The fic was written in honor of my friend LCM's birthday. Happy birthday, LCM! Also, a big thanks to my betas Squeak and Akai! Love you guys!

The Price of One Touch
By: Koorino Megumi

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This fic takes place directly after episode 22. Spoilers are through episode 23.

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The last thing Ed had heard before the darkness had closed in was his mother's voice.

Now, maybe this wasn't such a remarkable thing, especially considering the fact that it had only been a few years since he'd seen her last and that, no matter what his opinion was on the matter, he was still a child and longed for the comfort of his mother. But the sight that he woke up to made any memory he had of what had happened before he'd passed out very significant to him. And even though that particular piece of information made little difference when he did try to piece together what had happened, it was still the first thing in his mind when he woke up. At least until other things distracted him...

-

"Niisan? Are you awake?"

"Al?" he asked groggily, opening his eyes and putting a hand to his head.

At that point, Ed noticed two very remarkable things at once. One was that the hand he had put to his head, one he fully expected to be nothing but cold metal, turned out to be warm skin. And the other was that the large suit of armor that he had expected to be towering over him was not a large suit of armor at all--although granted, if he hadn't been so shocked, he might have been infuriated by how tall the figure still was.

"Al!" he cried again, "You're...you're..."

Al broke out in a grin, apparently understanding the sentence Ed couldn't quite finish. "Of course I'm human, Niisan!" he replied, laughter audible in his voice in response to Ed's shock, "We did it. We used your Philosopher's Stone to return to our normal bodies!"

"We...what?"

It was one thing to wake up in an unusual situation with only groggy memories of where you'd been before you'd gone to sleep. That happened sometimes, especially if you'd been overtired or if something had happened while you were sleeping so that you woke up somewhere unexpected. But to Ed, this went a little beyond that.

We did it? My Philosopher's Stone? I don't remember any of this...

Al looked exasperated, and he reached out and grabbed Ed's very-human right arm. "Come on, Niisan. Wake up!"

"I'm awake, I'm awake!" Ed protested, groaning as he sat up, his body feeling as exhausted as if he hadn't slept at all. "Al...is this real?" he blurted, the whole situation too much for his mind to handle.

Al just stared at him incredulously for a moment. "Of course it is, Niisan!" he finally declared, "Don't you remember everything we did yesterday?"

Ed was sure there were all sorts of ways he could reply to that question, but at the moment he was a bit too tired to think of any besides the most obvious, so he went with that one. "No."

"No?" Al repeated, staring at his brother in confusion that was now mixed with worry. "You must be tired after everything you did," he commented quietly.

"Yeah," Ed agreed. He knew he should be just as disturbed as Al by his lack of memory of events, but he found that right now he was more frustrated than anything. "Mind telling me what that was?"

"We went to the Fifth Laboratory, and you made the Philosopher's Stone. Then you used it to return us to our normal bodies. The Lieutenant Colonel sent people to look for us, and they brought us back here," Al explained matter-of-factly, watching Ed's face for any signs of recognition.

"I...what?" Ed asked. He knew he was starting to sound rather repetitive, but honestly he was too confused--not to mention too tired--to care. "Al! Did you say I made the Philosopher's Stone?"

Al blinked. "Of course you did, Niisan. Just like you said you would!"

"But...I should remember that..." Ed looked down at his human hands, finally beginning to feel a bit disturbed by this turn of events. He swallowed hard, his body going cold at the thought of the question, but he knew he had to ask it. "Al...how did I create it?"

Al frowned too now, lowering his gaze. "I don't know, Niisan," he replied, "After you stepped in the red water, I must have...passed out somehow. I only remember waking up with you standing over me, and you had the stone in your hand."

"So I did it on my own somehow," Ed stated thoughtfully.

On my own? I could have made it, but only if I used...

I...did I really...?

He suddenly felt ill, and he lay back down against the pillow.

"Like you said you would," Al repeated, obviously trying to be reassuring.

"Yeah..." Ed frowned up at his now-human brother. He saw what they were asking me to do. He has to know that, if I made the stone, it means I probably...all those people... Wasn't he begging me not to when I tried to the first time? Al...are you that happy to have your body back? Or...do you have that much faith in me that I found another way?

But while Al said nothing about how Ed had probably created the stone, his worried, closed expression showed that he was thinking about it as well.

If I remembered what happened, would he ask? I want to know, but if I'd already made the stone...I bet he wouldn't want to.

"Niisan..." Al started, gazing at his brother in concern.

