|The Long Walk Home
Author: Librarianbot PM
Saved the world again . Back on the right side of the Gate. But nobody ever said the last leg of the journey would be easy... Post-Conqueror of Shambala and my fic, The Death of Truth. Spoilers for the whole series. Anime universe. Ed, thus language.Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Adventure - Edward E. & Alphonse E. - Chapters: 14 - Words: 52,470 - Reviews: 23 - Favs: 12 - Follows: 20 - Updated: 04-20-11 - Published: 03-24-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5840519
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist is still not mine. I'm just merrily leaving myself with new plot strands to follow.
A/N: GAH! Don't ask, just don't ask. Writer's block, mainly, but life in general. But never mind! It's done! It's done! Excuse me while I run around making faint whimpering noises.
Epilogue: The Stranger, the Stone and the Start
There was something different about the world when Edward March woke up and it took him a long time to work out what it was.
His head ached horribly. It felt as if someone had been using it as an anvil, or maybe a pestle. His ears were ringing faintly too and something had obviously died in his mouth. When he tried to move, he found that his muscles had been replaced with hot wires and the cramps were bad enough to make him convulse where he lay.
Breathing hard, he managed to get his body under control, clenching his teeth until the pain had died down. As it faded, the oddness of what he was experiencing dawned slowly upon him. There was something nagging at the edge of his mind that did not make sense. He frowned, focusing on the deep yellow ceiling, trying to puzzle it out. Two things hit him more or less simultaneously.
The first was the simple realisation that the ceiling of his bedroom was grey, not yellow and it was only very rarely lit by the flickering light of candles. The second, much more complex realisation was that it had been a very long time indeed since his thoughts had been so coherent.
His breath caught in his throat. Time stretched away from him, back into a whirl of noise and colour, of smell and sensation that seemed to have no end and no beginning. As far back as he looked, there was only a formless chaos of disjointed images and ideas, united only by an overwhelming helplessness and the yawning mouth of some great dark pit.
He screwed his eyes tight shut and tried to force himself to get a grip, his fingers catching up handfuls of sheet as his hands clenched. Things bobbed up out of the darkness. Patterns. Numbers. The smell of freshly cut grass. Metal and flames. Long hair tickling his nose. A dog, licking his hands. Pens scratching on paper, chalk on blackboards, sharp chemical scents, the flickering heat of a Bunsen burner, the itch of irritated skin, scraped knuckles, bruised elbows, blackened eyes, torn skin, broken bones, ripped muscles, blood and more blood and the pain, so much pain that he couldn't scream –
The harsh shriek that came out of his mouth sounded distant and alien, as if he were hearing a wounded animal howl in the night. The sheets tore in his grasp as he lurched upright, dark silks coming apart like tissue paper. A wave of nausea overtook him and he flopped sideways, catching himself on trembling palms. The pain and the echoes of pain tore at his body and the inside of his head, leaving him a shaking, whimpering wreck. His arms finally giving way completely, he buried his face in the bed and tried to muffle screams that still did not feel like they were his own.
Consciousness came and went. Years could have passed without him knowing. He could have lived his life again and again in the space of seconds. When the hands, cool and insistent, guided him back to the middle of the bed, he had not the least strength to resist or any shred of will to do so.
Fingers moved along the side of his chin, titling his head so a cloth could be pressed against his brow. He tried to open his eyes, to see who it was, but they would not obey him.
"Peace," the voice whispered in his ear, "You're safe. You're among friends."
It was no one he recognised but the motions and the words were familiar. They lulled him into something approaching calm and he drifted away from the pain, mind falling back into memories of contentment and love.
The second voice came from further away. It was lilting, almost musical and Edward opened his eyes to see who it was that was speaking. He saw only shadows moving across the surface of translucent drapes and realised that his bed was at the centre of a curtained enclosure, cut off from the rest of the room. The figure tending him was swathed head to toe in beautifully embroidered robes, their head swallowed up by great cowl. Only their hands were visible, slender and pale against the rich fabrics.
"What is your name, stranger?"
The musical voice again, drifting through the curtains. Edward squinted, trying to discern what lay beyond.
His voice caught in his throat. He choked on nothing and tried desperately to swallow.
