Wrench in the Works
By Yellow Mask
Spoilers: Up to 84 is fair game.
Disclaimer: I do not own FMA.
Before The Fall
Father sighed heavily, eyeing the small flask of writhing, concentrated darkness. Pride's physical shell had been completely destroyed, but fortunately – unlike the other homunculi – Pride's physical shell wasn't linked to the survival of his essence.
Certainly, the Pride he forged from this would be a different Pride than its precedent...but that was to be expected. And not necessarily a disadvantage, Father reminded himself; after all, all things needed to evolve with time.
But he needed another human...or at least, the components of a vaguely human body. But who could he send on such an errand? Lust had perished, Envy's and Wrath's fates were still unknown, Greed had abandoned him, Gluttony and Sloth could not be trusted with such a task...so what could he do?
A memory niggled at his mind, a half-formed concept, the idea that maybe he didn't need someone to fetch a human for him...maybe he could find those components himself...
He dipped into the gate – the action so routine now it was almost effortless – but he did not push the limits as he had done so often before. He did not seek beyond. Rather, he sought what was in front of it, the debris of human folly washed up on the gate's unforgiving shore.
It was not really a surprise when he found Alphonse Elric's body, and Edward Elric's limbs. The gate was based upon connection, and he possessed a perfect copy of the body that had fathered them.
He considered using the younger's body, but dismissed the idea immediately. While he had created homunculi from complete human bodies before, he had never done so while the soul was elsewhere. While it was a small chance, there was a distinct possibility that the connection between the soul and the body would mean Alphonse Elric could somehow be aware of what his new homunculus was doing.
It was a small chance, but Father did not want to take it, nor did he want to use a body in such obviously poor condition.
But the limbs...they had potential. If they were used as the core, the template, so to speak, alchemy built around them...yes, they certainly had potential. They were only part of a body, and so would not have as strong a connection to Edward, potentially leaving his homunculus uncorrupted.
And if this proved viable, it would provide with another source to mine – using the body parts the Gate discarded to create more homunculi.
Winry was tinkering with one of the many automail limbs in the basement, more for something to do with her hands than out of any real desire to improve the design. She had several ideas for a better shock-absorbing knee, but the supplies Pinako had ordered for her were still at least a week away from delivery. And it wasn't as though she could wander around town or anything; in fact, since Pinako had taken Den to the vet for her shots, she couldn't even turn on any lights save the one in the kitchen, the one that Pinako had left on for her in case she got hungry. After all, they couldn't have anyone suspecting that she was here – the basement was pretty much the only room in the house in which she had free reign, and that was only because it lacked windows of any kind.
She had paused for a moment to dwell on the drafts for the improvements she had scribbled in her book, and in the silence she heard the front door open.
Winry couldn't help the tension that suddenly rippled through her frame. Every time Pinako returned, before her grandmother called out to reassure her that it was she who had entered the house, she was always on tenterhooks. But she figured being wanted by most of the military and a few practically unkillable monsters into the bargain gave her the right to be paranoid.
Silence reigned for a few uncomfortable, heart-clenching moments, then the door to the basement creaked open. The blonde girl tensed as though struck with a whip, her mind frantically searching for a method of escape from the basement, or at least a way to hide...
Until she recognised the silhouette standing at the top of the stairs.
"Ed?" Winry gasped, her breath rushing from her lungs in surprise.
For a moment, she was frozen as her heart skipped happily in her chest. Then she was bounding up the stairs two at a time, fully intent on giving him a thorough verbal lashing. What was he thinking, wandering around where anyone could see him and report him to the military? She was going to give him a lesson in being sensible and cautious, no matter how pleased she was to see him.
But as she got closer to the figure at the top of the stairs, Winry's eyes adjusted, and she noticed several disturbing things.
