It’s good, the whole ‘not being dead’ thing.
Everything else is varying degrees of shit - from Hunley, to the torture, to countless governments being furious with them - but there’s not much Ethan can do about those things until he’s off the Demerol and edges start coming back to the world.
It’s good, though, not being dead.
Benji’s twitchy in the jumpseat beside him on the helicopter ride back to Islamabad. He’s got all these tells - little things he telegraphed to Ethan when he first met him. Benji just doesn’t have a poker face - at least, not to Ethan - and there’s clearly something off about him.
“Tell me what’s wrong.” It’s not a question.
“What-” Benji looks up from the complex diagram on his iPad. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“You’re being snippier than usual. What’s going on?”
“I’m not on enough Demerol to dance around you, Benji.”
Benji sighs, in the irritated way that only he can, and pulls down the collar of his jacket to reveal thick lines of bruising all around his neck, as well as angry red scratches scattered around the top of his torso.
It’s got to be damn painful - would absolutely be damn painful - and Ethan’s saying that as a person with several broken ribs and a rich medical history.
“What the fuck .” And he’s angry now, angrier than he should probably be, because they aren’t just bruises. They are ligature marks. From strangulation. Benji had conveniently left them out of his post-coma retelling. “Who did this to you?”
“Lane cornered Isla and tricked me. Strung me up like a lamb to slaughter.” Benji’s voice is fairly even, but he’s getting worked up, hands curling into fists. “He really has it out for me, doesn’t he?”
“ Asshole.” The word hardly begins to cover it, but he can’t think of another that fits quick enough. To sic his goons on Ethan was bad enough, but to purposefully hang one of Ethan’s own - Prison isn’t enough for the man.
He’s going to wish that Ethan fell off that mountain in Kashmir once he’s finished with him.
“It’s - it’s just a lot , you know? Being hanged. And I shouldn’t be complaining because I’m just a bit bruised and you’re literally a bag of bones right now but I’m pretty sure I died for a bit back then and I don’t know if -”
“Benji.” Ethan reaches out, ignores the pain like he always does, and grips Benji by the wrist. He can’t shake the annoyance he feels - the jitteriness and the rage that threatens to engulf him - but his grip on Benji’s wrist is a stabiliser, at least.
“You’re freaking out.”
“I’m not freaking out! I just-”
“Benji.” He softens his voice, tries to release some of the annoyance through sheer force of will. He lets go of the other man’s wrist before he breaks something. “Please tell me that you at least got yourself checked out.”
“Well, yeah - obviously, I’m not an idiot. Julia’s husb- uh- Patrick - checked me out while you were doing a good impression of being dead. Fractured larynx, some surface bruising - provided I don’t pass out between here and the US I should be fine.”
Well, that’s something. “Good.”
“Christ, Ethan, do you really think I’d be so self-sacrificing to go without medical attention after a strangulation? A ...colleague of mine nearly died from doing that.”
“Ex.” Benji rolls his eyes. “Self-sacrificing to the point of obstinance. Bloody mess. Still have no idea what I saw in him.”
Him? That’s another interesting fact that Ethan can add to his list of ‘recent things he’s learned about Benji’ - right under the point about bow ties. “You shacking up with a field agent? The sky must be falling.”
“Yeah, shut up.” Benji pokes him on the cheek with one finger.
It’s fortunate that that’s the only part of his body that currently doesn’t hurt.
“Most field agents love me. It’s my charm and comedic timing. Even when I was working for MI6, the top field agents used to stop by for chats.”
Horrifying. “You’re seriously not saying that you slept with James Bond.”
“Slept with?” Benji looks properly horrified. “Absolutely not. Not like he didn’t try - but no. God, no. He’s a terrible person.”
“Good.” The thought of that man getting his hands all over one of Ethan’s - it’s just sickening, that’s all.
“Careful there, Ethan, someone might accuse you of being overprotective.”
Overprotective? That’s one way to describe it. Ethan always has been. Hunley had said it was his greatest asset and his worst downfall. He’s inclined to agree. “I look after what’s mine.”
He doesn’t know if Benji likes that, but it’s true.
The broken ribs come and go. Ethan spends five weeks in recovery, four more weeks working with a physical trainer, and manages not to go completely insane during his downtime.
He speaks to a committee about the death of the Secretary - tries very hard to stop from welling up during it and just about manages it - at least until he runs into William Brandt outside the meeting room and bursts into tears.
He doesn’t even know why.
Hunley and him - they were never friends, hardly colleagues, definitely nothing worth crying over.
“Do you do this to all the girls?” Will asks, eyes red-rimmed, and sits down with him on a park bench. “Or am I just the exception?”
“Good to see you too.” He grouses, and sniffs.
Will, to his everlasting credit, hands him a handkerchief. “Good speech you gave in there. Hunley would have liked it.”
“Hunley would have been surprised to see me exactly where I was supposed to be on time.” He dabs at his eyes, genuinely embarrassed. This is exactly the kind of thing that his team ribs him for.
Ethan just raises an eyebrow at him.
“Well, it is true. Hunley thought highly of you but he absolutely didn’t trust your timekeeping skills.” Will takes the handkerchief back and uses the non-damp side to wipe at his own eyes. “How’ve you been, Ethan?”
“Trying very hard not to fall off mountains in Kashmir.”
“And then doing it anyway, or so I hear? How many broken ribs was it this time?”
“Oh, far too many.” He’d lost count amongst the sheer amount of PAIN every time he moved.
“You need to take better care of yourself.”
“I will take better care of myself once terrorists decide to stop trying to tip us into a nuclear holocaust.”
“You better.” Will puts a hand out and brushes back Ethan’s hair critically. “What have you done to yourself? Please tell me it was an actual barber who cut this and not you?”
“Do I get extra points if I lie and say yes?” He’d cut it in a tiny safehouse in Moscow, three weeks into a deep cover stint that ended up going horribly wrong. He’d not had time to go to a barber - had only managed to cut it cheaply and vaguely neatly himself.
“Awful.” Will shakes his head and brushes more hair back, disdainfully. “I go away for a few months -”
“Eh, I was filling in.”
“For two years.”
“They needed my help.”
“For two years? If you wanted a desk job then you could have just said so.”
“I don’t-” Will’s hand stills in his hair. “I don’t want a desk job. I want to be out in the field. With you. And the others. But with Hunley - and now the vacancy here - I just don’t know when I’ll be back.”
That’s something. At least. “There’ll be a spot on the team for you whenever you’re ready to come back.”
“Yeah.” Will rubs a thumb over his cheekbone then pulls away. He stands, and offers him a hand. “Come on. I think they said they were going to get speciality bagels for the recess, and I’m contemplating stealing about six.”
“Never change, Will.”
It’s much the same as Mumbai - the realisation with Jane.
Another honeypot, another terrible businessman, another kiss between them. It’s easy to make men jealous, he’s found.
What’s never happened before is that he’s jealous. Just a little. He watches her walk off to another businessman’s bedroom with another obscenely wealthy mega-tyrant, and he’s just a little bit jealous.
Which is fine.
It’s just… a change. From things. From how they used to be.
This jealousy - it’s new. He’s gotten very good at compartmentalising over the years regarding his feelings towards his team members, but those skills don’t quite seem to be working as effectively any more.
Oh well. It’s just another problem to deal with. He’ll cope.
He’s never really sure what he has with Ilsa.
It’s not romantic, not really, but it’s closer than platonic. It’s the kind of trust he can only really put in a few people, albeit in a more physical sense.
Idly, he knows that she’s beautiful - knows that all of them are - but he’s not going to take it further. He’s slept with agents on missions before, but this time around he’s their team leader and it’s deeper, somehow. That boundary doesn’t feel like it’s his to cross. Not yet.
But now, they’re in a shipping container in the heart of Siberia, trying desperately to keep warm. It’s the tag end of a mission, they’re waiting for their pickup, but a storm’s come over and there’s no way they’ll be out for at least another day.
There’s a non-electric heater in one corner that’s doing its best to warm the space, but touching the sides of the container is still a bad idea. He doesn’t want to lose any fingers. With so many hours until their extraction, they’d have to amputate.
“How are you feeling?” He asks Ilsa, who’s pouring a kettle full of steaming water into a tub of instant porridge mix. “No sudden-onset warmth? Tell me your name, rank, and how we got here.”
She dutifully repeats the information back to him, like she’s been doing on the hour for the last four hours. “It’s cold, Ethan, but I’m fine. I know what hypothermia feels like and this isn’t it.”
She tests him too, getting him to recite his name, his occupation, and then the answers to a series of math problems. He can feel the cold seeping into his joints - perks of being slightly older than most of his team - but he’s fine. They’re not dead yet.
Ilsa laces the porridge with a calorie-boosting powder, as well as several teaspoons of sugar, and stirs vigorously. They eat in silence, passing the tub back and forth, until the dish is clean.
The porridge is filling, and good, but Ethan can feel the weight of the mission suddenly weighing on him. It’s easy to force back fatigue with the fear of death on one’s shoulders, but downtime is tricky. Pushing back exhaustion is hard when the world is quiet.
Ilsa looks about as exhausted as he feels. She’s paled, slightly, and he can tell that she just wants to curl up and go to sleep.
So they pack their gear, ensure everything hazardous is packed away, and roll out sleeping mats over the wood floor. They’re lucky enough to have sleeping bags as well - makes a change from the barebones kit they usually get - and they zip them together to make one large one.
It’s unspoken, the sleeping together. In this weather, it’s a lifesaver.
There’s also nothing quite like feeling the touch of another person after a mission. It’s grounding, almost.
Ethan strips to his thermals, discards his boots near his pack and pads in thick socks over to the sleeping bags. Ilsa looks comfortable already, or at least as comfortable as someone can be lying on a cold floor in Siberia.
She graciously moves over so he can snuggle in behind her. One arm drapes neatly over her waist and the other goes under his neck. It’s not amazingly comfortable, but he’s slept through worse.
