A/N: Giftfic for tuNGaw-GiRL, because she is so amazing! She requested a fic that shone a little sympathetic light on one of Fullmetal Alchemist's biggest bad guys. I haven't read the manga, or seen the second series, so I hope that the premise makes sense to everyone. Think first series, everyone, and hopefully, confusion shall be avoided!

Dedicated to tuNGaw-GiRL! Thanks again for everything, sweetie! I hope this is what you were after.

I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist, or any of its characters.

The Punchline

Envy glared at the gate in front of him, and briefly wondered if kicking it would help alleviate his temper, or if it would just result in the door swinging open and swallowing him like Gluttony during one of his days to be avoided.

Probably a bit of both.

This was Envy's second visit to the room filled with nothing but white space and a single stone door. But this time, the gate wasn't flinging itself open, embracing an adrenaline-soaked plunge fueled by his hatred. There was no scream of vengeful triumph in his ears, or rush of shift and change as his body morphed into something sinuous and scaled. No matter how hard Envy glared, the door remained stubbornly shut and silent this time around. But he could hear the whispers from the other side, the quiet murmurs of the creatures that existed just inside the entryway, creatures that Envy remembered as a confusing mass of arms and eyes.

"Come on, you little bastards," Envy called, rapping on the door with two impatient knuckles. "You think I want to waste my afterlife hanging around this place?" He rapped harder, hard enough to rattle the stone a little. "Open up already!"

"You can't open the gate with screams. Trust me. I've tried."

Envy recognized the voice right away, but being a master at deception himself, he still spun around to verify. Once his eyes confirmed what his ears had heard, Envy tossed his head back and let loose a loud, rollicking laugh.

"Well, well. Looks like I get an escort." Envy popped his hands on his hips. "You here to walk the road to hell with me, Fullmetal pipsqueak?"

Edward Elric didn't blink, didn't breathe, and he didn't blow up at Envy's not-so-subtle reference to his height. He just watched, his golden eyes soft and steady.

Envy heaved a disgusted sigh, and visibly deflated.

"You're not him."

"Not in the way you're thinking, no," the Edward look-a-like agreed. "I'm not the Edward Elric that you fought against for so long."

"Really?" the sarcasm in Envy's voice could have scorched bone. "Who are you then?"

"Edward Elric."

Envy snorted.

"Listen, kid. The Fullmetal pipsqueak never once let me get away with calling him short. You haven't ripped me a new one yet, so I know you're not him."

The imposter stared at him for a moment, and Envy laughed again. Really, whoever was trying to screw with his senses obviously didn't know what they were dealing with. Envy represented the pinnacle of trickery and impersonation. This imposter stood too still, his face was far too soft. It was like he wasn't even trying, and Envy was vaguely insulted by it.

Then, the imposter shifted, in every way imaginable, and Envy found himself blinking to try and register the change.

"That's because I was willing to let it go, you jerk. In case you haven't noticed yet, you're kind of dead, you bastard, so there are probably more important things you should be worrying about right now."

It was perfect. The slouch, the bad-tempered scowl, the sudden fire in those golden eyes. It was Edward to a tee, and Envy was impressed in spite of himself.

"Not bad. It's almost like talking to the little brat again."

"Don't call me little," the Edward-thing shot back immediately. "And I am me, you bastard. Just not, you know?"

Envy shifted impatiently.

"Well, you're certainly as annoying as the other one," he snapped. "You going to explain, or just irritate me for the rest of eternity?"

"Pfft. Like I'm the annoying one here." Ed locked his hands behind his head with a long-suffering sigh. "According to alchemic law, you can only create something if the basic elements are already present, right? The gate exists inside all of us. So when you got here, it called me up to meet you, like this."

Envy snorted.

"So basically, the gate knew I was coming, and conjured up some weak imitation to do a meet and greet," Envy shrugged. "I'm flattered. But why'd it send you?" His lips stretched in a wide, wicked smile. "I know! Because of how well we've always gotten along, right?"

"You shoved a spike through my chest, you bastard."

Ed's response was dryer than sand in the summer time. Envy followed it with a soft, mean snicker.

"The gate sent me here to talk to you," Ed continued, after giving Envy a bland glare.

"Oh? How nice of it." Envy laced his fingers behind his hair. "What are we chatting about then, Edward?"


Envy pursed his lips and tapped his fingers against his head.

"I don't have any regrets," he offered, after a quiet moment. "Oh, wait! I suppose I regret that you didn't stay dead after I stuck you with that spike."

For a moment, Envy thought Ed might roll his eyes. But then his face grew soft again. Not the pervious softness of the imposter that Envy hadn't believed; the softness that the real Edward always projected when his mind swung from the normal short and silly to serious.

