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ambre

Wasteland

chapter 21.

The military took the blame. The other alchemists took the blame. Dante took bags of stones and fled alongside Envy.

With her newfound wealth, her good looks, and her boundless talents as an alchemist, the woman snagged a lordly husband in New Optain. He thought he'd bought himself a prize pony, a ticket to the Philosopher's Stone. Once Dante had tired of him as a lover, he ended up buying himself a knife to the eyeball instead—courtesy of Envy. Dante wasn't one to dirty her white gloves with blood. The assassination occurred in plain sight, and shortly later, the person responsible (or, rather, the person whose face Envy had adopted for the deed) was arrested. Eye witnesses testified. No suspicion was levelled onto Dante.

Envy was eating well in those days, having the stones all to himself. Dante enjoyed a luxurious life courtesy of the mansion and the generous helping of acquired money inherited from her now deceased spouse. But she was restless. Her body was beginning to age, slowly but surely, and this time she was more hesitant about using her perfect Philosopher's Stone.

And as to the Stone's location?

Hohenheim had left it with his wife, had damned her along with the bauble she loved so dearly. Dante wore it on her neck, fastened to a nondescript chain. The Stone could be altered in colour and shape, though few alchemists realized as much. Dante made it smaller, and black, but its power was no different; it lay hidden in plain sight, and Envy could gauge when his master was ready to murder her husbands based on whether she'd shown them her Stone or not. To behold Dante's precious jewel was to see a countdown to death, though none of the greedy fools were even aware of what they really looked upon.

Death.

Dante had an inkling that the Stone could only be used so many times before it exhausted itself. Her avarice had gotten the better of her and she'd already switched forms on two occasions by the time she took up residence in New Optain, but she valued her life, and she was afraid of hopping bodies again prematurely. So she swore she would sacrifice vanity, let this body live out its years, work on creating new homunculi and a new Stone, and only once her skin had acquired wrinkles would she consider finding a fresh shell to occupy.

Time. It was nothing but a matter of time.

Then there were Lust and Gluttony—the original Lust, anyway. Her human predecessor had been a Xingian empress who'd died young from plague, and her grieving family (aided by the efforts of the nation at large) had foolishly attempted a revival. Rather than a phoenix, the action purchased something more akin to a golem—a monster—and when Dante got news of this creature's existence, she sent Envy off to retrieve it.

Envy left to find a hideous thing, but he returned arm in arm with a beautiful maiden.

And he didn't like her. Not at all.

He hadn't grown accustomed to the idea of other homunculi. He had all of his master's affection, attention, and appreciation. He also had all of the food. Then suddenly there was Gluttony, made from the grisly remains of dead humans Dante had picked from the slums like a scavenger, as well as this strange and foreign Lust. Gluttony, being an idiot, wasn't much of a threat to anything; Envy could just overlook him. But Lust? Lust had been royalty. Something in her remembered having been royalty, and she was haughty, disdainful. She tried far too hard to please Dante, acted like a right sycophant, and as with the second Lust, she whined about wanting to become human.

Envy didn't know which of those things pissed him off the most.

Flattery was pathetic, but Envy thought it was probably more grating to listen to the bitch natter about how she craved human life. What the fuck did she know, anyway?

Hearing Dante promise to transmute Lust into a human "someday soon" made Envy bristle; he remembered when she had made similar vows to him, and even though he no longer gave a shit about humans (and he certainly, certainly had no interest in becoming one), Lust's vulnerability and rawness and Dante's lies combined into a formula that scratched his skin and made him fidgety. He knew Dante was lying; he'd known it for years. She would never sacrifice any of her Stone's power for anyone but herself; it was of no consequence to Envy, but at the time, he also wasn't exactly comfortable seeing someone in a position he'd once been in. It awoke strange and awkward memories. Not painful, but not right. They didn't add up.

The elder Sin arranged for a little accident to befall the first Lust, and that was the end of the problem.

Gluttony was no threat; he was even useful in certain ways; Envy was content to ignore him, and the younger Sin was content to be ignored. Dante suspected that Envy had played a part in Lust's destruction and she was none too pleased; she had no concrete proof, but she'd guessed. She knew. No one else would've had the motive, and the woman wasn't blind to her servant's antipathy, and oh, Envy did pay the price for his transgression.

Dante promised a punishment for him that'd be enjoyable for her. She made good on her word.

Envy was disgusted. Repulsed. His master had never used him sexually before; it'd been an understanding—or so he'd thought. Tacit, but if she'd wanted to fuck him, she could've fucked him ages ago. She'd never pushed that boundary, and he'd appreciated that (in as much as he could appreciate anything), but then she had...had made him...

