"Are you not hot in all that black?" a voice called after her.

Lust turned mid-stride, regarding the speaker with a detached gaze, one of soulless indifference. Cool lavender eyes narrowed against the desert sun.

The man was Ishbalan, branded as a part of the cursed race by his swarthy skin and sanguine eyes. Otherwise, he was unremarkable. His stare was as neutral as her own, but his eyes were keen, hawk-like, and looking at him, Lust could not help but think he knew something of her true nature. She was familiar with the red scrutiny of another Ishbalan's eyes, similar yet different, close to her heart though far away; he was with her always, his ghost walking side by side with her animate but empty form. The sands of Ishbal had buried her lover's corpse, and the sands of time had lamented his memory, yet he haunted his paramour ever and anon.

He suspects; maybe he knows, she thought of the stranger. Had she possessed a soul, she might have felt self-conscious, uncomfortable, stripped and bared as carrion for the relentless predators of the desert. Instead, she could scarcely manage more than apathy. If he becomes a problem, I'll eliminate him, but I doubt that will be necessary. "I can handle the heat, stranger," she replied at last, smirking to frame the words, to lacquer her tone with the flirtation and decadence which decorated all of Lust's mannerisms. She wondered if men ever supposed how evanescent her smiles were, how trained her voice had become at parroting a need for hedonism; her sweet words dripped poisonous lies with the ease of a false prophet, though she knew she made for a more appealing figure to follow than a worn out old priest such as Cornello.

We all have masks to wear, Dante had said.

Lust resumed her walk, never looking back at the figure who had accosted her. Hot gusts scraped at her eyes, and the wind lifted her hair, tossing it about her as carelessly as if it were a mass of ink tossed by some playful child. Lior was a town of spirits, a barren place where the dead of Ishbal murmured with every gale. The longer Lust remained here, the more she came to dislike it. The memories never became so prominent elsewhere.

Children passed her as she walked down the street. Some giggled, some cupped their friends' ears and whispered into them, but most were fidgety and nervous about the darkening of days. Everywhere Lust looked, she saw corpses: corpses huddled in pale roughspun clothing, corpses shuffling uncomfortably, corpses preaching war and doom. She wanted to feel something for them, some empathy, but when she strained to grasp an echo of compassion, she found only shadows. Lately, her own emptiness had begun to consume her insides. Her missing soul had originally been nothing more than a lost tooth: a hollow which demanded continual poking and prodding. Now, it was a pit of sinking sand, a black hole devouring her thoughts, her emotions, her attention, her waking dreams. All existence had turned surreal, blurry and strange. Lust did not like it—this restlessness, this constant wandering and wondering, this feeling of moving inexorably toward doom.

Humans are such fools. They have a choice, and they still ruin themselves. I ruin myself without the choice.

She pushed her hair from her face, touched the tattoo above her breasts, and quickened her gait. Stilettos clicked against the broken ground as she made her way into the darkened abode, the weather-worn house of clay and thatch. The boy had scarcely moved since her last visit. Edward Elric lay on the cot in the corner of the room, hair efflorescing around his head like a pillow of gold, shoulder poulticed securely. Headstrong as ever, he had gotten caught in the crossfire and taken a bullet to his good shoulder, birthing a wound which had promptly become inflamed. Since Lior was now a town of so-called prophets and healers, two score men and women had been eager to treat the diminutive boy, but Lust had decided to take matters into her own hands by procuring the young alchemist for herself and her own needs.

Dante would have him be her little pet, but if I'm to go against her wishes now...

Lust stepped over the threshold, slowly easing up to the bed where her ward slept. War is a chess game, the fuhrer liked to say. It's all about securing the most valuable pieces. The beautiful homunculus had never been enchanted by war; rather, she deemed it the apex of human folly, the product of all shortcomings bred together, the hideous child of intertwined Sin...but even so, it was a monster she had known all throughout her life, death, and rebirth. Although she had never studied texts on the subject, never sought the knowledge, Lust knew how to play at war; manipulation was an old friend, and battles were foes she had come to tolerate and deal with as one would deal with a lost limb.

