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kazaera

Athraichean

chapter 3.

Nobody seems to stare at the odd procession making its way down an alley in Central. Greed considers this quite astounding until Dorochet points out that they're in a part of town where people quickly learn to ignore odd-looking strangers. Or else.

Even so, Greed muses, it was a stroke of luck that they found the clothes. In the laboratory, Greed's clothes were over a century old and everyone else was naked; much as the people living in this part of town might be used to minding their own business, that sight would have been far too odd ignore.

But Greed came across a clothes-line while scouting the surroundings of the facility and his new-found conscience didn't protest him swiping the nearly-dry garments. Unfortunately, they all seemed to belong to the same person. Law looks distinctly uncomfortable in the shirt several sizes too small for him, while Dorochet is drowning in his and Martel is tripping over her over-large trousers and giving death glares to anyone who so much as glances her way. Gecko has the only coat, which is just long enough to keep his tail from being visible but not enough to hide his face. Greed hopes they can pass it off as a natural occurrence.

Needless to say, there were no clothes even near small enough for Edward. However, there was one ratty brown blanket and they'd wrapped him up in it. Law is carrying him now, the child looking smaller than ever in the giant's arms.

Greed frowns. Edward has spent most of the journey so far drifting in and out of consciousness, getting steadily weaker. Recently he's started wheezing a little with every breath. He needs rest, food and medical care; he doesn't need to be lugged around in a damp blanket. Unfortunately they have no choice. They need to get out of Central as soon as possible.

Greed really hopes the kid will survive this trip.


Luckily Greed's worries seem to be unfounded. Although Edward never quite regains consciousness during their journey, he doesn't seem to be getting any worse.

They make it out of Central, but only a few miles further; because they're trying to avoid pursuit, most of the faster routes are closed to them, and far too much has changed since they were last free. Almost all the back routes Dorochet knew are gone, the empty warehouses Martel spoke of have been converted into housing and a comfortable cave Greed stayed in once has had an entire fucking village built on it.

In the end, they simply camp out in the woods a few miles from the south outskirts of the city. There is fresh water from a stream, dry wood and an overhang to shield the light of their fire, in short, as much as they can hope for. It is also quite secluded—Dorochet, who grew up in this area, says the forest is supposed to be haunted.

None of them are particularly afraid of monsters. Being one yourself will do that to you.

The camp is as comfortable as they can expect, given that they don't have most of the equipment necessary—although they stole several more things (most notably food) before leaving Central, camping gear wasn't among it. Gecko has cleared away rocks from what is going to be their sleeping area, Dorochet has caught a variety of small animals and is roasting them over a merrily burning fire and Law is out looking for more firewood and boughs and moss for their "bed". Even with all that it is sure to be an uncomfortable night, although certainly better than the hard stone floor of a sealed cell; Greed only hopes it won't rain.

Martel is sitting with Edward, who is undeniably in the worst condition of them all, some ways away. Greed looks towards them and winces. He has to talk with the boy, and there's no use putting it off.

Edward looks a lot stronger now that he has some food in him, possibly even capable of sitting up if Martel were inclined to let him try. He seems more aware of his surroundings as well, listening intently to Martel talking. Greed's not quite sure if his voice has come back yet, almost wishes it hasn't so he doesn't have to do this now. But he has to know.

The cracking twigs herald his approach and both Edward and Martel look up.

He waves. "Hey, Martel. Edward."

"'Lo, Greed." Edward's voice is still terribly hoarse and scratchy, but it seems to be working properly and it no longer sounds as if Edward is tearing his vocal cords out bit by bit with every word. In other words, the kid's talking just fine and there's no reason to postpone this.

Shit.

"Martel, do you mind leaving us for a few minutes? I have to discuss some things with Edward." Martel's scowl implies that she most certainly does mind, but she gets to her feet and turns to go.

Admittedly not without a few parting words. "Don't you tire him out, Greed. He isn't well yet. And Edward—don't strain yourself and don't you dare try to get up, got it?"

Edward nods meekly as Greed watches, nonplussed. He hadn't thought Martel was the motherly type. Given the stares from her teammates, neither had they.

