“ I think that love is stronger than habits or circumstances. I think it is possible to keep yourself for someone for a long time, and still remember why you were waiting when she comes at last.... I would enter your sleep if I could, and guard you there, and slay the thing that hounds you, as I would if it had the courage to face me in fair daylight. But I cannot come in unless you dream of me.”
Ed hadn't thought of Briggs or Baschool for thirteen years. Those horrific days last played out in his mind the day his son Charlie was born. He and Alphonse waited patiently for hours outside Winry's hospital room for his third child to come into this world and somewhere along the way, the former Fullmetal Alchemist fell asleep. The young father dreamt of an attacking bear as he and his little brother traipsed through a snow covered road to Fort Briggs only to realize General Armstrong's soldier, Buccaneer assaulted them thinking they were Drachman spies. Still, the looming brute of a man kicking ass in his dream triggered Ed's fight or flight response – something that hadn't happened for a long time. His body automatically responded to the violent dream by making him punch a hole in the waiting room wall.
Alphonse helped calm his older brother down that day. He also fixed the wall...and Edward's broken hand.
Winry never found out that this dream inspired Edward to name their child Charles Buccaneer Elric. His lovely wife also stayed blissfully ignorant of the damage her husband caused to the hospital and his hand. She did know about how, every so often, her loving husband had such horrible dreams he woke up covered in sweat and screaming. She did her best to soothe him and he would be eternally grateful for her love and patience.
Now, thirteen years later, the memories particularly of Bashchool crashed back into his head. The thoughts flooded his mind so innocently as his son, Charles chose that night to assert his independence. Oh, yeah, there was also something in there about a girl too.
“Mom, Dad...” Charlie B. stood up with a start, pushing his chair aside with a screech. He succeeded interrupting the family dinner. A dinner table cram-packed with mostly blonde heads looked up at him and all hushed their chattering voices. He cleared his voice.
“What's up, Sport?” Ed set down his fork. He saw something in his son's blue eyes, his child was serious and wanted to be heard.
“I want to, I want to be called Buccaneer, not Charles or Charlie.” He exhaled, glad he got that out.
“Oh, great.” Winry moaned and glared at her husband. “You HAD to give him that name when I was on all those drugs at the hospital.”
“Not this again, woman!” Ed rolled his eyes. Winry would never let him live it down, that he tricked her all those years ago.
“Mom!” Charlie raised his voice. “I LIKE the name...it, it's...”
“Bad-ass?” Ed crossed his arms. “The original Buccaneer was as tough as they come.”
“Yes!” Charlie pleaded with his mother. “I want to go to the military academy, I need a name that means I'm tough, that I'm serious...”
“He's only serious about impressing Lilly Renbeck...” Devin smirked in between chewing his food, the twelve-year-old eyeballing his older sibling with the same golden stare of his father.
“Shut up!” Charlie's determined face turned angry. “You're just jealous because she likes me more than you!”
“She does not!” Devin dropped his fork and growled. “Besides, you're not even taller than she is!” He knew exactly where to strike at his brother's ego.
“Take that back!” Charlie pointed and made his way around the table to his sibling.
“Easy, easy!” David, Edward's apprentice, extended his right arm, preventing Charlie from moving past him. “Go sit down, Buck.” He barely raised an eyebrow at the youth before he felt the soft hand of Sarah Elric, the eldest daughter, squeezing his knee. The nineteen-year-old realized that a blush crept across his cheeks.
“Buck?” Seventeen-year-old Sarah interjected. “Mom, I kinda like that. It's not as colorful as Buccaneer, but sounds even tougher.” She took a bite of her food and smiled at David's red face.
“Devin! Charles!” It was their mother's turn to raise her voice. “I did not prepare this wonderful meal to have you fight during it.” She narrowed her gaze as the boys looked toward their father for protection. “You're father isn't going to help you...” Winry caught Ed shaking his head in agreement. “Now sit down!”
“Yes, ma'am!” The boys plopped their behinds down in their chairs in unison. Neither wished to incur their mother's wrath any further.
“Good.” She inhaled. “Ed, what do you think? Buck is a nicer alternative.” She put her husband on the hot seat. After all, it was his fault her child had THAT middle name.
“Aw, Win.” Ed really didn't want to dredge up this old fight again. He knew he took advantage of his wife thirteen years ago when she held that precious boy in East City Hospital's maternity ward...when she was pumped full of pain medication. She would have agreed to naming a kid anything. Her angry stare reminded him it was, indeed, his fault. “I don't mind it...and, the boy's his own person. If he wants to go by his middle name...” Winry grunted. “...or Buck, it's his choice to do it. It's hurting no one.” There. The father's edict had been administered. Head of the household made the rules!
“Very well then.” Winry actually was the neck and she turned the head.1 All the young people at the table released a collective sigh that this argument fizzled out before something more headache inducing – as per usual in the Elric-Rockbell house- materialized. “...so, tell me more about Lilly Renbeck...”
“She's just a girl!” Devin blushed and looked away. “A girl Bucky, here likes.”
“Bucky's worse than Charlie!” Buck snarled. “And YOU like her too!”
“Geez, I'm getting a headache.” David whispered to Sarah through the corner of his mouth as the two boys continued to bicker across the table and their parents started hollering back.
“Typical Elric family dinner...you volunteered for this, remember?” Sarah elbowed the boy's ribs. “Still want to be a State Alchemist?”
“Of course...I'd put up with worse than this to have your dad be my teacher.”
“Yeah...me too.” Sarah smiled at the boy as his cheeks grew pinker.
Ring! Ring! The telephone in the hallway broke through the cacophony in the kitchen. Edward and Winry's eyes grew large with realization.
“Ethan!” Everyone seemed to yell at once and scurried from their seats to be the one to answer it.
Winry made it there first.
“Rockbell Automail.” She always answered this way but hoped it was her oldest child calling from his own apprenticeship with her teacher, Garfiel, in Rush Valley. When she heard his soothing voice, she squealed with happiness. “Ethan!”
The family soon forgot about any arguments.
The spring night fell upon lazy Resembool just as the one before . The big yellow house stood tall and strong as a breeze rolling up from the meadow filtered through all the open windows. The occupants slept peacefully, inhaling in the sweet country air...well, some of them slept.
Two sneaky and quiet sets of footsteps creaked across the old floorboards of the front porch. Someone slowly turned the worn brass handle on the front door and stealthily slide into the home and moved toward the main staircase.
Sarah Elric squeezed David's hand as she made her way toward her bedroom upstairs and he tried to part with her to his room adjacent to the kitchen. They both knew her father would murder David if he found out about their late night courting in the meadow, but they could not keep away. The young man woke up with the image of the girl in his mind and this carried all throughout the day as her father beat him senseless sparring and teaching him alchemy. Even though David ended most days exhausted, he just couldn't sleep unless he got to see her, got to walk along the Rain river holding her hand and talking openly with her.
Tonight was even more special for the two.
“Davey?” She stopped before the first step and turned to face him.
“We have to tell mom and dad.” Sarah knew releasing their relationship to her parents was going to change things in the house, but she also felt horrible for hiding it. Besides, her mom and dad were good people and they both seemed to like David.
“Yeah...I don't like sneaking around.” He took both her hands. “I want to court you properly.” His bold statement made her blush this time. “But, your dad...he doesn't see you as a woman, he only sees you as his little girl. He's going to murder me.” The boy's eyes glazed over as he replayed the events of this night's walk in his mind. “Damn...he's going to really kill me if he found out I kissed you.”
“Maybe...” The girl before him averted her eyes, thinking about their first kiss and reliving the moment in her mind. “But, I think we should give them a chance...after all, when you get your certification, you'll be leaving us...you'll be leaving me.” The thought of her world upending when the boy left for the military scared the hell out of her. Sarah had no doubts she'd pass the exam and be able to follow David too, but she couldn't take that blasted test until she was eighteen. This new age limitation had been set down by the Fuhrer, himself. All the possibilities of their lives flooded her brain, distracting from the young man before her. Without any warning, David wrapped his warm arms around the girl and held her tight.
“Just for a while, Sarah, only a while until you can join me...” He longed to tell her he loved her. He wanted to shout it to top of the Elric-Rockbell house rafters. David never sought her, he only wanted her father to teach him alchemy and that took weeks of begging and prodding until Edward acquiesced. Now, he and the eldest Elric daughter couldn't pinpoint when the attraction began, but it did and bloomed into something neither one quite understood.
“Awwww, isn't this just precious!” A mousy voice distracted the couple and a light from the table lamp being switched on jolted them from any romantic thoughts. “I smell blackmail!” Devin curled his prepubescent grin. He'd finally caught his sister and her beau.
“You little shit!” Sarah quietly left David to accost her younger brother. “It doesn't matter, we're going to confess all to mom and dad.”
“Confess what?” Buck strolled in from the kitchen holding a chicken leg in one hand. “Who cares if those two go suck face at midnight EVERY night.” He took a bite of the chicken.
“Shut up, dummy...let me do the talking!” Devin glared at his brother. “Like I was sayin'...” He didn't finish his sentence as a loud crashing sound echoed from upstairs.
“What?” Sarah looked at her brothers for an answer but only got blank stares.
Next, the quintet heard a scream, not just any either, but the blood curdling sound of distress from their strong as steel mother. Buck and Devin somehow managed past their sister and her suitor and all four hurried up the stairs and to their parent's room.
“What's goin' on?” The younger ones with eyes still sleep-filled, rifled out of their room each clutching a teddy bear.
“Go back inside!” Sarah ordered, but flashed them her kind blue eyes. The children backed up past their threshold, but stared with golden and hazel eyes down the hallway where the loud thumps, crashes and muffled screams of their mother still reverberated.
Edward heard a sound which pulled him out of slumber. He thought one of the boys dropped a stock pot on the kitchen floor, a sort of pop and booming rattle of copper and steel on wood. He opened his amber eyes to see tendrils of gray smoke undulating upwards hitting the punched tin ceiling of his and Winry's bedroom.
“Winry!” Now fully awake, he sat up in bed, desperate to find his wife. Ed knew she still lay to his right, he felt her warm body next to him. Winry lay on her right side with long, corn silk-colored hair cascading down her shoulder. “Win?” The former alchemist gently clutched his wife's bare shoulder and pulled her down to her back. His heart raced and the bile rose into his throat as he saw the still-smoldering black mark marring her linen nightgown right over her heart. “Winry! Winry!” He tugged her chin to see her face and once she turned he knew it was too late. Her beautiful blue eyes were open and glazed over in death, the light of her soul no longer present. These glass eyes starred at the tin ceiling simulating those of a porcelain doll and just as lifeless. When he brought back his hand, warm, crimson blood rolled down his palm and he realized it also oozed freely from his wife's nose, ears and from one corner of her perfect mouth. Edward could no longer restrain the agony building in his gut and he released a scream loudly – the same one he internalized when his mother died. “No!”
