Series: Fullmetal Alchemist
Words: 4,783 (30,433 total)
Warnings: Slash, swearing
Status: In Progress
Spoilers: Yes, up till the end of the series.
Summary: Ed and Roy find themselves in the hands of a madman with a vendetta, one with a very unique idea of what constitutes 'Equivalent Exchange.'
Previous Chapters:Prologue - Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6
Jean was afraid.
He stood on the train platform in Central, smoking a cigarette and watching uneasily as the men unloaded the train. Roy sat behind him on a bench, still very easily tired and wrapped up in his own personal misery and anger. It wouldn’t be obvious to the casual observer, but Jean had known Roy far too long not to recognize the signs of thinning patience and barely controlled fury. They had glimpsed Edward briefly when he had been transported from the train to a waiting truck, hanging limply from a guard’s grasp and very likely unconscious.
Or dead, a treacherous voice whispered in the back of his mind, and Jean stamped on it savagely. Thinking like that wouldn’t help anyone, least of all Ed. The sight had a profound effect on Roy, already wracked with guilt, and he’d immediately tried to stomp off after them in spite of he fact that it wouldn’t do anyone any good. His boss usually had better sense than that, but it was obvious that they’d bonded over the course of their captivity, and that Roy was thinking with his heart and not his head. This was a battle that would have to be won with paperwork and the pulling in of old favors.
The reason Jean was afraid, however, had nothing to do with that. It had to do with the sleek black military car that he’d called for, the one that pulled up just now. First, he’d take Roy to the hospital, because in spite of his assertions that it was ‘just a cold,’ Jean felt he needed proper medical care; there could be underlying problems that they weren’t even aware of. After Roy was situated, though, he’d have to go home. Alphonse was waiting there for news, and Jean was going to be forced to tell him the very painful truth.
That was why Jean was afraid. It was going to hurt the kid so much to hear what he had to say, and Jean would give anything not to be the one who had to break his heart like that. What would he say? How did you tell someone that his brother wasn’t dead, but broken, and worst of all that he hadn’t even been able to bring him home like he’d promised? Sighing, he took one last drag of his cigarette before tossing it on the ground and rubbing it out with his foot. "C’mon, our car is here."
The drive to the base hospital passed in silence, both men wrapped up in their worries about two different brothers. Roy finally looked up as they pulled into the parking lot and frowned. "I’m not going to the hospital, Jean."
"Tough shit," Jean replied, not really in the mood to argue with his CO. "You need to get checked out. You look half dead, and even if it isn’t anything serious they can at least give you something for that cough." He parked, looking pointedly at Roy. "You can go willingly, or I can drag you kicking and screaming. Your call."
It looked for just a moment like Roy was going to opt for kicking and screaming, but then he sighed and relented. "Fine," his tone a clear indication that it was anything but. Jean followed him inside, filled out the paperwork, and stayed with him until he was in the grasp of a nurse. He didn’t exactly trust Roy not to make a run for it if left to his own devices.
"I’ve got to go," Jean said, and then continued at the questioning look he received, "Someone’s got to go tell Al."
Roy stopped in his tracks, earning a disgruntled stare from the nurse he’d been following, and said, "I’d completely forgotten about Alphonse. He’s going to be devastated."
"Yeah." There was no sense in denying it. He and Roy shared a look, and Jean decided that he had better leave now or he was going to lose his nerve. "Call me when you’re finished, and I’ll come pick you up," he said and then left without waiting for a reply.
His apartment wasn’t far from the hospital, and it wasn’t long before Jean sat parked outside, staring at the brick facade of his building and doing his level best to steel himself for the encounter. He sat there for nearly ten minutes, arms braced on the steering wheel and running through a thousand different ways to break the news. There was no way to say it, no way to soften the blow, and eventually Jean told himself to man up and get out of the damned car.
In spite of that, he trudged up to his second floor apartment just about as slowly as humanly possible, staring at his feet all the while and feeling like a man going to the gallows. It wasn’t as though he was worried that Al would blame him, because he wasn’t. Mostly, he just couldn’t bear to see that stricken look on his face when they’d all had so much hope. Pulling his keys from his pocket, Jean didn’t even get them to the lock before the door flung open and he was met by an anxious face. "Is he here? Where is he? He isn’t hurt, is he?"
