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Ignis Aurum Probat

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Edward Elric was moving as soon as the fires rose.

He wasn’t the only one, of course. Every Viking on the island of Amestris knew what to do when their greatest enemies struck again, with fire and talons and snapping fangs—the old and young would retreat into the Great Hall, while every able-bodied warrior would set out to guard…everything. Houses, food, lives, their foes had taken it all from them for seven generation. Kept taking it, over and over and over, burning down their homes and stealing their livestock even in the dead of an Amestrian winter (which, since they were just a few degrees south of Freezing-To-Death, was deadly even with their food supplies fully stocked). The entire tribe was set in motion every time the word“RAID!” was called, and he was no exception.

Except, of course, for the fact that Ed wasn’t exactly supposed to be outside in the first place.

Really, it wasn’t his fault. Not entirely. Maybe he’d accidentally blown up a house or two trying to get at one of the foes raining hell down on them, or caused the loss of a few sheep and barrels of sheep, but he wasn’t that much of a disaster. It was just—bad luck. Bad luck, and the misfortune of being a runt in a world of Vikings—a runt who couldn’t even outfight his own little brother.

Being sickly and skinny and small in a society where being extra-large with beefy arms and a side of extra guts and glory was the norm was bad enough, but add thinking differently into the mix, pepper in a metal arm and season it with a dash of disaster, and you got…well, Ed. Village pariah, blacksmith’s apprentice, and the only teen on Amestris that wouldn’t be allowed to fight, because his life was a beautiful fucking dream.

Which was unfair. And stupid. And unfair, he thought mutinously, scowling at yet another Viking who snapped at him to get back inside before you cause them to win this raid, too—

A hand clamped down on the back of his tunic and lifted him clean into the air, and Ed snarled and spat and struggled for a moment—stop fucking using my height AGAINST me, you assholes—before going still as an all-too familiar voice gritted out, “What are you doing out, Ed—what’s he doing out?” The last half of the question was directed at a group of Vikings that surrounded his captor.

Can’t even be bothered to let me speak for myself, he thought with a scowl, crossing his arms as he was dangled humiliatingly before an audience of soldiers who shrugged and grumbled in annoyance. Don’t know why I ever expected anything else. “I’m going to the fucking forge, okay—Izumi can’t handle all of the weapons needing repairs on her own in a raid like this, you know that, so I’m gonna fucking help, so—so put me down, asshole!” He debated kicking his legs and struggling again, but he’d look even more like some dumb, immature kid, which was probably the least convincing thing in the world.

The warriors were already back to ignoring him—of course they were, why would he expect anything more of the people who pretended he didn’t exist unless they were talking about his latest fuck-up—but the man holding him sighed, setting him back on the ground with surprising gentleness. Ed didn’t let himself think about it, didn’t let himself care. He’d done that once—and had been replaced as soon as a better Viking came along. “Then go,” Von Hohenheim, Chief of the island of Amestris, said, almost wearily. “And if I see you anywhere near any dragons, Edward, so help me Thor—”

“Yeah, whatever.” He reined in urge to snap at him again, already bounding out of reach. He was going to the forge—but he wasn’t going to stay away from the fight, or from the dragons. Not tonight. Not when he finally had a shot.

I’m going to kill a dragon tonight.

I’m going to kill the dragon tonight.

Because it wasn’t other Vikings that raided Amestris. It wasn’t humans—humans, they didn’t need to fear. Humans could be fought fairly, humans had minds to trick and out-strategize and break. No raiders from other tribes crowded their shores, no soldiers from the fabled lands beyond the Archipelago sailed in to attack them. Every tribe was preoccupied with the same enemy striking from the skies, burning down their world night after night, week after week, year after year: the dragons.

With so many generations spent killing and fighting and killing and fighting and dedicating life after life to destroying the dragons and ending the raids, it made sense that killing a dragon was everything on Amestris. It was what made a child a warrior, a prince into a Chief, a man into a legend—and getting one kill would be his ticket to…to everything. To acceptance from the tribe, pride from his father, friendship, even, from the other kids his age. And sure, he might not have been able to swing a hammer or throw an axe (yet, he reminded himself fiercely), but he had something none of the others put to use (at least, not much): his mind, and his hands (mismatched though they were), and an invention that could bring down the deadliest of them all.

And he would, he promised himself, dodging swords and screams and blasts of fire as he made for the ramshackle blacksmith’s hut in the central square. He’d bring down a dragon tonight, and bring its heart to the chief.

Then I’ll be worth something to them.

…To me.

He skidded into the forge, yelping as his teacher immediately set an axe—heavily damaged, what the hell, didn’t any of these goddamn people know how to use a weapon without destroying it?in his arms, looking altogether too cheerful. “Sharpen that,” Izumi Curtis ordered, barely pausing a moment as she grabbed a broadsword and lifted it effortlessly, setting it under her hammer.

Ed didn’t hesitate to obey, all-too aware of her fierce temper and fiercer skills when it came to the fight. Being the apprentice of someone like that…well, you learned a thing or two about them. He set the edge of the axe to the rolling whetstone, grinning despite himself as sparks flew off of it. Maybe he couldn’t fight in the traditional way, but only Teacher was better in the forge than he was. Incessant illness and inhuman strength and strange, almost inappropriate humor (she’d chopped a dragon’s head off in front of the Aerugoan chief and, when asked who she was, had chirped “A housewife!” with terrifying cheerfulness) and all.

He might have been absolutely terrified of her, if she wasn’t somedays (most days, honestly) the only person who gave a shit about him. Except for Al, but Al…cared too much. He shook his head, flipping the axe in his hand and pressing it to the whetstone, eyes drifting to the canvas-covered contraption in the back. He’ll be proud of me, though, after tonight. He’ll be glad to point at me and say, “That’s my big brother.” You know, for once.

“Nice of you to join the party, kid! Thought you’d been carried off ages ago.”

And speaking of Izumi’s relentless humor. Ed glanced up from the axe, lifting it from the whetstone and setting it back on the counter before moving toward the great bellows by the heart of the forge, grimacing as he practically jumped on them to get them to move. Gods-fuckin’-damnit… “What, me?” Trust me, they’ve tried. “Guess I’m too bitter for them.” He flashed her a grin, praying it dripped general exasperation and irritation and held nothing about his schemes. “Sorry, Teacher, you’re stuck with me for at least another night.”

“My unlucky day, then.” Still, she ruffled his hair as he passed, laughing when he scowled and batted at the soot-stains now covering the top of his head, which would take for-fucking-ever to wash out. He couldn’t really begrudge her for it, though, he thought as he flung open the doors of the stall, Vikings rushing in and setting weapon after weapon on the counter—it was more than any other adult in the village ever did for him.

Sickles, bolas, swords and shields began to pile up in the counter. Ed watched silhouettes swoop by in the firelight as he in turn piled the weapons on the hot coals of the forge—spike-tailed Nadders, two-headed Zipplebacks, stone-skinned Gronckles, even the fiery Monstrous Nightmares. They looked almost like demons, crawling through the flames, snarling and snapping and howling in triumph and defiance with every house set aflame. Rebuilding on the edge of winter, he thought dully, hammering out bends and breaks in another sword. The Chief’s going to lose his fuckin' mi—

“FIRE!”

Instinctively, Ed ducked—only to jolt up as Izumi cackled, feeling heat that had everything to do with the childish reaction and nothing to do with the fires around them rush to his face. “It’s just the fire brigade, Ed, relax.”

Oh. It had been a signal, not a warning—which made sense, since a blast had literally just landed and most dragons (except for the most dangerous, the rarest, the deadliest) needed a few seconds to recharge before striking again (so he’d been doing his research on how to take one down, so what? It would give him an edge when he got a chance to take his shot at last).

Don’t look, he scolded himself, turning back to the forge. Don’t think about how much cooler their jobs are, don’t think about how much you wish you were in their place. Just do your job until Teacher steps out, and then go.

And don’t even THINK about looking at her.

“You’d better not be thinking of going out there.”

Aaaaaand he’d been caught. Sort of. “Just for a few seconds?” he wheedled, knowing full well that it was no use lying to the blacksmith. Izumi raised her eyebrows, looking entirely unimpressed—just like the rest of them, just as disappointed and annoyed. “Oh, come on, please—I gotta make my mark!” I have to stop you—stop everyone—from looking at me like…that.

“You’ve made plenty of marks already. On the main square, and the docks, the warships, the Great Hall…”

He gritted his teeth—he’d never meant to do any of that! Of course, everyone conveniently seemed to forget that he tried to clean up every mess he made, that he’d never actually intended for any mess to be there in the first place. Guess it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished.Please, Teacher—” he was begging now, but he didn’t care, he had to get out there— “just two minutes, I’ll kill a dragon, my life will get infinitely better. I might even—” Blue eyes and hair like gold flashed in his mind, and he fought back the heat rushing up his skin. Get a date, maybe. Never, probably, but I’ll have a chance, which is more than I've had for fifteen years.

Her eyebrows rose, full of a skepticism too much like the look in his father’s eyes, and he nearly wilted under it. “Not that I don’t have absolute faith in your skills, my foolish pupil—” He forced himself not to flinch at the sudden bite in those words, berating himself for daring to feel betrayed, you knew she wouldn’t let you, you know she doesn’t trust you— “but you can’t swing a warhammer, can’t lift an axe, throw a bola—”

Aha, now this—maybe this opening he could exploit, just for a moment. Ed flung an arm out toward the canvas-covered contraption he’d built of scraps and spare parts over the past few months, backing toward it. “But this—this can throw it for me!” He tugged the canvas off with a flourish he couldn’t quite help—so what if he was dramatic, honestly, no one gave a shit when he was monologuing about inventions. They only really paid attention when he did something wrong, because hey, why not pick on the runt! Sounds like an amazing Wednesday to me!

Assholes.

Her eyebrows went up even higher as she took in the bola-thrower—Ed had wanted to name it the Mangler, but Al had found the schematics and immediately shut that down before he actually mangled something with it—sleek metal and polished wood. Ed squared his shoulders, praying she would be impressed or interested or at least not disappointed—

Then his hand, metal and burning in the heat of the forge, put just a bit too much pressure on it, and he watched in dread and horror as a bola launched itself right into a customer’s head. Oh, godfucking—I can’t just have one thing work out for me, can I? Amazing. Fantastic. This is perfectly fine. “It’s just a—a mild calibration issue, easy fix, but come on, Teacher, this could—this could help!” You know, for once.

“Ed.”

Izumi’s voice was heavy with something like sorrow, sorrow and anger and steel, and he made himself meet her eyes. She shook her head, and that simple gesture felt more damning than all the stares and whispers from the other Vikings, felt like a hole cut inside of him. “You’re a brilliant blacksmith—one that will be better than me. But a dragon-killer?” Black eyes were solemn, solemn and sad, and Ed wanted to sink into the floor and never return. “We all have things we can’t be. That’s…that’s yours.”

No.

No, it’s not—it can’t be.

“You’re wrong,” he bit out despite the earth dropping out from beneath him, despite one more person admitting that they didn’t believe in him. “I’m going to kill dragons. I’m going to finally do something right.”

Izumi’s eyes widened, suddenly bright with concern. Where was that a few seconds ago, huh? “Ed—”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m not going out tonight, don’t worry.” The lie tasted as bitter in his mouth as all the looks he’d gotten over the past fifteen years. He ignored its flavor, swallowed it down as he headed back to the weapons on the coals, the forge flaring bright as war raged outside.

I’ll show them. I’ll show them all.


“NIGHT FURY!”