“Aw, you should have stayed asleep.” A smooth and familiar voice calmly uttered. “She didn't feel a thing and that was also going to be my gift to you too.” The man in white stepped forward out of the shadows of Ed's bedroom, his pale hands outstretched revealing a transmutation circle on each palm. “...as well as to your children...”
“Kimblee!” Ed knew he could do nothing for Winry now. Instead, he had to keep this murderous psychopath from hurting his children too. It didn't make any sense to him just how the white freak was alive again, but damned if he'd let the murderer of Ishval lay a hand on his kids. Edward wasted no time launching himself over the body of his wife and attacking the former Crimson Lotus Alchemist, knocking Kimblee down. The man's hands instinctively went for the villain’s throat.
“I would have rather killed everyone else first and had some quality time with the lovely Miss Rockbell all by myself.” He barely seemed hurt or winded as Edward's two strong hands began squeezing Kimblee's neck. The madman started laughing, mocking the former alchemist.
“Shut up! You don't get to say things like that about my wife!” Ed rared back and brought the man with him, then slammed his head into the wooden floor with a sickening crack. The lamp on the bedside table fell to the floor, shattering the bulb.
“But she woke up first, so I imploded her precious heart.” He cackled and taunted Ed. “A nice little trick I picked up since you last saw me.”
“Stop talking!” Edward started slamming the man's head again. “Just die!”
Buck, Devin and David burst into the bedroom with Sarah close behind. Their eyes widened on the horrific scene before them. There on the floor lay their mother. Edward straddled his body across her prone form with each of his hands clutching her neck and slamming her head into the floor over and over.
“Just die! Die Kimblee!” Ed screeched. He couldn't understand why the monster still breathed, still mocked him.
“Get off her!” Devin launched himself at his father, but couldn't get him to release his mother. Winry lay there, no longer gasping for breath and her face tinged blue. The twelve-year-old kept striking his dad futilely, Ed was just too strong.
Out of the shadow of the room, Buck appeared holding his mom's biggest wrench. “Get your fucking hands off her!” He swung the heavy instrument and it came in contact with his father's head with a sickening thunk. Edward finally released his wife and fell to her side.
“David!” Sarah ran to her parents and check her mother first, finding a faint pulse. “Get on the phone and call Doctor Renbeck! Fast!” The girl had extensive medical training alongside alchemy. “Think...think, Sarah!” She wished Ethan were here, he was so much better at first aid. She ran her fingers along her mother neck to feel for any breaks. Finding none, she felt for any swelling of her cartoid artery and jugular vein. She jumped back as Winry's blue eyes flew open and she mouthed the words as she was no longer able to utter a sound.
“Charlie...Buck had to hit him with your big wrench to stop him, Mom.” Tears started to fall. “I haven't checked on Dad yet.”
“Go to him.” Winry's eyes, the whites of which were turning blood red, motioned over to the large unconscious heap across from them.
“Dr. Renbek is on his way!” David ran into the room.
“Did I...did I kill Dad?” Buck dropped the wrench with a clunk, too numb to know what to do next. He looked to his younger brother, Devin for help but got nothing.
“Is Mom ok?” Devin couldn't process the scene before him.
Out in the hallway, two young children cried desperately wanting to see the two people they loved the most in the entire world get up off the floor. Their pitiful wails carrying down the stairs and off into the soft night.
1. I love this quote, but can't claim it as mine. It's from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.”
Chapter 2: This Recondite Truth
“He's been beaten, he's fought hard and been hurt physically. Can't you see the terrible scars?” She turned to the officer. “And through all that pain, suffering and fighting do you know he never took a single life? Not killed one person?” She could tell that Brom mulled this info over in his hard head. “Now why would he all of the sudden want to harm my mother?”
I've been out of sorts lately and time for writing has suffered. I can tell you what's holding me up on updating some of my stories is I'm stupid enough to delve into subjects I'm not familiar with and have to research a bit. Then procrastination sets in and well, that's my excuse.
I did find that in captivity, the record lifespan of a giant panda is 38 years, so there you go Xiao-Mei.
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
― C.G. Jung
Winry remained awake through the whole terrifying ordeal. As Pitt Renbak worked to stabilize her neck and her babies wailed, she couldn't stop the vision, the sight of Edward's cold yellow eyes piercing her heart as his strong hands squeezed her throat.
This cold, blank look wasn't a foreign one, she'd seen it a few times during their marriage when a nightmare roused her husband from his sleep and before he fully awoke. Ed often thrashed about, shouted and became drenched in sweat when the nightmares occurred. Winry learned not to crowd him or try to shake him as the man often involuntarily lunged before realizing he only dreamt of an attacker. When these demons took hold of Ed, she'd let him fight them until he woke then she'd console him, hold him until either he went back to sleep or he'd feel the need to talk about it with her. They both knew that the real-life horrors he and his little brother endured during their attempt to resurrect their beloved mother and everything after burned deep scars in his mind, scars you couldn't see yet remained there waiting to shake him from his sleep.
Edward confessed some of these scars. Often, the he relived the whole human transmutation event, watching Alphonse disintegrate and the base elements become that horrible creature he believed to be Trisha Elric. He'd recall the sensation of losing his leg and the smell of his blood as he made the seal to bind Al to the suit of armor. Winry knew that nightmare should have been enough to make her beloved scream out at night but something more drove his unconscious insanity, something he refused to talk about. Over the years, she'd pinned down the time period the horrors originated. Though Ed evaded her attempts to understand the source, she came to realize it must have been an event right before he disappeared in Baschool and obtained that blasted scar on the left side of his body.
“Winry?” Pitt sat back on his legs. “Your windpipe and larynx are crushed...” His mind rolled over what he needed to do to stabilize her and he knew the mechanic's astute mind calculated her own treatment and prognosis. “...We need to get you to the clinic to make sure your airway stays open.” Dr. Renbak made sure to say this only loud enough for his patient to hear. He didn't want the Elric brood to come more unglued. He knew she could no longer speak so he leaned closer. “Don't even try to talk, you won't be able to...” Pitt couldn't finish as the woman obstinately ignored his order and began mouthing words frantically.
“Please! Go to Ed!” She knew her wounds were acute, but since Pitt didn't find any breaks and she remained awake despite having her head smashed into the floor, Winry rationalized she'd recover. Yet her husband lay in a heap too far from her to be able to see any movement of breathing.
“You!” Pitt hollered at Devin and Buck. “I have a stretcher in my wagon, bring it up, we have to get your mother into town!” The boys wasted no time sprinting out of the room and down the stairs.
“Doctor Renbak?” Sarah pleaded, somehow able to read her mother's lips. “Mom wants you to check on Dad...please?” David stood behind her, his hands on her arms as if anchoring her body to the spot, keeping her standing vertical.
“Right.” He stood and took the few steps over to Edward. “Winry, do not move.” Pitt pointed his index finger in emphasis then leaned down to examine the man, brushing aside some of Ed's fringe to ascertain the seriousness of the wound on his head. The doctor took a small flashlight from his pocket with his right hand and raised up one of Ed's eyelids with his left, shining the light, then repeated in the other. “Pupils are both dilated fine...I'd say that he has a concussion.” He considered it a small miracle the man's skull had not been beaten in by the enormous wrench on the floor...the one with splatters of blood. “Same hard-head as when we were kids...” The doctor mumbled.
“Momma?” A small voice shattered the quiet. Trisha, the youngest Elric clung to her sister's dress and hid behind the much taller Sarah only to peek by the curve of the young woman's hip. Her emerald eyes overflowed with tears.
“Sarah?” A second child tugged on the girl's skirt hem. Mary placed a small hand on Trisha's shoulder – ever the protector of her baby sister. Tears stopped flowing from her golden eyes when she realized she'd have to be stronger than Trisha. “What's wrong with Momma and Dad?” Little Sister Trish leaned her auburn head on her Big Sister Mary's shoulder.
“Here's the stretcher!” Devin and Buck burst past their siblings with the wood and canvas they'd use to carry their mom. The boys set the thing down next to Winry and made movements to pick up their mother.
“No!” Pitt stopped them. “David and I will carry her to the wagon. David, I need your help getting them both safely there...we need to take care of their necks until I can formally rule out any spine injuries.”
“Right.” David replied as both he and the Doctor took careful steps to move Winry and get her safely in the wagon, then the same for Edward.
With both patients loaded, Pitt Renbak took out his handkerchief and wiped his brow. He scrambled up to the seat and took the reigns of the single horse. “Sarah, David, I want you both to come, I'll need your help in the clinic.” Six pairs of eyes widened at the implication not all the Elrics could go to the clinic.
“Wait a minute!” Devin burst forward to take charge. “There's no way in hell I'm staying here!” Once more, the fiery youth was stopped by David's strong arm.
“Please...you need to stay here until we come fetch you.” Sarah spoke softly and pleaded with her brother. Bucky placed a hand on the younger brother's shoulder.
“It's alright, Dev, we need to take care of the littles.” Buck thumbed over his shoulder to Trish and Mary standing in the open doorway, the youngest still crying. The only thing Charles Buccaneer wanted to do was hole up in his room and cry too...he so worried about both of his parents and couldn't believe in a thousand years he'd be the one to take his old man down...ever.
Ed awoke with a start and jumped up. “Winry!” His head hurt and his memories fuzzy, but he did remember Kimblee...and his wife. A pain shot through his heart as the vision of her lifeless body next to him appeared in his head. “Was it all a dream?” His thoughts betrayed him and at that moment, Edward couldn't decipher which visions were real. He tried once more to sit up, to get out of the bed but soon realized cold steel encircled each of his wrists, keeping him tethered where he lay. The man also realized he wasn't on a bed at all, but a stretcher of sorts, like the kind they shuttle hospital patients around...and each of his hands were handcuffed to the metal rails on each of the sides.
“Winry!” Ed screamed.
“He's awake.” A gruff male voice boomed through the narrow corridor. “Can I take him now?”
“Let me get Doctor Renbak, I can't discharge Mr. Elric, only he can.” A female answered and quickly exited the stark white hallway.
Edward's fuzzy vision started to sharpen and he finally figured out he was in Resembool's tiny medical clinic, the corridor off from the waiting room, actually. He'd been through here dozens of times as one child or another suffered a bump, cut or sickness. The familiarity of the place actually helped soothe him a bit, but not much. He heard a door open and some more familiar voices, then footsteps coming closer and closer. Suddenly, a face appeared in his line of sight, a bespectacled man with curly hair was leaning over him. Another familiar face helped calm him down – Pitt Renbak.
