possibility that it might weird him out. Not when this is the most tranquil and vulnerable he’s ever been with Ethan.

“Mm,” Ethan hums.

“Hm?”

“That really hit me out of nowhere.”

“What’s that?”

“Exhaustion.” He pulls his hand away without warning and presses it against his eye. “Suppose I should get ready for bed.”

“Or you could just lay here and sleep now and worry about freshening up in the morning.”

“In your bed?”

“I mean--” His heart leaps to his throat. “--I could always switch to the other bed. no big deal.”

“You don’t have to do that.” Ethan rolls over onto his stomach and folds his arms under his head. When their legs bump together, he murmurs, “Sorry,” and scoots slightly to the side. “You just never realize how tired you really are when the IMF sends you somewhere until you get to bed.”

“Believe me, I know. Which is why I’m not particularly offended that you chose to get tired in my bed.”

“I can get up.”

“I just said I’m not offended. Unless you want to turn the light out. I wouldn’t complain too much about that.”

Ethan shifts, and then sits up slowly. He bends forward, tugs one shoe off his foot, and tosses it towards the light switch next to the door. The collision with the wall as it misses makes Benji jump and raise his head in interest. Ethan does it again with his other shoe, this time landing perfectly on the light switch. He lets out a pleased, “Yes!” before looking back at Benji and saying, “Didn’t even have to get up.”

The only response that comes to Benji’s head is to laugh. He laughs and Ethan laughs, and they keep laughing even as Benji scoots back up so his head is on a pillow and Ethan throws his shirt onto the floor and joins him. “I’m so tired,” Benji gets out before dissolving back into a fit of giggles. He’s not sure when they stop or why they stop, but it’s only as he’s catching his breath that he realizes Ethan’s right next to him in bed, chest bare, staring at him with a look of quiet adoration or something similar that makes Benji’s stomach absolutely somersault.

“Bit ridiculous,” Benji says finally. “We didn’t even have to run around today and yet we’re this exhausted.”

“Just getting old, I guess.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“Well, I did just return from another mission--”

“Oh, don’t play that card.”

Ethan grins, then closes his eyes and exhales through his nose. “I hope I didn’t leave a shoe print on the wall.”

“Just one more thing to worry about tomorrow, hm?”

“Mm.”

Ethan looks entirely relaxed already. For a moment Benji wonders if maybe Ethan had already drifted off somehow, just in that second of elapsed time. Any idea of ensuing conversation is washed away as he observes Ethan, the way his back curves, the lines in his face that are only barely visible in the dark, the entirety of his lovely form sinking into sleep.

Is this what it’s like to sleep with Ethan Hunt? His heart pounds so hard he worries that Ethan can feel it through the bed. He’s fully clothed and a number of inches away from Ethan but it makes his mind race anyway, because Ethan is breathtaking in every way imaginable. He imagines scooping Ethan in his arms and kissing him goodnight and his chest aches. Maybe he should get up and switch to the other bed, but there’s that chance Ethan is still cognizant of what’s happening, and he wouldn’t want to make him think that anything is wrong.

So Benji stays and clenches his eyes shut, doing everything possible to get his mind off of Ethan in front of him and drift off to sleep. Fortunately for him, it comes quickly.


Benji wakes up on his back, feeling particularly disheveled in his clothes from last night. Maybe he should have taken them off, he thinks for a moment, until he remembers Ethan.

The events from last night rush back to him. He looks over and Ethan is still there, face half obscured by a pillow. One arm is wrapped across it, the other extended across Benji’s waist. He only just now realizes that Ethan has him in a light embrace, and Benji can’t help but wonder if his arm is only there by chance and not in any kind of gesture that may be construed as romantic, like how he might have held Julia when he slept with her.

Benji lets his eyes travel down Ethan’s body. His skin is marked with scars, some white, some dark, nicks like small craters, thin lines running across his back like ravines etched into the face of the Earth. It’s so beautifully imperfect, so uniquely Ethan. The idea comes to him to trace his fingers along each other and ask him how he got them. Anything to waste an entire morning away with him.

He scolds himself suddenly for getting carried away in his thoughts and wriggles out from Ethan’s arm. Then he hurries towards the bathroom, undresses, and get into the shower. He splashes water against his face until he’s totally awake, then turns off the showerhead and dries off. It’s only at that point that he remembers that his outfit for the day is within the bag that Ethan had tossed on the other bed the previous night. He wraps a towel around his waist, slips out of the bathroom, and picks up the bag.

“Morning.”

Benji glances over at the other bed. Ethan is rubbing one of his eyes with the back of his hands.

“Morning,” Benji answers in a soft voice.

Ethan stretches and exhales. “You done in the bathroom?” he asks.

“I just have to get dressed.” He notices Ethan’s eyes flicking down his torso. A moment ago he hadn’t felt insecure, but being under Ethan’s gaze makes him feel even more vulnerable that he had last night. He can’t think of a time when Ethan had ever seen him without his clothes on.

“Is there something wrong?” Benji asks finally.

“Sorry,” is Ethan’s quick response, “I just wasn’t expecting…”

“Uh.” Benji glances down at his torso. It’s not a six-pack like Ethan’s, but he’s toned. “I mean, what were you--”

“I don’t know, I just--”

“I have to keep up with the IMF’s physical--”

“You looked a lot different when we first met.”

The two of them go quiet for a moment; then Ethan says, “I mean, you look like you, but you’ve changed.”

“Got my life a bit more together,” Benji murmurs.

Ethan brushes his hair out of his eyes. There’s an indecipherable expression clouding his face. “Is that another one of those -- you don’t want to talk about it, one of those things?”

“Not this early,” he snorts. He finally grips his hand around his clothes and pulls them out of his bag.

“Sorry,” Ethan repeats.

“Why are you apologizing?”

“I just had a weird dream last night, and I...” He presses his lips together, then says, “I didn’t make you uncomfortable anytime last night, did I?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just falling asleep in your bed.”

“I’ve done far worse things than share a bed with you.” He pauses. “It was nice, actually.”

“Okay.” Beat. “Maybe I should just ask directly. Did I, um…”

“You had your arm on me when you woke up,” Benji tells him.

“Oh.”

“That’s all, it was okay.”

“Okay.”

“Is that all you were worried about?”

“Yeah, I know some people get uncomfortable--”

Benji interrupts him with a laugh. “I had to pretend to be your gay lover a few missions ago, if you remember.”

“Sorry,” Ethan says for a third time, but this time he laughs, too. “I should go take a shower.”

“I’ll go through what information we gathered last night while you do that, alright?”

“Sounds good.” Ethan gets out of bed and approaches Benji. “Mind if I…?”

Benji pushes the bag his direction. Ethan sends him a nod of gratitude, gathers his clothes together, and then disappears into the bathroom.

When Benji hears the spray of the shower, he drops his towel, puts on his clothes, and returns to his bed. From the corner of his eye, he spots his jacket resting off the side of his bed. He bends forward to pick it up, but stops when he realizes that his phone is still somehow in his pocket and blinking at him in greeting. Benji pauses for a moment; then he shoves it under the bed, turns on the tablet from Ethan’s bag, and begins another day of work.

Chapter Text

Ethan

Today 8:03 PM

Got a question for you
whenever you can answer


The text from Ethan jolts Benji away from the anger he’s been simmering in for the past ten minutes. It’s been a number of weeks since he had spoken to Ethan last, and that combined with the fact that Ethan never texted Benji first is the perfect storm for anxiety to balloon in his stomach. He runs over every possible scenario in mind (did he fuck something up on a mission? is Ethan in trouble right now?) before picking up his phone and sending a text back.


Ethan

Today 8:03 PM

Got a question for you
whenever you can answer

what would that be?


He bites his thumbnail as he watches the gray dots bounce across the screen.


Ethan

what would that be?

I got Netflix... any idea of what
I should watch?


The message draws a laugh from Benji. It’s so beautifully innocent, a wonderful change from the frustrated texts he had just exchanged a number of minutes prior. He’s grateful to make a quick response.


Ethan

I got Netflix... any idea of what
I should watch?

you already know what I'm going
to say                                         

Do I?

hint: two words

There's a lot of things with two
word titles, Benji

I'm pretty sure I've definitely
mentioned it around you      
before                                  

You mention a lot of things

okay, second hint: space

Space…

you can't be serious Ethan

Wait

Star Trek?

took you long enough

I guess you have mentioned it
once or twice

once or twice?!

guess that means you haven't
picked up the majority of my 
references                             

I haven't had time to watch TV
since 1982

star trek is older than that

no excuse

Give a farm boy a break

absolutely not

There’s more than one
show, isn't there?

watch TOS, TNG, & DS9

DS9 is my favorite but
there's a lore              

that's enough to keep you
occupied for a while         
I think                              

or watch the twilight zone.
classic                               

The Twilight Zone... I
haven't seen that show in
years

it's all on netflix!

Thanks Benji

I've got plenty to do now

are you not working?

I've been home for a few
days now and realized I
have absolutely nothing
to do

lucky you

Are you working?

oh no

just lamenting silly personal
issues                                  

Your ex again?

unfortunately

You want to talk about it?


Now he hesitates. Amidst the frustration and anxiety that crowds his head whenever he thinks about Mark, he finds it endearing, honestly, that Ethan would even offer to listen. His thoughts are interrupted when he sees those familiar bubbles appear on the screen again.


Ethan

You want to talk about it?

Like you said that one night,
you can get anything off your
chest

you still think about the bar?

A momentous occasion, etc

I did agree to that descriptor
didn't I                                 

It's just not very
interesting         

Don't feel pressured to share
anything

But I also just told you I have
nothing better to do

promise you won't think badly
of me for how absolutely        
ridiculous this is?                    

Yep

is it okay to call?


He isn’t expecting Ethan to call him before he even decides if he should or not. When his phone buzzes, he blinks and hesitates; then, he swipes his thumb across the screen and brings it to his ear. “Hey, Ethan.”

“What’s up, Benji?”

“Things that shouldn’t get under my skin but do anyway.”

“Dealing with exes is never a pleasant occasion.”

“Yeah, but this is just.. really stupid.”

“How bad can she be?”

The pronoun makes Benji wince. “Well, uh, that’s just one of the issues.”

“What’s that?”

He scolds himself for the way his heart pounds in his chest. The matter of his sexual orientation hasn’t been a secret in twenty years, but coming out is difficult every single time. “I’m gay.”

“Of course you are.” There’s no hesitation or waver in Ethan’s voice. “My mistake.”

“I, uh, thought I would have told you by now, but I guess I’m really good at not bringing it up at work.”

“It’s my bad for assuming.”

“It’s alright, I leave the gender of my partners vague on purpose.”

“Understandable. What’s he been doing?”

“Right,” Benji says, pushing away the remnants of anxiety that came with another coming out, no matter how smoothly it went. “Mark.”

“Mark, that’s his name?”

“Yeah. He was my first real boyfriend after moving to America. We’ve been a bit on again, off again for a while, which is why I find this irritating.”

“Are you going through another break-up, then?”

“I was when we went to the bar. But now the cycle begins again. Well, that may be oversimplifying it a bit.”

“I’m not busy,” Ethan reminds him. “Be as complicated as you want.”

“Where do I start?” Benji runs his fingers through his hair. “Okay, well, I’ve been in America for a while, but you know that. And when I came over, I had just gotten out of another lousy relationship, so I was single for a few years, just as I got accustomed to living here. I met Mark through hooking up, so we had an unestablished relationship for a while until he brought up living together.” He pauses suddenly. “Maybe it wasn’t as unestablished as I thought.”

“It sounds like there might be a chance you misjudged how serious it was.” Amusement edges Ethan’s tone.

“I was a bit depressed back then anyway, just between you and me,” Benji continues. “I don’t say that to sound like I need your sympathy, but I didn’t really have much direction in life. Then I had Mark, and that was much better than living by myself. And shortly after that, I joined the IMF.”

“I feel like I might know where this is going.”

“If you’re referring to the IMF’s breathtaking ability to kill any relationship, you’d be correct.”

“I’m sorry, Benj.”

The way Ethan shortens his name makes his heart flutter. “It’s not so bad, really. It came down to me always being at work and never being at home. Then when I became a field agent, the relationship was really over. Since then it’s been back-and-forth because Mark is an incredibly lonely person.”

“So, Mark keeps resuming the relationship?”

“Yeah.”

“And you don’t want to.”

Benji lets out a breath. “Not particularly. I hate saying that because I’ve spent nearly a decade around Mark, but sometimes I wonder how much of it is because I really want to and how much of it is because I was lonely too.”

“Do you feel that way now?”

“Hm?”

“Lonely.”

“Oh,” Benji murmurs. “Did I say I was lonely? I’m constantly around people now, so I think I’m the exact opposite now.”

“Just because you’re working with others doesn’t mean you’re not lonely.”

Ethan says it matter-of-factly, but the way he drops his voice makes Benji’s heart sink into his stomach. He bites back the same question, because it’s none of his business, and because hearing Ethan Hunt say that he’s lonely is liable to break him.

“I’m doing better,” Benji finally says. “I talk to my sister a lot. Usually I would talk to her about Mark, but she’s asleep right now.” He hesitates, and then says, “I like talking to you lot, too. The IMF, I mean. Even if it’s just small talk with a bunch of technicians and agents you don’t see for weeks at a time. It’s hard to feel lonely when I get a text from you out of the blue about Netflix.”

“I have to admit, I’m not really big on texting--”

“I’ve noticed.”

“--but I like talking to you, too. It’s nice having a conversation about something that isn’t stolen nuclear launch codes for once.”

“Don’t you talk to Luther?”

“Sure I do, but it’s different when I talk to him. He’s Luther and you’re Benji.”

“Is that a crucial difference?”

“The reasons I appreciate talking to Luther are different than the reasons I appreciate talking to you.”

Benji can’t fathom what reasons those would possible be, but says, “Well, I welcome your texts, especially when my last text is my ex-boyfriend wanting to hook up with me again.”

“So that’s what he texted you.”

“He’s irritating, really.” Benji frowns. “He broke up with me for good for not being around enough, but then expects me to be at his beck and call whenever he’s lonely or horny.”

“How often does that happen?”

“Too often. But I deserve it, probably,” he continues. “I can’t say that I was a spectacular boyfriend. We got along well enough, but for a while I felt…” Benji stops. “You don’t have to listen to me go on about this, sorry.”

“Hey, if you need to vent, it’s alright with me.”

“But I don’t need to be so mushy.”

“I don’t know, it’s nice to get those things off your chest.”

“I suppose.” Benji pauses to collect his thoughts, then starts with, “What it comes down to is that the IMF helped me find some drive again. It was nice, actually. But I had to find a balance between life and work. I felt so guilty whenever Mark was upset because I spent too much time at work. When I started training to be a field agent, I really tried to put work into our relationship, but the happier and healthier I got, the more he pulled away, because he didn’t like it.”

“Didn’t like what?”

“He didn’t seen very comfortable with me changing. I started working out more to pass the physical tests at the IMF and generally felt a lot better about myself, but that didn’t seem to please him very much. Maybe because I started working for even longer, more often.”

“That shouldn’t be a reason to dislike your partner feeling better about himself. Even if work got in the way of things, I would still find a reason to be happy about you feeling better.”

A blush settles in Benji’s cheeks. “I guess…”

“Guess? Benji, if he doesn’t appreciate that you’re happier now than any time you have been in the past, then how is he ever going to make you happy?”

He sniffs and softly says, “He wouldn’t.”

“I don’t mean to tell you how to live your life, but you deserve someone who cares about you. It doesn’t sound to me that he cares too much about how you’re feeling.”

“It’s only fair, really. I should have been more attentive to him in the past.”

“And maybe you should have. But that doesn’t justify anything him using you for his own satisfaction now.” Ethan pauses, and then continues with, “Do you still get back together with him when he asks?”

“Sometimes. And it’s nice when we meet up again. Then we fall apart a few days later. Like I said, he’s just never happy.”

“Benji,” Ethan sighs, tone more saddened than disapproving. “You deserve a better relationship.”

“Do I?”

“You need someone to appreciate how great you are to be around. Look, I don’t know everything about your past, but I know that you’re my friend because you’re interesting and thoughtful and you make me laugh. And I think that it’s okay if you want something else besides Mark.”

The words begin to absorb in Benji’s brain. Never had he expected to make himself so vulnerable to Ethan, and never had he expected Ethan to give him such a genuine peptalk. His throat tightens the more he thinks about the fact that it’s Ethan telling him he deserves better, that it’s Ethan saying so many wonderful things about him.

His head spins as he says, “Anyway, thanks for listening to me. I didn’t mean for that to get so grossly emotional.”

“What else are friends for?”

“Sure, but I didn’t think we’re at the crying over the phone level yet.”

“Benji, really, it was my pleasure to talk to you.”

He can feel the blood rushing through his face, his heartbeat pounding loudly in his ears. And the worst part is that Ethan doesn’t even know what the fuck he’s doing to him. Lovely, lovely Ethan.

“I’d rather do something more lighthearted,” Benji says at last. “Not that you can’t also, er, call me and cry to me, but, uh--”

“Maybe sometime you can come over and watch Star Trek with me.”

“Oh, you don’t really have to take my recommendations, it’s just something I’m obligated to tell people--”

“I’d like to.”

The thought of sharing a couch with Ethan, completely separated from the rest of the world, is dizzying. “Maybe we can plan a time, then.”

“Should I just send you a message whenever?”

“Um, yeah. Thanks again, Ethan. I really need to go clean my kitchen up, now, so I’ll go stew on that conversation by myself for a bit.”

“Alright. Take care of yourself.”

“Bye.”

As soon as the call ends, Benji flops back onto his bed and throws his hands over his face. It’s utterly ridiculous how juvenile he feels, how the thought of Ethan throws him back to his adolescence when he crushed on a boy for the first time in his life, how thrilling and frightening it all was. His chest aches with every heartbeat because Ethan is so unbelievably wonderful, generous and warm and attractive, and there would never be a way for Benji to let him know that.

He rubs his eyes and lets out a sigh. Maybe calling him was a mistake, if this is how he feels afterwards. Maybe it’s a mistake to let himself get so close if it’s only going to disappoint him to know that a man like Ethan exists, heterosexual and unavailable.

His musings are interrupted by the buzz of his phone.


Ethan

8:37 PM

I didn't make you
uncomfortable when I told you
to pretend to be gay in
Greece, did I?

no

you just caught me off guard

Stupid me for assuming

really Ethan, it's ok

If you say so

Talk to you soon


Talk to you soon . A smile tugs on Benji’s lips as he sits up. Even if he couldn’t ever tell Ethan how he really feels about him, having him as a friend isn’t anything to complain about. He tucks his phone away in his pocket and heads to the kitchen.

Chapter Text

The plane ride to Italy is littered with light conversation and extended silences as Ethan and Benji become absorbed with a file or dozen off. There isn’t much to talk about regarding mission plans; that’s saved for when they get to Capri. By the time they land, there still isn’t much of an idea of what they should do. But Ethan seems as collected as ever, and regardless of whatever he may actually be feeling, it prevents Benji from spiraling on another one of his neurosis-induced spells.

“Right,” he says as they stand in front of the airport. “What’s our plan?”

“We have the data exchange tomorrow,” Ethan starts, “and that should be simple enough. No different than what we’ve done before.”

“I meant what do we do now?”

“Kill time, I suppose.” He brushes his hair out of his face. “It’s better if we pretend to be tourists.”

“Easy. I’ve never been to Capri.”

“You haven’t?” When Benji shakes his head, Ethan continues with, “I haven’t been here in years, but I can show you around, if you want. It’s a beautiful place.”

“So we catch our boat and then you play tour guide until we can actually do our job?”

“Sounds right.”

“We better hurry to catch the ferry, then.”

“Let’s go,” Ethan says, and the two part.


Capri is as beautiful as Benji had heard. It’s not very often that he gets to just admire the beauty of a place, but the lack of a rush to get on with whatever mission he’s assigned to this time around leaves him with no better option. The tranquility is only aided by the fact that he’s a bit jet lagged, but Ethan makes sure to keep him alert the entire ride to Capri.

After finding their safe house, a small villa tucked away amidst the greenery and others similar to it, Ethan turns to Benji and says, “Ever heard of the Gardens of Augustus?”

“Maybe?” is his response. “My brain is a little scrambled right now.”

“Let’s go there. It’s really nice.”

Despite how groggy Benji feels, he hardly minds the walk to the garden. The weather is perfect and the roads are quiet, without too many tourists milling about. Ethan is quiet, but it’s enjoyable just walking with him, feeling the sun running over his skin.

Eventually, Benji asks, “Did the IMF send you here before? I can hardly imagine any tense, top-secret agent stuff happening here.”

A gracious smile lights up Ethan’s face. “No,” he says. “I came here when I was in the Army.”

“They stationed you here?”

“No, a couple of my friends and I came here on our own for a weekend. I haven't forgotten it since.”

“This might sound completely stupid, but I didn’t realize that you were in the Army.”

“Yep,” Ethan answers, but the tone of the voice has shifted. The gentleness that had occupied it moments before is missing.

Benji clears his throat before continuing with, “I suppose I entered field work in a rather unorthodox way, didn’t I? Everyone has an elaborate history of warfare or other governmental work, and I’m just a lousy Englishman who got here somehow because I’m good with computers.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Ethan says, and the comment makes Benji’s ears go warm.

“Even if I am painfully unused to the constant high stakes?”

“I think you sell yourself too short.”

“Sorry, being self-deprecating is in my blood. I’m British, after all.”

“And you’re a great asset to any team. Don’t forget that.”

“You’re making me blush.” He says it with humor, but his stomach is twisting into the same knots Ethan always sends him into.

“Really, Benji.” Ethan stops walking and holds a hand towards him. “You may have a different background, but you keep up, and that’s what counts.”

“And I wasn’t kidding,” Benji says as his face grows hot. “I would tell you to stop pulling my leg, but I think you’re the most genuine person I’ve ever met.”

A smirk ghosts across his lips as he shoves his hands into his pockets and tilts his head. “Garden shouldn’t be much further.”

Benji follows Ethan in silence again as they continue their journey. Sure enough, they arrive to a spectacular scene of flowers and lush grass with pathways meandering through. They make their way into the garden and stop when they get a view of the ocean, which is a shade of bright blue the Benji has never seen before.

“This feels like a dream,” he says as he sweeps his eyes over the scenery.

“Now you know why I’ve never forgotten this place.” Ethan’s eyes glitter in the sunlight.

Benji shifts before asking, “How’d you get to come here if you were in the military?”

“They let you leave, sometimes. You don’t have to be on base all the time.”

“I’m impressed that you remembered the way here.”

“Great memory.” He pauses, and then says, “I also Googled it before we came.”

“Course you did. Cheeky bastard.”

The smile on Ethan’s face grows. “I didn’t forget much of this, though.” He nods towards the garden. “This is something else.”

“Did your friends feel the same way?”

“I think so.” His grin wavers. “I haven’t thought about them in a while, really.”

“More relationships ended, courtesy of the IMF?”

“There’s more to it than just that.”

“Right,” Benji murmurs. Ethan says nothing else, but he feels as if he’s crossed some sort of boundary. Yet it doesn’t stop him from saying, “You know, I don’t know that much about you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know about me and Mark. You know that I have two siblings and my siblings have kids. You know what television shows I like.”

“That’s not much.”

“No, but all I know about you is that you used to be married, you don’t watch TV, and today I learned that you used to be in the Army.”

“I told you about my cousins.”

“You mentioned your cousins. And that’s all I know.”

Ethan casts his glance out towards the ocean again. “There’s not much to tell.”

“Start by telling me where you’re from.”

“New York.”

“A farm boy from New York?”

“There’s more to New York than just New York City.” A light breeze ruffles his hair. “I was born in Wisconsin, actually. My dad wanted to start a farm in New York.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever really pictured New York as a farming location.”

“Outside of the city, there’s a lot of nothing.” Ethan’s looking everywhere but at Benji. “My mom’s family is from New York and my dad always wanted a farm, so moving there was their compromise.”

“Opposite of my family, then,” Benji interjects. “Very standard British middle class.”

“Terraced house and everything?”

“Semi-detached, thank you.”

“My mistake.”

Benji stands up a bit straighter. “So you lived on a farm and had no siblings to share it with. I can’t tell if that’s a blessing or if I’d get terribly lonely.”

“A bit of both, I think. Like I said, my cousins were over a lot.”

“Did your mum’s family farm, then?”

“It was more of a coincidence that they lived in the country. My dad’s family were farmers. He just had to sell the land he had and then, by some stroke of luck, he found land in New York.” Ethan shrugs. “I wouldn’t call him impulsive, but--”

“Oh, it all makes fucking sense, now.”

He blinks at Benji. “What does?”

“Your entire approach to life. Come up with an idea and then wing everything else.”

“I don’t…” He presses his lips into a thin line, but it cracks almost instantaneously. “I make plans and stick to them.”

“Having goals isn’t the same as having a plan.”

“It’s not my fault if it hits some snags along the way.”

“Rather big snags, don’t you think? Constantly reconfiguring your entire plan while you’re doing it?”

The grin grows. “I do what my job calls for, and it works out for me in the end. I don’t see much to complain about.”

“Do you have any idea of what you put the rest of us through?” Benji asks, tone completely exasperated but eyes reflecting the same sort of amusement Ethan wore on his face.

“Have I let you down yet?”

“No, but that doesn’t make the heart attacks you give us any less serious.”

“You haven’t died yet either, you know.”

“Touché, I suppose.”

There’s that familiar glint. It’s so distinctly Ethan, similar to a kind of childish mischief but without any malice and only with affection.

“Where are you from in England?” Ethan asks suddenly.

“Me? Oh.” Benji clears his throat. “A small town you’ve definitely never heard of. Southwest of England.”

“So nothing like London.”

“Do I sound like I’m from London?”

Ethan shrugs his shoulders.

“You’re in the bloody IMF and can’t tell a London accent apart from any other British accent?”

“You don’t sound like anything but a BBC newscaster.”

“How titillating.”

“Some people are into that.”

“Are you?” His face flushes immediately. “I didn’t mean to say that. Jesus Christ.”

Ethan takes it much better than him. “I mean,” he starts with laughter edging his voice, but he never finishes. Benji’s stomach does a backflip.

“Maybe it’s kept to straight women,” he continues, ignoring the embarrassment searing his face. “I don’t think I’ve ever run into a man who fawned over my accent. Or maybe I’m that repulsive.”

“I don’t think that’s it.”

“Which part?”

“Like I said earlier, you sell yourself too short. Repulsive isn’t a word I would use to describe you.”

“Disgusting, then.”

“Mm-mm.”

“Alright, painfully mediocre and a touch embarrassing?”

“Try, ‘a great person to have around.’”

“Now it sounds like you’re trying to politely tell me that I’m unattractive.”

“Not my intention.”

“I mean, I wouldn’t be--”

“Benji,” he interrupts, “if you don’t stop being mean to yourself, I’ll have to do something.”

“Like what?”

“I’m still deciding what it is, but trust me, you’ll get something.”

“Send me to bed without dessert?”

“Something like that.”

“Heartless, you are.”

“Part of the job.”

Benji lets out a laugh. “I’m sorry, but I really can’t picture you as heartless.”

“You would have enjoyed watching me in the military, then.”

“Why’s that?”

“I was a Ranger. It doesn’t work well if you go soft on everyone.”

“I actually can’t imagine that.”

“It’s more out of character for me nowadays, I agree.” Again, the friendliness drains from his face. “Maybe it’s stupid of me to think that taking a softer approach anymore is better.”

“I like you the way you are. You’re already irritating enough with your constant, unnecessary stunts.”

“You better get used to them.”

“I don’t think I ever will.” He grins. “Did you learn all that in the military?”

“What, the constant, unnecessary stunts? I built my nerve up for them through the military, sure.”

“You mean to tell me you weren’t naturally endowed with your complete disregard for your safety?”

“Sort of. I was always adventurous, but everyone needs that extra push at some point.”

Ethan speaks casually, but the expression etched on his face conveys something entirely different. Benji shifts on his feet and asks, “Do I make you uncomfortable asking about the military?”

“No.”

“You look uncomfortable.”

“Do I?” When Benji nods, he continues with, “I’m not really attached to it the same way others are. It’s a part of my past, that’s all.”

“Did you… not want to be in the Army?”

“Complicated circumstances,” Ethan says. “My dad was a Ranger during the Korean War.”

“Ah, a classic case of wanting to be like your father, then.”

“I suppose so.”

“What did he think of it?”

Ethan’s eyes cloud with something unidentifiable.

“You don’t have to tell me if that’s -- if it’s too invasive of a question.”

“No, it’s okay,” he murmurs. “It’s not invasive. He was just hard to read. He wasn’t a bad man or anything, but it always felt like there was a wall. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah.” Benji blinks. “I think. My dad wasn’t around after a certain point in my life. I mean, I knew where he was, but he never made much of an effort to talk to my siblings and me and I didn’t care to try, either, when I was old enough.”

“My dad was around, he was just distant. My mother told me he wasn’t always like that. Something happened, I don’t know what. She died before she could tell me.”

“He’s dead too, I’m assuming.”

“Yeah, he died not too long after I joined the Army. Two years afterwards, something like that. I don’t spend much time dwelling on the distant past. I’m too busy.”

“Course you are,” Benji says. “Speaking of which, are we ever going to discuss what we’re doing tomorrow?”

“Good idea.” Ethan scratches his chin. “We can go get dinner and talk about it, if you want.”

“Only after we spend some more time in here. I quite like it.”

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” He shoves his hands in his pocket and turns back towards all the vegetation. “When I retire for good, I’m moving here.” He pauses. “Don’t tell the IMF that.”

“I’m touched you would tell me that.”

“I don’t mind if you visit me, but I’m not returning for any more rescue missions. I’ll be finished for good.”

“No offense, Ethan, but I feel like you’d get bored within a week.”

He lets out a laugh, although it’s a bit sorrowful. “It wouldn’t be so bad if I had someone to spend the time with.” Ethan casts his glance downwards. “It wasn’t so bad with Julia.”

Benji doesn’t say anything for a moment; instead, he lets the conversation reach a temporary lull, until he takes a breath and tells him, “I bet you’ll find someone else. You’re great, Ethan. I mean that.”

Ethan nods his head once, picks his chin up, and says, “This conversation got a bit serious, didn’t it?”

“I don’t mind.”

“Let’s look somewhere else. There’s much more to enjoy in here.”

Benji takes a step forward, only to find that a couple is walking the opposite direction. He side-steps out of the way and murmurs a quick, “Sorry,” but finds himself caught off-guard when he feels Ethan’s hand on the small of his back. He presses against him firmly, but without any sense of urgency or irritation for his blunder; instead, it reminds Benji of dates he had been on in years past, when his date had guided him out of restaurants and into their car before they dropped the respectable pretense and gave into the more carnal urges that had been building all night.

His entire body pulses with each heartbeat, allowing Ethan to guide him forward, waiting for him to withdraw his hand at any moment. An eternity passes before he finally lifts it away to point something out.


After wandering through Capri a bit longer and going to get dinner, Benji and Ethan return to the safe house and take turns in the bathroom to showering and putting on their usual pajamas. Although it would be inaccurate to say Ethan sleeps in pajamas, Benji notes, because he always wears a pair of sweatpants to bed with no shirt to match. And, per usual, Benji tries his hardest to read the book he brought with him but finds his eyes drifting to Ethan’s biceps every other minute.

They talk briefly about the mission they have the next day before they finally decide to go to bed, a decision Benji is entirely grateful for, because his second wind after the airplane ride is quickly wearing off.

The bedroom in this safe house is a single room the houses two beds. Benji doesn’t hesitate to flop down on one of them and send an exhausted, “Good night,” towards Ethan as he flips off the light and gets into the other bed. It takes almost no time at all before Benji drifts to sleep, mind peacefully blank.

He doesn’t know what time it is when he becomes aware of the sound of frenzied gasping, nor does he know how long it takes for him to realize that the sound is real and not part of a nonsensical dream he won’t remember in the morning. Eventually, he raises his head and cracks open his eyes, only to find Ethan balled up in his bed, face pressed into his pillow, arms clenched around the fitted sheet.

It takes a moment to process what he’s looking at before Benji pushes his blanket off of him and slides out of bed. “Ethan?” he asks. He approaches the other man and sits down on the bed next to him. “Ethan, you alright?” Benji places his hand lightly on his shoulder. “Ethan--”

Ethan jolts upright suddenly and draws another pained gasp. He’s hyperventilating, eyes open but completely unfocused.

“Hey, hey, it’s just me,” Benji says, voice more urgent now. “You’re okay, it’s Benji, see? Benji.” Without thinking, he reaches out and cups his hands around Ethan’s shoulders. “It’s okay, you’re having a nightmare.”

Even in the darkness, Benji can tell the terror of whatever Ethan had dreamed is leaving him quickly, but the confusion remains.

“We’re in Capri,” Benji soothes. “We’re in the safehouse. Those are my hands on your shoulders. You’re fine, relax.”

His rapid breaths slow down. “Benji?” he mutters.

“It’s Benji.”

Under his fingers, he can feel Ethan’s shoulders slacken. He takes a few gulps of air, this time deliberately, just to finish catching his breath. “Benji.”

“I think you had a nightmare,” he repeats.

“Yeah.” His voice is barely louder than a whisper. “Um, yeah, sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?”

“I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“’Salright, you can’t help it.”

Ethan pinches his fingers around the bridge of his nose. “I haven’t had one in a while, sorry.”

“Hey, I get them too, sometimes. Occupational hazard, right?”

“Yeah.”

Benji only realizes that he’s holding onto him still when he feels Ethan tremble slightly. “Is it alright that I’m touching you?” he asks suddenly. “I know some people aren’t okay with that.”

“No, uh, I think it helps.” He clears his throat. “Julia used to--” His breath hitches and cuts him off. Then he’s swiping at his cheeks, tilting his head down so Benji can’t see his face.

“Ethan,” Benji sighs, “it’s alright, really. I’m here to help if you need anything.”

“Sorry, it’s been a while--” Again, his breath hitches, and then again, until Benji realizes that he’s crying.

“Really, I’ll do anything and I won’t tell a soul. Our little secret.”

“You’d think I’d be over it by now,” he says, any attempt at humor immediately overwhelmed by a deep-set bitterness.

“Nightmares are always shit. Even more so when you remember that you can’t control when they happen and how you respond.”

“They bring back such old fucking memories…” Ethan lifts his head now, exposing the tears trickling down his cheeks. “You can go back to sleep, I’m okay.”

“You think I’m going to leave you here, alone? Unless that’s what you want.”

Ethan shakes his head.

“Do you…” Benji hesitates. “Would you like a hug, or something?”

Now, Ethan nods. Benji wastes no time in leaning forward and wrapping his arms around him, pressing their frames together tightly. Ethan returns the gesture and buries his face into the crook of Benji’s neck. The tears are hot against the skin of Benji’s neck, but that’s all there is. Ethan doesn’t shudder or let out a sob, choosing instead to cry quietly and allows Benji to rub small circles against his back with soft, “You’re alright”s every few seconds.

Over time, their bodies move together, so that Ethan raises his cheek until it’s against Benji’s. He’s so close that the flutter of his eyelashes and draw of his breath send goosebumps racing down Benji's arms. Being close to Ethan is a normal consequence of his job, but this is definitely the most intimate they’ve ever been. Never had he seen Ethan so vulnerable and helpless, so incredibly human.

“Hey, Ethan?” he murmurs into his ear. “I have nightmares too, you know. They wake me up like this. I don’t know if you feel embarrassed, or -- or something, but there’s no need to, okay? I understand. I want you to know that.”

“I know.” His response is so quiet that Benji nearly misses it, but his entire body lights up when he realizes that Ethan’s lips are practically on his cheek.

“Do you?” His voices wavers. “I mean it.”

“I know you do.”

If this had been any other scenario, Benji would turn his head so their lips could meet, but it hardly feels appropriate, now. He swears at himself internally; his friend is upset, and he’s obsessed with the idea of kissing him. But then Ethan tightens his arms around him and he becomes so dizzy that he lets out a sigh.

“I’m keeping you up,” Ethan says. “We need to get some sleep.”

“I’ll stay up as long as you need me to.”

Another silence passes before Ethan says, “Do you -- um…”

“Hm?”

“Uh, do you mind maybe…” He exhales. “It’s silly.”

“What is it?”

“Is it okay if maybe, you stay with me?”

“Like share a bed?”

“Yeah.”

He’s so fucking dizzy. “Yeah, that’s fine.”

“Really?”

“We’ve shared a bed before, haven’t we?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t…” Ethan loosens his embrace. “Thanks, Benj.”

“You’re welcome, Ethan.”

They back away from each other and the look on Ethan’s face makes Benji’s mouth go dry. He’s speechless as Ethan scoots towards the edge of the bed and lies back down on the pillow. Benji joins him, praying to anyone that would listen that Ethan couldn’t feel it through his chest as he rests against him. Then, breath held, he drapes his arm across Ethan’s waist, and leaves it there when there’s no objection.

He focuses on breathing in and out, matching the rise and fall of Ethan’s chest, until sleep takes him once more. When the sound of Ethan’s alarm wakes him in the morning, his arm is still there.

Chapter Text

Ethan

Today 2:14 PM

 

Still on for Star Trek
tonight?

of fucking course


Benji doesn’t hesitate to knock on Ethan’s door anymore. The first time they had done this, it was all nerves for the entirety of the time he was in Ethan’s apartment, but now it feels no different than walking into his own place. It’s always a great time, even if conversation is restricted to occasional comments about whatever is happening on screen, just because Ethan’s presence is relaxing.

Ethan doesn’t take long to answer. “Hey,” he greets chipperly as he throws an arm around Benji in a friendly hug. “Long time, no see.”

“Really,” Benji responds. “Why the fuck is the IMF shipping you around so much for?”

“Beats me,” Ethan says with a shrug. “I think I’m back in the States for a while, though.”

“Fantastic, you get to do paperwork with the rest of us.”

“Looking forward to it.” Ethan disappears into his kitchen. “Hey, I got some really good granola if you want some.”

“Where’d you get it?”

“Hannah from work.”

“Oh shit,” Benji says as he hurries to the kitchen. “I didn’t know she made more.”

Ethan rattles a tupperware at him. “Sit down and you can have some.”

Benji obeys immediately, taking the left side of the couch as usual while Ethan takes the right. As soon as Ethan settles down, Benji asks, “You came over here without any paper towels?”

Ethan states at him blankly. “Yeah?”

“Aren’t you worried about crumbs on your couch?”

“I can sweep it in the morning.”

“Are you sick?”

“No?”

“Huh,” Benji says. “Maybe it’s good that the IMF is giving you a break.”

“I’m not that obsessive about keeping my couch clean. I just wanted to keep it tidy for you.”

“And now I’m not worthy of tidiness?”

“The opposite.”

“I’m worthy of dirtiness.”

“Bad way to phrase it,” Ethan laughs. “I know that you don’t mind now.”

“Funny that you thought I ever minded.” He takes a handful of granola. “Now turn Star Trek on.”

It’s Ethan’s turn to obey. As he switches the episode on, Benji grabs a handful of granola and sinks into the couch. All prior conversation fades into intent focus on the episode playing out on the screen in front of them. The silence is only punctuated when Benji’s phone buzzes.

For a moment he wonders who it is, but decides to brush it off for the time being. Then it buzzes again, making it harder to ignore. It seems as if Ethan’s interest is captured, too, from the way he tilts his face just slightly towards Benji.

“You can check if you want.”

Benji looks up at Ethan. “What?”

“You look like you’ve committed a crime because your phone vibrated. It’s okay to check.”

“I look like what?” he says, but he reaches into his pocket anyway and pulls his phone out.


Mark

Today 8:05 PM

what are u up to tonight?

I'm busy

with what?

u let me come over before
while u were working


“Shit,” Benji sighs.

“Do you need to take care of something?”

“No, but I do need to figure out how to tell someone you’re out with somebody else but it poses no threat to them.”

Ethan’s lips twist downward. “Mark again?”

“How ever did you guess?”

“You’re still talking to him?”

“I thought I told you I talked to him sometimes.”

“Yeah, but that was last year. How long have you two been doing this now?”

