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Wasteland

chapter 17.

München Hauptbahnhof.

The words were not smooth.

Certain phrases appealed to the tongue. Liquid syllables were sloshed about the mouth like a mixture of wine and cake: tasted, chewed, swallowed, and ultimately digested. The vowels and glides of his native language posed no difficulty, either. In term or reality, woe could be produced with ease. Crumpling the scrap of paper in his hand, Edward took a breath and determined—as he had seemingly countless times before—that this simple word would be exiled from his vocabulary as well as his heart. From the look of the setting he had placed himself within, it appeared that destitution enough plagued the lands.

No field could be so dry as this train yard, he thought, yet all the tears in his body would not irrigate it properly. Shedding them was pointless.

The sunshine of the previous day had baked the mud like a radiant oven. Beneath his feet it ran—an amplitude of starch-stiff soil powdered with brown and grey granules. The last lingering tufts of stubborn grass spotted the land as would warts on an amphibian. Crevasses twisted and turned like wry, quirking mouths, wobbling with hiccups whenever an engine started or stopped.

With his missing arm throwing off his balance and his metal leg working a millimeter less adeptly than it should've been (which meant...but no, there was no sense in thinking of that...), Edward was careful to keep to the low platforms, running his fingertips along the poles and towers as he neared. Movements, even minor ones, became a complex dance: step, step, hop, vibration, grab, pad along, grip, gasp, swallow.

Land trembled. Ed held fast to the nearest post, clinging as one might do to a cold and unresponsive lover. Breath waited, a cloud swelling in the chest. Eyes fastened to the note, to the sloppy scrawl of alien words. Meant not a damn thing to him, but to someone, it was important, and he suspected that hidden under the illegible scratches was his meal ticket for the day. He had delivered five already. Or six, maybe. He was losing count.

A man speaking a particularly garbled variant of his own language had informed him that completion of every task was required for any sort of dinner; yard boys, he had said, were like pigeons—plenty enough landed, and plenty enough wanted food for waddling around squawking. I'm not like that! Edward had wanted to argue. I always give one hundred percent and then some! That's why they named me Fullmetal.

But he hadn't said that. He hadn't spoken at all.

He had simply nodded, pushed all traces of sleep deprivation and sullen temperament from his face, and accepted the paper.

Here, in this world where words were such a challenge for the nasal passages, tongue, and vocal chords, verbal expressions had as little meaning as they did anywhere else.

Actions formed the only alphabet met with universal approval.

(Step, hop, shake, tread, swallow, gasp, sigh.)

Vibrations ceased. For a heartbeat, the world grew quiet.

Edward exhaled, then snatched another breath, and broke into a sprint. The edges of tracks gleamed a dull silver in the afternoon light, then shaded to lead darkness when stratus clouds eased in front of the sun. The boy on the ground had not failed to notice the ominous aggregation in the far above troposphere; sometimes, he paused long enough to steal glances at the darkening sky, and distantly, he cursed it.

Rain, rain. Always fucking rain! Is there never sunlight here? He could already imagine that he heard the rumbling voice of thunderclaps. If the sky released its precipitation, then the mud would rise, and Edward knew what that would mean. For now, however, it was merely a possibility, and for now, he had to be quick. Grey had hovered above him for the better part of the hours following noon; he could not afford to dwell on fretting over maybes.

Work. I have work to do, he reminded himself, mind crossing over the notion as one of the many trains in the vicinity would cross one of its hump hills. His own personal, internal hill was softening, melting as a shower of desperation washed its foundation away. In its place, there rested the present: cripple, beggar, lost. Alone.

No, not alone. Practically alone.

In actuality, he was surrounded by human beings. But somehow, they felt like spirits, or perhaps he felt as though he were a spirit in their dark eyes. Either way, there was no rapport between them. There was barely any communication.

Nonetheless, Edward's mind hurried to assemble names, faces, identities, jobs, and personalities: Dolph Ulrich, Edel Tabbart, Bannan Lutz, Cort Wagner, and Warren Heller. These five names he had collected first, some on the first day and the rest on this second venture into the train yard. Ulrich and Tabbart had been the first men he had met, and only one of them seemed to have a few words in common with him, even if the accent was so heavy that he often struggled to follow along. Tabbart he might as well have not even tried with, but as luck would have it, Ulrich was the yardmaster, and that meant the duties of most others came with the expectation of answering to him. Edward could do that.

The man was grim, unsmiling, gruff and stern, but it wasn't as though they needed to become comrades. Ed had not allowed himself to even dare believe that he might make an acquaintance with anyone; after weeks of living in the company of a certain someone—and weeks of living without the company of someone else—he was inebriated by hostility to the point that he sensed openings for conflict with everyone and everything. Even a pair of watchful eyes following his steps might easily be interpreted as someone gazing at him in the hopes of seeing folly and failure, someone ready for a fight, and Ed had found his shoulders stiffening and his jaw setting at the smallest affront—real or imagined.

No longer could he differentiate between the two.

No longer did he feel inclined to delve into the subject.

