But before I go to bed, because I love you, here's chapter 3 of Changed For Good, which I just finished.
And if you missed any previous chapters, you can find the prologue and chapter 1 here and chapter 2 here.
Section: 3 of ??
Summary: Ed is released, and tackles one of the major perils of adulthood: Shaving. And some other stuff happens, too; you'll just have to read it to find out.
Spoilers: This is so far off the story continuity that it doesn't really spoil anything.
Rating: PG for mild language and descriptions of violence.
Chapter Three – We Were Children Together
Edward woke with the sun streaming across his face. He opened his eyes, then immediately shut them against the glare, wincing. Who the hell put a window there?, he thought grumpily, sitting up and blinking sleep from his eyes. He slid out of bed, the floor cold against his bare feet, and he looked around in puzzlement, wondering where he was. This wasn’t his bedroom . . . it didn’t look like any of the rooms in Tucker’s house.
Then, looking around the small cubicle of a room, he saw and locked eyes with the tall, short haired, blue-eyed man staring blearily out of the mirror at him. Edward blinked.
As Ed had suspected, it wasn’t long before one of his jailers came to open the cell door and lead him down to one of the ground floor offices, to have him sit down at a plain oak table, devoid of any ornamentation except a lamp, and wait for his questioners. And after that it was only a few minutes before the door on the other side of the room opened and Hughes walked in. He strode briskly to his side of the table and twisted the lamp around to shine it in Edward’s eyes.
“Hey!” Ed yelped, somewhat surprised. “That hurts!”
“Okay, Tucker,” Hughes said coldly. “Start talking.”
Ed sighed. “I told you, I’m not Tucker. I’m Ed.”
“And you expect me to believe that?” the Major snapped.
‘Well . . . yes, actually,” Ed glared back.
He heard the door open again and someone come in, but because of the glare he could tell who the newcomer was until he spoke: “You shouldn’t have started without me, Hughes.”
Ed heard that smooth voice with a mixture of relief and confusion. What was Mustang doing here? This wasn’t exactly his department. Edward could only guess he had been dragged into this because Edward was his responsibility. Ed just hoped Mustang would believe him.
Mustang sat down across from Ed, while Hughes stayed standing. Ed expected them to do the ‘god cop, bad cop’ routine that was so popular in all the books and radio serials, but what they did was more like ‘bad cop, quiet cop’, as Hughes badgered him with questions and Roy remained passively staring at him. Ed answered Hughes’ questions honestly, and with dwindling patience – he’d thought Hughes was smart.
Of course, Hughes wasn’t an alchemist, and of course Ed’s story would sound impossible to most everyone else. But most everyone else didn’t have a little brother whose soul had been affixed to a huge suit of armor; Ed could take this development in stride, but Hughes was finding it harder to accept. He interrogated Edward relentlessly, snapping out questions, lashing Ed with his tongue until the boy was inches away from leaping across the table and attempting to beat some sense into Hughes’ thick skull.
Then Mustang spoke for the first time since he’d arrived, and both Hughes and Ed fell silent to look at him.
“Where were you born?”
Ed blinked. “Me? I was born in Rizenbul Village.”
“On what day?”
“January thirteenth, 1899.”
“What were your parents names?”
“Hohenheim and Trisha Elric.”
“This is pointless!” snapped Hughes. “Tucker could have found out all this easily.”
Roy held up a hand to silence the other man, and asked his next question. “Is your mother still alive?”
Ed lowered his eyes. He could sense where this was going. “. . . No.”
“How did she die?”
“She . . . she was sick. We never found out with what.”
“And where did you live after your mother’s death?”
“Well, we stayed in our house, but Pinako Rockbell took care of us. Then we studied alchemy with Izumi Curtis for a while, in Dublith.”
“And what were doing the night I met you?”
Ed glanced in Hughes' direction, not wanting to answer, even though it would save him to do so.
“Answer the question, Edward,” Roy said gently.
Ed looked up; it was the first time someone had called him by his name since the accident. He took a deep breath. “I . . . we were trying to resurrect our mother. Alphonse and I were. It . . . It didn’t work. I lost my leg, and Al . . . his body was destroyed. I bound his soul to the suit of armor in the workshop . . . it cost me my arm.” Ed’s voice had fallen down to a whisper. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
Roy nodded. He stood up and turned to Hughes, who was standing dumbstruck. “That’s good enough for me, Maes. This is indeed Edward.” Hughes could only stare in shock at Edward, who for his part leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms and endeavoring to look smug, and block out the images Mustang had called up.
