scimitarsmile

Menu

ambre

Wasteland

chapter 24.

Bodies mixed, melded, grew warm, then cold. Night dragged by. Long, bruised shadows reached to grope the walls of the abandoned house.

Once the shimmers died, they slept in the centre of the array. Well, Ed slept, but only after he'd managed to empty his stomach, and only after he'd given his discomfort to the air in a chorus of successive, wavering groans.

Envy watched, listened, thinking it was all fitting, so very fitting. The brat deserved it, if he was going to commit the same sins as his father; drowning human emotions in the bottle—in liquor—was fucking stupid. What could Envy ingest to ease his perpetual ache and rage? Nothing. Not a goddamned thing. And he dealt with it.

Ed could deal with it too, or else drink and then sit and puke—as he was doing when these thoughts swam through Envy's mind.

It reminded the homunculus of the alley, of the way Ed had thrown up and slept fitfully, and the heady smell of sex was there, but this time, the odor of decay was absent, and the boy would assuredly survive, even if he wasn't going to have a very pleasant morning. Not that Envy cared. No, not in the least. Served the little fucker right.

The Sin ground his teeth together and padded around the room, clenching and unclenching his fists, listening to their breathy, sweaty squeaks, thumbs biting his palms.

He was pissed off, wound up tightly; the tension settled in him, pushed outwards, made him...not sore, as such, but certainly displeased. Ed shouldn't have been sitting there vomiting. Ed should have been helping him. It was the sex, really. These days, Envy found that sex...affected him. Got him tight and tense like a coil about to spring forward, break apart. Fucking should've had the opposite effect. Didn't humans relax after a good lay? But Envy felt charged. Electric. His mind went off in a thousand directions, flickering with questions about alchemy, the Stone, the future; what future did he have? Hohenheim, he had to kill Hohenheim. And Ed! Edward. Would he die? Would Envy die? Would they all die? What next? What next? What next?

And finally, being too awake to stand himself and too burnt out to sleep, Envy collapsed in the array and lay next to Edward, uncomfortable and fidgety yet unwilling to leave the house.

There was—in the midst of plotting and desiring and scientific discovery—a sexual side, a carnality, something that had not existed previously or something that had lain dormant beneath his spirit, an unseen motor the likes of which had been turned on by Earth or by alchemy or by some stimulus Envy could not readily identify. And speaking of turned on...

It was the glory of the body. Microcosms and macrocosms. The universe felt broader, more expansive, and the space between objects had grown wide and airy, no longer crushing and compressing and intent on making mulch out of Envy's arteries. It was the Stone. It must've been the Stone. Everything was made of numbers now, of science and art; there was negative space and the sweeping poetry of movement and the needy warmth of a living thing. The cool ether of the cosmos and the earthy heat of blood under skin. Everything was Different. Everything was More.

Something had changed.

Something had left.

Something had entered.

Something had awoken inside of Envy, and something else had fallen dormant.

He curled up in the array, and the irony was not lost on him. Grooves, cuts in the wood, a circle like the one he had been birthed into, still fizzing and sizzling from the transmutation.

Envy didn't like alchemy. Hated it. Had always hated it, had always seen it as a damned science, a terrifying prospect. But now he was relying upon it, relying upon Ed, lying with that little bastard—that son of his most hated foe, that fucker who had replaced him—and all he could think of was how much he wanted to experience every part of the boy.

It was like an erection he couldn't just fuck away; over the last two weeks, he'd gotten hard intermittently and without his powers granting him the ability to transform his arousal away, he'd simply dealt with his body's wayward sexual functions—dealt with them in the most manual of methods. But all the time, he'd craved that duplicate, that What-Might-Have-Been of himself, and then he'd had him and had him but good. Still, the need continued, never quenched.

He licked Ed while he slept, ran his hands along the insides of his thighs, stroked his chest and the blond's own hard-ons. And he swore to himself he still hated Edward, of course; how could such an important aspect of his personality simply cease to exist? It didn't, but practically, he couldn't bathe in Ed's blood yet. He could, however, bathe in the rest of him.

Envy couldn't sleep.

Strange, feeling the need to sleep, feeling his eyes flutter closed as they were wont to do. But his body did attempt to coax slumber from him, wringing his mind of wakefulness and reminding him that these days he was something of a battery to be charged.

A battery...nothing but a house for this fucking thing...

Envy pressed his palm to the array.

Ellipses, angles, curls and whorls, stars.

Science and art. Poetry. The sky at night. The hard lines of mathematic equations he didn't know, three-hundred plus sixty degrees and then ninety more. Patterns. Envy didn't know them, swore he didn't, but there they were, and his hands had fashioned these shapes. His hands. His mind. The part of him that had awakened. The part that lived now.

He fluffed his hair and relaxed, letting the tresses sew a green pillow for him to rest in. It was soft, nice. Not as good as Dante's beds (not that he'd ever slept in those, but he had sat on them before, and he'd even resisted the urge to shred and break a few), but better than an alley or a train car.

Yet when Envy closed his eyes, he saw blood and meat and pulp, smelled the odor of burning flesh, tasted stomach acid; it was putrid, repulsive, repugnant...

It wasn't that he'd sprouted a conscience, nor a soul. It was more that the prospect of bodily carnage had begun to physically disgust him—which was absurd, as he'd never been one to mind soaking in blood. But in the past, he'd also had the convenient ability to clean himself off whenever he wished. After having spent who knew how long being victimized by uncleanliness, filth, odd smells, and his own bodily leakage, Envy found himself coming to terms with the notion that genocide couldn't be as glamourous any longer. And he didn't really want anyone oozing plague onto him.

Truthfully, the Sin wasn't too keen on his current emotional predicament.

It was becoming hard to muster up a sufficient degree of rage and hatred. He could manage it, certainly, but it took a push. It required effort. And that, above all else, unnerved him.

First there had been that little brat getting the better of him, trapping him in the array. Then he'd made him take care of him in the alley, which had been embarrassing and unfair, and then there'd been the matter of Envy being set on fire and crushed by rubble...a decidedly bad fucking day. Following that, he'd gotten fucked, gotten incredibly ill, and discovered that his body was undergoing a rather disturbing change, and on top of everything else, someone was fucking watching him. So in between the pain, misery, confusion, paranoia, restlessness, and general wondering about what in the fuck he could do to alleviate his plethora of discomforts, Envy found that he'd had little time to mull over his hatred of his bastard father. And Edward? And humanity? Well...

