Envy goes to Rizenburg on a whim, expecting to find nothing; both brothers have disappeared, eaten by the Gate from which there can be no return. While their demise is what he always longed for, the short moments it took for them to fall were unsatisfactory; he yearns for screams Edward will never give him.
He approaches under stolen looks, with golden braid and metal limbs, wondering if playing with the blonde girl that cared for Edward would be entertaining, and peers, unseen, inside the brightly lit house. Delight colors the discovery that one of the Elric brothers has survived. The younger brother, returned to human form, to his young form; Alphonse looks no older than the ten years he had when he lost his body. The boy's age is of little interest to Envy, nothing compared to the discovery that he retains no memory from his years as an armor. Absolutely none, it seems, as he is asking details of Winry at the moment, inquiring about his brother's achievements and marveling at them with a child's naïve enthusiasm.
In that blond head, there is no knowledge of the homunculi's powers, nothing to warn him that there exists an homunculi with the ability to shape shift at will.
Were he human, he might have given his thanks to God or Fate for this unexpected gift. It is too perfect, as is the plan that surfaces from the darker corner of his mind; Edward might be lost to him, but he now has the opportunity to seize what the brat held most precious, and make it his.
At first, it feels like a dream. It is impossible for it to be anything else than a dream, impossible that his brother has just jumped in his bedroom by the open window and is now crouched on the floor, still as a statue in the pale moonlight. It is still a dream when his brother crawls to his bed and whispers for him to wake up, unfamiliar familiar voice calling his name in full until he opens his eyes wide and whispers back.
It is less of a dream when, instead of giving him a bone-crushing hug and telling him a random, joyous story about their bright future, his brother tells him urgently that he is being chased, is on the run from the military, but cannot stand it alone anymore, and won't he come with him?
He hesitates, wonders why the dream is going wrong. His brother's expression is sinking in; he is feeling awake, very awake. He doesn't quite understand, agrees when his brother tells him they must leave now, without telling anyone, and lets himself be picked up like a child. Edward hurls himself out the window and he should be afraid but isn't; Edward knows what he is doing and easily lands on his feet, putting him down and tugging him away in the fresh night. He looks back once, momentarily feeling guilty about abandoning Winry like this, then looks forward to his brother and clutches the—firm, warm, real—hand leading him. He swears he will never let go of it. Never again.
The location he has in mind is less than two days away by his standards, but the human child cannot maintain indefinitely the harsh pace he imposes and requires much rest. This delay proves good; the boy grows paranoid with very little effort on his part and is quick to seek cover at any hint of human presence. The boy sleeps in his arms by choice, for warmth and reassurance. He is cautious, wary of betraying himself, and speaks little, holding in his impatience and testing the boy with displays of concern and guilt-ridden offers of sending him back to Winry. He is satisfied when the boy is adamant that he will not abandon his older brother, vowing to adapt to the situation, as difficult and precarious as it may be.
He will not ruin this chance, he thinks, lying in a nest of wild herbs with an armful of sleeping clingy boy and caressing a young cheek with Edward's fingers.
They run for almost a week, moving only at night, hiding all day. He begins to understand what kind of life his brother has been living—because of him—and is horrified. He grows paranoid within days, sensing Edward's fear of being discovered and copying it. He avoids humans like the pest, follows his brother with hardly a question; where they are going doesn't matter, they must only run and escape those who would capture and harm his brother. Edward takes risks daily to ensure his wellbeing, fetching food whenever possible and bringing him clothes to replace the pajamas he left home in.
Once, as they sit soaked and miserable under the rain, curled against each other for whatever warmth they can save, his brother gets angry, saying he should have let him where he was, happy and safe with Winry. He argues back, matches his brother's anger; this is scary, but he won't go back, he refuses to! He can help, wants to help, though he doesn't know how yet. They have always been together, watching out for each other, and that is how should—and will—be.
Edward almost smiles, but not quite, and says he has an idea.
He trusts his brother.
It is painful to assume a human role for so many hours, so many days, difficult to feign love and concern when he harbors only hate and the desire to harm. His arms, resting around the sleeping boy's warm body, shake with the restrained urge to squeeze and crush bones; his fingers, dancing along the boy's collarbone, twitch with the need to leave bloody nail marks across the pale throat.
He allows his hands to wander, casually cups a small, tight ass that gives him ideas, and smirks to himself, itching to claim it all immediately. The boy stirs, murmurs worryingly; he shushes him, ruffling his short hair and coaxing him back to sleep with reassuring words and long caresses that are not quite brotherly.
He cannot sleep, yet he dreams of blood.
Edward's idea is to create a hideout, a safe place that none will be able to discover. Edward asks him to create it with alchemy while he watches the perimeter and he complies, creating an empty space behind a wall of hard stone and hiding the entrance skillfully. He makes no windows, agreeing with his brother that it would be too dangerous, and models the interior, using earth and stone to create walls, chairs and tables. His brother is absent while he works, returning with a self-satisfied grin, a mattress and dark covers. A real bed is the least they deserve, after all.
They finally get to lie down and breathe, tension easing from their shoulders; their hideout is dark but safe. Now, with nothing urgent on his mind and freed of the paranoid need to be quiet to watch and listen, he can ask for explanations. His brother seems unsurprised when he admits he has no memories of the last four years, nodding and saying it is alright, because he remembers enough for the both of them.
His brother starts narrating.
He is half-way between horrified and fascinated with the tale Edward spins for him with blunt words; he has heard many things from Winry but nothing in such terrifying details. He slowly realizes just how much he owes to his brother, sees the pain beyond the bravery and fell guilty for it. There is no way he will leave his brother now, he thinks, and snuggles close to sleep; his brother's warmth is enough to fight the surrounding stone's chill. The goodnight kiss touches more his lips than his cheek but it makes little difference to him.
Alphonse's situation is nothing normal; he is fifteen according to the flow of time, but only ten year old—nearly eleven, the boy points out—in body. The boy's mind, lost between the two, combines the naivety of the child he looks to be and the blind trust in his brother strengthened in those years he does not consciously remember.
It is one thing to break humans into doing or suffering things they know is wrong, and quite another to gently coax this one into something he has little knowledge of and will believe any lie about. He learns both are easy, empowering and enjoyable.
The boy is still tired from their trip, still in complete awe mode in front of his brother that has magically returned to him, and it is ridiculously easy to make him ‘help' his older brother to feel better. If there is a light touch of uncertainty at first, it quickly disappears, chased by the confidence he displays and the clinical way he explains what Alphonse is to do for him, as if it was no more than a back rub. He is almost stunned by how painfully naïve the boy is, though he supposes most ten year old children must be just as oblivious and dumb.
The boy looks up, startled, when his clumsy touches and licks tear a groan from his older brother and make him shoot an unknown substance in his face. Cum dripping off his cheeks, the boy asks, wide-eyed, what it is. Instead of answering, he draws the innocent thing in his lap with a low chuckle, and tells him he'll show him.
Soon, the human screams ‘brother'.
He doesn't question his brother when clothes are shed and hands investigate places they have never been before; Edward knows best. He is aware that this is sex, has learned from books that it is a natural need for most living creatures and ultimately serves as a mean for procreation, but his knowledge ends there. Edward explains it as easily as he might explain an alchemy theory, tell him how sex is as essential to a grown human male as eating is and how is it meant to be pleasurable, tells him that he should be about at that age, shouldn't he? He agrees hastily; his brother is the first not to treat him as child, he is not eager to lose the feeling of pride it brings him.
He finds that sex progresses from uncomfortable to pleasant to downright painful, leaves his body sore in strange places afterward, but it is obviously because sex is an adult thing, and his body is child-like. When his brother worries softly, he denies the pain with a bright smile. He is not too small, too small or too anything, he can do anything his brother can do, anything his brother wants to do.
His body merely needs training, he thinks, in the same way their teacher trained them, harshly and without mercy, until they hardened and improved, eventually learning to fight like adults. All considered, this does not hurt more than some sparring sessions with Izumi, far from it. This is training he must get through to prove that his mind counts more than the body it is trapped inside, he decides. The lost years cannot destroy the complicity they always had; they will have it again, and do everything together. Like before.
And when his brother smiles his first real smile since he appeared in his bedroom in the middle of the night, he knows he has made the correct choice.
He likes to talk. He draws on what he knows of the Fullmetal brat's life—which is, all told, quite a lot—and paints a glorious portrait of his bravery, his strength, his cunning. He adds frequent reminders of Alphonse's nearly complete incompetence, stresses how much he has suffered, how much he has done, while the little brother hung in the back and watched him, safe in his body of steel that felt no pain.
He elaborates on the homunculi with great details, which are not all truth. Inhuman and perfect, those humonculi were, born to terrorize weak humans. Immortal as well, blessed with nearly instant regeneration and multiple lives. He says nothing of the homunculi's special powers, says little of the sin called Envy, except, in an off hand manner, that he was the last homunculi standing, because such was his strength. But, of course, he says with a smirk, he was better that all of them. A close call, he calls it, but the results stand; he alone is still alive. He grins a little to himself as he says so; indeed, only he survived.
The pleasure of this mix of lies and truth lies in the candor with which the boy swallows them; he knows no better, and his older brother's word is truth and law. The reverence in his eyes is something he has never seen, has never been the object of, and it is priceless.