"Hello, boy," she said to the steamy sable room. Her arms folded at her waist and she tilted her head, smiling wantonly as she began her artful seduction, her routine play of desire; she could not help it, could not fight her nature. Humans drew breath because they had to, and homunculi lived out their names because they had to. Lust was a puppet made to beguile, controlling and controlled, lovely and wicked, sad and damned, a tragedy and a maker of tragedies. "How are you feeling, Edward?" She reached down, brushing a hand against his forehead. Warm, but not hot. Good. At least the infection hasn't gotten too bad. His shoulder was awfully inflamed, though; the injury had grown unsightly and swollen, but Lust trusted that he would be all right. He was Fullmetal, after all. "Don't mess with that poultice again," she instructed gently. "We don't want you losing both of your arms. Here, I brought something for your pain..."

She pulled a bottle from a pouch attached to her waist, opened it, and removed the poultice to spread some salve along Edward's wound. The balm was a cool clear substance made from the bright blue flowers which sprouted within many desert oases. He would go out of his way to find those flowers for give me bouquets of them if I so desired... Edward cried out as Lust touched his sore skin. At least he's not pretending to be asleep again. She had never failed to see through that ruse: the boy was only silent when awake; in slumber, he always cried out, but for what she could only guess...perhaps his brother, his mother, or the limbs which had been ripped from his little body.

"Let me go," he said icily, teeth clenched against the pain. He sat up suddenly, loose hair streaming behind him. Lust never hesitated, but instead continued applying the salve. Edward winced and began to pant, sweating heavily as his chest moved in and out. For an instant, the woman thought he might be foolish enough to thrash and aggravate his damage further, but he merely sat there, tense and obstinant, brilliantly stupid...and petulant as all hell, too. Her fingers must have come across a particularly vulnerable spot, for he suddenly jumped and shrugged his blankets off in the process. Beneath them he was half-nude, yet he shivered only in pain; chills, at least, were never a problem within the daylight hours of the desert.

"Let you go to what, Fullmetal Child?" Lust asked coyly. "Your death, perhaps?"

He fixed her with a stare. "I'm not going to make a Philosopher's Stone for you, so you might as well let me go already."

Humans were fools, and alchemists were the worst of the lot.

He was just as stubborn, Lust remembered. She was surprised to feel a tinge of sorrow within herself at the recognition. Once he decided upon something, there was no turning him aside. This boy is his image indeed. Are all prodigies so hopeless, so inclined toward their own destruction? Must the smartest men always seek martyrdom?

"I have to find my bro—"

"No, that's where you're wrong, Edward." She pressed a finger to his lips, silencing him. "For now, you have to rest and heal. Your brother is with the scarred man, and he's safe at present..." A derisive laugh followed the comment. "...well, as safe as either of you two boys have ever been since you decided to become a dog of the military."

Edward looked down. Fists formed and came down on both knees; metal and flesh, metal and flesh. Lust finished treating the wound, then went into the other room to make a fresh poultice. While she went about preparing it, she heard bed springs laughing raucously and for half a heartbeat she feared that the little idiot was about to make an escape attempt. The possibility seemed to increase the speed of her hands twofold, but when Lust returned to the front bedroom, Edward was simply sitting there, gazing out the window with his arms flung around his knees.

He gazed the same way...the exact same way...and we sat together and stared off into the distance. I remember...I remember...

She approached slowly, hesitating before reaching out and lightly tapping his shoulder. Standing behind him, she let her own eyes wander in the same direction as the boy's, but she was not surprised to note that she saw only grim Lior—a sunlit desolation on the verge of not existing. "You see something more, don't you?" she asked in a breathy whisper. When Edward did not answer, she added, sadly, "Once, I did, too."

