(Go here for Part 1 and Part 2)
Word count: 3977
Rating: This chapter more PG, but whole thing ranges from PG to R
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 particular chapter is more reflection than anything else. I can only thank the muses for letting me have a break from the terribly emotional stuff. :)
Okay guys, you know the drill...I've looked this over and I will DO MY BEST to install the WORD programs into my system so that I have a proper spell check. Don't want you guys to get irritated with the treasure hunt here... :P
For two more days, Ed did not move. Two more days, Al refused to leave his side. Winry and Pinako knew what Al had done to Ed's shoulder and said nothing of it to him. The wounds were no longer rotting and when the maggots had their fill, they crawled out of the boy's body to begin their next stage in life. It wasn't very suprizing that Al would know of the old medical properties; it always had been assumed that his and Ed's livelihood in the Military would have taught them some unusual things.
Winry silently scraped them away into a bowl, her eyes travelling to Ed's face. It looked so sallow, so....so much like death. It was almost as if the only proof he was alive was the lack of necrotic odor coming from his shoulder. She finished inspecting the wounds that were finally pink and healthy again. Every once in a while she would shudder at the sight of a fat white worm squirming with it's black dot of a mouth waving at her, but she kept her revulsion down. She was an automail engineer, and she'd been through worse. With her friends being the Elrics, she's seen worse. This was nothing.
Except for the fact that this was her friend in the sick bed, maybe even dying.
Winry carefully draped gauze over that non-existant shoulder as her mind calculated healing time frames and what would be required for surgery. The shoulder port would have to be larger to compensate for the different anchor positions. Bone tended to heal stronger and thicker so she couldn't re-drill where the original bolts went. And if the port was going to be larger, she had to think of a proper metal composition. Edward's old automail had been heavy for his small frame even through it was the lightest she could make it at the time. Winry would do better now, she knew more now than those early days.
"Don't kill them, Winry."
She gasped at the soft, tired voice. Al was peeking up at her with sleepy, dark rimmed eyes. "Alphonse! You nearly scared the life out of me!" Her hand was pressed over her fluttering heart and wide blue eyes gaped at him.
"Sorry." Al offered her a small smile of apology with the mumble. "Don't kill 'em, okay? They helped Brother. The should be allowed to live."
Them? Oh. The maggots. Winry's eyes went to the fat white things and she swallowed hard. Equivalent Exchange. The Elrics breathed and ate and drank that Alchemic law like it was some religious revival. Winry nodded, smiling a little. "Of course. Are you doing okay, Al? You haven't eaten or anything."
"I'm okay." He barely moved from his spot. If Winry didn't know better, she would have thought Al was as sick as Ed, or sharing the sickness, at the very least. "Just tired."
"It's because you haven't eaten. When I'm done, I'm going to bring you some broth. And I'll spoonfeed it to you, if I have to!" She tried to look as stern as she could, wagging her finger at him.
"Just don' wrench me, 'kay, Winry?" Al's eyes had closed already, his mind drifting away on some dream.
Winry didn't smile. She just got up and left them, taking the bowl and its contents with her. Her worry for them was contained, much like the soon to be pupa in the bowl. Tangible, but contained. Alphonse had been all but hysterical from the months after Edward's funeral and Ed's slow and nearly non-existant recovery had put him into a depression of sorts. Now Al was patient, waiting, as if all he needed to do in the first place was take an active part in helping his brother by cleaning out the festering wounds. That or taking in some of the sickness and sharing it to help Edward get better.
Realisticly, she mused, Al was probably wasting away due to a broken heart. Winry didn't think she could bear to loose both of them. She took a deep cleansing breath in the bright sunshine. Rolling hills and the quiet song of birds did nothing to brighten her mood. She had no true idea how many times she's been close to loosing her two best friends forever and for once, she didn't want to know. Just the thought of them never returning had been more than enough of a scare for her.
And what if Ed did recover? What then? Would he remember that night in the storm? Would he hate her for doubting? She already knew that Al wasn't going to forgive her. He was very forgiving except when it came to matters with his brother. Somehow in his eyes, she came between them and he was going to make certain she was reminded of that.
