Ed and Al reach Resembool
That was the kind of conversation that a small, elderly woman and a man in his late thirties were having while the sun was continuing its journey on the sky-dome early in the morning.
"This feels nice," the man said, examining his fake mechanical leg. "As good a job as I expected it from you, Dr. Pinako."
"So how about it?" asked then Pinako, watching the man putting on his coat with mild interest. "Are you moving up to automail?"
The man let out a small laugh. "You're joking, right? It might be handy, but don't they say that the post surgery pain and rehabilitation process are difficult?"
Pinako eyed the man. "You’re pretty scared for your age. There was even this brat who got a right arm and left leg of automail."
"Bah, I don't have that kind of courage," the man said, waving dismissively his hand. "Goodbye." And with that he was gone.
Pinako sighed as he watched her customer leaving and decided to sweep the floor in case someone else decided to come pay her a visit. After all, visitors were always welcome - and their money.
Suddenly, the big black dog, which was up to that point sleeping contently near his mistress, sniffed something in the air and stood up abruptly. At the next moment, he was barking loudly and rushing to the gate of the house.
"What's wrong, Den?" asked Pinako, not really understanding her dog's behaviour.
All Den did was keep barking. Intrigued, Pinako strained her eyes and looked at the direction the dog did. She was surprised to see that she saw a large man, carrying what it seemed to be a crate. Yet her surprise soon subsided upon seeing the short figure beside the man. She would recognise that small form anywhere, even without the red trench coat that was over his shoulders.
"So they've come," she breathed out, yet a big smile brightening her wrinkled features. She turned her head to the house. "Winry! We've got guests of honour!" She paused to hear for any kind of reaction from inside, and huffed when she realised that her granddaughter was too focused on making another automail to notice anything. "WINRY!" Hoping that Winry heard her this time, she walked up to Ed, regarding him closely. "Hm, aren't you looking lively?"
Ed grinned broadly in greeting. "Hey... We need your help again, Aunt Pinako." He pointed at the man next to him. "This is Major Armstrong."
Pinako looked at the large man, and gave him a small smile before extending her hand. "Pinako Rockbell."
Armstrong, being the gentleman that he was, placed Al down so he would be able to give his own hand in handshake. Meanwhile, Den, seeing his chance, placed both paws on the crate to stretch himself and so sniff the suit of armour inside. He wagged his tail when he understood who was in there.
"Long time, no see, Den," Al said happily, something that made the dog bark joyously.
Pinako hardly noticed that reunion though. She instead looked Ed from head to toe with quite the scrutiny; then at Armstrong; and back at Ed.
"Well, well, in the time you've been gone, you got small."
It was amazing to see how a single word could vanish all joys of reunion to be replaced by sheer outrage. Then again, nothing seemed impossible for young Edward Elric.
"Who did you say was small, mini hag?!"
And it was amazing to see that Pinako Rockbell wasn't to be underestimated in that touchy department either.
"Oh, yeah, ultra squirt?!"
The blond girl was still ridding herself off her working suit when she heard the angry exchange of insults. New record/, she figured. /It actually took them less than thirty seconds to start shouting at each other.
Winry couldn't help but understand her grandmother perfectly though. After all, she felt like shouting at Ed at that moment, too.
"That dummy," she muttered, grabbing a wrench and still walking furiously toward the window of her room. "I keep telling him to call before he drops by, but noooo..." She opened the window and quickly found her target. "HEY, ED!"
As soon as Ed looked up, she went for her usual and best practiced punishment. She threw her wrench straight at Edward's head, and it was to her grim satisfaction that Ed let out a loud exclamation of pain and collapsed to the ground. She knew Ed was fine, of course - other than the large lump on his head, that is. Her skill with wrenches, no matter how she used them, couldn't be underestimated.
"Didn't I tell you to call at least once before you show up for maintenance check?!” she shouted indignantly.
Ed immediately stood up, rubbing the lump that started forming on his head. "WINRY, YOU JACKASS! ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?!"
But Winry merely laughed, her indignation gone in a heartbeat. "Welcome home!"