“Pitt!” Ed nearly shouted. “My kids? Are they ok?” He knew Winry was dead, he could only hope that his children did not suffer their mother's fate. The father felt tears welling up and wondered if he should even fight crying.
“Edward.” Pitt's voice remained calm. “All your children are just fine...scared but fine.” The doctor took out his small flashlight and once again, studied his patient's pupil dilation.
“Did...they...did they see Winry?” For the rest of his life, he would never, ever forget the image of his own mother laying cold and dead after succumbing to her illness. Edward hoped his own children escaped the sight of their poor mother's death.
“Most of your children are at home, the older boys are watching the girls.” Pitt stowed the little flashlight in his pocket, satisfied that Ed's head injury was not life threatening. “Sarah and David are with Winry now.”
“Wait...what?” Maybe he did dream it all. “Is...isn't she...” He loathed to verbalize it. “Isn't she dead?”
“Ed, she's alive and will recover...” Pitt stared at the former alchemist with confusion. “But...” His tone changed. “You crushed her windpipe and voicebox.” He paused, wondering if he should have sugar coated the news as Edward's expression changed from surprise to painful guilt. “You pounded her head into the floor and gave her a concussion.” No. He knew the pain Winry Rockbell Elric suffered at Edward's hands and the need to vindicate his childhood friend's torment surged in the good doctor. “She may never be able to talk normally again...if at all.” The man's voice pierced his patient's already injured heart.
“No!” Edward tried violently to free himself, to go into the room, to see his wife. “I saw her! Kimblee killed her!”
“Kimblee?” A second man in the room questioned as Pitt jumped away from Ed's thrashing body.
“Who's Kimblee, Ed?” Pitt nearly yelled. “There was no one there but you and Winry”
“Doc, want me to restrain him more?” The voice carried with it the bruit strength of the man speaking. A firm hand flew up from the doctor, stopping him from getting closer to Edward.
“Your kids saw it all, Ed!” Pitt silently stewed, evidently the small flame he carried for Winry since they were children never completely extinguished.
“What?” Edward's eyes finally focused on the two men in the hallway with him. The second man he immediately recognized as Brom Cunard...the Constable.
“I said...your children, Ed...they saw you attacking Winry.” He took a deep breath. “Charlie B was the one who kept you from killing her. Your boy had to clock you with a big wrench.”
“No one...no one else was there?” Forgetting the handcuffs, Edward tried to run his hand through his hair, yet the chains stopped him. He calmed down. “Pitt, can I get up?” He knew that he had to remain composed to get out of that bed.
“Settle down Edward...I'll unlock you.” Brom slowly unlocked Ed's right hand, allowing the ex-alchemist to raise his body up. The constable began working on the left.
“I swear, I thought I was fighting an old enemy...not Winry.” Edward kept his golden gaze upon the doctor's own cold stare. He heard the click of the cuffs coming off and he bolted. He knew his wife was behind the big wooden door and it wasn't going to stop him from reaching her. There was another reason he had to see her, a secret, a deep trust he and Winry shared with no other. Edward Elric feared his world would end unless he reached his wife about this recondite truth. However, he ended up finding out something about the constable instead: Brom Cunard was left handed. Ed next discovered his own left hand still tethered to something and his forward momentum became reversed, his body turning around and his face suddenly came in contact with a large, hairy fist.
“Not so fast!” Brom shouted as he socked Ed in the right eye with his left fist. “You're coming with me until all this is sorted out.” Edward slumped to his automail knee and he saw his left hand was shackled to the right of the officer.
The alchemist scanned his office one last time, hoping he'd remembered everything needed for the excursion. Sparkling light of morning filtered through the crisp linen drapes and a cool breeze filtered into the room. The golden-haired man relished the sweet scent of spices and wildflowers wafting into the room and he thought to thank his wife for airing out his normally stuffy abode before they left.
“I can sense nervousness in you...your stomach is full of it, Alphonse.” May sidled up to her husband and joined him in staring over his writing desk and out the open window at the sunrise. “You are always a little scared right before a journey...isn't he Xiao-Me?” She smiled at the elderly panda she carried in the crook of her left arm. Xiao-Mei squeaked in response.
“You know me well.” Alphonse Elric turned and kissed May on her forehead, having to bow down to her diminutive form to do so. “Even after all those years of traveling with Brother and long after, my nerves go crazy right before I leave.” He tickled the panda. “But, I think it's more excitement and not fear.”
“Yes!” The Xingese Princess's eyes sparkled. “It's the joy of not knowing who you will meetand what adventures you will find!”
“Exactly.” His golden eyes took in the former Chang clan princess before him. No longer a child, she'd grown into a strong woman and understood him like no other...even better than his older brother. “Are Lance and Jinready to go?” He hoped their boys were as excited about this summer's archaeological dig of the Xerxes ruins as he.
“They'll warm up to it...you know how they are.” She smiled and resumed looking out the window. “I also think there's a certain young lady the two don't want to leave in Xang-Tao this summer.” May elbowed her husband's side.
“Girls?” Al honestly didn't know where the time went. His boys used to be fascinated by alchemy and alkahestry yet now something just as magical stole their attention. “Really?”
“Husband, you are not so dense as not to see?” She squished her nose up in a cute little wrinkle that made Alphonse's mouth form a wide smile. “Wasn't your brother a little younger than Jin when he realized he was in love with Winry?”
“Shhhhh!” Al placed his hands on his wife's shoulders. “You're not supposed to know that.” Ed would clobber him if he ever knew his brother let that information slip. That, once, in a post coital discussion about love, Alphonse Elric confessed to his his new wife that the former Fullmetal Alchemist realized his love for his mechanic during their cold and dangerous stay in Fort Briggs.
“I'll get it!” Lance's voice carried through their one floor home effectively disrupting his father's musings. “It's for me!” The fourteen-year-old scrambled to beat his older brother to the phone table and managed to just barely grab the handle before his golden eyed sibling could. Jin, the loser was rewarded by seeing his brother stick out his tongue. “Chang-Elric Wellness, this is Lance!” He nearly screamed the salutation both boys memorized since they were able to talk.
“Who is it, moron?” Jin goaded.
“Sarah?” Lance's face turned from annoyance with his brother to a serious countenance which served to stave off said brother's pestering. “Ok. I'll get dad.” He set the receiver down and yelled with all his might. “Dad! Dad!”
“The tube has to stay in until the swelling stops.” Pitt gave Winry a stern look, he knew she was uncomfortable and wanted to talk. “I think in the long run, you'll appreciate this more than a tracheotomy.” He surveyed the bruises encircling the woman's neck which grew more blue and purple with twinges of yellow each hour. Despite the metal and canvas neck brace, the tale-tale marks of her husband's hands burned through and into a terrible vision he'd never forget. He knew she'd not forget anytime soon either. Still, the bruised skin would heal, but had he done the tracheotomy and made a hole in her neck so she could breathe, a visible scar would linger. Also, as long as he lived, Pitt Renbak would never forget the woman's eyes – the whites of which blazed eerily red, the tiny vessels having burst during her struggle with Edward. Yet, inside the blood and crimson, her brilliant blue irises radiated a determination and strength of will the doctor could not understand. Winry's injuries would heal, but he had to get to the bottom of why Ed would do such a thing. That, and another important matter he had to discuss with the mechanic. The doctor pulled up a chair and sat close.
“Let's establish a form of communication until you are strong enough to use a slate or pen and paper, ok?” Winry followed Pitt with her eyes. “Blink once for yes and twice for no. Understand?”
“Good.” Pitt tried not to grimace or show his repulsion to her unsettling red eyes. Instead, he rifled his hand through the curls on top of his head then leaned in again. “I asked Sarah and David to go back to the house and get some things for you and some clothes for Edward...he was in his skivvies when you two came here.” The thought of Edward Elric locked up in the town jail wearing nothing but blue boxers seemed comical but he forced himself not to smile. He decided not to tell Winry her husband currently sat in Resembool's only jail cell.
“Do your children know you are pregnant?” Pitt didn't have time to send a blood sample to Central to test for pregnancy, but after seeing Winry's small baby bump so gently hidden beneath her night clothes, he knew. The mechanic had come to Doctor Renbak for all her prenatal care after Pinako passed away, yet she and Ed kept him ignorant of this new child.
“Ok. I'll keep it that way. And, the baby is fine, as best as I can tell.” He heard the woman exhale with a loud puff in relief to that statement. However, Winry still remained agitated.
Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink.
“You're trying to get me to understand something?”
“About the baby?”
“Did you and Ed have another big blowout?” Winry and Ed's fiery relationship was kept no secret. Most of Resembool had heard one of their heated arguments at one time or another. Yet, the fact that they kept littering the county with progeny told the good doctor that they must make up as fiercely as they fought.
“Ok. Ed told me he saw you dead, that he was fighting someone named Kimblee...but there was no one else there but your children.” Pitt didn't miss a look of pure horror mask the woman's face for a short second before her blue eyes turned hard with resolve. “Does that name, Kimblee mean anything to you?” She didn't need to answer, her piercing eyes confirmed she knew exactly who this person was.
“Do you think Edward was having a dream?” A few of his elderly patients served in the military during the Ishvalan War and had told him of their “shell shock” outbursts and bad dreams. He'd studied a bit about post war stress when he was in medical school as well. However, Edward didn't serve in the military during any war. Pitt knew the fiery man once did serve Amestris and had been lauded for his contributions as the Fullmetal Alchemist during the coup attempt in the Bradley regime and the alchemical weirdness that fell upon Amestris on the day of the coup. Could something as traumatic as combat be plaguing the man? “...does he have dreams he acts out...violently?”
“Ok...” His eyes softened as he caught a dual tears escape the corners of each of Winry's. “I'll speak with him, we'll get everything straightened out, don't you worry.” He rest his hand on her wrist and squeezed to encourage her. “I want you to rest and heal up, you need to be strong for that baby.”
David never felt happier to see the Constable's office as he did now. He'd driven that small horse cart of Dr. Renbek's back to the Elric-Rockbell house as fast as the little pony could take them. Sarah leapt off of the cart before he even came to a stop then the girl's hair whipped like a blond ribbon in the moonlit night as she scurried up the front steps and into the house. Once inside, he witnessed Buck break down, falling to his knees in relief when his sister let him and the others know that both of their parents still lived. The young man barely had time to find her uncle Alphonse's telephone number in the family address book kept tucked away in the single drawer of a round table off the kitchen before she flew back down the stairs carrying her mom and dad's things in a leather satchel. David quickly dialed the numbers to connect them with Xing then Sarah succinctly relayed the story her uncle and asked him if he could come to Resembool right away. Before he realized it, the girl had dragged him back out into the darkness and goaded the tired pony to carry them back into town.
