Pairing: Ed/Corbett, Harry/Maggie
Word Count: 33,152
Disclaimer: Supernatural and its characters belong to Eric Kripke and the CW. I make no money off of this and write it simply for my own sick pleasure.
Summary: Harry thought it would be cool to have a ghost team member, and Ed agreed because he wanted to see Corbett again. Why, he's never figured out, because there's no closure to be had on something like what happened that night in Daggett's basement, but he knew he wanted to see him all the same.
1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Ed's the one who goes to Corbett's house. The others offer to come of course, but Spruce and Harry don't really mean their offers and Ed can't face Maggie after what happened in the Morton house.
So he goes alone on a rainy Saturday two weeks after Corbett's death. The house is on the far side of town and he drives the van over to the stately manor that Corbett called home.
He knocks on the door and is greeted by a young man about his own age, clearly a servant. He wonders if Corbett ever ordered the guy to suck him off and then hates himself for that gut reaction.
"Can I help you?" the man asks politely. His hair is perfectly combed and Ed feels scruffy and unkempt.
"I'm here to see Mr. and Mrs. Corbett," Ed says. He's proud that his voice comes out only a little faltering.
The man stares at him for a long moment, sizing him up, and Ed finally blurts out, "I knew their son. Cor—Alan."
He hasn't called Corbett by his first name in so long that it sounds foreign on his tongue. But it gets a raised eyebrow from the man and a motion to follow him inside.
He doesn't let himself look at the walls as they journey down a long hallway. He's sure that a family like the Corbetts would have a lot of family photos around and he doesn't want to see pictures of the child who'd grow up into the man he saw die over and over again.
He's finally lead into a room where a thin, pale woman is sitting with a cup of tea in her lap. Her gaze is fixed out the window and it's only when the man clears his throat that she looks up and realizes they're there.
"Yes, Bradley?" she asks distractedly, and for the first time, Ed realizes that the man, Bradley, seems nervous.
"Ma'am," he says. "This is—"
"Ed," Ed supplies helpfully. "Ed Zeddmore."
He might not've noticed if he hadn't been staring at her so unfalteringly, but he is so he sees. The woman's eyes widen the tiniest fraction and Ed knows in that instant that she knows that name.
"Yes," Bradley says, slightly unsettled that he let Ed in without getting his name. "Ed Zeddmore. He says he knew—he knew Alan."
"Yes," she says idly. "Yes. Please, sit down."
Another pause, then Ed realizes she's speaking to him. He takes a seat across from her and wipes his sweaty hands on his knees. Her eyes are fixed on him now, focused in a way they never were until he said his name. He swallows roughly while she motions for Bradley to leave the room, then he opens his mouth to speak.
"Is your husband here? I was hoping to talk to him, too."
"He's working," she says. "There was a problem at the office and he was eager to get back to work for a sense of normality."
Ed nods, even though he's pretty sure normalcy is out of reach now, at least for him.
"I guess I'll just talk to you, then," he says. He swallows and stares down at his hands. "I came here because I knew Alan."
"He talked about you a lot," she says softly. "Ed Zeddmore. Of all his boyfriends, I think I liked you the best, even though we never met."
Ed blinks. He blinks again. "Boyfriend?"
"It's okay," she says. "I know you're still in the closet, but you don't have to worry. Alan wasn't and we won't tell anyone." She gives him a small smile and his stomach turns over.
He can't tell her they weren't together. Her son is dead, rebar through the neck, and it's only been two weeks since Ed begged Corbett to stop dying. He can't retcon her son's life now. He won't.
"Thanks," he says, and the lie comes out too easy for words.
"I asked him several times to invite you over," she says. "We'd have loved to have you over for dinner or to parties. But Alan said you weren't comfortable with being out in public."
Ed thinks he's never heard of a more perfect excuse and it raises Corbett higher in his esteem.
"Yeah," he says. "But he—he was great. I wanted to come here and tell you that. Alan was the bravest person I knew." He almost adds even in death to that, but manages to refrain.
She nods sadly and takes a tissue from a box on the table between them. "He was," she agrees. "I always admired him for being exactly who he was."
They're talking about two different things entirely and only Ed knows that they are.
"He cared a lot about you," she says, and now he hears the tears in her voice. "I think he maybe even loved you."
And for a long moment, Ed doesn't know what to say. Then he remembers the lie he told two weeks ago, the lie that tore him up inside to tell. And he pushes past the feeling of clawing and aching in his chest and says it one more time.
"I loved Alan, too."
She nods and reaches across the table to take his hand.
"It means so much to me that he had someone," she says tearfully. "You have no idea, Ed."
He does. God, he does. And he knows, with sharp and painful clarity, that this is his one way ticket to Hell: letting a grieving mother think that her son died loved when he knows perfectly, horrifyingly well that he died scared and alone.
"I have to go," he says, choked and wrecked.
"Oh," she says, a little disappointed. "Well—maybe you could come back sometime?"
He stares at her, terrified. "What?"
"He—you know him better than we do," she says, like it kills her to admit it. "He'd never tell us what he was doing every evening. Just that it was 'official Ghostfacer business,' so he couldn't divulge it. We just want to know that part of him better."
"Just a few dinners," she says. "Please. It would mean so much to us."
He wants more than anything in the world to tell her no, but he can't. He's destroyed her life so much already that telling her no isn't an option.
"Okay," he says. "Do you have a pen and paper?"
She hands them to him and he scribbles down his number. "You can call me," he says. "Whenever."
She kisses him on the cheek then, soft and grateful and it tears him apart. He waves off her offer to call Bradley to see him out, and doesn't stop hyperventilating from the time he shuts the door behind him until the time he steps into headquarters back on the other side of town.
It's still early, at least for them, only three in the afternoon. He asked for the day off at Kinko's so that he could dedicate the day to his visit to Corbett's parents. He should be alone in the garage, and the lights should be in perfect working order.
But he's not and they're not, and he stops hyperventilating because he stops breathing altogether.
