Ed stiffened at the strangely familiar voice, releasing Winry and whirling into a protective crouch between her and...
At least, it looked like him. If he'd suddenly developed a fetish for red tattoos and had never had automail.
"Pride!" Winry called, scrambling to her feet. There was such relief in her voice that Ed was taken aback, and was too shocked to stop her as she moved past him to what he was pretty sure was a homunculus.
"No need to sound so worried," the...thing...with Ed's own face told her, looking surprised.
Winry's clear familiarity with the homunculus calmed Ed's initial rush of panic; the fact that she didn't fear him suggested that this Pride – like Greed – had turned on Father to follow his own path. Why that path had somehow included Winry, Ed couldn't begin to guess.
"You didn't come for ages – I though you were hurt," Winry explained, unable to stop her eyes skimming up and down Pride's body, looking pointlessly for injuries that would long since have been healed.
Pride frowned, both at the blood dripping from the side of her head and in surprise at the genuine worry on her face. He hadn't really paid much attention to her concern for him when they were travelling together; he'd assumed his resemblance to her friend meant that she simply projected any concern she would feel for Ed onto himself. But it seemed he'd been wrong – Ed had been right beside her, had been holding her...and she'd still been worried about him.
Somehow the idea of her seeing him as himself – as a separate entity from the human in whose image he'd been made – was pleasing and yet made him feel about ten times as guilty for what he was doing. He wondered briefly if he should try to go back to mentally referring to her as 'the human' but abandoned the idea; he was already too far gone.
He was becoming really, truly pathetic.
Not wanting to dwell on his disturbing feelings and his failure thus far to control them, Pride changed the subject as swiftly as possible. "Where's your mongrel? Shouldn't she be growling at someone by now?"
Winry felt her eyes widen, as she remembered what had happened before the bullet had grazed her head.
"Pretty!" she cried out, turning away from Pride to go to the limp form that lay against one of the alley walls, almost hidden in the darkness.
At the sound of her name, the chimera tried to raise her head, a forlorn whine emerging between her wet, gurgling pants.
"Easy, girl," Winry murmured as she knelt down, in the tone she usually reserved for Den when they reattached the dog's automail. "Easy – don't move..."
She cradled Pretty's head with one hand, while the other moved down her body, trying to see with touch what her eyes couldn't glimpse in the dim glow of the streetlights. Even though she knew that the head wound and the fall had probably muddied her memory, Winry couldn't help but feel horribly guilty that she'd forgotten about Pretty for those few minutes. It wasn't as though the chimera could hold it against her, but the blonde still felt it was pretty poor thanks for getting shot in her defense.
Winry's searching fingers came across three bullet holes peppering Pretty's side, each discovery heralded by a yelp and a quiver from the weakened body beneath her. The mechanic tried not to think about the amount of blood her hands had contacted in the search.
Something moved in her peripheral vision and Winry jerked her head up, to find Ed crouching beside her, his eyes worried. His glance also flicked to Pride every few seconds, obviously still unsure about the homunculus' exact role in this, but Winry didn't feel like explaining things. Now now, at least.
"What's wrong?" the alchemist asked, his voice low and his eyes on the chimera.
"She attacked the guy who grabbed me," Winry said, trying not to sniffle as Pretty's breathing grew weaker beneath her hands, the chimera's head beginning to loll against her hand. "They shot her."
Ed didn't think he'd ever seen an uglier animal, but he couldn't help but feel a certain sense of obligation and kinship with anything that tried to protect Winry. He remembered using alchemy to perform a hasty patch-up job when he'd been impaled through the side, and wondered if he could do something similar here.
But back then, he'd known what he was dealing with – few people had ever done as much research on the exact components of the human body as he had – while here, he didn't have the faintest idea where to start. The chimera looked like a bizarre hybrid between the canine and the reptilian, but he couldn't be sure there wasn't anything else in there, and if he was even the slightest bit off he'd probably end up killing the creature.
The sound of a boot coming down on the cobblestones just behind him made Ed turn, tense and coiled at the possibility that it might be another soldier, but it was only Hohenheim.
Ed took a moment to reflect on how strange his life had become, that his first thought upon seeing his father was not the usual rush of resentment but simply 'it's only him'.
Winry glanced up at the new arrival to the scene, her eyes looking suspiciously damp (if she started crying Ed would not be responsible for his actions), and a pleading sort of expression on her face.
Admittedly, Hohenheim's first instinct was not to get involved. He was more concerned with the homunculus who looked exactly like his elder son, but seeing as Ed had yet to confront what he suspected was Pride (the use of shadows was very telling), it seemed he was presently a tentative ally, not an outright enemy. But Ed was clearly concerned, kneeling next to his mechanic as the woman huddled protectively over what looked like a dog...until Hohenheim moved closer and realised it was actually a chimera.
