Title: Penance

Author: Popsicle

Rating: PG-13

Author's Notes: I haven't written fanfic in a good 6 years, so please be gentle. This fic includes quite a bit of self mutilation and a heavy dose of angst, so be warned before you read. I have more in my head to write on this, but frankly I need a break from the angst of it all. If I get any encouragement, expect a second part later on.

Ed closed the bathroom door behind him. He was shaking with the effort of keeping it together. Too many damn people . . . way too many. Admittedly, this was a party, and these things tended to attract crowds.

He supposed it was a good one too. He hadn't really ever been into these things though. All the noise made him nervous. Only Al knew how much it drained him to deal with ordinary things like this.

He slid down to the floor, eyes closed and back to the noise outside. Al had seen him retreat. He could practically feel his brother staring at him through the door. He hated to make Al worry, but he needed a break from all the noise, just to think.

The thing he hated most about all those laughing, happy people was his brother. Al should be one of them. Not trapped in that metal body. Sometimes, Ed wanted to grab them and scream. Tell them all to just stop smiling and laughing and being happy. It wasn't fair for the world to keep moving. Not when Al couldn't.

Damnit, he hadn't meant to cry. He felt like a big baby. He pushed himself to his feet and leaned heavily against the sink, staring blankly at himself in the mirror. At his face. Something Al couldn't do.

He was staring at the sink now, at the items scattered around it. Mustang should really learn to clean up after himself. Aftershave, deodorant, moisturizer (What the hell? Was Mustang really a girl or something?), a razor . . .

Someone outside crowed with laughter, and others joined in. It was like a knife being twisted in his heart. Ed didn't even think. He just grabbed and the next thing he knew digging Mustang's razor into his flesh arm.

A low whimper escaped his throat, and he quickly choked back any further noises. He dug the razor in deeper, his breath hitching in his throat. It felt like something inside of him was winding tighter with every big of pressure he applied. It hurt. A lot. But not nearly as much as it hurt to think about Al.

"I'm sorry Al," he whispered, and pushed the razor down. That horrible knot in his chest snapped, and he couldn't hold back the sob of relief. The razor fell from his hand, clattering into the sink. He watched in a daze as blood seeped from the slash, staining his arm red.

Did he really just do that? And had it really helped? He hadn't even noticed how the pain was building up until thing. It was a relief. He could breathe again.

He jumped when there was a crash out in the living room, followed immediately by a loud curse and a lot of laughter. He actually snorted in amusement. What was he worried about? The door was locked. It wasn't like half the office was going to bust in and see him with his arm cut to hell and blood dripping into the sink.

Ed clapped his hands softly, placing his fingers on the blood smeared sink. Best to clean that up, and quickly. He ran water over his arm, rinsing away the drying blood. The cut was still bleeding, but it would clot up soon.

He pulled his sleeve back down, covering up the evidence of what he had just done. He glanced in the mirror, and then leaned over to splash water on his face. There, that was better. No way now to tell he'd been crying.

"Hey boss," Havoc clapped him on the back as he passed him on the way to the living room. "Good timing, I didn't want to have to beat the door down on you."

Ed actually laughed, and stuck his hands into the pockets of his jacket as he rejoined the party. He flashed a grin at Al and grabbed a soda. His arm hurt like a bitch. But he could look at all those smiles and not want to punch someone. That was an equivalent trade he could deal with.

"Lieutenant?"

"Yes, Alphonse?"

Riza looked up from the paperwork on her desk, smiling kindly. The younger Elric was seated on one of the chairs in the outer office. Fullmetal was in the Colonel's office, giving his latest report. As usual, the brother was left to his own devices while he waited.

"What's on your mind, Alphonse?" she asked, laying her pen aside. The miserable air around him told her something was wrong. This deserved her full attention.

"What would you do it . . . you knew something but were scared to tell anyone? Even if you knew you should?"

Hawkeye considered the suit of armor for a long moment. "If someone is doing something you know is wrong," she said carefully, "is always best to tell someone who can stop them." She looked closer. "Is something going on that you need to tell me about?"
"I . . ." Al faltered, and then fell silent. Riza blinked, not sure what to do. She wasn't any good with children. Especially ones as odd as the Elrics.

