Envy leaned against the closest chair and leered, arms folded across his chest.
"Your physical age is of no consequence. I know that stage of life when I see it. I found God during my own trying times."
He looked up, made eye contact with Envy. Those bright, pale blue eyes. And Envy did not move.
"During the smoky, misty years, when I felt the night would consume me, and I lay awake, contemplating, hoping. I was anxious. It's the time when you first realize that your dreams are out of your reach and that whatever you get in this world, it'll be what you have to settle for. And you can go far, but never as far as you thought when you were a child. It's crushing. Sound familiar?"
"Pfft. That shit is only true for humans."
"I found God when I saw the dark doors. It was one night, on the eve of a painful dream. You know the dreams whose bitter teeth are on you even when you wake from them."
"I realized I would never succeed in my goal of writing the novel I'd long intended to write. I knew—as you know you're standing there—that it was beyond my reach. But I saw God and I saw the devil and I realized they were one in the same."
Envy pushed his elbow off the chair and stood upright.
The silence between himself and the human felt as wide and deep as the ocean.
The light had changed. Honey thick summer sun crawled about the cozy rooms. The wooden floor and polished oak furniture shone; white spots amid the expanse of red-brown.
Envy glowered at the ground, head lowered. Dark hair fell around his face, brushed his cheeks; tendrils he saw out of his peripheral vision. The corners of his mouth curled downwards sharply; his eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed in a vicious scowl.
The expression Envy wore was the ugliest he could manage. When his lips peeled away to show his teeth, there were none who would think he was smiling.
"A devil named Dante," he said. The tone was scarcely above a whisper.
Mr. Neumann spread his arms as if parting them to give a wide embrace to some invisible person standing before him. Envy did not move, though he wondered if the gesture were meant to intimidate him. He had no idea, really. In the sunlight, he thought he could see every individual thread on the man's dark grey suit.
"Life on the other side of the dark doors. She talked with me. She still talks with me."
Envy's breath caught in his throat.
"You look at me with those angry, angry eyes—" A twisted snake smile slithered across that apathetic, ashen face. His eyes, Envy realized, had no life in them; they were twin will-o'-the-wisps, faux fire; like little ghosts where no humanity resided. "—but I came here, pretending, hiding in the light, so I could be charged with protecting you. I have. Don't you find it strange that no one ever bothered you and that boy when you were in the streets? Or when you were alone?"
"That was my doing. I…convinced others to leave you be."
For the first time, he indicated the guns that had thus far been concealed by his long, untucked suit jacket.
"You—" Envy managed to say, reaching for the only flimsy weapon within his reach. His hand struck the table and grabbed for the glass, but before he could touch it, he saw the draw of the guns in his peripheral vision.
There was no slow motion realization of what was to come.
There was only a draw, cross-handed, two guns, and Envy felt the first bullet sink into the soft flesh of his stomach, puncturing before pushing out the other side.
He did not drop. That glass—
Another bullet struck his ribcage; Envy felt the rib shatter.
This one lodged.
He heard himself utter something incoherent, a string of syllables, but his hand moved by instinct and caught—
—something, and then he hurled the something, and there was a cry of pain and indignation.
Envy dropped to the ground. Knees. Then he was on his stomach.
Dying was always like this.
Tiredness. Darkness would follow. Dying didn't feel good.
If Edward died, then who would cry for him?
The world blurred and faded out.
The first thing Envy felt, when Envy could feel again, was pain.
Somewhere dark. No more sunlight. No more table, dust, chairs. No more human.
Thirst. And hunger. But mostly thirst.
All he could think—besides that he was hurting—was that he wanted something wet in his mouth. Fluid. Because his mouth was deadly dry.
He coughed and—
—thick, wet, in his mouth. Stone fluid. Choking. He swallowed it down.
Mouth still dry.
"Well, it took—" Distant voice. Or was it distant, really? "—hmm. My watch says fifteen minutes. Bet you're used to your deaths being shorter than that, eh, Übermensch?"
