evil little dog

Hour Come Round

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.—William Butler Yeats

He's tired, gods, so very tired. Every movement is an effort, leaving him drained and exhausted. He thinks the only thing keeping him going at this point is the thought he doesn't want to die, not here. He wants to go home, to escape the battlefield that has left him wounded and weak. One wing sags, the pinion feathers ripped away, leaving behind bloodied flesh. The other wing isn't even there any more but he feels its useless attempts to move. His right arm, it's missing too; lopped off by a lucky blow, one that cleaved through armor and bone. He doesn't know how he still moved, only that he is, that he wants safety and home before his eyes close in finality.

"There you are."

The musical tones of that voice dragged his head up - or perhaps it is the clawed fingers, pulling at his hair. He can barely see the figure standing over him from the blood running in his eyes but that particular voice will haunt his nightmares. "Envy." The name escapes his cracked lips like a curse.

"Little self-styled Icarus, did you think you'd escape?" Envy lifts and he follows, unable to remain on his stomach even if he wants to. Holding him at arm's length, Envy smiles tenderly despite his fangs. "Do you think I'd let a fledge like you ruin my plans? Double cross me?" He shakes Edward until his teeth rattle. "Do you dare believe I'd let you live when all I've ever wanted was to see you die?"

He smiles, though it hurts. "You can't kill me, Envy. I'm already dead." Pain rips through his muscles as his missing wing tries to arch.

"I can still make your last seconds of existence an agony." Envy raises his right hand, his claws stroking Edward's face almost gently while leaving fire in their wake. "There's still life in you, fledge, and I intend to make it bleed out slow."

Summoning the last of his defiance, Edward spits blood in Envy's eye. Claws tighten on his chin, blood running in rivulets, and Edward thinks, maybe, his death might buy someone else time to escape.

The light that comes up before his eyes leaves him wondering, as he loses consciousness, what the gods plan for his afterlife.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Al?" Fists shoved on her hips, Winry glared at her friend, taking in the circle bisected with lines and marked by symbols and words she couldn't understand.

To his credit, Alphonse didn't even flinch at Winry's tone, just rocked back onto his heels, carefully setting aside the piece of chalk he used to inscribe the circle. "I'm sure you can tell." Alphonse's defeat resonated throughout the large basement, making her face screw up.

"Al," Winry began again, careful to walk the circumference of the circle - even incomplete, she could tell it held power - "this isn't," she paused, tried one last time, "it won't help."

Golden eyes blazing, Alphonse jerked to his feet. "How do you know, Winry? What if it does help? Those things," he stabbed his right hand, fingers dusted with chalk, "out there, we have to protect ourselves from them. If I can call up something - "

"That's just it!" Winry stopped in front of him, her head tilted back to meet his eyes, hating that he'd grown so much in the past few months that she had to look up at him. "You don't know what you'll get conjuring! It's like a pig in a poke!" Her fists clenched so hard, her knuckles ached. "Al, I can't lose you, too!" Swallowing her words, Winry trembled. The wound still seemed fresh, even after two years. She wondered distantly if the bands would ever loosen on her heart. "Not like I lost Mom and Dad. Not like we lost Ed."

Alphonse shook his head, bangs falling in his eyes. His hands fell weightless upon her shoulders. "I have to do something, Winry."

"You do." She wrapped her arms around him, feeling him quiver against her. "You help your Dad and Granny and me. You keep the wards up so the farm - so we - stay safe. You fought off those demons last month, remember?" Winry despaired reaching him. Alphonse's eyes were too distant, like faded glass in the place of gems.

"I can do more." Extricating himself stiffly from her arms, Alphonse knelt on the cold floor again, inscribing runes on the outer rim of the circle. The squealing sound of chalk on stone made Winry want to cover her ears. She couldn't stop Al from going through with this. Winry understood all too well what it meant, that worthless feeling that swamped her friend. Her fingernails cut into her palms but the pain did nothing to stop the memories from rising. Edward had that same determination the day he'd been conscripted into the war. Alphonse had argued their father could buy his conscript and, if not that, he should go with his older brother.

Edward had whirled then, long braid spinning in an arc around his skull. Winry had never seen Edward win a fight with Alphonse before but Ed's sucker punch left Alphonse gasping on the ground.

