Her husband was dead, and she did not know who had killed him.
If the matter got brought to trial, then she would decide upon a name.
The ordeal had left innumerable red freckles upon her attire, but Dante had changed clothes. Now, she wore a long, lilac-coloured velvet dress. It was slightly uncomfortable, too tight all over, and it cinched her neck. She considered slipping into something different, but that would prove useless; after her husbands passed away, she always felt a swelling tightness about her neck—
(murmur of a noose)
—and she was never entirely comfortable. Whenever Dante felt an itch, she had to wonder if the rot was back, and the thought unsettled her. She liked this latest form, this body of a tall, slim woman with hay-toned hair and blue-green eyes that her husband had compared to the sea. Her skin was a synthesis of milk and honey, warm and summer-soft and inviting, and since she had never given birth in this body, it was still free of added weight or unsightly stretch marks. He would have loved it, she thought, but he had long since left her.
Standing in one of the second story bedrooms, Dante gazed down at her garden. Sunlight soaked the vernal world in gold, and an array of flowers opened to parade various colours about the lawn. Jonquils and daffodils, pearly white tulips, rare cerulean roses, and fluted marigolds. Dante knew every blossom by genus and species, and that is how she would have thought of them...had it not been for him.
He spoke of the world in the language of science, but he loved it in the language of feelings...that which had once been a foreign tongue to me. She touched her brooch. I think I am fast forgetting the words. Maybe this is for the best.
Alchemy could transmute lead to gold, but only a human heart could transmute youthful love to bitter black hatred.
All told, Dante liked springtime. Glorious scents and sights abounded, with water lilies gracing the backyard pond and wispy seeds rising to drift through the air like a host of tiny angels. Spring was a time for the soft buzz of bees, for paisley dresses and bare feet, for cool trickling water and the taste of honeysuckles. The woods of Dublith came alive with the sounds of amorous creatures proclaiming their love, and the world was reborn. Rebirth. Spring meant that the world cleansed itself, washed away its old skin, and began anew. If for no other reason, Dante favoured the season because of this simple truth.
Hesitantly, she closed the curtains and turned away from the birds and buds. She could enjoy the verdant terrain later; for now, there was darker work to be done. The body lay in the corner of the room, staining the expensive carpet with dark blood, and the air had assumed a strong odor of liquor, sex, and death. Sheets had been torn, one antique lamp broken, but Dante was unconcerned with such trifling destruction; alchemy could repair anything short of her relationships.
She glided across the room in silence, slipper-clad feet sinking into the carpet. There would be need of solvent and fresh scents for this bedroom, anything to rid it of the stale odor and the forbidding chill which lingered just after a life had perished. Dante resented the icy touch, the subtle reminder of a foe she had worked so diligently to evade. She had an easy time with death and the act of killing itself, and she had grown accustomed to handling corpses with empirical detachment, but she could not stand the illogical distress which sometimes came to her when all things in the house grew silent and still.
Only with music did Dante keep herself sane. Since its invention, the phonograph had become her ally, the device by which she kept the silence away. Sweet symphonies—rousing celebrations and haunting laments—permeated through the house. An aria on the subject of love and loss had just begun to play when Envy appeared at last.
"You're late," she said coolly, knowing even as she spoke that he would offer no word of apology. Dante pushed aside a few strands of her blonde hair and knelt down, touching the corpse. I know what you two did, she mused, not looking at Envy. The knowledge was strangely quiet and untroubling, soft as freshly fallen snow. Maybe once something like her husband's illicit relationships would have bothered her more, but her own clandestine undertakings had bred a certain sense of cynical expectation into her: she anticipated humans to do ill, and she prepared for it. A pure and virtuous soul was nothing short of surprising.
Envy did not answer, but instead changed back into the shape which had become his preferred body of late. Dante watched and suppressed the urge to frown; it was his body, his decision, but she did not like how much his newest incarnation looked like the epitome of a wild rebellion against sophistication and class.
My son was never like that, her mind whispered.
He is not my son, it added.
"Lust and Sloth got destroyed," Envy said, and a smirk stretched his waxen skin. He licked his lips; the shadows ran to drape his long hair and suck away its strange colours, but his eyes were bright and filled with amusement. "But they were stupid. Didn't get enough to eat before going out. They got cut to pieces...several times." He smirk became a full smile when he tilted his head. "Humans can move pretty quickly when you gut their little bastards, y'know."
"But you managed to escape, obviously."
"Didn't have to." His voice carried the tiniest edge—a thin, sharp sound of suppressed annoyance. Dante heard it, but pretended not to. He has too much of a temper, that one. "I wasn't ever in any danger...but yeah, I eventually got tired of wasting my time on the damned humans, so I came back. Figured you'd be happy to know that you have your war in Drachma. It's only a matter of time now before another Stone will be ready."
"I can use a fragment of that to make more homunculi, if need be..." Or await some foolish alchemist to make them for me. "...perhaps this man could even be one."
"Did you love him?" Envy watched her, then casually placed a hand upon his hip. Discretion had never been among the Sin's more prominent qualities.
Not as I loved my first husband, or my second. Not as I loved the man who left me, or the one who betrayed me. Not even as I love you, if such a thing could be called love...
"Who can say?" She laughed. "Emotions are such bizarre things. I doubt we can define them so easily. Come and help me bury this body. Once we have the Stone or an eager, overconfident alchemist, then we can exhume the corpse...or perhaps we could just gather the necessary components and make a homunculus in the old-fashioned manner. Either way..."