While the alchemist transmuted the air to ice with no science more profound than silence, Lust scrubbed his wound with a warm, wet cloth, and began applying the new poultice. She felt very...strange, though whether it was a good strange or not, she could not say. She had no soul to help her decipher any of the delicate nuances of human emotions; only the extremes—anger, hate, love, joy—made sense to her, and this was none of those. The mere presence of a new sensation made her uncomfortable, wary. (Alchemists' nails are better than my own, and this one's fingers are in me, ripping out my memories...) Her throat was dry, and a kind of pensiveness threatened to overtake her. "Make the Stone for me, Edward," she implored, swallowing and struggling to maintain her cool composure as she bent over and carefully pushed his hair away from one ear. "Then you can go back to your brother. Think about that...and remember...remember that you never had a choice..." (In hell, neither the damned nor those who damn them are given liberties)

"I can't. I couldn't do it before, and I can't do it now," Ed argued, still refusing to give her anything but a meager acknowledgement.

Lust shook her head, then leaned close, easing a cheek against the crook of his neck before kissing it.

Edward jumped in surprise and whirled to face her, golden eyes wide with confusion. Lust chuckled and raised a hand to her face, fingers gently stroking her plump dark lips. A sultry smile spread across her face, brilliant white teeth surrounded by a border of shimmering black. "Well, that got your attention, didn't it? I'll have to remember to live up to my name more often if that's what it takes to get a reaction out of the Fullmetal Boy."

"Don't touch me." Though not threatening as such, his voice carried a distinct note of distaste, but he also sounded somehow...dismissive, as though he viewed her as some insect to be slapped aside, or some irksome child to chide. The sun had begun to set, making an artist's canvas of the boy's somber face. These days, Edward's features had adopted two modes: a slight wince of pain which Lust always pretended not to notice when she dressed his wounds, and a look of austere thoughtfulness which was itself a vision of pain—or so it seemed. Stern boy, Lust thought, unable to keep from grinning at his determined expression.

"We're not friends, so don't act like we are! You've kidnapped me just like you kidnapped Al before." He looked down, knuckling the bed with flesh fingers while automail ones languidly tore the sheets. His eyebrows fell in a harsh downwards slope, knitting and enhancing his pronounced frown. "We both know what's going on here; can't you at least have the decency not to pretend otherwise?"

If only you knew...if only you knew that I truly can't have that. But a little human like you could never hope to understand.

She wondered if it might have been an illness—some affliction of homunculi—which gripped her in that instant; her head felt as though it had been invaded by a swarm of noisy insects, and the sensation in her belly was as strange as it had been when a stray blade had once opened her navel. Uncertain, she looked down, touching her abdomen. Nothing had spilled, and yet... Yet when his gaze turns to me, he sees me and sees through me and sees something more, just as the man before him did...just as the man in my memories did... In that instant, she understood nothing save for her desire for him, for this boy with skin of treacle and hair of dandelions, this child who was more golden than Leto and the desert sun itself, this prodigy and martyr and creature who made a brew of her memories and stirred it until she felt as though her insides had been re-arranged.

Maybe it was nothing more than a passing fancy, a vague recollection which had thickened in the presence of Lior and war, but when Lust looked at Edward, she saw an intelligence she had known before; she glimpsed warmth, passion, colour, and humanity. The flaws of humanity had been engraved upon his metal limbs, and the potential of humanity was written within his mind. He sat before her, beautifully alive and simmering in his rage, yet she was dead inside and out, frozen and void of colour or humour, smeared with deception—a lie and a mother of lies. Shame, she realized suddenly. She was ashamed to be faced with the truth—the reality that she was nothing more than an imitation, a marionette, a poppet as obvious and false as the ones invented by that fool Majihal. Remembering the dolls, envisioning their wan smirking countenances, she could not help but see her own face upon them. I'm no better, am I? Just some silly man's creation...some attempt to bring back that which he had lost for good...

She wanted to be more than fickle vanity.

If he could look at me and see me...if he could lend me a little of his warmth, then maybe...

