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Ashes to Wings


i. Cito enim arescit lacrima, praesertim in alienis malis

It had hurt them both.

They had both hated it, though he wondered if she understood the depths to which his feelings matched hers. He doubted that she did, and it was better this way. If she knew, she never would have left, and he would have been unable to blame her. After all, he had long ago resolved never to follow any orders he viewed as unreasonable...or cruel, as the case was.

Fuhrer Roy Mustang had sat behind his desk, wielding his pen of bureaucratic sadism, and with a few brutal strokes—clumsy swirls of ink—he had saved Riza Hawkeye's life.

The black marks had not yet fully dried before her expression softened like warm butter, amber eyes full of emotions swirling like autumn leaves. The paper sat before the new fuhrer: white and immaculate, cold and wicked, preserving a life through the most rigid and dangerous of methods. She had sat across from him, an ocean of wood separating their bodies, and Roy had watched understanding creep across her face. Tense muscles near her lips and eyes melted as they only did for him, and a pause of unspoken words spread like an air-fed flame.

I'm sorry, he had wanted to say, because he was. But neither of them could afford for her to see his grief. He was a leader now, and strong; he had to be firm, unyielding. For so long, this woman had protected him; now, it was his turn to return the favour.

"You're sending me to war, Sir?"

Really, it was not a question.

One nod sealed the decision. He watched her carefully, gauging what he saw in her face and eyes. There were shadows, hesitation, doubt, but all of those passed by like light motes and darkness atop a smooth surface of water. She was considering, he knew. The decision did hurt her, and he could see that; it must have made her feel as though he was trying to rid himself of her, but her sensibilities as a soldier battled with her emotions as a lover, and ultimately, sensibilities won out. Roy had counted on that. He had known her long enough to know that she would respect him...no matter what. Leader first, lover second.

She arose, wordlessly, and gave a slight bow. Papers fluttered, and ink dried. Roy lowered the pen and watched, forcing himself to stay stern and composed as Riza turned. Their meeting was over; one flinty dark eye watched the woman depart in a series of long strides, hair pulled up and bouncing softly when she walked. He remembered when he had seen it down, gently framing her face, and he knew of the sensuous curves and dangerous muscles that the blue uniform concealed. He would have told her the entire truth, but he wasn't sure if she would understand.

Truthfully, he doubted that even he understood.

He knew that this was the right decision, though. He knew it with the insoluble certainty that war had taught him, that instinct which told him when to flick his forefinger over his thumb in an immolating, fate-defining snap. He could only guess that his instincts over his troops were somewhat akin to those a mother might have felt for her young, the same primal force which whispered of unvoiced aches and clandestine crimes. Roy was not sure of very much these days, but he was sure that this was what he had to do; it was the only mercy for the exquisitely gentle and fierce creature who had aided him for years untold.

She could not be around him now, not when he was having such difficulty controlling himself, sorting his mind, or even pushing his own name through his lips. She was closest to him, and therefore the easiest target. He had considered this predicament for weeks before finally reaching his conclusion that yes, ironically enough, her best chance for safety was to enter the war and be far away from the man she loved. She'll live, he assured himself. She's strong...so much stronger than I ever was, and I lived. She'll survive, and she'll be a better person for it. This will do nothing but hone her...refine her even more.

He truly believed in the words of the unspoken mental speech he had composed for himself over the past few weeks of building discontentment.

Nevertheless, when the door clicked shut, he could only lower his head and look away, thumb running the length of the pen in agitation; his gloved hands wanted to immerse themselves in his hair, but that would have been too emotional, and angst was not a luxury a leader could freely indulge in. Fuhrer first. Human second.

At least, unlike the last fuhrer, he was still a human beneath it all.

Well, he had been.

The pen made its marks, swift and deadly, and above his head, the fan blades contributed the only sound to the room. Silence void of sobs fell, and visions of blonde hair, amber eyes, and a winsome smile that belonged exclusively to him. It was right, he insisted, trying to ignore the feeling of guilt and remorse; they should have been together, fighting side by side, and instead he had sent her to what may have been a hell not unlike the one he had faced as a green boy. But she's not a green boy. She'll be fine.

Logically, he could make peace with her capabilities: Riza was nothing if not adept. He was not so sure, however, that he could make peace with the term abandonment—nonsensical or not—when it was presented by the emotional side of his consciousness.

Rule first. Feel later.

The fan continued to spin, and letters were scrawled, documents signed. The world fought and bled itself, and Roy Mustang continued seeking to mend broken nations.

One heart was a small sacrifice for thousands of hearts beating.

ii. Numquam se minus solum quam cum solus esset

The days had grown longer and darker.

Each second passed like a lead weight rolling over his shoulders, many stones hooking a chain around his neck, then dropping to pull his head downwards. A disquiet that he could not shake away had settled upon his once cheery (even "smug", as some had called it) disposition. He pushed his discomfort from his waking mind, preferring instead to measure the days in terms of papers and meetings with important figures.

A pain that was both palpable and intrinsic threaded through him, pinching his sinews and cutting through his bones. It was difficult to focus; headaches wrung his thoughts from him, and most dreams—no, nightmares—concluded with the new fuhrer waking to find himself sweating and cold. He took medicine, visited doctors in the private hours of the night, but nothing seemed to have any effect. Roy tried to hide his condition from his men, and for the most part, he thought he had done an adequate job, but they knew. They must have known; their brooding, thought-heavy stares had said as much. A part of him wanted to confide in some of them, at least Havoc, but another part felt he needed to simply overcome this tinge of mania. He had defeated worse, he reminded himself.

He had survived Ishbal.

He had survived the fallout afterwards.

He had survived himself, and his own tortured, volatile thoughts.

He had survived the fight with Pride. The defeat of Pride. Conquest.

He had survived assuming the position he had coveted for as long as he could remember, the position Maes had given everything in order for Roy to one day achieve. Blood and war had paved the way: the blood of the old, the blood of the young, and probably the blood of the two boys he had invited into this war-shredded world, this rigorous existence of fighting and science, documents and death. Edward and Alphonse had vanished, believed by many to have perished in the conflict with Dante, and even though Roy held out hope that perhaps they had escaped and started new lives for themselves, he by no means assumed that the best case scenario had prevailed. In fact, he doubted it had; much as he wanted to believe that the boys had slipped away unharmed, the odds inclined toward their deaths.

It's my fault, he thought, and the hard speeches he had given Edward came rushing back into his mind; oh, he had cautioned the boy against blaming himself, or trying to change fate, or worrying about saving every child, but words were easy strings of letters. Compared to the nuances and complexities of emotions, words were mere ghosts, spectres that imitated intent and were supposed to stand for something or another. Humans were flimsy things, and each claimed to know his or her limitations, the faults of simply being, but none truly accepted their own inabilities, alchemists least of all. Even after Ishbal, Roy Mustang had pulled his spark cloth gloves on with a brisk snap, and a glint reminiscent of alchemy had flashed into his eyes. He was all about facades, masks, knowing better and yet not wanting to. Years of pretense had clawed at his identity, but when he had regarded the elder Elric, he had seen something of himself in the boy.

Edward had been him: all eagerness, fury, and youthful arrogance. The boy was more jaded than Roy had been, cynical at a young age, but he retained his own sort of exuberant immaturity, a dogged determination that battled death and even logic. The contempt Roy had felt for his actions had been contempt for his prior self; Edward had been cause for exasperation and criticism, but even so, Roy had felt an almost paternal urge to shelter and nurture the bold teenager. He had often found himself caught between wanting to cuff the boy and wanting to...well, he wasn't sure what. Embrace him, maybe. Or just sit and have a chat with him, tell tales, explain adult life, and give the youth a rough estimate of what his future might entail.