When he failed to rally the slumber that his body craved, Envy stood outside, bare feet on the cold wet stone.

Stood outside and let the rain trail down his naked flesh.

He didn't want to dress himself, because he was wet and messy and because he didn't like the clothes of this world; he didn't like any clothes but the ones he had made for himself, and he wasn't thrilled about having walked the streets in brown and white. Two weeks in a daze, plagued by feverish dreams and nightmares and visions of the long ago. He'd wandered like he had so many years before, yet now he no longer had Dante, and now he no longer had a plan. And yet that hadn't seemed to matter, not with a new force anchoring him, whispering in his ears, telling him that alchemy was alive and well...if he only knew where to look.

In actuality, he was...

He was...

Free.

No Dante, no quest. He could, in theory, walk wherever he wanted, do whatever he wanted, do whoever he wanted. He could open his arms and laugh at the sky, all the while listening to the world rain Music—because it was Music now that the universe had come to life.

He was free, and freedom was not for him.

Looking out at the world that morning, Envy thought he felt something strange.

For a moment, reality clouded over in a haze. The rage sustained for years began to tremble, unsure—for once—of its legs.

And Envy realized, albeit reluctantly, that it wasn't what he felt that bothered him. It was what he didn't feel.

Based on what Envy knew of seasickness, he thought that was about what he found himself faced with as the sun and the ground seemed to sway and the rain slanted and the abyss stretched before him—empty, empty, empty.

Freedom, infinite freedom. A life without hate.

Infinite nothingness!

The homunculus shuddered hard, shook his head, and turned away from the rain.


"Oh God," were Ed's first two words, upon waking. Envy remembered him having said something similar the night before...though the tone had been of a rather different sort. This, Envy decided upon hearing it, sounded a good deal more like the groan of a dying man, something the Sin was more than slightly familiar with. Except in this case Ed wasn't dying. Ed was, however, covering his eyes with the back of his hand, wincing, and stroking his forehead. And moaning and grumbling, in varying octaves. During his time on Earth, the boy seemed to have perfected a wide range of rather hideous noises, from grunts to the gurgles that succeeded or preceded vomiting, and when Ed's stomach didn't hesitate to throw in its own vocal, Envy scowled. His gut recalled a similar agony and ached empathetically. Not sympathetically, though. After all...

"See? What did I tell you? You're getting what you deserve, you stupid bastard." Envy swallowed and cleared his throat. Sleepiness reduced his sentences to mumbles, and it was with a hint of a start that Envy realized he too had just awoken. Perplexing, that, given he didn't remember lying down, let alone falling asleep. Yet here he was, limbs entangled with the boy's, eyelids covered with unreal weight. Envy's thighs felt sticky and he chewed his lip, wondering if that was sweat, or if he'd had some...nightly emissions. Or maybe Ed had come on him. The thought somehow managed to walk the line between disgusting and appealing, dizzying and a little nauseating and revolting as only a cocktail of contradictory feelings could be.

"Get up." He looked around, suddenly wary. "I don't know how long we have."

I don't know how long I can wait.

Freedom? Freedom was a myth at best and a joke at worst. Even without Dante, Envy was fettered by need. He needed stones, needed to be free of a Stone, needed safety, needed vitriol and hate. And reluctantly, reluctantly he found himself needing something else. Someone else. No way around it now: he needed Edward.

And even though this made him angry, was that really so bad? Because he'd already determined that he needed anger, and...and...fuck. Damn it. Fuck.

Since when had everything gotten so goddamned difficult? Complicated...

"Oooooooooooohgaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhd. I feel like shit!"

Ed's windpipe knotted around another sound fit to peel skin from bones, and Envy bit down, irritated. It wasn't that the kid was in pain that he didn't like; silence would've been welcome, but the noise

Envy was beginning to think he understood Wrath's reaction to the wailing of infants.

"Can't do anything for you," he muttered, then, "wouldn't want to do anything for you, you dumb...ass."

He was none too pleased with his glaringly obvious awkwardness; having so many things on his mind, he couldn't naturally be as caustic as he'd so effortlessly been before, and squeezing out the least negative comment to poison his remarks was making him feel like he was trying too hard, and couldn't Ed hear that? (Or, well, couldn't Ed hear it if not for his lack of coherency at the moment?) No matter what he said or didn't say, Envy felt suspiciously small and raw and nude. Circumstance had worn him down, eroded him, and surely he could gather his typical emotions once life got the fuck back on track, but for now—

For now, he was tired.

"Equivalent exchange, isn't that what you alchemists say?"

Logic. Right. That would shut the brat up, wouldn't it? Nothing like throwing someone's own beliefs back at them to shut their hole, force compliance.

Only that wasn't quite what happened.

What happened, in fact, was that Ed pulled his hand down over his nose, and one eye cracked open, issuing—on golden parchment—an unspoken promise of violent, messy, painful demise. To be signed and handed over to a certain homunculus, in all probability.

Edward did attempt to sit up.

But the attempt, as it was, ended with him clutching his head and collapsing back to the comfort of having his shoulders firmly planted on the ground.

"What the—owwww—" Another wince. "What the fuck is that s'posed to mean? Just. Agh. Just shut the fuck up or else I..."

He blinked, searching.

Envy seized the opportunity. "You shut the fuck up, bean, or else I'll kick you in the gut until everything comes back up! That's what's or else!"

He raised his voice, cringing, even if he involuntarily clung more tightly to the other as he said the words. Confusing. Very confusing. A wave of surreality crashed over him and he rode it with his all-too-natural ability to snap off a retort, but inwardly he felt maddeningly, inexplicably shaken. He hadn't expected to be rebuked so harshly, not when—oddly enough—he'd been trying to get Edward to settle down. Plainly, this was what happened if he displayed anything besides animosity; he just got shot down, because Ed had no respect for him, and he had no respect for humans, so what the hell was the point in dulling the edge of his bitterness? It was, he saw again—as he had seen so many times previously—deserved bitterness.