It took a long time before they got any word from the battlefront. News was carried by a limping man on a limping horse with the horrors of the war stamped clearly over them both. For their reward, both were fed and put up for the night. Winry and Alphonse were shooed out of the house so that Mr. Hohenheim and Granny could speak to the soldier, though they'd argued they were certainly old enough to listen in. Edward had been Al's age when his conscript came; Winry was a year older than Alphonse. No one paid them any attention so they turned their energies on the horse and its tack; making both shine. The horse's limp was caused from a thrown shoe, so Winry set out to make a new one, Alphonse holding the horse and singing to it as she trimmed and rasped a worn part of the horse's hoof and replaced the shoe. They even packed some of the plowhorses' oats in the saddlebags, as well as a few lumps of sugar, figuring wherever the horse was carrying its rider, it wouldn't hurt for both of them to have some comfort.

Mr. Havoc left the next morning, complimenting them on their work on his horse, thanking everyone for the hospitality he'd received. "Oh," he said, fishing into his uniform jacket, "here," and passed both Winry and Alphonse small packets. "I almost forgot I had these." He smiled as Winry clutched her letter to her chest, her heart pounding. Alphonse couldn't wait, ripping into his. "It's from Brother!" His whoop made the chickens scatter and Den, the old dog, bark.

The expression on Mr. Havoc's face made no sense to Winry, not until she glanced over her shoulder. Mr. Hohenheim looked thunderous, his hands clenching and unclenching, and she realized Mr. Havoc hadn't breathed a word of the letters to him or Granny. She tucked her own letter inside the bodice of her dress, the paper crackling and slowly conforming to the curve of her breast - the one place she was sure Mr. Hohenheim wouldn't go after it. Mr. Havoc gave her a wink and a smile, thanking her profusely for the new shoe on his horse. "I see why Ed wants to come home to you."

In remembrance, it seemed like her blush lasted the rest of the day, though Winry was sure it was only until Mr. Havoc had crossed the farm's ward lines and Mr. Hohenheim rounded on Alphonse, trying to snatch the letter away. Al was quicker than that, dancing out of reach, horrified his father would do that. "I'll read it aloud!" he shouted, "I'll tell you everything that it says!"

She shivered when Mr. Hohenheim looked her way, his sun-colored eyes cold. Winry faced him, her chin tilting up. Ed's letter was to her, not to his father, not to anyone else. It was hers, like the earrings adorning her ears that he'd bought her. Edward had written to her and that meant it was her decision what she'd share and what she wouldn't. Mr. Hohenheim was the one who turned away, making Winry feel as if she'd won some sort of victory.

Winry cherished that moment, because there were too few of them. Mr. Hohenheim ruled the farm with a heavy hand, one Edward had chafed under. That his father didn't know what his son had written her made her letter a particular treasure, tucked away like a secret. She did share the few paragraphs that weren't meant for her eyes only, even after Granny voiced disappointment that Winry kept information from Edward's father and brother. Winry couldn't tell her that part of the reason was sheer selfishness—she had a part of Edward that no one else did. Alphonse backed her decision, though Winry caught him looking askance at her when he'd find her in the barn, rereading the letter. "It's from Brother. What could he have to say to make you blush like that?" She never could reply. Edward's letter tied her tongue as effectively as his first kiss had.

Alphonse's letter was far less personal and easily shared; the thin pages smudged from so much handling. It rested on the mantelpiece of the big house where anyone to see, for at least for a week or so, then it disappeared. Alphonse fussed for it, tearing apart the house, questioning the girls who cleaned up, but the letter was never found. Winry never voiced her thought that Mr. Hohenheim might've taken it, as she suspected he could try to steal her letter, but she kept hers more securely hidden, behind a loose board in one of the plowhorse's stalls. All animals, even Den, old as she was; even the chickens that provided the eggs, reacted badly to Mr. Hohenheim's presence and he would never enter the barn. The loose board was too high up for Granny to reach without climbing and Alphonse would never take the letter, even if he did know its location. Winry knew her letter would be safe, wrapped in oil cloth sprinkled with herbs to ward off rats and bugs, an iron horseshoe nail tied in the lacings to keep imps from touching it.