"No, you don't know what's going on here, Edward...but I'll show you." She stepped forward, cupping the boy's face, tilting it to watch the umber shadows make a chiaroscuro of his cheeks; her smile softened as he looked up to her in bewildered silence. He's beginning to understand. "Your greatest power, that you can beseech with your eyes. I see so much emotion within them that I can almost believe..." (almost...) "...that I could...empathize..." (I might even dare to dream that I could feel as you do, that I could live as wholly as you, but that's another lie, isn't it?)

"No...stop...please...just let me rest..." he whispered, but his words were clumsy and he looked as though a spell had been worked upon him. And yet it's not the same sort of spell I work on other men, Lust realized. The thought amused her. So innocent in some ways, so soiled in others. All at once, comprehension alighted upon Ed; all the colours of the sunset cavorted within his eyes and melted into aureate homogeny. When he lashed out—as she had expected him to do—Lust gripped his chin and pressed a fingernail into his unblemished skin. Edward stayed tense as his skin wept red onto his caretaker's finger, and Lust almost found it unfortunate that she was forced to spoil such a chastity of flesh—in more ways than one. She did not understand guilt, but she understood beauty, and beauty marred was never less than a shame. Because cruelty provoked her, because forces unseen pulled her strings, she laughed disdainfully at his display of resistance and held him firmly, feeling the muscles which had gone as rigid as his metal limbs.

"Relax and entreat me, Edward. Entreat me with your eyes and help me..."

(—remember? or forget?—)

"...and help me find what I seek. I long to be a human. You know that. Use your eyes and speak to me of humans, educate me in the ways of affection, and tell me..." She smothered his protest with a kiss, steadying herself by holding fast to his automail arm. Edward strained, fought, bucked against her, and bit her zealous tongue. Undaunted, Lust pushed him back, drank his breath from his lungs as a human would drink water for life, and offered her own 'life' in return. Cold stone fluid came between them and rushed down Edward's throat; though Lust felt his facial muscles tighten as his disgust made itself manifest, she knew he had no choice but to swallow. She wanted to know, to have an inquisition of the most intimate kind; nothing could stay concealed when tongues played together and bodies wound into helixes of contrasting hues and entwining souls. But I have no soul, and I can't taste his secrets, can't suspect if he ever kissed his blonde girl this way...or his brother...

Edward's mouth was hot, but it tasted of nothing in particular, and Lust was disappointed. She had not expected cherry and licorice kisses, but she had expected something of Riesenburg or something of the desert, something tangy and distinctly Edward, yet she found only heat and moisture, a wet cavern which could have belonged to any man in the world. But he sings with his eyes, not his tongue. He is only a boy, and no poet, no bard...just a crude child who has seen too much...

She pulled away, watching in euphoria as bruises spread like violet flowers around his lips; he was flushed, breathless, gorgeous if only because of the pink roses erupting in arrays of petals beneath his cheeks, splendid if only because sweat dripped down his brow and the bridge of his nose, perfect because he could be so responsive, because his heart could beat and find harmony with his breathing; to Lust's ears, the simple sounds were more beautiful than the tune of a nightingale. He had succumbed. His resistance had subsided and his mouth had yielded, grown pliant; ultimately, his tongue had let her own lead it—for which she had been glad, because he was inexperienced and no one knew the ballad of lust better than she who was named for it.

"I don't want you!" Ed insisted, still panting. The boy kicked the sheets aside and turned, obviously preparing to lunge for the door. Lust wrapped his hay-coloured hair around her hand and yanked downwards with enough force to send him back onto the bed. He gasped, and once more, automail sought a target. Lust caught sight of the blade just before it plunged into her belly, impaling her dead insides; she slumped, berated herself for having been careless, grew bored and frustrated, and died again upon Edward's arm. Although the spike of pain was fleeting, death was never a good feeling—the slow draining, the spiral into darkness, the echoes and the heavy silence—all of it was maddening, but by far the worst part was rebirth, the feeling of disorientation as one awoke in the darkness and scratched at their surroundings, feebly clutching for something which may not have ever existed. The closest a human ever came was a hangover from being submerged in a drunken stupor, but from what Lust knew of deja vu, she was certain that the humans grasped at knowing but not knowing...if only a little.