A chimera that was clearly dying. Winry looked up at him, and at the grief and the pleading expression on her face his next thought was to bend down and help, to lay his hands on the animal and know it, mend it, heal it...
But at the same time...surely he owed the souls held within him more than to be expended to prolong an animal's life? Thus far, all the alchemy that utilised the Philosopher's Stone – that utilised himself – had been to aid his endeavour to stop Father, or to save a human life. Trying to save a mutated chimera that Father himself had created was nothing but a foolish impulse.
Yet at the same time, he couldn't help but feel that it was important. That the fact he felt the impulse at all showed he wasn't truly a monster – or not yet, anyway – that grief and sorrow could still move him, still make him want to put it right...
Besides, it looked as though if he didn't do something, Ed would.
Hohenheim bent, automatically sifting through the souls contained within him until he found one willing to be used in this – a young girl whose dog had died barely a week before she was consumed, and remembered the grief she'd felt for her pet. He touched the chimera's heaving, blood-soaked side, concentrated...
And the wounds closed in a rush of light.
Winry blinked spots from her eyes to find Pretty licking at the blood staining her velvet-like fur, whining as though puzzled as to where her injuries had gone.
Hohenheim had healed Pretty. The mechanic turned to him, her mouth opening as she struggled to express her gratitude – somehow 'thank you' didn't seem to cut it – but Hohenheim spoke before she could.
"I think we had best get off the streets and discuss things in a more private location," he suggested, as calmly as if he were inviting them to tea.
Winry couldn't have agreed more.
Pretty did not understand what had happened. Pack-Leader had been under attack, she had protected Pack-Leader, and then there had been loud noises that hurt her ears and tore her body. She had tried to rise, feeling weak and hurt but knowing that Pack-Leader still needed her, but then Pack-Leader was there, and others were there, and her body felt strange but then nothing hurt and she could get up again.
Pretty did not know what had happened, but she did know she didn't like most of the people Pack-Leader was now with. Two of them had strange scents, human and animal mingling in a way that made Pretty instinctively wary, unwilling to trust them with Pack-Leader.
She liked the one that smelled of chemicals and baked beans, though. He was loud, but he was protective of Pack-Leader in the way a true pack member ought to be. When he moved closer, dabbing at the blood that trickled from Pack-Leader's head, Pretty made no objection.
But she did not like the tall one, the one who smelled of death and blood – the one who smelled exactly like the Bad One. When he approached Pack-Leader, hands outstretched, Pretty growled threateningly, not quite willing to trust this creature who smelled too much like the Bad One.
"Ugly over there doesn't like you either, huh?" Pride smirked.
"Animals have never been particularly fond of me," Hohenheim acknowledged, stepping away from Winry and her snarling guardian.
"Pretty, down!" Winry ordered sharply.
The chimera sank grudgingly to the floor, still eyeing them warily. Ed – circling the chair Winry was sitting on to hand her another scrap of cloth – accidentally stepped on Pretty's long, reptilian tail, resulting in a loud yelp.
"Ed, watch where you step!" Winry scolded.
Ed scowled as the blonde woman cooed reassuringly to the chimera, completely ignoring the fact that the cloth she was holding against the gash on her temple was becoming soaked with blood. With a snarl of barely-repressed fury, he ripped the bloody fabric away and replaced it with the cloth he had in his hand – if she wasn't going to take care of herself, someone had to!
Winry looked back up at him, about to yell at him again...until she noticed the tightness around his eyes, and how deep his frown was.
She supposed seeing her get shot had really frightened Ed.
"Don't worry, it's just a scratch," she soothed. She reached up for the cloth he was holding, wrapping her fingers over his. "Head wounds bleed a lot, you know that – you've had your fair share, after all."
"You were shot at!" Ed hissed. "Close enough for the damn bullet to graze your skull – excuse me if I'm taking that kinda seriously!"
Winry wasn't upset by his obvious fury – Ed always took a while to calm down when he was in one of his moods. And he'd always been protective of her, even when they were kids.
"Relax, little man," came Pride's drawl from the corner. "If falling through a ceiling hardly fazed her, I don't think that teensy little cut will kill her."
Ed, predictably, fixated on one word. "Little!?"
"Pride, you do realise that you and Ed are exactly the same height, don't you?" Winry pointed out.
Pride sneered, and Ed told himself that he was going to take the high road, he was not going to punch him, he would be the bigger man...
"Whatever you say, honey," Pride almost purred, grinning rakishly at Winry.
Ed had started forward, enraged all over again, when a can opener whizzed by his head and ricocheted off Pride's chest.
"Don't call me honey!" Winry snarled, in the tone of voice which always made Ed want to scurry away and hide.
"Okay, okay, don't get so worked up," Pride muttered, rubbing his chest where the can opener had hit him. "Damn, you've got a good arm..."
