Title: Two Good Legs
Rating: PG-R Graphic scenes abound
Word Count: 3436
Summary: AU after episode 50. With Al's body freshly restored, the Elrics now must face each other's sins and hopefully survive their own trial by fire. After Edward is buried alive, he must recover and eventually learn to forgive himself for the past.
This was supposed to be a one shot, but the muse will not SHUT UP. Lucky you, huh?
Winry was the first to stumble upon the two, her heart already in her throat. Oh God, he did it. The mud slipped under her feet, causing her to fall to her knees before them. She stared blankly at the hole then at the Elrics. Lightning cracked and illuminated the two. Al was still crying and murmuring over his brother. "Oh, Al...." Maybe Granny was right, maybe Alphonse was too far gone to be able to stay so close to his brother's grave.
She blinked, not certain if she heard the whisper over the dull roar of falling water. Winry thought she saw Ed's chest rise and fall. But that was ridiculous. She read in plenty of text books how the brain liked to fool the eyes. She wasn't fooled when Ed's head turned to look at her.
The girl would have fallen over dead if the thunder hadn't startled her. She returned to the present when she heard Al's cracking voice. "See! I told you! I told you he was alive, and you wouldn't LISTEN!" Winry sprung into action once she realized that Ed was in need of medical attention.
"Help me get him inside." There was no time to argue who was right or wrong. When she grabbed hold of Ed's automail arm, she winced at the feel of metal shifting. Ed didn't even cry out, he just cringed.
This was very bad.
"Come on, Edward, you need to move!" Her panic switched from Al digging up his brother's corpse to a barely alive Edward needing to get back to the house. "Ed! You have to move!"
"Too....tired." Even though he was thin, he was heavy with tight corded muscle and steel.
Alphonse was still weeping and half buried in the hole Ed had dug himself out of. Winry frowned. "Al, come on, get up!"
"You wouldn't believe me, Winry!" That accusatory tone was still there and biting harshly.
"Look, you're right. I'm sorry, but if we don't get your brother inside and help him, we're going to bury him for the second time!" Winry didn't have time to sigh in relief as Al finally scrambled to help lift Edward up. Even with his help, it was had to keep a firm grip on the boy and not exacerbate the damage. Winry chewed on her lip, desperately trying to get Ed to move.
"Edward Elric! You get your feet under you and moving before I wrench you in the head!"
It was as if his battery had been jump started. Ed flailed a little, scrambling to put weight on his feet and obey that ominous tone before he did get wrenched in the head. If Winry had the time, she would have laughed at the knee jerk reaction that threat still had on the elder Elric. It wasn't much help, but it was enough to get them moving. Her eyes slid over to Alphonse. He'd slipped under Ed's left arm and bore most of his brother's weight, pointedly avoiding Winry's direction.
The damage was extensive. He should have been dead. If it were any other person, they would have been dead. But Edward Elric was alive, slid in between the infirmary's white sheets, still dirty and bloodied. He wasn't stable enough to be washed, Ed's temperature was dangerously low, and Winry had disengaged his automail arm. If she hadn't seen worse injuries, she would have thrown up when she saw how much space was between the shoulder port and his body. Everytime a harsh breath wheezed through his lungs, a dribble of blood leaked from the bolts that anchored the automail to bone.
Alphonse was calm now, seated on the examining stool with his fingers threaded through Ed's remaining hand. He didn't tear his eyes away from his brother and his lips moved silently. Winry couldn't lip read, but she assumed that he was either talking to Ed or murmuring prayers.
She sighed, trying one last time. "Al? He... might not make it. He has hypothermia, and who knows how long his body's been without proper oxygen levels. He may be in a coma for a long time, maybe forever." Winry berated herself with the way her voice was gentle and calm. So...detatched. This was her friend and she was treating the both of them like strangers. Clients, not family.
Not like they ever told her what was going on in their lives, anyway.
