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 2: One Thing Only Excepted
Author: [personal profile] yuuo
Word Count: 6473
Summary: Have I scared you off yet? Let's go back to the beginning.




Epimetheus had in his house a jar, in which were kept
certain noxious articles for which, in fitting man for
his new abode, he had no occasion.

Pandora was seized with an eager curiosity to know what
this jar contained; and one day she slipped off the cover
and looked in. Forthwith there escaped a multitude of
plagues for hapless man,- such as gout, rheumatism, and
colic for his body, and envy, spite, and revenge for his
mind,- and scattered themselves far and wide.

Pandora hastened to replace the lid! but, alas! the whole
contents of the jar had escaped, one thing only excepted,
which lay at the bottom, and that was hope.

Have I scared you off yet? Let's go back to the beginning. I probably should've started there, but I've never been good at storytelling. My name is Edward Elric. Most people know that by now. I've gained a bit of a reputation that's sometimes burdensome, but it's what I have.

I grew up in a tiny town called Rizenbul, just to the south of East City. Most people farmed or raised sheep there, and I lived peacefully with my younger brother, Al, and my mother. My father had left us when we were young, and I didn't much remember him.

My brother and I started practicing alchemy when we were still five. It impressed Mom and made her smile, so we continued. Not a lot happens in a small town, so our alchemy studies dominated our time, and life continued on peacefully for a few years.

Then Mom fell sick and died. It left my brother and I devastated. So we tracked down an alchemy teacher, left town, relearned alchemy from the ground up, then came home and attempted something that we never should've done.

We tried to resurrect our mother.

I still curse the day that stupid idea presented itself to my mind. I was the one who came up with it, and I dragged Al along with me, despite a few protests from him that we shouldn't do it, but we both wanted to see Mom's smile again so badly, we ignored it.

Did you know there's a god of alchemy? Or something like it, anyway. It took my brother, and it took my leg. I offered my arm as payment for Al's soul, and failed miserably with that. I lost my voice for the extra time I stole from the damn thing.

I don't remember much about that night after that thing took my voice. I seem to remember a stranger coming in and taking me away. I remember Grandma Pinako and Winry's voices. I remember being in pain. I remember crying out for Al, but no sound came out of my mouth.

Then I remember nothing.

I woke up to a world I was certain I didn't like.

I watched out the window as Winry drained the tube in my throat, cleaning up mucus and watered down blood and god only knew what else from the skin around the tube and from the inside, which jarred my breathing. I felt like I was drowning, trying to breathe through that thing, no air passing through my nose or mouth but my lungs got plenty of oxygen regardless. I could hear the hollow sound of air being sucked through the narrow, plastic tube.

"Try not to play with it too much, all right, Ed?" Winry looked exhausted and strung-out as she talked to me; I looked at her out of the corner of my eye, trying not to watch her actions. There was something off and irreparably broken in her eyes as she focused on her work, something dull and lifeless that looked somehow more depressing than the expression she'd worn when she'd found out that her parents had been killed.

There was a stranger in the room, a dark-haired soldier that watched the two of us silently, and damned if I could tell what might be going through his head, or even who the hell he was, just by looking at his face. The man was a brick wall.

And in this strange, new, alternate reality that I had woken up into, Al was nowhere to be found.

I knew damn good and well I would not like the world my home had become.

When Winry withdrew her hands, I tried to reach for her, choked back a sob of frustration at the lack of response from my right side, and grabbed her arm with my left instead. She froze, looking back at me, then gave me a smile that made me wonder if it'd taken all her strength to give me even that much.

It was fake. I hadn't even asked it, and she was already lying to me.

"What is it?"

My voice didn't work- of course it didn't, the breathing tube in my throat bypassed my vocal cords completely, so nothing came out but that awful sound of air rushing through a fucking straw. It didn't matter how many times I tried to say my brother's name, to ask where he was, ask if he was okay- maybe he was just in the other room, maybe he was still passed out, maybe, maybe, maybe.

Not fucking likely.

