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Trade Off


True, the pain Edward felt when his automail reconnected was unlike any other. The point of impact, of where a void suddenly filled, the shock of fire as his leg and arm was just there. Not completely, but very close. It was like, maybe, the pain of giving birth. His whole body would threaten to seize up and freeze, and tantalizing darkness creeped into his vision and made the world funnel in that strange way where everything seemed so far.

But Edward wouldn't give in—he was just far too damn stubborn to let the pain beat him. No, he would feel it, and welcome it, and carry the pain with him in the way Al couldn't do. And if Alphonse, his little brother and his only family, could not feel anything, then Edward was determined to take on twice the hurt the world threw in their path. If Al began to forget things, then Edward would remember anything and everything for the both of them. And if Al had to be iron, metal, no longer soft and warm, then he would harden his own soul if not his body and internalize his Fullmetal title. Because, he thought, it's the least I can do. For him. For mother.

Because, it was all Ed's fault. No amount of sympathetic rationalization or kind words and slanted logic could take that sin away from him. He had reached for something, out of love, out of greed and selfishness, without giving anything back, and so it took his brother's body. Then Ed's own leg, and then arm. Their punishment, his. In nights unsteady, infrequently yet often enough, especially after the harder missions he would remind himself in sleep of his burdens. The strange shadow-hands gripping the both of them, their high hopes changing so quickly to horror, Al's heart-stopping cries of Nii-san, and of himself desparately reaching out to grasp only dreams.

I'm so sorry.

Edward wondered why it—whatever it was—why it didn't take him instead. Al didn't deserve such a fate, and Ed would have gladly and completely given up his whole being if that was what it took to save his brother. Alphonse would live, whole and human, and Edward doubted that his brother would have managed to succeed in casting his soul into the armor. But, Ed mused, maybe that would have been okay.

It should have been me.

From across their room the response was angry. Don't be stupid, Nii-san! Never say that!

He hadn't meant to speak aloud. But Al—

Shut up! You deserve to live as much as anyone. Do you think I would be happy if you were—if you were gone? I couldn't have done what you did. So... so... so don't think like that, Nii-san. Alphonse's tone would imply that was that, and they would lay in the dark again for a while.

Edward sighed, and curled his covers around him. His arm ached with phantom echoes.

Don't call your older brother stupid.

Even if it was true.