Marking Time

S J Smith

Disclaimer: Hiromu Arakawa owns all. I'm just futzing around.

Summary: A treacherous trick leaves Al and Winry on the run from the military and Edward kidnapped and presumed dead, in danger of losing his innocence, his self-respect and his life.

Rating: Adult

A.N.: Alternate reality starts around episode 40 of the TV series, Fullmetal Alchemist. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Many thanks to D. M. Evans for the providing the impetus to write this thing, whether she realized it or not. Hee. Thanks also for the late night discussions, edits and fun medical knowledge – not to mention…well. We just won't mention that.

Also much thanks to Silvrethorn, who provided the summary for this story, provided suggestions for "Red" and helped feed my FMA obsession when it was in its newborn phase.

A.N. 2: This is considerably darker than the rest of the stories that I've written for FMA however, the series "Red" and the stories "Penny Drop" and "If This Reaches You" should be considered part of this same alternate reality. It isn't necessary for you to read those stories to enjoy this one, mind you.

Chapter 1

The battlefield reverberated with the sounds of explosions and gunfire. Through the haze of gunpowder and smoke, Edward could just make out the sight of troops, advancing on the city. Tanks roared forward, charging towards the enemy. Ed snarled. That wasn't the way to kill the homunculi. They shrugged off bullets; explosions might not even knock them out.

"Brother, what are you going to do?" Alphonse's voice rang out from behind him.

"Stop this," Ed said, a dangerous glint in his eyes.

"But how?"

"I'll finish what Scar started." He glanced up and over his shoulder. "The array. It's all laid out."

"Brother, there are people in the city," Alphonse said, horrified.

"Rose led them out. Everyone human is gone," Ed promised, "even Scar and Lira." The Ishbalan man and the alchemist had been reluctant to leave. It had taken some fancy talking and persuasion in the form of a rock to their heads, actually, but Ed wasn't telling Alphonse that. "Which leaves just them." His lip curled at the thought of the homunculi.

"But how can you be sure?" Al asked. "Brother?"

"Just follow my lead, Al." He waved his brother to come along. "We've got to make this quick."

It seemed like a surprisingly simple idea to Edward; get the humans out of the city; leave the homunculi behind – before the soldiers could make their way into Lior. So what if Scar came up with it, Ed meant to capitalize on the idea. "Al, I'll meet you in the town square. Be careful."

"Brother, I don't like this plan." Alphonse hesitated, half hidden behind a broken-down wall. "I think we should stay together."

"Trust me, Al. I'll be there." He rapped a knuckle on Alphonse's chest plate, causing it to boom softly. "Just be careful, okay? Stay out of sight."

"You be careful, too, Edward," Alphonse said in a warning tone.

"I'll be fine." Ed grinned, flipping a wave at his brother. "I promise." He waited until Al moved off, keeping to the cover of the buildings before turning his attention back to the approaching troops. "Can't let you interfere this time," he said softly and started back out of the town. When he reached a good distance away, Edward clapped his hands together, directing the alchemic blast towards the ground and the burnt out rubble. A wall built itself in front of him, spreading to his right and left, effectively blocking the way into the town. "There," he said, satisfied. The military would now have to blow the wall up before they could get inside. Not that it would really slow down someone like Armstrong but Ed thought it might give him a little more time to try out his plan.

He ran back towards the city, keeping a low profile. Ducking into a crumbling building, Edward climbed to the roof, trying to get a good look at what was going on around him. Out on the field, the tanks had stopped moving forward, concentrating their fire on his wall. Ed nodded in satisfaction. "That'll keep them busy for a little while." He turned to climb back down.

"Don't leave on our account." The voice was low and throaty and carried just a hint of a laugh in it.

Ed hissed angrily. He hadn't expected to run into the homunculi so soon in the game. "Lust," he said. "Where's your hungry friend?"

She folded her arms, giving him a placid smile. "Taking care of that wall you put up."

