Henrika- Wow, what a ride it's been.I have absolutely loved sharing this story with all of you and over 850 hits seems to me that you liked it too. One last thing to ask of you, do you think I should lower the rating to T? Now that I think about it, the story doesn't really have any particularly graphic elements. Please give me your opinion.
As for the last chapter itself, it was really hard to bid these characters and their new developments farewell. But I've left them with something to strive for, their own purpose, and I honestly thinks that's enough. I really would like to know what you thought of this chapter and the story as a whole. So Read, Review, and Enjoy.
The next morning had the household waking early to an insistent knocking on the door. Pinako was the first to manage consciousness and coherency enough to answer it. "Official telegram." Chirped the messenger, who was dressed in an immaculate military uniform despite the mud.
"Give it here then." She snapped, still disgruntled at the early waking. The man handed her a thick envelope and bowed slightly before leaving. Pinako shut the door, noting that the telegram was addressed by name to everyone with a military career currently under her roof.
"What is it?" Mustang asked, coming up behind her. She gave him the envelope and he scanned the label before opening it. He read it twice, sighing as his staff came to stand by him. "We're being called back to Central. Edward too."
"Why?" Farman asked.
Mustang read the telegram aloud. "By order of the Fuhrer. STOP. The persons this is addressed to shall return to Central headquarters immediately. STOP. Debriefing is required. STOP." He paused. "That's all it says."
"It can't be helpedI suppose." Hawkeye said, crossing her arms over her chest. "Though I don't see why it can't wait."
"We'll leave once Full Metal gets up." He turned to Pinako. "It appears you get to be rid of us even earlier than you thought." She didn't look happy though.
"Come along then." She said. "You're helping me make breakfast. The rest of you had better get packed up." They nodded, departing to their tasks. Roy followed the woman into the kitchen, obediently fetching various ingredients and utensils. "Why are they calling you back?"
"You saw the telegram. They want to find out exactly what happened."
"You don't believe that, huh? Neither do I, but they will do that. It's just what else they're planning that I'm worried about."
"That boy…those brothers and my granddaughter are the only family I have left. If you let your military brass crush what's left of that boy's spirit…" She pulled herself up to her full height (which barely came to Mustang's chest) and let the threat hang in the air.
"I'll answer to you for it." He filled in. "But I won't let that happen. It may not seem like it, but we all care greatly for Edward's well being. He's like family to us as well." And that was true, Roy realized. Pinako nodded, accepting that, and they finished their cooking in silence.
Ed shot Mustang a pointed look, clearly thinking about their conversation from the night before as he read the military telegram. "Next train out is one o' clock." He said as he finished the pancakes before him. "How long do you suppose they'll keep us?"
"Never can say." Havoc answered.
"It depends on what they want. They'll probably give us new assignments, hand out the field promotions, get things back in order. That sort of thing."
"The military is usually very generous with promotions after a war." Mustang heard himself saying.
"Keeps the dogs complacent, right?" Ed said somewhat bitterly, before his demeanor changed. "Right. Sorry I have to go so soon after I just got back." Ed apologized.
"Just don't stay away so long this time." Winry said, cuffing him lightly on the shoulder. "You're lucky we're fast. The auto-mail is ready." He nodded, pushing himself up form the table and following Winry and Granny Pinako into the new workshop LA had created.
One muffled scream, a period of recovery time, and a few adjustments later, along with the addition of a pair of pants and boots brought Ed back into the kitchen. "We should probably get going." He pulled on an open-collared black jacket and buried Winry in a bear hug. "Thanks for putting up with me. With everything." He whispered. "Thanks for letting us stay here Granny." He said as he released Winry.
The others echoed their thanks. "You're welcome to stay here again." She said, surprising herself and everyone in the room
"I'll walk you to the train station." Al said, shaking off his shock. The group picked up what luggage they had and started out the door.
"Don't screw up that auto-mail! I'll take a wrench to you if you do!" Winry called after them. Ed grimaced, making sure he was out of range.
They arrived at the train station rather quickly, the mud only slowing them up a little.
"It sure is a nice day." Fury said, sniffing at the damp, clean air. The sun glimmered brightly over the green hills, alight breeze pleasantly cooling the day.
"Yeah, it is." Farman agreed. Mustang went to arrange the train tickets and the others took the time to wander around the tiny station, reveling in the pristine countryside while they still could. Al and Ed were off to one side, whispering quietly.
The train whistled solemnly as it came into view and the brothers embraced. "Forgiven and loved." Al whispered.
