Chapter 3 - Homecoming

Ethan's "dedication" earned him six full days in the Bombay Hospital, followed by another twenty-four hours of observation after extraction to the States. In the US hospital, he was visited by a department "rehabilitator" who asked where he would like to be located. He chose (perhaps unwisely) to locate on the West Coast – Southern California. He would be close enough to Julia to keep an eye on things, but not so close that he would attract any attention to her. As soon as he was released from the hospital, he was taken for a short briefing with Brassell (the rest of the team was not present), then told to take some time off to rest and heal completely. He did so, but not before taking a little time to satisfy his curiosity. He learned that Benji was unharmed, but taking a short leave of absence, Jane had received a gunshot wound to her abdomen, but was in recovery, and he learned everything he wanted to know about Brandt.

Travel arrangements had been made for him by the department, and he spent a relatively comfortable time on a plane back to LAX. The rehabilitation agent had thoughtfully booked Ethan a First Class seat, with no one in front of him or beside him, so that he could be as comfortable as possible with his broken knee and four broken ribs. Not to mention his discomfort from the surgery to stop his internal bleeding, and from the repair of his dislocated left shoulder. For security purposes, rather than Ethan calling a cab, another trustworthy agent drove him to his new home. She helped him into the electric wheelchair, and opened the house for him. With a nod, she handed him the keys and set his bag just inside the door. "Good luck, Agent Hunt."

"Thanks, Agent Hall."

The house was a two-bedroom craftsman-style home - well-designed, fully furnished, and was even equipped with a fully stocked fridge, balance rails in the bathroom, and a medical-grade chair sitting in the shower off the master bedroom. Ethan couldn't help but laugh, even though it made his chest hurt. He was glad to be alive, but the ridiculous state his body was in made him feel almost light-headed. He headed back to the kitchen in the motorized chair, laughing again at the realization that he couldn't even have a normal wheelchair, because of the dislocated shoulder. With a shake of his head, he opened the refrigerator door.

"Thank you, Agent Miller," he whispered, pulling out a frosted bottle of beer. He'd definitely have to put in high commendations for the rehabilitation specialist – the man had even gotten the brand right. Ethan favored his Newcastle Summer Ale when he was recovering. With an internal flip of the middle finger to his prescription meds, Ethan popped the bottle open and downed half of it before even leaving the kitchen.

With some difficulty, he managed to wheel himself into the living room without spilling the rest of his drink. He located the remote, feeling like an intruder in someone else's house, even after years of working with the force. When he came home, he usually expected to go home - to the place where he had decided to rest his head. But after Julia, he'd sold the house and all its contents except for what her brother and sister had wanted to keep, and he'd left the proceeds of the sale to them as well. He would have liked to take something of hers with him, but being an IMF agent had taught him long ago how to separate material possessions from the people he'd come to associate with them. Not to mention the fact that he hadn't thought it would be the best idea to bring keepsakes with him to Rankow.

Now, though, there was nothing in this place that belonged to him. Nothing that made this place feel any different from the long succession of hotels he usually sped through during missions. He actually found himself missing his small quarters at Rankow. At least there, he'd had his few simple possessions to create some semblance of belonging.

Ethan sighed and stared at the "home" station of the cable service, listening to the inane instructions on how to set favorite channels. Suddenly, a thought occurred to Ethan and he immediately tried to stand. He hissed at the instant, sharp pain and collapsed back into the chair. Gritting his teeth, Ethan forced himself to take his time and maneuver himself back to the front of the house where his bag had been left. Inside were his phone, passports, and the clothes he'd been wearing when he was admitted to the hospital. Frantically, he yanked out the pants and checked the pockets. Seconds later, he found what he was looking for. The edges were crumpled, and the folding had creased it permanently, but the message could still be read. Ethan smiled at the sight of Bogdan's handwriting. "Can't wait to see you."

