Spoilers: Dante and Hoenheim backstory.
Warnings: Sexuality. References to relatively obscure figures in European history and to literature everyone means to read.
Notes: Points to anyone who gets who Dante, in my personal fanon, actually is. Anyway - points, also, to anyone who can tell me what's wrong with this story. It's missing something, but for the life of me, I don't know what.
But sometimes it was something more.
Sometimes it was desire, overwhelming need that bubbled like fluid in the lungs. Every time she breathed, it surged upwards. Every time she spoke, it distorted her words. And she was afraid of it, though she hated to think of herself as afraid of anything. She feared the way it kept her from swallowing, from inhaling – and she feared her obsession with it. She feared how her need animated her, flowed through her, possessed her, so demonlike in its strength that she nearly flung herself to her knees in the confession booth, pleading with the priest to denounce her, excommunicate her, drag her to the stake for the fires without to purge the fires within. She never did, though: she knew, after all, that not even the devil himself could have such a hold upon her.
It might have, some days, in its gentler moments, been simple dissatisfaction. But dissatisfaction, longing, was an old friend of hers. The specter of malcontent was a familiar ghost that had kept vigil by her bedside since she was little, reaching for her hand when sorrow gripped her, wrapping her hands in his, fingers of comforting smoke. And he had called her, urged her to new heights, held her up. He had been the one to convince her to sneak books from the library like so many of her contemporaries snuck candies from the kitchen; he had been the one to compel her to take stolen charcoal to stolen paper, to find the ars magna.
They'd found the drawings, the carefully sketched arithmetic marked out upon circles. They'd whispered that she was a witch, then. Everyone had. As she stepped carefully through the muddy streets, holding her silken skirts to keep the hems from getting soiled, whispers would follow, like the slide of her hair against her covered shoulder.
She had been young, then, and she had been scared that they might have destroyed her, even though she was who she was. She had been afraid that for all her prestige, for all her power, for all that she was, a holy maiden – for all of that, she was afraid that they would drag her to the stake, purge her, scrub her from the earth. Her father, even – her father would preside over her death, perhaps a small smile stealing over his most holy lips as she began to shriek, and the thought of that was even more terrifying than the fire.
But in the end, her fear saved her. After all, they loved fear: it bred piety, and piety obedience. They could see the tremble in her lips, hear it in her voice; they saw the way tears would stand in her eyes as she took the Host. They knew that this was one to keep in the flock. She would be loyal – they knew.
She wasn't. When malcontent returned to her, he had but to brush a gentle kiss against her bared shoulder before she pulled him to her once again. He had but to whisper, breath hot against her ear, hand pressed against the small of her back, before once again she crept from her room in the night, then returned to him, arms filled with pilfered books. It was only so long before she was coaxing beauty from nothingness, diamond from coal, creating.
But in those days when she'd sat trembling in her room, consumed by thoughts of fire, she'd found wisdom. So now, even when malcontent breathed against her ear, urging her to go faster, higher, to show them all, wisdom trailed long fingers against her neck, murmuring Wait. Even when dissatisfaction pressed himself against her, urging her to speed, wisdom was there, counseling caution, murmuring Wait. So she waited when wisdom told her to, long enough for the patrolman to pass. She worked quietly, as wisdom counseled her, and slowly, so that they came to believe that she no longer shared her bed with malcontent – that she was obedient, a pious servant. They nodded their approval as she passed, head bowed, in the corridors, rushing forth on her way to awaken the beauty they so loathed.
It lasted that way for some time. But malcontent fostered sin, she supposed, and wisdom incubated it. And sin opened her to other influences.
Gradually, her oldest companion had faded away, and something insidious had come in his place – something with the teeth of a wolf and the claws of a bear, something that crept over her and into her, something that now flowed through her veins like sludge, taking over her blood, her flesh, her soul. Cruel and overmastering, the invader, the demon – he animated her. Hardly could she twitch a finger against his will. Indeed, she did not share her bed with him; he shared his bed with her. He was no nurturer, lover, like malcontent. He was king.
At his bidding, his bidding she could not deny, she began to bare her shoulder, began to wind her neck with the diamonds that were the fruits of her genius. He overmastered wisdom, preempted wisdom, and made her bold. She should have died for the way she paraded her skill, her sin.