"Live and be content while you can." Ed whispered back. They parted and Ed picked up his suitcase, boarding the train behind the others.
"Last call!" The conductor yelled to the empty station. "Looks like you're the only ones on at this stop." He said as he passed by their car.
"It was nice seeing you again." Roy said to Al, leaning out his window.
"Maybe all of you can come back here soon." The boy suggested.
"We'd like that." Riza said. "Take care of yourself Alphonse."
"You too." The train ground into motion and everyone leaned out.
"See you later!"
"Thanks for the stay!"
"Xenotime! We're going!"
"It's a trip!" Al called back, waving. "Goodbye!" They watched him until the train picked up speed, leaving him as a speck in the distance. The group settled back into their seats; it would be a day and a half before they reached Central.
Havoc pulled out a deck of cards. "Cheer up. Poker anyone?"
Everyone seemed a bit on edge as they rolled into Central station. Ed, for his part, looked relatively calm, but Mustang could see the nervous look in his expressive gold eyes. "Central Station! All off! Central Station! All off!" They silently retrieved their luggage and exited the train.
"Hey!" Ed quickly spotted the escort that had been sent for them.
"Edward Elric, it is good to see you safe. All of you as well." Armstrong said, crushing all of them into a hug. Once they could sufficiently breathe again, they noticed the other two.
"Ross! Broche!" Armstrong's unit had also been deployed in Lior, but they had been in a different sector and Ed had only seen them a few times.
"Sir!" They saluted, warm smiles on their faces.
"So what's the deal?" Breda cut straight to the point.
"The Fuhrer wishes to personally debrief each of you. I believe he also has a ceremony planned to award the new promotions and honor people have received." He saluted. "Brigadier General Mustang. New uniforms have been provided for all of you. He glanced curiously at the civilian clothes they were wearing.
"Thank you…it's Lieutenant Colonel now, isn't it?" Armstrong nodded. "Lead the way then." The three soldiers nodded and time seemed to speed up.
When it stopped, they were all uniformed and sitting outside the Fuhrer's office. One by one they were called in and forced to recount the events of days of bloodshed. Ed went last and Roy, who had went before him, tried his best to convey encouragement, though even he had been shaken by the thorough grilling.
It would be an hour of anxious fidgeting, another hour of aimless pacing, and the stretch of a third hour before the elder Elric emerged. "The formal ceremony is tomorrow." Bradley called before Ed shut the door. The young man leaned back against the solid oak, desperately trying to compose himself before he faced his comrades, but it was too late. They could easily see the tremors shaking his frame, the tears held at bay only by sheer determination and fierce blinking, the way he stared at his hands as if they were still covered in blood.
Maria Ross was the first to respond, pulling him into an embrace reminiscent of the one she had when his alchemic reaction went awry after contact with the Red Water, something that seemed years away. The others joined in, surrounding and comforting. Even Armstrong managed to temper his loud nature into something soothing. And Mustang, as he found himself mumbling comforting reassurances, drifted back to an earlier thought. We're family. It may have been the strangest family he had ever seen, but as he watched Ed give into the comfort, allowing his tears to fall and his sobs to be heard, Roy realized that it was the kind of family that cared and really mattered. And that that was enough.
Ed never ceased to amaze. Despite suffering a nervous breakdown the day before, he managed to look stoically ahead at the crowd as the Fuhrer presented him with the Star of Amestris, the highest military honor, and the rank insignia that designated his new rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Mustang saluted him and shook his hand after he left the platform. Ed looked the part of the dignified soldier, but Roy looked into his eyes, partially shaded by his uniform hat and saw the true mark of a soldier; the years of turmoil and guilt, the pain and the nightmares that would never go away, the memories of thousands of faces and his own personal sins, ones that had haunted him since he was child and first decided to play with the laws of life and death. There was something else there though, deep within those golden depths. It was a light, fierce and determined, that refused to die.
Equivalent exchange. The man mused. The equation isn't balanced and Ed gives everything he had anyway. In exchange… He looked at the people congratulating Ed, thought of the family back in Risembool, and that indomitable spirit that has shown through those bright eyes. The future was uncertain and the past was volatile, but Roy Mustang had a feeling that things would balance out in the end. He stepped forward, resting a hand on Ed's shoulder. "Let's get started."
Henrika- I really hope that all the people who wanted this story continued found the end satisfactory. I really have enjoyed bringing this to you. And may my future works be of an even higher caliber and receive such a warm response as this one. I'd also like to give a special thanks to all the people who reviewed and who will review. It was your support that helped keep me writing this and gave the incentive to finish it. Thank you! Until next time, happy reading!