The first was that the man who looked exactly like Ed had no automail. In fact, his right arm and left leg appeared to be the only normal-looking parts of his body, as the rest of the flesh she could see seemed to be covered in abstract crimson tattoos, swirling along his skin. He was also wearing an outfit she knew Ed probably wouldn't be caught dead in, an outfit that was very similar to the one she'd seen worn by that creature that Doctor Marcoh had fought...Envy?
Winry's brain processed this information in the space of a breath and came up with one conclusion.
'Not Ed. Not Ed! NOT ED! Get out of here!'
Unfortunately, Winry knew there was no way out of the basement, and this being was blocking the doorway. So the mechanic took the only option available to her.
She put on an extra burst of speed and twisted so her shoulder smashed into the look-alike's chest, trying to force him out of the way so she could charge past.
Her shoulder went numb the instant she collided, and the impact reverberated painfully through her arm and chest. Ed's doppelganger lurched to the side with a shouted curse, but Winry had no time to take advantage of the sudden opening as his arm shot out – too fast for her to evade – and yanked her to him.
Winry's back hit his chest, the limb that had seized her pinning her arms to her sides as a hand clamped itself over her mouth.
"That was pretty rude," her captor commented, and Winry couldn't hold in a shudder of fear at hearing Ed's voice emerge from this creature's mouth. "Now, you'd be Winry, right?"
The mechanic refused to acknowledge the question – not that she could have said much with his hand gagging her.
"Never mind, I know you are. I'm Pride, by the way, and we'll be getting to know each other a lot better in the near future...at least until the Elrics start being obedient little dogs again or until Father decides you're no longer of use, whichever comes first."
Winry's heart – already galloping madly in her chest – lurched a little harder against her ribs at those words as her mind whirled. Pride...that meant he was a homunculus...he had said she was going to be used – again – to manipulate Ed and Al...how had they found her?
Pride began to move, propelling her forwards, and Winry reacted instinctively, biting down on the palm that covered her mouth.
"Shit!" he bellowed, yanking his hand away.
His hold had loosened, enough for Winry to tear herself from his grasp and scramble away, spitting the blood from her mouth. But in an instant, in what had to be a violation of at least three laws of physics, the shadows cast across the floor by the light on the porch leapt at her like living things.
They lashed at her ankles, tripping her and sending her sprawling on the floor. Some part of her wondered if Pride had deliberately chosen a rather humiliating method of incapacitating her, instead of just using the shadows to seize her – at least when her mind got over the shock of realising that she'd been grabbed by shadows.
Her ankles were bound together, and her palms and knees throbbed where she'd scraped them open on the wooden floor, but Winry still struggled to turn; at least enough until she could glare at the homunculus approaching her, instinct urging her not to present her back to the enemy.
But the shadows looped over her back and pushed her down. Like polished stone sheathed in warm silk – soft and smooth, but with menacing strength behind it – they restrained her easily, so she had to settled for twisting her head and glaring at the homunculus over her shoulder.
"Touch me and I'll rip your eyes out," she snarled, trying to instil bravado into her voice as she kicked backwards, trying to free her legs from the shadows' grip.
Pride laughed, obviously not feeling threatened in the least, and Winry could hardly fault him. Not only was she pinned to the floor like a bug on a card, but from what she had seen, the loss of eyes or limbs by these creatures was only a momentary impairment.
"You know, you're already turning out to be a lot more trouble than was advertised," Pride sighed, bending down and grabbing a handful of her hair to yank her into a sitting position.
Winry grunted, her eyes watering as her scalp protested the abuse. The shadows moved with her, wrapping around her torso to secure her arms as Pride flung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.
Winry squirmed, flexing her knees, trying to kick him and force him to let her go, uncaring that if he released her she'd simply go tumbling to the floor. She opened her mouth to shriek – because if a homunculus was already dragging her off, letting people know she was here and in trouble couldn't put her in a worse situation – but one of the shadows zipped across her mouth, muffling the sound.
The blonde tried to bite it, but it had no effect – the shadow simply slipped between her teeth and flattened beneath the pressure, as though she was doing nothing more than biting cloth.
