Wages of Sin
Author – cornerofmadness
Disclaimer- never has been mine, all rights belong to Arakawa
Timeline/Spoilers – technically set a very long time before the start of the series and draws heavily from Hohenheim's history in chapters 74-75 so very spoilery for them
Pairing – Hohenheim/O.C.
Summary – He hasn't lost enough of his humanity to blind him to his responsibilities.
Word count – 7089
Author's Note – written for the fma_fic_contest for the prompt 'sin.' I've been wanting to write young Hoheheim ever since he first cropped up in chapter 74. This isn't quite what I originally had in mind but it was the story he wanted to tell.
Warning – I guess original characters might warrant a warning since a lot of people don't care for them. Then again, you sort of have to expect them since this is taking place - centuries? Longer? - before the beginning of the main story (has the actual date on the disappearance of Xerxes been documented?)
Author's Note #2 – While this did run as one long piece for the contest, I'm breaking it in two here. It'll be easier to deal with (for those who prefer to wait until all chapters are up, there will be only two and both will go up this week)
His feet ached, fine blisters having turned into massive sole-covering ones miles ago. Von Hohenheim stumbled across the cold desert, wishing he hadn't had the misfortune of trying to cross to the nearest city at the tail end of fall. In the day, the temperature still soared to levels that made traveling dangerous but at night, the heat bled off, leaving behind a bitter cold.
Xerxes had died and it was his fault. The decision to give the king immortality hadn't been his but he couldn't help think that the homunculus had somehow been egged on by him. After all, it had been created out of his blood, absorbing his imperfect nature. In spite of the creature's claims all those years ago, he wasn't stupid. Hohenheim suspected the thing had manipulated him for years, teaching him to be something other than a slave, waiting, biding its time until it could use him to forge what it most desired: a body that could roam free of its flask.
He shuddered against the cold, against the press of memory. All those bodies, so many of them, surrounding him. Hohenheim couldn't grasp that day where everything changed. It flittered away like rain into the desert sand. He remembered hitting his knees, shrieking until he felt something tear inside his throat, then nothing until the buzz of flies and the stench of rotting flesh drove him from the place he had hidden within himself. The homunculus, his twin now, was gone. Picking up the shattered pieces of his mind, Hohenheim tried to mend himself, setting off after the thing but he wasn't sure exactly where it had gone, not to mention it had a big head start.
He had pushed hard but on foot the going was rough. All the horses were dead along with all the people. Now, his food and water were at their limits. He had passed through two towns, ones he remembered from his master's plans. They were as dead as Xerxes, their lives bundled into his soul, altering him in ways he hadn't dreamed possible. He would tear them free, even if it cost him his life, if only he could do it. Hohenheim's changed body had healed at first, his sore muscles fading into normalcy as he slept, blisters from wear and from the sun smoothing out almost as fast as they cropped up but now, his body was slower to recover. He was too exhausted, too hungry and thirsty. Immortality was one thing, invinciblity another as he was fast finding out. He had taken a bad fall two days back, breaking his body in a way nothing still human would have survived. It took many hours of painful popping and knitting together but his bones straightened and strengthened and he was on his way again.
Unstoppable, the sun inched toward its zenith. Hohenheim knew he would have to stop, pitch his shelter and wait it out. His belly rumbled and he unconsciously wet chapped, burnt lips. Ahead he spotted a tree so he stumbled that direction. It wouldn't be much shade but some was better than nothing. A sweet scent filled the air as he got closer. Figs! He had found a fig tree but what could have made it set fruit out of season? His golden eyes narrowed thinking of one creature with power enough for that but he didn't care at the moment. Gorging himself on the delicious fruit, Hohenheim set up his camp and collapsed into its shade, his belly full and aching.
After three days of nothing but figs, he was sick to death of them. Worse, they were nearly gone and what little moisture he gleaned from them wasn't enough. Then there was the gastrointestinal distress all that fruit had put him through. He hadn't imagined suffering like this, not even when his Master experimented on him. The Philosopher Stone, this thing he had become, kept repairing the damage that should have killed him days ago so he didn't die. It didn't mean, however, that he was immune to delirium.