"Alphonse," she began, starting to stand, but the door to Mustang's office slammed open. Fullmetal stomped out, sending the staff scrambling to get out of his way.

"I'm going to the library Al," Edward growled, barely slowing as he stalked out the doorway. The young alchemist's curses floated back down the hallway.

"Lieutenant, could you bring me a coffee?" Mustang called out the door, sounding amused as usual.

"Yes Colonel," Hawkeye looked back at Alphonse, but he was already heading out the door.

"Have a good day, Lieutenant, everyone," he said, polite as always, then disappeared out the door.

She watched the door for a moment, then sighed and went to get Mustang his coffee.

Al walked back to the dormitory, alone with his thoughts. He had come so close to spilling his secret with Hawkeye. Only Ed bursting through the room had stopped him. Maybe that was for the best. What if Ed was right? Would they take his brother away if they knew?

He'd found out almost two months ago. He had laid his gauntleted hand on Ed's arm, and his brother had winced. When he'd asked, Ed had tried to shrug it off. Sore muscles, strained, but Ed was a bad liar. He'd made him show him.

Angry scars and welts, from elbow to wrist. Died blood caked the newest of them. Alphonse had been horrified. He had immediately made Ed sit down and let him clean the newer cuts as best as he could.

They were mostly superficial. The majority of them wouldn't leave scars. But that Ed would do such a thing . . .

"IT makes it stop hurting Al," Ed had said softly. "For a little while. I just can't handle it all sometimes. It makes the pain go away."

Al had told him he was telling the Colonel. Ed had flown into a desperate rage, cursing and begging his brother at the same time.

"They'll take me away Al," he'd whimpered when he'd calmed down enough to be coherent. "They'll take me away if they knew. You can't tell. Please."

So Al kept his mouth shut. He tried to pretend he didn't hear Ed in bed sometimes, crying softly and whispering he was sorry. He ignored the blood stains on the sleeves of Ed's shirts on laundry day. He didn't tell anyone about the small razor Ed had started keeping in his pocket.

At first it hadn't been that much. Once, maybe twice a week. But no he heard Ed's whimpers every night. This morning there had been blood on the sheets. Al was getting more and more scared.

He didn't know what to do.

Ed sat in his special corner of the library, trying to concentrate on the book in front of him. It was all but useless. He felt like a million people were screaming somewhere, and he couldn't just barely hear them. His head throbbed from the noise. It made him want to scream too.

The all too familiar knot was back again. It hurt to breathe. He had let it out this morning, before he went to see Mustang. And it was back already. Too quick . . . it didn't work for as long as it used to.

He swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the lump in his throat. His eyes burned with the effort of keeping the tears back. He thrust his automail hand into his pocket, fingering the razor blade he kept in there. It was sharp, as usual.

Glancing around to make sure no one was looking, he pulled the razor out. He pushed his sleeve up, baring his arm. The cuts from this morning were still bleeding slightly. Ed paid them no mind, leaning forward further so his arm was hidden from view under the table.

He had been doing this for four months now. He wasn't as clumsy as he had been at first. Now, he knew exactly how much pressure to apply, how far to pull down, when to twist it . . .

He caught his breath in a hiss as his first cut went over a fresh one. That didn't stop him though. He dragged the blade in deeper and raked it back up his arm, pushing down harder. The way the skin gave way was almost fascinating. Flesh was so fragile. Just a little prick and it broke.

Ed bowed his head over the book so it looked as if he were intent on what he was reading, but it was really to hide his tears. He sniffed and drew a shuddering breathe as he retraced the first cut, digging in harder this time.

I'm so sorry Al, he thought. I never meant to do this to you.

He moved the blade closer to his elbow and jammed it in hard.

Mom, I'm sorry, he whispered silently as he forced it downwards roughly. So sorry for it all.

Blood was starting to drip onto the floor under the table. Some part of his mind that wasn't numbed by guilt and pain screamed at him to stop. But the knot was still there. It was getting bigger.

Practically gasping for air, Ed looked at his arm dimly. It was a wreck. The cuts were deeper than the other ones.

