Whew, okay, this is the latest one. You people are now officially caught up to this story, all ~100k words of it that I've written so far.
Warnings:this chapter is going to be dark. Like, seriously. If it's not your thing and you don't want to read it, I completely understand. I'm going to warn for the following:
child abuse and neglect; child sexual abuse; alcoholism; physical and verbal abuse; violence; homophobic language and attitudes
So yeah, turn back now if any of this stuff might be triggering for you.
Summary: Will returns to his hometown - and his past - for his father's funeral.
Will's shrill ringtone is what wakes Ethan up on a lazy Sunday morning in June, far before his own body clock. Annoyed at having to move far before he has any real desire to do so, he extricates his arm from under his torso and pokes Will in the arm. "Either answer it or shut it off," he grumbles.
Will just mumbles something incomprehensible and rolls over so that he's facing away from Ethan. The phone stops ringing, and Ethan only has a second or so to feel relief when it starts up again.
"Dammit, Will, if it's HQ tell them to go fuck themselves," says Ethan irritably, poking Will again, this time in the side.
Will stirs and turns, glaring sleepily at Ethan. "Why are you poking me-" he begins, and then sighs. "Fine, I'll pick up the damn phone."
Ethan catches a glimpse of the screen as Will snatches it off the side table, cursing colorfully under his breath. It simply says Unknown Number. Hoping hope against hope that it isn't IMF - he is in no mood for work - he watches as Will picks up and begins with a "Who the hell-"
Then he freezes, all the color draining out of his face. He keeps the phone to his ear for a couple seconds longer, lips pressed together in a tight line, staring at nothing in particular, and then he hangs up and tosses it aside like it's burning him.
There is a nervous knot in Ethan's gut. "Who was it? What did they say?"
Will blinks out of his reverie and turns to look at Ethan. "It was my mother," he says, voice carefully devoid of any emotion. "My dad died last night."
Ethan stares, not sure he's heard right. "Your mother."
Will nods. "Yeah," he says numbly.
"How did she get your number?" wonders Ethan, closely watching Will for signs of… hell, he has no idea what he's watching for. Will's parents have always hated him and he's always disliked them right back. His father is single-handedly responsible for most of the trauma Will's faced during childhood. Ethan honestly has no idea how Will's going to respond to news of his death - with indifference, or distress?
"No fucking idea." Will abruptly throws his phone aside and untangles himself from Ethan's legs and their sheets, getting out of bed and striding towards the bathroom. Ethan scrambles to follow him, to see if he's okay, but Will's already shut and locked the door by the time Ethan gets there.
Locked the door.
Something he hasn't done in years now.
Ethan stands in front of the door and wonders what the hell he's going to do now.
It takes Will forty minutes to shower - a half hour more than his usual shower time. Ethan doesn't bother knocking and asking to enter - even if he has no idea what Will's feeling, he does know it's important for Will to have his space. Will probably has no idea of his feelings either, and he needs time to figure it out. And well, if he's decided to waste their hot water while doing it… nothing Ethan can do about it short of kicking in the door.
Which he's not going to do, of course.
So he washes his face in the bathroom in the hall, returns to their room and sits down on the bed with his phone, patiently waiting for Will to exit the bathroom. He briefly considers texting Luther or Jane for tips on how to deal with this, but he's not sure how a text reading WILL'S DAD IS DEAD AND WILL IS REACTING FUNNY SEND HELP will be received. Probably not well.
Will finally leaves the bathroom. He doesn't look any different, and Ethan's not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Cautiously he stands and says, "Hey, you all right?"
Will nods at him, offering him a small, strained smile. "I - yeah. Sorry. Just needed to think."
Ethan puts his hands on the sides of Will's neck, smiles back reassuringly. "It's all right," he says. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, don't worry about me," Will replies, circling Ethan's wrists with his hands and squeezing as if to emphasize his point. "I just… I don't know if I should go or not. My mother just told me he's dead and it was a heart attack. She didn't mention a funeral or anything."
"Do you want to?" It slips out before Ethan can stop himself. Stupid, he curses himself. Why would Will want to attend his dad's funeral when the man did nothing for him?
"I don't know," admits Will. "I mean, I owe the guy absolutely nothing, but at the same time I feel like I should be there, you know? If only to acknowledge that he was my father, if nothing else. I know it's probably pointless," he adds when Ethan opens his mouth to say something, "and I know that he probably died hating me. But I don't think I would be… okay with myself if I didn't go."
"So you're going," Ethan says, just to make sure.
Will inhales, looking like he's steeling himself, and then nods. "Yeah. You don't have to come if you don't want to," he adds.
Ethan snorts lightly, stroking the skin under Will's jaw with his thumbs. "Don't be silly. Of course I'll come."
Will leans in and rests their foreheads together, exhaling long and slow, his breath warm and minty on Ethan's face. "Thank you," he whispers.
"Don't be silly," Ethan repeats, and smiles softly at Will. "I wouldn't leave you alone for something like that. Just like you'd do the same for me."
"Always," promises Will.
They set off that afternoon. HQ was remarkably lenient about letting them go for a couple of days, especially after Ethan quietly told Brassel why they were leaving. He calls Jane and Benji while Will packs, and apprises them of the situation as well.
Finally they're both in the car - they're taking the Ghibli - and Will is silent and brooding in the passenger seat, staring out the window as they leave behind the buildings and traffic and life of Washington DC for more open roads. Ethan glances at him out of the corner of his eye every now and then as he drives, and once or twice he opens his mouth to say something before closing it again and turning it back to the road. He's not sure what he can possibly say that won't sound ridiculous in this situation. "Sorry your dad died" isn't going to cut it at all - neither of them is particularly sorry that the world has one less asshole in it, after all.
It's Will who puts a stop to it, by shooting Ethan a wry smile and saying, "You can just say it, you know. No need to dance around it or worry about my feelings or whatever."
Ethan smiles a little as well. "All right, then. I was thinking that I don't know what to say to you about this."