Sometimes, he makes the boy talk about his childhood; that is the part of the Elrics' lives he knows less about. He listens to tales about their mother (he hates those), tales about the two of them (he listens, carefully, with controlled jealousy), tales of their violent teacher (he approves mildly), and remembers them all, zealously making them his. His image is strengthening, his words ring truer, and the boy buys his every word with growing avidity.
He never goes out. It is too dangerous; if he was seen and had to flee, how would Edward find him again? What if he was captured? He can't be so selfish as to risk it. Edward is the one that fetches food for him, as well as other things to occupy him, mostly books that he reads at candlelight, using alchemy to recycle the melted wax. It's horribly boring, but it is his role to keep the place safe for Edward's return.
Edward does everything he can to lead the search for him away from their hideout. It takes time and efforts, and Edward is sometimes gone for entire weeks. He worries, but his brother always comes back. Sometimes, there is blood on Edward's clothes and he frets, asks where is the wound, but, most of the time, Edward tells him, flatly, that it isn't his.
Edward won't admit it, but he is convinced that his brother suffers, even now, even when he is there. Edward never smiles when he comes back; his face is always dark, full of shadows, and he watches him in an overly protective manner, almost hungrily.
He learns quickly what makes his much older brother smile, what breaks his disturbingly cold façade, what makes adults happy. His body learns too.
Sometimes, he loses patience and wants to see gore maculate the walls. He uses every bit of restraint he has—which is, in truth, not that much—and reminds himself that he cannot lose this human. When he is sick of the charade, he leaves, wears another shape and find ordinary, boring humans to torment and kill. They scream, bleed and die, but somehow none of it is as satisfying as the sounds Alphonse makes for him and the way he moans ‘brother' like there is nothing else that counts, like he is the most important thing on the whole fucking planet.
Waiting can be learned. Boredom becomes natural, and everything else is an event. He trains every day, hardens his body to become like his brother, and spends much time simply playing with the collar at his throat; a gift from his brother, who claims it looks fantastic on him. He never takes it off, likes its weight against his throat.
When the door to their hideout opens, he is always both hopeful and afraid, a part of him instinctively preparing for a fight should blue uniforms appear. Thankfully, it is always the right person that steps in. He tackles down his brother and licks his face until his brother is laughing and telling him to stop already. It might be an odd thing, but it amuses his brother insanely when he behaves like a dog, and anything that makes Edward laugh so much is good. He earns a kiss and melts into it eagerly, doesn't even mind when teeth bite his lips a little too hard and draw blood.
His brother trails kisses on his body, nips his neck and tugs on his nipples until they are red and swollen and he cannot say if he likes it or if it hurts, the two sensations constantly overlapping each other and leaving him confused and torn. The hand between his legs is the same, stroking pleasantly but gripping too tight, and his timid sounds of protest are ignored, his body worked raw until an orgasm is forced from it.
He supposes he would understand if his body had been through puberty yet. So far, he can only pretend. What's the harm? His brother likes it, smiles and grins and laughs afterward, and his light wounds heal quickly. It's still very much like sparring with master; it hurts, but he learns and adapts.
It is easier with time; he jerks and comes as sharp nails and teeth dig on his flesh, leaving prickling bleeding marks. There is no need to wipe the blood away; Edward will lick him clean, after he is done teasing him, pretending that red is his color.
Eventually, he finds his dislike for sharp nails leaving blood trail on his body is fading. He thinks he must be maturing.
He has no other red stones than the ones in his body. It is no easy feast to make himself vomit a few, but he succeeds by enrolling the young alchemist's oblivious help. He feeds a stone to the boy, knowing that those stones have a healing effect on the human body. With the stone placed securely in his body, he judges, no illness will affect his human, and no wound will fail to heal properly, leaving few—if any—scars on the smooth skin. This human, he swears, will last and give him pleasure for years and years. He will see to it.
He always sleeps alone; Edward stays until he falls asleep, but leaves shortly after, and the bed is cold when he awakes. He assumes that nightmares keep his brother up, and understands that questions are not tolerated. Sometimes, when he finds Edward pacing in the middle of the night in a way that could be boredom but is surely nervousness, he wonders if things are going as smoothly as Edward pretends.
Often, he drags himself of bed and goes to sit by his brother or tries to curl in his lap, keeping him company. His brother tends to say the strangest things when he dozes off in his lap. saying that he will never abandon him, not like that bastard ('that bastard' is evidently their father, and after hearing what Edward has to say about the man, he is inclined to agree). Edward rambles about keeping him safe with him forever, and sounds just short of obsessive. He wishes he knew what in those four years did this to his brother, but there is a limit to what Edward accepts to speak of and many of his inquiries go unanswered.
Impatience is killing him, and only the fear that he could damage the boy's adoration toward him can make him hold back a little longer. He broods all night long, considers whether he can push it a little further yet, hungers for when he won't have to be patient anymore, won't have to be sweet or nice at all but just take what he wants. But he can't be hasty, can't risk breaking his precious toy. Who else would worship him like this, who else would pretend to enjoy pain simply to please him, who else would give instead of making him take? In four hundred years of existence, he has never seen this. He senses he can get more, will get more if he is skilled. The thought is intoxicating and glorious.
He bites a little harder, scratches a little deeper, caresses a little rougher. Step by step, he reminds himself, and continues his work, his human-like mask expressing nothing but love for his foolish little prey.
There are times he wishes to go outside to distract himself, or thinks about Winry and auntie Pinako and misses them. But Edward's haggard looks when he returns, the blood on his clothes, the blank look on his face and his heartfelt warning that he must never, ever leave this place or risk putting both their lives in danger, convinces him it is a bad idea to go anywhere.
Edward eventually softens in front of his pitiful, bored looks. He is allowed to go outside, but only if they are together, and only if he has been good. Edward does not seem interested to play in the woods, but he follows him like his shadow to guard him, and can sometimes be persuaded to climb trees or lie down in the long grass with him, calling it stupid and boring all the way. He supposes his brother is too adult for silly games.
Oftentimes, in such occasions, Edward will look at his closely and inquire whether he is his only loved person. He knows what is the right answer now; he doesn't mention Winry or Pinako or their dead mother (especially not her, it hurts his brother so much that he gets angry) and confirms it heartily; he loves nobody else. That answer always satisfies his brother, makes him smirk in an unfamiliar way and roll over to pin him into the ground and kiss him savagely, murmuring possessive words.
The possessiveness is no longer strange, only comforting. They have each other, forever. Edward promised.
He says nothing when Edward picks him up and strides back to their hideout; he knows what his brother wants, and though he is not overly fond of Edward's latest sex habits and the way they tend to make him moan in pain, a part of him looks forward to it; to these games too, he will adjust, and, soon, he knows he will like them.
'Brother', the human calls him, and the word pleases him. They share a father, therefore this title is correct; he is the boy's brother, his far older brother. It doesn't matter who the boy thinks he sees, because the one he obeys to, the one he worships and spreads his legs for, is him. Only him. And it is him that the boy persists on loving, like only a foolish, love-sick human can.
He loves it. There is no other human in this world that will scream in pain, and tell him he loves him. And mean it. Mean it, so, so much.
This human is his precious toy.
He only wishes Edward were alive to witness it. But the brat isn't, and sweet little Alphonse has nobody else but him to learn from. He teaches the boy that pain is pleasure, and the boy is fooled, stumbling down the path he is pushed on.
Days and weeks are meaningless when there is nothing but hunger and fatigue to let him keep track of the passing time. He counts in other ways; sometimes he counts in times he sleeps, sometimes he counts in number of meals. But no matter what he uses to measure time, he is always counting for one purpose only, to know how long Edward has been gone. If he sleeps more than twelve times or eats more than thirty without seeing his brother, he worries and fears the worst.
Eventually, finding that he is always losing track of what he is counting, he stops doing it all together. It's easier to think there are times Edward is there, and times where he is not. He no longer thinks about going outside, outside is only full of people who want his brother dead and would try to use him to betray his sibling. He hates them all.
Sometimes he loses sleep and appetite, curls up in bed toying with his collar and waits quietly for the front door to open. His brother has to come back; he promised he would always be back, would never leave him alone, promised that he who has defeated homunculi has nothing to fear from humans and will always win over them. Edward's self-confidence is overwhelming and he cannot doubt it. Still, alone in a dark, quiet place, he worries.
Once, he lies still for too long; when his brother arrives, he tries to go greet him and doesn't understand why his legs give way under him. His brother is alarmed and feeds him as soon as he understands it is the problem. When he looks better, Edward becomes angry, very angry with him, for nearly dying.
There is soon blood on the floor, and it's his. He apologizes with a raw throat, but Edward does not calm until he stops responding, lies unmoving on the ground. He is bathed and put to bed afterward, though in silence devoid of apologies. Edward leaves again, offering no forgiving words, only a burning and almost hateful glance.
Edward brought him here to help—to keep him company, to support him and keep him sane—but he is nothing but a burden, unworthy of the sacrifices his brother has made. He thinks he may die of shame, and that's all he deserves.
He is very angry to find the boy on the brink of death, one day. He does not intend to let the boy die, certainly not so soon. His anger nearly sweeps everything. He has never been talented at controlling his anger or the violence that comes with it, but he bites it back with all his might; he is too aware that there is only one boy like this and he cannot lose him so soon. He can kill hundreds of humans in gruesome ways, if he wishes to—and sometimes, he does wish it—but this one will not suffer that fate. He is special.