Hell, she wasn't the one who put him in the ground! Winry was not the one who wanted Edward dead. She loved him! They both wanted the same thing for Ed, why couldn't Al see that? She sighed quietly and deposited the tiny creatures by the tree at the edge of the woods. She felt a little silly doing so; they would only create more flies, be a bigger nusiance, but Al was adament. Winry really wanted to toss them into the cooking fire, but she felt somehow Alphonse would know and the last thing she wanted was Al angry at her.
Alphonse being angry at anyone was a frightening thing.
Winry took her time returning to the house. She had plenty to keep her occupied, from automail orders to repairs and trying to make certain that Al took care of himself. Granny didn't need to deal with all this, she was so old as it was. Granny deserved a proper retirement. So Winry took care of Al as much as he would let her. It was the least she could do for Ed. It was the least any of them could do for Ed.
As the broth was simmering over the stove, Winry paced a little and chewed on her lip in contemplation. Her bright blue eyes trailed to the phone for the hundreth time. She really should call. He had a right to know. After all, he was Ed's superior officer. And if Edward was going to have any semblence of a normal life, he couldn't be labelled as Killed in Action, or MIA or whatever the Military would list him under.
Finally, she lifted the receiver and dialed the number. Winry had performed these actions countless times, only to hang up after the first ring. This time, she responded to the voice on the other end. "Colonel Mustang, please." Winry waited quietly. Mustang had the right to know. In spite of the past, he was always considered a friend. Despite her past with him, he was their friend.
"Sir? It's Winry. Winry Rockbell?"
There was a silence on the other line, a shuffling of papers in the background. "Is Alphonse faring worse?"
Winry's eyes widened at the defeated sound she heard in his voice. "No! No. Alphonse is okay. But--" She bit her lip hard, not certain if he was standing or sitting, if she should warn him or just say it. Was the wire tapped? Was the enemy waiting for her to slip up, to reveal what was truly going on? Now a days, she had no clue as to who was friend or foe, only the endless orders for automail. The visions of the wounded, soldier and civilian alike were looking to her to restore some sense of normalcy in their lives.
"Is there a reason for this call, Miss Rockbell?" Mustang's voice startled her out of her thoughts, bringing her back to the present. He sounded harried, annoyed that she disturbed him. Was this normal? Was this what Edward had to deal with all that time? No wonder he could only spout venom about his superior.
"I'm sorry. Is this a bad time, Colonel?" Winry decided that it would be safest to stay vague. Just in case someone had tapped the wires.
"Unless you have something pressing, Miss Rockbell--"
"He was right." She blurted it out, unable to keep it any longer. She wanted to tell him what state Ed was in, that if he was truly dying and even if their relationship hadn't been the best, Mustang should come down to Rizenbool anyway to at least say goodbye. "He was right and we were so very wrong."
There was no response, not even the shuffle of papers in the background. She did hear a voice, though, and Winry could have only guess she shocked him. "Colonel?"
"I see." That cocky tone wasn't quite right. It was too....detatched. "What would you like me to do, Miss? Come over there and congradulate him myself?"
Winry furrowed her brow, not understanding at first. She didn't have the Military mind for cunning and strategy. She didn't know how to play these kind of games or at the very least, know how to play them off smoothly. "What? Congradulate? Wh--um....if it wouldn't be too much of an imposition, Colonel. I know you must be busy."
That tone returned. Breezy, cocky, arrogant. "Extremely busy. I'll have to see when my next leave is. I would love to give him my congradulations in person."
Now he was just confusing. Winry was pretty certain he was trying to tell her something, but she didn't understand. "Um...okay. I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"Not at all, Miss. I will contact you when I'm in the area." And the line went dead. She wasn't certain if he had closed the connection or if someone else did. She carefully hung up the phone and turned around, suddenly rushing to the stove to move the broth off the burner before it boiled over.
Winry made a balancing act out of knocking on the door and not dumping the lunch tray everywhere. "Alphonse? I have lunch." She didn't hear voices, so she carefully opened the door, peering inside. Al hadn't moved from his half curled position on Ed's left side. He looked to be asleep, so she quietly walked in, setting the tray down on a small table before pulling a chair over. The broth needed to cool down so she didn't feel terribly guilty watching them without their knowledge.