The robed figure ducked down then lifted a cup to his lips. He drank greedily, the water as sweet as nectar in his parched mouth.
"I…I'm…" he managed once the cup was taken away, voice unsteady but working, "M-my name's Edward March."
"Edward…March," the voice repeated slowly, "And where are you from, Edward March?"
"Cirencester." Edward hesitated, wondering if this was enough information. "In Gloucestershire. But I've been living in London for the last few…years…"
Memories swelled up, places and people and pangs of loneliness and longing.
"I do not know where that is," the questioner admitted after a long pause.
Edward's eyes widened in surprise and he looked uncomprehendingly at the person beside him, as though they might explain this absurd lack of knowledge.
"How…how can you not know where London is?"
For a little while no one spoke and all Edward could hear was his own heartbeat, thudding away inside his ears.
"Master." The robed woman – he thought is must be a woman, with hands like that – addressed the curtains with a slight bow. "The marks on his body are as burns and I cannot find any sign that the Serpent has touched his body."
"You are certain?" the hidden questioner asked.
"Curious. I was so sure that…"
The curtains billowed. Footsteps, soft and measured, approached the head of the bed, directly out of Edward's line of sight. He tried to twist to see who was there but a hand caught the back of his head and forced it to stay still with a grip like iron.
"There is one final test. One way to be truly sure."
And abruptly, a second hand clamped over Edward's mouth and nose, forcing some sort of bitter pill between his lips. Before he could stop himself, he tried to inhale and then his throat was stinging, the pill melting as he swallowed it and then his stomach was on fire and then his body was numb and then –
Every muscle in his body spasmed and his mind was consumed by a perfect, blinding clarity. All at once, all the disconnected memories slotted together again. He saw his parents, his dog, London, Professor Van Hohenheim, the war, the flowers in Hyde Park, Helen. He felt someone else's mind in his thoughts and fire and burning and oblivion and light and then something else, something dark and empty and cloying, something that swallowed him whole and curled up inside him and brought him back into a world of pain and paralysis. His throat, still burning, constricted painfully as he remembered himself lying unmoving, on the edge of consciousness, being prodded and pawed by doctors, by nurses, by a grey, brooding man who whispered in his ear of other worlds and the secrets of the universe. He saw hospitals and houses and streets and trains passing by as through a distorting lens, half conscious reality, half daydream. He saw a study, chalk on a blackboard, his hands meeting in a flash of light, dust and soil mutating under his touch. He saw the rain.
And then his stomach turned over at the sight of a wild reflection of himself, a face that was both his and that of a stranger, spitting and snarling with unsuppressed rage, shouting and bullying. Helpless, Edward was drawn back into a world of dark corridors and seething shadows, down and onwards into a circular chamber where Helen stood framed against unearthly light, a gun raised in her hand, blood spreading slowly across the front of her dress. She crumpled and he saw the life going out of her as the world tore itself apart around them.
Edward March screamed in rage and denial and tore from the grip of his unseen assailant. He landed on his haunches, breathing hard and raggedly. The anger surged through him as an unstoppable red tide, rising until he thought he would burst. Desperate for an outlet, a way to stop the pain before it consumed him, he lifted his arms and drove his fists into the bed with all his might.
His hands went through the mattress as if it were not there and shattered the frame. With a roar, he seized the timbers and ripped them out from under him, tearing the bed in half. Driven by an overriding impulse, he raised the twisted mess clean above his head and flung it away. It sailed through the curtains and crashed into a wall some fifteen feet away, erupting in a cloud of splinters and feathers.
"Magnificent. Truly magnificent."
Whirling, Edward finally came face to face with the owner of the musical voice. The man in the fine clothes spread his hands, the candlelight painting his pale skin in a hundred shades. He smiled as he spoke, a smile that almost but not quite reached his shining, indigo eyes.
"Welcome, my friend. It seems we have much to discuss."
(A round of applause for each of these, if you please!)
Fullmetal Alchemist – The brilliant Hiromu Arakawa
This Story – That would be me (Applaud mockingly for how long it took me to get this sorted out)
Canonical Characters – Also Hiromu Arakawa
Original Characters – Um, me again...
