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the sin you payed for

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“This is such bullshit. I don’t need a babysitter.”

“Tell Father yourself.” Lust sighs heavily and slings her waves of black hair over a pale shoulder. She leans forwards, tapping long nails on the railing. Below, the desert city of Liore sprawls for miles. “It’s not like I want to be here. But he still doesn’t trust you alone, so I’m afraid we’re stuck together until he does.”

Wrath growls, a rumbling in his chest that comes out animalistic. He yanks gold hair out his eyes. “I’ve done more than enough to prove I’m as loyal a pet as the rest of you dogs,” he spits.

Lust’s rich purple eyes narrow. “Maybe he’d believe you if you didn’t still refer to us like that.”

A wicked grin that holds far too many teeth and much too little sanity makes itself known on Wrath’s face. He’s struck a nerve. “Nothing less than the truth.”

Lust tenses visibly. She looks, for one fleeting moment, like she’ll extend her spear and skewer him where he sits atop the table. Unlike the other homunculi, he wouldn’t recover. He entertains the thought briefly. Then she relaxes and turns away, the same as every other time.

Wrath pouts. “You’re no fun,” he says.

“Things are going well here in Liore,” Lust continues like Wrath had never spoken. No fun at all. “Father will be pleased. Keep this up and he’ll allow you to carry out these things without adult supervision.” The amused derision in her sultry tone isn’t masked.

“Bitch,” he mutters. “I’m fifteen, not five.”

Lust shrugs without turning. “And I’m two hundred and fifty. That puts me in charge, don’t you think?”

Wrath glares daggers into her back with his uncovered eye. The eyepatch over his left causes sweat to bead where it touches skin, sweltering in the humid air. Blond hairs, escaped from his ponytail, stick to his nape and face.

“Lust, I’m hungry,” Gluttony mumbles. Wrath jumps slightly; Gluttony has been uncharacteristically silent and Wrath forgot he was in the room entirely. He sits in the corner with one fat finger in his mouth.

“I know, Gluttony,” Lust says, “But you can’t eat anyone here yet.” She sounds motherly, doting. Wrath wrinkles his nose and looks away.

“How long until we’re done here anyway? Surely that priest has rallied enough batshit followers by now,” Wrath groans, tilting his head back far enough to see the sun setting behind him.

“Patience, boy,” Lust says.

“Don’t call me that.”

Lust chuckles lowly. “Come here.” Like she’s calling a dog to heel.

Wrath scowls but obeys. Lust gets pissy when he ignores direct orders. “What?” he says as he comes to stand by her on the balcony, overlooking the city far below. Lust smiles, dark lips curling cruelly upwards. Wrath shivers despite the heat.

“Humans are foolish creatures. Violent, miserable fools, all of them. They so easily fall prey to hatred and bloodshed. That’s what makes this job so easy.” She reaches a gloved, slender hand and tilts his chin up to meet her eyes. When he averts his gaze, she grips tighter. Her fingers sharpen just slightly, thick blood welling where the blade points dig into soft flesh. “You would know all about being human, wouldn’t you, Edward?”

Howling, Wrath jerks away, pushing Lust from him with two strong metal hands. The blood from his chin trickles down the curve of his neck and collects at his collarbone, warm and sticky in the dry air. Then Lust’s hand is back, not on his chin but around his throat, pressing and crushing. He sputters, wheezes, chokes around his own spit.

“You brat,” Lust snarls through her stretched grin. “And you wonder why Father doesn’t trust you.”

Wrath claws at his throat, legs kicking futilely. His eyes roll back in his head. The world spins in and out of focus, noises becoming too loud then too quiet in quick succession.

And then Lust lets go. Wrath falls to the ground in a heap, head cracking against the balcony wall. He heaves gasping breaths and clutches the already forming necklace of discoloured bruises. He whimpers. Unwanted tears bead at the edges of his eyes.

Lust coos with mock-care. “Poor thing,” she says, voice so thick with faked worry that it drips, syrupy, from her lips. She kneels. Wrath is helpless to stop her as she manoeuvres him until his head rests in her warm lap. He groans weakly. Gluttony watches, disinterested, from the corner.

“N... no...” he manages, throat raw.

She shushes him. “It’s okay, it’s okay...” Her hands run through his sweat dampened hair. The spears on the tips of her fingers aren’t retracted. As much as Wrath wants to bolt with his tail between his legs, he doesn’t dare move. “You’re right, Wrath. You’ve been quite reliable these past few years, hm? Father is still getting used to how different you are from your old form. Give him time.”

