Characters: William Brandt and Ethan Hunt
Word Count: 3554
Summary: His life would be so much easier if Hunt wasn't a trouble magnet with a malfunctioning sense of self-preservation and an unhealthy adrenaline addiction.
Notes: This was also written for a prompt and has already been posted at the respective meme ages ago.
The title come from a quote from Samuel Butler: "The first law of nature is self-preservation."
Beta was done be Audrey Whyte on ff.net. Thanks a lot for her fast and great work.
Disclaimer: Unfortunately I don't own anything and neither am I making any money with this.
The First Law of Nature
He didn’t know when it had actually started, but he could hazard a pretty educated guess that it had something to do with the botched mission in Croatia, but ever since meeting Ethan Hunt for the second time in his life, Brandt couldn’t stop protecting him.
Which was all kinds of ridiculous, since Hunt was an experienced agent, a grown man. Except for the fact that he clearly had no sense of self-preservation. And so, Brandt had found himself jumping after Ethan when the other man had managed to not hit the window in the 110th floor of the Burj Khalifa. Apparently Will’s one self-protection instincts had drowned in a river in Moscow.
Brandt could feel the edge of the window digging into his stomach, while he desperate pressed his shoes into the carpet to stop himself from sliding any further. His left hand held tight to the window pane and his right had a death grip around Ethan’s ankle. The other man was no lightweight and Will could feel the sweat starting to pool in the small of his back, roll down his face and making his hands slippery.
His muscles were screaming in pain and his shoulder felt ready to be dislocated, when Ethan started to move, when he tried to climb up Will. His heart was beating in a fast staccato in his chest and then nearly stopped, when he felt himself slip a few inches. Will had a clear view and he would actually enjoy it, it the ground weren’t so far down. He’d never had problems with height before; thanks to Hunt he might actually be developing them. If they survived.
Suddenly a hand crabbed his ankle, slim hands in a bruising hold and his sliding motion stopped and his heart started beating again. Will heard Jane groaning behind him and then Hunt’s hand was fisted in his belt and he pulled himself up.
With his last strength, Will managed to pull himself back to safety, his muscles shaking with exhaustion and sweat making his shirt darker in color. He rested his back against the window, careful to not look out and instead stared at Hunt, who was lying equally stunned just a few feet from the window.
A breeze whistled in from the missing pane, as Benji opened the door and complained about his part in the mission. Will sighed and forced his eyes away from Hunt, willing his pulse to slow down. They had work to do, but shit, saving Hunt like this better not become a habit.
It became a habit. And Brandt would curse his life, if it wasn’t so much fun. While hanging out of a building was a onetime thing – at least until now – saving Hunt had somehow started to become a regular thing, but by now it felt like it was ingrained in his DNA and really, he owed it to the man. Even though he hadn’t gotten Hunt’s wife killed in Croatia – and that still burned in more ways than one – he still felt responsible. As if his mind was still in ‘protect the asset’ mode.
Therefore it was no wonder that he found himself lying on his back, under a rackety wooden chair with Hunt tied to it and a bomb glued to the underside.
“Whatever you do, don’t move,” Brandt said.
“It’s not like I could,” Ethan was clearly annoyed, but then he was duct taped hip to shoulders to a chair.
But Brandt had the bomb just a few inches from his face, and the thought of Hunt’s feet accidentally stomping on him and then him accidentally causing the bomb to explode was a big concern right now.
It had a pressure sensor and of course, a timer. Because nothing could ever be easy, and their targets actually got smarter. With sweaty fingers Will drew a small knife from his belt and stared at the bomb for a second, trying to find the right wires to cut without them ending as a scattered ash in the deep end of a crater.
At least Hunt had the good grace to be quiet.
Slowly but steadily Will cut his way through the different wires, all while he bit his tongue and prayed that he wouldn’t condemn them to a messy death. At least it would be fast.
The bomb beeped ominously, and then the bright red numbers counting down the time left blinked out. Brandt held his breath for another second or two and when nothing happened, he pushed himself out from under the chair.
“It should be disarmed, but I suggest we hurry anyway,” Will said and started to work his knife through the layers of duct tape.
“You think?” This time Ethan sounded exasperated, but he started to help free himself as he got more control over his limbs.
