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 8: The Truth That You've Buried
Author: [personal profile] yuuo
Word Count: 7507
Summary: I got goddamn lucky.

i'm searching for answers
not questioned before
the curse of awareness
there's no peace of mind
as your true colours show
a dangerous sign
-Within Temptation

I got goddamn lucky. I woke up in a small clinic that seemed to double as someone's home. I was laying on my stomach, looking out into the room when I reluctantly cracked open my eyes. The unfamiliar surroundings put me on my guard and I tried to sit up.

Ha. Fuck that.

With a muted groan, I flopped back down.

I heard a sigh from somewhere out in the room. "Why do the young always try to move before they're healed?"

I twisted my head around to finally spot the doctor, a middle-aged man with black hair that was graying at the temples. He was watching me with weary amusement, although I picked up a bit of wariness in that expression that I figured had to do with him knowing exactly who his patient was.

"We're stupid that way," I carefully signed one-handed, then let my arm dangle over the bed.

"Field sign. There's something I haven't seen in a very long time," he said with a sigh. "I can't say that I missed it. Well. I suppose I have to ask. What's the Fullmetal Alchemist doing in my town?"

"Just passing through, doc," I said, then tried again to sit up. The pain wasn't too bad, more of a dull ache that had simply caught me by surprise the first time I tried. "I'll be out of your hair as soon as you release me."

The doctor looked genuinely surprised. "You mean, you're not here to arrest me?"

I sat up, swinging my legs over the edge of the bed and leveled a sharp look at the doctor. "Why would I be here to arrest you?" I demanded. "What're you doing that I should arrest you for?"

The doctor looked at me, obviously hovering indecisively between confession and dismissal. "Who's your commanding officer?" he finally asked.

I didn't appreciate my question getting answered with a question, but I humored him. "Colonel Roy Mustang, Flame Alchemist," I answered. "Why?"

The man let out a sigh of relief. "So the military hasn't sent its attack dog after me. Did you come here looking for the Stone, then?"

I looked around for my gun. It was with my coat and shirt, still in its holster, on the other side of the room. I'd have to go for alchemy, then. I stood, transmuting a blade from my automail with a clap of my hands. The doctor's eyes widened at the transmutation, then further as I walked over to him and held my blade at his throat. "Tell you what," I whispered, "you start answering my questions, and I won't do a damn thing to harm you."

The man looked up at me, fearful. "I saved your life," he reminded me with a tremor in his voice.

I hesitated. I wasn't one to ignore equivalent exchange like that. He saved my life, I should spare his and not say a word to the military. Not that it'd do me much good, I didn't even know his name. But if he was a criminal, I couldn't ignore that. "We'll see if that was a good idea or not," I told him. "Start by telling me why the military gives a fuck about you, old man. I don't like leaving criminals running around to hurt people."

"Hurt people?" The man shook his head. "I help people. I go by Doctor Mauro, but my real name is Tim Marcoh. I'm not a criminal, I'm merely a deserter. And judging by the scars on your back, you would understand why I would leave."

I tensed. It was ridiculous that he wouldn't have seen them, treating my back for a shotgun wound, but I didn't appreciate the reminder. "Yeah, you oughta have them, too, if you're a deserter."

Marcoh looked at me sadly. "Equivalent Exchange? How old are you? Sixteen? You're not old enough to remember what happened to Ishbal, or know the truth, are you?"

"No, but I'm old enough to remember Drachma," I hissed. "And it's the same damn thing."

Marcoh shook his head. "Maybe it is brutal up there, but Ishbal was a massacre, not a war. The Ishbalans could barely fight back once we brought in the State Alchemists. It was a slaughter. My work was used to slaughter thousands of innocents."

I lowered my blade, watching him. The regret in his eyes was real, and I could sympathize- 'alchemist, be thou for the people.' That was supposed to be our creed. Finally, I transmuted away the blade. "Keep talking," I said, sitting down across from him.