Ed didn't appreciate the gesture of peace. He just grumbled.
Winry's voice rang throughout the house. Yet Ed was quite calm, already expecting that reaction.
"Yeah, sorry," he merely said, sipping his tea. "It got busted up."
"/Busted up?!/" Winry echoed incredulously, her hands trembling as she barely controlled herself. "Just how were you using that first-class automail I had so painstakingly made?!"
Ed chuckled embarrassedly. "It got smashed to little bits."
That certainly proved too much for Winry. She swayed on her feet as though ready to faint, but then she chose a more classical and gratifying tactic.
Ed bore it stoically this time, even though it did hurt like hell.
"So what happened?" Winry asked, placing her hands on her hips once that matter was taken care of. "Why's Al busted up, too? Just what have you guys been doing?"
Seeing no other option, Ed and Al explained everything: that they had finally found a lead on the Philosopher's stone, though they had to fight in order to finally acquire that knowledge, and that they now needed Winry and Pinako's help.
"So," Winry said in the end, "you want to go to Central as soon as possible to get the files on the Philosopher's Stone?"
Ed nodded. "And I want to do this fast."
"Right. It's not just the arm though," Pinako commented. She stretched Ed's legs and looked at both the flesh and the automail one carefully. "Your leg is going to need some adjusting, too." She smiled a bit. "You've gotten bigger."
If Ed could have beamed anymore at this piece of news, he certainly would have. He watched as Pinako tapped his automail leg with her pipe.
"This is going to be fine because we still have the base, but we'll have to start from scratch with the arm."
Now that was something Edward didn't want to hear. "What? So that will take around a week!"
Pinako chuckled as she took a puff from her pipe. "You underestimate me. It'll be three days." Grabbing the automail leg with both hands, she pulled it out and brought another fake limb, this one coarser in structure. "Just put up with using this spare in the meantime."
Ed looked at the new leg with some suspicion, but then nodded his compliance. "Okay..." He stood up, and immediately grabbed the mantelpiece so he wouldn't fall. "Whoops, it's pretty hard to walk with a leg I'm not used to."
Meanwhile, Winry was doing her own calculations. "After carving, there's assembling, adjusting, connecting and finishing. This is going to take all night," she finally said.
"I'm sorry for asking so much," Ed said with a tinge of guilt.
Winry, however, just smiled as she eyed Ed confidently. "You want to go to Central as soon as possible, right? So shouldn't I do the best I can?" Suddenly, a huge grin brightened her features. "Because in exchange, I'll be getting oodles of cash from you right away!" Laughing, she smacked Ed's back... sending him almost flying a foot away and making him land on some boxes.
"Oops..." she said, blushing.
She had forgotten that Ed wasn't used yet to the new leg.
"What the hell is up with that bloodthirsty lady?" Ed wondered. He, Al and Den were now sitting outside on the grass, letting Winry and Aunt Pinako do their job. As for Major Armstrong, he had gone to the back of the house, after offering to cut some firewood in exchange for the hospitality he was given by the two mechanics.
"You're saying that /now?/" Al asked, laughing. After all, they both knew that Winry was like that ever since they could remember.
Edward didn't bother to answer this time. He simply sprawled himself on the grass, looking at the fluffy white clouds up in the sky, wandering like strange boats in a sea of cerulean blue.
"Three days, huh?" There was a small pause. "Perhaps we should have called first. Then, while Winry and Aunt Pinako would work on the automail, we could also wait for Beregond to heal so he could come with us." Ed immediately shook his head. "Aw, what am I saying? This wouldn't work either. Beregond wouldn't be able to travel, even if he did get discharged from the hospital on time."
"And even if he overcame his fear of trains, he wouldn't be able to carry me all the way here," Al added in regret. "It would probably harm his body if he did."
"Yeah." Ed sighed. "It's too bad really. He really wanted to see Resembool."
"Maybe next time."
"Maybe," Ed echoed. His eyes drifted on Den, who was resting beside the boys. "Den would have certainly liked him, wouldn't you, buddy?"