The world suddenly tilted – again – and Winry found herself deposited in a chair. The shadows stayed tightly adhered to her, but she was surprised when she saw Pride fumbling with the weird skort-looking thing he was wearing.
Even under the circumstances, some part of Winry was amused by the idea of what Ed would think of his double's fashion sense.
"You know, he said I might need this," the homunculus informed her, in a tone that suggested they were merely making polite conversation. "I admit I didn't believe him at first, but if I've got to get you all the way back home, I think I'd prefer you out for the duration."
Winry tried to call him a word she'd heard Pinako address uncooperative patients with. But what came out was a rather non-threatening mumble, so as Pride produced a syringe filled with clear liquid she tried to convey her message with a glare.
A glare that hopefully didn't clue him in to how terrified she was. Aside from the fear of being injected by someone inexperienced in syringes – what if he injected air into her veins? – there was the fear of what would happen to her once she was out. Not that she could do much to help herself in her current situation, but at least she was aware of what was happening to her. Could think, could plan, could maybe do something in the near future to escape...
Pride tapped the syringe and depressed the plunger a little, prompting some of the fluid to dribble from the end.
Okay, no air bubbles in her blood vessels – that was good, right? But what about dosage? What was he going to be injecting her with anyway? She'd never had to be heavily sedated before – she could have an allergic reaction...
But then there was a sharp prick as the needle punctured her skin and a burning sensation as the plunger was depressed. Lethargy swamped her surprisingly quickly, prompting her tired brain to wonder exactly what drug she'd been given.
She tried to resist, she really did, but it was like going completely without sleep then listening to the most boring speaker in the world in a dark, cosy room. Winry's eyelids dropped in spite of her efforts, and she was lost.
Winry woke slowly, blinking in an effort to clear her fuzzy vision. There was a moment of confusion as she stared at the ceiling, wondering why it looked so much like concrete...then she realised it was concrete, and the blonde jerked upright.
She was on a bed, which was one of the few pieces of furniture in a room that appeared to be a hollowed-out concrete cube. The mechanic glanced around wildly for a few moments, feeling the beginnings of panic creeping in on her, until she noticed what she was sharing the room with, at which point beginnings of panic progressed to outright terror.
Between her and the door – and she was grateful to realise that there was a door – were either some sort of mutants or members of animal species she had never known existed.
They looked like some bizarre cross between canines and reptiles. One had a dog-like head, but possessed long clawed feet and a long, thick tail more reminiscent of an oversized lizard than a dog. It didn't have scales or fur, but its flesh instead seemed to be covered with very fine hair, like thin velvet. It was lying on the floor, its mouth open and tongue lolling, and when Winry thought she caught a glimpse of blood on its teeth she hastily turned to its companion.
The other seemed to have more reptile in it, as it had scales and its head very strongly resembled a crocodile's (Winry made a mental note to give that one a wide berth).
She was pleased to realise that the corner they were in was opposite her bed. However, there was enough slack in the chains to let them reach the door easily, and she assumed they were acting as guard dogs.
Trying to ignore the monsters in the corner – and trying to avoid thinking about who would keep creatures like that as pets – Winry dragged her eyes around the rest of the room.
To her surprise, her accommodations were not as grim as she had first expected. The bed she was lying on seemed to be an ordinary bed; no thin mattress or ratty cover, but complete with pillow, sheets and two sets of blankets. There was a single chair and a small table a short distance away, with a large jug of water and a glass resting atop it.
A pale yellow curtain blocked her view of the far wall and Winry rose, tentatively glancing at the creatures near the door in case they rushed her as soon as she stepped off the bed, and moved to investigate.
Behind the curtain was a toilet, a small sink, and a showerhead carefully positioned over a drain with a towel draped over it. A shelf above the sink held a toothbrush, toothpaste, a hairbrush, a bar of soap and even a bottle of shampoo. Suspicious, Winry approached the sink and gave the cold tap a twist.
