The Big Bang Theory
Chapter One
Golden Iris

- mirage-

With Pinako's heart thudding in her ears, and the panic of it all causing her mouth to go dry, she felt very much the way she did when she received news her son had been killed.

The call had been unexpected. She took it in the kitchen, with Winry and the Elric boys playing in the living room. There was no forewarning. The phone rang, everything changed, and then she was alone.

Standing mute holding the receiver, her body was motionless, but her mind was a hornet's nest.

What happened that day, in spontaneity and cruelty, was happening again tonight.

In her downstairs guest bedroom Pinako was frantically stripping the neglected twin bed, when she realized Alphonse's suit of armor was standing motionless in the middle of the room. She looked at him; the youngest Elric boy. The tiny child with a mop of blond hair and a goofy ear to ear smile, swallowed up, and somehow inside the distantly familiar set of armor she knew the Elric's owned. The rain water made him shine, as if he were polished and new, when in fact he was coated in old dust, with spider webs from Trisha's basement matted down and pasted to him. The front breast plate was still tinged with pink, but the blood had run off like the water, and was everywhere in his large footprint puddles.

In the middle of the tiny bedroom he stood like a tree, growing upward and towering over them. It made her nervous. It was more than just the sheer height of him, it was the sheer mass of him! He barely fit through the guest bedroom doorway in height, and she was fairly certain he had turned to the side to manage in width!

With an unchanging mask of a face, she couldn't tell what he was thinking; she couldn't even be certain where he was looking. When he arrived his stone cold metal body had been screaming with the voice of a ten year old echoing outward from somewhere deep inside. There was much she still didn't understand. She didn't have the whole picture. She wasn't exactly sure what had happened before the last twenty minutes, but what she did know, was that he was idle, at a moment when there was plenty to do.

She called to him, and had never pronounced his name in such a tone before that hour. "Alphonse!" Her voice was pinched and crazed as if she were rabid. The sound of her scared him, and his entire body jerked. The metal head twisted towards her on command, and the emptiness of it, the hallow possession of it, made her ill. She stopped ripping the sheets up and pointed to the guest bedroom's attached lavatory. "Stop standing there like a damn bell tower, and get'ure brother from the tub!"

Alphonse took one graceless step backwards. About the hinges and joints his body clattered as he tried to move. His spirit animating the armor was as uncoordinated as a flesh child inside trying to work it. His footfalls were pots and pans on her hardwood floor, and the entire visual of him moving was catastrophic.

"Hurry it up!" Pinako yelled impatiently.

Winry hurried out of Alphonse's way as if he might crush her. She ran to Pinako's side and took hold of her Grandmother's dress staring wide-eyed. Alphonse looked more like a gargantuan metal marionette than anything she could recognize as her close friend.

"Hurry it up!" Pinako felt ruthless.

"Grandma," Winry whispered, tugging at Pinako's dress with concern.

Pinako brushed Winry's hands off, and shoved the balled up top sheet into the girl's arms. This year she was going to be fifty nine and had seen fifty eight years of use. She had helped build her house, raise animals, contributed to the birth of six children, Winry, Edward, and Alphonse included, and stubbornly maintained residence when things became hot over in Ishval. Now this bit of extreme panic and blood wasn't going to stop her. Of this she was certain, and she took hold of this thought with blind commitment. She would do this, that was all there was to it. She would do this somehow, or he might really die.

As Pinako instructed, Alphonse went to get Ed. He tried to walk into the narrow lavatory doorway, but as a suit of armor, didn't fit, and hit the wall with a thundering sound and bounced back.

Winry watched this, hanging onto Pinako's dress, and whispered a faint distressed, "Grandma?"

Alphonse's shoulders were smashing into the woodwork, and the defensive spiking shoulder pads were digging into the sheetrock. He felt this as much as they might feel their sweater catch and pull. It wasn't stopping him, hell it wasn't even slowing him down. Winry's jaw was a silent yawn of horror, and inside the armor Alphonse was gibbering like a mouse in a tin can. He sounded frustrated and even angry, and there was something nerve wracking about considering him angry. He was destroying a doorframe in obedient assistance. What in god's good name would he do, could he do, if he became upset?

"Winry, you don't get close to him," Pinako said firmly, keeping her voice down. She grabbed the towel she'd carried into the room and snapped it open. "He'll step on you like an ant," Pinako said. "He can't control himself well."

In what looked to be a subconscious gesture of stress, Winry began running her hand over the small pocket of her pink and yellow sundress. By all accounts she was beginning to look like an unassuming girl tossed into a nightmare. Dressed for summer with her hair pulled back and her pink flip flops framing her painted toe nails, she was going pale, and starting to shake.

Pinako laid the towel over the bed. It was likely this would be the last night the thin straw mattress ever saw, and she was at least going to save the bedding.

"He's just so big," Winry said, voice barely audible. When Alphonse made it into the lavatory Winry leaned forward to peer into the doorway, but inside Alphonse's body served as a grey wall. "All four of us can barely even fit in here!"

This was the truth. The back guest bedroom never saw guests, and it had slowly evolved into both a pantry and shed. It was the store room, the junk room, the room for holiday decorations, sewing projects, extra furniture, and broken furniture. Quickly Winry was making what extra space she could. She shoved a barrel of flower flush to the wall, stacked the metal gardening buckets on top, and crammed the female sewing mannequin they used for their dresses into the corner where a collection of wooden garden stakes, and fine automail cleaning dowels were left.

One of the garden stakes refused to stay and Winry was kicking it irritably when she was overcome with a thought and stopped. Stiff with recollection she spun towards Pinako and said, "I left the front door open!"

Winry remembered now, that twenty minutes ago when Alphonse arrived shouldering his way through the front door as if it were a concrete wall, she had not shut the door behind him. Instead, she had backed up in a daze of fright, grabbing at her open mouth in shock, and screaming with no conscious understanding that she was. "I!" Winry cried, looking too overwhelmed to be thinking right. "I didn't shut it! The front door is open!" And it was. Its old hinges hanging on tight as it flapped about in the wind and pouring rain.

"What?" Pinako sputtered, with flabbergasted shock. As far as Pinako was concerned, that went last on the list. "Who cares, Winry!" She wadded up the bottom sheet she had previously stripped off the bed. "Leave it be."

"Shouldn't I close it!" Winry cried.

Pinako looked to her eleven-year-old granddaughter with confusion, before fixing Winry in a tight and powerful glare. If Winry's mind was jumping to tasks outside of the close walls of the room in order to escape them, she had another thing coming. "You stay in this room," Pinako said, lowering her voice to something mean. "I need you in the room to help me." Winry was horrified with these words. The girl was scared and clutched the sheets she held with confusion. "You understand?" Pinako asked. It was possible Winry might run. She might run voluntarily, or she might suddenly let loose in panic and flee. Then what? Then where would they be? With one suit of unstable armor and one half dead rat.

Winry hugged the bed sheets to herself. Lifting them up to her chin she began shaking her head senselessly while crying out a string of unintelligible words. She was terrified, as any child would be, as anyone would be. Alphonse hadn't just come alone. No, and he hadn't just come in the armor. He had come in like a monster, and in his arms like a sick gift, was his half dead brother, falling apart at the seams and leaking all over the entry mat.

"Stay in here!" Pinako said firmly, adding the bottom sheet to Winry's arms.

Alphonse returned to the lavatory doorway and began trying to exit. He held Ed in his arms, elbows cocked back, and he couldn't fit through. He walked smack into the doorframe, and Winry scrambled aside with wide eyes as if the armor would come with perpetual motion and run them flat.

Pinako looked at the armor's arms. They were massive metal cylinders with hands and shoulder sockets. Inside them Ed's scrawny eleven year old body was naked save for a towel. Somehow in blind panic Pinako still remembered she didn't want her granddaughter involved in procedures with nude male subjects, and that was the truth of it. It had nothing to do with Edward's modesty. It had only to do with the fact she had decided Winry could wait a few more years before crossing that bridge. So before dunking Ed into the tub, Pinako had knotted a hand towel tightly about his waist so it wouldn't move.