Den lifted his gaze and wagged a bit his tail, probably glad to be addressed, and then there was silence once more.
"When we have nothing to do, we really are on a break," Ed suddenly declared, more for the sake of saying something than anything else. What he avoided to say was that there weren't any libraries around either.
Al looked at his brother, puzzled. "But isn't it nice to have an occasional break since we haven't had it easy for a while?"
"I don't work well with breaks!" Ed cried out, flailing wildly in frustration. What made things worse was that Den, probably wishing to participate in that strange game, sprawled himself on his back and started flailing his legs in the air, too.
The resemblance was uncanny, to say the least.
"You sure don't," Al noted thoughtfully. "Look, if you have that much free time, go visit Mother's grave."
Ed stopped his thrashing at once, Al's words making him think hard. "Visit her grave? But you can't go the way you're now."
"I don't want the Major to carry me, so I'll stay here." He looked at his brother for a while. "Once the automail is fixed we'll head off for Central right away, won't we? That's why you didn't tell Beregond when we would return, right?"
"Then you should go while you have time to."
Ed didn't answer at once, wishing to contemplate matters a little more before deciding anything.
He could only admit that his brother was right.
He had to go. He owed it to her.
Ed never thought it would have felt good strolling around Resembool once again. But as he walked towards the graveyard, accompanied by Den, who was now carrying obediently a bouquet of flowers, he had to admit that he needed it. He even came across people that he hadn't seen in a very long time and chatted with them, catching up with news of the village.
Yet his cheerfulness was gone when he finally arrived at his mother's grave. He didn't know how long he remained by the stony slab, looking at it, lost in thought. And he certainly didn't know how his feet, as though having a mind of their own, carried him to the remains of their house.
He rested his flesh hand against a beam that was still standing tall near him, and then walked through the whole premises, recalling every part of the house before it was burned.
Before he and Al burned it.
It was ironic to say that some memories weren't meant to leave traces, but the deepest of traces were left in one's own mind.
Memories like the sobs of a little girl who heard of the death of her parents, long ago.
/“Winry, what's wrong?” asked a concerned eight-year-old Ed, rushing to his friend's side and followed closely behind by a seven-year-old Al. The sight of her sitting on a chair by a table and crying her heart out didn't only puzzle him, it worried him too.
The little blonde girl lifted her head and looked at the young Elrics through tear-filled eyes. "Mom and Dad are dead!" was all that she managed to say, before burying her head back in her arms, a new series of sobs breaking out.
The boys were certainly surprised at this news. "But I thought your parents were doctors!" said Ed.
"Yeah, that's why they had to go to the war in Ishbal," Winry answered, her voice faltering as she still kept crying.
Ed and Al grew silent, not knowing what to say that to that. Finally, Al, being the gentler of the two, offered Winry the clay animal he had created through alchemy and placed it next to her. "Winry, we understand how you feel," he said comfortingly. "Our dad left too."
That made Winry finally snap.
"Shut up, you idiot!" she shouted, throwing the clay animal away. She faced Al accusingly. "Your dad just/ ran off, my parents are both dead; /they can't ever come back!" Her voice hitched before she could help it.
Al bowed his head in shame. Ed, however, seemed calm and collected as he picked up Al's clay horse.
"Not necessarily true," he said, now holding both toys. "I read it in a book. There's this artificial humane being called a Homunculus. It's sort of a doll without a mind to begin with. But some scholars believe that with alchemy, if you're willing to give up enough--"
Pinako walked in, horrified to hear such a conversation between the children. "There'll be no talking like that in this house, you understand me?/ That /is a forbidden science! Alchemy is not some perfect magic answer to all our problems! That's why automail engineers exist!"
Ed only snorted. "Backwards old bat..."
That earned both him and Alphonse a barrage of pots, pans and steel parts flying towards their direction, and their only means of escape was to run away as fast as their feet could carry them. They only stopped when they were very far away from Pinako's wrath.
Alphonse sighed, his dove-grey eyes carrying a mournful expression as they started walking. "You shouldn't have said that, Brother."