There was a high-pitched shriek as wind sheered off invisible wings, and Ed stumbled out of the forge just in time to see his target swoop past a crumbling siege tower, little more than a shadow amidst smoke. One blast—one blast had done that much damage, crushed a catapult to dust and ash in seconds, sent even the Chief leaping from the battlements. It was faster than lightning, invisible in the night, capable of strategy (regardless of what the elders said, regardless of what the warriors said, there was no way that thing would know to target their ranged weapons unless it could think at least a little bit)—

“GET DOWN!”

And it never missed.

Another catapult fell—another, and another, and another. Wood, stone, steel, it didn’t matter. Nothing could stand up to those attacks.

Nothing and no one had been able to stand up to the Night Fury. To even see it—not Chief Hohenheim, not Izumi Curtis, not his little brother. Nobody.

How do you catch a shadow that never comes down to earth?

Izumi was gone, joining the fray as soon as the Night Fury had struck for the first time that night, broadsword and fists swinging. Which, you know, meant Ed was alone in the forge, surrounded by sharp objects, fire…and a golden opportunity that he’d have to be an idiot to pass up. And he was anything but an idiot—no matter what they said to the contrary.

Which brought him to here—to a cliffside untouched by fire and smoke and battle, to the night wind on his face and a city on fire behind him. To the moment that could turn him into—into a hero, for once.

With the Night Fury gone, we’ll stand a chance. We could find the Nest, stop the battle for good without worrying about it destroying everything, focus on protecting people’s homes and food instead of losing our defenses. And if I kill the Night Fury—the only Night Fury…

Dad will be proud of me.

Everyone will be proud of me.

He allowed himself a moment to wonder as he opened up and reloaded the bola-thrower, metal click-click-clicking in his wrist as he braced his hands on the trigger. What would it be like to walk through the village and be called a hero? To be more than the kid who lost his arm and his mother in the same raid? To get smiles and praise and—god, more friends than just Al?

To matter?

A familiar high-pitched whistle filled his ears, and Ed jerked himself out of his thoughts with a gasp. There it goes—

There was only one siege tower left, which meant it would be aiming there—which meant it would be illuminated, just for a second. Just long enough for him to aim and pull the trigger, to bring it down at last. To change everything.

There wasn’t much he could see now, just a shape that blotted out the stars, all dark wings and darker, deadlier wrath. Ed tensed, fingers hovering over the trigger as fire lit up the night. For once the roars and shrieks of the Vikings and dragons seemed far away, unable to reach his ears, his eyes, his mind.

All Ed saw was flames, gold and red and burning bright—and then a sudden, sleek shape soaring through the flames with a howl that screamed triumph and wildfire.

Now!

His fingers jerked back, and the bola flew, wild and cutting silver through the inky black of the night—cutting silver right into lightning and death itself. That triumphant howl turned into a shockingly human shriek of pain, a roar of shock and sudden agony and fear that was all-too real for it to belong to the dragon he’d aimed at (because dragons didn’t feel, dragons were monsters, dragons had destroyed everything a thousand times over)—but the Night Fury was roaring, falling, and…gone.

He’d done it.

I did it.

Shock gave way to raw, wild elation, and Ed whooped, throwing his hands in the air. “YES!” I did it, I fixed everything, I can be a hero, a Viking, I can kill dragons! Al would never believe this, Dad would be so proud, the whole village would look at him like he was a person—everything would be perfect. “Oh my gods, did anyone see that—”

 There was a low, taunting growl, savage and decidedly not human, turning that shimmering, golden feeling of joy and hope into absolute dread. Oh, come on… That icy, frozen feeling of sheer horror tightened in his chest as he turned to find hellfire-yellow eyes winking at him with vicious, horrible glee, rust-red scales lighting up as flames flickered along wicked talons.

Monstrous Nightmare, he remembered distantly, recalling his father’s words once-upon-a-time (when he still thought you were worth something, a particularly nasty voice whispered), teaching him about the dozens of dragons that had struck their people down over and over and over. Large, powerful, Stoker-Class—only the best Vikings go after those.

Its scales turned to flame, and Ed fought back the shriek of instinctive fear that pulled at his throat. They have this nasty habit of setting themselves on fire. Right.

“I don’t know what your dragon pals have told you, but, uh—” He waved his hands at it wildly, hoping it might stop looking so…hungry. “I taste fucking awful, so you can fuck right off back to the Nest and we’ll keep this between us, yeah?”

The Monstrous Nightmare grinned, malicious and savage and all sorts of things that absolutely did not mean agreement.

Ed gulped. “Thought so.”

Chapter Text

Destroying the docks and the giant braziers again (for the seventh time in as many years) had been the exact opposite of the plan. Letting the dragons go by accident had been worse than the opposite of the plan. Having no one believe him…well, Ed didn’t know why he’d ever thought this plan would work.

…And to be fair, responding to his father’s horror and exasperation with, “Okay, but I hit a Night Fury” had been a terrible idea, but hey. Spur of the moment excuses and explanations were what he did best, apparently, along with accidentally destroying the village. It was fine, really—or it would be, eventually. He just wished he wasn’t here, trying to defend his case in front of the entire, angry village, with his brother’s disappointed eyes on his back and his father’s resigned irritation from the front. But it was fine—he could deal with it, had dealt with it since he was five and first fucked up in front of the whole village.

This was normal. And just because he hated it didn’t mean he wasn’t used to it. Not like when he was five and had burst into tears in front of all of them and—gods, why are you remembering that now, you’re FIFTEEN, gods-damnit. He swallowed thickly, squaring his shoulders. You’ve done this before. It’ll be fine. “Dad—I swear, I actually hit it, if you’d just let me go down to Raven’s Point, I could bring it back or—or something, come on—"

“Stop, Ed!”

Hohenheim’s voice was sharper than he’d ever heard it, genuinely angry, and Ed couldn’t help flinching back, his mouth snapping shut before he could stop himself. I—I should’ve seen this coming. I should’ve known.

He’s not just Dad. He never will be. He’s the Chief, and you keep hurting the tribe, and—

No wonder he hates you.

No wonder he replaced you.

It made sense—a runt couldn’t be the Heir, much less a crippled one, much less one who didn’t think like a Viking or remotely act like one. The other tribes had even remarked on it to Hohenheim in the past—while he was in earshot. He made them look weak, made their tribe look fragile and broken, but Hohenheim hadn’t cared. Not then. Not at first.

But the whispers kept coming, crueler and colder by the day, going from questions about the small, fragile child who was called the Heir of Amestris to rumors that he was weak, broken, dragon-touched, that he was a changeling, that the dragons had taken more than his mother that fire-stained night. To ones blaming him for the death of Trisha Elric, Chieftess of Amestris.

It was somewhere around that time that one came out that Alphonse Elric had surpassed the Heir, the younger son faster and stronger and a dozen times more Viking-like than the tiny, angry elder, his only flaw that he loved and protected his big brother. It was somewhere around then that Hohenheim had announced that Ed would take over the forge while Al trained as the Heir of Amestris.

It was somewhere around then that Ed learned his dad really did blame him for his mother’s death.

He found his metal hand worrying and picking at the skin of his flesh, digging in beneath the callouses—an old nervous habit he’d thought he’d broken the last time something like this happened.

Just like I thought I’d fix everything, huh. “I—”

“Every time you step out in the village, disaster follows, Ed!” Hohenheim’s eyes were sharp with fury, his voice rising above its usual deceptive calm for the first time in ages. “Can you not see the winter is coming, and I have an entire village to feed—and you just lost us at least a week’s food supply?”

“Dad.” Ed jolted at the voice, at the hand on his shoulder as a tall, slim body angled himself between them—Al. His little brother glanced over his shoulder at him, bronze eyes wide with worry and sympathy, a question flickering there: are you okay?

No, not really. But he was alive, and only a little scorched, and he’d still hit the Night Fury, so he was fine, really. No need to get into the mess that was his mental state at any given moment, and besides, he doubted that was what Al had meant. He dipped his head in the slightest nod, watching relief fall over his face before he turned to their father again. “Nothing’s broken that we can’t repair, and we had a surplus this summer. The damage looks worse than it is—and besides, I’ve seen the contraption Ed used to shoot it down, it was well made, and Brother has really good aim, we should at least check it out—”

Hohenheim sighed, looking suddenly weary. “Al, did you know about this?”

“No!” No, I’m not letting you take the fall for me, damnit, the village actually trusts you and I can’t—can’t turn you into me. Ed shoved past him, tilting his head back to look Hohenheim in the eyes. “He didn’t know. This was my plan, and I—”

“Dad, I knew about it, I should’ve—”

“Al, don’t be an idiot, it was me—”

“Izumi!” Their father’s call cut through their bickering, and Ed jerked back as his father’s hand set down on his shoulder with startling gentleness. Guilt started to pluck at his chest—despite the fact that his father blamed him for Trisha’s death, he’d never hurt him or openly hated him. He just…didn’t try to connect, or respond to Ed’s attempts to do better. Which…did hurt. But that shouldn’t have made him flinch when his dad touched his shoulder, right? One more way that you're broken. “Take him up to the hut, please. Al, you go too.”

Great. Now they were both in trouble.

Ed let Izumi swat him over the head—he sort-of definitely deserved at least that, even if being humiliated in front of the entire tribe again wasn’t on his to-do list for the day—and found himself staring at the ground as the laughter of the fire brigade filtered into his ears. Just walk. Just walk, and don’t look at them, and pretend they don’t exist, and whatever happens, don’t look at her.

There was snickering as he passed from the youngest of the group, Mei—and, of course (because he definitely was a giant fuckup worth laughing at, most-fucking-certainly) even a quiet, darkly amused chuckle from the ever-serious Lan Fan. No sound as he passed the best recruit except a whetstone scraping over the blade of her axe—small mercies, really.

If none of them spoke, he could handle it, get back without flipping out and making a fool of himself all over again. He was almost through the gauntlet, he just had to get a little bit further—

Then, of course, because someone had to make his day just fucking perfect, there was a laugh. “Never seen anyone screw up that badly.”

Ed’s teeth clenched, hands tightening into fists. Asshole, asshole, asshole— “Thanks,” he spat, still not looking up. He knew what he would’ve seen if he had, though—dark eyes, dark hair, a grin like a goddamn jackal. Bastard was a fair fighter, he supposed, but gods fucking above did Ling love pointing out his every mistake. Don’t kill him don’t kill him don’t kill him. “That’s exactly what I was going for. Thank you so much for pointing that out, you fucking—”

Al’s hand tightened around his, and he stumbled as his brother nudged him forward a bit, giving him a wan, sympathetic smile. “Don’t listen to him,” he murmured. “He’s doing it to get a rise out of you.”

No, he’s doing it because he can—and because no one gives a shit. “And he’ll get my fist in his face if he does it again,” he snapped, but he let himself be dragged along, only glancing over his shoulder once—and meeting sharp, vicious blue eyes. Her eyes.

Winry Rockbell, shieldmaiden in training, best warrior of their generation and (before her parents had died, before he’d become a disgrace, before everything had been so thoroughly ruined that even a blacksmith couldn’t forge it back together) his childhood friend, gave him a look of what could only be disgust, and turned away.

I…earned that.

Ed ignored how hollow the knowledge made him feel, and continued up the hill, his teacher behind him and his brother by his side—and everyone else laughing at my back.


 

“It wasn’t like last time.”

“I know, Brother.”

“I actually hit something!”

“I know, Brother.” Al’s smile was sad, rueful. Ed hated it. “I believe you.”