This was not right.
Notes of panic threaded up Envy's spine, and it was only then that he realized he was lying down, twisted into some ridiculous, awkward position, and his back was sore and knotted. His entire spinal cord made its presence known by stabbing him with ache.
The world was a wobbly shadowy hollow thing surrounding him.
After his vision began to clear a little, Envy dimly became aware of the fact that he was seeing the world through one eye.
This was not right. And now he knew why.
He was not healing.
He wasn't healing!
And unless Ed was working a miracle, Envy knew he'd soon be faced with blindness again. Not to mention insanity, and a mental link…although that last part didn't sound so bad as all the others. Actually, it didn't sound bad at all. Not at the moment. Fuck! Why did he always get all the wrong things at all the wrong times, and the right things at the wrong times, and the wrong things and the right things, and the truly good things never at all? It wasn't fucking fair. The world was never, ever fair!
It—a thing, a finger—poked Envy's cheek, then ascended.
He could hear his breathing. Quick. Hard.
The finger pressed beneath his eyelid, scooped past the skin; and he heard that, too. Skin and bloody tissue splicking and—
Metal pressed nerves in the socket.
Envy screamed and screamed and screamed.
Hurthurthurthurthurthurtanditwas—metalmetalmetal in his EYE SOCKET and cold, COLD, coldcoldcold, get it out, he thought; tried to say. Out. Out. Out. Out. Owwwwwwwwwwwwww—
At least he now knew he still had a voice, although he thought he was going to pass out from the pain. No words. Couldn't find words.
The bullet came out. Left Envy's eye and went into the man's fingers. He saw as much through the good eye.
Fuck you, he muttered. Or thought he muttered. But either his energy failed him or his tongue did; nothing left his mouth but a weak groan, and his tongue was again covered with viscous goo. Bad. Very bad. He wasn't used to being so deprived of energy. Fuck you, he thought, and he tried to put venom into it.
I'm gonna fucking kill you.
In the frighteningly quiet brown and red world, Envy felt the fingers return.
Sticky, warm, wet fingers. They plucked bullets from his ribcage, thigh, and spine.
"Excuse me?" Suddenly, the voice sounded very loud. Envy understood with a start that the bastard was leaning over him. A shiver of disgust twisted through his form. Good. He wanted to feel disgust. Hatred. Scorn. Anything. He wanted to feel anything. Anything but this nebulous weariness.
"—on mahf stahmach. Down." He was bound in some way or another, though he wasn't sure with what. He could just tell that a texture was on his wrists, holding them together. Ankles, too. Cutting into his skin. He swallowed. "Shot me when I was down. Unbelievable fuckin' bastard."
Envy was certain that good old Gustaf had shot him when he'd been down; how else could one explain the bullet in his back? At no point could either gun have managed such an angle when Envy was standing or on his knees, facing him. Envy actually laughed, or attempted to. The most he could seem to produce was an empty heh. Unbelievable fuckin' bastard. Envy almost had to admire the fucker. Outright nastiness and sleaze were among the few aspects of humanity he really understood, and anyone who could rival him in either won his grudging respect.
Didn't mean he wouldn't maim and kill the prick once he got the chance, though.
It was difficult to figure out what the fuck had just happened to him. He'd been shot. He knew that much. Any idiot would've known that much. But fuck. Why were there holes in him? How the fucking hell had a bullet wound up in his eye? What the fuck did that asshole have in his fingers? Something metal. Something that hurt. A scalpel?
Most importantly: why the fuck wasn't he healing?
Envy's senses had begun to return a little. He blinked his good eye, wishing the damned room would resolve itself around him, but its unwillingness to solidify seemed to indicate that it was probably as poorly lit as it seemed to be, and that his vision wasn't tricking him after all. Still, there wasn't much in the way of forms or range; just an empty dark patch where sometimes something (fingers) would move close enough for their alien warmth to unsettle him. And with them they brought that cold thing. That thing that hurt.
And then more pain hit.
Or, rather, Envy thought he became aware of more pain.