Ethan folded the torn bottom of his former blueberry cup, and put the note in the pocket of his sweat pants. He made his way to the office, powered up the computer, and began searching for Bogdan.

Ethan started by trying to trace the diamonds, but apparently, Bogdan had exchanged them for cash before entering the United States. There was no record of a large diamond exchange, and going to pawn shops or regular jewelry exchanges would be risky - especially since Bogdan wouldn't have been able to give an acceptable account of how he'd gotten the diamonds. Ethan gave up on looking for the gems, and started looking for other signs. He had to go through several levels of clearance before he was able to access customs records and check the names of the people who had recently entered the country. Naturally, Ethan wasn't sure what name Bogdan would have used, but he scanned several flights entering the country from Dubai, and he looked for any names that stood out to him.

After a while, he came across a name that caught his attention, not because it was unusual, but because it was so completely ordinary. Dmitri Ivanov. Ivanov had been Sergei's last name. Of course, Ivanov was one of the most common last names in all of Russia, so it wasn't that surprising in itself. However, there were no other Russian travelers on that particular flight from Dubai, and the flight took place only three days after Ethan was admitted to the hospital in Mumbai.

Ethan followed Dmitri through his travels, using his highest access levels to find out where the man had gone after leaving the airport. He was still difficult to trace. If it was, indeed, Bogdan, then years of working for a criminal enterprise had taught him several valuable lessons in the art of anonymity. Dmitri Ivanov had no credit cards, no bank account, and apparently, no job.

Ethan glared at the screen and considered starting again in the morning, but he refused to give up. He was tired, but the thought of sleeping in the new, cold bed with a mystery on his hands was not appealing, and he knew he would just lay awake half the night thinking of other venues to search. Might as well just stay up and keep trying.

Ethan's next step was to check DMV records. About forty Dmitri Ivanovs had received driver's licenses in the last eight weeks. Ethan scanned through all of them, looking at each and every picture. At license number thirty-seven, Ethan stopped. A slow smile spread across his face, and he took down the information given on the card. Dmitri Ivanov lived in Los Angeles, California at an address that Ethan recognized as belonging to a rundown motel with weekly, daily and hourly rates, and (naturally) questionable clientele. He was six feet tall, 215lbs, with wavy, chocolate hair, and sky blue eyes. He had a sweet, infectious smile, even in the universally frustrating Department of Motor Vehicles. Ethan's own grin was so bright and ecstatic that no one would have imagined he was sore, stiff, and his hospital meds were swiftly wearing off. Even Ethan barely noticed.

Once he had the address, the rest was easy.

Ethan wheeled himself to the door the moment he heard the doorbell ring. He'd gotten up early, despite the fact that he hadn't gone to bed until after two in the morning. He'd accomplished the now-daunting task of taking a shower and dressing himself with only a few painful incidents. He was now back in his brace, wearing comfortable pants and a shirt that was casual, but probably too nice for just laying around the house in. He'd also spent a good deal more time on shaving and making his hair lay down in the right places than he usually would have if he were just meeting buddies in his own house.

Before he'd quite made it to the door, Ethan heard a hesitant knock. He couldn't help but smile. If Ethan hadn't heard the doorbell, he most certainly wouldn't have heard that timid knock. He put the brakes on the chair long enough to stand and check the (somewhat high-tech) peephole. He hadn't really thought it would be anyone else, but it didn't hurt to check. He smiled and unlocked the door before he was forced to sit back down again. "Come on in," he said, opening the door.

Bogdan stepped inside, but his delighted smile disappeared almost instantly when he saw Ethan. "Sergei," he cried. "My God, what happened to you?!"

Ethan smiled up at him, taking in the wide, worried blue eyes, and his shiny brown ringlets. If he'd been in proper physical condition, he'd have already reached up into those thick tresses and twined them between his fingers. In fact, Ethan probably would have already used them to yank Bogdan's head down so that he could access those lips of his. As it was, Ethan just sat smiling at him, enjoying the fact that there was no world-threatening disaster hanging over his head, waiting to interrupt him at just the wrong moment.