At least she let him change forms.

He didn't like being touched—not by a human! Not by her! And he hadn't been above whining for her not to go through with it, reminding her that he'd been the result of a transmutation meant to bring back her son, that he was in essence her son!

She paused.

Paused long, and said, "Hah. You're no child of mine."

She had been drunk, very drunk.

In retrospect, the wine was probably more responsible than indignation over anything Envy had done, or maybe she'd just wanted an excuse, something to justify her behaviour to herself, but that wasn't usually Dante's way.

She had enough dignity to look sickened and upset afterwards, when she came to her senses. Or maybe she was just bitter about her life, bitter that the one man she truly wanted had left her, bitter about being miserably obsessed with death and her damned jewel.

Whatever it was, for a moment her cold exterior had slipped, and Envy had seen something in her eyes that he'd rarely witnessed from her: despair.

It frightened him, but his mind was too preoccupied with other things for him to care, and dazed, he'd run off for days, sulking and angry with her and angry with himself and angry with pretty much the whole fucking world in general.

Nothing had ever been quite the same between them afterwards...and then, later, there had been Greed...Dublith...

...and then...and...

A heap of broken images.

A world without a sun. The Gate. Its gold and its shadows. The long, sinuous bodies—dead, and alive, and not yet born; he saw the change in the light, heard the door opening as if the wind had come into the world between worlds. He'd been nothing then, felt nothing then, known nothing, like an infant, but he remembered the sight without sensation—

'You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember

'Nothing?'

I remember

—memories, centuries, stories—

The Elrics.

Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

Rot and sickness. Silver water he saw but never conjured the taste of. Hohenheim and the blond man that was him but not. Bones, graves, flowers. Seasons lost in time. Battles. Death.

The Philosopher's Stone, the hideous monster—like a giant ruby with its wicked red glow. A swollen, sore eye, a testament to every folly of the human race. It pulsed, throbbed with power. As if alive. As if it had a heart.

Envy had known better...

Had known that it could be used more than once...

Had known what the Elrics hadn't.

And still, he'd thought...he hadn't realized...

The homunculus could feel his body awakening. Not all at once, but in layers. Taste, smell. Hot, sticky. Touch. Skin. Floor.

A thousand faces, grinning, laughing in unison, mocking their sibling.

Sound and sight came last.

Morning twilight he saw. Same as before, when he'd had most of his final coherent thoughts. His facial muscles pried his eyelids apart hesitantly, but each sheet of skin felt like a slab of five ton metal.

A whole day of life wasted—pissed away.

He curled a hand. Moved a leg. Hair and flesh whispered across the wood, rustled like leaves, brushed the ground. He heard himself groan.

The Sin didn't know if he preferred to be sleeping or awake, caught in nightmares of the past or nightmares into the future; he hated dying, but he also hated seeing his birth.

Wading somewhere between the two, in the shallows of recognition, he grasped at his surroundings. Inhaled.

Lungs were clogged.

A raspy cough caused pain such as he'd known only when his ribs had been shattered to fill his chest, seizing him, and Envy hated pain, hated hurting, but at the moment he was actually finding it preferable to the frightening numbness that had been inhabiting his nerves. Heavy beads of wetness dribbled down his face; hair was in his eyes, stuck everywhere. He twisted, loathing the tightness in his chest. Like his heart had been roasted, crushed; shrivelled and wrinkled. Or like it had ruptured, popped; spilling liquid ache.

Light. Slivers of light.

It had been when Ed was away that he'd seen it: the red glow. Those stupid Elric brats; what made them so sure the Stone could only be so used once? Why would such a powerful relic extinquish itself so cheaply?

The Stone had never been destroyed. It'd merely changed locations.

Warming him with its heat, giving him dreams and memories from its collective consciousness that was not a consciousness, sapping his strength and making him ill as his own life energy fed into it. As soon as he'd spotted the hazy luminosity emanating from his ouroboros, Envy recognized the source of his torment.

He wasn't turning human. He was turning into a power generator.

And it was eating him alive. Killing him even as its energy sustained his weary, bruised body; he couldn't die, wouldn't die, but he couldn't live, and he hurt. He wanted the goddamned thing out of him. And Ed...that little fuck...

Envy's mouth went dry.

Ed had seen. Known. Said...what the hell had he said...? Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuck

The homunculus struggled to get a grip on awareness. Colours swirled and inhuman veins and arteries pinched and stretched, throbbed; Envy saw blurs, flashes. The Gate called to him, murmured in his ears, cackled and beckoned, assured him that the proper course would be to close his eyes and go back to sleep. Envy didn't heed the words. He shook his head, ignoring the headache and the sense that he had sprouted a bowling ball in place of a skull.

