Title: Blood Brothers (1/5)
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: PG for one rather gory scene, and scattered instances of dhampiric blood-drinking.
Characters: Alphonse, Edward, Noa, and my cast of "Hunter" alternate-world doubles.
Setting: This follows my story "Blood Ties", but it assumes two events in that continuity did not happen: Ed and Noa were not made human again, and Ed was not returned to Amestris.
Summary: An alternative outcome to my story "Blood Ties". Even as Edward tentatively begins to plan for a future in his dark new world, the dying Alphonse makes a choice that could reunite them once more—but at a great cost.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: At the time of my writing these notes, I have just recently begun work on a massive sequel to "Blood Ties". However, in the four years since I wrote that story, I have also been turning over a few ideas for alternate outcomes to it. This version is the largest and most significant. When I first posted "Ties", a few readers expressed interest in what would have happened if Ed had remained in the other world as a dhampir. The answer to that question is this story—essentially an AU of my own previous work.
This contains MAJOR SPOILERS for my previous story "Blood Ties". If you want to read that story at its full effect, read it first!
It was not quite dawn when Izumi carried Alphonse down to the basement, where his empty suit of armor faithfully awaited him.
Only Teacher attended him now. Winry, General Mustang, and the others remained upstairs. Their last hugs and good-luck wishes, delivered a few minutes before, had been difficult to bear—because they all knew the words they struggled to infuse with optimism might instead be a final farewell.
After two years of desperate searching and fading hope, Edward had not returned, and neither had the fragment of Al's soul he unknowingly carried. Now Al's body was consuming itself from within, unable to live any longer without that missing piece of his being. His only chance for continued existence was to bond his soul to the armor once more, freeing it from the living flesh it could no longer sustain.
He might not survive the attempt. Perhaps death would be justified in not allowing him to cheat it this way; and if he found his brother already waiting for him in death's embrace, that would be alright.
But if not… Al would survive. If Ed was still alive, still out there somewhere to be found, then Al would deny death itself.
Teacher knelt down beside the armor, setting Al on his knees on the basement floor. As her left hand rested on his back to steady him, her right hand placed a long, sharp knife beside him on the cold concrete.
"Live, Al." With tears spilling over, she gripped his shoulders and leaned her forehead against his, as if she could channel all her great will into his own. "Just live."
Al closed his eyes, and answered in the whisper that was all he could manage. "It'll be okay."
His eyes remained closed when Teacher drew back, carefully removing her supporting hands. It took all of his strength just to stay upright, but he kept still as he listened to her heavy-hearted footsteps mounting the stairs. Only when the door creaked shut did he look up, to find himself in solitude in the dimness of the basement.
No matter how weak he was, there was no choice but for him to face this moment alone. It was far too dangerous to let anyone else be near him in the performance of a human transmutation.
His only companion now was the armor at his side.
Without looking at the knife, Al's thin fingers reached down and found it. This was to draw blood for the seal. He couldn't remember the one Ed had imprinted within the armor seven years earlier, but that didn't matter. Sealing his own soul would require a different equation.
The blade hovered above his inner forearm for a long moment… and then it clattered to the floor, loud in the silence.
For this price, his mere return to the armor was too small a thing to ask.
"Sorry, old friend." He swallowed hard, resting his palm against the chill of the armor's steel chestplate. "I can't take you where I'm going."
Al turned away. Bracing his left hand against the floor to hold up his nearly-useless body, he took out a stub of chalk from under his nightshirt. He gathered all of his strength, drew the deepest breath his exhausted lungs could hold, and began to scrawl a deceptively simple circle on the floor.
Whatever happened now, Winry and Teacher and the others would grieve for him; but that was alright, too. At least this way, they would be able to move on after mourning, instead of living with the tragedy of him for the rest of their lives.
It took him only a few minutes to lay out the equations he wanted. When he was done, he didn't let himself think any more. He merely dropped the chalk, cast a sad smile of farewell toward his armor… and laid his hand on the edge of the alchemic array.
An explosion of light swallowed him, and then he was standing in the middle of a universe of golden nothingness.
…Or something more than nothing. A monstrous black monolith towered before him, carved with tormented figures that seemed to writhe but did not. Etched into its great doors was a single eye that stared out at him: simply waiting.
He remembered this…
He remembered. He remembered everything.
