chapter 7.

The sun had barely risen when Ed's eyelids grudgingly parted, gold on his face meeting gold in the sky.

Immediately, his hand went up, shielding him from the obtrusive light. This new day may have been as overcast as the last for all he knew, but after having spent hours living in a world of pitch, any luminescence proved too harsh. His typical response—

I wanna go back to sleep; why are you waking me up so early, Al?

—bobbed up and down on the briny ocean where dreams and reality crashed together. He sat there, stubbornly unmoving, wanting the shadows to return; his mind was already too awake, too aware of where he was. Some of the details were missing, but he liked it that way; he suspected he really did not want a clear picture of his last waking moments. Never the less, cognizance dragged him from the bog his consciousness had immersed itself in and doused his mind with cold water; icy wind and wetness crept through the new holes in his clothing and slashed at his wounds, all of which had assumed various stages of healing.

Ed bit down, closing his eyes as he continued his attempt to ignore the persistent call of this tangible nightmare. What the hell was the point of waking up if doing so would only serve to confirm his worst fears? The last time he had come out of slumber to find himself in frigid blackness...well, he remembered what opening his eyes had won him. Instinctively, he recoiled; the memories were too fresh, the scenario too familiar; he could almost hear the taunting voice, could almost feel the foot plunge into his belly. Never again, never can I let myself be subjected to that? I can't handle it...I'll die, I'll...

He inhaled steadily and opened his eyes, blinking wetly as they adjusted to the glow throughout the still colourful sky. Stupid thing to do, he figured; rest had been exquisitely comfortable, but no matter how much Envy resented it, humans had a natural self-preservation instinct, and although his mind and body yearned to soothe themselves by succumbing to absolute despair, Edward knew that was not an option. Forging ahead had always hurt more in the short term, but indolence gave way to what might have beens, which Edward feared more than death. Nothing scared him so much as the thought of looking back on his life and wondering what he could have accomplished had he only tried...nothing, at least, save for the thought of never seeing his brother again.

Blood spilled down his chin. Ed touched his lip, staring absently at the horizon. His surroundings had finally decided to relinquish their ephemeral tint.

Beneath the eerily happy contrast of a cloudless bright sky, a bas relief of two walls solidified on both sides of a damp stretch of ground. Pockets of water had amassed upon the cracked road, and a stench hung in the air. Ed coughed, panic almost overtaking him (sewersewersewer...), but he managed to keep control of his reaction. No need to get too upset just yet; after all, the simple fact of his continued existence must have meant that something had gone right.

But why in the hell am I outside? Last thing I remember—

—what? What was the last thing? He considered.

I was inside with Envy...or was that just a dream?

Maybe it had all been a dream. Maybe Al would appear at any moment, wrinkle his nose, and give his brother a sing-song tease for smelling so bad.

No, that's not right. Too was all too real. I had Envy down, I'd beaten him...why didn't I kill him?

Alchemy. The alchemy had failed. Right.

And then I'd decided to strangle Envy, even though I was afraid, but I didn't succeed in...killing him...I...



He scrubbed at his face with the back of his hand, knuckling his cheeks as though an itch had built within them, pushing against the puffy spots beneath his eyes in the same fashion one would employ when desperately trying to erase a stain—a comparison Ed found apt, since he did have a stain he needed to rid himself of, albeit an unseen one. The unbidden memory assaulted him with thoughts of his body's cruel decision, and quite against his will, he remembered flashes of sensation alongside unsavoury thoughts: Envy's hair covering the floor like the spreading plumage of some exotic bird, a body as white and cold as the snows in Riesenburg, eyes of violet wildfire, and passion—so much untamed energy had coursed within Envy that even Ed had been able to feel it. Naked intensity had wound through Envy's sinews, apparent in his (ohgodno) arched back and tremulous breaths—

(or maybe it was just a reflection...maybe it had been me who felt it, and my hand which made the connection and sent it to him...)