This made Ed look like a peasant, and his body looked raw and uncooked against the metal pan of Alphonse's strong and ruthless body. Like a car trying to go through a wall, Alphonse was reversing, pivoting, and hammering himself into the doorframe, and the sound of him was a wooden spoon being swung repeatedly into a large steel kettle.

Pinako swallowed the thick lump forming in her throat as she watched this. Although she knew the only variable to give was the wall, she couldn't bring herself to speak. Not even to scold Alphonse. It was just downright frightening, and she felt a rush of fear bloom when she considered that Alphonse could apply that strength to Edward's body.

Suddenly Ed was not in the safety of an embrace, he was in danger. Alphonse's metal arms were a mouse trap capable of crushing down on Ed's torso with strength enough to burst the pulp from his organs and snap the string of his spine. As a delicate bag of flesh, Ed was being held by something of immense impermeable strength that couldn't even sense its arms were full. Pinako was willing to bet Alphonse could pop Ed's head off the thread of his neck, and cross the room before noticing it had rolled out of his arms and sat on the floor behind him.

The lavatory doorframe surrendered on the right hand side, and Alphonse entered the guest bedroom. The oak molding flecked outward like old paint and shot the finishing nails upward like porcupine quills. Alphonse didn't notice this. He tromped forward, with speed they didn't know he could use, and thrust his arms out.

"Here, Granny!" Alphonse said. The pitch of his voice was hysterical. It was desperate, and Pinako had to believe Alphonse was actually sobbing inside the armor, and perhaps had been sobbing since he'd arrived. It was possible he began the senseless banshee wailing they heard approaching the house in Trisha's basement, where he woke up as he was, with Ed barely conscious and bleeding profusely. In a dark dirt floor room, he watched hands he couldn't feel pick up Ed's body, and screaming, left the place running.

"I got him!" Alphonse cried. "Here, take him!"

Ed was nothing but a noodle hanging in Alphonse's massive paws. Alphonse did not have enough life experience to know how to hold a person, and carried Ed the way you would a wooden toy. This left Ed's head hanging off Alphonse's wrist flopping about with no support, and his single flesh arm dangling down between Alphonse's hands like a skin colored tail. The missing limbs were stumps of drenched blood-saturated rags, and the smell was incredible.

Pinako had butchered animals before, and she'd never witnessed such a repulsive ground meat stench. In the tiny room it was gag inducing. If she were to slaughter a goat, slitting the soup of its stomach open and dropping its entrails like ropes between her gardening buckets, sewing mannequin, and tiny twin bed, she felt certain the mutilated human smell from Ed would have dominated.

The Elric boys smelled like death. In the dark storming night, with the rain pouring down, and the wind howling, there was something eerie about them, as if you could catch it the way you could a plague.

There weren't many times in Pinako's life that she was speechless, but this was one of them. With the steady hand of a surreal participant she pointed to the mattress and in a calm controlled voice said, "Just put him on the bed, Alphonse."

Alphonse's metal head tipped downward, and Winry took a quick step back. They didn't know he could look down, and in one forward stomp Alphonse approached the bed, bent, and uncurled his arms as if releasing a hatch.

Ed jostled badly in the drop and Alphonse returned to familiar high-pitched whining. He knew things weren't going well, but as a child, didn't know how to do them better. He hadn't cared for Ed's wounds; he was scared of them, and left his basement with Ed as he was, looking for an adult.

In the Rockbell foyer, Pinako had been able to grab Ed's shredded shoulder socket and protruding Acromion bone with her bare hand. He looked like an ocean-less shark victim. Suddenly the leg was bitten in two, the arm was gobbled, and he had flopped to the ground without the mercy of water to drown in. He was bleeding out, and it was everywhere: trailing behind the armor, smearing onto its metal shell, and soaking into Ed's clothes so his simple tee shirt looked as if someone had dipped him in red paint.

Ed was mentally incoherent when he arrived. Aside from the seizure like twitching caused by the nerves firing in his brain, had lay like a corpse when Pinako ripped the cooking apron off herself and used it as a tourniquet for his leg before carrying him further inside with Den barking madly.

"Granny, Nii-san doesn't look so good!" Alphonse said, pulling his arms out from under Ed's body and letting Ed fall to the mattress. The act was so unintentionally careless Winry flinched and broke into tears.

With Trisha's death Ed lost his appetite, and weight started falling off him so fast Pinako had become seriously worried. She became desperate to keep him eating. She made pies with lard based crusts, and pastries with heavy amounts of butter. If he didn't clear his dinner plate she still gave him dessert, and as much as he would take. She was scared with how thin Ed's arms and legs were getting, but Ed wasn't. He was depressed, as was Alphonse, and both of them handled it differently. The lack of appetite was just one of the many ways it was born in Ed, but it had a lasting effect. His had grown scrawny on top of being short, and now with pieces missing in addition; it was hard to understand how his heart kept beating.

"You're going to help him, right!" Alphonse asked, sounding hysterical. His little voice echoed upward as if it were trapped down by his feet. "Right, Granny! Right!" Alphonse turned towards Pinako with his catcher's mitt hands reaching forward like a beggar.

"Don't be thick, boy," Pinako said, stepping cautiously to the bed. Alphonse felt like a looming predator over his injured cub. She didn't want to make him nervous so he tried to intervene. She believed the strength of his arm and hand coming too quickly could render her unconscious, or break her jaw, so she was careful.

Ed's dripping hair was plastered to his skull, and it made him look as if he'd been pulled from a river. Boating accident, the motor chewed him up. Pinako began untying the towel on his waist. It was now a soaked rag of pink blood water and she needed to replace it. "You couldn't dry him?" she asked, glancing up to Alphonse.

"I tried, but I think I hurt him! He made noise!"

Pinako was shocked. "He made noise!" she repeated with alarm. She turned to Winry. "Winry, get me new bandages, and Alphonse, grab me fresh towels!"

Winry ran from the room, and Alphonse clattered back into the lavatory, slamming his shoulders in and out as he went. Pinako uprooted Ed's pink blood-stained towel and dried him with the one Alphonse brought her. Placing bleeding patients in the tub was never her first decision, but she was so overcome with Ed, she felt she couldn't see the wounds clearly. He was so blood drenched she needed it off. The smell of him, and the way it was lubricating him was difficult.

Gently Pinako squeezed the towel to Ed's roots, and with her hands on either side of his skull, he flinched unexpectedly.

Pinako froze with dread filled surprise. She dropped her gaze to Ed's face, but it was slack. Lord in Heaven, she thought. Ed's fingers were twitching. …he's trying to come around.

"Winry! Hurry it up!" Pinako yelled, unraveling the towel from Ed's head and dumping it over his waist. Winry came running back into the bedroom, her flip flops slapping loudly on the wet floor boards. She had her arms loaded with provisions and she collided directly into the side of the bed and dropped them alongside Ed's body.

Den came in after her, following with a hurried impatient pace, head raised, and tail flapping with animation.

"Get that dog, out of here!" Pinako snapped.

"Den, go!" Winry screamed, pointing to the door, in a panic.

Pinako reached over Ed's hungry looking stomach and grabbed at supplies. Winry was good, and didn't just carry back bandages. She turned her tiny arms into a one-stop medical kit, depositing small plastic containers of medications, and tools, among a small portable tank of oxygen. Pinako smiled wryly when she saw it, and she gave Winry a glance of pride, but the girl was busy wiggling into rubber gloves. With her bottom lip trembling, and occasional tears slipping down her cheeks, Winry fit herself with latex gloves and began opening bandages.

"What do," Winry asked, voice trembling, "what do you want me to start with?"

