A Boy Named Ed
Ed knew he was different. It wasn't just that he was smarter than the other kids or even that he had automail. No, it had more to do with the way people would occasionally look at him, like they were expecting somebody else. It was the way his mechanic cried the day she met him. It was the way his dad would sometimes slip – and call him Fullmetal.
A.N. Two days off from work for a hurricane means I finally have the time and energy to write. Luckily the power was only out for an hour. Sorry for the long wait. Hopefully, I find a way to do NaNoWriMo this year and get a lot written then. Anyway, this one's been a long time in coming. Should be exciting.
Disclaimer: Ed, Al, and all their friends are the property of Hiromu Arakawa. I do not own them, but am grateful for the opportunity to use them in the unleashing of my own imagination.
Rating: This story is rated K+
Chapter 41, in which you can't fight fire
"The resources allocated to the… damn, what was it?" Roy snatched the print copy of his speech off of the desk for the eighth time and scanned for the words he'd forgotten. "Caprelli Project. Caprelli, Caprelli, Caprelli… ugh, I hate this." He gave up on pacing and dropped into his office chair with a heavy sigh.
"If you'd started memorizing it a week ago, instead of waiting until the morning of the debate, you wouldn't be having this problem." His wife commented without looking up from the filing cabinet.
"If you would just let me wing it, like I usually do, I wouldn't be having this problem either." Roy countered. "This scripted stuff is so dry."
"It's just the opening speech. You can have fun with the rest."
"You know I'm going to forget it all the moment I step up to the microphone, right?"
"Not if you keep practicing." Riza shot him a quick glare. "Now try it again, from the beginning."
"Yes, ma'am." Roy put the page back on his desk and cleared his throat. A knock on the door interrupted him before he could start. He shrugged a smirk at his wife before answering. "Come in."
Fuery poked his head in the door. "Excuse me, General. Alphonse is here to see you."
Roy paused to glance at Riza before responding. She shook her head with a heavy sigh of her own. "Nevermind. I guess you'll be winging it this time. Just don't say anything stupid."
The General grinned and put a hand over his heart. "When have I ever said anything stupid?"
"Today? Or shall I pull out the archives?"
"Ha, ha, ha." Roy rolled his eyes. "Send him in, Kain."
Closing the filing cabinet, Riza turned towards the door. "I'll you boys talk. Do you want me to bring you anything?"
"Coffee would be great. Thank you."
She opened the door and stepped out just as Al was coming in. They paused a moment to greet each other and then she headed out and he stepped in, closing the door behind him.
Roy leaned back in his chair and waited. This talk was a long time in coming. He hadn't spoken to Al at all in the three weeks since Ed's return to Central, although Ed had called him several times. The younger man hung his head as he approached the desk. Roy said nothing, letting Al speak first and set the tone for this meeting. He'd rather let bygones be bygones, but was ready to defend if another argument erupted.
"Thank you for seeing me, General." Al began neutrally. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything important."
"Not at all. You just saved me from having to memorize the most boring speech in Amestrian history. I could recite it for you if you like."
Al chuckled softly. "No, thank you. I…" he swallowed. "I wanted to apologize for, well for everything. I made a mistake. Ed belongs here, with you and Riza. It was wrong of me to think otherwise or to try and change things. I'm sorry."
Roy nodded, glad that this wasn't going to turn into another confrontation. "Thank you, Al. I'm sorry, too. I should have kept my cool that night, thought things through. Looking back… I realize now that I spouted off a lot of nonsense about my expectations without realizing that you had no idea what those expectations were. I can't exactly hold you to helping Ed follow the rules when you don't know them yourself."
Al shook his head. "Common sense should have been enough. You were right. I wasn't thinking like an adult when it came to Ed. I'll try to do better."
Roy smirked at the young man's self-depreciating tone. He may not harbor it for years like his brother did but, apparently, Al could be just as bad about guilt-tripping as Ed could be. "We all will." Al's eyes finally rose to meet his and they shared an understanding nod. "You're a part of this family, Al. And, as Riza has reminded me several times over the past few weeks, when families grow, they also change. Change takes time and… a lot of patience – unfortunately not something I'm very good at. We have to communicate. And if we aren't happy with the way things are, or the way things seem to be, we need to talk it out without letting our tempers get in the way."