Al did little to keep the venom from his voice. "So, you're planning to just bury him again?" His eyes never turned away from Ed's slack face. The fact that he acknowledged Winry with a response was startling.
"No, Alphonse. I didn't want him to die the first time, either--"
"He did not DIE!" Alphonse spun around to glare at her, his free hand stabbing an accusatory finger at her. "You decided not to believe me. You didn't listen! I'm not some empty suit of armor you can just ignore, Winry." He took in a shakey breath. Alphonse and anger were strangers quickly becoming friends.
She held her hands up in defeat, nodding slightly. "I know. I'm sorry, Al. You were right. But...it seems so impossible." The girl was rewarded with a glare before he turned back to his brother, shutting her out again.
"As impossible as a boy being in armor?" Alphonse shook his head and slumped in defeat. "Just go away." He never saw her tears as she closed the door behind her. She didn't matter. Edward did, and he needed his brother. Al didn't think it was strange at all when he climbed up onto that narrow bed and lay against Ed under the covers. The cold, ghostly still form slowly warmed with the extra heat and for the first time in four months, Alphonse slept well.
Morning came and went in greys and drizzles. Afternoon crepted by with a break in the clouds, hitting Alphonse's face. He opened his eyes slowly, nuzzling into the dirt and filth caked into his brother's hair and neck. "Morning, Brother."
It didn't matter to Al that Ed didn't respond. He knew that Ed returned the sentiment in the steady timbre of breath and peaceful features. Alphonse pressed his lips to Ed's cheek, oblivious to the grime. He'd waited six years to do that. No way he was going to let grave dirt stop him now.
There was a soft knock on the door. "Al?"
"Come in, Winry!" Alphonse was cheerful. Positively giddy. "Good morning!"
"Good....it's afternoon" Winry carried a basin and some white clothes into the room. She reguarded him carefully, noting how his right side was just as dirty as Ed was. "How's Edward?"
"He's fine! Aren't you, Brother?" Al turned to look at his elder brother. "Well, he just needs a little rest, and he'll be as good as new."
He's finally lost it. Winry kept the thought to herself and smiled sweetly. "That's good to hear, Al! I'm planning to clean him up some, see how badly damaged his automail is."
Alphonse looked at her, stepping between the bed and Winry as his hands slid the cloth away from her. "I can do that." His tone went cold again, making the young woman shiver with a chill that wasn't in the late summer air.
She couldn't keep the sudden worry from her eyes, but she could hide it from her voice. "That's okay, Al. Can I help a little though?" The worst thing someone could do to another person with mental issues was take their perceived power away from them.
And Al sensed it. "I'm not crazy, Winry." The words were slow and deliberate. Even though all other signs pointed otherwise, Winry needed to believe him. She couldn't loose Al too. "Ed's okay. Will you just believe me this time?"
"Of course." She said it too patronizingly, too quickly. She wanted to, screamed at herself to trust him, but.... Al glowered at her, then took the seat he had last night, dipping the cloth in the warm water. Like some nurse, Winry simply held the basin, watching with wide eyes as Al washed his brother.
He mopped the dirt and blood away with the gentleness of a mother towards a sick child. When the water was muddied, Winry left the room to change the water out. Alphonse said nothing to her when he washed his brother's hair and body, pulling the sheets away to show bruised flesh where there had been cave ins and scratches where Ed had struggled through small spaces of his tunnel. Al was even more careful with Ed's automail leg, barely applying pressure on the scars as he cleaned around the port. He used the same gentleness on the leg as he showed on Ed's skin. Winry thought that was odd and almost told him so. But she kept silent as Al did his thing, not bothering to say anything when it was time for Winry to change the water again.
Winry flushed crimson when Ed was layed completely bare to them, doing the respectful thing and averted her eyes. She was grateful that Al did have the decentsy to tell her when he was done and all she saw was a snuggly tucked Edward. Alphonse hesitated on washing Edward's right shoulder, chewing on his lip. It didn't look right and he was afraid of causing more injury. He glanced back to Winry. "I...I think that you should look at this part."