He wanted a friend. Someone to talk to. He had always played the role of talker to his brother's listener; Envy, if anything, was an argument in waiting. If he and Ed sat down to have a conversation on something as trivial as the weather, then it would end in fists to jaws and...

...and besides, he didn't want to think of Envy right now.

He didn't matter.

Ed chewed his lip—softly at first, then harder.

He didn't matter. The whole night before had never existed; it was simply...

(...it was...it was...)

Too much to think about.

Not important to the moment.

For later.

(Laterlaterlaterlaterlaterlater.)

Edward had not relinquished hope for friendships, but neither did he actively seek them from others. Like a child wanting a cinnamon bun, Ed craved the flavour of comfort, camaraderie, and reasonable discourse, but as the child might fear a reprimand from a parent not eager to abide their progeny's sweet tooth, the former alchemist was apprehensive about being on the receiving end of something similar from some kind of cosmic equation—not God, certainly, and maybe not his ideal of equivalency (which, if anything, suggested just the contrary by now)—but whatever wrench in the gears of the universe that had given him all of this bad luck must surely have been working overtime to see to it that every single thing could and would go wrong.

Murphy's law, plain as that. He would have loved to have extended his hand, but he couldn't stand rejection. Edward wasn't willing to have that hand slapped. It was, after all, the only one he had left.

The hollow place left inside of him by the absence of his brother had created such a perpetual ache that he had been forced to anaesthetize himself by focusing his attention elsewhere. He did not want another Alphonse. There was no other. Desire would have been sacrilege to their mutual love and devotion, and yet here there was not an Alphonse, and here there was pain. Throbbing. Dull. A headache budding in his temples.

Ed remembered...

He remembered drowning, darkness...shadows and silence...

Silence. Death. A blade through the chest.

Drowning had been like standing at the edge of a cliff and taking a step off, seeing the ground rushing up to shatter your ribs and crush your lungs. It had been a yawning gulf of spreading silence, distorted sounds, flickering lights and dizziness and the calm assurance of demise. It had been closing his eyes, letting the cool arms wrap around him. It was just like her—like the false mother whose icy tendrils had extended to embrace the children that were hers and not hers: to hug, to nurture, to strangle and snap their slender necks. As a homunculus could give a mannequin grin of pleasure and warmth, so too did the aqueous world. Crooked black teeth had risen in a sinister smile too broad for any mouth to contain—

—and then there had been the Gate.

It had been his first sighting of the Gate, and he couldn't have been more than three years old.

"There's a Gate inside of everyone," Dante had said, later. "It's stronger in children, and the older a person grows, the more they lose touch with it."

Edward clutched his chest.

The previous night.

Maybe...

Throat went dry. Always so dry in the train yard.

Maybe it was myself I saw...

Had Envy seen it, too? Felt it? Tasted it? The ice and the dirt, the serous golden emptiness?

Many times Edward had nearly died. Once, he had died. With near death, there had been chills and a swirling, churning feeling best likened to nausea, a sense of being fragile to the point of anemia, the vague supposition that everything could go flying from the inside to the outside—everything except, of course, words. Trying to scream had been an invitation to be choked on water and bile and fear, on confusion and the coiled question of why.

Death, conversely, had been a blink.

Edward had always thought of homunculi as dead things, but perhaps it might have been more accurate to take them for dying things, drowning creatures who felt the Gate pulsing within them and saw it when their eyelids descended, yet they could never blink their ways into full death. Insomnia. Ed knew how it felt to be tired for so long that every emotion became enhanced, magnified, cold rage transmuted to a heated lust for blood. When he had looked into Envy's eyes, he had seen just that: fatigue, anger, hate. For a time...a few seconds or minutes or an hour or two...they had connected. Met. Matched. Seen one another. Seen themselves. Inversed.

Sometimes water reflected people and objects, and sometimes, at night, it reflected only oblong patches of gloom.

No one had pulled Envy from the lake—or ocean, whichever it was. A pity...though Ed didn't think it was his duty to play saviour for the homunculus.

Neither living nor dead. Looking into the heart of light, the silence...

He could have closed Envy's eyes forever. He could have given him solace.

But he had seen...felt...tasted...

Thunder. Ed looked up. He felt no rain. The sky was a lea of untilled grey, and the thunder was dry and parched. Lightning sizzled.

Everywhere Edward went, he heard words like "signalkennzeichen" and "abdruecksignal", though he wasn't knowledgeable on which was which or why either was of import. Quick learner he might have been, but Ed knew he was better with mathematics than he was with languages. Fortunately, numbers seemed to be the same in this world. On signs within the city, he had seen the familiar numerals of the digits one through ten. If only he could do something with them, then even without alchemy, he'd surely find a path upwards in this world. His own brilliance had always been a stairway carved in ice: ascending to the heavens, but slippery and difficult to climb. He needed a good hand rail, something to support him as he pushed against himself.

Once, he could have counted on having that support from his brother.

Now, he remembered the first time he had been separated from his sibling, truly separated...and he had been drowning. Suffocating.