"Why do you feel as if you have to say anything?" Will replies with a small shrug, leaning back in his seat to look out of the windshield at the world passing them by. "Seriously, you don't. It's not like I'm wailing in distress, is it?"
"I'd be concerned if you were," Ethan snorts.
Will grins. "Exactly." But it's half-hearted and even though he's doing his best to talk and banter and keep up his light demeanor, Ethan can tell there's still something on his mind. Something is still bothering him, and while it's completely up to Will whether he chooses to divulge or not, Ethan would prefer that he did. It would be much better than having it fester inside him, especially as they'll be in an unwelcome (and unwelcoming as well) environment that Will would normally amputate his own legs before stepping foot in.
Will sighs, pulling Ethan from his thoughts. "Just say it, Ethan."
"Okay." Ethan sits up a little straighter, makes sure the road is empty and there's no car behind them, and then turns his head sideways to look at Will. "Something is bothering you, and while it's entirely your choice whether you let me know or not, I still do want to know."
"Of course something is bothering me," Will replies, turning to raise an incredulous eyebrow at Ethan. "I'm going back to the ninth circle of Hell, Ethan. I swore to myself I'd never come back here no matter what, and yet all it takes is one phone call."
"So why are you going?" asks Ethan. "Look, babe, I got to ask - if it's out of some misguided sense of duty, or obligation or whatever-"
"There's no misguided sense of duty," Will replies with a snort. "And no obligation either. I told you, I just feel like I should at least acknowledge that he was my dad, no matter how much of a shitty one he was. I wouldn't feel right if I didn't."
"Will, he wasn't a dad, he wasn't more than a sperm donor," Ethan says incredulously. "He doesn't deserve even that much!"
"I know that!" Will doesn't snap, but it's a close thing. There is a definite edge in his voice when he continues after a deep breath that probably should calm him but doesn't, "I know that, Ethan. After fucking decades of my life ruined by that guy, I am well-aware of this. I'm not saying I'm somehow validating his - his behavior or you know, going back to my roots or whatever the fuck, Ethan. I just want to see the guy put in the ground, like I've been wishing my entire childhood, and then come back and close that chapter of my life. Okay?"
There is a silence following Will's outburst, and suddenly Ethan feels guilty for even having pushed Will that far. It's not every day that Will lets go of his composure enough to all but shout like that, and besides - Ethan knows Will's childhood is a sensitive topic with him. He should have stuck to the original plan of giving Will his space.
"I'm sorry," he says quietly, his knuckles almost white on the steering wheel as he grips it. "I went too far."
All the fight seems to go out of Will; he deflates, melting into the car seat, and turns his head to look at Ethan again. "It's fine," he sighs. "You didn't, really. I'm just… touchy about this. I mean, it's my dad, right? When I was a kid I used to hope and pray that either he'd die or I would, and now that it's finally happened, I'm not… I don't feel relieved, or - or happy or anything. I don't feel anything. And I don't know how to feel about that." He quirks his lips in a small, mocking smile, directed at himself.
Ethan takes one hand off the steering wheel to put it over Will's, on his knee. "Maybe," he suggests quietly, "you don't have to feel anything about this."
Will turns his hand and intertwines their fingers, his apology for the outburst clear in the gesture. "Maybe you're right," he replies just as quietly.
It's twilight when they arrive at a small town that could have been literally anywhere in the country, nondescript and with no identifying marker in Ethan's mind except that Where Will Was Born.
Will's hands tighten on the steering wheel when the first tiny building appears on the horizon, and Ethan looks askance at him. Will took over the wheel a few hours ago and had been more or less okay, right until now. They talked and they listened to the radio and they stopped for snacks, Ethan eating a salad and bitching about the giant bag of gummy bears Will purchased for himself.
And now Will is staring out the window, not even returning Ethan's gaze, knuckles so tight on the wheel they're trembling from exertion, his lips pressed into a thin line. The car slows down, almost imperceptibly, but Ethan's watching the speedometer and there is a definite decrease in speed, almost like Will wants to delay his arrival as much as possible.
"Slowing it down won't make it any less bad," Ethan says gently, reaching out to pry Will's hands loose from the steering wheel, rubbing his knuckles with his thumb. "Look, it's not still too late to turn back, okay? You don't have to do this to yourself."
Will blinks, seemingly coming to his senses, and turns to look at Ethan, his face pale. "No, yeah, I know," he replies, taking one hand off the wheel to grip at Ethan's. "But I'll be fine. I think."
"If it's good enough for you, it's good enough for me," Ethan says, squeezing his fingers. "Just remember that you're not alone, okay? I'm with you, every step of the way."
Will offers him a strained smile. "I know."
They stay quiet after that; Will drives, and Ethan looks out the window, takes in the town around them, and all the while their hands remain joined. Will seems to be calming down, marginally - his breathing is easier and his grip on the wheel is more or less normal. He still looks pale though, but that's to be expected.
All Ethan can see, when he looks out of the window, is A Place Will Went and A Diner Will Might've Eaten At and perhaps, A Place Will Liked or A Place Will Hated. There is a burning curiosity inside of him that makes him want to ask Will about all these places passing them by, to find out where Will used to go, where he used to hang out, where he used to escape to when his home became too much. But Will's lips are still a thin line and the set of his shoulders is steel-hard, and Ethan knows that nothing good will come out of him reliving his past any more than he has to. Especially when it can be avoided.
Besides, thinks Ethan, as he sees an old, decrepit high school building pass them by, some things should stay firmly in the past and never come out. Things like broken homes and blood and pain and a deep, pervading wish to either leave or die, just to escape.
So he remains silent and he keeps his grip on Will's hand firm and reassuring, and when they finally turn into a driveway leading to a farmhouse, Ethan brings Will's hand to his lips and offers him a soft smile before finally letting go.