Being hugged by a suit of armor is not generally a particularly enjoyable experience, but Ed was so glad to see Alphonse that he didn’t mind. He laughed and let his brother lift him up into the air with the force of his hug, returning the embrace, albeit less forcefully. “Hey, Al. You doing all right?”
“Mm!” Al said, nodding eagerly. “I’m fine! They didn’t treat you badly, did they, Brother?”
Ed shrugged. “Eh. You weren’t too worried, were you?”
“Um . . . well, I was, but Mr. Hughes said he’d figure everything out.”
Ed raised an eyebrow at Hughes, who was standing back a few paces and looking sheepish. “Oh. He did, huh?”
“Brother!” hissed Al. “You shouldn’t be mad. He was just worried about you. And he and his wife took care of me and Nina last night . . .”
Ed suddenly jerked upright, going rigid. “Ohmygosh! Nina! Is she okay!? Does she hate me? Is she traumatized for life?”
“Brother! Don’t panic! She’s fine.”
Ed made an effort to calm down, biting his lower lip and doing his best to keep his feet firmly on the ground. “Okay. Good. That’s good.”
Hughes cleared his throat. “Um. It’ll take me a few hours to get all the paperwork cleared up, but after that, you can come stay with my wife and I . . . if you want.”
Ed had resolved to stay mad at Hughes for at least the rest of the day, but being able to be close to Al and Nina was more important. He agreed immediately.
Any worries Ed had had about Nina’s reaction to him were laid to rest the instant he stepped in the door. She flew at him in a flash of brown hair and a delighted squeal. “Ed-papa!” she cried as she leapt into his arms. Ed opened his mouth to explain that he wasn’t her papa, but thought better of it. Better for her to believe that he and Tucker were somehow the same person now than to try to make her understand what her father had almost done to her. At least for now, he could be Ed-papa.
“Welcome back, Edward,” Gracia said cheerfully, walking out of the kitchen, as calm and cheerful as if Ed hadn’t changed at all. Ed smiled at her gratefully, then stepped aside so Al and Hughes could walk in after him.
“How was your day, Nina?” Al asked, lifting the little girl out of Ed’s arms and raising her up high. She giggled.
“I played with Elysia! She’s so cuuuute!”
“She is,” agreed Al.
“Almost as cute as you,” said Ed, and Nina giggled again.
“I heard that!” snapped Hughes.
“Yeah, well, I don’t care, I’m still mad at you,” Ed retorted, but he didn’t really mean it.
“Why don’t you all come and have dinner?” suggested Gracia, skillfully defusing the situation with her kind voice and mention of food. They all followed her into the dining room, Nina still chattering happily, as if nothing had changed at all.
Dinner that night was beef stew and mashed potatoes and gravy, and in Ed’s opinion nothing had ever tasted better. He even drank his milk without complaint, happy to be eating anything after not having eaten all day. And Tucker, frankly, had been only a mediocre cook; Gracia Hughes was a master chef by comparison. Maybe it’s something about mothers, Ed thought to himself. Mom’s cooking always tasted great, too.
The atmosphere at the table was wonderful, too, with everyone talking and laughing and joking and passing the potatoes. It made Ed warm inside to be feeling this way: like he was part of a family again. I haven’t felt this way, well . . . since Mom died.
After dinner everyone made their way to bed, and Ed fell asleep thinking, for the first time since the Accident the night before, that maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.
He found himself reevaluating that assertion the next morning, however. Sunrise found him staring blearily into the bathroom mirror, rubbing his stubbly chin with a vague look of disgust, “All adults are disgusting,” he muttered, repeating his mantra from the day before. He rooted around in the bathroom drawers and cupboards until he found a likely looking instrument: a sharp-edged razor that seemed intended for the purpose of shaving. He took a deep breath, steeled himself, and set to work.
Al came into the bathroom, having been woken from his sleep-state by the sounds of muffled cursing, and found his brother apparently well into the process of cutting his face off.
“Ow! Goddamn son of a . . .”