He breaks no bones then, content to let blood soak the ground, though not too much. He attacks with the words he knows will sting more than blows. He talks of broken trust, of disappointment. He threatens to send the boy back to Rizenburg. The boy begs him not to, and he marvels at it; he is offering to send him away from pain and misery, and the boy is begging against it.
It is beautiful, and soothes his anger.
He stands back, observes the battered body in the floor, and thinks. He knows why this happened, knows far more about humans than he cares to know. He finds the correct words for it: sensory deprivation. With a wall of rock to keep all sounds, sights and smells from him, trapped in a dark, silent place, the boy has fallen into a stupor. Something must be done to ensure this will not happen again. He cannot allow this; the boy's life—like everything else—is his, and he will not die until he decides so. Companionship might help, he knows, but he refuses to let another human near his toy, to taint it. He remembers the armor collecting cats and deems it a good idea; a cat will stimulate the boy's senses, keep him busy and remind him to eat.
The next time Edward appears, he has a bag of cat food in his hand, and a live kitten in the other. He thrusts it at him, demands that he takes care of the damn thing, and of himself at the same time. Maybe, Edward says darkly, the little brother will learn to be responsible. Edward mentions once more that he should send him back to Winry, and he is taken aback with the force of his own opposition. He'll be good; he swears he will. He doesn't need to be sent away!
Edward studies him, smiles and says he forgives him.
Humans are fascinating. They have created toys made for his tastes, it seems; long objects made of leather and meant to leave mark in the flesh, blunt objects of inhuman sizes with odd shapes and protuberances that bring new kinds of pain, animal-like accessories tailored to fit humans. He likes to select a handful and bring them home to test, keeping the ones that make the boy whimper and scream in just the way he likes, the ones that leave the boy weak and boneless in his arms afterward, trembling slightly under the soothing hands cleaning the blood from his thighs.
The boy merely has to make any kind of alchemy for the red stone in him to react and by morning he is ready to play again, never uttering a single word of opposition, regardless of whether he enjoys it or not. He is unconcerned; if the boy doesn't like it now, he will like it soon. Children are easy to mold, and Alphonse is the most malleable clay he has ever been given to work with.
Edward stops bringing home toys soon enough. Instead, he asks him to make better ones. The task amuses him, keeps him distracted while he is alone and the cat is tired of his attention. He tests the lashes on his arm, and sometimes shivers thinking of what it will feel like when his brother uses it on his back. He thinks there will be blood on the floor again, and the shiver that thought brings him is no longer one of fear.
He likes to have the boy curl in his lap like an animal, likes to pet him like the lapdog he is. His own faithful dog, that comes back despite frequent kicks.
He thinks he feels fondness for the human, fondness for a creature that is entirely his—mind, body and soul—and will do everything he says with eagerness. There is only one like this, it is his and he will take care of it.
He tells him, often. He is no Hohenheim, to abandon a child who needs him. He will always come back for him, until the boy's death. He wonders if he should not like to find an alchemist to bring the boy back as something more suitable, an eternal companion to dominate. Later, he thinks. The boy is young, and too enjoyable. When he will have sucked every bit of knowledge about Edward the boy has, enjoyed every ounce of pleasure he can tear from the young human, then perhaps he will seek to make something better out of him.
He will have it all. He likes to watch his new face in the mirror, the face that was once Edward's, and now belongs to him only; it is perfect, stunning. He has the looks, he has the precious little brother and he is collecting the memories. He has all Edward ever had, all he ever wanted, and more. More, he thinks, delighted, as he fucks Edward's precious little brother and makes him shout in pain that he insists he enjoys.
The best is, he eventually does.
He greets his brother with the new toy between his teeth, nudging it into his brother's hand. Edward kneels and scratches him behind the fake dog ears he has taken to wearing permanently, because Edward likes it. Same goes with the butt plug adorned with a fake dog tail. Edward says it helps keep him relaxed and cuts down on annoying preparation time. When he is asked whether he wants to try it right away, he barks. It makes Edward laugh, kiss him and tell him he's incredible.
Later, after using alchemy to repair something Edward broke by accident during the game, he curls in bed with a sore body and a back covered in welts, whimpering as his brother rub lotion in the marks; in just one night, it will be gone. Edward says he devised the ointment himself, and it is clearly the work of a genius; they can do it do it again the next day, and the next, until Edward has to leave again and there is nobody left but the kitten that has grown into a cat already, and faithfully lets him know when it is time for them both to eat.
They have many games. Most involve Alphonse behaving like a dog for him, following orders, fetching whips and barking on command. Envy likes the leash best, enjoys tugging on it to direct the boy as he wishes, loves pulling on it while riding the boy to hear him whimper and struggle to breathe, relishes tying the end of it to a ring on the wall and purposefully leaving the boy to wait on him, sleeping on the floor. It is a floor of earth and stone and it often bears dark bloodstains.
Envy grows annoyed with regular humans; they tremble, look down when he gives them orders and dare to beg him to stop. He has to force pleasure out of them; they refuse to offer it. He kills them quickly and returns home, lets his little brother fuss over the smell of blood surrounding him and tackle him down, offering himself willingly to wipe the scowl off his face.
He has only seen his brother truly angry twice. Once, when he nearly starved himself by accident. The second time, is when the cat somehow escapes the hideout and he, in a moment of stupidity, goes after it. Edward finds him outside, and his anger is devastating.
Edward swears he should send him back to Rizenburg because it's too dangerous and can't Alphonse think of the danger he's putting himself in?
Sometimes, Edward likes to change his automail's shape to play with him. This time, there are spikes, and he screams and begs and screams and bleeds. There is no healing lotion this time and he passes out still crying and begging and clutching his brother's ankle. There are tracks of blood on the stone floor.
He wakes in his brother's lap, to hands buried in his now-long hair. He makes promises never, ever to be so selfish again and listen to everything his wise older brother says. Edward softens, kisses him again and promises to get him another cat. His thighs are sticky with his blood and Edward kneels to clean them with his tongue, slowly, and his moans become different.
Edward carries him to bed, shushes his whimpers and pets him to sleep with reassuring words.
Humans age too slowly and too fast at once. He wishes to leave for long period of times sometimes, but doesn't dare. Too much could happen while he is absent, and the boy would be gone all too soon if he only visited once a year.
He has made the boy his propriety in mind, body and soul, but time will steal him in the end. He yearns for a way to make the boy his slave forever. There is only one way to do such a thing, of course. He will require the help of an alchemist, when the boy is at an age he deems proper to immortalize.
The little human always says yes when he asks if he would like for them to be together forever, but he just an ignorant child and has no idea what will happen. He grins in the young neck, sinks his teeth in teasingly and enjoys the taste of blood. Just a few more years, he tells himself, and he will have a little brother forever.
His hair has grown very long. Edward says he likes it, because it provides a nice handhold for when he rides him. He remembers, dimly, a time where lube was involved in sex; it isn't anymore. He is grown up enough to enjoy adult things. He moans loudly or goes quiet if ordered to, uses tricks of his brother has taught him, begs for more when his brother is too gentle. It often smells of blood—his—and it is an intoxicating scent. He feels like he has never been happier in his whole life, drawing his joy from the simply knowledge that he makes his brother happy. Edward says they will be together forever, and he does not doubt it, has no desire to. Niisan is his world.
He kneels by the wall to hook a leash on the ring transmuted out of the stone wall, then beckons to the boy to join the leash to the collar resting snugly against his neck.
On his knees, the human gives him a curious and eager look, awaiting orders. He places a finger under the boy's chin and lifts it, explains that he needs to do something and will be gone for a time and demands that his return be greeted by begging.
He demands a test run and watches the young human roll on his back, spread his legs, offer his throat and whine, asking to be fucked, begging to be hurt. If the dog tail were real, it would have wagged piteously. He calls the human a good boy, leans down and rewards him with a bite to the shoulder, tasting blood; the boy howls and buckles as the teeth sink in his flesh. He reaches down to pet the erection the pain has awaken, slides a cock ring in place and leaves the boy hard. He strokes his toys flanks a last time, repeating his instructions; the second he crosses the doorstep again, Alphonse must beg for him.
He knows his little brother is watching him leave and will most likely watch the door until he comes back, eager to play.
What surprises him if that he feels eager for it too.
It's two years, five months, and seven days since Ed last saw his little brother, in the ballroom of a waltzing death trap. Two years, five months, and seven days since he offered up his life and his soul to bring Alphonse back; two years, five months and seven days struggling to get back, to find out if his last desperate transmutation had even worked at all.
After two years, five months and seven days of hardship, Edward Elric expected this part to be easy. Walk into any public building, pick up a phone, call Riesenburg. Failing that, secure a train ticket or some other passage to Riesenburg; failing all else, find his old friends in the military and ask them for re-orientation. Find out where Al is, get back in touch, wait for the reunion. Simple as that.
There's just one little problem: Al isn't here.
