Chapter Twelve: Resolutions
Vera's eyes turned on Winry, and Ed gasped, taking a stumbling step forward to place himself between the True Blood Alchemist and his friend. "No. Fucking. Way," he rasped.
Winry's hand caught Ed's shoulder as if she meant to hold him back from a fight. Ed nearly shook her off on reflex — though his head still whirled, and he really was having trouble standing — before he realized what she was really doing.
It seemed the strangest moment for him to notice how nice it was to feel the warmth of her breath on his neck.
"The gurney is steel. Can you transmute an arm?" she whispered, hiding behind his hair so that Vera couldn't see her lips moving.
He lifted his chin ever so slightly in acknowledgement of this question.
"How much time would you need to draw a circle?"
Ed couldn't answer her without giving their plan away. He'd have to find some way to work it into what he said to Vera.
"There is no fucking way I'm going to let you do anything to Winry," Ed said. "And I would only need one minute to take you apart if you tried."
"Collapse," Winry ordered, her voice so soft it seemed almost like a thought in his head.
"Fullmetal," Vera said, far too sweetly. "She is of no use to us as a pack mate, and other females always want to fight for leadership. She's far too dominant a personality for me to risk that, but there are other options as you well know—"
He'd heard enough of Vera's plan to confirm his suspicion, and now was the time to act. Trying to make it look real, Ed let his head fall back and his eyes roll up. He trusted Winry to catch him as he went boneless, and she did, guiding him carefully over to the gurney where she draped him facedown onto its gleaming metal surface. A metallic clink, which anyone else would think was his leg banging into some part of the gurney, sounded by his hand. It was a surgical instrument of some kind and all he needed to etch his circle. With that was a coil of rubber tubing and a truly filthy, greasy rag. Must have been the best she could do for oil, Ed thought, but he was mightily impressed. He'd never before realized what a head for strategy his automail mechanic had.
"Oh, Ed!" Winry exclaimed, throwing herself over him and howling with what probably seemed very convincing sobs — if someone didn't know how Winry really cried.
"We'll have to perform the transmutation very soon," Vera snarled to her minions. "It seems Marcel has damaged him more than I'd hoped."
Winry's wailing was doing a good job of covering the sound of his scratching. He whispered back to her, hoping she could hear him over the noise, "Make sure you have something to defend yourself with. This is going to happen really fast."
Vera had turned away from them to discuss plans with Rafe and Marcel who had oozed back out of the shadows at some point during Winry's acting debut.
Ed shrugged slightly to catch Winry's attention that he was done. "Get ready," he whispered, and she took a step away so she wouldn't be in physical contact with him when he activated the circle.
The blaze of crackling blue light caught the chimeras by surprise, but none of them had the ability to perform immediate transmutations and apparently hadn't outfitted themselves with any shortcuts — or at least they didn't have those shortcuts to hand.
The arm formed itself out of the spare parts in seconds and then Winry was there, supporting him and reaching out to take the weight of the arm as they both guided it into the port.
Ed choked out a gasp at the pain, but there was no time to allow himself to feel it. Vera was almost done with her circle and Rafe was charging at them, fangs bared.
Clapping his hands together felt weird — this arm was far too stiff and heavy — but it worked and the floor ripped itself up in front of Rafe, throwing him back across the room and into a bank of cabinets with a tremendous crash.
The floor's destruction tore apart Vera's circle, too, but Marcel — who had apparently been working on a circle, too, had his done.
Ed grabbed Winry's arm and dived backwards toward the nearest cabinet and away from the explosion as it tore even more of the massive room apart and threw equipment and building parts everywhere. As they dived, Ed transmuted the cabinet into a shield around them. It dented in as bits of ceiling, floor, and lab rained down on them.
Vera's voice snarled, "Fool! You want to kill us all?"
Ed tried to climb out from under the shield but he fell back weakly. "Gotta keep going," he gasped. "Can't let them hurt—"
"Hush, Ed," Winry said. "Listen."
"Kill you," an unearthly voice rumbled. "Only wanted to be with you. But you want him! Anyone but me!"