Winry seemed to know what I was saying, at least- whether this was because she just knew me that well, or because it was really hard to mistake the lip movements involved in saying Al's name for much else, I couldn't tell, didn't know, and didn't care.

All I knew was that I didn't like the silence I got in response. I hated it. Hated the broken, lying smile and the shake of her head that could mean any-fucking-thing and the goddamn silence.

If I had to be stuck with that silence, I would go crazy.

I wanted to tighten my grip, not let her go until she gave me a straight answer, one way or another, but I still felt weak, almost helplessly so, as much as the frustration from it twisted up my guts. She pulled out of reach, and looked at the soldier. "I'm going to get some sleep, Lieutenant Colonel. Thank you again for helping us."

At least the soldier now had a rank I could think of him as. I wondered what the hell a lieutenant colonel was doing in the Rockbell home, helping them as if he were in their employ or something. Did he have a friend who was here, getting automail surgery?

The lieutenant colonel nodded, and Winry all but fled from the room. The clock on the nightstand ticked the seconds away, the only real sound in the room. Distantly, I heard Den barking out in the yard, probably digging up who knew what out of the soft ground. She always did after a good storm.

Absently, I reached up and played with the edge of the tube, flicking it, rather dully fascinated by the sensations of it lightly tugging at my skin around where the incision was.

"I believe Miss Rockbell said not to play with it."

I wasn't sure who'd spoken at first- I'd filtered the unknown officer out of my thoughts and had concentrated on focusing on anything but the changes around me.

I thought I recognized the soldier's voice. A brief flash of a barely-conscious memory, a scream, that rasping, that burning pain, and I could still hear that staticky hiss and that laughing in my head, and those goddamn words- 'One minute.'

I decided I wasn't going to pay any attention to what the man said. He was a stranger, he didn't know what had happened, and I didn't listen to strangers much anyway. Although it bothered me that I couldn't quite place how I knew the man's voice, or why it was tangled up with my father's lab, and the transmutation, and that... thing that had taken-

"Edward?"

I nearly squeezed the end of the tube in frustration, but my lungs quickly informed me that that was a Very Bad Idea. Instead, I cast a glare in the man's direction, then went back to looking out into the blinding, hateful sunlight streaming in through the window at my side.

My voice failed me again when I tried to tell the man to shut up, to go away as footsteps approached my bed. A hand grabbed mine and gently pulled it away from the tube. "Edward? That will not help anything heal. You'd best listen to your friend."

The bitch of it was, I wasn't even strong enough to yank my hand away properly. I settled on fixing the man with a poisonous stare. 'Who are you?' I tried to ask, as if the man could somehow read lips or thoughts.

I was just as glad the man couldn't do the latter.

The lieutenant colonel pulled a chair up next to the bed, releasing my hand as he did so. "My name is Lieutenant Colonel Roy Mustang." After digging into his pocket, he produced a small, silver pocket watch. My eyes widened.

A state alchemist.

What the fucking hell was a state alchemist doing there in Rizenbul? They couldn't know, there was no way anyone knew what Al and I were planning on doing. We both knew it was a crime on top of being an unforgivable sin, and neither of us had cared. I suddenly cared a bit. After everything, the last thing I wanted now was to go to prison. I doubted I'd be allowed to just curl up in a bed and wait for my body to die in prison.

"I found you in your home after I went to investigate the light of an alchemical reaction going out of control," Mustang explained, and I felt my heart stop in my chest. So I was in trouble. I braced myself to hear 'you're under arrest for human transmutation.' Mustang continued. "I will tell you the same thing I told your friend, Miss Rockbell. I did not find anyone else in that house when I found you."

No Al. Not even that horribly mutated attempt at bringing our mother back. Nothing to make the loss of Al worth it. Fuck it, they could throw me in prison for all I cared. I didn't want to live in this new world. Maybe prison would come with a death sentence, too.

"I did find something that looked like it had passed for human, at one time." So that horrible-looking thing was there. Well, at least my pain-fogged mind hadn't hallucinated that. "It was gone when I went back to look for the other boy your friend mentioned. I suspect its chemical composition wasn't terribly stable."

