We finally unpacked and hooked up our computer. (Only took us, what, a month?) You know what that means?
Title: The Deepest Secret Nobody Knows
Pairings: Riza/Pride!Ed, past Roy/Ed/Riza
Summary: The dead do not come back. Not as anything you'd want back. Not as anything you'd want to come back as.
Author’s Notes: This idea came to me somewhere between Oregon and Montana. But I couldn’t actually get started writing it until Nebraska. Due to the massive mountain of boxes teetering just a few feet away, updates will likely be sporadic.
The Deepest Secret Nobody Knows
It wasn’t Ed. She knew it wasn’t Ed.
Edward was dead. She had seen Archer pull the trigger, watched the blood spray over Winry’s jacket, over Winry’s face. Watched Ed’s body jerk with the second shot, spin with the third and fall with the forth. Gold eyes wide with shock, hair and coat swirling with obscene grace as he fell, the world slowed to a crawl.
“You look cold.”
She had heard Winry’s scream, she had felt Alphonse’s scream. Grief and horror that tore through her, that echoed in her ears still. She hadn’t even realized she had reached Archer, was shooting him, again and again and again, until Havoc came up behind her and grabbed her arms, took the gun from her hands and tried to pull her against his chest.
She had broken away from him, ran over to the crumpled form in the middle of the alley, fallen to her knees and dragged him up into her arms, out of the puddle of blood already forming around him. His eyes had been open, glazed and sightless. She had closed them before Alphonse reached them, before Winry pushed herself to her hands and knees and crawled over, and with them closed he’d almost looked peaceful, almost looked like maybe he was just sleeping.
She held out her hand, ignored the wetness on her cheeks, told herself it was just the rain.
“Why don’t you come inside?”
She knew it wasn’t Edward, but it looked so much like him.
The scantily clad figure curled into a ball at the mouth of the alley looked at her with wide, eerily blank gold eyes, studied her offered hand curiously.
“Come on. I won’t hurt you.”
An arm covered in intricate black lines unwrapped from around the creature’s knees and a small, cool hand was placed in hers.
“What’s your name?” she asked him, because she didn’t want to call him Edward, not even in her head.
She had given him a towel, and when he had only stared at it blankly, she had dried him off herself. He hadn’t protested. Now he had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and he was sitting at her kitchen table, his eyes tracking her every movement.
“Pride.” he said. His voice was soft, without infliction. After a pause, he realized it was his turn to talk, and he asked, “What is your name?”
“Riza.” She smiled at him.
He smiled back automatically. Childlike and innocent and utterly unlike Edward. There was no wariness in his eyes, no aggression. There was nothing at all. He swung his legs back and forth, watched her set the kettle to boil.
“Are you hungry?”
He seemed to have to think about this, put one hand over his stomach and tilted his head, as if trying to decide. “I… don’t know.”
She fed him sticky buns and tea. She did not think about-
“Hey, Captain. Wha’cha writing?” Edward asked. He plopped himself down in front of her, snagged a pastry out of the bakery box.
“The General’s To Do List.” she muttered.
“Oh yeah. You’re going out of town tomorrow, aren’t you?”
“Yes. To see my grandfather.”
“Huh.” Ed popped another pastry in his mouth, reached over and patted her arm. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep General Lazy Ass in line for you.”
Riza finished the list, capped her pen and handed both to Ed. She said, quietly enough that only Ed could hear her, “Tell him that if he doesn’t finish this list, he gets no sex from either of us for a month.”
They shared conspiratorial smiles that made the soldiers nearest them scoot surreptitiously away.
-because that was over. Edward was dead.
She made him a spot on the couch. She had never done that before. Whenever Ed had stayed over they’d always shared the small bed, shifted and twisted, fought over pillows and woke each other in the middle of the night with flailing limbs.
Pride slept still as death.
When she woke the next morning, he was gone.
If she was distracted at the office the next day, no one mentioned it. They didn’t take advantage of her distraction either, instead stayed on their best behavior. Just like on the days that Roy stared right through them and they said nothing, just went about their work with their hearts in their throats and a name no one ever mentioned anymore repeating endlessly through their minds.
Two men had been found dead a block away from where she had found Pride.
He came back, of course, as strays did when you were foolish enough to feed them.
So she fed him (though she knew, from consulting Edward’s notes, that homunculi did not need to eat human food), and she talked to him. Or rather, she talked at him. He rarely talked back. He followed her around her apartment like a puppy, watched her fold laundry and change the light bulbs in her bathroom. While she cooked, he sat cross-legged on the floor and played with Black Hayate, who seemed willing to ignore the fact that he was a soulless monster that smelled like blood and alchemy as long as he scratched behind his ears. Pride’s expressions were childlike but muted, and his eyes were always blank.
She told herself, at first, that she was gaining his trust bit by bit so that she could gather information on the other homunculi and their Master.
One night Pride looked up from his game of tug-a-war with Hayate and said, “You work for the Flame Alchemist.”
“Do you like working for him?”
“Not really.” Riza admitted. “I don’t enjoy being a soldier. But I believe in him, and in his ideals.” You believed in him once, Edward.
“I work for Master.” Pride said matter of factly.
Pride watched Hayate wag his whole body back and forth trying to get the sock from the homunculus’s distracted grip. “Because…” Pride’s expression was blanker than ever. “…she made me.”
