chapter 11.

"I'm sorry."

The susurration was given as an offering to the dead, condolences for all the losses he had come to know and understand, and Ed winced through the words. He hesitated, hand roaming the air above the body as though the clothes might levitate upwards and into his fingers; then, he paused, pinched the bridge of his nose, thumbed the 'onion-sting' wetness that had built behind his eyelids, and reached down.

(...smells horrible...but you should be used to that by now, right? suck it up...!)

The body was frigid, stiff with rigor mortis, but when he undid the clothing, then pulled carefully and with sufficient effort, he managed to slip it off. It tore at the shoulders, seams splitting as the filth-saturated garments were eased off of their deceased owner. Terrible thing to do, defiling the dead, and in other circumstances, Edward might have lamented his decision more...but then again, in other circumstances, the decision would never have come to pass.

It was afternoon now, and walking for hours without good shoes had blistered Ed's foot, but he paid the negligible pain no mind. He was more than accustomed to pain, and he was steadily growing more and more accustomed to making difficult choices; he was able to take from the dead without the barren gaze of soulless eyes wearing upon his thoughts or giving him shivers...though once or twice, his mind was greeted with a simulacrum of his mother...but he set it aside with the ease of putting away paperwork when categorizing and filing it. That was something else he had become adept at since his arrival in this world—taking his thoughts and placing them in the shade at the back of his mind...even his thoughts of Alphonse—but it was not because he didn't care. On the contrary; he cared for his last living family more than anything else in any world...and he was helpless to be near him.

Alphonse, then, became heaven, Elysium, the celestial future that awaited a tired vagabond at the end of a journey...something to live for, something to give meaning to life, something to give respite from ideal to make equivalency true and balance out the losses met in the corporeal world. Ed cared nothing for the theorized afterlife, nor for any of its nacreous cities...but he could withstand whatever came his way if it meant seeing his brother's smile. That, at least, was something worth living for. Something important. Beloved.

Until that day came, he would store away his feelings as though they were treasures to be buried beneath the sands, a private religion locked within the coffer of his heart—one whose unvoiced hopes guided each of his footsteps.

Until that day, there was only now.

Now, the afternoon sun was hot, the atmosphere was uncharacteristically dry, and Ed was stealing from the dead, growing stoic and detached—as this had become his only sensible course of behaviour—reminiscing about loves and losses, and all the while, he was sure Envy was looking on. Bastard could lend a hand, Ed thought, and only a silhouette of his usual choleric temper decorated the unsaid words. But of course he won't, because that would actually be helpful.

He didn't let the sigh escape his lips; though he had only one hand, perhaps using it well would make it (and him) stronger in the long run. After all, he was still figuring out how to dress and undress himself without a metal right arm. Manipulating other objects was the second step towards regaining full capabilities and not being an entirely useless little cripple in a world with no patience for his ilk.

Obtaining clothing from a cold body was not an easy task, but the sudden and peculiar flood of heat had warmed the corpse enough for it to submit beneath his fingers, and Ed was talented enough manually to be able to pluck off the remnants of some dirty cloth he could best assume to have once been twill. All the while, he regarded the clothing's defunct occupant as a supplier—a mass of pellicles and follicles, with some teeth, fingers, and bones...but nothing more. No history, no memory, no attachments. It was frighteningly easy to confine the world to science, if a person was of a mind to try.

Ed dislodged the rags and strung them across the ground. Shirt first. Pants second.

Freed from its husk of fabric, the carcass had a brindled look; it was mostly pale with a gray tint, but dark spots flowered like bruises, and the flesh looked soggy and rumpled. The insects and the birds were already appearing in abundance, but Edward had gotten used to tuning their presence out, except of course for the peskier bugs which liked to sting him. He had gotten used to slapping those.

