chapter 18.

Panic blasted his mind like a sudden blaze, a missile of emotions colliding with his temples. Furnace heat swept from the head to the toes, numbing Ed's nerves and leaving him unable to do anything but stand and gape in a sea of mindless, wordless horror. Although his body felt dead elsewhere, every nerve seemed to bundle together in the stomach, rolling into a pinched ball of sharp pain. I'm going to go hungry. Dreaded as the belief was, it hit him instantly. N-no; can't assume the worst. Gotta look for it.

Everything else was forgotten.

Hunger, Ed had discovered from direct experience, could be a very driving motivation. There was no more immediate fear than the prospect of going to bed with an empty stomach. So as the rain began to pour, he turned in a sudden arc, eyes scanning the vicinity. Shit. Shit, shit, shit, SHIT. He whined and growled low in his throat, despairing, resenting his carelessness; he dropped to his knees and frantically began scouring the patchwork of dark and light soil, hand buried in his hair and twisting roughly. Idiot. You idiot. If you'd just been paying attention, this would've never happened!

He wanted to cry. Wanted to rip his hair out. Wanted to wake up and discover that everything which had happened on Earth had been a vivid nightmare, something to laugh uneasily about.

Come on, come on, come on, he prayed, silently, releasing his hair to shove his fist against the ground. Clumps of turf slid through his fingers; pebbles attacked the skin, bruising and cutting. He moved too quickly and wobbled, toppling onto his side. His face struck a rock and he cursed beneath his breath, quickly correcting his posture and wishing to hell that he didn't swivel like a fucking chair whenever he tried to make any complex and quick movements.

He was only grateful that Izumi had taught him the expert coordination necessary for fighting; he shuddered to think how incapacitated he would've been otherwise.

His first day. His first real fucking day of work, and this?

If he couldn't find the thing, then not only would he starve for the evening, he'd also make a horrible first impression. And he couldn't allow that. He couldn't stand to just throw away his best opportunity for survival and money. If he left the yard, then what the hell could he do? Beg? There were people who spoke English here because it was a train yard, a place of travel. Ed didn't think he could hope to get so lucky elsewhere.

He could just see the looks on their faces—the derision and disdain. They would think, each of them: another beggar, another boy who wants food but can't work for it, and they'd think him inept, stupid, helpless, useless. In their eyes he would be as nothing but the ants beneath his fingers.

There was no telling how long he searched for that small piece of paper. He knew only that the rain fell with greater intensity, eventually changing from the strength of a light mist to the force of a full-fledged shower. He could hear his breathing, his sounds of distress, his hateful mutters, but all seemed distant compared to the pounding urgent need to undo his mistake. The worst part, he found himself thinking, is that they'd be right. It was a dumb-ass oversight, and if I'd only...

Another grunt. There was no time to privately admonish himself. Not yet, in the least.

Time passed. Minutes. An hour, perhaps. Ed didn't know. Didn't care.

It was already too late. Too fucking late, because the paper had most likely contained instructions for signalling, and by now, surely someone would've caught on that he wasn't going to deliver it, and the message would've been passed along some other way.

He'd looked everywhere. Everywhere. Hand was bleeding. Foot was sore. His good leg was cramping to hell and back. He'd come to despise his long hair, which was all over his face and refused to stay out of his nose and mouth; now, on top of his clothes and complexion, he wore about five layers of mud, blood, sweat, dust, and there was no telling what else. He felt like a walking recipe for filth again. The fucking paper had probably gotten soaked and torn apart anyway, and it was futile, and Edward was pissed off—at himself, at Earth, at the Gate, at everything.

And again he was lost. And again he had failed. And again—once again—he would suffer, would hurt, would have to pay the price for a mistake. Equivalent exchange. Yeah, yeah, he knew that, but fuck; how many times did he have to be on the bad side of that rule?

And again, he had but one place to go.

Feeling especially despondent, Ed eventually arose from the final location he had planned to search. Perhaps because of the expected pangs of hunger, his stomach felt as though it had become a knot of skin laced around a swelling acid ocean, and his mouth tasted of bile.


The word reiterated itself many times over, as if each repetition served to hammer a nail large enough to sunder this unacceptable reality.


Rain poured. The wind grew stronger. Gales buffeted the air, flesh, and all structures within the vicinity. Ed knew he would have been knocked flat, had it not been for his automail leg staying firmly planted within the softening ground. Freight trains roared and metal struck metal, giving way to a violent clamour. There were voices, too, shouts, orders, commands, but they sounded so far away, as if whispered beneath water and from a great distance. The weather had turned. The storm had come.

It was everywhere, both inside of him and out.

The yard erupted into a complete manifestation of sound. Water wet the dirt, making mud of it, and the mud thickened and rose all around his feet. Ed raised his hand to his face in the hopes of shielding it against the wind halberds which were slashing and cleaving the air, but his vision had already begun to dim. Liquid hit his eyes, cold and briery. Damned if the wind wasn't blowing from the direction he needed to go!

He held his breath. He pushed down the surge of—(of everything; fear, anger, resentment, desire, worry, grief, sorrow, misery)—emotion and insisted on drowning his feelings for the present. He had to think. He had to be calm.

Ed swallowed, then exhaled.

When the wind slowed and gathered behind him, he finally took his first step.