But he was interrupted by a cheerful, "Hey! You're finally awake." Ed looked up as Hughes entered the room, a bright grin spread across the man's face. "Welcome back, Ed. How are you feeling?"

"Like I'm stuck in a hospital," Ed replied dryly, pulling himself into a sitting position again.

Hughes remained unfazed. "Oh, don't look so depressed!" he declared, "I brought something to cheer you up." And he whipped out his wallet, holding it up and allowing it to unfold, revealing countless pictures of Elysia in a wide variety of settings. "Look! She's grown since you saw her last, don't you think? And she's getting cuter than ever. Just look at that face! Have you ever seen a little girl this adorable?"

Ed sighed, covering his face with his hand. Again he was surprised to feel the human skin. This is going to take some getting used to.

After a moment of rambling on, Hughes seemed to realize that the boys weren't paying attention to him. He sighed, and with a tragic cry of, "You're too young to understand just how rare and special she is," he closed up his wallet and stepped over to the bed. He eyed both boys critically now, and Ed just eyed him back. Then he broke out in a grin again. "I bet you're hungry, Al!" he declared.

Al blinked at him, and then the funniest look came over his face as it apparently dawned on him that he could eat again. "I am a little," he admitted timidly.

"I thought so! You'd better get some lunch. And could you pick some up for Ed and me while you're at it? Sorry, but I'm just starving!"

Al smiled at Hughes, seemingly excited by the prospect of getting food. "I'll be right back with some lunch, Niisan," he promised, and headed out of the room. He hesitated in the doorway, though, glancing back at his brother and the Lieutenant Colonel, who just smiled at him in response. Al frowned slightly, but then went ahead and left the room, pulling the door shut behind him.

The smile immediately dropped from Hughes's face, and he sat down on a stool next to the bed. "Officially, it's been decided that everything that happened at the Fifth Laboratory yesterday was Scar's doing," he commented, watching Ed as he spoke, but the boy did not respond. He'd been expecting this talk since Hughes had first walked in.

Of course they're blaming it on Scar. After all, it was an "abandoned" facility.

"But my team found things there..." Hughes continued, "Machines that were working until yesterday. Bodies that seem to have been from chimeras--the sorts of things that I'm sure Scar had no part in."

Still no response.

"And somehow a Philosopher's Stone was formed there yesterday, from unknown materials apparently left in the facility when it was abandoned."

Ed's jaw tightened at that.

Those prisoners weren't just remnants of old research. They were normal people until yesterday...

"Ed, what happened there?" Hughes demanded, his voice quiet, but his tone insistent.

Ed hesitated for a moment more, not sure what he could say considering what he remembered and, more importantly, what he didn't. But finally, he replied, "There were...Homunculus."

Hughes's eyes widened. "Homunculus?" he repeated.

Ed nodded. "But...they weren't human. They wanted the Philosopher's Stone to become that way. They...wanted me to make it for them."

Hughes's breath caught. "And you...?"

Ed shook his head. "No. Not then."

"Then how did you make it?"

He shook his head again. "I don't remember."

"Ed..." Hughes started.

"I mean it!" Ed cried, "I don't remember any of what happened! I don't remember...becoming fully human again." He looked down at his arm, raising it and forming a fist. Human skin...his own. How could I forget doing that? Was making the Philosopher's Stone so terrible?

Hughes was quiet for a moment, considering Ed. Then he nodded and stood. "Tell me if you remember anything," he stated. He turned and began to leave the room, but Ed stopped him with a call.

"Lieutenant Colonel!"

Hughes turned back to the boy, his expression curious. "Yes?"

"What's going to happen to my brother?"

A flicker of worry crossed Hughes's expression, but his face became serious and set again just as quickly. "Colonel Mustang is on his way here. You'll find out more from him." Then his expression softened. "You two just concentrate on taking care of yourselves for now, all right? We'll take care of everything else."

Ed didn't respond, his expression tight. Hughes frowned, but then he broke out in a grin. "Well, I'd better catch Al with my lunch! Oh, and Ed? Don't forget Elysia's birthday is coming up! So you'd better heal up because I expect you both at her party. And get her something good, too." He winked and headed out.

Ed sighed when he was gone, lying back down again.

That man is going to come?

I can see it now. "So Marco's notes led you to the Fifth Laboratory, did they? I was wondering how many years it would take you two to find it. And I hear you got in through the vents! I suppose no one ever thought of blocking those. They probably didn't think anyone would be small enough to get through!" Tch.

