Crossing the Lethe

She did have memories of the Time Before.

They were there, lying flat and unreal always in the back of her mind. Memories of a past that she didn't have, a child she'd never been. Vague flashes of a swing and a silver brooch and a tree in summer, of a man with glasses and a kind smile. Dim visions of children, two of them, hair and eyes and smiles flashing bright and eagerly up at her as they cycled in her head from infants to toddlers to children and back to infants again. All distant, all untouchable as though trapped behind a sheet of glass.

There were more of those memories than any of the others, and she wondered sometimes why that was. They all seemed to come with a strange aura around them; almost like a color tinting the edges, or a flavor that lingered on the tongue. Thinking of that stirred the vague term feelings for her; happiness for the gold-tinted visions of the children laughing and tumbling like puppies over the grass, and sadness for the gray-edged memories of tears pouring down their faces because something... she herself...? had made them grieve.

She told her that these were emotions that came with the memories; emotions were a human thing, and that was why she could no longer feel them. She promised her that when she was human again, she would feel them once more and understand.

She accepted this, and did as she was told, for she had helped her in all ways. She had come to rescue her when she was tortured and dumb and abandoned by the one who had made her. She had known what she needed even when she herself did not know, told her what she was thinking and feeling even when she herself did not understand. She promised her a future and a hope of things which even now she could only barely comprehend, and all she had to do was what she said.

But she still thought, privately, that there were some things that person, Dante, didn't quite understand. Because she had memories of the Time After, too, of an awakening to chaos and blood and reeking smoke in the blackness. Memories of a flash of gold in the dark, a child with filthy hair and face twisted with pain. Memories of trying to move, and not. Trying to speak, and not. Trying to reach out to the child, and not, and the child – this child who had summoned her, formed her, birthed into this world – rejecting her. Screams, not her own, and more pain, that was her own. Knowing nothing more than dim shades of agony until Dante came to her and saved her.

Memories of that night carried the same aura, the same flavors, as memories of the Time Before. Not quite the same; they were bitter with metal and stained with black and red, but the way she felt and remembered them was the same. And if Dante was right and that was emotions, then it meant she had them now too, even though she was no longer human.

She thought about that whenever she had time, between her official duties as the Fuhrer's secretary and her unofficial ones as the executor of most of her commands in the military. It kept her busy, usually, enough that she didn't have time to think about things like memories, or emotions, or him.

But she'd been thinking a lot about him lately.

It couldn't be helped. He was all they talked about these days, one way or the other, Dante and the others. They talked about how best to control him, how he would serve their purposes and how best to use him up afterwards. They talked about whether he was capable of making the Stone, and if he did, whether he would know how to use it afterwards. They talked about how much he knew, and how much more he would have to find out before he would become too dangerous to be left free.

She could have understood, if they had left it only at that. But when they tired of talking of practical considerations, the conversation would turn to more trivial things; idle things. They had been watching him for so long that there was very little about him they didn't know. They knew that the easiest way to rouse his temper was to call him short; he was afraid of needles; he could sleep fully dressed and on a moving train; his automail was waterproof unless the casing was cracked first. The date carved on the inside of his clock, too, was a topic of much amusement among them.

She found it strange that they never bothered to include her in these conversations, even though she knew, dimly, more about him than any of the others did. If they had asked her, for example, she could have told him that he hated milk but his favorite food was milk stew, that he loved cats but was allergic to them, that he always went to sleep on his right side first before turning over onto his back. They never did ask.

And then there were the conversations she didn't understand at all, where they speculated idly on the subject of what lay under his clothes, and laughed over the fact that he had yet to kiss a woman, and wondered what he would sound like if he did.

Dante in particular seemed fascinated by the subject, and would sketch out half-murmured fantasies of what it would be like to seduce him, to get him out of his clothes and into bed. Envy was much more direct, boasting of plans to defeat him and beat him into submission and take what he wanted by force. He gloated over visions of the boy's imagined fear and pain, the shame and helpless fury that Envy would inflict in him. Wrath didn't quite understand what Envy was talking about, but he voiced enthusiastic approval of any plan that would make his hated counterpart suffer. Lust listened, but mostly didn't comment, only giving a bored answer or suggestion if they happened to ask her.

