Neil knew something was wrong for the moment they entered the warehouse. He couldn’t pinpoint what it was exactly, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something very bad was about to happen. If MI6 taught him anything, it was to always trust his gut. Being a Tenet agent only made him appreciate his gut instinct more – when you’re dealing with things like inversion, you really can’t leave anything to chance. What's happened, happened. Which is an expression of fate in the mechanics of the world. It's not an excuse to do nothing.
Neil looked over to see if David could sense that something felt off as well. His friend had a deeply focused look on his face, which wasn’t unusual during missions, but Neil knew him long enough to know that this particular look on his face meant that he also thought something was not quite right. Neil enjoyed knowing those little details about David. Sure, they came in handy during missions, but it’s definitely not the reason they made Neil’s heart soar.
After years of knowing the man beside him, Neil actually got to know him – his likes, dislikes, the way he liked his coffee, the way he was able to be completely alert seconds after waking up if the situation demanded it. David wasn’t an easy man to get to know. It wasn’t even the fact that the rules said that Tenet agents shouldn’t get to familiar with each other. At the beginning, just after Neil was recruited, he felt as if David was keeping him at arm’s length. At first, Neil tried to justify it with David being The Boss, and not having the time or interest in getting friendly with the recruits. Soon after that though, Neil started feeling like maybe it was personal. The Boss had no problem talking to or even smiling at other recruits. It seemed to be Neil he had a problem with. It definitely didn’t help that Neil had already managed to develop an inconvenient crush on the man. The Boss always seemed to look at him with something in his eyes, something Neil couldn’t figure out or name. To say that Neil was a little bit crushed by the entire situation was an understatement.
Neil always used to say that nothing in life lasts forever. It’s one of the things his life taught him, something he learned the hard way. This time, however, it turned out to be a blessing, because with time, The Boss seemed to warm up or at least get used to Neil. After a while, Neil could almost forget the entire situation ever happened. Almost. Because from time to time The Boss would still look at him with this strange expression that Neil still could not name. The good thing was that after the initial hostility disappeared, The Boss seemed to genuinely like spending time with Neil. After half a year they’ve been on a few missions together, and were no longer tense in each other’s company. The more time passed, the more comfortable around each other they became. That’s when Neil learned that The Boss used to work for the CIA back in the day, that he had a secret sweet tooth, and that to the outside world he was technically dead. In return, Neil told him stories from his college years, he rambled about his favorite physics theories, and told him about growing up in London. Neil was well aware that with every little talk they had, with every secret shared, with every display of trust, his little crush could no longer be classified as a crush. Of course Neil had to go and fall in love with the man who was not only his boss and the head on a top-secret organization, but who also became the best friend he’s ever had. After all, Neil was only human. He was also nothing if not self-aware. He knew damn well that the final nail in his coffin was when The Boss told him his real name. And just like that, The Boss became David in his head, and for Neil there was no turning back. He knew he was completely and utterly fucked.
Neil also knew that he would never express his feelings out loud. He had way too much to lose. His job that he actually really loved, and more importantly, his friendship with David. Maybe Neil was really a coward, but he really couldn’t risk losing the man, so he resigned himself to his fate. He could admire and love him from a distance. After all, he’s been graced with his undeniable trust and his friendship. It would be enough for Neil. It had to be.
In the field they worked seamlessly together. They seemed to always complement each other – David with his meticulous plans, sharp wit and strategic thinking, and Neil who was not afraid to think outside the box and take risks. It was as if they always knew what the other was thinking. Even now, it only took a second for their eyes to meet and for them both to silently communicate that they both thought something was wrong in the warehouse. But before they could do anything about it, all the lights went out, and not even a second later the warehouse was filled with the sound of gunshots. Before Neil even had a chance to react he was being pulled down to the ground.
“Come on,” he heard David say, as he felt himself being pulled towards the metal containers propped against one of the walls of the warehouse. And of course Neil did what Neil did best. He trusted David and followed him without a second thought. When they reached the containers, they both pulled out their guns and tried to look around.
“There are three of them. East wing,” Neil reported, and heard David grunt in agreement. The warehouse was still almost pitch dark, so they really had to think strategically before they ran out of bullets.
“I sent out a distress signal to Ives. ETA 10 minutes,” David reported back, and Neil swore he could hear a strain in his voice. “We need to wait for the backup generator to kick in, and then we can make our move,” David said as they heard more bullets whistling over their heads.
As always, David was right, and it didn’t take long for the lights to turn back on, and for their assailants to lose their advantage.
“I have a clear shot from here,” Neil observed. “Cover me?” he asked for the sake of asking, because he knew David had his back. He always did. Neil fired his gun with practiced precision and ease. The guys they were dealing with weren’t amateurs. In fact, they’ve been quite a nuisance for Tenet for a few months now, always managing to slip away at the very last moment. But they clearly had no idea what Tenet actually did, and this time, there were only three of them. Neil knew him and David had a clear advantage now. Neil was aware that he was a good field. He could usually predict his opponents’ movements, he was quick on his feet, and he could adapt to new situations easily.
Neil looked up from behind the containers once again before he started firing. He rarely ever missed these days, and not even a minute later they could hear the familiar thuds of bodies hitting the floor, and sound of bullets flying over their heads stopped.
“Well. That was shit, but I think we handled it well,” Neil chuckled. “Once again we left Ives one hell of a cleanup,” Neil said, but the only response he got was an unmistakable groan of pain. “David?” Neil turned to see his friend better and froze, feeling his blood run cold. David’s clothes were dark, but Neil couldn’t miss the unmistakable wetness of blood on his shirt.
