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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.

Chapter Text

When he’s eleven years old, Edward discovers that death is not painless.

Consciousness comes in blinding white light and straps over his chest and a hard surface beneath his back. Pain is a constant. Hot knives twisting into flesh. He tries to say it hurts but he’s winded, mute, and all that comes out is moans.

“Don’t fall asleep.” A voice to his left — no, right. Which way is up?

He blinks in an attempt to clear the haze and the pain that accompanies it. The hurting becomes background noise; he isn’t sure if it’s lessened or he’s slowly accustoming to it. Limbs heavy, he tries to rise, but leather straps cross over his body. He lies flat, pinned down, on a table of smooth steel.

He can’t feel his right arm or left leg. Panic overwhelms him until the memories from three — four? Time escapes him — nights prior manifest.

The transmutation. Mom’s body and it’s jutting ribs piercing sallow skin, red organs spilling across the basement floor and pumping grotesquely. His leg, taken. Arm, willingly given. And—

“Alphonse.” It doesn’t sound like his own voice. Scratched raw by screaming.

“Good. Stay awake.”

Ed looks around and his stomach swoops at the sight of white walls accompanied by a burning sterile smell. Wicked sharp operating utensils are lined up in uniform rows. Next to the table is a man. They lock eyes and Ed’s heart tries to beat itself out his chest.

“Hohenheim,” Ed rasps. He yanks at the restraints.

“No. Not quite,” says the man. Ed doesn’t have time to dwell on what that means.

His words stumble together. “Why am I here? Where’s Al? Winry? What is this—”

“I wasn’t aware Slave Number 23 has sons. You look a great deal like him.”

Ed is used to being ignored. There’s something about the way this man does it that makes him feel worthless. Like he’s disappointed a god he doesn’t believe in.

“That makes you my family by blood. You may as well be my own child.” He smiles. Ed wishes that unconsciousness would take him again. “It’s very fortunate. Normally, you see, these things take years of resilience training. Humans are such fragile specimens; any part of my being burns them up in an instant.”

“What the hell are you—”

“Yes, your blood connection to me will make this much easier.”

Ed doesn’t want to know the answer when he asks, “Make what easier?”

The man doesn’t reply. Relief at that and building terror are indistinguishable from one another.

Again Ed’s vision swims, lights still too bright. There’s a flash, a glint of metal, as the man raises his hand and inspects an object Ed can’t properly make out. Its tip is metal but the glass section is a red too vivid to be blood.

He realises it’s a syringe just before it’s plunged into his arm. Ed has never liked needles — when he was five, he whacked a doctor in the face during a vaccination. He remembers so clearly how upset mom had been with him and how he went back to say sorry just for her.

Ed thought it hurt when his limbs were ripped from his torso. It can’t hurt worse than this, he thought.

He knows now, with that too-red liquid pumping through his veins, that whatever pain he thought he felt before was nothing. It’s nothing, compared to this.

“My Wrath,” says the man. “You’re going to be beautiful.”

It’s the last thing Edward Elric hears before he dies and is reborn as something worse.

———

Roy is suspicious of everyone and everything. Roy keeps his cards close to his chest and trusts selectively. Roy would suspect a pot plant for murder if it was the only thing present at the scene.

This much Maes is certain. Maybe, he thinks, Roy has reason to be suspicious of Edward Hohenheim, or maybe he’s just cranky that a fifteen year old is better at comebacks than he’ll ever be. Maes suspects the latter.

“He’s less obnoxious than usual,” Roy says to him as they take the winding hallways to Roy’s office. “More closed off. Has been ever since he let slip that he isn’t Führer Hohenheim’s son. Something’s definitely weird.”

“Or he’s just, you know, a kid,” Maes retorts. “Not everything has to be part of a bigger meaning.”

Roy shakes his head airily, a light frown twisting his lips. He’s a mess of dark eye bags and faint stubble. “No,” he says, distant, like he’s not entirely in this plane. “No, that’s not it. You’ll see when you meet him.”

“Sure.”

“You’ll see. He’s in my office now.”

“Alright.”

“You’ll see.”

And, yeah, Maes does see. Kid is weird. He perches on his chair like he’s ready to bolt at any second. His one eye is disturbingly cat-like in its yellow hue and intensely watchful stare. He goes from tapping his foot in a quick rhythm Maes can’t keep up with to staying eerily still, face blank like he’s watching things that aren’t there.

But as excessively quirky as the kid is, Maes can’t bring himself to be suspicious in the same way Roy is borderline obsessed with.

Somewhere around the third time Maes meets Edward, he says, “I quite like him. The kid.”

What.” Roy sounds horrified, like he never considered this outcome could occur. Maes tries not to let his smirk show.

“He’s fun! Tells good jokes on occasion.”

“Jokes about what? Homicide?” Roy sounds betrayed.

“Ha-ha. Oh, and he even asks to see pictures of my darling Elicia and precious Gracia! He cares, unlike someone who will not be named.”

“I care!”

“Who said I was talking about you?”

Roy groans as they part. “You’re awful.”

“I’ll see you on Elicia’s birthday! She’ll be three, you know!” Maes hollers at Roy’s retreating back.

“I hope you die and I never have to see you again!” Roy says over his shoulder.

———

Maes invites Edward to his daughter’s birthday party. Partially because he genuinely likes the kid and thinks he deserves more parental love where it’s obviously lacking and partially to piss Roy off to an inordinate extent.

See, the thing is, Maes didn’t actually expect Edward to show.

When the doorbell rings at eight thirty, all Elicia’s friends have gone home already. Now it’s just Roy and half of his slightly tipsy team lounging around, most of whom arrived late under the promise of free food. Elicia happily occupies herself with Hawkeye’s hair.

Maes gets the door and almost has a heart attack. Edward blinks up at him owlishly, clutching a present wrapped in pink paper and glancing either side of him like he’s expecting to see someone watching from the shadows. All four foot eleven of him is soaked in blood.

The pink box is handed to Maes as Edward slips into the apartment. Maes’ protective instincts kick in as he grabs the kid’s arm before he can terrify his daughter, hurting his own hand on what he forgot was a metal limb. He winces.

“Woah there, kid! Hell, what happened to you?”

Edward looks down at himself as if he’s noticing the blood for the first time.”It’s not mine,” he says, like it will explain everything.

“I... why?”

The kid shrugs. “Fun?”

“Right.” Oh, fuck. “Okay, how about we get you cleaned up first? You can use the shower.” There’s blood dripping on Gracia’s carpet. Maes is a dead man.

“What? No. I’m fine like this.”

“Please, Ed.”

Something strange happens on the kid’s face. Shock. He mumbles his assent and Maes leads him to the bathroom as hastily as possible. Thankfully, no one sees them. He couldn’t bear to hear Roy’s smug voice saying I told you he was crazy.

He teaches Ed how to use the shower. He looks out of place, this boy doused in red, as he stands awkwardly on the white tiles of the family bathroom. Almost every time Maes speaks, Ed flinches. It takes him a while to realise it’s the use of the name Ed that elicits this reaction.

“Do you want me to call you Edward?” he says as he heads for the door. “Sorry I didn’t ask before.”