Now, he would never have that opportunity.

Now, Edward would likely never have an adult life.

And whose hand, white-gloved and adorned with salamander sigils, had opened to the boys, beckoning, endorsing a lifestyle of early adulthood and perils?

He had thought they would survive.

He had survived...and they had been so much stronger than he.

And he was still surviving. Still ruling.

Alone.

Grim irony, gaining everything he had ever wanted while losing everything he had ever loved.

But Amestris was still at war, what with the northern lands battling one another, and Roy Mustang knew he had to put aside his own personal, small tragedies. Edward, Alphonse, and Riza were for his dreams at night; thoughts of them were reserved for the phantom twilight of hazy mornings—mornings in which he awoke to find himself certain that gunshots were ringing nearby and families were sobbing and dying. There was no peace, no rest, no time to mourn the precocious Elric boys, no graves and no goodbyes, and every day, Roy sat in his office, staring at the walls as a dull buzz hummed in his ears and his one remaining eye slipped out of focus, draining colours and twisting shapes. White noise. White wash. Peeling paint.

An ache started in his knuckles and crawled upwards, inching into the muscles of his face, seeping into the hollow where once an eye had been. Just a tic, he told himself when his hands grew unsteady, but he knew better. His men were quick to attribute his pervasive gloom to the loss of the boys, his lack of time to mourn their seeming passing, and his own undeterred sense of guilt...and he didn't doubt that those things played their roles...but he also knew that something more was transpiring.

His nerves were shaky. His neurons flooded him with intermittent bursts of pain, reminding him that he was in fact alive...but he was not himself.

A facsimile of the former colonel sat in the fuhrer's chair, peering at the world with one eye, hiding the ruin of the other behind a patch not so unlike the one the last fuhrer had worn. He looked. He saw. He touched. He felt.

But he knew. Knew that he was not who he should have been. His senses were exactly the same as they had been before, yet something implacable had altered them in a way he could find no words to define. Riza still looked the same, still felt the same, still tasted as she had before...but things were changing. Uneasiness danced along his thoughts, filling the valleys of pauses whenever he spoke, and when his hand brushed through his lover's hair, he felt a stranger's fingers extending to stroke the blonde locks. He had grown injured, somber; his laughs had drained away and his smiles were tight and fleeting. The doctors said he was in excellent condition despite his wounds, yet he found himself wanting to tell them that it was not his condition at all; his body was detached, floating away like a ship without an anchor.

Or, more specifically, like a corpus and an anima without a spiritus.

He did not know how it could be happening, but he did know what was happening. Little by little, his soul was dying, and a different figure was gazing out through the eye which had been left behind. The theory sounded like a madman's utterance during a time of stupor, and predictably, Roy was not keen upon sharing it with anyone, not even the people he trusted the most. If he had found any evidence for his suspicions—a growing coldness or a blossoming shade of purple in his dark eye—then he could have brought his concerns forward, but physically, he remained unchanged.

Maybe he really was going crazy. Maybe the doctors were wrong; perhaps the bullet had wounded his central nervous system, and perhaps one of the side effects was brain damage severe enough to cause delusions. Wouldn't that have been a more likely conclusion than...well, than a more mystical explanation? And yet he knew it simply wasn't the case; he knew better with the same fervor one could know something in a dream without ever actually seeing the truth of its existence. Gut feeling. Sinking gut feeling. Each night, he wrestled with his own certainty, and each morning, he swore he would confide in someone...but he never did. No matter what was wrong with him, mustn't it have been a trivial concern when held against all that Amestris was currently facing? After all Roy had defeated, surely he could defeat this...

...or was that just his voice talking...?

He was absolutely certain of some things, yet he was unsure of everything.

He did not know how it was possible, and he did not bother to stop and wonder.

One way or another, his sanity was slipping, and the more he thought about it, the more he felt like someone else should be ruling during these trying times. The belief was an ugly thing, settling in his belly like stale food and bile drowned by liquor; this was treading too close to giving up. Indecision seemed like it could make for an even more dire problem, but one thing led to another, and he frankly was at a loss for what he should do. Relinquish power and mark himself as a poor leader? Or stay in power, struggle with himself, and risk losing and marking himself as an even worse leader?

There was one other option, although it might have been little more than speaking to madness and asking questions of the shadows themselves. Roy resisted the idea; its precursor came to him one evening while he lay awake, turning ideas over in his head. He had sat up, shaking the dreamy thoughts away, but he pondered them long and hard over black morning coffee. The new fuhrer had not decided to listen to his own considerations until one evening when he had looked at his lover sleeping beside him and—serenely, in a most linear fashion—contemplated murdering her. It had been a frighteningly simplistic idea, posited in his mind as though he had been reading a book in which a line merely stated, "I think I might kill her," and the cold calculation scared him even more than the intent behind it.

In war, he had killed before. War is hell, survivors said, and this was true. War was hell. War bred monsters as much as Tucker or any alchemist had ever done. But Roy knew passion; Roy knew fire and flames and losing control...and this had been none of those sensations. This had been a serial killer's frank, matter-of-fact estimate of an action, and in that instant, he had never been more certain that a stranger was inside of him, viewing his surroundings through the window that was Roy's eye.

It was difficult to imagine anything more disturbing. Parasite, he wanted to call it. A humanoid parasite; a will gorging itself upon his mind, nourishing its latent desires, feasting upon the dark crevices, consuming the human soul little by little. Soon, he knew, it would fight with him...and overcome him. Well, in all likelihood...but he had not entirely discounted himself and his own will. Nevertheless, as soon as that thought to murder had whispered in his ear, the current fuhrer decided it was time to make a drastic decision: the decision which he had thus far been neatly avoiding.

First, he sent Riza away.

Secondly, he went to speak with someone.

iii. Taceant colloquia. Effugiat risus. Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae

If the room were any colder, his breath would make little white clouds.

Envy was certain of that, though he wasn't certain of much else.

He huddled in the corner, teeth snapping together from the chills brought about by the stagnant air, and, as he had done since his imprisonment, he steadfastly refused to consume any food that was brought to him. What the fuck was wrong with the stupid bastards that they thought he needed to eat animal flesh and green shit from the dirt? Heh. Stupid fucks. Whenever one of the guards came too close, the homunculus broke into a frenzy: he ranted, he raged, he threw bowls, he kicked, and he screamed wild insults. If it weren't for this goddamned cage, I'd be eating you all! was typically one of his favourites, because it would have been true once...albeit in an ironic fashion.

At best, he was ignored.

At worst, he was laughed at.

Laughter from the guards produced more teeth-gnashing from Envy. As futile as throwing himself at the bars and beating his body black and blue over his predicament was...at least it kept him occupied with something. Goddamn! He hated feeling like a caged animal, and he hated being bored. He'd always despised being under the thumb of the old woman, true enough, but at least he'd been very free in all other ways. At one point, the Sin could have been anyone and done damn near anything...and now he was stuck in one body, and trapped in a cold cell.

Fuck.

The bastard was gone, the Elric shits were dead, and yet Envy was hardly in the mood for celebration. This was not how he'd envisioned his victory over those assholes! He was cold, and tired, and fucking sick...and even though he would never admit it to that lot of bastards, he was beginning to get hungry, and the sight of the very green things which would've once been disgusting had somehow become...appealing. Too appealing. Just looking at them made him voracious. So, of course, in his spiteful pattern, he kicked the dishes aside and sat with his arms crossed over his chest, long hair hiding his face while the spilled plates echoed tinny little rings.