"We need to get him stable, then we'll figure out what to do with him," Pinako said, unraveling Ed's leg. Both limbs had been wrapped in poorly crafted temporary pressure bandages. "Get some oxygen on him."

Winry grabbed the tank and moved it up towards the headboard. She had months of training grooming her for automail surgery and patient care, but working in a cheerful dress with glittering nail polish she looked drastically under qualified. It seemed laughable to find an eleven-year-old fumbling about medical supplies, but this was a façade. Winry was a strong second pair of hands, a partner Pinako had incorporated into all aspects of her routine. There was not one thing she did, that Winry did not at least help with, and Pinako believed this was how you truly learned: on your feet, in the moment, and in the blood.

Winry assembled the oxygen correctly and gently slid a mask over Ed's face with care. "There Ed," Winry whispered, stepping back and clutching her hands to her chest. She checked everything twice, even while sniffling, before staggering her way down the bed and looking to Pinako for directions.

Pinako opened the bandages on Ed's leg and studied the wound. Ed looked like an open piece of veal, and she felt her gag reflex working with the sight and smell of it. This was very different from a controlled surgery, and Pinako lifted her gaze to Winry and considered the girl. As the odor became worse and the damage more apparent, she was weary Winry would faint. Her granddaughter was white as a sheet and shaking, with glassy eyes fixed on Ed's severed leg.

There was much of Pinako that wanted to free Winry from the room, but there was another part that didn't want to be alone. If this was Edward's last night, she had to know she tried, that they tried, and didn't back away from anything. Without two people, and even with two people, he might still slip away.

"I need you to do the leg," Pinako said softly. She had felt the arm with her palm, and knew it was worse. "You can do it." She believed this. Winry was capable. "Bandage it closed."

Without words Winry stumbled forward with her mouth twitching and her throat constricting with sickness. She grabbed a handful of thick absorbent bandages and began quickly, with fortitude. It was the conviction of a true mechanic, of greatness, and Pinako knew, as she watched Winry aid the amputation of her childhood friend while physically deteriorating into silent choked sobbing, that Winry would carry on the Rockbell name onward and probably even surpass her.

Pinako moved up to Ed's missing arm and began opening the bandages when Ed whipped his head to the side. His breathing was becoming fast and sporadic causing his chest to jump wildly as if he were running. He was trying to breach consciousness and Pinako worked as fast as she could. She snapped gloves on, ripped bandages off, and emptied disinfectant over the visible socket. There was no use trying to sugar coat things, she was terrified of what he would do conscious.

The water had cleaned away the smeared blood, so when the bandages dropped, it was easy to see what parts were entirely broken, and what seemed to be squirting juices to activate the arm his body wanted to keep.

In the bag that was Ed's skin, the flesh that had torn until it snapped hung uselessly about the opened inside of him like string cheese. His shoulder looked like ground beef sagging around a white crowning bone. A few of his tendons were dangling out like wires, and much of the socket still seemed to be pulsing in response to his nerve signals.

Careful of the tendons she didn't know what she would do with yet, Pinako began wrapping his skin tightly, the way you would the limb of a mummy. On her third pass, Ed gave his head another quick shake, and his flesh arm slid away from his body.

"He's trying to come around," Pinako said, warning them, but the children became excited.

"He's going to wake up!" Alphonse cheered, sounding overcome with hopeful relief.

"I don't want him to yet!" Pinako said, struggling to keep her speed. Winry was trying to match it, and it was easier for the girl because Ed's leg could be pivoted and lifted. The shoulder was attached to Ed's torso, and it made things complicated. Pinako knew it would make the injury awful for him.

"Not yet," Pinako whispered, softly to herself. In his body her fingers were masterfully building a cocoon of bandages with thirty years of skill. "Not yet, you little Bean."

Ed's wounds were not yet an hour old, and had secured no clocked medical treatment. The time Ed had spent on the dirt floor of his basement bleeding, in Alphonse's metal arms in the rain, in Pinako's foyer where the armor shoved in the door with Winry screaming, and Pinako cocking her shotgun, meant nothing. The time Ed had spent in bandages, with actual antibiotics was nonexistent.

Before everything started, they were in the kitchen. Winry was sewing while Pinako washed the dinner dishes. They thought Alphonse was the wind, or a wounded animal. Before he reached the house they heard him approaching, and Winry ran to the window with curiosity. When you lived in the country the outdoors became part of you. Winry opened the unlocked door to the rain storm unafraid of the open dark space. She was used to living in the sweet-smelling fields that stretched on forever and at night became black ink blotted outlines of land and sky.

Pinako had suspected nothing more than a maimed possum, but in their doorway was a towering suit of armor framed by a lightning storm. Holding Ed's mangled body it looked like a monster, and Winry ran from it screaming in fear.

In hindsight, Pinako realized she wasn't sure what was at the door when she went for the gun. With Winry screaming that way, she didn't need to see it, she only felt the need to shoot it.

In their foyer Alphonse dropped to his knees on the entry mat soaking up Ed's raining blood. He was begging them to help and cradling Ed like a stillborn. There was a time, as this happened, that Pinako was certain she didn't know what was going on, or what was going to happen. From the back room Den was barking viciously, and clutching her head in hysterics Winry had backed into the wall stiff with horror.

It wasn't until Pinako had Alphonse's metal head behind the front sight of her shotgun that Winry somehow recognized his voice. She silenced, and it was her abrupt composure that stopped Pinako from pulling the trigger.

With eyes painfully wide Winry stared up at the armor, shaking as if with seizure, and muttered a small soft, "Alphonse?" before fainting into a heap on the floor.

Alphonse lumbered past Winry as if he didn't see her. In a kneeling crawl he groveled his way to Pinako crying harder than she'd ever heard someone cry. She dropped the gun and slipped to her rear with his advance. The thumping of his knees into the floorboards was a Big Bass drum, and Ed was so slick with blood he was trying to slide out of the armor's arms.

When Alphonse made it to Pinako, he dropped Ed directly into her lap. He deposited Ed by opening his arms and letting the boy go, and because Ed was a child and she was a woman, she naturally closed her arms around him. In a moment that wasn't more than human instinct, she took to him, and held him.

She remembered thinking, in an absent emotionless way, that Trisha's eldest boy was dead. That something had attacked him, and she tucked Ed's head to her neck and pressed her face into his wet hair with abject sadness. He was only eleven, and what a cruel fate and struggle he had owned to reach it. Then she felt a hint, just the smallest hint, of body heat beneath the ice of the rain and blood. Instead of the shameless cold of death, turning his fingers into rubbery grubs, and his lips into blue streaks, there was something very similar to a small perseverant flame inside him. He was trying to keep himself warm. With his body cut open, smeared with dirt, wet with rain, and leaking so fast he was all but gone…there was still enough basic function working to try and keep him warm.

Pinako had curled her arms about Ed the way she had her infant son. The way she had done with Winry when the girl was born, when Ed was born, and when Alphonse was born. Breaking into a chest rattling cry she staggered to her feet, the armor completely forgotten, and ran to the bathroom with him. She tried to save him.

She plunged four needles into Ed's thigh while ripping bandages open with her teeth. Using a powder designed for automail surgery she dumped it over his wounds. It hit like baking flour, but instantly stopped the bleeding. Then she wrapped him quickly, temporarily, and filled the tub.

The armor crawled after her, but was too weak with hysterics, even in that body, to participate. She tied Ed's waist in a towel, tucked another behind his head, and left him in a few inches of warm water, before running back to Winry. She needed the girl to help. If this was going to work, she was going to need two pairs of hands.

Nearly twenty-five minutes later Ed was turning his head from side to side with his breathing labored and wheezed where he lay in the guest bed. His face was a torrent of emotion, twisting together as if he were trying to sneeze. His right eye opened a sliver, facing Pinako, and for a moment the gold color of his iris, like the glowing sun of his life energy, was visible. Then his eyes rolled back and they bulged like white mushrooms.