"Are you going to help me, asshole?" he finally asked his companion, afterwards turning and wiping the fringe away from his eyes and the sweat from his brow and face. Damn it! Lifting clothing was one thing, but trying to actually sort and put clothing on with just one hand was quite another. He toiled with his stolen goods for a few minutes before growing frustrated, turning red in the face, and finally issuing a mental, 'fuck it; I give up,' which was not a sentiment he would have usually accepted, but in this case there was no reason he had to be doing this all by himself, especially when it wasn't exclusively for his benefit. Hell, he at least still had some attire left.

"If you don't get over here and help me, then you can just walk around practically naked for all I care. Then see how long it takes you to get arrested...or maybe worse." Good sense told him to stop there, but just so he was perfectly clear on the matter, he felt he had to throw one last jab in. "In these back alleys, I bet there are people around who would do horrible things to someone who looks like he's advertising himself, if you know what I mean, and you don't have the muscle left to defend yourself."

Uncalled for, true, but spurring Envy into rage was, at least, spurring Envy into action.

The homunculus stood nearby, and throughout the entire time Ed had been robbing supplies for the both of them, Envy had been steadily maintaining his new favourite look, which was one of folded arms, and a rankled, indignant, entitled attitude that the younger of the pair thought he had no right to uphold so constantly. Ed was not surprised when his suggestion that the other actually do something productive was met with a scornful snort, a twitching lip, and a set jaw.

Edward didn't react to the display, though; the heat and the fact that he was in a much better position than he had been before (and one with some control, at that) acted as dual sedatives, drugging his nerves with a relaxed, mellow, lazy feeling—one which no person should have when in the midst of peeling items from a dead body, but which was nevertheless welcome as a byproduct of exiting the nightmare he had just endured.

His sickness had ebbed enough for him to walk with relative comfort, breathe more easily, and think in a linear stream of opposed to jerky, short spurts of cognizance, which were all the fever had allowed him.

(thinking, but choosing not to think, knowing but pushing everything away, having the ability and scorning it...oh, Brother, what would you think of me now?)

To the boy's astonishment, Envy stirred, and, after much grumbling, he proceeded to come forward, albeit slowly; each footfall was a stretched, slinking movement, feline muscles stilted and distorted by the afternoon warmth. Above, the sun was cheerily bright, and when the little cirrus clouds drifted away from its gaze, it flashed as brilliantly as had a different sun above the desert where Lior had once resided. The world was drowsy, nodding listlessly at the dried out trains of thoughts its inhabitants dreamed up, and Edward felt like a floret collapsing beneath a sun shower. A human could go from fighting for survival to pilfering in modest safety, but the shift was not without a sort of jerk to the nerves; Ed felt like someone had pulled his inner cables until they stretched too far to fit around his current comfortable state of being, resulting in him glancing around nervously in a series of tic-like motions.

A gear inside of him had been turned, twisted, altered—and something bad was about to happen, surely! This new instinct in him scoffed at the notion that things could be going better; there was no better, it insisted. There was only pain, and bombs, and Envy, of course Envy!

It was hard to go from a low altitude to a high one without any ears popping along the way, and Ed felt as though he'd just been yanked from a high pressure zone at the bottom of the ocean to a place of warmth and sluggish gold...and he hadn't coped. Not yet. The echoes of the latest explosion were still fresh within his ears, and the sun upon his skin reminded him of a far different heat...

(...but that wasn't all, was it? you were thinking about—yes, what was it? that thing, the mistake...remember...?)

...but the arid day seemed to laugh at him with the voices of innumerable birds, and soon enough, Envy was near and helping to pry apart the clothes, ripping with his usual carelessness and staying surprisingly quiet. Still, he must have noticed the sweat on Ed's face, because once, he did pause, and—with a smile that should have belonged to no creature in all the worlds—he said,

"Not that you'd know, but I've seen places where the sun was this hot at midnight. It would stay out all night, but the sky was kind of dusky looking." Grinning, eyes capturing a glossy faraway look—as if he really were seeing the midnight sun—Envy pulled what remained of the shirt over his head and fumbled with the pants. "But that was back home, of course. Just think,'ll never witness any of the horrors and wonders that I have. Even if you live a bit longer, you'll never see as much as me."