Water rushed out, suggesting that the facilities were fully functional. Wondering why they had provided water if she seemed to have a constant supply, the blonde wet her fingertip and lapped the liquid from it.
It tasted vaguely metallic and almost mineral-like, like water that had been underground or had travelled through silt. As such Winry knew it might not be fit for drinking, and so turned the tap off quickly.
In spite of the situation, Winry found that she felt more confused than anything else. She wasn't exactly an expert on cells, but this seemed rather lavish for a kidnap victim.
Unless this wasn't a cell at all. Had she been rescued while she was out and hidden here until she recovered or something?
'This is why it sucks to get knocked out,' she told herself. 'You have absolutely no idea what went on while you were unconscious.'
Granted, it seemed a little strange that they'd put monsters in with her...but who knew how people thought?
Well, there was an easy way to find out – try the door.
With her eyes on...whatever those things were...Winry crept to the door. The creatures' heads rose from the floor as she approached, and she bit her lip, her weight on the balls of her feet, ready to run back to the bed if they took the slightest step in her direction.
"You don't take chances with something that has that many teeth," she muttered to herself, staring at the one with the crocodile head.
The mechanic placed her palm flat against the door, and pushed.
Nothing. It didn't move, didn't rock – the hinges didn't even squeak. She pulled her hand back and slapped it against the door, as though sheer will could make it move, but all she got in return was a stinging palm.
'Okay, definitely locked...from the outside as there doesn't seem to be any locking mechanism on this side...so I'm probably a prisoner.'
Depressed – but not really surprised – by this information, Winry kicked the door petulantly, cursing with the kind of words she'd learned from her grandmother. She knelt and placed her eye against the tiny crack between the door and the jamb, trying to determine how the door was secured and if it could be manipulated...
A growl sounded to her right.
Winry twisted around, to find the creature with the crocodile's head taking a menacing step forward, lips pulled back to reveal twin rows of long, slightly hooked teeth.
She took the most sensible option, and got out of the way, fast.
Back on the bed, she watched the...thing...settle down again with some bewilderment. It hadn't reacted when she first approached the door; was it trained to observe some kind of time limit – to allow people to be near the door for a certain amount of time before it attacked?
Despite her resentful glares at the once more docile creature, she couldn't help but notice that the other one hadn't actually moved. Was it sick?
Dismissing the thought with a shake of her head, she glanced around the room. Okay, if the door was out as an escape route, then she couldn't really see another way out. There were no windows, the walls were solid concrete, and the pipes from the bathroom area were rooted into reinforced metal that seemed to say 'try to pull this out – I dare you'.
Still, the blonde went to have a look at them anyway, just in case. She tapped and pried at the screws and edges, looking for some weakness she could exploit, but there was nothing. She would need a heavy-duty screwdriver to even begin to move them. And while she might be able to prise the drain grate up with a few days hard work, it was only about four inches in diameter – there was no way that could help her.
Another curse – just because she was feeling a little surly at this discovery. Winry had the feeling she should be feeling much more frightened than she actually was, but – while she was a little apprehensive, she wasn't as terrified as she thought people would usually be in this situation. Maybe it was because it was clear from what she remembered Pride saying that they had no intention to make her suffer – she was simply a means to an end, and the condition of this cell showed they had clearly decided it wouldn't benefit them in any way to make her miserable.
But then again, if they were planning to use her as a hostage against Ed and Al, she supposed they needed her in good condition.
And she couldn't let them do that.
'There has to be some way out of here,' she coached herself. 'Come on Winry, use your brain – look around and think...'
And it occurred to her, and she jerked her gaze upwards to behold a large grate in the ceiling. A vent – she knew she had to be getting air somehow! Sure, there were a few pipes laid over it, but there was enough space between them for her to get through.
The ceiling was quite a ways out of her reach, but Winry felt confident that if she turned the bed on its headboard, she could get within reach of it.
