“I want to leave.”
“No one would see me.”
Wrath bristles, jerking his hair free of its tie until it settles around his shoulders. He curses how long and fast his strides have to be to keep up with Envy’s, each metal footfall deafening in the halls of Father’s underground tunnels. He’s used to it by now.
It’s still too fucking loud.
“Oh, come on, what’s the worst that could happen? You think I’m gonna go tattling? Tell someone about how the Führer kidnapped me and made me into the personification of his fury?” Wrath snorts.
Envy rests their hand on Wrath’s head in a way that could almost be ruffling his hair if it didn’t hold so much warning.
“No. What Father thinks is that you’ll go looking for your little brother and your friend.” Envy’s mouth tightens. “And he’s not wrong.”
Swiping at Envy’s hand, Wrath spits, “It’s been a fucking year. I’m not—” he takes a breath, gagging up the words that scratch his mind raw—“I’m not stupid enough to think I can go back to that.”
He’s greeted with silence from Envy that translates to conversation over. There’s some kind of rage, some untempered fury, that threatens to bubble out—he wants to break this place down, burn it to ashes, and he wants to go with it—
“Control yourself,” Envy says lowly. They’re good at that—noticing when Wrath is loosing it. “The anger doesn’t control you.”
Wrath shudders breaths, but they only seem to pick up in pace. He wants to attack, to hurt, to kill—
“Breathe. One, two, three.” Envy doesn’t stop walking yet Wrath thinks they may have slowed, just barely. Enough for Wrath to keep up without having to pant.
Finally, after he can see something other than red and feel more than hatred, Wrath says, “Where are we going?”
“To the throne room.”
“Yeah, no shit, but why?”
“Father has something for you,” Envy says, eyes averted. “Cooperate and maybe he’ll let you take a trip outside.”
Father, offering Wrath’s greatest desire on a silver platter.
He knows from experience it’s never as easy as that.
The rest of the walk is silent. They reach Father’s room with the awful, gaudy chair in the centre that makes Wrath want to heave up his insides because it’s where he sits to observe with those eyes and speak judgement with that voice and—
At the foot of the chair are four bound figures. Middle aged mostly, though one looks younger by no more than a decade. Hands tied behind their backs, eyes wide and searching. Terror so thick, so heavy, that Wrath can taste it in his mouth like bitter fruit.
“You know who these people are,” Father says. He descends from his chair, white robes brushing the floor but collecting no dirt. “You recognise them.”
Wrath bites his tongue to stop himself from saying something he’ll regret.
“These are the people who returned your limbs to you; who welded steel to your flesh and drilled screws into bone even when you begged for them to stop.” Father steps closer, voice too loud and too distant all at once. Wrath steps back. He stops when his back brushes Envy, their hand closing around his shoulder until he’s pinned in place.
He doesn’t think about the time spent on the operating table if he can—at least it wasn’t years, like it should have been, he comforts himself with. At least Father took pity and sped up the process with alchemy. He doesn’t allow his mind to wander to sterile rooms and sleepless nights, of helplessness, of wanting to move his arms, his legs, but finding only empty space and sickening pain.
And they watched. Government employed men who knew precisely what it was they were doing, poking and prodding like he was an animal in a lab.
He pushes away the voice that tells him that’s exactly what he was.
“You have every right to hate them, my boy. There’s no need to fight it.” Father circles him now, slow, lethargic, like predator assessing prey. Envy remains at his back, hand heavy on his shoulder, yet somehow it’s less of a vice and more of a twisted comfort.
“Remember to breathe,” Envy mutters in his ear. Wrath didn’t even realise his throat had closed up until now. Air floods his lungs like cool relief.
“I want you to show me your loyalty, Wrath.” Father comes to a halt behind him, next to Envy, and Wrath shudders as a large hand threads through his loose hair. When Father speaks next, it’s millimetres from his ear, low and dripping. “Kill them.”
Wrath can’t breathe again, but this time he’s acutely aware of it, of the way his throat glues itself shut and dizzies his head, spinning like water down the drain. Kill. For all his training, for all his anger, for all his urges to destroy and maim and make suffering, make chaos, to show them all who they should be scared of, to inflict his wrath—
He’s never taken life. He doesn’t know if he can.