But they feared her boldness, and fear bred piety, and piety obedience; and to see them avert their eyes as she walked past, cloaked in loveliness and boldness was heady, sweet.
But there was little joy beyond conquering her old antagonists, for her demon opened her to new cynicism. As she walked forth, her hair whispered against her shoulder, and it was a mockery of what once she had heard – Lucrezia, Lucrezia, go, love, to love – there is beauty for you to see, there is beauty for you to find. For those had been cruel promises, in the end. They had been cruel, because they were untrue – because the only beauty for her to find was that she could create by her own hand. There was only the beauty she could create, and she could effect upon herself. That was bitter.
But she had little time to dwell upon it, driven as she was by her cruel demon. His murmur was a mockery of malcontent's, telling her to go faster, farther, to defy them all. So she went faster, farther, and she defied them all. She, woman, became the creator, went to stand with God upon the peaks; and perhaps that was her sin, perhaps she sinned in her pride, but Lord, the joy that she found in her own native talents! The joy she found in her beauty almost matched the sorrow she found in the ugliness of all else.
But she needed something more. Always, there was something attached to those days of fire – those days in which she had stood before the stake. Always, there was something in her of the inferno, even as she strove upwards to purgatorio, to paradiso. There, perhaps, was the something more; even with the demon inside her, driving her greater still – still, she could not escape her beginnings – she was torn in two, half reaching to the earth, half to the stars.
That was why she needed him. She needed him, her guide, to take her from the days of fire.
She'd seen him at a party, first. He'd been wearing blue – the color of wisdom, of reason, of the night sky. She'd liked that, particularly, found it charming. He was a healer, they said. They'd spoken of him with great respect, even though were he a woman he'd be feared – they afforded him respect because he healed. Hoenheim von Elric, they said, a traveler from the grand empire to the north.
She knew him at the first. She knew the gold of his hair, the set of his jaw, the quality of his mind. She had divined it, and so she walked over to him. Didn't even introduce herself, just walked over and asked him, "Do you believe in God?," knowing already the answer.
He'd started at her sudden appearance and at the question, and though he answered, "Of course," she'd known the truth from his golden eyes.
"You're my heretic," she'd said, reaching up to him. "You're my virtuous heretic, to show me the way."
Always clever, von Elric: he smiled, caught her hand, pressed it. "And who are you?"
"Dante Alighieri," she responded solemnly. "I've been wandering through hell, Virgil; could you lead me forth? My fate is paradise; could you show me the way?"
"And what if I say no, Dante?" he asked her, smiling. He had a charming smile, secretive, dark. She knew his true intentions from his eyes; she could divine it.
"You can't say no," she replied, her voice the low soft murmur to which the sin inside her urged her. "You're virtuous. You're obligated."
And he was obligated. He smiled at that, denied again that he was indeed a heretic. She pressed him, and his protests shifted – not virtuous, now, no contract with God that place upon him the burden of a guide. But her demon whispered in her ear what to say, and she repeated his words. Soft words, they were, as she lay her hand upon his chest, hooked a finger under his collar – as he leaned down next to her ear and matched her tone for tone, the feel of his voice against her ear sending chills across her skin.
She used him. She knew that, and was unashamed. She took him to her, as once she had taken malcontent, taken her demon, and because he whispered lying vows in her ears, she felt justified. And he taught her, even as she taught him. He made her happy even as she pleased him. Symbiosis, perhaps. Each of them stronger and happier in the end.
Not in the end, though. In the moment. For just as once malcontent had been pushed from her by a greater power, so now was that power gone. Slipped away in the memory of his strong, clean face, lips quirked up in dreaming. And she would reach out for him, for his smoky hands that led. She would pull away before she made contact, afraid of his waking, afraid of something more.
Girls fell in love. She was no girl. She was more. She was Dante, and he was Virgil, and for all the poet's faithful service, he, the virtuous heretic, was in the end condemned still to wander the upper layers of hell. She was to see paradise, and there was no room for him, no room for love for him, there. What he gave her was companionship, warmth, a simple tug on the hand to lead her to the stars. She felt for him – a bit of affection, perhaps, but nothing more, for her fate held none of him.
But sometimes it was something more.