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 15: The Sweetest Price
Author: [personal profile] yuuo
Word Count: 8932
Summary: I left my idea for the next day, dressing in my usual turtleneck and black pants instead of my uniform.




i'd listen to the words he'd say
but in his voice i heard decay
the plastic face forced to portray
all the insides left cold and gray
there is a place that still remains
it eats the fear, it eats the pain
the sweetest price he'll have to pay
the day the whole world went away
-Nine Inch Nails

I left my idea for the next day, dressing in my usual turtleneck and black pants instead of my uniform. I was officially on assignment from the f├╝hrer, so I had a bit more freedom to wear what I wanted. And I needed to be in my usual and highly recognizable clothing to make sure Scar got word of who exactly was doing what I was about to do.

I stopped at headquarters to seek out some information about where the Ishbalan refugee camps had been set up; the city dump, part of the sewer system, and one more just on the outskirts of town.

With a map firmly in hand, and the Stone in my pocket, I headed first to the one on the outskirts of town. There wasn't much to it, just some tents lined along the dirt road, fairly isolated all told. I walked down into the middle of it, receiving strange stares. I debated how to do what I was planning. I couldn't exactly project my voice to get their attention, and I hadn't taken any soldiers with me to talk for me.

Finally, I grabbed a middle-aged man, drawing my gun and sticking it against his side. "Gather the men. Leave the women and children alone. Tell them Fullmetal says to do it, or I destroy this whole place," I snarled at him.

I don't know which scared the poor man more, my gun, or my name. He raised his hands, staring back at me. "F-Fullmetal?"

"You going to do what you're told, or do I have to shoot you and find someone else?"

The man shook his head, visibly trembling, then ran off. While the men gathered, I clapped my hands and transmuted the phoenix array into the ground. I drew my gun again, watching as everyone showed up to watch what I was going to do. Family was very important to Ishbalans, and what you do to one, you do to the others. Which is what I was banking on, was Scar's loyalty to his people.

I straightened from my crouch, motioning one of the men over. "Have them all gather in that array," I said in my cracked whisper of a voice. "Do it, or the children go first."

The man returned my hard stare evenly. "Leave our children be. We'll do whatever you want, Fullmetal, just leave the children be."

"Lucky for you I don't tend to like hurting children, then, huh? Now do as I say."

I put away my weapon once the men had all gathered in the circle. The women watched on worriedly, but I really doubted anyone had any idea what was about to happen.

I circled around the array, making a show of making it look perfect, but mostly I was bracing myself. I was about to start taking my first innocent victims. These people had nothing to do with Dante or the homunculii or even Scar, really. But I was starting to accept that the good of the many outweighed the good of the few.

At least these men wouldn't be around to carry the burden of saving the many at the cost of the few.

Having finally worked up my nerve and taken what was left of Edward Elric and shot him behind the shed, I took out the Stone and put it on the edge of the array, then clapped my hands and activated the transmutation.

Yeah, I know. Go ahead and say it. I've been saying it to myself for years.

My expression twisted slightly as the men disappeared in a red glow and my stomach flopped down into my feet somewhere. I picked up the slightly bigger Stone as the women and children made distressed noises.

"What did you do?" one woman demanded, clutching her children to her legs.

Steeling my gut and screwing my practiced military expression back into place, I walked over to her. "I know your people are hiding Scar somewhere," I said. "You find him and you tell him Fullmetal's waiting for him. And if he decides to not show up, I'll be starting after the children next."

The woman drew back, hiding her children behind her. "You're a monster."

I gave a thoroughly unpleasant smile, then turned away, letting my expression screw up as my breakfast threatened to evacuate. I didn't like doing what I was doing, but nothing would draw Scar out faster, and if I had to kill innocent people, I may as well make use of those lives so they weren't wasted.

I hit up the other two camps in the area, doing the same thing. Scar was around somewhere, and he'd inevitably hear about my activities after basically being off the radar for so long. I was looking for a fight, and I knew he'd be happy to oblige me, especially since I was annihilating his people.

My next order of business was to see if Dante and the others had arrived yet. I doubted it'd be before the next day, and I needed Scar to have time to show up, so I chewed on my liver the rest of the day, restless and unable to eat except through necessity.

Teacher commented on it, but I passed it off as poor sleep. I think she knew I was lying, she knew I was plotting something big, but she let it pass. Mom almost gave me more grief about it, but I went to bed right after dinner that night to demonstrate just how tired I was.

That forestalled arguments.

The next day, late that afternoon, I headed to Bradley's office.

I was admitted quickly, and I stepped in, saluting. Bradley eyed me curiously. "What happened to your uniform, Colonel?"

"I was out yesterday, trying to lure out Scar, sir, and I intend on trying again today. I'm more recognizable like this than in a uniform," I answered.

He laughed. "You certainly are. Any luck? I would assume I would've heard about property damage if he'd shown up."

