scimitarsmile

Menu

ambre

Wasteland

chapter 12.

The handle of the water pump was a broad bow of iron, a metal crescent covered with oxidation that stained its cold exterior like crusty blood. This aged beast was a proud one, a creature draped with battle scars; it was fighting against the scythe of time, and it was losing.

Envy beat back a shiver at the sight of the worn pump, eroded by the years and thoroughly weathered. Agitation bundled within the Sin, lying in repose, but ready to fissure his nerves at the smallest provocation. Metaphors. Comparisons. His mind should not have been birthing them. He did not make metaphors. He was above them. Only a human would look at something...and see it for anything besides what it clearly was.

Now just put a little more venom into that sentiment, and a little more feeling, and maybe it'd stand a chance of having some truth, he thought, wryly, too tired to laugh sardonically, and his fingers braced the handle, hefting it upwards.

Nothing.

"Bastard," he muttered to no one in particular.

He flexed his digits, ignoring the way the rust-coated surface ripped his palm. Once again, he lifted the handle, this time jerking roughly. Ancient iron screeched like an animal caught in a brutal trap, wailing for pity or painless demise, and Envy yanked the damned thing upwards again and again, swinging it with such force that one would have thought it was a machete with which he was trying to slash through an exceptionally nasty cluster of flora. This has got to be a fucking joke, he decided, snarling at the spout's refusal to relinquish the precious contents of its unseen well.

Envy's other hand was occupied with a particularly unctuous bar of lye soap, one which just didn't want to accept his fingers; it had already leapt to the ground no less than five times already—as though it were an inorganic lunatic toad composed of chemicals and wearing a perfectly symmetrical white skin. The homunculus was trying to swathe his ebbing, bleeding patience, but each argumentative outcry from the water pump fused with each of the soap bar's attempted escapes, effectively coalescing into one large, compound bout of annoyance.

Eyes twitched, ire rose, and an echelon of insults lined up in his mind, slinking downwards and pawing at his lungs in the hopes of prizing release.

Four centuries gave a person plenty of time for learning languages, as Envy had experienced, and the more colourful phrases were always the ones he learned first and remembered the longest. A part of him really wanted to christen the uncooperative well with various less than flattering titles, but while this urge was growing larger by the second...it just wasn't the same anymore.

It wasn't the same without someone around—someone to irk, like Greed, or someone to listen, like Dante. Homunculi were pack creatures, self-contradicting attention-loving recluses who spent most of their time clandestinely beginning wars and the rest of it soaking up pseudo-affection like an assortment of undead, war-mongering sponges—a comparison which neatly categorized their emotional needs as well as their emotional ranges.

Envy, more so than the others, had been given a skill which simply demanded an audience. Without one...he was...he felt...

(...but there IS one audience member left, eh...?)

No. Fuck no. That wasn't fair. That didn't count. He didn't count!

Edward was supposed to have been the grand finale. One of them, at least. His bastard father got priority, it was true, but why not finish off both at once? That was the coda Envy wanted: two deaths in the same instant, beautiful triumph...something to remember..something for everyone to see...and then...then...

Well. It didn't really matter, did it?

Worrying about what came next was like dwelling on finding the end of a rainbow; a kid might search out a pot of gold, but any wise adult just appreciated the damn scenery.

Unfortunately, Envy was beginning to see that his goals had been about as futile as chasing a rainbow. He had focused exclusively upon the nuggets and the doubloons; he had longed (and still longed) to pluck out the ducats of Ed's eyes and lick them just because he could, but he had not considered what he would do once he had drained all the enjoyment from his long awaited victory. Celebrating the gold was fine and well, but then one had to tote the pot back, count the currency, and put the bullion away in a bank somewhere, and if Envy had learned anything from his human life with a set of opulent parents, it was that people got robbed of whatever they earned; hell, he had certainly gotten robbed. Stolen from again and again.

Fate mugged him, caned him, stuck pointy objects in his orifices, laughed and poked and kicked his flanks and saddled him with Elrics he wanted dead, and probed him for feelings he wanted buried under a few thousand layers of soil. Destiny was a mean bastard, as Envy had concluded long ago. A violent, slick son of a bitch with a twinkle in one eye and a propensity for flashing opportunities like a whorehouse brandishing its salacious delicacies, then snatching them away in favour of much less attractive fare. The worst part was that Envy had known how unkind existence was; he had known better than to trust it, to take anything at face value, and he had been perfectly aware of how much decisively false advertising the world tended to dangle before him, but he—fool that he'd been—had still reached for the fruit of possibility.

And he had been summarily educated.

And Ed—no, wait, not Ed, the short shit, because that was better—was off talking to some other worthless humans.

And the damned pump wasn't working.

Fucking humans.

And why was the fucking pump not working?

Did the little bastard really think Envy had intended to stay around and associate with the filthy humans? Really? Well, it didn't matter what Ed...fuck...that stupid runt...it didn't matter what that stupid runt thought anyway, since he didn't matter, but Envy couldn't help wondering what exactly the brat had imagined he might do in the face of people. Specifically, the Sin had graced the minor crowd with his presence for all of ten seconds (long enough to nag someone into letting him borrow some soap)—or less—and then he had made himself scarce. Envy had huffed and offered a few curt words; then, he had ambled across the length of the gravity yard, winning shouts and curious stares wherever he went, and more than once, he had actually been startled enough to increase the speed of his gait.

