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Wasteland

chapter 6.

Dying.

The word had attached itself to Envy's mind like a leech, one which was steadily growing plump as it gorged itself on any more pleasant thoughts the homunculus might have otherwise been able to focus upon. An uninformed outsider might have confused his current quiescence with acceptance or even contentment, but the reality was that Envy had simply become too goddamned tired to flail about uselessly, especially now that the runty bastard had passed out and there was no one to flail at.

Stupid little shit.

Envy took a moment to give the asshole a dirty look—or something which very much wanted to become one—ignoring the strain a quick glimpse put upon his sore, pleading muscles. If his coordination had been better, he would have gathered a ball of spit and flung it in the alchemist's direction, but as it was, Envy did not trust his aim; with his luck, a rindle of slaver would probably find its way down his own mouth.

Of course you passed out, you dumb bastard! That's what you get for—

Envy's lip quirked, mouth going for a sneer while his eyebrows lifted, lending him a startled expression atop the smile...or frown...or whatever his face eventually decided upon. It seemed he had scant say in the matter.

—for letting all your blood go down there. Dumbass.

The Sin had only a few vague notions about that subject, most of them conflicting in ways he despised, but he preferred not to think of Edward's idiosyncratic outburst at all; the boy was his son, so of course it followed that he exhibited reproachful and senseless behaviour. Envy guessed Edward might be as senile as his old man, and the thought made him snort derisively. Hohenheim Junior. Hohenheim incarnate. Not the same size, no, but the two had definitely been broken from the same mold.

By now, the line between captor and captive had been so thoroughly smudged that it was impossible to say who, if either, had the upper hand. Stalemate, Envy conceded bitterly as he watched the boy sleep. Well, who says he's asleep? Maybe he's just fucking dead.

Of course, Envy knew better. Centuries spent "hunting" prey had generously rewarded the Sin with some enhanced perceptions, among them a talent for discerning minute signs of life; in fact, Dante had sent him to extinguish so many individuals that after a time, a pulse's death sputters became a rote sight, yet one Envy had never failed to cherish. He was well acquainted with the feeling Edward had just gotten his first taste of (and been overwhelmed by...pathetic brat...): a longing provoked by the sight of a throbbing vein within a warm neck, a vacancy so tangible that the absence of satiation became an ache, one any soul-starved homunculus could relate to.

Envy did not know the names of most veins and arteries, and by the same token, some organs' titles had always eluded him. In spite of this, he had familiarized himself with the human body to such an extent that some doctors should have stood in awe of his knowledge; he knew what went where, what could be routed to where, what objects might best be shoved into a particular orifice to cause excruciating pain, and what nerves were especially fun to pinch. Those were the important things one needed to know about a human's internal workings, even though all the medical facts in both worlds were not doing Envy a damned bit of good at the moment.

The illusion of comfort cloaked the unconscious alchemist, making him look oddly peaceful; beneath stained blond locks, a hint of face peeked outwards. Morning twilight (fuck, how in the hell can it be morning already?) cast a tint to the boy's cheek, and Envy found himself thinking how good it would feel to reduce those bones to shards. Bruises had begun to blossom on Edward's honey complexion, and when he noticed this purple affirmation of pain, Envy smiled thinly. Unkempt hair combined with the first rays of sunlight to create an annoying semblance of a halo, but Envy's eyes focused elsewhere. Downwards, downwards...

There, in front of the lips and nose, infinitesimal puffs of breath eddied bangs. Edward Elric was very much alive, but that could be fixed.

It should have been that simple. How Envy intended to accomplish his longstanding goals had never actually been a matter of question. A well-placed blade or a small pop of the neck would solve the problems known as Hohenheim, Edward, and any other human who had the audacity to attract Envy's notice. Why had never been an issue of debate, either; Envy knew he was justified; the righteousness of his feelings was as much a fact to him as his own existence. Since Envy knew what his banes were, that left only when and where their deaths might occur. Zealous as ever, the homunculus wanted to seal those queries away with a simple here and now, but Envy knew that—

(...someday soon...I'm really going to make you suffer for this, Hagane no Ochibisan...)

—even if he were free, he could not murder the bastard's spawn (yet), because that would mean being alone (abandoned); under any other circumstances, Envy could have dealt with solitude, could have sought out Hohenheim himself (which he may as well have done, because hell, the short shit hadn't exactly contributed anything to their 'quest'), but Edward's metaphorical fingernails had dug grooves along the discoloured places where Envy's ancient scars lay. And his real fingernails weren't so fucking nice, either.

