yuuo: (Pandora's Box)
[personal profile] yuuo posting in [community profile] pandorasuniverse
Character/Series: Edward Elric, Cast; AU to the original series
Rating: MA
Notes: Written based on the 'what if' idea that Ed had never been able to bind Al's soul to the armor. Please heed all warnings. All chapters can be found here.
Title: Pandora's Box: Chapter 7: Tell Me Would You
Author: [personal profile] yuuo
Word Count: 6419
Summary: As I hoped, before my time at Firebase Olivia was up, I got notice from Central that I was being transferred back.

tell me, would you kill to save a life?
tell me, would you kill to prove you're right?
crash, crash, burn, let it all burn
this hurricane's chasing us all underground
-30 Seconds To Mars

As I hoped, before my time at Firebase Olivia was up, I got notice from Central that I was being transferred back. Apparently, the whole country had been looking for me, and nobody had known where I was. I was confused by that. I could've sworn that the papers I'd taken to Processing the day Grand put me under Archer's command were the transfer papers for us. Either they were something else, or someone destroyed the paper trail.

I decided to worry about it when I got to Central. My biggest worry right then was getting through Acheron without catching Archer's notice. I had the paperwork in my hands that said I was going back to Central- orders from the führer himself, so Archer couldn't do a thing about it- but I didn't want to face the man when he found out. He'd be livid. Especially since as far as I knew, this news didn't come with a transfer for him, too. At least, I hoped it didn't. I didn't want to see that bastard ever again, if I could help it.

Fortunately, I managed to slip back into Acheron and immediately onto the train, so I never saw Archer. In fact, I never saw him again. He remained in Acheron, forgotten and abandoned to his work there.

Hughes greeted me when I got off the train.

"Ed!" He looked happy enough to run up and give me a hug. He stopped short, seeing me in a uniform with a couple new scars on my face. I still sported a scar from where that drain pipe clip had snagged my forehead my first day at Acheron. I also had a thin scar under my left eye from a loading spring accident when reassembling my firearm.

I didn't offer him a smile, but I offered him a salute; his shoulders showed he'd gotten a promotion to lieutenant colonel while I was away, so he now outranked me.

Hughes adjusted his glasses. "Enough of that, Ed. We're friends here. You're not military, you're a civilian advisor. Come on, let's go get you out of that uniform and get you to the führer. He wants to see you."

"With all due respect, sir," I whispered, desperately hoping he could hear me over the noise of the platform, "I'll stay in my uniform until the führer releases me."

He looked at me, blinking. "You can sign, Ed. And if you're sure. We'll stop by the dorms first, set you up a place to put your things, then you can report in."

"Thank you, sir." I shouldered my duffel I'd transmuted from my suitcase with my deployment to Olivia, and followed Hughes back to Central HQ.

It was August by that time, and Central was miserably hot. I was melting in that uniform, although I supposed I could've been still in my winter weather gear, which would've been murder. I would've been melting in my own clothes, I realized, so I ignored the uniform. I was used to it by then, anyway.

"So you've been at a firebase, right?" Hughes looked back at me.

"That's right. Firebase Olivia." I didn't give anymore details.

Hughes sighed. "Edward? You're back in the world, you don't have to be so close-mouthed. You never had a shortage of words before."

"My training was classified, sir, I can only report it to Führer Bradley."

Hughes stopped in his tracks. "Ed, listen to me. Your 'training' was a bunch of bupkiss. You weren't supposed to leave Central. Bradley and the whole damn military's been looking for you."

I looked up at him. "Even so, sir, I'd rather only release what the fürher allows me to. My training was authorized by him in the first place."

He stared at me. "My god, Ed, what did they do to you? The old you would've been ranting about being taken away from your research, or something."

I answered him with silence. I didn't want to admit to what had been done to me, not to someone who I knew would go completely postal about it. I felt ashamed of it, like it was some dirty secret to hide. I felt more willing to talk about attempting to bring back Mom, because at least that, I'd had a choice in.

After a minute, Hughes gave up. "All right, Ed. But you can come to me any time you need to. I know how to keep my mouth shut on confidential stuff. I won't even tell Roy if you ask me not to."

