The world, he thought, was dying. Or he was dying and the world was sinking around him. But that wasn't right either.
The world was living and he was alive.
Edward sat in the train, at the window, looking out but not looking. He'd already absentmindedly bitten the fingernails of his new hand to the quick, chewed them until they were nothing but dirty remnants, jagged and crude. Outside, darkness as far as the eye could see. Like the universe before the light came, but for the moon which checked in again sometimes to announce itself. It offered little. The city was gone. Things very young and very old lived on outside, the blackness that had existed since the dawn of time, reborn every night. Old but new with every evening.
A mind could look into it and see much.
Not least of which: itself.
A formless thing, Edward thought, yet a thing of infinite value. Like light from a projector, the mind flashed out from its machine of grey matter, separating man from the rocks and lifeless forms, triggered by something even alchemy could not substantiate. Should the projector malfunction, the light would flicker and die, but should the brain falter, something of the mind could live on in a shape with luminous purple eyes. Something could always live on, but not necessarily what you wanted to.
His projector had been better than many; prodigy, genius, alchemist, mathematician. Gifted. Brilliant future. And now it would flicker, but something would live on. Its eyes would still be gold.
Any longer and his fingers would bleed. He stopped chewing.
The seats were red, as comfortable as one could hope for in a train, and the aisles were small and brown and nondescript, poverty-marked. Ed found himself with little room to twist and turn in the hopes of catching sleep. He'd experimented with the dimensions of his seating arrangement, stretching out and lying back as he'd done on trains in Amestris, and he'd noted that he had enough room, but barely. Either he had finally begun to grow, or this train car was smaller than ones he had travelled within previously. Perhaps some truth could be discovered in both.
Ed couldn't shake the feeling that he'd signed over his future, but the point was moot now. Trapped in a train car, trapped in his mind, bound for a castle, possibly bound for a detour into madness—provided he couldn't reason out a proper solution. There was always the option of getting up, wrestling with the doors and investigating the other cars to see who inhabited the train (Ed knew damned well that he wasn't the sole passenger), but Envy still had not awoken fully, and Edward was hesitant to leave him behind, not so much because he was a danger to others' well-being (though he was), but because he was an undeniable danger to his own. Envy didn't even accommodate small changes well, let alone changes that were tantamount to kidnapping and exploitation. Oh, yes, how to dress that one up nicely when explaining it to him?
Edward sat up, back straight, and took a sip from the steaming coffee mug that someone had left for him in the drink compartment. At first, he'd nearly dropped it out of shock when it had burned his fingers—fingers that weren't used to being capable of feeling heat—but the pain had delivered a swift message. Now he was more careful, and the beverage had cooled. It wasn't good in so far as his taste buds were concerned; too dark, too bitter, but it was something of substance to calm his appetite and thirst, something to keep him alert and moving, and that was enough. Think. He needed to think hard, think while he still had something to think with. One step forward and two steps back. Well, that was his whole life in a nutshell, wasn't it?
The human brain was a labyrinthine structure, tattooed with fissures that—in the loss of faculties—might grow and spring and gape and gulp, devouring and sucking relentlessly until the world became as the world outside of the train, dark and made of shadows, and Edward could already feel the dark places within him deepening, hungry. He had to throw at them something that was not himself, not his core; he had to focus on the train, the red seats, the not very comfortable seats, the windows and the interior lighting and the aisles and the coffee and noises, the hum, the whistle, the slow and rhythmic grind of metal on metal, and Envy, eyes closed again, sleeping like an idiot, propped up on one of the seats opposite Edward, across the aisle, next to a window (stupid decision to put him next to a window; he'll just wake up and break it and cut himself up in a fit of dumb rage), next to the thin sheet of glass separating the all and nothing of the night.
Ed's hands shook. The coffee nearly spilled.
Clearly, this wasn't working. He felt as though he had to think of every tiny aspect of himself to keep it from sliding off into an abyss out of the range of his sight, but in thinking too hard about trivialities, he was losing valuable time, and besides, more important matters (like his identity, for a start) might begin slipping away if he didn't pull back with greater resolve. What had he been thinking? Anyone should know that solitude was the courier of insanity, and he had no reason to be alone. Envy was here. Envy was...
Well. Relying on Envy to keep him sane—the blind leading the blind had never been so apropos.
Ed set the coffee down and stood up.
The aisle between them seemed infinite, but then the spaces between them always seemed infinite and minute, wide enough to stretch across space and time but too short to avoid being scabbed over by pain. The train rattled away. Clack-clack. Clack-clack. Ed fidgeted, straightened his shirt. Lights flickered. Everything seemed normal enough, like a normal night on a normal train. No cause for alarm. He was alive. They were alive. Dialogue. He needed dialogue, because that was something to occupy his tongue and his mouth and his brain, and if he kept talking, then he could keep a grip on something, and he needed that. He was fretting too goddamned much and he knew it.
"Hey," he whispered, but the sound was consumed by the train's own plodding thunder, and biting gently on his lower lip, Ed eased out from between the seats and made his way across the aisle. Simple enough, given that he and Envy were the only passengers on the car. For someone who was used to travelling on full, occupied trains, the isolation was more than vaguely disconcerting. At least trains made him feel like he was back in his element, though. Trains were sturdy, determined if slow; trains were math and precision and science, and speaking of, whatever had happened to that equation he'd been wracking his brain over? "Hey. Psst. Envy? Envy? Can you hear me?"
Smooth bare hands—perfect specimens if not for the mess he'd made of the nails—pushed up over his brow, shoving away his long blond bangs. Ed stood in front of Envy, over him when one took into account their respective positions. His shadow lay between them, covering Envy like a serpent's skin, cool and dark and two steps from tangible.
Waking the dragon would have dire consequences indeed, but even it was a kinder monster than what one could encounter while travelling alone through the corridors and up the stairs of the self.
