Disclaimer: As always, I own none of what exists in the Naruto or FullMetal Alchemist worlds. I only semi-own the girls brought in (and totally own the general plot). The girls are loosely based, and by now "loosely" is definitely the key word, on friends of mine, though considering how much they've changed over the course of the story, they are hardly who they are now.

Author's Note: Thesis is going well. I'm in the process now of getting permission for human testing. Nothing nefarious. We just need people to run through and comment on our simulation and whatnot. Should be fun and interesting, but we have to get the testing approved first. If we don't, I'll be waiting another semester to try again, which will postpone my graduation by another semester, too. Fun stuff. (sarcasm of course)

I've been slowly piecing this together over the past few months, when I have time to sit down at a computer and do something fun. I spend so much time in front of a screen for work/thesis that I tend to get tired of looking at one once I have free time. Tabletop RPGs are my friends at the moment, haha. They're massively fun (with the right group of people) and allow me to use my imagination and whatnot without need for a computer. Dungeons and Dragons and the like might get a bad rep generally, but I personally think tabletop RPGs are amazing things. Problem solving and fun with friends for the win! It's given me ideas for stuff to do here, so that's a plus, too. I just need to find the time to write something other than my thesis.

We've got a bit of a fast-paced chapter, I think (the latter half of it at least). I hope you all enjoy it and I look forward to writing more! Thanks for hanging with me, everyone. It always makes me feel better to find a review in my inbox, so a big Thank You to all who have left reviews. They're like chocolate to keep me going.

But without further rambling, here's the next chapter! Enjoy!

Chapter 4: Devoured

Warm yourself by the fire, son

And the morning will come soon.

I'll tell you stories of a better time

And a place that we once knew.

-o-o-o-

"Leave me alone, Karin." I yank my arm from her grasp and continue down the road, even as she sputters.

"But – but Sasuke-k—"

I whirl back toward her, annoyance making my eyes swirl red. "Enough. I'm tired of this." I wave a hand generally in her direction. "Your clinging. Your whining. Your groveling. I'm sick of it, Karin. Just leave me alone."

Tears of pain spring into her eyes, but I don't care, really. She's an annoying gnat always buzzing around my head, and I'm done with putting up with her. This time, when my feet carry me away, she does not trail behind. Good. Maybe now I can get some peace and quiet.

The renovations of Konoha are going rather well. The place is starting to look like it used to when I was young, instead of the disaster zone it was after the siege. Color has returned to the streets, and that stupid Ramen shop Naruto loves has even reopened. I avoid the street with that particular shop as I move across town, though. The last thing I want is to be roped into a meal by the boisterous blonde.

Right now, with my temper on the edge of exploding, there is only one person I want to see. Within minutes, I'm on Juugo's doorstep, waiting for him to answer my knock.

Juugo takes longer than I would like but his somber expression is a slight comfort. Until the powers that be figure out how to remove my curse mark, Juugo is perhaps the only person that can help me calm down when my temper reaches its breaking point – at least without giving in to the curse and blowing some steam.

"Might I help you with something, Sasuke?"

His even tone makes me blink in confusion. Usually he is able to tell exactly what is wrong when I show up like this. He never has to ask. He just steps aside for me to let me in and starts to help. Why would this time be any different?

I clear my throat. "It's Karin. She's been at it today and it's left me – less than calm." In the past, I might have just dragged Naruto out to the training fields to spar this anger away, but I have been making my best effort to behave and present a good, calm face to the village.

Juugo draws a slow breath and then nods. He steps back and opens the door wider. When I move inside, I see the reason for his hesitation. I frown at the half packed bags. "Are you going somewhere?"

The door shuts behind me and Juugo ambles past. "Yes. I have permission."

"To leave Konoha?"
"It won't be forever." He picks up a pile of scrolls and carefully tucks them into pockets along the outside of a large backpack.

I grab his wrist. "You can't leave." Juugo turns his red eyes to me but says nothing. "What do you expect me to do when you're gone?"

"Talk to Naruto. He is your friend."

"Naruto is an idiot."

Juugo puts his hand over mine and slowly pries my fingers from his wrist. Sometimes I forget how strong he is. "He knows how to control inner demons – how to suppress fury – how to cope with hate. Talk to him. He will be good for you."

