You are are Archibald Riverton Halifax the third, named for your father and his father before him. You are the first born child of a proud man and you were born sickly, but you are his son and it is not your fault. In fact from the moment he first sees you, in his mind you can do no wrong. Nothing will ever be your fault. Your father decides your weak immune system is your mother’s fault. After all, her bloodline can’t be traced quite as far back as his. He doesn’t hold this against her, he loves her anyway. She’s stimulating, smart for a woman and knows her place in the world but this will not stop him from using your every ailment as emotional blackmail against her for the rest of their lives.
You are four years old. It is October and you are curled up into a ball and shivering in the gardener’s shed. You have been hiding there all night, atop the fertilizer bags but under the tarps. You won’t remember why, but it’s alright because you are not alone. I am with you now and I’ll not let anything happen to you. You’ll not have to think of blood and death and horror. Not ever. Not unless you wish to. Not while I’m around. We’re brothers you and I, it’s what any good brother would do. It’s far more than what Mummy’s ickle precious baby Blaine could ever possibly do for you. We’ll be best friends forever, you and I, you’ll see.
We are ten years old now, and we are big brothers once again. Her name is Lillian and she is so pale and tiny and perfect. We decide that we will be the best big brothers we can be. We’ll protect her from any and everything. We’ll even make sure she never draws Father’s ire the way Blaine is so fond of doing. We would get along so much better if only Blaine would behave.
You know I wasn’t really trying to hurt him, right Archie? I only wanted to scare him a little! So he would stop trying to tattle on us. Honest! I swear! I could never hurt him. He’s our brother, we love him. Don’t be such a little baby, Archie. He’s going to be fine, father says so. Will you stop? Of course she’s crying, Mother cries all the time and usually about nothing at all. Because she’s not like us, she’s not like father. She’s weak. Just like Blaine’s bones.
Oh come on, that was funny!
You can’t ignore me forever Arch, I’m your best friend. And you’re mine!
NO! What are you doing? Don’t! You’re going to ruin everything. STOP! You promised! You can’t make me go away, Archie, you can’t! Please! PLEASE! Please don’t send me away, don’t make me go to the dark place. I don’t like the dark. It’s scary and I think there’s something else in there. Don’t…
LIAR! TRAITOR! BASTARD!
IF YOU SEND ME AWAY, YOU WILL PAY FOR IT. I PROMISE YOU THAT!
By the time the false idol is slain on television, life in the Halifax household had regained its natural balance. It was as though Archie’s malevolent imaginary friend had never existed, and in time Archie himself even forgot. His willingness to let it all was was in part because his father’s beliefs had rubbed off on him. Edward only existed because mutants are insidious creatures who seek to harm good, God fearing people. They had chosen to target poor little Archie because his father is beloved in their community, and he has always been his father’s favorite child. His father and his friends from church insisted that ‘Edward’ was gone because they had put at stop to the outside influences at work. Archie believed. Why wouldn’t he?
Archie is fifteen and his lungs are burning. He is pounding on the ice above him but it will not break. The million icy needles are no longer stabbing him and he feels a peculiar lightness. He is no longer starving for oxygen and believes that he might be dead. It is not long before it dawns on him that the dead don’t breathe, and he is in fact breathing. People don’t breathe under water, you complete wanker. Archie is too busy watching his hands change before his eyes to hear the faint antagonizing voice in the back of his head. His hands have morphed into freak hands, like those of the creature from the black lagoon. They are webbed and amphibious and Archie is screaming in horror. The world pulsates around him and grows brighter and brighter until there’s nothing left.
For the first time in what seemed like an eternity Edward is out of the dark place. He takes only a few minutes to revel in this fascinating turn of events. To flex and test and laugh at his brother’s weakness. He has never had this much control over their body before. He hopes it lasts, but the cold is making him feel sick and knows he must find his way out from under the ice. As he effortlessly swims through the lake it occurs to him that he is swimming. Eddie never learnt how and yet he is doing it, his shared vessel is doing it with ease. Archie is on the swim team. He does this all the time. It’s his skill.
Archie gets to swim and play hockey, and act in school plays. Archie gets to have friends and walk in the sun and go on dates with pretty girls. Eddie hates him. He hates his traitorous brother, his once best friend. He hates him. He hates him. He hates him. This is what Edward is thinking about when he spots the perfectly round hole in the ice above him. It is all consuming thought that scalds his soul reminding him of only how cold he is. How cold the dark is. How cold the dark water is. He is freezing. The hole is big enough for him to fit through if he tries.
They are a tall thin boy.
