Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Edward, Noa, Alphonse, alternate Maes Hughes.
Setting: First anime. Post-Conqueror of Shamballa.
Summary: After the closing of the Gate, Edward looks toward a new life.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: This story was written for the 2016 Chocolate Box Exchange. My tremendous thanks goes to the recipient, Komadori, for requesting my One True Pairing. As rare as Ed/Noa is, I never imagined that I would ever be actively asked to write it, so I was absolutely thrilled to receive the assignment!
The request was for a story about what happened after Conqueror of Shamballa, and how Ed and Noa fell in love. I hope this provides an enjoyable look at one possible interpretation of those subjects. As it's meant to directly follow the events of the movie, it is not related to my "Blood Ties" continuity; however, it does provide some backstory that will eventually fit with my FMA/MCU crossover, "Ironmongers and Alchemists".
"I'm going to miss you, Ed," Maes Hughes said with feeling, as he lifted the Elric brothers' suitcases from the trunk of his car. "And I wish I'd had the chance to get to know you better, Al."
Standing beside his dimpling younger brother, Edward Elric smiled fondly at the policeman. "Hold that thought, Hughes. We'll keep in touch—and once things are settled, we'll help you and Gracia get to England too. We don't want to lose you…" He almost said again, but managed to catch himself. "That's a promise."
Blushing at the acknowledgment of his newly-begun courtship, Hughes rubbed the back of his neck. "I appreciate that. After what I've seen, I don't want any part of what's happening here. I know I've been a fool—and I'm sorry for it." On those words, he turned to the Elrics' traveling companion, who stood patiently a few steps away. "I hope you can forgive me."
Noa blinked in obvious startlement, looking down at the hand Hughes had extended to her. The gesture surprised Ed as well, because Hughes knew by now of the Romani girl's power to look into other people's minds and hearts upon physical contact; but then he understood what the older man meant by it. Hughes wanted Noa to feel the sincerity of his apology.
After a hesitation, Noa's lips twisted into a smile that looked somehow as if it was painful to her. "Of course," she said softly, and accepted the handshake… and Ed took note of the flinch she tried to conceal when her palm touched Hughes' open hand.
The farewell that followed was short and sweet. Hughes clapped each of the Elrics on the shoulder, exchanged final goodbyes, and drove off in his car, leaving the brothers and Noa at the railway station of a small town an hour away from Munich. Soon they would be on their way to the German-French border, where they would be met by one of Hohenheim's contacts in the British government.
That man happened to be named Alexander Armstrong—and he was more than just a familiar face. Ed was fairly well acquainted with him, from his and his father's time spent in London. Entrusted with the secret of Hohenheim and Edward's otherworldly origins, he now had a very active interest in seeing the sons of his late friend escape the reach of the Thule Society.
England offered the prospect of a new life, but Ed had no illusions that trouble would stay behind them. That was why he intended to angle for a job with British Intelligence himself. He didn't doubt that when the Thule Society regrouped, it would come looking for his and Al's alchemic skills again… and when it did, he meant to be prepared to take the offensive.
Besides that, the cult—and the more widespread philosophies of hatred that fueled it—were an ugliness that needed to be blotted out.
As they sat down on a bench near the ticket counter, Edward glanced at Noa, cautiously tilting up the brim of the fedora that obscured his face and hid his long gold hair. Her expression was unreadable, her gaze fixed on her nervous hands in her lap. He wondered what she was thinking, as she confronted this change to her own life that she never would have dreamed of only a few weeks earlier.
The fact that Noa had gleaned alchemic knowledge from his mind meant that she needed protection as well: not only for her own sake, but for the safety of the worlds on both sides of the Gate. Yet even if that had not been the case, Ed would never have considered leaving her behind. The girl was absolutely alone, disdained by her own people for possessing a gift they feared, and by Germany's race-obsessed mainstream society for simply being born Roma. There could be no future for her there—and if the country continued on its present path, perhaps not even survival. She would be safer in England, and perhaps have a chance to find some happiness at last.
And aside from that…
"I'll go get our train tickets, Brother. You just stay here—and try to be inconspicuous."
Alphonse's voice broke in upon Ed's thoughts. He blinked and looked up at his little brother, smiling wanly. "Yeah, sure."
Grinning in turn, Al moved off toward the ticket counter. Ed watched him like a hawk, making sure he was in sight at all times. After everything that had happened to bring them back together, he was determined that nothing in any world would ever separate them again.