“I can’t,” he manages. “I can’t.”
“You can. You want to.”
Father pushes him forwards, out of Envy’s grip and closer to the people he’s supposed to—
His joints clank obnoxiously loud with the way he shakes. Blood rushes in his ears, filling his head with roars.
He must stand like that for minutes, but neither Envy nor Father speak. Finally, he steps forwards again, until he stands over the hostages, and he doesn’t even know their names, only their faces, the way their hands felt beneath thin rubber gloves as they handled him like, like—
They beg, pathetic, but he doesn’t hear him.
The worst part about it is that he does want them dead. He wants it so much that it consumes, like hunger, like prime-cut meat after weeks of burning starvation—he wants their blood on his hands, he wants them to suffer what they made him suffer, wants to rip their spines from their flimsy flesh and spill their organs from their soft, weak, human stomachs with one satisfying slice—
He staggers back, chanting the words to himself over and over in a sick mantra.
I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t—
He expects a blow. A hit across the face or a fist around his throat. Maybe Pride lurks in the shadows, waiting to cut him open once he’s shown he’s too weak.
Father only sighs, but somehow it’s worse that a beating. Four transmuted spikes rise from the ground, and the hostages are impaled before they have time to scream. Blood trickles from their split flesh, collecting at Wrath’s bare feet and staining metal red.
“A shame,” Father says. Wrath isn’t sure when he returned to his chair.
When his knees give out, Envy catches him, lowering him until the both of them kneel. They look like they’ve got a bad taste in their mouth.
“I tried to make it easy for you by choosing people you’d be able to kill without regret.” Father taps his fingers on the armrest. “Since you couldn’t even do that, I suppose you’ll have to prove yourself the hard way.”
Envy pales. “Father, don’t you think—”
“My boy.” Father waits until Wrath locks eyes with him. “Kill Envy.”
Wrath attempts speech. His tongue is too heavy in his mouth.
“He won’t be dead for long. Just show me you’re capable.” Father smiles and it’s wretched in its facade.
Envy is stock-still at his side. Wrath feels cold, icy, heart stilled in his chest like a metal weight.
“No... no, I can’t, I can’t—”
Father sighs again but now it’s tinged with impatience. Distain. A god growing tired of his creations not adhering to his script. He grits out, “Do you need an incentive?”
Envy seems to know something Wrath doesn’t. They shake ever so slightly, expression slack with building fear, rising to their feet and backing away from Wrath on unsteady legs.
“Father,” they say. It trembles. “He doesn’t need to know yet.”
“No, Envy, I think he’s old enough, don’t you?” Father’s face is blank yet his voice is sharp enough to dig into supple flesh, and Envy flinches with each word. “What was it you told him? That his brother’s moved on? Who would want a brother who isn’t even human, wasn’t it?”
“Envy,” Wrath chokes. “What’s he talking about?”
Father’s voice could draw blood when he looks to Wrath and says, “After I heard Number Twenty-Three had sons, my boy, I sent Envy to find you. And when he did, he took you for me. That much you know.”
“I asked for your little brother to be found too. When Envy couldn’t find him, do you know what they did?” Father pauses like he’s savouring the words that fester on his lips.
“Please,” Envy says. Wrath hasn’t heard them whimper before.
“He assumed Alphonse Elric was dead at the hands of human transmutation, and he burned the house with your brother in it.”
Wrath digs his eyes into Envy, begging for the truth, the truth that this can’t be right, because it’s not that they care for each other but they’re the best each other have—
“Wrath—” Envy starts, until they taper off, a flame at the end of its wick. Wrath knows, then, the truth.
It doesn’t matter, suddenly, that it’s all part of Father’s plan. He knows he’s being manipulated; Father’s the one who burned his brother even if Envy struck the match.
He becomes a killer that day, and even though Envy gasps back to life not seconds after dying, hands scrabbling at their throat already healed, Wrath locks himself away afterwards and wishes he had the courage to kill himself instead.
