When one had become as accustomed to transmuting without arrays as Edward had, clapping became a matter of instinct.
Kneeling beside his recently carved artwork, the boy was again reminded of what he lacked; the nerves attached to his automail port burned, aching with an urge which could not be fulfilled until metal and muscles sang together once more. The possibility of having nothing but a socket for the remainder of his life made for a grim and frightening prospect, though not so frightening as the growing possibility of not having a life to be miserable within.
Even if this works, even if I can destroy Envy, then where do I go from here?
He bit his lip, shoving the thought aside as he touched the ground, hoping that luck would lend him its wings, all the while silently praying for the failure of Murphy and all the damned rules which governed this strange and limited wasteland. To hell with flying machines and mechanisms that scientists in Amestris had never conceived of; even after everything that had happened, Edward continued to uphold faith in equivalent exchange, not merely because he wanted the concept to be true, but because it had to be true.
If he could not believe in that principle, in the chance for good times to balance out the bad, then madness and despair would claim him more quickly than Envy could ever hope to.
Presently and not surprisingly, the homunculus resembled a caged animal being confronted by a potential threat. Stripped of all semblance of glory and grace, his claws savagely torn away, Envy looked like more of an invalid than his former victim. Had he been a detached outsider looking in, had this been some fanciful play instead of a very real life and death situation, Edward supposed he might have taken the two of them for an amusing sight; here was Envy trying to crawl around with a spike in his back, trying to speak over a tongue which sounded to have fattened considerably due to his lack of motor coordination, and here was himself—the famous 'Fullmetal Alchemist'—beating at the floor with his only arm and praying for luck from various ideals and gods, all but one of which (equivalency) he did not even believe in.
It was time for this Divine Comedy to conclude, time for this world and Amestris to be purged of the Sin of Envy, and all the better that the monster's eyes were not sewn shut; Ed wanted him to see, to feel, to hurt. When he pressed his hand to the ground, Edward could see the bald whiteness of his knuckles painted by the meager light; he could feel tremors rippling through his bones, muscles, and nerves.
Revenge. Edward Elric wanted revenge. He had been killed by this creature; it had chained him up, humiliated him, tortured him, kidnapped and threatened his beloved brother, and killed countless others. Simply righting a wrong and erasing a Sin was not enough; maybe once upon a time, it would have been, but now Ed demanded his antagonist's pain.
("Y'know...you're not any better than I am...")
Ed winced at the memory he had involuntarily called forth, then shook his head, resolving not to let Envy's little speech get to him. They were nothing alike. Nothing alike. He wanted revenge because Envy had pushed past all the human limits of his kindness, but he was not an evil person at heart, nor was he a murderer. He had never taken pleasure in causing suffering—
(but isn't that what you want to do now?)
—and he had never given anyone disproportionate harm. Maybe he was enjoying watching Envy squirm, but Envy had done far worse to him. Equivalency supported the notion that Edward could do more than simply kill Envy and still come out as by far the more virtuous of the two.
But I don't want to torture him or anything. I only want a little...
There was no glow, no comfortably recognizable feeling of energy empowering the circle, no spectral breeze to lift his now matted web of loose hair—nothing at all, save for a few flashes of lightning from the dying storm, each blinking into life before receding timorously into the soundless night. The silence had grown corpulent, undulating about the room in broad waves, punctured here and there only by Envy's fragmented breathing.
Nails met the curve of a palm; veins on the wrist pushed at the skin which covered them, popping out to form blue streaks up and down the forearm; when comprehension of his failure at last dawned upon the alchemist, he exhaled, covered his face with his hand, and sank a little further into himself, into numbness, into a morass where logic and emotions saw one another across an abyss and denial embossed all.
Edward downed yet another of the knots which had recently arisen within his throat, then raised his shaky hand, pushing the sweat-soggy fringe away from his brow with one jittery swipe. He spent a long minute inhaling, insisting on forcing enough oxygen into his body to remain conscious. It was hard to say what was keeping him awake; he had bled out most of his strength, and the adrenaline rush had long since passed. Physically, he had nothing left, but here he was, awake yet asleep, so tired and numb that his body was forgetting to ache.
The morning would be a harrowing one, if in fact he lived to see it.
"Didn't work, did it?" Envy asked from nearby. Ed heard the creature's body collapse with a loud, long laugh and something which was presumably a sigh of relief.
Edward had only understood the words because he had expected them; otherwise, Envy's speech was too distorted to follow. The blond kept his eyes lowered, mind still focusing upon the thought of a transmutation, upper teeth biting persistently at his lower lip. This was not right. It was...predictable, really, but not right. If this was the same world he had encountered before, then alchemy would not work here, but...