It still took away his breath to see that bright, too-young smile once more, instead of a blank steel faceplate. Ed felt a powerful joy in finding Al returned to his rightful human body… but a part of him couldn't forget that it meant Al was now vulnerable again. Had he still been in his shell of armor, he might have been much safer in this volatile new world.
Of course, Ed would never make any such remark to Al. He knew his brother would say that being back in warm and living flesh was worth any risk—and surely he was right. Besides, they had already pointlessly argued enough over the fact that Al followed him through the Gate in the first place.
There was no going back now, for either of them. It took nearly two weeks, but the side of the Gate that had opened onto this world was closed at last—and they both vowed they would never let it be opened again. The world of their birth would only be safe as long as it was never again touched by dangerous forces from the world in which they now dwelled.
Ed's gloved automail fingers moved absently, rubbing the bandage under his left sleeve. The very act of closing the Gate had been costly.
For days the brothers studied it, wracking their brains for any means of collapsing the rift without alchemy. In his position as a lawman, Hughes had run interference for them, but they were still oppressed by a sense that they were racing the clock. With each day that passed, they feared surviving agents of the Thule Society would return before they found a solution, and try to launch a new incursion through the Gate. When it was impossible to guess whether General Mustang had succeeded in closing it from the other side, the only way to be sure nothing could reach their world was by shutting down their own end of it.
Eventually, Ed decided it was time for a tactic of last resort. He had never told Al the details about their father's death, the method by which the Thules managed to open the Gate in the first place—and this contingency was the very reason why. If he had, he knew Al would have stopped him from risking the one thing that finally succeeded.
It was simple, really. Two nights earlier, while Al and Noa were sleeping, he had carefully laid out a transmutation circle designed to close the Gate. Then he slashed his left arm, spilling his blood over the array. With the substance of Ed's life offered up to fuel the reaction, the alchemy worked once more, just as it had when Hohenheim sacrificed himself to reunite his sons.
Before Ed blacked out from the loss of blood, he was conscious just long enough to see the mouth of the Gate close up and vanish.
Much to his own surprise, he awakened in the spare bedroom of a doctor Hughes knew and trusted. Somewhere between Al's alternating sobs of relief and near-shrieks of scathing reproach, he'd managed to put together that his life had been saved by a massive blood transfusion, for which both Al and Noa served as donors.
In hindsight, he realized he probably should not have cut so deep, given up so much blood to start with. Unmaking a thing required less energy than making it, after all.
Naturally, Ed apologized for his rash actions, but he was without regret. For the safety of their home world, and everyone there who they cared about, he had been prepared to give his life for the Gate's closure. Yet even so, he survived—and his successful use of alchemy for the task left him with considerable food for thought. Although there seemed to be no natural mechanisms in this world for alchemy to draw on the energy released by death, as Hohenheim had explained to him, a more direct offering of life-substance could evidently still be effective.
If a large enough sacrifice of blood could even permit the opening and closing of the Gate… then could a much smaller amount be used to fuel simpler transmutations? Could a limited use of alchemy still be possible, even here?
If so, it would not be an act to be taken lightly; but if they found themselves in danger, at least it might offer a possible trump card.
He hadn't discussed that with Alphonse yet, either. It wasn't a conversation he was looking forward to. Al would probably object to the idea of Ed using alchemy at such a physical cost, and Ed equally disliked the thought of Al trying it.
Later, Ed reminded himself, briefly closing his eyes. They could explore the theory and its applications when they were safe in London. All that mattered now was getting out of Germany, quickly and quietly.
He opened one eye and peered at Noa. She was still preoccupied with her hands, rubbing her left thumb firmly and incessantly across her right palm, as if massaging an ache—or trying futilely to scrub away some invisible stain.
"What's on your mind?" he asked, turning slightly on the bench to face her.
Noa's cheeks colored as she looked up. The small shake of her head was belied by a faint wince. "…Nothing."
"Come on. I noticed the way you jumped when you shook Hughes' hand—and you've been trying to wipe off his touch ever since. I'm sure he really meant his apology, so what was it? If you… saw something inside him that bothered you—"
"It's nothing like that." Chocolate-brown eyes darted away from Ed's golden ones. "He really was sorry for the way he'd thought of me before, and I appreciated that. But—everything else…"
The girl hesitated. A shuddering breath slowly escaped her, and for a moment, she looked as if she wanted to laugh and cry all at once.
"I saw… so much more than I used to be able to."
Ed blinked at her, surprised and faintly unsettled by the announcement. "What do you mean?"
