Edward's eyes opened. He waited for his vision to adjust, for wobbly clouds of colour to spill throughout the obsidian and condense into real, tangible shapes with edges and textures. He knew his lids were parted. He felt the fluttering of skin indicative of blinking. Still, he saw nothing. His mind began to skim the events prior to this blackness as he frantically wondered if the intense golden light of the Gate had stolen his sight. He swallowed a shaky cry, mouth filled with dust, belly a mass of writhing snakes, bladder threatening to unleash itself upon his legs.
The boy moved—or tried to move. Something confined him. Tiny, nearly invisible golden hairs on his body prickled at the unmistakable sound of chain links sliding along a hard surface. Cold metal bit into Ed's flesh arm. His mind did a somersault, then doubled over upon itself; his body, meanwhile, fought the urge to retch. No, no, can't do that...can't just let panic get the better of me...
I'm going to die, he thought, followed quickly by, no, fuck...I am not going to die, damn it; I have to think about Al...
"...Al?" he partially said and mostly croaked, helplessly querying the unforgiving blackness. If he had not been so unnerved, agitated, and helpless, he might have taken a moment to laugh at the quality of his timbre. All richness had abandoned his vocal chords in favour of a hollow sound, one of fingernails rattling on a conch shell. The blond straightened up as much as he could in his position, knees dragging the ground hard enough to chafe the thin skin. Determination rose within him, infusing his spirit with vigor, life; he strained against the bonds. A loud groan tore from his lips as little red dots sprouted upon his wrist.
In that instant, comprehension dawned upon his foggy, stilted mind.
The automail arm had been removed.
Ed craned his neck, straining his muscles in an attempt at twisting his body toward whatever angle was needed to peer at the empty socket. His mind had not yet accepted the absence of the metallic limb; signals flared for his hands to lift, move, touch something, anything. The remaining arm flailed recklessly, unconcerned with its confines. Why he was in this predicament or even how had not yet become important to the young alchemist. No, this was a matter of primal, animalistic survival instinct. The sympathetic nervous system kicked into fight or flight mode. Synapses lit up. Heartbeat quickened, thumping painfully in the cavity of his chest.
He thrashed, kicking wildly. The movement only served to send him sprawling to the ground in an awkward heap, his weight toppling upon one leg and crushing it painfully while his other leg lay useless beside him. Dead weight...not that the living was proving to be of much more use at the moment. He stifled an irritated cry, panting with exertion as he made a shuffling attempt to re-arrange his remaining limbs and essentially untie his crumpled body.
Come on, come on, come on...damn it! Al...where is Al?
"Al!" he asked again, bolder this time, more demanding of the shadows. This world was a surreal one, an existence of dismal sensory information. Although he could finally see a slender portion of himself and his movements in the barely there light, Edward heard nothing besides dripping water somewhere far off in the distance, and small scurrying sounds which he took to be mice. Besides the odor of rotting waste, he smelled the scent of metal, cold stone amplified to such an extent that he was almost positive it must have been ubiquitous. All around him...stone. Rocks. Metal.
"Wrong brother, Short-ass!"
An androgynous voice. An unmistakable, condescending tone. Antagonistic words.
The struggle between fight or flight ended swiftly, with the former coming out overwhelmingly victorious. For a moment, Edward forgot to be afraid, or to be conscious of his own well-being. Everything slipped away save for blind anger toward this creature who had impaled Ed upon a spike of a hand when last they met, killing him in one world and separating him from his beloved brother. To have the gall to do this...to chain him up...to taunt him...
I'll rip the monster into so many fucking pieces that it won't even be able to transform back into itself.
"What do you want, Envy?" Ed growled, straining against the chains which secured him in place. Metal rattled against stone as teeth ground together and ferocity descended upon the boy's brain, sending his judgment and rational thought fleeing. The homunculus's soft, padded footsteps were silenced by the kinetic flurry.
"Want?" There came a snort, followed by a clipped, derisive laugh. "I want lots of things, shithead! For one...I want to rip out your fucking eyes and make you swallow them."
As soon as Edward opened his mouth to respond to the snide announcement, a sudden kick sent something cold and slimy into the air. It splattered on Ed's face, burning his eyes and hitting his tongue before he had gathered enough wits to close his lips. Instantly, he spat out as much of the disgusting effluent as he could, grimacing and crying out despite himself as the waste irritated his eyes enough for tears to seep down his cheeks. It may have been shit or it may have been sewage, but either way, the sludge had its effect. Ed gagged, then threw up, nauseated by the stench and by the minuscule amount he had accidentally swallowed.