A day of frustrating, increasingly tense phone calls and telegrams end with Edward a nervous wreck in a tiny hotel room; the next day he swallows his pride and goes to the military. Nobody there knows any more than he does. With the shift in foreign policy away from aggression, and domestic policy away from alchemy, the government has little interest in keeping track of the amnesiac little brother of a MIA State Alchemist. Only their personal friends have attempted to keep up, and only to the extent of keeping a list of phone numbers and addresses of Alphonse's last known address, in Riesenburg.
Edward's patience, never great, rapidly begins to wear away, as he turns up more and more dead leads for his little brother. Winry's last glimpse of him, getting ready for bed on a normal day, had been the last anyone had seen in over a year. Winry assumed he left in the night to search for Edward, and hadn't set out a search.
And nothing, nowhere, has been heard of him since.
The answers are the same, from all quarters; Winry, Mustang, Pinako, Izumi. They assumed Al had gone off to search for Edward on his own, and hadn't the heart to try and stop him. Edward could shake them for their complacency; what were they thinking, letting his innocent little brother wander off on his own like that? The kid was no more than twelve years old, after all!
A new, unreasonable fear begins to grip him, as each day and each night passes without Al. What will he do if, after five years of struggling to the truth in the Gate and then two and a half more fighting to get home, what if now Alphonse were to attempt to open the Gate—to fetch him home? What if Al, not knowing he is home and safe and searching for him, sacrifices himself in the very moment that should have been their reunion...
Don't be an idiot, he tells himself ruthlessly. There's no way that Al, operating alone and amnesiac after only two years, could reproduce the knowledge that it took both of them five years of sweat and frustration and danger to uncover.
Still, he has bad dreams; dreams of farce-like timing where his little brother stands with his back to him, cracking open the door to destruction, and no matter how hard Edward screams at him, he does not hear him and turn around.
The lead comes unexpectedly, to Armstrong through the intelligence department—reports of sightings not of Alphonse Elric, but of the Fullmetal Alchemist. A young, blond man with long hair, dressed in the clothes Edward had typically worn during his youth, has been seen passing through troubled towns in the West.
Mustang is inclined to dismiss the reports as fantasies, and Edward likewise, but a comment from Winry confirms that Al had begun, in his last few weeks at home, to grow his hair out long and adopt Edward's look and style. Whether out of some kind of homage, or simply to draw on the Fullmetal Alchemist's reputation to aid his own quest, is one of many things Edward intends to beat out of Alphonse's thick head once he gets done hugging him to death for scaring him so badly.
After such a hopeful break, the endless delays that pile up on each other are infuriating. It takes almost a week for a report to come back from an agent in the area confirming the witnesses' story. Then three more days for Edward to reach the south-western area by train. There are three small villages in the area, each of them just a little under a day's walk apart; so three more days for Edward to travel from one to the next seeking the information he wants.
Nobody in any of the towns recalls anyone matching the description of Edward's brother. Ed controls his disappointment with an effort; no doubt Alphonse has changed, in the missing years.
But he does manage to find the source of the garbled tale of the sighting of the Fullmetal Alchemist. It is tied up, quite confusingly, with some stories of wild animals—or maybe bandits, the tale varies—that had attacked one of the three villages some months back.
The distinctive, legendary Alchemist had been seen briefly in the area not long before the bodies were discovered, but could not be found afterwards to ask for help. The unidentifiable killers had vanished not long after, to everyone's relief; the Alchemist was assumed to be the cause.
Edward has to bite back on excitement; surely that was Al's handiwork! His younger brother could never pass up an opportunity to do some good, after all, anywhere and anyway he could. The only puzzling thing was that Alphonse had never introduced himself to the villagers themselves. Was it possible he was still in the area?
Another frustrating delay—a day of rain—keeps Ed from going searching the area right away. But as soon as the sky lets up, he is scrambling along gulleys and barely-visible tracks in the woods, searching for the place where his brother has made his safe haven.
Al jerks awake as a noise echoes through his little house, pulling him out of a light doze. Since the cat ran away, it's been difficult for him to maintain his routine of sleepings and wakings, but he's been trying hard.
At first his fuzzy brain can't figure out what the noise had been; after all, nobody knocks at their house. There is only one person who ever comes and Edward doesn't need to knock, ergo there had been no knock. Adrenaline is already filling Al's veins, though, sending him tumbling off the bed and onto the floor on his hands and knees.
Brother is back. Brother is back and it is time for Al to greet him, like a proper dog should. Excitement and eagerness and anticipation and fear all thrill through him at the same time, tightening his body as he focuses hard on the door. Brother will be grumpy after a trip, like he always is and it will take an especially charming performance from Al to cheer him up again.
Al wants his brother to be cheerful and happy. Partly because it makes him proud, that he alone has that power over Ed, to pull him out of his strange funks. Partly because when Ed is happy he is gentler, nicer and takes more time to care for Al during and after sex. When Ed is happy they will cuddle, instead of Ed just growling and shoving Al away onto the floor afterwards. Partly because Ed never stays long, and Al wants to make the time when Ed is with him the best it can be. Partly because when Ed is unhappy, it means a long session of sweat and blood before Al can get him back into a good mood again.
But mostly it is because Al loves his brother, loves him more than anything else in the world, and there is no greater pleasure for him in his life than seeing his brother light up with happiness.
Just thinking about it makes him vibrate, every muscle thrumming with tension, and he stays focused on that door, waiting for it to open, to spill life and love into his world.
It seems to take forever, and Al is just wondering whether he imagined it, that noise that woke him, when the doorknob rattles, then swings slowly open, and that so-familiar, so-beloved face peers cautiously around the doorjamb.
The door bangs against the wall, hard, flooding the room with light. It makes Al squint, but that's quite all right, because there's no mistaking the figure in the doorway for anyone else. It's Edward, and that alone is enough to fill Al with so much delight that it's no chore at all to scrabble along the floor towards that golden glory on his hands and knees, and leap up to paw adoringly at Edward's chest.
He remembers to bark his adoration, instead of speaking, and stretches upwards to lick Edward's face, hands on Ed's shoulders to steady him. The unusual quality of Edward's clothing, different from when he left, different from almost anything Al knows, is noted but ignored. He revels instead in the reality of Edward, his solid shoulders under Al's hands, his warm salty-smooth skin under Al's tongue.
After a few moments of licks and happy whines, Al remembers his place, and drops back down onto all floors, flattening himself against the floor as he backs away. To let Edward see him, and see that he's being good, as well as to take in the sight of Edward for himself. He braces his feet apart on the floor, legs spread, and presses his chest and neck against the floor. The collar jingles and scrapes over the stone, cold on his cheek and skin, and he gives another happy, excited bark.
Something's not right. Ed should be laughing, grinning, eyes and teeth flashing with delight. He should be touching Al about now, running his hands through Al's hair, down his back, a tweak and a tug to be sure that Al seated the tail-plug properly. But he's not, he's just standing there, hands raised up halfway from where he hadn't been able to react to Al's mad rush in time.
Did he do something wrong? Is he doing something wrong even now? Anxiety comes back in a rush, fear. He so wanted this visit to get off to a good start, on the right foot, but he must have done something wrong, now he'll have to work even harder to restore the mood...
He presses himself even further against the floor, groveling abjectly, and creeps forward slowly across the tile. The cold stone makes him shiver, but not half as much as the specter of displeasure; if he could, his ears would droop and his tail would be hanging low. He whines instead, to express his anxiety, his desire to please, and drags his tongue along the top of Edward's boot, sneaking a glance upwards to gauge Edward's reaction.
Still nothing. Edward's face is completely frozen, completely blank, his mouth hanging open, moving in some futile silent attempt to speak words. His hands are beginning to shake.
Fear for Edward, for his strange behavior, finally overcomes fear of Edward, and that gives him the courage to break out of the act. He sidles backwards, and sits up, collar and leash jangling over his chest. "Brother?" he says, voice thin and hesitant. "Bro... Edward? Is... is something wrong?"
"What..." When Edward speaks it's a croak, and he has to stop and swallow before it comes out a little clearer. "what, what... What the hell are you doing, Al? What's got into you?"
Al shrinks, taken aback. He'd feared that he'd displeased Edward somehow, but he hadn't expected this sudden, unprovoked rage. He can't react as Ed storms into the stone cabin like a thundercloud over a village, flashing with lightning and growling thunder. "B-but Brother—" he starts, and falters, pressing himself back down flat against the floor.
"Stop! Stop that, get up! What are you doing, cowering on the floor like you're some sort of dog? Get up—get up—" Ed's hands are on his arm and shoulder, now, half-lifting him off the floor. He's paralyzed in Ed's hands, by Ed's piercing glare, and he couldn't answer even if he wanted to. "Get up, dammit Al, stop it!"
When Al doesn't react, and doesn't seem to want to stand up, Ed begins bundling him towards the bed, cursing furiously under his breath. Al lets him, until Ed tries to seat him firmly on the edge of the bed, and that pushes so uncomfortably on the tail-plug buried within him that Al shoots up again with a faint cry.
Ed's eyes widen at the sound, and his eyes suddenly track over Al's body, the angry heat of his eyes practically making marks on Al's bare skin—where's the pleasure Ed should be getting from this, from looking at him? Where's the possessive leer, the smugness-tinged lust? Ed's eyes are only growing steadily more outraged, and it chokes tears out of Al's eyes, that he can't fathom what he's done to anger his brother.