I snatch my hand back with a growl. "You can't tell me what to do."

"Is that not why you come here? For my guidance?"

I have no answer for that. After a moment, Juugo returns to packing. "I know that you rely on me, but there is something I must do – someone I must find."

The tone of his voice catches me off guard. It is firm and determined but somehow soft. He only uses that tone when speaking of one person. "You mean Sam? She's dead, Juugo. You saw her body."

He says nothing, and suspicion grows in my gut. Does he know something I don't? I move in front of him. "Take me with you."

Juugo does not meet my gaze. "You cannot leave Konoha now that you have only just begun to regain the trust of the village. Doing so would ruin everything for which you have worked these months."

"But if this is about Sam –"

"I met the person I seek before I met you. She came to my holding cell and gave me hope. She called herself the Dragon of the West. She gave me the strength to remain myself until you arrived and gave me purpose." He zips the backpack closed. "Now that my journey with you is done, I must find her. Find me when the war is over, she said." Juugo finally lifts his eyes to lock with mine. "This is something I must do. Alone. I don't know where she is or how long it will take, but I must go."

I press my lips together and watch him finish the last smaller bags. His story is strange and suspicious to say the least, and I wonder at how he got this journey approved. Did I have something to do with it? Does the village think I'm too dependent on him? Is this their way of breaking me of that perceived dependency?

"They're wrong. I don't need you."

Juugo pauses in the middle of fastening his cloak. He raises an eyebrow at me and then slowly smiles. "I'm glad. You will do well without me, Sasuke. I look forward to seeing you again soon."

He holds out his hand to me. I stare at it and then him, still frowning. He's right. I can't leave with him, not with things going so well. "Can't you take Karin with you?"

Juugo barks a sharp, startling laugh. "Hardly. Who would keep such a close eye on you in my absence otherwise?"

I grumble an oath but take Juugo's hand and shake it.

"Until next time, Sasuke." He gives my hand a short squeeze and then releases it, turns to the door, and leaves me alone in his living room.

-o-o-o-

Keep quiet no longer.

We'll sing through the day

Of the life that we've lost,

The life we've reclaimed.

-o-o-o-

The ground shakes as I dive to one side to avoid Envy's massive claws. I roll to my feet, ignoring the cold and wet that seeps through my clothes as I dart behind a nearby stone pillar. Not good. This is not good.

"Stop moving around so much, little bitch!" His claws scrape against the floor, and I shudder.

"Why, so you can squish me? No thanks." I ease my short sword from its scabbard and peek from my hiding spot. Envy turns in his spot, eyes seeking me.

I'm in trouble now. Why didn't I try to take him down before he changed? Or while he was changing for that matter. I could've caught him off guard. But no, I tried to talk Father out of this instead, as if that was going to work. Now Envy's a monstrosity and getting out of here is going to be just that much harder.

"There you are!"

I curse under my breath as Envy's claw swings my way. I dart up the back of the pillar and the base crumbles behind me, cracks running up the side. Before it completely tears away from the ceiling, I push off toward a second pillar nearby and use that to launch myself into Envy's blind spot.

I land on his green skin and stab my blade downward, only to be met by the wailing face of a child. My heart tightens and sword stops. Tears spill down the face's cheeks as a pained voice cries and says, "Help me! Please! It hurts!"

Arms reach up from the skin to grapple at my legs. I gasp and leap away, only to be met in midair by Envy's whip-like tail. It catches my gut and slings me into the far wall. I crumple to the ground, coughing. The pain of the impact is chased through my body by a tingling shiver of sparks. Soon, my whole body feels numb. I stagger to my feet and reach for my fallen sword. What has Truth done to me?

My back slams into the wall again, and this time I'm pinned there by Envy's claws. His face looms near me, flat teeth flashing. He sneers. "Well, well, well. Looks like I've caught myself a mouse. What shall I do with it, hm?"

I grit my teeth, wishing my arms weren't pinned to my side. Otherwise, I'd throw a knife to put that laughing eye out. My game of keep away hasn't lasted very long, but maybe if I play this right, I might be able to buy myself some time. "Didn't your father ever tell you not to play with your food?" Come on, eat me, bastard.

