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Wasteland

chapter 8.

Upon his return to find the boy, Envy had marvelled over Edward's vigor or lack thereof.

In the span of one evening, the formerly passionate alchemist had been sapped of his strength and energy. When the homunculus came to him again, all that remained was a flimsy husk of misleadingly smooth skin strung across weary, crumbling bones. More a tent—a hitched canvas of flesh—than a man, Edward sallowed as the days went by.

Impishly curious, Envy watched his ward grow ill; a dearth of food and a lack of shelter were not conducive to health, especially when rains frequently lashed the cold air and chills sank deep into the marrow. Fever took Edward in the span of a day, then worsened. He lay in the alley, hot and shivering beneath the ragged blanket he had pulled from the trash pile.

Stupid boy... Envy thought, but he never the less found himself gazing at the ailing blond a great deal of the time.

As useless as humans were, they had always intrigued Envy. Torture excited him, but nothing compared to a human who locked his mind in a cage and drove the nails into his wrists himself; Ed had divided his body from his soul and secluded the latter, protecting it as a mother would protect a child in her womb. He could not accept reality, not when his fever-induced dreams brought him visions of his brother and his life from before. Every night before Envy departed to continue his doomed quest, he heard Edward cry out for Alphonse, for home, for safety and warmth.

Fool, Envy deemed him. Don't you realize that you'll never see them again, you stupid shit? Whenever he heard the outbursts, Envy had the urge to kick the boy until pulp and stomach acids made new graffiti upon the alley walls. A thousand deaths he imagined the Elric receiving—an entire shipment of maimings and wounds crying blood. I could give them to him, he reminded himself. He took everything from me, and I could take even more from him, then give him gifts of pain. The thought of removing Edward's vocal chords and plucking them like dripping red guitar strings held a special appeal for Envy, and he could not help but smile at the notion.

Dying or dead; did the distinction really matter? Who had triumphed, who had won, who had claimed whom, and who had hurt the most? We're both dying, Envy knew. He had long since stopped deluding himself into thinking he stood a chance without Edward...yet Edward was sitting on death's cusp.

And all because of me.

The thought made Envy want to laugh and scream and cry—or it would have, if he could remember how to cry, if he could conceptualize heat on his cheeks, and salt, and a wetness that was not blood. Death had defeated him, but he had defeated death, and Edward had done the same. Envy had won against his foe, then lost, but he had risen like a Phoenix from the ashes and claimed victory once more...

Except that it was no victory. This world had destroyed them both; this world, this land of poverty and grief, this place of grey skies and rain. Birds sang their woebegone melodies while bombs created paeans in the name of war, and the wretched world sank like a ship, one drowned with tears. Envy became acquainted with the streets and the lonely lamps that lined them, the walls and buildings with windows like mournful yellow eyes, the rats and the carrion birds, the elegant structure of a sophisticated but rotting city.

Everywhere he looked, he saw a coffin.

Every so often, church bells pealed in laughter—mocking, mocking, mocking, condemning the fool who had undone himself, the damned soul who had scorned his opportunity for salvation, and Envy hated them, hated the ringing in his ears, hated Edward for making him need him more and more every fucking day, hated everything but himself—though he might have hated that, too, had he been able to feel it.

He was no longer scared; he was terrified, but not of death. Above all else, he feared losing his identity, his chance for revenge, his sense of self. On Amestris, Envy had been someone. Beneath his ever-changing form, a tightly woven sense of purpose had grounded him, perpetually keeping him assured of who he was and what he meant in the grand scheme of things. As insecure as he had been, as paranoid as Dante had sometimes scolded him for being, at least his grudges had made him feel alive.

Little by little, the wasteland had taken his comfort.

Dante was gone, as were the other homunculi. Envy could not transform, and his strength was slipping by the day. Each moment that passed without the discovery of Hohenheim was time wasted, time in which Envy found nothing but futility. He did not like having to sit and think, nor did he enjoy tending to his ancient wounds as though he were some sulking child instead of a being who had endured for centuries. Though propelled by his own wants and needs, Envy had chosen servitude not only because it was easier than having to plan for himself, but also because there was solace in being controlled, in having his master insist that he was justified in his hatred of the bastard. Envy had never questioned his rationale, but he loved being agreed with and catered to. Now, he heard only the sound of the bells, his breathing and the alchemist's, and the chattering rats.