Hohenheim knew he was slipping. He had to fight to retain his sense of purpose, to reverse the sin he had inadvertently helped give birth to. More and more every time he blinked, he was back in Xerxes, the market place bustling, his fellow slaves joking with him, everyone full of life. He never saw the ravine until he fell down it, the rocks robbing him of the last of his sense.
When he managed to pry his eyes open, Hohenheim slowly became aware that he was out of the sun, resting on something comfortable. He blinked against the bright light streaming through the window. Window? Startled, he sat up, making a young woman yelp, nearly knocking over the mortar she was crushing something in. Hohenheim studied her, realizing she was too well dressed to be a slave like himself. Cloth, the color of the sapphire ring he had seen on the king's finger, draped off her, revealing hints of cinnamon skin. Her eyes, like fresh dark cherries, observed him right back, a keen intelligence gleaming in them.
"Who are you?" His voice was a rough croak. "Where am I?"
Smiling, she stood and fetched a pitcher, pouring a cup of water. Nestling into the crook of his hip, she pressed it to his lips. With a shaking hand, Hohenheim took it from her. "This is my home. Some of the children who gather herbs and other things I need found you in the desert. I had you brought back here. This is Avanti and I'm Lilavati. The more important question is who are you and what were you doing out in the desert alone? I'm not sure how you survived the fall you took."
"Twen…" he shook his head, sipping more water. He couldn't believe he had almost slipped up that badly. He had to be very disoriented to revert back to his childhood designation. He hadn't been that number in years. "Von Hohenheim." He greedily drained the rest of the mug. "Why did you bring me here?"
"Would you rather I have left you out for the scavengers to finish?" She brushed his greasy hair back. "Easy on the water. You'll make yourself sick." Lilavati got up to fetch him more but not before yanking on a bell pull.
Hohenheim wasn't sure what to make of her. In Xerxes, very few women were their own person. She obviously had money judging on the size of the room, the things in it and her clothing. That didn't mean she wasn't the wife of a wealthy man but she had said it was her home, her servants. "Your home has a …lab?" he phrased the question slowly, wondering if it would give offense.
"My home has many things," she replied enigmatically as the door opened and a young girl came in. "Padma, please go fetch some beef tea for our guest."
"Yes ma'am." The girl disappeared as quickly as she came.
"My father was a trader and alchemist, very successful in both parts of his life except for one thing. I was his only child." Lilavanti's shrewd eyes fixed on Hohenheim again. "He never treated me like some empty-headed chit. I learned his businesses and in spite of my age and my sex, they take me seriously. I'm good at what I do."
"If I implied otherwise, I apologize." Hohenheim lay back on the cot, wanting to shut his eyes and sleep for a lifetime. "I've studied a bit of alchemy as well. It's why I asked about the lab."
"Then bringing you here might have hidden benefits." A light smile touched her full lips. "I notice you haven't answered my question. Why were you out in the desert?"
"I was following someone. He hurt people I cared about it and needs to pay for it," Hohenheim replied with more vehemence than he expected.
Her face hardened. "Where are you from? Will someone be looking for you?"
He glanced away. "There is no one left. The whole city is gone, thanks to him."
Lilavanti rolled that information around then inclined her head to the side, making her blue veil ruffle, a hint of walnut hair showing under it. "You mean Xerxes or maybe Ozymandias."
"Xerxes," Hohenheim muttered.
Her shrewd scrutiny deepened. "You're an alchemist?"
He nodded. He wasn't sure if he could pass himself off as anything but a slave but he was going to try. Everyone who'd known that he was one had died and the brand on his hip wasn't likely to be seen. "Apprenticed."
"I'll be looking forward to seeing what you can do," Lilavanti said, turning as the door to the lab opened. She got up and took the cup off the tray Padma carried. "Thank you." Taking the dismissal, the serving girl left and Lilavanti sat next to Hohenheim again as he struggled back up into a sitting position. "Here, this should fortify you a bit."
The scent of beef broth and onion perked Hohenheim up. He sipped greedily at the beef tea, wanting to tell her that he could handle something more substantial but he didn't. Nothing human could have fallen as he had, lain in the desert and still be in the good shape he really was in. He was content to play the invalid for a day or two. At this point, he was so far behind the homunculus, it hardly mattered. He had no idea if this was even the way the thing had fled.
"What does this man look like?" Lilavanti asked wisely. "I can have wanted posters hung in the square."
