by. Poisoned Scarlet
Summary: "Winry...what can equal the price of a human soul?" She suddenly understood with gut-wrenching clarity. The Philosopher's Stone was no exception to the rule, merely a bank of energy composed of human beings to be used heartlessly for ones own avarice.
Author Notes: This was suppose to be a funny and warm fiction but somehow it morphed into this monster you see now. I'm a bit proud with it, considering I always pictured Winry finding out the truth in the most unexpected way, like Ed's little travel book. She's very smart, I have no doubt, being a certified Automail engineer, so I bet she could crack some of Ed's outrageous codes...
ENJOY AND REVIEW!!
Disclaimer: If I owned Fullmetal Alchemist, I'd probably die from the sheer brain-power it'd take to come up with such a brilliant plot and hence there would be no Fullmetal Alchemist and all of this would be completely useless.
Dedication: I Hate Twilight, for giving me this idea as inadvertant as it might've been! Sorry I couldn't write your penname down properly, but Fanfiction kept erasing your name everytime I saved it. Thanks :D
"We'll be right back," Ed announced, standing up from the dinner table and throwing his spoon inside the bowl. His stomach full and warm and his mind well-rested and ready, he sent Alphonse a small smile and slipped on his jacket, which he had hung around the chair. "We're gonna' go visit moms grave for a little bit."
Winry continued to sip her soup, nodding her head slightly and smiling consolingly when Ed's eyes flickered towards her.
"Don't come back too late now, Ed," Pinako said, puffing out a ring of smoke and sending him a serious glance. "You'll need your rest for tomorrow's train ride back to Central."
"And the pie's almost done!" Winry added, smiling brightly at the delicious masterpiece that would soon be finished.
Ed made a noise of agreement and nodded, walking around the table and towards the arch that would lead to the living room and eventually the front door. "Come on, Al!"
"I'm coming!" Al called back, hastily standing up and nearly bumping his head upon the arch. Sometimes he hated how tall he was, being a metal suit of armor and all. However, he wisely kept these thoughts to himself, knowing that if his older brother knew of them, he would certainly get a good chewing out from the vertically challenged Full Metal Alchemist himself. "Bye Winry! Bye Granny!"
"Take care you two!" Winry yelled back, standing up and picking up the dish Ed left behind. She picked her own up as well, feeling her stomach half-full already. She wanted to save some space for dessert.
Pinko continued to peacefully spoon the soup into her mouth as the mechanic proceeded to wash the dishes.
"Winry," Pinako said, once the girl had finished and was getting ready to head upstairs to her room. "Pipsqueak left his bags in the living room. Could you put them in his room for him before he forgets? I don't want anyone tripping on his things!"
Winry laughed. "Don't let him hear you calling him that, granny!"
Pinako scoffed but smiled, nodding her head to the living room before resuming her dinner. Winry wasted no time picking up Ed's suitcase, surprised by how light it felt. He travels around a lot, she thought as she walked up the stairs, one would think his suitcase would be heavier. But it wasn't and it tickled Winry's curiosity to see what exactly he kept inside. I wouldn't be surprised if there was nothing, Winry rolled her eyes, heading towards Ed's room. That would be so typical of Ed. But before she got there, her foot caught on the threshold and, in an effort to keep her balance, let the suitcase go flying ahead and gripped the door for support.
She flinched when the luggage hit the floor and the buckles burst open, sending the lid flying up along with a few garments. It slide partially under the bed and Winry was hasty to pick it up and set it on its back. She let her eyes roam the inside, rather guiltily at that, and saw that it wasn't empty but did indeed carry clothes.
Rather, intimate clothes.
Winry snickered when she caught sight of several pairs of stripped, plain, and even polka-dotted boxers along with a few black muscle tops and one white undershirt. His trademark red alchemist coat was folded neatly inside, almost ironically so since the rest of his clothes seemed recklessly put in. She shook her head in amusement when she picked out a plain black tie, wrinkled and seemingly unused.