The warmth is nice. Even the feeling of someone beside him - a feeling he’s not felt in so long - is calming. It brings him down, releases some of the post-mission tension caught in his shoulders.
He thinks he might be able to love her - love any of them - if he could let himself.
“Your hand is freezing, do try not to jab it right into my ribs.” Ilsa says, with barely muffled amusement.
Oh. Shit. He moves back slightly. “Sorry.”
“You don’t need to move.” She grasps his hand in hers and rubs her fingers over his knuckles. “Just try not to turn me into an icicle, please.”
“I make no promises.” He chuckles, quietly, into her hair, and pulls her closer.
It’s good, this. While the adrenaline of the job - and the utter batshit tomfoolery he gets up to on a daily basis was always a drawcard, there’s simplicity in the quiet moments, and he likes it when they come.
It makes a nice change from murder and nightmares.
“How are you, Ethan?” Ilsa asks, light pads of her fingers still rubbing warm circles into his hands. “After everything - we didn’t get an opportunity to talk.”
“I’m fine.” And that isn’t true, at all - but it never is. Psych evals never truly get to the heart of the matter, but he’s learned to deal with it.
“If you’re fine, then I’m fine.”
The and we both know I’m not is implied.
“Maybe not fine, then. But I’m coping.”
It’s all he can really do.
It takes three months, several cross-country flights, and two more near-death experiences before they’re all back together again.
Admittedly, it’s a little awkward. Jane and Ilsa don’t know each other especially well, and everyone’s a little on edge from the recent bout of corruption from within their agencies, but it doesn’t take long for the group to move past it.
Ethan hasn’t felt this sense of group cohesion in a very, very long time.
All things go to hell, as they’re want to do, after barely half an hour. It comes in the form of a knock at the door, a mysterious package drop, and another mission.
A Russian governmental whistleblower has disappeared off the map, enroute to a safe location. Missing, suspected dead, he was carrying information about governmental plans and weaponry that could be significantly problematic if they fell into the wrong hands.
It’s not the most complicated of missions that Ethan’s ever worked on, but there’s still layers to it that could be potentially problematic.
The thing is, the last known position of the drive was in the Arctic Circle.
Kytrov is a closed city above the Arctic Circle. It’s one of the coldest places in the world, has a very short winter, and spends most of its year drenched in polar night. The largest nickel deposit in the world lies beside Kytrov, and the city itself is dystopian, freezing, and bleak.
Their mission, if they choose to accept it (and it’s not really a choice), is to infiltrate the city, without anyone realising that they’re not from it, find and recover the whistleblower (if possible), and escape the country.
If captured, the IMF will disavow any kind of connection with them.
No change there, really.
“Can I just say-” Benji says, without even stopping to really ask, “I’m not looking forward to this.”
“I can’t imagine why. Last time you were in Russia, you blew up the Kremlin.” Will says, sitting back in his chair with his feet up on the desk.
“We did not blow up the Kremlin,” Benji retorts, huffily, “We were there when the Kremlin was blown up.”
“I had no hand in it.” Jane adds, “For the record. I was nowhere near it.”
“We did not blow up the Kremlin.” Ethan says, cutting them all off by slamming an equipment case down on the table, “Can we please focus?”
Ilsa just sits, not necessarily ready to add to the conversation. She’d been in Russia, coincidentally, when the Kremlin had been blown up, but that’s a story she only really tells when she’s a few drinks down, and she doesn’t quite feel like spilling it just yet.
Benji works his magic, they construct a plan, and they’re on a flight to Nome before dusk. From there, it’s a small Beechcraft to Provideniya Bay Airport - “It’s barely an air strip ,” Benji complains, as they land bumpily on a short strip of concrete - and then a surly Russian man smuggles them away on a freight train heading for Kytrov.
It’s freezing in the train, and it’ll take a few hours to get there.
Jane props herself up on a stack of crates - it’s too cold to sit on the floor or lean against the walls - any exposed skin and it’d just freeze to the metal - and tries to get some sleep. She’s toasty in her parka, but it would be nice to be a little warmer.
She hopes that the safehouse in Kytrov has heating, though considering the state of electricity in outer Russian cities, she’s not sure if there will be.
Leaned up against a stack of cardboard in the corner, Benji and Will are taking nips of whiskey out of a small flask - not exactly best practise for a mission, but it’s cold enough that she can’t bring herself to care. Ethan’s looking over a tablet with a practised eye, presumably trying to get some more intel in before they arrive in Kytrov.
She seems a little adrift at sea.
It’s easy to accumulate in a mission, because it’s work. It’s going through the motions.
It’s a little harder to find oneself a place in the quieter moments.
Jane shuffles to the side a little and clears another person-sized spot on the crate, then waves Ilsa over.
Ilsa looks at her for a second, obviously a little taken-aback, but joins her regardless. She clambers up onto the top of the crates and crosses her legs. “Thanks.”
“Not a problem,” Jane says, smoothly, because if she’s good at anything, it’s plastering over awkward situations. “How are you doing?”
“Fine,” Ilsa replies, after a moment. “It is a little odd having nothing to do.”
“You spend a lot of time on missions, I take it?”
“It’s been most of my life.”
Jane doesn’t comment on it, doesn’t really want to think about playing the double agent for so long. It’d be strange stepping away from the role, becoming oneself again. “It must be nice to be able to have a break from that kind of thing.”
“I suppose.” Ilsa says, then smirks, just a little bit, “Though I don’t know if going to a closed city in Russia is exactly ‘having a break’.”
“It’s not my idea of a good time, I’ll tell you that.” Jane replies, “We’ve not been sent to a hot country in so long - I’m at the point where I might just rob a bank in Barbados or something just to get sent there to solve the crime.”
“If we get sent to Barbados after this mission is over, I’ll watch out for thieves, then?” Ilsa asks, and for the first time since Jane has known her, her smile actually reaches her eyes.
Jane dozes off and on for the next few hours and wakes to find Ethan, looking tense, but ready to go.
“We’re here.” He says.
“Thanks,” She replies, and gently wakes up Ilsa.
The safehouse is sparse, bare, with rough walls and furnishings, but it’s warm. The lights are harsh, too - cheap fluorescent strips that flicker on and off occasionally, when the wind blows past. There’s not enough beds, though sharing isn’t a hardship in this weather, and facilities are quite basic.
It’s rough, but they’ve all spent time in rougher places.
Kytrov is bathed in perpetual winter. The darkness only stops for a few weeks, in the middle of summer, and they’re months away from that happening. It’s gloomy, out the window, and alien. It unnerves Jane, just a little.
“It’s 6am,” Ethan says, after checking his watch. “Take six hours for yourself, do any mission prep you need to do, sleep, eat, anything like that, and we’ll meet out here at midday.”
Jane eats something light - a handful of mixed nuts, a granola bar, some oats - and falls into bed beside Brandt, who’s snoring gently, pillow pressed over his head. She contemplates elbowing him to get him to shut up, but it’s really not worth it.
The gloomy dullness of a Kytrovian midday filters through the curtains as the wind whips snow up outside.
The plan is as thus - they have two leads on the whistleblower. There’s a seedy brothel in the centre of the city that the whistleblower spent a lot of time at, and there’s also the workplace of the whistleblower himself, a portion of the giant nickel mine on the edge of the city.
They don’t have his home location, his age or a description of him, just his name. Gabriel Polyakov. It’s not much to go on.
Ilsa and Jane will be taking the brothel - for obvious reasons, and Will and Ethan will be heading into the nickel mine - for obvious reasons. Benji will get to stay in the safehouse and monitor them - once again, for obvious reasons.
“Are you sure you’re okay with doing this?” Ethan asks, in the way he usually does whenever someone gets a honeypot mission. He feels bad about it, visibly, like most of the male agents seem to.
There just aren’t that many megalomaniac killers who are into men.
“Yes, Ethan,” Jane says, patiently. “We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t.”
Ilsa echoes her statements, though she doesn’t like honeypots, either. But it’s just like any other kind of sex work or acting. It’s playing a role, sometimes enjoying it, and getting paid in the end. She just hopes they find the whistleblower quickly.
“Well, this town should be free of weird bondage clubs, at least,” Will says, apparently trying to lighten the mood and doing very badly at it.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Benji replies, “The population is over 100,000. There’ll be some people here who are into that. Besides, you enjoyed that club, remember?”
“...Point.” Will concedes, because he did. It had been especially eye-opening for him, in some respects.
The men are going to spend the rest of the day gathering intel on the mines, finding roles, and fitting into them, while Ilsa and Jane are heading to the brothel and securing their cover.
They’ve got positions there already set - thanks to some clever behind the scenes work by Benji on the flight over - but they still have to infiltrate the brothel and slip neatly into place.
“Are you really okay with this?” Jane asks, as they exist the taxi and push through the freezing air towards the brothel.
“No.” Ilsa replies, but there’s a lot of things she’s never been okay with that she’s had to do, so she’s learned to live with it. “I don’t like it. I don’t think I ever will.”
“How’s your Russian?”
Jane shrugs, “Could be better. I’ve not been here in a few years.”
“Do you want me to do most of the talking?”
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
They step inside the brothel and are immediately swept with a wave of warmth. It’s hot in there, far warmer than anywhere else in the city thus far, and the interior shines with a bright light.
The light is dazzling, at first, but it soon wears off. Several bored looking women, all dressed in various negligees and lingerie lounge across plush couches, chatting apathetically.
Another woman, dressed in tight leather pants and an elaborate brassiere, steps up to them and looks them over, critically. “You are my new girls, yes? The travellers from the other side of the city?” She says, in heavily accented English.
It’s obviously a test. “Yes,” Ilsa replies, in note-perfect Russian. “We are.”
“Mhmm.” The woman replies, in Russia too. She holds up a violently manicured finger and points it at Jane. “And you? Where are you from?”
“My father was a ...Festival child.” Jane chooses her words carefully. She doesn’t comment on the lack of subtlety, on the harassment, on anything. She is playing a role, like it or not. “He remained here on a scholarship. My mother was a local.”