—and Edward had always understood fully that no emotion compared to the animalistic desperation of a being struggling to maintain its... (animus? ghost? spectre?) life; he recognized in Envy the same horror and crazed heartbeat he had long ago felt within himself at the sight of his brother being pulled into the Gate, or during battle with numerous foes. In those inhuman eyes, Ed had seen desperation, war, and...himself.

He shook his head, trying to will away the treacherous thoughts that sprang upon his briefly opened mental gash like predators at the scent of blood. White like a lily, and chilled; a flower suspended in liquid nitrogen...the more frozen the object, the easier it is to break... The sudden idea was so wretched (monster) that its very suggestion was unacceptable; Edward ripped the delirium away, pausing to quickly admonish himself before kicking aside his meandering desires.

Switching thought patterns proved to leave a surprisingly physical imprint; the instant shift left his vision in a waltz of multifarious colours. He felt dizzy, as empty-headed as a person coming down from a large consumption of sugar. As soon as he moved to stand and his effort nearly landed him on his face, he understood the problem—he was hungry, famished, starving. He doubled over, clutching his rebellious abdomen, moaning and muttering helplessly as an ill defined image of his stomach consuming itself came to mind. Once he had arisen, waves of vertigo and pain washed through his insides and knocked down the stiff pillars of his legs. When his knees struck the ground, Ed stifled a shaking fit and reached backwards, gripping one of the broken crates; he held on tightly, gritting his teeth as he waited for the nausea to subside.

While his internal organs devised a peace treaty amongst themselves, Ed watched the thick cloud of morning fog billow through the alleyway. Tiny prisms broke the sunlight into bouncing specks of colour, and the homeless spectator felt his body and mind settle, descending like cool ashes from an inferno. He breathed, soothing himself and giving the pain a chance to become a worn and weary comrade; if he could not fight it, then he could at least accept it, draw strength from sustaining sanity despite an onslaught bent on crippling his spirit.

Why am I here? he wondered, then, where the hell is 'here'?

The only thing he knew for certain was that he had not gotten up and walked outside himself, which meant that someone must have carried him. The likely candidate was Envy, but that made no sense; if Envy had gotten free, then how could Ed still be alive? He knew the homunculus had wanted his help, but by now, it should have been more than apparent that Ed was of no use to him, and not only that, but their last meeting had not been the most pleasant of encounters for Envy; Ed had been sure the Sin would kill him if given half a chance.

But since I'm alive...maybe Envy had nothing to do with it. Maybe Envy is still stuck up in the hotel room; maybe someone just brought me outside...

...and dumped me in a pile of trash? Yeah right!

Edward could believe that a person might be depraved or downright bizarre enough to do such a thing, but that did not account for Envy's conspicuous absence. It stood to reason that anyone who would remove one person from the room would have no need to keep another there, and besides, why bother dumping someone on the street? Could've found out about the murder, Ed's mind supplemented readily enough, but that was nonsensical; if anyone had discovered what Envy was responsible for, it would have been more likely to result in Edward waking up to find himself behind bars, not in front of a garbage pile. The hotel manager would have been the one to kick people out, and, well...

That left Envy.

But wh—?

Ed stopped the eager question. It did not matter, did it? One way or another, here he was; unless Envy made himself known once more, he was irrelevant. Irrelevant, yeah...but on second thought... Again, he arose, relinquishing his grip on the crate only when his footing seemed secure. On second thought, what if he's out there killing someone right now? How can I just ignore that possibility?

He placed his hand upon the small of his back and pushed hard, stretching as he rose to his full height; muscles popped with a decibel level to rival firecrackers, and pain rippled down Ed's spine. Given the way Envy had kicked him the night before, he had expected one hell of a tribulation come morning, but this defied understanding—this was automail surgery all over again (Riesenburg, Winry, Al...), a pain to sear the nerves and burn the throat like a dry husk, a pain to make him feel as though his blood had turned to dust while his body wrung itself dry of sweat and unspent tears marshalled behind his eyelids. Ed felt as though someone had annealed his muscles, melted his bones into a soup, and made figure eights out of his bowels.