Mostly he was ignored, probably written off (accurately, humiliating though it was) as a homeless bum, but sometimes he felt human eyes boring into his back, and nothing raised the temperature of his "blood" so quickly as knowing that a bunch of weakling humans were looking down on him. Embarrassing. He wanted to call it embarrassing, but that wasn't a good term. In order to be embarrassed by something, it had to affect you, and Envy wasn't keen on admitting that he was affected by something so insanely trivial.

It wasn't right that he should be so bothered by something he had always more or less been capable of ignoring, and it wasn't fair that Ed just got along and struck up a conversation with strangers as though he'd known them forever. Sure, Envy didn't want anything to do with any of them, but he hated that his enemy was capable of doing mundane tasks which he couldn't even conceive of. He wasn't interested in performing said tasks, but he didn't like that Ed could, and it was as simple as that.

He didn't like being alone, getting edgy over every stray look, waging war against the most trifling of matters, and he didn't like his growing obsession...that little earwig of curiosity which had settled in his consciousness and which was always roiling with questions about Ed's whereabouts, and what the asshole thought of this or that...because even though he didn't actually care, he wondered anyway...and that was just downright infuriating.

He still hated the kid, of course. That hadn't changed. It was just that once he had hated the kid without all these...these...damned ponderings about frivolous things.

Humans were basically sheep. They ate, drank, sucked in oxygen, and shat. Envy hated them, but he didn't actively deal with them much of the time; as far as murderers went, he never pursued carnage for the sake of carnage quite so doggedly as, say, Kimbley. When it came to doing his duties, he robed himself in whatever skin was needed, then walked the streets and let his mind wander over whatever he was actually interested in.

Sometimes humans intercepted his path and paid for it with their hearts, but he rarely went out of his way to kill them; his missions gave him plenty of opportunities to hand out death in interesting and productive manners, and he relished each of those instances.

Occasionally the homunculus had gotten so ridiculously bored that he had resorted to using humans as more sustained entertainment, but there was only so much screaming and twitching and bleeding that one could endure without labelling the whole affair "redundant". Envy savoured those prolonged torture sessions as a human might savour sweets: tasty in the short term, but teeth-rotting in abundance. Besides that, as fun as it was to re-affirm his superiority, the novelty of watching human after human loose their stools in fright often wore off rather quickly. It was a rush for the first hundred or so times. After that, it was just a pile of shit.

Still, he had come back for more 'entertainment' every so often. He didn't mind his addiction at all. In fact, he loved it. Good...constant...predictable—

—and he missed it. He missed himself.

But he'd done his fair share of mourning lately. Mourning, or sulking. Whichever. No point in continuing now, especially given that his thoughts were getting on his nerves as much as certain external stimuli were.

(...right, right...back to fighting with this stupid contraption...)

Again, he took hold of the pump's crabbed handle, longing for the strength which could have torn it straight off its base. Again, he pendulated: up hard, then back down. One perfect stroke.

When he heard the gurgle of water rushing into pipes like a jack-in-the-box springing into the air, Envy jumped in surprise.

Ah.

Something going right? Amazing.

It started as a stalk-thin trickle, then fattened beautifully. Dirty, probably, but it was better than nothing. Envy placed his hand under the spigot, letting the cool substance trickle over his grimy knuckles. Now, if he were a human, he'd be looking at the flow with a growing sense of thirst, but of course he wasn't a human, and he didn't need to be considering something like that, anyway. He looked and saw something to clean himself with, and that was as it should have been. Three glances: right, then left, then behind himself. No one was in the vicinity, it seemed. Good...although it wouldn't have mattered if they had been. Concern for being seen out and about (and naked, no less) by humans was a quality Envy was slowly learning to set aside.

The homunculus wasted no time discarding his clothing, ripping the fabric apart in his rush to rid his body of the travesty Ed had given him to wear. Terrible, terrible shit! The source was irrelevant and it didn't make the ugliness of the stained rags any more tolerable; Envy didn't think he was vain as some of the homunculi, but honestly, enough was enough. What came next? Using garbage bags for attire?

Hmm. Maybe he was sort of vain.

A hair's breadth of vanity. Nothing more.

And maybe, when he thought about it, he really didn't like being so exposed...but he would've if Ed had been around, because then it would have...hopefully made him uncomfortable. In the long run, anyway.

All eyeball-licking and gut-strumming fantasies toward that short shit were still very much intact, but it wasn't particularly easy to accomplish any satisfying act of violence when they were essentially cohabitating out of shared necessity (even though his own needs were the only ones he actually cared about). The one time Envy had tried to have a little fun at Ed's expense—what with the whole apple incident—the asshole had gone and gotten sick and almost died on him. He'd probably done it on purpose, too...the jerk. He had probably loved being cared for like a swaddled babe fresh from the tit, and even though he hadn't laughed aloud, Envy was sure that he'd been smug and self-satisfied and overly amused by every single instance in which he had gotten an opportunity to vomit in the Sin's direction.