He winced and twisted like an animal caught in a snare. Urgent shivers and staccato bursts of whimpers tore across his skin and past his lips.
Fuck. It was nauseating. Dizzying. Holes had been dug into his thigh, his spine, his eye, his abdomen and his rib—as if long fingernails had scratched and scratched in methodical circles to scoop the bloody flesh away.
On the ground. With holes in his body. And not healing. He was no better off than a human.
Though somehow, he hadn't died yet.
Envy shifted and keened, pulling against his bonds as he tried to roll himself onto his stomach. Awkward, jerky movements.
The onslaught of pain that followed was so intense that for a blinding second, he was sure he was going to pass out again.
"Fuck," he breathed; his voice trembled and his mouth was so parched that he could hardly recognize his own hoarse timbre. He wished he could just fucking roll over and press his face to the ground. He wanted to push his cheeks to the cool floor and let the tremors roll over him. He wanted to pass out, and yet, he didn't. Because even though it would have killed the pain, it would've left him without awareness or knowledge in this hot, black place.
"You will heal. It will simply take longer than you're used to. You're already healing. I must say, I got a pretty good shot in on your spine. I'm surprised you can move your legs already."
Envy writhed and shuddered and cursed and moaned; his injured eye throbbed cruelly. He wanted to lift his hand, to touch it and rub at the aching, itchy, bleeding thing, but he could not, and any attempt to do so resulted in his bindings (chains, they must've been chains) chafing his skin in cold bites.
Throb. Throb. The false blood in him felt thick, heavy. Pulsating. He thought he could see his veins in his eye or in his mind's eye; swelling and pumping. Red lines.
Burst capillaries. Shattered bones. Torn arteries. Years and years of death. A cycle that never ended.
"Why?" the man's voice sounded inquisitive. Inquisitive. As if the question were just so absurd. "Why did I shoot you, you mean? Many reasons. A man named Friedrich Nietzsche theorized the existence of something called the Übermensch, or super-man. I have cause to believe—"
Envy's teeth chattered as he felt a hand on his back, pushing him upwards, as well as another arm wrapping around his abdomen, pulling him towards a sitting position. It quickly dawned upon him that he was being cradled like a fucking child, held in the arms of his enemy; he tried to thrash, but couldn't, and instead he ended up emitting a long, wavering groan of pain, anger, and indignation. Fuck.
Warm air against his cheek.
"—that this is you. You are the next step of human evolution."
A hand wiped his cheek. Envy hissed at the touch, feeling something wet (his eye…must've been his eye) as it was swept off his skin. Patronizingly delicate caress.
"To advance the human race, I must see to it that your limits are tested. In general, you must be tested, and well, being a human myself, I also owe it to the human race to see to it that you are contained, broken in. Behavioral research. Studies. Tests. She told me to prepare you and ensure your servitude. I hope, if you are at all logical, that you are preparing yourself mentally for the life you will now lead."
The laughter boiled inside Envy; rising and shrill. Manic.
He had been here before. Not in this world, but in this place. This was it. The same old cycle. The old hurts. The old lifestyle. Torture, murder, war, death. All those beautiful little deaths; theirs and Envy's own.
Civilization was a lie; such a lie. From the villages of the plains to the buildings in Central to this castle high above the world, civilization could be peeled aside to reveal something ugly—something with which Envy was all too well acquainted. War. Hurt, brutal and deliberate. Torture. Pain. Death. Centuries later and he hadn't moved at all, had he? He may as well have still lingered beneath that killing sun, amid the scrawny trees, hearing the fires burning in the distance and the crying of emaciated children.
Oh, the things he had seen in his many years! Wrists shattered and eyes popped and noses slit or fingers shortened by several joints; people forced to eat their own flesh, or force-fed until their stomachs burst. Boiled. Frozen to death. Scalped. All kinds of different deaths in all kinds of different lands. Nothing was new. No way he could be hurt would be innovative to him. He had seen it all. He had done it all.