After those first letters, the faint thread of hope they'd had since Edward had been conscripted grew. With his magical talent, surely, he'd return home soon.

News came from the battlefront, of weird creatures that fought in the name of Drachma. Monsters and demons, each more terrifying as their story grew, until no one knew for sure just how strong the creatures might be. Few soldiers trickled their way through the sleepy village of Rezembool, so all the news was third or fourth hand, and by then, Granny said, completely exaggerated out of all common sense. That didn't stop the old woman from leaving an offering of fresh milk at the gods' temple for Edward's safe return.

Winry had no truck with the gods. They hadn't protected her parents and let Ed and Al's mom die all alone. Magic worked with or without their interference and the metal she shaped wasn't due to some god's teachings but her grandmother's. Demons weren't a curse of the gods, just creatures, like sheep or cows. Dangerous, but so were bears and even other humans. Look at the Drachmans and the war going on.

But the news from the battlefront was dark and strange; that the Drachman sorcerers were quick to use necromancy; black magic, and raise the bodies of those who'd died. Winry only half listened to rumors that perhaps it wasn't Drachma but the leaders of Amestris doing the foul deed. What had her parents died for if that was true? Why had Edward been conscripted into the military? Was that why he died? Why they'd all died? Her parents were curious people, after all, and Edward hated to leave a mystery unsolved. Winry almost thought he'd gone along with the conscription just to find out why her parents were killed. It wasn't like his father couldn't have bought him out of service, though some of the locals might have looked with disfavor on that. Winry knew Ed wouldn't have wanted that. He would've never considered not accepting the conscription, not going to war, any more than he would have allowed Alphonse to trail him to the battlefield.

Edward, after all, was a good man.

Was. Winry closed her eyes, trying not to remember what happened next, that another limping soldier begged entry to the farm and, when granted that entrance, told them of Edwards death. He carried Edward's watch, his journal, a strand of his long golden hair; proof that he had fallen.

There were too many bodies to send home. Amestris had won the battle, fought the war and sent the victors home with spoils and death loot. That didn't offer much comfort those who'd lost sons; daughters; siblings and parents. The death right of the fallen soldiers provided little solace, especially when there was no grave to visit. If not for the strand of hair, now woven into a matching set of mourning jewelry, Winry might've thought Edward was still alive.

Alphonse glanced up at the strangled sound she made but turned back to his work when Winry shook her head. His hand inscribed a few more marks on the floor before Alphonse stood, obviously creaky from kneeling so long on the cold stone. Assured his legs would hold him, he paced the circle, verbally noting the symbols and intersecting lines, checking it all on a graph he'd made in one of his notebooks. Winry slunk to the wall, her stomach clenching. She knew Alphonse wouldn't listen to her if she asked him to not work his magic. It was his decision to do this; she could only watch. She'd have to knock him out to make him stop - and that would only work until he woke up again. Running to her grandmother; to Al's father would change nothing. By the time she returned, the deed would have been done.

Still, Alphonse fixed her with a contemplative stare, pulling a folding knife out of his pocket. Opening the blade, he glanced at it, then back at her. "A sacrifice has to be made." Ritual words to go with ritual actions, Winry knew that much. "I offer my blood in hopes that I can set things right." The blade slashed across the meat of his hand, something that would sting and bleed but heal easily. Squeezing the cut, Alphonse dripped blood onto the circle. Smoke billowed, the scorched scent making Winry's nose wrinkle. Alphonse blinked hard and, before he could protest, Winry stepped away from the wall, taking the knife from him.

Winry cut the heel of her left hand, holding it over the circle. "I offer my blood in hopes that we can set things right." The drops sizzled as they struck the circle, nearly making Winry fall back, almost making her wish she hadn't made that offering, but Alphonse was kneeling on the floor again, his hands planted on the circle's rim, activating it with a word of power.

The chalk lines blazed up like blue lightning and Winry felt a cold wind rise from the circle. It whipped her hair into her face; made her skin turn to goose flesh. Things seemed to move within the circle where there had only been lines and squiggles of chalk on stone just a few heartbeats before. Winry folded her arms tight. The blood on her hand felt warmer than her skin and she wished it was a jacket she could wrap around herself.