“Well, you’re both… unique.” The woman says, “But you’ll do. The men might like it, and I owe Antony a favour, and your details work. Come. I am Katya.”
“Elena,” Ilsa says. Her own name is probably close enough to fit, but she’s not giving anyone any personal information - especially in this case.
“Maya,” Jane says, and that is that.
Away from the foyer of the brothel, everything is a little less polished. The rooms are sparse, with easy-to-change white sheets on the beds, and some of the floors are concrete. It’s all very clinical, in a way.
“Antony sent through your documents, said you’d done all this before. If you have any questions, ask one of the other girls.” Katya says, with a bored shrug. She gives them both rooms - numbered 12 and 13 respectively, alongside keys. “Once you’re finished with a customer, change your sheets and clean anything up, okay? We do not have other cleaners.”
The two women nod their assent, silently.
She shows them around a break room, with a small kitchenette, and lockers, and other kinds of housekeeping things. It’s all very well-maintained, if ugly and hospital-like. They have shifts, when they want them, but they’re required to be in the building a certain number of hours a day.
“Do not cause trouble.” Kayta finishes. “This is not a big city. You will not find work in Kytrov again if you do.”
She leaves them to it.
“I will speak to the women,” Ilsa decides, with a certainty she doesn’t feel. “I’ll see if they know Gabriel. Do you want to look for records?”
“They won’t have any.” Jane replies, because she’s done this before. “But I’ll look anyway.”
They split off, trying their best to look as inconspicuous as possible. The place has cameras, but they look grainy and terrible, and Ilsa hopes that a tiny brothel in a closed city won’t have the surveillance gear necessary to ID them anyway.
Ilsa, after changing into something that looks appropriately sexual but also doesn’t hinder her movements (a bralet and high-waisted shorts) moves back into the front room and decides to speak to the women.
They’re all very cold to her.
It’s probably the weather.
Jane, however, follows her intuition and wanders through the complex, looking for a room that seems a little too normal to be so. It doesn’t take her long. There’s a maintenance closet that’s not actually a maintenance closet - marked with the Cyrillic word for “cleaning,” it’s instead full of video cameras and file folders.
She goes through them, realises they’re all anonymised, which doesn’t help much, and starts scrolling through the video footage, discovering that it only goes back a couple of days - too late for any chance of running into the whistleblower, even if she knew what he looked like.
Well, that doesn’t help. The rest of the footage must be stored offline, or at an alternative facility somewhere else. There’s nothing she can use.
The room is basically a bust.
She rejoins Ilsa in the foyer, after changing into something a little more appropriate to the place. Most of the women have disappeared, presumably off to parts unknown with men, and the room is bustling.
“Any luck?” She asks, as loudly as she dares.
A wiry man, with a bedraggled beard, eyes her up from a metre or so away and she resists the urge to glare at him.
“No.” Ilsa replies, “They’re not fond of strangers.”
The mining facility is an OSHA nightmare waiting to happen. It’s filthy, there’s sharp edges everywhere, and Brandt is a little worried that if he touches anything without gloves, he’ll get tetanus.
However, he’s not going to bitch about it, because he’s fairly sure he’s got the better end of the deal.
They’re working on the ore crushing part of the mineral processing line. It’s dusty, and dangerous, with giant machines banging and crashing around them constantly.
It’s too loud to speak, too. Taking off their earmuffs would be suicide for their ears, so he and Ethan communicate by sign, which is only just readable through the thick gloves and low-light conditions.
It’s not the most ideal of places to be.
Brandt’s a little resentful of Benji, if he’s honest. Benji gets to sit in their - frankly inadequate - safehouse, tapping into communications and internet traffic and security cameras. He gets to be warm, and he’s not at risk of losing an arm if he slips up.
Benji’s done some pretty terrible things in the name of the IMF, but even so. Brandt feels he can be a little resentful about it.
Adrian’s asleep . Ethan says, as he rounds the corner of the crushing machine. Do you want to take a look in his files? See if you can find our guy?
Adrian is one of the supervisors. He’s fallen asleep twice in as many days.
Will wants to ask why he’s doing it, instead of Ethan, but he’s just happy to put the heavy arms of the crushing machine down, and rest his muscles.
He wipes sweat off his forehead and nods. Will do.
Adrian’s slumped over a table in his office, looking dishevelled and generally worse for wear. He’s a large man, and quite ugly too. There’s a glass on the table next to him, and Will wonders if Ethan slipped him something, but there’s really no way to tell. Most of the IMF anesthetic drugs are hard to detect, and it doesn’t really matter anyway.
He can feel the rumble of the machines less in the office, so he takes a moment to slide his earmuffs off. It’s a little quieter, and his ears are getting sweaty.
Adrian’s computer is a boxy old thing, running some Russian boot of Windows XP. It’s hardly responsive, but he manages to get into the directory without it crashing, so that’s one thing.
There’s lists of staff, names that are hard to read in the dim light of the office and harder to read because they’re all in Russian. However, they’re alphabetised, so he finds Gabriel’s name after only a couple of minutes of searching.
And there’s a picture attached to his profile.
Gabriel Polyakov is a wiry man, thin but muscled, with a head of close-cropped blond hair. He’s not much to look at, just bearded and scrappy, like a terrier with too much energy to give.
There’s not much to him, but he’s recognisable. There’s clothing sizes attached to his profile, inside leg measurements that translate out to something in the height range of 5 ft 5.
Height is one of the things that’s a little harder to disguise. With the image and his height… they should be well on the way to finding him.
Brandt commits the image to memory, wipes the directory of the searching he’d done, and he’s just about to switch the computer off when-
There’s a horrible, rough scream from the factory floor, and Will knows without a doubt that it’s Ethan.
Ethan doesn’t scream. He’d never show it.
But Will would recognise that voice anywhere.
He switches the computer off, jams his earmuffs back on and rushes out to the factory floor, entirely unprepared for what he sees.
“I’m... fine,” Ethan says, though he’s not. “Let me... be.. productive.”
There’s a hospital in Kytrov, but visiting it would cause too many questions.
The slash down the meat of his thigh is deep and painful. The crushing machine had malfunctioned, splintered a sharp gash almost down to the bone. They’d patched him up themselves, but it had been a tough few hours. He can’t put weight on it.
“They’ll never get the bloodstains out of the floor of the factory,” Will says, and helps Ethan swing his leg up onto the bed.
“I slipped. There was an oil leak - the whole place is a deathtrap.” Ethan says, a little blearily, because he’s still on a lot of drugs. “I didn’t mean to.”
“We know.” Will says, and grips him on the shoulder. “The best thing you can do now is get better. I’ll go and lift all the heavy things instead.”
“Sorry…” Ethan says, under his breath, and he actually seems earnest enough to mean it.
“You’re lucky I like you,” Will replies, over his shoulder, but Ethan’s already fallen asleep.
The other three members of the team are sitting around Benji’s laptop when he comes out into the main room. They don’t look up as he comes in.
“Status report,” Will orders, because technically he’s the highest ranking member of the team now. It feels strange to pull rank, but he does it anyway. “Jane?”
“Ilsa and I have spent two just… really awful days in the brothel.” Jane says, looking tired and a little worse for wear. “It’s not been fun. I would prefer not to go into it. The women don’t know anyone called Gabriel - at least the ones who spoke to us - there's a lot more people there, but they just won't talk yet.”
“They’re very cold towards outsiders, but it’s reasonable to assume he used a fake name. Now we have a description we might be able to get further with the investigation.” Ilsa adds. “However, security cam footage is backed up every night on a remote server at a security facility on the outskirts of town. Governmental thing, apparently. We’d have to break in there to get footage from any time before the last few days.”
“That’s a last ditch attempt, though,” Benji says, not looking up from his laptop, “Because I’ve looked into the schematics and cracking that thing… it aint going to be easy, especially without Ethan.”
“Now we have a description, we can look for Gabriel properly.” Jane finishes, “The sooner we find him, the better.”
They clearly don’t want to talk about their time in the brothel, and Will’s not going to press the subject. “Benji?”
“Kytrov’s security systems are a tough nut to crack.” Benji says, finally looking away from his screen, “I’ve done my best, but like I said, they’re encrypted. Heavily. Considering why we’re here, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that they’re hiding something else in this city. I’ve got a few more things we can try before we have to go the whole hog and break into the facility. I’m using the security footage we do have and running a rudimentary trace - seeing if I can find our whistleblower, or at least, where he lived.”
“Great.” Will says, though it’s not. “Well, you know what I did so I won’t repeat it. Benji, if you could find that house as soon as possible, that would be great. I don’t like leaving you two in such a place for longer than I need to.”
“We don’t like it either,” Ilsa says, and then lapses into silence. She looks tired, these days. More worn out. It’s not just the cold, it’s something worse.
He doesn’t want to think about it, but he has to. It’s part of the job, part of the status report, but they get it worse. They always get it worse. “Is there- is there anything we could do to make it better? To help?”
“Yesterday a man beat me worse than I’ve had from actual criminals we’ve taken down.” Ilsa says, bluntly. “But they don’t tend to get off from it. I want this to end as soon as possible, please.”
“I could do with some bourbon.” Jane adds, smoothing her hair back from her forehead, “And some painkillers. Not necessarily in that order.”
Will leaves that for later. “When do you want to do your physicals?”
It’s a mandated part of the IMF’s processes that any agent going through highly-violent or highly-sexualised missions have to conduct physicals every three days, as a preventative measure. They’re all qualified to do it, but they can’t be self-conducted. Generally, Ethan would do them, because he’s a lot better at getting people to open up and talk to him about their problems, but he’s otherwise occupied, so it’s really up to Will.
“Just whenever.” Jane says, slowly, “...at least you’re not paying for it.”
And it’s just gross, really. Just all of it. Consensual sex work is all fine and well and good and everything, but when agents are persuaded into it without given the opportunity to back out… it’s just gross.
Will hates the IMF for a moment, even more than he usually does.