"My area of research was alchemical amplifiers, such as the Stone," he said. "Which is why I'm surprised that it's a coincidence that you of all people came to my town. I developed a working prototype in the Fifth Lab in Central. When the State Alchemists were deployed to Ishbal, I was ordered out of the lab and to bring my research with me to the front lines. The combat alchemists were given small samples to wear as jewelry, and... well, after that, there was no more Isbhal. Everything was wiped out almost overnight. My prototypes worked too well, in my opinion."

I wasn't sure which had my attention more- the confession of a massacre that had been lied about back here at home, or the working prototype. Well, for a second, anyway, then the working prototype firmly overrode my sense of horror at the wholesale slaughter. "You made the Stone?"

Marcoh frowned. "A prototype. A true Stone would be many times more powerful, and much more costly. In all your research, have you discovered what the main ingredient is, Fullmetal?"

Main ingredient? "I haven't found a damn thing about how it's made," I snapped, a bit peevish at my own failure. "Just a lot of dead ends."

The doctor looked down, folding his hands in front of him and resting his elbows on his knees. "That's because the Stone is made from living humans," he said quietly. "We sacrificed prisoners and deserters to create those prototypes."

I stared at him, letting that sink in. It was one thing to maybe sacrifice criminals who hurt other people; they couldn't hurt anyone else if they were stopped like that, and maybe could be put to good use rather than just taking up space in the prison system, but deserters? They weren't criminals, they were just people desperately afraid of something. And I had a sinking feeling that it required a hefty price of people to make these prototypes. I couldn't imagine how many criminals I'd have to hunt down, adding to my reputation, to make a full Stone. Or how long that would take.

"My research sickened me," Marcoh continued. "But their use sickened me more. So I hid my research with the instructions for making more, and took the last of the prototypes and ran. Your commanding officer is the one that let me go. He's the only one who knows where I am." He got a wry smile on his face as he looked up at me. "Well, and now you."

For a long moment, I was quiet, looking at him. Finally, I lifted my hands to sign, ignoring the pain in my back. "What do you mean? I didn't meet any Doctor Marcoh, I met Doctor Mauro, who saved my stupid ass."

Marcoh visibly relaxed. "Thank you, Fullmetal." He looked like he was considering something. "Why are you after the Stone, if I may ask?"

I hesitated. Equivalent exchange demanded at least a partial confession, and if I wanted his research, I had a chance if he knew it was for Al and not for the military. "My family," I finally answered a bit evasively. "Something happened, and the Stone can pay the price to undo it. I can't get more specific."

A smile crossed Marcoh's lips. "That's a much better reason than I had, or that I figured you'd have. I can't give you my prototypes. I use those in my practice and without them, I could not help the people here, or have helped you. But I can tell you where I hid my research. Maybe you can make use of it." He paused. "How did a boy your age get the reputation you have?"

I shrugged. "People don't believe I only go after criminals," I said simply. That was truth enough, and while I typically didn't try to argue my defense, I didn't make a secret of it, either.

Marcoh blinked. "Then what were you doing harassing the Hawkins boy?"

My eyes narrowed. "He was trying to shove his dick in his sister's mouth. I don't like people who hurt little kids like that."

That took Marcoh aback, and he blinked rapidfire at me. "He was doing that to little Sofie?" He shook his head. "And we all thought he was such a good boy. I'll talk to Sofie, see if I can't convince her to tell her parents."

"Good luck with that. The abused rarely rat out their abusers." I would know. All these years and I still hadn't told Mustang what had happened to me or who had done it.

Marcoh raised an eyebrow. "You know from experience?"

I felt a tremor in my upper lip as it curled back into a snarl. "That's none of your business, old man."

Marcoh held up his hands. "I won't pry, as you said, it's not my business. But you might consider telling your commanding officer. He's a good man." I didn't say anything, staring at him unblinkingly. Finally, he sighed. "All right, all right, subject dropped."

"Where'd you hide your research?" I asked, changing the subject.