The bastard was a suspiciously good shot, at that.

Envy shook his head and splashed a few handfuls of water onto himself. Eagerness got the better of him and he soon began crouching, ducking his head beneath the spigot, wincing and closing one eye as cold water ran over his face; he spat it out in an ejective pthf and dragged his broken fingernails through the tight filigree of jade-hued hair that he had invented for this body—this body whose details had been so masterfully and delicately pieced together, and over which he had agonized...never mind that his work seemed completely random to all the rest of the world.

He gasped, at once both uncomfortable and excited; the water was damned cold, shockingly so, but rubbing and scraping his scalp felt surprisingly good, and the gentle swishing sound near his ear threatened to relax him into complete lassitude. Ah. That was...nice. Very nice.

This was a nice he hadn't felt in a long, long time...even though it wasn't much, not really...but no matter. Miniscule or not, an amenity was an amenity. Oh...fuck...bathing was such a human indulgence...and predictably, that was why he had pretty much forgotten what it felt like...so...fuck...but it was...it felt...goddamn it! Groaning, he threaded through the stiff torsades of hair upon which water was beading, fingers bending like spider's legs, twisting until the locks separated and strands poured free like fibers of silk. Right...right...but he needed more...(keep going, keep going, keep...)

Teeth crunched. Eyes closed. Breath was inhaled suddenly, and with an intensity that bordered upon pain.

Lye scrubbed flesh—making a course of straight lines, then angles, then circles formed by one hand going round and round in shuddering jerks. Shoulders, neck, chest, belly...and lower...swirling suds along the thighs and then upwards again, swooping over the radial extensions of the arms. Envy trussed a whimper in his throat and crouched lower, knees tapping the dirt. Frantically, he sloughed off every layer of filth and every flake of dead skin, not pausing and not relenting until he felt a burn not so unlike the sensation of being sliced with a heated knife, and then—even then—he only bit down, snarled, and altered his pace.

Water gushed over the unripe almond arcs of his closed eyes, wetting his thick tussocks of hair, invading his mouth until he lowered his head and spluttered at the dry ground.

Tufts of grass stood like sentinels against the assault of water and spittle, and when Envy opened his eyes again, he saw tinted pink streaks—raw flesh—like a series of scourge lashes standing stark against the plains of his fair body. Fingertips lazily traced the exposed lacerations; he sighed loudly, panting as his body adjusted to this newfound chill, straining as he continued to scour himself until old skin drained away and concealed remnants of fuchsia rose to the surface and lay over muscles in a hue akin to blood-drenched snowfall.

Clean...fucking hell...he needed to get clean...(evenifIcannevergetreallycleanagain...)...and he had to get clean, and if pseudo-skin cells were what he had to sacrifice, then so be it.

He licked the spill from his lips and shook his head, swiping his hair away before dipping his hand into the flexure of his pelvis, squeezing the soap until his knuckles pulsed. Eyes fluttered open and closed. Muscles and nerves quivered in pleasure as his hand bypassed the ouroboros (beautiful, beautiful mark of inhumanity) and paid special attention to the flesh over the ilium bones, pampering them senseless in a superfluous showing of self-love. Here the muscles and knots of fat were almost feminine in their curved elegance, a smooth juxtaposition of male and female aspects streaming into flawless androgyny.

Red. White. Red. Skin, blood, and the familiar serpent consuming its head for all eternity; looking at it—looking at that fucking starving bastard of a snake—Envy laughed, laughed, laughed. His shoulders bounced with the effort of his undead lungs as he cachinnated long and unrestrained, filling the dying land with the meaningless words of his increasing mania—

(Flowers. The fucking bastard had talked about flowers when Envy had spoken of death!)

laughing until the sounds grew more reminiscent of screams and sobs, again and again and again as the hard water wept its calcium tears and hyper fingers made bloody trails, shallow indentations on the chest and stomach, warm and cold and warm and cold, fluctuating thermals, rapid changes, and what in the fucking hell was this happening for?

Envy wasn't...fuck, he was never warm, never, NEVER, not before, and he'd never be grabbing clumsily at his cock and cursing and laughing and crying without tears...not HIM...because he'd neh-vurrrr NEVER EVER be thinking of someone with his enemy's face and imagining his tears—pretty on his cheeks, swollen like tiny clear eggs—and his skin, so hot, and his blood (slick and salty) and all those perfect, perfect details of...of...f-fffuck...

"NO!" he protested in a blaring whine, abandoning the soap in favour of gripping the engorged flesh, ripping his lip bloody with zealous teeth, and shoving into the coil of fingers and against the heel of his palm. No. Oh no...no, n-nononono...not-him-not-not-those-EYES.

..those...FUCKING eyes like...ducats...doubloons...coins, GOLD, (ANYTHINGBUTTHAT), anyone...anyone but him...stupid fucking whore's son of a—"H-h-hate...HATE YOU, b-ba-bastard, fuhhhh-cker, nghhhhh, EDWARD, hate, hateeehhh...y-yuh..."