He didn't consciously make the decision to turn his arm over. He could see the veins through the skin. It all barely registered in his mind. He took the razor and just slashed downward as hard as he could. For Al. For mom. For everyone he had loved but fucked up.

The pain was like a bucket of ice water to the face. His automail hand convulsed, and the razor fell to the ground. The sound it made as it hit the floor seemed to echo loudly in his ears.

Ed tried to stand, but didn't quite make it. He fell heavily against the table, knocking the stack of books to the floor. He fell with them.

"Major Elric?" The librarian was rushing over, he could hear her footsteps. "Oh MY GOD!" He had a burning urge to tell the woman there was no such thing, but his throat seemed to have closed up. "HELP! CALL AN AMBULANCE!"

He didn't notice when she knelt by his head. His entire world was narrow to his arm. Blood was pumping steadily from the slashed arteries. It had hurt so badly for a moment. Now it was like all the pain, all the guilt, was flowing out of him, pooling onto the floor of the library.

More people were crowding around him. Someone was wrapping a shirt around his arm, trying to stop the blood. He wanted to protest, tell them to stop making such a big deal out of it, but his voice still wasn't working.

"Bleeding to death," he heard from somewhere above him. Silly person, he thought vaguely as it started to get dim. It was just a little cut. What was wrong with the lights in here? "Suicide."

I'm not trying to kill myself. Thinking was becoming a challenge. I just wanted it to stop hurting is all.

He was so tired. He could barely keep his eyes open. Through the dark haze, he saw a face lean in close to his.

"Mom?" he whispered, fighting to keep his eyes open. "I'm . . . sorr . . . "

The phone rang.

Mustang answered.

The receiver hit the floor.

It hurt so much. He just wanted them to let him sleep. Why wouldn't they leave him alone and let him take a nap? His mom was there. Everything was okay. It was just a few little cuts.

"Edward, open your eyes."

He complied, growling when a light was flashed into them. What the hell was this guy's problem? He tried to bat the light away, but his right arm wouldn't move. Someone was holding it down.

". . . Arteries severed . . bleeding out . . ."

Why didn't they understand he was fine? And why the hell were they trying to hold him down?

"Let go," he said through gritted teeth, trying to pull his arm away.

"Edward, please stay still!" More weight leaned on his arm. "You're hurt badly!"

His arm was throbbing, and the pressure on it was making it hurt even worse. He stopped struggling abruptly, trying to get his bleary eyes to focus. Someone . . . the first voice . . . was fiddling around with his arm. It reminded him of Winry adjusting his automail. Why were they making such a big deal about this? The bleeding would stop in a little while like always.

". . . called headquarters," he heard vaguely. "Colonel Mustang . . ."

Ed convulsed, terror coursing through him. "NO!" he shouted, throwing the doctor away from him with a strength he didn't know he had right then. Something ripped in his arm, and he pain shot all the way to the base of his skull. He didn't care. Mustang couldn't know. They'd take him away.

"Calm down Edward!" There were hands on him, pushing him back down. They were trying to put restraints on him.

"LET ME GO!" he screamed, swinging blindly with his automail arm. He felt it connect to something, heard a crack and a pained shout. But he didn't stop. He had to get out of here, away from these people, before the Colonel came. Get to Al, get away from Central.

There was a sharp jab in his left shoulder, then a burning that spread quickly. He sank back onto the bed, groaning. Things were going fuzzy rapidly. He was barely aware of the straps being fastened on his legs and arm, but it didn't really bother him now. He was so sleepy again.

"Mom?" he whispered, wondering if she was still waiting for him.

Stricken faces surrounded him on every side. Hawkeye's eyes were puffy from her attempts to hold back tears. Gracia stared blindly at her hands, twisting a handkerchief into a ball in her lap. Major Armstrong was at the window, watching the activity in the ambulance bay. Alphonse just huddled in the corner, trying to make himself as small as possible.

Roy tapped his fingers on his leg, trying to control the nausea in his stomach. The second he had answered the phone, had heard that doctor's voice, his heart had dropped down to somewhere below his lungs. It was still sitting there.