Marcoh blinked, looking at me blankly for a moment. "Oh yes. I hid it in the First Branch Central Library. Right under their noses." He gave me a bland smile. "The one place they wouldn't think to look."

"Sneaky old bastard," I said. "You said you worked at the Fifth Lab? Isn't that shut down now?"

"Officially, it was shut down when I worked there," he answered, sitting back. "Boarded up and condemned. All the work there was highly questionable, and carefully concealed."

I thought about that. "Do you think there might still be some samples of what you made there?"

That seemed to catch Marcoh off-guard, and he made a show of thinking about that. "Possibly," he said. "There was quite a bit of unused research in the main room I worked in. I don't know if Grand or anyone else has used it since or not. I haven't heard anything, and it would probably wait to come out until another war started up."

My lip curled back in another snarl. "Grand doesn't have anything to do with that research anymore, or Central at all," I told him. "He pissed off the f├╝hrer and lost his watch and his rank. He's serving up at Fort Briggs under General Armstrong now, and I'm sure he just hates it."

"Do tell." Marcoh raised an eyebrow. "What did he do? He was one of the favorites when I served under him."

"He transferred someone off the books that he was supposed to keep close to him." I didn't feel like giving him the full story.

Marcoh seemed pretty shrewd for an old guy, if the knowing look he gave me was anything to go by. "Well, we'll leave it then. You lay back down, you're not done healing yet. My research isn't going anywhere while you finishing healing here."

My back was hurting enough that I agreed with his assessment, and went back to the bed to lay down on my stomach, turning my head to watch the room. He gave me some medicine, and pretty soon, I was asleep.


I was there only a few days before Marcoh let me go. I don't know how long had passed between getting shot and waking up, but I figured it couldn't be long. That prototype he'd used had worked a miracle. I should've been dead.

My first stop was Central. I needed to get to that research.

I admit, I ignored an order. I stopped at a military outpost on my way to Central to grab some proper rest in a dorm, and as I usually did, I checked in with Mustang. He'd required I update him regularly, and I'd never failed to obey that order. I viewed it as my exchange for the freedom I had.

"Colonel Mustang speaking," Mustang's voice came over the phone.

"Colonel, it's Fullmetal," I answered, straining my voice.

I could hear him sigh on the other end. "Edward, what have I told you about getting someone else to make the call for you? You'll hurt your throat."

"Sir, my work is classified, that'd be a security breach," I reminded him for the thousandth time. "I have a lead in Central. You should have my report on Liore."

"Yes, about that." I heard papers shuffling in the background. "Besides the fact that your handwriting looks like you wrote it with the pen in your mouth, I need to speak to you about Liore. I want you on the next train back to East Headquarters. Your lead in Central can wait."

I went very quiet for a moment. "Sir, everything I know is in that report already."

"Yes, but I wish to speak to you in my office. Return on the next train east."

Something about his terse tone told me I was in trouble. I mumbled an obsequious "yes sir," and hung up. I could've imagined it, I thought. Maybe that tone didn't mean that, and he was simply stressed with all the other paperwork that crossed his desk that I didn't envy him for.

But right then, I couldn't afford to let Marcoh's research get found and taken out of my reach. Grand couldn't do anything about it anymore, but someone else might. I needed that formula desperately. I also needed to investigate the Fifth Lab, see if any of his research might still be there. I didn't want to follow the formula, but maybe I could find a way around that that Marcoh hadn't. And even if I couldn't, if he had leftover research materials in the lab, I could avoid having to use lives that were still living.

I decided it was too important. I would have to take a chance and go to Central and get that research, then run back to East City. I could investigate the lab afterwards, it wasn't going anywhere, but even if it did, I'd be screwed without the original formula.

I hurried out to the train station, bought my ticket, and sat guiltily at the platform, my stomach tying into tiny little knots. I'd never disobeyed an order from Mustang; Archer's training had scared me out of the idea of disobedience ever again. I didn't know what kind of punishment to expect from him, if any.

With those thoughts racing through my head, I boarded the train and headed for Central.