Bunch of shits. What did they think they were doing keeping him locked up like this, anyway? The only explanation Envy could suppose was that maybe they intended to experiment on him, which of course was a possibility, and it scared him more than he cared to admit. Envy was no longer invulnerable. In fact, he was very disgustingly frail and capable of injury, as he had taught himself through the good old-fashioned trial and error method of banging his muscles against the bars behind which his entire life was now held. Ugh. At least the old lady had given him attention whenever he'd thrown a tantrum; now people barely even looked at him. They just stood in the hallways, prattling on and on about the doldrum state of work, and their darling kids or their sweet wives or their funny co-workers...and Envy just wanted to strangle every last one of them.

Except that he didn't.

Which of course was the real problem.

It was such a weird feeling, being uncomfortable with the thought of killing, and thinking about his newfound illness too much actually made Envy a touch nauseous and more than a little dizzy. Conceptually, Envy didn't have a problem with murder, but when he actually visualized the deed—along with the smell of blood and guts and other assorted body fluids—he found himself getting a bit twitchy. The Sin had killed enough things in his time to have developed an astoundingly visceral image of how killing looked, and smelled, and tasted; once, he had been able to hold that image without feeling anything besides satisfaction, or a glib, numb sort of detachment. And now...now it just bothered him.

He wanted to say that the world seemed more real now...but he wasn't quite ready to concede that yet. Contending such a belief as true would have shattered everything Envy had ever believed about homunculi and their contrast with humanity; so, the world was not more real...just more full.

Before, Envy's senses had filtered pictures and sounds so that he saw and heard only what he was comfortable with. He had his own frequency, so to speak—his own wavelength—and after four-hundred years, he had become very accustomed to having everything exist for him in one specific way. And now it was more complicated than that. It wasn't that his senses actually detected more in terms of physical objects...no, nothing like that. It would be more accurate to say that everything seemed to have more...depth. Or significance. Or maybe not more significance, but a different kind. Actions held weight; Envy thought about things. No longer was life a matter of instinct. Now...now, goddamnit, there was brooding!

And he hated it. Hated the squeaky little voices in his head. Hated the memories which weren't even his—the ones which helped to fill out the world, and which made him shudder with loathing. He hated not having control...and not understanding why this had happened to him...hated the shock to his system that this had caused, the way every little thing made his undead nerves jump. It was too much. It was all too much. He didn't know how to deal with it, didn't know how to fix it, and he didn't know what had triggered this to begin with.

Well. Actually...

He did have an inkling as to the last of those.

Ever since that day in the ballroom—the day he had gone toe to toe and fist to fist with the elder of the two brats—he had been off, and he didn't think it was just because he'd lost contact with Dante and the other homunculi. No...he wished the explanation were so simple, but it was clearly more than that. He didn't know exactly what had happened when the Philosopher's Stone had been activated, but being too close to the fallout had ...done something to him. If the homunculus's suspicions were correct...and he really, truly hoped that they weren't...then the little shits weren't quite as dead and gone as everyone thought...

Ugh. UGH. Skin-crawlingly sick! It was not worth it to have them gone if...if this was the cost! Envy had wanted to be rid of them...but not like this! Not like this! This was too fucking cruel! This was as cruel as him...oh, he'd be laughing at his creation's misfortune now, wouldn't be? Ha. Fucking. Ha!

But no matter his negative feelings (and calling them such was an understatement if there ever was one) on the subject, Envy was locked away and relatively helpless. And hungry. And thirsty. Out of control of his body and no longer powerful in any way. He got tired, he got sore, and sometimes he started to feel really sick. Having not experienced any of those sensations for hundreds of years...well, it was upsetting...to say the least. The voices in his head and the fact that he felt as though his own body had become a sort of cell didn't really help matters any.

At least he could still be obstinate. It wasn't much, but it was something that gave him a little satisfaction; he liked screaming and pitching fits and letting everyone in the vicinity know of his displeasure. It was a release, and it felt about as good as anything could in his current situation.

Presently, Envy had sufficiently exhausted himself for the time being. He sat in his preferred corner, chewing on the nails that he had broken by repeatedly scraping them against the walls. His throat was sore, raw, and the latest dinner he had been given rested at his feet, looking like the perfect victim of cruel whims...and although he tried to will his eyes away, they insisted on drifting back toward the meal. Sharp, stabbing pangs of hunger speared his guts. It would have felt so good to eat the damned stuff, he thought...or he supposed. He couldn't say from experience, having refused to consume any prior offerings, but the sight of soft human food had never made his palate so damned wet before.

The voices were still there, but for the nonce, Envy could not decipher anything they were saying. All tones crashed into one another, fizzing into an annoying but soft line of static, not so unlike the white noise a radio might detect, the sound of a can being opened, or the ocean foam spilling onto the thirsty shore.

It was better not to have clarity.

The abrupt, loud sound of a door clanging open stirred Envy from his pissy, melancholy reverie. He pushed his hair away from his face and looked up, ready to be either more annoyed or more entertained...or both.

He straightened his posture and rose to a standing position warily, listening intently to the sound of voices in the hall. Goosebumps prickled his pale flesh as the chill became more apparent, and he groaned as he tried not to focus upon what those bumps undoubtedly signified in terms of his physical composition. Well, at least if his worst fears were true, then maybe the assholes wouldn't have much reason to experiment upon him...not that it'd stop them, probably.

Maybe that was what all the commotion was about, come to think of it. Maybe someone had finally come to deposit the ailing (possibly former) homunculus into a laboratory somewhere. A laboratory...a place with scalpels, and burning chemicals, and possibly chimeras, too. Fuck. They might turn him into a chimera. The thought made Envy wince, teeth grinding together. Oh, they wouldn't take him without a fight; that much was certain! He was in no state to put up much adversity, but it didn't mean he had to just roll over and die or anything!

Envy stood there, hands balled into fists at his sides, sloshing his saliva and chewing his cheeks and twitching irritably; he felt a lot more ready for conflict than he felt ready to cope with conflict. The lights in the hallway swung back and forth as cells opened and closed harshly enough for the ceiling to quiver, and shadows promenaded like sable-cloaked figures. A chorus of angry voices rose from the other cells, fueling Envy's suppressed rage.

Whoever had come...they were here for him; he knew this without having been told. Paranoia or intuition; two sides of the same coin.

He had not expected to see the fuhrer on the other side of the bars, and it gave him pause.

For a second, at least.

Then, he launched himself at this newest embodiment of his ubiquitous Enemy, hissing and growling at the sight of that fucking eyepatch and that fucking position of authority and everything he had come to expect from it. It wasn't the same man, no, but some of the resemblance was far too unnerving, and Envy's memories of the last fuhrer were far too fresh, the wounds still too raw and blistered. His master had valued that stupid humanoid thing more than she'd ever valued him, and her feelings garnered the Sin after which he had been named. He now held onto that envy, that hatred, trying to force it to substantiate that very kill switch which had once been so damned natural and internal.

It was difficult to catalogue what happened next. A blink, a heartbeat, and a better glimpse of the man who had come to visit him; then Envy slumped, hands on the bars, knees torn bloody by the ground. What...? he had time to wonder, disoriented, and then the door had been opened and he was shoved aside—shoved into the wall, stone connecting with his cranium in a sickeningly audible meeting of animate and inanimate forms. He twisted away and tried to scramble to his feet, already panting, but not from any physical exertion. Rather, that damned face had made the memories come back; they swamped him, washed over his psyche and clouded it with inconceivable scruples, mental blocks against any truly murderous intent he might've had.