"He'll come out. I sent out messengers."

"I leave it to you to know what you're doing, Colonel," he said with that frustratingly unreadable smile.

"Thank you, sir. Has our guest arrived?" I gave the room a discreet visual sweep to see if I could locate where that elevator might be hidden. No luck.

"She has," Bradley confirmed. "Would you like to meet with her and the others that arrived with her?"

I debated. On one hand, I should confirm that all of them were there. On the other, I didn't want to be around that woman's slimy presence again. But it'd be best to confirm, rather than leave to chance. "Yes, sir."

Bradley stood up and walked over to the bookcase at the side of his office. I didn't catch what he did, but the bookcase slid back, revealing the elevator I'd been looking for. How I didn't think of the classic 'hiding behind the bookcase' thing, I have no idea. Bradley stepped back. "There you go. Just step on and push the button. Our guest is waiting for you."

I looked at him, feigning more bewilderment than I really felt, then stepped on the elevator. As soon as I hit the button, the wall closed up in front of me and the elevator started to move. The whole shaft was dark, until I passed through the ground and into the underground cavern. My stomach decided it didn't like the speed I was falling at, and I crouched down, focusing on keeping my lunch from trying to make an encore.

The elevator finally stopped with an unexpected lurch that sent me toppling onto my ass. I stood up, my legs shaking a little as I stepped off the elevator and looked around. The hallway around me was well-lit, with electric lights along the ceiling. Dante had done a hellvua lot of work to preserve this place and make it as comfortable as possible for her. Four hundred year old city left to rot, this place should've been a wreck.

I imagined the homunculii over the years had done the vast majority of the work. Of course, who knew, she might have done it with alchemy.

I wandered kind of aimlessly, truth be told, until I heard music coming from somewhere above me. I followed the sound to a staircase, and started to climb.

"Can I eat him?"

The question made my blood turn cold as I paused and turned to see a grotesquely overweight man in a form fitting suit of some sort staring up at me. Behind him was a woman with black hair and violet eyes. Her dress left little to the imagination up top. "No, Gluttony," she said, putting a hand gently on Gluttony's head. "Edward Elric, good to finally meet you. I'm Lust. This is Gluttony. Don't worry, he's harmless once he knows you're on our side."

The hair on my neck stood up. I recognized her. She was the woman that had been where Scar first attacked Riza and I. That alchemical mark on her chest was the same, and a better look at it revealed it to be an Ourorborous, the same as on Envy.

I nodded in greeting, pretending to not realize I knew who she was. "Do you speak sign?"

She raised an eyebrow. "If you just asked if I could read field sign, I'm afraid the answer's no, but I can learn. Lady Dante says you're getting the Stone to turn us human?" I nodded, not bothering to answer with my voice. She smiled. "Good. Then Gluttony and I will help you however we can."

"Just keep Dante and Pride from getting involved," I said. "I don't work and play well with others, and the last thing I need is people mucking up my work."

Lust laughed. "Well, Lady Dante is certainly happy to let you do the work. She's an old woman, she couldn't possibly keep up with you. Pride is content to delegate. Come, I'll show you were Lady Dante and Rose are staying. Envy's with them right now."

I did a mental tally. "That's all of you, isn't it?" I asked as she stepped past me on the stairwell, Gluttony taking up the rear behind me.

"That's correct. Well, there's still Greed, but he's sealed up in somewhere here in town, I believe."

"If I have need of help, I'll ask for you and Gluttony. Envy can stay and protect the women."

Lust laughed again, a pleasant sound. "He'll love you for that. He hates being still. He's been restless ever since we got here."

I frowned. "He can kiss my ass, I want someone protecting them. And Mom said you and Gluttony make a good team. I don't want to break up that team when it can help me more than one person with a chip on his shoulder. Does he even want to be human?"

"No," Lust said. "He's been a homunculus for quite some time and is content to remain so. He doesn't crave his lost humanity."

"What about you?" I glanced at her as she led me down a hall once we reached the top of the stairs.

She stopped, going unnaturally still, as if she suddenly had no more need to breathe. "I have few memories of being human," she said with a voice that sounded like it was coming from another time and place. "What I remember makes little sense to me. I want to be human again so I can be who I was and make sense of everything." She rested a hand on Gluttony's head fondly. "I suspect Gluttony's happier as a homunculus; he can eat what he likes in this form. And your mother?"

I shrugged. "She wants to be human again for Al and I. I want her to be human so we can retire from the military and go home."

"Will there be enough Stone to turn us human and help your brother?" she asked, clearly worried about that.

"Yes. If you wanna stick around, I'm telling Dante what I plan to do, you should be reassured by it." Obviously, I wasn't telling everything, and I wasn't going to, either. That'd be counterproductive to what I wanted to do. I wanted to eliminate the threat Dante and the homunculii posed to the country.