Ed kicked an invisible stone in a pouting manner, but his expression had softened. "You know, she's right. Winry's already lost more than we ever will."
Al's hands twitched nervously. "Poor Winry. Can you imagine how that it would be...?"
Though Al didn't carry on, Ed had understood and a small gasp escaped his lips in realisation.
When he saw their mother from a distance, smiling and waving at them, he was the first of the two to run toward her and hug her, sobbing./
Ed bowed his head, the burden of the memory proving almost too much. Had he known what would happen two years after that day, he would hold on to his mother tightly and never let her go.
/"Mum! Mum!" Ed called out happily, the fruit-filled basket that he was carrying not slowing down his sprint in the least.
"Brother! Wait up!" Al called, doing his best to keep up.
And Ed did, not wishing to leave his little brother behind. Grabbing his hand, he dragged Al to make him hurry up and then opened the door excitedly.
As his eyes caught sight of his mother's form unconscious on the floor, his cries of joy instantly changed to cries of horror.
The doctor had said it clearly: The disease hadn't developed overnight. Ed's heart constricted as he thought how long it must have been that his mother hid her pain behind her smile, not a word of complain escaping her lips - leaving him and Al to do nothing more for her except to mourn.
And feed on the wildest of hopes: to bring her back.
That was the one step where they fell.
The young alchemist closed his eyes before he could help it, the screams of the past almost deafening him.
But before Ed could reach his brother, Al's hand had dissolved into the nothingness that had claimed the younger boy. And the next thing he knew, Ed was falling too, taken by powerful black hands and shoved into a world without direction, out of time, filling his mind with information about Alchemy beyond his wildest dreams. He knew that he needed just one step before understanding human transmutation.
But it hurt so much that he didn't know if he could bear it.
It was then that he saw her.
He tried desperately to reach her, but the hands held him too tightly.
"Stop! Go away! LET ME GO!"
They let him go. Right in front of the Gate; where eyes looked at him from inside, in an almost mocking manner.
That is, until the Gate shut.
"Wait! Let me see it once more!" Ed cried, pounding at the doors. "The truth was there... what I've been looking for!"
There was only a whisper of an answer.
"The principle of Equivalent Exchange? What did you want to say? The price...?"
It was when he looked down that he realised what the blackness wished to say.
When he saw his left leg gone.
He screamed. And it was that scream that brought him back to the reality - the nightmare - that he was living in the basement of his own house. Blood oozed out of the stump that had remained of his leg, forming a gruesome pool on the floor.
"Damn it! They've taken it from me!" It took all of Ed's courage to look up, to see what was the result of the transmutation. "Mum?"
He found her in the mist that was formed after the alchemical reaction, still on the centre of the array.
At the next moment, he wished he hadn't. For that thing of exposed muscles, insides and tissue that was screaming in agony couldn't be labelled human.
Ed could only gag at the sight.
"No... this isn't what I wanted... Al... it's my fault... it's..."
He had to make amends - before it was too late.
"It's my little brother!" he cried, throwing down one of the many suits of armour that happened to decorate the basement of his home. Using his own blood he started drawing arrays on the armour and his body. "I will give you my leg, my arms, or my heart... but bring him back!"
He couldn't lose Al, too.
"He's the only little brother I've got!"/
Ed's flesh hand went involuntarily to the base of the automail; where his right arm should have been, had it not been taken away for the price of Al's soul.
Ed sighed before he could help it. Al kept saying he wished he could remember what had happened when he was taken by the Gate. But Ed himself considered it a blessing that he was the only one of the two that could. If anything, Al was spared from nightmares.
Ed's jaw clenched, as it was then that he renewed his vow. He would find a way to restore himself and Al. Then those memories would disappear to be replaced with joyous ones once again; just like the ones that they had of this house before their sin.
His eyes caught sight of Den, always by his side. Was it his imagination, or was there a mournful expression in the dog's eyes?
Ed just smiled sadly. "Let's go."
Den barked and followed the boy.