He almost, almost called out. It would've been easy to yell for someone to help him up damn it, but even in his sore state of being, the obstinate part of him remembered that he didn't fucking want Ed's help, didn't fucking want anyone's help. He bit his lip hard, imprisoning another groan in his throat and lungs.

White light. He had to focus on the mist-clouded sunshine.

Envy blinked, willing the spectres away.

The air was cool, wet; Envy didn't know if it was April or May or some other month altogether, but the damned world was so full of water. Around him, the walls of the train car were beginning to come into focus, along with shapes and blankets—fallen cargo—and not too far off, Envy thought he felt another source of heat. Barely, just barely, the Sin heard someone breathing—heard it over the sound of his own racing heart.

He winced.

Damn it! Why the fuck did he always find Edward around when he woke up? He hadn't even seen the asshole yet, but he knew he was in the vicinity. Reactionary, impulsive hate crashed into Envy, squeezing his ballooned, shredded heart. It was crushing, fucking crushing; like his blood had turned to gel and his marrow to bone, like his guts were turning themselves inside out, and he wanted to scream.

His breath came on a series of broken little spurts; his windpipe constricted until he felt as though he were panting through a straw. Strained, reedy and whistling—as if each exhalation were the chirp of a dying bird.

Envy pushed his hair from his face, wiping his mouth and eyes with the back of his hand in the process. Hatred—extreme, thriving hatred—was exhausting; Envy's body, mind, and spirit were so tired, so broken. Anger made everything harder, worse, more painful, but he couldn't not be angry. He didn't know how. For one moment, as his eyes and head cleared and he came to full consciousness in the cold dead dawn, Envy wondered...

If he didn't hate, then the hurt would—

—would?

No. No! It was all Hohenheim's fault, Ed's fault, the faults of all the damned humans! Four centuries...four centuries of hate, blame; Envy didn't know anything else any more, didn't have anything else. He was right. He had to be right. It cost too much to be wrong. He couldn't have wasted all those years, all that energy. He couldn't have. He had to be right. It hurt and he was sick of hurting and without the hate to fill him, everything in the past and future was nothing but an endless white expanse, nothingness forever and ever, and his mind would crack and shatter and become as blank as Gluttony's without something to hold on to, something to matter.

Hate was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that was honest. The Sin wanted Edward, wanted him to want him, but he didn't delude himself, didn't allow himself to believe that compassion could be anything more than a lie. Humans were shit. They talked big about love but they only abandoned and hurt and killed those they claimed to care about; he wasn't going to tolerate that, wasn't going to let that fucker give him the pretense of caring. He didn't want Ed to touch him, talk to him, act like he gave a shit, because he didn't and Envy knew he didn't and it was insulting to be treated otherwise.

Envy hated that sort of dishonesty, hated being led on. That behaviour implicitly asked him to accept, to let his guard down, to place himself in a vulnerable and frightening situation, and he fucking despised it. If he lowered his defenses, he would just get hurt. Niceness was condescension, invitation to hurt.

In his weakened state of being, it would've been easier to give in than he cared to admit.

Envy clutched his chest and took a glance at the sleeping blond, only to quickly avert his gaze. If, entirely hypothetically, he were to trust the kid, then what? Get abandoned by another Elric? Get used and then dumped when he'd outlived his usefulness, when someone or something better came along? If Edward only had eyes for him, well that would've been flattering and the way Envy saw it, he deserved that, but he couldn't actually tolerate being cared about because that'd eventually mean being rejected, dispensed with, and he wasn't going to permit that risk.

Still, he wanted him. It was confusing, ridiculous. Stupid.

Ed had fucked him up. Earth had fucked him up. The goddamned Stone was fucking him up. It...it must've been responsible for the intense feelings surging through his body. He'd not experienced anything like this before. His feelings had never been too complicated; they were straightforward, and if they weren't, he had always been able to swing his mind back to hatred easily enough, or else draw it forth from other emotions. But now—now everything was getting muddled. Ugly. Like a painting in which the colours had mixed to become shit brown. Envy's skin burned with human-like need, sensation; it was consuming him.

He had to escape.

He didn't know where he wanted to go to, but he had to get out.

Huffing, sucking in another deep gulp of air, Envy clawed the ground and dragged himself to his knees. The world spun; his thoughts felt about as scattered as a handful of marbles someone had tossed out. Something sticky clung to his face. He raised his hand, rubbed a fist across his eyes, feeling the tears that the movement swept away. Tears! How the hell could he have been—?

