I'm not sure I'd know what to do with them if they were mine.title.
Taming the Ghostsrating.
Ethan Hunt/William Brandtsummary. It'd been psychological warfare and that damage it'd left in its wake just as horrific as if the other agents had beaten Will in an alleyway.warnings.
Homophobia, one homophobic slur, discussion of PTSD and psychological abuse.notes.
Inspired by this prompt
Taming the Ghosts
. one .
It was the note on his desk, in the end, that broke him. Just a few words in scrawled but anonymous black pen on a post-it left in the center of his monitor, but they were enough to break down what little energy he'd had left in his reserves after the last few months; Brandt fell into his chair, one hand filled with the now-crumpled post-it and the other over his eyes.
He tried to keep the tears in, refusing to give into what felt like a final degradation, but one slipped free and after that, Brandt couldn't stop. It was like the floodgates had opened, the black sucking hole in his chest exposed, and though he never made a sound, the tears rolled down his cheeks where they weren't caught by his hand.
This was how Ethan found him.
This was how Ethan learned that Will had been quietly laboring away in a work environment that would have sent lesser men to their knees weeks ago, with threats and taunts hurled at him every time he was in the office and nearly as much when he wasn't.
. two .
The house was open and lit when Ethan pulled the car into the driveway.
It wasn't large, the house he and Will rented, but it was decent enough, with its little yard and bay windows, and he'd made sure that Jane and Benji had keys in case of emergency. Thank God, he had too: as he guided Will up the walkway to the front door, Ethan could hear the TV playing Mythbusters
, could see the exhaust rising up from the side of the house—the dryer was going.
Once inside, Ethan propped Will against the foyer wall and kicked off his own boots before setting to work getting Will's off. They were silent, comfortably yet oddly so, until Ethan started to unzip Will's jacket.
"I can do it, you know," Will snapped, struggling as he tried to get numb fingers around the pull-tab.
Ethan replied, "You can," and waited. Will had spent the ride with his hands cramped in the fabric of the seat, cutting off blood flow, then exited the car to the frigid air of DC in mid-winter—not to mention that, in all truth, Will was partly in shock and shaky. But Ethan knew to push the issue was only going to make things worse, so he stood there patiently.
A few moments of yanking and pulling later, Will looked pitifully at Ethan. "Just get it off of me," he pleaded, willing to let his pride take another hit so he could get to their bedroom, change out of the blasted suit he'd been wearing all day and into something that smelled like Ethan and home.
Jacket and shoes dealt with, Will took off and Ethan let him go without following. Instead, he walked into the living room where Benji had three laptops going and Jane was quietly nursing a fifth of whiskey. Ethan dropped Will's phone into Benji's lap as he sat down on the couch.
He hadn't had time to tell the other two members of his team more than the bare facts; between the emergency meeting with the Director, with HR, and the staff psychologist, and trying to get Will home, he'd only had a few minutes to call Jane and Benji and ask them to head over to the house.
"We're on standdown for the next few weeks," Ethan told them. "Me and Will. The Director's going to call you both in the morning and talk to you about it, but I wanted to talk to you first."
"What happened?" Benji asked as he flipped Will's phone over in his hand. It didn't look damaged...
"A person or persons within the IMF have been harassing Will. He says it wasn't long, but timestamps on the e-mails and text messages say otherwise. Homophobic slurs, threats against him and us, vandalizing his car." Ethan paused as he leaned forward, then added, "Tonight they left a note on his computer, calling him something I won't repeat."
Jane's rage was tightly controlled and when she looked to Benji, she could see the anger reflected in his eyes.
"One of the analysts has a copy of the phone and he's backtracking the messages with Yusuf. I want you to clean the phone, reset it, whatever you have to to get the messages off." Ethan doesn't say that he expects Benji to do his own trace on the sender—Benji doesn't need to be told when he wants to find the bastard himself.
With Benji set to work on the phone, Ethan looked to Jane.
"Right now, I don't trust any one at IMF," he said, "with the exception of the Director. He can't head an investigation and he's not sure he wants IA handling this. I personally don't want anyone from IA near Will. The best solution we could come up with was for the IA agent to pair up with someone we can rule out as being involved."