Benji hesitates. He hadn’t ever thought too hard about how much time had elapsed between their official break-up and now. The two year anniversary was a few months ago.

“I don’t mean to pry,” Ethan says. “But Benji, he’s been frustrating you for as long as we’ve been friends and you’re still talking to him.”

“He’s been better, recently.”

“But for how long?”

“We’re not really dating again,” he insists. “Well, it’s not serious. It’s not like we’re living together, or anything.”

“But serious enough that he’ll get jealous if you even hang out with anybody else.”

Benji frowns. “Not necessarily. I go out with others from time to time.”

“But does he message you during those times?”

“He’s lonely, Ethan.”

“That’s not your fault or your problem, is it?” He rotates his body so he’s completely facing Benji. “I’m not trying to sound judgemental, but I would hate to see you waste so much time with someone who you decide isn’t good for you in the end.”

“It’s not like I have a line of suitors or anything,” he responds. “I can’t think of anyone absolutely in love with me.”

“How do you know if you never give anyone else a chance?”

The look that Ethan gives him makes his heart melt and his breath shallow. If it had been anyone else but Ethan, he could easily twist a question like that into a romantic opportunity for himself, but the fact that it’s Ethan fills him with too much anxiety to even consider for more than a moment. Fucking it up with Ethan, no matter how intense his crush is, would be the worst case scenario for him.

“I guess…” Benji swallows and turns his head away. “At least pause Star Trek if we’re going to get into my personal tragedies and emotional problems.”

“Is that what you want?”

“You’re so irritating,” Benji says as he grabs the remote from Ethan’s lap and pauses it.

“What?”

“You’re so bloody considerate all the time. It makes it extraordinarily difficult to ever be frustrated with you, even when you’re dangling off buildings.”

“Would it make you feel any better if I told you that I had to work at it?”

“A bit, maybe. I might think that you’re a sociopath otherwise.”

“It’s definitely something I learned while I was married.”

“You know, there’s some woman out there fantasizing about a perfect husband who can’t possibly exist, except, as it turns out, he’s sitting right next to me.”

“I’m far from perfect,” Ethan asserts.

“Maybe you think that, but--”

“Benji, I could easily say the same about you,” he interrupts. “Which is why I’m questioning you and Mark.”

“I doubt anyone’s dreaming of me.”

Now Ethan frowns. “It really bothers me when you say those things about yourself.”

For once, Benji drops all jest and slumps into the couch. “I’m sorry,” he tells Ethan. “I know it bothers you, but it’s like a bad habit now.”

“Why’s that?”

Benji crosses his arms and swallows before asking, “You want to know why I hang around Mark so much? It’s because of Owen.”

“Who’s Owen?”

“My first real boyfriend. We met while I was at uni. I had just told everyone that I was gay and he was the first gay man I met after that.” He snorts. “A break-up so bad I left the country.”

“You’re kidding.”

He shakes his head. “Slight exaggeration, sure, because I was planning on coming to America anyway, but that desire was a weird fantasy I came up with while I was with Owen and then something I acted on once we were split up for good. We were from the same area of the country, so I didn’t even want to risk running into him again.”

Ethan watches him with his lips pursed and brow furrowed. He doesn’t say anything when Benji pauses, and that silence makes Benji all too aware that he’s telling Ethan fucking Hunt about his shitty ex-boyfriend.

“Owen was… exciting, I guess. Not to sound painfully cliché,” Benji continues, “but he was a lot different than anybody else I ever knew. I don’t know why I chose him, maybe because he was the first gay man I ever connected with. I’m nothing like him, really. He knew that, though. That’s something he brought up often.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“He, um, he liked to call me names.” Benji shifts. “Sorry, I haven’t talked about this with anyone since I came to America.”

“How long ago was that?”

“So bloody long ago. I was in my twenties with I was with him. You can’t even picture what I looked like in my twenties, I assure you.”

“You’ve gone all this time without talking about it?”

“Yeah,” he sighs. “I don’t know, what’s passed is passed. I came here and started anew. Got my citizenship and all that. You know this already.”

“But I don’t know about Owen.”

“What is there to say about him that doesn’t sound painfully stereotypical? He was fun and interesting until doors were closed.”

“Benji,” Ethan says softly, but he keeps talking.

“He knew he was better me in every aspect. Except for maybe intelligence, I think he was always a bit insecure about the fact I got things more quickly than he ever could. And whenever he was mad, he’d remind me.” He shrugs. “He got angrier the older he got. Life wasn’t going his way for a long time and you could tell. His mum got diagnosed with cancer, for instance, and his best mate died in a freak accident. And I was the closest thing for him to take it all out on. I didn’t really think much of it, just because I knew he was feeling bad. So I guess you can say I internalized all of that, or something.”

“Did he do that the entire time you were together?”

“I mean, it was good at the start. So when he started calling me things and blaming me for everything, I thought it was just the result of all the stress and definitely unlike him.”

“He didn’t ever…” Ethan hesitates.

“What, hit me?” He laughs. “Not regularly, no. He did it twice, but in all fairness, one of those times was initiated because he was drunk and so was I and we got into an argument.”

Ethan’s jaw tenses. “That’s still fucked up.”

“It is what it is.” He shrugs again.

“No, Benji, he had no right to treat you like that. Even if he was going through a rough patch, that doesn’t mean he was allowed to make you feel so bad that it still affects the way you talk about yourself.”

“I know,” he murmurs. “I’ve tried moving on. That’s why I started dating Mark eventually. He may be a bit clingy, but he’s never treated me like that. He’s comfortable.”

“Still…” Ethan offers him a sympathetic look. “I can’t imagine how difficult that all is.”

“Oh, it's not too bad. My family all knows about Mark and Owen, so it’s not like I don’t have the option of venting to anyone.”

“So you’re out.”

“Yep.”

“Even to the IMF?”

“I’ve never sat anyone down and told them I’m gay, but during health exams, I have to be honest about my sex life, so it’s safe to assume.”

“And they’ve never treated you weirdly for it?”

“No. Why would they?”

Ethan leans back. “When I was in the Army, something like that got you discharged.”

“The IMF isn’t the Army.”

“Sure it’s not, but I thought… I assumed it was all the same.”

“I haven’t met anyone who threatened to fire me because I have a boyfriend, yet.”

“Hm,” is Ethan’s only response.

“I’m pretty sure they passed a law a few years ago about that, anyway.”

“I guess I missed that.” He lightens up as he adds, “You miss a lot when working for the IMF.”

“Or married, which I think was your case when it passed.”

“I was still a bit busy that year.”

“A bit.” Benji casts his look towards the TV. “You’re a lot busier now, though.”

“It feels different when you’re single than when you’re married.”

“I’m sure it does.” He pauses again. “It doesn’t bother you to talk about Julia, does it?”

Ethan shakes his head. “I don’t see why I shouldn’t talk about her.”

“Some people are touchy about that sort of thing.”

“It’s nice to remember, I think. Sometimes it’s sad, sure, but I’d rather remember than make myself forget.”

“That makes sense. I’m sorry it all happened.”

“Life moves on. I have other things and people to fill my time with.”

“Like who?” The question comes out without any thought. “Sorry,” he says quickly, “that’s not my business.”

Ethan grins and gestures for the remote. “C’mon,” he says, “we have a Star Trek episode to finish.”

“Right.” He passes the remote and settles back down into the couch. As he grabs another handful of granola, he realizes that he hadn’t ever responded to Mark’s last text. For a moment, he hesitates, wondering if he could shoot something back without Ethan noticing. Mark had a right to know, after all.

Benji glances at Ethan, who’s already engrossed in the show. The scene brings a smile to his face. Maybe these nights spent with Ethan can stay their little secret. Maybe nobody else really needs to know. Didn’t he?

With that thought in mind, he grabs his phone from his lap and sets it down on the coffee table in front of them. The light click between the phone and the table makes Ethan glance over at him. “Mark again?”

“Mm-mm.”

Ethan’s eyes glow in the reflection of the television as a soft grin spreads across his lips. “You cold?” he asks suddenly. “We’re at that part of the year where it gets colder and my apartment building can’t seem to figure out what heating is.”

“A blanket would be nice, I think.”

“Give me a second.” Ethan gets up and disappears down his short hallway into his bedroom. Soon he emerges with a large blanket, similar to the sleek, more modern kind of blanket Benji enjoys wrapping himself up in at night during the wintertime. “Do you mind sharing?”

“Not if you don’t mind.”

Ethan approaches the couch, sets the granola next to Benji’s phone, and then sits down. He gestures at Benji to scoot closer to him as he fans the blanket out. “I didn’t realize it was going to get this cold this early on in the year,” he says.

“Me either.” It’s all Benji can get out as Ethan’s body presses against his under the blanket. For a second, Benji considers if maybe Ethan’s doing all of this on purpose. But for what reason? To torment him? To flirt with him?

But Ethan does nothing else. They sit closely together, heat radiating between them as one episode ends and the next begins. Benji hears his phone buzz against the tabletop and knows that he’ll have hell to pay tomorrow, but nothing could motivate him to separate himself from Ethan. Not now.

He’s not expecting Ethan’s hand to tumble on his thigh, but it happens without him noticing, and Ethan makes no quick attempt to move away. His hand is arched, fingertips just barely pressing against him, poised and light. But it warms Benji’s skin anyway, until his entire body is alive with the sensation, with the reality that Ethan is touching him.

It’s an intoxicating feeling, just sitting with Ethan, chaste touches between them. Everything is so tranquil that he hardly realizes that his blinks are growing longer and slower. Eventually he opens his eyes to find that their episode had been replaced by Netflix asking if they’re still there.

He blinks, remembers where he’s at, and goes to grab the remote from the coffee table. It’s only when he shifts does he realize that Ethan’s head is on his shoulder, hand now grasped around his thigh, not firmly, but protectively.

“Ethan?” Benji mumbles, but he gets no response. Instead, he can hear the gentle inhales and exhales that he’s already familiar with after falling asleep with him twice before.

He stops to think. It’s entirely possible that he can stay here, curled up under the blanket with Ethan with nothing in the world to stop them. Or he could go home, answer his texts, and go to bed. The potential conflict with Mark ends up motivating him to slide out of his blanket and get on his feet. He turns around in time to catch Ethan toppling over, which startles him awake, eyes open but clouded in sleepy confusion.

“Just me,” Benji says softly. He grabs the remote and shuts the TV off.

Ethan blinks. “You heading out?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright.”

Benji grabs his phone and shoves it into his pocket. “Thanks for having me over.”

“Thanks for coming.”

“I’ll see you next week.”

He begins to leave but is suddenly interrupted by a soft, “Benji, wait.”

When he turns, he’s greeted by Ethan’s arms, pulling him into a hug like he had a dozen times before, but it’s not the same. The friendliness that Benji is accustomed to has faded into something else, a bit more intimate, a bit more meaningful. One arm hooks around Benji’s waist, the other around his shoulders, holding onto him tightly as they exhale together. A number of seconds fly by before Ethan murmurs, “Bye, Benji.”.

“See ya, Ethan.” He untangles himself from Ethan’s arms and heads towards the door before the temptation to kiss him goodnight grew any stronger.

Chapter Text

Mark

Today 5:42 PM

hey are u home from work?


everything ok?


did I say something that
annoyed u?

 

6:17 PM

I know u said that you're
probably just busy with work
when u don't answer me but I
feel like something's been up
recently


Benji jerks awake and finds himself slumped over his laptop at the desk in the corner of his bedroom. His mind buzzes for a number of moments, doing nothing but processing the fact that he had unexpectedly dozed off. After he stomachs that much, he notices his phone blinking up at him and quickly grabs it.

He unlocks it and grimaces when he sees the name on the screen. Mark had been texted him less and less as of late, enough where Benji no longer anticipates a message from him after returning home. The fact that Mark sounds somewhat annoyed after not bothering to message him for weeks comes off as irritating. As if Benji’s not allowed to go to sleep after work without random interrogation.

His frustrated musing is interrupted by the presence of a new text. Once he reads Ethan’s name, he doesn’t hesitate to open it.


 Ethan 🕶

Today 6:36 PM

Hey Benj, would you want to
go out for drinks?

Just to catch up a bit before
we leave


Every part of his body lights up as his eyes skim across the text on his screen. His reply follows quickly.


Ethan 🕶

Today 6:36 PM

Hey Benj, would you want to
go out for drinks?

Just to catch up a bit before
we leave

when and where?

There's a new place I would
like to try. I'll send you the
address.

Meet me at 8?

sounds good


His joy is short-lived as his phone buzzes again.


Mark

6:40 PM

I can see the read receipts

sorry mark

just woke up

u were asleep?

passed out after work I guess

u awake now?

can I come over?

I'm really busy tonight

with what?

I have another work trip to go
on

you're always on trips

it'll be short hopefully

you've let me come over before
when u were busy

tonight isn't good

okay.


Okay. That peeves Benji. So he fell asleep after work while finishing dome preparations for his next mission. That’s nothing new. But Mark has always been annoyed by that. There’s a reason they had broken up before.

But he pushes the thought aside, because it doesn’t matter too much if Mark is angry at him. Not when he has Ethan to look forward to tonight, even if he was somewhat dishonest in his response to him. It had been weeks since he last had the chance to talk to Ethan. Mark isn’t about to ruin that.

Benji shuts his screen off, sets his phone down, and gets ready to meet Ethan.


Ethan’s outside and looking the opposite direction when Benji arrives at the bar in question. “Hey !” Benji calls.

That makes Ethan turn his head. A large grin lights up his face. “There you are.”

He stops when he’s a few feet away from Ethan. “You know you’re allowed to go in without me.”

“I’ve only been here for a minute or so.”

“You’re here only 10 minutes before 8? That’s late for you.”

“Or early for you.” 

“This is the time I always show up.”

“Had to finish some things before I came here.” Then he nods towards a small staircase descending to the front door. “I also had to stand out here to make sure you didn’t miss this.”

“Thanks, I couldn’t have found it with the big neon sign above the entrance.”

“You’re welcome,” Ethan answers as he takes his hands out of his pockets and steps down the stairs.

Benji isn’t sure what to expect as he passes through the open door, especially when this bar is inside an old building. But the inside has been entirely refurbished, giving it a fresh, hip feel. There’s a number of people already inside, not so much that it’s overwhelming, but enough where Benji wonders if this is the start of their rush hour.

“Want to order now or later?” Ethan asks.

“We can get something now.”

They approach the bar, find two empty barstools, and then look over the available drinks. Benji decides to try one of their specialty cocktails while Ethan settles for something more traditional. “This looks obscenely fruity,” Benji says once he gets it, but he’s pleased to find that it’s the perfect blend of sweet and tart that goes nicely with the tang of alcohol at the end. “Wait, it’s better than I thought.”

“Is it?”

“Want to try?”

“I’m okay with my drink.”

“C’mon, just a sip?” He cocks his head. “I’m not worried about catching cooties, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

A small smile crosses Ethan’s lips as he accepts the glass and takes a small sip. He pauses after he swallows, eyes raised in thought, until he says, “Hey, that is good.”

“I hope this is an informal catch-up rather than discussing what we’re doing on our upcoming mission because I’ll probably leave a bit woozy with these.”

“Definitely just a catch-up. We’ll have plenty of time to talk work later.”

“Taking a break from work for once?”

“Taking a break for drinks isn’t going to kill anyone.”

“So you think.” He takes another sip of his drink but keeps his eyes locked on Ethan’s face for any emotion. After all the time he has known him, it’s still difficult to read him, to judge which comments roll off his shoulders and which stir up something he leaves unsaid but rests heavy on his shoulders. This time, he looks okay.

“Hey,” Benji starts again, “thanks for inviting me out, really. Otherwise I might have been passed out at my laptop all night.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? You were asleep when I texted you?”

Benji smiles sheepishly.

“Are you not sleeping well?” Ethan continues, with more seriousness in his tone than Benji had anticipated.

“I’m alright, just a bit tired, that’s all,” he reassures. “Have you never passed out after work?”

“No, it’s just that…” He hesitates. “Sorry, Benj, I guess I worry about you sometimes.”

He sends Ethan a small grin. “I’m an adult, I can take care of myself.”

“Just checking in on my teammate.”

The sudden intensity on Ethan’s face makes Benji shift nervously in his seat. “When you said going out for drinks isn’t going to kill anyone and I said -- I didn’t mean that someone was actually--”

Ethan furrows his brow, but it’s affectionate rather than confused. “I know you were joking.”

“Okay, you just slid into your protective Ethan Hunt mode, I didn’t know if maybe I brought something up that--”

He’s cut off when Ethan laughs. It’s short, sweet. “Sorry, I didn’t know that I had a protective Ethan Hunt mode.”

“You mean it’s unintentional?”

“Maybe not when I’m in the field, but I didn’t think it applies to casual situations.”

Benji lets out an incredulous laugh. “Have you not noticed that you’re a rather intense person?”

“I’ve never thought of myself as that way.”

“And I never realized how completely un-self-aware you are until right now.”

Ethan shrugs, but a small grin lights up his face. “Is there anything wrong with caring about my friends?”

“Not at all, but you’re the only person in the IMF who has ever cared about how much sleep I’ve been getting.” He pauses. “Actually, I don’t even think my boyfriends have cared that much.”

Something unexpected flashes in Ethan’s eyes. “You mean you lived with Mark all those years--”

“Oh, I’m over talking about Mark,” Benji sighs. “That’s all I ever talk about with you. Mark, Mark, Mark.”

The edges of Ethan’s face soften. “Sorry.”

“You have nothing to apologize for, it’s all on me for constantly bringing up my terrible love life around you. I never ask about you! How self-centered am I?”

“I don’t know about that. I like to listen to you.”

“You don’t have to be nice.”

“No, I mean I care, Benji.”

The way Ethan says his name combined with the way he’s looking at him now sends a chill down his spine. It’s incredible how expressive Ethan is, how beautiful every feature of his face is when it twists into a new emotion. His heart flutters in his chest as he struggles to find any response. He’s absolutely enraptured by Ethan, by his compassion, by the fact that Ethan probably cares more about him than anyone else he can think of --

Benji takes a swig of his drink and looks away quickly.

“I’m sorry,” Ethan says. “Too intense?”

“I’m just shit at emotional vulnerability.”

Ethan laughs that sweet laugh again. “You’ve been pretty open with me.”

“Good thing you’re not a sociopath, then, because I’m sure you have plenty of material to blackmail me with by now.”

“I would never,” Ethan says. With that, he suddenly lifts his hand and presses it against the middle of Benji’s back. Benji’s breath hitches in his throat immediately. That’s the same gesture Benji had made to dates in the past, people he snogged or hooked up with and forgot about a few weeks later. Ethan is touchy sometimes, but this is definitely something different.

There’s a chill running down his spine as he glances over at Ethan again. He’s so fucking unreadable, looking as cool and collected as usual, but his hand stays where it’s at and Benji can’t help but wonder if this is a lot more than just a friendly display of affection. He wets his bottom lip with his tongue and thinks the same words over and over -- Ethan, are you bisexual? -- but the thought that maybe Ethan likes him the same way he likes Ethan is as ridiculous as it is impossible.

Then he hesitates. Is it impossible?

Benji turns back to his drink and tries to focus on absolutely anything else. Whatever Ethan’s sexual orientation really is doesn’t matter. They’re work colleagues firstly. He has to keep that in mind.

Ethan moves his hand up his back, just enough that Benji can feel his palm shifting the fabric of his shirt. He’s not making this particularly easy, especially not when he continues to drink his own drink casually, like it’s normal for the two of them to sit like this. Maybe it is normal, maybe Benji’s just been so confused and starved for Ethan’s presence that he’s over-analyzing everything he does.

“I’m glad they finally assigned us together again,” Benji says at last.

“It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”

“It’s been awhile since I’ve had to travel in general. I’m getting a bit tired of my work computer, honestly.”

“I understand that,” he responds with a light sigh. “When I was retired for a bit… I did miss traveling sometimes. Not necessarily being shot at or anything, just traveling. I suggested to Julia that we go places, which we did, but trying to take days off as a nurse?” He blows a stream of air through rounded lips and lets out a short laugh. “But I never would have asked her to put me above her job. I loved that she was a nurse. She was great at it.”

“I’m sure she was,” Benji says gently. “She had a very calming presence every time I met her.”

“She liked you too, you know.” He looks over at Benji. “She thought you were the most interesting of the entire technician team.”

“Why? Because I’m English?”

He grins. “Probably.”

“Typical Americans, reducing me to such an integral part of my existence.” But he’s smiling too, more flattered than anything that Julia had liked him.

“Aren’t you doing the same thing by bringing up that I’m American?”

“It’s not the same when I do it,” he says before taking another swig.

“Really now?”

“Mm-hm.”

Ethan pulls his hand away from Benji’s back to scratch the corner of his eye, a bemused smile growing on his face. “Hey, how about I order another round and we can move to that table over there?”

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea for me to preemptively order another of these drinks.”

“Then let’s move and order some later. Just so we can get out of the way of whatever crowd is coming through the door right now.”

Benji turns to glance at the door. Sure enough, there’s a large group of people talking animatedly to one another at the entrance.

“Alright,” Benji says as he gets to his feet, “but I’m buying next time.”

“Please, it’s on me.”

“You can stop acting chivalrous and let me pay one time.”

Ethan shakes his head.

“Why are you so fucking stubborn?”

“I always pay o--” And then he stops suddenly. The smile stays, but the rest of the sentence hangs heavy in the air. 

Dammit , Benji thinks, because the effect Ethan has on him is ridiculous, the way his heart races at all the possible ways that sentence could end, even more so at the way he thinks it was going to end. But he keeps his thoughts to himself and follows Ethan to the table he gestured at. Stop thinking about it. Enjoy the night.


Benji had predicted the effect those drinks would have on him correctly. He isn’t completely drunk, but tipsy enough where he uses Ethan as a balance, completely unaware that he’s doing so until Ethan shifts away from him and he nearly topples over.

“Hey,” Ethan laughs quietly as he lightly grasps onto Benji’s wrist. “Did you drive out here?”

“No, I grabbed a cab,” he responds. “Just in case I ended up like this.”

“Want me to give you a ride home?” Ethan asks.

He furrows his brow. “No, no, no, my place is way out of the way to your place.”

“I don’t mind.”

It’s pointless to argue with him. So he agrees, follows Ethan to his car, and slides into the passenger seat before saying, “Do you even know where I live?”

“You’ll have to tell me that,” Ethan answers as he buckles his seatbelt.

“Okay, I can give you directions.” He pauses. “I think.”

“Or you can stick it into Google Maps.” He hands Benji his phone.

“I’ll try my best.”

It’s no easy feat, not when Ethan’s keyboard swims in front of his eyes. He types something in, holds the phone back to Ethan, and says, “Hope that’s interpretable.”

Ethan looks down, grins, and says, “Yeah, I got it.” He starts the car, pulls away from the curb, and starts down the street.

The first few minutes of the ride are quiet. Benji’s not sure of what to say, not when they had spent the past hour and a half chatting and drinking. All there’s left to talk about is their mission.

“Oh, shit,” Benji groans suddenly, “what time are we leaving? For the mission, I mean.”

“10 AM Monday.”

“Monday.” Benji rubs his forehead. “Guess I better start preparing for that.”

“You have time.”

“Yeah, only two days now.” He sends a look at the car radio. “Yeah, two days. Right?”

“It’s still Friday,” Ethan tells him with a gentle tone.

“I’m ridiculously tired,” he sighs as he rubs his forehead a second time. “I can’t keep anything straight right now.”

“Rest up this weekend so you can be ready for our mission on Monday.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He leans back in his seat. “How are you never tired?”

“You’ve seen me asleep before.”

“At nighttime. But you never seem tired throughout the rest of the day.”

“I’m just good at not showing it.”

“So you are tired, then?”

Ethan doesn’t say anything. There’s a hint of a grin on his face.

“Wait,” Benji starts, “you get to go around telling me that I have to go to sleep because you care about me, but would you ever do the same if I told you that?”

“I appreciate your concern, but I can--”

“Don’t you dare say you can take care of yourself,” Benji warns in a teasing tone. “If you’re not going to take that from me, I’m not going to take that from you.”

“I’m not tired right now, though, and you are.”

“So?”

“So it’s not about me right now.”

“You’re not weaseling out that easily.”

“Well, right now, you’re in my car, and I’m driving you home so you don’t have to take a cab. I think the ball is in my court at the moment.”

“Not fair.”

“How so?”

“It’s just not fair!”

“Sure,” Ethan says, and the smug look on his face makes Benji blush under the mock irritation he wears.

“I’m gonna do something nice for you one day,” Benji tells him as he crosses his arms in front of his chest. “And then you’ll say that you need my help sometimes, too.”

“You help me out on missions.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what do you mean?”

There’s a brief moment of silence as Benji thinks of a response. “You’re annoyingly kind, you know.”

“I think you’ve told me that.”

“Bloody amazing you’re not a narcissist from how much I’ve fed your ego.”

“I don’t really see it as anything to inflate my ego with,” he says. “Not when caring about my teammates is a part of my job.”

“Yeah, but you…” He shakes his head.

“What?”

“You’re much kinder to me than anyone else at the IMF. More than just...” He falters suddenly. It’s a given that Ethan is naturally caring, kind to all of his colleagues. But now that Benji thinks about it, Ethan doesn’t check on anyone else as much as he checks on Benji. After all, he just invited Benji out for drinks to catch up. Not the rest of his team going with them.

His mind drifts back to what Ethan had said earlier, the comment about always paying, and his heart skips a beat again. He doesn’t finish his sentence, and Ethan doesn’t press for anything more. Something’s shifted in the car. Something neither of them wants to point out but hangs in Benji’s mind anyway, swirling like a thick cloud of smoke, until it gets to a point where it’s too much to hold in anymore. He waits until Ethan pulls into the parking lot of his apartment complex before turning to him and saying, “Ethan, I have a weird question to ask you.”

Ethan glances over at him, face dimly lit by the street lights. “What’s that?”

“You don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to.”

“Okay.”

“Ethan, are you…” He lets out a breath before starting again. “Sorry, but are you bisexual, Ethan?”

There’s no immediate answer. Not that Benji is expecting one, anyway, but the few seconds of silence that elapse causes anxiety to spike in his chest.

“Sorry,” Benji continues, “it’s none of my business, I just--”

“I guess I--”

They both stop. Another moment passes before Ethan shrugs, looks through his windshield, and says, “I mean, when I was younger, I…” He shifts in his seat. “I guess I am.”

Benji has no clue what to say next. The idea of Ethan as bisexual had always seemed like nothing more than wishful thinking on Benji’s part, just another painful symptom of a crush that isn’t meant to be. But this changes everything.

He swallows hard, mind spinning a hundred miles a second. “Sorry,” he repeats. “Uh, thanks for telling me.”

“Why were you wondering?”

“I don’t know if I can answer that honestly.” Benji lets out a sardonic laugh, but Ethan doesn’t have the same attitude. He’s as serious as he was at the beginning of the night, so much that Benji wonders if perhaps he had offended him. “Maybe it’s better if we just forget about this,” he suggests. “I’ll go to bed, and we can just…”

He’s cut off again, this time because Ethan’s moving towards him. Or at least he thinks he is, but it’s hard to tell when the shadows cast across his body move with each car that passes them. It’s just a figment of his imagination, so he tells himself, until Ethan’s hand is suddenly at his cheek, not on it, but near it, hovering just above his skin, like he’s afraid Benji might break if he touches him.

Benji tries to say something, anything, but his throat is too tight to speak. Instead, he waits for whatever Ethan’s going to do next. But Ethan stays where he’s at, eyes locked on Benji’s lips, fingertips brushing over his jaw, until he suddenly drops his arm away. He’s about to say something, maybe an apology or an excuse or whatever the fuck else, but he doesn’t get it out before Benji cups his hand around Ethan’s cheek, leans forward, and presses a firm kiss against his lips.

That’s all it is, just a confident kiss against Ethan’s lips, nothing more, nothing less. But it drives Benji crazy when he feels Ethan move underneath him, just a slight tilt so their lips lock together at a better angle, one second, two, three, until Benji suddenly pulls back with a light pop. Then his eyes are on Ethan, taking in the look on his face, eyes lidded, lips parted, cheeks flushed. There’s an instinct to go back in and kiss him again, harder this time, furiously, like his life depends on it. But then it processes that he just kissed Ethan Hunt , his best friend, his colleague, the person he’s about to go work with for a week in a foreign country, and he pulls back.

“Sorry,” Benji says again, quickly unbuckling his seatbelt. “I shouldn’t -- uh.” His fingers slide around the door handle. “I should probably go.”

Ethan’s face clouds with a new emotion, one that Benji’s not about to stay around long enough to decipher.

“Thanks for inviting me out,” Benji calls as he opens the car door and steps out. “See you Monday.” Before Ethan has a chance to say anything, he shuts the door behind him and makes his way to the staircase leading to his apartment. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

Chapter Text

Work ethic is one of those buzzwords that various training sessions for different jobs had drilled into Benji over the years, but remains nothing that he ever considers too seriously. At least not until watching Ethan fucking Hunt work like business as usual on their mission, as if Benji hadn’t kissed him without any warning just a handful of days prior. He didn’t bring it up when they saw each other again, not on the plane, not in any of those quiet moments at the safehouse when he could have grabbed Benji and scolded him for putting him in an awkward situation. And maybe it’s for the best that Ethan says nothing at all, but it hangs on Benji’s mind like an unscratchable itch. It takes an exhausting amount of effort for him to shove it away long enough to focus on his laptop screen in front of him as he flips through the security system of the hotel across the street in one window and scrolls through files in another.

This is all mundane work, just random things Benji is doing while he waits for Ethan to meet with an informant named Carvajal that had worked with the IMF for a number of years. The monotony of it all makes it all the more tempting for Benji to fall back into that dilemma of if and when he should talk to Ethan about what had happened that night, if at all.

But, for what it’s worth, Jane doesn’t seem to be faring much better in the boredom than he is. She’s sitting in the front seat of the car they’re driving, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. The only reason she hadn’t gone along with Ethan is because of Carvajal’s picky tastes with meeting him alone. His defensiveness is understandable, but it doesn’t do much to appease Jane’s interest.

Benji continues reading through files that Ethan had gone over with them a few days before until his attention is suddenly grabbed by the presence of a familiar face on the security cameras. He stops suddenly, furrows his brow, and leans forward. “Jane?”

“Yeah?”

“Diaz isn’t supposed to be coming, isn’t he?”

“Did you miss the three debriefings that Ethan gave us?”

He frowns. “He’s here.”

That grabs her interest. She sits up suddenly and glances over at Benji. “What do you mean he’s here?”

“I mean he’s here.” He turns his laptop around and gestures at his screen. Jane shifts, bends over the seat, and watches as the man disappears into the front doors of the hotel.

“That’s not a good sign,” she murmurs. “Are the coms on?”

“I’ve had them turned off.”

“Turn them on.”

Benji is quick to listen. Once he turns them on, he nods at Jane.

“Ethan?” she asks. “Can you hear me?”

“Is something wrong?” is Ethan’s response.

“Yeah. Diaz is in the building.”

There’s a brief pause before he says, “Diaz?”

“I thought you said Carvajal trusts you.”

“I thought so too.” Beat. “Have you seen Carvajal?”

“No,” Benji says. “Just Diaz.”

“Shit.”

Jane sits up, lips pursed in thought for a moment, until she states, “I’m coming in.”

“Jane--”

“I don’t trust Diaz being in there all by himself.” She leans over the seat again. “Benji, hand me my gun, please.”

“Jane, don’t escalate the situation.”

“I’m not,” she answers as she takes the gun from Benji and checks the cartridge. “I’m backup.”

“If he sees you--”

“He won’t.”

Benji bites back a laugh as Jane reloads the gun and opens the passenger door. “Unstoppable force versus immovable object, huh?” he jokes as she leaves the car.

“Who’s who?” Ethan asks.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Benji,” Jane interrupts, “keep an eye on Diaz. Also Carvajal if you see him at all.”

“Roger that.” 

There’s another brief pause before Ethan says, “Next time, Benji, you get to come in with the gun.”

“And the sexy tight pants Jane’s sporting today?”

“Those too.”

He pales immediately. The comment was off-hand, something he hadn’t thought about at all before saying, but Ethan’s response makes him feel all those terrible, awful things he felt right before he kissed him.

“I’m not sure if these are your size,” Jane pipes up.

“Hey,” is all Benji can get out before stewing in whatever the hell it is that Ethan stirs up in him. It was a joke, dammit. And yet his heartbeat is erratic.

It doesn’t take long for both Ethan and Jane to go quiet. Benji flips through security cameras, looking out for any sign of Diaz or Carvajal. “How bad as it if Diaz is there all by himself?” Benji asks after a minute of silence.

“Bad,” is Jane’s response.

“I mean, is it like, Ethan just has to talk to him a bit or--”

“Yes,” Ethan says.

“No,” Jane says.

“That clears things up, I suppose.”

“It’ll be fine,” Ethan continues. “I’ve met Diaz before, I’ll just--”

“No, Ethan.” Jane’s voice has a firm edge to it. “I don’t like this situation at all.”

“J--”

Gunfire interrupts Ethan before he can say anything more. Benji jumps, sending his laptop flying off his lap, barely catching it just before it crashes on the floor. “Ethan?” he calls. He flips through his camera feed again, desperate for any glimpse of him.

“Smooth,” comes Ethan’s voice.

Benji holds back a large exhale, but relief only fills him for a second before he begins searching for Jane. The search is cut short by the sound of fists impacting skin and her figure appearing on the camera, fighting the man he had seen earlier.

“You want to help, maybe?” she shouts.

Then Ethan is suddenly on screen, swinging at Diaz from behind, hooking him in his right hip. Benji winces as he watches the two of them take on the other man, strategizing where to stand, where to swing, who stands on which side.

“Not sure if watching you is my most or least favorite part of the job,” Benji starts. “Although I suppose it’s nice not to get injured as often as you two.”

“Gloat later,” Jane says as she gives Diaz a swift kick to the gut.

“Right. Want me to bring the car up?”

She throws another punch before answering, “Please?”

Benji shuts his laptop and climbs into the front seat. He resists the urge to grimace as he hears Ethan grunt and focuses on maneuvering the car as close as possible to the hotel without startling the growing crowd outside the front doors. “You might want to hurry it up,” Benji says while he parks. “People have definitely noticed.”

He doesn’t get an immediate answer, but he doesn’t expect much of one, anyway. Such are the merits of staying in the car, remaining clueless to all that’s going on inside, hoping for the best all the while. So he sighs, sits back, waits for any new command from Ethan or Jane, and tries not to let his mind drift away, back to that night. If Ethan can continue working like there’s not a problem, so can he.


Benji makes it to the entryway of the safehouse first, unlocking it and keeping it open for Ethan and Jane to pass through. Jane moves swiftly inside and leans against the wall, hair resting ragged around her tired face. Ethan stumbles through next and limps towards the first chair he sees, where he kicks off his shoes and rolls up his pant leg to expose a plethora of cuts with blood dried around the edges and patches of skin darkening into ugly bruises. “Jesus,” Jane murmurs, “who did that to you?”

“Hell if I know,” is his weary response.

Benji hovers near the two of them, unsure what he should say, if anything at all. Both Jane and Ethan had been quiet during the ride to the safehouse, stewing on all the events that unfolded during the day. What should have been a simple task turned into something else entirely, including the death of Diaz and, by extension, the relationship with Carvajal.

“Hunley’s not going to be happy with us,” Jane mutters as she brushes a strand of hair away from her face.

Ethan closes his eyes and rests his head against the back of the chair. The tilt of his head allows his face to be flooded with light, illuminating more injuries littered across his jaw and under his eye socket.

“You really got the shit beaten out of you,” Benji says sympathetically.

“Thanks,” Ethan answers gruffly.

Benji lets his eyes drift across his face before taking a few steps towards him. “Do you mind if I…?”

Ethan peeks an eye open and shifts towards him, just enough where Benji can catch more injuries scattered down his arms. He puts a hand out but lets it hover above his skin, like Ethan is too delicate to touch.

“Would you like if I helped you clean those up?” he asks.

“I’m fine.”

“Ethan,” he sighs.

Ethan shifts again, this time with both eyes open. “I know how to take care of myself.”

“If you didn’t look half-asleep I might not have asked.” Benji looks over at Jane. “You too.”

“You don’t have to include me,” she says. “Ethan’s always been good at getting the brunt of it.”

“You’re welcome,” Ethan mumbles. “Help me up?”

Benji drapes Ethan’s arms around his shoulders and helps him to his feet. In his periphery he’s aware of Ethan’s grimace as he finds his balance and then hobbles forward. The two go quietly through the hallway to the bathroom door, where Ethan flops down on the floor and falls against the wall. Benji goes around him and rustles through the cabinet until he finds the medical kit and a washcloth that he wets in the sink. “Where first?” he asks gently as he kneels next to Ethan.

Ethan’s response comes as a tug on his shirt, getting it part way up until Benji assists him with the rest. Once the shirt is discarded next to him, Ethan slumps against the wall again and lets out a heavy sigh. Benji scans down his bare chest and torso, past all the scars that already felt so familiar to him, before saying, “You look okay to me beside your arms. Should I look at your leg, then?”

Ethan reaches forward to tug his pant leg up. There are those marks from earlier again, bad enough that they make Benji’s face contort with concern.

“These cuts really are nasty,” he remarks as he dabs the washcloth against some of the dried blood. “I didn’t realize someone was doing this to you.”

“Not like you could help it,” Ethan says.

“Maybe not save you entirely, but I might have been able to help a bit. Just so you wouldn’t be so...” He trails off and frowns. “Pardon the strange question, but do you mind if I take your trousers off? Just so I can, um--”

He’s interrupted by Ethan unbuttoning his pants, lifting himself up, and pushing his pants down with one firm thrust. Benji shuts up, finishes pulling them off completely, and sets them on top of Ethan’s shirt.

Benji sits up a bit and realizes that almost all of Ethan’s body is exposed, now. He’s bombarded with the full sight of his legs, of the muscles visible under the bruises, highlighted by the cuts that run along them. His eyes run up his legs, his midriff, his torso, until he realizes that Ethan is looking at him, too, watching his expressions, what he’s doing.

He tears his gaze away from Ethan and returns to the medical kit to retrieve the antiseptic cream. As he swipes his finger across a few of the cuts, he jokes, “Hope we have enough bandages.”

“We can always find more.”

Benji peeks up for a brief moment, only for his skin to grow warm with embarrassment when he realizes that Ethan is still staring at him. He hadn’t meant to gawk at Ethan, but god, he’s beautiful. And now Ethan’s looking at him with just as much intent with those soft, green eyes, filling him from head to toe with a mixture of warmth and giddiness and nervousness all at once. “Sorry,” he says quickly as he moves onto the next cut.

“Sorry?”

“I feel like I’m making this awkward.” He keeps his head down as he continues working.

“Awkward? I wasn’t thinking that.”

“Glad you don’t think so, I guess,” is his response, but he still can’t shake the blush in his cheeks. Maybe because Ethan’s just so fucking gorgeous and Benji has so many strong thoughts and feelings about him and this situation that he’s not sure what to do with them.

Then Ethan says, “Benji,” and his voice is so low and sweet that Benji feels like he’s suffocating.

“Hm?”

“Is this making you uncomfortable?”

“Uncomfortable? I’ve seen Ethan Hunt without his clothes before.” His blush intensifies. “I mean--”

“Benji,” he repeats, this time with a laugh. “I told you I can take care of myself, if you feel--”

“No, I can do it. Sorry.”

Ethan purses his lips, watching Benji with amused interested for a few moments, before he finally asks, “Did you want to talk to me about something in private?”

“Like what?”

“When you kissed me.”

The blood drains from Benji’s face. He didn’t want to be the one to mention it, but there’s no way to avoid it now. “Sooner or later,” he breathes, so quietly that he wonders if Ethan can hear him at all.

“I wasn’t upset by it, if that’s what’s bothering you.”

“It isn’t…” He hesitates, sighs, and then drops his arms into this lap. “I don’t know what it is that bothers me.”

“People have done worse things while drunk.”

“But it’s not just that.” He goes to say something else, but settles instead for a loud exhale. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this.”

“We’ve already started,” he counters gently. “But if there isn’t anything left to say, then there’s nothing left to say.”