Envy cleaved to his hatred, but even his most cherished possession had begun to lose its colour. There was no satisfaction in killing, no feeling that he was headed toward any eventual outcome; why should there have been, now that the deaths forged no stone material? Hohenheim eluded him, but he was sure it was only because he was lost (so fucking lost) in this nameless slum. Child, child, chimed the bells. Foolish child, stupid child, child without his parents; did you really think you could survive here, flourish on your own and be happy at last? Kill the boy and kill yourself. What do you have now? What plans? What is the point of existing? You've lost it all, lost it all, lost it all...

(Downdowndown...)

Grief.

Maybe this was grief, he thought, sitting with his arms around his knees and his head lowered, eyes covered by his limp dark hair. Maybe this was despondency—the sorrow of lost opportunities which made humans scream and cry and gnash their teeth. It was complicated, whatever it was, and Envy did not like it; hate was so much more straightforward, so much easier to cope with. He could not accept that he was going to die without a chance to have what he coveted the most, and he could not understand this rising disquiet, this confusion of hate, grief, listlessness, and fear.

Edward was the sick one, the one who was a stone's throw away from death, the one who shook and sobbed and pleaded.

But we're both dying, and if he dies, then so will I.

The little bastard was taking Envy down with him.

He really is his father's son. The bastard would've found some way to do this to me, too.

Envy wanted to hit him, to hurt him, to taunt him, but his taunts could not penetrate Edward's stupor, and his fists might prove fatal to both of them. He feared undoing himself entirely, feared being completely alone, feared the hunger which had taken over his thoughts, and above all of those things, Envy feared change. His internal world's axis had shifted, possibly permanently.

Some wounds never healed. Envy knew that better than anyone. The tenderness within his old sores had been re-awakened, and even now, he felt as though the spike was still protruding from his back. Remembering his deadly predicament made Envy shaky, anxious; this time, he did not know if the injury would ever find a scab. He was bleeding, dripping everywhere, and he could not put a tourniquet over the flow. The memories were back, and with them came the desire.

It was Edward's fault—Edward who had hurt him, Edward who had reminded him, Edward who had made him feel, and as strong as his hatred was, it was no longer pure. Loneliness—or maybe just the revived memory of loneliness—sullied Envy's simplistic emotions. Envy became accustomed to sewage, to trash; silt masked his fair skin, and bits of dirt clumped in places he had forgotten existed, but nothing compared to the stain he felt inside himself. Even in his absolute ruination, Edward was still better off (better, always fucking better!), because even if he had lost everything else, he still had himself.

Envy was not so sure of anything except for the fact that he was living up to the name Dante had assigned him. He desperately envied the boy who clung to life no matter what; acrid as the taste was upon his tongue, he knew he had only ever embraced death, and he could never understand having such a powerful will to simply live.

Death.

Envy knew death well, but it had been many long centuries since he had lain in its bed. Like a bird soaring above a city, he had viewed death from the outside, and it had been beneath him. Now, the world was dying, and Envy was very much a part of it. He stank of death, of blood from the people he had killed, of shit and rot, and he smelled sickness on Edward. The stench of vomit and urine had grown impossible to ignore; apparently illness had wrecked the alchemist's insides, and flies collected around him. Envy watched him lie there, helpless and making a mess of himself, and like the bile in his throat, his memories rose and threatened to choke him.

He brought Edward food, but the other had difficulty keeping it down. It came out all over the alley's floor, clumps of brown and red and green, milk-white or dark. Envy growled and hissed, then watched Ed's face for signs of life. The rain took care of the upchuck; it washed it down and away, and dark streams coursed into the sewers below. Envy liked the rain and the familiar coldness it brought, liked feeling clean and fresh, but he knew his companion could not stand more illness, and since he needed Ed to live and give him life, he tended to him by staying close.