The old farmhouse was red once, a long time ago, perhaps even before Will was born, but now it's a dull pink-brown color, visible in between the cracks of peeling paint. The grass surrounding it is overgrown, and Ethan has no doubt that if he steps in it, it will come up to his knees at least, if not his waist. There is a rusty tractor standing in the grass, one that hasn't been used in ages if the grass growing through the wheels is anything to go by, as well as the cats all over it. The corner of a shed of some kind peeks out from behind the far wall of the farmhouse, but that too looks unused in ages and Ethan has no wish to find out what kind of mutant fungus has managed to grow in it in that time.
There are a few people milling about the door, all dressed in black, all in their sixties and seventies. Ethan glances at Will to see if there is any kind of recognition on his face, but Will's face is a carefully composed mask of indifference. It looks as if he couldn't care less about what's going on, but then he reaches out and his fingers touch the back of Ethan's hand - getting the message, Ethan takes his hand and intertwines their fingers, and together they walk the few short steps up to the porch.
The people, an even mix of grandmas and grandpas, all stop their hushed talking when they see Will and Ethan approaching, hands joined. Will's face is still a mask but Ethan is well-aware of the defiant expression on his, a challenge for one of them to say something. The message is well received and no one says a word, though there is more than a little of scandalized whispering and staring in disbelief. Ethan can't make out if it's just because they're holding hands, or because these people have recognized Will.
He gets his answer a moment later, when an old man nearing at least ninety steps forward, leaning heavily on a cane, and smiles a bright, toothless smile up at Will. "William!" he wheezes in greeting, and leans forward so far that for a moment Ethan's scared he's going to topple over. "Haven't seen you around these parts in ages, boy!"
Will looks surprised, but he does his best to smile back anyway. "That's on purpose," he answers the old man. "How are you doing, Mr. Freeman?"
"Oh, you know, a little up, a little down," dismisses the old man - Mr. Freeman. "But look at you, you're all grown up!"
The other old people are watching the exchange with interested expressions, and Ethan knows that they may all disapprove of Will but that doesn't mean they're not intrigued by him and what he's been up to all these years. Some of them are muttering among themselves, but it's nothing he can distinguish, and besides, he doesn't care, anyway.
"What have you been up to all these years?" Mr. Freeman is asking Will, poking him in the stomach with his free hand.
"Uh, a lot," is Will's vague answer; he's beginning to look a little uncomfortable at the attention.
Mr. Freeman shakes his head fondly. "Still a smartass, boy," he says affectionately, chuckling, the sound very much similar to that of a sputtering car engine. Ethan stifles a snort, and before he has time to feel horrified at this lapse in manners (his mother raised him right after all), Mr. Freeman's attention is on him. "Who are you?" the old man asks curiously, blinking owlishly at Ethan through his thick glasses that magnify his eyes to unnatural proportions.
At this question, every single person on the porch goes silent and looks expectantly at Ethan. "I'm, er," he begins, unsure of what he can say that won't result in some kind of clusterfuck.
"We're married," Will announces, holding up their joined hands so that the ring is visible, glinting in the late evening sun. It's almost sundown by now, and getting darker by the minute, but the silver gleams brightly, as if drawing even more attention to Will's statement.
There is a stunned silence. Mr. Freeman looks like he's going to open his mouth and continue talking – what he's going to say, Ethan isn't sure he really wants to know – but before he can do so, Will tugs lightly at Ethan's hand and says, "It was nice seeing you again, Mr. Freeman. Please excuse me." Then, without a backwards glance, he leads Ethan into the house.
Ethan's first impression is how can anyone live in this house and not fear for their lives?! It appears even older than the outside of the building, and is in a clear state of disrepair. The dirty emerald carpet is threadbare and has cigarette burns in it, and the walls have dark stains on them that Ethan has no wish to identify. There is a thin layer of dust on almost every surface, and besides Ethan, Will wrinkles his nose, clearly trying to fight off a sneeze. There is barely any light save what streams in through the grimy windows, and even that is quickly dying.
All Ethan can think is, this is no place for someone to live, let alone for a child to grow up. His hand tightens on Will's, who, as always, seems to know what he's thinking – he shoots him a small, sad smile and squeezes his hand. "What can you do, huh?" he murmurs.
Ethan opens his mouth to answer, but before he can do so, a thin, almost gaunt, woman appears from the kitchen to the right. Like everyone else, she is dressed all in black, wearing a dress that hangs off her frame down to her knobby knees. Her narrow, pointed face is tanned almost brown, her equally brown hair falling limp to her shoulders, and the only indication Ethan has of her identity as her eyes, as blue as her son's but yet, nothing like them.
"William." She sounds surprised to see him.
Will sucks in a breath, and his grip on Ethan's hand is so tight it's almost crushing, but Ethan doesn't so much as wince. "Ma." The word is quiet, empty of emotion, and yet Ethan hears the bitter tint of it loud and clear.
"You came." She takes a step forward and then stops in her tracks, wrapping her arms around her middle as if trying to stave off the cold. It's June. It's not cold at all. Ethan has no sympathy for her, or her clear shock at seeing her son.
He discovers, with a vicious clarity, that he rather hates her, actually. If not for the way Will's had to grow up because of her, then for her eyes. She has no right sharing something like that with Will, possessing something of Will's that Ethan loves so much. It gives him a deep, vicious satisfaction to see that her eyes are not entirely identical to Will's – the shape is different, her eyelashes aren't nearly as long, and, most of all, there is nothing of the kindness and love in her eyes that is ever-present in Will's. Hers are more gray than the clear blue of Will's.
"I'll be leaving right after the funeral." Will's words are brusque, clipped, with nothing in them that indicates that he's talking to someone who isn't a stranger. That's what she deserves, thinks Ethan, and that's what she's going to get. She doesn't deserve Will, and she never could.
She nods at Will, and then notices Ethan, it seems, for the first time since they've entered. "Who are you?" she asks, eyes narrowed at their joined hands.
"Who do you think?" asks Will. Ethan knows that he intended it to come out snappy, but it just sounds tired.
She eyes their hands, and the ring on Ethan's hand that he knows is visible, and then her gaze wanders to Will's left hand, and the matching ring there. Her eyes narrow even further until they're barely more than slits. "Of course," she all but hisses. "Of course you're a queer. I'm not surprised."