"Who did this to you?" Edward demands suddenly, and Al's mouth goes dry. His hands on Al's arms loosen, and Al slides out of his grasp to half-kneel beside the bed. Ed goes with him, gloved hands—and why is he wearing gloves, anyway, he hasn't in years—patting carefully and frantically over Al's skin. "Who hurt you, Al? I swear I'll track them down and kill them myself—"
This makes no sense. No sense at all. Al's mind is well on the way to some kind of shutdown, but he's jerked back into life when Ed's hands brush up along his neck, grasp the collar there, and suddenly begins fumbling with the clasp.
"No!" he cries out, bringing his hands up to grab at Ed's. "No, Brother, don't! Please don't!"
"Al, I'm not going to hurt you," Ed growls at him, "I just want to get this fucking collar off you! Give me two minutes and I'll burn the damn thing—"
"No," Al says frantically, pulling Ed's hands away with all his strength. "Not this—please don't take it off—been a good boy, I promise—"
He can't manage anything more than half-coherent gabble, and he's crying in earnest now. Not the collar, anything but the collar, Edward's first gift to him, his first symbol of affection and possession.
Strong, gloved fingers catch his skin, and turn his face up to meet Ed's. It's even more bewildering, because his brother normally doesn't like him to stare him in the eye—it emphasizes Al's height, and little brothers should be little, below their elders, not eye to eye. Ed's eyes practically blaze with righteous fury, but not, Al can barely make out, directed at him.
"Who did this, Al," Ed asks, with a deadly calm in his voice. "Who put this on you? Tell me!"
"You did, Brother!" Al cries out, tears streaming from his eyes. "You did!"
There's a moment of stunned silence, while Al sobs quietly in broken confusion. "No," Edward says, still eerily calm, but it's being shaken. "No, Al, I didn't. I wouldn't, I couldn't have—not you, not this, I didn't—"
"He's right, you know," a third voice interrupts, and Ed jerks with the speed of his movement as he turns to face the source of it.
Al blinks the tears away from his eyes, brain gone numb with disbelief. His brother has just stepped into the door, familiar black and red clothes, braid, possessive leer and all, and is leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed.
"He didn't do it," Edward says, smirking faintly as he watches the two of them. "I did."
For Edward, the world leaps suddenly into focus. That grin, that mocking tone—his mind flies back to the night in the underground city, two years ago, when he had broken into another shameful scene to see the same arrogant leer on what should have been a familiar face, to hear those same painful words. Rage, which had been building ever since he had seen his brother's body, had only been temporarily quenched with shock; now it flash-ignites, filling his whole world with red. It rumbles up in his chest, into his throat, changing his spiteful hiss into a growl. "Ennnnvyyyy....."
"But—" Al whispers, from under his protective arms. His little brother twists around, looking between the Edward on the bed, and the one in the doorway. "But... Br-brother?"
"That's not me, Al," Ed snarls, in a tone inundated with loathing. "That's him. The creature. It's Envy. Why didn't you..."
Realization flashes in on him even over the rage—Winry's voice, telling him sadly that Al remembered nothing, none of their years of travel together. At the time he'd been uneasy, then relieved; better for Al to be spared that memory, when he was alone... but now the horror of it dawns on him. Envy had come to take him, his brother, wearing his face—and Al hadn't known, Al couldn't have known—
"Al." Alphonse flinches in his arms, as the other Edward—Envy, it has to be Envy!—steps away from the door. There's menace in his tone, as he steps slowly and deliberately into the room, and Al cringes from it. "You aren't thinking of turning on me, little brother?"
"Shut up!" Ed snarls, and turns to place himself in between Envy and Al. "He's not your brother, you don't have any right to him! It was you, wasn't it? You did this to him. You put these things on him, you, you, you bastard, you raped my brother, didn't you?"
"But he is my brother," Envy smirks, and Edward's stomach clenches, reminded of the face that lay under all the masks, the tangle of blond hair on the floor, the sharp—"And I never made him do anything that he didn't want to do. Did I, Alphonse?"
Al is shaking, under Ed's hands, and his eyes are wide with bewildered terror. With a growl, Ed pushes Al down the side of the bed, where hopefully he'll be out of the line of fire, and turns around, facing Envy fully. The homunculus takes another step, seeming to loom larger as he does so—hell, he probably did get larger, just to taunt him, the asshole. "Get out of here, Envy," he says coldly. "Leave my brother alone, and never come back."
"What makes you think Alphonse wants to be left alone?" Envy shoots back, tilting his head with a sneer painted across his stolen face. "He wants to be with me—refuses to leave my side, even when I offer to let him—he grows positively frantic when I leave, you know, and he's so pathetically relieved when I come back."
"You—leave him alone here?" Edward breathes rage, even as his mind surges forward. He has to stay on his toes, not let anger distract him—Envy is powerful, has always been the strongest of the Sins, the most deadly fighter even without his shapeshifting powers, and nearly impossible to kill.
But Edward has a few tricks up his sleeve, too. He claps his hands, and presses his left to his automail, transforming it onto a blade. With a smirk, Envy mirrors his action, his faux-metal arm morphing and reforming with the illusion of a transmutation.
Still too close to Al, Ed thinks; he might get dragged in and hurt. He leaps forward, bringing his bladed arm in front of him, with quick running steps over the smooth stone to meet Envy head-on.
The Sin is just as strong, stronger, than Ed remembers; his uncanny weight and strength absorb the momentum of Ed's charge without a shiver. The apparently-identical blades meet with a clang, and Ed jerks his arm out of the way of a razor edge that slides by his ribs.
Envy shoves, turning his momentum against him; Ed barely manages to turn the near-fall into a scrambling roll over to Envy's right. Envy turns towards him, laughing, mocking; Ed sets his jaw, and slaps his hands down on the stone floor.
The alchemical charge, preserved and conserved from his earlier clap, crackles into the ground. A line of ripples travels lightning-quick through the stone , and the solid ground under Envy's feet abruptly surges and dissolves, becoming fine, drowning silt under his feet. Envy staggers, trying to leap away from the unexpected trap, but he can find no leverage against the billowing quicksand. Edward bares his teeth in triumph, and an instant later the floor is hard again, trapping the homunculus to nearly his knees in solid stone.
"Got you!" Ed doesn't stop to gloat, surging up from the floor with his automail blade extended. He has Envy pinned, he aims the blade dead center—but the homunculus twists like a snake, in ways that no human spine ever could, and the metal barely scrapes the side of his face as Ed goes by.
His momentum carries him for a few feet, and he stumbles almost into the door before he can turn around. His own smirking form shifts, writhes, and even as Edward watches, Envy pulls narrowed, attenuated feet from the entrapping stone and steps back up onto the floor. gold melts into green, red into black, until finally the familiar array of sharp jagged teeth glints back at him from under gleaming, inhuman slitted eyes.
Ed stiffens, his chest aching with phantom twinges, and he drops into a slightly lower crouch, defensive, readying himself for the next assault. His muscles are already protesting; it's been years since he had to do fighting this serious, and his limbs are aching just from their first clash. If he couldn't beat Envy in a fight when he was in his prime, can he hope to do it now? Envy is too fast, too strong—he has to think of some way to—
A sound ratchets across their tableau, like the death-cry of a wounded animal. Both of their gazes are wrenched to the far side of the room, where Al has clambered up to kneel on the bed, hands clenched around the collar on his neck. "You lied to me," he chokes out, in a voice that made Ed ache, even when the accusing pain of it is directed at Envy, not at him. "You... you told me..."
Envy's a blur in the corner of Ed's eye, and before he can blink the monster has crossed the room to the bed, far ahead of Ed's belated lurching grab. Envy's hand tangles in the leash trailing from Al's neck, and he jerks the boy up onto his knees, bringing their faces close. "I lied to you?" he repeats, and laughs horribly. "Yes, maybe I did, but you ate it all up! You believed every word that I poured into your stupid, naive ears, didn't you? You never even thought to doubt, or wonder, or check and make sure I was who I said I was. No, you could never doubt your precious big brother, could you? You drank it all down—swallowed like a good boy—"
"Don't you touch him!" Outraged, Ed surges towards the bed—then jerks to a stop, as Envy snaps Alphonse violently around, pressing the boy's back to his chest with his arm across Al's throat. Al gives a little cry, which trails off into a gurgle as Envy presses harder, and his hands reach up to pry uselessly at Envy's inhumanly strong grip.
"Oh, it's too late for that," Envy says. A grin slowly widens, spreading across his face even as a change creeps across his arm, transmuting inhuman flesh into a sharp blade like the very one on Ed's automail. "There's no part of your precious little brother I haven't touched by now. No part he hasn't lay down and spread open to me, like an obedient little whore. You never dreamed your little brother would be so compliant, did you Edward? So wholeheartedly willing to obey his older brother's every sick whim."
The tears which had been building in Alphonse's eyes spill over his face in silent streams; his fingers bleed from pressing against the arm-blade. Frustrated and panicked, Ed claps his hands together, then drops to his knees and presses them against the floor. Envy's arm tightens, and a thin line of blood springs across Al's throat, but when Ed makes no further movement, Envy relaxes.
The Sin lowers his face to Al's hair, nuzzling in a mockery of tenderness. "And you liked it, didn't you Al?" he says. "You crawled and begged for even a scrap of attention, you sucked and swallowed and rode your big brother's dick like a professional. I wonder who's sicker, the big brother who forced himself on his younger sibling, or the little brother who loved it and asked for more? D'you think Ed will treat you right, little Al? Will he give you the pain and humiliation you adore? I wonder."