It ought to. There ought to be some kind of fairness in this world or any other, damn it!
Ed let out a choked sob, punching the ground while his brain demanded whywhywhywhyfuckingwhy in a strident clang. In the background, far away from his ringing ears, he could hear Envy chittering in laughter, whooping madly and going on (incoherently, for the most part) about how he had known it would never have worked; a silly idea, he claimed, doomed from the start, and who in the hell did Ed think he was if he believed he could seal a homunculus without using anything from its original human life?
He wanted Envy to shut the fuck up, but more importantly, he wanted to shut Envy the fuck up.
Ed's eyes raised, levelling upon the homunculus, watching as he flopped around helplessly, a fish out of water: all wheezing and strangled pants, jerky limbs flailing about a body eaten by paroxysms. Bemusement slowly faded from Edward's mind, replaced by the dire knowledge of what he needed to do, what he had to do if he was to live. His lips pressed together tightly as he pushed up off of his knuckle, lifting himself off of his knees, ignoring the stinging pain of skinned flesh as he rose to a standing position.
Darkness ruled in this private kingdom, this land where solitude and quietness whipped everything into a thick atmosphere broken only by Envy's actions and sounds. The moonlight had abandoned them, the lightning had ebbed away into nothingness; Edward could no longer hear his own breathing, could no longer feel tears clawing at the backs of his eyes or blood drying to form little stains all over his body.
He only knew one thing: what he had to do. Even without alchemy, there were ways to destroy a homunculus...not glorious ways, not simple ways, not attractive ways, and not easy ways, but...
I have to do it, he assured himself, pretending that he had not already begun to shudder. Have to...may not get another chance...
And why should he be hounded by guilt, anyway? Envy was not human, not capable of redemption or love or anything but futile grudges, enmity, and destruction. The creature was just a...monster, a Sin, and not even Edward's Sin at that, though perhaps in this instance, the Sin of the father had come to plague all of his sons.
Like a man about to be executed instead of a man about to execute another, Ed strode forward slowly and purposely, posture so straight and rigid that any of the high-ranking military officers would have been forced to admire his dutiful appearance, never mind that his legs felt like sludge and his spine had managed to tie itself into a neat little knot. Just stress, he told himself, clicking automail footsteps punctuating his advance. Just stress, because who the hell could have all their nerves and wits after what I've been through? But all I have to do is kill Envy, and then I can find Dad and figure out some way to get back to Al...
Envy met him with a sneer that seemed to voice challenge, palpable loathing seeping from his bristling body; lightning flashed anew and Edward saw Envy's location, his perilous nearness to the pit of his own creation. Kicking him into that hole would have been simple enough, but knowing his luck, Ed figured the fall would probably only serve to dislodge the spike he had bound Envy with.
Ed watched Envy claw and twist, fighting his confinement with every ounce of vitriol the Gate had given him. An impressive display, but not one Ed wanted to see; that fighting spirit only highlighted the difficulty inherent in what he was about to attempt, and damn it, he did not want to remember that Envy carried some kind of animus, some kind of energy which allowed him to function and which manifested in such a similar fashion to a life. If the alchemist could convince himself that Envy was nothing more than a pile of Gatestuff, if he could suppose that Envy didn't feel...didn't really feel anything beyond surface level pain and the old scars of imprinted memories, then...
I've killed homunculi before. Silently, he repeated to himself what he had earlier told Envy. Even the one with my mother's face...even her...
But then there was Lust with her longing to become a human, Gluttony with his obvious affection for her (fake affection, memories plastered on a mind, just the idle echo of humanity and nothing more...), and Greed, whom Ed had grieved to such an extent that he had sobbed and pulled his hair as guilt drove him toward madness.
But that was different, because...Envy is...older, more evil, and...and because that was the first time I'd ever just stabbed someone through and killed them, fought to kill or anything like that...of course I was broken up over having to kill Greed, but...
This was not like before. His hands had already been drenched with the product of thousands of human lives (...when put that way, I don't sound any better than...); why should he worry about letting a few more run over the one hand he had left?
"How does it feel, Envy?" he asked idly, rubbing at the array with the heel of one foot. He was not stalling; he could do this... "Y'know...you're really not much, are you? You're just a Gate creature who happened to get some memories from a human life thanks to whatever Dad gave up to make you. It's not real, Envy. Your fucking righteous vengeance isn't even real...it's nothing but a trick, a lie, and so are you."
He touched his jaw, stroking circles with the back of his hand. "Dad's other son...died a really long time ago." Ed laughed dryly, allowing his thoughts to wander over Envy's forlorn plight, even if he did not want his mind going in that direction. Pitiful, really; not Envy's oncoming demise, but the fact that he wasted so much time persuing nothing and for no good reason; four-hundred years of pointless existence was surely something to feel sorry for, but not so sorry as to think that Envy deserved to be spared. "Whatever you are, you don't belong in this world, or any world, for that matter..."
