The corridor is silent at night, a dead space—the air goes stale without windows to ventilate and he can practically taste the dust in the dark as he creeps along. A tomb, Edward thinks, not without humor; gallows-humor, and a chill tickles down his spine. He does not believe in this, he tells himself, and it's true. He does not believe in this, but he has also seen enough now in his relatively short life to realize that some things exist whether you believe in them or not. The Gate, God, hell, there are any number of concepts that man could deny, yet they are as terrible and present as the oxygen in the musty air. Some things persist, in spite of sanity and sense.
Some things... abide.
He touches his hand to the crumbling wallpaper and follows by sheer touch to make the appropriate turn. (Alfons never did get those tears replaced.) His brother is hiding in their room and refuses to come out from his bed covers and Ed has told him it is all right, he will stay away; he will go talk to the landlady right now and they will leave first thing tomorrow morning.
He told a half-truth. Edward feels for the corner and makes a left toward the restroom, not a right toward the front door, because right now he has no intention of leaving his brother alone. He opens the door to the bathroom and it creaks like a gun shot.
Here he deigns to waste electricity, and he flicks the switch by the wall to cast light on the cramped, dismal space. The rooms they are renting are dank and smell of mold; the four corners of this bathroom caked with soot from all the lanterns people still burn in this part of the world, and Ed swallows hard as he surveys his surroundings. A cramped tub with cast iron feet; a rusty spigot that rarely produces more than brackish water, a sink, and a cracked, flat expanse of mirror above it. Luxury accommodations for young scholars, but there is no cheer here and Ed thinks he knows why, and he thinks again, as always, as he did the first time Alphonse mentioned it—this is my fault.
He stares directly at his own tired face in the mirror, the dark patches etched beneath his eyes, and speaks.
"Enough, already," he says. "I know you're here. You might as well show yourself."
The water-smell grows thicker now, the stale air around him taking on a nearly tangible quality and he wants to gag with it. Something is taking shape around him, something thick, something repulsive, and it is all he can do not to recoil at the feel of it on his skin. Moistness seems to crawl over his arms and he shudders, but does not pull away from. He has felt this before, from homunculi and other dead things, and where Al does not have those tactile memories from Before, only visual ones (thankfully, thankfully), Ed certainly does. He holds fast.
The vision of Alfons takes shape in the mirror in front of him, but it is Alfons distorted—the crack that runs through the mirror does nothing to flatter the Thing, which has Alfons's face but not his smile; his eyes but not the light behind them. It is dead in more ways than even a corpse is. A corpse is a shell, it is clear the one you loved is no longer in it. This is like a homunculus, alive but at the same time not, and Ed grits his teeth and wills himself to meet it right in its insane, dead eyes, ignore the parts of him that say he is hallucinating, and accept the truth that yes, it does exist.
Somewhere along the road to heaven, Alfons's soul had gotten lost, and the horrors of this world are just as real, Ed is finding, as the ones he thought that he had left behind.
Edward... Not so much a sound as a thought, a sigh whispering across his consciousness so quickly he nearly convinces himself he's put words in its mouth. He can read lips a little though, and he see that his name is on them, and he shakes head.
"No," he says, and fuck, it's not as if it doesn't pain him—this once was this man's home, run down now but still where they had lived and breathed together, the bath that they shared sometimes (in innocence because he had been so fucking blind).
"This isn't your place anymore," he tells the spectre. "You can't stay here." Swallows around a lump in his throat. "And you can't have him. It doesn't work that way."
A vague sense of confusion, and a feeling that the dankness is curling around him. Ed forces himself to remain calm as invisible fingers caress the insides of his wrists, a humid lick of air flicks up the side of his neck. He worries if he looks behind him, there is going to be something there and he is going to scream, and the last thing he needs is Al back in here where it is dangerous. He keeps his eyes fixed straight ahead.
"He isn't you, Alfons. Maybe Al's who you would have been in my world, I don't know, but you can't have him. He told me he saw you in here and what you wanted—what you tried to do—and I just can't believe—" He nearly chokes on the words, is exasperated with himself and the situation and dammit, he just wants to put his fist right through the fucking mirror, though for all he knows that'll somehow unleash this evil and spread it elsewhere. "You can't take him over and be him and just have everything be okay. It doesn't work that way. He's my brother and I love him, and I will be damned if I make him pay for mistakes that I made."
He sets his jaw and closes his eyes, spreads his arms out in supplication.