Winry smiled gently then, nodding once as she set the basin down and took a seat. For a moment, she saw the old Alphonse, there. Maybe he wasn't completely gone. "All right." Gentle, calloused hands started to rinse and wash away the dirt and blood, her eyes darting up to Ed's face everytime he stirred. Alphonse moved to Edward's other side, his hands taking his brother's.
The damage was bad. The bolt that had anchored the port to Edward's collarbone was completely free and felt like it was grinding that bone to powder. She reached over to the tray of tools, grabbing the wrench. "I have to take this bolt out, Al. It's going to cause irreprable damage if it stays." She didn't even bother for Alphonse's acknowledgement as she set to work. Edward showed signs of discomfort, but it wasn't bad enough for her to stop.
Winry frowned as she watched dirt crumble from under the port. She forced herself to stop wondering what Ed did as she informed the younger Elric that the port would mostly likely have to be removed.
"Removed?" Al squeaked at that, the color draining from his face. "Is that necessary?"
"I think so. There's a lot of debris underneath the plates and I can tell that this one place has so much caked on that he's going to get an infection. He'll need to start from scratch."
Alphonse looked like he was going to be sick. Start all over again! All because Ed wanted to live. He clung to his brother's hand and sighed softly. "When are you going to take it off?"
Winry dropped the cloth back into the basin. "The sooner, the better. We don't want an infection that will eat away at his bones. There won't be anything to attach the automail to." Automail was a great advancement, but even automail had its limitations. "I'll go get prepared. Don't worry, Al. It doesn't hurt as much as the installation." She gave him a bright smile.
"But he'll have to go through that pain again."
Winry's smile faded. So much for cheering the younger Elric up. "It'll be all right, Al."
It didn't take long to remove the port. Deconstruction never took as long as reconstruction. Alphonse refused to leave surgery and sat with Ed, his fingers constantly threaded into those limp, warm fingers. Once the plates and anchors were removed, entry points were flushed and the direct port was capped to protect the delicate nerves and wires. The skin that had been shielded by steel and carbide was white and shrivelled, as fragile looking as frost on glass. The bolt holes that went through skin, muscle and bone were raw and left to the open air with rubber tubes sewn in place. Winry explained the necessity for drains and Al didn't remember what she said.
His eyes were far away, back to a time when he was big and clumbsy and his brother was bleeding red everywhere.
Ed panted heavily in his sleep, oblivious to the cloth that had been pulled from his forehead and replaced with one fresh and cool. The sweat of the fever left him pasty and sickly and Al couldn't help but be reminded that's what mom looked like on her deathbed.
Despite the best efforts to flush out the wounds, they still festered and rotted, the flesh turning green and black and oozing fluids so foul that changing the light bandages made Winry gag. Only Alphonse sat with Ed. He rarely moved from his brother's side and had to be forced by Winry and Pinako to leave his brother's side in order to eat and bathe and relieve himself. But as soon as he was done, he was back to mothering Ed, going through the compulsion to check his brother over completely to make certain nothing had changed for the worse.
The wounds were getting worse. Al knew it and whatever antibiotics they were using weren't working. Ed was looking weaker by the day and he'd yet to wake up. Alphonse was silent when the specialists came to look at his brother, only nodding numbly when they asked if he was taking care of himself. It didn't matter if Al was doing all right, his brother was dying and there was nothing he could do about it.
Exhausted beyond belief, he leaned back into his chair. Al's hair hung in stringy clumps, unwashed from the past couple days. Finally Winry dragged him outside. If Al took ill, who would take care of Edward and if any change occurred, she would fetch him.
Alphonse didn't go far. Just to the woods back behind the house. He stood at the edge, frustrated at the fact that Edward was not pulling out of the fever as he was supposed to. He was pretty certain septicemia had set in and if that infection reached Ed's heart, nothing could help him.
