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ambre

Wasteland

chapter 10.

Digits pressed down, index finger first.

Skin adorned with spirals not at all unlike those of a human's touched the rough, broken stone, incurring abrasions as the flesh broke and false blood dripped, meeting the ground one droplet at a time. If he were a human, he might have been wearing away a mark of identification...but he wasn't, and he didn't. As he knelt down, Envy's eyes lingered upon the melange of water and red-tinted fluid. Fake blood—but not a single fake tear—struck the water soundlessly, diffusing and disappearing; red into clear, life's echo into life's sustenance.

He had long ago lost the number of years he owned, a tally fading in his mind like wounds dealt to his body, but Envy knew—with absolute certainty—that in four centuries, he had never felt so completely—

(confused? dismayed? ...helpless?... dependent...?)

—tired.

The sun had risen, the smoke had cleared, and a new day had announced its existence. Envy could not be bothered to leave the old one; so he sat, catatonic to all outward appearances, hands on the ground as though he were controlled by some invisible force, grasping and pressing as though he had discovered a way by which to work alchemy. There was no thinking. There was no desire to think. There was only this moment, this eternity of being, a few images of limbs and paleness suspended in another routine morning of fog. Hands on the dirty, solid surface: white against dark. The homunculus stared, eyes wide, wishing it could still be so easy.

A world in black and white was not beautiful, but it was functional. Humans as the sum of their parts was apparently not a notion Lust fancied, but it had always worked for Envy. Cattle. Lessers. Numbers and pieces. Offending, insignificant objects to be broken down as was necessary or pleasurable. Prey. Wheat to be cut by the reaper of hate, harvested for food in the form of red stones. At various points throughout his flippant existence, Envy had catalogued homo sapiens in each of those ways.

Yet now...

When he smashed his fist into the alley's floor, all he felt was sore. Knuckles, now completely free of their black semi-concealment, throbbed painfully, if briefly. Envy chewed his lip, feeling the pain in his very real—albeit inhuman—insides as his mind assembled the parts of what he seemed to be witnessing and experiencing.

I'm as weak as they are, he realized all at once, the thought hitting him with the force of a train. He shivered, suppressing a sob (too fragile, too pathetic) as fear—an emotion he had recently become bitterly acquainted with—mashed his internal organs together and twisted them into origami. He was gaping and distantly aware of his own expression, eyes huge but out of focus, hands trembling. Damn it, he didn't want to think just now! Thinking meant acknowledging and acknowledging meant helplessness and helplessness meant reliance upon...upon...

"Here," said a cool, detached voice.

The former alchemist stood a short distance away from his former captor...(current victim, as the case was)...eyes full of much emotion, or none at all...Envy couldn't tell...didn't want to tell, didn't want to know. Despite his lack of height, the boy looked so tall—posture perfect, expression severe and determined, and when Envy looked up, really looked at him, unbidden thoughts came. Within each line on the little bastard's face, Envy imagined margins of writing, and terms such as arrogant; a hail of acidic adjectives poured into his consciousness.

The Sin, for once, did not want to hate...not because he had discovered any new virtues inherent in his companion...but because hating took energy, and he wanted instead to put the night before from his mind, but one look into those eyes and everything struck him, pierced him like spears to his vulnerable chakras. The sight of Ed was bizarrely magnetic: as a lodestone attracted iron through natural forces and no actual will of its own, Envy's hatred seemed to manifest in the presence of the other, irrespective of what he actually wished for. One casual glance, and Envy found his mind occupied with paranoid and violent ponderings.

You saved me so you could watch me die, you fucking piece of shit, he thought, foremost, and the words plunged like a line into a lake, hooking a fish of assorted emotions, and Envy felt himself scowl, roughly abusing the skin of his lips until it succumbed and bled, filling his mouth. Unsatisfactory, that. It should have been Ed's neck he was opening, or Hohenheim's, maybe, and instead here he was, crouching and helpless and fucking conflicted and confused and saved—not indebted, though, because he had never asked for the shit's help—by one of his two worst enemies.

And he was naked.

And Edward Elric was holding out a shabby, mangled black shirt—a veritable white flag hanging from the pole of a slim, formerly well-muscled arm.

