Draco tried to enjoy the shower, the hot water clearing away the lingering feeling of dirt and grime that magic just couldn't vanish away. He’d refused, for almost two weeks, to be pulled away from Ed’s side. He knew it wasn't logical but he was haunted by the irrational belief that the moment he looked away… He’d be gone. Gone, just vanished into the thin air, taking with him Draco's last fragment of control.
He knew it was irrational, but the fear persisted even though every time he looked, Ed remained where he'd lain since Draco had awoken far from Hogwarts.
Ed's body was eating itself.
Draco didn’t think he was meant to hear that, thought that maybe Dumbledore’s ragtag army had believed he was far to gone to be eavesdropping. And hell, maybe they had been right, he didn't remember much else from just after he woke up.
In any case, they should never have forgotten who his mother was, nor the things that she had taught him. People called him his father's son, but it was his mother that had shown him that under no circumstances could he allow himself to be disadvantaged. It was her lessons that had become instinctual, lingering in his subconscious even when the rest of his mind was lost deep in the tides of anxiety and fear for the future.
"If people underestimated you, use it. If people overestimated you, use that too," She whispered inside his head, "but above all else, never stop listening,"
He may not have had the ability, the mental wherewithal, to physically draw himself away from the side of his friend until now, but he still had two working ears, and he could still listen.
Their entire situation screamed danger, screamed complication and inevitable punishment when they were finally retrieved by the Death Eaters. It wouldn’t matter to The Dark Lord that neither Ed or himself had tried to flee or willingly go with this “Order”, Draco had failed him, and that was all that mattered. The fact that he hadn't returned to be punished would only make the inevitable worse. Voldemort didn't accept excuses and he was never going to let them go.
In the dark of night, when the house was asleep, when Draco was alone with the faint sound of Edward’s breathing and his own thoughts, he couldn’t help but wonder if he would last long enough to see the other boy's eyes open again. He’d been assured, many times, that Ed would wake up. But Draco knew how to spot a lie, and he knew they didn’t have a clue. He also knew that his own time was limited.
The Order couldn’t protect him from Voldemort’s wrath, nor could he think of a reason they would want to. He had, after all, tried to kill Dumbledore. It failed of course, because how could it not? Even now, he had no idea how he’d managed to delude himself into believing he'd ever had a chance of coming out on top. Desperation, he assumed, stupid, naive, desperation.
A knock came on the door, tentative in a way Draco found absurd, it was her house after all. He didn't understand her softness towards him, he didn't understand how she didn't hate the sight of his face. He knew she was capable of it, she did, after all, have the same eyes as Aunt Bella. He tucked his towel around his waist and opened the door. His aunt silently extended her arms towards him, delivering a stack of clothes. They were his. His, his, in a way nothing had been since he’d awoken here. They weren’t the far too big muggle jumpers he’d been drowning in, the rough fabrics that made his skin crawl with a sense of wrongness, they were his.
Draco saw the act for what it was, a peace offering, and while he couldn’t quite bring himself to thank her, he did accept the gift.
He didn’t know what to make of her presence here, he’d never met her before, she’d been disowned years before he was born, she was… a forbidden topic in a sense. Draco truthfully hadn’t even known he had another aunt until he was nearly seven when he’d found a hidden photo of his mother, aunt Bella, and… her. Andromada.
His mother had taken it from him, and in careful hushed tones told him he was never to speak of her, that her older sister had committed a horrible sin against their family, that in the eyes of all that mattered- she was dead.
But even then, he was not so innocent that he couldn’t see the secret pain in his mother’s gaze. But he'd done what she'd said, and never spoke a word about it.
He slipped on the clothes, they were weekend wear from his trunk at school, meaning someone had gone back and retrieved his things. Someone had gone into his room and packed up his stuff, taken his textbooks and Christmas presents all stashed out of the way and brought them… here. He wondered if anyone had protested if Blaise had wondered where he’d gone, where Ed had gone. What had they said? Had they said anything at all? It felt almost sinister as if all traces of him were being erased, plucked from the places his memory lingered.
It had been weeks now, and still nothing. No punishment, no censure, no one had even spoken to him about what had happened in the Astronomy Tower. He’d awoken here, in his aunt’s home, lying on one of two beds in a small guest room beside Ed, and then… nothing.
The only time there had been any sort of activity was when they realized Ed wasn’t waking up.
Which brought him again back to the fact that Ed’s body was eating itself.
He wondered if Ed was cursed. If his mysterious illness before was linked to his suffering now. He wondered if this was one of the possible violent side effects of being tortured. If maybe it was in response to Dumbledore’s spell, or any of the other spells thrown around the school- He wondered if maybe it was his fault.
It felt good to be wearing his own things, like strapping on armor or a second skin. It might not have been much, but it made him feel a little less naked in the face of everything.
The air as he stepped out of the bathroom was chilled against his damp skin and he was once again reminded of how different things were now. The bathroom opened into the small sitting room, a room of bland wallpaper and dotted with ill colored and overstuffed furniture and most prominently, Ted.
