A/N: based on FMA
Tae is sitting outside the room, and even though she’s only a suit of armour, Kim can sense the dread in her posture.
“Is… is he—?” he stutters as he approaches Tae. She looks up at him, saying nothing. She used to be so lively, so talkative when they were children. But over the years, she speaks with growing infrequency, stewing in her metal body all by herself. He’s come to understand her silences mean more than her words.
Gathering his courage, he touches her shoulder and heads in.
Jon is startled, but only for a moment. He flashes a grin bright enough to nearly eclipse all the blood and bruises covering his body. Two nurses tend to his flesh wounds, cleaning them and wrapping bandages around his waist, the pale lengths stark against his tan skin. A state alchemist is afforded all the luxuries that can be spared on military personnel, and Jon is one of the more important ones of the lot.
Regardless, not even the best doctors in the country can do anything for his arm, mangled beyond recognition.
“Kimmie~” he sings as if he isn’t in agony. “Look at you, making a flashy entrance as usual.”
Had they been younger and more filled with hope, Kim would’ve flung a spanner through the air at the other, yelling at him for deliberately damaging his precious automail. Had they been younger, Kim would’ve thrown himself at his friend, shaking him by the collar and asking him why he couldn’t control himself better. But they are old and weary now. Tae barely says a word for days and all Kim can manage is a deep sigh and some hidden tears. Only Jon still fights like his life depends on it.
In a way, it probably does.
He drags himself over, pulling a chair and falls into it. On closer look, he can see the full extent of Jon’s injuries. Some of the cuts are so deep, Kim feels them on his own skin. He resists the urge to hold Jon’s hand, bites down on his lip before he blurts something selfish.
“You went overboard again,” he says in a stern voice.
“Hey,” Jon begins his defence. “If Tae hadn’t gotten in the way of letting me use the Special Tactic—anyway,” he clears his throat. “You’re here. That’s good. I need help,” he shrugs his right shoulder, mechanical arm hanging off its last remaining cables. “You’re traveling with your tools, right? How soon can you get to work on—”
“Does it hurt?” Kim murmurs, feeling like he’s already been toiling for several restless nights.
“Of course not!” Jon speaks with pride. “It’ll take a lot more than a stupid fight to hurt me, you kn—ah! ” he gasps when one of the nurses tightens a roll of bandaging. She looks like she meant to make him squeal, but he simply clears his throat again and shifts higher on his pillows. “So,” he tries to steer the conversation once more. “The repairs. Can you do them here?”
Kim looks out of the window, trying to blink his eyes as quickly as possible. “Sorry,” he mutters his lie. “You’ll need to travel back with me.”
“To Resembool?! Come on! I’m sure you can manage without your whole workshop. You’ve always been so resourceful. I remember when you fixed my leg within a few hours of it jamming up because of the ice. You can do it again, right? I know you can—”
“You either come back with me or you find another mechanic,” Kim threatens, glaring at Jon and failing to keep his tears in. When they roll down his cheeks, his composure descends with them. He feels himself crumble in every second he has to watch Jon lie helpless before him.
“You either return with me. Or you stay in this bed, without a working arm, until someone takes pity on you and—”
“Kimmie,” Jon’s voice is soft, remorseful. “I broke my promise again, didn’t I?” he reaches out to wipe a thumb under Kim’s eyes. And just like that he falls apart.
He uses a colorless, odorless lubricant that won’t stain Jon’s clothes. Every nut and bolt is selected to allow not only natural motion, but also modification by alchemy. Every rivet is chosen specially for its purpose in the assembly. Soldering the wires into position is a painstakingly slow process. Sewing the shoulder pleats with padding and fabric takes hours. He measures and then re-measures the rubber tendons, ensuring the artificial ligaments work as they would had they been made of real tissue. Kim is careful and deliberate with every inch of the automail, more so than with any of his other work. Every time Jon presents himself for repairs, he leaves a part of himself in the joints and bends for the other to carry into all his battles.
This way, we can always be together, he tells himself.
A few hours after midnight, he pulls the safety goggles off his face and yawns. Testing the wrist joint and running current through the fingers, he takes down some notes for adjustments and rolls his neck to hear it click.