Bogdan, however, seemed to be as agitated as if the world was indeed still in danger of coming to an end. "What... how... you're in a... and your..."

"I missed you, Danya," Ethan said, the pleased smile still on his face.

Bogdan stopped, mid-panic attack, and a bright smile lit his face. He leaned forward and caressed the side of Ethan's face. Ethan shuddered slightly, Bogdan's touch lighter and more gentle than any stranger would have given the burly Russian credit for. "I missed you, too."

Ethan couldn't take it anymore. He took Bogdan's face in his hands and pulled him in for a long-awaited kiss. He breathed Bogdan in, letting himself float in the scent of whatever shampoo and mild cologne Bogdan had used. He reveled in the feel of Bogdan's hand on the back of his neck, holding him and pressing him close. His wounds and his relative helplessness would normally have been upsetting, but at the moment, he wanted nothing more than to give up control and just put himself in Bogdan's hands. It was odd, considering the fact that he'd been Bogdan's protector from the day they'd "officially" met, but he didn't care. He just leaned forward, pressing closer to his Danya, and doing his best to make the kiss last forever.

Eventually, though, the kiss came to an end. One or the other of them realized that the door was still open, and Bogdan reluctantly let go to close them in and lock out the outside world. When he turned back to Ethan, the worry was back. "What's happened to you, Sergei?" he asked.

Ethan jerked his head in the direction of the living room. "Let's sit down," he said. Bogdan hesitated, but he moved toward the couch. "Want a beer?" Ethan asked.

"Yeah, sure," he said. Then he stepped toward Ethan. "Should I get it?"

"No, no," he said, waving a hand. He was already half way to the kitchen. "Don't worry, Bogdan I'm okay."

Bogdan gave him much the same incredulous look that he'd given when Ethan had extended the drop-line to him back in the storage room at Rankow. Ethan only chuckled and pulled out two beers. He balanced them carefully on his lap and came back to the living room. Bogdan was watching him nervously, and met him half way to collect the beers. While Ethan got settled, Bogdan took care of opening the beers, then sat across from him in the living room. Ethan could tell he was aching with curiosity and trying to contain himself.

"So," Ethan said. "How've you been?"

"Sergei!" he cried, waving his arms, and nearly splashing beer onto the floor. "I'm not important, what happened to you?"

Ethan couldn't help but laugh, but he reached out to calm Bogdan, and forced the smile from his face. "I'm sorry," he said, seeing the hurt in Bogdan's eyes. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I just... get a little…" He shrugged. "I don't know. I've been in the hospital from the night we said goodbye until yesterday night." Bogdan's eyes widened, and Ethan nodded. "I'm not trying to be glib, I just…" Bogdan shook his head, and Ethan smiled. "I'm just happy to see you again, that's all. I know you're worried about me, but I am okay now. I took some serious knocks, though. Obviously."

"Obviously," he said. "You look like you were in a car wreck, Sergei."

Ethan laughed again, but this time it was uncontrollable. He threw his head back and cackled hysterically, until Bogdan's expression began to change from confusion to alarm. With a supreme effort, Ethan forced himself to stop laughing. He held his breath for nearly a minute, letting it out slowly when he felt like he could do so without losing himself again. "Okay," he said. He took a long swig of the beer, hoping that the barbiturates would help settle him. He wasn't accustomed to feeling quite so emotional after a mission. Even after he'd instructed his wife to kill him, after his resuscitation, he'd been able to settle in and almost casually explain to his wife the basics of IMF. Then again, even at that time, there had been only one life immediately at stake besides his own. Granted, it was the life of the person most important to him at the time, but he had never before faced the potential destruction of "Civilization As We Know It".