Footsteps. He heard footsteps, and voices...and one voice addressing him. A smooth voice. A voice of authority.

Envy ignored the man, curling up as he tried to fight off waves of nausea and a splitting headache that had rather suddenly built within his temples. It hurt. Oh fuck did it ever hurt! Humans were so weak. So weak. Envy could've fought any fucking thing out there, win or lose, but he could not fight these damned...these damned...emotions! Or memories! Ghosts! Spectres! They lurked inside of him like predators waiting to hop at the sight of any proper impetus that might happen along, and when they overtook him, he felt as though he were shackled to a will that was not his own, and there was no beating that down with any amount of strength!

"Looks like you're not doing so well," came the voice from before.

"N...no shit, asshole," Envy managed in response. He rolled over and pushed himself to his knees. His breathing was heavy, laboured. Shit. Damn it. The only thing which seemed to work was not trying to attack the prick. Thoughts of beautiful murder only caused his vision to get blurry with spots; try as he might, he just couldn't break the grip that this other presence or presences had on him, and irrational or not, he felt sure they were fucking laughing at his misfortune! He swallowed hard and steadied his breathing. Better. Much better. Well, physically, at least. Mentally, he was still waging war with himself over his sudden inability to be a purely reactionary creature, but the customary static fuzz had begun to coat everything with a fine shield of crystal powder.

"Maybe you should try eating your food? I hear that's good for malnourished—"

A scraping sound interrupted the words. Out of the corner of one eye, Envy saw a plate being slid in his direction.

"—humans."

Envy's hand shot out, sending the plate flying into the far wall. He got one foot firmly planted upon the ground and tried to stand again, but before he knew what had happened, a sharp pain lashed his cheek. He winced, shaking in exasperation, and not even the memories could prevent him from fuming and spitting out several foamy curses hurled in the direction of the presumptuous human who had dared to insult him so horribly! Once again, a fist struck him—this time in the temple. He moved away, mind frantically skimming over possibilities as to what the hell was going on here, primal emotions surging. According to what the other memories said...this wasn't right; it shouldn't be like this...but according to what his own experience and cynicism said, then of course he was getting attacked! The room and all shapes and colours within it spun as though tossed by a whirlwind, fingers dug through Envy's hair, and he found his nose smushed into the wall. Dimly, he was aware of the fact that his cheek was throbbing, bleeding, and it would surely swell.

He had expected to be taken away, most likely to a laboratory. He had not expected an outright assault. Envy could feel the blood trickling down his cheek—not cool and tinted, but warm and very red. Hot. He was panicked and hot, dripping and sweating and shivering in anger at the grip he found himself in...a grip which, given the human's size, should not have been so powerful. He muttered a strangled curse beneath his breath as he strained away from the hand in his hair, then slumped entirely.

The scent of iron was heavy against his nose, and his hair was greasy from the ungloved fingers burying into his locks and scalp; he wanted to find his voice, shout, swear, ask the jerk what this was about, but he couldn't seem to get his bearings straight. He sat there, bewildered, panting and sore and twisted up like a pretzel. One hand had clamped down upon his forearm and twisted it behind his back, securing him and causing his muscles to immediately protest with aches and pains. Frenzied state of mind or not, Envy knew enough about that particular maneuver to understand what, predictably, might come next: Pop. Then, dislocation.

And if...and if his suspicions were true...then...then he wouldn't be able to just heal, and...

"You should know better than to behave that way, Envy," said a voice against his ear, and he felt the warmth of breath as it feathered over the side of his face. New wounds stung hot and raw. Envy knew...somehow...he knew who this was. He could feel it; he had only known the man briefly, being as he had been so humanoid and finite, but he knew that grip, that tone, and that presence...he recognized it, all of it. How the fuck did you get back? he wanted to ask, but the words died somewhere in the morass of thought fragments. He grasped for a suitable verbal response—something truly venomous—or at least physical resistance, but before his mind and body could coordinate a proper effort, both hands suddenly released him.

Envy dropped, caught himself, caught breath, and closed his eyes. Temples throbbed; voices settled like ashes from a pile of burnt leaves; awareness returned steadily, one heartbeat and exhalation at a time. Fighting someone was one thing. Being attacked while fighting with yourself was quite another. Not fair, Envy thought; not fair to have enemies within and enemies outside, too! When Envy turned and opened his eyes, he saw that the man was simply standing there before him, almost expressionless; one dark eye gazed at the struggling prisoner with what appeared to be cool indifference.

Then, something changed. All at once, the fuhrer looked galvanized; he raised a hand to one cheek, tapping it—a curious gesture, until Envy discerned that he must have been imagining the pain he had just inflicted upon his victim. The Sin wasn't sure whether to smirk or scoff; it seemed a little late for empathy at this point!

"You shouldn't have argued. You shouldn't have been difficult," said the fuhrer, voice thick and choked by tension. The smooth lines on the planes of his face were now marred by tight creases; he was wincing, and he himself looked to be in pain. Envy felt his indignation rise at the words; who in the hell did the bastard think he was to come in here, mouth off to him, and then expect him not to react? Ridiculous.

But Envy didn't say his thoughts aloud. He was still too weak, and he hadn't yet figured out what this guy was up to.

"I know who you are," he murmured in a tone just a notch above a whisper, broken fingernails scraping the ground as he slid his hands inwards and hugged his torso. So saying, he smirked...unable to resist some slight defiance.

"You do?" Ungloved fingers flexed, knuckles cracked, and hands positioned themselves behind the fuhrer's back, clasping together as his posture grew rigid. "Then tell me."

That was not the response Envy had expected, and for a moment, he was stunned to silence. Somewhere, a door opened, and other voices raised in appeal or protest.

For the first time, the pain Envy saw in the man's face and his single eye looked...real. He'd seen pain on humans before; hell, he'd caused it, often enough, but compared to the very palpable image he was faced with now, all past glimpses of pain seemed like little more than mirages. This new depth was...in short...terrifying.

"So you're in the same position as me, eh?" Envy laughed miserably, then licked his lips. He arose slowly, taking the time to swipe his forearm over his wounded cheek as he did so. "Well, if that's the case, I don't know why you came to see me. I don't know what misconceptions you might have, but I'm not the sort to commiserate."

"I didn't expect you to be." The fuhrer—no, Roy Mustang, that was his name, wasn't it?—pulled his hands out from behind his back and regarded them with an expression Envy couldn't quite puzzle out, though he guessed it was a kind of quiet awe. Envy watched the man's Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard. "But I'm at my wit's end, and it occurred to me that here I am...losing my mind...and with no recourse, and I'm surrounded by sane individuals who aren't helping me at all." His eye flitted over Envy, and unconcealed disdain rested within it. "So, I thought perhaps it was time to seek solace and counsel from the insane. One to another, if you understand my meaning."

Envy bristled all over again. "Oh, I understand all right. But if you want any help from me, you'd better get off your fucking high horse, Fuhrer Mustang! You're not any better off than I am right now!"

"You're right about that," said the other, voice quiet and somber, but he issued no word of apology. "In fact, I think I could reasonably argue that I'm worse off, since you are confined to a cell, whereas I'm loose and ruling and capable of causing tragedy for all of Amestris."