Although Lust was giving me the impression that she wasn't much of a threat if someone just explained to her that there was no way to make her 'human' again. A feeling in my gut told me to take a chance, if I was given the opportunity to take it.

Lust stopped at a set of double doors at the end of the hallway and knocked before opening the door. "Lady Dante? Edward is here," she said, moving to let me in.

Dante straightened in her seat, quietly writing while Rose sat nearby; Rose looked more out of it than she had been the last time I saw her. Envy was sitting on the back of a chair not far from Rose, looking bored out of his skull.

"Come in, child, come in," Dante beckoned, setting aside her pen. "I was so glad to hear you were ready for us."

I stepped in, resisting the urge to piss in Envy's direction with a snarl to freeze a lion's blood. I wanted that man dead so much it ached. Instead, I kept my attention fixed on Dante. "I found the Stone. It's not transmuted yet, but I'm luring the person who has it out now. It won't be long before he shows up."

Dante raised an eyebrow. "It's not transmuted yet, but someone has it? How?"

Lust and Gluttony stepped into the room behind me, Lust taking a seat by Rose, and Gluttony sitting like a dog at her feet. I spared them a glance before continuing. "Scar has it. It's in his arm, and probably has all the lives from the Ishbal war. I harassed some Ishbalan camps yesterday to lure him out. He'll be here any day, and I wanted you guys close for when he showed up. But stay down here, he's dangerous and I don't know how much property damage there'll be before I can take that Stone from him."

Dante frowned. "It sounds exceedingly dangerous, Edward, please be careful. Would you like Pride to dispatch some soldiers with you to help? Or I could send Lust and Gluttony with you."

I shook my head. "No. I can't watch out for other people when I'm fighting, we'll trip over each other. I at least want Envy here and guarding you and Rose."

Envy bristled. "I am not a guard dog," he snapped.

I glared at him. "I don't want you in my way," I snapped back. "Scar's mine. I owe him. There'll be plenty of Stone to go around. I expect that thing to be huge."

"Perfect," Dante said. "We'll wait here then, while you work. Just please, be very careful. We couldn't bear to lose you."

Yeah, I'd just bet. "I should get going, then. I just wanted to make sure everyone was accounted for so we don't have to go chasing anyone down once the Stone's transmuted. I don't have patience for that shit."

Dante chuckled. "Ah, to be that young again. Well, then, go on, Edward, go back to work. We're all here, safe and sound."

I nodded, glanced at Envy one more time, before turning to leave.

Lust offered to lead me out. "You seemed lost when we ran into you."

Perfect, my chance. "Thank you."

Gluttony stayed behind as Lust walked out with me. "Are you sure about this?" she asked. "With respect to your abilities, you're moving very quickly."

I pretended to focus on our surroundings. "If you know anything about the last few years, you know this is normal for me."

She made a noise of agreement. "You're certainly efficient. Pride must love you."

"Wouldn't be surprised." I stopped, waiting a moment while she caught herself and turned to me. "I need someone out of town, trying to herd Scar here, in case he didn't get my messages. Can you and Gluttony do that?"

Lust glanced back down the hall. "Of course. Why are you just now mentioning this?"

"Because I don't want Envy deciding to join you and getting in my way," I said. "I don't want to deal with the bastard."

She looked behind her again. "I can't say that I blame you. He takes a special hand, and Lady Dante is the only one that seems to be able to consistently." She crossed her arms, covering all of her chest but her Ouroborous. "I will do this. Gluttony and I will leave immediately. Just get the Stone."

"I will."

I knew I was taking a huge chance with her, but I was good at sussing out who could be trusted and who couldn't. It was a survival skill that Acheron and Drachma had polished until it shone. But something about Lust made me think of Mom. She was just as much a victim of Dante's lies as Mom had been. I just hoped that she wouldn't try to take revenge on my family. I'd have to warn Mom that Lust and Gluttony were still out there, somewhere.

I worried that the whole lot of them were growing suspicious- Dante didn't get as old as she was by being stupid, I knew that much. But I also knew that she expected Mom to keep me in line. As long as I made noises about wanting Mom to be human, she should think I'm right where she wants me. Making her a Stone for body swap.

Yeah, I know, assumptions. Like I said, extreme paranoia and too much sick logic to ignore. I would've normally preferred something more than a line of reasoning that made a disturbing amount of sense, but I couldn't risk being right and things going pear-shaped.

If Dante, as I suspected, was pushing these wars to create Stones, then the best way to save the country, to make it safe for Al and Mom and the others... I'd have to make some sacrifices.

Lust and I parted ways at the elevator, and I got back in and prayed that Bradley didn't have an unconnected person in his office at the moment. Fortunately, he didn't. The bookcase moved aside, assaulting me with light, revealing the office just as I left it.

"Welcome back. That was fast. Was everything to your satisfaction?" Bradley asked, looking over.

I nodded. "I wanted to be sure everyone was here and safe," I said. "I should go back to work now."