Maybe the then and the now weren't so different.

It was inconceivably tiring: feeling reborn, sensing that he'd been forced into a vacuum and then shoved out the other end. He'd been someone. He'd had a life. He'd had a career. He'd had a future, a family...and what...what did he have now? I'm still young, he reminded himself as his eyes instinctively began gazing at the barren landscape surrounding him. Only sixteen. Maybe when Mustang and the others returned from war, they felt as though they'd lost everything, too. Maybe they...maybe they looked at everything differently. Saw things in a new light. That's all this is. And someday...someday, I'll get home again. Just have to figure out how.

In his hand the paper still rested, surrounded in a prison of curled fingers, touched by broken nails which stood like jagged snowcaps atop pink digits. The future was a pack of cards waiting to be stacked. Not even alchemy could make a paper house into one of wood and mortar, but maybe...

He looked at one of the trains.

Perhaps there had been an answer all along.

Freight trains. Engines powered by coal. C135H96O9NS. Ed knew his organic chemistry; any alchemist had to be learned on that subject. If hydrogen was added to the coal to increase the hydrogen to carbon ratio, then perhaps synthetic natural gas could be formed, and if synthetic natural gas could be formed, then there would exist a more clean burning fuel.

The invention of a more clean burning fuel, naturally, would bring a poor child fame and fortune; it would buy a place in the world. Ed needed that. But in order to concoct an equation for coal into natural gas, the boy knew he would have to get a chance to sit and think, and he'd also require a way to write the damned formulas. A clean sheet of paper, a pencil or pen, a lamp—all of those items were essential...and beyond his reach until he had buttered someone up enough for them to let him go and sleep in the station, and even if he did work out an equation, then what would he do with it?

Alchemy would have been an easy solution. Too bad there was no alchemy here.

All the same, he grew annoyed with himself for not thinking of other possible solutions. What if alchemy did work and he just hadn't drawn the right array? He knew of others. Maybe a more complex design could produce an actual result. Maybe there was some component to alchemy in this world which he had overlooked during his attempt to seal Envy. Really, he had given up on the notion of successful alchemy without so much as having attempted alternate transmutations. He hadn't gone by the scientific method, not in the least. But now, maybe he finally had an opportunity to begin his first major project on this planet.

München Hauptbahnhof. Munich railway station.

More specifically, this happened to be the rangierbahnhof, a classification yard for the station itself. Munich, Germany. 1918. Those details Ed had thus far gone about meticulously gathering from otherwise fruitless conversations here and there. Years of being a State Alchemist had paid off in that the boy knew how to carve away facts that weren't useful or relevant; with a few baited questions and some genuine ignorance, he had managed to draw forth a line of answers as to his whereabouts.

With these answers, his mind immediately set to work on preparing a story of his own, so that when his casual inquiries were met with more personal ones, he was ready: "Edward Elric" (he saw no reason to make a lie of his name; who would track his birth record?), travelling with his brother (actually, he originally hadn't wanted to identify Envy as such; it was ridiculous, because they looked nothing alike, but the Sin himself had—in a moment of pure idiocy—seen to it that Ed had no choice but to claim kinship with him...the asshole...), parents gone missing.

Their parents, Ed explained, had vanished at the beginning of der Grosse Krieg—"The Great War"—or so Ed had decided as soon as Lutz had remarked upon the four-years war and how it would hopefully end soon; this was a natural topic and a common sentiment for a person who dealt with freight, especially if one had been working in the railing industry since before so many others had appeared in the hopes of getting their hands on jobs. To that end, Ed became re-acquainted with the bitter taste of scorn.

No different from what it was like as a State Alchemist, though, he had thought, keeping a tense smile at bay. I'll just have to prove my worth to these people, too.

So he and his brother, Elman (because if Envy wasn't around to make a name up for himself, Ed figured he'd best create something on his own; he could worry later about how exactly he'd get the Sin to replicate the pseudonym on his tongue, or feel inclined to even use it), had lived as street urchins, surviving and enduring the transient lifestyle. They had hopped from train to train, eventually heading to Brüx, a mining city (the name of which Ed had conveniently picked up from asking Tabbart where some of the freight shipments had originated). Edward assured that he had lost his arm from train hopping gone bad; obviously, it wasn't wise for a boy to attempt to jump into a moving train, but he said he had learned his lesson from the experience, and just in case his limp was taken into account, he also claimed that he'd lost three toes on his left foot.

He didn't account for which three and he was too cautious to say much of his leg, not wishing for anyone to become incredulous and aspire after an inspection of his person. Fortunately, no one expressed any curiosity as to the causes of his handicaps, and no one cared to see his supposed lost parts for themselves. With perfect stoicism (acted out with the ease that exhaustion had given him), he then went on to say that his brother had worked in a mine to provide for his handicapped younger sibling, and—

But then Wagner, damn him, had asked into Envy's strange appearance and demeanor.

"I saw him yesterday. You don't favour. He seems..." An unusual, almost satisfied looking smile. "...strange. A man who walks off so abruptly is a man who appears he has something to hide. And his hair...I take it you've been in one too many garbage piles, haven't you, boy?"