His wounds had healed by now, but Envy could still feel the burn of five little torches upon his neck; he could still imagine the pain that had made him feel as though he'd been flayed, and he hated the bastard for it—hated him for the simple fact that Edward had been capable of getting him down and trying to kill him in a way that had been both slow and agonizingly personal. Getting stabbed or shot would have been one thing; Envy had incurred plenty of both kinds of injuries during missions for Dante, and it was always funny to see the look on the humans' faces when the red smiles on his skin vanished, or when the shells popped out and rained on the ground with a chorus of musical pings. It had been exciting...enjoyable, even.

What had just happened, on the other hand, had been a new kind of nightmare for Envy. He had not felt so vulnerable since...since...

He snarled. How dare that useless fucking amputee of an alchemist make him feel this way! Envy was a proud being, adroit and sleek, agile and graceful, so limber and buoyant that he could dance in the air with ease; his lustrously slim body belied a strength that no human could hope to stand against, and yet the infuriating midget of a wunderkind had.

Once his immaculate form had been fully realized, Envy had deemed himself a god, something so far above any human that it was downright inconceivable that he could be bothered by any of the insignificant gnats. By hurting him, by humiliating him, by making a gazelle out of a powerful lion, Edward had shaken Envy's faith in his own invulnerability. For the first time, the homunculus understood how the villagers in Lior must have felt upon seeing Edward topple their priest, their religion, and their entire way of life.

Although Envy had always considered religion an exercise in human futility (leave it to humans to cleave to dreams of clouds and empty air...), his supposed invincibility had been his own doctrine, a piece of intrinsic knowledge which had never failed him before. Apparently it was also an invitation for Edward Elric to topple another statue, boot out another priest, and steal the glory of the sun. Science had always been the assassin of gods, and Edward was nothing if not a child of science; everything from his love of alchemy to his automail limbs had spoken of his devotion to the egregious creed which had given Envy birth.

The sight of Edward lying there looking cozy prompted such hatred to rise within Envy that he immediately began kicking anew, spitting, fuming, hissing words of vituperation. Envy could feel his blood vessels stretching against his skin; his throat recalled the exact location of each affronting finger. His inhuman pain receptors felt as though they were bared against the cold air, and over and over again, he envisioned bright red streaks marring everything from collar to chin, signifying slow death, reminding him that his healing ability extended only until his stones ran out.

Stones...lack of stones...that's going to be a problem, isn't it?

For an instant, Envy forgot his rage, forgot to hate the little shit, forgot to throw himself against the ground. His mind had resumed its earlier course, and as it had done several times over the course of the last hour or so, it had reached the same conclusion: death.

The Truth was as unsightly as anything the Gate might dream into life: Death. Not death in battle, not death as the price of some greater accomplishment, only a plain coin toss in which heads was Edward's wrath and tails was a slow and all too human withering of Envy's self-constructed body. Homunculi did not age as humans did, but they relied on incomplete stones as sustenance; without nourishment in the form of red candy, they would eventually perish. Dante had last fed Envy not long before he and Ed had fought in the ballroom, so he guessed he still had a fair stone supply, but not an infinite one, and being strangled had certainly taken its toll on his reserve.

At the thought, Envy was unable to bite down a soft moan of mixed exasperation and glumness. He heard the stress within what was left of his voice, felt that same stress within his marrow and the fibrous tendons that held his counterfeit parts together.

Sweat had created a sticky mere around his body; his clothing was drenched and he couldn't just transform his discomfort away; no, of course not! This world had relegated him to a prison of his own anatomy, a place in which every unimportant itch taunted him by holding up a mirror and demanding that he see the borders drawn to enclose his newly limited abilities.

It pissed him off that every fucking thing seemed to bore holes into his sense of security; he hated the gradual decline of his life's fluid, hated how Edward had exacerbated that very decline, hated being helpless, hated being made so fucking aware of how helpless he now was.

A shudder passed through Envy at the memory of that warm body pressing down on his belly; never before had the homunculus been at the absolute mercy (or lack thereof) of a human being. Edward's heat had been its own kind of insult, though a lesser one than the unabashed hard on he had gotten off of his victim... Envy wondered if the boy had been aroused by the thrill of killing, the physical proximity, or both... not that it really mattered; the actual trigger was meaningless, and Envy did not want to think about it too much anyway. The only comfort (minor one, at that...) was knowing he now had marginally more fodder to use against the prick...