In four years, though, he hasn't revealed Al and I...

The door creaked open again, and in came Al with two trays. "Here, Niisan," he stated, setting one on the table next to the bed.

"Thanks." Ed sat up again and grabbed the tray, pulling it over onto his lap.

Al sat down on the stool next to the bed, his tray on his own lap. He didn't begin eating right away, however, and watched his older brother instead.

"Hm? What is it, Al?"

"Niisan, I..." Al looked down, not finishing.

"What's wrong?" Ed pressed, eyeing his brother a bit nervously himself now.

"I'm so glad I can eat again," Al said finally. He picked up the slice of bread off his tray and took a tentative bite, a smile breaking out across his face. "It's warm, Niisan," he commented, his words heavy with meaning.

And Ed smiled. "It's not too bad for a hospital, huh?" he commented offhandedly. Al smiled back silently, taking another bite.

Looking down at his own meal, Ed suddenly became aware of the fact that he was voraciously hungry and wondered exactly how long he'd been unconscious. Could one day without food really make someone feel so starved?

I probably need to get my strength back. I'm still exhausted from everything we did yesterday...everything I did.

But Al...he hasn't been able to eat in years. And now he is, and he looks so happy about it... Is the taste of a warm piece of bread really that amazing?

Ed started eating then, and, marveling at how good the simple meal tasted when he was this hungry, could hardly imagine what Al was experiencing.

They ate in silence for a bit--except for, of course, their ravenous munching--both boys more intent on the food than anything else. The silence stretched heavily between them, though, and Al finally had to break it. "Niisan...what do we do now?"

Ed blinked at the question. He had been worrying about what was going to happen to his brother, but he hadn't even begun to consider how what had happened affected them both.

We reached our goal. This was what we did it all for. Is there really any reason for me to keep being a dog of the military?

But then he remembered the Lieutenant Colonel's words. If he was going to keep Al out of some lab, he needed Colonel Mustang's help--as much as he would never admit it.

Unless they'd just let us walk away from here. But I have to recover before we can do that... He scowled, the thought making him acutely aware of how heavy his limbs were, at the moment feeling many times worse than auto-mail. Not that his auto-mail had ever been particularly heavy--Winry had taken care to avoid that--but metal could never be a human limb. Even if exhaustion did create frightening similarities...

And Mustang's coming here right now. Well, I guess I can at least hear what he has to say. It's not like I have to listen if I can keep Al safe some other way.

"The Lieutenant Colonel said Mustang's on his way here. We'll see what he has to say about all this first," Ed finally answered.

Al nodded, although he raised a newly-acquired eyebrow at Ed, apparently a bit surprised by his brother's willingness to go to the Colonel for help. He frowned then, though, perhaps realizing what it was that had Ed so worried, but he didn't mention anything. Instead, looking at Ed with a critical eye, he commented, "Are you done, Niisan? You should probably get some more sleep."

"I've been sleeping since yesterday," Ed protested, finishing his meal in what had to be record time--even for him. But even after his protest, he couldn't resist leaning back against the pillow now that he was done eating. Al just watched him worriedly, and finally he sighed, conceding, "Maybe I could use a short nap."

Al nodded in agreement. "Go ahead, Niisan."

Ed frowned. "Aren't you tired, too, Al?" he asked, looking back at his brother critically now.

But the boy, by all appearances, was perfectly healthy, his eyes bright and expression alert. He shook his head in response. "I feel great, Niisan," he replied, and there was an odd note in his voice at the word "feel," almost as if the sensation were something new.

Ed smiled faintly, not minding the shape he himself was in so much when whatever had knocked him out so badly was probably the same thing that had made Al so happy. Then again, he wasn't so sure he could be glad about what had happened, either. Especially when he still had no idea how he'd done it. No, that wasn't true. He had a pretty clear idea of the basics of what had transpired, and that was exactly why he so unsure of whether or not it was a good thing.

But I can't change what's already happened. We just have to walk forward from here, right? Isn't that what I always tell everyone else?

I just wonder where that new path will go...and if the old one will catch up with us...

And while pondering what it all meant and what the future would bring, Ed quite unintentionally drifted off into sleep.

----------

"Ah, so you're finally waking up."

