Half Lives, Chapter 1: "Don't Wait Up"

By the Binary Alchemist, 2010

(A Gift Fic for Rueme for her amazing artwork)

It wasn't the first time he woke her out of a sound sleep. "And if it goes on like this," Pinako grumbled under her breath as she fumbled under the bed for her slippers. "one of these days it's going to be the last."

"Wha—what's with the razor?" Ed looked alarmed as the old woman began stropping the thin blade against a leather strap.

"Gotta shave some of it off before I stitch it up. Go wash the blood out. I need to be able to see what I'm doing."

Ed cast uneasy eyes towards the stairs. "I'll….use the pump outside."

Dark eyes narrowed. "Freezing out there."

Gold eyes held her own. "Colder up there."

"Suit yourself." She tapped a fingerfull of tobacco into her pipe and drew in a mouthful of smoke. She nodded to the valise on the floor. "Did you even say goodbye to Maes and Nina?"

"I….stopped by their room. And I'll write them when I get to Central."

His hand was on the doorknob before her tone made him pause. "It's none of my business, Ed—"

He turned, smiling faintly. "But you're gonna tell me what you think of me anyway, right, Granny?" Somehow, this was going to hurt worse than the blow to his head that left him dizzy and nauseated, the blood still oozing into his bright hair.

A wreath of smoke encircled her impassive face, but there was regret and sympathy in her eyes. "I tried to tell her, Ed. All those years—I told her to go out and find a good man who'll stick around. Someone whose life isn't so…involved. Or dangerous. I raised you like a son. Maybe if she'd gone out and met some other young men…"

"Yeah." Ed answered softly. "But there's two kids up there now. No matter what, I will take responsibility. I ain't doin' to them what that bastard did to me and Al."

Just before he stuck his head under the pump her voice carried out to him in the frosty darkness. "Edward…the only thing worse than losing a parent is having to lie in bed and listen to your parents tear each other to pieces."

"Or in stitches," he added to the night sky, before plunging his head under the icy water, choking back a cry of pain as the jagged wound began to bleed again.

On the train he asked for a couple of cloth napkins and a glass of ice from the dining car. "Sorry sir—it's after midnight. The dining car is—oh, my!" The porter noticed the livid, freshly stitched wound and the bare patch of bruised scalp. "Are you all right, sir?"

"Accident back in Resembool," the traveler answered wearily. "Could you just see if they've got anything…anything at all. I'll be seeing my doctor once I get to Central."

Ten minutes later a different porter returned with an improvised compress—cracked ice neatly tied up in a parcel of several napkins. He also brought a small glass of brandy and two aspirins….and a look of sympathetic recognition. "Good to see you again, Mr. Elric. Heading back to Central Command again, sir?"

Ed nodded, then winced, reaching gratefully for the compress. "The Fuhrer telegrammed last night. Can't wait until morning." The aspirins were gulped down and he grimaced slightly as the alcohol burned its way down to the pit of his nervous stomach. He didn't know what was worse sometimes—the words or the blows. Bruises and black eyes and whacks to the head healed faster than the growing sickness in his guts when angry words and accusations and nagging and the endless guilt ripped up his insides as surely and as accurately as one of Uncle Rockbell's surgical scalpels.


He would do the right thing. She wanted him. She got him.

She wanted the white picket fence. The kids. The whole goddamned starry-eye'd fantasy of story books and cheap romance magazines.

Amestrians do the right thing. They marry. They have kids. They settle down, wear ties, become pillars of the community. Become stodgy and respectable.

On the outside.

Behind closed doors, though….it didn't always work. You couldn't suggest otherwise but it was hard to hide the affairs, the drunkenness, the fighting…no…one didn't just walk away in little villages like Resembool. Men stayed in the pubs. Women slapped their bread dough in the kitchen, wishing it was someone's face. They sliced sausage and smiled, imagining they were whacking off an offending penis that either sought refuge between friendlier thighs…or in Ed's case, slunk away in terror and defeat from the touch that had caused him so much pain. Pain to the body. Pain to the heart. Pain that the bargain hadn't been enough. Half my life. That was the bargain. But you were never satisfied, were you? Just like when you tore my watch apart to pry out my secret. Just like when you stripped me naked in the streets of Rush Valley to show me off to those strangers. Buy me this. Take me there. I want children. When are you coming back ? Damn you, Ed. Are you coming to bed or are you just going to sit the study and read all night?

He tugged out his old alchemic journal. "Yes," he answered aloud to the voice that was undoubtedly being raised in fury kilometers away. He glanced at his watch. The Fuhrer was an early riser and the coffee at the Palace was always good. "Yes, I am. Don't wait up."