It was a joke of the gods. It must have been. How cruel it was, Envy thought, to be forced into relying upon his enemy. But he had no choice; he was a prisoner without a cage, and so he kept near Edward and pretended he did not feel the invisible manacles holding them together. They had destroyed one another, and rebuilding had to be done.

I'm your last hope, and you're mine, Envy thought as his hands drifted across the other's body. And someday soon I'll kill him...and you...and be done with this charade, but for now...

For now, there was this, whatever it was. Stalemate was too kind a word. Envy could feel his body growing warm and took it for a sign of his dying; perhaps it was the warmth of a rot that had not yet come into fruition, a hot decay. His motions were not so fluid as they had been days ago, and even though the change was a negligible one, Envy noticed it. The seconds had grown shorter. Envy heard his heart thumping doom, doom, doom, sobbing softly while the bells laughed and laughed.

Eat, you stupid bastard. Rain fell, tap-dancing on the ground, drowning Envy's sigh as he leaned forward and pressed his cheek against Edward's. The differences in their temperatures were such that he couldn't tell if the brat was hot or cold, but he suspected the rain was not helping matters any. He needed to get them both inside, find some place warm, but he didn't know where to go, and his nightly explorations were dominated by ventures elsewhere.

The rain bound them. Life and death bound them. Control slipped from one's hands to the other's, and their health vanished into the pit of useless self-destruction. Envy wanted nourishment...something only Edward could give him, and something only he could give Edward. Sour knowledge, it was...as sour as kisses prized from the boy's lips were.

Envy liked taking things from him, claiming his lips many times over and nipping until blood ran between them...but the rain washed that away, too. It felt good to have something of Edward's, to hurt him in the only way he had left. Words and blows failed to earn reactions, but kisses? Edward stirred at those every time. Stirred, and swore, and threatened, and repeated the word stop until it became a dull drone in the background, something to accompany the rain. Touches were weapons—knives and guns—and the interesting experience in the hotel had given Envy a delicious notion for a new method of torture.

Dante had always said he was her most histrionic creation, and that was true: he liked being needed. Persuading Edward to want him amused Envy, but the attention was the real reason he did it. He had so little left to make him feel enabled or in control, but he could play his prey like an instrument, and for the insufficient comfort it offered, it was at least something to keep his mind away from fevers, rats, madness, and doom, doom, doom...

Even dirty, Edward was pretty. Pretty? No. Beautiful. Annoyingly so.

Envy knew what to touch, where to place his hands, and how to tease. He kissed until Edward stopped pleading (begging? demanding? urging?), until he grew quieter, gave in, and returned the kisses...but Envy had to wonder if the prick even knew who was he was kissing. Probably thinks I'm his brother, he mused, sneering. But it did not matter, because Envy was used to wearing many faces and being many people. If he was someone else in Ed's dreams, then at least he still retained a little of his former power.

Edward was most responsive when his illness ebbed slightly and some comprehension returned to his eyes, and Envy liked that best. When Ed bit his tongue and drew blood, Envy laughed and announced that he'd be drinking hundreds of lives...maybe thousands. That had not stopped Ed from swallowing.

This was hell, and from what Envy knew of hell, it did not have to make sense.

He did not want to think about what he was doing. This gave him happiness, and questioning it would have only brought annoyance, or maybe worse. Envy loved the way Edward tasted, and even the way he smelled...strangely enough. He was fond of the sharp arch of his back, the way he squirmed, the coolness of automail and the warmth his flesh sometimes held. Envy lapped at his cheeks, his chest, his neck. When he felt him shiver, he wondered if it was only because of the cold, or if it was something more.

He would pause, swallow, watch his lover's breathing, and continue anew. Envy began to understand the language of whimpers and moans and skipping little gasps. Every one made him smile; he had never hurt with pleasure before, but if it meant breaking his foe, then he would gladly let himself suffer, too. There was pain for him in this, mainly because Envy knew what he was doing (because deep down, he did know), but it was a satisfying pain—the same pain one would have in the muscles after long hours spent developing them.

