Disclaimer: I do not own FMA or its characters. Also, this story is solely based on the first anime.
Warning: Severe angst, character death, pretentiousness, and generally, a whole lot of Roy torture lies ahead. Because he's cute when he angsts.
Here goes nothing.
Chapter One: Mars, Bringer of War
About an hour after midnight, the distant noises of gunfire and explosions in the East finally ceased. Winry Rockbell, the moment the night fell silent once again, felt relief – and continued on with her work on the wiring for an automail left leg, forcing her eyes to remain open as her fingers performed a delicate and yet almost subconscious task.
It was the third all-nighter this week, in response to another order from the East. Winry didn't have to be on the fronts to get an idea of what was going on out there – men were being blown to pieces and the military was so desperate to keep them in action that they were going to all lengths to get them "replacement" parts. The doctor's blood flowing through Winry's veins forced her to write stern warnings on every outgoing shipment; the surgery came with a strongly recommended six month recovery and rehabilitation period, the risk of infection in the port was high if they immediately attempted to use the limb, and aside from that automail wasn't really intended for exposure to open warfare, anyway.
There was a blonde boy, with fierce, burning amber eyes that had always disregarded that point. She had evidence, anyway, that he'd purposefully used his own automail arm as a weapon – but there were Elrics, and then there were normal men. Winry had the feeling that her warnings were largely ignored, but the orders kept coming, and the cash continued to flow into her bank account.
There was always a flip side to being a doctor, or automail mechanic – on one hand, years and years of training were required to become a master at either trade, but on the other, the job depended on the misery of others. Winry could have been pleased about the new source of income, but when she imagined the parades of young soldiers with bloody stumps for limbs, the money made her feel sick to her stomach. Rockbell Automail, even with the passing of Grandma three years ago, still had the reputation of being among the best in the world – lightweight, durable, a combination of finesse and power – and she was a master at the trade, but the Automail she made now was not the finely crafted work afforded during times of peace. It was almost as bad as the mass-produced brands that came out of the factories in central – with no time, and with the pressure of the State Military breathing down her neck, Winry had just enough energy and skill to make it usable.
Deep down, though, part of her enjoyed the challenge every time a new order arrived via mail or messenger (as long as she did not think of the morbid reasons behind it). Another part of her knew that her Grandma was probably rolling in her grave every time she, in a hurry, left out a screw or misplaced wiring. It happened too often these days, when in all her early years, it had only happened once.
Thinking of that crucial first mistake always led her to thoughts of Him – and those burning eyes, so crucial a part of her memory and childhood that there was hardly a day that passed without seeing them in her mind's eye. Winry missed the Elrics. She always would – this time, though, she was not waiting for them to return. It had been three years since Ed had fled the Military and Al had gone with them, and the two had last been seen heading into the North, towards Drachma. They had been part of her life for so long, but now the Elrics were gone from Amestris, and probably gone forever.
She wandered if it was a coincidence that, a year after their disappearance, Drachma formed an alliance with Creta and several other nations surrounding Amestris and began the most aggressive military maneuver ever seen in the entire history of the continent.
She could see why Ed and Al had fled this country. Amestris was like a ship going down. The Fuhrer had been deposed, and the Prime Minister Hawkins had crumbled under the weight of negotiations and had practically allowed Amestris's political enemies an open shot at his back. The Military was all that really stood between complete occupation of the nation and the thin grasp on freedom they had, but if Winry's massive work orders were any clue, they were swiftly running through young soldiers and they, too, would fail.
The only thing holding the Military together, in fact, were the State Alchemists and the Officers of the Eastern Command Center. She'd heard that bit of information many times, but it failed to reassure her. Alchemists were a strange breed, and the State Alchemists were stranger than the rest, or so she was told. Ed had denounced them as a species – dogs who sold their freedom to the military in exchange for research, ways to further imbed themselves into their obsession. There was a long history of State Alchemists doing horrible things under the military rule, and she remembered being chilled by Ed's expression when he'd laughed and said that he was no better than the rest.
She didn't know what had precipitated Ed and Al's decision to flee the country. Winry, when it came down to it, hardly ever knew anything. But she was smart enough to figure out that if the fate of the world was to be decided, it was the Alchemists who would have the final say. By their hands, both horror and wonderment could be created.
Ed and Al were proof enough of that.
The rain and thunder outside interrupted her thoughts – the night had gone from one sour extreme to another. In place of the explosions the thunder growled viciously, and with each forking bolt of lightning the power in her small study flickered. Rockbell Automail was in a quiet, abandoned corner of the world, here in tiny Resembool… And yet, with war raging in the East, and the nearest neighbors five miles up the road, Winry couldn't help but feel a prickle of unease as the night intensified.