What should take weeks, Kim accomplishes virtually overnight. He puts aside everything else and devotes his days to Jon’s arm. He could always take his own sweet time: the idea comes to him one afternoon when he’s using the welding iron to join two large plate pieces together. He could stretch the process out by several months, keep the two siblings in his sights and under his care for as long as he wants. But there is a reason why they do the work they do. There is a reason why they fight. Kim can’t stop them, no matter what his feelings may be about the situation. He can’t get in their way. He can’t hold them back.
So, he pushes them forward.
“You can make almost anything now, right?” the voice in the doorway makes Kim jump. He frowns at the other for startling him, but can’t bring himself to sustain the sentiment for too long. Where he leans across the doorway, Jon looks soft and sleepy, the light glinting off his temporary arm while diffusing against the gold of his bare skin. Was he always that built? Kim wonders. Or did that come from the fighting?
“Everything except kidneys,” he answers.
“Even a heart?” Jon asks, then makes an impressed face when he’s given a nod. “You really are a genius, Kimmie. No wonder you get summoned from all over the country. I can see it, you’ll be world-famous one day.” There’s a hint of admiration in the tone, and another of jealousy.
“It doesn’t matter how much alchemy I learn, I’ll never be able to do what you do.”
“Careful,” Kim jokes. “You sound like you’re getting sick of me.”
“Eh… don’t put words in my mouth,” Jon grins again, and his face goes back to being that of his brash eleven-year-old self, the one that constantly got in fights with other kids. Thinking back now, Kim realises not much has changed since then. He’s still the same boy.
They stay silent for a while before Kim beckons Jon over. “Come see,” he motions to the half-completed arm.
“Woa…” the other lets out, making to touch the assembly before getting his hand slapped away. He scowls.
“No touching until it’s ready.”
“OK, OK.” Jon jerks his chin at it. “So? How’d you make it so much lighter than the last one?”
Kim stares at him in surprise. “You could tell that just by looking?!”
“I’ve had your automail for years,” Jon reasons. “I learnt to live with it, learnt to fight with it, learnt all my special alchemy tricks with it. I grew up dragging it with me like a ball of lead. This is why I never grew taller, you know?!”
“No, that’s just bad genes.”
Kim chuckles, leaning back in his chair and watching the other fume. Up close, his shoulders look broader than they did the last time they met. The scars from his first surgery are lighter now, like they’ve truly become a part of him. Even the rest of his frame looks sturdier. Maybe it’s the light, maybe it’s Kim’s sleep-deprived mind. Or maybe Jon has grown. Maybe, even after losing so much, he has found himself again. He has filled himself up with compassion and gentleness again. Maybe that’s what ties the three of them together, Jon and his endless love.
“You should come back more often, you know?”
The other hums, still sulking as he studies some of the diagrams pinned to a corkboard. “… don’t want to owe you and Granny any more than we already do.”
“Owe us?” Kim frowns. “You don’t owe us anything, Jon.”
There’s a long pause before Jon turns around with a smile. The width of his back is as sad as it had seemed the first time they left for Central. “I owe you my life,” he murmurs. “I’ll always owe you that. As long as I live.”
Sometimes, Kim dreams of a day when Jon returns for good. Tae would slip out of the car behind him, slender arm waving and hair fluttering in the wind. They’d sit around a table, bickering over the last piece of apple pie, getting whacked on the head by Granny’s pipe when the argument got too childish. Sometimes, Kim dreams of a future where Jon decides it is time to rebuild their family home, raise it again from the ashes. The only worry then would be what color to paint the weatherboards—Kim would say cornflower blue, Jon would insist on a deep mustard or goldenrod. Tae would have the ultimate say and choose neither. Sometimes, Kim dreams of holding Jon in his arms through the length of cold nights, keeping him safe until his terrors pass – until he no longer feels like he is fighting alone or carrying an unbearable weight on his shoulders. They would live simple lives, they would be a real family then. And Kim wouldn’t have to lie to make Jon stay by his side.
Sometimes, Kim dreams that Jon is his, to love and cherish. But for now, in this reality, he can only watch from a distance.