“You need to slow down or you'll make yourself sick.” The young man called after her as she made fast for the door.
“I'll rest when mom and dad are both home.” Sarah voiced the same strong determination she knew her parents possessed for her or her siblings. With those words said, she burst into the jail office. The sight before her would linger in her mind for the rest of her life. “Dad?”
Edward sat on an industrial metal cot inside the single jail cell. Clad only in blue boxers, he evidently ignored the crisp pile of folded linens, blankets, and gray flannel shirt and britches given to inmates. With is back to the entryway and his head against the stark white cinder block wall, he didn't answer his daughter’s call.
“Constable? Sarah marched forward, finding the law man at his desk across from the cell. “I'm here to take my dad home.” Her words stuck like succinct darts, each hitting their mark. Brom barely raised his head from the paperwork before him.
“Miss Elric.” Cunard didn't try to disguise his annoyance. “I'm processing the papers to charge your dad with domestic abuse...I can't just send him on his way.”
“But, there is a reason...mom will tell you too...” She pleaded with him.
“Your mom's voicebox is crushed, she's not telling me anything any time soon.” He bit back. “Let me tell you something and you can judge for yourself.” He scooted his rolling chair over to an adjacent table and grabbed a large, leather bound book. “When I took this job, I reviewed some of the old daily logs. Forty-seven.” He dropped the log book on top of his paperwork. “Forty-seven incidents of public arguments involving your parents. Seems like my predecessor was pretty complacent about it. seems like a lot of people in this town turned a blind eye to it.”
“Respectfully, sir!” David couldn't stand it any longer. Sure, Edward Elric and his wife had spats, but Ed had never laid a hand on her. “I've never witnessed Mr. Elric harming a hair on Mrs. Elric's head. They just like to fight...loudly.”
“Mr. Cunard.” Sarah managed to keep herself calm, despite the horrible remarks the constable uttered. “Look at my dad...look!” Unlike her younger siblings, Sarah and her older brother Ethan knew that her dad lost his leg because he and his brother tried to use alchemy to bring their mother back to life. Edward and Alphonse made sure to tell their story to her especially, because she also excelled in alchemy and they wanted to her to know the consequences of human transmutation. In a few years, they would sit Devin and Buck down and tell them the same. Now, Sarah pointed to Edward, specifically his bare back. A single tear fell down her left cheek as her index finger seemed to trail down one of the many ugly scars marring the surface of the man's skin. “He's been beaten, he's fought hard and been hurt physically. Can't you see the terrible scars?” She turned to the officer. “And through all that pain, suffering and fighting do you know he never took a single life? Not killed one person?” She could tell that Brom mulled this info over in his hard head. “Now why would he all of the sudden want to harm my mother?”
“He's an abuser! Clear and simple and it's my job to make sure he doesn't hurt his wife or anyone else!” He crossed his arms. “If you want to talk to him before I lock up for the night, you better do it now.” Brom Cunard abruptly scooted his chair closer to the desk signally the conversation over.
“C'mon, Sarah.” David led her to the cell.
“I want inside!” She yelled so that Brom could hear.
“Not happening.” He grumbled above the paperwork he'd resumed completing.
“It's never easy, is it?” David winked and took a piece of white chalk from his pocket. He scrawled a teeny transmutation circle over the lock and quickly activated it. The door opened with a pop.” The two quickly scrambled to get inside.
“Hey!” Brom stood up. “You'd better not have broken that!” He made movements to come toward them.
“Calm yourself, Mr. Cunard.” David smiled. “I'll fix it right back...please let Sarah have moment with her dad. I won't let anything happen to her or let Ed out, I promise.” His level-headiness coupled with the officer's need to finish his paperwork and go home worked to diffuse another fight.
“Fine. Five minutes.” Brom plopped down in his seat and began scribbling.
“Dad?” Sara sat on the cot next to her father while David stood to the side. “I brought you some clothes, let's get a shirt on you, it's too cold.”
“I'm fine.” Edward muttered.
“Quit being so despondent! You are alive and mom's alive! If you get a cold you know mom's gonna whack you with her wrench for not taking care of yourself!” She pulled a pale blue button up shirt out of the leather satchel and raised it over her father's shoulders. That big red scar encircling his right arm always bothered her and tonight, it made her feel more uneasy.
“I almost killed your mother...I deserve a cold...I deserve worse.”
“Nonsense!” She forced his left arm into the sleeve and moved to do the same with his right. “We know what happened. We know it was another one of those horrible dreams...the worse one yet.” She tugged at his right wrist making him slip that arm into the sleeve then she pulled the shirt up. Sarah stood and walked around to sit facing her father so she could do up the buttons.
“Renbak said she may never be able to talk again.” His golden eyes glassed over. Sure, most of the time Winry spoke to him, her words were taunting, but he loved her voice. Worse of all, it was his fault he may never hear it again.
“Dad, I thought about that.” For the first time, she saw his face and his golden eyes now dull with sadness. When Sarah caught sight of the mean looking shiner around Edward's right eye, her own twitched violently with anger. “Brom Cunard!” She turned around to yell at the constable. “What happened to his eye?”
“He resisted arrest!” Cunard quipped back.
“Dad!” Sarah scolded her father and hoped he's argue back with usual sass. She exhaled in defeat to his silence. Finally, she finished buttoning up the shirt, got back up and walked to sit at his back again. Deftly, she pulled a boar's bristle hair brush from the sack, one with an elastic band wrapped a few times around the handle. She removed the band and held it in her left hand as her right began working the knots out of her father's long hair. “Don't be mad.”
“Why?” Edward closed his eyes as his daughter brushed his hair. She'd loved playing with his long locks, even as a toddler. The grown man had worn many a ponytail and pink ribbon to make his little girl happy.
“I called uncle Al.” She succeeded in pulling all his blond hair into a high ponytail and began wrapping the elastic band around it.
“Great.” He slumped his shoulders more. Ed would have told Alphonse himself but he just didn't know how to confess to his brother that he had hurt Winry. Alphonse was her best friend too and there was not telling how he'd react.
“He was on his way to the Xerxes ruins again for the summer anyway. He, Aunt May and the boys just have to travel a little bit farther...” She released the elastic with a snap, then pulled a pair of trousers out of the bag and plopped them in her father's lap. “Now, we just have to get you home and then mom and Al can heal her up...everything's going to be fine...”
“It's not going to be fine.” Ed nearly shouted, startling his daughter. Before anyone could stand, David appeared in between Ed and Sarah.
“But it will be ok.” His kind eyes soothed Edward for a second.
“No...as long as I can hurt her when I'm asleep, it will never be ok.” He seemed very close to tears. “Your mom...you kids...you're just too precious to me to be put in danger that way...I won't let this happen again, ever!”
“Dad?” She couldn't believe what she heard. The young girl's heart crumbled because she understood what her dad implied. He may get out of jail, but he wasn't coming home.
“Go home. Both of you.” Edward leaned back against the wall. As his daughter stood.
“Five minutes!” Brom stood and began marching toward the cell. It might have been less than five minutes but he was done with the documents and he had a warm bed at home waiting for him. “Now fix the damn door and scram!”
Chapter 3: To the Bone
"Walk on your own..." Somehow, the words he told Rose so long ago came to mind and nothing he could do would stop his mouth from uttering them out loud. "Move forward."
" Part of the process in healing from trauma, like recovering from addiction, is developing connection and support with others."
― Stephanie S. Covington , Beyond Trauma: A Healing Journey For Women
"Wake up, Edward!" The masculine voice of Brom Cunard startled the former alchemist from his dreamless slumber. "I don't know how you managed it, but you have an attorney." The constable unlocked the cell and a slender and suited man entered.
"I don't need or want a lawyer." Ed's clouded vision cleared and even without his reading glasses, he caught sight of the thin, blond man now standing in his cell.
"My employer sent me to assist you." The man's elegant punctuation together with his ostentatious dress told Edward that the attorney was used to being handsomely compensated.
"Well, I hope your employer is paying you because I'm not."
"That's correct." He took a seat in the folding metal chair catercorner to his client. "I've used some of my employer's clout to arrange an emergency hearing here this morning...you might want to make yourself look more presentable." He picked up a brown jacket, one Sarah brought the night before, then handed it to the man before him.
"Just who the hell is your employer?" Ed ripped the jacket from the man's well-manicured fingers and began pulling it over his crumpled, slept-in clothing.
"I represent the Armstrong family and their multiple interests...though how you are one of their interests, I will never understand." This earned a huff from his client. "Yet, late-night phone calls had been made and I am to get you released from this hick-town jail..."
"Hey!" Brom protested.
"...like I said..." He barely raised an eyebrow at the Sheriff's outcry. "I'm here to get you out and to Central where arrangements have already been made for your treatment."
"Treatment?" Ed crossed his arms and stared daggers at the solicitor. "What the fuck do you know?"
"Mr. Elric." The attorney's steel gray eyes met his client's golden ones. He then meticulously scooted the metal chair closer so he could all but whisper his words. "I know that you, in a fit of rage, anger, insanity – I really don't care – nearly killed your wife of twenty years. My employer, for some reason, does not believe you did this maliciously and thinks you can be helped." He leaned back and leered before speaking. "I'm getting you out."
"Go ahead, asshole." Ed stared back. He decided that he really didn't care for his attorney. The former alchemist held contempt for such a man, a man who obviously believed the him guilty of attacking and injuring Winry with malice, yet still utilize every legal means to get his client off the hook because he was paid to do so. "But..." His golden stare nearly knocked the tenured solicitor 's confidence down a few notches.
"Yes, Mr. Elric?"
"I want to see Winry, to see my wife before I leave."
Little Trisha Elric stretched out upon the soft patchwork quilt on her mom and dad's bed. She loved the feel of the cold material on her bare feet and she wriggled her toes before rolling over and snuggling closer to her mommy. She hated that her mother was hurt. She hated that her father had gone away. Despite those bad things, Trisha liked that she had as much cuddle time with her mommy as she wanted.
"Mommy?" The youngster raised up so her emerald eyes met her mother's blue ones. She kept forgetting mommy couldn't answer but Winry's warm smile was as good as any sweet song in the little girl's ears. "Do you think Daddy will call today?"
Winry patted her youngest child's skinned knee and then found her slate – one borrowed from both Trisha and Mary's playroom. She carefully spelled out a few words and showed it to her daughter so the child could read it out loud as they had been practicing for the past few days. The mother bravely held back sad tears trying to be brave for her child, whose verdant eyes searched her mother's face for any hint of her father's return.