And you'll never see any of those things again, Ed thought as he watched Envy pull his hair out from the collar and run his fingers through it, straightening the unruly mane that blossomed down his back.

Looking at him now, it was easy to tell that—despite all his jibes at Ed's expense—the homunculus was in fact a very short and very slender thing in his own right. The only aspect of his appearance which lent any image of weight was his thick hair, and without his restrictive hairband, it slumped over his face and body like a matted tangle of vines. With all the light currently upon Envy, it was difficult for Ed not to stare at the strange colouring of his companion's features. Sure, his hair was dark, almost black, but then there was that funny little tint which made it resemble foliage...if only slightly...and there was no sense in it, nor in anything about Envy.

I shouldn't have saved him, he thought, regretting his decision...and not for the first time, at that. The remorse was predictably cold, a glob of slushy snow pelting him in the sternum, and even through it, something like pity welled within Edward as he watched Envy go about dressing himself. But the pity did not override the regret, and the more he thought about it, the more he assured himself that even pity was too damned kind for Envy. The Sin's actions merited nothing more than contempt, and pity was simply—as Envy himself might have said—a human failure which Ed couldn't quite shake from his mind.

He had lacked the mental composure to make such a pivotal choice, but the simple truth of the matter was that he had made it...and now he had to live with it.

And, silently, he swore his mordant vow: no matter what, he would walk the road he had selected for himself. His pride insisted that he follow through with his decision, not break and run like a coward—or simply undo it by abandoning Envy, if possible—and even though the thought of helping this duplicitous other made him squirm as though filled with heaps of serpents, Ed knew that the alternative meant being a coward, being wishy-washy...and, perhaps most meant being alone.

But he knew he had made a mistake. It just so happened that he had also accepted it as a mistake he had to find some way to live with.

I didn't abandon you like he did... Ed thought, bitterly, quickly amending it to, you think he did... because Envy was a lunatic, plainly, and for all the boy knew, his father might've had perfectly reasonable motivations behind his own decision of some four-hundred odd years ago. I didn't abandon you, and now I guess you'll make me pay for my father's sins.

Purple eyes gleaming like porphyry, Envy finished with the clothing and tossed a few scrappy remnants toward Edward. There was barely enough material left over to wrap Ed's socket and his automail leg, but he did the best job he could of hiding his more conspicuous parts. It wouldn't do for him to be lugging a very visible metal leg around, especially not if this world lacked the specific technology for automail. He wanted compassion, and he would swallow pity if need be, but damned if he was going to endure suspicion.

"You missed a spot, idiot," Envy observed, giving a melodramatic sigh, and before Ed could rebuke him, Envy stomped over, yanked the cloth away from Ed, and tied the remainder of it around his automail. As soon as Envy had completed his task, Ed separated himself from the touch and hopped backwards—staggering as soon as his other foot met with a small, unexpected hole. Envy pushed himself upright and smirked at Ed's discomfort; slowly, some of his former lustre was returning to his eyes, hair, and skin.

"Well," Envy started. "have you dreamed up some story for everyone to swallow yet?"

The sound of a roaring freight train somewhere in the vicinity suffocated the smaller noise of Ed sucking his breath in, and without willing his eyes to avoid Envy's direct stare, Ed found himself gazing at the decaying body of the stranger they had happened upon in this latest back alley—this man who had probably once been a transient not so unlike themselves, and who was now dissolving into fascicles and emitting a terribly pungent odor. It was hard to say when the person had died, and Ed would have had to look with more attention than he was willing to give (because, at present, the last thing he wanted to do was add humanity to another victim and get himself depressed all over again) in order to pin-point the exact cause of death, but the coldness of recent times had assuredly slowed the rot. The chill not existing at present was already making the air thick and putrid, drenched with the foulness of dead human flesh as skin slowly melted into the muscles and joints that lay beneath it, making a feast for the swarming insects.

