Title - Born in Darkness
Author D M Evans
Disclaimer Arakawa sensei owns all
Characters/Pairing Kimbley, OC's
Timeline/Spoilers- set before the series starts, no spoilers unless you don't know who Kimbley is
Warning - mentions of sexual abuse, explosion and pain fetishism.
Summary- Kimbley had a rough start in life but he ended up right where he wanted to be.
Author's Note #1 - written for fmagifexchange on livejournalwith the prompt of "kimblee's life prior to his service in the Ishval War. I'm just curious about what his life was like, so any sort of story would be appreciated. (possible topics to get you thinking: his training as an alchemist, family life, possible past occupation or criminal activity)" I gave Zolf sort of a Charles Manson upbringing and drew from the psychosexual fantasies of a few other serial killers in building his psychopathy. Since it's all through his eyes, I had Kimbley thinking of himself by his first name as we usually do. Thanks to S J Smith for the beta.
Zolf woke in a sweat. He'd spent a good part of the evening asleep in his closet, the door sealed by alchemy. His mother had pounded on the door for so long last night, he thought maybe she'd break it into splinters. He didn't know what would have happened if she had. He smiled, relaxing. He finally had his refuge, a place he could feel safe in.
Safety was an unaccustomed feeling. Discovering that slim and obviously introductory alchemy text in the used bookstore in town had been the luckiest find of his life. Zolf picked up the science quickly, and had used it last night to keep himself safe.
Luckily, today his mother was passed out on the couch when he emerged from his safe place. There were men's pants on the floor so whatever disgusting creature she had sold herself to last night was still around. Zolf hurried out of the house. He'd steal breakfast from a fruit stand on the way to school.
It didn't get any easier in school, even though he mostly liked going there. The young man was smart enough to realize his life wasn't like everyone else in school. For one, most kids didn't have mothers who prevented them from even going. Zolf mostly attended only when his mother was too drunk to find other things for him to do.
The only other kid who came to class with bruises all the time was Derrick and everyone in town knew his daddy was a mean drunk, just like they knew Zolf's mom was a cheap whore who bartended down at Lower's bar. No one else in class smelled like smoke and old booze since most nights his mom propped him on a bar stool while she worked. There wasn't enough warm water and soap in the house to get clothes or himself truly clean.
Other kids didn't have bad nights like he did. The worst nights were probably what all the pounding on the door had been about last night. The truly bad nights were the ones when his mother would sell him in that bar. His mother got more for him than for her own body. Zolf didn't think anyone else in school knew what it was like to live with that.
School flew by as it always did. Zolf liked the classes if not the kids. Here he felt intelligent and useful. The teachers often smiled at him when he had the right answer. He almost felt safe here, if not for some of the older, bigger bullies.
He dallied on the way home. There was no rush. Mom was unlikely to have a meal for him. At best, he could get the leftovers off the plates in the bar. If he timed it right, though, he could get to the bakers in time for them to give away what they'd otherwise throw out. He didn't mind if the stuff was a little hard.
"Nice day today," someone called out to him.
Zolf turned to see Mr. Pickett, the owner of the teahouse, standing in the doorway to his shop. "It is nice, sir," he agreed. Zolf liked Mr. Pickett. After finding the alchemy book, Zolf had gone looking for an alchemist in town. The only offering his pitiful hometown had was Mr. Pickett. The teashop owner didn't know much. He freely admitted that. Mostly it was alchemy to fix broken cups and plates and to transmute the bitter chemicals away if the tea should happen to overbrew.
Zolf hated pity in all its forms, didn't truly understand it. He had no idea why anyone should care one whit about another human. His mother didn't. Her johns didn't. The idea was foreign. He still knew Mr. Pickett pitied him. Zolf simply bore with it. The man had even offered to take Zolf to the authorities because of the visible evidence of the beatings his mother had given him. Why this upset the tea shop owner and no one else, the young alchemist didn't understand, but he always managed to put the man off. Zolf could handle himself.
"I have a couple of sticky buns that someone ordered and didn't pick up. Would you like them?" Mr. Pickett asked as if Zolf could possibly say no to the rich concoction of dough, caramel and nuts.
Mr. Pickett put a hand on Zolf's shoulder, steering him inside. "Good. I have someone I want you to meet."
"Sit down." He gestured to a table. At this hour, the tea house was mostly empty.
Mr. Pickett went to get the sticky buns and came back with a tall, redheaded lady. Zolf stared up into her cool intelligent eyes and instinctively knew he liked her. He felt a kinship with her. This was such a foreign concept to Zolf. The boy wasn't sure what to make of it.