"My food, eh? Come to think of it…" His claws curl around me, digging away bits of wall and jabbing chunks of stone into my back. "He did."

My stomach drops into my feet as I'm jerked up and tossed toward Envy's gaping maw. I can't help but yelp in alarm, even though I had hoped he would do this. It's not easy being thrown down a monster's throat. Nor is it sanitary. It's dark and slimy and suffocating being swallowed.

I can almost feel Envy laughing as the world around me – his insides – shake. I claw my way downward. Somewhere in here is his heart – his philosopher's stone. If I can find it, I might be able to reset this fight. I might be able to force him to reform, and if I can, then I might be able to get a leg up here. How many of his lives will it take to kill him? I can't know, but I have to try something.

Sickly red light peeks through the fold of muscle around me. I wiggle and reach that way, my hands finding the stringy bits of flesh that cling to the outside of a pulsing red stone – Envy's core. I pull myself close to it and find a knife already in my right hand, my palm tingling. If I am truly a homunculus here, is that my ability? To create knives? I can't complain, though. It saves me the time of digging one out of my hip pouch.

I grab the stone in one hand and start cutting away at the outside with the other. Now I certainly feel Envy start to scream and writhe. The muscles around me heave and push against me, as if trying to expel me back the way I came. Ugh. I'm being thrown up. I grit my teeth and stick to my task, however. I can't just let go. Not now.

The muscles start to dissolve. The pressure starts to ease. Soon, the fleshy prison around me collapses and vanishes, dropping me to the cold, wet ground. I clutch the stone in one hand still as I push myself back to my feet. My head and ears are ringing, and the great room spins. Focus. Focus! I don't have much time before Envy starts to reform in my hand – around my hand, even.

I lift the kunai in my right hand and open the palm of my left. I can use this time to chip away at Envy's lives. Sparks gather around the blade like a loose chidori. Before I bring it down on the stone, however, a thought comes to me.

Eat it. I stop and blink at the stone. That voice wasn't mine. Consume the stone. He'll just keep coming back otherwise. Was it Truth? Quickly!

It's more than a passing thought. More than a small voice in the back of my head. This is a compulsion – an inexplicable urge – as if some will outside my own is pressing down on me. As if moving on its own, my hand lifts to my mouth. I breathe in deeply in preparation to swallow, and something cold rushes down my throat. I double over, coughing and retching, but nothing comes up. The stone is gone from my hand.

Why did I do that?

Heat floods my chest. Then pain. I fall to my knees and claw at my skin as if I can tear the stone out that way. Somewhere, I can hear Envy screaming still. There are other voices, too. Smaller voices. A multitude of them all screaming. One by one, though, they fall silent. Envy whimpers and then, too, is still.

I blink slowly and find the world horizontal. The toes of Lust's boots fill my vision. I follow the leather up to her frowning face, the ache slowly leaving my limbs.

"What did you do?"

"He ate me first." That might not be the best answer (or the one she's looking for), but those were the only words to come to mind.

"You ate him?!" She takes a halting step backwards, a look of horror on her face.

To be honest, the thought horrifies me to. I ate him? What compelled me to do that? What sort of side effects might there be to eating a homunculus – a philosophers stone? I close my eyes again. My chakra doesn't feel different, though I do fill oddly full. I'm not sure if that's the right word to use to describe it, but it's the closest thing to the feeling in my gut.

"Do not touch her, Lust. Back away."

That was Father's voice. Right. Father. I came down here to deal with him. I shove the unease away and roll over to stagger to my feet. When I finish shaking the cobwebs from my thoughts and open my eyes, I now meet Gluttony's gaze. He chews on one of his sausage fingers, an uncertain expression in his beady white eyes. The massive eating machine glances nervously toward Father and then back to me.

I turn toward the pipe-lined dais to find Father studying me with a frown. "You have consumed my Envy, yet you are not the new Envy. You have overpowered the souls – the stone – my will. What are you?"