Ed tapped a shoulder.
Clamped a hand down.
The lights threatened to go out.
He shook harder.
On the third shake, Ed leaned forward slowly, using his unoccupied hand to lift one of Envy's. The fabric was warm to the touch, the skin beneath it slightly cooler. Limp fingers had curled a little, long and bone light, each perfectly structured for piano playing or wielding knives—grace in the art of life or grace in the art of death. Ed curved his thumb against them, gently pushing downwards, then lowered his hand and carefully, very carefully, he pulled at the cloth. A pinch. A snap. The glove struck the skin of the wrist with a near silent tst.
Edward looked up to see that Envy's eyes had opened.
At the sight, Ed's lips parted for a breath, a word (make the shadow pass).
The eyes regarded him coolly, bright and clear and peculiar—eyes of the stranger he knew best.
The face did not twist into the expected expression of rage and misery. Rather, it remained frozen in a long, unearthly showing of inquisition, something fresh and new like the high air at dawn. The eyes did not move, or blink. The lips never slid away from one another. Supernal. And it wasn't, really, what that look said so much as what it didn't say that Ed heard in the sculpted details; there was something telling in the instant of a homunculus's awakening, as in the instant of the world's awakening when everything lived primal and untamed. Something there was that lived in those eyes, not yet suppressed under layers of conditioned emotions, and Edward saw it, heard it in a whisper, but only briefly.
Distantly, he felt Envy's hand grip his own, and hard. Hard enough for the fingernails to dig, to elicit the tiniest stirrings of soreness. Hard enough for Edward to feel the intensity of the strain.
Then, even further away, the other hand located his back and squeezed the muscles of one shoulder in a wide, grasping pinch. Claws kneaded the flesh. Envy's legs shifted and Edward felt shoeless feet gracelessly pawing about the small of his back, his ass, and the backs of his thighs; toes poked and wriggled as if to confirm that yes, he was real and tangible and quite honestly there. Neither said anything throughout, but the touch was a parody of an embrace, a probing that could've been a hug if one allowed themselves to imagine it thusly; Ed didn't, because Envy didn't do that sort of thing and interpreting affection from shock would've been erroneous at best and stupid at worst. Still—
Still, in the instant when all pretenses shrugged themselves off, Ed leaned forward until not an inch's distance separated their faces. He could taste his lover's scent.
He must have already been mad if he now felt perfectly sane.
"This isn't the Gate," Envy said, and they never kissed, and his voice was different; softer, hushed, exotic, touched by the faintest trace of what Ed thought sounded to be an accent, but why? It was like he was in a trance, but he wasn't, and the knife which cut his words with frantic emotions had departed, and Ed knew (though he didn't know how he knew) that he was hearing him truly for the first time, as he sounded without anything but himself: without any emotion or trying or acting. "Are we alive?"
"More so than we've been in weeks, yeah," Ed answered. Keep talking. "You were asleep. You were dreaming, weren't you? You're awake now." I think. "Look, uh...some things happened while you were resting..."
"I can't be awake. You must be wrong."
Bizarre response, even for Envy. Ed tilted his head, looked at him, raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth and said, "No, you're awake. You were just having a really intense dream, is all. No wonder, after you saw the Gate. I'm having nightmares, too, same as I used to have, and probably getting worse—"
"No, you're wrong. You're wrong, Edward. I'm not awake. Ed, is that you?"
Maybe Envy was right. Maybe he wasn't awake. He certainly wasn't sounding very much like a person who was fully conscious and aware; perhaps trance hadn't been too far off the mark after all. And yet, it wasn't as though he was entirely off in his own little world; he was actually responding to Edward's comments in a manner which indicated that he understood the nature of them, and would a person in an altered state of consciousness be able to do that?
And then Ed felt it.
Like a breeze of paramnesia, déjà vu, a small but sudden onslaught of weird; this was the disturbing but not altogether uncommon incident of feeling as though an insignificant, utterly trivial bit of nothingness held another meaning—possibly a sinister meaning, at that. This was looking at an object and thinking the object was looking back at you, or interpreting sentience and malice in the negative spaces and the shadows; unseen, lurking, unsuccessfully dispelled by the knowledge of it's only my imagination.
Edward was ready to dismiss his heart-seizing moment as another manifestation of his oncoming mental illness, but then he realized the source. It wasn't him. It wasn't anything he'd seen. It was something he hadn't seen, and it had been sitting plainly before him all this time, crouching and grinning and waiting for him to stumble across it.
Puzzle pieces meant nothing if weighed individually, but arranged and taken as a whole, an image could be formed.
The hand that squeezed his; the other that searched him, the probing touches, the expressionless visage and the blank eyes, Envy's cryptic words which meant so little and now so much.
And the whisper came.
"...where are my eyes?"
Envy—as Edward had realized with painful accuracy right before that question was posited—hadn't seen a thing since he'd woken up. He was blind.
"I'm not awake!" Envy went on, lost in his rambling. His reaction suggested that he had sensed Ed's fear and uncertainty; he lashed out like an idealist confronted with cynicism, hope met with point blank denial of a tomorrow. Ed hadn't found the words for him, the words he so clearly needed. Ed hadn't found the words, and it didn't take a genius to know that Envy was hurting. "Don't lie to me. Don't fucking lie to me. I'm not; I can't be, 'cause I was seeing. I was seeing him die. I was seeing him die. Goddamn, I—this is me dreaming. I was awake before! I saw you, I saw you, I fucking saw you, and you had your arms and I—"
"We'll find some way to get you fixed," Ed answered, on instinct, because he had no other words. A solution had already come to his mind in the form of a memory of a mechanical eye, but how to... "It's all right!" He yanked his hand away from Envy's tightening, hurting grip and grabbed Envy's shoulders, wrestling the thrashing, whining homunculus into submission as all thoughts dashed away. "Stop it, stop! You're going to hurt yourself, idiot!"