“No, it’s okay.” Kid’s shoulders are rigid as hell. “Ed is fine. It’s just... it’s been a while.”

“Alright,” Maes says. “I’ll leave fresh clothes outside the door. Thank you for bringing a present, by the way. I didn’t think you’d come.”

Ed shucks off his black jacket — everything he wears is black, apparently — and says, “Yeah, whatever. You’ve been nice. I’m bein’ nice back. Equivalent exchange.” He doesn’t turn away fast enough for Maes to miss his spreading blush.

He returns to the living room to find Gracia still in the kitchen and Elicia sitting on Riza’s lap. It’s jarring to so suddenly be in an environment that doesn’t set his hairs on end.

“Who was at the door?” Roy says.

“Edward,” Maes answers. Roy chokes on his drink.

“Wow,” says Havoc. “Didn’t think the kid would show.”

Roy furrows his brow. “Where’s he now?”

“Showering.”

“Why?”

“He was... wet.”

“It’s not raining.”

Electing to ignore him, Maes swoops Elicia up until she bursts into fits of giggles. With her in his arms, he sits, and Roy glares at him. Maes remembers something.

“Ed mentioned equivalent exchange. That’s your alchemy schtick, right?”

Roy falters. “Yes. Yeah, it is.” He goes back to swirling his drink.

Then, two minutes later, Ed enters. Predictably, the clothes Maes left are much too big; the shirt sags off his shoulders and he”s tied the trousers at the waist. His four prosthetics are on plain display, steel shining violently bright in the light. The clanks as he walks are suddenly deafening. Scar tissue that travels almost to his neck is an angry pink despite appearing years old at least.

After a short yet endless silence, Maes says, “Hey, Ed. You can sit.”

Ed shifts from foot to foot. Finally, he settles at the end of the couch, hunched and assessing the room with his one narrowed eye. Roy glances at Maes as if to say everything is awful and it’s your fault.

“Daddy,” Elicia says. Maes leans down. “Why’s he all shiny?”

Maes can’t shake the way Ed fixates his stare on them, on him and his little girl. A feral instinct screams to get her out of the room, warning that a predator sits on the worn red couch and he’s getting hungry.

“Some of him is made out of metal,” Maes says. Please don’t let his voice be shaking. “He’s special.”

“Can I see?”

There’s no way his voice isn’t wavering. “No, Elicia, its rude to—”

“You can if you like,” Edward says. “Have a closer look, that is. I don’t mind.”

They need to get out. It’s all Maes can think. They need to get out.

“Yes, please!” Elicia gurgles.

Edward gets up but Maes can’t move. He can’t. It’s the moment a deer looks into the headlights to watch its death approach.

Then Ed crouches before them — the stance an animal takes before it springs with its jaw open wide — and lifts his arm. For a split second Maes sees every way this could go, everything the kid could do with that steel to end a life in an instant—

Elicia giggles and coos curiously. She runs her small hands over the metal but Edward stays perfectly still, turning the automail to make pretty light dance across it. His crouch is the non-threatening kind you learn to adopt around kids. A smile dusts his face, the most honest, unguarded thing Maes has ever seen on him.

Maes isn’t sure he’s ever seen the kid smile.

Later, after almost everyone has left and Gracia has forced apple pie into Ed’s hands, Maes stops Ed just as he’s drifting out the door.

“Elicia likes you a lot. Will you stop by again?” Maes says. He isn’t sure why he does; in complete honesty, there’s still something in him that fears for his daughter’s life when Edward is around.

Ed looks away. “Dunno. You were scared I’d do somethin’, weren’t you?”

“What? No, I—”

Ed raises his eyebrows. Maes sighs and says, “A bit.”

“Don’t blame you,” Ed mutters. He still wears Maes’ clothes, his own blood-soaked ones in a bag at his side.

“No, Ed, I’m sorry. I invited you. I should at least be able to trust you.” Ed shrugs flippantly and Maes clears his throat. “You got on well with Elicia. Have any experience with kids?”

It’s like a switch is flipped. For most the night, Ed has been more relaxed than Maes has ever witnessed — which was still incredibly tense — but now it’s like he’s going into lockdown. His eye glazes over, then hardens. “Brother,” he says. “Little brother.” He doesn’t sound here, on the threshold of Maes’ home. He’s far, far away.

“I see.” Maes doesn’t press. It’s a survival instinct.

“Anyways, it’s probably for the best if I don’t come back here.” Ed slings the bag over his shoulder as he retreats down the hall. Before he turns the corner, he says, “I was scared I’d do somethin’ too.”

Maes goes to the bathroom. There isn’t a trace of blood on the white shower floor.

He gets out the pink-wrapped box Ed brought and slumps on the tiles, pulling at the red ribbon so neatly tied. Paper falls away and inside is a plush toy, the one Elicia so desperately wanted but was out of stock everywhere he and Gracia looked.

Maes never mentioned the toy to anyone. He definitely didn’t mention it to Edward. He doesn’t want to think about how Ed knew to get it.

He thinks about it all night.

———

Despite Roy’s incessant begging, Maes never intended to investigate Edward. He felt it pointless, no more than a way to satiate a selfish curiosity concerning a kid with too much to hide. Not his place to go looking.

He goes to the library. He pulls up military records. He contacts his contacts, who contact their contacts. He goes to seedy bars and listens to whispers on the streets.

They all tell him one thing: Edward Hohenheim doesn’t exist.

At least, he didn’t before 1910, when Führer Hohenheim came to power. It was sudden — as expected after Bradley’s abrupt passing. Hohenheim hadn’t even been a political figure before then yet he was accepted as Amestris’ new ruler without question. His son, Edward, was eleven at the time and just as mysteriously invisible as his father.

Maes doesn’t know why he didn’t question it earlier.

He hears mention of a traveller, an alchemist named Van Hohenheim, who’s been seen in various parts of the country over the years. There’s no description of his physical appearance. Maes doesn’t rule him out as a possibility but remains skeptical regardless. It seems too much to consider to be real.

Then, while he’s looking over records and sources, eyes drooping and mind wandering to his family and how he’s late home already, he notices it. The dots connect. His skin prickles like he’s dunked in water freezing enough for it to burn.

Liore. Ishval. The endless uprisings and border conflicts. All that bloodshed.

He stumbles into a darkened room, searching for the maps that can prove him wrong. Please, please, let him be wrong, he’s got to be wrong—

The door closes behind him. There’s no light now.

“Hello, Lieutenant Colonel. It’s nice to meet you.” The woman’s voice is black silk. She smiles and it would be beautiful if it weren’t for the way her fingers extend into blades. “Actually, hello isn’t the word I’m looking for.”

Maes notes the red tattoo on her chest before he flings a knife into the centre of her head. Her blades extend. He stifles a scream as one skewers his shoulder.

He practically crawls to the military telephones. Roy. He’s got to tell Roy. Blood drips wetly from his shoulder, trailing across the floor and dribbling down his chest. It stains the receiver red as he grabs it but he can’t pick it up. He can’t, because if he’s right then there’s always someone listening.