Envy didn't think of himself as sensitive. Genocidal types usually didn't earn much in the way of that particular adjective. But when one went around with his fists perpetually ready to strike, then one expected to be struck back. Yet in those rare, tentative times during which he'd lowered his temper, he found that criticism bruised him with frightening ease. Stupid, really. Embarrassing.

It didn't make sense that he'd decimated so many lives, yet the merest stray words could sink their teeth into him, always and only when pejorative ideas filled his stomach, unspoken.

"You either need to help me now, or else go to sleep and stop making so much damned noise. Not everyone had the luxury of getting drunk off their asses last night, and you're keeping me awake, Elric! So get up, get quiet, or get knocked out. The choice is yours."

The rain had grown weak.

"Envy."

The light from the window had a filtered whiteness to it, drained of gold as was everything else in this world save for Edward himself, yet it seemed hopeful—promising, not condemning like the now internalized red glow.

Envy looked around the house, looked at the dour wood and listened to the decaying bodies of the trees wail alongside the wind, listened to the chirps of birds, and finally he looked at Edward, sleep mussed, eyes a storm of sunshine and red lightning against a white sky. The boy was a naked mess, with crazy hair and an ugly socket; his eyes didn't seem to have the will to open fully, his bottom lip was fat and cut and something like the imprint of a faded raspberry crowded on the side of his mouth in a cluster of small pink bumps.

Yet he didn't look completely awful. More like Pretty having a Bad Day.

"Last night, I..."

Ed laid back and blinked up at the ceiling, eyes watering, and his throat sounded dry.

"I...we..."

Envy wasn't at all sure that he liked where this was going. We? Dangerous pronoun, that. Dangerous, and potentially offensive.

"...we should talk..."

...

Oh no. No. What the fuck? Surely he didn't mean...

"No. We shouldn't talk. Unless you want to tell me a good way out of this fucking mess with some details about alchemy, then we have nothing to talk about. I don't give a fuck what you've been doing for the past...however many days."

Envy looked at his enemy's (and lover's) chest as he spoke, lifting his hand to lick his thumb and run the nail across the length of the tough, scarred flesh. Ancient wounds, dark and lovely, intensely appealing for the pain they represented. Envy's stunned body was flooded with the need to bite into Ed, to run his lips and tongue and hands over him and sink his nails in until all the pain between them was one, a serpent swallowing its tail; he wanted to swallow Ed, to consume him, to suck his cock until he came and bled.

Maybe that would be a good idea, since Envy currently felt too sore to take him into himself in any other way. Blowjobs were a pain in the ass, not easy on the jaw, and sometimes they made you gag, and come had always aggravated his stomach a little...but fuck. He'd given so many that the act was almost reflexive now, as a sign of showing sexual support and favour. Envy didn't know much about sex beyond what Dante told him to do, what people he'd serviced told him to do, the looks in their eyes as his head and hips were tilted in laps. He hadn't cared if he'd pleased anyone, except in the sense that he wanted it to be over and done with and pleasure was thus a means to an end, a ticket home, but now he was anxious to fuck the right way, the best way.

He wanted Ed to want him, really want him. That was all it boiled down to.

And yet, he knew no way to achieve that, besides fucking him senseless. For the first time he could remember, Envy felt cripplingly, appallingly, embarrassingly insecure—about his sexual prowess, his physicalities, everything. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fucking fair that Edward made him feel this way, hurt him like this, caused him to feel inferior and unworthy and what-the-fuck-ever else. What an absolute little shit...

"N-no...can't yet...ohhhh...can't talk about that kinda thing yet..."

"You fucked yourself up."

"I know, fuckit! We uhh. We should talk."

Envy tensed. "About?"

Pause.

"You know."

Envy hissed. He probably did know, which was largely the problem. Fucker. Fucker! He deserved to have had his face smashed in a long time ago. "I have no idea what you're talking about, but I'm this close to—" To? What was an appropriate threat? Breaking out his teeth, maybe? Teeth... he didn't need those, and they always had been annoyingly white...

Ed took advantage of the momentary hesitation on Envy's part and sat up again, wobbling slightly in some theatrical satire of movement. The Sin's eyes followed the motion, the sway, while the muscles of his back pinched and hardened, banding together in uniform petrification, anticipating the worse.

He relented, wrapping his arms around himself and giving Ed space—but not a grotesque amount, just in case he needed to lunge forward and re-acquaint his knuckles with the side of the brat's head.

The porcupine feared the snout that had come to poke its underbelly and the vow of teeth to follow. Its quills were out in full force.

Silence, again, except for the rain.

Ed winced and wiped his face, clutching his head once more, hiding his eyes from Envy, though the homunculus had gotten a glimpse of the anguish he saw there. He wondered if it stemmed simply from the pounding in his skull, or from a less tangible source as well.

"Talking. Right."

Say whatever you want to say and leave me the fuck alone already!

"I..." Ed chewed his lips, gut apparently still spasming. Envy thought it'd probably be best if he took a piss, but he didn't voice that thought just now, mostly on account of the fact that he was getting curious as to where this conversation was going. "I...I sat with you. When you were sick. I stayed."

"And what? You expect me to say 'thank you'? Hah. Not gonna happen, especially not after...after you fucked me over the next day."

Oh, yes. He hadn't forgotten that. Envy never forgot any ill done to him. Never. Ever.

"No. That wasn't what I expected. I didn't even want it. I guess I'm just trying to say that..."

He uncovered his face.

They looked, one to the other, eyes level.

Envy hmphed. And shrugged. "Equivalent exchange is your philosophy. Not mine."

Edward, because of his colouring, had often been likened to the sunlight, but that metaphor failed at this instant, as the suns of his eyes had burnt out, eclipsed into the tone of honey by the heavy shadows of sorrow.

Envy knew those eyes.

Something in the back of his mind—a phantom muscle nestled behind his own eyes—stretched through the years, through the Gate, through to a place where memories and dreams danced together and Envy didn't have the tools to sort the Real from the Unreal.

He knew those eyes.

He knew that pain.

And for how long had he desired to see another pair of eyes wearing it?

Someone else with those eyes...

There were those who said the eyes were the windows to the soul. Envy thought that was bullshit. But right then, he could believe they might be mirrors to a lack of soul: his own. Yet perhaps equivalent exchange was having the last laugh at his expense, for he saw reflected in his reaction to Edward's grief a glimpse of a soul that had been before and was gone now, echoing only in the recognition of familiarity through suffering.