Yes, he was going to hurt himself, to say nothing of what he might do to Edward. But Envy had succumbed to wild panic, blinking again and again and lifting his hands such that Ed was struck with the fear that the fool was going to jab his unseeing eyes out. A flash and Ed sucked in a breath and lunged forward, climbing onto the seat and pushing down hard, pinning as best he could with his knees and trying to catch the flailing arms. Ed's hand closed over one wrist and he thought he'd managed to stall any further outburst, as there followed a second of frightening calm.
Then, a white blur of forearm struck Ed across the face, and he toppled backwards, head colliding with the back of the seat in front of him.
Well, this felt suspiciously akin to old times.
Edward lay there, stunned, pain blooming in his temples, eyes watering a little, hands clutching at empty air. He'd bitten down on his tongue and it throbbed. He raised a hand, gingerly touching the side of his face as he waited for the sharp pain to numb itself over; it did, and in the meantime, he made no effort to move. The space between seats was minimal, enough so that his ankles were still on Envy's seat; Ed had collapsed into a deformed "u" shape, though his ass hadn't quite dropped low enough to touch the ground. Miserable reminder of his height, that.
Naturally, now that Ed was no longer making any effort to restrain him, Envy had stopped struggling altogether. He kept blinking stupidly, as if he could blink malignant glass shards from his eyes and make himself see again. As Ed looked on, annoyed but not enraged (and really, for once, he couldn't exactly blame the Sin for his reaction; flailing was not a hyperbole where sudden blindness was concerned), Envy knuckled his eyes, wiped his face, shifted and stretched and brushed at his hair with his fingers and patted his skin and made little mewling sounds that became the rasps of one breathing hard and trying to suppress one's whimpers. There and then, he was one shaking, noisy little puddle of surprise, horror, and anguish. Watching Envy's chest rise and fall, abdomen trembling, Edward made a bet with himself that any minute now, fear would be exchanged for hatred. The coldly scientific side of Ed's personality—possibly a defense mechanism in its own right during times like this—deemed this to be a case study in classic Envy: transmute distress to hatred and rage, the more simplistic and palatable emotions.
Not amazing, really. Understandable, even; some humans did the same. But as Ed watched the predicted switch in body language and facial expression, he couldn't help but wonder for just how long Envy had been following this routine.
"The Gate...the fucking Gate...no, no, the Gate didn't do this. Didn't. I'm sure of it. God...Goddamn. I got out of the damned thing. I remember looking down..." Envy lowered his head, holding out his hands as if he were now staring at them. He worked his jaw back and forth, a thoughtful motion Ed had employed himself many times before (now why was he noticing similar body language between the two of them, of all things?), then scowled, brows knit. He was flushed and breathing heavily, wild hair thrown over his shoulder and tossed in such a manner that a couple of stray spikes ran in front of his eyes, high-lighting purple with a green foreground. The effect was striking. From his vantage point, looking up at Envy and letting the last of his pain subside, Ed marvelled quietly at how piercing those eyes were, sightless or not. "I saw my hands. I saw my fucking hands! And you...saw you. Touched you. That was real, wasn't it? Was that part of the dream?"
Before Ed could answer, Envy shook his head and continued (presumably more to himself), "No, fuck, it couldn't have been. No way. It was too real. You had two arms. You still have two arms, don't you?"
"Of course I do. Didn't you feel them when I took hold of your shoulders, or were you too busy smacking me in the face to notice?" Ed grumbled. He lifted his arms, stretching them behind his shoulders and easing backwards until his legs slipped to the ground. Once he had his feet beneath him, he stood up slowly and stretched the ache from his muscles. "You saved me. I was going to ask you why you did that, but I guess now's not the right time."
Ed brushed his bangs aside and leaned forward, assuming a position that closely resembled the one he'd had before he'd been knocked over.
He'd never been any good at tending the sick and injured; that was really the Rockbells' territory more so than his, and even when he and Al had been younger and Al had incurred injuries—or when Ed had given him injuries during their rougher fights—Edward had sent him the way of their mother for care. He felt as though he would be wrong not to give Envy some immediate succor, but he didn't know what that entailed. An examination? A hug? No, hugging was inappropriate. That wasn't very masculine and more to the point, they didn't have that sort of a relationship and Envy would regard him with contempt if he tried to be saccharine or physically affectionate. He would fret and regard himself with contempt for that, too. Bad enough how he'd acted that night in the train car, when he'd thought Envy was dying. He couldn't just...well... what would Al do? No, that wasn't the right question. Al brought home sick cats and coddled people. It wasn't in Ed's nature to act that way. He needed to do what felt natural to him, and what felt natural to him was further investigating the situation that had now presented itself.
Envy sat there, unnervingly still and quiet but for his awkward, laboured breathing. He had taken to leaning sideways, stretching his legs as far as they would go between the seats and hunching, knuckles pressing down on either side of him, shoulders forward, giving a sort of ape-like pose. His bare belly seemed to fold over on itself as he slumped further. Envy drank a deep breath which caused his chest to swell and the area between belly and chest to look sunken; ribs appeared as borders, worryingly fragile if one went by their sight alone; the territory within them seemed soft, pitted and drawn inwards.
Ed looked away and wished that Envy would sit up straight.
"Strange... Sosostris said the Gate made you new again, but it must not've done so completely. You're still warm, and you smell like you did before, different, and... ah..." Hoping Envy wouldn't notice, Ed reached a hand behind the homunculus's head, gently feeling around the nape of the neck to inspect something he thought he'd seen earlier. Sure enough, his touch confirmed that the undercut Envy had always worn had begun to grow out a little. The short hair was becoming a nest of fluff, still looping like a young child's curls. If Envy didn't cut it away, it would eventually grow to match the rest of his hairstyle, giving him a thicker head of hair (and, probably, a headache or two). Weird. Very weird. Why would a homunculus's hair grow? Was that supposed to happen?
