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Hohenheim hated the complacency that had settled over him since coming to Lilavanti's home. The first few days he submitted to his body's demands to rest. He should have gone after the homunculus then but he hadn't the first clue where to go. The thing wasn't human. Had it absorbed enough of him to give it some of his weaknesses? Hohenheim wasn't betting on it.

Lilavanti had promised she had people with their ears to the ground listening for leads but so far nothing. He had spent his time with Lilavanti, at least when she wasn't attending to her spice import business. She was amazingly smart and so very intuitive about alchemy in ways his master could only dream about.

And there had been frightening changes within him. Hohenheim had been aware of his physical changes but as he spent the last two weeks working alchemy with Lilavanti he realized he didn't need books. He didn't even need an array. Everything Lilavanti showed him, things he had never seen his master do, were already there in his head. Hiding that from her was difficult.

That might be just another reason to move on. What might she think of him if she knew what he was now? He had been here going on three weeks and while he could tell himself it was because he lost track of the homunculus, Hohenheim really knew it was because he wanted to stay near Lilavanti.

He headed out to the courtyard, thinking he might just keep on walking. It was selfish and wrong of him to remain here. He doubted there was anyone other than him who could stop the homunculus. It was unfair for him to hole up here, enjoying himself. And what could he possibly offer to Lilavanti? His slave brand might have disappeared from his hip but what his master had done to him hadn't similarly faded.

Hohenheim had to confess some of the thoughts in his mind has less to do with alchemy and everything to do with the glimpses he stole of tanned skin and the sweet spicy smell of her. Shuddering at the memories, Hohenheim remembered his first pathetic attempts with a slave girl. His master had beat him mercilessly, leaving him bloody for risking impregnating a slave of her importance to the household.

Later, the master thought better of things, once the homunculus started talking to Hohenheim, teaching him things. He moved from something the master experimented on to a creature of the same importance as the lead stallion. His Master had given him to various slave girls with the express purpose of making him more children with his talents to experiment on. Mostly it had been a failure. The mere idea of what could happen to his children had left him flaccid more often than not.

Pushing Lilavanti and the thoughts that young men often entertained about women out of his mind, Hohenheim tried to think like a homunculus. Where would the creature go?

"Von?"

He turned, seeing Lilavanti. Dressed for going out, she rivaled the sun in her yellow wrapped gown that was bordered with a rich purple. Had that been the shade she was working on in the lab? It was beautiful. No, she was beautiful, with her hair finally loosened from the stern braid she usually wore it in. "Yes?"

"Come with me to town. I got word that someone might have seen your twin."

He bolted up. If he had ever been taught religion – something of no concern to slaves – Hohenheim would have thought this divine intervention. "Finally!"

"Eager to leave my company." She arched her eyebrow.

He flushed, stammering, "No…it's just…I have to find and stop him."

"I'd be sorry to see you go," she said after a moment's thought.

Hohenheim flushed even brighter. "Thank you. I've not been eager to leave but I have responsibilities to attend to."

She touched his hand. "I know. Shall we?"

"Of course."

Hohenheim always found himself oddly shy in the bustling marketplace. It wasn't as if he was new to the crowds, the tantalizing smells and the loud noises. But to the vendors he had always been just Number Twenty-Three or Achan's slave. He knew how migratory some vendors were. All he needed was for someone to call out Slave Twenty-three and accidentally answer.

He appreciated that Lilavanti seemed to be all business, not dallying at all as she cut a path through the market square. That was until she stopped at one stand. She nodded at the vendor then picked up two big dates.

"I love dates. They taste like captured sunlight." Lilavanti pressed one to Hohenheim's lips and he ate it obediently. "You look like sunlight with that hair and those wonderful eyes of yours, Von."

"We're gold and rubies," he replied, delighted she was flirting with him and at the same time angry with himself because he shouldn't be getting this close to anyone.

Lilavanti popped the second date into her mouth, rolling her eyes up. "Delicious. I'll be back on my way home," she assured the vendor before heading back off into the crowd.

Hohenheim followed her into a permanent store front of a cloth merchant. She didn't stop to look at any of the bright, cheery bolts. Instead, she headed to the back of the store where a grey haired man worked on a tally sheet spread out on a desk.

"Miss Agashe." He grinned upon seeing her. "I see you got my message."

"Thank you, Mr. Mompou, I did."

The merchant glanced past her, spotting Hohenheim and his eyes widened. "I guess my information isn't necessary. You already found him."