 No, you don’t. He appreciated the sentiment, appreciated Al lying for him, but it was still a lie. And lies already hurt like a bitch, especially when they came from someone—usually the only person, in his case—who actually at least tried to believe him. “But you’re not going to come with me to check it out, are you.” Which, you know, he expected, because Al had stopped going on quests with him after he’d destroyed their father’s warship with a failed dragon-killing invention—hadn’t said it was because of that, would never say that to him, but the timeline matched up, and well. Ed was smart enough not to pretend otherwise, at least not to himself

Al rolled over with a sigh, propping himself up on his elbows on his perch on the bunk next to Ed’s own. Ed could feel those bronze eyes on him as he shoved things into his bag from the desk they shared—map, notebook, charcoal pencils and a knife (small, yes, but he’d sharpened it to the point of being able to cut through Gronckle-hide, capable of bringing the Night Fury’s heart to his father and proving himself at last). “Raven’s Point, right? I don’t know if Dad’s gonna give me enough time away from the repairs.”

Right. Because I created an even bigger mess than usual. He tried not to wince, but Al noticed, sitting up with a frown. “Not because of you, Ed—the raid was already bad before—”

“Before I knocked over a giant torch and crushed the dock ramps?” The words sounded bitter, cold and cruel even to his ears, and he stopped, staring down at the schematics he’d been mindlessly throwing into the satchel—the ones for the Mangler. For the machine that was supposed to fix everything and just turned into another mistake, another hiccup from the village disgrace. A vicious, sudden desire to crumple them, burn them swept him, and he reached for the papers.

Or maybe not. Because I did hit it—I did! And I’m going to bring its heart to my father, and he’s going to not look at me like someone skimped on the meat in his sandwich for once.

…but this machine still did more harm than good. Just like the rest of them.

“I mean, intentional or not, you did sort of knock over a giant tower of fire onto the docks.” Ed tensed at the words, crumpling the Mangler blueprints in his metal hand, and Al winced. “But they always get bad when winter starts. We’re at our weakest, and they’re at their strongest, so obviously we take more of a hit.”

“And yet the blame still ends up pinned on me.” Moodily, Ed drummed his fingers on the rough-hewn table, shoving the paper and pencils still littering it into a corner. Because what better scapegoat is there than a one-armed runt who couldn’t even handle being Heir? “As always.” He slumped into the chair with a sigh, the wild energy that had propelled him through the past several hours giving way to an exhaustion so bone-deep that it ached. “Why can’t Dad ever, I dunno, give a shit?” About me, for once. Not just what I did to the village, but—but what I actually am, and am trying to be.

“Because he’s an idiot,” Al said simply (Ed certainly agreed with the sentiment), leaning back against the headboard. “He’s trying, but he’s an idiot, and he’s worried about the winter. Plus, he wants to lead another expedition to Helheim’s Gate to look for the Nest before the ice sets in.”

“And you know this how?”

His little brother simply raised his eyebrows, looking at him with pure disbelief. Ed snorted. “Right. You’re the Heir.” Because you were replaced, you were replaced, you weren’t good enough—oh, shut up, brain. He pushed the traitorous thoughts out of his mind, shoving another pencil and a compass into his bag. “Doesn’t explain why he looks at me like—like they’re right. He’s my dad, but sometimes he acts like—”

Like he only has one son. He shook his head before the words could slip out, barreling on before Al could prod him forward and those damning words escaped. “Besides, he never listens!”

“Some might say you two have that in common,” Al muttered, absolute traitor of a little brother that he was. Ed threw a pencil at him, and he dodged it with a yelp. “Hey!”

“You’re missing the point—”

“No, you’re missing the point.” Al rose to his feet, the amusement vanishing from his bright bronze eyes. Ed slung the strap of the bag over his shoulder, forcing himself to look him in the eyes as the usual light, the warmth that was there even when the rest of the world loathed him, faded to deadly seriousness. This wasn’t his little brother looking down at him now, shoulders squared and jaw set and eyes as sharp as blades. This was the Heir of Amestris. “Dad thinks you’re trying to be something you’re not, and he’s scared that you’ll get yourself killed doing it.”

Ed stared at the ice in that stare, the pleading and hope beneath it—begging him to stop being something the entire world thought he wasn’t, that it wouldn’t let him be. And so are you.

It shouldn’t have been a painful thought. He’d known it, that Al didn’t think he could kill dragons, that he could be a warrior like the rest of them—that his little brother was scared for him. He’d just…thought he had a little more faith in him. That he’d be proud of him—that he’d look at him like he was less of a disappointment to pity and protect, and more of someone to actually look up to, like he had when they were children. Before he was the village pariah, and Winry hated him, and he was the laughingstock of the village.

Maybe after today, he’ll look at me like that again. Like I’m worth something. Ed set his jaw, tightening his grip on the strap of the leather bag and starting down the staircase. “I just want to be one of you guys.” A dragon-killer, a warrior, a fighter—someone who can make sure no one ever ends up…like me. 

Al might have said something else, but Ed was already heading out the door. Raven’s Point was waiting for him. The Night Fury was waiting for him.

I can still fix this.

Chapter Text

If there was one place Ed felt truly, genuinely safe—felt as close to free as he’d ever been in fifteen years—it was wandering the depths of the forests around Amestris.

Most Vikings didn’t care to explore them too deeply, and warned their children to do the same, to turn to the seas instead of the woods and the skies high above as true, proper Vikings should—like everyone did, and like they all should, because looking at something different would make you the next hiccup. Ed, though, had always loved vanishing into the trees, always felt strangely safe amidst the sun-dappled woodlands and rich pines despite the monsters that might lurk within (which probably made him even more of a hiccup than routinely destroying the village by not being Viking enough for them). It couldn’t be more dangerous than the beasts wearing friendly faces waiting for him back in the village, certainly.

Well. Might wasn’t exactly the right word for the presence of monsters, given what he knew (or thought he knew) for certain had crash-landed in these woods. If there was anything that qualified as a monster in this world, the Night Fury was definitely it.

Even if it was being a little bitch and was ridiculously difficult to find, for some bizarre reason.

It really shouldn’t have been. He’d seen where the thing was bound to land, the arc it made as it fell through the sky. Hell, he’d even made sure to mark off the potential crash sites on a hastily-scrawled version of the map he’d spent the past few years scribbling into his notebook, crossing them off one by one with a diligence that might have made even his father proud. Or would have, if any of those crash sites had turned up with a downed dragon called “the offspring of Light and Death itself” conveniently pre-killed by the fall or the bola.

So far, he just had a notebook with a lot of charcoal x’s, sore legs, bruised pride…and absolutely no Night Fury to show for it. Because why would he? Why would the gods offer him the one thing that could completely fix his life? That would mean they approved of him, and who could ever approve of a skinny, crippled runt whose every step was followed by disaster?

Not Amestris, not the gods, and definitely not dear old Dad.

Ed forced his metal fingers to uncurl where they were crushing the notebook dangerously tight, the indents left in the soft leather cover joining countless others. He’d learned a long time ago not to try to hold pencils—or any writing materials at all, really—in that hand; one squeeze too tight and he’d be stuck whittling down a new branch and sticking it in charcoal until the traders came with proper ink. Which, with the ice of winter setting in, wouldn’t be for…three months, at least. Maybe a proper Viking wouldn’t care, but Ed had proven a dozen times over that he wasn’t exactly (wasn’t even slightly) a proper Viking.

Not at all, really, but that was depressing to think about and totally beside the point. Even if the fact that he’d lost an entire dragon in the woods he knew like the back of his (flesh) hand was even more depressing than that.

“Come on,” he muttered—to who, he wasn’t entirely sure. The gods, maybe, or the Norns, or whatever part of him still had hope left, or even the Night Fury itself. At this point, he’d take any help he could possibly get. He certainly needed it.

You’ve needed it for years—and who gave a shit? He gritted his teeth against the voice of his insecurities, fingers tightening instinctively around the notebook again. “Come on,” he repeated, glaring down at the map before narrowing his eyes up at the landscape before him. Pines and firs that seemed to sink their claws into the clouds themselves towered all around, moss creeping over the ground and along their trunks, bracken crunching under his boots despite his best efforts to keep quiet. Everything looked quiet, peaceful, perfectly normal—and that was exactly the problem.

See, a Night Fury falling from that distance…well, it would pick up a helluva lot of speed, and hit the ground with enough force to leave dents, tears in the canopy of trees and gouges in the branches that reached across his path. Even without his knowledge of physics, more complete than that of almost any other Viking, anyone with even a shred of sense would be know that a fallen dragon left scars upon the earth. That they didn’t just vanish in silence when they hit the earth.

For dragons, while monsters, were pure fire and defiance. No one could expect them to go quietly, to not screech and howl and burn as what was supposed to be airborne was forced to the ground. Or they could, but it wasn’t likely to end well for them. Despite all the pain and trouble they’d caused…Ed could respect that. Understand that, even.

He was pretty damn defiant himself, after all.

Didn’t mean he liked them. Didn’t mean he wasn’t going to kill them and prove himself at last. But wasn’t it better to know and respect your enemy than to constantly overestimate yourself? Wasn’t that what Dad—no, just Hohenheim had taught him, back when he’d been the Heir? To look at your enemies as your equals, and fight them as such?

Maybe he couldn’t do that with sword or shield or axe, but he’d gone mind-to-matter with the Night Fury and emerged victorious. Semi-victorious, given that he couldn’t find the thing, but…

Ironic. I’m listening to you far more now than I ever did as Heir. The thought brought a bitter smile to his face, one that soured into an equally bitter scowl as he glared down at his map, crossing off the location—one of the last three possibilities—and stomping off, no longer bothering to even try and creep quietly through the undergrowth. The x’s scrawled across the map seemed to laugh mockingly, stark and black against the rough draft version of the project he’d been working on for years—years, and they still say it’s useless, that they don’t need it. He barked a sharp, vicious laugh. We’re Vikings. We explore the seas, conquer mountains. How can they say I am—that the maps are—useless?

The x’s flashed, sharp and bold against the page as he stormed through the forest blindly. Because you are, aren’t you? You destroy and you break and every attempt to fix it makes it worse. Maps and smithing and useless inventions won’t make you a Viking. Nothing will make you a Viking. The markings, failure after failure after failure, burned into his mind, and he gritted his teeth against the onslaught. You’re useless, useless, useless—

“Shut up!” Furiously, he scrawled the pencil across the page, Raven’s Point and the surrounding cliffs, towering mountains and sprawling forests vanishing under scribbles of charcoal and ink. He snapped it shut, shoving it into his jacket—and stopped short, gazing blindly down at his hands. Great. Now you’re destroying your own shit because of random voices. You’re going insane.   

At least it hadn’t been the original, right? If that got ruined…

You’d be even more useless than you are now.

Ed shuddered, scowling, and started shuffling through the undergrowth at a slower pace—not before kicking a stone, watching it bounce off the ground and down the slope. Of course you can’t find it. Of course you’re going to fail again. Of course everything’s going incredible fucking wrong. “The gods must hate me,” he muttered aloud. “That’s gotta be it. Otherwise, how would I lose an entire fucking dragon? Who even does that?” Definitely not Al, or Ling, or Winry. Definitely not anyone who matters. He slapped a branch out of the way with a snarl, only to jolt back as it swung back and smacked him in the face, the blow and the humiliation stinging worse than expected. “Fucking hell—”

And then he saw it.

The tree before him was ripped in half, bark peeling and the trunk beneath drooping over the small trail he was following—a trail that spread into a deep furrow in the ground, one too deep and too wide to come from any natural disasters—hell, to even come from other animals. No, all of this—fallen leaves, crushed bracken, hell, even the claw marks sunk deep in the ground—could have only come from one thing. From one dragon.

From…from the Night Fury.

From my prey.

Ed’s eyes widened, metal fingers twining instinctively with flesh ones, squeezing together in a nervous habit he’d had since getting the damn arm. The Night Fury…the Night Fury might have been just over the edge of the ledge a few feet ahead. His chance was that close, seconds within reach…

So why do I feel so terrified?