Ed refrained from noting his observation, instead placing his fingertips on Envy's temples as he regarded the clear, useless eyes that were currently staring straight ahead into nothingness. Before Edward could move closer, Envy flinched at the touch and gasped.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" he growled. "You're not a goddamned doctor! You can't just look at me and tell me what's wrong, and you can't just touch me and tell me what's wrong, so back the fuck off and keep your hands away from me before you lose what the Gate just gave you."
As if you're in any position to be making threats, Ed thought but didn't say. Envy's threats were all empty these days, and they had been for quite a while, as he lacked the power and the energy to do much about his eternal ire—something for which Edward had a measure of sympathy, being exhausted of Munich and the world as well. If it made Envy feel better to have his words, his last defense, then there was no sense in trying to argue with him.
"I want to go back to sleep," Envy declared, shuddering hard. "I could see in my dreams. Why the hell did you wake me up, huh? Just to fuck with me? I'm so tired of it. I'm so tired of..." He sat up and arose. Ed moved aside for him as he stumbled into the aisle, taking hold of the seats and using them like crutches to swing to and fro from.
The sentence remained unfinished, though Ed could guess that the final word was hurting, or perhaps more to the point, living. You might've been what Envy had intended to say, as well.
The real answer, Ed suspected—though not what Envy would've ever admitted aloud—was myself.
"I woke you up because I want to tell you what's going on before we get to where we're going. Look—" poor choice of a word, but there was none better "—a lot has happened, and you're not the only person with problems. I'm not feeling so well myself. You can either help me so that we can resolve both our problems, or you can lie around wallowing in self-pity. Your choice, but if you take the pity route, I'm not going to help you indulge in it. I'll just walk off and sit on my own. Is that what you want? Otherwise, you need to talk to me, and I need to talk to you. So take a fucking seat, okay?"
"Talk to you? Hah. I have more of a mind to kick you in the fucking head. You little shit; what happened to talking when I said I wanted to? Why is it always you calling the shots, eh? Why do you always get to decide every fucking thing that happens to me? It's either by your rules or not at all, isn't it, Elric?" Envy, now in the aisle, gesticulated, flailed, stumbled and seethed. Even though his eyes were unfocused, the look of bitterness was unmistakable, one Ed had seen directed at him too many times to remember. "You're such an arrogant prick. You're such a...control freak. You megalomaniac, you bastard, you—"
His face changed as he tripped, collapsed, then grabbed desperately at one of the seats on the opposite side. Envy only succeeded in banging his head on its edge before falling face first onto the ground.
In other circumstances, the accident might have been amusing, particularly since it occurred mid-tirade.
Saying nothing, Ed walked into the aisle, pulled Envy up by the arm—winning the obligatory "Fuck off! Don't touch me!" in the process—and shoved him into the seat he himself had formerly been occupying. "Did I hurt your feelings before? Well, this is me being tough on you and telling you to get over it, just like someone should've told you a long time ago to get over a lot of things."
He set Envy upright, still holding him, then released him long enough to sweep his hair away from his face. The confusion he saw glaring back at him was nearly tangible, edged with an absurd sense of self-righteousness that drove Edward crazy with its illogical nature. "Unless you want to apologize to me for every bad thing you've ever done to me, including killing me, then you're not getting an apology. I apologized to you earlier, once, for something very important, and that's the last time I'm giving you what you won't give in return. Equivalent exchange, y'know?"
"Of course you didn't hurt my feelings," Envy snapped. "There's no way you could hurt my feelings, because I don't give a shit what you think in the first place. I never have! But I see now what I knew all along, that you were just lying about having compassion for me and respecting me and all that other—"
"Having compassion for you isn't the same as having respect. I can have compassion for anyone who suffers, but respect has to be earned. I wasn't lying; it's because I have compassion for you that I'm not going to put up with your bullshit. You want me to pity you and feel as sorry for you as you feel for yourself? Maybe I was falling into that trap for a while, but not any more, Envy. It's time you learned how to walk. When you pick yourself up, then you can have my respect."
Anger wove its web through his nerves, cold and fresh and familiar. It was a difficult anger to explain or understand, because Ed knew he really shouldn't be so mad at Envy for doing what he always did, especally since it was typical, expected, but no, he was mad, because he knew now that Envy had it in him to be a real person, but like a stubborn ass, he kept refusing to just grow up already, and it was maddening! Surely, Edward thought to himself, he'd never been this much of a hassle for adults or his parents or his superior officers or his brother. He wasn't happy to see that Envy was going through what he was going through, but he also wasn't going to let him isolate himself and drown in self-inflicted sorrow and one lie after the next. He could do the same thing, given his own predicament, but he wasn't, and he wasn't going to let Envy have the luxury of misery, either.
Part of being an actual person was getting thumped upside the head when you did wrong; homunculi might have been allowed ridiculous temper tantrums ad nauseam, but humans were not. Ed knew it wouldn't make much sense to defend Envy as he'd done, then excuse his bad behaviour as being under the file description of 'irascible homunculus' and let him off the hook. If one had the right to be defended, then one had the right to be criticized. This was a welcome from humanity, whether Envy's body mirrored the invitation or not.
"You. You. You make me crazy!" Envy insisted, snarling and jabbing his finger at the air in an attempt to point. "You drive me fucking crazy!"
"You drive yourself crazy! I keep you sane, but it just feels crazy to you because you're so crazy that you don't know what sane even feels like and I...and I'm going to be at the same fucking place soon."
That, Edward somehow knew, was the end of that line of conversation.