Because there, in the corner, is Corbett with shiny, translucent blood spattered all down his front.
It takes Ed a long moment to stop just gaping, and in the part of his brain that still works, he thinks that this is why he will eventually be killed by some sort of supernatural being. He loves the hunt, but he really has no clue what to do when he actually finds the damn thing. So he stares, and he stares, and yes, he stares some more, and the only reason he can see Corbett at all is because it's so damn bright outside, because the lights are flickering on and off and every computer in the room is scrambled.
"Corbett?" he finally gasps out, and Corbett's eyes come to rest on him.
"Ed," he breathes out, like his name is holy, and he takes a step forward.
Ed takes one back to compensate and stares some more, before he asks the most pressing question in his mind.
"What are you doing here?"
He already knows the how. They never salted and burned Corbett's body, partly because the cops retrieved it from the Morton house the day after it all went down, when they sent in an anonymous tip to the police that Corbett had decided to spend the night there like so many before him. The police had brought him out and turned him over to the family for burial, and none of them could bring themselves to defile Corbett's grave once he'd been put into the ground.
But the other reason, the bigger one, was that they didn't want to rule out the possibility. Harry thought it would be cool to have a ghost team member, and Ed agreed because he wanted to see Corbett again. Why, he's never figured out, because there's no closure to be had on something like what happened that night in Daggett's basement, but he knew he wanted to see him all the same.
And he'd known Corbett could come back to them, because he had been there at Comic Con in their hotel room.
But that had been only for a few seconds, and they hadn't seen him before that or since. He'd shown up because he loved comics and now…now the biggest question on Ed's mind is why he's here this time.
Corbett frowns, like he's trying to think that through. Ed's never seen a ghost think—never seen many real ghosts, for that matter—and he wonders what a ghost's thought process is like, without live brainwaves to carry the thoughts. Then he reminds himself that he doesn't study science anymore now that he has the supernatural to focus on, and waits for Corbett to finish the thought.
"You called me," Corbett says finally, and then nods as though satisfied that he's come up with the right answer. "I was—gone. And then you—you said you loved me. And I came because—because it's you."
Ed swallows. "Corbett—I—how did you hear that?"
Corbett sits down on one of their chairs and it's maybe the freakiest thing Ed has seen happen in his own garage. Ghosts were supposed to be transparent and intangible. They should walk through walls and fall through solid objects or at least float above them. But Corbett sits there with a tangible weight and rubs his solid fingers along his solid chin.
"I think I'm connected to you," he says. "Tied. I think—I know that I love you. And all I've ever wanted is for you to love me back."
"Corbett, I—I was talking to your mom. I felt guilty because it's my fault you died and she—she thinks we were a couple."
Corbett rubs awkwardly at the back of his neck and shrugs. "I'm sorry."
Ed wants to laugh that Corbett is apologizing for something so damn trivial when it's Ed's fault that Corbett was murdered. But the situation is insane and his entire being hurts just looking at what he did, so he doesn't.
"I let her think we were," he says quietly. "She wants me to come over and have dinner with your family."
"Will you?" Corbett asks. "Ed, please. I need you to see them and tell me if they're okay."
"They're not," Ed answers. "How could they be right now?"
Corbett's face falls and he stares down at the ground. "Fair enough."
"Why haven't you gone to see them?" Ed asks. "Or us. If you can come back, why—?"
Corbett shakes his head. "It doesn't work like that. Ghosts are driven by something. One reason. People…they're complicated, but ghosts? We're shadows, man. Shells. We're hollow save for our motive."
Corbett smiles wryly at him. "What do you think?"
Hubris, Ed thinks, until Corbett points at him and clicks his tongue in agreement.
"I died because I loved you. I died without you loving me back. And I'll be stuck in between until you salt and burn my body or you love me back." He shrugs. "I'm not proud of it. It's a pathetic motive. I'm a puppy dog in the ghost world, following you around. But I'm tied to you. Not to mention the fact that my parents have been through enough. They don't need to see me like this."
He touches the wound on his throat and his fingers come away bloody. Ed has watched the video of that wound being made no less than forty-nine times. He even stole the camera from the police before they could watch the tape when they took it for evidence.
"Right," Ed says. "Can't you—can't you fix it? The way you look?"
"No. Not until—" He shrugs. "It's tied to the motive, Ed. Everything is tied to a ghost's motive. Until my need is satisfied…I'm trapped."
"Does it hurt?"
Corbett shakes his head. "Not anymore. While I was in the echo, it did. Now?" A long pause, then he adds quietly, "Now there's only one thing that hurts."
Ed hangs his head in defeat. "Right. I—I'm sorry."
"Not your fault."
"Is there any way you can stop messing with the electronics? It's good to see you, but the power issues are going to be a problem."
"Okay." Ed takes a deep breath. "Am I the only one who can see you, since you're tied to me?"
"Nope. Anyone can. Why?"
"I just—I don't know if it's a good idea to tell the guys you're back."
Corbett considers that, then shakes his head. "They could handle it."
"Maybe," Ed admits, but he doesn't add that he doesn't know if he could.
"Ed—" Corbett starts, just as Ed starts to say, "Corbett—"
They both stop, then Corbett nods for Ed to go first.
"Corbett, I just—you do realize that what I said to your mom…"
"You didn't mean it. I know. But I'm governed by supernatural laws now. It wasn't my choice to come here. You said the words and I came because I literally couldn't not."
Ed pales. "You—you were forced to? Jesus Christ, Corbett. That's just—that's cruel."
"I was murdered slowly with a rebar through the neck after being tortured by a lonely necrophiliac ghost. Cruel has been standard for my life since my death."
"I'm sorry," Ed says again, because God, he's so fucking sorry. He's sorry he ever hung those signs up in the mall looking for an intern to begin with.
He doesn't sense Corbett's movement since he doesn't disturb the air around him anymore, so it's a shock when he feels cool fingers curl under his chin and tilt his head up from his gaze at the floor.