What if the soldiers in the East had lost? What if the Drachmans were on their way, preparing to burn and destroy the very heart of Amestris. Resembool, as small and homely as it was, would not be spared.
With no one in the house – not even Den, who had died the last spring – Winry found it was easy for her imagination to get the best of her. She momentarily swore she could hear a banging noise originating from the front door in the entry way before.
She ignored it at first, but soon it became loud, and insistent – Winry froze. The police, perhaps? A patient? Winry rose to her feet slowly, and clutching a wrench in one hand, she moved down the stairs.
It was unwise to answer the door, she knew – but if the person on her porch really was going to slaughter her upon sight, what would a flimsy wooden door do to stop them? Winry put her hand to the door knob, hesitated briefly, and yanked it open.
At first, she saw nothing in the pouring rain except the dim outline of the path leading up to the house and the railing on the front porch. After a few seconds allowed her eyes to adjust, though, a dark figure seemed to materialize out of the night, standing at the edge of the porch. Winry remained in the doorway, peeking out and clutching her wrench.
"Sir? Do you need some help?"
The figure was recognizably human, and recognizably male. He was a soldier – she now saw the blue of the uniform. His was unbuttoned, revealing a white undershirt, and that, too, was open, to reveal more white underneath – it looked like a bandage, wrapped across his chest. There was nothing else discernible about his appearance.
"I need…" He began in a hoarse croak, paused, swallowed, and continued. "I need an arm…" He finally choked out, and said nothing more.
She now saw it – and even though it was practically familiar by now – she still felt nauseated at the sight of the sleeve dangling emptily at his side.
"When did it happen?"
Winry froze, feeling sick to her stomach. "How?"
He did not answer – that was all right – sometimes, they never did.
"Come in and let me take a look at you, Sir. Has the bleeding stopped?"
"Yes… It's been several hours…" He sounded dazed.
/And he might be going into shock/ her mind added.
"Okay. Come on – you need to lie down, and the area probably needs to be cleaned…" That was the Doctor in her speaking – Winry was calm, when not many automail mechanics would have been. She was equipped to deal with the medical hardships of an amputated limb as well, even though it had been years since she had done so.
Eight years, to be exact. Ever since the night two foolish young boys had tried to bring their mother back to life.
Oddly, the soldier did not move from his place on the bottom step, and Winry's heart suddenly and unexpectedly broke for him. He looked lost and wounded, standing hunched in the rain and clutching his brutalized right side, head down and uniform soaked. Winry stepped further out into the night, towards where he stood.
"…You don't have to help me if you don't want," He uttered, finally.
"Of course I'll help you. You think I'd turn you away, after you came all the way here?"
/And from hell, no doubt/
She spoke as she stepped towards him, and in the dim porch light, the pieces came together abruptly. Suddenly nauseous, Winry Rockbell stared at the man. Now she knew why he was hesitating.
He'd hesitated on Gracia Hughes doorstep, too, what seemed like a very long time ago, when they both played different people. Winry was a grieving, distressed seventeen-year-old girl eternally caught in a waiting game, and he had been a tense, determined soldier with a flat expression, a thin, unsmiling line for a mouth, and terribly burning dark eyes. Now Winry was twenty-one and had given up waiting, and he was pale and disconsolate, standing and staring at the ground unseeingly. The war had latched onto him like a parasite and sucked him dry – he was no longer handsome, but instead, almost ghastly in the dark of the night. All the life and vigor seemed to have gone out of him, leaving a shell in its place.
But that was not really on Winry's mind, or among her concerns. Instead she only looked at him, appalled, unable to believe that the man who had committed such a grievous sin against this household now stood on her porch, pleading by appearance – if not by words – for help that Winry did not know if she was willing or able to give.
Finally, though, it was the thought of Ed and Al that motivated her to move. She thought of events so long ago, of Al arriving with a bloodied, shivering Ed in his arms, pleading for his brother's life even though his own body was a hulking suit of metal instead of a little boy with a body of flesh and blood. Winry stepped forth, coming out onto the porch, and reached towards him.
"You're going to get sick standing out in the rain like that."
He raised his head slightly, and with what looked like sheer force of will he took a step forward and stopped, looking at her again briefly before lowering his gaze to the floor. She saw that only one of his eyes remained – the other was covered by a black patch, which veiled most of the left side of his face as well. After a few more minutes of hesitation, he finally moved into the house, shivering piteously and limping into the light of her living room. Twice, his entire body wavered as if he was going to faint, but before Winry could move forth he straightened, and continued towards the couch.