Mouth still tasting of bile, Envy proceeded across the rough floor, fingers scrabbling against the cold surface. He didn't—in point of fact—have any idea what the hell he was doing. But he needed air. Real air. He was suffocating.

—glowed into words, then would be savagely still—

He paused when he reached Ed.

Asleep.

Envy lowered his head. Dark hair obscured his vision.

Asleep. And what the fuck had he said the night before? Because he had seen—Envy remembered that. He'd had quite a lot of an opinion on the matter, Envy was sure. Great. Just fucking great. Now the brat would probably want to transmute him. Not that it was an issue since alchemy didn't work on this world...well...it probably didn't...unless there was some alternative method...

No. Envy disregarded the thought. The important issue was that he wanted this fucking thing out, out of his body! It was draining him, and yet it was also—in all probability—suspending his life, because, after all, how could he perish with something so powerful inside of him, animating him? The stones were his blood, his life, so one whole Stone was like a brand new heart, one that used up more blood than Envy's circulatory system found itself willing to offer. Or, more specifically, more blood than he had left. Siphoning off his stones, but also filling him with a very different sort of life, some hideous equilibrium, like being caught in stasis...and what the fuck!

Why did all the awkward, unnatural, and weird shit have to happen to him? His whole existence was like one big, ridiculous farce written by a pantheon of especially cruel and vindictive gods.

Ed was sleeping, looking as content as was possible given the situation. Hair thin lines of tension marked his face, potentially indicating an unpleasant dream, and a slim stream of saliva ran from lips to chin.

Envy caught himself gazing back and forth, eyes vacillating between Ed's automail leg and the crown of his head, vision tracing the curve of his back along the way.

The usual anger was there, but muffled by dizziness—by a persistent, throbbing headache, and by worry over what was happening to him, and by his need for Ed to wake up and help him already, damn it.

He wanted to kick him, or yell at him, but his mouth was dry and his jaw was heavy and he didn't move. Envy felt tempted to go back to sleep himself...maybe push Ed out of the way and steal his warm spot. The homunculus wasn't lacking for heat, but it was a sickening, feverish kind of heat, and there was chill all around him, and he could feel the more natural, live warmth radiating off Edward. Fuck. It was...appealing, but he wasn't willing to indulge.

Suddenly uncomfortable, he turned his attention elsewhere, away from the boy.

Envy was smarter than to think that he was entirely in control of himself or his emotions at the moment. There were forces at work inside of him, some of which he was pretty sure he understood and some of which he was pretty sure he didn't, and he was most definitely not all right with putting himself near a volatile situation—which his enemy had become. He was too weak to fuck, too weak to be fucked; his body was too exhausted and battered, but he still felt appallingly magnetized, like he had to be near the object of his rage, like he could give himself over and press close for some of that inviting sensation. And the need was compelling, but he hated it, feared it; he didn't like thinking he could just be drowned, losing himself along the way. He had to keep his head above the water, above the swelling tumult, the chaos he'd felt building since he'd been knocked right out of his prior routine.

Homunculi could be altered by alchemy, but could they be altered by different circumstances, by ending up out of their elements?

Envy didn't want to believe that. But the proof seemed to be inside of him, pulling him apart and turning him inside out with indecisiveness and confusion; he wanted to scream and kill something and he wanted to stay with Ed, but he hated him, but he didn't want to be there, couldn't handle that, didn't want to fight with himself and his confounding notions, wanted out, wanted it out. Out.

Another spasm hit, causing him to tense and bite down, closing his watering eyes.

Eyelids shaded the sunlight, transformed it into a dark patchwork quilt of colours.

The air changed just before he hit the ground.

Rocks and dirt gave a sharp uppercut to the chin. Envy tasted blood.

His blood. Stone fluid. And now it was spilling out of him.

He didn't feel any cuts elsewhere on his skin, but he knew they must've been there. It was hard to tell if his systems were shutting down or if they were just overloading; he didn't know whether he was really dying or whether he was somehow being remade, but it hurt, and he was going numb, fading in and out of consciousness, and he couldn't stand it, and oh fuck, why hadn't he just grabbed Ed and shaken him and forced him awake?

Envy couldn't think. Thinking was too damned hard.

The Stone—

The Stone—

I can connect—

Dreams. The dreams were coming again, or was he dying? A different world he saw inside his head, behind his eyes, but he felt something. Felt something in his hair. Hands. Fingers. Maybe he was dreaming. He must've been dreaming. At the early hour, people might've been in the yard, but they wouldn't have seen him, wouldn't have touched him. His eyes cracked open, but the sunlight overwhelmed them, forced them shut again. The air was dusty, but better than what he'd breathed within the car. He felt the motions of his chest grow steady, measured.