"Agreed." Al smiled.
"See you tomorrow!" Ed waved to Kale and Bri as they headed home to study for their tests, which he had already taken. He turned in the opposite direction, west, towards the heart of Central City. His dad had a debate in a few hours and, while Ed had no real desire to sit through a long, boring debate about topics which did not concern him in the slightest, he would go to show support for his father. It was better than sitting at home alone with nothing to do.
He didn't make it three steps before a familiar voice called his name. Looking back over his shoulder, he spotted Al across the street. His brother waited a moment for a few cars to pass and then crossed the road.
"You know, you could call ahead and say you're coming one of these times." Ed grumped but smiled, happy to see his brother - their argument back in Resembool forgiven and forgotten.
Al laughed. "You sound like Winry." They both winced, but smiled, trying to remember the good times. "Besides, I like surprising you." He ruffled Ed's hair and pulled him into a hug.
Ed pulled away and fixed his hair, shooting a half-hearted glare at his brother. "Yeah, well you've got poor timing, unless you feel like accompanying me to a dull debate."
Al shook his head. "No way. I'm not going to that. And neither are you. I'm under strict orders to rescue you from a boring evening."
"Orders from who?"
"Roy. Who else?"
Ed looked up, surprised but happy. "You saw Dad?"
Al nodded and started walking along the sidewalk. Ed fell into step beside him. "We talked. Got things sorted out."
"I'm glad. So what's the plan?"
"Want to catch another movie?"
The sun was nearly set by the time the movie let out, the sky awash with golden pink hues in the west while the east darkened to blue-black.
"Was it just me," Al asked with a grin. "Or did that last action sequence play out just like the one in the other movie we saw?"
Ed chuckled. "They're all like that. The stunt doubles don't know any other choreography." He jumped up on a low wall along the sidewalk and thrust his fist in the air as though he were brandishing a sword. Then he moved his mouth as though speaking, but no sound came out.
Al laughed, and then picked up the lines. "Fear not, fair maiden! For I, Sir Edvard of Ulric have arrived just in time to rescue you from the dastardly plans of the fiendish Count Culus."
Ed dropped his arm and gave his brother a blank look. "Culus?"
"Yeah, as in Homun-culus." Al grinned. "It was the first thing that popped into my head."
Ed considered it for a moment and then shrugged. He struck another pose and uttered another brief line of silent dialogue.
Al ad-libbed. "With this sword, I shall vanquish the vile, villainous viper and carry you off into the sunset whence we shall live happily ever after."
"Wence?" Ed questioned.
"Just go with it."
Ed jumped off the wall, executing a front flip as he did so and landing solidly on his feet in another pose.
Al laughed. "You pulled that off better than the stunt doubles."
"Naturally." Ed replied, taking a bow. With another flourish, he recited a long line of soundless words and thrust his invisible sword into an invisible enemy.
"Hyah!" Al provided.
"Really? That's what you got out of that?" Al just chuckled and Ed continued his dance, blocking, parrying, and striking. He frowned suddenly and dropped his act. "Swords are so boring. They should use alchemy in the movies."
"Right? That would be amazing. Imagine the effects they could pull off."
"And the action would be so much cooler." Ed spun around and clapped his hands together in an old familiar pose.
Al's eyes widened and he reached out to grab Ed's hands. "Brother! Wait! You can't…" he glanced around the street at the other people still milling about or walking home.
"Relax, Al. I wasn't going to, really. I was just –"
BOOM! The ground shook with the force of a concussive sound echoing through the city. All around, people screamed and dropped to the ground. Ed and Al both crouched as well, into fighting stances, ready for an attack.
As the echo faded and nothing more occurred, people regained their footing and looked around, bewildered.
"That… wasn't me." Ed said slowly.
"No kidding." Al replied. "But what was it?" They both scanned the skyline, looking for signs of an explosion. Al spotted the smoke first. He pointed. "There! It looks like it's coming from…"
"Central Headquarters." Ed whispered and then he was off running.