"Me." Jane was all too willing to help with the investigation. She would be just as willing, when she found the assailants, to use a little unnecessary force.
"Not you—I don't want you getting into trouble yourself. Tomorrow, after you speak with the Director, I need you to go to New York and get Luther."
She frowned and nodded, silent as she listened to footfalls on the staircase: Will, no doubt, knew they'd been talking about him, but there was no reason to make him come into the middle of the conversation. It'd only make him uncomfortable and judging by the way he went to the couch to burrow in beside Ethan and closed his eyes, he was clearly already on edge.
"Don't let me stop you from discussing me," Will muttered after a few minutes of silence, eyes still closed, and he slid down the cushion to rest his head on the back of the couch instead of Ethan's shoulder.
But no one did: Benji kept working on the phone beside them without saying a word and Jane got up to bang around in the kitchen.
Ethan leaned over to kiss Will's forehead, the skin under his lips clammy, and he ignored Will when he said, "I'm fine, Ethan."
. three .
Benji was half-awake when Ethan emerged from his bedroom the next morning, the couch already inhabited by a laptop and several phones. Jane was up, too—Ethan could just about see her as she headed up the block on her morning run—but Will was still asleep, buried under the blankets, and Ethan wasn't about to try rousing him.
"Coffee?" Benji asked, looking hopeful.
Ethan snorted, still amused to this day that Benji could hack military-grade firewalls, phone lines, and dealt with any number of highly technical and difficult issues the team came up against, but couldn't figure out how to work a coffee pot, and moved to the kitchen. Truthfully, knowing what the day would bring, he needed a dose of caffeine himself.
It was nearly done percolating when Will appeared, sticking his head into the refrigerator more out of habit than anything else. Nothing seemed to interest his stomach, and he closed the door when Ethan handed over a mug of black coffee.
"Sugar," he groused and set the mug down, rifling through one of the cabinets for the shaker. It wasn't where it was supposed to be and Will sighed. "Are you actually going to hide sugar
"Because he thinks I'm depressed—I'm not depressed!"
Ethan (wisely) said nothing: given how badly Brandt had been sleeping, how his work seemed to require so much more his concentration than normal, how he'd refused sex over and over when he'd usually be all over Ethan... Will was
depressed, and Ethan didn't blame him nor think less of him for it. Hell, Ethan knew if he himself had been enduring the months of unrelenting harassment, he'd be depressed too.
He still didn't hand over the sugar shaker.
Will dumped the last of the container of french vanilla creamer into his mug instead, and marched off, angry and unwilling to even look at his boyfriend. Instead, he grumbled under his breath as he climbed the stairs back to their bedroom, glaring at Benji when the man dared to call after him.
Setting the mug down next to the computer on the coffee table, Ethan chose to ignore Will's strategic retreat, and his being rude to Benji, and said, "Here. Black," then, "Get anything off the phone?"
"Other than the fact that Will's probably about to go into withdrawal from being parted—if the IMF were a communications company, he'd be singlehandedly keeping them in business—I didn't get much. They're using their Agency phones. Encrypted, firewalled... Yusuf and I are going to set up a link and a couple of the computer guys are looking into it. We should have it cracked in the next few hours."
"Unless they used burn phones."
"No. Agency burn phones... they're missing several of the security layers that are on the assigned phones. Phones taken off the bloody shelf at Wal-mart have none." Benji rubbed his eyes, the last vestiges of sleep wiping away with his hand, and he reached for the coffee. "The logs show there were burn phones originally—these morons just got brave enough to use their own phones. Which is good in a way."
"Once you get through the encryptions," Ethan started.
Benji finished, "We'll know exactly who they are. And then Yusuf and I are going to tear into the Agency's coding and redesign the entirety of the encryptions database."
Ethan allowed himself a small smile at that. Benji was a very focused man and if he didn't like the way the Agency had dealt with communications in any way, he'd fix it. (At least this time Yusuf was on-board. As opposed to the Incident-We-Shall-Not-Discuss.)
They sat there for a little while longer, silent and comfortable, drinking until the mugs were empty and Jane had returned with her own coffee cup. She tossed a Dunkin Donuts bag at Benji as she moved into the kitchen, and was in the process of unwrapping her breakfast when phones began ringing.