Pride became a regular fixture in her life. She was no longer surprised to come home and find him lounging on her sofa, or sitting on the floor playing with Black Hayate. She noticed that as time went by, he talked more. His words had a stilted, hesitant feel. As if conversation was something new and foreign that he wasn’t sure how to go about. At first, he didn’t talk about the other homunculi. He spoke instead of the people he saw while he was carrying out the tasks that his master gave him, about the things they did or said that he did not understand. About the strange little girl who had given him sweets when he got her toy down from where her brother and his friends had tossed it on the roof to be cruel. About the strange man who tried to touch him while he walked down an alley (“He called me ‘pretty thing’ and smiled at me funny, and tried to grab me, so I killed him.” and Riza shivered at the matter-of-fact way he said it.). Eventually, little bits about his fellow Sins slipped through. A particularly nasty thing Envy had said, a strange thing Greed had done.
“He acts… more human than the rest of us. I suppose that is because of how Master made him. The human he was still lives inside him.”
“And you?” she asked before she could stop herself. “What of the human that you were?”
Pride shrugged. “He is dead.” And for a moment- just a moment, the barest fraction of a second- there was a sharp, burning intelligence in Pride’s eyes. “The dead do not come back.” Then it was gone, the blank shield slamming down, intelligence turning to innocent curiosity. “Did you know him, the human that I was?”
Lying was not an option. “Yes.”
“Hm.” Pride tilted his head. “Did you know him well? Is that why you brought me in, that first night?”
“I knew him well.” I loved you. Maybe not as much as I loved Roy, but I loved you. “But that’s not why I took you in.”
“Why did you?”
“Because it was wet, and it was cold.”
“It would not have hurt me.”
“That’s not the point. You were cold and wet, and you looked lonely.”
There was a long silence while Pride digested this. Then, “Can homunculi be lonely?”
“You would have to answer that.”
Pride was silent for the rest of the night.
Pride often went through her things if he arrived at her apartment before her. It was how she finally got unpacked. He would go through the boxes, leave knick-knacks and lingerie strewn about the living room, page through romance novels and leave them in precarious towers near the foot of the couch. One day he discovered her photos, and she found him sprawled on the floor like a child, his nose inches away from the colored prints. She let him look while she changed out of her uniform and started dinner. When the meal was almost ready, she told him to stack the pictures up neatly and come to the table. He set the table without having to be told, and Riza didn’t let herself notice that he knew what dishes to use for the informal meal, or that he snuck a piece of beef from the stew and gave it to Hayate, as Edward used to do.
While helping her with the dishes, Pride said, “He was happy.”
She asked, “Who?”
“The human that I was. He was… happy, and very sad.” Pride scrubbed a pot idly. “I don’t know what it feels like to be happy, or to be sad. But in those pictures he always looks both.”
“You’re never sad?”
Pride shrugged. “I don’t know what sadness feels like, but I watch people, so I know what it looks like. And he looked sad.”
“You looked sad, when I fist saw you.”
“So did you.”
Blood on his thighs. On his face. On his hands.
Blood on her floor, but it was linoleum, it would wash off.
Panic spiked through her, and she forgot for a moment just what he was. (She remembered Edward’s blood on her hands. Alphonse’s scream. Roy’s hitched breath that was almost a sob as he reached the scene, too late.) “What happened?” she asked, already on her knees beside him, tilting his face up to the light to see the damage. There was none, but her heart stayed lodged in her throat. (“No. No no no.” Roy’s voice was a broken rasp. He leaned down to press his lips to the pale forehead, the cold lips, and Riza watched his face, and knew she had lost them both.)
“I made Envy mad.” Pride said. “I told him he was wrong. Envy doesn’t like it when I argue with him.”
“What was he wrong about?”
“While he was touching me, he said that the Flame Alchemist used to do the same thing. That he used me the same way. I told him it wasn’t the same.” Pride looked at her, eyes desperate. “It wasn’t the same, was it? He was lying, wasn’t he?”
“Edward and Colonel Mustang-”
“But it wasn’t the same, right?” Pride grabbed her arm, his fingers digging in so hard she almost cried out in pain. “It wasn’t- he wasn’t-”
“No. It wasn’t the same.”
Real relief in his eyes. He let go of her arm.
A thousand questions and half-formed suspicions surged forward. What if…? The most dangerous question of all, and she knew she should cut off the train of thought. She knew she shouldn’t ask- but there are some things you have to do, no matter how stupid they are.“Pride. How- How do you know it was different?”
“I…” Pride stopped. The sharpness flickered through his eyes. Finally, he shook his head, frowned. “You.” he said. “The way you talk about them. You aren’t the kind of person that would let people you love hurt each other.”
“Why… Why does it matter to you, that it was different?”
“… When Envy touches me like that, I feel hot and cold all over, and my stomach hurts.” Shame, but he didn’t recognize it, and Riza couldn’t bring herself to name it for him. “It hurts, inside.” His face twisted, and he wrapped his arms around his stomach tightly. “But I think about- about the Flame Alchemist, and about what it would be like if he touched me like that, like Envy does, and that hurts worse.”
There were tears in her eyes again. She couldn’t stop them. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulled him into her embrace. He let her, sank into her with a long breath that could have been a sigh.
She cried into his hair, rocked him back and forth. She cried for him, for the grief she had seen in his eyes while he talked that he didn’t know how to acknowledge or express.
(And for her own grief. For the memory of a teenage boy that smelled like steel and sunshine, that lived life so hard, so fiercely, that gave and gave and gave and died in an alley with a bullet through his heart.)