And still Envy had dreamt—had entertained the dream—of a different world. A feverish dream, of the sort whose claws are upon one even as they awaken. Yes. That, exactly.
But it had been merely a dream. A dream, and nothing more. This was the reality. Hell. The endless cycle of torture. He could never step outside of it, and he knew—oh, he'd always really known—that he was too far down to have any value to someone who had not descended so far as he.
Envy laughed. Hysterical. He was lost. Lost. Fool for ever thinking he could be anything else.
This was, had been, and would always be the sum of his world.
"I immobilized you by lacing my bullets with a chemical mixture which included ground up dust from the body that…well, I want to say the body that you were made from, but I suppose that may be an erroneous designation," Neumann went on in that casual, conversational tone, pausing as if to consider his words. "You know. The body that lived before it died, before you were made."
Envy jerked and spasmed. Horror, impenetrable horror struck him, covered him, sank its teeth into him. He could smell his blood leaking from his skin, from holes in his body; he was wet, sweaty and sticky, and he was shivering madly. If he were a human, he guessed he would've pissed and shat himself by now, but fortunately he was spared of those discomforts.
"M-m-my…" He could not finish. Could not bear to say it.
His body? The body he had never found on his own? It still existed, after three hundred and sixty-nine years? No fucking way. That wasn't possible. Fuck. No!
Inches away from insanity, from blindness; it would come back, it all would, he knew it. And then he'd be in the dark, with his past and his future and the smell of his hurt body and the intense sound of his breathing and the terrible taste within his mouth.
Envy could feel his clothes plastered to his skin. Hair clung to his face.
He made a fist and dug his fingernails into his palm, biting down against the pain and whining low in his throat. His hair was agitating his injured eye; tears were streaming freely from the other, running down his cheek, and he was coughing in between pants—ah-ha-ah-cauch-ahhh-h-h.
How did anyone get his body? How was that possible?
"I wish I could have just employed you in a more typical fashion. I do, though you'll not believe it. But I saw the look in your eyes. I had been warned to expect such defiance." Envy felt fingers against his hair, petting him as though were an animal, and he convulsed and snarled. Disgusting. Goddamned disgusting—"No, Envy. You would never have agreed to serve me, or her, or anyone else. Not for any price. I saw your eyes. That boy got to you, didn't he? Well, we'll have to fix that."
The hand continued to pat his hair with its loveless touch.
The other hand dropped to his wrist and held it delicately between thumb and forefinger.
"Behavioural modification. Tell me—"
Breath against his face. Envy knew if he turned, he would see the human looking down on him. He did not turn. But he could smell it; the scent of human. The scent of metal. And somehow he knew that in that burnt brown ocean surrounding him, there were innumerous instruments of pain.
Envy swallowed and solemnly stared at the ceiling.
Fortunate for him, he supposed, that his killer instincts had come out today.
"—who do you serve?"
Envy rolled his eyes (eye?), shifted, looked over—
—coughed up blood, and spat, full on, into his captor's face.
Then he swallowed and attempted to focus.
The man's expression did not entirely solidify; it was blurry, though Envy saw the splash of colour from where the stone fluid had landed. No smile. No frown. Not much emotion displayed at all. And then, a smirk. And a little laugh. And the hands dropped away.
Envy blinked, watching as the man wiped his face off with something black—which, he realized after a moment of dull spectatorship, was his very own removed glove.
Then, in perfect silence, he turned and vanished from Envy's line of vision.
The homunculus began to count silently in his head. Anything to distract him from that quiet metal tinkling he heard nearby; that sorting sound which tickled the delicate bones inside his ears. Thin little blades, and screws, and other instruments; he knew that sound. That sound was sharp.
One. Two. Three. Fuck. If he could only contact—
Four. Five. Gasp. Whimper. No. He wasn't weak. He'd survive. He'd been through worse.
Blood dribbled down his chin.
Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.
A voice cut through.
"It's a good thing I have many stones to revive you with, eh?"
And then the first blade plunged under the first fingernail.