Benji let his go through to voicemail, choosing to eat his doughnut and steel himself for whatever conversation would take place when he called the Director back; Jane picked up without hesitation, leaving her bagel on the counter as she escaped to the relative privacy of Ethan's own office.
It left Ethan with little else to do: Benji would soon be having his own conversation with the Director and Jane would be leaving to get Luther once she was done. Will had, no doubt, gone from the bedroom to his office in an effort trying to concentrate on work and ignore anything else. (He knew Will enough, knew Will'd never be able to just lay in bed all day—his mind wouldn't let him when there were files to see to and mission reports to write.)
After a few minutes of pondering, he decided to do something he'd been putting off for days.
Will's car was in the garage, tucked up under one of those ridiculous covers that Ethan thought superfluous; he'd stowed it there since the vandalism, never letting Ethan see the damage that'd been done, and ridden into the office with Ethan. It was supposed to go into the shop the next day, but now that Will had indicted it was part of a larger issue, fixing it would become a lower priority.
Which Will would have fits over—a cherry red '65 Mustang convertible was not to be treated like Ethan's off-the-lot Toyota sedan.
He yanked the cover off and let it pool on the concrete at Ethan's side, taking in the passenger side. A dozen scratches had been etched into the paint by either a small blade or a key, more likely the key, a bit anti-climatic... until Ethan got a good look at the other side, the driver's side.
The scratches had continued, long jagged lines from the hood to the trunk and amid them, were three capital letters: F. A. G.
. four .
Ethan was missing for several hours before Will decided he should look for him, and really, he knew where he'd find Ethan so missing really was an overstatement. (Hey, it gave him time to look for the sugar, rum, and cigarettes Ethan had hidden. He found the sugar, but everything else had either gone into the void or Jane had taken them with her when she left.)
He padded into the garage barefoot, cursing mentally the entire time because the concrete was verging on subzero, until he was next to Ethan, who'd crouched beside the Mustang.
"I made dinner."
Ethan didn't turn away from the car, didn't take his gaze from the damage. "You didn't want me to burn us some pizza?"
They shared a half-smile, the joke old now but still amusing to them both, and then Will settled down onto the floor, his feet up on his thighs. Ethan would tease him about it, only what came out of his mouth was, "Why didn't you tell me?"
Will sighed and closed his eyes. "Ethan."
A hand fell onto his cheek; Ethan rubbed a thumb over Will's cheekbone, finally looking at the other man. Will looked a little thin, but not terrible, and there was a purpling under his eyes that'd disappear with a few nights of good sleep.
"I just... thought I could handle it. On my own," Will muttered, not caring that he'd moved in closer to Ethan nor that he'd started nuzzling Ethan's hand. (He was secure enough to admit that sometimes, he needed a little comfort and Ethan had never failed to ease his stress.) "I thought I could ride it out."
It was a half-truth and both of them were well aware of it, but Ethan didn't call him on it and Will couldn't bring himself to say anything more. They let it fade into the moment, as Ethan pulled Will firmly into his side and laid a kiss to his temple. "I'm going to be an overprotective pain the ass for a while."
It was the closest to an I love you
either of them had come and Will reveled in it for a few minutes—the intimacy of holding onto Ethan, feeling the affection toward him, not having to wonder (for once) if Ethan wanted him there—before the cold seeped in through his jeans.
Ethan yanked his shoes off and tried to get Will to wear them, but it was only a few steps to get back into the house and he'd gotten the fireplace set up before he'd gone looking for Ethan. It'd been a long time since they'd last had a meal in front of a fire and for some reason, the need had risen until Will found himself in the kitchen, digging out the leftover sushi and the chopsticks.
He'd pulled the coffee table forward, thrown the couch cushions onto the floor, and set the TV to ESPN, and when they'd made it to the living room, Ethan grinned; he repositioned the cushions and the coffee table, settling down once he could put his back against one of their armchairs and pulled Will into his lap.
"I warned you," Ethan answered, wrapping one arm around Will's waist when he attempted to escape.