"Don't be," Corbett says. "You got me out of the loop. You—you lied to me when I was so broken that I could believe it. When you asked me if I remembered it, I really did. I remembered being with you and kissing you and making love to you and none of it ever really happened. But you gave me the memory of that, just for a second, and I'm grateful. It was more than I ever got when I was alive."
Ed closes his fingers around Corbett's wrist and grips there, tight as he can. Corbett doesn't even flinch under it and it takes Ed a moment to realize that's because it doesn't hurt.
"I miss you so much," he says through his tears. "The real you. The flesh-and-blood you who was more than just a motive."
"I miss me, too," Corbett admits, and then he takes a step back. "I can't leave. Now that you've said those words, I'm here until you mean them. But you can hide me somewhere. I'll cooperate."
"Where can I hide you so that you won't be breaking everything electronic? There are no Amish around here."
Corbett shrugs. "I have no idea, man. It's not like I mean to do it. It just happens."
Ed frowns and strokes his chin thoughtfully, ignoring the way Corbett's eyes follow his fingers as they drag across his beard. Corbett had a thing for his beard. Ed remembers that vividly.
"Well," he says slowly, "earlier, I was thinking…how do you think?"
"You think, right? You have thoughts?"
"Sure I do."
"Okay, but you're dead."
"Yes. Thanks for the reminder."
"No, I mean…you don't have brainwaves. So how do you think?"
Corbett frowns now, too, looking confused and a little taken aback. "I hadn't thought about it before."
"Well…the thing is, what if…what if you still have brainwaves. Only—only they're not the kind humans have? What if your thoughts are like…charged? With magic, you know? So that charge is like—it's like what those assholes did to us when they erased our tapes. Your thoughts are charged like a magnet and that's what's screwing up the electronics."
"So I should stop thinking?"
"No," Ed says. He grins, just a little, because now that he's figured out the problem, it's just a matter of solving it. "Corbett, we just have to reverse your polarity."
"Did you never watch Doctor Who?"
Corbett shrugs, and Ed vows to make Corbett sit down and watch it as soon as he figures out how to make the TV stop fritzing every time Corbett gets within thirty feet of it.
"Look, it's like…anything that is polarized moves. Ghost thoughts must move opposite to what human brainwaves do. Our brainwaves flow through electronics, but yours can't because they're backwards. So if we can figure out a way to—"
"I get that, Ed," Corbett says impatiently. "What I'm wondering is how you plan on overcoming the fact that I'm both dead, and also magic."
"I just have to build a really strong electro magnet," Ed answers. "Science overcomes magic any day, Corbett. It's why sci-fi is better than fantasy. Did I teach you nothing?"
"You really think you can do that?"
"Look, I can't hide you anywhere without the lights flickering. Hell, even right now, the only reason it's not driving me crazy is because it's still day light outside, so I don't notice the overhead blinking in and out."
Corbett glances up and his mouth falls open just a little. "I hadn't even noticed that," he says. "I don't feel it."
Ed wonders if Corbett can feel much of anything now, but it seems too personal of a question to ask. Instead he shrugs and says, "Look, I'm going to have to hit up the internet and Radio Shack and if you come with me to either, I won't be able to do it because of the whole…you know. Fritzing. And you can't stay here because Harry and Spruce will be here soon. And if you go in the house, Maggie will realize that there's a ghost in it." He bites his lip and looks around the garage helplessly. "Shit. I'm really not going to be able to keep you a secret, am I? They know what to look for."
"I said I'd cooperate," Corbett answers. "Not that you'd be able to do this."
"I don't—I don't know what to tell them. I mean…I can't—your motivation—"
"It's not the gay thing," he interrupts. "It's the guilt. It's my fault you're stuck here. It's my fault you died. And if I tell them that, that you're here because of me, they're going to hate me. Maggie's going to ask me why I can't just love you back already so you can be free and Harry's going to be mad that you're back, and Spruce—I don't know what he'll do but Harry and Maggie are going to hate me. And—and I'm not exactly sure that they'd be wrong to."
"I don't blame you."
"I know you don't. But I do. And I think they do, too, a little."
Corbett sighs. "Look, they're going to know why I'm here whether you say it or not. And you can't hide me. You can keep me from interfering with the electronics and I get that that's definitely something to look into. But you can't hide me from them. Not for very long."
Ed scrubs his hand over his face and copies Corbett's sigh. "Fine. Fine. I'll—" He shrugs. "We'll just…say you want to keep being a Ghostfacer. You do, right? Because having a ghost on the team is going to be so damn badass. And it might be the only thing that can make Harry get over it."
"What's going to make you get over it?" Corbett muses, and that's really not fair.
"I could ask you the same question," Ed spits out before he can stop himself.
Corbett stays silent for a long time, staring at him. Ed flinches away and averts his eyes, trying not to let this add to the already enormous pile of things he has to hate himself for.
"You know I can't do that," Corbett says finally. "I wish I could, Ed. But…" He shrugs. "It's you. I'm tied to you. I think I was before I died, too. I don't know. But I can't get over you now even if I try. Now that it's my motive, I'm stuck. We're both just going to have to live with that."
Ed doesn't want to live with that. He also wants to point out that Corbett isn't living with that; he's dying with that. Then he cuts his own thoughts short because yeah, Corbett already did die with that once.
"D—do you need anything?" he asks instead. "I don't guess you eat or drink anymore. Do ghosts need like…ectoplasm or something?"
"I'm good," Corbett answers. "I also don't sleep."
"Great," Ed says with false cheer. "Really great. So…you want me to tell them you're back and then let them see you? Or do you want to just…shock and awe them?"
"We could scare them," Corbett answers with a mischievous grin, and, well, that's exactly what they do.