Jean could only blink in the face of the flood of questions, before smiling a little sickly and ushering Al back into the apartment, closing the door behind them. God, he didn’t want to do this. "We found him, both of them," Jean began, wondering belatedly if it was cruel to start with what sounded like good news.
The relief on Al’s face was almost painful to see. "Thank goodness. I thought- I mean, Breda said, but I..." he trailed off, unable to find the words and just shook his head. "Why isn’t he with you? Can I see him?"
Here it comes, Jean thought, taking Al by the shoulders and sitting him down on the couch. "They’re alive," he said, wishing that wasn’t the best news he had. He’d gotten most of the story from Roy on the train back to Central, and it wasn’t pretty. Jean was planning on sparing Al the details if at all possible. "But, Markham did some pretty nasty stuff to your brother."
Face draining of color, Al stared at him with wide eyes. "What happened?"
Steeling himself against that stare, Jean continued. "He’s alive," he repeated, as though that made it better. "Ed though, he’s...a chimera," he blurted, looking away.
Alphonse made a soft sound of horror, and it hurt his heart to hear it. "How bad?" he asked, voice breaking. He sounded like he might cry and Jean really hoped he didn’t, because he didn’t know what to do with people when they cried.
"He’s still mostly human," Jean rushed to assure him, and then realized how horrible that sounded. "I mean, he is still human, he just doesn’t look like--" Jean cut off abruptly, painfully aware that he was making a complete mess of this. "Physically, he looks mostly the same. His eyes are different, and he has some strange...spots." Al said nothing, and Jean risked a look back at him. The boy looked so small and frail, as if he’d just folded in on himself. "I talked to him, a little. It wasn’t easy for him --talking I mean-- but he still seemed okay." That was a lie, really. Ed had seemed far from okay, but at least he was still capable of human thought, that had to count for something, didn’t it? "Mustang seems to think he’ll be all right with time," he finished lamely, unsure what to say. He was no alchemist, and he didn’t know the first thing about chimera.
"I want to see him" Al said, the words barely audible. Then, stronger, "I need to see him."
"You can’t," Jean said quietly, feeling like it was all his fault even though there was nothing he could have done. "They took him into custody, because they said he was dangerous. But don’t worry!" he rushed on, desperate to offer some sort of reassurance. "Mustang won’t let them keep him. We’ll get him back."
Alphonse seemed to just crack, something behind his eyes shattering and before Jean even realized what happened he found himself with an armful of sobbing Elric. Unsure what to do and feeling a little like crying himself, Jean rubbed small circles on his back, murmuring words he hoped were comforting, and knowing there was nothing he could do to make it better.
He awoke to the sterile, antiseptic smell of a hospital. It was almost overpowering, and Ed wrinkled his nose in distaste as he opened his eyes, peering around in bleary confusion. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the light, and when they did he realized it was no hospital. Slowly, he sat upright, limps heavy and sluggish as he tried to figure out where he was and how he’d gotten there.
The room was peculiar. It was small, square, and very white, nothing inside but the bed he sat on and a toilet in one corner. The bed had thick leather restraints, the sight of which made him nervous even though they weren’t currently in use. It looked very much like an asylum to Ed’s mind, and the thought was not a comforting one. They couldn’t mean to lock him away for the rest of his days like some sort of lunatic, could they? No, no. Roy would never allow that. Never. Shoving away the uneasiness with sheer force of will, Ed returned to his perusal of the room.
The most striking feature was the large mirror on one wall, and Ed stared at the ragged creature looking back at him in shock. That couldn’t be him, could it? Slowly, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and got a bit shakily to his feet, approaching the mirror slowly. Bracing his hand against the cool glass, Ed stared. His eyes. They weren’t the familiar gold he was used to seeing, but instead a sort of yellow-amber. It shouldn’t be so different really, but it was. An animal’s eyes.
Shuddering, Ed wrenched his gaze away, studying other elements of his appearance and being careful not to look himself in the eye. Beyond his eyes, he looked almost normal. No claws or ears or fur, nothing twisted or deformed, just a man. A thin man, pale and ragged and looking like he belonged on a street corner begging for change, but a man regardless, and Ed realized that was nothing short of a miracle. He was very nearly a perfect human chimera.