"If you have to take anyone's life, take mine. Possess me or whatever the fuck ghosts do, just leave Al alone. I'm the one you wanted, aren't I?"
The spirit's eyes flicker a little in the mirror, almost imperceptibly; it is not so much that they move but that suddenly the quality of color to them grows more saturated, a real blue and not that horrible, zombie gray.
No, whispered like a sigh, then again, more indignantly. No! Ghost-fingers twist against his scalp almost possessively and he trembles, feeling it close, feeling the presence wrap up and practically consume him. Not for him; why for him, always, everything for him... It is winding around him and he is practically inhaling its anguish, Ed breathes it deep and allows himself a grimace.
"I'm sorry," he says, throat dry despite the humidity, and questing tendrils shoot into his mouth the second he opens it. "I never meant it to be that way."
You lie, it cries, and its voice carries so much pain that for the moment he thinks he might even forgive it. I was yours, but I was nothing to you!
He tilts his throat up in response, a gesture of submission, and his voice is scarcely a whisper but he says all that needs to be said.
"I promise I am yours now," he says. "Isn't that enough?"
Happiness then, a distinct sense of longing; a million thoughts racing over his pulse points and somehow sinking directly into his skin. The disturbing sense of seeing himself through someone else's eyes and wanting to be touching himself, all Alfons's thwarted need poured out in a lightning-bolt of sensuality, and he writhes in the thing's invisible grasp, light as air and at the same time, strong as fetters. He is absolutely certain that he cannot move without it surrounding him like this.
Longing twists to desperation; gentle love to malice, and he both sees Alfons snarl in the mirror and feels the vice grip around his body tighten.
Too little, too late, it says, and then suddenly and without any kind of fanfare, his body is no longer his own.
It is like being in a living nightmare, or paralyzed yet still moving. He watches in horror as his muscles work themselves and he wants to scream but he can't; his lungs draw air in jerkily as if they no longer remember the rhythm of breathing correctly. Sensation is there yes, perception—it is like when he was trapped within his alter-self, he can experience everything but not direct it.
There is even that strange sense of talking to himself when Alfons speaks in his head.
I missed you, the spirit sighs and Ed feels his heart skip a beat in his chest at the thought, happy warmth blossom in his cheeks. Alfons's thoughts, Alfons's reactions, but with him as an unwitting hitchhiker. He struggles to break free.
Think, Edward, he tells himself, trying to force his body to do something, anything. He remembers he suppressed his alter's native personality for a while, somehow, but to his horror his thoughts are no more secret to Alfons than Alfons's are to him. The spirit inside him rages at the betrayal, and his arm swings of its own volition to smash through the mirror where Alfons no longer is.
He/they look down to see blood dripping from his hand and Ed wonders for a glorious, hopeful moment if the noise has carried to the bedroom where Al is, if his brother is going to somehow come and save him (or no, he should want Al to run far, far away) and Alfons inside his head howls, again pained, and he feels his face snarl viciously.
No no no, you are MINE now, MINE it cries and it is disturbing because now he actually feels sad; his chest clenches hard and his throat knots and any second now he is about to start crying. I love you so much and I missed you and how can you think about him, please—
He/they scrub one hand hard over his face, feeling for the first time how soft his lips are, how taut his cheeks are, and it is decidedly strange to realize that he is trapped petting his own neck and also enjoying it, as if his own skin is a strange texture he has never ever encountered before.
I love you, the spirit within him asserts again and his hand slides lower, hikes up his shirt, skates tentatively across his abdomen and fuck, it does feel good. Whether it's Alfons or basic perception or whatever it does feel good, and he is not surprised that his body hisses. His bleeding hand twinges all of a sudden and then it quickly swings down to his side and remains there, the other one rising to pick up where the other left off. Fingers (his own prosthetic fingers, fuck this is so strange) stroke up and down his front, and he can feel the slide of the cool metal across suddenly fevered skin, and he shudders into his own touch and feels vaguely dirty for it.
I just want to make you feel good, Alfons's voice hums, and he has no idea what to think because he is now sitting on the lid of the toilet and matter-of-factly unbuckling his belt now. I just want us to feel good.
This is fucked up, Ed thinks, but what choice does he have? Not only must he go along with it but it will feel good whether he wants it to or not; he has nothing remotely resembling control in this situation. His vocal cords thrum and he is acutely aware of feeling himself sigh, pants are being unzipped now and a rather eager erection pops free of his undershorts the second he/they peel them down.
Not with the prosthetic! he warns when his false hand moves to close around it and he freezes for a moment, the spirit inside him unsure what to do.