Hohenheim shook his head. "He's my…twin." What else was there to do but claim that kinship? The thing looked like him now. "Hanging my face there wouldn't do me much good."
"No, I suppose not." She took the mug from his hand as he fumbled to set it aside. "Sleep. I doubt my studies here will interrupt you."
Hohenheim wanted to say that he wasn't tired, that he had too many questions and worries to sleep. Instead, he let her settle him back against the cot and cover him with a thin sheet, intending to voice his questions once she was safely across the room where she couldn't mother him. He didn't even manage to stay awake long enough for her to get there.
The undeniable urge to urinate woke Hohenheim up. He managed to get to his feet which had been bound up with soft bandages. The movement caught Lilavanti's eyes. She turned, giving him a curious look. "Are you feeling better?"
He nodded. "I need…" A blush crept up his face in danger of setting his beard on fire.
"You've been asleep nearly a day, I'm sure you do. There's a privy through that door." She pointed across her lab into the darkest corner.
Hohenheim took care of his body's needs then took his time poking around the lab. Lilavanti didn't say anything to him as if content to let him learn about her by learning about her art. He immediately identified a few alembic glass arrangements and knew what she was trying to accomplish. Other items surprised him and he wanted to know what they did. The sun was no longer streaming from the window but he looked out any how just to see what there was to see of Avanti. His jaw dropped. He was no longer in the desert but rather seemed to be in the foothills of the mountains. He had seem them at the edge of the desert as he walked but hadn't realized in his delirium how far he had come.
"We're in the hills?"
She nodded. "Actually more literally than you know. A portion of my home is built into the mountain itself, cooling and protective. Do you feel up for a small tour?"
He grinned. "That would be very nice." He followed Lilavanti, thinking that this estate was much like the one he spent his life on, enormous, filled with the finest of things and any number of slaves to keep it all running. He passed two of them polishing the stone staircase as it spiraled down deeper into the structure. "You have a lot of…help here."
"I employ a lot of servants," she agreed.
Intelligent garnet eyes studied him too intently as she paused in her tour. "I dislike slavery." Her gaze swept over his ragged clothing. "Did you tell me the truth, Hohenheim? Are you an alchemist or as you a slave? I won't send you back if you are, not that there is anyplace to send you to."
He looked down at the mosaic under his feet. "I'm an apprentice alchemist. My master did die," he whispered, almost wanting to trust this woman with the truth but there was so much pain inside him that even he hadn't acknowledgeable to himself, let alone share.
Lilavanti scowled. "I am sorry. It has to be hard, knowing your brother is to blame but how could he have taken out so many cities at once? Whole cities disappearing in one day? Was it alchemy?"
"Of the worst kind," His fists clenched. "I won't talk about that. It's nothing that should even be whispered about, let alone written down."
Her strong hand touched his elbow. "I have no intentions of that."
In slow measures, his body relaxed. "Good." He looked askance at her. "Sorry if I sound like I'm giving you orders. I don't mean to. I just wanted…." He sighed.
"If this alchemy you're referencing destroyed whole cities, I want nothing to do with it. I agree, it should be hidden away for all time. That is too much of a temptation."
"Agreed," Hohenheim said strongly.
Lilavanti patted his arm again. "Let me show you more of my home."
He followed obediently. Hohenheim wasn't expecting anything like this when Lilavanti led him through a door. He had smelled the minerals in the hallways and thought maybe she was leading him to another lab. Instead, it opened to a private hot spring. "What is this place?" He glanced around, looking at the table and chairs set off in one corner and the large slab of marble at the edge of the pool, like a sacrificial altar.
"A hot spring bath. I thought you might enjoy it. Asha will be along shortly to help."
Hohenheim flushed at that idea and felt a little mortified at the same time. That they were cutting the tour short so he could bathe suggested one thing; he stank. "Help me? I can bathe by myself."
She tsked at him. "It's not just a bath. It's an experience. I'll be back for you when it's done. Strip down. There are towels there."
Still blushing, he watched her go. He hadn't bathed since the day everyone died or changed his clothing. Once his senses came back to him, he had taken off with the clothes on his back after the homunculus. Any water he found in the desert wasn't about to be wasted on bathing. He decided not to wait for Asha. Maybe once he was wet she'd just let him bathe himself. Besides, he was utterly filthy. He was ashamed to have anyone see him.