All of his weakness was gone. Perhaps his body was gone; perhaps only his soul was permitted to represent him in negotiations here, while his flesh already lay on the auction block.
That suited him perfectly well.
"Take me to my brother," Al demanded of the impassable doors, clenching fists he was not sure really existed. "I don't care how much it costs me. I don't even care if I have to die to be with him. All I want… is Ed."
Silence answered his plea. Deafening, crushing, overwhelming silence, for a moment that felt like an eternity…
And then the doors were flung open.
A horde of unblinking eyes stared down hungrily at Al from the depths of the void. Lifting his chin, he gazed defiantly back at them, daring the Gate to refuse him.
When a dozen black wraith-hands reached for him, he did not resist.
"My friends, these losses were not in vain. I want every one of you to believe that. We still have a difficult road before us; but last night, our fallen comrades paved the way. Now it remains for us to honor their sacrifices, by carrying out the work they believed in."
The cemetery lay behind an ancient chapel, its wrought-iron fence and shadowy trees guarding a collection of gravestones worn smooth over centuries. By night, it was an even more solemn place than it would have been beneath the sun. Its somberness was enhanced by a thin veil of creeping fog, bringing with it the edge of an autumn chill.
In a far corner of the grounds, under the spreading branches of oaks, a single lantern cast pale yellow light over nine figures who had gathered. Their black garments were not symbols of mourning, but a trademark of the occupation that had brought them here.
The vampire hunters of London were burying their dead.
Standing silent at the edge of the group, Edward Elric only half-listened to Councilor Bradley's eloquent words of comfort and encouragement. He was not quite sure he really wanted comfort yet. Although the previous night's mission to rescue his father had ended with the destruction of Envy, the heavy cost of that achievement made it a hollow victory at best… and the testament to that cost was the four new graves that now lay before the Hunters.
Kain Fuery's death was the first, a few days earlier. When Maes Hughes was driven insane by Ed's own memories, Kain defied the Hunters' faltering leader to aid in Ed's escape. The frail but courageous young man paid for that deed with his life, slain in rage by Maes' own hand after his deception was discovered.
Francesca was lost early in their battle with Envy, her heart sliced open by his sword. When the vampire-homunculus attacked, she was merely caught in the wrong place at the wrong moment—a randomness that made her death seem perhaps the most undeserved. With the difference of a step or two, it could have been any one of them.
Maes himself was next to fall. Mad with the desire to join his family's counterparts in Amestris, he had followed the Hunters in hopes of using Envy to open the Gate, but he failed when he tried to fuel the transmutation with Riza Hawkeye's tainted blood. Envy had then taken Maes' life as well… which was a bitter mercy, because it only spared the Hunters from being forced to end his insanity themselves.
After Envy was finally destroyed, they found his captive Hohenheim still alive—but only for a little while. With his body already deteriorating, there was no chance of his recovering from the brutal injuries inflicted upon him by his own inhuman creation. When he was carried back to the Hunters' headquarters, he had only strength enough to speak with his son one last time. He slipped away soon afterward, just before dawn, at peace for perhaps the first time in his long life.
In his heart, Ed knew what his parting words of forgiveness had meant to his father… but now they meant even more to him.
The battle had exacted another price, as well. Ed raised his eyes and studied Riza, who stood with her arms hugged against her chest, leaning into the pensive embrace of Roy Mustang. Yet another of Envy's victims, she too would have occupied a grave here—if not for Roy's blood that she had deliberately consumed long before, infecting herself with dhampirism. Even her lover had not known it until her blood failed to respond to Maes' attempted alchemy. She confessed to Roy with her last mortal breaths, and he later revealed it to the rest of them, submitting himself to be punished for her turning.
As far as any of the Hunters were concerned, that was out of the question. Bradley merely assured Roy that he bore no guilt for what was done without his knowledge; and more importantly, Riza needed him now. It was obvious that she could be no one's foundling but his own, taught by him to cope with her new urges, to use her new strengths for good and not for harm.
Only a handful of hours had passed since Riza awakened to undeath. Although she knew what to expect after years of living and working with dhampirs, she was still nervous and a little unsteady, bewildered by a new world of smells and sounds and her instinctive responses to them. By all rights, she should not have joined them for this burial service, but she was insistent on saying farewell to their lost comrades.