He couldn't predict what the wind's next change in direction would be. Sickening spluttering sounds accompanied the movements of his feet as he struggled along, trying to pick up his pace enough to run. Damned rain was hitting him so hard that it hurt; his face felt scratched and raw. He hoped he didn't get sick again; hoped his injuries didn't become infected. His first recovery had been a miracle; a second would probably be out of the question. Also, weird as it was to acknowledge that Envy had helped him at all, he knew that if he took ill a second time, he would probably be entirely alone. No one would bring him food. No one would notice, or care.

Not that Envy had cared, either. Ed still thought he'd survived more in spite of him than because of him. Even so, the homunculus had fed him, and now the boy could almost taste something tangible in his mouth—strong and far too sweet, like an overly ripe peach. His stomach ached as the wind and rain beat against him, ripping the blood and mud away. Everything had become noise and rain and darkness; the train yard had transmuted itself into a blur of grey and brown.

Within seconds, Ed was running, trying not to slip in the mud or trip over the assorted curved tracks that ran every which way throughout the yard.

When the wind and rain paused long enough for him to actually get his bearings straight and see where he was going, he noticed wires swaying above his head, swinging back and forth like lips dipping into menacing, electric smiles.

His mind was betraying him again, throwing out worst case scenarios with its usual misplaced zeal: what if a wire tore and electrocuted him? Seemed unlikely, but he had been crushed and set on fire by a fucking zeppelin before. Hs luck wasn't exactly the best. Or, or, what if he somehow ended up in the path of an oncoming train? What if the tracks somehow magnetized his automail and fucked him up accordingly? Or he could always get sick again. Or he might live, get discovered for a liar, and be thrown to the streets. Again. He might get arrested. Might end up a beggar. Might starve to death. Might be murdered by Envy.

Shivering, teeth chattering, arm and leg shaking, body heaving as he breathed and hurried onwards, Ed felt as though the rain had drenched him to the bones. Numb. Was getting numb. Nerves felt dead, and still the cold bit into him.

He fell five times. Lifted himself up five times. Earned a gory elbow. Coughed and spat mud.

Somehow, he navigated his way through the fog and the blistering rain while shapes—men and machines—plodded on around him.

By the time he reached his destination, he felt as though his skin was on the verge of draining away. It seemed to cling to his bones, pressing into the marrow and grinding his nerves into a mushy paste. Everything hurt, or felt wooden. Some parts apparently couldn't decide which they wanted to be and were caught in the middle of both.

There was a point—a point which couldn't adequately be described except to say it felt like rain was actually mixing with the skin to become some sort of horrific soup of a chemical equation, felt like the bones had stiffened and frozen and were expanding as the temperature dropped. Felt shitty. Felt dead. Felt like another day in the life, but at least tomorrow stood a chance of having better luck.

The train car loomed before him, innocent to all outward appearances.

He could've tried another, he guessed. The yard wasn't hurting for old, empty, abandoned cars—broken down and no longer in use, trash not so much thrown away as set aside.

He could've looked for one of the other cars to sleep in. Would've been the same, but for one factor, and he didn't even want to encounter the difference. He wasn't allowed to go into the station yet; it was still too far above him, more than slightly out of his reach, but there was no leash around his neck forcing him to come back here, either.

Yet he did.

Maybe he was just wired to do so. Maybe his brain had worked itself into some kind of pattern. Sensations, even unpleasant ones—even pain—could become familiar, expected, desired. He didn't like Envy. Hated him, in fact. Wanted to be free of him. But here he was, back where he knew he'd find the bastard up to no good, and he himself had no idea why.

One reason, he concluded after a time of wondering, was that he did feel he needed to keep an eye on Envy; even though the homunculus's strength had waned enough to place him on par with a fragile human, he was still a potential source of mischief if he set his mind to causing it. Ed found himself unable to go an entire day apart from the asshole without wondering what nasty plots he was off concocting. Even when he steered his thoughts far away from Envy, they slung back like a rubber band, smacking him upside the head. And why not, after all? He had saved him. He was responsible for whatever Envy did now, and more than that, he was responsible for him. Thinking of the creature as a child or a pet just didn't seem fitting, but Envy was definitely his charge, for whatever that meant in the grand scheme of things.

But there was something else, too. Another reason.

Maybe I need to forgive myself. He gulped. Hadn't he said something to Envy about facing his demons? Seemed he'd given rise to new ones in the process. All day, he'd taken care to shove his memories of the night before to the back of his mind, but he had never doubted that he would have to face them again eventually. Even if he hadn't gone back to Envy, the memories would've crawled forwards, would've plagued him and distracted him until he had to confront his emotions somehow. Guilt had never been something Ed could just do away with, anyway; for him, it was more a lifestyle than a sensation. He could hide from Envy, but he could never hide from himself, and in the end, that was who he needed to answer to.

He approached the car hesitantly, mud squelching whenever he lifted his feet. The wind was blowing towards him again, sweeping his long bangs aside, stabbing with watery daggers. His opened elbow throbbed as he placed his forearm in front of his forehead. Tomorrow was a second chance, he assured himself. Even if his carelessness and the fury of the elements had beaten him today, there would be a tomorrow in which he could begin anew.

Or so he had to tell himself.

If he didn't keep up that pinch of hope, then he'd end up going as crazy as Envy was. Ed figured most people would've cracked a lot sooner, but then most people hadn't survived the sort of adolescence he had, either. Knowing he'd be going to bed hungry and getting thoroughly bruised and waterlogged was discouraging for him—it would've been discouraging for anyone—but the whole situation also pissed him off to the point that he wanted to keep up the good fight. Tired as he was, much as he wanted to just lie down and sleep for about a century, there remained some underlying restless urge to wake up early the next day, prove his worth, and kick the collective asses of everyone who doubted him.