“Um . . . Brother?” Al began tentatively.
Ed glared at him for intruding, blood dribbling down his chin. “Yeah? What?”
“Um . . . I think you’re supposed to use shaving cream.”
Ed blinked. “Say what?”
"Um. Cream. Um . . .” Al bent down, reached into the cupboard and pulled out a cylindrical bottle Ed hadn’t noticed. “You’re supposed to put it on your face before you shave.”
Ed stared, open-mouthed with disbelief.
“And you’re supposed to shave. Um. Against the grain. Not with it. Um.”
Ed opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. “You . . . you know this how!?”
“Well, Winry’s dad showed me once.”
Ed snatched the shaving cream and turned back to the mirror, grumbling darkly. “Unbelievable.”
Compared to last night’s dinner, breakfast was a rather subdued affair, with everyone making a conscious effort not to look at Ed, who was now sporting a veritable beard of cotton swabs and small bandages, glaring daggers at anyone who stared. It didn’t help that he was wearing some borrowed clothes of Hughes, who was built on a slightly taller and much lankier frame than Tucker. In all, he looked quite mad, in all senses of the word.
So Hughes was delighted when the phone rang, shattering the deadly silence and making them all jump. He leapt up from his seat, while Al stood up off the floor, offering flustered, embarrassed apologies about the chair. Hughes picked up the receiver and said with a small smile, “Whoever you are, you have excellent timing.”
But the smile quickly vanished.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Hughes!” cried Al, rushing around frantically as he tried to pick up all the pieces of the chair he’d smashed. Gracia was just laughing, her hand delicately placed over her mouth, waving her hand at Al dismissively.
“No, really Al, it’s – it’s not a problem, really – “
“Boom, boom!” squealed Nina, jumping up and down on her own chair, as if trying to repeat Al’s accident.
Al seemed oblivious to Gracia’s mirth. “I’m really, really sorry! I promise I’ll fix it!” He dumped the shards of broken wood onto the floor and hastily began to prepare a transmutation circle.
Al looked up. “Brother?”
Ed had stood up and was walking around the table. “I want to try something.” He knelt down beside Al and rubbed the circle away with his sleeve. Then he inhaled sharply, clapped his hands together, and slammed them down on the floor.
At first nothing happened. But then, as if it had just needed a second to orient itself, the shards of the chair sprang back together in a flash of blue light. Gracia and Nina both applauded, and Elysia in her high chair clapped her pudgy little hands together, but Al noticed his brother was sweating and breathing hard.
“I wuh . . . wasn’t sure I could . . . do that . . . in this body,” Ed wheezed. “It’s . . . harder. Have to concentrate more. But I can still do it.” The smile he wore was fierce and determined, and it made Al shiver a little, to see his brother’s fiery, spiteful grin mapped onto Tucker’s features. “I still got it.”
“Brother . . .” Al lowered his voice so as not to worry Gracia or Nina, “. . . What if Tucker can do this, too?”
Now it was Ed’s turn to shiver. “I don’t know.”
Hughes came bounding back into the kitchen then, grabbing his jacket off the back of his chair and searching around for his boots.
“What’s going on, honey?” Gracia asked, concerned.
“The serial murderer’s struck again,” Hughes said, trying to put on his boots while still standing. “I’ve got to get down to headquarters.”
“Why the hurry?” Edward asked. “It’s not like the victim’s going anywhere.”
Hughes, who now seemed to be attempting to put on both boots at the same time, caught Ed’s eye. “No. This time the victim’s alive.”
Three seconds later there was not one, but two people running around for coats and shoes, and then Hughes, Ed and Al were out the door, Hughes barely stopping to peck his wife on the cheek.
Ed hadn’t known that the Central City headquarters included a hospital facility. Maybe it was because he hadn't gotten the impression that the military was terribly concerned with saving lives. But now he was stepping quickly down the tiled corridors, past nurses who rushed by with clipboards in hand, and doctors hurrying to and fro, their white coats flapping. He was hurrying to keep up with Hughes, who was talking with one such doctor, a middle-aged man with a graying mustache and a somber expression.
“She was found in the shopping districts a few miles from here,” the doctor was saying. “She suffered multiple stab wounds and lacerations on her arms, legs and torso.”
“Will she live?”