The hair on her arms and the back of her neck rose and Winry hunched her shoulders, wincing, afraid to see what she and Alphonse had wrought. The thought that they should never have done this flashed through her mind and Winry wished she could take it all back, scuff her foot over the painstakingly drawn lines. A howl came from everywhere and nowhere, a clatter like hail. Winry swore her heart might burst from her chest. It seemed all the air was sucked from her lungs. She staggered, nearly falling into the circle.

And then everything stopped.

A fog drifted through the basement, cool and sweet, like the mist on the fields in spring. Winry caught a scent like moonflower and musk, inhaling deeply. Her breath caught at the stink of burned blood and she coughed hard, trying to clear her throat.

The moan caught her attention and Winry gasped, feeling for the basement wall. Her bloodied hand slipped on the stone and she jerked it back, cradling her curled fist against her chest. "A-Al?" Her voice was reedy, the fog capturing it so it wouldn't travel far. "Al, are you all right?"

"Winry?" He sounded like a little boy again, almost in tears. " careful..."

Waving at the fog in front of her, Winry wondered what Alphonse could mean. Her stumbling feet kicked into something soft, sending Winry to her knees. "Al?" Wounded hand aching from landing on it, Winry swept the other one along the body in front of her.

"Over here."

She jerked upright. "Al," Winry's voice gained a little strength, even though it still quavered. "Someone's here."

"What?" A scrabbling noise, a grunt at his body slamming into hers and Alphonse was there, eyes wide in shock. "Winry." He made her name into a prayer. "It's..."

The wounds were horrible, visible even in the foggy basement. Winry's hand felt slick but cool - not blood; condensation? "Al, we need a light. Make a light!"

The skritch of chalk on stone came from beside her but Winry didn't turn away from the...person?...before her. Long hair obscured most of his face though she could see enough to tell his jaw was clenched tight. A weird, bluish light flared beside her, allowing her a better look.

"Oh, god." Alphonse sounded sick.

Winry swallowed bile. He had no right arm, though that terrible wound was...healed. The scar on his chest that ran from his right shoulder socket, just missing his nipple. She knew that chin, that jaw. "Edward?" His name came out broken and strange, exactly how Winry felt, staring at the wing, half-crumpled over the right side of his body. Wondering fingers smoothed those long bangs off his face. "Ed?"

Alphonse made a funny noise that Winry ignored, concentrating on the injured person in front of her.

He took a deep, shuddering breath, his body curling in on itself. His eyes clenched tight, his teeth bared. His wing - one, Winry realized - twitched and furled. "Edward, wake up. Please." Damp seeped into her clothing; the fog making his skin slick and cool. Too cool. Winry thought he might be going into shock.

Alphonse's words came out in a moan. "Winry, it can't be. This is..."

"He's not a demon, Alphonse!" Realizing how harsh that seemed, Winry tried to gentle her voice. "It's...okay. He's...back." Maybe. She ignored that dark little thought. "Ed, I need you to open your eyes. Can you do that for me? We need to get you out of this basement. I can't see well enough to check you out."

His eyes opened then, cautiously, with a flinch of wing and shoulder when Winry raised her hand. She wondered who'd hurt him, and why, then shoved those thoughts away for now. "Easy, it's okay." He let her touch him this time, confusion marring his face. "What is it?"

He croaked, sounding like a crow to match the black feathers on that single wing. Winry almost smiled but caught herself - it wouldn't do to laugh at him. "Whiiii..." Brows knitting together, he looked toward Alphonse, hovering over her shoulder. "Ahhhhl."

As if their names were the key turning the tumblers in a lock, he sat up, eyes wide and flame bright, even in the murky dim of the basement. "What...Al? Winry? How the hell..." His wing furled and he jerked, staring back over his shoulder. "That wasn't a...dream?" Left hand clenching into a fist then relaxing, he faced them again. "I...I've come home?"

Winry felt Alphonse shivering against her, his hands clutching her shoulders so tightly, he'd leave bruises. "How?" he whispered. "How can this be?"

Exhaustion overtook Edward's face, his body slumping. Winry caught him before he could fall back to the floor. "I've got you, Ed."