As though an unseen finger had pressed an invisible trigger, the words seemed to activate Envy's full store of resistance. Lunacy seized the cat-like eyes; teeth collided in an earthquake of white tectonics, and the homunculus bucked, kicking at Ed before nearly toppling back into the hole he had lain beside. For Edward, the attempted attack (he rationalized it as such) proved to be impetus enough to silence his vile, condescending little mental voice. Conscience flew aside, heart hopped like a hare, mind blanked, and automail pestled innards.
Envy screamed and thrashed, almost taking a tumble. Ed sucked his breath in and descended upon the homunculus, shoving a fist into his hair so as to yank him toward the border of the array. The slight toss that followed sent Envy sprawling, turning at such a confounding angle that the wood sticking out of his back and the thick globs of pseudo-blood surrounding it became visible. Ed winced, but he assured himself that Envy was not feeling the pain as a human would have, and that even if he were, it was minor compared to the pain that he had dealt to others.
Before Envy could wrestle his way to his knees, Ed tugged him down, all the while remaining as alert as a person in his position could; he stayed wary of the weapon which had placed Envy into this situation, making sure not to disrupt its location or shake it free as he eased Envy down by the hair. Ed watched, feeling oddly detached as Envy turned and heaved red stones onto the ground. Good, Ed's mind reminded itself. This is good. He's starting to die. You want him to die, so this is a step in the right direction.
Ed assumed he would have been thrilled, had he not been lying next to unconsciousness and even death. Instead, his hand untangled itself from Envy's hair and went straight to its primary target: the homunculus's throat.
He would have preferred to kick Envy to death; automail was deadlier than human flesh—deadlier, and significantly less intimate. Edward could have destroyed Envy without ever putting himself into a position to feel him, but though that route would have been easier if he had been successful, it also carried more risks. Already, Envy had managed to fight back far better than he should have been able to; Edward could not take any chances with his precarious and not necessarily permanent victory.
For a homunculus drained of some stones, strangling would probably not make for a quick death; Envy's body still had no trouble regenerating; Edward knew he would have no choice but to clamp down and hold firm until all twitches and signs of "life" ceased.
He also knew that if he paused to think about what he was doing, then he would have been the one retching onto the floor.
Fingers played over Envy's neck shyly, hesitating as though this were flirtation instead of a killing clutch. The homunculus must have sensed the awkwardness, the revulsion, the fear Edward reserved for what he was about to attempt. Lips pulled back; teeth glinted like two rows of daggers poised to strike the offending alchemist. Envy's expression was maniacal, two parts a study in hatred and fanatical rage, one part something which Ed might have deemed fear, except that he could not; the classification was too generous; it gave Envy too much of a right to seem human.
Ed's chest tightened. Fingertips plunged into clammy skin; stray thumb pressed against the tense jawline. Envy thrashed beneath the other, kicking furiously but clumsily, uselessly. Edward closed his eyes against the experience, then opened them again, horrified but unable to look away. He could hear the low growl that he had not yet managed to suffocate, could feel the supple muscles of the other's exposed abdomen massaging his own as the creature's belly leapt and sank rapidly. Trampolining mid-section, hummingbird heart, curling toes making some feeble attempt to kick at the small of Ed's back while gloved hands tried and failed to grasp at the rigid shoulder blades.
Killer, Ed's mind swore. Killer. Sinner. Monster.
He was too overwhelmed with the sheer force of the moment to figure out whether he had intended the mantra to be for himself or Envy, and he was by no means sure he wanted to know.
Maybe they had switched places in more ways than one; sinner and saint, killer and victim, human and inhuman; did it even matter anymore? Feverish, Ed felt, as empty and disoriented as he had been when troubled by illness as a child, shock now overtaking him as thoroughly as when he had awoken from the nightmares that plagued him during his recovery from automail surgery. Years had passed, but here he was, back in bed and screaming into the night as shakes wrung the sweat from his body and visions of the Gate fizzled in the stagnant air.
Envy was the Gate, the wicked truth behind hubris, the consuming black hole unleashed by forces which were beyond the understanding of most. But, powerful and capable of destruction though he was, Envy could be destroyed.
Ed's grip compressed mercilessly, and the growl finally died. Golden eyes revealed nothing but pure tranquility as the extra pressure sent droplets of incomplete Philosopher's Stones to the ground. Nails raked the soft raised lines which would have been veins in a human's body. Coolness pumped beneath the surface, ice to supplement Envy's blazing temper. Bones, spidery veins, a bobbing Adam's apple drumming against Ed's palm...Envy made for a good copy of a human.