It made sense, he tried to convince himself. This was the Night Fury, a dragon who had single-handedly caused more destruction than any other species (except for perhaps the glimmering white “partner” Fury that the dragon had worked with before it was captured). He’d be stupid not to be scared of it, to approach it brazenly.

But it felt like…more. Like he was standing on the cusp of something he didn’t understand yet, about to fall over the edge or step back into obscurity. Like this moment wouldn’t just change everything—it would change him.

Ed swallowed, forcing his hands to loosen around each other, and dared to creep forward. Under the destroyed tree, across the deep gash ripped into the earth, on hands and knees to the very edge of the ridge…and he stopped, curling his fingers into the soft earth, squeezing his eyes shut.

This is everything you want. This is exactly what you asked for. A chance to prove yourself, change everything, to make them all notice that you’re still there.

Don’t you dare turn away now.

Steeling himself, Ed slunk forward just enough to peer over the edge, fingers instinctively drifting to the knife tucked in his belt and twining around the ivory handle. Golden eyes narrowed, sharp and wary as his gaze crept over the small clearing—before freezing, stopping, staring.

Because before him…

Before him sprawled the Night Fury.

Granted, he’d never seen a Night Fury before, but this—this had to be it. It was wrapped up in the iron-fused ropes of the bola, all dark scales and terrifying silence, powerful body still and unmoving. There was no other dragon that had been struck by a bola that could land this far out. There was nothing else it could be.

Ed pulled himself to his feet, skidding down the ridge and stumbling to a halt, hands slamming into the rock he ducked behind. The terror was still there, pounding at his heart like ice rushing through his veins, but under the ice there was…lightning. Excitement-sharp and fury-bold, it electrified him as he pulled the knife free, fingers tightening around the hilt. You did it. You actually did it. You took down a dragon no one’s ever seen and now they’ll have to care, they’ll have to give a shit about me, no one will doubt me ever again and everything will be perfect. Bit by bit, the edge of a smile crept over his lips, his breathing coming harsh and ragged as it started to spark through him. You just have to make sure it’s dead.

Easy enough. Just check for breathing, pulse, movement.

It’s a downed dragon, and it might already be dead. Ed set his jaw, rising to his feet and stalking closer, closer, closer. Either way, you brought it down. You have to finish it.

The dragon looked less and less like a mere lump of dark scales the closer he got, features slowly revealing themselves until he was near enough to touch the creature. It was sleek, he realized, less spiky than he’d expected, a ridge of small spines running down its back and flaring into tiny, near-invisible plates along the sides of its tail. Its face was long, round and flat, with strange, flappy protrusions—ears, maybe?—stretching from its skull, pinned flat against dark scales. Scales, he noticed, that weren’t purely black; red dusted them, like someone had crushed rubies and scattered them across those smooth inky-black scales. Like night and fire turned into the deadliest of beings.

It was powerful, dangerous, savage and swift as a blade. Fear clutched viciously at his heart—the damn thing was awe-inspiring, terrifying and it wasn’t even moving. Night Fury. The unholy offspring of lightning and Death itself. The most dangerous dragon in the known world…

And it’s entirely at my mercy.

Disbelief and hope began to flood him, his frown of concentration slowly turning to a wild, delighted grin. “Yes…oh, gods, yes, this fixes everything!” Al will be proud, Dad will be proud, Winry won’t hate me, Ling will finally shut the fuck up—I did it, I did it.  tightened his grip around the dagger, bracing his metal hand against the dark scales (still warm, he registered dimly—warm enough to feel through fingers made of metal, but he didn’t dare let the doubt sink in) as he raised it. “You’re going to make me a hero,” Ed whispered, and brought it down—

And gasped as he was thrown back, stumbling unsteadily back as the Night Fury’s low growl rumbled through the clearing.

Not dead.

His heart pounding, Ed watched the thing’s sides heave, the snarls of the beast intermixed with shockingly expressive groans of pain as it struggled against the ropes before slumping. Notdeadnotdeadnotdead—shit, it’s alive, maybe I’m dead—but no, it’s still trapped. He shuffled closer hesitantly, dagger in hand. I still have a chance. I can still—still be useful.

Then its eyes opened, and Ed froze. Froze at those burning silver eyes, the hate and terror shining savagely within them, the silent plea within them. A person—it sounded like a person, with a mind and a soul of its own, was looking at him like a person, desperate and pleading and begging to be spared. Ed couldn’t move in the face of that gaze, that quiet grief for a life about to be lost, the fear that shone there.

It looked…it looked as frightened as he was.

As scared, as lost, as lonely and sad as he was.

No. He tightened his grip around the knife, ignoring how his hands shook on the blade, ignoring the horror pounding at his heart. No, you can’t back down, you can’t—

For a moment, those eyes gleamed gold and furious, stained with scars and tears no one had ever seen. His eyes, staring back at him in the face of a dragon. Of the dragon, the one he hated more than anything, the one he’d made his target and hunted for so, so long.

It gazed at him for a moment longer, before letting out a resigned whine of grief and closing its eyes, throat bared. As if asking him to make it quick, to make it painless—to let it die peacefully, at least, if he had to take its life.

And suddenly, Ed knew he couldn’t kill it.

The dagger thudded to the ground, his legs giving out as he choked on the realization, that single damning thought. A sob pulled at his throat despite everything, eyes burning with shame as he buried his head in his hands. Coward. You’re such a coward, they were all right and you’ve been ruining everything for no reason at all, because you can’t kill dragons and you can’t fight and you can’t do anything right at all.

You did this.

“I did this,” Ed agreed aloud, willing the tears not to fall, willing the dark shape of the downed dragon not to blur. You were about to kill a defenseless enemy and call yourself a hero. You were about to pretend that you could kill dragons, you were about to kill like a coward and pretend it was brave. A choked, hysterical laugh escaped before he could stop it. You’re as much a monster as it is.

You did this.

His invention had shot it down. He’d come up with the idea of reinforcing the bola ropes and edging them in razor-sharp wire, the kind that even now dug into the Night Fury’s scales. He’d pressed a knife to its skin and threatened a helpless opponent with death.

He’d done all that—

But if he’d done it, then…then he could undo it, couldn’t he? This wasn’t a giant, fallen brazier that destroyed the docks, or a warship built to survive Helheim’s Gate that couldn’t survive Edward Elric, or a lucky axe that he’d accidentally sharpened too much. This was something he could fix, or try to fix, at least, all on his own.

And die for it, maybe, if the thing was strong enough to kill him, if he wasn’t fast enough to escape it.

But this is my fault. So it’s my responsibility to fix it. Ed’s fingers closed around the dagger again. And my responsibility to face the consequences, no matter how severe.

The first rope snapped after a near-minute of sawing at it. He had to angle the knife three different ways to get around the wire within it and the flecks of hard iron, but he managed it easily enough; he’d designed the damn things after all (even if everyone on the island conveniently forgot that whenever they were marveling over them). The second fell apart even quicker. The third—

The third snapped, and then there was a shriek like crackling ozone, and Ed’s back was pressed against moss and rock and stone. An immense weight pressed down on his chest and he gasped as black scales swam into view, the beast’s claws tight around his throat (he thought of the gouges he’d seen in the trees, in the rocks, and fear turned his blood to ice). Breath coming in rasping gulps, he forced himself to meet the eyes glaring into his, the death-sharp fangs bared in the slightest of snarls as luminescent silver bored into him. All the humanity he’d glimpsed moments before was gone, leaving only the monster he’d heard of in stories.

I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m so dead—

The Night Fury opened its mouth, a low growl rumbling in its throat heralding one of its deadly blasts of flame and plasma.

I’m sorry, Al.

It reared back—

And screamed at him, its howling roar piercing into him as its claws slammed into the ground beside him. Ed jolted back, heart pounding as it whirled, a streak of shadow in the mist of the forest, and bolted off. Powerful wings managed to carry it up-up-up a moment before it slammed into trees and rocks, listing all over the place and shrieking like a bat out of hell all the while. Slowly, the knife lying forgotten, he managed to pull himself to his feet, gripping the boulder behind him for stability as he tried to process whatever the hell just happened.

He was…alive.

He’d spared it, and so…it had spared him. And left him with—a scolding?

Ed didn’t make it two steps down the trail before his body gave out, utterly overwhelmed by…that. For once, mind and body were entirely, one-hundred-percent in agreement, and he let himself sink gratefully into the welcoming darkness. The last thing he thought of before he hit the forest floor was silvery eyes—silver eyes and deadly claws and the sudden realization that the Night Fury was something more than a monster.

What it was, Ed didn’t know, but he’d be damned if he let it disappear without finding out.

Chapter Text

The walk back to his family’s home was cold and unforgiving—so your basic, everyday Amestrian early-autumn season, but made even more unbearable by the mix of panic and curiosity downright beating at his head. Every unsteady step was met by another question—why did it spare me? Don’t they always go for the kill? How come it seemed to have trouble flying?—and a lingering, horrible prickle of anxiety that swept through him every time he thought about what would happen if his father knew. Hell, Ed was probably in enough trouble for leaving the house after a raid like that (after causing that much trouble), for staying out after sunset (he wasn’t even supposed to leave at all), for vanishing into the forests again (running away like he always did). If he knew that he’d encountered the Night Fury—the greatest danger to Amestris, their greatest foe—had it trussed up and trapped and ready for the deathblow, and didn’t kill it…

He’d be dead. Maybe more than dead.

And what would the others do to him? Izumi, Winry, Al? Maybe Winry didn’t believe in him (or even like him; that ship had sailed a long, long time ago, though, so why did it still hurt), but Al sort-of did and Izumi did too, and he’d spent so long trying to prove them wrong only to prove them right—to prove himself a traitor—

Disaster. A complete and utter catastrophe of Asgardian proportions. Ed’s mind drifted back to the words his father had used—cold and cruel but right, in the end, because you’re a little idiot—and he winced, fingers digging into his palms again. Guess disaster really does follow wherever I go.

He couldn’t tell them, that was clear. Maybe Al, eventually, because he could trust Al (at least, he was eighty percent sure he could trust Al), but definitely not any of the adults, and definitely none of the kids his age (going into Dragon Training tomorrow and leaving you behind). Plus, he didn’t even have any proof that he’d seen it (night-black scales dusted with ruby-red, sleek body, silver eyes almost…human), and given his reputation…he was no liar, but they still wouldn’t have believed him. Wouldn’t have cared.

Ed reached the village, reached his home—is it, though?—before two hours had drifted past the sinking of the sun. Longer than he’d hoped to be out (if he’d gone through with his plan, he realized suddenly, he’d be a hero by now—or would he be a murderer?), but it meant he’d gotten home faster than expected after waking in the woods from that…encounter. Yeah, encounter worked to describe whatever the hell that was.

Ha. He knew exactly what that was. He’d marched up to the unholy offspring of lightning and Death itself all gung-ho and puffed up on stupid pride, oh-so determined to prove them wrong, only to be as useless as they all said he was. Only to let the damn thing go, when he could have killed it and saved so many lived, and…survive.

Which was the weird thing about all this, really. He should have died. It should have used one of those blasts to turn him into charred flesh and dust, or torn into him with its claws or teeth, or crushed him to death or something. But the Night Fury had…had scolded him, roared in his face with all the rage of a creature made a fool of before whirling and flying (surprisingly clumsily) off.

Dragons, though, always went for the kill. Always. Hell, they’d nearly killed him as a baby, killed his mom instead and took his arm with them. This one, though, hadn’t, even when Ed had resigned himself to his fate as dragon chow.

I didn’t kill a dragon, and it didn’t kill me. Which means they were all right about me…but wrong about them? About it? He grimaced, remembering the feel of those claws on his neck, the smoke-and-night scent of its breath. Maybe we just don’t know enough.