Will snorted and forced himself to relax, settling against Ethan's chest. He was rewarded with a kiss to his hair and Ethan setting his hands to Will's still-tense shoulders, rubbing at the knots until Will was curled forward, his eyes closed at the pleasure of it. God, this was fucking heaven.
The sushi sat forgotten on the coffee table, Ethan wrapped up in the sight that was Will nearly wanton under his hands, Will's head hanging forward and lolling from side to side as Ethan worked. This was how he wanted to see Will: calm, content, not thinking about everyone but the two people in the room and even then, Ethan didn't care if the only person Will was thinking about was himself.
Will had set his hands on Ethan's thighs earlier and now his fingers curled as he groaned, saying, "Please tell me you'll fuck me tonight."
Ethan paused for a second, unsure. The psychologist's words flitted through his mind, however, reminding him that ultimately Will would know what he needed as his life re-stabilized, and Ethan grasped Will's chin suddenly, guiding his head back so Ethan could kiss him properly.
Pulling apart, Will turned fluidly until he was straddling Ethan's lap and Ethan was licking and nipping at the skin of Will's throat. "God, please," Will was murmuring, "Please."
"Right here? Now? Or do you want me to push you away, make you wait?" Ethan asked, voice husky from the lust building at the base of his spine.
This felt right, normal, and Ethan's fears slid away when Will grabbed fistfuls of his shirt and leaned in, sealing their mouths together again. Passivity had never been Will's forte, always pushing and demanding even when he was too tired to do much more than beg Ethan for more and harder.
"Jane and Benji aren't coming back tonight?"
"In the morning?"
"Not for a few days," Ethan promised, carding a hand through Will's hair, "It's just us for the time being."
If Ethan had a death wish, he'd have commented on the way Will lit up, clearly happy at the thought of being alone with Ethan for a while. And though Ethan knew the good mood wouldn't last—things weren't going to improve overnight—he looked forward to having Will safe and sound, all to himself, for now.
"Lube," he said, lips moving against Will's, "Upstairs."
That was all it took for Will to smile and get to his feet in a move that was impossibly graceful, then offer his hand to Ethan.
. five .
Luther did his best to keep Ethan in the loop, passing him bits of information via text message, as the case progressed. It didn't take long, once Benji and Yusuf had cracked the encryptions, to find out who the problem agents were, but finding them was turning out to be quite the task—they'd gone to ground the moment the shit hit the fan and since it'd taken a good twenty-four hours to discover their identities, their passports and other IMF-issued documents had still been valid. Now, of course, their files were flagged as were all IDs and passports, known aliases, and their handlers notified to bring them in the minute the assholes were found.
It drove Ethan nuts, and not just because he wanted to be the one to find them and see to it they were prosecuted. No, it was driving him insane that they couldn't get their hands on them so he could get Will out of the damned house.
The therapist the Agency mandated Will see was adamant that after spending so much time essentially under siege, never knowing where the assault would come from next, he'd developed PTSD and that, though it would take time, there would come a point where Will wouldn't keep checking his phone for messages or triple-checking that the bolt was flipped. Or quietly worry that he wouldn't be allowed in the field, that he didn't belong on Ethan's team. The latter of which he was doing the morning Luther texted to let Ethan know they'd finally gotten one of the agents in custody.
Will was in the shower, one hand out on the tile, and his head forward; the blazing hot water was hitting him square on the scalp, leaving red marks where it ran down his back in little rivulets, and though Ethan had promised to not hover too closely, he stepped into the shower when the skin began to welt. Pulling Will against his chest had the not so pleasant effect of nearly being dragged down to the floor of the tub before Will blinked and recognition set in.
"We talked about this."
Ethan tightened his grip on Will, refusing to let him bolt; if they were going to hash this out again, they might as well go for the full monty and cross the bathroom off the list... "I've worked with a lot of good agents, Will, but I chose you because you're smart, you're good at what you do, and you get along with Jane and Benji."
"Why?" He asked, already aware of the answer. They'd been over several times already, but sometimes, Ethan thought, Will just needed to hear it. "Those assholes don't know you, they don't know how well you fight—come on, how often have you put me down on the mat?—and they don't know a fucking thing about our team. We all rely on you."