"He's breathing really fast, but he's breathing okay!" Winry cried, hugging the severed stump of Ed's leg to tighten the bandages before she tapped them down. "Alphonse he's breathing okay!" Winry cheered.

"Thank you!" Alphonse said, still crying. "Just please help him!" He stepped aside, trying to give them more room, but his head knocked the sole hanging light bulb in the guest bedroom. It went swinging illuminating Ed's pale face and bleeding body in a blinking light.

"How's the leg doing?" Pinako asked, sealing her own bandages. She looked down to Winry for an assessment, and Winry was examining her work with critical concern. If they were able to stop things from bleeding long enough to let him clot up, there was a chance.

"He's bleeding too much by me. I've got him layered but it's not enough!" Winry said, with panic. "We need to get an IV on him, this is taking too long!" She couldn't be more right.

"Dust the bandages with some of our powder," Pinako ordered, pointing to the door. They did not have miscellaneous medical equipment and supplies sitting all over the house. It was politely kept and organized in their Post Surgical, and Surgical room. Although her business was also her home, her home did not have to look like a business, and Pinako took this seriously.

Winry looked startled with this order and hesitated. The powder wasn't good for Ed's wounds; it stopped bleeding but slowed healing.

"Don't stand there gawking at me, girl!" Pinako snapped. "Go!

Winry left the bed in a full speed run, and Alphonse backed away from her the way you backed from a harmless bug a fraction of your size simply because it was moving. His head hit the light bulb again and the blinking was too much. Pinako felt it as dramatically as a siren going on and off. The strobe effect was sickening.

"Alphonse! Can't ya stand still!"

"I'm sorry!" Alphonse cried, trying to stop the bulb with his massive hands.

"Don't touch it, boy! You'll probably break it!" Pinako yelled, moving to Ed's leg and unwrapping Winry's bandages. Winry had used their own design of pressure materials and wraps, and the dressing was impressive. If Ed's leg had been manually removed, or even the result of a farming accident, the bandages would have been enough…but this was something different. This was something nefarious, as if a living thing had gobbled up Ed's leg, gnawing and licking, and enjoying the taste. The wound had damage as if the leg were bitten and held while something whipped its head back and forth, tearing through, and jerking Ed's body around like a meat doll until it got what it wanted.

The fresh smell of raw injury and blood again wafted into the room when Pinako peeled everything back off, and she was glad Alphonse couldn't smell it. Ed's stink was powerful. It turned the room because he had two open wounds instead of one, and those wounds were large in size. You only needed one sniff to sense the danger level. To believe that something was mutilated and leaking in a way that may not be saved. Ed's age made this throat clenching. He was not a controlled surgery. This was not an amputation. He was dying, right now, as surely as he was alive he was dying, and they were interrupting that process and stopping it.

Alphonse would have been sick. Pinako was used to the smell of human and so was Winry. Their experience made this manageable, because they recognized the natural odor of open tissue somewhere inside the unnatural wet and potent stench consuming Ed. It was a foreign vicious agent, and without any evidence, Pinako was certain this smell was the only trace left of the culprit who had done this to him.

"We're going to have to take him in," Pinako said softly, speaking to herself. "Instate him and everything," she said, feeling the reality of this settling over her.

She was not talking about taking Ed into her home, that had already been done. Hohenheim had left, and Trisha had died. It was a quick death, but even with a quick death there was time, and Trisha understood her body was giving out and she was leaving her children behind. Pinako had known Trisha for almost two decades. She saw the house go up, the garden go in, and they were neighbors. They shared recipes, swapped sewing and co-owned farming supplies. Soon Trisha was pregnant, and Pinako helped with the birth. Then Trisha was pregnant again, and Pinako again helped with the birth. Edward was only one year the night Alphonse was born, and Ed cried through the entire thing. He could sense the unrest in the house with the adults moving about, and the doctor coming and going. Hohenheim had been worried, and lapsed into a silent vigil of his wife. Alphonse's birth was hard and long on Trisha, and lasted many hours.

When it was all over Pinako carried Ed to Trisha. She was in bed barely awake, and holding her newborn. Smiling faintly, Trisha took Ed in the other arm and Ed stopped crying as soon as his mother held him. The moment where the two Elric brothers met was one of Pinako's favorite baby shower stories. Dazed from hours of crying, Ed took one indifferent look at Alphonse's bundled infant self, and pushed the boy aside to rest more comfortably. Pinako had laughed good and hard.

Trisha cherished her children. Her love went out to the boys, and so when she was near death, with her body losing color, and her mind starting to wander, she had clung to Pinako's hand, in desperation, and in heartbreaking sadness and whispered, "Take care of them, won't you? My boys."

Trisha slipped away in her sleep, with Edward and Alphonse sitting alongside her in bed reading to each other. They didn't notice when the soft sound of Trisha's breath stopped, and as children, they didn't notice Trisha's slight but significant change in temperature. Pinako only knew she left the boys in bed with Trisha resting, went out to weed the Elric garden, and when she came back, Trisha had passed.

Keeping herself composed Pinako took both boys by the hand and led them to the hall before closing Trisha's bedroom door. Then she knelt, with them waiting patiently, and Alphonse still holding his book of rhymes and said, "Boys, listen to me carefully." It had taken all of her strength. "Your mother is sleeping now, and this time, she is not going to wake up."

They understood this, as much as children could, and started to cry. They cried for days, and weeks. They moved out of their house and into the Rockbells. She took care of them the way she had promised Trisha she would. She kept them clean, fed them, tucked them in at night, and made sure they kept their studies. So it was now not a question of taking Ed into her home, because that had been done. Rather, it was taking him into rehabilitation. This was not the flu. This was not chickenpox, or a spring cold. She could not simply insist he wear more sweaters, give him two tablespoons of something, or apply medicated ointment. He was injured in a life-threatening and life-changing way, and she did not think she could appropriately care for him without the proper resources and routines.

Standing alongside her guest bed thinking, Pinako realized if they were in any other profession, she would be running to the next farm, borrowing the wagon, and loading the children in so they could get to a doctor. She understood that Resembool's clinic wouldn't be enough. That Ed would be sent via train to Central, for better initial care, before being transferred back. He was not just a sick boy, he was now severely handicapped, and to an extent where he would not be able to care for himself for some time.

Pinako looked up at Alphonse, her expression strained with the weight of it all, and her gray hair springing free of her tie in frizzy bouncy coils about her face. She considered him as she tried to get her mind straight. There were two big things happening tonight, and while the first was Ed being instated into rehabilitation, the second was the suit of armor they were inheriting.

"Alphonse," Pinako said, voice soft, as if waking from a dream. "Are you…okay in there?" she asked. Since Alphonse had not been the one bleeding to death, she had barely even looked at him. Now she thought about what could be inside the armor, and was scared to even ask. "Are…you hurt at all?" she asked. She didn't think he was actually wearing it but, in understanding he might not be, she didn't know what to think.

Alphonse moved slightly with her question. His body shifted, as if he were utterly stunned, and then he answered in a soft frail tone, "Yeah…I'm okay I guess."

"You sure?" Pinako asked. She didn't know how the hell he could be.

"Yeah," Alphonse said, giving a few nods. "Yeah I don't…really…feel much at all." He sounded surprised, as if he also hadn't given his state of existence much thought. "Isn't that funny?" he asked, sounding terrified. He lifted his hands slowly and looked down at them. "I am in the armor."

Winry came back looking as if a box of baking soda had exploded around her. Sniffling she walked quickly to Pinako and extended the prepared bandages and explained simply with, "I dropped the powder."

Pinako didn't comment. She took the bandages and applied them gently to Ed's open wounds and Winry began wrapping the dressing back together. They both knew this would stop the bleeding and that was important.