Envy laughed as though the display was the greatest thing he had ever seen. Helpless as he was, Ed could only sit there and listen to the homunculus's scorn while drool and vomit dribbled down his chin. His now empty stomach rolled in caustic tumult, juices gnawing at the lining of his throat. He gasped for breath, wet fringe hanging messily over his forehead like a wilting golden flower. Strangely, he felt himself growing numb with the acceptance of what now seemed an unavoidable fact: he was going to die. Again. He did not want it. He did not like it. His mind and body wailed for succor, a chance to be with Al again, but if nothing else, Edward at least knew his brother was safe.
He should have been more terrified, he knew, but he had already died once.
"Look at you...I wish you could see yourself, Shorty," Envy continued, wicked mirth lacing every one of his words. "You look like a real winner...making a mess all over your face." Pause enough for a disdainful sigh followed. "Probably shitting and pissing yourself, too, right? That's just like you humans. Disgusting."
Like homunculi look any better when they're puking up stones or lying around as piles of misshapen body parts!
Edward knew better than to give voice to the thought.
He heard the other's approach over the slowing sound of his heartbeat. Grim acquiescence settled coolly atop the ashes of fear and the embers of anger. His breathing was finally beginning to normalize. He swallowed, Adam's apple bobbing hard as he gulped down phlegm and the last remnants of that terrible waste. Although he could not see his own face, he knew he must have been scowling. Edward Elric refused to die in complete shame, in utter disgrace. He held his head up defiantly and made an attempt to look his captor in the eye. Maybe he could not change his fate, but he did not have to wilt in the face of grim destiny. Ed shifted, his chains glumly beating out the tune of his dirge.
To die like this...away from my brother, my friends, my home...
...away from my own world...away from everything...surrounded by stone and waste...
Someone up there really must hate me.
Envy's foot shot into his abdomen; uncovered toenails and hard bone protrusions jammed into intestines with merciless force. Ed's eyes bulged as his body reacted characteristically, his scream gagged and choked down by intense pain until it withered into a thin, dying groan of agony. The final note dragged along like a body split apart and carried away by wolves—a carrion yell bleeding a long, gory trail of "aghhhhh"s and ellipses.
Ed tasted blood. Hot. Salty. Metallic. His tongue throbbed painfully, feeling fat, clumsy and swollen. Saliva thickened the glob of blood in his mouth, but before an even bigger mess could be made of the boy's chin, a hand clamped down hard upon his jaw. Fingers dug into cheeks and bone. Another hand fisted into his unkempt hair, tugging without any semblance of gentleness. He could feel the mess on his head, the dirt and oil puddling upon his scalp and caking his locks along with his body. He couldn't remember when he had last had a bath.
...can't remember damn near anything I've done recently...can't...
"You little shit..." By now, Envy sounded far less amused and far more...angry. Indignant, even. Irate. Ed could feel the trembling of the hand that clasped his jaw; he could feel the potential energy coursing throughout Envy's ductile form. Raw hatred pulsed through his digits; his inhuman veins and eager nerves emanated nothing but a desire to kill...or maim. "...do you know how easy it would be for me to snap your fucking neck?" As if to further illustrate the point, he jerked his hand away from Ed's face and snapped his fingers loudly. "That's how quick it would be!"
He crouched down, leaning close as he had done in Laboratory Five. Long hair tickled Ed's face. As though he were human, when Envy neared, Edward could feel the ghost of his touch, the presence of another body in the vicinity as spoken by whispers of movement: breath, blinking, arms and legs barely stirring. More than anything else, Edward heard Envy. He could not see him...he could not feel any warmth from the cold, corpse-like pale body that lived without life and shouldn't have existed. Here, in this place where eyes were all but useless, hearing could be confounded with the sensation of touch. There came the stirring movement which should have accompanied body heat, but in this case, it did not. Still, the expectation was so basic and instinctual that Edward felt Envy's presence without feeling much of anything at all.
"Just like your friend, Hughes," Envy whispered against Ed's ear. A tiny pencil narrow ray of light from somewhere above illuminated Envy's epicene visage. A familiar, abnormally wide grin had spread across it.
Just as the shapeshifter had surely anticipated, those five little words revived Edward's buried rage. He turned so hard and so quickly that the chains dug their teeth into his arm. Pain seized him, splattering the darkness with bright fuzzy patches. Nerves aflame, blood running down his remaining limb, Ed drew strength from the pain. Its intensity imbued him with strength, reminding him that he was in fact alive, filled with pain, blood, and more than a little vitriol to give to a certain homunculus.
"Fuck you!" he yelled. Then, he spat, landing a sizeable glob onto Envy's face. Although turning his body enough for the insult had put extra strain onto his back and neck, Ed did not regret acting upon his impulse. In fact, it felt damned good. Acting on pure adrenaline, Ed yanked his body in a vicious arc, landing an automail foot directly into Envy's shin. There followed a satisfying crack, one which Edward could not help but sneer over, even if he knew the damage to be fleeting.