Every man present (or more specifically, every man present who understood English) had laughed, except for Heller, who never cracked a smile.

The laughter had made Ed itch as though a swarm of locusts had rather suddenly decided to blow past him. Maybe it had been impersonal, laughter at words instead of laughter at him, but with his nerves bruised by Envy's constant affronts to his person and stature, each note felt like a drop of acid administered to his forehead. He had made an effort to veto the scowl that wanted to crease his forehead, but he didn't know if he succeeded or not; Ed had always heard that he had very expressive body language.

One action he was sure he took was a sudden decision to dig his hand into the opposite side of his abdomen, carefully cradling the small of his back.

The last thing he needed was for that hand to involuntarily curl into a fist and begin launching itself at noses, and weeks of dealing with Envy had trained it to do just that.

"He's blond, same as me," Ed argued stubbornly, hoping his voice didn't sound too much like that of a whining child. Tap, tap, tap, mumbled the automail foot. "It's just..." He knew he was frowning. He could feel it. "...the mine. All the hard metals, like iron and copper. Ever seen what happens to a coin when copper oxidizes? It turns a sort of...green. On one of the train cars...we got near something...I guess some chlorine...and that oxidized the metals..."

Well, shit.

Edward had fashioned himself an admirable storyteller, but now his crewel of words was beginning to fray at the edges. Moths were chewing it and batting their wings in gigglish salutations. How could anyone possibly believe such a load of nonsense? It was true that hard metals could—if exposed to an oxidizing agent such as chlorine—make a swamp out of one's blond hair, but what would be the chances of randomly passing through a location with some chlorine? Although Ed supposed his tale of the mine wasn't terribly far-fetched, and even if it was, the water itself seemed hard enough to instigate such a chemical reaction, but...

No. This wasn't right. He couldn't succumb to labelling his story as 'silly', even if it was. If he thought it was absurd, then he knew his face and body would reflect his doubts accordingly, and he had to do better than that.

"That's what the doctor said, anyway," he had added with a listless shrug as Wagner translated his words for the others. "I mean...I don't know. Maybe he was wrong."

Ed had thought that if he made himself look and sound impatient, then maybe people would stop speaking with him, so as conversations went on about him, he lowered his eyes and fidgeted with his hair. "All I know is that my brother is really sick. You...you saw how pale he is, and he talks crazy sometimes. But I've got to take care of him. He's all I have left." That part, at least, held some kernels of truth. For now. "And that's why I'm here: so I can get money to feed me and my brother."

"Sure feeding him money won't turn his insides green, too?" There was another round of laughter at that, and Ed's cheeks burned. Smart-ass. He'd just about had it with sarcasm in every way, shape, and form.

The bastard might as well have smashed his thumb, stepped on his flesh foot, and patted him on the head—all while bestowing an additional comment about the lack of inches beneath that mop of blond.

Nevertheless, he reined in his infamous temper. Fingers bit into his flank, squeezing with bruising force.

If only you knew what he's really hungry for, he thought.

"Yeah...guess you're right," he said, feeling particularly stupid.

His risorius and zygomaticus muscles conspired in the hopes of plucking a smile from his lips, but Ed was left with the feeling that no light touched his eyes. None among his spectators would be fooled.

"But...I saw that you had some food," he continued. "I'd been hoping for the same."

Silently, the man regarded him with eyes like twin coffee droplets suspended in two small clumps of snow. The irises looked black, though Ed supposed calling them such would have been a misnomer; dark brown was more the right of it, but from a short distance, one couldn't be certain. The fact that this rail worker had hair similar in colour to Russell Tringham's might have lent to Edward's overall impression of him as an arrogant, condescending prick, but then again, maybe his actions contributed enough on their own. Or maybe, Ed thought fleetingly, he was just too used to being around this personality type; it seemed everywhere he went, he encountered people who looked down on him for more than a simple literal disparity in height.

Even so, he didn't want to assume the worst. He had been mistaken about Mustang's intentions all along (much as he resented admitting this), and he didn't think he had yet acquired enough composure on this world to deem himself an excellent judge of character, but even so...

...even so, he misliked the way this person looked at him.

Out of all the men Ed had met in this classification yard, Cort Wagner spoke the most English (as they called it here; in Amestris, the language was simply the common tongue of the State). Born in London, he had a thick accent which occasionally made his words seem slurred to Edward's ears, but as opposed to the others, Ed could communicate with him easily, and he never seemed to be struggling to understand anything. Whether Edward wanted to do so was another matter entirely.

The man was tall, lithe, dark-eyed, with ashen blond hair, and Ed supposed a girl might have called him handsome, but Ed himself didn't look at people that way, so he wasn't altogether sure. Not that it was of any consequence; obnoxious was obnoxious in any shape or language, and whether it was mean-spirited or not, Wagner had a tendency to ridicule. Japes rolled from his tongue seemingly whenever he spoke, and even when he gave his jaw a rest, there was something about the way he looked at Edward that the boy found himself despising. It wasn't a baleful glare; at least, Ed didn't think he counted it as enmity. After having been with Envy for so long, he thought he had an inkling of how a face wore hatred, and this didn't fit that impression.