So much for that. It was nothing but a wasted effort. A waste of a year of study, of hopes and fears and dreams, a waste of a life, of Al's life. I didn't bother biting back the tears that were stinging at my eyes. Al was gone, what did I care about dignity or pride? That had only gotten Al killed anyway.

"I suppose it would be pointless to ask what happened?"

For a moment, I blinked, my vision clearing from it, and stared at Mustang, then gave him a truly sour glare. Like I could talk with a fucking tube in my throat.

Either Mustang was a mind reader, or it was just an obvious thing I was trying to say with that look alone, because Mustang shook his head. "I can ask yes or no questions."

I didn't feel like answering any kind of questions, actually. I went back to looking out the window.

"Do you remember what happened?" Clearly, Mustang wasn't terribly deterred by the fact that I obviously didn't want to even pretend to talk to him. A point that was further proven when, after receiving no answer, Mustang repeated his question. I didn't give him the satisfaction of an answer.

Truth was, I wasn't sure of the answer anyway. I remembered starting the transmutation, remembered the glow from the energy turning an ugly, violent shade of violet, remembered Al screaming my name, and then... that thing. The Gate. Truth. There was a better word for it, one that was well beyond my ability to articulate, and all my mind could do when I brought it to mind was sketch arcane arrays through my thoughts that I wasn't even sure I'd be able to interpret if I wrote them down.

The rest was a pain-hazy blur. Just the words- 'One minute.' One awful minute, and then 'Time's up.'

And then my world fell apart.

I wasn't about to discuss any of that with this stranger who had... had brought me back from the dead, saved my life, and forced me to live in this hell they called a world without Al. Without my brother, my light and my heartbeat.

I had no intention of talking to the man at all.

"Edward?" Mustang, however, had no intention of not talking to me. Goddamnit. "Was that transmutation you and your brother performed human transmutation?"

Oh right. Like I would ever admit that to a military officer.

Several seconds ticked by as Mustang waited, giving me a chance to answer; I could feel his gaze on me the entire time. Finally, Mustang spoke up again. "I spoke at length with Missus Rockbell. She was only slightly less reluctant than you to explain anything. Don't worry, I'm under a vow of discretion, with the penalty of the creative unpleasantries a woman with tools can inflict if I break that vow."

That almost made me smile, actually. Good to see at least something hadn't changed. Pinako was still a foul-mouthed, scary little woman.

"I did manage to convince her to tell me a few interesting things while she had needles jammed in my arm, though."

I gave him a questioning look finally, raising an eyebrow and looking at Mustang's arm pointedly. Mustang, it seemed, was a smart man, and caught on to my meaning fairly quickly. "No, no injuries. I was just the donor."

So the man had saved my life. I hated him already.

"The first thing she was willing to tell me was that you are the one that wrote this letter, aren't you?" With that, he pulled an envelope out of his inner coat pocket and held it out for my inspection. My own sloppy handwriting stared back at me, addressed to another officer. One of the letters I'd written, looking for my father so the old bastard could come back and take care of our mother before she died.

Bastard never did come back.

I finally volunteered an answer, nodding mutely in response. Yes, I wrote that letter. There really was no denying it anyway; I was the one that had signed it, and the chickenscratch handwriting of a ten-year-old was hard to disguise.

Mustang put the letter away. "The military had been looking for your father. We'd been hoping to gain his assistance in the war. His alchemy would have been invaluable. Of course, that's a moot point now." Mustang's voice seemed to trail off a moment, then he looked at me, head tilted to one side in consideration. "Your mother is no longer with us, is she?"

Again, I reluctantly answered with a shake of my head. Another fact I couldn't exactly deny- there was a tombstone in the graveyard marked with my mother's name, after all.

"You tried to bring her back, didn't you?"

Suddenly, I didn't feel like giving any more answers.

For some reason, that bastard kept right on talking. "I wouldn't blame either of you, of course. It's hard being an orphan in this life." Like he would know anything about it. "I also don't have any intention of telling anyone about this."