"Good luck, Fullmetal. I do hope Scar shows up soon."

I nodded at him, and left as soon as he dismissed me. I was taking a huge chance that Scar would show up in time, so I sure as hell hoped so too.

***


I made my way to Hughes's office. Now that I'd confirmed that Dante and her people were there in Central, I had to get everyone else out, and pray that Scar showed up before Bradley figured out what was going on. I could spin it, theoretically, but I was really running on hope and a prayer.

"Hey, Ed," Hughes greeted me when I got there. "What happened to your uniform?"

I rolled my eyes. I loved how that was the first thing people noticed. I hadn't been in that uniform long enough to make it a common sight. "I had work outside the office to take care of." I took a seat. "You're going to want to collect your family and anyone precious to you here in Central and get out of town."

That got him to blink stupidly. "Why? What's going on?"

"I opened a can of worms. I sent out a message to Scar to come fight me. And he has the Stone. I can't guarantee safety. With how he is, I can't even guarantee Central will still be here."

Hughes paled. "The Stone can do that?"

I nodded grimly, trying to bullshit my way around here. "Scar's going to be pissed at me, too. So get out of Central. Oh, and would you take the men from my office with you?"

Hughes gave me a calculating look. "What about you?"

"Someone has to try to stop him. If I don't get out, that's fine, as long as the rest of you are safe." I seriously hoped he'd believe that line of bull.

He didn't seem to. "Ed, you should at least keep Roy around to help you. None of us want to see you dead."

I shook my head. "Mustang's away on assignment. And none of you are an alchemist, you can't help me."

Hughes frowned. "Damnit, Ed, let someone help you. I'll stay."

"No, you won't. Listen to me, Hughes. If Scar has his way, Central won't be here. So you worry about getting your wife and little girl and the others to safety. Let me worry about Scar. If Mustang comes back in time, great, if he doesn't, I'll be fine."

Hughes wasn't buying my line of lies. "Forget it, Ed, I'm not leaving you to handle Scar on your own, especially not if he's a threat to the entire city."

"What do you expect you can do?"

That made him falter. "We can organize, deploy people that Roy and I trust." He was really reaching there, I could tell. I had him off-guard.

"How many times has the military tried to do that with Scar? I'm as fast as him, and I have an ace in the hole that he probably doesn't even realize exists. He's going to try to make the Stone, and he's doing it soon. That's going to destroy a large part of the city. We don't have time to mobilize. I want you out."

The look he gave me hovered between that of a military officer demanding information, and a concerned father trying to play the protector against his kid's will. "Ed? What's the Stone have to do with destroying the city?"

I kept my military masks screwed firmly in place and clung to them like a security blanket. "You think there wouldn't be a cost involved?"

I counted down seconds as Hughes kept that steady gaze on me, clearly running over his thoughts, trying to find a way to stop me from going through with taking this kind of threat on by myself. Without being an alchemist, he was probably having trouble.

Finally, he drew himself up, the military officer taking over. I sincerely hoped he wasn't trying to spook me into giving something away. "No, Ed, we will find a way to-"

My lips curled back over my teeth in a snarl as I slammed my hands down on his desk, leaning forward to look him in the eye. If reason wouldn't work, scaring him would have to. "Hughes. Leave. Town. I'm making the Stone. I'm the one destroying Central, and I'm not going to give a shit who's still in town when I do it. So unless you want to make Elysia grow up without her father, I suggest you do what I say."

Hughes stared at me in horror. "Ed- what's the matter with you? Innocent people live here."

I kept a hard look on my face. "It's the only way to save the country from a threat."

"You're a colonel now, you can deploy troops to help you with this threat."

"Who do you think is the threat?"

Hughes paused. "It goes that high?" he asked in a quiet voice. I nodded. He frowned. "There still has to be a better way. Central is full of over two million innocent people."

"I'll have to live with that on my conscience, won't I?"

For a long moment, all Hughes seemed able to do was stare at me, pale and in shock. "What happened to you? My god, those are innocent lives. I thought you only killed criminals."

"I have too many people to protect from the lunatic on the throne," I replied, switching back to sign as I straightened. "Besides, I thought the good of the many outweighed the good of the few. This'll save the entire country, Hughes, possibly more than just ours. One city in exchange for the entire country. I'll take my chances with the city."

Hughes didn't look impressed with my line of reasoning. "And I suppose you're not going to explain how the country's in danger?"

"No time and the wrong ears knocking about in here. My teacher can explain it when she gets back from Rizenbul," I said. "She's watching after someone for me right now. When you come back, call out to the Rockbells and have them send her back. I'll tell her to look for you. I don't expect Mustang to be back yet."

"You're set on doing this, aren't you?" Hughes slumped down in his seat. At my dead stare in return, he sighed. "Fine. I'll get people out. I'm not happy about this, but you're not leaving me any choice, it seems."

I wasn't sure I bought how easy he was giving in on that.