All at once, the grisly tableau hit a little too close to home, and Ed turned away.

"Where the hell are you going?" Envy demanded, and sure enough, Ed soon heard his acquaintance padding after him.

(...shouldn't have saved him...not even human...can't relate, can't understand; we can't even have a peaceful talk...he's not capable...not capable of anything...)

"Hey, you asshole! If you're so keen on having control over this situation, then you're gonna have to learn not to be such a complete pussy! Oh, come on, Hagane no Ochibi-san! Aww, don't tell me the little brat who got his limbs ripped off is gonna faint at the sight of blood!"

Ed ignored Envy's rebirthed militance; in truth, he had expected no less. Any sign of weakness could be likened to the scent of blood, and Envy was like a wolf ready to spring upon any dripping trail of carmine.

"I can't believe you, you little shit!" Envy continued, laughing loudly, and Ed noted the frantic, nervous, crazed undercurrent in the laughter. He did not, however, turn. "Oh, you would have shat yourself in Ishbal, y'know. Oh, wait, you did a fine job of pouring out your bowels back by the trash pile, so I guess it would've been even worse near war. Remind me to tell you about my work sometime, Edward; I love killing humans and I've done much worse than what happened to that bastard. He still had all his limbs, you notice, and—"

A metal foot planted within the Sin's abdomen destroyed whatever might have remained of the sentence.

Apparently Envy had been too invested in his diatribe to even notice that he had ultimately succeeded in getting the alchemist's attention. He struck the ground with a dull thud, coughing and rolling over, attempting to stand, but Ed curtailed the movement. Lashy eyelids dropped when Ed stepped forward, when the afternoon sun elongated his figure into a dark penumbra cast between he and Envy, and something ugly—maybe a curse in another language—rolled off Envy's tongue before Ed seized a handful of the long tendrils of hair and yanked Envy in his direction.

Ed raised his foot and was ready to test a theory on just how many kicks it would take to open Envy's guts and reduce his face to an oblong chunk of splatter—if only temporarily—but though he shook with eagerness, his foot stayed upon the ground, singing a tap tap tap of wild anticipation.

For half an instant, Envy's eyes went wide (with expectation?), jaw dropping as his mouth and tongue attempted to wring out some idea Ed doubted he even wanted to hear, but before his glossolalia could solidify into something meaningful, Envy was once again tossed aside. This time around, Ed gave him a fierce punt for good measure.

Envy deserved worse, Ed told himself, but several factors had inhibited his rage.

Foremost was the sweltering heat.

Torrid and violence-inducing as the heat was, it also succeeded in reducing Ed's actual thoughts to sizzling strips of incoherency, and tempting though it was, he wasn't about to beat Envy senseless without actually really thinking about what he was doing. It would've felt good, yes, but it also wouldn't have been a step above the monster himself, and after all Ed had lost to this world, it would've been far too dangerous to risk sacrificing his identity and core values simply to scratch an itch for Envy's blood.

"Get up," he said, looking away. He felt disgusted all over again.

"You never answered my question, you dumb bastard!" Silence. "And don't...don't you ever attack me like that again, understand?" Envy looked up, and thinly veiled emotions brimmed within his eyes. Anger, of course. Shock, Ed thought he saw. But there were other feelings, too.

As Ed looked on, well-placed apprehension and rabid defiance waged a war within Envy, apparent only because of the way sunshine sparkled on the glassy, faux tear film that coated his slitted eyes.

"Understand?" He rose to his feet, still coughing dryly. "I may...have to put up with you...for the time being, but don't think that means that I don't feel comfortable hurting your sorry ass, because you don't need all of your parts to make the stones for me, and really, that's the only thing I care about getting from you."