But what really caught her eye was the little, palm-sized, book that poked out from underneath the red coat. She hesitantly reached for it, looking around as if someone was going to pop out from the shadows and scold her. She shouldn't be going through Ed's stuff like this but... it wouldn't hurt to see what it was about right? She was adamant that if it was a journal, no matter how tempting it might be, she would put it back and pretend she had never found it. So as she took the book out and weighed it in her hands, she was curious at all the abrasions and smudge marks the covers held. The sides were blunted, from being jostled around in his pocket no doubt, and the pages were darkened with dirt and dust.
"He's had this for a while," she said to herself, noticing that on the first page, his handwriting was childish and messy. She didn't let her eyes read anything but when she turned to the back she saw his writing improved drastically. She noticed he had very nice handwriting, a sort of slanted cursive that made her smile lightly.
But she noticed that the words within the book were... wrong. Not wrong, more like a quizzical collage of phrases and terms. She quirked a brow as she flipped back to the beginning. Everything there was written out plainly – she could understand several alchemical theories he had written down and some he had come up with himself, which impressed her in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure. But as she got to the sixteenth page, things went haywire. Suddenly, there were no more sentences but merely words.
It continued like this for a few more pages.
It mentioned cities like Central or Dublith, ruins like Xerxes and even foreign countries like Xing a lot. Some of these words repeated with another word written subsequently beside it. Like 'Central Basement Shovel'.
She was baffled by how utterly confusing this code was – because she was sure it was a code only Ed and perhaps Al could understand – and even allowed herself a wary giggle when she discovered just how secretive Ed really was.
The more she read, the harder and more creative the words became. She could pick out at least one word on every page that she did not know the definition to.
The middle portion of the book was written out.. confusingly, to put lightly.
There was even a recipe here, which she found strange as she thought about the ingredients listed. The recipe itself made no sense to her, even though she was a master at reading cook books. It was all in grams and she frowned deeper when she noticed three elements in the 'recipe'. After reading a bit more, she was confident that this was not something she would be able to cook, seeing as some of the ingredients clashed terribly with one another, but she did manage to deduce that, since this was Ed and he was an alchemy-aficionado (his greatest love being the Periodic Table, no doubt), most of the ingredients would most likely be elements.
She couldn't figure out the whole list but she did manage to solve three.
Calcium. Carbon. Oxygen.
It was lame but at least she did it. She read a few more ingredients and managed to solve the eight-tenths 'water' one, which could only be hydrogen.
Eight-tenths? She thought quizzically. Whats he trying to say? She brushed it off and made it to the end of the supposed 'recipe'. The words written there were drab and tedious, just simple instructions on how to combine them all to make a dessert which name she could barely pronounce. She assumed it was Xingese.
But one word stuck out to her, one that was clearly jotted down with more force than necessary.
Body. The entire sentence was '...the entire body of the pastry should be first baked rather than cooked.' And then it all made sense to her.
He's describing the body! Her eyes widened. Of course! Calcium, Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen would be present in a normal human body! But why would this need to be encrypted? To Winry, it was common knowledge what the body was composed of. Unless... she continued reading the instructions, finding nothing else as it all began to grow more and more complex. She eventually gave up and flipped through a few more pages.
She stopped and hastily backtracked when a name caught her interest. She quickly skimmed some of the other names and landed her eyes on one in particular.
There was nothing else written beside it. In fact, the paragraphs above were written out in that same gibberish that was Ed's secret code. Her name was all alone on the bottom of the page, just there and surrounded by the soft white that abounded.
She continued to read more and more and found the same result – her name written on the bottom of each page she passed.
What could he mean by my name? She thought hard. Obviously he means something. Perhaps automail? Could it be? She read the names above and noticed that in every new page, new names arose, new terms made themselves known, so she had no doubt this was a collection of important events that had happened on his quest for the ever-elusive Philosopher Stone. The dates on the corner were also a dead give-away.
But the last name was always the same: Winry.