Ed thinks that all in all, telling his fellow Facers about Corbett's return could've gone worse. Sure, Maggie glared at him with tears running down her cheeks and made him agree to a "talk" later that evening. Sure, Spruce tried to interview Corbett about what it was like Beyond, to see which of his ancestors was right about the after life. And yeah, okay, so Harry took off running across the garage, screaming like a child, and dumped an entire can of salt around himself without making the circle big enough to include the rest of them. Ed's not entirely convinced that some of Maggie's anger isn't about Harry not making room for her in the circle.
But after that, after Harry realizes that Corbett is a friendly ghost—and Ed will never burn the question, "So you're not all pissed off about Ed not savoring your man meat?" out of his brain—then it's okay. Then it's the four of them trying to figure out how to build an electromagnet strong enough to counteract magic together, and the teamwork of that almost makes it feel like old times.
But afterwards, when Harry and Spruce make a Radio Shack run to get the parts they need, Maggie takes Ed's wrist between her tiny fingers and pinches like a vice.
"We need to talk," she says, and pulls him towards the door.
He can see Corbett's face as they leave, paler than it was when he was alive, but just as expressive. He can read it there that Corbett knows what they're going to talk about and Ed winces before giving in and letting Maggie tug him into the yard.
"Maggie," he sighs. "I know what you're going to say—"
"No, you don't."
"Look, I know it's my fault. Okay? I know. And I know I should just…love him back so he can go, but—"
"That's not what I was going to say."
Ed stops. "Oh. Okay."
"You can't make yourself love someone anymore than you can make yourself not love someone," she says. She sounds like she's explaining this fact to a small child.
"But, Ed, I want you to stop and think about every ghost we've ever met."
"What about them?"
"They're always pissed, aren't they? They're lonely or their mother didn't love them or they were murdered bloody by someone they trusted. So they act out. They fight. They kill because they were." She gives Ed a hard look. "And Corbett isn't doing any of those things despite the fact that he has plenty of reason to."
"So? Doesn't that tell you something?"
"Look, Corbett…he loves you, Ed."
"I know, Maggie. I get it."
"Do you really? Do you get what kind of love he has for you? Because for him to have died lonely, unloved, and bloody, he should be coming to kill you in your sleep. But he's not. Because he still loves you. He loves you more than that. It's—" She bites her lip. "There's love and then there's…you know. Pure love. Pure, unselfish, just-want-what's-best for someone love. And for Corbett to not be feasting on your entrails right now, he must have that for you."
"Are you trying to hurt me, Maggie? Because that's what you're doing."
She shakes her head. "I would never try to hurt you on purpose, Ed. But you need to realize just how bad this is for him."
"I do know. I was there. I've seen him—" He stops. "I watched the tape. Over and over again I watched him die and then I talked him out of the echo by lying through my teeth. And now he's here because he still can't let go of me, so I get it, Maggie. I get it. But there's nothing I can do about it. He's here, he still wants to be a Ghostfacer, so all I can do is build a magnet so he won't disrupt our equipment and then let him come on hunts with us. I don't have anything else."
She stares at him for a long moment, then pulls him close. "You're such an idiot," she tells him, for no good reason—as far as Ed can see. "I knew I should've told you no when you brought home the stray puppy and asked if we could keep him."
Ed thinks calling Corbett a stray puppy is a little harsh, but he doesn't point this out to her because it's also accurate.
"How did seeing his parents go?" she asks when she releases him from the hug.
"O—okay," Ed says, and rubs at the back of his neck. "Met his mom. Talked. He—he told her I was his boyfriend."
"Did you correct her?"
Ed shakes his head. "Couldn't stand it. She said he loved me and I—"
"Ed, you didn't."
"Kind of. That's—that's why he's here. Because I said it. So now he's sort of…tied. I don't know."
She punches him on the arm, hard. "You bastard," she says, and all the warmth in her voice is gone. "You fucking bastard."
"I know, sis," he snaps. "I get it. I'm the scum of the earth. But I couldn't tell her Corbett had lied."
"You didn't have to say you loved him," she answers back. "You didn't have to take it that far."
"Yeah, well, I did, and now I'm supposed to have dinner with them and talk to them about the Ghostfacers and she has my number and it sucks, okay? I have to be his widower or something and I get it. Please stop yelling at me, Maggie. I'm too tired for it. It's been a long day and I don't have the brain capacity for this right now."
She sighs, punches him on the arm again, and then pulls him into a fierce hug.
"You're so stupid," she whispers.
"I know. I don't know what he sees in me."
"Gotta be the beard," she murmurs, and Ed laughs and pushes her away.
"I—I don't know what to do, Mags."
"Me, either. I think you need to talk to him some more. Get to know him better."
"What good will that do?"
She shrugs. "He loves you, Ed. Maybe it's time you learned to see what's behind that."
When Harry and Spruce return half an hour later with the materials to make an electro magnet, Ed is in the middle of a conversation with Corbett about his favorite comics. It's the only place he knows to start with a dead non-lover, so they talk about why they think Stan Lee is overrated and why movie adaptations should be outlawed. Then Ed has to focus his attention on building the magnet.
It takes awhile to get it calibrated, to figure out what strength cancels out the magic and what settings keep the lights on. Corbett is patient through most of it, letting them stick magnet after magnet around his neck while turning the lights on until finally, around midnight, they have a working model.
Spruce, of course, films the whole thing because really, this is going to be awesome footage for their show and even Ed can see that. He bets those assholes from Texas didn't realize they'd soon have a ghost of their very own to film when they wiped all their tapes. Idiots.
"We're geniuses," Maggie pronounces after Corbett surfs the internet without making the monitor explode. "We're going to be famous."
"We conquered death," Harry murmurs, awestruck. "We are the most badass ghost hunters in the history of the world."
Maggie elbows him in the side. "Ghostfacers. We don't hunt all of them. Some of them are nice."
The smile she gives Corbett is warm and just a little patronizing. It's kind of sickening.
"Right," Harry says quickly, but they can all hear the lack of enthusiasm in his voice. "Corbett's not really a ghost, though. He's more like…an undead American."
"Guys, it's okay," Corbett says. "We can talk about it. I'm dead. I'm a ghost. I'm out of my loop and I accept that now."