"Well, I don't give a shit about Amestris," Envy retorted, shrugging, and still determined to be as obstinate as possible. This whole discussion was making him frightened and uncomfortable, and he felt twitchy. He didn't know what this guy wanted from him, and moreover, he didn't know what he could do for himself...and this entire talk was making the future seem a little too close. Before, it had been some distant thing which he could worry about dealing with later; now, it was immediate.

"I've been informed of your...condition, of late," Roy began, ignoring Envy's irritable ranting. "And I must say, it's intriguing. For a time, I even thought perhaps you were gaining what I..." He hesitated. "...what I seem to be losing. But the more I consider the circumstances surrounding your...change...the more I'm certain that something very different transpired. I think there was an exchange, and I think no one was aware of it...except maybe you."

A sliver of light illuminated his dark eye, making it twinkle as though lit by a mischievous glint. "I don't suppose you know what happened to Edward and Alphonse, then?"

"No, I don't. No idea what happened to them..." Envy sneered. "But as to the little shits' memories?" He reached up, pressing his index finger against one of his aching temples. "I can tell you where some of those went." Hastily, he added, "And I don't want them there! I hate what those little bastards have done to me!"

Roy smiled thinly. "Then come with me, and tell me what's happening to me, and I'll do whatever I can to help."

Envy looked down, chuckling dryly while rubbing his hurt face.

Plainly, that was an offer he couldn't refuse.

iv. Numquam magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit

In the sky, a sunset had blossomed.

Apricot, coral, vermilion, lavender. Silver clouds swelled fat with rain, and in the distance, the lavender gradually darkened into a deep purple...the same shade as a bruise. Roy stood near the windows, gazing out over the resting city. The fuhrer's office had been furnished once more after Roy had taken power, and it was lighter now; more relaxed, more comfortable, with windows taller than the man himself and ornate mahogany furniture to fill the spacious room. On this evening, the world looked beautiful, yet Roy could feel nothing but apprehension. The wine had dulled his senses, blocking out his urges for the time being, but he didn't trust himself.

He had almost lost it—no, he had lost it—when faced with that creature.

That homunculus.

That human.

Envy was different than he had been before, and the other within Roy had realized it. Something had changed. A scent; Roy wanted to categorize it as a scent, but it wasn't that tangible. A part of Envy's intrinsic nature had altered, and Roy's sixth sense had detected the abnormality; had it not done so, he knew he would have been more brutal. He would not have been able to hold back his enmity for the homunculus who had once attacked him...though even as that thought drifted into his head, he knew it was contradictory; Envy had never attacked him, but the memories insisted otherwise.

That thing, human or homunculus—whatever he was—had sprawled out upon the sofa, dark hair concealing most of his face, limbs dangling over the side of his resting place. He had finally relinquished some of his stubborn nature and consumed some dinner, and now he was drowsing and looking altogether...content. Of course, Roy knew better than to think he really was content; sleep and the dusky evening sky cast a ruse onto Envy's features, and Roy had not once deluded himself into thinking that Envy's interest in any of this situation extended beyond his own concerns. He was only tolerating this treatment because he had to, and he was only in it for himself.

Nevertheless, and ironically enough, Roy did find that, to a degree, he envied the Sin. Envy was a human now...and in as much as he viewed this as a disgrace, Roy wanted that quintessential soul ether more desperately than he had ever wanted anything before. Envy could sleep without being troubled by nightmares, yet the fuhrer could not. One of them was a prisoner in an obvious sense, but both were captives and confined to their own invisible cells.

Roy swirled what remained of his wine, sipping it and tilting his head so as to watch the transparent reflection of the sleeping former homunculus. His excuse for taking Envy back to his office had been that he wanted to interrogate him, and because he was the fuhrer, no one had questioned his orders. His words had mostly been the truth, too; he had wanted to interrogate Envy, albeit not about the same issues everyone probably would have expected. Roy didn't have to read anyone's mind to know that the main issue of interrogation for Envy was, hypothetically, questions concerning the whereabouts of Edward and Alphonse. Since Roy had no need of such inquiries, their private discourse had instead been restrained exclusively to the subject of how they might undo what was happening to them.

Civil discussion with Envy had proven to be a fruitless endeavor. Once his wounds had been treated with antibiotics (and once he had demonstrated that he was, in fact, a less than cooperative patient), Envy had settled a little, and Roy had—with much wheedling and coaxing—even persuaded him to calm down and eat, but the Sin still seemed of a mind to be difficult, and he didn't react well to stress or prodding questions. Roy had done his best to keep from striking him again, but the other inside of him was growing more restless; fighting back had begun to hurt more and more, and he was starting to worry that it was only a matter of time before he collapsed in upon himself like a star gone nova.

Envy was clearly frightened, and his jumpiness manifested in the form of snarled insults. Roy had to keep his hands behind his back or in his pockets; he could not let them form fists at his sides. This was a test, he told himself. This was all a test, and he could conquer his unseen demons. Looking at Envy's wounds, Roy hoped to feel some measure of regret, or some sympathy. But there was nothing; merely ice.

Ice. Coldness. Such was what the world was becoming. Roy stared into the glass of the window, lone eye taking in his own reflection. Somewhere, distantly, a storm was brewing, and somewhere, close, another had formed. Somewhere beyond the horizon, wars were being fought, and against such scope and magnitude, his own woes were trivial little matters.

And outwardly, he was still the same man; untouched, unchanged, marred only by a pit in the stead of an eye.

There was no solution. No tonic. No magical elixir to get him out of this mess.

Envy had been his final hope, and Envy had provided nothing of use.

And here they were...rotting; one human body, and one human soul. No, two human souls...or at least fragments of them.

"I guess you did have the last laugh, you bastard," said the fuhrer to his reflection, and for a second, a smirk that did not belong to him ghosted across his lips. He raised the glass to his lips and finished off the last of the bitter wine; then, he set the glass aside and pulled his gun from its holster. Familiarity was sinking in; he had done this once before—raised a gun and placed it against his chin—and it was harder to say when he had been more drunk: then, or now.

Once, he had sworn to himself that he would never put himself in this position again, but a lifetime was many years, and never was just a two-syllabled word. His palms were wet, sweaty; it still felt strange to go without his gloves, but he had removed them just in case he lost himself to the power inside of him, though he was by no means sure he could still perform alchemy. He should have tried...he knew he should have...but he had been too damned scared of what he might discover. Cowardice; yeah, that was a feeling he had grown accustomed to during times of despair, and this was no exception. Shaky fingers played over the smooth black surface of the gun, and he considered his position of authority, considered the Elrics and Riza and Havoc and all the people he had ever loved...and he considered the future, all the possibilities it held, and all the misfortune...and he wondered if a well-placed bullet really would settle this once and for all.

He was a coward either way, he supposed; if he ended this now, he was a coward for taking the 'easy' way out, but if he went on with things as they were, then he was a coward for not putting the others' safety above his own misplaced sense of capability.

A sunset, he thought. How appropriate.

A sunset was always the final flame—the last burst of fire—before darkness consumed the sky.

Metal kissed his chin and throat.

Before his fingers could make any deadly movements, however, a stirring motion touched his back like the cool whisper of a spring breeze. Startled, he spun, expecting to see nothing more than a room growing pregnant with shadows—as shadows had been his most familiar companions, of late—but instead, he saw Envy.

He could not tell if Envy saw him, on the other hand, because though they faced one another, the Sin's amethyst eyes held a vacant, faraway stare, and for a moment, Roy absurdly wondered if perhaps Envy was actually sleepwalking.

