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Fanfic / build your wings on the way down

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Where the loss of ignorance is more valuable than the knowledge gained, and Edward figures out the source of alchemy a lot sooner than before.
Story synopsis

build your wings on the way down by ShanaStoryteller of Son of the Desert is a What If? story based off Fullmetal Alchemist (2003).

During the failed human transmutation of their mother, Edward pays an additional price along with his arm and leg. The price? His ignorance and his faith in alchemy as he learns exactly what alchemy is powered by.

Despite the realization, Ed and Al still want their bodies back and try to find another way while putting their knowledge to good use.

This work contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Ed is more subdued and somber than canon due to having his faith in alchemy and Equivalent Exchange crushed and having to leave Al behind in Resembool for his safety.
  • Age-Inappropriate Dress: Lampshaded, Hughes is rather scandalized when he realizes the 12-year old Edward is wearing tight leather pants.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Edward asks Roy if the military knew about Tucker using his wife to make a chimera and would he even go to jail.
    Mustang: Of course we didn't know. That's disgusting.
    Edward: I believe that you didn't know but are you sure the military didn't?
    • Edward asks Roy another one after he is ordered to go East.
    Mustang: But- there's a thin line between gods and monsters, Fullmetal. You don't want people to - you don't want people to be forced to place you as one or the other.
    Edward: What makes you think gods aren't monsters too, Colonel?
  • Awful Truth: The price Edward paid for Al's soul was his arm and his ignorance. Ed has to live with the fact that alchemy is powered by death, alchemy's darkest abuses and the resources needed to make a Philosopher's Stone. Ed is absolutely horrified by this and is burdened by the truth. He would have kept it a secret if it wasn't for Al pushing the subject.
    • Al is horrified when Ed tells him to the point of wanting to give up alchemy and forget about restoring his body.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Roy thought taking apart a chimera was impossible, only for Ed to prove him wrong and save Nina.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Edward is very protective of Nina. He tries to spend as much time with her as possible to keep her away from her father. To Hughes' surprise, Ed is very patient and understanding with Nina.
  • Blatant Lies: Edward assures Al that he can take on the military, despite knowing that he can't.
  • Brutal Honesty: Hughes asks if its possible for Ed to save Nina. Mustang bluntly tells him no and explains to him why he can't.
  • Book Ends: Ed's journey to become a State Alchemist begins and ends at a train station.
  • Child Prodigy: When Ed says that he doesn't need to study for the exam that hundreds fail at, he means it.
    • Gabby, a university student asks Edward for help with her trigonometry, Ed mentions reading her textbook when he was seven.
    • Nina grows into an alchemy genius with a knack for understanding the gate.
  • Child Soldiers: The narrative emphasizes that Ed is 11 when he joins the military.
  • The City Narrows: Ed wanders around Canal Street at night, which the worst place in Central. It has the highest in gang violence, prostitution and drug rings. It also has a very active nightlife.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Despite knowing the cost of alchemy, Ed still wants to help people with it.
  • Compulsory School Age: Averted. Ed mentions that he, Al and Winry stopped going to school as the subject was beneath their intellect.
  • Crash-Into Hello: Ed meets Gabby and Aviv when he trips on Gabby outside a nightclub on Canal Street.
  • Commonality Connection: Edward and Gabby bond when they talk about being disturbed by the quiet of their rooms after growing up with a family.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Yes, Ed is burdened by knowing the dark side of alchemy. But he now knows the ins and outs of alchemy and can do feats thought to be impossible by regular alchemists. He knows how to directly bargain with the Gate and what are the set prices and transactions for Equivalent Exchange.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Ed finds Nina absolutely adorable.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Implied with Aviv as he's an Ishvalan immigrant, covered with burn scars.
  • Dark Secret: The Awful Truth is treated as this and rightfully so. Ed kept it a secret for a year before Al forced the issue and he makes sure to hide it from everyone else.
  • Death Glare: Ed gives Tucker "a hateful yellow glare" whenever they crossed paths.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: Edward exploits the fact that the Gate is bound to follow its own rules when reversing Nina's chimera transmutation. So despite the Gate wanting to screw Ed over, it has to give Ed the allotted energy when Ed trades Alexander for Nina. Considering that the Gate gave him that knowledge to begin with...
  • Everyone Has Standards: While Hughes respects Edward's intelligence and abilities, he is still rather horrified that a lone eleven-year-old is actively putting themselves in danger.
    When Roy said he’d had a surprise aboard the train, it would be a lie to say that some eleven year old child was the last thing he was expecting, because as far as Maes is concerned it wasn’t even a fucking option.