"It's the good of the pack — you know that!" Vera's voice had smoothed out, and it sounded as if she were trying to placate Marcel.
"Too late, Vera. It's over, remember? It is over. And I won't let you start this up again with him as your mate instead of me."
"We have to get out of here," Ed said. "He's going to bring the building down."
Winry nodded, just visible in the darkness of their flimsy shelter, and she helped Ed as they struggled free of the rubble.
The two chimeras seemed to have forgotten their victims. Vera was drawing another circle and Marcel was doing something to his. Rafe was nowhere to be seen which was probably the only reason Marcel was still alive.
"I should stop them," Ed said, trying to walk but realizing Winry was half-carrying him.
"Yeah, Ed. You and what alchemist who isn't about to pass out?" Winry said. They reached the door to the next room and slipped through, still apparently unnoticed.
But they hadn't been. "They're getting away!" Vera shrieked and a flare of light blasted through the door.
Winry shoved Ed away from the reaction, diving after him, but the flare caught her, flinging her across the room.
Vera appeared in the doorway, a dark form silhouetted against the lighter darkness of the room behind her. "It's meant to be, Edward Elric," she said, her voice nearly a purr. "I've waited so long for someone strong... someone worthy—"
"Cut the crap, Vera," Ed snarled. "You dated Mustang! Wasn't he good enough for you?"
"He's weak. You didn't know him before... He was pathetic at Ishbal. Pathetic. He should have killed himself. But, you? You never give up."
"You're right about that," Ed said and brought his hands together, but another explosion tore through the building before he could begin his own transmutation, and Vera disappeared in a huge cloud of smoke and debris which blew through the door all around her.
Ed scrambled across the filthy floor to Winry's side, clapped again, and threw up a stone wall between them and the aftereffects of this new danger.
A string of swearing poured out of Ed's mouth, making very little sense. A fact which Winry pointed out to him in a faint voice a moment later. "What exactly is a 'fucking insane crazy lunatic?'"
"Are you okay?" he demanded, reaching out to brush her hair from her face. Even in all this chaos, he noticed that her skin was very soft.
"Depends," she grunted, sitting up carefully, a hand feeling at the back of her head. "Am I bleeding?"
Ed inspected her as best he could under the circumstances. "Don't seem to be."
"Well, then, are they done trying to kill each other yet?"
Another loud boom answered that question in the negative.
"Shit," Ed muttered. "You'd think someone would hear. It'd be really great if someone would rescue us right about now."
Winry actually laughed at that, the sound draining away the tension from Ed's shoulders. "Is it always like this?" she asked, still laughing.
Ed opened his mouth to deny it then closed it and sighed. "Yeah, pretty much."
"Wow," Winry said. She stood up slowly as if testing her legs then reached down to help Ed stand beside her. "I guess it's no wonder you keep breaking your automail."
A low growl was their only warning before Rafe launched himself at them having come around the protective wall. Ed moved to clap his hands but Rafe was too fast and had aimed himself at the young man's chest. The full weight of the chimera landed on him and drove him back onto the ground, banging his head into the concrete and turning his vision gray.
No! Winry! the thoughts shouted through his brain, but he couldn't find a way to fight back to full consciousness. He couldn't find the strength to even move. The growling didn't stop, sounding horrible and terrifying, and it was joined far too quickly by a sickening crunch and a scream.
Despair washed over Ed as his mind supplied images to go with the sounds he was helpless to do anything about. Not Winry! Please, not Winry! Why do I always fail—
"Ed," Winry said, her hands grabbing his shoulders. "God, Ed! Please be okay!"
He tried to speak, to move, to do something to express the joy the mere sound of her voice had created in him, but his body simply would not cooperate. It seemed, too, that his fear for Winry had been the only thing keeping Ed anywhere near consciousness, because the sound of her voice calling his name was the last thing he heard before darkness claimed him.
Winry struggled to her feet. Ed was still breathing — that was something — but if she didn't get help, neither of them were likely to last much longer.
She felt sick and weak and half-conscious herself. She'd hit her head, too, when she'd been thrown. There didn't seem to be any blood, but the back of her head felt hot and throbbed horribly.