Well, since he wasn’t going into Dragon Training, he’d have all the time in the goddamn world to look. Though where he’d look was going to be an issue, given that the dragon had probably (maybe? It had seemed weirdly unsteady, slamming into trees and rocks and cliffs) flown away by now.

Tomorrow. Worry about all…this tomorrow. He fisted his hands in the hem of his tunic, worrying at the fabric as he trudged up to the door of his house. Just endure the latest scolding, and go to bed, and then start worrying about what it takes to “know enough”, whatever the hell “enough” even is for you.

And…and tell Dad he was right. He grimaced at the thought, on principle more than because of fear this time. After so many years spent arguing with the same person, you eventually just…started keeping score. Giving in felt like losing, but if he didn’t, then he’d have to fight dragons and show everyone just how much of a traitorous mess he really was, which was bad for both him and the village. Tell him you’ll stop pushing for Dragon Training. That you’ll stick to the forge—no new inventions, no trouble, nothing. Just ask for permission to keep working on your maps and explore around while Al is at training with the others. That was reasonable, right? Get the problem child out of your hair and out of the village, safely away from trouble and reputation-ruining shenanigans, let him learn a useful skill, and go on your merry way.

It was fine. It would be fine.

Ed pushed at the door hesitantly, figuring that it was likely locked. To his surprise, it eased open a bit, revealing the small-but-mostly-cozy sitting room and kitchen, fires crackling in the hearth and casting the wooden walls in a warm light. Familiar shields hung on the walls, most ceremonial and decorative, but a few serviceable, and the exposed rafters were hung with furs from previous winters and stacked with his notebooks from when he managed to climb up out of reach. An old, smooth staircase hewn from a log covered with a carpet they’d traded for one of the rare good days this summer, a day when his dad had actually acted like a dad. A half-room half-loft up those stairs where his little brother probably slept now, two wooden beds and cotton-stuffed mattresses and thick wool blankets for an Amestrian winter.

Home—well, when his father (or Al, for that matter, who seemed to be losing patience with him with every passing moment) wasn’t pissed off at him or disappointed in him or something of the like. Where he’d been born, where he’d lost his arm, where he’d started his maps, where he’d first tried to hold a sword, where he’d learned what it was like to be an heir, and a brother, and a son, and had it taken all away.

…Where Mom had died.

Fire, smoke, yellow eyes claws scars Mama Mama no bring her back PLEASE—

He pushed back flickers of memory and fear, and pushed the door open, barely making out the figure of his father in the firelight. The man was slumped in the ancient wooden chair at the head of their small table, the high oak backing draped with pelts as always. He was facing away from the door, thank the gods, rather than waiting for him to get home and warrant a scolding, leaving him a perfect opening to slip in and dart up the stairs. Maybe he wouldn’t buy that he’d fallen asleep so fast, but it was as good a shot as he had at escaping from the lecture no doubt awaiting him, and starting the next morning by agreeing with his dad…well, maybe it would make things a little easier. 

A memory stole into his mind unbidden as he slipped in and crept toward the stairs, footsteps muffled on the carpet—a memory from just a year after dragons killed Trisha Elric, before he’d been a disappointment and before his father had blamed him, before the mourning period was truly over and he was expecting to go back to chiefing in full force and all he had to be was Dad. He’d been—gods, he could barely remember what he was like then, five years old and trying to learn how to navigate the world with a hand of steel instead of flesh. The other kids had been scared of it, of him, and Al was too little to play with all the time, and he’d come fleeing into the house in tears when they ran from him. As if it could spread, as if he’d send dragons down to snatch away their limbs and their families and their hope.

And Dad had held his hands, metal and flesh, tall and strong and unafraid, and told him stories about heroes with metal hands—Izumi’s teacher, Gobber, and his own master before he’d been chief, and even Tyr, god of bravery. Had said that the new hand was like a battle scar, and a mark of how much Mom had loved him—still loved him, from Valhalla.

Ed had believed him then, and for years after. He wished he still believed it now.

“Ed?”

He froze halfway up the staircase, instinctively crouching on the steps as his father stood, golden eyes the precise shade of his own searching his face. He didn’t seem…angry, thank Thor. Tired, and maybe a little sad (you did that, you did that, you keep upsetting everyone) and definitely frustrated—which he deserved, really, after destroying the docks and causing the captured dragons to get away (and letting the Night Fury go, of all things)—but there was no anger. Which…was good. Maybe he was going to give one of those half-assed apologies and Ed would give his own and they could go on their merry ways and not talk until the morning.

Except Hohenheim seemed almost nervous on top of it, and that boded well for absolutely no one. Especially not him.

He sat down on the step, peering down at his father warily. “What is it, Dad?”

Hohenheim coughed, rubbing awkwardly at the back of his neck—a habit, Ed noticed absently, that he and Al shared. “I want to talk to you about something. And apologize for—you know, today. For this morning.”

Oh. Okay, so…mostly according to plan, then. Eighty percent according to plan. Which was, you know, less than Ed had expected, had hoped, but it still seemed like an apology instead of a scolding and an opportunity to tell his dad that he agreed, that it was fine and that he wouldn’t try to kill dragons anymore. Ed swallowed thickly, tugging on the hem of his shirt absently. “Oh, uh—I actually wanted to talk to you about something too. And apologize also. Because…” I destroyed the torches, the docks, let dragons loose…and failed you when I had the opportunity to prove myself. The silver eyes of the Night Fury flashed in his mind again and he shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah.”

Because you were right, and I was wrong, and I’m way, way too tired of fighting to bother getting into that absolute mess right now.

Hohenheim blinked, looking…surprised? Ed could guess why; he knew full well that he hated admitting that he was wrong about something, especially when it came to his father. The old man was probably wondering if he’d hit his head when he snuck out of the house.

He’s not that far off, Ed thought, lips twisting into a sardonic smirk. Just change “hit your head” to “slammed against a boulder by an angry Night Fury and passing out like a damn coward” and he’d hit the nail on the head. He grimaced, the soreness in his back muscles flaring up as if in recognition of the thought. And then I’d be slightly impressed and slightly terrified that he managed to actually guess that. “So, uh—should you go first, or should I—”

“I—uh, I’ll go first.” Hohenheim clasped his hands together, shifting awkwardly. Ed tried to ignore that his own hands were mimicking the gesture, interlaced fingers squeezing at flesh and metal until crescents were cut into the former, just as he studiously ignored every other similarity. The golden hair and eyes, that was unchangeable, that linked him to the royal line of the Hohenheim clan and the island of Amestris even when he’d been disowned as Heir, but everything else…everything else he could pretend didn’t exist. “I know you meant well, despite the results of your actions, and that you wouldn’t have launched the contraption if you weren’t certain it would work as intended.” There was a smile at that, almost fond, almost real, and Ed couldn’t help the hope that flickered in him at the sight, the faintest hope that the smile was for him and maybe Dad was a little bit proud of him, despite everything, that he was good enough—

“Al was right when he reminded me of that,” Hohenheim went on blithely, and the hope curled up and died in his chest. Of course it was for Al. Of course it wasn’t him. Why do you keep falling for it? Bitterness swallowed the old hurt and Ed went back to staring at his hands, squeezing them together and pretending it didn’t hurt. At least his hands had never let him down before—at least, not on the scale that Hohenheim usually did (though Ed couldn’t pretend that at least sixty percent of it was because of him). “You were trying to help and take the initiative, and I do respect that, son, and I’m sorry for scolding you in front of the village, and for shouting.”

Not like you’re not going to do it again, though.

Ed coughed, forcing his fingers to loosen before the crescents he’d dug into his flesh had could bleed and freak his father out. The last thing he needed was for him to go from…whatever this was to concerned, overprotective parent who never acted like it when he should. “Um. Thanks for that, I—I guess. It’s okay, though, really. I’m sort of—used to it, now?”

He didn’t notice the flash of anguish that suddenly crossed Hohenheim’s face, gaze still fixed on his fingers. Just get through this, and then tell him he’s right, and go to sleep. “Besides, it was my fault, and I should have stayed inside, so I’m sorry for not doing that. And for sneaking out of the house afterwards. And destroying the docks.” He picked at the hem of the soft red tunic, fingers worrying at the hem frayed from dozens of days spent fiddling with it. “I’ll start working on fixing it after I close up the forge tomorrow. Or I can do it when I get up, but—you know, Teacher’s handling the new recruits in Dragon Training and she wants me to handle the stall, but—”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Ed stopped short at that, eyes widening in confusion. What—but I’m supposed to clean up the messes I made; I messed it up so I have to fix it and that’s how it’s always been, that’s what you taught me, what you even taught Al before he—you know, stopped messing up. “But the docks,” he protested in confusion, finally raising his head. “And the main square—I know I’m not strong enough to do them all by myself, but come on, Dad, I can handle some of the repairs.” This made no sense at all, what was he doing—

Hohenheim smiled suddenly—at him. The kind of warm, golden smile that Al usually got, that Ed hadn’t gotten for months (years, maybe, he barely kept track anymore), the one that made people forget they were only a few degrees south of Freezing-to-Death. It wasn’t exactly the proud-father-smile or the proud-chief-smile, but it was more than he usually got and gods-all-freaking-mighty, it was terrifying. “I doubt you’ll have time between your work in the forge and Dragon Training.”

What.

What.

Dragon—Dragon Training. As in, the program that every fighter on Amestris went through, that Izumi led whenever winter was on the horizon so they’d have fresh fighters before the ice set in, the one that Ed would have sacrificed anything to get into just this morning—and now balked at the thought of setting foot in the Arena, balked and thought of silver eyes and black-red scales and a roar like a star screaming down from the sky.

He couldn’t kill dragons. And if he was in Dragon Training, then everyone would see that he couldn’t kill dragons and they’d hate him for not being able to kill dragons and none of this would have been an issue if you hadn’t shot the damn thing down. He swallowed thickly, shaking his head. “Dad, I—I was gonna—” I changed my mind, I don’t wanna fight dragons, I can’t fight dragons, don’t make me, please. “You were right,” he said, and hated how small his voice was. “You were right, and everyone was right, and I’m—I’m not a dragon fighter and I should stick to the forge—and I promise I’ll stop messing things up and playing around with inventions and I won’t make anything and pester you and Teacher about it, but I don’t want to fight dragons.”

Hohenheim’s smile faltered, the light in his eyes fading to confusion. Ed wanted to kick himself or kick the Night Fury or kick Hohenheim, but made himself stay hunched on the step. “What’s gotten you so discouraged all of the sudden?” There was a strange gentleness to his voice, one Ed hadn’t heard since he was…seven? Eight? Ten, maybe? “You’ve pushed for it for years, Ed, even after causing destruction far worse than this raid’s incident. Did I…”

Maybe. Gradually, over years, maybe, but—no. Ed shook his head. “I can’t kill dragons,” he muttered, swinging his legs absently, “and people get hurt every time I try, so I don’t think I should try anymore. So no more inventions or disasters, I promise, but—can I keep my maps, please?”

Hohenheim’s eyes widened. “Ed, of course you can—”

“Great. Then I’m going to bed, and I’ll start on the repairs tomorrow, I promise.” He traced his fingers over his heart only half-sarcastically. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

He got to his feet, suddenly sore and tired to the bone, wanting nothing more than to collapse on his mattress and curl up and stop wondering about dragons, about humans, about everything and everyone—but Hohenheim’s voice stopped him before he could make it all the way up the stairs.

“I don’t expect you to be perfect, Ed, but you do need to learn to defend yourself as best you can. If you died…” His father made a noise that sounded almost frightened, anguished, full of pain and fear, but when Ed turned, there was nothing but quiet resolve on his face. “Please go to Dragon Training with the others tomorrow,” he said quietly. “I’m heading out to Helheim’s Gate with several other warriors—one last search for the Nest before the ice sets in. Who knows, if we take the Nest, the dragons might leave us alone and you’ll have nothing to fear.” There was a hesitant, halting attempt at a smile, but this one fell through. They both knew the dangers of Helheim’s Gate, those eternally-fogged ocean graveyards said to contain the home of the dragons.

