Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: Mild PG for the subject matter.
Characters: Edward, Winry.
Setting: Between the Elrics' failed human transmutation and Ed's automail surgery.
Summary: Those he had hurt were the very ones he could still lean on.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt "loss of limb" at Hurt/Comfort Bingo. This is a companion piece to one of my older ficlets, "Imposture".
"Oh, get in there. Stop slipping already."
The voice roused Edward from a hazy, uncomfortable sleep, allowing dull pain to trickle into his awareness. He was still too far unconscious to discern where its source was. Without opening his eyes, he shifted slightly, perhaps in some hope of resettling himself more comfortably.
Wrong move. The pain suddenly flared white-hot, leaving no question as to exactly where it came from.
From the bandaged stumps where his right arm and left leg should have been.
He almost bit his tongue to stifle a whimper. His eyes fluttered open wide, and then closed again, as if that could somehow shut out the pain. It didn't.
Now he remembered. Even in his condition, he had been making a fuss for the last few days about being left stranded in the bedroom upstairs, until Pinako finally relented and let Al carry him down to the living room sofa. Ed had promised he wouldn't just fall asleep, which he could do perfectly well in bed. Promised that he really wanted and felt well enough to sit up, to talk and to read.
So much for that.
"Come on… I know you're too small for this job, but Granny's using the three-eighths-inch one, so work with me here."
Ed wasn't too sleepy and hazy from painkillers to hear the word small. Indignation ignited, and he gritted his teeth, opening his eyes to narrow slits as he turned his head.
Winry was sitting cross-legged on the floor at the coffee table, with her back turned to him. The shade of a lamp was tilted so that strong light fell on the table in front of her. It gleamed on something metal, a smooth curved shape under the screwdriver in her hand.
It was the unfinished outer plating for an automail port: the mechanism that interfaced nerves and muscles with an artificial limb.
Ed's stomach turned over. He screwed his eyes shut. Slowly he reached up with his lone left hand, underneath the blanket someone had tucked over him, to touch the layers of gauze and cotton wrappings that bound what remained of his right shoulder.
Soon now, something like that chunk of metal on the table was going to be there instead.
The idea scared him sick, if he thought about it too much. He tried very hard not to think about it too much.
Growing up with the Rockbells as neighbors and friends, Edward had watched their patients come and go all his life. He had seen crates of parts and sheet metal be delivered, and gradually be transformed into precise facsimiles of human limbs. He had seen incomplete bodies carried into the house on stretchers. After months, or even years, he had seen those same bodies walk again; not necessarily on their own two feet, but on the prosthetics he had observed from their beginnings as lifeless steel.
He had heard things, too. Heard the screams from behind the door of the operating room, on those days when Winry was pale and strained and too busy to come out and play.
Now he was going to know why the patients screamed.
It seemed logical to think that it couldn't be worse than what his body had been through already. Not worse than having flesh and bone torn away, left in ragged gushing shreds. Not worse than the hot, throbbing ache of nothing under his shoulder and thigh, the phantom torment of nerves that weren't even there at all.
Yet Pinako assured him that, at least for a little while, it truly was worse.
"Easy… Just a few more turns, and we'll be done with this part. Then we can work on the other side."
Winry was talking to her tools again. She had been doing that for as long as Ed could remember. He figured it was some sort of girl thing, much like having a tea party with her dolls. Except that Winry didn't have dolls anymore. She had taken them all apart years ago, disassembling the joints of their limbs to see how they worked; exploring what made their eyes blink, what made them say Mama when the strings on their backs were pulled.
Her curiosity was kind of creepy, in a rather impressive way.
…It didn't matter. Nothing Edward had to endure would ever matter again. When he was the only Elric left who could feel pain, he had no right to fear it, much less complain about it. Ed's own folly had robbed Alphonse of his natural physical being, left him only a metal shell for a body, in place of his beautiful perfect skin and eyes and hair. No pain could ever stand in the way of Ed's correcting that horrible mistake.
When they were younger, and Winry's caring for patients or working on automail sometimes kept her from joining the brothers in their games, Ed used to get annoyed. He begrudged her the time she gave to the rebuilding of broken lives. He had once told Al that they should find a way to restore flesh and blood with alchemy, just so Winry would no longer have cause to waste her time on artificial stopgaps.
If he had known then… If he had only known how difficult, how costly, how seemingly impossible was the task he so blithely proposed…
If he had only known how desperately precious and personal a charge it would become to him.
Not for his own sake. For Alphonse. Always, only for Al.
A hesitation, from the vicinity of the coffee-table workspace. A long, heavy pause… and then, a trembling whisper, so faint that Edward could barely hear it at all.
"No. It's not good enough yet… It has to be better. It has to be the best—because this is for Ed."
The boy's heart skipped a beat, and his eyes brimmed behind closed eyelids.
He fully deserved to bear this burden alone—yet he didn't bear it alone. Those he had hurt with his foolish arrogance and impulsiveness were the very ones who still offered themselves to lean on. It wasn't only Alphonse, whose entire life he had destroyed; Alphonse who sat tending him through the long torturous nights, holding him with inhuman arms, providing the touch of cold steel and the soft soothing voice that kept him from tearing his wounds open during his nightmares.
Not just Al, but Winry and Pinako too. They counted all their skills inadequate to do enough for Ed, even after he had broken their hearts. He was their least worthy patient, suffering only for what he had done to himself and to others… yet in their eyes, he deserved the greatest work they had ever achieved.
Ed could never promise that he would one day prove himself worthy of such grace…
But he would try.
© 2013 Jordanna Morgan