He dropped to the ground, gasping. Softened muddy earth smudged his legs, undoing at least some of the efforts of his rigorous cleaning, but he didn't care...couldn't care. Dirty. He was...he was...not just physically, but...but in a way that no amount of lathering could cure. He wanted...wanted...didn't want...

He wanted to get out. He wanted to hide.

If he couldn't trust himself, then he couldn't trust anything.

Envy grimaced, moaning quietly. A shaky hand reached up, yanking the pump's handle.

One long, low creak.

Hard water thinned, growing emaciated before vanishing entirely.

In its wake lay a sopping, chilly homunculus—a shivering tangle of gaunt limbs and massive hair plastered every which way over a quaking, cadaverously pale frame. Hurt. Hurting. He was hurting, but he didn't know why. Unfocused lilac eyes looked forward. The sludgy earth gaped wide to consume the last struggling water droplets. Plop, plop, plop. Down they went into its russet gullet.

Blood. There was fucking blood under his nails...his own...if it could even be called 'blood'. Eyes turned downwards, coming into focus as the Sin bemusedly regarded his self-inflicted wounds. Gone...all the filth was gone. Lye was harsh, and Envy had exercised its potential to the fullest extent by ridding himself not only of the ordure caking his skin, but also a good chunk of the skin upon which the offensive substance had clung. In fact, he was currently as pink and wet as a human kid recently pulled from a cunt. But at least the tattoo was still there, still reminding him that he was structurally superior to all those around him. That was what mattered, and he needed to turn his focus in that direction. He couldn't afford to lose sight of what he was and get caught paying too much attention to more internal tattoos—imprints of ideas and longings that needed to be erased as quickly as possible.

Wind sang over the brown land; O O O O, like the melodies of nymphs.

Then, the sound died, and there was silence.

(...b-burns; it burns, like the night before, like so long ago, like...)

Envy gathered himself up, willing his tired parts into action. He shrugged and fumbled for the tatters of his clothing, but when he saw that they were too ruined for any practical use, he simply sighed, popped his back, and arose. He was naked, unspent, and still struggling against a garishly demonstrative libido—a feeling like fluttering wings beating open his heart and sending ripples straight into his belly, legs, and groin...and he couldn't fight, couldn't flee, because he knew...he really did know that there was only one thing which could ever hope to scratch the itch, but nothing mattered, nothing except his goal...his goal...his goal...and he tapped the ghostly marks of his alchemical nodes, fingers desperately tracing the lines hidden by his hair.

Naked, he stumbled over the uneven ground, over the wet and dry cracked earth, over the dusty pebbles rising like miniature towers, over the sparse singing grass, beyond the pump and the melting lye he'd left behind, and over the falling gradient of the gravity yard. A freight train reverberated in the distance, and far away, Envy heard voices yelling in the guttural tongue of this world, their unintelligible noises blown clear across the length of the flatlands and the sloping portions of the yard.

Here, the tracks turned aside and abruptly died like limbs amputated at the knees or shoulders. No one was around for some distance, and the only tracks and trains in sight were the graveyard husks of older, better models. Envy sought out the nearest train car and mindlessly pushed towards it, panting and coughing as the air daubed a scattered sheet of dust onto him.

No one would find him here, he reasoned. No one would even consider looking at the far end of the yard, at the carcass of a train car. He could rest...breathe...think...or maybe just relax.

At least Ed wouldn't be around.

Not a single bird was in the sky by the time Envy pried open the train car's door, grunted with the effort, and eased inside of its cool, refreshingly shadowy body. He slid the door closed, shutting out the hums of the enormous machines, and on hands and knees, he crawled over to one of the far corners of the train car and huddled into a ball. When that proved uncomfortable, he shifted into a foetal position and rolled over onto his side, lightly nuzzling the corner. After a reflexive stretch, he found himself lying with his nose against the cool wood and his legs cast out in front of him, shoulders supporting his upper body as he half-heartedly made an effort to sit up. Then, he wrapped his arms together over his chest and slumped contentedly, letting his dark hair obscure everything save for one bright eye.

This was an old car, its walls full of splinters, but it was small, comfortable, and shady. The temperature within was moderate, if a little cool and moist. After having scorched his skin to blistering rawness with the force of his shower, Envy needed an atmosphere that settled on his flesh like a damp towel. He purred softly and allowed the velvet shadows to lull him into an unfamiliar state of mind, a fever dream of sleeping and waking in which images grew bulbous, wobbling as though caught in the motions of a pond, and emotions were numbed to blissful apathy.

Lovely. Simply lovely.

Freight trains and buzzing insects in the vicinity came together to form a barrier of white noise, soothing Envy's shaken nerves, and he pushed his back into the corner, effectively scratching his alchemical ley lines until knots split apart and released their tingling bursts of trapped energy. Envy shuddered, moaning in pleasure as his muscles lost their tightness and twitched uncontrollably until they had lengthened and loosened. Liquids hurried to coat stiff joints with oil, and the homunculus closed his eyes and willed all of his thoughts away.