Wait, wait, what?

The man was a lunatic. Who wouldn't turn in someone who had committed such a grievous sin? Who would agree to keep silent for a brother's murderer? The man was crazy.

Or had an agenda. If I had enough give-a-damn in me, I would've been fixing Mustang with a suspicious look. As it was, I settled for an apathetic one. Agendas were easier to further when the subject of the agenda didn't feel like curling up in a corner and dying from the pain in his chest where his brother's heart used to be.

Mustang's next words furthered my growing suspicion that this man must have been a mind reader, somehow. "I have ulterior motives, of course, before you wonder." Oh, good to know. Or have it confirmed, anyway. "Even with a terrible price paid, the fact remains that you have survived human transmutation. Perhaps barely, and perhaps not in one piece, but you are a child who performed human transmutation, and successful or otherwise, you are still alive to tell about it. I don't assume you will, of course, but the point remains."

I would bet Mustang thought he was so damn clever.

"If I had to guess based on that fact alone, I'd say you're a better alchemist than your father," Mustang continued. At one time, I would've crowed triumphantly at hearing that. Now, I really couldn't be assed to give a damn. If I was such a damn good alchemist, why couldn't I have saved Al? Wasn't an arm and a voice enough payment for one small boy?

The world could go hang itself, I decided.

"We could use talent like yours." Finally, I decided to give Mustang an answer, turning his head to give him a tired look and shaking my head. No, I didn't want any part of anything. Especially not the military. Mustang wasn't put off by my answer. "It'd be a shame to let talent such as yours waste away in obscurity, Edward. And besides, perhaps the knowledge to be had in the State Alchemist libraries might help you put your life back on track and find whatever you're looking for that would set things right for you."

He probably shouldn't have said that. A glimmer of an idea began to form in my mind, another one of those dangerous ideas that would end up shaping my entire life, much the way my decision to bring Mom back had.

That information in those libraries just might get Al back.

Of course, it might not, too, and who knew what condition I would be left in after a second failed attempt. Hope battled fiercely with the grief inside me as I listened as Mustang continued. "You could come to Central once you've found your legs. Look for Lieutenant Colonel Roy Mustang. Of course," Mustang smirked, "we'll have to arrange for special permissions for someone your age to take the certification test, so you'd best come prepared to make a spectacular entrance."

Somewhere past the conflicting emotions as I slipped back into reality out of the state of shock I'd been left in, some small part of me wanted to laugh. Anybody that knew me knew better than to challenge either of the Elric brothers to make a 'spectacular entrance'.

A State Alchemist. Our teacher had always warned against the job, against the military in general, and it'd go against all her teachings and my own better judgment to go that route. I tapped the side of my head tiredly, hoping Mustang would get what I was trying to say.

"I wouldn't expect such a decision without taking time to think about it," Mustang replied, obviously understanding. "If you could make a decision that big in an instant, I'd accuse you of either being crazy, or being officer material."

I had a feeling I'd missed a joke.

Mustang patted the back of my hand, getting to his feet. "Rest now, Edward. You've a lot of thinking ahead of you to do."

***


I spent the next several days going over the offer in my head, even after Mustang had left. My failed attempt to bring back my mother had extinguished most hope for pulling off the impossible in alchemy, and after sacrificing an arm and a voice with no results, I wasn't sure what the hell kind of information I could gather from the libraries and research the State had that could possibly help me. Even with all those resources, getting Al back from that thing seemed pretty hopeless.

But another part of me said I had to try. I owed Al every bit of me it took to get him back, I knew that. Ultimately, I knew my duty to my brother would win out and I'd ask Grandma Pinako and Winry for automail limbs to replace my missing ones and I'd make my way to Central. I had to work out the worst of my grief before I could function enough to do that, though.

Winry did her best during those first few days to try to bring me back to the world of the living and away from what had happened at that house. She practically sparkled for how vivacious she was being, laughing more than she probably needed to, desperately holding onto the only one of us she had left. We'd grown up as siblings with her, so she'd lost family that night, too. I sometimes forget that, even now.