He could only assume that Al was right behind him. He didn't look back and he didn't stop running. His brain was spinning about as fast as his legs. The convention hall, where his dad's debate was taking place, was situated right in the middle of Central Headquarters. With hundreds of people packed in there tonight, it would be the perfect target for an attack. But who would want to attack the election? And why? First the train and now this? What's going on?
Ed shook his head to clear his thoughts. He needed to focus. Only one thing was important right now – get to Central Headquarters and make sure his parents were alright.
The Central Command plateau came into view within minutes, smoke still rising from somewhere on top. With its high walls, Ed could not pinpoint exactly where the smoke was coming from. He needed to get inside. He needed to find his parents.
He reached the covered staircase just as the first fire engine pulled up but ignored it. What could they do anyway? They couldn't get the engine up to the top of the plateau. They'd have to run a hose up and that could take forever. Stupid Bradley and his stupid, prestigious command center. Completely impractical.
Ed dashed up the stairs, not wanting to risk being stopped by the rescue workers. A few people were rushing down. Others lingered in between, not sure if they should run or go back and help. Ed pushed past them all. Vaguely, he heard Al behind him shouting "excuse me" to people as he passed.
The courtyard was full of people, standing and staring at the billowing smoke rising from the center of Central Command. Ed paused for only a moment as he reached the top, scanning the faces of those nearest to him. While he recognized several of them from his frequent visits to headquarters, they weren't the people he was looking for.
He was too short to see well into the rest of the crowd. Pushing through, he kept searching. They had to be here. Where were they?
As he neared the building, he started to see people who had been closer to the explosion. Ash and debris clung to their clothes and hair. They bent over coughing up inhaled smoke as others attended to them and helped them farther away from the building. Ed let his eyes fall on every face. When his mother and father did not appear among them, he turned his attention to the building itself.
He could see the flames now, licking at some of the windows, burning everything in reach. The cloud of smoke was larger now, pouring out through every available opening. If his parents were still in there… he would get them out.
Two strong hands grabbed his shoulders before he could move. "Ed! Stop!" Al pulled him back and wrapped his arms around Ed's chest, securing him. It didn't stop Ed from struggling.
"Let me go, Al! I have to get in there!"
"No! It's not safe!"
Ed pushed at his brother's arms and kicked backwards, trying to dislodge the hold, but Al was too big, too strong. "Mom and Dad are still in there. I have to help them."
"You can't fight fire, Ed! You're not the Flame Alchemist!" The words cut through Ed's frenzied anguish and he drooped against Al's arms. "Just wait, Ed." Al continued, lowering them both to their knees. "Roy is the Flame Alchemist. If anyone can get them out of this, he can. And the firefighters are coming up now. They can do more than we can. We need to stay out of the way and let them do their jobs."
Sure enough, a line of first responders came pouring up the stairs. Firefighters in yellow, flame resistant suits rushed into the building Al had just prevented Ed from entering. Medics set up a triage center in the corner of the courtyard and started ushering victims into their care.
Ed just stared at the flames, at the front door, willing his parents to come through. Any second now. Any second.
A man emerged – a firefighter, ushering a woman in a blue military uniform. Not his mother. Ed's eyes returned to the door. Another firefighter and then… a whole crowd of people – seven, fifteen, thirty. They came too fast for Ed to catch all of their faces.
He stood, pulling from his brother's grasp. Al let him go, realizing that the boy's destination was no longer the flaming building before them. Together they started searching through the people who had stopped to catch their breath and cough. Ed scowled in frustration. He didn't see them. His eyes darted back to the building and then widened in surprise and relief.
"Mom!" he ran again and Al had to rush to catch his arm, to keep him from getting too close.
Riza had heard his call and came towards them now, coughing and clutching her right wrist against her chest.
Seeing his mother helped to loosen the tightness in his chest and Ed managed to breathe easy for a moment. As soon as she was close enough, he pulled away from Al and into her embrace. She held her right arm gingerly away from him as she returned the hug. She had soot on her clothes and in her hair. She smelled like smoke. But she was here. She was alive.