Rafe Landis lay in a bloody heap far too nearby for her comfort, making a gargling sound when he breathed that made her feel ill, and she grabbed him by one foot and dragged him away from Ed. She had never hit anyone as hard as she'd hit the chimera, using a club-like piece of rubble she'd grabbed up as Ed had been tackled.
She thought Rafe might be dying, and if that meant she'd killed him, she was sad. But she wasn't sorry. He'd tried to kill Ed. She couldn't stand by and let that happen.
No explosions had rocked the building for some time, and she wondered if Vera and Marcel had managed to kill each other in the last blast.
"I have to find help," she told herself, but the room whirled drunkenly around her, refusing to stay still and allow her to take even two steps toward the door that led outside.
Something rumbled and she dropped to the floor and huddled over Ed, praying it wasn't another explosion. She was not going to let the ceiling fall onto Ed. Nothing else was going to happen to him because she'd let herself get kidnapped.
A huge train wreck of sound roared out from the next room and everything shook as if in an earthquake. The floor rumbled beneath her, and Ed's wall shook and finally toppled over — away from them, luckily. Winry could only stare, stunned as it crashed to the ground and broke into pieces. The door beyond was gone, buried in rubble, but the noise went on.
Voices sounded, then, from the opposite direction. "This way!" a wonderfully familiar voice shouted.
"Careful, Lt. Colonel!" another well-known voice ordered. "You know what happens when Fullmetal gets angry."
Winry tried to shout but all that came out was a hoarse rasp. "Over here!"
Riza Hawkeye appeared through the door, pistols at the ready, and she was followed almost immediately by Roy Mustang who also seemed to have his weapon drawn, fingers poised to snap. Winry had never before been so happy to see either of them. More uniforms filed in almost immediately thereafter, but Winry didn't notice much more. She and Ed were rescued, and her body took this as permission to finally pass out.
The first person Ed saw when he woke up was Alphonse.
"Niisan!" the young man exclaimed. "You're awake!"
Ed grinned slowly. "See what happens when you aren't around?"
"Right," Al said, snorting. "Like this never happened when I was!"
A slow blink clarified his memories a little, and he blurted, "Where's Winry? She okay?"
Al waved his hands calmingly. "She's fine. She's just next door. The doctors won't let either of you out of bed, though. I'm going to go tell her you're awake. She's been really worried since she woke up this morning."
As his brother vanished through the door, a doctor came in, accompanied by Mustang and Hawkeye.
"You've looked worse, Fullmetal," Mustang commented. "But the lengths you go to just to get out of doing paperwork never cease to amaze me."
"Bastard," Ed muttered as the doctor checked him over. All the little tests and proddings and pokings were so familiar, Ed almost didn't notice them. "I solved the damn case, by the way."
Mustang and Hawkeye exchanged one of their silent-talking looks before Mustang gave a small bow and said, "I do look forward to reading your report," and exited. A short time later, the doctor left, too.
"So, Edward," Hawkeye said once they were alone. "You are aware that not all cases need end in hospital stays, aren't you?"
He rolled his eyes then regretted it as his head spun. He tried to steady himself with another protracted blink then opened his eyes slowly and looked at his commanding officer. "Yeah," he said. "I'll keep that in mind."
"We found the Shooting Star Alchemist and the Green Alchemist at the scene," she added, almost casually. "Which is odd because the Green Alchemist was supposed to be dead already."
"Is he dead now?" Ed asked. Did Winry kill him?
"He died after we got there. Part of the ceiling fell on him. There was nothing we could do."
Ed shrugged but was glad it hadn't been Winry. It would have upset her to have killed someone.
"You didn't find anyone else?" Ed asked
Hawkeye shook her head. "They're still digging. What the hell was that place?"
"Another Lab Five, I guess. Crazy."
Winry wheeled into the room at that moment, a blushing Alphonse pushing her chair. "She insisted," he said. "And she is still sitting down."
Hawkeye and Ed exchanged amused glances but said nothing.
"Hey, Winry," Ed said, and for some reason, he found he was blushing, too.