Envy nodded, and Dante found herself wondering what he thought about her deceased husband. Just another human toy? But you always play with the ones I take for myself. She could guess at the psychology behind that, but doing so would just mean dwelling on her past and her own discontentment. Besides, it was irrelevant. No matter what she and Envy took or lost, they had one another...and this had been the way of things for centuries. Dante had never deluded herself into believing theirs to be a normal relationship...but it worked. On some level, it worked.
By the time Envy began assisting his master, the aria had been replaced by a joyous symphony. The day wore on, and the sun crept behind the horizon.
Now, the weed-infested segments of her garden made for good locations to house graves. Like a good wife, Dante attended the funeral, but she did not wear black; it was too much of a crude colour for this ashen body she had chosen, and it would have drained the life from her eyes. I suppose I am back to being without a title, she thought, and the idea brought a hint of amusement. Over the years, she had taken many rings and many last names, but beneath them all, she had always been Dante, only Dante, and no matter what form she assumed or what golden trinket encircled her finger, Dante alone she would always remain. The other was simply a ruse, a mask.
Envy and I are alike in that respect, she knew. They could and did commiserate, but Dante realized that she and Envy were too much alike to have any kind of meaningful relationship. Mainstream society gave what they had no definition, no frame of reference, but they understood one another implicitly, and in one another they loved their best qualities and hated their worst. Envy was beautiful in the freedom suggested by his mercurial nature and the captivity created by his insatiable needs and wants, and he made a comfortable partner to lay beside. He could satisfy her desires, become whoever she wished, and he would, but not because he loved her. Dutiful was a far cry from loving; there was nothing left in Envy of the child who had once sat in her lap.
Sex between human and homunculus was astounding, breath-taking. Envy had been around in some capacity throughout all of Dante's relationships. He was there when she needed comfort, or when she mourned the loss of her latest paramour, and he never failed to satisfy her short-term passions. Besides that, his very nature dictated that his seed could never quicken inside of her, thus alleviating an issue which remained a concern with all of her other relationships. Hohenheim was the one who had wanted a son, the one who had pushed and prodded until he had convinced his wife to act as the vessel for his wish, but Dante had never cared for children. They demanded too much time and attention, too much of the physical and mental and spiritual sides of their parents.
Still, she had been a good mother, but only because—like Envy—she knew how best to play roles.
After the burial was complete, Dante looped her arm around Envy's and walked back to the house with him. She wondered sometimes why she still bothered with rituals, why she had prepared the body properly and given it thyme and other such lovely additions...as though she truly believed it would have any fate more significant than a twisted rebirth. I only did what people expect, she reminded herself. A part of acting was wholeheartedly investing one's self in the role, and if Dante forgot her customary rituals, then she would forget that she was supposed to believe everything which fell from her lips.
The garden was beautiful at night: colour in a dark world, rich and moon-kissed, licked with a fine silver tongue. The backyard pond brimmed with frog songs, and Dante found herself shooing away dragonflies. Her yard was a mixture of plants for beauty and plants for practicality; some herbs went into her alchemy, her science and her potions. Some plants were merely for seasoning and others were for preparing corpses and mixing chemicals in the laboratory Hohenheim had abandoned. Everything about her abode was moody and organic, half science and metal and half sweet earthy smells to disguise foulness and rot.
"Why did you kill him?" Envy asked once they had stepped inside.
"I didn't," Dante answered. "By now, you should know better than to ask me something like that."
He laughed, and she fought down the urge to correct his disdainful attitude. You have no right to call me dishonest, she said in her mind. You, whose very existence is dishonesty. Dishonesty is what empowers you. Don't you dare think me a liar...not you...
She did not mind her anger, though. It would make the night more eventful...more exciting. Anger was good for pleasure, but only if put into play at the right moments, and after having existed for hundreds of years, Dante knew when and how to be angry. Shallow frustration was worse; it was neither exhilerating nor useful, and nothing quite matched the frustration of knowing something was bothersome as well as inevitable. If I'm to take another husband and a fresh body, then I'll probably have to begin sipping all the milks necessary to undo my fertility...
Dante almost winced at the thought of those tart juices upon her tongue. Some wines were less pleasant than others, and no amount of boiling and rosemary could lessen the discomfort.
"Don't question me, Envy," she said after a long pause. She looked him in the eyes and resolved not to worry about the future until certain concerns became more immediate. "Don't mock me, either. That's not for you to do. You are here to serve me, and right now, I need to think about wars, alchemists, and homunculi...specifically, I need a Pride." She smiled gently. "But all of that can wait, too. Presently, I'm a widow, and I want to ...mourn."
The look in his eyes said that he knew, and that he did not object. But neither does he love it. That was just as well. Theirs was a union of unsatisfied wants, and if Envy defined himself by all that he lacked, then Dante defined herself by all that she desperately wanted to hold onto. Neither was whole, complete, and their encounters were a mere embrace of those missing pieces.
Still, it was happiness...for a time. Not every action had to have meaning. Dictating the world was very different from enjoying an evening in the bedroom. Centuries had taught Dante much about science, reasoning, and logic, but one of her most valuable lessons had been that not all actions needed to stand in accordance with any of those governing forces.
Slowly, she closed the door and left the world to its grief.