"Mom. Are you alright?"
"I'll be fine, Edward." She coughed and then looked at them both with concern. "What are you two doing here?"
"We heard the explosion." Al explained.
"What happened?" asked Ed.
Riza shook her head. "I'm not sure. Everything happened so fast. One moment the candidates were debating and then… the back half of the room was gone."
She grimaced. "Still inside. A section of roof collapsed between us, splitting the group. He sent us on ahead and led the others to another exit. They should be out soon." At Ed's worried look, she placed her left hand on his shoulder. "He was fine when I last saw him."
She coughed again, prompting Alphonse into action. "Riza, come sit down. Let me look at your hand." Leading her towards the triage center, he chose a spot of grass and helped her to sit. He pulled a piece of cloth from his pocket and spread it flat on the ground. There was a transmutation circle on it. Ed recognized the alkahestrial markings and realized what his brother was about to do.
"Put your hand here." Al instructed. Riza complied. "What happened?" he asked.
"The blast knocked me off my feet. I must've fallen on it. I don't actually remember." As she spoke, Al activated the circle and concentrated.
Ed thought back to what Al had been teaching him about alkahestry. Right now, he was assessing the injury, determining the type and severity. After a moment, Al nodded. "There's a hairline fracture on one of your metacarpals and your wrist is sprained." Al focused once more and Ed followed the procedure in his mind. Stimulate the cells, tap into the natural processes of growth and healing, encourage them, feed them, sooth them. What would normally take weeks to heal was completed in a matter of minutes.
Al looked up when he was finished. "All set. You should try not to use it for a few days though. Give it time to settle."
Riza gave him a soft smile. "Thank you, Alphonse." Then she coughed again and Ed and Al both frowned.
"I'm afraid I can't do anything for your lungs." Al confessed. "Only the most advance alkahestrists attempt organ treatment. The medics can help." He nodded toward the triage center and then waved over a medic who'd just finished with another patient. The man joined them quickly and started assessing Riza immediately.
Ed looked back at the burning building. In the minutes which had passed, more people had come out but none were his father. The flames seemed to be growing fiercer and hotter. As twilight faded into night, the fire was the primary source of light for the courtyard.
The triage center was full of people, though many were being escorted out and to the hospital. Most would need breathing treatments. But there were other injuries as well. "Al." Ed looked to his brother. "You should see if you can help with the others."
Al paused for a moment, looking between the victims and his brother. Riza was well cared for now. She'd need to go to the hospital soon, but would probably refuse to leave until her husband was safe. Hopefully, it wouldn't be much longer.
"Alright, but you have to come with me. It'll be easier to wait if we keep busy."
"Okay." Ed grimaced, turning away from the fire. He got the feeling Al was trying to keep him from listening to that still persistent voice in his head, urging him to run into the fire and find his father himself. "Mom, I'm going to help Al." he told his mother before following his brother towards the victims.
After a brief explanation, the medics agreed to let them help. "Burns, cuts, and broken bones," Al specified to Ed as they walked amongst the people. "That's where we'll be the most help. I'll need you for back up energy. Think you're ready?"
Ed nodded. They'd covered that lesson while he was in Resembool. When an experienced alkahestrist had a lot to do, an apprentice would feed him energy stores to keep him going. Ed had practiced the technique before but this would be his first time using any alkahestry in a real situation.
Discovering a man with burns on his hands and arms, Al knelt down and started to work. Ed cringed at the sight and smell of burnt flesh, but quickly steeled himself and settled down to help.
Minutes ticked by while they worked. Ed kept one eye on the building, still burning – the flames crackling. Every time someone came out he scanned their faces for his father. At some point, the firefighters managed to drag a hose up the stairs from the street and were pouring water onto the parts of the building which were not yet burning. The fire was too big now and mostly inaccessible from the outside. The most they could do for now was to try and keep it from spreading.
Central Headquarters was a big building and the fire was localized in the center, where the convention hall had been. The sides had likely already been evacuated. Anyone left was likely trapped somewhere in the middle, trying to find a way out. Hopefully the firefighters would reach them soon.