There were nestled together like lovers. It would have almost been a distressing thing, but Winry let it go. For years, they had been seperated by steel and now they were together. The Elrics had always been close and when they were young children they'd often been mistaken for twins in spite of the single year's difference in age. They did almost look like twins. But Ed's hair was fairer and Al's eyes were more like their mother's. Other than that, they did everything together, from Alchemy to fighting to laughing to searching for the answer to their problems.
Winry flushed and quickly pushed aside the thought of her between them wearing only a coy smile on her face.
She looked up, freezing for a moment when she noticed a pair of golden eyes staring blearily at her. "Edward?" Her voice was so small and hesitant that she wasn't certain she said anything at all.
Ed closed his eyes and it seemed like forever passed before he opened them again. They were more focused this time, a little clearer. Any fever he might have was not reflected in those eyes. He nodded a little, trying to offer something he hoped might have consituted as a smile. "Hi, Win."
The girl grinned and slid quickly to his right side. She almost laughed. Almost. What came out was a choked sound as the tears she'd been trying to hold back for the past few weeks burst forth. She tried to keep silent, pressing her face into the bed sheets as her body shook with a twisted half release.
Ed shifted a little, went to move so that he could comfort her. He frowned some, realizing that he was missing some automail. "Where's my arm?" His voice was raspy and quiet, almost grating on his nerves with how unused it sounded.
She lifted her head again, sniffling once. "The port. It was pulled out of the anchors and had to be removed." She looked a little stern, just like in the days where he'd nearly gotten himself killed and she would scold him for destroying her great works. "You caused a lot of damage to that side. It's going to take a while to heal before we can find out how much's been done to your bones."
Edward frowned more. So that's why it hurt to breathe. What happened to him? He didn't remember getting hurt this badly. "Itches." Damn, but his right side itched like there were bugs crawling under his skin.
Winry could only smile at that. It was a little forced, considering she knew why his shoulder and side itched. And she wasn't going to tell him, not until he had some time to eat. "You hungry, Ed? I brought some broth. I was just getting ready to wake up Al. He's been with you the whole tim--"
"You don't have to wake me up." Al's eyes were already open. He finally moved, still watching Winry as he stretched a little. "I've been awake." In truth, he'd been awake from the moment Ed had regained consciousness. He merely chose to just be while his brother and Winry spoke. Al stayed where he was, listening to Ed's heartbeat and the oddly comforting resonance of his voice through his chest. He knew he was being selfish in wishing Winry had not been there, but he couldn't help it. She hadn't believed Al that Edward was still alive. She didn't deserve the hand that would have covered the back of her head if Ed had the arm and hand to do so. He was glad at that moment, and guilty all at the same time.
Edward turned towards Al, this time a small smile was definitely on his face. "Alphonse." His eyes didn't shift away as he drank in the sight of his brother. He took in every detail, wanting to touch as well as see, to experience the fact that his brother was in the flesh, his expressive brown-grey eyes staring right back at him. "You're alive."
Al grinned, pressing his forehead against Ed's. "So're you." Ed's forehead was still a little too warm, but it wasn't to the point of searing hot. Ed was going to be all right! He shuddered at the soft intake of breath his brother made and Al was powerless to stop himself. He had to touch Ed, had to draw his fingers across that pale cheek, to slip them around the back of his neck. The touch made him whimper softly.
When Alphonse shifted, Ed found his left hand free and it hesitantly touched Al's arm. He was still in shock, almost disbelieving that there was no more armor. No more armor, or that eerie soul-glow of eyes. "Al..." Ed's whisper repeated when he felt the shudder in the brother above him. His fingers weakly slid up Alphonse's arm to hang off the back of the boy's neck. "Al." He closed his eyes when he felt the first drops of moisture trail over his face. They weren't his tears. They were Alphonse's, but they were his, too. Ed was just too exhausted to cry. Instead he closed his eyes, listening to the quiet whimpers that belonged to his brother and relished in the fact that his brother could cry once again.
Winry felt the shift, but she couldn't name it, or even begin to understand it. It was like some door had been shut in her face and that she'd been allowed a small glimpse of the bond that had forged the two brothers together. One moment, she was there, finally able to tell Ed all that was in her heart: love, regret and hope. The next moment, she was the friend who was looking outside the window, waiting to see if her friends could play. And it had been always like this; they'd only let her in so far. But they did love her, she was certain of it. They would make her little gifts for her birthday and fought over her hand in marriage when they were six. But when the emotion became too raw, when the fighting in Amestris started -no- before that. When they'd lost their mother, their relationship shifted. It was almost as if they were afraid another would leave them, just like their mom had.