She'd helped me into a wheelchair and wheeled me out onto the front porch the day I made my decision to go to Central. I hadn't wanted to leave the bed, still grieving for my losses, but she'd insisted, had practically dragged me out of bed and into that chair. I had regained enough of my strength that I probably could've fought her, but I didn't bother. I decided to humor her for awhile.

"Isn't this nicer?" she asked, settling on the railing. "The storm's passed, so the air smells nice out here. You need the stink blown off you anyway."

I gave her a cross look for that, then returned to my decision making, idly looking off in the direction of my home.

Winry forced a smile into place. "We'll get you automail as soon as you're done growing- and don't worry, you will grow. I know we've teased you a lot, but you know, that's why we don't do automail surgery on boys before sixteen or seventeen at the earliest. It's just because you haven't had a chance to hit your growth spurt yet, that's all. But once you do, we'll get you back on your feet and terrorizing the neighborhood again, I promise."

That got my attention again and I gave her a long-suffering look. 'Terrorizing the neighborhood'? I wasn't that bad either. She was just as much of a terror around there as Al and I had been, I didn't want to hear that from her.

She laughed, a nice sort of sound, then gave me a studied look when I tapped the tracheotomy tube in my throat. After a second, she seemed to get what I was saying. "Oh, Grandma says we can take that out sometime before the week's up." That made me feel better, until I realized that 'sometime before the week's up' could be anywhere from today to three days from now. I rested my chin on my fist in a look of profound suffering.

She hooked her feet around the support beams on the railing. "We'll have to come up with some other way for you to communicate," she finally said after a moment. "Unfortunately, you've lost almost all use of your voice." I looked up at her quickly. I remembered the Gate taking something from me in my throat for the extra time I stole in there, but I guess it hadn't hit home that this may be a permanent thing.

Winry looked down at the ground. "You remember that year you had a throat infection over your birthday? Your voice was kinda airy and weak, and whispering took effort? That's what you're looking at once we take that tube out. Half your vocal folds are gone, Ed, you don't have the control over volume or breathing you used to."

Well, fuck. That was going to make things difficult. There was no automail for that. I hoped this wouldn't interfere with trying to become a State Alchemist. Notice how I had already pretty much decided, but I was still being a bit wishy washy about it.

Before I had a chance to brood too much about that, the local stonecutter walked up to us. Winry looked back at him, then scrambled to her feet. "Grandma's inside!"she said quickly, as if she wanted to hide something from the man. I should've been suspicious, but I was still stuck on the idea that Al was not dead, but taken, which is closer to the truth anyway. If I'd been thinking of it as a death, I would've probably figured out right away what was going on.

As it was, I was massively confused. Grandma Pinako came out onto the porch. "I'm right here, child, settle down," she scolded Winry, then turned to the stonecutter. "Well?"

Winry practically ran behind me, kicking off the brakes on my wheelchair and turning me at a rather alarming speed and heading inside. "Come on, Ed, let's go back inside and let the adults talk, it's always boring when adults talk, right?"

"I have the stone you asked for, Pinako," the man said, unmindful of Winry's bizarre behavior. "You have the spot next to his mother, right?"

I shot my good arm out, grabbing hold of the doorway as Winry tried to practically fling me through it, sending us in a circle away from the door. I knew exactly what was going on then, and it had sparked a rage in me I hadn't really expected. I felt betrayed by the fact that they were giving up on Al before I'd had a chance to tell them anything. Al was not dead.

Winry moved around to crouch in front of me, gripping my pant leg. "Come on, Ed, please, let's just go inside, we'll work on a way to help you talk again, you can even call me a dumb girl, just please, let's go inside and think about this later." She was begging, probably a little scared by the dark expression on my face. I'd never looked at her that way before, and I sincerely pray I never do again. That stone and that look put a huge rift between the Rockbells and I that we never really did bridge.

Excuse me. I never really did repair that rift. God knows they tried. I stonewalled them at every attempt, though.