He was barely in any shape to walk, let alone fight a being with strength far superior to his. Alphonse had always assured his brother that he blamed himself for too many problems and felt responsible for crises which had never been his fault to begin with; although Edward could rationally and objectively look at his behaviour and ascertain as much, knowing he had a tendency to feel responsible for the world's misfortunes had seldom prevented him from trying to take matters into his own hands. And now I don't even have two hands to take them into...what a sick joke.

Despite the unease he felt at the thought of Envy being free, Ed knew his own limitations; the homunculus could go wherever he wished, do whatever he wanted, and hell, perhaps the authorities of this world would put an end to him. Edward had more personal concerns to tend to.

Never thought I'd want to see the old bastard so badly...

Finding his father was his long-term goal. His greatest short-term interest was foraging.

Ed turned, eyes drifting over the sargasso sea of bottles, crates, soft dark clumps of rot that the boy could only assume had once been fruits, lonely bags swaying in the wind, and insects. Flies and gnats scattered as Ed swatted at the air before his face. He spat and coughed, covering his mouth as he surveyed the swill in front of him.

No. Not a viable food source.

He sighed loudly, ignoring the phantom pain which had coiled about his empty socket. His automail foot took to tapping anixously while he smoothed his palm along his lips and thumbed the side of his nose, all the while considering how best to get something to eat. Having no money didn't exactly leave him with the most options, and any potential job search would be inhibited by a language barrier and a missing arm. Job? He snickered over his wayward ideas. That won't give me anything I can stuff down right now, and anyway, I don't intend to stay here long enough to need that sort of thing...

Damn, old man, he thought, laughing miserably as he looked up at the sky. What have you gotten me into?

Bitterness at the world in general aside, Edward did not sincerely blame his father...not for this, at least. He almost wished he could gather anger against Hohenheim; in Edward's experience, having someone to blame had always made grief a little easier to cope with. In this case, Envy was the one at fault, but Ed could barely muster sufficient hatred for him. I'm just damned tired. A sliver of rainbow hung in the air above, smearing its colours across the sky while adding its ironic comment upon its onlooker's sorrow. Ed chewed the inside of his cheek and brushed his fingertips along the automail port, caressing the attention-hungry mesh of nerves and metal. His brother was his main priority and always would be, but at present, he had no choice but

"Good to see you stayed put, Hagane no Ochibi-san!"

Like a sabre through skin, the exclamation cut the silence in twain. Slowly, Ed turned to address the speaker, lowering his hand and involuntarily stilling his breath as he did so. Once, he would have been startled, would have lunged forward with all limbs poised to strike, but Envy had stolen his strength along with his limb, life, and everything he cherished—save for his fortitude. At the Sin's approach, the boy gathered his virtue, then furled his dismay and placed it aside.

Determination, he reminded himself. Metal. Gotta keep moving forward. Burned the old house down and walked off. Two good legs. Get up and use them. Forward. Can't get depressed or scared or give up hope—not yet, not ever.

Mist draped Envy's form like a coat of ermine; white whorls ornamented his features, light lovingly blended with the darkness in gossamer harmony, and a seraphic image was born. The creature's footfalls were slow, soft, as silent as if he were treading upon freshly fallen snow (pale and frozen...), and looking on, Ed ticked away the seconds, shivering as he quelled the bedlam his mind had launched itself into.

Earlier, he had been capable of focusing solely upon his most basic needs, but the sight of Envy swept him into a tempest where emotions and memories collided; as logic screamed "ignore, ignore!" at both, Ed could only stare, petrified, wishing he did not remember their last meeting so clearly. He knew what would follow, and it filled him with tension; Envy would taunt, would fight, would draw blood and bring pain. How could he deal with that in his current condition?