“Fuck,” Neil said eloquently, as he pulled David’s shirt up to reveal a gunshot wound in his abdomen. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, shit,” Neil continued, as he tried to control the growing panic in his head.
Objectively, he knew he should be trying to stop the bleeding, and that Ives and his team were probably only a few minutes away, but his mind was reeling with panic. This couldn’t happen. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place, but it did, and now David was hurt and possibly dying. Neil could feel his heartrate pick up, and his hands start to shake. Logically, he knew he couldn’t afford to panic now, it would only make the situation worse. He was a field agent, for fucks sake. He’s seen way worse, he’s seen people get shot and killed before. None of those people, however, were the man he was hopelessly in love with, the man he couldn’t imagine his life without. If he lost him right now, Neil would never forgive himself. For not acting faster, for not anticipating the threat, but most importantly, for never telling David how he really felt. Neil was pretty sure that if David died right now, Neil wouldn’t survive it. Somehow, against his better judgement, David became his whole world.
Neil was brought back to the present by David saying his name. He looked over at the man, who was staring back at him, his eyes clouded with pain. That was enough for Neil to be overtaken by panic once again. “Oh, God,” he choked out, and to his dismay he could feel his eyes start to prickle.
“Neil, hey,” he heard David say. Neil tried to focus on the sound of his voice. He couldn’t afford to panic even more now. He knew he had to do something, but it was suddenly too hard to breathe. He heard a wounded sound, and it took him a second to realize that he was the one who made it. “Neil, come on, look at me,” David said, and Neil did, because even in his growing panic Neil would always do what David wanted him to do.
David looked like he was in pain, but he was looking at Neil steadily, his hands pressing into his own stomach, trying to stop the bleeding. Neil could hear his own heartbeat in his ears, as his breathing was becoming more and more irregular.
“Goddammit,” he heard David swear. “Hey, please. Neil, look at me. Breathe. I'll be fine, but you have to help me. Calm down,” said David, as he lifted one of his bloody hands from his stomach, and put it on Neil’s own trembling ones. “Breathe,” David repeated, and miraculously, Neil did. He closed his eyes, and tried to regulate his breathing, clutching David’s hand in his own like a lifeline. He could feel himself being brought back to the present with each breath he took.
After what seemed like forever, but in reality could only be a few seconds, Neil opened his eyes, and immediately swung into action. “Okay, okay,” he said, as shrugged off his jacket, and pressed it tightly against David’s abdomen.
“There you are,” David said as he smiled at him through the pain. Neil let out a watery chuckle that sounded hysterical even to his own ears. He still felt like crying and throwing up at the same time, but at least he wasn’t on his way to a panic attack anymore. Instead, he kept looking at David to see any signs of the situation worsening.
Neil looked down at his watch for a second. “Ives should be here in a minute,” he stuttered out. David nodded and closed his eyes, which sent a new surge of panic through Neil. He shook David gently. “Hey, no. Keep your eyes open. You can’t fall asleep now. Please,” he added.
David opened his eyes and looked at Neil. “I’m okay,” he said, but Neil suspected he said it more for Neil’s own sake. He was grateful nonetheless. Against his better judgement Neil moved even closer to David and put his forehead against his. He bit his lip as he felt his eyes start to water.
“Please be okay,” he pleaded. “Please, please be okay,” he repeated, his voice shaking.
“Neil- ” he heard David say, but at the same time they heard the doors to the warehouse swing open and Ives’ team rush inside.
“We’re here!” Neil yelled, and seconds later he felt someone trying to pry his hands away from David’s stomach. He was about to protest when he felt Ives’ arms on his shoulders, trying to pull him away. He let himself be pulled up, his hands clenching uselessly at his sides, and his eyes never leaving David, as he watched him being pulled onto a stretcher, a crowd of medics around him.
“Neil,” he heard Ives say, and he reluctantly took his eyes off David for a second to glance at Ives. Ives looked him up and down, and frowned, clearly concerned. Neil must have looked horrible then, if Ives was looking at him like that. He was aware he was shaking, covered in blood, and that his eyes were most likely red from trying to keep his tears at bay.
“He’ll be fine. He got lucky. It’s not life threatening. We’re transporting him back to base,” Neil heard one of the medics say, and he took what felt like his first breath in the last ten minutes. Neil felt his knees buckle and he stumbled.
Thankfully, Ives caught him. “Woah,” he said as he tried to keep Neil upright. “Come on, you idiot,” Ives said almost fondly. “You heard the man. He’ll be fine, let’s get you cleaned up.”
“I’m not-” Neil started to say, but Ives beat him to it.
“You’re not leaving his side, I know. I’ll get you a chair brought up to his recovery room. But first we need to clean you up,” Ives said pointing to Neil’s bloody hands.
“Oh,” Neil whispered eloquently. “Thanks,” he said, and let Ives lead him out of the warehouse.
Now that the crisis was averted, and Neil knew David would be fine, he was starting to feel really ashamed of his completely unprofessional reaction. If he hadn’t calmed down, he could be the sole reason David died. He shuddered at the thought. He couldn’t afford to make mistakes like that. Not now, not ever. But he decided to worry about it later, after David wakes up.
Later, as he watched David sleep in his hospital bed, Neil felt a new wave of panic hit him. He was terrified of making his feelings known for years now. But it was as if this day taught him that their lives could really be over in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, Neil felt silent determination overtake him. He would tell him. Consequences be damned. Maybe David didn’t feel the same way, and it would all implode and end in tears. Maybe one of them would get killed. Maybe one of them would die for the other. Or maybe they will be able to grow old together. He can’t know the future, but he can act here and now. What's happened, happened. Which is an expression of fate in the mechanics of the world. It's not an excuse to do nothing.