Maggie smiles at him and pats him on the arm. Or she starts to, at least, but then she stops with her hand still on his bicep and stares.
"I know," Corbett says. "I think—" he frowns.
Hesitantly, he reaches out and lays one hand on Ed's own, bare skin to bare skin. Nothing happens, and Ed stares up at him, confused, until Corbett lays his other hand on Harry. Harry shivers, then takes a step back away from the touch.
"That," Harry says, "was like walking under a waterfall."
Maggie nods. "Yeah. D—don't you feel that, Ed?"
"No." Ed catches Corbett's eye and looks away quickly. "I—what are you talking about?"
"You can't feel it," Corbett says. "Ed—when a ghost touches you, it's like…it's different. It affects you. Like Harry said. When Daggett touched me, I felt it. But you don't feel it when I touch you."
"So?" Ed hates the way he sounds defiant, as though daring all of them to say it, but he can't help it. This is getting way too fucked up for him to handle with any sort of aplomb.
"So I can touch you and it doesn't feel like I'm dead. I guess—I guess that's part of the motive?"
Corbett bites his lip and looks thoughtful and Ed prays with everything in him that Corbett doesn't make the leap he himself already has: if it's because of the motive, then it shouldn't feel different for Corbett, not for Ed.
"Dude," Spruce says, and Ed can hear the camera whirring in his hands. "Dude, do you know what this means?"
"What?" Ed asks.
"You're like the gay ghost whisperer. Your milkshake totally brings them to the yard."
Ed raises an eyebrow and shakes his head. "Shut up, Spruce."
Corbett bites his lip and pushes his fingers up, sliding past his wrist and under the sleeve of his shirt. Ed doesn't move, doesn't even breathe, just watches Corbett's face as it twists in confusion and concentration.
"Wow," Corbett says finally. "Just…wow."
"I can—when I touch them, it's like…have you ever set an ice cube on your hand and left it there? Then when you take it away and you press down on your skin, you can feel that there's pressure there, but you can't really feel if it's good or bad? That's what it's like when I touch them. Just…pressure. But when I touch you—"
His breath catches in his throat, which Ed thinks is ridiculous because ghosts don't breathe. Then Corbett takes his hand out of Ed's sleeve and touches his face instead. And yeah, he preferred the sleeve thing.
"I can feel it. But not just—remember when you were gripping my wrist earlier? That should've hurt, but it didn't. I could feel it, like the pressure, but no pain. I thought—I thought you were like them. But this—" He uses his free hand to pull Ed's to his own face. "When you touch me nicely…I can feel it like I used to when I was alive. Except I feel it—fuck, ten times as strongly."
Ed flushes and looks away. "I—Corbett."
Corbett releases the hand he has gripped around Ed's, but he doesn't stop running his fingers over Ed's cheek. "You have no idea," he whispers. "To not feel anything and then to feel…everything."
Ed swallows. "Corbett."
Corbett blinks, seeming to come back to himself, and then lets go of Ed's face. "Sorry," he whispers. "Maybe—maybe we should all call it a night. I'll stay out here and watch TV now that I don't make it fritz."
"You sure?" Maggie asks. "I mean…surely you have cool undead things to do."
Corbett chuckles, but Ed can tell that it's forced.
"Being dead really isn't as exciting as you'd think. You don't cross over and suddenly get a membership card to cool dead people spas or anything. There are no ghost orgies I could be attending. Well, except for the ghosts who died during orgies, but they tend not to allow the rest of us in. They don't think we died in a cool enough way."
"Do I want to know how you found that out?" Harry asks, and before Corbett can answer, Spruce cuts in, "Yes. It'll be badass behind the veil information. Just be sure you talk into the camera, Corbett."
"I was lonely," Corbett says, shrugging. "There were some cute guys in that orgy. I asked if I could join and they said getting stabbed through the neck with a rebar was not a 'groovy' enough way to go."
"Was it acrobatic?" Spruce asks. "I bet ghost sex involves levitating and going through walls and shit."
"I don't know," Corbett answers. "I haven't had any since I died. And I couldn't really tell much about what they were doing because it was more or less a giant…pile."
"But they can do it?" Harry asks, sounding morbidly curious. "You can get your gay on?"
"If I wanted."
Ed wills Harry to stop talking with every fiber of his being, but he's never been particularly good at getting Harry to do what he wants him to do. Case in point, now.
"So is it just with other ghosts? Or can you gay a human, too?"
Ed tries very hard not to do a literal head-desk, and fails. With his head still flat against the wood, he hears Corbett answer, somewhat bemusedly, "I don't know. I haven't tried. I don't know that I'd want to, since I'm numb with everyone but Ed."
"I hate you all," Ed announces, and wallows in his own misery while Harry muses aloud on if ghosts come ectoplasm instead of semen, and maybe Corbett should go jerk off in a cup so they can analyze it on camera for the show.
"Only if you want to," Maggie says gently, but Ed can hear a hint of curiosity in her voice that says yeah, she'd kind of like to find that out, too.
"It's not like that," Corbett says. "Or I don't think it is. I don't—now that I'm dead. I mean, semen is life, you know? I don't have life anymore. So…" He shrugs. "Are you really going to air this, Spruce?"
"Yes," Spruce says firmly. "And we're going to be fucking millionaires. I'm going to get a girl and you're going to become the most famous ghost in the world and other ghost guys are going to be throwing themselves at you. It's going to be damn awesome. So keep talking about ghost wanking. Curious minds want to know."
"There's really not much to tell," Corbett answers. Then, "Well, okay. One thing. I can't—" He stops, and Ed's not sure how, but he can feel Corbett's gaze on him. "I can't fantasize about just anything while I'm doing it," Corbett says. "It has to be—I mean, he's my motive, you know? So. Yeah. Anyway. Also it takes a lot longer. I guess because I don't feel things as strongly as I did when I was alive, so it takes a long time to get off."
"So you can go for…what, hours?" Maggie asks.