I can, because I have to, because there's no other choice.

"What are you doing back here, Envy?" he asked, not letting the breath loss from the question deflate him. He stood as tall as his stature allowed, looking as insuperable as ever in spite of the missing arm. "Have you come here to kill me?" Had he? The question left a poor aftertaste. "I'm not scared of you. You should know that by now."

"How could you ask that?" Envy grinned. Sunlight and mischief flickered across his eyes as they narrowed. "You should know by now that I never forget anything—"

Or forgive, Ed added, swallowing as he regarded Envy with a hard look.

"—not even the trash I took out last night. So how have you been, Mister Full Wood Pipsqueak?" He shrugged, then winked, and Edward's hand itched to take a swing at that delicate jaw. "I'm sorry I couldn't find a graveyard to dump you in instead of a garbage heap. I figure you'd really enjoy it there, all those stiffs to get stiffies off of...or is it just the killing which turns you on and not the death? How do those kinks of yours work again, Shorty?"

Ed could feel the blush that burst across his cheeks; his face burned as if a fever plagued him, and he had sense enough to know that he had just turned the colour of his favourite cloak.

"Shut up!" he shot back. "Damn it, Envy, do you have nothing better to do than come up with stupid insults for me?" Where did he just come back from? Typical of their reverse rapport, Ed sneered to outdo Envy's expression. He knew he was being challenging, maybe more so than was wise, but he also knew that nothing was stopping Envy from killing him besides Envy. "Where were you? Where did you go?"

Envy's grin faded, allowing his countenance to assume a more somber appearance, but his eyes never lost their smiling luster. The homunculus looked at ease, one hand upon his hip and the other behind his back (hiding something, maybe?), one leg straight, its companion slightly in front of it and bent at the knee. Regardless of the contentment Envy exuded, Edward could not help noticing how tattered his already skimpy clothing had become.

Must've gotten himself into a conflict, he realized. Another one like that and he'll be naked... but Ed did not dare voice that thought, nonchalant though it had been in his mind. He had endured enough of Envy's immature retorts; he had no wish to subject himself to more if he could easily avoid them.

"None of your fucking business, runt," Envy replied, predictably, but Ed's mind had supplied an answer to his question.

You were searching for Dad. The knowledge was as instinctive as breathing. The next part proved more ambiguous, but Ed had a few theories. You were searching for Dad and you didn't find him, so now you're back here and pretending that everything is smug bastard. That still did not explain why Envy had not made to attack him, but Edward had an idea about that, too. The only thing he lacked a hypothesis for was why in the hell Envy had come back...unless he intended to kill him.

"I have something for you, though." Envy pulled his hand out from behind his back to reveal a brown pouch, its covering as soft-looking as mouse fur. As Envy untied it, Ed found himself wondering if the homunculus was more spent and injured than he was letting on. There could be no other explanation for growing more mild in the span of a night. "Here, what do you think of this?"

From the pouch, he pulled forth something which made Ed's eyes go wide; drool filled his mouth, threatening to shamelessly leak down, and his hand now twitched with anticipation rather than bloodlust. The apple was red and ripe, glossy with sunshine; Envy flippantly tossed the fruit into the air and caught it, repeating the action several times before the surprised Elric's eyes. As hunger kneaded his guts, Edward could feel a fresh round of pain within his abdomen.

He intends to make me beg.

Given the way he was salivating, Ed doubted Envy would have a difficult time of it. Edward and his pride had ever been steadfast friends, but when one had awakened to literally find himself amidst both shit and garbage, pride somehow seemed an inane concern.

How did you find it? Ed began to ask, but did not. The blood on Envy's hand aptly answered the unspoken question.

"Found these, too," Envy announced, dumping the other contents of the pouch onto the ground. Like musical rain, coins pattered the damp alley floor. Edward looked at them and saw a chance for food, but when he looked to their provider, he saw nothing but evil intentions. Bastard. You want to raise my hopes, I take it?