“I don’t have anything more to say.”

“Okay.”

“Do you have anything more to say?”

Benji lifts his head and their gazes meet. Immediately, his body is overwhelmed by a combination of senses and emotions as he waits for Ethan to say anything, do anything. The air is more tense than it’s ever been, but Ethan looks as cool as he always does, leaving Benji to wonder if he’s just as calm inside or a similar emotional mess.

The silence is only broken when Ethan finally tilts his head, just slightly, and quietly murmurs, “Benji.” His eyes dart to his lips, and Benji’s breath hitches, mouth too dry to respond with anything. “I don’t want this to change our relationship at all.” Another pause. “That’s what you’re also worried about, isn’t it?”

“Sort of, I think. There are other things too.”

“Like what?”

“You’re making this hard,” Benji says with a breathy laugh.

“I just want to make sure everything’s alright between us.”

Dammit, Ethan, he wants to say, but he can’t think, can’t move, not when Ethan is looking at him like that. Fuck, he could kiss him again, just kiss him until they’re both too dizzy to kiss anymore. And despite the innocent expression Ethan wears, the look in his eyes says something else. Ethan wants this as much as him. Doesn’t he?

Benji clears his throat and picks up his washrag again. “I think it’s alright,” he says as he bends forward and dabs it against a cut on his cheek.

“But are you sure of it?”

He stays quiet as he sets the washcloth down and picks up the antiseptic cream again. Just as he reaches forward, Ethan clamps his hand around his wrist.

“Won’t you answer me?” The question is barely louder than a whisper.

There’s no way Ethan can’t hear Benji’s unsteady breathing. He feels so fucking stupid when Ethan looks so level-headed and he feels like he’s about to collapse underneath him. They’re so close to each other that all Benji has to do is shift forward and they’d be kissing again, and maybe this time it would be purposeful, sober, something they both want, need.

Then the sound of his breathing is only matched by footsteps in the hallway, growing louder and louder, until Benji gets the sense to pull away from Ethan and turn back to the medicine kit just as Jane enters the door.

“Do you have any gauze I can use?” she asks.

“Right here.” Ethan’s hand brushes past Benji’s as he grabs a roll and hands it to Jane.

“Thanks.”

Benji keeps his head down even after she’s gone, avoiding the fact that Ethan is focused on him again. “We’re fine,” he says at last as he picks up a package of bandages. “I was drunk.”

There’s a pause as Ethan dips down a bit further on the wall. Then he says, “Okay.”

Benji glances up at him. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Yeah.”

But he’s frowning, anyway. Benji swallows down whatever anxiety still lingers and turns back to the medical kit. “Uh, I just remembered I have to, um…” He clears his throat and shoves the kit over to Ethan. “You said you could take care of yourself?”

“Yeah,” he repeats as he takes the kit from him.

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

“If you need me…”

“I’ll be okay.”

Benji gets to his feet. “Sorry I kissed you.”

“No hard feelings.”

He takes one last look at Ethan, staring down at his feet with the medical kit in hand, and leaves the bathroom. It’s not the time or place to make an ass of himself again. Not with so much on the line right now.

Chapter Text

“Agent Dunn?”

The words, while soft, are enough to startle him away from whatever he had been doodling and flip around in his chair. There’s a young employee standing there, looking a bit apologetic, teetering on the balls of her feet. “Yes?” he responds.

“The meeting is starting.”

His eyes shut and brow furrows at her answer. “Right now?”

“Just about.”

He inhales, holds it for a brief moment, and then opens his eyes again. “Right.” He gets to his feet and grabs his jacket from the back of his chair. “Thanks.”

She doesn’t say anything else, just moves out of the way as he starts down the hallway. He doesn’t check his watch to see how fast he needs to move, but rather lets his feet guide him towards his destination. That’s the way it’s been since he returned from London, just sort of meandering the hallways, showing up whenever he does, absentmindedly wandering off otherwise.

This time, though, he makes it to the conference room just before the meeting starts. There’s a chair at the middle of the table that’s still vacant, and he’s quick to grab it just as Hunley says, “Nice to see you, Agent Dunn.”

Formalities, he thinks sourly. That’s always his least favorite part of these meetings, because nobody is ever just Cassandra or John anymore, it’s Agent Landry or Agent Ewing. Never Benji, only Agent Dunn.

Benji raises his head and lets his eyes drift down the table. Two seats from the end on the opposite side is Ethan, with his sleeves rolled up halfway to his elbows, hand resting against his chin in thought. Agent Hunt, he corrects himself, but his stomach flips anyway, because even under the stale fluorescent lights, Ethan looks like he’s straight from a photoshoot. And Benji had gone so long without seeing him.

A dull throb pangs in his chest, gaze tearing away from him like he’s embarrassed. Six months without Ethan and two more months with barely a word spoken between them and he’s still reduced to a childish mess of nerves when he looks at him.

“Agent Dunn?”

Benji sits up suddenly and lets out a, “Hm?” before realizing everyone in the room is glancing at him.

“Progress on the filing project?” Hunley asks.

“Uh, good.” Shit, he hadn’t even thought about that all day. “About halfway there, I think.”

Hunley doesn't look satisfied but moves onto the next point, anyway. Benji’s shoulders droop and his eyes scan across the table again, stopping when he notices Ethan is glancing at him. They hold each other’s look for a few seconds until Ethan sends him a small smile and turns to face Hunley again.

That’s the most attention he receives from Ethan anymore. Life has been strange since they caught Lane in London, but maybe Ethan behaving more like a vague acquaintance than a friend is better for him in the long run. Just until Benji’s lovesickness is completely distinguished. Anything to stop feeling like he’s going to burst whenever Ethan looks his direction.

The agent next to Benji hands him a small packet of papers stapled together with a dizzying array of numbers splayed across the pages. He pulls his glasses out of his front shirt pocket, but finds that even with them on, they’re incomprehensible. Nothing about this meeting has digested so far, just muffled speaking with images and data that isn’t processing. If anything, he wants to doodle again, but he didn’t bring his notepad along with him.

He removes his glasses and slips them into his pocket again before pinching his fingers around the bridge of his nose and exhaling. If he could get up, stretch his legs, splash some water on his face, maybe he’ll be okay. A small change of pace.

“Agent Kane,” Hunley says, “mission report.”

Kane, a mousy woman at the end of the table, pipes up with, “We had evidence of a potential terrorist attack in…”

Benji tunes it out. If this is relevant to him, it would come up again later. He flips the packet of information earlier and digs through his pocket in a vain attempt to find a pen before giving up and slumping forward unhappily.

“We managed to intercept plans for the detonation device,” Kane continues. “We have a page from it here.”

Everyone at the table looks up at the screen at the head of the table, where an image of the blueprints is displayed. Kane begins explaining the various labels and arrows and what this all means for the IMF, but Benji’s brain is like radio static. Nothing is making sense, just garbled words with no significance. All he can focus on is how tight the collar of his shirt feels. He gives it a gentle tug, but his throat constricts more. Even loosening his tie does nothing to alleviate the fact that he can barely breathe.

His body buzzes as he sits up and sucks in through his mouth. He’s going to pass out, or he’s going to die, whichever comes first. The world is foggy, faces melting into the background, all incredibly surreal. After a few moments he jumps to his feet and staggers out of the room, so dizzy that he’s sure to collapse any moment, oblivious to anyone who might be passing by him or watching him in his pathetic attempt to find some air. He only makes it as far as the stairwell before he finally falls down on the landing between staircases, back against the corner, gasps echoing off the walls. Everything feels detached, timeless, going dark as Benji’s body seizes in pure dread, until he hears a faint, “Benji!”

Benji cowers further back in the corner, but the newcomer sits down in front of him.

“Are you okay?”

He forces himself to look up at him. It’s Ethan, face brimming with worry.

“I can’t breathe,” he chokes out.

“Hey,” Ethan says as a sob comes from Benji. “Hey, deep breaths.” He reaches forward and clasps his hand around Benji’s, just enough that he can give his fingers a small squeeze. “Breathe in.”

Benji obeys as best as he can.

“One, two, three, four, exhale.”

Benji lets the breath out in a quick stream of air.

“Slowly. In, one, two…” Ethan’s other hand comes up and cups around Benji’s jaw. “...three, four, out.”

He breathes out, still shaky, but not as erratic as before.

“In…”

Their eyes are locked on each other’s. Ethan’s are tender, warm, making Benji wonder if it was a mistake to have him here comforting him because of the way his heart pounds unevenly as they look at each other.

“...out.”

He exhales loudly, this time feeling his shoulders go with it.

“You have it,” Ethan coaxes. He strokes his thumb across Benji’s cheek. “You’re okay.”

Benji nods his head, but there’s another sob rising in the back of his throat. “Sorry,” he hiccups.

“You have nothing to apologize for.”

“I ran out of the meeting like a total idiot.”

“That’s not the first panic attack any of us have seen.”

Ethan’s still dragging his thumb across Benji’s skin, back and forth, back and forth.

“That doesn’t make it any less embarrassing.” Benji’s voice wavers during the last word.

“I’m sure everyone understands.”

He wants to argue, but his mind is unable to come up with anything in response. Instead, he swallows and scans down Ethan’s face, taking in the crinkles around his eyes, his mouth, how absolutely radiant he is all the time. God, he’s beautiful.

“Does everything still feel far away?” Ethan asks.

Benji shakes his head.

“Okay.” Beat. “Is it alright to talk?”

“Maybe for the best.” Benji’s mouth is like sandpaper.

Ethan’s expression flickers. “It’s been a while since we talked, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t realize with how hectic everything’s been since Lane--”

“It’s okay,” Benji jumps in.

There’s a terse moment of silence, Ethan’s eyes flicking between Benji’s, until he says, “That’s what set you off.”

“What?”

“The detonation device Willa was talking about.”

When Benji doesn’t answer, Ethan frowns.

“This isn’t your first panic attack, is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I’ve never -- the term ‘panic attack’ never occurred to me --”

Ethan’s frown deepens. “I should have been checking on you.” He drops his hands into his lap.

“That’s not your responsibility.”

“But I’m your friend.”

“And it’s not a friend’s responsibility to keep their adult male friend from crying at work --”

“Benji.”

He stops at his name.

“You think you’re the first one of us to have a panic attack?” Ethan asks gently. He pauses again. When Benji stays quiet, he asks, “Would you want to go out and get lunch? It might make you feel a bit better. We can catch up.”

“But what about the meeting?”

Ethan waves a hand. “What’s the worst Hunley is going to do? Fire me? After I just got back from being unfairly denounced for half a year?”

“Unlike you, I haven’t been denounced or fired.”

“And you won’t be.” Ethan smiles. “I know a nice place nearby that’s good for a light lunch.”

“Is that the little health place you disappear to?”

“It’s good, I promise.” His smile softens. “It’s on me.”

He pauses for a moment. “Alright.”

That satisfies Ethan. He gets to his feet, offers a hand to Benji, and says, “We can take my car.”

Benji accepts his hand and wobbles on his feet once he’s up. Then they stand there, hands gripped together, for one second, two, until Ethan loosens his grip and slips away from him. “I’m parked this way,” he says with a nod of his head before leading the way down the stairs. Benji follows, mind spinning with dozens of incoherent thoughts, but decides to follow along without saying another word.


The place in question is a small restaurant with an astonishing array of smoothies and various kinds of healthy meals that are so Ethan’s style it’s almost embarrassing. They hang behind the queue, just until Benji makes up his mind about what he wants, but the amount of options leaves him clueless as to what to get.

“Their smoothies really are great,” Ethan says, and Benji presumes it’s because he’s trying to fill the terribly long amount of time it’s taking Benji to decide on something.

“I’ll get one of those, then. Any suggestions?”

Ethan gestures towards one made with a variety of green fruits and vegetables. “That one’s amazing.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Just my word?”

Benji catches a teasing grin toying at his lips. “Fine, I’ll order it.”

The smile becomes smug. It stays even as they enter the line, until they give their orders and then take a seat at a table washed in sunlight through the window right next to it. The rays are quick to warm Benji’s skin, just enough for him to notice, but not quite so intense that it’s uncomfortable. As he waits for Ethan to get their order, he takes the time to absorb that warmth, how real it feels compared to how dreamlike everything had seen only twenty minutes ago.

Ethan returns soon and sits down across from him before handing over Benji’s order and then taking his own. “How are you feeling?”

“Like shit.”

“As shitty as before?”

“A bit better.” Benji takes a sip of his smoothie. “Jesus, that is good.”

“What did I tell you?”

“I didn’t want to admit that your health food is good, but…”

Ethan’s face lights up. “I thought you’d like it.”

Benji tries to match his expression, but finds himself unable to do so. “I feel mostly tired,” he says. “Since you asked. Or maybe not tired. I don’t know how to describe it.”

“A bit out of yourself.”

“I suppose. Kind of hazy.”

“That’s normal.”

Benji looks up at Ethan. He’s glancing down at the table, eyes lidded in the bright noon sun. “Have you--” He hesitates.

“What?” Ethan raises his head.

“Er.” He swallows. “You’ve had a panic attack before.”

Ethan nods. Of course he has, Benji thinks, what a stupid thing to say. That’s what happened in Capri, wasn’t it? When Ethan had woken up sobbing?

“At work?” Benji asks.

Ethan nods again.

That answer makes his heart fall to his stomach. An image of Ethan alone, shaking, crying, and then going back to work like nothing had happened pops into mind and makes him want to cry all over again.

“Nobody said this job was easy,” Ethan says. “Don’t think too much about it.”

“I know that, but the fact that I did that in front of Hunley and all those other agents…”

“The worst thing they’ll make you do is go to see a therapist.” Ethan offers him a reassuring smile. “I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”

“But it’s not just that,” Benji says. “Embarrassing myself in front of everyone, I mean.”

“Then what is?”

It’s too humiliating to say. Not to Ethan, at least.

“It’s nice to talk about these things,” Ethan continues.

Benji licks his lower lip, tucks his chin towards his chest, and says, “It’s everything about the last two months.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t focus.” The skin around his eyes suddenly grow hot. “Ever since London, it’s just all felt…” He lifts his head again and rubs his eye. “I stand up and walk around and can’t remember what I’m doing. Which everyone does, but it happens to me all the time.”

Ethan’s listening to him quietly, face too hard to read. Benji sighs and starts again.

“I’ve had nightmares before, but this is something different. I think about London for too long and--”

“You panic,” Ethan finishes.

“I guess you could say that. I think ‘panic’ might be a strong word.” He shakes his head. “I can’t say anything too intelligent about it, just that it’s becoming an awful chore somedays.”

“Have you ever considered a psych eval?”

“I don’t want to be put out of work.”

“But--”

“I want to be a field agent,” Benji interrupts. “I can get over this.”

Ethan presses his lips together in a tight line. “I’m not trying to offend, but I’m worried about you.”

“I’m okay.” Benji’s tone is more reassuring than annoyed. “Really.”

But Ethan still looks skeptical. He shifts in his chair, picks up his sandwich, and takes a bite without saying anything else. They stay like that for a few moments, both quietly starting on their lunches, before Benji finally says, “What I said didn’t annoy you, did it?”

Ethan shakes his head.

“Then what’s that face for?”

“I told you, I’m worried.”

“I don’t want you to worry about me.”

“Benji, you can only go for so long before you finally need to talk to someone else. I know from personal experience.”

He’s not sure how to answer. There’s nothing to disagree with, because Benji has been confiding in Ethan about all his silly relationship problems for fuck knows how long now, but this is something else entirely. Something he never wants Ethan to feel responsible for.

“You don’t have to talk about it right now,” Ethan continues, “but if you ever need to--”

“Thanks, Ethan.”

That cuts the older agent off. He doesn’t mean to interrupt him, but Ethan’s concern is too much for Benji to bear. Not because it’s condescending, or because he doesn’t want it, but because Ethan actually means it.

“I don’t want to make this lunch too gloomy,” Benji says. “At least not while I’m still recovering from all of this.”

“Alright,” Ethan agrees. “What do you want to talk about then?”

Benji pauses, rolls his eyes up in thought, and then says, “When the fuck we’re going to start watching DS9 together.”

“You know, I’ve been wondering the same thing.” A smile crosses Ethan’s face again, large, glowing, so fucking beautiful. Benji matches it and exhales, feeling better than he has all day, because that smile is all he needs to know that nothing’s changed between him and Ethan. What happened in the stairwell doesn’t matter, and what happened in London doesn’t matter, nor does the fact that he kissed him. The fact that Ethan Hunt is his friend is more than he could ever ask for.

“How about our normal time?” Benji asks, and everything feels right when Ethan agrees.

Chapter Text

Benji jolts awake, heart skipping a beat as he sits upright and jerks his head towards his alarm clock. Through his blurry vision, he can just make out 12:43 . His initial reaction is to panic, but the darkness of his room tells him that it’s after midnight and not after noon like he initially thought.

He frowns as he thinks back on his evening. There’s no immediate memory of him coming into his room and falling asleep. The last thing he can remember is having a quick dinner before deciding to continue some of his desk work to bring back to the IMF in the morning. The fact that he’s still dressed in his work clothes leads him to believe that he must have come in here to work, but he can’t find any sign of his papers anywhere.

His quiet musing is interrupted when he notices his phone blinking at him from on top of his pillow.


Ethan 🕶

Yesterday 10:27 PM

Hunley is asking about
those files again, so I've heard

Just wanted to let you know

Today 12:46 AM

he really can't wait to ask me
tomorrow?                            

It would be today, now

what the fuck are you doing
awake?                                

Can't sleep.

Aren't you usually asleep
yourself by now?

I just woke up

When did you go to sleep?

I'm not sure

Out of character for you

out of character for you too

I don't think so

I'm used to insomnia at this
point

I can't tell if you're trying to
make me feel bad for you or
not                                      

I'm doing no such thing

I was just going to say I'll let
you go back to sleep now,
actually

wait I just realized


Benji bends over the side of his bed to find papers strewn across his floor. There’s the filing project.


Ethan 🕶

wait I just realized

Realized what?

all the data is on my floor right
now                                         

What?

I think I brought it to bed with
me and it all fell off                

You fell asleep doing work?

it appears so

How cute


Every part of Benji’s body blushes scarlet.


Ethan 🕶

How cute

what's cute?


Benji only realizes he’s holding his breath after the bubbles on Ethan’s side pop up and disappear three times.


Ethan 🕶

what's cute?

Are you planning on going
back to sleep?

eventually but maybe not
immediately

Call instead?


Before he even fully thinks it through, he brings up Ethan’s contact and hits send. Halfway through the second ring, Benji is greeted with, “Hey.”

“What’s cute?” Benji asks.

“I was teasing.”

“But what’s cute?”

“Why does it matter?” he laughs.

“I want to know what’s cute!”

“Falling asleep with all your work still in front of you.” Ethan says it casually, but there’s a twinge of apology in his voice. “Maybe more specifically, the fact that you’re still trying to work despite being that tired.”

“You mean what you do basically every day?”

“Except I’m not half as cute.”

Benji’s face feels like a furnace. “Me drooling on myself is just darling.”

“Adorable.”

It’s impossible to parse if he’s joking or not. “You know,” Benji starts, “sometimes I feel like you initiate conversations just to torment me.”

“Hey, you’re the one who brought this up, not me. I wasn’t going to say another word on the matter.”

“Then why did you want me to call you?”

“Just to talk.”

“Why not text?”

“Calling is easier than texting.”

“So you’re lazy.”

“What’s wrong with audible conversation?”

“You better not start waxing about the evils of modern technology.”

“Wasn’t going to.” He pauses. “I have nothing better to do than talk right now, anyway.”

“You could go back to sleep.”

“I don’t think I’m going to sleep anytime soon. You, on the other hand--”

“Me either,” Benji interrupts. “We can chat.”

“Okay.”

There’s a sudden lull, but it’s comfortable rather than awkward. He listens to Ethan let out a sigh, soft, small, but it’s enough to send a shiver down his spine. If he closes his eyes, it feels like they’re in the same room together.

“I’m sorry,” Ethan says without warning. “I’m not much of a conversationalist tonight.”

“That’s alright.”

“How have you been feeling recently?”

“Ugh, we’re not small talking, are we?”

“I want to know how you’re doing.”

“Fine.”

“No more panic attacks?”

His stomach drops. “I’ve been okay.”

“Alright.”

“How about you?”

“Hm?”

“I know you have nightmares sometimes.”

Beat. “Oh, yeah.”

Benji winces at Ethan’s response. Maybe he shouldn’t have asked that. “I didn’t mean to--”

“You still remember Capri?”

“Well, yeah,” he answers, biting back, how could I forget?

“Huh.”

“Have you been okay, though?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

Benji flops back on his bed. “No offense, Ethan, but something tells me that you’re not being entirely honest.”

There’s another pause. Benji’s heart drums in his chest as he waits for Ethan’s answer.

“I had another one tonight,” he says at last.

“That’s why you’re awake?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Well, as okay as I can be after a nightmare.”

“So you feel like shit?”

“A little bit.” His voice lightens. “Better since you texted me back.”

“Glad I’m disrupting my sleep for you, then.”

“I’m glad too.”

Benji’s chest clenches. Fuck, why does he say things like that?

“I guess I get a bit lonely sometimes,” Ethan continues, “which is why I wanted to call you. I didn’t have nightmares as often after I got married, but since then…”

“I understand.”

Over the phone, Benji catches the sound of bed springs in motion before he hears Ethan say, “What’s that mean?”

“What?”

“You’re not divorced.”

“No, but I’m single.”

“You are?”

“I’ve been single. You know that.”

“But what about Mark?”

“Oh.” Benji lets out an airy laugh. “It’s pretty much all off with him.”

“When did that happen?”

“I don’t think we’ve talked since… Jesus, before Vienna.”

“He hasn’t talked to you for that long?”

“I don’t know how I managed to get rid of him,” Benji answers as he scratches his head. “Actually, I sort of do, but it does feel strange not to have him constantly messaging me after weeks of radio static.”

“What did you do?”

“I, um…” Shit. The story is simple enough. He kissed Ethan, got a text from Mark days later, and told him there was another guy. And Mark, while upset that Benji had moved on a long time ago, wasn’t petty enough to force himself back into Benji’s life and has left him alone ever since. But there’s no easy way of breaking all that down for Ethan. “It’s kind of an awkward story.”

“You can trust me.”

“Why are you so interested in knowing?”

“You gave me updates so long that it’s a bit surprising to hear you’re done for good.”

“It was only time,” Benji says. “I have other people in my life.”

“People?”

“Er, person,” he corrects hastily. “I wasn’t courting multiple people at once.”

“I didn’t think you were.” Then Ethan pauses and adds, “But there’s someone else?”

Shit! “Oh, way back then.”

“I didn’t…”

Ethan doesn’t have to finish his sentence for anxiety to flare in Benji’s chest. He desperately wishes that he could see Ethan’s face, just so he can monitor the way his expression changes, to see if he realizes that he’s that someone else. All there was before Vienna was Mark, and then Benji kissed Ethan like the fucking idiot he is.

“Benji?”

He despises Ethan saying his name, he despises the way it makes his whole body weak and his mouth dry. “Yeah?”

“I’m happy to be talking to you again.”

Fuck him. “Yeah.”

“I keep thinking about how long it’s been since we last really talked.”

“Yeah.” Jesus Christ, can’t he say anything else besides yeah ?

“I wanted to talk to you, really, I just… I don’t have a good excuse for it.”

“Life gets busy,” Benji offers.

“But you’re my friend.”

“Friends get busy, too. I understand.”

“No, Benji,” Ethan says, voice suddenly more forceful, “you don’t--” He interrupts himself with an exhale and the sound goes straight to the pit of Benji’s stomach. “Look, you’re my friend and I really should have been keeping a closer eye on you after London.”

“That’s not your responsibility.”

“I didn’t say that it was.”

“Then there’s no need to worry about it.”

“I care about you,” Ethan retorts, and Benji is so light-headed he feels like he’s going to faint. “You seemed to be doing okay at work, though, and so I thought maybe you were okay after London, but you weren’t.”

“And that’s really out of your control, Ethan. It’s not your fault that any of that happened, just like it’s not your fault that I had a panic attack at work.”

“It wouldn’t have happened if I had just made you go back after Vienna. I knew I should have made you leave, because I couldn’t pr--”

“Ethan!” Benji exclaims. “I’m fine! I’m alive! Any emotional baggage along the way is just part of an agreement I made with the IMF and nothing you did wrong. I regret nothing about following you to Casablanca and London. Look what happened! You succeeded! You caught Lane!”

“And you almost died.”

“But you saved me!” Benji exhales, and continues, “It’s late, I know you’re tired and upset from whatever nightmare you just had, but I’m still here because of you. Why are you beating yourself up for something that didn’t happen?”

“Because…” Ethan hesitates. “Never mind.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s really nothing.”

“You can tell me, Ethan.”

There’s another tense pause before he says, “I try not to talk about my nightmares because they’re… I don’t know. But tonight, my nightmare was about you.”

“Me?” Benji murmurs.

“We were in London again, but this time…”

“Oh.”

“I was relieved when you texted me back,” Ethan says. “It’s silly to worry that maybe your nightmares are reality but--”

“I get it.”

“It feels more real when I can hear you.”

“Makes sense.”

“I wish I could see you.”

Those words feel like a kick to the gut. God, Benji’s so fucking lovesick it hurts. “You’ll see me tomorrow.”

“I hope so.”

He’s too breathless to say anything back. Every part of his body is alive, buzzing with the terrible realization that maybe Ethan’s just as infatuated with him as he is with Ethan, that maybe Ethan wants to touch him and kiss him in all the same ways. If he had no sense of shame, he would get up now and go to Ethan’s apartment, just so he can lie in bed with him, prove that he’s real, that he’s there and he wants to be with Ethan. But all he can do is listen to Ethan, the sound of his gentle breaths over the phone, sitting in an apartment that feels so far away despite being so close.

“If you’re being honest, I might as well too,” Benji says.

“About what?”

“The reason I finally got Mark to leave.” He rubs his forehead. “It was, um… after I kissed you.”

“Oh.”

“I wanted to be honest with him. So I told him I kissed someone else. I didn’t say who and I didn’t say we were… I just told him that I kissed someone because I thought he deserved to know.”

“That’s the right thing to do.”

“I didn’t know how to tell you that because I didn’t want you to think that I said--”

“We’re dating.”

Those two words have a terrible effect on Benji. He wipes away the sweat beading on his forehead from the sticky summer air and responds with, “Yeah. That’s all.”

“Do you still think about that?”

“The kiss?”

“Yeah.”

Every fucking day? “Sometimes.”

“Sorry for asking, I just--”

“Do you?”

“Yeah.”

Maybe it’s a good thing that they’re separated, because if Ethan was in front of Benji, there’s no way Benji could stop himself from kissing him half to death. “I’m sorry,” is what he settles on.

“I’m not upset about it.”

“Maybe not, but drunk Benji put you in an awkward situation.”

“I don’t know about that.”

Every expletive in the world flies through Benji’s mind. He’s flirting with him, there’s absolutely no other explanation. “That night wouldn’t deter you from getting drinks with me again, then?”

“Not at all. I was actually wondering if we could go out somewhere this weekend.”

“Lord knows I need it after this fucking filing project,” Benji groans. “It’s been what, five weeks now?”

Ethan laughs. “You know you can ask me for help.”

“Thanks for the offer five fucking weeks too late.”

His laugh crescendos, and god, it’s beautiful. “We can work on it together over lunch.”

“I already have a headache thinking about it.”

“Get some rest, then.”

“Not if you still want to talk. I’ll stay on the phone as long as you need me to.”

“I’m doing a lot better now, actually,” Ethan reassures him. “You can go to bed.”

“If you say so.”

“Mm,” is all he responds with, and the sound nearly makes Benji groan. “Thanks, Benj. I’ll see you in the morning.”

He brushes off the way his heart stops at Ethan shortening his name and asks, “You sure you’ll be okay?”

“I’ll be fine.”

In all honesty, he doesn’t want to hang up, not when Ethan’s at the most vulnerable he’s ever witnessed him, but if he’s on the phone any longer, he’d get himself into trouble, probably. “Alright. Goodnight, Ethan.”

“Goodnight.” He waits there until Ethan hangs up, and then stays there for a bit longer, letting everything swarm around in his head until he finally falls asleep again.

Chapter Text

Ethan 🕶
Yesterday 7:05 PM

Hey Benji, I have an odd
question

what would that be?

So there's something wrong
with my apartment building's
waterline. Long story short, I
don't have a place to stay for a
night

are you asking if you can stay
at my place?

That's not a problem, is it?

not at all. tomorrow night?


Ethan, being a gentleman as always, doesn’t follow Benji home from work. Rather, he chooses to run some errands that he swears he was going to do before the fiasco at his apartment had even happened, and whenever he was finished he would text Benji that he’s on his way back.

In the meantime, Benji eats, showers, and changes into the T-shirt/sweatpants duo that he usually wears to bed. He’s settled down at his desk and working a bit on a side project when his phone buzzes.


Ethan 🕶
Today 7:48 PM

On my way back

Be there shortly

front door is unlocked


He smiles and sets down his phone. Even though he feels a thousand different ways about Ethan, there’s no denying that he loves to be around him, even if being around him was sleeping in the same space without saying a word. And, if he’s being truthful, he wishes Ethan would have driven home with him, just to have the company at dinner.

But it doesn’t take long for Benji to hear his front door opening. “Benj?” Ethan calls, and Benji gets up and swings around the doorway of his office to catch Ethan standing in his kitchen with grocery bags in hand. “Do you mind if I use your fridge for the night?”

“Oh, I suppose,” Benji sighs, but then he grins and heads for the countertop next to him. “Those errands took a while.”

“A lot of tedious things.”

“Such as?”

“Dropping things off, looking at stuff for my car.” He shakes his arms slightly. “Groceries.”

“Well, you’re back now,” Benji says with a content exhale. “I would have gotten something all ready for you but I didn’t know what you wanted.”

“What do you mean?”

“Sleeping arrangements. Actually, I just want to reiterate I just want to reiterate that you can take my bed and I’ll sleep on my couch.”

Ethan shakes his head. “I can handle the couch for one night.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’ve slept on much worse.”

Figuring that he’s probably telling the truth, Benji continues with, “And I figured that if you were adamant about the couch, I wanted you let you choose which blanket you wanted out of the dozens of blankets I own.” He gestures for Ethan to follow him.

“Groceries?” Ethan asks.

“This won’t take long. I’ll help you afterwards.”

Ethan complies, laying his bags down on the counter before walking with Benji to his bedroom. Next to his closet is a dresser, the bottom drawer of which, as Benji reveals, is filled to the brim with blankets.

“My mum’s fault,” he says as he bends forward. “She likes buying me these all the time. I haven’t told her to stop yet.” He grabs a few in his arms before straightening up and holding them out to Ethan. “The one on top is particularly soft, but the quilt on the bottom is my personal favorite.”

Ethan doesn’t immediately go for one. Rather, he drags his fingers down them slowly, almost reverently. “Your mom got you all of these?”

“If you ever see any impeccable sense of blankets and throw pillows around here, it’s really all her doing.”

There’s an elongated pause as Ethan looks at the blankets before he says, “My mother had a blanket she loved, but I lost track of it years ago.”

“Oh.” Benji’s arms wilt. “I’m sorry.”

“This just reminded me. It’s fine.”

“I didn’t mean to--”

“Really, Benji,” he says with a smile. “I’m not offended to talk about my mother. You said the quilt is good?”

“Uh, yeah, the very best.” He flips the stack over and lets Ethan grab the quilt off the top.

“Thanks.” Ethan smiles softly. “It’s nice that your mom buys you all these blankets.”

“Typical mum,” Benji responds, because he’s not sure what else to say. “You can take more than one blanket, if you want, but that quilt is surprisingly warm. It’s all I ever used whenever I was sick when I was younger.”

“Ah, vintage Benji blanket.”

Benji blinks and laughs. “Yeah, guess so.”

Ethan drapes it over his arm, straightens his posture, and then says, “Alright. Groceries?”

Benji agrees with a small noise before following Ethan back out to set the quilt down on the couch and then into the kitchen. Once there, Benji heads to his fridge and clears a space on the lowest rack for Ethan to put his things. “Here you go,” he tells him before grabbing one of the bags off of the counter.

But Ethan doesn’t immediately put his bag in. Rather, he stands for a moment and observes Benji’s fridge in quiet reflection before saying, “Your fridge is so empty.”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you eat?”

“I have all my cupboards full of things.”

“But what do you eat?”

“Whatever is the easiest to make so I can get back to doing whatever the IMF has put me on this time.”

Ethan frowns at him.

“What? Don’t look at me like that.”

“The variety is missing.”

“Don’t start lecturing me about my refrigerator,” Benji says with a laugh. “Besides, things go bad when you’re gone in missions all the time.”

“You haven’t been on one in a while.”

“So?”

“So I think you have to come over to my place sometime and let me cook you dinner.”

“What, like a date?” Benji retorts. Then he clamps his mouth shut and tears his eyes away from Ethan, looking for anything else to focus on, just to obscure the fact that his face is turning a bright shade of pink. “Sorry,” he laughs once he's turned away.

“It’s fine, Benji.”

Despite Ethan’s reassurance, he can’t find it in himself to look up at him and judge his reaction. There’s a moment of tense silence before Ethan asks, “Mind if I change in your bathroom?”

“Er, yeah.” He lifts his head and gestures down the hall. “It’s the first door on the left.”

Ethan nods his head in gratitude and heads down the hallway, leaving Benji to simmer in his embarrassment. Maybe it’s better that Ethan waited so long to show up, given how quickly it took for Benji to humiliate himself twice in front of him.

To save himself any more trouble, he decides to return to his office, just to double check his progress on his project before returning to work the next day. As he runs through his files, he hears the bathroom door click open. Then there’s the sound of soft footsteps, which disappear for a minute and then return again, growing louder until Ethan is standing in the doorway. He’s wearing grey sweatpants and a tight blue tee, fitted so that it shows off every ripple of muscle in his torso.

“You’re still working?” Ethan asks with a grin.

“I’m just checking some things before I call it a night.”

“And then what?”

“I don’t know,” Benji sighs. “Usually I head out to my couch, but you’re there tonight.”

“You can come out. I’m not going to sleep immediately.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s your place. You can do whatever you want.”

“But I’d like to be courteous of my guests.”

“Come out with me.” Ethan disappears around the doorway again.

The chance to join Ethan makes Benji hesitate. That’s his chance to spend more time with him again, but at the rate he’s going, he’s liable to make himself look like even more of an ass. It takes a number of moments for him to debate with himself until he decides to put his work away. When he returns to the living room area, Ethan’s sitting quietly with the quilt from earlier over him.

“You’re allowed to watch my TV,” Benji tells him as he takes a seat next to him.

“I was just thinking,” Ethan answers.

“About what?”

“What a pain my apartment situation is.”

“You never did fully explain it to me,” Benji says as he crosses his arms and leans back against the couch.

“I don’t know the full details myself. There was some kind of blockage in the plumbing that needed to be fixed, and all of us have to go without water for tonight.”

“Annoying as fuck.”

“Just a bit. Thanks for letting me stay with you, again.”

“I’ve been over to your place enough that I think it’s only fair. Mi casa es tu casa , et cetera.”

“Thanks, Benj.” Ethan smiles and Benji’s heart flutters. There’s a moment of silence, one that makes anxiety pound at Benji’s chest, desperate to keep the conversation going.

“Something similar happened to my boyfriend once,” he starts suddenly.

“Mark?”

“No, my, uh, first real boyfriend. I think I’ve mentioned him before.” It’s his turn to smile. “I wasn’t quite out yet, but he had to stay at my place for a weekend because of a fire or something that happened where he was living. Maybe that’s why my family all figured out we were together before I really told them.”

“Wait, is this--”

“Owen. I guess I have mentioned him to you.”

Ethan frowns.

“What’s that for?” Benji asks.

“The only time you’ve brought him up was to tell me how he treated you.”

“Oh, you mean after he went slightly batty?” Benji laughs and shrugs his shoulders. “What’s in the past is in the past.”

But that doesn’t seem to do much to appears Ethan. His jaw is tense, like it’s bothering him for Benji to be talking about all of this.

“Are you okay?” he asks Ethan.

“I feel fine.”

“You look angry.”

“Not at you.”

“But you’re angry?”

“No, it’s more that--”

“Ethan Hunt protective mode,” Benji interrupts. “Right?”

Ethan stops, reflects for a second, and then flashes a small smile. “You’ve mentioned that before.”

“Because it’s a very real thing that I can’t believe you’ve never noticed before I brought it up.”

He shrugs and turns his face away from Benji. “I worry about you.”

“So I’ve heard,” Benji mumbles. “I’m okay.”

“I know you’re okay, but I still worry.”

Benji pauses, allowing his heart to clench for a moment, before he sinks into the couch and moans, “I wish you wouldn’t talk like that sometimes.”

That gets Ethan’s attention. “What’s that mean?”

“I don’t know, just that…” His mouth goes dry without warning when Ethan’s eyes meet his.

“I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable.”

“I know that. And I love that about you, Ethan, that you care more than any person I’ve ever met, but sometimes…”

It’s too damn hard to get out of his mouth. Not when he’s so close to him, not when his eyes are boring into him, skin scorching red underneath the intensity of his gaze.

“Forget it,” he says at last.

“Benji.” Ethan’s lips are pressed into a hard line, almost like he’s disapproving of him, but there’s something soft hidden inside his expression.

“Yeah?” His voice is barely louder than a whisper.

“Everything has felt a bit different since we came back to London. Have you noticed that?”

“I have, yeah.”

He realizes that Ethan has been moving in towards him this entire time. Their legs brush together as Ethan leans closer to him.

“I’m so sorry,” Ethan murmurs. “I feel--”

“It’s not your fault.”

“That’s not what I was going to say.”

“Then what is it?”

“ I care about you.”

“That’s what you said before.”

“No, Benji. I care about you.”

Then Ethan’s hand is suddenly on his cheek, and Benji’s breath hitches and his mind blanks, because there’s nothing on Earth that could ever beat the sensation of Ethan touching his face, running his thumb over his skin delicately.

“Ethan,” Benji exhales, and maybe it’s a plea, maybe it’s a warning, but it doesn’t fucking matter, because Ethan’s suddenly closing the gap between them. Their lips meet in a gentle brush at first, like Ethan’s too scared to do anything more than just get a fleeting taste of Benji, but then he comes back a bit harder, a bit more forceful. His hand slips downs Benji’s face and braces the back of Benji’s neck, so they’re kissing, really kissing, silent and gentle, but sending off a million fireworks and alarms in Benji’s head at the same time. And when Ethan pulls back slightly to take a breath in, the small pop of his lips makes Benji’s head spin and chest contract with desire, because fuck, that’s the sexiest thing he could ever imagine.

But it’s all too much for him. He pulls away from Ethan and stammers something like, “I have to go to bed,” before standing up and pacing down the hallway towards his bedroom. He shuts the door behind him and stands with his back against it, mind running in a thousand different directions, trying to figure out what the fuck just happened. Did Ethan really kiss him? Is this all a wishful dream he would wake up from in a few minutes?

The shock that hangs heavy on his shoulders causes him to take a few seconds to process what’s happening when he hears a light knock at the door. Then there’s Ethan voice. Through the door, he can just make out, “Benji, I’m sorry.”

He opens the door again so he can meet Ethan face to face, looking more embarrassed than anything now. “I’m sorry,” he repeats, but before he can say anything else, Benji interrupts.

“Are you making fun of me?”

That seems to catch Ethan off guard. “Why would I make fun of you?”

“Why else would Ethan Hunt kiss me?”

“Because I--”

“You don’t fucking realize,” Benji starts, but then pauses to catch his breath.

“What?”

“I want to kiss you so bad, Ethan!” he answers with desperate laughter. “It’s all I think about, day and night, how much I want to kiss your awful lips and--”

“Benji.”

“--I can’t fucking handle you pulling my leg if that’s your intention, because I’m so--”

“Benji!”

“--sensitive to these kind of things after my history.”

“I would never do that to you in a million years.”

Benji freezes as he looks at Ethan, at the sincerity written on his face, etched into the worried creases of his skin, and it’s kind of fucking terrifying, if he’s being honest. This is all he’s ever wanted and now that Ethan’s standing there in front of him, just as open and vulnerable as Benji always felt around him, he has no idea what to do.

