|Fullmetal Alchemist: From Ashes (7/10: Not Quite Whole Again)
||[Sep. 14th, 2010|12:06 am]
Title: From Ashes (Chapter VII: Not Quite Whole Again)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: PG for blood in the first two chapters.
Characters: Mainly Ed and Al, with intermittent Winry and Pinako.
Setting: The year between the boys’ human transmutation attempt and the day they left Resembool.
Summary: Edward and Alphonse had a long journey to make before they ever left home.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I own nothing but a couple of villagers in chapter nine.
Ed woke to a feeling that was something like a full-body toothache: his every nerve seemed to be dull and throbbing and in pain. The epicenters of the agony were his shoulder and thigh, and for one horrible moment, he thought he was reliving the first morning after the transmutation—but this pain was very different.
Blearily he remembered that Winry and Pinako had been attaching his automail, and his eyes fluttered open with a sudden spike of alertness. Although the obscuring bedcovers were tucked up to his chin, he dimly felt the sense of a new weight upon his body.
As for the other pressure that was clamped around his left hand…
Of course, that would be a now-familiar leather gauntlet that still didn’t quite know its own strength sometimes.
Ed turned his head, and met the unusually bright glow of Al’s gaze. His brother was excited—and slightly nervous as well, if Ed had learned to read the minute cues of the armor’s body language as well as he thought.
“How do you feel, Brother?” Al asked eagerly.
Ed could only muster a halfhearted groan. Helpless to do anything about the buzzing ache in the rest of his body, he settled for twitching his entrapped and half-numb hand; it was just enough of a movement for Al to notice, and the younger Elric sheepishly let go, freeing Ed to flex the circulation back into his fingers. He focused on that trivial action with an irrational intensity, stretching the moment that stood between himself and far more important things.
After all his impatience, Ed had to admit to himself… he wasn’t sure he was entirely ready to deal with what was under the blankets just yet.
“I really did pass out, didn’t I?” he sighed.
Al’s helmet tipped in a gesture of chagrin. “I guess you kinda did. It’s getting late now. Winry’s going to bring dinner up for you soon.”
“Did it… I mean, was it—?” Ed’s glance slid skeptically toward his right shoulder.
“Mm-hmm,” Al nodded brightly, as he shifted the pillows behind Ed’s back to help him sit up a little. Then he reached across Ed’s body, and gently placed a hand over the weighty thing at his right side. “The automail is all there, Brother—and it works. I saw it.”
The confirmation sent up a flock of butterflies in Ed’s stomach. He swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and threw back the blankets.
And there they were, those clever mockeries of flesh, wrought from unfeeling, inhuman steel. Machines—little more than a complex variation of the crutch he had been struggling around with. Artificial things, connected to his self-mutilated body in the pretense that they belonged there, that they would make him complete again.
All you’re ever going to think of is what you’ve lost…
Edward gave his head a short, sharp shake, blinking back unshed tears he hadn’t realized were welling up.
“Brother? Are you alright?” The tremor of worry in Al’s voice was distinct.
With a grimace and a shiver, Ed tore his gaze away from his new steel, and looked up at Al… and his conscience squeezed his heart.
He had condemned his brother to an entire body made of steel, a cold shell that offered hardly the barest semblance of humanity. Yet for all the things Al had lost—the warmth of Ed’s touch, the scent of flowers in Pinako’s garden, the taste of Winry’s apple pie, even the simple release of sleep to quiet his mind and fade the terrible memories—Al had never once given voice to a complaint. Not once.
In the face of that, it shamed Ed to rail against a mere pair of artificial limbs.
A different kind of pain knotted in his chest, and he wanted to cry… but he smiled instead.
“I’m just fine, Al,” he said firmly, and forced himself to mean it.
Even at ten years old, Al’s natural body had possessed a softness Ed never had. He certainly wasn’t fragile—the way he stood up to Teacher’s manhandling proved that—but his tender skin was more prone to cuts and bruises than Ed’s tougher flesh. Al never complained about those hurts either, but somehow that had merely compelled Ed all the more to protect him from harm. Maybe part of it was because Ed himself used to run sniffling to their mother at the slightest scrape, and he’d hated to see Al’s stoicism show him up… but there was far more to it than that.
At the root of it all, there was his pure, fierce love for Al, a love that could never bear to see him in pain. There was his love for the woman who gave life to them both, and his promise that he would always care for the brother who was her precious gift to him. There was the sheer weight upon his shoulders of being the elder, a duty he had felt for as long as he could remember; for so long that it was a part of his being, his most basic sense of himself.
And all of those things were still there.
Now Al shielded the sorrow of his soul, bearing in silence the one pain left in a body that couldn’t feel pain—and Ed felt desperately helpless. It was bad enough that his body had become the weaker one, that his needs had held them back for so long from moving forward, that even his sleep left Al to spend the endless, aching nights alone. Ed couldn’t permit weakness of heart to be added to that bitter list of frailties.
“Dinnertime, huh? I’m starving.” His smile flattened into an expression of determination. “And I’m gonna walk into the dining room, Al.”
He looked down at the metal hand that lay limp at his side, and frowned in concentration: tensing his shoulder, trying to will movement from the intricate mechanisms that replaced muscles and tendons.
The effort was not instantly gratified, and for a moment, the very idea of it all seemed ludicrous. How could the signals of living nerves possibly be transmitted to lifeless steel? He must have been mad to embrace such pain, only to let them weigh his body down with these useless things. Automail was bizarre butchery, as alien and mystical to him as alchemy was to Winry and Pinako…
On that thought, the hand clenched suddenly, angrily, its fingers curling into the palm with a sharp jerk.
And when Ed appeared in the doorway of the dining room half an hour later—pale and shaky from exertion and pain, leaning heavily upon Al’s arm, but nonetheless standing on his own two mismatched feet—the glorious hysteria that erupted in front of them was worth it.
Pinako snapped her pipe in two, and Winry dropped an entire stack of their Sunday-best dishes.
Al generously fixed the damage, of course. For the time being, only his hands were adept enough to draw transmutation circles…
But that was going to change.
© 2010 Jordanna Morgan
Chapters: I. | II. | III. | IV. | V. | VI. | VII. | VIII. | IX. | X.