If anything, it seemed that he looked at him without looking at him.

Even when he was addressed, Edward felt transparent in those eyes.

Points of light caught in the irises and glimmered; Wagner's expression often shifted from amused indifference to outright dismissal to something which began to approximate suspicion...and the last of those Ed didn't know how best to hamper.

This pissing contest had, Ed imagined, begun when he had made the bold move of claiming London as the place of his birth. It was a logical fable: if a man from London shared his language, then an English heritage would answer the question of why he knew no German. Unfortunately, it also attracted the attention of the man whose English birth was authentic. While no one in the yard had any reason to like Edward (and a number of reasons to dislike him), most acted content to let him keep his background to himself—not out of kindness, but out of apathy.

Ed was here and wanting food. For many, that was plenty of cause to put him to work, resent him for taking work (whether he was really a threat to anyone else's livelihood or not, and he didn't think he was...at least, not in his current condition), and feel wary about his possible motives; would he end up being slovenly, a thief, or a beggar? These were the primary concerns to be had when it came to the homeless. The language barrier in particular seemed to effectively cement any lack of interest that most of the workers had in his personal affairs, but listing London as his childhood home had provoked more than a raised eyebrow from Wagner, and Ed was left with the crouching suspicion that the man thought him a liar de facto.

Peculiar and unique to this instance of being thought a liar was that—for once—Ed didn't know what aspect of his story the other took for dishonesty, nor could he guess what his falsehoods were believed to have concealed.

No one could possibly dream of what a grandiose mystery lay buried beneath his fraudulence, but there could be doubts as to more minor details.

Disbelief was never issued verbally, and that was just as well. Ed didn't know any sort of rebuttal for pointed questions, anyway. If sufficiently pressured into a corner, he fully intended to cling to youth and ignorance as his excuses for not knowing more specific details.

But what about Envy? he wondered even as he paved mental paths of escape for himself. What if someone decides that they should ask him about us, since he's older?

That he couldn't answer. Envy was too much of a variable. Ed knew that the Sin was an experienced liar and an old hand at deceit, but would he be agreeable when it came to echoing these fabricated histories? Would he try to behave for his own safety, or would he lose his temper and go into a rabid fit? Envy had always been somewhat wild, but Dante had been able to rein him in, and after her demise, he at least had a purpose to go after. Now...now, what the hell motivated Envy, exactly?

Ed didn't think he wanted to know.

But he also thought he did know already. He just didn't want to put too much acknowledgement into what he thought he was starting to perceive. Ignore it and it'll go away, some childish impulse—a defense mechanism—argued.

He couldn't handle...couldn't handle...whatever it was. Being sexualized. Being wanted. It was just...awkward! And it was worse (for obvious reasons) coming from someone who hated him. He just...he just didn't get sex. Sexuality. Sticky stuff and...mess and...anatomy...

And now you've had it, the mental voice noted with a mocking little lisp. Funny how that mental voice was starting to sound more and more like Envy these days. Fuck you, a contradicting voice argued, weak despite the harshness of the thought. That didn't...you know that didn't...that wasn't anything. Well, it hadn't been, had it? It'd been at night, in the moonlight, and he had been—still was—so tired, so it had all felt like a dream, and that was good. A dream. Nightmare, even. It didn't matter in the daylight: when the sun was out, when the world was real; it didn't exist here.

("You're lying! I heard you...you sounded like you were going to cry. You're full of shit is what you are!")

No. Damn it. No. Envy wasn't here. He was off somewhere being insane and indulging his stupid mania. They'd had a confrontation, and Ed had won, and Ed was still sane, and not crying or hating himself, and...and he was doing what he needed to do, what he had to do. He was going on with life and not dwelling on something the way Envy dwelled on his ridiculous notions.

You shouldn't have done it... a third voice whispered. Sure, he tortured you and abused you, but—

—I didn't do anything unreasonable or cruel; he heals, so it didn't matter that he got a little bloody, and...and why is it wrong for me to get revenge? I'm not...I'm not like him. To his surprise, he exhaled sharply at that, and found that he had been holding his breath. His chest ached. Damn it. Why can other people do things and live with them, but I have to be perfect or everyone gives me hell?—

Who gives you hell? Yourself?

This, he realized, he couldn't answer.

—I don't want to be without a conscience. But I'm not going to go around guilting myself for every single thing, either. I'm through with that—

Are you? Then why are you even thinking about this so much?

"Shut up."