It was something in the way Envy's expression shifted, something indefinite that he could only read because the two of them had been in close proximity for so long now. Defeat. Or acceptance. One in the same, but for the presence of that selective, evanescent grace which transformed loss to win and gave strength to surrender.
Envy went silent. Ed took a seat next to him.
They both knew it was over. Envy spent himself in anger as some spent themselves in lust; his feelings on the matter of what had happened prior to entering the Gate were obvious, painfully obvious, hurt and raw like an open wound, but Ed couldn't give him an answer he would accept. He didn't fully understand why he had reacted as he had; it had made perfect sense at the time, but he couldn't for the life of him explain his reluctance now, nor why he was still reluctant, and more to the point, he was defensive of his right to be as reluctant as he wanted to be. Why should he be anything else? Envy was the same way, but much more extreme; how could he of all people resent Ed for doing the same damned thing he did? It wasn't right. Not that that had ever stopped the homunculus from doing anything before, but well, it wasn't.
Ed was through with justifying himself, primarily because he didn't have to. He was the good one. He had always been the good one. It was ludicrous to accept blame, to blame himself, when sometimes he really did feel like he was the only one here trying, no matter what Envy claimed. It was just fucking exhausting, and he was a guy; he didn't do that whole emotional, romantic, sensitive thing.
But privately, he did feel somewhat guilty, only because guilt was so familiar and so easy to wear. When he had an empty space void of emotion, guilt was a fast-flowing river eager to pour into the basin. Guilt led to self-pity and self-pity was an indulgent, lousy feeling; it transformed someone else's pain into one's own pain as a coping mechanism, and as such, it was inherently selfish. Taking the burden of someone else's pain also took the responsibility of dealing with that pain, assuaging it until one's self could be contented, regardless of whether the source problem had been eliminated. It pissed Ed off to catch himself succumbing to guilt and using it as a means of not dealing with issues. One look at Envy revealed that self-pity was assuredly not the best method to a good life. Nevertheless, he didn't want to deal with this issue right now, not when he had so many more important dilemmas on his mind. Later, then.
"We're on a train, though you've probably figured that out already. We're going to Neuschwanstein Castle, wherever that is. Basically, if you want the nice version, we've been invited, and if you want the version I prefer, we've been kidnapped."
"You let this happen," Envy accused, meeting Ed's expectations perfectly. He sounded hollow, winded; his usual anger had been evaporated by one thing or another, leaving the words flat, whiny, and bruised. "They're going to kill me. They're going to fucking cut me open and experiment on me. They'll want you alive for your mind, but they'll put me in pieces and once they've taken what they want, I'm gone. I'm less than a fucking lab rat to them, Elric, and you let me end up here. You might as well have locked me in the goddamned cage yourself. I'll never forgive you for this."
"You'll never forgive me for anything. You said so, when we met."
"Then maybe you're the blind one," Envy said, and that didn't meet Edward's expectations.
He shot Envy a sideways, surprised look, though Envy couldn't see it, and his head wasn't turned in Ed's direction anyway. Envy faced the aisle as if he sensed that Ed was staring at his back, waiting for him to elaborate upon the previous remark. No elaboration came, and Ed supposed it was foolish to think he might say more. From his angle, he could look over Envy's shoulder and watch as Envy pressed his hands together, rubbing them before patting his top and his arms and the cloth around his hips. He beat at the ground with his feet as a human might do when sitting around bored or stirred by the tune of music, though Envy's kicking was hard and insistent. The way his hands moved...it was as though he were re-discovering his body, the body he had made for himself, and perhaps he was. It was again the body he'd originally desired, down to the attire, and his hands stroked the unmarked white flesh as though he were rubbing oil and lotion onto the skin, twisting and cupping and exploring and marvelling and lamenting the reality of his continued existence, stone-replenished and whole, not a single scar outside and a million scars within.
"Soon, I'll wish I were." Ed ignored—or tried to ignore—the twinge of arousal he felt at the sight. Now, being a teenager with a libido (sex!), and one who'd had sex (sex!) at that, he was beginning to regard the penis as a treacherous foe (sex!). Sometimes it reared its head whether you wanted it to or not—and quite literally, at that. But Envy was another person, not his hand; another person, a male, his enemy. Evil. Yes, that was a good qualifier, too. Evil. Social etiquette generally advised against feeling up evil people. "That transmutation I performed caused me to get stuck to the Gate somehow. My mind. I don't know what's going on, not exactly, but I'm starting to see things that aren't real. Not much yet, but I think it's going to get worse. She—Madame Sosostris—said something is wrong with the Gate."
"And you believe her, huh? Just like that? You really think a person who fucking kidnaps you has your best interests at heart? Don't be an idiot. You're making the same mistake you made with my master when she told you not to do alchemy."
That stung, but Ed refused to take the bait. "She might be lying, but do you think it's smart to risk it after what happened last time? Not to point out the obvious, but we nearly died. Again."
Envy didn't turn, but in an instant, he'd bristled so thoroughly that Ed wouldn't have been surprised to see his hair stiffen into true spikes. His shoulders went rigid as he hunched over, picking at his toes as if his feet had recently become very interesting. "You WOULD have died if it weren't for ME, you smug bastard. How about you repeat that part? I'd like to hear it. Go on. It was your fault. You wavered in front of the Gate. You don't waver in front of the Gate. It takes advantage of people who do that. The Gate has always been that way. That's what you get for rushing off like a jackass when I was trying to talk to you."
"No. Something was different. I felt it. The Gate wanted me, and it wanted you. Maybe especially you. You're a product of the Gate and you still have the Stone inside of you. I think it wanted you back, and I think it wanted to use me as the bait to hook you with. It almost worked, too, but we overcame the Gate, and we can overcome our current problems if we can stop arguing long enough to figure everything out."