Your hand is bleeding, Alfons's voice notes with a tinge of regret. Ed can feel the emotion pooling at the base of his belly.
Your fucking fault, Ed huffs to himself. Here, let me see. His hand lifts itself dutifully to where he can see it and Ed considers.
Not that bad, actually. There are bandages in the cabinet. Said with regret on his part as well, but fuck, what is he supposed to do? Alfons seems anxious enough to fix it; the physical pain is not that much but he still stands up and bolts for the sink and first aid kit. Ed is half-tempted to ask for control back to do the cumbersome procedure with the prosthetic, but Alfons reacts with terror, and the resulting fit of near-nausea makes Ed regret the thought immediately.
It's okay, you have me, he soothes with the plain, honest truth, and then he feels himself nod as his prosthetic arm shakily winds a bandage around the side of his cut hand, which is growing less and less annoying. He is not surprised when it eagerly reaches down to fist around his cock.
Sits back down on the toilet lid, hard. Fuck, it never feels like this, how can his own hand surprise him?
Your fault, he gasps in his mind at Alfons but that doesn't stop the slide, skin and rough cloth tease at his erection and his hand might hurt but that is nowhere near enough to overpower the sheer feeling of it.
You feel so good, Alfons tells him, and fresh heat rolls down his front, excited at the feel of himself being excited; it's like his body is in some strange feedback loop of turned on, and Ed wishes he could use his voice to wail. He told himself he would not enjoy this but he does, even if it is Alfons enjoying it though okay, maybe he also does and—
Don't think, Alfons instructs and spreads his/their legs more. Squeezes harder. It feels amazing and frustrating at the same time, why is it happening so slow?
Because you are mine, Alfons says with a definitive jerk, and his/their hips follow reflexively, why doesn't Alfons let them moan either? There is a tightness in his chest where the sound is begging to get out.
Another tug and instead of a moan there is a shaky sigh, but it is difficult.
It will make him worry, Alfons says and there is a brief flare of rage again before it subsides into pleasure, muted by the wonderful feeling licking up his spine. You don't want him to come in right now, do you?
There were very few things Ed could think of in the world that he wanted less right about now, but he couldn't even shake his head to say no. As if it mattered. He was tensing up, tensing, tensing, and even Alfons went quiet as they struggled not to double over. Alfons's style was too easy on him, he was right there but it wasn't fast enough, fuck—
He comes and they both gasp in wordless epiphany, jerking back against the toilet tank so hard it hurts, and there is come now all over the floor in front of him/them, and Ed has no idea what to think about feeling this way so for now he just... doesn't.
His body rises up of its own accord onto shaky legs, runs the tap to clean his soiled hand off. The rusty old pipes make their usual death rattle and he is suddenly, acutely aware that Al is going to hear this, Al is going to come here, Al is going to see—
He goes down on his knees abruptly and finds himself using a towel to clean up the mess on the floor, then his pants are zipped, his buckle put back in place.
As if there is nothing at all the matter save his hand and the (now soggy) bandage on it. As if everything is fucking fine. And amazingly, he can also feel Alfons's presence running out of him suddenly—leaving him feeling strangely drained, dry-mouthed, and ohholyfuck he can move his own lips again.
The presence still hovers around him, though, and he can feel it creepy-crawling up to his shoulder, where it perches, apparently content to look down on all that he sees. He jerks to his feet and that does not dislodge it. He gets a very sinking feeling.
"Why?" he asks, despairing, and right on cue, there are Al's footsteps in the hall, so there is no time to fight back even when the answer comes.
I already told you, you are mine, Alfons said. And you accepted.
"Brother!?" Al asks as he bursts into the room, the water still running, still running in the sink. Ed just stands there, speechless, the spirit's chill fingers caressing the back of his neck, as Al takes in the crumpled towel on the floor, the bandage on his hand, the shattered, useless mirror.
His brother's eyes are sharp on him for a moment, and then Ed can't stand it any longer, he folds his sibling into a hug.
"Brother?" A hint of suspicion, but Al reciprocates and puts his arms around him. Ed hugs Al tighter, and he is aware of Alfons's grip on him, but the spirit keeps its word. It does not try to strike.
Al's eyes flick back to the broken mirror, then to him. "You got rid of it, then?"
Alfons's fingers tighten invisibly, perceptibly, on the back of his neck. Ed just nods.
"Yeah," he says, a lump in his throat. "I got rid of it."
Now and ever, he is owned from two directions at once.