After roughly thirty seconds, it dawned upon Ed that he had just spoken aloud. Oh, shit! I'm going as crazy as that bastard! His lone palm had suddenly become very sweaty. The paper within it was getting dirty, wrinkled, and wet. Thunder resounded again, louder now. You did it. You fucked him. And for nothing. No reason. What a childish outlook, the cynic in him said. It was only sex, and not all sex had to mean anything, and anyway, it was over now. Ended. Done. He wasn't sobbing or throwing up or wallowing in a ball of guilt, and if he did any of those things, then Envy would have his way, and this couldn't be tolerated. At any rate, it was all Envy's fault. He'd pushed and pushed and pushed—

—didn't he want to prove something; didn't you help prove it?—

—and no one could have resisted. Even bound, Envy'd had a kind of power which was undeniable, an influence which could not be ignored. And Ed hated him for that, too. Hated that he had violated some childhood taboo—sex without love—which he'd never really thought about or believed in (mostly for lack of thinking about it), so why was he feeling this way? Sick. He shouldn't feel sick. Because...because, he was practical, damn it! And it was just science: a "chemical reaction" in the truest sense of the phrase. That was sex. And he didn't need it. Didn't want it.

Relationships were complicated, and as his father's betrayal and abandonment of his mother had shown, relationships were bad. They caused nothing but pain. Because of his mother's own romantic view on the subject, sex was forever linked in the boy's mind with couples, and relationships were linked with fuck no. Even when he'd had feelings for people—feelings he might have called "romantic" if he'd been the type to do so—he hadn't wanted anything more than friendship or deep affection to blossom out of these stirrings. Sex he wanted to classify as science and then ignore as he ignored certain branches of science (botany, for instance).

He'd masturbated, of course; what boy of sixteen hadn't done so? (And, well, probably what girl of sixteen, though Ed didn't know anything about that subject...) He'd experimented with both the flesh hand and the metal one, but the sporadic ritual had been akin to brushing one's teeth or taking a bath. It wasn't something that he sat around putting lots of thought and consideration into; he just had urges, so he took care of them. Sometimes he thought of nothing. Sometimes he thought of pretty women he didn't know. For a while after meeting Psiren, he thought of her. She had been a perfect candidate, having presented ample flesh and ample solicitations, and even if a cold chill had arisen in him at the thought of actually taking her up on her all-but-spoken offer for pleasure...he had remembered the matter later, in the late, lazy hours of the morning, or in the twilight just before dawn.

Typically, he hadn't liked using authentic faces and bodies.

Those had been too personal, somehow. And he had certainly never felt comfortable with the idea of thinking about someone he actually cared for; in his own strange (he knew it was strange, but this was still how he felt) way, he had viewed that as being tantamount to violation. Thus when his fantasies took on feminine forms, the faces and imagined bodies were of girls he'd seen but had never befriended. That made everything less intimate; jerking off became scientific, an act purely concerned with release, and that was how Edward had wanted it. Love and sex had become mutually exclusive concepts; if you loved a person, as Edward loved Alphonse, then you kept a certain physical distance. It may not have made sense to some, but it was there.

Many self-help sessions hadn't even come (figuratively speaking) with glamourous young ladies. The vast majority of them involved concepts, not people: the power of alchemy when he activated arrays, the power of his own body and mind, the memory of being safe back home in Riesenburg, sunny days and cool breezes, the notion of the happiness he'd one day find, and sometimes...sometimes he hadn't thought of anything at all. He'd just touched. Just felt. Just enjoyed the darkness behind his closed eyelids.

In routine, there had been comfort.

But what had transpired with Envy...well...

As sweat beaded on his temples and trickled down his neck, it occurred to Edward that he couldn't classify what he'd done—what they had done. It hadn't been love, friendship, closeness, and it hadn't even been some kind of plunge into experimentation. It hadn't really been a release, because he could've gotten that on his own. It had definitely been sex, had undeniably been sex, but it had felt more like...like a fight. Like hate. Anger. It hadn't felt anything like what one was supposed to associate with the whole carnal act of connecting parts.

He could barely stand here and register the deed with anything more than idle curiosity, or else—like a worm to an apple—it ate its way through him and rotted each of his sensibilities. What had happened...what he'd done...offended him on every level. It spat on his sense of logic and took a piss on his moral shield. He hadn't raped Envy, not at all; Envy had wanted it, had all but begged for it...but he had raped—fucked over—his own code of ethics, and at the end of the day, what had it been for? For himself? His own desires? He couldn't believe that. Wouldn't believe that. He didn't have desires like that, and that's why it'd all been such a fluke in the first place.

But that's what frightened him. That's why he couldn't let himself remember the details of the encounter.

He knew how he'd felt. What he'd said. What he'd done. Everything was there, like facts on a page: blurry, but there, and a good pair of glasses might make the whole scene come into view, which was...well, it wasn't going to happen, not if the boy could prevent it, and he'd done an adequate job so far. The pictures were starting to pester him, demanding that he sit and let them all come into focus, but Ed knew the fine art of suppression.

But you shouldn't have done it, his mind continued. Because you could only be a virgin once, and that's over now. You're not one anymore, and you never will be again. Isn't that kind of a waste? Isn't that kind of a...transition? Something important? Journey into manhood and all? Supposed to be special, right?