Riza was not the only one who shouldn't have been wandering London by night. Sig Curtis' powerful frame was propped heavily on a crutch, and a bandage was wrapped around his head. As a mortal, his recovery would take time. By contrast, Vato Falman's dhampir body was healing swiftly of its internal damage, but he had leaned himself wearily against a tree. Now and then, even Bradley still favored the shoulder that was impaled by a sword not twenty-four hours ago.
Ed had been injured too, but his wounds had faded. The ache he felt now was only within his silent heart.
He glanced at Noa, standing two steps from him, and the ache lightened a little. He had known it would. Her eyes were brimming as she gazed down at the graves of her guardian and her best friend, but they were also filled with a determined light that moved him deeply. She would only harden her present pain into an even greater resolve, just as he had done throughout his life—and still would, even now.
Being her foundling was one of the few things left that he could take pride in.
It surprised him how easily he could accept that idea now. He had begun to think and feel as the other Hunter dhampirs did, in their primal code of honor that kept them from becoming the very monsters they fought against. At first he couldn't imagine sharing their extremes of harshness and tenderness; but as he recovered from blood-starved madness after an earlier, disastrous encounter with Envy, he had realized the necessity of coming to terms with the beast in himself. Instead of resisting what came from the dark new place inside him, he had to let it become the part of him it inescapably was, turning instincts for killing into instincts for protection.
Noa set the example for him in that task… and as her foundling, his natural impulse to protect her gave him a much gentler way to face both of the extremes within him.
Movement among the other Hunters caught his eye, prompting him to realize just how lost in his thoughts he had been. He stepped closer to them, and stood at Noa's side, brushing his flesh fingers against her shoulder. It was a small and demure gesture of comfort—a compromise for not knowing what to say.
"We'll be getting back now," Bradley informed Ed solemnly. "Miss Riza and our recovering injured should rest."
"Yeah." Ed looked back at his father's grave, and smiled sadly at the Councilor. "Go on ahead. I'll catch up to you in a minute."
Bradley answered with a nod of quiet understanding. He picked up the lantern and started for the front gate of the cemetery, leaving the graves to be lit only by fog-softened moonlight. The rest of the Hunters followed, considerately walking slowly to keep pace with Sig as he hobbled over the uneven sod.
Only Noa remained, hesitating at her foundling's side.
"Ed, I… I only wanted to say…"
There was a fresh tremor in her voice. Ed turned to her, and was surprised when she seized both of his gloved hands in hers. She bowed her head over them, pressing her forehead against his knuckles. Her face was veiled by her long dark hair.
"…I'm sorry." She swallowed back a sob and turned her head a little, as if to glance toward Hohenheim's grave. "Everything you had left in this world—your father, your mortal life, your hope of going home—you've lost it all because of us."
Even though Ed's heart no longer beat, it responded with a dull pang. He gently turned his hands over, cupping her chin, and raised her tearful face to meet his gaze.
"You've got nothing to be sorry for. Envy was the only one who took from me. You and the other Hunters… You've done nothing but give."
Noa sniffed, blinked, and gazed up at him in astonishment, her misted eyes clearing. He knew it would be a wonder to her that he felt there was nothing to forgive. Like all Hunters, she was taught that her blood in his veins was only a curse… but now, to Edward, it was the farthest thing from that.
Still cradling her face in his hands, he leaned forward slightly. For a brief moment, his lips nearly touched hers; but then he merely turned his head, brushing his cheek against hers, and rested his forehead on her shoulder. His flesh fingers reached up to his shirt collar, loosening the first two buttons, tugging the fabric aside.
"Please," he whispered.
She stiffened, but only with a momentary surprise and hesitation. Then she accepted her foundling's request for that intimate communication. Her hands settled on his upper arms, and her lips sought his exposed neck.
As the small shock of the bite twinged through his flesh, he slid his arms around her, closing his eyes.
He couldn't begin to put all the things he wanted to say into words. His gratitude that she had broken the taboo for him, granting him survival with her blood, even if it came at the cost of undeath. His appreciation for her guidance, her tenderness, her fierceness in defending him. His conviction that he was still the one who owed a debt. His resolve to share her cause as a Hunter, a protector of her world…
Their world, now.
And there was one other emotion, the most powerful and complicated he had ever felt since he crossed the Gate.
