Three Wise Monkeys
Hey! pale-blue11 here!
So this is my first attempt at Fullmetal Alchemist fanfiction, and I'm a little nervous. I hope you all like it—or at least give it a chance. Thank you for reading even this far :)
WARNINGS: character death, blood, language. More will be added as they become necessary.
Please, if you don't think you'll be okay reading this, don't read it. Some later themes are fairly strong.
With that aside, I hope you enjoy the first chapter :)
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Fullmetal Alchemist or its characters
CHAPTER ONE • The First Friday
It smelt. Badly.
Cigarettes and alcohol proved the biggest offenders, though the consumers of these goods were not far behind in terms of filth. The memories of their visits remained thick in the air. And from Ed's position beside the bathroom doors, the stench of piss and vomit was all too clear. He sat on the chipped wooden bench with a gloved hand slipped discretely beneath his nose.
Water lay before him in a glass of questionable sanitation, being spun idly with his free hand. He had to appear casual. Just another tired individual worn down after a hard day's work. Nothing special.
A cap—borrowed from a reluctant Mustang—concealed most of his golden hair, and Ed's bright red coat had been left behind in the office. He barely felt like himself, and was hoping that he barely looked like himself, as well. After all, his target could appear at any time.
There were only four people in the bar—including Ed and the grotty bartender. The other two, a man and a woman, were equally less-suspicious. The man was far too scrawny to be held accountable for the crimes of the murderer Ed chased, and the woman had passed out not five minutes after entering the bar.
It was still only eleven, so while Ed's hopes of ending the entire saga were dwindling with each passing minute, he hadn't given up on the possibility of a late arrival.
One late arrival in particular.
As Ed watched, the woman blinked out of her alcohol-induced coma and slid into a much more respectable position—namely, not lying on the hard benches along the wall. She adjusted her pale green dress and swiped a lock of hair out of her eyes before unsteadily tottering to her feet on heels that promised a broken ankle.
Ed saw the man's shoulders stiffen as an uncoordinated hand rubbed along his jawline and the woman collapsed onto his shoulder. Even from across the small bar, Edward could hear the slur on her words, if not the words themselves. Whatever she offered, the man declined.
Edward's plan to stay until midnight seemed impossible. A suspect hadn't turned up—barely anyone had—and the woman was starting to wobble over to his table. If there was one thing Ed didn't need after his hellish evening, it was the drunken advances of someone twenty years his senior.
But he wasn't fast enough.
A clammy hand looped around his wrist before he made it two steps.
"An' where're you goin', sweetheart?" That was accompanied by a loud hiccup and the strong scent of alcohol.
Ed kept his eyes down and face turned away. They were the only two major aspects of his appearance they hadn't been able to disguise. "Bathroom."
"How 'bout I walk you there?"
Shaking his head, Ed tried to slip out of her grasp. "I'll be fine." He tugged. "Really." He tugged harder, then started to pry her fingers away. "Really."
The woman pouted beside his ear, her breath warm on his neck. "I don' think so. How 'bout I help you?"
"Lady." The bartender watched her sternly until she released Ed and stepped away. "This isn't that kind of place."
Ed was struggling to maintain his quiet façade. If he blew it then, he might never have been allowed back into the bar. It was their biggest lead, and a pitiful one at that.
Mustang's taunts would only get worse if he messed it up completely.
The woman sniffed in a haughty manner and staggered off to the exit, muttering to herself the entire way. The open door let in a mouthful of fresh air, which Ed greedily accepted.
"Well, go ahead."
It took a moment for Ed to realise he was being spoken to. He replied with an intelligent, "Huh?"
The bartender gestured to the empty bar with a bitter smile on his jolly face. "If you use it quickly, I can lock up for the night. No one else'll come this late."
Faking gratitude, Ed skirted towards the bathrooms. "Oh, thanks."
He couldn't have felt more self-conscious if there was a flashing sign above his head declaring his most embarrassing secret to the world. The only sound came from his boots. They made loud thumps on the creaking floorboards, which grew more strained as he walked into the small adjoining corridor.
The corridor was short and blemished with two rotting doors, each fighting desperately to stay upright. Ed's nose crinkled once he was certain the other man couldn't see. The reports stated that Jeremy Colt (aged twenty-nine and six feet tall) often frequented the foul place, but Ed had waited for over five hours, and hadn't seen a single man matching such a description. It would have been much easier if there had been a photo attached to the witness' statements.
Ed stepped up to the doors, the stench only worsening until he was forced to cover his mouth with a sleeve. Was it too late to back out? There were two words on the old wood. Using an educated guess—because no amount of scrutiny could ascertain it—Ed decided that they read 'men' and 'ladies'. He doubted any proper 'ladies' would have ever visited.