It’s late afternoon. He’s not had work today, and the women aren’t working either. There’s no better time than any. “Now?”
“Now.” Jane agrees, though she doesn’t look particularly happy about it.
Ilsa is bruised within an inch of her life. The bruises trace spatter up her back, across her buttocks, and around her shoulders. She’s not concussed, or anything, just bruised and disgruntled.
“How are you feeling?” Will strips off his gloves, politely averting his eyes as she puts her sweatpants and t-shirt back on.
“Horrible.” She says, and means it.
Will hands her a strip of painkillers, and some off-brand Deep Heat cream. “Do you want to talk-”
“It’s not like a honeypot, because we’ve all been on honeypots. It’s just terrible, vile men - and I’ve not seen a kind one yet - wanting to get their end away. I just feel dirty, even when I’m not there.” She says, all in a rush. Her outburst seems to surprise her as well, because she shifts uncomfortably and falls silent.
“Is everything-” He doesn’t quite know how to phrase the question. It hurts to see her like this. It hurts to see both of them like this.
He doesn’t know Ilsa as well as he knows Jane, but he doesn’t like seeing her so subdued.
“No blood, no forced penetration,” She says, with a sigh, as if she knows exactly what he’s about to ask, “I’m on birth control. I didn’t notice anything obviously contractible and I’ll get blood tests when I get home. I should be fine.”
“Let me know if anything changes, yeah? Anything at all.”
“Yes. I will.” She looks up at him, and shrugs, just a bit. “It could be worse, you know. I’ve… done worse.”
“Doesn’t mean you should have to.”
Ilsa stands from the table, and strides over to him. She eyes him up and down for a moment. “Can you- just- it’s stupid.”
“Hug me?” She says, and she looks incredibly vulnerable as she says it, far more than he’s ever seen her. “I just want- to feel something that’s not… them?”
And the fact that she even has to ask hurts. “Of course.”
He wraps his arms around her, mindful of the bruises, and she lies her head up against his chest. Intimacy like this, it’s strange. It presses on boundaries, things between agents that no-one really talks about, things that he shouldn’t even attempt.
Ilsa feels warm in his arms, quiet and comfortable. It’s a little like she’s thawing out, piece by piece.
“You’re good at this,” She says, so quietly that he almost thinks he’s imagined it.
“I try,” because, despite the moment, he’s nothing if not humble.
As soon as they get to the brothel they strip down a little, pull on heels instead of their winter boots and head towards the group of the other women, looking disgruntled at the entrance.
Ilsa’s bruises haven’t gone down, yet. They’re yellowing, casting faint splotches along the edge of her spine. They look like they hurt, but if they did, she’d never say anything about it.
“Afternoon,” Jane says to Katya, who just looks at her and says nothing in return.
The other women look familiar. There’s Anna, a willowy blonde with deep red lingerie and a high lace choker around her neck; Natasha, who is shorter and heavily muscled; and Viktoriya, who has short spiky hair and several sharp slashes across her thighs.
Ilsa had tried to make conversation with them all over the last couple of days, and had not done very well.
They weren’t fond of outsiders.
Jane, however, has had more luck. Nastasha is also a Festival child, born of scholarship parents, and she talks a little of her home life to Jane in broken English. She’s sweet, too, despite the muscles.
But their discovery can’t wait. They’ve got an ID on Gabriel, now all they have to do is find him.
“Who’s the smallest you’ve ever been with?” Ilsa asks, because subtly is one thing, but they’ve already got one injured agent and time is of the essence.
“Probably that karlik,” Viktoriya says, and chortles heavily at the use of the harsh descriptor, “Though his dick was huge. You?”
“5”4’?” Jane adds, “You mean, like, regular sized people, right? Others don’t count.”
“Yeah, I was with someone who was four ft nine, once. That was weird.” Anna lolls back against the couch and brushes at her face with her nails, “Too short.”
“And you?” Jane asks, looking over at Natasha.
“‘Tasha gets all the big guys. ‘Suppose they think she can handle them.” Anna says, brushing back her hair. “It’s no fun.”
“No, no, there was that blonde man?” Natasha says, quickly, “He was really short. The one who always kept on coming back and really wanted to ‘save me from this life’? Remember him?”
“Yeah, he was a creep. Real muscled though, even though he was tiny. I always used to say that he’d be a nightmare to run away with, because he was so fast in bed.” Viktoriya chuckles, “He’d cum in like, half a minute.”
“What was his name?” Jane asks, looking over to Ilsa for a moment. “If he’s like that, I’ll avoid him.”
“G- something.” Natasha wrinkles her nose, “Really weird guy.”
“I remember,” Viktoriya said, “Gabriel, like the angel.”
And that’s it. That’s their man. That’s an actual lead.
Jane fights a little to keep her cool. There’s nothing in rushing into things. “He’s not been around lately, has he? We get all kinds through here but he just sounds irritating.”
“Nah, I saw him… last week, at Curio, but he’s not been back here since then. Why?” Anna asks, looking at her curiously, and a little suspiciously, pulling a brush through her gorgeous long hair.
“Just wanted to know who to look out for,” Jane says, but doesn’t have any time to say anything more, because the door to the brothel is thrown open and Anna’s brush and Anna’s face disintegrate in three single bullets.
She dies, instantly, slumping to the floor in a pile of blood and gore.
Viktoriya and Natasha both scream in unison, hysterically and violently, but they don’t move.
There’s nothing to it.
Jane dives over the couch, pulling Natasha with her. The girl’s all limbs, flailing wildly, and the couch won’t save them for long.
Somewhere, Katya is screaming.
She doesn’t know where Ilsa is, can’t see her over the fragments of blood and fabric hanging in the air.
The shooter stops, just for a moment. “I only want Faust and Carter. Give yourselves up, or I will rip the place apart until I find you,” The shooter says, in heavily accented English.
He knows their names. He knows their names. Burning a cover, it’s almost more of a threat than the gun.
“What is he saying?” Natasha whispers, but Jane shakes her head frantically at her to get her to keep her mouth shut.
“You have ten seconds,” The gunman says, sounding bored. “I don’t give a shit about some backcountry brothel. I will tear this place apart if I have to.”
Ilsa takes seven.
She explodes out from behind one of the chairs, and slams a heavy vase across the shooter’s face, knocking him to the side with a hail of pottery fragments. He grunts, drops his gun just a little, the impact firing a shot into the floor.
“RUN.” Jane hisses, shoving Natasha to the side, “Run. Get out. Use the back door.”
She stumbles away, slowly, too slowly - but the gunman can’t focus on her as Ilsa winds her way through his legs and slams him onto the edge of a chair. They grapple on the floor, rolling over and over, and she knocks the gun from his hand with a jab from his elbow.
“Get out.” Jane drags both Katya and Viktoryia to their feet and then throws herself into the fray.
The shooter is built like a mountain, with muscles like it too. He reaches towards his gun, and can’t quite make it, with Ilsa’s weight pinning him down around the head.
Jane falls onto his other arm, pushes his grip to the floor. He struggles, knees her in the back when trying to get up, then pulls up and strikes a jab right across her temple.
It’s like being hit by a brick. She falls back, world spinning dizzily around her, to see the gunman throwing Ilsa off and reaching for his gun.
He fires once, twice, but both the shots go wide, splattering against the wall.
Jane stumbles onto her knees, groggily, dizzily, and crawls towards the man, trying hard to stay upright. She can’t see, she can’t see, she can’t-
The gunman’s on her before she can move, pinning her to the ground with his arm. She claws at it, bites him, and he smacks her across the face with the flat of his palm, throwing her head back against the floor. “Bitch,” He snarls, and presses the gun to her forehead, his finger heavy on the trigger.
The cartridge is empty and Ilsa is there, one of her heavy heels clutched in her hand. She stabs downwards, sharply, a little off the target, but not too much, and sends the heel straight into his eye.
He cries out, brutal and guttural, but drops to the floor, flayed out like a starfish, all limbs akimbo.
He’s still breathing, barely.
“...You know us,” Ilsa hisses, words slurring just on the edge of cognizant, and crushes his collar beneath her fingertips, “Who are you?”
“ Fuck you. ” He says, and then his head drops back to the floor, and he’s gone.
Jane takes a moment just to breathe and then looks over his weapon, recognising it almost immediately. “Government-issue. He’s a cop.”
“Shit.” Ilsa slumps onto the ground and puts her head between her knees for a second. “They know we’re here.”
“We’ve got to get back to the safehouse. If they know this place, what else-”
“Yeah,” Jane says, but she can’t seem to make her legs work. It’s like they’re rooted to the ground, all of a sudden, the shock of nearly being shot hitting her right in the face.
“That was too close,” Ilsa says, still slurring, then offers her a hand. “Let’s go?”
Jane takes it, uses it as a pulley, a lifeline, to get to her feet. “Yeah.”
Katya pokes her head around the doorway, stares them both down. “Who are you people?” She says, in Russian, and Jane recognises they’ve been talking in English, ever since the shooter broke the door down.
She knows too much. If this is government… “You never saw us.” Ilsa says, in Russian, because it’s imperative that the woman knows. “You never saw us, you have no idea who we are. Some madman came in, looking for people you didn’t know, and shot one of your girls. It’ll be better for you if you erase any notes about us, any profiles, anything. Okay?”
She doesn’t expect an answer, but Katya gives her one anyway. “Okay.”
They find their clothes, suit up, and head off into the gloomy skies of the polar night.
Ethan’s hobbling around, back at the safehouse, with Benji and Will in tow.
“We’ve been tagged.” Benji says, jaw set, as he shoves his laptops into a lightweight carry case. “Someone must have bugged us. There’s activity on the network and they’re scrambling people our way. We need to leave.”
Jane explains the brothel situation in a couple of quick sentences. “Ethan?”
“There’s no time. Did you find anything else out about Gabriel? Before you left?” He’s packing his bag, shoving piles of Benji’s wires into tiny pockets.