It was about five thirty in the morning when the train pulled into Central. I snapped awake from a light sleep as the train lurched into the station, sat up and stretched. Light sleeps, I didn't mind. I didn't dream during them. Of course, they're not really refreshing when you're bone tired because you've been running yourself too hard.

Either way, I didn't have time to stop and rest, I had to get Marcoh's research and get out. The library wouldn't be open yet, so I made my way to a small cafe that serviced early morning risers- business and military alike. I ordered a coffee and sat in a back corner, watching the clock and the door about equally. I didn't like being surprised by people coming in, so I always put my back to a wall and my face to the door.

It wasn't long before my quiet corner was eclipsed by a large shadow. I glanced out the window, noticed a figure in military sweats jogging by, and dismissed it.

Until the shadow came back.

He was a tall man, insanely so, with muscle mass that put me to shame. He peered down at me with bright blue eyes, mouthed my name behind a prominant mustache, then proceeded towards the entrance. I sank in my seat.

Now, don't get me wrong, even I can't hate Major Armstrong. He's too much of a giant teddy bear. But he's huggy, and entirely too jovial for my tolerance. I debated trying to escape, but he was a fast bastard, already inside and making his way towards me.

I sighed. "Hello, Major," I greeted as he sat himself across from me, blocking my view of the door, which made me nervous.

"Edward Elric!" he cried in too loud of a voice for five thirty in the morning. "It's been awhile since you've been to Central," he noted.

"Just picking something up from the library," I said evasively. I wasn't going to reveal Marcoh's secret and get him and myself into trouble.

"I can accompany you!" he suggested enthusiastically.

I shook my head. "My research is classified, Major, you know that."

He looked crestfallen, then perked up. "Do you have plans to stop and see the lieutenant colonel?" he asked.

Again, I shook my head. "I don't have time," I signed. "I'm just here for a book, then I have to go back east."

He gave me a shrewd look. "Were you ordered back east, Edward Elric?"

I shrugged him off, not liking how astute he was. "I won't take long here," I signed one-handedly, taking a sip of my coffee.

"Then I will accompany you to the lieutenant colonel's office," he declared, despite my earlier statement that I didn't have time. "He'll want to see you, he's at his office now, working on the Liore case you sent to him."

I blinked. "I sent that to Mustang," I said.

"Yes, and Colonel Mustang had to submit it to Investigations in Central due to the possibility of a rebellion," he explained. "It's now in Lieutenant Colonel Hughes's hands, and he's been at the office early every day the past few days to deal with it. It's turned into quite a mess."

"What kind of mess?" I asked, wondering what exactly had happened. When I left, Cornello was dead, so the whole thing should've fallen apart.

"The military was dispatched to investigate," Armstrong explained. "The people were armed and reacted. There's two factions of citizens. One that turned against the priest at the words of some girl that was declared clinically insane by our doctors, and the ones in the cathedral, who were loyal to Cornello. The faction that believed the girl sided with the military when the military promised to keep her safe."

"Where is she now?" I asked, with a sinking feeling that I not only knew where, but who that girl was.

"She's being kept in an asylum here in Central," he said. "She was completely insane, talking about an angel that came to save her from God's snake. No one could decipher what she meant."

I sighed. I decided not to tell Armstrong what I knew about Rose. He was a good man, almost too good to know such things. I couldn't stomach the idea of the face he'd make when he found out, like I was corrupting his innocent world view. That was one thing I was careful about; I never let them see anything that would make them anything like me, that would wipe my taint off on them.

Hughes, though, he'd seen enough to be able to handle it. I didn't want to see Rose in an asylum, I didn't like what I heard about patient treatment in those places. I was no psychiatrist, but even I knew some of their techniques were barbaric. So, despite my better judgment, I'd go talk to Hughes and try to get Rose out of that place.

I grabbed my suitcase. "I'll let you get back to your run," I squeaked out. "I have to go see the lieutenant colonel."

"I shall escort you!" he said, standing up. "The lieutenant colonel's nerves are a bit frayed, I don't think he'd appreciate your silent and stealthy approach to entering the office."

