: As far as Junmyeon knows, there's no price too great for him to pay when it comes to his friends. Junmyeon doesn't know very much. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003 ver) AU.
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Water, 35 liters. Carbon, 20 kilograms. Ammonia, 4 liters. Lime, 1.5 kilograms. Phosphorus, 800 grams. Salt, 250 grams. Saltpeter, 100 grams. Sulfur, 80 grams. Fluorine, 7.5 grams. Iron, 5 grams. Silicon, 3 grams. And trace amounts of fifteen other elements.
Junmyeon is certain that while those are the correct measurements of the elements required to make an average adult human body. He's also certain that Oh Sehun was composed of both more and less than a such a cheap shopping list.
"But how do we account for his soul?" Jongin asks during their trip to Central. He trails behind Junmyeon, his steps slow and sluggish as he waits for Junmyeon to appraise yet another vial of saltpeter. They've spent the past few weeks visiting the finest apothecaries the nation could offer, window-shopping for the best ingredients money could buy. Only the richest -- and, of course, the State Military -- could afford such exorbiant prices, but for Junmyeon it might as well have been pocket change.
Like Sehun would have accepted being recomposed of sub-par materials simply bought from a local market.
One thing that Junmyeon's vast fortune couldn't buy though was the one thing Jongin had always been most concerned with, always bringing it up in their conversations ever since Junmyeon had finally let him in on the plan he'd spent the past seven years researching and preparing for. The human soul had always been a tricky thing to work around, but surely Junmyeon could figure something out now that he had Jongin on his side.
"Maybe if the two of us put a little more energy into the transmutation," he answers softly, but with very little confidence. He holds the vial of saltpeter closer to his eyes, examining it once more before setting it back on the shelf with a frown. With so many impurities, there's no way it'd hold up in an actual human transmutation. "Although I should still probably provide the bulk of it."
It's only right after all. It's Junmyeon's responsibility, Junmyeon's fault.
He reaches out to take Jongin's hand, already ready to head back over to the store's supply of lime, but Jongin manages to slip right out of his grasp and walk over to the display himself. Nineteen year old Jongin is a lot different from twelve year old Jongin, but at least that much hasn't changed.
"This looks good," Jongin comments, leaning over the display with his back facing Junmyeon. He's grown so tall, his shoulders so broad and muscled. Junmyeon wonders if Sehun would have grown up the same way, sprouting up like a particularly handsome sunflower. Always looking away from Junmyeon. "I think you should buy it."
And Junmyeon listens without even looking at the cost of the lime, eagerly pulling out his wallet and walking over to the clerk on his own. It's a small price to pay, comparatively.
Junmyeon's family owns an estate out in Resembool, one of the few properties to survive the town's bombing by Ishvalan terrorists in retribution for the civil war. That had been years ago, when Junmyeon had been a child and safely spirited away to Central for the time being. Despite the fact that his father had landed a solid position teaching at the capitol's top medical school and his much older brother had found himself a place in the Amestrian military academy, Junmyeon and his mother had returned to the family home once the conflict had ended.
That had been when he met Zitao, Jongin, and Sehun.
In spite of their age difference, Junmyeon thought of them as his friends. Maybe Zitao felt the same way, but Jongin and Sehun had always insisted on referring to him as their glorified babysitter. It wasn't too much of a stretch -- Junmyeon was the one to pick them all up from their houses in the morning and walk with them to the town's school-house, and a majority of his early adolescent years had been spent happily keeping an eye on them for their parents.
"Don't you ever get tired of this?" Jongin asked as he laid in the grass a healthy distance away from where Junmyeon was stretched out. Zitao and Sehun had been rolling around on the ground closer to the river and attempting to toss each other into the water, although Sehun's strategy seemed to involve more slumping on top of Zitao's body like a heavy rock than any actual force. "You're so old, and you're still hanging out with us kids."
"That's because I like you kids." Which was true. Junmyeon probably liked the three of them most out of all the people in his life.
And as he sat on one of Resembool's grassy banks, listening to Zitao and Sehun's playful yelps echo through the air and watching Jongin's hair ruffle in the summer breeze, he realized he'd do anything for them.
The year Junmyeon turns fifteen, Sehun collapses with very little warning in Junmyeon's house. So little warning that by the time Junmyeon finishes frantically telephoning his father in Central for medical advice -- because surely, surely, one of the top doctors in the country could easily fix this -- Sehun's been pronounced dead by the town's doctor for reasons Junmyeon still doesn't quite understand.