The blond woman's heart ached with loss, for the last time she saw her husband, she gasped for breath as he lay prostrate upon their bedroom floor. When she recovered enough to take visitors at the clinic, Winry hoped Ed would come, but, except for her children, she saw not a blond hair or golden-eyed gaze as she waited. Only after the children made her comfortable in her lonely marriage bed did Pitt confide to her that Edward had, indeed, visited. That, while she slept in the clinic, he came to her bedside and spoke to her words the doctor could not hear. Winry learned from Brom Cunard that someone Ed knew pulled some strings and whisked him away to Central City. Where he stayed in the capitol, she did not know, but felt that since they both had so many friends there, her husband was safe in someone's care. She also anticipated hearing from one of those friends or even Edward himself very soon. In fact, for three days in a row and early in the morning, the telephone rang once or twice but the caller hung up before anyone could answer. Winry knew it had to be Ed and he was building up his courage to talk to her. If anyone excelled at waiting, the mechanic did, so she set her determined mind to wait for contact from her idiot husband. However, she understood that Edward Elric's demons were dangerous and deep but she held strong faith that as always, he'd eventually come home. Edward always did.
"I...HOPE...SO." Trisha placed a chubby finger one each word written on the slate as she spoke them out carefully then waited for Winry's response. Her mother smiled big and nodded approval proudly at the four-year-old. A gentle knock at the door interrupted the impromptu spelling lesson and her eldest daughter strolled into the room carrying her mother's breakfast tray.
"Trisha!" Sarah scolded. "You keep leaving Mary alone when you come sleep with mom..." She shooed her baby sister away from Winry so she could set the wooden tray in her mother's lap. Winry, who was already sitting propped up by thick pillows, let out a gush of air. "Mother, stop encouraging her...Mary gets lonely and doesn't want to bother YOU so she gets in bed with ME." She plucked up a small porcelain teapot from the tray and poured some tea in a long, swirling stream. "...and she kicks!" The teen rubbed her backside with her free hand, then set down the teapot. "Trish, breakfast is on the table...go!" She waved her baby sister to get off the bed. The girl stuck out her tongue and ran from the room, knowing if she didn't get downstairs fast, that Charlie B (now also known as Bucky) would eat all the bacon.
"Mom." Sarah handed her mother a spoon, then sat at the well-worn chair at the bedside. "Ethan and David are planning a trip to Central...David has his exam in a few days and they think that while there, they'll find Dad..." Her mother was listlessly stirring her porridge around with the spoon.
"I know you hate cream of wheat, but Dr. Renbak said no solid food for a while." She acted more like a mother than a daughter. Winry pouted, then took a bite, set down the spoon and picked up her slate.
"HE WILL COME WHEN READY."
"I know you think so, but he's being an ass..." Sarah flinched when her mother gave her a stern look for cursing her father, even if they both knew it true. "The best place for him to get well is right here with us."
"MY FAULT." Winry frowned. The signs were there all along. Ed screamed in his sleep and dreamt such unimaginable horrors. Then, he would go days without sleep until his mental state degraded. She did her best for him during these times and thankfully they didn't happen often. Still, a handful of incidents over the course of their marriage accumulated in this one horrible night that her loving husband almost took her life. She'd seen it coming. She was a medical doctor, a surgeon and an automail engineer yet she had nothing to give him to help his mind from the monsters that still plagued him. Monsters from a time when they were children kept molesting him now, even as a grown man. It stung her heart because she knew that this grown man and father deliberately stayed away to protect the ones he loved. The stupid moron she loved couldn't see that this family needed him here, monsters and all.
"Nonsense, it's not your fault at all!" Sarah crossed her arms. "It's shell-shock. He and Uncle Al went through hell at my age...actually, they were closer to Buck and Devon's age and I couldn't imagine those two idiots off on their own trying to save the world and fix themselves." She chuckled.
"ED AND AL - NOT MUCH BETTER." Winry followed her daughter's laughter with her own silent snicker. Sarah laughed louder after reading the slate. Then, as if called by the mechanic's silent slur, a familiar voice rose up the stairwell and into the room. The sound carried with it, the boisterous ruckus of happy children.
"Mom! Mom!" Devon hollered as he ran up the stairs. "They're here!" The boy ran at such momentum in his socked feet, he slid on the hardwood floor well past his parent's bedroom door. He clambered back into the doorway with a wide smile and wide eyes. "Uncle Al and Aunt Mei!"
The telephone rang, breaking up the excitement spreading throughout the Rockbell-Elric home.
Edward awoke early that morning not at all surprised it poured rain outside. It figured. He felt he deserved the foul weather. Staying in the Armstrong estate seemed like a luxurious dream, yet one he'd much rather share with Winry instead of alone. He enjoyed an enormous suite with a massive four poster bed which the ex-alchemist assumed one could sleep on an edge and never know if another slept on the opposite. This made him think of Winry yet again and Ed couldn't stop his wide grin while thinking about just how much fun he and his wife would have had on that bed...if things were different.
The house staff roused Ed at dawn, per his request, then he took a light breakfast alone in a cavernous kitchen. Alex Louis Armstrong, long retired from the military and now a prominent politician, left the day Edward arrived. Still pompous as ever, Alex consoled the blond with an arm-crushing hug and his solemn promise that nothing would be spared to help cure the man of his mental ills. Then, the mountainous public servant excused himself for a short campaign tour of the southern area of Amestris he claimed he could not avoid. Edward waived off his apology and told him he could expect his vote – he'd planned on voting Armstrong anyways.
Alex Louis, exonerated for his own mental breakdown which led to his early removal from Ishval during the extermination campaign of the King Bradley regime, enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity after the war-trials. When the committees congregated and the trials commenced, public opinion of state alchemist swung wide from horror to admiration. The now-government-control-free news media ran all sorts of articles and Op-Ed columns about state alchemists and the horrific acts committed by them upon helpless Ishvalans and later, as the facts came to light about the former Fuhrer King Bradley, crimes committed against other Amestrians. Specifically, an article ran in the Central Currier about an order sent for the deceased Crimson Lotus Alchemist, Solfe J. Kimblee to execute civilian physicians in Ishval- Urey and Sarah Rockbell. The article concluded with the fact that a mentally unstable Ishvalan actually murdered the couple before the alchemist arrived, but the verity of military brass ordering the killing caused as much an uproar as did the actual murders of other Ishvalans. This led to another article about the Rockbell's only child, Winry and her happy marriage to one former Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward Elric. It really didn't matter that Ed was a babe when the Ishval Extermination happened, that connection to the Rockbells and the snowball of news pieces printed and broadcast over the radio turned the popular opinion toward forgiveness. One of the last articles about the Rockbells was published in the Central Times during the end of the trials. This piece detailed the Fullmetal Achemist's battle with the very same mentally unstable Ishvalan that killed Sara and Urey. It included specific eye witness accounts of the standoff in which Winry Rockbell raised a firearm to avenge her murdered family but could not shoot. It described Edward Elric throwing himself in harms way in front of Miss Rockbell and then pleading with her to release her weapon, allowing the Ishvalan to live. That, this Ishvalan, using the alias "Scar," went on to help the resistance and finally succeeded in removing King Bradley from power. The papers left off the part that Scar removed him by killing him.
State Alchemists ordered to commit mass slayings and regular military personnel who assisted during the extermination were held unaccountable for their actions. However, those who ordered the atrocities did not escape punishment except those already dead by the time the trials concluded. Most of the higher-ups had been slaughtered by "Northern" soldiers during the 1915 "Promised Day" coup d'état from which Fuhrer Grumman rose to power. The public was kept blissfully ignorant of "Father," the homonculi, and the mannequin soldiers who actually killed most of King Bradley's circle– except for Gardner whose death was one of several attributed to Olivier Mira Armstrong personally. Scar had also already succeeded in executing many of the high ranking alchemists such as Basque Gran and Comanche. Although the committees could not ascertain the depth of these alchemist's involvement with Bradley, the fact that they were already deceased and at the hands of Scar seemed to equalize the opinion on state alchemists, Ishvalans, as well as Scar.
Alchemists such as Roy Mustang and Alex Armstrong were cleared, despite the former openly and freely admitting to his actions in Ishval – along with him, his second, Riza Hawkeye. Prior to the trials, Colonel Roy Mustang had been promoted to General. After the trials, he accepted a demotion to Major General without complaint. In the subsequent time that followed, Grumman acquiesced title of Fuhrer to General Olivier Mira Armstrong, all the while new her subordinates continued Grumman's initial work on transitioning Amestris toward being a democratic nation. After several years in the highest command, and although she loved the glorious power of Fuhrer, Armstrong eventually appointed the now General Mustang to the post of Fuhrer so she could return to Briggs to finish out her military career fighting Drachmans. Roy Mustang, now the recently appointed Fuhrer of Amestris, began completing the work which included elections for representatives to parliament first, then elections and public voting for Prime Minister soon. They had a ways to go before the new Fuhrer could step down and let a politician lead, but Amestris' future looked so much more improved and renewed than when an artificially created human ran things. Father took centuries to make the country a hardened military state and it could not be undone and corrected overnight.
Upon reading these news stories and the results of the trials, Edward felt sure that someone held reign over the release of information fueling the journalists penning them. Remembering that his former team took control of Radio Central during the Promised Day, and their subsequent "spin" on the facts surrounding the coup, he knew for sure that someone succeeded in manipulated the press. If Hughes still lived, they'd probably find out the responsible party. He figured it really didn't matter now.
Edward dug in his pockets and counted some spare change now in his right palm.
"Shit." He swore. "Not enough." He'd have to make a cash withdraw to come up with the 520 cenz he owed Roy. Edward figured at some point, he'd have an audience with the Fuhrer while in Central City and he'd have to repay the man, then borrow more money from him until Amestris was a democracy.
The former alchemist had been at the Armstrong Estate for almost a week now and although he'd been entertained by other of his former teammates, he'd yet to see his commanding officer. Ed knew that Mustang's hands held fast the strings tugging the events together that led him to Central after his arrest and release from the county jail in Resembool. He also knew that the old bastard couldn't just tromp off to see a wife-beater and come out clean to the press. Edward mashed his now closed palm holding the few cenz to his forehead in shame. "Yeah, I am a wife-beater..." He started to wonder if the Fuhrer would even try a visit but knew in his gut the sneaky shit would find a way and ask him for his money back. He also worried about Winry.