"Winry, we're going to move Ed into Post Surgical and instate him," Pinako said, watching Winry tightly seal Ed's leg. Winry's hands slowed for a moment, but in a way it seemed that Winry not only agreed, but almost expected this, and she gave a soft understanding nod. "As soon as his leg is done we'll move him and get him set up."

"Okay," Winry said, before looking up when Ed moaned a soft sound. It was miserable, and deeply set in his throat. Pinako recognized it. It was one of Ed's disagreeing groans of reluctant compliance, and it meant only one thing: He did not like his situation. The last time she had heard it, his mud speckled self was refusing to take a bath, and she had promised he would regret disobeying her. Edward, you march that thin self of yours up to the tub before I wear it thin enough to see through!

Winry leapt with hope when Ed made noise. "Grandma!" Winry cried, moving up to the headboard. Alphonse also stepped closer and spoke to Ed. "Ed, can you hear us!"

"Nii-san, are you waking up!"

Pinako nipped this in the bed. "Stop it!" she snapped, startling both children. "Don't talk to him, I don't want him waking up," she said firmly, before turning to Alphonse. "Now Alphonse, come here," she said, beckoning Alphonse to her before looking to Winry and pointing to the door. "Grab me a kit from the first Post Surgical bed," she said, and Winry left running for it. The thought of feeding her adopted nephew into their post automail surgery procedure was starting to make Pinako ill, and she felt the bitter sarcasm she wielded only after a few drinks rising within her. "Alphonse, I need to fit your brother with two very important things, an IV and a catheter, and you might have to help me," she said. She couldn't have Winry helping to keep Ed still. Even more disturbing than her granddaughter working on an adult male penis, was her granddaughter working on that of a young boy. Alphonse squeaked a small sound of alarm and held his hands to his breast-plate as if in panic. "Good," she said, as if this response were favorable. She was going to pretend it was to keep herself sane.

Ed suddenly came to enough to recognize her voice, and in a low rasped tone, he called to her. "Granny?" Ed was almost too quiet to hear. "Mom?"

Alphonse rushed to Ed's side when he spoke. "Nii-san!" Alphonse cheered.

"Dammit, Alphonse!" Pinako said. "Don't talk to him!"

Alphonse didn't even hear this. He was so thrilled with Ed's return to consciousness, and life, Pinako went unnoticed. "Nii-san, it's okay! You're going to be okay! You're not going to die after all!"

Winry returned carrying a sealed white plastic bag of sterile goods, and stopped dead on sight of Alphonse talking to Ed. Standing in her damp blood splattered summer dress her expression went stoic before she realized Ed was awake, and then she ran to his side.

Pinako snatched the bag from Winry's arms and opened it, while talking to the girl. "Winry, don't speak to him. Don't do anything to help him wake up!"

"Ed's waking up?" Winry asked, voice a soft disbelieving whisper. She leaned forward to better see Ed's face and Alphonse's massive metal arm brushed her shoulder. Immediately she recoiled as if Alphonse was hot, and squeaked a sound of alarm.

Alphonse didn't feel the touch, and he didn't so much as notice Winry's response. He reached to Ed and tried to touch the boy. His massive hand was big enough to close around Ed's head and crush it. Carefully with just one finger, Alphonse nudged Ed's chest a bit, before tapping at the oxygen mask on Ed's face while talking. This was enough to cause Ed's eyes to flutter open, bloodshot and swollen.

Ed returned to a world of light so bright he could barely see, and pain that took him completely. Alphonse's voice was somewhere in the mix, and Ed whispered a brief, "Alphonse?" before beginning the quick shallow breathing of someone in severe pain. Pinako began cursing under her breath with Ed whining Alphonse's name and blinking his eyes as if blind.

Pinako pushed past Winry and took ownership of the bed. Ed was moving his flesh hand in frantic grabbing motions as if looking for something he'd lost, and Pinako took it in a tight loving grasp. "Ed? Can you hear me?" she asked, speaking slow and calm.

Ed was becoming aware of their voices. He turned his head to Pinako, and his eyes were struggling to find her. They were squinting tightly as if he were fighting to see in a dark room. "Granny?" Ed said, continuing to escalate. "Granny!" Ed's eyes came to fix on Pinako. Swollen from his tears, they looked hot as if stung by bees.

"Quiet now," Pinako said softly. "Lay still, Ed." Gently Pinako replaced Ed's hand at his side. He was beginning to shake as if his body were malfunctioning, and she had to believe on some level that was true. As it checked off its systems it was going to note a serious change in mass, and that many circuits were no longer responding.

"My…" Ed said softly before breaking into an ongoing shutter with the letter M. "M-m-m-m-m." Ed closed his eyes struggling. He abandoned speech for a good ten seconds with his expression dissolving into an exaggerated wince before crying a soft and clear, "Ow." He inhaled deeply and opened his eyes again. He began crying universal complaints of pain and Pinako couldn't be sure how coherent he was. She was hoping barely at all.

"You'll be all right," Pinako said kindly. "You're going to be okay, Ed. We've given you some medicine." This was true. She had given him antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxers, and as much pain medication as she dared. "Now you need to lay still Ed. I have to finish taking care of you, you're in bad shape." Ed's hand moved to his face and rubbed it before shoving his oxygen mask off so he could cover his mouth when he began whining. He had no composure, and was worse than Pinako had ever seen him. He was whining like a violin, in high-pitched, wobbling notes that would have ashamed him. He sounded like a small wounded animal, and Pinako thought of a lamb, born too soon, or hit by farming equipment. Looking terrified he was trying to curl himself together but only had two limbs left and a body in such agony it wouldn't participate.

"Ed, stay lying still," Pinako said, assembling the equipment she wanted. "You're not wearing anything under your towel." Ed wasn't hearing her. He arched his back and attempted to roll to the side. With his single hand covering his face he started bawling.

If this had been any other patient, Winry would have immediately intervened to keep them complacent, but instead she looked stricken with shock. She was clutching her fresh glove covered hands to her chest. Her tiny face looked drained to the core, as if she'd been sick, sick for weeks, and was now struggling to even stand. Pinako had to stop her work to correct Ed's position, towel, and oxygen mask, and she gave Winry a sharp look.

"Winry!" Pinako snapped, starling the girl. Winry was frozen in place watching Ed's unrecognizable suffering. "I need your help." Winry's eyes widened. "You understand, I need it!"

Winry began shaking her head irrationally. "No way, I can't!" she cried, covering her ears with her hands. Winry was horrified by the suggestion she apply her medical studies to the boy she was currently crushing on. The love triangle between Pinako's granddaughter and, what Pinako comically referred to as, her adopted nephews, moved from week to week. Which one she loved more, and which one paid most attention to her. For some sick reason the boys were part of this, and there seemed to be a mutual understanding of competition and prize for Winry's flippant attention. Since the boys had left on their training Ed had written Winry a few mushy letters, and the girl had promoted him over Alphonse for the third time that month.

"I can't do this to Ed!" Winry cried, squeezing her eyes tight. In her mind she couldn't insert Ed into her automail training and routines! It was unthinkable! She couldn't do those things to him! Ed was not a patient, he was Ed! She couldn't help dress him, or feed him, or bathe him! Her mind went to a blank space. She couldn't do it!

Winry began backing slowly from the bed. "Don't make me!" she begged, breaking into tears. "Don't make me, I can't!"

Pinako slapped her hand down on Ed's mattress and snarled out, "Don't be stupid, girl! You know better than that!" Winry was crying. "When those you love are hurt, you help them! Do you want him in pain like this?" Pinako thrust a hand out to Ed who was floating near consciousness, and coming to understand they were yelling. "My god, look at him! Are you really going to deny him care!"

"I'm not trying to!" Winry wailed.

"This is not the Rockbell way Winry," Pinako scolded harshly. "I taught you better than that, and who else is supposed to help me!" She pointed to Alphonse, the boy she didn't want touching her light bulbs, the boy who had just ripped up their bathroom doorway. "Really!" she asked angrily. "Really, Winry!"