Everything about it is painfully short and frighteningly quick, passing through at whirlwind speeds before Junmyeon can even begin to understand anything.
By the end of the week, he's already watching Sehun's coffin close for the last time. Zitao is crying into his shoulder, his tears soaking through the brand new suit Junmyeon's mother had ordered just for the occasion. For the first time in a long while, Jongin is holding his hand of his own free will. It's smaller and less warm than Junmyeon had expected.
Junmyeon sleeps over at Jongin's in the weeks after, his own house haunted by all the memories of Sehun lounging around the house while petulantly asking for things, as well as the few times Junmyeon had refused him. Regret lingers in every corner, and every time he closes his eyes, he sees Sehun's face and finds himself wondering what he did wrong that day.
"You didn't do anything," Jongin says quietly each night, his voice steady and almost reassuring. He never reaches for Junmyeon's hand again though, and in the darkness of the room, Jongin's eyes accuse him instead.
He's right -- Junmyeon didn't do anything. He didn't do anything when Sehun had collapsed, when Sehun had laid there on the ground as his life slipped away.
"I'll figure something out," Junmyeon promises, more to himself than to Jongin or even Sehun. His fists tighten in the blankets, and he hears Jongin sigh before they drift off to sleep.
That's the solution, or looks to be it anyway. Junmyeon finds out about it when a young man clad in the same blue military uniform as his brother comes into the town, flashing a silver pocketwatch at anyone who asked.
"Alchemy can be used to fix anything," the soldier had said, sitting in Sehun's chair as Junmyeon's mother fetched him a glass of tea, "for a price."
Junmyeon knows all about prices, even if he's never had to worry about paying for them. Not everything has a price -- if Junmyeon could buy alchemic talent, he would have done so immediately instead of struggling with the simplest of transmutation circles and chemical break-downs for so long -- but there are a lot of things Junmyeon can buy. Rare and expensive alchemy texts and the time and patience of the best alchemists willing to tutor him.
"Fifteen's a little old to start learning," one of them notes, looking over his glasses at Junmyeon like he's trying to break him down to his bare elements, "and you're saying you've never even tried before?"
Junmyeon flushes in embarrassment, his hands clenched into tights fists underneath the desk.
"I have motivation now. Determination."
If nothing else, Junmyeon proves that much. Jongin, who takes to coming along to Junmyeon's lessons now that one playmate is six feet under and the other has thrown himself head-first into his family's automail business, takes to the lessons much more quickly, already advancing well past Junmyeon by the end of their first year, but Junmyeon keeps at it.
"It feels good," Jongin says as he presses his hands to a transmutation circle drawn in the dirt. Blue light flares from the circle, and from the ground arises a life-size puppy chiseled out of rock. It looks suspiciously like one of his own dogs. "Having something to do with my hands. No wonder Zitao decided to take up automail. It's nice not feeling useless."
"Idle hands," Junmyeon replies as he, too, draws the now familiar alchemic runes into the soft earth. He tries for a different transmutation and winds up with a rough, rock goblet filled with water drawn up from the soil. Not too shabby.
While Junmyeon doesn't improve by the leaps and bounds Jongin does, he progresses at a steady rate. By the end of his sixth year of study, he's certain that he's almost ready, and on the sixth anniversary of Sehun's death, he gathers Jongin and Zitao and lets them in on his plan.
"Didn't you tell me human transmutation is illegal?" Zitao asks, now staring at Junmyeon with suspicion. He's nineteen and towers over Junmyeon now, and his disapproval is intimidating. Jongin, who is almost as tall and grown, stares at him with the same intensity.
Junmyeon bites his lip. "But it's Sehun." He knows his voice is heavy with desperation, but for good reason. With each year he struggles with alchemy, more of his memories of Sehun fade with time. How long until he forgets the sound of his awkward laugh, or the way his eyes narrowed whenever he grinned? Junmyeon doesn't think he can afford to wait any longer.
"Fuck, hyung. Was that the whole reason behind this?"
Jongin looks almost disappointed in him. Junmyeon can't even look at him when he silently nods.