A sharp intake of breath makes Lust still. It didn’t come from either of them. Both their eyes move to the doorway. A man stands there, shaking violently, face slack with fear.

“You... who — who are you?! What are you doing in Father Cornello’s rooms?” he stammers.

Huffing, Lust gets to her feet, pulling Wrath up with her. He staggers. Her hand supports him at the small of his back and he resists the urge to shy away from her pressing touch.

“Tell you what, boy,” she muses, gaze sliding to Wrath. “Prove to me you’re still loyal and maybe I’ll convince Father to give you something to complete all by yourself.” Her voice deepens, bloodlust curdling it.

“What do you want me to do?” Wrath stands straighter. His vision has almost stopped swimming.

She steps back, gesturing languidly to the man whose fear is heavy enough to taste. Her grin splits her pale face in two.

“Prepare Gluttony’s dinner for him, will you?”

Wrath tenses for a split second before he barks a laugh. “You’re sick,” he says. She shrugs as if to say, I do my best.

Wrath strides forwards — one, two, three long steps that echo as his boots hit stone. When he stands not a meter from the man, he claps, the clang of metal against metal making the man flinch skittishly. Wrath allows himself a smile to smother a forgotten human emotion that screams in the back of his head.

Blue electricity crackles. A wicked blade forms on his right arm. Surprise melds into raw fear on the man’s face. He opens his mouth like he thinks he’ll have time to scream.

Wrath drives the point through his soft throat and out the back of his neck. Blood spurts over his metal joints, bubbling out the man’s mouth like warm water over rocks in a brook, splashing down in erratic streams. It coats Wrath’s face and soaks his hair from gold to red. His smaller size makes the position a struggle, arm barely long enough to reach its target.

As an afterthought, he presses his fingers to his left palm and a thinner blade shoots from his forearm with a mechanical whir. He thrusts it into the spasming body’s stomach.

When the limbs stop jerking, head lolling grotesquely, Wrath pulls his arms from the corpse with two wet squelches.

“It’s gonna take a whole fuckin’ hour to clean my joints up,” he grumbles.

Lust had watched the entire exchange from the balcony. Now, she rests her chin in one hand, and says, “It’s your own fault for making such a mess.”

“Can you blame me?” He spits blood onto the tiles. It isn’t his. “What’s the point in killing if it isn’t fun?”

Gluttony lumbers to the body, split open and painted red. He pants, his maw open wide, and tears at flesh in between euphoric whimpers.

Wrath grimaces in disgust and returns to Lust’s side. Her searching eyes roam over him. He shifts.

“You’ll talk to Father about letting me work something without one of you guys breathing down my neck?” he says, voice carefully neutral.

Lust doesn’t look at him when she smiles and purrs, “Yes. I think I know just the job.”

———

On a dreary Tuesday in late July, Roy is called to Führer’s office. This would normally be good news because Roy is careful to never do anything to warrant a scolding; by process of elimination, being personally summoned by the Führer can only spell success.

It’s not good news. It’s not especially bad news, either.

It’s... news. Yes, news.

“My son turns sixteen next year,” says the Führer from behind his polished desk. “He’s looking for a future in the military. You are an exceptional officer, Colonel Mustang, and I would be honoured if you would have him under your command. Not permanently, of course. To gain experience.”

Roy blinks. The words take a while to process, and when they do, he has to fight hard not to let his shock show.

“With all due respect, sir,” Roy starts, “Isn’t fifteen on the young side? Why not have him enlist in the academy first?” Roy’s not good with kids. He’s even worse with teenagers. Oh, God, this is bad news.

The Führer laughs, warm and booming and very much like the previous Führer’s laugh. Roy shudders.

“Do you know why I wanted to become this country’s leader, Colonel?” The Führer pushes his chair back with a sharp scrape. He stands and turns, gazing out the looming windows. “My son is my only family. I wanted to make this country better for him. For his future and the future of his young generation. I’d rather not have him be anywhere too dangerous just yet.”

When Führer Hohenheim looks over his shoulder, his gold eyes seem to see through Roy entirely. Sweat collects along his spine.

“Of course,” says the Führer, “Late Führer King Bradley’s untimely death was a tragedy. It’s hard to believe it was already four years ago.”

“Yes, sir. We were all devastated and continue to be to this day.” Roy hopes his face is as blank as he’s attempting to make it.

“Indeed. And yet I couldn’t help but see it not as a setback but instead as an opportunity. An opportunity for change.” His curiously gold hair glints in the light. “I’m sure you understand.”

Roy’s fists clench. There’s no way the Führer can know about his ambitions.