Darkness falls heavy when Maes returns to the automail shop. The bell tinkles pleasantly above the door, and he’s in a foul mood.
He’d stopped by earlier, precisely when he said he would—an hour after he left—but Ed was gone. Hours, he traipsed wet streets in search of a glint of dangerous metal or bright yellow eyes; plenty of time to lose himself in thoughts of giant transmutation circles and teenagers who smell of death and smile like grief embodied.
He’s a little surprised, then, that Garfiel isn’t alone anymore. For a short second, he sees black clothes on a small frame and thinks it’s Ed—thank fuck he’s back, god dammit, Maes was sick with worry—but then the figure turns, and it’s a different teen with hell in their eyes.
She—Maes only recognises her as a girl because of the skirt too short to count as one—stalks up to him purposefully, limping somewhat, and she’s definitely a little taller than Ed, but not dissimilar in age. Her hair is perfect mess of cropped dark strands. Her skin is a battlefield of scars.
Maes doesn’t need to have served alongside Roy to recognise burns.
“Hello,” Maes starts, because as much danger this girl conveys, he’s not without his manners, “You wouldn’t have happened to have seen—”
“You know Edward?” Her voice is like cracked glass, rough and raw and almost painful on the ears. Still, though, it’s strong, and full of accusation and purpose to get exactly what it wants. It reminds Maes of Ed.
“Did something happen? Where is he?”
“Don’t answer my question with questions, you fucker—”
“Manners,” Garfiel interjects from across the room. “Be nice to our guest.”
The girl breathes deeply, and even that sounds too rough, too wheezing. Maes has to wonder if it hurts.
Finally, she meets his eyes with hard defiance, and they’re a startling blue. In other circumstances, Maes might have described them as blown glass. The best way he can put words to them is the night sky in hell.
“Ed’s gone.” This time, she does seem to be in pain.
Gone? Maes’ stomach drops so far and so fast he feels it thunk against his feet.
“She means,” Garfiel clarifies, “that he got his automail reattached and left immediately.”
“Where?” Manners are thrown out the window to fall fifty feet to the ground.
“Station, I reckon.” The girl crosses her arms, metal jewellery clanking, and her rusty voice takes on malice. “Seemed in a spectacular fucking rush to get as far away from me as possible.”
Maes swallows. He backtracks towards the door, feeling like tripping over his own feet, and he doesn’t even know why he feels so much responsibility over this kid, but it’s overwhelming, like the spiked fear that overtakes when Elicia wanders out of sight. As he reaches for the handle, he pauses, and turns.
“How do you know Edward?”
The girl looks lost then, as if that question was the last thing she expected, and even she herself isn’t certain of its answer. She bites her lip—it’s unscarred mostly, her face, the burns being concentrated on the exposed flesh of her legs and hands. Where else does it extend?
Her fingers trace a wrench on a nearby table. She hefts its weight effortlessly, clutching the metal as if a comfort blanket to a child.
“I don’t know him. Not anymore.”
Maes nods. He can accept that. Strange answers and even stranger children aren’t uncommon as of late.
“My name is Lieutenant Colonel Maes Hughes. I’m stationed at Central Command if you need to contact me.”
The girl nods, and the lowering of her head lets Maes see the blonde roots to her dark hair.
“Winry.” She says the name like she wishes it was something else.
“No surname?” Maes chuckles good-naturedly.
Winry clutches the wrench tighter, and her parting words before Maes departs are, “None that you need to know.”
It’s still wet outside, approaching midnight. Maes finds Ed in an alley by the station.
He thinks he’s an animal at first, huddled behind a dumpster and keening like an injured dog, but then he sees unmistakable metal knuckles gripped tight around black-clad knees, and he knows he’s found something far more dangerous than a feral canine.
“Edward.” Best alert him to his presence.
Ed doesn’t look up. He doesn’t move. He doesn’t breathe. The noises he was making—the animal ones, the ones that remind Maes of things heard in the night, cries and howls and keens that have you lock your door and close your curtains and turn the lights on because noises like that aren’t human, so you tell yourself they’re animal, but the mind is clever when it wishes to deceive you—come to a stop like a record cut short.
