Title: Skin Deep
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: Very mildly PG for adult themes.
Characters: Dante and Hohenheim.
Setting: First anime. Many years before the series.
Summary: After a few centuries, a breakup can be messy.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Kristen Sharpe once pondered to me how Envy's true form could resemble Hohenheim as we know him, even after Hohenheim had been moving from one body to another for hundreds of years. This question never did leave my mind, and months later, I found one possible answer in the concept of this random little fic. It's a bit of a curiosity coming from me, as I'm not fond of Hohenheim, and I dislike Dante even more; but as Kristen also observed, their relationship isn't without interesting facets to examine.
The mirror was antique and ridiculously ornate, with a pair of grotesque little cherubs perched atop its heavy frame of gilded scrollwork. It was said that it had been hand-made by one of the most famous sculptors in the history of art, a gift for a beautiful secret lover who died tragically soon afterward. Its craftsmanship and its legend both made it worthy of a museum.
For all that, it might as well have been nothing more than its reflecting glass, for in it Dante saw nothing but her latest chosen self.
In the golden light of the candelabra that stood on a nearby table, she twisted this way and that, studying every inch of the mirror's reflection with an almost orgiastic pleasure. Slender fingers traced the refined cheekbones, the elegant narrow nose, the exotic slant of the deep dark eyes. Her hands moved upward, tousling a mane of tawny, lustrous hair; then down, to caress the exquisite curves of a tall slim body that was born to carry itself like a queen. The smoothness of the skin, bronzed by the sun to exactly the right degree, put to shame the clinging silk of a blood-red dress.
Dante had first seen this body in the possession of some repugnant little banker's trophy wife. From that moment, she had known that regal face and graceful form must and would become hers. Every feature, every line of it was perfect - so perfect that she almost could have wished she could keep it forever.
Of course, that was impossible. And she would get over that feeling, the early thrill of a new beauty, soon enough. Sooner than usual, in fact - for as exquisite and well-maintained as this body was, it happened to be older than the tender young flesh she usually took on. She had desired it on an indulgent whim, but its shelf life would be relatively brief.
Not that it mattered, anyway. She would have to make another change before this body grew old. The length of time before these secondhand husks began to deteriorate was growing ever shorter.
At least for the present, that was still merely a nuisance to her...
Much as her consort was beginning to be.
A frown pouted rosy lips as she deigned to look past herself in the mirror, to the reflected image of Hohenheim. He was sprawled on the divan behind her, one arm thrown over his eyes, muscles tense with an inner agitation.
Hohenheim's body was also newly acquired, and for once, much younger than Dante's - but it possessed the same ruggedly masculine face he always insisted on wearing. Unlike her, he took no delight in the fantastic diversity of forms they could select from humanity's masses. Having learned early on that he could change the appearance of a new host before he entered it, he chose to mold each subsequent body into a perfect replica of his first: the body he was born with. By this point, he was skilled enough to alter them down to their very cells. Were he to produce a child now, even his offspring would inherit the traits he forced upon his flesh.
Hohenheim wanted to father a child again, but Dante would have none of it. She didn't work so hard at choosing a perfect body, only to ruin its figure with pregnancy. And why bother bearing children to pass on something of who you were, when you were yourself as good as immortal? If he wanted an infant to coddle, he could simply create a homunculus, a living doll that would forever be any age he wished it to be.
It wasn't only Hohenheim's longing to procreate that was growing tedious. The appearance he insisted on clinging to had seemed handsome enough for the first hundred years or so, but now, it was simply boring. Dante thrived on variety; even more than beauty itself, the illicit thrill of taking and becoming something different from what one had been intoxicated her. She craved newness, not only for herself, but from her lover. For once, she wanted to see and feel Hohenheim in a body that was slim and dark, instead of fair and muscular.
In typical fashion, their latest change of flesh had left him in one of his self-loathing moods. He had never been proud of what was required for their survival, but his bothersome flashes of guilt and resentment for their way of life were always strongest afterward.
He was forgetting again that they were different. That they were practically godlike in the alchemic knowledge and power they were gifted with, and as superior beings, they deserved whatever they took from the common humanity they had risen above through learning and struggle and sacrifice.
She would change his mood. She always did. After taking a new body, her first desire was to explore its fleshly pleasures - and no matter what else he was, Hohenheim was still a man, with a man's impulses. In his weakness for her, she would make him forget the true weakness that was his pity for lesser creatures.
"Well?" she asked archly as she stepped away from the mirror, to sit down beside him on the edge of the divan. "Don't you like it? You helped me pick it out, after all."
His body did not relax as he half-raised his arm, peering wearily at her with one eye. Then he let out his breath in a sigh of disgust, and covered his eyes again.