Edward grits his teeth against the bile that wants to well up in his throat, forcing his concentration back to the stone under his hands. Out of sight, under the thinnest shell of earth, the alchemical charge warps and twists the elemental stone to his will. It's the hardest reaction he'd ever attempted, dragging the carbon atoms out of their compounds, forcing them to twist and spin together, linking tighter and tighter in an interlocking spiral... "Let him go, Envy," he says murderously.
"Let him go, why?" Envy laughs, although his arm doesn't budge at all. "Are you jealous, big brother? Did you want a chance to fuck him yourself?" Envy punctuates the ugly word with a sharp jerk of his knee, against Al's behind, drawing a sharp pained cry out of his throat as the tail is shoved deep within him. "For once, I have something you want, and maybe I don't want to share."
Envy's blade lifts at last from Al's neck, the point where his hand should be drifting lower over Al's chest, drawing a thin line of blood where it passes. Al whimpers, as the sharp edge stops against his nipple, digging in slightly. "Don't look so horrified, he loves this part," Envy purrs, his lips against the back of Al's head.
"NnnnnnDON'T TOUCH ME!" Al screams, unexpectedly, and bashes his head backwards against Envy's jaw. Envy's head snaps back, with a cracking sound as his nose and jaw shatter. Al grabs Envy's arm, blood running down between his fingers, and heaves, throwing the heavy body forward over his shoulder. Envy slams onto the stone floor, limbs sprawling, and Al collapses into a huddle on the bed.
Thank you, Al, Ed thinks fervently, as he finally lets the crackle of transmutation surface. He grabs and yanks, and with a dull clattering sound, the long thin trails spin out from his hands like a whip. They snap over Envy's prone form, twisting around his body like serpents; before the homunculus can recover they've twined their way up to his neck, crossing each other over and over. Ed slaps his hands down onto the chains, binding them to each other, and although it makes him sick to do it, to the flesh beneath. He can't let Envy slip out of this one and get hold of Al again.
Envy twists beneath him, bucking like a beached fish, and Ed can see the corner of his face, the exasperated expression on his face as he rolls his eyes. "You humans never learn, do you?" he drawls, rolling his head back. "This won't hold me. I can snap these like string. You don't have the strength to hold me, or the guts to kill me."
"Think so?" Ed growls, even as he climbs to his feet. "Why don't you try it and see?"
Envy sneers, and pulls at his arms, pressing them against the chains. The dull-colored chains stretch slightly and creak, but don't snap. A startled, then consternated expression crosses over Envy's face, and he pulls a little harder. "What the—you little—"
With no small amount of vicious satisfaction, Ed puts the toe of his boot under Envy's shoulder, and flips Envy up to face him. "Here's news to you," he informs the Sin, "we humans do learn. Remember Greed? I do. Carbon, that's what his shell was made of, but no form of carbon that we had ever seen. Not diamond, or it would have shattered at the first bad landing. It had to be something even tougher, more flexible than diamond. Once I knew it could be done," Ed held up his hands and flexed his fingers, "it was just a matter of figuring out how to reconstruct it.
"Those chains are transmuted carbon atoms, chained together in countless unbreakable tubes. They have a tensile strength of more than fifty times that of steel," Ed taps his arm for emphasis. "Not even you're going to get out of those anytime soon, Envy."
Envy explodes into rage, real fury at last, not the calculated cruelty of before. He thrashes around in a fury, spewing venom and curse words; Edward ignores him, stepping over the body to the bed where Al is still curled in a loose heap.
"Al?" he says uncertainly, reaching out to his brother, but not quite touching. "Al, you okay?"
He could kick himself for the question as soon as it comes out of his mouth; Al is obviously not okay. He's shaking, and blood is running down from the bare skin of his chest, and from between his fingers where he's covering his face with them. No, Edward realizes with a start, as a pale pink drop slides down Al's wrist and falls onto the bed; a mixture of blood and tears.
"Al, it's okay," Ed promises him desperately, patting carefully at his bare shoulders. "I got him. I still remember the array to kill these things. We'll get him, all right? He'll never hurt you again—"
Al says something, but his voice is so muffled by his hands and garbled by tears that Ed can't understand it. He leans in close, loose hair brushing over Al's skin as he tries to make it out. "What was that you said, Al?"
With panic well and truly on its way to settling in, Ed tries uselessly to comfort his brother, babbling barely-coherent reassurances and appeals, and not at all sure how much he dares touch Al now. His brother doesn't seem to really register his presence, now, just rocking back and forth on the bed with his hands over his face.
He doesn't even register the thumping, clanking sounds of struggle behind him, interspersed with barely-human grunts, until all at once there's a sliding rattle that sends him whirling around, shielding Alphonse with his body and ready to handle the threat.
The scene that greets his eyes is like the remnants of a massacre; the dull black chains lie on the pocked stone floor in a puddle of blood and gore. There are pieces in the puddle, abandoned slices of skin and muscle and even a twitching abandoned hand. Even as Ed looks at them, they begin to dissolve in a sea of red, cut off from their source of regeneration.
Envy himself is in the doorway, limping and covered in gory slices. He gives Edward a glare that promises long, slow torture and death, but his usual mocking veneer of superiority is gone and banished. "Don't think I won't see you again, little brat," he snarls over his shoulder. "Don't think you can sleep in peace, without a knife at your throat—don't think you can protect your little fuckbuddy, either!"
Even injured, Envy moves faster than any normal human—by the time Edward reaches the door, he's gone.
Shock is the word for it, Al thinks, through a certain distant detachment. Thoughts come slowly, as if through glue; it's hard to see or hear much, and he can't feel his body.
That last is a blessing, he realizes. Not because of the pain—he's borne far worse hurts than these minor nicks and scratches, after all—but because of his brother's hands. Edward's hands are a stranger's hands, patting carefully and hesitantly over his skin, feeling out unfamiliar territory in the dark.
For a while Ed was talking to him, and Al struggled to try and form a coherent reply, but at last Edward took a long look at him and stopped asking questions. He's just petting Al now, trying to soothe, and Al feels kind of bad that he can barely register the touches through the thick layer of cold rubber that seems to have grown on his skin.
But he's glad again when Ed hesitates, obviously nerving himself up, and his hands slide down Al's back to gingerly touch the puppy tail. Al just hunches further into himself, burying his face in his elbows, and after a moment Ed grows more determined, and slowly begins to work it out.
If he weren't so numb, Al thinks as a side note, it would hurt quite a lot; with all the horseplay Ed and Envy between them have managed, it's gone in quite a bit deeper than it should. As it is, though, Ed's cautious, gentle tugs just leave him feeling hollow and empty inside.
Al doesn't want to think about what that makes him. He doesn't want to think about anything but the thoughts come anyway, lining up and crowding him in the dark behind his eyelids. Everything seems to fall under two headers, two facts and truths that he can't run away and hide from and can't deny no matter how many tears he breaks down and cries.
I've let a stranger fuck me for two years.
Brother never wanted to be with me.
"Um... Al?" Gloved hands are pulling at his shoulder now, trying to uncurl him, and Al blinks dazedly at his brother. Ed's trying to put a stern face on, and completely failing; he's blushing, even as his face screws up with unhappiness. "Here, let me at them, and I'll... do the rest."
And then Al wishes for shock back, for numbness, because the sheer humiliation of everything crashes down on him like a waterfall, and he's bruised and battered and crushed and drowned by it.
"No..." Al shuts his eyes tightly, and swallows against bile. "It's... I mean I can get it... you don't have to..." Don't have to look; don't have to touch. Don't have to see the ugly proof of Al's most shameful weakness, that Edward himself never wanted to see. "I can get it myself." Although he's not absolutely sure that he can; he's never tried to undo the clasps and rings himself before. Ed warned him sternly against trying, and he'd never been so desperate for relief—ever, really—to go against Ed's interdiction.
He has to try, though, and he rolls back on his sore and aching butt and folds his legs in front of him, reaching into his lap and fumbling around for the clasps.
"Al." Ed's hands close around his, and Al startles badly. The cold rubber is all gone, and he realizes he's trembling. "Your hands are a mess. Let me do it, all right."
"All right," Al chokes out feebly. He puts his hands obediently aside, fingers still smeared with blood, and lands back on his palms as Ed bends to his task. Worse and worse; his body still insists that it knows Ed's touch, is delighted by it after so long an absence; his legs twitch, escaping his control. When the constriction is eased and normal circulation is restored, Al bends over double, mouth agape, and wishes for the numbness back again.
Ed pets his back, awkwardly; it's hard for Al not to thrum in time to the touch. But then Ed's hands move to the collar.
"Please don't—" Al says, and then stops, remembering when he said the same thing earlier. He bites down on his lip, hard.
"Why not?" Ed says, and he doesn't sound happy. "Envy had you collared like a dog. You don't have to wear it any more, you know."
Al just bites harder. How can he explain, without sounding pathetic or outright delusional, that the collar was the first thing 'Edward' gave him, back even before their sexual relationship took its darker, bloodier turn? That he's always treasured it as the gift from the Ed he wanted, the gift of affection and belonging? That so long as the collar's there, Al can still pretend that he's cherished and wanted; when Ed takes the collar away, it'll all be over.