Human or homunculus, sentient beings tore one another apart, drew borders with hate. Everyone, everything, could give rise to hurt. Hate was divisive, to be sure. And that was how Envy liked it, because hate was so straightforward and made so much sense to him, nothing like those humans who were always vouching for love and putting it up on a pedestal in their culture, then tearing one another apart, bringing pain even to those they claimed they loved. Even, and especially. Dante had said she cared for him, hadn't she?

Unlike love, hate was simple and honest.

But what Envy hadn't expected, what he'd never counted on, was the unity that hurt could create. If hate burned bridges, then hurt laid the foundation for new ones to take their places. Human or homunculus, sentient beings hurt. So many lives Envy had destroyed, each blunting his own discomfort by another millimeter, but the math behind his agony was a simple calculation for infinity, and infinity minus one was still a hell of a lot.

Edward, however, was an Elric. The Elric. Envy's replacement.

For inhabiting that role, it was fitting that he should be the recipient of torture: slow, slow torture. Envy had wanted him to live long enough for that, but he hadn't expected to have to endure the boy's presence for so long. And he hadn't expected...he hadn't expected the feelings it would conjure, seeing a wide array of emotions on that face that was supposed to belong to him. He hadn't expected to be reminded of eras gone by.

He had underestimated the degree to which he could be affected by hurt calling to hurt. He had underestimated the degree to which his empty body would latch onto the soul of another—the soul of the image of himself—to fill its starving vacancy.

He was supposed to be stronger.

He was supposed to be so much stronger.

"I don't want you to die."

The darkened, broken eyes held level with Envy's, though they shook with promised tears.

One would have thought from looking at him that Ed was being kicked in the stomach, as opposed to making an attempt at initiating a conversation. And even though he was starting the discussion (if it could be called such), he seemed none too eager to spit the words out. Each was lingered over, squeezed from between those thick lips.

"You're just sappy 'cause you fucked me last night."

"Don't say that."

"What? That you fucked me?" Envy held the shivers in check. He didn't like where this was going and he felt as though he'd been forcefully shoved into a wall, pinned by Ed's sudden tone and attitude. He wasn't going to be the victim of any kind of post-coital affection, because that was very much unreal. It pissed him off that Ed would even say something nice to him, because it didn't mean anything. The stupid brat was surely waiting for the first opportunity to run off and leave him and Envy didn't like hearing otherwise. It wasn't true. It hurt. "Can't handle what you do, can you? You just hate to fucking look, to see how fucked up you are—"

"Stop."

"—and you can just fuck off with all the pretending—"

"Stop it. Stop it!"

"—because I just hate you, everything about you, and I hate that you're talking to me—"

"For fuck's sake, shut the fuck up!"

But Envy found he literally couldn't stop talking, as if his jaw had decided of its own volition to form an unholy alliance with his tongue, and the two of them worked together to see to it that every bitter thought process he could call to mind at random issued forth, even though he was not hearing what he was saying; it was simply an auto-pilot incident of pseudo-Tourette's, bouncing out as his nerves shook and begged Ed to go the fuck away with his needling...talk. What the hell was it with this talking business?

And then suddenly...

Suddenly Envy found himself pushed back.

And kissed with a suffocating, bruising amount of force.

Kissed so hard he thought his lips were going to tear and bleed.

Ed's eyes were wide, like he couldn't comprehend what he was doing (and he probably couldn't), and Envy felt something inside of himself sink and flutter—a butterfly-anchor chimera of emotion. Lips. Tongue. Shock. It felt good, tasted good, and it was numbing and it made Envy hurt in the wanting and expecting way, that all over hurt that bruised deep inside even as it massacred nerves and made him feel dead while coming to life. He didn't understand. He didn't know what it was, this Something that swelled in him and threatened to burst him apart.

No one had ever kissed him like that, not before Ed.

Envy had come to realize that he had a certain fondness for being kissed, though he had no goddamn the fuck idea why, and he wouldn't ever admit it, since it was so contradictory to what one expected of his nature that confessing it was just begging for mockery.

"I...hate you," he whispered when Ed pulled away.

There was nothing else he could say, for he was frozen, damn near catatonic.

Three little words held all the power in the cosmos and he had to keep them. He had to.

"Shit. I...I'm sorry, I—"

Ed looked as though he was dying or already dead, as though he'd just written a suicide note and signed his name, as though he'd just climbed onto an altar and sacrificed himself in a blaze. And he'd kissed him. And now he was apologizing or something.

That absolute dick.

"I hate you," Envy repeated more forcefully, because a whisper wasn't very good at conveying anything of import. You fucking scare me. You freak me out. Ed was so utterly...so utterly fucking human. Envy had hated him the moment he'd heard about him, had hated the very idea of the bastard, and now he felt like everything was spiraling out of control, because Envy was dizzy, overwhelmed, and he found himself hating in the most irritatingly passive way, in the way that was made of words and came agonizingly close to something that maybe wasn't hate. Except it had to be, because he didn't have other emotions. He'd weeded them out ages ago, assuming they'd ever existed in the first place.

"I uh. I didn't mean to do that. I was just... I didn't know what to do, and hitting you never works at keeping you quiet."

The fuck? Fuck you. What makes you think I want to be quiet? Envy inhaled and gripped his chest as though his heart had begun to pound, yet its rhythm remained even, steady. He could feel one of the objects of his torment lodged in there, probably working hard to create more of that bizarre, electric feeling.

The Stone, of course. Not his heart.

"I don't love you. I don't. Let's get that straight right now." Ed shook his head. "But I've seen you bitch, I've seen you bleed, I've seen you cry, I've seen you feel. I've seen you at your lowest. I've seen you at your most vulnerable. I've seen you at your most human."

Envy seethed.

"And I fuckinghatethatIamsayingthisrightnow," he stammered, wincing. "I hate it! It makes me want to cry and scream and punch you in the nose, but it's starting to get to be too much not to say it. You stuck in my head like a needy little disease and two weeks—two weeks, Envy, and I put you back out, and then you came to me with all your insanity and I..."