"So..." Ethan said at last. "I guess I'll start from when we left Rankow?" Bogdan nodded vigorously, and Ethan told him the basics of what had happened. Naturally, he left out details about his other team members, giving him the basic rundown of IMF (the same information he'd told Julia), and glossing over most of the mission. He explained only the fact that they'd been trying to stop a fanatic who wanted to start a nuclear war. He let Bogdan know that it was this same fanatic who'd been responsible for bombing the Kremlin, and that he'd been the one to kick Ethan hard enough to break his knee. Bogdan winced at that, then gaped in utter astonishment when Ethan told him about Hendricks' suicide, and that Ethan had been desperate enough to drive a car off of what amounted to a small cliff in order to stop the man.

"You what?"

"Yeah," Ethan said with a nod. "Not exactly the most rational thing I've ever done. But the good news is, it worked." He glanced down at his jointed-brace. "Bad news is, I'll be in this thing for another four weeks, and probably in physical therapy for more than that. Plus the broken ribs, and the internal bleeding and-"

"Internal bleeding! Sergei, my God!"

"It's under control now," he said, trying to sound reassuring.

Bogdan did not look convinced. He came over and knelt beside Ethan's chair, placing a hand gently over Ethan's arm. "I think your IMF should be very grateful that you exist," he said. "I definitely am." Ethan smiled, feeling his face flush. Bogdan kissed his hand softly. "Do you have a nurse or something coming in to help you?"

"No, I requested to be left alone."

"Then I'm going to stay and help you."

"Danya, you don't have-"

"What are you saying?" he asked, eyebrows rising. "You don't want my help?"

"No, no, that's not it. But I didn't call you over here to force you into service or anything. I can handle myself."

"I know you can, Sergei," he said. "But I want to help you. I... you gave me so much in Rankow, and then you gave me freedom, too. I wasn't part of the escape plan from your agency, was I?"

Ethan shrugged. "Not technically."

"And was it part of the plan to give me hundreds of thousands of American dollars in diamonds, to help me stay free from my cousin?"

"Well, there wasn't really a plan at that point, and-"

"Well!" he said, as if the decision had been made. "Unless... if you really want me to go, I-"

"No," Ethan said, surprised by his own vehemence. "No," he said more calmly. "I don't want you to go. I'm not going to let you do every little thing for me," he warned. "But I want you to stay. I want..." He glanced down briefly, not exactly sure what he was doing, but hell bent on doing it anyway. He looked up again, and leaned forward to kiss Bogdan. He kissed him deeply, but pulled back before either of them was really ready, so that he could say what needed to be said. "I want you to stay forever," he whispered.

They were still so close together than Ethan noticed it when Bogdan's breath caught in his throat. He tightened his grip slightly on Ethan's arm and looked into his eyes, searching as if he wasn't sure what he'd heard. "You..." Words seemed to have failed him.

"Would... do you want to stay with me forever?" he asked, just as quietly as before.

It was Bogdan's turn to blush. He smiled, and his hand tightened around Ethan's arm just a little bit more. "I do."

At Ethan's request, Bogdan moved into the house, bringing his single suitcase worth of belongings with him. He'd exchanged all the diamonds for cash, and now had a bank account that was flush with funds, but he'd refused to spend on anything except his own travel expenses and the meager lodgings he'd found.

"You can get whatever you want now," Ethan told him.

"But what about FSB? Won't they check into recent immigration records? If they find out that I'm spending-"

"You don't have to worry about them, Danya. In fact, if you want to, you could even get documents with your real name now. FSB won't bother you again."

Bogdan gave him the incredulous look that Ethan had come to find completely adorable. "Sergei. How in the world could you have arranged that?"

"The FSB agent who thought I was responsible for the Kremlin owed me a favor." Ethan didn't elaborate further. Bogdan didn't need to know that Ethan had arranged for the unauthorized murder of the Secretary of Defense and his driver to be "forgiven" in exchange for Sidarov expunging the criminal records of both Bogdan Anasenko and Sergei Ivanov. "Suffice it to say, your record's clear, and you don't have to worry about FSB or the police looking for you anymore."