Will rolls his eyes but says nothing. "I'm not going to be staying here," he tells her. "I came only to get my things. We'll come to the funeral and leave directly after that."
"I don't care where you stay," she snaps. "As long as it's not under my roof."
"Don't worry, then," Will replies, in exactly the same tone. He makes to walk past her, towards the staircase, but she steps in front of them, blocking the way.
"Your father is dead," she says, her bony, lined face contorted in anger. "The least you could do was dress appropriately, you ungrateful whelp."
Will glances down at his faded blue jeans and black Henley, and then at Ethan's charcoal gray pants and white button up. With a noncommittal shrug, he moves past her, not giving her a second glance as he leads Ethan up the stairs. She doesn't follow, but without having to look Ethan knows that she's watching them. The back of his neck prickles, and he's glad that he's got his Colt in the waistband of his pants. He's not going to shoot Will's mother, but it's nice to know that he's got the means to do so if he so wishes.
"So," he says, once they're on the landing upstairs, looking down a short hallway with four wooden doors. "That's your mother."
"She's not my mother," says Will viciously, an ugly twist to the word. "She's just someone who pushed me out of her womb and then left me to fend for myself. And yeah, that's her."
"What a lovely woman," Ethan remarks sarcastically, under his breath, but of course Will hears it.
He snorts. "Mom of the Year." Then he sighs, and lets go of Ethan's hand. Ethan feels the absence of warmth immediately, but doesn't say anything. "Sorry, by the way," Will says with a small wince. "For almost crushing your hand."
"Don't be silly." Ethan waves it off, and then asks, "So. Which one's your room?" He doesn't say it out loud, but he's quite intrigued by the idea of stepping into Will's old room, seeing what it's going to be like. The surroundings that Will grew up in, the walls he saw last thing every night and first thing every morning, the floor he walked on (for some reason Ethan can imagine a young Will pacing a lot, much like present-day Will does), the things he had.
Will looks down the hallway, and begins walking towards the furthermost door. "This one," he says, tapping lightly at the nondescript wooden door before turning the knob. "Be warned though, there is probably dust everywhere and there's a good chance it'll be messy as hell." He fumbles for a little along the wall inside, and then flips a switch, and the room is flooded with dirty light from a naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling.
It's a small room, barely bigger than their closet back home, but because it's barely furnished, it appears a lot larger than it really is. There is a single bed made of ugly wrought-iron and covered in plain sheets that were once white but are now yellow with age, with a single misshapen pillow and a ratty blanket; a small dresser opposite the bed, made of the same old, splintery wood as everything else in the house; and a wardrobe opposite the door, next to the small window, that's so tiny that it's a wonder more than five sets of clothes could fit in there. Will's right in that it's a dusty mess – Ethan wouldn't be surprised to know that the last person to step in here was Will, years and years ago.
Next to him, Will sneezes, and then grimaces. "Fuck," he says, lifting up his shirt so that the collar covers his nose and mouth. "What a fucking mess." He moves forward and runs a finger over the top of the dresser, before holding it up and showing it to Ethan. "Look at this." He grimaces again, before wiping the dark spot of dirt from his finger on the bedsheet.
"It's… not that bad." Ethan's voice sounds weak even to his own ears. "I mean, my room was barely any bigger, so—"
Will snorts. "Save your breath, Ethan, we both know it's terrible." He moves away from the dresser to open the wardrobe, coughing when he encounters the cloud of dust that arises from it. "Jesus," he wheezes as his shirt falls away from his face, and he wipes at his watering eyes.
Ethan moves to stand next to him, looking into the depths of the wardrobe. It really is tiny, but instead of clothes there are only small knick knacks and dust bunnies. It occurs to Ethan that Will probably took all of his clothes with him when he moved out. He turns to ask Will, but the question dies on his lips when he sees the look on Will's face.
His eyes are still wet, but this time with unshed tears. He's biting his lower lip unconsciously as he stares into the wardrobe, his hands clutched into tight fists by his side. His eyes look haunted. "Will?" Ethan says cautiously, reaching out slowly so as not to startle him. "Will, honey?"
Will blinks when Ethan's fingers touch his arm, just above his elbow. "Sorry," he mutters, hastily wiping at his face. "Just… was thinking."
"Are you alright?" Ethan asks softly, sliding his fingers down Will's arm to hold his hand.
"Yeah," Will replies shortly, offering Ethan a thin smile. "I was just remembering all the times I used to hide out in this cupboard. Every time my dad got too drunk he'd get violent, and I'd hide up here before he could see me. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't." His fingers twitch within Ethan's, and suddenly a deep, scarlet anger seeps through every single fiber of Ethan's being. He wants nothing more than to resurrect the man from the dead just so he can kill him with his own bare hands, but because that's impossible, he resorts to calming himself down with a few deep breaths, and then wrapping his arms around Will.
"Fuck him," he whispers fiercely. "He can burn in hell for all I care." He tightens the embrace, and Will's arms slowly come up to wrap loosely around him, contrasting with the tight grip of Will's fingers in the back of Ethan's shirt. "If he wasn't dead I'd kill him myself just for this."
Will lets out a choked, mirthless laugh, before pressing his face into Ethan's shoulder and inhaling deeply. For his part, Ethan just holds Will as tight as possible, and does not comment on Will's hitched breathing or the hot tears he can feel soaking his shirt at his shoulder.
He doesn't know how long they stand there, surrounded by dust and ghosts, holding on to each other like lifelines, but when Will finally pulls away and wipes his face with his sleeve, it's dark outside and Ethan can see the moon through the window. "Hey," he says softly, putting his hands on either side of Will's face and wiping away the remaining tears with his thumbs. "Better?"
Will nods, and tries to smile. "Yeah. Thanks."
Ethan smiles back warmly. "Don't mention it," he says, his hands falling back to his sides. "Let's just get your stuff and go, okay, babe?"
Will nods. "Yeah, okay." He moves past the wardrobe and past the dresser, surprising Ethan, who wonders what kind of stuff exactly Will wants that isn't in a wardrobe or dresser. Will crouches by his bed and reaches under it, pulling out an old dented metal box held shut with a rusted padlock.