Führer Hohenheim smiles slightly and says, “My son is a rather free spirit. But he’s a determined boy. I’m sure you’ll find him easy to work with once he warms up to you.”

In Roy’s mind, that roughly translates to: he’s a spoiled brat who’s never been told no.

Roy salutes. Only when the door closes behind him does he exhale heavily and mutter a stream of colourful swears into his hands.

———

Edward Hohenheim is exactly what Roy expected and simultaneously the complete opposite. That in itself should be taken as a warning sign.

On their first meeting, Roy holds out his hand to shake Edward’s — both of which are gloved, strangely enough — and is met with a stare that suggests disgust and possibly offence at the notion that Roy would dare attempt to touch him. His father, Führer Hohenheim, chides him. His tone is friendly. Fatherly. Roy almost misses the flicker of fear in the boy’s eyes before he takes Roy’s hand, grip strong and hard. Metal. He imagines he’s partially successful in obscuring his surprise.

Roy soon learns there are several curious things about Edward that constantly contradict the actions of a spoiled kid. One such example being his metal limbs; Roy digs around and manages to learn that all four of them are automail. Holy fucking shit. Despite the immensity of this revelation, he can’t seem to find any clue on how or even when the accident occurred. If it was, in fact, an accident.

He says this because of the bruises in a ring around the boy’s neck, blue-yellow splotches that are already faded by the end of his first week at Eastern Command. Roy tells himself it doesn’t mean anything that they’re vaguely hand shaped.

And his eyes — or, more accurately, singular eye. The same bright golden hue as the Führer’s, Edward’s right eye is either displaying defiance, anger, or boredom, with little to no in between. His left eye is covered with a black eyepatch, obviously designed by the very best, perhaps even tailored to fit the curves of his face.

The boy is, as his father calls it, a free spirit. Determined too. He’s not as bratty as Roy imagined but still manages to be a little shit whenever the chance arises.

When he’s not spitting curses or glaring at Roy like he’s counting down the top ten ways to kill him, Edward is sitting with legs crossed on his chair and working so intently that it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Roy’s team have an amusing time testing who can say the kid’s name the loudest before he hears them. Roy tells his team that if the Führer finds out there will be consequences for them all. Roy’s team does not seem to care.

Sometimes, Roy looks up from his desk and Edward is observing him. Not glaring. Observing, like he’s taking in the way Roy speaks and moves and goddamn breathes for future reference. It shouldn’t be creepy.

Edward Hohenheim is the son of the Führer, a perfect blond Amestrian with a perfect white smile, and the way his eye narrows every so often shouldn’t send fear skittering down Roy’s back.

———

Two months into Edward’s time at Eastern Command, Roy is called to the murder scene of a four year old girl who was transmuted with a dog before her violent death.

“Let me come,” says the kid. His blue military jacket is rumpled and his ponytail is lopsided. It makes him look younger than his fifteen years. It should stop Roy saying yes.

“Yes,” Roy says. “Okay, you can come.”

The car ride is silent save for the howl of wind and rain beating the windows. Edward sits with his body turned away from Roy, shoulders rigid. He must be cold, Roy thinks, with his four metal limbs.

When they arrive, Roy looks to the kid one last time and says, “Are you sure about this? It won’t be pretty.”

“I’ve seen worse.”

Roy doesn’t know how to reply to that. He gets the feeling Edward didn’t mean to say it out loud. He climbs out the car. Edward follows.

The chimera’s body lays next to its father’s. Both are split open in several places, like they were pumped full with too much blood until it burst out the seams of their flesh. Roy lifts the white sheet once alone. Every so often, he steals glances at Edward, who lingers at the back of the room with his expression hidden by shadows.

They leave not long after. If possible, the car journey back is even quieter, oppressively so, despite the rain reaching raucous levels outside.

Edward storms into Roy’s office ahead of him, long strides surprisingly powerful despite his small stature. It’s the gait of someone with anger in their veins and the intent to do something stupid on their face. Roy would know.

“Hey! Hey, kid—” Roy shouts, reaching for Edward’s shoulder once the door closes behind him. His team glance up from their work, looking to each other and then back at the soaking wet pair. “Kid, I know you’re upset—”

“You don’t fucking know anything!” Edward screams. He turns on his heel, glare piercing into Roy just like Führer Hohenheim’s does, only on Edward it’s even worse. The kid pants raggedly, stance hunched. He looks like a wild animal backed into a corner with the way his chest rises and falls like it’s attached to a bicycle pump.

“Sir, would you like me to—” says Riza. Roy waves her off.