Bogdan stared at him and shook his head. "You're amazing." Ethan could only smile.

Bogdan was an attentive and solicitous nurse. Despite Ethan's insistence that he was not going to let Bogdan do everything, the younger man was gentle but extremely firm about what he would and would not let Ethan do. Bogdan "allowed" Ethan to take care of basic things – handling the chair himself while carrying small items, taking care of tasks that didn't require him to stand for more than a second or two - but if Bogdan thought a task was too strenuous for Ethan, no amount of cajoling, insisting, or even outright yelling could sway him. Bogdan would simply wait patiently, watching Ethan until he ran out of steam, before calmly asking "Are you finished, Sergei?", and taking care of the task himself.

Ethan soon learned that arguing was a complete waste of energy. He'd assumed that being coddled would grate on his nerves, but far from being frustrated or angered by the pampering, Ethan came to (secretly) enjoy it. After making a fuss for the first week or so, Ethan felt almost as if his obligation to his own independence had been fulfilled, and it was easy to simply allow Bogdan to take care of him. He still made the occasional obligatory protest now and then, but he didn't actually fight. He wasn't barred from doing everything, and it was nice to get through the task of showering and getting dressed without spending the following twenty minutes trembling and panting from the inevitable bump against his bruised ribs, or the accidental slip of his leg onto the edge of the porcelain tub. When Bogdan helped him, he was extremely careful without seeming nervous, or moving too slowly, and Ethan felt completely secure in his hands.

Two weeks after he was cleared from the agency hospital, Ethan was visited by a "company" physical therapist. The man was surprised to see Bogdan there, but Ethan introduced him as a friend of the family, and instructed him to show Bogdan how to perform the exercises as well. From then on, Bogdan helped Ethan perform strengthening exercises for his knee, and his shoulder.

Not long after physical therapy began, Ethan began to feel stronger. He spent more time using the cane and less in the chair. Bogdan began to acquiesce to a few more of Ethan's occasional demands to take care of certain things for himself. However, the milestone Ethan was really interested in finally came almost a month after he'd left Mumbai.

Each night since Bogdan had moved in, he'd slept in the guest bedroom, away from Ethan. It was difficult, but Bogdan was nervous about bumping into him, or rolling onto him and causing him pain, and Ethan wasn't yet strong enough to do what he really wanted to do, which certainly wasn't sleep. But eventually, the anticipation was too much. On the third straight night of lying awake after unsuccessfully trying, on his own, to relieve the pressure caused by the knowledge that Bogdan was in the next room, Ethan couldn't take it anymore. In frustration, he yanked his briefs up, grabbed his cane and made his way as quickly as he could (which wasn't quick enough for him) to Bogdan's room.

He entered without knocking, surprised to see Bogdan sitting up in bed, his head in his hands, fingers sliding through his hair in what appeared to be frustration. Bogdan gasped when he heard the door click shut, but relaxed when he realized it was Ethan. "Sorry I startled you," Ethan said. "Couldn't sleep."

"I couldn't either," he said softly.

Ethan came further into the room, and Bogdan's brows furrowed as he glanced at the cane. "I know you're worried about me," Ethan said, preempting him. "But... I can't take this anymore. Lying in there by myself, knowing you're right in the next room, I just…" Bogdan nodded his understanding, and Ethan gave up trying to speak, making his way to the bed as quickly as he could. Bogdan reached for him as he approached, and Ethan felt his eyes misting at the simple, wordless, beautiful invitation of Bogdan's outstretched arms.

When he reached the bed at last, he melted into Bogdan's embrace, letting the cane slide to the floor. Bogdan kissed him deeply, enveloping Ethan in his strong arms. Hardly breaking the kiss for more than a split second at a time, Bogdan helped Ethan to lie comfortably on the bed. He stayed close, half-covering Ethan's body with his own, and Ethan noted that Bogdan, too, had been "plagued" by arousal that he apparently couldn't satisfy on his own.