"That's all I need," he says, straightening, the box in his hands. "All the wardrobe's got is bad memories, and there's nothing in the dresser that I really want or need."
"What's in it?" Ethan asks as they move towards the door. He lets Will exits first, then flips off the bulb and shuts the door behind them.
"I'll show you," Will promises. "Later. When we get back home." He begins walking down the hallway, Ethan by his side, their steps in sync like they always have been.
Their progress towards the stairs is stopped by the last door in their way swinging open and Will's mother exiting, now wearing a black skirt and blouse, her hair up in a tight bun, giving the impression of her face being stretched over her skull. "What's that?" she asks Will, her curiosity about the box clearly overcoming her distaste.
"Something of mine," Will answers shortly, hefting the box under one arm, the other reaching out towards Ethan, for solace or perhaps just to irk his mother. Probably a bit of both, which is absolutely okay with Ethan; he reaches out and clasps Will's hand.
His mother glances down in contempt, before tearing her eyes away to look up at Will. "Funeral's at eight in the morning tomorrow," she tells him testily. "I expect you'll be a pallbearer."
Will's mouth drops open. "Fuck no," he says fervently, looking appalled that she even has the guts to suggest it. "I'd rather chop off my own arms."
"He was your father—" she begins angrily, her face turning an ugly, blotchy red.
"He was nothing more to me than a sperm donor," cuts off Will firmly, and Ethan feels a stab of vicious delight at hearing his words thrown at the skinny woman before them, the monster responsible for hurting Will so much. "And therefore," Will continues, "I don't give a single fuck about him, or you, for that matter."
"Then why are you here?" she hisses, folding her arms over her nonexistent bosom. "Why have you darkened our doorstep once more?"
"To remind myself that occasionally, dreams do come true," Will spits, before tugging at Ethan's hand. "Let's go, Ethan. Let's not darken her doorstep any more than we have to." And Ethan hates the bitter, resentful twist to his words, wishes that he could do anything to erase this, all of this, from Will's mind, and fill the empty space left behind with warmth and love.
But he can't, so instead all he does is go downstairs with Will, and ignore everyone on their way to the car.
They drive around for a while before Will finally finds what he's been looking for – a motel. "We didn't have one when I was a kid," he tells Ethan as they park the car and get out, carrying their duffels and Will's box. "So it's a bit newer than the rest of the town."
"Looks just as shitty regardless," Ethan comments, and Will grins a little at that.
"Yeah," he says.
The clerk behind the desk looks too young to know who Will is, which is a relief for both of them. They get their keys from him and make their way to the room they've been given, both of them chuckling a little to the guy's horrified expression when they'd asked for a king and not two queens.
"Lovely, welcoming place," snorts Ethan as he unlocks the door to the room.
"Always has been," Will replies sarcastically, following him inside.
They take turns showering, and then put their bags neatly in one corner of the small, cornfield-themed and therefore eye-wateringly yellow room. There's nothing there in the way of food, and so Will sighs, takes the car keys off the side table, and says, "C'mon. I know a diner."
"Diner" is actually a bit of an overestimation, thinks Ethan as he sits in the corner of the utterly crowded place that, anywhere else, would pass as a café. The atmosphere is homey, the air permeated with the scents of deep-fried potato and syrup, and almost everyone seated at the small tables and rickety chairs is deep in conversation about something or the order, the individual sounds joining together to create a giant rush of noise. This is the one place in the town that doesn't have Will looking like a storm has taken up residence behind his eyes, and so Ethan instantly likes it, right down to the yellow theme (seriously, first the motel and now this? Why?) and the old-fashioned jukebox in the corner.
"Welcome to Daphne's," Will announces with a little smile as he takes a seat in a corner – all the better to observe the rest of the room with – and picks up the menu. "Let's see if the food is exactly as I remember it."
Ethan watches as Will peruses the menu, and then comments, "You seem to like this place a bit better than the rest of the town."
"Yeah," Will tells him over the top of the menu. "I used to work here. Everyone was nice to me. Hey, I wonder if they're still around? Freeman is, so they might be too."
"Who's they?" asks Ethan curiously. "And who exactly is Freeman?"
"They is Daphne and her husband Aaron," Will explains. "They were always great to me, which honestly was a welcome change from just about everyone else. And Freeman was the cop who brought my dad in. You know." There's an odd look on Will's face. "When he murdered our neighbor."
He suddenly looks even paler than he has been since morning, so Ethan reaches over the table to give his hand a squeeze before releasing it, lest someone create an issue of it or something. The town doesn't exactly come across the most open-minded place around, and Ethan knows that if he were to give any indication that his relationship with Will is anything more than platonic – well. It would just give Will another reason to hate the place, especially if the name-calling and threats of Hell began.
Will gives him a strained smile. "Full of happy memories, this place."
"I can imagine," Ethan replies with a snort. Then he smiles at Will. "You've worked here. Tell me, what's good?"
Will glances down at the menu. "Well. The menu hasn't changed. Hopefully the quality of the food hasn't either."
As if it's a cue, a young waitress in a yellow shirt and black jeans comes over, holding a small notebook. "What'll it be, gentlemen?" she asks, smiling cheerily.
Ethan inclines his head towards Will. "What do you say, Will?" But Will isn't listening; he's got his eyes narrowed in a frown as he looks at the waitress, as if trying to figure out where he's seen her before.
Her smile melts, and she frowns a little too. "Is something the matter, sir?" she asks, a nervous undercurrent in her polite tone.
"What's your name?" Will asks abruptly, still staring at her. "Your full name."
"Uh." Evidently as perplexed as Ethan by Will's behavior, she seems to consider whether she should tell him or not, before apparently deciding to do so. "Jenna, sir. Jenna Ford."
Will's frown vanishes, and he actually smiles at the waitress. Ethan watches, amused, as a smile grows on the waitress's face in response – it's always funny, seeing the effect Will's brilliant smile can have even on strangers (well, right until he kicks their asses, but that's only on missions, and not likely to happen now). "Your Daphne's daughter, aren't you?" Will asks her, still beaming.