"Yeah. I know. We've been over this before." You're the most singleminded creature I've ever met in my life, he wanted to add, but there was no sense in instigating further conflict. Presently, Ed's mind was not so much on Envy as it was on hunger and thirst, twin needs filling his mouth and belly. The longer he stood there, sweating copiously, the more fluid he lost, and he was getting tired of constantly pushing his hair away and wiping his soaked face. "I turned to leave because I'm ready to go. The station's right over there, just a stone's throw away. I have a hunch that we'll at least have a chance with the people there."

"You still never answered my question!"


Ed considered for a moment. Oh. Yes. That.

"I haven't come up with a specific story, no. But I have an idea for what to do." He licked his lips, then nibbled them gently and idly. "I don't want to stand here and explain every little detail to you, but the long and short of it is that I think maybe...if I act innocent, and if I ask the right questions...but casually, so that people don't realize I'm asking questions...or if I just bring up the right subjects..."

"Then what?" Envy interrupted.

"Then I can get some general information about this world, this city, this war. And with that information, I can build up a story for myself." He smiled. "Until then, I'll just be Edward Elric, a kid who got separated from his father. A cripple."

"A foreign cripple?" challenged Envy, and one dark eyebrow raised when he grinned.

"Yeah, a foreign cripple. Why not, after all? You forget that I was a State Alchemist who was constantly on the road. I'm used to dealing with different cultures, different kinds of people, and different lifestyles. I'm hardly an ambassador, but I can find my way around, and I know how to get what I need from people." A touch irritably, he added, "What? Did you think alchemy was the only thing I'm good at?"

With that, he turned once more. And once more, Envy followed; Ed kept his hand at his side lest Envy begin the twaddle anew. Sure enough, the term twaddle didn't even start to cover the insults and accusations that came from Envy's lips as he snickered madly and gibbered relentlessly about how he did know that "the midget" had talents with other cultures—primarily talents with destroying other cultures, as was evidenced by Lior.

Edward bit down and tuned Envy out, but each auslaut of every word was a thump delivered to his skull, and he ached to turn and slam his fist into the jerk's teeth. The only thing which gave Ed the strength to contain his temper was the knowledge that his destination was at hand, and that despite all his venomous words, Envy wouldn't dare to make a move against his enemy right now. Heh. The boy could only imagine how pissed off Envy must have been about his current inability to do what he really wanted to, and that musing gave Ed a mean and meager sort of satisfaction.

Sunlight rippled on the wet ground, thirst seared Ed's parched throat, and his muscles grew short and tense. His mind dredged up another recitation of chemical compounds and alchemic formulas, anything to put Envy's words from his consciousness. The heat was too much, too familiar, and the homunculus knew how to sink his claws into Ed's old sores; he knew of the guilt that the boy carried, the guilt which had never left him, the private wounds he had lain to rest within the sepulchre at the far edge of his subconscious.

There will come a day, you bastard, he swore to himself. A day when you'll be sorry, a day when you'll be hurt, a day when you'll see if a homunculus's tear glands really function like a human's or not.

Ed had no way of making his imagination come true, and he had no reason to suspect that it would. Still, hollow thought or not, it was refreshing to consider that Envy might one day reap what he had sown.

The remainder of the walk to the train station was short, though it felt much shorter as soon as Envy decided to quiet down. Once they had emerged from the alley and entered the streets, Envy seemed to grow more silent and somber...or perhaps he simply became more wary. Something was wrong with the city, as Ed had suspected from the beginning. If the streets weren't filled with people, there was always someone milling about, and while that someone tended not to give passersby a second glance, something about the occasional looks caused the tiny hairs on the back of Ed's neck to rise to attention.

Something is really wrong with this place, Ed thought, looking around cautiously and trying not to stare...or do anything which might warrant being stared at. Without Winry around to repair his automail, his slight limp could only get worse over time, and his flesh foot was still sore and hurting with each step. The new rags cushioned the blows a little, and outside of the alleys, the ground was smoother, but Ed was still very much aware of how he must have looked to the rest of the world.