So he drags himself to a public payphone, limbs so, so heavy and head light. Spinning. Everything spins. It takes ten seconds that last forever to find his identification code and, god, isn’t that ironic, because Roy always tells him to memorise it and Maes always rolls his eyes at his paranoia.

Click.

Maes has sold too much of his life to the military not to know that sound, to know the nuances of it as it resounds in his head each night. He turns and finds a gun inches from his eyes. Maria Ross stares back at him but he knows it isn’t her.

He tells not-Maria this, and she cracks a smile that dissolves into hysterics. Energy that Maes recognises as alchemy crackles at her feet — how could he not recognise it, after Ishval, after all those dead and dying at alchemists’ hands?

And suddenly not-Maria is Gracia. Some part of him screams it’s a trick, to move, he can’t die here because his wife loves him and she’s at home waiting with their daughter.

He wishes he could say sorry. She at least deserves that, he thinks.

Gracia smiles as she goes to kill him. Maybe it’s not so bad that his wife’s face will be the last thing he sees.

A blade reaches around Gracia’s neck and splits it open in a clean red line. She gurgles, then drops in a lifeless heap. Behind her stands Edward, his metal arm extended into a blade saturated with blood.

Maes can’t react, can’t move, only stare at his wife’s body as it lies crumpled in a growing pool of red.

“You — you killed her—”

“That’s not your wife,” Ed says, shaking his arm to get the blood off. It splatters onto the stone. “And it’s not gonna be dead for long.”

“What? I don’t... what’s happening? Kid, what the fuck are—”

Edward growls. It’s far from human. He steps forwards and leans up until his face is tilted just inches from Maes’. It would be adorable, the fact that he isn’t close to Maes’ height even on his toes, if he hadn’t just murdered someone.

“Listen. You need to call Mustang and tell him to get over here with a car now, ’kay?” Ed snaps his fingers when Maes’ gaze drifts past him, back to the body and the red sparks that crackle at its cut throat. “Hey, you fuckin’ listening? Call Mustang. Don’t tell him anything about whatever you learned. Call him, get in the car, and get the fuck away from here.”

Maes can only nod, choking around something awful building in his chest. The wound in his shoulder throbs. He picks up the phone.

“Hughes? Maes?” Roy sounds frantic. “Are you there? What the hell’s going on? Was that Edward I heard? Answer me, dammit!”

Speak. He’s got to speak. “Yeah. Yeah, it was. I need — I need you to drive to Central Command. Now. It’s an emergency. I’ll meet you outside.”

“Hughes? What do you mean ‘an emergency’? Why are—”

“Come quickly. Don’t bring anyone.”

“Hang up now,” Ed says. Maes obeys without thinking. Roy’s shouts cut off abruptly.

“What now?” Maes says. It’s not like he wants to look at Gracia’s body but he can’t tear his eyes away. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

“I’ll explain later,” Ed says. Maes almost doesn’t hear the muttered If we’re still alive. The kid turns to him again, yellow eye cold with determination. “Go back to Command. Stick to the shadows. I’ll hold them off.”

“Hold who off?”

Maes can only watch with sickening horror as Edward lets out a strangled cry when a hand yanks him back by the nape, sending him sprawling across the ground. The thing that was once Gracia is now a pallid-skinned figure with long, lank hair and a deranged grin that puts Ed’s to shame.

“The fuck you think you’re doing, Pipsqueak?” It lunges for Edward while he lays exposed, winded from the sudden assault. Pale hands wrap themselves around Ed’s throat. He splutters.

Maes reaches for his gun but before he can pop the button on the holster Edward throws the man off him with a blow from his steel fist. He coughs and wipes spit from the corner of his mouth.

“Were you even fuckin’ listening?” Ed shouts, rising effortlessly into a crouch, not even sparing Maes a glance as he fixates on his opponent. “Go!”

He should stay and help Ed. He’s a kid, fifteen years old, and he’s about to fight something that is anything but human. If Maes leaves now, Edward might never come back.

Maes thinks of his wife and child. Waiting for him.

He runs. He tells himself there isn’t anything he could have done. He knows it’s true but somehow it doesn’t matter.

He makes it about fifteen metres from Central Command before the woman with the tattooed chest blocks his way.

This time when she skewers him, he doesn’t manage to walk away.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t know how long he’s been here. He doesn’t know night and day. He doesn’t know who he is.

My name is Edward Elric. I am eleven years old.

Sometimes he says it out loud. Repeats it until it looses meaning, each word foreign on his tongue.

“My name is Edward Elric.” It hurts to speak.

“Don’t let him hear you say that, kid.”

His head snaps up to the cell door and its open hatch through which dim light spills. Eyes are visible on the other side. He growls but stops himself when it comes out weak.

“Who’re you?” he says, hating the way it cracks at the end.

The bolts unlock with clanks so grating after days with only silence that Ed whimpers. As the door is forced open, he pushes himself further into the corner but falls on his side when his right arm isn’t there to support him. It sends intense ripples of pain through his torn flesh. He screams.

“Careful, Pipsqueak,” says the figure as they close the door behind them. “You’re still kinda human. Don’t wanna die just yet.”

The light is so low that Ed shouldn’t be able to see anything at all. Out of one eye, he can only make out vague shapes. Out the other, the world has never been clearer. Still, he forces himself up and says through gritted teeth, “Don’t call me that.”

“What? Pipsqueak?” They laugh. Ed shudders. “Fiery kid. Most woulda been insane by now. Soon, though, don’t worry.”

“Who are you? Why’re you here? Why am I here?” Ed’s normally better at hiding his fear. When mom died, he stayed strong for Alphonse. Buttoned his shirt for him on the day of the funeral and didn’t cry as his little brother wailed into his chest.

Al isn’t here now. Tremors wrack his body like sobs.

“So many questions.” They step closer, crouching down until eye level with Ed. Purple eyes and pale skin. “Father already put it in you, huh? You’re doing well considering.”

“Put what in me?”

“Oh, Pipsqueak. I think you know already.”

Ed thinks about the steel operating table with leather straps; the man who looked like Hohenheim but not; the syringe of red liquid that burned worse than fire.

He knows.

“What’s happening to me?” God, he sounds pathetic.

“You’re becoming like us.”

“‘Us’?”

“A sin.”

He shouldn’t know what that means. It’s so vague that he should be even more confused than before.

He breathes shakily and says, “Wrath.”

There’s a long silence where the purple-eyed figure only stares at him. Finally, they nod, and say, “That’s right.” They hold out their hand like they expect Ed to shake it. “Envy.”

Ed glares at the outstretched palm as best he can through his terror. “Why are you here?” he croaks.

Envy snorts then sobers, falling back until they sit cross-legged. Ed at least appreciates that they keep a metre’s distance. “You must be pretty scared, huh?”

“No.” Ed sets his jaw.

Again Envy laughs, resting their head in their palm. “Sure. I guess I’m here to let you know it’s only gonna get worse.”

Anger flares, momentarily replacing fear. “The hell does that mean?”

“It means,” Envy drawls, “that those aren’t the only limbs you’re gonna lose.”

Edward feels his heart stop. His insides writhe around uncomfortably; snakes under his flesh. He presses his body against the wall like he’ll be able to sink into it if he prays hard enough.