“Curio. It might be a bar? They said they saw him there, occasionally.” Jane says, as she moves into the other room to collect her bag. She’s still woozy, far from one hundred percent, but there’s no time to sit and lick their wounds.
If Ethan looks tense, there’s absolutely a problem.
“Next place to look, then.” Ethan yells, back at her. “You have two minutes.”
She’s ready in one.
They’re a mismatched team when they leave the building. They split up, Benji and Ilsa and Will, Ethan and Jane, with the promise to meet up on the outskirts of the city in an hour. There’s a crummy motel there, and Benji booked them a room - only one, to minimise suspicion, so they’ll have to share.
If they’re not all back together by 6am, that’s when it’s time to panic.
It’s a little after midnight when Benji and Ilsa set off east.
Benji’s got his cases, so he doesn’t look exactly normal limping along with one under each arm, but the sky’s grey enough to disguise them, just shapeless figures in the snow.
She doesn’t offer to help.
Pain grips tight around her chest, presses bruises into her back. She’s not as young as she once was, time and brutality making its notes on her figure, and she’s been shot.
It’s a little too masochistic not to mention it, but they don’t have the time.
Jane hadn’t noticed, she thinks, because she would have made her sit down, patch it up, but Ilsa’s walked off worse and lived to tell the tale.
The bullet passed right through, just skimmed the edge of her thigh, sunk a trail into her flesh. She can still feel her toes, can flex if she tries, but every single step sends a jolt of pain right through her.
Ilsa doesn’t quite know what is real and what isn’t, anymore, but she’s making do.
“Bloody Russia,” Benji complains, in the way that he always does. Tension doesn’t seem to stop his temper, and she’s grateful for it. “I’m not a fan of global warming, like, at all , but this is overkill.”
It’ll be a cold day in hell when Benji stops complaining about the little things.
“It is… fairly cold.”
“Yeah, but you’re used to it.” Benji says, and doesn’t spare her a backwards glance. “I’m sure you’ve been in deep cover here before - I know you.”
He doesn’t, not really. None of them do. Ilsa cultivates two very different ‘selves’ - and maybe, sometimes, she lets the private one come out. It had happened in Kashmir, in an old wooden house.
No matter how many missions they’ve run together, she still has some secrets to keep.
“I spent three months in Russia as a student,” Ilsa says, which actually isn’t a lie. She’d been a student of a very specific school for girls - sort of a spy training college - and she had been in deep cover too, but it’s not technically lying.
“You, a student-” Benji breathes air out through his teeth, “I can’t even imagine it.”
“I had braces.” She missteps, and it’s jarring. She has to bite back a cry.
“So did I.”
And she can see it, really. Benji’s the type of man who she used to see in American movies she could secret into her boarding school when the teachers weren’t around. A nerd, with huge glasses and braces, but with a heart of gold underneath.
She doesn’t know much about American movies.
“I understood-” But then she steps again, and the pain is worse and she can’t help but stumble down into the snow.
The sharpness that rips through her leg is utterly overwhelming. There’s nothing quite like being shot. She breathes out, through her teeth, “Fuck.”
Benji drops his cases, runs a slippery path over to her. “Shit. Are you okay? Can I help-”
“I’m fine.” She tries to get her balance, to stand again, but it’s a little too much, and she can’t.
What would her teachers think of her?
“You’re clearly not.” He says, still offering a hand. “What’s wrong?”
“Shot.” She says, because at this point, why not? “Missed the arteries, went straight through. Upper thigh. I’m concussed, too.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“We didn’t have time.”
Benji sets his jaw. “No. We’re not going to be like this. We’re not martyring ourselves in this awful city. We’re getting a cab, and I’m patching you up. Come on.”
And he pulls her to her feet.
He finds a cab loitering around a tiny bar at the end of the street, strikes a deal with the driver, and helps Ilsa in. The interior of the cab smells like cigarettes, heavy and cloying ones too, the ones that can only be found far, far north of the Tropic of Cancer.
It’s warm, however, and the cab moves smoothly over the long, empty roads.
Ilsa finds herself dozing off after a few minutes, completely against all of her training, but she lets it happen. Benji’s shoulder is warm and comfortable, and it’s not long before she’s completely asleep.
It must be blood loss, or something.
They pay the cab driver in rubles, and Benji half-carries, half-drags her into the motel. He pays in cash, collects one key, and they find their way into the motel room, and into the bathroom.
“Strip,” He says, and then gestures vaguely in her direction, “I’ll sew you up.”
“I can do it myself…” She says, though that is, too, a lie. She can hardly see straight. Concussions aren’t light at the best of times and this seems like a bad one.
“No, you can’t.” He says, plainly, and a little bit unimpressed. “Come on. Do you need help? I can help-”
“Don’t touch me.” Ilsa says, because if she can’t fix herself, she’s going to have one thing she can do instead. She’ll deal with her own clothes.
She’s not even thinking about the brothel when she says it, but by the way that Benji’s eyes widen… He’s clearly thinking of other things. It hurts, a little, that he sees her as a victim, but she doesn’t have the strength in her to stop.
The thick fabric of her snow gear has stuck to the wound, and it stings as she pulls it away. The wound itself looks clean, and is only seeping blood slowly now. She can’t see the exit wound, but she can feel it, ragged and torn along the back of her thigh.
Benji pulls a bunch of supplies from his pack. Non-adhesive pads, antiseptic wipes, a suturing kit, tape. "Do you mind if I-"
"Go ahead," She says, because it's not like it matters. Compared to all the touching she's had to endure over the last few days, it's the kindest thing she's felt.
Ilsa takes a couple of numbing pills - they won’t knock her out, but they’ll take the edge off.
She sits back on the edge of the toilet - they're going to have to thoroughly clean the bathroom after this, with all the blood she's got everywhere, and lets him dab a sterilised wipe all around the area of the wound.
He’s kneeling between her spread thighs, looking up at her in a way that’s not pitying, but understanding. Kind. "It's not in there, is it?"
"No, it went straight through. Believe me, I can't see it, but I’d feel it if it was still in there."
He nods, placidly. "Well, you'd know better than I. Would you prefer to do this standing up or-" He's nervous, it's obvious, but she just- doesn't have the willpower or the energy to take care of herself right now.
She stills him, with a hand on his shoulder. "Benji. You're doing fine."
"Mhmm," He replies, non-committedly, and goes back to wiping the blood off.
It's a surprisingly clean wound from what she can see, no ragged edges, which will make it easier to heal, just to the left of the junction of her thighs.
The antiseptic stings, but it’s something she’s used to.
He’s gentle about it, too gentle - kindness is rare and far-between in her line of work, and she’s not used to it. There’s faux-kindness, the sort she used to get from her former employers, from marks, but someone doing an pleasureless task out of the goodness of their heart is something she very rarely sees.
It’s intimate, like this, his breath warm on her thighs, gentle hands suturing off her wounds -
It’s a little too much.
She doesn’t want to think about it.
The needle stings as it goes in, pulling her skin taut, but it’s manageable. Understandable. She can wall that off.
From her angle above him, she can just see down the neck of his shirt - seeing faint marks, presumably from Kashmir.
She’s concussed, probably. It makes her a little dumb.
“Does it still hurt?” It’s been months, but she’s not talking about physically.
It takes him a moment to get what she’s talking about. He hums, faintly, under his breath, and says, “Sometimes I wake up and can feel the rope still around my throat.”
It’s one thing to be beaten up, and bashed, and broken - they’ve all been there, but to be so close to death -
“He’s a bastard.” She’s surprised at her outburst, but it’s true. Lane is and forever will be, a bastard.
He snorts, “You’ve got that right.”
She’s restless, sleepy, a little out of sorts. The adrenaline from early in the evening has worn off, just to be replaced with a deep exhaustion. She lets her hand drift down to rest on his shoulders, and she fiddles with his collar, examining the faint marks a little closer. “Did you get these checked out?”
“Yes, of course,” He replies, and gently shifts her hand away. “Christ, both you and Ethan are too alike, sometimes.”
“He told you to go to a doctor?”
“Good.” It’s one thing for her - to recategorise the pain, make it hers, internalise it, but being hanged-
It can kill.
A bullet wound is a little easier to fix.
“All done.” He says, and pats the last piece of tape down over the wound. “Let’s see the other side?”
It takes a little more shuffling around so he can actually see the thing, but his eyes widen as soon as he gets his eyes on it. “Christ.”
“Does your thigh usually look like it’s lost a bout with a chainsaw? How the hell did you manage to stand on this for so long?”
“Practise.” She says, and that one’s true.
He hmms and haas and frets over the wound for far longer than is really necessary, but she humours him. With luck, there's no-one on their tail, and they've still got time to wait for the others. It's not as though there's much else to do, and it's not a good idea for her to go to sleep just yet, both for the sake of the concussion, and safety itself.
Russia is hell, she's decided. After all this, she's going to take a long bath, have some whiskey, and not come back for a very long time. "Can you check me for concussion?" She asks, though she's fairly sure she already knows the answer. She's been concussed a lot - they tend to have the same feeling.
"Yep." He says, taping down another non-adhesive pad on the other side of her thigh. "This is basically done, anyway. I would say 'don't walk on it', but I know you, and I know this damn mission. Give me a sec."
Benji gets her to follow a light, recite some basic numerical and alphabetical sequences, and some tongue-twisters. She does her very best to get them all right, but it's not easy, and she knows she's slurring.
"Probably a mild concussion," he says, then hesitates, "If you want to sleep - I can wake you, just to make sure that you don't - uh-"
"I'm fine for now." She says, gently, because he's still a little flaily, and she doesn't need that. "Really. Thank you."
"It was my pleasure," he says, and then balks, as though he's just realised what he's said, "I mean - not my pleasure, but like-"
"Benji. Thanks." She touches him gently on the cheek, genuinely thankful about it all. "I couldn't have done it without you." That's a little bit of a lie, but he doesn't need to know that.
He looks up at her, surprised, still kneeling between her legs. It's a very powerful position, she considers, but she's concussed, and in pain, and it would be... inappropriate. It'd break too many rules.