He'd rushed to the hospital immediately, leaving it to Hawkeye to collect the few others that he thought should be here. Gracia and Armstrong were mostly there for Alphonse, when he decided he wanted to talk. Roy didn't blame him for staying quiet. He didn't really want to talk right now either.

Over and over, he replayed the events of that morning. A snarky comment about Fullmetal's height, a few jibs about damaged buildings . . . nothing out of the ordinary for them. The kid had stomped out as usual, heading for the comfort of the library to calm down.

So what had happened between then and now?

Had he caused it?

Roy was lost in his misery when the doctor came into the room, didn't even notice the man until he cleared his throat right behind him. Everyone jumped to their feet, not wanting to be the one to break the silence.

"He'll make it," the doctor said quietly, motioning for them to all sit back down. He lowered himself down into the seat across from Roy and glanced at Al. The man was too much of a professional to ask any questions, but Roy knew what was going through his head. "The damage was bad, but we got him here quick enough that we could stop the blood loss. He's a lucky kid."

He's only 15, Mustang thought. Still just a kid.

"Can . . . I see him?" Alphonse asked, his voice small and uncertain.

The doctor nodded, standing back up. "Only for a few minutes," he said, "and keep in mind he's heavily sedated."

"I'll go with you," Roy said, glancing at Riza. She nodded, understanding.

"We'll stay out here for now," she responded, reaching over and touching Gracia's hand softly. Hughes's widow smiled faintly.

It wasn't a long walk to Ed's recovery room. Alphonse rushed in immediately, going to the bedside and kneeling down. Roy watched, almost choking as he fought to keep his emotions in check, as Al carefully brushed blonde hair back from a pale face.

"Why is his arm gone?" he asked the doctor softly, standing in the doorway. He didn't want to interrupt Al.

"He went crazy in the ER," the doctor said, watching his patient warily. "He broke a nurse's jaw before we managed to get a sedative into him."

"We'll take care of it," was all he said in response. Meaning the military would pay for the nurse's hospital bills. They took care of their own. He stepped into the room as Ed opened his eyes.

"Wh'rm?" he murmured, staring without recognition at Al.

"I'm here brother," Al said softly, touching the unbandaged part of Edward's hand softly. "You're in the hospital."

Ed turned his head towards Al, closing his eyes again. "Sl'py."

"Go back to sleep, I'll be here," he whispered, stroking his brother's hair softly.

Roy took a deep breath. "How long until he can leave?"

The doctor frowned, arms folded across his chest. "This is very serious, Colonel. This boy tried to kill himself. He needs to be kept under observation and receive treatment for this. Next time he might not be so lucky."

Alphonse jumped liked someone had kicked him. "NO!" he shouted. Ed groaned on the bed, and Al lowered his voice. "You aren't taking him away from me," he said fiercely.

The doctor opened his mouth to protest, but Roy cut him off. "Major Elric is under my command," he said. "And if you look at his records you'll see that I'm his legal guardian."

That caught Al's attention. He jerked his head around and stared at Mustang in shock.

"As his legal guardian, I realize I am going against medical advice, but I'll be checking him out of the hospital as soon as you say he's in no danger of bleeding to death." There was a dangerous glint in Mustang's eyes, daring the doctor to say one more thing.

"As soon as the sedative wears off we'll double check the stitches," the doctor finally said, realizing he didn't want to fight this battle. "I would strongly suggest that the child receives some sort of counseling for this."

"He will," Mustang said, and walked towards Alphonse. "Al, you and Ed are going to be moving out the dorms and in with me. Okay?"

Al just nodded, not sure what to say. Legal guardian? When had that happened? Neither he nor Edward had known anything about this.

"Thank you, Doctor Grey," Mustang said, nodding his head as he would have to one of his subordinates to dismiss him. "We'll let you know if we need anything."

Doctor Grey retreated out the door, muttering to himself about the damn military, thinking it knew best on all subjects. "Start the discharge paperwork for Edward Elric," he told the nurse at the station down the hallway. "And send all of Nurse Juen's charges directly to Colonel Mustang."

Al stared at his brother's face, counting each breathe. He looked so pale and small in the hospital bed. "Is he really going to be alright Colonel?" he asked quietly.

Roy just patted the armor's arm awkwardly, wishing he had an answer for that.