"Fuck you!" Ed repeated, sucking in air sharply, chest heaving with exertion. He knew he was about to pass out. He could already feel some of his coherency and rationality abandoning him. His brain had gone entirely into reaction mode: fuck consequences. Fuck planning. Fuck logic. For the present, Edward, like Envy himself, acted exclusively upon the stimuli he was given. "Fuck you, you son of a bitch! Go ahead and kill me, you goddamned bastard! I'll still be better off than you!"
His teeth ground together. He tried to make another swipe for Envy's legs as the homunculus straightened himself up, but the last vestige of strength was draining from Ed with frightening speed. "Maybe I'll be dead, but you're nothing but a poor imitation of life! You're nothing, Envy! Not alive! Not dead! Not even a puppet anymore, are you?" Ed bellowed raucously, coughing brokenly in between successive crests of laughter. Everything hurt. The whole world had become a tangle of pain.
Could this be a nightmare?
"Not even a puppet! Your strings have been severed, ri—?"
A foot slammed into the blond's sternum, silencing him. Air abandoned his lungs in a sharp "oof". So this was it, then. Envy would pull back, then drive his foot in, immersing it in a stew of ribs and soft internal organs. Ed sat there expectantly, awaiting a note of pain played to the tune of crunching, splintering bones. The foot pressed down, making Ed gasp. A little more...a little more and fragments would slice into his heart. Ed's eyes narrowed to golden slits.
"Shut up...you bastard..." Envy's tone had grown quiet, deadly, an icy near whisper with a point like a shiv. The strangely desperate undercurrent hiding beneath the words made Ed take notice. He stared as best as he could in the absence of light, managing by some miracle to catch sight of frenzied violet eyes. "Shut the hell up, or else the only thing severing will be the pitiful, useless limbs you still have left!"
...or else...? Why 'or else'...?
Several long seconds passed.
"...What is this about, Envy?" Ed finally gathered wits enough to ask. He was losing blood quickly; his mind had more or less left with a note to check back in some other time, but even so, Ed had enough lingering focus to realize that something was amiss here.
...He hasn't killed me...hasn't transformed...didn't even maim me when I spat on him; why? Dante's gone, so what's holding him ba—
Understanding slammed into Ed as harshly as Envy's foot had a moment before.
Dante was gone, maybe dead. Hohenheim could have been anywhere, and Ed and Envy themselves were...where? Where in the hell was this place? Ed licked his lightly bloody teeth, pondering this new twist as much as a person could ponder when in such a poor physical condition. He would have asked Envy where they were, but something told him Envy had about as much idea as he did.
Envy must have known that Edward understood their predicament now. He shuffled audibly, though his foot never departed from the boy's chest; the threat remained firmly in place. "You're going to help me find him," Envy said with the kind of fervor that allowed for no rebuttal. "See...it's like this..."
Finally, the pressure upon Ed's chest subsided. Before Ed had time to appreciate this mild relief, a sound so loud it made his ears hurt announced the shattering of the chains around his arm. He slumped, his weight off-set by the missing arm and his grace off-set by his surprise. The next thing he knew, he had been crudely pulled into a standing position. His head swam; he felt certain that he was going to throw up again, or at least dry heave. For whatever reason, he did not. Envy's hand had clamped down upon his shoulder, restraining him with a touch which could easily turn fatal. That hand which had punched through chains as though they were paper now rested so near Ed's throat.
"...I hate you, but I hate that bastard—" Envy put his usual amount of venom into the word. "—even more. So y'know what you're going to do?" Cruel mirth punctuated the following pause. "You're going to help me find him. You're not going to complain, and you sure as hell aren't going to run away. If you so much as fucking think about trying to sneak off..."
Envy stomped one foot; chains snapped loudly, shrieking as a single stroke pounded metal to bits.
Had Ed not been so numb, weak, and fatigued, a shiver or two would have claimed him. Envy pressed against him, cupping his jaw once more. Envy pressed their faces together, just as he had done prior to their large fight in the ballroom of the underground city. "...that will be your spine. Except not so quickly, 'cause I've been wanting to tear you apart for a long time now, Hagane no Ochibi-san..."
He's insane. Completely. Fucking. Insane.
The blunt thought was absurd in its obviousness. Of course Envy was insane! Ed mentally berated himself for still being amazed by this little fact. As Envy's hand slipped from Ed's shoulder to his forearm, dragging him on unsteady feet through the sludgy muck, Ed wondered what in the fuck he was going to do. He could not very well play tour guide to Envy. No; moreover, he would not do such a thing. Regardless of the danger, he knew he would eventually have to make an escape attempt.
But for now, I can play along well enough, he thought, allowing himself a sneer as more points of light appeared along the dank corridor. Envy can change his form, but I bet I can play a part just as well as he can...and besides, he's too fucking blinded by his own zealous quest; he won't see any deception.