"Will I be returning to his command, do you know?" I asked after a long ten minutes that were filled with what felt like an awkward silence, all the way to the dormatories on Central HQ campus.

"He's hoping," Hughes answered, stopping outside a dorm room door. "Right after Bradley releases you, anyway. Here's your dorm, you'll be staying here until you get your new assignment."

I stepped into the dorm. It was much nicer than anything I'd been in since Tucker's, much more spacious and up on repairs. I dropped my bag by the bed and rejoined Hughes in the hall. He put his hand on my shoulder for a moment, causing me to pull my shoulder away. He gave me a worried look, then led me to Bradley's office.

We were admitted, and we both saluted sharply. Even the laid back Hughes knew how to become a soldier when the situation called for it, and talking to the führer himself called for it.

Bradley was facing away from us, looking out his windows. "At ease, you two." I immediately relaxed into proper position, as did Hughes next to me. Bradley turned to us. "You're dismissed, Lieutenant Colonel. I'd like to speak to our young alchemist alone."

My stomach tied up in knots. Despite Hughes's assurances that Bradley had been looking for me, I worried that I was in trouble for shortcutting my training. I didn't want to be in more trouble, especially not when trouble from the führer would lead to a loss of certification, at minimum.

Once Hughes had left, Bradley's stern look eased into a smile. "Welcome back, Edward," he said. "You can relax, you're not in trouble. Actually, someone else is. See, I never authorized for you to be sent anywhere. So I need to ask you some questions."

I relaxed a little bit, but not much. I didn't want to tell him anything that had happened to me, if I could help it, but I was not about to disobey the führer. "Anything that I can answer, sir."

"Where exactly were you transferred, Edward?"

"Acheron Supply Station, just this side of the Drachman border, sir. We serviced several firebases over the border."

Bradley sat down at his desk. "And who authorized this transfer?"

I shifted on my feet a bit. "Brigadier General Grand, sir. He placed me under Lieutenant Colonel Archer's command and transferred us for specialized training."

Bradley folded his hands on the desk in front of him. "That's interesting, because General Grand claims he has no idea where you were or why you disappeared."

That erased the practiced composure I was holding onto as I blinked in confusion. "It was General Grand, sir. He told me himself that he was reassigning me to Lieutenant Colonel Archer."

"I see. And the transfer?"

"Also his order, I would imagine, sir. He told me to pack a bag, I was going with the lieutenant colonel for further training."

Bradley continued to look at me, as if he were seeing something I didn't want him to. "Given your limited vocal abilities, I would normally assume the answer is no, but was this conversation over the telephone?"

I shook my head. "No, sir. I was called into his office."

"Hm. These are very serious allegations, you understand, son," Bradley told me as he sat back in his chair. "If this is true, then General Grand went against my very specific orders and knowingly endangered the life of a valuable State Alchemist by sending him unnecessarily into a very hostile area. This is especially bad since the State Alchemist in question is not supposed to be wearing the uniform, as he never accepted a commission. You may turn that in as soon as we are done here, by the way."

I fought to keep my bland expression, hiding behind the disguise of the perfect soldier to avoid showing how afraid I now was. If for any reason, Bradley thought I was lying about Grand, I was in huge trouble. "I would not lie to my führer, sir."

"I don't doubt that, my boy. However, is there anyone who could verify what you say?"

Verify? I blinked, thinking. "Lieutenant Colonel Archer was in the room with me at the time, sir. He's still in Acheron, though."

"That won't be a problem," Bradley assured me, and I had the awful thought of them transferring Archer back to Central with me. Even if the man had no more command over me, I didn't want to be around him. "Your training, was it dangerous?"

I resisted the urge to shrug. "Yes, sir. I escorted supply runs to firebases, and was deployed to a firebase for my last month and a half there." The danger hadn't been what had gotten to me. Danger to myself didn't bother me. It was being surrounded by deaths I couldn't do anything to prevent, it was deaths I had a hand in causing, it was the rape and the lash and the abuse that had gotten to me.

