He was not in love. Not the slightest. And he was certainly not in love with Ethan. As an IMF-Agent he was not supposed to be in love, so he wasn't in love. It was that easy.
Their relationship was strictly professional. They were colleagues, fellow agents, nothing more, nothing less. Except maybe for his worries. Or the odd look Zhen gave him when he had asked about that prayer. Okay, maybe he liked Ethan a bit more than his other colleagues. Maybe he had even a small crush on Ethan but he was not in love. Absolutely not.
Except maybe for the way he noticed the colour of Ethan's eyes or his smile. But he was not in love.
Three months after their last operation Declan opened his door only to find Ethan Hunt in front of him. He looked lost and hurt and maybe a bit resigned. As he lifted his hand Declan couldn't see the ring anymore. Ethan's hand felt warm on his cheek and his body is pressed to his. It's like the one time they nearly slept with each other in Italy.
'You were right', Ethan whispered and then: 'Julia left me.'
Declan doesn't know what to say, so he tentatively places a hand on Ethan's back, rubbing soothingly. He knows that the wetness on his neck and his shoulder are tears and the other man clung to him, as he would drown if he let go. It felt awkward how they stood here on the doorstep, hugging each other. Two grown men, two IMF-Agents.
Declan kissed Ethan on the lips and asked: 'You want to come in?'
Ethan let slightly go and nodded.
They manage to close the door behind them before Declan pressed him into a wall, tore off his clothes and kissed him hungrily without regret, without holding back because this time there is no reason why he should.
The next morning, they woke up back-to-back but not touching, not speaking. Declan felt no guilt but it came crashing like waves from the side of the bed where Ethan lay and it made Declan wonder when exactly Julia had left him.
'I don't regret it.' Declan said into the open room. He would have sworn that he heard an echo but he knew it was impossible.
'It would have happened sooner or later. We both knew it after Rome.' The truth tasted stale but he already knew that. He just didn't know what Ethan's truth was.
'Maybe, I should go.' Ethan said as he got up and Declan thought: 'Retreat.' And he's not surprised.
'I'll see you?' Declan asked tonelessly and was surprised as Ethan rolled over and kissed him deeply before he said:
'Of course you will', with a smile.
And really, it was three days later and Declan brooded over his paper work as he heard Ethan's voice behind him, saying: 'Hi.'
He turned around and is rewarded with a steaming cup of coffee.
'One third milk, two third coffee, no sugar.' Ethan smiled and sat down on Declan's desk. Declan smiled back and said: 'Half milk, half coffee, five pieces of sugar. Back to operative?'
'A man has to live out his talents.' Ethan quotes.
'Do your talents include paper work because I could need such a man.'
'No, sorry.' Ethan grinned: 'my own desk is floated with files. If you find this man you can send him to me. I could use him very badly, too.'
There was a short pause before Declan asked:
'Do you want to come over for dinner tonight? I make excellent sandwiches.'
'Sounds good but I have absolutely no clue which wine goes with sandwiches.'
'Martini, shaken, not stirred.' They both laughed and Ethan added: 'I'll bring some beer.'
'I see you tonight then.' Ethan said and leaned in for a small kiss before he left the room. Declan couldn't wipe off that smile for the rest of the day, so maybe he had a crush on Ethan after all but still, he was definitely not in love. Since he was only the rebound for Julia this wouldn't last. It couldn't last because they were IMF-Agents and because they weren't made for long term. See, why he absolutely wasn't in love?
Three months after they had first slept with each other, they're on a mission together. Ex-CIA who wants to sell his information to the Russian Mafia. It's a simple mission: In. Shoot the traitor. Out. Ethan could lean back and let Declan do the work because Declan spoke Russian fluently and charmed them a way through the half country to the man's doorstep.
They sat in a car in sight of the house and waited for their target's return.
'Where did you learn Russian?'
'My grandmother is Russian and my grandfather Bulgarian. They were allowed to emigrate in the USA because they're Jewish. My mother's parents are from Sweden. I have a cousin in Vegas who cooks an absolute delicious stockfish.'
'Beside the fact that they think that I work on a cruise ship? Pretty close.'
'Do you have any brothers or sisters?'
'Two brothers and one sister. Jared is my twin brother. He plays in a rock-band and wears more eyeliner than every other person on this planet. Albena works for a women's magazines' chief-in-editor as an assistant and Jack sells books and is engaged to a British actress. You have no…'
'No. Only child like my parents. But your family sounds great.'
'Crazy is more…Hey, that's him, isn't it?' Declan pointed at a man who just stopped in font of the garden gate and were apparently searching for his keys.
'You or me?' Declan asked.
'Be my guest.' Ethan watches the other man closely as he got out of the car and walked down the street with his natural grace. He called something over to their target. Ethan was not surprised that the man fell for the trap, after all Declan looks as innocent as an angel.
He turned around and waited until Declan reached him. They talked for few moments until Declan drew his gun and shot. Ethan didn't hear the sound but he knows it so well that he might as well have.
Declan climbed back into the car and sat:
'Job done. We can go home.'
Three months after their mission Declan asked nonchalantly if over a meal whether Ethan wanted to come with him to his little brother's wedding.
'It's no big deal. I understand if you don't want to come.' But Ethan shook his head.
'No, I want to. I'm just surprised because it is a big deal.'
Three days later Declan was nervous, anxious, everything but relaxed. It were after the ceremony and they drove to his parents' house where the party would be. The mass had been wonderful: Jack shone brighter than a supernova and Sarah in her white gown and with her red curls pinned up looked more like a princess than a real princess ever could.