Winry sat down cross-legged, placing the book in-front of her and analyzing the page intently. She slipped a hand underneath her chin to prop her head up as she began to try and solve the difficult code. She found herself returning to the ingredient page a lot, confused by the mystery which Ed had supplied inadvertently.
She reread the instructions until her eyes felt scratchy from not blinking. And soon, as she looked up to the clock, she noticed that two hours had gone by.
She listened for racket downstairs but only heard the gentle breeze making the rickety swing by the porch outside groan. The house was silent and Winry was quite sure her grandmother had probably gone into the shop to continue composing an automail leg for a customer. So, seeing as the boys weren't back, she quickly fixed Ed's things inside his suitcase and snapped it shut, although she kept the book out for further reading.
What does he mean? Winry thought frustratingly, glowering at the innocent book below. This ingredients page was really starting to tick her off. Damn it, Ed, why do you have to make everything so hard?! She had solved a few other elements but it was nothing new to her so she quickly dropped that. Instead, she focused on the instructions, which seemed to lull in something from the back of her mind, but everytime she tried to lure that thought out, it would disappear into thin air.
Eventually, Winry jogged back to her room and brought a spare sheet of paper and pencil in tow. She jotted down the more important facts and even referred to other pages for clues. She found some on the beginning pages with the sentence 'Liquid can be solid' which she solved when she read 'the ledge of infinite wonders, one in itself and up for the taking for whomever is brave enough to decipher it's amorphous secrets', in which he obviously meant the Philosopher's Stone.
So, the Philosopher's Stone can be liquid? She chewed on her pencil thoughtfully. Umm, not really sure that makes much sense. But the reason it was a hint was because in the instructions. Ed had wrote the words liquid delicacy repeatedly, and she could think of only one good thing that would be a delicacy in the eyes of an alchemist like him: the Philosopher's Stone, which was, apparently, also a liquid.
She continued this for another hour or so, enthralled in the secrets that were slowly becoming clear to her. Eventually she laid down on her stomach, feet crossed at the ankle and swinging back and forth as she scribbled down some more notes, trying to make out what the Philosopher's Stone would have to do with a human body aside from it being used to preform 'a successful human transmutation', as Ed himself often stated.
In fact, she was so immersed with solving this puzzle, she didn't hear the front door open downstairs, nor the dragging footsteps that followed. She ignored the door opening behind her as she tapped her pencil on the paper, glancing at at the sentence, 'the right quantity must be added for the pastry to be successful'. The words were in the back of her mind, she knew it!
"Quantity," she murmured, as the door closed very silently behind her. "Right quantity? What do you mean..." But she kept coming up with blanks. Right quantity? She knew this sentence was important because it was deeply pressed onto the paper. It might take her a few hours to solve it but she was sure it was a clue! She felt a small sense of pride for the obvious hints she used to decipher the code, which was mostly deeply pressed words or hastily scrawled sentences.
Ed let his emotions get to him far too much.
"Wait," she said aloud, "Proper quantity much be added... successful... so it must be the same with—oh," her eyes widened, as Ed's voice screamed in her head 'equivalent exchange!'. Of course! Right quantity for it to be successful! How could she be so dense? "Great!" She grinned, jotting the note down and looking at the new puzzle that presented itself.
Now what did the elements for a human body, the Philosopher's Stone, and equivalent exchange have anything to do with, well, anything? She pondered over this, repositioning herself so she was sitting down again, as her elbows hurt from supporting her weight for so long. She rested her cheek in her hand. "Hmm..." she spent a full fifteen minutes like this, before she slapped the pencil down and whined loudly. She reread the instructions once more, narrowing her eyes at one word: 'tragedy'. It didn't really seem important before but now it stuck out like a bolt in a can of screws. She continued looking for more suspicious words, only coming up with 'mistake', 'circle' and 'everything must be neatly kept, this is the most important rule for all cooks'.
"Tragedy," she mumbled, before glancing down at the other notes she had. There were a lot of scratch outs and erase marks – loads of unintelligible words and thoughts she had written down just in case she needed to jog her memory. But at the moment nothing seemed to help her.
