for Clawdia - a heaping bowlful of delicious angst as a reward for being the 200th reviewer on my story Side by Side. Congratulations, hope you enjoy. And thanks to my beta, Falling Tears of Death, without whom this story would be crap, and lost to the bowels of my computer.
It had never mattered to him before. Killing was a spur of the moment thing, or an assignment. Envy would kill because he had to, under strict orders from Dante, or he would kill simply because he needed a break. Being an assassin was both his job and his recreation. But for the first time, Envy realized that the woman pinned to the wall by a merciless elbow to the throat was a living, breathing person. And behind those terrified, sobbing brown eyes was a mind, more complex and more human than his mind could ever become. And she had a family to go home to, and people would miss her when she didn't return, and those same people would mourn when her body was found tossed in a ditch by the Central Police.
And so, for the first time, out of morbid, sick curiosity, he truly looked into a victim's eyes. There was terror there, yes; a pure, animal fear that was more instinct than anything rational. And yet, behind that panic was a question. The woman's entire being - her soul - was asking Envy a question. Her eyes screamed 'Why?'
"I don't know." Envy answered, and killed her anyway.
That night, for the first time in a very long while, Envy received a visitor. Actually, he was the visitor. He had just visited so often that he was a regular there, and anyone else who interrupted his vigil was the true stranger. And Edward had decided to wake up.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, torn between sleepiness and rage, transmuting his arm into a blade but not bothering to untangle himself from his blanket. His eyes were lined and bloodshot from stress, the sin noted disinterestedly, and probably grief, too.
Envy's reply was concise. "Thinking."
"Thinking about what?" the blonde asked, relaxing slightly and drawing the covers back over his shoulders. He looked up at the figure perched on his windowsill, who hadn't bothered to meet his eyes. The blue glow of alchemy filled the room again as he reformed his automail hand and shivered. "You're letting in the breeze, you know."
The old Edward would have raged and tried to start a fight. But now, since no further elaboration was offered, he simply went back to sleep. Envy resumed his watch, gazing at the moon. Ed had woken up before, he knew. This was simply the first time the alchemist had spoken.
There was a choice. There was always a choice. And that was the fact that occupied his thoughts that night.
Technically, only humans are supposed to have free will. It was a particular that alchemists had overlooked when they discovered how to create humanity's opposite - the anti-human - the homunculus. A being with a dead soul and an immortal body (whereas humans have dying bodies and immortal souls), they were created to be puppets. Yet, as they were formed from a person, they were not perfect in their puppetry. They, by and large, kept their minds, and the ghost of a memory of their humanity.
Many times, the memory of free will becomes much more than a recollection.
Tonight, the choice was this: gold or purple. Simple. Purely aesthetic. Envy knew it was the biggest choice he would ever make.
The next night and the next night passed, and the choice remained. It hovered in front of him like a soap bubble - iridescent, ethereal, and easy to ignore. He paid no attention to it for the rest of the week, and, during those seven days, looked into all of his victims' eyes, searching.
Once, he had a dream. It was dark and he was sitting at the windowsill and keeping watch, even though he knew the alchemist felt more uneasy at being protected by a mortal enemy than by fighting with them, and he had turned to gaze at his charge. Edward's hair was spread on his pillow, glinting like flaxen threads as he inhaled. Envy felt an aching in his chest for his lack of breath, and before he thought, he was kneeling at the bedside, putting his lips over the other's mouth, trying to breathe as he breathed.
And Edward had woken and begun a kiss, and Envy buried his fingers in treasure and untangled the braid, and the kisses turned into touches as they ached to find out more about themselves, and to escape the net of mourning that had begun to strangle them both. And neither had really known what they were doing.
When the dream had almost ended, Edward cradled Envy's head in his palms and kissed his forehead. He looked into his victim's eyes, and he promised, because he would do anything to keep sleeping. "I'll never hurt you. I swear."
Envy closed his eyes, because he was tired of souls. "I've finished thinking." he said. "I won't hurt you, either."
And when he opened his eyes again, he was back on the windowsill, staring at the stars - it was a new moon that night. He didn't dare turn back to the alchemist, but instead looked at the palm of his hand. Three fatal strands of hair rested there, glimmering faintly in the cast-off radiance of shuttered windows. They were golden.
A new soldier had enlisted in the military. He had strange green hair and stranger habits, and absolutely refused to wear the blue coat and pants and the leather boots of ordinary privates. Instead, he kept his skimpy black cloth outfit. He also kept his knowledge of the enemy. He would give it to his superiors, he said, when they earned it.
Only four people knew of his defection. One of them was Envy himself, one was Edward, one was Roy Mustang, and the final one of them was dead - had been dead, for too long.
Alphonse had been killed, in chains, in cold blood, two months before. He had received no eulogy from his enemies, had died as he was a common criminal. A quick smudge of the thumb was all it had taken. A few drips of water on the blood seal, making it drip down, and then a push and a twist and it was over. Envy had refused to take part in the killing. He had held Al's hand and comforted him as he tried to be strong for his broken family. He had made a promise - because he was the only one that could make the promise - that he would protect the boy's brother. When the end came, Envy had stared into Alphonse's glowing red eyes, and cried for the boy who couldn't cry.
He left as the lifeless armor crumpled to the ground, and had not returned to his fellows since. He went to keep his promise.
There was a lot of trash to be taken out that day. Envy was throwing away his safety. Edward was throwing out his inhibitions. Roy was getting rid of his preconceptions. Needless to say, there was a lot of hostility, too.