By now, glow-worms of sunlight had salted the darkness enough for Ed to discern the outline of Envy's form; tenebrous, smooth cords of hair bobbed against pearly glabrous flesh. Skin like boiled bones mated with dark hair lit here and there by strands of viridian. Life and death found a peaceful middle ground within Envy, even if the creature himself could conceive of nothing but chaos. Wan of body with an undead heart; bereft of soul, but propelled by something—by the forces of alchemy, perhaps, or by a loathing too steadfast to lie down and rot. Envy was pandemonium incarnate, a faux soul filled with turmoil, spite, and need. Desire. Yearning. Hunger. Craving.
Homunculi never sleep...do they? And yet they never make any progress...
A serpent swallowing its own tail, a creature who toiled endlessly, consuming everything its maw could stretch around (whether literally, like Gluttony, or figuratively, as with Envy's incessant demands), yet it never filled its belly with anything substantial. Envy could swallow all the worlds he wanted; in the long run, he was only destroying himself, eroding his own identity by defining his existence in terms of his disgust for others.
Ed might have pitied Envy, had the other lent himself more easily to anything besides negative emotions.
But he won't just get the fuck over the past, now will he? Maybe he could. Don't know what limits not having a soul puts on someone, exactly, but...but...
He put an end to that thought before it had a chance to wander off into unknown territory. He could not understand Envy, could not begin to fathom what sort of furnace empowered this strange monster of a being. He had a clue as to Envy's reasoning, or lack there of, but he had no intention of forming some hypothesis about a homunculus's capabilities toward growth and change. Maybe it was unfair to judge Envy by human society's standards and codes of morality, but that was all Edward had. He was only a human, after all.
Only a human, but I did restore my brother. I managed to do something right. I'm not a god, but so what? I can live with being human.
When they finally reached the end of the tunnel, Ed yanked his arm away from Envy and shielded his face with it. Predictably, Envy had no sympathy for his condition. He shoved Edward forward, almost causing the boy to lose his footing upon the slippery ground. Ed inhaled sharply, sucking in the fresh, open air; he wanted to rid his lungs of the putrid stench of waste. He heard Envy beside him; he felt the solid grip pull his arm away from his eyes. When Ed looked down, away from the blinding sun, he noticed a steady trickle of waste beside his feet.
A sewer...I might've figured.
"How the hell did we get down here, Envy?" Ed asked, suspiciously regarding his companion with a sideways glare. He could believe that the Gate might have thrown people into some unusual places, but this one just seemed a little too convenient.
"I dragged you down, of course!" Envy replied honestly, shrugging. A nasty smirk tugged at his lips. "Shit belongs with shit, after all. Got lucky in finding those chains, too. Took 'em from a pipe." He flicked a thumb along the side of Ed's face, scooping up a few stray specks of blood before popping the digit into his mouth and sucking loudly. Afterwards, he rubbed the unamused alchemist's cheek with his thumb's moist tip.
Ed stood there feeling ridiculous, eyes downcast. Envy was covered in grime, and Ed knew he himself would not make for a very pretty picture at the moment.
"Shit, eh?" The alchemist chuckled mirthlessly. "That's what you've gotten yourself into all right, Envy! How do you expect me to help you without my automail? Maybe you should have thought about that before ripping it off of me!"
Envy's expression faltered for the briefest of instants. Then, just as quickly, he regained his composure. His smirk faded, replaced by a cold grin. "Then I guess that makes both of us cripples, doesn't it?"
The revelation should have surprised Edward, but it did not. The edge of his mind—the fragment not preoccupied with thoughts of escape, confusion, and anger—had earlier sidled up to this conclusion. Now, the truth sat here before him, obvious but as yet unspoken.
"You can't transform," Ed observed without the slightest hint of uncertainty.
He eventually tore his eyes away from Envy, raising them as he peered into the grey, overcast mess of a sky.
"Well, well! Maybe you're not as stupid as you look." Envy's fingers danced along Ed's neck, phantasmal touches speaking softly of a need to dig into the warm human flesh. A forefinger probed, felt out Ed's pulse, and waited there. Ed was not sure if Envy meant to threaten him with the gesture, or if the homunculus actually sought some kind of response, but either way, the blond did not flinch. "Think about it, Hagane no Ochibi-san...if I could've become someone else, I would've turned into your little brother when you were asking for him earlier! Al! Al!" he parroted, snickering.
Laugh it up, you stupid bastard, Ed thought smugly, keeping his noteworthy temper in check by sheer virtue of the fact that he was too worn down to launch himself at Envy for the nonce. We'll see how confident you feel when those stones start to run out...when your strength ebbs and you turn back into the disgusting mess of nothingness that you really are.
Ed looked down, smiling to himself as he flexed his fingers. "Fine. Whatever." He looked up; golden eyes met narrowing violet ones. "So, where do you want to start?"