Somewhere along the way, in days of resting beside her, in nights of searching the darkness together, in watching her risk all she was and all she had for her belief in him, a new instinct had grown in him that was not unique to dhampirs. It whispered a yearning to know Equivalent Exchange in its purest form: to belong to her, to be a part of her, and to feel her give herself to him too. In the past he would have denied this awakening need, fearing the pain of one more loss in his ever-perilous existence, but she filled him in turn with such faith that he was absolutely without regret.
Falling in love was nothing like he ever thought it would be.
Through the sharing of blood, his memories and emotions were transmitted to Noa, exposing it all without reservation or deceit. Even that most unexpected of revelations was laid bare to her. He knew she understood when she gave a start in his arms, her lips leaving his throat to breathe out a soft gasp.
He didn't have to wonder whether she shared his feelings. Although he hadn't fully comprehended it until much later, he had sensed it the last time she gave him her blood—even through the hungering rage his wounds had driven him to. And if he hadn't figured it out that way, he still would have known by now. Her eyes and voice and hands revealed it whenever he was near her, even when she treated him like some kind of heaven-sent messenger of whom she was unworthy.
More tears. His lips did brush against her cheeks then, kissing them away. Their taste was so much better than blood—but he soon tasted that as well. A faint trace of his own blood, when his mouth found hers in the gently inquisitive caress of a true first kiss.
He could get used to that. He could get used to all of it now.
Reluctantly, he resisted the desire to kiss her again. There would be a much better time and place. He only hugged her instead, stroking her hair. Then he drew back just a little, entwining his flesh fingers with hers, while his automail hand still rested at her waist.
"You know… I think my dad would approve." He smiled somberly at the nearby graves of two men who had loved them as fathers. "—But I'm not really so sure about Maes."
Noa let out a short, bittersweet laugh, leaning against him. "Yes he would."
Ed hoped so. Although he had only known the Maes Hughes of this world when his reality was crumbling, Noa's memories were of a man who fiercely cherished and guarded her. His possessive devotion was not so different, after all, from the Amestrian Hughes' delirious fixation on his daughter. Ed wanted to believe the Maes who cared for Noa that much would have gladly trusted his foundling's life and heart to him.
The fog was closing in now, obscuring the graves beneath tendrils of silver mist. Ed looked toward the cemetery gate. Even his nocturnal eyes could scarcely make out the other Hunters waiting there, little more than faint shadows in the dull glow of their lantern.
To Noa, the stronghold they were about to go back to was home. Ed wondered how long it would take him to think of it like that, or if he ever could at all. Home had always been wherever his brother was; but he could never return there now, when the poison he carried in his blood had the power to destroy his native world. All he could do was find some way to build a new life, founded on the cornerstones of a worthy purpose and Noa's love.
"Come on," he said softly, squeezing her hand, as he gave her a rueful smile. "They're waiting for us."
She nodded. Her eyes were dry now, bright and gentle. Her hand did not leave his as he began to lead her away through the mist, toward the light of their waiting comrades.
They had taken only ten steps when they were halted by a far brighter light that burst into existence behind them.
Ed turned with a startled gasp, raising his automail arm to shield his sensitive eyes. A glowing vortex had erupted in the air above the graves of the fallen Hunters, twisting the atmosphere with an unearthly wind that roared and bent the trees. Shot through with blood-red lightning and swirls of solidified darkness, the rift looked like the mouth of Hell itself.
He knew all too well what this was. It was impossible—but it was here.
"No!" Ed screamed, not in denial but in raw defiance, instinctively bracing himself in front of Noa to shield her. The emotion coursing through him then was not fear. It was rage: savage, white-hot rage that the Gate would stalk him even in this world, hunting him down to take still more from him, when it had already taken everything that was ever his.
Not this time. Not Noa. He would tear the Gate to pieces with his own hands before he let it have her.
Yet the Gate made no effort to reach toward either one of them. After a second or two, it belched a mass of shadows from its depths, a tangle of writhing blackness that rolled lazily toward the edge of the vortex like a thundercloud. As the mass drew closer, it resolved into the shape of a small human figure, wrapped in the hideous embrace of numerous jet-black tentacle-hands. The figure struggled in their grasp, thrashing and clawing.
And screaming, as well—but the screams were stifled by several more black tendrils that had forced themselves down the trespasser's throat. The frail body convulsed as phantom hands twisted and groped inside it, seeking their toll.
It was only then that Ed recognized the distorted, agonized face of the Gate's victim… and he cried out with a sound of horror and despair that was barely distinguishable as one desperate, cherished word.