If only I still had my automail arm...then this would be quicker and less...
Edward was forced to look the Sin in the eyes as he felt out the place where life could flow or where it could be extinguished. The tickle of hair and the contrast of hot and cold announced the embrace of bodies, an entwining that had turned as deeply personal as it was savage and violent. As strange as it felt, Ed knew he had rarely shared something so intrinsic. Only Alphonse had known him on this level; he had sacrificed a part of his body for his brother's sake, and only to his little brother had he ever confided his fears, but quite against Ed's will, Envy had ripped his most private feeling out of him, had forced the both of them to connect in a way he had probably never even intended. Now Ed was doing the same to Envy, pushing the Sin's clandestine and hated emotions to the surface, squeezing honesty into his eyes, and when their gaze linked...
There were no secrets.
Envy must have known it, too. His eyes closed.
Hypocrite. Inwardly, Ed laughed, amazed that the Sin could have enjoyed stealing this naked vulnerability from so many people when he himself was unable to stand being open and upfront. Hypocrite, his mind reiterated, this time for himself, because he knew he could not have stood this if it were not for the fact that Envy would soon be gone. He had plumbed the depths of Edward's soul, but he could never vocalize anything he had discovered.
The blond chanced a glance backwards and downwards. The night had grown so turgid with darkness that little could be seen, but Edward noticed Envy's pale thighs and the wine-coloured ouroboros upon the left of those, as well as the way in which his own pelvis had unceremoniously settled upon Envy's waist, legs hugging legs. It shouldn't have meant anything; compromising positions were common in battles, and it was not even the first time Edward had found himself atop the other, even if the previous instance had been during a battle in which Envy was far more of a match. All the same, this felt...different.
Ed tried to shake away the resounding impression, tried to play off the sudden surge (of what? what the hell was that? surely not lust...nononono couldn't be...) as nothing more than the product of blood loss. He couldn't have been in his right mind...couldn't have been completely normal, not after all he'd seen and been through, but whatever this was, he could not control it, could not will it to wither. One jerk, one automatic slip that propelled his upper body forward and nudged his pubis along Envy's navel, and Ed felt—
—that distinctive stirring, that little murmur of excitement from his groin, that terrible heat which caused him to gasp, eyes going wide as he choked on some warbling sound that quite desperately wanted to become a sob. Hardness came between the both of them as his body betrayed his mind, his mind betrayed his body, and his endorphines got the better of both. He winced, brow creasing as his hand grew unsteady. His grip on Envy's throat melted and fell away, arm and shoulders slumping. Sweat. Everything carried the scent of sweat...that and the damned stone fluid of Envy's, though Edward suspected the sudden increase of the latter smell indicated that Envy too was sweating.
Wrong! It was wrong, evil, and what the hell was wrong with him that his body would do such a thing? He would have gotten up and tried to flee, but his last vestige of rationality persisted in mentioning that Envy was still very much alive beneath him. Wrong, wrong, and how in the hell could that happen, anyway? I'd lost blood and it shouldn't have...
Slowly, Envy's eyes opened, lids sliding back to reveal irises gone black with rage. Pain warped his facial features—pain and stark disgust. Through that storm of suffering so apparent that Edward himself could almost feel it, Envy smiled. Teeth cemented together, parting only long enough for him to say, "Well, Ed, how noble of you..." in a voice that sounded as though it had been dragged along a rock quarry.
"No!" came the knee-jerk response, and Ed slammed a fist into Envy's chest, sending himself off of the body and onto the ground, panting as tear-like streams of sweat ran down his face and dripped onto the floor. He had to compose himself, had to gather his wits and rid himself of the shudders; this was a desperate time and he could not afford to let anything get the better of him, least of all some silly little...twinge. "I'm not like that..." Dizziness shook him; a few layers of fuzz bounced along his thoughts. "I'm not like..." (who?) "...Kih...Kimbley, or...Barry...or..."
"Really now?" Envy made some kind of sound which Ed took for a laugh. "But all humans are the same...remember what I said before. You're not any better than you think I am; everyone is a killer, and—" A whisper. "You love it. Love...controlling life. Playing with life." Teeth chattered. "Isn't that alchemy, Ed?" he continued, his tone overflowing with exaggerated mellifluousness; sharp, teasing, overly sweet, like poisoned honey. "I know your Sin, Edward."
Ed's ears buzzed over the sound of Envy's struggles as the Sin began once again to sort himself out. Corners grew black, rats squeaked, and water dripped somewhere far away; floorboards rattled, while a great onyx maw gaped, swallowing consciousness. Darkness engulfed all things, and the quivers finally ceased.