Ed dragged his hand off his face and looked at Pinako. His vision was fuzzy but suddenly he understood the old woman was there and Winry was nearby crying. "Where," Ed muttered, voice soft and raspy. "I am?...I'm dead," Ed said, reaching a conclusion. Heads turned. "I…" Everyone silenced, and Pinako stared at Ed with wide-eyed shock. "This is decomposition?" Ed asked, slurring his words with the medication in his system. His eyes drifted upward, towards the light bulb. "I thought…it would…hurt more." Ed was breathing heavily into his oxygen mask and Pinako stared at the boy. She couldn't believe what she was seeing.

"Ed, I'm going to get you settled and put you under," Pinako said. Ed swallowed repeatedly while staring at the light in a disoriented consciousness. "Winry! Since you're not going to help me, you're going to make Alphonse do it!" Pinako yelled accusingly, trying to guilt the girl into usefulness. She gave Winry a disapproving look while unpacking the small sterile kit. Winry only cried harder, shaking her head and covering her face. "He's inexperienced! You have practice!" she yelled, attaching tubes for an IV and sitting down on the bed. "He's not qualified, you're a trained professional!"

"I didn't know those people! I can't do it!" Winry cried. Pinako completed unraveling the IV packaging and set it aside before grabbing the blue sterile wrapping of a catheter and Winry lost it.

"No, Grandma! I can't do this to him!" Winry cried, beginning to hop in place with her panic. Pinako beckoned Alphonse closer. The first order of instating the boy was getting him care their hired Rockbell services would have provided, and the guest bedroom was going to have to serve.

Alphonse leaned closer to Ed, eager to comfort him, and set his weight onto the mattress the way you might kneel on the edge of a bed. It was a harmless common action, but Alphonse's weight created a pivot point, and tipped the mattress almost completely vertical.

Ed cried out in fright with the sudden lifting sensation, and slid down the angled bed and into Alphonse's metal thigh. Pinako was tossed to the floor, and Winry broke out screaming.

Alphonse jumped back from the bed, tossing his body away with sharp momentum he couldn't control. In giant lumbering steps he tromped backwards with Winry running to the other side of the room, until he hit the wall. To his right a small framed picture of Winry's first embroidery, a tiny lamb standing next to a flower, fell to the floor and smashed.

The mattress, with the removal of Alphonse's weight, fell back and flopped into the bed frame with Ed still on top of it looking absolutely horrified.

Ed didn't understand what just happened, and broke a few terrified screams, with his eyes fully open and staring up at the light bulb in such a way Pinako would have worried about his sight if she had time to worry about anything so inconsequential when whole limbs were missing.

For Ed, the world of intense bright light had flipped over on itself, and he wasn't sure where he was, who was with him, or what was going on. His body was in agony, and he broke out crying for help, voice full of desperation. He screamed for Alphonse, repeatedly.

"Grandma! You're scaring him!" Alphonse said, rushing back to the bed and laying his huge hand on Ed's chest. Pinako pushed herself up as fast as she was able. Something about how easily Alphonse had punctured their safety had her rattled to her core. "I'm right here, Nii-san." Alphonse's palm flattened Ed's chest, and Ed silenced when the air was evacuated from his lungs, and began hacking for it. Alphonse ripped his hand back startled. To him the strength he had applied was normal, and he had sensed no part of Ed being injured. The only thing he understood was resistance under his palm, but this wasn't the case. He was flattening his brother, and his eyes saw this happening!

"Look what I did!"Alphonse cried, sounding devastated. "I'm sorry!"

Pinako was horrified with how quickly chaos had reared its head and taken over. She felt the need to run from it, and began wrapping the towel over the bed onto Ed. "Winry this room is no good!" she said. "I'm moving him to post surgical now!" She had thought, for a moment, something as quaint as the guest bedroom would suffice, and now she felt a fool. She kept everything for rehabilitation in one spot for a reason, and that reason was: it just didn't work strewn about in an unorganized fashion. Ed needed medical care, and he belonged where it was given. "Now!" Pinako snapped. "I mean right now!"

Winry responded to this with a single step towards the door. Her face was taut with stress and white as china.

Pinako tucked the towel up about Ed's body the way she would an infant and lifted him carefully into her arms. He was delusional, albeit awake in some fashion. He groaned once before breaking a quick sob, but otherwise, hung motionless in her arms. He weighed far too little without his limbs, and curled together as though he registered his damage even while barely conscious.

Pinako carried Ed down the hall to the discrete doorway of Surgical and Post Surgical. You passed it just as you exited the front living room and into the back kitchen. It was a narrow inconspicuous door, and that was how Pinako liked it. As it was they carried their work with them into the house. The sink constantly had automail parts mixing with the dishes, and Winry preferred to study and blend medicines at the kitchen counter and not the table they had dedicated to it in Surgical. It was hard to separate your engineering self from the rest of you, but she did her best, and the small unassuming door in her hall led from her quaint farm house into a white world of sterile expensive equipment.

Surgical was on the right, and Post Surgical was on the left. Surgical was a narrow rectangular room, while Post Surgical was a fat square with two beds, each costing as much as an entire automail surgery. It had taken Pinako years in her career to rival big city care and the innovation of Rush Valley, but she was certainly competitive. With Post Surgical housing two beds, they could have two short-term care, or rehabilitating patients at one time, and this meant a lot when it came to income.

Each bed had its own nightstand, dresser, lavatory, and privacy curtain which was capable of surrounding it. Down to the finest detail the room was constructed to aid and enable automail patients with generous amounts of space for wheelchairs, lifts, trays, and support rails along the walls, near doors, and heavily concentrated along the beds for patients who could get up and down themselves but needed the use of their arms for help. The supplies for each bed cost the worth of five appendages, and each lavatory as much as two automail surgeries.

Pinako went directly to the first bed with Ed in her arms. In the first lavatory doorway it looked as if someone had hurled a bucket of chalk into the ground where Winry dropped their blood clotting powder. The girl's small footprints were visible walking through it several times, and traveled in and out of the room in soft white marks of dust before becoming soggy white smears as she met the wet hallway floor.

Winry ran around Pinako when the old woman nearly crashed into the side of the first bed and lowered Ed into it as carefully as a sleeping infant. "I do too want to help him!" Winry screamed, sounding hysterical. "I'm trying!" Ed was squirming with his pain and for the moment didn't know anything. Pinako made an effort to keep his towel on him. "If we're going to instate him I can help!" Winry said, sounding desperate, pleading to be involved when she was the only one removing herself.

"Then do it!" Pinako snapped. She had tucked the plastic bag under her arm and she emptied it into the side of the bed at Ed's side. "We're putting him in as if he was ours! So follow protocol Winry!" These directions gave Winry a familiar outline, and she broke into action.

Alphonse stepped into Post Surgical looking around in a moment of fascination, because the boys had never been allowed through the door. It was always locked, and if the Rockbells had patients visiting, they had to play outside or stay upstairs in their room. If the patient was there for extended stay, as they often were, then they had to be out of sight while the patient was cared for. They never knew what happened inside this room, and they never saw the patients allowed to go into it. Pinako said this was out of respect and privacy to their customers. 'Paying customers don't want a bunch of kids gawking at them while they're in pain,' she had said firmly.

Rockbell Automail prided itself on recognizing a form of patient freedom and patient rights that was not customary for traditional medicine. Even in Rush Valley, the pioneer of automail expansion, after you accepted your mechanic, you were at their mercy. Hospitals and medical staff, when involved, took the orders of your mechanic over your own. This was considered medically sensible, but erased patient right of choice, a concept coined by sparse radical engineers of the new generation, but a concept Pinako had always driven.