"What's there to figure out? We're prisoners. The Stone is gone. You're losing your mind and you're too much of a pussy to try using alchemy again. Well, I can't fucking try alchemy. And I'm blind. I can't see! So. What's your bright idea, Ed? I'm waiting."
"The Stone isn't gone. Or, well, it is, but it's not beyond our reach. What I mean is, it hasn't been destroyed. It wasn't destroyed when Al gave me my life back, and it wasn't destroyed when you did the same. It's still in you, and you're still tied to the Gate, right? I bet you have a better view of it than I do. I'm stuck in tunnel vision, but you? You see more. That night...you implied it. What do you know, anyway?"
Since Envy still refused to turn around, Ed reached out and placed his hand on his back, directly between the shoulder blades. The homunculus tensed as though he were going to yell, then possibly turn and punch Edward in the face, but to Ed's surprise, he never moved beyond the predictable flinch.
"I know that I hate you, so don't fucking touch me," Envy replied, only after a number of quiet seconds had passed.
"Oh, yeah? Funny. I seem to remember you asking me to touch you before." This wasn't good. Wasn't good at all. Edward could feel his customary temper already starting to get the better of him, and he knew he was about to react stupidly, but he felt as though he were watching his actions from a divide on the other side of which stood his sanity, motioning for him to stop, abort this behaviour now, but once the roll down the hill had begun, there was no stopping it. Driven by whatever it was that had given him the first push, Ed reached over Envy's shoulder and let his fingers dance down his chest, pressing his fingertips onto the black top and brushing past a nipple. "You didn't say no. You asked for it. You always ask for it."
A growl, louder this time, more like a roar, and Envy swung to face Ed, landing his foot—then his knee—in the other's gut. Before the pain had even had time to sprout fully, Ed lunged forward and Envy lunged forward and they fell off the seat, tumbling to the ground in a heap. If the Gate had given Edward his limbs back, it had returned a shadow of Envy's former strength, and when Ed tried to pin his arms, he was rewarded with yet another knee to the stomach. This time, the pain flared and tears welled in his eyes; he scowled at the familiar sensation and gritted his teeth, struggling to clamp down on Envy's arms.
Great. He probably thought he wanted to rape him, when really, he'd had no particular intention in mind besides a hope of pissing him off. Stupid Elric temper.
He opened his mouth to yell for Envy to settle down, thinking ahead of time that it would be futile. Envy leaned upwards, straining, body a twisting white mass of sinews running beneath Edward and tickling and stroking in rippling waves of skin, skin, tight silky fabric that felt like softened, polished skin. Muscles, hair...hair falling into his mouth as the pretty face contorted into a grimace and Envy leaned up, elbows on the ground, breathing roughly and smelling so new and clean and pure that Ed thought he could inhale him. So there and then, feeling the dig of Envy's nails in his arms, Ed didn't know if Envy intended to kiss him or kick him again, or both, and then it, he—
—a flash of—
—like light but not no couldn't be light there was no source but he saw (felt) something bright hot bright flaring overwhelming—
—-hurt so much—
—-blood war world peeling away and death—
—-shadows hurt betrayal—
"Fuck," Ed ground out, throwing his head back and gasping at the sheer force of the memories, the feelings; they hit him like a hammer to the skull and he blinked back tears and gasped, and beneath him he heard Envy panting, and when Ed opened his eyes and looked down again, he saw that Envy looked flushed and breathless, winded, like he'd just been fucked, as a matter of fact. He blinked as if he could see and then took the opportunity to ease his weight out from beneath where Ed held him down; in a matter of seconds, the vision of hatred on his face had been replaced with evanescent wonder and the same inquisitive curiosity Ed thought he had glimpsed before.
"You're alive," he said, oddly, as though there had been some previous reason to suspect otherwise. Edward noted the peculiar comment, but his head was spinning and he was still reeling hard from the blow to his mind, leaving him too dizzy to inquire into the meaning of Envy's remark. "I felt you. What the fuck was that? I felt you. Are you there? You can't be gone. You can't go. I hate it, fucking hate the dark, hate it so much you have no idea. You have no idea what it was like back then to be in there, in it—"
Nails on the back.
"—for him, waiting alone, alone in the dark, in the cage; Master said she'd be back but she didn't come for days or weeks or I don't know but he was alone like when he left him, and this man... on the train he made him hurt and bleed. Hates trains. Experiment, he said, an experiment, and then he poured, oh God, he cut him, burned him, open, skin fell off, shed, gone, bleeding everywhere and he said stay in the cage or else and it hurt and it hurt and hates trains...left them all alone, every one. Left ME alone. KILLED ME."
"Stop. Stop it!" Ed released Envy and sat up, covering his eyes with his hands as if he could physically blind himself to the surge of images and emotions. Light, darkness, sounds and shapes and feelings of pain and feelings of light and darkness and a great gulf that opened and opened and opened and was opening and that ate and ate and was never full and always hungry, always wanting; he didn't want it, didn't want any of this. He had enough problems of his own! These were not his problems! "It's not mine to bear. It's not my burden."