...or I will, if I can ever get this damned spike out.

Envy had not yet ruminated upon what he hated most about the events that had just transpired, but... (nottruenottruenot...) ...this was because he refused to do so. It was... (didn't matter...) stupid, nothing more than a product of the deep archaic fear Edward had unseated. Envy was just... well, afraid, damn it! Afraid and shaken to the core! It was natural for humans to feel twinges of insanity when confronted with their most drastic and haunting memories; why should a homunculus be any different?

Anyway, he had more important concerns. Hohenheim still lived. Anything not pertinent to that fact was a mere distraction, one which Envy could not afford.

It's been long enough...muscles are rested now...have to try again...

As spears of sunlight set the dust motes ablaze, Envy unfolded his body; his muscles protracted with such abrupt force that a leg shot over the edge of the hollow, and for once, the homunculus found himself cursing his exorbitant strength. Power was only nice when one had control over it. Undaunted, Envy tried again to push himself at an angle so as to slant the wood and drive it sideways against the floor. If he could just hold still long enough to get the right amount of leverage, then the ground would do the remainder of the necessary work.

He winced, holding his breath as a deluge of pain overtook his spine. Hands opened and closed spasmodically; fingers sought something to grip, anything to take the focus away from his suffering. The soreness began as a flurry of pins and needles, then quickly swelled to a hail of daggers. Bite down and fucking take it, he told himself, unable to resist the scream that ripped his tormented lungs. Muscle jerks were getting the better of him; his arms and legs flailed as though he were a serpent impaled on a stick and caught in its own death throes. One hand slipped off the jagged edge of the floor; Envy swiped for a better grasp, but only succeeded in burying the lance of broken splinters into his palm.

SHIT!

He panted, ignoring the stone fluid that gleefully rushed out of his palm. Fuchsia liquid coated the abyss's toothy border, and Envy pushed down harder, not even sure if his positioning was still at all accurate. His back arched lewdly as the daggers grew to swords; already his lungs felt as though fire had inundated them, and Envy suspected that his voice had died, although the torture was now too intense for him to be certain of anything. Not going to...let myself be a knot of gnarled tissues again...never again...never again...

As blinding and sense-consuming as Envy's agony had become, he knew his spite still outweighed it. Spite, piss, and venom. Maybe those were not qualities which civilized society deemed admirable, but they had served the Sin well for four-hundred fucking years and he did not intend to abandon them now. A heavy rumbling sounded in the distance; Envy heard it even over his pain, although he assumed it was thunder, and he was hurting too much at present to give any sensory information any mind.

The spike shifted.

Dislodge, damn you! Get out, get out, GET OUT! his mind sobbed. Colours blurred; shapes grew fuzzy and spun, pirouetting into one formless mass. The world shook, the noise grew deafening, small parts of the ceiling crumbled into a pile of dust, and Envy pushed down one more time.

The wood moved, ripped his skin in a crude arc, and fell.

Relieved of the weight, the burden, the pain (although its echo lingered, for the nonce), Envy collapsed, panting and trembling. Perspiration had soaked him, covering his body like birth fluid on a newborn—an apropos comparison, given that he had not felt so debilitated in four-hundred years. Envy let his breathing steady as he curled into a foetal position, watching with detached interest as a chunk of himself disintegrated upon the floor.

Out. He did not know where he intended to go, but he had to get out...had to get away from this place that felt too much like a womb, a coffin...an alchemist's laboratory, all stifling heat and...

He looked down at the design he lay upon. As if a trance had gotten the better of him, he brushed his wavering fingertips along the closest marking, staring in horrified wonder at Edward's artwork.

(useless...completely useless...no more alchemy, no more stones...)

The curious fingers curled into a fist. Envy pushed his knuckles into the ground and eased himself to his feet, wrapping his arms around himself as he tried to regain his composure. The 'thunder' had altered in pitch, no longer resounding like the groaning stomach of an immense beast. Now, the roar had turned...sharper. More distinctive.

War. This place is at war, so...

Boards creaked, snapped, gave way. A bulge swelled in the ceiling, then burst, releasing a torrent of debris into the room's centre. The bed clattered away, dancing out some discordant rhythm, but Envy's eyes locked upon the blond, never straying. A dry rain of rubble poured down around the unconscious boy, and Envy found himself thinking that if he left him here, there was a good chance he might die.

