Training Edward Elric

Chapter 14

Learning the Limits

Eddie is asleep beside me right now as I write this. I doubt he's slept this well since before he came here. I know for sure that this is the first time he's eaten well since we started the training. I doubt anything short of my order would have kept him from devouring every scrap of food he could get his hands on, and he'd probably be nursing a sick stomach right now if I hadn't forbidden it.

As for the test, I'm both relieved and saddened by the results. I wanted Eddie to pass. He needed to pass, but at the same time, I can see what this is doing to him. I can see the conflict in his eyes and I want to feel guilty for what I'm doing to him, but...

No. No, I do feel guilty. I really do. But it's not the overwhelming sense of remorse that I used to feel. When I try to dredge up those emotions, they're simply not there. Does this make me a bad person? Through my C-3 training I know that this type of change is normal, but I can't help but feel disturbed by my ever decreasing lack of concern over what I am doing.

I suppose I had believed that I was different, that I wouldn't change. I think I'd believed on some level that I would be able to resist and remain untouched by all of this, but now I have to admit, if only to myself and to this book, that I was wrong.

I understood that we would both change from this, but I don't really feel as though I've changed all that much. Every decision and every emotion seems natural, but when I glance through my previous entries I can tell that I'm definitely not the same person I was when I first came here.

I'm sorry, Ed. This isn't really turning out how I'd expected. I hope I can still follow through with the promise I made, I hope I can still remember you after this is over and maybe even bring you back. But the longer I'm here, the more I doubt that I can hold on to you and still be what I have to be for Eddie...

Ed woke to the feel of a hand slowly rubbing his head, and the soft whisper of, "It's time to wake up, Eddie." The touch only felt good until he realized it was Mustang and that he was petting him the way someone would pet a dog or a cat.

Opening his eyes, Ed stared balefully at Mustang for a moment, then changed his expression instantly when the man raised an eyebrow at the look he was being given. No... no baleful looks, not at Mustang. Not right now anyway. Right now he was lying on the man's soft bed, and he'd just been fed the most amazing meal, and he'd just woken up from the best sleep he'd had in ages. No, right now he didn't want to do anything to upset Mustang, so he released the tension on his face and changed his expression to a more neutral one.

"Good, you're awake," Mustang said, then patted Ed on the cheek. "Did you enjoy your reward?"

"Yeah..." Ed said easily, and yawned widely halfway through. He blinked tiredly, caught one look at Mustang's face, then instantly said, "Yes, master. Thank you."

Mustang's lips pulled up into a small, pleased smile, then he gently stroked Ed's cheek with one of his fingers. "Good," he murmured. "Now it's time to wake up. We have a lot to discuss today."

Mustang's hand lingered there for a moment and he stared down at Ed with a look that seemed to radiate warm caring, and yet there was something... missing. It was as if Mustang was holding back in some way, and that didn't feel right... It felt... off... It was as if some part of him knew that Mustang wasn't supposed to be holding back, though exactly what the colonel was holding back, Ed didn't know.

Shaking that feeling off, Ed stretched and yawned again, then awkwardly sat up and looked around. The breakfast tray was gone, but on a nearby chair sat a small, neatly-folded, stack of white clothing. He noticed small bits of red here and there on the fabric as well. Ed also noticed that the door to the room was wide open, as well as the door to his cage. All of this was new, and if Ed hadn't been sure that Mustang was planning to talk about something related to all these oddities, Ed would have asked about them.

"The litany?" Mustang prompted gently. Ed glanced back at Mustang and recited it as easily as he would have the alphabet, then waited expectantly for his master to continue. "I was very pleased with the decisions you made earlier today," Mustang began. "You are doing very well so far." At the praise, Ed smiled involuntarily. His master was pleased, and he was pleased because of him.

"I have decided that it is time you understood a few very important things," Mustang said, then stood up, and grabbed the crutch that leaned against the wall. He looked at Ed and held out the crutch. "I want you to leave this room. Go as far as you can," Mustang instructed, then waited expectantly for Ed to take the crutch.

Ed glanced at the door, then at the pile of clothing that he'd hoped was for him. Over the weeks, he'd grown very accustomed to being naked, and it had become second nature to him, but now that he would be leaving this room, modesty was beginning to flood back through him the way that water rushed through a canyon dry from years of drought. He looked at his master, then reached out and took the crutch as he slid out of bed. If Mustang had meant for him to go out of the room wearing clothing, then he would have already brought it up.

When he reached the doorway, Ed stopped and glanced out of the room. He'd been unconscious when he'd been brought here, so this was the first time he'd really gotten a chance to look outside the room. The room they were in was set along one wall of a very long hallway. It stretched far to Ed's right and to his left, then branched off to the right and left. There were some doors to be seen along the walls, and Ed could only assume they were for other rooms like the one he and Mustang shared.