Thoughts had become his foes. In the prison of his mind, there was no key to turn—nothing to open the door of the cell. He had his limitations, his obsessions, his compulsions, and in the old days, those had simply been called plans. In the past (long ago...it seemed so long ago...), Envy hadn't cared about the logic behind his desires. He'd just done. If he wanted something, he got it. He saw to that. Even if he couldn't get immediate gratification, then at least he could wait and work towards whatever it was that he yearned for. And now...now he couldn't have anything and he couldn't work towards anything and there was no one around to tell him that he'd win it all someday. No leader. No voice of confidence. No assurance of anything.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing remained...

And it was all Edward's fault!

FUCKING.

EDWARD.

Envy nudged the corner, eyes half-parted, one hand sluggishly opening and closing as his fingers crawled up the walls. Splinters tore a thin, jagged red line down his cheek; he sat there, limp, droplets of unlife leaking down his chin and falling onto the floor beside his lap. That boy...that stupid boy...he didn't even care, did he? It wasn't fair that he was already making acquaintances out of other humans and adapting. He'd saved (killed) Envy, but he didn't even care. He was just going to...to discard him. Abandon him. Leave him to rot while he mucked about with the other dumb humans. Envy could just imagine him smirking and laughing and talking about stupid shit with his new friends while the person he had rescued lay dying, dying, dying alone.

The whole vision was so repugnant that Envy wished the stupid fucking prick had been there just so he could kill him. In that moment, his rage simmered so purely and perfectly that he wouldn't have even cared if he'd lost his last possibility of a food supply. It would have been worth it if that was what it took to snap Ed's neck and use his fucking bones for toothpicks. That would teach him to be so callous, so apathetic. Envy worked up a smile at the idea his mind had concocted, but the smile quickly curdled when the cold truth of his present reality struck him like a boulder launched straight into his gut.

Killed. Revived. Saved. Damned. Abandoned.

The father was the son was the father reborn.

A cycle. It was all a cycle, and the serpent continued to taste its tail.

Envy didn't like dwelling on these thoughts. They were too gloomy, but he couldn't not dwell on them any more than a human could breathe underwater. Obsessions were what his mind confined him to; maybe Ed could think about the future and all his little priorities and all the damned components of his stupid alchemy, but Envy's focus was too limited for that, and he couldn't broaden it. He wished he could...especially now, he truly wished he knew how in the hell other people could have so many interests...but he didn't have a chance of matching them. The only defense mechanism at his disposal was an ability to simply block out all cognizance and succumb to a waking slumber.

If only he could sleep...if only he could dream...

Why did the useless, weak humans get everything? Why did they get to sleep? To dream? That wasn't fair, either. Envy knew that if he could have slept, then he might have enjoyed a much sought after respite, an idyll away from his tortured, plagued consciousness.

Silence. Silence. He needed to drink the silence, needed to let the inky world wrap his sores, needed to accept the train car as a bassinet in which he could find complacency to assuage his infinite aches and pains. He snuggled into the groove of the corner, squeezing in as tightly as he could manage, whimpering—unsure if he was doing so because of the pleasure brought about by the way the wood stimulated his bare flesh, or if he was working towards an ululation born from the frustration of his abject shame and helplessness.

Maybe it didn't matter. Maybe they were one in the same. Agony to ecstasy to lust to hate, in which sex was a kind of torture and torture itself was a new mood as common as happiness or sadness. Violence and lust.

Well, Envy thought, it seemed he'd had the right of it when he'd insisted to Edward that the two were deeply linked, but he'd only thought that humans made that particular connection. He hated being a victim of the very psychology he'd reasoned out to taunt that lousy idealistic human. Watching Ed squirm when his morals were brought into question had been great fun, but Envy hadn't intended for his own libido to overtake his ego...not when it'd been either dormant or completely under his control for the past few centuries.

Then again, the same could have been said for many other aspects of his life which had rather suddenly been turned upside down and inside out.

He was still wet, dripping with cold water that piled onto his hair like a web of minute, sparkling pearls. Beneath the sheen of the drying water, Envy was warm and slightly sore. The blood he had agitated to the surface had at last begun to recede back into his ancient veins. His epidermis was left with an itchy feeling as his cuts went about healing themselves. Dank air kissed the soap's lingering burn, and Envy closed his eyes once again and forced them to stay closed this time.

Felt...good. Felt better than he had anticipated. It wasn't as wonderful as having his powers back, not by any means, but if one had to sit and do absolutely nothing, this was probably the nicest way of doing nothing that Envy could offhandedly conceive of.

Breath steadied. Inhalations and exhalations became laboured and slow.

The eidolon of his conscious mind hobbled along a promontory of subconsciousness, inching upwards on limping legs and grasping with broken fingers.

(Grasping...grasping...grasping for memories buried like a corpse in a frost-covered garden...)

Memories...

Recollections...

Vignettes...thousands, thousands...millions...

The pinwheel turned.

Lye. Of course it had seemed familiar. Dante had loved the stuff, hadn't she?

"Sodium hydroxide is its proper name. Through saponification, it makes soap, but, well." A smirk. Always a smirk when she spoke of her plans. "That doesn't really matter to us, eh? It's is a very strong base, and in an abundant and concentrated form, it's more than capable of dissolving flesh and even bones. That's why I've decided to use it to get rid of all the flotsam lying around here, Envy."