(...helpless, maimed, useless, pathetic...)

The train station seemed to lumber around the corner, although it was they who lumbered upon it. Ed felt himself smile at the sight of the stern edifice, at the system of people and wires and travel and communication which it surely represented. Trains were energy, mass, metal, and mathematics—something feasible which Ed could grasp in a conceptual sense, and more importantly, something he could relate to. Fire and power, technology and progress; back home, Ed had gone everywhere by train or foot, and he was confident that he would recognize every necessary part of the terminus, platforms, and all the numerous facilities.

Beside the imposing station, the gravity yard sprawled out across the ground in a series of tracks and switches, metal and wood and dirt. A dusty fog of dry earth kicked up by the freight trains hung in the air above the gravity yard, shading it grey even in the sunlight. Wires soared through the air, while signals viewed the world through bloodshot eyes, and slanted towers of toothy iron twisted upwards in a supporting latticework that set the foundation for the entire infrastructure. It was a far cry from beautiful, this place, but its architecture spoke of functionality and a worldly logic that anyone could understand and respect.

Anyone, of course, save for someone who couldn't understand worldly logic.

Ed glanced backwards casually, checking to see what Envy was doing. The homunculus stood still, expression blank, eyes lifted upwards as he regarded the wires above the train yard with the newborn surprise of a person who had often looked, but who had never seen; before, seeing had simply been beneath him.

Ed looked away. He couldn't help but recall what Envy had said earlier about the midnight sun. How strange it must have been, to see so many things...all while appreciating nothing.

Now, it was far before midnight, and the sun shone brightly over the dry city, but perhaps twilight would soon be upon the sky. Ed proceeded forward and stepped across the decussating tracks tentatively, slowly beginning a trek around the vicinity. Poor, he thought, feeling the limivorous ground gulp to swallow his footfalls in the drying mud. Impoverished. This whole place...and me, too. For an instant, he found himself feeling sorrowful that the money Envy had brought them had been lost in the muck of the alley and buried by the explosion that had rained hell down upon their heads, but there was no point in feeling glum, so he cast the brief sadness aside. This was a new hell to flounder within...or perhaps it wasn't.

"Ed!" called Envy, voice strained and raised to a falsetto pitch. Before Ed could whirl to face him, the Sin added in a lower growl, "Hey! Wait a minute, Shorty! You forgot about a crucial detail, moron! What the hell am I?"

Edward turned, regarding Envy's distorted features through the hazy cloud that lay between them. He was beginning to grow impatient with all this stalling, particularly now that they had reached their destination, now that hunger was making his stomach roil like the sediment in one of the upturned and shaken 'ocean in a jar' panoramas he and Alphonse had created as children. He noticed that Envy had become more familiar with him, of late, in that he used his actual name more often, but whether that was intentional or simply the result of a scarcity of clever new insults (or maybe, God forbid, Envy had actually gotten tired of being entirely repetitive), Ed could hardly tell. Of course, even his name sounded like an insult when spoken by Envy's vaguely nasal syllable-stretching voice.

" what are you going on about?" He pressed his lips together and blew out a curt, grumpy pfft that was mostly meant to blow his hair from his face and partly meant as a shorthand way of telling Envy to shut the fuck up.

"Don't be stupid, Elric! If you're just some kid without his father, then who the hell am I?"

"Whoever you want to be." Ed shrugged. "You used to be a shapeshifter. I figure you had to be a pretty good actor to get around as well as you did. So make up some story. Maybe you're lost, too, and I just happened upon you somewhere around here, so we started travelling together. It's simple, see?"