I tried to say something, I don't even remember what, but no sound came out except that awful sound of air rushing through that tube. Winry gripped my pant leg tighter. "Please, Ed, we'll think about it later, we'll have a ceremony just for the family later, but we had to do something, people were asking questions. Please, Ed, let's just go inside for right now, okay?"

"That's enough, Ed," Grandma Pinako snapped at me, coming up from behind me. I shot her the same betrayed look. She didn't flinch. "I'm the one that ordered it. I know it upsets you, but that doesn't give you the right to take it out on the family who still cares about you."

I let the accusatory look fade, but I was still angry and hurt. Al was not dead, and I resented them for trying to make that a reality for me. I very suddenly was over my grieving enough to make my decision.

Grandma Pinako picked up on that, and she set aside her pipe. "I suppose this means you've decided."

I managed to make myself nod, the anger not abating, but the tension loosening just enough to let me do more than clench my fist in impotent rage. She sighed. "You'll need automail just to make the trip. You know the risks at your age." Again, I nodded. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Winry looking between us in lost confusion. If I hadn't been so busy being angry, I might've felt sorry for her. I do now, in retrospect, but at the time, I couldn't see past my own emotions.

I went through a lot of years like that. I don't recommend it.

"Then we'll start as soon as your throat's healed," Grandma said.

And that was pretty much that.

***


Automail surgery is a lot more complicated than most people think it is. It's not just a matter of hooking up some nerves, slapping on some metal and hooking in the limb. It's a whole series of surgeries, some very invasive, and there's about two to three years of rehab, sometimes longer, depending on what gets replaced.

The first set of surgeries involve inserting the weight-bearing screws into the bones and putting reinforcing steel plating around the bones to prevent breaking. These surgeries I was actually put out for- I know it's famously known that you can't have anesthesia during automail surgery, but that's only for the nerve connection part. The screw inserts can be done while the patient is out, thank god.

Nerve replacement comes next, and whatever you've heard about the pain, double it, at least. It's excruciating. I've experienced lots of different types of pain, and nothing compares to the feeling of having your raw nerves connected to wires like that. Nerve pain is a special sort of hurt anyway, but this was taking it three levels past your typical pinched nerve.

After that were two surgeries to install the power source and the external casings. Again, I was out for this part, which I was just as glad for after the pain of the nerve connection.

The power source is one of the most important components to automail, since it'd just be a dead limb without it. It works by converting glucose the body uses for cellular energy into mechanical energy usable by the limb. I don't really understand how it does that- probably some alchemical principle, since we're talking about energy conversion, but I've never asked Winry about that. Maybe, if I ever see her again, I should.

The problem with me getting surgery so young was that I was going to grow, presumably, and a lot of that growth would not only be height, but shoulder girth, as well. My entire shoulder girdle was going to outgrow my automail casings. So Grandma and Winry would be seeing a lot of me over the next several years, and warned me my scapula and clavicle and probably part of my sternum would end up getting total bone replacement to accommodate the growth.

They also padded under the external port with PGA, or polyglycolide, something that my body would eventually break down and expel through the urinary tract, to allow my body the room to grow. Winry warned me that it'd feel like my bladder had shrunk while that broke down.

In the next five years, I'd gain about a foot and a half of height and over a hundred pounds in bone and muscle mass. This was very trying for my surgeons, and for me, as I kept having to go in for further surgeries. But I'll get to that later.

Rehab comes next. Normally it takes about three to four years to go through full rehab, especially for multi-limb replacement. I managed it just under a year. Grandma was right though, I ended up puking up blood more than once during rehab.

Rehab's very important for automail surgery. For one thing, the surgeries can have a person down and bedridden for about a month, and your muscles atrophy. So you gotta build them back up. Then you have to build them up further to take the weight of the new limbs. And train them to a new center of gravity. Being a preteen at the time, my body was already preparing for my growth and learning things like a new center of gravity anyway, so it wasn't too difficult on that point.