She growled and scratched her cheek before groaning and falling to the side, where she laid still before sprawling on her back and staring at the ceiling in righteous frustration.
"Damn it, Ed," she pouted, sitting back up. "Why do you have to make everything so difficult!?" She slumped forward, groaning even louder as she clutched her head. "Ow, my head hurts..." She eyed the book as if it were to grow legs and walk away from her. "This is way too hard, no wonder Ed became a State Alchemist when he was twelve – you've gotta' be a freakin' genius to figure this out!"
A deep, rich, chuckle snapped Winry back from her mourning thoughts. She sat up straight and looked sharply to her right, eyes widening when she caught sight of the very same man she had been complaining about, sitting lazily on the chair beside the dresser, looking more handsome than normal as the milky moonlight highlighted planes of his sculptured face she had never seen before.
His eyes glittered with amusement and he was leaning his head on his flesh fist as he chuckled. He looked as if he had been there all along, with his legs stretched out straight in front of him, crossed at the ankle.
"Still can't figure it out?" he smirking slightly, raising a brow at the red that quickly stained her cheeks. She hastily grabbed the book and shut it, drawing her eyebrows together in worry.
She chewed on her lip. "S-Sorry. I.. um... I tripped by the door and your suitcase opened and the book fell out," she trailed off, hoping he'd buy at least the last half as it did sound plausible. The suitcase had fallen... she had just picked out the book since it was looking too temping underneath his alchemist coat. "Please don't be mad," she winced, hoping he really wouldn't be.
"More amused than mad," he assured, tilting his head. "What's got you stuck?" He asked.
She was hesitant but she quickly flipped the book open and pointed to the page. She saw Ed's eyes widen and frowned when they darkened considerably. His automail hand clenched and his jaw went rigid.
"What did you find out?" he asked, voice guarded. He had retracted his legs, keeping them bent underneath the chair.
"W-Well..." Now she was really worried. She peered down at her notes nervously, almost like what she had discovered would only lead to a bitter argument. But she decided to take a risk and tell him what she learned.
The more she spoke, the darker his eyes became and the grimmer his expression turned. "Obviously, since the Philosopher's Stone is, according to you, also manifested as a liquid it got me thinking why you encrypted the elements of the human body into a dessert recipe. One sentence stuck out to me, which was the phrase you always spouted when we were kids: 'equivalent exchange'." She pursed her lips. "But I don't get what you're trying to say unless you mean that the Philosopher's Stone can used to compose a human body, using the concept of equivalent exchange.... is it?"
Edward stared hard at her, dissecting every emotion she let show on her face. "Yes," he responded eventually.
"R-Really?" She blinked, a small smile lighting up her face. "So, I actually solved it!" Her smile stretched into a grin. "Great! This is great! I managed to solve one of your codes, Ed!"
Edward didn't say anything, he merely continued to stare, looking as if he were struggling with something.
"But whats weird is this," Winry continued, picking up the small book and searching for the word. "'Tragedy'. Why would it be a tragedy unless..." Her eyes softened and her smile slowly disappeared. "Unless you're referring to what happened... to auntie Trisha and how you two tried to..to..." She looked down in sadness while Ed merely flickered his eyes to the side, eyes narrowing at the bulky shadow that quickly vanished from his sight.
"Well, thats enough detective work for one night, neh?" Winry tried to lighten the mood, bonking her fist playfully on the side of her head. "My brain got a real work out. You know, you'd make a really good riddler if you ever tried."
Ed scoffed but said nothing else.
Winry stood up and straightened her shirt, picking up the pencil and paper on the floor. She folded the paper in half and was about to tear it when Ed spoke up.
"Can I have that?"
Winry furrowed a brow. "For what? It's just random notes and thoughts I wrote down."
Ed shook his hand, hand extended. "Let me see it."