Human. Ed snorted, darkly amused. He could hardly lay claim to that title anymore. Pushing away from the mirror, Ed shuffled back to the bed and sat down, the short sojourn to the mirror having very nearly exhausted his strength. He had met a perfect human chimera once, and suddenly Ed deeply regretted never asking what it was like inside. Had Martel suffered the same riot of alien drives and thoughts and instincts as he was? Had she overcome them somehow, or had the people who created her discovered a way to filter the animal mind out in the course of the transmutation? Would he always have to fight the animal for control? So many questions he might never have the answers to.
Something was happening in his mind, and it scared the living shit out of him. In the beginning, his mind and the animal mind had been very nearly separate; the thoughts of the wolf an invader in his head. It was a bit like what having a split personality might be like, two wholly separate consciousness fighting for dominance. The wolf won that fight early on, because her instincts were so overpowering that it drowned out the human mind almost entirely.
In the two days on the train, with nothing but his own thoughts for company, Ed began to realize that was changing. Rational thought became easier, and he found himself slipping less and less into that primal state where everything that made him Ed simply seemed to vanish. He’d been so relieved, thinking that the animal mind was losing its grip somehow, that his own mind was rejecting the alien presence. Until he’d realized that precisely the opposite was happening.
His mind wasn’t driving her’s out; it was integrating with it. It was as though once his body realized it couldn’t eject the foreign entity, it decided to yield to it, and that was almost more terrifying than the complete lapses in control. With every day that passed, it was becoming harder to discern the line, harder to tell where he left off and she began. It had almost gotten to the point where he didn’t even realize that some of the things he did --and worse, thought-- were completely inhuman unless he stepped back and made the effort to look at it objectively.
He had her memories. Ed knew that the wolf that had been sacrificed to make him into this was female. Knew each of her pack mates like he knew his own brother, categorized in his head not by name --they had no names-- but by scent, sight and sound. He remembered snow and trees and hunting, remembered being trapped by humans and caged as if these memories were his own. He remembered fear and anger and heartbreaking loneliness, a desperate yearning to be back among her pack; a black depression weighing down her heart as she was carted further and further from her pack, her family. Her emotions were so human in some ways that Ed could scarcely believe it, and along with the so-vivid memories had come an understanding.
Edward knew precisely why the bastard had chosen this animal to merge him with. The knowledge had come unexpectedly from one of her memories.
This integration had been exactly what his captor had wanted.
He was dying.
The air of mourning was thick among the others, and hunkered at her mother’s side, she joined the death watch. The black male was big, strong, and one of her favorites. He was very tolerant of her antics, and sometimes could even be goaded into playing. Now however, the smell of blood was thick in the air and he lay so very still, the only sign of life his labored breathing. The actions of the others indicated that it was only a matter of time, and it made her very sad.
His mate lay beside him, occasionally raising her head to nuzzle him before settling again. She would die too, soon enough, and the pack mourned her as well. Even though she had never witnessed anything like this in her short life, she knew that it would happen. His mate would not go on without him, and once he died she would remain with the body, protecting it from scavengers until she too, passed. It would not take long.
They sat in silent vigil until the labored breathing ceased, and one by one the howling began, a mournful elegy for the lost.
The memory was poignant, and even though he knew it wasn’t his own it still made Ed’s chest ache with loss. That memory, coupled with those from after she was captured painted a startling picture. Wolves, this particular breed at least, were far more intimately tied to pack than he had ever realized. Not that he’d ever given it much thought at all; Ed’d had a lot more to worry about than the social behavior of wolves.
They mourned themselves to death. Over the loss of a mate, as in the memory, or over being separated from their pack. She had suffered from such an overwhelming loneliness at the loss of her pack, terrible depression and a stark longing to be back where she belonged that it simply leeched away her will to live. Edward knew that this was not unique, but simply a part of what they were. She had been very close to death at the time they were joined, so weary of being alone she would much rather be dead.
Edward was almost certain that it had been that trait that the bastard had wanted to pass on. The horror of losing his own humanity was just bonus. That was why they had wanted Al but taken Roy; he had wanted to take away someone Ed cared for, his pack, and just let him waste away in misery. To take first his freedom, then his humanity, and finally his will to live. The very idea was sickening, but the more Edward had chewed on his theory over the long train ride, the more certain he had become.
The morbidly funny part about it all was that even though the bastard was dead, it was becoming increasingly likely that things would play out exactly as he’d intended them.