She had shrugged as though corpses were weeds among her flowers, or scattered utensils piling high in her cabinets and drawers. By then, her alchemical experiments had become so prominent that the "failures" were actually making an unsightly mess out of the basement—the basement in which Envy had been born, no less. Of course, he felt no empathy for any of her less fortunate attempts at homunculi. As far as he was concerned, it was a win or lose world, an existence of predators and prey; some had success and some died trying for it. That was luck.

His opportunity had been no better than anyone else's, but he had survived.

He had survived when other prototypical homunculi had ended up being sloppy amalgamations of parts. He had been the first, and he had been the best, but not even his perfection of form (the perfection being that he could opt for any shape) had inspired contentment from Dante, as the woman (then not old at all; on the contrary—she had been quite young and quite gorgeous in her first incarnation) had ceaselessly toiled to create an even more astounding homunculus.

Envy had hated her for that, and she had laughed and petted his hair and noted again that he was such a "needy" little thing, and as usual, she had reminded him of why she had slapped the title of "Envy" onto his head. He hated that; why the fuck did she always remind him, anyway? And he had always argued with her and moped about in a pissy mood for hours—sometimes days—afterwards, because no one argued with Dante and won. Small wonder the bastard ran off on her, Envy had thought, at the time, but he'd had sense enough not to say this aloud.

In as much as Envy had resented Dante for being so damned patronizing and always acting so smug and self-assured, he did want her attention. He needed her, after all (like Edward...); he couldn't have provided food for himself since he lacked the alchemy to do so, thus he depended on Dante. They never spoke of their original relationship to one another, and that was how Envy liked it; ostensibly, he supposed that was how Dante preferred things, as well. They had a working relationship: master and servant. Admirably, Dante had never broached their boundaries and led them into mother and child or male lover and female lover, though she could have done so easily enough.

Envy suspected that she didn't want to get too attached, so she kept an emotional distance, and that was fine by him.

In fact, it was better that way. Envy wasn't blind; he saw how the other homunculi reacted when confronted with figments of their initial existences. Traditionally, homunculi hated anyone who could have loved them: Lust had killed a man who reminded her of her human lover, Wrath was particularly hostile towards the woman who had created him, Sloth hated the kids who had made her. Any homunculi might think of themselves as the humans whom they had been made from, but being treated as such by a human was just...upsetting. Hurtful. A painful reminder that they were ultimately expected to be something which they may or may not have actually been.

No matter all the other ways Dante had managed to condescend toward Envy and insult him (intentionally but subtly, intentionally and not so subtly, and sometimes unintentionally...or, well, Envy supposed it was unintentional, at least...), she had ultimately given him a measure of respect by never having claimed to be his mother...and for that, he had held an unspoken gratitude.

She may not have spoken of herself as his mother, but Dante had certainly reminded Envy that Hohenheim was his father—cruel father who had left him at the most vulnerable moment of them all, and even when Envy had begun to suspect that she was spurring his hatred forward for her own ends, he hadn't cared. By then, he had been too far beyond caring. Regardless of her reasons, she had been right; what the fuck kind of bastard would do as Hohenheim had done? Even if his hatred furthered Dante's agenda, Envy believed (and still firmly believed) that it was damn well-placed loathing.

Whenever Dante had gone to invent a new homunculus, Envy had felt a similar—albeit drastically muffled—pang of anger. He was the first, the greatest. He deserved all of her attention. He should not have had competition in the form of those snivelling shits.

You stupid woman, he'd wanted to say, and even then—even when he'd wanted to wring her damned throat—he'd wanted her attention, her focus, her love, her petting and coddling. I'm as perfect as you'll ever get. Me. Me. ME.

"I can see I truly named you well, Envy," had been Dante's succinct reply; then, when Envy had pushed further, a laugh. "Well, I need other Sins, don't I? What do you think I changed my name to Dante for? Run along, would you? I'm busy."

Actually, Envy knew that she had changed her name to Dante before his human predecessor had even been born. The whole matter had been something of an inside joke or an inside metaphor between herself and Hohenheim—Paracelsus and his Dante—and if a person had been literarily inclined enough, then surely they would have garnered some significance out of the name, but Envy had never given a shit about old stories.

His parents had been scholars, alchemists, geniuses and aristocrats...and as for himself? Well, maybe in his first life...maybe. But that was long, long ago.

Death, the grave, and the Gate had not only put his emotional range through a strainer; they had done the same for his knowledge and his ability to appreciate knowledge. He had no idea what tales might have lurked within Dante's library, and he hadn't cared. He had been (and still was) too singleminded for any intellectual pursuits. Grudges came first. Hatred came first.

Envy liked to go out and entertain himself while Dante did lab work, tested her formulas, and—more often than not—ended up having to wash out her bloody "results" with lye. Frequently, the first homunculus had come home to discover his master hidden away in the basement, struggling with chemicals, red-faced and furious, apron coated by a sudsy pink combination of foamy white homemade cleaning solution and fresh gore.