The ability for a patient to express views which were given any level of priority was not current practice in Amestris. Medicine was still the historically honored trade it had always been, and patients were to be grateful for their care and recognize their ignorance. While Pinako found this a stuffy and outdated approach, not many agreed with her, and therefore all hospitals and clinics followed the same.

Automail at the turn of the century was the first field beginning to offer differentiating medical rights to patients, and this was largely due to the extreme variation found in both mechanics, and procedure. Not all Automail surgery was the same. Limb surgery was different from that of partial limb, and unlike the remainder of human surgery, which repeated anatomical procedures with a single surgeon conductor, Automail patients were engrossed participants and in many ways their own doctors. The simple traits of age and gender changed things dramatically. A grown man having part of his leg, or a foot replaced, wanted his opinions incorporated into his care, and that was Rockbell reputation. Patient Freedom, and a Restrain-Free setting. These luxuries had cost them, in effort and finance, but Pinako believed in them, and she taught Winry the same.

"Wow, we've never been in here before," Alphonse said, expressionless but sounding a bit mesmerized by the sudden white and cold environment void of country plaid curtains, porcelain chicken decal, and aged family photos that made the Rockbell home warm. Post Surgical was absent of anything which dictated time or gender. It was simply a wooden room, white washed on every wall and cluttered with medical automail equipment.

Alphonse looked slightly uncomfortable as he crept in watching them. Winry had become a focused worker bee, and at lightning speed she had pulled the privacy curtain to split the room, and opened Ed's nightstand. It was freshly packed and waiting for a patient. Everything they needed was inside, and Winry pulled out a blue paper gown and tied it on before sitting a plastic bin of supplies, and box of rubber gloves, on the bed where Ed was crying. He wasn't wailing, or even sobbing, but he was breathing and whining as if in seizure, and Pinako had to believe his trauma was eroding him so efficiently, he couldn't even cry properly.

Winry was putting together an IV at the age of eleven. Her small child fingers were flying over the drip chamber, roller, and tubing, and she hung the fluid bag on the metal pole permanently extending upward from the headboard of Bed One, now to be Edward's, and then moved to Ed's wrist.

Ed wasn't aware someone was touching him, but he was aware he no longer had free use of his arm and yanked it free growing louder.

Winry flinched back, and looked to Pinako who stood at the end of the bed constructing the catheter. "Grandma!" Winry said, yelling with an accusatory tone as if Ed wasn't cooperating on purpose. "What are we going to do with him moving like this!" Pinako glanced up for only a second and continued unwrapping the catheter tube with her hands in sterile gloves. "I don't want to restrain him, can't you give him something to calm him down?"

"Give him what?" Pinako snapped. She wasn't aware of when her head began thudding in a migraine of a headache with each heartbeat, but she was becoming increasingly aware of it now.

"Something!" Winry cried, grabbing Ed's wrist and trying to hold it steady so she could disinfect it.

"If I told you the dosages I gave him, even you would scold me, Winry." Pinako shook her head before leaning forward and grabbing Ed's flesh ankle. "Edward! You settle down, you hear me!" she said, raising her voice into a strict tone of warning he was familiar with. "Lay yourself still!"

"I need to get Alphonse back! He went into the circle!" Ed cried, shaking his head where he lay. "It ate him! The circle ate him!" Pinako regretting talking to Ed at once. While most of his hysterics came as incoherent noise before, he was now babbling out words and phrases. "She wasn't going to be that way! Mom! I left her there!"

Winry dropped Ed's arm and stepped back in fear, and Pinako felt herself still as well.

"I left her home!" Ed cried. "Mom came! But!"

In the commotion of it all, Pinako realized she never stopped to ask how. How did Ed become so injured? Why was Alphonse in the armor? Why were the boys in Resembool when she thought they were in Dublith?

"Alphonse," Pinako said, lowering her voice into a soft but powerful whisper. "Just what the hell were you boys doing before you came here?"

Alphonse squeaked a guilty sound of panic and the metal head began shaking.

Ed was losing his mind. He grabbed his right shoulder bandages with his left arm and started crying loudly. "This is not the—just can't be this way! Don't take my brother!" Pinako could swear she felt her body temperature dropping, and Winry started bawling alongside the bed with Ed suffering so intently.

"You tried to transmute your mother!" Pinako snapped, turning accusingly to the armor. Its entire body was rattling, and she didn't know what that meant. "Alphonse! Did you do it! Did you try to transmute your mother!" She wasn't a fool to alchemy. She lived next to the Elric boys and had known Hohenheim for years. She knew what human transmutation was, and she knew why it was the taboo that it was. "For god's sake!" she said, feeling the color drain out of her face. "For god's sake, Alphonse!"

"We're sorry!" Alphonse wailed. He grabbed his metal head and squeezed in such a way Pinako was scared it would crunch inward like a tin can. "We're sorry! We're sorry!"

"Where did you do it!" Pinako yelled. "At the house!" She flung a pointing finger toward the window where the rain was pouring and the lightening coming periodically. "This close to us!" She was terrified something so dangerous was placed right next to her and Winry. It was learning a bomb was set and they were never told. "What in god's name is the matter with you!"

"We're sorry!" Alphonse cried, and his voice was sobbing hysterically in the armor. Coupled with Ed and Winry's crying, Pinako felt the walls closing in on her.

The rest of the world was drifting away, and there was only them, their home, the Elric home, and the storm. Without her mind working her mouth spoke calmly to Winry and Pinako said, "Winry, please go get the Sherry from the kitchen pantry, and bring it to me."

Winry left the room to do so, head tilted back, sobbing loudly.

Pinako went to Ed's bedside and took hold of his spindly arm. She held it flat, rubbed it up and down with a cotton ball dripping with betadine solution and attached the IV. She taped it down firmly, more firmly than she would with an adult, and then pulled the Velcro restraint made for the left hand up onto the bed. Automail surgery was dangerous, with patients who violently flailed limbs which weighted fifty to a hundred pounds, so there were many restraints provided on an automail bed. Though they preferred not to use them, she no longer believed full safety could be obtained without them. She cuffed Ed's arm firmly in place, and then drew a second belt over his chest and forced him snug to the mattress. Ed didn't understand this and for that she was glad. Against her better judgment she filled a needle with something strong, to put him under, and with him crying and speaking nonsense she poked it into the side of his little right cheek and he was out before Winry returned.

Winry walked back into the room, dragging her feet against the floor in misery. She had their dishrag pressed to her face, and was scrubbing it right and left, but dropped it on sight of Ed completely unconscious. "What!" she cried, rushing quickly to the bed with the bottle of Sherry in hand. "What! What! What happened!" Winry gestured to the IV she had been constructing, and then the two restraints before lifting her gaze to Pinako. "Did he become violent, Granny?"

Pinako snorted with bitter humor. As if a boy who was not even eighty pounds, and missing an arm and a leg, could become violent. She pulled the cork on the Sherry and took a swing directly from the bottle. Winry's face contorted with confusion and alarm when this happened.

The Sherry was also known as the Christmas Sherry, or the Easter Sherry, because Pinako didn't drink much. She had when she was younger, and she had when she was starting the business, but now she took care of her granddaughter, and there was no reason to. The party days were over, and this was a new stage of life, a quiet and more focused stage.

Winry was stunned with Pinako's behavior, and once again her jaw was hanging open. "Should…" Winry said softly. "Should I have gotten something stronger?"

Pinako didn't think at a time like this she could laugh, but she felt herself choke into the Sherry bottle during her second swig and then she was almost roaring with it. Winry stared, the detached and shell-shocked stare of a traumatic event victim, and Alphonse continued crying.

Pinako laughed herself into tears and then all at once they felt real and she was frightened with them. She couldn't start crying in front of the children. They'd be terrified. So she pulled it together. She pulled it together the way she had in the kitchen when she hung up the phone, knowing her son and daughter-in-law were then dead, and Winry came trotting in wearing one of her mother's old hats and gloves, with a tiny teapot in one hand and asked if she was okay.