I shook my head. "No, I'm not. Please, Hughes. There are some people who need to be safe."

"And all the rest of the people who live here?" he demanded.

I shrugged. "It don't mean nothing."

He stared at me over his glasses. "The field taught you nothing but bad," he finally said.

"You expected it to teach me anything good?"

Hughes took off his glasses and ran a hand down his face. "No, I suppose not. All right, I'll get people out of town, if only because I can't tell how serious you are about this. Either way, you'd better make it out of this all right. Or there are a lot of people who are going to be upset."

"I'll try. I make no promises. If I do this right, Central just might survive, but I can't chance you guys. I don't have many people I care about, don't make me lose them." Another bald-faced lie, but as long as I was spitting them out already, right?

That seemed to get his attention, and he straightened. "I'll get the men and families out tonight. We'll be safe, I give you my word. How long can we expect before we can come back and start cleaning up?"

"Give me two days. If the city's still here after that time, I'm probably running as fast as I can to hide from the people I'm trying to take down," I answered. "You'll probably want to run at that point, too. We'll meet up and either I'll have fixed this without that kind of trouble, or we'll have to come up with a new plan. And that one will include all of you. I promise."

That was actually the truth. If I couldn't pull off what I wanted, I was gonna need the help to try again.

Hughes gave me an aggravated look. "You, Edward Elric, are a troublemaker."

I couldn't even be assed to flash a toothy grin to go with my lackluster words. "Thank you, I try my best." I wasn't happy with myself, and I knew that I had to move even faster than I'd originally planned. Hughes was going to get everyone out, I knew that, but I also knew he'd try to come back, and probably with Mustang on his heels. I absolutely had to have gotten rid of Dante and the others by then, or two of the only people I cared about would be gone.

I frowned. "I mean it though, Hughes, get out of town. I'll handle Scar."

"I already said I will," he said. "Now go on, I've got work to do if I'm going to evacuate all these people."

I left without a word, hoping and praying that he'd actually listen. He was craftier than anyone gave him credit for. I wasn't sure exactly what he was planning to do, and make no mistake, I was one hundred percent certain that he was going to do something, but it probably involved coming back to the war zone.

As long as it didn't result in the death of any of the few people I could even hope to consider friends, I didn't care what he tried. The place would be gone by then. I hoped they were up for the task of cleaning up after me.

I headed back up to my office. Mom and the others were still working, another half hour before five and quitting time. I turned to the others, whistling once sharply to get their attention. They looked up at me. "Yeah, Boss?" Havoc asked, pen still poised mid-word.

"You guys are officially answering to Lieutenant Colonel Hughes for the next few days. No matter what he says, do it. This is a temporary assignment."

Breda and Havoc exchanged a look, then Breda looked at me suspiciously. "What's going on?"

I wanted to give as few details as possible; I wasn't about to tell them as much as I told Hughes. "Scar's coming, and I'm evacuating as many personnel as possible. Don't argue with me, just do it."

I think both of them knew something else was going on, but they were used to Mustang enough that they knew they'd get told the reasons for an order when they could be told. "Yes, sir. Should we finish our work for today first?" Havoc asked.

I shook my head. "Go down and report immediately."

They set aside their work and headed out of the office, Fuery giving me a puzzled look before following them out.

"Edward?" Mom's voice said from her corner desk. "What's going on?"

I turned to her. "Let's go home. It's time for Teacher and her husband to take you to Rizenbul."

She set down her pen. "Already?"

I nodded. "Come on, we don't have much time."

She reached under her desk and fetched her purse, then got up and followed me out of the office. "Are you sure about this, Edward? I didn't know you were evacuating everyone. What are you doing?"

I slowed down so she could walk next to me. "Something you're going to scold me for later, but I'm not asking for permission, or even forgiveness. Just do what I say, and you'll be safe."

Mom looked around cautiously, then stopped me by hugging me. "Come back safely, Edward. That's all I ask."

I returned the hug. "I'll do my best, Mom," I promised, then broke away. "Just so you know, Lust and Gluttony are out of town, hunting down Scar. If they don't try to find you, don't worry about them. It means I've found them." Lies, I wasn't going to be looking for them, but I didn't want Mom, or anyone else, borrowing unneeded trouble by looking for a couple of rogue homunculii.

"I thought you weren't going to bother with them."

"Something tells me I should," I said. "Just leave them be, they'll be fine on their own."

She didn't argue, and I worried what that might mean. But since I had no inclination to start anything, I kept quiet. The trip back to her house was silent, my heart taking a swim in my stomach while I went over everything I had to do before Scar showed up. I think I'd covered everything. These goodbyes were the last ones, and I didn't like it.

"Missus Curtis?" Mom called upon opening the door into the house.

Teacher came out of the kitchen wearing Mom's apron and smelling of food. "You're home early," she noted.