While Ed's breathing became ever more laboured, Lust slowly regained her composure and slid off the boy's arm; a membranous gore of stone-made innards poured into Edward's lap as he shifted and sat aside, head lowered, eyes shaded by the torrent of gold. As the piercing closed itself, one of Lust's hands descended upon Ed's groin, dusting over his pants before cupping the clothed flesh and squeezing softly with her fuchsia-soaked hand. Breath swept over her teeth in a low, satisfied hiss when she heard the gasp, the strangled exhalation of surging desire. The poultice had fallen away, the wound had opened anew, and the air smelled of blood and sweat. One quick slash undid the alchemist's pants, shredding the taut black fabric to reveal his cock, the likes of which had already begun to stir beneath the Sin's fluid touches. "You don't want me? Really? But your body says otherwise..."

She knew the boy was not used to fighting a beautiful lady; she had heard about his embarrassing little display with that Psiren woman. Although Edward had been bold enough to stab his homunculus assailant, there was something awkward about his reactions, something which tasted of uncertainty—a difficulty resisting longstanding teachings, an undefined confusion. He's weighing his options. He's a smart boy, though...he should know he can't fight back. He's not in any shape to do so, not injured and tired as he is...

"Stop!" he demanded—no, begged, voice raspy and glazed with exhaustion, sorrow, lust...or all three. "I don't...want this. Let me go. Let me go find Al and...and we'll..." A thoughtful pause. You'll what, Edward? Ah, you have no answer for that. "...I don't know yet, but we'll look into it, look into doing what we can to help you...just..."

He knows better. He knows the only way to save me is through the stone, but he won't admit that, because that's admitting defeat...typical man. She squeezed harder, pumping the deliciously firm erection; the pad of her palm brushed over shaft and glans again and again; blood rushed to the surface, meeting her caresses and announcing its presence through throbbing vessels. Edward cried out—a choked noise that sounded more like a sob than an outburst of pleasure. Lust took this for encouragement and giggled bawdily, pushing the black avalanche away from her feline eyes before stroking harder, slipping a blunted fingernail against a vein and tracing its outline. The erection was wet, slick with pre-cum. Sweat puddled at the base, in and around the tufts of blond hair below Edward's sculpted abdominal muscles. In and out his belly went, leaping like a crazed frog. Lust licked her lips as she took in the sight of the sheen on his skin, the wetness on his brow, the limp mass of hair, the painfully arousing wanton expression framed by his half-closed eyes and open mouth.

Would he fight back more if I were a man like Pride, or Gluttony? I wonder... She thought of Sloth, what the woman might say if she could see her former son now. Would she have been thrilled, or would her perpetual ennui have brought about nothing greater than apathy? Lust had never been so bold, so defiant, so capricious...(so human, so human...), but now she was pulling away from Dante, severing her strings and claiming the boy whose love her mistress had yearned for. Lust worshiped her new freedom, her ability to choose. The intensity of her mood sent ardent tendrils snaking throughout her body; she could not help but moan and bite her lip as Ed shuddered and groaned brokenly in a series of rising and falling notes.

He cried the loudest when she pulled away, leaving him unspent and frustrated.

And they all think I can only be aloof and reserved... Lust smirked and slithered out of her tight black dress, peeling it away with deliberate slowness. Her eyes never left the youth. She wanted to drink his every twitch and sob, indulge in his resplendent confliction, and revere the lines of his figure and the sharp arch of his back. With his chest heaving, shoulder a dripping red poppy, legs spread, and tattered black pants cluttered in his lap like raven wings, Edward was the absolute definition of prey.

"Yes..." Lust heard herself say, voice cool even now. "Did you really think I would let you off so easily, Edward?" She pushed a few strands of hair behind one of her ears and clutched one of her ample breasts, rolling her fingers across the rough nipple. "That wouldn't be living up to my name, though...and you haven't let me have a taste of your humanity yet...but you will..."