"I have the answer," Envy said, voice lilting and sing-song, chiming as though he were attempting some variety of incantation. Those eyes never came into focus, but a mad grin broke across his face, and the now bruised skin stretched, contrasting with his pale flesh in (and Roy wondered if this was the other's beliefs) a bizarrely beautiful mingling of darkness and light. The fuhrer could not look away from him, this dreaming demon, and when Envy looked down, long dark strands fell across his features. The shadows played upon him.

"I had a dream," Envy went on, seemingly to himself. The word was offered with such breath and emphasis that Roy could tell it was really meant to sound special, but Roy could not understand how it could be. He had dreams most every night, and they did nothing but bring him horror. "Should've seen it before. Alchemy. That's my way out of this. Alchemy," he whispered, looking up, eyes glittering brightly as the setting sun passed over them.

Envy was trembling as though cold, and only now did his eyes meet with the one eye of the fuhrer, but he never said anything about the course of action Roy had been contemplating. The wine of sleep still seemed to be upon him, and now that he was in a fervor; Roy doubted that he was in the state of mind to notice much of anything. Then, suddenly, Envy leaned close, and Roy took the opportunity to set his weapon aside. He did not know how to react to the sudden warmth he felt against him, nor to the head pressed into his chest.

"You have to help me, you bastard," Envy continued, still whispering; Roy heard the desperation that cut through his words, quickening them to a plaintive whine. "It'll get both of us what we want. You have to help me..."

"I don't think I can do alchemy, Envy," Roy noted, coolly, and his words were melancholy and wistful.

Envy only smiled.

v. Pars maior lacrimas ridet et intus habet

All across the wooden floor, sweeping strokes had formed a smooth array, one whose insides burst open like a bud exploding into a magnificent flower. The design was exquisite, a mesh of weaving arcs and geometric shapes, and when Roy looked at it, he saw the soft edges of nature and the hard edges of science. In the middle, Envy rested upon his knees, but his hands were still going about adding the final marks to the curved design.

Roy stood to the side, admiring the beauty of the artwork. A few simple shapes captured something of seashells, constellations, the elliptical orbits of worlds, and the simple helices which comprised all DNA. So here were those shapes, and within them lay all the centrifugal forces of the universe, and here were lost souls—or gained souls—but either way, there was a misery inherent within them, and perhaps there would be salvation here. This was strictly science, Roy told himself, and yet the sight evoked a feeling within him that he could only describe as spiritual, the same sense that he had gotten all throughout his attempted catharsis following the massacre in Ishbal.

Even though he was not a religious man, he liked feeling as though this scene meant something more; it was a good feeling...a very human one, at that.

Here was a very human kind of madness, the birth of something nature could never conceive of, and hopefully its creation would be more sightly than a chimera.

"This might not work. It probably won't. It's insane," said the fuhrer, not for the first time. Indeed, he must have repeated those same words nearly one-hundred times by now.

"And what are we?" Envy shot back, snorting dismissively. "Just dancing on the edge of sanity, eh?" He stood up slowly, tossing the knife from one hand to the other and slicing a laceration onto his palm. "Looks like I ruined your floor. So sorry. Maybe when you get those flames of yours back, then you'll burn away all this wood and put in some marble. So, what the fuck are you waiting for? Give me your hand."

"Are you sure about this?" Roy found himself asking, but he nevertheless extended his arm and let a matching cut be made on his opposite hand. Envy clasped their hands together, warm blood meeting cool. Fingers intertwined. "I find it hard to believe that Edward and Alphonse knew about any alchemy technique which resembled what you're proposing now."

Truth to tell, he could not recall ever having heard of anything like this, either. It seemed far more like mysticism than rational alchemy.

"You forget that those brats studied a lot of illegal and forbidden shit, and I'm guessing this was a part of it," Envy replied, tossing the blade away before either of them got any pernicious ideas. "But either way, I dreamed that this was what I should do. I haven't dreamed in hundreds of years...not in centuries, and now I am, and this is what my subconscious showed me."

He laughed coldly. "I shouldn't even have a damned subconscious! But you want one. So take it away from me. C'mon..."

Roy glanced away. "It's not my subconscious, though, and for that matter, I don't have your...whatever you want to call it. Your spirit. Whatever kept you going as a homunculus. I have that, yes, but it belonged to someone else."

Envy laughed once again, but Roy could not help noticing that his laughs were never joyful sounds. Each was simply another level of contempt, derision, gloating, or scoffing. "Don't you know anything about Sins? Don't be stupid. When you get right down to it, all Sins are one. We take different forms, but we're all rooted in desire. So you've got a little Pride in you. Well, what do you think causes Envy?"

"That's a lot of theology to place in this situation," Roy said with an air of indifference.

"Heh. No, it's really not. I'm just putting it in terms that a stupid human like you can understand. But if you want even simpler terms, I'll just say that whatever the hell you're carrying around will work fine for me...as long as I can manipulate it, and as long as I can get rid of these stupid weights on my shoulders."

Envy cocked his head. "You think I started out so perfectly set in my ways? Hardly. I took my little...what do you humans call it? An animus? And I worked on it the way you humans might work on a piece of art, and I made it what I wanted it to be. I made me. And whatever it is that you have? I can take it. Shape it. Mold it. I can make myself all over again...and I will, too."

And what about me? Roy wanted to ask, but he didn't; he knew better than to think Envy really cared. Maybe he had the capacity to care, now, but that didn't mean he had any interest in doing so. Still, Roy found himself wondering if all human souls were of the same...substance, the same essence which could be molded and shaped in the way Envy had described for homunculi. And did Envy really have pieces of souls, or only memories to contribute?

And were memories truly anything less than pieces of souls?

Roy figured that such philosophical inquiries would have to wait, because Envy had finished his array, and Envy was insistent...and this was crazy in every possible way—a drunken stupor kind of crazy and a midnight nightmare kind of crazy and a mentally lapsed kind of crazy, too, but then Envy was pulling him—one bloody hand into another—and he could not resist the call of this final hope.

"From what I've heard the guards chattering about, you're quite a skirt chaser," said Envy. Moonlight made his teeth all the more apparent when he grinned so wickedly and settled into the centre of the array, easing his body to the floor. He propped up on his elbows, tossing his long hair over one shoulder. "So this should be easy. Just do your part and I'll do mine. And don't worry; I'm really good."

You're doing all this based on a dream, you idiot, Roy thought, but he held his tongue. It wasn't as though he had any better ideas, and Envy was (from what Roy knew of his previous personality) as zealous about this as he had once been about other pursuits, so there was no point in not at least giving this whole thing a try.

But that didn't mean he wasn't scared. Even if this worked, what would he end up with? False memories plastered into his mind by alchemy? More grief, but of a different sort? Complete schizophrenia? Or just a partial to full human soul?

This really would have made an excellent case study in what it meant to be a human.

"I have a woman I love," he said numbly, stepping forward.

"Fine. So do this for her. I don't love you." A pause. "And more importantly, I don't want to. Silly humans and your romantic notions about fucking. Come on. This is alchemy, and science, and it's how things are made in a lot of different senses."

When Envy laughed, Roy was met with the urge to pummel him again, but there was no arguing with his rationale. This situation was by no means normal; it was weird by any conceivable standard, but damn it, it did make sense.