No matter how misplaced their intentions were, the Elrics never saw the look of shock and hurt on Winry's face. Even now, she was screaming to be let in, to be given one fraction of the love and adoration the brothers showed each other. At this point, she didn't care if it was from one or both at the same time. She lost her parents too, and she'd been ripped up and broken too! She lost them even before she gotten word they were killed in the war. Too busy helping others to give her attention. She was the daughter of doctors, and that made for a lonely existance.
The realization made Winry gasp. Once again, she was seeking love and affection from people who couldn't give it to her. Their hearts lay elsewhere, intent on missions and quests and searches for the missing pieces to their souls. She couldn't quite comprehend "be thou for the people," not when she wanted to be for someone.
Her tears flowed again, only this time she didn't reach out, didn't demand they tell her, pay attention to her, listen to her. Instead she rose from her seat, walked to the door and closed it quickly behind her. Her back was pressed against the wall as she slid down to a crumpled heap, shaking with sobs and only squeaking quietly when she wanted to be screaming. She would never be more than the best Automail Engineer in Amestris. Never be a lover or a mother to the children of people she loved. She would never be more than the sum of her very existance, and that realization crushed her.
Alphonse noticed without being wholly aware of it that Winry left. Secretly, he was glad of it. Everyone would have plenty of time to fuss over Edward later. For now, all he wanted was to bask in the relief, to experience that grief and fear and longing all at once because now he finally could. Al wanted to shed these tears, to feel the moisture roll off his face and bathe Edward's face with them.
He was a boy of sensation and Al would experience every opportunity that presented itself. It was all new to him again, the soft pulse of a beating heart, the oddly detatched sound of his teeth grinding. His whole body was tense and shaking. Al didn't think he'd tell Ed that he'd cut himself on occassion just to feel the sting and watch the blood pool. They weren't deep, just shallow, paper cut things. That depth stung the most. But he wouldn't say anything to make his brother worry. Ed did enough worrying in the past and now it was time for a rest.
"Brother...Ed." Alphonse loved to hear his own voice. It was soft and expressive and without the echoing tones of it bouncing around inside a hollow metal hull. "I'm glad you're back. You're hungry, right? Winry brought lunch."
Ed didn't let his hand fall away from Alphonse's neck until Al actually moved. He watched quietly, not answering as his brother slid the tray closer, gently propping him up with more pillows. He fought the exhaustion that wanted to overtake him again. Edward wasn't ready to close his eyes now that he's had the chance to see Al. In some ways, his vision of what his little brother would be like was frightenly accurate. He wasn't going to admit that he wanted Al to be shorter, but it looked like that wasn't going to happen. Dammit, Alphonse got all the good genes.
And he was perfect. Not perfect in the way a million people would fall in love with him, but perfect in the way he was unmarred by scars. His body did not hold the story of their adventures, a road map of hack marks and wounds long healed and faded from the surface. How Ed would know that since his brother was clothed, he had no idea. But he knew, he just did. The black tee was sleeveless, after all, and it accentuated the clearly defined muscles of Alphonse's arms, a hint of the stregnth underneath.
The elder Elric sighed quietly, easing back into the mountain of pillows behind him. Alphonse was talking, practically babbling about something but Ed wasn't paying attention to the actual words. In fact, Edward hadn't said anything beyond Al's name. His voice was too dry from lack of use and sounded more like crunched up leaves in the autumn time. He accepted small spoonfuls of broth, grateful for the moisture. He listened to the sound of his baby brother's voice without listening to what was being said. The ironic thought crossed his mind that it was usually Ed talking enough for both of them. Rarely was Alphonse talking to hear himself speak. Maybe he was doing so now so that Ed would know he was in the land of the living. Maybe it was to remind him that Al was now in his own body and he could now smile with a real mouth instead of hint at it with his hollow helmet. Edward listened as his own thoughts rattled through his head.
Maybe Alphonse babbled because Ed knew he let him be buried. Al didn't stop them, and that started to settle in Ed's gut like a pocket of pus the maggots couldn't reach.