The muggleborn, his uncle by law, looked up at the sound of the door opening and nodded in Draco’s direction. And like a coward, Draco fled rather than risk further interaction.
Ed hadn’t moved, not that Draco had expected him too, and the golden light around him continuing to cast eerie shadows across his waxy skin. The spell, monitoring him, reported back to some unseen figure, cast and configured all in the brief moments of sleep Draco had been able to steal. He might have lost it at the sight of the unknown magic if he didn’t recognize it from the time Lizzy lost her temper during their second year and put a Ravenclaw boy in the hospital wing. It had been a weird thing, a blatant show of force in front of witnesses and Draco had never been able to find out why she’d done it.
His eyes were drawn to the other things were surrounding Ed too, muggle medical equipment, charged with keeping him fed and hydrated even while he slept. He reached out, towards where tube connected to Ed's flesh arm but pulled back sharply when his movements agitated the monitor spell as it did anytime he got too close.
“Fuck-“ Draco choked out as he half-collapsed into a sitting position onto his bed, “fuck, please- please, just wake up. I’m going crazy here, I don’t know what’s going on,” he begged.
But of course, there was no response.
Ed sat, back against his gate, staring down Truth. He had no idea how long he’d been there, time was… fluid in between worlds. The void was endless in every direction and without anything you could use to orient yourself, and what little that did exist within the portal of Truth had a habit of moving arbitrarily. Or, as Ed liked to think of it as, whenever They sensed it would fuck with him the most.
Al was here, but always, always, just out of reach. He’d been trying for… well, for a while now to reach him but to no avail. Ed was sure Truth could bring them together, but the being instead had decided to make something of a teaching moment out of Ed’s helplessness.
It was because the universes were biting at him, railing against his presence as they attempted to heal the wound ripped into the very fabric of their realities, Truth had explained.
Ed was trying really hard not to take it personally, and at that, he was failing quite incredibly.
Ed didn't know if this was Truth’s version of a timeout, a stop-and-think-about-what-you’ve-done moment, or if his body really was as damaged as Truth had told him it was. He’d been “magically overtasked”, his body, built in a world of order and careful give and take, had shut down after not being able to deal with the sheer about of magic running through it.
And, uh, well, the Death Eaters could most certainly go fuck themselves for that bullshit.
Ed let out a low sigh, trying not to let the silence get to him. Truth, the bastard that they were, had exposited all over him and promptly left him in the void without another word. There was something deeply and fundamentally unsettling about being left alone in a void, something about being unable to orient yourself any which way, unsure of what around him was reality and what was a figment of his mind. He tried to find something to anchor himself to, something to pull him back to his body or to his home or however the powerful grin of the universe wished to pull him.
There was a risk in it. A risk that the unknowable forces would rip him to shreds like a scythe through grain, unmoved by his little show of protest. But Ed knew that nothing would be accomplished within the void. Sure there was a risk he could be crushed and die, but if he remained, though it could take longer, he was sure his end was inevitable anyway.
The greater the risk, the greater the reward as the adage went.
Without any external stimuli, it was easy to turn his thoughts inward but in doing so it became easy to become distracted by the same absence. Quite was good for meditation, but silence? Absolute absence of sound? That was torture. That painfully watchful and paranoid center of your brain would always be straining for some sensory input, for some sort of indication of… well, anything.
The human body was not built to exist in isolation.
It made Ed wonder if that was why Truth was the way they were. If in the face of all that great and terrible absence the only thing that could exist was something great and terrible in its own right.
So, to break the silence, rather than remain still in the way that Izumi had taught, Ed flicked the fingers of his automail hand to send a faint ringing sound out across the void. The sound wasn’t right, it didn’t reverberate or dampen as it should have, but it was sound nonetheless, and Ed was used to working with what he had.
As he sunk further into himself, there was, not quite what you would call warmth, but something like it. He let his senses expand like he would as if he was seeking out magic, looking into the nooks and crannies for the tether that tied him down to reality, to his body.
He called to it and through it, down to his body abandoned somewhere in a foreign dimension, reaching out, begging to be put back where he belonged.
As he neared the edge of Truth he began to hear whispers, faint words that filled the space around him. Some of them, wizards, some of them, his friends home in Amestris that he desperately longed to return too, and some of them, strangers, their accents and words falling on unfamiliar ears. But he knew them all for what they were, murmurs from the universes he was split open on, lifeblood seeping out of him as he fought to remain whole.
“Will you return little Alchemist?”
The whispers fell away, and even though his eyes had been closed, Ed found himself staring down the void’s master themself. “Yes,” Ed said firmly, “And then once I returned to my body I will pull myself through The Gate and I will return to my home,”
“But you see that your time is short? That every time you grow nearer to the land of your birth, subconsciously drifting, it will be harder to pull back, harder to break free from what binds you?”
“I do, but it won’t stop me. People are counting on me, my friends are counting on me, and I think I have been gone long enough,”
Truth laughed with the force of a thousand voices, “Then I leave you to it, Edward Elric,” And then, again, all he could see was the back of his eyelids.
And it was black and silent.