"Well, rest assured, Fullmetal, that was not my intention when I assigned you to training. You can consider this my formal apology for your troubles."

"Thank you, sir. What are your orders now?" I didn't know what to do with myself without something to do. I desperately hoped I was released from my training and could go back to doing research like I was supposed to.

Bradley smiled. "For now, worry about picking your field of research. Colonel Mustang has requested you be transferred to his command in the east. I am giving it serious consideration. But in the meantime, you are under my command, and mine alone, until this investigation is complete. You are dismissed, Fullmetal."

I saluted, and turned on my heel and left the room. It was only my practice with Archer that kept my hands from shaking as soon as I was away from that room. With nothing else to do, I returned to my dorm.

At first, I wasn't sure what to do. I already knew I wanted to make the Stone my field of research. I wasn't sure where to report that, or where to start researching. Without orders, I felt lost, adrift without a direction.

It took Hughes coming to see me for me to leave my dorm after I'd turned in my uniform and sidearm. I wanted that sidearm back; after so many months of relying on it, I felt weird without it. I didn't think I'd ever need it, but I wanted it available.

"How're you doing, Ed?" Hughes asked me after I'd answered the door.

I looked up at him with that same flat look I'd found myself sporting whenever I was around an officer in uniform. It was the only way I could keep from melting down into a puddle of fear. "I don't know what to do with myself, sir. I have no orders."

Hughes sighed, letting himself in and pulling up a seat. "Ed, you gotta relax a little. I know it's tough, coming back to the world, but you're not in a war zone anymore, and you're not military. You don't need orders. You're a researcher. Why don't you go check out the First Library? Or just take a walk?"

I looked down at my hands. "Can I have my sidearm back?" I asked. "I'd feel safer with it."

Hughes didn't exactly look thrilled with my request. "You know how to use one?"

I scowled. "Of course I do. I was trained properly."

"Yeah, that's what upsets me," he said, then shook his head. "All right, Ed. I'll see if I can't requisition one for you. But only if you promise to get out of this dorm and go do something."

"As soon as I have my weapon, sir."

"And that's another thing. Stop calling me 'sir'. Just Hughes is fine. You're a civilian now, Edward. You have to get used to using our names again." He sat forward. "Tell ya what, you come over to my place for dinner tonight. Elysia and Gracia will be glad to see you. Gracia's been worried about you too, you know. We all have been."

I wasn't sure what to make of being a civvie again. Granted, it hadn't even been a full year that I'd been in the military, but in that short time, pain had conditioned me into a certain way of thinking.

But I accepted his invitation. "Thank you," I said.

That got Hughes to smile. "Come on," he said. "Let's go down to requisitions, get you your sidearm, then we'll stop back at my office, call Gracia and let her know you're coming, then head home. We're having roast tonight, I think."


Dinner was tense, I thought. Nobody knew what they safely could ask me; I was a child who'd just come out of a war zone, what were they going to ask me, how have I been? That would've been a ridiculous question. I was clearly changed, and they thought not for the better, that much was obvious. I wasn't sure what I thought of those changes in me yet. I was still too scared to be any other way. Being a soldier would survive and get Al back, and that's what I'd clung to for several long months.

Eventually, they bid me good night and I started the walk back to my dorm. The warm night air was a welcome relief compared to the bitter cold I'd come accustomed to. I thought I'd never be warm again without looking like some sort of demented abominable snowman, wrapped up in countless layers and hiding behind a face mask and goggles to keep the stinging snow out of my face.

I thought of maybe taking walks more often; certainly, tomorrow I'd investigate the First Library, see if the military had ever pursued the Philosopher's Stone before, and it felt like walking was clearing my head from the fears I'd been keeping locked up tightly for so long.

I had a feeling that was more the novelty of freedom than anything else, and that time would take away this escape, and I wouldn't be able to walk fast enough to leave that all behind.

Behind me, a refrigeration truck roared down the street. I jumped, ducked into a nearby alley and pulled out my newly-acquired sidearm. The truck passed by and I slowly released the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. I felt stupid. It was just a truck. It didn't sound anything like arty or gunfire, but it'd been so out of place in the evening quiet, with distant cars and radios and all the other noises of civilization, that I'd instinctively moved to the defensive.