Now, however, he had other matters to attend to.

Wind sighed and whistled, then moaned hollowly as Ed eased the door aside. He was shaking so badly and his grip was so slippery that it took him three tries before was able to fully open the car. Darkness greeted him and he shivered, but not from the cold.

Soon he was inside, turning to close the door. Wood slid against wood with a groan of acceptance, silencing the raging tempest.

Then, he could see nothing, could hear nothing.

"Don't—" he addressed the shadows "—fuck with me."

First warning.

As an afterthought,

"I'm not in the mood. Had a—" He coughed, throat aching. Yet another body part on the Might-Take-Ill list. "—had a shitty day."

That was an understatement, but for the present, it would do. The flesh of his throat felt as though a truckload of gravel had just been dumped across it. He didn't think it was just his chill-provoked sinuses which were to blame, either; indeed, the moment he had stepped back into this familiar space, his throat had constricted painfully and his skin had begun to feel like it housed a haven of mites. Get a grip, he instructed himself, exasperated by his own irrationality. It's just a damned train car. What happened before...

The dam broke. Memories hit Ed so hard that he staggered, actually feeling physically winded by everything he had spent the day fighting down. It rushed into his mind, imagery vomiting over his senses.

Envy's taste, so much headier and alive than Ed had expected, his strange and overwhelming scent, the feel of his fluid warmth, their sweat mingling, his impossible tightness.

No, no! Stop! he pleaded with his mind, but its stubborn mutiny continued. Much to his disgust, his groin tightened and a broken gasp skipped past his lips.

Fucking Envy had been so much hotter, tighter, better, noisier, and more irritating than fucking his own hand. He'd never paid enough attention to sex to have imagined what it would be like; he'd thought he could handle it effortlessly, shrug it off, but the intensity of the act had almost been too much for him. It had felt so good and it had been so terrifying to lose himself, both literally and figuratively, inside of his enemy.

He remembered...

Envy smeared in his own blood. Red and green, pale skin, violet eyes wide with fear and surprise. That peculiar mix of male and female, that mouth which had tasted far too bittersweet to suit the words which came from it, all the breathless noises of his wanton cries and the vibrations of his slender throat. It hadn't only been the physical deed; no, no, that'd hardly been it at all. It had been the feel of binding those murderous hands, kissing that growling mouth into submission, pushing Envy into the most shameful position possible and loving every minute of it.

Payback. Equivalent exchange, he had thought at the time, justifying it to himself, but that reasoning hadn't held up well at all come morning, and he'd nearly wept. Nearly. The fucking itself, the loss of virginity, that had been one thing, but nothing had compared to knowing why he had done as he did...or rather, not knowing, but suspecting, and hoping like hell that he was wrong.

It had been like beating Tucker senseless, like fighting Greed, like performing alchemy and vanquishing a foe. It had been all of those and something else besides; physical pleasure, a kind of sadism and a kind of masochism, a thirst for vengeance and a love for getting it and a neat little excuse taped on in the form of, 'well, Envy did consent, didn't he?'

And now Ed saw why. Envy had known he'd respond, had known he couldn't help but respond like a horse after a carrot or a mouse in search of a perilous lump of cheese. Physically, briefly, his hate had somehow given way to lust, and Envy had known it would, had mentioned it earlier, had probably thought to exploit this weakness all along.

Even beneath him, bloody and beaten, Envy had gotten what he had wanted. In his own way, he had exerted control, but that wasn't really what pissed Ed off so much. What pissed him off was that he'd seen this, known it all along, and it hadn't kept him from acting on his fucking impulses, and that—that just made his temper boil.

But he had no intention of hurting the Sin now. Not now.

Whatever the bastard might say, whatever the bastard might do, Ed swore to his conscience that he would wash his own sins away as much as possible.

Even if lust and a dulled sense of anger were rising within his stomach and chest, even if his face felt flushed and hot (an odd sensation which contrasted viciously with the frigid wetness the rain had left on his cheeks), even if his mind was wandering and certain other parts were responding in manners he honestly didn't approve of...even in spite of all that, he had to keep calm and not do anything ridiculous.

Should be easy. He had his wits about him. He was starving and freezing and dead on his feet from sheer fatigue, but he was in his right mind, damn it.

In the background, rain pattered like the footsteps of a child.

Thunder resounded, muffled.


The air smelled cool and earthy, but Ed's mouth tasted sticky and hot, as though someone had just scrubbed coarse hair all over his tongue and gums. He suppressed a shiver. He's here. He has to be here. He wouldn't have left.

"I know you're there," he continued, unnerved by the stillness of the shadows. His eyes hadn't yet adjusted to the darkness. Almost without conscious thought, his hand began steering towards the door, fumbling against the wood, ready to jerk the thing open if need be. His breathing had taken precedence over the sounds of the weather, but his voice sounded strained and remote. It carried a telling edge which he didn't like, simply because he didn't want Envy to hear it—didn't want Envy to know that he was capable of unsettling him. He nearly stuttered, but caught himself. "Don't try anything. I'm serious. I'm right here waiting for you, and if you make a move..."

He had expected the Sin to ambush him. Best case scenario, Ed had figured Envy would greet him at the door with snarls and tirades, questions and taunts. But Envy, if indeed he was within the car, had not spoken, and he had not moved.

Perhaps he was sleeping, Ed thought. The sound of rain could be soporific for a human; might be that this went double for a homunculus. Theoretically, homunculi didn't sleep. Ed had never noticed Envy sleeping in the past...but then again, yesterday had made him think that either he'd been mistaken all along, or else something inside of the Sin had changed. Or maybe he's just dying.