"Well—" The word sounds dragged out of Ed; Al sneaks a glance up at him, and his brother looks like he's thinking fast, and doesn't like what he's coming up with. "All right. If you really want it, I won't make you take it off. I won't," Ed says, and faces Al square on, "force you to do anything you don't want to. Okay?"
Al recognizes instantly what Ed means by that; unlike Envy. His brother still doesn't seem to understand, or believe, that Envy was telling the truth when he boasted about Al rolling over willingly for him.
"I just feel naked without it," Al says by way of excuse, or apology.
"You are naked. Hell—" And the problem seems to have just occurred to Ed, because he suddenly sits back and starts struggling out of his coat, the long, brown one that had so confused Al on first sight. He wonders where Ed got it, what's the story about it; but only in a dull, abstract way. He can ask—later. Ed will tell him, he knows. Later.
Ed wraps the coat around his shoulders, and it feels strange, heavy and rough and abrasive and warm and soft all at once. The coat smells like Ed, he realizes in a burst of sensation, and that's enough to flatten any qualms he might have felt about it. Strange. He'd stopped noticing the cold of the house long, long ago, except when he first woke up in the morning, but now suddenly the warmth of the coat makes him realize just how cold his skin is. He huddles into the warm cloth, and begins to shiver.
Ed steps back, and looks at him critically—sneaking a peek back, Al notices that he's wearing an odd assembly of crisp white and stately brown, in various layers, under the coat. It's very different from his old look, the look that Envy had used—duller, less daring, more... adult. It also makes him look very, very good, and Al has to duck to hide a blush.
"Hm," Ed grunts, and claps his hands. He presses them on the coat, draped over Al's shoulders, and the alchemical charge crackles through the fabric. It slithers and melts and reforms, and Al frowns as he finds himself wearing something resembling a rough brown jumpsuit. "It's not much, I know," Ed's saying, "but it'll do."
Then Ed grasps him by the arm, pulling him up off the bed and guiding him towards the door. "Brother?" Al says, and is distressed by how much the word... quavers. "Where are we going?"
"Outside," Ed says, eyes narrowed determinedly. "There's still some daylight left, and I'm not going to let you stay in this... cell one minute longer. It's too late now to go back to the village—"
"Back—" Al starts, then chokes on alarm. "Brother, we can't!"
"Because!" Al digs in his heels, almost frantic at the thought. Back among the villagers, these mysterious people he'd never met—back among people—"They're looking for us... they'll find us!"
"Who?" Ed stares at him. "The homunculi? Al, Envy already knows where to find us. If he gets his tail out of his legs any time soon—"
"Not them! The military!" The panic is almost suffocating; two years of conditioned fear. "If they find you, Brother—"
"Al, what makes you thi—" Ed cuts himself off, staring at Al, then his eyes narrow. "I see," he says quietly. "Look, Al, we're not going anywhere just yet. Okay? Just outside for some fresh air, then we'll see about this damn cave."
"Oh." The panic subsides, and Al breathes again. Outside is okay. Ed—Envy would take him outside sometimes, after all. "Okay then." Though he still has no idea what Ed meant by see about the cave.
The meaning becomes apparent a little later; Ed has planted Al down on a fallen log, ordered him not to move, and headed back towards the stone bungalow. He's circling it now, or at least, circling the front, and Al watches him, struggling to sort through the confusion in his head.
Ed fetches up in front of the barely-visible entrance to the stone house, half-concealed within the cliff side. He claps, and it's audible and the light visible even from where Al sits.
A moment of panic seizes Al again, at the sudden though that Ed might have decided to collapse the burrow, or seal it off—with all of Al's worldly possessions, all his memories good and bad, still in there...
But instead, what happens is that the vague stone lump begins to writhe and shimmer, and under his brother's ruthless attention—the same fierce, determined creating spirit he remembers, remembers from when he was ten and his brother eleven—begins to reform.
The walls rear upwards, smoothing and flattening. As they approach the height of the small cliff, the smooth face begins to break apart and grow in fragmentary directions. Al blinks watering eyes, and even as he watches under the dancing flashes of alchemy, the shapes resolve themselves into a line of smooth, open arches, supported by sturdy stone columns. The corners of the house sharpen, neaten, turning from an irregular organic bean-shape into a house, even and regular and almost civilized.
By the time Ed's used up all the available stone and stops, stepping back and putting his hands on his hips, the windowless stone cave has transformed almost out of recognition, into a neat two-story stone building, with an arched and open-air second floor, and more windows than wall on the first.
Ed turns, and grins at him, proud and triumphant. Al can only gape, as Ed dusts off his hands and comes over to plop onto the log next to him. "Whew," he said. "I hate limestone, it's a son of a bitch to calcify. Marble's a lot better, so I converted most of it over. What do you think?"
To answer that question would take a year, or at least an essay; instead, Al blurts out, "You transformed without a circle. Like Sensei does."
Ed looks at him startled, then chuckles and grins. "Oh, yeah, I can," he says. "Wow, you really did forget everything, didn't you? I've been able to ever since... well... since we tried to restore Mom, so I guess you wouldn't have known. But yeah. I've been doing it for years."
"How do you do it?" Al straightens up from his curl a little bit, and leans forward with interest. He'd always wanted to know, but had never dared to ask Sensei; seeing what she had done to Ed when he dared to pester her about it was quelling enough. But now it seemd he has an inside source.
"Ah..." Some of the pleasure falls out of Ed's face, and he looks a little distant and sad. "It's... kind of complicated, Al. I guess I should tell you eventually, because it's all wrapped up in what you need to know about me, and yourself, and us, but.... not right away."
"Oh, I already know about us," Al starts to assure him, and then stops in dismay. Ed had told him everything, of course, and it's only just occurred to him that Ed—or rather, Envy—might not have been absolutely truthful about everything.
"Yeah?" Ed frowns at him, but not, he thinks, in anger—although he has to be careful not to read it that way—but in calculation. "You can't have heard everything, though—I guess how much you heard, depends on who you asked. Who'd you talk to, mostly? Winry? Armstrong? Mustang?"
"Who?" The third name strikes only a vague chord of recognition in him, and the second none at all. He remembers the name Mustang floating around the house... but only in the early days, before he knew enough to ask.
"Colonel Mustang. Well, I guess he's Brigadier General Mustang now, isn't he?" Ed runs his hands through his hair. "You know. The bastard Colonel?"
Al shakes his head. Ed frowns more. "Not Armstrong either? Well, I guess I can see why Winry and Auntie would keep you away from him at first. What about Ross? Or Scieszka? I guess they wouldn't have known as much, but still..."
Ed trails off as Al continues shaking his head. "Who are all these people?" he asks, baffled.
"Our friends in the military!" Ed looks at him impatiently. "Don't tell me none of them ever bothered to come see you?"
"Friends?" Al looks at him blankly. "We had friends in the military?"
"Yes!" Ed's scowl deepens. "Well, okay, maybe not Mustang. But Lieutenant Hawkeye—or Lieutenant Ross, Major Armstrong—Major Hughes—"
"I thought the military—" Al catches himself, and faltered. "I thought the military was our enemy. That if they caught you, they'd take you back, and make you work for them, or maybe take you away as some kind of experiment..."
"Who told you that?!"
Al looks down. Ed takes a deep breath, and runs his hands through his hair. "Okay, never mind. Al, let's get one thing straight. Whatever that bastard told you in the last t—two years, it was a lie. Don't believe anything he said. After we've rested for a little while, we're gonna go back to Riesenburg, and I'm gonna drag people to come see you, and you'll see the truth for yourself."
Al's mouth goes dry, but before he can try and muster his frozen voice, Ed goes on. "Yeah, there were some parts of the military that were rotten like that. A lot of the top brass, like those assholes Gran and Archer especially, didn't care about anything except learning more and better ways to kill people. If they'd found out about you, they would have taken you away into one of their labs.
"But not everyone was like that. Mustang and his guys were okay, really, they helped us keep you a secret. And—it's a long story, but what it basically comes down to is that he was working hard to make the military a better place. It's kind of complicated, but at just about the time I left and you came back, Mustang helped get rid of those people in the military once and for all. It's not nearly so sinister these days." After a moment, he adds meditatively, "Pretty boring and bureaucratic, in fact."
Al doesn't reply, still struggling with the abrupt inversion of his worldview. "S... so... they're not looking for us?" he stutters out at last.
"Well..." Ed frowns, and looks a little embarrassed. "Actually, when I came back, I couldn't find you. So I asked Mustang for help. Without Major Armstrong's access to intelligence reports, I could have spent another five years wandering around the country and looking for you without any luck. Seven years of that was enough, thanks!" he says fiercely, and without even seeming to notice, he shifts closer to Al and puts an arm over his shoulders.
Al shivers, despite himself, at Ed's nearness.
"It was all for you," Ed says softly, strangely gentle in the air; Al flinches at the reminder, but Ed isn't even looking at him, staring off into the distance. "I did it all for you, Al. To save you, I would have done anything... anything at all..."
"I'm sorry," he says humbly, all too well versed in his place in this drama.
Ed gives him a startled look. "Sorry? What are you sorry for? I'm the one who left you alone for two years while..." He cuts himself off, closing his teeth on whatever he'd been about to say, and shakes his head fiercely.