“I don’t understand.”

Envy sighs. They almost look remorseful. “You’re gonna be a little different from the rest of us Homunculi.”

Homunculi—?”

“Shut up and listen, will you? You’ve got an Ultimate Eye already. But since you’re human based with only one soul in your Stone, you’re won’t have any physical enhancements. No special healing. You’re gonna have to work on your fighting skills all by yourself.”

“Ultimate Eye?” Ed traces the skin under his left eye. It’s stopped throbbing. The world he sees out of it is enhanced, clear, like before he was living with a silk blindfold and he didn’t even know.

Envy growls. “I said shut up, you brat.” He softens again. It’s unsettling to witness. “’Cause you don’t have any super-strength or whatever, Father’s decided to go all out since you’re already halfway there.”

“What?”

Groaning, Envy says, “Thought you were supposed to be smart.” They look dead into Ed’s eyes and he gets the feeling they can see further. “You’re going to get automail to replace your limbs. Father’s going to have the leftover ones chopped off for the sake of it. Steel limbs are pretty strength enhancing, don’t you think, Pipsqueak?”

Edward gives up trying to force back his tears.

Breath comes too fast, too hard, and he wheezes brokenly as wetness soaks his cheeks. His sobs taper off when he runs out of air to breathe.

“This isn’t happening,” he whimpers. “Please. Please, say this isn’t happening.”

Envy doesn’t speak. They watch Ed, not moving even when he pulls at his hair, yanking so viciously that golden clumps come free. He barely notices Envy rising and padding towards the door.

“Big day tomorrow,” Envy says. “You should sleep before you stop being able to.”

“Please.”

Envy pulls the door open. “Don’t let Father hear that weakness, Wrath.”

“Not my name,” Ed hiccups. His last defiance.

“Keep telling yourself that. Maybe you can convince yourself it’s true.”

And just like that, Envy is gone and Edward is alone save for the monster living in his head.

———

Roy doesn’t take his foot off the gas the whole drive to Central Command.

He plays the phone call over and over in his head. Never has he heard Hughes so shaken, not even in Ishval. Hughes is a pillar of security, of confident assurance, even when it’s faked for Roy’s sake.

Edward. He heard the kid on the line too — hang up now, he had said. Roy wills the car to go faster.

The world passes by in a flurry of blurred lights. Finally, fucking finally, he makes it to Command. He drives to the front steps, ready to see Maes’ relieved face and ready to glare at it for making him worry.

He isn’t on the steps.

Roy drives around the whole building, searching, searching, searching for a blue uniform and black hair and glasses that have stayed the same since they were eighteen because he thinks they make him look intelligent. When he has to park without Hughes in the other seat, dangerously close to crashing the car with how much he trembles, he slams his fist against the wheel in fury. He’s going to kill Maes for worrying him out of his mind when this is over.

And then he hears it. A rumble of shifting earth. Heavy static crackles in the air, pulling his hairs up and making him gag with the memories that accompany it. Alchemic energy, the kind that only comes with a massive transmutation.

Tumbling from the car, not caring to slam the door shut, he trips over his own stupidly docile legs as he sprints towards the source. There are streetlights overhead but the world seems to get darker.

He sees three things in this order: first, a woman with raven hair and blades in the place of fingers. Second, a blue-uniformed body sprawled on the ground metres away from her, unmoving. Third, the thick blood that drips from the woman’s blades and out of the gaping punctures in Hughes’ chest. It pools around him so dark it looks more like oil than blood.

He doesn’t remember much after that.

The woman speaks. Something taunting, voice rich like wine, and she doesn’t even look sorry. Roy can’t hear her through the sharp ringing in his ears. Like his eardrums have been blown out with one of his own explosions.

She opens her mouth again and Roy snaps.

Flames swallow her and lick at him. Fire won’t burn him; he’s tamed it, bended it to his will until it’s become his own personal instrument of destruction. He finds himself wishing it would burn him anyway.

Her screams die, choke, around her own burning flesh, and Roy can just make out the way she flails as she’s engulfed. Good. Suffering is good. It’s what she deserves.

When he’s waited long enough for her to be reduced to bubbling fat, he runs to Maes’ side. Pushes him onto his back and presses his own jacket over the sluggishly bleeding wounds. Five. Five punctures across his chest. He isn’t conscious.

“Hughes! Shit, shit, shit!” He hears himself as if from a distance. “Wake up! Hey!”

He feels for a pulse, hands wet with his best friend’s blood, and almost sobs when he can’t feel one. Then, faint, he feels a slow thrum beneath his fingers. This time, he does sob.

“Good. Okay, good.” Harder. He presses harder. “Hey! Someone call an ambulance! Anyone! Fuck, shit—”

He hears rather than sees movement behind him. Rapidly, he turns and comes face to face with the woman as she rises to her feet — he killed her, charred her, she was crumbled ash and melted flesh — a hateful grimace twisting her pretty lips.

She spits, “You shouldn’t have done that—”

Roy burns her. He doesn’t leave room for error this time.

When he’s done, he stands panting, sweat layering on every inch of his body. Each lungful of air is a wheeze, thick with the smell of cooked flesh. It takes him too long to remember Hughes.

He looks back to the body — no, don’t call him that, he’s not a corpse in a morgue — and finds someone else crouched over him. He growls.

“Calm the fuck down, Mustang. I’m not your enemy,” Edward says as he presses Roy’s jacket onto Hughes’ chest. He doesn’t sound much calmer than Roy. “Get your car over here.”

“He needs an ambulance—”

“No,” Edward says just before he claps, a sharp clang that makes Roy flinch. He notices for the first time blood leaking from the kid’s temple and the way one automail arm is half scrap metal, plating torn off and wiring loose. His eyepatch is missing but the exposed eye is firmly shut.

“We need to get him medical attention,” Roy says.

“They can’t help him.” Edward grits his teeth.

Roy laughs humourlessly. “You don’t fucking know that.”

“Yes, I do,” Edward says. He presses his hands to the wounds, eyes closed tight. “Now be quiet. Don’t wanna fuck this up.”

Roy is tired of this bullshit. “You’re making no sense! He’s going to die and you’re just—”

“He’s already dead if you don’t fucking shut up!” Edward spits. Roy stills. The kid looks feral, violent, the kind of person you’d swerve on the street for fear of him flying off the handle and killing everyone in sight. He looks desperate too. Ragged. Human.

Roy shuts up.

He can only watch as transmutation energy sparks at Edward’s fingers. Alchemy — he’s an alchemist and Roy never even knew. He can’t dwell on it for long because he finds himself swept up by the way the torn flesh of Hughes’ torso stitches itself back together.

“Do you know anything about biological alchemy?” Roy says, hope clouded by horror, fear of all the ways this could go wrong. “What kind of alchemy is this?”

Edward doesn’t answer, face pinched in concentration. Sweat mixes with the blood coating his skin. He grunts as if in pain.

Finally, after an age that must have been minutes, the kid opens his right eye, left one still shut, and sits back. “That’s the best I can do. Help me get him to the car.”

“Is he going to be alright?” Roy doesn’t bother concealing his unease.