The Gate. Faces. Calling him back.

Dreaming or dying; perhaps it was all the same.

—nothing with nothing.

A hand on his cheek. Awake...was the kid awake? But no, no, Ed's hand was never that soft. This was different. Envy could barely register it, didn't know if it was false, another product of his hyperactive imagination, and it was hard to see with centuries of visions seething and swimming before your nose. Voice. Someone was talking to him. Speaking softly.

Entering the whirlpool.

Words of comfort. Assurance. He knew that tone. Knew that tone.

He saw the man again, the man who was him but was not, and all the while he heard the words that felt both more and less real than the ones in his head.

"There, there. You're too important to die yet."

There, there.

He imagined a smirk, a face. His eyes were closed, but his mind's eye saw the woman sitting in her chair, a chess piece between her fingers, smile curving her lips.

"I have a use in mind for you, my dear. The boy, too."

And something else, and something else, but he couldn't quite make everything out. "from Shambala", "alchemist", "homunculus", "Stone".

Envy knew he must be getting delusional. No one here would know who he was, what he was, nor would they know Ed was anything more than what he seemed.

"Open wide."

He didn't know if he obeyed or not, but he must've, because suddenly he tasted something. Something cool. Something he'd begun to worry that he'd never taste again.

Envy jerked, suddenly thinking that whatever was happening, it seemed considerably more important. Stones. Oh fucking...what? Stones. Stones. Stones! In him, between his lips, on his tongue, down his throat, filling his stomach. He gasped and shuddered, and all at once his numb and sick muscles and nerves leapt to attention. The visions dispersed, and the sunlight was everywhere, all over him.

Another convulsion. Snuffed candle. The Sin tilted his head back—a fist gripped his hair—and screamed.

The world went out.


When Envy shot up sometime later, gasping for breath, the pain had vanished.

He expected to feel it, expected it to knock him back down, but it was gone.

The sunlight was no longer blinding, and after a few tense seconds of agitated silence, the homunculus looked around himself, gauging his surroundings. He had rather embarrassingly landed himself in a puddle of mud just outside of the train car, and it was all over his legs, arms, back, ass...face...hair...but that didn't matter now.

What mattered was that he was looking up at the sky, licking the salty tang from his lips, listening to the birds in the air. Shaking. Living. He was living. The Gate had gone, the memories had fled; Envy looked at one arm, twisted it. Strength and energy were returning; the distance between his eyes and brain was narrowing, fading. The fuzz in his head had started to vaporize, and suddenly he realized—

He had been saved. Someone had saved him.

Someone had been there.

What...?

Envy pressed a fingertip to his lips, then lowered his hand.

Red liquid.

But he wasn't bleeding. He could feel his wounds healing, his skin knitting, muscles repairing themselves and getting into alignment; it hurt a little to die, and it hurt to be reborn, to feel internal parts popping and sizzling into place. Pushing his hands against the ground, Envy managed to get his knees beneath himself, then his feet, and then he was standing, and the morning was foggy and there were trains in the distance, and he was shaking, trembling, still quite naked. He let his air out in a puff and wrapped his arms around himself as the magnitude of all that had happened dawned upon him and the world became true and existed again, as the phantasms dissipated; the nightmare hiccuped and reality landed with a nauseating splat.

His body was still adjusting, still recovering, but he knew he hadn't been alone.

Yet when he looked in every direction, he saw nothing but dirt and tracks and twisting metal, far as his eyes would take him. But the light was brighter than it'd been before; the morning must've lengthened...time had passed...and had it not been for the very obvious proof of change inside of him, he would've thought maybe he had given himself over to utter madness.

He gathered his wits and, feeling the weight of the shock that flooded him abruptly and relentlessly, he turned and made his way back into the car as quickly as he could.

Edward. He had to tell Edward. His mind was blaring, ears ringing, and maybe he wouldn't be believed, but he was sure someone had been with him. He was sure.

And frantically, he wondered: what would he do—what would they do—if someone knew the truth?

Alchemist, homunculus, and a Stone.

Defenseless now, and ripe for the taking. All the power any human could ever desire, conveniently gathered into one location.

And still, still Envy couldn't focus on that—couldn't focus on anything but the cloud, the nonsensical idea that hummed throughout him like an engine, pulsing through his seasick, addled mind. Two words clanged together like a set of cymbals, shattering all other thoughts:

Master?

Mother?