Ed missed Roy desperately. So much so that not even his pride could blunt the stark truth of the fact. After a day the initial panic had faded somewhat, replaced by a very sharp longing for the older man that made him so miserably lonely he could barely stand it. It took him longer than it should have to equate his feelings for Roy to the ones she had held for her own pack and realize they were very nearly the same, because right now, Roy was his pack.
And right now Ed needed him like he needed air. What was happening to him was the beginning stages of what had happened to her. Part of him wanted to believe that he’d pull through, that human will would be enough to defeat some sort of social behavior that was never his to begin with, but he had his doubts. Edward leaned against the wall with a sigh. It felt a little like a betrayal, like it should be Al he wanted. Alphonse was family, it only made sense, but that was the human. The wolf had decided that Roy was a part of his pack, and if he wanted to be honest he’d sort of grown on the human bit too.
Ed knew that Roy would get him out of...wherever this place was. Eventually. What he didn’t know is how long he would be able to wait.
The sudden voice startled him, and he growled low in his throat, peering around the room. An intercom, he realized after a moment, and he relaxed slightly. There was probably an observation room on the other side of that mirror. He tried to say ‘let me go!’ but his throat closed around the words, and frustrated, he could only manage a guttural, "Go!" in a voice that was far too deep to be his. The change had warped his vocal chords, made speech beyond a single word difficult. He’d have to try and work on that.
"I’m sorry, Edward," came the disembodied voice again, and it was female. Ed was fairly certain he didn’t recognize it, but that wasn’t surprising. "I can’t let you go. Do you understand what you are?"
Frowning at the phrasing, Ed nodded.
"That’s good," came the reply, confirming his theory that this woman was on the other side of the mirror and could see him. "We’re here to help you," she continued, and Ed snorted. He seriously doubted that. "But in order to do so, we need to learn more about your condition. I’m going to come in and give you a quick exam. If you comply, you’ll be left free, if you respond violently, you’ll be restrained and sedated. Understood?"
So that’s how it was going to be. Probably the only he reason he wasn’t restrained already is because they wanted to observe him awake. He nodded again, though he was privately unsure how he might react. Particularly if the exam got invasive.
A few moments later there was a thunk from the other side of the door, and then it opened. Ed caught a glimpse of another door beyond that, and realized they weren’t taking any chance that he might escape. The woman who entered looked like a typical lab rat, with her white coat and clipboard. She paused just inside the door, observing him for a moment. As soon as she came closer, Ed had to swallow a growl. He could smell her now, the scent of another human almost comforting, but it was female and unfamiliar and not Roy. In spite of this, he managed to quash the bizarrely territorial instinct to warn her off, proud that all he did was stare at her suspiciously.
She nodded, seemingly satisfied that he wasn’t going to leap up and attack her like a ravening beast, and it was only then that Ed noticed the absence of the smell of fear. She wasn’t afraid of him, and that was almost a relief. Drawing a pen light from her pocket, she held it up to his face. "Open up, please." Ed complied, and she shined the light in his mouth. "Hm, that’s quite a set of teeth," she said, though it seemed more like she was talking to herself rather than him. "No wonder you did such a number on that soldier. You can close now."
She marked something down on her clipboard, and Ed ran an experimental tongue over his teeth. He hadn’t noticed anything different about his teeth, but he supposed that had been the least of his concerns. Now that she mentioned it, they did feel longer. And sharper. Kind of creepy, but not as creepy as his eyes. That just straight up gave him the willies. "It says here the animal you were merged with was a wolf, is that correct?" Ed looked up at her and nodded again, and she marked something else down on her clipboard. After all he’d gone through, this wasn’t so bad, really.
After a moment she said, "It’s safe to assume that since your outward appearance is still primarily human, most of the wolf physiology was converted internally." Ed was impressed in spite of himself. She obviously knew a thing or two about chimera. Physically, chimera were always a perfect half and half, though it was very difficult to control what half was what. It was simply the nature of the transmutation; any change to the equation rendered the resulting chimera dangerously unstable, and they often lost cohesion and simply...melted. Or worse. Alchemists had been trying to find a way around that element forever, with no luck whatsoever. Ed blinked down at his hands. At least, he didn’t think so. Controlling it on the other hand, directing which halves go where...maybe. Which would mean that his internals had been almost entirely rearranged, and that was a slightly unsettling thought.
"What do you eat?"