The hallway walls were a very sterile white, and the metal floor gleamed as if someone had just barely finished cleaning it. No pictures hung on the walls, but there was a panel next to each door. The panel next to his and Mustang's door was black, and right below that was some sort of pad with numbers and letters. The black panel was electric and the words Enter Code for Access to File glowed in a deep red near the bottom of the panel.

Ed took all of this information in quickly, but hesitated for a moment longer. Why was he being let out now? Wasn't Mustang afraid of him getting away? He didn't think that likely given that he was naked and missing a few appendages, but it just seemed odd. Perhaps it was another test of some sorts, that would make sense...

Not sure how he felt about this, only knowing that he'd been told to do it, Ed stepped cautiously out of the room and into the hallway. He glanced behind him to see Mustang watching him with a serious expression on his face, then decided to go right, and began to slowly make his way down the corridor.

The air temperature in the hallway was cooler than in the room, and Ed felt goose-flesh crawl over his naked body. The floor beneath his foot was chilly and he found himself wishing he could go back to the room, sit down, and rub his foot to take away the cold penetrating his skin. Maybe even crawl back onto his master's bed and snuggle into the covers to get warm. Even if he had to share the covers with Mustang, that would be fine; although maybe it would be better because of shared warmth.

Ed's thoughts seemed to bounce around inside his head as he moved. The barrenness of the halls around him, the cold air temperature, the fact that he hadn't seen anyone, his nakedness, and the stillness in the air around him made the silence seem almost deafening. His ears began to ring uncomfortably and, despite the chill, Ed began to sweat. His body was beginning to ache all over, and Ed stopped for a moment to wipe his forehead.

Looking back, Ed saw that Mustang was standing just outside the doorway, watching him with arms folded across his chest. His master expected him to go on. He'd told Ed that he was supposed to go as far as he could. Turning his gaze away from Mustang, Ed began to move again. His head was starting to throb painfully from the high-pitched ringing in his ears, and the ache he'd been feeling in his body was starting to become agonizingly sharp. The floor seemed like ice under his foot and his body began to shiver from the cold air around him even as he continued to sweat.

Each step was agony to take, but he continued on. He was still able to move forward, and he would move forward. He would ignore whatever was wrong with him as long as he could. But that turned out to be not as long as he'd expected. Moments later his vision started to fog and his body began to shake. His armpit hurt from the crutch, and after a few more steps his knee gave out and he crumpled painfully to the floor. His skin burned with icy fire as it connected with the cold, metal ground. He could hear the crutch clatter somewhere to his left, but he couldn't see past the white blotches in his vision.

I can't go on... Ed thought miserably, and at the same time he knew he could. It might not be much farther, but he could still continue on. Fiery determination filled him as he clumsily inched his way further from the room. His master had told him to go as far as he could, and Ed always did his best in what he did. No matter what it was, he tried his hardest and gave it his all. This would be no different.

And so he continued on, trying to pull his body forward with his arm and push with his foot, until the muscles in his body screamed out in protest and his vision was completely gone. What parts of his body weren't in pain were agonizingly numb, as if he'd been out in a blizzard for days with no protection and now they were in the first stages of de-thawing.

In exhaustion, Ed lay on his back and breathed heavily through his burning lungs. He felt like he was going to die. For no apparent reason, his body had turned against him, and now he was going to die. Ed was in so much agony that such a thought was almost welcome, but he wouldn't—couldn't—give up. Everything in his body screamed at him to continue on. He tried to push himself with his foot, but the effort was feeble with his strength almost completely gone.

My master will care for me as long as I am loyal.

The line from the litany flashed through his head unbidden, and Ed groaned and squeezed his eyes shut. Hadn't he been loyal? Hadn't he done what his master had asked? If his master was supposed to take care of him, then where was he?

"Master..." Ed cried out, his voice laced heavily with the pain and agony he felt. "Master, help me!" He wasn't even sure now if he'd actually said it out loud or not. Had he only thought it? If so, then his master wouldn't be able to hear him. The idea that his master might not come for him never even entered his mind, only the fear that his master wouldn't know that he needed help.

And then the fog in his brain, the pain in his body, the feeling of being both frozen and burning began to fade. Ed drew in a deep breath and found that his lungs didn't hurt as much as they had a moment before. He opened his eyes and saw that while there were still white spots blocking his vision, he was beginning to get his vision back. Seconds later he saw his master standing over him, then he was kneeling at Ed's side and holding his hand.

"I'm here," his master murmured. "Just give it another moment. You'll be just fine."