I wondered if I'd ever stop doing that.

I stepped back out of the alleyway and leaned against the building, not willing to go anywhere until my legs stopped feeling like jelly and my stomach unknotted. Behind me, headlights lit up the alley, and I stepped further to the side to give plenty of clearance to whatever vehicle was coming through.

Only, the lights stayed steady, and no sound of an approaching vehicle reached my ears. Paranoia and adrenaline spiking again, I peeked around the corner; that same truck that had just passed me and rounded the corner was parked there. The driver door was open as well as the back doors. I looked at the two stores on either side of the alley. A tailor's shop and a bookstore. Neither seemed likely to be receiving a shipment from a refrigeration truck at this time of night.

The driver dragged out what looked like a body from the back of the truck and started dragging it into the alley. I dismissed my initial reaction at first, thinking I was just going crazy from my time on the battlefield, until I noticed an arm sticking up oddly from whatever it was.

It was a body.

Going into an unknown situation wasn't fun, but not anything I wasn't used to. I kept my sidearm trained at the ground as I crouch-walked along one side of the alley. I heard whistling from the driver as he fiddled around with the body. He didn't see me at all, not even when I got close enough to see the body.

I guess to be fair, I should admit I was hiding behind a stack of crates, some with what smelled like wet paper.

The body belonged to a woman, long brown hair, somewhere around Mom's age. Her eyes looked like doll eyes, unmoving, staring off at something far away. She'd been carved up, like an animal handled by a butcher, flanks stripped down almost to the bone, her shoulder blades shining red and white in the street light.

My mind went back to Lance and Scott.

My aim became sloppy when I unloaded three shots into the butcher before he knew anyone was even there. One shot hit his left hip, another hit his shoulder, and the third caught his neck, far from the throat, far from a killing shot.

The murderer went down, screaming and yelling in pain.

I decided to not stick around. Someone else had to take care of this before I ended up killing someone again. I wanted to beat the man until there was nothing left of his face. I wanted to turn him into another Tucker.

But I was not about to find out where that trouble would lead me.

I returned to Hughes's house. Investigations would want to take over, and if I went to the police, I'd have to prove my identity and right to have that weapon, and possibly open a pandora's box of red tape that would keep me away from my research even longer. I didn't want to deal with the possibility of being temporarily jailed while the police decided I wasn't the murderer myself.

I knocked on Hughes's door. He answered a minute later, looking a little tired and clutching a mug of what smelled like tea. "Ed? Did you get lost or forget something?"

"I found something," I started carefully. "Is the Investigations Department looking for any murderers?"

That woke Hughes up. He pulled me into the house. "Okay, start explaining."

I told him about the body and the perp I'd shot, and gave him an approximate location. He ran a hand through his hair. "That sounds like the serial killer we've been looking for for months. You find all the luck, kid. You're sure he was alive?"

I nodded. He set his tea aside and hurried off, getting back into his uniform and then stopping at the phone to make some calls.

By the time we got back to where I'd left the butcher and his victim, other military cars were showing up. The butcher was in cuffs, being treated by a medic. Hughes pushed his way through the crowd of enlisted men gathering and setting to work, and crouched by the victim's body. "Definitely the work of our serial killer." He looked at me. "Congratulations, Ed, you just made the streets of Central safer." He looked back at the truck. "We'd wondered how he was getting the bodies through checkpoints. Looks like he had them hiding in his work."

The papers lauded me a hero when the case broke into the media. Central had been terrorized by this guy for months while I was freezing up in the snow, and one lucky night and I'd taken him down for the justice system to take over. Of course, the story in the paper wasn't fully true- it said that I'd gotten into a confrontation with the murderer first, then shot, rather than sneak attacking him. I had a feeling that was Hughes's doing. I guess it looked better that I'd been caught up in a forced confrontation, instead of taking matters into my own hands.

Either way, I was considered a hero, and I just couldn't wrap my head around it.