They never asked her what she thought, or what she wanted. They talked over and around her, as though she were as oblivious as poor stupid Gluttony. She sometimes caught Lust watching her, as the others carried on, and wondered if maybe the other knew what she was thinking. But she never asked.

She didn't understand. She knew Dante was obsessed with the boy, and suspected it had something to do with his father. The same with Envy, and his smoldering, seething resentment that sought any excuse to turn into abuse and violence. And Wrath – poor, dear to her Wrath – she knew his feelings the best. How smugly superior he felt towards the boy and yet how jealous, how contemptuous he felt towards him, and yet how possessive. And though Wrath clung to her at every turn, seeking an outlet for his tempestuous urges, he had still a child's selfishness, and even he never bothered to ask her what she thought.

She thought... it wasn't fair.

She thought; what right had Envy to seek vengeance on the boy, for crimes he never committed? The crime he had done against her was much more the real. What bond did Wrath think he had with the boy, a mere bystander in his birth and resurrection? It was she who he had created; she who had created him. What claim did Dante have on the boy, for no reason other than his resemblance to a dead man? She was tied to him, flesh and blood, birth and death.

If anyone had a claim on Edward Elric, it was her. If anyone had a right to his body, it was her. If anyone had wrongs to be righted, grudges to be avenged, debts to be repaid with Edward Elric, it was her. Her, and her alone.

She thought about that, and tasted hot metal and red and black. And she told no-one on the day she decided to go and see him.

It wasn't hard to arrange the meeting, not at all. After all, it was through her that Dante received most of her information. All she had to do was call off the military dogs who kept watch over him, never knowing why they did so – for one night, send them elsewhere. It took only a few orders to make sure that any of the boy's friends or protectors would be occupied for the night, and that he would be alone when she came to him. Dante need never know. The Fuhrer need never know. And the boy himself would not know until it was too late.

She came to his room late that night. It was a Friday, and most of the rooms in the military dormitory were empty still, the young men that normally filled them out playing on the town. There would be no witnesses to see her go in; however, she would have to be careful on her way out.

She stood in front of the door and put her hand to the knob. It was easy to concentrate for a moment and let her hand flow into the keyhole, almost a relief to be free of the restraint of human form. Her hand and then her wrist relaxed into the lock, and she considered simply easing through to the other side of the door. But no, no need to be so conspicuous yet. She could feel every centimeter of the metal lock around her hand, every nook and cranny of the mechanism and it was such a small effort to move that hand and the lock to her liking. It clicked, and she pulled her hand out again, and opened the door.

Edward was asleep when she came in; he had already rolled over onto his back, and the blanket was tangled around his legs. His mouth was slightly open, and a faint snore escaped. He didn't so much as twitch when she walked into the room and shut the door softly behind her, and she wondered about that.

She came to the side of the bed and looked down at him, in the dim yellow light that came in through the window. His hair was mussed, coming partly out of its braid; his eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks, eyes moving and darting about in the throes of some dream. She could see the pulse beating in his neck, the way the tendons and flesh moved as he breathed, and the steady rise and fall of his chest.

She stood there, watching him sleep, and she felt the aura overtake her again. gold, blue, a taste like cherries and a sensation of warmth. What it meant, she didn't know, and she puzzled over it as she watched him sleep. A dim image appeared, to accompany the aura; a much smaller boy, sprawled out on the bed, mouth open in a snore and dirt still smudging his cheek despite a recent bath. The image-her leaned over the bed and pulled the blanket up, tucking it under the boy's chin; curious, she copied the action, taking the edge of the blanket out from under Edward's clutching fingers, and smoothing it across his stomach.

What was this feeling, she wondered, standing poised over his bedside, and tried to sort out memory from truth. It was nothing she understood, nothing she was even equipped to understand, and yet it came anyway. If she were really human, she thought, would she still experience this sensation? Would she understand it then? The gold feeling came again, and she leaned down, copying the picture in her head, and brushed her lips over Edward's forehead, pushing aside a few strands of gold hair to do so.

"Sweet dreams, Edward?" she whispered.

At the touch, Edward stirred and mumbled, and slowly his eyes blinked open. Blanketed by her shadow, they were wide and dark, pupils dilated to catch what little light there was. He focused on her only with difficulty, and when he did his face went blank with shock, and suddenly opened up with an expression that confused her entirely. It was as far away as could be from the twisting pain of thatnight, and something about it seemed to go with the gold feelings in her head. His mouth opened and he took a breath, lips moving on a word he didn't quite say aloud. She found herself leaning in, studying his face carefully, not wanting to move and break this moment – this moment that felt like one step closer to understanding.