“I’m no expert, just tried to remember what I read about bombs.” The last strip was cut and Ethan was finally free. He held his hand out for Brandt to take.
“Good thing then that your head his freakishly large,” Hunt returned.
Will grinned back, took the offered hand and pulled Ethan off the chair. When nothing happened he sighed in relief and slung Hunt’s arm across his shoulder.
“If that is the thanks I get for rescuing you, I’ll just let you get blown to smithereens the next time.”
Hunt had the guts to laugh at that.
Not that he would ever actually follow on that sentiment. Which meant that Brandt was hyper aware of Ethan during missions, followed his every step out of the corner of his eye or over the wireless comm. in his ear. Still, his life would be so much easier if Hunt wasn’t a trouble magnet with a malfunctioning sense of self-preservation and an unhealthy adrenaline addiction.
And clearly it was catchy. Because there simply couldn’t be another explanation for Brandt’s increasingly risky behavior in order to save his boss.
But by far, jumping into a freezing river in rural Poland was the least stupid he had done. At least Brandt thought so, until the icy cold seeped through his skin and deep into his bones.
His movements were already getting uncoordinated as the cold stole even more of his valuable oxygen. But he couldn’t dare to rise to the surface to breathe, because Ethan had fallen into this river seconds before Brandt had jumped in behind him; and Hunt had been unconscious to start with.
The water was a murky brown around him, swirling steadily along and was slowly turning his body into an icicle. His thoughts were getting sluggish and Brandt started to move, his muscles aching with every firm stroke with the current that would hopefully get him closer to Ethan. The movement didn’t warm him up, but at least cleared his thoughts some. But his sight was impaired and he stopped feeling his fingers a few seconds ago. Finding Ethan under these conditions proved to be harder than usual.
So really, this was one of his more stupid ideas. Definitely in the top three.
Blindly he waved his arm around, as his feet propelled him farther down the river, hoping that somehow he would find Hunt. When his hand finally came into contact with something soft – he had three branches in between – Will didn’t hesitated. He clenched his fingers, more of a feat that it normally was and pulled the thing closer.
By now his vision was spotty from the lack of oxygen, but he would recognize Hunt’s form anywhere by now. He pulled Hunt closer, against his chest and with his arm across Ethan’s chest, and fisted his numb fingers tighter into the shirt.
Still swimming with the current, Brandt started to rise. His feet and most of his legs had lost any feeling by now and his lungs were screaming for oxygen, but the murky brown was getting lighter and the next second his head broke through the surface.
Will gaped for oxygen, his head immediately cleared and his teeth started to chatter. Ethan in his grip stayed lax. The icy feeling in his chest now definitely didn’t come from the freezing river, but from fear for his friends’ life.
His muscles trembled in earnest now, sheer exhaustion and a wane attempt from his body to keep warm as Brandt pushed them both toward the shore.
Finally his feet found purchase again, it was uneven ground and the going was slow and tough, because Will’s legs refused to keep him standing and his arms refused to drag Hunt any farther.
His vision was nearly completely dark, just a pin point of light left, but Will forced himself to just go one, the only thought in his sluggish mind left, was to bring Hunt to safety. And then hands, hot and scalding against his freezing skin, where helping him. Supporting his walk and lifting the weight from his hands. He must have moaned in protest at losing Hunt, because really he just got him back and couldn’t lose him again, because an English accented voice spoke softly in his ear. “It’s okay, Jane’s got him.” And with that realization, that Hunt was safe, that his job was done, even that pin prick of light disappeared and Will fell into the darkness.
At least the next time Will decided to nearly kill himself in order to rescue Hunt it wasn’t cold. Quite the opposite actually as flames licked at his leather shoes. His nice, new leather shoes, because the last pair had been ruined by water damage. The IMF better pay for the next pair.
A cough rippled from his chest and reverberated in his aching head. The smoke was slowly getting to him, settling deep in his lungs even as he crawled along the ground.
“You okay?” Ethan’s voice was rough from the same noxious fumes surrounding them.
“I’m crawling through a fire with my team leader lying on my back like a sack of potatoes. Do you really think I’m okay?” More smoke made the way down his throat and his cough was echoed closely by one from Ethan.