Her knees came down on either side of him. One hand pushed Ed's automail arm down, pinning him securely...though he was no longer fighting back. I knew he was a smart boy. He knows it's best to just enjoy the ride. Yes. Be a nice little pacifist and wait it out... She licked her lips and settled down upon his cock, biting down so hard that her lip broke and stone fluid trickled down her chin. A clear version of that same liquid gushed down her thighs, drenching her lover—her victim, her savior. Hot. He was so hot, scorching, and the press of her cool skin onto his burning flesh caused a pleasurable sizzle. Once he had filled her (filled with a human, claimed by a human, almost alive, burned, almost alive...), she began to move. Muscles and bones clenched their prisoner like a vice, gripping Ed's cock, and Lust set the pace—up and down, slow and steady. She wanted it, wanted to feel it, wanted everything of life and truth that he could give her; her nerves were as dead as his automail, but if she took from him, then...

Glazed tawny eyes looked up at her. Lust smelled their coupling, bodies coming together, his musky scent and her perfume, his blood and her imitation; this was inversion—she was milk and obsidian whereas he was sunkissed and golden, but they connected, came together, and found a rhythm. As the last rays of the sun disappeared behind the horizon, Lust moved faster, driving down so hard that the bed quaked. When she closed her eyes, she felt the response, and finally allowed herself a long moan of pleasure; Edward had at last given in, relinquishing control as he let raw passion take the reins.

Lust touched her chest, traced the ouroborous, and fondled her breasts; beneath her, Ed had begun at last to thrust, apparently losing himself to the carnal experience of the fucking as his hips propelled Lust's upwards again and again, rolling smoothly as he shoved into her cervix. She knew she was close to something (to nothing), to remembering or forgetting or finding peace, and whether he was passive or acquiescing, the alchemist was helping her, pouring life into her, giving and taking, swallowing her darkness and pain. Lust grabbed the sheets, opened her eyes, caught one more glance at Edward, and shivered as orgasm overtook her. Her cunt clamped down as she shuddered over and over, throwing her head back while waves of raw exultation rocked her hips. She panted shallowly, tearing the sheets with her long nails. When Edward followed her lead and gave himself to her completely, Lust could not help the wicked grin that her lips were quick to form.

Heat—life in its purest form—flooded her, and if only for a moment, her adored illusion of having meaning seemed so real that she could almost believe she felt sorry for the child whose second innocence she had stolen (and whose first he had foolishly handed away himself). Afterwards, she hesitated before dismounting. She was reluctant to break the friction, to separate herself from the fleeting happiness she had experienced, to awaken from the dream of something more.

By the time a fat orange moon graced the skies over Lior, Lust stood in the corner, arms folded at her chest. Again, Edward was faking sleep, though this time it was his face which betrayed his lie. His features had never relaxed, never softened, and he was back to his metal silence. At present, Lust ignored him, preferring instead to wonder at her inability to grieve for him. She nurtured her wounds, her chill, her emptiness, but she always pondered what the future would hold, and sometimes she contemplated the past even more.

Her gaze flicked over Ed's body. She took in the sight of his injury and the agony etched across his face, but still, she felt nothing.

I wish I could regret.

Humans took it for granted—the ability to decide, to mourn, to look back in retrospect and learn from foolhardy decisions. Lust knew that even now, Edward's disgrace and shame would be used to some beneficial end. Turmoil made him stronger, but what did she have to show for her triumph? He had made her glad, but for so short a time that their tryst had only served to whet her appetite.

A waste. A waste I can't least, not truly. If only I knew remorse...

All at once, she was seized with the urge to let him go, to let him find his brother and run away...

...but the evanescent longing passed with a blink and a toss of her hair, and again she was unshaken, assured of the knowledge that he would make a Philosopher's Stone for her and pull her from this waking dream. He could smooth out the ridges and rough places so that everything would be one clear image, one linear stream of logic, and when that happened—

(freedom, even if it's the freedom to die)

—she swore that she would cry for her Ishbalan lover, for Lior, Edward, and herself.