"Okay," she walked forward and gave it to him, feeling like she was turning in an assignment for school for the teacher to grade. He certainly scanned the paper like her middle school professor did. Suddenly, he lowered the paper and heaved a sigh. His gold eyes flashed to hers, bearing a weight that made her heart clench.
"Winry... you—you didn't solve my notes," he said, hesitantly; almost guilty for lying to her.
"I... didn't?" she asked, voice low in disappointment. "Then why did you say I did? Ed, what were those notes really about...?"
"You barely managed to scratch the surface of them," Ed revealed, averting his gaze from the disappointment in the girls eyes. "The whole point of leaving Resembool was to find a way to restore Alphonse's body and to do that I realized that I would need the legendary Philosopher's Stone. But the only thing that kept me from creating one were the ingredients to compose one, right?" He leaned back into his chair, hands twined on his lap calmly.
"Yeah... continue," she said softly.
Ed nodded, more to himself than her. "Winry... you understand the concept of equivalent exchange, right?"
She nodded, uncertain where this was going. "Of course, Ed, you drilled it into my brain with all those speeches you did when we were kids," she smiled tensely as Ed closed his eyes, allowing a smile to ghost his lips.
"If I were to try to fix a hole in my shirt, I'd have to use the exact amount of fabric in order to repair the hole, correct?"
"This concept of equivalent exchange is the one rule of alchemy which is not to be tampered or played around with at all costs, nor is it something to take lightly. The Philosopher's Stone, however, is the exception. Or so we believed." Edward folded the paper she handed him into fourths and slipped it into his jackets inner pockets. "Everything has a price, Win, be it repairing a hole in a shirt or reconstructing a derelict building. You must have the proper amount of everything needed if you wish to be successful," he paraphrased a sentence in his book.
"Where are you going with this, Ed?" she asked, stomach churning. She didn't like where this was heading. "Edward?"
His eyes heavy, he asked one question: "Winry.... what can equal the price of a human soul?"
The question was like a smacking point black into a wall. Hard, painful, and disorienting. She swallowed, thinking hard. What could equal a human soul? The very essence of a human being was its spirit – its soul. Winry could not think of anything materialistic that would be able to amount to the price of a human soul but..."A... another human soul?" she replied after a few minutes.
"Correct," he said, the same heaviness seemingly growing heavier, thickening his voice to a hoarse scratch. "And as you recall, I said that the Philosopher's Stone is not an exception, rather... if you were to think of it as a bank," he said testily, licking his suddenly dry lips. He took a deep breath."You save money in it continuously, adding more and more until you finally have enough to transact it in one shot to buy something." He suddenly shut his eyes, face pale. "Do—please tell me you get what I'm saying, Winry?"
She did. She understood with gut-wrenching clarity. She brought a shaky hand up to her lip, eyes wide with horror. She shuddered in a breath, parting her lips to say something only to have nothing come out. Instead, she swallowed the lump in her throat, sucked up the tears that threatened to obstruct her vision as Ed looked at her stoically.
The Philosopher's Stone was most definitely not an exception. The elements he had listed in the form of a recipe signified a human body, through and through with a soul, and the stone mentioned was a clue to its composition. It was suddenly so clear, like being able to look through a once-foggy window, what the Philosopher's Stone was made out of.
"E-Ed," she whispered, blue eyes alight with horror, "Oh... oh god, Ed. What... what—how can you still search for that thing even after you know what its made of!" She yelled, blinking away tears. "How can you... how can you be so heartless to consider using that—that unholy stone to bring Alphonse's body back?! How can you—"
"Do you think I want to!?" Ed bellowed, standing up and shoving the chair back, making it smash into the wall. "Do you know how absolutely devastated were were when we found out what this fucking stone was made out of?! That stone meant everything to us! We classified it as a symbol of hope that perhaps, one day, we might be able to bring Al's body back from the Gate!" Ed's face twisted into pain. "And now we have no choice. There is no other way to bring back Alphonse's body unless I'm willing to lose another two limbs," he chuckled bitterly, clenching his fists to his sides. "We've been trying to look for another way but... it isn't going so well." He thought back to all the unstable Philosopher Stone's the military had created already and shuddered in disgust.