Will sucked in a breath and Ethan felt another stab of hate for the guys that'd done this to his partner.
"Please, just listen to me, okay? No one within the Agency knows how vital you are to this team. Without you, not only would we have failed in Dubai, there's a dozen missions since then that we were able to complete because you knew something Benji, Jane, and I didn't. I am not about to let you off the team without a fight."
"Fucking hate this."
Ethan sighed. Okay, that was more like Will, and Ethan muttered, "I know," into his shoulder.
"I need a drink."
"Or a coffee and a blowjob."
The absurdity of the statement set Will off, doubled over as he laughed just as Ethan had planned. (He knew his lover and the things that would peel the world away for a while; Ethan only smiled and turned the water off.) He regained control over himself half a minute later, snatching up the towel Ethan passed him and wrapped it around his hips.
"Come on, Boston's beating the life out of the Yankees."
Will brightened at that and Ethan resolved to wait until later in the day to tell him about the arrest, which by the time he did, the three perpetrators were either at IMF Headquarters or on their way. Thankfully, the leader of the trio was too weak to stand up to Luther and gave up his buddies whereabouts after some stern coaxing. (If one understood 'stern coaxing' to mean interrogated with the camera recordings off. IMF is a zero tolerance zone, Luther kept telling the guy, for douchebaggery in the ranks.)
And he took it well, really—Will'd nodded and asked Ethan to send along his thanks to Luther and the agents he'd chosen—until Benji stopped by to take pictures of the car.
Ethan had to wrestle him into a chair, eyes locked together. "Will, relax. It's me. It's Ethan. Breathe," he said in the voice the therapist had taught him in preparation for a day they'd hoped wouldn't come. "It's just Benji."
For several long moments, they stayed like that until Will gasped for air, blinking rapidly to re-wet the drying tissues, and asked, "Flashback?"
"GODDAMNIT." Will struggled to get up, glaring at Ethan in warning before he was freed and kicked the coffee table as he stalked out of the room.
"Should I come back later?"
"No. Go get the pictures. I'll take care of him." The wary look Benji gave him spoke volumes, and he added, "He's not upset with me. Don't worry. Go get the pictures," then set off after Will.
Their bedroom door was ajar, an invitation and a warning: Ethan understood the invitation and ignored the warning, entering the room and making sure to close the door firmly behind him. It was doubtful Benji would interrupt, but he wasn't taking any chances.
Will was on top of the covers, curled up in his jeans and sweater; he faced the wall with eye closed even as he accepted Ethan's embrace and wrapped a hand around one of Ethan's wrists. "They never fucking hit me and I fucking flip out at the mention of my car."
"You spent seven months being abused. I'm thankful they didn't escalate to physical violence, but what they did do..." Ethan swallowed. "Your car needs to be re-painted, your computer and phone had to have their memories erased, and Jane's been in your office at Headquarters for two days, weeding through the death threats."
It'd been psychological warfare and that damage it'd left in its wake just as horrific as if the other agents had beaten Will in an alleyway.
"IMF's not going to let me back in the field," Will said, choosing not to pursue the abuse comment.
"PTSD? It's a deal-breaker, Ethan."
"Already spoke to the Director—I told you that I'm not letting you off the team without a fight—and he agreed that if you wanted
to return to an analyst position, you could, or if you wanted to run research from the house, we'd get Benji to set up a link to Headquarters. We both want you on the team, so for now, if you want to do one of those things, we'll arrange it, but in the end, Will, when you're ready, you'll be out in the field again."
Will nodded, but didn't really believe it. Yes, everyone had assured him that the mood swings and the paranoia, the flashbacks if they arose, would all ease in time and as long as he let himself accept help, they'd get him through. That there was another side to this and that, eventually, he'd get back to a life relatively close to the one he'd led before the harassment. He just didn't buy it, not yet.
"You want to sleep in tomorrow?" Ethan asked, noting that Will's fingers had tightened around his wrist—the anxiety was creeping up and given how rough Brandt's last panic attack had been, Ethan decided to end the conversation. It wasn't worth the two hours of shaking, the hyperventilating, the silence and outward shame that came in the aftermath.
"I want a mission and failing that, an uplink to the office so I can work on something
"I'll go talk to Benji."