Dying. Dead. The possibilities made Ed cringe.

But so too did the alternatives; he didn't want the bastard to hop out and try to hit him upside the head with a block. He didn't want to find Envy asleep and worry about his own well-being if he took a nap alongside him. Wiring him up again was a viable option, but that hadn't worked so well...and besides, Ed felt unaccountably guilty for having ever trussed up Envy. The jerk healed so it wasn't really important, was it? Yet Ed had smelled his alien blood, had felt it, had even tasted it as red flecks had brushed his lips, and with Envy appearing so human—acting so human—the boy couldn't deny the regret that came with harming another human, regardless of how much he believed it'd been the only choice.

And if Envy had died...

A slight movement off in the corner saved him from having to contemplate this newest line of reasoning.

I shouldn't tell him about what happened today, Ed decided at once. He wouldn't care. He wouldn't be sympathetic. He'd probably just make fun of my loss and annoy me into doing something stupid. But what should he say, then? Nothing. Let him speak first. He'll be less likely to argue that way. Ed sat down, throwing his legs out in front of him. All of his flesh parts felt stiff and sore; he knew the next day would be a bitch. He hoped Envy would talk or do something in the near future. Quietness was...uneasy.

Don't forget that you have something to tell him, the smaller voice said with a minor tsk. Ed knew he wouldn't, though.

His eyes had adjusted enough for him to see the shape that slowly rose in the murky depths on the far left side of the car. Envy had either been asleep or resting awake and curled up; all Ed could discern at first was that trademark dark blob of sedge-like hair. As his vision came into better focus, he noticed—to his mild surprise—that Envy's body was similarly dark, but only because he had wrapped himself in blankets.

Ed blinked. Brows knitted. For a moment, he forgot that he'd been planning to let Envy speak next. "Where did you get those from? Did they bring—? ...Oh."

He'd somehow overlooked it at first, but now that Ed was of a mind to really take in his surroundings, he happened to see that the crates within the car had been popped open. Various and sundry objects lay strewn across the floor. Ed glimpsed outlines, but he couldn't tell what was what. Beside one of his feet, he noticed an item which (as far as he could see) somewhat resembled a child's broken rattle. He took note of it, hoping he wouldn't trip over any of the mess Envy had loosed. Now that he had made this observation, he detected a faint musty odor in the air. Just how old is this stuff, anyway?

Ed didn't want to give Envy his full attention. Just looking in his direction caused Ed to feel self-conscious and fidgety; he pinched his shirttail between his thumb and forefinger, rubbing absently and altogether abandoning his handle on the door. More light might be nice, helpful, but there was already a crack; Ed could see a little. He wasn't sure he wanted to see anything else.

Now that he was finally sitting down, Ed could feel the full brunt of his exhaustion and injuries settling in, seeping into his nerves as warmth gathered and numbness fled. He winced. Fuck. He knew phantom limb pain; he knew how automail could tug nerves into agony. This was as extreme as either of those aches, but more dispersed. Instead of hurting in one concentrated location, his muscles and skin seemed to be waging a war for dominance in the department of ouch. Goddamn. He bit his lip. Good thing he was used to dealing with pain without whining or wheezing.

Out of his peripheral vision, Ed couldn't help seeing Envy shuffling about.

Mercifully, the homunculus had neither spoken nor hurled anything at his companion, but the other knew that this could be attributed to lingering drowsiness and certainly not to any newfound streak of benevolence. Any minute now, he's going to really wake up, and then I'll need to cover my ears...

A blush tip-toed across the blond's cheeks as he made the mistake of stealing a glance at his enemy, only to survey slim fingers peeling back several layers of blankets.

He looked away in a hurry, irritated with himself for getting so flustered.

It wasn't as though they hadn't seen one another naked numerous times before. Ever since Envy's unique black attire had been incinerated by the explosion in the alley, Edward had seen more than enough of the jerk, but that hadn't made him uncomfortable, not really. His mind had been very much elsewhere, for one thing, and for another, he had looked at Envy as he would've looked at any other naked male, especially one whose physical form resembled that of a boy his own age. Maybe it was just a part of his own sexual naivete or maybe it had been thinking that he could never look at Envy of all people in such a manner, but Ed had simply regarded the Sin's condition with as much attention (or lack thereof) as he would've given his brother's body when the two of them swam naked as children.

And now, for obvious reasons, that particular innocence was lost to him.

Not that it should've been an issue, truthfully. If he could just get someone to donate some clothes which might fit Envy—

Suddenly, there was a blur of action.

Then, to Ed's shock, he found himself shoved backwards, shoulders bumping the wood hard. He looked behind himself, panicking a little and worrying that the door might give way and cause him to fall out of the car.

Once he was satisfied that he wasn't going to accidentally break his neck, his focus shot back to his struggle and he retaliated instinctively.

Don't hit, he reminded himself, and with a tremendous amount of self-restraint, he managed to keep from punching Envy in the nose. Instead, he caught a handful of dark hair and—ungracefully and without much thought for what the hell he was trying to achieve with this maneuver—wrenched Envy forward. Together, they toppled to the floor.

"—What the hell are you doing, you idiot?" Ed snapped.