Later, when she'd had Gluttony around to simply eat the messes, things had been different. More sanitary.

The really old days hadn't been sanitary at all.

Amestris had been Puritanical back then. Highly religious and not too big on alchemy. Science, and of course alchemy, were both shunned by the public at large. It had all been a rising underground movement; in essence, a cult. Dante and Hohenheim had lived in a village of cottages and pigs, a place in which their achievements would have been feared and despised rather than lauded. Dante had understandably thought herself too good for the squalor of the village where her husband had walked out on her, but for whatever reason, she had remained. Envy suspected it was more out of convenience than sentimentality; loading up her priceless laboratory's supplies would have been too time-consuming, too difficult, and any escape would have been altogether too dangerous. She wasn't about to risk getting caught and burned at the stake just to satiate an urge to live somewhere with a few more green fields.

Even now, Envy couldn't remember the real name of that particular village. Dante had typically referred to it as "The Sty", and that was what stuck in the homunculus's mind whenever his memory dredged its scenery forth. When he remembered that time period (which was seldom; he had tried to put it from his mind, and he had done a splendid job of it), he thought of the whole era as "The Sty"—the sty where his father had left him to the wilds, the sty where he'd gone through something more painful and awkward than a second adolescence, the sty where he'd grown up again.

No matter how rich she had been, Dante had been the only person left alive (meaning, of course, the only one who hadn't been burned) who was qualified to work her alchemy in such a hands-on manner; consequently, the basement of her manor had looked eerily reminiscent of a butcher shop.

When Envy had come in to find guts and brains strewn messily about the floor, he had smiled to know that Dante had failed. He didn't want more homunculi, so each of her failures was a victory for him...though he made sure to keep silent, or else face her wrath.

Then...there had been that day...

That day.

That day Envy had put from his mind, along with so many others.

(why was it coming back up now...?)

He remembered...

The Envy of four centuries ago had yet to realize all of his potential. That went double for both his physical capabilities and the extent to which his hatred could be honed and utilized. His aggression had not culminated to the extremes that the later years would see; if anything, he had been more childish and curious, although he had still carried that malevolent, mischievous quality that the more disturbed children tended to harbour.

All right. So maybe he had collected the tongues of a few humans to put in some jars in his house, simply because tongues were wiggly and...interesting. For someone as new to anatomy in general as Envy had been, human corpses proved to have a lot to say about the structures inside of him and the possibilities for his own transformations. There hadn't been much malice in him yet; he'd just enjoyed getting a feel for what he could do, what made him tick, and opening up a nearby human was a sure way to get several answers on the subject.

Answers...and plenty of undesired attention, as well...

Hands. Cries. Screams. Accusations.

Time had buried the exact sensations, but Envy continued to hold onto the bouncing, thrumming pain—the confusion of being captured and cast into the oil, branded as a "witch" for his shocking powers and crude practices, and then the pain had transected the backs of his eyelids and guillotined his consciousness until he had screamed as a toothless mouth of bubbling black liquid swallowed his lower body, devouring and dissolving the fibers of his legs. Skin. Muscles. Bones. All melting...melting and swirling together.

The suffering...he'd blocked it from his memory for so many years, but it had been like nothing imaginable; nerves had ruptured, acid had gushed from the collapsing muscles, bones had popped and scissored into bits. Oil boiled; all skin at its jet fingertips sloughed off nearly immediately. Envy hadn't seen it, but he'd felt it, and maybe that was worse—knowing you were being undone, feeling your DNA abandoning its links and streaming away like ribbons. Even through the agony, he'd imagined the curves of the calves breaking and rushing off, he'd pictured his bony patellas softening and schisming as the oil tore him to pieces.

He wasn't sure if his memories of the event were accurate; the years had a habit of blurring the exact details, but Envy thought he remembered crying and screaming and wondering why.

Because humans are cruel, his modern mind answered, hissing. Because humans are fucking bastards with inflated egos; they hide behind "morals" and "civilization", but when you get right down to it, they're no better than animals. Dogs. No, really...they're worse. At least animals are fucking honest. Humans prance around pretending they're better than they are, but I know the truth.

Envy had escaped, of course.

Homunculi were sturdy, and the humans hadn't anticipated just how much one could endure.

Even so, he'd come crawling back to Dante with the humans' screams of hatred ringing in his ears, with tears (there had been tears, his memory proclaimed; he had remembered how to cry back then, at least) on his cheeks, and he was howling in pain, bleeding from sores all over his body, leaking pus and snot and urine and whatever had remained of his bowels. If he hadn't been in such harrowing misery, he might have even been embarrassed by the way that his guts trailed over the stumps of his hips, by the way that his exposed bones got stuck in the soft ground whenever he tried inching along on his wrists, by the way that he shuddered and whined and vomited until he wanted to fucking die just to be free of the pain.