“I told you I care about you,” Ethan continues. “I’m not lying.”

“But when I kissed you--” His sentence turns into stutters. “Did you want me to?”

“Why do you think I just kissed you?”

Benji lets out an unsteady exhale. “I mean it, Ethan. I want to kiss you, but not if you go on like it means nothing to you after tonight.”

“You think I wouldn’t…” He trails off, the expression on his face faltering into something more crestfallen. “How do you think I’ve been feeling for the last however many months?”

“I--” That's something Benji hasn’t ever considered. He’s been so absorbed in his own personal turmoil that he’s never thought that maybe Ethan is feeling the same way. But it was a possibility that seemed almost too good to be true. “I mean, Ethan, I…” He hesitates again, then says, “I want to kiss you again.”

“Are you sure?” His voice is barely louder than a whisper.

“I want you to kiss me again.”

And Ethan answers. He’s on him in a heartbeat, hands curved around his jaw, lips smashed against his, breathing out loudly through his nose as Benji takes a step backwards. This is the most passionately he’s ever been kissed in his life, so fervently he nearly loses his balance, so lovingly his heart might burst.

Then there’s the sound of their lips breaking apart and finding each other again, over and over, and Benji wonders if he might suffocate because Ethan is giving him so little time to draw in a breath. But it’s fine, what a fucking wonderful way to die, pressed against Ethan’s chest, one hand gripped in his hair, the other slipping dangerously close to his ass. Ethan’s hands are moving too, his right hand on Benji’s neck, his left traveling all the way to his waist. He sets his palm in the dent of his hip bone, curls his fingers up towards Benji’s hairline, and it feels so right that Benji wonders if maybe it had been a mistake avoiding this for so long, that maybe Ethan would have caved way back in that bar after Seattle if they had kissed then.

But there’s no time for thinking, not when Ethan is taking a step forward, and another, and another, until Benji falls back onto his mattress. Ethan follows him immediately, filling the vacancy between his legs and bending over to kiss him again. And Benji lets Ethan do whatever the hell he wants, lets him push him back onto his bed and press his lips against the top of his throat so that Benji moans, just loud enough where Ethan grabs his cheek with one hand before raising his lips to his ear and mumbling, “God, Benji.”

Fuck, that almost drives him crazy. He finds the courage to grab Ethan’s ass, kneading his skin through his pants, and Ethan sighs, shifts against him, and rolls his tongue against the skin under his ear. Benji holds his breath, squeezes his eyes close, and tries his hardest to remember all of this, the softness of Ethan’s touch, the airy sound of his breath, so loud, so close. When their lips meet again, Benji’s eager to greet him with an open mouth, enjoying every second of their kiss, messy, desperate, relieved.

Then Ethan’s fingers are tugging at the bottom of his shirt, pulling it up enough that a little bit of Benji’s skin is exposed. Benji bumps his hands against Ethan’s shoulders as a signal to back away, just so he can reach down and take his shirt off. He catches the look in Ethan’s eyes as he drops his shirt off the side of his bed, the way his pupils are dilated with want, and his cock twitches in response. The chance to gaze at him is abruptly cut off as Ethan lowers himself on Benji again, sucking on his neck, then his shoulder, until his lips enclose around his nipple.

Now Benji groans and arches up into Ethan, eyelids fluttering shut. The sudden movement doesn’t deter Ethan, who holds Benji’s waist down instead, using his hip as a lever to get a better position to swirl his tongue around his nipple. “Fuck, Ethan,” he gasps, clenching his hair in his fist. But the sensation ends a moment later when Ethan lifts his head up again, moves so he can kiss the tip of Benji’s chin, and then litters kisses down towards his sternum.

“You said I didn’t realize,” he murmurs. He takes Benji’s other nipple in his mouth, sucking on it just enough that Benji makes another noise of approval, then says, “I knew, Benji.”

Benji takes a few breaths, then responds with, “Then why didn’t you say anything?”

Ethan kisses his nipple, shifts upwards again, rests his arms on either side of Benji, and dips forward to kiss him again. “You’re really beautiful.”

His entire body flushes, cock twitching again. “No, I’m not.”

“Benji,” Ethan says, and that’s all he needs to stop talking. Instead, he exhales and lets his body sink further into the mattress as Ethan’s fingers linger on his skin, tracing spots before kissing them with his lips, now hot and swollen, and it feels even better than before. He’s definitely hard now, and he wonders if Ethan knows, if he can feel him, but it seems all irrelevant when Ethan is kissing down his torso, pausing at the tuft of hair below his belly button. Benji holds his breath and waits for Ethan’s next move, thinking that maybe his luck has come to an end, but then Ethan takes his shirt off and tosses it on the floor.

“Shit,” Benji gasps, because there’s no way he isn’t dreaming. And yet it all feels so real, Ethan’s chest on his, his lips nipping at the top of his neck. Benji gets up the nerve to put his hand on Ethan’s jaw and gently push on it so that their mouths realign and they can kiss again, this time more deliberately than frenzied. God, it’s amazing. So amazing that it motivates him enough to push  again on Ethan until Ethan’s on his back and Benji’s on top, legs straddling his lap, leaning forward to kiss the corner of his eye, the bridge of his nose, and then his mouth. Ethan lifts his head and weaves one hand through his Benji’s to keep them close together.

The air is insufferably hot, especially as they both fight for air at the same time in the little space between their faces. Ethan looks so fucking beautiful with his hair in a mess and the skin on his chest red with lust. Why did Benji stop kissing him in his car so long ago? What would have happened back then? This? Ethan underneath him, begging for more through ragged breaths?

It’s so much that Benji can’t help but rock his hips against him. The movement draws a sharp inhale from both of them. Benji does it again and Ethan moans this time, voice strained like this is hurting him, but he breathes, “Benji,” and Benji knows there’s nothing else in the world he would rather be doing.

He moves his hips again until he finds a slow tempo, putting just enough pressure that it makes both of them tilt their heads back and sigh. When Benji pushes down harder, Ethan grasps onto his waist tightly and hisses, “Jesus!” Benji’s continues his rhythm until it’s interrupted when Ethan bucks his hips upwards. Ethan’s just as hard as Benji, now, thrusting his hips in time with Benji, over and over, until they’re both letting out half-formed words and strangled groans. Then Benji falls forward, meets Ethan with parted lips, kissing him, sighing, kissing him, sliding his hand down his waist, kissing him --

“Benji!”

Ethan suddenly stops and pushes up against his chest. Benji sits up in response, more dazed than confused as he looks at the older man.

“Sorry,” Ethan continues, “I don’t think I can…”

It takes a moment for Ethan’s sentence to register in Benji’s mind. “Oh.” He takes his hand off Ethan’s waist. “Er, sorry.”

“You don’t have to ap--”

“I shouldn’t have tried going that far.”

“I shouldn’t have let it get that far.”

Benji’s heart skips a beat. “Did you not… I mean, did I do anything wrong?”

“I just can’t right now.”

Despite the apologetic look on Ethan’s face, Benji can’t help but feel like he did something to fuck all this up. He succumbs to his embarrassment as he dismounts Ethan and takes a seat on his bed, facing the door. “Sorry.”

“Hey.” The bed squeaks as Ethan settles down next to Benji. “I’m sorry, there’s just something…” He pauses. “It’s nothing you did, but I didn’t want to let you down.”

“It’s okay.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

Ethan sighs, and then puts his arms around Benji’s shoulders and presses a warm kiss against his temple. “Don’t think that I’m trying to hurt you on purpose.”

“We have work tomorrow, anyway.”

“Yeah.” He rubs Benji’s arm and kisses him again. “I think I’ll go to bed.”

“Alright.”

Ethan hesitates, gets to his feet, and turns to face him. “You’re sure you’re not mad?”

Finally, Benji lifts his head and meets his gaze. “Ethan, I don’t think I could be mad at you even if I wanted.”

A sad smile crosses Ethan’s lips. “Benji, you’re…” He shakes his head.

“What?”

“I’m just glad that I know you.”

“Don’t make me smile,” Benji tells him.

“I like your smile.”

“Go the fuck to sleep.”

Ethan’s smile grows. “Goodnight, Benji.”

“Goodnight.”

“Door open or closed?”

“Closed is fine.”

The door clicks shut behind him, leaving Benji suddenly alone in a room that felt so alive only minutes before. He’s still hard, but the urge to take care of it is completely gone. There’s nothing but numbness left in his bones, exhausted from whatever Ethan’s always doing to him.

Benji gets up, turns off the light, and slumps back into bed. He hasn’t done a single part of his nighttime routine, but facing Ethan again seems impossible. All he can do is go to sleep and hope that maybe it won’t be so strange in the morning. He turns over, shuts his eyes, and falls into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

The weekly office meetings are quickly becoming Benji’s least favorite part of the job, just because it takes everyone so long to explain anything, and so much of the information becomes redundant after spending time in the field. And Benji, even with a short span of five years of fieldwork under his belt, has reached a high enough level of seniority that these meetings are draining for no particular reason other that he’s bored. For once, he’s actually itching to get back into the field again, because he hasn’t been sent on a mission since London, presumably because the IMF psychiatrist hasn’t deemed him entirely fit to return, even though he’s been recovering from that mission nicely over the past few months.

For the time being, though, he bites on the end of his pen and looks up at the rest of the table. Everyone is watching Hunley, or so he thinks, until he notices Ethan on the other side of the table, casting his gaze in Benji’s direction. His eyes aren’t on his, but rather hovering somewhere around his lips, only jumping up when he realizes that Benji is looking back at him. Then Ethan smiles, bounces his pen in his hands, and turns his chair so he’s facing Hunley again.

Some part of Benji finds the smile endearing because it’s Ethan, but the other part of him has to hold back a terse sigh. That’s all their relationship has been since that night in his apartment, normal conversations and then flirtatious grins. Which would be okay in any other instance, but Ethan acts like nothing had happened at all, even in their occasional texts to each other. If it was anyone else beside Ethan, Benji would have texted him what the fuck? a long time ago, but his tolerance for text message arguments is low, especially when everything about his relationship Ethan is okay otherwise.

But that doesn’t mean it makes it any less frustrating when he smiles at him with all the adoration in the world but doesn’t bother asking him to meet up again, like it was an embarrassing accident that he would rather pretend doesn’t exist. And the pain of it all is only worsened by Benji remembering just how many times Ethan had told him that he cares about him.

Benji’s pulled out of his musings when he realizes that Hunley is closing the meeting and dismissing everyone at the table. He lingers in his chair, allowing the other agents at the table to pass by him before he follows them out the door. As soon as he’s in the hallway, he’s suddenly grabbed by Ethan.

“Hey,” Ethan says with a grin. “A few of us are going out to eat tonight. Do you want to come?”

There’s a knee jerk reaction to say no to Ethan, just because he’s still processing the fact that they nearly slept together without any follow-up, but Ethan has such a boyishly amicable expression on his face that he responds with a simple, “Oh, yeah. Right after work?”

“Around seven.”

“Where at?”

“You know that new sports bar and grill?”

“The one everyone’s been talking about for a solid week?”

“That’s the one.”

“Sure, I’ll meet you there.”

Ethan’s face flickers. “You don’t need a ride or anything?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Alright.” 

Ethan sends him another smile, but this one is noticeably smaller than the previous one. “I gotta get back to work, but I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah.”

“Great.”

Benji returns the grin as Ethan turns in the hallway and heads back towards his desk, but the frustration from earlier still isn’t quelled. He wants to talk to Ethan so badly, and that could have been his opportunity, but he doesn’t know what to say, or how exactly to behave. And tonight shouldn’t be any better since there will be others with them, but maybe they could return to some semblance of normalcy under the scrutiny of mutual friends, if just for a few hours. Maybe that would be better than nothing at all. And maybe it was a mistake to kiss Ethan again. All he can do for now is go to dinner tonight and hope for the best.


When Benji arrives, he’s greeted by Jane waving at him from a circular table and gesturing at their table. He smiles, approaches with his hands in pockets, and asks, “Who else is coming? I never heard.”

“Luther and Will,” Jane responds. “That’s all who confirmed they’re coming, at least.”

“Getting the band back together, I see,” Benji says before pulling out the chair next to Jane and sitting down. From his periphery, he catches the smile on Ethan’s face waver.

“It’s been a while,” Ethan chimes in.

“Yeah, it has.” The two make eye contact at last. “Have either of you been here before?”

“I think Will has,” Jane says. “He’s the one who suggested we come here.”

“Will suggesting we go out?”

“We caught him in a rare mood.”

“So of course he’s not here yet.”

“Hold onto that thought.” Jane pulls out her phone. “He’s calling me. Be right back.”

She gets to her feet and disappears towards a small hallway that leads to the bathrooms. The table descends into silence as Benji looks everywhere that isn’t Ethan’s face, then towards him, then away again, until Ethan shifts in his chair and says, “You showed up later than you normally do.”

“I guess I didn’t need to feel the hurry tonight.”

“Should I feel flattered that you hurried for me before?”

“You’re part of this group, aren’t you?”

“But we’ve always been alone before now.”

“We still are.”

“Just for the moment.”

Benji settles back into his seat, feeling a tad uncomfortable under Ethan’s gaze, until he reaches up and rubs his fingers across his cheeks. “Maybe I should have rushed,” he starts again. “I should have shaved.”

“You’re shaving your beard?”

“Just shortening it a bit.”

“So not getting rid of it?”

Benji shakes his head. “Mm-mm.”

“Oh,” Ethan says with a happy gasp. “You look really good with the beard.”

Of course Ethan would fucking say something like that. And he doesn’t know if he hates it or if he loves it, if it’s a good idea to grab Ethan’s arm and yank him out of the restaurant and smother him with kisses like he’s been dying to do or to tell him off right here, right now because he’s exhausted of this.

“You like it?” is what he settles on.

“Mm,” is the only response he gets, but it makes Benji’s stomach flip, anyway. “Why don’t you sit by me? It would make it easier to talk.”

The only excuse Benji has is that he doesn’t want to be next to him, actually, because he’s annoyed and can’t trust himself around Ethan, but there’s no easy way of explaining that and the idea of being so close to Ethan again is so tempting. He hesitates for a moment before he gets up and scoots two seats down.

“There you are,” Ethan murmurs. Without warning, he squeezes Benji’s knee and sends Benji’s head into a tailspin. “Why did you sit down there?”

“It was just the first seat I saw.”

“Do you mind if I ask something?”

“What?”

“Are you mad at me?”

Benji looks up at him suddenly. “Why do you think that?”

“It feels like you’ve been keeping your distance from me.”

“What, just because I sat on the other side of Jane?”

“You know what I mean.”

Benji frowns. There’s no use in pretending that everything’s alright, not since Ethan brought it up, but Luther and Will are arriving any time soon.

“I’m not mad at you,” he says at last.

Ethan tilts his head. “I don’t know if I believe you.”

“I’m not mad, really,” Benji insists. “Look, I don’t want you to think that there’s anything going on and then feel miserable about it all dinner.”

But Ethan’s expression doesn’t change. “Did I do something?”

“Ethan, please--”

“Hey,” comes Jane’s voice as she makes a hasty return to her seat. “Will’s on his way. His cat got sick, I guess.”

“Will has a fucking cat?” Benji exclaims.

“Yeah. You didn’t know?”

“Obviously not.”

“That’s all he ever talks about.”

“Since when?”

“Maybe if you visited anyone else’s desk except for Ethan’s…”

Benji smiles and hopes that the dim light of the restaurant can conceal the blush rising in his cheeks. Ethan responds with a quick, “I think I visit his more than he visits mine. Maybe tell Will to do the same?”

“As if,” Jane laughs. “I think Benji moving seats proves my point, though.”

“Uh oh, here comes Luther.”

Benji glances the direction Ethan is looking to see the other agent approaching the table. Luther waves a hand and says, “Hope you’re staying out of trouble,” as he sits to the left of Ethan.

“Trying my best to.”

Ethan’s hand ghosts over Benji’s knee again, making his heart lurch in his chest. It’s so fast that Benji wonders if maybe he imagined it, but the faint hints of a smirk on Ethan’s face convinces him otherwise.

From Luther’s direction comes a waitress, who happily greets the table with, “You found more people!”

“Two more of them,” Jane answers. “We’re still waiting on someone else.”

“In the meantime, what can I get you two gentlemen to drink?”

“Just a water,” Luther tells her.

“Same here,” Benji says.

“Would you like to order any food, or are you going to wait a bit longer?”

“We can wait,” Jane says. “Thanks.”

“Alright, I’ll bring your drinks right out.”

After the waitress disappears back towards the kitchen, Luther picks up his menu and says, “You’re too nice to Brandt.”

“I don’t mind the wait,” Jane replies. “I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve talked to any of you.”

“It doesn’t help when you’ve been gone so frequently,” Benji says.

“God, I know. I’m hoping that I’ll get a break, now.”

“Knock on wood.”

Jane raps her knuckles on the table as she takes a sip of her drink. Before any conversation can continue, they’re interrupted by a breathless, “Jesus Christ,” followed by Will slumping down between Jane and Luther.

“Nice to see you too,” Ethan returns.

Will closes his eyes. “My fucking cat.”

“Is she okay, at least?” Jane asks.

“She’ll be fine. She just made a fucking mess.”

“Am I the only one who didn’t know that you have a cat?” Benji says.

“I dunno. My cat’s Tammy, if you’ve ever heard that name.”

“How do you take care of a cat when the IMF ships you away for so long?”

“Have you ever met a cat?”

“They may be independent, but they’ll starve to death, eventually.”

“My neighbor,” is his gruff response.

The waitress reappears behind Brandt with a surprised, “Oh!” before setting Luther’s and Benji’s drinks down in front of them. “Are you all here now?” she asks. When Jane nods her head, she digs out her notepad and pen and continues with, “Are you ready to order?”

Benji realizes that he hasn’t touched the menu in the entire time he has been there. He grabs it now and skims through as Will starts off the orders, circling around through Luther and Ethan until they finally get to Benji, who rattles off something just in time. The waitress collects their menus after Jane orders and departs, leaving them to immediately launch back into a conversation about Will’s cat. Or, more specifically, an interrogation from Jane about whatever neighbor Will was talking about, whether it was the old lady to his right or the much younger, single one to his left. As much as Benji would love to join in to tease Will, he’s distracted by Ethan, sitting just as quietly as him, his index finger folded over his lips. His sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, giving him that effortless model look again, particularly alluring in the dim light that splays across his head like a faint spotlight. 

Then he blinks and realizes that Ethan is looking back at him now, lips pulling into a small grin when Benji glances away. “You don’t have to stop looking at me.”

“It’d look a bit suspicious if we were caught gazing at each other, don’t you think?”

“That’s only if anyone noticed.”

“We’re sitting at a table of spies, Ethan.”

“Touché.”

But he doesn’t hurry to look away. Rather, Benji can feel the intensity of his gaze upon him, like he’s waiting expectantly for the same from Benji. He can’t find it within himself to return it, because he knows he’ll go speechless or breathless or lose all ability to think clearly if he does.

“Ethan,” Benji starts, but then he shakes his head. “Never mind.”

“Hm?”

“Just wish you’d stop looking at me, that’s all.”

Ethan lingers for a moment longer before he finally obeys. “Sorry,” he mutters.

Maybe Benji would have said it’s okay , but he’s so distracted by everything about Ethan and the frustrating mix of emotions swirling around in the pit of his stomach. He sits quietly, stewing on it all as Ethan joins in with the rest of the conversation until it’s interrupted again by the waitress returning with their meals. After everyone has gotten their order, Will looks around the table and says, “Did any of you order one of their drinks?”

“I have to drive home tonight,” Luther answers.

“When has that ever stopped you before?”

“I only drive sober.”

“He really does,” Ethan chimes in. “He’s good about that.”

“Is that the reason for everyone?”

“I think so.”

“Jane?”

She nods.

“Benji?”

“Uh,” Benji stutters once he realizes that the attention is on him. “Yeah. And I’m a bit wary about trying new drinks in front of other people. Until I know my limit.” He ducks his eyes away from Ethan.

“Damn,” Will sighs, “I’ll have to get you all to come back here for actual drinks sometime.”

“Look forward to it,” Ethan says. He shifts to cross his legs, bumping his knee against Benji’s.

When the other three are pulled into another conversation, Benji breathes, “Are you doing that on purpose?”

“What?”

“Touching my knee.”

“The last time was an accident.”

Benji stares at him incredulously.  “Why are you doing this right now?”

That catches Ethan off guard. “What do you mean?”

“You’re fl--” He glances over at Jane, who’s watching the two of them out of the corner of her eye. “Can I just eat right now?”

Ethan frowns, but turns back to his own meal without anything more. Immediately, Benji feels sorrowful for snapping at him, but he’s brimming with two kinds of frustration and Ethan is only exacerbating matters. Maybe after tonight is done, after he goes home, he can finally call Ethan and talk to him, really talk to him, because the pressure building in the pit of his stomach thinking about Ethan is getting almost too much to bear.

“Everything alright, Benji?” Jane asks a number of minutes later.

He raises his head to look at her. “Yeah.”

“You seem quiet tonight.”

“Sorry, just thinking.”

“Uh oh.”

“It’s nothing serious,” he adds quickly. “Just one of those nights.”

Her eyes flit to Ethan and then back again. “Sure.”

“Lovely dinner, though. I was skeptical, Will, I have to admit.”

“I told you so,” Will says. “But it’s better when you get one of their margaritas.”

“Ooh,” Luther exhales.

That draws a short laugh from Ethan. “I’ll be there next time you order one,” he tells him.

“There’s not going to be a next time.”

“Hold on,” Jane interjects, “I have to hear this story.”

“The only time I’ve seen Luther drunk in my entire life.” Ethan grins as he takes a sip from his glass.

“From margaritas?”

“Thanks, Ethan,” Luther grumbles.

“Those were some damn good margaritas,” Ethan offers. “I don’t blame you.”

“I don’t believe this,” Jane gasps.

“Good,” is Luther’s simple response.

“Have you seen Ethan drunk, at least?”

“Once or twice.”

“I try not to drink that much,” Ethan says. “I had enough after a few years in the Army.”

“Oh, no, you weren’t one of those guys who would get wasted any time they got a few days break, were you?” Jane groans.

“My friends were. Like I said, I got over it pretty quickly.”

“A few years isn’t quickly.”

“Well,” he exhales, and then he smiles without saying anything more.

“I would have hated you back then.”

“Thanks, Jane. Means a lot.”

“You probably would have hated me, too.”

“Me? Never.”

“I don’t know, I was a different person back then.”

“That’s just a part of growing up, isn’t it?” Ethan rubs his chin. “I’m sure Luther can tell you how different I was twenty years ago.”

Benji watches as Ethan’s face suddenly grows weary, in the same way it does when he brings up Julia or his father. It’s not quite solemn, not quite nostalgic, but it still tugs at Benji’s heartstrings, because it feels so vulnerable for a man who always seems so heroic.

“Right,” Benji starts, “I’m sure we were all gits twenty years ago. I was, at least. Maybe I still am?”

“Brandt still is,” Luther says.

“What the fuck did I do to you?” 

Ethan laughs and shifts in his seat again, so when he’s settled, he’s leaned in towards Benji. When Will starts bickering with Luther, Ethan bends closer to Benji and murmurs, “I’m sure you’ve improved in the last twenty years.”

“Have I, though?”

“I don’t know, I like you a lot the way you are now.”

“Guess that goes without saying,” Benji replies, but it comes out much tenser than he intended.

“I can’t tell if you’re being serious or sarcastic.”

“I think I’m just tired.”

Ethan gnaws on his cheek and says, “I wish you’d talk to me.”

That’s enough. “Hey,” Benji exclaims, loud enough for the other three to hear him. “I have to go check something in my car, I’ll be right back.” He gets to his feet the next second and makes a hasty exit for the door. Once he’s through it, he becomes aware that Ethan is following him at a quicker pace, so that by the time Benji is halfway through the parking lot, he’s right as his heels.

“Benj!” he calls after him, “Hey! Is everything okay?”

“I can’t with you tonight!” Benji responds as he spins on his heels. “You keep pushing me to say something in front of all of them and I can’t t--”

“You’ve been so stand-offish recently, I’m sorry I’ve been worried to know what’s the matter.”

You’re the matter, Ethan! Jesus Christ!” He continues his path to his car.

“So I did do something.”

“It’s more of the opposite.” He pulls out his car keys as he reaches the driver’s door.

“Would you mind explaining?”

Benji’s grip on the handle loosens as he lets out a terse sigh and turns around again. “You kissed me.”

“I thought you wanted to kiss me.”

“But you never followed up.”

Ethan furrows his brow. “What? I’ve been keeping in contact with you.”

“Yeah, like nothing fucking happened. Same kind of friendly conversation. And then you come here and start flirting in front of them -- Jesus, Ethan, it’s like you’re toying with my emotions on purpose.”

“I--” He stumbles over words that never form, and then pauses. “I didn’t realize that you -- I mean, I thought I’ve been--”

“What?”

“I would never…” He hesitates again. “Benji, I wanted to kiss you.”

“It sure doesn’t seem like it now.”

“Because I’ve been…” He tilts his head. “That’s what’s been bothering you?”

“Now you know why I can’t just bring it up on whim at work or in a restaurant with our fucking colleagues.”

“Why didn’t you call me?”

“Because I didn’t want to start an argument.”

“You think I would have gotten upset?”

“How am I supposed to know?”

“I told you that I care about you.”

“And then you never followed up, as I stated earlier.”

“Benj…” Ethan approaches him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you felt like that.”

“How else was I supposed to feel?”

“I thought I was still being friendly.”

“I want something else than friendly.”

“I just don’t understand why you thought I would have gotten mad at you.”

“I don’t know, Ethan,” Benji sighs, “you left me in my room and I didn’t know what boundaries we had, what I could say or do. Maybe Mark has just given me a complex.”

“Shit, Benji. Me leaving your room had nothing to do with you.”

“Then what was it?”

“So much had happened so quickly and it was a lot to process. It’s not like I went to your place with the intention of kissing you.”

“But I expected… something… shit.” Benji throws his hand over his face. “I am still a git, aren’t I?”

“I don’t think that at all.”

“I’m sorry, between everything with Mark and then these… whatever I feel for you--”

“I get it.” He lightly grasps Benji’s biceps. “You don’t have to apologize.”

“I’ve been snippy for no good reason.”

“No, Benji, I should have thought more about what you must be feeling after that. I guess I had a similar worry about what I could and couldn’t say or do.”

“You did?”

“I haven’t been with anyone since Julia. I’m a bit rusty.”

The phrase been with anyone makes Benji’s heart leap to his throat, but he brushes it aside to say, “You are not rusty, Ethan Hunt.”

“Just nervous, then.”

“I don’t know why for when you look and kiss like that.”

Ethan sends him a small smile. “I didn’t want to get your hopes up in case I couldn’t deliver.”

“And I got frazzled anyway.”

“I’m sorry.” He brings a hand up and cups it around Benji’s cheek. “I wanted to kiss you. Really.”

“Wanted?”

Ethan pushes his hand upward lightly, just enough so he can lean in and press a tender kiss against Benji’s lips without any struggle. They hold it for one second, two, until Ethan breaks away and lingers an inch away from his face. “Is that better?”

“Mm.” It takes all the strength in Benji’s body to open his eyes again. “I don’t know.”

The frown returns to Ethan’s mouth. “What do you mean?”

“It depends if you want to do it again.”

“Maybe not in the freezing parking lot of a bar and grill while our co-workers are waiting inside.”

“But if you were to come over to my place…”

Ethan’s response isn’t immediate. Rather, he takes a step back and shoves his hands in his pockets. “I just don’t know if…”

“Whatever it is, please tell me.”

He takes a deep breath. “Like I said, I haven’t been with anyone since Julia. And Benji, I would…” His eyes scans down Benji’s frame. “You look really good tonight.”

“You would what?” he asks, impatience edging his voice.

Now, he sighs. “I would love to follow you back home tonight, but you’re my coworker, and you’re my friend, and you’re male.”

“Oh.” Of course, Ethan would be hung up over that last thing. “Am I the first person you’ve ever come out to?”

“You’re the first person who’s ever asked if I’m bisexual.”

“You’ve never told anyone else?”

“It’s complicated.”

Benji eyes him inquisitively. There’s something Ethan isn’t telling him, surely, but maybe now isn’t the best time to ask. Not after the mini-roller coaster Benji had sent both of them on.

“Are we okay, then?” Ethan asks.

“Yeah.” Benji sends him a smile. “Yeah, sorry for acting so… strangely.”

“I get it, really.” 

“So you’re not sore about it?”

“Never.” Ethan pauses. “Did you actually have something in your car you needed to check?”

“No, I was coming out here to calm down a bit.”

“Because you were angry?”

“And maybe some other reasons.”

“Hm,” Ethan hums as his eyes run over Benji’s lips. “I like the sound of that.”

“Can we not do this when we should probably be getting back inside?” he pleads. “It’s bloody freezing out here.”

“We might need a story about what we were doing.”

“You helped me with some gauge or something.” He shrugs. “We’ll figure it out as we go.”

“That’s what we’ve always done, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Benji says as another smile blossoms across his lips. “I guess it is.”

Chapter Text

Benji’s heartbeat pulses in his fingertips as he leaves the plane and makes his way through the airport terminal. Nerves before a mission isn’t anything unusual, even with all the experience he’s had now, but it’s a bit different this time. Ethan’s waiting for him, somewhere among the thousands of people who crowd the airport, already started on the mission that Benji’s now supposed to help with.

After finding the bag he totes with him to various missions, he bites his lip and looks around his surroundings. He didn’t have any indication of when or where Ethan would meet him; all he has is the burner phone with a number inside. For a few moments, he contemplates calling it, but his thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a familiar voice shouting, “Benj!”

Immediately, a smile lights up Benji’s face. He turns around and sees Ethan, light trickling across his frame as he approaches him with a similar grin. “Hey,” Benji breathes in response as he takes a few steps forward.

He’s caught off guard when Ethan suddenly wraps an arm around his shoulders and tugs him into a tight hug, but he doesn’t make any attempt to resist or pull away. “It’s been a while,” Ethan murmurs into his hair before loosening his grip.

“Blame the IMF for that one.” Benji straightens up and smooths out his shirt. “Why the fuck do they love shipping me off to Scandanvia for months on end?”

“You’re good at data collection.” Ethan’s gaze sweeps across Benji’s lips.

He ignores the goosebumps that prickle at his skin as he replies, “But for that bloody long?”

“You’re the best they got.”

“It’s not quite thrilling.”

“It’s over for now, at least.” Finally, Ethan returns his gaze. “Well. Sort of.”

“What do you mean ‘sort of’?”

“You got the mission debriefing.”

“Yeah, but nothing screamed ‘data collection’ to me.”

Ethan sends him an apologetic grin before gesturing at Benji to follow him. “I’ll explain it when we get to the house.”

“What do we talk about for the time being, then?”

“Everything that’s happened since I saw you last.”

“I’ve already told you that.”

Benji only barely catches the small smile that crosses Ethan’s lips. “Guess I’ll have to do all the talking then.”

“I’m sure you have plenty to tell me about.”

There’s no immediate response; rather, they fall into a temporary silence as they finish leaving the airport. And it’s fine, Benji thinks to himself. After so many weeks away from Ethan, there came a point where Benji wondered if maybe any chance with him that he had was gone, or if maybe, during their absences from each other, everything would go sour because Ethan would move on with his life while Benji still felt the same stupid feelings. But this is wonderful, just walking with Ethan, existing in a comfortable lull, no pressure to say or do anything. They’ll be fine, no matter what happens on this mission. Benji is sure of it.


The mission, as Benji already knows, exists in large part around a man by the name of Hartford, well known for his business with security systems used in various establishments and institutions around the world. And Hartford, as Ethan learned, would be attending a nearby, high-end restaurant that night to sign a deal with someone of particular interest to the IMF.

“Which, of course,” Ethan says from the couch in the safehouse, “raises the question: how are we going to bug Hartford?”

“That’s assuming we can get into the restaurant in the first place.”

Ethan sends Benji a knowing smirk. “I already have that covered.”

“Then why are you asking me? If you can already get in--”

“I wanted your opinion on a cover we could use,” he interrupts.

“What, like businessman and client? Co-workers? Or--”

“Dates?”

That makes Benji stop. He eyes Ethan, trying to make any sense of the expression on his face, before repeating, “Dates?”

“Hartford’s been tracked before,” Ethan explains. “He’s likely to get suspicious of anyone near him playing professional before approaching his table.”

“So your solution is to pretend like we’re dating?”

He nods his head, but Benji remains unconvinced.

“Are you sure this is a good idea on a mission?”

“This is entirely professional,” he reassures. “Besides, how often do people pay close attention to couples they see?”

“I don’t mean to make anything awkward, Ethan, but the last time we really talked, you kissed me--”

“It’s professional,” he repeats. “I would suggest this regardless.”

He pauses and eyes him with uncertainty, but eventually shrugs his shoulders. It’s not like they haven’t ever been able to get along professionally between the first time Benji kissed him and now. And if Hartford really is used to people like them spying on him, this would be the best option. “I suppose we need a story, then. Who we are, why we’re out on a date.”

“We can do it while we get our tuxes ready.”

“Another tux?” Benji sighs.

“Don’t you like them?”

“But making sure they stay looking proper is a chore, especially when you have to run around in them so often.”

“Hopefully that won’t be the case tonight.”

“We can never tell with you, can we?” Benji grumbles as he follows Ethan out of the room.

“We’ll need them in any case. Dress code.” He flashes a grin at him. “Come on, let’s come up with a story. I was thinking we’re on a special anniversary dinner…”


Benji fidgets with his cufflinks as Ethan speaks to the host and gives him the name their reservations are under. His eyes dart around the restaurant, looking for any sign of Hartford. The building is fairly sprawled out, making it likely that they might be placed somewhere far away from their target, which would be an even bigger headache to solve.

But Ethan is completely relaxed, like he already has everything about this night figured out. Benji does his best to match his demeanor through a little smile and nod of his head when the host addresses both of them. Then his character falters when Ethan places his hand against the small of Benji’s back and gently pushes him forward as the host begins to move. It doesn’t seem to matter that Ethan has touched him like his before, because even the third time on it remains unbearably intimate. The fact that it’s explicitly romantic in nature this time, even if just for a charade, leaves Benji a bit breathless.

Once they arrive to the table, Ethan removes his hand to pull out Benji’s seat. After Benji settles down, he hurries over to the opposite side and joins him.

“I can sit down on my own, you know,” Benji murmurs.

“I'm just saving you the trouble,” is Ethan’s response as he flicks his eyes over the menu.

Benji brushes the topic aside to ask, “Where’s Hartford?”

“5 o’clock.”

He tilts his head in that direction, gaze sweeping across the floor until it finally lands on Hartford’s face. He’s a few tables away, seated within a busy throng of patrons.

“How are you supposed to bug him over there?”

“Guess we’ll have to watch him.”

“What, so you can bug him on the way to the bathroom or something?”

“If I have to.”

“A bit predictable.”

“I’ll think of something. Give me your hand.”

Benji sends him a quizzical glance, but obliges. The next moment his hand is folded within Ethan’s, the older agent raising it to his lips to leave a chaste kiss against the back. The action makes Benji blush instantaneously.

“Is this okay?” Ethan murmurs, voice suddenly uncertain. “You know, just for the realism of--”

“Yeah,” Benji breathes. He can’t wrap his head entirely around this, being away from Ethan so long and now pretending to be his date, if they’re pretending at all. Shit, this has to be a mistake.

Ethan is still holding his hand, rubbing small circles into his skin with his thumb. He looks at Benji intently, eyes wide with affection, and says, “Can you see Hartford in your periphery?”

“If I tilt my head a bit, I can.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“Don’t get too distracted, then,” Benji breathes.

Ethan’s thumb pauses suddenly. “There’s a bar past Hartford,” he points out. “One of us can head over there and plant it that way.”

“You’ll be doing that.”

“Thanks for your confidence in me,” Ethan responds sarcastically.

“You are my doting boyfriend this evening, after all.”

“Husband.”

Benji’s throat tightens. “We don’t have wedding rings.”

“Engaged, then.” Ethan’s eyes flick from Hartford back to Benji. “It’s a shame you don’t like tuxes.”

“Why?”

“Because you look amazing in them.”

“I can’t tell if you’re flirting with me for real or not,” Benji remarks as he pulls his hand away and crosses his arms.

“Professional,” is the only answer he gets.

“But you could be professionally flirting with me. Things weren’t exactly resolved the last time we got to really be with each other, were they?”

“You’re being straight-forward tonight, aren’t you?”

“I’ve had months to stew on it.”

There’s a look in Ethan’s eyes, playful and hungry and cautious all at once. “Maybe this is something we can save for afterwards.”

“I guess so.”

But as Benji drops his arms, Ethan leans forward again to grab his hand and press another kiss against it.

“That’s a bit much, isn’t it?”

His whispers don’t deter Ethan, who turns the palm right-side up and places his lips on the fingertip of his middle finger. Benji’s breathing becomes unsteady as Ethan folds his hand and brushes his mouth against his knuckles. “Is it?”

“You’re a terrible tease.”

Why Ethan’s in this mood, Benji has no idea. Especially when every time they’ve kissed ended with Benji never knowing what Ethan really wants, whether he’s serious about all of this or just amusing himself when the feeling strikes him. The fact they’re roleplaying makes this all the more tolerable but also all the more frustrating, because the excess of Ethan’s affection so soon into the night feels more real than staged. It’s only when the waiter returns to their table that Ethan lets go of his hand and grabs the menu instead.

“You never did tell me the specifics of what you were doing in Finland,” Ethan says as the waiter leaves with their orders.

“Please, it’s so tedious. Definitely the most unglamorous part of this job I’ve experienced so far.”

“Even worse than desk work?”

“At least you have a variety of people to talk to when you’re doing deskwork.”

“I’m sure Agent Smith will love to hear how you enjoyed her company.”

“You know that’s not what I bloody meant.”

Ethan grins. “For what it’s worth, I missed seeing you.”

“The IMF really need to stop interrupting our Star Trek marathons.”

“Very rude of them.”

“Suppose sending us on a mission by ourselves makes up for it, hm?”

Ethan’s face softens. “I think they realize we’re a good team.”

Benji ignores the way his heart skips a beat and says, “What an interesting number of years this has been.”

“How so?”

“I become a field agent, work one of my very first missions with one of the shining stars of the IMF, and now I’m pretending to be his date while he tells me what a great team we are.”

“Is that what you expected when anyone asked you where you see yourself in five years?”

“God, no. Working as a technician was surreal enough as it was.”

“You’ve come a long way since then.”

“I have, haven’t I?”

Benji is intensely aware of the way Ethan’s eyes scan down his body. It’s a slow move, drinking him in, until they jump back to his lips. He keeps his gaze there, quiet for a few moments, before he says, “You’ve changed a lot.”

“Well, being a field agent requires some semblance of being in shape.”

“Not just physically,” he continues. “You seem… happier.”

“No doubt because of you and the rest of the IMF.”

Again, Ethan smiles, but it’s softer this time. “You’ve been a great addition to the team.”

“Glad to know my coming to America wasn’t entirely a mistake.”

“At least I got to meet you.”

Benji’s face grows warm. “Er, hand?”

He gladly obliges, allowing Benji to wrap his fingers around his again. Never before had he ever gotten the opportunity to really hold Ethan’s hand, to just enjoy being close with him, even if this isn’t an entirely real date. But Ethan’s allowing him to do it, sitting quietly, looking pleased, like this isn’t anything out of the ordinary for him. If Benji wasn’t so hesitant, maybe he’d kiss Ethan’s hand the same way.

“Are you watching Hartford, at least?” he breathes.

“He hasn’t moved.”

“Neither have your eyes.”

“Periphery.” He keeps his eyes locked on Benji. Damn him.

“When are you going to go get me a drink, then?”

“Are you trying to get rid of me already?”

“I just thought that maybe the sooner you complete this, the better.”

Now, Ethan glances over at Hartford. “I can get us something.”

“Have the bug?”

“Yep. Wish me luck.”

