Twenty-Three Steps Towards Understanding William Brandt
mission impossible: ghost protocol | 2.7k words | gen, clint/natashaHe thinks his team has a warped sense of what’s dangerous and what’s not, but in their defense, they save human civilization on a monthly basis.
Maybe this time he’ll stay.
Or, in which I dump my Brandt Headcanon. Including hints of Actually Clint!Brandt because that’s my head canon.
(also on ao3)
Unlike the infamous Ethan Hunt, William Brandt never understands the constant and perpetual need to be in action. Ethan laughs at the face of danger and rushes head first to action, climbing the world’s tallest building before considering other options at least twice; but Will is the true spy, preferring to stay in the darkness, all calculations and careful thinking.
Maybe it has something to do with his father, drunk more often than not and angry all the time, who hit him if he stood up and hit him more if he stood out. Maybe it has something to do with IMF, an organization that officially never existed and one he’s been working in for years. Maybe it has something to do with Croatia, that if he’d thought things through maybe he could’ve saved Julia and fuck what the heck was he thinking—
Maybe it doesn’t.
(William Brandt doesn’t like danger.)
William Brandt is two-third spy, one-third care bear and all in all a collection of awkward pauses.
Don’t listen to the rumors; this is the truth.
Well yes, he could disassemble, reassemble, and perform a functions check on an M240G medium machine gun under 50 seconds, all that military-slash-spy skills set—that’s where the two-third comes from. But he’s also still flustered whenever someone compliments his suit and a complete softy on anything that’s remotely adorable; he openly admits that it’s his Achilles’ heel. He once almost compromised an entire mission because a cat was almost run over by a truck.
I was also at the enemy’s gunpoint, but I think he missed that part.
He did say that might mean I’m not cute, but he’s clearly just joking. I’m the cutest thing Will has ever met.
He also did say that he may have forgotten that because I am always in front of my computer during missions, but he’s obviously making that up. Active, competent field agent and all. James Bond is British. Make the connection.
Sometimes he wakes up sweaty and panting, and he’d be halfway through the door before realizing that it was all just a dream, that he’s not in Croatia, that he’s not in that hotel room splattered with fresh blood and smells faintly of smoke and gunshots.
His heart almost stopped when he saw Jane kicked Moreau out of the Burj Khalifa because once again death and hotel room were in the same sentence. He then hated himself for being triggered by such tenuous connection and shouted at Jane, because being angry is much easier than remembering.
He still can’t kill in a hotel room.
Will thinks he’s dangerous.
Not the I’m-one-of-the-best-agents-in-the-world dangerous, and not the I-can-kill-you-with-a-toothpick dangerous, either. Will thinks he’s dangerous because people trust him too much and too easily that his own incompetence would—will—get them killed one day. And that’s why he kept moving around, never allowing himself to get attached to anything.
He told the team about this once.
Much to his surprise, they all shrugged; Jane gave him a small smile, Ethan pat his shoulder and Benji said, “we are all dangerous in our own ways,” and started describing how he once protected a bystander from a thug, and do you know the guy had a dragon tattoo? Because the guy had a bloody dragon tattoo and I still managed to stop him—
He thinks his team has a warped sense of what’s dangerous and what’s not, but in their defense, they save human civilization on a monthly basis.
Maybe this time he’ll stay.
(William Brandt still doesn’t like danger.)
Until today, I never understood why I told him about Julia.
He’s not the only person affected by her ‘death’. We had a house in the suburbs last time, lived there for a month or so; the old lady who lived across the street became Julia’s best friend instantly, and I think she almost lost the will to live when someone delivered the news. We also used to go this steakhouse every weekend; Julia and the chef there were in a first-name basis. I delivered the news myself, and I swear, the guy was inconsolable.
I never told them the truth and probably never will. I told Brandt.
I don’t understand why.
Although it helps that I trust Brandt with my life.
He hasn’t forgiven himself for what happened in Croatia, but he’s learning to.
Will has a photographic memory and memorized a dictionary once, but this is what he always sees under guilt:
Emotion manifested due to past mistakes; a pathetic attempt to justify what has been done wrong and could’ve been done right; an unequal retribution towards the wrongs; an insult to the victims; Croatia.
“Comic-Con, Will. Comic-Con is your idea of holiday.”
“No, just… I figured you’d be more of a… technical person, I guess. I don’t know, TED talks, those kinds of things, you know?”