“Hard to say at this point; I don’t think any vital organs were injured, but we know one of her lungs was punctured, and the main tendons behind her right knee were severed; I doubt she’ll walk again. Not to mention severe blood loss and trauma. But she’s young and strong, and she’s not dead yet. We’re doing all we can for her.”
“Why is she still alive?” Hughes wondered. “Is this the work of a copycat? Or did the killer just not do the job right this time?”
“Well, I can’t say for sure, but –“ the doctor stopped so suddenly that Ed almost ran into him. “Here she is.”
The room was small and crowded; barely big enough for the bed in the center, which was surrounded by nurses fiddling with equipment, fluttering around the patient like concerned mother hens. They made it impossible to see the poor girl on the bed, but after what Ed had just heard, he wasn’t sure he wanted to. “What’s going on now?” he asked, nodding at the flurry of activity.
The doctor blinked appearing to notice him for the first time. “We’re just waiting for them to prep the operating room, Mister Tucker.”
Ed didn’t bother to correct him. The atmosphere of this place, the frantic, rushing pace, was making him edgy and nervous; he was beginning to wish he’d stayed out in the waiting room with Al, who didn’t have the military clearance required to visit the intensive care unit. In fact, he was on the verge of going right back out there when an intern in green scrubs came running past the door. “O.R.’s ready!” he shouted at the nurses, and they snapped into action, immediately pulling the bed loose from the wall and wheeling it towards the door.
“What were you saying earlier, Doctor?” Hughes asked. “About why she wasn’t killed?”
The nurses were wheeling the bed past Ed now. It passed directly under his nose, and as it did he had a brutally clear view of the girl in the bed: battered, torn, her sleek blond hair streaked with blood . . .
It hit Ed like a physical blow, like one of the serial murderer’s knives stabbing into his gut. He sank to his knees, chest pounding.
“Well, she was found in an alley next to one of the metallurgy shops on High Street – but she wasn’t dumped there.”
“You mean . . .”
“Yes. She walked. Whoever it was that attacked her, she fought him – or her – off, and got away. She even managed to walk with that torn up leg. I tell you, that is one tough little girl.”
Hughes whistled. “I’m liking her already. Thanks, Doc.” He turned around. “Come on, Ed, let’s go wait for them to finish.” He blinked down at Edward, kneeling, shocked and horrified on the floor. “Ed? What’s wrong?”
“. . . Winry . . .”
Ed sat in the waiting room, head in his hands; Al beside him, in the same position. He was listening absently to the conversation Hughes was having with some young lieutenant (apparently another officer on the serial murderer case), but his mind and his heart were in the operating room, and what might be going on there.
“We have several witnesses who say she arrived at Headquarters around noon yesterday,” the lieutenant was saying, reading notes off a clipboard. “Apparently she was waiting for someone; witnesses say when she didn’t find him or her, she sat down on the steps in front to wait. Then . . .” she flipped a few pages forward, “. . . at least two witnesses state they saw her talking to the woman who delivers the meat to the kitchens. The woman’s truck left a few minutes later, and there are no further mentions of seeing the girl afterwards.”
“Hmm . . . All right; start checking up on this woman. And send . . . three teams to the meat-packing district. Have them search for any sign of this woman and her truck.”
Ed heard the lieutenant’s footsteps fading away, but did not look up. “It’s my fault . . .: he moaned, shaking his head from side to side.
“It’s our fault, Brother,” Al corrected, sounding just as wretched as his brother.
Hughes looked at them sharply. “How do you figure?”
Ed looked up, misery on his – Tucker’s – whatever – features. “She came looking for us. But we weren’t there to meet her . . .”
“So it’s our fault,” Al finished.
Hughes snorted. “Bullshit. Ed, you were in jail, for heaven's sake. Besides, did you even know she was coming?”
Ed blinked, then shook his head.
“She was probably planning to surprise us,” Al said.
“Yeah,” agreed Ed, “That’s the sort of thing she’d do.”
“Well, there you go,” Hughes said, “You didn’t know she was coming, and even if you had, you couldn’t have done anything. So don’t blame yourselves. It’s not your fault. Now say it with me: It’s not your fault.”
“It’s not our fault,” Ed and Al echoed, like little children repeating a lesson. Except Ed no longer looked or sounded at all little, heightening the strangeness of the situation.