Ethan pressed close to Bogdan, trying to eradicate any and all space between them. Soon, their kisses grew more fervent, and Ethan clutched at Bogdan's arms, trying to force him even closer, though they were already pressed hard against each other, each limb touching almost everywhere that could possibly be touched.

Bogdan seemed to know the precise moment when Ethan just couldn't take the build-up of tension and emotions anymore. Ethan wasn't sure what kind of sign he'd given, but at just the right moment, Bogdan changed his focus from kissing Ethan's face and neck, and concentrated on bringing Ethan to climax. He moved gently, and with near-maddening patience, and Ethan felt that it was more from a desire to drive Ethan wild than it was a out of concern about hurting his still-healing leg. Ethan was pleased to reciprocate in kind, waiting until Bogdan was shuddering, straining, and bucking in his urgency before sending him over the edge.

At last, the two men lay panting, laughing, and utterly spent. Ethan arranged the covers over them, tossing away the heavier blankets, since they were still warm and glistening with sweat from their exertion. He beckoned to Bogdan, and the younger man rested his head in the crook of Ethan's arm, letting out a contented sigh. Ethan looked down at the top of Bogdan's head, smiling. Finally, he would be able to have what he'd wanted since before he started planning his special night in Rankow – an uninterrupted night with his Danya, and without any guards or other inmates to worry about. Ethan draped his other arm over Bogdan's shoulders and allowed his eyes to drift shut, feeling warm, content, and comfortable as he hadn't been since… since before he could quite remember.

Nearly three months after the completion of their mission, Ethan received a communication directly from the new Secretary of State. He thanked Ethan for his service, and advised him that he was now officially cleared to return to duty. As part of a "thank you" for what he had done, he was actually going to be allowed the rare privilege of choosing his own permanent team - individuals who would be expected to make themselves available to him for missions on an ongoing basis, rather than having his team chosen for him by the Analyst coordinating the individual mission.

Ethan was thrilled by the fact that he had been trusted to select his own permanent team. This was an honor that even Jim hadn't received before the end. There was absolutely no question about who he would choose, and he sent his response to the Secretary only moments later. Ethan was also pleased that he would soon be able to get back to work. He'd been glad of the rest, but that siren-call to get back to the task of protecting his country had been tugging at the back of his mind for some time now.

There was, of course, a very powerful pull in the other direction as well. The thought of leaving Bogdan was painful to him. It was a feeling Ethan had experienced before, any time he'd had to leave Julia for a mission. At least this time he could tell Bogdan the truth about where he was going. Yes, this relationship had started out as most of Ethan's personal relationships had to start - filtered through lies, half-truths and calculated omissions. But everything was clear between them now, and Ethan wouldn't have to lie and tell Bogdan he was going to a Transportation Conference, when he was really going to risk his life for his country.

In a way, Ethan wasn't sure what was more difficult; leaving a loved one behind thinking that he was just a few hundred miles away at an innocuous conference and risking their never knowing what happened if he lost his life on duty, or leaving a loved one behind knowing exactly the kind of dangers he faced, and knowing that they were worrying about him constantly while he was away. Still, he supposed that the latter was the fate of every active military man, and every police officer and firefighter in the world. At least he knew he was in good company.

Breaking the news of his clearance for duty to Bogdan was difficult. Bogdan seemed worried at first, that this meant Ethan was actually saying goodbye, but Ethan assured him that that was not the case. "I told you, I want you with me forever," he said. "I'm not on assignment yet, but when I go, I want you here when I come home." Bogdan was relieved, and they went back to living as they had been - a typical, normal, pleasant domestic couple, going about their day and pretending that the impending separation they would have to endure didn't exist.