—eyes looking out, his eyes, his body, he knew he was himself but he wasn't because when he saw his hands they were different and then he knew they were meant to be different because it didn't hurt this way because he was not I but Him or Her and it was all right for Him or Her to—
Like lightning, it struck them both again. Ed saw the flash inside of him with something that was not his eyes, glimpsed the horror Envy wore as the memories entered, one after the next, and Ed understood, watching them, that Envy was remembering these things for the first time as his memories; acts so depraved and perverse that Ed was floored again at seeing them, feeling them, even if it came only in passing and in peeks. He contained his urge to retch and saw more, times and days and arms and legs and parts and bars, cages, fantasies played out to reality, rape and war and torturetorturetorture and use, abuse. Seen by different eyes and felt by different bodies and stored in one mind, opening now like a flower, but the petals were falling off, burned away, ashes to the wind, and something deep inside had remembered, had known had hurt and filled with sadness that bled throughout the white pages of the book on his life, on—
it was me
he was me
she was me
Envy was sitting up by then, arms around his abdomen, elbows digging into his sides so hard that Ed could see red marks forming and vanishing from where he was hurting himself with the insistent strength of his touches. "I hate the dark," he repeated, seemingly mindless of Ed's presence. "We all hate the dark. Can't see anything, hear anything, except his feet on the ground, leaving, as he left us, and the others who hurt and cut and burned and killed and raped and she can't take it anymore, doesn't want it anymore, no, no, please don't put that there, he'll be a good boy he promises, no please come back and let her out of this cage; unlock it please, oh please, crying, please don't leave him alone, come back, Father—"
And then he burst into tears and his shoulders shook as he sobbed, then laughed, as Ed looked on, unmoving, because he had nothing to say, because it turned his stomach but he couldn't get too close, couldn't stand seeing and feeling and experiencing everything firsthand; he wasn't ready for that, didn't want to know Envy that well. If he had wanted that, he wouldn't have dodged Envy's earlier attempt to talk, and he knew it, and he was sorry, somewhat, but he couldn't reach out just yet. Not yet. So his hands were by his sides as he thought to himself how incredible it was that Envy had used his shapeshifting powers to bury memories between the pages of identities; he'd hidden from himself for years and years, forgetting himself over and over, forgetting most of the severe incidents of suffering, but something deep had never forgotten, had held tight every pain and they manifested outwardly in his rage, rage over he knew not what. Blanket rage.
Blanket rage because it was his only blanket, only comfort, because it wrapped the place where his soul wasn't, soothed the hurt to the tune of every broken bone and punctured vein and artery and nonono Ed didn't need to be thinking of these things, not when his own mental state was hanging in the balance, not when anger seemed easy and his hands said they were more than ready and willing to kill and shut up, shut up, he screamed inside, and shoved back.
"It's over," he said, hands on the sides of his head. "It's over, Envy. It's over. Those things will never happen again—"
—object of sexual use, because it was convenient, made money, form changing—
—-scientific experiment because homunculi didn't feel (she said); yes, go ahead, and the chemical that on a train
like this very train
while he (she, I)
burned, even to the eyes, whose lining—irritated—ruptured, leaked, toxic
scientist, wanted to make a chimera, and she said, go ahead, give it a try; all in the name of experimentation, and—
then in wars, wars, killed again, impaled, death everywhere, but he wanted it
yes they should all die for laughing, enjoying themselves, mocking him by
Ed thought he was going to be nauseous. The room swung and shook and he felt a great rumbling that spread through his mind and body and through all the spaces around him, roaring like an earthquake. He'd gotten too close, somehow triggered the connection, tripped a wire and released memories, and this was like the Gate pouring into the world again, just as Sosostris had warned it had. Only this time, it wasn't physical—merely mental—even if his insides were shaking and quaking and wanting to leak out of him in one form or another. But he had his own memories, his own experiences; he could fight back. He could win. "Envy, it's over. It's in the past. It's all in the past, and the past can't come back and haunt you. Even if it does, it's not real."
He got his feet beneath him and rose to a crouch, finding himself nearly floored by another wave of emotions; like wind, they blew past him, stirred him so hard it was almost a bodily effect, as if he were literally being blown away. "It's not real! Not now! Not here! Not for you and not for me. Just tricks of memory, tricks of the Gate; they want us to go crazy, probably, but nothing bad is happening. We're just..."
Just stuck, on a train, prisoners held fast by wills not their own; going into the unknown, going mad, becoming Real, hurting and crying and screaming and laughing and thinking and loving and trying to live and Envy had to understand that, had to understand that he had a chance for life now and maybe he could cling to it and they could do their best but not like this, not like this, and he thought it, thought it as hard as he could, until there was thunder in his head, storm clouds and wind and lightning, and he knew he was fighting with Envy, with everything of Envy, though they weren't even touching. He had to be strong enough for this. There was no other choice, not right now.
"Oh, Edward!" Envy laughed, cackled, and his voice was broken and tears were still streaking down his face; his teeth were many and white and the canines were so sharp such that when he grinned, Ed saw them; lights flashed inside of his mind and outside, catching on the pale surfaces. Old. Ancient, that sneer. "I'm not done yet! I've not even begun! I'll lay this world to waste—this world and the one we came from. No one has ever fucking seen what I can truly do and I have nothing to lose anymore, not a goddamned thing, and with no master to answer to—"
—when the Gate gives me my powers back, and it will, because my will is stronger than the Gate's (and I proved that already!), I'll turn the world to ruin, destroy every city, every life, every human—
"No, you won't."
There was the eye of the hurricane and Ed felt it: calm air while everything raged on around him. He gripped the quiet and held it like a handful of sanity free from the chaos.
You have a master now.
[Yourself. Not me. You're your own master.]
You may be blind, but you're not stupid.
You may be in denial, but you know better.
If you pull me into this, so help me, I'll lay you to waste, Envy.
Stand up, goddamn you.
You can't see me, but I know you can hear me. I feel you feeling me.
I won't be tuned out!
(maybe I haven't been Real to you, but let me show you something that's Real to me...)