Ed's first thought was that he had better still be dreaming because that voice was the last one he wanted to wake up to. But then he wondered what bizarre sort of dream would have that voice in it anyway and resigned himself to the fact that this was indeed reality and Colonel Mustang was indeed standing at the foot of the bed, leaning over staring down at him with that characteristic smirk on his face as the boy blinked sleep out of his eyes and put up that startlingly human hand again to block out the bright hospital lights. Not that he had any objections to the hospital lights blotting out that smirk, of course, but he just couldn't stand the thought of that man looking down at him when he was flinching so badly.

Just in case this was a dream, though, Ed blinked one more time, willing the Colonel's face to disappear and prove it really wasn't there after all. But alas, it remained, that smirk as immovable as ever.

"What do you need?" he blurted out, perhaps a bit more rudely than even he had meant it. But he was busy scanning the rest of the room and trying to figure out where in the world Al had gone and why he had betrayed his older brother and left him alone with him of all people.

Roy straightened in response to Ed's outcry, but that smirk still refused to remove itself, and Ed scowled, lowering his arm. Roy caught it in one hand as the boy did so, however, examining the human flesh, even rubbing it with his fingers. "So you really have done it," he stated simply, releasing Ed's arm. The boy immediately brought it up toward his chest, holding it there with his other arm as if to protect it from any further intrusions by the Colonel. Roy laughed. "No need to look so nervous, Full Metal. After all, don't you think your superior officer would be concerned about the health of his men?"

"I'm sure the doctors can tell you plenty about that," Ed mumbled irritably, averting his eyes as the smirk became unbearable. But he could just feel it widening now, even if it was off to his side.

"That may be true, but the doctors have no duty to write a report for me about these latest occurrences, do they?"

Ed scowled. "I don't remember what happened," he snapped.

Roy's eyebrow had just gone up; he knew it. The eyebrow plus the infuriating smirk...that, if possible, was even worse. "Oh really? You remember nothing at all of anything that happened yesterday? That's a rather serious ailment, Full Metal. Perhaps if I sent for a specialist-"

"No, no more doctors!" Ed burst out, his head whipping right around to glare at that smirk full-on with fiery eyes. Roy made no reply--just looked at him with eyes full of amused superiority and waited for him to continue. Seething, Ed found that he couldn't help but follow that unspoken instruction. "My brother and I are fine! And now that I have this"--He stretched out his right arm, flexing five youthful fingers--"I have no need to be a dog anymore. So I have no reason to write any more reports, whether you order them or not."

He wondered dimly what had happened to listening to what the Colonel had to say before declaring that he was done with the military, but the rage coursing through him quelled that thought quickly enough, especially when Roy was still looking at him with that same smirk that just never went away.

"And you really think the military will just let you walk away?" Roy responded, that eyebrow going up again. And, surprisingly enough, the smirk faded from his face with those words, that alone telling Ed just how serious he was, although the man's expression remained completely composed.

And Ed literally froze in response, ice even overtaking his anger. "I can give up my qualification," he replied, although his expression probably made it more of a question than a statement, "I did it once before!"

"You told me that, maybe, but do you really think the military was ever officially informed of your decision?"

Ed's jaw dropped; he couldn't help it. "But then what about the assessments!" he protested, "Even an alchemist who just doesn't work hard enough loses their qualification! And the military can't keep me against my will. It's not like I'm walking away from a battlefield here!"

"On the contrary," Roy responded calmly, "Don't think that what happened at the Fifth Laboratory yesterday can possibly go unnoticed, Full Metal. The military will certainly be willing to cover up the details, but those with power will know in any case, and they'll want answers."

"I don't remember anything," Ed repeated, knowing he sounded like a petulant child but really without anything else to fall back on. What was the Colonel trying to tell him here? That he had to be a dog of the military forever?

I'm really glad Al couldn't become a State Alchemist. At least he's free to do as he pleases. Even if he does refuse to leave me...

"Then the military shall endeavor to help you remember. Or alternately, to help you do the necessary research so you can learn it all over again. You created the Philosopher's Stone, Full Metal. You performed human transmutation that was not only forbidden but should have been impossible. The military would never be willing to let this go."

"Then I won't tell the military," Ed ground out between clenched teeth, disregarding for the moment that the man he was speaking to was as much a part of the military as he was himself. Or perhaps neither of them was, really. Not in this situation--they weren't a part of the military that would force the boy to create an item that would undoubtedly be used for destruction.

"The Fuhrer was willing to allow that with Marco," Roy conceded, "But what he had created was not a complete object. And as you saw, others were carrying on his research in his stead. We can't count on such treatment for you."