Stripping down, Hohenheim splashed into the spring, stunned by the heat of it. A cloud of grey rippled away from his reddening skin. He was very glad he hadn't let anyone see how dirty he was. Still, that didn't stop him from blushing when he heard someone say, "You were supposed to wait."
In contrast to the young Padma, Asha was old enough to be his mother with strong looking arms and hands. She beckoned to him then patted the marble slab. "Lie down."
Frowning, Hohenheim got out of the water, wondering if he tried to shield parts of himself with a hand if this woman would be offended. After all, she did this as part of her job. Also, he had no desire to leave the nice hot water to lie on a cold piece of marble. To his surprise, the waters below seemed to have heated the stone.
"There you go, just lie back and let your muscles relax," she said, holding up a fluffy towel. She draped it not over his privates but his eyes. "I'll be back soon."
Hohenheim waited for a few moments before peeling up the towel. Asha seemed to be gone. He knew this was a very bad idea but he hadn't known how to dissuade Lilavanti, especially since he so obviously needed it. Asha would see the brand his master put on his hip as a boy and tell Lilavanti. He would have to confess that he lied about being a slave. Hohenheim rubbed at his hip, shocked upright when he didn't feel the roughened skin that had been part of him almost all his life.
His skin was smooth, pink from the heat, but otherwise unmarked. He hadn't really taken the time to do more than drop his trousers as the demands of his body dictated. He hadn't noticed the brand had apparently healed, just one more gift from the homunculus? Hohenheim hated to think about it but it would at least work for him. He settled back on the stone, putting the towel back over his face. He sweated but at least it wasn't from fear. Still, there was the feel of being a slice of bacon in a pan lying on the stone like he was.
Without warning hot, sudsy water dropped all over him. Sputtering, Hohenheim flailed around but Asha caught hold of him, scrubbing even as he squirmed. Taking the towel off, he glared at her but she wasn't even look at him as she rubbed him roughly with a wide towel. He simply relaxed and tried to tell himself this was supposed to be a treat, not a punishment. She scooped up a bucket of steaming spring water and dumped it on him as a rinse.
Asha pointed to a niche in the shallow end of the pool. "Go have a seat."
"I'm not clean enough?" He was fairly sure she had cleaned his skin off down to muscle.
"We're not done."
A little too frightened of this woman to disobey, Hohenheim slunk into the water and awaited his fate. He slipped further down into the pool at her command and to his surprise, she started massaging his feet under the warm water. As Asha slowly worked her way up, any erotic reactions he feared might pop up, were chased away by the pain of his tight, superbly overworked muscles yielding to the strength in her hands. He was as insubstantial as the steam rising from the pool when she was done.
Hohenheim had barely finished pulling on his clothing, which he had noticed was no longer stinking rags but some nondescript trousers and tunic probably offered up by a house servant, when Lilavanti came back in.
She smiled at him. "Feel better?"
"Much," he said, though he felt a little like a wrung out rag. "Thank you."
She beckoned him to follow. "Let's finish the tour."
Hohenheim had to wonder, once again, why she was being so kind to him and why was she showing him everything. He waited until she took him to the observation tower before asking. "You have an amazing house. This room alone is magnificent for keeping record of the stars but why show it to me?"
Her garnet eyes regarded him studiously for several long moments before she replied. "I thought you would appreciate what I have here and what I could make of it with my alchemy."
That wasn't a response he had been expected. "It sounds as if you'd like me to stay."
"For a while, perhaps. You said you weren't sure where your twin might have gone. I can help you and you and I can compare notes, teach each other," she replied.
He studied her for a moment. "But you don't know me. How do you know I'm not dangerous?"
"I suppose that I don't." Her lips pulled back in a smile utterly devoid of warmth. "But I do know that I am dangerous."
Hohenheim spread his hands. "I believe you." And he did, very much so. He had never been so intrigued by someone. "Thank you for letting me stay. I accept your offer."
Summer displaced the winter in her face. "Oh good. Then I suppose we should find you a guest room and some clothing of your own."
"I don't have money to pay for rent or clothing," he flushed.
"Don't worry. You'll be working off your debt." Those red eyes glittered like rubies in sunlight.
Somehow that made Hohenheim just a touch nervous.