His vision had cleared completely now and the pain was just a memory. All that remained was a faded ache, and even then Ed wasn't sure that was real. It was so faint that he wondered if it were merely a phantom discomfort brought on by the quick reversal of his agony.

"What happened?" he asked, now that his mind was clear.

Mustang reached back and grabbed Ed's crutch, then stood up and held his hand out for Ed to take. "Let's talk about it back in the room," he suggested.

Ed nodded and took Mustang's hand, letting himself be pulled up. Instead of giving the crutch back, his master put an arm around Ed's shoulders and let Ed lean on him as they slowly made their way back. There had never been a time during the past few weeks that Ed would have ever believed he'd be glad to be back in the small room he'd been sharing with Mustang. But that was definitely the feeling he had as they walked out from the hallway and Mustang shut the door behind them.

Mustang leaned the crutch against the wall, then moved to the bed and sat Ed down before sitting beside him. He examined Ed's eyes and face, and Ed wondered if that was concern he saw in his master's eyes, or if it was his imagination.

"How do you feel?" Mustang asked. Ed thought about the question as he mentally checked himself over. He was fine, perfectly fine. It was as if nothing unusual had happened at all.

"Okay," Ed finally responded.

There was a nod from Mustang. "Good."

"Master, what happened?" Ed asked. He'd never had his body turn on him like that, and he never planned for it to happen again if he could help it.

"You're smart. You tell me," Mustang said, then waited as if he had no doubt in his mind that Ed would find the answer on his own.

Ed took a deep breath through his nose and let it out slowly as he thought. The solution wasn't difficult to figure out. There were only a small number of possibilities that were even probable, though his conclusion really bordered on the impossible for him because he didn't understand how it could be. How did the figures tie in? Where was the math? Where were the alchemic equations that made such a thing possible?

Reaching up, Ed touched the collar, feeling around for the array on the right side, then to the one on the left. He was sure it had to do with one of those, even if he didn't know how they worked. Dropping his hand, Ed looked at Mustang as another realization came to him. He'd never had a chance at leaving. If he would have gotten off the bed and tried to leave while his master had napped—and now Ed doubted if the man had actually been asleep at all—then he would have gone through that same experience, but instead of being saved from that agony, Ed was sure his master would have left him out there until he passed out.

It would have been my punishment, Ed thought with a shudder. And he would have deserved it too, but he found himself extremely grateful that he hadn't followed the temptation to leave the room earlier.

"Something happens as I get farther from you," Ed said, returning to the question. "Since I don't have all the facts, I can't say how or why, but there is some sort of invisible line that marks the area around you that I'm allowed to be in without having a problem. After that, the further away I am, the worse I feel." Ed paused, then added, "Or the farther away you get from me, since I started to recover when you came to me."

Mustang nodded. "Correct. Specifics will be provided for you after your training if you're still interested, but the basics of what you need to know are that one of the arrays on your collar connects you to me. Right now, you aren't able to go very far from me, nor I from you. This will change as the training progresses."

He cleared his throat, then continued. "That same array makes it impossible for anyone besides myself to take the collar from your neck. That bond asserts my authority over you. I can transfer some small part of that authority for a short amount of time if need be—though not the authority to take the collar off. There are other things of note associated with that array, but nothing that needs to be mentioned now."

Ed sat there for a while, digesting the new information and filing it away in his memory, then he asked, "What about the other array?" Mustang just stared at him and Ed added, "Master?"

"I thought that would be obvious," Mustang said. "The C-5 program is designed as a rehabilitation program for criminal alchemists; something that creates a new person who is an asset to the military and to society. There has to be some way of controlling them until they are trained."

Something to take away their ability to do alchemy. Of course. Surely he'd thought of that possibility before. Ed was sure he had thought of it, but his thoughts, emotions, and memories in this place seemed so blurred.

Ed reached up and touched the arrays again. He'd tried to study them in the mirror from time to time, but they were so small and the etched metal so fine that he couldn't see all the lines properly. What he really needed was to take the collar off so that he could hold it close to his eyes; or, even better, under a magnifying glass to see the complex array in full.

Mustang stood up and brought Ed out of his thoughts. He walked to the chair where the neatly folded clothing sat and said, "And now, for this." Picking up a couple of items, Mustang walked back to Ed, and said, "Put your arm up."

Ed did so without hesitation and Mustang quickly pulled a shirt over Ed's head. Lowering his arm, Ed looked down at the shirt and adjusted it a little as he inspected it. The shirt was white and the sleeve on his left arm was loose and fell just above where his bicep began. The shirt opened at an angle across his chest starting at his right shoulder and ending at his left side. The angle of the opening was lined with the same color of red Mustang's black clothing.