“Pfft, TED talks are for the masses. We are distinguished people.”
“You too, Benji?”
“I can’t believe you we’re even discussing this.”
“Thank you, Ethan—“
“Comic-Con is definitely the best place to go. Did you guys go to this panel last time—“
“…Dorks. All of you.”
“You still love us, Jane.”
It’s not that he thinks he’s indestructible; it’s just that he feels that everyone else’s lives worth so much more than his.
He knows that she isn’t dead, but after putting much thought into it, it doesn’t matter—dead or not, what happened is that he didn’t make the right call.
I think the same thing about Trevor, except the part when the person in question didn’t die, because he did.
11. killer (not)
Taking someone’s life is literally in his job description. To be an agent is to subscribe to the utilitarian point of view, to firmly believe that what you do is for the greater good. Will knows this.
It’s always easier said than done.
“Pull the trigger, Will,” Ethan says to the com, and Will’s grip on his sniper riffle tightened. The target is meters away from him, talking to his phone, unknowing that his life would end in mere seconds.
“Give me a second,” he says.
“Will,” Ethan repeats, and Jane says, more urgently, “pull it now.”
He bites his lower lip, hesitates because he knows that the man is talking to his five-year-old daughter.
He pulls the trigger because he knows that the same man is the head of a mafia that has just secured a shady deal with the local police, effectively having the lives of thousands in his hands. He also knows the man doesn’t have a good track record in keeping lives.
“You’ve saved them, you know,” Benji reminds him later, when they have gone back to the safe house, away from the sidewalk where the man’s brain still probably is, “you’ve saved the lives of these people.”
Will says nothing and continues retching into the toilet bowl.
(He thinks he’s becoming soft. Another part of him tells him he’s becoming human.)
12. light at the end of the tunnel
One information he never willingly gives to anyone is that after military, before IMF, he was an assassin.
In comparison to that job, being in IMF is a relief to his conscience.
13. mission impossible
“On it,” he says before Benji can so much finish his sentence. He immediately turns to the man who’s been pointing his gun at his temple for the last fifteen minutes; before the man can react, he reaches for the gun, putting its safety back on in split seconds and coax it out of the man’s grip; the man pulls back, but he knows better, pressing on the man’s wrist with his right hand and snatching the gun with his left. In three seconds the gun has switched owner, and in another three he has completely dismantled the gun, the bullets clattering on the marble floor.
For a few seconds, the man is dumbfounded, doing nothing except gaping at Will, and those few seconds are all he needs—he pulls the man’s outstretched hand, shifts sideways and spins it so that he now stands behind the man with his arm at a weird, painful angle, and—thud. One hit to the neck and the man is unconscious.
All in all, everything was done at a record speed of seventeen seconds.
He presses the earpiece on his right ear, “Where’s Ethan?”
“Uh… still dangling upside down on the Eiffel Tower.”
Yeah, he thinks, chuckling to himself, definitely nothing to be proud of, self.
He changed his last name as soon as he entered the military, because in htat hellhole he called home, most would call him by his last name and it reminded him too much of his pathetic excuse of a father.
He changed his first name years later, after a months-long torture in one of the mujahideen camps in Afghanistan. He escaped from the camp with broken arm and a few less teeth, and when the sun hit his eyes he forced them to stay open until he cried, arms wide open, bathing in the sunlight like a Phoenix risen from the ashes. His colleagues called him a name, his actual name, but he croaked, call me Will, and I will live as William, and didn’t speak again for the next three weeks.
(—the real William, William James, was found dead four weeks later in the same camp, presumably executed from helping several prisoners escape, including Will—)
He keeps his middle name because it’s the one his mother gave him.
(William Francis Brandt never loves his mother, but he never hates her, either.)
15. opening up&
He only has a handful of people who knows about a messed-up not-family he used to have. A former partner, now miles away from him, probably still looking for him after he couldn’t stand being an assassin and ran away to IMF. A superior, may or may not have been dead after he stopped keeping in contact years ago.
These two, and no one else.
He told Benji, Jane, and Ethan about them in a bar after a particularly bad mission. They had just come back from Afghanistan, where he almost lost his live to a particularly angry religious fundamentalist, when he heard a bullet whiz past his right ear and only missed him by a few inches because Benji told him through his com about the man’s position, because Jane subdued the man’s partner, because Ethan had broken down the building’s electricity moments ago, obscuring his position.