"Everything is going to be fine," Pinako said softly, voice a bit raspy with the tears that had threatened to come. She cleared her throat and shared a sharp glance between Winry and Alphonse. Winry regained strength and hope with this statement, but Alphonse was an echoing banshee.

"Is Nii-san going to die!" Alphonse wailed.

"What!" Pinako snapped angrily. Winry had the exact same response, but her exclamation sounded horrified, as if Ed's death hadn't even occurred to her.

"Is Nii-san going to die!" Alphonse repeated. "He was bleeding everywhere! I couldn't stop it! I didn't even have time to see mom! I came straight here! And look at him!" Alphonse lifted both arms out and indicated the bed with all of him shaking. "He's dying!"

"No one is going to die!" Pinako yelled, raising her voice and making it powerful. "Ain't no one ever died in my office, ain't no one dying today!" Reference of Ed's death was not what stood out to her in Alphonse's words. "Now you get yourself together you clanking tin can! Winry knows what she's doing and I'm putting her in charge!" It was that other comment. "One thing the Rockbells are good at is impressive patient recovery and Ed will be no exception!" It was that comment about Trisha. "We're going to care for him and tomorrow he'll be in a very different place!" Was Trisha over at the house?

The idea was haunting, and Pinako felt a shiver run through her. She already knew she had to go look, but part of her was scared shitless. What if she looked, just went to her front door and looked, and there was Trisha, standing dead and how the Earth would have spit her out, staring back from the Elric window.

Pinako turned to Winry. Winry was nodding enthusiastically to Alphonse, with her little face fat with misery and her eyes pink from tears. Pinako lowered her voice to a soft kind tone and said, "Winry, you complete paperwork for Ed, do all his initial exams, while I step out," she said, leaving the room. Winry had purpose, and was moving with skillful accuracy, but Alphonse felt blindsided.

"Wait a minute, Granny!" Alphonse cried, running after Pinako. For the better part of this chaos the front door had been left open, and the rain had been blowing in. The area where Alphonse initially arrived was a red puddle too light to be pure blood, but too dark to be largely rain water. That carried down the hall from where it had leaked from his body, and trickling along with it were real splotches and drippings of Ed's blood. Their downstairs lavatory now looked as if someone had dropped a pot of sauce. On the floor where Pinako had first cared for Ed, his limbs wouldn't stop leaking, and against the white tiles the scene was grotesque. Everywhere the Elric boys had been was stained with water and blood, and the smell of it all carried the wet soil from the outdoors, as if death was coming in with them.

"Wait a minute, Granny!" Alphonse said, plowing into the small accent table Pinako had in the hall. He destroyed half of it like a wrecking ball, and three picture frames and a glass figurine toppled off and smashed together about his feet.

Pinako whirled around to the noise and collision of him. She was more than flecked with blood, she looked like a butcher, and much of her was wet from continuously holding Ed's drenched body. "Alphonse!" she yelled, watching him try and get a handle on himself. His feet were too big for him, and he was slipping. He stepped on half of the unbroken figurine and the glass gave a loud pop under his food as it buckled into shards.

"Boy, watch what you're doing!" Pinako ordered angrily. She wasn't worried about damage to the house. They could fix it later. She stalked to the front closet and opened it for a raincoat. "Alphonse, Winry is just a little thing, and you're going to end up stepping on her! You step on my granddaughter, and I'll have ya living in the yard with Den!"

"Granny!" Alphonse cried, crunching over the glass in panic. "Where are you going! You have to help Nii-san!"

Pinako pulled her raincoat on and flipped the hood up. "I did help him. I helped him all I can for the moment. Winry's going to get his vitals and details for us. I don't need to do that. The IV won't let him die, Alphonse, don't worry."

Alphonse looked frazzled, as if somehow in a childish form of fantasy he believed he could carry Ed to them for help, and Ed would magically get better.

"It takes time," Pinako said plainly. "It takes time, Alphonse." She buttoned herself with him standing mute in the hallway and stepped into the open front threshold. "I'm going to get ya things," she said, and he startled. "Stay in the house, and stay with Winry. If she tells you something, you do it," she said, before stepping out and slamming the door behind her.

She couldn't wait. For some reason, she couldn't wait any longer. She had to know what was over there. She had to know what they had done.

Hello and Welcome!

Oh my gosh, I'm so excited to finally be posting this story! THANK YOU ALL who joined the official prescreen 12/20/13, I hope the teaser wet your tongue. This story has been years in the making folks. I always knew this day would come, but somehow "The Big Bang Theory," was always being shuffled between other things I was writing. Also, I think I was a little embarrassed to publicly invade Ed's privacy so harshly…but, "The Silent Heart" got me over it, so here I am.

I sincerely hope you will enjoy this story.

Posting Schedule:

"The Big Bang Theory," is fully completed and 14 chapters, released today 01/01/14. (Yeah!) It will be updated weekly, on Friday, with the exception of chapter three. I know, I'm sorry guys. But chapter two is such a killer, and I want to allow people time to find this story. I really can't wait to release it. If you are new to my penname, this is how I roll. My stories are generally long, they're posted on schedules, and you are generally guaranteed a min of 15 pages a chapter. As a standard I like 20 page chapters, I find that comfortable. This means BBT will conclude 04/11/14…which is perfect for me, because I love to travel, and will be leaving to Japan in April. Unlike in "Foolish For You", you won't have to wait for me to go on vacay and come back, although I'm super proud of myself for updating while in Europe last time. Unofficially, I will probably post one or both of my FMA oneshots upon return, because I have no idea what Tokyo jetlag is going to do to me. …Hm, getting off topic…moving on!


I usually do not make individual story disclaimers, but while BBT is accurately rated T, I worry it may have scenes which feel of a higher rating simply due to the graphic nature of which they are written, so please take note. PM if you have any questions or concerns.

I Ask One Thing Of You:

I ask one favor of you, speaking on the behalf of others.

JOIN and ADHERE to the: Review Revolution.

Membership is free if you list me as your reference, and there is an annual dinner (chicken or veggie selection), it's semi-formal, so it gives you an opportunity to dress up, there is a raffle, open bar only from six to seven, so don't arrive late…I hope you're not believing this, lol. But seriously! On a really serious note…

This entire event really is special.

However long it just took you to read chapter one, is actual time, calculated in minutes, of your life, which you just gave to me – and the time it took me to write it, in actual time, calculated in minutes, is part of my life I gave to you.

We just made a unique and personal transaction – and at present state it is one sided. I wrote, you read, price is paid on my end, please complete your end, and leave a review. If you don't it's a robbery.

I can say honestly I haven't liked every story I've read. Some are really bad, and I would cringe, thinking, what the heck am I going to say to this writer? But I can honestly say, I left some type of review. It's painful sometimes, I sympathize, but I'm honestly making this campaign in hopes for a change in routine, a change in expectation, a change in appreciation. I'm legitimately trying to change your perspective on why reviews are important, why they are necessary, and why, although they seem small and stupid, they are such a tremendous gift.

Please be kind to every writer who supplied something you read, whether you loved it or hated it, and leave a review. Don't be selfish, it only takes a second, feel guilty if you don't. I mean that honestly as well; feel guilty, because even if what they wrote sucked, even if what I just wrote here sucked, I took the time to write it, I had the courage to write it, and that is something that should be recognized.

As the reader, you are the ONLY person who can, and if you don't, it is because you decided not to. You greedily read what was supplied, and decided, not to say thank you, when it is the polite thing to do. In every part of the world, you say thank you, when handed something. We are human in this way.

Join this invisible, fictitious, but well-meaning cause please. : ) [Paste the below into your profile, and follow]

I, ENTER YOUR NAME HERE, do solemnly swear to (try to) review all the fics I enjoy, regardless of the number or reviews, its age, or anything else.

Chapter Two: Trisha, will be posted Friday 01/10/14. I hope to see you there.