"Not a problem." He says, and climbs to his feet, picking up her discarded snow clothes, "Do you want me to wash these out? It's fairly warm in here, they'll probably dry, and like... they're pretty bloody."
"If you wouldn't mind," she says, and yawns suddenly, abruptly. "I might actually take your sleep offer up, if that's okay?"
"It's more than okay." He says, and helps her out of the bathroom, and towards the double bed. "I have had the least active week of my life. I don't think I could sleep anymore than I have been already. I'll wake you in a bit."
"Thanks." She says, moving closer, "You're... one of the good ones, Benji," and she kisses him on the cheek.
Ethan, Jane and Will plod through the snow, several kilometres away. Ethan's trying to keep a good spirit about things, but he's clearly flagging, and they're getting to the point where it might just be safer to order a cab, despite the fact that they've been tagged. "If I fall again, just leave me here," he says, like a martyr, as usual. "I’m slowing you down."
"Yeah, we don't have enough resources to conduct a rescue, so think again," Will says, and tightens his arm around him, "I reckon we're surely far enough away to-" But he drops, for a second, squints, and says, "Does that say sign say Curio, or am I misreading my Russian?"
"It does." Jane says, from behind them. She's exhausted, right down to her bones, but she's making walking work. Just. "Do you think-"
Will makes an executive decision, just one of many he's been making lately. "You two get to the motel. I'm going to check it out."
"Not alone." Ethan struggles a bit to look up at him, "We don't do things like this alone."
"Jane looks like she's about to pass out and you have a serious injury." Will hisses, back. He takes a look at his watch - 2.30am. "Just let me take a look. I won't do anything stupid, and anyway, look at us. Out of the three of us, who is most likely to get answers from a dive bar?"
He does, in fact, have a point, but Ethan doesn't want to admit it. "No, I won't let you. We've been burned, Will. You have no idea who could be in there."
"Yeah, well I have no idea if we'll get back here. I don't know where we are, and time matters right now, Ethan. Don't be a dumbass."
"I'm not." Ethan says, but it's clear that he realises the truth in Will's words. "Fuck." He swears, relenting. "Fine. Fine. Have a look around, but don't be rash. You need to be at the rendezvous by six, okay?"
"Yes, boss. Jane?" Will looks over at her, "Can you carry him?"
"Yeah," She says, though it's a near thing.
"Get a cab. I'll be there soon."
"Look after yourself," Jane says, though she feels a little like she's sending him to the wolves.
"Don't be a dumbass." Ethan repeats, again, as though his words will penetrate Will's skull, which they probably won't.
Jane and Ethan stumble through the door of the motel at 4am, looking worse for wear and exhausted. Benji leaps up from his laptop, where he's been tracking the traffic in the city - there's been a lot around their safehouse, but no-one seems to know where they are yet - and says, "Oh my God - are you alright?"
"Bed." Jane mumbles, stripping layers of snow gear and tossing them over various bits of the motel room as she goes. She doesn't say anything more, just crawls into bed beside Ilsa and passes out, almost immediately.
"Well, that was cold." Ethan says, and stretches out his leg with a wince. He makes an aborted motion towards his feet, but can't quite seem to get there, "I hate to ask, but could you-"
"Christ, I'm just everyone's bloody maid today-" Benji says, but it's not in annoyance, not really. He’s too relieved to see Ethan alive.
"You're just lucky to be the most able bodied of us right now." Ethan says, and smiles tiredly at him, "Is Will in the bathroom-"
"Will was with you."
Ethan's eyes widen, "he said he was just going to take a look. I- I should have never let him-"
"What?" Benji says, sharply, and a little confused, as he goes to work on Ethan's other snow boot, "What is it?"
"He found Curio. The bar? That Gabriel was last seen at? He found it. He said he was just going to take a look."
"There's two hours until the rendezvous." Benji says, rationally, though he's worried, too. There's nothing fun about losing a member of their team when they're in such a precarious position.
"Even so." Ethan claps a hand on his shoulder. "Sorry. I'm just worried."
"For good reason," Benji says, and directs him towards his laptop. It's full of intercepted Russian data, most of it concerning - ...them.
"So they know we're in the city." Ethan says, not sounding surprised, "I expected it would happen - there's more intercountry bugs in this place than during the Cold War. I just didn't expect it to happen this quickly. The shooter at the brothel - government?"
"I don't know. The things I've found would suggest - maybe contractors, not the government themselves? I'm betting that drive has a lot of sensitive things on it that many people would want to get their hands on."
"Yeah." Ethan sits back in his chair, suddenly exhausted. The leg injury's taken more out of him than he's realised. "Yeah."
"Go to bed." Benji says, gently. He reaches for Ethan's hand across the table and grips it. "You're tired. You need to rest."
"I don't think I'll get any sleep until Will gets back."
"You won't know until you try." He squeezes their joined hands, looking thoughtful. "This mission has been a real adventure, hasn't it?"
"I don't know," Ethan says, and climbs up from the table, "On the scale of things I've done lately, it's been fairly mundane. It’s no Kas-”
"We can't all be you." Benji says, before he says it, and leaves him to it.
They're all awake by 5.50, looking bedraggled and out of it, and Will still isn't back. Benji's drumming his fingers on the table, looking jittery and anxious, and the other three are too, just in a less physical way.
The clock ticks through the minutes, horribly slow and incredibly fast all at once and as soon as it hits 6.00am, Benji reopens his laptop and mutters, "I'll start a search. Do you have an address for that bar?"
"I have a general area?" Ethan says, through his teeth, anxiety tight in his voice, "There were no street signs."
"Good enough," Benji says, "Can you tell me-"
But his words are interrupted by a knock at the door. "It is freezing out here." Will yells, muffed behind several layers of insulation. "Please let me in."
"You cut it damn fine," Ethan says, no small amount of irritation in his voice, and pulls the door open after he's checked the peephole. "Where have you been?"
"Taking in the sights." Will says, and holds up a USB drive, "Got this, though."
The drive. He's got the drive.
Ethan gingerly takes it from him, passes it over to Benji. "Verify the contents. Where's the whistleblower, Will?"
"Well..." Will says, as though he's about to start spinning a yarn. He stops. "Just- let me sit down first."
Will had left them on the side of the road in the snow, hoping desperately they'd find their way to the motel safely. He had smoothed back his hair, made himself look vaguely presentable, and walked into Curio, with the confidence of a man who knew more than he was letting on. It wasn't a nice bar, more of a dive, with scratched floors, irritated occupants, and cheap piss.
"I mean, I've got more of a thing for bars that are warm-" Will commented, "But it was out of the wind. No-one looked happy to see me."
He'd bought a couple of drinks, had only really drunk a few sips of one, but after an hour or so the gruff old men in the place seemed to think he was kosher. "I started asking a few questions. Nothing big. Asked them if they got any weirdos in, things like that. I'm sure it wasn't exactly subtle, but I had places to be."
No-one had really wanted to talk to him, but he'd finally found someone in the corner of the bar, a young man, looking worn and tired from his mining job, who had thawed enough to answer his questions. "His name was Vitaly. Well-built, but fed up with everything. I reckon he'd just had enough of the place."
He had told Will about seeing Gabriel in the bar almost every night, but not recently. Will had inquired more, offering a few rubles as payment, and Vitaly had admitted that he'd seen something, something that he hadn't wanted to tell anyone, for fear of getting caught up in it himself. Kytrov was a place of ignoring the obvious, and he'd not wanted to get involved.
Will, however, had pressed - had offered more rubles, some closure, and Vitaly had broken under the pressure.
"Come," he had said, and gestured towards the back door of the bar, "I will show you."
It felt a little like Will was walking into a trap, but he'd not had any other leads, and he was fairly confident that he could take the smaller man on if he had to. It was against his training, but he had been mindful of the fact that there was already two injured members of the team and time was running out.
Vitaly had drained his beer and led him out the back of the bar. They walked together, in complete silence, through a few empty streets, down an alleyway, and to a dead-end, full of trash and household garbage.
That, and a lot of blood.
Gabriel Polyakov had met his end in a no-exit street, beaten by louts and stripped of his clothes and possessions, before being dumped in a trash bin to freeze to death. He'd had no chance at all.
Will had thought that it was over. If random street thugs had taken the drive there'd been no hope. He'd gone over the site, looked again and again, and finally found it.
A USB drive, one that looked far nicer than it warranted, lodged into a crevice of one of the trash bins. It had been like Gabriel had wanted someone to find it, like he’d tried his best to hide it somewhere specific before his unfortunate demise.
Vitaly had been curious, interested even, but Will had paid him more to keep his mouth shut, and then headed off into the night. It had taken him a while to find the motel, but he'd gotten the payload and they-
"Uh, guys?" Benji says, like he's speaking through a lump in his throat, "This- just look. Now."
He wordlessly turns his laptop towards them. It's confiscated information, alright. Government-adjacent and powerful and important. It's details about a weapon. A way to end the world. Something apocalyptic and deadly and far, far too possible in an interconnected world such as theirs. It's too much. They need governmental support and people watching their backs, and they need it soon, because anyone found with the drive will be a target.
The information in it is that important.
"We need to get out of here." Ethan says. "We need to get this drive home. Benji, get us transport. Everyone else, pack your things, get rid of the trash. We leave as soon as possible."
It all seems like it’s coming up roses. They have the drive, they’ve succeeded in their mission - albeit with a couple of injuries - and they’re well on their way to go home.
Which is when Will gingerly lifts up the edge of one of the curtains to look outside and blows it all straight to hell. “I don’t wish to worry you, but we have a slight problem.”
‘Slight’, in this situation, is a gross understatement. The amount of people with assault weapons outside seems far too excessive, but it’s obvious they’re all for them.
There’s no way out the back, no way out the front. The motel room doesn’t have a second way of egress, just two shrunken windows and the front door itself.
“What do we do?” Benji asks. He looks nervous, but the rest of them are just a lot better at hiding it.