He never made it. Halfway across the room, in the light that made him look even more wraithlike, he dropped to his knees, clutching his side with a heavily bandaged hand and breathing in hoarse, sickly gasps. Winry stared at him in silence, nearly succumbing to a moment of numb panic. He sat on his knees, head drooping and entire body shaking. Everything else about the night – the rain, the thunder, the explosions in the east – had fallen eerily silent, except his tortured breathing.
Finally snapping out of what felt like a daze, Winry moved around him slowly, coming to stand above the man and studying his pale, flushed features. After a moment, he gasped out, "You shouldn't help me."
Was she mistaken, or did that sound like an order? Feeling as if she were moving through a cloud, Winry left him sitting in the middle of her living room and began gathering towels and bandages, unable to shake the pervasive image of the single soldier standing in the rain and clutching where his arm had once been. It reminded her of Al and Ed in many ways, on that other night, and made just as little sense. She hadn't even known that the two Elrics were back from training; tonight, it seemed almost impossible that the Great Flame Alchemist, Roy Mustang, could have shown up here in such a poor state.
Winry returned, dropped the bandages to the floor, and started laying the blankets out along the couch. When she was done, she turned to the man, and, moving around behind him, decided it was her turn to give the orders. "I'm going to try to lift you up and get you on the couch. Just go along with this, okay?"
He did – barely. Her arm wrapped about his lower abdomen as she knelt, and he attempted to rise to his feet, leaning upon her heavily. She pulled his remaining arm over her shoulders, and nearly gasped when she saw blood immediately begin to spread on the bandage, seeping out of the empty socket where his arm had once been far more swiftly than she could have expected. Regardless of how old the wound was or how it had been obtained, the efforts of getting him on his feet had caused it to bleed again. He was lucky he hadn't bled to death…
…Not that he wasn't perilously near to doing so at this very moment. It didn't take long for Winry to figure out that he was literally soaked in blood, all over – and it just wasn't possible for all of it to be his own. By the time she rolled him around to the couch, she too had blood all down the front of her shirt and along her side. Her fingers, working feverishly, began to unwrap the bandage about his side. When the blood-stained fabric peeled away and revealed the raw, gaping wound where his arm had once been, she nearly vomited – her stomach churned in disgust, as he continued to shiver.
What the man needed was a real hospital, but it was too late for that – he would either survive here, or die in this house. Winry didn't know whether it was just odd or ironic – his life was literally in her hands.
Within the next quarter of an hour, she somehow managed to stem the flow of blood and get him bandaged, but he was still a somewhat awe-inspiring and terrifying sight, all at once. There were other gaping injuries all over his body, yet none so aggressive as a missing arm. His hair was dried and matted with old blood – older, anyway – and his neck had a bloodstained bandage wrapped around it. His stomach and chest were covered in mostly superficial slashes, and from the knees down his blue pant legs were in tatters.
Despite his wounds, and blood loss, he was still conscious enough to open his muddy dark eye and peer at her, shivering from the cold and wet of his uniform.
"…What'll it cost to have the arm as soon as possible?"
She stared at him for a moment, before scowling. "You're in no shape to take automail right now. It needs at least a month of healing…"
"…Ideally, yes… but I don't have a month," He replied, his voice low and uneven. "…A week. A week for this to heal… A week to heal after the operation… What'll it be?"
"…You've got to be kidding me," Winry proclaimed. "…There's no way I'm going to perform the operation a week from now. You'd probably bleed to death… And the risk of infection would be--"
"…I don't care. I only have two weeks."
"There's a good chance that you'd die during the operation." She stated, flatly.
"…Then I'll take it," He rasped, his voice coming out twice as hoarse as before. "…I have two weeks. I'm not going to argue with you…"
"And if I refuse?" She asked, slightly amazed by his audacity, and his utter disregard for his own wellbeing.
"I'll go find a lesser skilled mechanic who won't…" He muttered. She reached forth and put her fingers to his forehead – finally – and found, among dried blood and thin cuts, a raging fever. He hardly noticed her touch.
Just as she suspected, he was unconscious within minutes, slipping away into a deep state of stillness that might have been sleep, might have been coma, and, even more convincingly, might have been death… If not for the ragged, painful way that his chest continued to rise and fall. Winry Rockbell didn't honestly expect him to live through the night.
But it wasn't a question of whether or not he was going to die, because that was impossible to predict.
Instead, she questioned whether or not she cared, and found that when she looked at him, she saw Edward Elric in her mind's eye.