“Edward. You need to calm down. Control yourself.” Roy isn’t sure authority is the right way to go but it’s all he knows how to do. “I can call your father—”

That man isn’t my father!

For five long seconds, the world slows to a halt. All eyes in the room rest on the kid. He seems to realise what he’s said. Something like horror dawns on him until he’s trembling.

“What do you mean?” Roy says, slowly, like he’s calming a spooked animal.

Edward keeps his eyes down. He clutches his arm to his side, and says, “He likes to pretend he is.” He says it like it should be funny. It’s not.

Something in the tremor of his voice tells Roy it’s not a whole truth. He files the information for later and clears his throat. “Even so, if you’d like me to contact the Führer then I will immediately do so.”

There’s a moment lasting no more than a second where the kid isn’t a frozen animal or a frightened child but a predator pushed too far, geared to launch itself into its aggressor’s throat. He takes a step forwards. Roy doesn’t realise he’s stepped back until Edward halts.

And then he’s gone from the room. The door shudders in its frame. Roy releases a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.

Riza meets Roy’s eyes for a split second that lasts a lifetime. Havoc whistles long and low.

“What was that about?” Havoc says; jovial, light, joking. Almost enough to cover the waver in his tone.

“Nina Tucker’s body must have shaken him worse that I thought,” Roy says.

Legs heavy, Roy slumps into his seat. He thinks about the alcohol in his bottom draw and how, logically, he shouldn’t be able to practically taste it from where he sits.

“You know that’s not what I mean.” Havoc puts a cigarette between his lips but doesn’t light it.

“No,” Roy says, “I don’t.”

———

“I don’t see what you’re so worked up about, Roy-boy.” Maes’ voice crackles over the phone speaker. “Kid sounds like a normal angst-ridden teenager to me. Unlike my little Elicia, of course. She’ll be perfect forever!”

Roy groans and presses the receiver between his shoulder and ear as he pours himself another drink. The fire crackles, spitting embers. Even though he sits a meter from the flames, Roy’s skin prickles with goosebumps. It’s been that way for the entire day, ever since the incident with Edward in the morning. Even now, in the comfort of his own house, he periodically checks over his shoulder like a single yellow eye will be watching him as his drinks himself into a stupor.

“That’s not the point,” Roy slurs, waving his glass about and spilling liquid onto his uniform shirt where it joins countless other splotches. “Think about it. I ask Madame Christmas to look into just how the Führer’s son ended up half steel and she pulls up nothing. Nothing. This is my mother we’re talking about.”

“I know, Roy, but...”

“And then!” Roy shouts, surprising himself with his own volume. Softer, he says, “And then he claims he’s not even Hohenheim’s kid, which, by the way, wasn’t mentioned anywhere ever.”

“I dunno. You said he’s trouble, right? Likes messing with you? You don’t think he could just be fucking around, trying to get you in trouble with his daddy for kicks?”

Roy swallows. He contemplates it seriously. Eventually, he comes to a decision and says, “No. He was being sincere. I can’t describe it. It was like... like, shit, I dunno, like he was scared I’d tell the Führer ’bout it...” Roy’s words merge together, tongue much too numb and useless in his mouth.

“Just how drunk are you right now?” Amusement thinly veils concern.

“You’d be drunk too if you were there.”

“It can’t have been that bad. Just a kid acting out.”

“He’s creepy. Crazy kinda creepy. I’m not shitting you, Maes, there’s something off with that kid...”

It’s Maes’ turn to huff exaggeratedly. “Don’t. Just don’t. I know where this is going.”

“C’mon, you work Investigations! Who else is better to dig up dirt on the Führer’s fake son than—”

“And if the Führer himself finds out?” Maes says. “You know the rumours that go around about him. They’re even worse than old Bradley’s.”

“Please, please, please, please—”

“Fine! If it’ll get you to shut up, fine.” Maes hums thoughtfully. “And I suppose it is rather interesting. Ooh, what if we uncover a big bad conspiracy? Is that what you’re expecting?”

“No!” Roy tips back his glass and manages to catch at least half the drink in his mouth.

“Roy.”

“... Yes. Maybe. A little.”

Maes snorts. “You oughtta introduce me to the kid properly. For research purposes.”

“Yeah...” Roy says, vision fading in and out. He sets the glass on the table.

“You should sleep,” Maes says. Roy doesn’t hear him through his snores.

———

Father looks so much like Hohenheim that Wrath forgets on occasion that they’re separate men entirely. The blank stare as Father gazes down at him from his throne reminds Wrath so much of the man who left all those years ago that he shudders where he stands. A creator. A bored one, observing his world with eternal disinterest.