"E-Ed...." Winry trembled with the knowledge he had entrusted her with. The terrible truth, the reason for the emptiness she saw so often reflected in his expressive topaz eyes. "It's not fair, is it?" she hiccuped, unable to resist lunging forward to capture the boy in a tight embrace.
She buried her face in his neck, internally fighting against the trembles that wracked her body. She felt him not even stiffen, too lost in his own spiraling thoughts to pay much attention to her. She lifted her face up slightly, enough to whisper almost inaudibly, "come back to me, Ed. Don't think about it."
He seemed to have heard her, for he rose a weak hand to rest on her upper shoulder, dropping his head until his chin bumped on her head.
The tension was heavy in the room, along with the shock and despair accompanied with learning the truth. She suddenly understood why Ed looked so tired all of the time, so blank and serious. He had to carry this knowledge around with him wherever he went, the truth pressing upon him with every day gone by. It was bad enough he had to carry the sin of trying to revive his deceased mother, but now this?
Winry gripped his book tightly in her hands, so tightly her knuckles bleached white against her already pale skin. She then, with numb awareness, remembered the word that made her heart beat faster when she had read it.
"E-Ed," she asked shakily, wiping away a few tears. He didn't say anything but she was sure he was paying attention. "in your book... it—you wrote my name down in several pages on the bottom. What did you mean by that?"
Ed stiffened all of a sudden, making her lean back to peer at his expression. It had changed from stoic to nervous.
"Does it relate to automail?" she frowned. "Because I really can't think of any other reason why you would write my name down—"
He chuckled softly in reply. "My codes are too hard for you to crack, huh, Win?" He closed his eyes in what looked to be contentedness, reopening them to reveal softer golden eyes. Winry wondered briefly how he could simply store away the grief of knowing such a horrible truth and decided that, since the entry was written long ago, he had had enough time to cope with the shock.
"Your name..." he began, when the door creaked open to reveal Al, who looked troubled.
"Brother, Winry?" He titled his head at their entangled bodies and if he could smile, he would as he watched them jump apart and blush furiously. "Granny says the pie is done... umm..."
"How much did you hear?" Ed asked quietly, earning a look of surprise from Winry. Alphonse looked down at the ground for a moment, before lifting his head and saying, "Nearly all of it." Then he rose his voice, tone panicky. "P-Please don't cry Winry! Brother and I are certain we'll find another way to restore our bodies! We promise! We wouldn't create a Philosopher Stone, ever! We promised that no matter how bad things got, we'd never resort to such inhumane ways!"
Winry was taken aback by Al's urgency but smiled warmly. "I have no doubt you two will, Al." She looked back at Ed, who had his eyes trained on her hand. She quietly offered the book to him, which he took after a few hesitant breaths. He pocketed it and jammed his hands deeply into his pockets, nodding his head to the door.
"Lets go, Win, I'm starving," he followed Alphonse down the stairs. But before they made it to the kitchen, where she faintly heard her granny filling their plates up with delicious apple pie and pouring them drinks, she needed to know:
"Ed, you never told me what my name meant in your book."
He paused under the arch of the kitchen, lips curled in a lopsided smile. "It means... home," and he walked to the table, automatically getting into heated banter with his surrogate grandmother when she sniffed and muttered, "pipsqueak" under her breath, after seeing Ed none-too-subtly dump the glass of milk she had served down the kitchen drain.
Winry stayed rooted to the spot for a few seconds before smiling tenderly and walking into the dining room, laughing when Ed rattled off another exaggerated retort regarding his height.
There were many things encrypted in that small book of his. But this was one thing she could easily solve on her own, as Al scolded Ed on his language and he huffed in response, taking a grand bite out of the slice of pie on his plate. He sent Winry a wink and a smile, making her laugh as she strode forward to pour some milk into a cup, trying vainly to coax him into drinking it when he looked a little choked up.
He had finally admitted that he actually had a home to come back to.