Hohenheim shook his head. "No, that was my twin. I'm trying to find him."

"I saw him three nights ago in Salt Mine," Mompou said. "In the market. I have no idea if he's still there."

Hohenheim held up his hands. "That's all right. This is more than enough. It gives me a place to start. Thank you very much."

"You're welcome."

"Do you know what he was doing there?" Hohenheim asked hopefully. He feared knowing the answer.

The older man shrugged. "I'm afraid not. He just seemed to be browsing the various stalls. Is there anything I can do for you, Miss Agashe?"

"No, this was plenty. Thank you. I'll send Padme over to pick up some new bolts of cloth," she said, making Mompou happy.

Lilavanti led Hohenheim out, studying his face but she waited until she bought loads of dates, lemon-soaked olives and olive oil – all carried by him. He was half-thankful for his slave-born muscles- before she said anything to him. "You're going to leave."

"I have to."

She didn't reply. Hohenheim's heart felt heavier than the packages he toted.

XXX

Hohenheim sat on the balcony of his guest room. He gazed out over the mountains, watching shadows play on them as the clouds danced around the moon. He should be packing but he didn't know what he should take. Everything he now had had been given to him by Lila. Should he take it? Offer her some sort of payment? And what did he think he was going to use for money? A knock on the door surprised him. Going back into the bedroom, he opened the door. "Lila?"

"I'm coming with you," she said without preamble.

"You can't!" he replied shocked.

"You don't get to decide what I do, Hohenheim," she reminded him primly. "Have you ever been to Salt Mine before?"

"No, but…"

"I'm a spice merchant. I have a large holding in that town. I know it well. No one will think twice about me being there. I'll be an asset."

He took her hand. "You don't understand, Lilavanti. He's dangerous. I don't want to put you at risk."

"I'm not an idiot, Hohenheim. If he destroyed Xerxes and several other cities in one night with his alchemy, how could he be anything other than dangerous? I do understand why you feel you have to chase after him."

"I'm responsible for him." Hohenheim sighed, seeing in her eyes his chances of dissuading her and she was right. He could use her help. "Why are you doing this?"

She ran a hand up his cheek, her fingers digging in his beard. "isn't it obvious?"

Feeling his cheeks getting hot, Hohenheim stepped back a pace. "I…uh…you can't mean…"

"Why not? Because I'm rich and you, no matter what you say, are a slave?" Lilavanti caught hold of his hand again. "There's no one here to keep you in that role. Asha said you don't have a brand on you."

"Then why are you so sure that I am?" he whispered.

"Because of a hundred different little things. I don't care about that, Hohenheim. It would be a waste of talent to let you be anything other than an alchemist. Consider this the beginning of your new life." Her lips brushed against his.

He considered protesting. Instead, he tasted deeply of her sweet lips, letting her guide him back to the bed.

X X X

Hohenheim was glad he agreed to bring Lilavanti with him under the pretense of her business. He would have been lost in Salt Mine. Finding the homunculus, however, proved to be trickier than he had hoped. Half the clues they got were actually sightings of him.

"I actually do have to go to the spice market," Lilavanti said apologetically. She drew his chin down so she could kiss him. She scrubbed a finger over his beard. "What can I do to convince you to lose this thing?"

"A proper man needs a good beard," he retorted. "Go, handle your business. I think I've got a sense of the town by now. I'll check on that lead down at the river front. That's once place I know I've not been."

"Be careful and think about it. That thing scratches and my skin is delicate." She smiled at him before disappearing into the market crowd, leaving him red-faced.

Hohenheim took a few steps then stopped, feeling something odd. It felt familiar yet somehow sickening as if the air had gone foul. Glancing around, he tried to figure out why such a think would feel even the least bit familiar but his mind skittered around the idea. Seeing nothing tremendously out of the ordinary for a marketplace, he headed for the river.

He scoured the area for hours but found nothing. He was returning to the small home she maintained in this town with thoughts of taking Lilavanti somewhere for dinner when a small boy ran up to him.

The child held out a scrap of paper. "Someone paid me to give this to you." His eyes were wide with wonder at the idea of having coin in hand.

Hohenheim read it, figuring it was another dead end. Someone claimed he could find the homunculus at some temple. He had no idea where it was. "Boy, do you know where the temple of Ishbala is?"

He bobbed his head. "That's on the edge of town. They're just building it. My dad says they're all crazy, worshipping some new god. The real gods are gonna be mad about it."