The men's bathroom seemed the best place to start, so Edward pushed on the door with his free hand. The automail made a hollow sound, as if the inside of the wood had been eaten away, leaving only the decrepit outer shell. Ed continued cautiously, flicking his eyes around the room. Sickening yellow light sputtered from dirty globes hanging from the ceiling by protruding wires, illuminating cracked tiles and broken stalls.
Letting out a quiet noise of disgust, Ed turned back, resisting the urge to slam the door. He wasn't going to spend time in that room just for the sake of a lie.
But a knife at his throat forced him to freeze, and rather quickly. Whoever had him didn't say anything, but pretended to calm him with a quiet "Shhh…"
The blade was cold and close. If he so much as shifted his weight, it would be lodged in his neck before he knew what was going on.
"Is this the one?" asked the same woman he saw in the bar. But her voice was steady and sober, as was the poorly-manicured hand wrapped around her weapon.
"Yeah." The new person was timid, tentative, but his tone held conviction. "Yeah, that's him. I knew they'd send someone eventually."
"Well, congratulations. You're now a wanted criminal."
Something small and sharp poked into the muscle of Ed's upper arm, causing him to flinch away. A warning trail of warmth trickled into the collar of his shirt, staining it red, and he stopped again. Heaviness filled his arm, making his fingers tingle as if his blood had been replaced with lead. It spread with every beat of his heart, which was quickening by the second, until even the sensation of the blade digging into his neck was dulled.
"What does that one do?" The man moved around until he was just barely visible in Ed's peripheral vision.
The woman snorted. "Hell if I know. I just grabbed it off that other guy. Y'know, the doctor one."
Ed found his eyes struggling to stay open, but that name pierced his mind like a glass of cool, refreshing water, or perhaps a strong mug of coffee. Mike Fellows was one of the later victims. When he died, he left a wife, two kids, and a small fortune in cenz. He was Jeremy Colt's general practitioner.
Every one of the victims had a connection like that.
The room was distorting; the few wall tiles that hadn't already fallen dripped down like melting wax, pooling on the floor in an olive green mess. The floor itself had taken on a life of its own, and was frantically trying to throw Ed off his feet. It was only the strong grip on his shoulder and the knife in his throat that kept him upright.
But then the knife was gone, and so was the woman. The unwashed concrete and tiles rushed up to kick him, striking his automail with so much force as to cause the resounding clang! to echo around the bathroom for hours. It was so loud, so violent, that Ed felt the vibrations in his teeth.
Then everything went silent. The room became dark. He couldn't feel the ground—only the warmth at his throat and numbness in his arm. It was as if the entire world was waiting. Waiting for him. Waiting for whatever came after the dreadful disorientation.
It was so sudden that Ed hardly registered it.
For a second, he saw the blade. It was an ordinary kitchen knife—not the large type, used for dicing carrots or onions—the type that was set beside a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. But the edge was filed to a point so sharp that it had no trouble entering the tough muscle of Ed's abdomen. It's silver gleam was hidden beneath a red outer garment.
It happened in near-complete silence. He couldn't move, couldn't yell, couldn't perform alchemy. Couldn't help himself. After so many fights against chimeras, homunculi, and other such nightmares, he ended up facing death at the hands of a man. An ordinary man. The same man who his gaze had passed over so many times that night. The man he had been sure would have trouble opening a heavy door.
He was going to die.
He was going to die over a damn oversight. Just one mistake.
Al would hate him.
Winry would cry.
Granny would lose another child.
And Ed would have let them all down. He didn't have enough time to count all the promises he must have broken. He'd be at the Gate soon.
His fingers trembled, but that was all he could do. He couldn't even form a fist, let alone punch someone with it. But… But…
He wasn't about to give up.
Ed took in a deep, shuddering breath, hoping to ignore the blade making mincemeat of his body. He would gather all of his fading energy, and convert it into a shout that would send the bartender running. Then… Then the… hospital could fix him.
As Edward slowly opened his mouth, fighting to stay awake—he couldn't fall asleep, damn it!—the blows ceased. Or maybe he was just too far gone to feel them anymore. Perhaps it—
Ed's eyes flew open—funny, he didn't realise they had closed—and he let out a noise. A sort of gurgling sigh. There was something cold—something hot—in his throat! Air escaped around the knife. A death whistle. Maybe the Gate would use it to find his soul faster.
He didn't notice the blood frothing from his gaping mouth. He didn't notice as the man—it was Jeremy Colt! It was!—wiped his red hands on Ed's coat. He didn't notice the window breaking, nor the person who clambered out of it.