Three days later, Ethan received the package he requested, with four phones, and full dossiers on all the parties concerned. After reviewing them again, even though he was familiar with their records by now, Ethan looked up from his work to see Bogdan standing in the doorway, looking worried and sad. Ethan smiled, closed the files and set them aside. "Come here, Danya," he said, patting the seat beside him. Bogdan sat down next to him, and Ethan wrapped an arm around him, and pulled the taller man close. They sat silently for several minutes, reminding Ethan of the time they had sat in awkward silence on the Fog's airplane, waiting for one or the other of them to work up the courage to say goodbye.

Bogdan sighed heavily, and tightened his arm around Ethan. "I'm going to miss you, Seryozha."

"I know," he answered. "But I'll be back." Bogdan sighed again. Ethan turned to him, pulled his face closer to him, and kissed him gently. He looked up into Bogdan's blue eyes, that shone with tears. "I will be back, Danya."

Bogdan swallowed and nodded slightly. "I know you will."

Ethan had chosen the location intentionally, of course. He timed the meetings perfectly - as perfectly as he could. He wanted to talk to Luther first - one of his oldest and most trusted friends in the agency. He gave Luther one of the four phones he'd requested, and explained that he knew about Luther's current posting, but he wanted Luther to be his backup man - just in case one of his other team members wasn't available - a euphemism for death, of course, since one was never NOT available for the IMF. Luther accepted, saying that he considered himself honored, and the two men caught up on what they'd missed since the last time they'd been together. Luther talked about his last few missions, and described a small project that he wanted Ethan's help with in Kandahar. Ethan discussed his own mission, and the three people who'd helped him save the world.

Just after being mercilessly teased about declaring "mission accomplished", Ethan's team arrived at the table. There were quick introductions, and Luther gave them all his own particular brand of personality before saying goodbye.

The first meeting after a mission was declared truly over was usually an awkward moment. People who had so recently depended on one another literally for their survival, were then expected to go back to the world - business as usual - until they were thrown once again into situations of extreme intimacy, the likes of which hardly anyone has ever experienced, no matter how close their relationship. IMF agents saw the very best and the very worst of one another, and in this case in particular, times had been very intense for all of them. Sitting down at a table for a casual drink almost seemed ridiculous after what they'd been through.

Still, they got through the weirdness with a little bit of laughter, and Ethan expressed his gratitude for all of them. He laid out the phones on the table, and invited them to be part of his team. He was pleased, of course, when Benji and Jane accepted, but he was shocked when Brandt didn't. Brandt was a fine agent, and despite the fact that he'd been less than truthful about who he was at first, Ethan trusted him implicitly. He had believed Brandt shared the same feelings.

Slowly, the explanation came out. Ironically, or perhaps poetically, Brandt revealed the guilt he'd felt through the years just as Julia's... well... Catherine's boat began to pull into the dock. Ethan made the decision to tell Brandt the truth in seconds. He was surprised that Brandt had felt personally responsible - especially since the two men who'd been with Julia had been more directly "responsible" considering the fact that they were there at the time. And even then, Ethan didn't blame them. Brandt had left the bulk of his protection force with the more vulnerable of his assets, and the men who'd taken her had outnumbered that force. Even if they'd known a hit squad was after Ethan and Julia, they couldn't have anticipated how many men would come for them.

But Brandt had been the leader of the group, and even though Ethan didn't think Brandt was to blame, he did understand the feeling of responsibility that every team leader had when something went wrong on a mission. Ethan also knew that feeling responsible for the death of an innocent was the most horrific kind of pain to bear. So, he led Brandt to the truth.

The younger man sat back down, shaking his head, and laughing in what might have been relief, shock, or a combination of the two. "The Secretary never told me," he said, and Ethan heard the hurt behind the almost-casual tone. Brandt was the Secretary's right hand, his most trusted man - the one who helped to oversee and direct the lives of some of the most valuable covert agents in existence, and the Secretary had allowed him to live with the guilt of Julia's death all this time.