"So what is it you want me to do!?" Ed burst out, fully frustrated by the dead end Roy seemed to be trying to point out to him.

"I know it goes against your nature not to create a ruckus," Roy began placidly, smirking slightly as Ed's temper began to rise again, "And despite a stature that should make it easy to live in hiding"--At that moment, Ed was almost glad he was so weak because otherwise he was afraid he would have just smashed a no-longer-metal fist into the Colonel's face without remembering that he could hurt that arm now--"I imagine you might have difficulty doing so. However, I believe your actions have left you without any other options."

"So we have to...disappear?" Ed asked, eyes widening.

"Unless you care to create a Philosopher's Stone for the military, then yes."

Ed scowled, looking down. These past few years had been spent trying to find the Philosopher's Stone, yes, but he'd gotten involved in so many other things with so many other people at the same time. Could he and Al really just go to a remote village somewhere and live out the rest of their lives trying not to draw any attention to themselves?

At least Dr. Marco could still help people. But what could we do with a life like that? I guess it would be like home. Without Winry... Is this really what we wanted? Al, is this really what we fought for all this time? To be stuck hiding from the military for the rest of our lives?

"I suggest you think hard on what I've said while your body continues to heal. Once the doctor has determined that you are healthy enough to leave, you will no longer have any time to decide. Try not to get yourself into any trouble. You are still under my jurisdiction, and the paperwork would be a nuisance." With that, the Colonel turned and headed out of the room, leaving a sputtering Ed staring after him.

The man did not shut the door behind him, however, and a familiar figure entered the room as he left it. Ed blinked for a moment at the very human boy standing before him, his identity undeniable but Ed's brain still not quite able to comprehend that he, in that body, could be real. "How are you feeling now, Niisan?" Al asked, hands clasped before him and chewing on his lip.

"Awake," Ed replied blandly. Then he forged ahead with, "Al...we have a decision to make."

"What did the Colonel say?" Al asked, the reason behind Ed's words obvious.

Ed cringed. "Too many people in the military know about what happened. He's sure they won't just let me walk away."

"What? Then...you have to keep taking missions for a while?" Al asked, almost hopefully, as if he knew where Ed was going with this but simply didn't want to face that possibility.

Ed shook his head gravely. "They'll want me to create the Philosopher's Stone for them, Al. I...can't do that."

Al gasped. "But you said you don't even remember how you did it, Niisan! How can they-"

"I think you and I both have a pretty good idea how I did it, Al," Ed replied, wincing as he spoke the words. Al lapsed into silence. "And if I figured something out once, I could figure it out again."

For a moment there was no response. Then, timidly, "What does the Colonel think we should do?"

Ed sighed. There was no hiding that the solution had come from Roy, was there? "As soon as I can walk, we need to get out of here. We'll have to go somewhere remote--not Rizenbul," he added at his brother's hopeful face, "We won't be able to go anywhere we might be found."

Al gasped. "You mean...we need to go hide from the military, Niisan? Like Dr. Marco did?"

Ed nodded. "Except we can't draw any attention to ourselves at all. The military....probably won't forget about this for a long time."

Al bit his lip, looking down at his lap as Ed watched his brother with tired, sad eyes. He almost started to say it--that Al should go live his own life, maybe in Rizenbul with Winry, or anywhere he pleased--but his brother spoke before he managed to begin the words.

"I can touch you again, Niisan," he stated, taking a step forward and sitting on the bed next to his brother, leaning his head on Ed's arm as if he were a child again, for the moment ignoring his superior height. "You're warm..." he murmured, smiling contentedly.

Ed just sat there watching him, marveling at the feeling of Al's own warm skin against his human right arm. And then he put his left arm around his brother, hugging him to his chest. "I can feel you again, too, Al."

They heard footsteps in the hall then and separated before the doctor entered the room. But even though the embrace had been brief, something had passed between the brothers in that moment, something that stopped Ed from so much as suggesting that Al let him hide alone. They had each other back again now--really had each other back--and they couldn't just let that go.

The doctor gave Ed a brief check-over, commenting that the boy's condition was improving steadily but declaring, to Ed's barely-concealed relief, that more bed rest was still required. Contrary to the doctor's orders, however, the moment the man was gone, Ed stated, "Help me up, Al."

"Niisan, are you sure you're-"

"Just try it. If we're going to get out of here, we have to do it soon."

Al nodded, grabbing one of his brother's arms and wrapping his other arm around Ed's waist, supporting him as he got out of the bed.