"You creep. You don't regret Hughes? Or gunning down that innocent child in Ishbal?"

"Nope," Envy replied, letting his lips pop on the 'p'. "You forget, Edward, that I am a homunculus. My kind doesn't drag itself down with the weight of feeling. That's what makes us strong, so much stronger than your puny human emotions could ever understand!"

"I've heard this song before," Edward said, his eyes still so serious. "I fought you so many times, Envy, and you never changed the refrain. You never wanted to be human, did you?"

"Why would I?" Envy asked, his lips still spread in a tight, teeth-bearing smile. "So that I could be weak like you? You chased a myth for years, Edward, and when you finally got your hands on it, you never even thought of using it for yourself. You were smart enough, and strong enough, to obtain exactly what you wanted, and then you ignored the potential for power." Envy tossed his head, disdain curling in his voice like smoke. "Tch. Being a human makes you blind to your own self-interest. So why would I want that, when my homunculus eyes can so perfectly see?"

The Edward look-a-like was not impressed with Envy's logic. But then, even in real life, he never had been.

"That's not the reason."


"That's not the reason," the boy repeated, with a slow shake of his head. "Why you don't want to be human. Not really, Envy."

Envy startled a bit, and then snarled, the first stirrings of anger swirling in his gut.

"Oh? Then why don't you tell me what that reason is, since you seem to know me so well."

The imposter focused golden eyes on Envy's face like laser beams, and for a second, Envy thought that he wasn't going to answer. But then, incredibly, a tiny smile bowed the boy's lips.

"You have my hair, I guess. And my eye color. But the way your face is shaped. It's more like Al than me."

The words hit Envy like a bare-knuckled punch. They had substance, and weight, and the force of them actually stumbled Envy back a couple steps, until his shoulder blades brushed the stones behind him.

They didn't talk about this. The boy wasn't supposed to talk about this, wasn't supposed to acknowledge it, not ever.

"What? The hell are you talking about, you brat, you little idiot…"

The boy didn't even bristle. Just continued to watch with those soft but steady eyes and that smile that was somehow sad.

Edward's gaze was like a road map, one Envy was helpless to ignore. He reached up a hand to follow it.

But he stopped moving the second the appendage appeared in front of his face.

That hand. It was too broad, too rough, in comparison to the slender ones he typically favored. The skin was too dark, a soft honey shade. Not the alabaster pale his regular form wore. And it was trembling. Envy's hands never trembled; he was always in control.

If changing shapes wasn't so familiar to him, Envy would swear that the hand in front of him wasn't his.


He forced up that foreign hand and reached for his hair. Instead of the sprawling, semi-green locks that he'd become accustomed to, he grabbed fistfuls of too soft, silky waves. Golden waves, he realized, after he jerked them close to his face.


The endless white walls around him faded, cleared, became transparent. Envy found himself staring down multiple reflections of the face he'd done his best to forget. Golden eyes, wide with shock, stared back at him, and even though his face was pale, it was still far too tan.


Envy flung out a panicked hand, his open palm shattering the closest mirror, disintegrating the face that burned him like fire. He squeezed his eyes shut and dug deep, searching for the trigger, the switch he'd always been able to flip to change who he was. But he couldn't find it. The place where the trigger lived, that warmth that always burned inside his chest, was cold, and completely silent.

When Envy opened his eyes again, he saw Edward, watching him with that unchanged expression. And in the thousands of mirrors still surrounding him, he saw the face that he couldn't change, the face he'd tried so hard to kill.

That bastard's face.

Envy screamed. Something in his mind splintered at the reflections staring back at him, forcing the confrontation with the face he'd avoided for over four hundred years, and suddenly couldn't escape. He reached up with the hands that trembled and clawed at the face he hated, pulling away bits of flesh and blood with every swipe. He tugged at the soft golden hair, ripping out handfuls to lie like corn silk on his hands. But no matter how hard he clawed, or how many handfuls he tore, every time he looked back up at the mirrors, the reflection in them hadn't changed. He couldn't run from it.

Ed's face was impassive as he watched Envy drop to his knees. The homunculus ripped at the white floor with his fingers, leaving behind streaks of his own red blood. His face was filled with jagged furrows that were already healing, and hair that continued to grow, despite his best efforts to rip it out. His screams were wordless, but that didn't make them any less filled with rage.

"The gate doesn't care about your pain, Envy," Ed said, his soft voice somehow rising above Envy's echoing cries. "But it isn't blind. This is an acknowledgement, of sorts. Of your suffering."

Envy's screams softened at Edward's words, and eventually faded. Crouched on the ground like a cornered animal, he panted against the white floor that had no real substance.