"Zolf, this is my sister, Amanda. She's three times the alchemist I am. Amanda, this young fellow is Zolf Kimbley, the bright boy I've been telling you about."
She sat down at the table, making him completely forget about his sticky buns. "It's good to finally meet you, young man. Alan has told me a lot about you. He says you've been teaching yourself alchemy. That's no mean trick. Most can't decipher the codes."
"Code?" Zolf's brow beetled. "This didn't have codes."
"He showed me the book, Amanda. It's very rudimentary," Mr. Pickett offered.
"Ah, well, Alan also said that you want to learn more. What style of alchemy were you interested in?" she asked.
Zolf felt his face burn. He seemed so stupid. He barely knew what this woman was talking about. "I guess I didn't know there were different types. What kind do you use?"
"I'm an explosive expert," she said and his eyes widened.
Zolf didn't know a boy alive who didn't love firecrackers and other things that exploded. He didn't know you could do that with alchemy. "That sounds fun!"
She laughed. "Ah boys, you do love blowing stuff up, don't you?"
"Are you a State Alchemist? The military would probably like that talent."
"Well, the military surely would love my abilities, but I don't have a personality suited for their ranks." A playful smile blossomed on her face. "I'm employed by various mining and train companies."
"Oh?" The boy didn't see the connection.
"Think of it this way, opening mines can be dangerous and if I can do it from above ground or from an area inside an already existing mine, it goes faster and safer and they pay handsomely for it. Trains need to go through hills and I can make that happen more easily. I get to travel a lot and the pay is great but I need an apprentice. There is always more work than I can handle and probably will be for years to come."
Zolf considered those words feeling a hint of hope. "Do you think I could help?"
"My brother is impressed by your intellect and says you deserve a chance."
Zolf shoved his trembling hands under the table. He didn't know what to think or do. He really wanted this but it was more than he ever dreamed of happening. "Thank you, sir," he mumbled to Mr. Pickett though he wasn't even sure if the man was back behind the counter or still sitting in on the conversation. All he was aware of was the woman in front of him.
"I've found no one that I'd be willing to take on, but I might give you a try. Alan has good judgment and says you could really use a chance."
There was that confounding pity again but this time Zolf didn't care. "Please. I want to try." His voice cracked. How ridiculous, he thought. She would never be impressed by that.
"Then let's go have a talk with your mother."
Zolf felt the blood drain from his face. His mother would ruin this. She ruined everything. He would absolutely kill her if she said no. He'd run away. "Why?"
"I'm not getting accused of kidnapping you."
"Can we go now? If we wait much longer she'll be at work…or drunk." Zolf sighed.
"We can definitely go now."
"Okay. Thank you. Even if she says no, thank you," he mumbled then got up.
Miss Pickett said very little on their way to his mother's ramshackle house. The place reeked of cigarette smoke so his mother was probably awake. Zolf just hoped whoever the heck she brought home had gone.
"Don't screech. I'm in the kitchen."
"Someone wants to talk to you," he replied, not at all sure how he was going to explain this.
His mother came into the living room. At least she was dressed and her hair combed. She must have been almost ready to leave for work. She popped her cigarette back between her lips and took a drag. "And you are? You can see I'm not in a position to give a donation. If you're looking to leave one…"
Miss Pickett put up her hands. "I'm not here from a charity organization. My name is Amanda Pickett and I'm an alchemist. I'd like to talk to you about taking your son on as an apprentice."
"You want to take my son? I don't think so."
"Mom, please, listen. I want to go." Zolf caught her arm but she shoved him away.
"Why don't you let your mother and I talk, Zolf," Miss Pickett said in a way that made him think this might yet work out okay.
Reluctantly, he went into his room and started putting his few items of clothing in his pillow case along with some books and other things he didn't want to leave behind. One way or another, he was leaving here for good. That done, all he could do was sit on his thin mattress and hope.
Finally, his mother darkened his door, a fresh cigarette between her painted lips. She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "Get going. She's waiting for you."
Zolf's mouth dropped. He really thought he would have to hurt his mom and run for it. "I can go?"
"Yeah but you have to get your junk out of here by the end of the month. I could rent that room out," she replied as if she were evicting a deadbeat and not losing her son.
He had always known his mother never cared about him the way a mother should but it still hurt. He still gave her a quick hug, mumbling thank you into her shirt stinking of smoke and perfume. Carrying his pillowcase sack, he followed Miss Pickett out. His mother didn't say goodbye. To his surprise, his eyes stung and he rubbed them.
"She didn't let me go, did she?"
"We're walking away, aren't we?"