Heat was burning through his pants at his knees, turning the skin of his hands bright red, even as gravel and wooden splinters impeded themselves into the palm. And as usual Hunt’s now quite familiar weight against him. Ethan’s leg had been badly broken when the older agent had fallen down a flight of stairs in their mad dash to get out of the burning building. Brandt didn’t want to know just how much pain Hunt was in right now, since said broken leg was dragging through the dust behind him.
“I’ll take that as a no.” At least it wasn’t so bad, that Hunt couldn’t quip.
Tears made his vision hazy, but he could swear that he finally saw the door out. His arms were trembling with Ethan’s added weight on his back and he was definitely not getting enough air. Again he coughed in tandem with Hunt, the spasm of Will’s chest nearly throwing the other agent off.
“Not far, I’m pretty sure that I see the door.”
Pretty sure. Brandt had heard that before. Generally it didn’t mean much in their line of work, other than that there was a large chance that they could get killed because it still could not work. But for now he trusted in Ethan’s judgment, just like he had trusted in Benji on their first mission together.
“A bit more to the right, Brandt,” Ethan directed him and Brandt felt like a particular stupid drone. The image of simply throwing Ethan off crossed his mind for a second, before he remembered that he just would pull the man out anyway. Stupid protection instinct.
“I know, I can see the door too,” he growled back instead and placed his hand one in front of the other in a direction slightly more to the right.
In the end it was Ethan who pushed the door open. Will’s hands and arms were throbbing with pain from first degree burns and were shaking visibly with exhaustion. He had no strength left to push the door open and then crawl on.
The heat and gravel of the warehouse gave way to cool, smooth concrete underneath his hands and Brandt forced himself to crawl a few more feet until they were out of immediate danger. This time Will didn’t hesitate when his mind shouted at him to get rid of Hunt’s weight across his back and he shook him off.
Hunt groaned as he landed in an undignified heap. Another cough ripped through Brandt and he collapsed on his stomach, face turned toward Ethan. “I want hazard pay.”
He didn’t get any hazard pay. Instead he got a bullet in the chest.
The mission was doomed from the start. Nothing was working the way it was supposed to and everyone was annoyed with the others and themselves. Their luck turned worse when their one and only asset turned on them.
Brandt and Hunt were meeting with him in a small side street, Benji monitoring the comms and Jane running the background surveillance. There was a total silence over the radio, which was unusual, because normally Benji was always talking about something or another and Brandt tented to bicker back. But now, with the tension running high, no one dared to speak.
Brandt had a bad feeling about this and he had told Hunt about his. But the other agent had shoved his concerns aside in his usual bullheaded way. And told him that their asset was the only way to finish the mission and that the man was distrustful and preferred clandestine meetings. Not for the first time since working with Hunt and his team, Will had to suppress the sudden and overwhelming wish to bang his head against the wall. Or against Ethan’s head. Any was as good as the other. But Brandt had shown self-control, had swallowed his anger and had insistent on coming with Hunt to the meeting, no matter how skittish their asset was.
Meetings alone in the half dark of dusk in some hardly used back streets hardly ever went good. Brandt had pointed that out and had told Ethan that he would come, whether beside him, a step behind him, or shackled to him. That one had actually garnered a snort from Jane. But at least it had worked.
Which led to Will pushing Ethan aside as the asset as pulled a gun on them just seconds into the meeting. The shot echoed through the small street, up the stone walls of the buildings surrounding them. Something punched against Will’s chest and seconds later his knees refused to hold him up, as a second shot was fired, closely followed by a third and fourth.
The stones underneath his knee were cold and it seeped through his pants even as hot fire spread from his chest. Dazed Will looked down, saw the ever enlarging blood stain across chest, painting his shirt vivid red. Oh that was so not good.
“Damnit,” a curse broke through Will’s hazy thoughts and hands were guiding him down, laying him on the cold ground and a shiver wrecked through his whole body.
A cough started to build in his throat, but Will swallowed it down and then pain exploded in his chest. He clenched his eyes shut, groaned in pain and tried to push the source of pain away. But his hands were just flopping helplessly by his side.
“Sorry, Will,” Ethan sounded scared and Brandt opened his eyes again. Ethan couldn’t be scared, the man didn’t know that word, didn’t have gene for it. Something bad must have happened, and Will was supposed to protect him from whatever that was.