Edward gnawed his lip, eyes threatening to unleash tears. He was breaking. He was breaking, because it was human to break. And Envy loved it, adored it, but for the fact that every word was breaking him, too. They were breaking together, a little ball of aggressive anguish, and Envy felt something in him that wanted to drain out—like it wanted to drain right out of his eyes, and he tightened his muscles and clamped down, resisting.

"God. You make me so tense. You make me crazy, you psychotic bastard." Ed held up his hand, squeezing as though he were holding an invisible sponge. "And I want to hate you, I want to hate you so damned much for everything you've done to humanity, my friends and family and me..." Ed gulped a deep breath of air and the tears came. "...but you're Real now. You're Real. And maybe I hate you for that, most of all."

Envy touched his mouth, lowered his hand and saw stone fluid on his fingers. The little bastard had bitten him, and he hadn't even felt it because he was used to healing so quickly.

Any moment, he was certain he would come to his senses and smash Ed's skull, but for the time being, the ragged words wrapped around his mind and hypnotized him like a lullaby.

"And...and why the fuck can't I keep any goddamn clothes on you? And you took mine off too, didn't you? You stupid...you insufferable fucking asshole..."

Ed cried and looked at the ceiling.

"What THE FUCK do you WANT FROM ME?"

Envy broke.

"What? What? WHAT? You, you—" He flailed, searching for the right word. The alchemy was forgotten in light of this new twist of events, because Ed had really gone and done it. He'd talked to him, which was just ridiculous, and he'd worked him up beyond the point of no return. "—you tear me!"

Not exactly what he wanted to say, but more appropriate words and phrases were all abandoning him, and he hated it. Tore him. Edward tore him. Edward weighed on him. Like the sun caught planets in its gravitational pull, dragged them around—oh yes. That was truly how Edward was like the sun: not in colouring, but in his ability to catch on you and tug you into his will. Envy couldn't believe it, couldn't imagine how this could've happened. He'd generated so much hate for himself, such a barrier to all external forces, and nothing had ever chipped it before, but then he'd always been powerful and strong and capable of defending himself.

"You tear me." You hurt me. You scare me. "Always coming to me with your...ugh...your stupid fucking bullshit, like I give a fuck. Fucking..."

This was not an ideal time for vocabulary demise.

"...fucking...demanding of me. I don't care! I only give a shit about you in as much as you are useful to me and I hate you, don't you understand that? I fucking hate you and I fucking hate how you wear on me and I fucking hate that you're talking to me now and I fucking hate that you took everything from me and more than anything else, I fucking HATE THAT YOU TRY TO MAKE ME NOT HATE YOU!"

"No. That's not true. It's not true at all. You damned liar. The truth is—" Ed looked at him, and in spite of the tears and the obvious emotion he was displaying, the apparent pain (wasn't he still suffering from his abuse of alcohol the night before?), he looked assertive. Confident. Steady. "—we're not really all that different right now, Envy, except that I'm ready to be honest. I'm ready, even though it's making me want to curl up and die. But I figure there's no better time than when I already want to curl up and die, because my goddamned stomach is murdering me."

He cracked a smile, strangely.

"That, and because we have no more time. Before, we had the rest of our lives to die, and we were doing a pretty good job of it. We were really making a lifestyle out of dying, and trying not to die." Ed heaved a breathless laugh, sobbing even as he did so. "I think I lost hope, Envy. That's the funny thing. That's what I'm having to look back at now. Because I managed to overcome you, I managed to overcome being ill in the alley, I managed to overcome the language barrier and I managed to overcome my disability and my failure on the first day of work. I climbed every stair. I was right up there at the station, sleeping more comfortably. But I was miserable. I was depressed. I was hopeless."

"And you're going to sit here and tell me...and you're going to sit here and fucking lie to me and say being with me made you happy or some shit like that?" Envy heard something strange in his voice, something tight and odd that he didn't think he recognized and Edward had better not fucking lie to him and say that he cared about him, not even one iota, because that would be too much to take and Envy might just lose his composure and his mind completely and murder the bastard in spite of how terribly he needed him right then.

"Not as such, no. But I live for my brother, for Alphonse. That's not changed—"

Envy scoffed.

"—but while I live for the hope of my brother, taking care of you has been a...a shadow, you might say. A temporary balm. My wounds won't ever be healed until I'm reunited with my brother, but I guess helping you was kind of an ointment; it eased the pain some, even if the skin didn't come together again. Even while you hated me, even while you resented me, you stood to remind me that I can be mature in the face of adversity, that I can help someone, that I can be a good person when it's hard to be. And you aided me in the oddest ways, even if you probably did it for terrible reasons. We suffered together. I tried to understand you so we could have some camaraderie, but I still don't get you, and I don't think I ever will. But I see something else there. I understand hurting, and I understand hating, because I hate that I feel compassion for you now. But I do."

"I don't want it! You can take your compassion and fuck yourself with it!" Envy could feel his nails biting his skin, drawing blood. His voice was barely anything more than air and emotion, the breakdown products of the vocal chords when all sound had failed.

Why had Ed suddenly decided to do this to him, to attack him with painful lies? And after he had fucking helped him, after he had shown him alchemy; it figured that Edward would try to take his solace just as he had taken everything else from him, and all while he had this damned Stone inside of himself, while he was emotional and erratic—more so than before—and Ed was taking advantage of him and hurting him and it hurt and Envy didn't know why, not exactly, but it did. No one could care about him; Hohenheim and Dante certainly had not, and Dante had said she did, but Envy knew better, and had always known better in some part of himself.

And Ed trying to reach out to him? What the fuck? That was nothing short of insulting. The blond was everything Envy had ever wanted, everything Envy had ever wanted to be; he was perfect and he had it all and he would never have any nice feelings toward any being he saw as inferior and of course he saw Envy as inferior and so all this bullshit was just his way to disdain and condescend and it infuriated Envy so much he thought his undead body was going to have a heart attack.

"While you were gone, I think I realized what you're all about," Ed continued, undaunted. "I thought about how Dad left you, how that seems to have made an impression on you. I remembered how you threw all my niceness back in my face. And you know what the last thing I thought of was, Envy? Do you know what the very final thing was which made me think I actually understood you, just a little?"