Maes steps closer, forcing his footfalls to be heavy enough that Ed will be able to track him—why does he get the feeling that Ed doesn’t need to hear nor see him to know where he is? The hairs on his neck are on end, and his skin has raised into gooseflesh that has nothing to do with the cold, but he walks forwards like a man to the gallows, no choice in the matter.
“Edward,” he tries again, and it’s that name on his tongue that reminds him Ed isn’t an animal, or whatever Maes has been imagining him as in his head; he’s not wild or barbaric or devil incarnate.
He’s only human.
“I spoke to that girl.” Maes takes another step. A crushed can skitters underfoot. “Winry.”
Ed moves. Maes doesn’t. Not in time, at least.
He hasn’t felt this kind of anger before, this pure bubbling emotion, like his blood’s being boiled at a hundred degrees while it’s still under his skin, raw and hissing and spitting, and it isn’t even his. It’s Ed; it’s the fury in his one eye as he darts at Maes, the rage in the twist of his lips as he knocks him to the ground, and the wrath that drips from his metal hands as they go for Maes’ throat. This kind of anger shouldn’t be possible, can’t be contained in one being, and it’s flowing over until Maes feels it in the pit of his stomach too.
“Ed, fuck—” His air is cut off, and with it his words.
“Stop calling me that,” Ed hisses. His voice is thick and low, a hushed curse. His small body keeps Maes pinned, made immeasurably heavy by automail. “Stop it! I’m not him!” Ed squeezes his eye shut, and only then does Maes notice tears beading at the edges.
Black spots dampen his vision like ink blots. His hand closes around Ed’s wrist, but he doesn’t tug to pry it from his throat, only keeps it steady around the metal even if Ed can’t feel it, even if Ed can’t feel anything at all. He hopes his mouth is forming the shape of the breathless please he’s trying for.
Edward’s eye snaps open, and the wrath pulls back until it isn’t quite so crushing, like he’s making a conscious effort to hold it from drowning them both. His grip loosens. He chokes a noise again, but it’s not animal anymore, more like the sob of a child.
Gasping, Maes rubs at his throat, and Ed stumbles away until his back hits the dumpster and glass bottles clank inside, trash spilling over the edges. He cringes, gaping at Maes and then his hands.
When Maes sits up, head woozy and muffled with—cotton wool, maybe, Ed moves forward as if to help him. Maes must flinch—stupid, stupid move on his part—because Ed recoils as if struck.
Finally, Ed shakes his head, an absent movement alongside the glassiness to his eye, and he almost looks on the verge of an apology.
“Don’t look for me,” Ed says, and he’s gone.
Maes sits in the alley for another half-hour, checking his scabbed-over stab wounds for tearing, gasping greedy lungfuls of air now he knows what it’s like to have none. He boards a train sometime past midnight, and when he returns to Central, he bangs on Roy’s door looking like hell and feeling like nothing at all.
“We need to stop the nationwide transmutation circle,” he says over the maps spread over Roy’s coffee table and the glass of brandy at his lips.
“What about Edward? Don’t you think he should be here to help us?” Roy says, studying Maes with his clever eyes narrowed. Maes hasn’t drank since Elicia was born.
“That doesn’t matter now.” Maes downs the rest of his brandy. “We’ve got shit to do.”
Wrath takes the long way down to Father’s lair. He snarls at any of the chimeras that look as if they might try anything—dumb fucking animals, they’re supposed to only attack intruders, but with Wrath’s human-based biology they can get ideas. It’s fine. He knows he can take them on, if only because he has before; once as a punishment from Father and another in his first escape attempt, years ago now. It’s almost funny, to think that he had wanted to return to a human life.
To think he had let himself grow so close to—to him, to Maes fucking Hughes, and maybe Mustang, too. He shakes himself.
(And then—her, blue eyes and white scars and machine-grease—)
Gluttony’s the first of the other homunculi he comes across. The thing’s sniffling, suckling on his own finger like an infant and whimpering indistinctly around it. When he spots Wrath, he ambles over, trailing saliva in goopy wet puddles. Wrath gags internally.