He had to give his opponent credit: he hadn't anticipated that one. The homunculus had it in him to be stealthy, true enough, but as of late, his ire had been such that he tended to be a little too vocal for surprise attacks. Should've paid better attention, Edward chastised himself, gasping and kicking as Envy rolled over and directly onto Ed's arm, nettling his bloody elbow so violently that stars bounced along his vision. Unlike many of his past deeds, this hadn't seemed an actual attempt to cause pain, but the effect was the same. Ed howled and bucked, forcing Envy off his arm and then levering him away completely.

Edward clapped his teeth together to hold in a groan, arm aching as only an agitated humerus could. Clearly this whole Not Beating Envy to A Pulp routine was going to be more difficult than he'd hoped.

And then, as he unglamourously straightened himself up and began shaking his arm as though trying to render an apt interpretation of a duck's movements, Ed finally observed Envy fully.

He had wondered why Envy was behaving so damned strangely (even by Envy's standards). Now he had an answer.

Or, perhaps more to the point, now he had another question.

"What," he started in a voice that sounded as though all life had been flash cooked from it, "w-what happened to you?"

He cleared his throat and scratched the back of his neck. Sweat and grime pooled thickly about its base.

Envy looked up with wide, blank eyes.

The feline, slitted pupils had either constricted so much as to have vanished entirely, or else they had dilated wide enough to consume the plum irises. It was too dark for Ed to be sure of which; all he knew was that a vacancy had dawned on the other's features.

The homunculus didn't look as though he'd been injured; he wasn't bleeding as far as Edward could tell, but his hair clumped over his exposed shoulders, his alchemically-marked back, and a good portion of his face. He'd dropped his sheets so that they puddled about his knees, calves, and ankles, clinging on here and there and wet with sweat. Envy had always been unnaturally pale, but now there was a sort of grey tint about his features—as if someone had just dumped a bucket of dust across his skin. His lips looked chapped, broken; as Ed watched, awe-struck, red liquid dribbled from the corners.

"...You!" Envy spat the word as though it were an insect which had just descended into his mouth. A hand was raised, forefinger jabbing forward to point its accusation at the blond. ""

"I didn't do anything," Ed stuttered dumbly, anger having exchanged itself for bewilderment. Well, that was a blatant lie. He had done something. Had done Envy, even. But he didn't have a hand in this—whatever this was. At least...well, he didn't think he did...

(...there's not some kind of...chemical reaction that could be caused by fucking a—? no, now that's just stupidity...)

Though he counted himself blameless, a faraway sensation of guilt seamed coolly through him. His conscience—which had been pestering him quietly all day long—now stood tall as Armstrong and voiced its reprimands in a booming bass timbre. You shouldn't have touched him. Shouldn't have fucked him. Shouldn't have saved him. Shouldn't be near him. He's your enemy, or did you forget that? What would your brother think, anyway? Envy's a soulless monster, the murderer of your friend, your own murderer; he tortured you, basically raped you when you were sick, he was made to be the duplicate of your half-brother, and y-y-yyoouuuu—

"Shit." Something was on his face, in his eyes. Something wet. But it couldn't be tears. No, no, he couldn't be crying. He wouldn't cry. He'd decided he wouldn't do that, wouldn't give Envy something to gloat over. He'd never cry about sex, because it was just sex, not anything to break or mend a nation. So many other things were more important. So many other things. He had gone all day without breaking, all fucking day. He couldn't lose his grip now. Not now. He was stronger. He had to be stronger.

Rain pelted the ground, denying silence.

Lips flattened to form a tight line.

Ed felt his face contort into a grimace. Every muscle hardened, squeezing the saline from his eyes. Shit.

And then he felt the air abandoning him in a whuufffff, crushed from his lungs. Fingernails dug into his shoulder blades—drawing blood? Ed couldn't tell. All he knew was ow—a loud and resounding ow, shockingly intense, and then there was the burn of hot flesh against his own chilled skin. God, he thought, never mind that he didn't believe in God. Couldn't breathe. He couldn't fucking breathe because approximately one hundred and ten pounds of sweaty, shaking, still very naked Envy were suddenly bearing down upon him, knocking him over. He managed not to fall, but only barely, and he wasn't sure if this was because he shifted his weight the right way or if it was because he was being grabbed, clung to, fucking seized by hunger, grief, a change in temperature, and one delirious, feverish homunculus.

Just like that night in the alley.

What the hell was one supposed to say when his enemy had immediately taken to hanging off him and rambling nonsense? Not that Envy wasn't always a sort of ridiculous creature, but...


Well, so much for grace.

By this point it had become abundantly clear to Edward that his companion had not the slightest idea of who he was. Several appellations the Sin christened him with, among them Baudric, Ghislain, and even Lorelei, and all throughout, Envy prattled about cities Edward had never heard of, and towns, and hating this and that, and a great deal of half-formed nonsense, as well as some phrases in languages Ed wasn't familiar with. The name Hohenheim never came up, for whatever reason, but you bastard did...and repeatedly, no less. Everything Envy said amounted to a potpourri of inanity, but Ed wasn't really listening. No, he was too busy being distracted by fingers dragging down his spine, and teeth scraping his shoulder whenever Envy spoke, and something wet dripping onto said shoulder—though Ed had no idea if it was tears, drool, stone fluid, or snot (if a homunculus even had snot...which perhaps they did, as Envy had proven himself to have certain other fluids of the same average consistency).

"E-envy...?" He didn't expect an answer, and he didn't get one.

Horror slithered up his spine, silent as a stalking cat. He didn't know how he felt; there were too many disparate emotions at once, some cancelling one another out. Ed had grown accustomed to confusion and indecision, but now he found himself experiencing a preternatural sort of terror—not a terror of something known and tangible, but the terror of the Gate, the terror of an unseen world of spirits (real or imagined), the terror of what might lurk far beyond the pale blue sky. Primal fear.