I spent several more weeks there in Central while Bradley investigated my disappearance, then he finally released me to Mustang's command out east. I was ordered to get a physical first, as part of my release, and the doctor noticed my automail casing getting too tight for my shoulder girdle. "You're growing, boy," he said. "Here's the papers, you stop at your automail surgeon's place and get that fixed before you go anywhere."

So my train took me down to Rizenbul before I went to my post out east.

Winry was glad to see me. I wasn't so glad to see her. I didn't want to face her. I'd never had a problem keeping secrets from her, but she always could tell when I did have secrets, and I didn't want her prying and possibly finding out and becoming tainted with whatever had crept into my soul and taken hold.

Of course, I should amend something. Winry was glad to see me, but not until after she'd properly chastised me for showing up in the first place.

"Ed, you dummy!" she yelled from the front porch, flinging her favorite wrench at me. It used to be, I didn't duck that, taking my lumps from her- friendship with Winry was sometimes dangerous, but not always unwarranted. My battle-trained reflexes, though, wouldn't allow that and I erected a wall that the wrench thunked harmlessly against.

She seemed taken aback by that. "Well, at least you've gotten faster," she said, moving to fetch her wrench. "I told you to have someone call to warn us before you dump your sorry butt on our front step."

I didn't give her any facial reaction. "None of your other customers call ahead," I pointed out.

She stared at my hands. "You found a way around your voice," she finally said after a moment, then smiled. "I'll have to learn that. You can teach me while you recover this time. Oh, your friend's here, Mister McLaughlin. He's done with the surgeries, he's ready to move onto attachment and rehab. Thanks for sending him to us."

I shrugged it off, moving to head inside. She hurried to keep up with me. "Hey, what's wrong? You don't seem yourself."

I mentally put up a wall between her and I, trying to keep her away from what I had already become. That was the damnable part of it all; I was still 'normal' enough to know how utterly fucked up I was. I didn't want her to be hurt by that. Better to lose her love than to ruin her.

I looked back at her, showing utterly nothing on my face. Before I could think of anything to safely say, McLaughlin limped out onto the porch with a crutch. "Eddie, you jackass, you used me to get out of that place," he accused with a grin.

I turned my gaze from Winry to McLaughlin. "I've told you not to call me that."

McLaughlin grinned wider. "Forget it, Eddie, I'm calling you that until the day I die. Don't tell me you came out here to visit me."

"You wish. I have to have my ports expanded."

McLaughlin winced. "Ouch. Sucks to be you, buddy." I stepped up onto the porch, breaking away from Winry, who followed after, looking a little dejected.

"Grandma!" she called into the house. "Ed's here!"

"So I hear, child," Grandma said, coming out into the main room from the kitchen. She looked at me. "You've grown, boy."

I hadn't grown that tall, yet, actually, but I'd put on a lot of muscle up north, and my chest and shoulders had outgrown my casing. Without my turtleneck and coat to hide it, I looked lopsided.

"Can you put a rush on it, Grandma?" I asked hoarsely. "I need to get out to my new command in East City."

"Ed," Winry protested, "you have to give your body time to heal from the expansion. You can't do a rush job on this. This isn't like having your automail repaired, you know."

"We'll see what we can do," Grandma said, pacifying us both for the moment. "Mister McLaughlin, why don't you go back to your exercises while we take a look at Ed? You'll have plenty of time to chat later."

I didn't return the wave he gave me as he hobbled off to obey Grandma Pinako's instructions, just followed her into one of the exam rooms. "Take off your coat and shirt, let's see what we're looking at," she instructed. I stripped down to my pants and took a seat.

Winry stepped up behind me to start examining my port, when she stopped, and ran a hand down my back. I tensed. "Ed? What- ... where did these scars come from?"

I wasn't about to tell her about getting the lash. I wasn't about to tell anyone about that. I shrugged it off. "I did serve on a battlefield," I reminded her, assuming McLaughlin had told her where we met.

"These don't look like bullet wounds, Ed," she said flatly. "What happened?"

I looked back at her. "Nothing of your business," I finally settled on. "Are you going to examine my port or what?"