"Yeah. Once, more than a day. I mean, it's not like I had anything else to do, anyway."
Maggie sighs. "I wish human guys could last for hours."
"Hey!" Harry says, and Ed wallows even more because ew he does not need to hear that. He's still trying to pretend it's not happening at all.
"Well, I just mean—"
"Ed, your boyfriend is upsetting my lady!" Harry snaps. "You need to keep him under control."
Ed wants to kill Harry. He really, really does.
"You're upsetting me," Ed retorts instead of punching his friend in the face. "Whatever the two of you do in the privacy of your own backseat is between the two of you. There's no need to go around flaunting it in our faces. I don't need the nausea on top of the rest of this."
"Sorry," Harry says, but Maggie doesn't. Ed didn't really expect her to.
"I'm going to bed," he says. "You guys can keep filming ghost porn all you want, but I need sleep. It's been a long-ass day."
Corbett watches him as he rises, but lets him go without comment. In fact, Ed's pretty sure he's getting out of this whole thing with at least some of his dignity still intact until he rolls over in the middle of the night to find Corbett sitting at his desk chair, Ed's laptop balanced on his knees while he watches Ed sleep.
Ed jumps awake and sits up, letting the blankets pool around his waist.
"Jesus Christ, Corbett."
"Sorry," Corbett answers. "I just…" He shrugs. "I'll go. I just don't like being out there in the garage alone. Being around you is…soothing, I guess, is the right word."
"Well…next time, warn a guy."
"Okay. Do you mind if I stay now?"
Ed bites his lip. "If—if you want. If it's that important to you. Does it hurt to be away from me?"
Corbett looks thoughtful for a moment before he admits, "Not—not hurt. More like uncomfortable. Like I have an itch I can't scratch when you're not around."
"Jesus," Ed breathes. "Is it—can I help? I mean, is it okay now? When you're in the same room? Or—"
"It's better when we're touching," Corbett answers. "You know it is. But this is okay. It's fine. Can I just sit here? I won't watch you anymore if it creeps you out. I'm Googling for support groups, anyway."
"Gay Ghosts Anonymous?"
"It could exist," Corbett says defensively. "I mean…maybe. Sort of. A permutation thereof."
Ed considers it, then holds out his hand. "Here. You can—you can touch my hand if it'll help."
Corbett stares at him for a second, then moves the chair closer and tugs up his camo pants to expose his calf. It's right at the same height as Ed's prone body, so he reaches out and lets the back of his hand rest against Corbett's leg. He glances up, meeting Corbett's eyes, and for just a second, he shivers. Then he closes his eyes, mumbles that he's going back to sleep, and everything goes dark.
When Ed wakes up, he feels like he's licked a battery. There's a tingle going up his arm starting at his fingertips and all attempts at shifting and shaking his arm do nothing to quell it. Reluctantly, he opens his eyes, and sighs when the events of the previous day come rushing back to him.
"Corbett," he says, more whiny than he thinks is totally dignified. "Stop it."
"Stop what?" Corbett asks. He's on the floor by Ed's bed, staring up at him as Ed peers over the edge. He's touching his index finger to Ed's in a way that makes him think of the painting of God reaching down from heaven to spark life into Adam's finger.
"Whatever you're doing," Ed grumbles. He wets his lips, wincing when he tastes the metallic tang he associates with pennies.
Corbett glances at their fingers, then back up at Ed and frowns. "Sorry," he says, and pulls his finger away.
Instantly, the feeling stops and the taste goes away. In the absence of what Ed assumes was some kind of low-level electric current—okay, probably magic, but that's what it felt like—Ed's skin feels remarkably distant from himself, like it's not really a part of him at all.
"I—you okay?" Ed asks. "I mean—"
"I told you," Corbett says. "It's easier when I'm touching you, but it's really only bad when we're in different places."
Ed nods, and grabs his phone from under his pillow. He glances at the clock on it, wincing when he realizes he has to be at Kinko's in an hour.
"What are we going to do when I have to go to work?" he asks. "You can't come with me."
"I do have powers, you know," Corbett murmurs. "It's not all gay angsting and lusting after you. I can actually do stuff. I could kill you with my mind, if I wanted to. But I don't, so mostly I plan to hijack your laptop every night to surf for gay porn. Try deleting that out of your internet history."
Ed smiles, just a little, and sits up in bed. "What kind of powers?"
"The standards. Invisibility, teleportation…and then, of course, my unique ones that have to do with the motive. Case in point—" He touches his index finger to the end of Ed's nose, just for a second. It tingles, and Ed sneezes while Corbett grins.
"Is it going to do that every time we touch now? Because it didn't do that at first."
Corbett frowns as he mulls that over, then answers, "Honestly? I was confused when you didn't feel it at first. So I don't know, man. It probably will. But it's not like I have a lot of ghost friends I can ask about this."
"You don't have any ghost friends? You've been dead for two weeks."
Corbett shrugs. "I'm not good at meeting people. The last big social function I attended was my own funeral. Thanks for coming to it, by the way."
He's being sarcastic because Ed didn't go to Corbett's funeral. None of the Ghostfacers did. They all agreed that being there was wrong since it was their fault that he was dead, but especially Ed's.
"You have work," Corbett says. "And I have to get invisible. So you go shower."
Ed throws back the covers, pauses, then asks, "You're—you're not going to follow me, are you? Invisibly? To—to see?"
"I'm sorry. I had to ask."
"No, you really didn't."
"Look, if I could turn invisible, I'd look at naked chicks while they were in the shower, so—"
"That's the difference between us," Corbett sighs. "I only want it if you want me to see. And you don't."
"Okay," Ed says, because he's not going to argue with that. "Just—look, if you want to, then—then okay. I mean…it's the least I can do after—after everything."
Corbett laughs. He actually fucking laughs.
"Sometimes," he says, "I wish you could hear yourself. 'Corbett, I know you're dead and all, but maybe seeing my super special dick will make it all better.'"