They both knew he might not make it back. 

Ed beat down the nausea that came with the thought, the idea of Al taking the burden of chiefdom (so young, too young), of his father’s eternal, invincible presence disappearing entirely. “…Fine,” he mumbled, staring down at his feet. At least he’s not demanding I be the best, right? Though I’d question his sanity if he did. “I’ll go. And you’d better come back—for Al.”

We both know it wouldn’t be for me.

“Ed—”

Ed turned, swallowed the hurt, the loneliness, the knowledge that he’d never really be heard just as he always did, and made his way up the stairs. “Good night, Dad.”

Chapter Text

“Welcome to Dragon Training!”

Welcome to my worst nightmare.

Twenty-four hours ago, Ed would have given anything—literally anything he had left to give, whatever was left of his status, his reputation, his life—to be one of the select few teens chosen to hear those words. Now they only worsened the heavy, sickening dread brewing in his gut, even as his fingers tightened unsteadily around the axe his father had pressed into his hands before he’d set off for the docks.

He was here. He was in fucking Dragon Training and he was going to make a fool of himself in front of everyone. He’d prove all of them right, prove that he was a coward and a fuckup and that he couldn’t kill dragons, just like they’d all tried to since he was—what, seven, eight? He’d be even more of a laughingstock, a disappointment than he was now, and the one thing he could be proud of himself for was traitorous.

If they knew you freed a dragon—and that you felt good about it…

He shuddered, footsteps falling heavily on the stone ramp of the arena, eyes on the backs of the recruits before him. Mei, tiny and gentle (to anyone but him) but absolutely fearless, Lan Fan, quiet and watchful, but a swift and sure-footed fighter, Ling, gigantic fucking asshole…and cheerfully friendly to anyone who wasn’t Edward Elric. Winry, straight-backed and cold-eyed and utterly dedicated, the most determined and the deadliest (and the most beautiful—shut up, Ed, like she’d ever look at you) of them all.

…And Al, broad-shouldered and golden, every inch a Viking prince, walking into the arena without looking back. Without even glancing at his failure of a brother.

Because Alphonse Elric was a Viking, was everything Ed had tried to be for fifteen years and effortlessly perfect at it. Because his little brother was the only thing Ed really had left to give a damn about, but that same brother was starting to care less and less about him. Because to cement the respect of the people of Amestris and the tribes of the Archipelago, he had to conquer all weaknesses.

And there’s no weakness greater than me.

Logically, Ed had known that they’d grow apart as soon as Al was named Heir. He’d known that he’d eventually look at the big brother he’d once adored and see the village pariah, the too-small too-angry too-destructive blacksmith’s apprentice who was only any use in the forge, and walk away. It made sense, and it had happened throughout history, over and over and over. A hiccup was born to the chief or chieftess, the child was either floated out to sea to see if it survived or kept by its parents. If it was kept, it was shunted aside bit by bit by bit until it vanished into obscurity, its younger siblings or cousins or anyone who would be a better Heir rising to eclipse them. The hiccup’s name would be long forgotten, the “weakness” bred out of the bloodline, and life would go on.

No one would know they existed without looking, and no one would care enough to look.

Ed had hoped, prayed, begged the gods and the Norns to give him a different fate—to let him be a dragon-killer, to be useful, to do anything but fade. Somewhere deep within, though, he’d known—he’d always known—what would happen.

Al would rise, and Ed would disappear. It was the way of the world, of history, the fate the Norns had written for him. There was no other way. His greatest ally and only friend wouldn’t spare him a second glance as he because a supernova of light, another warrior and leader beyond compare. He’d be just like the rest of the Amestrians.

He’d just…he hadn’t thought it would be so soon.

Ed wondered, fingers tight around the hilt of the axe, if he should have told him about the Night Fury last night. If maybe they would be walking together instead, whispering like they’d always used to, making plans—for tracking a dragon rather than killing it this time. If Al would’ve been horrified that he spared it or intrigued that it had spared him. Maybe Al wouldn’t have believed him at all and just scolded him for going out into the forest. Hell, maybe he would have snuck out and tried to find the Night Fury for himself.

He’d almost told him, had wanted to wake him and tell him about scales like liquid night and eyes the same icy argent as quicksilver, about claws so sharp they could cut through rock and fangs capable of tearing through humans like they were nothing. About how those fangs and claws hadn’t turned on him, how the offspring of Lightning and Death itself had shown mercy, of all things, about the terror and wonder and the curiosity and the guilt. If anyone would understand, he’d reasoned to himself, it would be Al. Al always understood.

But then he’d remembered the ice in those bronze eyes that morning, and the way he’d gone from little brother to Heir, and the words had stuck in his throat.

Father was already sailing for Helheim’s Gate. Al would be old enough, trained enough to go with him soon, or be busy running the tribe in his place. And if there was one thing Ed had learned while he’d been strong, brave enough, good enough to be the Heir, it was that a Chief put the tribe above everything. Even family. Especially family.

Soon Al would, too.

And so Ed had decided to keep the dragon—and the question of what the hell it was—to himself.

Now, though, he half-wished he had told him about it, so they’d have something to talk about and someone would actually look at him for once.

He gritted his teeth and ducked into the arena, shuffling toward the edges of the clump of recruits and hovering as near as he dared allow himself. Any closer and they’d notice and start mocking him—probably, given that they hadn’t missed a goddamn chance so far—but any nearer and he wouldn’t be able to hear them.

And maybe pretend he was one of them. You know, for once.

But you’re not, a voice whispered, and Ed found himself edging back a bit, falling into line before the wall of doors—cages. Because they would have killed that dragon, and you didn’t…and you did something good. You saw something they never would have. Ed’s fingers tightened around the axe, metal and flesh digging into the age-smoothed wood. So why do you want to be like them?

Ed shivered at that—at the question, the strange finality of it, and wondered. He wasn’t like them—any of them. He was metal and flesh, an incomplete human, not Viking enough and not strong enough and too different for any but a few to stand to look him in the eyes.

And they still didn’t. Wouldn’t.

Maybe…couldn’t.

But the dragon did.

He filed away the thoughts for later, head jerking up as Izumi’s voice rang out across the arena, the blacksmith and Hand to the Chief stalking in front of them. “Alright, line up!” She caught Ed’s eye and winked, black eyes glinting with a strange fire, and he managed a wobbly sort of smile back—one that curved into a delighted smirk as he realized what came next.

Oh, they aren’t gonna know what hit them…

“Recruits,” Izumi said, and stopped before them, eyeing them like a wildcat spotting some particularly interesting prey. “Before we begin, I have a few…questions.” Her eyes flashed dangerously, and despite knowing that he was probably the only one here who had Izumi’s “favor” (which often meant more hard work and danger, go figure, but Ed was fairly used to it after working under her since he was tiny), Ed stood straighter, squared his shoulders and loosened his grip on the axe until it felt less like he was trying to squeeze the life out of it. Al did the same, he noticed, and even Lan Fan stiffened a bit, but the others (except for Winry, forever in a warrior’s posture) didn’t move. Didn’t understand why, exactly, the blacksmith was known as the single most terrifying force on their island.

Ed knew, and couldn’t wait to see them all knocked on their asses for their mistake.

“As you know, the raids have been getting worse and worse,” Izumi went on, her posture languid, unassuming, utterly false. “So rather than training with the more traditional foes—the Gronckle, the Zippleback, the Nadder—you’re going up against the most dangerous of them all.” She jerked her head toward the cages behind her, which shook and rattled and screeched obligingly.

Dragons. Those cages were full of dragons—and if he knew his teacher at all (after so many years, he was at least eighty-five percent sure he did), they were going to see them, fight them. Or the others were, at least. I’ll probably get eaten in the first two minutes, he thought dryly. That would be just my luck, too—surviving the Night Fury and then turning into Nightmare chow. Amazing!

Izumi’s lips curved into a wicked grin. “Let’s see how much you lot know about them, shall we? You, Mei—tell me what you know about the Monstrous Nightmare?”  

“Fireproof scales,” Mei said confidently, dark eyes bright and eager. “Capable of setting its scales on fire as well, and can burn hot enough to melt iron. Potent ranged blasts of fire, but they generally come in focused, narrow streams that are easier to avoid. They’ve got a habit of rearing up and showing the undersides of their wings and bellies when they’re about to blast, so it’s easiest to strike when you get in close.” She hesitated, before continuing, her tone much more subdued. “…Only the best Vikings go after them.”

Winry’s eyes flashed, harsh and blue as an Amestrian winter, and Ed flinched. Right. A Nightmare…a Nightmare was the dragon that killed her parents.

Izumi regarded Mei thoughtfully. “Right, except for the last bit.” Her grin was something nearly monstrous, and Ed shuddered before he could stop himself. This wasn’t his teacher, cheery and strong and guiding him through the forge, even comforting him when he scorched his hand the first time. This was the Hand of the Chief, the commander of their armies when all else failed. She was absolutely terrifying, but really, what else was new? “The Monstrous Nightmare is the least dangerous of the dragons you’re gonna face in her. Lan Fan—tell me about the Razorwhip.”

Ooh, that’s a new capture. Ed tilted his head toward the cage Izumi was angling her head toward, furrowing his brow thoughtfully; the Razorwhip, he knew, came from outside the fog banks surrounding the Archipelago, which was actually sort of cool when he thought about it. His map only covered what he’d seen and heard about, but to expand it to the world beyond that endless fog…gods, it would be incredible.

Of course, that wasn’t anything close to what Lan Fan said (because who else gave a damn about exploring or learning or anything interesting?). “Armored scales like metal plates, wings as sharp as a Timberjack’s,” she recited, “but smaller and faster than a Timberjack. Rare Sharp-Class dragon—I think we’ve only ever seen a few. Some sort of glittering blue fire, shoots spikes like a Nadder, poisonous eyeballs. No known weaknesses, but arrows aimed in the chinks of its armor seem to be effective.”

Izumi made a noncommittal noise. “You know the basics, at least. Ling, the Skrill. Tell me what you know about it.”

“One of the few dragons that can raid while it’s storming, but not if it’s put in water or kept underground.” For once, there wasn’t a hint of mockery in his voice, nothing but a sort of energy like a brewing storm and ironclad determination. Still an asshole, but at least he knows some of his shit. “Powerful lightning blasts, capable of creating storms from nothing but cloud coverage and delivering deadly shocks. More aggressive than most dragons in that it kills first, steals later.”

And then there’s, you know, the interesting fact that it didn’t show up until ten years ago while the other species have been raiding us for years. And the fact that there’s only two or three of them and we’ve only managed to capture the one. And the records that show it used to raid the Isles of Xing, which make it weird that it’s here, of all places. But sure, ignore all the interesting stuff.

Like everything else that went down on this gods-forsaken island, it wasn’t surprising. Just…annoying. Kind of depressing too, if he was being honest. Maybe questions like these were treasonous—ha, they definitely were—but hadn’t his own father taught him that knowing his enemy meant victory? That finding the home of the dragons was the key to ending the war and stopping the raids once and for all? That dragons should be respected as much as they were hated, because to treat them as anything less was a disservice to the threat they created?

Fucking hypocrite. Ed swallowed down a derisive snort. Then again, here I am, training to kill dragons when I literally let one go yesterday, so it must run in the family.

Life is just amazing.

Izumi’s eyebrows rose. “Incomplete, but better than expected.” Which was probably Ed’s fault, given how much he’d bitched about Ling and his relentless mockery in the workshop. He couldn’t bring himself to feel bad about it; the bastard deserved it for being incapable of shutting up. “Winry, the Stormcutter.”