I gave him a flat look, then motioned for him to lead on with surrender. He stuck by me the whole way to Hughes's office, as I knew he would. Armstrong was one of those men, when he said he was going to do something, he stuck by it, come hell or high water. See why I can't hate him? God help me, I tried. Just to keep everyone distant, I tried to hate them all. Never worked out the way I wanted it to.

"Lieutenant Colonel?" Armstrong called into the office once we'd gotten there.

I heard a wordless noise from inside that sounded like Hughes trying to sleep noisily on his work, then he finally spoke. "Alex, is that you? Send rope, I'm buried in paperwork."

We stepped into the office, me hiding a childish snicker behind my perpetual wall. Armstrong- whose first name I'd never known before- saluted. "I'm afraid I'm all out of rope, sir, but I brought an excellent alchemist to transmute you some."

Hughes lifted his head, a sheet of paper stuck to his forehead, and peered out from under the paper at me. "Well. You're someone I didn't expect to see here," he said, grabbing the sheet of paper off his face.

I shifted uncomfortably. "Just here for something in the First Library, sir." Despite his insistings otherwise, I stalwartly refused to call him by his name, addressing him properly as an officer of higher rank than I. I refused to get out of that habit, should anything ever happen to me again. I spent my life in perpetual readiness to be abandoned, locked away somewhere in the military where nobody friendly would ever find me again.

"I'm never going to break you of that habit, am I?" he said, as he said every time I saw him. He was met with the usual silent stare. "Well, anyway, what're you two here for?"

"I simply am escorting him, sir," Armstrong said. "I assumed your nerves would appreciate a warning that he was coming, rather than his usual stealth."

Hughes glanced at me, then smiled at Armstrong. "Thank you, Major. If that's all, you're free to return to your run."

Armstrong saluted. "Yes sir! Thank you!" He looked at me. "Take care of yourself, Edward Elric." With that, he left, leaving me alone with Hughes.

Hughes sat back, shoving a stack of paperwork to the side so he could see me. "So, what do I owe the pleasure of this visit to?"

I set my suitcase down on the floor beside me so I could sign properly. "The girl who led the second faction in Liore, was her name Rose Thomas?"

Hughes blinked, then sat up and looked through some of the paperwork on his desk. "Uh... yes, it was. You knew her?"

"Briefly. She escorted me to the church and secured lodging for me. She was sexually abused by Cornello and who knows how many of the other priests. For quite some time, if I had to guess by her behavior. She wanted me to kill him with her gun."

"But you had other ideas," he said, pulling out another sheet of paper. "Specifically, hacking off his arm and leg and sticking him in a statue." He gave me a flat look. I kept my poker face on, revealing nothing in reply to that. I didn't have to justify myself to him, and the man I did have to report to would understand. He was there. He knew. He may not like it, but at least I wouldn't have to explain myself.

After a moment, he sighed. "All right, I won't push the issue. That's Roy's headache. But what're you asking about Miss Thomas for?"

"She needs to be gotten out of that asylum," I said. "Those places are barbaric and they won't help her. She's an abuse victim, we should be helping her, not institutionalizing her."

Hughes stared at me over his glasses. "And where do you propose we send her, Edward? She's not well, she can't function in the outside world anymore."

"Given a chance, she could," I argued. "Send her to Rizenbul, I'll send a note ahead to Grandma and Winry, they'll take care of her. She doesn't need to be electrocuted or tied up in a white coat or fed medicines that as soon will kill her than help her."

"You seem to care an awful lot, Edward," Hughes said, sitting back and pushing his glasses up his nose a little.

I shrugged. "I just don't think we should condemn an abuse victim to those places." Not that I wasn't scared at how easily that could've been me, if I hadn't changed in an 'acceptable' way. 'Acceptable' being used loosely, as I was pretty sure my family and commanding officer weren't too amused by the changes.

"All right, Ed, I'll see what I can do. But no promises." Hughes sat back again. "So what're you in town for?"