She was just about to try when she heard the scrape of metal on metal, and the door swung open. Winry spun around, automatically bringing her hands up in a defensive position.
She knew Pride looked like Ed, but it was still a shock when he walked through the door. Out of sight, she seemed to have forgotten just how eerily identical he looked – he looked exactly like Ed...if he'd gotten drunk and had abstract red tattoos placed randomly over his body.
"You're finally awake," he smirked. "About time!"
He was carrying some cutlery and a plate with what appeared to be a simple meal of meat and vegetables. Winry eyed him suspiciously, shifting back against the bed as he set the food down on the table. She remained staring at him as he stepped away, even though the scent was making her mouth water and her stomach burble.
She wondered when she'd last eaten – three hours ago? A day ago?
"How long was I out?" she asked warily.
Pride shrugged. "A while."
It was clear that was all he was going to say on the subject. The blonde woman scowled.
"Aren't you hungry?" the homunculus inquired when she made no move towards the table.
"I'm not trusting anything you've brought me!" Winry snapped.
Pride rolled his eyes. "Relax, honey – it's not drugged."
"Don't call me honey!" Winry practically growled, more unnerved than she'd like to admit at the sound of a pet name coming from Ed's lips and in Ed's voice.
Pride laughed and turned away. "Calm down; if I put you off so much, I'll just leave and you can eat it in peace. Or stare at it, whatever you like."
The door shut with a heavy sound, and Winry heard against the scrape of metal on metal, and she suspected the door was locked with a bar across it. Rather simplistic, but it ensured she could do little to open it from inside.
She eyed the food, still hot and smelling deliciously appetising, and was very tempted. What harm could it do?
'I need to keep up my strength if I'm going to get out of here,' she told herself as she sat down at the table. 'And if they want to drug me, me starving myself is not going to stop them – they'll just hold me down and inject me like Pride did in the first place.'
With that in mind, Winry picked up her knife and fork and sampled the meal in front of her.
Pride sighed, idly kicking at one of the many chimeras that lined the corridors. The creature – part goat, part cat – skittered away from his foot with a defiant hiss. He didn't bother to pursue the matter, and simply continued walking.
He had no idea why Win-the human's attitude bothered him, but it did. He hadn't really expected anything warmer from her – he'd kidnapped her, after all – but her obvious hostility had left him feeling strangely unsettled.
What was wrong with him? Why should her emotional state matter to him at all? His job was only to make sure she was kept healthy and comfortable, to be used against the Elrics when Father located them – what did he care if she was upset? As long as Win-the human wasn't trying to commit suicide, it didn't infringe on his duties at all.
That was another thing! Why was he automatically thinking of the girl as 'Winry' instead of 'the human' or 'the mechanic' as Father mostly referred to her as? He hadn't even lain eyes on her until kidnapping her...so why did it feel so much more natural to call her by her name?
Maybe this was what Father had warned him about. He had said he'd created Pride from actual human limbs – the limbs of Edward Elric, to be precise, though Pride still wasn't exactly sure how he could have pulled that off – and so he could potentially be infected with human sentiments. It was only a theory, as Father had never constructed homunculi from human properties before, but he had still warned Pride to be on guard against it. Because of the connection between the body and the soul, it was possible he could develop some of the elder Elric's characteristics.
Of course, it was only speculation – and if it occurred Father planned to use the connection to manipulate the Elrics – but Pride believed he had just experienced the first such occurrence. It was apparent that Edward cared for Win-the human as they were using her as a hostage against him, so it made sense Pride would feel some attachment to her, too. But as long as he kept it under control, everything would work out as it should, right?
AN: Thanks to justcallmefaye for beta-ing this. And for my regular readers, I haven't forgotten Magic Doll – I've just got a bad case of writer's block, and I'm starting this story in the hopes that writing FMA will wake my 'muse up.
And in case anyone's curious, this version of Pride was inspired by the game 'Bluebird's Illusion'.