Ethan gives his hand a quick squeeze before getting to his feet, smoothing out his suit jacket, and cutting through the middle section of the restaurant towards the bar. Going towards the bar, he passes by Hartford without any noticeable stop. He orders, receives a glass, and then returns to the table to set it down in front of Benji.

“What are you doing?” Benji asks. “There’s no way you--”

“I’m going back. I was scoping out the selection for my fiancé.” He winks. “What would you like, sweetheart?”

“You don’t have to call me that,” Benji murmurs, hoping to God that Ethan can’t hear the way his heart hammers in his chest. “Whatever you got is fine.”

“I might get something different. Just experiment a bit. Good thing I know what you like.”

“Who knew going out all those times would have a practical usage in the field?”

Ethan stands a second time, but this time stops in front of Benji and nudges his chin upwards. When Benji glances up, he’s met with Ethan kissing his forehead. It’s short enough, but Benji’s absolutely certain that he’s about to suffocate to death, now. He struggles to catch his breath even as Ethan saunters out of sight. 

This time, Benji doesn’t bother to watch, because spending any extra time looking at Ethan is liable to end disastrously for him. There’s that familiar feeling in the pit of his stomach, the early stages of a desire that only Ethan can stir up anymore. If only this wasn’t a professional outing.

A few minutes later Ethan returns with another glass. “Got it,” he breathes as he sits down again.

“That easy?”

“We have the added benefit of this place being busy tonight. Now, there’s one question left to answer.”

“What’s that?”

“Do I get to spend the rest of the night as your date?”

“Professionally,” Benji starts, more for himself than Ethan, “it would make sense, don’t you think? Keep the cover going.”

“Just wanted to make sure you’re okay with it.”

“Well, that leaves the rest of the night to talk about whatever we want, then.”

“Such as?”

“The last time you kissed me.”

“I suppose it is as good as a time as any to talk about that.” Ethan takes a sip of his drink before settling back in his chair. “What do you have to say about it?”

“You said you’d like to kiss me again.”

“I did.”

“Do you still want to?”

Ethan smiles.

“Is that a yes?”

“What do you think?”

“I’m inclined to think yes, but you’ve given me some mixed messages.”

The smile wavers. “I know.”

“I guess I’d just like to have a clear answer.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to, Benj, it’s more about what happens afterwards.”

“Okay, what are you worried about?”

He hesitates, then sighs. “There’s the IMF and the fact that the last relationship I had ended in divorce…” His eyes cloud over. “I guess sometimes I can’t help but feel--” Ethan’s expression suddenly turns steely as he adjusts his position.

“Ethan?” Benji turns around, just enough to catch Hartford from the corner of his eye. “What’s going on?”

“Don’t look.” Ethan grabs Benji’s hand again. “I’m watching him.”

“Is it anything serious?”

“No, just…” He shakes his head. “I’m monitoring it.”

Benji furrows his brow, about to ask another question when the waiter suddenly returns. The concerned look on Ethan’s face immediately transforms into gratitude, murmuring back to the waiter as he squeezes Benji’s hand again and sends him a loving glance. The fact that he doesn’t immediately resort back to the alarm from before is a bit reassuring for Benji, who decides to enjoy their dinner as best as he can, hoping that, in the meantime, nothing will go terribly wrong.

But the conversation isn’t as relaxed as it is before. Benji feels more pressured to stay quiet, as to not distract Ethan from whatever is happening. A number of minutes pass without anything drastic happening, and Ethan loosens his shoulders slightly, but continuously casts suspicious glances in Hartford’s direction.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Benji asks finally.

“Weird movement near Hartford’s table. Maybe I’m a bit too on edge.”

“If you think something’s wrong, I’d pay attention to it.”

Ethan settles back into his seat and takes another bite of his meal. “It’s distracting me from how completely delicious this is, what the hell.”

Benji snickers. “Glad this place isn’t shit.”

“It’s worth its reputation.”

“Suitable place for a man and his fiancé, I think.”

There’s a brief pause as Ethan grins into his glass. After taking another swig, he asks, “Do you want me to get you another drink?”

Benji glances down at his cup. “Knowing my history of letting others buy me drinks, I’m not sure if that’s quite a good idea.”

“What’s the worst you could do this time?”

“I don’t think I want to find out while we’re working.”

“Fair enough.” Ethan finishes off his own drink, sets it down, and sits back with a sigh. “I’ll stop too, then.”

“I don’t mind if you keep drinking.”

“Professionalism, or whatever excuse we’ve been using.”

A bemused smile spreads across Benji’s lips as he props his chin up on one fist. “What would we be doing if there were other people sent with us?”

“Behaving a bit better, I would think.”

“I think I’ve been behaving myself just fine.”

A retort never comes. Rather, Ethan’s expression snaps back to the one from a few minutes earlier as he dives across the table, shoving Benji to one side and tumbling over the edge with him. There’s no time to process anything, not the ripple of shocked gasps or the fact that a bullet had just grazed across the sleeve of his suit jacket. “Up,” he hears Ethan say. The word feels foreign to him, but he allows Ethan to tug him onto his feet and swing his body so that Ethan’s in front of him. Then Ethan is tugging a gun out from his concealed holster, holding it low enough as to not draw any attention, but keeping his eyes on the table Hartford had been seated at the entire night.

Benji begins scrambling for his own, but Ethan yells, “Down!” and he follows immediately. The man that Hartford had been meeting with is on his feet, gun pointed in their direction, but Ethan moves quickly enough that he lodges a bullet in his shoulder before the man can fire any more shots.

“Let’s go,” Ethan commands, grasping his hand around Benji’s to lead him out of the restaurant. Their escape is hasty, but more calculated than the other dozens of diners trying to flee at the same time, with Ethan bobbing through openings and tugging Benji along with him. Their path is only cut short when a worker approaches them, no doubt because of the gun dangling from Ethan’s hand, but Ethan makes a sudden turn towards the kitchen. Nobody stops them as they clamor through it and towards heavy doors that connect the kitchen and an alley behind the restaurant.

“Now what?” Benji pants. “You can’t discard the gun.”

Ethan is quick to shove it back into his holster as best as he can before tugging his suit jacket down around it and pulling on Benji’s hand. They make their way down the alley and onto the next street, only to swing around the block again and locate the car the IMF had given them this time. Ethan unlocks it, releases Benji’s hand, and heads around to the driver’s side.

“Will you explain to me what happened?” Benji asks once he’s inside.

The answer is delayed as Ethan backs away from where he parked and tears off into the night. “Hartford was shot.”

“And what about us?”

Ethan looks over at Benji suddenly. “Are you alright? I wanted to get away before checking.”

“It just got my sleeve,” Benji says as he looks at the noticeable damage in the fabric. “Wait, maybe it just barely touched me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Little bit of blood. Stings a tad. I think the jacket and shirt softened the blow.” Now it’s Benji's turn to look up at Ethan. “Did he shoot at me intentionally?”

“I don’t know. But he seemed like he might have known what was going on.”

“So much for our fake engagement.”

But it’s not the time for jokes. Ethan’s brow is furrowed, looking deep in thought, even as he drove back to the safehouse. There’s a cheeky comment to be made somewhere, but Benji holds back any attempt to alleviate the atmosphere for the rest of the ride.

It’s only when they're at the safehouse that Ethan turns to him and says, “Show me your arm.”

“I’m fine, really.” Benji holds out his right sleeve. “I didn’t even notice until you brought it up.”

Ethan runs his fingers over it, delicately enough where Benji doesn’t feel anything, and continues to frown. “God,” he murmurs, “that was a close one.”

“It only nicked me, that’s all. Not even that, really.” He pauses. “What about that man Hartford was with? You left without getting close to him.”

“It was better to leave with everyone around. We’ll see what happened to him, I guess.”

The look on Ethan's face is somber, eyes hidden, like he’s too afraid to meet Benji’s gaze. His fingers continue pressing against his suit jacket.

“Ethan, darling,” Benji starts with a sad laugh, “I’m okay.”

He stops and raises his face. “Darling?”

He blinks. “Did I just call you darling? Must have slipped out.”

They both go quiet as Ethan runs his fingers around Benji’s injury again. “Let’s go inside and disinfect this.”

“Maybe talk about what to do next?”

“Mm.” He parts from Benji to exit through the driver's door.

The pair make their way back to the house without any conversation. Once inside, Ethan disappears for a moment to return with a first aid kit. “Take your suit jacket off,” he says in a low voice. “Your shirt, too.”

Benji does as told, taking a seat on the couch and leaning in towards Ethan as he settles down next to him. “It’s not that bad,” he murmurs to Ethan. “You don’t have to brood over it.”

“I know.” But his demeanor doesn’t change.

“I feel like you’re blaming yourself again.”

“Benji--”

“Don’t try to argue with me,” Benji retorts with an incredulous laugh. “You’re always beating yourself up for things that didn’t happen. Just possibilities you make up in that charming mind of yours that still wouldn’t be your fault, anyway.”

Ethan drops his hands from Benji’s wound and frowns deeply. “I’m sorry,” he says so softly Benji almost misses it. “There’s just something about you, Benji. It’s like I…”

Their eyes meet. Ethan is visibly shaken.

“I’m not upset that you’re worried about me," Benji tells him. “But you get so intense about things that didn’t happen.”

“It’s just that--” He sucks in a breath and drops his head, only to pick up the first aid kit materials again and resume work on Benji’s arm.

“Ethan?” Benji uses his other hand to stroke his fingers through his hair. “Can you be honest with me?”

The movement against Benji’s arm ceases again. There’s a tense pause, and then he says, “I’m scared of saying something I shouldn’t.”

“Like what?”

“God, Benji.” His voice is almost a growl. “I want you so much it almost drives me insane.” He lifts his head, allowing Benji to see his eyes heavy with a desire he had never witnessed before. “But there’s so much at stake all the time. I tell myself that over and over but then I go on missions like this and--” He lets out a heavy breath. “I keep you at a distance to protect you, and then you almost -- and I think to myself, how would I feel knowing that I’m the reason Benji is hurt or…” He clears his throat. “Then a more selfish side of me wonders, how would I feel if I wasted all this time pretending like I don’t feel anything for you, and then something happens to you before I even got to do anything?”

“Oh, Ethan,” Benji breathes.

“It’s not that I’m playing games with you, Benj. But I get torn between all this history I have and the fact that I want to keep you safe, and then there are nights like this when you’re so beautiful and I know that you want this as bad as I do… it’s like its own conflict of interest and I never know what I should be doing and what I shouldn’t.”

“What are you feeling right now?”

“I want you.” Their gazes cross again. “And I know it sounds ridiculous after I said you could have died, but I want you so bad. Just in case there never is another time.”

“Then have me,” Benji answers, voice hoarse.

A few seconds of silence pass, just so Ethan can raise his hands slowly and cup them around Benji’s chin. “God,” he breathes, leaning in so their foreheads touch.

“I’m right here.” He returns the gesture, pressing his fingertips into Ethan’s jaw, holding him in place. “Don’t think too hard about this.”

“But after everything that happened--”

“I want you to do whatever it is that you want,” he interrupts. “Please.”

Ethan’s eyes flutter shut as he draws in a labored breath. Then he leans forward, just so their lips touch, delicately at first, and then immediately dissolving into a deep kiss. Benji moves his hands so he can get fistfuls of Ethan’s hair, holding him tightly, kissing, kissing, and finally sighing with him when he pulls back. A few seconds pass, each mouth hovering so near the other’s that Benji can feel every soft exhale from Ethan.

The lull only ends when Benji decides to press a kiss against the corner of Ethan’s mouth, then tilts Ethan’s head so he can leave a trail of slow kisses across his cheek. Again, Ethan exhales, even more stressed this time, one hand gripping the back of Benji’s head and the other around his shoulders like this pains him. “It’s okay,” he whispers once he reaches his ear. “Show me what you want.”

“God, Benji,” Ethan moans, moving quickly so their lips could meet again, much sloppier this time, more desperate. Benji doesn’t stop Ethan from tightening his arms around him, embrace so strong that he can’t move, because he wouldn’t have it any other way. This is Ethan at his most vulnerable, gasping for air in between kisses, holding onto him like his life depends on it, and it’s nothing like Benji had ever experienced before.

Ethan pauses to nuzzle his nose against Benji’s cheek, right against the bristles of his beard, and murmurs, “You’re so sexy.” Before Benji has a chance to respond, Ethan presses his lips against the top of his throat and rolls his tongue against his skin. The unexpected action draws a small groan from Benji, growing into something more voluminous when Ethan makes a sudden move to enclose his mouth around Benji’s left nipple.

“Fuck, Ethan,” he hisses, gripping the hair on the back of Ethan’s head as he arches into him. 

“Fuck,” Ethan breathes. “Say my name like that again.”

“Ethan,” he gasps, dropping his free hand down to cup around his forming erection.

“Mm.” He switches to his other nipple. “Do you like this?”

“It’s exquisite .” He clamps down on his cock as Ethan swirls his tongue around. Then Ethan stops, pulling back to lick his lips instead, drawing a forlorn “ shit ” from Benji.

A grin ghosts across Ethan’s lips as he moves his body, balancing over him just right so he can press a searing kiss against his sternum. The angle he’s positioned at obscures his right hand, which creeps around and settles down on Benji’s thigh, stopping right as his fingers brush against the outline of his bulge.

“Oh,” Ethan sighs. He leans back suddenly, allowing Benji to get a full view of him, how his pupils are large and dark, how his face is flushed. “Bedroom?”

Benji’s heart pounds so hard in his chest that he can feel it pulsing in his fingertips. “Is that what you want?”

He stays quiet, looking up at Benji with something indecipherable churning in his eyes. “Benj,” he murmurs after a number of moments, picking up his hand again, flipping his palm outwards so he can kiss his fingertips like he had earlier in the restaurant. Then he lets go, stands up, and grabs the first aid kit before disappearing down the hallway.

It takes a moment to register what just happened in Benji’s mind. “Wait.” He scrambles to his feet and hurries after the other man. “Ethan, wait, I didn’t mean anything bad by that, I just wanted to make sure you were comfortable and not--”

He isn’t expecting Ethan to make a sudden turn, grabbing Benji around the jaw and kissing him so hard it makes him stumble back against the wall. The first aid kit is still in his hand, hanging awkwardly at Benji’s side as they give each other frenzied kisses, sometimes missing their mouths and kissing their nose or chin instead, until Ethan finally says, “Bedroom, please.”

That’s all Benji needs. He lets Ethan take the first aid kit back to where it belongs and heads to the nearest bedroom in the safehouse, where Ethan’s stuff sparsely decorates the space around the bed. At first, he stands there, unsure what exactly he should do, what Ethan wants, but eventually settles on unbuttoning his pants. It’s as he’s tugging them down that Ethan returns, suit jacket draped around his arms, stopped in the doorway as he watches Benji undress. “Benji,” Ethan breathes, dropping the suit jacket on the floor as he crosses towards him. “You’re so…” A strained sigh interrupts him.

“I could say the same for you,” Benji mutters as he tugs at Ethan’s tie. “C’mon, I want to see you.”

Ethan obliges, first tossing off his tie and then moving down to unbutton his shirt with haste. When his shirt swings open, Benji traces his fingers down Ethan’s chest, moving until he’s at his waistline, thumb sweeping over the button of his pants. He lets his eyes travel across Ethan’s bare skin, across the muscles of his stomach, sweeping over his shoulders once his shirt topples to the floor. There are all those scars again, so familiar to him at this point.

“You’re amazing,” Benji says as he traces his index fingers along a few of them.

You’re amazing.” He takes Benji’s face in his hand again and pulls him into a kiss, agonizingly slow, deliberate, unquestionably romantic. The sound of both of them exhaling hotly when their lips break makes Benji’s cock twitch. A second sigh escapes Ethan as Benji unbuttons his pants and pushes downwards. 

“Is this alright?” Benji whispers.

Ethan nuzzles his face against Benji’s and slips his hands to the waistline of his briefs in response. They both hold their breaths as Ethan drags his fingertips across the fabric, down, down, until he finally palms Benji’s erection.

“Fuck.” Benji leans forward to kiss Ethan again, trying his best to hold back his moans as Ethan gently strokes his hand across his cock.

“You’re so hard,” Ethan murmurs. “Have I made you hard before?”

“Mm.” He lets out a sharp breath and drops his head to Ethan’s shoulder. Only a moment passes before Ethan is pushing lightly on him, just enough so Benji knows to fall back on the bed. As soon as he does, Ethan bends over him and tilts his chin up to give him another slow kiss.

“I want to take care of you,” he says.

“You already do enough.”

“That’s not what I meant, baby.”

A small groan escapes Benji when Ethan calls him baby. Is it too soon for pet names? Does it matter when he’s been waiting for this long? When Ethan’s knelt down in front of him, like Benji’s some kind of deity, reverently removing his pants before pulling at the waistline of his briefs? Benji obliges him without question, raising his hips slightly to allow Ethan the ability to slide them down his hips until his erection is in full view.

Ethan’s eyes gloss over when he sees it, lips parting just slightly. “Jesus, Benji,” he says, voice shaking enough to notice. He bends forward again, nudging open his knees so he can kiss his inner thigh. Surely Ethan can sense how Benji is coming totally undone, the way his entire body quivers with each breath. It all feels so fucking good that Benji can’t help but wonder if maybe he’ll wake up in Finland, tangled in his bedsheets, panting with a lust that he couldn’t satisfy. But there’s Ethan, eyes closed, brushing his lips across his skin at an unhurried tempo. Every so often he stops, lingers, lets his breath warm his skin, and then dips his head forward and drags the tip of his tongue along his thigh. And Benji lets him, enjoying every second of it, cock aching to be touched, precum already forming at his tip. It’s not until Ethan buries his face in the crook of his thigh, right next to his balls, that Benji suddenly places a hand on his shoulder and pushes back.

“You don’t have to do this,” Benji tells him.

But Ethan looks up at him with a determined glint. “I want to.”

“It’s just so fast, I don’t want you to think that--”

“Benji, I need to.” He grabs Benji’s cock suddenly, drawing a loud gasp from him as he swipes his thumb over the slit and drags his hand down his length. “Fuck, Benji, I need you.” Ethan dips his head forward, tonguing at the head of Benji’s cock delicately, causing him to groan again.

“Jesus,” Benji breathes, but Ethan isn’t done yet. He pumps his hand again as he kisses the tip of his cock, letting his fingers glide down slowly, letting his lips graze against his skin but not do anything further. Rather, he focuses on slipping down to his balls, stroking them tenderly, precisely, in a leisurely tempo that almost drives Benji mad. He clenches his eyes shut, lets out a stifled groan, tries not to get overwhelmed by the fact that it’s Ethan touching him. His desperation is only intensified when Ethan finally encloses his lips around him, just the very tip, but the way he rolls his tongue against him makes Benji shout in surprise. He grabs onto Ethan’s hair, clenches his thighs, becomes keenly aware of the precum that just spurted from his cock, and it’s all so deliriously amazing.

“Mm,” Ethan hums, and, without any warning, takes more of Benji into his mouth.

The feeling is indescribable. He doesn’t go all the way down, but he takes a few inches in and holds it there, his mouth so fucking hot and wet and Jesus Christ, nothing is ever going to top this. When he moves, Benji shouts again, throwing his head back, spreading his legs wider to invite Ethan in further. He has to fight every fiber in his being not to rock his hips forward, especially since Ethan is taking this so slow, spending more time pumping his fist along his cock instead of his mouth. But it’s fine, Benji thinks, he can always show Ethan how to make that beautiful mouth of his really shine another time --

“Bloody hell, Ethan!” He can’t help but arch his back when Ethan finds a tempo with his mouth at last. Ethan is quick to grab his hips and still him, just for a moment, until he forms a fist around the base of his cock again and lets his other hand drop out of sight. Then he draws his head back, holds Benji’s cock up, and licks up the underside, ending with a kiss against his tip before closing his mouth around it again. When he swallows, tears well in the corners of Benji’s eyes, a wave of pleasure rippling down his body.

It’s only then that Benji suddenly realizes that there’s no way Ethan has never done this before. His movements are too calculated, like he knows what Benji wants exactly. His hesitation seems more like a man out of practice than a man who had never given a blow job before. The image of Ethan sucking another man’s dick makes his cock jerk, hard enough that Ethan pauses and takes his mouth away.

“You like that, baby?”

“Ethan,” Benji whines, voice breathy and so fucking weak because of him, Ethan fucking Hunt.

“I could suck your cock all night.”

More precum drips from Benji’s cock. He’s so fucking aroused it hurts, so fucking close to that edge that only Ethan can bring him to. The pleasure temporarily stops, just so Ethan can lift himself up and kiss Benji. And Ethan tastes like him, lips wet and swollen, and it’s messy and erotic and Benji submits when he presses his hands against his shoulders and guides him back onto the bed. Now his cock is exposed under the dimness of the street lights peeking through the windows, leaking onto his stomach, overly sensitive to the sensation of Ethan rubbing against him as he lowers himself between his legs again.

Ethan takes his time, twirling his tongue around his cock, leaving kisses down his length, exhaling loudly before putting his mouth around him. And he moves his head, going a bit lower with each bob, and it’s too much for Benji to watch, too much to see his cock disappear in between those lips he fantasized about for so long. Helpless sighs and grunts and moans leave him, littered in between his smutty, low, Ethan ’s, until he can feel the beginning of an orgasm building in his stomach.

“Ah,” Benji gasps as Ethan breaks away. He tilts his head up to see what’s happening, why Ethan stopped, only to catch him taking in a ragged breath, eyes lidded in a way that can only be construed as someone else also on the brink of orgasm. “Wait,” Benji says as he sits up, finally catching a glimpse of Ethan’s hand on his own erection. “Don’t do that.”

Ethan only lets out a strained exhale in response, his tempo slowing down but not stopping completely.

“I don’t want to cum if you don’t let me help you do the same.” He tries to pull Ethan up into another kiss, but he doesn’t budge.

“No,” he says, “I can take care of myself.”

“I want to make you cum.”

He shakes his head and attempts to put Benji’s cock in his mouth again, but Benji places a hand on his cheek forcefully enough that it stops him.

“Ethan, what’s wrong?”

He’s met with those green eyes he loves so much, wide with remorse, like he had committed a sin against Benji.

“This is about you,” Ethan says at last, kissing his thigh again.

“What good is that if I can’t also make this about you?”

“Because you’re so…” He clenches his eyes shut. “God, Benji, I need you so bad.”

“Then come here.” He guides Ethan up into another kiss. “Let me help you.” His hand finds his way into Ethan’s lap and squeezes around his cock. That makes Ethan gasp into his mouth, and it’s the best sound Benji has ever heard. “You’re dripping,” he murmurs at he runs his finger across the tip of his cock and down one of the trails of precum.

“Fuck, Benji.” Ethan takes him into another needy kiss, holding back groans of approval as Benji touches him lightly, teasingly.

“You’re magnificent,” he growls between kisses. They flip positions, so Ethan is now sitting, welcoming Benji into his lap with kisses that beg for more. When Benji settles down on his legs, their cocks touch, and the pressure makes both of them inhale sharply. They sit like that for one moment, two, three, absorbing the feeling of being so close, naked, intimate. Ethan has that same tense expression on his face, a mix between delight and anxiety. It motivates Benji to stroke his hand through Ethan’s hair and ask, “Will you let me do this?”

Ethan brushes his nose against his and swallows.

“Ethan?”

“I don’t want you to think that you have to do anything for me,” he says, barely louder than a whisper.

“I want to do this.”

“But after all of this…” He opens his eyes, flicks them up towards Benji’s. “I’m worried about what will happen next.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Benji says as he smooths his hair back. “Stay with me here.” He kisses his cupid’s bow. “We can talk about it afterwards.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s like you said.” He presses an affectionate kiss against the corner of his mouth. “You need me.” The other corner. “And I need you.”

Ethan’s pupils dilate, so big that his eyes are almost black, and he grabs Benji by the hair and tilts his head back to leave a light bite against the skin of his neck. Benji groans, shifts his hips forwards, listens to the sound of Ethan gasping, how utterly delightful it is, and does it again. It doesn’t take long to find a rhythm, only made difficult by Ethan sucking and biting and kissing his neck, his shoulders, his chest, his jaw, leaving every place he kisses blotchy and warm.

“Lean back,” Benji pants.

“Wanna kiss.”

“Then kiss me on the bed!”

Ethan obeys, lifting his face from his neck to his mouth, kissing him hard, moaning Benji in a way that makes Benji’s head spin, cursing, kissing, kissing. And Benji ruts up against him, increasing the pressure between their cocks, finding a quick tempo that draws profanities from both of them. He stays down on Ethan, kissing him breathless, holding back any urge to make a sound as he rubs against him.

It’s Ethan that stops the kissing, turning his head away to let out a throaty grunt, tilting his hips up to thrust in time with Benji. That makes Benji open his eyes so he can get a look at Ethan, at the way sweat beads at his brow and his face contorts with ecstasy. “It’s okay to cum,” Benji says.

“Not before you,” he groans.

“Cum for me.” He buries his face into the crook of Ethan’s neck. “Please, darling, I want you to cum.”

“Shit.” His movements become jerkier. “S’close.”

Benji is, as well. It’s swelling in his stomach, getting larger and larger, making him grit his teeth and push down harder, faster. “You feel so good.”

Fuck , Benj.” 

All he’s aware of is the smell of Ethan’s cologne, the way the bed squeaks, how hot Ethan’s body is, the smell of fucking Ethan, the sound of fucking Ethan, and god, it’s the best thing he could ever imagine, ever experience. He rotates his head so he can kiss Ethan’s cheek, only to find Ethan turning back to him so their mouths can meet again, deeply, moans reverberating in their throats.

“Benj,” Ethan sighs, dropping his head back again, “I’m going…”

Please ,” he whines. “Oh, fuck, Ethan, cum for me.”

It’s only a few more strokes before Ethan’s entire body tenses, a shaky moan spilling from his lips, fingers raking down Benji’s back. The sight of Ethan climaxing is enough to send Benji into his own, cumming like he had never cummed before. He ripples with pleasure from head to toe, gasping for air as his cock spurts across Ethan’s stomach, over and over, until his senses return to him and he collapses.

As he rests on Ethan’s chest, he wonders if any of this is real, if the way Ethan’s heart is pounding in his ear is something he’s only imagining. But he doesn’t want to try to wake himself up or prove himself wrong, not when he’s listening to Ethan’s slowing breaths, trying to match them with his own.

“You’re wonderful,” Benji mumbles into his neck. In response, Ethan drapes his arms around his back and traces his finger across his skin.

“You’re more than wonderful.”

“Don’t try to one-up me now.”

Ethan laughs, just a short one, but it fills Benji with a joy so large that he can’t stop himself from smiling.

“That wasn’t bad, then?” Ethan asks.

“Do you even have to ask?”

“I just want to make sure.”

“Ethan, we could have had the worst sex in the world and I probably would have been happy.”

“So you’re saying it was bad?”

“Hey.” Benji lifts himself up to look at Ethan in the face. “I have wanted to do that for a very long time.”

“Was it worth the wait, then?”

“Completely.”

Ethan smirks, but his eyes twinkle with adoration. “How long have you wanted to do that?”

“Don’t make me say, please.” Benji cuddles up against his chest, letting out a content sigh when Ethan snakes his fingers through his hair.

“I suppose we should get cleaned up.”

“I don't want to move.”

“You want to stay here gross and sticky all night?”

“Mm-hm.” 

He closes his eyes and sighs through his nose. “I just want to enjoy this.”

“I do too.” They fall into a lull, Ethan combing Benji’s hair, Benji giving Ethan’s throat a small kiss here and there. This is the most blissed-out Benji has felt after sex in a long time. Possibly the most blissed-out after sex ever. Nothing else matters, just Ethan and him, too tired to do anything else, too stubborn to detangle their bodies.

The silence is broken when Ethan finally asks, “Benj?”

“Hm?”

“I don’t want to ruin the moment or anything, but we have to have that conversation sometime.”

“What conversation?”

“About what happens next.”

“Oh.”

Beat. “I don’t like that change in tone.”

“It’s nothing personal.”

“I know, but--”

“I guess we better talk about it now rather than tomorrow morning when we have other things to worry about, hm?” Before the regret sets in, Benji adds internally.

“We’ve managed to be professional for this long,” Ethan says. “We can do it for a bit longer. Until we get back.”

“Mm-hm.”

“Right?”

“I said mm-hm.”

“I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly.”

“It means mm-hm.” Another beat. “So we finish this mission, we go back to DC, and then what?”

There’s no response.

“Ethan?” Benji pushes himself up on his palms so he can look at his face. “Then what?”

Ethan licks his lips, brings his hand to Benji’s cheek. “I don’t know.”

His heart plummets down to his stomach. “What does that mean?”

“This is why I was hesitant to…” He trails off as he thumbs at the corner of Benji’s mouth. “I think this is something we need to talk about when we get back.”

“So we go on like nothing happened, and then I talk to you when we’re home and hope that this meant something to you?”

“Benji.” His voice takes a severe turn. “Don’t talk like that.”

“Sorry.” He rolls off of him suddenly and scoots down to the edge of the bed.

“Where are you going?”

“Getting cleaned up.”

“Benji, that’s not what I meant!” Ethan grasps Benji’s shoulder before he can get to his feet. “Will you listen for a moment?”

“What is it now?” It comes off snippier than Benji intended, but he makes no effort to apologize for it.

“You’re not the only one with a complicated relationship history, you know.”

“What, Julia?” He turns his head, only to see that Ethan’s eyes have clouded over again.

“More than that,” is his soft answer. “That’s what I want to talk about.”

Remorse quickly fills Benji’s chest. “Then why don’t you tell me now?”

“It’s not the right place or time.”

He swallows hard, taking in Ethan’s expression, how genuine it all looks. The fear that Ethan is going to move on after all this is impossible to shake, but it’s also Ethan, the man he’s had a stupid crush on for years now, the man he might quite literally do anything for. “I’m trusting you,” is what Benji settles on at last. “I just don’t want this to start and end here, Ethan.”

“It’s not.” He sends him a sad smile. “I would never want to let you down like that.”

“Alright,” he breathes. “I still want to get cleaned up since I’m already here, though.”

Ethan’s smile grows a little brighter. “Mind if I join?”

“Only if you follow me to bed afterwards.”

“Just for tonight.”

No promises , Benji thinks, but he decides not to press any further. “Better make it count, then.”

And despite all the enigmatic behavior that seems so natural to Ethan, the smile on his face feels so warm and real that Benji’s convinced that this wouldn’t be the last night they’d ever spend together, because it’s Ethan Hunt. He’d follow him to the ends of the Earth. Maybe it’s just possible that Ethan would follow him, too.

Chapter Text

The distance between Benji’s desk and Ethan’s desk is both a blessing and a curse, because it’s close enough where Ethan doesn’t have to travel too far out of his way to visit Benji and vice versa, but there’s always someone who eventually questions their motives to constantly visit each other anyway. Likewise, he’s just out of Benji’s sight, but also far enough to at least grant Benji peace of mind every so often, so he can focus on his work and not on those lovely green eyes smiling at him.

“I haven’t seen Agent Hunt in a while,” another agent seated near him says.

And that was one of the better things about having Ethan out of sight, because then he doesn’t have to be reminded of him every moment of every day.

“Join the club,” Benji answers.

“You just spent the week with him on a mission, didn’t you?”

“He’s been a bit preoccupied since.”

“Clearly.”

Benji doesn’t press the conversation further. A break from Ethan is what he needs right now, he thinks, even if it does leave him feeling a bit confused about everything. Ethan would talk to him when the time was right.


At the sound of his alarm, Benji groans and buries his face into his pillow. He stays there, letting it beep obnoxiously until its piercing sound is too much for his eardrums, and finally turns over to turn it off. As he fumbles to silence his alarm, he notices the light on his phone blinking expectantly at him. Again, he groans, figuring it’s some new issue at the IMF before picking it up and opening his messages.


Ethan 💘

Today 5:31 AM

Hey Benj


He wasn’t anticipating that. His heart leaps to his throat as he reads those two words over and over again before typing his response.


Ethan 💘

Today 5:31 AM

Hey Benj

6:37 AM

jesus fucking christ Ethan

why are you awake so early

Working out

you're disgusting

Disgusting for staying in
shape?

you texted me at 5 in the
morning                         

When else am I supposed to
work out?

don't you get enough of a work
out constantly running around
for the IMF?                             

Nope

again: you're disgusting


Benji sets down his phone and gets out of bed. The first thing he does is gather his clothes for the day, and then takes them down to the bathroom and sets them out to put on after his shower. When he returns to his bed, he notices another messages from Ethan.


again: you're disgusting

Am I too disgusting to ask you to
have dinner with me tonight?


His heart flutters. Benji lets it digest for a moment before responding.


Am I too disgusting to ask you to
have dinner with me tonight?

I might make an exception for you

That's good to hear

I can cook something for us after
work

oh, a special from Chez Ethan?

I thought it would give us some
privacy

privacy for what?

Talking

We'll see what happens afterwards


That shouldn’t make him feel so breathless, but he struggles to draw in any air, anyway.


We'll see what happens afterwards

😳

Is that an emoji?

we can talk about that later

Is it not an emoji?

I'll see you tonight

6:30?

Sounds good

But is it an emoji?


***

As soon as the work day ends, Benji hurries home and changes into something more comfortable. He does it quickly enough that he has time to spare before heading over, leaving him to stew in anxiety for a bit in his apartment as he considers what would happen tonight. Today hadn’t been much different than any of the other previous days, with Ethan staying completely out of Benji’s sight all day long, and that, in turn, only made him more eager to talk to him.

That impatience hits a peak as he gets in his car and begins his journey to Ethan’s apartment. The drive isn’t long, only slowed down by the tail-end of rush hour, but it feels like forever, anyway. By the time he makes it to Ethan’s apartment building, his legs are like jelly, but he rushes up the stairs to Ethan’s place. He knocks and waits for a number of seconds before the door finally opens. There’s Ethan, smiling warmly, wearing black jeans and a button-up that exposes the skin at the top of his chest. Why does he always look so good?

“Hey,” Ethan greets, opening the door enough to let Benji in.

“Hey, Ethan.” He steps inside, only to be immediately caught by Ethan welcoming him into a one-armed embrace. Benji accepts it, anyway, turning his face in towards Ethan’s neck, getting a whiff of his cologne. Damn, he smells amazing.

“Dinner is about ready.” He untangles himself from Benji and shuts the door. “Just have to take it out of the oven. Feel free to make yourself at home.”

Ethan doesn’t need to tell him that, and yet Benji feels oddly out of place despite all his prior visits. He notices that Ethan is barefoot just as he slips out of sight, reassuring him that he can set his own shoes next to the front door before walking further into Ethan’s place.

When Benji enters the kitchen, he catches Ethan setting a pan down on the counter before he glancing up. Another smile crosses Ethan’s lips as he says, “Ever had lemon garlic tilapia?”

“No, but it sounds delicious.”

“I have a salad to go with it.” He nods towards the dining table a few feet away. “That’s my specialty.”

“A special Ethan Hunt salad?”

“I have my own mix.”

“What a catch you are.”

Ethan’s smile flickers. “The things you come up with when you’re single.”

“Uh oh,” Benji laughs as he slinks towards the table. “I feel like I jumped the gun on this conversation.”

“We can make our way around to it again.”

“But that’s why you invited me over, isn’t it?”

“I invited you over because I like having you over,” Ethan says as he sets the tilapia down on the table.

“You don’t have to pretend like you just want my company.”

He frowns. “I’m not pretending.”

“Bad choice of words, but--”

“Eat right now, and then we can talk.” The grin from earlier returns. “What do you want to drink?”

“Uh, water.” Benji settles down into a chair and lets out an airy laugh. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to have anything else.”

Ethan returns to the table soon after with two glasses of water and sets one of them in front of Benji. “Help yourself,” he tells him as he takes the chair opposite of Benji.

Benji hesitates, unsure of how much he should take, if Ethan would razz him at all for what he settled on, but no such judgement comes. Instead, Ethan grabs the salad bowl and then swaps it for the tilapia, until both of them have full plates.

“I didn’t realize how hungry I was until now,” Benji says in a light tone.

“Didn’t you eat lunch?”

“A small one. I was focused on my work today.”

“What were you doing?”

“A dreadful little side project that should be relegated to the technicians, really, but I continue receiving them anyway.”

“Suppose that’s what happens when the IMF loses its best technician to the field agents.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere.”

“Except I mean it. Why else do you think I always asked you for help?”

“Because you think I’m darling.”

“Maybe.”

That shouldn’t make Benji blush, but his face goes warm, anyway. “You’re teasing.”

Ethan keeps his eyes locked on Benji’s, but pops a piece of tilapia in his mouth instead of responding.

“You were engaged when you were asking for my help,” he continues, following Ethan’s lead. “Jesus Christ, this is delicious.”

“I haven’t made it in a while,” Ethan says. “I probably should have asked you if you had any objections to fish before I made it, but--”

“Never any objection.”

“Should I invite you over more often, then?”

“I guess that depends on how this conversation goes, hm?”

Again, the look on Ethan’s face wavers. “You want to address all of this now, I’m assuming.”

“I’ve been a bit anxious to talk about it.”

“I know you have.” He sets his utensils down. “I didn’t mean to make you wait so long, but I wanted to wait until the weekend came so you didn’t have to worry about staying over too late.”

“Considerate, I suppose.”

“You suppose?”

“It wasn’t terribly kind to make me wait this long to talk.”

“I can’t argue with that.” Ethan folds his hands under his chin. “I needed to think through some things before I told you all of my hang-ups.”

“Hang-ups?”

“Nothing about you,” he says quickly. “Maybe I just need to get on with it and explain myself already.” He pauses. “Where do I even begin?”

“Julia?”

“You already know about Julia.” A sad smile wisps across his lips. “There’s not much more to her that I can tell you.”

“So you really did have a disgustingly wonderful marriage.”

“If you want to call it that.”

“And then you divorced because of the IMF. What else is there for me to know?”

Ethan slips the tip of his thumb between his lips. “She was, um…” His eyes graze the tabletop. “I met Julia not too long after another serious relationship ended.”

The concept of Ethan having multiple partners in his life shouldn’t be a surprising thought, but it catches Benji off guard, anyway. “Someone before Julia?”

“Only Luther really knows all the details. Some of the older agents know a bit.” He glances back up at Benji. “Her name was Nyah.”

Nyah. There’s something about the name that rings a faint bell, something he had heard in passing at the beginning of his career with the IMF. “Who’s Nyah?”

“I met her on a mission,” Ethan explains. “She dated a former agent who was hell-bent on starting a new pandemic. So we, um…” His jaw grows taut. “I’m not proud of how we took advantage of her, but she was the best asset we had to catch him. Or at least we thought so. But she was smart and capable and daring and--” He stops himself. “You get the picture.”

“I’m assuming she’s just as thrilling as you.”

“Yeah.” He gives a pained grin. “I guess you could say that.”

Benji shifts in his chair. The joking air Ethan had about him earlier is completely gone, now. “What happened to her, Ethan?” he asks softly.

“Uh.” He lets out a short laugh. “We recruited her into the IMF after that mission. We were sent on missions together a lot. And then one mission, I left to go get something, maybe food, and I came back to see her…” He pauses, eyes suddenly becoming glossy. “I don’t know how they found our location, but I left her alone and they shot her.”

“Shit,” Benji breathes. “I had no idea, Ethan--”

“I know,” he interrupts.

“After the restaurant, is that why you were so…” He stops himself when he catches a glimpse of Ethan’s face. “Jesus, I didn’t think about that.”

“And why should you? Most people left at the IMF only remember Julia.” He pauses to take a sip of his water. “There’s no easy way of bringing up your dead girlfriend, especially not while you’re kissing someone else.”

Of course Ethan wouldn’t want to talk about something like that. Regret floods Benji as he remembers his irritation when Ethan said he couldn’t tell him what was wrong after they had sex. “Don’t I feel like a total ass?”

“Hey,” he says gently, “you didn’t know.”

“I just wish you would have told me sooner.”

“I know, Benj. But I didn’t know when I should tell you, just because I didn’t want to overwhelm you by making you think that I was or wasn’t interested in a...” Again, he pauses. “I suppose we should talk about our relationship, then.”

“That might be smart.”

“How do you feel?”

“About dating?”