Ed couldn't help staring, because no matter how he looked, he really couldn't get used to it. The weird tattoos across the rest of the body – and whatever the hell it was that the homunculus was wearing – helped to distinguish them, but Pride's face was like looking into a mirror. Except it wasn't, because a mirror reversed people's features, and that wasn't what was happening here; Ed was seeing his face as other people saw it, and there was something about that concept that just unsettled him on an instinctual level. The voice was slightly off as well, because when he heard his voice it was transmitted through his body, and Pride's was not.
All in all, it was quite unsettling.
"Not to interrupt this charming repartee," Greed drawled. "But what now?"
"What do you mean, 'what now'?" Pride snapped, scowling at the scene in front of him – Winry wincing but permitting Ed to blot at the blood dripping from her temple.
He was not jealous. Not of some stupid human who didn't even have the sense to keep all his limbs.
"Well, our little merry band now seems to have two additional members," Greed pointed out, still using that relaxed, sarcastic tone that made Pride want to slice him up with his shadows. "One who can probably pass for a famous alchemist in a pinch and who manipulates shadows, and another whose talents seem limited to restoring automail..."
"She can hot-wire cars," Pride responded, feeling inexplicably nettled at Greed's dismissal of Winry.
"And I can pick locks and I know something about bombs, gunpowder and things like that," the girl in question chimed in.
"Bombs?" Ed echoed.
"She knows explosives..." Pride muttered, exasperation in every syllable. "Of course she knows explosives...she knows how to gentle chimeras and steal cars and run into gunfights, so why on earth would she neglect her education in a little bomb-making. You know, the minute you threatened to rip out my eyes I should have known you'd be far too much trouble."
"You threatened to rip his eyes out?" Greed repeated, eyeing Winry with what seemed a touch more respect.
But Winry was too busy thinking on her past repertoire to pay him any attention. "I also once built a miniature cannon with the stuff we had in the kitchen."
Hohenheim raised his eyebrows. "May I ask the obvious – why?"
"I was bored. And I was only ten, so Granny wouldn't let me work on actual automail yet."
"Of course," Pride snapped. "You were bored, so you built yourself a miniature arsenal. Because you couldn't just go play with dolls or something."
Winry gave Pride a look that strongly suggested she was questioning his intelligence. Ed was snickering into his hands, remembering the one time Rosie from the dairy had tried to play dolls with Winry – the poor girl had never tried again.
And he thought he remembered her making the cannon, too. Wasn't that when she came up to him and Al and asked if they could use alchemy to turn the silverware into cannonballs?
But there was one point he was still unclear on. "Bombs?"
Winry graced him with a tolerant look. "I make automail; high-performance machinery working in a very small space, often under building heat and pressure. Granny taught me how to make a bomb so I'd recognise one when I saw it, and could avoid making a customer's automail into one."
"Oh." Ed pondered that for a moment. "You know...it's almost like Granny Pinako was training you for something like this."
"Knowing Granny, I wouldn't rule it out."
"I like her," Greed sniggered. "She comes with us."
"She does not!" Ed snapped. "She goes back to Risembool-"
"Where it's safe?" Pride sneered. "I think this little adventure proved conclusively that it's not safe for her anywhere."
Though Ed did not argue the point, Hohenheim did not fail to notice his son was practically fuming, desperately searching his brain for an argument that would result in Winry remaining out of harm's way.
Hohenheim could see why the creature that called itself Father had chosen her as his hostage.
"No more arguments?" Greed asked. "Good – I wouldn't have listened anyway. A girl who can fix automail, pick locks, make bombs and tame chimeras will definitely be useful."
Winry tried not to smile, sensing how close Ed was to exploding in frustration. But she was happier than she'd been since this whole mess started; going with him might be dangerous, but there was nowhere else she'd rather be.
"Well, let's call in Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum from standing guard, and tell them the happy news," Pride sneered.
Winry sighed, and wondered if it would be worth the effort to try to sic Pretty on the homunculus. "Pride, be nice."
"Because people will shout at you, and I already have a headache."
Pride scowled, but subsided with little more than muttered grumbling, stalking out in what was patently a sulk. Winry couldn't help a smile of amusement, even if it swiftly degenerated into a wince when Ed dabbed again at the gash on her head.
Hohenheim watched them for a few moments, before following the homunculus.
He found Pride toying petulantly with a lantern, wrapping it in his shadows until the light was extinguished...but of course, when the light was extinguished the shadows ceased to exist, and so sprang almost immediately back into being and he began all over again.
Pride didn't turn to acknowledge him, but simply glared all the harder at the lantern. "Say one word and I swear I'll tear you into little pieces!"
Hohenheim wondered idly if he could regenerate from that, then decided that train of thought was far too morbid. So he only shook his head, knowing his pity was unwanted, but unable to help feeling sorry for the homunculus who had chanced to fall in love with a human.
AN: Thanks to justcallmefaye, for being so patient with me.