"Big as it is, it ought to take him a little time," Ed said and dodged sharply, feeling another approach. "You, too?"

"Well, well. It's the Fullmetal Pipsqueak." Envy tossed his hair back, a slow, cruel smile curling his mouth. "Fancy meeting you here."

"I was actually hoping to find you," Ed said, his own grin as deadly.

"You don't just get to deal with us, you know," Lust said. "Sloth so wants to talk to you; thank you for bringing her to life."

"I'll have to remember to tell her I'm sorry about that," Ed said, coldly, hating being reminded of his failure.

"Really?" Envy cocked his head, hair shifting to that side. "She's pretty happy about it. As happy as she can be, that is." He smiled toothily. "Enough with the chit chat, shrimp. Let's get down to it."

"I was hoping you'd say that," Edward said, smiling back.

Hands on his hips, Envy said, "Oh, you'd willingly attack me. But what about this form?" His figure transformed into one a little smaller, younger. Sweet brown eyes stared at Ed and he gasped, recognizing them.


In a voice that was almost a perfect replication of Alphonse's, Envy said, "Big Brother? You wouldn't be planning anything naughty, would you?"

"You're not fooling me this time, Envy," Ed snarled. He clapped his hands, transmuting his automail arm. A blade appeared from it, covering his wrist and fist.

"Oh, damn," Envy said in Al's voice.

Ed leaped aside as Lust's claws shot out, nearly spearing him. "Is that all you got?" he asked. "Distract me with a familiar face and then attack?" He chopped his blade through Lust's claws. She yelped and lunged back, her pretty face curling into a scowl.

"Quick, aren't you?" she asked.

"Not as quick as me." Envy leaped forward, kicking Edward in the face. He rocked back, not quite losing his balance but his hand hit the ground. Using that momentum, Ed flipped his body over his hand, managing to avoid Envy's foot, sweeping over him. By the time he landed on his feet, Lust was rushing in, slashing at him with her claws. He blocked her blow on his metal arm, gritting his teeth at the pressure. If he broke another arm, Winry would kill him.

"Not bad," Envy said.

"I've been practicing," Edward replied. He heard a hollow boom behind him and knew the wall was coming down. Time to put the plan into action for real, before everything went to hell. "Or maybe I'm just keeping you two occupied."

"Oh, no, Fullmetal," Lust said in her honeyed voice. "You want to kill us."

With a feral grin, he reached into his jacket, pulling out a locket with a blue stone. "Right again," he said, showing it to Lust. "Scar didn't really want to give it up but I persuaded him. I think he wanted to be the one to kill you."

The homunculus fell back, recognizing the pendant. Her body swayed and her skin, already pale, turned moon white. Envy, still in Al's form, curled his mouth, launching a new attack at Ed. "I don't know how you did that but you're not going to get away with it."

"I think I already did." Ed took a leap backwards, landing lightly on the balustrade running around the roof of the building. With a cocky wave, he jumped off, not waiting to find out if Envy would follow him. He already knew that answer.

Tearing through the city, Ed heard two enraged voices – Gluttony always seemed to know when something was happening to Lust and Envy was going to make sure that any other homunculi within shouting range was aware that he was in Lior. Not that it made any difference. Edward knew what he had to do. Putting on a burst of speed, he ducked under an archway, wondering just what it was doing in a desert town. The square was ahead, where Cornello had preached to his faithful, where the Sun God Leto had gazed down from a monolith. Where people had died for their religion.

"Another reason God hates me," Edward muttered to himself, peering out at the square from under cover of a pile of rubble. "I'm not going to die for him." He caught sight of Alphonse's armor and he shuddered. Seeing the homunculus mocking Al's human body hurt more than he wanted to think about. And how had Envy found out about Al, anyway? Who knew what Alphonse looked like, besides him?