"She sold me to you, didn't she?" he persisted. From the way the woman's face paled, her jaw set, he knew he was right. "It's all right. She's sold me before."
"Zolf, there is nothing all right about it. I'd keep you as my apprentice even if you turn out to be a bit slow about things." She glanced over her shoulder at his home. "I wouldn't let anything live under that woman's roof."
"Sometimes I tell myself, Mom does her best but she really doesn't, does she?"
"That is not how mothers act. I might not have children but I do know that much."
Zolf didn't argue. He spent the night at Mr. Pickett's and in the morning they were on the train to her home. He didn't know if he even would be back for the remains of his stuff. He wasn't sure that he even wanted it. Miss Pickett's home was more rural than he expected, then realized she might even own all the land around it right down to the river. Zolf had never seen a house this big. Reddish sandstone reached up three stories and there was an octagonal turret. A porch wrapped around all parts of it he could see and there near the front was what looked like a room made entirely of glass, jutting out in a half circle.
Sedately, he followed her inside but couldn't help his jaw flapping open when they got in there. The foyer floor was white marble. A staircase rose in a lazy spiral and the ceiling above was even decorated. He had never even dreamed such places existed outside of movies.
"This is your house?"
She laughed at his incredulous tone. "It is. Let's take you upstairs to your room and then I'll show you around."
He followed her to a room more spacious than he could have imagined. Zolf had protested it was too fine, that he could sleep in the lab, but she wouldn't hear of it. He set his pillowcase down next to a fireplace with a carved mantle that reached to the ceiling. Miss Pickett showed him the whole home. The lab was amazing. He couldn't wait to get started.
Dinner required going into town since Miss Pickett had been gone for several days and had nothing in the icebox. She had determined that his clothing would never do and promised to get him something better even though he told her it wasn't necessary. She said that clothes were part of the face they turned to the world and they needed to look good.
Afterward, he retired to his new room and put away what he brought with him. It looked forlorn in the walk-in closet. The shower was a place he might want to linger in but not tonight. He was completely exhausted. He shut the door, almost afraid of the silence as he lay in the bed. No sounds of sex and arguing coming from the next room. No fears of someone creeping into his bed. Zolf should have been able to sleep easily but he couldn't seem to shut his tired eyes.
Sleep did eventually claim him, bringing the usual nightmares but when he woke up screaming this time, Zolf found arms around him. Instead of a slap to the mouth and a 'shut up,' he was being rocked. Miss Pickett murmured soothing platitudes, telling him everything would be all right. For once, he believed it.
Zolf changed out of his lab clothing and jumped in the shower. The teenager was going out. It was his last day before Amanda came back from the mines in Youswell. He had found a way of tweaking the array to make the explosion more intense. Amanda would be so proud of him.
He pulled on slate grey trousers and blue silk shirt before brushing his hair back into a ponytail. He looked good. Amanda's lessons on how to be a gentleman had long since taken root in fertile ground. No one would look at him now and see the dirty little boy whose mother sold to whoever had a few cens to spare. Sometimes he still had the nightmares but the real lasting damage showed in his lack of empathy. Zolf couldn't know for sure if the things he had suffered had damaged him or if he had been born this way but he preferred the former. He knew something was broken inside him but he didn't give it much thought. Zolf liked himself. Amanda worried about it but that worry was useful. It helped him perfect his mask. He had learned to look and act normal. Zolf could fake almost any emotion he needed.
He doubted anyone – except maybe Amanda- guessed that his true joy in life were the explosions. Amanda was hopefully more likely to write it off as pure passion about his alchemy, but it was really the destruction that moved him. He felt truly alive and in control.
Heading to the bar, he tried not to think about his alchemy, the beautiful blossoming of an explosion, because he didn't want to look overly excited by the time he got there. Amanda didn't really like him coming to this particular place but it was worth it to him. Inside of the city, seemingly so far removed from his bucolic home, the club catered to the wilder crowd. Zolf found he could get just about anything he wanted, though admittedly his wants were simple. He mostly wanted more jobs that allowed him to use his talents.
That didn't mean he didn't like exploring all the things roiling in his head. This was the place to do it. It had a small band that played three nights a week and the rollicking music welcomed Zolf into the place. By the time he had a drink in his hand, non-alcoholic, a childhood like his left him with little taste for liquor – humanity swirled around him. Three people approached him with eager expressions on their faces. He already knew Nicholas and Samantha but the leggy blonde with them was new to him.