The bowl of cream of wheat sat half eaten as the man jumped to his feet, dropping his change on the table and ran to the closest telephone in the hallway outside the kitchen. He picked up the receiver and direct dialed the telephone number to his home in Resembool. His heart thumped loudly as the call went through and he heard it ring once. Suddenly, terror overcame him, just as it had the three other times before he had tried to call home. Edward had no idea what to say and he feared in his soul how his children would react or what they thought of him for harming their mother. He knew Sarah understood, but how was he going to speak to the rest? The blond hung up the receiver before the second ring.
"Coward." He chastised himself and made a mental note to finish his third letter home-three he had not yet mailed. A clock somewhere in the estate chimed the hour and Ed figured it was eight o'clock and he'd have to make his way to this damned appointment. He found his wallet and overcoat on a table by the entryway, so without saying a word to whatever staff roamed the home, he left.
A yellow taxicab waited for Ed on the edge of the circular drive in front of the mansion. He groaned, hoping to walk the few miles to town and miss the appointment altogether. Someone had figured he'd pull something to keep him from the meeting and they'd arranged the transport. Ed wasn't sure it was Alex or Mustang, but knew his friends conspired to keep him moving to get help. He tugged open the door and sat in the back seat as the driver apparently already knew where to drop him off.
The rain lightened up a bit as the car turned a corner and into a neighborhood very close to his destination. Edward remembered this place and a sudden urge to free himself of the taxi overcame him. "Hey, driver?" He leaned forward on the front seat so the man could hear. "Have you already been paid?" The man answered that he had. "How about letting me off here, I want to walk a little."
"You want out in the rain?"
"Yeah, just pull over here." Ed pointed to the curb.
"Sure." The drive had been instructed and paid in advance to pick up this man and take him to an address in Central City. He hadn't been asked to make sure the guy went into the building so he didn't figure any harm in letting the blond out to walk the last block or so. He pulled over and Edward exited.
"Thanks." Ed waived the cab driver off and he turned on his automail foot to continue on. Despite the rain coming down as a faint drizzle, his hair and shoulders soon became wet. "Should of' brought an umbrella..." He uttered uselessly out out loud. As he turned the corner, a familiar object came into view between the soggy fringe now in his eyes – a red telephone booth. He chuckled and finding the booth unoccupied, entered and closed the door.
The standard Central City phone booth by itself was not noteworthy. And thankfully, this was not the same cramped box that sheltered the murdered body of Maes Hughes. However, this particular booth evoked an amazing memory for the former Fullmetal Alchemist, a memory he felt compelled to relive right there in the rain.
When they first married and before Ethan was born, Edward and his wife stayed in Central so Winry could attend medical school. She had already obtained her journeyman's license as a master automail mechanic, but she lacked the credentials to legally perform the surgeries required to prep severed limbs for the ports that connected automail to the patient's nerves. The young woman assisted Pinako and other licensed automail engineers in these operations so she zoomed through her classes with honors. Edward smiled, remembering how proud he was of her and her accomplishments-he still thought of her as one of his heroes after all.
One rainy spring morning, the couple decided to walk to a cafe for breakfast before Winry had her next class. They lived in an apartment fairly close to the university and normally it took no time at all. Except it started to rain. It rained so hard that walking swiftly down the sidewalk felt like walking in a cold bathroom shower turned all the way up. By the time they found the phone booth, the deluge left them soaked to the bone. Scanning the walk ahead of them and finding the phone booth, the two lovers found themselves scurrying toward the only refuge from the rain.
Ed could not stop his grin from creasing his face as he relived the most erotic moment of his marriage. He and Winry, overcome by the close quarters and the need to warm the cold from their bodies, made love right there in that tiny phone booth. Well, very little love was involved in that particular session which passed quickly leaving the two panting for breath but totally satiated. His wife did not make her class that morning, and if memory served him right, Edward believed Ethan arrived a scant nine months following the encounter.
"Enough." Edward chastised himself for wallowing in the past and somehow did not want to be late for his appointment. He pushed open the door and resumed walking toward the address he had memorized the night before. Turning a corner, he found himself standing before a three story building. "Walk on your own..." Somehow, the words he told Rose so long ago came to mind and nothing he could do would stop his mouth from uttering them out loud. "Move forward." He propelled himself up three steps and grasp the tarnished brass handle of a set of double doors. The man tugged the door open and entered.
"Winry?" Alphonse gently held his sister-in-law's head so that he could remove the small pillow underneath. She gazed up at the man standing behind her as she lay still on the operating bed. "I need to have you lay flat so I can insert a scope." He readied the tube-like instrument outside of the woman's field of vision as she craned her head back. The man with the same golden eyes as her husband grimaced as he noticed that small movement caused her pain and she winced.
"It should take no time at all..." Mei pulled down the white sheet covering Winry to reveal her naked shoulders, then the alkahestrist tucked it snuggly in the crooks of the woman's arms, holding it tight and maintaining modestly as she and her husband worked. "And, should not be very painful..." Mei stopped herself from saying that it would not be as painful as receiving the wound. The dark-haired woman produced a small vial of blood red ink and a fine paintbrush and looked toward her own husband for the next step.
"We have to get the array on the right spot for this to work properly." He gazed down into Winry's blue eyes and smiled, yet he felt like crying. Encircling his adoptive sister's neck, an angry bruise blossomed a putrid yellow and fading purple. Al knew such a horrible mark must have looked more cruel and gruesome a week prior and he could clearly make out Edward's thumb prints in the discolorations adorning Winry's slender neck. He felt it a miracle she survived with only a crushed windpipe. Mei, sensing her husband's melancholic qi, took a moment to place her small ivory hand upon his which trembled on the bed. "I need you to exhale quickly on the count of three, ok?"
Winry knew inserting the tube would be uncomfortable but necessary. She nodded.
The woman exhaled as Alphonse Elric inserted the tube in her mouth and snaked it through the mashed vocal chords and into her larynx. Using a strong light to see his way, he investigated the chords which caused him to sigh. Though the whole area looked pink and healthy tissue, the cartilage on both sides bent unnaturally and the shear fact he had to move the flesh aside with the tube to get it past did not bode well. Left untreated, this wound would not heal and Winry could never talk again. Al fought off a new urge-one to hunt down his brother and strangle him in the same fashion. He took a cleansing breath and his gold eyes met the calm onyx gaze of his wife.
"Can you show me where to paint the array?" She narrowed her eyes, knowing Alphonse's anger grew and this time not from reading his qi, but because he clenched his teeth unnaturally. He gently stroked the side of Wiry's temple with his right hand, and took some pre-cut medical tape with the other and secured the length of the air tube to the other side of the woman's face.
"Here." He slowly made a circle around the area on the woman's neck directly above the damage, then took his place on the other side of the operating table across from his wife.
"This part, may tickle." Mei tried to keep the mood light as she took the brush and dipped it in the ink and proceeded to deftly draw a memorized and pre practiced transmutation circle on Winry's exposed neck. She smiled as the woman scrunched up her nose and silently made laughing movements as best she could while intubated. Indeed, the cold ink and Mei's swirling brush tickled her skin. "Alright, done." The diminutive woman set the wet brush down on a side table and corked the vial of ink, also setting it down.
"Got your circle ready?" Al produced a small, thick sheet of parchment, unfolded and smoothed it out on the bed.
"Yes." Mei duplicated her husband's movements with her own parchment. On each paper, a very different sigil than the one the Xingese woman just drew was inscribed in red ink. "Now..." She and Alphonse raised their hands up, palms facing each other. "Everyone must be calm..." Her voice became gentle and soft. "Breath in...breath out..." She closed her eyes and concentrated. "Husband?"
"Ready." He also focused on his body and regaining control of his anger because it would adversely affect the coming transmutation.
Ring! The telephone ringing in the hallway broke everyone's immersion in the forthcoming alkahestric act.
Chapter 4: A Fickle Mind
"The mind is fickle, Mr. Elric." The dark-haired man adjusted his glasses and picked up his pen again to take note as he and the other man spoke. "You suffered greatly twenty years ago, that trauma just doesn't go away. Not even time can erase all damage to your mind."
12/6/15 A/N: I'm taking hellish time with this one and figured it's not going to be a "short exploration of PTSD" as I once thought. Truthfully, I have no frame of reference for Ed's troubles - I've never served, experience war or violence (thankfully). So, I've had to do some research. I apologize to any who HAVE experience with PTSD, if anything here is not accurate as I am trying my best to make it so. Warnings: descriptions of self harm and semi-non consensual sexual imagery.
2/7/2015 A/N: Fennethianell made my day by sketching Winry and Ed from the chapter. Words cannot express how exited I was when I saw it. They drew exactly what I envisioned when writing that scene!
Macbeth: Cure her of that! Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, raze out the written troubles of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon her heart.
Doctor: Therein the patient must minister to himself."
― William Shakespeare , Macbeth
Newly married and well settled by the age of twenty, Ed and Winry had been invited to the fifth commemoration of Amestrian Freedom Day, a day celebrating the events of the Promised Day and liberation from the Bradley regime. As a hero of the Promised Day, Edward and his comrades were VIPs for an elaborate party held in the ballroom of the Grand Central Hotel. A black-tie event, everyone, Edward included, was expected to celebrate while dressed to the nines.
Except Edward hated formal wear.
Despite all but threatening to neuter him, Winry managed to get her young husband dressed in requisite tuxedo complete with bow tie and tails. She'd also managed to procure a luminous blue ballgown, one Edward had whispered looked as lovely on her as he imagined it would look on the floor of their suite later that night. His amorous hinting stopped embarrassing her a long time after they wed, so she'd answer with a coy smile giving him hope. The beautiful couple spent a few hours making their rounds in the ballroom earning smiles and happy wishes from the others in attendance. Champagne flowed freely here and since they had but an elevator ride to their room, the two figured they'd imbibe as much as they pleased. That is, until Ed's former commanding officer offered him sips from his hip flask.
Edward's daydream of his wife's shimmering dress heaped on the floor came to fruition, the married couple ended up happily disrobing each other in the privacy of their room. Frantic kisses and desperate groping led to full-on fucking, not the usual soft kissing and easy movements of the lovemaking the two were more comfortable with when sober. Alcohol doused with the lust of their young romance fueled Ed roughly changing Winry's positions and driving each of his thrusts with purpose. Winry, for her part, actually liked the more assertive Edward as she delighted in her inebriation and total loss of control to his two capable hands. She came twice before she fell asleep.