But Will held on when Ethan turned to crawl out of bed, and told him, "In the morning," which was fine by Ethan—he shifted Will in his arms, snugged in tight, and whispered, "It will get better," until they both fell asleep.
. six .
The flashbacks proved to be the lowest point for Will—they came on with no warning, sending him either into a panic or freezing him in place until Ethan could ease him out of them; he struggled with the shame and the guilt of them, but ultimately, (as his therapist had told him) they were the turning point and he began the long, trudging climb back to the life he'd been happily leading before all this.
That said, it wasn't easy nor painless for either Will or Ethan, nor for their teammates who never failed to make sure he knew precisely how much they missed him when they were sent out on a mission while Will remained behind as their researcher (or "helper" as Benji always said with an brotherly grin.) Granted he was always at the hotel or warehouse or safehouse or whatever place they were using as their central point, but Jane liked knowing he was there as her back-up and Benji preferred being behind the computer as opposed to covering Ethan.
Will, however, did not yet trust himself with a weapon.
(It'd been seven months since the day Ethan'd found him, crying in his office at Headquarters, and he had done remarkably well in that time: he never missed a therapy appointment, never groused about the fact that Ethan brought him meals at regular intervals and would stop any meeting Will was having or work he was doing to ensure Will ate it, and he'd passed every re-certification the Agency had asked of him. He took the medications he'd been prescribed and in the past three weeks, had had not one panic attack or flashback. But that didn't mean one wouldn't come, and Will feared that when it did, it'd be at the absolute worst possible time.)
Ethan believed otherwise, and as he pulled Will into the IMF's gun range, he swore they weren't leaving until Will believed it himself. He steered them to one of the last stalls, the one Ethan'd kissed Will in the first time, and smiled while he pulled out the nine mil he'd signed out for Will. His own was safely strapped in the holster on his thigh, where Ethan intended to leave it—Will needed to re-acquaint himself with the feel of a gun in his hands, the kick and the shiver, and regain some of the confidence he'd lost.
"No." Will's voice was strong, despite the anxiety, and he took a step back. He wasn't ready for this; he'd handled his own piece only once in the last few months, just to re-certify, but he hadn't touched it since then, and the thought of doing so now was making him tremble.
"'s not a good idea."
"Ethan," Will said, looking away. How could he explain it so Ethan would understand that this would only lead to disaster? How could he make Ethan understand that he couldn't trust himself to maintain his focus when it felt like there was a damn time bomb strapped to him?
Sighing as he pulled Will in close, Ethan told him, "Please, do this for me, okay? Even if you don't want to be out in the trenches with me and Jane, if you're just at the nest with Benji, I need to know that you've got your weapon or I get distracted. I know you did your re-cert, I know it was perfect... I need to know you can use it, that it's on you."
It was a valid concern and it bothered Will that it'd been causing Ethan to worry. They went to great lengths to secure their bases of operation, though nothing was ever a hundred percent—there was always the chance they were discovered and attacked—which was why they had their handguns and were trained so intensively. Will had been relying on the latter to save him if ever it was required, his handgun kept in its case, locked. (The Director didn't know, the therapist didn't know, the guys in the weapons department didn't know—Will's field clearance would have been pull so quickly their heads would spin.)
"I'm better trained then you are, Ethan, I could hold my own," he muttered.
"I know you are. Doesn't mean a damn thing if someone's coming at you with a knife or a gun themselves. Please."
His nerves were alight. Will wanted to run, but the way Ethan sounded, how tired he looked when Will opened eyes he hadn't thought he'd closed. Okay, yeah, this was wearing down Ethan and that wasn't acceptable, not when they were back on the missions roster and he was actively involved in the daily functions of the IMF. The thought hit then, that Ethan needed a break—from missions, from taking care of Will—and this was how he was choosing to get it: by seeing that he didn't have to be so protective, that he could finally start backing off.
Will reached for the gun on the stall counter, nearly missing the flash of relief that slid across Ethan's features.
But do not ask the price I pay,
I must live with my quiet rage,
Tame the ghosts in my head,
That run wild and wish me dead.
-"Lover's Eyes", Mumford & Sons