He didn't notice anything for a long time.
Everything hurt. Even his ears ached. He didn't expect the moment after death to be painful.
So maybe he wasn't quite there. Maybe the Gate was waiting to collect his soul, forcing him to suffer through as much agony as possible. He had caused it enough trouble already, and 'equivalent exchange' was a rule he had heard often enough.
Ed just hoped it would stop soon. If he had to die, he wanted it to be quick. He wanted it to be over.
He could hear voices. The Gate's prisoners, protectors, and guardians. Would he become one of those long, shadowy arms? The arms that tore his family to pieces? Is that what happened to those who go against the laws of alchemy?
His pain was lessening. Good. He was on his way, then. To death and whatever lay beyond. Red lightning flashed in the darkness, sketching out the faces of his family, friends, colleagues, and enemies. Maybe he would see them later. But Alphonse shook his head and smiled, everyone else echoing his movement. Ghosts. All of them. No—Edward was the ghost.
"Not yet," they whispered. Fingers of crimson materialized in the void, each reaching out for him. "Not now."
Edward tried to frown, and found himself able. Immediately, the dreamscape disappeared, but the aches and pains of reality never returned. Other sensations did. The hard, broken tile under his back and shoulder, a sharp tickling in his throat. His clothes were damp and wet. Water? No... Ed cracked open his eyes, coughing another mouthful of blood.
His neck was stiff and felt wrong. Ed lifted a tentative hand and grasped the hilt of a knife, protruding from his throat.
Quickly, he reached up to grasp the slippery end with both hands. The automail slit his skin and the knife was stuck fast, but with more and more blood flowing over his hands, Ed managed to pull it out. It instantly became easier to breathe, and so he started to pant desperately, sucking in the air he needed to make up for.
The window swung ajar, letting in the noise of the outside nightlife. It was getting pretty loud in the tiny pub, too. People yelled and clambered and, as Ed watched, a loud, flashing vehicle sped past. The lights briefly illuminated the bathroom, showing the bloody stain in all its glory.
Ed leapt to his feet, all thoughts of confusion gone. They were replaced with ones of pure panic. No one could find him like that—covered in blood without a single visible wound. It wasn't natural, he thought with a jolt. He wasn't natural. Not anymore.
He took a step towards the window, blood drenched boots sliding on the blood drenched floor. His movements were jerky, like a puppet restored to life. A broken puppet, with coat hangers instead of its original arm and leg. Thin, weak coat hangers that could barely support his weight. But as he moved on, he did so with more ease. He reached the window in seconds and climbed out of it in less. The police and medics burst into the recently-vacated bathroom not even a minute later, but Ed was already gone.
He stumbled down the street, clothes slapping wetly, sickeningly, against his sides. Blood had seeped into his automail, stiffening the mechanics in the same way as it had slowed his mind. He could form a fist, and did so when he entered an area with no street lamps. His blade was still out, swinging at his side as he quickened his pace to a jog. Hair stuck to his face and the back of his neck with something more than sweat. A shower. He needed a shower.
He needed to think.
His actions grew smoother until he was sprinting, hurrying back to Headquarters. Al wasn't there, as far as he knew. He was in Risembool, paying a short visit to Winry and Pinako while Ed was busy with work.
Ed could only hope he hadn't come back early. His appearance could be hard to explain.
Street lamps began to dot the sidewalks, their small puddles of light casting dim luminance on the ground. Ed avoided them all. His mind was on one track:
Get home, and figure out what the hell was going on.
Out of nowhere, three shadowy figures stumbled into the street. Their arrival was punctuated by laughter, yelling, and drunken belches. With no time to stop or slow down, Edward slammed straight into the first one.
"Oh, man," the guy groaned miserably as Ed scrambled to his feet, horrified. "Why'd you do that for?"
"Hey, Paul," one of his friends giggled in a decidedly feminine fashion. "You fell over."
"I know, idiot."
Ed ran off down the road without looking back. No more than thirty second later, he heard their cries of alarm.
The journey back to the dormitories was endless. Traveling the backstreets, Ed saw a side of Central that had previously been hidden. Hidden, but not unnoticed. It was difficult to smother such a large part of the city. About a kilometre from the safety of his dorm, Ed was forced to stop.
Red boot prints marred the footpath. Most were almost invisible, but others—like the one Ed had noticed—were much too obvious. It was hard to believe that blood still clung to his boots after his frantic sprint, but when he glanced down, Ed admitted that it was entirely possible. No matter how far he ran, he was still covered in it. That wouldn't change.
Acting quickly, Edward slung off his dark outer coat. Several droplets of blood spattered the cobblestone path like disfigured rain. He balled the wet material up and held it under his arm as he tugged off the offending shoes.