His cry seemed to interrupt the nightmare tableau. Like animals startled out of a feeding frenzy, the searching appendages suddenly withdrew from Al's mouth. Ed saw the bleeding clumps of living tissue that came away in their grasp, torn from deep within his brother's body.
The black hands slithered away, vanishing into the Gate with their monstrous trophies. Those that were entwined around Al's body uncoiled and followed, abandoning him to the forces of gravity. He tumbled from the mouth of the Gate like a stone, his too-light body falling upon the Hunters' graves with a sickening thud.
Having delivered this gruesome offering, the Gate sparked and wavered and shrank into itself, snapping shut in the suddenly empty air as if it had never existed. One endless moment of silent stillness followed, stretched taut with the feeling of trembling on the edge of an abyss… and then Edward hurled himself forward, with a cry of horrified grief choking in his throat.
He fell to his knees beside the small, savaged body the Gate had disgorged, reaching out, but not quite touching.
Alphonse—and it was Alphonse; too young, too horribly white with loss of blood, but unmistakable to Ed—lay sprawled on the mound of earth that covered Hohenheim's grave. The red-stained tatters of a nightshirt clung to his skin-and-bones frame, displaying the ravages of a starved hollowness that went beyond even the Gate's brutal harvesting. Blood spilled from his mouth, his nose, the corners of his closed eyes, welling up from massive internal wounds.
The scent of it filled Ed's reeling awareness. Human blood—blood imbued with the scent of Al. It had been seven years, but even in childhood and with merely human senses, he had known the smell of his brother. It had seeped into his consciousness from infant years spent nestled together in the same crib, and stormy nights when Al crawled under his blankets to shiver in his arms.
No more steel, cold and still and safe from pain. This was Al's living flesh and blood, lost for so long…
And now moments away from death.
That realization broke whatever spell had stayed Ed's hand. With an anguished groan, he reached down and gathered Al into his embrace. He leaned his forehead against Al's, rocking back and forth gently, mingling tears with the blood. It was hot against his cold skin, so very close to his lips… but even with his urges running high after the violence of the past few days, the thought of tasting his brother's life simply did not exist in him. It was still a part of his own life, in spite of the difference of two separate species between them.
He felt Noa drop to her knees beside him. He heard the footsteps and shouts of the other Hunters, drawn back by the light of the Gate and his own cries; but for the moment, they didn't matter. Nothing mattered in this world, or in any other, but the fragile burden he held.
Al's eyelashes flickered against Ed's cheek. He leaned back just far enough to watch as brown eyes slowly opened, staring up in a dull haze—and then filling with light as they recognized him.
"Ed." The name was almost soundless, but Edward could read it on lips that slowly twisted into something like a smile. "It's you…"
"Shh. Don't try to talk."
They were the last words Ed's heart wanted to say. Everything in him wanted to hear Al's voice while there was still time, and most of all, to ask why—but he knew the effort of speaking would only cause Al further pain.
Al's head moved just a little, a feeble attempt at a shake. The trembling smile grew faintly stronger.
"It's okay now, Brother. Because… I've seen you again."
Then Al violently coughed up a clot of black blood, and his eyes rolled back, as a shudder coursed through his body.
Rational thought failed Ed. For a moment, it was as lost to him as it had been two nights earlier, when the blood loss from near-fatal wounds had forced him to rip into Noa's throat—but the impulse that seized him now was something entirely different.
He was only vaguely conscious of tearing his left glove off, raising his hand to his mouth. His fangs sank deep into the softest part of his own palm, but he never even felt their harsh penetration. He knew nothing but the warmth of Al's already-bloodstained lips as he pressed his hand over them, allowing scarlet venom to trickle from his corrupted veins.
Noa's voice dragged him up from the depths. Like waking from a trance, he looked up to see her at his side: her eyes large and frightened, her hand frozen between them in the act of reaching for his own. In the near distance behind her, the other Hunters were approaching at a run, their faces filled with horror.
Not at the sight of the blood. They were far too used to that.
What horrified them was…
Ed's gaze fell to the hand he had placed on his brother's mouth—just as the muscles in Al's throat twitched, reflexively swallowing cold blood that burned. His eyelids fluttered in unconscious distress, and he uttered a faint moan as his head jerked slightly, trying and failing to turn his face away.
…What have I done?
Then Al became still, and the heartbeat Ed felt against his chest faded gently into silence.