"Hi, Ed," she replied. As Winry's cheeks turned a brilliant pink, it was Hawkeye's turn to roll her eyes.
"We'll talk more later, Fullmetal," she said and made a quick exit.
"Thank you!" Ed exclaimed, dropping back into his pillows. "They don't give a guy a minute to even wake up properly."
"They didn't find Vera," Winry said.
Ed blew out a breath and said, "Yeah. If one of 'em was going to get away, why did it have to be her?"
"Maybe she's just buried deeper?" Alphonse ventured.
"You know the rule, Al," Ed said, and the three of them chorused, "No body means not dead."
The blushes all faded as the three of them smiled at the perfect synchronicity of the moment. Then Al said, "I'm going to go see if you can have coffee," and darted out the door.
Winry and Ed both shot sideways glances at each other, but Ed spoke first. "That was... random."
But Winry didn't want to make jokes. "I'm so glad you're okay, Ed. I was really worried."
"You were worried?" Ed said. "I could hear him growling and that awful crunch and you screamed—"
"It was an awful crunch," Winry agreed. "I'd never hit anyone that hard before. It was horrible. But I had to stop him — he was still trying to get to you!"
"You were great, Winry," Ed said, reaching his flesh hand out to her as he wondered fleetingly if they'd found his arm in the rubble, too.
Winry grasped his hand in both of hers, smiling one of those barely-suppressed-tears smiles he both loved and hated to see. "I mean it. You were amazing."
"So were you," she said. "Vera was right about that. You never give up. I love that about you."
Ed snorted and broke the too-intense eye contact. "You heard that?"
"Yeah. I was dazed but I could kind of follow what was happening. I can't fault her for taste, even if..." Winry's voice trailed off and she let go of his hand to wrap herself in her arms, suppressing a shudder.
"Ew," Ed said, waving away the thought with his hand. "She's older than Mustang!"
"Not to mention, she's a hyena!" Winry added and started to laugh.
"And only has one arm," Ed added, laughing, too.
"I can fix that, though," Winry said, pulling a serious face. "If you want me to. For the wedding."
Al came back in then, carrying coffees which he handed out. He took his and settled at the end of Ed's bed, and they all talked until the nurse came in a shooed Al out and wheeled Winry back to her own room, flicking the lights off as she left and ordering Edward to go to sleep.
Ed rolled over and stared out the window at the darkened city beyond the far-too-familiar walls. He knew he'd missed a moment when he could have told Winry the truth about how he felt, but he didn't want to tell her in a hospital. He didn't want to tell her in any place tainted by the fear they'd both experienced thanks to Vera Landis and her mad plans. He hoped Winry hadn't sensed the missed opportunity as he had. He hoped his silence hadn't hurt her.
He hoped, too, that Winry never asked him what Vera meant to do to her.
"If I ever see her again, I'll kill her," he breathed, knowing he meant it. To dare to even think of doing such a thing was bad enough; to think of doing it to Winry was unforgivable.
In the meantime, he now knew what he wanted to research. Deep down, he'd never believed chimeras had to be irreversible. There has to be a way to change them back. There should be a way.
He wouldn't tell Al, not until he had more than just his instinct to go on, but he was going to figure this out. He was going to fix it so people like Martel didn't have to live half-lives and kids like Nina didn't have to die. He was going to figure it out. And he would never give up.
Because Vera Landis was out there, and she had dared to look at Winry as if she were spare parts — someone who could be combined into the woman's already corrupted, chimera's body, to fix her ruined arm. To make her whole.
Ed shuddered at the memory of that moment of pure understanding. That moment couldn't be in his mind when he told Winry how he felt. He'd find a better place. A better moment.
Because he did want to tell her he loved her. He wanted to tell her soon.
"Just not tonight," he whispered.
- - - - - end - - - - -
This ends my very first FMA fan fiction tale. I am not done, however, with this AU, and there will be more stories to come. I will be taking a short break before starting the next story wherein houses will be purchased, things will be said, and secrets will be revealed. Plus, special guest-stars! Thanks very much for reading!