I can't say I stopped treating her so badly over the years. In fact, my treatment of her became worse and worse. I was afraid of what it would do to her to find out what had been done to me, and I was even more afraid of what I would do to her for her prying if I didn't shut down completely on her. And Winry never did like being left in the dark.

I left it to McLaughlin to teach her field sign if she really wanted to learn, and left as soon as I feasibly could to go to my new command under Mustang out east. I wasn't sure what to expect with him. I remembered him being very different in how he ran things than Archer ever was, which was a welcome relief.

I still decided to be cautious. Once I got off the train, I made my way to East Headquarters, asking the woman at the front desk where Colonel Mustang's office was. With directions firmly in mind, I went about finding the place.

His office had an outer office, as I remembered from his time in Central. His subordinates were busy with work when I stepped in. Lieutenant Hawkeye was nowhere to be found, but I figured either she hadn't gotten transferred with the rest of them, or she was busy doing something else.

Part of me looked forward to seeing her; I remembered how nice she was to Nina and I, although she was terribly inept with handling children. Still, she'd tried, and had included Nina on things despite there being no reason to, and that had made me happy at the time. But I didn't want anyone seeing what had happened to me, so I kept my eagerness carefully contained as I greeted Lieutenant Havoc.

"I'll announce ya," he said, getting up. "The boss has been waiting for you, you know. Your automail's all good to go for awhile?"

I nodded, following him to the door leading to Mustang's private office.

"Good to hear," he said, then knocked. At Mustang's command to enter, Havoc stuck his head in. "Hey, Boss, the kid's here to see you." After a moment, Havoc looked back at me and held open the door. "Here you go. Glad to see you back, Ed."

I stepped into the office and saluted as I'd been trained to do. Mustang may have run a looser ship than Archer had, but I decided to toe the line until I knew exactly what to expect, and even then, I probably would continue toeing that line so I didn't get out of practice in case I was transferred away again.

"Welcome back, Edward," Mustang greeted me once he'd dismissed Havoc. Hawkeye stood next to him, a clipboard in her arm. "You're a sight for sore eyes and worried minds."

I didn't drop the salute. "Reporting for duty, sir," I whispered, willing as much volume as possible into my voice.

Mustang blinked. "Edward, I know you're used to a firebase, but you're back in the world, relax. Drop the salute, and stick to sign. That's why I had the lieutenant teach it to you."

"Yes, sir." I let my arm drop, habitually moving them behind my back in an 'at ease' position, then thought better of it, if I were back to using sign, so dropped them to my sides insead.

Mustang and Hawkeye exchanged a glance. "I don't have any assignments for you right now. I want you to focus on what a State Alchemist is supposed to be worried about; your research. Not military protocol or duties or anything of the sort. You're a civilian advisor again. Welcome back."

I could've died at those words. They made it more real that I was no longer a soldier, that my commanding officer was welcoming me back to the world. I didn't want to lose the habit of living otherwise, but the sheer relief that unknotted muscles I hadn't realized were tense was enormous. I wanted to cry.

Instead, though, I continued behaving 'correctly', and said, "Sir, I'd like to officially declare my area of research."

"Already? I didn't think you'd had enough time to decide that," Mustang commented, kicking his feet up on the desk. "Go ahead."

I actually hesitated a second, staring at his feet. I knew he'd done that on occasion back in Central, but seeing an officer in uniform- my direct commanding officer, at that -with his feet up on his desk made my brain blow like a vacuum tube in a radio.

No, pay attention. Don't show those reactions, just do your damn job. Let Mustang play whatever game he was on. I wasn't going to chance changing my behavior. "I'd like permission to research the Philosopher's Stone," I said, ready to present arguments if he asked why.

He went very quiet, watching me for a long, measured moment. "That seems reasonable. Of course, I would like to be kept appraised of your progress and informed of any breakthroughs. Fair enough?"

Fair? It was more than fair. It was freedom compared to what I was used to, and I wanted to dissolve with relief. I forcibly kept up the mask I wore as I replied, "Yes, sir."

Now that I had official permission for my research, it was only a matter of time before I'd get Al back.