She had held him in a way that could have been called nurturing...had it come from anyone else. By then, she had been in her second human encasing, and she had still been so beautiful, with skin the colour of cinnamon, a head of flowing chestnut ringlets, and eyes like those of a fawn. She had lain Envy's head against her chest, pulling him near her, and he had bled onto her burgundy dress. He didn't know if she had really cared for his well-being beyond the fact that he was a valuable servant whose skills she didn't want wasted, but her murmurs had been soft and soothing (but cold, still; cold and at a distance, as though her mind had been elsewhere), and she'd lent him her touches and the warmth of her body, and she'd whispered and assured him that everything would be all right, and informed him that he needed to be more careful in the future.

He had looked up at her with watery eyes...and then...

Then...then...then...

(...what? what came next...?)

Her face...like a portrait...fading...fading...

Fawn eyes tinctured golden.

The image shifted, spun, swelled, coiled—

(...and diffused...)

...

Envy gasped.

Darkness.

He blinked, blearily, and for a moment, all he could think was where in the fuck did Dante go? Then, injuries in mind, he shifted frantically and struggled to look down at his legs, shivering and dreading the sight of his entrails covering the floor. He knew he was wounded; he expected to see pieces of himself all over the place, despite that he felt no pain. When he saw nothing, not even his body, then he wondered if perhaps he had died again and returned to the Gate. But the Gate was so bright...always bright...the flash of light came before and after the shadows...

Not dead. He could feel his lungs in his chest, could feel them straining as he panted, could feel his heart pounding out a fanatical rhythm. And he could move his legs...could feel them...all of them. He kicked, bucking; he wanted to move, to jump to his feet, to grasp something, to shake off this fucking disorientation and run and transform and...and...

And then he remembered.

And then he knew.

Train car. He was in a train car...no longer in Amestris. He was...where? Didn't remember its name. Some place...some dark place...but he was whole...alive...reasonably alive, at least...not oozing blood and other fluids everywhere. He swallowed, but his mouth felt as fuzzy as a peach and his mind felt as together as a rotten peach that had been smushed under someone's foot. Eyes adjusted, and revived phantasms lifted their sails and let the winds of night carry them back into the timeless abyss of memory.

No Dante. No powers. No home.

And now, he wasn't just maimed. He was actually dying, though not at a visible pace.

Now or then...he couldn't have said which was worse.

Nightmare. He shook his head, trying to scatter what remained of the phantoms. They floated and bobbed about his mind for a few minutes longer before finally opting to migrate elsewhere. I wanted to dream, he reminded himself, but he hadn't wanted to dream about the past...and he certainly hadn't expected his subconscious to exhume the worm-eaten skeletons of days gone by...especially when he had dug a hole four hundred years deep within which to hide them.

Wait. A...nightmare? Then that meant...fuck...he had been sleeping!

What the fuck?

How?

Why?

Again he swallowed, and reflexively, he tried to jerk forward. The night-painted train car suddenly made him feel claustrophobic; in the back of his mind, an urge to take a stroll through the (hopefully empty, by this hour...whatever hour it was) gravity yard rose within him so quickly that it was an almost instinctual longing—an itch demanding nails to run along it, bile jumping into a throat in response to an unpleasant stimulus. He put his feet beneath himself and lunged (away, away, away from the nightmares) without even really thinking.

Something cold rived his wrists, and a cataract of warm liquid gushed down his forearms.

What the...?

Wire, his still groggy mind noted. Thin, flexible, but sharp-edged. Definitely wire. Had to be. He knew everything about methods of restraint and torture, so much so that even when a moiety of his brain was still floundering in a loch of thoughtless primal fear, his own personal inner dictionary of hurt-inducing techniques rushed to fill in the blanks of his condition. Bound. Bound in fucking wire. Both wrists. He started to assume that maybe he'd just carelessly gotten his hands stuck in a hanging loop, but there was no way he could have been that goddamned precise with his carelessness. No, no...from the feel of it, the fucking wire had been bent and wrapped around him several times over.

That meant...

Envy yelled, kicked furiously, twisted, buried the sole of his foot against the wall, and attempted to shove himself free. He ended up groaning in pain as more stone fluid seeped out of his sores, and his ankle twisted with the pressure applied by the wall and the pressure of his own efforts. Fuck. FUCK. He wasn't used to this! It wasn't right! He was used to being able to just rip away anything he disliked! Why, why, WHY, oh SHIT... hurt, hurt, hurt, captivity, imprisonment, weakness, weakness, loss, fear, HUMA—

Something moved.

Something yawned.

Strata of ice ensconced Envy's previously frenzied mind. All at once, the room seemed to grow palpably colder. It was one of those moments the Sin had felt so rarely in his life or his unlife—a second in which time froze, not so much 'ceasing to be' as 'dropping below zero degrees Celsius, cracking to pieces, and getting consumed by a vacuum made of horror.'

There was no terror on par with waking in the middle of the night and supposing a monster to be lurking away beneath the mattress, fingers clawing the bedposts. Though Envy hardly counted himself so puerile as to believe in monsters (at least the standard supernatural definition of the word), the idea that someone had been in his personal space while he had been experiencing something as frightening and startling as being pushed from the womb again...well, the notion unsettled him, lanced his blood cells with liquid nitrogen, and caused his body to go still and very, very quiet.

And if that someone was who Envy suspected it was, then all hell was about to break loose.