A chill, like an icy finger, ran down Edward's spine. "Winry," he breathed, his eyes glazing over. He'd taken such care to keep her safe – how had the homunculus known? He slammed his flesh fist against his thigh, the pain forcing the thought into his head – his own military records would list the name and address of his automail mechanic. Envy could impersonate anyone; he could've gotten into the records. "Damn it!" Fury built in Edward, making his body shake. If Envy had hurt Winry –

The whistle caught his attention, breaking through his murderous thoughts. Edward tilted his head back, mouth dropping open as he saw the missile dropping out of the sky. Whoever commanded the troops wasn't taking any chances.

Realization came a second too late and Edward flung himself out from behind the rubble, screaming, "Al! Al, get out of the way!" He clapped his hands as he moved but the blast caught him up and flung him back, slamming him into a wall. He slid down the roughened surface, leaving a trail of red behind.

Slowly his eyes opened, staring dazedly at the hole in the earth where there once had been a town square. His thoughts scattered like chickens when a hawk flew overhead. Something important, he was to do something; that much he remembered. It hurt to breathe, hurt to even attempt to move but he knew he had to. It was too dangerous to lie here, whether he could remember why or not.

Gasping in agony, he managed to pull himself partially upright, resting his weight heavily against the wall behind him. His hand planted in a streak of red, he wasn't aware when he smudged it, leaving behind a print on the wall. He staggered a couple of steps forward, nearly falling but somehow keeping his balance. Nothing looked right; everything was fuzzy and strange and damn it, it was so hard to breathe; so hard to move.

Teeth bared, he persevered, stumbling over the fresh rubble. The haze of dust hanging heavily in the air made him labor for each breath; wracked his body with coughs. He knew he needed to make it to the middle of the square, despite the hole. Despite everything, he was going to finish this, once and for all.

"Thought you could get away from us, didn't you?" The voice was cheery and deadly and he ignored it completely. "Hey!" The sound of running feet came from behind him and something rammed into his back, sending him sprawling.

"You hurt my Lust," someone singsonged evilly. "I'm going to hurt you." A rotund creature landed near his head, a pair of huge hands flexing in promise.

"C'mon, pipsqueak, surely you aren't gonna let a little thing like an explosion slow you down." Someone else moved into his view and he blinked, trying to focus on pale hair that suddenly streamed down to frame a girl's face. He had a feeling he should know that face, that it meant something to him even though she shouldn't be here, not now.

"Too dangerous," he managed to get out.

"Maybe for you." It wasn't the girl. Her voice was never so cruel.

"I'm going to eat you slowly, slowly," the rotund creature said, showing broad white teeth.

Somehow, he managed to get to his feet again though he wasn't sure how long he'd be able to stay there. The world kept moving in different directions, showing him things that he couldn't be sure were true. Everything ached and he just wanted to lie down and never move again but he still had that final task to accomplish. Shambling towards the rotund thing, he clapped his hands together almost by rote, a touch sending a pile of rock straight through the creature's gut. It screamed as the rock spear carried it away.

"You just keep going," the girl said, following close behind him. He could hear her footsteps on the rubble, kicking stones out of her path. Some of them struck him, stinging. "You could lie down here and die, you know that."

"No." The word was accompanied by a headshake and he realized that was a bad move. The world spun around him dizzyingly, nearly sending him to the ground. "Gotta…gotta do this." Something gleamed dully ahead, a piece of metal. It looked oddly familiar. He swam towards it, keeping his eyes fixed on that glint.

"With those wounds, you aren't gonna last anyway. I should put you out of your misery right now." The girl's voice was lilting and hostile and he could just see her through a red haze in the corner of his eye. "But it might be fun to watch." Her smile broadened maliciously.

He kept moving, wrapping an arm around his middle. It felt like something was trying to climb out of his ribs through his throat. Coughing, he spat blood, leaving a bright red spatter on the ground. The girl danced away and he wondered at it. She'd seen blood before and it had never bothered her.

"So much effort, squirt. Why don't you just give up?" She pattered next to him, leaning close into his face so he could feel the breath of her words against his cheek. "Just lie down and die already."