“Dunno yet.” Edward stands but something in his metal leg pops and he almost falls to his knees. Roy reaches out a hand to steady him. The surprised look he receives, like a cat wide-eyed as it’s shown affection for the first time, almost has him stepping back. It doesn’t belong on the kid’s face.

“Right.” Roy swallows. “Where am I driving us to?”

Edward frowns like he hadn’t thought about that part. Eventually, he looks into Roy’s eyes and says, “You got any doctors you can trust?”

———

He paces, then stills, then paces. Edward glowers at him but he can’t muster his usual discomfort under that gaze. It’s almost like he’s used to it.

Roy shouldn’t be as surprised as he is.

“Will you stop? God, you’re fuckin’ annoying.” The kid scoots closer to the edge of the table, legs dangling off it. He scans the room again. His right arm hangs limp at his side and a makeshift patch made from a dish towel covers his left eye.

Roy sighs and heads for the cabinets. He finds alcohol and mentally tells himself to pay Doctor Knox back when he pours a glass. Edward wrinkles his nose; Roy can’t help but find that funny, that this teenager with a killer’s eyes and a sailor’s tongue should be disgusted by drink.

“Explain it to me again,” Roy says, wiping his mouth.

“Seriously? Fine, whatever. I used part of my life force to heal him.”

“Yeah, but what does that mean?” Roy pours himself another drink.

Edward shifts, tapping his metal fingers on the table. Roy clings to the rhythm. The kid says, “You ever heard of a Philosopher’s Stone?”

“What alchemist hasn’t? A mystical object that ignores equivalent exchange. A nice fairy tale, I guess, but I’ve never really had time for them.”

“Ain’t you just the king of cynical one-liners?” Edward smirks and Roy thinks his jaw might snap with how hard he grinds it. “Anyways, it’s not a fairy tale and it’s definitely not nice.”

“Bullshit.”

Edward shrugs. “Whatever you wanna believe. Just gotta know that it takes human lives to create it.”

Roy almost drops his glass, setting it down at the last second. “What?”

“You heard me. Gotta harvest souls to make ’em. What d’you think the genocide over in Ishval was for?”

Roy regrets the alcohol, suddenly feeling the urge to heave it up. “Are you trying to say the Ishvalan Civil War was orchestrated so someone could make a Philosopher’s Stone with human lives?”

“Oh, it’s adorable that you still call mass murder a war, really. And not just ‘someone’.” Edward leans forward until Roy can see the deranged glint to his yellow eye. “The government.”

“Oh, fuck off.”

“I’m serious. It’s been goin’ on for centuries. Areas of bloodshed all over this fucked up country. All for stones. All to make one big circle to make one big stone.” He laughs. “Ask Hughes. He figured it out and he’s in that room fightin’ for his life ’cause of it.”

Roy’s stomach does a flip at the reminder. He glances at the door like he’ll be able to see through it, to Maes and Doctor Knox, if he stares hard enough.

“Why’re you telling me this? How do you even know any of this?”

It’s almost like Edward’s unhinged nature was a persona up until now. He freezes, tensing his shoulders as if he might curl into a ball. His gaze shifts down. Then he picks it back up, scowling like he didn’t just become a different boy for two seconds.

“I figured it out myself. I ain’t the Führer’s son but we’re... related, I guess.” I guess?“Adopted me when I was eleven. Went snooping around when I noticed weird shit about him and I uncovered this conspiracy crap.” He doesn’t meet Roy’s eyes. There’s more to it.

“Okay.” Roy runs a hand though his hair. Breath comes shakily. “Okay. Who was that woman I killed? The one who attacked Hughes?” He doesn’t let himself feel remorse. It’s far from his worst murder. “She didn’t die the first time.”

Edward looks — uncomfortable? It feels wrong to see him like that, like Roy is looking in on something deeply private.

“She was a created human. Homunculus.”

Roy’s eyes widen involuntarily. Before he can speak, the door slams open, and even the kid jumps. In the doorway, Knox wipes his hands on a bloody towel.

“How is he?” Roy asks. His mouth is numb with dread.

Knox sighs and snatches the liquor from Roy. “Whatever it is you did to heal his wounds saved his life but it’s a patchy job at best.”

“He’ll live?” Roy knows he sounds pathetic. A begging child.

“He will.”

He puts his head in his hands, only then realising he still wears his ignition gloves. Blinking, he yanks them off. Edward exhales and it’s so very human, the act of expressing relief, that Roy’s taken aback not for the first time that night.

“Who’s the kid?” Knox grumbles as he sifts through the cupboards.

“The alchemist who did the patchy job,” Roy says.

Knox whistles. “That so?”

Edward flashes a grin and Roy feels that familiar agitation crawl down his spine. Knox doesn’t appear phased. He sets bread and coffee on the table.

“It’s all I’ve got. The both of you look like you’re gonna goddamn collapse and I don’t need any more trouble tonight.” Knox sips his own coffee. “You especially, kid. Walking twig. Below average height too.”

“The fuck did you say?” Edward growls.

“I said you’re a fucking midget.”

Roy’s sure he’s about to witness the kid commit murder. He regrets taking off his gloves.

Then Edward looks away, scowling and trembling like he’s actively forcing himself not to strangle Knox. He snatches up the bread, turning it over in his hands, sniffing at it.

“What’s he doing?” Knox says flatly.

“I think... I think he’s checking for poison.”

Knox raises his eyebrows. “Where the hell did you find this one?”

Roy doesn’t have the courage nor energy to say he’s the Führer’s fake son.

They both watch with a kind of detached fascination as Edward, apparently deciding the bread is safe, devours it in what can’t be longer than three seconds. He swallows, grimacing, and says, “Kinda stale.”

“Okay,” Roy says for lack of anything else to do. “What now, kid? You said Maes was attacked because of what he learnt. Does that make it unsafe for him? For us?”

Edward shakes his head, sniffing at the coffee. “No. They won’t try again.”

“Why not?”

“Just trust me, okay? They won’t.” Edward takes a sip and makes a face. Roy wouldn’t have guessed that he’s a fussy eater.

“Trust you,” Roy says. “Sure. Fine.”

Edward groans. “If it’s really a big fuckin’ deal, how ’bout I take him outta Central for a while? They won’t bother chasing him too far. ’Sides, I gotta get my automail patched up. How does Rush Valley sound?”

Roy tears off a piece of his own bread. Kid was right. Stale. “You better know what you’re doing.”

Beaming, Edward shrugs and says, “When don’t I?”

———

Wrath has no idea what he’s doing.

He’s fucked. He’s thoroughly, royally, completely and utterly fucked. Maybe he should just end it now and avoid the trouble that’s bound to come later.

He attacked Envy. He attacked Envy and then he let Hughes escape and then, just to add the icing on the I-fucked-up cake, he basically got Lust killed. For good. When Father cuts him open this time, there’s no way he’ll heal him afterwards. He’s on a one way trip to death almost definitely followed by hell.

After Mustang and the asshole doctor fall asleep, Wrath slips out of the house. He makes it round the street corner and down an alleyway before he’s slammed against a wall. His toes barely brush the ground.