She nods. "Yeah, actually." She looks inquisitively at him. "How do you know my mother? You're not from around here, or I'd have seen you before."
"Yeah, I'm from out of town," Will tells her, clearly choosing not to tell her the whole truth of his origins. "I grew up here, though. I used to work for your parents. Are they still around?"
Jenna Ford nods. "Oh yes. They should be in the back. Do you want to come say hello?"
"Uh." Will looks hesitant now that she's made the suggestion. "I don't know… I mean, I'm not sure they'd remember me." And Ethan knows that's a lie. He's pretty sure that, from the way the people on his parents' porch looked at him when they saw him coming, everyone knows about the Brandts' runaway son. The boy who left in a storm of blood and death and never returned… until now.
The reason Will doesn't want to see Daphne and Aaron, Ethan thinks, is because he doesn't know if they'll accept him the way he is now, and he doesn't want his memories of their kindness to be tarnished by anything.
"Oh, they'll remember you all right," Jenna dismisses. "They don't forget anyone. Come on, I think they'd be glad to see you!"
Will looks uncertainly at Ethan, who just smiles reassuringly at him. Drawing courage from Ethan's it's going to be okay demeanor, Will stands, his chair scraping against the linoleum floor, and slightly bows his head towards Jenna, who's taller than him by an inch or three. "Lead the way."
Ethan stands as well, following Jenna and Will to the back of the diner. She takes them through a door marked Authorized Personnel Only and into the kitchen, where a scrawny old lady with frizzy ginger hair is handling a saucepan with incredible strength, muscles moving under wrinkled, liver-spotted skin. A few meters away, an old man with short brown hair the same color as Jenna's is chopping vegetables up so fast his hands are a blur, and Ethan has to admit he's impressed. The only other person he knows who can handle a knife with such dexterity is Will.
"Ma, Pa, someone's here to see you," she calls to them, not entering the working area, Will and Ethan standing just behind her. "Says he used to work here."
"A lot of people used to work here, honey, be more specific," the old man calls out over the sound of the knife on the cutting board, his hand not faltering even for a second.
"Just put him in the office, sweetheart, we'll be by after this order," the old lady says, deftly raising the saucepan from the stove and moving it in a circular motion.
"Will do," Jenna replies, and leads Will and Ethan to a small office next to the door to the kitchen. Inside is a small desk with two old, rickety chairs in front of it, and a bookshelf filled with culinary volumes, as well as a filing cabinet. "Just a couple minutes, okay, guys?" she says. "Oh, and you didn't give me your orders."
"Er—" begins Will, but she cuts him off.
"On the house," she promises, green eyes twinkling. "After all, you used to work here."
"Thank you," Will says warmly. "We'll just have the chili special, then? Is it still the best thing here?"
"You bet," she says, and leaves.
Will sits down immediately but Ethan paces a little, checking out everything that he can in the small but tidy office. "So that's them, then?" he asks.
Will, who looks a little overwhelmed at having seen his old employers, nods. "Yeah. Still the same as ever, except wrinklier, I guess."
"Think they'll remember you?" Ethan finishes his round of the place and takes the chair across from Will, feeling it wobble under his weight.
"I hope so," Will replies. He looks apprehensive.
Ethan wonders what he can say that's going to make Will feel better about this, any of this that's been happening all day and leaving him with that haunted look and his fists clenched so tight, but before he can think of anything, the door to the office creaks open and the old lady from the kitchen steps in, followed by her husband. Immediately Will is on his feet, and Ethan stands too, taking a step forward. Will opens his mouth to say something, but the old man beats him to the punch.
"I'll be damned." He sounds somewhat awed. "William Brandt."
Will closes his mouth and nods, offering them a nervous smile. "Mr. and Mrs. Ford."
The man – Aaron Ford – comes forward and extends his hand, shaking Will's vigorously when Will takes it, and then bestows the same upon Ethan. Daphne Ford, following her husband's lead, steps forward as well, but she hugs Will instead of shaking his hand. Then she hugs Ethan as well, much to his surprise.
"It's been years, son," Aaron says, pushing himself up to sit on the desk. "You haven't visited even once."
Will grins uneasily as he and Ethan sit in their chairs and Daphne takes the one behind the desk. "Can you really blame me?"
"Can't say that I can," replies Aaron. "So you're here for your father's funeral."
Will nods. The look Aaron gives him in response is strange – his entire face goes soft and there's a small, inexplicably wistful smile on his face. "Still the same, kid," he says, shaking his head fondly. "You're still the same as you were all those years ago."
"'Course he is," Daphne dismisses. "I always did say he would be." She looks the same as her husband – nostalgic and affectionate. Ethan immediately puts them both on his List of People in this Town Who Don't Deserve Painful Death.
"Oh, who's this?" asks Aaron, his mind turning to Ethan now that he's done with Will. "Friend of yours, son?"
Will shakes his head. "Uh." For a moment it's clear that he's debating whether he should tell the truth or not. Then the uncertainly is replaced with steely determination, and Will says, "This is Ethan. He's – well. He's actually my husband."
To their credit, the old couple doesn't look fazed or disturbed by this news at all. To the contrary, the old woman's face lights up, and she exclaims, "Oh, you got married! That's good to hear, son, that's real good to hear."
"He seems a good sort," comments Aaron, like Ethan's not in the room at all. "He keep you happy?"
Will's tension having completely dissipated now that they've established that they don't care about his choice in partner, he's now trying to stifle a laugh. "Yeah, yeah he does," he tells Aaron, smiling, his eyes dancing with mirth, and Ethan is so, so utterly glad to see it, after an entire day of seeing nothing but fire there.
"Good," says Aaron staunchly. "That's good." Ethan decides he likes him and his wife.
"So what are you doing these days?" asks Daphne.
"We work for the government, actually," Ethan tells her (it isn't technically a lie, not really). "That's how we met. Work."