Ed was afraid, he realized after a time, because he didn't know what was going to happen next, didn't know how this would play out, how it would end, and he didn't even know how he wanted it to end. He had no control anymore; no control at all. He could only sit, boneless, while his mortal foe attached himself to him, lowering his head and burying it into the fabric of his shirt. Envy was impossibly hot, radiating body heat like a steaming pressure cooker. Ed could see little more than shadows, and he could feel little more than moisture and flesh. Envy was breathing against him, into him. Panting, moaning, speaking. Saying something. But Ed could barely hear him anymore.

So this was it. Envy was dying.

Ed didn't know—didn't understand—why Envy's condition had deteriorated so suddenly, why or when he'd gone from taunting to mewling pathetically. He couldn't be sure if he'd exacerbated this decline in health, and he had no idea how long it would take for the process to finish. Homunculi aren't supposed to die like this, his own mind argued, trying to push away the reality in front of him with evidence from his past experiences. Greed didn't die like this, or Lust, or Sloth. They...they didn't get ill. Maybe Envy isn't dying. Mayyyybe he's just sick.

Sick? A homunculus?

"Oh, no, no you don't, you asshole," he hissed in a thin gust of breath, adjusting their positions so as to press his chin to Envy's forehead, then tilting his head to rub his lips against the Sin's crown. " can't do this. Do you fucking hear me?" By now, he himself was shaking, and stunned. There was an immaturity inherent in his plea, a whiny edge, and the mature half of him knew it, but he couldn't be bothered to care at present.

This was just like Envy.

Just like him! Leave it to Envy to drag him into this, cripple him, fuck with his head, fuck with his body, fuck with his heart, fuck up everything, cause him to fuck up, and then up and die before he'd even had a chance to make things right with himself! Ed hadn't gotten to apologize yet, and if Envy died now, then he'd go around with a guilty conscience for...well, there was no telling how long.

He wasn't sad. He didn't know if he'd even be a little sad after it ended, but he felt no sorrow now. Not sorrow for Envy, at least. Was he uncomfortable? Yes. Frightened? Absolutely. Confused? Hell yes. Pissed off and quite aware that his petulance was juvenile? Without a fucking doubt. But he wasn't sad.

Ed tasted salt.

He didn't know if it came from Envy, or from his own tears.

Guilt and remorse prompted him to sit with Envy, arm casually draped over his shoulder, as the homunculus squirmed and wailed, seemingly attempting to wind his body around Ed's like a ribbon around a pole. It'd serve him right if I pushed him away, Ed thought, abusing his lower lip with his teeth. And perhaps he should've pushed Envy away. The other had done nothing to endear himself to him and everything to make him despise every fucking thing about him, but...

The Fullmetal Alchemist had two notable weaknesses. One was a crying woman. The other was a person—or creature—in need.

He didn't think he had any especial friendly feelings towards the homunculus (and he had quite a few unfriendly ones). He didn't love him. From a personal angle, he was not invested in Envy's well-being on account of who he was; the concern which had overtaken the boy was distinctly impersonal—a concern for another being in peril. Yet the otherwise aloof worry was lacquered, stained by an idiotic sense of obligation. He hated it. Fucking loathed it. It made his teeth grit and his hairs stand on edge, but it was there.

He's going to throw up, Ed realized suddenly, and quick as that, he moved aside and held Envy by his hair, pushing it away from his face before lowering him as gently as possible.

The homunculus sagged. His belly sucked inwards. Then, before Ed could properly arrange his head, there was a revolting sound—one Ed recognized well, much to his own dismay—and the slim abdomen heaved, muscles straining. One second more and he spasmed, quivering violently as vomit splattered on the planks of the floor. The puddle was only a shadow to Edward, but he knew what its colour and chemical makeup must have been.

Outside, the clouds drained away their lives' fluids, grew lean, and vanished. A bright, moonlit night overtook the horizon. Without the rain, there were two remaining sounds: trains, and Envy.

Envy, in fact, could be classed as an entire grisly collage of sounds.

Sometimes his moans were brittle, dry and scraped, as ugly to the ears as rusted gate hinges. Sometimes his screams were shrill and effete. And sometimes, sometimes liquidy gurgling sounds bubbled forth, followed by coughing and gasping as upchuck spewed onto the ground.

Please make it end, Ed thought desperately as Envy clutched his gut and howled and rolled. The night felt eternal; hours spanned into the ghosts of days. Edward quaked and sobbed and tried to lift Envy away from the mess he was making, but his hand was unsteady.

When not trying to prevent the Sin from swimming in a shallow sea of red, Ed kept his own mouth covered. Mercifully, Envy's puke didn't have the stench that a human's would've carried, but the noises...oh hell, the noises! Listening to Envy was literally painful. The blurrghhhh onomatopoeia represented quite possibly the most disgusting sound in a human's vocabulary. Apparently a homunculus's vocabulary wasn't much different. Every time the emission passed from Envy's vocal chords, Ed cringed. The acids within his own empty stomach surged, never failing in their efforts to remind him of how famished he was. He dry heaved several times, but managed to keep the bile from erupting through his lips.

Seconds inflated into minutes, hours. The night wore on.

Nothing, Ed thought dimly, could compare to waiting for something to die. He'd had to do it a few times as a child, primarily with sick kittens and injured birds he'd attempted to save, and those times had been no different. The life had ebbed from the little creatures with every yowl and heartbeat, and Edward had known helplessness, despair, and defeat. His own mother had withered away before his eyes, and he'd been powerless to save her.