The man above the ice is startled and frantic seeing the tall thin boy awkwardly crawl out of his fishing hole. Their gills and monstrous hands quickly disappear. They are normal again. The man is speaking fast but Edward is still consumed, his soul is still on fire but he is still freezing. The man puts layers of old blankets around their shoulders trying to help warm them. Edward is staring into the center of the hot, hot space heater warming the small shack. He deserves warmth. He deserves love. He deserves to walk in the fucking sun. The man is harassing him, still freaking out about the boy who crawled out from under the ice he is asking repeatedly if there is someone he should call. The man gives up and says he’s going to call the authorities. Edward turns on the man. His fist colliding with the old man’s face, knocking the fisherman off balance.
Eddie is on top of him now, with his hands wrapped around the man’s neck. Screaming wordlessly down into the stranger’s face. It feels good to let it all out. A strange warmth spreads through him chasing away the bitter cold clawing at him with every breath. His hands are no longer shaking, numb and blue. They are rosy and warm, but the man is now an icy blue and his eyes are frozen open in an unreadable expression. Eddie examines his nice warm hands in the cool lantern light. He places a hand on the wooden wall to brace himself as he stood on uncertain legs. With that touch the old wood caught fire. He is confused only a moment before he is laughing again.
Archie is seventeen and staring at the white ceiling of his white room. He is unable to sleep, but it is not the storm raging outside keeping him awake. It’s the knowledge that after the coming day, nothing will be the same. He won’t be able to officially join the war next year. His war. The war he had been training to fight since he was a small child. There were other ways and other places to contribute to the cause. Of this he has been assured repeatedly. It does nothing to stop the nagging disappointment or the uncertainty that was to follow. They say it’s for the trauma of nearly dying, of falling through the ice, that brought all his old traumas to the surface. Archie has accepted that the treatment is for the best. After all. Blaine had almost died again.
Edward is screaming in agony. Everything is on fire, everything part of him is hurting. When the waves of pain subside he is laying on the disgusting carpet in a cheap motel room. It takes him some time but he staggers to his feet and makes his way to the bathroom. Gripping the sink tightly he turns on the water and splashes it on his face. Looking up he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. It is not Archie’s face staring back at him. It is someone new. It is him. It is exactly how Edward thought he would look if he had a face of his own. He touches his face in disbelief, taking his time examining himself in the mirror. He cannot quite wrap his head around this new development.
The television is on in the room and something on the news catches his attention. They are reporting that mutants all over the world have suddenly lost their powers. This intrigues him and he looks at his hands silently praying that he was not a victim of this mass de-powering. Flames dance on his fingers and he is relieved. He gradually begins looking around Archie’s room for clues as to where they were and what it was supposed to be doing. He is much better at being his brother than he once was. Edward picks up a piece of paper that had fallen beside the bed; it is a letter from their mother. It is brief, but it still manages to make him livid.
His beloved Lily was now a mutant. She has run away and father was telling everyone she was dead. Edward wished he could be surprised by Archie’s complete failure to protect their sister but Archie always had been weak. He spends the rest of the afternoon catching up on Archie’s life. They are a bounty hunter now. The last time he had been in the driver’s seat they had been mechanics. He could not be certain how long ago but Edward was glad for the change. It meant they had the skills and connections to find their Lily.
Archie patiently stood in the check-in office of the motel he was trying to check into. He yawned and cast a glance out the window into the dark night. The clerk was still nowhere to be seen and the phone on the desk was ringing. After a while the ringing began to wear at him so Archie picked up the phone and slowly brought it to his ear. He was quiet for a moment before speaking into the receiver. “Hello?” The person on the other end bit into what sounded like an apple and snickered at the agent. “A little birdy told me you’ve been looking for me, ‘Agent’.” There was something about englishman’s voice that tickled the back of Archie’s mind, like it was something he’d heard before but could not place. “Sparrow.” The englishman laughed again, as though laughing at a darkly humored inside joke. One which Archibald was not quite aware of. “They’re flying again, mate.”
Edward’s body rocked with pain as their body changed on a cellular level. Gasping for air the mutant gripped the desk to prevent himself from falling. He wiped sweat from his brown and caught sight of a man staring at him in wide eyed horror. Without hesitation, Edward removed Archie’s gun from it’s holster and shot the fleeing man twice in the back. Slowly walking over her looked down at the fallen man whose mouth was filling with blood. “It’s nothing personal, mate. You know how it is. Things to do, secrets to keep.” Edward shot the man in the face as a piece of mercy, otherwise the clerk would have been in for a slow death. After all, there was no-one around for miles to help him.