Ed couldn’t help the way his heart skipped as Winry nodded, moving forward just enough for him to glimpse her clearly. Her fair hair was pulled back in a tight, high ponytail, pale blue eyes glinting like ice and steel and death—so different, deadly different from the cheerful little girl he’d once called friend, but every bit as beautiful and terrible. Her warhammer—huh, that was new, hadn’t she had an axe before?—rested easily, naturally in her hand as she answered, “Sharp-Class dragon, four pairs of wings. Fairly rare and presumably far from our region of the Archipelago, since we’ve only killed a few and captured just the one in there.” As if in response, the Stormcutter in the cage shrieked, inhuman and furious, so different from the howling, scolding scream of the Night Fury before it had vanished. “Not much is known about it, but they’re agile and fast despite their size and launch powerful spiraling blasts of fire. Also harder to find a blind spot on these dragons, as they can rotate their heads.” She tilted her head thoughtfully, blue eyes glinting. “But if you can move fast enough to dizzy them and break a pair of their wings, you can keep one down.”

“Surprisingly complete,” Izumi acknowledged, nodding to her. Ed wondered if he should try and offer a smile or a thumbs-up or something other than this blank, sort-of-definitely-creepy half-staring thing, but decided against it; at this point, he’d be lucky to leave the arena without a warhammer to the face. “Now, lets see how our pride and Heir is doing, shall we?” Izumi crossed the arena to the last cage—a silent one, Ed noted with interest, before nodding to Al.

“Tell me about the Light Fury.”

Ed’s blood froze.

Right. The Light Fury. The gods-damned Light Fury, the one who they’d never seen even when they captured it, who lit itself on fire and turned its scales invisible so they couldn’t make anything out. The one that had fought in perfect, devastating tandem with the Night Fury until it had swept too close to the village, taken a hit meant for its strange partner and fallen to the ground. The one that had seemed so fiercely protective of the Night Fury that it had willingly let itself be captured by human hands so it could fly away, and had killed ten humans in the chaos of its invisibility before it was subdued.

That dragon—

Oh, that dragon would hold one hell of a grudge if it ever found out what Ed had done.

He choked down a near-hysterical laugh as Al lifted his chin. “The Light Fury is, as far as we can tell, some kind of counterpart or subspecies of the Night Fury. It can shoot powerful blasts of fire that also somehow camouflage it. It’s white in its natural state, but is a difficult target to hit due to its deadly speed and invisibility.” Al hesitated, glancing at him—not for help, because the Heir would never except help from the runt, of course he wouldn’t—but as if to gauge his reaction to what he said next. “…And it usually worked with the Night Fury as some kind of partner.”

Oh, yeah, because suddenly mentioning the Night Fury is gonna make me fall apart. Put me on a pedestal and call me a goddamn ice sculpture, why don’t you; you’d treat me way less delicately then than you do now.

“Oh, he’s here?”

Ed bristled at the disgust in Lan Fan’s usually even, quiet voice, baring his teeth across the arena at her as Ling snickered, raising his hand. “Hey, Miss Izumi, can I transfer to the class with the cool Vikings? Or, you know, actual Vikings instead of—”

“Fuck off, Ling,” Al bit out.

Yesterday, Ed might have been grateful for it, but now—gods, that was how they saw him if they didn’t hate him, wasn’t it? Someone weak, fragile, in need of protection? Who couldn’t even stand up for himself?

Okay, so he didn’t exactly have a great history with that, but who could blame him? They ganged up on him every time he tried to speak for himself, so he just—just stopped speaking, but he thought Al would be different. That his little brother would pity him less.

This is how it starts, isn’t it?

“I can speak for myself, Alphonse,” he snapped, and some small, mean, terrible part of him relished how Al flinched back, eyes widening with surprise and hurt. As if you didn’t hurt me first—as if you ALL didn’t— “And by the way, Ling, here’s what you fucking missed on Skrills. They don’t breathe lightning, they channel it down their spines, they only show up during electrical storms outside of raids, they can ride lightning bolts to reach impossible speeds and blend in with dark clouds, which is at least eighty percent of what makes them so lethal—because, like the Night Fury, we can’t fucking see it.”

Maybe a Viking wouldn’t know all that—wouldn’t care that he didn’t, but—but FUCK HIM, anyhow, fuck them all.

“Oh, not the gods-damned Night Fury again—”

“Of course that’s what you’d get hung up on—”

“ENOUGH!”

Ed froze at the roar, as a spear whizzed over their heads and slammed into the top of the arena gateway above, dropping the gate behind them. His teacher was practically incandescent with fury, her eyes blazing as she jabbed her fingers toward them. “To train the mind, you must first train the body,” she hissed, her voice icy. “However, all of you—with the possible exception of Miss Rockbell—have spent too goddamn long training either one or the other, and worst of all, you’re the most immature team of brats I’ve ever had the misfortune to teach!”

Her words rang off the stone of the arena, and only practice kept him from flinching as the others looked ashamed, taken aback, shocked. Now you see how that feels, he thought bitterly, then shook himself. It won’t last. You know it won’t. No point wishing it on them. Hell, even a dragon yelled at you. That’s gotta be some kind of record.

“Usually, I give new recruits a moment or two to familiarize themselves with the dragons, as Vikings tend to spend too much time training the body in general,” Izumi continued, her voice like ice, an Amestrian winter. “However, it seems I’ll have to revert to my old methods.”

Her hand braced a lever—the lever to the cage of the Monstrous Nightmare, Ed realized, his blood running cold. “You see, most teachers employ tactics right out of the Book of Dragons, making sure their recruits know what they’re dealing with, and practice in drills. I, however—”

Izumi grinned, too-bright and terrifying as she flicked the lever down, and Ed barely managed not to scream as fire roared forth—

“—believe in learning on the job.”

Chapter Text

Somehow, he managed not to die.

Hell, he even managed not to be the first one to get blasted—or out, or dead, or whatever the hell Izumi’s rules made someone who got blasted by the very, very pissed off Monstrous Nightmare (and the rules, Izumi had called from where she leaned against the wall, watching them scurry around trying to avoid the Nightmare, were subject to change whenever she wanted them to, which was just gods-damned fantastic ). The dragon’s quite-gods-damned-literal rampage had torn through them all in seconds, scattered them as they grabbed for weapons and tactics and anything they could find that would give them the slightest edge.

Even Ed. Funny thing about being faced with a giant, pissed-off fire-breathing monster was that it turned into “fight or die” pretty damn quickly, and even if dying would’ve made things easier on everyone, Ed had to many goddamn questions to die. Like hell was he going to walk into Niflheim without answer the question of the Night Fury, without knowing.

Curiosity killed the cat, they said, but everyone forgot that second part: satisfaction brought it back. Except curiosity wasn’t what was hunting him in this cursed fucking arena, it was an angry Monstrous Nightmare who could boil a Viking’s flesh off their bones, and Ed had zero interest in going out like that. Or at all, but given the odds, he probably only had a few years until a dragon decided the tiny fishbone human was worth eating and carried him off.

So yeah. Grabbing shields. Making noise. Memorizing shot limits. Trying not to sneak looks at Al and Winry or replay the first three words Winry had said to him in months through his mind over and over like an idiot (nope, just you, nope, just you, nope, just you—gee, thanks, Win, like I didn’t already know I was on my own) . And watching in horror as the Nightmare lunged for him—for the second time in two days, what the fuck, was it his soap or something? Did metal just smell good to Stoker-Class dragons?—and let fire build up in its throat, his back against the wall and his hands shaking behind the wooden shield—

Then Izumi had stuck her hand into the Monstrous Nightmare’s mouth, fire and all, and wrenched its head upward just before it unleashed its blast. “And that,” she’d gritted out, dragging the scarred dragon, “makes ten blasts, you squirmy bastard.” It has shrieked, spitting embers, but Izumi’s hand was wrapped in the dragonhide glove she used in the forge and the flames couldn’t pierce the fireproof scales of the Zippleback’s hide, even if it was long dead.

Ed had tried to use one of his father’s dragonscale cloaks once upon a time, he’d found himself recalling, had dragged it down to the forge to try and figure out what had made it fireproof. He hadn’t figured it out, just that the flames seemed more effective on one side than the other (he’d wanted to try and test it on dragonfire, if he ever got the chance)—and then Al had found him dipping the cloak in the fires and shrieked, which sent Dad running, and well…it had gone about as well as last night’s conversation. Which meant that he didn’t really listen to Ed and apologized mainly for Al’s sake rather than Ed’s own.

Even the fires of a Stoker-Class dragon—a Monstrous Nightmare at that, the toughest breed of dragon Ed had thought he’d ever have to face until the Night Fury (who he still had to go back for, learn about, there had to be some reason why it didn’t kill him that day, something he was missing) —weren’t enough to pierce that glove, though, and Izumi’s glare sent the dragon skittering back as she dragged it back to its cell and threw it in , ignoring the dragon’s almost childlike (as if it was throwing a tantrum, and he’d nearly burst out into hysterical laughter where he sat pressed against the scorched side of the arena) shrieking and whining.  

“You’ll get another chance, don’t you worry,” she’d barked at it, black eyes blazing as her gaze swept over the other recruits, disappointment clear on her face. Ed hadn’t quite been able stop a flash of triumph in him as the expression so usually reserved for him struck the others. That feeling, brief and bright and beautiful though it had been (gods, he was going to savor that moment for-fucking-ever, because he might have been called out but so was everyone else, which was more than he was used to), faded as soon as Izumi slammed the door on the cell and whirled back to him.

Dark eyes flared like fire as he tried and failed to pull himself to his feet, finding himself shaking too hard to move. You wanted this—you literally wanted this and now you can’t even move, they were right, they were right, you can’t fight dragons and you shouldn’t fight dragons, but you already figured that out and now it’s too goddamn late.

He could feel the gazes of the others boring into him as well, and he held his breath, waiting for the one adult who’d never torn him to shreds before to rip into him at last, to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that reckless, strange little Edward Elric was too weak and bizarre and un-Viking-like to be a dragon killer. Black eyes flared, sharp and savage and ruthless, and—

“Not bad for a first attempt,” she said, and though her words were directed to the rest of the class—the ones that hadn’t dropped their shields and gone chasing after them like an absolute idiot, only to get pinned against the wall by the Nightmare—Ed couldn’t help relaxing, at least half the tension in his body rushing out of it and leaving him limp. “Not good, mind you—but there’s potential.”

The edge of a something —what the hell, was that a smirk? After nearly killing them all? Oh, he was gonna have a long discussion with her about teaching methods when he got back to the forge—curled at the edge of her mouth, and he watched, dumbfounded as she straightened. “A few things,” she added, “and don’t think that this gets you out of the discussion in the Hall tonight; I expect you two hours after sundown to go over notes from today. This is just a brief overview of tonight.” Ed pushed himself to his feet as she turned her back on him, hands laced behind her.

“Individually, you have varying strengths and weaknesses—recklessness, sloppy movements, slow reaction time, etc.” There was a sharp, clinical edge to her voice, the same that Ed had heard so many times before going over how to properly forge a blade for a broadsword versus a claymore, guiding his hands over the differences in each weapon he learned to create (she had never feared his metal fingers, not like most people—maybe it was because she’d built them, or maybe she trusted that she could teach him how to make something with that hand) until he could tell them at a glance. He’d never thought that she’d teach her Dragon Training classes the same way. “Which is, quite simply, human. We’ll work on lessening those individually, but one of your biggest problems right now is that together, you could cover those weaknesses. It’s why we train you in units; no Viking can truly stand alone and survive.”