“The fuck was that, brat?” Envy snarls. Their hands fist in Wrath’s lapels, still crusted with blood.

“Hughes is valuable to us,” Wrath says. He goes to clap but Envy forces his arm, the broken one, against the wall. There’s a grating crack as it shatters further. “Mustang’s a candidate for Sacrifice. Don’t you think he’ll need someone to bring back when he opens the Gate?” Wrath grins, licking his lips and baring his teeth. “Wait for the right time and kill his friend while he still thinks he has a chance to save him before his soul is lost forever.”

“You’re full of shit,” Envy says. Wrath hears the well concealed uncertainty and focuses on it.

“Fine, then. Go running to daddy. Tell him how I ruined everything and get your reward.”

“I will.” Envy tightens their grip.

“It doesn’t matter, anyway,” Wrath sniggers. He lets saliva drip from his mouth and onto Envy’s hands. “He won’t ever forgive you no matter what you do.”

“Shut up!” Envy slams him against the wall, hard, and Wrath feels blood ooze from the back of his head.

“Not since you killed one of his Sacrifices. Now he’s gotta find two more rather than one.” Wrath practically sings it.

Crack goes his skull against the wall. Wrath’s teeth shudder together. Envy’s face is twisted into something nightmarish.

“Don’t see why you’re so fucking chipper about it,” Envy says. “You’re the one who lost the most.”

Wrath grasps the wall for support when Envy lets him fall. He pants, chest tight. Envy spits and turns on his heel, stalking out the alley.

“Fine!” Wrath shouts. “Go back to daddy! Tell him I killed our sister! Tell him I deserve to die this time! You know he won’t hesitate!”

Envy doesn’t look back as Wrath shrieks, livid and animal and spitting hate, “You killed his Sacrifice! You killed my little brother, and he won’t ever fucking forgive you!”

Wrath continues howling long after Envy is gone.

Chapter Text

The blow hits him in the chest, hard, and he’s thrown backwards like a doll. At the last second, he catches himself and rolls, landing in a crouch. Breath wheezes painfully. A rib might be broken but he doesn’t have time to check.

“Your stance isn’t sturdy enough,” Envy accuses, not even breaking a sweat. “What’s the point in automail if you can’t use it to your advantage?”

“If you’d just let me use my Eye, I could—”

Envy snarls. “You won’t always be in a situation where you can. Relying too heavily on it will get you killed, pipsqueak.”

Edward sees red. He lunges, using the inhuman momentum from his steel legs to leap further and faster than should be possible. The blades in his forearms flick out, dangerously sharp, with a press to his palms. Don’t use your Ultimate Eye. Don’t use alchemy. Blah, blah, blah.

Good thing those government mechanics gave his automail a little extra.

“Don’t call me that!” he manages before swiping at Envy, missing each time as they dance back, cackling like a goddamn story book villain. The good thing about sparring with a self-healing immortal, Ed contemplates, is that even if he does manage to land a blow there won’t be any consequences.

A scenario he’s yet to experience.

“What else do you expect me to call you when you’re eleven and shorter than a —”

Twelve!” Ed howls, bringing his leg round in a flash of silver, aiming precisely for the cocky bastard’s head. Envy catches it with one hand and Ed has a brief moment of oh, shit before he’s swung across the room. This time when he lands, he doesn’t manage to find his footing and sprawls ungracefully, crying out as lethal jolts of pain spark along the freshly attached ports. He tries to rise but his whole body is heavy lead and he slumps like an animal shot in the leg.

“Get up.” Envy sounds like they’re standing over Ed already. He can’t bring himself to look at them.

“I can’t,” he says. It’s not weak or trembling like it would have been a year ago, but defiant. Petulant.

A hand grasps him by the hair — so much longer than it was before; he had read, once, in Hohenheim’s books, that in Xing it’s custom to cut your hair short as a symbol of change, of leaving your past behind. Since his hair was too short to cut any further, he opted for the opposite. Gold strands reach his mid-back already.

He’s pulled up until Envy’s face almost brushes his, purple-slitted eyes intensely cold.

“You’re weak.” Envy lets go and he catches himself, barely. He staggers.

“I’m not—”

“You can’t afford to be weak!” Envy practically roars, forming their arm into a blade and jabbing it at Ed’s throat. It draws blood. If Ed hadn’t stepped back when he did, it would have gone through his neck like a skewer into meat. “Not here! Not anywhere!” Another strike that Ed has to duck to avoid losing his head.

“I said I’m not weak!” Edward attacks, fury bubbling. When he manages a slice across Envy’s stomach, he allows himself a triumphant bark. It’s quickly doused when the tip of Envy’s blade catches him across the face.

“Then why do you still call yourself Edward?” Envy spits, low and seething like a curse. Ed is too dazed to block the blow that knocks him on his ass.

“I don’t.” Ed mutters, jutting out his lower lip and averting his gaze.

Surprisingly, Envy doesn’t go for him. Red energy sparks as the blade melts back into an arm. He crouches until eye level with Ed.

“Still telling yourself that?” they say. When Ed doesn’t reply, they grit their teeth. “Look at you now. You can’t go back. The life you left behind is burned to the ground so don’t cling to what’s dead.”

“What would you know?” Ed scoffs. “You’ve never had a life other than as another one of daddy’s little pet projects.”

Something happens on Envy’s face that lasts no longer than a second. Ed can’t explain why guilt writhes in his guts.

“Get up.” Any nurturing, any care, that Envy might have shown earlier is dissipated into nothing. “Get up.”

Wrath gets up.

———

“So you’re really not Hohenheim’s son?” Hughes fiddles with the blanket over his lap. He looks like he wants to move around but the half-healed stab wounds across his torso prevent him from doing much other than lying in bed and appearing bored out of his mind. He was almost killed only last night.

“Nope,” Wrath says, popping the p as he uses a knife transmuted from a teaspoon to clean out his joints.

“And your not-father is also in on a government conspiracy to turn the entire country into one big alchemy rock?”

“Something like that.”

Hughes sits back. “Wow. And to think I always considered Führer Hohenheim a cool guy.”

Maes,” Mustang stresses.

“What? He seemed like a real family man. Always talking about his son.”

Wrath snorts.

“Of course that’s what’d convince you he’s a trustworthy leader.” Mustang sighs.

Hughes swallows, suddenly something much more serious on his face. He turns to Wrath, who almost fidgets under the stare. He catches himself and puts on a scowl.

“What? Somethin’ in my teeth?”

“You said you used your ‘life force’ to heal me. What does that mean, Ed?”

Wrath doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to hearing that name. He shrugs, and says, “Can’t really describe it. I said Philosopher’s Stones use souls to heal homunculi, yeah? It’s like that but with one soul. My soul. Never tried it on anyone other than myself, though.”

“Are there consequences?” Hughes says.

“Nah. You won’t have, like, a shorter life span or nothin’—”

“No, Ed. I meant for you. Will there be any negative effects on you?”

The way the breath leaves Wrath’s body like he’s been struck in the gut with a sledge hammer of what the fuck is uncomfortable and foreign and bad, bad, bad. He doesn’t know what to do so he settles on the truth.