  • Exposed to the Elements: Gabbie is described wearing very skimpy clothes in a early spring night and is completely unbothered by the cold. Which weirds out Edward since he's fully dressed with a jacket but is shivering.
  • Equivalent Exchange: As pointed out by Ed, the Gate follows a set of transactions deemed by the worth of things determined by both parties. Everything has a set price if one wants something.
  • Face of a Thug: Aviv Seif, Catherine Armstrong/Gabby's boyfriend, looks rather intimidating due to his height and burn scars on his face, which make him look like he's always scowling. He's actually rather down-to-earth and very sweet.
  • Fallen Princess: Gabby/Catherine Armstrong is implied to have had a falling out with her family since she told Hughes to tell her brother to "go fuck himself."
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Hughes meets Gabby at the train station for Ed's departure and thinks she looks familiar. He then realizes that Gabby shares her looks with her sister, Olivier Armstrong.
  • For Want Of A Nail: The nail is Edward keeping the secrets of alchemy that he learned from the Gate by learning the Awful Truth.
    • Because he knew about Tucker from the start, he doesn't investigate him and gets Hughes to intervene before anyone else found out about the situation.
    • Chimera!Nina is housed with the Hughes as opposed with her father when the truth was revealed. This spares her from Scar and allows Ed time to save her.
  • Foreshadowing: Note how Alexander gets very little mention, despite being Nina's pet? So the readers don't feel bad when Alexander is sacrificed to the Gate by Ed to restore Nina.
  • Friend to All Children: Lampshaded. Hughes is surprised how good Edward is with children. Ed tells him its because he partially raised Al and babysat little kids in Resembool.
  • Given Name Reveal: Hughes thinks Edward's blond university friend, Gabby seems familiar until it hits him:
    Hughes: Catherine Armstrong?
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Hughes as a man who loves his family cannot understand why Tucker would do such a horrible thing to his own family.
  • Happily Adopted: After she is restored, Nina is adopted by the Hughes who love her to bits. Maes loves having two cute daughters to dote on.
  • I Thought Everyone Could Do That: Edward has an unfortunate habit of assuming that every alchemist knows the details of more advanced alchemy such as talking chimeras being made out of humans and chimeras being products of soul alchemy. This results him in thinking that Roy Mustang is a monster since he approved of Shou Tucker, not knowing that Roy doesn't know what Tucker did.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Nina thought her time spent as a chimera was a bad dream. Ed, Roy and Hughes make sure that she continues to think that until she's old enough to handle the truth.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Edward becomes friends with Gabby and Aviv Seif, who are regular university students while he's 12. Lampshaded by Aviv.
    Aviv: When you were twelve, you would have been very happy to have seventeen year old friends.
  • Innocence Lost: Edward mentions not being a child since he learned the truth about alchemy.
  • Just a Kid: Downplayed. Hughes is horrified that an unsupervised eleven-year-old child is joining the military. However, he respects Edward's intelligence and capabilities too much to say it to Edward's face. Hughes instead tries to support Edward and lashes out at Roy, who Hughes believed should have known better than make a Child Prodigy into a Child Soldier.
  • A Lesson in Defeat: Roy allows Ed an attempt to save Nina, believing Ed will fail. Roy feels that Ed needs to be humbled before his power and his arrogance lead him to hurting people or himself. While Roy knows that Ed will be crushed by his failure, Roy has faith that he can help build Ed back up into someone more humble and recognizing of his limits. Man, did that backfire.
  • Meaningful Name: "Gabby" means talkative and she is a linguist and omniglot.
  • Mission Control: Al remains in Resembool for his own safety, doing research from their father's books and keeping contact over the phone. His assistance is vital in reserving Nina's chimera transformation.
  • No Man Should Have This Power: Ed and Al conclude that after getting the Philosopher's Stone to fix themselves that they have to destroy it so no one would exploit its terrible power.
  • Non-Indicative Name/Only Known by Their Nickname: How does one get "Gabby" from Catherine Armstrong?
  • Not So Omniscient After All: While the Gate gives Ed knowledge on various alchemical feats, the knowledge doesn't show the complete context. For example, Ed knows what Roy did with fire alchemy in Ishval but that doesn't give him any understanding of Roy's motives or the consequences resulting.
  • O.C. Stand-in: Gabby/Catherine Armstrong certainly acts different from her canon counterpart, not at all demure.
  • One Side of the Story: Ed only knows Roy through his actions in Ishval and knows the darker aspects of biological alchemy. So when Roy praises Shou Tucker's work with chimeras, Ed gets the impression that the military condones and approves of Tucker's actions and Roy has no respect for human life.