"Edward insisted," Mom explained. "After dinner, we're leaving immediately for the train station. Edward says it's time to go."

Teacher looked at me, and I nodded. "Very well. After dinner," she said. "Come in, we've started cooking already. We thought we'd give you a night off, Juliet."

Mom smiled. "Thank you, it smells wonderful."

Dinner was quiet. Mom was solemn, occasionally stealing worried glances at me, and I refused to show any emotion, simply eating as if nothing was wrong. Teacher probably saw through that, but she kept her mouth shut, and her husband was never exactly talkative.

After dinner, Teacher and her husband repacked their bags while Mom packed a little for herself. I waited by the door for them. Teacher's husband stepped out to the cab Mom had called for, putting bags in the trunk. Teacher put a hand on my shoulder. "Be careful, Ed. Good luck."

Someone else that I had a feeling would try to come back to help. I really needed to move quickly. I knew Teacher held a sense of duty to me, and to Al, and I'd made it clear that the most important thing in this upcoming fight was that my mother absolutely had to be safe. Teacher would take her away from Central, but she probably would double back at the first layover on her own and let her husband take Mom on to Rizenbul.

The sense of urgency I was feeling was mounting and making me jittery enough that I'd probably stay up all night, pacing.

I nodded and gave her a small smile. "Don't worry, I've always pulled myself out of trouble."

She smiled. "That, I'll believe. Call us when it's safe to come back." Then she stepped outside to get into the cab.

Mom stepped over to me and threw her arms around my neck, clinging tightly. "Please stay safe, Edward. Don't make me lose both of you."

I held her for the last time, savoring the smell of her perfume and the warmth of her hug, fighting desperately to keep my emotional masks in place. "You won't, Mom, promise." She was getting Al back, that was technically not losing us both. I hated myself for lying to her.

She let go, giving me a wet-eyed smile, then hurried out the door. I shut the door, refusing to watch them go, afraid I'd try to stop them to take me with them, unwilling to lose the mother I'd lost so much to get back. But Al needed me, and more than that, I needed to stop Dante and Bradley's threat to the country so it was safe for my mother and brother. And there was no coming back from sacrificing an entire city. Even if I survived, which I wasn't sure I would, I couldn't stay and bring down trouble on them. So I planned to leave. Didn't know where I'd go, but there was somewhere out there for a criminal like me.

Mom's house was on the western side of Central, beyond the borders of the underground city, so when Central collapsed, as I assumed it would- that powerful of a transmutation would inevitably crumble the rock holding Central up overhead- the house should be safe. Relatively. I could leave my suitcase there and retrieve it safely after the dust cleared enough to get Al out and in a safe place.

I wasn't worried about my clothes; like I've said before, clothes can be transmuted. But that picture was my last piece of Al I'd ever have once this was over. Now I wished I'd grabbed the one of Mom and Al and I together instead of the one Winry gave me. I hadn't known Mom was alive.

I went to bed immediately after Mom left. I had a long day tomorrow, and I needed my sleep if I was going to keep with a man who'd proven he could dodge bullets, the asshole.

My field training let me sleep instead of pacing all night.

***


I was out and about early the next morning, prowling the streets for Scar. I hadn't thought how to do it, short of going to the Ishbalan camps again and demanding to know where he was, see if I couldn't get anything out of them. I didn't really want to, there were nothing but women and children left, but I wasn't left with a lot of choice. I had to find him and quickly, before Dante caught on to what I was doing. I'd pushed things a little fast, hoping if I moved fast enough, Dante wouldn't have time to catch on.

But my timetable really depended on Scar, who was an irritating bastard in general, and I wouldn't put it past him to be fashionably late just to piss me off.

I went back to the Ishbalan camp in the junkyard, that being the closest to the underground city. There were men there again, as if another group had joined up with them. That brightened my spirits considerably. It was possible Scar came in with the group and was now suitably pissed.

I crested a hill of junk, then pulled out my gun and fired it into the air.

Don't do that, by the way. Bullets that go up come back down eventually. I don't know where that one landed, but it wasn't on my head, at least.

The crack of thunder the shot caused stopped the activity in the camp and people looked up at me, many beginning to look fearful at my all-too famous coat. One of the children ran into a tent, yelling something indistinct while I holstered my weapon.

Before I even had a chance to go down and start making demands, Scar stepped out of the tent the child had gone into. "Fullmetal Alchemist." My name was wrapped in hate, dripping in his tone. "Have you come back for more?"

I reached into my pocket and held my Stone up where he could see. His eyes widened, then narrowed again as he started after me.

Yup, he knew what that was. I wasn't sure how, but it didn't surprise me. And I'd been banking on it, so lucky for me that someone explained those arrays to him. Either that, or my travels had become more talked about than I thought. It was never a secret I was looking for the Stone, all he would've had to do to recognize what I held was know the Stone was red.

Good for me that he did.