For one fleeting instant right before Envy's facial features collapsed, Ed had time to think 'oh hell, THIS AGAIN?', and then sure enough, Envy was throwing a tantrum, stomping and kicking and tossing tumbleweeds of expletives, and somehow he looked even more ridiculous given that he was dressed crudely in oversized drifter's rags, and while Ed looked on in pure annoyance, Envy ranted about hating that he needed help from the "stupid fucking humans", and something along the lines of how he'd like to eviscerate and excoriate all of them (at which point Ed noted that Envy's vocabulary actually seemed to increase exponentially when it came to words for malicious intent), and Ed found himself thinking that the sight might have been comical had it not been for the fact that Envy was assuredly one-hundred percent serious in his hate, and Ed was getting sick of it.

"WELL. TOO FUCKING BAD!" he snapped back, aware even as he did so that he was being juvenile, and not too far above Envy himself...but, well, there was only so much that a bone-tired, starving, hot, angry sixteen-year-old could stand. "IF YOU FEEL THAT WAY, THEN GO DIE AND LET ME HAVE SOME PEACE ALREADY!"

He didn't wait to see what Envy's expression or verbal reaction to that was. He turned, stumbling over the uneven ground, and in an instant he was running over the tracks that jutted forth from the ground like the hull of some long dead and petrified monster, head pounding as though a sledgehammer had been taken to his cranium, and he was sweating and dirty (filthy, completely disgusting), hunger making his stomach ache more and more with each step, thirst causing his throat to hurt so badly that his raspy pants became sore and laboured, each one punctured by little whimpers.

Fuck. He could not do this again, not a second time! After the previous night, he had privately sworn that he would not lose himself to his emotions again, and he was trying so hard to stave off the depression that wanted to overtake him, but he had practically committed a crime by giving his hand to Envy—by saving that murderer, and he had done it all because of his memories, because it was what Al would have surely wanted him to do (merciful, beautiful, wonderful brother!), but also for a less noble reason: without Envy, he would have been alone. Lonely! Poor little fool that he was, he hadn't wanted to be all by his lonesome in the big scary world...stupid, stupid, stupid!

Now, whenever Envy made his little offhanded comments about slaughter, it was personal; by giving him his hand—no, worse, by holding him on that twilit morning—Ed felt he had condoned those horrible deeds, and he had done it all for the shallow desire to walk alongside someone...just as he had done for all his life, but now he felt weighed down by guilt and remorse, and Envy could not and never would be his brother, and to have called him a 'lousy substitute' would even have been far too generous.

Company's only worthwhile if you can kind of find some way to understand each other. Envy is...can't... such a was all a mistake... I should've just put him out of his misery...

Ed stopped running and stood still, catching his breath. He'd even been cruel to Envy in the long run, hadn't he? Because, after all, what could he do for him? Alchemy didn't work here, and even if by some miracle he could find a way to make it applicable, he couldn't possibly bring himself to make the incomplete stones; whether he had the resources or not, he certainly lacked the amorality necessary to go through with the stones' by saving the homunculus...he had really done nothing but prolong a slow and probably painful demise for the Sin...

( can't stay like this...NO!)

He covered his face with his hand, pushing his eyelids with his thumb and forefinger and holding the tears at bay through sheer force of will. The boy steadied his breathing, reminding himself that he needed to be calm and composed for his own sake, and also telling himself that he had done a pretty good job of surviving up until this point...but no matter how hard he was trying to stay cool and collected and mature, when he actually paused and reminisced upon his silly choices, he ended up feeling like nothing more than a stupid, scared little boy...

...a stupid, scared, arrogant little boy with too much knowledge of science and delusions of grandeur. A splendid and once famous, once loved (loved...once, people had loved him, and now the thought felt so long gone and foreign, as though he could never know the warmth of their love again...) alchemist who had gone to hell and lent the satanic serpent himself a hand.

He hated feeling weak and emotional; it was not his ideal, but being so far removed from his normal element and the very person who kept him sane...he just didn't know what to do besides trying to pretend that his brother could see him, could somehow know what he was doing...and that thought—only that thought—made him strive to be as strong and rational as he could possibly be.