They made for a tight knot in a dark back corner, talking, touching, kissing, occasionally untying to get up and move their bodies to the band's beat. Most people looking at them would assume they were couples on a double date. They didn't know that when they left here they would go somewhere to dance more privately and not necessarily as two separate couples. Zolf didn't mind female or male lips and hands on him. Neither excited him tremendously. It was just sex, nothing that touched him deeply. Sex, at least, had moved into the realm of a pleasant release rather than the feared torment of his childhood.
What he couldn't let them know was it wasn't their caresses and kisses that stood him erect; it was his happy memories of his work. A surefire memory was the first time he had ever destroyed a house for the mayor's committee. It was a danger to the children and a fire hazard, at the least the portions that weren't brick, so he did the honors. The house crumpled beautifully, the power in his hands so alluring that he discovered he was hard. Thinking about it in detail never failed to fire him up.
Other, darker, thoughts flittered through his mind like bats against the backdrop of the moon. He wanted to know what it would be like to turn his talent on these listless, salacious people. The mere thought made his blood sing, his muscles tighten in anticipation. Better yet, he could go back home and find his mother, the filthy men who would pay her for time with him and blow them up a small piece at a time, making it last. He knew where he'd start.
He'd practiced a bit with animals in his secret place in the woods that were part of Amanda's property. He had a small stash of animal bones, dull white, precious that he would take out whenever he felt low and looked at them. The memory of his actions would bring him back up.
As Samantha and Nicholas both fondled him, he couldn't help wondering how he'd feel if he could turn his alchemy on them. Instead, he begged off early. He told them he needed to pick up his master from the train station. He did but he also wanted to leave before his urges overcame him. He almost wanted them to.
"Thank you, Amanda." Zolf looked at the gemstone cuff links and tie clip, gold and gleaming ruby like blood captured in teardrops. "They're stunning."
"The mine managers were very generous this time," she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She used henna to enhance her color now. Zolf knew there was white mixed in to the red. He didn't like her aging. He couldn't think of her as an old woman.
"It was a good trip then?" he asked, admiring the rubies.
"Very. I'll be going back soon," she replied. "How was it here?"
"I'll have to show you. Come on." Zolf put the velvet box down and took her hand. He led her out to the clearing they used to practice. He had a couple of cinderblocks waiting. The townspeople were always glad to donate junk to the cause.
They kept a safe difference from the blast zone as Zolf showed her the new array. "I've been working on increasing the blast radius and the power as well."
"Let's see it."
Amanda's smile was all he needed. Nothing had changed in the years since she had rescued him. He wanted her approval. What she thought of him mattered. This was true for no one else but her. Zolf activated the array and nearly turned the blocks to dust.
She clamped a hand on his shoulder. "I am impressed. That is an amazing adjustment."
Zolf beamed. "Thank you, Amanda."
"I don't have anything left to teach you," she said, beckoning for him to follow.
"You've taught me so much."
"I have but I think your time as my apprentice is over. It's time for us to start thinking about your next step," Amanda said.
"I..." Zolf didn't finish that thought. He wasn't sure what came next and he felt a very unaccustomed sensation of panic. It was disorientating. He didn't say anything until they were back in the house. "Where would I go, Amanda?" he whispered.
"With your talents, anywhere. You and I could share the business. There is always more work with the mines and train companies." Amanda's lips pursed and she took his hand. "I'm not sure that is the place for you, though."
"You don't want me to stay?" The very idea hurt more than he ever expected.
"I would love for you to stay." She squeezed his hand. "I'm not sure it would make you happy. Surely you've given this some thought."
Not as much as she might have thought, Zolf mulled. It seemed like he could have stayed here forever, but there was one job he thought might be perfect for him. "I know you have no interest in being a State Alchemist, but I thought it might be good for me." He tried to keep his face neutral. Zolf could imagine being able to finally get to put his fantasy to the test in the military. He would get to know what it was like to kill someone with his alchemy, but he didn't want Amanda to see that part of him. She deserved his best.
She slowly nodded but he didn't think she was entirely happy. "I think you might be right. I'm not sure I would have chosen that career for you, Zolf, but it pays very well and you might fit in there nicely. The controlled environment would probably be very good for you."
"That could be true." He smiled at her. "I'm glad you think it's a good idea."
"I do." Amanda gave him a hug. "You have a year before you're old enough to go into the academy. Until then, you and I are still a team."
"Indeed we are."
Zolf sat on the bed in his new quarters, thinking about all that had happened on his first day at the Academy. The drill sergeant left him fired up. All he could see were the wars on the horizon. Soon, he would get to indulge his fantasies. He would always owe Amanda everything and would honor her. He would be the perfect gentleman but here, in the military, Zolf knew he was finally, truly at home.