"As I said before, just something in the First Library, sir. I have orders to head east after this." I prayed he wouldn't follow up on that statement. He and Mustang were close and I knew there was practically nothing I could safely say to Hughes that wouldn't get back to Mustang and vice versa.

Hughes looked at me. "Yeah, I know about those orders. Roy called me, telling me to keep my eye out for you, in case you decided to stop here before going there. I seem to recall him saying that you were supposed to go there first, then come here."

I stayed ramrod straight, hiding behind my military training to keep from showing the fear I felt. "It was an important matter, sir."

"Hmm, so I see. Have a seat, Edward."

I stiffly sat down in one of the chairs across from his desk, staring straight ahead blankly as he picked up the phone. It took all of my military training to keep my face straight as he asked to be put through to Mustang's office.

I was in trouble. That horrible 't' word echoed through my head as he waited for the other end to pick up. I'd taken a chance and then done something stupid. For a stupid girl I barely knew. If I hadn't gone to Hughes to get Rose out of that institution, I'd be in the clear and only have to figure out an explanation for my tardiness out east.

"Yeah, Roy? Guess who just dropped himself on my doorstep?" Hughes sat back, kicking his feet up on the desk in a distinctly Mustang-ish manner. "Mm-hmm. He says he's looking for something in the Library. Just stopped by to try to get that Miss Thomas out of the asylum and out east in Rizenbul. I know, what a philanthropist. So what should I do with him, Roy?" After a pause, he said, "you sure about that? All right, will do. See you when you get here."

That ugly t word echoed louder and a distant part of me wanted to cry. All I'd done was try to help one stupid girl and found myself in so much trouble that my commanding officer was coming out here to personally get me. I felt nauseous.

Hughes hung up the phone. "Okay, Edward. You're to stay with my family until Roy gets out here to pick you up. You'd better make sure you get whatever it is you came for out of that library."

"Yes, sir," I signed, not trusting my voice, even if it could muster volume without cracking painfully.

"Relax," Hughes said. "You're not in as much trouble as you think. Roy sounded more exasperated than angry. Mostly surprised, you've never failed to obey an order before. Why the change now?"

"Sir, it has to do with my work and my work is classified."

"And yet, it's no secret. We all know you're after the Philosopher's Stone. What we don't know is why."

And it was going to stay that way. I made up a lie quickly. "I saw Tucker had been researching the Stone and Grand was interested in it," I said. "I became curious. I didn't think the military chased after fairy tales, so I decided to see what there was to it."

"Better reason than Roy had for his research. He just likes fire." Hughes grinned.

I blinked. "Sir?"

"You heard me," he laughed. "Roy's a firebug. Has been as long as I've known him. Got him into plenty of trouble back at Academy."

I could easily imagine my commanding officer in trouble. For many things, namely his complete lack of regard for military regulation. Hughes wasn't much better. I sometimes wondered how those two kept their jobs.

That didn't mean I knew how to safely react. I stared blankly at Hughes, uncertain what to say to that. He watched me for a moment, then sighed. "Nevermind," he said. "Go on, go get whatever it is you need from the library, then head to my place. I'll warn Gracia you're coming. No stalling or goofing around, Edward. To the library and then right home."

Then he did something that I was surprised he hadn't done sooner. He leaned forward in his seat, hands folded in front of him. Everything about him was all wrong, nothing like Archer, but I still knew 'higher ranked officer upset with you' when I saw it. "Edward, I've let Roy take care of your leash, and I've helped him minimize the public attention to your crimes. But I swear to all that's holy that if you endanger my family, you'll find yourself in trouble that Roy can't get you out of."

I had to grip the edging of my coat in tight fists to keep from shaking. That was a promise, not a threat, and I knew the strength of the bonds of a family. Even so much as hinting at trouble for Gracia and Elysia, and I had no doubt that Hughes would find a way to kill me. I'd probably let him.

I floundered for a response that would satisfy him without getting myself into more trouble than I already would be if I screwed up somehow. "I don't hurt friends."