Yes—no—

"I thought about what I would've done. It'll piss you off to hear that, I'm sure, and it pisses me off to say it, to realize it, but—" Ed laughed and pressed his fingertips to his eyes, removing stray wetness. "—if I'm right about you, and I think I am, then we're not entirely unlike one another. Yeah, that's right. I said it. I've never trusted people, not wholly. Only Al. Only and always Al. But Dad fucked me up, and I hated anyone who reminded me of Dad. I'm older now. I see that. And you?" He snorted his disdain—or whatever it was. "And you? You're the old me. The immature me. The stupid kid version of me. You're me to the hundredth degree, and that's why we hate each other, isn't it?"

Envy screamed.

He couldn't not scream.

"EXCEPT THAT'S NOT IT AT ALL—" Ed talked over him "—BECAUSE YOU DON'T HATE ME AS MUCH AS YOU THINK YOU DO! You don't hate me as much as you WANT TO. Maybe you don't even really HATE ME ANY MORE. You sure are affectionate, no denying that! Oh yeah, and I want to make you mad, I do! I want to drive you crazy. Go ahead, Envy! Go crazy! Let it go. Let it all go!"

Envy screamed, and screamed, and screamed—screamed and the world fell apart and blurred and he was dizzy and reaching forward; grabbing and flailing and scratching and hitting and connecting sometimes and shutupshutupshutup because he had to make them stop, had to make the words stop becase they hurt they hurt they hurt and he had to strangle the throat they were coming from and it didn't matter if Ed was dead because he was sticking him with pointy things like she always used to do when he misbehaved and they were pointy words and they stabbed and they hurt, hurt so much more than being hit or being stabbed or being killed because there were a thousand deaths in just the words.

The homunculus sobbed like an infant, tears he'd tried his damndest to hold in now streaming freely down his face, unleashed by his overexerted emotions.

He was twitching and trying to pulverize the little shit (the little bastard; I'LL SHOW HIM!), and his blows were landing sometimes, but he was too distraught to know precisely what was happening, and he couldn't see through his tears. It was true. It was all true. Edward had finally found his weakness, his vulnerability, and he'd exploited it, sinking his teeth and his claws into Envy, shredding him to bloody tatters.

He couldn't not hate Edward! He couldn't! Without his hatred, he was nothing. Nothing. Not a damned thing! He had other talents besides murder, certainly, but they were rusted over with age; hate was the source of his passion, infusing him with drive and a reason for every fucking thing he did. Whether Ed had been right or wrong, the fact remained that he had said those words. He had made that accusation. He had tapped into Envy's worst fears.

And Envy was now telling him, in his own way, just what he thought about that.

His breakdown ended not all at once, but in starts and stops.

Voice flowed into a stream of background noise, like distant waves crashing against the shore. And so like the waves, Envy crashed time and again, breaking against the rock that was his enemy and lover, the boy who had more strength than he even in defeat.

Envy heard himself grow hoarse.

His voice cracked and crumbled and fell away. He sagged, slumped, eyes half-closing against the tears that tumbled across his lids and down his cheeks, carrying with them years of pain and anger. How wretched he had become, pressing against the boy he hated, the boy he'd always sworn he would destroy, and weeping, though he knew not why he weeped, except because he couldn't do otherwise. The hurt in him finally, finally overflowed, spilled like a torrential rain shower, only much harder than the rain that currently dripped from the clouds.

But if hundreds of years of killing had done so little to ease him, then what could one cry accomplish?

Only—

Only it was a cry after weeks of getting beaten down, weeks of wandering, weeks of infestation by the darkness of his birthplace, the gold and the oily claws of the creatures who laughed with thousands of voices and derided him for once having been as they were, and he saw the primordial mulch, the other homunculi, and he imagined he heard them speaking. Lastly, lastly, it was a cry into Edward, Envy's everything that he hated because he wanted it, because it was his idea of perfection, his father's idea of perfection, and he hated that which the old man had loved.

It was all Ed's fault...Ed's...Ed's...

It was...it was...

"Look at that. You're still alive. You fucking bastard. You lousy piece of shit excuse for a monster. You're still alive..."

Envy looked up.

Edward's eyes did not make contact with his. The blond stared beyond him and downwards slightly, at the array his companion had carved. Envy turned and glanced over the design, over the wings like doves and butterflies and the lines and angles, the triangles and the little symbols that passed for words in languages ancient and magnificent. It still felt strange to him to think that he had drawn it, to think that he had actually created that design. How could it be possible? Where had the memory and the knowledge of that art and science come from? Had the Gate moved his hands, or did he simply know more about alchemy than he cared to acknowledge?

Golden eyes were glazed, ghostly as if the boy's spirit had been extracted from his body, yet he had just spoken so calmly and confidently.

Blood ran down Ed's chest, as well as down Envy's own, and as his eyes lowered, he realized that he had done the most brutal damage to himself, as nail marks stretched the length of his chest and abdomen; he'd poked holes in his skin and they were gushing freely, and beneath everything, the Stone throbbed dully and Envy felt his body seize up and he thought well, that was a stupid bout of rage that accomplished nothing and he hurt and he was winded and panting and Ed was bleeding too, oh yes, but not enough.

"I did this for a reason, Envy."

Reason...for...?

Suddenly, Envy felt a hand on his jaw.

"Look at me. Look at me. You've had your tantrum. You came to me for help, didn't you? You're going to get it, but not in the way that you think."

Fingers clamped down, pressed in, tilting Envy's chin upwards.

The fire had returned to Edward's eyes, and Envy knew it had fled from his own. Perhaps equivalent exchange did have some grain of legitimacy.

"The array you drew will summon the Gate. I can't go through the Gate without the power of the Stone inside of you, and you can't go through the Gate without the alchemy inside of me. Before we enter the Gate, before we go home once and for all, I wanted you to..."

A look of uncertainty came, then went. Edward shook his head.

"...I wanted you to let go of your anger for a moment, just a moment, so that you have to look. Really look. Are you seeing? Are you see seeing that you're alive? Are you seeing that the worst has passed, and we're still alive? Are you seeing that you hurt yourself more than you hurt me?" There was a note, deeper and odd, and then his voice was level again, and hushed. "Are you seeing that a moment passed, and the world didn't end?"

Envy said nothing.