“Yeah. For a while, I wasn’t sure what you wanted, because you were dealing with Mark and I didn’t want to make anything more complicated--”

“Wait, did you want to kiss me way back then?” He stops. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but--”

“How long is ‘way back then’?”

Benji’s heart pounds. “Have you really been interested in me for that long?”

“It’s hard not to be,” he breathes, allowing his eyes to fall down Benji’s body. “At first I thought that it was -- I don’t know, leftover feelings from Julia, and you were so close that I associated them with you.” He sighs through his nose as his eyes flick to Benji’s lips. “God, Benji, you’re really beautiful.”

“Don’t get me flustered quite yet,” he mutters as his whole body warms.

“Sorry,” Ethan says with a small grin. “I’ve wanted to tell you that for years.”

Years , Benji thinks, and his whole chest aches. All these years wasted. “Ethan,” he begins, and then pauses as his heart races. “Maybe I’m wrong, but are you saying that you’re interested in a relationship?”

There’s a strange look that crosses Ethan’s face, one that’s worried but hopeful, like it’s too awful of a concept for him to even consider despite how much he may want it. “I don’t know.”

That makes Benji’s heart sink. “You don’t know?”

“It’s complicated when you’re working for the IMF.”

“I figured that much.”

“I mean, there’s a certain level of responsibility that--” He lets out a short, heavy sigh. “I don’t want to be your burden.”

“Ethan,” Benji exhales. “You could never be a burden.”

“But you’ll get too wrapped up in this, and then you’ll be out in the field wondering what if this, what if that, until it’s just too much. It’s not like I put distance between us out of spite for you, but because sometimes, I don’t trust myself.”

“I trust you.”

“Don’t say that,” Ethan says quickly. He squeezes his eyes shut. “I don’t want you to expect something from me that I don’t know if I can give.”

“Isn’t that why we’re talking, though? Setting up expectations?”

“Yeah.” His irises come into view again, weary with everything he’s said. “You’ve just been through so much in your own life with Owen and Mark. I never meant to lead you on.”

“It’s not really leading me on if you wanted it.” He pauses. “Did you?”

“I wasn’t lying last week.” The features of Ethan’s face turn hard. “I told you I needed you.”

“And was that a one-time thing?”

Ethan swallows and allows his gaze to fall to Benji’s lips again. “Do you want me to be honest?”

“Please.”

“I don’t want it to be.”

Benji’s breath catches in his throat. “Do you mind if I ask another question?”

“Hm?”

“Have you been with other men before, Ethan?”

There’s that expression, the same one that clouded Ethan’s face in Capri, the same one that appeared last week. “Yes.”

“Am I not the first person you’ve come out to?”

“You’re the first person who’s ever asked. I think I told you that.”

“But you’ve been with other men before.”

“Benji,” Ethan starts, leaning forward in his chair, “I was in the Army. Nobody was gay or bisexual. You couldn’t talk about it.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“There was never a time or reason to outwardly label myself as bisexual. Eventually, you run into someone else interested in the same thing you are, you make out, you hook up, and then you move on. Nobody asked questions. Why would they?”

“I have experience with that much, but I suppose you seemed -- well, I assumed that maybe I was the first man you’ve ever been with.”

“No.” Ethan’s voice is strained. “No, um, there was Stevie.”

“Stevie?”

“God, I haven’t said his name in so long.” Ethan rubs his hand along his forehead. “We both worked at the same base for a while. There were hook-ups, and then there was Stevie.”

“You dated him, then?”

“I suppose we did, but we never really… I don’t think we ever called it that for our own sake.” He moistens his lips. “We had to keep it quiet. Then he was discharged and that was that.” He shrugs. “Nothing was ever official, but yes, I’ve been with other men before.”

“I didn’t mean to pry, but you caught me off guard when you suddenly knew how to give a blow job.”

“Fast learner,” Ethan grins, but this time it’s more genuine. “I probably could have done better, but I warned you I was rusty, didn’t I?”

“It was shocking enough that I didn’t think too hard about it. Although I--” Benji stops himself.

“What?”

“I think we need to set some boundaries before I make my offer.”

“Alright.”

“I’m okay with anything,” he begins. “But I think you’re more uncomfortable with the idea of us entering a relationship than I am.”

“It’s not because of anything you did--”

“I understand, Ethan,” Benji interrupts. “I know how hyper-responsible you feel for everything all the time. Protective Ethan Hunt mode, remember?”

That eases him slightly. “There’s just a lot I have to consider when it comes to dating, now.”

“What do you want, then?”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t want to date, but you do want…”

Ethan settles back into his chair. “I guess I would like to be close to someone again.”

“So kissing, touching…” Benji pauses. “Sex?”

“I don’t want you to think I’m using you.”

“Ethan, I’ve spent how many years breaking up and hooking up with the same person. I’m not opposed to spending time with you. Even if it’s just coming over and eating tilapia, which, might I say, you need to make again soon.”

“I let you take home the leftovers,” Ethan says with a small smile.

“Hell, I’ll come over every night if that’s the treatment I’m getting.”

“Good, now I have a reason to make more elaborate meals.”

“Do you like cooking?”

“Love it. I just haven’t had a reason to cook for anyone else in a long time.”

“Then I’m your reason.”

“Is that alright?” Ethan reverts back to the same anxious expression from before. “I mean, are you comfortable coming over?”

“I’d love to.”

“Just for dinner? Or other things, as well?”

“What, do you want to turn on Star Trek and snog a bit?”

“That’s an idea.”

Those stupid words rouse an intense desire in the pit of Benji’s stomach, but he shoves it away to speak again. “Look, Ethan, we don’t have to label whatever this is. We can take it slow, if that’s what you want. Maybe tonight we have dinner, visit for a bit, and I go home. I just want you to be open and honest with me, alright? I care more about staying on good terms than anything else.”

“Same here.”

“Alright, then.”

“Okay.” He pauses. “Is that all?”

“Uh, I think so.”

“Okay,” Ethan repeats as he gets to his feet and grabs his empty glass. “Do you want more water?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

The conversation reaches an abrupt halt as Ethan makes his way to his refrigerator to get more ice. But it’s that comfortable silence, like sitting quietly at Ethan’s table is what Benji is meant to do, and it would be perfectly alright if neither said anything ever again, just because he’s with Ethan.

But Benji gets to his feet anyway, shoving one hand in his pocket as he heads over to the counter and balances his weight on his other arm. “I wasn’t kidding about the Star Trek thing, if you’re interested.”

Ethan sets down his glass down on the counter. “Good,” he murmurs as he approaches Benji, “because I’ve been dying to kiss you again.” He slips his hands around Benji’s waist and leans in when Benji suddenly stops him.

“I probably taste like fish right now.”

“I ate the same thing you did.”

“Then I guess it’s fine, isn’t it?”

“Mm-hm,” Ethan hums before closing the gap between them. He knows what he wants, kissing Benji deeply, sweetly, allowing Benji to cup his hands around his chin, so there’s barely any room to breath when they stop for air. “You want to stay the night?” he murmurs against his lips.

“And what does that entail?” Benji asks, eyes lidded, anxious to kiss him again.

“Sleeping. Is that okay?”

“It’s perfect,” he responds, and he pulls Ethan back into another relieved kiss.

Chapter Text

Ethan 💕
Today 6:48 AM

have you ever been ice
skating?                      

Good morning to you too

I have been.

recently?

Who's been ice skating
recently? It's only just now
cold enough.

I mean within the past few
years                                

Not since high school

so what, half a century ago?

Only 34 years, thanks.

Is there a point to this or are
you trying to make me feel
old?

since we're meeting tonight   
already, I thought I would ask
if you wanted to go to a         
skating rink with me              

I used to go skating all the      
time with my family. thought it
would be fun                           

Like a date?

a fun preamble to hooking up

What time should I pick you up?


Of course it’s a fucking date, Benji thinks all day, but he’s hesitant to label it that. There’s a few rules they’ve established over the number of times they’ve hooked up, like flirting over text is fine, using pet names is okay, and fucking each other senseless is definitely allowed, but Ethan is hesitant to make anything public. And while Benji’s okay with it, because being with Ethan for even a few hours, kissing him, touching him, is all he wants, having to treat Ethan like nothing but a co-worker after they spent all weekend having sex is jarring, at best.

Maybe it would bother him more if being with Ethan wasn’t the absolute best part of his week. It’s not like Benji has ever paraded his relationships around to begin with. And hooking up with a coworker has the additional mess of sorting work affairs in tangent to that relationship. It’s okay meeting up with him in private. But even that doesn’t make it any easier when Ethan stops by Benji’s desk to hand him some files and gives him a knowing wink before parting without another word. It’s like he enjoys tormenting Benji.

The day goes by slowly enough. When five o’clock arrives, Benji rushes to pack up and say his goodbyes before hurrying out to his car. He doesn’t spot Ethan in the parking lot at all, which disappoints him because he can’t talk to him, and relieves him because that temptation is gone. Rather, he gets in his car and heads home, a bit more relaxed than previously because he’s already gotten used to meeting up with Ethan, but still anxious enough to hurry into his apartment once he arrives and get everything prepared for the evening.

It’s not too long afterwards that he hears the familiar polite knock at his front door. A smile crosses his face as he hurries over and opens it up to find Ethan leaning in the doorway.

“So, dinner tonight?” Ethan asks.

“On me.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Oh.” Benji locks his door behind him.

“Where are we going?”

That makes Benji pause. “You know, I’ve been thinking about the ice skating so much that I didn’t bother thinking about where to go for dinner.”

Ethan snorts. “Should we head down and see what’s near the rink, then?”

“Hopefully something that will fit into your ridiculous dietary restraints.”

“What restraints?”

“Ethan,” Benji laughs as they start towards the stairwell. “You’re bloody obnoxious, I hope you know that.”

“What restraints?” he repeats.

“Your inability to eat anything processed or remotely unhealthy.”

“That’s an exaggeration.”

“I’ve never seen you anything that could be classified as unhealthy.”

“But it’s not because I can’t do it.”

“Then we’re going to a fast food place.”

Ethan’s expression flickers.

“Look,” Benji says with a large grin, “you’re actually scared.”

“Scared? I’ve hung off of airplanes before, Benji.”

“Because there’s something chemically wrong with you that makes you okay with risking your life but terrified of grease.”

“Fine. We’re going to a burger joint,” Ethan says.

“You said it, not me.”

“And I’m sticking with it.”

When they reach the parking lot, Benji swears and tugs his scarf tighter around his neck. “It’s colder than I thought it was going to be,” he grumbles.

“Too cold to skate?”

“Nonsense.” Benji sends Ethan an inquisitive glance. “Do you not want to go?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“But it feels like you’re trying to skirt out of both dinner and skating.” Benji opens up the passenger door of Ethan’s car and climbs inside. “Wait, oh my god, don’t tell me you’re worried about skating, too.”

“I’m not worried about anything,” Ethan insists as he starts his car up.

“I think I’ve known you long enough to know when you’re lying about being nervous.”

“What would I have to be nervous about?”

“You haven’t gone skating in three and a half decades.”

“So?”

“You can’t impress me anymore.”

“You think I live to impress you?”

“Don’t make me answer that, love.”

Benji just manages to catch the smirk that wisps across Ethan’s lips.

“You’re a bit of a shit, aren’t you?” Benji asks.

“Me? Never.”

“And you said you were a lot worse twenty years ago?”

“Are you trying to make me feel old again?”

“I’m only asking a question.” Benji’s eyes flick down to Ethan’s right hand, currently resting on the center console. It would be so easy for him to reach down and intertwine their fingers, but the boundaries between them are blurry enough that he’s not sure how Ethan would respond and the desire isn’t urgent enough to ask.

He keeps his hands folded in his lap for the rest of the ride to the skating rink. It’s closer to where Ethan lives, meaning the drive is a bit longer than it might otherwise be, but they make it there before the sun has even fully set.

“C’mon,” Benji says after they park. “Let’s see what’s around to eat.”

The skating rink is located right in the center of a busy commercial area, offering plenty of places for the two of them to eat at. The array of options is so numerous that Benji suddenly regrets teasing Ethan into choosing something quick and cheap.

“You know, Ethan,” Benji starts, “you might be by yourself in regards to eating something greasy.”

“What? You challenged me to it. You can’t pull out now.”

“There is the simple fact that we agreed that I’m bottoming for you tonight. Ultimately your choice.”

“I’m not going to make you do anything. But I’m still going to get something greasy.”

“What, just to prove me wrong?”

“Mm-hm.”

Benji grins. “I hope you realize I’ll have to document this.”

“It’s not that special.”

“I bet if I go back and told everyone you ate a hamburger, like the ones that drip down your arms, no one would believe me.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“No I’m not!” Benji stops, looks around, and then gestures at a nearby restaurant. “Look, let’s go there, and you order the most disgusting thing you can find.”

“And what will you get?”

“I’ll worry about myself. It’s on me, remember?”

“You’re not paying for me.” Ethan takes off towards the restaurant.

“What do you m-- Ethan!” Benji hurries after him. “You always pay. I can pay this one time.”

“I couldn’t let you pay for me.”

“Then I can pay for myself and you can pay for yourself.”

Ethan shakes his head.

“I swear to God, Ethan,” he sighs. “I don’t want to bankrupt you.”

“It’s not like I have anything more important to be spending my money on.”

“Rent, bills, groceries. Just to name a few.”

Again, Ethan shakes his head as he opens the door. “Get inside.”

He obeys without protest, although his mind reels with a dozen things he could say. There’s always that need to chastise Ethan, for being so lovely to be around all the time, even though he’s so flawless all the time that it can make Benji feel inadequate after too long. But if Ethan also thinks Benji’s inadequate, he’s never shown it. Jesus, he’s aggravating.

Ordering doesn’t take very long. As they go to a table, Ethan says, “It’s funny how these fast food places want to try to look a little bit healthy and offer something that isn’t much better.”

“You can tease me and my salad all you want, but--”

“I’m not teasing you, I’m just making a comment.”

“I’ve teased you enough tonight that I probably deserve it.”

“Why would I want to tease you?”

“That’s what I mean!” Benji exclaims, sitting upright in his chair. “You’re always teasing me.”

“Am I?”

“You know you do.”

Ethan curls his fist under his chin and grins. “Because you’re cute.”

The skin of Benji’s cheeks warms immediately. “Are we flirting with each other publicly, now?”

“Nobody’s watching.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Benj, you don’t make it subtle all the time.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Instead of an answer, Benji receives a wink from Ethan before he gets to his feet and heads to the counter. It’s only a number of seconds before Ethan returns with a tray, setting Benji’s order in front of him before settling down in his seat.

“Alright,” Ethan sighs. “Here it is.”

“Hold on.” Benji digs his phone from his pocket.

“What are you doing?”

“I told you I had to document it.”

“I’ll wait, then.” He flashes a goofy smile when Benji begins filming. “Can everyone see?”

“The camera’s on you.”

“Alright.” He pushes his sleeves up, picks up the cheeseburger he ordered, and takes a large bite from it. “Mm,” he hums as he places it back on the tray again. For a few seconds he chews, then swallows and holds his hands up. “See? I can eat unhealthy food.”

“Now finish it.”

His face flickers.

“No balls,” Benji laughs.

“You got your footage, let me eat in peace now.”

“Mm-hm.” Benji sets his phone down on the table. “Sure, you can’t let a camera keep you accountable.”

“You’ll be my witness.”

“Go on, then.”

“All of it?”

“Yes, all of it! You are scared, aren’t you?”

“It’s just that this is a drastic change from what I’m used to--”

“I win, then.” 

“Who said that?”

“I did.” Benji stabs his fork through a few leaves of lettuce and shoves it into his mouth. “Ah,” he says after swallowing, “there’s nothing quite like the taste of shitty fast food salads.”

“Maybe if we went somewhere else--”

“Nope.”

Their conversation reaches a lull as Ethan takes a few more bites. He looks wonderfully out of place.

“Can’t you pretend this is all protein or something?” Benji asks. “Just so you’ll look a little less miserable.”

Ethan snorts. “I think you should come over to my place more often for dinner.”

“Why so?”

“So you can eat something good for once.”

“Hey,” Benji says, “how dare you imply that I can’t make the finest of meals with my trusty microwave?”

“Maybe I like the company, too.”

“So you’ve said.” Benji swallows down another bite. “I’ve never felt too lonely living on my own until recently.”

“Because Mark isn’t pestering you anymore?”

“No, because you--” He stops, hoping to anyone that his face hasn’t flushed scarlet.

“It’s okay to say you miss me in the mornings sometimes,” Ethan teases, but there’s an edge in his voice that makes Benji uncertain of how much is a joke and how much isn’t.

He twirls his fork and runs his tongue along the front of his teeth. It isn’t the right time to address Ethan’s perpetual crypticness, as much as it can get under his skin. “Have you always been such a health nut?” Benji finally asks after an extended pause.

Ethan shakes his head.

“So you weren’t raised by hippies in a commune somewhere?”

He chuckles. “No, this is a consequence of the IMF.”

“The IMF didn’t make you do anything. I don’t eat like you.”

“Hang out with me enough and you will be.”

“You eat like this out of your own volition. There has to be something ingrained in your brain to keep you so loyal to your ridiculous diet.”

“My parents weren’t hippies, but my dad was very by-the-book.”

“By-the-book on what?”

“Just everything. You followed his rules.” His expression wavers. “Guess that’s where I get my discipline.”

“No offense, Ethan, but you hardly follow rules.”

That draws a smile out of him. “Only when the IMF doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

“So always, then?”

“My job is to get missions done. Have I failed yet?”

“Well, you have died twice.”

“But I’m still here.”

“Another result of your father’s discipline?”

“I think that’s pure, dumb luck.”

Benji shifts in his seat. “Do you mind if I ask about your father?”

Ethan glances up at him for a moment before answering. “I don’t see why not.”

“You act strangely when I bring him up.”

“Do I?”

“You get this distant look in your eye.”

“There’s just a lot there.”

“If it bothers you, I don’t want to keep bringing it up.”

“It’s not that it…” He lets out a sigh and gives Benji a shy grin. “My dad was very traditional.”

“I’ve picked up that much.”

“He was really a believer in letting my mother do everything with me. I mean, he would take me to run errands sometimes, but it was all very hands-off. His job was to be the enforcer. That’s why I said I got my discipline from him.”

“Was he religious?” Benji asks, afraid that perhaps he’s crossing a line.

But Ethan answers, anyway. “Not really. He was older when I was born, and he had spent years of his life in the military already. It’s not that he didn’t want kids, but I think he was at a point where having a six-year-old around the house was well beyond him.”

“And you went on to become an Army Ranger to impress him, right?”

“See, I don’t even need to explain this to you.”

“But I still can’t help but feel like there’s something more to all of this.”

“Well,” Ethan sighs, “I told him I was joining the Army, and he got mad at me.”

“Mad?”

“For a variety of reasons.” He furrows his brow. “I wasn’t Army material. Too short, too shrimpy, too…” His eyes flick up towards Benji’s. “I think my dad had suspicions then that I wasn’t straight.”

“What?”

“I never had a girlfriend in high school. And not because I had a boyfriend, either. I just wasn’t interested and he assumed the worst.”

“Did you know that you weren’t straight?”

He lets out a short laugh. “Honestly? I didn’t. I liked girls, but he didn’t believe me.”

“Your dad clocked you before you even realized?” Benji asks, a grin growing on his lips.

“Yeah, I guess he did.” Ethan matches his smile. “He had no reason to be paranoid but he was right. The worst part of it all is that I went to the Army determined to make something of myself just to prove him wrong, and then with two years I…” His expression suddenly turns sheepish.

“Oh, how I would have loved to see the moment you realized you weren’t straight. I’m sure it’s much more fun than my story.”

“If you could call kissing someone behind the bathroom on base fun, then sure.”

“Hey, I figured it out in year ten maths. There’s nothing fun about being a hormonal teen suddenly turned on by an acquaintance asking for help on an assignment.”

“Mm,” Ethan hums as he shoves a French fry in his mouth. “It’s not that much more fun. Not when you run the risk of being caught and kicked out.”

Benji furrows his brow as he takes another bite of his salad. “Did your dad ever find out about that?”

“Hm?”

“The fact you were hooking up with men.”

“That’s not anything I wanted to tell him.”

“Obviously.”

“But then I was in my twenties and I still never had a girlfriend. He never stopped being suspicious.”

“So did he ask again?”

“Yeah.” Ethan sighs and looks down towards the table.

The atmosphere had changed to something uneasy again. “What did you tell him?” Benji asks slowly.

“The truth. Sort of.” Their eyes meet again. “He asked if I had ever had sex with men. I asked him why it would matter if I did. That conversation went as well as you might expect.”

“Oh, Ethan,” Benji sighs.

“It was alright,” he continues. “I left before anything got out of control. Went back to the base. Then a few days later I got news that he had a stroke.”

The sentence is unexpected enough that it makes Benji’s blood turn cold. “He didn’t die, did he?”

Ethan nods. “I don’t know if he ever told my mom or anyone else. I don’t think he did. But he was comatose after his stroke. I never got a chance to talk to him again.”

“Shit. I’m sorry, E--”

“Don’t apologize. Really, it was so long ago. And this is terrible conversation to precede ice skating.”

“If you want to talk about it--”

“I think I want to go ice skating with you.”

Benji glances down at Ethan’s food. “I would be flattered, but you haven’t finished eating.”

“Can’t we just go ice skating?”

“If we do, you have to admit you’re scared of fast food.”

“I’m eating,” Ethan says as he picks up a handful of French fries. “See? Mm. Grease.”

“Irritating,” Benji tells him, but a large smile blossoms across his face anyway.


By the time they make it to the skating rink, there’s already a number of couples and families circling laps around it. Ethan heads off to rent a pair of skates while Benji takes a seat on a bench and watches some of the skaters, eventually settling on a sister holding the hand of her younger brother as the trail behind their parents.

“That’s what my sister and I used to do,” Benji says with a nod of his head after Ethan returns. “Paul was always too good for us, being the oldest and all that, but Kendra always hung back for me.” 

“That’s nice.” Ethan pauses. “The most tender memory I have from a skating is one of my cousins giving another a bloody nose during a hockey match.”

“Cute.”

“Sad to say that I can never be as cute as you.” 

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re an awful flirt?”

“Just being honest.” Ethan sets both feet on the ground and looks over towards the skating rink. “Now, how do I…” He trails off, although his eyes communicate everything else on his mind.

“Oh my god,” Benji giggles, “you are so nervous about this.”

Any urge to lightly argue with Benji seems to have petered out. “I’m just trying to remember how to walk in these skates.”

“Keep your knees bent, weight towards the front. If it makes you feel any better, it’s been a while since I’ve gone skating, too.”

“Long enough to fall all over yourself?”

“You fall no matter what skill level you’re at.”

“So who am I supposed to hold onto, then?”

“We’ll just fall together.” Benji sends him a reassuring smile. “I think it’ll be fun.”

There’s a brief pause as the two lock their gazes, only interrupted when Ethan says, “Remember that thing you said about me impressing you?”

“Yeah?”

“Hope that holds true after you’ve seen me make an ass of myself.”

“Darling, you do that all the time.”

“Ouch.”

“C’mon.” Benji gets to his feet and wobbles for a second. “It’s easier than you’d think.”

Ethan furrows his brow, but pushes himself off the bench. It takes him a little bit longer to find his balance, one arm shooting out to find Benji’s, but he prevents himself from falling before he even clamps down.

“Not too far of a walk,” Benji says in a light tone.

Slowly, the pair make their way to the nearby opening. As the wait for a place to enter, Ethan leans his weight against the wall and watches skaters pass by silently.

“Here we go.” Benji gestures at a gap in the train of people circling the ring. “Are you ready?”

Ethan inhales and tilts his head. “Not sure.”

“You’re not going to embarrass me.” He grabs Ethan’s hand and gives it a squeeze. “Let’s go.”

It’s as they enter the rink together that Benji realizes how strange this all is. He’s so used to Ethan being the brave one, the one that drags him into mess after mess, and yet he’s leading him into something as meaningless as ice skating. Then again, this relationship seems to only exist because of his prerogative to kiss him while drunk and take over when Ethan’s too afraid to touch him. All these insane things Ethan has done, and yet he grips onto Benji’s hand like he’s terrified, like falling would be the worst thing in the world for him and Benji is the only one who can save him from it. And for this moment, ice skating with Ethan seems like the most important thing in the world.

“Shit,” Ethan breathes, but Benji manages to catch him before he crumples completely.

“Support yourself against the wall.”

“And what about you?”

“I can take care of myself.”

“I mean…” It’s his turn to squeeze Benji’s hand. And as much as he loves the sensation of Ethan holding onto him, needing him, it makes him suddenly hyper-aware of the fact that they’re surrounded by dozens of people and Ethan wants to hold his hand. He’s never done that in public before, choosing instead to opt for a familiar friendly co-worker bit. There’s a part of him that wants to bring it up to Ethan, just to see if it’s intentional and not just a consequence of his sudden insecurity, but he wants to treasure all this regardless. Damn anyone who sees.

They circle the rink a few times before Ethan stumbles less and finds a rhythm that works for him. And even though his dependency on Benji wanes, his hand stays in place, like he’s forgotten that it’s even there.

“This isn’t so bad,” Benji murmurs. “I knew you’d get the hang of it eventually.”

“This is nice.”

It’s not much of a response, but Benji understands. He doesn’t need any more than that.

Ethan’s hand shifts in his. The movement makes Benj hold his breath, ready for him to pull away at last, but it doesn’t happen. Rather, he slides his hand so his fingers can slot between Benji’s, perfectly intertwined in the same way that Ethan sometimes holds his hand after sex, and it feels right. Nobody stops them, nobody says anything. It’s just the two of them, holding hands on purpose, skating, looking at the city lights without saying a word to each other.

There’s plenty racing through Benji’s mind, like the fact that he hasn’t been on a date he really, really enjoyed in over a decade because he got too used to everything about Mark and didn’t bother to make a change. And there’s the fear that this is temporary, that this time next year he and Ethan would return to being nothing more than just workplace acquaintances with a long-forgotten crush and vague memories of bedsheets and skating rinks. But he pulls himself out of his thoughts before he can get too lost in the past or the future, flexes his fingers around Ethan’s hand, and enjoys the now, how picturesque everything is, and how grateful he is to have ever gotten here, regardless.

“You cold?” Ethan murmurs at some point.

“I’m fine.” He nestles closer to him as they lap the rink again.


“Jesus Christ,” Benji groans as he looks out the window of Ethan’s car. “Is it really snowing?”

“Perfect ending to ice skating, don’t you think?”

“Ruined by the realization that my building’s parking lot is an absolute nightmare when it’s icy.”

“Good thing I’m driving, then.”

“You’ll be stuck here into tomorrow afternoon if it keeps snowing like this.”

“Oh, I won’t stand for that.”

Benji glances over at Ethan to catch that irritatingly contagious grin, lit up faintly by passing street lights. “I know you’re joking, but do you think you can handle being cooped up with nothing to do tomorrow? Because I’m not getting out of bed if it’s cold and snowy.”

“If you’re there, I suppose.”

“I know this is an unfortunate situation for you to be caught in.”

“I’ll survive.”

Benji’s thinking of something more to tease him with when Ethan suddenly slips one hand around his thigh. It’s nothing aggressive, just Ethan casually stroking his thigh within safe boundaries, but his hand being there in the first place sends goosebumps down Benji’s skin.

“You can do better than that,” he says, and then he grabs Ethan’s hand and raises it higher, until his fingers are pressed against the seam near the V of his legs. Benji parts his legs slightly to give Ethan more room to dip his hand down further, but he stays where he’s at, tracing his fingers along the seam, the heel of his hand so close to the head of Benji’s cock, but he never quite brushes against it. 

“You look cute tonight,” Ethan murmurs.

“Just cute?”

“Sexy.” He squeezes down on Benji’s thigh without warning.

“Is it possible to be cute and sexy at the same time?”

“You are.”

“I don’t know how I feel about being cute when I’m 44.”

“Alright, you’re absolutely, mind-blowingly sexy.”

“Mm, don’t know if I believe that.”

“What do I have to do to convince you? Tell you how much I’m looking forward to fucking you tonight?”

Heat rushes to Benji’s face as he answers, “That’s a start.”

“I’ve been thinking about it all day,” Ethan continues, moving his fingers again, slowly, slowly. “It makes seeing you at work hard sometimes.”

“Yeah?”

“I walk past you at work and think about how you’re going to be under me tonight, sweating and moaning. And nobody else knows but you and me.”

Benji can feel his cock beginning to twitch. “I think the same thing about you.”

“Are we each other’s workplace distraction?”

“I guess so,” Benji says with a small smile. “But thinking about you fucking me until I can’t walk straight is preferable to doing paperwork.”

Ethan lets out a heavy sigh as he clamps his hand around Benji’s thigh again. “You think about that often?”

“All the time.”

“Does it ever make you hard?”

“Why don’t you feel for yourself?”

Ethan pauses for a moment, swallows, and says, “We’re almost to your place.”

“Why wait until then?”

“I need to control myself for a little bit longer.”

“You shouldn’t have told me that.” Benji leans across the console and presses a coquettish kiss against his earlobe. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking we get to your place, go to your bedroom, and make out.”

“Then what?” He kisses the skin under his ear.

“I fuck you until you can’t walk straight.”

“That’s a condensed version.”

“Hold on, we have one turn left.”

Ethan makes a right turn into the parking lot, but it doesn’t stop Benji from reaching an arm around to hold Ethan’s jaw as he kisses his cheek. “You need to shave,” he mumbles as Ethan puts the car in park.

“You don’t like the stubble?”

“I do like it, I’m just used to you clean-shaven.”

Ethan turns his head, so he can catch Benji’s mouth with his, meeting him with a wet kiss that draws a surprised moan from Benji. He doesn’t hesitate to slip his tongue in between Ethan’s lips, hands moving downwards to grip Ethan’s forearms, console pressing uncomfortably against his stomach, but he hardly cares. The smack of their lips punctuate the gentle purring of the idling engine, sporadic in rhythm, frenzied, relieved.

Their kissing is broken when Ethan pulls away and breathes, “Why don’t we go inside before we get too carried away?”

There’s a part of Benji that wants to stay, tear Ethan’s clothes off right then and there, but he sits upright again and gives a breathless, “Yeah,” before unbuckling his seatbelt and opening his door. Immediately, he’s greeted with a particularly cold gust of wind, making him nestle his face deeper into his scarf and swear under his breath. He’s barely aware of Ethan hurrying over and putting an arm around his back, pushing him forward gently, guiding him towards the stairs. It’s still freezing when they make it, but the shelter provided by the roof and walls of Benji’s apartment complex takes the bite out of the wind.

“Jesus,” Ethan laughs, “where did all that come from?”

Benji’s about to respond, but his throat constricts when he gets a glimpse of Ethan shaking snow out of his hair. If they weren’t in clear view of any person who may be walking by, he would grab Ethan now and kiss him harder than he’s ever kissed him before, but all he can do is gawk at how absolutely beautiful he is.

“What’s that look for?”

He refocuses on Ethan’s eyes. They’re bright, suggestive.

“I don’t think I need to tell you that,” Benji says. “C’mon, it’s freezing.”

The two of them make their way up, pace quickening as they near the top. When they reach the front door, Ethan buries his face against Benji’s left ear, skimming his lips against the tip of it.

“Ethan, please, I have to focus on my bloody keys.”

“How hard is it to unlock a door?”

“When my fingers are this cold? And with you right there?”

“Mm.” Benji can feel Ethan’s lips pull into a smile as he kisses him.

Ethan .” He jiggles with his door knob until it clicks open at last. A sigh of relief escapes him as he grabs onto Ethan’s wrist and tugs him inside. Everything happens quickly, slamming the door shut, shoving Ethan up against it, kissing him with all the lust he wanted to kiss him with in the parking lot, lips on his lips, on his cheekbones, on his chin, on his nose, everywhere he can kiss, until he has to stop to catch his breath.

They stand for a few moments, staring at each other with wide eyes, chests heaving, until Ethan finally asks, “Are you ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright.” He tugs Benji’s face back to his, mouth open, tongue eager to meet his. And Benji happily obliges, allowing himself to fall into Ethan’s embrace, using his mouth as an anchor to keep himself upright. He only moves when Ethan’s fingers slide in between them to quickly unbutton his coat and let it slide off onto the floor. Benji’s about to do the same when Ethan shoves Benji’s hands away and stops kissing him, choosing instead to focus on the buttons of Benji’s coat. For a few seconds, the air is tense, Benji entirely eager to kiss Ethan again, but Ethan pushes the coat off of Benji’s arms and then grabs his scarf. “You look cute in this,” he murmurs as he plays with the ends. “If you wore this to the office on Monday, I might go crazy.”

“Good thing you told me, or I might have worn it.”

“Mm.” Ethan smiles and lets his eyes jump to Benji’s lips. “We can’t let that happen.”

“Mm-mm.”

The smile grows. He hums a second time, this time unwinding the scarf from Benji’s neck, until he’s able to tug it off and drop it on the floor next to their coats. “I love the scarf, but your neck…” He takes Benji into his arms again and immediately places his lips at the top of his throat. Benji’s eyes flutter shut, breaths leaving him in ragged spurts while Ethan sucks at his skin.

“Stop it,” he breathes, “you’ll give me a hickey.”

“If only you had a scarf to hide it.”

Blood rushes to Benji’s groin. Hiding Ethan’s marks at work is quite possibly the sexiest thing he could ever imagine, but there’s no way he could tell Ethan that. Not when he knows that he might actually do it in the heat of the moment.

“Bed, please ,” Benji moans.

Ethan lets out an airy laugh that tickles his neck before backing away. “Lead the way.”

He doesn’t waste any time in grabbing Ethan’s hands, pecking him on the lips, and tugging him back towards his room. It’s a short walk, but one that takes considerably longer when they stop for a series of deep kisses in the hallway. As soon as they cross the doorway, Ethan is tugging up on Benji’s sweater. “Wait a moment,” Benji giggles. The next moment, he pulls away from Ethan so he can finish sliding it over his head. No sooner had it dropped to the floor than Ethan is on him again, lips on the same spot he was sucking at earlier, right hand massaging his right breast. The combined sensation makes Benji gasp. “Bloody hell , Ethan.”

“You’re so sexy,” he mutters. He takes his head away from Benji’s neck and drops it so he can enclose his mouth around his left nipple.

“Ethan!” he chokes out, grasping his hair so tightly his knuckles turn white.

“You like that?”

Like is too weak of a word, not when talking about the sharp pinch of Ethan’s fingers around one nipple and the soft, wet warmth of his tongue against the other. “Bastard.”

“Want me to do this the whole time?” Ethan murmurs. “Play with your tits all night long?”

It’s more than a tempting idea, Jesus Christ, made even more desirable by the fact that it took Ethan absolutely no time to discover Benji’s ridiculously sensitive nipples. Despite the short time they’ve been sleeping together, Ethan has been able to play him like a damn fiddle every single fucking time ever since he figured it out.

“One day you’ll actually have to keep that promise, you know,” Benji breathes.

“I’d love to suck your tits, baby.”

Benji grunts and arches into Ethan’s mouth. “Want you to fuck me,” is all he gets out before a long groan overtakes him.

“I will, baby.” Ethan suddenly switches nipples, sucking even more intensely, pinching even harder. A stream of curses spill from Benji’s mouth, and he presses himself even more closely to Ethan, who uses his free hand to grab between his legs. “You’re so fucking hard.”

“What else am I supposed to be with you-- oh, shit. ” Benji is faint with pleasure. At this rate, he’s going to cum before Ethan can get him fully undressed. “Suck my tits another time,” he gasps. “Fuck me tonight.”

“If you insist.”

Ethan breaks away from him now, leaving Benji upset but also grateful. He watches with hungry eyes as Ethan unbuttons his shirt and lets it drift to the floor. As soon as he unbuttons his pants, Benji grabs him and moves swiftly, so that Ethan falls on the bed. No protest comes from him; rather, he props his hips up so Benji can finish pulling off his pants, following with his other various garments until he’s completely naked.

Now he gets to look Ethan over. A whine builds in the back of his throat just from looking at Ethan. He’s seen him naked a dozen times now, but the view hasn’t gotten any less spectacular. Benji drags his fingers up his shins, inches his legs open, and then settles between them. Ethan’s cock is half-erect already.

“Let me help you, love,” Benji says, and then he leans forward, taking his shaft in one hand and placing his mouth on his balls.

That draws an instantaneous reaction from Ethan. He balances his weight on his forearms and draws in a strained breath, like he’s trying to keep himself completely collected as Benji fondles his cock. The restraint only motivates Benji to move his head and lick up his length instead. He keeps his eyes upwards, waiting for Ethan to meet his gaze as he plays with his balls and takes the tip of his cock between his lips.

“Fuck.” Ethan tilts his chin towards his chest and lets out another tense sigh.

Benji continues to toy with his tip, rolling his tongue against his slit, slowly pumping his other hand along his shaft. He’s slow, careful, touching him in just the right way, making sure not to push him over the edge too soon. It’s only when Ethan finally opens his eyes that Benji smiles, kisses his cock again, and then takes him into his mouth.

Ethan’s cock twitches, hard, and Benji has to hold back a laugh as he works to find a tempo. Already, Ethan is a moaning mess, hands fisted around Benji’s bed sheets as Benji teases him. He decides to take his time with Ethan, slow drag after slow drag, until he cups his hand around the base of his cock and takes him in at an unexpected speed. Instinctually, Ethan bucks his hips, and Benji gags when his cock suddenly hits the back of his throat.

“Shit,” he hears Ethan pant as he takes his mouth away. “Are you okay, Benj?”

“Yeah.” He coughs, clears his throat. “You’re a bit more excited than I thought.”

“Your mouth, it’s so fucking--” Ethan interrupts himself with another loud exhale and collapses onto the mattress.

“Tell me.” Benji picks up his cock and peppers it with kisses.

“You don’t -- you don’t have to do it again, not if I--”

“Your cock in my throat is unbelievably hot,” he interrupts. “I can handle myself.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“Then fuck my mouth if you have to.” He takes an inch of Ethan in his mouth again and sucks hard enough that Ethan’s whole body seizes. A few moments pass, just so Ethan can get used to the sensation, and then Benji sinks down lower and lets out a small moan.

Jesus , Benji!”

He grins to himself. If Ethan keeps it up, the neighbors will definitely come knocking, but Benji couldn’t care fucking less at the moment. He sucks and fondles until Ethan’s rutting his hips upwards so frequently that Benji doesn’t have to bother bobbing his own head anymore. And he would have been glad to stay like this, to let Ethan cum right there in his mouth, but the hand wrapped in his hair tugs lightly on it until Ethan’s cock is completely free of his mouth.

“Benj.” Ethan is completely winded. “You’re gonna make me cum before I even fuck you.”

“Payback for the nipples.”

“Come here.”

Benji is happy to climb onto Ethan and meet him with another one of those sloppy kisses, gross and dirty and absolutely breathtaking. When they stop to breathe, Ethan combs Benji’s hair back with his fingers and asks, “Lube?”

“Nightstand.”

“Do we have a rag today?”

“Also in the nightstand.”

Ethan pecks him on the lips before sliding from underneath him and reaching out for the nightstand. Benji, on the other hand, shimmies out of the rest of his clothing, grabs his pillow, and shoves it under his pelvis, knees parted and bent.

“You’re eager,” Ethan remarks as he pops the bottle open and sets it beside them.

“I’ve been dreaming about you fucking me all week.”

“Yeah?” He brushes his fingertips over Benji’s hole. “Do you want to tell me about that?”

“You’re doing it right now.”

“Tell me anyway.” He traces rings around Benji’s entrance, sending chills down Benji’s spine.

“You tease me with your fingers until I’m begging you to fuck me.” He catches Ethan reach for the bottle. “But you take your own bloody time, long after I first ask you.”

“Aw, baby, am I really that much of a tease?”

Before Benji can even answer, Ethan plunges a finger inside of him. The unexpected movement results in a surprised cry, and he turns his head so the mattress catches some of the volume.

“Does that hurt?” Ethan’s voice is much more serious now.

“No, fuck, keep going.”

Ethan obeys. He circles Benji’s hole, slowly rocking his finger in and out as he does, drawing grunts from him when he makes sudden, deep thrusts. “What else did you think about?”