And now Envy.

Now it was the turn of his enemy, who ironically was his first lover. With the way things had gone thus far in Munich, Ed suspected he might never live to have a second. How very strange fate was.

Illogically, Edward still felt a sense of protective obligation towards his paramour. This was one of the many attributes of society's view on sexuality which he didn't personally agree with, but which hopped into his own morality code all the same. If you had sex with someone, you were supposed to stick with them and protect them. So said The Right Thing To Do, and even if Ed disagreed outwardly, he knew that if he abandoned Envy now, he would feel absurdly Wrong (never mind the unique circumstances behind their coupling; there was no rationality behind this instinctual feeling) and doubly burdened with guilt. If he walked away and left Envy to die alone, then he'd be no better than Hohenheim...and that simply wasn't acceptable.

So he endeavored to make Envy as comfortable as possible by pushing aside his sodden hair and scratching his shoulders where the alchemical markings ran from arm to arm. Envy shuddered hard but otherwise didn't respond as Ed silently massaged the tension from his back.

It almost seemed as though Envy was melting—throwing up stones, screaming until his makeshift lungs failed him and the screams turned windy, pouring humidity off his colourless form. The air was so pregnant with fluid heat that it felt as though some giant being had just seen fit to salivate onto everything within the vicinity, including Edward.

Time passed in the moon-kissed world.

Envy's cries gradually abated, as did his retching.

A lull descended.

At some point, Ed knew he must have fallen asleep. He closed his eyes and opened them again to darkness, to a blurry, pulsing surreality. The moonlight had waned. Edward's mouth tasted fuzzy, and without thinking, he ground out a few clumsy, sleep-stilted syllables in a low, miserable groan. Awareness evaded him for a few moments further, dancing just out of his mind's reach, but there: like a wavering candle flame. He blinked several times. Half-remembered dreams evaporated; physical existence removed them before Ed's mind had even had an opportunity to file their visions away.

Sore. Limbs felt sore. With much difficulty, he raised his hand.

Immediately, it encountered a hard surface.

Wall. A wall. Rough. Uneven. Boxcar wall.

Ed knuckled his eyes and gathered his bearings. No wonder he hurt—for one thing, he had fallen asleep sitting up, propped against the wall. His spine felt as though a pair of deft hands had tied it into a neat little knot, and his stomach growled its displeasure at him. But isn't there something...?


His chest tightened.

Quiet. Everything was quiet.


The floor was wet and covered with paraphernalia. Ed turned and scrambled in the blackness, automail knee slipping on the slick ground. The tip of his foot struck something, some hollow object. It skidded away with an empty, scratchy noise, and Ed nearly jumped. Fuck!

Panic embraced his intestines like curling, thorny vines.

( quiet...)

Envy was dead.

Envy had to be dead.

Things always died in the night. Things always died at three in the morning, directly between midnight and sunrise. Ed never woke up to find that the sick kittens had miraculously pulled through or that the bird with the injured wing had flown off. He didn't wake up—he didn't ever fucking wake up—to see his mother's smile again, and she had died when the sun was out, shining brightly.

And Envy...

—and Envy must have—

—must be—


Ed heard the whisper, though at first he was sure it was his imagination, or else a smidgeon of clinging dream residue. He listened intently, attention raised, nerves on edge. Some other object rolled off, or else found itself on the receiving end of a minor punt. And as Edward's own legs were settled firmly beneath him and his hand was currently holding his tear-soaked face, he had a pretty decent suspicion that he hadn't knocked anything away...which meant, consequently, that someone else had.


"I'm...yeah. Right. I'm here."

But how are you still here?

Edward put his hand out in front of him, palm flat. He edged forward on his knees, making sure to feel his way around so as not to slam into a crate or any odds and ends which had formerly been contained in the crates. He had no idea what he expected to find or what he'd do once he found it, but crawling towards his companion seemed the right course of action.

Alive. Envy was alive—somehow.

Ed didn't know if this was cause for celebration or curses.

Neither, he told himself. Just accept it.

Ed was too tired to ask what the fuck was going on. He was pretty sure Envy didn't know, anyway. The important thing was that Envy had stopped making that noise, that awful puking noise. Edward didn't give in to believing that Envy's survival was a sign that he would continue surviving; he knew that would probably not be the case. A cancer could go into remission, but a starving body couldn't just cease starving without some kind of sustenance provided. And Envy, like himself, was starving. Withering. Decaying.

Back in the alley, Envy had stayed with him, had fed him, had tried (and mostly failed) to take care of him, and even though his reasons had been less than philanthropic, Ed still figured he could make proper reparations by sitting with Envy while he died.

Everyone has to die. Life paid with death is the most basic form of equivalency. He sighed. Envy's had four centuries. Way more than most. He's damned overdue.

It wasn't fair, though, not exactly. It wasn't fair that people died and lay cold in their graves and humans brought back their images as homunculi, lies. It wasn't fair that Dante had managed to nurture a whole set of lies with myths of her own. It wasn't fair that Envy had gone on, had killed, had sucked the life from everyone and everything around him when he himself was a mere shadow of substance. It wasn't fair that they'd ended up like this, that Ed couldn't understand Envy and wanted to and didn't want to, and—and fuck!

It wasn't fair that Envy could evoke any sort of pathos when he'd done nothing to earn it. That wasn't good, wasn't right, wasn't even sensible.