I don't know if there was any hesitation in his mind as he charged up the hill at me when I didn't do more than dodge the fissure in the ground he created beside me, but there sure as shit wasn't any in his body language.

He went at me like a savage. His arm crackled and alchemical energy sparked in the air as he reached for me, swinging wide at my side. I didn't do anything but dodge. I didn't run away, barely left more than a ten foot by ten foot square area. He brought his left fist around at my jaw, a shot I only narrowly avoided, his weapon arm moving for my side even as I dropped down out of the way of the first hand.

I slammed the Stone against the ground and used it as a pivot to bring both legs around at Scar's knees. He jumped over my legs, and I was already back on my feet by the time he was bringing that right hand of his around to try to grab the Stone.

That was a mistake.

His arm glowed red and he fell back a step, like he'd taken a hard kick to the face. I decided to help that along by giving him an actual kick to the face, hopping up and smacking both feet soundly into his face, before spring-boarding off him and sailing back several feet.

Scar gripped his right arm just above the elbow. The Stone was practically humming in my hand. "What is this?" he demanded. His actual knowledge of alchemy was pretty poor. He must've been running that Stone by instnict all those years.

I tossed the Stone up in my hand once, then gripped it tightly. "Interested in taking down the military?"

In all the history of the world, I'm not sure there was ever a man as confused as Scar was at that moment. His body language remained wary, ready to fight, but the way his eyebrows curled up into a facial question mark actually made my grin that I was giving him genuine, instead of a show to get him to play along.

"I'm taking down Central Headquarters. Keep up."

Sure that Scar was going to follow, I pocketed my Stone and took off.

I got goddamn lucky that he had shown up with that group, or Dante and Bradley would've brought down the wrath of the military on me and my family and friends. I don't know where we could've gone to escape them.

I didn't have time to think on that anymore. If Scar's god existed, he'd smiled on me, and that was all that mattered.

I kept checking behind me to make sure he was following, which he was, and gaining ground on me. Shit. I stopped and shot at him, hoping to hit him enough to slow him down. I couldn't afford to engage him until I'd lured him down into the city.

My first three shots missed, but my fourth hit him in the left shoulder. Wouldn't slow his legs, but the blood loss might do it. I took off again, trying to make up for the ground he'd covered while I was shooting at him.

He was falling for my trap, obviously willing to follow me even though it was so clearly a trap, but he also obviously wasn't going to let me do it easily. I had a feeling it had to do with the Ishbalans from the other day.

The ground ripped up under my feet- a sweet love note from the serial killer behind me -sending me flying. I compensated, twisting my body to catch myself with my hands and handspring away. Then the bastard tried to drop a building on me. I countered the transmutation, turning the huge chunks of cement into a spray of dust and pebbles as I copied Scar's technique and deconstructed the rock.

Scar lunged for me in the time I took to save my ass. I ducked his right arm, dropping down onto one hand and using momentum to swing my legs up, my automail foot kicking him hard in his injured shoulder.

He staggered back and I flipped back onto my feet, taking off at a run again, wondering how long before Scar got tired of my games and tried to corner me and make me let him in on things.

It was tempting, actually.

Patience was one of his virtues, clearly, as he followed me when I ducked into the church and started down the stairs. I quickly changed the composition of the rock overhead to something he wouldn't be able to analyze quick enough to destroy it and block me in.

Every few steps, I changed the composition, thwarting any attempts at causing a cave in he might try, which turned out to be a good idea, when I glanced back to see how far behind me he was. He was damn close, only slowed down by the unfamiliar stairs that crumbled under his feet as he ran after me.

I wasn't that familiar with those steps either, so they were crumbling under me, too. Several times I nearly went down.

When I reached the landing overlooking the city, I clapped my hands, touching the last of the walls before I jumped. Alchemical energy sparked and sent out a ramp from the landing that curled down towards the city. I landed on the ramp and slid, glancing back as the back end of my ramp started to disappear under Scar's destructive alchemy. I jumped the last ten feet into the city, stopping to catch my breath as Scar made his way down the rest of the stairs that I'd skipped.

It bought me a few seconds. A few ticks of the watch in my pocket. Enough to gather my energy I'd need for the transmutation, but not enough time to second guess myself, to think too hard on what I was about to do.

A city for a country. Ugly, but someone had to do it. And I'd been formed into the perfect person to pull that trigger.

Maybe Scar's god wasn't smiling on me. If he existed, he was laughing at me.

I ran to meet Scar, trying to keep him near the wall and the edge of the phoenix array. He swung his arm at me, trying to grab whatever of me he could get his hand on. I grabbed his wrist with my automail hand, relying on the superior strength of Winry's machine to hold it still while I snapped up my other hand, smacking Scar in the nose soundly. I was hoping to shove bones around in his head, but all I did was break a few.