The ghost of Al was an unseen spectator overshadowing them all, just like he had done when he had been alive. Edward, his brother, spoke first. "Colonel Mustang," he choked on the title, "this is Envy, a homunculus. He wishes to join with us and help the military against the rest of his kind. I thought it would be advisable to take his request to you for further consideration." He saluted stiffly.
The man had aged since Envy saw him last. He looked weary, and there was infinite compassion in his eyes as he gazed at his subordinate. "Why are you doing this, Edward?" he asked slowly. "You know we can't trust him, or any of his kind. Are you forgetting? They killed-" He stopped.
"Al. They killed Al." And for the first time in two months, Edward's eyes filled with passionate hostility. "And that's why I'm doing this. If I want a decent chance at revenge, I'll have to have one of them on my side." He glared and dared Mustang to disagree, then deflated. "And besides," he said, softly now. "I... I just know we can trust him." And in the gold of his eyes was the shadow of a shared dream.
Envy watched the debate from his seat on the couch, the puppet - yet again - of two humans who had no idea how lucky they were.
Life went on. It was an odd feeling to Envy - being almost trusted and almost liked. It was the closest he had ever come to being on the receiving end of something akin to human emotion, and he did not dislike it. He was a valuable special operative. He worked out of Edward's bedroom, at night. It was an arrangement they were equally uncomfortable with.
Instead of taking Al's empty bed, neatly made up and tucked in, Envy kept his old perch on the windowsill. The breeze was fresher. He was closer to the sky. There were less memories hanging around. And while his new partner slept (he marveled at the irony of calling Edward a 'partner', of an alchemist being paired with a thing that broke the very laws of alchemy), he gazed at the moon and thought.
He did not sleep. He did not dream - he had only dreamt once, in four hundred years - because dreaming requires a soul. He simply calculated.
The odds he would be caught. The odds that they could defeat his former brothers and sisters, and his all-powerful mother. The odds that he would live until the year's end. The odds either of them would live. None of them were very hopeful.
And sometimes he was bold enough to watch the sleeping alchemist, and calculate the odds that Edward remembered the dream, and his promise.
Those odds weren't very hopeful, either. But they were still friends... sort of, and Envy remembered. And he always kept his promises.
But now - the Fuhrer knew. Pride had seen him, last night, on the way back to Edward's room, because he had been stupid enough to think that he belonged, and that he wouldn't have to shape shift into some innocuous officer. Envy went striding in as if he owned the place and the man - the homunculus - who really did own the place had caught him. And he had simply chuckled, and motioned Envy onwards with that strange twinkle in his one visible eye. His fist remained on one of the twin swords as Envy nodded and waved nervously and hurried away.
And now his fear grew, because Dante might have passed this off as a sulking act, or a son's temper tantrum. But now everything would fall apart because Pride knew and he would report a rebellion even worse than Greed's had been, a century before.
After he had slunk out of his hiding place in the morning, confident enough in his disguise as an anonymous female military conscript, he began a desperate search for Edward. But the alchemist wasn't in his room, or the library, or the Alchemists' Office, or the cafeteria, or anywhere else he could feasibly be. And Envy's stomach was churning with nausea to think that Ed might be, at this moment, chained to a chair in the old mansion, or rotting in the Fuhrer's dungeon.
Panting, he skidded to a halt in front of Roy Mustang's office and barged in, desperate. He turned back and shut the door almost immediately, leaning against it in a crumpled slump. Envy felt his heart - his lack of a heart, his anti-heart - ripping in two.
There was nothing between them. They had never made a quantifiable commitment. Nothing had happened, and nothing was going to happen, Envy was sure of that now.
Yet at the same time, something inside of him cried out at the injustice of it all. Edward had made a promise to him, first. And yes, it was a promise in a dream, and dreams weren't even considered real, but Envy was hurting now and he knew who to blame. And he knew he had been ridiculous for thinking it meant anything at all but there was no denying that it had meant something.
And Edward, there in the office with the door unlocked, practically wrapped around Roy Mustang, who was at least ten years older (but a baby compared to Envy's four hundred thirteen), and kissing him passionately - Edward was making him hurt. He had broken the promise first.
Straightening up, Envy turned on his heel and left the room. He felt nothing. The faintest stirrings of the ghost of a memory of a soul had died, and he was frozen again.
"My son." Dante said, her voice echoing through the empty staircases and vaulted ceilings of the mansion. "You've returned." Today she was clad in a simple young girl, with short straight hair and an unnaturally cruel smile.
Envy knelt lower, bowing his head and exposing the back of his neck in a gesture of submission. "I have." he replied simply, coldly. Already, his mind was rearranging itself. He had never defected. He had never had any human emotion. Edward was and always had been his mortal enemy. Next time he saw the alchemist, he would kill him.
"And do you have something for me?" the soul in the body of a girl asked. Dante wanted an apology, so she could mete out punishment with a feeling that justice was being served.
"I do." Envy said, looking up. "During my three months as a spy in the Central Military, I have gained valuable information about both of our main candidates for human sacrifice, as well as passwords and inside information on Colonel Mustang's plan." His voice was colder and more distant than usual, reflecting his mind.
Dante's eyes widened and she took a step back. "I appreciate your efforts, Envy," she said finally. "But next time, warn me. We do have Pride for that sort of thing, after all."
Standing, he nodded, and followed her into the depths of the house, back to the darkness where he belonged, because a shadow cannot survive among ghosts and a dream cannot survive a broken promise.
He had killed a man, on his way back. And Envy hadn't looked into his victim's eyes. He was done with souls.
I hope you enjoyed; I was trying out a new writing style so please tell me what you think. I'm sorry for the depressiveness but we all need a little angst sometime. Thanks for reading!