Martel vanishes into the trees much more silently than Greed and Edward turns to look at him out of wide, trusting golden eyes.

Greed really isn't looking forward to this conversation.

"Hey, Edward? I need to talk about some stuff with you."

Edward wrinkles his nose and blinks at him owlishly as if to say 'Yes, you idiot, you already said that. And?' It makes Greed grin.

"You see, I was talking with one of the scientists back in the lab—a guy named Tucker?"

Edward tenses a bit at the mention of the lab, but doesn't seem to recognise the name. Then again, Greed doubts the scientists introduced themselves before they did... whatever they did... to him.

"And Tucker mentioned that you were here because you tried human transmutation."

The kid fucking freezes when he says that, entire body snapping taut and it is all the confirmation Greed needs. In any other situation he would back off, leave the kid, give him a little time to collect himself. But he's gotten this far and he needs to know, damn it all to Hell.

"Now kid, I hate to pry, but this is important. What did you do?"

No answer.

"What did you do?" Greed hisses, clenching his fists. He needs to know now, not later, if there are more of them out there that he doesn't know about it could be the death of them all... and if the damn kid won't tell him he doesn't know what he'll do.

"Tell me!" he snaps.

A sound.

Greed whips around. Then stops.

Edward is trembling, blanket falling open to reveal the half-starved figure beneath. He's obviously trying not to cry.

In all his years, Greed has never felt as much like a monster as he does now.

"Look, kid—Edward—I'm sorry. I didn't mean—" he reaches out a hand to Edward's shoulder and the boy flinches.

Greed draws it back as if burnt.

"I'm sorry." He's done this all wrong, he thinks as he turns to go, he should've waited until Edward was stronger, not so hurt. Why the hell did he take the kid with him anyway? He's not cut out to be any kind of—of parent, he's just going to fuck this up. He should've backed off when he realised how sensitive the topic was, should've...

Martel is coming back. She looks first at the shaking Edward, then at him.

If looks could kill...

"Greed, what—" Martel's angry hiss is cut off by Edward's voice.

"My mother."

Both Greed and Martel whip around to stare at the boy. He's still shivering, but has pulled himself up against a rock so that he's sitting. There is a determined fire in those golden eyes.

It reminds Greed oddly of another pair of golden eyes he'd seen once, long ago. He pushes it out of his mind. The colour is rare, true, but it is probably coincidence. Edward cannot possibly be related to him.

"It was my mother. Our dad left just after Al was born, you see, so it was just us. She—she died of an illness and we—it was my idea. I thought I was good enough. Thought I could do something no one else had ever done. Thought I could bring her back."

His voice is growing rougher and the last word ends in a pained squeak. Martel starts toward him, her face a mask of horror.

"It didn't work. We... we lost a lot. Al almost died. Couldn't let him die. He's my little brother.

We went to Central, were looking for—I don't remember. It's not important. The military found out."

Greed wants to interrupt, say something, anything, but no words come out of his mouth.

"I could've run. But... I couldn't let them take Al. He's my little brother. I'm supposed to protect him, y'know? And it was my fault, my idea. I made sure that they took me and left Al alone."

It is Martel that breaks the ensuing silence. "How old were you?" She sounds vaguely afraid.

"Eleven."

Somehow, there is nothing more that can be said.

Greed bows his head in mute apology and turns to go. He halts when he hears Edward's voice.

"Why did you need to know?" the boy asks.

Greed stops, turns to look at the small figure and considers telling him. Considers telling him just why human transmutation is so forbidden, just what it creates. Considers telling him what homunculi are and where they come from. Considers telling him that by trying to bring back the only parent they ever knew, he and his brother created a soulless monster with their mother's face. One that is probably still alive.

And hates them more than anything else in this world.

Instead, he tousles Edward's hair and is secretly pleased when the boy doesn't flinch away. "Never mind, it's not important. I'll tell you later."

Edward grumbles a bit but doesn't try to dislodge Greed's hand from his head, Martel ignores her previous anger and starts fussing over him and Greed has a smile on his face as he leaves.

Maybe he won't fuck this up after all.