—not something you share with your worst enemy, anyway—

—-oh, you idiot; did you really like being vulnerable?—

Oh, for fuck's sake! This was ridiculous. It was a moot point, because while one could never go back to being a virgin, one also didn't exist in some perpetual state of coitus, so whatever he had done was over now and sure as hell wouldn't happen again. Yes, he had gotten violent and crazed and now that he was calm again, it scared him a little to think he could get into such a mood (and worse, that he'd had such moods before), but now all his rage towards Envy was truly and utterly spent—for lack of a better term. He wasn't thinking any nice thoughts towards the homunculus, but it was a lot easier for Ed to dismiss all concept of him as he went about his daily business. The anger had come and gone.

But there was still that damned nagging feeling instilled in him from childhood, from his mother: sex and love. Sex and love. Irrational. Illogical. And agitating.

And what if that's sex for you? Hate and rage and ...well, whatever the hell that was? Seemed to get you off. What if you want more? Oh no. No. Wouldn't happen. Can't imagine Mom would be too thrilled. And Al...

A gust grabbed hold of him, lifting his hair.

He hadn't washed himself that morning. The effort of putting his clothes on again afterwards would have been considerable, so he had spent the entire day walking (or running) around with a lingering feeling of filth. His blond hair was horribly tangled and bothersome; every so often he found himself unable to resist an urge to arrange it into something of a ponytail, but that never worked. He didn't have a string to tie it with and he couldn't do the job with only one hand. He'd only managed to bind Envy by wrapping the wire repeatedly; an actual tied knot would have been too much to hope for.

His brother would have understood. Of course his brother would've understood. He would have forgiven anything.

Maybe Al wasn't the one who needed to forgive him, though.

Envy's forgiveness he didn't think he wanted; Envy didn't forgive, didn't deal in terms of forgiveness, and wanted nothing more from his companion than despair. Ed, in turn, wanted nothing more than to pretend the Sin didn't exist. Envy wouldn't let him feel sympathy or anything but annoyance towards him, even though on occasion, Ed had actually wished he could sympathize with the bastard if only because it would've (he assumed) made it easier on the both of them to just...well, deal with the damned world. But no; Envy shat on compassion, simple as that, so Edward had no intention of trying to create some mutual understanding between them beyond the shared knowledge that they were both in a substantial amount of trouble.

No, that wasn't really true, was it? Ed had gotten so used to thinking negative thoughts since that unforgettable ordeal in the alley had left him half-crazed with disease, and he felt he had earned the right to wear an extra layer of pessimism, but the truth was that once a person hit rock bottom, there was only up to go.

And it didn't get much more rock bottom than lying amid trash, maggot-eaten, and covered in shit.

So this is up, then? He almost laughed as he took in the sight of the train yard at Munich Hbf: towers, tracks, dirt, signals, wires, and far to the side, on an elevated portion of land, there stood the station. It was often in sight but quite out of reach, like heaven sitting atop a staircase whose steps conveniently turned to steep slopes whenever one attempted to move. The station itself was comprised of red bricks and covered with the square eyes of windows, and somehow, its exterior ended up with something of a cheery appearance which stood jarringly at odds with the yard beside and below it. Throwing a glance in its direction, Edward realized that he had, quite unconsciously, labelled it in his mind as the nexus between the Haves and the Have Nots.

I wonder... A tongue swept along his lips. He slowed his pace a little as the station came into full view, although he never completely stopped walking. There wasn't time for that, not if he was going to deliver this...whatever it was...within the allotted time span. The 'whatever it was' definitely consisted of something to do with signalling, and it was to be given to Tabbart, but he couldn't tell the specifics behind the message. He couldn't even make out a single word. I wonder if...if Envy is a guy...well, no of course he's a guy...since he's a guy, does that mean...?

No. That was a stupid thing to even get into. It hadn't really been like—

He felt a wave of dizziness. Fuck.

It hadn't really been like sex, not the kind a person had with their significant other after they had gotten married and had just moved into their lovely little house with a white picket fence surrounding everything. That was sex in Riesenburg; childhood and adolescence had imprinted this concept of the word into the boy's brain and even years of journeying throughout his homeworld hadn't really altered his perception of what ultimately mattered in terms of sexuality. What a person did once didn't count, who a person did once didn't count; really, any kind of intercourse only had an impact if a strict meaning was attached. Sometimes sex was sex and sometimes it was just...a means to an end. A mechanism, maybe.

Ed knew a thing or two about what went on in the military sometimes. He'd never wanted to know because as far as he was concerned, it wasn't his business, but he couldn't help overhearing little conversations here and there when in Central. Idealist or naive or whatever some people wanted to call him, he had been to many places and seen a number of things, and he knew something about the State military. Sometimes men who insisted they were heterosexual (some of whom even had wives or girlfriends) did things with one another to "relax", but of course it "wasn't really gay". And at first, as a younger person, Ed hadn't understood, hadn't quite seen how that was possible, but now he thought he got it: what one did in pressing situations, or unconventional situations, was definitely different than what they would do if left to their own ends. If one were to take any of those guys out to a bar, they would've flirted with pretty young ladies, not burly men.