Memories; he had to keep his memories against him, close, tight, because they were all he had in this world where he determined his identity because he had no papers, no birth certificate, no friends and no one who could claim that yes, he was truly Edward Elric; only Hohenheim, somewhere, but inside, nothing but his memories to confirm that he had led this life he felt he had led. Memories of his mother, of Riesenburg, of Alphonse, of sunny days, of rainy days, of days when it rained and the sunshine shone through the clouds, through the rain, through time. A mother's smile, a mother's love, shining forever, her eyes, Alphonse, the Gate, a brother's love forged in pain and iron marked with blood, a brother untouchable and intangible but something, something worth living for, something worth trying for, happiness, hope, promise—
Optimism. Good times. Ed had them with him still; he had to keep them: thoughts of his drive, his perseverance, his belief that he could save his brother and himself, the fact that he had saved his brother and was working on saving himself; metal, Full Metal. He was named that for a reason and he remembered it and it was his lifeboat as the ocean of memories not his own filled the air around him like water, rising throughout the basin; Envy, a plea, a demand, "Envy, stand up. Do you feel what it's like to be Real? Can you feel it?"
He placed his hands over his mouth, pausing momentarily and inhaling sharply; he could hear his breaths, each one louder than the last. He felt sick, so fucking sick. How could Envy stand to feel these things? Even battling against them, Ed could hardly control the urges they filled him with; there was the urge to succumb, to hurt, to lash out at everyone and everything, the cool "revenge" lust settling into the pit of his stomach, and there was his good sense and decency rising up to make him disgusted with his own mind and heart for even briefly entertaining such thoughts. Nononono he would not, would not let this consume him, not when he had his own convictions, his own loves, meaning, meaning—
The red glow.
Though he was in the midst of rising from his crouch, he felt more like he'd just been filled with helium and was in the process of levitating away. Everything felt light, including himself.
Eye of the storm—an instant of crystal clarity in which the maelstrom slowed:
windows, night, train
(shaking) moving flickering)
Envy sat on his knees, shoulders slumping, head hung to the side as if a noose had broken his neck, eyes filled with tears, face a study in devastation, and looking at him from across the divide, Ed knew that face would haunt his nightmares for days to come. Years, if he lived that long.
"S-stop it!" Envy protested, lifting his head and shaking it furiously.
The glow appeared, then vanished once more; like wings might unfold from the back of a great bird, so did the light of the Stone seem to unfold from Envy's chest in feathers of red, only to withdraw as if startled by the sight of the world. The Stone winked at Edward, seeming to say, yes, here I am, but you can't touch me, nya-nya; then it was gone and Ed knew it was really gone for the time being. But that didn't matter right now. The Stone could be retrieved later, but if Envy went into a catatonic state, then it might never be recovered, and Envy looked as though he were going to scream; he reached up, covering his ears, then scraping at his eyes.
"I'm going to claw them out! I don't want your eyes. Take them back. Take them fucking back! Stop showing me these things! StopstopSTOP, you have no idea. Edward, Edward, I'm—" A muffled sob; long fingers over his mouth, but Edward heard the word in his mind. And then his eyes widened, as he literally could not believe what he felt, even if he never heard the words manifest themselves as such. Impossible. "Don't want these fucking tear ducts. Why did he make me with them? That fucking bastard. Her, too. She could've fixed me. Made me better. Why do I have these fucking tear ducts, Edward? I hate crying. It's so weak."
"That's bullshit. That's bullshit and you know it, Envy." This was it, Ed thought. He had to talk to him, make conversation with him; anything to keep him distracted long enough to close the distance between them. Anything to keep the memories and the emotions from swallowing him whole, pushing him over the edge. "I cry sometimes. I've cried plenty before and it's not weak. I don't care what you think. I-it's stress relief and you know what? It's a better goddamn stress relief than killing people. Y-you should've cried a few hundred more times and gotten your emotions out that way, you freak."
"Yeah, I have. You've been through a lot. And you have more anger than I can stand to feel. But if you could divorce your mind from that and think logically? You're destroying yourself. You want something, then you push it away. That's stupid. I'm here to tell you that's stupid, and I won't always be here. I can't always be here." He chewed his lip for a few seconds, then stopped and continued. "You know I'm leaving, going home to my brother when I can. We can't stay together forever. It's just...I can't. But if you'll let me, I can help you accept a second shot at claiming whatever life you have left. Your choice."
"You're abandoning me? No, you're not. I won't let you! I'll kill you first. You asked me why I saved you from the Gate; well, I'll tell you!" More laughter. Envy wrapped his arms around himself again and lowered his head, seeming to curl up as if entering a foetal position. He was sweating heavily, his long hair plastered to his skin; his lips were red from where he'd bitten them and his tongue in his haste to speak, and Ed was grateful not to see his eyes, as they'd been wild like nothing he'd seen before. All the same, he was on the verge of a breakthrough. He could feel it. In this raw, infantile state, something could be reached. Something was dangerously close to the surface. Ed felt it bubbling up... "I saved you because you're mine—mine to have and mine to own and mine to kill! All that happy shit in your head? I don't have that, and you never will again for as long as you live. It sickens me. It digusts me. You disgust me, thinking I actually care about you..."
"You disgust me for being such a bad liar. Is that all you have? Words? Well. Maybe I should show you what it means to act."
Indecision. Questioning. This was the break he needed.
On his feet in an instant, Ed lunged forward and tackled Envy.
The heated bubble of emotions burst.
Ed's touch had instigated the mental connection which bound them together. So too did it cut the ropes.
Only the sadness remained, like the smell of smoke that hung in the air after a violent fire—sadness over a life too long and too hard; no creature was meant to live for so many years. Immortality was not a gift to the flesh or the spirit. It was a curse, one Envy had lived with for longer than any being should live, and for a blind heartbeat, Ed considered clamping down on his throat and ending it all; the prospect was tempting, but impossible.
He and Envy were connected, and if that meant what Ed had taken it to mean, then he'd be ending his own life as well. He had too much to live for, too much unfinished business. Death would be giving up, even if it meant the satisfaction of Sosostris and her employer never getting a chance to use either Envy or himself. No, Ed wasn't ready for that yet. He had things to do. They both did.