"I can eat him," came a wheezy voice from his other side.

"No, Gluttony, let's watch. He's going to fall any second now."

They were probably right. If he collapsed, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to get back up again. And he had to. He had two legs; he was going to keep going forward on them. That's why…that's why he had two legs; why he'd begged for metal, metal that was in front of him and so close now, close enough to touch.

He sank to his knees, no longer able to hold himself upright, crawling the last little bit to the metal. Somewhere inside of him, he recognized it as armor; armor that had been battered before but usually gleamed. Armor that protected a person, a soul. He could hear a whispering sound and cocked his head, wincing as everything around him tilted oddly. The name came unbidden, spilling out of his mouth. "Al?"


He wanted to groan at the tentative reply. "It's me, Al." Edward, my name…he blinked, comprehending that the armor was mostly buried under rubble, smashed; crushed. Something inside of him snapped at that realization, stiffening his spine, making him throw off all his own pain. "Al," Ed said urgently, "Alphonse!"

"…Brother." Al's reply came like a sloughing of the wind, almost as distant and Edward knew that something had happened to the blood seal that held his brother's soul pinned in the armor.

"Don't leave me, Al, please don't leave me," he said, digging into the rubble with his hands. The sharp bits of rock cut into his flesh hand but he didn't realize it, trying to uncover Alphonse. "Stay with me!"

"Aww, what's wrong? Lose something in the blast?"

A reddish glow, one of Alphonse's eyes, seemed to flicker like a candle. He asked, horrified, "Win…ry?"

"It's not her, Al," Ed said, turning around, his back against the shell of metal. "The homunculi are here."

"You remembered us, how nice," Envy said with Winry's mouth.

Ed wasn't sure which bothered him more, Envy appearing as Alphonse or Winry. "If you think I won't hurt you because you look like her," he snarled, wiping the blood off his chin with the back of his hand, "you've got another thing coming."

"This?" Envy's hand skimmed over the form he'd appropriated. "I thought you might like a chance to say goodbye before I kill you." A mocking smile curling his mouth, he leaned over, putting his hands on his knees and sneering in Edward's face. Slashing up with his blade, Ed forced Envy to leap backwards. The homunculus landed lightly. "Naughty, naughty," he said, wagging a finger.

"He looks tasty," Gluttony said, running a tongue over his mouth.

"Al, you're still with me, right?" Ed patted the metal curve. "Al?" His breath hitched in his chest. "Alphonse?"

"Oh, boo hoo, the metal one's gone," Envy said, pretending to scrub his eyes.

"Al?" Ed heard the panic in his voice as if it belonged to someone else. He turned his back on the homunculi, ignoring their threat as he tried to reach his brother. "Alphonse! Talk to me! Damn it, Al, you can't leave me here alone!" Thumping the armor, he heard it boom softly. "Al!"

"I can eat him, right?"

"I don't care, Gluttony."

The red haze seemed to come over Ed's entire vision. "Al?" he whispered, knowing it was too late, that he'd lost his brother again. Behind him, something giggled, something approached. The thought slipped through his mind that Winry really would kill him if she knew what he was going to do. Beneath his knees was part of Scar's array. He could see the pattern as if it was engraved on his eyelids. "Forgive me," he whispered, not even quite sure to whom he spoke as he clapped his hands together, dropping his palms onto the array.

The light flared up lightning and Edward heard a scream, more than one. He felt a blast of pain ripping through him, tearing at every nerve. He poured everything he was into the array, reached deep inside himself and even further, seeking that last bit of self he could offer. The shriek was louder, as if it was right beside him. Edward ignored it as he ignored the pain, as he ignored the darkness that swarmed him, trying to drag him away. He gritted his teeth, never knowing if the blood he tasted was fresh or had come from a previous wound. He would persevere; he would bring Alphonse back.

"Al!" he screamed –

--and the world faded away.