The dark clouds of impending danger scattered under a strong wind of confusion. "I didn't think you considered any of us friends."

"You've helped me. Does that count?"

No, that wasn't a dodge. I honestly couldn't consider them friends the way I was sure Hughes was defining it. They were my friends the way Farrand, McLaughlin, and O'Riley had been. I knew I could count on them, and I'd offer the same in exchange.

Hughes still had a note of bewilderment in his expression, but it was softer, with a bit of exasperation mixed in. "Good enough, I guess." Then he shooed me to the door. "Go on, library, straight home. I gotta call Gracia."

I saluted. "Yes, sir."

"And stop that."

I saluted again, then headed out. I had hoped, that since I was stuck in Central until Mustang got there, that I'd have time to go to the Fifth Lab and investigate, but obviously, I was on house arrest, so there went that idea. Maybe I'd get a chance to sneak away, but I was loathe to take it. I was already in enough trouble that Mustang was personally coming to Central to drag my sorry ass back east. I couldn't imagine the trouble I'd be in if I broke this house arrest I was under.

The library wasn't quite open yet, so I parked my butt on the steps and waited. It was another hour before anyone showed up, and by then, I was getting sleepy, despite having pulled out my travelogue to work on notes.

The woman that showed up was average height and build, with somewhat wild brown hair and big glasses that hid half her face.

"Are you waiting for the library?" she asked nervously, watching me.

I put away my travelogue and nodded, grabbing my suitcase and waiting somewhat impatiently for her to open the door. She adjusted her glasses, then went up to the door and unlocked it, holding it open for me. "You're Fullmetal, aren't you?" she asked as she followed me inside.

I wondered what gave it away. The recognizable coat, or the fact that I hadn't spoken. Either way, it was kind of obvious, so I simply nodded once, then wandered off to find my research journal.

I realized, very quickly, that I'd be looking forever in that library, if Marcoh had hidden it here. It could be anywhere, and probably in the 'wrong' spot for its author, title, and content. So I made my way back to the front desk and approached the young lady that had opened the library.

"Can I help you?" she asked, precariously balancing a stack of books.

"I'm looking for a research journal by Doctor Tim Marcoh," I whispered. "Have you seen it?"

She set the stack aside and adjusted her glasses. "I'm sorry, by who?"

"Doctor Tim Marcoh," I repeated, then pulled out a note and scribbled down the name for her.

She eyed the note for a moment, muttering the name over and over. "Ah, yes, I did see it. One Thousand Meals for Daily Living by Doctor Tim Marcoh. It should be in the back, second floor, on the third shelf. Do you need help finding it?"

I shook my head and headed for the stairs to the second floor, then to the back. I eyed the shelves. Even with her instructions, it looked like it'd take awhile of searching.

Actually, I ended up getting lucky. I found it in a back corner, wedged in between a copy of Ruther's Advanced Physics, seventh edition and an old copy of the Twelve Gates. Two books that never get used anymore hiding an invaluable book.

I grabbed the journal and took off, tucking it in my suitcase so nobody would know I was taking it.

"Did you find it?" the girl at the front desk called to me as I headed for the door.

I turned and nodded. "Didn't have what I wanted though," I called back as loud as I could, then continued on through the doors. It wasn't technically okay to leave with library property, but this wasn't technically library property anyway, so I wasn't technically stealing. The original author had given it to me. I liked how it worked out.

I ran the whole way back to Hughes's place, already coming up with excuses for why I was so late getting there. Mostly, I practiced telling Missus Gracia that the book was hard to find in my head.

Turned out I didn't have to. She smiled when she answered the door. "Come in, Edward. Maes warned me you'd be coming. Did you find what you were looking for?"

I nodded. "It was hard to find," I panted out as I tried to catch my breath. It's a rather long run from the library to Hughes's place.

"Well, I'm glad you found it. Come in, come in. Elysia's home from school, she'll love to see you." She stepped aside, holding the door for me.