“Maybe. Probably. If I’ve done the calculations right.” Wrath can’t look at Hughes and his damn pitying eyes. “Might shear a few years off my own life. ’S okay, though, I’m not really expecting to get too old. Unflattering.” He flashes a grin, the one that feels like his face will crack if he forces it any further.

“It’s not okay.”

Why does Hughes have to be so damn difficult?

Hughes stares until Wrath has no choice but to meet his gaze, and then he says, “What you did for me was — it’s amazing. Selfless. There isn’t anything I can say that would be enough to thank you. I’d be dead right now if it weren’t for you. Thank you, Ed.”

Wrath drops the knife. It clatters to the floor with a noise so sharp, so jarring, that everyone in the room flinches. He pushes himself to his feet and mutters, “Yeah, whatever.”

He slams the door when he leaves.

———

They find the kid in the overgrown garden at the back of the house, beating the shit out of a tree and cursing like a drunk. The tree doesn’t stand a chance against four metal limbs attached to one unhinged teenager.

Maes to looks to Roy, raising his eyebrows in a ‘you first’ kind of way. Roy glares but steps forward, tentative, and says with as much authority he can muster, “Edward. Calm down.”

Edward does not, in fact, calm down. If anything, he becomes fiercer. A chunk of bark goes flying and Roy barely sidesteps in time.

“Help me,” Roy whispers to Maes. Asshole looks like he’s enjoying this. He shouldn’t even be out of bed yet, but there really isn’t much anyone can do when Maes sets his mind on something; they’ve always been alike in that. Roy doesn’t want to think about what Doctor Knox will do if he sees them out here.

“Ed,” Maes says, softer than Roy but commanding regardless. “How did you lose your limbs?”

“What are you doing?” Roy hisses frantically. They’re dead. He wishes he had written a will, maybe thanked Riza for saving his ass so many times, before he meets his death at the steel hands of an insane kid. His ignition gloves are still in the room upstairs.

To his surprise — why is that becoming a recurring theme as of late? — Edward stills, panting like a dog. Finally, he turns, and Roy hears Maes’ breath catch at the thinly veiled vulnerability in the kid’s eyes. He thinks his breath might catch too.

And he speaks.

“I wanted to see if it was possible,” Edward says, sudden and soft and sharp all at once. “It started because I missed her, and Alphonse missed her, but in the end that was just an excuse.” He laughs. “Everyone said it couldn’t be done. I was going to prove them wrong.”

Roy doesn’t know if he’s ever heard Edward say so much about himself at once. He doesn’t dare speak lest he shatter the moment, only risking a glance at Maes, who’s staring at the kid like he’ll break. He has that open look on his face which Roy has never been able to replicate. His father-face.

“Who? See if what was possible?” Maes says. Soft.

Edward grins and it’s horribly broken. Roy feels sick. When the kid speaks next, he thinks his legs might give out.

“Human transmutation.” Edward is stock still as if carved from cold, cold stone. “My mother was dead and I wanted her back.”

Sudden and jolting like electricity through his insides, Roy reaches a realisation he feels incredibly stupid for not seeing earlier. It’s almost laughable.

“You’re Edward Elric,” he says.

Edward doesn’t say anything. That’s answer enough.

“What?” Maes chokes out, skin pallid, features stricken. “That boy from your assignment — what, four years back?”

Roy nods, not taking his eyes off Edward. Kid still hasn’t moved, singular eye hollow. Unreadable. Roy takes a lungful of air, preparing himself, and says, “1910. Resembool. We were supposed to be looking into reports of two skilled alchemists, Alphonse and Edward Elric.”

No reaction. Roy shudders another breath, forging ahead.

“We were too late, I suppose. We found the house — locals said it belonged to two little boys, not the grown men we expected — but it was empty. And in the basement—” he has to pause to work past a choking thing in the back of his mouth—“there was an array for human transmutation. Barely distinguishable under blood stains.”

Edward moves this time. His eye shuts and his lips move as if to mutter a prayer. Roy knows he isn’t religious.

“We were told to go to the Rockbell house, close family friends of the Elrics. So we did.”

Maes already knows all this. Roy told it to him like he does all the other things that leave him gagging down alcohol until morning. Still, Maes looks nauseous.

Edward does too.

“The house wasn’t there,” Roy says. “Ashes, charred to the ground. If there had been anyone in there when it burnt down, we wouldn’t have found their remains.” A little girl, eleven years old. An old woman in her nineties who could never have made it out even if she woke up in time. A boy, eleven. His younger brother, ten. All suspected to have died in the flames.

And Edward laughs. He tilts his head back, the tan column of his throat laid bare, laughter escaping in torrents as he stretches his arms out either side of him, palms up, like he’s welcoming the embrace of a ghost.

Through a half lidded eye, he says, “You’ve got me all figured out.”

“Ed...” Maes steps closer and Roy fears for his friend’s life. He wants to reach out to pull him back but he’s frozen, shot through with horror.

For a moment, Maes looks as if he’ll get close enough to touch Edward. And Edward — he looks like he’ll let him.

Then he’s stepping backwards, entire body guarded. He shakes his head, smiling like he just heard a bad joke and says, “A train leaves for Rush Valley at Central City Station in an hour. Be there.” He looks to Roy. “Not you.”

He jumps over the fence, gone like he was never there in the first place. Maes curses. Roy’s knees buckle and he slumps on his ass, dew-slick grass dampening his pants. There’s still blood on them. Maes’ blood.

“Did you have to ask him how he lost his limbs?” Roy says. “He’s — he’s insane, Maes.”

Maes stares at the place Edward stood not ten seconds ago. He says, “I don’t know. Maybe that’s what he wants us to think.”

“You’re caring too much. Stop it.”

“Maybe he thinks it too.”

“When he loses it and you can’t defend yourself because you care too much, don’t come crying to me.”

Maes doesn’t reply. Roy doubts he even heard him.

———

When Maes arrives at the station, it’s eerily quiet, almost deserted. He realises it’s an early Sunday morning, the sun barely above the skyline. Already he’s called Gracia to tell her he won’t be home for a few days due to an out of city assignment. Roy swore he’d keep an eye on her and Elicia. It takes all Maes has not to get them out the country until all this is over.

He checks his pocket watch. A few minutes early yet Ed isn’t in sight. Whistling, he wanders aimlessly, pretending he isn’t checking over his shoulder every few seconds.

And then Ed drops from the ceiling, landing before Maes hard and fast. Thin cracks spiderweb across the tiles under his black-booted feet. Maes cries out, stumbling back and clutching his heart. His wounds hurt.

“What the fuck—”

“Hey, Hughes! How’s it goin’?” Ed chirps, like he didn’t just drop fifty feet. Like he hadn’t almost broken down not an hour ago.

“Where did you come from?” Maes gasps, squinting up at the rafters overhead.

Ed cocks his head to the side. He has a new eyepatch, black and thick strapped, covering half his cheek as well. Gold stitching to match his uncovered eye. Maes wouldn’t have imagined him to be someone with any interest in his appearance.

“What’re you looking at?” Ed mirrors Maes’ upwards stare. “I was just hangin’ around up there.”