(Which is easier? Killing, or waiting for something to die? Maybe it'd be better put Envy out of...)

"It's beautiful, isn't it, Ed?"

The voice wafted up from the darkness, feminine and silky, but rough with strain—like torn silk. Envy was panting harshly, bellowing in jagged breaths which yanked his stomach inwards and shoved his ribs into the papery skin hanging over them. Ed watched the movements as though hypnotized; gold glued to white and stuck there, taking in the sight of muscles and rigid bones. For all his androgyny, Envy's body really wasn't soft at all; the girlish appearance of his thighs was largely an illusion cast by the clothing he had worn, his chest was decisively masculine (though hardly a broad specimen of virility), and his arms and legs were still as muscular as they had ever been.

Unlike Ed, whose body had weakened from disease, Envy looked hale in spite of the fact that he was dying. Well, as hale as a sickly pale dark-haired thing could look, at least. Even so, at the moment it seemed as though Envy's own lungs were working overtime to snap his spine in half. With a dozen more breaths, they might well succeed.

He lay on the floor, surrounded on both sides by pools of his own non-blood; his body had contorted into a foetal position, but as Ed approached, Envy's muscles seemed to relax, and he stretched his legs out. His hands clutched one knee, fingers gnarled into claws; skin strung over the knuckles like a mat composed of thousands of white ready to burst, at that.

Despite Ed's best efforts to keep Envy clean, Envy had managed to shampoo his hair with fuchsia liquid; his unruly tresses fell about him in snaking waves, blending with the shadows in some places and stained bright with fluid elsewhere. Everything smelled of stone fluid. Envy'd lost so much of it that Ed couldn't understand how he could still be alive. Unless...

"Beautiful? Is what beautiful?"

He sounded parched.

He was parched.

"It." Envy altered his position, pushing down on his forearm as if trying to sit up. He groaned—a lengthy, pained sound—and his hair slid from his face, giving Ed a better view. No longer was his countenance a looking glass into pain and horror, but his skin shone with sweat, bright as if he'd been covered with reflective plastic, and his eyes appeared...distant, somehow. Sickness had plucked the usual fierce, hard fury from Envy's gaze, replacing it with confusion and obvious pain which the rest of his expression refused to indicate.

Ed had never seen the homunculus so vulnerable, so completely broken and at his mercy; even bound, injured, and burnt the fuck up, Envy had retained an inexplicable apparition of power. That power was gone now, but the defiance remained.

Predictably, Envy had steeled himself and was clearly struggling to conceal the degree to which the hurt had infested his body. Ed wasn't fooled. Poor as the lighting was, he could make out the lines of strain on Envy's face, could trace the furrow of his brows, could see the way his teeth came together in between breaths—whenever Envy wasn't throwing all his strength into breathing. With the way his brow creased and uncreased and his lips gummed as he hissed and sighed over words that weren't words, Envy looked young, naive, perplexed. But then he shoved his weight upwards with his arm, hiccuping and cursing as his body clamped and locked into a brutal seizure.

Ed watched: watched Envy's face twist, then relax. Watched his muscles freeze as soon as he got one knee beneath him. Watched as he fell, defeated, thudding wetly on the floor.

"It's too slippery. Here, let me help you up," Ed volunteered, scooting forward and seating himself on his knees. He extended his hand.

Stubborn as ever, Envy shook his head and muttered, "Fuck off."

Ed found he didn't even have the energy to be annoyed. "Fine." He sighed. "Looks like you're going to die, anyway. I just thought you might want to have me with you when you do, instead of lying alone in your own fluids and talking nonsense...but y'know, that's your choice."

Envy licked his lips, then pressed them together as he tilted his head to regard the blond. Ed expected Envy to continue to mouth off, to say something like I can fucking do it myself or something equally irritable, but instead, he said only, "Would you?"

"Would I what? Want to be alone?"

Envy winced and shook his head. "Would you fucking accept someone's help instead of figuring out how to do it yourself?" His hips trembled as he tried once again to uprear himself. "Idiot," he added for good measure, grunting.

The query caught Ed off-guard. "I...I don't know," he said, on impulse. He considered the question for a moment, seriously considered it, then answered, "Maybe. Depends."

Envy laughed. Ed was amazed he could do so without his arms giving way; Envy had managed to elevate his torso, but his limbs shook beneath it like four stilts assaulted by a hurricane. The sight was both pathetic and inspiring. Envy had certainly fallen from the prowess and power that once he had held, the dominion over his surroundings, and that was never more apparent than when he raised himself up on all fours like an animal, naked and flushed and drenched with perspiration; yet even weakened, Envy was a predator, a lion as opposed to a dog (even bereft of the lion-like visage he'd worn once upon a life), and there was a grace apparent in his body structure, smooth and hairless and tightly muscled as it was.

Even beaten, even broken, Envy was still fighting, still enduring.

It was...

Intriguing? Strange? Mesmerizing? Attractive? Pretty?


What the—? Pretty was absolutely the wrong fucking word, and too much of a girly one, at that. Ed wanted to smack himself, but he had to admit, privately, that he found Envy's determination to be...arresting, for lack of a better term. Although he and Envy were opposites in a multitude of ways—many of them core, crucial personality points—they paralleled one another perfectly in their desire to overcome the hardships their surroundings presented them with. They both wanted to live. They both insisted on living. Whether Ed was rolling around in the mud, looking for a piece of paper, or Envy was risking shredding every muscle in his body by arising, they were in the exact same predicament.

Edward could see that, could appreciate it. He wished Envy could, too.