Envy stared in wonder at the boy's suddenly apparent loss of body mass. One would not have had to be a genius in order to guess that Edward had suffered some emaciation on account of his weeks-long period of illness, but Envy had never actually seen his upper body (nor much of his lower, at least not for prolonged intervals)..so...the vision was...surprising. Ribs beetled over the teenager's soft belly like layers of broken carapaces in a bed of skin-toned sediment, and his eyes were dark and sunken. Sloe concaves made a mask of his face, a parody of its former, healthy self; one unsightly limb extruded to display a conjugality of scarlet and charcoal. Ed's so-called 'good' arm (though by the looks of it, such a title seemed comical) consisted of scraps of black cloth, dirt, and flaps of skin hanging like shredded, bloody wet paper.

The damage, in so far as Envy could see, was only external. He had eradicated enough humans to easily be able to spot a dangling segment of muscle or a stray bone poking out of its confines, but Ed's injuries revealed no suggestive mounds of peaking fractures.

I suffered for you. You suffered for me, was the only reasonably coherent conclusion Envy could reach. And we both suffered for grudges, and hate...isn't that right?

The imposing question was not altogether rhetorical; Envy had spent the better part of the twilit dawn either denying what had just transpired or wondering about his savior's true motives, but Edward's lips had refused any explanation that did not consist of vagaries, sighs, and indistinct strings of syllables. The ambivalence was a torture in and of itself: each mutter was a bead of water ticking away on Envy's eardrum, kicking his stapes and making him want to scream why while strangling the avoidant little fuck.

Why.

Why?

WHY?

Drums. Rain. Heartbeat. Bells.

The whole fucking world had the same rhythm, the same why pounding quietly and loudly in birdsong and gunshots, but Ed denied Envy again and again, sighing his "It doesn't matter"s and his "Because I did, so shut up"s, as if either of those were acceptable explanations! Why? Envy's mind demanded, insisted, begged in a shrill little mewl; why did you help me? Thump. Why did you pull me out? Tap. Why did you save me? Drip. Why did you...

(...help...save...kill...)

Why, Envy wondered sullenly, had Edward pulled him from a quick death into a slow one? Why, if not for simple sadism? He had said as much; Envy remembered those words clearly, that utterance of a curse spoken gently while the boy's fingers had drifted through his hair like a barrage of pinions, and those pretty, bruised lips had produced their breezy lie. Envy remembered clinging to the brat, blind mole digits burrowing into Ed's spine, breath and snapping teeth giving claps to the extravagant denouement. Envy remembered being a twitching, helpless, seared thing—set on fire, marble white skin melting, terror gripping him as the nearness of demise and the proximity of a return to his basic form overcame his ability to scream.

Envy liked allowing a human to have the sorrow of knowing the instant of their death; it was a secure scrap of knowledge, if a harrowing, piss-inducing one, but nothing had ever made the homunculus feel so powerful as being able to forge an obituary seconds before slubbing a throat until nerves pinched, eyes bulged, and spewing wounds vomited up plasma and erythrocytes. In one single moment, godhood could be achieved—scissors applied to the thread of life, snip snip of rusty blades, and the Fates could only echo Envy's will.

Through no other means could he exact such control. The ability to live was plain contentment, but the ability to kill meant governing the most primitive of all worldly functions...and yet Envy could kill, but he could never live, and humans, stupid and frail as they were, could live so easily. It was no great strain, no cosmic effort, for them to feel. As Envy looked down, the hewn rocky surface seemed to delineate sketches of Lust's sultry smirk and Greed's impossible grin, and Envy sucked his breath in. You wanted to be a human, he thought of the beautiful female homunculus. And you stayed too damned human for your own good, he added with regards to Greed. And y'know what? You're both fucking gone because of it!

Breath released, steady and sibilant.

Grousing a rill of curses, Envy looked up, reached out, and yanked the shirt away from Ed.

At this point, the exchange was just another ravine to throw himself off. Down he plummeted. Down, and down, and down. He visualized his former mother humming, snickering intermittently in between bursts of falsely innocuous sound, fingernails tracing ornate weaving letters, and Envy heard her voice as she read to him, educated him on the sin whose title he had inherited, reciting her eloquent tales of Cocytus and the tale of the inferno after which she had named herself. "Invidia. Those who are guilty of this sin are plunged into freezing water..." she said had, and a will-o'-the-wisp smirk had flitted across her lips. "Perhaps to shatter?"