The former alchemist cursed his intoxication. He gently moved from his snoozing wife, covering her naked body with the silky cotton sheet then rifling through his suitcase for his gray sweat pants. Moving toward the door, he pulled on the loose-fitting garment as he walked then picked up the metal ice bucket on the table beside the door. They both needed water or they'd experience one nasty hangover in the morning. His golden eyes grazed the graceful swell of Winry's hips swathed in the white sheet and he felt confident he'd pleasured her but dismayed she'd probably not remember much later. Toxic chemicals flooding his bloodstream kept him from his own release and his balls ached deeply. That, and he'd noticed it raining outside which was sure to aggravate his left leg later. So, the young man slowly lumbered down the darkened hallway and filled the bucket with ice then made his way back to his room.
Edward sat for a long time in an enormous side chair by the french doors of their balcony and sipped on ice water. He took turns gazing at the night rain then back to Winry's blonde locks splayed across a white pillow. He felt cold, despite having turned up the radiator behind the chair. Ed also realized that if he didn't curl up next to the girl on the bed and fall asleep, tonight would be his third consecutive night awake. Earlier, his wife noticed the dark circles under his eyes when they were dressing and she was quick to have him hold some ice cubes to them which helped a bit. However, Winry was not aware of her husband's insomnia because although they'd lay down together, as soon as he heard her soft breathing, he'd venture downstairs where he'd read or sneak some of Granny's bourbon. Ed hoped the liquor could help him slumber but despite making him feel sleepy, sleep never came.
The man couldn't pin point what kept him from resting, but his heart felt heavy the closer the Promised Day celebration came. Memories of the fighting and of the horrors in his youth flooded his mind's eye every time he closed them, so blissful sleep eluded him. His missed Alphonse too. His little brother was busy in Xing and couldn't make this year's celebration although he sent two parcels of gifts and letters home to Resembool including photographs of the young alchemist and a certain little Bean Girl. Winry made him a bet that they'd get a wedding invitation within a year.
Artwork by Fennethianell posted with permission
Still, he knew in his gut that everyone he loved was safe. Edward should feel comforted in that he restored his brother and saved the country, yet, he felt factions existed and plotted as such that any moment would destroy his peace and most fearfully, he worried something would end his blissful happiness with Winry.
Despite the chill, Ed found himself standing on the balcony letting his half-clothed body become soaked in the rain. He stared over the metal railing toward the deserted city street below and wondered if a fall from this height would kill or maim.
"Sixth floor." The blond muttered as rivulets fell down his fringe and into his mouth. He lifted his left leg, placing the metal foot on the concrete bench next to the balcony railing. This movement caused an involuntary agonizing grunt as pain from the cold seeped into the remaining bones of his stump.
"Ed?" He almost didn't hear his wife's voice from the doorway. "What are you doing in the rain?"
She caught deplorable sadness in the look on her husband's face and in his eyes as he turned to gaze back at her – his leg still raised on the bench.
"Nothing..." He lied knowing the look in his wife's sapphire eyes confirmed she knew it. Ed removed his foot from the concrete and quickly withdrew into the warmth of his hotel suite.
"I'm not so drunk as not to realize you were gawking too closely over that ledge." Winry had wrapped the bedsheet around her body and kept trying to wrap its remnants around her chilled arms. "Oh, I need some water." She wobbled over to the side table Edward had placed the glass pitcher and ice bucket.
"I swear...I was only looking." His words failed to convince.
"Ed, I know you've not been sleeping." The young woman tried to steady her shaking hands in order to pour water into a thick highball glass. She began to second guess being able to stave off any hangover with water. "Prolonged sleep loss can lead to illness and even hallucinations..."
"C'mon, spare me the medical jargon, I'm fine." Her husband found himself in the suite's palatial bathroom in search of a towel.
"No, you're not." She'd followed him and for the first time, noticing the piercing soreness of her inner thighs and other areas no doubt from their earlier sessions. "Ouch." She clutched the sheet with her right arm and quickly downed the rest of her drink, setting the glass down on the sink.
"I'm sorry I was a little rough..." He'd made his way to her side before she could reply. Ed's golden stare met her own.
"I would have stopped you if I didn't like it." Winry, however, wasn't so sure she could have.
"Win, I just don't know what overcame me, it was like I wasn't in my own body...I...I.." He paused a long time trying to find the words. "I just wanted to feel something, anything."
"We could blame it on all we both drank...but..." She gazed at her husband, searching his eyes for any hint of understanding and hoping her coming words didn't upset him further. "I think it's time." She didn't have to elaborate.
"I'm through with that psycho mumbo jumbo...I just got a little drunk, that's all." His shaky voice betrayed the hard facade Ed spent building around his emotions. He didn't even know why he continued trying to pull the wool over Winry's eyes. That woman always saw straight through his bullshit.
"Maybe..." She averted her eyes. The mechanic felt suddenly afraid – afraid of the toll on their relationship if she pushed Ed about seeking help for his almost constant nightmares, for his irritability and inability to sleep and then...for these weird dangerous moments she knew she caught him contemplating suicide. "Just promise me we can talk about this when we get back home?"
"Win..." He took her concerned face I his cold hands. "I promise" Ed hoped he wasn't lying but the thought of spilling his guts to another military shrink and reliving all the stuff of his nightmares again made him want to vomit. "Hey, my leg's killing me...I think a bath would help us both. What do you say?" His frozen arms made their way around the mechanic's still-smoldering shoulders, causing her to jump.
"Sure...let me get something out of my bag and some more water for us..." Her mood changed on a thin dime. "...and we are not finished talking about this." She stomped out of the bathroom and fumbled around looking for her bags. Alcohol still infiltrated her veins causing her gait to broaden and skew her balance. The young woman heard the bathwater running as she plopped down on the floor trying to stave off a round of dizziness. The sound of the old plumbing gurgling as Ed twisting closed the spout woke her from a small snooze and she quickly located her suitcase on the floor. Finding a long, gauzy nightgown, Winry tucked the garment over the crook of her left elbow then grabbed the ice water and Ed's glass then lumbered her way back into the bathroom.
A vision of gold partially obscured by obscene and grisly sanguine caused her to drop the glass and almost the pitcher as well.
For a second, the mechanic imagined Edward first twirling the safety-razor blade in his now calloused hand a few times before rehearsing pushing the sharp edge into the thin skin of his wrist and letting his blood seep into the warm bath water. Winry saw her new husband's crimson life flow into the clear water creating an undulating red cloud until it dissipated leaving the bath sickly pink.
"What's wrong now?" His low voice broke through the shock and the horrible vision cleared. "Did you cut yourself on the glass?" Ed made movements to raise out of the tub but his wife recovered herself enough to waive one hand in protest.
"No...stay." She set the pitcher down on the sink next to her empty glass, then grabbed a hand towel and scooped up the shards of broken glass on the tile floor. "It broke in large pieces, nothing too sharp." Winry dropped the towel into the waste basket and then let the white sheet float to the floor. She stood before her husband, legs still shaking from the grim hallucination. "I think we need to get some help...while we're in Central."
He frowned but didn't stop her or question what kind of help she meant. Edward knew she was right.
Dr. Knox Sr - FMA Manga by Hiromu Arakawa
"Doctor Knox?" Ed felt stupid spilling his guts like, but the man had been paid by someone for this hour and the golden-haired man had nothing else to do alone this early. "Why after all these years did this happen...I mean, I've never hurt anyone but myself?"
"The mind is fickle, Mr. Elric." The dark-haired man adjusted his glasses and picked up his pen again to take note as he and the other man spoke. "You suffered greatly twenty years ago, that trauma just doesn't go away. Not even time can erase all damage to your mind." He tapped the end of his ink pen on his forehead for emphasis. "And, I didn't learn that from any psychology book, either. My father told me that."
"I knew your dad." Ed smiled thinking about how Dr. Knox Sr. saved both Maria Ross's and Lan Fan's lives so many years before. He also knew from what Alphonse and May had told him, that the old doctor suffered horrible mental wounds from his service in Ishval that it ruined his marriage. "I'm sorry to hear of his passing."
"Thank you." Knox Jr closed his eyes and thought of his gruff father before continuing. "I always thought that dad would be the one to end his own life...never imagined the smoking would do it first. He took a long pause as if paying silent homage to his father. "...you know he had a bad time when he returned from Isvhal?"
"Yeah..." He didn't want to say it out loud, to verbalize that the war ruined the good doctor's mind and led to his divorce.
"What dad went through...what our family went through was the reason I decided to study psychiatry in medical school. I wanted to heal men and woman like him." He stared directly into Ed's eyes to continue. "...and like you, who served our nation and came home with such horrible internal and invisible wounds that kept them from living and being happy."
"Noble of you, really." Ed couldn't help sounding smart-assed and immediately felt bad for saying it that way. "I mean...I'm sure he'd be proud."
"Yeah." Knox Jr, sat back and sighed. "Well, this is not about me or my father...let's redirect and talk about you. Tell me when you start feeling bad, what happens to you before?"
"It's as if every time I think about things associated with what happened to me and my brother all those years ago– even good things I'm rewarded with an episode of sleeplessness, anxiety or..." He inhaled deeply as the memory of Winry's face came to him, her face with his two large hands wrapped tightly around her pale neck. "...violence."
"I'd like you to tell me about your wife. Do you have a good marriage?"
Ed sat back in his chair and sighed before speaking. "Yeah, we've known each other since we were babies practically. Winry, me and Al just had each other after Winry's parents died, our dad left and mom died. The day she and I got married was the happiest day of my life."
"Mr. Elric..." The doctor pulled out a large manila file. "I was able to get your military medical records including treatment sessions with your previous physicians and psychiatrists..."
"Hey...I thought you and I were starting fresh?" He knew that military records Dr. Knox held were difficult for civilian physicians to obtain – no doubt someone helped Knox Jr come by them.
"We are...I just think it's best to take in your illness as a whole, not just treat you for this most recent episode." He noticed the man twitch and his body stiffen when he referred to almost murdering his wife as an episode. "Now, there was a time that you and Mrs. Rockbell separated. For several months? Can you tell me about that?"
"The hell!" Edward hated that time and he sure as fuck didn't want to relive it now. "What's to tell?" It was shitty time in his life, a time the person he hated most in the world was himself. "I had problems..." What he really meant was that he started showing early symptoms of shell shock, didn't know how to handle it and self medicated with booze. Ed closed his eyes and despite all his mental efforts to block it out, the memories came like an alchemical transmutation gone way bad.
"Stop it!" Winry flung the wrench with expert precision, hitting her quarry's highball glass and shattering it.
"The fuck!" Edward stood as the shards of glass, bourbon and ice fell onto the table, he shook his uninjured hand. "You could have cut me!" He knew that his wife threw with the same meticulousness as she built automail and had she really wanted to hurt him, he'd be bleeding right now.
"I'll do worse." The woman sidled up to the table. "You are stinking drunk, Ed. Why?"
