Al was gone.

Ed lay with his eyes closed, controlling his breathing with unconscious effort. They thought he was asleep, he knew, resting from the afternoon's medical tortures. After all, with Winry gone home and Al out on his... date with Roy, there was nothing for him to stay awake for. Better to sleep, build up his strength.

That was fine with him. If they thought he was asleep, they wouldn't feel the need to check on him so often, an inhibiting presence in the corner of the hospital room.

Al was gone, and Ed opened his eyes to slits, checking the room once more for company. The footsteps of the duty nurse were just disappearing down the hall, and she wouldn't make the rounds back for a good fifteen, twenty minutes.

That would be plenty of time.

With a great effort, gasping a little as the nausea swayed in his belly, Ed forced himself to sit up. It was harder, balancing himself with just one hand; he still didn't have his automail back. Al had refused, saying that if he had his automail, he'd try to do so much and make himself sick. The truth lay unspoken between them: it wasn't physical activity Al was afraid Ed would try.

Al didn't want Ed to try and transmute again. Ed knew it, and he even knew why Al was so set against him, but he wasn't going to change his mind. Al was too used to bearing hardships without complaint, too used to having his mind and his soul and his body fucked with by Ed's clumsy mistakes. Al was willing to let it go, let the matter be, to suffer with the status quo.

Ed's mouth tightened, and with a renewed will he pushed himself straight. Not this time.

Al had been very careful to disable him, leave him without alchemy—and leaving him so helpless something that Al never would have done if he didn't feel so strongly about the issue. He'd taken away Ed's arm, taken away anything in the room that could be used to draw an array. No chalk, no paper, no ink, not even a flat open space to draw on. Al had been very thorough.

But not thorough enough. A small smile turned up the corner of Ed's mouth, and he grunted as he leaned over and began undoing the bandage on his side.

It had been a deep gash, and even now it was raw and lightly sealed. It only took a few moments of pain before blood trickled out of the wound, thick and liquid enough to serve his purposes. He hissed and gritted his teeth, and wished he had something to hold the wound closed again; but he only had the one hand, unfortunately, so he had to let it go on bleeding as he lifted his blood-coated hands to his face.

Another human transmutation. Ed was getting more and more practice at them, and every time he figured out something new. He didn't need all the elaborate props, any more. He didn't need a ballroom sized floor to draw an array on, he didn't need arcane materials or pomp and ceremony. He didn't need chalk, or ink; hell, if anything, blood was a better medium for this purpose. He didn't even need to clap. All he needed was himself, and his blood, and his will.

And sacrifice.

He drew the symbol on his forehead, in blood, without need for a mirror. Then again on his chest, switching fingers for fresher ink. His heart pounded, irregularly, under his fingers, but he ignored it. He didn't have much time.

He pressed his hand over his heart, smearing blood over his bare chest, and willed.

Bright. Light. Empty plane.

Ed blinked back tears—against the light, of course. It was impossible to see anything, to hear or feel anything over the frantic pounding of his heart. When the voice came, it wasn't with his ears that he heard it, at all.

We told you never to come back here.

"Yeah, well, I don't take orders from you," he said, defiant despite the shaking, and turned around. His crippled legs seemed to have no trouble supporting him now, for some reason.

The Gate loomed in front of him. The hospital room was gone, or maybe he was gone from it instead, he didn't know. The great stone gates—he flinched a little at the sight of them, from remembered pain—were open, and the darkness inside was as brilliant and searing as the light outside. Eyes from within opened, and fixed on him, cold, inhuman.

What do you want now?

"You know what I want," Ed snarled. "My brother. Fix him. Put him back... put him back the way he was meant to be."

There was a pause, and then, All bargains have a cost.

"I know that. Don't you think I know that by now?" He took a breath, then another to try and steady himself. He thought of his leg, crushed and useless, waiting to be amputated and discarded, and swallowed. It was now or never. "If there's a price to be paid... I'll pay it."

You would be willing to pay his fee? Out of yourself?

"Yes," Ed said, loudly, defiantly.


"Because," Ed said, and his voice failed him, dropped to a whisper. He thought of Al, his brother, his only brother; punished, suffering, enduring, hopelessly maimed, because of him. Always because of him.

"Because.... it should have been me."

For a moment, there was utter silence, utter stillness in the nothingness. Then all was a blast of force and motion, as though a great wind had roared its way out of the Gate. He was pushed back, stumbling, while every inch of his skin flinched and crawled from the force of it. He thought he heard laughing, from somewhere far away. Very well. It shall be as you desired, then.

Fare you well, Alchemist. Enjoy your new gifts.

The wind seemed to tear him away from himself, then, and all went numb.

He slammed back into the hospital bed, or maybe it snapped back around him. The faint nausea he had been feeling before multiplied a hundred times over, a thousand times, and he had no choice but to double over and retch onto the sheets. He half-expected someone to come running, but either he had been no time at all in the gate, or too much time, because the nurse was nowhere in hearing.

It was long minutes before he could overcome the helpless nausea enough to sit up. He gasped and gulped, eyes streaming, the gash in his side throbbing. His leg—the right one, the real one—had gone into pins and needles, but under the itching pain, it felt whole once more. Under the hard, supporting cast, he could move it once more; lift it, flex the muscles and bones against the plaster restriction.

Ed knew then that the price he had offered had not been taken; the deal he desired had not been struck. Alphonse would never be whole, now. He despaired.

It was hard to breathe, for some reason. His chest ached, and his forehead burned, as though the sign he had inscribed on it had been scalding hot. His forehead was clean and dry, though, when he wiped helplessly at it with his hand, and scrubbed at his chest.

He froze.

No. No...

His chest was... his body was wrong. Soft and yielding in places where it should not be, defenseles, malformed. He tore back the sheets with a shaking hand and stared down, paralyzed, at the mirror image of the female form that Al had become. That he now had become. Gone, changed. Transmuted.

His own words screech in his ears, overlaid with the braying mockery of the Gate. It should have been me!

He had to get out of here. That was the only thought that made it through the numb glassiness descending over his thoughts. He had to leave this place, before the nurse, before Al came back. Whether he died trying to get out of sight or not, he could not let Al find out what had happened.

He stumbled to his feet, somehow, in the tiny hospital room, hands clutching at the sheets. Clothes, he needed clothes; or at least something he could transmute clothes out of.

He clutched at the sheets a moment longer, trying to force his brain to work, before dropping them back onto the bed. They were no good, covered in blood. The curtains by the window, now... He fell against one, ripping it down with his body weight, and was faced with the window. It was getting dark out, and the glass cast a faint reflection that he recoiled from. No, no...

It took him a long moment to realize that despite Al's best securing intentions, the window was not locked, nor were there bars on it. Even one-handed, he was able to fumble open the latch and push the window open.

Holding onto the one remaining curtain to steady him, he climbed up onto the windowsill, and fell into the gathering night.