Oh. Well, that didn’t really bode well for Ed’s future, did it. He swallowed, wishing the axe was back in his hands if only so that he could dig his nails into something other than his palms. Still, he listened as Izumi continued, “Yes, the recruit that does the best in training will win the honor of killing the Light Fury before the entire tribe—” old news, Ed thought dryly, and unimportant to him given…well, all of him “—but none of that matters if you get out on the field and are immediately picked off.”

Oh, joy.

“So, teamwork,” Izumi declared, clapping her hands together, “and one vital lesson that you all have to remember no matter what.”

Ed leaned forward, curious despite himself—only to jolt back as fierce black eyes swept toward him, boring into his. “A dragon,” Izumi bit out, and thought her voice was soft, Ed could hear the steel and fire burning bright beneath it, “will always— always— go for the kill.”

Ed could only stare at her as the other recruits cast him baleful glares, as Winry’s cool stare turned disdainful, as Al wouldn’t meet his eyes—stared, and thought of black claws around his throat that had left inch-deep gashes in rock, fangs that could easily tear him in half, a fire that could destroy catapults with a single blast. Thought of silvery eyes glowing with fury and grief, and a scream that made the sky seem to bleed before night and fire made flesh ran away—and left him alive.

So why didn’t you?


 

There was no sign of the Night Fury. Which, you know, should’ve probably been obvious; what the hell did Ed expect, really? That the thing would’ve stayed where the kid who’d tried to kill him literally a day before had tried to kill it? No one was that stupid, not even a dragon.

The little clearing he’d found the dragon in was empty, nothing but claw-marks and ashes and the torn-up bola to show it had even existed in the first place—granted, that was pretty damning evidence that something had been there, but there was still no Night Fury, which was kind of the whole reason Ed had ventured back out here anyway. He poked absently at the bola, frowning. “Asshole dragon,” he muttered, trying to remember the direction it had flown off in before he…

Before I passed out like a complete and total dumbass. He scowled, more at himself than anything else (he had no time to be so self-deprecating, he had to be back at the Great Hall…what was it, two hours after sundown? Three? Izumi would kill him if he wasn’t there on time with everyone else, and he wasn’t looking forward to being humiliated in front of everyone twice in the same day—which wasn’t as much as usual, but it was the gods-damned principle of the thing). “Come on,” he whispered, eyes scanning the tree—it hadn’t gone toward that massive boulder thing, or back the way he’d come, which left…just about every possible direction, with no clue as to where it had gone.

Tossing the dice, then.

Well, he was already at just about rock-bottom. What else did he have to lose?  

What’s left of Al’s respect, a few scraps of Dad’s trust, and just a pinch of Teacher’s hope. He felt the corner of his mouth tug up into a rueful grin. So not much.

He dragged his heel through the dirt, hopping unsteadily backwards as it left a line in the dust, before doing another, and another, and another, until four lines pointed out in four different directions, like a sort of compass. Absently, he wished he’d brought his map with him; he’d brought his notebook just in case he did find the thing, but the map was locked up in his only drawer and he didn’t feel like digging through it and potentially being caught by an irritated Alphonse.

“Alright, four zones of ground to cover in…” He squinted up through the trees, trying to gauge the sun’s position. Ugh, I hate this…next time the traders come in I’ll have to ask them if they found anything useful for timekeeping. It looks…a little past noon? “Seven hours,” he decided, clapping his hands together determinedly. So that gives me about an hour and a half to cover each one…and to come back here and cross them off as I go. So maybe an hour, then, so I have time to get back.

Now I just have to actually pick a direction. Ed poked thoughtfully at the one heading back up and around toward the cliffs thoughtfully—if he was a dragon, he definitely would’ve gone there; it was probably easiest to fly off of something high like that. But the dragon—the dragon had looked like it was having trouble flying ( because of you, his mind hissed, and he pushed the thought away with a scowl), so that was probably a no-go. The next went too close to Amestris for any dragon to head that way and survive, and if a Night Fury had been killed, the whole village would’ve been yelling about it (a nd probably believing them instead of me, because who would ever believe the runt?).

The third and the fourth…well, one ran into a thicket of thorns that, while possible to avoid, would take a while to get around, and Ed already had enough bruises and scratches from this morning. Save that one for last, then, he decided, mentally crossing that one off the list and peering down the line that pointed into a mostly-clear path laden with ivy and roots and moss—lush and green and almost welcoming.

I’m pretty sure there’s a poem from the mainland about easy, pretty-looking paths. He grimaced, instinctively grabbing for the knife he kept tucked inside his jacket. And not going down them because bad things happen.

Then again, when the hell have I ever followed directions , according to my dad?

 He snorted at the thought, picking his way through roots and ivy and down a winding slope, even as unease started brewing in his belly. If I get caught—if I get caught, I’ll be disowned, I’ll be killed, exiled, Al will hate me and I’ll be just another cautionary tale about why runts should be floated out to sea when they’re born—

“Shut up,  Ed,” he muttered to himself, ducking around a massive boulder. You’ve known this since you were seven; why the hell are you freaking out about it now? Besides, no one knew these woods better than him; if someone wanted to track him, they’d have to delve into the heart of the forest, and Ed would know damn well if someone was trying. “No one’s gonna find out and nothing’s gonna happen; hell, you probably won’t even find it.”

And if you do…

Well, who knows what the hell will happen?

Ed yelped as he stumbled over a loose patch of gravel, feet scrabbling at the ground for purchase. A curse escaped him as his back slammed into the rock, a shock of pain followed by a dull ache radiating through his back. “Son of a rat-eating, troll-infested—” He winced, pushing off the rock and rubbing at the soreness with his flesh hand, gaze sweeping viciously over the surroundings forested slopes—

And a secret tunnel?

The pain working its way through his back forgotten (well, not entirely forgotten, ‘cause ow, but at least ignored for now), Ed blinked in confusion before peering at it again, furrowing his brow. Maybe “secret tunnel” was a bit of a romantic term, but it definitely looked like one, a tiny space caught between a rocky rise and the boulder, lined with moss and guarded by sprawling roots from the trees across hills reaching beyond. That’s definitely…suspicious. He glanced over his shoulder warily, trying (and failing) to crush the curiosity in his chest. And probably a dragon lair. But also…really, really cool-looking, and I’m searching for a dragon anyway…

Fuck it. Curiosity and hope sending icy, electric tingles through his chest, Ed skidded down the little slope, ducking carefully through the little tunnel. There wasn’t much of a tunnel, he realized quickly, slipping through it to the other side, more of a gap between two overhangs just big enough for a fifteen-year-old Viking runt to slip through, but when it opened up…

Well, it was something out of a goddamn storybook, a cove sunk deep into the forest. Towering evergreens that didn’t quite breach the top of the walls nature itself had created dotted ground covered in springy green grass, boulders creating outcroppings and overhangs along the outer ridge that he could settle on. An idllyic lake reflected the sky above with mirror-bright accuracy, down to the clouds drifting through and the needles of the fir trees.

It was beautiful, but there was no Night Fury—and he’d just wasted ten minutes for a stupid hideout that didn’t even matter without the dragon there to learn from. “This was stupid,” he mumbled, sliding a tired hand over his brow and kicking at one of the flat, round black pebbles scattered along the lichen-covered stone he was balanced on.

Flat, round black pebbles that, he realized a second before he turned to leave, exactly matched the ones near the clearing where the Night Fury had crashed in the first place. Flat, round black pebbles that probably weren’t pebbles at all, but were— scales.

Ed crouched, that fading excitement fizzling back to life like a dying torch lit in the fires of Valhalla—and fell back into the shadows with a gasp as night incarnate rushed up and over him, a shriek tearing from its throat. Dark claws scrabbled at the rock desperately, and Ed instinctively clutched at his pounding heart, one hand going to the dagger at his side as it skidded back down, howling in…in frustration.

As though the Night Fury really hadn’t seen him, wasn’t hunting him or mad at him, as if—as if it had tried to get out of here before and failed. And then kept failing.

I know how that feels.

He pushed the traitorous thought away quickly, scrambling forward and pulling his notebook from the pocket within his jacket as it winged its way across the lake, barely avoiding crashing into the water. A grin was spreading across his face despite himself, even as the dragon launched itself up once, twice, and crashed to the ground again and again, screaming in fury, excitement turning to triumph. It took a moment to stop his hand from trembling as he swept the pencil across the page, dark lines spiraling out and sweeping into broad wings, into a sleek black body, into a powerful tail with a set of two fins on it.

Into a Night Fury. Into the Night Fury, the only Night Fury they’d ever even heard of, the dragon no one had ever seen—finally recorded on paper. Because I, stupid, obsessive, weak little Edward Elric found it—I really found it, take that, Ling, and take that, everyone who thinks my maps are stupid, because I FOUND THE NIGHT FURY—

That elation, though…it started to dim as the dragon slunk toward the lake, confusion and… sympathy, of all things, replacing it. Silver eyes glowed with a strange loneliness that Ed could make out even from this distance, tail swishing over the ground as it lapped at the water in the lake— freshwater, then. That’s good. At least it won’t die.

He blinked at himself after a moment, surprised by his own thoughts. Yesterday— literally just yesterday, less than twenty-four hours ago—he’d been itching to kill this dragon, and now…well, now that he knew he couldn’t, he really didn’t want it to die. And as long as it was here, on the ground, it was a target for humans—

“But that doesn’t make sense,” he murmured a second later, furrowing his brow as he glanced between his sketch and the beast trying and failing to grab a fish out of the lake. “If you can get out, why are you…why are you still here? Why don’t you just…fly away?” If someone else found you…

Had he damaged its wings or something? Quickly, Ed swept a look up and down the dragon; there were no scratches, no scars on those scales as black as night, no difference between the wings he’d drawn and the real ones besides the fact that one set was flesh and the other was paper and ink. He’d gotten the number of ear-flap-things on the head right (so those probably didn’t help it fly, but it was best to cover all your bases, right?). The two fins at the base of the tail were intact, the tiny budding spines along its back in place, and the ones at the end of the tail…huh. You only have one.

Hesitantly, he rubbed out the tailfin on the left, brushing the crumbs of charcoal and ash off his paper. So that’s why…those help you fly, huh? And I…I took one from you. Subconsciously, he flexed the fingers of his automail hand, the steel cold beneath the glove he wore—a dragon had taken his arm from him, and he’d taken flight from a dragon. It should’ve been equivalent, should’ve been retribution, but...it didn’t feel like it.

 “You’re kind of like me, aren’t you?” he whispered, leaning forward—and knocking his pencil off the edge.

It was such a tiny noise. No human would’ve possibly heard it if they weren’t paying attention. Hell, most animals would’ve probably ignored it…but the Night Fury lifted its head, silver eyes widening as rose to his feet. Ed tensed, heart in his throat, waiting for one of those blasts that had decimated stone buildings, that turned entire sections of the village to smoking ruins—froze, and stared into those brilliant eyes, into the suspicion that turned into a wary recognition.

You are like me, the dragon’s gaze seemed to say. And like calls to like.

Like calls to like.

Ed watched the Night Fury, and the Night Fury watched him, until the sun came down and rain began to pour, and he finally dared to break that bright, burning gaze. He could’ve sworn he heard the dragon snort as he scrambled out of the cove, could’ve sworn that loneliness returned to its gaze as he gathered his things and began slogging through the now-muddy trail to the Great Hall. Could’ve called that emotion in his chest guilt, heavy and painful, for abandoning the dragon to its prison.

Like calls to like, the pound of the rain reminded him as the lights of the village came into view, and Ed sighed, set his shoulders, and stalked through the storm to the gathering of his class. Like calls to like, and you will be back.

Somehow, the thought didn’t seem like a threat, didn’t send fear shooting through his heart as he clambered up the stone steps to the Great Hall. No, it felt…like hope. Like a promise.

And Ed intended to keep it.