"Why not?" He turned away. "Nothing more to do in this shit hole."
"Resembool's a shit hole now?" The mechanic got closer, forcing the man to stiffen. "..or is it our house?"
"You know what I mean, Win...the town." He could never think of their home that way. "I feel...stifled here."
Their baby's shrill cry reverberated down the stairwell, closely followed by Pinako's yell.
"I'll see to him!"
"Thank you Granny!" Winry hollered. "I'll be right up!" She took her husband's face in her hand, moving so he was forced to look at her. "This..." She motioned with her free hand. "...is barely stifling. It's your family." She fought but couldn't stop here eyes from welling up. Winry gave her husband a hopeful look then moved swiftly to see to their son.
"Win?" Ed's voice caused her to stop at the bottom stair. "I think I'm going out." He stood and picked up the well-worn trench coat draped across a vacant chair.
"That may be what you need right now..." His wife took one step, holding onto the rail. "Can you pick me up some milk at the market?" She cringed, knowing Ed hated even holding a carton or bottle of the white stuff. "I wouldn't ask but, I need it- Junior's nursing is making me loose too much weight."
"Sure." Ed watched Winry pull her shrinking frame upstairs to feed his wailing son. He'd stop by the market on his way to the train station and have them deliver a few gallons of milk home this evening for her. She really was thin. The former alchemist opened his front door and swayed a bit, wishing he'd skipped the bourbon. He looked up the stairs and heard his child's cries die down as Winry nursed him. "I love you." The young man uttered as he caught a faint sound of his wife humming a lullaby. He picked up his old suitcase, one he'd hidden behind the bookcase by the doorway that morning.
"I'm not proud of that."
"Why did you feel you had to leave your family?" Dr. Knox had filled a large pad of inked notes.
"I thought if I could just find myself alone for a few days that I could sleep, get some rest and come home."
"It didn't work, did it?"
"No." He rubbed his face with his right hand and remembered all the sleepless, booze fueled nights in a small Central City hotel room. "Winry suffered. She tried to keep up her orders up, nurse and take care of Ethan." Edward held it in, he knew he nearly killed his wife the first time twenty years ago and had done so without so much as laying a finger on her. "And she kept up this hard-headed will. Whenever I called, she acted like I was just on a business trip..."
"How did you find your way back home again?"
"Granny was the one to break through to me." He smiled remembering the old Hag. "She sent me a photograph of my son smiling. Just a tiny picture, no letter or anything. She'd written on the back something like, 'You're missing it, asshole." Ed chuckled a bit, and took out his wallet. He pilfered through it until he found the very same worn color photograph of a chubby infant. The former alchemist fingered it gently, so proud of the man this baby had grown up to be. "Gran didn't even sign it, but I could tell from her handwriting. I got an appointment with a military shrink the next day and came home a month later." Ed quietly replaced the photograph in a fold of the wallet.
"You cannot cure years of terror in one month...how did the reunion with your family go?" He scribbled again in the notepad.
"I slept on the couch...and deserved it. But Winry was sick, she could barely get up the stairs so she slept on a patient bed on the main floor. I was too busy with my son and getting my wife back to health that I didn't have time to dwell on my pain..." He let his hand fall from his face to the worn leather couch cushion he sat upon. "That's how I moved past it...and...eventually, she forgave me."
A tiny egg timer on Dr. Knox's desk buzzed loudly until the psychiatrist set his notepad and pen down and turned a button on the side of the contraption.
"I think today was productive, tomorrow morning, we'll start your therapy."
"What?" Ed shot to the edge, of his seat. "All we did was talk, we got nothing done!" Truly, he felt he could have had the same chat with Winry...for free.
"On the contrary, I've developed a plan for your treatment, you'll see." He smiled, then stood, motioning toward the door. "Tomorrow morning then?"
"Whatever." Ed felt uneasy, as seeing Dr. Knox would end the same as the military doctors – a failure. As he stepped into the living area of the home and outside of the office he had been sitting, he noticed a brass telephone on a corner table. A calm feeling washed over him as well as the sudden urge to hear a familiar voice. "Say, Doc?"
"Do you mind if I use your phone? I want to call home." He hoped the good Doctor would approve.
"Not at all...take your time." Knox motioned to the telephone and the stiff seat next to the telephone table. "I'll be in my office, you can let yourself out?" Edward nodded he could as his doctor smiled and closed his office door leaving the former alchemist alone with only his nerves and fears as comfort.
"Here goes." He noticed the grandfather clock in the adjacent hallway. His golden eyes kept track of the swinging brass pendulum...back and forth...back and forth. Ed suddenly felt the fear and rage kept safe in his gut disappear and his mood elevate. His courage also rose as he noticed the time was now nine-thirty and surely he'd reach one of his kids if he called now. Edward grabbed the cold receiver and dialed the number and waited.
"Rockbell Automail." He recognized Sarah's assertive voice immediately.
"Dad!" The eldest daughter leapt as she heard her father's voice. Her elation quickly gave way to anger. "Where the hell are you! Get home!" She didn't care she cursed.
"I will...I promise." He took in a deep breath. "Listen, I'm seeing a doctor." Ed didn't want to tell his baby girl what kind of doctor but knew she should know the truth. "He's a psychiatrist, helps former soldiers through the same stuff."
"...that's great!" Her heart fluttered at idea her dad found a professional familiar with his nightmares and night terrors, that someone could offer him a cure. "I'm sorry I yelled...if you have someone that can help, you need to stay there."
"Sarah?" He feared asking the question. "How's your mom?" Edward missed Winry so, and the image of her resting fretfully on the clinic bed and injured by his hand was not one he welcomed every time he closed his eyes. Yet, that is what he saw.
"She's in the surgery room with Uncle Al and Aunt Mei right now. Let me check!" Before Ed could utter another word, Sarah let go of the receiver, letting it dangle from the table as she ran to the rooms her mother used to install automail. "Uncle! It's dad!" The blonde girl tapped her knuckles on the closed wooden door only to have the smiling face of her Auntie Mei appear as it opened.
"Shhhhh." Mei shushed her niece. "You mother just received a sedative to help her sleep. She needs to be still for a few hours." The diminutive Xingese woman opened the door wider so that Sarah could see Alphonse lowering the patient bed to a normal level with a hand crank, then covering up her sleeping mother with a warm quilt.
"Dad's on the phone."
"I want to speak with him." Alphonse's voice rang quiet but stern as he brushed Winry's damp bangs from her closed eyes and traversed the short steps from the bed to the doorway.
"Husband?" Mei sensed anger in his chi. Anger, quite unnatural for his nature. "Calm...think before you speak." She pinched the loose cloth hanging from the back of Al's pullover shirt, keeping him from moving forward as Sarah motioned toward the telephone table in the hallway.
"You and Brother never were best friends...why are you asking me to be kind to him now?" He didn't try to hide the bitterness in his voice. He'd pushed and all but coerced Edward to find better help for his issues over the years and Al felt his big brother never took any treatment he received seriously.
"He's an ass sometimes." She whispered so Sarah couldn't hear her slur her father and they walked slowly. "But you and I both have felt his and Winry's chi...he loves her so fiercely and she him. He could not have had any control of his body when he harmed her." She was cut totally off guard as her tall spouse suddenly turned to face her, his golden eyes glowing with ire.
"He should have tried harder...she's pregnant." Al knew his brother had the strength to overcome monsters such as the homunculi so he just couldn't fathom how Ed failed to stop a nightmare that caused him to harm his pregnant wife.
"What?" Sarah heard. She turned around on the ball of her socked-foot and kept the two adults from going further. "What did you say?"
"Way to go, Husband." Mei elbowed her husband square in his ribs. "Winry asked we not speak of this yet."
"Mom...is pregnant again?" Sarah now grew angry at her mom for keeping this secret...then her father earned her infuriation for getting her mom in such a state to begin with. "Don't those two morons remember how awful Trisha's birth was?" Although Trisha Elric was born healthy and strong, her mother suffered terrible morning sickness and later some sort of complications with her blood pressure leaving her bedridden for months. Winry finally delivered, she lost so much blood she nearly died. Dr. Renbak then advised against another pregnancy.
"Shhh." Al hushed her as he moved around his niece toward the telephone. "Don't tell your siblings yet." He picked up the receiver and began talking with his brother.
"Aunt Mei? Why didn't mom and dad tell me?" Sarah whispered under the angry baritone of her uncle's voice.
"Sarah, your mother didn't even tell us...Alphonse and I sensed the baby's strong chi the moment we stepped into this house. She confirmed it but wrote on the slate asking us not tell you just yet." Al's voice raised, tearing Mei's attention from her niece to her husband.
"...I just spent the last hour healing Winry, Brother. You should be here with her, not in Central!...Yes, it appears to have gone well...I sedated her so she could sleep for a while and we'll see if it worked...yes, if not then you may never hear her voice again..." Silence indicated either Edward had hung up or couldn't form words.
Edward couldn't bear the thought that he'd maimed Winry, taking her beautiful voice, it just was too much. He dropped the telephone and had to sit down on one of the plush velvet covered stools by the telephone table in Dr. Knox's hallway. After a few deep breaths and hearing Alphonse's voice asking for him, he picked up the receiver again and spoke. "Al, did she...you know about the baby?"
"Mei and I felt your new child's chi as soon as we arrived. Don't worry, we've not told the kids...except Sarah overheard and she knows." He turned to view the shocked face of his niece as his wife patted her shoulder in comfort. "I guess you and Winry knew the risks."
"We did but it wasn't planned." He raked his fingers through the fringe hanging from his forehead. "Winry saw a specialist here and we'd planned on coming to Central to deliver the baby, we'd just not figured out how to tell the children." Ed knew the older kids would be pissed for their parent's recklessness, especially remembering how ill their mother got when Trisha arrived.
Alphonse sighed loudly. "You should have told me. Mei and I have skills that could help. We're going to help Winry now that we know. I just don't know why you two think you could handle this alone...both of you are stupid, you know?"
"David and Ethan are coming to Central, David's test is in a few days." Al didn't need to elaborate what test, he knew Ed was aware his protege eyed becoming a state alchemist. "Where are you staying?"
"Armstrong estate...and there's plenty of room, they can stay here." He didn't quite know what he'd say to the boys but didn't want them wandering around the city looking for lodging.
"I'll get them the information. Brother, are you getting some treatment? Is there something I can do?" Alphonse and Mei's expertise was alkahestry not psychology, but if his brother needed him to heal his mind, he'd sure and Hell find a way.
"I think I found someone who knows a fuck or two about my problems, Al. Remember old Dr. Knox?"
"I'm seeing the old guy's son..."