"That's adorable," she beams, and Will goes a little pink around the ears.
They make small talk for a few more minutes, until Aaron and Daphne have to go back to the kitchen. Will and Ethan follow them out of the small office and back to their table, where a moment later Jenna Ford brings them the chili special. From the rapturous expression on Will's face when he digs into it, it is as good as he remembers, and Ethan can't help but smile. It's nice to know that there was at least once place in this terrible fucking town where Will might have felt safe, perhaps even happy.
He keeps Will pressed close to his chest all night long, fingers in his hair, as they both pretend that they're asleep.
The funeral is dull and dreary; very few people attend, and it pleases Ethan to see that clearly a lot of the townspeople thought as less of Will's father as he does. It's only the same people from the porch yesterday that are in attendance, plus Will's mother, who's sniffing into a handkerchief, and Mr. Freeman, who looks incredibly satisfied, and Ethan can't help but like him too.
Some people try to give eulogies, but because there's nothing nice that can be said without it being an outright lie, they give up soon enough and the priest, who looks like he'd much rather get this over with as soon as possible, rushes through the service. Will's father is lowered into the ground with the absolute minimum of ceremony, and honestly Ethan thinks that even that is more than what the man deserves.
Throughout it all Will stands stony-faced next to Ethan, his hands clenched into fists by his side. (Neither of them have bothered wearing anything formal, or even black, and it delighted Ethan when Will's mother glared at them for it. Good. Let her eat her heart out all she wants.) Ethan wants nothing more than to take Will's hand and force his fists to relax; to sooth away the nail imprints that he knows are there in his palm; to kiss him; to press him gently into the sheets and make him unwind; loose out the tight, tense coil that his body has become; but he knows he can't, so he just stands with his shoulder touching Will's, projecting as much calm and reassurance as he can.
Finally, finally it's over, and the company begins to dissolve. Ethan puts his hand on the small of Will's back and gently turns him away from where he's got his eyes fixed on the grave, jaw clenched. He can feel Will's mother's eyes on him as he walks Will to the car and opens the door for him; can almost palpate the hatred coming off her in waves when he leans in to touch Will's face before moving over to the driver's side. He doesn't care. Neither does Will.
"Are you all right?" Ethan asks quietly once the car is moving.
Will doesn't answer immediately, just continues staring stonily out the window. Ethan considers repeating his question, but before he can do so Will turns his head and offers him a small smile. "I will be, I think. Thank you."
Ethan takes his hand, brings it up to kiss his knuckles. "I'm here." Short, succinct, to the point, and everything he knows Will needs to hear.
There's a knock on the door a half hour or so after they reach the motel, and Ethan moves to answer it since Will is in the bathroom. He opens the door to find Will's mother standing there in her black outfit, her arms crossed. "What are you doing here?" he asks her, eyes narrowed, his body blocking the entrance to the room as he crosses his arms as well.
"I want to talk to my son," she answers stoutly, her head held high as she holds his gaze defiantly. "Now."
"About what?" questions Ethan.
"None of your damn business," she snaps, and elbows her way in. Ethan lets her; for one, he's curious, and for another, he's hoping she'll get the damn hint when she hears it from Will.
The bathroom doors open and Will exits, drying his face with a towel. "Ethan, who was at the door?" he asks, voice muffled.
"I was," says his mother, and Will almost drops the towel in shock.
"What the fuck do you want?" he asks her flatly, throwing the towel aside and crossing his arms defensively.
"Says she wants to talk to you," drawls Ethan, leaning against the wall. On a sudden whim he takes out his gun and begins idly playing with it, resisting the urge to grin at the nervous look the woman shoots his way.
"Why does he have a gun?"
"It's a free world," retorts Will, moving away from her so that he's standing next to Ethan, a good four feet away from her. "What do you want?"
"I want to talk to you," she answers, glancing at Ethan's Colt again before tearing her eyes away to focus on her son. "Look, Will–"
"It's William to you," Will interrupts her, tone flat.
"William," she corrects. It looks to Ethan like she's forcing herself to be calm, to look smaller and less threatening to her son, and he wonders why. He has his answer a moment later when she continues speaking. "I know I haven't been the best mother—"
Will snorts. "That's one way of putting it."
"—but you have to know," she continues, like she wasn't interrupted, "it was all Mick, okay. I didn't want to hurt you. I didn't want to bring you up the way I did. I was scared of him."
Ethan stares incredulously at her, and then at Will, who's watching her with his face set into a mask again, jaw clenched the way it had been at the funeral. Putting his gun back in his waistband, Ethan reaches over to gently massage Will's fists open, letting go only when he's sure Will isn't going to hurt himself.
"I know you think I'm lying," she presses, and it's pitiful how pathetic she looks, greasy brown hair falling around her gaunt face, deep bags under those eyes that she unfortunately shares with her son, thin bottom lip wobbling. "But son—"
That's the word that breaks Will out of his stupor. "Don't you dare," he snarls, and she recoils. "Don't you fucking dare call me that. I'm not your son."
"You are!" she insists. "I've loved you, William, since you were born, I honestly have. And you know what? I wanted to divorce Mick, I really did! I was just – just so scared!" And with that she bursts into loud tears, pressing her face into her handkerchief as her whole body shudders with sobs.
Ethan turns to Will again, unable to comprehend what's happening and what to make of it. He's spent a lifetime studying people and he knows when they're lying and when they're not, and he knows that what this woman has just unloaded on them is a load of bullshit, but he's not sure what to make of the mask that is Will's face. Will's a compassionate, kind person, but he's not stupid either, and Ethan wants to know how he's going to react to this.
"You are unbelievable," Will hisses through grit teeth. "Stop that right now, I know it's fake crying. I don't care what kind of story you've come up with, Ma, I couldn't care less. You can leave now."
She wails, the handkerchief dropping from her face, and takes a step towards Will, who automatically steps back. "William, you're my son and I – I love you!" she cries, her voice coarse and loud, and honestly, her attempt at acting is so pathetic Ethan wonders why she's even trying. She couldn't fool the biggest sucker on the planet with that act. "Please, give me a chance to prove it!" she begs, clutching at Will's arms and attempting to hug him.