‘Good,” Hughes said. “Now don’t worry. The doctors here are the best in the city. Your friend will be fine.”
“Her name is Winry.”
“Winry.” Hughes sat back and ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m actually amazed she escaped; this killer’s taken care of much older and stronger women than her.”
“Winry’s been handling power tools ever since she could hold a screwdriver straight,” Ed said fondly. “She’s smart, and she’s tough.”
“I’ll say,” Hughes said. “She shouldn’t have been able to walk at all with the tendons of her leg cut, yet she made it all the way from the warehouses to the main market . . .” he smiled at Ed and Al. “She must really like you two, if she wanted to see you that bad.”
Al couldn’t blush, but he did shift his weight noisily, looking at the ground. Ed, on the other hand, went bright red.
“On a more serious note,” Hughes added, pushing his glasses back up his long nose, “I think this is a good sign. She couldn’t have gotten away from the killer if he – or she, I guess—were running after her. So either she escaped while the killer was away . . . or she wounded the killer so badly that she – or he – couldn’t follow her.”
Ed smiled slightly. “That definitely sounds like Winry.”
Al nodded. “Mm! I remember this one time you tried to take her doll away, Brother. She gave you two black eyes.”
“I did not! You tried to take her doll! Two black eyes AND a fat lip, as I recall.”
“Nuh-uh!” Al cried. “It was you, Brother, I remember! I liked Winry’s dolls.”
“Yeah, that’s why you tried to take them.”
Hughes had to smile at the sight; what would appear to anyone else to be two grown men, (one of them wearing armor indoors) arguing loudly over ancient history. But Hughes knew that under the surface, it was two brothers, aged twelve and eleven, arguing over fond memories and (for the first time since learning of Winry’s injuries) actually relaxing. It did his heart good to see that.
But worry all too quickly returned to Ed’s face. He looked up at the clock, running a hand through his short, reddish-brown hair. “Dammit, they’ve been in there for hours . . . Wish I knew what was going on. Wish I was in there.”
“No, you don’t,” Hughes said emphatically. “You never wanna be in a room where doctors are working on someone. Unless your wife’s giving birth. But that’s the only exception. Otherwise, don’t do it. You can’t do anything and it’ll just make you sick to watch them work. Trust me on this.”
Ed looked at the floor despondently. “I just wish I knew if she was gonna be okay . . .”
It seemed like an eternity, but it was only another fifteen minutes before the head surgeon came through the swinging doors. He didn’t say anything; he didn’t have to; the look of triumph on his face spoke plainly enough. Al straightened up with a happy little gasp, and a huge grin broke over Ed’s face. Both leaped up to talk to the doctor.
“How is she?”
“Will she be okay?”
“Does she want to talk to us?”
“When can we see her?”
The doctor took a step back in the face of the onslaught and held up his hands. “Calm down, gentlemen, calm down! Miss Rockbell is still recovering; she’ll be all right – “
Both Ed and Al heaved huge sighs of relief at that.
“—But she will need some time to recuperate. At least two weeks under hospital monitoring; then at least a month of rest at home for her leg to heal properly. In answer to your question,” he added quickly, as Ed opened his mouth, “Yes, she will walk again, but that leg will never be as strong as it used to be. She’ll probably have a permanent limp. Plus there will be substantial scarring on the legs, arms and torso. Other than that,” he said, smiling, “She’ll be fine.”
“Thank you!” The poor exhausted doctor then had the unusual (and not terribly enviable) experience of being hugged by a grown man and a suit of armor. “When can we see her?”
The doctor shrugged. “You could go see her now, if you like, but she’ll be asleep for several more hours. Anesthesia, plus exhaustion and blood loss. Don’t wake her up; just wait for her to wake up on her own.”
“Yes, of course,” Ed nodded. “Thank you so much, Doctor! Al, come on!”
Both of them ran off down the hall, causing nurses and orderlies to leap out of the way, leaving the doctor staring after them, and Hughes shrugging, a very embarrassed smile on his face.
End of Chapter 3
As I post this I'm about 3 and 1/2 pages into chapter 4 (my chapters average out to about 9 or 10 pages, to give you an idea), in which Ed angsts. A lot.
I really suck at summaries. But I hope you'll read it! And tell me what you think so far!