“Why?” He isn’t sure he wants to know the answer.

“It’s cool. Y’know, there’s actually some abandoned rooms. Good place to read. And sleep.” Ed wanders towards the train pulling into the station.

“You, uh, you sleep up there?” Maes has to run to fall into step with Ed.

“Sure. I sleep plenty of places. Library rafters, abandoned warehouses, your apartment when you go to sleep—”

What—?”

“Kidding, kidding!” Ed flaps his hand noncommittally and rolls his eyes. “Jeez, learn to take a joke.”

They board. Ed smiles at a little kid, and isn’t that unsettling, not because it’s his creepy smile but because it’s so genuine, if a little out of practise. Maes falls asleep just after rain begins to patter down, fog rolling in like dense smoke.

“Wake up.”

Maes opens his eyes to find a face inches from his own. He chokes back a yell. Ed tugs at his sleeve impatiently, like a dog, or like Elicia does when she’s bored.

When they get into town, the rain is only heavier, though not enough to soak through clothing. Ed doesn’t seem bothered so they walk for a while until Maes starts to suspect they’re not going anywhere in particular.

“So where’s your mechanic based?” Maes resists the urge to give his jacket to Ed. He’s not shivering yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

“Huh? Nah, I don’t have a mechanic. The damage in my arm ain’t too deep and there’s only somethin’ loose in my leg. Just gotta find an engineer willing to spend a little extra time figuring out someone else’s automail.”

“Oh. Why no mechanic?”

Ed shrugs. “Führer had some government engineers design it. They’re gone now.”

“Gone?”

“I said Philosopher’s Stones take human lives, didn’t I?” Ed grins and Maes thinks his own face might pale a few shades.

Finally, Ed decides on a shop and they slip into a place called Garfiel’s. To his credit, the owner — Garfiel, Maes presumes — barely bats an eye at Ed’s unsettling demeanour. He just asks what they need, how much time they have and how much they’re willing to pay, staying respectfully distanced from Ed when he growls the first time he goes to inspect his busted arm. Maes has to talk him into letting Garfiel look it over. He feels like he does when his three year old refuses to open her mouth for the dentist.

After a harrowing five minutes, Ed sits with his arm rested on a table, scowling as Garfiel unscrews the plating of his automail, humming.

“I’ve never seen anything like this design before,” he says, fascination clear. “It’s sleek. Lightweight yet sturdy, but the joints could be smoother. You must get tired of clanking when you move, hm?”

Ed shrugs. Maes almost, almost tells him to be polite and answer questions properly.

“Oh my, there are blade mechanisms in here too. And—” Garfiel blinks as a short, serrated knife slips free from a slot in the back of Ed’s hand, clattering on the table. “That.”

Maes winces. He can only hope the mechanic doesn’t report him for allowing a minor who looks more twelve than fifteen to carry knives all over his person.

“Your son is a fighter,” chuckles Garfiel, any concern well masked. It takes Maes a moment to realise he’s the one being addressed.

“Oh, no, I’m not his—”

“What the fuck, no—”

Maes looks to Ed and they both shut up. Garfiel apologises but doesn’t sound sorry, more amused than anything.

Ed coughs. “You don’t have to stay, y’know. This might take a while. Go, I dunno, get brunch. Old person stuff.”

Ignoring the last comment, Maes nods. He isn’t sure if it’s an attempt to get him to leave or a genuine consideration of his feelings. He decides to play safe with the former and wanders towards the door. At the last second, he stops and turns, delving into his pocket, finally setting his watch on the table before Ed.

“I’ll be back here in an hour, okay?”

Ed looks at the little gold pocketwatch like it’s a bomb that might explode in his face, and mutters, “Uh, okay. See you.”

When Maes emerges into the rain, he realises that Roy was right. He cares too much.

———

Wrath hasn’t spoken this much to anyone but the other Homunculi in years. It’s weird. Everything about this is weird. Envy’s probably already told Father about his betrayal by now — no, not betrayal, he’s not working with these humans. He’s observing. He knows with twisted clarity that he would come to heel if Father ordered it.

So he sits and he lets his arm and leg be turned over, mind wandering to the fight with Envy and how he held back like an idiot and got himself fucked up. And — he hadn’t to meant for Lust to die, god, she was a bitch but he didn’t want that. He almost doesn’t hear the mechanic when he tells him he’ll need both legs adjusted.

“What? No, you can’t have both my legs. Fuck off.”

“These haven’t been modified in, what, five years? They’re disproportionate to your body by an inch or so. I’m not going to force them from you, but you may find walking easier. You’d be taller too.”

Wrath gives him his legs. They’re replaced with these stiff, ugly temporary ones that squeak when he walks and Wrath doubts he could even pull off a roundhouse kick with them. His arm is taken too, because apparently it could use a lot of in-depth maintenance. By the end of it, armless and practically peg-legged, Wrath feels like a fucking scrap heap freak show.

“Just until I’m finished working on them by the end of today. You can come back then.”

The end of the day. The end of the day. Wrath scoops the pocketwatch from the table and stalks out muttering livid curses, limping awkwardly. He tries not to blush, holding his head high and inwardly thanking the weather for ensuring the streets are almost deserted.

He has no clue where Hughes might’ve gone, so he settles on finding someplace to eat. A figure makes their way towards him, too short and dark skinned to be Hughes. When they pass, Wrath doesn’t move out the way — his glare is usually enough to intimidate the other person into doing so. The figure keeps walking straight ahead. They bump shoulders and, as Wrath cusses them out, they mutter an apology and continue down the drenched street.

It isn’t until he makes it round the corner that he realises Hughes’ watch is gone from his back pocket. It shouldn’t matter, not really, because it’s just an object, someone else’s possession. He has no reason to care.

He turns and runs. It’s jerky, hindered by the legs, off balance because of his arm, but he remembers how it was to not have any limbs at all, and how it was to get new ones that were nothing like the warmth they replaced. Gaining speed is easy. He sees them, then, turning into an alley. He growls and takes chase.

They run too.

Fuck, they’re fast, unnaturally so. Automail legs, Wrath guesses. The alleys are dark and twisting, thick with fog and more, and he’s obviously the least familiar with their turns. His hand almost reaches for the eyepatch; if he could just see properly, his eye would be able to work out the best route in less than a second, all the possible outcomes of this chase—

When he sprawls round the next corner, he barely manages to skid to a stop in time. The thief faces him, legs planted and eyes amused. She hums.

“Why’re you chasing me?” she says.

“You know why.”

She smiles in a parody of innocence and says, “I don’t.”

Wrath has had enough of this game, of this shitty day, of this shitty week. He’s done playing.

“Give me the fucking watch back,” he spits before lunging.

Only then does he see the way the thief’s eyes flit over his shoulder, smile wicked, but it’s already too late because she’s shouting—

Now, Win!

Something powerful connects with the back of his head, hard, and the world goes black before he even hits the ground.

Chapter Text

“I want to leave.”

“No.”

“No one would see me.”

No.”

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—

“I can’t.”

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.”

Wrath knows.

Father continues.

“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?”

“No.”

“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.

“Fucking brat.”

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.