'A matter of time' became entirely relative as the years rolled by. I made several more stops at Rizenbul for surgery as I shot up like a well-watered weed, until I stood about six foot four with nearly two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle and steel. Eventually, my entire right clavicle and scapula had to be replaced with solid steel to hold up to the weight of my automail.

Cornello wasn't the only man I ever killed. He was the only one I'd come across guilty of trying to raise the dead, but I ran into my share of criminals, murderers, rapists, wife-beaters, the like. Happens when you stick to the seedier parts of cities. I should've turned them into the police, but all I was was an eye witness. I had no evidence. So instead, I'd administer my own brand of justice as the rage would well up, leaving me blind to the consequences of killing. Every one of them was another Tucker to me, another Archer.

Without any proof, though, I was left with a reputation that became a very heavy burden as people began to call me the Attack Dog of the Military.

It was late 1915 when I went to Liore and sent back a report to Mustang about the gathered weapons. The military would be interested in putting down an armed uprising and an investigation should be done. There weren't really laws against private citizens owning weapons, but some of those weapons were military grade, not civilian weapons.

With my report on its way to Mustang, I went back to searching for leads on the Stone. I found myself in a small town just south of Liore. Don't remember the name of it, it was something unremarkable. It was raining that day, as the rainy season was starting, and I'd been denied shelter at the local inn. I wasn't surprised; with my coat, everyone knew who I was right away.

So I found an old barn to hole up in until the morning, when my train would come, taking me to some other town.

I was up in the hay loft, curled up on the fresh hay when I heard the door below me open. I wasn't really asleep yet, and that had me fully awake, adrenaline coursing through my veins. I didn't think anyone had seen me come in, and I wasn't spooking the animals, so I hoped it was someone coming in for something else, and not to chase me out. I didn't want to go back out into the rain.

I peeked over the edge of the loft, hearing a little girl crying and a young man, no older than I was, snapping quiet orders. Finally, they moved into my view. The boy was maybe fifteen, wearing a soaked t-shirt and sleep pants, and the girl was eight, maybe nine, wearing an equally soaked nightgown. She was crying, while he had a firm grip on her arm.

"Hush up!" he snapped, pulling her in front of him and moving his hand from her arm to her hair. His other hand went for his pants. "You want me to tell Mom and Dad what you do? They'd disown you, now stop crying!"

"Brother, I want to go back to bed, please don't do this, I don't want to do this!" she sobbed.

I didn't need to see anymore. Another worthless abuser who destroyed everything he touched, needing to be made gone. I jumped down from the loft, letting my automail leg absorb most of the impact and grabbed the boy by the throat before he could get his dick free to shove into his sister's mouth.

He made a noise that sounded like a squawk, hands going for my automail hand around his throat, trying to pry it free. My grip stayed strong though as I squeezed, intent on snapping his worthless damn windpipe.

"Stop it!" the little girl shrieked over the noise of the storm outside. "Stop it, don't hurt my brother!" She started beating her fists against my hip.

I remembered another small child crying for his brother's sake, and let go of the boy. "Don't ever touch her again," I snarled at him, then turned, jumping up and grabbing hold of the hay loft edge. I swung my feet forward, and on the backswing, kicked my feet up against the edge and pulled myself back up into the hay.

I grabbed my suitcase and took off, out the hay loft door, out into the pouring rain. My hiding place had been discovered, there was no point in staying there.

I hadn't gotten more than a hundred yards when I heard a thundering crack behind me, and a sharp pain in my back, by my automail port. I went down with a thump. There were a few more shots that rang out in the night, and then it was silent. I risked pushing myself up, despite the pain, and looking behind me. I couldn't see anyone, but lights in the house were on now. I had to run, or risk getting shot again.

I could feel the blood running down my back, hot under the cold rain. I had a pretty good feeling I'd be fucked. I didn't know of any doctors in town, and it was questionable if any would or could treat me. And the nearest military base with medical facilities was a long train ride away.

I managed to get down to the station before I collapsed. The pain was burning, taking over my awareness, and I was feeling foggy-headed. It was blood loss that was going to get me, I realized.

I spent my last waking moments apologizing profusely to Al for failing him.
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Pandora's Universe: Fullmetal Alchemist AU

May 2017

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