Ethan’s face was blurred at first and Will needed to blink before it finally came into focus. And now he could also see the fear, clearly etched into Hunt’s features, something must be really wrong. If only Will could remember what.
“Help’s on the way, Will. Just keep your eyes open,” now Ethan actually sounded panicked. Will hadn’t even realized that his eyes had slid shut again and it took him awhile to realize that. His thoughts were getting sluggish, hard to control as they flittered from one idea to the next.
He was pleasantly numb, the pain from just seconds ago gone and if it weren’t so cold, it would be rather comfortable. There was a weird, metallic taste in his mouth and Will tried to swallow it down, but all he managed was to choke on it. He coughed, violent hacks that lifted his body off the ground, which set the pain alight anew and that muddled his brain even more.
“Keep your eyes open. C’mon, look at me,” Ethan was yelling and in the background Will could hear approaching footsteps faltering.
The metallic taste had gotten worse and he felt like he was drowning, even though Will knew that he wasn’t under water. The mission in Poland was long over.
“Don’t die, Will, don’t die on us now. Please.” Will hardly recognized the voice pleading with him, he could hardly understand the words as they came more and more distorted. Everything around him was already dark and cold, but so comfortable numb. It wasn’t a bad place he was at right now, he certainly had been in worse. But something was pulling him farther away, deeper into the darkness and Will was too weak to fight it, so he simply followed.
The monotonous beeping was anything but soothing. It was grating on Ethan’s nerves and it was turning his stomach into tight knots of worry. Because that beeping was the only sign that his agent was still alive. Brandt looked dead, face gray against the white sheets, cheeks sunken in and stubble covering his chin.
A ventilator fed Brandt oxygen in measured bits, the tape pulling his lips out of shape, but Ethan couldn’t look away as his friend was still fighting for his life even though three days had passed since he had been shot.
Ethan’s hands tightened around the bed rail, knuckles white as he remembered that day. He could still feel the hot blood as it flowed through his fingers, could still see Will blinking lazily and then stop blinking entirely as his eyes fell shut and his body went completely slack.
He had yelled at Brandt to keep breathing, had begged Will to just hold on, but nothing had helped and while Ethan had tried to stop the bleeding, Will had simply slipped away, had stopped breathing and his heart had stopped beating. Never before had Ethan felt so helpless, even as he pressed down hard and steady on Will’s chest, even as he was doing something. But Will had been dead, had been killed because he had protected his boss, his friend, like so often in the past.
The medics had roughly shoved him aside minutes later and the next thing Ethan actually remembered was standing in the men’s bathroom, with Jane methodically washing the blood of his hands.
Five hours of surgery had followed with a shattering diagnosis. Will was in a coma, he was critical and he might not make it. Ever since then, Ethan had not left the hospital, had not left Will’s ICU room, no matter how hard the nurses pushed, no matter how hard Jane and Benji begged.
Because Will was his responsibility. The other man had saved him so many times in the past and Ethan could never forgive himself if he couldn’t return the favor.
Mindful of all the wires and IV’s attached to Will, Ethan placed his hand on the other man’s chest. The up and down movement of the chest was forced and measured, but it was there and it helped Ethan to banish the feeling of stillness that still followed him around.
Settling back against the edge of the bed, Ethan continued to talk, about nothing, about everything. His throat was raw from the hours and days of talking, but Hunt was going to provide a lifeline for Brandt. His agent was going to survive this and if Ethan had to talk him out of a coma then so be it.
The lifeline worked. Five days after Will had been shot, five days after he had died in Ethan’s hands, he opened his eyes again.
Will was still on the ventilator and his eyes were dull with heavy duty pain medication and exhaustion, but they focused on Hunt.
“Don’t you ever dare do something like this again,” Ethan said, even as Will blinked tiredly.
Will’s finger’s scratched against the rough material of the blanket and Ethan took it without losing eye contact. The hold was tenuous, without strength behind it, but Hunt understood nevertheless and squeezed back.
“I’ll hold you to it. Now get back to sleep. We’ll be needing you in the field again soon, who else is going to rescue me?”
A small smile appeared, visible despite the tape and the tube and then Will’s eyes slid shut again. His heartbeat steady and monotonous in the background. And this time it sounded like a promise to Ethan, not a threat.