"I don't," he said, after a long quiet. "We don't." His voice was hoarse, and the hitch in it suggested that a dry sob was caught somewhere in his throat. "Homunculi don't feel," he repeated.

It was weak, so weak. And he was clinging to it like a child might cling to a security blanket. But it was all he had.

"Except that's a lie." Suddenly, Ed was there, crouching down by his side. He rested his hands on his knees for balance. "Lust fought with her human feelings, and ended up letting them kill her in the end. Wrath killed people with his right hand, and cried for his mother with the left. Sloth…," Out of the corner of his eye, Envy saw those fingers tighten, scooping up fistfuls of leather. "…Sloth tried so hard to kill us because she didn't know another way to silence the affection she felt. Even Greed owned to his regret in the end."

Envy didn't move; he barely breathed. He stayed still and frozen, his perfect cheek leaving a bloody imprint on the floor.

"The emotions are there, Envy," Edward continued. "Someone spent so much time convincing you that they weren't, but they are. It's like a joke. Claiming that homunculi are incapable of feeling, when in actuality, your emotions are almost stronger, because you were forced to bottle them for so long. In a way, you're more human than all of us. The perfect prank, right? Except nobody's laughing. Because it's too stupid, and too sad."

"Not a saint," Envy hissed against the white around him. He was tired, so tired. His rage was whispering away like bathwater, a mildly horrifying feeling, since it was completely against his will. Something else was draining him dry, and he couldn't stop it. "I killed people, remember? Your precious Hughes. I gunned him down while wearing the face of the one he loved most. I enjoyed it."

Edward's hands fisted even tighter, and for a moment, adrenaline rose to chase back Envy's exhaustion. Fighting. He understood fighting.

Take a crack at me, kid. I know who I am when I'm hurting someone else. So plant one on me. The pain will wake me up.

Please, kid. Please.

But Edward's hands relaxed again, and Envy felt hot tears of frustration prick his eyes as the adrenaline faded away, leaving him soft and helpless against the floor.

"True. You did kill people, Envy. But do you think you would have wandered so far down this road if Hoenheim hadn't abandoned you in the first place? The love rotted into hate, but it was love once. So maybe you're not as evil as you think."

There was the soft sound of creaking leather, and then Edward was on his feet again. But when Envy tried to follow him, he found that he couldn't move. Couldn't even work up the energy to want to. He could only roll his eyes upward, just enough to see Edward's face.

"We might have been brothers," the boy said, and Envy caught a hint of that sad smile again. "Bound by something other than just a blood tie. Another time, another place. I'd like that, I think."

"Is that what's on the other side of the gate?" Envy rasped, his voice barely above a whisper. He meant to say it with great sarcasm, to suggest that Ed's idea was nothing short of ludicrous. But it came out soft instead. Hopeful. Almost pleading.


"I don't know," Ed answered, and the sympathy in his eyes made Envy want to scream. But he couldn't. His rage was long gone by now, drained out onto the white floor beneath him. "Remember what I said earlier."

"Yeah, yeah." Envy managed a hoarse chuckle, and shut his eyes. "The gate doesn't give a shit about my pain."

For a moment, silence.

"But it isn't blind," the boy finally offered, a quiet reminder.

The tears spilled up and over Envy's closed eyelids. He wished he could have hated them. But like his rage, his hate had already bled itself out. He could remember having them, like echoes inside his mind, unformed and vague. But he couldn't bring them back.

Everything was silent now. The boy had wandered off, no doubt recalled by the gate that had created him. Envy was alone, unmoving on a white floor, in a form he could no longer find the energy to detest. Eventually he'd get up, and drag himself over to the giant stone doors.

He had no doubts that it would open for him now.

But not yet. He was still tired, so tired. He'd rest a little longer first.

"Jokes, huh?" he whispered against the white floor, like a lover sharing secrets. "I've got a joke. Knock, knock, Mr. Gate."

In the resounding stillness, Envy conjured up his own 'Who's there?'.

"I don't know." A laugh required too much effort, but Envy managed a smile as more tears crawled across his cheeks. "Isn't that funny? Isn't that the funniest thing you've ever heard?"

There was no answer. Even the whispers on the other side of the gate were silent.


A/N: I just about wept with joy when this fic was finally finished. ENVY IS SUCH A LITTLE BITCH TO WRITE! I had to peel him back, layer by layer, like some overly difficult, emotionally constipated orange. But we got there in the end, I hope. I hope the title makes sense; to me, the saddest joke, and the most horrifying punchline, is Envy, lying broken on the floor, wearing his original face and unsure of who he is, after so many years of gleefully changing forms and never losing the hate that made him who he was. Yikes. Thanks for the challenge, tuNGaw-Girl! Keep an eye out for updates, everyone. They should be coming much faster now that this is finished. Happy Reading!