“I -- fuck, Ethan.” He rocks his hips backwards towards him. “I thought about how fucking incredible your cock feels inside of me.”

“Did you touch yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Did you play with your ass?”

Yes ,” he pants, rutting up against Ethan again, desperate for more.

“I can tell.”

A moment later, a second finger enters Benji. Again, he grunts, and he pushes back against Ethan, trying his hardest to fuck himself on his fingers. “More, Ethan, shit.” A groan gargles in his throat as Ethan widens them, not enough to hurt, but enough to feel that pleasurable pressure of being stretched open.

“You’re so hot.” Ethan presses a kiss on Benji’s shoulder blade. “I’m hardly fucking you. You’re doing most of it yourself.”

“I want you to fuck me.” He swerves his hips around and moans. “Please, Ethan, I need you.”

“How’d I fuck you in your fantasies?”

“God, Ethan, you--” A strangled gasp interrupts him when Ethan suddenly sticks a third finger in.

“Go on, tell me.”

Oh, this son of a bitch. “You fucked me so hard I couldn’t sit down at work the next day.”

“How did you explain that to everyone? Did you tell them what I did to you? That I fucked you hard?”

Yes ,” he groans, tightening around Ethan’s fingers, “everyone knew.”

“Shit, Benj.” Ethan’s voice is growl now. He roughly shoves his three fingers in all the way and pulls them back out again. “On your back.”

He gladly listens, tossing the pillow aside and parting his legs while Ethan squeezes lube into his hand and coats his cock with it. It feels like an eternity watching Ethan stroke himself, and even longer when he gets on top of Benji, guides the head of his cock to his hole, and kisses him deeply. With his clean hand, he caresses Benji’s cheek, with a tone remarkably different from whatever had happened a moment earlier.

“Ethan,” Benji murmurs against his lips, “as much as I love you kissing me, I need you to fuck me.”

“You said I made you beg in your fantasies, right?”

“You bastard, fuck me already!”

A smirk crosses Ethan’s face, and then he thrusts forwards.

Shit. ” Benji’s teeth sink into his lower lip as Ethan fills him, so wide but deliriously good.

“Fuck, baby,” Ethan murmurs as he thrusts again. “You’re so tight.”

The ecstasy jolting through Benji’s body renders him unable to say anything. All he can do is agree through grunts and moans and sighs, but that’s enough to encourage Ethan to find a faster tempo, fucking him hard and deep all the while.

“You feel so good around my cock,” he sighs as he rocks into him with even more force. “Is this what you want, baby?”

“Harder,” Benji chokes out, and Ethan listens immediately. He curls a hand around the headboard of Benji’s bed and manages to thrust into him with even more force and speed. Benji clenches his teeth together and wraps his legs around Ethan, allowing any and every sound to come from him as Ethan fucks him in the way he fantasizes about.

And even though this is the dozenth time they’ve done this, it all still feels so surreal when Ethan moans his name and fucks him roughly. He’s obsessed with how this feels, Ethan’s balls slapping against him, being full of him, groaning and whining his name. Benji rakes his fingernails down Ethan’s back, pants a few cum, cum, cum ’s weakly, and turns all his attention to the pressure growing in his groin.

“Touch yourself, baby,” Ethan says suddenly, and Benji is quick to slip his hand between them and stroke himself in time with Ethan’s thrusts. He picks himself up a bit, sweeps his eyes over Benji’s torso, and lets out a moan. “You’re so fucking hot, touching yourself like that.”

“All for you,” is all Benji can get out, but that’s enough to make Ethan squeeze his eyes shut and exhale sharply.

 “Benj, I’m about to…”

Before Benji can encourage him further, he climaxes, cock pulsating deep inside of him, over and over, filling him even more. Benji wraps his arms around his shoulders and holds him tight as Ethan rides out his orgasm, drawing in shuddering breaths as he finally collapses on him, sweaty, exhausted, but so, so beautiful.

Benji shifts to kiss Ethan’s forehead, but Ethan mumbles, “We’re not done yet,” and grabs his cock. His fingers are still slick from the lube, allowing him to easily slip down and up Benji’s length while his lips find their way to his nipple again.

“Oh, Christ,” Benji whispers when Ethan bites at him lightly, and he thrusts his hips upwards into his hand.

“That’s it, baby.” He increases his tempo. “You’re so close.”

With a few more strokes, Benji cums with his eyes shut and mouth open. He jerks into Ethan’s hand, cum flying up his stomach, until, finally, he finds his breath again and returns to his body.

For a brief moment, he’s dazed, unsure of all that happened, where he’s at, until Ethan cuddles up next to him and asks, “How was that?”

Benji glances over at him. His eyes are as soft as ever, tired and warm despite the fact he had just been fucking Benji like a wild animal a minute ago.

“Fantastic,” is Benji’s response, even though he’s becoming more and more aware of how stretched he is, how cum is trickling out of him and all over his bed.

Ethan sits up, grabs the bottle of lube, and trades it for the rag. “Here.” He wipes Benji off before doing the same to the cum on the blankets. “Do we need to change the sheets now?”

“If I was worried about these sheets, I wouldn’t have used them tonight.”

“So I get to cuddle you now?”

“Mm-hm.”

Ethan smiles, lies down again, and allows Benji to snuggle up on his chest before draping a blanket over them and wrapping his arms around him. “I had a nice time tonight,” he says quietly.

“I did too.”

“I mean all of it, not just the sex.”

“I know.” He pauses, snuggles closer to Ethan. “What did I call the ice skating this morning? A fun preamble to hooking up?”

“I think so.”

“Is there any objection to calling it a date?”

“I called it a date, didn’t I?”

“So this is also a date.”

“I guess one could argue that.”

Benji smiles, sighs, and hugs Ethan tighter to him. “I hope it snows a lot tonight.”

“I do, too.”

“I would offer to make breakfast tomorrow morning, but you always beat me to waking up.”

“Another one of those IMF healthy lifestyle things,” he says, but Benji doesn’t argue this time because of the sudden realization that tomorrow, Ethan would be there in the morning, and possibly the rest of the day, depending on the weather. It would just be the two of them, nobody else, with no duties or responsibilities. 

“Ethan?” His voice is heavy with exhaustion.

“Hm?”

“Thanks for coming over.”

“Thanks for inviting me out.”

“F’course.”

And that’s the end of the conversation, but Benji feels no need to continue on. It feels good lying here with Ethan, like nothing in the world could hurt them right now. It’s safe and warm in a way that’s unlike anything Benji’s ever really experienced before, not with his family or any of his exes, a sensation he wouldn’t trade for anything.

Soon, he’s lulled to the edge of sleep by the sound of Ethan’s quiet snoring, by the way his chest rises and falls with each breath. Part of him wants to fight to stay awake, just so he can enjoy all of this for even longer. It’s only right before he falls asleep that it occurs to him that he might be entirely in love with Ethan Hunt.

Chapter Text

Benji sets his glasses down on the stack of papers in front of him and rubs at his eyes. He has no idea how long they’ve been on the plane, and he’s too nervous about the answer to check his watch. It’s not the longest flight he’s ever been sent on for the IMF, but enough time had passed since the last time the IMF had sent him off on anything that it feels like forever. The fact that Ethan is right next to him, shoulder brushing against his gently, only worsens matters.

“Are you finally exhausted of that?” Ethan murmurs as he turns the page of whatever book he’s been reading.

“I’ve been exhausted of it for a while.”

“Then why don’t you stop doing it?”

“Because it’s my job.”

“You’re technically doing work, regardless.”

“I don’t know if sitting on an airplane counts as part of the fieldwork.” Benji keeps his voice low, even though the likelihood of anyone listening into their conversation is slim, as most of the passengers on the plane had fallen asleep awhile ago.

“Relax,” Ethan says. He sits aside his book and uses one hand to lift Benji’s glasses and shuts the file with the other. “You’re going to be even more exhausted if you don’t try to sleep for a bit.”

“I would, but I’m not that tired.”

“Would a blanket help?”

“Quit being a mother hen,” Benji says with a click of his tongue. “You’re still awake, too.”

A grin flickers on Ethan’s face before he maneuvers himself so he can glance up the aisle. “Will’s asleep,” he says. “I can only assume Luther is, too.”

“I don’t expect that Luther would pass up on sleeping. He’s always been a bit more reasonable than you.”

Ethan ignores the comment, choosing instead to bend forward and grab the small carry-on by his feet. “I think this is big enough for the both of us,” he breathes, and then trades his book and Benji’s glasses for a blanket that he usually keeps folded up at the foot of his bed. Benji’s become so accustomed to how warm and soft it is after curling up in it night after night that he almost salivates at the sight of it.

“Why’d you bring that?” Benji asks.

“I thought it might be nice to have.” He holds it out to Benji. “I only have the one, though, so we’ll have to share.”

There’s a glimmer in Ethan’s eyes that tells Benji this is more intentional than coincidental. “Careful,” he says in a low voice as he takes it from Ethan’s hands, “people might think we’re up to something.”

“Friends share blankets.”

“Sure, but there’s always that room to interpret it as something else.” He moves his work out of the way, lifts the armrest between them, and fans the blanket out, so that it settles gently on his and Ethan’s laps.

“Nobody’s awake.”

“We are.”

“And we’re sitting at the back of our section.”

“Y’know, Ethan, sometimes I feel like you want to be caught.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But Ethan leans in, close enough that he can brush his forehead against the side of Benji’s head. Then there’s the smell of his cologne, sweet and musky and intoxicating, coaxing Benji to tilt his head inwards.

“I think you do.” It would take minimal effort to press a kiss against his cheekbone, but Benji holds back.

“Need a pillow? I think we have some under our feet.”

“Don’t change the subject.”

Ethan leans forward again, this time finding a small pillow encased within a plastic bag. He does his best to open it quietly and hands it over to Benji. “Sleep.”

“I’ll only take it if you address your constant flirting.”

“What do you want me to say? Guilty as charged?”

“A bit more than that.” He accepts the pillow. “I don’t want to cross any lines, Ethan, but you make it difficult for me sometimes.”

“Well,” he says, but he doesn’t follow it up with anything more.

Benji shifts, gestures to Ethan’s shoulder, and says, “Mind if I…?” After Ethan nods, he sets the pillow down on it and snuggles up against him. “This is what I’m talking about,” he mumbles.

“What’s wrong about letting you nap on me?”

“It’s different when you’ve been hooking up with someone for four months.”

“Nobody else knows that.”

“But I do.”

The blanket moves suddenly as Ethan slides his hand over and rests it on Benji’s thigh. “Yeah, I guess you do.”

Benji’s heartbeat quickens. “We don’t have to talk about this on the plane, obviously, but I think that we should talk about whatever this relationship is sometime.”

“You mean a change in labels.”

“I’ve hooked up with other men before,” he says as he huddles even closer to Ethan, “and this didn’t happen.”

“So what are you proposing?”

“Why are you making me say it?”

“You brought it up.”

“Only because you’re insistent on flirting with me in public.”

“Mm.” Ethan places his head against Benji’s.

“This is what I’m talking about,” Benji continues. “It’s like you’re my… I don’t want to say ‘boyfriend,’ it sounds so juvenile, but--”

“You want to make it official.”

“Nothing would change. I guess just shifting it from, ‘I have the possibility of sleeping with other people,’ to, ‘I’m sleeping exclusively with Ethan Hunt.’”

“Boyfriend,” Ethan sighs, and the warmth from his breath against Benji’s ear sends goosebumps racing down his arms. “So everything stays the same.”

“Mm-hm.”

“Just a different title.”

“Mm-hm,” he repeats, this time more drawn out. “So I feel less guilty about enjoying things like cuddling up to you on a plane.”

“I guess we can make that work.”

“I need more than just guess.”

“We can definitely make that work.” Ethan moves to press a kiss against the top of his head. That’s all it is, short, simple, but a burst of adoration rushes through Benji that’s so strong he nearly loses his composure right there. For over two months, he’s contemplated if he really loved Ethan, or if such thoughts are just a consequence of another amazing orgasm, but it’s moments like these that really convince him of it. He loves Ethan, loves being curled up against him like this, all responsibilities forgotten about, like they’re the only two things in the world that matter.

“Night, Ethan,” Benji mumbles.

“Night, Benj.”


Benji’s gotten used to pretending on a missions, mostly. Even though each one is different, there’s a certain routine to it that features a lot of glorified standing around and acting like a tourist. That isn’t too difficult to do, since he is very often new to these places that the IMF sends him to, but even after all this time doing missions, he can’t help the light nerves that wring his stomach when he’s trying his best to look nonchalant.

This time, his nerves are particularly pronounced, because he’s off by himself, and so is Ethan, and each glimpse he gets of Ethan makes him feel like he’s 15 again and stealing glances of another boy in class. Fortunately or not, however, the glimpses are few and far between, as Ethan is more focused on his specific target than lingering in a space where Benji can keep an eye on him. Instead, Benji focuses in on the target assigned to him, a man called Wolfe with ties to an international smuggling ring, and who’s just as dangerous as his counterpart currently monitored by Ethan.

Benji keeps his distance, moving at a leisurely pace with his hands shoved in his pockets, acting like he might if he was back home going for a stroll through the city. He has a coms unit in his ear, just so he can warn Luther and Will whenever Wolfe might be approaching them or some other spot were an alleged meet-up could occur, but there hasn’t been much of a noticeable difference between him and any other person on the street, as far as Benji’s concerned. There’s the added fact that Ethan hasn’t said a word the whole time. And despite the fact that silence is better than noise when it comes to fieldwork, Benji can’t quite push away that nagging feeling that something’s going to go wrong, if it hasn’t already done so.

Against his better judgement, Benji taps his finger up against his ear and murmurs, “Everything alright?”

“Peachy,” is Will’s weary response.

“Doesn’t sound like it.”

“It’s dead up here,” Luther says.

“Same for me,” Ethan chimes in. “They’re being extra cautious tonight.”

“Do you think they know?” Benji asks.

“I’d say they would have good reason to be suspicious,” Will says. “And if they’ve noticed you…”

“Good thing I’ve been trained for things like this, then, hm?”

“I’m only saying.”

Benji bites back his tongue before he says anything needlessly snippy. He’s used to Will’s neurotic kind of approach to fieldwork, but it feels more taxing than normal. Maybe because they’re days into this mission and all Benji really wants to do is cuddle up with Ethan without anyone else around. The sooner it’s all over, the better.

His attention is suddenly grabbed when Wolfe makes an unexpected turn and crosses the street, before eventually sitting down on a wall and pulling a phone out of his pocket. Benji hangs back, facing a nearby stall covered in various postcards and magnets. “You know,” he murmurs, “I never get a souvenir from any of these missions.”

“Stay focused,” Will answers.

“Do you want me to blend in with everyone else or not?”

“Hard to tell when you keep talking.”

“Sorry.” Benji wants to be annoyed, but Will has a point. Normally he wouldn’t be so chatty, but he has so much restless energy from the past few days that it makes it hard for him to stay still and quiet. It might have been a mistake to have that conversation with Ethan on the plane, just because there still hadn’t been any chance to follow it up with a conversation where both are fully awake and don’t have to worry about impeding on others.

After spending another minute looking at the postcards, Benji turns on his heels and continues his way down the street. He glances out of the corner of his eye as he does, only to notice that Wolfe has disappeared. That makes him stop in his tracks, panic rising in his chest, but he doesn’t say anything quite yet. Instead, he does his best to look around casually, keeping the same relaxed position as always, until he catches what might be Wolfe moving through a swarm of people.

Benji takes a breath and hopes he’s doing the right thing as he moves to cross the street. He picks up the pace, even though it might not mean anything if he’s going the wrong direction. It’s somewhat of a challenge, trying to push through throngs of people without making anyone too upset, but he becomes further motivated when he catches the profile of Wolfe’s face on a street corner in front of him. “Ethan,” he breathes, “are you on the move?”

“It seems like it.”

“We might be headed your way.” He looks around for a street sign, anything to identify where he’s currently at.

“Finally,” Will says.

Benji ignores the last comment and jogs across the street as Wolfe moves again. When he finally passes by a distinguishing landmark, he throws it out for Luther to look up.

“It looks like you might be headed the same place,” Luther says a few seconds later. “We’ll get everything ready.”

There’s an urge to ask what exactly they need to get ready, because they know next to nothing about whatever supposed rendezvous is taking place. That fact doesn’t help Benji’s already-existing anxiety at all, but all he can do for the time being is shove it out of mind and keep a steady course. It’s easy to focus in on Wolfe when he makes another abrupt stop near an alleyway and pulls something out of his suit jacket.

“Where are you?” Luther asks suddenly.

It takes a moment for his question to process. “Uh--”

“Wait, Benj, are you near an alleyway?” Ethan interrupts.

“Yeah.”

“It’s near the place you’re expecting, Luther.”

Which direction Ethan is coming from is completely unknown to Benji, but he doesn’t have time to consider it. Not when Wolfe spins around and lifts his face, locking eyes directly on Benji. The first reaction Benji has is to take a step to the right and melt into the crowd, hoping that it looked more like a coincidence that their gazes met than anything else.

Through the throng of people, he gets a quick view of Wolfe’s hands again. There’s something in them -- it’s not shaped like a phone like before. No, it’s the barrel of a gun.

His heart skips a beat as he reaches around and feels for his own gun, only to remember that he had chosen to leave it behind. A stream of silent curses run through his mind as he calculates a new plan. Wolfe is heading down the alleyway now, hands still full, but held discreetly out of sight from everyone else. 

Benji waits, allowing Wolfe to get almost all the way down the alley before continuing after him at a pace slow enough that his footsteps don’t echo off the walls, but quick enough to not completely lose him. He makes a mental note of what direction Wolfe goes, and then rounds around the same corner, only to be greeted with a loud, “Benji!” and a body slamming his to the ground.

The daze from the impact with the ground dulls Benji’s reaction to the gunshot that follows a second later. Everything that ensues happens so quickly, giving him barely any time to process Ethan rolling off of him and throwing a punch at Wolfe. Benji turns his head and catches the woman Ethan had been following, stalking towards them with a gun in her hands as well. The sight motivates Benji to get up and spring into action, rushing to get her disarmed before she can shoot him or Ethan. But when he goes to twist her arm, she fights back, spinning all the way around so she can kick her leg back and hit Benji in the groin. The impact causes his grip to loosen as he kneels over, and she flips around again with her gun poised.

There’s a barrel in his face, now, and he has dozens of things he could try, but he doesn’t know how much time he has left. On impulse, he knocks her hand over and pushes forward, just to throw off her balance a bit so he can grab her arm again, until, suddenly, someone hits her from behind with the butt of a gun and causes her to fold.

“What the hell?” There’s Will, standing where she was a moment before, looking entirely bewildered.

“Ethan--” Benji flips around before he can say anything more. Ethan is still fighting Wolfe, but the gun has since clattered away. They’ve resorted to fists now, taking powerful swings at each other, over and over, until Will aims his gun and pulls the trigger.

Wolfe freezes. Ethan does, too, more out of shock than anything else, and watches Wolfe as he parts his lips and then tumbles over in the same way his partner did. Only this time, it seems almost certain that he’s dead.

“Shit,” Benji murmurs.

“Car. Now.” Will nods towards the end of the street and makes his hasty escape. Benji wastes no time in following him, wincing slightly at the burning pain running through the left side of his body where he had hit the ground. It’s a short run, but one that feels agonizingly long with the commotion started by their fight, until, at last, they reach the car and clamor inside. Luther wastes no time in pulling out and makes a beeline back to the safe house while Ethan and Benji pant in the backseat.

“What the hell was that?” Will snaps, twisting around so he can look at Ethan.

“Things went a bit wrong,” is Ethan’s simple response.

“No shit, but what the fuck happened?”

Ethan’s face changes, like he’s too humiliated to repeat it.

“I heard you over the coms,” Will continues. “Why did you shout for Benji?”

“Wolfe pulled a gun on him.”

“So that means you can blow our cover?”

“I wasn’t sure if he knew that--”

“He’s a field agent,” Will interrupts. “If he gets shot, it’s part of the job. What the fuck are we supposed to tell Hunley now that Wolfe is dead and Santos is aware of us?”

“We’ll figure something out.”

“Like hell we will.”

“I’ve been doing this for longer than you.” Ethan’s voice has taken a sharp turn. “We’ll figure something out.”

“And yet you did something so stupid--”

“Hey!” Benji interjects. “Can you calm down for once in your life, Will? Yelling isn’t going to fix anything.”

Will’s gaze shifts to Benji. Frustration is etched into all the lines of his face, lips pressed into a firm frown, but he faces the front of the car again without saying anything more. 

That relieves Benji slightly, but not enough to totally alleviate the stress that weighs heavy on his shoulders. He glances over at Ethan, who, despite the tranquil expression, has something more troublesome swirling in his eyes. He knows he made a mistake. And that’s maybe the worst part of it all, that his effort to save Benji had messed everything else up. There’s an urge to reach out to Ethan, just to provide him some reassurance, but there’s not much he can do, not in front of the other two. All he can do for now is wait until the safehouse.


There’s not much of an idea about what to do when they return to the safehouse. Will paces around the kitchen, running his fingers through his hair, muttering to himself. “We’ll figure it out,” Ethan says again from the dining table. “Worse things have happened before.”

“We killed one member of this organization and injured the other,” Will snaps. “That jeopardizes everything about this mission. They know someone is onto them.”

“You agreed with us earlier that they probably knew that much already.”

“But you yelled Benji’s name. You got their attention and let one of our identities slip.”

“I’m sorry, Will,” Ethan says, voice raising. “I know it was stupid, but I have a duty to look out for all of you.”

“Benji’s alive now, but then what? They know his name. They know his face.”

Ethan bites his tongue, but doesn’t say anything else.

“Brandt,” Luther starts, “if they already knew about us, we can’t give Ethan too much shit for it.”

“But Benji--”

“They don’t know what organization he works for. Or any of us.”

Will crosses his arms. “So what do we do?”

“We  report it to Hunley, and we’ll see what to do next. Tough situations are our job.”

“I know that.”

“Then relax.”

He hesitates, then flicks his eyes towards Ethan. “Sorry,” he mumbles, “it’s just that--”

“I know,” Ethan answers softly.

Now he turns his attention towards Benji. “And I’m sorry to you, too, if I made it sound like--” He stops, swallows. “I don’t think you matter less than any of us.”

“I understood what you meant.”

“Alright.” He nods, glances back at Ethan again, and then exits the room.

“He’ll be fine,” Luther says gently, as if either are worried about the possibility of Will being mad at them for good. But there’s a certain glint in Luther’s eye that contradicts his tone, like he’s suspicious of something. He knows, Benji thinks. Luther’s been friends with Ethan for so long that there’s no way he can’t tell Ethan’s relationship with Benji is something more than just friendship.

Benji takes a step forward. “Hey, Ethan?” he asks softly. When Ethan lifts his head, he continues with, “Mind if I talk to you privately?”

“Yeah.” He stands and rubs the back of his head. “The bedroom?”

“If Brandt’s not there.”

“I think he went somewhere else.” Ethan nods and follows Benji towards the room they had been sleeping in for the last couple of days. When they find it empty, they enter, and Ethan shuts the door behind them before leaning against the dresser. “Is it your turn to lecture me now?”

Benji frowns. “I’m not going to lecture you.”

“I know.” He sends him a small grin. “I’m only teasing.”

“But I am worried, Ethan. Why’d you do that?”

His grin falters. “He had a gun.”

“I knew he had a gun.”

“He was waiting for you.” He shifts on his feet and folds his arms across his chest. “You weren’t looking at him.”

“Ethan, I watched him go that way. I knew he was probably aware of me. You didn’t give me a chance to react.”

He hesitates. “I thought it might be better to…” He turns his head away. “I know it was a stupid thing to do.”

“So you said.” Benji pauses for a moment, before continuing with, “Have you ever told Luther about us?”

He shakes his head and sends Benji an inquisitive look. “Did he say anything?”

“No, I was only wondering.”

That doesn’t placate Ethan. “What made you ask?”

“I don’t know, I think I was reading too far into something he said.”

“Oh.” He relaxes slightly.

“Would it bother you if he did?”

“I mean…” He scratches his chin. “He’s one of my closest friends.”

“You got tense when I mentioned him knowing.”

“I’m not tense.”

“Ethan.”

He folds his arms across his chest. “Why does it matter?”

“I think we should tell the IMF about our relationship.”

“Why?” His response is quick, voice stressed again.

Benji approaches him. “You threw a mission because of me.”

“I’d do that for any teammate.”

“Ethan,” he repeats, this time softer. “You told me about your relationship history. And I know you would jump in for Luther or whoever else, but I have a feeling that your reasoning for me was different.”

“I was worried about you,” he breathes.

“I know you were, but if it’s going to be a problem on missions, then I think we should tell the IMF.”

“You can say that all you want, but I think--”

“Benj.” When Benji stops talking, he continues with, “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“We only just now decided to make our relationship a bit more serious than hooking up.”

“Isn’t that serious enough?”

“We haven’t been doing this for very long.”

“It’s been four months.”

“Of hooking up.”

“So we haven’t been seeing each other long enough to tell the IMF, but it’s been long enough to mess up a mission?”

“Benji--”

“No, Ethan, listen. This is serious.”

“You don’t think I know that?”

“It doesn’t seem to be processing. If us seeing each other is going to impact our safety on missions, then it would be best for them to know.”

“I don’t want to tell anyone, Benji,” he says sharply.

That catches Benji off-guard. “Why not?”

“Can’t we keep it between us right now? Involving the IMF would mean all these--”

“Bullshit, Ethan. I know both you and Jane have been able to date within and outside of the IMF and there was never a problem then.”

“You don’t know that.”

“It was clearly okay enough for you to get married to Julia.”

“I wasn’t a field agent then, Benj. I retired for her.”

“What about Nyah?”

Ethan’s jaw tightens. “That’s different.”

“How is it different?”

“You’re the first person I’ve been with since Julia.”

“So?”

“So my job ended my relationship last time, and I’d like to keep it uninvolved now.”

“Ethan,” Benji laughs, “I have the same job as you. I’ll be in danger regardless. It’s not like you can just retire and expect me to be safer, because I’ll still be in the field. All we can do is tell the IMF or end this now.”

“Why does it have to one of those two? We’ve been able to keep it secret this whole time.”

“Because you’re getting emotionally attached.”

“Then you might as well split me up from everyone else in the IMF.”

“Is that how you see me? I’m the same as Luther or Will, but you have sex with me?”

Ethan’s expression hardens. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what do you mean? I thought we decided we’re more than friends with benefits”

“A decision we made last week. We’ve only just begun this, I don’t want to let other people in on it yet.”

Four months , Ethan.”

“I’m not telling the IMF,” Ethan says decisively. “I’m not ready yet.”

Benji’s lips twist downwards. “Will you ever be?”

“Don’t…” He closes his eyes, lets out a puff of air. “Don’t talk like that.”

“If I can’t trust you to do it now, after you put us in unnecessary trouble, then how I can trust you to ever do it?”

“I said don’t talk like that.” He opens his eyes again. “Look, I think we both have a lot on our minds recently and we need to talk about it when we’re not stressed out from a mission.”

“I’m not dropping this, if that’s what you want.”

“Benj,” he says firmly, “I want to talk about this. But we’re all tense right now and I don’t want to get into an argument with you.”

He pauses, purse his lips, and says, “If you want to continue this conversation later, then we can continue it later. But that better be a promise. Alright?”

“I promise you we’ll talk about it when we get back.” Ethan sends him a sad smile. “Just… right now--”

“We can talk about it later,” Benji repeats.

Ethan pauses to inhale. “Are we okay?”

That’s hard to say, if Benji’s being honest. He’s not angry, necessarily, but Ethan’s hasty response to say he didn’t want to tell not just the IMF, but anyone about their relationship, had struck an odd chord. Maybe he’s overthinking it, maybe Ethan said the first thing on his mind and hadn’t meant to say “anyone.”

“Yeah,” Benji murmurs back. “We just have to end this stupid mission first.”

“I take full responsibility for any extended time we spend here.”

“You better.”

Ethan grins again, lightly grasps his jaw, and pecks him on the lips. “We might want to go back out before Luther and Will wonder where we are.”

“Sure.”

“That doesn’t sound too sure.”

“Just go,” Benji says, attempting to match Ethan’s grin as he steps back to open the bedroom door again.

Ethan sends him an uncertain glance, but passes through without saying anything more. Later, Benji reminds himself as he follows him. They can clear it all up later.

Chapter Text

Ethan 💕
Today 6:00 AM

Good morning babe

Star Trek tonight?


It’s a strange feeling to get a text from Ethan and to not immediately jump for joy. Actually, it’s downright heartbreaking, if Benji’s being honest. He stares at the text when he wakes up and looks back at it as he gets dressed, completely at a loss for a response the entire time. Instinctually, he wants to say yes, because cuddling up with Ethan while watching TV is the best sensation in the world, but the idea of it makes his skin crawl ever since that mission.

Benji hates it. After all, Ethan’s his friend first and foremost. Watching Star Trek with Ethan predates everything else in their relationship, and losing something so relaxing is a painful prospect. But there’s that feeling he can’t shake, like Ethan’s embarrassed to be with him outside of their private, in-home meetings. There are a few reasons why Ethan might want to keep Benji’s at arm’s length, but none of these hypotheticals feel particularly more reassuring than the last.

His musing is interrupted by the buzzing of his phone.


Ethan 💕
Today 6:00 AM

Good morning babe

Star Trek tonight?

6:32 AM

Is everything okay?


He gnaws on his bottom lip. Right now doesn’t seem like the right time to tell him what’s bothering him, but that means he shouldn’t miss meeting with him after work, either. Not when communication means so much with Ethan.


Ethan 💕

6:32 AM

Is everything okay?

meet you after work?

Swing by whenever you can

Have a nice day, Benj


Benji hesitates. Normally he would send back an emoji of some sort, maybe the kissing face, but he’s unsure of the etiquette surrounding emoji usage when you’re a bit peeved at your maybe-boyfriend. Or he’s overthinking all of this, especially when Ethan hardly knows what an emoji is. Then his phone buzzes again.


Ethan 💕

Swing by whenever you can

Have a nice day, Benj

💗


Ethan’s always been one to make things incredibly difficult.


***

Just like any other day, Ethan flits around between desks at work. And just like any other day, he stops by Benji’s desk a few times to give it a knock and shoot him a grin without much conversation. That much is fine by Benji, who’s relieved to see Ethan behaving normally and hesitant to say too much before this evening. For the most part, it placates that gnawing anxiety he has before he leaves work and heads to his place to get changed. After sending Ethan a text to alert him that he’s on his way, he makes a quick drive over and arrives to an unlocked door.

“Hey,” Ethan calls from the kitchen as the door clicks shut behind him.

“Hey, Ethan.” Benji slides out of his shoes and sets them next to Ethan’s. “What’s for dinner tonight?”

“Hope spaghetti Bolognese sounds good.”

“Sounds great.”

Ethan wipes his hands off and turns around. There’s a crooked smile on his face as he approaches Benji, puts his arm around him, and greets him with a warm kiss. “I hope your day went well,” he murmurs as he ruffles Benji’s hair.

“Standard sort of day.”

“That could be a good or bad thing in the IMF.”

“Pretty neutral.”

“If you say so.” Ethan pecks him on the lips again. “How about the drive over here?”

“Also okay.”

Ethan’s smile falters. “Just another boring day?”

“Pretty much.”

“Hm.” He turns around and returns to the stove. There’s a brief silence before Ethan says, “You know, I was thinking that maybe it would be easier for you if you kept a change of clothes here. Just so you don’t have to go out of your way every time you come over.”

“Or you could visit my place for once.” He winces when Ethan sends him a confused look. “Sorry, that came out much douchier than I meant it to sound.”

“Are you sure nothing happened today?”

“Yeah.”

“You’ve seemed a bit off all day.”

“Well,” he says as he scratches the back of his head, “I have been a bit preoccupied about tonight.”

“About dinner and Star Trek?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Ah. You want to talk about something.”

“That doesn’t come as a surprise, does it?”

“I’ve been waiting for it,” Ethan admits. “Do you want to talk about it now or over dinner?”

“Now, and then we can enjoy dinner later.”

“Even if it ends badly?”

Benji frowns. “Should I be worried about that?”

“I’d prefer if it went well.”

“I do, too.”

“Alright, then.” Ethan circles around his countertops and sits down in one of the stools in front of them. “Take a seat.”

“Are you sure you want to sit down?” Benji asks as he joins him at the counter. “I really don’t want to distract you from your cooking because spaghetti sounds really good right now.”

“I can multitask.” He grins, and then reaches out and grabs Benji’s hand. The gesture makes Benji’s heart thump haphazardly. Ethan’s gotten much more touchy over the months they’ve been seeing each other, so much so that Benji wonder if he realizes he’s doing it, or if it’s some kind of subconscious thing he does when he feels comfortable. The latter case makes Benji dizzy in that stupid way Ethan always makes him dizzy. Even when he’s annoyed with Ethan, he’s embarrassingly infatuated with him.

“Okay, then.” Suddenly he’s at a loss for words. “Where do we begin?”

“You tell me.”

“Ethan,” Benji sighs, but he’s not exactly sure what he wants to say. It doesn’t help that Ethan is rubbing small circles into the palm of his hand with his thumb. “I really like doing all of this with you.”

A small smile crosses his lips. “I would hope so.”

“But that’s why this is so hard for me, too, because recently I’ve wanted this to be more than just hooking up.”

“Didn’t we discuss this already?”

Benji blinks. “You mean on the plane?”

“I thought you said…” Ethan frowns. “So we’re not dating?”

“No,” he answers quickly, “I’d like to call it that, but you’ve given me mixed signals.”

“I agreed with you when you brought it up.”

“And then told me you didn’t want to tell anyone about our relationship.”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be in a relationship with you, Benj. I’d just like to keep it private.”

“I know that, Ethan,” he retorts, “but you let your feelings get in the way of a mission.”

“I’d think it’s safe to say that I have a reputation for that at this point. It’s not like I’ve never done it before.”

“And the fact that you’re so caring is something I love about you, but it’s different now. You know it’s different.”

Ethan licks his lower lip and glances away from him. “I don’t know. Telling other people seems like a bad idea.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want anyone to think that we can’t work together, for starters.”

“That would be a non-issue if it weren’t for the fact that you did let our relationship impact a mission.” Benji sighs, reaches out a hand to stroke through Ethan’s hair. “I’m not trying to punish you or force you into anything, but you could have gotten yourself killed or me killed or somebody else killed, and I think it’s important that the IMF knows. Not to mention if something ever did happen, they’d know to reach out to one of us.”

“I don’t know if they’d do that when we don’t even live together,” Ethan murmurs. “Besides, we would find out one way or another if something happened.”

“Like what? Through mutual friends that you don’t want to tell either?”

Ethan glances up at him. “When did I ever say that?”

He tries his hardest to keep his composure, but those feelings from the safehouse are coming back. “You told me you didn’t want to tell anyone. That would include mutual friends.”

Ethan presses his lips into a firm line but doesn’t say anything.

“So you really don’t want to tell anyone.”

“Benji--”

“Not even Luther?” His voice breaks on the last syllable of Luther’s name, just slightly, but the sympathetic turn of Ethan’s face signifies that he noticed. “It’s Luther, for God’s sake.”

“I didn’t tell him about Julia until we were engaged,” Ethan says softly. “It’s not you, Benj.”

“Pardon me if I can’t help but feel like it is.” His tone takes a sudden icy shift.

“Is that--” Ethan exhales. “Is that what this is all about? You think I have something against you, personally?”

“Maybe I’m just sensitive to this sort of thing, but it feels like it sometimes.”

“What, you think that I don’t like you, or--”

“You’re embarrassed of me.”

His jaw stiffens. “Why would I be embarrassed of you?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out.”

“And have you come up with anything? Because if you haven’t, it’s because I’m not embarrassed of you.”

“Then what other reason do you have to not want to tell even your closest friends that we’re together? My family asks about me and what I’m doing, you know, and I would love to tell them about you, but I don’t want to bring you up just to have you tell me whatever we’re doing is over because you decided you don’t need me anymore--”

“Benji!”

Ethan practically barked his name. Never had Benji heard Ethan speak with such force before, not even during high-stakes missions. It shuts him up immediately.

“I hate it when you talk like that.” Something’s burning in Ethan’s eyes -- anger? Melancholy? “I thought you knew that I don’t take relationships lightly.”

“But this isn’t serious enough for you to tell the IMF?”

“That’s not--” He interrupts himself with a sigh. “Let me go finish dinner.”

Dinner. Right. Benji tries to pull himself out of his anger, to ground himself in the moment, but the hurt and confusion about this whole situation licks hot at his cheeks. The apartment is too quiet for his liking as Ethan switches the burner off and strains the noodles, but neither one of them seem too keen to begin talking again. It’s Ethan who breaks the silence first, but only to tell Benji that dinner is ready. Then it’s back to nothing, both of them getting their plates and moving to the dining table. Another long minute passes before Ethan speaks up again.

“Benji,” he starts, “I take this seriously. I take everything you do seriously. I like having you here.”

“But that doesn’t give me a reason why you won’t tell anyone.” Benji pauses, sighs, and continues with, “I know I said we could take it slow, and maybe I’m being pushy or I’m the one getting overly attached to all this, but you said you wanted to make this an official relationship, too. And usually when you make something official, at least in my experience, you have reason to tell someone.” Again, he stops, but this time, he eyes Ethan as an epiphany dawns on him. “Unless you have reason not to tell someone.”

Guilt falls heavy across Ethan’s face.

“Shit, Ethan,” he exhales. “I wish you would be honest with me.”

“The last thing I want to do is make you listen to all the boring details of my life.”

“If I’m going to be your boyfriend, I think it’s only fair for me to know any and all emotional baggage you carry. Especially if it’s going to impact our relationship.”

“I’ve just never talked about it before,” Ethan murmurs. “It’s not something I’ve ever had to bring up.”

“Not even with Julia or anyone?”

“It was different with her. And Nyah, for that matter.”

“It’s because I’m a man, isn’t it?”

The way Ethan avoids his eyes is the only answer Benji needs.

“Uh oh,” Benji says, but his tone is much gentler than before. “You can tell me what happened. Please?”

Ethan licks his lower lip, then twirls his fork through his spaghetti. “You remember Stevie.”

“Your military boyfriend?”

“He was discharged. That’s why we broke up.”

It takes a moment for Benji to understand what Ethan is saying. He feels the urge to jump in and say something else, but he can sense that Ethan’s mind is reeling with more to tell.

“He was outed,” Ethan continues after a pause. “It was awful, Benj. He was from a military family where all his male relatives were pretty much soldiers, and he got kicked out for being gay. I’d say that it caused a bit of a situation, but that’s an understatement. Not just with his family, but at the base, too. The news broke and a lot of our mutual friends joked about what they would do if they ever caught any other…” He pauses. “I stopped talking to Stevie when they started making jokes about me. I don’t know where he’s at now.”

“Ethan,” Benji starts gently. “Things are different, now.”

“No, they’re not. I mean, not totally.”

“The IMF knows I’m gay,” he presses. “Our friends know I’m gay. I don’t see what a difference it would make if I’m dating you.”

“What about others? All the people we have to face off with in the field? People knew about Nyah and me, and then Julia and me, and that was bad enough. The chances they would know about us, especially as two men…”

“It’s risky enough just being field agents. Making sure others know that the relationship between us isn’t strictly professional isn’t any substantially more risky.”

“Benj,” Ethan breathes, “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I think I can get myself hurt without you,” he teases lightly. “So people know we’re together. Other IMF agents have had relationships with no problem.”

“Other IMF agents don’t have the same reputation I have.”

“Hey,” Benji says, getting onto his feet. “Can you look at me?”

Ethan lifts his head, just enough where Benji can comfortably slip his fingers under his chin. He bends forward and presses a kiss against his forehead. “It’s sweet that you care this much, Ethan, but I’m an agent.”

“I know,” he mumbles.

“Then stop taking responsibility for me.” He wraps an arm around Ethan’s shoulders and nestles his cheek against the top of his head. “For someone so debonair, you do tend to be a worrywart.”

“I’ve lost enough people already.”

“I know, love.” He kisses him again. “But the only way we’re ever going to be safe is if we retire, move, and change our names.”