( who keeps me sane, who gives me hope...)

"Entschuldigen Sie?"

Ed dropped his hand, and looked forward.

Metal and brakes screeched as a freight train began moving on the other side of the gravity yard. Ed glanced over his shoulder once, ascertaining that his brief sprint had put a considerable deal of distance between himself and the nearest tracks, but he didn't look long enough or closely enough to catch sight of Envy, if Envy was still anywhere close. When Ed returned his attention to what lay before him, he saw the person who had addressed him in that tongue he did not know: a scrawny, wiry wisp of a man with hair the colour of a soaked dishrag, and what he lacked in a jaw he made up for in his rooster neck and heavy Adam's apple. A sparse, grizzled beard gave a shabby disguise to the weak chin, and his skin had a pinkish look, as of a body scrubbed too hard with lye soap. Keen, clear blue eyes peered forth, and with his faded clothing, worn appearance, and difficult lifestyle, the figure could have been anywhere from forty to sixty, or perhaps older still.

"H...hello," Ed tried, uncertainly. He had been expecting to eventually encounter someone, naturally...but after so long in seclusion, it felt strange to actually be face to face with someone who very definitely was not Envy. "My name is Edward Elric," he said in place of really knowing what other information to give. "I'm...well, I'm...I was hoping maybe I could find a job here...because you see..."

Damn. Nothing was coming out as well as it had sounded in his mind! He was getting ahead of himself, tripping over words, and he had no reason to think that the man even understood him in the first fact, to judge from his piercing but curious pale blue gaze...Ed had a feeling that he didn't.

"Entschuldigung, ich verstehe nicht wass Sie sagen," the man offered in response, all but confirming Ed's suspicions. The boy was at a loss, though he was about to consider trying to point to various parts of his anatomy—specifically his arm socket—and attempt communication through a series of clumsy hand signals, but before his mind could quite work out what the appropriate sign for 'employment' was, the sound of the freight train stopped and another voice spoke up.

"Englisch. You are not from München, are you?"

For what it represented, the heavily accented baritone timbre was the single greatest thing Ed had heard in weeks, and quite against his will, he felt a rather dopey large grin stretch the tired muscles of his face, creating an expression of simple joy. In older times, it would have been common. Now, the sight of those teeth forming anything besides a sneer was a rarity indeed. Edward looked at the second speaker, a much larger man with a ruddy complexion, black hair, and a trimmed beard. To his surprise, Ed noticed that the crewman was not looking at him. Dark eyes that may have been cobalt blue or black as crow's wings fixated on some point beyond Ed's shoulders, and again the voice came forth.

"Wie heißen Sie?" was tried at first; then, after what looked to be a tense moment of consideration, "Who are you?"

Ed twisted to look behind himself, knowing what he would see even as he did so.

He was not surprised. He knew Envy would manage to catch him without much of a delay.

"His brother," Envy said, grinning in a way one might have called satisfied...had it not been for the distinct lines of tension creasing the edges of his lips. He pointed hastily, then lowered his hand as though he had suddenly grown agitated or disinterested in emphasizing his connection to Edward. Hands rested upon slender hips, and the homunculus kept his distance—aloof and pale and dark, a stranger and a monster and a madman humbled; he tilted his head and stared, bright eyes shimmering with intrigue and loathing and a discomfort Ed felt rather than saw, and in his vitriol-laced singsong voice, he quipped, "What? Can't you see the resemblance?"

The sound of another freight train trudging along its course grew so loud that no response could be heard, but Ed doubted that there had been one. He knew he was the intended audience for those words, and he had nothing to say to them.

Happiness, sadness, hope, apprehension; they all seemed to come together in one instant, effectively cancelling one another out and leaving in their wake a settled feeling of stoicism that was well-suited to the steamy hot day. Life went on all around, and dust floated down from the air, diligently adding a new layer to the broken, blistered mud.