"This flesh cost lives, Dante. At least have the decency not to treat it like a new dress you've just thrown on."
Such a sulky, childish man he was, playing hard to get. Dante smirked and leaned down over him, brushing her lips against the lean, sinewy arm that hid his eyes.
"After all, it's hardly anything more than that. No different from skinning a cow for leather. You know that's all most people are: just cattle."
Just cattle, and no more. Just dull things plodding through life, waiting without resistance to die or be slaughtered. Incapable of enlightenment. Worth nothing but to be used.
Hohenheim's breath drew in sharply, and he started upright with a violent movement. His arm swept upward, planted across her breastbone to physically push her away... and then he paused, staring down sadly at his forearm, his hand, his fingers.
"Edward was not cattle," he said, in a hard, quiet voice.
Edward, their late laboratory assistant. He was only another mere mortal, but even Dante would admit he was brighter and more engaging than most. Hohenheim's petty paternal instincts had made the young man particularly endeared to him. For three years Edward had been useful and harmless, even amusing at times, and it was not in their plans to take him... but he had the misfortune to have seen just a little too much.
In any case, his strong young flesh was now serving a higher purpose than his small mind ever would have.
"Oh, is that all that's bothering you," Dante sighed disinterestedly, leaning back to rest her sculpted new chin on her slender new hand. "Don't upset yourself. There are thousands more just like him in the world."
"No there aren't." Hohenheim pushed himself to his feet, and stood with his back half-turned to her. "He was unique. Every life is unique, no matter what you choose to think about humanity. And Edward... he was gifted. He could have been a great alchemist."
"He could have learned all the ordinary tricks they teach, I suppose. But he never could have become what we are."
"And what are we?" He turned to her fiercely. "I used to tell myself that existing this way would at least give us time to gain vast knowledge - knowledge to use for the good of mankind. But in the end, all my skills and strength have served nothing but your insatiable appetite for youth and beauty. That was never the purpose of this. I meant to atone for my sin - not to perpetuate it."
Dante's eyes flashed dangerously. "Don't start that again."
Hohenheim's hard expression slowly collapsed into something weary and sorrowful, and he waved one hand in a small, futile gesture. She knew he wouldn't press the subject. He was no more eager than she to retrace that road.
"I can't do this anymore, Dante. I won't." He drew a deep breath, and looked away from her. "I'm leaving you."
It was not the first time he had made that threat - but it was the first time something in his eyes and voice had genuinely frightened Dante. This was much more than one of his usual fruitless ventings of frustration and remorse.
She jerked up from the divan, seizing his arm. "You can't leave! What about me?"
"You know all the alchemic techniques as well as I do. I'm sure you'll find your own ways to continue to survive - until there's no more of your soul left to sustain the life of the flesh you steal. But I'm not going to stand in nature's way any longer. Edward's sacrifice was the last. I don't know how long this body of his will live, but when it dies... I die with it."
Somehow, Dante realized Hohenheim truly meant it this time.
A cold, hard emptiness solidified around the last stifled mote of human warmth inside her. She glared up at him with eyes of ice-like fire.
"And just what do you think you're going to do with the years you have left?"
"I'll use my knowledge for the research I always meant to do. Better men than I have done great things for humanity in one lifetime. And if I'm truly lucky... I'll have a family." He shook his head. "I'm sick of taking. I want to feel what it's like to give again - and nothing was ever more precious to me than giving life to another human being. Real life, Dante. Not the twisted, soulless things we learned to create, but children who might use their gifts for the good of others... the way I never have."
His gaze fell to the palm of his hand, and his next words carried the weight of a promise.
"If I could have another son... his name will be Edward. Then something of that young man I took from the world will live again. Because, after all... it would really be his son."
He turned to walk away, and Dante could do nothing but watch him, her soul drowning in a storm of rage.
"What will you tell them, Hohenheim? What will you tell your precious perfect family when your flesh begins to rot on your bones, and you have to admit to them what you are?"
"...I don't know."
Hohenheim disappeared through the doorway. Mere moments passed before Dante heard the sound of the front door being shut.
In leaving so quickly, she knew he could have taken nothing from the house. No memento of their many lives together, no token of their long-accumulated riches. All the fruits of so much time and careful work, abandoned by him as meaningless.
He left her everything she had ever coveted... except him.
A heavy book was the first thing that found its way into Dante's hand.
The mirror shattered under the impact of her swing. Glass shards sparkled their way down to the thick carpet, while those that still clung to the gold-encrusted frame stared back at her through separate fragments of reflection, eyes aflame and hands shaking.
This was far from over.
2011 Jordanna Morgan