“Lust...” Tears rush to Gluttony’s milky eyes as he repeats the name. Wrath’s insides go numb. Stupid, fucking stupid, he forgot about—
“What about her?” Wrath says, sauntering past Gluttony. Gluttony’s thick as shit, but he can see fear as well as he can smell it.
Gluttony’s voice hardens, darkens, until Wrath can hear the grind of his oversized teeth as he grits his jaw like he’s imagining flesh between them. “Mustang. Mustang killed her. Envy said. Mustang killed Lust, Mustang should pay—”
“Where’s Pride, Gluttony?” If he’s here, he could be watching, and if he’s watching, then Wrath needs to be really fucking careful about even breathing wrong; no one can know he attacked Envy and no one can know he’s the reason Lust is ash—
“Father sent him away for a little while,” drawls a familiar voice.
Wrath jerks like a marionette with yanked strings. Envy smirks a crooked grin from the doorway.
“The tunnels need to be minded,” Envy elaborates, enunciating slowly like Wrath is thick in the head. “Remember, pipsqueak?”
“Yeah.” His voice is hoarse, but he refuses to lose eye contact. That would be defeat. “I remember.”
Envy smirks wider. They beckon lazily, slipping back into the corridor, and with a last glance at Gluttony, Wrath follows.
“You didn’t tell,” Wrath says, rushing to keep up with Envy. New legs are a blessing now that they’re actually the right size—and he’s a few inches taller, too, so that’s a damn bonus—but not tall enough to even challenge Envy’s gait.
“No. I didn’t.” Envy doesn’t even grace Wrath with fucking looking at him as he speaks.
“Not even Father?”
“He doesn’t know that I...”
“Sided with some pathetic little humans? Killed Lust? Betrayed us? No. He doesn’t.”
Wrath almost recoils at the spite lacing Envy’s voice. Even worse is the grief.
“Why not tell him?” Why not get Wrath gone for good? They don’t get on, they never have—once, an age ago, it wasn’t friendship but it was almost something and then—so why doesn’t Envy just take the opportunity of a fucking lifetime and—
Envy, for someone who weighs similar to a building, is surprisingly fast. Wrath’s walking, and then his legs are out from under him. Falling forwards with a muffled swear, his jaw knocks against the floor, letting out a foreboding crack and sending dizzying sparks of pain through his skull. He doesn’t have time to struggle or even let out his customary stream of swears before is arms are pinned at the small of his back, twisted painfully so his ports yank at skin in a way that threatens tearing, and the knee digging into his spine is a dead-weight that keeps him down like a chained dog. His cheek is pressed to the cold floor, neck turned sideways at an excruciating angle.
Saliva speckles his ear as Envy leans down so their lips brush the side of Ed’s face to spit, “Don’t think I didn’t rat you out because I care, or whatever bullshit the humans have been feeding you. You’re still alive because of me.” They sneer, and Wrath tries to growl or shy away or anything but it’s like he’s limbless all fucking over again. “I have shit on you that would have Father rip your spleen out over and over just for a warm up to the punishment you deserve. I can still make that happen. Keep your mouth shut. Don’t interfere with our plans again. Understand?” Envy pulls Wrath’s hair, forcing his neck back in a dangerous curve, nails digging into his scalp. “Do you fucking understand?”
“Yes,” Wrath says, numb, too tired and too sore to put up any kind of fight.
The pressure on his back alleviates. He wipes at the spit on his cheek and receives a kick to the gut for his trouble.
Wrath waits for the sound of bare feet against stone to fade before rising. He tests his jaw for injury, blanching when blood drips from the corner of his lips in a slow trickle; must’ve bitten his tongue when he went down. Wiping at the stream, he limps the opposite direction to Envy.
Only when he’s out into the city air does Wrath pry the scrap of paper from the metal crook of his elbow. His eyes dart over Envy’s messy scrawl before transmuting the paper to ash.
Dublith. Devil’s Nest.
Don’t fuck me over.