No...Master...you were wrong.

Envy recalled the smell of his own flesh burning, curling off his bones like blackened foetuses.

I was punished by fire.

He tried not to look at Ed as his hands worked to scrabble with the cloth, tying his enemy's singed shirt around his waist with wet, sticky fingers. Fetters, his mind substituted, nattering on about what sort of pathetic fool would end up glomming his hated foe, then accepting the aforementioned hated foe's charity in the form of his clothing. Envy looked down, letting his hair cover all evidence of his louring countenance, but it didn't matter...not really. If Ed cared to notice his mood, or its accompanying expression, then he would, and one didn't have to be prone to bets in order to make a fair wager as to Envy's current feelings.

Being on even turf had never been an issue of concern for Envy; he did not acknowledge that his companion had a right to take from him, not after all he had already fucking taken—including his whole identity—and so it did not sit well with the homunculus that Edward had been bold enough to touch his hair, cosseting him like a damned cat; maybe he had meant the gesture to be soothing, but it had only reminded Envy of the frailty he had been reduced to, the way he now wore a likeness not so unlike that of a household pet. Pitiable condition, really...but pity was the last thing Envy coveted.

I'm not yours, you little... He grunted softly, threw a quick look toward Ed, and struggled for a good noun. ...shit, he settled on, not minding his lack of creativity. Shit, yes. Shit was familiar. Good. Not complex. That was exactly what Ed needed to be to him, always and forever, because that was a relationship he could conceive of. Symbiosis was for the living, not the walking damned. I'm not yours, he continued to insist to himself, stealing another glance upwards as his brain skittered over words and emotions like a child caught in a zealous game of hopscotch. You took everything from me! It's...not fair! It was never fair! Each thought made Envy more sore. More sullen. More...resigned...no! Not resigned! Fuck! No! He had to fight back, had to resist!

The dam didn't just break. It fucking exploded, erupting into a cloudy mushroom of distress, hate, and other muddled, labyrinthine emotions.

Dante had been right all along in her decision to bestow the moniker 'Envy' upon the homunculus. The creature himself had always insisted otherwise, laughing privately at the old bat's senility, but now he saw how right the crone had been.

He knew...even if she never would.

He knew. He saw. He resented. He hated and he wanted and he mulled, stricken and obsessed as he was.

Not...fair! You got all the fame, the glory, the love! You stupid, short, worthless little brat! The whine grew reed-slender, pointed and cut. Envy watched his companion, chest tightening as he took in the sight of Edward standing there, 'getting his bearings straight' while washing his face and dressing his wounds a little. The bastard just looked so thoughtful; the air was obviously giving his latest wounds a round or two of icy burns, but even the pain Envy saw in his face just underlined the boy's resolute nature, and...

And Envy couldn't fucking stand it!

Something inside him sank, yet he couldn't bring himself to turn away. It was...maddening. It hurt! It fucking tore, and ripped, and laid open! This was injustice, proof against the damned alchemists' notion of 'equivalency'; this was not how it was supposed to have turned out! Envy had lost everything, everything, and Edward had taken it all, stolen from him...robbed him...little thief...and after four goddamned centuries, he deserved to win! The Gate had never, not once, been kind to him; he could have had this last victory, this final triumph. He should have—

—should've held Ed's heart in the most literal and intimate of ways—

—should've killed the bastard

—should've won; won, fucking WON! How could fate take so much from him and give him nothing in return? How could the Gate have sent him to this damned barren world to die, miserable and without achieving the only fucking things he had ever fucking cared about? It was bad enough to be dying, and losing, but being reduced to an all but human frailty and being cradled in the arm of his fucking enemy had been so much worse, the worst insult, and here he was, naked and exposed physically, not to mention that he knew he was probably doing a shitty job of hiding his feelings. He would have screamed, would have placed his fingers against his scalp and tilled until he had ripped himself apart and every foreign, inconceivable emotion was gone...