Envy preferred to think that he really didn't know what he was doing. If he and Edward were going to be stuck together in so many ways, perhaps they could share the fever and the madness that came with it. Envy stripped Ed's clothing away and licked him clean, cursed him and lusted after him. The homunculus never took his own clothing off...that would have made him vulnerable, but it was getting more torn by the day, and he knew he would eventually be completely naked. Until then, he could expose Ed, savour his words and his salty warm blood, and pinch the nerves at his maimed shoulder. Envy had only tried that a few times, but it always caused such wonderful screams. Afterwards, as if in apology, he would give pleasure.

The Sin held Ed against the wall the whole time, all the while whispering strange words, many of which were in dead languages that the alchemist would never know. It was better that way. Envy's hands were still gloved when one wrapped around Ed's cock and squeezed, then pumped. At that, his own breath caught; he had never been so bold before, so...daring. (So lost...) But what did it matter? If Ed died, then he died, and if his fever dwindled and he lived, then Envy would say it had all been a dream...a nightmare.

A nightmare. Yes. That's all this was. Envy had forgotten what it was like to dream, but pretending was easy. From body to body, one guise shifting into another...Envy was a master of pretense. This, he told himself, was his greatest ruse yet. His body had found a new level of dishonesty in his bites, his scratches, his caresses. Ed held out as long as he could, but ultimately, he gave in. One thrust, then another. Envy held him, bit him, matched the rhythm and quickened it until his hand dripped with moisture...even when there was no rain.

Throughout the experience—the lie—Envy watched Ed's expression. He took note of the way the blond winced, face contorting with physical pleasure and mental agony. Envy insisted on taking both. Edward was a wellspring of sadness, pain, determination, hate, and so many other things...so much life. Until he found Hohenheim, Envy knew his only pleasure would come from drinking that life, from sucking it down as greedily as he sucked his erection. Ed never fought back when Envy's lips wrapped around him, when his tongue moved up and down the swollen organ. Envy knew what to do, knew how to draw out every response. He inhaled, paused, and repeated his motions. Then, he went lower, taking in everything he could, until his mouth was full and hardness tickled his throat.

It was stupid. It was wrong. It meant nothing.

Nothing.

But Ed's nothing was more than Envy's something, and damn everything, he knew it. He had forgotten what thirst felt like, yet when he looked at Ed's closed eyes and opened mouth, he did not doubt that he knew it. If nothing else, Envy could inhale his unwilling lover's hatred, imbibe his fever, and consume his life.

Some fleeting satiation was better than starving.

One more cry, one massive tremor throughout the small body, and heat flooded Envy's mouth. He swallowed only once he was certain that the other had been wrung dry—swallowed and pulled his hands from Ed's hips, then watched the rain clean the blood from them. Only six nail marks were bleeding; the other four were red, but closed. Rain had already begun to wash away all evidence of their fucking, but Envy decided not to let the sewer have the cum. Slowly, he lapped it off. This may have been a lie, but it was his lie, and he intended to milk every last droplet.

Envy was not sure how long after it was when the rain stopped, when Ed shifted suddenly. The sky was grey, but not dark, and the smell of shit and rot and piss had lessened a little. Envy blinked and brushed his hair from his face with the back of one hand. Auric eyes opened fully, and Envy was at once both grateful and upset; his immediate needs discovered no harmony with his long-term wants, but at least this must have meant that the food was beginning to have its effect, or maybe the fever was starting to break.

Maybe I kept the little bastard warm whenever it rained, Envy thought, but that was absurd. He was cold, cold and dead...

(cold and growing warmer by the second...)

"E...Envy?"

A word. A recognition.

Envy answered with his eyes.

"...You're a...fucking bastard. Go to hell."

Edward sneered, and Envy knew they both shared the joke. There was no going where one already was. Ed had grinned...grinned through clenched teeth and obvious pain. Envy counted the lines on his face—one tense crease after another.

He could not help but smile. If Ed had strength enough to insult him, then he still had strength enough to pull through this fever. There was hope for both of them. For a time, Envy could tune out the rats, the bells, and the bombs. He could imagine that the alley did not smell so foul. As his skin dried, as Ed began struggling weakly to pull his clothes back over himself, Envy sat aside and tried to tell himself that the only difference between living and dying was—for a mortal—nothing but a matter of perspective.