She was so close that she could see herself reflected in his eyes; she could see when his eyes shifted, traveling downwards from her own, until they focused on her chest. She could see when they narrowed, sharpened, the dreamy open look fleeing his face to be replaced by something – much harder. And the moment was broken; the almost-understanding had fled, and with it everything warm.

He started to act, to move, and she moved first, snapping out an arm to cover his, pin him to the bed. He struggled, pushing against her with both flesh arm and automail, but hers was an unnatural strength that could break through walls, and against the yielding softness of the blankets he could find no leverage. He twisted, trying to torque away on the bed and kick at her; she simply rose up onto the bed, not so much climbing as flowing up above him and pinning him with her weight.

Edward opened his mouth to yell, either to curse at her call or for help she didn't know, but she responded with a speed born of too much practice. Her hand shot across his mouth, and lost its human form as it did so, filling his mouth with water. He choked, and gagged, and it was a familiar feeling to her; how many humans had she killed this way? It was the easiest and quietest way to do away with them, and she'd yet to find one who could defend against it. Even an automail hand, wresting free of her clinging grasp and flying up to claw at his mouth, his throat, could find no purchase; how could you grab hold of a handful of water?

"Shh, Edward," she whispered, as his struggles weakened. "Don't make such a fuss. Do you remember when you were little, and I would tuck you in at night? I would tell you stories, or sing a lullabye."

She shut her eyes, and hummed a few bars; a simple, haunting tune that sometimes trickled through her consciousness at work. There were words that went with the tune, but either they were in some language she didn't know or her memory simply refused things like langauges, because they were lost to her now. She opened her eyes, and smiled down at Edwards "Do you remember?"

His eyes were wide, and wild, and filled with pain. She liked that; it made her feel like they had something in common. She pulled her hand back, reforming it into a human limb as she did, and stroked Ed's hair out of his eyes. He gasped as his air returned, spine arching as his lungs heaved for breath. He gulped. "You are not my mother," he whispered harshly. "You're just a monster with her face."

Her smile drained away, and she stared down into his eyes. "No, I am not your mother," she said. "Your mother could not hold you like this; your mother would not touch you like this. Your mother died and you tried to bring her back and I am the result. This much I know. And yet somehow I see the things she saw, I feel the things she felt, I remember the things she remembered. I have a body that looks like hers, a body that you gave me."

She arched back from the bed, abandoning all pretense of the human structure, into the much easier, more natural motions of the liquid wave. Her clothes, manifestations of will only, shimmered and vanished. His expression reflected shock, and horror, and looked so much again like the twisting face from that night that she felt the same feeling of metal and blackness flare up in her. "What's the matter, Edward?" she murmured, tilting her head down to regard him, and letting her hair fall over her face. Her hands and arms hung easily and loosely to the side, undulating with the motions of liquid. "Does my body not please you? This body that you made?"

A hoarse cry escaped Edward's throat, and he redoubled his frenzied struggles. The illusion of flesh went the way of the illusion of clothes, and she collapsed back on top of Edward, pinning him down once more, covering all of his body with hers. She could feel him; she could feel everything she touched, she didn't have to pretend to be flesh for that. She could feel the strength of his blows enter into her body and ripple into nothing, giving way and closing in behind instead of trying to resist. In that way she bled away his strength, his resistance until he could do little more than twitch under her, eyes squeezed tightly closed and teeth clenched.

She saw his throat work, felt his chest heave as he opened his mouth for breath, and knew that having failed to free himself on his own, he was about to scream. She put a stop to that, easily, by placing her head next to his and sealing his mouth with a kiss. Water flowed from her mouth and filled his again, and he gagged, and tried to bite down. She let him, not offering the least resistance, not feeling the slightest bit moved by his teeth. She merely reformed her lips again when he opened his mouth again on a helpless gasp that brought him no air at all.

She could have killed him then. It would be easy, and she knew it, and he was beginning to realize it, she could tell by the hopeless terror flickering to life in his eyes. She was not sure why she did not, except that then he would go from a warm, moving body under hers to a thing of cold clay, and that would be it. That would be all.