In order for the body to heal, all source of infection needed to be removed. In part, Ed's body was trying to do that. During the daily flushes, they kept finding granules of dirt amongst the rotting tissue and necrotic ooze. Bit it wasn't enough. He needed more, something else.
Al stopped when he spotted the carcass of a fallen deer. His eyes noticed the twisted leg and the wolf tracks that revealed who gutted it. All is One. Maybe it was Ed's time to become a part of the All. It wasn't fair, though. He was too young. His little brother needed him. Al turned towards the carcass, watching with dull eyes. Even if Edward never believed in God or some form of guiding force, Al thought otherwise. Maybe not God but...soeone who took care of them, watched over them like mom did when they were small so they wouldn't fall into the water when play became too rough.
Is this why he spotted the deer? To remind Alphonse that all things died? It wasn't fair, there was nothing ever fair about death. He sobbed quietly, refusing to believe the message that was laid out before him. Edward was not going to go back into the ground! He wasn't going to die and be food for worms and maggots, he was too special for such a mediocre death.
It was an odd thought. But Alphonse took a closer look at the deer. There, under the leathered skin was a macabre pulse, a putrid life hidden in the death. Life that ate away at the death.
He didn't know what compelled him to put these ideas together. On Yock island they studied death all the time. They danced arm in arm with it like lovers, never giving into that damning kiss but tempting themselves anyways.
Al was tempting death now. He was looking for the secrets, the message behind the mask that was the shrivelled and half eaten body of a once living creature. When Alphonse found it, he nearly screamed out his laughter. As it was, he fell to his knees before the deer, ready to kiss that face with the one sunken eyeball.
He was the scientist, the Alchemist. Alphonse savored that scent of oozone and something else as the dirt formed a stone bowl under his pressed hands. He had no idea how much he'd need, but he was going to take a lot. Al stopped just shy of thrusting his hands into that abdominal cavity, the smell overwhelming him and causing his meger lunch to revisit him violently.
Ed did everything, sacrificed everything for his little brother. Alphonse could do the same. He ignored the sight, tried to shut his brain down and not think about what he was doing. Fish guts had never smelled this bad. And they were coated in some noxious slime, made it hard to scoop them up.
He worked through the dry heaves, thinking he would never eat again, never smell anything but death again. He scraped the pale white grubs into his bowl, gagging as he disturbed the peaceful decomposition of the deer. It seemed to scream at him, offended that he would vilify death like this.. For my brother...so he can live. When the bowl was full, Al dragged it back away from death, trying to rub the slime off his hands and forearms, sickened at the fact it stun his skin. He didn't understand it all, but he understood it well enough. Put a piece of meat out in the sun, and maggots will feed in the tracks of decay, leaving the healthier parts alone until that started to rot. Edward's good, living flesh would be untouched, but the stuff rotting from the inside would be purged. Then he could heal.
Al was careful to rinse them in another bowl. He didn't want the disease from the deer to infest Ed. He then snuck the bowl into his brother's room, for once glad that no one was there watching Edward.
His hands shook when he pulled back the thin dressing that covered Ed's shoulder. Alphonse fought another wave of nausea when he was reminded of the deer. It didn't smell exactly the same, but it was close enough. Al pressed the first handful of wriggling life into the gaping hole where Ed's collarbone was, his eyes gleaming with a slightly crazed light.
"Go help my brother. He needs these wounds clean. "Alphonse whispered to the tiny creatures, believing that they somehow understood him and they marched with skinny, undulating bodies into the crevices he pressed them into.
He covered that shoulder reverently, vomitted one last time into the basin and curled up on the left side of the bed, cradling his brother's head with an arm and resting his hand over the pulse of Ed's heart. Thinking healing thoughts and silently willing Ed to get better.
Yeah, you'll see a third part. Piece checked for spelling and some gammar, but no betta.
EDIT: Thank you, heerodiscarded for the added spell check. SO not my strong point and I get too excited and impatient to wait. :)