"You did it, Al." Edward smiled, a faint curving of his mouth. "You brought me home."

His eyes fluttered closed as he sagged against Winry. His wing draped awkwardly over his legs and, if it weren't for his breath warming her collarbone, she might have thought she was trapped in a nightmare.

The noise behind her made Winry jerk her head, nearly putting a crick in her neck. "Al?" she hissed.

"That's not Edward." He pointed a shaking finger over her shoulder. "That's not my brother."


"It isn't, Winry! Ed didn't...he...died..." Alphonse's skin took on a sickening hue and he slammed his hand over his mouth, scrambling across the basement floor.

Winry heard him retching in the corner, the cough and spit of him trying to clear his mouth. She ached to go to Alphonse but couldn't move, not with Edward pillowed against her body. "Al, Al, I need your help. We need to get him out of the basement. We need," her sharp ears caught the soft scrabble of feet on stone and she whipped around, just in time to see Alphonse on the stairs that led to the first floor of his father's house.

His face stained with confusion and fear, Alphonse shook his head slowly. "I'm sorry, Winry. I...I can't! That...that demon isn't my brother. It may look's not Ed." His mouth twisted cruelly, the words coming out of it stinging like acid. "I won't help you." Alphonse took another step up. "You should leave it there and I'll have Dad deal with it."

"Al?" Winry reached toward him but he backed up another stair.

"No. No, Winry. He's not! I won't help you." Spinning, he charged up the rest of the risers, slamming the heavy door behind him.

The boom echoed in the basement, making the man in Winry's arms start, though he didn't stir beyond that. Shifting her weight on the cold floor, she buried her nose in Edward's hair. He smells the same, she thought, that can't be faked. Those...things that Alphonse - that we've been fighting - they don't smell like humans. They've never smelled like Ed. Winry didn't think that Edward's scars could be duplicated so unerringly. Her fingers brushed over the upper wing, felt the soft pin feathers there. Her mind buzzed with possibilities. She could build him a new arm from metal. Another wing, that would be a challenge, but Winry thought she could do it. She considered the possibilities; what metals she could use to support a body in flight - because surely he'd be able to fly - and still be lightweight enough to not destroy his back and chest if she anchored them directly to bone.

The door opened again, a soft step on the stairs making Winry turn toward the sound. She saw large, masculine feet - not Alphonse, then - coming down the risers. Mr. Hohenheim peered at her in the gloomy dim of the basement, the lenses of his glasses glinting. Behind him, Winry saw her grandmother's round, wrinkled face and smiled in relief. Someone would help her get Edward out of the basement. They'd take care of him again.

"Winry?" Granny didn't come all the way, pausing about halfway down the stairs. "Winry, child, you need to come here."

"Granny, Mr. Hohenheim." Winry couldn't help the excitement coloring her words. "Did Al tell you?"

Mr. Hohenheim stopped outside the rim of the circle, squatting down. "Yes, Winry, Alphonse told us." He rubbed the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. "He told us everything."

There was a tone to his voice Winry didn't like. She tightened her arms around Edward, cradling him against her chest. "Ed's back. He's back and everything will be okay."

Her grandmother choked, the sound similar to the noise Alphonse had made. Mr. Hohenheim sighed, lowering his head slightly. "Winry, that's not Edward. You know Edward died in the war."

"We never saw his body." Winry's hands soothed over his back as the man in her arms moved, his rest disturbed by their voices. "What if it was a trick? What if Drachma took him and...did this?" She touched Edward's wing, lowering her voice to say, "You've heard the rumors, too, about what is being done to the Amestrian military. They raise the dead. They make creatures to fight in the war. This is Edward! This is your son. You have to see that!"

The weird blue light cast strange shadows on Mr. Hohenheim's face as he shook his head. "No, Winry. That's a demon. Alphonse's magic, well, he should never have attempted something on this scale." He lowered his gaze to the chalked circle on the floor. "You're lucky he put a ward in the circle, Winry. That thing could kill you."

If she'd been standing, the words would've hit her hard enough to make her stagger. As it was, Winry swayed in response, her eyes wide and staring at the man she once knew would be her father-in-law. "Ed would never hurt me." Her head moved slowly from side to side.