"I accepted the Rankow Prison mission on one condition," Ethan said. "That no one could know she was still alive."

The younger man looked at him sharply, and Ethan watched his face. "But... you're telling me." Ethan nodded, knowing he didn't need to verbalize the statement that Brandt had obviously inferred. I trust you, absolutely and without reserve. Brandt's tense muscles seemed to relax just a bit. "So, we're good."

"We're good," Ethan confirmed, extending a hand. Brandt shook it, and chuckled again as he took the phone and left the table.

Relieved that the last of the issues between them had been settled, Ethan trained his eyes back on Julia. He watched her move through the moderate crowd with a group of friends from the new hospital where she worked. Seeing her again practically took his breath away. Despite the horrible choice he'd had to make, he still loved her deeply, and there was still a part of him that wished they could have had a life together. But what he'd said to Brandt was true. I was Ethan's job to protect her, and he would never do anything to put her life at risk again, no matter how much it hurt to have to let her go.

Bogdan was different. With Julia, Ethan had been married, with a record of his marriage on file with the State and Federal governments that could easily be located for those who had the access. He and Bogdan had already taken all the vows they needed to take. Besides that, Julia's identity had been irrevocably compromised after John had betrayed him to Davian. Word spread fast, and even after they'd assumed different public names, a person with the right connections could (and obviously did) locate them without much trouble because of the initial breach. With Julia "dead", and with Brandt and Ethan the only two people who knew she was alive, there was no need to worry about potential agency leaks, or random enemies looking for someone to use against him. If he could help it, no one would ever know how much he cared about Bogdan, unless Ethan already trusted the person with his life. He would not make the same mistakes again with Bogdan that he had made with Julia.

Julia laughed, and Ethan felt the beauty of the sound right down in his soul. He knew he should leave before she saw him, but he couldn't bear to go yet. Her friends walked ahead, except for a tall, heavy set man whom she appeared to be walking with. She shoved him playfully, and Ethan felt almost simultaneous sensations of jealousy, happiness and relief. Maybe she had found someone new. He couldn't help but feel a pang of sadness, but he was happy at the same time. His feelings hadn't changed since his hard-won night together with Bogdan at Rankow. He had hoped that she wouldn't begrudge him the chance of finding happiness again, and that she would be able to find happiness herself. Maybe she had done just that.

As she entered the restaurant after all the others, Ethan saw Julia catch a glimpse of him. It must have been a flicker out of the corner of her eye, because she moved on, then stopped and turned to look directly at him. They smiled at one another - expressions holding so much more than the "hello" of reacquainted friends. Six years' worth of words passed between them in that brief moment. From Ethan, the idea that he was with her, even if he couldn't touch her, or be close to her again. From Julia, forgiveness for rearranging her life and leaving her to live it alone, as well as acceptance of what he'd had to do. She raised a hand in a tentative wave, glancing behind to where her new life called (literally and figuratively) for her to come back.

That little wave was all Ethan needed - the punctuation of their silent conversation. Goodbye, I love you, I understand, I'll see you again one day. And no doubt she would, since Ethan considered it his sacred duty - a lasting act of love, and the last vestige of his marriage vows that he could actually keep - to see that she was safe for the rest of her life.

Ethan watched her turn away, turning back himself only after he couldn't see any trace of her through the crowded restaurant windows. His phone vibrated, and he put on his headphones and hood, and walked away across the dock. As expected, that siren call was back – duty. Above all else, duty, and it was already time to get back into action.

Well. Ethan could spare a few hours for Bogdan at their nearby hotel, and allow himself a short goodbye before getting back to work. At the thought of Bogdan, waiting patiently at "home" for him, Ethan picked up his pace, smiling as he stepped into the fog.


Chapter 2

Table of Contents
Fic Masterlist

Comment at LiveJournal