  • Only Sane Man: Hughes is the only one that questions whether it's a good idea to have an unsupervised 12-year old join the military.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When Nina is turned into a chimera, Edward conveys the gravity of the situation in his phone call to the Hughes residence by using his and Hughes' military titles.
  • Original Character: Aviv Seif, an Ishvalan immigrant university student studying to become a lawyer. Despite appearances, Gabby is not one.
  • Papa Wolf: Hughes becomes protective of Edward, fearing that he will be exploited or worse. He even attacks Roy for not taking his concern seriously.
  • Parental Substitute: Maes and Gracia Hughes become parental figures to Edward, to the point of including him in their family photos.
  • Parental Neglect: Tucker has no time for his young daughter, even forbidding her to see him while he works. Since the poor girl is left alone so often, she turns to Ed for affection.
  • Patchwork Fic: While the story is largely based off the first anime, it does have elements of Brotherhood such as Xerxes and Roy learning flame alchemy from Riza's tattoo.
  • Poor Communication Kills: If Ed told Roy what making a talking chimera entails, Tucker probably would have been stopped.
  • Precision F-Strike: Gabby/Catherine tells Hughes to give one to her brother Alex on her behalf.
  • Properly Paranoid: Edward is right to fear the military experimenting on him or Al since the Gate showed him that they do perform experiments on people.
    • His fear and disgust of Shou Tucker and the measures to protect himself from him are perfectly warranted.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Aviv bakes cookies wearing a frilly yellow apron with his girlfriend.
  • Restored My Faith in Humanity: Edward's hope is revitalized after meeting the newborn Elysia and astounded by women's ability to create life.
  • A Shared Suffering: Despite Ed not wanting to burden Al with the Awful Truth, he does feel better when Al makes him tell. Now he has someone that knows the Dark Secret of alchemy with him.
  • Shoo the Dog: Ed makes Al stay in Resembool for his safety in fear that they would target for military experimentation.
  • Shrinking Violet: Nina is very shy and hides behind Edward when meeting new people.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: As Ed says faith is for children.
  • Slumming It: Gabby and Aviv are poor college students who live a crumbling building. Since Gabby is actually Catherine Armstrong...
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Nina was spared when Edward managed to reverse her chimera transformation and return her back to normal.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Roy allows Ed an attempt to save Nina predicting he would fail. Roy thought failing would give Edward a reality check. To his pleasant surprise and shock, Ed succeeded. Which means he cannot allow for Ed to stay in Central in fear that the more corrupt higher-ups will find out and exploit him.
  • The Stations of the Canon: Follows the events of canon with the difference being Al's absence. Only for it to be defied with the revival of Nina.
  • Take a Third Option: Rather than live in their damaged bodies or kill people to make a Philosopher's Stone, Ed and Al want to find a way to make a Stone with non-living souls.
  • They Would Cut You Up: Edward fears the military would take Alphonse away and experiment on him if they ever find out about him so he makes him stay in Reseembool. He also fears this would be Nina's fate if anyone finds out about Tucker's action so he has Hughes and Mustang keep her a secret.
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: The Red Lion seal is useless for most alchemical transmutation, although Al advises Ed to use it to stabilize Nina's reverse chimera transmutation.
  • Through His Stomach: Ed becomes friends with Gabby and Aviv after they feed him cookies and hot chocolate.
  • Touched by Vorlons: Finding out the Awful Truth gives Edward the Gate's knowledge of alchemy.
  • Trying Not to Cry: Edward holds back his tears when he has to say goodbye to Al and Winry when he leaves Resembool to join the military.
    • Ed tries to keep his composure when he has to tell Hughes what happened to Nina and comfort her at the same time.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Hughes is angry at Roy for endangering an eleven-year old kid (Ed) in the train, regardless if Ed is a talented alchemist.
    • Hughes is angry at Roy for allowing Ed an attempt to save Nina if he believes with good reason that Ed will fail.
  • Wham Line: Hughes, Mustang and Hawkeye don't understand why Edward made them to Shou Tucker's place:
    Edward: Tell me you didn’t know he used his wife. Tell me it wasn’t military approved.
    Chimera!Nina: Big brother?
  • When She Smiles: Edward notes how Gabby, a college student he meets outside a nightclub and Aviv, her intimidating Face of a Thug Ishvalan boyfriend, look nicer when they both smile.
  • A World Half Full: Edward thought the military was a horrible place where alchemy is abused to its darkest uses and the likes of Shou Tucker are condoned. Only to find that the military does have some good people in it like Maes Hughes or Roy Mustang who oppose such actions.
  • You Must Be Cold: Discussed. When Edward sees Gabby's very skimpy outfit he thinks of offering her his jacket. He doesn't when he sees that she is unbothered by the cold and he is too cold himself.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Edward tries to feel pride at becoming a State Alchemist, considering how proud everyone else is. All he could feel is shame and dread.