If there’s ever a test on getting his trust, the team has passed it.
This is what he told them:
He hates his father like nothing else in the world he’s ever hated. At his father’s funeral he felt a mixture of guilt and satisfaction in seeing a man, the man who’d hurt him and his brother so much, lie dead as no one mourned for him.
He doesn’t hate his mother, but it’s hard to love her either. It’s hard when the woman simply stood by and watched with impassioned eyes as he was beaten mercilessly by his father, his brother crying to her begging, please, please make him stop, and she didn’t say anything.
He loves his brother with all his heart.
(His brother hated him.
Also, they are all dead.)
He doesn’t really like being asked questions, but he does have a favorite question anyone has ever asked him: “how do you know she’s dead?”
At the end of the day, Will is just a man who wants to do good.
He keeps count of everything and is well aware that his ledger is dripping with red. He tries to wipe some away, but he isn’t quite sure how; the only ink he has is red, and the more he tries to clean, the redder it becomes. He tries anyway.
Will is a man who wants to do good; he is, however, not a good man.
If people are knives, events are wounds and Croatia is a scar he can never rid of.
20. training (there’s only so much of it that you can do)
The mission has gone south a few hours ago, and while Benji and Jane managed to escape mostly unscathed, Ethan isn’t as lucky—his right leg was shot, and despite Jane’s efforts, his blood still seeped slowly but steadily through the makeshift bandage.
“This is my fault,” Will declares, more to himself than to anyone else, but apparently everyone in the van can hear him. Or at least Ethan can, because the man immediately kicks his shin lightly with his bloodied leg.
Ethan also opens his mouth to say something, but Jane is faster, sighing loudly before giving Will a pointed look, “you should look at yourself right now.”
Maybe Jane has a point.
Will is…. nowhere near as lucky as the rest of his teammates. He got shot twice at his shoulder and kneecap, and he would’ve screamed in pain from the latter if his head is not pounding from the concussion he might have.
“Could’ve been better,” he pauses, making sure he’s not going to vomit before continuing, “I didn’t realize the mark was heading to the safe earlier than expected even though we’ve talked about this before, we’ve trained this—“
“And I didn’t inform Ethan about it even though I saw the mark with my own eyes,” Benji says, joining the conversation from behind the wheels, “and we’ve talked about that, too. everyone makes mistakes, Will.”
“We can’t afford mistakes in this line of work,” Will replies.
“And yet here we are,” Ethan counters. “It’s not about being perfect. It’s about deciding what to do after you’ve made your mistakes.”
Will doesn’t say anything.
He still thinks he’s useless.
He trains more.
He once met a woman whose skin as white as snow and lips as red as blood. It was never a fairy tale for her ledger was as red as her lips and hair and his, but he fell in love nonetheless.
He fell fast and hard, heady and breathless and always running. They fell together and they fell apart, because she kept slipping through his fingers and he kept clutching, chasing.
He never quite stops loving her, but he did learn to stop chasing her.
He went out with Ethan for bungee jumping in Bali one summer. Ethan was checking his harness, hair blown by the wind and grin plastered on his face when he asked, how can you not love this? The thrill, the excitement, the danger, but Ethan doesn’t understand.
He can’t love danger because it feels too much like loving her.
William Brandt is not a man defined by his past.
He is, however, a man changed by his past, and the Will before Croatia is a different man from the Will after Croatia, just like the Will before IMF is different from the one after. He doesn’t deny it, nor he is trying to; instead, he works himself around it, so that the Will before Croatia can look into the eyes of the Will after Croatia and says, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
(Scars don’t go away, but they don’t hurt, either.)
SO YEAH. I feel the ghost protocol fandom is barely alive now. since positive fandom contribution > whining about lack of fandom contribution, I write (actually, positive or not is based on your opinion, but I hope my sucky fic > no fic at all).
after not writing ghost protocol fics for so long, I’ve lost my Benji-voice, so sorry for that. I’ll probably do a rewatch when I’m no longer busy.
if there are hints of Brandt = Clint there, it’s because… that’s practically my headcanon. and it ended up as an AU where Clint left SHIELD before Avengers and joined IMF. wanted this to be a part of my juxtaposition-verse but my brain was like, ‘lol no’, so yeah.
format inspired/strongly influenced by Thirteen Steps To Understanding Something You Can’t by veracious from the Fight Club fandom. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU’RE DOING NOW DROP THAT SHIT AND READ THAT FIC.