I lift my right hand and examine the symbol etched into my palm. I trace it with one finger and then return my gaze to Father. "I am a Kuromira." I'm not sure if that grammar is correct. Am I a Kuromira? Or am I simply Kuromira? Is Kuromira singular or plural? I believe Truth just called me Kuromira – no 'a' or 'the' involved – but I can't remember exactly. Some part of me shouts that it doesn't matter, but in my disoriented haze, it seems oddly important.

Father's eyebrows furrow and then shoot up, alarm breaking his usually stoic expression. That's an interesting reaction. "Gluttony, open it."

What?

"What? But Father…" Gluttony seems to squirm slightly, fingers laced over his stomach. Uh oh.

"Open your Gate for her, Gluttony."

"But—"

"Now."

Gluttony whimpers slightly and turns back to face me, his expression a mixture of fear and uncertainty. I take a half step backwards as a seam appears down his middle, stretching from his lower lip to his crotch. Not good. Not good!

I find myself rooted in place as the tusk-like teeth tear free of Gluttony's stomach and his true mouth opens wide, a gray and catlike vertical eye staring out at me. At the sight of that eye, I snap into action, shoving chakra into my feet and leaping aside. Behind me, I can hear the crunch of stone as the invisible beam of Gluttony's devouring range – the best way to describe it, I guess – slices a chunk of the floor away. I have to stay behind him – beside him – anywhere but directly in front of him. Otherwise, I'll be sucked into the endless, soggy wasteland of his stomach.

That proves to be somewhat of a difficult task, and I find myself only inches away from being partially devoured. I don't want to know what it feels like to lose only a part of myself to Gluttony's false Gate. If he turns me into an amputee, I'm done for.

Father's haven might be done for before that happens, though, as this new game of keep away has turned the columns and surrounding walls into Swiss cheese. The ceiling groans ominously. I wonder how long it will take to collapse, though I doubt such a thing would get rid of Father. He would simply use his effortless alchemy to make new pillars no doubt – to fix the ceiling. No, collapsing the room isn't the solution. I need to get out, and Gluttony might just be the key to that. If I can get him to make a hole in the front door, then I might be able to make my escape, hornet's nest stirred.

I land and fake a stumble, catching my breath and glancing around for Gluttony as I put my back toward the doorway. Gluttony lands, predictably, in front of me, and I tense, preparing to spring. He straightens. The eye blinks. I turn to leap out of the way, only to have my ankle catch on something and fall.

Panic grips me as I look down toward my ankle to find a tentacle of black wrapped around it. I follow the tentacle to the shadows surrounding the door, and find a multitude of eyes and grins sneering back, all surrounding the shape of a small child. Pride.

"Damn it."

I'm falling through darkness. It's a short fall that ends in a splash into shallow water. I sputter and push myself upright, struggling against the sharp stone rubble that fell with me – the remnants of the floor on which I had lain before Gluttony devoured me. I look down and my stomach twists. This isn't water. It's red and opaque. No, this is blood.

I groan, shudder, and start to slog through the shin-deep mess. All around me, bits of rubble – fragments of unrecognizable shapes of all sorts of materials – loom out of the darkness. It reeks of blood, death, and rot with no visible end in sight. I'm fairly certain, from what I remember of Brotherhood, that there is no end to this place. Gluttony's stomach has no bounds, and is inescapable except through human transmutation – through opening a true gate.

Unfortunately, I don't have the first clue to go about doing such a thing. I might have just eaten a philosopher's stone, but I don't know if I can access any remnants of its power, or if so, how to even do so. For all intents and purposes, I'm stuck. I don't even have a torch to see properly by.

I manage to locate a flat slab of stone – probably the same slab that Edward and Ling would find in the true timeline – and flop onto my back on it, just as they did – will do – would have done.

"So what now, eh?" I stare up into the black void above this horrible place. "Can you hear me, Truth? What now?" There is no answer – no sound here but that of my own breathing. I lift my right hand and flex my fingers in front of my face, watching the mark on my palm bend and stretch with my skin. "What am I supposed to do now?"

I close my eyes and drop that arm over my face. I suppose things could be worse.

Somehow.

I don't know.

This sucks.

-o-o-o-

Don't hold me up now.

I can stand my own ground.

I don't need your help now.

You won't let me down, down, down.

-Rise Against ("Prayer of the Refugee")