Corbett shakes his head, still chuckling softly. "Ed…I love you. You know I do. But getting to see you isn't a consolation prize. If you ever love me back…then yeah. Yeah, I really want to see. But in the mean time, letting me look but not touch is not an acceptable alternative."
Ed stares down at the floor and wishes it would swallow him whole. "Oh."
"Yeah. Go shower, man. I'll be here surfing teenhunks.net or something. Invisibly. Which is going to freak people the hell out because it'll look like your computer is spontaneously searching for gay porn on it's own. Pretty badass."
Ed smiles at the ground, then shuffles past Corbett and into the bathroom for his shower. He hesitates, wondering if he should leave the door open in case Corbett was just posturing, then shakes his head and pushes it shut. Ego, he thinks. That's his problem.
It's not until he gets out of the shower that he realizes Corbett can teleport, so the door being open or not doesn't particularly matter. It also occurs to him that Corbett wouldn't lie to him about not coming in, not since Maggie was probably right about the whole unselfish love thing.
He returns to his bedroom with the towel fixed firmly around his waist, and ignores Corbett's eyes on him resolutely. Probably wasn't a good idea to be mostly naked with water dripping all over him.
Though, really, Ed has never exactly thought he was all that attractive. Wishes he was, sure, but sometimes, he wonders what the hell Corbett was thinking, loving him that much. There are far cuter men out there than him, and some of them are even into dudes.
"You're still visible," he says. "Thought you were going to disappear?"
"I did," Corbett answers. "And then I decided that if I was invisible, there was a very high chance of you coming back from your shower and sitting on me. And I really don't want to deal with your lame-ass gay panic, so. Also, with the whole being wet thing, I'm really not sure what would happen with the—" He holds up his finger to indicate the charge Ed feels when they touch. "It would really suck if I became a ghost because you didn't love me and then accidentally killed you and you passed on and I was stuck here with no way to move onto the next plane other than asking Maggie to dig up my body and burn it."
Ed blinks. "I. Uh."
"I don't know my own strength," Corbett simplifies. "You should get dressed. You have to be at work in half an hour and you still need to swing by Harry's to pick him up."
"How do you know that?"
"I kept your schedule for you, remember? There was a little organizer with notes and post-its?"
"Nothing. You're right. I do have to pick him up."
"Good. So put some clothes on. Which is something I never thought I'd say to you, but there you go."
Ten minutes later, Ed pulls to a stop in front of Harry's place. He glances at the passenger seat and tries not to move his lips as he asks, "Are you beside me? Because Harry's going to sit there."
"I'm in the back," Corbett answers. He sounds amused. "I'm not going to let Harry sit on me either, man. He's not my type and Maggie's my friend."
"Haha," Ed answers, completely without humor, and then Harry pulls the door open and Ed tries not to look like he was just talking to an invisible man.
Why he does this, he doesn't know. Harry is aware that Corbett is a ghost and can be invisible. But Ed feels a strong urge to keep Corbett's presence to himself. His secret.
"So, listen, man," Harry says when they're back on the road. "I've been thinking about this whole…dead gay lover thing."
"He's not my dead gay lover. He's just…dead and also gay."
Harry waves a hand idly and plows on. "This could be trouble, man. It was trouble when he was alive. You know I thought so."
"I saw the tape," Ed admits.
"I just…don't want you getting distracted. We've got to be focused and if you're always thinking about him—if he's coming between us."
"Ed, you…look. I get it. You feel guilty. And Corbett's cute as a button. No one's disagreeing. We all like him just fine. But you have to be focused on the mission, not on Casper the Homoerotic Ghost."
"We're a team, Ed. It's tricky."
"Then explain you and Maggie."
"Because—because it is."
"Because she's a girl?"
Harry stares at him for a moment, then simply says, "No."
"Then why? Why's it so different?"
"Because it is, okay?"
"No, Harry. Tell me why."
"Because I love her," Harry snaps. "And more than that, she loves me back."
"Corbett loves me," Ed points out, carefully ignoring most of what Harry just said.
"Yeah. And you don't love him. That's the difference. Okay? That."
"It's different," Ed admits. "Fine. You're right. It is. But how's that a problem for the team?"
"Look, he's pining, and dead, and you're distracted by guilt over him being dead, and I just—don't want to see you get hurt. Or us get hurt. Because if you get distracted on a hunt, then forget your little gay drama, we could die."
"Yeah, I know that, Harry. Believe me, I remember."
"Well, I just don't want to die, is all. Maggie loves me back, so I'm fulfilled and shit. I'm not coming back all pining like he did."
"You're not going to die."
"Try telling that to Corbett. Actually, tell him that the next time the two of you are doing that touching thing."
Ed flushes. He's not even sure why, because Harry doesn't know that Ed is starting to feel an electric tingle every time Corbett touches him now, which is really the only reason he can think of to blush right now.
"Shut up, Harry. You don't get it, okay? So just stop talking about shit you don't understand."
Harry folds his arms across his chest, but falls silent, and for a long moment, it's bliss. Then Harry exhales slowly and whispers, "You care too much about that kid, Ed. You always have."
Ed is very glad he's already pulled to a stop in the employee parking lot because if he were still driving, it's very likely that he'd have run off the road just then.
"I—I care about people. What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing," Harry says, but he doesn't look as though he believes it.
"Just—just fucking shut up, Spangler."
Harry winces at the use of his last name instead of first, and hops out of the van, locking the door behind him.
Ed stops just as he's about to shut the door behind him, then whispers, "Corbett? Are you out? Or are you teleporting? I don't want to slam you in the door."
And then suddenly his entire back feels electric and something is pressed against him. He doesn't think Corbett's doing it on purpose, or even means anything by it, but it makes him jump away even as Corbett whispers, "Yeah, you can shut it."
"G—good," Ed says, full of false confidence. "Um…just—just follow me, all right? And try not to bump into anyone."
They make it into the store okay, and Ed lets Harry take the counter while he fulfills the orders. He doesn't feel like talking to customers today, and he really doesn't feel like talking to Harry right now, either.