I stepped in, and was immediately assaulted by Elysia. "Ed!" she yelled happily. I picked her up and got out of the front entrance. She squirmed in my grip as I walked to their dining room with Gracia following up behind me.

I set my suitcase down on the ground beside a seat, then turned my attention to Elysia. "Have you been behaving?" I whispered.

"Put me down, you can sign!" she said, squirming out of my arms. I set her down, relieved to not have to keep physical contact, then took a seat. She proudly lifted her hands and began signing. "I've been good in school, so Papa bought me a teddy bear! I can show you!"

Her clumsy hands were a little hard to read, but I understood well enough. "Why don't you go get it and show me?"

Elysia ran from the room, heading back for her bedroom, and I glanced at Gracia. "Her father spoils her," I said.

She laughed. "He does, but not so much that he's above disciplining her when she's misbehaving, which is all a child really needs. She's a good girl, why not reward her?"

"Where'd she learn sign?" I asked, pulling my suitcase up onto the table and carefully extracting the research journal from it.

"She learned from her father specifically so she could talk to you when you came over," Gracia said, taking a seat across from me. "I tried to learn, but I don't have a head for languages aside from my own, I'm afraid. I know a few basics, though."

I set my suitcase back down, locked up again, and gave her a grateful look. "Thank you for the effort."

She grinned. "See, 'thank you' I recognized. Didn't catch the rest of that, though." I repeated myself, speaking out loud this time, 'loud' being relative. She waved it off. "It's the least we could do for you, Edward. Now, if we could just get you to stop calling my husband 'sir', we'd be good."

I gave her a blank stare, only to have the moment rescued by Elysia dragging an enormous white bear behind her. "See? This is the teddy bear!"

I stared at that bear. It was at least as big as Elysia. Good god, Hughes, what the fuck. Even now, I still think that. Hughes, if this ever gets back to you... what the fuck is wrong with you?

Elysia hugged that bear like she might die if she ever let go. "Papa got it for me!" she declared happily. "I was a good girl at school."

I leaned forward, a little more on level with the little girl. "I'm sure you were. What grade are you in?"

"Kindergarten!" she announced proudly. "I'm head of my class."

"That smart, huh?" I said a little distractedly as I turned to my book.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her nod. "Mama says I got my brains from Papa."

I glanced at her. "Your papa is a smart guy, so I'm not surprised."

She lifted her head, trying to see over my shoulder. "Whatcha reading?"

"A research journal," I told her.

She set the bear down and half crawled onto my lap uninvited and looked at the cover. "It's a cook book. Ed, why are you reading a cook book? That's something Mama would read. Or one of those books with the smushy stuff on the cover."

I glanced at Gracia, who flushed a bit. "She's talking about my romance books," she said. "Elysia, I think Ed has work to do, why don't we let him work?"

Elysia looked back at me with a frown. "All right," she said, squirming off my lap and grabbing her bear. "Mama, I'm going to go play tea party with Mister Bear, okay?"

"Okay, sweetie," Gracia said, watching as Elyisa dragged her enormous bear back to her room. Then she looked at me. "Don't worry, even if you didn't act too much like an adult for someone your age, I wouldn't make you play with a little girl. I know how teenage boys are with their dignity."

I snorted. "Less dignity, more lack of knowing what to do with her. Winry was a tomboy, not a girly girl. Except the time she dressed up Al in her best dress."

Gracia laughed. "I'm sure you never let him forget that, either."

One corner of my lips quirked up, mostly to hide how much both corners wanted to go down. "You know it."

"Have you eaten yet today?" I shook my head. She stood. "I'll go make you something for lunch. You enjoy your cook book," she said with a wink and a laugh, then disappeared into the kitchen.

I stared down at the book, telling myself that it was the key to getting Al back, even if I doubted Winry'd ever dress him up again, I could still give him crap about that one time again. Just like a big brother should be doing, not... this.

I opened the book and started reading.


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Pandora's Universe: Fullmetal Alchemist AU

May 2017

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