Ethan seems to take a few moments to consider things, as though he’s plotting out ways to escape in his head, and drawing maps towards a possible conclusion. He sighs. “If they don’t shoot us on sight, we’d probably be best to give ourselves up.”
Ilsa’s nodding, looking pensive. “It’s not an ideal course of action, but if there’s no chance of escape…”
“You can’t be serious.” Benji’s protesting, looking between them all with incredulous eyes. “No hairbrained schemes? No jumping off the sides of mountains? Just giving ourselves up?”
“What choice do we have?” Will says tiredly, but he actually sounds rational about it. “We have two injured people, we’re all tired - if they don’t want to kill us, they’ll just keep on pursuing us until they find us. Do you have something we can pass off as the drive?”
“I mean, yeah-” Benji starts, looking confused, “But-”
“No.” Jane speaks up for the first time in a while. She looks more clear-headed than them all, but only just. “If we give them a fake drive they’ll just check it, not find the data and then we’re screwed. Better to let them think we haven’t found it yet.”
“It was incredibly hard to find. Like, unless someone knew the exact alley I went down and ran into Vitaly -” Will adds, “Which is very possible, that kid would probably do anything for money, but a USB is tiny. It might work.”
“It probably won’t.” Ilsa says, saying what they’re all thinking, “But what other choice do we have?”
“Right.” Ethan says, thinking fast, “Pack to leave. Wipe your computer of that data, Benji, and give me the drive. Listen up. We didn’t find it. We have a lead on the whistleblower, but nothing solid. We didn’t get to that bar, we didn’t talk to anyone. We were going to wait a day to recover. Nothing too elaborate, don’t spin anything too big. Okay?”
They all agree. It is the flimsiest of cover stories, but there’s no other choice.
There’s a heavy, thunderous knock at the door. “Good day,” A faux-pleasant male voice says, in perfect English. “Do you have our missing information?”
“The drive.” Ethan hisses.
Wordlessly, Benji throws it to him, fear flickering in his eyes, and taps away madly at his keyboard.
The voice behind the door comes again. “We do not want to hurt you,” It says, sweetly. “We just want our information. We have several armed gunmen out here, and if I have to ask again, I will instruct them to shoot.”
Ethan gestures for Will to move closer to the door. “Tell them.” He staggers a little under the sentence, as though it has weight. To him, it probably has.
The air in the room is thick with anticipation. One wrong move now and they could all go down in a hail of bullets. Their loved ones would never know what happened, they’d just be buried under the snow in the Arctic Circle, and forgotten.
Jane and Ilsa grip hands, tightly tied together with their experiences of the last few days. They’ve both standing, only just, but this is survival, and this is putting together a united front.
“We don’t have it.” Will says, close to the door, too close, almost.
“Wait!” Will yelps. “We don’t have it - but we know where it is.”
They never see the speaker. One by one, they’re handcuffed, blindfolded, pulled out of the motel room and deposited in something that feels like a truck. Ethan can hear Benji breathing beside him, can feel Brandt’s leg against his. He’s sure the women are in the truck somewhere too, or at least he hopes so.
It’s not safe, doing this, but they have no other choice.
“Out!” A man barks, in harshly accented English, and drags Ethan to his feet. He winces, and stumbles, putting almost all of his weight on his bad leg, and he feels his stitches begin to tear.
They separate them all, put them into different concrete rooms with no windows or lights. It’s pitch-black inside, so dark it feels like they’ve not even got their eyes open.
Benji shuffles to a corner, closes his eyes, and tries to nap. Will taps out a beat on the walls, stops when he gets yelled at, and taps out an even quieter one.
Jane doesn’t like the dark. Not like this.
It could be minutes. It could be hours. It could be days.
But at some point, the cell doors open, and they’re led out into the light.
“You are William Brandt, an American intelligence agent?”
“Not an intelligence agent. I’m just here enjoying the sunshine with my four lovers.”
“How did you come to find yourself in Kytrov, Benjamin?”
“I was trying your own personal version of the Trans-Siberian. I wouldn’t market it. It’s a little too cold.”
“Hunt. How did you find out about the intelligence drop?”
“What intelligence drop?”
“Don’t you like dark places, Jane?”
“You have disgraced your betters, Faust.”
“You know nothing about my betters.”
They get nothing out of them. The story isn’t airtight, but it’s based on fact, so there’s no obvious gaps in it. Their captors are clearly getting annoyed.
“Where’s the drive, Hunt?”
Ethan knows. He really, really knows. But he’s not going to tell them, even broken, bruised and bloody. He’s survived worse torture than this. “I don’t have it.”
“Where’s the drive?”
“Where’s the drive?”
“Where’s the drive?”
“Where’s the drive?”
They alternate like that, on and on and on, some moments in the dark, some in the light.
In the cells, the only thing Jane can feel is the blood on her face. There’s scratching somewhere nearby. It feels like rats are trying to crawl their way through the walls.
In the cells, Benji’s reciting episodes of Doctor Who in order, starting from the very first 1963 episode. He tries to ignore the white spots dancing in front of his eyes.
In the cells, there’s blood under Ilsa’s nails.
In the cells, Ethan’s tightening a strip of cloth around his leg. He’s freezing, shirtless, but there’s too much blood on the floor.
In the cells, Will is… gone.
It could be minutes, it could be hours, it could be days, but there is, finally, an ending.
Someone throws open the door to Ethan’s cell, blinds him momentarily, drags him bloodied and bruised and struggling and handcuffed from the walls he’s made home. He cannot see, too bright-blind, and there’s just indistinct shapes in the air.
The floor is hard when he lands on it, but the room is white not dark.
“Ethan-” Benji gasps, wetly, bloodily, and scrabbles over to press up against him, just a shape in the light. “Ethan.”
“I’m here.” He says, but only barely. Pain is very easy to internalise on a full stomach, eight hours sleep, fully hydrated.
It’s not, now.
Benji is still alive, though. He hopes he’ll be able to say the same about the others.
He lets Benji rest his head on him, clasps shaking bodies against his chest, and hides the feel of salt tears on his skin. They don’t need to know more about them, don’t need to have more to take them apart and rend them bloodless with.
“It’s fine.” He says, under his breath, though he still can’t see, can’t feel the others, doesn’t know where they are or who has them or anything more. “It’s fine.”
Ilsa joins them next. He doesn’t need to see her to know when she’s in the room. She’s quiet, doesn’t cry out when they slap her and push her to the ground next to them. He reaches out a hand from behind his back, feels for hers, and is surprised that she accepts it.
Benji gasps, “Ilsa, your eye-”
“QUIET.” The guard, whoever, whoever’s got them, says, and he must threaten or something, because he can feel the fear rattle through Benji, and a momentary pause from Ilsa.
They’re all so tired.
Jane is there soon enough, too. She joins the huddle, weaves her way amongst their bodies, an anchor in the sea, but she’s shaking too, and exhausted. She leans her forehead against Ilsa’s - Ethan can just see through the brightness in his eyes - and sighs heavily.
Will? Jane signs, in nothing more than a couple of small finger movements, hands still tied behind her back, and ones that he can only just see.
He shakes his head. He doesn’t know, and the way they’re carrying on, he doesn’t know if he’ll find out.
“Right.” The guard, a burly man wearing a balaclava says, in Russian, “Here’s how things are going to work.”
He’s joined by another man, this one carrying a weapon. It’s nothing fancy, just a handgun.
It feels like the end, the climax, the final point of things. They’ve been waiting long enough.
“You’re going to give me the information I want, Mr Hunt.” The guard says, with just enough relish that makes Ethan know he enjoys it. “If you don’t start talking fast enough, I will order my friend here to start shooting. I don’t care about any of your lives.”
“We’re the only ones who know where the drive is.” Ethan says, with a strength he doesn’t feel. “Want to risk it?”
“Want to risk your friends?” The guard counters, and even though it’s cliche, it stings.
Ethan knows lies, has always done, and this man is telling the truth. He swallows, jaw clenching heavily on the movement. It’s a lie. It will always be a lie, but he says, “That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
“Very well.” The guard nods at his friend.
The other man takes two steps forward, leans down and grabs Ilsa by the hair. He drags her, struggling and bleeding, across the white floor and to one of the walls.
She doesn’t cry out, just stares him down, defiantly, jaw set, one of her eyes matted closed with blood.
“Are you sure, Hunt?” The guard mocks, eyes glittering with a twisted glare. “This is one choice you can’t change.”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take.” Ethan says, again, but it’s a lie.
“Very well.” The guard says, and gestures towards his friend again. “Kill her.”
The other man cocks the gun, and presses it to Ilsa’s forehead.
She looks at him, and in her eyes he can see that she’s accepted it.
He wants to believe, wants to follow his training and not break and-
But he can’t.
“Wait.” He says, hating himself for the words. “Just… wait.”
“Good choice, Hunt. What do you have to say?” The guard flicks his hand at his friend and Ilsa drops to the floor, unharmed.
“Is that all you have to say?” The guard asks.
“Tell me where Will is and I’ll give you the drive.”
“Don’t, Ethan. Don’t…” Benji whispers, right up against his skin, and he’d think about that, but he doesn’t have time right now.
He collects what’s left of his facilities, tries to make some sense of things. He repeats it, says it slowly and clearly, “Give us Will and I’ll give you the drive.”
“Hunt-” Jane starts, but doesn’t finish it.
“You are in no position to bargain with me, Hunt.” The guard says. “Why do you care?”
“Because he’s my friend.” Ethan’s head hurts. It’s probably the light. And the threat of death. “Just tell me.”
“William Brandt is dead.”
Things don’t seem to matter much after that, because Will
be dead. They’ve been through so much together, he’s got so much to say and just - he can’t be. Benji gasps, just a little, and Jane shakes, but they don’t say anything more.
The rational part of his brain says that the guard is lying. It says that he’s making it up to cause dissent and disruption.
But he can’t move past the instinctual part of him, the bit that sinks right into his gut and makes him anxious at the thought of Will being dead. He fights to keep his voice steady. “Why?”