"My gift of sight works differently with different people. There are so many reasons why I might see more clearly into one person's mind than another's. I can always read more from those who are open and willing to be read, or those who… who I feel more strongly for." Another quick glance as Noa's blush darkened, and the sudden inkling of why she was embarrassed made Ed feel a little twist in the pit of his stomach.
As much as she had learned from his memories when she set out to borrow his alchemic secrets, could it mean that…?
"…But it's changed somehow," Noa forged on, interrupting Ed's startling offshoot of thoughts, as she stared down at her open hands on her knees. "Yes, Mr. Hughes wanted me to feel that he was sorry, but… but even though I wasn't trying to look, I still saw more than I ever should have from just a handshake. So many memories, and feelings, and wants and fears… It used to take a lot more time and effort to see as much as I just did, in that one moment."
Noa was frightened. The realization made that twisting feeling move up into Ed's heart, and he leaned a little closer, gentling his voice.
"Well… I mean, as big a heart as Hughes has, is it really any wonder he's so easy to read?" He tried for an encouraging smile. "Maybe he's just more susceptible to that kind of thing than other people."
The girl shook her head definitively. "No. I know the difference. And besides, it's not the first time I've noticed this change since… everything happened. The times I went to the market, and even with you and Al—the slightest touch from anyone has been showing me more than it ever did before. And I don't think it's just about touch anymore, either. In all these days while the two of you worked, there were moments when I thought one of you had spoken, but… you hadn't."
This was a new revelation, and it caused Ed's eyes to widen in wonder.
Throughout the time the Elric brothers spent studying the Gate, searching for a different way to close it, Noa refused to leave them. She could have gone to stay with Gracia, but instead, she devoted herself to helping them in whatever small ways she could. She prepared food for them, ensured they took enough time out to eat and sleep, or ran to the druggist for whatever chemicals they had a thought of using in their efforts to seal the portal. At night, she even slept at the site, just as they did… beneath the Gate's ominous glow.
Although annoyed at first by Noa's determination to look after them, Ed had quickly come to appreciate her care. In moments when he became too tired and frustrated to think, he was grateful for the gentle encouragement she was always there to provide, and the sheer distraction of the conversations they shared. Her quiet presence was a comfort he increasingly cherished. The entire time, she appeared so calm and thoughtful and resolute—and so completely full of faith in himself and Al—that he never imagined she was struggling with something new and troubling within herself.
She looked up at him now, her eyes dark. "Ed, you don't think that my staying near the Gate for so long… that it might have affected this power I have?"
While Noa was laying out her suspicions, some dark and ugly glimmer of such a thought had already stirred in Ed's mind; but to hear her ask the question suddenly gave the possibility a new and sickening weight. He skipped a breath, swallowing hard, as he gazed into her anxious and searching eyes.
Edward Elric might have known more about the Gate than any person still alive in this world or the other, but even his knowledge amounted to almost exactly nothing. He had experienced the terrors it harbored, and his life was once all but consumed by the awareness that also within it was a precious treasure he meant to reclaim: Al's body. Yet apart from that, it was a force utterly beyond his understanding. Although the cost to an alchemist who would challenge the Gate was intimately familiar to him, he had never begun to consider how an innocent bystander might be touched by contact with its physical presence.
What if it was possible? What if that monstrous void surged with other energies that could affect human beings in ways even he had never imagined? In their endless, urgent hours and days of toiling beneath its opening, what if Noa and Al and Ed himself had been exposed to those very forces?
A dull thud of panic throbbed in Ed's chest—but he wrestled it down into the depths of his heart before Noa could see it reflect in his eyes.
There was no real evidence that this theory was true, and even if it was, they couldn't change what was past. At least now the Gate was closed, and could no longer harm them or anyone else. Going forward, if it was true that it had done something to Noa, or perhaps all of them… then they could only wait to see what the consequences might be.
For the moment, if nothing else, there was solace in the findings of Hughes' doctor friend who examined them only the day before. Except for a lingering anemia from Ed's alchemic bloodletting, and Al and Noa's subsequent blood donations, he had declared them to be as extraordinarily healthy as any patients he had ever seen. If the Gate truly had left a lasting physical effect on them, for all Ed knew, it could even be a positive one.
After all, by the laws of Equivalent Exchange, it certainly owed him enough by now to give him at least one good break.
"…I don't think you should worry," he declared to Noa, forcing a smile. "People change as they grow, you know. Maybe you're just getting stronger naturally. Besides, you've been through a lot recently. Just the stress of everything that's happened could have pushed your abilities to new limits."