Proof Reading – The wonderful Dailenna & the lovely thewiseferret
Word Processing – The dreaded Microsoft Word
Visuals – The many people who live at the back of my head and Won't Shut Up
Music – Mainly Spotify
Drinks – Robinson's Fruit Squash
With Special Thanks To – Everyone who's struggled through this stupidly delayed story
(An extra loud round of applause for all of you!)
Once more with the credits, huh?
Aren't you lucky people, to have another teasing post-credits sequence to spur me on to do another arc of this story?
Preview: Here Comes the New Boss…
"And that is everything Mustang put in his report."
General Grumman straightened his spectacles and smiled behind his moustaches.
"Unless he has taken to writing very small in invisible ink, yes, everything."
"And you believe it?"
"Believe what he has written? Of course. Believe that what he has written is all there is to it? Oh my, no."
"You mean, he's left things out."
"Only when he thought it was absolutely necessary, I'm sure. The names of the places he describes, for example, well it may be just me, but I can't find them anywhere." Chuckling, Grumann tapped the papers on his lap. "He's really quite good at evading the little things like that."
"So it's broadly true but absolutely no good whatsoever as a piece of military intelligence. Hm. I suppose we're not in any state to go to war over this in any case. Still…" The Prime Minister of Amestris rose from behind his desk and turned to stare out of the window, the morning sun turning him to a broad-shouldered. He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I don't like the idea of a Brigadier General of Mustang's standing hording information. That way, disaster lies. I don't suppose he could be persuaded to fill in the details of that report?"
"If you're asking me whether you could beat them out of him, I would have to say no," Grumann replied, "He is as stubborn as he is slippery and not someone you want to make an enemy of."
"The man brought down Bradley, practically singlehandedly," the Prime Minister snapped, "I don't want him as a friend, never mind an enemy. I want him at arms-length and under control, not riding off into battle like some damned crusader and keeping potentially dangerous information to himself."
Grumman cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses again. "I doubt it will be Mustang that you have to worry about."
With a sigh, the Prime Minster turned away from the window. "I suppose not."
He plucked a photograph from his desk, a black-and-white print showing two young men on a country road, one tall, the other of medium height, both fair haired and well built. The shorter man's right arm and left leg were notably absent, his weight resting on a single crutch. He was directing a determined scowl at the photographer, in sharp contrast to the calm forbearance on his brother's face.
The Prime Minister shook his head slowly. "Dead heroes are so much easier to handle than live ones."
"Oh, yes," Grumman agreed pleasantly, "They could be quite inconvenient once it becomes widely known that they are still alive."
"And we can't stop that happening, no matter how hard we try. Damn it all, why couldn't they have just stayed wherever it was they were? They're national heroes – dead national heroes. They were useful like that."
"Believe me, they could be very useful like this." Grumman reached over and took the photograph. He held it up, tapping the image of the Elrics with a gnarled finger. "I won't deny it will be awkward explaining how they can stroll back into Central when we can have a monument commemorating their sacrifice…but Edward Elric is a handsome, charismatic, intelligent and above all brave young man. He uses auto-mail and he is the one alchemist in this country who everyone knows has done more good than harm. If that doesn't say 'recruiting poster', I just don't know what does."
Pressing his fingertips together, the Prime Minister leant forward and frowned. "I suppose so," he said eventually, "With careful handling, I suppose it might be a good idea."
"It's that or denying all knowledge. And, hmm, praying."
The Prime Minister stood up again and clasped his hands behind his back. He turned to look out of the window again.
"I don't consider praying to be sound governmental policy." A small smile crept across his lips. "In which case, I suppose I am going to have to find a way of convincing Mr Elric that his country needs him again. And," he continued, returning to his desk and laying a finger on the sheaf of papers, "I do believe this will be one of those rare instances when one of our problems will solve the other."
Grumman smiled benevolently at him. "What an interesting thought. Oh my, yes."
Acknowledging the General with a gracious nod, the Prime Minister picked up his phone.
"Marie? Could you bring in the appointment dairy, please? I need to pencil in an urgent meeting with Brigadier General Roy Mustang…"
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Dog Has His Day