Roy joined Envy in the centre of the array, starlight capering across both of their features. He was hesitant to disrobe, and at present, he felt no arousal, but Envy's eyes were already wandering over him with an obviously feral hunger, though knowing that hunger was not specifically for him made it a great deal less satisfying. In fact, the whole intimacy was rather creepy, in the sense that either of them might lash out at any moment. In some ways, this could be as deadly as war.

Envy's thumbs slipped into his skort, sliding it down and effortlessly discarding it. Even after he had been discovered and imprisoned, he had been allowed to keep his unusual clothing, simply because no one saw any harm in allowing the little psychopath to be skirted if he wished. Roy had never paid Envy's attire much thought—even though it did resemble something he might have fancied on a woman—but seeing him without the bottom part seemed downright incongruous.

Roy reached out, tapping Envy's shoulder in a caress that was more tentative than erotic. When the other did not resist, he eased closer and continued to undress himself, continued to feel the gaze of those exotic eyes, continued to finger the shoulders and neck of his strange paramour for this evening. Envy held still, seeming more inquisitive and perhaps more darkly amused than he was repulsed, but in the darkness, one could never tell for certain.

Envy reached back and touched the ground with spidery long digits, and pale blue light split the shadows asunder.

This was going to be a lengthy transmutation.

Soul transmutations generally didn't work so well, and Roy knew that, but then again, how many humans could've been twisted enough to attempt to switch souls from two bodies, one to the next? Dante had, but her transmutations had all been with unwilling participants—victims. This was not rape of the body or soul; it was merely a simple exchange, and when his thumbs swirled over the raised alchemical ley lines on Envy's back, all sense of guilt and betrayal vanished from Roy, and the coldness returned. Maybe that was best, for now. For this.

He felt daring, so he leaned forward and pressed their lips together. Envy was warmer than he had expected, not to mention warmer than he looked, but Roy supposed he had just gotten too frigid. Surprisingly, Envy did not protest. In fact, he kissed back, and firmly, locking mouths and twisting tongues as though they were mating serpents, and maybe that comparison made sense: this was just alchemy, after all.

"Yes," Envy said softly, when the kiss broke, and like lifting wings, his lips curved upwards in a pretty smile. "That's the right attitude. Give me everything you have."

Another kiss, this one drunken and feverish. There was energy all around, filling the room and setting nerves ablaze, and Roy could only focus his surging passion into carnal desires, or else it might siphon off into murderous intent. When his hands pressed against that lily white neck and felt out a throbbing pulse, Roy was seized with the sudden urge to grab Envy's throat and snap his vocal chords, but he shook the disturbed longing off and instead let his hands wander over the taut muscles of his arms, back, and abdomen.

Envy squirmed a little, and it was easy enough to guess that he probably hadn't been touched like this in quite a while. His breathing hitched, speeding up. Each second, his short breaths inched closer and closer toward being outright pants. Now that Roy was beginning to feel more interested in his exploration, he reached up and eased the skin-tight top back, pushing Envy all the way to the ground as he did so.

Thumbs sought out the pastel nipples: pressing, pinching gently, rolling the thin skin. Envy sucked his breath in through his teeth and fumbled to pulled down what remained of his lover's pants, and as soon as he had ripped them away, his hand gripped Roy's cock and stroked viciously, causing the subject of his attention to gasp with unexpected delight. The gloves Envy had fashioned from his own malleable flesh felt like a mixture of velvet and sandpaper, a texture Roy had neither experienced nor expected; holding hands had been one thing, but everything felt so different when those touches were administered to such a sensitive location.

When Envy paused, Roy took the initiative and lowered one hand, curling his fingers around the Sin's stiff erection and returning the strokes he had just been given, matching the rhythm as best he could. Envy sucked breath in through his teeth and smiled tensely, and strangely, there was less malice within his eyes...or at least, this was how they looked with starlight reflecting back from them. Envy smelled and tasted like nothing in this world, but his flesh felt like warm porcelain, and the tight skin seemed to ripple over those hard muscles and the faintly feminine curves which accentuated them.

After several more jerks, Roy released Envy's cock—smirking a little at the dissatisfied groan—and trailed his fingers around the faded ouroboros symbol on his thigh. Envy responded with a mild grunt, then his eyes narrowed, and his hands pushed into Roy's short hair as he pulled him forward, giving a frenzied kiss. His tongue fluttered wildly, as though it were a warm, wet caged bird, and little gasps filled the hesitant pauses, punctuating the odd deed with frantic bursts of sound. All caution was gone now, replaced by aggression and simple, unadulterated need. Here were two thirsty bodies drinking from one another, purging souls and entwining arms and legs, all the while indulging in the basic root of all sins: desire.

"Ahhh, you cocktease," Envy purred. "Just fuck me already! Fill me and drain me. It's all just..." He licked Roy's bottom lip, nibbling it gently. "...stupid alchemy."

Roy did not respond verbally. He kissed Envy yet again, sucking the breath from him. There was a low rumbling in Envy's throat which Roy took for a sound of pleasure, and he could not resist running his fingertips across his neck and feeling every satisfying little vibration.

They had prepared for this in all necessary ways. The oil was there, sitting near Envy, and it was no great effort for Roy to grab it and slick one of his hands with the substance; with astounding eagerness, Envy spread his legs, inviting deeper intimacy. Now that all reasoning was currently drowned by mindless wanting (not so unlike a homunculus at all) and a sea of endorphins, Roy wasted no time in shoving one finger in, then a second.

Envy's hips twitched as though he might be in pain or at least discomfort, but he said nothing. Fingers stretched him, prodding and seeking out bundles of nerves. Roy had been with men on some occasions before; he knew how this went. He located the prostate easily, though he had half-expected not to find one, what with homunculus anatomy being different...but then, Envy wasn't really a homunculus anymore, was he? All comprehension was swept aside as Envy's tickling caresses played over his shaft, then lowered to brush against his testicles, cupping them and lightly toying with the delicate skin.

It would have been better if Envy had wanted him; that would have turned him on more, but then again, it would've heightened any lingering sense of human guilt he might have retained, and that was not needed right now. He continued stretching, kissing, accepting Envy's curious fondling. Beneath him, Envy seemed to be growing more demanding by the second, and with a few more minutes of preparation, Roy felt a pair of legs wrap around the small of his back, hugging him and pulling him downwards, forcing his sweat-soaked belly to slide over Envy's hard-on, wetting it in a collision of delicious friction. Envy sighed, and in between kisses he made moist little noises that sounded similar to and yet different from sobs.

Now, those slender hips were no longer twitching away; quite the opposite. Envy was arching his back, pushing those thin bones upwards and propelling them into Roy's hand, and Roy was happy to oblige him by massaging his prostate relentlessly. He had less experience with men than with women, but he knew—roughly—about how much an average person could take, not entirely for a lack of his own personal experimentation, so when the thumping of the heart far beneath that tight black top quickened to a maddening speed, Roy removed his fingers.

And Envy groaned.

In retaliation, his hand shot up and squeezed Roy's cock harder than before, rubbing so harshly that the friction almost burned in a feeling that was as much pleasure as pain.

Roy grabbed Envy's hands and pinned them, then reached down and clasped his own cock, moistening it a bit more before aligning it with Envy's ass and nudging the tip against the newly widened ring of muscle. The legs around his back tightened their grip; muscles tensed in anticipation, and a slow, indulgent smirk slid onto Envy's lips.

It was torn away with the first thrust.