Noa's answering smile was not quite hollow, her eyes a shade less distressed than before. If anything, she looked a little flustered—because Ed was denying the issue and she knew it, or because she found it a bit ridiculous that he should say she had endured much. However, there was also a trace of awkward gratitude in her expression. She accepted his attempt to comfort her, even if it rang just slightly false.
For a few minutes, a more comfortable silence settled between them. Noa stopped fidgeting with her hands, and watched the people passing by in the busy train station; and Ed watched her, as the things she said continued to echo in his mind.
I can always read more from those who I feel more strongly for.
There were moments when I thought one of you had spoken, but… you hadn't.
He wondered if it could be true: if Noa might have heard any thoughts from himself or Al, even without the physical contact that was usually the trigger for her perceptions. He supposed the idea should have been disquieting, but somehow, it didn't frighten him a bit. After all that had happened, it wasn't as if he had any secrets to keep from her anymore… and he didn't want to have.
Noa herself was a different story. She was guarded about her past, but Ed sensed that wasn't secretiveness—only an instinctive avoidance of dwelling on things that were painful. From the little he had drawn out of her when they talked, he knew that receiving any love or kindness had been a rare experience in her young life. At least, ever since she was a small child, before her psychic gift became apparent.
Ed thought he could understand. As a boy, he had lost all that he thought made a home, while Noa was denied those things from the start. The difference was that she never even had a brother who could share her pain.
He wanted to take it from her now—and if she would let him, he meant to try. It was a different kind of problem than he was used to facing, one that could not be solved with equations or a well-applied fist. Yet even so, he was drawn to that new challenge. He wanted to help her discover her own uniqueness and potential, the very things others had held in contempt and forced her to hide; the things she had never even realized in herself, when she was too busy just trying to survive.
With a rueful smile, Edward admitted to himself the feelings that had begun to stir within him, in these difficult days since they were first thrown together. The warmth kindled in his heart by their earnest, unimportant conversations. The catch of his breath when he saw her eyes become brighter on meeting his own. The quickening of his pulse as he watched her move, making her own delicate and graceful dance out of actions as mundane as ladling soup into a bowl. The growing anticipation of hearing her voice greet him softly each morning.
Still regarding her furtively, he shook his head and chuckled to himself. It would figure that I'd have to travel to another world to find a girl I could fall in love with.
Beside him, Noa released a sudden soft gasp. Her head jerked up, eyes wide, and he saw the swift bloom of rosiness that flushed her face.
"What did you just—?"
Their realizations struck at the same moment: that he had said nothing out loud, and that she had heard his wryly honest thought.
Ed's heart skipped a beat. His own face grew hot… but somehow, his eyes did not flee from her shocked stare. After a long moment, he smiled wanly at her, and any regret he might have felt for the accidental confession melted away.
"…Okay. I guess you were right about that sensing more thing." Swallowing hard, he rubbed the back of his neck with his automail hand. "So, uh… we should probably talk about that. I mean, that's not exactly how I would have planned to say it, but…" He trailed off uncertainly as he saw Noa's eyes brim with moisture. "Should I apologize here? Because—"
"No," she breathed out in a firm half-whisper, and leaned in toward him.
He was fairly sure the kiss was no ordinary one, even for a first kiss. As far as he knew, the touch of lips didn't normally come with the touch of minds as well: a gentle, tentative caress against his psyche, carrying with it a wave of love and wonder, and a phantom fragrance of something like wild roses.
"Well, I'm glad you're not going to waste my time on getting you two to figure that out."
At the sound of the young voice that intruded, they both almost shot up guiltily off the bench. Ed turned to see Alphonse standing in front of them, smirking uncontrollably, his hands planted on his hips.
"I think I liked it better when I could hear your armor coming a mile away," Ed sniped, feigning much more irritation than he felt. Beside him, Noa had hastily drawn into herself once more, but he could see the faint twitch pulling at the corners of her mouth.
Al merely grinned, and settled down on the bench at Ed's right side—deliberately shoving Ed over a little more toward Noa as he made himself comfortable.
With a swell of warmth in his heart, Ed stretched his automail arm along the back of the bench, behind Al's shoulders. His left hand discreetly sought out Noa's hand in her lap. Their fingers laced together, transmitting just a little more than mere sensation, as he felt her respond to his emotions with a tingling flicker of excitement and joy.
Just maybe this world had a chance of feeling like home, after all.
© 2016 Jordanna Morgan