"I may not like you, but circumstances have forced a kind of..." His cheeks adopted a pair of newborn pink spots. "...a kind of, um...intimacy...I mean not like that...well, yeah, like that, but you know. Anyway, the thing is, I felt...I dunno, I guess I felt I should make one last appeal to your sense of reason. Because after being around you all this time, it's fucking pissing me off that you're so off in your own crazy little world that I can't even talk to you when we both need each other's help...and...ah..."

"Fuck you," Envy murmured, "fuck you and your self-righteous attitude."

He jerked away, shoved Ed back, then felt a wave of dizziness—

—grabbed him, arms around the trunk of his body (broken but still strong body), hands on his shoulder blades, and he clung, pressed his face into Ed's chest and smelled and tasted his blood and breathed, and breathed, and inhaled until his chest was raw and hurt. There was something tiny and tight and pulsing in his stomach, something that burned and froze and fluttered, something that was alien and that his reality wanted to deny because it didn't fit the world he had made for himself. It was not Like, but it might not have been Hate, and that was all Envy needed to know for him to fear it.

The nature of envy lent itself towards hatred, but envy was hatred sprung from not having desired qualities or items.

And Envy knew that, now.

To hate Edward to the extent that he did, he must first have loved every part of him.

The contrast—logical and illogical—was enough to kill Envy and drive him mad. In a healthier condition, he might have been able to fight many kinds of opposition, but how could he win against himself?

"We're going home," Ed said.

The sentence almost sounded like it should own a question mark, but Envy knew it was a statement.

He hadn't expected it, but in hindsight, what the hell else would Ed have wanted them to do? They had alchemy now, and a Stone, and Envy couldn't protest returning to Amestris, not when his dwindling food supply lurked there, although this did mean evaluating his future and his motives. Hohenheim wasn't within the borders of Amestris, although the thought of his bastard father didn't have the same fit that it used to for Envy. Once, the idea of murdering Hohenheim was a soft, worn coat that Envy could secure himself into comfortably, and it kept him placated and warm; goals were meant to seem at once attainable and forever out of reach and Hohenheim had been there, but distant. He had always been a distant fucking bastard. Envy's spirit truly was that of a dragon, and like the serpent he admired, he needed something to chew on lest his incisors grow too long and cut into his skin.

"I'll kill you, you know. Once we get home, once I get the stones, once I get my fucking powers back. This...everything that's happened here—"

"—means nothing?"

"Heh. Right. You get it, Edward."

"Then why did you call me that?"

Envy blinked. His lashes were still wet and his eyes had become sore. "What?"

Ed worked his jaw, but did not look at the other. "My name. Why did you use my name? Mostly, before, you didn't. I'm not stupid, asshole. I've noticed."

Dangerous, Edward was asking dangerous questions again, picking at scabs.

"I never claimed nothing's changed, fuckwit. I just meant it'll be undone. You'll be amazed at how quickly I slit your throat as soon as I can."

The sentiment had to be true, of course, because any alternative would simply be impossible. Maybe Hohenheim was on the backburner for the time being, but there was still Edward, and the son was worth almost as much as the father. Hohenheim could forever remain a goal, a dream; Envy refused to dispense with what few dreams he had, because they were precious to him for what they were. But Edward was different. Edward was here and real. Envy could touch him. Envy was touching him, and the kid seemed too frozen or oblivious to care.

Still, the words tasted overly salty.

Something in Envy twisted around itself, caught on the edge of his heart like a gnarled nail jutting from a wall.

"Maybe," Ed agreed with a shrug. "If I don't kill you, first. At least we'll die at home."

"You're accepting death? Just like that?"

"I've died...once...no, twice. Twice, counting the other me. I've almost died more times than I can count or remember. Opening the Gate is a risk. It could swallow us both. But I've never been afraid of risks. You should know that by now. And if it means seeing my brother again, it's a risk well worth taking."

His brother. His perfect brother, whom he loved, and as soon as they were back, Ed was going to abandon Envy, wasn't he? The other was sure of it. Good intentions were easy to uphold when someone was your only companion and when you were under duress and not thinking straight most of the time, but that didn't make them genuine against the light of day, against real emotions and real people. Edward was going to abandon him. His Edward was going to abandon him. His Edward was going to abandon him to live a perfect life with his perfect brother, and even if Envy killed them both—which he would do, without hesitation—he was still going to be alone, and now it would hurt a thousand times more than it would've before, because he'd tasted Edward, and he'd had Edward, and he'd enjoyed having him, and he needed him in a way that rubbed raw and burnt.

"I could kill you now," Envy whispered into Ed's shoulder, running his tongue along the slick skin, tasting sweat and hair and Edward, salt and dirt and the chemical components of the body. "I could sabotage everything...make sure you never get home, never get to your brother, never leave me."

He held on to Ed, pressing his chin to the crook of his neck.

The jugular vein was nearby. He could bite into it, or rip it out with his nails, or maybe push a pressure point in if he wanted to murder the blond a little more cleanly.

"Kill me? And kill yourself in the process?"

Envy considered that.

For better or worse, his life was tied to Edward's. If Ed died, then Envy would either follow shortly thereafter from lack of stones, or else he'd wander forever, alone, with the Philosopher's Stone buried inside of him—powerful to an alchemist but altogether useless without one. What if he didn't die, but lived on? What if he had to live alone, completely alone for the first time in his entire existence?

If he were sure he too would perish, Envy might have killed Edward and died—died comfortably, with the knowledge that he would not be dying alone, at least—but how could he risk surviving?

"I don't want to die," Envy admitted, "but I'd rather die than..."

The daylight was brighter now, and Envy squinted a little.

"Than—?"

Ed nudged him, pushed him slightly by shrugging his shoulder.

"Fuck off, asshole," the Sin said without even thinking. "I'd rather die than let you live, shrimp."

"That isn't what you were going to say, you bastard, so don't pretend otherwise!"

Envy growled. "Fuck you. Who the fuck are you to TELL ME what the fuck I was going to say?"

He was trying. He was trying to do the goddamned talking thing, but Ed wasn't letting him. That stupid bastard was getting in the way, needling him when he paused, interrupting his thoughts, trying to tell him what the fuck he thought, as if he knew shit. As if he knew any fucking thing.

