He told them one year. He would only take one year to recover from the surgery.
He still planned on doing that, but sometimes, it just seemed to difficult.
The arm felt...funny. It was heavy on his shoulder, making him lean to the right. Sometimes he just felt like giving in and falling over completely, but then he would see Al, sitting off in a corner, playing with Den, and he would remember. And he would stand taller.
His back ached with the effort. Moving the arm took more thought than he had figured; getting used to the response and the movements. It wasn't like his other arm, but that was only right. Often, he forgot where his arm was and ended up knocking over a cup or hitting a wall. It was more embarrassing than painful, smiling and laughing at the mistake when Winly or Aunt Pinako noticed. They would just smile in that understanding way that made his stomach twist and tell him it would take time, that it was okay and that cups and plates could be replaced.
It was difficult—the day he learned he couldn't swim. A spur of the moment decision that had nearly killed him. But the water had looked so nice and it had been so hot all day. Besides, Aunt Pinako had said the automail could withstand water if only for a certain amount of time.
He had gotten used to the weight by then, not leaning quite so far to one side or walking in circles because he couldn't move his leg.
But he had said one year. In one year he had to learn his limits and if that meant risking death multiple times, making Winly cry and Al worry over him at night, then so be it. His promise would mean nothing if he didn't fulfill it. Or at least try to.
And it was painful those days he forgot about the edges on his hand and would slice his face while washing. Al would jump when he walked around with a bandage across his face, stuttering out an apology or promising to return him his arm and leg. But he would just smile and wave it off, saying it was nothing and he'd get used to it in no time. He knew Al never believed him, but it was enough that he pretended to.
His shoulder stopped aching so much even though his back still pulled. The feeling of skin being pulled finally became normal, never fully going away. It still felt like his right arm was longer than his left; luckily it was evened out by his left leg feeling longer than his right. He always felt like he was being pulled down and in two directions.
After a few months, he reached the point where he could spar with Al.
Jumping didn't feel right; his movement feeling sluggish and hampered. He felt like he was on the ground more than he was on his feet. He felt weak. Al remained silent for most of the time, sometimes speaking to tell him they didn't have to spar now or it was too early yet. Al would be willing to wait a little more if it meant him being in top condition and not hurting himself.
That only made him try harder. Because he had said one year; and dammit, he meant it.
He considered it an accomplishment when Den no longer ran away when he tried to pet him. He considered it an accomplishment when he no longer broke plates and cups because he would move his hand the wrong way, scratching and cracking the glass as he did so. But he was even more proud when he could finally spar decently with Al. His arm didn't feel heavy and he no longer tripped over rocks with his leg. And if he tried hard enough, he could amost imagine the feel of the ground beneath him when he touched it. Or the pain he should have felt when his arm connected with Al's.
It had only taken him one year. Just a little over, actually, but still much less than three.
Now, five years later, he nearly forgot what it was like to not know what a normal body felt like. He nearly forgot that his right arm and left leg weren't his own but only some scraps of metal. He nearly forgot how much getting hit by a metal fist could hurt—he especially forgot when he failed Nina.
He didn't think about how the automail shifted his stance, making him lean ever so slightly to the right and forward. Or how he leaned heavily on his left leg when he was tired of standing before the Colonel. He didn't think about what others thought when they saw his arm because he sometimes forgot it wasn't natural.
But even after five years, he never got used to the feel of running his perfect left hand down his imperfect right arm. He would be surprised by the feel of cold metal instead of warm skin or rouch cloth. He never got used to looking in a mirror and seeing metal layered over metal, nuts and bolts holding each piece together, forming what was supposed to be his arm. He would never grow use Al reminding him, at least once a month, that he would make sure he got his arm and leg back. But that was how it should be.
Healing never took one year.