About fifteen minutes after they had started working, another explosion rocked the courtyard. Ed gasped and stood up; staring wide-eyed at the newly strengthened flames pouring from the building. Firefighters came rushing from the building and gathered around a tall man with a beard. Ed figured he was the fire chief and left his place by Al's side to find out what was going on.
"Brother! Wait!" Al called, but Ed didn't listen.
"…Probably a gas pocket," one man finished explaining as Ed came up behind him.
"I thought we ordered the gas line shut down." The chief shouted. "Collins, go check and make sure there are no gas lines running to this building. Tell them to shut down the whole city if you have too." The man did as he was told. "What are the conditions in there?"
"Low visibility, low ventilation, it's too hot in there sir." Another man chimed in.
"Alright. I want my men out of there. Get another hose up here and call in the next team!"
Ed pushed between two firefighters with a determined scowl on his face. "Wait! You can't pull out yet!"
"Who's the kid?" someone muttered. Ed ignored him.
"There's still people in there!" he stood toe to toe with the fire chief.
The man frowned. "Get out of here, kid. We've got work to do." He moved to step around Ed but the boy jumped in front of him again and pushed hard on his chest.
"My dad's still in there!" he shouted, anguish and fear showing all over his face. Something seemed to get through to the chief because the man's glare softened and he laid a hand on Ed's shoulder.
"I'm sorry, kid. We can't do anything until it cools down in there."
Somehow, those gentle words were worse than if he'd shouted.
"Ed? Brother!" Al pushed through the crowd and grabbed Ed's arm. He looked up at the chief apologetically. "I'm sorry, sir. Let's go, Ed. Let them do their work."
As they backed away, the chief seemed to take notice of the triage center and the crowds mingling about. "Get these people out of here!" He ordered. "If you are injured or have suffered any smoke inhalation, go directly to the hospital. Everyone else, go home!"
"I'm not leaving." Ed muttered. The chief must have still had some focus on him because, even through all the noise around them, he heard Ed's soft words.
"Listen kid. This could take hours. Go home."
"I'm not leaving until my dad is safe."
"Ed… please." Al pleaded with him but Ed just stared up at the chief, daring the man to make him go.
The chief finally sighed. "Fine, but stay out of the way. Up against the wall, the lot of you."
It did take hours – two, almost three – before the flames died down enough for the firefighters to go back in. Ed sat by the wall with Al and his mother. Riza had refused to go to the hospital, citing the need to stay with her son and wait for her husband. She was still coughing a lot but it wasn't as bad as before. Nearly everyone else had cleared out. The medics were on standby in the triage corner of the courtyard, though they'd started packing up most of their equipment.
Nobody said it. Nobody dared. But Ed knew what they were all thinking. No one else was coming out of that building alive.
When the first of the firefighters came back out, he approached the chief, shaking his head solemnly. A few moments later, the chief walked over to the family by the wall.
They stood up as he approached, Al helping Riza regain her footing. Ed gnawed on his already bleeding lip and prepared for the worst.
"You folks should go home." The chief started. "Someone will call you when we have more information."
"Where's my dad?" Ed asked, staring up at the man.
"Brother, don't…" Al trailed off, not sure what to say. Riza stayed silent, stoic but for the slight tremor in the hand she rested on her son's shoulder.
"Where is he?" Ed repeated.
The fire chief sighed and ran a hand down his sweaty face. "Kid…"
"Chief!" someone called from just outside building.
"Medics!" Another voice hollered.
At once, all eyes in the courtyard were trained on two firefighters hobbling out of the building holding another man between them in a two person seat carry. The chief stood dumbstruck for a moment, clearly not expecting anyone to be found alive.
The medics were the first to respond, carting a gurney over for the man to be laid on. "We got more coming out," one of the firefighters called.
Ed reacted next, slipping away from his family and running closer to the building. He was almost there when an unfamiliar hand grasped his shoulder. "Hold up, kid. Stay back. Let us get them out." His voice was stern but he gave Ed a hopeful smile.