He was pulled from his thoughts by the question, taking a split-second to be overjoyed that he could think so well again, and blinked at her. "Food," he rasped, twisting his lips in a sardonic smile.
The woman smiled slightly. "I mean, what kind of diet? Assuming your digestive tract is now more wolf than human, that is. Do you feel a particular craving for meat?"
Ed shrugged slightly in answer. He hadn’t given it any thought really, and had just eaten what he’d been given. The idea of a good, thick steak sounded wonderful, but that didn’t really mean anything one way or the other. Anyone who had existed on a diet of scraps and mush for months would be desperate for a real meal too.
"Hm." The scratching of pen against paper.
Suddenly irritated by the fact that he didn’t have a label for her, Ed asked, "Name?" Besides, it couldn’t hurt to try and be friendly. He doubted she was the one pulling the strings, but he might earn a little more consideration than the average chimera research project by interacting with her.
She looked up, apparently surprised by the question. "Dr. Arcourt," she replied after a moment. "Remove your shirt, please."
Ugh. If she whipped a needle out of that coat, Ed was through playing nice. Sighing, he did as he was asked, shrugging out of the loose white shirt a bit awkwardly and putting it on the bed beside him. It was then that he rather belatedly realized that he was clean and someone must have bathed him. How embarrassing. "Too thin," Arcourt tsked, marking something down. "But not as bad as it could be. Stand up and turn around, please."
Well, at least she was polite, Ed mused, doing as he was asked. He flinched when she touched his back and didn’t quite manage to swallow the growl when it slipped out. The hand drew back, and Ed cursed himself, thinking he’d just earned himself sedation with the knee-jerk reaction, but all she said was, "I’m just taking a look at the markings on your back." Markings? What markings? Resisting the urge to crane his neck around to see, he nodded. The hand returned, this time moving his hair over his shoulder.
"Remarkable, I don’t I’ve ever seen markings like these on a wolf. The spots are much more reminiscent of something you would see on a cat." Spots? He had spots? The curiosity was killing him now, and he wished she’d get it over with so he could look for himself. "I don’t suppose you know what species of wolf it was?" Ed shook his head. The kind with teeth and fur and claws, but he suspected she was going for something more specific.
"Shame, I’ll have to see if I can find out." The hands vanished but were back momentarily, this time in his hair. Ed twitched, managing to suppress the urge to turn and snap at the prying hands only barely. He could not figure out why the hell he was so damn touchy. "It looks like the spotting continues up the scalp," Arcourt commented, and then the hands were gone. Ed heard the scritch of pen on paper and took the opportunity to angle around and crane his head to get a look at his back in the mirror.
She hadn’t been kidding. There were large, irregular black spots on his back and shoulders, growing smaller towards the spine and neck. They covered the whole of his back, the pattern narrowing as it went down from his shoulder blades and widening again slightly where it vanished into the waistband of his pants. Ed wanted to see the rest, but he wasn’t about to pull his pants down in front of the lady doctor. They almost looked like tattoos, but he knew they weren’t.
"Are there any other physical characteristics about the change I haven’t looked at, besides your eyes?" Ed looked away from his scrutiny in the mirror and shook his head at her. None that he had noticed.
"Then we’re finished for now," Dr. Arcourt said, tucking her pen back in her pocket. "I appreciate the cooperation, Edward. You should try and get some rest."
He nodded at her, and she left. Once she was gone --and trying not to think she was on the other side of the mirror-- Ed tugged down his pants long enough to discern that the spotting continued down his hips and thighs before it tapered off. Strange, but just cosmetic, really. He could deal with that.
He could deal with all of it, he mused as he pulled his shirt back on, if it weren’t for everything going wrong in his head. The doctor had distracted him briefly, but he was alone with his thoughts again. With a sigh, Edward settled on the bed, tucking his knees up and resting his head on his arms. This was a cakewalk compared to what he had endured the last few months, but he no longer had Roy to keep him company.
He sighed heavily, the thought drawing his attention to just how much he missed the man. He’d had no idea how much he’d come to depend on Roy’s constant presence until it was gone. It was probably some sort of grossly unhealthy dependency, made worse by the wolf, but Ed found he had a hard time caring. He just wanted his pack, wanted Roy. Suddenly tired, Ed slipped under the blankets, taking a moment to marvel at the novelty of having a bed before closing his eyes. Roy would come, he knew it. Ed just hoped it was sooner rather than later.