Alchemy sizzled all around them. Just science, Roy tried to remind himself, but it was so hard to think like that when his body suddenly felt more alive than it had since his soul had been consumed by that unseen vacuum. Emotions—beautiful and indescribable sensations—washed over him, even as the alchemy crackled so loudly as to sound like a cackling voice. Envy was tight. So tight. Ridiculously tight and hot. Roy tried to put the other experiences and feelings out of his mind and fuck him steadily and with dutiful detachment, but he couldn't.

He had always been an amazing lover, as was no secret to anyone, but recent times had dulled sex to a charade...but no more. It was coming back now. It was all coming back. Equivalent exchange. He was fucking Envy to death, filling him, and in return, he was being filled with life. Equivalent exchange. Life into life. Life for life.

And Envy was noisy. Noisy in ecstasy. Noisy in dying. He screamed as Roy brutally fucked him into the ground and the very array he had carved upon it, nails digging into the grooves surrounding him, slim shoulders striking the floor with each thrust, back arching into an achingly perfect "n". Then, his arms were up, hands grabbing his lover's back, fingers dragging streaks into his shoulder blades, toes wiggling, heels and ankles burying into the smooth muscle just above Roy's ass. Roy's own hands went from tearing into the floor to holding down Envy's well-muscled arms to shoving into Envy's hair.

Theirs was a tangle of bodies, and like the symbol for alchemy itself, it was hard to say where one ended and the other began.

Like raw, rowdy animalistic fucking, there was no sweetness here. Only craving. Envy had yielded, and Roy plundered him with the same relentless fervor he had shown in battle when fighting foes; he fucked him hard and fast, barely pausing to let him adjust to the tempo or aid in setting the pace, but just as Envy had claimed, he was good. He growled, clawed, caught on, and matched the frenzied thrusts with movements of his own, clenching and pushing as though daring his "opponent" to one-up him. A clash of will. That was basically what this amounted to, wasn't it? Yes. Yes. Fucking to death, fucking to life, and soon enough—if this mania proved its merit—they would be enemies, so the violence of their coupling was fitting.

Both were panting, gasping, uttering choked screams, losing and gaining and relinquishing everything, and it was too intense, too fast and too much, and the heat and friction were too fucking good, and Roy could stand it no more. One final kiss—one lash of tongues like whips of muscles—and the military man surrendered to the former homunculus, drinking in the tangy, musky scent of sex, letting the dark hair tickle his nose as white hot sparks of energy exploded like bombs behind his lone eyelid.

Deep inside of his lover, he shuddered, spilling his seed—filling, giving, submitting, pouring out life and handing out death, and Envy offered broken strings of syllables that never quite managed to be words. A smile covered his wounded face, and he held his lover—his enemy—with his legs, holding him tightly before letting out one more scream, facial muscles contorting to an expression that looked downright pained, and then he too came, loosing himself onto his belly—onto both of their bellies—sticky hot semen pooling between them.

The alchemy flared one final time, then died, leaving the room dark save for the starlight, and a few dim lights lining the walls.

Dark. Silent as well, though when Roy calmed a little, he heard his loud heartbeat, and his own steady breathing.

The arduous effort left him spent, cooling slowly. His muscles were sore, refreshingly so, and he could feel scrapes and bruises all along his body.

Good sign, that. Pain was real...wonderfully, incredibly, real.

He was still hot, sweating heavily; the sky was beginning to lighten with the first rays of morning, and the room no longer felt so empty as it had before.

Things were not perfectly fixed; at least, not yet. His mind was skipping over recollections and jumbled emotions like a rock tossed across a pond, and there was a sharp, confused hurt to all this new sensory input. Too much. It was just too much to adjust to all at once.

It took Roy a while to notice that there was something hot running down his face. Tears, he realized, shocked. Tears. Stinging, bitter, amazing tears. Tears such as he had not cried since his eye had been lost. And amid the tears, there followed laughter—triumphant laughter, not the creaky, warbling imitation noise his throat had created and grown accustomed to of late. Genuine euphoria overtook him, and he was crying and feeling deliriously guilty for his little rendezvous, yet he was also feeling so joyful over his rediscovered abilities. He wept for pleasure and he wept for pain, but all in he all, he simply wept, and inhaled, and lived.

The sun was rising, entering the sky, dawn breaking over the world, and the cold darkness could only fade away to the corners of night.

The fuhrer was still sobbing when he realized that Envy had grown cold and still beneath him...as cold and still as a corpse, no less. His iris tilted downwards, allowing him to look at his handiwork upon Envy's cheek...yet it was gone. Vanished. Flawless skin replaced the bruise, but Envy's eyes were closed.

What if he doesn't wake up? Roy wondered. He could not help the skipped heartbeat and the pang of inexplicable sorrow, even though he consciously knew that Envy was a murderer who deserved to be dead, gone, erased, not a part of this world and certainly not a homunculus running free...but all the same, Envy had given to him. Saved him. Even if it had been for utterly selfish reasons and in order to achieve a callously pragmatic goal, he could not deny that the Sin had done good for him. He felt that he owed him, but if the alchemy had been completely successful, then the debt had already been paid.

Lavender eyes were a long time in opening, but they did open. Lids parted. Sunlight tinted the following stare, making it the hue of morning glories.

The pretty smile returned. Again, cruelty defined it.

"So if you value that life you just got—" Envy said silkily, timbre like a serpent's low hiss. "—then you'll let me go. That's fair, right?"

Roy considered.

A second later, he nodded.

vi. Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio. Sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

A month later saw the war going well, with the northern lands slowly but surely settling into an uneasy peace. Uneasy wasn't good, but it was about as well as anyone could ever hope for when there were so many ideologies at work here.

The fuhrer had, to all reports, come out of his depression and "grieving period" for Edward and Alphonse, and he could now speak of them with a smile which was—to all accounts—bizarrely secretive in a "Wink wink. Nudge nudge. I know something you don't," sort of way. Although there was much speculation, no one had ever figured out what that "something" was, but some maintained that perhaps the boys were still alive and stashed away somewhere so as to escape all of their former ties to the military. The fuhrer carefully evaded all questions about Edward and Alphonse except to hint that wherever they were, their memories were well-kept, and they were still beloved. That struck people—Jean Havoc foremost among them—as cryptic speak for implying that the youths were still wandering around out there somewhere, but Roy claimed to seriously doubt that, which only added to the overall confusion.

His disposition had improved considerably from what it once was, and all the cheery playful zeal had returned...though not the skirt-chasing, of course, since he was still taken by a person with a decisively deadly aim—the sort of person whose ire none would ever wish to elicit. The truly awful nightmares were gone, replaced mostly with dreams of the future, and even though he still had the occasional nightmare, his sleep had grown easy and comfortable. He could rest. He could relax, and he could savour any little thing as he had not done for that one dreary period of time in his life. The horrors of war would always haunt him to an extent, but he had learned from his mistakes, and all the nagging demons which had once claimed otherwise were dead and gone now. He was living, loving, keeping up the fighting spirit, and looking forward to all the days to come.

There were times—primarily when he beheld the countryside that lay beyond his office window during a time of sunset—that he wondered about the shadowy stranger he had met on that one surreal evening, that dark creature who was powered by death, yet who had given him life, and sometimes he wondered about the homunculus—the enemy—he had let walk away, and he remembered the hair like raven wings splashed with fronds, and the lips which had tasted like nothing in the world, and he wondered...truly wondered...if it had all been a dream.

But he never asked, not even of himself.

The inquiry was too silly—and, in the long run—altogether too human.

He was just happy to have the ability to question.

[I hate and I love. Perhaps you ask me why. I don't know. But I feel, tormented, that it is so.]