Hohenheim just hummed noncommitantly. He dug in his pocket and gave the boy a wooden coin before heading off. The temple, as it turned out, wasn't much of one. Only a foundation and part of two walls existed. Behind it was a sprawl of woods. That sickeningly familiar sensation struck him again. He followed it into the woods, stopping seeing his own face grinning back at him. The homunculus lounged atop a mossy, flat-topped boulder. Lilavanti lay dazed at the base of the rock, her face bloodied.

"Lilavanti!" Hohenheim cried then realized he had given himself away from the huge grin slithering across the homunculus' face.

"You care about this fragile thing?" His mirror-image cocked its head to one side. "Don't lie,Von Hohenheim. I've known you for years. You lie terribly."

"Von," Lilavanti tried to sit up. "Where…"

"If you can, Lilavanti, get out of here," Hohenheim said, thinking madly. He wasn't a fighter, something he hadn't considered until now. Hell, he realized how poorly he had prepared for this day. What was he expecting? The homunculus wasn't going to go back into a flask willingly, even if it was possible. Slaves weren't trained to fight. Hohenheim suddenly understood he could lose.

A shadowy hand slithered out of the homunculus, snaring Lilavanti. "I don't think she'll be going anywhere. I think I might like to kill her."

"Why?" Hohenheim's voice rasped. "You said you owed me. Why would you want to take someone I care about from me?"

Homunculus grinned. "To see what it feels like."

"You've already killed whole cities. You know what this feels like," Hohenheim argued.

Clawing at the inky 'fingers' holding her, Lilavanti's eyes rolled wildly. "What is he, Von?"

"A created human."

"I'm better than human," the homunculus hissed.

"He's nothing but a thing…a homunculus that my master created out of my blood. The cities that disappeared, the King wanted immortality. This thing promised it to him but the arrays built around those cities were all to bring him forth in this form." Hohenheim didn't take his eyes off the homunculus as he gestured to it. "It's not really alive."

"I disagree," the homunculus said. "I'm as alive as you are though I suppose you're not really alive in any human sense of the word. Reborn is a better term for you."

Hohenheim couldn't bring himself to look at Lilavanti, knowing this thing had just ruined it all. "Don't make her suffer for my sins."

The homunculus' eyes widened. "Sins? I've heard people talk of them before and I don't understand them or how they apply here."

"You wouldn't. You're nothing. I let you get inside my head, whispering things I wanted to hear and I inadvertently helped you," Hohenheim said. "To sin you have to feel emotions first, some of our emotions make us very strong, others weak. Lust can take you to heights or make you lose everything. Envy has ruined kings."

"Funny you should mention those two first. Lust, isn't that what's driving you to protect this woman?" The homunculus smirked at him. "And envy is what got you into this mess. You wanted my knowledge and I wanted your freedom, such as it was, slave ."

"What would you know of desire?"

"Von, don't provoke it!" Lilavanti said, bracing her feet against the boulder, pushing ineffectively as she struggled.

"I know everything you do, Von Hohenheim. I am made from your blood after all. I feel all those things but I see no purpose in them. I need to be better…purer than some base human." The homunculus scratched at its beard casually as its shadow-arm lifted Lilavanti and slammed her back into the ground. "You were such a dumb young thing but I was lucky you were clever, too. But children should achieve more than their parents, shouldn't they? I'll never do that with an anchor weighing me down."

The thing's eyes dulled as if no longer seeing what was around him so Hohenheim took his chance. Things spun through his mind, all the knowledge the homunculus had given to him when it converted him into this thing Hohenheim was. Fire, no, Lilavanti was too close. Wind, yes that might work. Summoning the air currents, shifting their flow, Hohenheim flung his arms out toward his twin. The power flowed clumsily and nowhere near as controlled as Hohenheim had pictured it. The homunculus sidestepped it, barely getting ruffled. Lilavanti screamed.

"Try that again and I'll crush her." The homunculus glanced down at her. "And I so want to try to use her. Let's call her an experiment, Von Hohenheim." Thick reddish tears trickled down the creature's face, like syrup in winter. He leaned forward as if to drip it on Lilavanti. "Let's see if she can absorb all my lust."

"No!"

Hohenheim threw himself forward, shielding Lilavanti's body with his own. The liquid philosopher stone – since surely that had to be what it was – imbued with a twisted version of his own emotions, hit his arm and repelled off onto the forest floor. It wanted nothing to do with him. The homunculus stepped down off the rock, sliding its big toe off the side of it sandal to dip it in the ruby puddle. It reabsorbed its essence.