Ed made some noise that sounded like the hybrid of a groan and a sigh and snapped off a "FINE!"—leaving Envy to conclude that talking had been a failure of the greatest magnitude. "FINE. Fuck it. Fuck you! But I—"

Somewhere, perhaps nearby, Envy heard the ringing of bells.

One after the next.

Ed sighed again, but quietly this time.

"I'm done. This is it. This was it. My last effort at trying to talk to you, talk with you, whatever. I'm through. In return for what little good you've done me, I've given you as much as any reasonable person could possibly have expected, and some reasonable people would've said it was stupid to even give that. They'd probably be right, too. We're going home now. I'll worry about the rest when we get there."

Envy wanted to ask if that was what this was all about, trying to pay off some perceived debt; if that was the case, then the brat owed a hell of a lot more than he could ever repay in several lifetimes of death and suffering, and certainly more than some feigned attempt at conversation which was really nothing more than a ruse for a plot to undermine his enemy's defenses and find his weak, vulnerable places so as to inflict more harm upon him before abandoning him. That was what this was all about, wasn't it? Oh, yes. Envy saw. Ed had meant to leave him all along, as soon as they got back to Amestris, but before they left, the bastard had hoped to pry his secrets and his defenses away so he would know how best to destroy and torment him when the necessary time came, because Edward was so fucking vindictive and he wouldn't let Envy keep anything or have anything to himself, not even his own heart, his own personality, because he was trying to take what no one had a right to take, and no one—no one—had ever really had Envy before, but—

Ed shifted, as if attempting to shake Envy to the ground.

"Let me up," he said in a tone that left no room for argument. "Get off me."

Envy looked up, noting that Ed's expression had gone from serene and gently miserable to an almost pained looking grimace.

"Let go of me, Envy. I'm not fucking around."

When Envy did not move, Ed tensed.

Then, quick as that, the homunculus cried out in sudden pain as Ed's fingers—two at least, maybe three—drove into one of the nodes on his back.

"FUCK YOU, I TRIED!" the Sin wailed. "I TRIED I TRIED I TRIED. BUT YOU HURT YOU ALWAYS. YOU DON'T. YOU NEVER—"

The boy's nails filled Envy with hurt; he spasmed, convulsed, panted, whined and thrashed as his body froze on itself and his thighs squeezed Ed's, holding on for dear life. It wasn't fair; it wasn't fair! He couldn't get rejected again. Not when he'd never been listened to in the first place.

"—You never hear!" he finished, feverishly desperate and not knowing what the fuck else he could say.

Ed never heard.

Envy hated him. He heard that. He heard it because the homunculus said it often, to himself and to Edward and to the world, but there was so much everything else which was building up inside of him, and which he wanted to say, but he couldn't find the words and Ed couldn't hear it, and the so much everything got lost somewhere in all of the noise. Ed would only hear what Ed wanted to hear, what he thought he heard, and what the fuck did it matter what Envy said, anyway? The brat had flooded himself with pre-formed notions about him; he would never hear what Envy was saying, what he was attempting to say. He would never hear how Envy was laughing bitterly at the nature of his name, the damning nature of the Sin which condemned him to hating and desiring simultaneously. He would never hear how much self-restraint Envy had exercised in not killing him, not fleeing to grab the blade (of course he had not forgotten that) and impale him again and watch and feel as the blood gushed hotly down his arm as it had so long ago.

"You never look. You never see. You never looked at me, you fucking brat. You never looked at me. I wanted you to LOOK at ME. You're supposed to be a genius? Hah. HAH! You can't see anything. You can't fucking see what's right in front of you."

"Maybe that's so."

The fingers moved, lifted away from their target.

Envy allowed his body to release a tearless sob and pounded his teeth together, sucking in another breath like he'd surely die without air (and he felt like he would, in spite of the homunculi's general tendency not to rely upon the invisible compound that the humans circulated around their lungs on a second by second basis) and holding onto Edward harder than he had before, holding on with those hands which had slain so many—the long, bony white fingers which twitched with the urge to animate themselves, to let life and will thread through them and succumb to the desire to add one more scratch to their ancient tally of demise.

Within Edward resided strength of character, intelligence, endurance, beauty: all of the lights of the old man's wretched existence, all in quantities higher than Envy's predecessor could've ever hoped for. So what if he'd had the ability to shapeshift, to imitate? He could've never been; he had never been good enough. No one had cared about him. Not once had anyone told him they loved him and meant it—not that he would accept it if someone did, but he wanted the damned kid's approval. A death and four centuries of misery and servitude later and he should've had something to show for it; he shouldn't have still felt so inferior. He'd gone through more years than Ed, more hardships, more suffering; he had seen more, done more. He had been stronger, physically—he'd thought (oh how mistaken he was) that he was stronger emotionally, that nothing could touch him after Dante's treatment had taught him to hold his breath and close his ears against any kindness.

But then the dream had died. Hundreds of years blew away, and before his eyes he was seeing himself again—old in the Dream but an infant in the world of Real.

"Maybe that's so. Maybe I can't see what's in front of me. But Envy?" The fingers which had tormented Envy now edged up his shoulders and neck, skipping across the skin, scratching it just a tiny amount; the touch was penitence, and Envy sorely needed it, although he felt like he needed to swear at the blond in order to keep up appearances, but he was somehow too worn out for that, so he simply sagged and hissed between his teeth and prayed to the nothings—the voids of the universe—that Ed might keep touching him, please. "Neither can you."

Penitence and parting. Maybe Envy couldn't see what was before him, but he knew a goodbye when he felt one, and there was no other reason Edward would have sat with him during that tenuous sometime that lay between morning and afternoon, between noon and forever: those seconds and minutes and perhaps an hour in which nothing was said and nothing was heard but the singing of the bells—in which the sun bore witness to their "relationship" (whatever it was) for the first time.

Before, this level of touching had only ever existed in the darkness.

They were going home. It was over.

It was over, and they were going home.

It was over, and they were going home, and Envy knew he would be abandoned, and he would murder Edward, or else Edward might manage to destroy him.

Envy thought he knew every kind of pain, both as a giver and as a recipient, but in this moment he found himself discovering an entirely disparate variety.

Feather light, with a quill that drove its point into the cavity where his missing soul might have desired to reside.

It began with a bang. It should end with a whisper.

"Again," Envy breathed.