"But it was all my fault," Al says, puzzled. "If I hadn't been so careless, you wouldn't have to have given up your arm to save me." That loss still hurt, somewhere deep inside, every time he felt Edward's automail. "And then you had to do so much, suffer so much, to try and fix my mistake. I can never make up for that."
Beside him, Ed has gone suddenly, dangerously still. Al gives him a nervous, sideways glance, and wishes he could edge away. "I only wanted to help you," he says meekly. "You made my whole body perfect, but I couldn't even fix your arm and your leg. It's my fault they still bother you. I just wish I could have been less useless all this time."
"Is that..." Ed breathes out, voice strange and strangled, "is that what he told you, Al?"
Al glances at Ed with even more alarm; Edward seems to be struggling with some huge, dangerous rage. No... not just rage, but anger mixed with some other, darker emotions. Al bites his lip, and ducks his head, and doesn't say anything.
After a moment Ed inhales deeply, and clutches his hand to his head. "I already told you, forget everything that bastard told you," he says, his voice harsh and inarguable. "That's not how it was, Al, that's not how it was at all. The accident—it was all my idea, my fault, you know that. If I hadn't stupidly insisted, you wouldn't have lost your body—you nearly died, Al, and it was my fault. My fault, Al, not yours. Never yours."
Al frowns; he still clearly remembers the transmutation himself. It was only two years ago, and not exactly a forgettable event. He doesn't think Edward's version of things is quite right, but he doesn't argue the point right now.
"Don't you see, Al," Ed continues urgently. "My arm and leg, they were nothing compared to what happened to you. I could have lived with it, my punishment, but it wasn't fair to you, trapped in a walking metal sensory deprivation chamber, condemned to—and it was my fault it happened. I would have done anything to make up for my mistake." Ed broods for a moment, then adds bleakly, "And don't you dare ever say you were useless. Half the time you were the one dragging my sorry useless ass around, and I—I wouldn't have stayed sane without you, anyway."
Despite himself, Alphonse shivers violently, and brings his arms in a tighter curl around himself. The movement attracts Ed's attention, and he looks over at Al with alarm. "Oh, hell," he groans. "I thought I brought you out here to calm you down. I didn't mean to upset you more."
"It's okay." He doesn't sound convincing, and indeed Ed doesn't look convinced, so Al tries a little harder. "It's... it's not a bad kind of upset." He's not entirely sure that's true, but he knows it must be, somewhere inside. No matter how wretched he feels right now, surely this is the start of something new, something better. Fundamentally better by virtue of being the truth, not a lie, not a cruel chimeric cage...
He's suddenly afraid he might cry.
"Al?" Ed says worriedly, and he looks up, blinking hard, to see his brother's worried face barely inches from his own. Al has to spend several seconds reigning in the fierce desire to kiss him, then blinks hard and manages to meet his eyes. He twitches a wobbly smile, and gets a fierce one in return, that threatens a meltdown in his chest. To his dismay, he feels a pair of tears drip down onto his cheeks despite himself.
"Hey," Ed says, resting one hand on Al's head, petting his hair. "Uh, what was the last time you ate? You always got sniffly and wobbly when you were hungry, you cry-baby. Low blood sugar. I bet you'll feel more steady after you eat something."
"I..." don't know, Al is about to say, but then he remembers: he had some breakfast this morning, the sunrise a distinct event that reminded him to stick to his schedule. It's going on sunset now, with rays of honey and rose touching on the top of Edward's new house. Instead, he avoids the question. "There's some food inside. Or there should be, if your transmutation didn't mess it up."
"Well, even if it did. We can find something around here to make edible." Ed nods firmly, with a plan in mind.
Ed starts to get up, then hesitates. It's obvious he's struggling with something he wants to say. "Al," he begins, then shakes his head. "No, never mind."
"What is it, Brother?"
Ed sighs, and runs his human hand through his hair again, a nervous gesture that's new to Al. "Al, why didn't you ever notice that Envy wasn't me? I mean, he couldn't even do alchemy. Didn't you ever wonder why he—why I'd suddenly stop?"
Al sat silent for a moment, before finally offering, "He'd transmute his automail, sometimes." No need to explain to Edward under just what conditions Envy would do so, or for just what purpose he'd modify his metal limb.
"Yeah, that would be something he could do," Ed nods distractedly, "since it was part of his body and all. But, Al—nothing else, was there? You didn't wonder?"
To be honest, he hadn't. Ed had always delegated the alchemical work to him; he'd built the bungalow himself, while Ed 'kept watch' nearby. He'd "allowed" Al to transmute all the furniture and food himself. Even when they'd gotten to some of the more physical stages of their sexual relationship, it was always Al who'd transmuted the toys, under his brother's strict supervision. All the while, Envy had made it seem like he was doing Al a favor, or some kind of honor, by foisting off all the alchemical work on him and none on himself.
Envy was right; he really was a gullible idiot. "No," he whispers, to Ed's question. "No, I didn't."
Ed pulls at a strand of his hair, distracted. "And of course he never let you talk to anyone else—I suppose—but dammit Al," Ed bursts out finally, emotion vibrant in his tone, "how could you possibly think that I'd—do that to you? How could you even imagine that I'd want to hurt you, humiliate you, r... use you like that... take you away from all your friends and family, lock you up in a prison cell, again... For fuck's sake, Al, what did I ever do that made you think I could be that cruel!"
"What was I supposed to think?" Al's guilt and anguish at the question flare, suddenly, into temper. "You weren't here! You'd vanished and nobody would tell me anything! All they'd ever tell me when I asked was that you'd changed, you were different, it had been five years and you weren't the brother I remembered any longer. Nobody would say how! Just that you'd got.... colder... and meaner, with what the military made you do! With what you made yourself do, for me!"
Anger wavers over the perilously thin age into misery, and to his shame Al finds himself sobbing again. "What was I supposed to do, when you showed up in the middle of the night and begged me to come with you, so you wouldn't be alone any more? How was I supposed to... know about Envy, how was I supposed to know... when nobody ever told me... Nobody ever told me that you'd be just the same!"
Almost as soon as the words are out, he wishes he could take them back; lacking that ability, he just buries his face in his knees and wraps his arms over them. He has no right to yell at Ed, or try and shove the blame off onto Winry or Auntie or Rose. It's his own stupidity he has to blame, his unquestioning gullibility; and behind that, the ugly possibility that he didn't want to learn the truth, that he didn't want to have his happiness, conditional as it might have been, taken away.
If they find us, Ed would whisper to him in the dark, they'll separate us, and we'll never be together again. If it was shameful of him to have ever started having sex with his brother, how much more shameful to want to continue, even when their sexual relationship was exposed as the hideous charade that it truly was?
"Al..." Such a wealth of unhappiness in that voice, guilt and remorse, that makes Al's heart pang. "I'm... I'm..."
Hands on Al's forearms, tugging them away from their protective curl, and then Ed's fingers squirm under his chin, levering his tear-stained face up. "I'm sorry. It isn't your fault. If anything, it's mine, for leaving—But either way, I shouldn't have said all that. Not now. It's only been a few hours, you're still a mess. I'm such a lousy older brother."
Al automatically shakes his head in denial, and sniffles. Ed sighs. "Let's go inside, okay? I'll get something for you to eat, and then we can both go to bed. Things will be better in the morning."
Things might be better in the morning, Al thinks, but only if he survives the night.
Maybe Ed had been right, about low blood sugar, because Al's world did seem to stabilize and calm a lot more once they'd scraped together dinner. Then he'd been distracted by exploring the new house, which Ed had made, and finding ways to rearrange or re-form the furniture and his possessions in the new space. The house had several rooms, not just one wide space, and it lifted his spirits just to be in there.
At least until bedtime. When Ed had bundled him into a new—-framed bed, in one of the small chambers, with new sheets and blankets broken down and re-formed from the ones on their large, single bed.
And gone off to sleep on his own, somewhere else in the house.
Alone in the narrow, clean bed, Al rolls onto his side, away from the dim moonlight coming in the window, and bites down on the fresh, clean pillow. It's no chore for him to sleep alone, he's done it plenty of nights for the last two years—but never when Ed was here. Only out of necessity, never out of choice, either his or Ed's. Being sent off to sleep alone, banished from the comfort of his brother's embrace, is about as thorough an indictment of his behavior as Al can imagine Ed letting show.
He's already cried too much today, he tells himself firmly, over an event which ought to have been joyous—reunion with Ed, the real Ed, at last. He's not ten, he's not a crybaby any more. But in the cool loneliness of the dark, that kind of logic doesn't seem to be able to stop the tears from coming.
And although he tries his hardest to keep it quiet, it's no more than twenty minutes before the door to the little room opens, and a shadow drifts quietly in. Al gasps, and holds his breath; wiping his face hastily against the pillowcase, he tries frantically to feign sleep.
There's a long, low sigh—of exasperation? Resignation? Al can't tell exactly what, but a moment later, Ed is climbing into the bed beside him. It's much, much too narrow to fit too comfortably, and Al finds himself nearly squashed up against the stone wall.
But Ed's arms go around his waist, and Ed's breath sighs in his ear, and almost before Al can remember rolling over and burrowing into Ed's loose white shirt, he's asleep.