"Winry, you need to get out of that circle, now." Granny had come a little farther down the steps, beckoning at her. "Leave that thing and come here!"

Granny was afraid. Those words hammered into Winry's head like a mallet against steel. She licked her lips, tasting the moisture from the fog still lingering within the confines of the basement. "He's Ed. He's not going to hurt me - not hurt any of us. Can't you see?" Winry touched his face, leaning her forehead against his. "Ed, wake up. Your Dad is here. Granny's here." She gave him a little shake. "Wake up."

He groaned, eyelids squeezing even more tightly shut. Winry almost laughed - Edward had always tried to put off the morning by doing that. "Tired," he mumbled. "Tell 'em I'll talk to 'em later."

"Winry." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Hohenheim make an abortive attempt to reach her.

She ignored him, patting Edward's cheek. "Not later. Now." Her reward came from the sight of his eyes opening, an exhalation that could've been a whine. Winry pointed her chin toward his father. "Don't you want to see your Dad and Granny?"

With a sigh, he sat up, barely hiding a wince though his hand reached across his stomach, his wing half-furling. Her hand on his back, Winry felt Edward's tension. His wing shifted, wrapping half around her. "Winry." She looked up at him, over his shoulder at Mr. Hohenheim. The man's mouth turned down, silver streaks marring his cheeks. His hands twitched near the edge of the circle. "Don't, bastard."

"You're an abomination." Mr. Hohenheim choked out the words. "You died."

"I was in a battle, old man." Edward's arm swept out in negation. "I did die." The soft feathers of his wing brushed over Winry's shoulders like a benediction. "Al's magic dragged me back from the war being fought in heaven." Winry could tell he was sneering by the tone of his voice. "I was dying there, too. Did you know whatever happens in heaven is mirrored on this world? On other worlds?" He shouted to be heard over Mr. Hohenheim's, "Blasphemy!" "The people who die here - the honorable, the righteous," Edward bit out that word, "just become cannon fodder in 'heaven'." His wing stretched to the side. "This isn't an honor. This is a curse!"

"You are not my son!" Mr. Hohenheim swept his hands in front of his body. The chalk lines started to gleam blue and Winry felt the temperature in the basement drop so fast, the moisture lingering on her skin seemed to freeze.

Edward's palm dropped to the circle, snarling at his father. The light beneath his hand gleamed like sunlight, warm where Mr. Hohenheim's magic chilled. "Don't try it, you bastard." A golden radiance lit his face, igniting his eyes and hair. "Don't you even think about hurting Winry to get at me."

The light seemed to crash into each other across the lines of the circle, like a pair of rams butting skulls. The collision made no sound yet still echoed in the basement, making Winry flinch. Gold and blue warred, the men's gazes fixed. Wind whipped Winry's hair, the loose strands seeming to slice across her skin. She could just glimpse her grandmother's face in the reflected gleam; could see that her high ponytail unraveled under the strength of that wind. Granny cried out though Winry couldn't hear it, just see her grandmother's mouth move in response before the old woman scuttled up the stairs, leaving the battlefield.

The light flared brighter, sparking like static, hissing and popping like lightning. Bolts sparkled in the air, blue, gold; sometimes something in between. Winry tasted blood, realized she'd bitten through her lip. Her hair frizzed and furled around her face, obscuring her vision. Beside her, a little in front of her, Edward remained on his knees, wing still outstretched before her. Over the black lines of it, she could just make out Mr. Hohenheim, his teeth clenched, the light reflecting on his skin. He mouth moved, the words not reaching her through the crackle of magic around her.

Edward jerked like struck by a bolt, crying out. His wing tipped up, his hand rose from the floor, the gold light suddenly extinguished. Winry reached for him as he sagged sideways, barely catching himself from falling. "Bastard." His hand slammed on the floor again, too late - a blue blast exploded against his chest, making Edward skid back across the circle, his wing buffeting Winry, slamming her to the floor.

Breath snarling in her throat, unable to speak, Winry lay on her shoulder facing Mr. Hohenheim. His lips curled back from his teeth, reminding her of a rabid dog she'd once seen. His fingers flexed, a convulsive movement, the icy blue gleam leaking out from under his palms. "No." That single word got lost in a roar of thunder as Mr. Hohenheim struck again, lightning spearing toward Winry.