“He died of his wounds. A few days ago, maybe. No real loss.”
“We don’t have the drive.” Ethan says, tiredly. It’s gone on too long. “The only person who knew where it was was Will. You’re not going to be able to get it now.”
“You’re lying.” The guard says, but he doesn’t sound very sure.
“Will was the fittest of all of us. He found the bar. He knew where the whistleblower was, but he didn’t say. What are you going to do now?” Ethan asks, though he knows the answer.
Waiting for death isn’t a new feeling, and he’s been prepared for years. However, he’s tired, right down to his bones, and sad. Sometimes there’s a point where things just need to end.
He just wishes his team didn’t have to come with him.
“Kill them.” The guard orders, and nods towards his friend again.
With one swift movement, the gunman pulls Ilsa up again, holds the gun to her temple, she struggles, can’t move, and things start going very, very fast-
“Ilsa-” Benji yells, right next to his ear.
There’s a gunshot, ringing and echoing through the room - loud, too loud -
And the gunman slumps to the floor.
The guard, surprised, looks towards them, looks behind them, and within one blink and the next there’s another loud BANG! and he slumps to the floor, blood pouring from a bullet wound in his leg.
“Ethan Hunt.” James Bond says, looking far too smug as he walks into Ethan’s field of view. “I would say I’m surprised, but-”
“James.” Ethan sighs, annoyed at how relieved he is to see the MI6 agent, “Do you mind getting us out of here?”
“I will if you get a drink with me next time we’re in the same place?” James says, stripping the gun from the dead gunman with a practised movement. He’s wearing a suit, all nice and clean and beautiful, and Ethan hates him just a little bit more at the sight.
“Sure thing, honey,” Ethan says, the bitter notes of sarcasm only just playing over his tongue - he’s exhausted, alright, and he doesn’t know where Will is and just- “But you’re paying.”
Will doesn’t wake up for three days and they’re not allowed to see him for another week. Ethan extracts the drive, using a fun mix of ‘time’ and ‘certain pharmaceutical compounds’ - but it still hurts - and sleeps the worst of the leg injury off.
It’s not infected, thank god, because losing his leg from a dumb work accident would be one of the most humiliating ways to end an IMF agent’s career - right behind the man who blinded himself with a dildo.
But Ethan’s there, as soon as he’s allowed into the hospital. His other agents - even the term seems wrong now, after all they’ve been through - are on shore leave. There’s others who can deal with the information, the weapon, the danger - they all need a break.
There’s rain hitting the windows when he walks in the private room. He’s got flowers, daffodils, to add something to the decor.
He mostly just needs something to do with his hands.
“You’re here!” Will says, and grins broadly. “I was beginning to think I’d been abandoned. Are those for me?” He points, expansively, at the daffodils.
He really can’t move much more of his body than that, but he reaches out, anyway.
“No, they’re for all the other invalids I’m coming to visit in this place.” Ethan says, and sets them down on the bedside table.
“Thanks for caring.” Will replies, and maybe sounds actually genuine about it. “How are the the others?”
“Ilsa and Jane have gone to Barbados.” Ethan says, ruefully, and sits down next to the bed. “And, I quote, ‘are not coming back unless the world is ending’. Benji’s playing just… so much… Halo, last I heard, and he’s going to join them when he can drag himself away from the computer. James is- James. You know. Apparently he was just 'in the area'.”
“I really don’t.” Will smooths a hand over his jaw, and winces at the scraggly beard there. “Just heard rumours. Is it true that he’s seduced every section head for the last ten years?”
“I can’t say it isn’t?”
“Wow.” Will nods, obviously a little enamored with the man’s sexual prowess, “Honestly, how. He looks like white bread.”
“You can talk.”
“Hey!” The younger man actually looks offended at that. “I am an invalid, don’t mock me. Seriously, don’t make me laugh, it’ll hurt like hell. I was watching Sex Education earlier and it was literal torture.”
“Mhmm.” Ethan disagrees, but then again, they do both have a baseline to compare it to. “How’s your head?”
“Mentally, mostly there. Physically - could be better. Emotionally? I am a bag of bones. Being whipped to near death is something I could live without ever doing again.”
“It’s something I could live without seeing on you ever again, too.” Ethan says, softly, because it’s a little sentimental, but he’s learned not to pass up the opportunity.
They’d been… so close to death.
“You really are a sentimental guy under it all, aren’t you?” Will says, thoughtfully, and looks him over. “Some of the big masculine guys back at the agency would be shocked to learn that the Ethan Hunt is, in fact, a puppy dog.”
“ The Ethan Hunt is no-one. I look after… those who matter to me.”
“Aw.” Will replies, and it’s only a little sarcastic. “I’m touched.”
“You should be. Only my friends get flowers.”
"Stop..." Will cajoles, "Seriously. Because if you keep on being nice to meet it means I'll have to admit I care and that's just going to completely ruin my reputation."
"You, caring? Never." Ethan jokes, but it feels a little too real for the situation.
He just feels a lot, okay? It's a wonder to see Brandt up and joking about, even if he's still technically confined to a bed for the time being. He'd panicked, when he thought he was dead. Losing Brandt - losing Ilsa or Benji or Jane as well - it's a thought he can't bear.
"Ethan?" Will asks, breaking his train of thought.
"I feel - This is so dumb, okay? Really dumb. But- like, in that cell, I put myself under, just meditated out of it and all, but I just- I didn't want to die without seeing you again. Without seeing any of you again. It was the one thing that kept on pulling me out of the meditation. That's pretty dumb, eh."
"I don't think it's dumb at all." Ethan says, slowly, "I think- it's- they told us you'd died. And I didn't know what to do. Do you know how often I freeze in situations like that?"
"Like, never?" Will says, and he's joking, but he's not as well and it's just- "I think the last time I froze like that I was in my twenties."
"What happened?" Will asks, quietly, hoarsely, and there's no joke in it at all.
"My partner got shot in front of me." That's something he's not told anyone, worked off the impulse to do for years and years and years, and now - That's how much it matters. "Will?"
"Can I-" And they both know what they're asking.
"About fuckin' time, Hunt." Will says, and grips him by the shirt collar to pull him in for a kiss.
It’s a month or so later when they finally get all get into a room together again. Ilsa and Jane are both tanned from Barbados, and Benji is pink, just on the edge of sunburned. Will is… just Will, really. Their whole thing is very new, and quiet, and blessedly simple, when it comes down to it, but it doesn’t feel quite right.
There’s something missing. Will is just one part of an effective team, a brilliant and motivated analyst, but he doesn’t have Benji’s kindness, or Ilsa’s strength, or Jane’s fire.
There’s something missing.
They’re all a little tipsy, finally healed enough to drink, and everyone’s loose-limbed and loose-lipped around the fireplace in Benji’s flat.
It’s a debrief, of a sort, if ‘debrief’ means ‘not talking about the mission in anything resembling technical terms’.
“I am never going back to Russia again.” Benji says, stretching his legs out onto the edge of his loveseat. “Seriously. Been there twice - the first time was the Kremlin, the second bloody Kytrov. Never again.”
“Agreed.” Will says, at the same time Ilsa disagrees, “Russia isn’t that bad. You have to know where to look.”
“Mmm.” Benji says, non-committedly. “It’s not for me.”
“Fair enough.” She says, looser than usual.
Ethan sometimes wonders if anything happened between them in Kytrov. They seem more… relaxed, more together. Like they’ve seen the brink and decided to fight it alongside one another. He likes it, but he wishes… he could be part of it.
“How did all this happen?” Jane waves generally in the direction of Will and him, who are probably slightly too closely pressed together than the situation warrants.
“The hospital.” Ethan says.
“Well, that’s descriptive.” Benji adds.
“Well, I prefer to keep my relationships to myself.” Will drawls, and stretches out luxuriously on the couch. “Unless you want in?”
And the thing is, he’s not joking.
Ethan’s become fairly conscious of Will’s sense of humour over the few years they’ve worked together, and he’s deadly serious.
“What?” Benji asks, curiously, but he doesn’t sound… opposed.
And neither do Ilsa and Jane. The feeling in the room has taken a curious turn to the left. It’s the alcohol, but also the event. They’re safe, they’re alive - they’re allowed to make mistakes and experience things, because they’re here.
“I- uh-” Despite all those things, he can’t bring himself to actually say it.
“For the love of- no judgement here, obviously, but Ethan cares a lot for all of you. Probably too much.” Will says, with a roll of his eyes, but he doesn’t sound jealous. In fact, he looks interested. Almost excited to see where the night could take them.
“...Guilty.” Ethan says, and it’s just… embarrassing. The whole thing. The room feels weird now, not uncomfortable, just… pending.
“Well, this makes things a lot easier.” Jane says. She raises her beer bottle and toasts it at him. “Ethan. Team leader. Etcetera. Ilsa and I have been in a relationship since we got back from Russia. Thinking about expanding it, maybe. Haven’t done the paperwork yet. Sorry.”
Oh. Now that… actually makes a lot of sense. “You have?”
“Yes. Jane and I found a… common ground… in Russia and I-” Ilsa says, even though she looks like she doesn’t really want to talk about it. “Objectively speaking, you’re all beautiful. You don’t need me to tell you that. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t considered…”
And this- this hairbrained, ridiculous, rule-flouting idea, it makes sense. It feels right.
“Am I really misreading something here, or are we having- like, a moment? Like a big romantic film moment?” Benji says, waggling his hands in between them, “Is this- is this going to be an orgy? Cause I mean, I’m so absolutely down for that, but last time I got up to anything on this carpet, I got carpet burn so bad that Will made me go to Medical because he thought I’d been in a fight.”
And maybe, it’s just the bourbon, and the atmosphere -
But there’s been worse ideas.
“We’ll see where the night takes us, I think.” Ethan says, softly, looking around at his team with something akin to wonder, because this… this potential - it feels right . “But maybe not on this carpet.”
This paperwork is going to be a