Ed stayed where he was told and Al and mother joined him. They watched as three more people were carried out of the building. Then came a face they recognized.
"Uncle Jean!" Ed couldn't stop his feet from running forward as they laid Havoc on a gurney. "Uncle Jean, you're alright!"
"H-hey Ch-chief," Havoc croaked out through a cough. "Th-think I might ha-ve t-give up smoking after th-this." He grinned. "You-your dad's a r-real hero." He broke into another coughing fit and a medic pushed Ed out of the way.
"Where is he? Wait! Uncle Jean, where is he?" but Havoc was coughing too hard to answer and the medics pulled him away.
Ed retreated back to his mother and brother, watching and waiting as slowly, more people were rescued from the building. At first, one was coming out every few minutes. Then, the time began to lengthen between each survivor. At one point, a team of medics went in with a gurney. They hadn't come back out yet.
Ed waited, chewing on his knuckle because his lip hurt too much. He didn't notice when he started muttering to himself in between baited breaths and nobody pointed it out.
"Come on… come on, Dad… you gotta be… you're the Flame… you can't… come on… come on…"
He thought he might be shivering, but it wasn't cold. It was hard to see. He blinked and his vision cleared, but only for a moment.
Finally, a man emerged from the building – a firefighter who went directly to the chief.
Ed felt like he had cotton in his ears, but two phrases stood out above the rest: "That's everyone, sir," and "There's no one left."
There came a gasp from somewhere beside him – his mother or Al, he couldn't tell. Then his legs collapsed and he found himself kneeling on the dead grass, dried by the heat of the fire.
He felt numb. This wasn't happening. It couldn't be happening. He had to be… he couldn't be… no.
Ed only realized he wasn't breathing when a shuddering gasp rose from through his chest. He knew he was shivering now, but he didn't know why. Vaguely, he became aware of his mother, kneeling beside him, one hand over her mouth and the other on his shoulder. Her cheek was wet. His brother still stood over them both, but his head hung low and drops of water fell silently from his face to the grass at his feet – grass too dead to appreciate the moisture.
Ed stared at the ground, at his hands. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe. What was happening? How?… Why?
A shout came from across the courtyard but Ed couldn't hear it. He couldn't hear or see or feel anything – until Al's hand shook his shoulder and shocked him out of his stupor.
Ed raised his eyes towards Al's face, and then in the direction his brother was pointing. A large group of medics and firefighters came into view. They surrounded a gurney, talking furiously to one another and making a huge fuss. On the gurney was a man – a man whose face Ed knew all too well.
He wasn't sure when he got to his feet and couldn't quite remember tripping and stumbling his way over, but moments later, Ed was pushing past the medics and standing by his father's side.
His hair was wet and matted to one side, his skin red and blistered along parts of his face, arms and hands. His breathing was erratic and the medics were saying something about his heart rate. But he was here. He was alive. That was all that mattered.
Then the medics were moving past him, carrying his father away and Ed panicked. He needed to know. He needed some sign that everything would be alright.
"Dad! Dad!" he cried, trying to keep up with them. His legs weren't working right and the medics kept standing in his way.
Then something happened. His father's hand moved, grasping the coat of the man closest to his reach and somehow bringing the whole party to a halt. Ed caught up in a rush.
Roy's eyes were open, if only just, and he sought out Ed's face in an instant. The hand which grasped the coat moved again, reaching for his son instead. Ed took the hand gently and kissed his knuckles. "It's gonna be alright, Dad."
His father's had squeezed, just a fraction, and released him as the Flame Alchemist drifted into unconsciousness.
Ed stepped back and let the medics take his father to the ambulance waiting far below. He watched until they were out of sight. Then he felt hands on his shoulders and leaned back into his mother's and brother's touch.
AN. Things are going to really pick up from here in terms of plot. Unfortunately, updates will still be few and far between.
No, Roy will not die. This has been planned since early on. Much more craziness and angst to come but, I will say that we are now entering into the final season of our little saga. It's been about twenty chapters per "season" thus far. Will this season follow the same trend? Probably. So… rough guesstimate… twenty chapters left? Maybe less, maybe more.