He hears Jongin tell Zitao to leave, something about how they had to talk about this alchemist-to-alchemist, and as the front door closes, he braces himself. He tries to tell himself that nothing Jongin says to him can shake his resolve now, not after years of working up to this point -- but Jongin's previous words echo in his ears, speaking of nothing and uselessness.
Jongin will always hold power over Junmyeon, the same way Sehun still does from beyond the grave.
"You think you already know everything you need?" Jongin asks from the door, and Junmyeon can hear him slowly walking back over.
Junmyeon nods again, for some reason too nervous to open his mouth. His throat feels so dry.
He hears Jongin sigh again, just like that night so many years ago, and even with his eyes closed he can see the shadow Jongin casts as he stands over him.
"I wish you'd told me when we started this," Jongin mutters, and Junmyeon looks up in shock, "You know I want him back just as much as you do." He almost reaches out for Junmyeon's hand again, but stops himself just in time. "Let's do this, hyung."
They set up their purchases in Junmyeon's basement.
His mother has long left the Resembool estate, beckoned back to Central's bright lights and socialite circles, and with his brother still in the military, the running of the estate falls on Junmyeon's weak shoulders. He's a lenient master though, and when he tells the few servants he keeps around that they have the week off, no one is surprised.
"No disturbances," he promises Jongin as he lets him in through the front door, "just you and me."
Jongin just brushes past him, complaining of the summer heat.
It's cooler in the basement, where they spend hours drawing out the transmutation circle the two of them had worked to develop. Junmyeon had done most of the planning, combining various other circles he'd come across in his studies until he felt he had developed the perfect one, while Jongin was in charge of making sure the actual construction of the circle on the basement's hardwood flooring was perfect. It's almost midnight by the time they finish, chalk dust all over their hands and their nerves racing.
"Remember what I told you," Junmyeon says as he wipes his hands on his pants, "don't put in too much energy. Let me handle it, I just need you to help me visualize Sehun and direct the transmutation."
Jongin is silent, and Junmyeon's almost certain he'll argue back. He's gotten more contrary over the years, although he has been following Junmyeon's lead for the past year.
"Are you sure this will work, hyung?" Jongin finally asks. His voice is so small.
Of course Junmyeon isn't absolutely sure this will work out. He's tried to calculate all possible rebounds and problems, but human transmutation is illegal for a reason and it's not like there's very much research available about it to anyone who isn't a State Alchemist.
But that doesn't mean he can't try.
"Not at all," he says honestly. "So this is your last chance to back out, Jongin."
A part of him hopes Jongin will take it, that Jongin will walk out of his house and take up a proper profession like Zitao has. Use that to cope with the death of his best friend, a wound that was never allowed to properly heal as long as Junmyeon kept promising hope he couldn't even guarantee.
But there's another part of Junmyeon that knows he can't do this alone. Jongin probably knows it too.
"I'm not a kid anymore, hyung," and Junmyeon knows that already. "I can handle this, too. Probably better than you can."
Junmyeon chuckles bitterly, because that's probably true.
Only it's not. As the room flares in dark purple light, both of their hands positioned firmly on the transmutation circle, Junmyeon realizes just how wrong the two of them were. He hears Jongin's scream amidst the crackling of the sparks in the room and realizes that neither of them were ready for this.
Junmyeon wakes up to a blinding white. There's no end in sight, and when he sits up, all he can see is a giant stone door hovering a few meters away from him with the impressive engraving of a tree of it.
So you're awake.
He turns around to find a white silhouette, whose outline is surrounded by an aura of black particles. It's seated quite casually on whatever counts as the floor for this place.
"Who are you? Where's Jongin?" he asks it, feeling dazed. His head hurts, and his memory up until that moment is a bit of a blur.
The silhouette shrugs its shoulders at him. I am what you call the world. Or perhaps the universe, or perhaps god, or perhaps truth, or perhaps all, or perhaps one. And I am also you. It doesn't make much sense, if anything it makes Junmyeon's head spin even more.
And then he hears the doors behind him creak open.
Welcome, you fool, who doesn't know his own place.
The last thing Junmyeon sees are those razor sharp teeth pulled back into a wicked smile as the tangle of shadowy limbs tear into his body and drag him through the door. The silhouette's lips move one last time before he finds himself in complete darkness, centuries of knowledge being shoved into his mind until he feels like his head is going to burst, but even as he fights to block out the pain, its last words echo mockingly in his ears.
Seven years of hard work, good job, Junmyeon.