Occupational therapy is the last step. This was the hardest. Automail's a helluva lot stronger than regular limbs, so I had to relearn how to hold things like pencils and coffee mugs without snapping them. I also had to learn how to work the fine motor control on the fingers so I could even hold those things in the first place.

Learning how to turn door handles was interesting. There's very little friction on an automail hand- it's smooth metal. It's like trying to open a door with oil on your hands. Good luck with that.

One thing that I did as part of my rehab that confused poor Winry was that I cleaned. Oh, I didn't clean their house, Winry's a capable girl and Grandma isn't in the grave yet. I went up and cleaned my own house. I didn't even use alchemy to cheat.

Considering how much I made a point of avoiding chores when I was younger, this probably surprises some people. But I made it part of my penance to my mother and brother. I wanted Al to come home to a home that looked just like he remembered it. Clean, the way Mom kept it.

It was late October when Grandma and Winry declared me fit for travel.

That morning, I think it was the 18th, I dressed in the traveling clothes I'd created using alchemy. Sturdy leather pants and a turtleneck that would hide the tracheotomy scars on my throat. And a violet coat. I'd hemmed and hawed about the color of that coat, but I'd finally settled on the same color as that transmutation that night to remind myself why I was doing this, in case the going got rough.

I had no idea how hard it'd get.

I took my packed suitcase up to my house for one final inspection before leaving to meet the train to Central. Everything was as I remembered it. I wanted to preserve that from the elements somehow, and aside from that, there was something I felt I'd missed when packing.

I took some of Father's notes and books and packed them, those were obvious. But I couldn't shake the feeling I was missing something else.

"You're going to miss your train," Winry's voice interrupted me. I glanced over at the front door to see her standing there, hugging something to her chest. She looked lost, like she wasn't sure what to do with herself, now that I was leaving. Like she was losing something important.

In retrospect, she was. That was basically the last time she saw me, instead of Fullmetal, and I think somehow, some part of her knew this was goodbye for good.

"You look ridiculous in that coat, Ed," she told me with a weak smile. "Why purple?"

I scowled at her, tugging my coat on tighter. "I like it," I squeaked at her. I didn't feel like explaining my real reason. She wouldn't understand, and I don't think she ever would've forgiven me for what I was planning on doing.

When she did nothing more than shake her head, I went back to looking around. Mom's dishes were displayed proudly in the hutch, and the various flower decorations Dad and Al and I had made her were on shelves and every other possible surface in the house. I felt like I wanted to take something with me, something that I would need, not for any other reason than maybe my own sanity.

"Ed?"

I looked back at Winry again. She stepped forward, holding out the picture frame she was holding onto. "Here. I think this is what you're looking for."

Blinking, I took the picture, looking at it. It'd been taken shortly after Mom died, before Al and I left for Dublith, with the three of us collapsed in a sleepy pile around Den. Den looked like a long-suffering mother dog with her lazy human pups gathered around her. I gently touched my fingers to the picture. She was right, that's what I'd been looking for. A picture of the family I still had to get back to.

I packed the picture away in my suitcase, then grabbed Winry in a tight hug. I'd not really hugged her before, so it felt a little awkward, especially with her being taller than me. I tried not to notice that fact too much.

She clung to me for a long moment, then let go of me. "Get going, you dummy, or you'll miss your train."

I grabbed my suitcase, and her wrist, dragging her out of the house with me, and then handed my suitcase over to her. I knew I could do the transmutation I had in mind to seal off my house from the elements, and I knew I could do it without a circle. Our teacher had said I'd be able to once I'd seen the Truth, and I knew that's exactly what that thing that had taken Al was. I knew the information it gave me.

She watched me. "Do you pray now, Ed?" she asked, but I ignored her, stepping over to my house as I summoned the alchemical energy and commanded the ground to move. Stone rose up to cover doors and windows, sealing off cracks and gaps in the stonework that made up my house.

Satisfied, I gave where the front door had been a pat, then turned back to Winry, taking my suitcase back. "I'll be back," I promised, then headed to the train station alone.

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Pandora's Universe: Fullmetal Alchemist AU

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