"You won't stop me, Von Hohenheim. You've sparked an idea in me. What an experiment it'll be." The homunculus smiled.

"I will stop you," Hohenheim countered, getting up, only he wasn't fast enough. The shadowy bits of the homunculus gelled into spears, piercing Hohenheim's body, stunning him. Lilavanti screamed and picked up a stout length of fallen tree branch. She bashed the homunculus with it but it swept her away as if she were nothing. Hohenheim slammed his foot down into the loam and the earth swelled up, engulfing the homunculus. He started to squeeze it when he heard Lilavanti's moan.

Letting the alchemy flag, Hohenheim turned to her, touching her shoulder. "You're hurt."

Pain-glazed eyes gazed up at him. "Why aren't you dead?"

"Later. I'll tell you later." Hohenheim wanted to finish killing the homunculus but wasn't sure that would be an easy task. He didn't know how badly Lilavanti was hurt so he sat down with her, taking her hands in his. He slipped into his memory, dragging forward healing alchemy. Her bones and torn flesh knitted under his will. Hohenheim didn't have to spend time on his own wounds. They healed of their own accord.

Hearing something cracking behind him, Hohenheim twisted. The homunculus dragged itself out of the earth. It stared at him, as if it hadn't understood before that it could be hurt. Hohenheim had a choice, continue to heal Lilavanti or try to kill the homunculus. He knew he wasn't ready for the latter. He still had so much to learn but he wanted to try. Lilavanti wouldn't die if he took a momentary break. Hohenheim gathered his wits, calculating his next move but his slight hesitation gave the homunculus all the time it needed.

A wave tore through the ground, bearing down on Hohenheim and Lilavanti. He managed to throw up a rocky shield, barely in time. Rocked back and dazed, by the time Hohenheim gathered his scrambled senses, he and Lilavanti were alone in the woods. He couldn't take off after the thing and leave her still half-healed and barely conscious. Hohenheim picked her up and started back to her home.

XXX

Hohenheim had debated just leaving Lilavanti at a healer's to look out for her and going after the homunculus then abandoned the idea. First, he would need to learn to fight. He wasn't a match for the creature and if he died, there would be no one to stand against it. As much as he hated letting it escape, there hadn't been much choice. At least he wasn't too far behind now and anyone the homunculus killed would be one more sin on Hohenheim's head. Hearing Lilavanti stirring on the bed behind him, he turned away from the window. "Are you feeling all right?" He felt like an idiot for asking. Surely she had to be terrified of him now. Why she wasn't screaming in fear and throwing things at him he didn't know.

"Sore and tired but…" Lilavanti sat up, testing her arms then her legs. "I'll live." Her ruby eyes fixed on him. "But how did you? Are you a homunculus, too?"

He shook his head, leaning heavily against the wall. "I'm just a human, slave to the man who made that thing but when the homunculus did what it did in Xerxes, it changed me. I heal fast," he said, not willing to admit that he was the Philosopher Stone. He cared about Lilavanti but he couldn't quite trust anyone with that information. Too many people would want to use it for purposes he'd rather not think about. "I'll go, if you want me to. I know I have to frighten you."

"That thing frightened me. You do not." Her voice was soft yet stern. "I'm intrigued but not frightened. How do you kill something that is technically not alive?"

His shoulders slumped and Hohenheim ran a hand through his long hair. "I have no idea which is why I didn't chase after it when I got you to safety. Slaves aren't taught to fight. That thing has the advantage. I need to learn to fight, to deal with all the alchemic knowledge it crammed into my head."

"I can help you on both accounts." Unsteadily, Lilavanti swung out of bed, crossing over to him.

He eyed her uncertainly, catching her around the waist protectively. "You?"

"With the alchemy at any rate." She tapped his chest. "I'm a spice merchant, remember? Do you think my caravans go out with a lot of armed guards?"

"I guess not."

"I have men who can train you to fight." Her eyes turned downcast. "Do you have time for that?"

Sighing, Hohenheim nodded. "I hope so." He brushed a kiss over her cheek. "You have already helped me more than you know."

"Now we see the reason I felt compelled to keep you around when my boys found you at the desert's edge." She smiled. "Things happen for a reason."

Logically, Hohenheim would have liked to argue that but couldn't think of any reason why. Maybe she was right so he simply held her tight. They would go back home and he would improve himself. The next time he met with the homunculus, things would go differently.