The sizzle and shock spilled over her, a shield wall of golden light that wrapped around her like an embrace. Winry tried to twist, wanting to see, but she was held captive by Edward's magic. Lightning balled and prowled over the shield, seeking entry, and she could almost taste Mr. Hohenheim's frustration.

Edward's wing furled over her again, the ebony feathers limned with sunlight. "I told you, old man. This is between us." A new scar marred his left shoulder, stark and pale and obviously painful, though Edward ignored it to face his father. "Don't you touch her again." His hand slammed down on the circle, over a mass of twisted lines that once might've made some sort of sense in magic. A howl rose, the sunlight gleam dazzling Winry's eyes. She could barely make out the closest feathers before they brightened beyond what her vision could take.

"Ed," she whispered, and then nothing more.

Alphonse huddled in the corner of his bedroom, his hands clutched over his head. His father had gone into the basement hours ago. At first, it seemed all was quiet, then the magic battle started. Alphonse had felt it singe him all the way in the marrow of his bones. Now, even though all seemed quiet, he couldn't make himself move. Something had happened, something important, and he had let it pass him by, let someone else take the responsibility of cleaning up his mess.

The creak of the door opening made him flinch. For a few seconds, Alphonse couldn't bear to look up at the sound of someone's breathing but, when no one yelled, when he didn't die, he peeked up from his crossed arms.

Pinako Rockbell stood in the doorway, her hair stringing around her face. Behind her glasses, her eyes seemed lost. "Al?"

"Granny?" He uncurled cautiously, his legs and arms asleep from being in the same position so long. Alphonse couldn't stand, nearly fell over when he tried. "Granny, what happened?"

"Al, I'll need your help in the basement." She turned her head, her hand trembling visibly as she tried to tuck some of her hair back behind her ear. "We need to hurry, Al." There was no urgency in her voice, despite the words she spoke.

"What...happened?" The question hung in the air like a lazy, buzzing bee, and, like the bee, was waved off by Pinako's shaking hand.

"Come on, Al." She turned and left his room, leaving him no further recourse but to follow.

What he found in the basement startled him, his father's body, stretched out on the floor, as if in a long, peaceful nap. The circle that had taken so long to draw was completely obliterated, not even a single mark of chalk remaining. "Where's Winry?" Alphonse grasped Pinako's shoulder, giving her a shake when she didn't answer immediately.

"Your father was the last one to see her." Her downcast gaze as she knelt next to the sleeping man was far more eloquent than words.

The explosion rips up half the battlefield, a mine triggered by who the hell knew what. He feels the shrapnel biting into his flesh, tearing muscle and skin and breaking bone. He hears his buddies around him, screaming their agony, protesting their mortality. They aren't supposed to die this way; they go home as heroes, with ticker tape parades and girls to kiss, not in body bags or black boxes draped with a flag.

He's tired, oh gods, so very tired. His body aches with pains that no man should have to feel. He thinks he should die. He thinks it wouldn't be the first time and maybe, this time, he'd get it right, that his body would finally get a chance to rest.

But someone's shouting, "Hang on, Elric, hang on!" and he's swinging up in the air (it seems like he has wings and somehow, can't control them) but before he even has a chance to understand - or vomit, because his stomach doesn't like this jerking motion - he's on the ground again, with voices of all stripes gathered around him.

Something prods him and he tries to scream in pain but all that comes out is a croak.

"Still alive?" Surprise bleeds out of that voice. "Shit, he's in bad shape. I don't know if we should even send him in - he's gonna take all our blood - "

"That isn't your decision to make." A new voice rings out, strident, sure, making him feel warm. "Prep him and get him into surgery." A hand touches his cheek, his eyes opening at the caress.

He stares up into the familiar planes of her face, the jewelry studding her ears. She startles and glances at the wounds on his body; at his right arm, at his left leg. At the piece of metal stuck nearly through his gut. Some tension in her relaxes and Winry leans down to whisper in his ear. "Don't worry, Ed. I've got you."

Maybe this time, living is the right thing.