She wanted... something; exactly what, she was not certain, but she groped towards it with slow uncertainty. She wanted this confusion, this dichotomy in her head to settle itself. There were two forces, two overwhelming emotions filling her head, and though she couldn't understand either of them, she would be happy with either if only it was clear and decisive. Underneath her, Edward hitched and choked; she wanted to kill him, but she did not want him dead. His gold eyes flickered up to meet hers, filled with mixed fury and pleading; she wanted to see him suffer, at the same time she wanted to comfort him again.

She wanted to touch him more, and she did, and this without hesitation. The blankets were in the way, as were the light blue shorts he'd worn to bed. She manifested hands, long enough to sink her fingers into the fabric and tear it aside, and slid in a wave back over him. Yes. That was preferable. The heat of his body was stronger, more intense between his legs, and the way he cringed and tried to pull away when she touched him there pleased her. His automail was cooler, and she took a moment to consider it, flowing in under his arm and tracing along each wire, the joints. She lifted her head up, leaving a part of herself in his mouth to keep him silent, and regarded the twitch and play of the steel joints and muscles, pushing fruitlessly against her.

"You lost these on that night, did you not?" she said softly. "This was the price you paid for creating me, and your brother. This is the proof of your selfishness; the brand of your sin."

She focused a little more on the wires, the part of her that was around them becoming a little more solid, tugging on them. Edward jerked, shaking his head in a spastic, unconscious denial. She turned back to face him with a dreamy smile. "It's true, isn't it?" she asked him. "You didn't ask either of us, whether we wanted you to transmute us and put us into these forms. You just went ahead and did whatever you wanted, and we – we suffered for your arrogance."

A flash of black and red – the sharp tang of metal seared across her senses, and she would be hard put to say whether it was memory or the steel she was touching now. A sharp yank, and a few of the wires yanked out of their sockets, ripping loose, leaving the arm-half-paralyzed. She swallowed his scream, drinking in his pained noises and thrashings, the way his throat corded and his chest and shoulder locked. His eyes had squeezed shut again, and she noted with curiosity that there was water running down his face and caressing his hair that was not her. She brushed down the side of his face in imitation, fascinated by the play of the dim light in the gold strands. The tears tasted like metal, hot and salty, but at the same time sweet (like cherries) and warm.

He seemed to be trying to speak; he made odd choked sounds around her, and his throat worked as though trying to free itself of the obstruction. She had no interest in what he was trying to say, but she liked that feeling. She bent close to kiss him again, pushing more of herself into him, slowly pulling out and in again. She loved the heat, the tightness of his mouth, and his throat, and she felt ripples and shivers travelling down through her body where it covered his, at the jerks and spasms he made when she filled his throat and began to swell past its capacity. She knew when she closed off his windpipe, suffocating him, but it didn't seem to be in her to pull back this time.

He was making noises now, despite the gag; muffled, pitiful sounds of pain and desperation and she revelled in that too. She could feel every bit of herself inside him, and every bit of his flesh that surrounded her, and she liked it; this closeness, this power, his heat and life and humanity. She wanted to know him, inside and out, down to the last bone in his body and scrap of skin. Perhaps then, she thought, she could understand him; this human boy who until recently had not even known that he lay at the center of her universe. In this place, Dante and the other Sins were barely a passing thought, because everything came back to him. Her maker (her child) – her father (her son) – the one person she hated (loved) and wanted above all other things in this world.

He was starting to weaken, now; his golden eyes glazing over, his struggles growing feeble. Truly, it was amazing that he had remained conscious this long, she thought, and smiled at him in a kind of abstracted pride. "Sweet dreams, Edward," she said softly, and shifted and flowed around until she could kiss his forehead, lightly, never ceasing for a moment that she was choking him to death.

She hadn't heard the footsteps outside the door, and that could only be attributed to carelessness and abstraction on her part, because the hollow, echoing clank of the metal footsteps could not have been easily missed. Only when the door opened, flooding the small room with light, did she react, arching up in startlement. She shifted back into human form with a start that was almost painful, as much from the loss of contact with Edward's skin as from the sudden restraint into flesh. Edward reacted, eyes flickering open; his human hand, freed of restraint, rose shaking to clamp on her arm that was still buried inside him, pulling with ineffective but desperate strength.