"Great," Ed declared when he was on his feet--despite needing a little help from Al to stay that way, "Let's go."

Roy was waiting for them in the hall, catching them both by surprise when they emerged from the room as neither had heard him coming, although that was likely because he had probably never actually left. "So you've chosen your path?" he asked. Ed nodded, and that smirk broke out on the man's face again. As much as he shuddered to think of it, Ed, for once, was almost glad to see it. "Follow me."

Their trip through the hospital was unremarkable. No one even thought to question the authority of a man like Roy to take even someone who was obviously a patient wherever he wanted to. In fact, the three had made it all the way to the first floor and weren't even far from the exit when there was a sudden crash and a cry.

Ed whirled around at the noise, his mind immediately thinking that his own doctor had sent someone after him. The sight that met his eyes, however, was much more serious than that, and Ed's heart almost stopped. There was Scar, emerging from a corner right behind him, as if he had been lying there in wait. And before the young alchemist could do anything, he had grabbed Ed's new arm.

Scar? But he wasn't trying to kill me anymore, was he?

Pain lanced through him, however, defying that thought completely, and all that Ed could respond with was to wonder, Is this what we did it all for?

At least I got to feel you again, Al...

That was worth it, right?

Whatever was lost to create the stone...if we have to live a life of hiding...if I'm captured and forced to work for the military...or if I die here...

...was it worth it?

I broke the law of equivalent trade. Nothing will be fair and equal anymore...

Through the haze of his pain, Ed was aware of cries. He couldn't seem to see anything now. He had no idea why, but at this moment, all he was left with was sound and vague sensations. So he concentrated on them, trying to determine what was happening--what he could do, if he could do anything at all...

He heard Al for certain, yelling for him. And then there was the sound of someone snapping their fingers, and suddenly he could feel the heat of flames around him. Then there were more cries, more yells from Al. Except now his brother wasn't just calling for him. Was he...in pain?

You made a promise not to hurt him, Scar! Even if I die here, you can't take him, too! That...would never be worth it. If that happened, then none of this, not even Al's touch, would be worth it!

But then even the sound and touch began to fade, and the vague bits that were left drifted around in Ed's mind, coming in and out of focus, in and out, until finally...

...finally his eyes snapped open. To the sight of...a hospital light?

"Edward!"

"Thank goodness! You've woken up."

Bloch and Ross?

"Where am I?" Ed choked out, blinking around him groggily. But after that first instant of confusion, memory came rushing back to him. The Philosopher's Stone, his human arm, Al's human body, the Colonel's instructions, fleeing the hospital, Scar, and...

"Al!" he cried, sitting up to find pain lancing through his side. But he ignored it, looking around the room, scanning, willing the boy to be there.

And then he found him...or rather, what currently remained of him. For a second Ed felt a rush of relief at the sight of the armor, but then his eyes widened in horror as he registered the shape that Al was in.

But...he was human. Was all of that...no way, it was a dream!?

The next few events all passed very quickly in his mind--apologizing to Al, assuring him that he would fix him. Being asked about what had happened and, even after all that he had seen, still responding only about how close he had come to the truth. But then Ross had slapped him--actually slapped him--and that had reminded him of the events of his dream. It was enough to make him apologize.

She's right. What would it all have been worth if I had died at the Fifth Laboratory? Or if I had done what the Homunculus wanted me to and met with...what happened in my dream? Even if Scar hadn't attacked at the end, would we really have been happy to live our lives in hiding?

Maybe as important as the Philosopher's Stone and feeling Al again are, they aren't our real goal. We just want to live, don't we? Live happy lives. That's why we want our original bodies back so badly. That's why we're willing to take so many risks--so we can live normal, happy lives.

Ed considered these thoughts and what they could mean, ignoring Bloch and Ross and how they were watching him in concern. After all, dreams were fleeting. If he was to learn anything from this one, he knew he would have to do it now.

I have to be careful we don't lose those lives by trying to gain them. That's it! That's the most important thing. Even if it means...some other things have to wait...

And looking at the half-destroyed suit of armor that currently housed his brother's soul, Ed couldn't help but smile a little wistfully.

I'll feel your touch again someday, Al. Just you wait! But don't worry; I'll be careful. I won't die; I won't let you be killed. And we'll still get there, as long as we keep working. We'll regain our happy lives...

And somehow, even though the next time he touched his brother, he felt only cold metal, it made him glad. Because it meant they still had a chance to do things the right way. And they would. He would make sure of it!