Corbett, though…Corbett's different. There's something about knowing that Corbett loves him unconditionally that makes him feel like they can talk easier than he can with his other friends.
So when Corbett whispers, "So…what happened in the van," Ed takes the risk of looking like a crazy person talking to himself by whispering back, "Harry was out of line."
"He was being honest," Corbett answers back. "I can respect that."
Ed carries a box of paper over to the copier and pulls out the empty tray. After a moment, he hears the rustle of plastic and then a soft, dull thud, that makes him think Corbett has seated himself on top of the copier and is kicking his legs over the side. Ed tries not to smile.
"He shouldn't have said that stuff."
"Look. He worries. It's what he does. He's a neurotic nutcase who's lucky he found the one woman on the planet who'd have him." Ed feels a poke on his side that has to be Corbett because of the jolt it gives him. "Look, I'm not offended. I wish he felt differently, but I'm okay with it. But you…I don't know why, but you, on the other hand, actually do seem offended."
"He just—he gets to me sometimes."
"I'm sorry, Ed. If I could go anywhere else, I would. I don't like upsetting you and screwing with the team. But I just…can't."
"No one blames you, Corbett. No one except Harry, at least."
"And I don't blame you. So we're just two people who aren't at fault for anything but who constantly blame themselves for things out of their control."
"Like two peas in a pod," Ed agrees, then looks away quickly, hoping he's judged where Corbett actually is and he's not, in fact, turning towards the guy.
Ed finishes loading the paper into the tray and pushes it shut. Harry is occupied with a customer at the front of the store, so Ed takes a moment to lean against the copier next to Corbett and try to relax. Then Corbett pats his shoulder and he breathes deeply, trying to cover the sharp intake of breath that came out involuntarily.
"So…when you died. You started looping."
"How come? Why didn't you jump straight into unfulfilled ghost territory? You took a pit stop at the land of denial."
Corbett doesn't answer that right away, and for a second, Ed thinks he's gone too far. Then Corbett speaks, slowly and carefully like he's testing out each word in his mouth before he says it.
"It was—a lot of reasons. The biggest one was that I never really thought I'd die. I mean…no one thinks they're going to. They know it has to happen eventually, they get in a dangerous situation and know it's possible that it'll happen soon. But they don't really think it'll happen right away. I woke up and saw Sam and—and he and Dean were so…capable, you know? And Dean was so protective of him that I just thought…there was no way Sam would let me get hurt. And there's no way that Dean would let anything bad happen to Sam, so as long as I was with him, I'd be safe. Because Dean would come save us if Sam couldn't do the job on his own."
After a pause, Corbett lets out a huff of breath. "It was really slow. The dying. It felt like it took forever. He didn't shove that bar in fast, you know. He took his time. And I felt every millimeter of it. So part of me…even once I knew that I was going to die, I didn't think I'd ever actually be dead, because the dying took so damn long."
Ed doesn't mean to. He doesn't even think about it. He just reaches out and and feels the air until his hand lands on Corbett's shoulder, squeezing even against the shock.
"There was other stuff, too. 'Why didn't I tell my mom I love her when I talked to her today?' 'I can't believe I never went for it with Ed.' Stupid, little things that all just sort of added up. But the biggest one was just the dying itself. I didn't think I'd ever stop dying and just be dead."
Ed's fingers move against his will until they find the wound on Corbett's neck. The steady trickle of blood that has been there since he first started looping wets his fingers, but when he pulls them away, they're clean.
"Corbett—" he starts, and then stops. "God."
"Never got to God. When you pulled me out of the loop and I took out Daggett—I think I went to Hell. Or sort of a halfway station there. But only because I was still clinging to him. It was like I sort of dropped him off there and as soon as I let go, I was back in the Morton house. But you guys had already left, so. Being dead isn't so bad. It's the dying that's the bitch."
His arm slips around Corbett's shoulders and Ed hopes no one looks back here because he has his arm around an invisible man sitting on the Kinko's copier, and the entire thing is insane.
"You said that when I touch you, it helps," he says, and wonders where that came from, because it's a non sequitur. "Why?"
"Lots of reasons. The magic, for one. Its terms are satisfied, sort of. And yeah, I've wanted you to touch me for a long time. But it's more than that. Baser. Don't you ever miss human contact?"
He does, actually. A lot. More than he cares to admit, because he really doesn't get much outside of the occasional hug from Maggie.
"It's just nice to be touched. I don't know. It's an ingrained instinct, you know? From the time we're babies, we cry and we cry until our mothers hold us. And from that point on, we're crying on the inside because we want someone to touch us that way again, and no one will. We get touched, sure, but never—never so purely. Never just because of love. At the absolute best of times, it's because of love and lust. It's never just on its own. So we cry inside because we want that again. You're the closest I can get, I think. To that purity. And it helps. Doesn't it feel good to you, too?"
"It—yeah. It does."
"Okay. Then think about how much you miss human contact and factor in the fact that I'm dead so I thought I'd never feel human contact again. It doesn't feel like that with Harry and Maggie and Spruce. It doesn't feel good and real. So…there's you."
"It's this urge in me all the time to be touching you every bit that I can. I want to just—breathe in the smell of you. Run my fingers over your biceps. Just—just feel alive for a little bit. Because it makes me feel human, too."
Ed shakes his head and focuses his eyes on the wall above where he assumes Corbett's head must be. He holds his hand out for Corbett to take, then pulls him into a hug.
He shivers. Shudders. His entire body feels like he's been plugged into an outlet. He's buzzing and trembling and there is electricity running through him like fire. Corbett's breath huffs against his cheek, and then he pries the two of them apart.
"Better get back to work," he says. "You're talking to yourself and hugging thin air, remember?"
"Yeah," Ed answers dazedly. "Right. That."
A push towards the front to go get the order from Harry to start working on, and then Ed loses all sense of where Corbett is, invisible in the Kinko's back room.