“That’s an idea.”

“A bit extreme considering I haven’t even brought a spare change of clothes over yet, don’t you think?”

Ethan scoots his chair back, gently untangling himself from Benji’s embrace. “Then why don’t you bring some over?”

“I’ll think about it,” Benji sighs, but his mock disinterest quickly dissolves into a smile when Ethan stands up and pulls him in towards him. “But only if you promise to talk to me like a fucking adult and stop hiding everything you’re feeling.”

“Just because we’re dating.” Ethan presses a chaste kiss against his nose and Benji melts.

“Speaking of which, we still haven’t resolved the issue of telling anybody.”

Ethan’s lips twitch into a frown.

“I’m assuming your answer is still no.”

“I just…” Ethan sighs. “You’re the only person who knows I’m…”

“Bisexual?” he offers when Ethan stalls.

“I don’t know if I feel entirely comfortable with everyone knowing yet. And it’s not your fault, Benj. I’m not embarrassed of you. But I haven’t been with a man in over 20 years.”

“It’s okay, Ethan.” Benji hugs him close and kisses his cheek. “But there’s nothing to be scared of, either. If the IMF couldn’t give a flying fuck about who I’m fucking, and if all our friends couldn’t either, then I would bet they wouldn’t care about who you’re fucking, either.”

“I know.” There’s a look of quiet sadness that hangs heavy on Ethan’s face. This all is a bit frustrating, if Benji’s being honest, but his expression tugs on his heartstrings enough that his irritation lessens.

“If you want to keep it between us just for now,” he murmurs, “that’s okay. It can’t be forever, though.”

“I know,” he repeats, this time softer.

“Just until you get comfortable enough to call yourself bisexual like it’s not a dirty word.” He sends him a reassuring smile. “But that means you’ll have to work on it. Getting used to not being straight and okay with it, I mean. You can’t just snog me and call it a night and never sort out any of the internal bullshit if you want this to be a relationship.”

“But kissing is part of it, right?”

“Are you really asking me if we can still snog?”

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“A very enthusiastic yes.”

“Then why don’t we eat dinner and do that, then?”

“Please,” Benji moans. “It  smells absolutely delicious and I was worried we’d be mad and I couldn’t fully enjoy it.”

“I hope you can now.”

“Definitely.” He pecks Ethan on the lips. Then he hesitates. “We’re alright, aren’t we?”

“Mm-hm.”

“I don’t want to sound like I’m scolding you,” he adds quickly, “but I really like you a lot, Ethan, and this is something I really want to work out, but I don’t think I can go on acting like nothing is going on between us for the rest of my life.”

“I understand.” Ethan runs a thumb along Benji’s lower lip. “You’re beautiful, you know that?”

“Don’t change the subject when I’m not-chastising you.”

“That’s been on my mind all day.” Ethan sends him a sheepish smile, like it’s some kind of humiliating confession, and dammit, how on Earth can a man of his age and status be so effortlessly cute?

“Tell me after dinner when we can properly snog. I don’t trust myself now.”

“Alright,” Ethan says, and the grin he flashes at Benji fills him with the best sensation he’s felt all week.

Chapter Text

Ethan 💕

Today 6:36 AM

 

good morning dear 😊

Good morning Benj

you still coming over tonight?

Of course

looking forward to it 😘

also: happy birthday, Ethan

You remembered?

of course I remembered

why wouldn't I

It's not important

it's your BIRTHDAY

I'm too old for birthdays

nonsense

watch out for the IMF
prank                        

Should I be worried?

I know nothing about it

honest

so don't get mad at me

That's reassuring

talk to you later xo


In any other situation, Benji wouldn’t have been grateful for the IMF birthday prank, but the small cake Ethan got as a reward for removing the four layers of plastic wrap covering his desk and everything at it gave Ethan further reason to go back to his apartment instead of following Benji straight home or encouraging him to come to his place instead. It allows Benji a headstart on getting his apartment ready, because he knows Ethan will show up before their agreed-upon time. Sure enough, Ethan arrives fifteen minutes before six o’clock, and Benji hurries over to his front door and allows Ethan in.

“Hello, dear,” Benji hums before giving him a peck on the lips.

Ethan opens his mouth to say something, but hesitates. “Are you cooking?”

“That’s why I didn’t want you coming home with me.”

“Wait, I’m sorry. You’re cooking?

“Happy birthday?” He winces slightly. “I can’t promise anything as good as what you make for me, but I thought that maybe I’d treat you to something for once. Especially since you seem so opposed to me doing anything nice for you as a birthday present.”

“No, it’s sweet.” Ethan smiles warmly. “I wasn’t expecting this.”

“You deserve a break sometimes.”

“I like cooking, though.”

“I meant from feeling like you have to take care of me all the time.” Benji starts back towards the kitchen.

“I don’t feel obligated to take care of you. I want to do that.”

“But I want to take care of you, too. Hence dinner on your birthday.”

Ethan leans against the counter. “What are you making, anyway?”

“Uh, my mum taught me this. It’s one of those secret soup recipes, but I’m sure anyone with any semblance of cooking knowledge can figure it out.” He turns towards Ethan. “She taught me how to make this a long time ago, so I thought I’d have a better chance of not fucking it up.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“I hope so, because you’re not very easy to keep up with.”

“Keep up with?”

“You know, you’re Ethan Hunt, Mr. Flawless.”

His brow furrows, but his grin stays. “Flawless?”

“Supermodel, super-genius, super-spy. Or maybe not super-genius, because I don’t know how smart it really is to do half the stunts you do, but in any case I think you--”

“Hey,” Ethan interrupts in a light tone. “You’re not really intimidated by me, are you?”

“I didn’t say that. Did I say that?”

“You’re making it sound that way.”

“I mean, it would be a silly thing for me to think when I’ve literally seen you naked in my bed how many times now -- which is just another thing you’re stupidly good at--”

“Benj.”

“Maybe a bit?” His shoulders deflate slightly. “It’s hard not to be.”

“Even after all this time?”

“You always give me something new to marvel over. And it doesn’t help when you’re so quick to pamper me.” He switches off the stove. “Dinner’s about ready.”

Ethan approaches him from behind, wrapping his arms around Benji’s stomach and nuzzling his chin into his shoulder. “You’re better than me in a lot of ways, you know.”

“Like what?”

“I’ve never been that great with computers.”

“Being a nerd isn’t all that spectacular, though.”

“Compared to what? Being a supermodel? Because you’re pretty hot, Benj.”

“So you’ve said.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“Not particularly.”

“Everything about you is sexy,” Ethan murmurs, and he tilts his head to press a kiss against his throat.

“I wouldn’t say everything .”

“I would.” He kisses him a second time and tightens his embrace. “You really don’t get how sexy you are.”

“You’re the first person to ever tell me.”

He pauses. “I am?”

“You want to let go of me so we can have dinner?”

Ethan lets go of Benji, allowing him to finally see the frown on his face as he pours the pot out into a large bowl.

“It’s not a big deal,” Benji offers gently before he carries the bowl to the table. “There’s no grand, dramatic story with this. I know I’m not gorgeous.”

“But you are, Benj.”

“We’re not changing each other’s minds. Sit down and eat.”

“That’s no way to talk to me on my birthday.”

“You can’t start using that card now. You relinquished it when you made it obscenely difficult for me to figure out what to do for your birthday.”

“Difficult?”

“I had no idea what to get you for your birthday, or if I should take you out on a date, or--”

“This is perfect,” he interrupts. “You really spent a while trying to figure this out?”

“I mean -- I wanted to do something a bit more special than this, but--”

“This is just right.”

“Well,” Benji says, and then he hesitates. “I’m glad. Let’s eat.”

Ethan sticks his tongue into his cheek and smirks as he fills a bowl.

“What’s that face for?” Benji asks.

“Nothing.” Pause. “You’re just cute.”

“So you’ve said,” he answers, voice a tad more cross, this time.

“Does it bother you?”

“You just look so smug sometimes.”

Ethan only snorts in response before taking a spoonful of the soup. It’s such a small thing, but nerves pull tight at Benji’s stomach. He’s not bad at cooking, but he’s definitely nowhere near Ethan’s level, and if he fucked up dinner on his birthday--

“Relax,” Ethan laughs. “It’s good, Benj.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“No, I’m not. It’s good.”

Benji untenses slightly, but he continues to watch Ethan with worried eyes.

“I can’t eat if you keep looking at me like that, you know,” he tells him nonchalantly. “I’m more concerned about the fact that you’ve been able to cook for yourself this whole time.”

“I thought you said you like cooking for me.”

“I do.” Ethan sends him another reassuring smile. “If I ever meet your mom…”

“Oh, god, don’t compliment her, she’ll never shut up about it. That recipe is such a family tradition or whatever, and there’s so much history and so many memories and...” He rubs his eyes. “I’ve had to hear it so many times.”

“Is that where you get your tendency to ramble from?”

“Ouch.”

“Not ouch.”

“If you say I’m cute one more time…”

“I can’t call you cute, and I can’t call you sexy. What can I call you?”

“It’s not that you can’t call me those things, it’s that one of my most irritating attributes is nothing cute.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Ethan reaches his hand across the table and folds it around Benji’s.

“It’s kind of disgusting how much you like me sometimes,” Benji tells him. “Almost as gross as how much I like you.”

“Get this all out now,” Ethan teases, “because I wasn’t exactly picturing you talking to me like this tonight.”

“I’ll try my hardest, but you started this, after all.”

“Did I?”

“You called me hot, and--”

“Only because you made a strange assertion that I was better that you at everything.”

“Because you are , Ethan.”

“Mm-mm.” Ethan draws small circles into the back of his hand with the tip of his thumb, just like he had all the way back on that damn mission where he pretended to be his fiancé.

“Why do you do that?” he asks.

“What?”

Benji nods his head towards their hands. “Is it like a nervous habit?”

His smile flickers. “Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“Just the opposite.”

He pauses, and then casually says, “I wouldn’t call it a nervous habit. I did something like this with Julia, too.”

“It’s comforting?”

“I guess that would be a way to describe it.”

But all too soon, Ethan stops. Benji is about to protest when he realizes that he’s returning to his dinner, looking more content than mischievous, like this really is all he wanted for his birthday. They fall into silence, and it's perfectly alright with Benji, because it feels comfortable with Ethan, like he could sit here and say nothing for hours and he would be just as pleased. The absence of conversation is filled by Ethan giving his hand a squeeze here and there, until they’ve both finished their bowls, and Ethan stands up.

“Let me help you clean up,” he says. “Give me some to take with me, too.”

“You’re not just being nice, right?”

“When are you going to believe me?”

“Because you’re a bloody good cook.”

“And you’ll have to show me how to make that soup.”

“You’ll have to marry me, first.” Benji blanches instantaneously. “That came out entirely different than I meant it to.”

“I cook for you enough to count as a spouse, don’t you think?”

“Fairly sure that’s not how it works,” he says as he rinses out his bowl, but his face is too hot to match Ethan’s nonchalant attitude.

“It was worth a shot.”

He really is a terrible flirt, Benji thinks to himself, but he’s too tongue-tied over the fact that Ethan called himself his spouse to continue the banter.

“Uh oh,” Ethan says with a large grin, “I embarrassed you.”

“I embarrassed myself. Don’t gas yourself up too much.”

“It’s not hard to get you flustered.” Ethan flips around and rests his arm on the counter. “I don’t think I have to tell you that, though.”

“Nor do you have to demonstrate it. I know what you’re thinking, Ethan.”

“No, you don’t.”

He shoots him a warning glance, but Ethan doesn’t seem any less deterred. “I have a pretty strong feeling that you want to get me worked up.”

“It’s not like I’m going to suggest we get married or anything,” he murmurs, hugging his arms around Benji’s waist and pressing a slow kiss underneath his ear.

“That’s a bit of a serious conversation to be having.”

“Even when I’m teasing?” Benji feels Ethan’s lips curve into a smirk as he kisses him again.

“You want to stop teasing and help me clean up like you suggested?”

“I like kissing you, though.”

“I do too, but I should at least put this up before it goes bad.”

“It’ll be okay.”

Benji just manages to untangle himself from Ethan’s arms and heads over to the leftover soup to put it in a tupperware. Ethan stays where he’s at, watching him closely as he moves to place it in his refrigerator.

“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” Ethan says quietly when Benji turns to face him again.

“It’s not that I’m uncomfortable.”

“How would you describe it, then?”

“Like…” Benji hesitates as Ethan approaches him. “I’ll say something stupid when you’re only teasing me. Or something I say stupidly will make you uncomfortable. Does that make sense?”

“Kind of.” Ethan drags his fingertips down Benji’s forearm, eyes locked on his mouth. “You might need to explain it to me.”

“You can’t make fun of me.”

“I won’t.”

“You promise?”

“I just want to understand better.”

“I don’t know, Ethan, I don’t know how comfortable you are with certain things and I get anxious when I say something that might be a bit too much.”

“Like saying that we’re married?” He cups his hand around Benji’s jaw and strokes his thumb across his chin.

“That. And saying I love it when you do something, or I love this part about you, or--”

“You’d think I would be offended if you said you loved something I do?”

“You said you weren’t going to make fun of me.”

“I’m not.”

“I guess you--” He sighs. “We still haven’t told anyone about this, so I didn’t know if it’s too much to tell you something like I love your eyes.”

“Do you love my eyes?”

“Course I do, they’re bloody gorgeous.”

“Then what’s wrong with you telling me that?”

“I didn’t know if you were okay with it.”

“I’m okay with it. Are you okay with it?”

“With you saying you love my eyes?”

“More than just that.” Ethan shifts his hand from Benji’s jaw so he can stroke his fingers through his hair. “I love the way you ramble when you get nervous.”

“Don’t say that,” Benji murmurs as his face grows warm again.

“I love kissing you right here.” He taps his thumb against the area he had pressed his lips against earlier. “I love your mouth.”

“Ethan,” he says, but he forgets how to speak immediately afterward. His throat constricts tightly, making it near impossible for him to speak, breathing staggered as Ethan hovers just an inch away from his face. This is what Benji means, how this intimacy with Ethan always registers as incredibly intense. It’s like a fog that descends on him, that swirls around in his head with those three words that repeat over and over like a broken record, but he’s too scared to say out loud. And the feeling only worsens the longer Ethan stands there, eyes lidded, just as breathless as him even though they haven’t kissed yet, like he’s soaking in the emotional agony Benji’s going through.

“You’re gorgeous, Benj,” Ethan finally breathes, and then he kisses him, slowly, lovingly. It feels like ten years have passed by the time he pulls away, Benji following his mouth as he does, and on one hand, Benji feels amazing, and on the other, it’s still impossible to breathe. He gladly accepts Ethan when he comes back for another kiss, just as tender and romantic and completely terrible as the first kiss, and lets him shove him back against the refrigerator as it deepens. They’re completely making out, now, Benji’s hands destroying Ethan’s previously sculpted hair, Ethan doing his best to shove Benji’s shirt upward and expose his stomach. All Benji can process is the sound of their frantic kissing, the feeling of Ethan’s fingers dragging across those faint ridges of his abdominal muscles, and he shivers.

“If I’m not mistaken,” Benji mumbles as Ethan sucks on the skin right under his jaw, “you and I had an informal date planned tonight.”

“If you call sex an informal date.” His voice is low, husky, sending a second wave of goosebumps racing down Benji’s arms.

“Well, I didn’t forget it was your birthday,” he continues, twisting a hand around the collar of Ethan’s shirt, “so I’d advise coming with me to my bedroom.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I have a surprise.”

That gets Ethan’s attention. He leans back, furrows his brow, and says, “A surprise?”

“Just come and see.”

He looks at him skeptically, but pulls away from him anyway and heads off towards his bedroom. Benji trails his heels, until Ethan crosses into his room and sees the restraints Benji had wrapped around his headboard and at the end of his bed before Ethan's arrival that evening.

“You said you wanted to do this again,” Benji says softly. “I thought since we agreed I’m fucking you tonight, it might be the time to do it again, for, you know…” He suddenly feels a bit dumb, like assuming Ethan wants to do this right now is one of the worst things he could have done. “...your birthday?”

Ethan turns around, letting Benji see his face at last. He’s surprised, but the faint smile on his lips settles the anxiety bubbling in Benji’s stomach.

“Is that okay?” Benji asks, and he’s answered by a firm kiss on the lips, followed by Ethan tugging his shirt over his shoulders and tossing it onto the floor. He’s about to let out a cheeky response, but Ethan interrupts him with another kiss on the mouth, this time rougher. The softness from only a minute ago is replaced now with something urgent, less deliberate. Ethan kisses him quickly, over and over, until he breaks away again to unbutton his shorts.

“What do you want to do?” Ethan questions as he kicks his pants off.

“Firstly, I want you to stop undressing and sit down.”

Ethan obeys immediately. He takes a seat on the edge of Benji’s bed, leaning back on the palms of his hands, gazing up at him expectantly.

“It’s amazing how quickly I can get you to follow orders when sex is involved,” Benji snorts. He kneels down in front of Ethan and slides his hands up his thighs, up, down, up, down, until he gently pries them apart, just enough so he can caress the inner part. “I actually don’t think anyone would believe me if I said you were a perfect angel in the bedroom.”

“It’s because you know what you’re doing.”

“Do I?” Benji bends forward and presses his lips against Ethan’s left thigh. Already, Ethan lets out a pleased sigh, opening his legs wider for Benji to brush his lips down lower. He takes his time kissing Ethan, rolling his tongue against his skin, giving a teasing suck here and there, grinning when Ethan exhales loudly enough for him to hear. “We need a safeword,” Benji murmurs between kisses.

“Hunley.”

Benji scrunches his face and glances up at Ethan. “I’d prefer to keep our boss out of my bedroom.”

“Does that mean he could be the safeword in my bedroom?”

“I’d really rather not think of him right now.”

Ethan laughs. “Icicle.”

“Icicle,” Benji repeats, and then he lowers himself between Ethan’s legs again. He sucks hard near the top of his thigh, drawing a gasp from Ethan that’s only punctuated when he suddenly bites down.

“Jesus, Benj,” he breathes.

Benji smirks to himself and lets out an innocent, “I know you like this.” He shifts to the other thigh and does the same thing. He can just barely make out the bruises of nights together past and jumps over them to mark someplace new, because they drive Ethan absolutely crazy, whether or not he verbally admits it. He drags his teeth down his leg, biting here, sucking there, and then circles back up, up, up, until he buries his nose against Ethan’s briefs. His cock jerks hard when Benji nuzzles closer to it and mouths its outline. Ethan swears and falls back onto his elbows, which elevates his hips just enough for Benji to get an even better angle. He rolls his tongue against the tip and runs it up his length, and then stifles the laugh in his throat when Ethan lets out a full-fledged whine. “You’ll need to be patient tonight, you know.”

“I’m trying,” he grunts, jutting his hips forward.

“Try harder. I’ve only just started.”

But Ethan squeezes his eyes shut and thrusts up again when Benji closes his lips around the tip of his cock and swirls his tongue over the fabric. The fact that Ethan’s not even completely undressed but already this undone goes straight to Benji’s head, and then right down to his own cock. It would be so easy to get Ethan all the way to his climax just like this, get his briefs wet and messy in just a few minutes, but Benji pulls away before the temptation grows too strong. He has other plans.

“You want to finish undressing?” Benji asks gently.

Ethan responds the next moment by tugging his briefs off and tossing them off the side of the bed. Without any more direction, he scoots himself up on the bed and holds his arms over his head, cock bouncing against his stomach all the while.

“You’re eager, aren’t you?” Benji says as he circles around the bed and grabs one of the handcuffs.

“I can look desperate on my birthday, can’t I?”

“Just this once.” He wraps the cuff around one of his wrists, clips it onto the band running around his headboard, and does the same with the other. “Is this height okay?”

“Mm-hmmm.” Ethan lets out a breath and allows his body to sink into the bed. His back dips downwards, but his wrists stay upright, making him appear like some wonderfully perverted version of a crucifix.

“You’re comfortable?”

“Never better.”

Benji hangs back for a moment and scans his eyes down Ethan’s body. This was all Ethan’s suggestion, something he had brought up a few months prior. And even though it went well enough the first time for Ethan to be this enthusiastic to do it again, Benji sinks his teeth into his lower lip and worries if maybe this was all a mistake.

“Benj,” Ethan says calmly, “I’m fine.”

“I just want to be sure.”

“I trust you. I’m fine.”

Their eyes meet. Ethan’s are wide, excited, like he’s anticipating something he’s been wanting for so long, now. Of course Ethan trusts him, that’s just a part of their job, but hearing him say it now feels like he’s taking the heaviest responsibility upon his shoulders. Like this is going to be the thing that breaks Ethan, so vulnerable in front of him, so ready for more.

“Ankle cuffs?” Ethan suggests.

It takes a moment for the words to sink in. “Right.” Benji reaches for the cuffs on his nightstand and returns to the base of his bed. He doesn’t have to say anything for Ethan to spread his legs apart and to nod at him when he’s ready for the restraints. Benji repeats what he did before, this time with his ankles, and when he finishes, asks, “Is that alright?”

“Perfect.”

Benji takes a step back. It’s strange, because part of their job is getting tied up and handcuffed and all sorts of little traumas in between, but Ethan looks entirely at peace with his arms above his head and his legs parted. There’s not a chance Benji could ever do this, or at least not right now, but Ethan can, and he loves it, and it’s a breath-taking sight.

He kneels on the edge of the mattress and settles down between Ethan’s bent legs just like he had before, only this time, he can rest comfortably on his stomach and wrap his arms around Ethan’s thighs. Benji starts with a nip to the same area of skin he had visited earlier, and then another, until Ethan lets out a soft whine and motivates him to bite down harder. Then he slides downward, sucking at the crease between his thigh and perineum, smirking when Ethan makes another audible whimper. It only intensifies when he kisses his perineum once, twice, and then mouths his balls. “You’re noisy today,” Benji mutters, wondering if Ethan even heard him but not quite caring to repeat himself. Instead, he sucks again, enjoying the sensation of Ethan’s balls tightening in his mouth, the groan that comes from him as he tenses his legs and pushes his hips downwards. He’s cautious as he works with his mouth, taking a break every so often to fondle his balls and press tender kisses against his perineum, until he finally makes his way up to Ethan’s shaft.

Benji pushes himself up on his elbows and gets an immediate view of Ethan’s cock, already resting in a pool of precum. “What a mess you’ve made,” he sighs.

“Your mouth’s so hot, baby.”

“So you’ve said.” Benji grabs Ethan’s cock, swiping his hand upward quickly until he can flick his thumb against his slit. Ethan’s eyes clench shut, teeth gritted, a strained exhale escaping him. “Before we get too far into this,” Benji continues as he drops his hand down his length, this time much more slowly, “I need to remind you that you can’t cum until I tell you.”

“Yeah,” grunts Ethan.

“Just wanted to remind you.” Benji lets go without warning and ignores the anxious sigh Ethan lets out as he bends across him towards his nightstand. A moment later, his hand closes around a bottle of lube. “Are you ready?” he asks as he squirts a generous amount in his hands.

“Yes.”

Ethan’s eyes are still closed, like this is all too much for him to withstand. His expression only worsens when Benji forms a circle with his left hand and lets it sink down Ethan’s length. Then he finds a slow rhythm, getting a bit faster with each thrust of his hand, until Ethan’s whining and moaning without pause. The bed shakes as Ethan pulls at his cuffs and rocks his hips in time with Benji’s hand.

“You like that?” Benji coos.

“Fuck, yeah,” is Ethan’s breathy response. “Mm, Benj.”

Benji stops suddenly, but before Ethan can complain, his mouth is sucking hard against the tip of his cock. “ Shit ,” Ethan breathes, and he dissolves into loud moans when Benji fondles his balls and sinks even lower onto his cock. It doesn’t take long for Ethan to take over the thrusting, faster and faster, riddled with small fuck yeah ’s here and there. Each thrust is aggressive, quick, so relieved. It’s a bit more demanding than Benji had anticipated, but he allows him to control the tempo until his jaw grows weary. Then he pushes his hips downwards and lifs himself off his cock with a loud pop, only to return a moment later by taking his own sweet time to lick down his length, until he can press a few small kisses against the base of his cock.

“Stop pulling on your restraints,” Benji says between kisses. “You’re going to hurt yourself.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“I’m trying to prevent you from having to explain any burns on your wrists when you go to work on Monday.”

“I’m a secret agent.”

“Who hasn’t been on a mission in an unusually long while.”

“Don’t jinx it.”

“I’ll try not to.” He takes Ethan’s cock in his mouth again, going all the way until his nose is buried in his pubic hair and the head of his cock bumps against the back of his throat. For a few moments, he holds it there, lets Ethan swear a bit. Then he swallows, and it’s like the end of the fucking world.

“Benj, please ,” Ethan cries, and Benji lifts his head and fucks him with his mouth, shallow but speedy, until Ethan is tugging not only at the restraints on his wrists, but the restraints on his ankles, too. He continues at the pace he’s going until Ethan’s whines become more urgent, more frequent. Then, without warning, he pulls away and watches as Ethan humps the air stupidly until he realizes Benji isn’t on his cock anymore.

“Patience,” Benji says lightly as sits up. He scoots away from Ethan the next moment and holds back a laugh as Ethan tugs at his restraints to follow him. “You don’t really think I’m going to let you cum that fast, do you?”

Ethan doesn’t answer, but watches him with hungry eyes as he gets to his feet and pulls his shirt over his head. He’s practically salivating by the time Benji’s discarding his pants.

“You really are desperate tonight, aren’t you?” he laughs. Then he lifts his hands to his chest. “I know how much you like these.”

Again, there’s no response, but his lips part when Benji begins to play with his nipples.

“It’s only fair I get to have some fun too, right?” he continues. One of his hands leaves his chest and palms at his cock, instead. His cock is half-hard already just from teasing Ethan, but watching the pained look on Ethan’s face from his inability to play with his nipples causes it to fill completely. Damn, he’s sexy like this, unable to touch Benji, or to touch himself, cock jerking roughly as Benji pinches his nipple in a way that makes him tilt his head back and let out a groan of his own. “I wish you could be over here.”

Fuck .” Ethan writhes on the bed, more precum across his stomach.

“You like watching me play with myself?”

“You’re so sexy, Benj, Jesus Christ.”

“Do you want me over there with you?”

Please .”

“Mm.” He pinches his nipple harder and rocks his hips up into his hands. “I wish you could be doing this.”

Ethan mutters something that Benji can’t quite understand, but he doesn’t need to know, not when he’s completely unglued already. Benji continues stroking his cock as he leans over the bed and picks up the bottle of lube. He watches Ethan’s eyes, the way they darken with anticipation when Benji finally kneels again and pops the bottle open with both hands. But he doesn’t say anything to him, not when he turns the bottle over and douses his fingers in lube, not when he bends forward and kisses the side of Ethan’s cock. The older man quivers, whole body seizing when Benji traces his fingers around his hole, drawing small circles before taking his cock back into his mouth and shoving one finger inside of him.

That absolutely catapults Ethan into a new level of ecstacy. He arches his back, rutting his cock up hard enough that it makes Benji gag, bracing himself against the digit now immersed inside of him. Benji jerks backwards and coughs, but resumes his soft kisses here and there before Ethan can get too concerned. Between all the incoherent moans, he can just barely make out “ Benji .”

“You really like this,” is Benji’s response as he fucks Ethan with circular motions.

It sounds like maybe Ethan lets out a whiney, “ Yes ,” but it’s impossible to tell between all the whimpers. He only gets louder when Benji inserts a second finger and rubs his cock roughly with his other hand.

“Tell me when you’re close.” He twists his hand around his cock, finding a similar rhythm with his other fingers, grinning once more while he watches Ethan’s face contort with that blissful agony. There’s no way his wrists aren’t going to be sore, not with the way he fights against them. He wants to say something to Ethan, just to motivate him, but with the way his cock is leaking, any words of encouragement might end all of this sooner than expected. That feeling is confirmed when he sticks a third finger inside of Ethan.

“Close, close, close,” he gasps, and he suddenly arches his back, but doesn’t move anymore. Benji’s quick to drop his cock and waits patiently as it twitches for a number of seconds. Then Ethan lets out an exhale and sinks back onto the bed.

Benji caresses his thighs as Ethan fights to find his breath. “You don’t know how hard I am right now,” he murmurs.

“I bet.” He grunts when Benji begins to rock his fingers into him again. “Can I feel?”

“We’re getting there.”

“I meant--” Another grunt. “--my mouth.”

He stops. “You want to suck me off?”

“Yeah.”

He hesitates. That wasn’t anything he had in mind. “Are you comfortable doing it while cuffed?”

“It would be hot, don’t you think?”

“You don’t have to tell me that.”

“Then come fuck my mouth.”

Shit , Benji thinks as his cock throbs. “If you’re uncomfortable, how are you going to tell me to stop?”

“You’ll know.”

“That’s not very reassuring.”

“The noise I’ll make will be obvious. Please, Benj?”

He sends Ethan a skeptical look, but gets off the bed and returns to his nightstand. “I had another surprise,” he starts as he finishes undressing. “Maybe you’ll like it now.” He opens the drawer and removes a black blindfold, holding it up just enough for Ethan to see what it is.

“Absolutely,” Ethan says without hesitation.

“Lift your head, then.”

Ethan does as he’s told, allowing Benji to slip it over his eyes within the next few moments.

“Is that good?”

“Mm-hm.”

Benji pauses to overlook Ethan another time. His cock must ache, given how red and hard it is, his stomach still covered with precum. But he looks so at ease, so willing for Benji to do whatever he wants with him, that it motivates him to straddle his waist and give him a deep, romantic kiss. Ethan doesn’t protest, allowing entrance to Benji’s tongue without question, kissing him back as best as he can without the use of his appendages.

“What’s that for?” Ethan asks when he pulls away.

“What?”

“That kiss.”

“Just wanted to remind you that I care.”

“I know that.”

“I’m sorry, am I prolonging your chance to suck my cock?”

“A bit.”

“I try to be nice,” Benji huffs, but he mirrors the grin on Ethan’s face as he gets up on his knees and grabs his cock. Ethan tilts his chin up, lips still pressed together but face expectant nonetheless. “You’re gorgeous,” he murmurs as he drags the tip of his cock across his jaw.

“It’d be even better if you were in my mouth.”

“You’re so pushy.” He clicks his tongue, but nudges his cock against Ethan’s lips until he parts them. Carefully, he slides in just the tip, letting Ethan get used to that much before attempting to do anything more. And Ethan readily accepts it, forming his lips around him to give him a fantastic amount of suction that nearly makes Benji’s toes curl. “Can I move?”

Ethan nods, and he pulls back and thrusts in, just a bit more than he had before, but still shallow. He repeats the movement, starting with a slow tempo, until he realizes Ethan is tugging at his restraints again.

“More?” Benji breathes, and Ethan nods again. So he gives him what he wants, pushing in even deeper, pausing to moan at the heat of Ethan’s absolutely fucking amazing mouth. When he finally comes to his senses, gets used to having so much in Ethan, he humps his hips quicker. The fear of choking Ethan prevents him from getting too carried away, but he’s only barely cognizant as Ethan takes him happily. This is bloody fantastic, incomparable to anything else. It’s only heightened by Ethan’s pleased hums, like this feels just as good for him as it does for Benji. He goes until his hips buck hard, and then he jerks backwards, out of Ethan’s mouth.

He finally gets a good view of Ethan, hair totally askew, lips red and swollen. Even though his eyes are obscured by the blindfold, Benji can perfectly envision what they might look like, dark and bewildered. And despite all that, despite the spit around his mouth, despite the unsteady heaving of his chest, he looks absolutely magnificent.

“Jesus, Ethan,” Benji breathes.

“Why’d you stop?”

“You’re lovely.” He moves down so he can kiss him again. Ethan makes a small noise when their lips meet, but it dissolves into something more content when the kiss slows, deepens, like they’re back in the kitchen again and not on Benji’s bed in the middle of some kinky situation that Ethan had wanted to try so badly. They stay like that for a while, just kissing each other with all the adoration in the world, until Benji reaches down and wraps his fist around Ethan’s cock. That draws a surprised gasp from him. “Don’t think I forgot about that.”

“Ugnh.” He tilts his hips upwards, obliging Benji as he starts stroking him again. Benji leans back and runs his other hand across his chest, his abs, anywhere that makes Ethan suck in air sharply through his teeth. “Oh, babe,” he whines.

“Tell me when you’re close.” He repositions himself between his legs to resume what he had started earlier. There are already small marks left from his teeth, still fresh and pink, and darker patches in the shape of his mouth. And they’re just as beautiful as the rest of Ethan, calling Benji back to them, biting, sucking, jerking Ethan off the whole time.

Benj .” His legs tense. “I’m close.”

He takes his hand away from Ethan’s cock and leaves soft kisses against his leg as he listens to his panting. When they die down slightly, he asks “You alright?”

“Please continue.” His voice is strained, but the pleading is sincere.

“You’re doing great.” He kisses him once more and grabs the bottle of lube again. The shudder that runs through Ethan when he hears the cap pop open brings a smile to his face. “You want this, hm?”

“Stop teasing me.”

His smile widens as he squeezes generous amount of lube onto his fingers. This time, he doesn’t hesitate, shoving a finger straight inside without any preparation. Ethan shouts, braces himself against the feeling.

“More,” he gasps.

“I’m getting there.” Benji fucks him shallowly, avoiding his prostate for now, purely focusing on opening him up. Soon after he inserts his second finger, rocking them into him slowly, slowly, and then quickly, and then slowly, slowly, again. Ethan’s absolutely delirious with ecstasy, pulling at every cuff holding him back, trying his damn hardest to get Benji deeper inside of him. Then there’s a third finger, and it’s nearly intolerable for Ethan.

“I’m close,” he chokes out. “God, Benji, I’m close.”

“Already? I better get to fucking you, then.”

“Understatement.”

Benji removes his hand and returns to Ethan’s face, where he begins to slide off the blind fold.

“What are you doing?” Ethan asks.

“I want you to see this.” He finishes taking it off, then sits up and grabs his cock. “I want you to see what you do to me.” Benji rubs himself slowly, just far away enough for Ethan to be able to do nothing more than pine. “You’re sexy when you’re cuffed.”

“Then cuff me more often.”

Benji strokes himself more roughly. “But I like when you can touch me, too.”

“I want to touch you.”

“You want to touch my cock?”

“Yes,” Ethan breathes. Their eyes lock, and the desirous look swirling within them almost sends Benji over the edge. He’s so fucking beautiful, unbelievably so, and the fact that Ethan looks like this for him is perhaps the most surreal part of it all.

Benji lets go of his cock and slides off of Ethan. “You’ve been good,” he says as he returns to the foot of the bed and takes off his ankle cuffs. “But you can’t cum until I say you can.”

“I know.” He flexes his fingers when Benji gets back on top of him. “You don’t have to take these off.”

“I want to. Is that okay?”

“Why do you want to?”

“I want to be closer to you.”

“Alright,” he answers softly. When his wrists are free at last, they’re just as pink and raw as other places on his body, but he doesn’t reflect on it, or make any quick movement for Benji. Instead, he wraps his legs around Benji and caresses his face with one of his hands.

“Are you ready?”

“Yeah.”

Benji kisses him, and then he grabs his cock, lines it up with Ethan’s hole, and pushes in.

“God.” Ethan tosses his head back and grimaces his teeth.

“Does it hurt?”

“Opposite,” is all Ethan can get out, but that’s all Benji needs. He starts slow, making small movements just for Ethan to get adjusted, until he’s whining so much that Benji has no other choice but to thrust in with more force. Ethan’s legs tighten around him as he finds a steady tempo, arms hugging his neck so tightly that he’s worried he might suffocate, but it’s alright, because Ethan’s mouth is on his mouth and there’s no other way he’d rather die. “Harder, harder,” Ethan mutters, and Benji listens. Their kisses match his pace, slow and intentional at first, and then increasingly frenzied, harder, harder , until Ethan can’t hold back his cries anymore.

“Touch yourself,” Benji tells him. “It’s alright.”

Immediately, Ethan takes one hand off of Benji’s neck and grabs his cock. He pants, whines, moans Benji’s name over and over, and that alone sends Benji into his own delirium. “God, Ethan,” he groans, sucking at his neck, his jaw, anywhere his mouth can touch as he pounds into him.

“I’m close, Benj.” He tilts his head backwards. “I’m gonna cum, fuck.”

“It’s alright, just cum.”

“I’m so -- ah .” His lips part wordlessly as strings of cum spurt from his cock. The pulsating feels endless, just over and over, shooting across his abs, sticking to Benji’s stomach. And Ethan is absolutely indescribable, with his face flushed and damp with sweat, eyes wedged shut.

He thrusts forcefully into him a few more times before pulling out and choosing to finish himself off with his hand instead. He groans, closes his eyes, drops his head forward, so fucking close to his own climax when he Ethan’s suddenly pushing away his hand and grabbing his cock, instead.

“There you go, baby,” Ethan murmurs.

It takes a moment for him to realize that Ethan’s there, now, edging him closer and closer to the end. “ Fuck!

“Just like that.” A few more strokes pass until Ethan’s finally finishing Benji off, hand and stomach painted white with cum. “Mm, that feels better, doesn’t it?”

All the strength leaves Benji’s body as he reaches the end of his orgasm. He collapses on top of Ethan, struggling to catch his breath, just barely cognizant of Ethan kissing his cheek.

“That was great,” he hears Ethan murmur. “Really, Benj, that was… wow.”

He can’t find anything to respond with, not when he’s this absolutely spent. But Ethan seems alright with that, rubbing circles into Benji’s skin, kissing every exposed inch of his face that he can reach.

“You alright?” he laughs eventually.

“Yeah,” Benji responds hoarsely, “that was just…”

“Perfect.” He smiles.

“This birthday was a success, then?”

“More than that.”

Benji finally finds the will to roll off of Ethan, but he’s quick to follow. He nuzzles against Benji’s chest and continues barraging him with small kisses.

“You better be ready for your birthday,” he mutters into Benji’s neck.

“The only rule is that I have to be able to sit down at work the next day.”

“No promises.” He pauses. “Does this mean I can get that soup recipe now?”

Benji laughs. “I said we have to be married.”

“Married couples tie each other up sometimes, don’t they?”

“Married couples also tell their friends about their relationship.”

“Uh oh, there’s that topic again.”

“We don’t have to talk about it right now, being your birthday and everything. Also because I don’t think I’m fully here after that orgasm.”

“Take your time.” He kisses him again. “I do have a question about our earlier conversation, though.”

“What about it?”

“How would you feel about me saying that I love you fucking me?”

“I guess you can say that.”

“Alright. I love…” He kisses his neck. “...you…” He kisses his chin. “...fucking me.” He pulls Benji’s face towards him and presses a short kiss against his lips.

Benji wants to respond, but his mind is completely numb. It had turned off somewhere after “you.” I love you , that’s what Ethan had said, even if that’s not what he meant, and that’s all he can hear, all he can think. I love you, I love you, I love you.

“Maybe we can tell people soon,” Ethan says suddenly.

He pauses. “What?”

“Maybe it’s just the post-sex euophoria, but maybe it’s time that some of our friends know about us.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah. For right now, at least.”

Benji’s heart hammers. Telling people that he’s with Ethan, that he’s in love with Ethan Hunt -- “Should I ask you later? Maybe when you’re not on an orgasm high?”

“Probably. I’m just enjoying this too much.”

“Being covered in cum?”

“Being covered in cum with you.”

He relaxes, laughs. “How romantic.”

“It’s my birthday, after all.”

“You know, I’d tease you, but I think that’s how I want to spend my birthday, too.”

“I think I can make that happen.”

“You think?”

“Just maybe.”

“I think I’d be happy even if you just came over to sit on my couch.”

“Careful, Benj, people might call you sentimental if you talk like that.”

“What, because I love--” He glances down at Ethan, at his beautiful green eyes, and his mouth goes dry.

“You love what?”

“Having you around,” he breathes.

There’s a pause. It might have been a few seconds, it might have been a few hours, not that Benji knows, not that Benji cares. He can’t say those stupid words to Ethan, not right now, but the expression on Ethan’s face tells him all he needs to know.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Benji says.

“Me too.”

That’s enough for him.