Good. I want him to die...hate that stupid short bastard...hope he rots.

But if Edward died, then...

Fuck. FUCK!

Perhaps it was nothing more than the grey particles clouding his vision, but as Envy watched the room sway, churned by an unseen storm, it seemed to him that Edward was not Edward at all, but someone a good deal older and taller. He secured his footing while his body finished healing itself, pressing down hard to keep from toppling forward. Panic laced his thoughts; he could not be abandoned again, never again! In his current frazzled state of mind, being abandoned by the bastard's son equated being abandoned by the bastard all over again!

Muttering curses all the while, Envy padded over to where the alchemist lay and yanked him up by the collar, dragging him along the floor and not giving any mind to what kind of detritus his skin might be subjected to along the way. Just because he was saving the little shit did not mean he had to be gentle or kind or anything of the sort, and Edward's flesh leg could get shredded to the bone for all Envy cared.

The homunculus located the door to the outer balcony and kicked it open, pulling Ed's limp body along as he held the railing tightly and tried to keep from stumbling down the stairs. Intermittent bomb blasts threatened to send them both sprawling, but Envy quickly caught on to the frequency of the quakes and paced himself accordingly. Automail struck the ground with each step, voicing the slow trek to the ground. Once there, Envy glanced back and forth, unsure of where to go. The rising sun and the red fires of bombs had painted the sky a hue between citrus and blood. Envy could feel shards of broken glass in his feet, tiny sharp pieces that stung incessantly and prattled nastily about his weakening state.

Hohenheim. He had to find Hohenheim. Everything else could wait.

Envy caught sight of an alley beside the hotel. His lip hitched up in a smirk. Not exactly the most elegant resting place for the brat, but for now, it would do, and any place without a ceiling (or at least a ceiling in dire need of repair) seemed a hell of a lot safer right about now. With that thought in mind, he hoisted the boy over his shoulder and proceeded to take him into the alleyway, ignoring the explosions he heard somewhere in the vicinity. Nothing could be done about the war, and Envy wanted no part of it. He needed to find and kill Hohenheim; by the time he had finished his primary task, any remaining edginess over his traumatic experience would have surely faded, and then he could feel comfortable getting rid of (and maiming) Ed once and for all, too.

At the alley's end, there sat a large garbage pile. Envy smiled, musing to himself that this looked like a remarkably appropriate place to deposit a kid with a metal leg and without two good limbs. Broken refuse, indeed.

With an unaffected air of complacency, Envy tossed Ed at the base of the trash heap, snickering when he heard the sound of scattering bottles.

"I figure you'll be as safe here as you would be anywhere else," he said with false gentleness, crouching down so as to share an eye level with the sitting figure. One of his hands went to his knee while the other closed around Ed's automail leg. He knew it would be a good idea to just remove the damned thing...not like Edward really needed the edge, anyway, but something gave Envy pause. Ed had not been useful yet, but later, he might have some actual purpose, and until Envy knew what that could be, he was hesitant about tearing off more than was necessary...no matter how enjoyable it would have been.

"Safe until I get back, that is..." he added playfully, pushing the fringe away from Ed's eyes. "Then...well, you're gonna wish I'd just let you die back there." His hand left the other's leg in favour of his crotch, squeezing with an irritable growl and a broad sneer. "Maybe I should get rid of this, huh? ...Not yet, though. I've got more important shit to deal with right now."

He pulled back, cupping Ed's chin and smushing their faces together. "Do you know what I hate the most? I wonder..."

A chuckle.

"I hate that you wanted me, even if you didn't mean to...I hate you for that." He released Ed's face and adjusted his weight, hugging his knees and eyeing the boy as if expecting him to act. "Most of all, I hate that you made me want you...even if it was only for a second. I hate you for that...but I guess the feeling is mutual, isn't it?"

He lifted the wrist, thinking how easy it would be for him to shatter those minute bones.

"But I still win, because I have your secret, and you'll never have mine. Seeya later, Shorty."

Envy dropped Ed's arm and suddenly clipped him across the face. Thin lip skin broke under the assault, and a trail of blood wended its way down his chin. The homunculus laughed, leaned close, and licked away every last droplet.

He arose and turned, not deigning to give a final glance backwards before sprinting away.