Will actually physically recoils from her, moving away from her touch so that he's pressed into Ethan's side instead, not out of fear but for strength and reassurance, Ethan knows. "You don't love me, Ma, you can drop the act now," he says wearily, his face devoid of color or any expression other than fatigue. "Just go home, Ma."
"It's not my home! I don't want to return to that awful house, William!" She sniffs dramatically. Ethan feels bile rising at the back of his throat, as well as a sick surge of anger and hate. "I couldn't stand the memories of what's happened there—"
Clearly this is the last straw. Will steps forward again, looking absolutely livid, so much that even Ethan is a little disturbed by it. "Memories?" His voice is low, deadly. "Memories? You wanna talk memories, Ma? Okay, let's talk memories." He takes a deep breath. His face is no longer pale; instead it is flushed red with rage. "Let's talk about all those times he beat me up, huh, Ma? All those times he drunk himself crazy and took it out on me, and you let him do it 'cause it meant he wouldn't hurt you. All those times you egged him on to me so that he'd release his anger on me and not you. Any of that ring a bell, Ma?"
He's trembling with anger, hands into fists again, and Ethan watches, horrified, as he takes one more step closer to his mother, whose face has gone still as she hears him talk. "Let's talk about how you let him whip me with his fucking studded belt, right, Ma? And kicked me with those steel-tipped boots. Or do you want to talk about the time he used me as a human ashtray, Ma? And you only gave me enough first-aid to make sure it wouldn't scar, or people would talk, wouldn't they? Or hey, maybe you wanna talk about the time he broke a bottle over my head, and you laughed and said that my hair would finally match yours with the dried blood in it. Maybe you wanna talk about the time he kicked me so hard I threw up blood for days." Will's voice has been rising steadily with each word, so that he's almost shouting now, and the more he talks the more Ethan wants to either throw up, or shoot something, or hold Will so tight that he merges their bodies, presses Will into his ribcage and keeps him safe there where no one else can touch him.
"William, stop—" his mother begins, but he goes right over her.
"Or hey, Ma, maybe you wanna talk about the time you saw him come into my room with his dick hanging out, and you didn't say a fucking word to stop him because better me than you, right?" Will laughs bitterly, wiping furiously at the single tear that's fallen from his eye. "Maybe you want to talk about the time he spent the entire night in there, and I couldn't walk for a week after, and when people asked you told them I'd sprained my ankle, but Mrs. Turner knew, didn't she? She knew, and you hated her for it, and when he killed her you fucking laughed over her body, you sick, twisted bitch, you fucking psychopath—"
Ethan thinks he might actually throw up.
Will's crying now, crying and shouting at his mother, who can do nothing but watch and hear and cower away from him like the fucking coward she is. "Those the kind of memories you're talking about, Ma? Because those are my memories, and I wish, oh God, I wish I could forget it all, God, you people made me wish I'd die, did you fucking know that? And I know you know about what his friends did to me, okay, don't even try to fucking deny it, you know and you didn't give a shit then, and you sure as fuck don't give it now, so tell me – where the fuck do you get off, pretending you love me, huh?" His demand hangs in the charged air between them, but he's not done yet, and Ethan's breakfast is in his throat, his eyes are wet and his gun is back out, hanging loosely by his side while his other hand stretches towards Will but can't seem to find him.
"Do you honestly think you even have the right?" Will half-screams, half-sobs at her, his entire body shaking with rage and pain. "Did you really think you'd come in here and I'd buy it? God, you're so stupid, you're so stupid, you fucking bitch—"
"William—" she tries again, but he's having none of it.
"I hate you!" he screams, so loud that Ethan's afraid he's going to hurt his throat. "I HATE YOU, DO YOU HEAR ME? I WISH YOU WERE DEAD! And you know what? I wouldn't come to your funeral, Ma. Because while he was an outright asshole, you are so much worse, you coward. Get out. GET OUT, MA!"
She stares at him for a moment longer, her face impassive, and then she's gone, the door swinging shut behind her. Will watches her go before taking one step and collapsing into Ethan's arms, dragging them both down to the floor so that Ethan ends up on his knees, supporting Will, whose face is pressed into his chest as he sobs, loud and broken, his fingers clutching Ethan's shirt so tightly it's in danger of ripping.
Ethan says nothing, just drops his gun and wraps his arms around Will. There are no words, none, for the injustice that's been done to Will, for the absolute brutality and cruelty of it, and there is nothing he can say right now that will alleviate Will's pain. This isn't the kind of agony that will go away just because of a few words, anyway – not this kind of bone-deep pain that's carved into every cell of Will's body, and there is nothing Ethan wants more than to hide him inside himself, protect him, wash away every bad thing that's ever happened to him until all that's left is Will, pure Will, his sun, moon and stars, with his beautiful smile and blue, blue eyes and the soft touch of his hands and lips.
But all he can do for now is hold him, keep him safe inside his embrace and let him sob out the repressed pain of years long gone by, until he's empty and exhausted and lying limp in Ethan's arms, in that hazy place between Awake and Not, listening to Ethan's heart beat inside his chest.
That night – when they're in their own bed in their own home, far away from the demons of Will's past – Ethan gently presses Will down into the sheets and kisses every inch of his bare skin, traces all of his scars, caresses every single mark, whispers his love into Will's skin until he's got no more words left, and hopes hope against hope that it's enough, that he can somehow fill Will with love and warmth and affection until there is not a single bad thing left, no memory that could hope to dent the shield Ethan places around him. And when they're lying face to face, chests pressed together, he kisses Will with everything that he has, and wipes away Will's tears until Will is finally silent and sleepy in his arms, and doesn't let go until it's morning and the sun is shining with the end of an old chapter and the beginning of a new one.
I completely understand if you all despise me now. In all fairness, though, I did warn you.
So if I haven't scared you all off completely, feedback would be nice? This chapter was - obviously - challenging as hell to write.