He jerked his head back, bringing his non-destructive-but-still-dangerous fist into my gut. I staggered back, letting go of his destructive wrist. He lunged for me again, and I ducked down, clapping my hands and transmuting my blade from my automail arm as his hand sailed over my head. I jabbed my arm forward, blade piercing his midsection. He coughed up blood as I shoved him back against the wall again.

Scar moved his arm despite his injury, grabbing my automail arm. The alchemical energy crackled and my forearm exploded, chunks of metal and wires scattering everywhere. 'Pain' doesn't begin to describe how that felt, electrical shocks traveling straight up into my nerves. I wanted to scream. I tried.

The force of the explosion knocked me back a few steps, and I pushed through the pain to grab the Stone out of my pocket. I had no more chances, I couldn't fight him with a mostly missing arm. I grabbed the Stone I had and threw it at Scar's tattooed arm.

I wasn't sure what exactly would happen, so I stared a bit as his arm began to absorb the Stone. Scar leaned back against the wall, right in the groove of the array, yelling in pain. I clapped my flesh hand to the stump of my automail hand and stepped forward, grabbing Scar's glowing arm and pressing to the array.

The arrays in the city and on the ceiling lit up like fireworks, the ground above us shaking. Scar disappeared into the array as I kept my hand on the edge, trying to make sure I wasn't caught up in the reaction.

The Stone that dropped at my feet when the light went dim again was about the size of a watermelon. The ground above me began to crumble, Central above collapsing inward from the energy that just ripped through it. I clapped my hand to my stump again and touched the Stone, summoning the Gate just as Central fell in on me.

I don't remember much of what happened in the Gate. I remember a burning in my ports, and in my throat, and seeing Al, so close. I remember falling to my knees beside him and holding him tightly, then I remember coughing as dust became thick around me.

I blinked, staring around as I realized I was on top of some of Central's ruins, sunlight clouded by dust. As I coughed, I realized I had my voice back, the volume much too loud for any noise I'd made before. My left leg tingled with nerve response it hadn't had in years and my right hand was flesh as I wiped my eyes.

Laying in front of me, not three feet away, was the thin and ragged form of my brother. "Al!" I crawled forward, checking him over frantically. No injuries, and he was breathing, he just wasn't conscious. Next to him was what remained of the Stone, a faceted jewel about the size of a honeydew melon.

I pulled Al onto my lap, holding him tightly like he was the most precious thing in the world. He was, to me, and at that very moment, the only one that mattered. Any joy I felt at getting my limbs and voice back was far eclipsed by the joy knowing Al was back and going to be okay.

"Edward!"

I looked up, blinking at the sound of Mustang's voice. I shouldn't have been surprised that he'd doubled back on me. I wasn't sure how he survived the transmutation.

Never mind that, I needed someone to take Al to one of the hospitals that should still be left on the outer edges of Central. "Here!" I called to him, for once able to answer him with my own voice.

After what felt like hours, but was probably only a minute, Mustang appeared over the rubble. "Edward! God almighty, what happened here? Are you okay?" He carefully picked his way over the broken streets to where I was. "What- ... who's that?"

I stood up, cradling my brother against my chest. "My brother," I answered. "I"m fine, but I can't stay. Please, take him to a hospital."

Mustang was kind enough to not argue with having a small boy's body shoved into his arms, and took my brother from me. "Edward, what happened here?"

I looked down at the ground. "I sacrificed the city. There were threats in the military and this was the only way to ensure they all got eliminated." I bent down and picked up the Stone, holding it tightly against my chest. It was too big for a pocket. "Please, take care of him. My mother's in Rizenbul right now, please watch after her, too. And tell them I'm dead. I'm leaving. I can't bring this trouble down on their heads."

Mustang frowned, adjusting my brother in his grip as the ground below us shifted slightly. "I won't tell them you're dead, Edward," he said, and I could hear the old lieutenant colonel I'd called for help that night at the Tucker home. He hadn't arrived in time to stop me, but this time, he was there for the person I had killed for. "You fought to get them back, why the hell would you leave now?"

I stared at him, probably looking more like a lost little kid than the hardened soldier he was used to. The idea of leaving before seeing that smile I'd missed so much, of never taking another aimless walk with Al, of never tasting Mom's home cooking, it tore at me. But I didn't see any other way- couldn't see any other way. I had destroyed Central. If they didn't have me associated to them too much, they could go home to Rizenbul and live peacefully. If I stuck around, they'd be forever trapped under Fullmetal's shadow.

"If you want to help me at all, you'll do this," I said quietly, then ran off before he could protest, leaving him with Al to take care of to keep him too busy to chase after me until I was long gone.

I stopped back at the house; I'd been wrong about it being too far from the underground city to be affected more than a little rattling, but it was sorta still standing. Mom would have to find a new place to live if she moved back to Central. Another thing she'd just have to forgive me for.

I grabbed my suitcase, pausing once at the door, hearing my mother's voice one last time in my memory before I headed out.
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Pandora's Universe: Fullmetal Alchemist AU

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