The creature had no need for food. He did, on the other hand, have an apparent need for spite.

To Ed's horror and indignation, Envy raised the apple to his own lips and had the gall to smile innocently as he flicked his tongue along the surface, licking time and again before biting down loudly, crunching carelessly, causing bits of the fruit's white insides to drop; each splashed neatly, nearly soundless save for soft plops as the chunks came to float in the water-filled pockmark beside Envy's foot.

Ed decided it would be best to get straight to the heart of this insult; stubborn silence would avail him nothing but even more stubborn hunger, and by now his gut seemed to have armies warring inside of it; his vision had grown so spotted that Envy's features were quickly blurring to form a hodgepodge of dark and light, his tongue and brain had abandoned their former unison—now he could not even think of good replies for the Sin's actions—and truthfully, he was beginning to wonder if any of this was even real or if he were still lying around passed out somewhere.

But I know better, he thought, sadly. I've never had a dream in which I realized I was dreaming...

"Please..." he said quietly, not wishing to humiliate himself any more than he had to. Give me the apple or I'll kick your damned teeth in, he wanted to say, though he wanted even more for such a threat to carry true weight. What do you want from me? Damn you, you sorry bastard! What the hell do you want? To hurt me? To humble me? To kill me? Is that all you live for, you rotten shit?

Inwardly, he seethed; outwardly, everything but his huge eyes made for a flawless mask of stoicism. Watching the clear, watery juice trail down his enemy's lips, Ed felt a calm that was not calm, an inner silence broken by the sound of his heart thudding in his ears; he wondered if this might have been the whispers of madness—this feeling which was not so clean as anger and hate, this outrage that was both worse and quieter than either.

(Brother, said I'm no good without you and, ohhelpme, I don't think I am...don'tthinkicandothis...drowning, water in my mouth and I can't speak, can't hear anything but the silence and my blood...drowning, drowning, down...)

"Kinda the colour of the stones, eh? Isn't that something, Edward?" Envy laughed and wiped his mouth, then swallowed. "I guess I should call you by your full name now that it's plain you want to fuck me. We're not just acquaintances in your mind, huh, short-ass?" He tossed what was left of the apple, flinging it beside Ed's automail foot.

Ed did not hesitate, but immediately threw himself down, cupped the now dirty apple, and began devouring it. Envy laughed and slapped a palm to his forehead; Edward ignored him and ate, pretending he did not notice how awful his meal tasted.

"I've decided something. You're going to figure out how to use alchemy here, and then you're going to make stones for me. I'll bring food for you, and you can make food for me in return." His eyes glimmered. "Equivalent exchange, eh, Shorty?"

Ed finished his food, gnawing on it even when nothing remained but a thin core. He heard Envy's statement—his insane and illogical statement, and had he not been so broken and tired, he would have replied to scoff, or to remind Envy that he could do no such thing.

"What's the point, Envy?" Ed's voice was a shade above a whisper; though he was not crying, his eyes were wet, stung by a chilly breeze, and he did not blink, but focused his attention upon Envy...somewhat so, at least. Mostly, he was in a daze. "What's the point of...carrying on with this hatred? Why do you waste so much time worrying about killing Dad?"

He did not expect an answer.

Envy shrugged. "Because it's what I have."

Ed blinked, uncomprehending. His mouth slipped open, ready for another question, but none came.

"Some people have families, and some have careers," Envy went on, tilting his head. "Some have the arts. Others have fame. You have—or had—" His nose wrinkled. "—your brother. I have hatred."

Before Ed had a chance to respond to his unexpected honesty, Envy rushed forward and kicked Ed in the belly; the blow was so hard that it was all Ed could do not to retch up the recently consumed apple. He yelled when his head struck some hard object, and before he knew it, one of Envy's hands was at his throat.

"Now you have nothing, and I have you. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it, Ochibi-san?"