Ed pulled at it a little and saw that it was held together by snap buttons. He immediately saw the advantage of this design. Since he only had one arm, if he wanted to undress himself, all he would have to do was pull open the shirt, shrug it off on his right side, then let it slip down his arm on the left side.

The sleeve on the right side had been sewn up so that it fit snugly against his automail port. To dress himself, he'd be able to slip that side on first and, as long as he didn't move too much, it should stay long enough for him to put his other arm through the left sleeve, then easily close the shirt with the snap buttons. It was ingenious, and Ed was instantly impressed.

"The shirt is my design. Let me know if you think of any ways to improve it," Mustang said in an offhand manner. Ed nodded, though considering Mustang had never needed to go without an arm, he'd done a damn good job with the design. Even at the times he'd hated the man most, he'd never denied that Mustang was incredibly intelligent.

Mustang bent over and held open the pants for Ed, who stepped in as he grabbed Mustang's shoulder for balance. The pants were loose and held up by a drawstring. The left leg had been sewn up at the automail port. They were also white, except for a line of red down the outside of each leg. As Mustang stood, Ed let his hand slide down to hold onto the man's arm. He glanced up at Mustang, who was now looking at him with a pleased and approving expression; one that a parent would give a small child who has just learned how to stand up and walk haltingly across the carpet without falling down.

"White is the color of your station," Mustang said quietly, the pleased look fading into something more serious. "You will wear it for the remainder of your training." He sounded like he was rehearsing a memorized speech. It reminded Ed a little of the day he'd been collared, and he realized that this wasn't just a reward for passing Mustang's little test. This was a symbol of his progression.

"The white symbolizes your decision to deny your previous life and identity. You cannot undo the sins and atrocities done by your former self, but you are no longer that person. The state, through the authority of my judgment, has granted you, Eddie, a clean record which you will not tarnish. The white symbolizes that you are to be held guiltless for all acts commanded of you by your master."

As Ed listened, a lump formed in his throat. This speech had obviously been written with those criminal alchemists in mind, and Ed doubted it had been altered in his special case. But, the words still struck home to him. Hadn't he committed sins? Hadn't he attempted the forbidden? But those had been done by Edward Elric, not by Eddie, and in a way he felt so tempted and drawn by this statement.

He'd been fighting this training, fighting to keep himself as the person he was, but bit by bit he'd failed. Now, Ed wondered why he hadn't seen what an opportunity this was before. He could be someone new, someone different. There was an easier road to follow, one where he would be free of his guilt and...

But no, an inner voice interrupted. Such a thing would make him little more than a puppet—a living puppet, but a puppet nonetheless. Wouldn't such an existence deny his very being as a human? Yes, he had done wrong, but that was what made him who he was; it was what made him an individual. If he were to become this Eddie, then who would he be then?

Without my master, my life is nothing...

And it was then that Ed realized who he would be. He would be Mustang's, and that was all. He would belong to Mustang, do as Mustang said, and carry out his orders faithfully. He would do all of that, and whatever guilt there was to be had would be Mustang's. Ed eyed Mustang's black clothing and realized that the color must be symbolic as well. Was it because as the master, Mustang would have to bear the burden of both this life and his previous one? Or perhaps it was because everything Ed did was to be born by him. His master would have to bear the burden of every command, and like a pot with different colors of paint poured into it, the result would eventually be something dark and black.

Mustang's voice pulled Ed from his thoughts. "The red slashes on your clothing symbolize the blood and pain from the first part of the training. Out of this pain, you are separated from your previous self, and out of this pain you are born again into a new life the way a child is born into the world."

Ed's gaze moved slightly so that he could see the slashes on Mustang's clothing. And what does that red symbolize for you? Ed wondered, but again Mustang's voice cut off his thoughts.

"I'm very pleased with your progress, Eddie," Mustang whispered, and this time Ed knew this wasn't a memorized speech. Mustang—his master—was very pleased with him. Ed knew he should feel happy, and he actually did, but he also felt confusion pulling at him as well.

One part of him wanted to become this Eddie. That part of him liked the good treatment he'd been receiving from his master recently, and he also liked the idea of being free of the wrong things he'd done in the past. It was so tempting to just let his master take the heat for whatever happened.

But another part of him was yelling at him to look at the obvious. This wasn't a good thing. It was bad to let someone be in control of his life. That part of him was angry to be treated in any way other than what he should—a human being with free will. This was the part of him that was most definitely Edward Elric. This part of him used to be strong and loud, easily overpowering the new voice of Eddie that proclaimed that serving his master was the way things should be. But now, the voice of his old self was easily rivaled by that of Eddie's. The one of his old self had grown weaker, and Eddie's stronger, and Ed truthfully had no idea how it had happened.

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