...but then Edward would have seen how affected he was. That was unacceptable. Envy was already humiliated enough over his immense failures with regards to the boy; now he had to rely upon him (and worse...and worse...but you don't want to think about that, do you?), but he didn't have to be shrill and whiny about it. Oh, he wanted to be, surely—he had, with no remorse whatsoever, pitched his share of tantrums over the last four-hundred years. But pride still clung to the embodiment of this other Sin, pestering him with orders to keep every stray sign of weakness out of sight of the diminutive Elric.

"So..."

The insignificant conjunction and its accompanying ellipsis leapt at Envy, nudging him, making faces like a cosmic jester having exchanged its motley for a soft consonant, a small circle, and three stabbing dots. So. So. SO! Hadn't the tiresomely redundant little prick needled him with that word the night before? Envy felt his lip curl even as he again turned his attention to the boy. Well, seriously, what in the fuck was wrong with the kid that he didn't get how absolutely infuriating that two-lettered mutter was? An eye twitched. Oh yes. Positively the most aggravatingly insistent word in any language ever! Twitch. A shove, that's what it was! A hand against his shoulder! A leash thrown around his neck! When Envy looked into those eyes, he knew it; he was—

—a fish on a hook—

—-a dog with a collar—

—-won, bought, purchased and SERVING like a maid or a whore—

—truncated. Cut shorter than the boy himself. Naked? Well, no, he was already naked save for a clumsily tied shirt that was itself almost reduced to ashes, and this was A Problem in and of itself. Despite the immodesty of his typical attire, Envy was shy, at least in an eccentric fashion: he had always been the one to decide how much of his blanched flesh was on display at any given time, and for many years, that had been a very specific amount. Being completely exposed, and furthermore having been exposed against his wishes had felt like a complete violation, and damn it! He did not want that bastard getting another fucking stiffy off of him! It was all right if he had control over the situation, if he dictated where the dick went, but Edward having his way off of him? Well, that just wasn't right. If this beautiful and hateful friction between them was going to result in something that involved tearing sheets, then Envy intended to set the pace.

And there was friction, although they were not touching.

Topaz eyes were serene, but an unspent storm had built inside of them. Envy stared, resisting an outward reaction, knowing that only a few lingering seconds could separate Ed's unfinished statement from another more prodding demand.

Dispassionate. Cold. Not at all unlike...

"...so...?" Envy parroted, feeling stupid as he echoed the same phrase which had made him want to beat the shit out of Ed all over again. There was turbulence here, discomfort. Envy felt fidgety, in short, but he didn't want to be too obvious. He wondered if he had already crossed some boundary with regards to looking like even more of a blatant fool, but if Ed dared say anything, Envy's tongue could always find the barbs necessary to put him back in his place. Words were, in essence, all he had left; fuck it all, he intended to use them if the little fuck took any kind of edge with him! "So, so, so? Is that all you can fucking say? Did someone spill your brains, Ed? Did someone tie your damned tongue?" Guess so; is that why you won't fucking ANSWER me?

"No," Ed said, evenly, icily. The word was not sharp enough to be a rapier; it was more like a blunt pole shoved into Envy's eye socket, eliciting a resounding crack, or at least, that's what he felt when Ed grew so aloof and exigent. "But you did take things from me...things you had no right to take." Crack. "A lot of things." Snap. "And you're going to pay for them, each in turn. You really are." Shatter. "But because I'm better than you, I'm still gonna give you a chance..."

Rhetoric, Envy thought. What a bunch of fucking rhetoric! No better than the bastard or Dante!

And, as with either of those two, Envy could feel his spine being re-arranged as hands plucked the vertebrae and organized his formless catastrophe of a body into something remotely cogent.

The words were not going to rupture his insides. Not again. Never again.

"I'm dying, you stupid bastard!"

He hadn't meant to let the outburst loose. But it came out: fierce accusation spliced into their tense tête-à-tête, wavering like a shocked gasp, tight as breath and teeth over knuckles, nibbling to the bone with one canine at a time. Envy shivered, wiping his hair from his face. He was cold, yet sweating in his makeshift loincloth, and he felt silly, like he was wearing a big black diaper, but more importantly, he was still sore and frightened and on the verge of yet another altercation with a certain damnable Elric. I'm dying. I really am dying.