"What are you doing to him?" That high, familiar voice, laced with disbelief and awakening anger, hit her with a snap almost as painful as the abrupt return to human form had been. She turned to see Alphonse stalk into the room, his huge metal body nearly blocking out the light he had introduced, that haloed him from behind and set his edges aflame. "Get away from him!"

She crouched, feeling an oddly possessive pull, but then a leather and metal fist shot out towards her with furious speed, and she had to dodge away, bringing the rest of herself together and abandoning Edward's body with a third almost painful shock. As soon as his mouth and nose were free Ed took a huge, shuddering gasp of air, and then he rolled over on his side, coughing and clutching his paralyzed metal shoulder.

"Brother?" Alphonse said, moving to place himself between his brother and the attacker. "Are you okay? What did you do to him?" This last directed at her, anger filling the voice once again as he swung into an attack position.

She didn't answer, only slowly straightened herself up, and called back the appearance of clothes that she'd almost forgotten. She heard the armored brother gasp as her face hit the light, refracting weirdly off her edges and curves until her flesh became entirely solid again.

"You monster," Alphonse whispered, and behind him, Edward moaned, curling in on himself as he struggled to recover. "What have you done?"

All at once she decided, she didn't want to talk with the younger brother. She didn't remember this creature; not from the Time Before and not from that night, either. Only his voice sent cold ripples through her and threatened to overwhelm her thoughts with colors and memories again, but his hollow, empty metal body was a stranger to her. He stood between her and the door, but that was fine; she heard voices in the distance, and feet in the hallway, that Alphonse's shouts had stirred up. Instead, she turned and flowed quickly to the window; it was open a crack, which was plenty.

She poured herself through the window, down the side of the building to the ground floor, and collected herself standing on the glass. It was darker out here than in the room, in this courtyard between the barracks. She glanced up once, at the light and commotion in the window above her head, before turning to make her way out of the building.

She wasn't worried that they might follow her; Edward was too weak to exact any retribution right away, and Alphonse would not leave his brother alone to pursue her. She had nothing to fear from the military, of course; even if either of the brothers would dare to explain what had attacked them and why, she could see that they were not believed.

No; the only retribution she needed to fear was that of Dante and the other Sins, for going against them in this manner, for attacking and damaging their precious alchemist without orders. They would surely be angry, and she didn't know how she could explain herself in some fashion that would satisfy them, when she could not even satisfy herself.

She let herself back into the Home base quietly. So preoccupied was she with her thoughts, that she didn't even realize she was being watched until she lifted her head, and her gaze unexpectedly crossed with Lust's.

The elder Sin sat crosslegged, casually on a musty chair that had been seated across from the door. She looked as though she had been waiting. "Oh, where have you come from?" Lust purred, hands clasped comfortably around her knee.

She turned her head to look at the other woman – if one could call them that – and said nothing. Lust smiled. "You went to see the Fullmetal boy, didn't you?" she said.

She didn't see the need to confirm the obvious, so she just shrugged one shoulder. After a moment of looking at her, slitted violet eyes unfathomable – and why should she hope to understand Lust, if she could not even understand erself? – Lust blinked, slowly, and chuckled. "I see," she said. "Well?"

"Well what?"

Lust leaned forward, placing her chin on her hand; she could see the palms of those hands, which pretended to be gloves over human skin, and in truth were neither. It was truly amazing, she thought, how well they could pretend. "Did you learn anything?"

Somehow – and she couldn't have said how she knew – Lust seemed to be sincere, her eyes flickering with a hungry interest even as her expression stayed distant and mocking. She considered the question, for a long time, but Lust seemed as patient as she was relentless.

"I did," she said at last. Lust just looked at her, questioning, so she said the only thought in her head that she could understand. "I learned what the Fullmetal boy looks like when he is staring into the face of death, and I learned how it feels to hold his life in my hands."

Lust smiled, oddly. "Envy will be jealous," she said.

"It's in Envy's nature," she replied calmly.

"So will Wrath." Lust paused. "I don't think we need to mention your little trip to them, do you?"

She shook her head, and Lust stood and turned away, apparently satisfied. She stood there still, as the hard sound of Lust's footsteps faded away, and thought about the other thing she had learned that night.

That in that moment where she had looked into the boy's eyes, and seen death there, it wouldn't have made one bit of difference whether it was his death, or hers.

And that thought, oddly enough, gave her peace.