'Hey Lan! New car? Man, I should quit. You don't need by accident a Swedish cook on your ship, do you?' His cousin Erik greeted him as soon as they got off the car.
'I doubt that you're qualifications are enough, having studied archaeology and all that.' Erik winced:
'I'm hurt. But hey, you brought someone with you. I'm Erik Anderson, Lan's cousin.'
'Ethan Hunt. Declan's boyfriend.'
'Your mother will be glad to hear that. How long?'
Six months. And shouldn't you be in the kitchen cooking your famous fish instead of cross-examining us?'
'How can I slave in the kitchen when my precious cousin just told me that he's not better than the rest of the family and gave up his solitary life? And don't answer that. Why don't you go into the house and say hello to the majority of our female relatives. And keep Ragna and Freya from the cookies.'
'When I looked last time, they were your daughters.'
'I can't because my wonderful brother managed to get lost on the way between here and the church so that is it now my duty to pick him up.'
'How you manage your household is an enigma to me.'
'No-one said he does.' A female voice sat. The voice belonged to Sarah who just turned up between the cars. She hugged Declan:
'Jack was afraid that you wouldn't come. He didn't see you in the church.'
'We came a bit late and stayed in the back.' She let g of him and greeted Ethan.
'Hi. I'm Sarah Rosenberg or Sarah Gormly however you look at it. The bride, obviously.'
'Ethan Hunt, boyfriend.'
'Since six months.' Erik added emphatic. Sarah suddenly looked like a cat that caught the canary.
'Six months, oh that's great but Jack's not going to like this.' When she saw that Ethan and Declan looked a her completely clueless, she laughed and explained:
'We have a bet. Jack claimed that you would never have a relationship for longer than two months and Erik and I bet against him.'
'We better go.' Whispered Declan slightly embarrassed and dragged Ethan in the houses' direction.
The house was filled with people as was the kitchen. Everyone somehow seemed to belong to Declan's family and they were as multinational as a family could be. The kitchen was full of women except for two men who looked rather out of place: Jack, who was only in his trousers and his shirt now and Jared, whose clothes were more suitable for a Goth-rock-concert than a wedding.
'Declan!' The woman that pressed him against her had blonde curls and wore an elegant costume. She let go of her son and held him at an arm length so she could examine him.
'You were late for your brother's wedding, even Jared managed to get here on time. Have you seen Erik? And who's your friend?'
'I'm Ethan Hunt, Declan's boyfriend. It's a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Gormly.' She gave him with an approving smile and a handshake.
'Do you also work on Declan's ship, Ethan?'
'Yes, we met there actually.'
'Mum, Erik picks up Ryan but as son as he's back he will start on the fish.' Declan put in, in hope to save them the questioning they just got in the car park. Fortunately Albena came to her brother's rescue:
'Come on mum, you can question them later. Why don't we show Ethan around until the meal is ready. And Declan can greet everyone on this way, too. I'm sure they haven't seen him longer than you did.'
Jared and Jack used this opportunity too, to get away from their mother and Sarah also came along with them. Declan was not so much different around his family but Ethan now had the chance to see the differences between Declan and his siblings.
Jared was not so much different from his twin brother, you could even say that he was Declan only with dark hair and a tendency to tell hilarious stories. Albena was a small, humorous woman who was in her brother's good books and knew it. Jack laughed often but rarely said a word . He didn't even defend himself against the friendly insult from his siblings and his wife who had a really sarcastic humour and used words like other people used weapons.
'Your family is great.' Ethan said on their way back home.
Three months after Sarah's and Jack's wedding Declan helped Ethan to pack his belongings into a half dozen tea chests. Declan had never seen the house where Ethan and Julia lived before because Ethan always came to Declan's house and never the other way around. Hence, it's only logical that Ethan moves in with him and not he with Ethan.
Declan can't understand why he didn't move out earlier. The atmosphere of lost chances and unspoken truths is so thick that you could scratch it from the walls. Objectively it's a nice house: Ethan and Julia could've had three or four children and would've been still enough space for everyone.
Ethan packed already, they only had to load the boxes into their cars. Ethan had gone back in for box number seven, twenty minutes ago.
Declan found Ethan in the living room, a photo album on his knees.
'Ethan?' He asked when he approached him from behind. As Ethan turned around he could see that the other man had cried and as he looked at the photos he knew why. Numerous pictures of Ethan, of Julia, of Ethan and Julia.
'I thought she'd taken it with her but it was only lost under the couch.' Ethan explained with a strained voice: 'I really thought that I finished this chapter of my life, seems like I didn't.' With a harsh motion he slammed the album shut and threw it in the box in front of him.
On the outside, Ethan threw the photo album into a waste bin. When he caught Declan's diffident look he said: 'It's over.' And Declan kissed him.
That night the sex had an apoplectic element and Declan lay long awake when Ethan already slept. He couldn't forget that he was only a rebound and he secretly wondered how long this will exist.
'Why don't you sleep?' Ethan asked in slurred voice. Declan was so startled that he didn't think about a cover story and simply said: 'Us.'
Now Ethan sat up and focused his eyes on Declan.
'Why? Is something wrong?'
'I'm just a bit unsure, I guess.' Declan said but Ethan wasn't satisfied and kept his eyes on him. Declan gave up.
'You remember that bet Jack and Sarah had on me? It's true. My longest relationship before this took two months. And I haven't lived with someone since I moved out from home.'
Ethan entwined his fingers with Declan's and laid their joined hands on Declan's chest.
'I love you.'
It was like something big just fell off Declan. He smiled.
'I love you, too.'