“Go on,” Father rumbles. “Speak.”

“Yeah, Pipsqueak. Speak.” Envy sniggers, crouching on the balls of their feet. Father looks at them out the corner of his eye and Wrath takes some solace in the way Envy shrinks back, reproached.

Wrath forces words out around something choking in his throat. “After two months of observation, I have concluded that Mustang is a worthy candidate for Sacrifice. He has the alchemical skill, though it’s focused on fire. He may require assistance with the circle—”

“Of course. What else?”

“He possesses the necessary courage to open the Gate. I’m sure of it.”

Father hums. His flat expression doesn’t waver in the slightest.

“You have done well, Wrath. When Lust asked me to allow you an unmonitored task, I didn’t believe you’d be able to handle it.”

Wrath almost sinks to his knees with relief. “Thank you, Father.”

Something on Father’s face shifts. Wrath isn’t sure what.

Then red alchemic energy crackles across the ground. A spike juts from the stone where it was flat just seconds ago. Wrath attempts to scream but only blood comes out when it pierces his back and bursts out his chest, missing his heart by millimetres. Warm red froths at his lips and spills from the wound in sick splashes like a faucet left to drip.

He can only jerk and spasm, metal hands clutching at the stone piercing him, as Father descends from his throne. Pinned, skewered, an animal on the butcher’s block. He hears rather than sees Envy stand.

If Wrath doesn’t know better, he’d think Envy sounds worried when they say, “Father, he won’t heal—”

“Did you think I wouldn’t know?” Father says, ignoring Envy entirely. He looms over Wrath now. His large form casts a great shadow, lank blonde hair brushing against Wrath’s face. He sobs. “When you told Mustang you weren’t my son, did you think I wouldn’t know?”

“No, no, no, I swear, it was an accident... it was...” Wrath can’t speak with the blood in his mouth and terror clouding his mind.

Father grasps Wrath’s braid in one large fist, yanking him upwards by it until he stands on his toes, impaled in his chest and held up by his hair. He sobs louder.

“Father!” Envy sounds panicked. Wrath barely hears them.

“Quiet!” Father yells. “This is what you wanted, isn’t it, Envy? When you came to me about how your little brother told the humans more than he should?”

Envy stutters. They fall silent.

Slowly, Father returns his focus to Wrath, whose breath comes in shallow pants.

“My boy.” The faux care in his voice makes Wrath attempt to shrink back. It’s futile with the spike holding him in place. He stills, limp. “You know what happened to your predecessor. He forged himself a life as a human until he deluded himself he could be one of them. He betrayed his true family. Be careful you do not fall prey to the same delusions.”

Wrath shakes his head. Desperate to communicate that he would never, that he’s loyal, that he’s been loyal for too long now to ever go back.

“I don’t want to have to dispose of you too. It’s a pain, taking his place as Führer,” Father says. He pushes Wrath’s chin up and narrows his eyes, calculating. “Perhaps hearing those humans call you by your old name has given you too many ideas.” He drops Wrath, who slumps, unable to fall to his knees with the stone through his chest. “Edward Elric is dead. You are my Wrath. I am the one who made you who you are. Don’t forget that.”

And suddenly, the spike is transmuted back into the ground, leaving in its wake a gaping hole in Wrath’s chest. Father catches him. Tenderly, he places one hand over the wound and Wrath watches with half-lidded eyes, numbed by pain, as the flesh stitches together, red energy dancing.

The world is pulled out from under Wrath, weightless, as Father hooks his strong arms under his back and knees, lifting him close to his chest. It would be a perfect imitation of father and son if it weren’t for the blood staining skin in thick layers and Father’s bruising grip on his flesh.

Five steps — Wrath counts each one — and Father sets him down on a table. He brushes his hand over Wrath’s bloody cheek, pulling the eyepatch free and setting it down by his head. His eyes flutter shut. Distantly, he hears retreating footsteps, bare feet against stone. His head lolls to the side, thumping against the table, and he glimpses Envy leaving the room before his vision swims out of focus entirely.

“Will... will I still be observing Mustang?” Wrath croaks. He tells himself he isn’t hoping for a particular answer.

“Let me ask you this,” Father says. “Could you kill him on command? If I were to line up his team, would you hesitate in splitting their stomachs open?”

Wrath tries to speak. He tries, and words fail.

“Answer me, Edward.” Father sounds like Hohenheim.

Wrath hardens his eyes and his heart. “That’s not my name.”

Father smiles. “Good boy,” he says.