That was a shame. Those were his favourite boots.
It seemed his socks were the only clean item he had on him. Ed spared them a small, cynical smirk before starting off again, his coat and shoes hugged tightly to his chest. As the promise of a shower drew closer, he found himself feeling more and more confident that he would actually get there. Even so, the heavy lump in his stomach never lessened. And it would only get harder as he approached military headquarters. A feeble voice in the back of his mind told him that, and Ed was unable to counter its pure honesty. The streets were becoming brighter, people were less rare—even when avoiding busy areas—and Ed had already spotted two military personnel. He vaguely wondered if they would recognise him beneath his sanguine disguise. Questions were the last thing he needed.
After an eternity, and all too soon, Ed leant against the wall outside the dormitories. On both sides, twin street lamps shined, but Edward himself stood shrouded in gloom. He was gathering his energy—quickly, before reports of a blood-covered teenager reached the authorities' ears.
His rest was cut short by a car shooting past the intersection a hundred metres to his right. He froze, but it was gone before he had time to form a plan. Time was running out, and he needed to dispose of his soiled clothes before doing anything else.
Spinning around sharply, Ed started to take both his eyes and fingers across the wall. There should have been a tiny marking, right...
He dropped to his knees, ignoring the crack of his automail as it hit. It was a bit of a struggle to place his hands together while balancing both a coat and boots, but desperation lends strength.
And he was desperate.
The ground crackled with alchemic energy, brilliant light flaring up around each individual cobblestone. Ed dropped through the newly-formed hole and braced himself for the rough landing. His feet struck the compact dirt floor first, but the momentum send him tumbling forward until he had a mouthful of sand and a pissed expression.
A sharp clap and heavy bang sealed the hole shut as if it had never existed. That was Ed's plan, though he'd never used the escape before. And he never thought he'd have to use it from the outside. Mostly, he had expected it to help him elude Mustang. The reality was more unlikely than imagination, in Ed's situation.
The tunnel shrunk, until Ed had to bend his neck to get through. The walls were coarse, filling his grimy hair with more filth. But at least—through careful planning—it wasn't far to his room. He was on the lowest floor, much to the other occupants' delight. It left the higher dorms—the ones with views of Central, and larger living space—free for them. But Ed didn't care about any of that. His room was the most convenient.
Basically home, basically safe, Edward performed another act of alchemy and revealed the extra door to his dormitory. He pulled himself up on arms shaking with fatigue, and collapsed right next to his bed. The shower was so far away. It was with great effort that he stood. The events of the night had finally hit him, and Ed felt completely drained. He just wanted to clean up and sleep for days. Weeks, even. He had made it home, so there was only one thing left on his hastily-constructed checklist.
With that in mind, Ed lurched into the bathroom and dumped the coat and boots before him. It was nearing midnight, but no one would find anything strange with the water going on at that time. Many of the soldiers stayed out last drinking, and Ed was fairly sure it was Friday, too. He was having trouble remembering his own name, but God-forbid he lost the day of the week!
Shuddering, Ed stepped straight into the spray. Water hit his shirt and flew off, slightly pink in colour. He needed it off. Gone.
Material ripped in his hurry, and rose-coloured water entered the bathtub at his feet. As he threw down first the shirt, then his pants, it turned red. Almost as red as Ed's chest.
He looked down at himself in a muted horror, only just starting to imagine the state he had been in. Though no wounds remained, their bloody silhouettes did. His entire torso must have been barely more than mince and bone when Colt left him.
Which begged the question: why was he alive?
Maybe the Gate just really hated him. Maybe it liked seeing him reduced to a broken doll, hardly human. His eyes widened at a more worrying thought. What if it only saved him so it could see that same scene repeated again and again, year after year? Was he unable to escape a fate that involved nothing more than pain and death? Wasn't his daily life bad enough?
Ed stared for a few long seconds, then began to scrub madly at his bare skin. A bar of soap lay on the edge of the bath, but he ignored it. His hands would work just as well. Or even better. The pain of his nails and automail raking down his skin cleared his mind, made it easier to think.
Scarlet light shone on the bathroom tiles as his self-inflicted wounds started to heal and Ed scrubbed harder. He was normal—he was!—and when the residual effects of the Gate wore off and were used up, he could believe that again.
He felt stained. No matter how much skin he scoured off, it wasn't enough. He could still see his own blood, everywhere. All over the bathroom, all over the city, all over himself. Ed was tainted by his own blood.
As the tears began to fall, he wondered if they, too, were red.
Please tell me what you think :) chapter two'll be up in a week's time