"I'm dying, so don't you start that self-righteous shit with me! The only way you can save me is by drawing a damned array and making me what I need!" One hand twisted into his damp, lubricious hair follicles, pulling hard at his only outlet for tension. Envy wasn't sure what his facial expression was at the moment, since his focus was far more inclined toward Edward, but his muscles must have been perfect cathode rays for an image of his emotions...at least, he could only assume so, given that for the first time that morning, Ed actually had the dignity to look a little taken aback. "If you're not going to try that, then just shut the fuck up and leave me alone. I don't give a damn how altruistic and philanthropic you think you are to the poor, damned, evil, sick little homunculus! I—"

"Shut up."

Envy blinked. "What? Who the fuck do you think—?"

"Shut up."

"Heh." Envy swirled a tongue over his lips, moist pink muscle against cool white skin. "Gonna make me, runt? Come over here and take a swipe at me if you want, you fucking gimp. I'll send you back with no limbs if you try!"

"Oh? Really? Or will you just throw puerile insults at me? It seems to be your greatest talent, of late." Ed cocked his head.

That dangerous look was still in his eyes, and it unnerved Envy. It'd be better if the kid were throwing fists or kicking or spitting or losing it, not standing there so perfectly composed, looking like a clockwork automaton. Homunculi were soulless, but they did have psyches, and Envy expected humans to exhibit crazed bursts of emotion. The two beings who had shown the least emotion towards him were also the two who had controlled him, disturbed him, and upset him the most.

"Sorry, Envy, but I'm making the rules now."

Voice and body both emanated the same adamantine will, an unbroken undercurrent of ferric nerves. Envy clenched his jaw, staring at the softness of the youth's face—exquisite curve of a countenance, apple cheeks gone pale, bridge of a nose now more pronounced against its sunken surroundings. Edward's skin had thinned, true enough, but some sinewy clusters of tenacious muscles still existed beneath the surface; Envy saw them on his still bloody arm and running smooth and striated over his chest and abdomen. Steel, just as his title implied.

"We're leaving now. I've thought about it for a while, and I've decided that I know where we're going." He shook his head, looking down as he talked—seemingly rambling to no one besides himself. "I should've figured it out sooner...when we were in the streets...heh...seems so long ago...anyway, I heard the rumbling. There was thunder, and there were bombs, but there was also something else." Eyes lifted, gold shining like a sunrise entering the sky. "And that's where we're going. Me...and you, too."

"Us," Envy said, and sucked his breath in.

"Us." Edward nodded.

"I'm not your...prisoner," Envy added, testily, grinding his bottom lip with his teeth. He could have just let their discussion end on the ominous yet conversely hopeful note it had acquired, but something about it had just seemed too final, and Envy wanted the last word. "And I'm not your...slave! I'm not your friend, not your luh—" he sputtered a little at that part, but continued anyway. "—ver, not your brother! I'm not anything to you besides your enemy, and don't you forget it!"

Silence.

Envy suspected it was already too late. His waspy little lapsus linguae had already taken flight, buzzing in the atmosphere between them, and even though the complete acknowledgement of what had transpired during their time together made Envy wroth enough for his hands to form fists, what did he really have left to hide? Lovers and brothers and enemies they might have been at various instances throughout their time here, but those were not static conditions, and they had never been friends, nor could they ever be.

"Don't worry," Ed said after a brief pause. "Fortunately for you, I don't mind being a little humble, and I also don't worry about drawing all these stupid distinctions. If you want to be my enemy...then fine. So be it. I didn't start this...and...if anyone could forget what our relationship to one another is...it's you. Think about that."

The accusation was there, smouldering in the cool morning air, but before Envy had a chance to seize upon it, a hand was raised. Thrust out. Inviting and offensive. Envy glared, response stillborn on his lips, mind see-sawing over questions and answers and the typical emotions he had been perfecting for centuries past.

"You look cold," Ed explained, simply. Fingers wriggled. "Wasn't that what you were doing last night? Looking for a blanket or something?" A trimmed smile trailed the words. "Took a little thinking, but I figured it out. Wonder what that means for you."

"I'm dying," Envy reminded him, quietly, but the words were not intended for anyone's ears save his own. Colours faded, paled, and vanished. "I..." He didn't know. Words were leaving him quickly; dying, he thought. Really. Truly. Dying. He had been...and he'd known it, but...it felt so...different when he paused...when he thought about it. "...Yeah. I guess it's winter here."