People just behaved differently when in groups which encouraged some behaviours, or when under other kinds of duress—which Ed had been the night before. It didn't actually go towards proving anything about him, except that, like anyone else, he could crack when the right amount of stress was applied to his person.

Besides that, Envy wasn't really a guy. Not exactly. And he wasn't human. Or alive.

But that was too damn complicated to even get into.

In short, he still wasn't sure that his sexuality had been established yet—whether he really preferred guys or girls (or no one, as the case had always been)—but this didn't support an argument for anything.

Maybe you need to forgive yourself.

If Envy was the old man's son, then—

(Ewww!)

Ed grunted. Of all the silly—


His train of thought came to a screeching halt, as did he himself.

Someone was watching him.

The sweat grew heavier, hotter. His neck felt slick, wretchedly so; it was as though his epidermis had been coated by a tier of melting butter. Hair stuck to the skin, glaumed at the forehead. The air was icy, brushing past his thin clothes and nipping his flesh with cold fangs, but still Edward found himself damp with perspiration. If the temperature dropped too drastically, then it might begin to freeze, and he knew he'd be in for nothing short of agony were that to come to pass. Damn.

Above him, in front of the station (well, not actually in front of it, but in front of the side which looked towards him), beneath the wires and amid the bushes and the shadowed remnants of scraggly trees, there stood a woman.

Not remarkable, that.

Not remarkable at all, but for the fact that she was watching him.

Ed had previously noticed the figure, the blur of autumn colours standing in sharp contrast to the bright red station and the rotted black trees, but he had given it all the attention one might give to white noise heard when one turned on a radio. All at once—and for no apparent reason Edward could readily discern—it became There. Alive. Tangible. It was as if the air had suddenly condensed to produce an alchemical model of a person...and this very thought, Ed supposed, was a fine indication that he had been too long away from the science he loved.

Maybe I'm just imagining that she's watching me. He squinted.

From the distance between them, he could not ascertain the colour of her eyes, but he could detect that those eyes had been steadily upon him for a good five minutes at least. Staring. He was being stared at. He'd only just noticed the full impact of this revelation, his thoughts having previously been too engrossed in...in, well, everything else.

The lady's features were bleared by the storm clouds as well as the number of feet between herself and the object of her attention; nevertheless, Ed could see that she had a complexion comparable to coffee lightened several shades by a few tablespoons of milk. Like an Ishbalan, he thought, but that was ridiculous. There was no Ishbal in this world, though there might be some sort of parallel. The woman wore a pink dress with wide, floppy sleeves, and what appeared to be an orange portion decorating the skirt section of the outfit. She was assuredly wearing jewelry, though Ed couldn't see exactly what, and her hair was mostly concealed by a scarf. Beyond the obvious clothing choices, the boy couldn't tell much about the stranger; from a distance, she looked pretty enough, and he guessed that she had dark hair, but such was the extent of what he saw and imagined.

And she was watching him. Had been watching him for a while.

Her gaze had fixed upon him and was fixed upon him even when his own shifted to meet it, and before she had a chance to look away (if she planned to, which didn't seem to be the case), Ed turned aside. Discomfort threaded through his sinews, twisting about his nerves and making him grasp uneasily at his arm socket. Instead of wondering why he was being stared at, Ed's first inquiries ran more along the lines of, what does she see when she looks at me? He'd never taken himself for being appearance-obsessed, despite some jokes to the contrary back home (but then, what boy with a braid wouldn't find himself the object of such mockery?), but he was well aware of his current condition and how others might regard him; even if the matter was not anything he consciously dwelled upon (indeed, he rarely considered it at all), knowing that a person with money had her eyes upon him made him feel...exposed. Nude. Vulnerable. Unsightly and unkempt and disheveled. He felt sure that he was being looked down upon, frowned on with judgment, pitied or despised, and he frowned and lowered his head, chewing on the assumption of this contempt.

Better get used to it, said the voice from before. Many people Up There will look at you Down Here and see whatever she's seeing.

Ed had tried to hide his eyesore of a socket by bunching the sleeve over the area as much as possible. Though his hair remained a tangled ruin, he had at least endeavored to sort it into some semblance of sense, but he knew—mirror or not—that he had done a poor job. His new clothing was ugly and not quite the right size; the shirt was off-white and would surely prove to be a magnet for soot and dust, not that it wasn't already somewhat tanned by the air of the train yard. Sweat licked everything from his face to his feet, smudging the blemishes into greasy dark circles beneath his eyes, and he hated feeling so broken and sullied—he who had once been magnificent.

Before Edward had time to wonder if this gazing session was simply routine curiosity or something more (no, probably not; he couldn't imagine he looked very attractive these days...), the thunder spoke again.

Something cold and wet splattered on his forehead.

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

He sighed. This was undoubtedly going to make his task all the more difficult.

Ed looked down, expecting to give his note a passing glance. It was probably wrinkled by now, but hopefully the ink wouldn't be too—

He froze, shocked.

His hand clutched only dust.