Edward shook his head. "No. It's not. Too rainy, and not cold enough. Definitely spring. Probably April." And before Envy could inform the boy of what a fool he was being for assuming that Amestris's seasons were at all similar to those of this world, the blond suddenly reached forward and grabbed his enemy's hand, linking their cold fingers together.

Envy's breath caught in his throat; just what in the hell was the matter with the brat that he'd do something so bold? The homunculus had actually grown quite aware to the fact that he had no self-control where Elrics were concerned, and he expected himself to grow tense and swat the hand aside without even thinking about his actions; truly, That Was What He Did; it was his internal program, his sets and patterns and instincts, and to touch him was to test four-hundred years of kneejerk hatred.

But then, Edward always had been a ballsy kid.

And Envy didn't react, though he was never sure why. Probably not compliancy. Probably just...fatigue...or awe. This was loss, or a small and pyrrhic victory. Cold into cold, hands touched...and somehow, warmth began to grow. Envy remembered his words, his threats, his longterm wants and needs, but...no actions came. Like a doll with his will plucked away by some divine entity, the Sin was suddenly against his mortal foe, and the strangeness of the situation—the manner in which it mirrored his experience from the night before—made him go slack like a sack of flour, sagging drowsily. He'd never been...ill...at least, not since he'd been a human...but he thought maybe this was how it felt.

"I'm stronger than you are," said Ed, lips perilously close to one of his companion's—his enemy's—ears, face in the dark hair, machismo up to a ridiculously daring pissing-contest-high level. Envy raised an eyebrow, growling against him to remind the shit that this was only temporary...but the creature was intrigued by the hatred he felt in the embrace, the reserved anger that made the little youth shake, and Envy knew he could bring that to the surface...only him. He turned aside, smirking. How interesting; he wondered what levels of hate he could find in Ed...what things the other might be willing to do...in the right circumstances. Everyone was a killer; hadn't Envy said that himself? The only disparity between killers lay in how much it took to provoke a murder. Envy wondered...and he was beginning to wonder more and more...how much it would take for this one...

"Know that," he breathed. "Just know it."

Stronger and smarter, eh? Well, I guess you just think you're self-sufficient, don't you, you little fuck? So why did you save me? "Whatever, Shorty. We'll see who dies first. I might be doomed all over again, but if I go anytime soon, it will be with my hands around your throat." But Edward just laughed. You really want me, Envy thought, and his smirk deepened; he guessed the kid didn't even know why he felt as he did. Good.

"Or maybe I'll get another hand and choke you all over again," said the blond, smirking tensely, still trembling a little. "Right now...we're going to find the train station. I know there's one nearby. I heard trains earlier. I'm sure of it."

Lips searched blindly, probing, tickling, and Envy's eyes went wide. One moment more and the hate would return, he was sure, and then he'd scratch the bastard's eyes out or kick him in the testicles, but he couldn't now; he just couldn't, not when he was getting attention, when he wasn't being ignored or overlooked or abandoned...not when he had Ed's full focus, his entire span of focus. It was a drug, so addictive, even if Envy couldn't figure why, even if he thought it weak and resented it. Ed had not left him. He had stayed, and helped. Fuck the bastard; he had stayed!

"If I'm right...if it's April...then the world is just being reborn." Like us, the sentence seemed to say. "Think about that. It's been dead and dying through the winter, but now there are lilacs blooming somewhere." Another shake of that golden head. "I've been through enough to make me cynical, it's true, but I have to believe I'm here for a reason. And I don't know why I helped you, since you're right: you are dying. But I have to believe that was for a reason, too." He pulled away, pulled back, and stared coolly. "So let's go."

And what? the homunculus wanted to ask, perhaps following the question with a snort of contempt. Find lilacs?

But then Ed had turned, an almost imperceptible limp beginning to tug at his gait, and he had begun to make his way out of the alley and into the waiting streets. Envy watched, feeling the tickle of some quasi-sensation lacking in a name, a daze he could not define, and then it passed as well...or he just suppressed it. The sun was getting higher in the sky, and the morning crept steadily toward noon.